1st days of class, el pulpo Paul and other commentary (E4) – Part 1

Journal E4 (Pt 1)

July 8, 2010

I’m sitting in the Internet cafe near Barradas on a hot and humid cloudy afternoon. One of my Spanish teachers says that heat like we’ve been having always leads to rain, and I can actually believe it today.  Yesterday, Dale’s and my room was so hot that I was determined to find out why the air conditioning wasn’t working. I searched the walls of the enclosed area outside our suite of rooms (3 rooms to one bathroom), looking for the thermostat and AHA! I found it!! I grabbed my little flashlight and peered at the dial. I noticed that the switch next to it was off!! Someone apparently had turned it off, so I switched it to automatic, then I turned the temperature dial to about 16 degrees C. OK, it’s a little too cold but what difference does it make if it’s 38 degrees outside? (For your reference, 37 degrees C is normal body temperature). When I returned to the room I could hear the air coming through the vents and I lay down on the bed and just stayed there until it cooled down.

In front of our language school, Enforex

I wish I could say the same for my classroom at Enforex. My class is held in a small room next to the computer room. It has high ceilings and fluorescent lights, one of which flickers a lot. There are no windows so it gets very hot and stuffy. We sometimes leave the door open but when students are coming and going  in the hallway near the entrance, we have to close it because we can’t hear the teacher.

My class is pretty fluid because we get off on conversational tangents so often. We usually start out with a short reading or some grammar concept and then go from there. It’s an advanced class so the grammar part emphasizes the subtle points of when to use the subjunctive or how to make an indirect refusal to someone, for example. I have learned a lot of cultural and historical information from these discussions. Plus the students in my class are from various countries around the world. There are 4 Chinese students, 1 Japanese, an Italian, a German, a Brazilian (but this is her last week) and then the two of us. CR identifies herself as Mexican and actually she really doesn’t need this class at all, but signed up for the program so she was required to sign up for the class.

I need the oral language, both receptive (listening) and speaking (expressive). We learn a lot of idiomatic expressions and colloquial words that we would never learn otherwise. When the teacher plays a CD with a conversation or discussion, I have a really hard time understanding it. Once we were listening to a guy telling his friend about his lost luggage and his frustration about the bureaucracy to get it back and we listened to it three times. The first time I couldn’t understand hardly anything. The second and third times I understood a little bit more, particularly because we had a discussion in between about what people say when they’re mad. Even so, about 2/3 of it was unintelligible to me.

As a bilingual teacher, it’s interesting to analyze the methods that they use and what works. Immersion works when it’s got a context. The more you can use the vocabulary you are learning and also being able to see how it is written is the best.

It was in class this week that I learned about the octopus. The word for octopus in Spanish is ¨pulpo¨and so it received the name Paul. Its actual country of origin is England, but it is considered to be German, because it has correctly predicted the outcome of every single game Germany has played in the World Cup. Yesterday, one of my teachers, Alicia – a soccer fanatic – had us bet on the game between Spain and Germany last night. This was an important game because whoever won would go to the final game to be played on Sunday against the Netherlands. The Brazilian girl had brought a newspaper with the octopus sitting on top of two boxes, one with the German flag and the other the Spanish flag. Inside each box were placed some mussels. The way Paul makes his predictions is by deciding which and how many mussels to eat. As I said, he has never been wrong yet!

The story in the newspaper said that Paul was predicting that Spain would win, 1-0. Alicia had us all place our bets, and whoever lost was to provide chocolate for the others. The majority of the students went with Paul´s prediction, but I went with the Italian’s prediction, who said that Spain would win 2-1. That made more sense to me because the German team is very good and I thought they would make at least one goal. But I was wrong: the octopus got it right again!!!!

Last night a bunch of us sat around the TV at Barradas  to see the game. I have pictures of the kids wearing their Spain T-shirts and hats, one of the women

One of the Barradas cooks sits with her fingers crossed during the semi-final game against Germany

sitting with her fingers crossed, and others just sitting with their rapt faces glued to the set. Spain dominated the ball, and made many attempts at the goal, but didn’t make it in until a cluster of players was around the ball and no one was expecting Pujol to make a head shot which went right in to the back of the net! It was the only goal scored the entire game.

Pujol, following his winning goal!

Within minutes after the end of the game, you could hear people pouring into the streets. Prof. A, Dale, AR and I went together to walk down to the Gran Via to witness the euphoria. I got a few pictures but most turned out too dark because it was after 10:30 pm by then. Cars were whizzing by on the Gran Via, honking their horns and displaying flags which rippled in the wind currents alongside. The sidewalks were packed with people. We walked down to the Puerta de Sol, a plaza which has 2 fountains. People had climbed into these fountains and were dancing as they doused themselves with the cool water, sprayed it on those around them and waved soggy flags. Percussion with a strong beat got clusters of people to dance around the musicians, while vendors hawked hats, flags, vuvuzela horns, colorful wigs, oversized glasses and glasses shaped like Spanish flags.

It is important to note that this is the very first time Spain has made it to the semifinals, much less the finals, while Germany has won the World Cup three times. It’s been an unpredictable year because some of the normally best teams like France and Brazil were knocked out sooner than expected, and some, like Ghana, made it to the quarter finals for the first time. The Spanish were happy to play against Germany in the semifinal, because the Germans have showed good sportsmanship and respect toward the Spanish team, unlike some of the others in the past (such as Argentina and England).

And so it went. We stayed at Puerta del Sol awhile, then Prof. A suggested we continue on down Calle de Alcalá to the Plaza de Cibeles, where there is a fountain around a statue that was constructed hundreds of years ago. People often gather there, she said, with the hopes of getting into the fountain. Not this time – it was barracaded off but even so the area was mobbed with people, dancing, shouting, drinking, waving flags, blowing horns.

Kids celebrate standing on a fountain in Puerta del Sol; behind them are other fans at the top of the fountain with a soaked Spanish flag!

I noticed that it was nearly midnight so we headed back. On the way, we stopped at Palazzo for ice cream (this time I had lemon and blackberry gelatos). We figured that people would be out most of the night and it would be noisy back at Barradas. I was glad to be going back to a well air conditioned room with the windows closed! We passed a guy who obviously was plastered, leaning against a wall with vomit on the ground next to him.

It was actually quiet when we went to bed at 1:30 am! We are fortunate that our room is in the back of the building, facing a narrow, quiet street with no bars, just a health clinic.

This morning we heard other people’s tales: KF and some of the other chicas climbed onto the fountain at Puerta del Sol. KF became upset when a girl (not one from our group) slipped and hit her head against the cement, and was soon covered in blood. That was when KF and the others decided to leave. (The police & paramedics came to help the injured girl). A Japanese guy from my class got onto the TV news because he had also been in one of the fountains at Puerta del Sol!

This morning I brought chocolate to share with my classmates, having lost the bet. The Italian guy didn’t come to class today! Probably hung over from partying.

Celebrating in the streets after the semi-final!


El Prado Museum – Day 4

Velazquez’s La fragua de Vulcano, painted in 1630

July 7, 2010

(Journal E3 – Part 2)

El Prado Museum is about 5 km from Barradas, and we usually walk places, so we all gathered and set out just at 3:00. The museum is open every night until 8 pm. The directors decided to give us the option to either write a paper about El Prado or to attend a discussion on Tuesday afternoon. We are required to write a short report on each of the trips and activities that we do as a group that are part of the official program. But the professors noticed that on other trips, some of the students were just going on the Internet and copying information about the places they visited instead of doing their own analysis, so this is why they decided to offer a discussion as an option. It was fine with me – I prefer the discussion rather than writing a paper in Spanish.

The Prado contains the most extensive collection of Spanish paintings as well as many other European masters up until about 1900. (Most of the more modern art has been moved to the newer Reina Sofia Museum a short distance away, which is Madrid’s modern art museum). I remembered some of the more famous canvases from my last visit 35 years ago, some of which I’d even bought reproductions of and framed. However, it was great to revisit these and other masterpieces with a more sophisticated and knowledgeable eye.

Three of the most famous Spanish painters whose paintings we spent a lot of time looking at were Velazquez, El Greco and Goya. I also insisted we go to the gallery to see the paintings by the 15th century Dutch painter, Bosch, whose unusual works influenced modern surrealists such as Salvador Dali. (More on him after we go to Reina Sofia).

Velazquez: My favorites were La fragua de Vulcano (Vulcan´s Forge), painted in 1630, Los borrachos (The Drinkers) 1628-1629, La Adoracion de los Reyes Magos (Adoration of the Magi 1619 and the most famous of all, Las meninas painted in 1656. Velazquez was a realist painter who painted many religious themes but in settings of normal life, such as The Vulcan’s Forge. The beauty in this painting is in the figures of the half-naked blacksmith workers and the expressions on their faces. Same with Los Borrachos. The faces of the Spanish people are evident in each of these paintings.

Las Meninas is Velazquez´s most famous masterpiece because it contains so many layers of detail and also the wonderfully expressive faces. It shows the

Las meninas, Velazquez’s most famous painting.

Infanta Margarita with her ¨”damas de honor” (the meninas of the title), a dwarf woman and a jester with his foot on a dog in the foreground. The Infanta has a very natural facial expression and her blonde hair is very realistic and relatively unadorned. Her parents, King Philip IV and Mariana of Austria are reflected in a mirror, as observers of the scene. Solicitor Jose Nieto is in the background, in the hallway, and the painter himself is painting an unseen canvas, his palette in hand. (His studio was in the palace in Madrid where the royal family lived). Velazquez in this painting constructs a discussion about the Spanish monarchy, as well as his personal and artistic dignity.

El Greco’s paintings are all on religious themes, except for one, called Fabula (Fable), depicting a boy and next to him, a monkey, blowing on a candle. The boy’s face is illuminated in white, a sharp contrast to the monkey and a man in a red hat. All have expressive faces. La Anunciacion (The Anunciation) is a

La anunciacion by El Greco

beautiful painting of Mary, her face that of the young girl she was, in awe of the angel Gabriel who has come to visit her as she sat with a book and sewing basket.  I also really liked Cristo con la Cruz a Cuestas (Christ with Cross on his Back) because of the expression of the eyes looking toward heaven, accented by brightening the light reaching his eyes from below. The physical pain he feels contrasts with his serene expression.

The best was Goya. There were so many interesting paintings by Goya. He painted in the neoclassical and Romantic style, primarily Romantic. His paintings show a depth of meaning and an exploration of the psychology of his subjects. La Familia de Carlos IV painted in 1800 is fascinating and beautiful in its detail and psychological insight. The King is portrayed as ineffectual, because he is not by far the most interesting person in the portrait. His wife, in contrast (Maria Luisa de Parma), dominates the scene. She is shown

Francisco Goya painted La familia de Carlos IV in 1801.

as haughty, self-confident, in control. The detail in her dress and jewelry is so realistic that I could swear I saw her earrings move, not just once but twice!!!!  Goya painted himself in the shadow of the background.

I also really appreciated a very small canvas of Goya´s entitled La duquesa Alba y su dueña. The playful character of the duchess is shown in her body and cascade of black curly hair. She is scaring her chambermaid (La Beata) with a charm to ward off the evil eye. La Beata represents the old-fashioned and supersticious older generation, who is very scared by this and she wields a cross in her hand. Check it out on Google!!

Goya painted a very famous canvas entitled “El tres de mayo de 1808: los fusilamientos de patriotas madrilenos” in 1814, depicting the execution of Spanish peasants by Napoleon´s forces after an uprising in which peasants joined Spanish forces against the French. The French soldiers in the painting have their backs to the scene so you can´t see their faces – they are a line of killing machines. The main figure is a prisoner in a white shirt, his arms in the air, with a look of terror on his face. Around him are others, who show either expressions of despair or fear, and those who have already died lying in their own blood. I had tears in my eyes as I looked at this painting. It is such an indictment of war in general, the reality of the violence of war instead of the glory of battle. It is an incredible experience to view this work.

I could go on and on talking about these paintings, but if I have inspired you at all, images of them are available on Google Images, and I suggest you check them out. Since this is so long already, I won´t go into the Bosch paintings, but the most interesting of these were two triptics, one of them being El jardin de las delicias (which inspired Dali) and a table on which he painted in the round the Seven Deadly Sins. Amazing!!

We were on our own to return to Barradas after seeing the museum. After all that standing, my feet and my back were aching. KF, Dale and I sat down with our professors for a few minutes before the three of us left, at first with the idea of finding the Metro station to take the metro back, but we couldn´t find it and ended up walking back ALL THE WAY. I thought I couldn’t walk any farther by the time we got to the Gran Via. I insisted we sit down at a sidewalk cafe so I could rest. We ordered coffee which was way overpriced and KF ordered Belgian chocolate which was terrible. Just a block or so after that we found Palazzo, an ice cream place, which was what I wanted in the first place! And we could sit inside where it was cool! We each ordered a dish with two flavors – mine were raspberry and coconut. YUMMMM!!!!!

That night when we got back we were hungry but we had the worst dinner we’d had so far at Barradas. Apparently they ran out of food and only had to offer us sandwiches on white bread with cheese and bologna and other types of sliced sausage. No condiments, no nothing!! There was yogurt for dessert, but even that was slim pickings. Since that day, we have had great food, so perhaps that was just because it was Sunday.

We’re looking forward tonight to the big game between Spain and Germany! The octopus Paul predicts Spain will win, 1-0.  Meanwhile, I have to buy chocolate for Spanish class because we all bet on the game, and I went with the Italian guy in my class, who predicts Spain wins 2-1. Everyone else went with the octopus.

This is Spain´s first time in the semifinals!! ROOT FOR SPAIN TO WIN THE WORLD CUP!!!!!!

El Rastro flea market – Day 4

July 7, 2010 (Journal E4 – Part 1)

It is a bright and sunny 97 degree day here in Madrid. Weather report says this weather is to continue for several days, but one of my Spanish teachers calls this type of heat “bochorno” and says that it eventually leads to rain, even if only for 5 minutes. No rain in the forecast though! When it is “bochorno” the heat is infernal – no relief from wind or even shade – the heat is the same if the sun goes behind a cloud and even nightfall does not offer much relief. Should you open your window at night? That’s a question we deal with when the air conditioning doesn’t reach our room. (When the air conditioning DOES reach our room, it is as cold as a refrigerator and we sleep with the quilt!!)

Madrid has more trees than any other European capital. This is not because madrileños love nature, it is because they love the shade!

On Sunday (July 4 – I forgot all about the holiday in the US), another hot day but not as hot as today, we went to two places: El Rastro flea market and the famous El Prado museum. El Rastro is a huge market that occurs every Sunday, and it is spread out from a central plaza in all directions, up narrow streets and alleyways. It is HUGE. KF (my coworker that is on this trip with us), Dale and I took the Metro to get there. We could have walked, but we knew we´d be walking plenty in the afternoon. KF was lucky – the principal at our school had given her a 10-ride Metro pass at least a month ago, that she had for her visit to Madrid to see her daughter, but didn’t use. The pass still works!

Even so, I didn’t mind paying 9 euros for a ten ride pass, which I am pretty sure we will use. The metro is clean, efficient and cool. Even though the trains are only running at half the amount because of the strike, it was only a couple minutes wait until a train appeared. Because it was Sunday morning, it wasn’t too crowded either.

We walked up and down some of the streets to browse the wares being offered. Some of it was crafts like pottery, handmade jewelry, unique and original

clothes, while other stuff was bulk items offered for cheap, including bras, socks, underwear, etc. There were plenty of t-shirts for World Cup


You can find just about anything at El Rastro flea market!

especially Spain. Then there are antiques for sale. KF was looking for cheap but attractive items to put in her new condo. She looked at several things but only bought a fan and a small box.

I bought some used children’s books in Spanish

Antique seller at El Rastro.

for my 2nd graders, some original jewelry (necklace and earrings) and some hand puppets (also for my classroom). We had run into a young man from Asturias who lives in Barradas when we were on the Metro, who was going to El Rastro also, but once we got there, we parted ways and we didn’t see him again. Too bad! He’s just about the right age for KF and they chatted quite a bit on the Metro.

When we got back to Barradas, we were very hot and tired, so we rested and had lunch before our museum trip at 3:00.


International teas of all types, aromas and combinations are sold in this tea market next to the Cathedral.

13 julio 2010

Granada, hoy una ciudad agradable de 200.000 habitantes, tiene una historia larga e interesante. Entre los años 711-1492, era el reinado de los moros, musulmanes árabes que vinieron del norte de África. Los moros invadieron a la península ibérica en 711, conquistando primero la región ahora conocida como Andalucía, y más tarde Granada era la última ciudad a ser reconquistada por los españoles cristianos en el principio de 1492.

Por eso Granada, como Toledo y Córdoba, tenía la influencia fuerte de tres culturas – cristiana, judía y musulmana – que vivían en armonía relativa por mucho tiempo.

A estas tres culturas, especialmente en Andalucía, se puede añadir una cuarta, aunque marginalizada, la de los gitanos, o “Roma”. Su influencia se nota especialmente en la música y baile de flamenco. Asistimos a un “show”

The emotion of flamenco is heard in the rhythm and chants of the music, and seen in the expression of the dancer’s face and body.

turístico del flamenco en el barrio de El Albaycín – aunque para los turistas, los participantes demostraron mucha emoción en su baile, su música y sus

cuerpos expresivos.

Históricamente, El Albaycín era un barrio donde vivían muchos de los sultanes árabes, que construyeron allí una fortaleza (fue destruida más tarde) y 27 mezquitas. También hicieron un sistema de abastecimiento de agua, utilizando los ríos de las montanas que dejaba pasar el agua por canales estrechos de las calles del barrio. Ese sistema todavía funciona y asegura que nunca falta agua en El Albaycín.

En el cerro colindante al Albaycín, los reales musulmanes construyeron su fortaleza-palacio La Alhambra, todavía el palacio árabe más grande del mundo. Esto es porque los cristianos, cuando reconquistaron Granada, resolvieron preservar el palacio en vez de destruirlo, aunque hicieron muchos cambios a la estructura original. Los árabes no creían en construir edificios que duraran para siempre. La eternidad sólo se alcanza en el Cielo para los musulmanes y también sus orígenes eran nómadas del desierto.

Por eso La Alhambra fue construida rápidamente. La decoración linda y delicada de las paredes es hecha de estuco y los diseños geométricos de flores y pájaros, o dichos del Corán se repiten muchas veces; hicieron moldes de madera de los varios diseños en los cuales imprimieron los bloquitos del estuco. Una de las frases del Corán

“There is no greater victor than Allah” appears more than 5,000 times on the walls of the Alhambra.

que se repite más de 5.000 veces en La Alhambra dice, “No hay victor mayor que Alá”. Esta frase también aparece en el escudo de la familia real Nasrid que vivía allí.

Hay otras características de la Alhambra que reflejan las creencias de Islam. Arriba de las entradas aparece la imagen de la Mano de Fátima, que les recuerda a los creyentes de los cinco principios de Islam. En la Sala del Trono – la sala más original de toda La Alhambra – el techo es hecho con pedazos de madera que representan el concepto del séptimo cielo. En su religión, cuando una persona se muere, hay que pasar por varios niveles del Cielo; cuando se llega al sexto cielo, se ve todas las estrellas pero para llegar al séptimo cielo, donde reside Alá sentado en una estrella de ocho puntos, hay que penetrar el cielo de estrellas. Esto se representa por una cúpula pequeña en el techo en forma octágona.

Otra característica importante en La Alhambra es la presencia e importancia del agua. El sistema de ríos fluyendo por las calles del Albaycín también existe

This reflecting pool was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. Water was an essential component of any construction; it represented power and healing, and it served to cool off the interiors of the palace.

en las salas de La Alhambra. En una cultura que tiene sus orígenes en el desierto, el agua representa el poder y también tiene funciones prácticas – para beber y par4a refrescar a los espacios interiores en los veranos calientes de Granada. También puede funcionar de espejo – la alberca larga y estrecha que se encuentra en el Patio de Arráyanes fue la inspiración para el Taj Mahal. El agua refrescaba los cuartos en el verano siempre acompañada por plantas fragrantes que perfumaban cada interior. En el invierno los habitantes del palacio iban a vivir en cuartos menores en la planta de arriba en los cuales había un sistema de calificación.

Cuando Carlos V (Rey Carlos I de España) vino a La Alhambra pasó seis meses allá pero no le gustó porque los salones estaban fríos en el invierno y los cuartos arriba eran demasiado pequeños para él. Por eso empezó a construir un palacio propio, pero nunca fue terminado porque su hijo, Felipe II resolvió mudar la capital de España desde Granada hasta Madrid. Por eso los reales abandonaron Granada.

Todos, por supuesto, menos los reyes católicos Fernando y Isabel., que fueron enterrados en La Capilla junto a la Catedral. Enterrados con ellos son su hija Juana “La Loca” y su marido Felipe “El Hermoso” y el hijo de esta pareja.

Para apreciar Granada, no basta usar los ojos y tomar fotos; hay que usar todos los sentidos: el mercado en la antigua judería colorido por las telas pendientes y balcones decorados de azulejos también tiene los sonidos de los vendedores anunciando sus ofertas en voz alta y de la charla de visitantes de varias naciones del mundo. El patio fuera de la Catedral tiene el olor de los especies variados que se vende para té. Los árboles cipreses y magnolias y otras plantas en los jardines alrededor de La Alhambra refrescan el piel y tienen un olor fragrante que da un sentido de paz. Además hay los sonidos y sabores en las cuevas del flamenco y la emoción que el baile y la música provocan en el corazón del participante y del asistente. Granada es una belleza y una fiesta para los sentidos.

Orgullo Gay (Gay Pride) Parade and World Cup semifinal

Email journal E2 – Part 3

July 5, 2010

We had hoped to return from Toledo in time for the Gay Pride Parade, and we did!

Orgullo Gay parade participants

We arrived back in Madrid around 6 pm and we were anxious to get down to the Gran Via to see the  parade. This is held every year in Madrid, after a weeklong series of events around a theme (this year it was transsexuals). The parade was rather disorganized compared to an American parade so that there was a large gap between groups. About 6 of us gathered at a tapas place on the Gran Via and ordered a bunch of tapas and sangria.

Tapas bar where we sat to watch the parade

This was in order to get good seating along the parade route (the waiter brought a table and chairs out from inside the restaurant for us) and to have something to do while waiting! Besides we were pretty hungry by this time!

All of us took lots of pictures of this event, some tame, some outrageous. Some young Spanish women with Spanish flags painted on their faces told us to be sure to wait for the floats at the end. Well, we waited and waited, and eventually the waiter cleared off our table while we stood or sat in the street.

Meanwhile, the semifinal soccer game of the World Cup Spain vs Paraguay was being broadcast in every establishment along the street and shouts went up periodically so one of us would run in to peer at a TV to see what was going on. Spain made or almost made two goals which were for some reason not counted. Cheers also went up when Spain’s goalie blocked Paraguay from scoring.

The few of us who remained at the parade came to the conclusion eventually that the parade was over – people were walking in the streets, some of the people who had already paraded returned to parade again, and there didn’t seem to be any music or floats that were visible above the crowd. We decided to go back to Barradas where we could still have dinner (not that we needed it anymore) and watch the game on TV. Some wanted to go to a bar, but they all ended up in front of the TV near the dining room.

Spain won 1-0  and we saw these exciting last minutes of the game!

Since this is Spain’s first time making it to the semifinals, joy erupted all over the city. Combined with the Gay Pride festivities (and the next day I read in the newspaper that there were in fact 35 floats, which didn’t pass the end of the

Gay Barbie

route, where we were, until 10:30!), the euphoria over Spain’s victory was a cause for partying for most of the night.

I stayed up reading and writing until about 12:30 because it was so noisy, and then during what I thought was a lull, I went to bed. Needless to say, I was awakened countless times by partiers in the streets below, until well after 4 am. On a Saturday night, that was to be expected, I guess. Fortunately we got to sleep late on Sunday so I finally got some decent sleep between about 5 am and when I got up at 10 am!

Parade participant

The sign reads: We are Christians, We are homosexuals, We are marriage.

Toledo (English version)

Email journal E2 – Part 2

July 5, 2010

Saturday, July 3 was our day trip to Toledo. Toledo was the capital of Christian Spain from 1085 – 1561, when the capital was moved to Madrid. Toledo has an interesting and rich history. It was one of the Spanish cities where three cultures lived in relative peace for generations – Muslims, Jews and Christians. An enlightened king, Alfonso XIII invited a group of translators who translated some of the most important philosophical, literary and scientific works from Arabic and Greek into Latin, the official language of the ruling class at that time. Without these translated works, Europe would never have had a Renaissance! And it all began here, in Toledo.

It was raining when we approached Toledo, so my pictures from the bus are blurry, and it also rained for awhile after we got there. I was cold and damp, but of course, (Murphy’s Law!), as soon as I bought a rain cape, the rain stopped and the sun came out for the rest of the day. I never even had a chance to wear the rain cape!!

Our tour guide took us to the main sites of Toledo. First we went to the Cathedral where he told us way too many details, facts and figures, instead of helping us to understand what everything meant. The Cathedral was built mostly in the Gothic style, on top of the remains of a mosque, of which were only retained the columns which held up the arches. It had been a holy site before that too – the Visigoths had a church there and the Romans had a temple to the goddess Minerva. Anyway, the Cathedral is huge and opulent. The most interesting parts were the choir loft with its 5000 pipe organ and mahogany seats whose backs contain carvings of the conquest of Granada. Since few people could read in those days, especially the Latin Bible, they made a huge altar with scenes from many Bible stories, and of course, Christ on the cross at the very top. These scenes on the altar are illuminated by the morning sunlight which comes in through a hole in the ceiling surrounded by frescoes.

There’s an interesting El Greco painting in the Sacristy called “El Expolio.”  (Note: I have posted a copy of this painting in my other Toledo post in Spanish). This work was commissioned by the bishops of Toledo but when it was finished, they did not want to pay the expensive price that the artist was asking. It is a beautiful work showing the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemane. The bishops found 3 “mistakes” which they used as their reason not to pay El Greco his full fee: 1. The women depicted in the picture were not at Jesus’ arrest;  they didn’t arrive until he was crucified. 2. the Romans that came to arrest Jesus were dressed like Spaniards instead of Romans, which I suppose was offensive to the bishops, but which makes sense in understanding the full meaning of El Greco’s work. 3. Some of the figures in the painting were taller than Jesus, which was a no-no in those days – Jesus had to be the tallest, most imposing figure in a work of art.

Something I found interesting which was not explained by the guide (I asked someone) were vestments hanging from the ceiling in various spots. Apparently these were the vestments worn by the clergy who were buried beneath those places under the floor.

We then visited a little chapel at Santo Tomas church, which houses another painting by El Greco, who lived in the Jewish quarter of Toledo. Although the guide spent way too much time explaining this painting in detail, it was good to know that El Greco was paid handsomely for that work!

Example of Moorish arch. That’s my husband going through the doorway!

The 14th century synagogue known as El Tránsito became a church after the Jews were expelled from Spain. The synagogue was originally built by the Moors (Muslims) who were in control of Toledo at that time, and it is one of two old synagogues preserved in Toledo. The Moorish influence can be seen in the arches and in the decoration of the walls which use Islamic motifs and designs. Among these are sayings carved in Hebrew. Upstairs in the women’s gallery (where women and children had to sit during services) there is now a Sephardic museum which tells of Jewish Spanish history and customs.

After that we visited the Monasterio San Juan de los Reyes. We were able to take pictures here, of the beautiful courtyard where there stood an orange tree full of ripe oranges and a fountain in the center.

Courtyard at Monasterio San Juan de los Reyes. You can see the oranges on the tree!

This monastery was built to honor Queen Isabella’s forces’ victory and she had in mind for herself and the king to be buried there, but by the time they died the Spanish Christians had reconquered Granada from the Moors, so they are buried there instead.

After seeing these main sights, we were free for two hours to explore on our own. I wish I had brought my guidebook because there are other sights worthwhile seeing, but instead Dale and I wandered around, I in quest of good damascene jewelry! I found a place and bought a beautiful pendant and earrings of good quality. I remembered this beautiful damascene work from my first trip to Toledo. It is characterized by a gold or silver backing, with a thin black layer, on which are pressed gold and silver threads in strikingly beautiful designs and scenes You can buy everything from knife holders (Toledo is famous for its steel knives also) to decorative plates to jewelry in damascene.

We ended up back in the Plaza Zocodover where we sat to cool off with ice cream.

Madrid City Tour

email journal E2-Part 1

July 5, 2010

It is hot and fairly humid here in Madrid. Prof. Anderson said it never rains in Madrid in July, but it has rained two days since we got here! It didn’t rain the entire day, fortunately. Also, the air conditioning is “iffy” – sometimes a place will be freezing, while other times you just sweat – like now! I am sitting at our language school, Enforex, using their computers, which is free for us.

Today was our first day of class. We took a Spanish placement test at 8:30 in the morning, consisting of 70 multiple choice questions and an interview with a native speaker. My interview was easy – she just asked me why I am here studying Spanish, if I had been to Madrid before and if I liked it.

Then we waited, until another woman came in and called my name and Cristina, a native Spanish speaker from Mexico (US citizen). We were taken to a classroom where a class was already in session. It is advanced level and in the class there are 2 Chinese students, a Japanese, a Brazilian, and a German. It is so far interesting – we got off on a lot of tangents so we conversed about lots of things, including idioms, “barbarisms”, the Spanish view of what constitutes fresh food, and how people talk when theyŕe mad. This last subject led us into some rather interesting vocabulary!!

Our second day here, July 2, we went on a city tour. First we went to the Royal Palace of Madrid.

View of front entrance to Palacio Real de Madrid. This is only half the building, which shows how vast it is!

I vaguely remembered from 35 years ago (!) thinking it was excessively luxurious, especially compared to some of the more tastefully luxurious palaces in other European countries. My opinion was confirmed once again! The most interesting part was the Spanish porcelain. At one time Spain had a very fine porcelain factory, called Buen Retiro. During the Napoleonic wars, Napoleon destroyed this factory, so its quality has never been able to be reproduced. In the palace are some fine examples of this porcelain, especially in my favorite room, known as the Smoking Room (probably meaning that this was the room where the men retired to smoke after dinner, from which women were generally excluded). This  room is decorated in Chinese style, with tiled porcelain walls in beautiful blue and yellow, with designs of flowers, animals, etc. on each one, all hand painted. Also in this room are Chinese tapestries set into the wall framed in bamboo, done in black and colored silk depicting Chinese scenes.

We continued our tour on a bus, with rain falling outside intermittently. Our guide, Paloma, told us some facts about the current economic situation because there is a Metro strike right now. The Metro is still in operation, but with only one half the trains running, although the first day the strike was total. The effect now is to make traffic more of a nightmare and having to wait a few more minutes for a train.

Anyway, Spain currently has the highest unemployment rate in Europe. Out of 17 million workers, 5 million are currently unemployed. Austerity measures have been imposed, which of course fall on the shoulders of the working and middle classes and the Metro workers have had to take a  2.5% pay cut. Paloma seemed to think the workers were to blame for inconveniencing everyone, which is true, but the decision had been consciously made by the G8 countries not to put the burden on the wealthy.

In the modern part of town, there is a skyscraper designed by the same

These skyscrapers in the modern part of Madrid were designed by the same architect that designed the Twin Towers.

architect that designed the Twin Towers, and you could see the resemblance although this building is nowhere near as tall as the Twin Towers were. On the highest point in the city, 4 modern towers have been built, called “Puerta de Europa”, each designed by a different architect. The highest of these is the Picasso Tower. In this area of Madrid are most of the wealthy neighborhoods. We also went by the University of Madrid campus, which has 200,000 students! This is an excellent university which opened in  the 1930s. Tuition is only 700-1000 euros per year! (1 euro = about 1.30 US dollars).  Madrid has 6 public universities and 5 private universities.

That evening after dinner Hubby and I walked around, got lost, but then ended up at Plaza de Espana, where there was a concert going on for the Orgullo Gay 2010 festival. Tents were set up to sell beer and sangria, and we sat on the grass with some of the others from our group.


4 de julio, 2010

View of Toledo from lookout.

Visitamos Toledo, la capital de España entre 1085 y 1561, el sábado 3 de julio. Aunque la capital fue movido a Madrid en 1561, el arzobispo de Toledo todavía es el máximo oficial de la Iglesia Católica de España.

Three “mistakes” in this painting led the bishops to pay El Greco only half of what he was owed!


Con nuestro guía Luis, fuimos a la catedral, que es grande y suntuosa, de estilo gótico y neoclásico. Su construcción empezó en 1226 pero no fue completada hasta 1493 y su decoración solo se completo en los años 1700. El sitio de la catedral ya era un lugar sagrado desde hacía mucho tiempo: los romanos tenían un templo allí para venerar a la diosa Minerva; en los tiempos del control de los moros había sido una mezquita; luego cuando los cristianos la convirtieron en una catedral, conservaron las columnas que suportaban a los arcos y hicieron una estructura gótica opulenta.  El altar principal contiene escenas de varias historias de la Biblia, las cuales son iluminadas por la luz del sol de la mañana que entra por un hueco en el techo. Las imágenes visuales eran importantes ya que la mayoría de la gente en aquellos tiempos no sabía leer. En la Sacristía hay 18 lienzos pintados por El Greco. La pintura mayor “El Expolio” representa la detención de Jesús. El Greco solamente recibió la mitad del precio cobrado porque los bispos encontraron 3 equivocaciones en la pintura: los romanos eran vestidos como los españoles contemporáneos, las mujeres no estaban en la detención de Jesús, y la figura de Jesús no era la figura más alta de la pintura.

En la Iglesia de Santo Tomás, escuchamos todo sobre otra obra de El Greco. “El entierro del Señor de Orgaz” ¡por la cual El Greco fue pagado un precio muy bueno!

Me gustó más el Sinagoga de El Transito, con la influencia de los moros que lo habían construido. Después de la expulsión de los judíos de España en 1492, fue transformada en una iglesia, pero ha sido restaurado y en la galería del segundo piso, hay un museo Sefardí que cuenta la historia y los costumbres de los judíos en España.

También fue muy lindo el Monasterio San Juan del los Reyes, ubicado también en el barrio judío. Este monasterio gótico tiene un patio bonito con un naranjo y techos mudéjares en el segundo piso.

Example of a roof at San Juan de los Reyes Monastery, showing influence of Muslim architecture.

El monasterio fue construido para conmemorar la victoria de las fuerzas de la reina Isabel en una batalla y ella tenía la idea de ser enterrada allí junto al rey, pero antes de morir fue conquistado Granada, y entonces los reyes fueron enterrados en Granada. Los arcos y los muros son de caliza y se puede ver en los bloques de los muros las marcas de los canteros, en varias formas como círculo, triángulo, etc. Esto era importante porque para recibir el pagamento cierto por su trabajo, era necesario identificarlo.

Finalmente, tuvimos tiempo de explorar la ciudad y yo quería comprar joyas damasquinas, algo que me había recordado desde la primera vez que visité Toledo hace 35 años!

We have arrived!

Spain journal (E1)  July 1, 2010

These journals chronicle my experiences and reflections on my trip to Spain with my husband as part of a group of 15 students and professors.

The flight didn’t seem horribly long. I spent part of the time reading, part of the time trying to sleep (which was mostly unsuccessful). I had one of those blow up pillows behind my neck and I sat on the pillow the airline provides to minimize the pain of sitting for so long.  We were served two meals – mediocre.

Upon our arrival, it was smooth sailing through customs and out the door to a waiting bus, which took us to the street where our residencia, Barradas is. We had to walk downhill hauling our luggage about half a block.

This view is looking out from the little balcony of our 2nd floor room.

Barradas, a sort of dorm for a variety of international students, as one of our professors says, is “Labyrinthine”. There are various stairways and passageways, but I took her advice and quickly memorized the route to our room. We squeezed into the tiny elevator with all our luggage to go up to the 2nd floor. In future, we will use the stairs!

On the virtual tour I took of Barradas back home, the rooms looked more spacious than they are. The rooms are actually quite small, but there is plenty of storage space for everything and the best part is that the shared bathroom is right outside our door! We share a bathroom with two other rooms in our “pod.” I had been imagining long walks down a dark hallway carrying a flashlight in the middle of the night so this is very convenient!

Just across the hallway from us is the dining room. This is the meeting place for our group as well as, of course, the place we are served 3 meals a day. We arrived at around 10:30 local time, and were given a half hour to get ready to meet in the dining room for a walking tour of the old part of the city that we are in. We put all our stuff away and I changed my clothes.

At about 11:15 we set out. The first place we went to was Enforex, the language school where we will be taking Spanish classes starting on Monday. It was very crowded, but an employee gave us a little tour.  There are classrooms on the first and second floors, there is a small cafeteria where you can buy coffee and snacks, and there is a fairly large computer room, which is where I am now. This is where I’ll be sending my emails, since surprisingly there are few Internet cafes here – mostly places that offer WiFi hookups. But the great thing is that the school is only a 15 minute walk from the residencia and the computer room is open until 10 pm.
Our classes will meet from 9:30-1:30 M-F. Before our first class on Monday, we will take a placement test, consisting of some multiple choice questions and a short interview.

After we left Enforex, we walked back toward Barradas. There is a street near the school that we take as a “short cut”. It has modern apartment buildings with beautiful plants hanging from the balconies and trailing down the outside walls. It is shady and cool to walk here, as opposed to the busy street nearby. Prof told us this neighborhood is inhabited by very conservative upper class people. It is a holdover from the Franco era when many of the privileged class lived in the expensive and exclusive apartment buildings built here.

We continued on our trip in the opposite direction, passing Barradas on the way to the Plaza Mayor. On our street, San Bernardo, we were shown a Vodaphone store, where my husband and I had hoped to get temporary phones, but we would have to buy the phones at 40 euros (about $50) or more. Then we would have to get a “pay as you go” plan which would only be local calls, not international. I began to wish I brought my Blackberry, but oh well. We decided not to get the phones and instead will rely on public phones or email.

Next we stopped at a Chinese run store, which came to be known as the “Chinese bazaar”. This is actually a store sort of like the dollar stores in the States where you can buy all kinds of stuff cheap. There didn’t seem to be any logical order to it, but through employee help we were able to purchase a few things we needed – a basket, soap, and mesh bags for our delicate washables. They seem to sell a little of everything, crammed onto shelves in narrow aisles.

We continued on our way, and were told about the landmarks along the way. People stopped to take pictures, especially of the iron wrought balconies on many of the old buildings, and pictures of various members of the group standing in front of giant lobsters or whatever else we found interesting!

Finally we came to a street where Hemingway used to hang out and had written about it in some of his books. On this narrow little pedestrian street is the most famous chocolate shop in Madrid, open all day and night, called San Gines. For 3.50 euros you can get a cup of thick dark chocolate and a plate of churros (deep fried sticks of sweetened dough – excellent!) to dip in the chocolate. Hubby and I shared one. The professors noticed that we didst get as many churros as people usually get – they said it was probably the waiter. Anyway, it was good but we only managed to eat half the chocolate because we ran out of churros!

The famous San Gines in Madrid, which offers the best fried churros and dipping chocolate!

It is not necessary to tip here. In restaurants, sometimes the tip will be included in the price, which they will note on the menu. Otherwise, if people tip at all, itś just a few coins left on the table. Those of you who have ever worked as waiters perhaps remember European customers that didn’t tip the 15% or so that you are used to! This is why!

The Plaza Mayor is a very large square, also closed to traffic, surrounded by official looking buildings on all sides, of uniform style and color – reddish with wrought iron balconies. There are a few towers on one side. Looking closer at these, you see that the walls are actually covered with paintings in a classical style.  There are shops and restaurants all around, especially philatelic shops. The restaurants are distinguished by the white umbrellaed tables in the courtyard. At the center of the Plaza Mayor is a statue of King Felipe IV (?) on a horse.

Author’s husband at Plaza Mayor, Madrid.

We stopped at a place to pick up maps of Madrid. The professors got maps for everyone and passed them around. We also picked up pamphlets for various cultural events going on.

July is the month of store sales -everywhere are signs saying REBAJA (discount). It’s also a month of festivals and celebrations. One square we passed through was setting up for a show, which we inquired about. It’s the opening of a 5-day Gay Pride celebration. There will be concerts and events, and a parade on Saturday, which is supposed to be spectacular because it is international (I was told the Brazilian transvestite contingent is quite impressive!).

This Gay Pride extravaganza is an example of how Spain has changed and liberalized in a relatively short time, since the end of Franco’s regime in the 1970s. There is a lot of sexual tolerance now, women have freedoms unavailable to them then (during Franco they could not even vote or own property!), and people are much more open in their manner, dress, etc.

Itś very hot here – around 90 degrees, and while not as humid as the Midwest, it definitely contributed to the total exhaustion I felt when we got back. I managed to drag myself to the dining room to eat some salad and beef for lunch, then passed out on the bed for 2 and a half hours!