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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My second semester in Spain

Wow, sorry for disappearing. It’s not that I haven’t had any free time to do this in the past month and a half, it’s just that I’ve been filling said free time with other things. Here we go:

OK, so winter break was lovely! I had the first few days of the break to myself after my friends from last semester departed and spent them relaxing and enjoying alone time with Carmen. Then my mom arrived in Madrid!!!!! I went to the airport to pick her up on the morning of December 21, and it was SO great to see her! Our first stop was Mercado San Miguel, which she loved, obviously. Delicious tapas and pintxos, and a great atmosphere. Everyone loves Mercado San Miguel.

In the days before Christmas, we explored the sights, including Retiro, Sol, and a ride on the Navibús to see Madrid’s various impressive displays of Christmas lights; ate tons of delicious food, including a couple of dinners out with Carmen; and relaxed and enjoyed our time together.

On Christmas Day, Mom cooked an amazing meal for the two of us, which consisted of a sausage dish from Catalan recipe, yummy chicken, and a salad to break up some of the intense meatiness.

We grocery shopped for the meal in Corte Inglés, and that was quite the experience. Our biggest challenge was finding dried cherries. I wasn’t sure about the word for cherry, although I thought that it might be cereza, so Mom picked up a box of Christmas candy that had a picture of a cherry on the package, and through a game of charades we communicated to an employee that we wanted “these,” but dried. In the dried fruit section we searched and searched, fruitlessly (hah!), and had finally accepted that they just didn’t have dried cherries when … we found them!!! This was exciting in and of itself, but the best part was that the word for cherry is indeed cereza!! I felt very accomplished.

Then Mom worked on the meal for hours on Christmas, conquering the Celsius oven and other cooking-in-an-unfamiliar-European-kitchen challenges, and we enjoyed our feast together.

Bright and early the next morning (note to self: NO. MORE. EARLY. MORNING. FLIGHTS.) we headed to Barcelona! On our first day, we explored La Rambla, the port, and the Barri Gòtic, where we found the most amazing pintxo bar this side of País Vasco and inhaled an impressive 15 pintxos between the two of us. The next day we went to the Picasso museum, and returned to the amazing pintxo bar for some lighter snacking than the night before, and went back to La Rambla that night.

The next day was our last there, and I made sure that I went inside La Sagrada Familia, because last time I went to Barcelona, I only walked around the outside. It was incredible. I’ve seen a lot of churches in my time here, and this one was amazing. Then we went to La Boqueria for lunch, and after that to Parc Montjuïc to ride the funicular!

From up there we got to see the sun set over the city, and then it was time to head to the airport. When we landed in Madrid, I went straight to Bryce’s hotel (one of the guys from the program last semester) to say goodbye to him. He had been in Italy with his family and then was back in Madrid and leaving for home the next day. So we hung out for a little bit, and then said goodbye, and then I was officially the last one from the group left in Madrid!

I was sick the next day (thanks, Bryce) so I spent it at home, on the couch, reading and sleeping. Mom went and explored the Palacio Real, where someone stole her wallet!! Thankfully her money was in her pocket, but she lost her bank cards and ID, which was no good, but could have been worse. The next day, we went to Blanca and Guillermo’s house for a delicious lunch and had a lot of fun hanging out and talking with them. They gave my mom a little nativity scene and wrote on it, “With love from your Spanish family,” or something equally as cute. It’s so great to have people like them in my life here; it’s very comforting.

On New Year’s Eve, being the crazy party animals that we are, we stayed in and I helped Mom pack for her flight home the next day. At midnight we watched the broadcast of Puerta del Sol, the Spanish Times Square equivalent, and ate 12 grapes along with the 12 chimes of the bell, which is their tradition here. There’s only 3 seconds between every chime, so eating all 12 required some rapid chewing, but we were successful! Sadly, the next day Mom had to leave, so I returned home to Casa de Carmen, where we enjoyed a New Year’s Day feast together.

Three Kings celebration

On January 5, celebrations for Día De Los Reyes started with the cabalgata (parade), which Carmen and I attended. That was a lot of fun, and I got to see the “three wise kings” in person. The next day was the actual holiday, and Carmen’s whole family came over for dinner and I got to celebrate with them. They are all so nice and I really like spending time with them. We enjoyed dinner, followed by the traditional roscón de reyes (king’s cake) served with cream. That was delicious, and Carmen and I ate roscón leftovers for the next few days after.

A few days later, the new group of SMU students arrived! There are eight of them besides me, and it’s all girls this semester. I got to meet everyone, and then they headed off for orientation, and I returned to my January hobby: shopping. Spain only has sales in January and August (I don’t know why), so when they do, they go big. I bought lots of great stuff last month! Another day while the other girls were still at orientation, Carmen and I went out to lunch at Mercado San Miguel because she said that in all the years that she’s lived here, she’s always walked past it but never gone in. So she loved it; as has already been discussed, it’s impossible not to love.

With the start of this semester, I have realized that I’ve made some serious breakthroughs with my Spanish! For all of last semester I felt like my comprehension definitely improved, and my speaking did some, but after spending lots of solo time with Carmen, and just being here for longer, I guess, my Spanish has gotten sooooo much better and I have a lot more confidence in speaking it. I’m still not fluent or flawless, but I’m really happy with the progress that I’m making.

SMU students watching Barcelona vs. Real Madrid

Then the girls got back from orientation, and we’ve been exploring and having fun getting to know each other. Our first day of class was on MLK Jr Day (last semester it was Labor Day) and that was also my first day of work at my new job for this semester. Instead of teaching English classes this semester, I’m working as more of a nanny for three days a week with these two precious little girls, Sofia and Victoria, who are 9 and 6. They are super cute, and we’ve been having a lot of fun together.  That first day was also Carmen’s birthday, so we went out to Pizza Jardín (always a classic) to celebrate.

Toward the end of January, Real Madrid and Barcelona were playing each other, so we all went to a bar to watch one of the games and had a lot of fun. It ended in a tie, so it could have been worse.

Spanish class

The first Thursday of this month, I had an adventure called “Class at the Complutense.” This semester my conversation class is an independent study with my professor and me that meets once a week on Tuesdays. Since we don’t have class on Thursdays, she invited me to come to the Complutense, which is the top public university in Spain, on Thursday mornings for the composition class that she teaches there. So, all for the pursuit of knowledge, I am now waking up obscenely early on Thursdays to travel 45 minutes in order to take a class for no credit. I think I might be crazy, but I love Spanish so it’s worth it. Going to the class is really interesting because I get to meet lots of other students from all over the US, and they’re all really nice. The first day, I got a little lost. The campus of the Complutense is HUGE. I was on a bus for probably 15 or 20 minutes, and the entire time we were just driving through different parts of the campus.

That same first Thursday, we went to the Thyssen museum with the program, and I really enjoyed that because I hadn’t been to that museum yet and it had art from all periods of history, so it was interesting to see a little bit of everything.

And now I would like to end this marathon post with some of my recent thoughts about Spain. First, any homesickness that I was feeling at the end of last semester (which was sort of a lot) completely evaporated probably a day after the group from last semester departed, and I was walking around my neighborhood thinking about how comfortable and content I feel here, and how happy I was that I have more time here.

It’s crazy to me how at home I feel in Madrid after only five and a half months here, and I feel like this is already my city, but then I think about how ridiculous that must seem to someone who was born and raised here — in comparison to them, I know nothing about the city, and I’m just a visitor here. But regardless, I still feel like I have some sort of a claim on the city. I love it here, and I am so happy.

I’ve also come to realize that Spain is an extremely complex country that is still coming to terms with its history, and still deeply divided over some things. I could probably spend the rest of my life trying to understand what it means to be a Spaniard, but I love the little bit of insight that I gain each day, and I am absolutely in love with this amazing, confusing, complicated, beautiful country and its people.

Last weekend I had an amazing time in Tenerife, an island in Spain’s Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa, celebrating Carnaval! I’ll try to post an update about that before a month and a half has gone by! Thanks as always for reading my extreme wordiness, os quiero!

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