Here’s To You, Maria

Everyday starts with Maria. I don’t know who this breakfast broad thinks she is invading my plate uninvited every morning, but everyday without fail, she appears in her circular, buttery glory.

Who is Maria you ask? Allow me to introduce you:

Maria Cookies
Image courtesy of Google Images

Gastronomically, she is little more than refined sugar and flour, with a taste falling somewhere between a Golden Oreo and Ritz crackers. Visually, she’s a simple golden disk with a border design that approaches a description worthy of the word ornate, but doesn’t quite get there.

I occasionally ponder what the person who inspired this pedestrian pastry might look like as I hurriedly muscle down her dry, almost flavorless crumbs before class, my mind reeling with famous Marias of the world, “maybe it could be her, or her or maybe even her!” However, until recently, I have thought little more about Maria outside of those half-lucid, early-morning musings and how I associate her with how much I dislike my host mom’s mandate that I eat something before class, even though I have absolutely no desire to. I constantly feel how all dads must feel on Christmas Eve, after a night of excessive indulgence in holiday treats and eggnog, being obligated to take a few bites of the cookies left out for Papa Noel (as he is affectionately called in Spain) to prove to Junior that he did in fact squirm down the chimney and did in fact take the time to indulge in the lovely Tollhouses next to the tree.

My apathy towards Maria took a sudden turn last week, when for some reason or other I decided I really should find out who this chick is. Why does she get her own cookie? What’s her story? What’s her sign? So immediately following breakfast (if you can call a few crackers and water breakfast, it’s really more of a geriatric snack) I did what any good American citizen with a question does: I started googling.

It did not take long to find out that Maria is a big deal. And by big deal I mean an overwhelmingly large deal, as in she is one of the highest-ranking officials in the cookie/cracker world and has a reach that spans across several continents.

Maria cookies or “Marie biscuits” as they are apparently called in many other countries, were originally named for the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia – not quite as easy on the eyes as some of the other Marias I hinted at, but she holds her own in a 19th century kind of way. According to the cookie’s own Wikipedia page, they first came into existence when a London bakery made them in 1874 to celebrate Alexandrovna’s marriage to The Duke of Edinburgh. It also turns out that the biscuits hold exceptional importance in Spain, as they were mass produced at the end of the Spanish Civil War due to an abundance of wheat, and served as a symbol of newfound prosperity as well as financial and social recovery. If my breakfast plate serves as any indication, it seems that symbol has carried over all the way to the 21st century. The treat has also leapt over countless geographic and cultural borders, and is now manufactured in Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Malaysia and Pakistan to name a few of the more exotic locations. There are even entire blogs dedicated to rating the taste and quality of Marias ‘round the world – who knew.

So here’s to you, Maria. Thanks for helping me dust off my decrepit WRIT 1122/1133 research skills, helping me to learn a thing or two and for being my better half at the breakfast table.

And oh yeah, she’s a Libra.

Quincy Snowdon, DUSA Student Blogger

An Olfactory Tour of Salamanca, Spain

Scent is the strongest sense tied to memory. Ok, that might not be entirely true as I am basing my science off of an Old Spice commercial from 2008, but I deeply and vehemently believe it. I also believe it is the single most overlooked aspect of any study abroad experience, however one of the most influential, important and telling of daily life.

And while I realize it is just about impossible to effectively describe a scent in words, and it is one of those things that “just doesn’t translate” (a concept I am becoming all too familiar with), I’d like to take a stab – just for all those underprivileged smells out there. Below is a 10 (7) stop olfactory tour of Salamanca, Spain based on my daily walk to class. Before you begin, please be sure to blow your nose and prepare your olfactory bulbs for a transcendent experience to the pungent, cobblestone streets of Europe.

1.) Home stay – I awake every morning to a somewhat oxymoronic slurry of smells, those being cigarettes and freshly cleaned linens and clothing. My host mom is a smoker, and also an obsessive cleaner, hence the  confusing combination of Chesterfields and Downy that greets me every day.

 Scented candle fragrance: Nicotine Dreams

2.)Kebab La Via – Directly under my apartment is an exquisite establishment that oozes greasy, meaty splendor. Kebab La Via, sells what in Spain are referred to as Kebabs, which are essentially just Greek gyros on steroids. The workers there periodically slice off tender, perfectly cooked slices of lamb that could make even the most dehydrated person’s mouth turn into a saliva tsunami.

Scented candle fragrance: Slow-roasted Splendiferousness

Kebab La Via

3.) Cigarettes

4.) La Tahona de la Abuela – The next stop on my journey, just might be the best part of my day. Eyeing it across the street my eyes glaze over and my mind is immediately void of all thought save the otherworldly aroma about to cross my path. With unrelenting fervor, like a child waiting to feverishly tear open that long-awaited present on Christmas morning, I dart across the street and stand for 5-10 seconds giving the largest, most satisfying inhale this side of the Iberian peninsula. The scent is a mixture of strudels, pastries, cakes and any other Willy Wonka-esque item your mind can conjure up – striking a poignant balance between sugar-plum dreams and sugar-drenched reality.

Scented candle fragrance: Confectionary Ecstasy

La Tahona de la Abuela

5.) Cigarettes

6.) Garbage – One of the most unexpectedly rank parts about this walk and I think Europe in general is that you can go from being subjected to the sugar-laced bliss described above to seconds later being subjected to a stench that seems to have come out of the armpit of Satan himself. I don’t know where these foul molecules of air come from, but it often results in a nasal invasion that is something between a can of Starkist that has been left out in the sun for a week and the wrong end of a dog a few hours after it has gotten a hold of an entire sheet of brownies.

 Scented candle fragrance: Sanitary Sensations

7.) La Plaza Mayor- This really is a roll of the dice any given day – could be exceptionally good, or could be extremely, horribly, atrociously bad. You could be fortunate enough to get a whiff of the tortilla someone is hastily enjoying, or Karma could be exceptionally against you that day and you could wind up with an unexpected inhale of pure gas from the exhaust of a Mahou truck plowing through in the early morning, or the oh-so-unfortunate fragrance of someone’s regurgitated paella from a recent walk of shame. Like I said, roll of the dice.

Scented candle fragrance: Sugar & Spice…And Everything in between

8.)Cigarettes

9.)Rua mayor – This street is a somewhat gruesome assault on the senses, although I would have to qualify and say it is a meticulously planned and calculated ground attack…as opposed to the firestorm air raid that I think is often associated with that phrase. There is always a slew of stank brooding, from the delectable tapas, to cigarette smoke (of course), to the general stench of human existence on an 85 degree day. This is the final stretch of my walk, which is fitting to say the least, as it is a true snapshot of the aromatic Spanish lifestyle.

Scented candle fragrance: Essence of Salamanca

Rua Mayor

10.) Palacio de Anaya (school) – My final destination produces an aromatic aura that is a fitting end to the daily thrill ride for my battered and beaten nasal cavity. The final scent comes compliments of the actual classrooms, these halls reek of academia in the most traditional sense of the word; decades-old creaking desks, combined with stressed and anxiety-filled students produce an oddly satisfying musk that exudes intelligence, must and restlessness. The only description I can conjure up is that they are redolent of how I imagine the library of some great philosopher/mathematician would smell as they frantically put quill to scroll.

 Scented candle fragrance: Archimedes’ study

Addendums: (In no particular order, but bound to be encountered at some point).

-Jamón – I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some sort of cured meat on the list. Although, the very fact that it is so heavily salted and cured doesn’t lend itself to a very distinct smell…just a sort of muted, fleshy scent. The sight is really more jarring than the odor.

Jamón

-Perfume – It’s guaranteed you’ll get at least one blast from some dolled-up Spaniard along the way.

-Exhaust – As anyone who has lived in any-sized city can attest, it is a victory if you make it to your destination without being doused in a murky cloud of CO.

-…..Cigarettes….one last time.

That is pretty much that. As I stated in the introduction, I realize it is nearly impossible to fully convey the aromas of a place without actually being there, but hopefully this list gives an inkling as to what any given nose goes through on a daily basis. And although not all of the descriptions above necessarily please the holes between my eyes, I wouldn’t change a thing about it, because it is this giant melting pot of odds and ends that make up the experience and make up the identity that is Salamanca. So the next time you’re walking around wherever you are, stop, pause and take a nice, long, sustained whiff. As much as you and your nose may hate to admit it, that’s what you’ll remember when you are back in the good old Sturm wanting to smack your head against your desk – at least, that’s what Old Spice says.

–Quincy Snowdon, DUSA Blogger