jump to navigation

Commercial break May 28, 2008

Posted by Emily in blog, Spain, teaching, working.
1 comment so far

Two commercials have really caught my eye in the last week or so during the painfully long breaks while I watch the afternoon news. For whatever reason, they are both from energy companies. Sort of ironic that energy companies are talking about the future and saving the globe while encouraging people to use more of their products, natural gas and electricity? Perhaps. But these are just so purdy…

The gist of this one is, “We invented the wheel, we explored space, we invented immunizations, we have constructed cathedrals and pyramids, and even created Peter Pan. If we are capable of doing all of this, how are we going to be capable of saving what’s most important to us? (cue tattoo of the Earth) Invent the future.”

The next one is from Endesa and begins with the kid at the breakfast table telling his parents, “Mom, Dad, I am going to have a kid.” The idea is that this company is thinking of the kids of your kids–the kids say “I want to be a parent like you guys.” “It’s time to start thinking about how we are going to raise our kids.” I especially like the little boy with the megaphone at 0:24 who adds “Without exaggerating that all of the times that came before were better. I don’t believe it!” Kind of funny that their idea of raising kids is saying yes to everything. “Yes to riding an elephant. Yes to sending me postcards from Saturn. I want my kids to live with nature like it was their roommate” (hence the kid with the monkey). Anyway, it’s cute and pretty clever.

Today is my last day of school and we have reached the mid-week point of the fería, so more posts are on the way.


Eurovision! May 21, 2008

Posted by Emily in fiesta, Spain.

If you bring together nationalism, broken English, and the cheesiest music imaginable, complete with background dancers, you’ve got Eurovision. It’s sort of like American Idol, but on a national scale–and then the representatives from each country, from Spain and France to Azerbaijan and Slovenia, compete against each other in the finals of Eurovision, held this weekend in Serbia. Some sing in their native language, plenty sing in varying degrees of English. Despite my ever-expanding vocabulary, I have yet to encounter a Spanish equivalent of “cheesy”–I’m not really sure one exists. When I try to explain what it means, I am met with blank stares…perhaps this explains why people don’t seem to understand just why I find Eurovision so hilarious. It’s the best/worst thing on Spanish TV all year, and that’s saying something. I’m just not sure what.

You can watch last night’s semifinal in all its glory here: http://www.eurovision.tv/splash/index.html (works best with Internet Explorer) or here: http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/player/86977.html (with Spanish commentary).

I particularly recommend watching Russia’s performance, which involved a male figure skater with a Dorothy Hamill haircut and a gyrating man with very tight white pants.

Also of note was Estonia’s performance, which was three large old men, at least one with a mustache, singing in red, yellow, and blue suits in Russian and Serbian jibberish.

Sadly, Estonia didn’t made it to the finals, although Greece’s repulsive “Secret Combination” did, perhaps having something to do with the singer’s skirt, which got smaller and smaller throughout the song, making me reminisce about Janet at the Super Bowl.

This year, the Spanish representative is named Rodolfo Chikilicuatre (that’s pronounced “chick-eel-ee-qua-tray”), who will present his song “Chiki Chiki” to the (European) world.

Rodolfo Chikilicuatre (from www.mundodigital.com)He was originally a character on a humor program on TV and then made it to the Eurovision stage. People voted for him in plan cachondeo–goofing around–but then, he won. RTVE, the Spanish national television, tried to block his win, but he received the most votes and their hands were more or less tied. Despite the fact that plenty of people joke about Eurovision or recognize how bad it is, this whole “Chiki Chiki” thing has evoked some pretty intense debate.

There are those that defend “Chiki Chiki,” noting how catchy it is. Some also like that it’s in Spanish, that it pokes fun at current politicians, or did before the final version was cleaned up–Eurovision doesn’t allow any political lyrics. There are plenty who think this went too far, who are embarrassed that Rodolfo and his creepy dancers are going to represent Spain on an international level. And then there are those, like me, who think that this joke is better than in past years, when the Spanish reps have been horribly traditional and lame but taking themselves VERY seriously. There is nothing serious about the “Chiki Chiki.”

All of the kids at my school not only know all the words, they know all the dance moves as well. The most famous part consists of counting and doing certain dance moves. It goes:

Uno: el brikindans (for those of you not versed in Spanglish, that’d be “the break dance”)
Dos: el crusaíto
Tres: el maiquelyason (Michael Jackson)
Cuatro: el robocop

Rudolfo Chikilicuatre and his dancers have appeared at every major Spanish sporting event in the last few months, have made commercials for everything from cell phone ringtones to the national lottery. The song is everywhere.

But one thing that’s really interested me is that some of this debate has reflected something larger about the changing Spanish culture. There’s a lot of talk about the idea of democracy, even as it transfers to Eurovision. I’ve been asked more than once, as an American, for my point of view on certain aspects of the American government and democratic system, especially as it pertains to the upcoming elections. I’ve heard the argument more than once that “Chiki Chiki” is what the people voted for, like it or not, and that Spaniards are still learning to accept and understand the democratic process. It’s worth a second thought.

El Semanal, the Sunday magazine that comes with the newspaper El País, published a really interesting article a few weeks ago titled “El triunfo de los frikis and los gafapasta” (“The triumph of the freaks and the plastic glasses”). Gafapasta is another way to say hipster, geeks, the people who wear Ray-Bans, tight jeans, striped shirts, Converse All-Stars–the older the better. The term friki is one I’ve been wanting to write about for a while. If you are a big fan of something, especially something like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Queen, etc., you’re friki. But it’s also used when it seems like someone knows too much about something, whether it be movies or video games or books…it’s used sometimes to keep people with lots of knowledge, however silly, in line. When I sang all of the words to the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” song, I was friki. (Let’s be honest, I’ve been called friki quite a bit.) But Rosa Montero, the author of the article, talks about how being friki is now in style. (Ha!) The article is accompanied by a photo of Chikilicuatre playing his baby-sized plastic guitar, his huge Elvis-style wig not moving an inch. Montero quotes Lord Byron, who wrote that Don Quijote has shown generation after generation of Spaniards that dreamers are crazy and pathetic, something to laugh at, something removed from normalcy. She talks about the Spanish fear of being laughed at, the hesitancy to appear ridiculous, of being different, and that this fear often has affected “action, innovation, and audacity.” Theme parties are not a Spanish institution–it’s just too goofy for adults. The line between kids and adults is clear, with the adults doing what they can to appear always adults and (almost) never childish. She notes that the discovery of America, Christopher Columbus’ crazy idea, happened before Quijote was published. There’s something liberating, she writes, about the changing face of frikismo, something that has to do with the changing face of Spain. Before, she says, perhaps people were too poor and from origins too humble to poke fun at themselves. But things are changing. She writes, “Pero ahora, bien comidos y bien vestidos, y conocedores de nuestros derechos como ciudadanos, tal vez podamos permitirnos ser todo lo disparatadamente frikis que queramos.” My rough translation: “But now, well fed and well dressed, and knowledgable about our rights as citizens, perhaps we can allow ourselves to be as absurdly ‘friki’ as we want to be.” Power to the frikis.

But back to the main event. In addition to Eurovision’s singing and the dancing, which is painfully bad but taken so seriously that one with even mild taste can’t help but laugh uncontrollably, there’s the presenters. They’re caked in makeup and reading really, really bad dialogue but in English, which is clearly not their native language. The tone is all wrong, the painful punchlines come too soon or they fake their laughs too late. As an English teacher and someone learning a second language, I probably shouldn’t laugh. I, too, make mistakes and I’d like to avoid the role of the stuck-up American, laughing at everyone else’s English. But I can’t help it. They just make it too easy. It’s just so bad.

So bad that it’s awesome. Saturday evening before heading out to the fería, I have a date with the TV. I’ll be giggling and booing at those who take themselves too seriously and will be keeping my fingers crossed for Chikilicuatre and the emergence of Spanish pride in being friki. Sometimes being different isn’t so bad.

Ya verás/You’ll see May 16, 2008

Posted by Emily in Andalucía, blog, fiesta, photography, Spain.
add a comment

Since about Christmas, maybe before, there’s been one phrase the cordobeses have repeated to me over and over: ya verás (you’ll see). They were speaking of two things: just how hot it gets here and what Córdoba is like in May, the month of non-stop fiesta.

Lucky for me, I haven’t yet gotten a real sense of the heat here. It got up into the low 90s about a week ago, with the southern Spanish sunshine that shines with a strength that tells you the equator’s not too far away. (Hello, alliteration!) But Córdoba supposedly has the highest average temperature in Europe. When I was wearing a skirt and tank top, seeking out the shade and sweating all the same, people were walking the streets in jeans, long sleeved shirts and sweaters. I saw TWO women wearing (hideous) fuzzy mukluk Eskimo boots. It’s been raining this week and it’s been OK. Ya veré…I’ll see what it’s like soon enough.

Córdoba is a city that basically peaked in about 1250, when it was a thriving religious and trade hub, the center of Moorish culture outside of Baghdad, by some accounts Western Europe’s biggest city. The Mezquita and the ruins of the Medina Azahara give some sense of what it might have been like.

In a February book review in the New Yorker, Joan Acocella quotes the author David Levering Lewis on ancient Córdoba, “‘The capital’s streets, following no particular pattern from the long wall beside the gray Guadalquivir River, linked neighborhoods where Jews, Berbers, Catholics and Orthodox, Arabs and muwalladun‘–non-Arab converts to Islam–‘lived as though in their own separate worlds. Sephardic apothecaries, Visigoth blacksmiths, and Greek surgeons offered services in these long, narrow arteries.’ Orange and lemon trees perfumed the air. Outside the city, ‘the long Guadalquivir plain, abundantly irrigated by waterwheels, was carpeted with cereal plantations of wheat, rye, and barley, and olive trees forever.'” She goes on to write, “You want to move there.”

Córdoba has been trying to recapture that spirit for some time now (some might say the last 750 years or so), but the city’s fall from grace doesn’t affect the pride of the cordobeses. Oh no. At the same time that they hate on the sevillanos for thinking they’re the ombligo del mundo (center..but literally belly button..of the world), the cordobeses are not lacking in pride for their city, and never more than in May.

The month kicked off with Las Cruces, a festival in which crosses of flowers are mounted in all of the main squares of the city, as well as bars that blast flamenco and sevillanas all afternoon and into the night. Kind of strange mix of religion and debauchery (for more on this phenomenon, see: El Rocío). My Swedish friend Anna came down to visit from Pamplona, where she’s studying, and we had a blast floating from bar to bar, er cross to cross. We also went to a party in which a group of guys mounted their own cross on their massive terrace, along with a cardboard waterwell with a bucket/plant holder that moved up and down.

After Las Cruces, we had Las Catas del Vino (wine tasting festival, featuring ONLY wine from Córdoba and nothing from those other silly provinces) and the start of Los Patios. 70,000 people turned out to Las Catas over the course of four days. In an outburst of cordobés pride and I’m guessing somewhat full of cordobés wine, a gray haired man burst into a raucous version of the Córdoba F.C. fight song (quite unlike this rather stoic version) while waiting to cross the street at the end of Friday night’s festivities. It also served as yet another opportunity to tout Córdoba as a candidate for the European Capital of Culture in 2016.

These days, if there’s one thing Córdoba is famous for other than the Mezquita, it’s probably the patios. The interior of houses in the older part of the city face into a central patio, one of many Moorish steps to combat the heat, and every May the patios, usually closed off to the public, are open and in full bloom for the annual competition. There are two categories: Modern or Renovated Architecture and Original/Traditional Architecture. The first prize winner in the Traditional Architecture category receives 3,607€, but all participating patios seem to receive around 2,000€ just for being a part of the competition. I need to get myself a patio…

(Anna is six feet tall)

When the patios finish up next week, it will be time for the mother of all Córdoban parties, the 10 days we’ve all been waiting for: la fería. Remember how I wrote about the (more famous) Fería de Abril in Sevilla? The Córdoba/Sevilla rivalry is out in full force already in the form of the portada, the absolutely massive entrance to the Córdoban fair. I’ll look forward to taking some pictures that weren’t possible with the rain in Sevilla. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll have nice weather, not much rain but also not completely roasting at the sandy fairgrounds. Supongo que ya veré. I guess I’ll see.

Coming to a close May 13, 2008

Posted by Emily in moving, rants, Spain, teaching, working.

In my last post, I mentioned that my job is done at the end of May. For those not quite doing the math, that means I have about ten days of classes left, and the last three days I won’t even be in class, as it will be Culture Week at the school and I’ll be attempting to teach American culture to kids from 3-12 years old. Hello, Duck Duck Goose. Hello, Around the World. I might make paper snowflakes with some new classes as they were a big hit with my students. And yes, there may even be some line dancing mixed in there somewhere. Visions of middle school awkwardness in gym class spring to mind now. The question is, will I, like my middle school gym teachers, repeat “Achy Breaky Heart” over and over, apparently the only song worth line dancing to? Tempting. Oh, Billy Ray, how I loved your mullet.

When all is said and done, I’ll almost certainly write more about my experience, especially since I am given the idea I won’t be asked for any feedback on my experience from the authorities here. At the same time that we are entrusted with teaching Spanish kids without any training other than the ability to speak English, we auxiliares are never really treated like we have opinions that could enrich this still fairly new and very discombobulated program, despite having lived it for at least a year.

When the Erasmus girl who worked at the school for something like eight hours a week left at the end of February, she sobbed. She had been there only a few months and had no classes with the kids (she spent almost all of her time laminating. Good use of her language skills, right?) The other British auxiliar and I laughed, saying we’ll leave singing and dancing. But we both know now, even if we didn’t know then, that it won’t be true.

I’ve discovered that I like teaching, that it’s something I think I could be good at and enjoy for the long term. As before, I am fairly sure elementary school isn’t for me (too much “she hit me” “he pushed me” and nose picking). But I realized last week that if given the chance of being in another city, maybe lucking out with a school where more teachers seem to give a damn, I could do this another year. Like any job involving funcionarios (infamous Spanish government workers), it pays pretty well for working relatively few hours. Although I supposedly work 12 hours a week, I’m at the school about 18 hours a week, sometimes more, and the full timers are only there another 6 or 8. Some of the teachers have at least 7 hours a week of prep time, in which they sit in the teachers’ lounge, read the paper, play on their iPhones, and generally do little related to prepping for teaching. One guy leaves work an hour early a couple days a week, before the school day is even over, because his class is in art or music or something. Of course, he’s paid for this hour when he’s heading home, not to mention the half an hour he and everyone else are supposed to be there after the bell rings. At 2:10, the halls are dead and the doors are locked.

I should take a minute to repeat that I am personally lucky to teach with a couple teachers who actually seem to care if the kids learn. They are younger and hipper and more passionate and don’t yet have one foot on the shuffleboard court of retirement. (Here, domino table might be more appropriate for the metaphor.) There are some other teachers who do what they are supposed to do as far as obligations, who come on some Monday afternoons for their required class hours, often meeting with the mothers of their students. Some mothers here feel like parent-teacher conferences need to be a semi-weekly occurence. (another reason elementary school is not for me…) But there’s a certain old guard with their hands in their pockets (and the principal’s) who do the bare minimum in any given situation. If they can get out of it, they will. If they can pass off some of their classes on one of the younger substitute teachers, they will. If they can let their kids out to the playground and do Sudoku and call it P.E., they will. I realize this is how the working world works to some extent, people doing the minumum to get by, especially in Spain where there’s virtually no risk of ever getting fired. But then there are the kids.

There are the kids who are from a pretty poor working class neighborhood, the eight year old kids who spend their afternoons and evenings playing alone in the street. There are the kids whose parents are too busy or too lazy to send them to school with a breakfast/snack that isn’t chocolate and wrapped in plastic, if they have a merienda at all. We have money to tear out and completely renovate all of the bathrooms in the school over the course of months and months, we have a mirror that required three people to choose its style, we change the hallway decorations every ten days, and yet the gym floor, a patchwork of cement and peeling linoleum, sprouts serious puddles when it rains. Their parents don’t seem to teach them much–some of my third years don’t know how to tie their shoes, almost none know their phone numbers or addresses. It’s May and some of my students haven’t had certain books during the entire school year. They deserve better.

So although it will be really hard to say goodbye to some of my workmates, people with whom I’ve shared lots of classroom hours, lots of teachers’ lounge hours, some good times and some not so great times (the pencil tip a kid shoved into the back of my hand today comes to mind…), more than anything I will miss the kids. I will miss how they try to show me some new t-shirt or book or trinket or English word they looked up online every morning when I walk into class. I will miss how excited they always seem to see me and how often they tell me “You look nice today.” I will miss their misunderstandings of the rules in P.E., when one of them just takes off running to third base without considering first or second. I will miss the rare classes where everyone is sitting quietly and working and not having to be told to sit down. Hell, I will miss when they are hyper and giggling. I will miss the sense of achievement that comes when I ask a question and five or eight hands shoot up. A Sally Field moment: “They’re learning. They’re really learning!”

Travel planning May 9, 2008

Posted by Emily in photography, Spain, Travel, working.
add a comment

“Wake up and live.” -Bob Marley

For those who don’t know, my mom and sister are coming to visit me on June 18th and then the three of us will catch a flight out of Madrid on the 30th. I will be back in the States on July 1. Since my mom is a German teacher, she leads a group of her students on a trip through various (mostly) German speaking countries every two summers. My brother went with her two summers ago and had a blast; my sister gets the opportunity this year. After dropping the students off at the airport and making sure they get safely through security with the other chaperones, they will catch a RyanAir flight to Madrid, where I will meet them. I can’t wait. But in the meantime, I am travel planning…booking flights, trains, hotels, entrance tickets, looking into beach apartments, figuring out an itinerary for our 10 days.

Additionally, my job is done at the end of May, which means I intend to do some traveling in early June before Mom and Kathleen show up. But “Where?” was the real question.

I would have liked to get back to Morocco, since it’s so close and last time I was only there for a long weekend. My friend Rhiannon will be learning German in Berlin this summer, another city that has intrigued me for some time, but it turned out that our schedules don’t mesh. I wanted to go to Greece. And Eastern Europe. And Amsterdam. Plus Northern Spain, which I still don’t know at all, except for Barcelona. But even in my travel plan revery, I knew all of these destinations were unlikely, due to lack of funds, lack of travel partners, and lack of a time machine.

In the end, I chose Portugal–I still haven’t been and am curious about it, especially Porto for some unspecified reason, though I’m also looking forward to seeing Lisbon and Sintra. I am excited to take pictures there, a place that has always seemed especially photogenic to me. I’m looking forward to trying bacalhau in all of its crazy forms, not to mention the famous Portugese pastries. In the end, it came down to what it usually comes down to–I found a flight for 31 euros from Madrid to Lisbon and a 17 euro return trip from Porto, all taxes and random fees included. Hard to turn down travel when it comes at prices like that.

I have long sung the praises of budget airlines like RyanAir, even with their hassles and their often randomly located airports. Sometimes it can be a pain, sure. Sometimes you spend more time getting from the tiny rural airport to your destination than you spend in the air. But RyanAir has taken me to London, to Rome, Germany, Sweden, Dublin, Paris, and now Portugal. Yes, the value of the dollar has started to get close to the value of Monopoly money, but between budget airlines and hostels and free or cheap museums, I still find travel in Europe more doable than people think. More than anything, it’s worth it. It’s always worth it.

I’ll be back, something I’m sure of and wasn’t so sure of a few years ago. But at the same time, I’m here. I’m here and I plan on doing all I can to see and do and taste and discover. Now’s the time, you know?