Málaga {it’s procession time.}

How terrifying are they on a scale of one to crying

Having lived for six months in a Spain of torrential rain, I was thrilled to finally explore Andalucía, the place textbooks are made of. Andalucía became my Semana Santa destination for its sun, beaches, and the uniqueness of its Semana Santa celebrations. First stop? Málaga.

If you don’t already know, Semana Santa (“Holy Week”) is the week preceding Easter Sunday. Spain has a deep religious history, and Andalucía in particular celebrates Semana Santa with unbridled enthusiasm. Processions go on all hours of the day and night, and are composed of floats and float-bearers, marching bands, and nazarenos.

The processions were impossible miss, clogging every key street in the old town. Nazarenos, the dudes with the pointy caps, gave an eerie vibe to the proceedings. Apparently their faces are covered out of penitence (read more here), but let’s be real, they look like the KKK. That’s enough to set anyone on edge. There’s no connection between the nazerenos and the KKK, but it was disorienting to see wives and kids hugging nazerenos just as you would any other performer in a parade.

For the me, the novelty of the processions lasted all of two days. You’ve got to have a hearty tolerance of crowds and swaying to survive during Semana Santa. If you don’t, you will melt into a helpless puddle of rage. I was in good company, though. A lot of Andalucians flee their region during Semana Santa because it is such a hot mess. I was glad I went, though, because it is truly a remarkable sight.

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Not having itDSC_1408

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Bird’s-eye view of processions from my hostel (Patio 19).

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Incense.

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Different brotherhoods from the city carried intricate floats depicting scenes from Jesus’ ministry for hours on end.

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Four o’clock in the morning, from the hostel window. Four. O. Clock.



Honey, I’m home.

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Yesterday I went to Athens. For a variety of reasons, it was much stranger coming back to my college town than to my hometown, where I have been (in denial) for three weeks.

I was visiting a pair of dear old friends. It’s a good thing that they are both “dear” and “old” because, for reasons I attribute to exhaustion, culture shock, and crushing aimlessness, my communication these days has been little more than wordless gurgling.

There is a reason, though, that it was good to see these friends. During the past couple of weeks, I have slowly crawled out of my hermit shell and begun to catch up with various people, with mixed results. With some, time had graciously stood still while we were apart. Laughter was easy and understanding effortless. We simply filled in factual gaps. With these friends, my thoughts and conduct were in harmony with my conscience and personality. In other instances, I experienced a disturbing inner dissonance – like I wasn’t fully comfortable with or supportive of what came out of my mouth, or, for that matter, others’ mouths. Having been away from everyone for eight months, it was strikingly easy to compare my interactions.

When I came to Athens, Athens Friend One (we best call him Vladimir, Vlad for short) wisely reminded me that the best people to be around are those around whom you feel you are the best version of yourself. People who push you to think and act in the way you are proud to think and act, who make you feel curious and passionate and excited and positive about the world you’re in.

It’s really quite true.

 

Fountain at Herty Field (Athens, GA)

On the Run [Race Day Edition]: El Medio Maratón Gran Bahía Vig-Bay

Porto de Panxón

Porto de Panxón (Port of Panxón)

Running is one of the best ways to see a new place, if for no other reason than for the sheer amount of ground you can cover. With organized races, though, you gain a new advantage: you, the runner, rule the roads cars once did.

Last month, I did some ruling of my own in the Vig-Bay Half-Marathon. This was my fourth half-marathon overall and my second one abroad. The first one, the Royal Parks Half-Marathon in London, England, left some big shoes to fill. It looped through Hyde Park, the banks of the Thames, and Trafalgar Square, to name a few of the sights. The Vig-Bay, located in Galicia and smaller in scale, was a different animal.

The race route connected Vigo to nearby Bayona, hugging the coast and including views of the gorgeous Islas Cíes. Though the weather was a half-hearted drizzle, it’s hard to complain when you’re running right next to the ocean. I was thoroughly distracted the entire time, gaping around every bend. There was even a Celtic band, complete with bagpipes, churning out just the screeching/heart-pumping tunes you need in a half-marathon.

As I have picked up on, though, running has not really taken off among the chicas here in Spain. The proportion of girls running was drastically lower than in any other race I’ve done – roughly ten percent of all participants (!). Let’s be real, though…that just made me feel like a badass. Especially when I made my personal best time (cue fist pump).

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Noncommittally drizzly weather, true to Galician form

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Runners soothed their muscles at the beach at the finish line (Baiona/Bayona)

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Flan, the recovery food of champions (Restaurante O Peirao, Panxón)

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A post-race visit to Vigo

Lace up those sneaks, folks!
MB

In pursuit of a roost: a practical guide to finding housing in Spain

As an Auxiliar de Conversación, finding an apartment (piso) is the most panic-inducing endeavor you will take on when you move to Spain. At least it was for me. In college, I made friends with type-A people who painstakingly screened and selected our housing, while I nodded enthusiastically. So when I moved to Galicia, not only was I finding my own housing for the first time, but I was finding it in another language. Gulp. Needless to say, and I made some mistakes. Here are some keys to getting a roof over your head Continue reading

Carnaval comida

Now that Carnaval has been over for a solid month, I figured I’d talk about it. So much of Galician culture is expressed through food, and Carnaval is no exception. Due to some enormous generosity, even my gluten-free stomach got to partake in the festivities. There are two recurring elements in Galician Carnaval cookery: pigs and anis (a liquor made mostly in southern Europe). So without further ado, here are three staples of Carnaval cuisine in Galicia. Warning: staple two contains graphic images for vegetarians.

1. Orejas

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My ever-lovely carpool chauffeur shared this tradition with me. “Orejas” means “ears” in Spanish, and these pastries are so called because they are shaped like pig ears. The dough is fried in pork grease, which gives it its distinctive flavor. The taste of these light, crumpled triangles is accented with sprinkled sugar. Doing orejas gluten-free, however, was quite the challenge (to the surprise of everyone except me). In typical gluten-less style, my dough clung to the rolling pin like a toddler to his mom’s leg. When triangles were finally cut and stretched, they promptly broke in half. “Es otro mundo!” (It’s another world!) was the refrain of the day. As a result, my gluten-free orejas were a good deal thicker (and more troublesome to fry) than their toxic, wheaty counterparts, but I still managed to pack them away.

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2. Cocido

Once upon a time, I ate pig face. This act of barbarianism is a keynote of cocido, the Galician tradition of boiling and then eating all parts of the pig. Like every single part – ribs, ears, shoulders, etc. I experienced this tradition thanks to the professors of my school, who planned cocido as the “comida de entroido.” The meal was accompanied by boiled potatoes, grelos, chickpeas, and chicken. There was so much salt that I was dehydrated for a full two days after.

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3. Filloas

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Gluten-free filloas & rosquillas (another typical pastry made with anis)

Filloas are similar to crepes – sweet, soft, floppy, and round. They are served plain or with powdered sugar, honey, or a dash of chocolate syrup. The madre of one of my celiac fifth-years was kindhearted enough to make me a box of these, gluten-free style. We’re talking light-speed consumption, people.

The music teacher’s filloa

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A tent in Plaza Roja housed some serious filloa production during Carnaval (Santiago de Compostela)

Oxford, revisited

Bikes on Broad Street

Broad Street

University Parks

University Parks

Radcliffe Camera, Oxford

Radcliffe Camera

Port Meadow

Port Meadow

High Street, Oxford

High Street

There are days when your newsfeed works against you. Yesterday was one of those days. Three of my friends are headed back for another term at my hallowed Oxford without me. And both BuzzFeed and the NY Times decided to gang up on me and remind me why nothing, nothing can compare to my semester in the City of Dreaming Spires.

Oxford is hard to describe to people who don’t know it. I’ve tried to explain it by saying “the air smells intelligent,” which doesn’t make any real sense and, instead, makes people doubt how I ended up at Oxford in the first place. But I stand by it.

There’s a cool edge to the air that quivers with potential. I breathed it as I walked down cobblestone lanes, trying to wrap my brain around the fact that 800 years of students had strolled them before me. I breathed it as I biked down Banbury Road with my dinner gown flapping in the wind. I breathed it as I ate potatoes, potatoes, and more potatoes in a Harry Potter dining hall, sitting next to some of the smartest people in the world, who will go on to be neurosurgeons, composers, writers…leaders of the modern world. I breathed it deeply as I ran along the banks of the Isis and watched rowers’ oars beat like butterfly wings. I breathed excessively it as I hyperventilated about paper deadlines and my increasing sleep debt. Oxford was the deepest, most scintillating breath of air I’ve had. Try going back to standard oxygen after that.

If you happen to have the glorious good luck of still being an undergraduate, I urge you to check out this program to study for a term in Oxford. (And no, you don’t even have to be a UGA student!) It absolutely rocked my world. Three years have passed and I still see it as the best three months of my life. Now please, I’m going to go happy-drown in memories.

Cheers,

MB

Week {20} in review

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This past week has been brimming with sun, and I have been eating it up like chocolate. I have been positively glued to my Chacos, froyo, shorts, and the park. The Spanish do this odd thing where instead of dressing for the weather, they dress for the season. So even though it was sunny and 70 degrees outside, coats and scarves were everywhere, and my attire was met with choruses of “fresquitaaaaa!” (“chilly,” more or less). Because I care. Anyway, last week, I

  • Scandalized the teachers at my school by wearing Chacos in March. The temperature of my toes was of grave concern to everyone.
  • Cheered Escarabote on to second place at the Annual Boiro Primary School Smackdown (a.k.a. student foot race on the beach)
  • Witnessed a riot
  • Learned how to make gluten-free orejas (a typical Carnaval food) with a teacher from my school
  • Guided a couple of visiting auxiliar friends around Santiago
Gluten-free orejas

Gluten-free orejas

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Music in the streets of Santiago

The "carrera" (race)

“Carrera” on the Boiro beachside

Impromptu didgeridoo concert

Tea time

Tea time in the park

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A cloudless cathedral