Primero, quiero hablar sobre nuestra escuela AHA y luego la Universidad de Portland, especialmente el ascensor de AHA. La razón por tener un ascensor es para ayudar o asistir a las personas discapacitadas. Sin embargo, ¿cómo una persona puede moverse en su silla de ruedas en este espacio pequeño? También, es una gigantesca bofetada en la cara que haya cautros pasos antes de ir a la sala de clase. En la universidad donde fuimos, CIE, el diseño es interesante a tener el espacio muy abierto como sólo un gran edificio. Me gustan mucho los techos, y por eso, no hay mucho en las clases de UP. La ubicación es mejor también porque hay más restaurantes, tiendas, y cafés cerca de la escuela entonces durante las pausas entre las clases ellos pueden ir. He visto que la proporción entre los hombre y las mujeres es muy similar de UP. Puedo decir que las dos escuelas, ellas son muy diferentes por el diseño, estilo de vida, y también el sistema de educación.
Cuando estábamos caminando por el bosque, estábamos rodeados de la naturaleza. ¡Qué bonita era! Los caminos no eran de hormigón sino de tierra, rocas y pasto. El bosque no tocado por la suciedad de nuestro mundo moderno, pero completamente puro. Los riachuelos inocentes, burbujeando bajo de la montaña. Los animales sin preocupaciones y los árboles todavía altos y viejos con muchos cuentos para decirnos. Pero, piensa en esto: no más de 73 años antes de hoy, el mismo bosque de paz y inocencia estaba lleno de caos y terror. No podemos imaginar las muertes, el derramamiento de sangre ni el sufrimiento que había en este bosque tan tranquilo. Donde hoy hay vistas impresionantes, había escenas de vidas perdidas. Los mismos bunkeres que hemos visto, que hemos tocado con nuestras manos estaban cubiertos con sangre. Los árboles que vimos hoy se habían cortado para facilitar la violencia. Donde nosotros estábamos, había soldados demasiado jóvenes. Sobre todo estuvimos en el bosque con nuestras vidas tan privilegiadas. Pero necesitamos recordar las vidas, en el mismo bosque, que eran exactemente las opuestas.
Carlos Dickens escribió de un “Cuento de dos ciudades.” ¡En Segovia, hay dos épocas en una ciudad! Es como si Segovia tuviera dos poblaciones de épocas diferentes. Por supuesto, viven juntos simultáneamente. Por un lado, hay carnicerías, en que los cochinillos se sientan. Por otro lado, muchos jóvenes pasan un rato abajo de las luces flourescentes de Telepizza. Por un lado, la oficina de correos, en que está el león de oro (no puedo imaginar todas las palabras que han pasado por la boca del león). Por otro lado, hay cafés del internet. Es estos se necesita una contraseña de wifi en vez de un sello. Aún en mi propia casa, hay un radio militar con perillas polvorientas. En el salón, hay una televisión de la marca LG. ¡Quizás, si Dickens viviera hoy, escribiría de Segovia! Aunque una persona puede ver las dos culturas de Segovia como un choque, los veo como un balanza dinámica y bonita.
San Sebastián, or Donostia, Spain is known for the best pintxos in the world. All bars serve them but some more artfully (and courteously) than others. I had traveled to San Sebastián in 2007 and sampled the food in La Cuchara de San Telmo and Casa Gandarias. Excellent. This time another bar caught my eye on the edge of Old Town (or was it just that my daughter needed to use the bathroom so we ducked in?), Nagusia Lau: stacks of savory food in wonderful combinations atop baguette crostinis. We ordered drinks, asked for plates, and filled them by serving ourselves (at all pintxos bars the bartender takes note of what’s on your plate before you consume so that s/he can charge you later). The bill came to 27 euros! This was way too expensive for pintxos.
In central and southern Spain a pincho is defined as that free appetizer you ask for when you order a drink at a bar, “Dáme un pincho” (imagine my shock then at arriving in San Sebastían to pay 27 euros for drinks and pinchos). If you actually order an appetizer, which is more plentiful and therefore comes on a bigger plate, this is called a “ración.” In the Basque country, which is known for its innovative cuisine (including beyond the bar), pintxos have become a tourist phenomenon. A pintxo might be grilled octopus, skewered lamb or fried squid. You do not sit down and order. You go to the bar and make yourself heard over the din. You do this in at least five bars in a row between the hours of 7pm and 11pm. In San Sebastián, Old Town is best for bar hopping because its location next to the port means that you are eating seafood caught that day.
I traveled to Bilbao in 1986 before it was discovered by Guggenheim. We went to Old Town to bar hop. We knew it was dangerous to be in Bilbao at night; this was a rough, working man’s city known for its industrial economic might. I would not have survived Bilbao’s Old Town without the male friends who accompanied and protected me. But what I remember best are the pintxos which were quite simply meat and seafood grilled on a skewer, what the fancy pintxo bars now call “brochetas.” Pintxos were born on a grill, not a menu.
In San Sebastián, we returned to the first bar I encountered (where we paid 27 euros for appetizers and drinks) and quickly left because the service was insolent. If the food was tasty but expensive did I really need to tolerate a grouchy bartender? Trip Advisor’s writers confirmed my suspicion: this bar is located at the entrance to Old Town luring in naive tourists, treating them badly, then overcharging them.
We had already visited the familiar haunts, La Cuchara de San Telmo which is teaming with customers, and Casa Gandarias, which is also overcrowded. We went back to a family-owned bar with friendly service and traditional pintxos, La Cepa. Finally we stopped in a bar where I had noticed really big crowds. We waited ninety minutes for the kitchen to open but it was worth it. Rations of octopus, patatas bravas, croquetas and pintxos of smoked salmon and stuffed roasted red pepper were delicious. Unfortunately I cannot remember the restaurant’s name but it is on the corner of 31 de Agosto Kalea as you descend to visit La Cuchara de San Telmo but before you reach Casa Gandarias.
I have not written a word about my study abroad experience in Barcelona in 1986. The homestay from hell is the primary reason I do not have fond memories.
Gloria, my homestay mother, was cheap and stingy. We left the table hungry and on Sunday nights she pureed the week’s leftovers, bones too, and heated the soup for our dinner. Randy, my American housemate, never said a word. I gagged and refused to eat it.
When she entertained, Gloria told us to stay in our rooms. Our bedrooms were not heated and it was winter. She served lavish Italian meals for her friends and family in the heated living room.
I was nineteen years old and living in the largest city of my life. I had chosen Barcelona; in fact I had fought for it. My college adviser tried to dissuade me. I would not learn Spanish because everyone spoke Catalonian. He could not have foretold my homestay nightmare.
We knew when Gloria received the monthly pension to house and feed us because she would return home with a tacky garment two sizes too small for her. A putty-colored leather jacket she bought comes to mind.
Like the picaresque characters in my favorite literature class at the University of Barcelona, I lived by my wits to feed myself and to escape Gloria’s disapproval. Unlike my picaresque counterparts I had a weekly allowance; I learned to stretch it in order to spend as much time away from my homestay as possible.
After two months (I was there for a semester) I met a group of international students who shared an apartment in El Raval. These English, Catalonian, and South American friends invited me into their kitchen where we prepared simple meals to eat on the rooftop terrace. Later we would dance on the terrace or head to another student apartment to party. On weekends we went to Sitges, a nearby beach resort. I was living the movie, L’Auberge Espagnole, before it was made.
I have always related to the protagonist of Laforet’s novel, Andrea. She moved from Las Canarias to Barcelona in postwar Spain to study at the university. She was nineteen. Andrea lived with relatives who were too absorbed with their own problems to give her the support she needed. It is a dark, almost Gothic, tale of loneliness. Andrea gets by; she is another picaresque character with whom I identified.
In my present homestay I tell Maria del Valle about Gloria La Bruja from 1986 Barcelona. Maria del Valle asks the simple question, Why did you not change homestays? Why did you not speak up? I do remember writing a scathing evaluation of the homestay. I do not know why I did not speak up sooner.
My Spain diary from thirty years ago recounts a group excursion to a Dali retrospective in Madrid. Understand the context: although I attended prep school in Colorado Springs, I lived in Divide forty five minutes west up Ute Pass. For my homestay in 1983, I was placed in Herencia, La Mancha, a small town of 7,000. We barely saw Madrid – the largest city I had every visited up until that point in my life – before being placed in our homestays. Nothing prepared me for Dali’s canvases especially their phallic misogyny. One painting has endured in my memory: The Great Masturbator. Suffice it to say that I do not like Dali’s work.
However, I do recognize his genius; the AHA staff (the incredible on-site team who organizes the Segovia program), after fifty calls to Madrid and copious documentation to prove our university status, secured entrance to a special Dali retrospective at the Museo de La Reina Sofia. We have planned it as a surprise for the students. In my experience, students love Dali’s work because it bends our very notion of reality.
Thirty years later I visit this exhibition and I experience the same revulsion I feel about Almodovar’s films (with the exception of “Las mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios” and “Volver”). Almodovar who thinks he understands women really does not. He represents them in sordid or silly (or both) roles and contexts. This is not a moral point of mine, it is sociopolitical. Almodovar left La Mancha and went to Madrid in the 1960s. He made his first films with a handheld Super-8 videocamera (some of the titles are too obscene to publish here). Later he was a central agent of La Movida, an artistic-party culture whose highly permissive art forms (and lifestyles) rejected the socially repressive dictatorship before.
Importantly, Almodovar’s films show the exit from Spain’s past. But they go too far by making grotesque human sexuality. One film with this shock -aesthetic would have been enough, not twenty.
In 1983 Dali’s exhibit opened my eyes to alternative perspectives. It also got me thinking about the artistic representation of women by men.