Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Free Admission Day

The weekend before last I made my first, and so far only, call home, so my parents at least have had an update since me last post, but it wasn't until just now that I realized that the nagging feeling in the back of my head was me trying to remind myself that I promised that I would post more pictures.

I joined a gaggle of 12 people I mostly didn't know for a bus trip out into the suburbs. We went to the monastery and palace of San Lorenzo de el Escorial, which is conveniently located in the town of the same name, roughly an hour away from the city center. It was, for some unexpected and still unexplained reason, it was free admission day which was a very nice surprise and meant that I had enough cash handy to rent the audio guide. The library was, unfortunately, not included in the free ticket, and the basilica was closed when I went.

Photography is not allowed inside, but because I am a bad person, I snuck a few anyway. Because I'm the kind of nerd who thinks that looking at foundations and bits of archway to see what's holding the building up is the niftiest thing ever, 1.)I thought the architecture museum in the basement was the most interesting part of the visit and 2.)the things I want pictures of are never in the postcards. The fact that I got in for free only encouraged me because in the back of my mind I couldn't help but think, "what are you going to do, kick me out?"

The wikipedia article I linked does a good enough job of explaining the place, and I've added captions which should be sufficient explanation for the pictures. If some thing is unclear* leave a comment here and I'll try to explain. Leave comments anyway, they make me feel like someone cares about my vacation pictures. :P

After lunch, we loaded onto a different bus and went to the Valley of the Fallen. Franco built the place in the 50s as a memorial to the people who died in the Spanish Civil War (or at least, those people who were on his side). Out side there are a few terraces with great views of the Sierra Guadarrama** mountains, a huge pieta over the door, and a Giant Cement Cross that can be seen for miles***. The wikipedia article does again does a good enough job of describing the place, especially the controversy about it's construction.

It was free admission day there as well, and photos were also not allowed inside. I tried to sneak a few of the interior, but the lighting was so low that they didn't turn out and I had to be content with the post cards and a ton of exterior pictures. The postcards actually aren't that great, because they brought in extra lighting and fancy tripods so they have the statues centered in the frame and you can see all the detail, but that isn't what you experience when you actually visit the place. The interior of the basilica is in what I call the Catholic Fascist style (a combination of neo-classisim and futurism, see anything Mussolini had constructed as an example). The lights are so dim it's hard to see the ceiling, copies of 16th century tapestry depicting scenes from the Book of Revelation line the walls, and giant representations of the Our Lady guard each of the side altars. The neo-gothic carved wood quire is almost comforting when compared to the angels who stand at the four corners of the crossing and in the narthex. The feet of these statues are on pillars higher than my head, they each hold some sort of weapon bigger than I am, and the way they are back lit in the already dim light, it looks like they are ready to come to life at any minute and fight any devils that might present themselves. You, the observer, will be squashed into a grease spot on the floor if you get in their way.

Outside, it's a beautiful day with clean air, sunshine, and a good view of the landscape. My photos are in the same album as the ones from El Escorial, again with lots of captions, if you haven't already looked through them. The one thing I'm not sure that my pictures accomplished was showing just how large the place was, mostly because there's no way to fit it all into one picture without a wide angle lens and a helicopter.

Week-end Adventure #1, complete.

*The captions, I mean. I know the pictures are fuzzy, but it they were the best I can do under the circumstances.
**redundancy alert! Sierra means mountains
***There is a similar sized cross in Effingham, Illinois (because it's the CROSSroads of America, get it?), but the one in Illinois doesn't have any crying angels, so it's hardly art, is it?

Friday, September 12, 2008


Why is it that the things I like in museums are never the things that have been made into postcards? Or included in the museum guide book?

I went to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza today (the Prado's not-so little brother) and they did manage to get 4 Euros worth of postcards out of me, but they could have easily gotten triple that (or convinced me to buy the book) if they had postcards of the things I liked instead of the avaunt-guard crap that I didn't even see because that part of the museum was "closed for remodelations". My personal theory on art: nothing good* has been created since 1950, and everything after 1850 is highly suspect. Search your feelings. You know this is true.


*I define "good art" as something I would hang in the living room above the sofa.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Many the Hail?

The day before yesterday we had rain off and on during the afternoon. Then, at one in the morning we had hail. That's Ana, my house mom, holding a piece that she saved in the freezer. Freak storms aside, it's still hot and un-airconditioned here, only now it's uncomfortably humid as well.

This is the view out of my window looking to the left, towards Puerta del Sol, and this is looking to the right, towards the Opera House. Puerta del Sol is the center of Madrid containing city hall, "Kilometer Zero" (the marker from which all distances in Spain are measured), a statue of King Charles III, and a bear and a tree (which is the city's symbol).

In front of the Opera House is Plaza Oriente. King Philip IV is in the center of the square. The gardens around it have statues of other (dead) kings. The first night I was here we went down to the square for a free performance of songs from "Beauty and the Beast". We were in the back of the crowd, so we could hear, but not see. Instead we had a better view of the back of the square, which is defined by the back of the Royal Palace.

My room mates and I took the tour on Saturday, but photographs are only allowed on the outside. Inside, there is a over the top baroque/rococo interior. It's all carefully designed to show off the wealth of the inhabitants, but mostly it's just gaudy. On the far side of the palace is the Cathedral. It's new construction, only finished within the last century. The exterior is neo-classical, to match the palace, but he interior is neo-Gothic. At least, that's what I've been told. I haven't actually been able to get inside it yet as every time I've tried it has been closed for no apparent reason. We also took a short walk through the palace gardens, and they got some nice photos of the palace lawns and a peacock. I got nothing, because it was at that point that my camera batteries decided to die on me.

On Sunday we took a longer trip to Plaza Mayor* which has been the home to many things in Madrid's history: a market, bull fighting, carnivals, futbol fans, tourists, and the Inquisition. Now it houses a coin and stamp market on the weekends. Just down the street from Mayor is the beginning of el Rastro - Europe's largest flea market, held every Sunday. I brought my camera, but left if in my purse, because the market was just to crowded to justify the risk of taking it out.

Sunday afternoon, I split off from the group to go to the Museo del Prado, the largest and most important of Madrid's art museums. They don't allow photography inside either, but here's a statue of hometown favorite Goya from the park outside. I just made a quick tour. I need to go back sometime when my feet aren't hurting to enjoy it some.

Tuesday was a state holiday, so we had a day off from classes. Emma and Renee went to Toledo, Megan and I stayed home and did a whole lot of nothing. Also it rained and there was a hail storm during the night, see above.

Classes continue a pace. Spanish continues to go well, although two days in a row now I have been told that I'm pronouncing things like an Italian. Linguistics is coming along nicely as well, although there is a lot of homework. The professor has a contract to write a textbook on the subject, so we are the guinea pigs for her draft of the book, meaning that we have to do all of the little exercises that might otherwise be skipped.

This early in the semester, working in the writing lab means sitting quietly in the corner under the stairs and knitting.

In addition to going to Berlin for the GRE in November, I'm also going to go to Rome for a weekend in October. I may try to go to London this semester as well, but that all depends on how cheap of a flight I can find.

Til later,

P.S. click the link in the side bar to brows a few more of my

*5 minutes walking, if you walk slowly and stop frequently.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Home in Madrid

I am safely arrived in Madrid. This is my third day actually. From the air, Spain looks a lot like Texas, on the ground it looks more like Rome. The temperature is a bit more moderate than back home, even cool in the evenings, but there is always a little wind, and it is very dry.

The flight over was long and boring. The flight was pretty bumpy until we got past Greenland, so that alone was uncomfortable. I was in the second to the last row, in the very middle. On my right there was a large American. On my left there was a large Russian. Both of them went to sleep almost as soon as we were in the air. I was stuck in the middle, with no way to sit without touching both of them. The smaller I tried to make myself, the more they expanded to fill the available space, until I would get up, and pretend walk to the WC, thereby forcing one of them completely out of his seat, and allowing me to reclaim my space when I returned. In the row in front of me, there was a toddler, probably about one, so old enough to stand on the seat and yowl, but not old enough to be expected to use words when she was a.)tired, b.)hungry, and c.)having her ears hurt. In fact, given her age, she was very well behaved, and probably could have yelled louder if she had tried. As if that weren't enough, the couple across the aisle had two cats with them, and the kid's crying periodically set the cats to meowing. It was kind of entertaining to watch as the people around me, one at a time, over the course of the entire flight, put up their heads and asked, "Katzen?"*

By the time I finally landed in Frankfurt, I was so tiered that the layover and the flight to Madrid seemed uneventful. I got to the school with no problems, and was soon shuffled off to my host family. Ana and Juan have a large apartment on the 5th** floor of a building on the main street between the Opera house and Puerta del Sol, so it's literally in the middle of everything. There's a lot of street noise, which isn't _too_ bad at night, provided you are asleep before the garbage truck comes by at 1 a.m. Two of my room-mates use ear-plugs, but I'm to afraid that I'd sleep through my alarm clock to try it.

In addition to myself, there are 5 other girls here: 3 from Saint Louis University, two from Sufolk University. Ana and Juan are great people. She works from home, and is full of advice and energy. He is an architect and a real character. Every time he opens his mouth something funny comes out of it. His firm is in charge of the effort to make most of down town a pedestrian zone with lots of restaurants and upscale shopping, while the traffic continues in tunnels underneath the major plazas. This is the construction project currently going on around the neighborhood at all hours of the day and night.

Classes have started; that picture is me on the porch of one of the building with the English Department and the registrar in it. Right now I'm sitting in on a Spanish class which meets four days a week (Monday through Thursday). Yesterday the threat was that Dr. S would shoot us if we didn't speak in Spanish, today she was just charging a Euro***.

I'm also taking a class on linguistics. There was some confusion over where the class would be held, as it is cross listed two or three ways, and each course number was assigned to a different room. Apparently who ever makes the schedule thought that Dr. M could be in two places at once, or would stand in the hall and shout towards both rooms.

Next month I will start a third class, about research methodologies, which is on the graduate schedule instead of the undergraduate.

I've got a job working in the writing lab, except I'm being payed with a tuition discount instead of money, because the student visa is different from a work visa, so they can't legally employ me otherwise. I'm waiting now for the finance office to get me billed correctly; the tuition is different in Madrid than in St. Louis, and I've been given a discount as a scholarship, in addition to what I'll receive from the writing lab. I've been assured that they know that they need to fix things, but since the graduate semester doesn't really start for another month, it probably won't be sorted until then. On the other hand, it's the natural state of affairs to be frustrated with the bursar, so I'm not two worried.


*Trans: "Cats?"
*or 6th, depending on how you want to count
***or a cup of coffee, offender's choice