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Highlights from Princeton in Spain 2013

Students Share Their Stories

“I asked the students in SPA 310S to write journal entries recording their personal reactions to their most interesting, puzzling or otherwise significant experiences in Spain. They were supposed to reflect about their fears or expectations, their rewarding or frustrating experiences or findings, their cultural and linguistic observations, etc. From the onset, class diaries became an invaluable record of my students’ cultural learning and their impressions of a new environment. Very often they gave us an opportunity to bring into the classrooms questions and observations that otherwise would have probably remained unvoiced.”  - Alberto Bruzos, Director of Princeton in Spain

Saturday night in Madrid, yet another “city that never sleeps”
Christine Smith '16

The cosmopolitan, urban expanse of Madrid was actually something that surprised me. I suppose that I didn’t really have much of a picture of Madrid in my mind before visiting there, yet I think if I had any idea of what to expect, it was more the image of the old, winding cobbled-stone streets of Rome, then the urban metropolis of New York. Yet, that was what Madrid reminded me of – a cleaner, less neon-lit New York. I think perhaps it was the international character of the city that made me feel this way. If not quite a city of immigrants, it was at least a city teeming with diversity and the chic trend of globalization.

Less chic, but no less global was the small, local “Mexican” restaurant we ate at near our hostel, an interesting experience in a city thousands of miles from South America. The restaurant was actually surprising, and the food about as Tex-Mex as any “Mexican” joint in America: quesadillas and salsa and enchiladas. The decoration of the restaurant was actually what entertained me the most. The walls were painted pinks and blues and oranges, with streamers hung across the ceiling and “Dia de los Muertos” masks pinned up along the walls. Fake flowers of unreal colors lined the tables.

It made me laugh to be seated in a restaurant that was so American, at least in the sense that it reminded me of the kitschy serveries of my own town. Yet, it was also a restaurant that was so un-American and un-Spanish, in the sense that no matter what country it was in, the restaurant was always desperately trying to be something else. I’ve never been to Mexico, but from what I know from my friends born and raised there, Mexican restaurants are about as Mexican as Chinese restaurants are Chinese. In that way, it’s interesting to think about the culture that these restaurants profess to represent. In a way, they do not represent any culture. They do not really belong to Mexico, nor do they belong to the United States or Spain. They are not even the remnants of some long-lost tradition. They are simply their own culture, echoes of something else. So, I guess, this is all to say that the little Mexican restaurant near our hostel in Madrid, Spain got me thinking about home, and the meaning of home, and the meaning of culture and identity and belonging. I’m not sure I really know the meaning of all of those yet, but I think it’s all part of what I’m learning about here in Spain, even when I’m eating in restaurants that aren’t Spanish.

Silent Screams of the Past
Emily Hansen '15

Paintings are endlessly fascinating because they open a window into a new visual reality and indulge our curiosity to experience the world from another person’s perspective.  The most memorable paintings are often those that force us, as viewers, to confront an uncomfortable or disturbing truth and to cope with the conflicting emotions and doubts that result from this shift in interpretation.  After visiting Guernica at the Reina Sofia this past Friday and taking in the chilling illustration of the bombardeo, I know that I will never forget the painting’s message and Picasso’s horrific depiction of the losses due to war.

Guernica is unlike other paintings I have ever seen—rather than relying on visual imagery to relay the atmosphere and experience of the bombing, Picasso uses sound. The scene is filled with silent screams, screams that can only be heard in the mind of the viewer. In the middle of the chaos, a horse screeches in agony and terror as it begins to die. An arrow pierces its side, its legs splay in a show of pain, and its tongue is rigid and pointed as it lets out its dying plea for mercy. On the ground next to the horse lays a young dead soldier, his mouth frozen in a half-scream. His limbs are scattered across the ground—I hear the cut-off cry and the choking sound as the air catches in his throat. Right above him, a mother kneels and shrieks towards the sky, eyes leaking tears and tongue tense from her vocalization. The worst sounds to imagine yet are emitted from the woman on the end, whose body is being crushed by a crumbling edifice. I hear bones snap, stones crunch, and the horrific yells and pleas of a woman whom I can do nothing for. As I look and listen, I feel like I am witnessing all this agony from behind a set of bars and am helpless to do anything to relieve the pain and suffering right in front of my eyes. As a viewer, I’m trapped on the outside of the painting and separated by time, space, and reality, but still, I want to alleviate the horror, to find a way to respond to the people screaming in my head. When I imagine this painting, my emotions are so much more involved because the intensity of the experience is determined by the strength of my imagination. I hear the screams of familiar voices or voices I have heard before—what else can I hear since Picasso has placed half the scene in front of my eyes but the other half inside my mind? When I look at the painting as a whole, the screams sound at all at once and portray the true horror and trauma of the bombardeo. Even now, as I write this journal and look at an image of Guernica from Google images, I remember how close I was to the painting and get a sense of the hormigueos que había sentido Dali at the thought of death. I am so grateful that I have had this experience—that I have been so influenced by a painting and had the opportunity to see it up close and really engage with the depiction on the level that Picasso would have wanted me to.

Brian Rosenfeld '16

I particularly enjoyed this morning’s class in which we discussed language acquisition. During my two and a half weeks in Spain, I’ve felt myself improving and have noticed that I can speak with more fluidez, but it’s hard to compare where I am now to where I started. Coincidentally, my intercambio, with whom I met today, commented that there’s been a huge improvement in my Spanish while I’ve been in Toledo. Because we only meet once a week, she can more easily see how I progress, so it was very rewarding to hear that she’s observed improvements in my Spanish. While I’m excited about my progress, I’m also concerned that I could regress. When signing up for classes for the upcoming semester, I did not sign up for a Spanish class because I was concerned that adding another class would overwhelm me; now, however, I’m starting to regret that decision. Regardless of whether I take a Spanish class or not, I really like Alberto’s suggestion of listening to Spanish radio for two hours each week. Nevertheless, when SCORE opens up in the fall, I’m going to re-consider adding a Spanish class. If that doesn’t work out, I still hope to take a class in the spring.

Spanish People
Olivia Adechi '16

It didn't shock me at first but when I thought about it in hindsight Spanish people are really open and pretty honest very quickly. The event during which I noticed it the most was the second day with my new host family. When we went to lunch at the grandmother's house my host father's brother was cursing freely (not grotesquely just very casually) and my host parents cursed lightly at dinner as well as though they were just with friends. Also, when we went back to the YMCA today for their "party" (which was a lot of fun), the volunteers who are our age were making very risqué jokes with us very easily and without any worries. In addition, we practically spent 30 minutes discussing curse words in English with them.

I don't see this characteristic as bad at all; I actually respect it a lot. I find it saves time relationship wise. I just only realized now that this behavior was a major difference in character between most Americans and most Spaniards.

My Magic Grandmother
Christine Smith '16

My host grandmother is basically magic.

This is real. I’m sitting at the dinner table today, and she shuffles in with a little bottle of oil and a dish of water. She takes these tiny drops of oil and starts plopping them into the water – plop, plop, plop - frowning at the ones that dissolve. Then, she wanders back over to her chair in the living room, pulling out a small, ornate prayer book and flipping through it. My host mom gives me this knowing sort of smile, like it’s an inside joke we share, except I don’t get it, so I ask her what is going on.

She tells me my grandmother is curing people.

“What?” I ask her.

She tells me that my grandmother has a small book, with photographs of people who have these terrible headaches, friends and relatives and such. “They have mountains of pills and see many doctors”, my host mom says, “but they don’t get better. But when your grandmother prays, they feel fine.” 

She tells me that my grandmother drops one drop of oil into the water for each person, and if it breaks up instead of congealing, then she knows that they are feeling ill and she needs to pray for them. So she does, and I swear to God, my host mother calls these people right after and they all say that they are feeling better.

I don’t really believe that my grandmother is magic or any of that, but I think for me this represents something so quintessential about an older generation here in Spain. That is, it represents the immense faith many of these people hold, and in a way, it represents something that I personally love about Catholicism in Spain: that is, the theatricality of the religion. Religion in Spain is almost a show, especially during religious festivals, and I really do love this.

So while I’m not sure that there’s an explanation for my grandmother’s supposed magic powers, I am sure that – at least in my eyes – this is what the antiquated image of Spain’s religion means to me and this is how I imagine my Catholic roots from centuries past.

This is not the end
Saskia de Quant '16

I don’t know what to think about the last four weeks. One minute I was dragging my bag up three flights of stairs into a stranger’s home, the next minute I am printing my boarding pass for my flight home. I don’t even feel sad or strange yet. I feel like tomorrow I will get up and spend another normal day in this beautiful city. I literally can’t believe I am leaving tomorrow. Will this month of my life be forgotten? How will I ever return to what I have had and loved these past weeks? Even if I come back it will not be the same…I guess all I can do is look back and remember all of the great moments and memories that I have had. For the end such a wonderful trip, I have so few words to say. All I can say is thank you. Thank you for showing me this little world and allowing me to become a part of it, and for it to become a part of me.

I will return.