Cultural Relativity

Recently, we had our mandatory “Taller Intercultural” meetings. At first, I wasn’t sure what that actually meant. All I knew was that I was going to have to spend at least 2 hours of my Friday afternoon cooped up in a classroom about an hour from my house.

I later found out we’d be talking about cultural difference. At first, I thought the dialogue was a bit corny and boring. However, once I dropped the “too-cool-for-school” act, I realized how much I appreciated having a safe space to think critically about some of these ideas. In fact, for me, the discussion has, at the very least, sparked further individual reflection long after the session ended.

During these sessions, we talked about the many nuanced differences between Spanish and American culture, such as how the idea of personal space is a bit different here—as in it doesn’t exist. People don’t mind getting very cozy with you. In addition, people also don’t apologize when they bump into you on the street or in the metro because it isn’t seen as necessary. Very much along the same lines, the PDA here is quite frequent and explicit. We also discussed how efficiency is not the ultimate goal in Spain—something that I think has definitely bothered all of us capitalist Americans at least once. For example, the madrileño way to do group work is to socialize while doing work, as opposed to focusing on the task at hand first, and leaving the fun for later. The Spanish way might take longer, but for them, it’s about enjoying the experience. Likewise, the school cafeteria is also not organized with efficiency in mind. When you go up to the counter with your order, there is no line to stand in. You push your way to the front of the crowd, and the amount of time you wait to put in your order is at the mercy of the waiters who come to your part of the massive horde of people when they feel like it.

These conversations on cultural difference have only given me more to think about, since one of the concepts I’ve been toying around with lately is the idea of cultural difference versus absolute truths. Is cultural difference compatible with absolute truths? Are there any absolute truths? Is it possible for absolute truths to exist in a multicultural society?

For instance, one of the things we discussed is how the idea of “political correctness” doesn’t exist in Spain. Therefore, if someone says something that we Americans perceive to be rude, we shouldn’t be offended because there was no malicious intent. However, if you still end up deeply offending someone, does intent even matter? Or, does taking offense just signify a lack of cultural sensitivity on the part of the American?

These issues seem trite at first, but when digging beneath the surface, it becomes evident that the answers one could potentially uncover have serious ramifications for society.

This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered these questions. In my Women’s and Gender studies classes, we often apply these ideas to broader contexts. For example, during one class, we examined how America frequently invokes the supposedly universalist language of human rights, but in very selective ways. The War on Terror is case in point: our country often discussed the invasion of Afghanistan as a liberating endeavor to “save” the women of the Middle East from their “uniformly oppressive” regimes – as if the U.S. doesn’t discriminate against its own women.

On the other hand, in these same classes, we have also investigated how culture can be deployed as a way to morally absolve oppressors. For instance, in my opinion, culture cannot justify the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Even though FGM may be a tradition in certain countries, it not only severely harms women’s wellbeing, but also has no medical benefit, and the origin of its practice is rooted in misogynistic worldviews. I therefore don’t think culture is a good enough explanation to validate this dangerous tradition.

All of these thoughts make me wonder: what does it mean to be oppressed? And who gets to decide who is oppressed?

I’m not sure if there’s a right answer to any of these questions, but I look forward to pondering more questions on cultural relativity as I continue to explore all facets of Madrid.

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The Difference Between Learning and Living the Spanish Culture

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Walking into a Universidad Pontificia Comillas classroom to attend the Madrid Hoya Network Informational Panel, I immediately drifted back to Georgetown. With a cross hanging above the three accomplished alumni sitting before me, it was as if I were at any other networking event in D.C. However, the panelists chose to focus on their personal experience abroad and thereby the advice that emerged from this panel changed the way in which I now view my study abroad experience.

The first panelist, Krisna Urs, Deputy Chief of Mission to the U.S. Embassy in Madrid elaborated on his experience growing up with two distinct cultures. Of Indian and German descent, he described his interesting upbringing within a mainly homogenous environment in Connecticut. From this mix of cultures, he had an appreciation for the international world at an early age. I found this contradictory to my own experience growing up half Guyanese of Indian ancestry and a mix of European ancestry in a similar environment. My understanding of and appreciation for the global world did not truly begin until my first political science classes at Georgetown. From Urs’ discussion of his cultural heritage, I realized that the subtleties and minor details of a culture are what define the culture. I think this principle is important to translate upon examination of the varying cultures in Spain. While you can choose to view Madrid as the embodiment of one nationalistic, Spanish culture, I feel that it is more accurate to pinpoint those unique differences between madrileños that constitutes several cultures within the heart of Spain. It’s represented in the streaks of color constituting the liberal graffiti on the walls of the Complutense buildings, it shines through in the little hidden coffee shops found when one gets lost within the winding streets, it rests in the energy of the youth enjoying a Friday night at the discoteca, and it emerges in the organized footsteps of the protests of Podemos in Puerta de Sol. It is the interaction of these and so many other dynamic forces that creates the city of Madrid.

Aitor Cohrs, Wholesale Portfolio Manager of Cerberus Group, offered one piece of advice that opened my eyes to the true purpose of the study abroad experience. He emphasized the importance of familiarizing oneself with a culture and appreciating the language from the region where they originate. Cohrs distinguished the experiences of learning about a culture in a textbook and actually living it.

I remember sitting down in my first Intensive Advanced Spanish I class in the Intercultural Center and opening my Culturas de España book. Throughout the semester, I became enthralled by the mixture of cultures and the varying nationalist sentiments embodying the nation. Fascinated to learn more, I extended my studies of the region, taking Survey of Spanish Literature I to understand the role of the Reconquista and the importance of fictional heroes like Cid during these times. By the time, I arrived in Spain, I considered myself quite knowledgeable about the interplay of the Christian, Muslim, and Judeo cultures in Spain.

And then I traveled to Toledo. My “comprehension” of the coexistence of these cultures was blown away by the former religious capital of Spain. Exploring the city, I ventured into churches and synagogues, saw first-hand the influence of Mozarabic architecture, walked the streets of the Jewish neighborhood demarcated with tiles of blue stars of David integrated into the stoned pathways, and wandered into artisan shops selling Damascene swords. Depictions of the great caballero Cid appeared on decorative plates, honoring the hero of centuries past.  Living the city of Toledo proved different than the excerpt I had read freshman year about a city that held a military advantage long ago. The experience of the city outshone any form of literature I could have possibly read about the renowned city.

The final panelist, Anton Smith, serving as Counselor for Economic Affairs to the U.S. Embassy in Madrid discussed the dynamic of what he termed the international “bug”. As a student coming from a small town in Arkansas and traveling to Germany in an experience that opened his eyes to the world around him, he warned the students sitting before him that it was only a matter of time before we’d also catch “the bug”.

As a former resident of one of the smallest towns in Massachusetts, studying at Georgetown dramatically affected the way in which I see the world. My family was slightly surprised when I told them that I decided to study comparative politics, but after seeing that my world didn’t have to extend solely to my former hometown, I wanted to know more of the world. Yet, it wasn’t until I actually set foot in Madrid that I realized that I want to experience more of the world. How does it feel to live immersed within the different cultures of the world, to speak their languages, and to talk to the people who live it every day? For me, this seems like the most rewarding experience that life has to offer.

 

 

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La hora del café en Madrid

                                                                                          Hora de cafe

 

Durante mis primeros días en Madrid, he visitado muchas cafeterías para descubrir la mejor taza de café en la capital. Mientras estaba bebiendo café con leche y caminando a través de la calle Alcalá y la calle Goya, me di cuenta de que yo era la única persona con café para llevar. A primera vista, no parece como un hecho importante pero indica una diferencia entre las culturas de España y los Estados Unidos.

El próximo día, regresé a la misma cafetería y pedí un café para tomar allí. Bebí mi café mientras miraba a mí alrededor a la gente que entraba. Llegué a la conclusión sobre dos aspectos muy importantes de la cultura española. Primero, los madrileños saben disfrutar de los pequeños momentos. No es como en Washington, D.C. donde pides un café y corres a tu próxima actividad o práctica. Segundo, los españoles tratan la comida de una manera distinta. Toman su café en la cafetería y pueden descansar por unos minutos. Utilizan este tiempo para pensar sobre sus días o hablan con sus amigos. Crea un ambiente más tranquilo que la vida apresurada que vivía en Georgetown.

¿Estas facetas de la vida diaria reflejan una cultura inconfundible? Demuestran cómo los españoles valoran su tiempo. Pienso que es una lección inapreciable. No importa si tienes una práctica, cinco clases o muchos exámenes, como es la vida de la mayoría de los estudiantes de Georgetown. Debes saber que puedes relajarte por quince minutos para pasar tiempo con tus amigos o perderte en tus pensamientos. Es necesario para mantener la cordura bajo todo el estrés y las sorpresas que la vida nos ofrece.

 

 

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La belleza en el Flamenco

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Hay algunas formas de artes culturales que son exclusivamente únicas de la cultura española. La primera que me viene a la mente es la corridas de toros, en la que un torero y un toro, literalmente, luchan hasta la muerte. Si los partidos de muerte no son lo tuyo, viendo un Zarzuela en un teatro local puede calmar fácilmente tus nervios. Sin embargo, si quieres de verdad sumergirte en la cultura española, es imperativo presenciar un espectáculo de flamenco.

La belleza del flamenco es que incorpora mis tres estilos de baile favoritos: ballet, tap y salsa. Sé que suena imposible que estos estilos de baile, completamente diferentes, se mezclen, pero sin embargo; si, se fusionan a la perfección. El ballet es visto en el núcleo y los brazos del cuerpo del flamenco. La parte superior del cuerpo apenas se mueve, mientras que los pies pisan fuerte y similarmente. Un poco de salsa está presente en las caderas de la bailarina y dichos movimientos están bajo control.

El flamenco no es sólo la realización bailarina. Este baile tan hermoso también incluye un guitarrista, cantante, y varios otros que llevan el ritmo en las palmas. Una actuación no tiene ni siquiera para incluir una bailarina en absoluto. Lo que define el flamenco son la gama de estilos dentro del género. Dependiendo del ritmo, el cantante puede cantar las canciones de tristeza o de felicidad y el bailarín transmite esa emoción.

Por estos motivos, el flamenco te deja sin respiración ni aliento cuando lo ves. Es una fusión de diferentes elementos artísticos que se unen para presentar una experiencia cultural increíble. Si alguna vez te encuentras en España, busca el tablón cercano, pide una copa de vino, y siéntate a disfrutar de una experiencia visual y auditiva únicas.

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Segovia

Segovia is most famous for its breathtaking Roman aqueduct, which is estimated to have been built in the 1st century. Although it is thousands of years old, the aqueduct is considered to be one of the best-engineered structures in Spain.
The city’s landscape makes for some spectacular views. Segovia is tucked between green fields and mountains that make it seem as if the city is clustered at its center. The architecture is similar to Salamanca’s; it seems like another mini-Italy. Of any Spanish city I’ve been to so far, Segovia is definitely the best place to get a workout–the city is naturally hilly, so climbing up and down long stairways is impossible to dodge.
It’s also well worth it to do so. The higher one goes in Segovia, the more attractions there are. Right next to its Plaza Mayor, one can find Segovia’s huge gothic cathedral. Walk a little further and one hits a medieval castle called El Alcazar. Unfortunately, I could not make it up to the tower to enjoy of the fabulous view of the city, but I hear it is absolutely worth it.
While it is fairly quick to get around the city, one cannot leave Segovia without eating some cochinillo, or piglet. Yes, I know it does not sound appetizing at all, but trust me when I say it is absolutely delicious. We ate at El Figon de los Comuneros, which is known for serving the most succulent cochinillo in the city. After eating one, I’d have to agree.
Even though Segovia is the perfect day trip, I recommend staying until nighttime. Somehow the aqueduct shines brighter then.

Segovia

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Después de la tormenta, sale el sol

No hay nada como la música para un viaje un avión. Cada vez que estoy totalmente inmersa en la letra de una canción y las notas musicales, me olvido de la realidad: niños llorando, gente hablando, el capitán3 hablando. Pero el problema es que cuando la realidad golpea, a veces, te sacude fuerte.

Hace algunas semanas vine a España en un vuelo de avión que me dejó estresada y traumada. El avión surcaba los cielos europeos, moviéndose de arriba a abajo, de derecha a izquierda. Mientras lo hacía muy rápidamente, yo me daba contra la ventana de manera violenta. Un ruido muy molesto, el cual parecía una fuerte explosión, sonó como si una parte del avión hubiese sido arrancada de este. Siempre he viajado y alguna vez he experimentado los drásticos momentos de turbulencias, como violentas caídas de varios pies de altura, pero nunca me había asustado tanto. Sin embargo, la fuerza de aquella turbulencia en particular me hizo temer lo inesperado y lo desconocido.

Esta no era la manera en la que yo había imaginado empezar mi experiencia en el extranjero: con miedo. No tenía ni idea de qué esperar en las próximas semanas en un nuevo país y, por esto mismo, me moría de nervios. Durante los últimos tres años había aprendido a controlar la forma de vida en Georgetown. Allí, siempre sentía que tenía todo bajo control, ya que sabía qué esperar tanto en el ámbito social como en el académico. Sin embargo, al mismo tiempo, yo sabía que era normal sentir inseguridad de lo que estaba por venir.

Aunque sólo he estado aquí en Madrid durante unas cuantas semanas, ya he tenido mis altibajos. El proceso de selección y matriculación fue una pesadilla, pero valió la pena. Escogí clases que disfruto mucho y que también me ayudarán a completar los requisitos del currículum de Georgetown. Así mismo, me he dado el capricho de comprar mucha comida española y he visto los principales puntos de la ciudad, que van desde los más históricos hasta los más modernos.

Estoy consciente de que muchas circunstancias estarán fuera de mi control este semestre, pero estas semanas he aprendxido a no temer a lo inesperado. Mi aventura comenzó con algunas turbulencias fuertes, lo que también significa que habrá cielos despejados en el futuro, ya que “después de la tormenta, sale el sol”.

Plaza de Cibeles

 

 

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What coming to Spain means to me

Spain has always been a country that my parents have both admired, but had never visited. Growing up, I would hear them both tell me their dreams and aspirations if ever given the chance to step foot here. At this point in their lives, they no longer see themselves coming, but that desire to do so certainly remains, and very passionately might I add.

Personally, I never understood why my parents would so enthusiastically rave about a place and culture that they did not know first-hand, and more importantly, why they would urge my siblings and me to come to Spain if ever given the opportunity. All those years hearing about Spain left me more curious than anything to find out what about the Spanish culture makes my parents love it so. I believe that this is my initial motivator for coming here to Madrid to study abroad. I wanted to prove to my parents that despite financial hardship and other challenges that life may bring, realizing a dream is possible (obviously through a lot of help and generosity). It may sound cheesy, but I wanted my parents to realize their dreams through me, so that I can bring back stories of the delicious food and gorgeous sites that they want to know. Moreover, I hope to bring them both here myself one day, and give them more of an authentic experience of what Spain is to me.

However, my relationship with Spain is still unknown to me. Through a one-on-one with our program coordinator here in Madrid, I was left more perplexed as to my how to answer that question. My own personal reasons for venturing to this capital of ham and Baroque art are a mystery still, but after a couple of weeks thinking on it though I realize that it’s not a bad thing to not know exactly what drew me here. I have grown to welcome the fact that my answer to this question will unfold with the passing of each day here in Spain. I look forward to what this semester has in store, especially after living a month of these fantabulous adventures already.

I have already visited the Prado more than 5 times to view the magnificent works of Goya, Bosch, and Velazquez that I yearned to see them first hand. I have seen a flamenco show, ran around like a mad woman throughout Madrid to win a scavenger hunt. I have gotten to reunite with two good friends of mine whom I met in Tours, France, and I have gotten to see marvelous Roman architecture in the province of Extremadura. I promise to write more about these adventures within the next couple of entries, as they are “alucinante!”

Until next time my friends!

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Holiday Fam Gaths

Yesterday was Father’s Day in the States, so I decided to post this blog entry I wrote a while back in March…

Woke up just in time for Sunday breakfast yesterday. Boomshakalaka. I don’t think they were expecting me to be up or attempting to be social at that time. As if I’m not an awkward imposition enough these days, after the mom had asked me what my plans were for the day (answer: absolutely nothing) she invited me to their family lunch for the grandfather’s birthday, or so I thought. I accepted the family invite for once, in hopes of proving that I’m not a worthless, mute hermit. Upon hearing that cousins were going to be present, I was especially motivated, assuming that at least little kids would be willing to talk to me. I have a deep knowledge of all things Spongebob, so surely we could find some common ground even if in a different language.  I also dabble in Disney Channel and Cartoon Network (thanks to babysitting gigs I sweaaaar). So gather round ye children of the world and conversate with me, for I come from the land of the original Disney theme park where we have an entire ride dedicated to you, our future.

Spanish culture being repped in Disneyland’s It’s a Small World ride. Olé.

I should probably stop assuming anything anymore because the cousins turned out to be real people in their mid/late 20s with jobs (snaps for them in this Spanish economy) who mainly talked amongst themselves since we were thrown at the very end of a very long table. One asked me if I spoke Spanish, to which I replied: ehhhhh más o menos. Success, that response had deterred them from attempting any more conversational efforts with me. I struggled to find some socials skills, so an hour later I asked them all if they lived here. They looked a little shocked that I had uttered anything, replied yes and then we parted conversational ways—they continued to talk about their jobs and the family while I continued to sit silently and gulp down water in random fits.

The grandma kept asking me if I was bored and all I could do was hold up the octopus tentacles on my fork with a smile and say no. Paella came later, and since we were at a local restaurant just outside of Madrid, I assumed it was going to be legit. When asked if I liked it I said it was soooo goooood amiright?? and proceeded to eat all of mine. I then noticed the cousins and grandfather making snide comments about how bad the paella was. Ugh, American FOOL, I’ll eat practically anything. I then changed my course of action and started just stirring mine around and making kind of grossed out faces, mostly to myself.

Lunch ended and we started making moves to leave. “¡Feliz cumpleaños!” said the mute American girl to the grandpa–nice work girl, you’re practically part of the fam now–amongst a confusion of besos and goodbyes. Later, my host mom and sister were telling me about the gifts they had gotten for the host dad. I started to ask when his birthday is and they said the gifts were for “el Día del Padre,” Father’s Day, wait a second… They then pulled him into the kitchen and presented him with the gifts. 

At that moment it occurred to me that this entire day had been an early celebration for Father’s Day (in Spain it’s March 19th). Ah, the “happy birthday” to the grandpa was a little unwarranted (it makes sense now why there was neither birthday cake nor singing)… adding the adjective horribly CONFUSED to my status as mute American. I so very much appreciate my host family for including me in anything. Bless their hearts for dealing with me, especially because listening, people, is indeed a real skill set that I have yet to refine here.

End scene.  

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Pilgrim, the Spanish Way

We had three days to give to this trip (and a half if you count our outbound leg of the journey via overnight train ride). As the city just started to wake up, we arrived in A Coruña, stumbling out of our sleeper car, double knotting out shoelaces, with bocadillos provided by our host families in tow. After we had gained some perspective of where we were within the city, we headed toward the beach for breakfast. Being from California, I couldn’t have been happier seeing waves kiss the sand again. Still early, the beach remained mostly empty, save a few people with curious dogs.

Refreshed in a way that only the beach can provide, we finally headed out of the city in search for the trail that would lead us to Santiago via three days walk. We felt anxiousness and a little confusion on our way out of A Coruña, but once we found the first sign pointing us in the direction and a four-leaf clover for extra good luck, excitement took over.

 

But the excitement didn’t erase the mileage we had ahead or the soreness that slowly seeped into our muscles after hours of walking the most taxing leg of the journey. With an overall geographic incline, we logged upwards of 20 miles of walking that day. City streets led into city parks, park paths faded into suburban roads, suburban roads finally transitioned into rustic farmland.

While we were perhaps a little unimpressed with some of our journey—parts that seemed a little too urban–following the bits of highway juxtaposed to other parts that wound through trees and hills reminded us that this old Catholic pilgrimage was once without a distinctly marked path.

Reflecting on the scenery, it’s funny in a way that we as people so commonly want to constantly relate the new and unseen to what we already know. I found myself observing hills in the landscape and thinking about the hills surrounding the valley of my town in California. How passing houses, farms, through vegetation and streets, often there appears no clear demarcation that parts of the journey were Spain or quite obviously the Camino. So sometimes I had to remind myself, soak it in like my pale face had been so readily soaking up the somewhat foreign rays of the sun, take a longer look of what surrounded me, ignore my feet, the soreness in my shoulders made from hauling a backpack not made for long amounts of wear time, stop telling myself that I had seen “something like this before” and remind myself instead that I really hadn’t. I’m in España and I am a peregrina on this journey.

We were exhausted and already sore by the time we reached the first hostel. Expecting more of a town, perhaps the promise of a cold beer after our hike, the rural setting remained. Amongst other houses and surrounded by fields fostering animals and agriculture, we were given the choice of any bunk we wanted in a large room that contained 10 or so bunk beds placed in a row. We shared the hostel with only a few other peregrinos (the high season for the Camino is in July). After a well deserved hot shower, we slinked into bed as the setting sun finally dipped below the horizon after 10pm and drifted to sleep with the help of a symphony of snores coming from the slumbering German woman above us.

We greeted the new day with our tired muscles and plenty of Advil. A shorter distance to cover and not nearly as much incline, we made our way out of the little town of Bruma. Finding the signs became easier, so it seemed. And we were especially thankful for the kind soul(s?) who had walked the entire Camino to spray paint yellow arrows, because just when we were about to lose our minds wondering if we were indeed going the right way, they always seemed to be there just when we needed them.

The second day brought more vegetation, less man-made tar and concrete poured pathways. We were happy, and better yet, we happened across the second town during its annual trout festival. A part of the city had carnival rides, music and tented tables full of goodies set up. We sampled the local trout and famous Galician octopus. Good food and good people, all we could have hoped for with a side of traditional dance and churros of course.

For the third and final day, there only remained about seven miles between us and Santiago de Compostela and its scheduled noon peregrino mass. Although the pace was fast in order to make it on time, I could tell my muscles were finally getting used to the amount of walking we had endured, getting stronger with every kilometer. Seeing the cathedral over the rooftops of houses during our descent into the city provoked feelings of relief, and one final release of adrenaline. The lack of Camino’s sun burst signs and yellow painted arrows upon entering the city brought frustration, however. I had hit a wall. Few times I had wished I could fly as badly as that moment we finally hit city and roads opened up into a questionable number of routes to take. Keeping our eyes up, we then followed the tops of the cathedral until we finally reached it, slipping through the front doors just as they were closing and mass had begun.

What a feeling. Dr. Suess’s Oh the Placed You’ll Go comes to mind, and we had arrived in one of those fantastic places after a fantastic journey. This was my final trip during my semester abroad, and a precious one at that. The physical toll is something I relish in, the ability to see parts of Spain on foot that I would not have seen otherwise proved nothing short of fantastic. Since our plane back to Madrid didn’t leave until ten at night, after a good time spent sitting in front of the Cathedral reflecting on our feat (but off our feet), we were able to wander the beautifully old city that is Santiago de Compostela. I slept well that night back in my true home for the semester, feeling thankful and blessed that I was able to experience this Camino such an old Spanish tradition.

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Let’s Talk Running

I developed a love-hate relationship with running at the end of high school, during my transition out of organized team sports and steady realization that my metabolism can, and will, only go downhill with each passing day. I’ve expressed more love on race days and more hate during the training part, but after stepping through that starting portal of a race, it’s all worth it. There’s really nothing like that feeling of that fire in your belly—sometimes manifesting as a good buzz from the pumping adrenaline, other times as a side effect from your body’s confusion as to whether it would prefer to vomit or find a port-a-potty, or both. But before I continue, I would like to put a disclaimer that I’m about to digress and talk about my sheer obsession with el Parque del Buen Retiro, which kinda sorta relates.

Upon stepping into Retiro my first week in Madrid, I fell in love. (And I hope that you can experience at least a little bit of what I felt via the hyperlinks I have included). It has so many different sections that are uniquely separate, but are nonetheless integrally incorporated into a unified space. Amongst a rose garden, the labyrinths of trees and pathways, and complete with a man-made lake, I can’t help but imagine that I am transported into a scene crossed between Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and a chick flick period drama starring Keira Knightly. When I first spotted the Palacio Cristal through the trees, however, I found myself with the deep desire to be Liesl Von Trapp from The Sound of Music singing about my next teenage birthday.

Taylor Swift, you can keep your songs about coming of age, I’m going to stick with the classics. (Jk, Tay, please keep writing songs about exactly how I feel… how do you always know?!) But if I can’t be Liesl, then I’ll gladly take a moment from the The Notebook, and my lover and I will rent a boat on the lake for the 45 minute time slot allotment and it’ll be just like this:

Psyche. It’ll probably be more like this:

I kid. I don’t think there are any geese, but I have heard that within this magical park live peacocks. Four months in, and a countless number of times in Retiro, I have yet to find these elusive creatures.

I have low hopes for realizing any of these fantasies in my final couple of weeks, which is a travesty fine because what I have enjoyed most about the park is the running haven that it has provided me. Four months of Retiro runs later, I finally took to the streets and ran in a 10K a couple of Sundays ago, thanks to a fellow Georgetown campañera’s suggestion. (Let me say, that if you were to ever want to find an attractive, fit Spanish man, a carrera may be the place to do so. Now take that wise tip and run with it, pun intended).

While there’s a kind of companionship that I may or may not notice on any given day between my other running amigos and me as we log kilometers in Retiro, in the end, I’m pushing myself, although I admittedly seek a little help from my main Boys from The Backstreet who titillate my ear drums and tell me that I’m Larger than Life. (Thanks, Boys).

On race day, however, I can practically taste the competitiveness and camaraderie… or perhaps smell it by the end is a more accurate statement. I don’t listen to music during races because what’s better than seeing the few fans on the sides of the road and hearing their yells of “¡Venga! ¡Venga!”, the pounding of shoes, the labored breathing of those around me that serve as reminders that I’m not alone in this self-inflicted struggle called running. Weaving through people at the start of the race, I find comfort in knowing that I simply cannot be the last person across the finish line (my attempt at making up for the fact that I consistently brought up the rear on the JV cross country team my senior year of high school). But at the same time, I’m humbled watching people, some of whom are probably two three times my age, irk past me and eventually disappear at a pace I couldn’t hope to match.

Besides the atmosphere, two aspects made this particular race so rewarding: 1) a chance to see the city while running down streets usually restricted to motor vehicles’ use—suspending reality for just a moment and letting myself feel a little bit dangerous for running in the middle of the road (when in reality the streets are blocked off. What a daredevil life I lead). I appreciated being able to see the city in another way, running through streets in my neighborhood here that I have passed through many so many times before, while merely making my way to some other destination.

And 2) thinking back to a moment of connectedness that left me a little choked up, I admit.  Deciphering whatever a man yells over a loud speaker to a crowd of thousands can sometimes be difficult, add Spanish, and for me it becomes nearly impossible. So when a wave of “shhhh” followed by silence reverberated through the four thousand or so runners, I didn’t even try to figure out what was going on. Frankly, I didn’t really care. That morning was cold and I figured the sooner we started, the sooner we could finish, and the sooner I could get into a hot shower. My face must have given away my confusion because a man turned around and mentioned Boston. I felt dumb, a little out of touch. The man on the loud speaker had announced a moment of silence regarding the Boston Marathon bombings, and I, an American, wasn’t really paying attention.

Digitally, I had been connected thanks to all that is available via technology, and because as one Spaniard put it, “When something happens to America, everyone knows about it.” But I so appreciated being reminded that physical distance–in this example it’s the Atlantic Ocean–doesn’t always directly indicate the level of compassion that can be felt between groups of peoples. I had yet to feel that emotionally connected, until that moment of silence, as I stood among thousands of Spaniards, compañeros indeed.

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