Sunday, May 20, 2012

Friday in Alicante: First impressions, and host family reunion

Here is my continuation of the Alicante trip I took last weekend...

As I mentioned in my previous post, my first day (Friday) was quite busy. Since I knew my teachers and friends at the radio would be working on the weekday, I wanted to be sure I made it out to Alicante for a three-day weekend.

Before you ask why I was selective with my teachers (only two?), I should probably explain that I only had three teachers in my semester in Alicante. I had the internship at the radio station, which counted as a class, but it didn’t have a teacher. The third teacher who I didn’t visit was my conversation teacher. He was nice and really helpful (I loved conversation class because it was so open with assignments and it was basically an hour of open chit chat for a grade!) but I never really made a connection with him outside of class like I did with Carmen (who invited us all to her house for dinner at the end of the semester, and who I wrote after I got my Spanish language certificate) or Lourdes (who helped me, via email, create a Spanish CV, since it was something we practiced in our class as well). I honestly cannot remember his name. I am sure it was José something. Not kidding there, either. I am pretty sure it is José something. Almost positive. It’s a really common name.

My first stop, once I practically ran off the train, was to see Lourdes. She was teaching off-campus at the university branch, near the port. It was the final class before exams, so it was just the seven students and Lourdes sitting around chatting about the semester and home and culture, etc. I came in and Lourdes had me take the floor and just talk about my experience there, how it felt going back home, etc. The latter I didn’t have too much to talk about, since that was my second time abroad and I already had the experience of “boo-hoo I miss Spain so much and wanna go back” after San Sebastian in 2009. After Alicante, it was a calmer transition, and I already knew that it wasn’t impossible to go abroad again and that Spain isn’t some ideal country that is so much better than my home in the states (as many young people feel when they live abroad the first time).. I had moved on from that stage that everyone goes through, and had appreciated each country for their positives and negatives. One of the girls in the class was from Schaumburg (small world, right?) and was like me, where this is her graduating semester and now it’s time to look for a job.

 It was overall a really fun experience being the “show and tell,” as I mentioned before. Lourdes really liked one thing I said, when I stated that going back to Spain wasn’t impossible. Clearly, as my past has demonstrated, it isn’t impossible to go back. Lourdes took that and said “She’s right...we put the limits on ourselves. There are no impossibilities, just the ways we limit ourselves and what we do.” You know, all that, but in Spanish. Then one of the girls said that she was going to cry the entire plane ride home, and I shared that my friends basically had a crying party in Morgen’s apartment one of our last nights. Just sitting in Alye’s room, with the lights off, crying. Mike and I stood outside in the dining room and were like “are we going out to the clubs tonight or not?”

I then rushed to the bus stop and hopped on the 24 to campus. I somehow skipped the stop I wanted, probably because there was a young college-age couple (the girl looked like Selena Gomez) near me that I though would probably get off at the campus stop, but then didn’t. Therefore, when I was looking out the window and saw the soccer stadium (past campus) I panicked, knowing I passed the stop. Which just meant more walking (I walked 1 km from the train to Lourdes, 1 km from Lourdes to the stop, now this was an unnecessary extra 1.5 km). I was thinking maybe they removed the stop right by campus to make me feel less stupid about missing it, but that just doesn’t make sense.

 I went to the new building (USAC is no longer in the control tower on campus) and met Carmen in the hallway. I caught up with her and she asked about my other classmates/friends (Melanie, Sara P, Drew, Scott...) and I said that I will promptly notify them to write to Carmen because she said she loved our class and miss us all very much. I told her Drew finally found a law school, which is what he chatted about all the time in Alicante. “Oh, you go to Loyola? How is their law school? I hear they have a good law school.” Then I told her about how Scott and I missed one another here in Europe when he was in town for a field trip and I had Fallas and couldn’t meet up.

Carmen and me in the new USAC office

 She brought me to the new USAC office, (they moved in Sept. 2010, a few months after we left) telling me it was much bigger and now Luis has is own little office with a door but he hates shutting the door because he’s too outgoing to be stuck in a little corner room. Sylvain is what looks like the new Larissa. Larissa was an American who was living in Spain with her Spanish husband, working at USAC as a secretary and helping us out with finding stuff around town and getting comfortable in our new home. Oh, and Larissa, as Carmen informed me, is now the mother of a one-year-old child! Since I entered the office with Carmen, speaking Spanish, I really have no idea what nationality Sylvain is, since he continued on in Spanish. He also spoke some Valencian when I mentioned Valencia. So, no idea. Also, I thought Sylvain was a girl when Luis and Carmen referred to him in email (and because of the name). But he is a boy, and a very handsome one at that. When I asked Carmen to take a photo with me, she told me I needed to take a picture of Sylvain to show the American girls so that more students would sign up for the program. She was sure it would be a great way to advertise. I think it would be too. Just smack his face on the front cover of the USAC catalog and write “you could spend a semester with THIS FACE” and I think admission would rise 70%. But alas, no photo of Sylvain. By the way, he was in the room the entire time this conversation about his beauty took place. Scott and Drew can tell anyone how Carmen does not shy away from telling men how handsome they are.

You can see Sylvain's reflection on the left. Ooh the mystery!

Then I was off to Radio San Vicente on foot. I switched my shoes at this point, revealing a huge blister. On my way to the radio station, I bought a pack of bandaids. I couldn’t think of the word, so I just used the ole’ circumlocution trick. “Hi, I am looking for those things you stick on your hand when you cut yourself. They begin with the letter T.” She got it. (“Tiritas”)

When I visited Radio San Vicente, it was pretty quiet given that it was lunch time. Adrian was recording Gaspar, and Loly was recording herself in the other sound booth. Soon, Héctor arrived, and he informed me that shortly after my departure, his wife gave birth to a baby boy. These babies are just popping up everywhere! We all talked about a bunch of random stuff, including the economy since one of their guests on the radio show was a government official. This is a municipal radio station, and Loly said they are very privileged to not have had to fire anyone or go even a month without pay. Héctor said that second hand shops are popping up everywhere, and people are selling random stuff to pay for meals, like one chair from a dining set for 10 euros, or a stack of tupperware to get grocery money. A lot of government jobs aren’t paying because the government is in dire straits, and they say it is showing big time.

Then Arena showed up, and both her and Loly told me that they think I speak even better than I did when I was studying in Alicante, saying how my sentence construction seems more premeditated and flows better. I told them I had my doubts, since here in Valencia I rarely communicate with people, since I am at a computer all day, reading and writing in English, and I barely talk to people at lunch because 40% of the time it’s in Valenciano. Even so, they say my Spanish has improved. Arena and Loly then went on to suggest Spanish movies for me to watch and practice the language. They asked me if I liked Almodóvar, but I didn´t know who that was because I thought it was the Volver director, but it was the Abre los Ojos (Vanilla Sky was the American remake) director. I told them I liked El Orfanato and Pan’s Labyrinth (both Guillermo del Toro) but then we came to the conclusion that almost all Spanish actors and directors are going the Americanized route and doing English work (since American blockbusters obviously make more money and have better distribution than Spanish ones). They recommended REC, but that is like the Spanish Paranormal Activity, which I know would probably be too scary. I am a thriller type of girl, not so much for the cheap, jumpy scares. I like the slow build like M. Night Shyamalan movies, not ones where you are just hoping the girl doesn’t open the door to that dark ominous closet because something might jump out.

Loly, me, Arena, Hector, Gaspar

Loly, Me, Arena. Do you think Loly went patriotic for my visit?

 Héctor shared that his friends recently went to Chicago and thought the city was so cool. (I mean, why wouldn’t it be?) He said they were studying at a university near Chicago, but not in the city itself. “There’s only a couple universities in Chicago, right? Or are there a lot?” “Um, a LOT.” I guessed that his friends were talking about Northwestern, but he didn’t know the name. He also said the university had a huge rugby field. I told him it was probably a football field. He asked the difference. I said “no one really knows what rugby is, and everyone knows what football is.” Again, the huge football field made me think it was Northwestern. Although, aren’t all football fields the same? There are regulations...He told me “It was so huge, it was like the equivalent of division one here.” I said Northwestern has a pretty good football team, so again, it was probably that one (if you aren’t familiar with Chicago, Northwestern is in Evanston, which is to the north).

Arena then said how she wanted to Skype me so we could do English/Spanish lessons, and I told her about the unfortunate time difference between Spain and Chicago (which led to her and Héctor looking at my time zone map in my planner and being amazed that one country could span over four time zones), but she said she’d try and make it work on a weekend. I told her I was up for it, so we’ll see how it goes. Andrés contacted me a while back to Skype and do the same, but then it never happened. Héctor told me he is on a sort of sabbatical/break learning more about being a radio technician in London for the Olympics this summer. He’ll be back when it’s over. As I was leaving, Arena entered the recording booth and began her program by saying how their friend Melissa from Chicago was visiting them, “You might remember Melissa’s cultural program from 2010...”

I left around 4:30 and quickly called Rocío, who had to pick me up on her way to get Dante from school. She is such an amazing and friendly person; I was so happy to see her. The first thing she said to me was “You look so beautiful! It’s wonderful to see you!” I told her the exact same thing.

We picked up Dante at school, and he is just so big! My parents kept telling me that he wouldn’t remember me, but after seeing him, it wasn’t so much him remembering me as me remembering him. Two years ago he was a toddler who loved drawing potatoes that looked like scribbles, who played with his toy cars by lining them up and talked loudly when others were having a conversation in which he wasn’t involved, you know, just so you don’t forget that he’s there. Now he’s a boy who has many friends and makes new ones in every public place, who tells us about his day down to every detail, who can write his name and who can read words as big as “Alicante.” This Dante was very different from 2010 Dante, but still very much the same. He still loves his mommy very much, he still squeaks his voice upwards at the end of some sentences (“Es así. Lo VES?”), he still loves grabbing at Lola, the dog, while she squirms and tries to wriggle free. I found myself just staring at Dante during meals, seeing the same boy I knew two years ago, with the cocoa colored skin, big brown eyes and left eyebrow that twists slightly upward, but he’s matured so much.

In the car, Rocío asked if he remembered me.
 “Remember the book Goodnight Moon that you read at bedtime?”
“Well, Melissa gave you that. Remember Clifford, the big red dog that goes all through the city while his owners are out of town?”
“Melissa’s parents gave you that book. You know your book with the doors that open, about the yellow dog Spot, who gets lost?”
 “Well, Melissa’s parents gave you that book. Remember your Mater truck and the cow print car from the movie Cars that you have?”
“Well, Melissa’s parents gave you those cars. You know your socks that have Lightning McQueen?”
“Well, Melissa sent you those for Christmas from the states. Melissa has given you lots of gifts.” 
Seeing this color-change car that my parents gave Dante 2 years ago be all worn down and "well-loved" made me tear up a little. It feels like yesterday, but this car shows that time really has passed. 

I wasn’t there for the past two years, but my presence and influence was, in little memoirs and trinkets in their home.

 We went and got horchatas, then ate dinner at home. They’ve moved apartments since Carlos now works/lives in Torrevieja (an hour away) and they didn’t need all the space. They moved very recently, in September or so, but Rocío likes it here. There is a park nearby, and there is a huge open air market on Thursday and Saturday mornings right next door to them. They also live right next to a Día (grocery store), which is really convenient. When we went up to their apartment, Lola greeted me and everyone else with snorts and a wagging tail and antsy little paws trotting around in circles on the tile floor. She is more in shape than she was last time I was here, since she wasn’t “battery shaped” as Carly would say, but instead more lean in the mid-section. I think she’s been lifting weights.

Dante and Lola. We commented on how Lola looks like a lion with her skin gathered up all around her face like that.

Dante and Rocio

 Lola was just as perky as I remember her to be, and she even peed on my shoes (while I was wearing them, mind you). Luckily they were cheap flip flops and not my brand new boat shoes, so I really didn’t care. Rocío was super apologetic, but what are you gonna do? Dogs gon’ be dogs. Also, Saturday morning I stepped in a urine puddle in the kitchen that Lola must’ve left the night before, soaking through my socks. Rocío told me that Lola must have been super nervous or something, because she’s never peed in the house, ever. Oh, dogs!

We ate a delicious Rocio-cooked dinner, with curry. She played bossa-nova and merengue music while cooking. She is the kind of woman who wears a red summer dress, long curly hair down to her waist and wedge shoes, listening to South American music while cooking curried chicken. It’s just so RELAXING being there. I missed her food, and I told her so.

[More to come in another post!]

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