Wednesday, February 27, 2013

February Monthly Update: Spain, Will You Be My Valentine?

Oh, February, the shortest month of the year. I hardly knew yeh…

Tranco reservoir, Sierra de Segura, Spain
Tranco reservoir, Sierra de Segura

Earthquakes

The evening of February 5th my apartment was rattled by two back-to-back, mild but firm earthquakes. It was the first major seismic event (I, at least, had) felt since December, and made for a great small-talk topic on the way to school the next day. It doesn’t bother me since these little earthquakes haven’t caused any damage or injuries, but they do keep life interesting.

Visiting the Sierra de Segura

Segura de la Sierra, Spain
Mountain village of
Segura de la Sierra
In the middle of the month, a group of younger teachers and I took a half-day excursion after school to the mountains east of Villanueva del Arzobispo where we work. Called the Sierra de Segura, this beautiful mountain range reminded me all at once of Arizona (the red rocks), Arkansas (the pine trees), and Colorado (the valleys). We enjoyed a long, filling lunch at restaurant in the natural park before appreciating the views of a manmade lake from the village of Hornos de Segura and ascending the mountainside town of Segura de la Sierra, which is crowned with an old castle.

Every morning on the way to work I see those very same mountains, and I can see another mountain range from my apartment’s living room window, so I was very pleased to finally visit the hills, mountain-person that I am.

Visiting Barcelona

Sagrada Família, Barcelona, Spain
Sagrada Família
After Valentine’s Day celebrations had finished at school, I packed my bags and took the sleeper train from Úbeda (Linares-Baeza train station) all the way up north to Barcelona—a good eight-hour journey; long, but doable. I had been planning this trip since October, when I found out that one of my favorite bands, Sigur Rós, was going to be playing in Spain. But more on that later.

I had originally been thinking of reserving a visit to Barcelona for next year, when I’ll hopefully be working up north, but getting my hands on some concert tickets made me change my mind. Now I had an excuse to visit this beautiful city. I had already visited Barcelona’s old town back in December on my way up to Paris—seeing the ancient palaces and plazas, and Picasso, too—so this trip would focus on the architecture of a famous Catalan (region around Barcelona) architect named Antoni Gaudí.

I saw the six main examples of his work in Barcelona, and by “saw” I mean “shelled out 15 € or more for each entrance fee.” Still, an empty wallet was worth it because the tickets go toward conserving these important works of art for the future. I saw the Sagrada Família, an as-of-yet-unfinished church with a whimsical, forest-like interior; Casa Batlló, a blue house with lots of natural design cues and very few straight lines; La Pedrera, a huge apartment complex whose façade looks like a bunch of waves; Palau Güell, a traditional and stately house (or “palace”); Park Güell, a recreational park with more of the architect’s unconventional buildings; and Colònia Güell, a never-completed church whose finished crypt is nevertheless a geometric wonder.

Sigur Rós in concert in Barcelona, Spain
Sigur Rós in concert
On that Saturday, I hiked up Montjuïc hill on the western side of town for a concert by Sigur Rós, an “ambient/post-rock” band (whatever that means) from Iceland who I have been huge fans of since my college roommate introduced me to their beautiful, calming music four years ago. The concert itself was everything I had hoped it would be: I got a “seat” standing about ten yards from the stage (it was all general admission in basically a big gym), the band played a ton of their most famous songs from the past decade, and they gave a really fascinating light and video show as they performed. I managed to record three or four songs with my meager phone camera, so I may be putting up some videos to YouTube in the near future.

Finishing the renewal application

After formally renewing the language assistant program in Spain back in January, a few steps were left before I could complete my application. Last week, after scanning and uploading what basically amounted to a performance review, and translating a letter of intent into Spanish, my status was changed from inscrita (“entered in”) to admitida (“admitted”). Now, I wait to hear back from Spain’s Ministry of Education to see if I will be teaching next year in Galicia, the northwest corner of the country. Ideally, I would find out in early May so I would have enough time to renew my TIE residency card before it expires May 31…ideally.

Celebrating Día de Andalucía

Día de Andalucía, Villanueva del Arzobispo, Spain
Jota Serrana traditional dance
On the 28th of February, the southern region of Spain that I’m working in—Andalucía—celebrates the day it gained autonomy from the central government back in 1980. People get the day off to do, I guess, traditional Andalusian things (I wouldn’t know…I’m running off on a trip to Valencia today!). We celebrated the holiday at school on the 27th. During recreo (“recess” or “break”), they served slices of toasted bread drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and optionally topped with a cool sauce of freshly-grated tomatoes, salt, olive oil, and garlic. I had…six slices.

After desayuno (“breakfast,” at 11:30am!), there was a school-wide convocation outside to celebrate all things Andalucía. Some students read poetry, two little first-grade girls dressed to the nines showed off their nascent flamenco dance skills, and then four teachers and four fourth-graders wearing traditional skirts and shoes came out and started dancing the jota serrana, a beautiful local style of dance that made me wish we had that kind of art in American culture. Maybe it’s just a result of centuries of Puritan/Baptist prohibitions, but I digress…

March has in store a trip to Valencia on the Mediterranean coast and to Alicante to see friends who are studying abroad, a trip to Morocco, and Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations in Spain. I’ve finally finished blogging about my travels in France, so I will return to your regularly-scheduled programming on Spain next week.
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