Wednesday, January 7, 2009

In Which our Heroine finds Jews, Food, a Program, and a Home (warning: this will be long, feel free to skim, laugh, complain, or completely ignore)

Hello to all of you faithful readers, friends and family. And by faithful I mean still interested after a whole week of my journey. Trek. Travels. What have you.

I last left you hanging on the edge of your seats in suspense as to whether or not I would indeed find my way to Chabad for Friday night services and dinner. Well, I am pleased to announce that I did indeed find my way without getting lost even once. It was really a miracle worth celebrating with prayer.

Though I had heard the Jewish life in Barcelona was fairly small, I was pleasantly surprised to find a fairly active Chabad. The Chabad is a tiny room in the basement of an apartment building located in a ridiculously hidden street that is nearly impossible to find. I walked by it several times at first (which doesn’t count as being lost, or at least I’m not counting it…) because it really doesn’t look like more than a doorway. The services started out small, but by the end of Kabbalat Shabbat the room was quite full and there were certainly no more seats in either the men or women’s section. The Chabad rabbi is fairly young and therefore only has five children right now, to whom he speaks only in Hebrew. His five-year-old daughter Chavi spent much of services talking very loudly to me in perfect Hebrew about her preschool’s bathrooms. I went to the rabbi’s house for dinner and met several visiting Israelis, a Brazilian, a Frenchmen, and two University of Colorado students who (of course) had several friends in common with me. On Saturday I returned to shul for more services (and lots more Jews, especially adorable Spanish children) as well as a hearty Kiddush followed by a poorly played game of chess with the Frenchmen. I did get an offer to go visit him in Paris though, so perhaps not so poorly played…

When I got back to the hotel I went to the lobby where I met my program leaders (six Barcelonian women studying tourism at universities in the area, all of them incredibly nice and all of them incredibly beautiful, a seeming trend here in Barcelona). I also met four of the five other students on my program. Minna arrived a few days late because of a plane misshap. Better late than never at least.

We spent the first few days touring the city by foot, learning the transportation system (which is amazing and makes me wish we had a whole lot more money to replace the el’s in Chicago…), going out for Spanish food, and tasting lots of great wine. On Monday morning we were shipped off to our respective homes to unpack and then met at the program office for more orientation programs.

Heather and I are staying with a little old lady named Ana fairly close to Las Ramblas in a cute, if very cold, apartment. Ana has lived here for approximately 40 years and has hosted study abroad students for a long time so she’s pretty accustomed to Americans. Ana is Catholic and there are pictures of Jesus on almost every wall in the house. It’s not that I mind as a Jew, but more that pictures of Jesus always freak me out a little just because he looks scary and in a lot of pain.

Spaniards have a special holiday called Día de los Reyes which means Day of the Kings and is their equivalent of Santa Clause. The three Kings who have something to do with the three wise men (perhaps are the three wisemen?) come to give gifts to all the good little boys and girls on January 6. This means all decorations are up until the 7th including the complete nativity scene in our dining room. Everyone in my group has been sticking together and we were planning to go to the parade on the 5th a night but never really got around to it. No worries though, Spaniards love festivals so there will be many more opportunities.

Okay, to anyone who is still reading, you deserve a nice anecdote for your patience. This morning I decided to go running by the beach (just a few minutes from the apartment, and really incredibly beautiful) but I needed to be able to get back in the apartment. Ana made us copies of the key to her place but they’re not of great quality so she wanted to see me open the door before I left. Heather got in the shower as I was about to go out and Ana took the key to show me how the door works. This was the basic conversation, translated into English of course:
Ana: Turn it like this (turns to the right, then the left)
Me: Okay, like this? (turn to the right, then left, door doesn’t open)
Ana: No, to the left
Me: Okay, like this? (turn to the left, door doesn’t open)
Ana: No, to the right (opens door with some difficulty by turning to the right, then left), and remember that she’s lived here for 40 years.)
Me: (more aggravated) Like this? (turn to the left, door doesn’t open)
Ana: No, like this (turns to the right, then left, door opens after several tries)
Me: (really aggravated) So like this (turn to the right, then left, door doesn’t open)

This went on for the entirety of Heather’s shower, she had time to dress and put on makeup before Ana gave up and gave me her original key to use, which opened the door with much less difficulty, though it’s still a pain in the butt. Basically I’m trapped inside or outside, but I can’t leave without Ana. If this was a test of my patience, I failed miserably.

So basically, I love Barcelona minus today’s hail and the obnoxious door to our apartment. Also minus the cold water for the shower, to which I have to ignite the flame for the water heater by had. Even with all these problems the city is amazing and I’m exciting (though terribly nervous) for classes to begin tomorrow. Still don’t know what classes I’m taking, but if it’s horrible I can always participate in the glory that is add/drop.

Also, I finally got a cell phone here so if you for some reason have money lying around and want to call Spain to talk to me feel free to email and ask for the number. Of I may just call you since it’s really not that expensive for me. Or I can stick to facebook stalking everyone I love. Really it’s all the same to me.

Much amor a todos y Feliz Dia de los Reyes!

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