El Torre Ieronymus

wet tiled floor on the top of Cathedral in Salamanca

people sheltering in archway on top of cathedral

Wet! Cold! We made it up the Torre Ieronymus this afternoon and just as we got to the top, the heavens opened, thunder cracked and lightning flashed  – very biblical!   It was also very exciting, but it did mean that we got very wet and we didn’t get the great view of the landscape that we had
expected!  We got glimpses through the lashing rain as we dashed across the slippery tiled floor to the shelter of the next archway.  I managed to snatch a couple of shots as we huddled against the arches …. atmospheric!   We were also lucky enough to enjoy the amazing sound of the choir wafting up from the choir stalls as we stood in the gallery high up in the cathedral.

cathedral archesClasses were interesting today; I got most of my language homework correct after spending a good hour agonising over it last night.  I think I got the grasp of it but still need more time to think before being able to produce it in general conversation, off the cuff!  Next week promises more practice and work on the subjunctive so homework this weekend is to learn verb forms and tenses.  Aargh!
terracotta roof tilesHistory is getting better and better; it really is interesting and although Concha still shouts and rattles away “sin parar” we are learning to interrupt every now and again and ask for clarification to break the flow.  I am also understanding more.  The stories she has to tell about her “abuelo” and his experiences during the Civil War and Franco’s regimes are fascinating.  He was a Republican in a Nationalist regime in a city that was loyal to Franco.  He was sent to Africa and imprisoned.  He was released and on his return to Spain all his money was confiscated, he was not allowed to work.  He had been a teacher.  Fortunately, his wife had some money so they were not destitute and eventually he retrained as a lawyer whilst also doing some personal tutoring.  It seems that his wife’s connections kept him “safe” as many other people with the same political ideology were never released or had no opportunity to rebuild their lives.
detail of window on cathedralI am looking forward to next week.  Our Literature class is also great.  I love discussing Inclan’s play “Luces de Bohemia”.  Today we worked in small groups to answer some questions Antonio had set which gave us the opportunity to split up and share ideas and language with other students.  We all learned a lot more especially since the other students are really willing to help us and explain some of the background to the literature.  The History class is also giving the literature some context as this play comments on the social and political and literary situation of the day.
spouts on cathedral roof overflowing with waterLast class with Pilar today – no change in her manner but we did manage to get lots of good inter-cultural language and social context which was great.

La Fundacion German Sanchez

Young children reading in a libraryThursday was a busy day again – they’re all busy!  Classes are getting even better, except for Pilar, although we are managing to distract her and got quite a lot of good language today – just not enough actual practice as she talks the whole time!!
Children reading on computers in a resource centre
In the afternoon we visited a local library /resource centre called “La Fundacion German Sanchez“.  The presentation was a little overpowering (read long and text heavy!)  and  and I was so tired that a dark, warm room with relatively comfy seats was the not the best place to be!  I think most of us had heavy eyes but we managed (I think) to maintain levels of “alertness” sufficient to not appear too ungrateful!
emblem of La Fundacion German Sanchez RuiperezWe were given a bag full of advertising material which included some great posters, which I, unfortunately managed to lose in a hotel room in Madrid – gutted!  The visits to the resource centre, the library and especially the reading activity workshop for the under fives were interesting though.  It was great to see so  many families taking advantage of the (free) opportunities for their children to access reading whether they be hard copies of books or on-line reading activities.  It was also wonderful to see the joy that these activities gave to the children.  Schools can request topic boxes of books that the Fundacion will put together for them and there are reading groups for adults as well as other activities to promote reading for all ages.
Pretty square with gardens
However, like the Montessori school, it was nothing particularly new to us.  The same things happen here in NZ and in other countries around the world.  What seemed sad was that this was something that was not provided by the government but by a privately funded organisation.   I don’t know if the government also provides such a service for the general public and for schools, we certainly saw public libraries in all the cities we visited, but the fact that the Fundacion exists suggests that there is a gap that needs to be filled.
Time for a beer!
Beer being served in a small bar in Spain

Un dia en la Universidad de Salamanca

exercise book showing work done by studentWednesday saw us back to school again! Me encantan mis clases y creo que estoy aprendiendo mucho. My first class with Isabela is great; we have plenty of opportunity to interact and converse and there is freedom to produce language within the context of the grammar that allows for some imagination and interesting vocabulary emerges!  The range of nationalities in my class, I think, accounts for some of that variety as do the different personalities and cultural differences. There is a young Japanese man who has a very quirky sense of humour and some of the suggestions he makes are rather bizarre! It certainly leads to some hilarity and discussion about culture and language which is all in Spanish.
History was better today although Concha still talks like a train rattling down a track and probably just as loud!  However, I can cope with the constant talking as she is clear and the content is really interesting although it would be good to have a few minutes to process what she has said every now and again.  It is still the loudness of her voice that assaults my ears and wears me out!
Literature is hard but I love it.  We have joined a class half way through a course and it seems to be at quite a high level certainly as far as language competence goes.  The students have mostly been here for six months or so and so we feel that we are at a bit of a disadvantage both linguistically and in terms of subject matter.  However, Antonio, our teacher is really good. The classes are well-organised and there is plenty of opportunity to discuss in small groups. He uses a range of resources; youtube clips, songs, videos and ppts.
We finished off the love poems today – Frederico Garcia Lorca – Boda de Sangre

and a poem by Miguel Hernandez who wrote from his prison cell during the Spanish Civil War to his wife who was expecting their baby. I found this poem incredibly sad but others saw hope in it that his unborn child would see the freedom that he had been fighting for but would never see.
Menos tu vientre,
todo es confuso.
Menos tu vientre,
todo es futuro,
fugaz, pasado
baldío, turbio.
Menos tu vientre,
todo es oculto.
Menos tu vientre,
todo inseguro,
todo postrero,
polvo sin mundo.
Menos tu vientre
todo es oscuro.
Menos tu vientre
claro y profundo.

We have now started looking at “La Generacion del “98” and Ramon Maria del Valle Inclan.  Not an author I have ever heard of but apparently he is a key writer in Spanish Literature.  Just having had our history lesson helped to put the writing into context, especially for the love poems of Lorca and Hernandez.  1898 was a turning point in Spanish history as it was when Spain “lost” it’s colonies and led to a huge shift in people’s thinking.  At first reading Inclan’s work “Luces de Bohemia” reminds me of Samuel Beckett‘s “En attendant Godot” or the Theatre of the Absurd writers such as Ionesco or Brecht.  We will see….
University of SalamancaWhat else did we do today?  No Pilar today, thankfully but we had a visit to the Montessori school in Salamanca.  Interesting but a little disappointing – we would have liked to have seen a state school rather than a “Colegio concertado” which I suspect bears little resemblance to how schools work generally in Spain.  Los Colegios Concertados are the equivalents of Integrated Schools in NZ and so have the advantage of additional funding and a greater degree of autonomy.  There appeared to be quite a lot of “trumpet blowing” which I guess is to be expected, but the visit to the classrooms that we had all been looking forward to, was a bit of  a farce;  8 NZ teachers lined up in front of a class, then the kids were told to carry on as normal!  As you can imagine, that didn’t happen – embarrassment, awkwardness, they didn’t know what to do and neither did we!  We ended up asking them some questions about how they learned and one or two very articulate students responded in excellent English and then we were filed out again.  Total time in class 10 minutes.  It was interesting to see that despite my understanding that Montessori schools promote a relatively free and relaxed way of exploratory learning, these students were arranged in rows in single desks, no decoration on the walls, text books on desks and the lesson appeared to be teacher led.
students in a school sitting in rowsWe were given a presentation, too long, too fast, as I said, lots of trumpet blowing and largely uninteresting – most of what they are doing is what we already do in NZ.  Having said that I think the Primary teachers saw a slightly different picture and in order to promote the learning of English, subjects like Art and Music are taught in English.   Nevertheless we did get a useful table showing how the school system in Spain is organised.
playground in Spanish inner city school,  Sand and trees
One of our observations was that there was no green in the school at all – the playground was sandy – no grass – which seemed quite sad to us given the amount of grass even in inner city schools in NZ.
New Zealand Teachers at a bar in Salamanca, SpainWe have found a small bar away fromthe Plaza Mayor; Toro 70 is a small, “real” bar where we have now become “locals”.  Prices are much cheaper than in the touristy Plaza Mayor and it is in a quieter lane off the main shopping area.  We have also become regulars at a small cafe in La Plaza Mayor for early morning coffee before classes.  The owner of El Escudo welcomed us on the second morning with “un cafe solo y dos cafes con leche” on the bar almost before we ordered them!  What service!
Oh, and I did quite a lot of shopping today ……. cold spell due and I had no shoes!

"El Dia del Libro"

Buying magazines and postcards at a bookstall in SalamancaEs un día de fiesta en Salamanca y en toda la región de Castilla y León. Es el día del libro; el cumpleanos de Cervantes y la Plaza Mayor esta llena de librerias.  Tambien es el día de la Communidad de Castilla y Leon entonces todo el mundo tiene un dia de vacaciones.  Holiday for everyone so no classes for us so we had a tour of Salamanca and the cathedrals which was fascinating.

It was decidedly chilly out despite the clear blue sky and the sun; there was a strong, icy breeze and I was totally inappropriately dressed in a summer dress and sandals so ended up buying myself a sweatshirt!

El Grupo Salmantinos in La Plaza Anaya with the Nueva Catedral in the background

I think the best thing to do is write down as many details as I can remember because we heard so much.  I was pleased that I understood most of what our guide, Fernando, told us and even managed to translate for some of the people in our group but it will take a while for me to process all the information and I am sure that over the next few months snippets of what we were told will pop into my head at random moments! 

1. Plaza de Anaya – Nueva Catedral on one side, first college of La Universidad de Anaya on the other; La Facultad de Philologia. 

Girl playing saxaphone sitting on a wall with the Facultad de Philologia in the background

2. Two cathedrals, the new and the old.  The old one was too small so they decided to build another.  The money was given by the king and the plan was to destroy the old one but it took 200 years to build the new one so the old one stayed whilst they built.  The new one was abutted to one wall of the old so in the end they kept both! The new one is 150 metres long and twice as wide as the old as well as being much higher.  here were alos more windows in the new cathedral; the thinking at the time was that the higher the windows, the closer they were to God., it also makes the cathedral much lighter and airier. The old catheral has a beautiful altar painting.  Fernando suggested that it was rather like a cartoon strip that tells the story of the bible.  Given that only the clergy and the nobility coud understand the Latin that was the main language of church services, the rest of the congregation would have sat in ignorance to what was going on.  The altar painting and the stained glass windows provided them with images that they could understand and so kept them interested!

Astronaut carved into the sandstone on the New Cathedral, Salamanca

3. The cathedrals are built of sandstone which is very soft.  This means that it is easy to carve so the designs on the walls of the cathedrals and elsewhere in the city are incredibly intricate.  The area is also know for the silver filigree work and this is also evident in the stone carvings.  However, it doesn’t weather well and erosion of the stone is a problem.  Sections of the stone work have had to be replaced and rather than try to replicate what went before and to differentiate between new and old stonework, they have incorporated new designs.  The original designs would have told the story of the time, they were a testament to the age and so the new designs are the same. Thus we can see an astronaut and a devil eating icecream in the facades close to the doorways of the cathedral. 

Cupula of New Cathedral in Salamanca

4. The new cathedral has a beautiful cupula and tower.  However,  it was seriously damaged as a result of the Lisbon earthquake in 1755.  The Cupula collapsed and had to be rebuilt, the tower too was badly damaged but was shored up with big rocks and mud (according to our guide this is a typical Spanish response to problems – cheap and cheerful!) as a temporary fix until, more recently, stainless steel reinforcement rods were inserted to stabilise the building. Large cracks can be seen all around the building and they are quite disconcerting given the size of the place! 

Looking up to the ceiling of the cathedral in Salamanca

5. The organ is splendid – quite magnificent but they are not sure if it is the original or not!  I got a little confused here but think that he said that it stopped working and didn’t work for a while.. at some point they decided that they should look to getting it fixed as it is so beautiful.  But again – due to the Spanish not wanting to spend too much money they were happy when the Japanese said that they would undertake to renovate it. The Japanese seem to have a propensity to “save” foreign heritage sites – we witnessed the same phenomena in Cambodia in relation to Ankhor Wat.  However, our guide seemed to suggest that they weren’t sure whether the Japanese truly renovated the original or just replaced it with a brand new replica.  He suggested that at some time in the future they may well find a “Made in Japan” stamp on it!

My feet resting against those of the "bishop" - gaining wisdom!

6. Bishop – there is a side chapel where one of the bishops of the cathedral is buried along with other notaries of the cathedral  It was in this chapel that prospective priests would be locked to spend the night before their exam in preparation.  It is said that they would sit in contemplation with their feet pressed against the feet of the statue of the bishop in order that his wisdom be passed through to them!  The next day they would face their examiners in the same chapel and if they passed would emerge victorious to the acclamation of the people waiting at the main door of the cathedral.  If they failed they would be ushered out ignominiously of a side door of the cathedral! 

La Casa de las Conchas - a house with over 500 shells embossed on the wall of the building.  This image alos shows the ornate windows

7. Out of the cathedral now and to La Casa de las Conchas which is a house that vhas over 500 shells decorating it.   It appears, following a little research that there are various theories to explain the shells decorating  the building.  However, I will relate what we were told and let you explore further yourself! The Conch is on the coat of arms of the family of the wife of the man who had the house built.  He came from Salamanca but his wife was from another region.  She was, apparently homesick for her regiosn and her family so he had the house covered in shells as a symbol of his love for her.  It also served, as was the custom of the time, as a symbol of the union of the families. Another story suggests that one of the shells hides a secret stash of the family jewels…..

These are just snippets of the information we were given today – my head is full and whirling and I can only process so much. I just hope that I will remember more as time goes on.

La Plaza Mayor was heaving today – lots of people browsing the book stalls and I had to be strong as I really can’t take books back – they weigh too much! It is Cervantes Birthday and apparently in La Plaza de Espana in Madrid there is an all day reading of Don Quixote!

4 teachers on the bridge with the cathedral spires in the background

Day 1 as a student at La Universidad de Salamanca

courtyard of University of Salamanca with statue of Fray Luis de Leon¡Que día!

My head is whirling! 7 hours of classes today; I feel like I have been run over by a bus – a very Spanish bus!  My language class is great; I am the only “Kiwi” in there amongst Americans, a Canadian, Japanese, Chinese, an Italian  and a Swiss girl.  Our teacher, Isabella, has an excellent manner with everyone and certainly keeps the class working at a good pace whilst also at a pace that we all seem to be able to cope with.  We are looking at “Hipotesis” or probability which is a little confusing to say the least.  However, we are getting lots of practice and I don’t think I am far behind everyone else.  I need to brush up on my knowledge of tenses though!
My History class was interesting; Concha (short for Concepcion, and as she said, who would want to be called Concepcion?!)  spent most of the hour getting us to introduce ourselves.  We had some good conversations and opportunity to practise speaking but only managed 10 minutes or so of history. She also talks really loudly which is quite hard to cope with – maybe I’ll get used to it!?  We are the only students in the class so it has been tailor made for us which is good but it also means we don’t get the interaction with other students.

detail of carving in sandstone on building in Salamanca, Spain
detail of carving in sandstone on building in Salamanca, Spain

No rest for us as we go straight to our next class at 1pm.  Spanish Literature; only 3 of us in this class that we have slotted into half way through the course. It is interesting but challenging.  The rest of the students have an excellent level of language skills and as the course is halfway through they also have the background knowledge that we don’t.  However, Antonio, our teacheris very good and because it is a holiday tomorrow and some students have chosen to “hacer el puente” (basically take an extra day off to make a long weekend) he did a one-off lesson looking at a couple of love poems. (Lorca and Fernandez) which gave us a general introduction to the topic and an idea of the level we would be working at.
2pm saw us all together again for an hour and a half of “Pedagogia”.  I may have been fairly tired by this point but I found this session totally irrelevant and frustrating especially after a morning of inspiring and interesting classes. The teacher, Pilar, talks very loudly and although she seems to have prepared a raft of activities ( we were given a hefty tome of resources), we didn’t get to do any of them. She just talked ten to the dozen about the activities contained therein.  We have all been teaching for a good while and are experienced teachers – what we need is plenty of language activity practice – hands on stuff!  Unfortunately, after a quick run home for “lunch” (3.30pm!) we had to be back for another hour and a half with her!

panoramic image of la Plaza Mayor, Salamnca, Spain

By 7pm we definitely needed a beer so a few of us headed to the Plaza Mayor to find the sun and some cerveza and share our experiences of the day.  I was glad to hear that I was not the only one with the same frustrations about the last two sessions!
Back home for dinner which was delicious but I am still not tuned in to the Spanish timetable and at 11pm I am ready for sleep!

domingo por la tarde ….

four towers of Madrid takne from a moving vehicle on motorway out of MadridWith a lump in my throat I made my way to Terminal 2 to meet up with the rest of “El Grupo Salmantina de la Nueva Zelanda”.  On to the next stage of my adventure…!
The bus ride to Salamanca took us through the landscape of the Madrid Region; we left the city behind us, the “cuatro torres” were visible for a while but as they disappeared behind us we could see the mountains in front of us.  The tall cross that marked “El Valle de los Caidos” (The Valley of the Fallen) was visible on the horizon and appeared at first to be on the top of a hillside but as we got closer it was clear that it was not.  Pablo explained that it was raised by Franco to honour the dead of the Civil War, both Nationalists and Republicans, and it also where he was buried, controversially,  in 1975.  He is the only person buried there who did not die in the conflict.  It is controversial, too, given its proximity to “El Escorial” which has been the burial place of the kings and queens of Spain since the sixteenth century.
Landscape of Madrid Region.  Green plains with settlements of red roofs and mountains on the horizon
We headed into the tunnel through the mountains and emerged on the other side into Castille y Leon.  I desperately tried to stay awake to take in the scenery but dozed intermittently so I only have fragments of memories of the landscape.  I remember thinking at some point that it seemed quite flat.  I also remember wind turbines turning majestically along a ridge of mountains in the distance and small settlements, with tall churches at their centre, stood out in the flatness of the terrain.
I awoke to find that we were in Salamanca; I had missed the build up to arriving and seeing the cathedral from afar.  Others told me how  impressive the towers looked, dominating the skyline as they approached.  Theresa, my homestay host was waiting with all the other hosts and we had those slightly nervous few moments as we waited for our names to be called out, trying to identify who would come forward to meet us and wondering whether we would get along.  Theresa is a small, trim lady in her 60s,  dark hair and a friendly smile. We walked the ten minutes or so to her home, dragging my suitcase over the kerbstones, cobbles and uneven pavements and then trying to squeeze it and me into the tiny lift that took us up to her second floor apartment.
Interior of Spanish apartment
Theresa has a small flat, three bedrooms with a tiny kitchen, bathroom and living room.  I think there was a small dining room too but we always ate in the living room where there was a small dining table.  It is very typically decorated for a woman of her generation (maybe I am generalising rather here..?).  Everything is neat and tidy, clean, polished dark wooden furniture, photographs of her sons and grandchildren on the sideboard and chests of drawers, elegant uphlostered settee and armchairs and polished wooden floors.  My room is small but sufficient; there is a comfortable bed, a desk and a wardrobe.  A small window looks out onto the street below.a spanish street - apartment blocks similar to Scottish tenement blocks.  4 storey buildings, utilitarian
I spent a few minutes sorting out my things before we had dinner.  First impressions of food were not great – chicken croquettes and a few chips and a green salad.  I guess it was a quick and easy meal to make for someone who had been travelling and was possibly tired.  Not too heavy but enough to fill me up but it was not what I had expected.  I was pretty tired and ready for bed but Theresa suggested a walk into Salamanca, ostensibly to show me where to go the next day for university.
I was glad we went for a walk; it gave me chance to unwind and also gave us the opportunity to chat and get to know each other.  there was plenty to talk about as Theresa pointed out the buildings and told me some snippets of history and information. I managed, just about, to get the general gist of what she was saying although I had to ask her to repeat quite a lot and also to speak more slowly. She took me to the Plaza Mayor which is beautiful; at this time of night it is all lit up and the golden sandstone glows.  She treated me to an icecream from the best “Heladeria” in town, apparently.  It was delicious but huge and I struggled to finish it all!  We also went to the university doors and she told me the story of “La Rana“; there is a frog carved into the intricate design of the “fachada” and the story goes that if a student can find the frog amongst the rest of the ornate carvings without help then they will be successful in their studies. If they don’t they may as well go home!  The town has adapted the story for the tourists; instead of being successful in studies, the finder will be lucky in love!
La Rana - detail of the frog on top of a skull on the carvings in Sandstone on the facade of the University of SalamancaI was suprised to find that it was after eleven o’clock when we returned and that we had been out for nearly and hour and a half.  Early for Spaniards!  The night may still have been young but I didn’t feel it and with the prospect of an early start the next day I was ready for bed!