A record of the days before, during, and after my time in a Spanish town called Oviedo.

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-Alia

TAKE OUT THE THROES THAT I THREW IN MY HEAD

On January thirty-first, I was in the middle. I had been in Asturias for 141 days, and had 141 days left. Now, February, I officially have been here for more time than I have left. I have spent far too much time worrying about my clothes and my accent and my sense of humor. I am so obsessed with doing something wrong that I did nothing. The past week has been hard. I got strep throat but toughed it out in school, bringing home a mountain of tissues and embarrassment. That is over. I am running out of time; the halfway mark passed before I could even realize it. The whole weekend has been sunny.

Today we went to Cudillero and Castañeras, the home of the Playa del Silencio on the Austurian coast. I cannot believe I’ve been here for five months and had no idea of this place’s existence. Cudillero is a beautiful, whitewashed, narrow-path town, with pastel-colored restaurants and cafés on the water and a stone tower at it’s highest point, which you get to through the mountain-side labyrinth of houses, separated only by thin stone paths, the sun shining on the their matte white and blue faces; red roofs sprouting with grass so rich and green you want to eat it. The sea is green and blue with shocks of sharp black stone jutting through the foam. The lighthouse is an actual house, burnt orange, surrounded by palm trees.

The coastal mountain roads are smooth and black and winding, often halfway up a mountain; and endless thick of trees to one side, a huge, sweeping valley to the other. There are no guardrails, and you are so high up. We stopped in a pueblo on the way to Castañeras to eat in a sun-filled room with pale yellow walls and soft white tablecloths. We ate sunny-side-up eggs, sautéed onions and green peppers, chorizo, french fries in brava sauce, pork chops, goat cheese, beer-battered cod,  fresh greek-style yogurt and honey, wine, and coffee.

Castañeras is at the end of the world. The road is for one car going one way. The houses with cows in the front yard give way to huge fields, thick and green-gold. The sun is always low. The air almost rings with the sea it has in it. The sheep pay no attention, head down the golden hill into the dark forest. The hike to the beach is down a mountain, grassy everywhere but the path, which could fit a car but would surely puncture the tires.

La Playa del Silencio we visited in the evening. I have never been anywhere so arresting. We stood and stood.

mutable8earth asked: reading your blog and remembering your beautiful words. your writing is just like your talking, when i read it i can hear you speaking. i miss and love you and hope to send you a letter (although i make no promises because i am forgetful and it is too cold to leave the house right now). anyways much love, sarah.

Miss you too. There’s a lot of stuff here that reminds me of you! Can’t wait to see ya…

(Cantabria)
THE LEAVES GROW WHEN I’LL ALREADY BE GONE
My Dad told me once how his family lived in a slum outside of Haifa during his teen years. He said he never felt comfortable. Never sunk in. He said he hated the trees for covering the ground in leaves. He talked about the heat. The emptiness of friendless places. I see blinding white dust, pale blue houses made of clay. This is mostly in my head. This is how I make it. I have never been a supporter of making the ugly beautiful. Renovations. I am a member of the other group, the balancers-out. Not everything can be remarkable for the same reason.
I take new routes home; take Avenida Tenderina the whole way. It’s sunnier, no looming apartment buildings or bald Plane trees with stubby, swollen branches, covered in boils. I imagine, to them, the wind feels like a good bruise. The plane trees reach out to each other and eventually connect at the branch. In Lierganes I saw whole streets connected by the arm, suspended in a gold-suffused day. I asked how it happens, the response: they just know. I hear in the summer they have leaves as tall as I am, a tall person in a short country. The trees and I are the same in many ways.  So often unable to show the best parts. So often it’s just as one begins to sprout and can forget the beige branch-limb roughness of what comparisons reveal. So often that is when you go.  I see so many things that remind me, most of the time I am thinking back in time. I am somewhere else.

(Cantabria)

THE LEAVES GROW WHEN I’LL ALREADY BE GONE

My Dad told me once how his family lived in a slum outside of Haifa during his teen years. He said he never felt comfortable. Never sunk in. He said he hated the trees for covering the ground in leaves. He talked about the heat. The emptiness of friendless places. I see blinding white dust, pale blue houses made of clay. This is mostly in my head. This is how I make it. I have never been a supporter of making the ugly beautiful. Renovations. I am a member of the other group, the balancers-out. Not everything can be remarkable for the same reason.

I take new routes home; take Avenida Tenderina the whole way. It’s sunnier, no looming apartment buildings or bald Plane trees with stubby, swollen branches, covered in boils. I imagine, to them, the wind feels like a good bruise. The plane trees reach out to each other and eventually connect at the branch. In Lierganes I saw whole streets connected by the arm, suspended in a gold-suffused day. I asked how it happens, the response: they just know. I hear in the summer they have leaves as tall as I am, a tall person in a short country. The trees and I are the same in many ways. So often unable to show the best parts. So often it’s just as one begins to sprout and can forget the beige branch-limb roughness of what comparisons reveal. So often that is when you go. I see so many things that remind me, most of the time I am thinking back in time. I am somewhere else.

RATS

The other night I was walking through a park I walk through every day on the way home, in a neighborhood called Ventanielles. It isn’t so much a park as a cool, white tile plaza, a playground in one corner, senior-lined benches on the main path. I was walking down the path at night, with a friend, and it came to mind that I had heard Ventanielles been called a “Bad Neighborhood”. So I asked why. She said it was no longer such a bad place, but that it used to be “filled with Gypsies”.

The first time I had heard this, I laughed. I thought it sounded ridiculous, like something a Great-Grandmother would say. “This street is full of Gypsies”. After hearing it a few times, I asked my family over lunch what it meant: Was it a race thing? Was it a joke? The response I got included scrunched noses and the phrase “Generally eastern european”. The “Gypsies” have certain physical characteristics, as have been pointed out to me. They are “bad people” for who “lying and stealing” is part of their culture.

This all sounded fucked-up and racist to me. But that night in the park, I felt it too. It was so comfortable, I almost didn’t notice, and that scared me. I felt good to have someone to blame, to be superior, to conspire with superiors, to blame people I didn’t know, whose definition I barely understood.

On Saturday night I went out with a few friends. We were walking to a club called Salsipuedas, which is downtown but on a quieter, thinner, winding street. We were almost there when we heard shouting, and from around the corner came a huge group—thirty or forty guys— running and shouting, bigger groups of scared-looking people following them. It was weird, and sort of scary, but turned out to be many concurrent fights which may or may not have been related. When retelling the story, I was asked if they were “Sudas”, a shortening of the Spanish word for South-American. I asked what it mattered. How would the story change depending on where they were from? He answered that if they were Spanish, it would “be more justified”. Although the mood of the conversation was nowhere near hostile, I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I just told him to think about what he said.

But who am I to tell him how to think? What could be considered racist in my mind and what could be considered racist in Spain are very different things. And rightfully so. I came here to challenge the way I think, but I also don’t want to hear things like “Were they Sudas?” and say nothing. That doesn’t feel right either.

Sundays, there’s an Antique Market in the Plaza Fontán, surrounded by the normal booths of socks, scarves, jewelry, umbrellas. I bought some more post cards.

The other night, I was in H&M and there was a large group of American girls scattered throughout the store (I assume they were all together). I kept giving them these weird looks. They probably thought I was some Spanish kid, freaked out be seeing Americans in the flesh. I do this a lot. Not to be the Spaniard I, selfishy, had always hoped I would impress by speaking English in public, but because I hope they would recognize me as a Michigander, a fellow English-speaker; I hope for some sort of friendship, the immediate comfort of two foreigners, both amazed and confused by the world around them, seeing something similar. This happened the other night, too, when I was at the gym—two guys were at the front desk, one speaking english, one brokenly translating for the both of them. I wanted to say something, but what? “Hello, fellow Americans! Having trouble communicating with the woman at the front desk? I can help! I promise I’m charming and not creepy, just sort of lonely. I know I’m covered in sweat, but do you want to go out for a drink?”

Hearing English in Oviedo is like seeing a friend that’s too far away to hear you, but you yell their name anyway, and everyone looks at you like you’re crazy. I don’t talk to them, embarrassed by the realization that they are speaking English with someone else. They are not alone. They are not looking like I am.

mystic-oneiric asked: dear alia, i miss you, i saw your tattoo on fuckyeah and knew it was your lovely self instantly. i hope everything is going well for you with your travels. i'm afraid i probably won't be back at camp, thus probably won't be in michigan any time soon, even though i realize you are globe trotting at the moment.
miss you lots, and love you tons,

milton

Milton,

what a lovely, lovely suprise for you to pop up on my tumblr. I miss you too. Let’s skype soon? I want to hear about everything.

Alia

digiti-minimi asked: I found you from the tattoo you posted on fuckyeahtattoos. I thought it was beautiful, and so is your blog. The post you wrote on the third anniversary of your mother's death was very poignant. My mother died when I was sixteen - even five years later it's something I think about daily. I wish I could write about her as well as you write about your mother. Keep writing and taking pictures. xo

Thank you so much! I will:)

nothereanymoreatall asked: I think you have the most honest photos. And it's really nice. And just so much honest.

i love you! thanks, al.

PUENTE MEANS BRIDGE

Wednesday concluded the long weekend we had in honor of Constitution Day. After hanging out with some friends on Friday and Saturday, my family and I packed up our things and headed, like always, for Santander to visit the two sets of grandparents. The weather was unbelievable all weekend—Asturias winter, that is to say, winter in the north of Spain, is very similar to Michigan’s winter, minus the snow, plus rain and wind. It is almost always cloudy, and the wind in Santander is almost unbearable most of the time; it barrels in from the sea and ruins your hair and ability to walk. But this weekend was perfectly sunny and almost windless. The ground dried up. We usually make the drive over on Friday night, and driving in the day, especially a day like Sunday was, was really something. I wore my mom’s earrings and necklace all weekend.

PUEBLO OF THREE LIES

Once we got to our grandparent’s house, Maite suggested to take a trip of a town called Santillana del Mar, which is about a half an hour away from Santander. We left the house around five; the air was starting to feel damp and thick. Santillana is not a Saint, nor is it flat, nor is it by the sea. The town is home to the Altamira cave. I asked Maite to take a picture of me, but lately, pictures of my have been turning out very strange. It’s like I have a new face, and I can’t quite figure out how to use it.

Santillana is incredibly beautiful. Much of the architecture has been preserved for hundreds and hundreds of years; the streets are thin and winding and made of slick, uneven white bricks. The buildings are also tall and thin, with bushes of bright leaves and flowers pouring off of wet wood porches. Being there in the darkening, sunless afternoon made it feel even more dreamlike. All the stores were filled with twinkling lights of stained glass and tin, and small, beautiful things. One had a small, brown, iron statue of a smiling pig with small wings, exactly like the kind that stands in my kitchen window in Ann Arbor. I talked to a really wonderful man in a red newsboy cap and thick, green tortoiseshell glasses about his ceramics; his store was filled with small sets of elf like shoes that looked exactly as though they were made of cloth, and low, white incense holders in the shapes of boats with bits of green and blue glass baked into the bottom.

There is also a torture museum in Santillana. The building looks medieval, with low stone walls that seem to be rotting. It started to rain just as we entered—on the way in were brightly lit guillotines and cages in the shapes of human bodies. The museum itself in only one floor, and has, around the perimeter, artifacts and reproductions of torture instruments. It was lit by false candles, who’s electric flame crackled and blinked for effect. My all left kind of shook up. Humans are so awful.

What I did like about the museum were the commentaries—all in Spanish, English, French, and Greek. They had a subtle personality and edge to them, as if the museum was run by one man with very strong opinions not only about torture, but about the concept of a torture museum. One of the artifacts was a chastity belt; the commentary talked about how women would only ever wear them for a few days at a time, as the metal was incredibly poisonous and belt was very sharp and abrasive. It said that women would more often than not lock themselves into the belt, as an anti-rape measure. The commentary concluded in saying something along the lines of “So then, the question is asked: was or was it not actually a torture instrument? The answer is a definitive yes, as the torture is to leave in fear of the masculine will”. I was like, whoah. Cool.

COMILLAS

Though it was pretty dark now, we decided to go to Comillas, another nearby town, much larger than Santillana, but still very old and beautiful. First, sort of by mistake, we went to the port and walked all the way out. I have never looked at the sea at night before. The sky was just a little lighter in the distance, and to me it looked like an infinite, dark, grassy field. The wind picked up, but it was so warm we didn’t even need our jackets.

After a while, we drove into the main part of town and took a long walk. The neighborhoods felt like something I was imagining, full of winding, sloping sidewalks and small courtyards filled with flowers and iron balconies. Everything covered in moss and yellow-orange street light. A place I would really like to live—full of hilly streets and houses with big windows, hidden front doors, old churches. We saw a directional sign, and one of the arrows simply said “Prison”, so my little brother got really excited, and we looked and looked but never found it. It started to rain just as we got in the car.

SANTANDER

The next day we went into the city to have lunch with the other set of grandparents, and as we sat around the table, my grandmother tried to convince me that I needed to save my soul, and made me promise I would take Sara and Mario to church. I thought it was pretty funny then, but I feel guilty now. What if, when we go back, she asks me about it?

After lunch Sara’s cousin, Sara, Mario and I went to go ice skating downtown. The line was very long and the rink very small, so Sara and I decided to cut out and just walk around. Although flea markets are generally around in Spain, they’re especially cool around Christmas time, so we went to walk around the market. There was one booth, called the Moon of Silver, which was filled with jewelry an precious stones, so much as to hypnotize you. As this particular market is called the “Hippies”, there were a lot of booths with incense and pipes and enormous scarves. I bought a few things to send to friends, but mostly I just liked walking around inside the bright white metal building, which, from the outside, seemed to glow and buzz. Sara and I walked around some more and stopped at a café we really like. We met up with the rest of the family and Mario bought banana ice cream.

On the day before we left for Oviedo, our parents took us out to the prado, to their small property. The last time I had seen it was in September, and every weekend that was came since then Maite and Jesús has gone out to clean it up. The tall, tangled grass was completely gone, replaced by small brown piles of straw.  In cutting down the grass, they had found a small pond in the back corner of the land. The plan is to plant trees all around the perimeter. Sara and I walked around the surrounding pueblo for a while. In between the buildings, the hills spread, and you could see all the mountains, all the deepness of the valley, all the different greens, the houses like little bright paint chips, always cornflower blue and red.

It’s so nice just to sit in the lawn of my grandparent’s house and smell the garden and feel warm in the sun, in December. I took the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn out of the library and finished it there. It’s nice to just sit in the sun and read and not think or speak or feel like you’re not at home. It’s nice to feel at home.

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