lunes, 6 de junio de 2011

"I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello"

Here's to my last post from Alicante...

I decided spur of the moment today to exercise my right to fast public transportation and take a breather outside of the city.  The fact of the matter is that I simply am not ready to admit to myself that the end of one incredible phase of my life has come to an end.  Although I feel ready to move back home to America, to all of you incredible people and the familiarity of Georgia, the foreboding feeling of missing Alicante is making it hard to pack.  Hence the insomnia that caused me to watch five episodes of Sex and the City until I graduated to a Woody Allen film called Match Point (which, coincidentally, I would highly recommend).  Anyway, it was the perfect day trip and beginning to the last few days of my time here.

Altea is postcard perfect, and what you think of when someone says "I'm on the Mediterranean Coast."  It is a beachfront town with obscure restaurants directly next to the beach, such as "Ni-Hao Chinese Cuisine," "Tutti Frutti," "Fronton Beach" and others, and an older barrio (town) further up the hill.  If you get off the tram stop, to your right is a rocky beach with breathtaking blue-green water, directly in front of you, well, the tram line, to your left a hillside of white houses with bright purple and pink flowers, blue-lined windows, and adobe rooftops, and beyond the houses a stunning blue-tiled domed cathedral from 1901.  Behind all of this incredible scenery are very arid Mountains, and in the distance the Rock of Ilfach that I climbed back in March (or was it April?).  It took my breath away immediately.  The little streets were described to us by a local bar-owner (who lived in California, married a Spanish man, realized her dream of opening a cafe/bar, and invited us for mojitos) as a "labyrinth," and she couldn't be more right.  There are restaurants, dogs looking down at you from small patios, frescoes on the walls, old mosaic tile accents, and, might I add, very tasteful graffiti.  I am still walking on air from the experience.  There are orange trees around some corners, old style pump fountains, views for miles, and archways made of flowers that lead to hidden terraces.  The smell of garlic from nearby Italian restaurants mixed with the salty sea breeze.  Only the pictures I will be adding below do this place justice.  Mark my words: I will return.  Altea was so great that it turned me into one of those bloggers that I told myself I would never become (would you like a side of plot with your adjectives, ma'am?)

On the tram ride home, I got to thinking about places so peaceful as Altea, and the circumstances in my life that had led me there.  I couldn't help but get a little depressed thinking about the possibility that a return to this place may not be in the cards for me.  The fear that I would forget how I felt today crept in, and I wondered how I would keep the memory of Spain with me after I returned to my bubble in Lexington.  Enter, solution, stage left. 

The solution to my melancholy came in the form of a 70 year old Spanish man, who sat across from me in the Tram while my friend Hilary was walking off the sensation of claustrophobia from sitting for so long in our car.  I knew right away that he wanted to talk.  What started out as a conversation about air conditioning turned in to a combination auto-biography, history lesson, sports discussion, and confidence booster.  Turns out, he is from Cordoba but moved to Granada at the age of 11 to go to school.  He told me about the days before it was always bogged down with tourists, when he and his friends from school would butter up the nuns and snag a few minutes of time for soccer.  He told me how incredible it was to play soccer in the same plazas where his ancestors defended Spain from the Muslim invasion in 800 AC.  He also told me how much he loved painting, and tennis.  Naturally, we went off on the tennis tangent for a while, discussing facets of the game and how great we think Nadal is.  He then hits me with this one: he was a coach at a tennis camp from 1970 through about 1990 at a tournament here in the province of up and coming tennis stars from the ages of 8-13.  He saw the likes of Ferrero, Sanchez-Vicario, Seles, and even Nadal play when they were kids.  He told me Nadal had a long neck, was very skinny, but very hardworking and polite, even at ages as young as nine.  Speaking of gentlemen (Nadal and Federer), he went on to tell me that being a gentleman is part of your "alma," or soul, and not your last name.  He told me to remember always how important tradition and culture is, and where you came from rather than where you're going.  Regrettably, after about 45 minutes of conversation, he had to get off at his next stop.  The last things that he told me (when I mentioned how sad I was to leave Spain) were that I am young, I have my whole life ahead of me, and that Spain would be happy to have me.  He kissed me on the hand and said "por favor, trae mi corazon contigo a los Estados Unidos"...meaning, "please, take my heart with you to the United States".  As the TRAM moved toward the castle lit up in the distance (meaning our destination), he knocked on the glass of our window one last time and gave us a wink and a bow. 

Needless to say, there are some parts of Spain that I will never, ever forget.  To all of you that await me in the states, and to my new home here in Alicante, I say "hasta pronto"...see you soon.

domingo, 22 de mayo de 2011

Old Glory

Hey all-

You know that feeling that you have in the morning, right after you wake up (we're talking minutes or seconds here), when you are shuffling to the bathroom out of sheer necessity, but for all intents and are purposes still mentally asleep? That was me four minutes ago.  That's not me now...

Let me give you a quick layout of the hallway situation that is going on here at 11 Calle Deporista Manuel Suarez, Apartment 2B.  My bedroom door opens, and I have a blissfully clear shot to my lefts, no rights, no stopping at go to collect $200.  We are talking "todo recto" here (straight ahead).  My madre's bathroom is immediately to the right of mine, so that our bathroom doors make a right angle.  Now that you are familiarized with the terrain, let's take a quick trip back in time, to today.

I wake up, still extremely excited about the content of my latest dream: Reese's peanut butter cup candies with the form and function of Kit Kats (the innovation, of course, being the new and improved wafer layer and golden nugget shape).  I open my eyes about as wide as the slots on a piggy bank, throw a silent prayer of thanks that the grandchildren that I heard were from the apartment upstairs and not residing in mine, and pad my way to the bathroom in what I believed was my empty apartment.  As I walk past my madre's open bathroom door, I notice that the light is on, so I turn my head from my bathroom destination to my right....where my Madre (vital stat: 65 odd years old) is wearing a small, very small, tiny BIKINI that is white/see through on top with an American flag pattern on the bottom.  After she finished curling her eyelashes with the new heated eyelash curler she bought from Sephora, she continued to nonchalantly flit around the house (and on the terrace) in this stunning number, which, might I add, I would not have been allowed out of the house in.  

At this point, all I can hope is that we don't cross paths today on the beach and I find her topless.

Good morning to all.

viernes, 20 de mayo de 2011

As close as I will ever get to becoming an artist.

My politics class has been working for the past two months on a project that's part of a global art movement of graffiti to raise cultural awareness worldwide.  I have had to keep it a secret this whole process because, well, it sounds worse than it is until I explain it...

TED is a nonprofit organization that gives grants and awards to inspirational people in the realms of art, sciences, etc worldwide.  Every year they hold a global competition for inspirational projects, and this is from their website: TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. Along with two annual conferences -- the TED Conference in Long Beach and Palm Springs each spring, and the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh UK each summer -- TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Project and TED Conversations, the inspiring TED Fellows and TED programs, and the annual TED Prize.

The TED prize is awarded every year to an inspirational individual who receives $100,000 to pursue their "one wish to change the world".  The man who won in 2011 is named JR, and his project is called "the inside out project".  It is a global art movement that is designed to raise the global awareness of other cultures and create a new sense of global community.  He gave a really inspiring speech at this years awards ceremony that yall really should watch when you get a chance, it's so inspiring.  The link for it is here:  His idea is that every community in the world, the impoverished ones and the developed ones, could participate in this same project through a website he set up thanks to the money that he won from the TED prize.

In February our professor gave us (my class and the other class) the option of joining him in a technically illegal, yet not dangerous or bad for society, activity that would possibly have an impact on our community, and set up a meeting to tell us what it was.  We decided collectively to participate in JR's project here in Alicante by pasting black and white pictures of our faces, blown up, on the smaller castle near Luceros, where there is already a lot of graffiti.  Our point was to try to inspire people in Alicante to explore themselves, as well as to create a sense of community, or at least just make people think.  We went up to the castle at midnight last night, dressed in all black, with all of our gear (there are 9 of us, plus two of our professors' friends from France and Spain who documented everything last night and will be sending us more professional pictures), and put up our faces on the castle (note: no names or identification of any kind are being used, and these pictures are not on any social networking site).

Our professor released a press release of some kind and video with a mission statement to the media of Alicante today...  The video can be found here and our core sort of slogan is "ven a saber", which means, come to know.  Everything in our "mission statement" is in Spanish, but here is the English version of what it says in Spanish:

"Realize, understand what makes you, you. Do you know who you are? Who you want to be?  We are going beyond the limits, without expectations, to a place where what society thinks of us no longer matters.  In uncertainty we have evolved, discovered, and come to know ourselves as individuals. This is our statement. Make yours."

I just got back from running to the castle and took these pictures of what we did yesterday...there will be better ones when the friends of Jaime's send us the pictures.  These were from my phone so they are really grainy.  It's also hard to get an idea of the scale of the pictures from here- they're like at least 3 feet tall.

**In the email that I sent to my parents, I explained that we were waiting for the reaction from the local art community/press in the aftermath of our project.  Now, three weeks later, I can equate our message to the sound the proverbial tree makes when it falls in a forest when no one is around. In other words, no one really cares.  Still though, you win some you lose some, and I got to wear all black without looking like a punk, angsty teen who shops at Hot Topic**

Graffiti, Buddhism, and Politics in Spain

Hi all-

Current countdown to my return to America is (gulp!) 19 days.  I have completely lost track of what day of the week it is here, and it seems like literally just yesterday that I was posting about Bin Laden's death.  Sort of a morbid benchmark, now that I think about it.  Final exams are over, and my only class that remains has us doing yoga in the middle of campus for hour long sessions.  Hardly stressful.  The weather today is bad by Alicantino standards (72 and windy/sunny), so I decided to wait until after comida to head out and maybe venture to the beach.

Normally I'm pretty good at structuring written assignments, blogs, etc, but I'm finding myself at a loss of organization today, so the following may take the form of stream of consciousness and make no sense at all...but such is life.  Particularly life abroad, when you are sort of ready to experience creature comforts of America, but afraid of the feeling of loss that will accompany you when you get there.

- I'm currently reading into Buddhist philosophy by a Frenchman named Matthieu Ricard...he speaks a lot about the origin of our own happiness coming from within, rather than depending on the conditions of the world or the moods of those around us.  One thing I particularly like that he says is "While it may be difficult to change the world, it is always possible to change the way that we look at it".  He has a few talks on studies of monks' brains (particularly the balance of electrical pulses between the left lobe (responsible for positive feelings, happiness, contentment) and the right lobe (more negative)) that has shown that those who meditate have less brain activity in the right lobe and are actually capable of avoiding negative sentiments altogether

I digress...

- There is a political movement right now in Spain against the two-party system called the "revolution" where people are camping out in the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, and other large cities right now in the country.  They don't have a very defined goal, but their idea is to occupy every city center until the municipal elections on Sunday.  They have to take shifts to avoid sleeping in the Plazas (as this is grounds for arrest/illegal), and don't drink alcohol or do anything against the law other than simply be.  The numbers are massive- 15,000 in madrid, 5,000 in Barcelona (I just completely made those numbers up...) but these people lack an objective, which really bothers me.  The problem in Spain right now is unemployment-(**Shout out to Google blogs for the Draft function... I just accidentally closed this window and reopened it to find my entire post still here**) 21% of the entire population is unemployed, and I have heard rumors of as close to 40% unemployment among young people.  The current candidates for municipal positions are facing corruption charges from fraud to embezzlement, most of which involve the cooperation of national banks.  The young people in this revolution think that the proper response to the crisis is an ethical one, not one defined by particular goals or laid out by some sort of outline.  Maybe it's my Western mentality coming out, but I think I really annoyed my politics professor and his friends with my frustration and questions regarding their lack of organization.  At one point, Jaime/James (our names for my professor) actually said "Casey, you really ask a lot of questions, don't you?" To which I responded "Check my CIEE had fair warning" (I wrote down on my program application that I would ask lots of questions).  It's not easy discussing political philosophy in Spanish, but it has definitely helped me gain an understanding of the group mentality here- largely defined by a sense of community and cynicism toward the upper classes (generally, Spaniards think that the upper classes don't deserve their wealth, or should somehow feel guilty for what they have, rather than the American "they worked for it" perspective).

- I am fascinated by street art.  One of my goals before I leave Alicante is to document literally everything in the city in photos so I don't forget anything.  I think maybe I'll just have 1000s of pictures of the city and put them up on my walls at home so I feel like I'm still here.  Back to the graffiti topic, I'm going to paste in another blog entry after this one the email I sent my parents explaining my participation in part of a global art project... (suspense ensues)

- I am baffled by the ability of ONE older/more advanced in years woman to take up seven feet of horizontal sidewalk space.  Maybe she has a shopping bag, maybe she doesn't...but regardless, when I am running out of my neighborhood to head toward the castle, she is impassible.  I end up having to do a two-step, sprint-walk-jog-dance-jump off the sidewalk-stand on my head combination to get around her.  I will never take for granted the trails at W&L or the track at Boling Park again.

- In related news...things I miss about America (family excluded, that's obvious):
     1. Reese's peanut butter cups
     2. Going to the gym every day/arm exercises/lunging in general
     3. Braves games
     4. Schmedley
     5. Cooking
     6. Hummus
Speaking of cooking, I had a close encounter with the gross kind at lunch two days ago.  My madre decided that it would be a great idea to stack one piece of turkey lunchmeat, one piece of white cheese (white equivalent of kraft american singles), and another piece of turkey lunchmeat on top of each other...then to place this three tiered nugget in batter and fry it.  These are the types of combinations that I will not be recreating for myself back in the U S of A.  Its like eating a gooey cholesterol cake with saltmeat icing.

Sorry for the scatterbrained lack of organization of all of this information. My mind is a cornucopia of thoughts and confusion, trying to cope with the short nature of my weeks here while realizing that realistically it is probably my time to return to the land of the free and the home of the Brave(s).  Speaking of which, the Braves were swept by Arizona yesterday... sub-.500 teams keep me up at night.

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(Those symbols up there are the tomahawk chop...reason #34 why I love Twitter)

lunes, 2 de mayo de 2011

A Big Day For America- The Spanish Reaction

Hi Everyone!

I'm sure that yall are all celebrating today's festivities of Bin Laden's death today, as are all of the students here with me in my program. I thought that, while it is fresh on my mind (as I haven't done anything all day except watch coverage online), I would share with yall the Spanish perspective on the whole matter.

I woke up this morning to an old 8:00am alarm of mine from a productive day in the past, highly agitated (today is a holiday and I don't have class), and also confused as to the reason why I had recieved about 10 messages from friends of the likes of "GO AMERICA" and "check the news!!" or, my personal favorite "we lookin for you, we gon' find you, so you can run and tell that...homeboy" (if you don't understand this reference...see the following link: and become the 33,429,940th person to watch).  So.. naturally I woke up a little bit and checked FOXNews (sorry, center/leftwing European channels) to find out about Osama's death.  I was shocked, needless to say.  Hadn't thought much about what was going on with Bin Laden, in years, but it was a moment of surging American pride and a surprising appreciation for the Obama administration.  I felt alot like we all did on September 11th or when we hear the national anthem played at the Olympics for a gold medal winner.  After satiating my desire for conservative news sources, I decided to take advantage of my time here to learn about the international response (aside from that of my madre...which was "OH! great. I'm going to a friend's house for lunch so I'm leaving you some pasta in the microwave. We've known each other since we were 15...etc.")

Coming off of writing a 15 page paper in Spanish on the causes of suicide terrorism, I have a little bit of an ego about my knowledge of the subject...and a much more liberal one as well, I must admit.  The news sources here have noted how monumentous this day is in the history of the war on terror and an opportunity of closure for victims of Bin Laden's regime.  Everyone stands behind Obama and the CIA/Navy Seals who took the time to plan the operation, and is in agreement that death was probably the only option.  It takes some coaxing and rationalizing to get them to understand that death, as opposed to letting Bin Laden chill out in his hideout while waiting for him to go out and get the morning paper so we could capture him, was likely the only and most realistic option.  Europeans are very strongly anti-death penalty, even for killers, and also make the point that a life rotting in prison is worse than the opportunity for Bin Laden to appear as a martyr figure.  The other large sentiment of note here is that Americans are celebrating the death of a human being- the jubilation in the streets of Washington DC, New York City, and in Times Square have been seen as another example of American cowboys/fanatical conservatives (ie Bush, Jr) who are out for blood and unaware of the global consequences of their reactions.  The primary concern here (of which I think many Americans are aware) is the possibility of copycat attacks and the use of footage of "USA" chants as fuel for jihadist movements in the West.  There are a good number of Spaniards who are going about their daily life, largely unaffected by his death, because they don't have the same sort of attachment to the hunt for Bin Laden as we do in the states (despite the attacks in Madrid in 2004).  They are all in agreement that the disposal of Bin Laden's body in a proper Muslim burial, at sea, according to the Muslim tradition of disposal within 24 hours after death, was the right thing to do.  I am very impressed by the foresight of whichever official within the Obama administration made this decision- and think it was the right thing to do.  There are a few conspiracy theories about where the body actually is and whatnot, but for the most part I'd say the Spanish media is in line with the BBC and other European news channels, which echo the same sentiments as ours in the states.  I'll be curious to see whether or not the real death photo of Osama is released.  We have basically no sense of censorship here, so if it gets out and for some reason doesn't get to America, I'll have access.

On a happier note, I found this video from ESPN today and absolutely love it.  The Phillies and Mets were playing a baseball game last night when the announcement was made...

Love you all- enjoy America for me today.


martes, 26 de abril de 2011

Semana Santa in Spain

Hey yall-

So we just finished the Easter holiday here in Spain, and it was quite an experience.  Semana Santa, or "Holy Week" is characterized by a series of processions that happen from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday- about four happen per day.  Sounds nice, right? Parades every day to honor Jesus's sacrifice?  No. NO. no no no. Allow me to explain myself... 

Parcicipants in these parades, which usually include a group of military "people" (not sure the correct term here- officers, civilians, or whatever) marching in uniform, a group of drummers, a group of 40 or 50 men dressed in burlap bags carrying giant statues of the virgin mary, or a crucifixion scene, or something of the like (relics from local parishes- these can way up to 5000 kilos), and "nazarenos"- the majority of those who march.  These nazarenos are usually spanish men whose fathers, grandfathers etc have marched in the semana santa parades (its a great honor to be selected for this role).  They carry any one of the following: torches, huge crosses, giant staffs, or spearlike objects, with which they strike the ground in unison to the slow beat of a loud drum, which creates an earthquake/pending doom sort of environment.  Also, they wear conical headgear and robes (varying colors depending on the Saint of the parade) that inspired the Klu Klux Klan's outfits.  Wikipedia says "inspired"...but the outfits are the exact same.  These parades happen at night, with fire, loud drums, chanting, women crying (grieving over Jesus's loss) and... candy.  The "nazarenos" (KKK members) actually hand out candy to little kids in the audience to try to make the event less frightening.  Some of the parades are silent and last until 2am.  I have attached a video here of one of the parades on Maundy Thursday (the saddest day of the week)...hopefully yall will understand why I'm taking such a negative tone toward the festivities.  Speaking truthfully though, they are very moving experiences.  The entire town leaves their houses and heads to the barrio (old area in Alicante's city center) to watch the processions, and everyone seems to really feel the emotion of the event, despite being a country of largely nonpracticing Catholics.  The parades move very slowly, and the participants take pride in their roles- which have existed for centuries.  Alicante's processions aren't as well known as Sevilla's, but we escaped much of the rain that the East coast of Spain received and had the majority of our parades.

Interestingly enough, after all of this buildup, there aren't any processions on Easter Sunday.  My madre spent the day watching her usual 6 hrs of TV.  Monday (yesterday) was a holiday too and all of the stores were closed.  I guess Spaniards need a day of rest after all of that marching. 

Hope all is well at home and much love-


domingo, 17 de abril de 2011

London....mind the gap, and your wallet.

Two Americans, one Japanese, two Swiss, two 65 year old Germans, and one girl from Kazakhstan walk into a bar...sounds like a joke, right? Nope, just the story of my past weekend in London.  Only replace a bar with our hostel room and you have the foundation of the picture.  I think that if we hadn't gone out to see any of the sights in London on our whirlwind 2 1/2 day trip this weekend, we would have been exposed to more culture than a walk around all of Epcot.  Without going into detail and running out of blogging gas before talking about the actual city,  I think it's worth mentioning a few of the oddities from our "roommates"- whose common language was English (ranging in skill levels from conversational to "hallo").  Our friend from Kazakhstan loves America- seriously. Her first sentence after she asked where we were from was "I LOVE AMERICA".  She also loves Victoria's Secret.  The girl from Japan sleepwalks.  The two Swiss girls were very hardy travelers, and, according to Kazakhstan, one looked like the spitting image of Liza Minnelli (who she said stars in Sex and the City).  The last of this motley crew were the two older, white haired, German women, who kept mostly to themselves.  Their two characteristics of note were that they only knew how to say "Hallo" and "going out" in English, and also that they rarely were fully clothed.  Needless to say, although we treasured our time (2 hours) in the hostel, we decided to focus our energy on the city of London itself.

I had formed most of my images of London from a combination of scenes from The Parent Trap, Mary Kate and Ashley movies, and the episodes of Mr. Bean we watched in Australia in 2000.  Many of them held up- the city is exactly how it's portrayed in the movies- only the people are nicer (not as generally attractive as here in Spain, mind you...) and the accents sound better.  My friend Hilary and I took on the city like...two very excited American tourists.  In a two day span we managed to see all things obligatory: The Tower Bridge, London Bridge (which is really just a normal plain bridge), The Tower of London, Big Ben, The London Eye, The Tate Museum, The Globe Theatre, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace (including the Royal Mews-- which, inexplicably, means "stable/garage"), Picadelly Circle, Soho, and Camdentown.  We were all over the place.  People have asked me a bunch of times "what was your favorite part of London?" and I honestly can't say.  I think the experience of actually being in London was the best part.  Being among the people and in the environment with "Kate+William" regalia (they are beyond an obsession) was surreal.  My favorite part of the entire trip was our trip to "The George Inn," a cobblestone restaraunt/bar near our hostel where youngish professionals come for happy hour around 6 or 7 at night.  There was a huge outdoor patio and everyone was just standing around chatchitting, if you will.  The people (and the peoplewatching) were great.  I will be looking forward to being able to grab a beer in the States and converse with friends like that come July 19.  It has the effect of making one (me) feel very mature and wise for their years.  I felt mature just writing that sentence.  Oh, are grand. 

Just a word of caution to excited tourists: the men in the red coats with big furry black hats? Yeah, they don't stand in heckling distance anymore.  They operate behind bars and real security guards with large rifles that look like something out of Ghostbusters.  I couldn't even shout a knock-knock joke to them to try to get them to laugh because they were so lejos (spanish for far) away.  Such a shame... I was positive that I would be the one person on the Earth to make them break a smile.  (I'm sure I'm the first person to ever have thought that).  Also, watch your wallets on the metro. My friend Hilary's was stolen right under my very watchful nose.

Un Beso from Alicante!