Sunday, January 30, 2011

Barca fever.

The day after tomorrow I fly to Barcelona! Chelsea, Alex, Brandon and I are staying in Barcelona for three nights and then we are flying to Sevilla and staying there for a night before taking the bus home on Saturday.

It's going to be a short week filled with Gaudi, Dali, Miró, Picasso, food, markets, fashion, and Catalan! Most people also speak Spanish, but I am so excited to this crazy language that only this region of Spain speaks. It's such a linguistic mystery (like Euskara and Gallego of Spain are as well).

So expect some fancy photos next week of this trip and detailed news of my upcoming Semana Santa (Easter Break) trip as well!

I love and miss you all!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

La Alhambra.

After living in Spain for five months, we finally made it up the famous castle-meets-fotress-meets-palace, that is the Alhambra. Some background on the Alhambra for those of you who don't know: The Alhambra, literally "the red one", is a palace and fortress complex constructed during the mid 14th century by the Moorish rulers of the Emirate of Granada in Al-Andalus, occupying the top of the hill of the Assabica on the southeastern border of the city of Granada. Yes, that was from Wikipedia, but yes, I verified it with my own knowledge and information. Hah. Our guide was also my literature teacher and gave us some great information. For example, there were once 2,000 inhabitants in the hilly, walled city of Alhambra. It had a military zone, three full palaces, all constucted with clay, stone, and gypsum.

Anyway! I took Alex and Chelsea for their upcoming birthdays and Brandon came along as our photographer. Half of the following photos were taken with his SLR and half with my Canon Powershot. However, either can do this magical place justice.

The entrance (that we took) to get into the Alhambra. The walls are clay with a red tinge to them. However, they are incredibly strong. There was a massive metal door to protect the Arabic city within, as well has a large open ceiling, from which archers could fire at intruders. There is a Virgin Mary near the entrance that the Spaniards added once they conquered it. However, there is also still "El Mano de Fátima" or "El Mano de Hamsa" which is the Arabic symbol of defense against the evil eye, or evil intruders in this case. Once inside, there is a zigzag hallway to the rooms, as another form of defense and confusion.

The following photos are views from the Torre de Vela, in the military "wing" of the Alhambra. The tower was another form of defense, to spot intruders from a distance. There are also barracks and prison cells at the base of the tower.

The vast "circle" within the greater "square, that is the Alhambra:

This is a plaza, just before Palacio Comárex. The wall details are geometric shapes, vegetable and plant life, and poetry. The plant-based art exists because the Muslim belief was that using humans or animals to construct something in the name of Allah or the king was wrong. So they only used plants! And the key plants were acorns, pinecones (representing a union between the people and Allah), and shells (representing speech and oration to Allah). The poetry is in Arabic calligraphy and is an ode to a beautiful Arabic woman, who is really, the personification of the Alhambra. Intense, I know. I wish I could read it. :(

Then we walked into one of the three palaces, called "Palacio Comárex," which took my breath away. Look at how amazing this is! The mirror pool and both ends of this palace are stunning.

This is the entrance/center of the Leones Palace. Unfortunately, a little part of the center was under construction so they had to put up these walls around it. However, it is still very cool.

This elaborate ceiling is in the "Sala de los dos hermanos," or "Salon of the two brothers" within Palacio Leones.

Also, there are four gardens for the Leones Palace alone! Here is the view from the end of one:

Finally, our guide was María Carmen has taught two of my classes and will teach another next semester. She is ridiculously intelligent and well-read and didn't bring a single note or cue-card for herself on this tour. I was impressed. She is just tops and kind as can be. So I asked her to take a picture with us. :) So here is my wonderful teacher, María Carmen!

Snapshots between 6,000 miles.

I am sick of posting nothing but my face on this blog. So it's your turn, family and friends. I am bummed that I can't post a photo of everyone who I miss from home on this blog, this being because I haven't snapped photos of all of you when we've Skyped. But! The theme of this blog is the infamous Skype Dates I've had with many of you. Most of them are Collette and I being ridiculous, but in any case, these are golden!

You may refer to her as Collette Shakur, or find your own name for the female Tupac (who really does live).

One time, I made the mistake of allowing Collette and Nick to Skype me from Panera Bread in Redlands. I had just gotten out of the shower around 1 a.m. my time and they were happily lunching. These kids are hilarious.

I cherish this next sneaky snapshot. The first time Gideon and I Skyped was on Thanksgiving and I had just gorged myself in a German dinner with my program. I caught him online by surprise and we got to talk for over an hour. Just fantastic.

And sometimes, I just Skype Collette's dogs. Whether she likes it or not. I miss Mandy and Jackson so incredibly much. Even though all Mandy wants me for is the lotion on my legs that she proceeds to lick off every time I see her. Hah.

Nick and I discussing how desperately we want to go to Tibet and India, I'm sure.

This one is just classic: Dad and I are laughing (almost to tears) at good old Papa Moke. I had just been Skyping him when he had one of his funnier moments. Dad and I are cracking up.

And finally, Dad snapped this shot of Papa Skyping me. He was so happy; it makes me melt.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The list.

I got to Skype Collette, Gideon, Nick and my mom all in a couple hours the other day. The day before, I saw Papa Moke and my dad! I even got to Skype Alysha yesterday! I was overjoyed! I was impressed by technology yet again! Until today. I tried to Skype Papa Bob and Grandma Bon. The visual signal was on point. But I couldn't hear them! :( I hope it was just a minor issue that can be resolved before next time, but I was so bummed. At least I got to see them. I sure love and miss you, Papa and Grandma!

It's funny, I haven't felt homesick at all the entire past semester. I was rolling right along when some of the people I live with were getting the blues for their family and friends. Don't get me wrong, I think about my family and friends every second of every day and I DO miss them; just not in a homesick sort of way. Even the holidays didn't get to me too much. The only time I was really aching for a hug was the night of Christmas Eve. I think I have it figured out--it didn't FEEL like the holidays here. Everything is just so different from home. And then, when it was the actual day of Christmas and New Years, I was traveling all over Europe and didn't have TIME to miss home.

But the other day, Brandon and I went shopping during the "Rebajas" (or, "sales"). The day after Tres Reyes Magos is a huge sale day in Spain. It's like Black Friday, but even crazier because they don't have a day of sales BEFORE Christmas to curb the rush afterwards. It was chaotic, crowded, annoying, and clothes flew everywhere, but it was somehow ... fun. And it felt like home. It felt like the day after Christmas when Collette, Nick, James and I used to fight the crowds for the H&M or Urban sale. I missed home. Well, not the crazy stores, but the people--my people.

I started to feel a bit down. As usual, I'd rather laugh at myself than pity myself. So rather than missing the living crap out of my family and friends, I made a list. The following is a list of THINGS that I miss from home. I will concentrate on missing the stupid material things I took for granted when I had them, rather than getting down on missing my family and friends when I can Skype them to get recharged anyway.

The list of non-people that Laura misses that are impossible to find or recreate in Spain:

Mexican food in general
Anything spicy
Genuine chocolate chip cookies (or just vanilla extract would be nice)
My car, Dot
Singing in Dot and exploring new music on my commute
San Francisco MUNI (and fairly prompt and familiar public transportation in general)
Making or earning money, not just spending it
In N Out
Toilet seat covers in public bathrooms
Toilet paper in public bathrooms
Soap in public bathrooms
Japanese food
Being able to bake whenever I want (and having all of the proper ingredients)
Collette's dogs
Ladda's dogs
Coffee Bean's Tea Lattes
The English measuring system (for my own convenience, but I am becoming BOMB at metric)
Neutrogena face cleanser

The truth is, I can find ten things I love about this country for each one of those stupid listed items. But the moral of the story is: SAVOR THEM ALL YOU LUCKY DUCKS 'CAUSE YOU MISS BEAN, RICE AND CHEESE BURRITOS WHEN YOU DON'T HAVE THEM.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Museums Galore

This blog is dedicated to Miss Collette Johns and her artistic self. :)

So I visited three museums during my trip, and all of them blew me away. The first up is the Louvre in Paris. Just to jump right in, I saw the Mona Lisa and that baby is well guarded with security on either side and bullet proof glass:

But more impressing to me was the painting on the other side of the room. It is called "The Wedding Feast at Cana" by Paolo Veronese and it was massive. It's about 22 feet by 33 feet. And it is beautiful.

Every time I turned a corner, I was surprised to find another piece of art that I had only ever known through text books. It was surreal to see them in fingertips' reach. This is "Lady Alston" by Thomas Gainsborough.

This piece haunts me. I forgot to write down the name, but I believe it is by Romeo Borgognoni, but even with that name, I can't find more information. It's puzzling to me, why he chose certain people to be dead in this painting. I desperately wish I could find more information, but it's incredible.

I then walked down the hall to the Greek and Roman sculpture section. On the way, I saw this window and dreaded going outside in the cold I could practically feel by looking at it:

Once in the Greek and Roman section, I saw this piece. Yes, it is pretty at first glance. But as always, I am comparing real life to literature (it's my major, okay?). And I immediately knew what the piece was just from reading Greek literature in class. It is based off of my favorite Greek story, "Cupid and Psyche." And it's so passionate.

Now! Off to London! This is from TATE, the London Museum of Modern Art and it was also HUGE. With Modern Art, I accept that there are pieces I will never understand no matter how abstract I can make my thoughts. You need to be the artist to fully grasp the motive. Despite my lack of understanding, I try not to judge pieces and be that jerk that stands there and says, "My 5-year-old could do that." Because honestly, your five-year-old could NOT make a social commentary on Polynesian rights with minimalist brush stroke. Your kid can scribble and say they're "worms," not a social movement. But, I'll be the first to admit that occasionally, I laugh at an awkward or nearly empty piece until I remind myself the truths I just stated. ANYWAY! Modern Art! I am going to post the pieces that I cannot comment on, as I did not take proper notes on those. This is for aesthetic purposes:

Then I found a whole room for Andy Warhol and I was a happy camper!

I didn't know either of these artists, but I really loved these. A lot:

This is Monet's "Water Lillies" and it was MUCH bigger than I expected!

Finally, they had a Dali and I was so pleased. I stood there and looked at it for probably ten minutes. I later found a painting by Diego Rivera, and it was NOT a mural! I had completely forgotten that he did actual canvas as well. Pleasent surprise, indeed.

To switch suddenly from art to history, we also visited the Imperial War Museum in London. This was incredible for entirely other reasons. When we think of WWII, we picture America as the focal point. But England pictures England as the focal point and Germany as Germany, etc. So it was refreshing and interesting to see an entire museum with a spin off of all the wars that I had never seen. They had a WWI and WWII section (with trench and blitz experiences), Conflicts since 1945, a Baghdad section, Secret War, Survival at Sea, Crimes against Humanity (which made me cry), and a Holocaust Exhibition (also cried).

The outside of the museum at night and the main lobby with all kinds of tanks, submarines and aircraft to look at:

The WWI trench experience was really cool! You walked through and it was pitch black and difficult to walk (you had to duck and watch your footing) and it smelled likes sulfur. You could lean in close to the mannequins and hear them talk to one another or read letters from home. It was nuts! I had to use flash to be able to pick up anything in the shots. So imagine it about ten times darker than the images you'll see here:

There was a Women of WWII exhibit and I was shocked when I saw the image of the woman. I thought it was Grandma Cella. She has the same figure, hair color/style and fashion. In fact, I have seen more black and white photos than I can count of her in that kind of outfit in that exact pose. So I took a picture to prove to the Fennells how freaky it really was for me:

The following images are of exhibits of dictators and war tactics:

The hero of the British war history is Major-General Bernard Montgomery and DANG that dude had a ton of medals:

Finally, I saw this statue dedicated to fallen soldiers and I thought it was very beautiful:

And that concludes my museum-mania in Europe! (For now.)