Estrellas y exámenes y una anti-despedida

The exams and goodbyes are already over, but I still need to share my last week in Spain.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, every week for the whole semester I have been attending culture classes through PRESHCO, learning flamenco guitar, theater, photography, and sevillanas dancing. After hours of rehearsal, I finally got to show off everything I have learned last Thursday at our fiesta to celebrate the end of the semester called the “Lluvia de estrellas,” which translates to “meteor shower” or “starry night.” I shouted the lyrics of Jesse & Joy’s “¿Con Quién Se Queda El Perro?” as I dumped an offstage boyfriend during the theater performance, strummed and plucked out a fandango and seguiriya, and danced all 4 sevillanas in traditional attire. We all got to see videos from the semester, including photos from the photography class, a compilation of video from our PRESHCO events and trips throughout the semester, and a video commemorating the orientation trip that my friend Zoe made.

After the show, we all changed out into our party dresses to spend the evening chatting, snacking, and dancing. I had the best time. The DJ played a mix of Spanish and English favorites, and I danced with PRESHCO and Spanish friends for hours. I also danced sevillanas with Fátima during the party, and she was amazing, so I guess I need to keep practicing.

Last weekend we celebrated José’s birthday with the family, and it has been days like that that make me feel so grateful that I got to live with a host family this semester. We ate, chatted, and then danced some more, yet another opportunity to practice sevillanas.

The rest of the week was more or less a mad push to get schoolwork done and exams taken. The distinct structure of the Spanish university system did not become fully apparent until finals came around, so it was a tough few days of stress and studying for 60%-weighted tests. I won’t receive my final grades until January, but no matter what the report card says, I don’t need a score to tell me that I learned more in Córdoba than I have during a single semester ever before.

I learned more in my geography class than perhaps any other, and last Thursday I had my last salida with my professor, which included visits to the Sierra de Cabra and a small farm. It happened to be a pretty nasty day, rainy and blustery, especially on the top of the mountain. Despite the umbrella-breaking winds and low visibility, the weather actually turned out to be a bit serendipitous because it afforded the opportunity to learn about the geography of Spain as it relates to water.

Water is generally a big issue in Spain, and in particular in Andalucía, because it just doesn’t rain that much. However, as my geography professor explained, the rocks on the Sierra de Cabra are porous. When it rains in the mountains, the water then takes about 3 to 4 months to filter down to the bottom where the farms are. As February and March are the rainiest months of the year, the water arrives in May, June, or July, the peak of the summer, just when water is needed the most. That process is what allows the huerta we visited to grow vegetables year-round.

Here’s my final set of Córdoba photos, plus a couple from the last PRESHCO event of the semester, a second cooking class. Christmas has officially arrived in Córdoba and the city is all decked out. I’ll miss all of these views every day!

Finally, on Friday night, our last night in Córdoba, Lucy, Alex, Zoe, Eleanor, Juniper, and I went to see the patios in the neighborhood of San Basilio, decorated for Christmas. Córdoba’s patios are a common characteristic of the historic homes in the city, originally built and filled with plants to cool the inside of homes in the hot and dry climate. A couple times each year the homeowners open their doors to the public. The patios were beautiful and, despite the steady rain, walking from home to home was a nice way to say goodbye to the city.

Intermittently throughout the semester I’ve added to a list in my notes app entitled “Things that are Different in Spain.” Some differences are big and some are small, some are obvious and some are not, and they range from cultural differences to fashion preferences. Now that we’ve nearly reached the end, here’s the complete (but by no means exhaustive) list:

  • Rolling backpacks are the thing to bring to school here. More than half of the students in the school where I volunteered pulled their books behind them instead of slinging them over their shoulders.
  • Dogs don’t always wear leashes. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I see more liberated dogs than leashed dogs when I walk around, including on city streets. As a result (or maybe because?), they all seem to be so well behaved.
  • There are never luncheons after funerals here, something I learned during a dinnertime conversation with my host family. As Fátima described it to me, after the funeral “we all go home to cry.”
  • People are shorter. That’s weird, right? But it’s true. At 5’3”, I am well below average height in the United States, and while I’m not exactly tall in Spain (I still sang in the front row of my choir), I’m definitely not as small by comparison as I am at home.
  • The eating schedule. This is one that I’ve mentioned before, the dinner-at-9:00 thing that I by now have gotten used to. The different sleeping schedule goes hand-in-hand with this one; it was rare for my host family and I to go to bed before midnight, and siestas are a must for some.
  • The sun rises so late, and waking up in the dark every day was perhaps one of my least favorite differences about the country. Fun fact: the reason the sun doesn’t rise every morning until almost 8:00 is because, geographically, Spain should actually be in the time zone that’s an hour earlier, equal with the United Kingdom. However, under the dictator Franco, the country changed to have the same hour as Nazi Germany, and they’ve never changed back.
  • Mesa camilla. This one is actually specific to Andalucía, not just to Spain, but it’s become something that I feel like I want to bring to the U.S. A mesa camilla is basically a cross between a huge tablecloth and a blanket. A large piece of fabric goes over the table like a tablecloth but doesn’t end until it almost hits the ground. You put a space heater under the table and use the skirt as a blanket so your legs and feet stay warm while you’re eating. There wasn’t central heating in my Córdoba apartment, so most afternoons found Fátima and me under the mesa camilla doing homework or watching T.V. At home, I’m always cold when my family eats in our breakfast nook, so maybe I’ll have to convince them to invest in a mesa camilla. They’re not necessarily the safest things in the world, though. While the oil heaters of today are less prone to combustion than the stoves of the past, the mesa camilla in my host family’s apartment almost caught on fire during dinner last week.
  • Men in skinny jeans is a common sight.
  • The diet. A lot of the differences on this list are related to food, but I’ve learned that eating is such an important way to learn about a culture. I have eaten more bread and olive oil here than I probably do in a whole year in the U.S., and I once read that the average Spaniard eats up to 8 times more olive oil each year than the average American. The reason for this difference is from the environment. Spain has very hot and dry summers, and it just so happens that the three plants that flourish in this environment are olive trees, grains, and wine grapes.
  • Shoes on. Nobody goes barefoot in Spanish homes.
  • iPhones aren’t as ubiquitous in Spain as they are in the U.S. They still exist, but because I was the only person at the birthday party with a “manzanita” (“little apple”), its superior camera made me the official photographer of the day.
  • People celebrate their santos, the day associated with their name. Lucy and I had our santo last Friday, the day of Santa Lucía.

I also made note of dozens of differences in language, something I could dedicate a whole post to. However, something that I noted early on was the frequent use of “hasta luego” instead of “adiós.” At first I thought it was a silly customer service thing when the cashier that had just sold me a postcard at a museum gift shop told me “see you later,” but as time went on I realized that it’s just more common to say “hasta luego” in Spain than the English equivalent in the U.S.

When last Saturday and Sunday came around, I decided that I like that preference. It was so hard and strange to say goodbye to all of my new friends – Spanish and American alike – and my home for the last four months, so I didn’t.

It’s an “hasta luego,” not a final goodbye.

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