It’s been difficult switching between English and Spanish, so I’ve been lazy and inattentive to my blog. Sorry everyone, avoiding English is easier than delving into these long posts. Plus, who can really get anything done with Despacito playing everywhere over and over and over again?
It’s not pure lethargy that’s kept me from posting. I am swamped with papers and readings in Spanish that all require a significant chunk of my time.
“You’re not actually studying though are you?” my friends would jokingly say to me.
Believe it or not, studying abroad actually requires you to, ya know, study abroad.
I was in Salamanca with other University of Maryland students, a group of some great girls and Jeremy (the only guy on the trip). From the charming cafes and tapas restaurants, to the beautiful river, and the perfect Spanish of the Salamantinos, I couldn’t have asked for a better city in which to live. For four weeks, the lot of us enjoyed everything the “Youngest Oldest City” had to offer.
Now you may be wondering, what in the world does that mean? “Youngest Oldest City?”
Salamanca is a city in the Castile and León region, about two hours away from Madrid. It was founded in the 10th century, before the United States was even a concept or country. The Universidad de Salamanca is nearly the center of life in this town, and in 2018 it will turn 800 years old (just slightly ancient). Students are still in attendance, and naturally with any college town the population tends to be made up of youngsters.
This incredibly old city is full of college students, and it’s a beautiful, strange mixture.
Along with all the landmarks, like libraries with globes that don’t include North America for lack of it’s discovery, cathedrals towering over the city in marvelous fashion, hidden gardens and views, there’s a college style night life. Streets are lit up in the middle of the night by bars with drinks as big as my head and discotecas (dance clubs) that close as the sun rises. During the day, my fellow students and I were cultured students studying at one of the oldest universities in Europe. By night, you could see the Americanas with dancing through the plaza, drinking Aguas de Valencia, and passing around jokes in Spanish.
And queue the love story.
I’m not talking about falling in love with Spain or Salamanca. I’ve been in love with this country for quite sometime. This story is about “new love.” It all started like every modern romance does, with TINDER. I figured I might as well try. Being an American constantly surrounded by other Americans doesn’t help any of us practice truly speaking like a Spaniard. What better way to find native speakers than to get asked out to a romantically lit cafe? Of course, this story doesn’t include any Spaniards. In fact, my date ended up being an American from Puerto Rico.
Salamanca, and other cities in Spain have these locations in the city centers called plaza mayor. Out of all that I have seen, Salamanca has the most beautiful. It’s incredibly simple, just an open square with restaurants and stores surrounding the opening, but I absolutely love it. People gather there to hang out or celebrate, like when Real Madrid won right after I arrived in Salamanca.
I made plans with the Puerto Rican to meet in Plaza Mayor near the elephant, an almost obscene sculpture who’s rear end occasionally blasts mist into the air. It’s quite a romantic place to be.
I got on my best dress, with matching Adidas sneakers and dark red lipstick. Even if I just wanted to practice Spanish I still wanted to look good doing it. I waited in front of the farting piece of art for my date, while my two other amigas were looking out for me at a bar nearby (I didn’t want to end up as a missing person on the nightly news). As I sat there waiting, I noticed a really handsome guy, fidgeting with his phone as if he were waiting a message. I could tell he kept looking over at me, maybe waiting for a date of his own and hoping it was me. After about ten minutes of waiting, the cute guy, a Mexican rugby player, turned toward me, jumped over, and took a leap of faith by staring a conversation. Just as he started talking, my date was walking towards me. All I could think was
“Oh no I’m so awkward what do I do?”
I kept talking to the Mexican with my date now to my left. It was a sandwich of uncomfortable love affairs. I finally said to the Mexican
“This is my date! but hey, you should come with us to meet my friends…”
I invited a complete stranger on my date with a complete stranger. Not that strange right? The night was fun filled actually because of it. I took the two of them to meet my friends at the bar, and we all traded stories and drinks. The Mexican informed us he had one night left in Salamanca, and that he was glad to have made friends. At the end of the night, my date walked me home and I wasn’t feeling much chemistry between the two of us. It could have been the lack of romance tinder kindles, or the rugby player that intercepted me right before my night was to begin.
Next night, I made no plans with any dates. All I wanted was to dance and enjoy my brief time in Spain. I dressed again in a cute dress with sneakers, ready for the bars of Salamanca but they surely weren’t ready for me. Off I went into the night, straight to the plaza mayor. When I arrived, my friend informed me she invited the Mexican along for the night. Apparently, he hadn’t actually left.
I saw him out of the corner of my eye and ran over. That night in plaza mayor there was a vibrant light show in the middle of the plaza as part of a week of artistic expression in the city. He was standing on the steps of the elephant where we first chatted, watching with everyone else. His name burst from my mouth, followed by his immediate swivel towards me and a smile flashed across his face.
I wanted this night for myself, but he easily convinced me otherwise when he asked me if I wanted to get a beer, or rather a cerveza, in his smooth accent.
He took my hand and asked where I’d like to go, ending up in a nearby bar in the plaza. My feet dangled, his firmly planted on the ground, as we sat at a high table by the window. He spoke little English, so the entirety of the conversation was in Spanish. We leapt from topic to topic, discussing the new star wars movies, politics in the U.S, Mexican poetry, and his rugby career. After about an hour, we left to look for the others girls and to head to another bar with the intention of staying out for the rest of the night. No one appeared, and I was rather disappointed to miss my friends. The feeling disappeared after turning around from the bar to a kiss.
Yep, I was smitten.
From bar to bar we went, then to a discoteca and another bar. We danced the night away, hand in hand. He was kind of cheesy in a really sweet way, but I couldn’t resist the way he said “beautiful.” We walked through youngest oldest city, holding hands as if this was as natural as the passing of time.
By 4am it was time to say goodbye. It felt like the night was only just beginning, but I knew it was time to go. A final kiss and an “hasta luego” were exchanged. I don’t think I’ll see him again, and I think I’d rather not. I love this memory for what it was at the time, not what it could be in the future. The ephemeral nature of my state of being in these memories makes them ever much more significant and preserved in my mind. That’s one of the best, and most depressing parts of travel, but I think life as well.
Enjoy it while it’s there.
I knew it wasn’t love, not really. That was the night though I fell in love with Salamanca. Even after the boy was gone, I’d walk down those streets and picture what I wish the future could be for me; forever enjoying the dark and wondrous nights of such an old and beautiful town.
Of course I continued to enjoy the city with friends and on my own. All of us went for tapas and wine. There were surely many more nights of Aguas de Valencia, discotecas, staying out until the sunrises, and also helping to make sure incredibly inebriated people are alright. Days were spent at the parks and pools, soaking up that Spanish sun and pretending like I wasn’t the palest person within a five mile radius. There was time to explore and time to practice Spanish with impatient shop keepers. I felt like I was a child, finding all the sites only an adventurous and curious child could find. Every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday I walked to class as if I had always lived there and always would. By the time I left, I was tempted to tell everyone “Soy de Salamanca! I’m from Salamanca!” and that was surely my joke with my friends in Madrid.