Tag Archives: photos

Semester Culmination

As a graduate student, my class schedule is a lot more flexible than it was during undergrad–especially this year. Since I’m so close to having all I need to graduate (just gotta bang out that THESIS!) I was able to schedule a “for fun” class this fall semester in order to reach my full-time financial aid status.

I chose a photography class–partly because it fit with my schedule, partly because it’s related to the work my social neuroendocrinology lab does (we take photos for face-mapping purposes), but mostly because LET’S FACE IT, I am me, and I love to take photos.

Although I’ve already spent years of my time and significant amounts of creative efforts learning about photography, there is always more to learn, and I especially love being challenged to create projects with a deadline and within the confines of specific assignment criteria. It’s a good practice!

I haven’t been shooting film at all this semester. All of these images were taken with MY TRUSTY OLD CANON REBEL XSi, which was purchased with the monetary gifts I got when I graduated high school over eight years ago. She’s traveled the world with me; she’s taken thousands upon thousands of photos; she is my better set of eyes.

And she’s still kickin! I’ve never had enough extra money in eight years to buy a new/better camera! Fuck poverty! Fuck technological rat races! You can still make art with limited tools!

Ahem.

Anyway, I wanted to share/preserve the work I did this semester on the ol’ blogerooni…

Time of day

So, for our first assignment, we were instructed to set up a camera on a tripod in one place, and then photograph the exact same scene many times at different hours of the day, with different lighting conditions.

I put up a tripod with a note on it in my backyard, and shot a whole bunch of images of our yard and the neighbor’s house. We only edited two to turn in for the assignment, so I chose these ones, since they show a strong contrast between lighting/time, and because they include several of my roommates, whom I love ❤

I made it into a gif because I really enjoyed flipping back and forth between the photos and wanted to create that experience for YOU, the viewer.ezgif.com-gif-maker

Color Theory

Our second assignment was all about colors. Specifically, we were instructed to shoot images that conveyed monochromatic, analogous, and complementary color palettes.

I really enjoyed the way this assignment changed my perspective. To be honest, I think sometimes my own perceptual experience is dominated by sound rather than vision (because this is the kind of shit I think about and evaluate as a neuroscientist…). I learn best through auditory means, and I tend to process/remember auditory information much better than visual information. My memory for sounds, for words especially, is almost perfect.

But Christ on a cracker, I have to meet you like five times or at least twice in a meaningful context to recognize your face at a glance. It’s an attention problem more than anything–I can remember visual information very clearly if I have taken the time to process it fully, but I often simply pay less attention to images than sounds.

Photography has always been a form of assistance for my visual inadequacies. A camera viewfinder includes and excludes parts of the scene, and being purposeful about inclusion/exclusion helps me to more clearly process the visual stimuli in my environment.

I was so out of practice with deliberate photography (if you’ve noticed, my photos over the past couple years have been almost exclusively “diary” photos, meant to be spontaneous rather than purposeful) that I felt really blocked up before beginning this assignment.

But finally (by working, as always) I was able to push through that block, and once again entered the blissful realm of creative play. I started processing the visual information around me in terms of aesthetic color interplay rather than as factual objects.

I’ve been enjoying this renewed sense of vision ever since–this ability to appreciate the rich orchestra of colors all around me.

These three shots were the ones that became prints:

Color theory 1
Analogous (Green-Yellow)
color theory 2
Complementary (Red-Green)
color theory 3
Monochromatic (Blue)

Alternative Light

The criteria for this assignment were to shoot photos using “unusual” light sources rather than normal lamps/lights in an environment.

This assignment was an “I need to get this done” more than anything else. I really liked the concept, but I was lacking in availability of alternative lights, models, and ideas that week.

I’m not psyched with any of these images, really, but here they are: a lightbox I use to snip my negatives, a sewing machine to see my pins, and a campfire to illuminate my wine glass and my friends.

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Color and Narrative

This assignment expounded upon the use of color and light in terms of storytelling.

When it comes to art theory, I must admit I’m sort of a fanatic about using a medium to its fullest potential, with well-formed intentions behind an artist’s choices. That’s certainly not everyone’s style or philosophy about art-making, but it’s the way I generally tend to make art, and also a basis for defining a lot of the art I really enjoy.

Abstraction is cool! But if there is no strong sense of intention behind the abstraction in a work apart from its aesthetic value, I don’t engage with it for long. It feeds my eyes or ears, but not my mind or heart.

Cinema, to me, is almost the ~ultimate~ medium (apart from lucid dreaming) in the sense that you have the ability to choose auditory information and motion in addition to images. WHAT A PALETTE. And for our class examples, we watched a lot of videos about the use of color in cinema, which GOT ME ALL EXCITED AGAIN ABOUT COLOR AND STORYTELLING, damn.

But our assignment was more modest: In four images, we needed to tell a story from our lives using a specific color palette to do so.

And it was more specific: One image needed to be a still life, another needed to be an environment without people, another needed to include a body part but not a full portrait, and the last one was a free choice.

Orange is a color that I have a difficult relationship with. As I’ve grown and learned more about colors this semester, I’ve understood the nature of that difficulty much better, and have begun to accept orange into my being a lot more.

When I made the photos for this assignment, I chose orange as my color palette because of how strongly I associate orange with anxiety. My anxiety has always been orange, and I wanted this narrative to carry a sense of anxiety with it.

The narrative’s focus is a fever I suffered when I was a child. I was very sick; I was given medicine I was allergic to; I hallucinated; I had to be thrown into a cold bath.

The last two images were not ones I printed for the assignment (since I had to stick to the four-image criteria), but I wanted to try to create a visual metaphor for the fever breaking. I used an umbrella opening and being left in the water with the orange coloration removed from the whole of the scene.

I don’t actually think this was a success–because, like, where did the umbrella come from all of a sudden? What the hell does that represent?

I included the photos anyway because I was striving for SOMETHING and even if I didn’t reach it, maybe the lesson learned from trying will help me some other time when I’m stuck.

(Thanks to my roommate Sasha for playing the part of young me)

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One-light Studio Portraits

For this assignment, we used the university’s lighting studio to take portraits.

As mentioned previously, my art-making is often quite limited by my available resources. As much as I stubbornly love my old camera and shitty pens, it’s also a nice luxury to be able to use BETTER equipment when it’s available to me.

Unfortunately, I was sick on the day I took these pictures. I was cranky and sleepy and not feeling very inspired. I came into the studio with not much of an idea.

FORTUNATELY, my model, Jordan, is amazing enough that these photos still came out great. I barely even directed her. If anything, I mostly just apologized for how cranky I was throughout the whole shoot.

I really enjoy when other people let me take their photos! I find it a fun challenge to try to convey someone’s personality through the limited media of images. The hardest part, the real difficulty of accomplishing that, is that people often want to pose for me, want to please me, and in the process of trying to please me, they do the exact opposite–I get a picture of a person with no soul, a front, an image of a person projecting an image.

But Jordan is not like that. Her personality is strong, her mannerisms are clear, and she isn’t going to pose to try to impress me or anyone.

So these pictures look awesome, but the credit belongs to her–not to me. I just turned on a light and pressed a damn button.

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Oh yeah, and to fulfill the criteria for the assignment (different types of lights we used) I also took this photo of myself and my classmate Nick, when I noticed that we look so similar from behind. I thought it was funny. WHO’S WHO?Nick and I umbrella

Portable lights

For this assignment, we used portable strobes to photograph a model in an environment rather than in the studio. I chose to photograph my roommate Serena in our house/her room for this assignment.

Serena is just an all-around beautiful person, and it shows in her bedroom space, in the clothes she wears, in the way she interacts with the world.

Consequently, I feel like these photos are some of the most aesthetically-pleasing I took during the semester. The textures and patterns of her room, all the flowers and shapes, and the warm light (gold umbrella!) really came together quite nicely.

Again, I love having the opportunity to capture a person’s ~essence~ through imagery, and this time I feel like it was much more of a collaboration between the two of us–her providing the beauty, and me choosing the best ways to showcase it.

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Also, another outtake for the assignment because I thought it was funny and cute: Sasha receiving some disquieting news on a banana phone.sasha banana

Tig

The next assignment was to go further with either the studio lights or the portable lights to create another series of photos.

I was, again, having a week of limited resources–specifically, models. I had wanted to photograph my roommate Brian with his pet lizard, but his work schedule made it impossible. I was telling my co-worker Lenore about this dilemma, and she was like, “Well, you can always come take pictures of my cat!”

I like the idea of pet portraits. I wanted to take more of her AND her cat, but she just wanted pictures of him alone.

Tig is a Bengal cat, and he’s SUPER smart. He responds to commands and was a great model for this shoot. He looks so handsome and regal in these pictures.

He’s also potty-trained–which was something I’d never personally witnessed before.

Fortune smiled upon me: Tig took a dump while I was there.

I hadn’t planned it; I hadn’t expected it. But if you think I was about to miss the opportunity to take a photo of a cat on a toilet, YA DEAD WRONG.

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Me & My Rhythm Box

So, I actually ended up doing two series of photographs for the same assignment–Tig and these ones.

Although this series was “for the class,” it was truly, mostly, “for me.”

I was, at this time, feeling FULL OF ANGST. My sense of routine had been shaken and my feelings were sort of running wild (blahblahblah heart feelings are weird) and as per usual, I responded by hiding away and spending time with myself in order to gain a centered perspective again.

I can get swept up and knocked over by my own feelings sometimes. I don’t like to take action during those times, because I tend to make poor choices when I do. Instead, I retreat and dive deep into myself in order to return to a place of peace.

So I do “me things.” I read. I do jigsaw puzzles. I draw pictures. I listen to music I know I always love and watch films that always move me.

I am also adamant about making my spaces into “MY SPACES” and I feel like my personality oozes from every corner. Mostly, I am chaotic but force external organization onto my chaos in order to function–and my space always has a look of just-contained chaos. Organized but overwhelming.

I wanted to take honest pictures of myself. Not posed, pretty pictures. I rolled out of bed, grabbed some coffee, sleepily set up my lights, and just shot these. I didn’t get dressed or put makeup on or even brush my hair. I didn’t clean my room. I just wanted honesty.

To me, it was also necessary to include my guitar. I love waking up and playing my guitar first thing in the morning on my days off. My voice smoothes out as I drink my coffee; I find myself falling into hours of song. The guitar responds to me–she is consistent and predictable in her responses in a way another human being can never be. I get out precisely what I put in, and I put in my heart and soul.

“Me & My Rhythm Box” is a title spontaneously plucked out of my brain from the very strange film “Liquid Sky,” a 1980s New Wave scene-focused sci-fi movie, which I’m not suggesting you watch. It’s not a particularly GOOD film, but it has curiously stuck with me in the form of several sounds and images, for some reason. At the beginning of the film, a character performs a strange musical piece she calls “Me & My Rhythm Box,” and it’s weird, but it’s ANGSTY and it’s about a connection between a human and a device to create sounds.

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This was an assignment that involved taking lots of small pictures of parts of a scene, then stitching them together to make one huuuge picture.

I took a photo of this place down my street, with Sasha, while we were out walking. That’s all.

The file was huge and I did not enjoy working with that clunky behemoth. There are lots of glaring errors in this, to me, but it’s good to know how to do this in case I ever need to capture a scene in this manner.

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Bastard child

For our final assignment, we were allowed to shoot anything we wanted, but we had to either use the studio, the portable lights, or do a photomerge.

Not a problem!

But as part of the assignment, we had to also turn in a “work in progress” the week before the deadline to show the class what we were doing and to get feedback.

A problem!

That’s just… not how I function.

I used to beat myself up a lot about my way of functioning. But I’ve decided over the past couple years that there’s nothing wrong with how I function–it’s just different, and requires different tactics to accomplish all my goals.

I have a LOT of energy–and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I certainly have attention issues. I really have a LOT of difficulty doing things according to other people’s rules or schedules–I’m often late, and my workflow is eccentric compared to many people.

But it WORKS for me (and the parts that don’t work, I address), and for the most part, the people around me recognize that I am totally capable of producing good things but that I often get there in a different way. Actually, most of my life has involved people either bending or ignoring rules for me because they recognize this. Seriously, if my academic or workplace performance was judged upon my PUNCTUALITY, I would have been kicked out of school and fired many times over.

I tend to work in one fell swoop. I don’t start projects a week before they’re due and gradually work on them–I procrastinate and do it all the night before. More than that–I often CAN’T DO WORK AT ALL until there’s a sense of pressure or deadline.

But it WORKS for me, and it has always worked for me. I sit down and write 23 pages in four hours. I complete projects the day they’re due. I pull off incredible feats. IT FEELS GREAT.

Butttt… sometimes there are situations in which, for one reason or another, I am demanded to work in a way that’s unnatural to me. And I really struggle with it.

This isn’t the first “bastard child” I’ve made in my life and I’m sure it won’t be my last.

I knew I wanted to do a project exploring the chakras (been reading the Bhagavad Gita, been thinking about colors, always working on spiritual stuff, etc.) but I wasn’t ready to make the work yet.

I shot these the morning before class with zero plan. I didn’t want to show my face. I was running late. I had a weird stomachache. My room was a mess. It was painful.

I just took pictures of myself as I got ready for my day, using colors to move through the process but like, man, I just threw a blanket over my closet door for a backdrop… and I happened to have a bunch of bags scattered on the floor so I used one to cover my face… it was a shitshow but somewhere in the middle I just laughed about it and was like “THIS IS WHAT I’M DOING NOW; THIS IS WHAT’S HAPPENING; I WILL NOT LOSE 100 POINTS FROM THIS ASSIGNMENT!”

These photos are absurd. They’re stupid.

I could try to tack on something about “women are expected to go through all these steps to get ready in the morning and your face isn’t considered worth seeing until you’re done” blahblahblah, but first of all I don’t care about expressing that through my work, and second of all, truly, these are just crap.

Bastard child. It happens. They’re kinda funny, though.

Motter 1Motter 2Motter 3Motter 4Motter 5Motter 6Motter 7Chakras

For my final assignment, I DID what I had been planning to do.

And I didn’t start it until 10 pm on Saturday when the prints were due at 3 pm on Tuesday (and I worked Sunday-Monday).

This is my workflow at its finest. I leave you with the images, and my artist’s statement to accompany them.

According to Hindu mysticism, humans must balance the forces of energy within us in order to achieve the highest levels of spiritual consciousness. It is believed that human energy is concentrated in seven different regions of the body, called chakras. Each chakra corresponds to a color and a species of energy, which dictates the extent of our ability to act with both power and love in the world.

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The first chakra, Muladhara, is ruled by the color red and is associated with survival and security. It is blocked by fear, and opened by joy–by dancing through life, rather than hiding away.

orange print file.jpgThe second chakra, Svadhisthana, is ruled by the color orange and associated with sensuality and the right to feel. It is blocked by guilt, and opened by embracing feelings of pleasure.

yellow print file.jpgThe third chakra, Manipura, is ruled by the color yellow and associated with personal power and intellect. It is blocked by shame, and opened by recognizing one’s purpose and abilities in life.

green print file.jpgThe fourth chakra, Anahata, is ruled by the color green and associated with love. It is blocked by grief, and opened by allowing new love to flow within oneself.

blue print file.jpgThe fifth chakra, Vishuddha, is ruled by the color blue and associated with the right to speak one’s truth. It is blocked by self-silencing or deception, and opened by finding one’s voice.purple print file.jpg

The sixth chakra, Ajna, is ruled by the color purple and associated with intuitive vision. It is blocked by a lack of trust in one’s own vision, and opened by looking upon one’s intuition with clarity.

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Finally, the seventh chakra, Sahasrara, is ruled by the color white and associated with a total transcendence of the physical form. It is blocked by attachment to the ego, and opened by letting go of this attachment. When all the chakras are aligned, enlightenment is allowed to reign, and we act with our full potential.

In this series of photos, I attempt to illustrate the transcendence of each chakra through the use of color and poses. I start with Muladhara and work my way up to Sahasrara, demonstrating the emotions that must be overcome along each step of the journey. In each photo, my gray-clothed figure represents the obstacle in place of opening each chakra, while my color-clothed figure represents the successful opening of a chakra.

My personal belief is that the creation of any piece of art is itself a journey, and that the process of the creation is much more valuable than the product. While I am happy with the final images that came out of this project, I must say that the completion of this project in itself provided me with the challenge of approaching and transcending each chakra. I truly danced, ate oranges, drew, and sang while I was creating this project, and the enjoyment of creating was satisfying in itself. These images merely serve as a souvenir of the journey I took.

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The strangest

These are photos from August 2016 that I never published anywhere because I got swept up in the rush of packing, moving, and school.

My homeboy Link and I were feeling super inspired to be creepy after watching all of Season 1 of Stranger Things. One afternoon, we were sitting in my living room and he asked, “Have you ever been to the old cemetery in Antes Fort (the village across the river from my town)?”

He started explaining it to me, how it was tucked away in the woods and filled with crumbling Revolutionary War graves. So we decided it was IMPROMPTU ADVENTURE TIME and hopped in my car with some black-and-white film to go take creepy pictures. It helped that there were cornfields and a steepled church nearby.

I forgot about these for a while, but I was telling my friend about this cemetery the other day and it reminded me that I still had them. Enjoy the strange.

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Step outside, the summertime’s in bloom

In the middle of August, I am going to be moving to northern California for graduate school.

I feel very “right” about my decision to do this–about the area I’m going to be living in (the redwood forest!), about the field I’m going to be studying (neuroscience!), and just in general about the way I’m going to live my life going forward.

But I spent the past year absolutely working my ass off in order to make it happen. There were a lot of times when I would feel sad or frustrated or worried about the future, and wonder whether I was ever going to be able to get the things I wanted. At those times, I’d usually start working even harder–and I asked myself, “When will I ever feel that it’s okay to rest a little?”

At the beginning of the summer I was still humming on all that nervous energy. I thought I would spend the summer like I spent this past year: by myself with a bunch of textbooks.

But then I realized that this is the perfect time to rest and enjoy things. While I am, of course, doing all the preparatory stuff that I need to do before I move, I’m also savoring all the time I have and taking good care of myself in the meantime.

After all, this is going to be the last time that I’m in my Central Pennsylvania home for a long while. Although a large part of me still celebrates my departure on a regular basis (most often when I encounter the extremely conservative social and political opinions of the people around here), I am also taking time to appreciate the natural beauty of my surroundings, the familiarity of home, and the company of longtime friends.

I’ve also been indulging in art, writing, and music on a daily basis and it just FEELS SO GOOD. I am the queen of never having enough time for everything I want to do, and I often push my creative cravings to the side when they don’t have due dates or paychecks associated with them.

But I’m getting better at treating artistic expression as what it really is to me: an outlet for my feelings and a means for me to relax and play. It’s much easier to prioritize creativity when I look at it as an important component of my emotional well-being.

SO, one of the things I’ve returned to is film photography, of course.

I was only shooting black-and-white for a while, ever since the beginning of the year. I still want to keep using it regularly because I like it stylistically, but then last week I discovered like, 8 rolls of unshot color film that I’d forgotten I had.

I’ve been shooting with my Olympus OM-10, which has proved to be the most reliable and lovely film camera I’ve ever had. I’ve also been TRYING to use my Zenza Bronica medium format camera, but medium format and I just don’t seem to get along too well. I’m not familiar enough with it to troubleshoot it yet, and so that’s frustrating.

I’ve been the only one to touch any of my films, processing-wise, for the past two years. I am now very comfortable with the whole routine–spooling film with my eyes closed is second nature; I can judge approximate temperatures  just by putting my hand in the water. I used to worry every time that I was going to somehow screw up my film, but that’s only happened to me maybe once in the entire time I’ve ever processed it.

I know how to adjust timings, temperatures, and agitation/inversion cycles for each chemical in order to get the effect I want, and since I’m confident I won’t ruin my film anymore, I have been playing around with it a little. I’m going to probably start playing with it even more.

I am also going to be stretching the limits of my C-41 Tetenal chemicals and seeing what comes of that. The current batch I’m using was mixed over a year ago, and they’ve been used to develop many more rolls of film than is deemed “ideal” by the manufacturer.

I actually wasn’t sure if they would still work on the 35mm rolls I processed last week, but I added time to the developer and Blix steps to account for the degradation of the chemicals.

Usually I develop for 3:30, so I added a minute to that to develop for 4:30 (at approx. 102 degrees F). In hindsight, I shouldn’t have added as much time because the developer is so time-sensitive. The photos came out all right, but the highlights blew hot. Adding 30-45 seconds would have been better.

Following a guide I found online, I also Blix’d them for SO MUCH LONGER–15 minutes, actually. I’m glad I did though, because some of the medium format film I processed before the 35mm rolls definitely started to do some alarming things (change color, grow spots) while it was hanging to dry, and I guarantee it’s because it wasn’t fully fixed.

I have been vacillating about buying new color chemicals, but I don’t see the point in doing that since I’ll be traveling across the country so soon and don’t feel like worrying about their temperature or security while they’re packed in my car with my other stuff.

So I’m going to be doing some more experimental stuff for fun with these chemicals until I leave! Look forward to some weird stuff, I guess.

For the following photos: the black-and-white is mostly Tri-X 400, although there is one roll of Ilford HP5 mixed in there (CAN YOU SPOT THE DIFFERENCE?). The color is one roll of Ultramax 800 and one roll of Agfa Vista 400. There’s also some of the medium format in there, which is Lomography Color 100.

The time period they span is varied. Some are older that I just hadn’t developed; most are recent. One roll is double-exposed, which was something I vaguely remember doing but had completely forgotten about until I saw what came out of the roll. My scanner is terrible at detecting and cutting in the right places with the double exposures and the medium format shots, so I just embraced the weirdness of it and let some of the photos bleed together.

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Fireworks deconstructed

I think, instead of always posting written entries, I might start doing photo entries on here as little “updates on my life through photos.”

I’ll also probably add older ones, because I suppose I’ve taken thousands that no one has ever seen.

So, here’s the first one.

My friend used to work at a fireworks store, so she has the ~hook-up~ when it comes to getting huge, awesome ones.

We set them off last week. I learned a while ago that taking photos of fireworks is usually something that seems like a good idea in the moment, but then later I’m stuck with a bunch of boring pictures that look almost-the-same between a bunch of black frames where I just shot the dark night sky.

Keeping that in mind, combined with the fact that it was annoying to have my camera autofocus ONLY when light was present, I decided to just shut off the autofocus and play around with the focal ring the whole time.

The result is way cooler than older fireworks photos I’ve taken.

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“Excursiones”: Photos of Spanish hikes

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Every time I show my students or other teachers photos of my home state, Pennsylvania,I hear the same comments: “Wow, it’s beautiful–it’s so GREEN!”

Which is very true. Having spent most of my life in PA, I’m used to seeing forests, fields, and a constant backdrop of soft, tree-filled mountains. Now I live in a VERY beige concrete city here in Spain, and sometimes it can feel weird to be so far away from nature.

But luckily,  the school that I work at has a “club de senderismo”–a hiking club.

The club organizes small trips and monthly excursions along various trails in the mountains surrounding the area. The bigger hikes are almost always on Saturdays, and I try to tag along whenever I’m free during those weekends.

So far, I’ve gone on three hikes with the club.

Hike #1: “Álamos Negros”

me alamos negros

The first hike that we went on was in a mountainous area called Sierra de Baza.

Early in the morning, I met up with some teachers outside my institute, and we all piled into cars. We stopped at a cafe first to have some breakfast, and groups of other teachers from the surrounding towns joined up.

We drove up into the mountains along some winding roads for a long time. As we rode, I got better acquainted with some of the teachers, as well as the Canadian language assistant at the school next to mine, Vess.

We finally reached the mouth of the trail, and after distributing walking sticks and taking a group photo, we started off..

group

The trail that we walked on was dry and rocky at first, but then it led into some green woods. At this point in my stay, I was feeling a bit homesick for Pennsylvania autumn, so  It was nice to see colorful leaves.

yellow leaves

We crossed a stream, and then climbed up the steep side of a hill to an old ruined town. The ruins were beautiful and fascinating.  We explored them and then stopped for a while to eat a snack. I’d only brought an apple and some pumpkin seeds with me, which was the start of a running theme of me being unprepared for hikes.

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After our little break, we continued along the trail. We reached some areas of forest that gave way to some tall pines, and more colorful “álamos negros,” which are black poplars.

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After leaving the cool, shady forest, we reached a long dirt road, which was exposed to the sun. It was hot and all uphill, so it was a more tedious part of the hike. Eventually, we reached a lookout. Everyone there stopped to eat lunch (except me–and again I felt silly for not thinking to pack food).

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After another half hour along the road, we finally we finished the hike. Afterwards, we went back to the cafe from that morning and had some tapas–which were glorious after my very hungry day.

Hike #2: “La ruta de castañas”

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The second hike was called “La ruta de castañas,” or “the chestnut route,” which is a traditional hike the club takes every autumn.

This was a much easier hike, so instead of just the teachers, many of them brought their children along, too. We spent the majority of the hike walking on the side of a mountain, along a stream.

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There were lots of chestnut trees, so along the way we gathered the nuts from the ground. At a few places where the fallen chestnuts were particularly abundant, we stopped for a while to nudge them out of their spiny shells, and filled our bags with them.

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Eventually we reached a gorge, where we stopped for a few minutes before turning back. On our way back, we learned that a nearby farmer with a cherry tomato patch had invited us to take some tomatoes.

I love tomatoes, ESPECIALLY sweet cherry tomatoes, so I happily joined the others picking the ripe fruits. By the time I was done, I had a bag full of chestnuts AND cherry tomatoes!

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After the hike, we went to a restaurant for this trip’s traditional lunch, migas.

Migas are a typical Spanish dish consisting mostly of seasoned breadcrumbs, and I’d never had them before that day.

It was a huge meal. In addition to the migas, there was chorizo, melon, sausage, boquerones, peppers, dried figs, wine, and more. Much more food than we could all eat!

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After the meal, people got up and sang songs, and then we went to a bar. It was a full day, and I went home with a nice, full bag.

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Hike #3: “Estrechura de Guainos”IMG_8408

I went on the next hike in January. This time my roommate, Olivia, came along.

We all headed to a nearby seaside town called Adra, and from there we traveled into the Alpujarra mountains to a place called Guainos, where a river bed cuts between the mountains.

The beginning of the hike was tough. It was steep hill climbing for the first hour and a half, all the way up the mountains. Some of the slopes were so steep it didn’t even feel like we were moving! But as we got higher, we got some great views of the Mediterranean and the surrounding scenery.

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Once we were up pretty high, we hiked along the sides of the mountains. Out of all the trips, I think this one had the most amazing views. Our perspective was perfect, and it was stunning to see them all laid out in front of us.

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We stopped at the top of one peak to have a snack. Luckily, THIS TIME I’d remembered to bring a sandwich along with me (although later when we stopped again, I had nothing else). I’ve learned my lesson about these hikes–it’s better to just pack a lot food.

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Then we started to make our way down the mountains. The area where we walked was interesting and very distinct from the mountaintop landscape–the soil started to turn much more red, and the plants were different. Along the way, we stopped at an old church to get some water from a spring and rest a bit.

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Then we started on the last part of the hike, through the “ramblas,” which is the gorge where the river bed cuts between the mountains.

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This was my favorite part of the hike. It was nice scenery, but the path was also challenging. We had to climb a lot more, sometimes holding onto chains or footholds that had been hammered into the rocks.

There were lots of “cane” trees, with wild branches, that we had to fight our way through. These were some of those “I am glad I have my camera to take photos, but I wish I didn’t have to carry it” moments.

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Finally, we emerged from the ramblas back at the cars, where we’d started.

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By this time, we were pretty tired. All in all, the hike had been 16 km, which is about 10 miles!

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed all the hikes I’ve taken so far, and I’m hoping to go on some more hikes in the future, depending on my weekend plans!

The beginning

I’m writing this post from “my” bed in Ronda, Spain, with wet hair, a full coffee pot for tomorrow morning, and my window open to a courtyard where someone is mysteriously walking around outside and making noise.

This is the first chance that I’ve actually gotten to blog about my experience traveling to Spain, and the day-and-a-half of living I’ve done here in my new city. Although I feel really inclined to jump into talking about how I’m feeling RIGHT NOW, everyone knows that a story needs a little bit of exposition first. And besides, I took lots of pictures!

The night before I left was the first time I started to feel even a smidgen of nervousness about my trip. Honestly, I had felt nothing but excitement and impatience before that point, but when I was struggling to pack my carry-on bag and suitcase, I became tense and suddenly kind of overwhelmed thinking about what I was about to do. I decided to just try to be as calm as possible, but the morning before my parents and I left my house and during the drive to the airport, my stomach was still in anxious knots.

Labor Day traffic on the way to Philadelphia was not kind to us, and though we planned to arrive 3 hours early for my flight, we actually got there about 2 hours prior. This worked in my favor, though, because by the time I got there and went to get my boarding pass, the girl at the ticket kiosk told me that “Sorry, coach is full, so we had to bump you up to business class.” As though that needed an apology!

So I flew first class on British Airways. This was my first time EVER flying first class, and it was also the longest flight that I had ever been on (7 hours). So after my friend Tim (follow his travel blog!) and I had some wine, cheese and olives at an airport restaurant, I boarded a plane to find out that I was going to be about as comfortable as possible on a plane.

Yes. Check out that leg room. My seat also had a TV with a media remote, so I did crossword puzzles and stuff when we were taking off and being served dinner (I just didn’t feel like watching a movie…

So, then dinner was served. I know the joke is always “So what’s the deal with airline food?” But this was actually really awesome. I wasn’t super hungry, but the food was complementary and I wasn’t about to miss finding out what dinner is like in first class. My meal included: a salad with grilled artichoke, blanched asparagus, and tomato petals with sherry truffle vinaigrette; Parmesan and rosemary-crusted fillet of beef with fingerling potatoes, white asparagus and Chianti sauce; and for dessert, some sort of custard and Varda chocolates.

I wanted to just sleep for the whole flight, but with dinner and playing with the amenities, it was a while before I finally got the chance to settle down. Our flight left at 6:20 pm and was due in London around 6:20 am. It sounds like a 12-hour flight, but since we flew across 5 time zones, it was actually only a 7 hour flight.

So, I tried to sleep. I was worried about not being able to get comfortable on the plane, but in first class, the seat FOLDS DOWN INTO A BED.

Look at all those seat positions!

Anyway, so eventually I lay down and tried to sleep, but unfortunately… I caught a cold or a sinus infection or something from sleeping with the window open before I left. So I was having difficulty breathing, and the sinus pressure was awful, and my throat kept getting dry and tickly. Eventually I took some ibuprofen and was able to sleep, but not for too long.

We landed in London Heathrow the next morning (though, to my body, it was 1 am). It took quite a while to get unloaded from the plane and through security again, so I didn’t get to take pictures at the airport or really explore, which sucked because that airport is HUGE.

We boarded a plane to Madrid, which was the worst flight of the three, though it was only 2.5 hours. I came from British Airways first class to Iberia coach… and I felt like I had no room in the plane! It didn’t help that by this time, I was so tired and starting to feel really GROSS from not showering for almost a day.

Our stop at the Madrid airport wasn’t very long either, but the place was huge, and I had to snap a few photos.

So then we boarded our final one-hour flight, to Málaga. During these two flights, the language barrier began to start making itself evident, since many of the passengers didn’t speak English. I wanted to practice my Spanish a little, but I was so tired that I mostly tried to sleep and took some pictures of Spain out the window.

By the time we got to Málaga, I was exhausted, gross, and just happy that the airline hadn’t lost our bags. We managed to get a taxi, and headed to the bus station. We were told to buy tickets from Los Amarillos, but the booth was closed for about an hour, so we waited around on benches until it opened.

The bus station was pretty shady. Tim told me that’s how bus stations normally are (he’s a city slicker from Philly; I’m from a town with fewer than 5000 people in it).

The defining moment of shady came when a man who (I’m assuming) was homeless came up to us holding a bottle of wine he was drinking from and a cigarette, and starting saying something to us. He was obviously saying something derogatory and possibly threatening to Tim, but we couldn’t understand what he was saying. Tim just did his best to ignore the guy while I glared at him–I’m just glad nothing more came of it after that, but it shook me up quite a bit.

We finally boarded our bus to go to Ronda, and there was an issue with my ticket. The bus driver tried to tell me about it, but he was speaking Spanish very fast and I didn’t understand him. I was still able to ride the bus, but that encounter left me feeling even more unsure of myself. I thought I knew Spanish better than that!

I found myself in an uncomfortable place during the bus ride. Suddenly, I felt really helpless. It struck me how far away I am now from everything that I’ve ever known. The encounter with the man in the bus station made me worry about what kind of rough situations I could find myself in while abroad, and the talk with the bus driver made me feel like an idiot who can’t understand any Spanish. I was also just dead tired from all the travel, and wanted nothing more but to REST.

I comforted myself by taking pictures of the ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS countryside we drove through.

As you can see, everything is ridiculously gorgeous. Eventually we reached Ronda, where we expected to be greeted by our landlords. My landlord, Pepi, was already there, but Tim’s landlord Andres was running late. Pepi and I waited with him. She is an older woman, probably in her 50s or 60s, and she speaks only Spanish… no English. Andres showed up soon after, and he took Tim to his apartment while I left with Pepi.

I tried to talk to her in broken Spanish while we drove to the house. It seemed that it was easier for me to say something and have her understand than it was for me to understand her–she talks so fast!

She showed me the apartment… and although at first I thought it was adorable (probably just because I was so glad to see a bed), it quickly sunk in that this was NOT the kind of place that I’d been hoping to stay at.

Originally, I had been assigned an apartment, and pictures were sent to me of it. I was very happy with that first arrangement, but unfortunately, something changed and I was placed here without knowing what it looked like.

This is a house, not an apartment building. With many rooms. Pepi lives downstairs, but some of her rooms are up here, too. There are also 3 other men who live here whom I’ve caught glimpses of and spoken to briefly, but I have no idea who they are. My “apartment” consists of a kitchen at the top of the main staircase (right next to a room that I’ve seen one of the men in?) with a laundry area near it, a “living room” that is too close to everyone else and is pretty small, and a hallway that leads back to a bathroom and my roommate’s and I’s rooms.

The walls are very thin here, and my room looks out over a courtyard in the center of the building. I feel like I hear everyone moving and talking in this house, and it’s weird to me. I feel like this isn’t an apartment, and I’m afraid I don’t really have the kind of privacy that I expected.

I know that all sounds very negative. Those thoughts weren’t my initial assessment, but they’re the things I’ve come to realize over the past day.

My first reaction was “Oh, this is cute!” which turned into “Okay, I can work with this…” which led to “Come on, really?”

I felt really tired and wanted to sleep, but Pepi told me that the market was closing at 9, and that it would be closed for Sunday, so I should go buy food.

I soon found how frustrating it is to not be able to communicate normally. I wanted to find out how Tim was making out and meet up with him, but without a phone I just had to get online and HOPE he got on at the same time. Once I got in touch with him, I tried walking to his apartment, as I had done on Google Maps. I got a little lost, which scared me… I knew what direction I needed to go, but it took me a long time to get to the right street (they’re not well-labeled here). I got to the building that I thought was Tim’s and realized I didn’t know his apartment number.

So then I stood there. And stood there. And walked across the street, looking very shady, I’m sure. And then I got scared that we would miss the store closing, so I tried in vain to call my boyfriend, Jimmy (on my global phone) and see if he could get online and talk to Tim. This didn’t work out either, and feeling very lost and frustrated, I walked back to my apartment. By the time I got back there, the stores were about to close, so I sat in my room and tried not to cry. Nothing really seemed to be going how I thought it would be.

Luckily, Pepi showed me a few groceries she had bought for me–it was very nice of her, although even that gesture made me nervous. Was I supposed to pay her? Was she planning on treating me like a host mother? So many questions, so much confusion!

I was very upset and even–surprisingly–homesick by this point. Luckily, I got in touch with Tim. It turns out Andres had been showing him things in the apartment, showing him the school, and driving him to the grocery store. Andres also DOES NOT LIVE in Tim’s apartment, and Tim told me that he was very, very pleased with his place. Lucky him!

We met for a late dinner… and I think my stress was ridiculously obvious. I felt like I was going to cry or throw up at any minute because I was so anxious about everything. Tim had a good solution: drink. It worked. We had sangria with dinner, and then went to a much-lauded bar called Huskies, which is run by an ex-pat from Connecticut.

We played darts there, and got to know the bartender, Jose, and the owner, Carlos. Both men were very kind, and spoke English to us. We asked them a lot about the area, and they even poured some free shots for us, as a sort of “nice to meet you” gesture. At some point during the night, Tim and I went to get some tapas, and Carlos was so nice that he even let us leave and come back without paying our bill before we left.

At the end of the night, I finally went to see Tim’s apartment, and he’s right–it is awesome. I was pretty jealous. I managed to find my way back to my house, let myself in quietly, and get up to my room. I felt GOOD.

I woke up. I FELT TERRIBLE. I’d left the air conditioner on while I slept, and so my throat and nose felt WORSE. Suddenly, I had a new worry! “I’m sick. I need cold medicine. What happens if I get REALLY sick? Oh no, the stores are closed today! No cold medicine, then.” And then I was worrying more about my living situation, and more about adjusting, and I needed to find WATER, BADLY.

I got ready and walked to Tim’s apartment, which looked even BETTER in the daylight. His is very private, on a top floor of a building. It has two balconies, a spacious kitchen, big rooms, and nice decorations. Even better, Tim didn’t have any roommates at first. A German girl is apparently going to come in the next day or so to stay for three weeks, and another couple is coming today to stay for a month.

After Tim had to reassure me about my new batch of worries (like I’m seriously a lot of baggage as a friend right now… I don’t know how he’s putting up with me), we discussed MY apartment situation. Our director, Joaquin, made it sound as though we didn’t have to stay in our assigned apartment if we didn’t like it. I was really, really torn about trying to switch, but since Andres is so cool and Tim knows the apartment will be empty again in a month, he told me he’d talk to him about it.

After an awesome lunch of gazpacho and fresh fish at an outdoor cafe (which then set me off into worrying about spending too much money), we went back to my apartment to pay my rent. I was told my rent would be 250 euros, but when I gave that to Pepi, she told me that I owed her 25 more… my rent being 275 euros. This upset me more, considering I’m not altogether happy with my living situation (AND had just started to worry afresh about money). Also, I STILL have trouble understanding Pepi, since she talks so fast. She is a sweet lady, and I honestly feel bad that I don’t like the apartment because I don’t want to hurt her feelings.

Tim and I decided to walk around town and find our school, so I took lots of photos.

This is the front door to my apartment.

This is the view from my front door.

The view at the end of my street.

Me, trying desperately to hold my skirt down against the wind.

El Puente Nuevo! The most photographed part of Ronda.

These are the views from either side of the Puente Nuevo!
And, we found our school

That last photo is La Carrera de Espinel, the main shopping road. I went home feeling a little bit better, but when I got back to my house I ran into two of the men living here. One is much older, and I thought he might be Pepi’s husband (but there’s ANOTHER older man here too!) and a young man, around my age or a little older. Neither of them spoke English, and I have absolutely no idea what our conversation consisted of. It was pleasant, but I think they could tell I had no idea what they were saying. I introduced myself and was like “Estoy viviendo…” and promptly forgot how to say “upstairs” so I made some weak gesture at the staircase. They probably already knew that. And then I basically just told them I don’t speak a lot of Spanish (though I used to think I did).

After this, I went back to feeling SCARED and FRUSTRATED again. I came up to my room and spent a lot of time talking to my boyfriend online, trying to sort through my pictures, and looking up information about culture shock, which I am DEFINITELY experiencing.

My moods have been so volatile since I’ve been here. I’ll go out and do something cool in the city and really enjoy the place (it IS beautiful, the nightlife is great, and there are so many cool shops!), but then I keep having run-ins like this that make me feel like I’m never going to be able to understand the people around me or be understood while I’m here. My anxiety levels are through the roof when I start thinking like this, and I worry about little things that wouldn’t normally cause me an issue. It seems to be improving slightly. The downs don’t last as long and the ups are better than before, but I’m still very disoriented.

One great piece of news: Tim spoke to Andres, who said he would rent me one of the rooms in Tim’s apartment in October since I’ve already paid rent here for this month, and since he has boarders until then. It’s actually less expensive to stay in that apartment, even though it’s (in my opinion) better. Apparently, the first month’s rent is always higher (hence the 275 euros) because there’s no lease, so we can choose to move somewhere else if we wish.

Right now, I feel like I would like to move. But I don’t have to make any decisions anytime soon. I have nearly a month, so who knows? Maybe once I’m adjusted, I’ll like it here so much that I won’t want to move. But it’s very comforting to know that I at least have that option.

I felt better tonight. Tim and I went out for tapas and wine, and then got gelato. I had no bad run-ins with the language barrier while we were out (I mean, little misunderstandings and hand gestures, but nothing major). I took a shower when I got back, set up my coffee maker for the morning, and set the alarm on my phone. Tomorrow is the first day of classes!

I think things will be better when I know other students and have the guidance of the school faculty. But first, I have to wake up and MAKE IT to my placement exam on time. This blog took longer than I thought and it’s now 2 am here, so I’m going to wrap this up and go to sleep.

I’ll share more tomorrow!