Juliana Cuneo: Vuelta España 2022

Photograph taken by Jeanine Prado/ CC by 4.0

Introduction

Traveling to Spain to explore and examine how the Americas prevailed in Spain versus noticing the ways that Spain showed up back at what I call home, Miami, was the aim of this course. However,  as the three weeks passed by so much more came out of this study abroad trip besides noticing the features of commonality and/or distinction. This project provides us as students and now more culturally aware individuals the opportunity to develop our ideas and thoughts into a concrete written time capsule that highlights the perspectives that were most important to us. 

I am a 20-year-old Cuban and Peruvian-American who is deeply aware of her roots that were previously established in Europe. Stories of my ancestors that started our origins in the Northern and Southern parts of Spain. Seen in my own family, the division of physical features presented in my mother who is a tan-skinned, shorter, and dark-haired woman symbolizes the Southern part of Spain that has blends and influence from Northern Africa (Morocco). Versus a stark contrast where her brother is blonde with blue eyes and a tall man paralleling Northern Spain. Within family units, one can examine the mixing of cultures, religions, and visual characteristics. One of the first series of paintings that caught my attention was in the Museum of the Americas. It showed families that were of different socioeconomic status and skin color inhabiting the same space. I stood there in front of these paintings for a moment longer feeling represented. Maybe it was not me who felt represented. Maybe it was for my own mother who in the Americas was not perfectly represented. This set of paintings to many could have just been another standpoint of an artist showing how diversity can be shown within one household, but for others, it transcends a powerful story. That is what Spain projected to me. Immersing into what is the country showed that the lens by which you see a nation, its people, and society massively alters the power and influence of its story. 

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Structure

The format of this project is chronological commencing in the location of Madrid to Sevilla and then finally Barcelona, with multiple day trips in between that will be mentioned. I have decided to look at aspects of locations that were most significant to my personal experience and centralize on a certain theme for each place. Choosing one sole theme to cover all the places we visited would feel unjust and a disservice to the journey because mentally my brain went in many directions.

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Escapism: El Retiro Park, Madrid

Escapism is defined as the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking in entertainment or fantasy (Oxford Languages).  It is a method to divert life from daily doings that are not enjoyable and is psychologically seen as a way to push feelings of the self that are not positive. Escapism is personable. How did escapism manifest itself in this area? For one, the practice of escapism occurs everywhere. An individual overloaded with work and goes outside for a run to breathe or a teenager opting for drug use to stray away from feelings of anxiety and depression. Someone wanting to escape from reality does not have to have a bad connotation though in some cases it does when the individual seeks to constantly divert from reality instead of changing their reality to their liking. 

Strolling through El Retiro I came to the realization that many people went there for their escapism. People went to read on the grass and transport to another era or setting. Groups united to partake in the peaceful practice of meditation and yoga, even sightings of people doing this in solitude. Musicians around the park playing on accordion and saxophone Bella Ciao, an Italian song featured in the Netflix show, “La Casa de Papel”. Teenagers gathered to play frisbee and have picnics together. All of this is done without one vital object, a phone. The lack of presence of the addictive, nerve-inducing device. Escapism in Spain was not solely from the fast-paced nature of a big city, but from technology as well. People were able to mentally and physically detach themselves from their phones when they entered the invitational space of El Retiro. They were completely immersed in the beauty of their doings and surroundings. This conclusion I gathered from frequently stopping at the park. While the phrase “living in the moment” may be overused it perfectly encapsulated the energy of this place. It was as if you entered a portal to escapism that allowed you to fully be present and rid of your worries instead of allowing your screen time to consume your escapism time.

Simultaneously, the practice of siesta, an afternoon nap, has been implemented into the Spaniard schedule where restaurants close and streets get emptier as the peak point of heat arrives. This practice initially started in Ancient Rome but is now adopted by other European countries as a way of rest.  The notion that people are provided with a resting point during the day would not be seen in the United States where it is a strict work is life mentality and little to no breaks are given. It was a breath of fresh air and a warm feeling to see that escapism is not only self-imposed but externally too by the culture. 

Museo Nacional del Prado serves tourists, artists, professors, and students as a distraction from the atmosphere of central Madrid. Providing the means to transport. Diego Velazquez’s painting of Las Meninas from the mid-17th century, The Annunciation by Fra Angelico from the early 15th century, and The Descent from the Cross by Rogier van der Weyden from the 15th century. All calling viewers to stop for a moment in time to pause and think instead of glance and continue. Most of the time people glance and continue in life instead of stopping to truly ponder and see where it takes the mind and soul. Placing into question how this painting can reflect my own life? Or, why did the artist do this, was it done deliberately or am I placing more emphasis on this one aspect for a reason? Questions that feed off the natural pattern of the routine of life are the most impactful. Museums do this to people. They strike the power to make others dream more and evade reality like with the movement of Surrealism. 

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Division and Erasure: Cordoba, Toledo, El Gotíc

Unfortunately, division must not go unnoticed but often is. People become divided because of the color of their skin or their religious views. Cordoba revealed an aspect of religious division that was blatantly obvious to me as a story of  The Great Mosque of Cordoba (also known as, The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba) was told to us by our tour guide. It is currently used as a church but holds status as a former Islamic Mosque that was converted by the Catholic Church during the Reconquista in the 13th century. Claimed by the church and the tour guides that the Muslim community in Cordoba is grateful to the Catholic church for preserving the features of the Mosque and maintaining the authenticity of the architecture. However, walking around all I could feel was a sense of guilt as a fellow Catholic. I felt ashamed, disgusted, and sorry. Why did I feel this way? All these emotions rushed in knowing that the Catholic Church at the time might have helped preserve a religion with their power, but once all was fine never allowed Muslims to have their place of worship again. Muslims will be and have been stopped by security guards if they try to pray at the mihrab, a niche in the wall pointing towards Mecca. It angers me that this is covered up by saying that the Islamic community is happy with what happened when for the past decade there has been a movement for Muslims to be able to worship alongside Christians. An imposed separation like this has brainwashed the Spaniard people to believe that it was okay. This is not the only mosque that was turned into a Cathedral because holy sites originally used to practice another religion were converted by the Catholic church throughout history in Spain. 

In Toledo, the Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca stands as one of the oldest synagogues in all of Europe that remains intact. To the Jewish community, it is an emblem of their identity in Toledo and of their Jewish heritage that has been around for centuries. The monument is peaceful and serene. However, once again we see the conversion of a religious monument into a church during the 12th century. It is outrageous to assume that the Catholic Church has enough churches? To them there will never be enough. The spreading of the Catholic faith is never ending and by converting mosques, temples, and synagogues into Cathedrals they continue to gain power, but at the expense of diminishing and washing away other religious communities in Spain. 

An unfortunate discovery when exploring on my own independent time in el Barri Gotíc was the elimination of an Ancient Synagogue that was believed to have been present in the Jewish Quarter of El Call. Looking around the quarter we were told of the presence of the Jewish Quarter based on signs written on buildings and after searching on the internet. Despite what had been said about visiting the synagogue we were disappointed when we arrived at the coordinates and confusion settled as there was no synagogue to be found. Stores, restaurants, and apartments covered every inch of the area but no house of worship for the Jewish. Leaving the point of the supposed synagogue we were caught behind a school group with a professor who pointed at a sign saying that the synagogue used to be there, but that the property was sold almost 3 decades ago. This repetition of history being slowly erased for all those besides Catholics was disheartening to see in Spain. 

Intimacy and Passion

Intimacy and Passion were scaled at another level. In the Americas the displacement of intimacy is sub par and frowned upon to a certain degree. Gathering information on the way that people interact daily with their friends and partners over the course of three weeks. The conclusion that the outward expression of public affection is accepted and rather normalized was finalized. The norm of PDA initially caught me off guard as it is something that usually catches the eye in the U.S.A. and would typically make me uncomfortable. Where did these emotions of discomfort arise from around people displaying affection towards one another? Should it not be something that signifies love and beauty surrounding human connection? Physical intimacy in a safe space should be cherished and celebrated not punished and shamed for. The casual viewing of PDA rewired my thinking into not believing that affection should be in private. However this does not answer the question as to why in Europe PDA is more common than in American culture. Do they have a different perspective on displaying your love towards another person to the rest of the world? Their public environments have become more progressive with all types of couples showing affection; whereas, in the US we continue to remain more conservitive with what and where we deem it appropriate to show. For many tourists it can be a cultural shock to see a couple making out next to you in the park or a couple fully infatuated and cuddling one another at a restaurant. With intimacy comes passion in how invested the individual is in making their partner feel how passionate they are about showing their love. 

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What exactly does passion mean? Joan Fontcuberta created a photo mosaic by arranging images submitted by the public in the form of two lips in the exchange of a moment of a passionate kiss. Located in Barcelona, coined by the name of  “The World Begins with Every Kiss” represents the passion people have for life and what makes them feel absolutely free. Passion drives people like Antoní Gaudi to create wonderful masterpieces like La Sagrada familia and the stained glass windows in fiery red and orange. Passion serves as a fuel for many people. That is how all of history was created from groups of people coming together for a movement to serve themselves or a higher power like God to create wonders on Earth. 

Final Reflection

What was learned over the extended period of traveling with a group in Spain cannot be gained from a textbook. It was through in person navigating the country, getting lost and talking with locals that new personal discoveries, perspectives, connections and knowledge were secured. Spain activated a side of life that I did not know was capable of being shown within my own life. The history written within every wall of each city was impeccable. And, finally the stories told to me and the ones I carry are the most powerful tool. 





Reference

“Escapism English Definition and Meaning.” Lexico Dictionaries | English, Lexico Dictionaries, https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/escapism. 

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