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Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Foreign Community Sometimes Speaks Spanish

Ever since I wrote about the foreign community speaking English here in Spain--regardless of where they were originally from--I have been on the lookout for incidents in which foreigners did not speak English, and particularly, for when they spoke Spanish.

The first time was a success for me, though I did not originally realize that the person to whom I was speaking Spanish was not Spanish. I went to the dentist for a routine check-up and spoke English with the dentist, which might be expected when one goes to an establishment called British Dental Service. But I was also introduced to the hygienist, who had been out on maternity leave when I was there six months earlier; she greeted me in English, but with an accent. So I decided that when I returned later for my cleaning (no, I do not know why these had to be separate appointments) I would speak to her in Spanish. After all, conversation is going to be limited in duration anyway when one of the parties is having her teeth cleaned. When I returned the next day, I greeted her with "Hola, que bien dia hoy," or something like that.

She visibly expressed relief. "¡Ah, tu hablas español!" "Si, un poquito, y intento hablarlo si no te preocupes," I responded. And we continued chatting for a few minutes before she got down to business with the bib and the scraping and the spraying and then polishing, and I never had to levantar la mano (raise my hand) at any time as a signal to get her to stop. She only slipped into English a couple times, with routine admonishments which I am sure, in her practice, come easier to her in English than in Spanish.

It was before we started the cleaning that she told me that she is not Spanish--she is German but has lived in Spain for about ten years. Since I knew she had been out on maternity leave, I could ask about her baby (a girl) and who took care of her while she and her husband (partner, she corrected me) were working. Well, the good news is that her partner was able to do that; the bad news is that he has been out of work for eight months, a casualty of the construction crisis. I neglected to ask her what language she and her partner, an immigrant from another European country I do not recall, spoke together, and what language(s) they are using with the baby. But I should have a chance again in another five months or so.

We have also had some minor renovations done to the house in the past month. These were undertaken by a fine workman who knows the houses in our development very well and who everyone calls Christo. He drove up in a truck labeled Hristo. Hristo is originally from Bulgaria and has been in Spain for eight years or so and has established a good business, though it, too, is having challenges with the economic crisis. Nevertheless he has a compatriot who works with him; during the week that these two Bulgarians spent in the house building a closet, installing a kitchen fan, and moving the "boiler," they spoke in Bulgarian but we spoke primarily in Spanish. Hristo's helper knows only Spanish (in addition to Bulgarian, of course) and he and I were able to communicate very well indeed. There is something about foreigners speaking a common foreign language that makes it easier to understand, I think. With Hristo himself, I could speak Spanish, and we generally started out that way, but we often drifted over into English. One reason is that Hristo wanted to be very certain I understood what he was doing, and another, I think, is that he wanted to practice his English. After all, probably most of his clients are native English or English-as-a-common-language speakers. Part of the job involved moving the hot water heater--or boiler, as Hristo called it--and I felt much more comfortable talking about the calentador in Spanish, because to me a boiler is somewhat larger and has to do with a central heating system, which I did not think we were having installed and certainly had not budgeted for.

Perhaps the most satisfying experience I have had speaking Spanish with other foreigners, though, has been in my new Spanish class. Sponsored by the town of Algorfa, this class runs once a week for an hour and a half from October through May--for only 70 euros. I am enrolled in the advanced conversation class, with nine other immigrants from England, Scotland, and Vietnam. We have had three classes so far, and it is Spanish only in class. The instructor is a wonderful young Spanish woman, born and brought up in Algorfa, who is very adept at explaining--in Spanish--any word or concept that comes up in the reading or conversation. When the sense of the unknown word just does not sink in, you may occasionally hear a whispered English equivalent from one of the other students who "got it" before you did, but this does not happen very often. We are even doing jokes in Spanish now, though I can't translate the slightly scurrilous one about the stingy Catalan throwing out or letting fall ... because it just doesn't translate.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fiesta Nacional de España

Yesterday, October 12, was a national holiday, one of only two per year in Spain--the other numerous holidays are either religious-based or local/regional holidays. Looking back, I see that I first wrote about this holiday two years ago and at that time cited the Wikipedia page from Spain in explanation. This year I have discovered the page in English, which speaks briefly of the history of this day in Spain and the many roles it plays.

The day began as most holidays do, with firecrackers the night before, but also with the annoyance of cancellations of two appointments--hair and house-cleaning--because heavy fines are threatened if workers go to work on a holiday. For people in the leisure and hospitality industry it's a different story, however. The bars and restaurants are open all day, and, I discovered on another holiday recently, the fitness center I go to is allowed to be open "in the morning." That means from opening time (7:00 AM on weekdays) until 2:00 PM.

I got on my warm-up bicycle just before 10:00 and plugged my earbuds into the TV sound outlet. We have a choice of English and Spanish, and the fitness center has become my primary place for watching Spanish TV and a free Spanish lesson. I caught the morning news program, where I noticed among other events that Spain plans to bring home four of the military planes it had deployed in Libya on Saturday. The regular newspaper round-up, where news headlines from various newspapers are presented and then discussed by a panel of commentators whom I partially understand, was cancelled this hour in lieu of the festivities that were to be brought live from Madrid celebrating the day.

I had to unplug from my individual TV screen and the sound as I passed through most other parts of my routine, but I could see the beginning of a parade on one of the larger screens at one end of the gym (the screen at the other end was showing, for the umpteenth day, "highlights" of the trial of Michael Jackson's doctor). I had been told that there would be long military parades, but this one had no tanks or vehicles or even soldiers marching with guns. Instead there were men with large plumed hats from an earlier era, riding horses. As minutes passed they arrived at, or the camera shifted to, the Plaza de Neptuno in Madrid and then I recognized King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia moving down a very long reception line of dignitaries. The king was dressed in a military uniform but Queen Sofia was in a regular street dress and handbag--I wonder why queens always carry handbags with short handles and never are allowed to have a shoulder bag. Women in the line curtsied before the royalty but also shook hands. Men shook hands with the queen and king and in addition gave a military salute to the king if they were in uniform, but no other sign of deference comparable to a curtsy--even the quick little dip that it was--did I see.

By the time I was on the treadmill and could plug in again, the official program was starting. First off was a salute to the fallen, heroes who had not returned from any number of wars or military actions for an unspecified number of years. People sang a very moving song of remembrance--"La Muerte no es el final" (Death is not the end). Lyrics were printed on the screen, and I have found this and other versions at YouTube. Then there was an impressive flyover of jet planes. I was trying to pay attention to the commentary about guardia real and guardia civil, but I don't have much recollection this morning of the rest of the spoken ceremonies. As I left the treadmill a larger desfile was commencing; presumably this was where the military aspects were paraded.

That was the end of the holiday for me. I stopped and bought cereal and cat food at one of the small grocery stores allowed to be open until 2:00 and went home to laundry, lunch, and computer work--but all in a quiet house newly released from the labor of contractors making adjustments to the kitchen and a new water heater closet. Quiet, that is, until bedtime, when the fireworks started again in celebration of the Fiesta Nacional de España.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Continued Sunny Skies

This Sunday in Spain dawned clear and cool and I drove Johannes up to the cave art exhibit at 9:00 and then returned home for a shower, an hour and a half of work, and some little maintenance jobs pertaining to the house and my person. Then I headed over to the Sunday morning outdoor market close to our house. One of the wonderful features about this and most outdoor markets here in Spain is the offering of rotisserie-grilled chickens. They give a captivating aroma to the market grounds throughout the morning, and people line up to purchase one or two before leaving the market. I think that most people in Spain must have grilled chicken for Sunday dinner--you can even buy thin French fried potatoes to go with the chicken.

View from the Rojales Cave
I stocked up on raisins and almonds for our breakfast cereal, and tomatoes and bananas for our lunchtime salads, and then on my way out I bought one of those chickens. I had previously packed some cherry tomatoes, sliced carrots, and cucumbers into a cooler, and I drove straight to the caves for a little picnic. It was a peaceful fall morning. Four Norwegians were looking at paintings as I arrived, and two Spaniards arrived before the Norwegians left, and we had interesting conversations with both groups. So it was after 2:00 before we were able to enjoy our little repast, and we sat in peaceful solitude broken only by the strains of Chopin from the CD player and cock-a-doodle-do from a neighboring rooster. Later we packed up and made our way down through Benihofar--and the Wheel of Tapas was still going on, so we stopped at an English bar and had a tapa of Spanish tortilla (my favorite) and a tidbit of serrano ham and tomato.  This particular bar was in a part of the village which we had not explored before, and right down the strip from Route 66, allegedly an American restaurant. Unfortunately they were not open until later, so we will have to return some time in the future to see whether there really is an American connection there.

We wanted to make a reservation for dinner later on in the week at a restaurant in town, and when we stopped  we were greeted by an English friend who had brought a Spanish lady friend out to see "how the English live." For those of us who have been married to the same person for eons, it is amusing and inspiring to see others of our age (or almost) who have never been married but who have not given up trying to meet someone, and particularly when they are living in a foreign country. We had a lively two-language conversation with this chap and his new compañera and hope to see her again. She spoke good English, but I was able to communicate with her mostly in Spanish, and that is gratifying indeed.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

What a Week!

This was not an easy week for me in Spain. On Monday evening the email account that has supported me with no  problems for more than ten years was compromised; I spent most of Tuesday reassuring friends and associates that I had not become a Viagra salesperson in my spare time, and making sure that my system was clean (it was). Wednesday I used more than six hours trying to access my banking account in the U.S., only to discover that the credit card had been stopped and access to the online banking account had been halted because the renewal card which had been sent to my Spanish address had been returned as undeliverable--and the bank is in California, so I couldn't even talk to them before 4:00 P.M. my time. Thursday a home renovation team arrived to do a "little job"--knocking a small wall from the living room into an empty space, so they could move the hot water heater from the kitchen to the new space, thereby freeing up an area large enough to install a new, decent-sized refrigerator and freezer in the kitchen. I was home alone during this time, so not only did I have to answer their questions, I also had to talk to the door-to-door advanced funeral arrangements salesperson who stopped by mid-day to pressure me into dealing with this "subject that we don't want to talk about." I really didn't want to talk about it then. And then mid-afternoon, the electricity was cut off with no advanced warning, just as I was in the middle of initiating a new alternative email account. I guess I was lucky--I could have been in my secure banking area.

So Friday morning, after I attended a brand-new Spanish class and came home to see that the renovators still had their stuff spread all over the first floor of the house, it seemed like a really nice idea to meet good friends and neighbors on the first day of a Wheel of Tapas in the neighboring town of Benijofar. I've written about these tapas festivals before. Generally the idea is that most of a town's bars, cafes, and restaurants agree on a particular weekend to offer a special tapa and drink for two euros--each restaurant has its own specialty, and the municipality produces a glossy brochure with a map to the establishments and a menu of their offerings, and if you visit enough establishments you can vote on the best and be entered in the drawing to win a fabulous prize. Only once before have we ever been able to stomach enough tapas and wine to qualify to vote and enter, but we always enjoy sitting in the sun on a weekend afternoon with a drink, a tapa, and some friends, and then moving on to the next place--once or twice.

That's what we did Friday afternoon this week. And it wasn't even a disaster when we discovered that we were too early for the festival--showing up at 2:00 PM when it didn't start until 7:00 PM. We just went to a familiar restaurant and offered to be the beta tasters for that evening's tapa, and it worked. We had a nice time and by the time we got home, the renovators had gone for the weekend, leaving a semi-clean house until their scheduled return on Monday. This noontime when I picked up Johannes after his morning at his cave art exhibition, we stopped at a place listing a tapa of milanesa a la napolitana, an Argentine specialty and one of his favorites. That plus the sausages from the Dutch bar next door made a very nice lunch, and we enjoyed sitting out, the two of us, in sun and watching the other foreigners and the Spanish taking advantage of the Wheel of Tapas and delightfully warm and sunny autumn weather.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Las Cuevas del Rodeo Art Exhibition

Painting by Johannes Bjørner
This Sunday in Spain, the first in October, was a perfect day for the inauguration of an art exhibition at Las Cuevas del Rodeo in Rojales, a rustic area in the hills behind the center of town where the municipal authorities have seen fit to provide studio and exhibition space to artists at no--or very low--cost. Some of the caves are used full-time by various artesans, but no. 4 is loaned out to any artist, on application, for a month.

It would be comfortable to say that I happened on to this exhibit casually and by accident, as I happened by the first day of school in the colegio next door a couple weeks ago. But that would not be truthful, since for the last month I have been living with the artist while he assembled more than 50 paintings in the living and dining rooms of our house, together with myriad paraphernalia for hanging them, piping in music, and providing light refreshments on opening day. Friday this week he took the paintings out to the caves and the walls throughout the entire house are now bare--and Saturday we went out to hang them and set up for the opening from 11:00--2:00 PM Sunday morning.

And then this morning dawned and we were out the door at a little past 9:00 to do final preparations for the inauguration: buy some ice, move the white wine to the cooler, cut the cheese, and set up the snacks and drinks kindly provided by the municipality. Two good English friends arrived and took over the duties behind the bar, leaving both the artist and me free to mingle with guests who spilled in suddenly at 11:05 and kept us busy until 12:30. The crowd thinned out a bit then, but new people continued coming even past the 2:00 official close. Should I be surprised that the first group were mostly Scandinavians, then we had Germans and English, but the Spanish made their appearance during the last half "official" hour? I was happy for my husband's sake that so many people showed up and enjoyed the viewing and made several purchases, but I was surprised and especially touched myself to meet a woman who reads this blog. Since I write mainly for my friends and family at a distance, it was a real treat to meet a reader face-to-face, on this Sunday in Spain.