Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Eating my way through Europe

Food: While it is a human necessity, I've been taking that necessity to the extreme. Since my arrival in Europe, I've fallen victim to the trend of taking pictures of food (I'm not too obnoxious about it, I hope).

It's not because I'm a "food porn" advocate; that phrase weirds me out. It's due to the fact that in Europe, meals are like a parade - a delicious, fattening parade - of carefully planned exhibitions. Each plate contains its own unique components and manner of presentation.

First, there was Belgium. Belgian chocolate, Belgian waffles, Belgian beer: The three food groups! Needless to say, I felt a bit ill after my three-day trip.

The colors, all of the visuals and the mouthwatering smells piqued my interest each time they passed me by. I had at least seven pieces of chocolate per day (you know how doctors say dark chocolate is heart-healthy!), and I actually got sick of eating chocolate. Chocolate! A strange occurrence that has never happened before.

My friend Eliza and I created our own food tour, wandering from shop to shop, seeking the most interesting-looking chocolate we could find. Then, there was the beer. Oh, the beer got me. All the colors and flavors - I was in hops heaven. You could make a modern art masterpiece with all the shades of beer there were in Delirium, a famous bar that contains over 2,000 types. I ordered a dark, Guiness-like beer while Eliza chose a rose-colored fruit-based one.

Though I was not a huge fan of Belgium as a tourist, I was as a food fan. While I'm not a "foodie" or a gastronomical expert in the least, I know what tastes good. If you're hungry and don't mind gaining a few kilos, take a trip to Belgium.

Right after my Belgium culinary adventure came my stay at my friend Adri's family beach house in Torredembarra, a sweet little pueblo near Tarragona and Barcelona. The constant stream of food made it very difficult to button my pants. The procession began with some Iberian ham and bread and a smattering of vegetables. Already full, the process continues with salad, a meaty/starchy delicious thing, wine, wine, wine, cheese, wine, coffee, chocolate, chocolate and pineapple tart. The grand finale is a hardcore siesta resulting in discomfort and bloating.

I've realized that when I go back to the United States, the parade will not be the same level of spectacularity to which I've become accustomed. I'll stand over my stovet, peering bleakly into my pan of brown mush that was supposed to be some sort of chicken dish, wishing myself back to the fiesta of food. However, I will always have the memories of a grand parade of colors and flavors that I've experienced while wandering the corners of Europe.

As they say in Spain before you eat anything: "que aproveche", translating to, "Enjoy your meal," but literally meaning "I hope you make the most of it." I only have a few months left in Spain, and I plan to aprovechar every minute. Let the feasting continue! Here, here!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The bubble

I stood watching from afar, fascinated by the woman in a long cloak cleaning her Afghan rug with the strong current of a waterfall in beautiful Chefchaouen, Morocco. Never in my life had I seen such a life where someone used a completely natural thing such as a river to wash household items. How small my life is. How little I know, I thought. Just that simple act of cleansing a carpet left me in an existential crisis of sorts.

Those feelings were triggered again the next day when a group of teenage boys hid behind our bus and attached themselves between the wheels in order to cross the sea to get into Spain. A sad weight filled my body. These children want so desperately to leave their country that they'd put themselves at this grave risk. My heart goes out to them, hoping things get better.

I couldn't believe how each lifestyle I saw differed from my own. It made me realize that I live in a tiny little bubble that is the United States, and I've never actually known what it was like to live without a PC or a television. I've never felt the urge to risk my life in order to cross a border.

Though I will never know what types of lives these people lead - with their religious convictions and the small size of their community - I realized how much I've come to know various lifestyles just by traveling. For example, upon hearing that two girls and I had come alone on the trip, one of the group leaders with DiscoverSevilla (my tour group) told us that we were "free spirits" for making a trip solo, even though we were with a tour group. It hit me: No one has ever referred to me as a "free spirit" before.

On the contrary, actually. I've been told I'm too uptight, too serious, too anxious. What happened to that teenager that worried about going to college an hour outside her hometown? Now, I've lived in a completely different country and have made it my second home.

I most certainly demonstrated my new happy-go-lucky attitude in Morocco; I walked into the tour bus without knowing anyone and came out of it with new friends. I left for my trip without knowing a thing about the culture and came out the other side with a small but significant taste of what it means to be in a place where there's a picture of the king in nearly every establishment and the children run free outside, kicking a soccer ball amongst themselves. I started out too embarrassed to bargain because I felt like I was being rude, but I ended up getting the shop owners to lower their starting price by 15 euros (not exactly a world-record, but it's a start!). Though the changes may not have been drastic, I've come out of this excursion different than when I signed up.

Although I live in a tiny little bubble in my life, I'm slowly expanding that bubble with each of my travels. Each new experience I have and every person I meet contribute to the expansion of this small world I've built for myself. Until next time, Africa.

Friday, April 5, 2013


Standing in front of a group of scrutinizing eyes, delivering a presentation in a foreign language is one of the most uncomfortable experiences a person can have. My first exposición was yesterday, and, much like a stomach flu, I felt absolutely horrible during and directly after the incident. Students were whispering, tittering and giggling as I attempted to conjugate verbs and make my sentences coherent. Did I have something in my teeth? Did I say something idiotic? Probably.

Who knows what came out of my mouth? The most important thing for me was that it made sense. I was so nervous that I didn't even look at my notes. I just babbled on for ten minutes (at the time, I was sure it was an hour). Afterward, the teacher looked at me with pity: "I know it must be hard with the language and everything." I felt myself turning burgundy. Though she meant well, the comment made me feel like the idiot in a class full of geniuses. I wanted to bury my head in my arms at my desk.

When I sat back down, I turned to an American classmate, Denise, and I grimaced in emotional pain. She smiled and commented that I did really well. I brushed it off as comforting words and continued to sulk.

I stayed in the same classroom, being forced to face the teacher for another class period (she teaches two out of three classes I take).  Another American friend, Alexis, came to the classroom, setting her books down next to us. Denise told her about my presentation, saying I did well."She didn't even use notes," Denise added.

That made me reevaluate my performance; maybe I actually did well for a foreign student. Maybe being too nervous to read off my notes actually demonstrates how far my Spanish has come since August, when I arrived in Spain. I could analyze a piece of literature off the cuff in a foreign language! Who knew I'd ever be able to do that?

Basically, now I have to work on seeing the progress I've been making since I've lived in Spain. I usually only see the mistakes I make, but it's time for me to consider my improvements because whether I see it or not, they exist. During the next presentation I give, I'll be sure to look at my performance from an objective viewpoint and hold my head high afterwards rather than hide it in my hands.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Getting lost

Watching kids bike off window ledges. Seeing the creative process of extravagant graffiti art. Wiping mud off your back, laughing inexplicably while a strong, warm hand lifts you off the ground. Just another day of getting lost in an unknown city.

Dirt and twigs caked to my hair, I get up and try to keep going on my bike, trailing my friend and host, Adrián. As I struggle to pedal down the channel that runs through Toulouse, I try to look at the gorgeous natural surroundings (something that I hadn't seen much of in the urban atmosphere of Madrid). However, it's tough balancing sight-seeing and balancing on a bike in a giant mud pile, a body of water on one side and a bushel of thorns on the other. Tired, sweating, muddy, but still smiling.

I smile because I know that I'll remember the crazy, adventurous moment more clearly than any other. More than any monument or blurb from history, I'll recall falling over into a giant pile of mud next to the channel that runs through Toulouse, belly-laughing as I landed. I'll chuckle remembering the time I rolled down the tallest sand dune in Europe like a child. I'll think of the kindness and warmth I received from Adri and his family, complete with a personal Easter egg hunt.

I've been getting lost a lot lately. Lost in Madrid, lost in foreign cities, lost in thought... Being a student in a foreign country has given me the courage that I've never had before. If Adri and I hadn't gone down that muddy trail next to the channel, we would've never had to cross the bridge to turn around to the other bank. If we hadn't done that, we wouldn't have been able to see the sunset along the countryside horizon. It was like we were caught in a series of postcard pictures; the saying "Wish you were here" made a lot of sense to me in that moment.

In the south of France, my life became a sort of stock photo: a picture-perfect world where nothing exists but what is shown within the four corners. It was a stock photograph that I would have never found if I had never wandered through Europe, jumping into the abyss of an unknown place.

In life, if you don't get lost, you won't get to the other side of the channel. You won't land that perfect career that motivates you to sprint from home to work, grinning the whole way. You won't meet that person that makes you feel like you're a diamond in a barren coal mine. Because of my experiences here, I plan on getting lost in the future. Often.