In Bilbao, I went to a pintxo bar called Irrintzi. Like the names of many pintxo bars, to the newcomer to the Basque Country it looks like a mess of random letters, more like a random file name you typed out in a rush than a word with significance and meaning. Still, like most of them, it does actually have a meaning.

It’s basically a crazy, high pitched scream, serving the traditional purpose of calling throughout the mountains, like yodelling. Nowadays it’s often used by Basque as expressions of excitement, happiness, and emotion at fiestas and the like. Here’s a definition I particularly like, from – “The traditional Basque mountain cry, a ululation characterized by a rising pitch and concluded with a kind of demented laugh.”

Because real life has to add a darker and more complex tone to everything, Irrintzi has recently developed another meaning – it is the name of a new Basque terrorist group that works in France with the motto, “Euskal Herria ez dago salgai” – “The Basque Country is not for sale.”


Already Only a Month

It’s the last day of the solar summer. September is drawing to a close, and that means I’ve been on this exchange for nearly a month. It doesn’t feel like it. Depending on the time of the day, who I’m talking to, what I’m doing, it seems like I’ve been here forever, or like I’ve only just arrived. Never like I’ve been here for a month. And yet, I’ve now spent more time in Spain than in any other foreign country – longer than in Japan or Scotland. The time spent so far has been less action packed than a month of pure tourism, but not nearly as routine as life back home.

It’s funny now, to remember how I arrived in Spain after spending the night in the Manchester airport, how Allan and I wandered through Barcelona for two days as if in a dream, meeting up with Emily in Valencia for Tomatina and the beach, and then spending another long, sleepless night in route to Pamplona. I was happy to have Allan with me for the first few days here, as I moved into my apartment, walked around Pamplona for the first time, as a stranger, and even impulsively visited Puente la Reina based on a single photo in the train station. And then, Allan left, and suddenly I was totally alone, and far from home.

I took things one step at a time, with some challenges leaving me triumphant and others in a pathetic heap, but I got everything straightened out, in the end. I went through orientation, picked classes, matriculated, found my way around campus and groups for projects. I got a hair cut and learned where I could find this food and that and for what price. I learned how to use WIFI and the copy machine and the library and the bookstore. I’ve adjusted to Sundays and Siestas.

I made friends and we had curry parties and pancake parties and long nights drinking wine on apartment balconies. We travelled to San Sebastian and Vitoria and Bilbao. I met up with a girl from and went to a Basque concert with her and her friends. I started learning Euskera. I went hiking in the Valley of Arpan, explored Alquezar and went canyoning in la Sierra de Guara with Club de Montana.

If I put it this way, yes, I suppose it has been one month. And yet one morning when I didn’t have class until 12, I lay in and when I woke up, it took me several long seconds to remember I was in Spain, because everything felt so normal and natural and safe and clean and good. I’ve found a new normal, made a new home here.

Not bad, for the first month.

Elements of Pamplona

Since I’ve been here at Pamplona, my experience has sort of splintered into five areas, based on my interests and situation. These are basically the five ‘lives’ I want to lead here, the things I want to explore. Of course, I won’t be fully immersed in any of them if I split up my time, but life is short and I want to taste as many things as possible. 🙂 These are not exactly equal to each other – they vary in terms of my motivation, the time and energy I will put into them, etc, but they’re all things I look forward to experiencing this semester.

1.) The Spanish Experience

Well, I don’t think I could get out of this one if I wanted to – it’s basically my default experience here. And it’s awesome. I’m taking all but one of my classes in Spanish, living with a Spanish woman, and making a few Spanish friends too, so I’m hoping to improve my knowledge of the language and the culture (both with a capital and a lowercase c). I love my province, Navarra, but I’m also very interested in exploring as much as I can of the rest of Spain – I’ve already been to Barcelona, Valencia, and Bilbao, and am going at a bare minimum to Madrid before I leave. Galicia is also on my almost certainly list. I’m also definitely eating as much Spanish food as I can!

Example: Every minute, every day.

2.) The Basque Experience

Yes, Pamplona is most certainly in Spain. But it’s also in Euskal Herria, or, the (greater) Basque Country. Fully half of the people I’ve met who have grown up here speak the language, Euskera, and the political situation is a constantly changing, dynamic thing reflected by graffiti, posters, and protests on the street here. I’m also close enough to Euskadi, or, the (autonomous region of the) Basque Country, that I’m able to explore it as well as I explore Navarra. So far, I’ve visited the three capitals – Bilbao, San Sebastian, and Vittoria – and loved them. With any luck, I’ll rent a car with some friends to head back and see some of the smaller towns. And anyone with a drop of linguistic leaning blood can’t help but be fascinated by Euskera itself.

Example: I signed up for a weekly Euskera course – I couldn’t resist!

3.) The Academic Experience

Yes, it sort of hit me by surprise, too. I may be studying abroad, but I’m still going to need to study – as much or more as I do back home. My classes aren’t just Spanish language, either – I’m studying visual culture, literature and its impact on the modern world, film and literature, linguistics, and the aforementioned Euskera, all in Spanish, with Spanish students. Of course, I can’t claim to love every second of this experience, but it’s a valuable one and fascinating if I let it be. So much of art history, for example, is the same as back home (imagine that) that differences really stand out and shine.

Example: Sitting in a huge classroom and trying to understand abstract lectures about Romanticism, while being unsure whether the processor just said concession, connection, or conception.

4.) The Pyrenean Experience

I love mountains – both for their scenic qualities and the possibilities for fun and exciting activities. Pamplona itself is surrounded by low mountains, and the Pyrenees themselves are just a short trip away. It´s very exciting for a little Missouri girl, and I want to make the most of it!

Example: I plan to go on many of the Club de Montaña excursions, mostly hiking, but this weekend an intense two days of canyon exploration, repelling, etc!

5.) The Erasmus Experience

This one is somewhat controversial among people studying abroad. Some love it and embrace it as a full half of their exchange experience – others feel that mixing too much with the Erasmus students from all over the world will take away from their immersion in the native culture. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about it myself, as I’ve already experienced the craziness and wonder of an international community at Mizzou. I also know that spending time with the Erasmus students means more speaking in English and less practice with my Spanish. But ultimately, I think its an exercise in futility and self-isolation to try to avoid it on principle. Besides, the Erasmus students are my friends, they keep me sane, they’re fun, and, since we’re all (let’s face it) just tourists on speed anyway, its nice to have traveling companions. 🙂

Example: Last night a group of us (from Germany, Portugal, Lithuania, Peru, Austria, Finland, Spain, and Taiwan) had a pancake party together. Not exactly traditionally Spanish… but part of the experience, just the same.

Matriculation, Part IV

Well, figuring out classes has sure been fun. By fun, I mean the single most difficult part of studying abroad, so far, and, I hope, overall. It isn’t so much that everything is in Spanish, or that I’m the first person from Mizzou to go in the fall, or that UNAV is changing everything because of the Bologna process, or that the online system is anything but intuitive, when it works at all, or that professors seem to change meeting times at their whimsy, or that Mizzou wants me to describe classes I’m taking here in terms such as upper division and ECTS, when in fact both are essentially meaningless, even flexible, here – it’s all of the above, and how it interacts with each other to form a perfect storm of BAD.

But I think it’s over. I thought that last week, right before I got an email from Mizzou saying that if Cultura Visual was taught in second year here, it was lower division, and therefore not acceptable. I stayed up all night looking for a class, any class, that I could both pass and use to satisfy my requirements, and came up with only one – Empresa Informative. Then, I found out that it was meant to be an annual class – I could maybe take it for only a semester, but it would cut the ECTS credit count in half, which took me right back to where I started. But the professor was very nice, and basically told me that UNAV could be flexible about such things, so I went to talk to the communications secretary, and then to my adviser, who sent an email back to Mizzou – a few nail-biting hours later, I had my answer: Mizzou would accept the credits.

And now I really do think it’s over.* I’m filling out my matriculation form now, in black ink, and it almost seems official and organized. Imagine. It wants to know whether my dad is the head of the household. It constantly asks what country I’m from, what country I was born in, what country the head of my household is from and lives in, even what country I’m going to live in while studying at UNAV (???), and yet, has a totally inflexible set of boxes to put my home address into, with only 3 digits for the house number, while I live at 16349. Just a bit more fun before I can put away this nonsense for good.

* – Except for the Basque class, maybe. I’d given up on it entirely, but then I got a cryptic phone call while half asleep which seemed to be telling me that they were starting a beginning level class. I’ll find out soon, but it shouldn’t have much effect on my current plan.

Published in: on September 11, 2010 at 20:47  Comments (1)  
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Siestas and Sundays

Q: What’s the most stressful time in Pamplona?

A: Just before 10 pm on Saturdays.

If you don’t make it to the store by ten,  you’re stuck with whatever you have in your cupboard until Monday morning. The great majority of businesses here close from 2-4 (or 4:30, or 5, it’s flexible) on a given day, for siesta, and on Sundays. To the best of what I can tell, grocery stores tend to be some of the few that don’t close for siesta, but they definitely close on Sunday. It’s a little tricky to get used to, if you’re used to 24-7 Walmarts and even Schnucks open til 2-3 am.

Published in: on September 5, 2010 at 08:33  Leave a Comment  
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