Weekly Photo Challenge: Letters

I am inspired by this week’s photo challenge. I haven’t done one before so not sure how it works but here goes…
A photo with letters is the challenge. To me letters are the elements of the codes that enable us to communicate.  They are an integral part of our written language; symbols and images that help us to express our ideas and our feelings when we cannot use gestures and voice.
We are in the UK for a short visit from NZ and we visited my Dad’s grave today. I have always been fascinated by the language used on headstones and how it changes through the centuries. Often there is a formula which has varied little in essence over the years. The words have changed as language has evolved and we have become less formal but the formula is similar.  I wonder if that is because in times of stress and when our worlds are turned upside down we need some scaffolding to help us know what to do.  We follow societal norms and stick to what has gone before.  “Loving father/son/mother/daughter/wife ….” “Forever in our hearts”. 
I like this headstone because the words tells us something about the person that lies beneath. “A bell ringer and chorister”. What a wealth of images that conjures up about his life!  We can trace family connections through the names and dates on the headstones headstones which is is fascinating in itself but they tell us little of the lives of the people and how they lived.
My Dad’s headstone is simple but the plate on the bench (which was made by my sister) beside him says it all;
I wonder what image that conjures up about my Dad for the people who sit on the bench and contemplate?  Certainly not a complete picture of the man I looked up to and loved, but an important part of him.

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!