Search "Sundays in Spain"

Sunday, October 14, 2012

What We Missed While Going to Frankfurt

I knew, last week, that Spain's national celebration, La Fiesta Nacional de España, was going to be celebrated on Friday, October 12, while we were out of the country attending the Frankfurt Book Fair. What I didn't know, or perhaps at one time knew but certainly forgot, was that Tuesday, October 9, was also a holiday.

As I left my Spanish class Monday at noon, the class was reminded that the next day (that is, Tuesday) was also a holiday. We were leaving on Tuesday afternoon, and I had another Spanish class Tuesday morning, so I didn't have time to research the significance of the day. But we did discover, while trying to buy some last-minute item, that the stores were closed on Tuesday. We survived in Frankfurt without whatever it was that we thought at the last minute that we needed, and it wasn't until this Sunday morning, back in Spain, that I thought again about October 9.

I read an article in one of the local Norwegian newspapers that said that thousands had celebrated "Valencia's national day." Ah yes, that is why I didn't remember the holiday--it's a regional holiday and we have spent, what, only four Octobers in this region? Nevertheless, thanks to Spaniaposten, I now know that October 9 is the official day commemorating when Spanish King Jaime I marched triumphantly into Valencia in 1238 and liberated it from the Moors, who had ruled there and in much of the territory of present-day Spain, since the year 714.

Surprisingly according to the article, the victory was relatively peaceful, and King Jaime promised that the Moors then living in Valencia could either continue to live there under his rule, or take their possessions and leave the area. Perhaps they did live peacefully until the Spanish Inquisition was instituted more than 200 years later. At any rate, October 9 is now celebrated in Valencia with people dressed as Moors and as Christians in a single five-hour-long parade called the Entrada de Moros y Cristianos. According to the paper, more than 5000 participated this year.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ten Reasons to Study Spanish

It is October and that means the start of the activities season again in Spain.  I cannot imagine not planning my life around Spanish courses. A language school in San Miguel--not the one I go to, but a good semi-intensive program for beginners--promoted itself and language study by giving ten good reasons to learn Spanish in a late-summer edition of one of the free English-language weeklies. I have changed the order to agree with my own priorities. Here they are (with my comments):

1. It is common courtesy to at least attempt to learn the language of the country you are living in. Would you be able to pass the Spanish equivalent of a "Life in the UK" test (yes, this is a British newspaper) about culture, laws, and language? (Does the USA have an equivalent "Life in the USA" test, I wonder?)

2. Learning Spanish helps you keep up with Spanish culture--including the latest news and current events in Spanish-speaking countries. (I have started watching Spanish TV for a half hour each morning while on the stationary bike. Good exercise for the mind and body, though both go slower than I would like.)

3. Learning Spanish is fun. You will be able to enjoy books, films, music, and even dining out more. And you will increase your social network. (Communicating with the other students in my group class--Russian, Belgian and British this year--provides at least half the value of this hour per week; and my private class with a different teacher has morphed into a book discussion group in Spanish.)

4. If you can speak Spanish, you can help yourself and others in emergency situations, like with the police, hospitals, and civil servants, and save on interpreter costs. (I am still uncomfortable at the doctor's and in bureaucratic offices, but, for better or for worse, I have a live-in interpreter.)

5. When learning a foreign language, you learn a lot about your own language as well--how it is constructed and how grammar works--as well as deepening your understanding and increasing vocabulary. (True, and can anything be better for a writer and editor?)

6. Learning Spanish increases your critical thinking skills because you train your brain to naturally interpret English words into Spanish. (My current discovery of the connections among languages is the Danish word garderobe (closet), the Spanish guardar ropa (to hang clothing) and the English wardrobe.)

7. Learning a second language reduces your chances of developing medical issues that affect the brain in later life. People who speak two languages are less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer's disease. (Since it's too late for me to invest in long-term care insurance, this is my next best bet.)

8. Over 320 million people in the world speak Spanish, and the number of Spanish speakers is growing at a faster rate than the number of English-speakers. Being bilingual in English and Spanish means that you will be able to be understood "all over the world." (Well, in many parts of it, anyway. And I am now able to send Spanish emails back and forth to my niece in Argentina.)

9. If you own a business in Spain, speaking Spanish makes administrative life easier and doubles your client base. (Fortunately I don't own a business in Spain, but it pleases me that I see more and more businesses where the proprietors and servers (Spanish and foreigners) are able to communicate at least on the surface with a mixed clientele.)

10. Being bilingual makes you more marketable when searching for a job in Spain. (I am not seeking jobs in Spain, but it pleases me that every once in awhile I am able to help others in my network when they have need of an information professional "on the ground" in Spain.)

My fall schedule has changed. The weekly Spanish class subsidized by the ayuntamiento of Algorfa is not being held on Friday morning at 9:30 this year. It has moved to Monday morning at 11:15. A much better hour, if not day. I wasn't even able to go to the organizational meeting on Monday because it conflicted with my other Spanish class, my private book reading session, at 11:00 on Monday. Fortunately I have now been able to get that class re-scheduled to later in the week, so I can still benefit from two all-Spanish sessions each week. As an English woman said to me soon after I arrived in Spain, "Learning Spanish is my new lifelong hobby."

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Finally, Benidorm

Looking toward the Poniente Beach in Benidorm ©2012 Johannes Bjorner
Last Sunday provided lovely fall weather and we took a day trip by bus to Benidorm. I had never heard about Benidorm before arriving for the first time in Spain eight years ago, and it took a couple years and several off-the-cuff references to it before the word Benidorm settled in my conscious as a tourist destination. As with many tourist destinations, it seemed to be a place that was either hailed or reviled. The first time that I thought I might sometime go there was probably six years ago, when some friends in Roquetas spent Christmas on one of the gala hotel package deals in Benidorm, because, as they said somewhat apologetically, they "liked it." Other people, when I asked about Benidorm, snorted as though  they wouldn't be caught dead there. And others tried valiantly to contain their incredulity when I said, and continued to say for several years, that I had never been to Benidorm. After all, it is not just a tourist destination, and not far from where we live now in Alicante province; Benidorm is also the name of a well-known British TV program that has now been running for more than five years.

Benidorm is a city situated on the Mediterranean Costa Blanca, 20 kilometers or so north of Alicante city, and immediately north of Villajoyosa, where we had passed an interesting day a few weeks ago. It is widely acknowledged as the city that created the 1960s tourism industry in Franco's Spain. Giles Tremlett, Madrid correspondent for The Guardian newspaper, describes his first approach to Benidorm in a chapter titled "How the Bikini Saved Spain" in his book Ghosts of Spain.

"A few miles north from Alicante a thin, mysterious pole-like structure began to emerge over some distant hills....The gradually broadening shape ahead of me was Spain's tallest building, the Gran Hotel Bali. It stood like a proud, raised finger on the edge of a place whose current name is not only easily recognised, but has become a modern legend of its own--for this, finally, was Benidorm.

If anywhere in Spain symbolises the country's latest invasion, this is it. A fresh invading horde, sun-hat and sandal-wearing northern European tourists, has rampaged its way along this coast over the past forty years. The horde has made Benidorm its capital. This time there has been no resistance. The burghers of Benidorm have rolled out a welcome carpet of concrete, tarmacadam and brick. Jointly they have vandalised what was once one of the most beautiful spots on the Spanish coast.

Even those of us who are instinctively appalled by Benidorm, however, cannot help but be awe-stuck by what has happened here. For locals it is a genuine miracle....

Benidorm is to package tourism what Las Vegas is to gambling--the undisputed capital of the world."  
Faber and Faber, ©2006, pp. 97-99.

Our Sunday bus picked us up promptly at the agreed-upon hour of 9:10--we had only to avoid the bus to Benidorm from the competing tour company that left from the same spot ten minutes earlier. As with all day coach tours, there were a few additional stops to pick up additional passengers as we proceeded north, but once we were on the road, it took less than an hour and a half to arrive in Benidorm. First drop-off was Terra Mitica, a huge theme park on the inland side of the highway which, at a few minutes before 11:00 AM, had nary a car in the immense parking lot. I'm sure that is different in July and August, and we were reminded that there was a reason that we had decided in August to postpone our trip until the summer holidays and some of the vacationers had gone.

The next drop-off was center city. We drove down a long and wide avenida toward the beach, then reversed direction to go back up that street to what would also be our pick-up point six hours hence: just in front of the medical center. We stayed on the bus to the following discharge point, though, the site of the large outdoor market, which is held on Wednesdays and Sundays. The crowds were immense, but we spent little time there, as we have easy access to our own outdoor market, much closer. At our market, though, we don't have to battle the silent electric mobility carts that were all over the sidewalks, both at the market and elsewhere throughout the city all day. This sight explained an article I had read in one of the local weekly papers a couple months ago about tourists "terrorizing" the ambulatory population with their mobility scooters. Indeed these personal mobility solutions tend to creep up on unsuspecting walkers more stealthily than the communal golf carts I had experienced at Florida resorts.

Roman Relic in Benidorm?
©2012 Johannes Bjorner
We walked and walked--part of the assignment for this trip was to practice long-distance walking in preparation for our excursion to the Frankfurt Book Fair this coming week. From the market area we walked along the main street fronting the long beach area to the opposite end of the city, to the old town. Even those who profess dislike for Benidorm say that its old city center is attractive, with narrow streets  and a pretty church facing the sea from a high cliff. We think we saw the old town--we saw the church and narrow streets--but just because Benidorm has an old town, it doesn't necessarily mean they have preserved it as other Spanish cities have preserved their casco antiguo. We saw a single site that may be a relic of Benidorm's Roman era--but there was no sign or indication, so it may also have been a hoax.  Still, we found a place for lunch and watched a troupe demonstrate Argentine tango and then at about 1:00 we began to see groups of people making their return trip into the city center, beach chair in hand, on their way to the traditional Spanish dinner. Our return trip was on the wide beach promenade running along the Poniente and Levante beaches, and we found plenty of people to watch, and a place for ice cream, and we even ventured in to a few shoe and clothing shops to browse, but made no purchases.

In my view, Benidorm is like many Spanish seaside communities: lots of sun, sand, sea, beer, tapas, and chino novelty shops. So it was the first to generate tourism; it is the first of many. It is, in fact, somewhat more attractive than many others--I saw no unfinished housing blocks and I think there are wider streets and more green areas than in many other tourist towns. (I think it compares favorably with Torremolinos, another old destination on the packaged tour route, on the Costa del Sol.) Yes, there are skyscrapers, many, many hotel and apartment skyscrapers. I don't see how they could do it, but to my view from down below, they all looked as though every rental had a clear view to the sea, although it may have been very small and only from one window or balcony. Benidorm is also gambling and big entertainment shows, and Mundo Mar, another theme park, but we didn't get to any of those attractions and we won't miss them.

Will I go back to Benidorm? Maybe. There was a dress in a couple of the shops that I have not seen elsewhere... and it is easy and cheap to get to if you just want to have a day out of the house.  Or maybe not. But I'm glad I have seen it, and I am neither hailing it nor reviling it.

Returning from Benidorm at Dusk. ©2012 Johannes Bjorner