Wabash Blogs Immersion 2009: Spain - The Baroque Era -

March 18, 2009

The Last Day

Saturday, March 14th

Today was the final day of our trip, and I think all of us will be sad to leave this incredible country tomorrow morning. We were fortunate enough to have the liberty to research and explore on our own today, and while some students chose to go to Segovia and others to Toledo, I chose to visit Alcala – the home of Cervantes and the cornerstone city of much historically significant Spanish literature. Yet while I had this history in mind, I had realized long before that this trip, while focused on the historical era of the Baroque, was inevitably about much more than just that. It is impossible to visit any place and look at a specific time period as disconnected with the history behind it and, more significantly, the present that has resulted from it. Alcala was no different than Madrid in this regard, and while our visit gave us a better image of the era we are studying, it also gave us an insight into the present people and culture of the town.

Our first destination in Alcala was the University, where Juan de la Cruz, Lope de Vega, Quevedo and many more significant figures once all studied during the Golden age, and we headed there directly after satiating our ever-growing desire for greasy American food at a Domino’s we had surprisingly encountered on the way. The main building was situated behind a picturesque courtyard, and though the structure was relatively simple the façade was ornately decorated with spires and arches in typical Baroque fashion. We then headed to the Plaza de Cervantes, which was a beautiful square lined by gnarled and exotic trees. In the middle of the Plaza was a statue of Cervantes and all around current students of the University were lounging around and studying. We then headed down a cobblestone street lined by cafés packed with people until we reached la Casa de Cervantes, where the legendary writer himself once lived. Inside, we were given a view of how he lived, but more interestingly a view of some manuscripts from his magnum opus - “Don Quixote.” These manuscripts came from all over the world, from Portugal to London, and the diversity of their origins attributed to our sense of just how significant Cervantes’s book was during his time, and ever since. After leaving the house, we spent some time wandering through the city while admiring the beautiful architecture and watching the people. We left Alcala just in time to get back to Madrid to do some last minute shopping and take a much needed siesta.

 
-Royal Gearhart '09

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March 17, 2009

Exploring outside Madrid

Saturday , March 14th

Well, we knew this amazing adventure had to end sometime, but I cannot believe how quick it flew by. Each and every day was spent learning and exploring the depths of Madrid such as the astonishing Museo del Prado and the breathtaking Palacio Real. With nearly the entire trip being spent in Madrid, a few compañeros and I wanted to see what the outskirts of Madrid had to offer, so we hopped on the train and traveled to nearby Alcalá de Henares.
 
Before getting into the details of the mini-trip, I want to comment on the weather…amazing!! Spring was in the air as the sun was shining brightly all week, with temperatures peaking in the low 70s every day. We were not disappointed today as temperatures in Alcalá reached 27° C, which is roughly 80° F. The warm, dry weather has definitely added a little something extra to this already magnificent experience, and we all are greatly appreciative of that.
 
Alcalá is probably most famous for being the home of arguably one of the most influential authors of the Spanish Golden Age, Miguel de Cervantes. The author of the famous book Don Quijote de la Mancha lived near the center of town, and it was a really neat experience being able to see his home. We were able to take a tour of the house, which was a smaller two-story home that had an open courtyard in the center. It was quite an experience getting to see how people lived during the Spanish Golden Age, but one thing is for sure, I am not jealous of them. As you can imagine, the dark rooms and awful stench would have gotten old quickly. Aside from Cervantes, the rest our trip was spent walking through a few parks and visiting the historical plazas located throughout the city (with a lot of laughs mixed in of course).
For dinner tonight, many of us went out to a popular Spanish tapas bar, El Buscón. The word buscón, or “swindler” in English, has historical significance in Spanish literature as it was the title of a popular Baroque piece written by Francisco de Quevedo. This book tells the story of the life of a Spanish pícaro who makes his living freeloading and taking advantage of his fellow peers’ kindness. The funny thing is that, while at dinner, one of the members of our group assumed the role of el pícaro and made off with the leftover chorizo from the neighboring table-a perfect example of one of the many memorable laughs shared while on our trip.
 
-Mitch Miles '09

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March 14, 2009

Yo Soy Juan Carlos II

Friday, March 13th
 
This week has been full of new experiences, but today was especially interesting. I got a first hand glimpse into the history of the Spanish monarchy we’ve been learning about in class. If I were to imagine a royal palace in Madrid, what I saw this morning certainly fit the bill.
 
The Palacio Real de Madrid is located across from the national opera hall and the city’s main cathedral near the plaza de España in downtown Madrid. It’s a fantastic sight, with some architectural elements echoing those we saw in the Escorial. Composed mostly of locally obtained granite on the outside, the palace is an impressive place for important events and diplomatic events. It was particularly interesting to note that what was built to be the home of King Felipe V in the 18th century no longer houses the king and queen of Spain. 
 
Our tour guide very interestingly stated his opinion on the matter when referring to current King, Juan Carlos I (I know, I have a royal name!). His basic view is that all the politicians in the democratic government hold only their own party views as important and not the general well being of Spain as a whole, even President Zapatero. King Carlos I is a man who respects the Republic and his objection of using the palace on a regular basis aside from very important State events demonstrates the function of the contemporary monarchs.
 
Later at night, I got a good glimpse into some of the culture and pastimes of Spanish people. We enjoyed some of the best pastries in Madrid and walked around the busy Puerta del Sol. We then found a nice spot to enjoy some drinks and play pichilonga, a Spanish card game. After I got dinner in the Plaza Mayor with some of the guys, we met up with Professor Jaén-Portillo to see a Tablao Flamenco performance. The dancers were amazing and engaged the audience with some really fun beats. They ended with a funny chant and accompanying rhythms made with handclaps and foot stomping.           
 
This whole trip has offered some amazing opportunities to see all sorts of things I haven’t seen before. Aside from the awesome opportunities to see many of the things we talked about in class, I was most excited to see Velazquez and el Greco paintings in person. We were fortunate enough to be able to walk inside 17th century monuments and even see a Spanish play written by a golden age playwright, Lope de Vega. There’s no price you could put on this kind of learning. 
 
-Juan Carlos Venis ‘09

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The Royal Palace

Friday, March 13
 
Friday marked the seventh full day of this incredible immersion trip. During the week, I had the opportunity to tour Madrid on several occasions, make a day trip to Barcelona, visit El Escorial, walk through the Prado Museum, and see where the renowned Spanish playwright Lope de Vega lived, among a myriad of other experiences. Today, however, was unique in the fact that I was able to see the official residence of the current King of Spain, Juan Carlos I. I figure the Oriental Palace, as it is also called, was going to be elegant, but in order to truly understand just how over-the-top this place is, one must see it firsthand. The tour started with a walk up the marble staircase to the second floor. The stairs are unlike traditional ones because they were constructed with less distance between them in order to accommodate the need for royalty to walk straight ahead without looking down. Once reaching the top of the stairs, I was taken aback by the massive fresco above (A fresco is essentially a ceiling painting). If I remember correctly, there was a fresco in almost every room we saw and an Italian painted each. We walked through various halls, dining rooms, throne rooms, silver and yellow rooms, a string instrument room, and even a cinema room. When done with the official tour, we also had the opportunity to visit the armory (No, it did not have a 24-hour computer lab).  We were able to see around 15 rooms and although they were only a mere fraction of the more than 2000 total rooms, they sure did make you wonder how a Palace as big as this one could have so much luxury packed into each one. The exquisite detail, excessive decorations, and entertaining tour guide made the tour something I will surely remember for the rest of my life.
         
After the Royal Palace, Drs. Jaén-Portillo and Rogers, Jorge, Michael, Mitch, and I had lunch at a suggested fried bacalao (cod) restaurant. Like the previous Spanish dining experiences from earlier in the week, I was not disappointed as the food was top notch. Then, following the Spanish tradition, I took my siesta (nap) for the day. Well rested, I then took in the extensive shopping opportunities Madrid has to offer. Later, some of us met up to have some sweets and go to a chocolate shop where we sipped on chocolate and played Spanish card games. Dinner for me was a salami bocadillo (sandwich) and then it was off to bed in order to prepare to do it all over again the next day.

-Andy Leshovsky ‘09

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Analyzing Baroque and Improving My Spanish

3/12/09
 
Today was very interesting. We started the day off by taking a tour of the historical literary locations in Madrid including places where theatre and competing concepts in literature were an important part of Spanish culture during the Baroque period. 
 
Later in the day we took the metro to El Museo del Americas (Museum of the Americas). This museum holds a bunch of artwork and various artifacts from Spain’s exploration of the Americas throughout history. It was really cool seeing certain paintings in the gallery that we analyzed in class. It still blows me away that we are seeing works of art that were created a few hundred years ago. The museum not only gave us a good sense of the perspective on the Americas from the Spanish point of view but also exposed us to the native cultures in the Americas. The gallery displayed native tools, weapons, clothes and shelter.  
 
After the museum, I went out on my own to explore the city and buy a gift for my girlfriend back home. It was a great experience for me. For someone who needs to improve their Spanish, Spain is an invaluable experience. I feel that my Spanish has become at least 100% better since we came to Madrid just from being exposed to the native speakers.
 
-Eric Woolf ‘09

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March 13, 2009

A Walking Tour and Museum of the Americas

Thursday, March 12th

Today was the sixth day most interesting day during this immersion trip. Our adventure began with another quick tour of Madrid by Professor Jaen-Portillo. First we went to the site of one of the first Corral de Comedias, a type of theatre between buildings during Spain’s Golden Age. Then, we went to the Teatro del Principe (theater of the prince) where the people of the noble classes attended.  The theater has changed its name to el Teatro Espanol (Spanish Theater). Then we went to San Esteban Church were the great Lope de Vega was buried. Dr. Jaen-Portillo informed us that the remains of de Vega were lost, mixed with other corpses. Following that we went to the mentidero or gossip corner. The mentidero was a place where people went to enhance or destroy people’s reputation. Lope de Vega used this place to gossip about theatre and his rivals.

Afterwards, we went to the Quevedo house, Trinitarias Church, and Lope de Vega House Museum. We learned that Quevedo actually sold his house to a rival writer, Luis Gongora. Soon after buying the house, Gongora kicked Quevedo out. The twist is that after the death of Gongora the house became the Museum of Quevedo. Lope de Vega’s house really impressed me. It was very interesting to find out that he wrote a 3,000 verse poem in one night.
 
The highlight of my day was visiting the Museum of the Americas. This museum had paintings, tools, and clothing pertaining to people of the Americas. There were paintings of Cortez’s encounter with the Aztecs. More specifically, I viewed a painting which consisted of Spaniards and two indigenous men. The description of the image said that the two indigenous men were spies but who really knows. In the museum there were also letters, pens, and accessories of Christopher Columbus. This was a great experience considering the importance of his voyage to the Americas in 1492. I was astonished at the great accuracy of the Spanish maps considering the lack of technology they had to use.  I also got to see clothing of Aztecs, Incas, and Central American groups.  One of my favorite pieces was a painting about the Caste system in Latin-American that portrayed the racial and social segregation based on a person’s color of skin. The virgin de Guadalupe is in the middle top of the image with the different classes in a hierarchy of status and rights.
 
Its one thing to learn about topics in the Baroque in class, but it’s completely different to visit the places and study the objects that we have read about throughout the semester.
 
-Anthony Benitez ‘09

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March 12, 2009

La Biblioteca e el Teatro

 

Wednesday, March 11th
 
Today we had the rare opportunity to visit the National Library and see its museum thanks to Professor Jaen-Portillo. The Library had holdings that were hand written including an early hand written copy of Mio Cid, a famous Spanish poem. The library is the center of all intellectual learning in Madrid and houses an extensive collection from all periods of Spanish history. It was truly amazing to see all these works together in one place. What an experience it would be great to be able to spend an entire day browsing the shelves of the library. Regrettably we had to leave after only an hour to catch a play.
The play we went to see was called “La Noche de San Juan” or The Night of San Juan. La noche de San Juan is a festival that is celebrated at the spring solstice. The play is about two friends who agree to marry the other’s sister so that neither will have to pay the marriage price, turning marriage into a business transaction. The two women, Blanca y Leonor, however are in love with other men and do not wish to marry the men they have been promised to. After much complaining and a little sneaking around both women who had yet to meet end up in the house of Don Pedro, Blanca’s love. In the end the women are allowed to marry their respective lovers and Love wins over business. It is an exciting and humorous play from the Baroque period that was well performed. 
 
There is nothing quite like visiting another country and to be able to do it with this class and study Spain from the Baroque period is a once in a lifetime experience. Keep reading to see where our adventures in Madrid take us next.
 
-Brent Graham ‘09

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