Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Translators: More than meets the eye!

Happy Belated St. Patrick´s Day, readers!
As someone who very often takes too much pride in how little Irish he is (1/8, give or take), I hope your day consisted of foot-tapping music, potatoes, green, accents, a whee bit of Guiness, and some reflection on the work and life of the 4th century saint.  For being such an enthusiastic evangelizer, I think we can easily say "T'anks a 'mil" to St. Patrick.  As much as I'd love to write about the wonders of Irish culture right now, it probably would not make a lot of sense considering nothing happened here in Santiago to commemorate the feast day. However, it's a good segue into the real topic for today, since on the 8th of March I met with Claire and James (my sister and brother-in-law, respectively) in Madrid for the final part of their European vacation, which consisted of a week in the Emerald Isle!

For those of you who don't commit popular television theme songs to memory, the title of this post is a play on words from the Transformers series, which came from a toy and has now "transformed" into a movie series.  As I was writing this, I suddenly remembered a really random joke my RD Matthew Baker made awhile back, saying that "Translatorbot" sounds like the name given to the lamest Transformer, hence how this title evolved.  Technically, the word "translator" should be "interpreter" in this case since most of what I did in Madrid consisted of translating oral language . . . but it wouldn't sound as cool for the title, so we'll leave it as such.  I think the best stories from our trip definitely came from our translation experiences, some of which I'll spin a yarn for you all in between the general stories.

As you might be able to infer from reading about my marathon sprint in the Madrid-Barajas airport in my trip to Ireland in December, I had labeled myself as a self-proclaimed expert of the design of the terminals.  So, I thought I would be able to meet Claire and James at their gate when they arrived (my flight came in a half hour before theirs). Though it didn't turn into a huge fiasco like in December, I realized after some casual walking around the terminal that it was impossible to view an incoming flight board, so I just took the plunge and exited past the security line.  I guess it is possible to have luck with Ryanair and the Madrid airport, as I easily found them just one small terminal hop over.  After a metro ride of about an hour, we arrived at the the literal heart of the city, as our hostel was located on the main strip called la Gran Vía.  We probably couldn't have asked for a better location just based on all the activity on the street itself and its proximity to many famous sites in Madrid.  One thing that actually surprised me about Madrid was how walkable it was, especially considering its size as the capital.  Arriving at the hostel, I had my first real opportunity to interpret, i.e. speaking to the person in Spanish and then giving really concise summaries of what was said to Claire.  Based on our reservation, the desk manager surely knew we were American, but I really appreciated how she spoke to me in Spanish when she realized that I could.  This is a relatively recent pet-peeve, but it's bothered me when I've asked a passerby for help with something in Spanish (or they ask me something in Spanish), and then they clarify in English if I look puzzled (usually it's not that I don't understand the Spanish, it's just that their answer is normally not what I'm expecting).  Oftentimes I may look like a foreigner based on the way I dress and speak, but to me it's almost insulting if someone doesn't give you a chance in their language, even if you're really proficient! Thus, I'm very happy to say that that was never the case in Madrid, and for me it was definitely a confidence booster language wise. Maybe people do not speak English in Madrid as much, but either way I'll take it.

We were all pretty hungry from our respective days of traveling, so that night we wandered into a buffet called "All You Can Eat" (the name was in English), which I guess you could say specialized in quantity over quality.  The food wasn't bad, though, and we were definitely glad to find something for a decent price.  The first funny language moment came from James when he went downstairs to order his second drink.  After listening to the various options, he decided to order "limón" (lemon).  She gave him a funny look, and he realized that what he thought he had heard as "limón" was actually her pronunciation of "Lipton."  Another peculiar language moment came when we were in "El parque de retiro," the main park in Madrid. It was a beautiful Saturday morning, so we wanted to take a group photo close to some gardens. Spying a gentleman snapping photos with a very fancy camera nearby, I proceeded to ask him, "Perdone, ¿ podría sacar una foto de nosotros, por favor?" (Excuse me, could you take a picture of us, please?). I immediately thought to myself: "Way to go! With that Galician accent, you're just another hombre español." My moment ended pretty quickly when the man responded with, "Sorry? I'm sorry I don't speak Spanish." Cue sinking heart. It's all good though since we got some nice photos out of it.

As far as more language fun goes, Sunday was definitely the best. After attending Mass in the main cathedral (absolutely beautiful with a great children's choir, by the way), we were looking for some good 'ol menu del día, the not-so-well kept secret key to Spanish dining. I'm not sure if it's due to the "crisis" or another reason, but oftentimes in Spanish restaurants one of the employees will stand in the door or out on the street handing out paper menus or inviting people to come inside. Such was the case with these particular restaurant, not too far away from the cathedral. The employee on the street handed me a menu, asked me if I spoke Spanish, and then proceeded to tell me the menu options: "Hay pollo, hay arroz, hay pescado . . ." He turned to Claire and asked her, "You speak English?" Responding in the affirmative, he told her the same thing he told me like this: "Hay chicken, hay rice, hay fish . . ."  Food is a universal language, right?

Before the trip, I was asking my friend Laura, whose family lives in Santiago now but is originally from Madrid, about things to do in the city.  Her aunt María, who goes by Nines, does cultural tours there, so luckily Laura was able to put us in contact.  On Sunday afternoon, we met Nines and her friend Elesa from Valladolid in La puerta del sol and embarked on our adventure from there.  I had known that Nines did not speak English ahead of time, so I was prepared to put my real time interpreting skills to the test like those in the United Nations . . . man, those people make it look so easy! I understood practically everything Nines said, so the difficult came more from the quantity of information.  Claire joked to me later on that she would hear a really long, complex description in Spanish just for me to respond with: "She said this used to be a church."  Well, there is some truth in every good joke, but I think I was getting better at doing rapid translations by the end of the tour.  Nines and Elesa were really nice and told us stories about different parts of the city that we would have never known otherwise, and it was awfully nice of them to take time out of their schedules to do so.

It was such a blessing to see family in the flesh for the first time in seven months (and almost nine for Claire and James). Even though we didn't get a ton of time in Madrid, it was so worth it just being together again.  As I conclude writing this blog post, my parents are on their way across the country and across the Atlantic to come see me here in Santiago! I'll have a hearty blog post (maybe two if necessary) about our adventures for the next week and a half here in Galicia, Valencia and Barcelona.  Thanks again for reading, and have a blessed, profound Holy Week with those you love, dear readers!

And just because . . . ¡Viva Papa Francisco!

P.S. I think Snapfish may have changed its policies recently, so I can't post a normal link that will get you to the album for Madrid. However, if you don't have Facebook and would like to see these and other photos, just send me your email and we'll start sharing!


Saturday, February 16, 2013

¡Rezo y Risa!

Greetings and blessings be upon you as we enter the mysterious season of Lent! It still kind of blows my mind how early Lent and Easter are this year, considering that a little more than a month ago we were still celebrating the birth of the Lord. However, that's just how things go with liturgical calendars, and time always seems to surprise us.  I guess all the better since both sets of my family visits that I mentioned in my previous post will come during this great time of preparation!

For those of you who don't speak Spanish nor took the time to put the two words of the title into an online translator (knowing full well that I would define them anyway), "rezo" is one of the many words in Spanish for "prayer" while "risa" is the equivalent of "laughter." These two might seem at odds with each other, but I would say the union of the two best describes my wonderful pilgrimage experience in Fátima, Portugal from February 8-12, appropriately ending right before Ash Wednesday.  It was also "Carnaval" in various parts of Spain, hence why I didn't miss any class on that Monday and Tuesday. I'm sure participating in a specific "Carnaval" festivity would have been a unique cultural experience as well, but I wouldn't exchange my time in Fátima for anything.

On Friday the 8th, our group from Galicia, numbering at least 45 people from all parts of the region, left from Santiago around 5 pm in the afternoon and arrived at a small town outside of Fátima around 10:30 pm. After a chilly night in a Portuguese seminary (being in the cold was another prominent theme of the whole pilgrimage), other groups from all over Spain arrived there in the morning, as this small town was the launching point for the 13 kilometer march to Fátima.  For the march itself and for the rest of the pilgrimage, we were divided into groups that more or less tried to carry an even representation of each region of Spain.  My group, #26, was strongest in its representation of Toledo, Sevilla, Barcelona and good ol' Santiago de Compostela (three of us).  Upon learning of the group assignments, I was first taken aback that not everyone in mine was from Santiago nor Galicia, but it definitely was a blessing to get to know so many great, diverse people in such little time.  It may sound strange, but by the end of those days, the people in your group felt like your family, and it was hard to say good-bye so soon.  I first noticed this dynamic of "rezo/risa" on that first leg of the pilgrimage.  For the first half or so, "risa" thrived with shouts of "¡Viva la Virgen!" or "El 26, es el mejor, de alegría y de peregrinación (The 26, is the best, of joy and pilgrimage)" and numerous chistes, or funny stories.  As we grew closer to Fátima, the emphasis appropriately switched more to "rezo" with silent meditation for a few kilometers and praying the rosary.  When we finally arrived at the Sanctuary in Fátima that evening, all 600 of us, give or take, entered in silence from the new basilica entrance, flanked on either side by families holding processional candles, a moving experience indeed for all involved.  We celebrated Mass in the little chapel outside, built there as requested by the Blessed Virgin to mark the site of the apparitions.  However, after this, one more experience of "risa" marked my evening as I searched for where I would stay the night. Asking one of the volunteers for help, I told him the name of my hostel indicated on my group card several times, but he kept giving me puzzled looks.  We learned, to my great surprise, that I had been assigned to one of the all-women's dorms, so some "jajajaja" moments ensued.  I'm not sure if someone higher up simply thought Ethan was a feminine name, or perhaps more likely, I had subconsciously marked "M" on the original sign up sheet thinking of it as "Male" instead of "Mujer." Claaaasssiicccc Ethan.

In addition to personal group discussion and Mass, my favorite spiritual parts of the pilgrimage were praying the Stations of the Cross (La Vía Crucis), visiting the apparition sites, and a vigil service in the chapel.  In what would best be described as a meditation orchard, we walked up the hillside praying the traditional Stations of the Cross in the afternoon, and although we were nowhere near Jerusalem, the suffering and death of Jesus in first century Palestine just felt so real to me.  This may just be coincidence, but it started to rain hard and the wind whipped at the 11th station, "Jesus is Nailed to the Cross." However, by the 15th station, the Resurrection, the wind had calmed and the sun was shining on the top of the hill. One day, we visited the sites where an angel first appeared to the shepherd children, Lucía, Jacinta and Francisco, before the Marian apparitions began.  Seeing the very simple house of Lucía and the simple grove of trees where the apparitions happened helped me understand how God often reveals much of his mystery to the smallest of us in humble beginnings. Finally, the vigil service, in which we prayed silently amidst occasional reflections on the events of Fátima, was quite compelling for me as the true pilgrim experience. It was cold, wet and long, and I loved every minute of it!

From a social perspective, Fátima was like a pie in the face of Spanish culture  (truly Spanish because of the diversity of the people). I heard/had difficulty understanding so many various Spanish accents and quickly realized that I needed to improve my colloquial vocabulary to understand humor. One of my friends from Santiago in the group named Macarena taught me, with great enthusiasm, several "must know" phrases in Spanish to be hip and cool, which I've been employing almost to a fault ever since. To answer what everyone is inevitably thinking, the answer is "yes": her name is spelled and pronounced like the famous song. In fact, one of the priests for the Youth Delegation in Santiago would always introduce her last in the group (and still does) as "Heeeyyy, Macarena" with everyone else responding with "Aaaahhaaa" in rhythm. It's pretty great.  Though we all weren't in the same group, I got to know a lot of my peers from Santiago whom I had seen at Wednesday Mass and other church functions often, but whom I had not met.  So, in short, Fátima was a springboard for Spanish friend explosion!

Being Catholic and being at Whitworth, I have frequently had the privilege to explain some topics of the faith to my non-Catholic Christian friends, either informally or in the context of Primetime.  Along with the Eucharist, sexual ethics and the Pope (please pray for the intentions of Pope Benedict XVI), the topic of the Church's relationship with the Blessed Virgin often has come up. Though I have explained the role of Mary as an intercessor, I'll be honest that I did not understand the full importance (and I'm still learning) of the Blessed Mother's role in our lives until this pilgrimage. Our Lady really is there for us as a Mother, a Mother who wants nothing more than for us to know and love her Son as she does. A really great way of trying to understanding the Virgin's role is that of the relationship between the Moon (Mary) and the Sun (God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit).  The Sun is the source of life on this planet, and without it's constant burning and shining life would cease to exist.  Although the Sun is of utmost importance, we all know from experience that the Sun is so powerfully bright and shining that we cannot look at it directly for long periods of time. Obviously that doesn't make the Sun bad; rather, it shows how awesome and high above us it is. Keeping with the astronomical metaphor, the full Moon lights up the night sky but does not contain the means within itself to produce light. Rather, the light of the Moon gives evidence of the glory and power of the Sun ("Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.") Nevertheless, the light of the Moon is much easier to behold for longer periods of time, and we can learn much and appreciate the Sun even more from our study of the Moon. So it is with our relationship with the Blessed Virgin.  It's not a perfect metaphor, nor can it cover all the complexities of Mariology, but I think it's a good start if you've never tried or have had reservations about getting to know the Mother of God.

Thanks for reading my diverse stream of consciousness, posting comments, and most importantly your prayers! May the Blessed Mother, through her Immaculate Heart, lead you always to be more faithful in your pilgrimage to the Lord.


Part of our group from Santiago inside the new basilica^

Left: One of my best friends here, Rafael from Brazil (He leaves in less than a week :(
Center: Javi García, one of the priests for the Youth Delegation in Santiago and a great personality.

Inside the little chapel. The statue marks the exact spot where the Virgin appeared.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Mid-Year Musings

Greetings readers!
First of all, I would like to thank all of you who have been keeping up with my study abroad experience/travel blog. Though I always feel better after writing a post, oftentimes it takes a lot of effort on my part to just sit down and write it, so I thank you for being an audience with whom I can share this adventure.  If you're just joining ¡Vivalano! or are catching up, welcome to the program! I hope I can provide you with a well deserved rest from your day, some laughs, and maybe something intellectually stimulating or uplifting.

Technically, the title of this post is somewhat misleading, as I have already completed five months of my nine month study abroad program. However, as I always appreciate artistic alliteration, we'll leave it as such. Because the possibility of this turning into a stream of conscious post is quite high, I will just touch on three themes: The Past, the Future, and Time.

To say that I've simple "grown" these past five months would be the understatement of the century. If I was a baby bird molting my feathers in the nest at the beginning, now I've not only learned to fly but to soar. Perhaps I'm not quite an eagle, but I still have four months to work on that. I think back to my first days in Santiago: settling into my room, not knowing anyone, trying to figure out classes, and of course seeing and entering the cathedral for the first time, being somewhat dumbstruck in all four cases. When I had enough time, I remember mentally preparing what I would say ahead of time in Spanish, often for menial requests such as food or keys to the piano room. At the beginning of the year, I never thought for a second I would experience the following (and if I had, some of them might have scared me away): Spending the night in two airports (with more to come, surely), getting swindled into buying coconuts on a beach, taking a college level course in a language I had never studied, Gallego (with 3 more this semester), missing a flight whilst running like a madman in the Madrid airport, getting lost and almost missing the bus in Fátima, getting lost in the same trip just a few hours later in Lisboa, wandering in the London area by myself for a week, and participating in the Charismatic Catholic movement, to name a few.  All of these experiences, the good and less than good, have formed me into the confident, comfortable, and self-aware American-Spaniard that I am today.  Only through the grace of God have I been able to grow in this way, and I know that through Him, any challenges which come amidst the moments of joy in these next four months will eventually be transformed into a greater good.

Even with three of my courses being in Gallego this semester, the future looks pretty bright and exciting so far. First of, I understand much more of what my professors say, since their accents aren't very thick and my understanding of both languages has improved to a great extent. In the very near future (i.e. this upcoming weekend), I will be going to Fátima again and not getting lost, as I will be traveling with a large group of Spanish youth for a pilgrimage there. In Galicia, everyone is on holiday Monday and Tuesday for "Carnaval," so the pilgrimage will be from the 8th until the 12th.  I think it's safe to say that this will be my first pilgrimage ever, and I know it will probably be one of the most memorable experiences here! In March, again by the grace of God, I will have the privilege of seeing two sets of visitors from the states! From the 8th until the 11th, I will be with my sister Claire and brother-in-law (BIL) James in Madrid.  Not only am I obviously excited to see them again after so many months, I will relish the opportunity to finally spend some time in the capital of Spain. I find it kind of odd how I've been in three other European capital cities (Lisboa, Dublin, & London) while only being in the airport of the capital of my host country. Then, about a week and a half later, my parents will arrive in Santiago! We'll spend some time here in Santiago and exploring other parts of Galicia, and then on the Monday of Holy Week, which is also my Spring Break, we will fly to Valencia and spend a few days there. One of my friends from Brazil just went there and said it was gorgeous, so I'm looking forward to seeing that part of Spain. Close to the end of the week, we'll take a train up to Barcelona and spend the Triduum and Easter there.  As far as other traveling in the semester goes, it's kind of up in the air (literally, because Ryanair flights are sometimes troublesome with my schedule). I may have the chance to meet up with a friend from Whitworth named Heather up in Scotland, which would be quite fun since kilts are the bee's knees. My dream is still to go to Rome, and more importantly Vatican City at some point this semester. Shaking hands/getting a photo with Pope Benedict XVI would be a definite win, but I guess I should work on getting there first.

It's definitely been a peculiar experience seeing (or hearing about) people returning to their home countries these past few weeks. When experiencing cultural nuances and living with the same people for five months, you forget that everyone has a previous life that they will return to in the end.  I know that certain departures will affect me more than others, as my level of friendship depends on each person. Nonetheless, it is frankly strange and uneasy knowing that the likelihood of seeing certain people again in the flesh, at least in this life, is like getting struck by lightning.  Something I keeping telling myself, and sometimes to departing friends, is that although we are unaware when/if we will see each other, we can find peace that in knowing each other, we will never be the same.  From the way this paragraph is going, you might think that I were leaving! On the contrary, I'm still very content with my decision to remain here the entire academic year; there are so may things left to experiences and other friendships still to develop.  I think the winds that will blow me back stateside will become more apparent when registering for Whitworth classes, a good kick in the pants to remind me that I actually attend an American university.  Though four months is a considerable part of a year (1/3, right?), I'm still afraid that Time will come to bite me by passing too quickly.  With so many things to think about for next year and especially post-Whitworth, I don't want to see Spain passing away into the fog of my memory too soon! God willing, it won't :) 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

London/Oxford Photos


A lot more where these came from! If you don't have a Snapfish account nor Facebook and want to see the rest, just let me know by posting a comment. I guess the same goes for any other pictures I've taken while abroad. Cheerio!


Every time I write a new post about a new trip I've had, I tell myself that I ought to have written it closer to when said mini-vacaction actually transpired. At the same time, I realize that by spacing out the time in between each travel log, I can vicariously live through my past self's adventures, which in essence makes me a time traveler and therefore incredibly suave. Anyway, in these week's episode (which I write as a gift to myself for having competing exams), I will recount my voyage over the second week of Christmas break to the realm of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II. I think it's safe to say that it's nearly impossible to think about the United Kingdom without employing the adjective "royal" in every situation whilst there ("Kingdom" kind of leads you to that line of linking, right?). 

With that in mind, my "royal" Ryanair flight was jolly good without any of the hassels of the Dublin trip, as this one was a direct flight. My flight arrived at the Stansed airport just outside of London at approximately 4 pm on New Year's Eve, and I have to say, London may give Spokane a run for its money as far as early winter sunsets go.  Based on how light it was when I left Santiago and how dark it was when I arrived, you would think I had flown around Europe a couple times.  After getting through a surprisingly long line at the border check, I caught my easyBus (i.e. maybe a 10 passenger van) for the hour long drive to the heart of London.  Though my traveling skills seem to exponentially improve each month save some exceptions, the one obvious thing I forgot to do was write down the address of my hostel (Note: Psych-like memory is not always full proof). Thankfully, I remembered that it was near Harrod's department store, and then after getting a map and directions from a Hilton, I was on my merry way.  Although I was walking for a solid two hours through London to get to my hostel (not because I was lost, but because it was far away), oddly enough I never felt unsafe or nervous.  Perhaps it was because I spoke English, or more likely because I was already wearing my trusty moneybelt again, so no hooligan could stop me. After checking into my hostel named "Meininger" (a German hostel chain), I went to the South Kensington Tube station to buy a ticket to Westminster, the closest stop to the fireworks, but because the ticket was pretty expensive and I didn't want to mess with a pass, I decided to walk, thinking it wasn't too far.  Another solid hour of foot stomping later, I came to the general area where people were gathering, but unfortunately the specific "fireworks viewing areas" were already full. If you saw the highlights of fireworks from London on the tele that night, you may have seen more than I did, but I can still say I was there! I did see some over the buildings and compensated by watching the big screen in Trafalgar Square.

To go into as much detail as I did above with that I did and saw would require multiple posts.  Thus, for now let me just list what I did day by day and then elaborate on some especially interesting moments.
Tuesday, Jan 1: British Museum attempt (closed, obviously), King's Cross Station (Harry Potter), Regent's Garden (the avian's parodise), St. Paul's Cathedral (from the outside), and the Tate Modern Art Museum (Giacometti, Calder, Pollock, Rothko and others).
Wednesday, Jan 2: Oxford! Knowing that Oxford was very beautiful and feeling a little ambitious, I booked a train ticket from Paddington Station and after an hour was in the town of England's first university. Not being very big, I basically walked around the whole town and took in all the breath-taking architecture.  Also, I entered Christ's Church, one of the most well known parts of the Oxford campus, and I got to see the stairs used in the first Harry Potter as well as the inspiration for the Great Hall. Worth it!
Thursday, Jan 3: In the late morning, I did one of London's famous "Walks," where you just meet outside a Tube station and pay the guide when you get there. Being a sophisticated listener of fine music, I obviously chose to do the "Magical Mystery Walk" about The Beatles. We saw various sights of Beatle's significance including: Paul McCartney's music office, the studio where they recorded "Hey Jude," the building where they had their final rooftop concert (unexpected for London at the time), the Palladium (where Beatlemania started), Abbey Road Studios and of course, Abbey Road itself. When we got there, a bunch of people were already there trying to recreate the famous album cover.  The funniest thing to me was that people have been doing this every since the  album came up in 1969, and thus all the people who drive on Abbey Road have hated having to wait for people to take their photos ever since (sometimes I think they don't wait!). Our guide also told us that Sir Paul came to Abbey Road studios about three weeks before our tour, and went up behind some people and asked if they wanted help taking their picture. However, the people said "no thank you" and didn't turn around to see who it was! I'd be kicking myself for years to come . . . In the afternoon, I went to the British museum, which was both incredible and overwhelming. I'm one of those people who could literally spend days (as long as there is food and bathrooms nearby) in a museum looking at and reading about all the exhibits, but because there was SO MUCH, I had to move myself along. Not seeing everything, I went Saturday morning as well.
Friday, Jan 4: Tower of London (ridiculously expensive, even with the student discount, so I appreciated it from the outside), Tower Bridge, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret's Church (the latter which I entered because it was free), Downing Street (where the Prime Minister lives), the mounted horse guards, and M16. At this building, which basically serves as the UK's CIA but was also featured in the latest James Bond film (Skyfall), I asked an older British lady to take my picture, and after she and the rest of her walking group struck up a conversation with me.  They were very nice asking me about my studies in Spain and everything, and one of them mentioned that they wanted to travel in the western United States.  Because we had been talking about the west as the "frontier," I jokingly remarked that we would get the wagons and horses all prepared for when they would come (slam dunk, lots of laughs all around). After I bid them adieu and started walking back towards the Tube station, I reassessed what we talked about and realized that they probably actually thought that the west still was frontier country, not changing since the Oregon trail! Maybe not to that extent, but they did ask me if we still did cattle drives in all seriousness. That night, and me admitting this will open myself up to jokes I'm sure, I went and saw The Hobbit in the cinema (as the British call it). Though I could have easily seen it in Spain, J.R.R. Tolkien had such a mastery of the English language that I just had to see it in English on a big screen. I have no regrets.
Saturday, Jan 5: I saw what I didn't get to see in the British museum in the morning, and then by the grace of God I got to meet up with my friends from Whitworth on their "Christianity in Great Britain" Jan Term trip! They were all very, very jet-lagged for obvious reasons, but it was still fun hanging out with them all. The title of this post, "Cobble-hopping," actually comes from that afternoon when Matthew Baker, my Resident Director from last year, and I were trying to come up with different British phrases for everything.  Running across the street without the guide of the light, he brilliantly came up with "Cobble-hopping" to replace jay-walking. I approve :) We went to a cool sushi restaurant that night close to the London Eye, and after everyone else decided to go to bed at 7 pm (bad idea), Matthew, Mathew Eardley and took a good long stroll north of Hyde Park. Eventually, we found this homey tavern with the record as "the longest tavern in London." Upon entering, the sign was right, but I realize now that I should have taken the opportunity to pull an "Elf" and said "You did it! Great job, everyone, longest pub in London!" Already impressed at this architectural marvel, I think I fell in love when I took my first sip of pear cider.  Once you've had good quality cider, there's no going back.
Sunday, Jan 6: Epiphany Mass (very traditional) in a beautiful church close to my hostel, a stroll through Hyde Park with the Whitworth group, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum (amazing), dinner at Pizza Express, and then a contemporary worship service at the Holy Trinity Anglican church, literally just a few steps from the church I went to Mass at in the morning. Finally, Dr. Beebe, Matthew and Mathew sent me off at a different tavern, where we had some great pub conversation and said our goodbyes.  When I arrived at the easyBus pick-up stop, I asked two people sitting there if it was the right place, and they said yes.  A few moments later, they asked me, "¿Habla español?" With an enthusiastic "Sí," we then started talking a lot, which was very refreshing after a week of not speaking any Spanish.  What tickled me more is that ambiguous ethnic identity (from the outside) won again! They obviously couldn't hear any Spanish accent in my voice when I asked them in English, so logically they must have thought I looked like someone who speaks Spanish (hopefully from Spain, though I'll take any country).

I'm glad I finally got all of this written down, as it definitely would have been easier to forget things had I waited longer to write. On a side note, yesterday I finished with my last exam for the month, and I can't express how happy I am that's over.  Frankly, a month of just studying for exams and then doing your exams adds so much unneeded stress, not to mention the fact that so much of the final grade depends on it.  Add to that the fact that it seems the majority of the Spanish and international students are worried about just passing the course, it just makes an unpleasant situation.  Given the circumstances and trying to piece together what I'd learned over the semester, I can at least be happy with the fact that I gave my best effort.  Plus, with second semester starting next week (¡Qué loco!) I am SO much more comfortable than at the beginning and now know how the whole academic game goes.  Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (from the 21st) and please pray for forgiveness, compassion, and the conversion of the nation to one that's always open to life in this 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade decision.

Dios os bendiga,

Saturday, December 29, 2012

It's been GRAND . . .

Top of the mornin' to ya! That's the only phrase I really wanted to hear when traveling to Ireland during the weekend of December 6th - 9th (yep, I've been a wee bit lazy keeping up on posts), but apparently no one actually says it.  In order to not be "that tourist," I tried to control myself and not say this phrase to everyone I met.  "They're after m' lucky charms" was also avoided for obvious reasons.  Now just for the record, I've always been a fan of Ireland and the Irish culture, probably because I can claim at least 1/8 Irish heritage on m' mother's side.  Though my resemblance to an Irish person is about the same as The Office's Michael Scott being 2/15 Native American, something about being in Dublin and the Irish countryside ignited the Celtic fire inside of my soul.  While my trip in Ireland itself was fantastic and beyond words, getting there was another story.  I've told it so many times now (mostly in Spanish) that I've grown tired of the same old rhetoric, so prepare yourselves for an epic drama with hints of beat poetry as I recount how I missed my connection from Madrid to Dublin through Ryanair. (Pardon the present tense too; I think it sounds more exciting).

Crunch, crunch, lip smack, triple crunch goes the trail mix in my mouth as I await to board the next metal bird for the Emerald Isle.  "Oh Trader Joe's," I muse, "If your founder was indeed a real person, I hope he is in heaven serving this hearty snack to its citizens."  In my cashew-induced day dream, I am roused by the shuffling of luggage and slow movement of the crowd.  Yes! The moment has arrived, and I reach into my backpack to procure my golden ticket (boarding pass).  The employee reads mine, does a double take, and delivers the news that strikes terror into my very soul: "You don't have your stamp (which only applies to people outside the EU). If you don't get one soon, you can't board." Realizing that responding with "I've heard it both ways" would be ill-advised, I dash off in the opposite direction in the hope to find the elusive office of Ryanair, completely unaware of the coming challenge.  Left and right I ask whoever looks official if they know where, and vague yet somewhat helpful responses come my way.  With the suaveness of James Bond I sneak my way past the National Police passport check with ease . . . after asking their permission to do so.  "Not long now," I think to myself confidently as I assess my bearings.  Utter dismay hits me like an elephant when I realize the office lies beyond the exit of the airport.  With a deep breath, I dive into the great beyond and begin my merry chase again.  350.  The number of the office rings in my head like one of those creepy cat cuckoo clocks, but I pursue it nonetheless with a renewed effort.  Like a shark who's smelled blood in the water, there's nothing that will stop me now in my hunt . . . except the line when I get there.  Tick tock goes the imaginary sound of my digital watch as I mentally tell it to stop reminding me.  Procuring my stamp after what feels like an eternity, the employee tells me advice I knew from the beginning: RUN. Dodging idle passengers this way and that, I come to my final obstacle: the security check. Stripping off my belt, shoes, wallet, and other accessories like I'm on fire, I pass through the radiation machines relatively unscathed.  Here it is: the final sprint.  Boots clopping, backpack shuffling, heart pounding, and sweat dripping in literally every crevice of my body, I kick myself for never running long distance in college nor training for an Iron Man.  Nearing the place of my destiny I constantly tell myself I'm almost there and that I can die on the plane.  However, the unthinkable happens.  Much to my chagrin I see the aluminum eagle in its nest preparing to soar into the heavens and leave me in the dust to forge my own existence.  The Man has won, and I, one man, have lost.

Hope you enjoyed that little portion of monologue; I'm hoping to pitch it to Broadway and get the musical version started up real soon.  There's a bit of a happy ending in that I was still able to go to Ireland by booking a ticket with Aer Lingus for a flight that evening.  An expensive lesson, but definitely worth it after such a fun weekend in Dublin.  That being said, here's a list of highlights, in order of occurrence:
1) Getting directions from an older Irishman to the buses at the airport.  If I couldn't have Morgan Freeman narrate my life, I would definitely love this man's charming Irish brogue accompany me wherever I go.
2) Hanging out with Jenna and some of her friends! She was such a great tour guide and really knew her way around the best parts of Dublin.
3) Seeing the Book of Kells, one of the oldest and best preserved illuminated gospel books (800 AD)! Even though it's protected with strong glass, an employee from Trinity College turns a page of it every day. No pressure or anything.
4) Guiness Factory Tour! The best, and might I say most "academically enriching" part, was when we poured our perfect pints of Guiness and graduated from the factory's academy.  Much to Jenna's and my surprise, I liked Guiness and its uniqueness among cervezas.
5) Evensong in St. Patrick's Cathedral.
6) Authentic Irish food in O'Neil's (shepherd's pie + roasted chicken = mouth watering goodness).
7) James Joyce's play "The Dead" in the Abbey Theater.  Witty, great cast, a merry winter scene, and a final tragic scene making you wonder what you just saw.  Touche Joyce, touche . . .
8) Authentic Irish music back in O'Neil's! I could have done a jig :)
9) Hiking Bray Head, Greystones, saying hello to all the Irish people, ice cream, and trying to stay warm in an elevator with Jenna and my new friend Lily as we waited for the train! (Turns out the latter was unnecessary).
10) Mass on the Assumption of Our Lady in a PACKED Carmelite church! Weird to think that it was my first English-speaking Mass in months.
11) A literary pub crawl in which we learned about the various authors of Dublin and which drinking establishments they frequented.  Not to mention watching people participate in the self-named "12 Pubs of Christmas," a popular pastime in December.

As always, here's the link to some Snapfish photos and a few examples below if you don't have an account: http://www5.snapfish.com/snapfish/thumbnailshare/AlbumID=8075007025/a=12105223025_12105223025/otsc=SHR/otsi=SALBlink/COBRAND_NAME=snapfish/

I am traveling to London this coming Monday (New Year's Eve) to spend a few days there before meeting up with some friends from Whitworth for their "Christianity in the British Isles" trip.  Please pray for me, as this will be my first time traveling/spending time in another country completely alone.  However, I'm really excited and can't wait to share the adventure with you all through a blog post that will hopefully come sooner than this one did. ¡Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo!

Hasta 2013,

Friday, November 23, 2012

Catch Me If You Can

¡Hola todos!
Hope you all are recovering from the post-Thanksgiving food coma and are relishing the fact that new cooking will not be necessary for the next week or two.  I guess Thanksgiving is never truly "over" until all of the leftovers are consumed.  Just an aside, for my Thanksgiving I went out for some tapas with some friends, and we did the classic "what are you thankful for" table discussion, specifically relating it to our studying abroad experience.  Although I could go on and on, I'll just mention one thing from my list which I hadn't thought about much until last night.  I realized that I'm thankful for the opportunity to view the world as a global family.  It seems like everyday I meet new people from all different areas of the globe, and it's so normal and comfortable for me now.  It is true that our respective countries have various cultural differences, but at the same time doesn't each family member bring something unique to the table? I'll extrapolate this a bit and say that meeting and befriending people from other countries is NECESSARY for peace and fellowship.  As I watched the images of the new Israeli-Gaza battle on the news and the ancient hatred that exists there, I thought to myself how things would be different if the powers behind those rockets had done a study abroad program together, taking a stroll in the park and doing karaoke in the evening.  How much more difficult it is to order the annihilation of a group of people knowing that one of your friends is there!  True, even in our families we have disagreements and may even be angry with each other for a time, but the mark of a loving family is one which is willing to fight the good fight to forgive one another.  Are we not all children of the same God, created and loved by He that is Love?  We must challenge ourselves to remember this constantly and think of countries as composed of human individuals, not as political entities.

Now, after that little tidbit, you may be wondering about the title of this post.  This may sound a bit odd, but thinking of titles is one of my favorite parts of writing this blog.  So, for those who have seen the movie "Catch Me If You Can" (highly recommended), the answer is No, the title does not imply that I am now an international criminal printing near perfect blank checks, forging identities, and eluding both the FBI and international police.  Rather, the "Me" refers to my trip to Fatima and Lisboa, Portugal last week and the "You" refers to me.  First off, it's important to note that I didn't really know anyone going on this trip, organized through the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) Santiago.  I was especially interested in Fatima, and I figured Lisboa would be pretty cool, so I bought the tickets nonetheless.  After leaving very early from Santiago on Friday the 16th, we arrived in Fatima around 10 am or so and would only be there for 2 hours.  Soon after eating breakfast, we went to explore the sanctuary of Fatima, which was a lot more empty than I thought it would be (you can see what I mean in the pictures).  In that sense, Fatima does feel like a pilgrimage site since it appears people only come for religious reasons (i.e. not many tourists).  The church was absolutely gorgeous, and when we entered they were starting Mass in Portuguese.  Other people from the group just took a few pictures and left, but I decided to stick around and try to understand as much of Mass as possible.  I left at the beginning of the homily and started to make my way back to the buses, but lo and behold my "Psych-like" memory had failed me.  For whatever reason, I simply could NOT find the buses with the clock ticking, the heavy rain clouding my glasses (and lack of umbrella), and the sense of shame being lost since Fatima is really small.  Muchísimas gracias a Dios (Many thanks to God) that I found a man who pointed me in the right direction.  Upon entering the bus, I looked (and probably smelled) like a wet dog, but I just didn't care.  In retrospect, I guess being left behind at a very holy sanctuary wouldn't have been the worst thing. :) Also, if you want to learn more about the Miracle at Fatima, check out this video from EWTN:

After that incident at Fatima, I told myself I wouldn't get separated from the group again.  I even met three girls from the United States (two from Wisconsin, one from North Carolina), so I now had a safety net.  We checked into the hotel around 4 and immediately walked to el Castelo de Sao Jorge (the Castle of St. George), located on a hill above the city.  As you'll see in some of the pictures, the castle is incredibly well preserved, like many of the archaeological sites around Lisboa.  After about an hour or a little more at the castle, it looked like people were starting to leave, so I found myself close to the exit.  However, curiosity killed the cat, salted the snail (I've heard it both ways), and I wandered toward the back of the castle, taking a few pictures of an archaeological dig.  Surprise, surprise, that I had inadvertently lost the group once again, this time in the heart of Lisboa.  Despite being in such a large city by myself, I felt much better about being lost this time since I figured I could find my way back to the hotel (which I did, no big deal; on the way I even found a nice restaurant with great food and good prices).  In summary, for the first day of the trip I definitely felt like I was constantly trying to "catch" the group, but having had that experience, I now know I can overcome it in the future.

Just a few final comments about the trip before some pictures:
1) On Saturday, we visited a small town called Sintra, which was stunning for its views of the cities below, its cloud forest, zip-lining (which I think only operates in spring or summer), and many castles and palaces.  For some of the reasons stated above, it certainly reminded me of Costa Rica!
2) Pasteis de Belem (Pastries of Belem) were fantastic and a must have if you're in Lisboa.
3) On a more somber note, Lisboa is the first city I've seen here that has a serious poverty problem.  Outside one business on one block, I saw at least 10 people, maybe more, sleeping on the streets in proximity to one another.  Though I've seen many demonstrations (including the national strike on the 14th of November), the trip to Lisboa was the real eye-opening experience to what they call the "crisis" here in Spain and Portugal.  To say that the crisis is hurting people would be an understatement, clearly.  With poverty, I'm never sure what is the best way to help, but upon seeing this I will challenge myself to find what that way is.

Now, the link for the pictures and a few examples if you all don't have Snapfish:



Thanks again for reading! I wish you all the best as we conclude with our national holiday and begin to prepare for the preparation (Advent) for the universal celebration (Christmas).  ¡Ciao!