Wednesday, February 17, 2010


In theory, Andalucía has a fairly dry climate. In theory. We have been lucky enough to be here for the wettest recorded winter in Córdoba's history. According to the newspaper, the measured rainfall since September (about 4 ½ months) has been 25% higher than what Córdoba normally sees in an entire year. Now, this is still nothing like a Portland winter. But…but….but….here you notice it more. There’s a lot more street life, and nothing puts a damper on street life like a heavy rain. And when you have to walk or take a bus to all of your destinations, you find yourself taking careful note of the weather. I even passed on a hike near Granada last weekend, because I wasn’t interested in braving the rain and snow.

I have made an interesting observation regarding rainfall measurement. In the USA, of course, we measure rainfall in inches. In Spain (and probably in all of Europe), rainfall is measured in l/m2 (liters per square meter...sorry, the blog doesn't seem to support superscripts). Now, if you think about it, the European measurement of volume of rain per unit area makes a lot of sense. Using units of inches for rain is dependent on the measurement method (the depth of water in a vertical-sided container), but volume of rain per unit area is independent of how you measure it.

But, how do you compare l/m2 with inches? Here is where the glory of the metric system becomes obvious. There is a straightforward relationship between units of length, area, volume, and weight that just doesn’t exist in the English system. For instance, one liter of volume is a cube with sides of 10cm (or 0.1 meters). Therefore, one liter per square meter is

(0.1m)3/(1m)2 = .001m

which is simply one millimeter. Therefore, a measurement in l/m2 can be thought of simply as millimeters of rain (comparable to inches of rain).

Sadly, this simple relationship doesn’t exist in the English system. How many inches of rain would correspond to one gallon of rain per square foot? Of course you can calculate it, but it would be a bit ugly.

So why does America continue to struggle against the metric system?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

La lluvia amarilla

One of my fun activities in Spain has been participation in a book club at the instituto. During the school year, we’ve read quite a variety of things. Some of the books have been translated from English, and others were written originally in Spanish. The other members like it when we’re reading the translated books, because I can often offer insights that would not be obvious to someone not familiar with American or English culture. However, I like it better when we read novels written originally in Spanish, because it gives me those same insights into Spanish culture.

Our last book (“La lluvia amarilla”, by Julio Llamazares) provided a good example of this. This is a book which would never be a best-seller in America, because the characters are too….well….too Spanish. Their actions would simply be incomprehensible to an American reader. I see that the book was translated into English back in 2004 (“The Yellow Rain”), but it never achieved much success. (The title in English is unfortunate; it makes me think of someone urinating.) In Spain, however, it is considered a modern classic. My companions in the book club told me that certainly the protagonist of the novel is an extreme case, but that they could understand how he felt. I’m not sure that I can.

It is certainly not a cheerful story. It charts the death of a small pueblo in the Pyrenees. The population had been diminishing over the years as the hard economic times forced people to seek work in the big cities. Finally, there is only one man living in the ruins of the pueblo, completely alone for ten years. He never considers leaving the pueblo where his family has lived for hundreds, or maybe thousands, of years. He is so obsessed with death that I found it difficult to read the book.

It is a phenomenon that happens in America as well, small rural towns shrinking or even disappearing as people move to the cities. Still, in America, I think that we see it differently. Certainly people like their home towns, but we simply are too young a country to have the same kind of attachment to a place that many of the rural Spanish do. Although the story is completely different, the American classic “The Grapes of Wrath” touches on some of the same themes. It’s a depressing novel as well, but it ends on a hopeful note. The idea of moving toward something new, as opposed to lamenting what is lost, is something that I consider very American.

A Spanish person’s attachment to his pueblo is understandable, even if I can’t quite understand the depth of the feeling. It reminds me of a Spanish movie I saw some years ago (in the original Spanish, of course!), in which a man had to flee his pueblo after killing someone in a complex love triangle. He finally returned, saying, “I would rather die in my pueblo than live somewhere else.” I think that says it all.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sierra de Albayate

This week’s hike was considerably more pleasant than the last one…and I think that the views were better as well. No mud, reasonable grades, no injuries, and we were back in Córdoba by 7:00pm. Very nice. The Sierra de Albayate is near the pueblo of Priego, about halfway between Córdoba and Granada. It’s a lovely area; many people told me that it’s their favorite part of the province of Córdoba. One of my colleagues is from Priego, and has said many times that he wants to take us out there one weekend. We saw it briefly from the bus on the way, and I’d like to get back there for a closer look.

The hike ended in the pueblo of Almedinilla. The word “charming” is over-used in the description of European villages, but Almedinilla is…well…charming. I wouldn’t mind exploring there some more as well. Enjoy the pictures of the hike at: