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Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Pusol Museum and School

El Museo Escolar de Pusol. Photo from its website.
A group of some 50 adult students--mostly northern European and of retirement age--from the Centro de Estudios Hispania in Algorfa came to the Museo Escolar de Pusol one morning in April and were met by a somewhat smaller and much younger group of Spanish students. The students, you see, are the docents at this rural teaching museum, which also houses a small colegio (elementary school) for the children of residents in the surrounding area.

Before arriving, I had envisioned the museum as a sort of mini Old Sturbridge Village, a Massachusetts open-air museum that reproduces and reinterprets life in 1830s New England. It is similar, though on a much smaller scale, and on the day we were there all activities took place indoors.

We divided into two groups; mine went first on a tour of a dozen or so galleries that showed implements used in farming, carriage-making, shoe-making, wine-making, and other occupations formerly important to the area, as well as typical rooms from the farm and village houses. Before each tableau stood two or three very young students--usually age 7 or 8--who, at the signal of their teacher, gave us an introduction to what we were seeing and what life was like in their home area in "the old days." The exact era of the old days in question never became clear to me--they seemed to stretch anywhere from 19th century to the 1950s--but they were definitely in the past, and in the long-ago past for these children. The students spoke Spanish, of course, and very quickly--they obviously wanted to get through their memorized speeches before they forgot them--so there is a limit to how much information was taken in by us old people, but we all recognized many of the artifacts shown and described, and the youngsters were earnest and adorable.

After a mid-morning rest break and light "pic-nic" we proceeded to a classroom and were instructed in the art of making braided white palm (palma blanca) decorations for the upcoming Palm Sunday celebrations. Though seasonal, this braiding of palm leaves is a long-established tradition in the greater Elche area, usually done by regular inhabitants in their homes, with the products sold in florist shops all around Spain and exported even farther afield.  We had good teachers, but I decided right away that I was not going to wear my little palm flower for Palm Sunday.

Then we switched guides, and my group went through the exhibits showing a large variety of commercial establishments typical of the geographic area in days gone by, including a shop, drugstore,toy store, and an office. This museum and its incorporated school were established in 1969 by the idea of a young teacher in the school who wanted to introduce new teaching methods while maintaining memory of the early life and culture of the area. The idea was successful, and the museum and school were recognized by UNESCO in 2009. Rather than slipping into being a backwater country school in a forgotten rural pueblo, the school now attracts students from far outside its geographic catchment area, becoming a sort of magnet school in Spain.

Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday, and news reports all over the world show Pope Francis clutching braided palms that, we are told in Spain, were hand made in Elche, a city just 45 minutes north of here. Ten days ago I went on an excursion with other students in my Algorfa municipally supported Spanish class to Elche, and we saw one of the studios where people were making the braided staffs out of white palm leaves (bleached intentionally through preventing sun from reaching the leaves by covering them in plastic for a whole year). Some of the palm decorations are more than a yard long. They can be extremely elaborate and difficult to make--I know because we were each invited to make just a tiny one-inch flower out of a bleached palm and mine was a miserable failure.

The article here tells about the Elche tradition of making braided white palms for Palm Sunday. The photo above, from, shows some of the more elaborate palm decorations.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Time and Time Again

This week has been a little easier because one of the annoying bugaboos of spring has sprung into place: Europe switched to "summer time" last Sunday morning at 2:00 AM winter time, or 3:00 summer. This places me once again in a feeling of normalcy, because now I can figure six hours time difference between here and the east coast of the United States, as I do effortlessly most of the year, except for the few weeks in the spring and fall when our time shifting times are not in sync.

I was not in Spain when the time changed. We were in Denmark for a reunion of old school friends, and Saturday afternoon brought us back to Copenhagen to a hotel right next to the main train station, a short stop before we took a local train the next day to the airport for a morning flight to Alicante. Planning air travel for the morning of time change days can lead to some unexpected schedule glitches, and I was rather surprised that no hotel personnel, when we checked in and said that we would be skipping breakfast to go to the airport, reminded us that we should be sure to set our watches ahead an hour before going to bed. But we did set them ahead and, as often happens when anticipating a morning flight, we still woke up sooner than we needed to in order to close up the suitcases and get to the airport on time. I was even awake early enough so I could grab my iPad at 1:59 AM winter time and watch the time jump forward an hour on the World Clock app a minute later.

It wasn't until later in the week that I was offered an answer to a question that has been bugging me ever since we moved to Spain: Why is Spain, which lies as far west as Britain when viewed on a map with mercator projections, in the Central European time zone rather than in the Western European time zone with the United Kingdom? There is a one-hour's time difference between Spain and the UK, which is quite noticeable when watching ads for upcoming programs on TV, and it always strikes me as odd that Britain alone is different, whereas every other European country that I have an association with is on the same time zone. For example, I flew southwest from Denmark to Spain for three hours and arrived three hours later by the clock, whereas if I had flown one hour due west from Denmark to England I would have arrived at the time I left.

The story I heard was that during the regime of General Francisco Franco (1939-1975), both the general and the country were allied with Germany in every matter, and that included being on the same time. Franco disappeared from the Spanish scene in 1975, and his legacy is controversial. Streets that had been named for him are now being re-named, many monuments have been neglected or destroyed. One legacy apparently that has so far not been touched is the time alliance. I am glad that we are in the Central European time zone (the main one) and only six hours ahead of eastern U.S. time.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Seeing Miró

Since we no longer have our subscription to Danish television by satellite here in Spain, we have been enjoying watching whatever we can get by finding individual programs on the Internet and then projecting them onto the TV screen via Apple TV. We can still watch our favorite cooking, real estate, and antiques shopping programs from Denmark; we just see them a day after they are broadcast. But we can usually get the half-hour evening news, broadcast at 6:30, if we wait to start it until 7:30. That matches my evening cooking schedule a lot better than the 6:30 hour used tom anywy.

Lately we have started to watch the PBS Newshour from the U.S. Due to time differences, we don't watch the evening news program until the following morning, but it makes for a good thing to do while we pedal along on the exercise bicycle. This week I pedaled extra long while I watched a segment on Joan Miró, the Spanish artist, who was born in Barcelona in 1893 and who died on the island of Mallorca in 1983.

Miró is currently the subject of a spectacular exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum that features abstract painting and sculpture that he completed while in his 70s and 80s. He used vibrant colors and metamorphosed found objects to create works that show a very unique way of looking at the world.

I had heard of Miró before this program but somehow I had escaped the irony, or poetic justice, of his name. Mirar is the Spanish verb for "to look" and miró is the past tense (pretérito, to be precise) meaning that "he looked." He certainly did, and he continued looking and observing and creating until he was 90, leaving a legacy of interesting and fantastic works of art.

The works in Seattle are on loan from the Reina Sofía museum in Madrid and have never been seen in the U.S. before. They are going on to North Carolina, to the Nasher Museum at Duke University, from September through next February, where the exhibit is entitled, appropriately, The Experience of Seeing.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

More Salt

Salt mountains in Santa Pola  © 2014 Johannes Bjorner

We drove along the N-332 seaside road north to Alicante city on Thursday this week and passed the huge mountains of salt that are collected there and shipped out all over the world to alleviate wintry road conditions. This salt is not taken from the lake in Torrevieja that I wrote about previously, but from the salt flats bordering the Mediterranean immediately south of Alicante city.

I felt like Phil, the groundhog who emerges from hibernation each year on February 2 and, upon seeing his shadow, wreaks revenge, bringing six more weeks of winter to estadounidenses not just in the region of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. When we returned from our sun-filled morning, we saw news programs showing that they had received more snow in the middle and eastern U.S.

Saving Time

I have survived the first week of Daylight Savings Time this year. To my annoyance, the United States tinkers with its clocks each year a full three weeks before Europe also tinkers with its clocks, changing to "summer time." I hate this period because I have to disrupt my regular routine of automatically picturing the hands of the (analog) clock simply in polar opposite: Most of my contacts in the USA live in Eastern time, the time difference between there and here is an even six hours, so when the little hand points to 2:00 PM here I know easily that it is pointing to 8:00 AM there, and when it is 6:00 PM here and I am preparing for dinner, it is just noontime there and they are partaking of lunch.

Except during the three-week period when they have switched to Daylight Savings Time and we have yet to switch to summer time. Or the equivalent period in the fall, when we switch to winter time and they give up on saving, but I'm not ready to discuss that yet.

All things being equal, I think the phrases "summer time" and "winter time" are better to describe this odd worldwide custom of tinkering with time. After all, what exactly is "saved" with Daylight Savings Time? You spring sprightly ahead one hour in March at 2:00 AM Sunday morning, and that hour disappears until a Sunday in October some seven months hence, when it falls down on you, probably while you are sleeping between 2:00 and 3:00 AM. It is not daylight when you get this extra hour, and of course, you don't really get an extra hour--you simply recoup the hour that you lost in March. You don't get more time, not even a minute more. You get nothing, nada. That is a miserable rate of return on savings, even by today's abysmal bank interest rates.

While I was thinking about saving time, I took the opportunity this week to experiment with the time-saving features of my washing machine. Appliances are, after all, supposed to be time-saving devices. Ever since I have had this Daewoo machine, I had noticed  a button that said Ahorra Tiempo (save time) on the far right of its control panel. When I got the washer I probably didn't know that ahorrar meant "to save" and not "now," which is what ahora means. Pero ahora sí, I know. So I got out the washer instructions from the box of house and appliance manuals I keep on the top shelf of a bookcase in my office and re-read the manual.

It told me that I could save a whopping ten minutes from the routine. Not much on an event that takes an hour and a half or more, but more than you save when you switch to or from Daylight Savings Time. It did not tell me where I was going to save that time, but I experimented with a load of laundry this week by pressing the Ahorra Tiempo button. The washing and rinsing and centrifuging went on almost as usual, apparently (I did not waste time sitting by the machine waiting and watching), but not quite as long as usual. I was able to convince myself that even though I had started the load late in the morning, it finished before the hour when cheap electricity changes to expensive electricity (noontime in the winter, 1:00 PM in the summer). It wasn't until I started the next load, a day later, and went to put the detergent and softener into the little compartments that I discovered that apparently a rinse cycle is what is "saved," as the softener liquid was still sitting in its little compartment. And the socks were stiff as boards.

There is another button on the washer that I had not yet used: Retraso Tiempo. I looked that up in the manual de lavadora, too. Apparently I had looked it up before, because beside the all-too-brief explanation (Se puede utilizar para aplazar el lavado) I had written "delay." Now it dawned on me that perhaps this functioned like the delay on the dishwasher I had loved and left about a dozen years ago: that you could program the machine to start 2, 4 or 6 hours later, after guests had left and you had gone to bed, for example. Or after you had gone to bed and the cheap electricity was available, for another example.

I tried the Retraso Tiempo button last night, after putting in a load of wash, the detergente, and suavizante. When I pressed it, 1:00 showed. I pressed it again, and 2:00 showed. I pressed it several more times and it increased an hour each time, up to 12:00. It took me a few minutes last night at 7:00 PM to figure out exactly when I wanted to start this machine in the morning, but finally I set it for 10 hours so the wash would start at 5:00 AM and be finished by the time I was awake and ready to hang it out.

I did not hear the washing machine start at 5:00 but Johannes did, he told me later, when I got out of bed to fetch coffee at 7:00. By that time whatever noises it made had stopped, and I have to admit that I went back to bed and read a chapter before getting up again to go out to the terrace to hang the washer contents out to dry. I was the first within sight from my terrace to have laundry up drying on the line this Sunday, Spain's traditional wash day. I did it even before I showered and went to the outdoor market. That meant that it was ready to bring in again as soon as we returned from the market, even before lunch, when often I don't bring in the laundry until late in the afternoon.

At least it seems as though I saved time.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

El doctor Seuss en español

A chance quip in a Skype conversation last Monday started it: my colleague quoted something from Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat (I can't remember what), and we laughed. I mentioned that the day preceding had been the birthday of Dr. Seuss, a fact I knew because I had passed my eyes over the Half Price Books calendar that I had acquired when book shopping in the U.S. in late January--it has at least one entry of a famous writer's birthday for almost every day of the year.

In the background was my current reading of a book called Haunting Jasmine for my Spanish conversation class. The Spanish version is titled La libreria de nuevas oportunidades (The Bookstore of New Opportunities) and several children's books are mentioned. I recognize most, but not all, of their Spanish names. Dr. Seuss is there.

Then a call went out, from an organization I have been a member of for more than 25 years, to contribute children's books to a project for the children of Baltimore, Maryland (USA). I'm not going to make the transatlantic trek to the conference in April, so I didn't think too much of it until one of the British members said that she wasn't going to bring British books so as not to inflict cruelty regarding the difference in spelling of American and British English, and another wrote back and said that he was going to bring British children's books, and the American kids could probably handle it. And the organizer of our conference's contribution to the book donation drive wrote back and said, "Bring British English books, U.S. English books — bring it on!"

So that is why I spent time this week reading about Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and the publishing history of The Cat in the Hat, which was first released in 1957 in trade and school editions. The school edition was written as an antidote to the simplistic and boring "Dick and Jane" reading primers that I learned to read from--or at least, that I read in my early years in school. By the time The Cat in the Hat was published, I already knew how to read, which I think accounts for the fact that I do not have the close relationship with that title that many of my near-contemporaries have, and why I, in fact, have yet to read this book.

As a follow-on, I spent a large part of today on, searching, reading reviews, evaluating, and ordering a few books in Spanish to send to the children of Baltimore as part of my organization's donation. Huevos verdes con jamón (Green Eggs and Ham) is in my package. It received rave reviews about the Spanish translation, which captures the rhythm and rhymes of the English original. The Cat in the Hat received horrible reviews about the translation, which does not rhyme, but The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (El gato con sombrero viene de nuevo) has a different translator, who passed the grade.

Too bad I'm having these books delivered straight to the conference. I'll have to find them in a library the next time I come to the U.S., because now I think it is time for me to read Dr. Seuss. In the original. But I'll check my local library here in Spain for the Spanish or bilingual versions first.