Wabash Blogs Immersion 2008: Spain -

March 07, 2008

Final visions of La Mancha - Day Five

Victor Nava '10 - We departed from Campo de Criptana again early this morning. However, this time we weren’t coming back. The next stop on out tour of La Mancha was the town of El Toboso where Don Quixote’s “maiden” was said to be from by Cervantes. The whole relationship between Dulcinea and Don Quixote still confuses me a little when I come to terms that Dulcinea probably never even know who Don Quixote was. By the same token, Don Quixote’s distorted perceptions of reality greatly affected his view of Dulcinea which from the very beginning seem to confuse the reader. Overall, I felt that the entire trip was very helpful in understanding who and what Dulcinea represented in the story and brought her mysterious character into light.

However, before we can understand her as a character, we have to understand Cervates as a writer and that’s why we first made a visit to the Centro Cervantino which houses the largest collection of Don Quixote editions. I saw Cervantes’ writing displayed in multiple languages and even saw copies of the book autographed from everyone ranging from Hitler and Mussolini to Mandela and the Clintons. My next mission will be to return to Mexico and find a copy of the Quixote in otomi which is the native language of central Mexico. I had no idea how widespread this one novel was and now understand why it’s often time group in the same categories as Shakespeare.

Following our trip to the great collection of Cervantine work, we toured the “recreated” house of Dulcinea del Toboso. The house itself was very interesting though I must regret to say that I am not much of a history buff and can’t really capture what this experience was like. Overall, the entire tour of this house gave me a better perception of the timeframe that Don Quixote was set in and thus contributed to my perceptions of the work.

The trip rounded itself off with two trips that I personally found quite enjoyable. The first of which was a brief visit to the Castillo Peñarroya where we saw some of the most amazing scenery we have seen on this trip thus far. The lake was beautiful and the mountains in the background were beyond belief. I could have stood on that castle and looked around for hours. However, we had to keep going because our bus driver was under strict regulations and had to get back to Madrid at a certain hour. We quickly gathered into the bus and made our way to the Cuevas Montecinos where Cervantes envisioned Don Quixote having amazing visions and experiences. I can’t even remember the last time that I was in a cave and thought that this was a perfect contrast to the other kinds of trips we had done so far. Our interpretations of the Quixote had taken us to museums, towns, field, and even caves; talk about gaining a thorough understanding. The day concluded with us getting back on the bus and making a two hour trip back to Madrid.

This entire trip has done more than given me something to write about, it has given me a whole new appreciation for literature. One of the hardest things I had to overcome as a reader was the notion that the words on the page are as far as the literature go. This trip has literally made the book come to life for me. On one level, the trip has actually manifested itself in a physical form through the locations that I have visited. On the other, it has manifested itself in my imagination and perception as much more than just a book I was assigned to read for class; it has now become a piece of art that I hope to both learn about and interpret in my own fashion. Learning has taken on a whole new meaning.


Top left: The class enters the Centro Cervantino.

Top right: A view of Dulcinea's kitchen.

Bottom left: The view from Castillo Peñarroya.

Bottom right: Going into the Cuevas Montecinos.

Posted by navav at 03:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 06, 2008

Old giants in a modern world - Day Four

Victor Nava '10 - Today I write not from Madrid, but from a small town located south of Madrid named Campo de Criptana. We left Madrid around 10:00AM this morning and rode on a charter bus for about two hours. (Most of the students didn’t know how long the ride was because we all fell asleep in minutes. All of this traveling has proved to be quite exhausting.) Along the way, we saw an interesting sight that I will discuss later. 

After the ride, we checked into our hotel, had a quick bite to eat, and instantly began walking through the streets of Criptana. For those that may not know, Campo de Criptana is credited with being the site where Miguel de Cervantes staged the infamous windmill scene in Don Quixote. The actual validity of this statement itself is quite fascinating considering that no one really knows where this scene took place and it is by far one of the most known images from literature to date. The small streets in Criptana reminded me of the streets back in Hidalgo, Mexico where my family lives: small, cozy, welcoming, not “well made,” and never ending. In the horizon as we made our way to the top we saw the tops of the windmills and their giant propeller like arms standing guard over the entire town. From the right angles, I actually envisioned kinds of guardians looking far into the distance. The entire experience itself was very unique and I feel like this was one of those “once in a lifetime” moments. 
The one concept that kept going through my mind was the incredible changes that Spain had gone through over time. Earlier on in the trip, we had come across three electric windmills on the side of the road on our way to Criptana. I kept wondering: What would Don Quixote say about these new, modern variations of something he has been made famous for? The windmills in Don Quixote are, in my opinion, unequaled in terms of their quiet enchantment and overall contribution to imagination. However, these electric windmills seem to threaten these romantic notions and ultimately define themselves as the real “monsters” in this story.

After this excursion, we boarded our bus again and made a brief visit to Argamasilla de Alba where we saw the actual jail cell where Cervantes was placed back in the late 1590’s for discrepancies on his job as a tax collector. It is believed that it was in that very jail cell where he first began to write Don Quixote. Due to time constraints and unforeseen closures of some other sites at Argmasilla, we had to board the bus back early to Criptana. However, all was not lost as we made a brief visit to Verum Bodegas y Viñedos where we learned about the process of making Spanish wine and other “beverages.” Interestingly enough, this visit actually had a good purpose considering that the “La Mancha” region of Spain where Don Quixote traveled is now being used to mass produce wine. Everywhere we looked: vineyard after vineyard. It almost reminded me of the fields of Indiana (though somewhat less exciting). 

Our touring and tasting of the samples aside, we returned back to Criptana where we had the night off. Much like Crawfordsville, Criptana is a small town pretty much secluded from all forms of mass social interaction. Many of the guys just stayed in the hotel and took some much needed rests. I however wanted to make the most of my short stay at Criptana and decided to once again visit the windmills; except this time at night. I figured that the windmills would be much more dramatic lit up at night and grabbed my camera to get some good shots. I ended up making two trips. The first was by myself and didn’t really bring many good results (I actually got somewhat lost on the way back and ended up just getting tired from roaming around.) However, I did not give up. After striking up a conversation with one of the hotel workers, I had found myself a personal tour guide to teach me all there is to know about Criptana and the windmills. Around 1:00AM, we set off and he described everything about the town on the way there. Why are the colors of every building blue and white? Why are there plastic water bottles on every corner? Why is this street older than the other one? I had multiple questions and he luckily had multiple answers. We ended up going to each windmill, touring some old “caves” located outside of the town, and looking at some landmarks that the class had missed earlier on their visit. Overall, I thought this to be a very unique experience and consider it to be the best part of my trip so far.

In going to bed, I think that I will one day come back to this town and revisit those windmills. I now know why Cervantes had become infatuated with them and why he included them in his story. Now, if only I can save up enough money…


Top and bottom left: The windmills of Criptana at day and night.

Middle right: The "new" windmills we saw on the way to Criptana.

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March 03, 2008

Madrid and its art - Day Three

Ivan Acebo-Choy '08 - Walking along Calle de Atocha at nine in the morning proved informative. Smiling kids were hoping on school buses, restaurants were opening their cheap breakfast to tourists, men and women, coffee in hand, hurried to their offices, and the noise escalated as the hours passed, inaugurating one more week in the busy Spanish capital.

We arrived at Reina Sofia’s Museum of Modern Art. The tall gray building houses several key artworks of the history of Modern Art, and we were all lucky to sit in front of them and discuss their importance. Two pieces caught the group’s attention: Picasso’s Guernica and Dali’s The Great Masturbator. We lingered around them and talked about their possible interpretations, their stylistic characteristics and their place in the history of art. Professor Jaen-Portillo’s mother, a practicing painter, and I helped the group to understand the paintings and their contexts. Picasso’s works extended through white rooms full of people and young kids asking eager questions about the figures they saw. Joan Miro, Salvador Dali, Alexander Calder, Mark Rothko, Man Ray, Juan Gris, Georges Braque and other notable artists offered our class a glimpse of art, and the opportunity to learn about the history of Spain as expressed through the eyes of these fantastic artists.

At lunch time, the city calms down. Students went different ways to take advantage of the diverse cuisine of Madrid. Some had some wonderful local dishes, such as empanadas, morcillas and paella, at an All-You-Can-Eat restaurant near the hotel. Others tasted some national treats and enjoyed the casual ambiance of the local bars, where the Spanish converse out loud while the beer and wine, the bocadillos (baguette-like snacks stuffed with ham, squid, local sausages, etc) come and go. After lunch, the city seems to stop. It is siesta time. Most places close their doors, and tourists go back to their hotels or sit around waiting for the city to come alive again. All you see is the old buildings bearing the sun, the empty streets looking heavy and distant, their doors closed, the people away.

In the evening, we all met at the National Library. We walked down to Casa de las Americas, where we saw a fascinating art exhibit by Brazilian artist Miguel Rio Blanco. He insists on showing the face of marginal Brazil. Through photographs, installations and a short film, Rio Blanco disturbs, evokes, provokes and confronts his audience with bodies that bespeak of poverty, forgetfulness and marginalization. After this exhibit, some of us headed to Café Gijon, one of the most emblematic cafes in the city. According to Professor Jaen-Portillo and Professor Gomez, most of Spain’s famous literary figures have met and continue meeting at this place. We had coffees and ice-cream, saw famous Spanish actors (as identified by Prof. Jaen-Portillo) and talked about the world, books and experiences, cultural misunderstandings and other observations.

“Cervantes would smile at us,” I thought, as we talked about books that some of us had bought. Hopefully none of them will burn in a giant bonfire. Such is Madrid: Art, literature, and amazing food.


Top left: The Reina Sofia Museum of Modern Art

Bottom left: The class sits at the steps of Spain's National Library.

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Great food and great times - Day Two

Bryan Engh '09 - After a much needed night of sleep, we all rolled out of bed around 9:00 a.m. to have breakfast together at a nearby café, where we enjoyed some Cuban coffee and toast.  On our way to the train station, we hopped into a very busy, local bakery to get our morning chocolate and sugar fix to charge up our batteries for the day.  

We then grabbed a train that carried us to the town of Alcalá de Henares in which the great author, and the inspiration for our trip, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was born.  We walked the streets of Alcalá admiring the beautiful architecture until we reached Cervantes’ house, which is now a small museum in his honor.  We sat down for lunch and our afternoon coffee outside of a nearby deli until we were ready to make our way back into Madrid. 

Once we returned to the city, we all piled into one of those giant, red, tourist busses that you always see in movies.  Despite the fact that tickets for the bus cost the equivalent of about $24 US and that the bus screams “I’m a tourist,” it was actually an amazing trip around the city.  They showed us all of the most important places in Madrid as well as some of the most significant and beautiful architecture in the city, including both historical and modern structures.  It is amazing to be immersed in a city that is so rich in history and to learned about the transformation of their culture over the past few centuries. 

I am also thoroughly enjoying discovering the customs of Madrid, and I, personally, am a BIG fan of the two-cheek-kiss greeting!  But, aside from breathtaking, thought-provoking art and new ways to say hello, I must say that my favorite part of this trip so far is sampling all of the typical cuisine of the area.  As a highly experienced food fanatic, I feel I am qualified to report that the dishes here deserve two very enthusiastic thumbs up!  Perhaps the best part, though, is that we still have five more wonderful days to spend exploring and absorbing the Spanish culture, which is proving to be incredibly interesting.  I am very grateful for the opportunity I have been given to come here to Madrid, and I am wildly anticipating what awaits us during the remainder of the week! 


Left: A plaque on a stone located outside of Cervantes' house.

Right: The Palacio de Communicaciones

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March 02, 2008

Sitting on a balcony thinking of nothing - Day Two

Victor Nava '10 - The day began at 9:00AM for us today (9:15 for some of us) as we all gathered at a local restaurant called El Museo de Jamón for a very simple Spanish breakfast. The food was amazing and the HAND SQUEEZED orange juice was by itself worth getting out of bed for. Afterwards, we looked at some vendors setting up in the Plaza Mayor who had numerous coins and Spanish documents on sale. Everything looked right out of an antique shop and many students spent a good while looking through stacks and stacks of pictures, paper, and other objects on display.

Following that was a short walk to the metro and a ride on the Madrid city train to the city of Alcalá de Henares which was located a good 35 kilometers northeast of Madrid. At first the town didn’t seem very interesting compared to the hustle and bustle of Madrid. However, the old architecture quickly gave way to the historical center of the city and the streets suddenly came alive with people. Our purpose of travel to this site was a visit to the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes. However, we were also absorbed into the Spanish culture and spent much time as a group sightseeing and getting numerous lessons from both professors along the way. In particular, we visited a museum dedicated to the Spanish civil war and how numerous factors (such as the US arms embargo) contributed to the overall outcome. The museum itself was small in physical appearance but gigantic in information and mind stimulating knowledge. (The unfortunate thing is that it was around this time that BOTH batteries on my camera went out and I was unable to take any pictures past this point. I will however try and post some of the pictures from the other guys and give you an idea of what this museum looked like.)

Our visit to Alcalá finished, we boarded the train back to Madrid and each bought tickets for a double-decker tour bus of Madrid. I’ve never wished I had a working camera in my hands more than I did at the moment the bus started to move. I saw numerous sights including examples of historic Spanish architecture, modern buildings, statues, public artwork, and amazing views of entire streets that seemed to stretch for miles. I can’t really explain what this ride was like in other words besides: WOW. (I know, highly academic and inspired, but that’s seriously what was going though my mind at some of these landmarks.)

The day concluded after we got off the bus and broke off into groups for the rest of the afternoon/evening. I personally went back to the hostel, got changed, went out to dinner, and then did some more exploring of the streets of Madrid. Day two was just as good as day one. The best thing is that I am finally getting acquainted with the streets and feel much more comfortable going around to different places. Once again, the day included much walking but I can't complain.

I conclude by leaving you with the following narrative and once again say: ¡Buenas noches!

"I sit on the lonely balcony overseeing the once busy streets of Madrid. The people have all gone to bed; work comes in the morning. The cool night breeze brushes by in an effort to reach a destination that doesn’t seem to exist. Perhaps one day it will reach it.

The darkness has fallen on the busy city and buildings sit and linger within the shadows; quiet, patient, watching. In the sky, not a single star graces me with the glow of its temporary light. People walk by in the streets. Their voices drift high towards the balcony and reach me in harmonic fashion.

-- ¿Pero de qué estas hablando?

-- Oye, yo ya me voy para la casa.

-- ¿Nos vemos mañana?

Perhaps it is just random babbling but their words act as a reminder of the place I currently call my temporary home. Cars go by in the streets; one, two three. Perhaps they too have some non existent destination to arrive at? Who knows?"

** I just felt very inspired to write something in prose. I seriously am on a balcony overlooking a street in Madrid as I write this blog. The atmosphere here is quite enchanting.


Top left: Neil Monroe '08 and Dr. Gómez look at merchandise at the Plaza Mayor.

Middle right: Walking through the streets of Alcalá.

Bottom left: Group picture at the home of Cervantes.

Posted by navav at 07:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

From Crawfordsville to Madrid - Day One

Victor Nava '10 - I didn’t really consider the difficulty about having to blog about my experience here in Madrid until just now. How do you possibly condense an entire day of adventures into 300 or 400 words which hopefully do enough to relay the same emotion I had when I experienced them? Be that as it may, I shall do my best to relay our day’s events, from my perspective any way, and inform you on what’s to come.

Our day began Friday around noon as we gathered around the front steps of the Chapel and crammed ourselves into two cars headed to the Indianapolis airport. Once there, we went through the usual procedure and, 15 hours later, arrived at Madrid International Airport.

There are some things I feel I just have to mention about this portion of the trip. The first and foremost is that the Euro is worth much more than the dollar. We had been advised about this since the first day of class when we first discussed Madrid but it never really hit me until I actually went up to the currency exchange agent in Madrid, gave her around 250 US dollars, and received less than 170 Euros back. I honestly felt like crying walking away from that agent with my meager amount of money in hand. Let’s hope I can make it through the week. 

The second thing I noticed is that airplane food is actually very good. I’ve never had an actual meal on a plane besides the usual coke and peanuts and found the food to be very interesting and filling. I know, this is random but I’m trying to establish the “curious mood” I felt throughout the trip. Short story, I thought many things were “interesting” on the way to Madrid.

Once here, it never really hit me that I was in a foreign country until I stepped out of the metro, which picked us up right at the airport, and stepped into the actual streets of Madrid. 

I was instantly blown away: the architecture, the music, the street performers, the smell, the Spanish signs, the hundreds of people swarming like ants everywhere; I knew that I was in for a new experience here. After a few minutes wondering around the streets of Madrid (while still carrying our luggage) we finally made it to our hostel and settled in for a brief nap. My room has an amazing view of the street in front of the building and the hostel itself is located just a few feet away from the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. I can’t even describe the feeling of being here and knowing that I have five more days of this still to come. It seems so unreal considering that just a few days ago I was sitting in Detchon Hall only imagining what it would be like to be in such a place. I though I had a vivid imagination but nothing could have prepared me for this.

After our brief naps, we were given free time to wander around Madrid for ourselves (in groups of two or more) and then took a tour as a group (guided by Dr. Gómez and Jaen-Portillo). The landscapes, building, and small shops were amazing. The people are so lively. The performers are amazing. The atmosphere is addicting. The experience itself is mesmerizing. 

I personally went with two other guys around Madrid and had churros and chocolate in a quiet, secluded Madrid street just minutes away from the busy center; a miniature oasis in a sea of commotion. I never thought I would be the kind to “sit and sip hot chocolate on the streets of Madrid,” but I guess I can cross that off the list.

We concluded the day by going out for tapas at a nearby restaurant and then being released for the day. Tomorrow we head off to the “birthplace” of Miguel Cervantes as well as go on more tours of Madrid and visit some of the famous art museums in town. I’m tired, yet excited. I would write more but I think I have already more than doubled the minimum requirement for the length of these blogs. You see, I said this was impossible to do in 300-400 words! As they say in Spain, buenas noches y los veo mañana.


First picture from top: The SPA 477 students board a van in front of the Wabash College chapel.

Second picture from top: The view from my room.

Third picture from top: Dr. Gomez instructs our class on where we will be going on our walking tour of Madrid.

Fourth picture from top: After a long day of traveling around Madrid, the class settles down for tapas at a local restaurant.

Posted by navav at 01:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

February 25, 2008

Students to Study Master Novelists

Associate Professor of Spanish Gilberto Gomez will lead a group of eleven students to Spain over spring break for their class immersion trip.  

Dr. Gomez teaches Spanish-477: Master Novelists of the Hispanic World, a special topics course that provides an in-depth review of two major novelists of the Spanish-speaking world: Miguel de Cervantes and Garcia Marquez. During the first half of the semester, the class read Don Quixote, a popular novel written by Cervantes.

The group will depart for Spain Friday, February 29, 2008 and return Saturday, March 8, 2008. The trip to Spain will allow them to see some of the locations represented in the book. They will even follow part of Don Quixote’s route, including visits to La Mancha, Madrid, and Alcala de Henares, his birth town, Campo de Criptana, to see the windmills, and El Toboso, to visit the home Quixote’s inspiration Dulcinea.

Dr. Gomez and his students will also visit museums devoted to Cervantes and view artwork created by his contemporaries.

“Everyone has heard about the book Don Quixote, but few people have actually read it because it is long and daunting,” Dr. Gomez said of the novel. “My contention is that Wabash students, especially Wabash Spanish majors, should know the book well. I think it’s important because, although the book represents universal themes of idealism versus pragmatism for example, it is also foremost a Spanish book that deals with issues pertaining to Spain in the 16th century. It’s important to go and see the material reality that still survives today that was present at the time Cervantes wrote the book.”

Student Participants: Ivan Acebo-Choy, Miguel Aguilar, Diego Aliaga, Bryan Engh, Steve Hernandez, Arturo Medina, Neal Monroe, Fabricio Monroy Michel, Victor Nava, Luis Quiroga.

Nava will be posting daily blog entries from the students throughout the trip to Spain.

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