Well this is it, college - end of the line. The time I never thought would come, but always knew was just around the bend. It’s over tomorrow. Why is this so hard? I’m vaguely unsettled, but I’m trying not to think too much about it because I worry that I’ll make myself really upset. I keep trying to pretend that it isn’t a big deal, even though I know that it is.
They always tell you that these are the best years of your life, that it’s the only time you’re truly free of the responsibilities of adulthood but mature enough to live for yourself. So far, I get that. These have been the best years of my life. I’ve made lifelong friends, had indescribable experiences both here in Evanston and while studying abroad, and most importantly I have grown as a person. I really feel like I have improved myself in almost every way.
There’s always fear in the unknown. And what comes next is precisely that - unknown. Even the kids who have jobs or graduate school lined up aren’t without anxiety. I guess it’s just the worry that we won’t ever be this happy again, that we won’t ever be surrounded with this much magic. In all seriousness, it is magical - living with friends, meeting new and intelligent young people all the time, filling your head with knowledge, partying recklessly, exploring who you are, finding a place for yourself.
I know my posts tend to side on the melancholy nature of things. This is probably because when I’m happy, I don’t feel like writing, I feel like going out into the world and enjoying myself.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited to start my life. I loved Northwestern, but I don’t want to stay an undergraduate another year, let alone quarter - I’m done, ready, signed, stamped, sealed, delivered. I’m just also scared, confident, sad, happy, hopeful, and very nostalgic by nature.
To quote my friend Joseph, “I know it means we finished something important, but I’m not good with endings.”
Here’s to the next stage in life. May it be as good as the last.
To be brutally honest, not many albums came out this year that really turned me on. I’m going to include some from the last quarter of 2009 that continued to impress me throughout this year. So sue me.
1) The Temper Trap - Conditions
I’ve never been a huge fan of U2 or the whole ethereal soundscape rock movement in general, but this album really dragged me in. The combination of dulcet falsettos with crafted bass lines and jangley guitar hooks make one of the most polished and creative mainstream pop rock albums I’ve heard in a long time. The other thing I absolutely love about this album is that The Temper Trap aren’t afraid to push their songs farther than your standard radio-friendly fare - songs sometimes exceed the six minute mark but never bore the listener with their exciting build-ups and climaxes.
2) Two Door Cinema Club - Tourist History
Sure, Two Door Cinema Club isn’t necessarily doing anything new. They basically sound like a happy version of Bloc Party with an Irish version of Ben Gibbard singing vocals. But they aren’t kidding around, and they have some serious hooks. Almost all of the songs could be singles. So yeah, they’re one trick ponies, but that one trick is awesome and I haven’t gotten tired of it yet.
3) Motion City Soundtrack - Dinosaur Life
Motion City Soundtrack defined my high school music life. They were my favorite band for four years straight. At this point, I’ve more or less stopped listening to them on a regular basis. When I do, it’s more for nostalgic purposes than genuine excitement for the music. My Dinosaur Life marked a return to form for my fandom. It may be their career album. If I was 4 years younger, I would be in musical heaven. Being 22, I am happy that one of my favorite bands still has their knack. Keep fighting the good fight.
4) John Mayer - Battle Studies
For those of you who know me, I am sure you are now sighing/putting your head in your hands. Sorry. It’s not his best album. It didn’t absolutely blow me away. He looks like an Armani model with a Snuggie on the cover. But the talent is still there, and although the songs might not be quite as fresh as past albums, he’s still showcasing good songwriting. There are some gems if you put on headphones and just listen. Also, this is just another testament to the fact that Mayer never tries to fill his own shoes by writing the same album twice. Maybe it’s not as good as Continuum, but it doesn’t try to be, and I respect that.
5) Broken Bells - Self Titled
I’ve always liked The Shins, and James Mercer’s collaboration with Brian Burton has shown a bit of his versatility as a songwriter. I like to think of this as The Shins’ version of The Postal Service. These are cleverly crafted, intelligent electro-pop tunes, and there’s a lot of room for growth from this duo in the future.
I feel like someone took a 2x4 and beat every surface of my body. I knew that I was going to be sore, but I didn’t really understand the gravity of the soreness. Literally everywhere hurts.
I really can’t complain though. After I thoroughly destroy myself on my preposterous journey from the top of a mountain on a piece of fiberglass, I get to go hop into a huge outdoor jacuzzi with a view of the mountains. When I get sick of that, I can go back to our room, which has a 20 foot vaulted ceiling and windows facing a superpipe (a 22-foot half pipe, the same size used in the Winter Olympics) and the Rocky Mountains.
Sitting on a couch by the fire, I can’t help but amuse myself thinking about the extreme comfort of now contrasted with the extreme discomfort of a few hours ago.
Ski Trip is the shit. I can’t get over how nice this place is. And the country out here is indescribable. I took some pictures but they’re not so helpful. There’s an energy here that I haven’t experienced in awhile. Speaking of which, my friends are playing in a beer pong tournament down at the pub. I’d better go check on them.
“I’ll be sure to post before the summer ends.” - Stephen “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire” Krotseng, August 16th 2010
So anyway, I can’t help but notice the complete lack of leaves on the trees and the perpetual whistling of the heaters in my apartment. It’s somehow no longer Summer. Actually, it’s almost no longer Fall. It’s past Thanksgiving. Deep breath. This year is going by at speeds that would frighten Steve McQueen.
Just got back from Thanksgiving break in the Outer Banks of North Carolina with my family. There’s nothing more relaxing than spending the week in a beach house with the people you love. Oh wait. I meant NEARLY EVERYTHING is more relaxing than that. I enjoyed myself 90% of the time, but let’s just say our family keeps it interesting. We put up a kite every day though, and dubbed it the “party kite.” Nuns walked along the beach and my cousins and I devised ways to pick them up (jokingly, of course). The kitchen had two microwaves, two ovens, two dishwashers, three three sinks, but only one small trash can. I played beer pong and I ate turkey, among other things. We talked about things we were thankful for. We toasted so many times that we toasted to toasting enough to get smashed off of all the toasting. Toast.
But now I’m back in Evanston and I have, as usual, an impossibly annoying amount of things to accomplish before my 10AM class tomorrow morning. But in two weeks, I will be in Colorado, most likely nursing a sore ass on the side of a mountain as I try unsuccessfully to snowboard. Maybe I’ll have it down by the end of the week.
I’ll be sure to post by the end of the quarter!
Well, I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been pretty busy with spending the summer in Evanston. It’s been an awesome summer so far, here are some of the highlights:
Lollapalooza - I went with Lee, Sara, Carl, and Bhavani. The whole ordeal was incredible. They filled Grant Park with stages, merch tents, inflatable designs, and people, but it still managed to be fresh and open. The views of downtown were great, especially from the main stage. I saw The Temper Trap, MuteMath, The Dodos, Blitzen Trapper, The Antlers, and Soundgarden’s big reunion show. There must have been 50,000 people there for Soundgarden. Unfortunately I lost my portable camera earlier this year, so I’ll be pirating other people’s photos. Here’s a picture from Lollapalooza’s flickr account of Soundgarden’s crowd…
Last Saturday night, I went to John Mayer with KJ and Patrick (who’s been living in Lincoln Park over the summer for his internship). There really aren’t words for that show. I have always loved seeing JM, but usually I leave the concert thinking “wow, I just saw a great John Mayer show.” This time, I thought “wow, I just saw one of the greatest guitarists of the 21st century in his prime.” He just burnt the house down all night long - tap harmonics, guitar on the floor, ten minute solos, the works. During the encore, he came out into the crowd with his acoustic guitar and after the crowd rushed to where he was, we were only 50 feet away. On top of all of that, we had free seat upgrades from the lawn to real person seats. I’m not going to forget that show.
Going back in time, I also went to Wicker Park Fest, where I got to see Fun. and some other bands, as well as go to a coffee shop with a complete Back-to-the-Future style DeLorean in the front of it.
Oh, and I’ve been working. I’m helping design/test seats and fixtures for Freedman Seating Company. It’s been a good experience so far, I’m enjoying what I’m doing. Day-to-day it stays pretty fresh.
I’ll be sure to post again before the summer ends.
I’ve finished my Junior year of college, and it scares the crap out of me. I remember being a Senior in high school and thinking, wow this came fast - but I’ll be a Freshman again soon enough. Well, now I’m looking at my college Senior year square in the eye and flinching. I’ve got an internship lined up for the summer, and I’m looking forward to getting started. But when I get back to school in September, it’ll be with the knowledge that it’s the beginning of the end. I just hope what all my Senior friends tell me is true - when the time comes, you’re ready for it.
I was planning a trip to Australia with my dad at our kitchen table tonight while my mom painted in the back room. I’m really excited, we’re talking about going to Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns, and out to Uluru. I’ll be blogging it. Expect me to complain about heat and bugs, cause it’ll be in December.
It’s awesome to be home and not have to worry about classes for awhile. I sat on the couch today and read some Raymond Carver stories. He’s kinda hit and miss with me. I don’t understand the point of half of his stories, they seem to say vaguely profound things but don’t end up going anywhere. But the other half leave me sitting there with my head buzzing, in a good way. I don’t want to talk or get up, just sit and think about it for awhile, listen to my dad watching baseball in the other room and some thunder in the distance. That’s what good literature ought to do to you.
Well, it’s late and I’m hungry. I’m going to Wendy’s. Don’t judge.
I haven’t blogged in a long time. For that, I apologize. I had originally thought that I’d get back from Spain, digest the trip for a while, and about a month afterwards be able to organize my thoughts and lessons from the whole ordeal into easily readable bits for myself and whoever has ended up reading this journal.
To be frank, what happened to me in the last three months is what always happens - life. I got back to school and was immediately swept up in the rushing current of being a Northwestern student. I had a new roommate, it was my first-time living in an apartment, I was seeing friends I hadn’t seen in six months, etc. Even in my free time, I could never seem to drop into the mindset I felt this reflection deserves. And the reason for this, I hate to admit, is probably because this is the last punctuation mark of my official “study abroad” period, the end of a long line of life changing and unforgettable adventures. I’ve just never wanted to finally, well, end it, and being at school surrounded with the people I love served as a welcome distraction. ”Lighten up” you might think, “you’ve got your whole life of adventures ahead of you”. And you would be right, of course. But the study abroad experience itself is over.
There’s a quote from The Catcher in the Rye (which I coincidentally read in Spain) that has always resonated with me. When Holden’s talking about the Museum of Natural History, he says “The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times…nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.” Sure, I’ll go back to Sevilla. Maybe even stay with my host family, in the same room I was in before. But I won’t be Esteban the 21-year-old, fresh out of Sophomore year who’s never lived abroad. And I won’t be studying Art History with the persnickety old department head who reminded us every day to wear warm clothes despite the 70 degree weather. No more ultimate frisbee in Parque de los Principes with Gabo, Alex, Sarah, Patricia, Elisa, Brian, David, Brittany, and Josh. These things, these are what I will forever miss.
I’m not trying to say that I’m sad. If it lasted forever, it wouldn’t be special anymore. I’m very happy that I was fortunate enough to have the experience in the first place. I’ll always have it in my mind as one of the best times of my life. I think I grew a lot as a person and learned a lot about the world. I don’t really think I can write out specifically what those lessons are because honestly, I don’t really know how. I only understand them in a way that I can’t explain.
On a lighter note, I thought that spending three and a half months tramping my way around Europe would really satisfy my drive to travel. I remember thinking “after I get back from Spain, I’ll definitely not need to go back to Europe for a while”. Psh, wrong. Now I want to go back more than ever. And since my travels are far from over, I’m changing the name of this blog. Forget “Mi Vida Española: Accounts of a man studying and traveling in Spain and beyond”. This is henceforth going to be “Globe Trotting” a travel blog, with the occasional bits of normal life that I see fit to include tied in. With that, I bid you adieu.
The next morning, I got up rather late and ended up doing nothing until we left. My parents went to the Picasso museum and said it was really good. We caught a high velocity train to Madrid, and got into our little hotel right on Gran Via (Madrid’s main avenue) that evening. We ate at a nice Italian restaurant with an Argentinean waitress near Puerta del Sol, and called it an early night. We were all exhausted. The next morning we got up early(ish) to find that there had been a mini snowstorm the night before. We went to the Palacio Real, the Royal Palace, through the slush and cold anyway. The highlight of the tour was the Stradivarius room, where they had five Stradivarius instruments - two cellos, a viola, and two violins. They were beautiful, and I really wanted to hear what they sounded like. In all honesty though, I probably have - they’re still played when they’re not on display, and seeing as there are very few of them I would assume that very famous musicians have recorded with them before.
When we got to Madrid Airport, it was packed with people. Our plane was delayed because two of the four runways were closed due to the weather. An hour later, we were on the runway to take off when there was some mechanical issue and had to turn back. Finally, 3 hours late, we were off. Without the rest of the people from the program who were supposed to be on the plane, who unfortunately were stuck in Seville because of said weather in Madrid. Long story short, we missed the connecting flight in JFK, had to spend the night, and were on standby all day until we finally caught a plane out in the evening and got home almost exactly a day later than we were supposed to.
We woke up late(ish) for the second day and went to the extremely expensive and disappointing but unrefundable hotel breakfast. As we sat munching pastries and slightly uninspiring eggs, we plotted out the day. The first thing we did was head straight to the subway - we got out right next to the Sagrada Familia (sacred family) cathedral. Started by Gaudí in 1886 and still under construction today (predicted year of completion is 2026), it’s one of the most incredible buildings I’ve ever seen in my life. From the outside, the detail is intense. There are only 8 towers right now, but when it’s done it’ll have 18. And the ones on there now are the small ones.
The neat thing about it is it’s like a medieval cathedral with a modern interpretation.
The statues are done with a nuevo style, and the interior is just as unique.
While we were inside, they were doing acoustics testing in the main area. So we got to hear how the choir sounds. It was ethereal, really made the hair stand up on the back of your neck. The fact that humanity can still pull together and create something like this is somewhat reassuring.
We went back on the subway after leaving to head for one of Gaudí’s other famous works, “La Pedrera” or “Casa Milá”. Built between 1906 and 1910, it’s his last public work. After he built it, he went back to work on the Sagrada Familia until he died in 1926.
He wasn’t only a creative architect, he was also an innovator. La Pedrera was built so that each floor could have its own floor plan - the supports for the building weren’t in the walls, so they could be moved. The top has an iconic terrace with distinct chimneys and ventilation shafts.
Afterwards, we walked down to check out his other most famous work, Casa Batllo. We didn’t go in, but from the outside it’s also very distinctive.
We had an awesome lunch at a restaurant on the second floor of a building nearby, a lucky find by my mom. Delicious food. The afternoon was spent hopping back onto the double decker tourist bus and driving through Montjuic, the hill (mountain?) to the southwest of the city. We saw the sun go down and got a view of downtown from the steps of the art museum.
There was a cable car running up to the top of Montjuic, so we took it up and back for the views. They were pretty spectacular - unfortunately I didn’t get any good pictures because the lighting was so low and the car was swinging around.
After heading back to the hotel, we caught a cab to a restaurant down the street that had been recommended to us by one of the hotel receptionists. It ended up being an amazing tiny local place with incredible food. The manager came to our table and talked to us, and they gave us some complimentary peach liquor after the meal. The manager even called a cab for us.
The cab dropped my parents off at the hotel, and then I went to meet up with my friend Elizabeth who’s studying there for the year. She had a nice apartment-style dorm setup with her Swedish roommate from Brown. Her roommate’s younger brother was visiting, and pretty soon they had a few more people from their program over. We threw a few back and headed out to a club called Razmataz, which was enormous. It was a special occasion night, and they had a concert going on. The band took the stage at 3 and played until around 4:30. It was one of the coolest clubbing experiences I’d had in a while. I finally dragged myself back to the hotel by 5.
A lot has happened since my last post, but I’m going to try to wrap up the study abroad trip from an event basis. I think I’m going to do a post-trip evaluation about a month from now after I’ve had some time to get back to normal life and let my mind digest everything that has happened over the last four months.
The last night in Seville was really awesome. I ate dinner out with my host family, parents, and David. We went to a local restaurant where all of the folks from Castilla y León hang out (that’s a region in northern Spain, where Alberto is from). It was hilarious translating for my parents and host parents, and the topics of conversation went from my parent’s travels to cured ham production.
Afterwards, I went over to O’Neill’s one last time for a Guinness with David, Amanda and Natalie. We hopped in a cab and met up with a group of people near Calle Alfalfa downtown and ended up drinking Absinthe out of Mickey Mouse Dixie cups at a playground. I consider this one of my crowning moments in Europe. The rest of the night just consisted of going to Catedral to say goodbye to Toba, who was having a goodbye party, and bar hopping with our Spanish friends. I still hadn’t packed at this point.
On my last day, I walked around in Sevilla taking pictures of familiar places and sights, packed up, and headed to the airport with my rents and our four hundred bags (exaggeration) courtesy of the valet service of a huge van belonging to Alberto’s son Christian and my host family’s little car.
When we arrived in Barcelona, it was late. We just ate across the street from our hotel at a small cafe and crashed for the night. Barcelona was beautiful, though - totally exceeded expectations. Our hotel was in the southwestern part of the city, right at the foot of Montjuic. The first day, we walked down to the monument to Columbus and caught a double-decker tourist bus. First sign that I was traveling with my parents and not my friends. Well, that and the fact that we stayed in a hotel. We rode that around for a while taking in the sights from the frigid top level of the bus and went to Hard Rock Cafe for lunch, afterwards trekking up to Parc Güell. I don’t know what you all think about Gaudí, but you have to agree with me on this one - he was a unique man.
The park itself was awesome. There was a guy playing steel drums up on the terrace, and we just spent an hour or so wandering around and finding cool places.
The views of the city as the sun went down were spectacular.
After we left the park, we went back down to the center of the city and warmed up in a Corte Ingles. We walked down La Rambla, the city’s famous central street, and stopped for Cappuccinos on the way. Halfway down, we ran into an incredible market that was buzzing with people.
Finally, we took a cab to an area called Barceloneta where we ate at a seafood restaurant where I had the most incredible fish. Food is just better when you’re not trying to spend less than 10 euro a meal. Day 2 soon.
Just had to blog about this. Tonight, I asked my host family to teach me how to make tortilla de patata - a Spanish potato dish that we’ve had a bunch of times. So my host dad had David and I pile into the kitchen, and start peeling potatoes. Here are the highlights.
- My eyes watered from cutting onions. This has never happened to me before. Now I know that’s not a joke.
- My host dad served us German beer while we were cooking. I have an exam tomorrow.
- Eating fresh clementines while cooking for the win.
- Instructions on how to properly crack eggs and peel potatoes. I guess us Americans don’t know the right technique.
- Flipping the tortilla is an elaborate and involved process requiring, in our case, two people.
After we finished it an hour and a half later, it was perfect. We had dinner, more beer, chocolate truffles, and some awesome hard candies. Christmas carols were playing in English in the background on a CD that my host parents had just bought on their trip to England. Finally, my host dad broke out some 15 year old whiskey and an orange-based liquor that we naturally had to try. I can’t think of a better way to spend my last dinner in the house.
This has undoubtedly been the most incredible, worthwhile experience of my entire life. Ever since I was in elementary school and first heard about studying abroad, I’ve wanted to do it. Now I’m doing it, and it’s almost over. I really truly can’t believe it. It’s wonderful and terrifying all at once.
Before this semester, I’d never been out of my house for longer than two months. Going to school in Chicago was a definitive decision to get away from home, but I was still in the U.S. and well within my comfort zone. I went home for holidays, and I knew that if there was anything really wrong I could hop on the plane and be home within a few hours. I’ll tell you this - before I came to Spain, I’d never been homesick. Sure, I’d missed home once in a while, and I looked forward to going back after a long quarter of studying just as much as the next guy. But it’s different here.
When I first arrived back on September 2nd, I didn’t expect to have such a strong reaction - but I literally freaked out the first night. Lying alone in bed, I was tossing and turning, thinking nonstop, “What am I doing here? Why did I decide to do this? This was a terrible idea.” I was almost sick. The next two days were the roughest, but by the third I was feeling better. It still took me about a week and a half to fully relax. I know that “building character” is a cliché phrase, but I built character those first two weeks.
Now I’m sitting here in my room with two nights left in Seville. I just had a lunch of salad, shrimp, pork, and cider with my host family and housemate David, and now my host family is cleaning up in the kitchen and David left for class - it’s just like any other day, except that I’m staring the prospect of going home straight in the face.
It’s really bittersweet. I want to go home, for sure. I miss my friends and family. I miss my room, and being able to raid the kitchen at 1 in the morning for whatever I want. I miss my car. I miss the beach by my house, my cat, my electric guitar, American food chains, and familiar sights and sounds. I also am looking forward to getting back to Northwestern. I can’t wait to actually have to do work again, as weird as that sounds. It’s going to be cold, but it’s going to be awesome to see everyone again and be in Evanston. Furthermore, I can’t really say I feel like Sevilla is home. I’m not a tourist, but I’m also not a Sevillano.
But I can’t ignore this elephant in the room: this has been a special time in my life that will probably never be repeated, and definitely not with the same people or the same situation. When else am I going to go to a University housed in a tobacco factory built in the 1700s? When else am I going to be able to go on incredible trips to Germany, Morocco, and Belgium (among others) almost every weekend? When else am I going to be meeting so many international students my age on a regular basis?
Well, the short answer is never. But that’s what makes it special. If this was something I could do whenever I wanted, the meaning would be lost. All good things must come to an end, and that’s what I’m looking at now.
I just have to remember that everything will always live on in my memories, and the time I spent here can never be taken from me. I’ve got one more exam tomorrow, then tomorrow night I’m hitting the town one last time with my friends. Thursday I’m leaving for Barcelona with my parents, and I’ll be blogging about that. Next Monday, I’ll be flying home.
The Grand Finale! I decided the morning we drove down to Tarifa to catch the ferry to Morocco that I was going to make a video. I’m really glad that I did it - I hope I was able to capture the essence of the trip.