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.
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
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.