Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Living the good life in Oviedo

By Stephen Small

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As anyone who has visited the W.E.B. DuBois library during finals week can tell you, the life of a college student is not always easy. After countless papers and exams, another semester in Amherst was coming to an end and I found myself returning home more than ready for some rest and relaxation. But, after spending the last few months speaking to advisors and filling out form after form, I suddenly found myself on a plane headed to Oviedo, Spain, with no idea of what awaited me on the other side.

Roughly twelve hours after taking off from Boston’s Logan International Airport, I stumbled out of the cabin and into a new and much greener world than the one I had left. No, I’m not talking about the snow. Oviedo is the capital city of the Principality of Asturias, a stunningly beautiful region of mountains, cliffs, and rivers, and one of the most sought-after hiking destinations in all of Western Europe. The landscape is full of picturesque images of towering green cliffs, softly rolling hills, and scenes of morning fog punctured by a dazzling Spanish sun. After spending some time in Asturias shooting the film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, famed actor and director Woody Allen could only describe it as “like a fairytale,” saying, “It’s as if it doesn’t belong to this world, as if it could not possibly exist,” (according to As I rode the bus which took me closer and closer to my final destination, I could only stare helplessly out the window as this new and wondrous world passed me by.

Despite being surrounded by such a natural paradise, one of the nicest things about living in Spain is the openness and kindness of the Spaniards themselves. A well-known Spanish (and Mediterranean) custom is the famous “dos besos,” or the practice of greeting one another with a kiss on each cheek. Though I was aware of this custom when I first arrived, my unfamiliarity with it has made for some rather amusing, though enlightening, cultural missteps. After hurriedly and uncomfortably performing this ritual with one of my host mother’s friends, she jokingly chastised me in broken English, saying simply, “Here we kiss!”. Since then, I’ve learnt to open myself up more to new cultural experiences. While abroad, it’s wise to remember the old saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

There is a definite rhythm to Spanish life which contrasts sharply with the frenetic rush we often find ourselves in at home. The pace of living is one organized on a human level, where each person is encouraged to savor all of the joys and delights that each day has to offer. One of the strongest examples of this is found during the typical Spanish midday meal. Every afternoon, the city comes to a screeching halt as doors are locked, windows closed, and shutters pulled. What could possibly be the cause of such a mysterious ritual? Nothing less than the famous Spanish siesta, of course. However, the siesta is not merely a midday nap. It is a time for people to pause and think, to go home and visit their loved ones, and to enjoy a sincere social experience. I have come to love this custom dearly. Each day, I return home to a delicious meal, a wonderfully kind host family, and a conversation which stirs me back to life after a long day in class. Though meals in Spain often last for two hours or more, there is good reason for this: it is impossible to savor the small pleasures of life when you find yourself running past them at breakneck speed. As we sit, talk, and laugh, I am reminded that sometimes it’s best to pause, take a breath, and marvel at ‘la bella vida’ before it passes us by. As the saying goes, “¡Viva la vida!”.

Stephen Small can be reached for comment at [email protected]

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