Finally Getting Accustomed
Classes this week have been more interesting in the sense that we’re finally being able to see how Spain’s history is affecting life today. Most of the issues that Spanish people are dealing with are due to a combination of medieval history and the struggles that the country faced over the last one hundred years. For nearly forty years, from 1939-1975, Spain was ruled by the dictator Francisco Franco. I’m not going to go into all the details of his reign, but just know that some of his biggest allies were Hitler and Mussolini. In 1975, after Franco died, the historical royal family, the Borbons, resumed power but only as a figurehead of the state. Spain is still feeling the repercussions of Franco’s reign as there is once again a lot of uncertainty and instability in the country’s government. One could say that their presidential elections that are set to take place on the 26th of this month could rival our own unpredictable presidential election. As for the effects of medieval history on Spanish politics today, the country is currently dealing with an attempted secession of one of its regions. Hundreds of years ago in the late 1400’s, Spain was united by the marriage of the Catholic Kings. King Fernando brought the region of Cataluña into the Spanish kingdom, but even to this day, the people of Cataluña speak a different language called Cataluñan (Spanish is also spoken there). Due to cultural and economic reasons, the region is attempting to secede from Spain, but I really don’t think that is going to happen for various reasons. We are only a few classes into our class on contemporary issues in Spanish culture, but I’m really enjoying the fact that I am able to apply what we learned in our Spanish history class to the issues that the country is currently dealing with.
Week three has been exciting in the fact that we’ve taken more trips to historical sites around the Madrid region.
On Tuesday, we went to Segovia to see the Alcázar of Segovia, the city’s roman aqueduct, and the Cathedral of Segovia. The Alcázar was not only the site of the marriage between the Catholic Kings, it was also the inspiration for the castle in Walt Disney’s movie Cinderella. The aqueduct is by far my favorite monument in the city because it is still standing perfectly after 2000 years. It is impressively large and is definitely a testament to roman engineering. The Cathedral of Segovia was interesting; however, I enjoyed the Cathedral of Toledo which we visited on Saturday much more.
Toledo is the home of the grandest cathedral that I’ve ever seen. I’m not Catholic, but just being in the building made me appreciate the magnitude of the project and the power of the religion in Spain. Toledo is also famous for its mixture of three cultures: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. Before Spain was united as a Catholic country, the three religions lived peacefully in the city. My favorite example of this is the Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca. It was a synagogue that was built for the Jews by Muslim architects at the order of the Christian king Alfonso VIII. Toledo, aside from Valencia and its beautiful beaches, is my favorite city that I’ve visited thus far. On top of visiting historical monuments, we spent Thursday in Madrid visiting the Reina Sofia Museum and going to a Flamenco Show. Being modern art, some of the art in the Reina Sofia was a little too abstract for my liking, but I did enjoy Picasso’s Guernica and the Salvador Dalí collection. The show was interesting; even though I didn’t understand half of the words in the songs because it was Spanish sung like opera, I understood the storyline. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before in the States. Despite the fact that I’ve been to and seen most of these places and things before, it was awesome going back to see everything again, and this time I found out and saw new things.
It’s hard to believe that our trip to Spain is coming to a close. It really feels like we just landed a few days ago, but I’ve already seen and learned a lot on this trip. My ability to speak and understand Spanish has increased immensely which has been awesome. There’s something about being able to communicate with people that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to that makes me want to continue to work at becoming fluent. The way I see it is that if I can speak another worldly language, then it opens many more opportunities for me. One example of this is the conversations that I’ve had with my host family. My little host brother has taught me a lot about soccer just by us being able to play FIFA together on his PS4. I’ve talked with my host parents and their friends about the state of the Spanish economy and comparisons between the United States and Spain. That’s awesome for me, because I’m talking to them in their language. I didn’t realize I would be able to have these high caliber conversations before I came here, but my Spanish has really advanced over the three weeks that I’ve been living with them.