Photo by rkramer62, on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Photo by rkramer62, on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Just over a year ago, in this blog’s inaugural post, I wrote:

“While I have previously resided in Spain for three-and-a-half months, and although I anticipate achieving a certain level of comfort and routine as I settle into my new life, I will work to take nothing for granted and embrace extrañeza every day.”

With one year in Madrid under my belt, I can look back and say I’ve done a pretty decent job of following my own advice.  This year, comfort with the logistics of daily life plus a new apartment located much closer to the action will allow me to focus even more of my time and energy on taking advantage of everything this city has to offer.  These last few weeks, living in Sevilla with study abroad students who are experiencing life in Spain for the first time, I’ve been reminded again of the extrañeza around me, as the students gush to me about their first bite of tortilla, their heartbreak upon realizing iced coffee is not part of this culture, their first night out until sunrise, their amusement by funny menu translations and the random use of English on t-shirts, and their memorable linguistic mishaps.

I’ve moved past a lot of that, but not all of it.  I still walk by Sevilla’s cathedral and Madrid’s Palacio de Cibeles and stop to gawk (though I now try to do so without anyone noticing).  I still feel giddy when I enjoy delicious tapas or express a particularly complex thought in Spanish without hesitation.  There are still many corners of this country I’ve yet to see.

The protagonist in Ben Lerner’s novel Leaving the Atocha Station eloquently describes a similar thought process to mine when deciding whether or not he should stay in Madrid upon the completion of a poetry fellowship:

“But in certain moments, I was convinced I should go home…that this life wasn’t real, wasn’t my own, that nearly a year of being a tourist, which is what I indubitably was, was enough, and that I needed to return to the U.S. to be present for my family, and begin an earnest search for a mate, career, etc.  Prolonging my stay was postponing the inevitable… 

In other moments, however, the discourse of the real would seem to fall on the same side of Spain; this, I would say to myself…this is experience, not because things in Iberia were inherently more immediate, but because the landscape and my relation to it had not been entirely standardized.  There would of course come a point when I would be familiar enough with the language and terrain that it would lose its unfamiliar aspect, a point at which I would no longer see a stone in Spain and think of it as, in some essential sense, stonier than the sedimentary rocks of Kansas, and what applied to stones applies to bodies, light, weather, whatever.

But that moment of familiarization had not yet arrived; why not stay until it was imminent?

(Lerner, 162-163)

Couldn’t have said it better myself.  I’ll get back to you in a year about my take on the relative stoniness of Spanish and American stones.  Until then, a aprovechar


bucket list

In addition to “chaperoning” last week’s visits to the Alcázar and cathedral, I’ve done quality work lately on my Sevilla bucket list, which is compiled of a mixture of some of my favorite activities and areas from my time here as well as some I never quite made it to during my study abroad stint and subsequent visits.

In the last few days, I have…

…had breakfast at the Mercado de Triana, a food market that is much less tourist-y than Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel and Barcelona’s La Boquería.  Filled mostly with produce, fish and meat, Sevilla’s main market has just one or two places inside that serve prepared food.  I chose Bar La Muralla, where I enjoyed a mollete de jamón y aceite (a round toasted bun with Spanish ham and olive oil) and a café cortado, half reading my book and half listening to the constant chatter around me, as fishmongers and butchers stopped by to catch up and fuel up.

El Mercado de Triana.  Photo courtesy of jiangkeren

El Mercado de Triana. Photo by jiangkeren, on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

…strolled through beautiful Triana, with its flower-adorned balconies; El Barrio de Santa Cruz, with its barely-navigable winding streets; La Alameda de Hércules, with its hipster vibe and Saturday morning farmer’s market; Plaza de España, with its intricate tilework representing each and every Spanish province; and Parque de María Luisa, with its infinite nooks and crannies, statues and fountains, benches and ponds.

…taken my first Sevici ride.

Sevici. Photo by Cayetano, on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Sevici. Photo by Cayetano, on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

…returned to La Cacharrería to consume life-alteringly-delicious cakes.

Blueberry, cinnamon carrot, and white chocolate cakes at La Cacharrería on Sevilla's charming Calle Regina

Blueberry, cinnamon carrot, and white chocolate cakes at La Cacharrería on Sevilla’s charming Calle Regina

…had both breakfast and dinner with my housemates on our rooftop.

…and, in the crown jewel of recent experiences, I had a drink at the rooftop bar of the swanky Hotel Eme, which provides a close-up breathtaking view of the glowing cathedral.

With one week left in Sevilla, I hope to soak up more sights, sounds and flavors before heading northward to the capital.

España: Season 2, Episode 1

The view from where I’m staying in Seville — the rooftop studio apartment my host family built since my last visit

As some of you know, before returning to Madrid for my second year as a Language and Cultural Assistant, I am back in my first love, Seville, for three weeks, working as the student assistant for my study abroad alma mater.  In addition to accompanying this year’s students on an eventful series of flights to get here (thanks to storms in New York City), my job is to help with various aspects of Orientation, from guiding students through the cell phone purchasing process to providing clerical assistance in the program’s office.  Despite these responsibilities, I’m lucky to benefit from a good amount of free time to hang out with my host family, chat with the lovely ladies in the program office, soak in as much as possible of this city that I love, and see the dear friends I made when I was a student here three years ago.

However, not much of that has happened yet.  Instead, I spent much of my first week in Spain hiding from the soaring temperatures, waiting for my Spanish friends to finish their September exams, elevating my sprained ankle (ugh) and scouring the Internet for an apartment to live in when I arrive in Madrid (double ugh).

I am happy to announce that now my ankle is basically healed, my friends will soon have a break from their studies, and after an intense past weekend in Madrid, my apartment has been secured.  It’s still pretty damn hot, but that is the smallest of the aforementioned barriers.  This morning, I was able to get back to what I wanted to be doing since I first arrived: enjoying the charm and magic that is Sevilla.  I joined the students on their group visit to the Alcázar, one of the most beautiful monuments the city has to offer.  Here are a few images from the tour: