Arlene Reich


The perpetual relaxation in Oviedo contrasting my own East Coast work ethic means that I am almost anxious at times when I am not busy.  I feel like my host mom is constantly telling me, “tranquila”, which essentially means, “you need to chill out”.   This is probably due to my aversion to the mid-day siesta when most of Spain shuts down to take a nap.  This, however, has offered me time to recover and re-realize free time.  After a harrowing and bone-rattling fall semester I finally have the time to practice yoga and painting, enjoy public spaces, read, play futbol, and finish some REM cycles.  Also, this entire month marks the discount season, making January a shopper’s haven and a budgeter’s downfall.  I have spent hours crawling through the European Zara, leather shoe stores, Pull & Bear, and El Corte Ingles after class.

After a brilliantly sunny first week, the rain has arrived.  It never becomes a downpour, however, appearing more as a kind of dense fog.  With the green and mountainous backdrop, Oviedo retains its beauty even during the muddy walks to school (through which, Asturian women continue to rock expensive pumps).  The view from my bedroom window every morning is inexplicable.

La Casa de Las Lenguas is a small cube on the humanities campus of the University of Oviedo, called the Milan campus.  All of the foreign students, numbering somewhere near 130, attend class here on its two highest floors.   Classes are scheduled from Monday through Friday between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.  It is filled with voices speaking broken Spanish, tinted by English, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, and German.  The campus has a truly international feel due to the variety of international students.  This mix also forces us to ditch the use of English.  The classes themselves are not challenging, emphasizing the practice of speaking in normal conversational situations.

I plan to finish the Spanish Language and Literature major here in Oviedo, so the course load is comparable to the upper-level classes offered at home. It is a five-course semester consisting of Directed Readings, Masterpieces of Spanish Literature, Translation, Phonetics, and the Art of Spain.  I am rapidly becoming acquainted with the culture unique to both Asturias as a region and Spain as a nation.  The Art of Spain has become a personal favorite, and its scheduled 9 am start time does not deter attendance.   Most interesting to me are the common threads intertwining each of the subjects, in particular, the parallel cycles of change found in art, architecture, literature, and thought.

I have also begun to tutor in English.  Many parents, frustrated with the high prices of the classes offered by institutions, instead seek the help of American students studying abroad in order to teach their children conversational English.  6-year-old Helena convinced me that her name was actually Dora–wearing Dora the Explorer’s iconic purple backpack, Helena ran around the house screaming “I don’t waaaant to speak English” in a passable British accent.  For about 10 euro/hour we play with her dolls, attempting to pass on some vocabulary with common phrases, household items, clothing, and colors.

This Wednesday was also colored by the Real Madrid vs. Barcelona FC game, which we celebrated with the Spaniards by dancing in the streets with our Mahous in hand.  Barcelona defeated Real Madrid 2-1, with a rematch due the same time next Wednesday (Go Barca).  Futbol retains a holy air in Spain, and the clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona FC moves the Spaniards in powerful ways.  Overtaken by spiritual hysteria, some reached to ignite their fireworks, and others turned to put bowed heads into corners to hide their tear-streaked despair.

This weekend, we took a trip by bus to Pais Vasco in the northeast of Spain in order to explore Bilbao and San Sebastian—I will need a whole lot of space to detail how madly I have fallen in love with this region.

I continue to pinch myself every morning.

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