Adios Otra Vez

I thought last year would be my last time writing on this blog. I was wrong. And I’m so happy I was. This return trip was incredible, and I want to thank Carlene once again for the opportunity. I can’t come close to writing as touching a note as she did to everyone this morning, but I do want to congratulate everyone on accomplishing all that they did on this trip. It was a really talented group, one that made my life as an assistant editor easy.

Also, to prove (to my Mom) that I did actually do some work of my own while here, this is a link to my video that accompanied Alex’s (begrudgingly) awesome piece on Toledo swords. Check it out. 

Finally, I need to say a written goodbye to the boys of Cuatro Cuatro. From this old goat to you youngins(except for you Alex, you’re old too), you made the trip that much more fun. They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, and since I already used 1,000 writing that ridiculously stupid Mad Max post, I’ll do it in picture form.

Dylan after eating three Big Macs in about ten minutes. Still one of the most impressive things I've in Spain/ever.

Dylan after eating three Big Macs in about ten minutes. Still one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in Spain/ever.

Ethan wearing a wax paper napkin hat on the tapas tour.

Ethan wearing a wax paper napkin hat on the tapas tour.

Alex putting up with me pointing my camera in people's faces, as I am known to do.

Alex putting up with me pointing my camera in people’s faces, as I am known to do.

Adam doing some sort of hand sign that I am assuming he picked up during his time on the streets of DC.

Adam doing some sort of hand sign that I am assuming he picked up during his time on the streets of DC.

Joe using his computer in one of the weirdest ways I've ever seen. This guy is full of surprises.

Joe using his computer in one of the weirdest ways I’ve ever seen. This guy is full of surprises.

All the men of Cuatro Cuatro with the namesake in the background. Party hats for life.

All the men of Cuatro Cuatro with the namesake in the background. Party hats for life.

And so another trip is over, and I wait for my family to join me abroad once again. To everyone who came on this trip, I know you’ll remember it as fondly as I do. How else could I end this blog but to simply say “okay, let’s move on” or: valé.

Toledo Pt. 2

Toledo was one of my favorite places we visited last year. It really feels like a medieval town with its high city walls, narrow winding streets and cobblestone roads. I think it’s why, when I heard my roommate Alex’s idea to do a story about a famous sword-maker in Toledo, I jumped at the chance to make a video piece along with it. I’m really glad I did.He, Maria and I went on Friday afternoon to interview him before the group excursion on Saturday. Not only was it really interesting to see and hear how he makes his swords (read the piece for specifics) but he was actually an incredibly nice and accommodating  man as well. I was so impressed I splurged a little bit and bought one of his hand-made swords. Mariano Zamorano, gracias muchisimo.

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I was also pumped that on Saturday, I finally got to see the Cathedral of Toledo after our tour guide botched it and didn’t get us tickets last year. I went in alone because we missed it while asking some follow-up questions, but it was incredible. I think it was my favorite church I’ve seen while in Spain, and that’s saying something because La Sagrada Familia and the Cathedral of Salamanca are no joke. I was wandering around with my mouth open half the time, especially in the “treasure room” which had sculptures and gold pieces from centuries ago. Here are some of the pictures that really won’t do it justice. And stay tuned for the video and Alex’s piece on Zamorano and his swords.

A Comprehensive Guide to the Mad Max Quad-rilogy

*dedicated to my fellow Road Warriors Ethan and Alex…and the rest of “the Thunderdome”

This took way too long.

This took me way too long.

This past week, I have had the unique opportunity to view all four installments of the Mad Max saga in rapid succession. Was this experience the best possible use of my time abroad? No, probably not. Was it fun? Yeah, it was. The Mad Max movies aren’t for everyone, as evidenced by the fact that the six simple police officers that attended the first viewing were eventually whittled down to three true road warriors (plus one that looked at his laptop the entire time.) I am sitting on a train ride to Toledo with no Wi-Fi, and for that reason I will now begin the comprehensive guide to the Mad Max series. Spoilers, by the  way. It all starts with…

Mad Max

aka Max gets Mad

The original Mad Max was not what I was expecting, especially coming off the high-octane, guitar-shredding, beast of a film (Mad Max: Fury Road) that we saw in theaters. This Mad Max was more laid back; like its protagonist, it’s cool and detached. Max (Mel Gibson, in one of his first starring roles) is introduced as a leather glove-wearing cop in Australia, whose fearless driving skills dispatch a cop-killing junkie called Nightrider in the opening minutes of the film. Turns out that this junkie is part of larger gang loyal to a guy named Toecutter.

Which one is Toecutter?*

The gang seems to enjoy nothing but sabotaging the cops’ cars, which they do often. Max and his friend Goose set out to take down the gang, but Goose is taken out by Johnny the Boy, who lights him on fire under the pressure of Toecutter. Max sees his friend’s charred body in the hospital and is traumatized. He takes time off from the force, spending it all with his wife and son, Sproggo (worse name than Toecutter somehow.) They get ice cream, they do rope swings into rivers, have picnics, say cheesy things and make out. But before things go full blown rom-com, the gang comes back for Max. As he tries to get his family out of harms way, his wife and son fall from the car and are run over by Toecutter. When Max sees them dead he goes…mad. He sets out with a vengeance and one by one, kills the gang in various automobile-related ways. He then drives off into the distance alone, never to be seen again. Until…

Mad Max 2: Road Warrior

aka The Auto Western

Road Warrior is often cited as one of the best action movies of all time. It also launched the career of Mel Gibson, which can be seen as a good thing (Lethal Weapon, Braveheart) or a travesty (Apocalypto, Passion of the Christ, anti-Semitic ranting.) It definitely has the themes of a Western—nameless rogue (Max) shows up and helps strangers out of his own self-interest…but then starts to empathize with them and sacrifices himself for their well-being. This one is action from the word go. It is mindless entertainment with almost no dialogue. To start, Max is chilling with his dog in the desert when some guy tries to rob him. He turns the tables on the guy and is about to kill him when the guy pipes up that he knows where to fLord-2ind the gold of the Mad Max universe: fuel. From a mountain, they overlook a community that has managed to draw fuel from the ground, keeping it in a big tank. As Max watches, they are attacked by yet another motor gang—this time led by a massive shirtless dude named Humungus. During the fight one of the good guys is injured, and after the gang leaves Max goes and brings him to the community, on the condition that he gets as much fuel as he wants. The commune is skeptical of Max right away, but he’s got a deal with the guy he saved, and says to just ask him. But guess what—he’s dead from his injuries. So now Max is their prisoner. Eventually, they come around and Max helps them escape the gang by doing what he does best—driving a massive car that is hauling the gas tanker. Turns out the guy he didn’t kill in the beginning can fly a helicopter, and together they kill off the entire gang in an awesome continuous driving scene and head off into the sunset with the fuel in search of a better place to call home. Max doesn’t go with them, though. He heads off alone, never to be seen again. Until…

Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome

aka Memba This?

This installment starts out with Max doing Max things—namely being alone in the desert, somehow still surviving 15 years after the events of Road Warrior. He immediately gets his car ruined by the very same helicopter captain he saved in the last movie (he didn’t know it was Max, but still–what the hell man.) He then stumbles into a slumtown called Bartertown, where he is held prisoner. Things have really fallen apart since Road Warrior, and this place is basically every Occupy Wall Street member’s worst nightmare. The 1% is represented by Tina Turner’s “Auntie Entity,” who  rules over the town from her ivory tower. She eventually recruits Max to kill her nemesis, the original Freak the Mighty combo called Master Blaster. They settle things as all men do—in the THUNDERDOME.

The Thunderdome.

The Thunderdome.

This movie spawned one of the most badass lines of all time for this part: “two men enter, one man leaves.” The ensuing Thunderdome fight scene was one of the coolest I’ve seen, with Max and Blaster strapped to bungee cords in a Hell-in-a-Cell type scenario, trying to get to various weapons at the top of the cage. Max wins (obviously) but then is banished because he doesn’t have the heart to kill Blaster, who is revealed to have the mind of a child. Back in the desert again, Max is picked up by a group of kids who are basically the Lost Boys from Peter Pan. In a very cult-like way, they tell Max they’ve been waiting for him, but he’s like, “no, I’m not the guy you’re lookin’ for.” Still, he develops a soft spot for the kids and helps them return to Bartertown and take down Tina Turner. The film ends with the helicopter captain flying the kids off to find a new home. Max sacrifices himself and stays behind, never to be seen again. UNTIL…

Mad Max 4: Fury Road

aka Is This a Sequel or…

Short answer: no, it’s not a sequel. Technically, it’s a reboot, but the director won’t call it either. Instead of good ol’ Melly Gibs, we get Tom Hardy, who at the beginning of the film is—yep, you guessed it—hanging out alone in the desert. He immediately gets kidnapped (yawn…standard ) by a motor gang called the Roadheads. They are loyal to Immortan Joe, a villain who is played by the same actor who played Toecutter in the original film.toecutter (1)

Max ends up helping Joe’s right-hand woman, Furiosa, escape with six women that Joe is using as “breeders.” When they realize there is no home for them out in the desert, they turn back and take Joe’s stronghold, killing him and his men along the way. Once Max sees that they are safe in their new home, he slinks off into the desert alone, never to be seen again (until the sequel which is coming out next year).

Other parallels:

  1. The two sons of Immortan Joe seem to be references to past characters—his one son Rictus is a massive shirtless guy, like Humungus from Road Warrior, and the other is a little person with a squeaky voice, like Master from Beyond Thunderdome.

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    Really getting the hang of pic-stitch now.

  2. Furiosa and Max drive the “War Rig,” a big 18 wheeler that looks a lot like the tanker from Road Warrior.
  3. In Beyond Thunderdome, the leader of the Lost Boys is a strong, short-haired woman…just like Furiosa.
  4. Themes of “home.” In all of the movies, Max and the other characters are concerned with finding a new home—they are almost always unsuccessful in the previous films, but in this one they seem to have found it.
  5. Themes of family. Max loses his family in the first movie, and since then he can’t let himself get attached to one. But in all the films, he helps people find their own “families,” whether it be the community from Road Warrior, the Lost Boys in Thunderdome, or the women in Fury Road.
  6. Awesome car crashes.

    Really proud of this one.

    Really proud of this one.

*Answer key: the one on the right.

That about does it. If you’ve made it this far, I am SHOCKED. As a reward/apology here is a gif of a hamster eating a tiny burrito. More serious blog post to come tomorrow.

hamster

Segovia Pt. 2

The first weekend in Madrid was a great one. We took a Saturday excursion to Segovia, which was my favorite place we visited last year. Something about the thousand-year-old aqueducts, the incredible views and the huge royal castle (that inspired the Disney castle, which our tour guide didn’t mention this time, amateur) really speaks to me.

There was one difference from last time though, which was that we got to try the local delicacy of suckling pig. It is a pig that is roasted before it turns 8 weeks old, and it was absolutely delicious. I even took a chunk out of the poor guy’s ear–it tasted like crunchy bacon. Some of the group wasn’t enthused, but I loved it. So did the chef, seeing our reactions as he carried around a pre-cut pig.

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On Sunday, Alex and I went to a municipal pool with his friend who has been living in Madrid for a year. He clearly knows the good spots, because we were the only Americans there and it felt great to be somewhere that actual Spanish people spend their free time. We capped off the weekend by seeing Mad Max: Fury Road, which was really good but not, in my opinion, one of the best action movies of all time (looking at you, Roeper. Ebert would be ashamed).

This week will hopefully be filled with interviews for me, as I’m trying to make a couple videos while I’m here. One will be about the “chino” shops of Madrid (the stores owned by Chinese immigrants that stay open late at night) and another about the sword-makers of Toledo.

Points of View

I told myself I’d blog every week, and my fans (Mom and Gina-Maria) are probably wondering if I’ve been taken. I’m in Madrid now, having left Barcelona behind yesterday. I’m really going to miss it. It’s a great city, and I’ll be going back in 2026 with my hypothetical future family to see La Sagrada Familia as a finished product. To say goodbye I’ll give a brief recap of the final few days in pictures. We went to Monserrat, where I went last year after the dialogue and blogged about my struggles with my fear of heights. This time, I decided to branch off from the group and push myself to the limit, which resulted in this photo.  It was worth the view. IMG_0562   Then on our last night in Barcelona, our host family’s son Jordi drove Alex and I up to Mt. Tibidabo. I was excited to go there after we saw its mountain-top Ferris wheel from across the city while we were at Park Guell. Some people speculated that it was haunted and it honestly might be. I mean look at this:

That's pretty creepy.

That’s pretty creepy.

But it was well worth the drive, as we got the best view of the city possible while taking in some cervezas at a bar on the mountain. We could see Montjuic, Park Guell and La Sagrada Familia, even at night. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to Barcelona, looking out over it and pointing out all the places we visited. I’ll leave off with a picture of the view, which my iPhone unfortunately did not do justice. Until next time Barca. IMG_0571

Tour City

My fans (Mom) are concerned that I haven’t blogged in a while, so here we go. This week has been pretty busy, especially for everyone who has to get interviews and get their stories together. I feel their pain; I was in their shoes last year and it’s not easy. But it’s well worth it when it inevitably comes together and you realize you’ve written a story in a foreign country. We’ve also had a tour nearly every day, which has made it even more difficult to have time to write (and for me, edit) the stories. Still, we have two up on the site and at the very least three will be done today.

We went to the beach one day, the next day saw La Sagrada Famillia’s inside, which I had seen last year but still blew me away. My favorite tour this week though was led by my dude Stuart, who took us to Plaza Espanya and then Montjuic fortress, which is on a hill that overlooks all of Barcelona. The view was incredible, and I was shocked how much La Sagrada Familia shoots out of the surrounding area. You can sort of see what I’m talking about in this photo.

Red circle added.

Red circle added.

We then walked to the Olympic Stadium, which was cool because I didn’t get a chance to visit it last year. Stuart knows a ton about all of the buildings and the famous architects that built them (sidenote: either I need to study architects a LOT more, or Stuart is throwing the word ‘famous’ around a little bit too much). I need to get back to getting the blog populated with stories, so I’ll end with the rest of the pictures from that tour.

Arrival of the Man with the Man-Bun

I’d have to describe the first weekend of round two in Spain the same way I describe my daily dinners to my host madre: muy bien. Our first excursion was to the Dali Museum and then to Girona, a city about an hour north of Barcelona. Both of them were special in their own way–Girona with its floral displays and panoramic views and Dali’s museum with its surrealist paintings, sculptures and god-knows-whats.  And when I say Dali’s museum, I mean it really is all his own: he chose the site, designated the location of all the artwork, and is even buried in the lower levels. I’ve never been to a museum like it and I doubt I ever will. I could have done without the pollen in Girona, but other than that it was awesome. Pics to prove it happened:

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This weekend was also great because my man-bun sporting childhood friend Greeni came to visit me while on a four-day weekend off from his work in Switzerland(he works for a company that makes a machine that turns these special K-Cups into tortillas–yes its a real thing). We went out a couple nights, and finished off the weekend today with a solid beach day, something I didn’t get a chance to do last time around. We’re both lobsters now, but it was well worth it and I’ll be going back next chance I get.

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It’s Protest Season Again

First of all, it’s great to be back in Spain. I’m not going to say that Spain is a better country than the United States, but, it’s definitely better to look at. I mean even the first terminal of the airport looks like it could be the inside of art gallery.

Spain wastes no time showing off.

Spain wastes no time showing off.

Beautiful sights are commonplace here, and apparently so are protests. Just like last year, in my first week here I stumbled upon a protest happening right outside our school. Actually they pretty much marched right down our throats, and myself, Maria and a bunch of the students came along for the ride. They marched down to the Arc of Triumph, which made for some pretty cool pictures.

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Besides being more commonplace, the protests here are much more organized and passionate than the ones I’ve seen in the U.S. We learned that the students were protesting the government’s law that instead of doing four years of college, they must now do three undergrad and two for a masters, which is more expensive. Maybe the stereotype that Catalans are cheap has some merit, because there were a LOT of them. Proof is this time-lapse that I took while the procession walked by. If you look closely you can actually see their “what the hell is this kid doing” expressions.

Preparing for Round Two

I can’t believe I will be back in Spain tomorrow. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind–from finals week to graduating on Friday to Spain in three weeks is a lot to handle. But I’m not complaining. My time in Spain last year during our dialogue was one of the best experiences of my life. I honestly never thought I’d have a chance to go back, especially not so soon. I’m beyond excited to be going back, this time as a teaching assistant.

I’m looking forward to having a different role within the group and I’m even more excited to see what everyone comes up with for their stories. Last year as a group we were able to find some great ones, and now with the added experience of myself, Maria and Carlene I expect that it will be even easier to look for leads. And of course I will be helping everyone as best I can with whatever they need for their stories.

Personally, I will continue to blog throughout the trip and I also hope to write a story or two. I’m hoping to make a documentary about the struggle between the Spanish government and the film industry, which I wrote about for one of my stories last year. It’s going to be an incredible trip.