After being away from home for nearly six months, it's hard to believe that my mom and grandma actually have come to Europe to visit me. When I saw them walk through the gate at the Valencia airport it seemed a bit unreal that I was about to get to share this place that's been all mine with two of the best women in my life.

For the weekend we stayed around Sagunto and toured the Castle and the old neighborhood and enjoyed relaxing on campus. I went to class on Monday morning and then we came into Valencia where we are staying for two nights. It was good that the last few weeks I've been in Valencia so much because now I know my way around forward and backwards. We walked all the way through the old town, down through the park that runs across the city, all the way to the City of Arts and Science. They were real troopers! We took it slow and stopped and looked in some shops that I don't normally have a lot of time to see, and we spent a lot of time in the park looking at all the pretty trees that are blooming this time of year.
On the bridge over the park on the edge of the old town.
Our first stop this morning was the Mercado Central. We came here the first week of school but I haven't been back since and we really enjoyed seeing all the fresh fruits and veggies. We bought a blood orange and some dried coconut for a snack later. Then we walked through the small streets of the old town, saw the cathedral, and continued to the edge of the park. At the end of the day we stopped in Mercadona for some pasta and pesto, the traveler's choice of DIY dinner. It seems weird to make dinner while traveling without Justin and Ryan—these have been the first days we haven't been together in six months! But they are each with their parents as well and we're all having a great time. Tomorrow we're off for more adventures but for now a fresh pot of coffee awaits me. Oh the joys of renting apartments!
Last night we survived the latest fireworks show I have ever seen, starting at 1:30 AM and lasting until nearly 2:00. Yes, the penultimate night of Fallas was a late one, but after sleeping in this morning I feel revived and good enough to go back tonight for the last night, Nit de Foc, where all of the ninots are burned. 

Since Las Fallas is a Valencian holiday, all of the names of the ceremonies are in Valenciano instead of Spanish. For example, "ninot" really means "muñeca" in Spanish which means "doll." "Nit de Foc" is "Noche de Fuego" or "night of fire" in English. We learned all about these days and events in Folklore so even though it's all in Valenciano, it makes sense. Well, it makes as much sense as a festival revolved around burning giant dolls can. It's very cool that we get to be here for Las Fallas and see Valencia's greatest holiday, but the whole thing really is quite strange to me. Valencians spend all year building these giant floats just to burn them. Plus the festivities last 3 or 4 days, not counting the whole month of March that leads up to it, which really seems like medieval times to me. 

So far we've gone to three days of Fallas. Last Monday Ana took us to see the Ninot Musuem where all of the smaller ones are displayed and you vote for your favorite that is to be saved from the fire. Picking a favorite was hard for me just because they were all so strange and all were designed to state something about society or politics or Valencia. On Sunday, we spend the day walking around and seeing everything in the day time and came back to campus for the evening. Getting around the city is no easy task though, so everything we did took twice as long as it usually does when we go to Valencia. The streets are packed, traffic is stopped, and there is a parade of women in Fallas dresses walking through town from about 4PM until nighttime, for two days in a row. I don't even know how they have enough people to walk for so many hours. These women each carry a bouquet of flowers and take them to a huge frame where men stuff them in to create a giant flower statue. It's not just women though, it's families, mothers, daughters, men, children, babies, each representing their pueblo in the region of Valencia. The dresses are all quite similar and we've been told that they can cost up to three thousand euros. 

Yesterday we went into the city a little later in the evening and walked around to see the first, second, and third prizes of the Ninots. There are two categories of Ninots, large and small, and one of each is saved from the fires of Fallas. However, obviously the big ones are too huge to keep and so they save only a small token of it. So it doesn't even matter if you win, all of your hard work gets burned. I don't understand it exactly, but I guess they don't mind. After that, we spend some time in Starbucks since the fireworks didn't start until 1:30. At last we made our way toward the park and got pretty good spots to see everything. While we waited an hour and a half, I began wishing we had decided to skip the fuego artificial and just go home. It was chilly, we were tired, and breathing was unpleasant since we found ourselves next to several groups enjoying their freedom to smoke excessively. However, once the show began I think we were all glad we stayed. It was the most impressive fireworks show I have ever seen, and it was so close, the sort of thing that would never, ever be allowed in the States. Fireworks in the middle of a city, in a dry river bed park with people so close that there was even a little bit of fiery debris raining down on us. It was so loud, but so spectacular and I was so glad we stayed to watch. When it was over we rushed to the metro and miraculously got our group of 12 back to the parking spot without any problems. Tonight we have the burning of the muñecas so hopefully we'll get home a little earlier. Here's a few pictures from the last few days!
I woke up this morning to the sounds of fireworks in Sagunto, a true sign the Fallas vacation has finally arrived! At last, finals are over and we enjoy five days free. A lot has happened but with every day so busy and the internet the way it is (sometimes I think dial-up would be faster!) it's been a bit difficult to get blogs up and posted! I'll try to get you all caught up on the latest.

Our trip to Valencia for El Ninot was postponed on the first Monday so we ended up going last week. Ana was very excited about it and told us we would go rain or shine. We also stayed for La Mascletá which is basically 5 straight minutes of the loudest fireworks you've ever heard. They do it at 2PM every day in March leading up to Las Fallas, followed by the official "Valencia en Fallas" song. It's all a bit strange to me, but it's the biggest holiday in Valencia and everyone loves it. I'll explain Fallas more in detail as we go to the festivals every day, and since Ana taught us all about each day of Fallas in Folklore class, hopefully we'll know exactly what's going on. 

Last Sabbath those of us "new" to Grupo E got to go eat at Ana's house after church. Ana, like all the teachers here, works so hard at ESDES but also puts in so many extra hours doing activities with students, inviting them over for lunch, running errands with them, or talking to them about how everything is going. Eight of us ended up going and she made some fantastic food followed by dessert, chatting, and infusión (tea!). She spent time talking to each of us about where we are from, what our lives are like back in the States, and what our parents do. Even though she's known us for almost six months, it was nice to have some time away from school to chat. 

Lunch with Ana was a great way to relax before finals week. Sunday was very busy with a potluck from the culture class, studying for tests, getting our books read, and writing last-minute papers. It's amazing that I couldn't even fathom writing a paragraph in Spanish last August and now we write papers all the time! Sunday night a group of us studied Literature together and Monday the test was pretty easy. We had a History final on Wednesday and then the core class finals started Thursday. Thursday night we also had to teach our English class in addition to studying for Grammar and Conversation. It was a busy week but by yesterday afternoon I couldn't believe the second trimester was over! 

Instead of vespers last night, Rachel, Sara, Eloise and I went over to Cristian's house and made dinner and cookies. It was so much fun to be together and actually be in a house on Friday night. Since I'm not in Conversation with Cristian any more I don't talk to him a lot, and I was happy to discover that I understood him perfectly. We stopped at Mercadona on the way and got some pasta and bread for dinner and then Eloise led the effort in making monster cookies for everyone. They were so delicious and tasted like being at home. We stayed at Cristian's house for several hours and it was the most Spanish I've ever spoken at one time. However, I am realizing that we are getting to the point where it's easy to forget that someone is even speaking Spanish because they are just talking and we can finally understand. 

On the way back we thanked Cristian for having us over and talked about how the teachers at ESDES always open their homes to us. When we went to Ana's apartment last week she told us "Now you know where I live, so if you ever have any problems, you come straight here! Unless it is between midnight and one AM. Then wait until I'm awake." Teachers here love sharing their food, their families, and their lives with us and even our parents if they visit. It doesn't matter to them that our Spanish is grammatically flawed, or that we would rather eat dinner at six than at nine. They accept us with our awkward differences and show us what it's like to spread love to a bunch of Americans that wound up in Sagunto.
In only two weeks this quarter will be history and we'll be celebrating Las Fallas here in Valencia. With only ten school days left everything has been quite busy and I haven't had time to do much more than homework, reading, and preparing for finals. Some of our classes have already begun presentations and final projects. In Literature today we will be acting out parts of Don Juan, which we read earlier this quarter and had to cut down to easy-to-read scenes and then perform. Spanish Literature has become one of my favorite classes I've ever taken, which shouldn't surprise me because I always enjoyed taking literature classes in English in high school and at Union. We've learned about a wide variety of styles and writers, but most of what we read is some sort of poetry or verse. We've read social-political discussions by Leandro Fernández de Moratín, dramas such as Don Juan adapted by José Zorilla, and even fábulas, or fables, just like we have in English.

Lydia always finds fun ways for us to do our homework, and one project we had to do was read several well-known Spanish fables and then find one of our own and read it to the class while explaining what it meant and what the moraleja, or moral, is. Here's one we read in class, La Lechera, that I enjoyed reading, and the rough translation in English. 
La Lechera

Llevaba en la cabeza
Una Lechera el cántaro al mercado
Con aquella presteza,
Aquel aire sencillo, aquel agrado,
Que va diciendo a todo el que lo advierte 
«¡Yo sí que estoy contenta con mi suerte!»
Porque no apetecía
Más compañía que su pensamiento,
Que alegre la ofrecía
Inocentes ideas de contento,
Marchaba sola la feliz Lechera,
Y decía entre sí de esta manera:
«Esta leche vendida,
En limpio me dará tanto dinero,
Y con esta partida
Un canasto de huevos comprar quiero,
Para sacar cien pollos, que al estío
Me rodeen cantando el pío, pío.
Del importe logrado
De tanto pollo mercaré un cochino;
Con bellota, salvado,
Berza, castaña engordará sin tino,
Tanto, que puede ser que yo consiga
Ver cómo se le arrastra la barriga.
Llevarélo al mercado,
Sacaré de él sin duda buen dinero;
Compraré de contado
Una robusta vaca y un ternero,
Que salte y corra toda la campaña,
Hasta el monte cercano a la cabaña.»
Con este pensamiento
Enajenada, brinca de manera,
Que a su salto violento
El cántaro cayó. ¡Pobre Lechera!
¡Qué compasión! Adiós leche, dinero,
Huevos, pollos, lechón, vaca y ternero.
¡Oh loca fantasía!
¡Qué palacios fabricas en el viento!
Modera tu alegría
No sea que saltando de contento,
Al contemplar dichosa tu mudanza,
Quiebre su cantando la esperanza.
No seas ambiciosa
De mejor o más próspera fortuna,
Que vivirás ansiosa
Sin que pueda saciarte cosa alguna.
No anheles impaciente el bien futuro;
Mira que ni el presente está seguro.
The Milkmaid

On her head
A pitcher for dairy market
With that quickness,
That still air, that pleasure,
That tells everyone and warns
"Yes I'm happy with what I've got!"
Because she did not want
More company than her thought,
Which gladly offered
Innocent, happy ideas,
She walked alone, the happy milkmaid,
And said to herself in this way:
"This milk is sold,
The money is so much,
And with this,
A basket of eggs buy if I want,
To get a hundred chickens,
Around me singing peep, peep.
Of the amount made
For the chicken I will trade a pig;
With acorn, bran,
Cabbage, chestnut, without holding back,
So much so that I can get,
See how he drags his belly.
I'll take him to the market,
I'll take him, without doubt good money;
Use cash to buy
A robust cow and a calf,
That jump and run in the countryside,
Up the hill near the cabin. "
With this thought
Concentrating, she skips along,
And when she jumped quickly,
The pitcher fell. Poor milkmaid!
What compassion! Goodbye milk, money,
Eggs, chicken, pig, cow and calf.
Oh crazy fantasy!
What palaces you make in the wind!
Modera your joy
Lest jumping for joy,
Contemplating happy your move,
Break your singing hope.
Do not be ambitious
Of better or more prosperous fortune,
That you live anxiously
Without that nothing can satiate.
Desire not impatient future good;
See that the present is not sure.
We summed it up in Spanish as "Tener los pies en la tierra" (keep your feet on the ground) or in English as "Don't count your chickens before they hatch." I love literature class because it's amazing to me that when I first came here, I couldn't read a paragraph without having to look up every single word, but now we read in class and everyone understands the basic points and we work through harder vocabulary together. I just finished a 250-page book for my conversation class, and while I certainly did not understand everything that happened, I got to practice readying quickly without stopping and had a pretty good idea of each chapter. It's amazing to me how much we've learned in two quarters and I'm so happy we still have one whole quarter left. Some people have begun counting the days, anxiously waiting for each week to pass, but for once in my life I'm not in a hurry. I love learning Spanish and I can't wait to see what next quarter has to offer! But first, Las Fallas, which I will explain in the coming days and weeks!