Antoni Gaudí: Returning to the Origins

July 19, 2017

Almost all of architecture throughout history has been an effort to create something from the hands of man, that stands in stark contrast against the nature around it, that is separate from the elements and the earth. Buildings are meant to be strong and permanent, to withstand time and guard against the elements. In my Spanish Art and Architecture class we detailed ancient stone dwellings found in the Iberian Peninsula, the short stout romanic architecture of the middle ages, gothic architecture meant to be tall and ornate, divine rather than worldly. Although all of the movements were distinct they followed this same paradigm that building is to be in contrast to nature.

That is why Antoni Gaudí’s modernism was so revolutionary. It was a completely different conception of what architecture should be. Gaudí said “originally consists of returning to the origin”. He took all of his inspiration from nature and therefore his building were meant to be a part of this nature, rather than an opposition to it. In the age directly following the industrial revolution, this was so radical and so different from the utilitarian factories, gray skyscrapers, and other architectural trends of his era. In his houses, churches, parks, and palaces, he uses curved lines, stained glass, abstract forms that recall animals and plants, bright colors along with earthy tones, and a special mosaic technique called trencadis, in Catalan, where he takes mosaic tiles, breaks them into pieces and reassembles then in a much less manufactured manner.

Looking at Gaudís modernist building, especially La Sagrada Familia, was the first time that I had considered that a building, rather than serving a utilitarian purpose, can actually be a giant, livable sculpture, a perfect piece of art, with every detail having a specific, premeditated meaning. On the nativity facade of La Sagrada Familia, every carving into the stone serves a specific purpose in telling a story of the Bible. In the interior he uses columns to appear as a forest within the church and created a complicated buttressing system that used branches to direct all weight down through these large trunks. The details of the stain glass windows make allusions to holy sites throughout Catalunya and Spain, and the numbers and patterns that he uses throughout are all of a holy origin. It is truly a work of pure genius (of course this is no radical or original statement, but the popular conclusion)

In learning about the history of art and architecture in the Iberian peninsula and then actively exploring these famous sites throughout Catalunya I have developed a much greater understanding and appreciation of this artform. I have developed an incredible vocabulary to talk about art and describe artistic trends, which I otherwise would have likely never learned. Being able to discuss and explore the life and philosophy of Antoni Gaudí through one of his mother tongues has been an experience that will truly bring one back to the origins.

Cultural Divide of the Pyrenees Mountains

July 7- July 9, 2017

This weekend on an excursion with my International Studies Abroad program, I crossed the Pyrenees Mountains, which act as the border between France and Spain and divide the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of Europe. Along the way were stops in Girona, Montpellier, Arles, Aigues Mortes and Colliure. As we stopped in these small cities and towns in Northern Spain and Southern France, it was obvious that the barrier created by mountains created significant differences in architecture, language, food, and history. Although these smaller cities in the South of France were once included in the kingdom of Catalunya, and still hoist the red and yellow stripes of the Catalan flag, so much of their culture was totally distinct from the Catalan heritage present in Barcelona.

Below is a quick recap of my favorite spots as well as some photos of the beautiful towns, landscapes, and food that this weekend beheld.

Girona, Catalunya

This medieval town  was used as a backdrop for Season 6 of Game of Thrones, but has been home to Greeks, Romans, Catalonians, and the people of Westeros during its storied history. With a Roman wall surrounding the city still standing, and architecture that walks you through its centuries of history it has an incredible charm. There is even an Eiffel bridge, constructed by Gustav Eiffel before he began his project on that tower in Paris.

Montpellier, France

Montpellier bared a striking resemblance to Paris with royal architecture, white washed buildings, rot iron details decorating store fronts and balconies, marble lined streets, and lovely squares with intricate carved statues. Being much smaller than Paris, however, this town had a much more friendly and homey feel. We ate a delicious dinner, served by a very handsome french waiter, watched the blur of the lights of the merry go round as the sun set, and strolled through Montpellier’s annual festival with local artisans, wine tastings, food booths, gelato, waffles, crepes, churros, and live music. The city park filled with the whole town as friends greeted each other in french, exchanging three kisses on the cheeks.

Arles, France

This charming town, originally modeled after Rome by the romans, featured a colosseum, forum, and theatre with original stone from the era before Christ. More recently however, Arles was the home of Van Gogh for 18 months and a muse as he discovered new ways to use light in paintings and depict the night sky. Van Gogh would paint starry night while in a mental institutions just several kilometers from Arles.

Aigues Mortes, France

A tiny town still withheld by its medieval walls was set on the banks of a lake with a salt concentration similar to that of the Dead Sea. The lake has this mesmerizing red-pink color, brushing with white foamy strokes and blues reflecting the midday sky.

Collioure, France

this tiny beach town that sits underneath a castle and windmill on the hill, at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains was a daydream. Although the beaches were rocky, not sandy, the breathtaking views of the Mediterranean spotted with sailboats and fishermen distracting from the pain in my butt.

Bunker 307

July 13, 2017

As important as subjunctive conjugation and indirect object pronouns are, today in my Spanish Grammar class we learned about a topic far more impactful: The Spanish Civil War. We took a site visit to Bunker 307, one of the only remains bunkers of the 2,000 built by the people of Barcelona to protect themselves from air bombings during the war.

The Spanish Civil War is really a misnomer. On the nationalist side, Germany and Italy sent aid in the form of aircrafts and weapons to test their airstrike and civil bombing strategy that had never before been used. On the side of the republicans, the Soviet Union did the same to represent their idealogical opposition to the rising wave of fascist powers.

As we walked through the cold damp tunnels we were told stories of the people who spent hours and evens days at a time in these bunkers. One of the most powerful stories was that of a mother who was leading her 3 year old daughter and newborn into the underground shelter, but in the rush of frantic people, her newborn was knocked from her arms and lost behind her. Unable to stop to search for her child and fight the crowd all moving towards the bunkers, she had to enter before the air raids started, and spend 48 underground not knowing what happened to her newborn baby. After the air raid had ended, a man, who had seen the child get knocked from the mothers arms and rescued the child, approached her with her child in hand.

These tunnels were filled with the ghosts and horrors of the Spanish Civil War. But also filled with a triumphant and fighting spirit of the people. All 2,000 of the cities bunkers were dug by civilian volunteers who refused to submit the the terror and hopelessness of airstrikes and labored relentlessly to protect their neighbors. In 3 years of bombings, in Barcelona 3,000 people died. Although any lives lost are still too many, relative to the span of attacks and the population of the city, it is truly an incredibly low number of mortalities.

Although now this bunker serves as a powerful memory of the people who fought and died to protect their families, neighbors, beliefs, and freedom, during the years of Franco it was prohibited to speak the stories of the victims of the war.

Thank you Bunker 307 and the City Council of Barcelona for reminding us of the courage and conviction of the citizens of Barcelona then and always.

Catalunya and Spain: Whats the Difference?


Before Spain existed with the borders that we know today, Catalunya was a nation that controlled mediterranean coast of the Iberian peninsula from southern France to Alicante, along with parts of northern Africa, the balearic islands, and even corsica and sardana. They spoke their own language, also a derivation of latin, had their own history a greek and roman colonies and ports, and were a key force in driving the moors from the Iberian peninsula in the reconquest of Spain. However when King Ferdinand of Aragon married Queen Isabella of Castile in 1492 and sieged the final moorish stronghold in Granada, a new conception of a united Spain led the nation on its course to its modern state. Brimming throughout the 500 years since the uniting of Spain, has been ganas to obtain sovereignty for Catalunya. As the different regions of Spain have varying cultures, distinct histories, and unique languages, for many living in Catalunya and Barcelona, centralized power in Madrid is frustrating in that it is unable to meet the specific and often competing needs of different areas of the country.

As you walk the streets of Barcelona, the balconies above proudly displays flags were similar to that of the catalan region, however in addition to the red and yellow stripes, they boast a blue triangle and a white star. This flag is the symbol of the movement for independence of Catalunya. Modeled after the flag of Cuba after their separation from Spain, the flag is a symbol of solidarity with other provinces and nations that were at one time conquered by Castile.

The Catalan people are very proud have refuse to relinquish any part of their culture or language. Classes in public schools are taught in Catalan, with Spanish taught as a separate subject. Those born and raised in Catalunya are bilingual in Catalan and Spanish from a young age. In Catalonya, Catalan in the language of business. I had the opportunity to attend a reception for an association of lawyers who were looking to transform the leadership within their association and at this reception all of the keynote speakers spoke in catalan as well as the majority of conversation within the lawyers

To gain more insight into this tense, sensitive political issue that is steeped in culture and history I spoke to a family friend and my host mother who would be comfortable sharing their opinions with me, one who was opposed to independence while the other was strongly in favor.

My family friend from Barcelona, Mari Carmen, who has grown up and lived in the city her whole life, believed the idea of independence to be rash. While she understands the cultural frustrations she believes that Catalunya is too integrated into the economic and political systems of Spain to successfully secede from the nation. While she understands the cultural pride and economic frustration of some, she views those who want independence as a bit radical.

My host mother, Montse, holds the opposite view of Mari Carmen. She proudly flies the Catalan flag of independence from her balcony and participates in yearly demonstration of Catalan pride every September 11. Montse was always eager to answer any of my questions about the issues and it was very obvious that her opinions have been strongly formed by her deep family history rooted in the same neighborhood of Barcelona for generations. Montse explained to me that the issue of sovereignty for Catalunya is a political conflict, not a conflict with the people from any other region of Spain. While cultural pride drives the movement, the main issue to her and many other Catalan people is the federal tax system that takes their locally earned money and redistributes it to Southern provinces of Spain that have a stereotype of a cultural laziness.

Come October of 2017, Catalunya hopes to hold a referendum to gage the opinion of the Catalan people. However the central government in Spain is making efforts to stall or eliminate the vote.

After spending many weeks here in Catalunya and comparing their cultural heritage to that of other regions of Spain, it is very obvious to me how unique Catalunya is within the Iberian Peninsula.  For videos that display the pride of the Catalan people and their yearly demonstrations for independence check out this link:

Montserrat: The Virgin’s Perch Above Barcelona

July 1, 2017

Although the energy of Barcelona is so vibrant, colorful and loud, constantly being surrounded by foreign language, host mothers, other students, and the 2 million inhabitants of this city, some alone time was much needed. On Saturday morning, I hopped on a train that took me 53 kilometers outside of the city of Barcelona to a pueblo at the foothills of the area’s largest mountains.

Although most visitors choose to take a cable car and railroad track up the mountainside, I opted for the more challenging but less expensive option of climbing two hours to reach the monastery built into the top layers of this rock formation. Traveling alone and taking on this challenging hiked served as a test of my ability to be independent and persistent, some qualities that I hope to strengthen while abroad.

The silence of hiking alone was surprisingly tranquil. Rather than being lonely and disheartened, I enjoyed my own company. This experience so far has taught me that it’s just as important to spend quality time with yourself as it is with other people, to digest and reflect everything you’ve taken in. My energy on the way up came and went in spurts however the views from the landing on the mountain and the architecture of the beautiful medieval monastery were well worthwhile.

I was able to use my Spanish to communicate with tourist information desk about hiking directions and trails and the medieval history of the site. I also was able to have conversations in Spanish with other hikers that I encountered throughout the day, learning what this special place meant to them and getting tips on where to find the best views. I noticed that was listening was almost intuitive but my speaking fluency and usage of grammar structures still needs a lot of practice.

As many other tourists were clad with trendy platform sandals and cute sundresses, I was drenched in sweat and cloaked in a film of dirt and dust. Not the ideal image for pictures, but my rather organic appearance brought me closer to the meaning of the holy site as I chose the path that was taken by the faithful during the medieval ages and all of the pilgrims who later come to see the remarkable virgin of Montserrat.

Below are a few pictures of the dazzling church and the incredible views of rock formation, the Catalan countryside, and even the distant city of Barcelona set against the Mediterranean. Montserrat was a truly special place, seemingly placed by God’s hand himself. It is worth a day trip to experience the awesome power of nature, history, and humans devotion to higher beings.

Barrio Gotico: The Mystery and History and Romance of Rome

June 26, 2017

From the window of Conesa (my favorite local sandwich shop) with my pork, veggie, and cheese sandwich in hand, I look out onto St. James’ Plaza where the Taxi drivers of Barcelona protest the competition imposed by Uber. As they hoist their signs and shout along to Queen’s “We Are The Champions”, I can’t help but imagine if political manifestations of the old Roman Forum bore any resemblance to these moderns demonstrations. This central plaza in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter served as the Forum in the old Roman city, Barcino, and is just one of many recuerdos of the rich history of Barcelona and Catalonia that connects this modern globalized city to the times of Christ.

In the labyrinth, stone-paved streets of El Barrio Gotico, you can find medieval romanesque churches tucked into the twists and folds of the alleyways, a dark, dusty, quiet escape from the roar of Las Ramblas. You can find the legend of Sant Jordi engraved into the intricate gargoyles adorning the royal palaces. You can find San Nicolas, the small hidden church in which Antoni Gaudi prayed every day. You can find an archive housing letters from Christopher Columbus to Queen Isabell and King Ferdinand as he undertook his journey to the New World. You can find the lesser known Fredric Mares Museum, home to over 3,000 works of sculpture from all periods in human history.

Although named El Barrio Gotico, this region at the center of Barcelona is not limited to the history and art of a fleeting medieval architectural period. El Barrio Gotico has been the heart of Barcelona since its founding as a Roman port to its expansion into an international city of more than 7 million. Every age, every historic event, every artistic movement, every inhabitant of Barcelona, every tourist has left subtle marks on this aged neighborhood, in the carving of buildings, in the worn cobblestones roads, in the prayers sent from the local churches. El Barrio Gotico contains the hearts and fantasies of all that encounter it.



Seven Weeks in Barcelona: Stuck Between Tourists and Natives

June 21, 2017

Seven weeks. Quite an ambiguous period of time. Too long to be a tourist frequenting the city’s mainstream attractions. Too short to have a sense of permanence in this city of 2 million. How do I approach these seven weeks and what is my place in this city polarized between proud native Catalans and transient international travelers?

As I walk through Las Ramblas and watch Americans fall into the tourist trap of restaurants boasting the “best paella in town”, I feel a sense of superiority. As a student, rather than a tourist, I am looking for more than just selfies in front of Gaudi’s buildings and a jug of Sangria at dinner. I am here to learn more deeply about the culture and its language to better connect with its people. However, I am constantly frustrated when my efforts to speak the native tongue are met with Anti-american sentiments and responses in English as if my Spanish was ill-attempted. How can I view myself any more genuine than a typical tourist if the native people of this place do not recognize me as such?

Although frustrating, confusing, and somewhat disheartening, this ambiguity provides me with an opportunity to be a positive representative of my home nation and pursue a genuine interest in culture, history, and language in order to fight a growing anti-american and anti-tourist sentiment in Barcelona.

I hope to go beyond Las Ramblas and the Barceloneta beach and find the spots that will become my usual. The coffee shop where I will sip a cortado and read my Spanish translation of “Game of Thrones”, the most peaceful square to enjoy a chocolate covered croissant, the best bocadillo joint for lunch in between my classes, my favorite museum to escape the noise of a city of two million.

For the next seven weeks I hope to speak as much Spanish as possible, speak to as many Spaniards as possible, and develop a home here in Barcelona.

Updates on my progress to come 🙂

Colloquial Language

I have been learning a ton of new vocabulary in class and around the city of Alicante simply by picking up on new words! One of my classes here is focused on colloquial language, which is a tough task in Spanish because there are so many words that are regularly used. In trying to learn all of these new words, I have found that picking and choosing my favorites to use is most effective to add them to my vocabulary. In addition, I have talked to many local people in Spain about the colloquial language, and all of them have said that it is very common. Bad words or foul language here are used in everyday life by all ages, including my host mother and host sister, who both regularly use swear words. In Spanish, these words do not have nearly the same meaning, because they are used so frequently, even though they often translate into words that are much worse in English. Regardless of gender or age, swear words are used in everyday language, and is considered normal in most situations besides formal business settings.

This new experience of understanding the colloquial language has been one of the most exciting experiences of my time here, because it has opened up the entire manner of speaking that I was not picking up on before learning these words. Now that I am learning, I hear these words used all the time, and it has become second nature to pick up on and understand these phrases. Overall, I was taken aback at first at some of the words that were used, because they would be considered intense in English, but once I understood the cultural significance, it did not bother me as much, and I am able to use them as well. I really enjoy learning this bit of language because it also directly impacts my understanding of the culture here, and has been a great experience so far.

Post 1 España

I am now in my second week in Alicante, Spain, and have been loving every second of it! Although the initial travel was difficult, as I had to navigate multiple transportation systems to make my way to Alicante, it was well worth the trip. After orientation, I began taking classes at the CIEE Study Center, where I rotate taking three courses-grammar, culture, and conversation. To me, the conversation class is the most useful, because I am learning colloquial Spanish, and it seems like every new word I learn immediately appears around me in the streets. Although I do not plan on using many of these words (as many of them are curse words), it is important to learn the language so that I can better understand what is going on.

I have had many positive cultural and languages so far, including carrying on meaningful conversations with Spanish students that study at the University of Alicante. Their system is very different, because they take classes until May and then have a month of studying time before their finals, which can last for up to four hours each. In addition, they are very keyed into language here, and many of them can speak five or more languages in their studies. All of the students speak Spanish, Valencian, and English, and many choose to also take other languages. I really enjoyed speaking to them, especially when we conversed in Spanish and English interchangeably.

One difficulty that I have encountered is adjusting to cultural differences, as well as clear communication to my host mom. Some things are not as important in the Spanish culture, such as time, but other things are much more regulated, such as eating with family and cleanliness. I am still adjusting to the lack of personal space here and finding new ways to say that I understand or okay (here we say vale a lot), which I will continue working on.

Until next week, hasta luego!

¡Hola, España!

Hola from Alicante! Already one week down, and only more seven to go; time is already flying by too fast.

I arrived in this beautiful city, located on the southeast coast of Spain, last Sunday. The first night, our program had organized a tapas dinner at a local restaurant so that we could have our first taste of Spanish food and culture together. We tried many different traditional dishes, but my favorite was tortillas de patatas. As the waiter set down the plates, he told us about the recipe: although every version is a little bit different, the base is always potatoes and eggs. First, they fry the potatoes in olive oil, and after they mix them with eggs and cook it; in many ways, it reminds me of an omelet. People often adds things like bread, onions, etc. Bottom line: it is delicious! Our program director also informed us that the meal is extremely common in this region of Spain (a fact which was quickly confirmed when my host family made it for me the next day). The first historical reference to the dish is from 1817! Obviously, it would have been a simple and decently nutritious meal to prepare. I want to learn how to make it so that my family and friends at home can try it.

I moved in with my host family on Monday. My mamá española’s name is Marisol, her husband is Miguel, their daughter is María, and their son is also Miguel. They are all extremely sweet and, most importantly, patient with my lack of Spanish skills! The first couple of days, I could barely understand anything they said, whether they were talking directly to me or to each other. However, I have already noticed a lot of improvement; by now, I can almost always keep up with their conversations, even though it is still pretty intimidating to participate in their rapid exchanges. Native speakers tend to use slang and not pronounce certain letters, so it will be a process. However, I also started classes today, one of which is about colloquial language, so I know it will help tremendously. I am confident that, at this pace, I will be almost fluent by July.

Throughout the rest of the week, I did a walking tour of downtown Alicante, visited the city’s ancient castle, travelled to another little town nearby with amazing views, swam in natural waterfalls on the side of a mountain, watched María’s basketball game, went to the market with Marisol, and enjoyed the beaches. Tomorrow I have a bike tour, and this weekend we are going to Valencia. All in all, I could not be more grateful to be here, or more excited for the next seven weeks! ¡Hasta luego!