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!


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