Thursday, June 23, 2011

If You Play With Fire...

As it’s already the 23rd here in Spain, I officially leave in 5 days.  
And as the days seem to pass faster and faster, I can’t quite come to the realization that the last three months have already come and gone.  I won’t go into my misty-eyed, staring-off-in-the-distance recounting of how quickly time passes (not yet, atleast), but it does seem that this final week is really just flying by.  As I’ve been a bit silent with my posting (sorry about that guys), I’m going to give you some quick updates about the happenings with me and in Alicante before I go into a short description of the gigantic festival that’s going on right now.
*I returned to Tabarca, the island of the demonic jellyfish, to find the water crystal clear, warm, and, amazingly, perfectly jellyfish-less.  I did a little snorkeling, laid on the beach, and explored the island.  It was a beautiful day, although I’m still dealing with the repercussions of thinking I have a “base tan” and therefore am exempt from wearing sunscreen.  Silly Alicia.

*José Antonio and I spent 25 minutes looking for my house keys the other day.  He found them.  They were in my glasses case.  Though I’m not surprised that they were in a strange location (I have the tendency to absentmindedly put the TV remote in the fridge,  among other things), this whole debacle does beg the question: soooo, where are my glasses?  Well, they were on the bookshelf, of course.  Because normal people not only display their favorite reads, family photos, and nostalgic mementos on bookshelves, they also put their glasses there for all to see.  At least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself to calm my soon-to-be-25-years-old-and-I’M-GETTING-OLD panic.  
*Now the best, and possibly most miraculous news of all (which isn’t too new for the Facebookers out there), I SOMEHOW passed my Spanish class!!!  Not quite sure how this happened, but it did.  So, technically, my Spanish is Intermediate level, but don’t have any preconceived notions about my speaking abilities when I get home.  I still sound like a robot and often take a full 2 minutes to piece together an incorrectly-pieced-together sentence.  
Now that the excitement of the exam has passed, I can direct my attention to more important matters.  
In no particular order, these are:
My tan
Enjoying the nightlife
Sampling EVERY chocolate pastry available
Spending as much time at the beach as possible
With only 5 days left, a girl has to prioritize.  In truth, though, the biggest priority for me is to experience Las Hogueras de San Juan, which means, The Bonfires of Saint John.  Hogueras (pronounced oh-GAIR-ahs), as it’s informally called, is Alicante’s biggest celebration.  From what I’ve observed so far, it’s 4 days and nights of fireworks and drinking.  Everyone buys fireworks and lights them from streets, windows, lawns, beaches, wherever.  This includes children.  More than once this week, I’ve been surprised by a rolling ball of smoke stumbling to my feet, and moving just in time before the bang.  
Unfortunately, the irresponsibility with explosives does not only lie with the children.  On a few occasions now, I’ve seen adults being carried off on stretchers because of an amateur attempt at pyrotechnics gone bad.  Also, there are these big things, called hogueras, which will eventually get burned to smithereens on Friday night with hundreds of people dancing around the flames.
Does anyone else see that this stuff is DANGEROUS?!?!
Precarious firework displays and 5-story bonfires aside, here’s how Hogueras works: The city is divided up into 86 districts, each district then commissions an artist to create an hoguera based on a theme so 86 hogueras are built throughout the city.  Now, on top of that, each district also has a barraca, which is a private, fenced-in area in the middle of their district where the members of that district can go to socialize with each other, eat, drink, and dance the nights away.  So, throughout the streets of Alicante, you have 86 GIGANTIC statues and huge sections of streets closed off for parties.  This isn’t to mention the nightclubs, bars, restaurants, food stands, and temporary shops also set up IN THE STREET.  On top of this, each district also has beautiful lit arches that frame the streets of their district and identify them from the others.  I have never seen an entire city get so involved in a festival before.  It’s exciting, invigorating, and makes me want to dance the night away with locals and foreigners alike.

An example of the lit arches in one district
At the barraca of my friend Nerea's district 
One hoguera
And another two blocks away
An outdoor nightclub
And another right in the middle of the street
As you may imagine, with all of the roadblocks there is also a lot of strange traffic, changes in bus and tram schedules, and all sorts of general transportation squabbles.  So, as you’ve probably rightfully deduced, just as I’m starting to get a hang of the bus schedules here in Alicante, they go and switch them all on me.  I just can’t win.  
So now that you have a little background info, I’m headed back to Alicante to enjoy the next two days which are traditionally, “the craziest.”  I’ll write a post with my conclusions on the festival this weekend, but if you haven’t heard from me by Sunday, just pray I haven’t been the victim of a drive-by fireworking. 
Thanks for reading,

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A List

I apologize for my lack of blogging this week as I’m experiencing the sudden onset of ‘Blog Block.’  Coupled with a generally uncomplicated and disaster-less week, I haven’t had much material or gumption with which to conjure up a good story.  I’ve also spent most of the last week complaining about the Spanish exam I’ll be “taking” tomorrow.  I know it’s difficult to picture me complaining about anythingggg butttt.....(I can hear my Mom in my head laughing out loud right now).   
You may remember that, this being the Intermediate Spanish course, and me being an extreme beginner Spanish speaker, I vowed to grab the quintessential Spanish bull by the horns and “rock” this class.  Turns out when you live on a beach, it’s very difficult to motivate yourself to move your limbs, much less exercise your mind.  And since I’ve been spending quite a lot of time lately on the sandy shores of the Mediterranean, my old habits of procrastination have been running the show here in regards to studying.  So far, I have logged exactly 4 minutes making a list of things I need to study.  So now you may be wondering what I have been doing all this time instead of hitting the books.  Luckily for you, I’ve compiled a list:
25 Things I’ve Done Besides Study for My Exam Tomorrow
  1. Napped
  2. Laid in bed wishing I was napping
  3. Facebooked
  4. Swam in the pool
  5. Swam in the sea
  6. Laid in the sun
  7. Edited video footage
  8. Looked through alllll my old photos
  9. Watched the two part reunion special of The Real Housewives of Orange County (it was awesomeee)
  10. Watched 5 episodes of So You Think You Can Dance (also awesome)
  11. Facebooked
  12. Researched the cost of shipping boxes of stuff home
  13. Stressed about the cost of shipping boxes of stuff home
  14. Donated stuff to charity
  15. Clicked around the internet...all of it
  16. Went to the beach...a lot
  17. Ate chocolate...a lot
  18. Tried to think of more ways to use “...” in my writing...
  19. Danced around Alicante
  20. Planned summer barbecues
  21. Planned summer 5Ks to counteract the effects of said barbecues
  22. Skyped with whoever would possibly talk to me
  23. Facebooked
  24. Messed with Zipi’s emotions
  25. Wrote this blog post
Thanks for reading,

Friday, June 10, 2011

In Which I Lose Again

As my days in Alicante are dwindling, my general demeanor has quickly gone from “Ahhhh...relllaaaxxxx” to “I only have 2 and a half weeks to see EVERYTHING.”  The last minute pitfalls of living in a heavily tourist-ed area are starting to show themselves as I have been putting off visiting the region’s major attractions.  Since I've been living with the mentality that "I can just see it another day" for quite a while now, those other days are numbered.  Now, I’m paying for it as I watch my To Do list grow longer than all of my past Christmas lists combined.  To kick off this flurry of activities, I made a date with one of my Dutch friends (or as Dad calls them, Hollandaise), Lori, to make the journey to the top of Mount Benacantil where the Castillo de Santa Barbara sits overlooking downtown Alicante.  

Lori and I.
Our goal
At 166m (roughly 550 ft.) this is by no means a mountain, but since all those feet are accomplished in a very short distance, the trek can get a bit steep.  Thinking ourselves smarter than the average bears, we opted to take the elevator to the top of the mountain (what? don’t alllll late 9th century castles have elevators in them?) with the plan of bounding down the stairs, sweat-free and jovial back into the city.  Upon our arrival, we discovered that the elevator was in fact, closed, (I mean, it's me, what did you expect?) and that if we were going to get to the castle, we were going to have to hike it.  Now, there are a few routes to get up there and, naturally, we chose the most difficult, as that’s just how things work out with me.  Thus began our climb of Mount I-Don’t-Wanna-Do-This-Anymore.  Also known as I-Wasn’t-Supposed-To-Sweat-Like-This Peak and Is-This-NORMAL?! Hill.  Keep in mind, these are the names I’ve deemed suitable for a family reading audience.  You can use your imagination about the others.

Sizing up the trek to those litttlleee tinnyyy lookout towers which were our destination.
And you can imagine our surprise (forced smile) when we finally reached the top of our grueling, sweat-drenched, calf-burning, 90% incline hike (alright, it wasn’t that much...but it was close) and viewed...THE PARKING LOT.  With CARS.  Connected to the ROAD that you can DRIVE on to the top.  Such fools we are!  But we were calmed by the knowledge that neither of us has a car, so we’d have to walk anyway.  Oh, that’s such a relief.  For a second, I thought we were justifiably dumb.  
And I held onto that happy ignorance for a few hours until I talked to my Mom after I got home and she informed me, “Ya know, you can take the bus up there.  You know, the public bus, it goes right up there.”
....Kill me.
So friends, as usual, the Alicante Bus System wins again.  Someday, I will be smarter than it.  Someday.
Despite the climb and necessary usage of my beautiful Barcelonian scarf as a sweat mop, the views from the trail and summit were well worth the trouble.  

Goofing usual.

San Juan.  That's where I live!

After some more picture taking and exploring, we descended down the much LESS slanted path from the castle back into the city.  And as I was looking over the twinkling lights of Alicante, boats passing in the sea, and the distant sign of life over on jellyfish island (Tabarca), I couldn’t help but come to some thrilling conclusions after the day's journey:
  1. I love this place.
  2. I should be a princess.
  3. Freakin' buses.
  4. I’m out of shape.
And with that, Lori and I made our way to the first ice cream parlor we could find.  
Thanks for reading,

Sunday, June 5, 2011

F.O.L.C.A.: G.H., V. 1

As I am in between thrilling adventures of unparalleled peril and close encounters with the Spanish kind right now, I decided to throw together a little compilation of my friends’ and families’ greatest hits (and a little dash of my own quips from my journal mixed in for good measure). 
Explain? Ok.
As we are just over three weeks away from the end of this exciting, sunny, and oftentimes absolutely ridiculous adventure, I’m spending a lot more time thinking about what has transpired in the last months.  Luckily for me, I have a very large network of people alllll over the world who have not only been my support system, but have provided lots of thoughtful, heart-wrenching, philosophical, metaphysical, and hysterical quotes that I have personally enjoyed greatly during my time in Spain.  Little did all of you know that I have been closely monitoring our Facebook/email/snail mail conversations for humorous musings and tidbits of advice for me, the lonesome traveler (not really lonesome, but I thought it sounded dramatic) that would resonate with an even larger audience of faithful readers, family, and friends alike.  With two months of frequent communication under my belt, it’s impossible to include a little something from everyone here, especially when many of your comments are so wonderful, that I needed to keep them allllll to myself...
They’re my preciouses, and I shall call them my preciouses.

Ohh...K.  You get the point.
So I’m displaying here some of the great transmissions of the last months.  Except in cases where the identity of the writer (other than myself) is relevant to understanding each quote, I’ve disguised my unknowing blog participants with initials in the hopes that, in the event that I accidentally post something controversial, I’ll be able to use the excuse “But no one knows it was you!”
So, with that being said, let me present:
Friends of La Chica Americana: Greatest Hits, Vol. 1
“Don’t eat too many churros...we warned you!” - J.D. & M.D. 

“This is your story of rediscovery and new discovery, and you are the only one that can write it.” - K.R. (aka M.R.)

“I’ve been here a month and a half and still have no idea what ‘asada’ is from the Taco Bell menu.” Excerpt from my journal, May 15th.
(Note: I have since found out...and by since, I mean today, that it means meat that is baked in an oven).
“Who knows what Spain has yet to teach you.  Be present there.” -T.F.
“Borja’s cat, Zipi, continues to dislike me.  24 lbs.  We weighed him at the vet last week.  He spends most of his day sleeping, throwing around a stuffed toy dog, and sitting outside my door and glaring at me while I write blogposts.  I call him ‘pantera.’” Excerpt from my journal, May 10th.
“As soon as you think your life is set there is usually something that will happen and, in return, flip your life upside down.  You have to roll with the punches like missing a key change in the middle of a piece when Trost [my high school band teacher] is giving you the eye in the middle of a concert.  You are in the prime of your life where doing is much more important than dwelling.” - E.O. (aka F.F.F.)

“I think Spain is making me: tanner, more social, a better dancer, more self-assured, more confident, better looking, more independent, happier, and even more hilarious (and obviousssllyyy humble, too).” Excerpt from my journal, May 28th.

“I began to see that none of us ever make it through this world without scars...but now I know that there are no good stories without messy parts.  Tales without complications are rarely retold.  Pain is one of grace’s greatest disguises, and how thankful I am for the transformation that always comes along with it.” - L.M-V. (quoting
“I think you are stumbling across a beautiful truth.” -I.K.
“I only speak English with Borja and sometimes his father, José Antonio.  With everyone else, I speak Spanish.  And by “speak,” I mean that through a series of incorrect pronouns, unconjugated verbs, hand motions, clicks & whistles, and smoke signals, I get my point across about 70% of the time.” Excerpt from my journal, May 4th.
“U will write again soon and be interesting.” Gagee, my grandmother

“With lachicaamericana, I’ve somehow tricked my family and friends into finding my life interesting enough to follow in a blog.  Small moments, events, I’ve turned into posts that they find interesting!” Excerpt from my journal, May 15th.
“I hope you had a great weekend and you are swept away by some hunk with large deltoids.  Are those the ones in your neck?  I don’t know.  A stud with a large neck.  No wait, that doesn’t sound right either.  A stud with fat shoulders.  Oh, crap, let’s go with a decent looking, moderately to not-so-hairy man who may or may not have a good personality.  As long as he doesn’t sweep you away forever.” - R.F.S.H.
“Keep dreaming, keep dancing, keep writing, keep smiling.  Keep both feet on the ground and remember:
“Only when we lose the world will we find ourselves,” Henry David Thoreau.” - M.R.G.
And finally, one of the best and most meaningful compliments I have received about lachicaamericana:
“Oddly enough, your blog makes me feel a little less homesick.” 
     - Senior Airman Justine Wolff, U.S. Air Force, from Bragman Army Base, Afghanistan
I’m so darn lucky to have all of you.
And all of YOU!!  Let me just quote one more excerpt from my journal (June 1):
“I literally have the most supportive friends and family in the entire world.  They make me feel so happy and so incredibly confident in myself as a writer, as a person, and in the choices I’ve made.”
So, you see, I really just wouldn’t be able to do this without all of you.  Whether I hear from you all the time, a few comments here and there, or I just hear through the grapevine that you’re reading along, it’s all supportive, and it’s all appreciated.  So, I’ll see you in three weeks, but until then, I’ll keep writing, and as always,
Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In Search of Christopher Columbus: Barcelona, Part 3

And now, the thrilling conclusion of my four days in Barcelona...

Henceforth, the Saturday I was in BCN shall now be known as Wild Goose Chase Day as I spent the entire morning playing the most vicious game of “he said, she said” with cell phone carriers and train station employees.  For being an international city, everyone that you need to speak to about something important (like, changing train tickets and adding money to your pay-as-you-go phone) doesn’t speak English.  
But when you’re talking to anyone on the street or in a shop, and you ask them a question in Spanish, nothing says your handle on the language is not improving when they answer you in English.  In Barcelona, signs are written in at least three languages (Castellano (the official language of Spain), Catalan (a regional dialect of the Eastern coast of Spain), and English) and most people speak at least some English (except for EVERYONE I talked to on Wild Goose Chase Day).  Walking around, you hear many different languages spoken (mostly by the tourists of course, of which there are many).  Another great thing about the international nature of Barcelona, aside from meeting people from all corners of the globe, was that I didn’t feel quite so much like an Amazonian woman as I usually do in Alicante.  I got lots of comments from blog readers about the ‘average inches taller than most Spanish men I am’ statistic in Meet Me Halfway, but it’s true.  Being a beautiful, beachy city, Alicante has it’s fair share of tourists, but on the street, you encounter mostly Spanish people, and in general, they’re short.  This was not the case in the areas of BCN that I visited.  It felt more normal to have men taller than me, rather than face to face with my chin.  But alas, I only have 27 more days of feeling freakishly tall before I’m back in the States, surrounded by fellow tall people once more.  
With tickets changed and the hostel booked for another night, I ventured out with Anna and Ben to do a little sightseeing.  We headed back toward Las Ramblas and ended up walking through the Gothic quarter of the city, Barrí Gotic.  Just gorgeous.  

After more shopping (I just can’t stop) and tapas, we headed back to our respective hostels for quick siestas to prepare for the night ahead.  

The Nike store preparing for the game.
Geneseo Pride

That night, FCBarcelona played Manchester United in the Champions League Final, which is the final game of a tournament that includes soccer teams from all of Europe.  With the help of my Spanish family, I’ve been becoming a Barça fan since my arrival in Spain and to be in the city during the game was amazing.  Upon recommendations from friends who’ve traveled to Barcelona before, we ended up at a bar called L’Ovella Negra (The Black Sheep).  By the time the game started, the place was packed with men and women wearing FCBarcelona flags as capes, chanting, and drinking.  Barcelona scored first, followed by a goal from Man U, with Barça putting two more away by the end of the game.  

Inside L'Ovella Negra
After one of the three goals

It was absolutely insane.  Ben and Anna and I kept turning to each other and just reveling in how cool this was.  The energy in the room was palpable, but it was nothing compared with the streets outside. 

Here’s a video of people on Las Ramblas celebrating the win, and another one of the traffic on the Passeig de Gracía after the game.  
Aside from the amazing walk through the Barri Gotic, hanging out with my Geneseo buddies, and truly having a once in a lifetime experience watching the Barça game in Barcelona, Saturday was made complete when I found Christopher Columbus.
No, really.  I’d been looking for him since Thursday.
Aside from the thievery, shopping, and long-distance walking that Las Ramblas is known for, it’s also famous for it’s living statues.  While walking down the long street, every five minutes you encounter a living statue who will take some pictures with you if you drop a couple coins in their buckets.  On Thursday, I got a couple pictures with this lady:

And I also saw Christopher Columbus, but didn’t stop to take pics.  After I thought about it for a while, I decided that I should really get a couple good exploratory photos with him, but when I turned back, he was nowhere to be found.  I also looked for him Friday and Saturday morning, and finally stumbled upon him before heading to The Black Sheep for the game Saturday night.  Here are the results:

Just can’t help myself sometimes. 

Alright, kiddos, Barcelona has been officially blogged!  Hope you've enjoyed this little series of posts as much as I enjoyed my trip!  We are now officially in June, the month in which I return back to the States and am reunited with all of you from back home who've been following along on this journey!  As always, thanks for the continued support!  Christopher Columbus and I appreciate it more than you know!

And as always, thanks for reading,