Sebastian Calonge: España as Text 2022

Pictured: Sebastian Calonge. Photograph taken by Ricardo Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) /
CC by 4.0

Meet the Author

Sebastian Calonge is a second-year student of the Honors College at Florida International University working toward a Bachelors of Business Administration in Marketing. Born and raised in Miami, he enjoys travel, photography, and design. He is currently traveling around Spain as part of the Honors College Study Abroad program. Given his Spanish background, specifically from Pais Vasco which is located in the northern part of Spain, he is hoping to further immerse himself in the culture, language, and life of the beautiful country.

Madrid as Text

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

“The City of Nothing but Everything”

By Sebastian Calonge of FIU in Madrid, Spain 13 June 2022.

Having visited this city of several accounts, I assured myself there was not much more to learn from the capital of España. I was quickly corrected as I journeyed through its historic wonders and cultural diversions. Named capital of Spain in 1561, Madrid is quite the marvel.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

El Parque del Retiro, the largest public park in Madrid, is a visually astounding spot that offers residents and travelers a space to unwind and enjoy nature while still being in the city.

Photographs taken by Sebastian Calonge / CC by 4.0

Mostly recognized by the Monument to Alfonso XII and El Palacio Cristal (The Crystal Palace), the park is filled with various activities such as kayaking in the lake or visiting exhibitions on display at the Palacio de Velazquez put on show by The Museum of Reina Sofia. Currently, the Crystal Palace houses Carlos Bunga’s Against the Extravagance of Desire. The cardboard piece is a representation of the impermanence he experienced within his own life and his lack of belonging as he never had a concrete place to call home. It is moving to see how the museum is able to integrate personal experiences into a public space.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

On March 11, 2004, 192 lives were lost in the Madrid train bombings. This terrorist attack orchestrated by Al-Queda targeted innocent civilians and injured more than 1,800 persons. As an act of revenge for Spain’s participation in the Iraq War, this became the deadliest attack since 1988. As a commemoration to the lives lost in the bombings, there are various memorials located around the city such as the monument in the Atocha Train Station as well as El Retiro. I was taken aback to see the dedication the city had to remembering what happened and displaying it in public hotspots.

Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez / CC by 2.0

The impact of studying abroad truly hit me when visiting El Museo Del Prado. Having studied the artistic importance of Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas, I was in complete awe while seeing it for the first time. The feeling of interacting with material that has been studied in the classroom is so rewarding. The juxtaposition of elements in the painting is mind-boggling. Velázquez’s clever perspective set a cultural precedent for other artists such as Picasso and Goya. I found myself trapped in understanding the way he played with time and space in the piece.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

The most impressive sight, in my opinion, would have to be El Palacio Real. With over 3,000 rooms, the palace is an absolute spectacle. Designed by Filippo Juvara, the palace construction dates back to 1738. In efforts to avoid the architect from making any sketch greater than that of the Royal Palace of Spain, King Carlos III cut his tongue, ripped his eyes out, and severed both of his arms. It was incredible to see the work which Juvara was responsible for creating. Walking the halls of the building gave a very accurate personification of the country’s wealth during the 18th century.

Photographs taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

By far, the most memorable part of the tour was standing in the room where Spain entered the European Union. The experience was brought together through the intricate designs of chandeliers, columns, and wall art.

It is for this, and many other reasons Madrid is “The City of Nothing but Everything.” There is no particular monument that represents Madrid or attracts tourists. Rather, the city is a gold mine of history waiting to be explored. The closer one looks, the more one can learn about the rich background and narratives of the country.

Toledo as Text

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

“Unidad”

By Sebastian Calonge of FIU in Toledo, Spain 15 June 2022.

Coming back to Toledo after five years was a cultural revelation and tremendous moment of growth. During my adolescence, traveling through Europe I was able to visit and see so many places. However, I did not understand the cultural and historic significance of these locations until I studied abroad.

Photographs taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

Learning about the medieval traditions and style of the city was spectacular. Seeing the Visigothic ruins mixed with Islamic architectural characteristics was an insane combination. One can easily see that Spaniards were not the only people who inhabited this land for centuries.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

The absolute best part of Toledo was experiencing the celebration of Corpus Christi. I was moved by the perseverance, dedication, and passion that the community has toward their religion is incredible. Every building was cloaked with banners, flags, tapestries, and flowers to honor the celebration of the Eucharist: The Body of Christ. The manner in which the people gather together and help each other prepare for the occasion is truly impressive and humbling as a visitor. Knowing the hard work and extensive time that it took to prepare everything made the opening parade that much more amazing to watch. The unification amongst the people was unreal.

Photographs taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

Not only watching, but participating in the parade, was an experience like no other. As the parade began a few classmates and I joined Professor Bailly to watch the celebrations. With several bands and intricately-designed figures, the parade attracts all residents out of their homes and onto the streets. After the end of the procession, we jumped right in and became a part of the parade. Following these people through their beloved town as they celebrate the Body of Jesus Christ was an insane cultural experience and far from anything that I would encounter in the United States. It was a true cultural immersion and I was extremely blessed to have been a part of it.

“Convivencia”

By Sebastian Calonge of FIU in Cordoba, Spain 18 June 2022.

Arriving in Andalucía felt as if we were in a different country. Around 200 BCE, Romans settled in the Spanish town of Corduba. Under Muslim rule for approximately 800 years, the city carries a striking architectural design. Its Moorish influence remains and exists all throughout the city walls. Buildings such as Casa Andalusí, La Sinagoga De Córdoba, Mezquita – Catedral de Córdoba and La Capilla Mudéjar de San Bartolomé are preserved Islamic and Jewish spaces that date back to the 12th century.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

It was alarmingly interesting to learn about the true history of Spain and the persecution the Moors faced. As Ferdinand and Isabelle began the Inquisition, non-Christians were forced to leave the country or convert to Catholicism. In order to remain in Spain, many people practiced their religion in private. La Sinagoga De Córdoba, built in 1315, was discreetly situated in the city so that no one would know the building welcomed practicing Jews.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

Although there were efforts to remain in Iberia, the Spanish ultimately wiped out all those who did not follow the Catholic Church. In efforts to expand the Kingdom of God, Spain destroyed many existing mosques, synagogues, and foreign places of worship. However, when they went to build a cathedral in Cordoba, Ferdinand II fell in love with the beautiful architecture of The Great Mosque. Therefore, he constructed the cathedral in the center of the mosque while preserving the monumental arches and worship spaces.

Now, visitors are able to experience what is called “convivencia” which translates to coexistence. Within the city, one can find elements of Judaism, Islam, and Catholicism. The beauty of several religions existing within the same space was very touching to see. Nowadays, it is rare to see harmony amongst people who are different from one another. The Islamic rule of Andalusia gives us a spectacular example and way of life to follow.

“Ida y Vuelta”

By Sebastian Calonge of FIU in Seville, Spain 22 June 2022.

Home to La Plaza de España, Sevilla is most notably one of the most important cities throughout all of Spain. Founded by the Romans, the city has influences from several places throughout the Western world. Sevilla stores many historic treasures such as the tomb of Christopher Columbus, the Giralda Tower, and the Metropol Parasol (the world’s largest wooden structure). 

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

Standing at the top of the cathedral was a full circle moment. Having researched and studied the public architecture of Spain in the spring semester, I was familiar with the Giralda Tower. Seeing it in person was astounding as I felt like I was standing in front of the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida. Our course’s title, “Ida y Vuelta” has truly followed us throughout Spain. From the striking similarities between Miami and Spanish architecture, to even being the name of a flamenco group we happened to watch on the sidewalk. 

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

The city had a unique charm that set it apart from the other places we visited. An example of a culture shift that I experienced was the performances of live flamenco. Sitting in the Plaza of España and watching the dancers perform was spectacular. From the movement of their feet to the beat created by clapping their hands, I was completely mesmerized.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

The more time that passes, the more I feel connected to this country. Being a Cuban, Basque American, I have come to realize the importance of studying the history and origins of traditions, cultures, and art as they are very interconnected.

Miami + Sitges

By Sebastian Calonge of FIU in Sitges, Spain 26 June 2022.

Sitges, the town where Charles Deering built his villa, was a pleasant experience. Traveling with Professor Bailly, who is an artist in residence at the Deering Estate in Miami, granted us an exclusive tour of Museu de Sitges. Deering was an honorable character as he funded programming for women education as well as medical services particularly those in conjunction with the Hospital of Sitges. He worked closely with Santiago Ruiseñor, one of the founders of 4GATS, the art hub of the Moderniz movement, in Barcelona. The Museum of Cau Ferrat, once the home of Mr. Ruiseñor, is now open for the public to see his impressive artworks.

In his mission to build a residence in Sitges, Deering revolutionized the exchange of culture and goods between the United States, particularly South Florida, and Southern Spain. As guests from Miami, we were able to taste the local wine of Sitges called Malvasia.

While speaking with the guides and locals of the town, the concept of “Ida y Vuelta” re-presented itself. The exchange of these entities such as culture and art, are not a point frozen in time. Rather, they are ongoing influences between communities that seek to advance and progress themselves. Witnessing the relationship of the leaders of Miami and Sitges reinforced the idea that there is a constant conversation between our city and its place of origin. At the end of the day, I was moved by our toast which was “to Miami and Sitges.” I was so proud to be a part of the moment and even more honored to attend a university which is so deeply rooted in educating its students of their cultural history and background.

Not Far From Home

By Sebastian Calonge of FIU in Barcelona, Spain 23 June 2022.

Barcelona was most definitely the highlight of my adventure abroad. Having explored most of the country, Catalunya was a completely new territory for me. The city carries a special charm through its atmosphere and architecture. As an avid lover of design, I was left in complete awe after visiting Gaudi’s masterpieces: La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell.

Photographs taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

The manner in which he was able to execute such precise vision and create it into a reality is spectacular. One can clearly see the prominent theme of nature and God’s creation in his works. At the basilica, one is able to travel through the creation story through the depictions on the outside and the decor on the inside. There were various elements throughout the city that truly made me feel like I had never been to a place so unique in my entire life.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

In a way, however, I felt as if I were back home in Basque Country. As a city under the province of Catalonia, the people speak both Spanish and Catalan. They have their own unique culture, language, and lifestyle that reminded me of the experience I had visiting País Vasco as a kid.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (iPhone 11) / CC by 4.0

After the program finished, I traveled back to Basque Country and found a particularly interesting image. Pictured above is an image of the Catalonian and Basque flag together. It symbolizes the friendship between the two provinces as they both experienced the same persecution under Franco’s rule. As he attempted to unify Spain and force the Castellano language, these provinces shared many similarities. It was so beautiful to experience another area that shares a commonality with the people of my background.

Author: sebastiancalonge

Sebastian Calonge is a second-year student of the Honors College at Florida International University working toward a Bachelors of Business Administration in Marketing. Born and raised in Miami, he enjoys travel, photography, and design. This upcoming summer, he will be traveling to Spain as part of the Honors College Study Abroad program. Given his Spanish background, specifically from Pais Vasco which is located in the northern part of Spain, he is hoping to further immerse himself in the culture, language, and life of the beautiful country.

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