Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Love, Actually.

Erasmus is the predominant study abroad program here in Europe. Pretty much everyone I know who isn't from Barcelona or California is an Erasmus exchange student. Yesterday in my Indigenous Societies class, we learned the program was founded not on academic principles, but primarily established for networking purposes. Per my professor, it is simply about the politics of getting foreign students to "mingle, fall in love, and go live in each other's countries." Huh. (The correlation between fraternizing college students and indigenous societies, you ask? None. There are four people in the class; we tangent a lot.)

On the flip side, several people on separate occasions have remarked how "different" Si and I are compared to the other foreign students they have previously come into contact with. It shocks them when we say we are studying abroad...and find that we actually study (I know, I know, you are all equally surprised). Our pastor's wife keeps telling us that everyone else is usually entirely consumed with traveling and partying, school being the absolute last thing on their minds, if at all. Who would have guessed?

Hands down, UCSD is a million times more rigorous than our university here, but last semester was nonetheless challenging in its own right. Yet somehow, perhaps it was all the effort we actually concerted for once in our lives, we managed to not only pass all our classes (inlcuding the ones given in languages we neither speak nor understand...), but also come out with some pretty decent grades. I say it's time for a few trips; only two and a half weeks until Spring Break!

**To give a glimpse of the vibrant academic environment that exists at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona: Si's classmate found Steven Colbert's I Am America (and so can you!) book as a legitimate resource in the history section of our humanities library. Ehh.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Qué Bruta.

'Tis me spacing out as usual on the metro,
which is different from the train, but it'll do for now.

I think about all the reality television shows out there that somehow, despite being downright stupid, pointless, and oftentimes crass even, still garner a significant audience and hence income, and wonder why there aren't cameras following Si and I 24/7. Granted, that would probably be my absolute worst nightmare (and Si's dream come true), but we could supply some money entertainment.

I wasn't kidding when I said my life is ridiculous right now. I told you, February is CRAZY. And this country has it out to get me. Take this morning, for example. The first four hours of my day essentially epitomize what the last few weeks have been like. Somebody pray for peace and calm waters. And perhaps some good sense too. PORFA.

I have neither the time nor energy to detail why I was back at the Iberia Airlines Office this morning for the second time in less than 24 hours (it takes me about 30 minutes to get there, so no, it's not just to hang out and chill), but I was there yet again.

Important side note: I'M COMING HOME!!! Albeit in five months...but I'M COMING HOME nonetheless! Assuming horse stampedes and all such fairytale nonsense are just for boys, 7:00PM on July 15th is going to be the happiest moment of my life. Dah, I can't even wait.

Anyways. After finally, officially booking my return flight to LAX, I went to Plaça Catalunya to catch a train to school; a different station than my usual but after nearly seven months in Spain, I figured I could handle it.

I take it all back. Maybe I was too excited about the thought of being back in the States. Or too depressed the airline lady made me book my flight a whole three days later than I wanted (one day later is already significantly devastating). But I managed to board the S5 train, when my two only options should have been S2 or S55. The whole time I was thinking "Well, this is just so pleasant. An uncrowded train, I can put my feet up, no large men sitting next to me taking up the entire fact, there's no one at all on this entire side of the train! I could even do a jig or two." Wait...I glanced behind to see a smattering of people seated in the other half of the train car. Whew. I proceded to consume my private picnic of a sandwich and let my randomly set iPod lull me into a world of all the forgotten music I don't think to listen to anymore these days.

I glanced out the window to admire the scenic countryside, and smiled at the crisp green of the grass and foliage. But there was someting unsettlingly fresh about the nature that was whipping by outside, something too new and inspiring. A sign boasting the station name "Mirasol" flashed by...WAIT. Hold the phone. I've never seen or heard of Mirasol. WHERE WAS I WHAT WAS I DOING WHAT THE HECK WAS GOING ON?! WAS I DREAMING?

I finally realized my initial mistake way back at Catalunya and simply resolved to get off at the next station and take the right train back. Too bad the train wouldn't stop. It kept zipping through all these extra dark deserted tunnels and a thought passed through my head considering the possibility that this train was at the end of its line and was consequently taking the day off. Frack. What now.

Finally, the train stopped in a station and I joyously lunged at the door and pushed the green "obrir" button. Nothing. I pushed it again. Nothing. Several more times. Nothing. Okay, so that door wasn't working. I tried the next one. No movement. Next door, nada. I started getting a little panicked. I mean, I was on an entire train entirely by myself, and not only that, I was now trapped. Sweet.

I embarrassedly peered out through the window at all the people seated on the benches waiting for other trains. They just stared blankly at me, and I kept pushing buttons. Obrir obrir obrir already! Finally, a white-haired public transportation uniformed man entered through the driver's "cockpit," came into the train car via secret door, and gave me a look that branded me idiot for life.

"What are you doing here? This train ended in Sant Cugat (that was five stops back, thank you, hahaha). Where are you going?" I sheepishly told him I was just trying to get to the Autonoma as he unlocked the sliding doors (yes, he had to personally UNLOCK the train's sliding doors, eek!) for me and instructed me in the tone of a parent talking down to their three-year-old and in a decible loud enough for the entire train station to hear that I was to stand on THAT side of the waiting area, wait for THAT numbered train, get off at THAT station, and then take another train to THAT school. The volume was probably so everyone could keep an eye on the poor girl who clearly didn't know what she was doing. (I swear, I do...ahem).

Yeah, well, the story doesn't end there. But I'm sure I've squandered your attention span in its entirety already, so we'll just say that I had a few more outrageous (and I don't exaggerate when I use this adjective) scrapes and it ultimately took me over two hours to get to school (as opposed to the normal una hora), where I arrived to discover the meeting I was late for had been rescheduled for March.

Sigh. And all this before noon.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

February Faithful

I can always count on February. To be a little crazy, that is. As seems to be the case every year around this time, life has been slightly ridiculous to say the least. As of late, I've mostly been plagued with infinite never-ending illnesses, a dead laptop, and a variety of dilemmas, all of which I have responded to a fault with despondent homesickness and longing just for the passage of time. But without fail, in the midst of the whirlwind, 2003 creeps back to me. Casi no puedo creer que ya ha sido cinco anos. Every year, I think I'll write a fresh new blog about it, but as I replay certain images, certain memories over in my head, I realize I still have not fully learned or grasped the basics. So here it is, the repost. Mostly a reminder to yo misma as I preoccupy myself with dwelling more in what is to come rather than the all-important here and now.

James Cottrell. July 22, 1987-February 23, 2003

I can't believe it's been [five] years. There is so much I want to write, so many stories I want to tell. But here's the thing...

You know, there's always this cliched hype about "never letting a moment pass you by and living each day to the fullest." It reminds me of the CEC trend where Carpe Diem showed up everywhere--xangas, AIM, etc. for awhile. But honestly, how many of us truly adhered to that mantra in those "every moments," and are to this day striving to keep that ingrained in our mind, not just marked in colored font in our profiles?

I remember one particular Friday in November 2002. I was standing in the hallway right outside of my mom's classroom along with my brother and James, as Mrs. Cottrell and my mom wrapped up their conversation about the next day's lesson plans as usual. Then in addition to the typical parting goodbyes, my mom gave James a hug, as he was scheduled to go into surgery for his pacemaker that weekend. I stood there awkwardly, not sure if I was supposed to follow suit or what. Then somewhere in that limbo of unease and sharp discomfiture, my moment passed. I didn't give him a hug.

And then...I never saw James again.

In the time between November and February, James went through dire surgery complication after complication. His life hung by the thinnest thread for three months--one minute he was going strong on his pacemaker, the next instant he was being frantically hooked back up to the machine. I sat at the hospital countless nights, prohibited from seeing him, staring hard at the sterile hospital surroundings, watching the hearts of his parents being wrenched out within them, wondering how much hurt a human was capable of withstanding. But nothing could change what God was about to ordain, not a mother's love, not the many fervent prayers, not even having Uncle Frank Ing as one of his doctors.

The morning after James died was like that of a movie in its most depressing scene. Except it was actual, tangible reality as I watched the dark clouds roll in, spreading a heavy, mournful covering across the sky as I silently rode in the car. The fat drops that splattered against the car windshield mocked the wet beads threatening to spill from my own eyes. My mom and I went to take breakfast to the Cottrells before heading to school. Their house was as desolate as the somber sky. The windows were shut and no light touched a surface save what daylight snuck in when we opened the door. Shades of black, gray, and sadness were all one could see inside. It was agonizing to see Mr. Cottell sobbing yet still able to find the grace to be hospitable as he ushered us in. It was excrutiating to hear Mrs. Cottrell wailing in deepest sorrow from within her room.

Sadly, it takes moments like these to drive us to realize how truly short our time is here on earth, especially for those who have the vastness of eternity stretching before them. It's those memories of a missed hug seared in our minds--incidents that occur over a span of mere seconds that remain etched in our memories for a lifetime. 

And let's face it, kids, no one's perfect. Humanly, we can't possibly live each little, every single moment of our lives to the fullest, but we can pray for passion. A passion that would drive us to madly seek after God. A journey of pursuit that would then result in an overflow of our hearts. An overflow of such love for God that we wouldn't want to spend our time any other way, than fruitfully for Him. An overflow that would engender boldness and courage, impelling us to grasp so tightly onto those "every moments" so as never to leave room for a "what if," "if only," or "would have been," and squeeze out any potential regret.

I pray ardently for your hearts and mine, and may God always be glorified. 

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Celebrity Sightings

None other than the legendary Zorro himself sat across from me on the train ride to school this morning. Granted, he didn't have the requisite face mask on, but he was wearing black spandex tights (yes, you read that correctly), black leather boots, the epic billowy button-up white collared shirt, and his dark shoulder-length hair was appropriately slicked back with about ten pounds of bear grease. Fortunately for me (in this case only), staring is a completely acceptable facet of Spanish culture because I couldn't stop blatantly looking and taking note of all the uncanny similarities. I'm sure it was Zorro. I mean, who else honestly dresses like that these days?

Anyway, I don't know what was playing on his iPod, but he insisted on tapping obnoxiously on the window with annoyingly no rhythmic sequence for the entire thirty plus minute train ride. I quickly got over being starstruck and seriously contemplated punching him in the face, but I was afraid he might whip out his cape and sword and consequently slash me to piecezzz. Ideally, I would like to make it out of this country alive, even though "Killed by Zorro in Spain" could make for a good story. Oh well. Maybe next time we'll have a window tapping duel and fight it out to the death. "Zorro Defeated By Amazing American Abroad" could make for a pretty decent headline too. Talk about legendary.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Because I Can.

I don't know where I'm headed with this blog entry. Maybe delightfully nowhere in particular. Just once this week, I'd like to write something that doesn't answer the prompt, doesn't transition smoothly, is insensibly devoid of sense, and most of all, independent of a menacing grade...All the people who told us studying abroad was academically easy and usually meant a boost to the GPA should be tarred-and-feathered for being downright misleading. Talk about spurring unrealistic expectations.

People in La Jolla start riots when finals creep near 35%. On Tuesday, I took a final with four questions, each one worth about 20% of my final class grade. Three hours, eight pages of writing, information that was mostly over my, that hurt a little. Yesterday, I slogged through another written exam worth a "mere" 50%, and next Friday, I'm slated to take one that counts for a whopping 100%. Good thing this one is for a class I have literally a 1% chance of passing. Congratulations, Spain, I'm going to fail my first class ever in YOUR country! Monumental, I know, but try not to let it get to your head-I really can't afford any more F's.

After an academically intense week, I thought I'd take a day-long sabbatical before diving back into studying and wondering how I'm going to write a 15-page paper describing what I do at UNICEF (I am an intern = I do nothing). Together with my new Eduardo Galeano book, a freshly charged iPod, and some chocolate hazelnut gelato, I ventured to a crumbling cement jetty overlooking the Mediterranean down by Barceloneta. I sat and stared and read and (no word that rhymes with "stared" and contextually fits has come to me yet) for the duration of the afternoon. It was freezing but glorious.

Once all these beastly finals and papers are done with, I want to get back into concentrated leisure reading. (I welcome all recommendations of noteworthy gems.) It's been almost six months and I am still nowhere near finishing El Amor En Los Tiempos de Colera. The Spanish is killing me. Someday when I'm old and retired, I hope to recreate my childhood; live in the library and spend all my time voraciously devouring books.

Our flatmates have all moved out and returned home with the ending of the semester. Si and I are a little sad about it; Inyaki, Andres, Frank, and Pete were all good fellows and they will be missed. In their stead have followed: Yorith (I actually have no idea how his name is really spelled), Nico, and Jean. So much for the girls we were hoping for. Nico and Jean speak French and Basque, and one speaks a little English and no Spanish, and the other speaks a little Spanish and no English. Needless to say, communicating has been slightly confusing. But they bought a brand-new frying pan so they win 2387908347 points for that. I'm pretty sure I've never seen something so beautiful. I cooked with it and NOTHING stuck, not one single crumb. Amazing.

I did a load of white laundry earlier this week. My clothes came out BRIGHT PINK. There was nothing even remotely colored mingling with them in the washer. I washed them again with bleach and they came out...grey pink. I now have four shirts and countless pairs of calzones all colored the same shade of dusty rose. Oh, diversity. And honestly, of all colors, PINK?!?!

Jelly Belly's are a challenge. Mixed in with the few tasty flavors are many lurking beans of death. Sometimes the colors are too similar and I unwittingly chomp down on cantaloupe instead of tangerine, or cinnamon instead of cherry, or puke instead of lime. Rats. I think I just ate a San Diego jelly. Not that it looks at all like a Barçe bean...

Who knew a year would be so long?

I miss home.