Non incautus futuri

A Washington & Lee junior and Marine Officer Candidate in Spain

Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

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!


Written by Lee

December 8, 2011 at 13:04

Posted in Spain

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

To the North: Santiago de Compostela

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“There can be few cities in the world as beautiful as Santiago [de Compostela] that are founded on the basis of so preposterous a story.”Lonely Planet guide to Spain.

Santiago de Compostela is the capital city of Galicia, a vibrant autonomous community (sort of like a state) in the northwestern extremity of Spain. Galicia is known for some of the freshest seafood in Europe, owing to the many rías (fjords) along its coasts. It is also the origin of gallego, one of Spain’s four official languages (the others are Castilian Spanish, Catalán, and Basque). Additionally, the city is the ultimate destination for thousands of pilgrims who trek the Camino de Santiago, a rugged route across southern France and northern Spain.

Legend has it that the beheaded body of the Apostle James was transported to Galicia. In 813, a shepherd claimed to find the remains of Santiago. The discovery was “confirmed” by a bishop, and a great cathedral was erected over the saint’s body. Over time, the city of Santiago de Compostela grew around the cathedral, and became one of the great cities of Spain.

I spent three days in this historic city. Unfortunately, it was cold and rainy most of the time. Galicia is part of “green Spain,” the northern zone of the country. Its weather, geography, and culture are completely different from Alicante — at times, I wondered if I was in a different country.

Despite the weather, I had a great time. The gray weather actually enhanced the austere medieval feel of the city. And my travel companions and I got a lot done in three days! We ate some good food, saw the famous cathedral, and walked a TON. I am pretty sure that we saw the entire city on foot — Lord, we walked a lot.

Anyway, enough boring reading. Pictures:

I know I said enough with the boring reading, but I lied. In addition to studying Spanish, I also study politics. In fact, I’m a huge pol nerd. So I can’t restrain myself from recording this little observation.

The Spanish national elections are coming up, and all commentators expect a landslide victory for the right-wing Popular Party. But in Galicia, I noticed something interesting — the campaign signs for the other major party, the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE) are all written in Galician!

The above PSOE slogan in Spanish is “Pelea por lo que quieres,” which means, “Fight for what you love.” On the other hand, the PP slogan is “Súmate al cambio,” or “Become part of the change.”

It doesn’t seem like a big deal that PSOE’s signs are in gallego unless you know a little bit about the history and politics of Spain. Under Franco’s regime, there was one Spain and one language. Regional differences were brutally repressed — if you spoke Galician in public, you were liable to end up in jail. After Franco’s death in 1975, the new Spanish government recognized “autonomous communities” that maintained their own separate languages and cultures.

The thing is, the degree of autonomy enjoyed by communities is contentious in Spanish politics. Supporters of PSOE tend to favor more autonomy for the local cultures, and you can see that stance reflected in the above picture. The PP, on the other hand, prefers more centralized government — which may be the reason why its campaign signs in Santiago are all in Castilian Spanish.

Anyway, enough political nerdiness. Maybe I’ll write a post sometimes about Spanish politics, but I don’t know that a) I have sufficient objective information about it and b) anyone would actually read it.

¡Un abrazo fuerte desde España!

Written by Lee

November 13, 2011 at 13:24

Posted in Spain

I’m Famous!

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My gastronomy class took a little trip to Alicante’s Central Market, and a reporter wrote a story about it for the local newspaper. I was interviewed, and there’s a little blurb with my name, a picture, and a quote. Surely, in such an important publication, my name will spread like wildfire throughout the Iberian Peninsula. I will be launched to fame and fly to worldly immortality on the wings of the Alicante Information.

I’ve scanned a copy of the article. You can click on it below to see the full version. For the non-Spanish speakers, I’m also including a translation. It’s a little clumsy, but that’s because sentences in Spanish are ridiculously long. I’ve actually noticed that Spanish has started deteriorating my English. The other day I told my friend that “the son of Pepa is very friendly,” because that’s the proper grammatical structure and literal translation in Spanish.

I have also included some photos I took on the visit below.

“A Trip Through the Roots of Gastronomy” by Tania Jiménez, Información Alicante

Visit to the Central Market of Alicante: The students of the Superior Language Center of the University of Alicante have opened up both their cultural horizons and their appetites with an extensive visit to the Central Market of Alicante.

The Central Market of Alicante had a new group of customers on Wednesday. A dozen American students from the Spanish and Alicantian Gastronomy class, which is taught in the Superior Language Center at the University of Alicante, went to the market to put into practice what they had previously learned in class and learn first-hand the typical Spanish — and especially Alicantian — ingredients.

From 12 in the afternoon until 2, the students, the director of the class, Pepa Vives, and the coordinator, Nacho Cervera, opened up their gastronomical horizons as the teacher, Antonio Lloréns, showed them the various parts of the market and explained the idiosyncrasies of Spanish cuisine. “The ingredients in almost all of the world are the same, or can be obtained easily, it’s how they’re combined that makes the difference between the gastronomic cultures of every country,” explained Lloréns, and used the potato tortilla as an example.

After moving through the area with fruits and vegetables, and stressing the importance of the seasons in the differences between foods, the students went to the area with salted meets. Here, they paid more attention and asked more questions. The students sampled a little bit of salted tuna with dates and, although there was little reluctance at first, they began asking how they could buy more. Also, they were amazed when they saw the huge pieces of fresh fish.

The last part of the tour was at the meat and sausage stands, and finished outside the Central Market, where Antonio Lloréns explained, “Markets always give a city its cultural character.”

This particular activity formed part of the practical coursework of the Spanish and Alicantian Gastronomy class, which also consists of eating tapas, a visit to a wine store, and cooking lessons in restaurants. Together with six theoretical lessons, these comprise the best way of transmitting the Spanish culture to the students.



Lee Brett: “Here people buy food every day, but I do it once a week.” (Lee likes Alicante a lot).

Jackie Newell: “Since I’ve arrived here I’ve eaten paella with lots of ingredients.” (Jackie has never been in a market).

Nacho Taylor: “The market is lively, it’s colorful, it’s nice to buy [food] like this.” (Nacho doesn’t like cheese at all).

Massive tuna head. The picture doesn't do it justice.

More animal heads!

Horse Meat!

Written by Lee

October 26, 2011 at 06:24

Posted in Spain

Weekend Trip to Granada

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I’ve just gotten back from a weekend trip to Granada…it was a bit cold and rainy, but apart from that I had a fantastic time. Nos pasábamos genial, as the Spaniards would say.

I could go on for a couple thousand words about all the things we did in Granada, but I think that’d be sort of boring to read. A quick laundry list:

– Saw a flamenco show: this was amazing, and way different than what I was expecting. I wish I had pictures of this — I tried to take a video with my phone, but it was just too dark inside.

– Ate great (and cheap!) tapas: In the south, you order a drink and you get a tapa free. Tapas are little morsels — you eat some here, some there, and you try a little of everything. This weekend I had jamón ibérico (Iberian ham), shellfish, Spanish tortilla (NOT like a tortilla in the United States — it’s basically a potato/egg cake), and a half dozen other delicious plates. I also tried a few types of vino tinto, or red wine. Before coming to Spain, I wasn’t much for wine, but it’s really growing on me.

– Toured the Alhambra: This ancient Moorish fortress defended the Islamic territories in Spain for centuries, until it finally fell to Christian forces in 1492. The whole place is beautiful: everything is intricately detailed with geometric patterns, and there are gardens, pools, and fountains everywhere.

– Visited the Royal Chapel and the Cathedral of Granada: the Royal Chapel is the final resting place of the Reyes Católicos, King Ferdinand of Aragón and Queen Isabelle of Castile. The Chapel is a massive gothic structure with Renaissance decorations. It adjoins the city’s cathedral, which is even bigger and decorated with nearly decadent pomp and luxury.

– Went souvenir hunting: there are about a billion super touristy shops in the streets of Granada, and we probably went into about half of them. Most of them sell the same junk: T-shirts, hookah pipes, etc. But I picked up a few gifts for friends back in the States, and some post cards. I’m hoping to get a Tercio (Spanish Legion) keychain, and maybe a Spanish flag (although they aren’t actually very popular here in Spain).

– Had a few cups of tea at one of Granada’s tea shops: these places are famous — they have dozens of types of tea, chai, and the like. We tried an oriental blend that tasted strongly of honey, and nibbled on a few pieces of baklava. It was fantastic. Perhaps of lesser novelty, but certainly just as enjoyable, was our visit to a coffee shop. We had some pastries (coffee cake layered with raspberry sauce) and café con leche. The hot drinks were perfect for warding off the frigid temperatures.

Anyway, thanks for being patient and reading all that. The “laundry list” was way longer than I originally intended…and that isn’t even everything we did! Now for the good stuff — photos! The first one you can click on to see a panorama.

These figurines are for Semana Santa, a religious holiday...but man, they're creepy.

My friend Emma in the tea shop.

A few friends and I after trinket-hunting!

Written by Lee

October 24, 2011 at 08:22

Posted in Spain

Spain is Different: Part II (Big on the Pig)

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Spaniards are fond of pork. Very, very fond.

More like, "Pig in the Oven."

I could go on about all the pork dishes here, but I’ll just share two. Chorizo is a national delicacy, it’s a sort of sausage that is made by stuffing cured pork inside the pig’s own intestines. Mmmmm, que rico. I actually do like chorizo, though, so I won’t really bust on it. But morcilla is another matter. Morcilla is basically coagulated pig blood, shaped into a little black patty. Sometimes there are flecks of rice or something to give the dried blood sausage a little bit more texture.

Nom nom nom

Grossed out? You’re welcome.

Written by Lee

October 9, 2011 at 10:16

Posted in Spain


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In the midst of an otherwise uneventful weekend, I up and decided to go to Altea with my Dutch girlfriend.

Pictured: My Dutch girlfriend.

Altea is a small fishing village, located — like Alicante — on the Costa Blanca. Every Spaniard who told me about Altea gave glowing reviews: my host mother, my professors, and my intercambio speaking partner. So along with three buddies (the Amstel thing was a joke, I really do have friends!) I went to Altea. Our group consisted of a USC student named Josh, my Japanese host sister Yuki, a Russian postgrad student, Anastasia, and me.

Uh..."and I."

Anyhow, we got up early (well, for college students on a Sunday morning) and made our way to the tram station at Plaza Luceros. 7€  got us a round trip ticket, which wasn’t bad considering that the ride is an hour and a half long.

We made it to Altea without a hitch and had lunch on the beach. The “beach” was actually quite rocky, not at all like the soft sand that blankets Alicante’s beaches. The Mediterranean water was very blue, and when the waves broke you could hear the rocks getting picked up and rolled along the shore. That isn’t poetic hyperbole, you could actually hear them moving. Video proof:

What do you mean I can't bring my spear gun?!

As nice as the water and scenery was, at the end of a few hours I was thinking that perhaps a rocky beach was not worth the trouble of three hours’ travel. The whole group was tired — we were dragging butt all the way back to the tram station. Sometimes being in a foreign country is exhausting. You can love Spanish and you can love Spain, but there will still come a time that you get burned out. You don’t want to speak Spanish, you want English. And I think that’s how we were at this point in the trip. “Yeah, yeah. Cool beach. Let’s go home.”

At this point, my friend Josh came through for us. “¿Queréis ir a la iglesia que está en la colina?” “Do y’all want to go to the church on top of the hill?” He indicated a bell tower, some ways off. We had some time to kill before the next tram — no one wanted to go to some church, but no one wanted to be the killjoy who said so. So we dragged ourselves off the benches, and off we went.

At the top of the hill, we found — well, I’ll let y’all see for yourselves.

This last picture is a panoramic — click on it to see the full version.

Needless to say, this trip is just what I needed to kill some of that burnout. My new classes start tomorrow, and I will start them as motivated and enthusiastic as ever. ¡Nos vemos!

Written by Lee

October 5, 2011 at 08:10

Posted in Spain