When I Came To Spain, And I Saw People Partying ON CHRISTMAS EVE, I Thought To Myself…

Where I’m from, the only places open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are churches, movie theaters and Chinese restaurants. My upbringing in suburban New England has foolishly duped me into thinking this fact is a universal truth; that Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue must close as to not disrupt Kris Kringle on his circumterrestrial route and that there is simply nothing else to do on December 24th and 25th other than stay in, absorb your caloric intake for the week in mere hours, and watch a Christmas Story on TNT, of course.

Well, after spending the holidays in Spain I have come to realize that all of that is a big sham, a mountebankery, a flimflam if you will. And, Spaniards being Spaniards, Christmas Eve is one of the biggest party nights of the year, naturally.

I think this sentiment and my experience on Christmas Eve are best expressed in (butchered) holiday verse:

While listening to an assortment of Spanish club jamz, there arose such a clatter; I sprang to the balcón to see what was the matter.

 When, what to my wondering eyes should appear? A street full of Spaniards, like it was any other day of the year.

Translated from the tongue of “Holiday Cheer,” shortly after I finished a shockingly delicious, self-prepared dinner (yeah Betty Crocker, I see you) I peered outside of the apartment I was in only to discover everyone and their Santa-hat-wearing brother was out and about tossing back kalimotxo like it was a Thursday in October.

Apparently this was nothing to write home about for the rest of the folks I was with, but to me it was about the equivalent of rolling out of bed any given day and finding Pat Sajak in the kitchen making pancakes. It’s taking a normal, average day, then add something completely atypical and extraordinary to it – say Mr. Sajak flipping some ‘jacks like it ain’t no thang, or in this case, streets bustling with Spaniards at 4am. The latter is not an uncommon occurrence in the least, but oh yeah IT’S 4AM ON CHRISTMAS EVE, AREN’T YOU PEOPLE SUPPOSED TO BE DREAMING OF SUGARPLUM FAIRIES SOMEWHERE!?

The truly baffling notion to me was that it wasn’t just one street or one establishment, it was everywhere. Everywhere I went it was packed – packed with Santa Claus impostors and candy cane wielding folks all looking to have a good time holiday style. I think this shot says it all:

The big guy can have fun too, right?
The big guy can have fun too, right?

This picture has everything: Papa Noel, a crowd of people, and to top it off, a scantily clad dancer in the background. If that doesn’t scream Christmas, I don’t know what does.

However, after having some time to mull it over, the initial level of surprise in regards to this phenomenon has greatly diminished in my mind and has now reached the point to where it is almost infinitesimal. Everything about living, studying and merely existing in another country seems surreal, holidays being one the paradigms of this concept and Christmas being the icing on the Pat Sajak-made (pan)cake. Very few things here are exactly how they are in the States, so why should holidays be any different?

The danger of this situation comes when many foreigners often times feel robbed of their own, in this case American, traditions and values. However, I think a more appropriate phrasing is to not feel robbed of your traditions, rather added on to. There’s no need to get angry that people go out until the witching hour on Christmas, nor that most stores are closed during the seemingly vital business hours that are siesta, just take it as it is and go with it. And I may have missed out on Labor Day, Halloween and quite a bit of election coverage, but I did get a long weekend at the beginning of December, got to celebrate New Years two weeks early with 50,000 other students, and a day off from school in November for a continent-wide strike. I think I can live with that. Not to mention the day all North Americans can all agree on anything, let alone a pre-arranged day to peacefully vent political and social frustrations, is the day Chancellor Coombe does the robot at commencement.

So, while Christmas was certainly unconventional by my definitions, it’s all a part of this whacky, flimflam-filled, surreal experience called studying abroad. My advice would be to just enjoy it as much as you can, try to learn something and wave to Pat Sajak along the way.

— Quincy Snowdon, DUSA 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