A memorable scene from our UEFA coverage

Jesus Fernandez stands behind his pop-up drink shop in the middle of Paseo de los Melancolis. The operation has all the markings of a kid’s lemonade stand—cash box, plastic cups and a fold-out table flanked by a skateboard. But this table isn’t so innocent. Stocked with Mahou, Passport scotch, Beefeater gin and vodka, the table is a mobile liquor cabinet for passing Atlético fans making their way to the stadium.

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Fernandez and his associates are too busy for an interview as they attempt to meet the demands of a thirsty crowd happily paying 2 euros for a 12-ounce Mahou, or 8 euros for big-gulp sized mixed drink of alcohol paired with Coke or Naranja.

Just 20 feet away, another franchise is bustling on the other side of the street, catching the fans that might not have seen the first stand. At both locations, the entrepreneurs are frantically opening ice bags.

By 8:35 p.m., the crew is cleaning up – their bottles almost empty and their customers filing into the stadium and nearby bars to catch the beginning of the match.

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A forgotten memory from Salamanca

Scrolling through my photos earlier today, I came across some pictures from Salamanca that had gotten lost in the clutter. Here they are with the accompanying story…

 

As a group we visited the Huerto de Calixto y Melibea, a garden in the historic section of Salamanca named after two lovers from Fernando de Rojas 15th century work, “La Celestina.”

We had only spent a few minutes there during our tour, so with some free time I walked around the city, seeking out the garden. By circling Salamanca’s famed old cathedral, and with the help of a trail of hearts, I found my way there once again.

Trail of hearts

As it turns out a newlywed couple was taking photos in the garden after tying the knot in a nearby church. Their procession to the Huerto de Calixto y Melibea had left a wake of love, guiding the way for others to find Salamanca’s romantic epicenter.

Inside the garden, I found a letter left on a stone bench.

In English, it reads:

Good morning love!

I love you, thank you for this trip, I’m always happy with you.

-Ana

Because it was written in Spanish I didn’t know what it read until I translated it later back at my homestay, but feeling slightly home sick, the imagined message was a nice pick-me-up. So I left one of my own for the next wanderer to find.

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City Steppin

Every time my mother visited me in Boston during my undergraduate career, or the family took a trip into New York City to meet up with my older cousin Emily for dinner and a show, she would always say that despite living in the suburbs, she could seamlessly step right into the pace of city living.

It isn´t genetic…

Even in cozy, 15-square mile Salamanca, it took me about a week to really feel comfortable knowing where I was going.

Despite living in Boston for five years, my transition from Salamanca to Madrid has not been so graceful. With a population of over three million, Madrid has roughly 20 times as many residents as Spain´s “Golden City,” spread over 230 square miles of land.

But it isn´t simply a matter of the sheer numbers. Madrid has a different “pulse” to it – an irreverent city bustle that was noticably absent in Salamanca.

Based on some data I´ve come across about city speeds, I guess I shouldn´t be surprised.

In 2007, a team of researchers attempted to quantify the “feel” of various cities around the world by timing individuals walking a 60-foot stretch of clear sidewalk. After comparing their findings, Madrid was determined to be the world’s third fastest walking city, behind Singapore and Copenhagen.

Comparatively, New York City – the city that is so busy, it´s narcoleptic – was the fastest American city, at eighth among those surveyed. Researchers didn´t even test in Boston – a tacit acknowledgement that the provincially touted “hub of the universe,” isn´t on the international scale.

On our trip, there have been a few instances of strangers confusing me for a local.

They must not have seen me walk.

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Midnight Snackin

Even after almost two weeks in Spain, my stomach is still adjusting to the drastically different eating schedule people run on here. Breakfast (8:30 a.m.) is pretty standard, but lunch (2:30 p.m.) is huge – we’re talking bowl of soup, a meat dish, and fruit for dessert – and dinner (8:30 p.m.) is light. Tonight my homestay dad Juan made rosemary chicken openface sandwiches on french bread drizzled with olive oil for supper. Absolutely awesome. The problem? It was a tapas-style serving.

As my roommate Bryan discusses here, tapas dishes aren’t characterized by big portions. They’re delicious, but they’re halfway between a snack and a meal.

So around 11:30 p.m., my stomach started rumbling. After wrapping up some work, I hit the town looking for grub. It being late Sunday night, there wasn’t much open, so with high hunger-levels and low expectations, I stopped in to the 24-hour store near my apartment.

Let me tell you, 7-11 can’t hold a candle to Spanish bodegas.

Coke and recepit

I ate like a king.

A fresh baguette, a package of cured meat and a Coke – an embarrassment of riches – all for 2.14 euro (roughly $3.00.)

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The phases and faces of a first time bullfight spectator

Sunday I traveled with some fellow journalists to Villadolid as part of our reporting for two pieces about the time-honored Spanish tradition of bullfighting. While I was there I interviewed Lenore, an American woman who was in town while traveling to Madrid by way of the “Camino de Santiago” pilgrimage route. Like myself, this was her first bull fight, so I interviewed her for our stories and took photos of her responses as the action unfolded.

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Prior to the fights beginning, Lenore said she hadn’t originally planned to attend the flights when laying out the itinerary for her trip, but happened to wind up at the stadium on a whim. Prior to the fights, she explained why she decided to attend “I´ve never been, it´s probably the only time I´ll ever go, I hope I don´t throw up. ” Here we see her wringing her hands before the first bull enters.

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Spanish art and literature romanticizes bullfighting, painting toreros as daring figures that elegantly dance with massive beasts for the entertainment of the crowd and the thrill of side-stepping death. Even American author Ernest Hemingway wrote “nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bullfighters” in “The Sun Also Rises.” This illusion of grandeur clashes with the reality of watching a bull be repeatedly speared prior to facing off with the torero.

 

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What would the bull fight experience truly be without some pictures to show friends and family when she returns to the States? Earlier in the day, our staff photographer had commented that it is slightly easier to view a particularly graphic scene through a camera lens, as it provides a layer of separation between the sight and the individual. Perhaps Lenore sought that buffer or maybe she simply wanted to be able to remember the event.

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The joy derived from getting “the shot” is enough to give Lenore an uplifting feeling, and provides a temporary respite from the gore and brutality in front of her.

 

 

 

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With six fights on the bill, it was hard not to become desensitized to the inevitable blood and barbarianism in the arena. I caught both myself and Lenore falling into the inertia of a cheering crowd.

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I Will Remember Massachusetts

On our way back from our excursion to Segovia today, “Massachusetts” by the Bee Gees came on the mix being played by our van driver. As an aside, for a 30-something Spaniard, our bus driver was REALLY into the Bee Gees. He put on a four song set of their hits during the ride.

“Feel I’m goin’ back to Massachusetts
Something’s telling me I must go home
And the lights all went out in Massachusetts
The day I left her standing on her own”

Until I heard those words, I really hadn’t thought much about the life I’d left behind in Boston. In the jet-lagged whirlwind of learning a new city, generating article ideas and taking trips with the group, I haven’t had the idle moments to reflect on the friends and loved one I said goodbye to on Monday. I have been completely consumed by Spain.

Sure, over the week I’ve received plenty of Snapchats and Facebook messages from friends back in Beantown and family in New York and New Jersey, but our frenetic schedule coupled with sporadic wifi access has left many of these unanswered. In that moment, I felt guilty for not making more of an effort to check in with everyone back home. I was instantly reminded that I hadn’t gotten in touch with my dad since we departed from Logan Airport and that I’d left an email from my Aunt Mary unanswered… and that I still hadn’t Skyped with any of my friends from home yet… and OH CRAP Mother’s Day is tomorrow AhHhHhH! You can see where this is going.

Halfway through the song, I was internally vowing to dedicate our “free day” tomorrow to sending out emails and schedule Skype dates, only to realize I had already arranged to help one student with an assignment in the morning and had plans in the afternoon to accompany others reporting on a bull fight.

It was difficult to be confronted by own shortcoming and limitations, but as the song ended with the longing words “I will remember Massachusetts,” I was reassured – even though staying in touch had been hard, home hadn’t slipped my mind.

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First Impressions

Some initial thoughts after spending two days in Salamanca:

  • Portions are small – In a way, it’s like I never got off the airplane. Water comes in small glasses at restaurants, and “sandwiches” don’t hold a candle to what you can find at an American Deli.
  • Except at my home stay – My home stay parents, Maria and Juan, are the stereotypical “heaping spoonfuls of love” kind of caregivers. “Comida” (lunch) yesterday consisted of a bath in Lentil soup, an onslaught of pork with potatoes and fruit for dessert. “I’m full” was one of the first Spanish phrases I looked up last night.
  • Drinks are cheap -This morning, I found out the coffee machine at our Spanish school pumps out small cups of excellent java for just €0.50. My roommate, Bryan, and I went out for a real drink this afternoon following our group reception at Salamanca’s City Hall. We were surprised to find two cervezas only left us with a bill of 2.40. At those prices, I could be making stops at both places as part of my daily routine.
  • “Perdón?” – A Spanish word I quickly became acquainted with. As someone who speaks no Spanish, I can understand roughly 30 percent of what my home stay mother says, and about 15 percent of what my home stay father says. I like to think this is because I am sharp enough to pick up familiar buzzwords and piece things together, but it probably has more to do with their patience and exaggerated gesturing. Several of the other students staying at the home are far more functional than I am, so they interpret when need be. Thankfully, both Maria and Juan speak a little French, so our lexicons have some crossover.
  • No soap for you! – The sinks in the bathrooms at my home stay don’t have any hand soap. I don’t really get it. I asked my home stay mom in broken French “Ou est the chose pour laver les mains?” (Where is the thing to wash your hands?) She then went into a closet and returned with a hotel shampoo bottle. I still haven’t decided whether she misunderstood me, or that was the reasonable solution. No one else at the apartment seems fazed by this.

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Packing

Packing

Amid the flurry of events at the end of my college career – family visits, graduation, club sports regionals – packing became an afterthought. Naturally, I left it until the night before/morning of our departure.

It’s hard to envision all that you’ll need for five weeks travel fitting in one large duffle  bag. Every time I take a trip or travel, I am reminded of how few things people truly “need” in order to get by. As I looked around my room, I noticed plenty of items that were at best, novelties, and at worst, absolutely unnecessary. This line of thought is a nice primer for my move from Boston to D.C. later this summer for my full-time post-grad job.

While packing for the dialogue was much more bare-bones, than my move will be, I’ll still have to sift through all the knick knacks and trinkets I’ve collected over the past few years at Northeastern and decide what is truly worthy of coming with me as I enter the next phase of my life.

 

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