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Published: April 4th 2009
I write this from a juice bar in Spain. It's an interesting place, right around the corner from where Kelly is in class, and the guys behind the counter seem to speak a variety of languages: Spanish, of course, then English, and I could have sworn that they were speaking French to each other a minute ago. They laughed at my inability to speak Spanish, and my highly American desire to pay for my juice when it was given to me: ''Here in Spain, you go sit at the table, drink it, then pay when you leave'' one of them kindly explained.
I arrived here early on Friday afternoon. Valencia is a lovely, very Spanish city. There are wrought iron balconies, elaborately tiled roofs and walls, and they absolutely adore marble- inside their homes it's more popular than carpet or hardwoods, at least from what I've seen. I've even found some sidewalks here that are a beautifully polished red stone. I'm staying with Kelly and her host mom and another girl, Katie, who also studies with the American program in Valencia. Her host mom is a very sweet woman and a good cook, who was so excited
to be able to cook meat for me. Kelly and her house mate Katie are both vegetarian, so their host mom didn't cook any meat for herself either while it was just the three of them, and was delighted to be able to cook dishes with carne.
After dropping off my bag we went ahead and wandered around the city seeing the Torres del Quart a magnificent set of towers. it was a beautiful, strangely empty place, but it was very high up, and so I probably didn't appreciate it as much as I would have if it had been more... enclosed. The staircases were all but open to the air and to the streets and city below, even when we were inside the towers- scary. But very cool at the same time.
One of my favorite features of the city is El Rio. Valencia used to have a river running through the center of the city, but it ended up flooding every once in a while, as rivers are wont to do. In order to deal with it, the city planners decided to drain the entire river, leaving all bridges etc, in place and transform the 9
km of newly exposed riverbed into a park complex. There are playing fields and paths that wind their way through absolutely massive trees, orange groves interspersed with fountains, and everything from playgrounds to mini golf to concert halls. The main playground is an absolute work of art. Its a full model of Gulliver from Gulliver's Travels. The statue is so giant that anyone standing nearby looks exactly like a lilliputian, even the adults!! We wanted to play, but as we're "adults" and had no children with us, we resisted the temptation.
On Saturday we went to L'Oceanografic. Essentially it is a massive aquarium. There was a different building for each different habitat, with lots of outdoor areas where the seals, sea lions, and flamingos were housed. I hadn't realized until we got there that sea lions do in fact very much resemble land lions. Who knew? (Yes, I'm sure most of you did- but let me enjoy my moment of epiphany) The area dedicated to the arctic and antarctic was beautiful and very large. So large in fact that there were two beluga whales and some walruses housed there as well. It wasn't as cold as I would have
expected it to be in there, but that could be because it was just so chilly outside. After the aquarium we ended up being caught in a downpour with no umbrellas or raingear, so we were very wet and cold by the time we'd made the long trek back to the apartment. Friday afternoon was lovely, but the last several days have all been rainy and grey. I'm convinced that I'm cursed. Weather just follows me. Ah well, It's still beautiful here.
Sunday was a quiet day, in the way that Sundays are in a predominantly catholic country. Almost all the stores and museums were entirely closed. A gesture for respect for the sabbath to be sure, but I was informed that the real reason for the tradition being kept up was more likely the fact that all the Spaniards had been out the night before, and were having a lie-in! Even when we went out at three in the afternoon, the streets seemed to be utterly deserted of any life, that is, except for the tourists, easily identifiable as all of them held maps outstretched in front of them. We did go to visit MUVIM- a modern art
museum that looked interesting in the brochures, but was not as impressive in real life. If there's one thing that I wouldn't reccomend it would be that, although it was free, but unlike most major museums the exhibits were only in Valenciano and Spanish with no guides in any other language.
Last night we went to go see a ballet de flamenco at a local Spanish bar called La Claca. It was only 8 euro to get in, and it included a glass of sangria or a cerveza (beer). I went with the Sangria which was absolutely delicious- and very appropriate for the evening. The flamenco began with the guitar, and I have never heard such beautiful playing in all of my life. There's a reason that Spanish guitarists are some of the best in the world. Then the other elements of flamenco were added- a singer whose voice sounded almost arabic in tone, and a percussionist whose main instrument was a wooden box that he sat on. I had no idea the sounds that one can make emerge from a wooden box. Finally, the dancer was added. She was a stunning woman, and the dancing was absolutely amazing-
Unfortunately the video I took is too large to post here- but ask me about it when I get back. After she and the band preformed we had a small show by two flamenco students, both boys, whose deancing was incredible. The younger boy, Paco, was extraordinarily talented and had alredy mastered the intense expression of passion that all flamenco dancers seem to posess.
The past few days have been fun, wandering the city, and learning bits and pieces of spanish language and culture. I can understand a little of the language now, it's amazing what you can understand if you're around it for any length of time. My skills with speaking are limited, but I'm learning! One of the more interesting things that I've found about Spanish culture is the notion of Siesta- It's still going strong here in Valencia. The people here that own shops will close them around one or two in the afternoon for roughly 3 hours- enough for a long lunch and a nap, before opening them up, and staying open until 8 or 9 at night, at which point they will have dinner, and the more adventurous will go out and
stay out until the early hours of the morning.
Despite all this partying that I've been hearing about, as I mentioned before, Spain is a predominately Catholic country, and the major old buildings are still the churches. The Cathedral in Plaza de la Reina is a perfect testament to it. I went and explored it early one morning while Kelly was still in class. There was a priest holding mass in one of the side chapels, and another sitting in a confessional, quietly reading a bible as he waited for people to approach. The cathedral itself was interesting because for all the ornateness of the chapels and central alter, the actual nave had little adornment. The vaulted ceilings were made of brick, the columns of unadorned stone, and the windows were for the most part an odd marbled translucent material. Not stained glass, except in a few key places, and even the outside was simple stone with only a modicum of carvings. The juxtaposition of the two styles was very interesting, especially when compared to some of the great old Catholic cathedrals like Yorkminster and the Vatican, which tended to be consistent in the grandeur of the place. The
Cathedral itself is known for claiming to have the Holy Grail- a very pretty bejeweled thing that's been there for 500 years. Though the gold and jewels were added later I still find it hard to give creedence to the claim, almost as difficult as believing that the reliquaries that dotted the place held the remains of saints, with bits of bone and flesh preserved in glittering containers. Kelly put it best when referring to the improvements made to the grail ''What? The cup that Jesus used wasn't good enough?!'' It was lovely though.
Another grand building, built for an entirely different purpose was the Mercado Centrale- the Central Market. It's an absolutely massive indoor farmers market, with all kinds of fresh vegetables, meats, spices, and cleaning products- essentially anything that you could ever possibly want to put in your kitchen you can get there- It made me wish that there was one in every city so I could go to it all the time.
The food here is very different from the Mexican and Latin American food that we're used to in the US. There aren't nearly as many spices, and as a consequence, most of the
Americans I've talked to have complained that it's very bland. It certainly is different: much like the difference between British and American cuisine. Some of the terminology is entirely different too. Tortillas in the US are flexible flatbreads, tortillas here are fritattas, with mostly potato and some egg- other veggies can be added too, but the basic recipie is a good one. Unique to Valencia is a drink called Aqua de Valencia (Literally translated: the water of Valencia) It's a mix between a screwdriver and a mimosa- most Spanish bars will mix it at the bar in a small jug and serve it with sugar rimmed glasses- It's made by combining orange juice, sugar, vodka, and champagne, and is popular here in most part due to the huge emphasis in the area on oranges (Naranjas). Maria (Kelly´s Host Mom) has a daughter that owns an orange farm so she gets crates of fresh oranges all the time, which are absolutely delicious! The Valencians also claim that Paella began here, and serve it in most restaurants, which is amazingly good.
I enter the last few days of my time in Spain with sadness, I'll hate to leave here, and of
course the sun has taken great delight in coming out just now, as I'm about to leave! But there are other adventures coming up that I'm looking forward to as well, and I can't wait for those to start!
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