At the time, I was a shy Spanish major with a love of reading and a lot of social awkwardness. I moved my one suitcase of stuff into a tiny room on the sixth floor of the dorms, along with the other students.
We found a city baking in the hot sun, filled with the odors of red wine, the nearby ocean, and a river bed, dried up after years of drought. There were the remains of Roman aqueducts nearby, as well as tiny cafes and fresh fruit bars in every street.
The food in the dorms was incredibly bad. We had wine on every table, but it was so vinegared that even a group of poor college students couldn't drink it. They rotated something that tasted like Alpo lasagna with stale cheese sandwiches.
It was a different story in the cafes. When we could scrape up enough money, we went and ordered tiny mussels served in a white wine and garlic sauce, so delicious that we drank the rest with fresh bread. The fresh fruit bars made drinks from squeezed grapes and tangerines, as well as Agua de Valencia, a combo of champagne and fresh orange juice that I can still taste, thirty years later.
And let us not forget the drink called horchata, a sort of soy milkshake. I had mine "granizada," blended with ice, with a "farton" (a long, sweet roll of bread) on the side. Yes, that was really the name.
July began, and with it came nightly fireworks. Valencian authorities didn't worry about safety regs, so the works exploded close overhead. Lying in the park and watching them felt like going into a live version of Star Wars.
Part of the month-long celebration was "La Batalla de las Flores", an actual battle where girls ride in a circle and the onlookers throw flowers at them. If you're wondering if flowers can hurt, the answer is yes, when you have hundreds of people winging chrysanthemums at your face.
|Those tennis rackets made good face protectors. Too bad I didn't pack one in my suitcase....|
We took classes in the mornings. One was taught by a famous professor, on South American literature. I wish I had kept the notes from her lectures; she gave me insights into 100 Years of Solitude that I never considered before. At the end of the term, she had the class over for more Agua de Valencia.
The biggest lesson for me, however, was how to be outgoing. If I had stayed in my shy, awkward shell, I would have had a very long, boring summer. I had to meet people on my own terms, which meant going and talking to them out of the blue.
I left a boyfriend behind, and I thought I would miss him, my family and my home. On the contrary, the summer flew by all too quickly.
So I returned with a new fluency in Spanish, a better understanding of South American literature - and a new ability. I knew that if I was put in any situation on my own, I could meet people and survive it. It was a gift - a gift from Valencia.