I haven’t done a proper post about what I’m up to for a few days. This is probably due to an initial lack of internet and later laziness. So, let’s see if I can’t do something to remedy that.
I arrived here by sleeper train. I’d never been on a sleeper train before; it was interesting, not as bad as I had feared, but not as good as I had hoped. I slept better than I would’ve on a plane, but not as well as I would’ve in a proper bed (although it must be admitted that I’m not sure how much this had to do with the fact that I was on a train, and how much it had to do with the knowledge that I was going to get off the train early in the morning with goodness knows how much warning and only about a five minute stop – with the train going on to Sevilla.
I got off the train just fine, though, and wasn’t too tired the next day, and met my host mother, and basically just took it easy all day.
This is the view from my room; hardly gorgeous, but colorful.
I unpacked, which was very nice; I was thoroughly sick of living out of a suitcase at that point, and unpacking is an action that has a nice permanency to it, like maybe you’re going to stay where you are for more than a week. Also, the croissant we got from the bakery – the best croissant I have ever eaten. I don’t know how much that has to do with it being a fresh-that-morning-from-a-good-bakery croissant, and how much with being a good croissant in Spain (the hotel breakfasts having taught me that croissants her are as variable as they are in the states; I was very disappointed to discover that the chocolate covered croissant in the one hotel was of the same quality as the croissants they feed us at school, and poor quality chocolate, besides), but it was yummy. My host mother had to go to work, and was terribly apologetic about it, and very worried that I would be okay, and not afraid, and that I would manage to heat up my lunch on my own . . .
What she couldn’t know was that after ten days of having two or three roommates in every hotel, and don’t-go-anywhere-on-your-own, and about the only place you could have any kind of decent time to yourself being the lobby of the hotel, which hardly, to my mind, counts, I could hardly be happier to have a bit of time to myself to not do anything at all in particular.
It wasn’t until the day after that I remembered something one of the program leaders had said in the orientation sessions; that being alone, for Spaniards, is an awful, terrible fate; it means that none of your friends like you enough to hang out with you (or something like that). Which might explain something. Of course, they also told us in one of those sessions that it’s maleducada to put feet on furniture, and while I don’t know about feet on tables (since I’ve never felt any particular inclination to put feet on tables), I’m glad to note that feet on couches are okay, at least in this household (my host mother keeps insisting that I behave as if I were in my own house, from making myself comfortable on the furniture to delving in the fridge for whatever I want. I have yet to convince her that the food she leaves out for me is far more than I could possibly eat).
On the subject of those meetings, we were told a great many things in that one. I only really paid attention to two other points, though (because I wasn’t likely to run afoul of the others): it’s considered rude to bring (and drink from) a water bottle to class in the manner that I am accustomed to, and it’s maleducada to leave your hands on your lap when eating; they should always be above the table surface.
Have I mentioned that Carlos Vega, the director of the program, is hilarious? Both when he tries to be, and when he doesn’t. I think that many of us might have felt overly lectured-at that first week if we hadn’t been so amused by him.
Anyway, that first day Pepi (my host mother) walked me to the Facultad, which is all of a walk of five minutes from the apartment.
This is my walk to school. Córdoba is apparently a city of underground rivers. The large tan wall dates from Roman times, and the Judería, the old Jewish quarter and the center of the city, is on the other side of it. I don’t have any pictures of the Judería yet. They’ll come – I walk through it every day.
The pigeons are very fond of perching on the wall and pecking at it. I’m guessing that they either get some sort of nutrients from the stone or eat little bugs too small for me to have noticed them.
I had a request for some discussion of how I’m doing with the language. So:
I understood the tour guides pretty well during the tour, as well as most of the people I met in the cities (though I also noticed that there were some people who were almost impossible to understand), and people seem to understand me most of the time. I understand my host mother, though she sometimes uses words I don’t know, and she understands me (she says that I’m easier to understand than the last girl who stayed with her. Mind you, she also says that I’m much more sociable than the last girl, who apparently stayed in her room on her computer almost all the time. Since I had been feeling quieter and more introverted than usual, it seems to me that the standard was set pretty low).
I’ve figured out what is meant by the “Andalusian accent:” people who have a bad one mumble most of their words, or swallow half of them almost before letting them out of their mouths. Pepi’s son, Ivan (who no longer lives at home, but he and his girlfriend have been over twice since I arrived), has a pretty impenetrable accent, and I can’t understand him if he’s talking quickly or not especially paying attention and so munching more words than usual. I’ve noticed that Pepi talks quicker to him than she does to me, but I can generally understand the quicker, I just have to work harder at it (and be awake and properly paying attention).
I can usually understand the television (I’ve discovered that I like cooking shows – my food vocabulary is really terrible, and they show pictures of all the ingredients, say the names several times, and often have a written list on the side of the screen. Pepi likes cooking shows too; which is convenient), though the news are harder than most, and I often find that I’ve missed the bit saying where the footage they’re showing is occurring, so while I know that such-and-such happened to so-and-so, but not a clue where any of that is happening.
Also, I’ve generally noticed that I’m more likely to zone out, and that if I have zoned out, it’s harder to recall what someone just said that I didn’t actually pay attention to, and I’m likelier to zone out if I’m having a hard time understanding.
As far as classes go, I was very worried when I went to the first one – History of Cinema. I had a hard time understanding what the prof said, and zoned out several times, and was generally bored. It should be mentioned that this class wasn’t taught by the regular prof, who’s in Richmond teaching a class on History of Cinema there, but by someone else, which may be connected to my experience with the class.
The other classes I went to, Topics in Spanish Literature: Theater, and History of the 18th Century, were both more interesting and the profs were easier to understand. This probably has to do with the fact that if they used a somewhat obscure word, they would pause to make sure we understood it before continuing, but they also spoke more clearly, and there were fewer words I didn’t understand. I would happily take either of those classes, but they’ll conflict with each other once the semester properly begins.
To explain: All classes start next week, both PRESHCO classes and regular university classes. This week has been supplementary classes for the regular university classes, both to make sure that we have an idea what’s going on and to ensure that we have enough hours to make up a full course load (because the semester here doesn’t end until January). And I don’t know what I’m taking yet because I want to take a literature class to fulfill a requirement for the Spanish major, but my adviser hasn’t gotten back to me yet. I’m hoping that a class about turning classics into films will fulfill the requirement, and then I’ll take an archeology class, a class on women in Spanish theater (taught by the prof of the theater class I went to Monday and yesterday), and the history class. A slightly less preferable alternative is that the theater class I visited will fulfill the requirement, and then I’ll juggle other stuff. Less desirable is that neither class satisfies the requirement, and then I’ll try to find a regular university class without the extra support that fits into my schedule and fulfills the requirement, or I’ll give up on the requirement and just take what I want to.
The night before last we went to a reception/dinner/meet the profs at a fancy restaurant. While this was nice, because we got a chance to interact with possible professors, it also had something of the feel of a trial by fire. We were in a crowded, somewhat noisy room that was not, by my standards, big enough for ~50 people, making polite conversation for nearly three hours with a bunch of adults who were not only native speakers, but had, on the whole, a certain presence. And if you mingled you were liable to find yourself captured, making polite conversation and unable to remember the pleasantries to extricate yourself from the conversation. Or, perhaps worse (for the music prof who captured people, in addition to having a bearing like a ship under full sail, had a spiel about her class that she would give, ask a few of the requisite questions, and then release you), you found yourself talking to a prof teaching a class that there didn’t seem to be much interest in, where the conversation was more awkward because she didn’t have a rehearsed speech and you knew nothing about her specialty, but I felt really awkward trying to wander off because then she wouldn’t have anyone to talk to at all. Or once, in the course of my wandering, I found that I had joined a group of three profs talking together, which, though they were all perfectly nice, felt like nothing so much as an interrogation (the fact that they were all wearing suits may have added to this impression). Which isn’t to say that it was all bad; the theater prof always had a lively group about her – when I drifted by they were talking about Paris – and I had a very interesting talk with the Geography professor that left me much more inclined than I previously had been to consider taking his class. I suppose the event was not helped by the fact that I know very few of my fellow students well enough to hang out talking with them (in Spanish!) at a party. The food was good, but more my idea of hors d’oeuvres than of dinner, and once again I was glad that I’m not a vegetarian. The ham was high quality, though.
Afterwards we went to a flamenco exhibition, and even though I was quite tired by that time, I was fascinated. There were three Premios Nacionales – National Prize-winners, meaning that they are the best/their interpretation of flamenco is most correct. And just, wow.
I also need to figure out what extracurriculars I’m doing. I know that I want to do the PRESHCO choir if it doesn’t conflict with my classes. I would also really like to take one of the art classes (though I’m not sure what; there’s everything from graphic design to clay modeling to ceramics to bookbinding, and the jewelery class also might be really interesting, depending on what sort of work it is, and leatherworking looks cool, though I don’t think that I’ll do it . . ., and I don’t know if I want to learn more in-depth about something I already know something of, or try something I’ve done very little with), and there are dance classes in Sevillanas, and cooking (but not a regular, weekly thing), and guitar (I would like to know how to play a guitar – while cello is lovely it’s not exactly portable – and guitar seems very useful in the kind of group singing that I like to do, and while the guitar that they would teach here is a different style from the guitar I would use at home, I’m sure that many of the skills would carry over (but on the other hand, the last time I tried to learn guitar, it was really hard – of course, it may be easier when you aren’t in 8th grade, in a class of junior highers). I really wish that I had a better idea of how much free time I’ll have. There’s a part of me that wants to take everything, and a part of me that goes eep, that’s five extra classes, and then the first part goes, “Hey, you have five clubs at home, one of which is fencing, and look how much time you have now – you don’t want to be bored, do you? Or waste your time in Spain hanging out on the internet?” And the second part replies, “No, I don’t, but I also don’t want to be so rushed and stressed out that I don’t have time to enjoy myself.” I think that I’ll try to talk to Carlos tomorrow; there usually aren’t classes on Fridays, and we’re going to see the Mesquita – the mosque – here in Córdoba.
On a different subject, I believe I mentioned that the milk here tastes different than it does in the states. I think I’ve decided that it must be processed differently; my host mother is much less careful about leaving milk out of the fridge than we are at home.
I’ve only been here two weeks, and I think I’ve become a jamón snob. I can tell that the jamón my host mother gets isn’t as good a quality as what we’ve had in restaurants, and while I enjoy the stuff my host mother gets, I really like the nice restaurant stuff. And to think that I wasn’t even sure that I liked it the first time I tried some.
P.S. Did I mention that we’re going to some sort of crazy-fancy whoop-de-do hosted by the city government tonight? This is FAR from normal; apparently PRESHCO is the second-oldest study abroad program in Spain, and they certainly don’t do this for just anybody.