It’s real now.

My dad sent me an email last Tuesday with the words “Here is your ticket info” in the subject line. I made the decision to come home about two months ago, but having an actual return date means it’s actually happening. I’ll be leaving behind a life here for three months. When I come back, things will be different. Sure, I’ll have my job and a bit more money, but plenty of people are going home. I had to say goodbye to Sam and Luke in Huelva on Friday, and the girls I love dearly won’t be returning. Kate will be gone. Angela and Pablo, two of my favorite coworkers, have received assignments to work elsewhere in Andalucía.

Change is good. After all, I came to Spain not knowing anyone or speaking Andalú or really understanding just how long nine months is. But I immediately liked being here, despite the shit and the bureaucracy and the job and everything. In the US, I’ll return to working all day and stressing out about money. I’ll have to be conscious of what I spend and have to be without Kike for three months. I’ll have to tip at a bar, use my car (therefore spending tonnnnns of money on gas) to go everywhere and eat processed food. All the things I love most about Spain are things that I won’t have in the US, namely cheap beer and plane tickets, sunshine and Kike.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m so excited to see my family and my friends and my dog and watch TV in English and read the Trib and eat Chicago Style hot dogs and go camping and enjoy summer in Chicago, but I expect to have really bad days where I miss Spain and the life I have here. I kinda suffered the same thing during college, but Iowa City was a three-hour car ride. Sevilla is an eight-hour plane ride plus layover in Madrid and then getting down here. I can’t just go back when I want. It’s almost like I’m the kids with divorced parents who lives in two different places and never really feels at home in either one. Quite the paradoja.

Either way, I’ll be back in the US about 2pm CST on Wednesday, June 11th, just in time for Bethy’s birthday. I’ll have my little puppy, but not my Big Puppy. So, please, do everything you can to distract me from the fact that I’m not in Spain. Gracias.

¡Vámanos a la Feria Cariño Mío!

My friend Kelly and I in a caseta, “Las Gitanas de Chicago”
Two women dancing Sevillanas on the streets outside of the casetas

Finally, the most anticipated festival in southern Spain has come and nearly passed. Since Monday at midnight, I have been eating, drinking and dancing (in the rain) at the Feria de Abril, or the April Fair. Imagine a fairgrounds large enough for a state fair, full of colorful tents, with the smell of fried fish wafting from each one. Inside, women in flamenco dresses and men in suits are dancing a lighter version of flamenco, toasting to each others health with a glass of fino sherry. Outside, horse-drawn buggies parade through the streets (all named for bullfighters, of course) and men dressed in a Jerez-style riding suit trot along as a women dressed as a gypsy swings her feet over the horse and rides side saddle. It’s sensory overload, especially after a few glasses of rebujito.Feria started a few months ago when I bought my flamenco dress. Many dresses I’ve seen cost upwards of 300E (more or less $450 USD), plus shoes, plus alterations, plus accessories like gigantic earrings, shawls, bracelets, a flower for your hair and hair combs that could often poke someone’s eye out. My dress and complementos, all together, was about 170E. I picked something simple I could wear next year, too, as the styles change from year to year. I kept getting more and more excited seeing the tents go up on the recinto, seeing trajes hang in every laundromat and watching more and more publicity on TV.
Traditionally, Feria starts on the Monday two weeks after the completion of Semana Santa. The whole of Spain seems to come to Sevilla to celebrate – most of the roads are blocked, prices for just about everything are adjusted, and there is nowhere to park.
Feria begins every year with the pescaito. Pescaito is fried fish, and it’s eaten in a land locked city like Sevilla more than anything else! The socios and deunos of the casetas all eat fried fish to kick off the festival. Dájame explicar: Casetas are like makeshift houses of all sizes that are owned by a family or group of friends, a business, a political party, or whoever wants to pay a lot of money each year (in one, each family paid about 750E a year for the caseta). There are presidents and socios, or pretty much people who pay. They construct the caseta, decorate it with pictures of bullfights or fans or Sevilla, contract a restaurant. There’s usually two rooms in a normal caseta owned by a family that occupies just one restaurant – one with the bar and bathrooms, and another with the tables for eating and room to dance.
I gave a lesson and met Kike and some of our friends Monday night for a beer or two before we went to the Feria. At midnight on Monday, the portada, or the main gate, of the fairgrounds lights up. We got there right as it was happening. It’s STUNNING at night, take a look below:

Kike’s friends Susana and Alfonso have had a caseta for years, so we started out there. I immediately forgot about being tired and having to work the next day, or that I was wearing ratty pants and ratty sneakers (most people dress up for Feria). Kelly and I knocked back a few jars of rebujito, which is a half-bottle of sherry and two cans of sprite, and I met alllllll the socios of the caseta. Waking up for work was super hard the next day, and it was an indication how the rest of the week would be!

Women on horseback, a common site in the Feria

The weather was awful – rainy and cool – so most people hid in their casetas. It wasn’t until Thursday, when the rain subsided a bit and people were starting to come in from the pueblos, that the fairgrounds came to life. Horses with elegantly dressed riders paraded on the streets, along with carriages carrying women and kids dressed in flamenco dresses. People started to dance Sevillanas on the street and young kids just got big bottles of alcohol and drank outside the caseta. Lucky for me, I have Spanish friends who invited me to their casetas, and other friends of mine had their own invites. One of the socios we met introduced us to his nephew, and he took us out all night to all kinds of casetas. When Kike was working, his two little brothers took us out. I learned to dance the Sevillanas, I spoke a lot of Spanish, and tourists were taking pictures of me as if I were actually Spanish. Super fun. I can’t wait for next year!

Top: Kike and me somewhere…this is probably about 4 am
Bottom: Kelly and I did a photo shoot at Plaza de Espana. People were taking pictures of us!

Return to the Homeland

Above: the Ayuntamiento of Valladolid, where I studied for five weeks in 2005
Below: My Spanish family: La abuela, Lucia, Aurora, Jose Luis, Carmen and Monica

My love affair with Spain started nearly three years ago when I studied in a town called Valladolid in the northern half of Spain. Located just two hours northwest of Madrid, this town was once the intellectual, political and de facto capital of Spain. It wasn’t until the early 17th century that Madrid (then a realllllly small village of like 5.000) became the capital. For five weeks, I studied modern Spanish lit and cultural at the Universidad de Valladolid and lived with a family in the neighborhood of Rondilla. I really had it all – the opportunity to live in Spain and speak a lot of Spanish, live like a Spaniard and meet Spaniards. Part of this was due to my luck in living with a family that took really good care of me and helped me learn a lot. Aurora and Aurora (mother and eldest daughter) and I have kept in contact over the last three years, and they invited me to visit them and stay with them in Valladolid. And after being here nearly seven months, I finally had a chance to go! Though Spain is about the size of Texas, the road system isnt as advanced, so going from south to north took about five hours, not including pit stops.

We left Sevilla, a toasty 28 grados, and drove straight north on the Ruta de la Plata. When riches from the New World came to Spain, they passed through Sevilla’s port, past Roman Mérida, Cáceres and up toward Madrid. I have wanted to see Extremadura for some time because I have a friend from Mérida, and I was in awe of how rustic it is. Cows and sheep wander in and out of ruined stone houses, towns of forty houses cluster around a central church spire, the valleys are covered in trees, green grass and yellow and purple flowers. And, once we hit Salamanca, it got flat like the Castilla-León I know. We passed all kinds of castles, and my excitement just kept growing once we got back into Vdoid.

Since I was there last, young Aurora had a baby girl, who I was really anxious to meet. Although we had problems with the directions, I remembered the city really well. When we arrived at the apartment, the abuela greeted us. She’s a little bit senile, so she thought I had traveled from the States with my American boyfriend. She was like, “He speaks Spanish really well!” And I said, “Well, he’s Spanish and has lived here for 28 years.” And then, like the good mama she was, she asked if I needed any clothes washed! Aurora arrived home with her baby Lucia, who is 20 months old. She looked like a mini Carolina with soft brown hair and big eyes and a big barriga (belly). She is one of the sweetest and smartest kids I’ve met. She and Kike immediately fell in love with each other, and it was really sweet watching him play with her and teach her things. She’s even learning English in school! Aurora the younger one has hosted a lot of students in the past few years, but I’m the only one who has made it back to Vdoid. She also said she remembered me speaking in Spanish better than anyone, but had noted an improvement. Truth be told, I was so nervous to be there, unable to speak. I have good days and bad days. Lately, they’ve been bad days. And I know plenty of Spaniards. I get nervous with my boyfriend and roommate! But anyway, we all sat around drinking wine and talking (Lucia even knows the famous, ARRIBA! ABAJO! cheer and joined us with her bottle). I showed Kike around some of the sights at night that were lit up and we went to SU for 2lit beers (for 3,00 euros) and Sotobanco for some copas. Sadly, Enrico was not there and I had to pay for my drinks. Good times.

The next morning, we took a walk around the city. Even though Kike lived in Salamanca, which is just over an hour away, he had never been in the city. We saw the Antigua, the theatres and Plaza Mayor, the cathedral, the university, etc. Really, there isn’t much to see, but it’s a gorgeous town. It’s very stately and very well-preserved. But after living in Andalucia for 7 months, I realize just how Catholic and reserved it is. People in Sevilla really do live in the streets because of the heat, and though they’re Catholic, it’s not as out in the open. There’s so much variedad in this country, and Sevilla is worlds away from Valladolid. I almost felt like I was bringing Kike home to meet my family there, and show him around my city. But we spent much more time back at Aurora’s on her terraza drinking Baileys and playing with the kids. Monica has grown into a little brat who dictates EVERYTHING, but I suppose that’s four-year olds. After spending the whole day snacking and talking and drinking, Kike and I headed out to a bunch of bars in the area.

Although the weekend was really relaxed, I was happy. Really, really happy. I’ve come a long way in the last seven months, and now I really feel comfortable here. I feel like I have every last thing I need here. And I’ve only got two months left here.

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