Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Salamanca Story

The first of what we hope will be many travel posts by special friend of Out of Print, Sumitra Krishnan:

Salamanca Story
Sumitra Krishnan

The Airport and the Arrival
I am all packed and ready to go. I am at Logan Airport with the rest of the group. The group includes 20 of us, plus three chaperones: Mr. Alex Gomez, the leader, his wife Mrs. Geraldine Baez-Gomez, and Ms. Alejandra Baralt. I am holding one suitcase and one carry-on with some things in it. As we go through the check-ins and everything else, I am thinking about what it is going to be like living with someone who speaks absolutely no English. Only after the plane takes off, do I relax, due to the fact that I do not like it when the plane takes off, neither do I like it when it touches down. We are not taking a direct flight to Madrid, and we stop over in New York.

On the flight from New York to Madrid, I am excited to be able to go, as well as learn more about the culture of Spain. The flight to Spain is exceedingly long. I am so glad when we get off the plane, since my legs were aching from sitting down so much. We collect our baggage and head out for the exit. There is a bus waiting for all of us. We get on and we take a two hour ride to the town of Salamanca. On the way, we make a small stop to buy things that we need. After that, we continue on. I fall asleep and I don’t realise how long I have been sleeping until Geraldine wakes me up. When I sit up, I realise that everyone else is off the bus. When I get out, I see that the director, Miguel is talking to everyone about what is going on. I join them. After a brief discussion, Miguel introduces the families. As each group is introduced to their families, they greet them the way it is done in Europe, two kisses, one on each cheek. On the list of families, it says I am living with Señora Toñi Hernándes along with Soo Mee Yoon and Carolyn Stein. However, another woman comes to greet us. She is Toñi’s sister, Trinidad. The Hernández family has gone on vacation and won’t be back until August. She explains this when we get to her house. After lunch, we all go to the school to take a placement test. I am in the intermediate level in grammar and conversation.

That night, I have dinner with them and I eat a ‘tortilla’ which, in this case, is an omlette. I sleep fairly well that night. The next morning, as I am checking my email, Mr. Gomez approaches me and says that I am going to be moving to a different house, since it is closer to the school than the house that I am living in at the time. I am going to be meeting the mother in between my grammar class and conversation class. When the whole group arrives at the school, we all leave for an excursion for the Cathedral of Salamanca (called La Catedral). The cathedral was extremely big, and breathtaking too! We come back for lunch. After lunch, back at Trinidad’s house, I begin to pack my suitcase. At 3:00pm, I go to the school for class.  My grammar teacher’s name is Magdalena Robles. I like my grammar class, but it is harder to understand a definition of a Spanish word in Spanish than understand the definition of a Spanish word in English. As the break approaches, I am thinking about this new family that I am going to be living with for the 20 other days that I am going to be here. Will I like this family? What is the mother like? I am only thinking these questions, but the questions that I ask are the normal ones. ‘What is her name?’ I ask Mr. Gomez. He replies ‘Rosa’. I am eager to meet this family. Mr. Gomez also mentions that he will be living with me as well.  We walk down the street to the house. I ask him if Rosa is at home. He says doesn’t think so since he thinks she is still at work. We go up to the fifth floor on an elevator, which is where she lives. As we approach the door, I wonder what Rosa will be like.

The New Family
I walk into the apartment and I am very interested in this apartment at first glance. It turns out that Rosa is at home. She comes over from one of the rooms along with her daughter Ana (Rosa also has a son but I will mention him later. He is not here when I arrive.). Mr. Gomez introduces me to her, he tells Rosa that my name is Sumitra. I greet her with two kisses as I should. I like her the instant I meet her. I also greet her daughter Ana, who is thirteen years old. Sadly, I realise that I can’t stay much longer because I have to go to my conversation class. I actually arrive during the break. I missed the first part of my conversation class, but I am there for the second part. My conversation teacher’s name is Marta Rodriguez Peréz. I apologise to her for being late and I explain where I was. She tells me not to worry about it. I am in class for one more hour, from 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm. I like my classes a lot, it is quite different from Spanish class in the high school. There, the teacher is lenient on how much Spanish is spoken. In these classes, you have to speak Spanish, or else they will tell you, in Spanish ‘Speak Spanish!’.

After class, Mr. Gomez takes me back to Rosa’s house and I tell him that I would rather not go to the welcome party, but I will wear the lime green shirt that everyone else wears to the party. I learn that Rosa is a professor, but the problem is, I have basically just arrived and I am not speaking fluent Spanish as yet, I speak English to her, but she cannot speak, nor understand English, so she has to ask her daughter, Ana for help. Ana is the only person who can speak English in Rosa’s house, apart from Mr. Gomez. There is also another girl there. Her name is Anna Pavlova. She comes two weeks before I do. She is from Russia and she has been to Spain before. Mr. Gomez and Anna are not there for dinner, so Ana and I are the only ones who eat dinner. For dinner, Rosa makes spaghetti. That night, I go to bed at 12:15, not the latest of my bed times during this vacation.

La Piscina de La Francia and La Alberca
We all get up as usual and go and check our emails. I receive an email from my friend Molly Siegel wishing me Happy 4th of July. For some odd reason, I guess it’s because I am in a different country, not the United States, I forget that it is that day today. I email her back, saying thank you for wishing me Happy 4th of July and I wish her the same.

After that, we leave at 10:00am for a place called La Piscina de la Francia. The bus ride there is very long! It is an extremely big place, and some of the views that we have from where we are standing are unbelievable! There is a lot to see there. After that, we all go to a small town called La Alberca. We have free time there. I like the town. There, I try turón for the first time. It is delicious. Apart from that, I buy three magnets for my parents as souvenirs, as well as a bracelet made of shells for myself. We come back to Salamanca around 2:00pm. 

At 2:30, I have lunch and at 4:00pm, my classes begin. We have our usual group meeting after classes. Mr. Gomez also tells us that we have to send an email about how we liked our first week in Spain. Some of the students go to the Plaza Mayor before returning for dinner.

The First Conference and the First Movie
The next day, July 5, I get up and I go to the school and check my email as usual. Also, Mr. Gomez asks me to send an email to the group, telling them how to send their thoughts of Salamanca to everyone. That same morning, I write my first response to the group of how I like Salamanca so far (July 2 through July 4). At 10:30am I watch a movie along with other students. The name of the movie is ‘Malena Es Un Nombre De Tango’, (translation in English: ‘Malena Is The Name Of A Tango’). It was not the most amazing of movies. 

After the movie, there is a conference. The topic is Pablo Picasso. We learn about when he was born and about his life. I know some of what she is talking about, so a small percentage of it was a refresher, but not all of it. I think that the conference has an extremely interesting topic. 

During our daily group meeting, Mr. Gomez also mentions to us that there is another party this evening. I do not want to go to the party, so I go home and have dinner after classes. After dinner, I go to bed by 11:45pm.

The first weekend arrives, and on Saturday, we have the whole day to ourselves. I read my summer reading book for a little bit. Also, Rosa, Ana, her friend, Anna Pavlova and I all go to the pool. Ana and her friend go swimming, but Anna Pavlova and I don’t. We do get to talk and after that, I really like her. I think she is a kind girl. I feel like a strong bond of friendship has formed on that trip to the pool. Weekends are the days that Rosa does house cleaning and the laundry. She takes my clothes and washes them and cleans the kitchen. Also, the same friend of Ana’s that went to the pool with us comes for a sleepover. On Saturday there is not much to do, but as I look at my calendar, I see something that makes me feel that tomorrow may be one of the best days of this trip!

Fiesta Campera
At 10:00am the next morning, July 8th, we leave for a place called Fiesta Campera. I get a chance to go swimming, horseback riding, see a small bull, and big ones and eat a dish called paella for the first time. I ride a big (and when I say big, I mean big) horse. The horse’s name is Presumida. I am a little nervous about riding this horse, even though she is one of the smaller ones of the horses there. They put a ten-year-old girl behind me. The girl’s name is Sonia. After we begin to move, I enjoy it. However, I am not used to riding a horse without stirrups. My legs ache when I walk after the ride. I enjoyed the ride, though. When I get off the horse, I wish that I had ridden on my own. I hope to do it again next time when I come to Salamanca. 

After the horse riding, everyone has lunch. I experience a three course meal for the first time in my life. The first course is a salad course, then comes the paella. Paella is a dish that has yellow rice, vegetables and seafood, although I took the seafood out of my dish. Third is a square of vanilla ice cream, which I eat faster than the paella. I also get to try sangrita, which is a drink of wine mixed with coke. I do not like it too much. After that, our group goes to a small ring where there is a small cow, and some of the students go in and play with it. It is basically a much smaller version of bullfighting, and no one gets hurt by the cow. After that, Mr. Gomez does a few interviews of some of the students on how they are liking Salamanca so far. I am one of them. I say that I am enjoying Salamanca very much and my host family is very nice and I am having a lot of fun.

When I get home, Ana and Rosa are not there. Rosa is at the airport with Ana. Ana has left for England and will not be back until I go back to Boston. In the second chapter, I mentioned that Rosa has a son, and I will mention him later. This is the later. Her son’s name is Javier and he is ten years old. Rosa comes back from the airport, and we all go to bed.

A Few Minutes of Host Family Bonding
At 10:30, there was another movie, I don’t think I see it. However, I go for the second conference, which is about the regions of Spain. It is another very interesting conference. The day is normal, there is nothing different, except for one thing. There is a game of billiards and futbolín, but by the time we have our daily group meeting, there are too many people going already, so that the event for the night is cancelled. Instead of the game, we all have free time until bed time. I go back home and have dinner. This is the second day that Ana is not in the house since she has left for England. 

I get a chance to talk to Rosa, I just do some small talk and explain how my school system works. I really like talking to her. As I talk to her, I feel a calming sensation throughout my body, as well as a soothing sensation in my heart for some reason. After a while, I get ready for bed and fall asleep. I am glad I get a chance to talk to Rosa because I have not been able to do that since she and I are both not here for most of the day. For some reason, I like that talk and I feel like I always want to talk to her whenever I can, but that is not entirely possible. I am now thinking to myself about how happy I am to have moved to this new family! I think she is a wonderful person, almost like a second mother!

A Delightful Kind of Dinner
In the morning, on the 10th, I woke up as I usually do, and I am eager to see the movie showing today (this is the second movie showing during the trip). The movie is called ‘Todo Para La Pasta’ (translation in English: ‘All For the Money’). I start to watch it, but after the first few minutes I feel that the movie will become violent, so I leave the movie viewing area. 

I go to the third conference given. This one is about some of the festivals in Spain. The one the speaker talks about the most is one where people let the bulls run through the streets. Some even try to touch the bulls, or run in front of them, which could cause serious injury. After all of our classes, I have to tell Rosa that she does not need to make dinner for me, since the whole group is going out for Tapas. This is the first of two times that we will be going for Tapas during the trip.

Tapas is one of the most interesting and fun things I have experienced on this trip. We go to different restaurants and a person is waiting outside. They ask you what you want to drink and if you want vegetarian or non vegetarian. I ask for vegetarian at every restaurant and water to drink. I really enjoyed doing this. I also learned an interesting fact about Tapas that will never happen in the United States. The more napkins that are on the floor, the people at the restaurant will think you have enjoyed yourself more. The restaurants that we go to are: El Patio Chico, El Zaguan, El Cafe Real, and Don Mauron. I come back pretty late and go to bed.

Segovia: The Aqueduct and the Castle/The Third Movie
We get up early again, because we have to go to Segovia. It is a long trip. The two amazing things that I see are an aqueduct and a huge castle. The aqueduct is made of stone and it is held by gravity. The other building is a gigantic castle. We are able to go inside and we see stain-glass windows and we see pictures. There is even a picture of Queen Elizabeth. There is also a chance to go up to a very high tower. I stay and wait at the bottom because there are a lot of stairs and they are extremely narrow, and it is dark there too. We come back to Salamanca around 2:00pm. We go home, have lunch, go to classes, and then go to bed as usual.

The next day, I go to see another movie, called Match Point. Unfortunatley, there are no subtitles, so I just watch the movie. Jonathan Rhys Myers is in it, and I recognise him right away. It is an interesting movie. I cannot understand what the movie is about, since I have never seen it before. I go to classes as usual and go to bed around 11:45pm that night.

The Upcoming Movie/ The Warm Trip To The Beach In Portugal/ The Harry Potter Movie in Spanish
Today, we get another free morning, so I just relax and I basically stay home all day. After classes, we have our usual nightly meeting. During it, Geraldine tells us about the trip that we are going to take tomorrow to Portugal. We have to get up at a very early time. She also mentions that the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix movie is going to be playing on Sunday, and we can go and see it at either 5:30pm or 8:30pm. That same night, I ask Anna Pavlova if she wants to go and see it with me. She says that she can, and we plan to see it at 5:30. Anna Pavlova is also going to Portugal with us, but not on the same bus. We both ask Rosa to make sandwiches for us. Rosa makes me a sandwich without meat in it, and she makes a sandwich with meat in it for Anna. I am pretty excited to go to the beach in Portugal, even though I am not going to go in the water. I took an early shower, had dinner and went to bed around 11:00pm.

The next morning, I wake up at 6:00am, and I get ready to go to the bus that will take us to Portugal. We are in Portugal but, before we go to the beach, we stop in a town called Avenio. We are there from 9:00am to 12:30pm to buy food, for a break, and also probably to buy water, since it will be extremely hot there. I have so much fun at the beach! I even play a little volleyball with some of my friends, even though I am not as good as they are. Mr. Gomez also plays, and I am amazed at how good he is! We are there until 5:30pm. When I get home, Rosa is getting ready to go dancing with her boyfriend. She is wearing a black dress. I tell her that she looks like a queen, since I do think she looks beautiful in that dress. For dinner, I have a pizza with ham and olives and I go to bed.

On Sunday, the next day, I was excited to go and see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth Harry Potter movie, with Anna. One reason is, this is the first time I am seeing the movie in theatres (I will see it a second time in the U.S). The second reason is, I have read the fifth book already, and even if there are no English subtitles (which is true), I will be able to understand the story and what is going on, since I have read the book. I go to the movie and I really enjoy the movie, not only because I have been dying to see this movie, but I am seeing it with a friendly, kind person!

Dancing the Night Away/ The Fourth Conference and the Fourth Movie
Today, June 15th, is also one of the most fun days of the trip (besides Fiesta Campera). It starts out as a normal day, but it turns into the best night of my life. There is one word that describes that night... dancing! I absolutley loved the dance class! In fact, that is one of the things that I had mentioned at home in the United States that I cannot wait to do when I get to Spain! I learned three dances that night. I learned the salsa (1-2-3), the merengue (1-2, 1-2, 1-2), and the cha-cha-cha (1-2-3). My favorite is the merengue! I even get to dance the merengue wit h Geraldine and Mr. Gomez! After the dance class, Mr. Gomez takes me for a quick Tapas at the Plaza Mayor, where I also learn a song from his country, Ecuador, (Ecuador shares with Colombia). After that, we go home. Even now, I cannot forget that night! It was one of the most unforgettable nights of my life.

The next day, I get up at the usual time. At 10:30am, the movie, The Incredibles was playing. I go and watch that and I enjoy it, since I have seen it before. After that, the fourth conference was held. I go to it as usual. This one is about Galicia. It is quite interesting. There is going to be a Flamenco Performance, but it is not today, it is tomorrow, so we had free time for the rest of the night until bedtime.

The Trip to Zamora, The Delightful Kind of Dinner A Second Time/ The Last Confrence, A Typical Bodega Restaurant
Today, we all went on a trip to a town called Zamora. This town was much smaller than Salamanca.  We come back and have lunch and go to classes as usual. However, it turns out, that there is no Flamenco tonight either, so we do not go to the Flamenco performance at all.  After my classes, we all go out for Tapas again. It is as good as ever! This is the last time we will be going out for Tapas on this trip. The food is just as good as it was the first time I went out for Tapas on this trip. This time, we only went to three restaurants: Bar Los Trillos, Cafe Belazques, and Bar La Goleta.

There is another conference the following day, this time about El Greco (Greece). This is the fifth conference and the last conference I will be seeing on this trip. I enjoyed it a lot! I can call tonight, (besides the dance class), a special night. We go to a typical Bodega restaurant. I think that it looks like a little underground cave. I like it and the food is delicious. I get to try a little wine, but I do not like it. Tonight is the night that I go to bed the latest. By the time I get back to Rosa’s house, change and go to bed, it is 1:00 in the morning!

¡Te Echo De Menos! (I Miss You!)
Today, Friday July 20th is the last day for everything before we leave for the United States tomorrow morning. Today is the last day to buy what you want in the Plaza Mayor. Today is the last day for classes. During conversation class, everyone gets certificates saying that they completed the three week course of grammar and conversation. I like the certificate. I get the email adresses of both my grammar teacher, and my conversation teacher, as well as a few others. That night, I also get Rosa’s email. I am thinking about how hard it will be when I have to say my final goodbye to her tomorrow morning. I promise to email her. I still do to this day. It is also hard to say goodbye to Anna Pavlova. I get her email as well. I start crying, realising that this is the last day that we will be together. Also, I cry because I realise how close all of us have gotten during these three weeks. I have become very attached to Rosa, and Anna Pavlova, as well as everyone on this trip. I will miss them so much! That night, before I go to bed, Rosa gives me a present, a red and white bracelet. I thank her for it. It is very beautiful. It is still on my wrist to this day and it reminds me of this trip, everyone that went on this trip, all the events that happened. It reminds me of the friends I have made, Rosa’s family, and Rosa’s kind, warm heart!

Sumitra Krishnan says ‘I wrote this story because I had kept a journal during my three week stay in Spain in the year 2007. Then I thought, hmmm, what if I turned the journal into an actual story with each day being one chapter? It turned out to be a very cool idea. I enjoy traveling. Besides Spain, I have been to India, France, Italy, and Portugal. 

Sumitra, who has many diverse hobbies, is majoring in Spanish at Merrimack College.