life abroad

Snapshots of Salamanca

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In a word, summertime in Madrid is HOT. No, wait…it’s more than that. It’s Dante’s Inferno HOT. It’s seek precious shade while you’re waiting at the crosswalk HOT. It’s oppressive enough to make you somehow justify the fact that you haven’t left the house all day (ahem…or longer) for fear that fire-breathing monster in the sky will scorch your vulnerable, defenseless white skin the moment it spots you walking down the sidewalk. No thank you. “Besides,” I think to myself, “I still have a box or two to unpack and there’s another episode of Criminal Minds on the tube. Exploring can wait another day.” But alas, you reach a point when you have to face the beast. Holing up in your now perfectly organized apartment, which no longer serves as your excuse to relish in the air conditioned indoors, now just makes you feel lazy. It’s time to venture into the great big city. Sun or no sun. Heat or no heat. You must embrace what awaits you – the sweat, the thirst, and the extreme energy drain that comes at the end of a long battle with soaring temperatures. Bring it on. Besides, now I need an excuse to stave off studying for my driving exam. 😉

One as pasty white as I mustn’t set off on a neighborhood walkabout without taking the necessary precautions. By the time I’ve made the decision to leave the creature comforts of home, it’s midday and at least 100 degrees outside. The sun and heat are ready to do battle so I must be prepared. Armed with a map (wrong turns could result in an unnecessary drain on energy and precious hydration), a dab of SPF, sunglasses, some water, and my camera (my weapon of choice), I take to the streets. My mission: discover our new barrio, Salamanca. As I rounded corners and wandered the streets, I realized after some time that either I had misunderstood the blazing beast or I was well prepared for my walkabout. Either way I had lost myself in Salamanca’s beautiful avenues and shady, treelined sidestreets. Wielding my camera at the cafe terraces, the shopfront awnings, the glass enclosed sunrooms, and the carefully arranged window displays all created a very effective distraction from the summer temperatures. Even Mother Nature had mercy and blew a steady breeze. Before I knew it, nearly three hours had passed and I had walked every corner of this beautiful barrio.

 Later, while recovering from a loss of energy and dehydration (yes, the heat scored a point), I felt quite content with our new digs. Despite the heat and sheer exhaustion, I felt relaxed having gotten acquainted with the ‘hood we now call home.

The many faces of Salamanca
I can look, but I can’t touch!

Smiles From My Living Room

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I’m sitting comfortably in my living room, flanked on either side by what can only be described as two very lazy felines, sipping a glass of crisp white wine on a cool evening in late June. Like so many summer nights before, I’m feeling purely and utterly content in my downtown Barcelona abode. The swallows are gracefully dive-bombing through the air catching their evening meal as the sun sets the sky ablaze with fabulous hues of pinks, oranges, and reds. The low hum of passersby, now mostly jovial tourists, wafts from the street below as their grumbling bellies and dog-eared guidebooks send them hurriedly on their quest of a dining experience not-to-be-missed while in this city by the sea. A plucky sound from an acoustic guitar is interrupted by the occasional explosion of a “petardo”, or firework that is leftover from Monday’s San Joan festival, sending myself and the cats into a moment of panic and dangerously high blood pressure. These are all the usual goings-on of a life in a bohemian barrio, one that I have embraced for four years in this very piso, but yet nothing about this night is usual.

Instead of my cozy sofa I am perched atop a thin palette on the floor of an empty apartment. Rather than flipping channels on the tube, I am staring at a computer screen and the bare walls of my once comfortable little living room. I have two very furry and personable cats keeping me company while my husband plants roots in our new adopted city several hours down the road in Madrid. I am all alone and have almost nothing of “home” with me, and still I am happy. Dr. Seuss steals me away for a moment: it’s Whoville on Christmas morning. The Grinch has stolen the trappings of a happy Christmas in the middle of a cold winter’s night, leaving nothing but scraggly wire on the walls and a sad, lone glass ornament in the middle of a deserted living room. But tiny little CindyLou Who, and all of the other Whos down in Whoville, doesn’t cry. Instead, they begin to sing, their hearts filled with a spirit of true happiness. I’m not crying either, at least not yet. Not even the movers who have packed away all my possessions in a sterile metal truck can take away the spirit that fills my 75 square meter slice of happiness.

For me this is the spirit of Barcelona, and maybe even Spain. I have just returned from a despedida weekend with a few girls who have grown near and dear to my heart, and not one tear was shed…well, except for the final hasta luego. I’m far too sentimental to say goodbye without the waterworks! We all agreed that Sunday was one of the best days we’ve spent in a while, but what did we do to make it so special? NOTHING. And, all of this nothing was done on the beach, two hours south of our beloved Barcelona, in a little town known as Peñiscola. From one o´clock in the afternoon to midnight, we didn’t leave the beach. We talked, we laughed, we napped, we drank (which led to napping), we swam, we sang, and we danced, danced, DANCED! This is the kind of memory I want to take with me, the kind of memory that captures the spirit of a lifestyle, the spirit of a place, the spirit of a people.

If I am to learn anything from my time here in Barcelona, it’s that happiness is found in who you’re with rather than in what you have. I will cherish the true happiness I have found with friends on rooftops, on the beach, in the halls of ASB, in my classroom, at Alfa, in my kitchen, in my friends’ kitchens, discovering the phenomenon known as Eurovision in a friend’s living room, on trains, on planes, on a bull run, and in this very living room. And right now I am smiling, even with four days left in Barcelona, because I am happy to have had these moments.

Beauty by the Med

Peñiscola in the spotlight