Siesta and the joys of living a language

On Campus: A Students View

The boys downstairs still play Dave Matthews, and my roommate and I still share a little room that bursts with clothes and books and laughter late at night. At times I'm sure we're back on campus in last semester's dorm room, and that just outside, the Gothic-style Duke Chapel watches over backpack-laden students heading off to class.

That I am far removed from my university in Durham, N.C., however, is apparent. From the rooftop of my apartment building, I stand and survey my very American laundry - jeans and T-shirts and sweat socks - drying on a clothesline in the hot sun of Seville, Spain.

The wind brushes aside my T-shirts and I am confronted by the flying buttresses of the Cathedral of Seville, which is five centuries old and the world's third-largest cathedral. Towering above it is the minaret known as the Giralda. The former Muslim prayer spire is all that remains of an 800-year-old mosque, destroyed to make room for the cathedral when Christians reconquered Muslim Seville in AD 1248. This is a far cry from where I did laundry last semester, amid the fluorescent lights and vending machines in the basement of a dorm building.

I have long wanted to study in Spain, and I know I love living here even as I struggle to grasp the many contrasts.

Many of my initial feelings of confusion have begun to subside. I watch Spanish movies with interest, I translate pesetas into dollars with increasing ease, and I comfortably thread my way down the labyrinth of curving, cobble-stoned streets, dodging the incessant mopeds.

I laughingly identify the most American of Americans: "Look, he's got a walkman, wind pants, a backpack, and a water bottle - let's guess where he's from!" Then I remember that I am, of course, undeniably American myself, from my running shoes to my unmistakably American accent.

I have my share of other verbal difficulties as well, but the Grail at the end of my semester is still the comfortable command of spoken Spanish. Academic Spanish is useful for reading literature and writing papers. But real, vibrant, spoken Spanish - the words used in stores, at home over lunch, and in conversations between friends - this is the type of speech I hope to master.

Meanwhile, it is time to enjoy the type of daylight quiet that at Duke can only be found on a weekend with no home basketball game. It is midday and the streets are empty. From 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. (or 14,00 to 17,00 as it is written here), nearly every shop closes, people return from work, and children go home from school. It is time for siesta, and almuerzo, the main meal in the Spanish day, when families return to their homes for several uninterrupted hours together. Seville retreats into a stillness broken only by groups of tourists and an occasional orange falling from a tree.

*Diane Bartley is a junior at Duke University in Durham, N.C. She is studying in Spain on a University of North Carolina abroad program.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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