Richly Written Crescendos in Spain

a gradual increase. 

The word crescendo has been popping into my head as I walk through the streets of Sevilla, as I have had time to think about my time here and start to process the fact that my day-to-day is here, in Spain. My roommate Mitzy has been sick for the past few days (☹) but it has interestingly given me a bit of time to dwell more on what I’ve been learning here as I’ve walked to and from school this week. I think crescendo describes the process of being abroad- it continues to get better, for different reasons. The aspects of Sevilla that were new and exciting to see the first week are now the norm but still captivate me each day, and the deeper relationships and continuous discoveries around the city continue to add rich color to my life here.

I’ve realized the crescendo in the anticipation of meal times. Due to eating lunch at 2 and dinner around 9:30, you build up hunger easily. By the time the meal comes around, all you want to do is sit around the table and eat for hours. Which we do, and it has a name: sobremesa. I absolutely love this aspect of Spain, whether it is sitting around my host mom’s table discussing the current events in the world, sitting by the river with friends talking about our loved ones at home, sitting in a coffee shop with classmates to escape the heat during our lunch break, or sitting with the local church youth group at a Saturday picnic, alternating between Spanish and English so that we can piece together each other’s stories. I love how mealtime is more about the people then the food you eat (though the food rarely disappoints in Spain).

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I think I expected to come to Sevilla and find a few coffee shops that you really got a feel of the Spanish culture in, and flock to those. While I’ve been here I have seen that most of the coffee shops look the same, and the pretty much serve the same thing, and most of them focus more on their outside patio seating then their inside vibe. I’ve come to realize how every café is the essence of Spanish culture- how the cobblestone streets and tiled apartments surrounding them make cafés just another part of the neighborhood, where people who work or live in that area gather during their breaks. It’s almost as if the cafés are an extension of people’s homes- because people rarely entertain guests in their flats, it makes sense that cafés would be a meeting place. I think in Berkeley I am used to going out of my way to walk to a certain coffee shop (…Philz, etc.) that I like the atmosphere of, but in Spain, they don’t need to work extra hard to have a specialty product or create a certain atmosphere. Every local place has their own feel, but they all collectively make up the beautiful neighborhoods of Sevilla as an intricate part of creating a space for community every day.

Crescendo has also meant the increased depth in relationships with people here and understanding of the Spanish context. We got the chance to go to a castle nearby Sevilla with the youth group at the church, and I loved getting to spend the day with them (in a castle nonetheless! Spain is casually so cool sometimes). One high school girl, Olivia, speaks well enough English that she was able to tell me a bit about her experience in the pubic schools here. She said how the teachers really do not instill good morals in the students- often they will bring up inappropriate things and not provide support for the students, which makes me so sad when I think back on how many of my high school teachers had a huge part in shaping who I am today. Her parents are trying to help the missionaries here start a Christian grade school (the first one in the area), but it is just hard to see that there is no middle ground, because the public schools make it hard for kids trying to maintain their values rather than the comfortable and accepting place I have always found my pubic school experience to be. It was a blessing to be able to be an encouragement to her and I am excited to continue to get to meet with her throughout my time here.

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This city beautifully captures crescendo in the essence of its development. Their authentic culture is one that seems should be long gone, buried in the past and enveloped with a tourist illusion of life as it was. But Sevilla is unique in the fact that though it has been molded and added on to over the years, it has carried its charm into modern times. People inhabit Traina, my neighborhood, in a way that is beautiful and fully Spanish, and rooted in the history of the area that has been passed down through generations. Though the tourists pass through, it is the Spaniards that set the tone. As I learn more about Sevillan artistic, political and religious history in my classes, I can engage in more conversations with my host mom, and it’s been so neat to see how what I am learning about the culture has provided a common ground that we can relate over. I’ve also loved seeing the warm weather come and how much this city is one where people live outside on the riverbanks and on the patios of cafés. You also see many kinds of people for this reason- the streets in Triana are too small to have cars so every sidewalk is filled with groups of old men on their daily walks and mothers pushing baby strollers, and everything in between. As I walk through this city and sometimes put in my headphones to set the pace for the 45 minute walk to school, I can’t help but listen to upbeat music because this city exudes so much joy and makes you feel vibrant and alive.

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A couple moments along the crescendo- the other day I was walking along the river and stopped to listen to a band playing at a restaurant. A lady leaned over to me and started talking to me in Spanish, asking me if I knew if they were singing in Spanish or Portuguese. I replied in Spanish, and then she walked over a little ways to her husband and started talking to him in English, telling him what I had said. To be mistaken for a local Spaniard was quite a rite of passage, I must say. I also got to meet with Marta, an “intercambio” (language exchange) this week, who is just someone that my ISA program connected me with to practice speaking Spanish with. She wants to learn English, so is excited to get to practice with me and show me around. She took me to a little store by Triana that was a hidden gem of the cutest European clothes for a very cheap price- the place was bustling. It is amazing how the desire to learn each other’s languages creates a reason for us to connect, and start to develop a friendship as we learn about each other’s lives. I walked away from the few hours we spent together so encouraged by the benefits of learning another language, for the sole reason that it provides a gateway into a culture and connection that I wouldn’t have found otherwise.

The beautiful thing in Spain is that the crescendo is not short lived. They aren’t afraid to take time to dwell here, to enjoy the company of each other, to sit by the river or soak in a sunset, and to carry the crescendo on to the point where experiences are richly written.

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