Tuesday has come to a close and the anticipation builds as to what sort of class I will be taking at the Pontificia. I practically ran down to the Plaza Mayor this AM. I’m not sure if it’s the jet lag or the vast amounts of sodium from Spanish cuisine wreaking havoc on my bladder. (I joined a gym, even with the decent amount of walking we do, I’m not coming back home como una foca.) Morning has become electric in this fair city.
Manoli was quite firm in her breakdown of the house rules on Calle Bolivar. There is no traditional breakkie in her home. Coffee, cookies and toast. Take a piece a fruit and go face the world, youngish man. That’s the routine we are creating. A little charla con café in the kitchen, revealing the intrinsically cray details of our families and out the door.
Of course, what made this morning special was that the toilet stopped working after I used it. Yeah, the house only has one, which spawns memories growing up with six people in Pico Rivera. But, as you ponder THAT initial revelation for a moment, focus on what I’m gonna write next. I’m now in a house full of women (two students from Atlanta arrived today). So, I’m acting like it’s my first sleepover my by BF’s house. In other words, pursuing my house life with extreme caution and avoiding all dude bathroom habits. (No reading.)
Anyway, as I was saying…
I turned on my iPod, but I have no idea as to what I listened to while walking. All I really heard was “Let the River Run” as if sung by a Castilian Carly Simon in my head while I made my way to the college. Today was our assessment test. No surprise, I was the first student to arrive. What followed was wave after wave of, shall we say, crudelios? Walks of shame, torn jackets and affirmations of still being drunk aside, this group has really forged that great summer camp movie from the 80s vibe. Picture a “Wet Hot Salamancan Summer,” where you’re just entering your 20s and feel no shame in your game.
For a moment, I felt like that home schooled Amish kid. I have yet to experience the legendary Salamancan night life. The stories I am reading in the heavy-lidded faces of my group is very familiar. All I can think is, “Por donde ustedes van, yo ya ido y regresado.” Hahaha. But then I remembered how said stories ended and I thank my fucked up DNA for not letting me drink that way again. Oh, but that twinge of youthful envy.
Once all accounted for, we met our professors and were ushered into La Pontificia. This is where my heart beat that much faster. As we made our way through these ageless halls, the portraits alone harkened back to a time where humanity was still pondering their Big Questions, the answers which rule our world today. Ideas and innovation were born here, souls lifted and sins vanquished in the name of Higher Learning. I felt so connected to what it was to be human at that moment.
We took our seats in the Aula Magna, named not for its size but for its importance. Once the premier lecture room, it was now used for special events and gatherings. Three other schools from abroad gathered this morning, plus my contingent from West LA College, ELAC and Cal Poly. It was amazing just how quickly the space turned into Romper Room. So loud was the din, you could see the portraits push their studied fingers into their ears.
We went into the classrooms for our test, and the din followed. It was if the tower of Babel exploded anew and languages spewed all over the land. I couldn’t even begin to follow a single thread. I took my seat, stared ahead at the crucifix in the room and fell into my own thoughts.
Legacies are such a gift. No one legacy can be too small or too big if it carries an honest purpose. Here was a testament to discovery, this college. Here, the past, present and future are in constant collision. But the past endures to tell a story. That theme was very much on my mind as I took the placement exam. Where it all made sense to me was the essay question: Why I wanted to study Spanish?
At this late hour, my reasons remain quite personal and hard to write without sounding ridiculously grand. I am going to wait until the end of this experience to explain why this all happened in the first place. But I can comment on this: our national narrative is changing. What it means to be an “American” and who defines the face of the modern “American” is evolving. This nation, which was built in large part by the immigrant experience, will require people who can speak to all parties and not just the ones who have opted to assimilate. Information dictates power. Those who choose to be informed will be the ones who can weather the conflicts still to come if they understand what is being said. That is why my own narrative is shifting to embrace both sides of my American self, in English and Spanish.
After the exam, our professors gave us access to the defining part of the building, its bell towers. The breath taken by the steep climb was outmatched by the view of the entire city. Again, the thought of legacies took me over. As I walked through the balconies and took in the images of colonial Spain, I felt humbled by the lives that had stepped through here in search of answers and direction. Many left transformed by the ideologies and philosophies of the time. Others left a mark in shaping policy or documenting a people’s history through art and culture. What will be our biggest contribution? The selfie? The GoPro camera?
But isn’t that what I’m doing? Snapping a written selfie? Perhaps. And perhaps I’m also destined to shape policy. Or leave my mark by documenting our time. No matter how the group viewed the experience shared by all of us today, we were now part of a very special group of people. Like those who entered the Pontificia before, we would be given its powerful gift of education. What ideas will we share? What ideas will transform our own way of viewing the world? The possibilities are beyond exciting. However, what we decide to do with what we learn will be ours to decide, a true responsibility.
I hope these students recognize just how much they stand to discover within themselves beyond drafting war stories about their legendary nights out. Here’s a chance to share in something quite profound…a legacy that will be in place long after we make our own ways back home.
Tuesday, July 1 at Manoli’s house in Salamanca, Spain.