The North Wind

I last wrote shortly after my trip to Salamanca. After the second half of May and June, that seems like another lifetime. May wasn’t particularly interesting—I posted my last entry exactly in the middle of the most incredible series of storms I’ve ever seen, not because of their strength but because Santander lost the entire month of May to bad weather. They came in the form of short, punchy bursts of high winds and dumpy rain intermitted by at least breaks in the wind if not short gaps of blue sky, always from the west, carried by a jet stream that had sunk several latitudinal degrees below where it should have been, and always seemed to take a little of the life out of me when they passed by. I remember at the end of May standing at the bus stop in front of the Interfacultativo when a big group of Longhorns came up and asked me how to get downtown and congratulating them on coming for the good weather.

The funny thing was, this series of storms actually proved helpful. I had a big Economics paper due at the end of the month and the fact it was too disgusting to go to the beach made it easier to get it done. However, that was one of the only lights in the tunnel that was the month of May. My closest friend had drifted irreparably by then and three successive trips planned to Bilbao fell through; I was tense with my family, and, to top it off, my family back home was hit with a real bomb when my grandmother, with whom we have always had a tense relationship and who was already deteriorating rapidly, fell and broke her hip on Mother’s Day. By the time Memorial Day came around, I was visibly dragging. Classes were an almost painful addition on top of that. What proved immensely redeeming was over the course of the month, my friendships with Harriet and Regina, two of the girls in my Bible study, strengthened quite significantly—on this end, their fellowship was what got me through the month. (On the home front, I had my friends, family, and Luke, which helped immensely as well.)

The fifth week of May brought the strongest wave of depression I’ve felt since February along with it, but by the first week of June, the sun was back, my classes were over, and I’d been invited to participate in a real-life, big-dogs economics conference my university was hosting. I even have a cool certificate as proof, guys. The paper I presented was the Gazprom paper I wrote at the end of May, and at the time it was the most involved research project I’d ever embarked on, though it would be topped by my Socialism paper a couple of weeks later. After helping a couple of professors—one older, one younger, one Venezuelan, one Nicaraguan—navigate Santander’s bus system, I watched a few presentations and tried my hand at networking until I felt I was about to fall over. My meeting with my conversation partner at 3:30 was a welcome relief.

One of the perks to attending this conference was it included a seat at a fancy award dinner at the casino. I had lived up the street from there throughout my estancia but had only ever seen it from the outside—as it turns out, Barfield Drawing Room is more impressive in my opinion, but the food was good and the company even better. I sat by Jorge, the professor’s son I’d spoken with earlier that day, and enjoyed a wonderful conversation until very late in the night that continued the next day before GBU.

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Sunset over Playa Primera after the opening act of the conference.

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The foyer to the Casino where the dinner was held. Like I said, the SUB is more impressive.

The next week, however, was insane. Since I lost half the previous week to attending the conference, from Saturday on the only thing I did was research and write what turned out to be a 30-page (single space with some graphics), 13,500-word research paper for Políticas Económicas Redistributivas, the class I’d thus forth been calling Socialism. What I can say about that was it was a good exercise in both discipline and willpower. It wasn’t interesting at all and the material actually made me angry a lot of the time (European bureaucratic inefficiency at its finest!); ten hours of work sometimes left me with maybe ¾ of a section complete, perhaps a whole section if I was lucky. The thing was about the length of an Honors thesis and I wrote it in a week. It wasn’t great. By the time it was over, I could have floated home; after somehow handing the thing in a day early, I found out the next week that what I thought had just been a rough draft had been accepted as a final and I wouldn’t have to do anything more—and on top of that, the hardest professor in the department gave me a good grade.

My friend Regina had been on a trip to the south of Spain while I wrote my paper. Her return marked the beginning of about two weeks of goodbyes that ended up being the highlight of my time in Santander. The first Sunday of the set, I said goodbye to my friends at the church in Santander I’d started attending again the first weekend of June; the next Friday, to my friends at GBU, or at least those who could afford to take the afternoon off instead of studying for exams, as well as Carlos, my conversation partner. The yoga class I taught at Camello that Saturday was my goodbye to Faith, the girl who’d come to Salamanca with Regina and I at the beginning of May. Sunday, then, was my goodbye to Thomas.

Perhaps Sunday shouldn’t have been my goodbye to him yet, I really don’t know. I’d gone to Camello that morning while he and his friends slept off the previous night; that afternoon, I joined him, Kevin, Primož, their friend Baran, and a group of Polish girls at Sardinero for what would end up being the last time. I tried my hand at boogieboarding with Primož and Baran, then watched while they turned Thomas into a mermaid in the sand. Because when he went into the water with the guys to wash off, he was bitten by a firefish and had to get medical attention, I never really said goodbye. He’s fine—I spoke with him on Facebook the day after he left—but I wish we’d gotten a proper farewell. I feel like the month of March deserved it.

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View over the city from the top of the cable car. We walked instead of waiting in the hour-long line.

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Hey.

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Burying Thomas in the sand. They turned him into a mermaid.

The next week was dominated, much the same way the previous had been by my paper, by preparations for my Políticas Económicas final on Saturday. I found out mid-week that it was going to be a real test instead of just multiple choice; I found out about the same time that three different groups wanted to have going away parties for me and the other students who would be leaving that week on Friday, which meant the first part of the week was pretty well taken over by nothing else. The exam went better than I thought, and the parties were bittersweet. I ended up having to leave early to study, and because Ethan, Andres, and Iratxe were going on a road trip to Portugal the next day, I said goodbye there. My friend Harriet, however, ended up staying the night at my house. We went to the beach along with Regina and her friend Leah from her university in Germany that afternoon. When Harriet had to leave—partly because of the three trips that fell through before it, but mostly because I wanted to see my friends in Bilbao again before I left—I made plans to visit the next day.

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Harriet with my cauldron of sweet tea for the going away party.

That weekend in Bilbao fights hard for the title of my favourite weekend in Spain. I got in at about 3:00 and went back to Harriet’s host family’s flat—as it turns out, they were away visiting family and had not only given her permission but asked her to have friends over. We had tea and talked a while before Erlantz came and we went to church; Erlantz, who is a jazz pianist, and Harriet, a trained vocalist, played a duet over communion. Juan, the pastor I met at the campamento in March, delivered the word, and there I said goodbye to everyone who hadn’t gone to Portugal. Following a dinner adventure at Harriet’s family’s flat, we three—Harriet, Erlantz and I—left for San Juan.

The summer solstice in Spain is called la noche de San Juan. Before the Catholic Church existed, it was celebrated here much the same way as it is in the Nordic/Baltic countries: i.e. with basically the entire village or town going out to a huge bonfire that lasts most of the short night. In Bilbao, there are fireworks on top of this. Erlantz knew a spot where we could watch them where there wouldn’t be a million people around—we were the only ones, barring a few couples and families walking by, with ace seats and an incredible view of the full moon. After the show, the night didn’t feel over, so I suggested going to the beach. When we got there, we saw a girl about 14, 15 years old standing over a bonfire by herself; intending to join her and chat for a while, we were surprised when she started walking away when she saw us. Maybe she was trying to hand off the fire to someone else, who knows, but it even had a supply of wood and burning textbooks to keep it going, and it kept us warm—almost too warm—until about 2:30 in the morning. We left after two hours of singing and quiet fellowship, handing it off to another group the way that girl had to us.

That goodbye was one of the hardest. Harriet had a meeting early the next morning, so we effectively ended up saying goodbye around the same time I said goodbye to Erlantz, though I ended up seeing her again the next morning. I know it’s not the last time we’ll meet, but like she said: this will never happen again, this group. It’s true in a larger context, too. Though I may well see a lot of my friends again, we’ll never all be in the same place like this again, and that’s what was hard.

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Harriet, Erlantz and I and our hijacked bonfire.

The next day was a slow process of getting back to Santander, packing, and Skyping my parents and Luke before going to bed early and mentally drained. I passed on an Erasmus bonfire at Mataleñas as I’d be waking up early the next day; Pilar wanted to show me around the tennis club before I left. That afternoon I had lunch with her and her youngest daughter Casilda in the garden before meeting Regina at Camello for our last beach day. We were both leaving the next morning and were both of one mind: though we were glad to be seeing friends and boyfriends and family again, it was surreal and harder than we expected to be leaving. That goodbye, of course, was also difficult, but I’m hoping to see her again at my wedding next May.

Wednesday, then, it was finally time to go. I was very numb on the way to Madrid. When I met my aunt Pinky (mom’s cousin, but anyway) and cousin Kuya, though, I more or less came to. My time with them was short but wonderful; she and her son are some of the first I’ve met from the enormous Filipino side of my family, and we had a great time going out for tapas and touring a bit of Madrid since I hadn’t ever really seen it. The next morning was slow, but I needed it. Then, the time came.

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Touristy covered market in the old city.

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My cousin Jorge and his friend Alex.

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The Almudena.

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Another view.

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Movement.

I wrote this somewhere over Greenland, deliberately not thinking about coming home because when I do, my stomach flips around a bit. It still does. By the time I post this, I’ll be home. It’s weird. I feel like the last six months of my life have been eaten; if I didn’t have photographic evidence and a long list of blog entries to back it up, I might believe it was all a dream.

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Partially-frozen seas and icebergs over the coast of Greenland on the flight home.

It’s said that bitter memories have a shorter shelf life than good ones. I’m inclined to agree—Luke perhaps knows this best of all because we’ve been talking with greatest frequency this whole time, but there have been points throughout these last six months when I’ve been so low and so lost I just wanted to sink into the woodwork. There have also been times, though, that have been so incredible I can’t believe they were mine. Perhaps that’s the wrong way to put it, but I digress; maybe this was never my trip, but it sure feels personal to me.

Last semester I began to feel like myself for the first time in my life. Now I feel even more like myself, especially now that I know I don’t want to go into law after all. That’s another story, one I’ll continue later on, but at any rate I now know that although this has been difficult, it has been more necessary and more incredible than I could say. And here in plain public I’m tearing up thinking of my friends and how much I already miss them.

This is not the end; this is the penultimate chapter in this stage of my life. When I get back to Baylor, I’ll finish senior year, write my thesis, apply for whatever postgraduate things the Lord leads me to, graduate, and get married, to name a few. The next few months will be as much an adventure as these last few have been. I think I want to keep writing publically like I have been, too—there’s something very freeing about this. But for now, as I’m crossing the Atlantic again and stepping back into my familiar life, I’ll say hasta luego and put a seal on this chapter of adventures; until we meet again.

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Typical city bus.

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My street.

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Awesome house on Calle del Sol.

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Best. Bar. Ever.

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Reina Victoria on a sunny day in June.

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Windsurfers on Sardinero.

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Sardinero, fully loaded.

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Some kind of a walking event. Unedited, as always.

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My beach, Camello.

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Swimming hole at Camello at low tide on a full moon.

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I will miss this.

xxx

P.S. At some point will follow a memoir of sorts, call it creative nonfiction, about my time in Spain. If anyone would like to read that, it’s probably going to go both here and in a slightly more accessible form (format-wise) on my Fictionpress page – more info to come.

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