¡Hola otra vez! I apologize for the few-day slack on updates; I have been so busy! But that also means you’ll have so much juicy news to read in this post!
After a typical day of class on Friday, I went to the Guggenheim Museum with Alex, although this time to actually visit the museum instead of going to a Bob Dylan concert. I absolutely loved the museum; it differed drastically from las Bellas Artes, the fine arts museum. The Guggenheim was very contemporary; I don’t believe any of the galleries had work prior to the 1940s. I have a nearly indescribable fascination with installation and performance art, and these types of pieces abound in the Guggenheim. Many of the works were done by artists who were given a space in the museum within which to work, and the result is a highly conceptual idiosyncrasy that is attuned to the architecture of the building and the Basque culture of Bilbao, including its coexistence with Spanish surroundings and with the greater Western world. The art was clearly designed with the construction of the building in mind. Richard Serra has a room of larger than life structures that confront the minimalism they employ, David Hockney has an entire floor devoted to his different creative media (including iPad sketches), and “sculptures” made from the unlikeliest of materials address very modern, 20th and 21st concerns that resonate with viewers in a way that the religious effigies of the 16th century simply can’t, including Jenny Holzer’s reflective two-story running LED display of short, powerful phrases of love, life, and loss. Installments of entire rooms used video screens, light bulbs, photographs, and structures to intentionally engage the spectator in the creation and the perception, the experience, of the art, or to re-capture performance art that can’t find organic space in a museum. What an astounding monument to the art of our age.
I darted home for a quick nap (well, as quickly as one can dart with 15 minutes of walking to and from a 20-minute metro ride), and prepared for BBK Live, the music festival. A group of us met at the San Mamés stop, stood in an incredibly long line that moved surprisingly fast, and rode the shuttle bus to the concert venue, which was literally in the mountainsides of Bilbao. I remember saying, “So THESE are the mountains we’re always looking at from down there.” It was beautiful, windy and chilly, but undeniably gorgeous. The show was amazing, and there were probably at least 10,000 people there. We came in during Mumford & Sons, so I unfortunately saw only the last seven or eight songs, but I saw some of my favorites and was definitely impressed with the forty or so minutes I did see. I appreciate when live performances reveal how much a band truly rocks, because some slow or soft music can deceptively hide its energy on an album. (I experienced the same effect when I saw Death Cab for Cutie perform last year in September.)
I wandered around the venue and purchased some gifts and merchandise, then my friends and I watched The Kooks play. Afterwards, we made our way to a DJ tent and danced some more, then we sat on the grass and waited for Radiohead to start playing on the main stage. It was unbelievable; I was so pumped! I was way more excited than anyone else in the group to see them, and I went crazy as they played favorite after favorite after favorite. I love the variety of their music, and they have always been one of my favorite bands, so to see them performing live, in Spain, no less, made for a night unforgettable by far.
Unfortunately, the others wanted to leave after Radiohead played a little over an hour, and as I didn’t want to be left alone to navigate my way home at 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning, I went with them to the shuttle and then to the metro. Regardless, overall, we had a phenomenal time at BBK Live. We always find goofy solidarity when we encounter other English speakers in those situations, and it was fun to hear the musicians talking to an audience who may or may not understand them about how they can’t speak any Spanish, but “Gracias, anyway,” and to chuckle because we do understand and can relate. The toilet stations were literally holes in the ground, people would climb huge rock cliffs for a better view, and although we personally left earlier, there were bands playing until 8:00 AM; it was certainly a European concert in a landscape that I have never before navigated for music festivals.
Saturday morning I woke up very early for USAC’s scheduled excursion to Vitoria. We met at the Bidezabal metro stop and rode a bus for an hour or so to a kayaking company. It took a while for us all to change into our swimsuits, get suited up, and ride down to the Ebro River. When we were all ready to go, the guides gave us a little instruction and practice on rowing with the paddles, and then it was into the water. The river and the rocky hills alongside it were incredibly gorgeous. Robin was my partner, and although it took us a while to get the hang of it, we soon figured out how to build and keep momentum in the kayak. We rode maybe a total of 7 or 8 kilometers and stopped by a natural dam of water brought from the mountains by a natural aquifer, and we rowed into this small outlet of the main river where there was a big rock off of which to cliff-dive. Most of us jumped out into the water, including myself, although some of them stayed in the kayak. It was great! I had never kayaked nor cliff-dived, so I had an amazing time.
We returned to the main building of the recreation company, rinsed off, and changed clothes. We rode the bus to a nearby restaurant where a delicious three-course meal had been prepared for us all. It took us only maybe twenty minutes to eat and be served our food; we were starving after a full morning of kayaking! We had enjoyable conversations and took turns playing foosball. We rode another hour to Vitoria, which was apparently recently named as Europe’s greatest city for its functionality and its people-friendly design, and we walked around the old section of the city, where I found an oddly-placed condom vending machine in the middle of the street that stood in stark, yet chuckle-worthy contrast against the old European buildings and the cobblestone alleys. We walked through the San Miguel cathedral, but the cathedral we toured was the Santa Maria, which has existed in Vitoria in various forms since about 1000 AD. It is currently being excavated and restored, so we had to wear hardhats walking through. It was by no means your average cathedral visit; we wound through tunnels and walkways with mid-project construction scaffolding where the layers of the past and the different stages of domes and arches were peeled away before us. Deteriorating statues, some dated as old as 1390, are currently held in place with supports so they won’t crumble and meet the same fate as some of their broken brothers. Everyone was awed by the age of the cathedral and could only wonder at grasping its full history. All in all, we had a great excursion and couldn’t thank the USAC staff enough. As it was optional, not everyone in the program attended the excursion, and we were saying throughout the whole day that they wouldn’t believe what fun they were missing out on!
After the bus ride back to Getxo, I took a nap and woke up to get ready to go out. Because of the Basque festivals, sales, and celebrations in July and August, there was a block party last night in the streets of Larrabasterra, an area of Getxo only a few metro stops away. We met at our metro stop around 11:00 and spent some time milling about the bars and waiting for everyone to join us, then we rode the train to the Larrabasterra stop and started exploring. There were carnival rides, DJs, vendor booths, tons of bars and street bar/food booths (obviously), and a huge stage where bands performed. We watched a Basque rock band perform, and one of their main instruments was an accordion played by one of the lead singers; it was great music to dance to, sung in Basque, and it was so fun to get into the dancing style with the crowd. I coincidentally ran into one of my host sisters and her friends there! Another classmate from the USAC program and I left way earlier than almost everyone else, even though we still left around 3:30 AM. Everyone else intended to stay out at the fiesta and party like the Spaniards until 7:00 or 8:00 AM, but I was still tired from not getting enough sleep between BBK Live and the Vitoria excursion. I went home for a solid night’s sleep.
I woke up today and have done homework most of the day. I’m still not finished. My host mom made lunch, and her, Ana, Josefina, and I all sat down at the dining room table and ate a nice meal together. It was enjoyable, but they talk so quickly to each other. I barely understood a thing. Then I did some more homework, but I took a break to go to The Willows, the tetería, with my friends Lana and Morgan. We had a great talk and enjoyed each other’s company a lot, especially since we all were taking a break from a busy day of homework and trying to be productive. The cheesecake was out of this world; mine was passion fruit with white chocolate, and I ordered a fruta de bosque smoothie as well. It was a great interruption in an otherwise studious day.
I returned home, finished my first (and longer) composition, but I still have a short one to write. I am not sure what I am doing for dinner; I want a kebab, but I will probably end up eating with my family and waiting on the kebab until I have a dinner companion. After typing this, it is shockingly past 8:30 already, so I should get back to work. It is difficult although in ways honestly relieving to know that a week from now, I will be home for my last three weeks in Indiana before moving to Colorado for graduate school. I am looking forward to my return home simply because I know I will not have much time with my friends and family before I am gone again. Nevertheless, I have been making a few plans to enjoy my last week in Spain to the fullest and to leave with a bang, a small bang, but a bang nonetheless. I will keep you updated as a sail quickly through this last week, and then that will be all for this blog! Again, I thank you for reading and for following my crazy adventures abroad.