Monday, July 5, 2010

Bienvenidos a... España?

¡Hola from España!
I arrived here on the 27th of June. It was an epic journey.

My flight actually went really well. No problems there. We landed late in Madrid but I still had about an hour and a half to hop on a train or a bus to Salamanca. We were given a few instructions on how to find the buses from the airport so I decided to go and buy a ticket (since the ride was only suppose to be a little longer than the train was. I went to the first help desk that I could find and asked in Spanish where I could buy tickets for the bus; they pointed out the way. The next desk pointed me in a different direction. The next desk didn't know where or how to buy tickets. The next desk told me that the buses didn't run to Salamanca on Sunday.
It was time to try the train.

I followed the train signs and asked a new desk how to get to Salamanca. I was given a small metro map and they circled a stop two different lines away. I didn't question, bought a ticket, and got on the first line. But as I sat and started thinking about it I realized that a metro line could never get me to Salamanca (which is suppose to be 3 hours away by train). Maybe I had said something wrong in Spanish when I asked to go to Salamanca by train. Maybe there were two Salamancas. I got off the metro where I was suppose to transfer at and looked around for someone who could help me. I went and asked a women how to get to Salamanca. She again pointed to the metro stop. She said that it would take 8 minutes to get there. I assumed by now that there were two Salamancas because you could definitely not get to mine in 8 minutes. I told her this but I couldn't understand her response. She seemed just as confused as I did.

So I have to make a decision. Do I stand here and do nothing? (Remember: I have no phone. I have no internet.) I decide to go back into the main metro station, go to the stop and figure it out from there. So I buy a new ticket to get through the gates (the metro system in Spain is different than that in Italy; more like the American system that I have experienced). But for some reason my ticket doesn't work and open the doors. I buy a new one. This one doesn't work either. By this point I am flustered and hot. I don't know where I am going. I need to be in Salamanca in 3 hours. I could be lost forever. Who knows where I could be headed? I ask again for help: why is my ticket not working. I am pointed to a yellow help phone on the wall. I call and can't work out anymore in spanish than "my ticket is not working here". Am I really expected to solve my problems in Spanish over the phone? I hang up.

Now this is why I don't travel alone.
As many of you know, I talk a lot. I talk out my problems and my feelings. I need other people to rebound off of. When I don't have other people around, instead of calmly purposeful I become frantically helpless.
How did I finally get to Salamanca you ask? Well, first of all, I turned my ticket over and finally put it into the entrance machine the correct way. (Talk about estupida and overreaction). From there I realized that the metro stop everyone had been pointing me to had a little train symbol next to it. Duh. I had to get to the train station before I could get on a train.

So I get there. I ask directions again (having to go outside and find the right station). I try a machine but I cannot find Salamanca as a destination. I still do not have internet and therefore cannot check and see what the station in Salamanca is called. I get in the long line to buy tickets. By this point I have missed the train that would have arrived in Salamanca at 4 (the exact time that I was expected there). When I get to the desk they understand 'Salamanca' and they get me a ticket for a train that arrives at 6:30. They also help me find a pay phone. Luckily I have one page of emergency phone numbers open on my computer. I call the women in charge of meeting us at the station and helping us each find our correct family. She says that she can meet me at 6:30. She also gives me the phone number of my Senora who I will be staying with for the next 5 weeks. I call her, she understands who I am, and she will also meet me at 6:30 at the train station. Thank goodness. Finally I can sit and not worry.

I get off the train hours later, huge suitcase in hand (remember I have supplies enough for ten weeks), backpack pressing into my shoulders and creating a waterfall down my back. I realized that I was not told where to meet (and again, no internet). I can no longer just look for a group of 30-40 Americans and their Spanish families because I am 2 and a half hours late. I don't know what this lady or my family looks like. I wander around trying to be obvious that I am looking for someone. A girl asks me in Spanish whether I am from Wisconsin. I say no. I ask a worker in spanish if there has been an American group from the Universidad de Michigan around and where I could find them. He says he doesn't know. Twenty minutes later I am at the pay phone again. For some reason it is not working.

A woman comes up to me and asks me in Spanish if I am looking for my family. I gratefully answer: Sí. She is looking for her daughter. I don't know what my Senora's name is and she doesn't know her student's. But I do know that she has two daughters, 21 and 14. Am I from Wisconsin? No, why do they think that? But the facts seem to match up pretty well (and by this point I don't care whether I'm her girl. Just take me home. Let me put my suitcase down. Let me breath. I haven't eaten in forever. I think I literally have a river sprouting down my back.

I check online when we reach her apartment. She is my Senora and the girl who asked me before if I was from Wisconsin is my hermana. I laugh, thinking about what would have happened if they were not my correct familia? Things could actually have been worse than they were. When I meet up with my group from UofM later, the women who was suppose to meet me at the station doesn't even realize that she had forgotten me. And it's funny because I don't even care about how disarrayed this new program is. My last one was worse. And although I obviously struggle functioning when I am by myself, I have learned to independently go with the flow and try and be comfortable. (I am still learning how to succeed at that.)

But I am alive. I kept saying that after that day of travel because that's all that I could be grateful for. But I am also here, in a beautiful place. It did not take me long to calm down and realize that.

-Juani, my Senora is 41. Her daughters Lorena y Leticia are 21 and 14 respectively.
-Our apartment is very small but very nice. Here in Spain they use space much more efficiently than we do at home. The kitchen here is as small as a bathroom back home (and the laundry machine is in the kitchen as well). I have my own room which is great.
-I live about 15 minutes from the Plaza Mayor and 20 from all of my classes. The people walk everywhere here. It is a lifestyle that I really love.
-My family here speaks very loudly. They are not mad... they just lightly scream at each other.
-Since it's all girls in the apartment they walk around in their bras and underwear. The 90 degree heat may help. They called me loca for wanting to run at 3 in the afternoon.
-Lunch is at 2 or 2:30 everyday. Dinner is at 9:30. They serve me large portions, larger than their own. My favorite thing is the Zumo here (Pronounced 'thumo' because of the Spanish lisp) which is their juice. But instead of being some real juice and then a bunch of other crap that they hide in small print on the back, the juice here is actually 100% juice (or close to it). Every morning I have peach and grape juice that's to die for.
-My family speaks no english. Only my Senora's accent is thick enough that I have trouble understanding her, but all three know that if they speak fast enough I cannot even try to listen.
-Nightlife for Spaniards doesn't start until late. Last week I was coming home from my night when I passed Lorena just going out.
-The TV is always on, especially during meals. It is a good excuse to not listen to their rapid conversation if I am too tired. My sisters really like reality shows. Lorena also loves the Simpsons. Leticia watches a lot of Fineas and Ferb; Disney Channel (all in Spanish of course)
-I have complete freedom here, except for meal times and skipping meals.
-They have an air freshener in the living room. I think that it must be motion triggered. Every morning when walk into the living room to eat breakfast, it scares me to death when it makes its noise- like a snickering sneeze. I have this half-asleep-still seizure of surprise before I realize what it is.

My classes start this upcoming week. I am taking a class on the Spanish Civil War with a UofM professor native to Spain. I then have two classes taught by local professors: Spanish History and Art History. This past week has been orientation, a hands on one credit class about the childcare system here (in the future expect a post as a final project for that class), and time to adjust. Adjusting for some means visiting the all-you-can-drink-for-5-Euros-bars. For others it is sleeping, or walking around Salamanca, or speaking with your new family. It has been pieces of all of this for me, although I have been falling behind on the sleep part again, as well as catching up on bits of shows, writing and writing to friends, family, and you (my blog's audience which I have created and expanded in my head).

The landscape here is less green than I expected.
It peaks in the 90s here everyday, heat washing through the streets and houses. It sweeps around necks and presses on eyes. But I think I may like it more than the cold of Michigan (maybe I should say the cold of Traverse City because Ann Arbor doesn't know the true length that winter can have).
Tomorrow it may be up to 100 degrees (about 35 degrees Celsius here). We'll see how I feel then.

The churches and many important buildings here seem to be made of sand, like they're going to slither down into a nothing of dust if they get too dry. They are remarkably different from those in Italy and I am so enchanted with them. The spindly grotesque forms grow up the buildings' facades like ivy.

Another fun thing about my experience in Spain. For the entire month of July there are government mandated 'Rebajas' or sales. The first day of July, I had to battle through the crowds of Spanish women at the clothing stores and I hope to go shopping again soon before every item in Salamanca is gone.
Government mandated. Imagine that in the US. How awesome right? I wish I could speak to my Senora about complex issues like governmental policies.

One more thing that I do not like about Salamanca: Because they eat so much pork here there are meat shops scattered throughout the city. The severed pig legs hang in the windows enticing you in. They are discolored and look like they could not possible contain any edible meat. Maybe those are the ones that they have designated to be the showcase pig legs, like when they show you the example desserts at fancy restaurants. But they all look like this, like they're made of plastic, and I give them a wide berth at the supermarkets for fear of rubbing up against one. But the worst thing about these meat stores is the smell. It isn't raw meat, it's worse, like stale meat that is rotting in wax and chemicals. It is foul, even at night when the doors are closed and the lights are off. I know where these stores are so that I can move to the other side of the street on my walk home. I know which ones have air conditioning inside and shed their warm sweat through the low vents in the sides of the buildings. The stench floods out onto the street and into your body like poison.

I don't like being alone and getting lost. I don't like the smell of warm, plastic pig. I don't like the air freshener that waits to scare me in the morning like my brother hiding behind the corner at the top of the stairs.

The rest, the rest is good.

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