Sunday, July 21, 2013

Greetings from Ciudad Real!
As hard as it is believe, we are already entering into our last days, here in Spain.  Consequently, the pace of our day to day life has begun to hasten.  This week, we have put special care and attention into the preparations for our farewell performance.  We want to try our best to create a final product that will demonstrate but a fraction of our gratitude for our host families, which have gone above and beyond to welcome their "sons" and "daughters" into their homes, as if real members of the family.

Here, Patrick, Mary Kate and Tommy rehearse Estudio en blanco y negro, a mid century Cuban piece that demonstrates the arbitrariness of our differences in a lighthearted yet thought provoking way.
Natalie has on various occasions demonstrated her great artistic talent.  Here is one such moment, as she prepares a backdrop of an equestrian statue, to which the play alludes.

Caroline, another of our talented artists, sets to work at cutting down our crude materials to refine them into a masterpiece.

The choir and dance class continues to perfect their choreography and the memorization of their song lyrics.  Tommy DeNardo and Mary Kate will, in addition to acting, serve also as the masters of ceremony.
On Tuesday, we celebrated with Hope on her birthday.  Here she is with card and, to depart from the monotony of so many ice cream sandwiches, a Spanish candy bar: Huesitos.

On Wednesday, we amped up our ordinary trip to the movie theater by following up with tapas and a trip to the game room.  Here, Caroline Natalie and Lindsey await their tapas, or montaditos: delicious little sandwiches in 100 different flavors, for the low, low rate of one euro each.  Happy Wednesday!

Erica looks on as Zin demonstrates the savory joy of the montadito.


Tommy carries tapas out to his hungrily waiting table.  As everyone in town wanted to take advantage of the special, we all had a bit of a wait.  I think we would agree that it was well worth it.

Tommy and Joe are all class as they keep up their nutritious diets with fresh salads.

Later in the game room, Anna and Lindsey play a modified bowling game.

As another arcade game demonstrated, Joe has the strongest punch of all of us.  Unfortunately, it was not strong enough for a free Coke.  Maybe next time!


Part of this week's hustle and bustle has been finishing course work with final exams and projects.  Here, Allyson and a few of the ladies study after lunch.

Not to worry; despite the academic rigor, there is always time for play.

This week, the long awaited t-shirts designed by Hope have finally arrived.  Here Hope shows off a final version.  Students could choose from yellow, blue, green, gray, white or pink.

Our last activity of the week was an exciting and controversial trip to a corrida de toros, or bullfight.  As it was an optional excursion, some students elected not to go, however, the vast majority made a showing.  Here we are in front of the plaza in Manzanares, a neighboring town.

The bullfight elicits strong and disparate feelings among the Spanish people.  Many see it as an essential element of Spanish culture and identity that represents centuries of tradition, while others concern themselves more with the polemically institutionalized sacrifice of animals.  Some celebrate the torero, and appreciate the aesthetic beauty, training and skill required for the bullfight, while still others believe the prolonged death of an animal to be distasteful fodder for entertainment. 
It was a local news channel's lucky day to run into a group of articulate young Americans.
Here Patrick, Tommy, Ana and Hope answer the question: "What has brought you to the corrida de toros?"

To enter the plaza, spectators can pass through doors marked either sol (sun), sol y sombra (sun and shade), or sombra (shade), depending on the exposure of their seat.  Our lucky students got all sol.  Fortunately, the bullfight was later in the day, and as the sunset the temperatures became more bearable.  Here Savannah and Mikaela pose in front of the ring.


Students gather on the Colosseum-like steps.
A band plays marches particular to the event.  Tonight, there are three toreros, each will fight and kill two bulls.

In general, students were glad to have exposure to this facet of a more conservative, Spanish culture. In many, it provoked philosophical speculation as to the importance of tradition and the treatment of animals.


In the days to come, we will be visiting the mayor's office, putting on our farewell show, and getting the most out of every minute!
See you later this week...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Week 5

Dear parents and families,

This week in Ciudad Real, students and professors alike are reevaluating old goals, monitoring personal progress, and grappling with the inevitable passage of time.  At this point in the program, many students are rejoicing for their already perceptible linguistic progress, the meaningful relationships they've formed with their Spanish families, and the too often overlooked accomplishment of simply having left home to try new things, see new places, and meet new people.  Of course, now is a time to admit that some goals may have been too lofty and may require more time: language learning is a slow but rewarding process.  Despite absorbing new customs at a rapid rate, one must always be open to learning still more, and not to be surprised when misunderstandings still arise - ah to be human.

This week students have tapped further into their creativity as they have turned in submissions for this year's memory book.  The memory book will be given as a gift to host families on the day of our farewell party, and students will receive a copy as well once in the U.S.  In addition to expressing gratitude in notes to families, students turned in recipes, poems, artwork, reflections, and group jokes.  This week we also dedicated extra time to our Theatre and Choir and Dance classes.  In Theatre, the groups performing published works have blocked out all their scenes, practiced on stage, and nearly completed the memorization of their lines.  Those writing original scripts have arrived at a final draft with which they are all satisfied (if it is that artists are ever satisfied with their work) and have begun its mise en scène.  In choir, the groups are ever closer to memorizing the fast-paced Spanish lyrics, and in dance, choreography has nearly been finalized.

On Tuesday, we once more climbed into a charter bus, this time to a neighboring pueblo, Almagro.  Each year, this historic city hosts a theatre festival, and per program tradition, different host families are invited to join us.  Almagro boasts the only fully intact Corral de Comedias, a particular theatre venue from the seventeenth century.

Here we are all excited (students perhaps more so than parents) and ready to roll.  Jesús, our accommodating bus driver, was happy to turn on the colored lights and blast the jams we brought, the same ones that the choir will be singing in our spectacular.

Once in Almagro, these gentle fellows adopted the appropriately serious tone that such a cultural outing requires.

We walked down the old winding streets towards the center of town. 

Here we are in Almagro´s famous town square, or Plaza Mayor.  We had a little spare time before the show began to explore and dine.

You might say that something was in the air; a special twilight enchantment, perhaps...


Just the men...
...and just the you can see, our numbers are far from equal.

Anna and Claire take in the atmosphere while Caroline enjoys a bocadillo packed by her host family.

Alexis and Allyson cool down with lemonade and ice cream.  Well played, ladies.

As it turns out, there was more in the air than merely the charm of an ancient town at dusk, but rather some no-nonsense rain clouds.  Though we were scheduled to see the Compañia Nacional de Teatro Clásico´s interpretation of the 1621 play, La verdad sospechosa in the Hospital de San Juan, an open air theatre, the persistent showers forced the play´s cancellation.  The group enjoyed an alternate activity, but sorely missed what would have been a singular experience.  Just another reason to come back to Spain!
Also on Tuesday, a young student reporter from another newspaper, La tribuna, came to meet us and learn about who we are, and what we are doing.  Her article gives a fresh perspective on cultural differences that our students face on a daily basis.  Feel free to read the article online:
On Thursday, we celebrated Alexis´s birthday with, you guessed it: ice cream sandwiches!
Friday we traveled to Madrid, but this time in the AVE, or high speed train.  Here we are lining up before passing through security in the train station.

Once in Madrid, we walked from the train station, Atocha, to the Museo del Prado, an art museum, home to the works of such artists as Velázquez, El Greco and Goya.  Dylan and Tori are ready to enter, while Patrick struggles to hold a water bottle and camera with one arm.

Unfortunately, we are not allowed to take pictures inside of the Prado.  Also unfortunate, the Congreso de los Diputados, or the national senate, is under construction, so an inside tour is impossible.  Mary Kate is disgusted that the amount of scaffolding on the building´s facade prevents us from even taking a group picture in front. Oh well.  Students are free to eat lunch and buy souvenirs.

 Our lunch hour is spent in the area surrounding the Paseo del Prado, a shaded boulevard with a grassy median, artists vending and often creating their works on the spot, street performers, tourists and the noises of big city hustle and bustle.  Here students pose with a live Don Quixote statue.
John shows off his new purchase and Tommy pretends he doesn´t love having his photo taken.

Andrew is also camera shy.  What he doesn´t know, is that the more he resists, the more the camera persists: close up it is!
Tommy and Megan are relieved that it is shady...for now!
The group gathers for a photo in front of the fountain Cibeles (obscured by group...) and the telecommunications building.

We take a little break before descending into the metro.  Today is a day for tired legs.

 Savannah has a new hat - go Spain! Katie and Savannah rest up for the rest of the afternoon.


We took line two on the metro toward the west end of the city.  Madrid's metro is known as one of the cleanest and most easily navigated. When we reemerged in the daylight, we were greeted by the hush of less trafficked streets, and sunny, smaller plazas.  We headed over to the Palacio Real.  As the royal family does not reside here, its function is largely ceremonial.

 In the surrounding neighborhood are quiet gardens, apartment buildings and the nearby Jardín del oriente.


Becca, Andrew and Jackie outside of the Palacio.

Once inside the Palacio, our tour guide led us through the lavishly decorated rooms, replete with porcelain, intricate embroidery, one of a kind stringed instruments, and crystal candelabras.  After a long time on our feet, Bridget, Eric and Ana recuperate in one of the cool stone hallways.

Mikaela, Jackie, Savannah, Katie and Amy take five.
Not for long, however, as we left the Palacio for our last and longest/sunniest jaunt of the day.  Before leaving, two Tommy´s pose in front of the adjacent Cathedral.

In the middle of our trans-city trek, we stopped for refreshments.  These gentleman partake in rosquillas, or "donuts" as they are also called in Spanish.  Here in Spain, Homer Simpson helps popularize the doughnut market.

On the way to our last museum, we briefly stop in Madrid´s Plaza Mayor.

La Reina Sofía exhibits more modern and contemporary art.  It is the home of Picasso´s Guernica as well as diverse pieces by Salvador Dalí, and Jean Miró, among many others.

Caroline is delighted by surrealism.

Here Hope interprets Picasso´s Bust and Palette.

Tommy: another figure next to Picasso´s Figures by the Sea

Zin and Tori were extremely excited by the modern art, rushing to see all they could in the limited time we had in the museum.  Here they are presenting to you Things by Joseph Togores.

Alexis and Allyson give us Max Ernst´s Red Birds.

After the Reina Sofía, it was time for the train ride home. 

Patrick takes advantage of the downtime to do a quality check on Spanish Burger King.

We arrived in Ciudad Real at 21:08.  Once again, we've gone our separate ways for another weekend of activities with host families; look for emails from your son or daughter with more specific updates.  Until next week!
In the meantime, to tide you over, here's a little video footage of the group getting off the bus in Almagro, and dancing to Shakira.
If this video does not play, visit our unlisted youtube site:
¡Hasta luego!