Long Island, Jews, and Buddha

This post is going to be mixed with what feels like a million events, as you might be able to tell from the title.  Just a warning, you know, in case you are only curious about one of the aforementioned topics.

Intercambios at “Long Island”:

On Tuesday night a bunch a girls had mentioned to me that there was some kind of exchange happening between Spainards who want to practice English and Americans who want to practice Spanish at this bar on Calle Betis called “Long Island”.  When I arrived with Jessica, Hannah, and Marrion, it certainly wasn’t the fun exchange I pictured.  University and state flags from the US lined the walls, smoke filled every cubic inch of air, and the men stood transfixed, staring at a big screen TV playing the Spain vs Argentina soccer game.  We were discussing how strange and sketchy it seemed when a blonde women came up to us and asked if we were American.  We replied that yes we were and she insisted on introducing us to her “Spanish friends.”  We were greeted by two of the youngest guys in the bar by far, who were actually pretty cute.  It turns out that they had no idea it was “Intercambio” night, in reality they lived down the street and just wanted to watch the soccer game on the big screen.  That’s what made our conversation so interesting.  These Spanish twenty-somethings weren’t there to creep on American girls looking for cheap tinto de verano and a possible phone number, they were buddies who wanted to hang out and have a few beers.  I spent most of my time talking to the cuter one, in Spanish of course, about his career plans as a neurologist and psychologist.  He told me he was currently working on his masters, graduated from Uni of Seville, lives with his parents, will be doing an exchange in the US in March, and hopes to do brain research and work in the US for the majority of his life.  He was an interesting person to talk to because he seemed down to earth and spoke slowly.  Whether or not I can understand what is being said to me in conversations largely determines my mood.  So in this case, I was very happy!  He jokingly told me that no woman had ever listened to him talk about his studies and career plan like this before.  I laughed nervously.

I didn’t go out that night for the cheap beer or tinto, I went out for some interesting Spanish conversation and practice.  I’m so excited that I found it.  While the bar was American, those men were not and they taught us Spanish slang, wrote down a few restaurant suggestions for my birthday dinner, and made diagrams of where they were located using their table full of mini Cruzcampo beer bottles.  It was adorable.  I hope to make Long Island Tuesdays a tradition, in hopes that maybe some new unknowing Sevillano men will wander in looking for a game on the big screen.

The Jewish New Year in a place with no Jews:

I hadn’t anticipated a very exciting Rosh Hashanah in Sevilla and I was correct.  On Wednesday morning I called the number of the listed Jewish connection in the JYS Handbook and reached Jose Rofe.  I asked him what time the services were and where they were and he brusquely told me the time and place.  He seemed to be in a hurry, but it turns out he acted similarly when on the phone with another girl so I didn’t feel so bad.  At 7:45 PM I met with a few other girls to begin the walk from our homes to new unknown territory in the center of Sevilla.  I traced a direct route on my map and somehow we made it there by 8:30!  After moving out of familiar territory we wound through the small residential streets that used to be the Jewish quarter.  I love how the buildings here are a variety of bright rich colors.  I love how all of the windows have ornate balconies and the streets are labeled using antique tiles on the side of the walls.  After a 20 minute walk following the map and only asking for directions once, we arrived at the given address.  We stood outside timidly for a few moments, because nothing was marked or labeled…you couldn’t even tell it was Jewish.  Some women walked up to us and asked if we were Jewish and then motioned for us to go inside.  We entered a small one-room make-shift synagogue and were promptly greeted by a man at the door. We said hello and then he asked us if we were in search of the synagogue.  We replied yes of course and he then told us we had reached the mosque and that the synagogue was down the street.  We stood there uncomfortably because of course when you are speaking a different language it is extremely hard to understand sarcasm.  He laughed at us and told us it was a joke and we laughed too.  Of course it was a synagogue.  We were staring straight at the arc.

It was obviously orthodox because the men and women were separated and I didn’t know what to expect.  Soon the room filled with about 10 more American girls and 5-6 Spanish women.  The front of the room was reserved for the men, about 10 of whom were Spanish.  All and all there could not have been more than 35 people and the majority were American.  I don’t know why I was surprised to see Spanish, Hebrew, and a transliteration in my siddur.  It was fascinating to see the translations of prayers I have read all my life in Spanish.  Shema Yisrael…Escucha, Yisrael.  I thought that one was funny.  The service was short, they did not sing one familiar tune, and the women did not sing or stand.  I wasn’t sure if I was allowed.  I attempted to sing along to some of the prayers I know by heart, but the tunes and rhythms were so off that I just gave up.

Afterwards about 6 of us went to a small cafe for a Rosh Hashanah “meal”.  I ordered paella which was mediocre and laughed at the fact that my Rosh Hashanah dinner consisted of a thick Spanish rice, shrimp, chicken, and lamb.  To be honest I did miss home.  I missed the food I know and the atmosphere of the synagogue, in Maryland and at Northwestern.  I missed the feeling that you get when you are surrounded by people who are celebrating together.  I don’t think anyone in Sevilla, or Spain for that matter, knew it was the Jewish New Year.  It was a bit sad.  I didn’t go to services the next day because it wouldn’t have been meaningful.  I don’t feel spiritual when I can’t sing, when I’m not included.  In my heart I knew it was the New Year and I’m sure you understand.  I’ll say I’m sorry on Yom Kippur.

Buddha:

Last night a bunch of us ended up going to one of the clubs in town named “Buddha.”  It is a 3 floor paradise furnished like a modern Tibetan temple, with Buddhas, lamps, plush red seating, white bars, and a stunning outdoor patio and bar (on the third floor roof) with large group areas, hookahs, and eastern lamps.  The entire venue, despite being in a mini-mall, was gorgeous.  The best part was the rooftop terrace.  There is no way I could have captured it in a picture.  It reminded me of Epcot when you feel like you are transported to a different country.  It was almost too perfect.  When I looked up from my seat, I stared into a black and starry sky.

It was refreshing because when we arrived (12:30/1 AM…early)  they were playing American music.  All of the girls got into a circle and happily sang along to “New York” “Dont Cha” and “Scrubs”  What a throw back.  As the night wore on, around 2:30,  the club began to fill with more Spaniards and the music switched to a mix of English and Spanish techno.  Eventually it was just Spanish.  It all felt like a dream.  Here I was dancing along side American girls and Spanish men to American techno songs to which everyone knew the words.  The strobe lights were blinding and the music was pumping through our bodies as if it were our blood.  It was one of those moments where everything felt strangely familiar and at the same time I was very aware that I was in Spain.  We left around 3:15, which if you can believe it, is still early for a night out because some Spaniards were just arriving as were made our way out the door.  Baby steps my friends.  I think we will definitely go back there when we are looking for a night of endless dancing and familiar rhythms.  Who knew I would find Snoop Dogg in Buddha?

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