Revisiting the City of Lights

Paris. There really is nothing like it…something new every time you experience it…

and with that, I’ll leave you with a lazy Friday evening picture post. If you like them and want to see the rest, all you have to do is click here. Enjoy!

Sacre Coeur close-up
Ossuary in the catacombs
Catacombs city carving
Garden near Notre Dame
Louvre by sunset
Tree wisdom at Jim Morrison's grave

Jaiak all summer long

Not to shortchange Bilbao, the city that we visited after Barcelona, but the two are simply incomparable.  Perhaps the extreme tourism of Barcelona had clouded my outlook on Spanish cities, but Bilbao’s thriving Basque culture and lack of tourists took me completely by surprise. The countryside alone was a drastic change from Barça’s seaside beauty; from first impressions, the fog trapped in valleys as the sun set behind rocky, forest-covered hills reminded me more of Virginia than anything. Cooler breezes from the Atlantic, a trip to the Guggenheim, a funky language isolate – Euskara – and a Peruvian CouchSurfing host with a penchant for partying colored my three-day weekend in Bilbao.

After getting past the sheer awesomeness of the building’s exterior,  the range of emotions the exhibitions induced was almost frightening. From a giant wall of scrolling, blinking red text about an artist’s reaction to an AIDS diagnosis to a case of jars containing formaldehyde-soaked cow organs (supposedly meant to represent two lovers), the exhibits assaulted the senses.

The nights passed in FIESTA party-mode, doing botellon in a few pueblos around Bilbao as part of the summer’s nonstop outdoor festival that rotates between towns each weekend.  We drank kalimotxo (red wine mixed with Coca Cola, better than it sounds, actually), danced in the streets, met the Bilbao CouchSurfing community and cooked for Adrian, our last host in Spain.

He was our tour guide and translator, taking pity on our lack of knowledge of Euskara, Basque country’s unique language. He clued us onto the difference between everyday tapas and the more refined pintxos of Basque country. After an endless dinner of fantastic food at a local restaurant, the owner — a friend of our host — even gave me a “Sopelako jaiak 2011” bandanna as a souvenir of the fiesta in Sopelana, one of the villages outside of Bilbao.

Though Bilbao was a spur-of-the-moment decision after rethinking our flexible itinerary, I’m really glad we ended up there. The intangible difference – a feeling brought on by the different language, weather, and food – and the tangible pride and separatist attitude surrounding the Basque people, a weekend with a fiesta-loving Peruvian…lovely reminders of why I adore traveling.

Time Flies When I’m Being Creative

Ahhhhhh I can’t tell you how refreshing it is, not living in a 10,000 person town anymore!  Maybe when I’m 98 and just beginning to feel the weight of time bear down on my shoulders I’ll change my mind, but for now I can’t help it — I need to be surrounded by and feed off of others’ studious/creative/ambitious energies!  Suffice it to say, I’m much happier now that I’ve moved to Gießen, and the living situation is working out very well.  My roommate Alex, the 30-year-old law student, is a great guy to live with.  We cook and clean together, but share a healthy need for time to ourselves.  Plus, he’s definitely built like a bouncer, so if I ever need a bodyguard I’m good to go!  …I have a feeling he’ll make a very intimidating lawyer…

Lots of new projects are underway, mostly to do with one form of art or another.  I’ve begun recording some songs with Kyra and one of Rick’s roommates, a multi-talented student named Max, from Munich.  All I can tell you is that they’ll be sung mostly in English, but otherwise we’re just playing around with different moods and styles of music.  Our instruments are limited to piano and guitar (and our voices of course), but it’s fun writing lyrics again…something I haven’t done since high school.

I’ve also met up with an amateur photographer from Marburg to do some brainstorming on what kinds of shoots we’d both like to do in the near future just to broaden our repertoires/portfolios.  Given my facial features and hair, we’re definitely doing something Celtic-themed in addition to a few random ideas that popped into our heads…I think I’ll keep them a secret until I have the photos to show you all. ^_^  Mischief, mischief.

Along the lines of dance, I disregarded the early warning signs of sickness and opted to go to Cup & Cino on Friday for their monthly salsa event, which turned out to be well worth the cold that ensued…Victoria and Ana, my two new Spanish friends, and their stoic-but-friendly Belgian friend Jannick joined Rick, Rick’s Italian roommate Vincenzo, Kyra and me for a wonderful night of salsa, merengue, and bachata.  The dj was an incredibly good dancer from Puerto Rico who wanted to know where I learned to salsa and was surprised to hear we do so much of it in Wisconsin!  The night in general was reminiscent of Madison, since I actually know a decent chunk of the salsero/a population now…it’s a happy feeling…

Saturday night was full of eastern European/Balkan beats, laid down by a random dj at Jokus, a venue near my apartment in the center of Gießen.  To give you an idea: large dance floor, the entire group made up of artsy people who don’t give a damn about who sees them dancing crazily (soooo much better than the usual German hesitancy) and music like the soundtrack of Everthing is Illuminated on crack as the main stimulant.  Good times, good exercise, let me tell you.

Ah yes, as to the reason why I’m actually here: school is still going well, no worries!  I’ve been shuffling around some of my classes, visiting some only every other week in order to reach more students overall.  Next week I’ll be going with the school choir to the nearby town of Schlitz for a three-day rehearsal in preparation for the Christmas concert.  Don’t ask me why, but three days with 80 middle schoolers sounds like fun to me!

I’ve also begun tutoring private English lessons on the side, and I can’t complain about getting paid the equivalent of $20/hour for it.  I’m hoping to pick up some more clients within the next couple weeks and earn a bit of money under the table.

University classes have started, but due to scheduling issues I missed the first two sessions of my psychology class.  This Friday I should finally be able to go to it, so get excited to hear about “Sensation and Perception”, a seminar lead by a real, live Oxfordian, hurrah!  It’s essentially about vision and optics, how people perceive images, motion, etc.  Should be “stimulating”, if all goes well.

I suppose this post turned out to be all about things related to self-development, but apparently that’s what this Fulbright year is supposed to be…can’t say I mind!