Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Face of Fulbright: Pamplona

 The Plaza (where Hemingway spent his afternoons) - very beautiful!


 Town Council building

 Private audience with the mayor of Pamplona

 Local life in the Plaza

 Hemingway's hotel

 Private tour of the Pamplona palace throne room; 
all symbolism of the room explained in detail (fascinating!).

 Hemingway himself. 

 These bulls aren't running anywhere...

 The Head of Economics gave us a personal tour of the city.

This might be why Hemingway fell in love with Pamplona.

As you may have noted, Lonely Planet and I have a rocky relationship.  Whereas National Geographic guidebooks give way too much history and not enough culture, Lonely Planet gives way too much culture and not enough history (or helpful information, for that matter).  So when I looked through LP to get a feeling for what Pamplona would be like and couldn't find it anywhere in the book - or even the Running of the Bulls.  I was scandalized... but only mildly so.  Still, given all the Spanish towns you hear about, you should at least mention it, right?!  

I'm not so sure.

Pamplona is lovely.  Truly.  As Fulbright scholars, we received the best of everything.  A four-star hotel with superb food, a private audience with the mayor, a private tour of the gorgeous Palace throne room, and a personal tour of the city with the Jefe de Economicas de Navarra.  Nothing was too extravagant.  They are very proud of their region, as they should be.  They have the highest productivity rate in Spain, and their level of innovation competes with other European countries.  

And Pamplona is strikingly tranquil.  That was what we all noticed immediately.  Walking through the streets, sitting in the Plaza, watching the local life... it's not surprising Hemingway spent a lot of time there.  I would, too, actually... if I were more the angsty expatriate type.

But let's face it, other than San Fermin - and being a stop on St. James' Pilgrimage - and having an overdeveloped sense of identity from Hemingway (don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this immensely).... it's great, but, as suggested by its absence in LP, Pamplona probably shouldn't make it to the top of your priority list.  

But then there is the matter of the other Fulbrighters.  I hadn't met them before.

Every year, Fulbright holds a mid-year meeting in a cool place to discuss grantees' progress and projects.  Spain has two branches of Fulbright:  the master's and doctorate students are here pursuing a variety of research projects.  For example, one is working on a Mars probe in the world's only lab in Barcelona, while another is studying the records of royal discourse in the Medieval era to determine set patterns predicting positive or negative responses to propositions.  Another is mapping the genetic patters of a fruit flies in order to better predict human genomes.  Incredible stuff.  Listening to their presentations was by far my favorite part of the weekend.  

The other collection of Fulbrighters - to which I belong - is the English Teaching Assistants.  My other favorite part of the trip was realizing that no one else has any idea what they're doing!  Our job descriptions vary greatly from school to school - some with more responsibilities, others with less, but our experiences are pretty much the same, and that is greatly comforting.  That's another story though... later.  Several of the ETAs presented as well, and their projects were equally engaging.  One Valencia ETA joined a youth orchestra to study the spoken and unspoken correlations of music to language.  Another (one of my favorites!) went on a quest to find various organic food products, especially fresh milk and a Thanksgiving Turkey.  As it turned out, El Corte Ingles failed to order her a turkey in time, so she found a farmer who happened to have the perfect turkey fattened up... her neighbors didn't seem to understand the holiday at all :)

Now then, as to the Fulbrighters themselves.  I have never met more engaging, interesting, diverse people in my entire life.  And humble, too.  I came away from almost every acquaintance thinking, Wow.  This person gets it!  ("It" varies, by the way.  Whether it is passion, or excellence, or empathy, or motive, or the molecular structure of a fruit fly, or the meaning of life... the possibilities are endless and rarely repetitious.)  It was almost overwhelming; after all, they had all met each other in September, so I had some catching up to do.  Not going to lie, it felt a little like breaking into a new high school junior year (awful experience... parents never, ever do that to your children!) with childish concerns such as, Who will I eat lunch with?  (The cartographer, the peace education advocate, and the molecular biologist, by the way.), but everyone was so accommodating... even the I'm-on-an-extended-college-vacation crowd (which I listened to for four hours on the train) actually turned out to be pretty cool when one-on-one.  Earlier this year I asked one of them if Fulbright had a certain personality she could pinpoint.  She thought about it for a moment and replied that really, Fulbrighters are "just really interesting."  Just by looking at them you'd never tell it, but then you discover there's actually quite a bit of depth.  

That, I've found, was quite deep.

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