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Sploggy turned 1 recently! Can you believe it?! The kid’s growing up so fast. He put on his birthday suit for the party, and it was beautiful and covered in feathers. (Gifts via PayPal donations are still being accepted.) It’s hard to believe, though, that it’s already been a year since I took off for the Land of 10,000 Rattails, where I learned that inserting a little juvenile potty humor into your blog can attract a legion (tens! literally TENS!) of fans. We’ve come so far.

But yes, it’s been a little over a year since I departed for dear Spain, where at this point last year I was probably still having bathroom anxiety (a particularly bad type of anxiety). Speaking of foreign lands and poo, did you see Sex and the City 2? Sorry my pop culture references are a few weeks behind (coming mid-July: a review of the Alejandro video), but now that I’m looking back on last summer, I see that the film, much like my time in Spain, taught me invaluable things about life and living. I learned, for instance, that only through shameless American materialism and excess and bad sex puns will we be able to liberate the Muslim women of the world, whom we should pity because they have to wear those awful costumes that keep them from eating french fries like civilized women. (No but really, it’s an aggressively offensive piece of cinema that should outrage anyone who’s ever met a Middle Eastern person. Or a Muslim. Or a feminist. Or a woman. Or another human being. I thought I was over it, but clearly I’m not. I need to go burn a bra or something.)

Sorry, I usually make it at least a couple paragraphs before I derail completely. I apologize. Back on track: life updates! So in addition to witnessing feminism firing on all cylinders, I also recently graduated! Yay! Hook them! Hook! Them! (Should be the new Texas Fight.) I spent two days sweating under caps and gowns and getting bitten in the face by mosquitoes while posing for pictures and listening to keynote speakers trying to relate to us by chuckling about those gosh-darn newfangled Tweeters and MySpacebooks, but friends and family made it a nice finale to four years that flew by.

Four years, and I got awfully reflective and heavy-handed near the end, too — about The Daily Texan, where I worked for three years and met a lot of people who are a lot cooler than me, and then about being a gay college kid, wondering whether I’d made the best use of my time at UT. I’m here, I’m queer, get used to my middle-class insecurities.

But perhaps my biggest life update: I got a job! Here! In journalism! And I have a bio! And I write things like this! The excitement still hasn’t really worn off, as the exclamation points indicate. I do feel extremely fortunate, though, and I’m counting my lucky stars that I get to stay in Austin doing something I enjoy and care about.

That’s about it for now. I’d go on about myself, but I feel like it’ll inevitably loop back around to Sex and the City 2, and I only have so many bras to burn. Besides, I’m an adult now — a composed, collected, working adult who only posts about serious things and never about toilet humor or hot firefighters. And with that, I leave you with this:

Oh! Um, hi.

Hi there.

Well, this is a bit awkward.

It’s been a while since I showed my face in these here parts. About nine months, I believe. Nine long months since I last rambled about yogurt and digestion and the gays and self-esteem roller coasters (all of which, incidentally, still play pivotal roles in my daily life today).

But I do apologize for not keeping up with this thing like I said I’d try to. It was just a little easier to paint an interesting picture of myself during the summer, when I was living with a Spanish host mom and her hot son and having run-ins with Euro transit police on the weekends.

Anyway, I find myself back here because my friend Shatha, who studied in Spain with me, recently told me she’d somehow made her way here and ended up re-reading this whole thing. This made me feel good about myself and also made me miss being able to broadcast my ridiculousness to my many fans (all five of you), most of whom already know what’s going on with me and couldn’t be more bored by it.

(Also, my story on gay rights in Spain was recently published, which isn’t a big deal, except they refer to me as a “Powell Fellow,” which makes me feel fancy.)

So here we are. It’s a new day. I’m graduating. It’s summer. I have job prospects. I kind of want a dog. I may be boring, but if nothing else, there’s always Activia, the gift that will forever keep on giving. Or not.

I’m down to my last few hours in Spain. I’m excited to get back to civilization but, yes, a little sad to be leaving this Europe place. It’s quite nice, have you heard?

Some things I’ll miss:

  • The loodles. I never got a picture of one, but they’ll live forever in my head, those sad, disgusting little bundles of cute.
  • Chronicling the world domination of Activia. One last update — this one from a charming gelato shop in Florence:IMG_0785
  • Efficient public transportation
  • My host mom and what seemed to be her sneaking suspicions that I’m not entirely straight. Adorable.
  • The daily self-esteem roller coaster of feeling great about your Spanish-speaking abilities one second and the next feeling defeated. And repeat!
  • Euros, which, with their vibrant colors, bring to mind Monopoly money, leading you to spend as if you’re playing a game of Monopoly — and losing.

And yet you have Baltic and Mediterranean avenues, and everyone keeps landing on them, so it’s worth it in the end. That kind of works as a corny parting metaphor, right? Whatever. Europe has been great. Spain has been absolutely lovely. I’ve had the time of my life. Thanks for keeping up with me. I’ve realized that this blogging thing makes me feel creative, so, truly, thanks for following my ridiculousness, and I hope to keep Sploggy going strong as a general hear-me-talk-about-digestion-too-much venture.

“Because Spain + blog = Splog, and Splog was already taken.” Looks like I’ll just need a new tagline.

Siete días. Ay chihuahua.

Is anyone reading this thing anymore? From the comments I got last week, it looks like at least five of you have stuck with me. The WordPress bar graph is telling me that I got 60 visitors the other day. Were 55 of those from me navigating here every once in a while because I like to go back when I’m bored and edit for word choice? Probably. At least 45 of them.

Anyway, hi friends! I told you I’d try to update a couple more times, and here I am! London is this weekend, and Italy last weekend, while stunning, resulted in no near-death experience, so I guess there’s always time for me to fall out of the London Eye.

But yes, this weekend was my second trip to Italy this summer, this time to Florence, Milan and an incredible five-village stretch of the Italian Riviera called Cinque Terre. Ready for purdy?

IMG_0772IMG_0776IMG_0761

Why was I under the impression that places this pretty only existed in horrible Diane Lane movies? (Again, I still haven’t seen Under the Tuscan Sun, and I shouldn’t assume; I’m sure it’s an outstanding piece of cinema. What are your thoughts on Under the Tuscan Sun? This is a perfect opportunity for you to leave a comment.) More pictures to come on Facebook.

Anyway (I’m a big fan of this transition, apparently), I’ve got exactly one week left in Europe. How am I feeling, you’re wondering? (You are.) Well, I’ve gotten comfortable here. I’ve had more trips and adventures than I ever thought I would. I love the 70-degree weather. I like speaking Spanish every day and progressively feeling like less of a fool while doing so. I’m also not too keen on returning to the land where “fail” is becoming a noun and no one seems to mind except for me.

But then again, I do miss Jon & Kate Plus 8. I actually managed to download an episode last week, one where Kate spends five minutes congratulating herself for not letting nerves over a kitchen renovation back home ruin a weekend at the beach house with her kids. That Kate, she is a saint.

And I guess there is that whole friends and family thing in Texas. But really mostly J&K+8.

Talk to you guys in a couple days! London awaits. I plan on listening to Coldplay and Oasis on the plane ride there. I hear they’re really the essence of all things British.

¡Hola! Soy tu profesor

This is my fourth blog post in the nearly three months I’ve been here. I initially considered my inability to frequently update a failure, but having read over what I’ve written so far, I realize now that this is a pretty accurate portrait of the high points in my life here in Europe this summer. If you’d like to imagine the complete picture, just throw in a lot some traveling, walking, homework and interpersonal relationships and you’ve pretty much got it.

Anyway, I’m going to Italy again this weekend (country name drop) and wanted to update at least one more time before maybe one more big update before I leave Europe. I have just over two weeks left here, which is absolutely ridiculous, so let’s hope something profound — perhaps a near-death experience? that’ll do — happens to me between now and my departure. Fingers crossed.

But yes. Hello there! I realize that all of my posts thus far have pretty much focused on culture and yogurt (which has cultures, incidentally), so let me now turn to the actual study part of my study abroad experience, yes?

Since arriving in May, I’ve been attending the Universidad de Cantabria. It’s a modest establishment that I was expecting to look something like this but instead kind of resembles my middle school, questionable interior color scheme and all. (I think here we’ve got red, green and orange all on the walls. All together at once. Pretty, no?) Bit of a letdown, but I suppose not everything here can be of Spanish yore. I love that word. Also not of the Spain of yore? Gay marriage!

Stay with me here. While most of my course schedule here thus far has been filled with Spanish history and literature, 10 or so of us are enrolled a journalism class for the second half of the summer in which we’re actually getting the opportunity to interact directly with Spanish history — by reclaiming lost stories of the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath.

History lesson! Ready? (With all these Spanish lessons and such, you’re learning so much.)

If you didn’t know, following a bloody civil war during the 1930s that pitted leftists against nationalists and killed hundreds of thousands, Spain fell to a nice little dictator man by the name of Francisco Franco who ruled the country with an oppressive Catholic iron fist for nearly 40 years. Divorce was banned. Women were kept from positions of professional power and couldn’t, for instance, open bank accounts. Basically good times were had by all. You can imagine, then, that Franco wasn’t a big fan of the gays. While some were thrown into “deviant” prisons under laws criminalizing homosexuality, most lived lives of silent repression. The authoritarian regime didn’t relent until 1975, when Franco’s death cleared the way for a swift transition to democracy.

The Spanish Civil War and the 40 years of strife that followed haven’t found their place in Spanish history the way the American Civil War has ingrained itself for us as a defining, epic relic of U.S. history. In Spain, after all, the bad guys won, and only recently has the government initiated a process of exhuming mass graves left over from the war. A book that we’re reading in class characterizes the Civil War and the Franco years as Spain’s “silent past” — years that Spaniards look back on with fear, regret, disgust, shame and, above all, a general unwillingness to confront the atrocities of the past and instead forget them entirely. I feel silly characterizing a nation of people myself, but it does seem, at least, that these are years that Spaniards — at least those old enough to remember — view with unease.

Back to the gays. A couple days ago I was actually able to interview a man who grew up gay during the back end of the Franco years. While Franco died when he was 10 or so, the legacy of criminalization had left its mark on the nation, and homophobia, as you might expect, didn’t exactly die with the dictator. This interview, which primarily covered the history of homosexuality as a subculture during and after the Franco years, is something that I’ll be working on for class until the end of the summer, so hopefully I’ll have a complete text/audio/visual project for you to view later on. (I know you can’t contain yourselves. Please take this opportunity to voice your excitement in the comments, which have been a little sparse lately.)

What’s particularly interesting about Spanish LGBT (that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, if you happen to have not gone to college in the last 10 years) stories like these is that in 2005, Spain legalized gay marriage. It was a surprising move at the time in for a country with deep historical ties to the Catholic Church and a not-even-40-year-old system of democracy. In some ways, though, it makes sense: As Europe bounded ahead during the 20th century as the world’s capital of culture and enlightened thought, it was only a matter of time before Spain started to leap-frog other European nations, including France, on such issues as gay rights as it clamored to play catch-up to the rest of the continent. Speaking of, isn’t it about time another New England state caved? Rhode Island, I’m looking at you.

But anyway, it’s with stories like these that we’re trying to piece together a tiny part of the portrait of 20th-century Spain. Me likes this a lot, if you couldn’t tell. Thanks for paying attention to that, by the way. As a reward, I’m leaving you with a picture I forgot I had of a Santander supermarket chain whose name is particularly ironic given the nation’s non-belief in fiber:

IMG_0052You can’t make this stuff up.

Yes, those are Michael Bublé lyrics. Don’t pretend you don’t sing along when you’re in Dillard’s.

Anyway, hello again! It’s been a few weeks since my last entry, making this the third time that I’ve blogged since coming to Spain. I really do apologize for sucking in that regard, but my time has been otherwise occupied with visits to, yes, Paris and Rome. And Barcelona. And various cities within the Castile and Basque regions of Spain. Oh and also the Land of Spending Beyond Your Means, which quite a few of us on this trip seem to have had the fortune of visiting. (It’s beautiful.)

But yes, much has gone down in these past few weeks. Perhaps most notable? I got WiFi! Here! Where I live! In Spain! So actually do expect me around here a little bit more, where I’ll likely be hanging out instead of, you know, taking in and participating in Spanish culture. I’m really trying to make the most of my time here.

But yes, Paris and Rome! Heard of ’em? I don’t want to bore you with recollections of sights visited and such, so let me bore you with pretty pictures instead. I’ll keep it short.

Stephani, Maheen and me at the Louvre (pronounced loo-vruh, I believe)

Stephani, Maheen and me at the Louvre (pronounced loo-vruh, I believe)

Mona Lisa pile (like smile!)

Mona Lisa pile (like smile!)

Purdy

Purdy

What they don't tell you about the Coliseum is that it's exactly how you think it's going to be. Still, though, purdy points.

What they don't tell you about the Coliseum is that it's exactly how you think it's going to be. Still, though, purdy points.

Roman ruins and such and such

Roman ruins and such and such

Check my Facebook soon for more generic pictures. Though get excited for albums that may or may not include shots featuring members of my traveling troupe falling asleep in the Sistine Chapel and sad-face reactions after some of us were unfairly ticketed by Paris subway police.

Both places were a blast, though, and conquerable in 36 hours. But for me, cold, architectural Paris probably bested hot, aged Rome, where the crush of tourism was far more prominent and where something about lines snaking through the Vatican grounds and gift shops by the Coliseum selling plastic gladiator regalia detracted from some of the grandeur of it all. Then again, I have no problem debasing the antique majesty of the city by saying that one of the highlights for me was cherry gelato, so I guess this is all relative. (Really, though, the cherry gelato? One of the best things I’ve ever had. Even with high expectations. Though I think I may have lowered my expectations so that I wouldn’t be disappointed. But I can’t be sure. I may have done it unconsciously. See, this is how my mind works. This is how I spend my time in Spain, reflecting on Italian gelato expectations.)

Anyhoo. Just a couple short, nearly month-old travel updates for now. As I said, many places have been visited and pictures taken, so expect those up soon. Which, if my progress so far is any indication, will hopefully happen before 2011. I’ll actually be visiting Barcelona again this weekend, so with two visits under my belt, hopefully I’ll have something profound to say about the city soon. Which also means I’ll probably just be commenting on the paella and the surprisingly good Italian food.

For now, a big shout-out to my first-session pals, who left last week and whom I still hate for doing so. Expect to be tagged in candid, horrible pictures as payment.

Aprendiendo tantas cosas

I’m off to Paris this weekend, so I thought I’d drop a line before I have more to talk about next week and more pictures to not have time to post for you. (Just picture cathedrals and European streets and my awkwardness in photos and you’re practically there.) Nah, I’ll get some up eventually. Check my Facebook soon for those.

But just to get everyone up to speed, I thought I might run through a few other tidbits about Spanish culture before going any further. ¿Vale? (Pronounced “bah-lay,” that’s how the Spanish say “okay.” Please add this to your vocabulary list.)

Let’s have fun and start with the bathrooms, because a Sploggy just isn’t a Sploggy without a little potty humor (that’s what I’ve heard, at least). Nothing too crazy to report here, but bidets seem to be somewhat prevalent, and if you’re like my host family, your bathroom may not contain toilet paper for post-bidet use but will have some sort of communal post-bidet-use towel. I still haven’t decided what to think about this, but a newfound intolerance toward international customs seems to be the direction in which I’m heading.

Smoking is also quite prevalent, especially, it seems, among the elderly. Incidentally, the hacking-up of lungs until purple in the face is also quite common. Perhaps this downward bowel-pushing force plus the Activia is the Spanish secret to regularity. Is this getting too gross? I apologize. I’m still just worried for their colons.

And while on the subject of the lower intestine and bathroom hygiene, a food update! So ham and white bread still seem to be ever-present, but at home I’m still getting yummy stuff like lentil soup (no seriously, it’s delicious), and the ice cream here they sell on the streets may be the best I’ve ever had. I miss Food Network, and as you can see, this will probably manifest itself in Sploggy becoming a part-time food blog. I’d take pictures, but knowing my track record, my camera would likely fall into my plate of oil-soaked starches. And then in my Activia. Which then might then lead to this turning into even more of an Activia blog than it already is.

I’m sorry, back on track. But first, let’s talk about hair, since I just looked in a mirror and noticed that mine seems to be getting a little unruly. As I’ve told some, one of my biggest fears before coming here was the process of going about getting a haircut. My hair grows fast enough to where I need a trim about once a month, and while I think I’ll be able to get by, I’m just not sure what the word for “semi faux hawk” is in Spanish. (Native speakers, help me out here.) I’m a bit worried, in fact, that I might come out with a rattail of sorts, which, along with jean shorts and general disregard for musculature, seems to be inexplicably in style in Spain. For one expecting lots of Javier Bardems running around, this has been saddening.

Anyway, where was I? Culture. Yes. So I seem to have done my share of judging here, so let me note something entirely positive. Something that I think a lot of us living with host families here have found admirable is the Spanish is their, for lack of a less clichéd phrase, appetite for life — from the number of times that they actually do go to the beach (a lot, in fact) to their taste for the nightlife that brings even the oldies back home as late as 4 a.m. My host mom says that among she and her retired friends, their occupations, while important, now matter little, and that for them, this is a time to live life. Americans retire, entering a stage of comfort, but they don’t seem to do it with such enthusiasm.

Oh and on a shallower note, the Spaniards also have these cute little white dogs that look like lamb/dog hybrids (logs? dambs? loodles?). At first I thought they were horrifying, but they’ve grown on me. I want one.

Basically, if there’s one lesson I’ve taken from my three weeks in Spain, it’s that behind the cultural divide, there often lies a real, human understanding of what makes us and blah blah blah blah. What I’ve actually learned is that if there’s one thing that connects us worldwide — one common bond — it’s the subtle downward green arrow of the Activia packaging. And Lady Gaga. And loodles! (They’re ADORABLE.)