22.12.2011 - 21.01.2012 13 °C
The Christmas holidays have come and gone and we had such an interesting time traveling throughout southern Spain. And now, we’re back at school, teaching and studying. As we enter the New Year and approach our half-way point of our time here, it’s time for ‘un poco de reflexión’.
First, the Christmas Vacation – Noche Buena (Christmas Eve), Navidad (Christmas) – Noche vieja (New Year’s Eve), El Año Nuevo (New Years), La Cabalgata de Los Reyos Magos (the three kings parade), El Día de Los Reyes Magos (the three king’s day), y lo demás (the rest).
Our last day of school was Thursday, December 22nd. As all of the grades (notas) had to be submitted by Wednesday, December 21st, Thursday was a particularly odd day. Many students didn’t bother to show up. I left early for my classes and was told that nobody was showing up, so I should just ‘vete’ (go).
The girls received their grades for all their courses and incredible!!! – they both passed all of their subjects. Considering that all the subjects are taught in Spanish, there are tests given every week and the teachers tend to grade on a very stiff scale, we were amazed and incredibly proud of the girls. First year bachillerato is no ‘cake walk’; it more than rivals the USA International Bachelor (IB) program in rigor. I honestly can’t imagine taking physics, literature española, philosophy, biology, contemporary sciences in Spanish – and doing well. What a great way to ‘kick-off’ the Christmas holiday.
On Saturday, December 24th (Noche Buena) we went to the village of our neighbors and friends, Gema, Alberto, Gema y Victor. Gema’s parents live in the village of Valdastillas and they insisted that we not be alone on Christmas Eve. Gema’s mother, Agustina, prepared a vegetarian meal for us, consisting of at least five different courses. Not to mention, she had spent all day in her kitchen preparing the typical Spanish comida for all of her family, which consisted of her three grown children, their spouses and their children. Muy bien – muy bien – muy bien!
On Sunday, December 25th, we had a quiet Christmas celebration in our home. We had cartas y regalos from family and friends in the USA, along with some small family presents. After opening presents and cleaning up, we finished packing our bags, gathered our belongings and headed off for our road trip – throughout portions of Andalusia!
Our first destination was the incredibly beautiful city of Sevilla, where we had a couchsurfing stay set up. We arrived in Sevilla about 6:00 pm, but quickly realized (for the umpteenth time!) that the google map directions to the location we needed to get to was L-O-U-S-Y! Everyone told us that we needed to get GPS in order to drive around Spain/Europe – and you know…I think they’re right! After three telephone calls, we finally found our way to the cobblestone, one-way street in the Triana neighborhood.
We spent three wonderful days with Alfonso and his family and we were absolutely enchanted with Sevilla. We visited many of the ‘must see’ places, but what impressed me more than anything, including the cathedral, the tomb of Christopher Columbus or the Plaza de España, was the ‘ambiente’, the atmosphere of Sevilla…I don’t know…I just fell in love with Sevilla and the way it felt… and I could easily fantasize about living there…really. We left a piece of our hearts in Sevilla, but also made plans to return in June, when Ansley takes her College preparatory ACT exams (oh joy!).
From Sevilla, we headed off to a small, typical white-washed village named ‘Vejer de la Frontera’. My good friend, Nancy, and her family had spent about a month there some years ago, studying Spanish, and suggested we visit. We were only there for one night, but easily fell into the feel and rhythm of the village.
“Squeezed between the sierras and the sea, Vejer de la Frontera is a labyrinth of white washed houses & winding cobbled streets.”
From Vejer, we had another couchsurfing stay, and headed to Puerto de Santa Maria (near Cádiz). When we left Vejer, we unfortunately parked on a very steep hill (well, that’s not hard to do as Vejer is nothing but hills!) and somehow gasoline leaked out from the gas pipe and vapors came into the car. So – everything in the trunk, including our clothing – smelled like gasoline. Ugh!! When we arrived to our couchsurfing host, we emptied the car, took all our clothes out and threw as many as we could into her washing machine. Everything else went outside to air out.
We stayed with an American family; the mom taught science at the high school on the base in Rota and her two daughters (age 14 and 9) also went to school on the base. They purchased almost everything from the base and therefore, we felt like we had suddenly been whisked back to the USA. Marleigh LOVED it!! She made instant friends and was so excited to be understood (both in language and culture). I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but it felt a bit odd to be in Spain, but to feel like I wasn’t in Spain. My bigger problem was, between the gasoline vapors and the onset of getting sick, it was difficult for me to enjoy myself. Nonetheless, the beaches at Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz and Rota were absolutely beautiful. The air was warm and so was the water – so the girls found themselves, on December 30th with their pants rolled up, bare-feet, frolicking in the Atlantic Ocean.
From Puerto de Santa María we headed east to Ronda. When we left, the gasoline odors had dissipated, but Ansley and I were feeling sicker. She started feeling ill when we left Sevilla, and I started feeling sick the second day at Puerto de Santa María. When we arrived in Ronda, we settled into our hotel and briefly thought about looking for New Year’s Eve festivities. But, as the evening wore on, I felt worse and worse and we all ended up spending New Year’s eve in the hotel, watching TV and resting…woo-hoo – Happy New Year!! In Spain, there are some very interesting New Year’s traditions:
NEW YEAR’S TRADITIONS OF SPAIN:
Spanish New Year's Eve (Nochevieja or Fin de Año in Spanish) celebrations usually begin with a family dinner, traditionally including prawns and lamb. The actual countdown is primarily followed from the clock on top of the Casa de Correos building in Puerta del Sol in Madrid. It is traditional to eat twelve grapes, one on each chime of the clock.
Nowadays, the tradition is followed by almost every Spaniard, and the twelve grapes have become synonymous with the New Year. After the clock has finished striking twelve, people greet each other and toast with sparkling wine such as cava or champagne, or alternatively with cider.
After the family dinner and the grapes, many young people attend New Year parties at pubs or discothèques (these parties are called cotillones de nochevieja). Parties usually last until the next morning. Early next morning, party attendees usually gather to have the traditional winter breakfast of chocolate con churros, hot chocolate and fried pastry.
The next morning, when the streets were either empty, or filled with the borrochos, we went looking for the farmacias and for something to eat (and something to soothe my throat). We walked around the historic part of Ronda and were once again in awe.
"Ronda retains much of its historic charm, particularly its old town. It is famous worldwide for its dramatic escarpments and views, and for the deep El Tajo gorge that carries the rio Guadalevín through its center. Ronda is also famous as the birthplace of modern bullfighting. Held at the beginning of September, here fighters and some of the audience dress in the manner of Goya. Across the bridge, where an elegant cloistered 16th century convent is now an art museum, old Ronda, La Ciudad, sidewinds off into cobbled streets hemmed by handsome town mansions, some still occupied by Ronda's titled families."
From Ronda, we headed to another couchsurfing family very near Granada (Huetor Vega). Once again, this family, who we had never met (but had had some email and telephone correspondence) opened up their home and heart to us. They fed us, fretted over our being sick and told us places to visit in Granada. Of course La Alhambra was high on the list and we had every intention of visiting it the next day. We took a bus to the city center of Granada and went to the Caixa to try to get tickets…but no go…we didn’t realize that we needed to buy our ‘entradas’ the day before. Just as well, I wasn’t really up for an excursion and well…we really did need another excuse to return to Granada and the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains. Therefore, we walked around La Alhamba grounds, had a lot of tea and decided to look forward to our return trip.
Granada is situated at the foot of the Sierra Nevada between two hills, separated by the Darro Valley. Its panoramic views which include the white tipped Sierra Nevada mountain range, rolling green hills and numerous monuments with their rich history, make Granada magical. From 1238 to 1492, Granada acquired all its splendor both artistically as well as economically. It was in 1492 when the Catholic King, Fernando and the Queen, Isabel made King Boabdil surrender, but the city did not start to decline until 1609 when the Moorish people finally left. The Alhambra or Red Palace is without a doubt the most well-known monument in Granada, in Spain, and practically all over the world.
We left Granada the morning of January 4, 2012 and drove all day to get back to Plasencia. We arrived late and tired, and it felt really good to get ‘home’. Yes, I say home in that Plasencia does feel like home to us now and our rental house feels like our home also.
On January 5th, throughout Spain, a very special parade is held. The parade is called the ‘Calbalgata de Los Reyes’ and what it is is more or less the idea of our Christmas parade with Santa Claus…but instead with the three wise men throwing candy to all the boys and girls in the street. The calbalgata ends up in the main square where the boys and girls can tell the reyes magos want gifts they want to receive on ‘El día de los reyes magos’.
On January 6, Spain celebrates El Dia De Reyes, the Epiphany, remembering the day when the Three Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem, arrived bearing their treasured gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Baby Jesus. the children write their letters to the Wise Men, or to their favorite Rey Mago: Melchor, Gaspar, or Baltasar, asking for the presents they would like to receive. Children (and many adults) polish and leave their shoes ready for the Kings' presents before they go to bed on the eve of January 6. The next morning presents will appear under their shoes.
Well…for us, January 6th was just another day for us to rest and recuperate and start preparing for our return to school. But the following day(s) were the start of the major ‘rebajas’ or sales of all the stores. Ansley was clearly in her element on January 7th, when she went from store to store, in excitement over the 30%, 40%, 50% and more discounts.
School started on Monday, January 9th and YES, it was very hard to go back. I was still feeling ill and took a couple of days to recuperate. The first weeks back for me were all about “What did you do over your Christmas vacation?” a bit about Martin Luther King and New Year’s Resolutions.
The struggle to find relevant, interesting and easy-to-understand topics in English still eludes us. I’ve been relying on short videos to both present ideas and for the students to hear more ‘typical American accents’. It is…a continuing work in progress.
And so – some reflections. We’ve been here for five months and have settled into our routines. Andy and I are finding more and more language intercambios and so our Spanish language skills are slowly coming together. We thoroughly enjoy these conversations, whatever the topic. It is more about connecting with people and the sharing of ideas and information than anything else.
There is a big part of me that would like to stay here for a second year. As it has taken these five months to get adjusted, find the rhythm and feel more comfortable communicating in Spanish, I know that a second year would be ‘easier’. But given the circumstances of very low pay, not being able to pay our way through to sustain ourselves, not being EU citizens and therefore not being able to find legal work, our home and connections back in Oregon, my job, the girls desire to return to their friends, their schools and education, and the very real need to get back to financial stability – I/we just can’t do it. Perhaps, sometime in the distant future, perhaps after our daughters finish schooling, perhaps with (early) retirement options….perhaps there would be a way to return.
In the meantime, I cannot begin to express the gratitude I feel for being able to have this opportunity (thank you to mis jefas, mis compañeros, el departamento de medio ambiente de Oregón, nuestros familia y amigos) and for all of the wonderful friends we have been making here in Spain, especially to Gema and your family for adopting us as your own.
I don’t know whether this is a saying or not (but it ought to be if it isn’t): It is better to be culturally rich and financially poor, than culturally poor and financially rich. Es decir: Es mejor ser rico por la cultura y tener poco dinero mas bien que tener mucho dinero y tener poco cultura.
Remember: There are cheap flights in winter to Europe and we have a spare room in our house. We would be more than honored to show you around Plasencia, Extremadura and wherever our little car can go.
Hasta la próxima vez,
Shari y familia