A month in Malaga Thanks to Unispain Summer Scholarship 2014 – Brandon Soto

Puerto de Málaga I was so fortunate to be one of only 2 scholarship recipients for the 2014 Unispain Summer Scholarship. As this was a blessing to me, I decided before coming that I would take this trip for everything I could get out of it- and I certainly did.

From the first night, and every night following, I went to watch the sunset. My new friends and I would get a watermelon and a bottle of wine aBrandon Soto in Málagand walk out to sit on the wave breakers protruding into the ocean in El Palo. The weather was always perfect, and we never once had to question if we might get rained on, or if we needed to bring an umbrella or jacket. We went where we wanted, when we wanted, and never concerned ourselves with the temperature or weather. This was unusual for me, because I am from Portland, where it constantly rains, and temperatures fluctuate too drastically in the night to wear the same daytime clothes.

As a culinarian, my desires to go to spain were heavily influenced by the fact that it is an incredibly important area of the world for food and gastronomy. Upon my arrival, I first ate at a small restaurant on the waterfront which sells fish and rice dishes and some other things as well. The first thing I ate in spain was Adobo, on the bottom right here. It is dogfish that is marinated in spices then battered and fried- delicious. Then, of course, there are tapas. On the left there is a boquorone, a battered and fried fish which you simply eat whole, and on the top right a Chefs Selection of hot tapas, including these incredible sweet peppers that are fried and salted whole.

Spanish Food IIThe school was very nice, a big, well maintained building only 2 blocks from the beautiful El Palo beaches, with a courtyard where all the students exchange conversation during breaks. . My first day of class I was feeling a lot of things. I really could not sleep the night before, with a 6 hour time difference, and having just arrived in spain, I barely slept. The first day was a friday and the only thing I needed to do was the placement exam, which I felt quite nervous for. The exam included a 60ish question written test, followed by a 5-10 minute oral exam. I felt I didn’t do too well, but managed to be placed in level A-2, a beginners level. I felt that the placement was perfect, the first day or two we reviewed things I had already learned in my 1 year or studying spanish during college, then very quickly after we began to cover new material. Also, the professors don’t speak english, and not just in class, I mean they really truly don’t know english.. ThisIMG_2606 forces you to understand, through some way, what they are telling you. For me, this was a problem multiple times. On several occasions I did the wrong homework, read the wrong pages, or wrote about different subjects than were assigned. Eventually I insisted on repeating all of the homework assignments back to them to make sure I had it written correctly. Overall, I learned an incredible amount of spanish during my classes. What is more, though, is that my confidence to speak in spanish with strangers grew exponentially. When I first arrived I would always ask people if they spoke english, as it was simply easier for me. However, now I am very comfortable speaking in spanish with strangers to communicate thoughts, questions, and most fundamental conversations.

Malagas CathedralThe first free experience offered by the school was a historical tour of the Malaga City Center. Our professors were very knowledgeable of the history of the city, and explained that Malaga is a city that has heavy Moorish influence. That the city was under moorish control before being liberated by the spaniards. The history was all very interesting but what really struck me was the sheer age of all of the buildings and the size and detail of them. It is incredible that people could make things like this beautiful cathedral, without the luxuries we have today in modern architecture. As for the US, we don’t have buildings that have been around for 400 years, built by a spreading militant and religious group..   This difference is keen, i think, to the root of the culture of Spain.

IMG_2802Malaga is a Skateboarding destination. The ledges, benches, slidewalks, and stairs are a skaters dream. Knowing, I of course brought my skateboard to spain with me, and I was not disappointed. This is one of many beautiful places in Malaga that seem to be designed for skateboarding. Unfortunately the police really don’t like skaters in public places, and the will very quickly ask you to leave if they see you doing anything besides riding from point a to b. Fortunately, there is a safe haven. There is a dried riverbed which runs through the heart of Malaga, and apparently a group of skateboarders brought some cement there one day and began to construct a place for skaters to go where they can skate safely. This is now a destination for all professional skateboarders who come to Malaga, and I was very fortunate to have met an idol of mine from california one day while skating there.

IMG_2938A couple slight differences- all the fast food restaurants sell beer here. Taco bell cells a taco and beer for 1 euro on tuesdays. In fact everywhere sells beer here. People walk around on the beach with bags of chilled beverages and they repeat “CocaColaFantaCerveza” as they offer them to everyone. There is Dunkin Doughnuts here too, and they sell toast, with jamon, and also toast rubbed with garlic and tomato. I brought my german friends to Taco Bell because it was a staple in my childhood and a small comfort from home, they seemed to be pretty into it, they really like burritos and tacos. The only thing- they also really like mayonnaise, and some prefer to add mayonnaise to their tacos rather than hot sauce…. This was very strange, and even a little off-putting for me. It is really interesting sometimes to experience how different cultures think about food, like mayonnaise for example. To me, this is not a condiment for tacos or french fries, but they all seem to like it very much.

Spanish FoodThere are stark differences between the way people shop in the US and Spain. For example this very normal grocery store in spain would be a place of awe for any american. However, this wall of Jamon is entirely common in spain. It is evident that refrigerator and freezer space is a commodity here in Malaga. Beverages here, including beer, are not stored refrigerated. Vegetables are not refrigerated, fish is not stored on ice but rather freshly caught and held near room temp until the time of its sale. Milk, eggs, and other commonly refrigerated items in the US are often stored at room temperature here. People inherently go shopping everyday for just enough food for 1 or 2 days. People buy bread everyday here, which is really wonderful because more often than not when you buy the bread, it´s still warm and soft from the oven and it is just a real pleasure. Salt is incredibly cheap here, only 20 cents for 1 Kilo of sea salt. This, by american prices, is dirt cheap, and also better, as we get the majority of our salt from salt mines. Possibly the best thing about spanish markets is the incredible availability of high quality, fresh produce at incredibly low prices. Nearly every day during my 20 minute lunch break at school I would walk to the corner “Fruteria” and buy 1 Kilo of plums for only 1 euro, i would then go and share them with anyone who desired one, because at that price fruit can be shared with everyone- thats how I like to make friends!

IMG_3313To anyone going to Malaga I recommend visiting any of the approximately 1 million “chiringuitos” and trying out one of these “espetos de sardinas Malaga”. It is simply 5 or 6 sardines, put onto a bamboo spit, rubbed with sea salt and olive oil, then roasted over hot coals. Every single chiringuita in malaga serves these and they are dirt cheap and delectable. Many of my favorite memories of Malaga include the aroma of burning wood and sardines which is so graciously provided by the many chiringuitas doing this. Unfortunately I cannot recommend much more, as the food at the Chiringuitas is very rudimentary, it is most commonly food that the people here might make at home. The sardines are very delicious, but many other things I have tried have really disappointed. In malaga, you pay for bread and water, which I am unaccustomed to in the US. Many times, the beer and the water are the same price, so many opt for beer over water, which is sort of a perk I suppose. There is a lot of great food in Malaga, but its mostly found in the city center, in tapas and share plates.

IMG_3364I was so fortunate to happen to be in Malaga for the “Feria”, a celebration of the Spaniard independence from the Moors. This festival is more than just a party or a concert, the entire city comes out to celebrate. People from around spain come to malaga to kick off a huge festival to celebrate. It is such a good time. It is similar to the Fairs we have in the US, but this is different, its bigger, and the energy is of happiness and joy. Additionally, it is not just 1 fairground where there is music and food and rides, although they have this as well on an epic scale, but also in the city center there is a week long festival in celebration as well. In this manner, the entire city of Malaga celebrates their independence for an entire week, loud music, dancing, food, drink, and nights that tend to blur into days. I loved the Feria, and when I come back to spain I will try my best to plan it so that I can make it once more to the Feria.

IMG_3847This month has been unbelievable. I was nervous and quite excited to come to spain, as it is my first time leaving the US, but I have had the experience of a lifetime. I made more friends than I could have ever imagined I would, I have been forced out of my comfort zone with spanish, and so have grown more than I thought was possible. I watched nearly every sunset, I ate enough paella this month for 4 people, and I really just fell in love with this city. So what now? I will spend 2 more weeks here in Malaga, I have an apartment in the city center, very near the plaza de la merced, and then I will spend another 40 days traveling through portugal, all through spain, france, and germany as well before flying back home. This past month has been a real adventure, and it assures me that the next month will be as well. I owe Unispain great thanks for bestowing me with this opportunity, and with this scholarship.

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