Wednesday, June 9, 2010

La Despedida (The Farewell)

Granada, which means “pomegranate” in Spanish, was the last city of our journey to Spain. We walked through the Albaicín neighborhood, toured the Royal Chapel where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella are buried, and then visited the famous Alhambra. The photo above was taken of the group’s first view of the Alhambra from the Plaza San Nicolás. After the tour, half of the group returned to the United States and the other half extended the course in Morocco through the Morocco Exchange Program ( At the time of this blog post, everyone has safely returned to Merrimack. Overall, we had a wonderful experience learning about Convivencia: the Coexistence of Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Medieval Spain, and the themes and ideas we had discussed over the past semester came to life through this study-travel course.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Top Ten

After visiting the Mezquita (Mosque) and Calle de las Flores (Street of the Flowers, pictured above) in Córdoba, we departed for Granada, our last city of the journey. While enjoying the landscapes of olive groves, sunflower fields, rolling hills, and eventually the Sierra Nevada mountain range outside of Granada (yes, they have snow year round!), our group identified the top ten reasons we love Spain. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. The countryside of Andalucia (Southern Spain).
2. The Spaniards are environmentally conscious and focus on energy conservation. We have seen many solar panel farms, windmills, and green parks and gardens. They take pride in and care of their country.
3. You don’t have to go to a museum to appreciate art. There is beautiful art and architecture from various time periods, which are incorporated into the city design.
4. There is a much slower pace of life in Spain. People take their time eating meals; a typical meal may last two to three hours.
5. The fashion.
6. The people are very friendly. On a few occasions when we have asked for directions, the Spaniards offered to accompany us to our destination.
7. In the same vein, we have not had to ask for directions often because the street signs and visual aids have been very clear and helpful.
8. Spanish music.
9. The artisan and culinary distinctiveness of each region.
10. Particularly in southern Spain, they embrace the beautification of the interior rather than the exterior. For example, a home in Granada (often referred to as a “Carmen”) is quite unassuming with simple, white stucco walls. On occasion, we have caught glimpses of the inside, and the homes are decorated with beautiful courtyards, fountains, and flowers. As one student said, “they bring the outside in”.

Strolling in Sevilla

While sitting at an outdoor café this evening, we talked about the differences between Spain and the United States. One of the students commented, “It’s nice how people take their time here. They take time to enjoy meals and talk with people". Another student added, “Did you notice that the way the Sevillans walk is different than the Madrileños (people from Madrid). The Madrileños walk briskly, but the Sevillans seem to stroll.

Sevilla, the fourth largest city in Spain, is particularly colorful at this time of year with the purple jacarandas and bougainvilleas in bloom. We have soaked up the beautiful ambience while visiting all the famous sites. First we visited the Cathedral, which happens to be the third largest cathedral in the world (followed by Saint Peter’s in Rome and Saint Paul’s in London), and we saw the tomb of Christopher Columbus. We also walked through the Plaza de España, the Old Jewish Quarter, and the Royal Alcázar.

Some of the students attended a bullfight at the oldest plaza de toros in Spain and took a riverboat cruise along the Guadalquivir River. Others had afternoon tea at Hotel Alfonso XIII, which is adjacent to the Universidad Sevilla. The University, which used to be a tobacco factory, is referenced in Mérimée’s “Carmen”.

When we began our panoramic bus tour of the city, imagine our surprise when we saw thousands of athletes running the Sevilla Marathon. Apparently not everyone takes their time in Sevilla!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Augustinian Connections

It was the eighth Wonder of the World- no one had seen anything this massive and ambitious before: a monastery, church, palace, and royal pantheon all wrapped into one. –Penelope Casas, “Discovering Spain”

On Friday, we visited San Lorenzo de El Escorial, where we were kindly welcomed by Father Carlos Alonso, an Augustinian priest who met us during the first Convivencia to Spain last year. We received a private tour of the Monastery, and our favorite part was climbing the bell tower to take in the beautiful view of the surrounding area, which is pictured above.

El Escorial, a palace built by Filipe II, was originally built to commemorate Spain’s victory over France at Saint Quentin. The victory occurred on the Feast of Saint Lawrence (San Lorenzo), so the area is called, San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Some of the highlights were seeing the Pantheon where many of the Spanish kings and queens are buried and the Library, accentuated with antique globes and ceiling frescos. The oldest work is from the fifth century, written by our own Saint Augustine.

Patas Calientes

When I was studying in Ecuador during my senior year in college, my host father told me I had "patas calientes" (translation: "hot hooves"). It's an expression that means one is always on the go and does many activities in one day. The Convivencia group from Merrimack College has LOTS of energy, and particularly yesterday, explored Madrid with "patas calientes".

We began our morning at the Prado museum, and the students, who had studied Spanish Art with Dr. Nancy Kay and Dr. Lynn McGovern, were able to appreciate famous works of art such as "Las Meninas" (Velazquez) and "3 de mayo" (Goya). Afterwards, some of us leisurely walked through the Botanical Gardens while others enjoyed a picnic in Parque Retiro. Following a short rest, we saw the Templo Debod (a temple given to Spain from Egypt) and Las Ventas (where the bullfights take place).

We were graciously invited to meet with Allen Solomont, the U.S. Ambassador to Spain. He was very kind and told us about his experience living in Spain (he moved here one year ago) and working in the Foreign Service. The students shared what they have learned about Convivencia and intercultural dialogue, and Ambassador Solomont responded that he would like to fulfill similar objectives during his tenure. He sends his best regards to Dr. Padraic O'Hare and Dr. Charlie Tontar, old time friends from his years living in Massachusetts.

After visiting the U.S. Embassy, Rafael Soto '05, another Merrimack alumnus living in Madrid, joined us for tapas in Plaza Santa Ana. We concluded the evening by attending a flamenco show at Casa Patas. Flamenco, traditional music and dance from the southern region of Spain, stimulates lots of energy and emotion. The students LOVED it!

Anyone reading this blog will see that this post is one day late, and it's not due to the fact we are on Spanish time. On the contrary, we maximized our day by savoring each moment, embracing every opportunity, and exploring with "patas calientes".

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Holy Toledo!

I could see Jews, Christians, and Moors going about their daily lives, undisturbed by religious or racial discord; and most of all I could imagine El Greco himself assimilating Toledo’s unique atmosphere. –Penelope Casas, The Province of Toledo in “Discovering Spain”

Holy Toledo! If you have ever heard this expression, you will appreciate our visit to this beautiful city. Toledo, which was the capital of Spain until 1561, is about an hour bus ride southwest of Madrid. We toured the Synagogue of Tránsito, the Cathedral (which had been built in the same place where a mosque had been razed), and the Church of Santo Tomé, where we saw El Greco’s most famous painting, The Burial of Count Orgaz. One of the students who had participated in Merrimack’s Pellegrinaggio to Italy last year pointed out that Saint Augustine was in the painting. Father Jim, you would have been proud!

After returning to Madrid, we had dinner with three special guests. Diego Gabadian ’05, a Merrimack alumnus currently living in Madrid, told the students, “you will always appreciate your experience at Merrimack”. Diego is currently working in Spain and is earning his Master’s degree in International Relations at the Universidad Carlos III. Paloma Espinosa and Javier Rodriguez, two Spanish exchange students who will study at Merrimack in the upcoming year, also joined us for dinner. It was nice to meet them in their home country, and we look forward to welcoming them to Merrimack in September!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Saludos desde Madrid!

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page. –Saint Augustine

After a semester of coursework exploring “Convivencia: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain”, we were excited to depart for Spain and experience the country and its rich history firsthand. Fortunately our flights were on time, and despite a bit of jet lag, we have been enjoying our first day in Madrid. We arrived early this morning and enjoyed a walking tour of “Old Madrid”. Some of the highlights we saw include: El Oso y el Madroño (one of the symbols of Madrid which depicts a bear eating from a strawberry tree); Kilómetro 0 (the absolute center of the country); the Plaza Mayor; el Mercado San Miguel; and the Palacio Real (Royal Palace). Following the walk, we sampled Valencian paella, tortilla española, and three traditional desserts, including buñuelos valencianos, for our first meal in Spain. We spent the afternoon relaxing in El Retiro Park, visiting the “tropical” gardens in Atocha train station, and shopping at El Corte Inglés. We have many more adventures to experience over the next couple of weeks, and we look forward to continuing our journey and connecting with each other and people around the world.