Wednesday, October 29, 2008
We took the day train out... not sure I will opt for that again. A 9 hour train ride is long no matter how you cut it. But the town is really quite lovely. We toured the cathedral (of course), sat for a few moments in the tomb beside Saint James and spent 2 lovely days just walking through the old city. We had a good time in the fish and vegetable market, buying such local delicacies as plums known as “cojones de fraile” (look it up!), and a cheese known as Tetillas. (According to legend, a local bishop decided that one of the female statues was a little too voluptuous. He ordered the sculptor to take out his hammer and chisel for some breast reduction surgery. The local cheesemakers were indignant at this, and in protest, they began making their cheese in the shape of the appropriate part of the female anatomy. I don’t know if this story is true or not…but so what? It’s a great story!)
The cathedral has a different feel from the others we have visited, and I am not sure I can put my finger on why it felt different. Maybe it is because the others were mainly built as monuments, sometimes inspired by the vanity of the local church officials, Bishops, Cardinals, etc. The cathedral in Santiago was built to mark the site where Saint James was found after centuries of war with the Moors, and mainly as a tribute to Heavenly Father. In many ways it is much more modest than some of the other cathedrals, but then there is the alter which is an amazing display. We attended Vespers Saturday evening at a monastery near the cathedral, where the service was sang by the nuns. That was truly heavenly. One can tour all these old cathedrals and churches, and admire their beauty, but to me, they seem to really come alive when you can hear them with music, even if you cannot understand the language.
Santiago de Compostela is at the end of the Medieval Pilgrimage Trail, The Way of Saint James, which leads to the tomb of Saint James. The trail has several starting places in France, crosses the Pyrenees, and the entire northern coast of Spain. This trail has been followed by spiritual pilgrims since 900 A.D. It is reputed to be one of the loveliest hikes in Europe and has become popular in recent years. I understand that it takes at least 4 to 6 weeks to complete the walk. Sunday morning we took a taxi about 6 miles out of town and walked the last part of the pilgrimage trail to the cathedral. The countryside is beautiful, with a Northwestern feel to it (green and rainy, although we were blessed with two rare sunny days for our visit). The trail is clearly marked with the symbolic scallop shells and yellow arrows. (Those scallop shells show up again and again. During the medieval pilgrimages, scallop shells were used as “poor men’s cups” to scoop water from the wells. Pilgrims would bring scallop shells back home as proof they’d finished the pilgrimage.) There’s a statue at the top of Monte do Gozo (Hill of Joy), the hill from which the pilgrims could first see the towers of the cathedral. Unfortunately, during the last thousand years, there has been enough construction that you can no longer see the towers.
We didn’t make it to the cathedral in time for the Pilgrim Mass at noon, so we went to Vespers at the cathedral. The cathedral has an enormous pipe organ that I had hoped they would play, but unfortunately we were not that lucky. Beyond the cathedral, and some really beautiful vistas, Santiago is just a dumb, quiet little town. But quite lovely.
Santiago is in the Spanish province of Galicia. Galicia has its own language, Gallego, which is supposed to be a sort of cross between Spanish and Portuguese. Just between us…shhh!...written Gallego looks to me like mis-spelled Spanish. Spoken Gallego has a sort of Italian lilt which is rather pretty to listen to.
On the way home, we took the night train… a much better idea…and spent Monday in Madrid. See the Madrid pictures at:
Madrid is okay, but it’s a big city, not unlike any other big cities. The old town was not especially interesting. I was not impressed. But Madrid does have more commerce, so I was able to find a couple of things that I was looking for. As the Prado, Madrid’s world renowned art museum was closed, we toured the Palacio Real. The Palacio is very pretty, though not as impressive as the French palace at Versailles. On the other hand, the Spanish people never beheaded any of their kings, so maybe the Spanish royals had the right idea. Sadly, people are not allowed to take pictures inside the palace. The most interesting part was an armory with many fine examples of weapons and armor from the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Still, it's good that things are slowing down. I think the human body (and the human mind!) wouldn't be able to maintain such a frenetic pace indefinitely. The other night, I was rather surprised to find myself at loose ends. Here, I can do the same things I'd do back in the USA: read a book, write in my journal, or play on the computer. I just found it a bit surprising.
One thing I'm finding a bit frustrating...I'm having trouble scheduling things with my colleagues at the school. Everyone seems happy to have me there, and they like having me in their classes. I have certain regular classes, and certain unscheduled hours during which teachers can request my support. When they do so, I set up a time with them to go over lesson plans and prepare for the class. Very frequently, when I show up for the meeting, I get stood up. It usually comes down to some kind of misunderstanding. After one occurrence, I figure it's a fluke. After two, I begin to get insecure about my language abilities (although I'm certainly not having any other difficulties with communication!). After five or six, I'm beginning to think that I'm dealing with a different attitude toward scheduling in general. Part of it is the "mañana" attitude, which is by no means limited to Mexico. Another part is that the teachers are very much regimented by their class schedules, and don't do very well with things that fall outside of their normal routine. The final, and most humbling part, is that I'm very low on the totem pole around here. Actually, I'm not on the totem pole at all; I'm buried in the mud down underneath the totem pole. The worms crawl higher than me. People are all very friendly, but I don't think they worry too much about missing meetings with me.
Monday, October 20, 2008
The hiking group is called “Llega Como Pueda” (which translates best as “Get There However You Can”). Lola´s husband Eduardo is a member, and he´s the one who told me about it. We set out in a charter bus in the pre-dawn darkness. (That´s not as early as it seems, because the sun doesn´t rise until nearly 8:00.) It was about a 1 ½ hour drive to Valle de Abdalajís. We began with breakfast at a local inn (it´s inconceivable that we would start such a walk without proper nutrition).
I´d call it a fairly tough hike. The distance wasn´t that much (10.5km, or just under 7 miles), and the ascent was respectable but not terrible (800m, or about 2500 feet). What made it difficult was the trail conditions and the weather. The trail varied from “poorly-marked” to “imaginary,” often deteriorating to “non-existent.” We slogged up rocky slopes or through spiny bushes. My poor jeans may never be the same. There were some magnificent views of the valley as we continued up the trail.
The weather was cool and relatively clear when we set out, but the peak was up in the clouds. At the point where we were to begin the final ascent to the peak, it was so foggy that the head guide (Fernando…there were three guides for a group of about 20 hikers) couldn´t find the access point. You know, it´s not much fun to be on a foggy mountainside listening to the guides arguing about which way was the right route. We sat and munched on our trail food while Fernando smoked a cigarette and waited for the mist to clear a little bit so that he could get his bearings. There was finally enough of a break in the fog to figure out where we were, and we got to the access point. It was so socked in that Fernando recommended against trying to get to the peak. A number of the hikers had GPS locators, and argued strongly that we should give it a go. (I must confess that I was not one of those arguing to start scaling the rocks in the dense fog!). I wasn´t inclined to turn back on my own at this point, but even if I had been, I´m not sure that I could have found my way back down to the pueblo. So on we went. By this point, jackets were necessary ( we haven´t needed jackets up to now in Córdoba, but I figured I´d be wise to have one for this hike and for next week´s trip to Santiago de Compostela). I was happy for the jacket, because the wind got pretty fierce as we approached the peak. For the last haul, it got so steep and constricted that I had to leave my daypack. I didn´t take any pictures at the top, because we couldn´t see anything but fog. It´s a shame; I´m told that in clear weather, you can see the Mediterranean from the peak.
We started down filled with that euphoria you get after finishing a tough walk. The descent was both easier and more difficult. Easier because we weren´t climbing, but more difficult because going downhill is harder on the knees. (For me, at any rate.) As we went, it began to rain, so I put on my poncho. (I had thought that I was being over-conservative by bringing a jacket and a poncho. Hah!) I think every member of the party managed at least one fall in the mud. We descended by a different route, a very steep road which went down to the village in switchbacks. It was so steep and rocky that I think it would be difficult for a mule, let alone a truck!
When we got back to the inn, we all ate our brown-bag dinners. I hadn´t expected to be on the trail as long as we were, so I hadn´t come prepared to eat dinner; all I had was my gorp (normally raisins and peanuts and M&M´s, but mine had cashews and macadamia nuts). Everyone else was pulling out loaves of bread and wedges of cheese and egg tortillas and salamis and cans of olives. These people know how to eat, even on the trail! Everyone shared with everyone.
Despite the difficulties of the trail, I had a wonderful time. We´ll see what other hikes there are in the future.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Ahhh, the joys of learning a foreign language… Sometimes, all you can do is laugh.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Anyway, click here to enjoy our pictures! The first link is all the pictures we took in Holland and France.
This second link is to all of the photos we've taken since coming to Córdoba.
Stay tuned for more! This adventure has just begun.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
We've been busy with grocery shopping and other domestic tasks today, so we haven't started on the task of uploading pictures to the blog. That will be a job for Sunday, when everything is closed and we can't do any business. Stay tuned!
I've begun my English teaching, and I'm having a marvellous time. I have several different types of students. First are the actual students at the institute (they're around 18-20 years old). Second are the teachers at the institute, who are taking advantage of my presence to improve their English. Third is a group of adults who are paying me and Tonya for English conversational time (although we may do that as an exchange: English conversation for them in exchange for Spanish conversation for Tonya). Fourth is a high school student whose father is paying me to tutor him. Each type of teaching has its own joys and its own challenges.
The students are like teenagers anywhere. They chatter among themselves a lot, and part of the challenge is keeping order in the classroom. That's not too difficult; in general, the students are more respectful toward teachers than they would be in America. We're doing a lot of speak-and-repeat exercises with simple phrases, working on their pronunciation. Some are doing better than others...as expected!
The teachers are more serious about their English; it's key to their jobs. Some are more interested in working on pronunciation to minimize their accents, some want to learn more of the vernacular, and some want to work on vocabulary. The institute where I'm teaching is a vocational school, and my section is training students to work in the tourism industry. One of the teachers, David (dah-VEED), is teaching a class on the business structure of tourism-related companies (hotels, travel agencies, tour agencies, etc.). This sort of translation becomes extraordinarily difficult, for two reasons. First, I don't have a formal business background. What do I know about corporations, partnerships, limited companies, and so on? Second, some things just don't translate directly. For instance, an "acción" in Spanish corresponds to a share (of stock) in English. However, there are legal ramifications in terms of the rights and responsibilities of shareholders that are simply different between Spain and America and England. They are different countries with different laws. I'm not a corporate lawyer, and I don't understand all of those complexities. I can help with the English, with the understanding that there's not an exact correspondence. Once we'd agreed on that, David and I are working together just fine.
We're just getting started with the conversation sessions. These people are more interested in being able to function in travel settings when they go on vacation to England or (less frequently) to America. This involves role-playing, which is kind of fun. We did a role-play conversation the other day in which I was the checker at a supermarket, and one of the students was a customer trying to make a purchase with a credit card. You can really get into your role! I was trying to explain to the "customer" what she needed to do, while apologizing to the other (imaginary) customers waiting in line behind her.
The one-on-one tutoring is the first job which has actually earned me some money. (They call it "dinero negro", or black money. No checks, no tax withholdings, no fuss.) Rafael, the student, actually understands more English than he realizes. This will largely be a process of building his confidence. We're using his classroom lessons as a base, and working on his pronunciation and comprehension. I'm seeing noticeable improvement after only two sessions. Was I able to learn that quickly when I was fifteen years old?
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
So we were in the phone store on Monday, playing our translation game and we had the following conversation:
Scott: “Otra vez” (“Otra vez” in Spanish translates to “again” in English.)
Tonya: “Which means, again?” (I said in English, as I could not remember the translation.)
Scott: “Si, Otra vez” (Not comprehending that I was asking for a translation.)
Tonya: “Which means, again?”
Scott: “Si, Otra vez” (Still not comprehending that I was asking for a translation.)
We went through several iterations of this statement/question loop before we both realized that we had originated a new Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first?” routine.
Outfitting 21st century kitchen continues to be a challenge. Some of it is diet related, and expected. However, as I do a lot of cooking from scratch, I thought that most of the raw ingredients (especially for baking) would be available. Other things I was just unprepared for. I had hoped to bring my measuring cups – a staple in any American kitchen, but given our space and weight constraints, I left them behind. Every cook uses measuring cups… Right? Well, I guess not in Spain. We looked for 2 days before we found a measuring cup. I found the same problem regarding other basic kitchen gadgets, spatulas, spoons, baking sheets, even a potato masher (which I have yet to find).
The adjustment to life here has been frustrating for me largely because I did not learn to speak Spanish before we left. So I needed some comfort food… Chocolate chip cookies. So Scott and I went to the store. Flour, eggs, butter, white sugar all easy enough to find. But then things get more complicated. Brown sugar… They have a product called brown sugar, but when I opened the package, I found that it was closer to the raw sugar in the natural food stores in the US. Baking soda… simple bicarbonate of soda, right? Well almost, the form that I have found so far is granulated. Salt… What can be so difficult about salt? Except, I have not been able to find salt in anything other than a coarse grind. So, I did my best to turn the coarse baking soda and salt granules into a powder. But as I have not managed to find many kitchen items, a mortar and pestle among them, my efforts were pretty ineffectual. Still, I broke a dark chocolate bar up into small pieces by beating on it with a rolling pin. (I can be very resourceful, especially when chocolate is involved.) So I threw it altogether in a bowl and mixed it all up… (Yes, I forgot the vanilla… but such is life.) And put it in the oven to bake… Which leads to another discussion.
I never realized that what a Spaniard considers a 21st century stove is not even remotely equivalent to what an American expects from the appliance. I really need to readjust my thinking. First off, a stove does not necessarily mean that an oven is included. Next, although gas appliances do exist, electric is more prevalent. But, as the electric current is different in Europe, the appliance does not seem to work as efficiently. I am finding that the stove is rather like using a camping stove, and that I can expect it to take 2 to 3 time longer to cook different dishes. So I will need to readjust my meal planning. Secondly, because of the electric current issue (and this is only my supposition) the oven temperatures do not equate to their Fahrenheit equivalents. So it takes much, much longer to bake anything. For instance, the cookies took about 25 minutes to bake.
So how did they turn out? Well, they are actually quite interesting… and they taste okay, but they are not Tonya’s chocolate chip cookies. The texture is all wrong, obviously a result from the soda. Some bites are unexpectedly salty, resulting from both the course grind of the salt and soda, but what can you do? Laugh, cry or both… and perhaps continue to look for substitute ingredients. The obvious answer is to make simpler meals, and learn to cook Spanish style, and I intend to do both. But for now language is the real barrier. Basic grocery shopping looks like it will be a lot of fun once I am conversant in Spanish. To really get the good deals, one does not just go to the supermarket. One goes to the Fruteria for fruits and veges, the Panaderia for bread and pastries, the Carniceria for meats, the Pescaderia for fish, and if you need anything else, then to the Supermercado. Prepackaged products are not as prevalent as they are in the US. Thank goodness my mother taught me to cook.
Scott and I are looking into Spanish classes for me. And, we hope to trade English for Spanish lessons with a group associated with his school. Hopefully, I will be speaking like a native soon. And so the adventure continues…
(NOTE FROM SCOTT: Tonya's cookies tasted great. She is rising above all of the cooking challenges and producing her normal wonderful food.)
Monday, October 6, 2008
It’s been an extraordinarily busy couple of days, but we are finally in our own place. It’s a lovely apartment by Plaza Colón, right in the middle of downtown Córdoba. The location is perfect; we’re within walking distance of everything worth visiting. We’re right on the edge of La Judería, the location of all the favorite tourist spots. Pretty much every bus line has a stop at Plaza Colón, so it’s easy to get to any part of the city. We’ve spent the last few days outfitting the place in a manner that we’ll be able to live comfortably for the next nine months.
With luck we’ll have a real Internet connection soon (we’ve been taking advantage of the free access from the public library), so we can begin posting more pictures. We not only have lots of pictures from the Netherlands and France and Córdoba, but we’ll need to post pictures of the apartment and the beautiful park just across the way.
Late-breaking news: I was asking one of my fellow teachers what I should charge for English tutoring, and she not only made a recommendation (20-25€ per hour seems to be the going rate), and she made another offer for conversation time with her husband and some friends! The institute is only paying me 700€ per month, but with a few tutoring engagements like this, I could find myself making a living wage.
Observations about finding, outfitting, and living in an apartment in Córdoba:
1. We got our apartment through a rental agent (un servicio inmobiliario). We could have probably saved some money by pounding the pavement and talking directly to property owners, but I don’t begrudge the rather high fee (one month’s rent). They showed us some apartments, made the contact with the owner, set up the meeting, and wrote up the rental contract. With all of the demands on our time, it seemed like a good deal to us. We’re paying 570 euros per month (say $850) for a two-bedroom apartment. This is quite a bit less than Tonya had budgeted. When researching rental properties from Oregon, we must have been seeing the vacation properties, which were much more expensive.
2. Things are more expensive than you think. I’m sure that part of this is due to the poor performance of the dollar against the euro, but there are relative differences there are more difficult to explain. For instance, electrical domestic appliance prices are very high, while food prices are merely moderately high. Anything we buy here will be left here at the end of our nine months, so there’s no particular motivation to get top-of-the-line on anything. Furthermore, if we can get along without it, we’re better off. Some things are unavoidable, however. When your clothes are dried on the clothesline, you can’t get along without an iron. The cheapest steam iron we were able to find was around 25 euros (say $38, depending on the exchange rate you use). Tonya decided she could live without a curling iron after not being able to find one for less than 45 euros. Ouch.
3. Watch those brand names! It’s comforting to see the occasional familiar brand on the supermarket shelf, but you’ll pay for it. In Spain, Hunt’s brand products are an exotic foreign import, and you pay accordingly.
4. We’re going to be leading a simpler life here, but frequently that will mean more labor-intensive. Hanging up clothes to dry, and then ironing them so they don’t look as if you’ve slept in them. Washing dishes by hand. Fewer pre-prepared foods, so more cooking from scratch. Lots of walking. Lots of bus rides. There are compensations, of course. Not having to maintain a car. Getting lots of exercise (I’ve already dropped a belt notch). Living in a beautiful city. Already being able to recognize and sneer at the tourists. Being welcomed into a culture that is so warm and friendly that I literally wouldn’t have believed it before I came here. (Of course it helps tremendously to speak the language. Tonya has had some not-so-positive experiences as she continues to develop her Spanish.)
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
I´m still having trouble figuring out how to monitor visits to our blog, so I don´t know if anyone is visiting or not. Most of you who know about this site have our e-mail, so please write and let us know if you´re visiting. If you don´t have our e-mail, please post a comment.
More information about the continuing adventure! Some of you may have already seen this in e-mails, so please excuse the repetition.
We´re having to re-learn how to do everything we thought we knew how to do, even down to the simplest things like grocery shopping or doing laundry. It´s all just different. For instance, while doing laundry, we found out too late that there´s a button (unlabelled) that you have to push to get the @#$%&!! thing to do a spin cycle. As a result, the clothes came out sopping wet. This is a real pain when you have to hang out clothes to dry, as driers are unknown around here.
One funny and one pleasantly surprising English experience.
The funny one: There aren´t very many people around here who speak English, so I´m pretty accustomed to just talking in Spanish. The other day, we saw a couple with ice cream cones, which looked pretty good on a warm afternoon. I said to them, 'Discúlpenme, ¿dónde compraron ese helado?' (Excuse me, where did you buy that ice cream?). They looked at me with a blank expression and said very slowly and distinctly 'Eng-lish.'
The pleasantly surprising one: as we left the building where we´re hoping to rent an apartment, Tonya and I were talking in English. A man approached me on the street and asked if I´d be willing to offer English tutoring services to his school-age son. Very nice! There may be more opportunities for this kind of thing.