Marzo y Las Fallas

It’s spring time here in Valencia, which means the flowers are blooming and the hours of the day adequate to spend at the beach are increasing. March has been quite the month – from friends visiting for spring break, to celebrating Valencia’s largest annual ordeal, Las Fallas, and much more.

First, Las Fallas. Las Fallas is an incredibly event that the people of Valencia and the surrounding areas put on each year. It requires year-long planning and several group efforts to make everything come together. To begin explaining the festival, I should tell a little about the history. Las Fallas has slowly evolved over time, but it first began as a festival celebrating the patron saint of carpenters, Saint Joseph. In the past, carpenters would use planks of wood to set candles on to do their work in the winter months, and then when spring came, they no longer needed these planks of wood so they would then be burned. This act, corresponding with Saint Joseph, is what has developed over time to the modern-day version: constructing ginormous, beautifully crafted art pieces to the height of buildings and then on the last day, setting everything on fire (naturally). Several other events decorate the festival days, such as la ofrenda, which is where each of the fallera mayores carry flowers to offer to the Virgin of the city, and of course, fireworks…but not like woo America! 4th of July fireworks…I mean this is really a production.

Anyways, the timing worked out phenomenal, because my friends could join me for the festival during their spring break. They loved it as much as I did, and as neither of really knew what to expect, we were pretty amazed.

March also brought me an amazing weekend in Barcelona with some of my friends here in Valencia (and Maddie was the last visitor and got to come too). One of my friends studying in Germany has a family house outside of Barcelona that he invited us all to for the weekend after Las Fallas. We made big paellas and spent the whole day hammocking and looking down at the sea. In this day, after the craziness of Las Fallas, I really saw my life slow down before my eyes. How is it that I can have such strong days, such vibrant memories, all within such a short period of time? If my life continued this way, from here on out, for the rest of my life, at the end of it all I will feel as if I have lived a million lives in one. Looking down at the sailboats this day, I made a promise to myself. I was going to maintain this quality of life, this level of happiness, for the rest of my life. I know there will be down points, difficulties, of course – but now that I have had a little taste, a little taste of how sweet life can be, how could I go back? I won’t and I promised myself that on this warm spring day outside of Barcelona.

April is just around the corner and she also holds several great adventures…Seville, Morocco, Ibiza. I look forward to it all.

Lastly, I just want to remember this day of cleansing and cleaning with Josefine, the 30th of March. We got out of bed and went straight for a run to the beach and then came back and cleaned the entire apartment between the two of us. It felt so good to spend this time with her and just zone out a bit and clean (a lot of mess occurs when you have 12 visitors in one month). I am so lucky to have met her, and I know we will be friends for a very long time to come – my Swedish guardian!

Besos, Heath

Half-Way

I am at the middle point. I have spent August, September, October, November, December. I still have January, February, March, April, and May in my pocket. I can’t help but think of the common saying, “Is the glass half full or empty?”

I have traveled to Madrid, Tarragona, Zaragoza, Bordeaux, Toulouse, London, Porto…now I am in Pamplona, Spain with my host family that first showed me Europe. When I say it like this, it really sounds like quiet a lot. In this same time I have studied five different courses. I have significantly increased my ability to speak a second language – and I wouldn’t have noticed if my host family from two summers ago didn’t point it out to me. I basically failed a French class, but I learned beaucoup! I spent several weekends in Valencia with friends…having grand dinners as if it were our last feast in the world, dancing as if we’ve been paralyzed for the past three years, laughing as if it could combat all the bad in the world. I feel more content with my life than I ever have before…but the calendar is still telling me that it January 4th, 2019 and I am only 20 years old and I still have five months of my life to spend in Valencia, Spain – a place I love dearly. My closest friends here have decided to stay this second semester with me and I’ve started to grow quite fond of some Spaniards.

I am here in Pamplona and I can’t help but reflect on all the stages of my life that brought me here and then brought me back again. I feel like I have changed so much…then I feel like I was just here yesterday. I used to trust time because my body was growing along with it, but now it is just my mind. How do I follow that? It is not so simple.

I ask myself: Why would you water a plant that you know is going to die when winter comes? To keep it beautiful in the meantime? I know that I would do the same, but do I want to do it to myself? I know my mind believes that it is better to not think of the future, to live life as if you are just in this day. Today. However, something inside of me holds me back from prescribing my whole self to this mindset. Do I want to slowly wither or be outlandishly beautiful until my first hair turns gray? Do I want to forget that in June I will leave Valencia and live as if I have an entire life to live there? Or do I want to slowly prepare myself for this move back home?

I could buy furniture…but what will I do with it once I go?

I know the root of this problem is that I am assuming tomorrow will be there. That I will wake up tomorrow, that I will wake up in June, that I will go home to my family and friends, that my family and friends will still be there.

What I am going to do is smile each day. When I walk to school I will be grateful for legs that carry me, eyes that see the palm trees, and ears that can listen to the beautiful music in my headphones. I will be thankful for yesterday and I will kindly ask for another tomorrow. In this way, I will continue into February, into March, into April….and then one day tomorrow will mean a flight home to Oklahoma and I will be thankful for that too.

Heath

 

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France, At Last

Last week, I had the pleasure of accompanying my dearest friend to southern France. The days of October were coming to an end and those of November were rolling out in front of us. Alice and I had decided to take an overnight bus from Madrid to Toulouse, as a means to save some money, and we would leave the night of Halloween. My friends in Valencia were a little disappointed that the American was not going to celebrate Halloween, but we had to make the most of our long weekend.

We arrived in Toulouse around 7 am and had quiet an exciting start to the trip. We first rested in the train station, and then decided to walk around for a bit. About an hour into our walk, I realized I had left my purse at the cafe we were sitting in. Such a terrible realization to make, but then once we went back and found the waitress had held it for me behind the bar, we had my purse and a reason to celebrate. Not too bad.

To begin, I have this attraction to the French lifestyle and culture that I cannot seem to track down to when it first began. I realized quickly that Alice shared this with me when we were both obsessing over the loaves of bread stacked high on street vendor tables or meandering to dainty tea shops among the narrow streets. This crush on France would fester inside of us the entire weekend as we continued to enjoy ourselves fully. We drank a coffee when we wanted to, we shared a cigarette when we pleased, we ate when we were hungry. Sharing thoughts about how beautiful the cities we had found ourselves in were and about how ridiculous it was that we had the chance to do this together. Alice has two step-siblings, Wyatt and Scarlett, that moved to Bordeaux about 15 years ago. Every summer, they came to visit their dad, Charlie, in Oklahoma and we would spend the days in the pool in my parents back yard or playing video games at their house. Now, we were all together, in the city where they grew up, that we had spent so many years hearing about. It had always seemed so foreign to me that they lived to France, and I remember thinking it was so far away. Until I was 20, I would have never considered visiting them. The thought just never crossed my mind because of the distance. I am so happy I don’t see the world this way anymore. Yes, the world is immense and boundless, but at the same time, it is not all that big. Never too big to limit yourself from exploring whatever place you could imagine. Alice, Wyatt, Scarlett, and I were in France together – and it seemed like if this could happen after all of those summers in Oklahoma, that anything could happen.

Toulouse was beautiful. Scarlett is working there now at a university while she finishes her Masters degree in economics. I am really impressed with her. She has students that listen to her and she wears a beret. Amazing.

Wyatt is finishing his studies as well in Bordeaux. On our second day in France (also Alice’s birthday) we took a bus to see him and the city. He seems happy. He is working on an engineering degree while also working part-time in computer science. In his spare time, he freestyles with his friends and meets producers for sake on Saturday afternoons. Cool.

We had an amazing time together. We laughed a lot and ate a lot of Lebanese food. They showed us where they go to school, where they use to drink in the park as kids, where they take their morning coffee. It felt so good to see a glimpse into their daily lives, and like I said earlier, I am infatuated with the French and could simply sit in a cafe watching people pass all day.

I have plans to return soon. My friend, Greta, has grandparents in Paris and she would like to take me there in the spring. Anyhow, I am studying French now so I must go to test my level of comprehension – of course!

Au revoir for now,

Heath

 

 

September

It is hard to write a blog post about the month of September, because in order to do so I have to acknowledge the thought that September has already come and gone. How can it be? My first month in Spain, my first month at a new university, my first month living in an apartment…so many new and exciting things that I am just now getting used to myself.

I started this month after finishing an intensive Spanish course in a small beach town called Gandía. While there, I met about 100 Germans, 10 Italians, more Swedish than you would imagine, the rare French – and then of course the rest of us (that’s where I fit in). To explain where Oklahoma was, I had to say the word “Texas” more times than I would like, but besides that I enjoyed being from a place so far away. I don’t get to experience that sensation very often going to school in Oklahoma, and I think it has helped me realize how special home is. There is rarely a situation presented in the U.S. to explain your city, your state, your university – because most of the time that is information within your circles realm of knowledge. Oklahoma is completely alien to these people, so I have enjoyed getting to share with them the wonder of tornadoes, Native Americans, and really, really good Mexican food.

However, I want to focus more on Valencia than Gandía. Gandía was great and I made friends, but Valencia…I had no idea what I was expecting but I could not even begin to imagine this. I don’t know if it necessarily the city, or the lure of the thought that I get to call it home for the next year, but I am in love with this place. From the beach, to the historic center, to the park that stretches through the city…I could get lost here for months. There is so much to see and to explore and I feel so lucky to have the time ahead of me that I do. Today, I just went for my first run in Jardines del Turia and I discovered a whole new active sector of the city that I did not know before. The day before that, I took a bike ride home from the other side of town and when I stopped for a quick second, I found the historic center which was spilling with tourists. I found it quite funny that there were all these people from all over the world, rambling about in these streets that I did not even know existed yet. Tomorrow I will get to explore a different part of the beach than what I have seen so far. It is so exciting to have these pockets of the city to explore – some I will save for later, some I will never find, and some will slowly become part of my everyday life.

Another thing that I was not expecting was how addicted I would become to unfamiliarity. It’s almost like my mind and body crave it and I find myself trying things I have never tried before. I am so used to knowing what types of activities, people, situations, etc. that I enjoy that my first instinct is to follow that. But then, when I arrive to the deciding point I realize that’s not actually what I want to do, it’s just what I am used to. I wish that I had this inclination always, but I know it is always not so easy done as said when we are in our natural habitat. The people we surround ourselves know the path we follow, our feet know the streets we normally walk – and day after day we find ourselves funneled through the same routine. Not particularly “scared” to try something new, but the thought just doesn’t cross our mind often. Or at least, when it did mine, it was always overshadowed by preconceptions of what else I needed/wanted to do. It isn’t that way here, and I haven’t quite found out what that will mean for me, but in the moment it means studying French, taking a surfing class, joining a yoga studio. It feels good and I am curious to what else will come.

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With A Little Help From Strangers

Every one who has traveled in another country knows the pain of the Traveler’s Luck- maybe better, the lack there of. I used to believe that this was preventable, that perhaps adequate planning or dropping my untimely habits would fix this, but I’ve found there is no real escape. It is better to embrace these moments for all that they are. However, there is some good news. No matter how dire of a situation I have found myself in, there is always (always!) someone right behind me setting me back on the right track. Sometimes a complete stranger, sometimes a friend – whoever it is they sweep in right at the perfect second and all is right again (at least for now). Here is a story of a day I got by With A Little Help From Strangers.

Upon arriving to Spain, I quickly realized that 1) there are not as nearly as many Americans here as I believed would be and 2) the European Union is a beautiful thing. They have uniform cell reception all across Europe, they don’t have to apply for a Visa, AND they are incredibly good looking. How is it fair? Anyways, I have been in the process of applying for my pertinent residence card. I had to apply for a Visa before leaving the U.S., and this is the follow up once you are in-country. I just received a paper from the General Consulate of Spain before leaving saying that I needed to go to the National Police within one month of arriving to Spain. Cool. No problem. Not so fast, Heath.

As you may know, I spent two weeks at an intensive language course in Gandía (about an hour outside of Valencia) before arriving to Valencia. In Gandía, we only knew how to practice three things. These three things were simply: beach, party, eat (+sleep?). Therefore, there was no “confirming your Visa blah, blah” happening these first two weeks. When I arrived in Valencia, another two weeks quickly went by setting up my apartment and confirming my courses. So here I was, in the last week of my “first month” in Spain and thought it would be a good time to visit the National Police. Exciting!

I spent one morning taking the bus/walking to what I believed to be the office I needed to go to, but this was not the case and is not quite the story I am wanting to tell – so we will skip this part. Just know it was hot and sweaty and ultimately a waste of beach time (never a good thing).

Yesterday, was the day I had scheduled an appointment to get my pertinent residence card (TIE number). My roommate, Pilar, had helped me by calling to set up an appointment over the phone (Spanish is hard). I knew the time and location and what I needed to bring. I went to my first class of the day, and finished at 12:15. Then, a few friends of mine told me about an interesting course they were taking, and I decided to sit in on the lecture. I left early in an attempt to be avoid the disaster that was inevitably waiting me. Cute 🙂

I checked on Maps and I needed about an hour to get where I was going. I had an hour and 15 minutes. There is a kiosk next to my apartment where you can take and print ID pictures for official documents. I went to this first, but I was missing one euro. My credit card has not been working the past week or so because someone hijacked my other card, so I haven’t been able to take out cash lately. I was fairly sure I had some spare change upstairs, so I decided to go up, grab my things, and then try again. After grabbing my passport, asking my lovely roommate for a euro, and grabbing some things to make a sandwich on the bus – I was back to try for the photos again. I inserted 4 euro and then I realized that I cannot count and 2 + 1 + 1 is, in fact, not five. It is four. I wish you could see my face in this moment.

Sweaty, four euros stuck in the machine, running out of time, not sure what to do. I peaked out of the curtain and saw a nice couple walking by. This was my best/only option. I nicely told them my difficulties and asked for a euro. The man did not believe me, but luckily his wife was a little more compassionate. Once I won her over, I could see he felt a little bad for his initial resentment. He said he thought American girls were rich. Glad we could clear that up. Thank you, Stranger #2!

I got my pictures and was on my way to the bus. A little nervous that I would miss it, I walked quickly and arrived with a few minutes to spare. 48 minutes left to get there. 45 minutes ETA. Once the line approached, I boarded and scanned my card. Surprise! Out of bus rides. Out of cash. This stranger was potentially the most important helper of the day. We negotiated and he let me stay on the bus. Thank you, Stranger #3!

I took my seat and decided it was time to eat some lunch. I was the kind of hungry where you start to feel a little nauseous, so it was good that I had grabbed something before leaving my apartment. I prepared my sandwich in my lap, and right before that glorious first bite my sandwich had other plans and decided to crumble to the floor of the bus. I pathetically looked up at the passenger across from me and she was not amused. She resentfully handed me some napkins, but nevertheless, she handed me some napkins. Thank you, Stranger #4!

I got off at my stop and started to head towards the office. 5 minutes in the wrong direction. That’s okay, back on track now. 5 minutes until my appointment and about a 9 minute walk ahead of me. A ran a little bit. I got to the office, and when I walked inside I was greeted with the great news that it was impossible for me to have an appointment at 2:15 because they close at 2:15. My appointment was actually at 12:15, not 2:15. If you do not know, in Spanish, this sounds fairly similar (doce and dos) so that must have been where the confusion was. However, I had come all this way, and I really did not want to have to do so again. I did my best to communicate how desperate I was in Spanish and she asked future Stranger #5 if she could help me. She could and Stranger #4 sent me on my way. Thank you!! Finally, I had the papers I needed and could move on from this mess. Let me not forget the prequel of the Strangers that came before this day. The woman who helped me pay at the bank, a friend who helped me fill out the forms, Pilar for setting the appointment, and the list goes on.

On the way home, I decided to just take a bike home and not worry about finding an ATM to pay for the bus back. It was a beautiful bike ride through Turia Park and I felt thankful for all the experiences of the day. It reminded me how much humans need each other, even those we do not know. Even just to feel the heat of other humans around you, to see the eyes of a passerby, to hear conversations floating around you – it all reminds you of how small you are and how common your problems are. We are all just living each day the best we can, separate yet together. I find that to be a beautiful fact of life. The sun felt extra warm on my skin and the bike glided extra smooth down the paved roads. Isn’t it true that we all get by With A Little Help From Strangers? I think so.

Goodbye

OU Cousins is a student organization that provides the platform to be several different things. There are the typical weekly gatherers for lunch, who maintain a somewhat friendly, yet oddly removed, relationship for the duration of a semester. There are the ones who drink too much together one night and never speak again. And then, there is something outlandishly special. This past year I had the chance to befriend a girl named Pilar Gimenez as my OU Cousin. What I have said before in a previous post about Pilar, all continues to be incredible and true; however, there is now a new spin on our story. This upcoming fall, Pilar and I will be studying at the same university in Valencia, Spain. I’m so excited to add this to our list of adventures together.

Currently, we are sitting on a couch in my friend’s loft in downtown Chicago. We’ve spent the day walking around the city, completing her architectural dreams with visits to the Farnsworth House, Cloud Gate, and other works by Mies van der Rohe. We popped into an open house at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where we viewed some models and had a few slices of a California Roll. I bought some old comic books for a friend of mine. We have two more days in the city, and then I’ll send her and Indo on their way to Spain. We’ve both agreed that this would be impossible, but the promise of us seeing each other again in Valencia provides some condolence.

Pilar, it has been an amazing year with you. From our first trip to Turner Falls, then on to San Francisco, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and now, to this lovely couch in Chicago… it has been a joy.

A Day in Oklahoma City

One Saturday, I swung by Traditions and picked up Raul, Pilar, and Indo – we were going to spend the day in OKC and Sophia was with me. First, we went to go find this International Fair put on by UCO. We went to the wrong place first, and we were really confused because it was similar to what we imagined, but it was the opposite of international. An older guy was playing country folk music out of his pickup, and a group was selling homemade dog treats. After walking around for a little, none of us acknowledging the highly anticlimactic environment we had just found ourselves in, we agreed that it was “cold” and walked back to the car. It turned out the real event was just around the corner. We got some cold asian food in to-go boxes and moved on. Next, we went to Penn Square Mall because they had never been. We spent some time walking around, making fun of the overpriced Santa pictures, and trying on weird clothes in Forever 21. After this, we went to Lake Hefner. It’s a nice view and there are a couple of restaurants along the water that are nice to sit and have some “tapas” hahahaha. We had great conversations, and I really loved this moment with them. Such genuine, pure people that I am more than thankful to have in my life. I sure do have it good.

I took them home and they told me I was “puro amor” – pure love. They just don’t see that it’s because my heart is beaming through my entire being when I am with them.

Heath

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A Day in Oklahoma City

One Saturday, I swung by Traditions and picked up Raul, Pilar, and Indo – we were going to spend the day in OKC and Sophia was with me. First, we went to go find this International Fair put on by UCO. We went to the wrong place first, and we were really confused because it was similar to what we imagined, but it was the opposite of international. An older guy was playing country folk music out of his pickup, and a group was selling homemade dog treats. After walking around for a little, none of us acknowledging the highly anticlimactic environment we had just found ourselves in, we agreed that it was “cold” and walked back to the car. It turned out the real event was just around the corner. We got some cold asian food in to-go boxes and moved on. Next, we went to Penn Square Mall because they had never been. We spent some time walking around, making fun of the overpriced Santa pictures, and trying on weird clothes in Forever 21. After this, we went to Lake Hefner. It’s a nice view and there are a couple of restaurants along the water that are nice to sit and have some “tapas” hahahaha. We had great conversations, and I really loved this moment with them. Such genuine, pure people that I am more than thankful to have in my life. I sure do have it good.

I took them home and they told me I was “puro amor” – pure love. They just don’t see that it’s because my heart is beaming through my entire being when I am with them.

Heath

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