Time is escaping me, Vassarinos! Here we are at the beginning of November. In Madrid the leaves have finally changed, the temperature has cooled down, and everyone can calm down because my mom finally sent me a bag of pumpkin spice coffee. This post marks the halfway point of my abroad experience, further amplified by the spring housing applications and pre-registration reminders sitting in my inbox. However, these are realities I choose to ignore.
Since I’ve last written, the most surprising thing about being in Spain has been how normal it now feels. I find myself on the platform for the train not remembering how I got there. I strategically weave past the salespeople soliciting in the metro station all while listening to my iPod, fishing out my metro pass, and maintaining the perfect pace and disinterested gaze so they know that I’m not worth approaching. I haven’t walked on the street and thought, “Wow, I’m in Spain” in a while. That is not to say that I’m no longer an active participant in my everyday life, soaking up every moment of my time here. It’s just to say that living in Spain has become extraordinarily normal.
A couple of weekends ago I took my first extra-Spain excursion to Amsterdam. Upon boarding the plane, where the flight attendants spoke only English or Dutch, it was jarring to realize that suddenly Spanish, and my understanding of Spanish customs, had become virtually useless in my current context. While sitting down at a table outside by the canals, waiting for a server to notice us and come take our order as they do in Spain, my travel mates and I realized that it might not work like that in Amsterdam. We had entered the Netherlands with a Spanish state of mind. When we landed on the tarmac Sunday evening at the Madrid airport, it felt a little bit like home.
I also feel as though I’ve really gotten inside of the Spanish language. As any linguist will tell you, language is inextricably tied to culture, functioning as both a reflection and manifestation of our ideologies. As such, both my required language class and my linguistics class have been a huge help in getting a better sense of Spanish culture. In my language class, we’ve been learning phrases the Spanish use to greet each other, say goodbye to each other, wish each other good luck, and other phrases of a similar nature. Not only have these been a huge help when communicating with my señora on a daily basis, they’ve also helped me to understand how people here relate to each other in general. Essentially, for me, it’s meant learning the difference between denotation and connotation. For example: everyone knows that “si” means yes. However, if someone asks you a question, and you want to affirm what they’ve asked you, “si” isn’t the way to go. Responding with “si” in that context would mean something closer to “fine.” Important stuff, guys.
This week in my linguistics class, we’ve started talking about sexism in language, which is a particularly interesting theme when talking about any language in which every single word has a gender. Additionally, there are some double standards which are just way too sexist too ignore. Examples include the word “esposa,” which happens to mean both “wife” and “handcuffs.” The phrase “un hombre público” means a man who holds public office. “Una mujer pública,” however, means prostitute. Some things just aren’t coincidental.
In other news, some October highlights include taking a group excursion to Sevilla and Cordoba, going to a Real Madrid fútbol game, taking several day trips, and receiving a visit from two of my best friends from Vassar, Lorena and Kiran. It was so awesome to have them come to Madrid—mostly because I hadn’t seen them since May. But it was also really great to be able to show them around with a kind of double consciousness. I was their tour guide, showing them around a city that now feels so familiar, but also a tourist, seeing Madrid with new eyes. It also gave me the excuse to check out a few sites I hadn’t yet had the chance to visit. On the first day of their visit, we went to el Matadero, an old slaughterhouse that’s been converted (not recently) into a kind of cultural center, with art galleries, a bar and restaurant, film screenings, and spaces where anyone can hang out and do work—almost all for free. My favorite installation featured three huge sculptures of women’s heads with their eyes closed all facing each other. The way the stripes are painted on them creates an optical illusion that makes it hard for the viewer to focus on them, and makes it seem like they shouldn’t exist in real space.
I also took Lorena and Kiran to the Reina Sofia—Madrid’s modern art museum and home of Picasso’s “Guernica”—and the Caixa Forum, a museum right next to one of Madrid’s vertical gardens. The forum’s exhibits are all temporary, so we saw a George Méliès film exhibit which was incredible and really interesting. It had costumes, projections of his films, interactive components, and even the automaton they used in Hugo, which was a gift from the director.
Saying goodbye to them again was a little tragic, but it felt nice to merge my worlds for week. That is, the piece of home that my Vassar friends represent, and the city that’s become a new home to me.