Non incautus futuri

A Washington & Lee junior and Marine Officer Candidate in Spain

Archive for December 2011

Bevingut a Catalunya: Barcelona

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With only 15 days remaining until I leave Spain for America, I’ve been traveling a fair amount. I want to make the most of the weeks I have left. But I’m really fortunate to have travelled pretty extensively within Spain. I’ve been to Madrid, Toledo, Alicante, Valencia, Altea, Granada, Murcia and Santiago de Compostela.

But until today, there was once place I had yet to check off my list. “Go to Barcelona!” urged my Spanish friends. “Go to Barcelona!” urged my fellow students. “Go to Barcelona!” urged the program director. So on Monday, I went ahead with two friends and went to Barcelona. It’s a good week to travel, because this week there were two Spanish national holidays: Día de la Constitución (Constitution Day) and Día de la Inmaculada (Day of the Immaculate Conception). I didn’t even have to miss class.

A little about Barcelona: it’s the capital city of Cataluña, one of Spain’s wealthiest autonomous communities. The Catalán people have a long tradition of fierce nationalism; this is not surprising, since their language, culture, and economy have been very different from the rest of the country for centuries. The city is absolutely beautiful, due in large part to the Modernist architectural masterpieces that dot the cityscape.

We stayed at a fantastic hostel — the other guests were very friendly, and the owner showed us how to make paella and sangria! We saw a large part of the city, although we had to hop one of those horribly tacky double-decker tourist buses in order to do so. Some highlights included the city’s cathedral, the Gothic Quarter, and several of Gaudi’s buildings (including, of course, La Sagrada Familia). We cruised past the huge stadium where FC Barcelona (or Barça) plays. We explored Parque Güell, Parque de la Ciutadella, and a bit of the Barcelona nightlife.

Two interesting side notes before I get to the fun stuff (pictures). First, Barcelona is apparently home to legions of very skilled pickpockets. There is very little violent crime, but plenty of people lose their phones and wallets without ever being the wiser. Knowing this, I was very aware of my surroundings while in Barcelona — nonetheless, I actually had a close call. I was walking around in an outdoor market, and as I was passing a small Christmas tree display, one of the trees suddenly fell over. I thought I had somehow kicked it, and I bent over to pick it back up and apologize to the owner, who shrugged. When I stood up, I noticed that my phone was about 90 percent out of my front right pocket. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I had checked that pocket literally seconds before and the phone was seated securely at the bottom of the pocket. And I don’t think I kicked that tree, so I think I got very lucky.

The other thing is that Barcelona has a weird obsession with figurines of people defecating. Literally every tourist store you go into has little wooden, plastic, or ceramic statues of people squatting down with their pants down. The artistic subjects include the new president, Manuel Rajoy, George Bush, Barack Obama, Spiderman, and even Hello Kitty. I ask a lady selling them what the deal is with the crapping figurines is, and she tells me they bring good luck. I didn’t buy any.

You can click on this one to see a larger version!

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Written by Lee

December 8, 2011 at 13:04

Posted in Spain

W&L Reunion Part II: Oxford & London

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Last weekend, four friends and I met up in Paris for a Washington & Lee Thanksgiving. We staged a little bit of an encore this weekend — my buddy Steele and I went and visited the United Kingdom. I’ve just gotten back, and by the time this is posted I’ll be on my way to Barcelona for the final trip of my semester in Spain. So I need to keep this post briefer than I’d like — what follows is really just a skeleton of the details.

Oxford: 

Steele and I went and visited our friend Stephanie, who is studying at Worcester College this year. Stephanie went out of her way to show us a great time — we saw the Oxford nightlife, which is hilarious, fun, and completely unlike anything I have ever seen. Apparently drinking out of shoes (literally, the ones they wear on their feet) is something of a tradition for Worcester students.

Oxford is a college town to the hilt. Because the university is separated into colleges of only a few hundred students, there are really tight-knit communities. The students are also really, really smart and the academics are top-notch (if that even need be said). Stephanie’s classes basically consist of meeting one-on-one with a “tutor,” reading a prepared redaction and analysis of a given theme, and having her tutor critique her thought process. One Oxford student described her education as “having to learn everything yourself, and then having someone pick holes in your work.” On top of all that, the school is completely gorgeous and just unbelievably full of history.

I’m already breaking my word about the brevity thing — I knew this would happen. Here are some pictures:

London:

 I had a big list of stuff Steele and I did in London, but the truth is that I actually had some bad luck in London. I lost my phone on the Underground (and thus the list), and I managed to miss my return flight back to Alicante. Two very costly screw-ups that I haven’t really stopped kicking myself for.

Still, we saw and did a LOT in London, and I had a great time. A quick list of stuff we did:

The British Museum: This was one of the coolest museums I have ever seen. It was absolutely phenomenal, and completely overwhelming in its scope. There were mummies, Greek and Roman sculptures, Easter Island figurines, and really a little bit of everything from the ancient world.

The Imperial War Museum: This museum was great — it had exhibits on World War I (including one with a simulated trench), World War II, and Britain’s various military exploits in the 20th century.

Chinese food: Yeah, it’s not that much different from American Chinese food, but it was my first taste of something even slightly spicy since being in Europe, so I consider it noteworthy.

Tower Bridge and the Tower of London: Pretty cool, but we didn’t actually go inside because they charge an arm and a leg to get in. The student rate was 17£, which is like $27. Also, the place seemed a little bit touristy. There was an ice rink set up in front of the Tower, so we gathered it’s changed a bit since the princes got murdered.

Whitehall: This area of London has a ton of stuff — Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the like. It was nice, but there wasn’t actually so much to do here, it was mostly stuff to see.

Trafalgar Square: Probably my favorite bit of London. It was so cool! Pictures below.

Dinner with more W&L friends: We met up with Annie, who is also studying at Oxford, and Madison, who is studying in Rome, for dinner. It was a great time, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the restaurant we ate at was the British equivalent of Applebee’s.

Again, sorry for typing up a novel. Pictures:

Written by Lee

December 5, 2011 at 14:00

Posted in Eurotrip

On The Bus

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There is a psychological tendency, I think, to start preparing for major changes before they have even happened.

Sometimes this is good. Other times, it’s bad.

High school seniors, upon acceptance to college, often contract “senioritis,” believing that they will have smooth sailing for the rest of high school. They say that soldiers deployed in combat environments start losing their edge towards the end of their tours — their thoughts are with their families, not engaged in the fight.

At OCS this summer, the sergeant instructors had a name for this phenomenon. They called it “getting on the bus.” Approximately a week before graduation, the platoon started getting slacker on discipline. Our drill movements were shabby, our sound-offs were weak, and candidates moved slower responding to commands. The SIs would snarl: “You ain’t on the bus yet. There’s still time to fail.”

The point of these little anecdotes is to illustrate the great danger of “getting on the bus” before it is ready to leave. More than a few high school students have had their college admissions revoked after failing a class. In combat, checking out mentally gets good men killed. And it’s always possible to fail OCS, even on graduation day. As one Staff Sergeant liked to say: “Complacency kills.”

The same adage applies to my time remaining here in Spain. At this point, I’m three-odd weeks from touching down on American soil. And I’m catching myself getting slack. I’m thinking too much about where I’ll be, instead of about where I am. I’m listening to American songs again, even though I’ve been forcing myself to listen to music only in Spanish. I feel less urgency about studying, and I don’t feel as compelled to get out there and practice my speaking skills. In short, I’ve gotten on the bus — and I need to get off.

What I am doing is exactly the opposite of what I should be doing. The fact that I’m close to the metaphorical finish line doesn’t mean I should slow down. On the contrary, I should be ramping up the intensity and putting every last measure of effort into my Spanish studies here.

Written by Lee

December 1, 2011 at 13:30

Posted in Spain