Saturday, June 9, 2012

Good-bye, Good-bye Madrid

Quote by St. Augustine

Last fall, Merrimack College's onstagers put on the play Our Town.  I do not know if you remember, but in the final act of the play, the main character Emily Webb says good-bye to all the things she will miss about life in her hometown Grover's Corners.  Her speech went like this:

"Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover's Corners? Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking? and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths? and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you."

Using Ms. Webb's good-bye speech as inspiration, I have drafted my own two good-bye speeches about Madrid. Can you guess which one is the sarcastic version?

Goodbye, Goodbye, Spain.  Goodbye, Madrid.  Croquetas, patatas bravas and tortilla espanola.  Good bye to Professor Jose Maria Marco’s laugh.  And 1 euro Wednesdays at Montiditos.  And last minute day/weekend trips to different cities.  And El Tigre and Dubliners.  Goodbye to Cube-ims and Moorish Architecture.  And playing the guessing game on the Metro of who will get off at Chueca?  And bars and clubs closing late.  And Barclays, ha ha ha.  And the Santa Claus guys running away from La Policia.  Goodbye, goodbye Claudio, Cristina Martin and Valentine.   And the clean metro, and hearing “la proxima parada and train bound for”.  Goodbye 24 hour pizza, 1 euro wine, and chocolate con churros.  And “cultural experiences”.  And Julio, may he rest in peace.  And not getting carded, not tipping and not paying for gas.  And free tapas with drinks.  Goodbye, goodbye to pregaming with Don Simon, chiptos gratis, and dark hot chocolate.  And shoes, accents, gelato, and well more shoes.  And Corte Ingles and hooka bars.  Goodbye to Sangria and Mojitos. And our 5 month vacation.  Oh, Madrid, you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you. 

And now for the second....

Goodbye, Goodbye, Spain.  Goodbye, Madrid.  Mahou, San Miguel and Alhambra.  Goodbye to paying 5 cents for bags at the supermercado.  And asking para la cuenta. And no toilet paper, soap or hand dryers in bathrooms.  Goodbye to aggressive, creepy Spanish men.  And paying $6 for peanut butter.  And the prostitutes on Calle de Montera.  And Patricia, the bitchy maid lady and Rob?  Goodbye, goodbye to “chicas 2 bebidas para 10 euros”.  And having to manually open the metro doors and shops closed for siesta hour.  And All You Can Eat, Hide My Ass and Movistar.  And paying for water at restaurants.  Goodbye to RyanAir and 8 hour bus rides. And the gypsies and compro oro men.  And walking on cobblestone sidewalks in heals and dressing up for class every day.  And the obnoxiously loud Spanish girls at dinner.  And huelgas, hostels and the euro.  Goodbye, goodbye to ceilings collapsing, barking pugs, and moldy showers.  And the cleaning/laundry service at the residence.  And ATM foreign transaction fees.  And pickpocketing on the metro and the hour commute to Comillas.  Goodbye to buying an Abono. And plug adapters, Spanish breakfast and milk that isn’t refrigerated, gross.   And Current International Issues.  And using Skype.  And the squeaky things the men have in their mouths around Sol.  And most importantly, playing cards with Mariah.  Oh, Spain, you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

¡No Pan, No Paz!

El Banco de Espana

¡No Pan, No Paz!  That is what several protest signs read on Thursday, March 29, 2012 when Spain held a nationwide strike.  Can I start off by saying that "Huelga General en España" made Occupy Wall Street look like a joke.  ¡Fue tan intenso!  The purpose of the strike was to make the government rectify its agenda and to not apply their new labor reform which will harm workers rights.  Workers and unions rallied in a full day general strike to protect the labor sector.  They participated in the consumer strike by not driving or refueling their 'coches', not buying or hiring any service, minimizing the use of electricity, telephone, gas and water for the day, and not utilizing public transportation.  

Erin and I in Plaza de Cibeles
We foreign exchange students at Comillas were warned weeks in advance that the strike would affect the country's bus, train and air transportation networks.  In order to travel to my university, I must take two Cercanías trains.  I was as scared as a toddler seeing Santa for the first time. Nevertheless, being the diligent, ambitious, perfect, dazzling, loyal and determined 'estudiante' that I am, since I have four classes on Thursdays, I braved the anticipated battlefield and ventured off to my 8:30 a.m.  With Disney's Mulan's soundtrack blaring from my iPod for encouragement:  

(Be a man)
We must be swift as
the coursing river
(Be a man) 
With all the force
of a great typhoon
(Be a man)
With all the strength
of a raging fire
Mysterious as the
dark side of the moon

I made it to class.  Great success! Apparently though, I was the only international student brave enough to face this "blood-soaked affair of honor".... I was the lone student to show up to class, it was just me and Professor Marco.  Yes, I do believe that that situation does deserve the hashtag on Twitter, #ThatAwkwardMomentWhen.  However, I ended up talking to him for over an hour, we had a pleasant conversation regarding my future, he even offered to buy me coffee. However, all good things must come to an end.  I figured I should probably use my newfound  'tiempo libre' to study for my European History of the 20th Century midterm the following day, so I pleasantly excused myself from his presence and set up camp in the library.  Nevertheless, enough is enough when I was the only student present for my second class of the day.  Not even the professor was kind enough to grace me with his presence.  Hence, I took the next available train home two hours later.  What a waste of a day! 
A sticker promoting the strike

When I returned to my residencia, after telling all my friends, who skipped class that day, my experience, we walked to El Parque de Retiro.  Other than the fact that they only ran 15 trains that day, and all trains were two hours apart, my commute to Universidad Pontificia Comillas was rather painless.  The strike had been quite peaceful that morning, but Professor Marco cautioned me that there was more to come that afternoon.  Upon returning from the park, my friends and I encountered the largest mob I have ever seen in Plaza de Cibeles.  The protestors were peaceful, but the crowd was massive.  We had to hold hands to fight through the crowd.  Protestors held picket signs, shouted slogans and participated in rallies as red smoke filled the sky.  It was a moving experience to see so many people, young and old, ban together to fight for something with so much passion.  Although, for the remainder of my stay in Spain I would rather not witness another strike, por favor y gracias. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Long Overdue Appreciation

Thus far, studying abroad has taught me more about myself than any other past experience.  Some things I’ve discovered make me want to physically give myself a “pat on the back”, while others I wish I never had to confront.  One that stands out the most, and I cannot believe I am actually admitting this, is that I miss Merrimack.  Those who knew me in high school understand that the definition of a “Type A” personality is:  Jenn Brooks.  Although I am much more relaxed in Madrid, which is something I absolutely needed more of in my life, at the end of the day Jenn Brooks does not relax.  I miss the stress of an everyday US college student, and everything that comes along with it.  From putting up Facebook statuses such as “2 a.m. why must we keep meeting this way, I would much rather sleep with you”, to Earl Grey caffeinated tea becoming my anti-drug, to cramming for finals on a Friday night in the crowded Merrimack library, I miss it all.  I have come up with a list titled “The 30 Things I Miss the Most About Being a Merrimack College Student” which I would like to share with you.  In no particular order at all, here is what I have come up with:   
  1. Registering for classes online is not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. 
  2. Sodexo.
  3. Doing my own laundry, even though the machines always eat my quarters.
  4. Ugg boots and North Faces.
  5. Toilets that you can flush with your foot.
  7. College ruled lined paper; I am having none of this European graph paper.
  8. Doors that you can lock from the inside with the push of a knob.
  9. Pandora and Netflix.
  10. Full-out "scrubbin" to class.
  11. Wireless Internet, even that one spot in the library on the 3rd floor that never receives a signal. 
  12. Chicken fingers and mozzarella sticks. 
  13. The Roman Missal at Sunday mass.
  14. TV, enough said.
  15. The rush to dinner at 5 p.m.
  16. Walking 5 minutes to get to class as opposed to riding a train for an hour. 
  17. Have I mentioned Sodexo…
  18. Omelet line for Sunday brunch.
  19. The value of a dollar.
  20. Shower stalls.
  21. Not having to hug my purse out of fear of being pick-pocketed.
  22. Cold milk.
  23. Signing up for advising.
  24. Hair straighteners/curling irons/blow-dryers that do not blow up in your face when you use them.
  25. Verizon’s cell phone service.
  26. Meetings.
  27. Speaking English.
  28. Professors that know my name instead of losing me on the Metro at orientation, please refer to my post “Where for art thou red umbrella?”
  29. Orientation.
  30. Driving in Nor-easters to get to campus because classes are never canceled. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Holy Toledo!

Mi patito Julio and I enjoying the beautiful view in Toledo.

El Cathedral in Toledo
Holy Toledo!  If you have ever heard this expression, you will understand how exciting it was to visit this beautiful city.  Toledo was the capital of Spain when the Moors occupied the country, before it was conquered by the Christians in 1561.  This beautiful city is about an hour bus ride southwest of Madrid.  As we all understand, bus rides can be rather boring, so we played the alphabet game to pass the time.  #typicalcollegestudents For those of you who are unfamiliar with the “famous” alphabet game, which was specifically designed to keep families occupied on road trips, I will explain.  You keep an eye outside the car for road signs, billboards and other objects.  Start by looking for any word that begins with the letter “A”.  When you see it, the goal is to yell out the word before anyone else in the car can.  Then, look for a word that starts with the letter “B” and continue to repeat the process until you finish the alphabet.  Once a person shouts a word for their letter, no other person may use the same word.  The object of the game is to finish the alphabet before your opponents.  Unlike America, it was rather easy to locate the letter “Q”, however, “K” proved to be difficult. 

Beautiful monstrance.
As with all our adventures, James, Kaila, my roommate and I arrived in Toledo with no plan or sense of direction.  Hence, I am actually proud of how well we survived.  We were able to visit the “Museo Del Ejército” which was located in the Alcazar.  It was really interesting to be able to see old guns, armor, knives, uniforms, etc. that belonged to the ancient armies of Spain.  Unfortunately, as with most museums, cameras were not allowed inside, hence I sadly do not have any pictures to share.  We also visited the Cathedral, which given my Catholic background I thoroughly enjoyed.  The monstrance was especially magnificent; I have never seen one so beautiful.  I wish I could have fit it in my suitcase to take it home with me to my home parish, St. William's.  Unfortunately, the monstrance absolutely would not have met the 50 pound weight limit at the airport, so security would not have been too pleased.  Also, I do not know if Fr. Andy would be too happy if a random, massive monstrance appeared in our plain adoration chapel.

Kaila, me and James in front of El Museo Del Ejercito
Although Toledo was absolutely beautiful, the view itself is worth a visit, I am glad I chose to study abroad in Madrid.  The city reminded me very much of Sevilla, because it was so rich in culture and history.  However, I feel like I would have really missed home if I studied there since they do not have the extensive American food selections Madrid has.  Needless to say, it was a perfect day trip, and I would absolutely recommend to anyone traveling in Spain to visit Toledo.  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mis Patitos

Alhambra, Granada, Spain 

Coca-Cola written in Arabic in Fez, Morocco
After my junior year of high school came to a close my best friend, Ashley, moved to Tennessee for her senior year.  Following graduation, I was able to save up enough money to go visit her.  It was there, in Knoxville, TN summer 2009 that I bought Julio.  Julio is my little Mexican patito, complete with a sombrero and matching poncho, who is very special.  As soon as I adopted Julio, I embraced a new tradition.  Everywhere I travel, I bring Julio and take pictures of him in front of fascinating sites.  He loves to travel, just like his momma!  Thus far, mi patito has journeyed to various parts of the United States (Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, DC, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire y claro Massachusetts), Spain (Seville, Cordoba, Granada, Algeciras, Madrid, Segovia and Toledo) and Morocco (Tangier, Rabat, Fez, and Chefchaouen).  Hence, please follow Julio as he travels the world conmigo by “friending” him on Facebook.  Yes, I made my duck a Facebook.  No, I am not ashamed. 
Boston gardens with my friend Ellen
Plaza Colon, Madrid, Spain
Philly LOVE sign
The other duck accompanying me on my travels throughout Europe represents my friend Michael.  Have you ever played the game “Wanna Buy a Duck?”  If not, I would highly recommend researching it online because it is one of my absolute favorite games.  In the fall of 2010, I went to Philadelphia, PA for Merrimack College’s Alternative Fall Break program.  At some point over the course of the eight hour van ride, I introduced said game to my peers accompanying me on the service trip.  Needless to say, it was instantly loved by all!  After the weekend came to a close, one of my friends from the trip bought me three rubber ducks.  James, who I have previously introduced as one of my best friends from home, decided that the three ducks should represent me, him and our other good friend Mike.  Subsequently, he branded them as so, and the names have stuck ever since.  Mike could not study abroad with James and I this semester, since he is studying politics in Washington, DC, hence I take pictures of his duck with us throughout Spain just to humor him.  I know what you are thinking; “Best Friend EVER Award” goes to this girl right here! 

Saturday, March 10, 2012


James, my roomate, Kaila and I in Plaza Mayor in Segovia. 
Upon meeting me, there are two things you will pick up on rather quickly.  Numero uno, I drink excessive amounts of water.  I never leave home without a Poland Springs bottled water, and I go through about eight of those 16.9 oz bottles a day.  And numero dos, I am always cold, ALWAYS.  Even in the summer time I sleep with my down comforter on and my air-conditioning off.  The fact that I was born and raised in New England is rather unfortunate with the “package deal” of Nor'easters, potholes, exorbitant heating bills, chapped lips, wind-chill, drivers (too slow), drivers (too fast), getting out of bed in a cold house, digging your car out of a snow bank and shoveling (yes, the Brooks family does indeed shovel, family “bonding”).  After living in New England for twenty-one years, I have perfected the art of dressing like a marshmallow and I do so with class.  However, despite my expertise nothing could have prepared me for Segovia. 
Roman aqueducts

I have never been so cold in my life.  The day trip even beat the time I went sightseeing last January in Washington, DC wearing my “holey” jeans for Alternative Winter Break.  We ended up paying $20 to sleep through a movie at an Omni IMAX Theater just to get out of the cold.  However, Segovia topped all since there was no escaping the wind-chill.  We actually almost missed the bus, since we went too far on the Metro that morning (Needless to say my roommate is no longer trusted with directions.).  

Ducks in front of aqueducts
Looking back on it, however, I wish we took it as a sign. 

We left Madrid at 11:00 a.m., and did not return until 7:00 a.m. the next morning.  For some reason the program we went with thought it would be a “good idea” to conclude the day with a trip to the most prevalent nightclub in Segovia.  I believe I ended up passed out on a sofa for five hours next to my friends (Check falling asleep at a nightclub off the bucket list.). 

James "conquering" land.
The trip was extremely disorganized; I am surprised they only left five people behind.  We did however get to see the Roman aqueducts, El Alcazar and the cathedral.  I even got a picture of my ducks in front of the Roman aqueducts!  I promise to explain the story behind my ducks later, since I believe it is worthy enough of its own blog post.  For most of the day though James, Kaila, my roommate and I ventured off from the group to this random spot of land where the sun hit perfectly and warmed our bones.  It was like giving a 5-year-old a brand new train set for Christmas and he/she prefers playing with the box.  Much like El Rey Leon, we “conquered” this land and made it our own playground.  We spent the day laughing and playing like children, being the mature college kids that we are.  Needless to say, moral of the story, travel in warmer weather.  

Cathedral in Segovia

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Wherefore art thou red umbrella?

la Univerdisad Pontificia Comillas

Here in Madrid I am studying at la Universidad Pontificia Comillas.  Comillas has two schools:  “la Facultad de Ley” and “la Facultad de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales”.  I am enrolled in the latter since I am studying International Relations in order to further improve my Spanish.  I am considering making Spanish a second major, hence it is essential I gain more confidence while speaking the language.  The main university is currently under construction; hence “la Facultad de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales” has been moved to a different campus, Cantoblano Universidad, another college in Madrid.  The commute to the Cantoblanco campus is about an hour since we have to take two commuter rail trains to get there.  I actually enjoy the commute since it reminds me of commuting into Boston, MA where I work full-time during the summer as a legal secretary at a law firm.  The countryside of Madrid is beautiful, it's quite similar to Palm Springs, CA, dry desert lands meet snow capped mountains, the ultimate oxymoron.  

Comillas logo
I cannot tell you much about the history of Comillas since I missed orientation (For those of you who know me very well, naturally, you will understand my stress-o-meter went off the charts).  During the commute from the main campus of la Universidad Pontificia Comillas to the Cantoblanco campus, our orientation leader, Patricia, lost me and another girl from Merrimack, Kaila, on the metro.  Needless to say Patricia’s idea of holding a red umbrella up, so we could spot her from afar, was a none other than a complete fail.  We were left stranded on the metro, which felt similar to being lost in a corn maze, the same philosophy applied, “your guess is as good as mine”.  I felt a strong yearning for my Garmin, packed neatly away in my glove compartment back home in the United States, miles away.  Kaila and I vaguely remembered Patricia mentioning something about going to Sol, a metro stop, and catching a train to Cantoblanco.  Therefore, since our options were limited, we put our best foot forward to try and rejoin our orientation group.  No map.  No cell phone.  No clue.  No problem. 

Classroom at Comillas, notice the pretty blue tile. 

Kaila and I reading children's books in the library.

We never did locate Patricia.  Kaila and I ended up going the wrong way on the commuter rail, which is quite similar to the Boston commuter rail except it is much cleaner; however the same amount of sympathy should be still applied.  Then, after we were an hour out of our way now traveling the correct way, Kaila and I got off at the wrong stop, thinking the actual Cantoblano campus was our campus, but no. No, no, no, no.  As a result, naturally, we are no longer novices of “the ways” of the Madrid metro.   

Spanish keyboard