By now, Thursday January 13 (I’m aware I’m woefully behind on posts), I felt I was starting to get the hang of things. I had my second “City and Urban World” class at the Pompeu this morning, and I woke up at 7am with the same ease as before – or insomnia if you look at the other side of the coin, my circadian rhythms only slightly recovered from jet lag by now. Shower, dressed (with belt, because they’re classy here), and my morning helping of the-great-taste-never-gets-old Boulé Extra Fresa jelly.
Today, though, merited one experiment. The UPF campus is only 5 miles away, but to get there requires almost an hour and at least two metro lines. Looking at the map, there are any number of plausibly-direct routes to mix and match and possibly get there quicker. The route Alberto had led me along last Tuesday was the simplest – only two lines, one transfer point – but it took about 45 minutes and was nowhere near direct. This morning I decided to try what looked like a more direct route on the map, with two transfers and three lines. Green from Maria Cristina, transfer to Red at Plaza Espanya, transfer again to Yellow at Urquinaona, and exit right by the UPF campus at Vila Olimpica.
Not helpful. It was just about the same amount of time, but involved me running wild and sweaty (the Spanish like heating in their metros and buildings in the winter, and lots of it) through an extra station, and Plaza Espanya is pretty huge. So I decided on my next experiments, I’m only allowing one transfer.
Thankfully though, I made it to class on time again. I found Sara and Steve from yesterday and sat next to them. While we were waiting for lecture to start, Maika also came over and said hello. It felt good to know people were remembering me – that meant I was interesting! Maybe it wouldn’t be as hard to make friends as I was beginning to think it would be.
After the first hour of class, we had a coffee break again. This time, a fair group of people congregated in the hallway outside the room. I inched my way in towards one guy leaning against the wall, offered a hand and said the only words that could come to mind: “Hola, me llamo Andrew. Soy de los estados unidos.” His name was Bruno. The wheels were in motion – before I had to say “Que es tu nombre?” even once more, everyone around started introducing themselves to me. Eventually, a sizeable circle of students crammed into the hallway to watch this spectacle: Hey look, here’s this guy nobody’s ever seen before shaking hands with everyone in sight. He says he just got here 3 days ago from America and he’s trying to speak Castellaño. Go figure!
Within a minute I was in an interesting conversational groove with this guy named Vicenç – “You can call me Vince, though, and I will respond. Its okay!” he assured me when I didn’t get the hang of his cedilla at first. “Its not a letter we have in castellano, only in catalan. You know any catalan?” Not really, I said in spanish, but I’m finding it a bit easier to read on all the signs. I’m mostly here to practice my Spanish though.
“This is good, I want to learn English better. If you don’t mind, we can make an agreement where I will talk to you in English and you can respond in Castellaño, and we can correct each other,” said Vicenç. This seemed like an interesting plan to me, having a conversation in two languages at the same time so that both of us could get practice. “Ah, una situación gaño-gaño, es verdad!” I said. And so it was from that day forward.
We finally came back into the classroom, and the professor was not happy that 50% of us had taken a 25-30 minute break when he intended somewhere closer to 5 minutes. I suspected, in part, my “novelty” in the hallway was to blame. As the saying goes however, there is safety in numbers, and because it was somewhere on the order of 15-20 of us who were late coming back, el Profe couldn’t do or say much, and went on with the second half of lecture. Today he asked more questions and solicited more participation, which I was happy with.
After class when everyone was packing (again, I didn’t have much with me and was one of the first students up – starting to think that would be a theme), I walked up to one of the guys I had talked to in the break and asked if there was anywhere at the Pompeu to eat. Por supuesto, el bar! A bar right on the University campus, I thought to myself? Now there’s something we don’t have in the States. I gotta see this.
I went with several students downstairs and across the monstrous open-air patio in the center of edificio Jaume I, talked to Sergio who was interested in the NBA – and he could probably qualify himself, seeing as he’s even taller than I am! – and we arrived at an 8 person table in the decently sized (but not huge) café/bar. My jaw dropped when I saw how low the prices were; most sandwiches were only 2E! Finally I had found a place to have lunch that wouldn’t cost me an arm and a leg. And in a collegial and convenient atmosphere, to boot!
I talked to even more students at the table while I waited for the hamburgesa amb fromatge y Coke Light I had ordered at the counter – most everyone, especially Jordina, got a kick and several chistes out of me living up to the American stereotype with my order, but I justified myself with the fact that I was really hungry, and hamburgers do a delightfully economical job of filling you up for a while. I also asked them to cut me some slack: I had only been here for a few days, and was only ready for one cultural challenge at a time.Esperate, esperate!
I got to know Antonio, a student from Pamplona in the País Vasco, the city where the famous running of the bulls hails from. I listened to him and Sergio talk about the FC Barça match against Real Betis that was tonight. Note to self, see fútbol match some weekend soon. Antonio asked me if I liked Obama, and I told him that I did, and he was better than the alternatives (“Los republicanos no traen ningún solución a la mesa, sólo dicen “no!” para todo…) but the rest of the States didn’t seem to agree with me at the current moment and this past November. And to be fair, I told him, Obama had many promises but was rendered inept porque la crisis. “Sí, esta es una situación que nos relaciona, con Zapatero,” he said. I was somewhat aware myself of how the Spanish prime minister had hit the same trouble Obama did when the financial crash began, only his roadblocks weren’t universal healthcare and bailouts, but rather pensions and labor reforms he had promised and just couldn’t deliver on. Just a few weeks ago in December the Spanish air traffic controllers union held a surprise strike for a day, and the Spanish military had to come in and direct planes. I then saw a headline out of La Vanguardía, Barcelona’s flagship Berliner-format newspaper, that someone had left on the table, about Chinese President Hu Gintao’s first official State visit to the US, and a picture of him with Biden. That’s when I realized that I had absolutely no clue what the heck was going on en los Estados Unidos ahora. Heck, I knew more about the dictatorial crisis in Tunisia or Angela Merkel’s slim chances than I did about my own country’s civics. Despite my best intentions, this would prove to be a recurring theme for the next several days.
Before I knew it though, it was noon, and I had yet another IES orientation class to get to at Plaça Catalunya. I said goodbye to my new friends (!) and headed up a few blocks toward the Marina metro station.
I’ve since forgotten what that orientation session was about (I think it might have been a touchy-feely activity about differences and challenges we had encountered in Barcelona to this point – for my part, I was adjusting quite well and really didn’t have any complaints other than jet lag), but at the end our instructor told us that afternoon starting at 4:00 we would have to take part in a mandatory gymkhana, a Spanish “scavenger hunt” in the city. She handed out a packet to everyone that detailed the route we needed to take – from the Jaume I metro stop, through El Born and the Parc de la Ciutadella, ending at the Arc di Triumf – and what we needed to look for. Despite it taking up the time that I was desperately looking forward to taking a siesta, I was actually moderately excited to do this, it seemed like a fun teambuilding activity that would finally allow me to get to know some IES students better, but alas, it seemed us optimists were in the minority in the room: a dreadful, dejected “oh my goodness why is this mandatory?” look swept over a significant swath – though not all – of the room. Man, I hadn’t really encountered many warm and cheery feelings at the IES center in my two days so far…so far my time at the UPF was winning out.
Our instructor told us we needed to pick a leader for the scavenger hunt to turn in the final form – there were field trip prizes for the team which found the most sites in the city. Nobody was quick to volunteer. For some reason or another – it may have been because I had talked more/asked the most questions in the Orientation session – she looked at me, and in that way professors have of forcing an idea upon students underneath a thin veneer of “its just a suggestion, honest!” asked if I wanted to be leader. What was I going to do, say no? And so I was now in charge of a group of people I didn’t really know yet and expected to in some way lead the charge on this mandatory activity. This could be either good or bad, time would tell.
I managed to get everybody’s name on my sheet and coordinate a meeting point and time with almost everyone before the class dissolved quicker than Alka Seltzer into the hallway. Now, with my free afternoon whisked out from under me, I had about an hour and a half with which to cram some sort of nap in. I went up to the third floor and found a not-entirely-uncomfortable-but-pretty-close-to-it bench where I lay down and closed my eyes for about an hour.
Before I knew it, about five of us were at the decided-upon meeting point at 4:00. I guess we’re running on Mediterranean time already. Within 10 minutes, a few more showed up, but it still wasn’t our whole class. The most entrepreneurial of us at the front decided the heck with the rest of them, it was time to go.
We took the metro to our starting point, walked down Carrer Argentinaria – we had to guess what this street was known for trading a lot of centuries ago, and the Bar Platería gave us the sound clue it was Silver. We came across a Basque tapas bar by the name of Sagardi, and we went in and asked the bartender what they were called: pinxors. Our sheet said we had to try 2 varieties and describe what was in them. I forked over the 2E to try a crossaint with jamón ibérico, which was quite delicious. I’m not sure what it is about Iberian ham specifically that makes it so much better than regular ham, but I can’t get enough of the stuff. It’s almost better than pizza. Pizza con jamón ibérico – now that I gotta try.
Our next stop was the Cathedral del Mar, a prime example of Catalan Gothic architecture. We had to go inside and take a picture of the new stained-glass window that was sponsored by FC Barcelona. Man, this football club has its hands in everything. This also happened to be the first real old gothic European cathedral I had ever walked inside – St Paul’s in London isn’t that old, and isn’t gothic, and the same goes for the others in Moscow. My eyes exploded in wonderment at just how high the ceiling was when I walked in. Not quite as significant a feeling of smallness as the Christ the Redeemer cathedral-replica in Moscow – that’s the biggest single room I think I will ever be in in my life – but very, very tall.
Our next stop was the Museo de Picasso, which proved relatively tricky to find – left up a tiny alley that kept getting tinier and tinier. At the end of this alley, there was a bakery, which we had to go in and ask for the ingredients of a croqueta – I think that was it. I still haven’t explored the Ciutat Vella that much yet, and its still incomprehensible to me how many streets and alleys the Romans and such managed to cram in there. You could explore for weeks and not find them all. What’s more – there’s always something down them – a shop, bar, apartments, etc. You’ll be in the middle of a side street which you have no idea the route you took to get there, and find the best butcher shop you’ve ever laid eyes on. How do any of these establishments get repeat business?
Once we were out of the alley, our now slowly-dwindling in number group was presented with a much wider street and the “under rennovation” Mercat del Born, a huge circus-tent like structure with scaffolding all over, that once re-finished would rival La Boqueria in size. We were supposed to read something on the inscription for our gymkhana – gee, IES, thanks for making sure there were no barriers, like, say, scaffolding and construction in the way! Pretty organized of you.
No matter though, the few of us left soldiered on into the Parc de la Ciutadella to look at some statues of Iguanas, the Geological and Natural History Museums, the Zoo, and the Parliament of Catalunya.
Our route ended at the Passeig de Luis Companys and the Arc di Triumf, a famed Catalonian independentista who got a wide street and red brick monument dedicated to him for the Universal Exposition in 1888. With sighs of relief from the few girls in the group who had worn bad-walking shoes and even high heels, we headed over to the Metro stop. There were less than 6 of us who finished – the gymkhana had taken about 2 hours, and it was now about 6pm. As the leader, my sheet was the most fully-complete, so I volunteered to head back to the IES center to hand in our entry with Eleni, who had been our most prolific photographer, and Ryan, who needed to find a bathroom (we all did). When I made it back to our homestay, my living-mates Jeff and Scott were already back. Jeff’s group flat-out decided not to do the scavenger hunt, and Scott’s did a bit, then dispersed – similar to ours.
Just before dinner, our Resident Advisor came to check in with us for the first time. “Tatiana” was a second-year psychology student at the Universitat de Barcelona, with particularly good English. She sat down with Scott, Jeff, and I for about 15 minutes to talk about any problems or questions we had had about living in the homestay or in Barcelona – none of us really did, Fernanda was an excellent host – and to invite us to a small get-together tomorrow with her friends and the ten or so IES Americans living at the UB dorm, Sant Jordi, about a 10 minute walk from where we were.
Not too much later, my tired brain and body were later pleased to hear, that, because it was Thursday, Fernanda was going to make her weekly paella for us. Having never tried or really seen in person this most Spanish of Spanish cuisine and yet heard so much about it, I was interested to see what fate had in store. Fernanda’s cooking had already proven over the past few days to be absolutely exquisite, so despite my initial picky-eater reaction to almost everything, something that I’ve been working on getting rid of over the past several years but still lingers, I wasn’t worried.
Nor should I have been. Paella is named after the wide, medium-depth pan it is cooked in, and is a sort of rice casserole with vegetables, shellfish and other seafood, and sometimes chicken or meat, and any number of seasonings and/or sauces. It could have been how hungry I was at that point, but Fernanda’s receipe was great, especially the mussels!