Museum Visits 

During my last two weeks in Spain, I visited the museums exhibiting the work of three major Spanish modern painters: Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dalí. In this post, I will share my brief impression of their museums.

Pablo Picasso’s Museum is in the center of Barcelona, on Carrer Montcada, right by the Gothic Quarter. Picasso’s private secretary, Jaume Sabartes, opened the Museum in 1963 when Picasso was still alive. The Museum occupies five medieval mansions that are restored and turned into a gallery with numerous exhibition halls. The Museum presents the work of Picasso in chronological order. The highlight of the Museum, for me, was the “Las Meninas” collection. Picasso’s analysis and interpretation of Diego Velasquez’s famous painting from 1656. 

Joan Miro’s Museum is also in the city of Barcelona. Miro’s Museum is in Montjuic, on the upper part of the mountain, where the 1992 Olympic Games took place. The Miro Museum is slightly further away from the city’s touristic center. The Miro Museum has a stunning view of the city. The most remarkable feature of the Museum is that Joan Miro himself was the architect of the building. Miro designed large rooms with high ceilings to display his giant paintings and sculptures. The space and artwork interact with each other in a different way than all other museums I have ever visited.  

Salvador Dali’s Museum is an hour away from the city of Barcelona. Dali’s Museum is in his hometown, Figueres. The Dali Museum was formerly a theater. Dali himself led the restoration work to turn the public theater into Museum. The Museum’s exterior and interior mirror Dali’s character, humor, and artistic vision. The exterior of the Museum is decorated with egg-shaped sculptures. Each room in the interior offers a different atmosphere for each visitors’ own unique interpretation. 

Visiting the Museum of these three major artists was a unique opportunity for me to understand the culture and political history of Spain and Europe. It was fascinating to see how World Wars and dictatorship impacted painters differently. 

Different Perspectives about the United States in Spain

For this post, I would like to look at how some of the people that I have met, non-Americans, view the U.S.

For some, I outright asked the question: “What do you think of the United States, the good and the bad?” and if I was asked for more direction I said, “in terms of the people, the culture, the government, entertainment, foreign policy, or whatever you would like.” And for others, the topic came up naturally and I wrote down afterwards some of their viewpoints.

First is a friend my age that I met from Barcelona, I asked him about his thoughts on the U.S., and his response was really interesting. He said that overall, his view was pretty negative. His first and biggest complaint was that America had a unique brand of patriotism that he saw as deeply rooted and was used to justify bad things throughout history. He looked at today and pointed to the topic of guns as an example for what he believed was an injustice or at least led to injustice and saw that many Americans refuse to give up guns on the basis of tradition or patriotism. He also said that there are social issues in America that bother him, and the example he gave was transphobia in Texas. In relation to America’s foreign policy, he said that America is always involved in foreign affairs, and not all of them are good. Lastly, he described the American economy as “radical capitalism” with a strong presence of monopolies and the ability of media to influence politics.

The second person that I asked was my professor at my university here. He said that America is known for exporting culture primarily, which he pointed to Hollywood as the main example, and he said that they have had the most prominent and relevant media in the world with movies and other influences. In terms of American politics, he said that it drastically depends on the president for whether or not the American government is good. He thought Trump was a very bad president who said a lot of things he should not have and was leading the world towards war. The last topic he mentioned was that America is a fellow democracy like Spain and they are both members of NATO, so they collaborate and work together often.

The third is a friend and a helper with the program that I studied with. She described American culture as a melting pot of the world and is composed of many values, beliefs, and backgrounds. She said that American has always had the goal of progress and growth, which it often achieves or works to achieve on its own. She said that although America is considered a democracy, she sees it more accurate to describe it as a republic that is directly influenced by the current president. She said in recent times, she sees Biden as somewhat ineffective in comparison to his promises and platform. She said that he is probably one of the most unpopular presidents of America, which may have a part due to his handling of COVID-19. Lastly, she said that it seems that his administration has been focusing on the revitalization of leadership and having a larger presence in the global balance of power, but recent events and developments like the handling of China and Russia and the signing of the AUKUS agreement, a deal between Australia, the UK, and the US with the goal of intelligence sharing and the acquisition of nuclear submarines in the Pacific, have made this “lofty goal” somewhat tenuous and questionable.

When I asked for these questions, I was genuinely curious how the outside world views America, and I found it very enlightening with the differing viewpoints and all of the similarities between these responses. While my own views are somewhat different, I believe all of the perspectives that I found were valid and had a lot of merit to them, and they even changed the way that I look at the American economy and government. Americans look at the country with a lot of entrenched beliefs from the inside about how the country works and how it should be, but it is imperative that we look with objectivity and an outsiders perspective when looking at many of the problems, developments, or just traditions that we have.

In addition to these interviews, I have had some conversations which I can summarize here. I had spoken with a police officer who said that the general view of America changes with each president. One Spanish student at the university asked my friend about the topic of school shootings immediately upon finding out we were American, which I find very sad and telling of the portrayal of America internationally. Finally, I spoke with the waitstaff at a restaurant during the off-peak hours, and they were excited when I told them I was from Indiana and talked about the car industry and wanted to know if it was really as flat as people say it is (it is).

Until next time…

La Cocina y Más Viajes (Segovia y Valencia)

The theme of this post is the mixture of gastronomy and culture and its origins in my trips.

Following the week when I traveled to Toledo, I decided to take a day trip to Segovia after my classes finished on Friday. As my bus was taking me into town, I will be honest when I say that I was underwhelmed by the incredibly normal city surrounding me. It was not until the bus drove through multiple streets and eventually took a turn that I found myself looking over the railings of the road, down a steep hill, at a beautiful countryside. Immediately, I was left speechless at the sight of the massive Roman aqueduct and the medieval city looming on top of the hill. At the suggestion of my Spanish language professor, I tried the famous Segovian cochinillo, roast suckling pig. I ordered the full menú, so I received multiple courses of traditional Segovian dishes for my meal. I asked the waiter about how they prepare the suckling pig, and he explained that they divide a suckling pig in half and roast it in their large wood fire oven for around two hours where it develops a crispy skin and extremely tender meat. With my full menú, I also got a dish made with judiones, a large bean grown in Segovia, that seemed to me something like a Spanish jambalaya or gumbo, as well as a sopa castellana, a traditional soup from the region. It was truly a great experience with the combination of the sights from my table, the taste of the meal, and the tradition of it all. After my lunch, I was able to visit the Cathedral of Segovia and a few smaller churches, walk around the aqueduct, and my favorite part, I was able to tour the Alcazar of Segovia. The alcazar is a beautiful castle that sits atop steep slopes and overlooks the countryside. In the centuries after it was built, it was used as an artillery school with much of the memorabilia from that time being on display today.

The following day, two of my friends and I decided to take the train to Valencia. I had planned a large itinerary of things to do, but due to it taking longer than expected to get to the city center and shopping for a bit, we ended up ditching the whole plan and decided to spend the whole day on the beach. As a student from Indiana where our only beaches are on the shores of lakes, the Valencian beach remains the best beach I have visited in my life. Of course, I ordered the traditional paella valenciana, made with rice, rabbit, chicken, vegetables, and most notably saffron. As paella is a dish from Valencia, I thought it was necessary that I try it while I was there. The dinner during sunset on the beach was a perfect capstone for the day.

Lastly, just two days ago, I attended a cooking class with some friends in the same program as me where we learned how to make four different dishes. The first was Andalusian gazpacho, a cold soup that is drank like a beverage made with many vegetables and tomatoes. This was my third time having gazpacho, and while I did not exactly enjoy it the first two times, I was surprised by how well our gazpacho turned out. It was the simplest of the four dishes as it essentially just requires throwing chopped vegetables into a blender until completely pureed, adding a bit of salt, and leaving in the refrigerator until cold. Gazpacho has its origins as a cold and fresh dish that is intended to refresh the drinker in the hot Andalusian sun. The second dish was the tortilla española. At the time of writing this, I am sure that I have had tortilla española at least 10 to 15 times, and I think its a classic staple that never disappoints. Again, I appreciated learning how to make such a simple and delicious dish. It involved chopping potatoes, cooking the potatoes in olive oil until soft and golden, scrambling eggs, combing the potatoes and eggs, and putting it all in a deep pan with olive oil to get its recognizable dome shape. The most exciting part was flipping it in the pan to cook both sides. I received applause from my entire group and the head chef for successfully flipping it without messing up (which I was not sure I could do). For the main course, we made paella de mariscos, another form of paella from Valencia but made with seafood instead of rabbit. For us to make the paella, we needed the help of nearly everyone in our group to work on different parts, chopping vegetables, chicken, and squid, cleaning shrimp, and preparing the other ingredients. The dessert we made was called the tarta de Santiago, a Spanish almond cake with origins in the Middle Ages. The hardest part of the cooking class was trying to focus on chopping ingredients for everything else while we could smell this cooking in the oven. It is relatively simple to make as well as it is almond flour, cinnamon, eggs, and sugar. It tasted as amazing as it smelled, and to top it off, we decorated it in the traditional style with a cross of St. James on the top made out of confectionary sugar. It was a great experience, but I just hope that I will remember how to make everything when I return home.

I am very glad that I have the experience to not only see culture but taste the tradition of the places that I get to visit. To top it off, it was even more fascinating to be able to go to a cooking class where I was learned what goes into making multiple dishes that I had already tried before.

Time to Pack!

An unforgettable experience is ahead of me. I will be taking a six-week intensive Spanish language course at the University of Barcelona. I am incredibly excited to learn one of the most widely spoken languages in a beautiful city. I will regularly share some reflection pieces on my blog in the next two months. In my first post, I will highlight a couple of things I look forward to experiencing during my time in Barcelona. 

I will turn language learning into a joyful experience. Integrating social and cultural activities into my language learning process will be the path I will follow. For example, I will watch shows and read about the city’s history and architecture in Spanish. I also anticipate that I will play basketball with locals because playing basketball is my favorite hobby. Luckily, basketball is the second most popular sport in Spain! So maybe I will make new friends by playing basketball with the locals. 

I promise myself not to be shy in making mistakes in Spanish. I know that memorizing vocabulary, learning fundamental grammar rules, and spelling words correctly are central to gaining confidence in speaking with native speakers. But, in my view, the most crucial element of learning a new language is one’s ability to overcome the fear of making mistakes. After learning German and English, I realized that making mistakes in a foreign language is part of the learning process. I will try to speak Spanish correctly but making mistakes won’t discourage me this time. 

As a peace studies student, I hope to meet some professionals working or studying for peace. Barcelona hosts multiple international peace research institutes. I hope to meet with practitioners and experts working on or for peace in Barcelona. Learning about their work will help me improve my vocabulary on the subject matter I am interested in most. 

Now, I need to finish my packing. For now, Adiós! You will hear from me again soon when I am in Barcelona. ¡Hasta luego!