Ashley in Madrid

Ashley is a junior majoring in Spanish and psychology in Dedman College and an SMU Distinguished Scholar. During 2011-12 she is participating in SMU-in-Spain. She is eager to improve her Spanish, to get to know other students in the program and to explore Madrid and the rest of Europe.

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Parks, shops, restaurants and more

At Retiro Park

I am happy to report that both of my wishes for last weekend were fulfilled! On Saturday afternoon, I embarked on my first trip to Parque del Retiro for some homework-doing and grass-lounging. The park is MASSIVE. I took a walk through it for about 30 minutes, and I had probably only scratched the surface. We’ll see if I’m ever able to explore  the whole thing!

And on Sunday we went to El Rastro, the open market. It was insane: street after winding street closed to cars, packed full of people and stalls selling everything under the sun. I didn’t bring my camera, but all of those people on every street were a sight to see. We wandered through the streets for about two hours, which was exhausting. When we finally departed, we still hadn’t been down every street in the maze.

I bought a leather bag at one of the stalls, which I really like. I’ve been using it to carry my books in so I can stop feeling so silly with my backpack, but I keep having issues with it. Once I got home I noticed that there was a tear in the strap and I didn’t want it to rip all the way through, so Carmen accompanied me to a shop where all they do is repair bags, and the guy there fixed it for 1.20€! I used it happily all week until today in the Metro station when a different part of the strap broke. I’ll probably take it back to the same bag repair guy to see if he can work some more magic.

The location of Carmen’s apartment seems basically ideal. We are walking distance from everything: restaurants, stores, pharmacies, chinos, estancos, grocery stores, and even the bag repair shop. I thought it was interesting that even something as random and specialized as that was only a seven-minute walk away. In Austin I would first have to do some googling to find a place like that to take a bag, and then I’d have to drive at least 20 minutes to it. Living here in Chamberí (our neighborhood) is just so convenient!

This week we discovered that we are definitely close to some serious shopping. The streets Fuencarral and Gran Vía are both within walking distance and are straight-up lined with stores. I’ve been to Fuencarral twice this week and I am now the proud owner of a pair of 5€ sandals!

Dinner with Carmen at Pizza Jardin

Also last weekend, my roommates and I went out to dinner with Carmen at a restaurant called Pizza Jardín (right around the corner, of course). I have learned that Carmen knows everyone in our neighborhood, and especially everyone at Pizza Jardín. True Spaniards that we are, we ate dinner from 10 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. It was really nice and we chatted for quite a while afterward. Sitting at the table and talking after a meal is called la sobremesa here, and according to one of our professors, it’s the most important part of the meal. This is such a change from the States where I feel pressure to leave as soon as I’m done eating so I’m not taking up a table.

As everyone is aware, September 11 was this past Sunday. I thought it was really interesting that I didn’t even realize that it was September 11 until Sunday afternoon, whereas had I been in the States, I would have been inundated with nonstop September 11 awareness from the moment that I woke up. Weird.

Tutoring English has been going really well. On Monday I had my first class with 13-year-old Marta. We just sat in her room and talked for an hour, and I really liked her. Today I had class with Guillermo and Blanca and we played Twister (“Hand.. right.. in.. red.” “Blanca, repeat after me: right hand on red”) and did puzzles. It was a lot of fun, and Mercedes told me I was doing a good job, which made me very happy!

On Wednesday we took our first trip to the Prado Museum, which was just great. It was so cool to see paintings that I’ve studied in school, like Goya’s Satan Devouring His Son and Velazquez’s Las Meninas in real life! And I could understand (almost) everything that our professor was telling us! It was such an awesome feeling to approach a painting and not understand it, then have it explained to me in Spanish and then be able to understand what was going on. I felt so accomplished and I really feel like I learned a lot, so I’m looking forward to going there every Wednesday for the rest of the semester.

At times this week, speaking Spanish has seemed harder than ever. Yesterday was a particularly challenging day for me trying to speak in class and at home. I’ll think of something in English and want to say it, but it’ll just be too complicated for me to figure out. Or I’ll open my mouth and conjugate every single verb incorrectly and have my professor stop me mid-sentence over and over. It can be absolutely exhausting and definitely frustrating, but hopefully this is one of those situations where “it’s always darkest before dawn” and my difficulties will finally give way to a little bit more fluency.

In other news, I just registered the lack of bugs in Spain tonight when I realized that I have had the doors to my balcony open basically all day, every day, and I have encountered nary a mosquito! Love it. Then again I do have a couple bites from something on my toes, so Madrid must not be completely bug free. But no mosquitoes is good enough for me!

Tomorrow the group is taking a day trip to Segovia, so I’m looking forward to that. And next weekend a few of us are going to Barcelona, and the weekend after that to Portugal! I am so lucky and grateful to be here. ¡Ciao!

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