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

"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!

On my way! Me voy en Espana!

Well, I have not really had time to get excited about this trip as I have been so busy. Even the orientation day with the rest of the teachers on the trip didn’t really get me feeling that it was real. Now I am here in Auckland airport waiting for my flight and am allowing myself to get just a little bit excited about the fact that in just a few hours time I will be on the of the side of the world. 
When I was told about the Salamanca Immersion scholarship and decided to apply I didn’t want to hope too much that I would get it in case I was disappointed.  It has been a hectic and long term and I have to admit to being absolutely shattered and looking forward to sleeping as much as possible on the flight!
I am also a little apprehensive about staying with my host in Salamanca and not being able to communicate – you know those awkward silences when you can’t of anything to say or the frustrated panicky silences when you are trying desperately to finish off the sentence you have ambitiously started?  If I understand the information I have been given correctly, I am staying with a single lady which is great but also quite daunting; what if
we have nothing in common? It is often easier to keep conversations going when there are children around, with just the two of us I am worried that I won’t be able to think of anything to say…
But nothing ventured, nothing gained and I have a fantastic opportunity which I am going to grasp with both hands and both feet! I may well be more exhausted when I return than now but I know I will have learned heaps about the language, the culture and myself.
Here goes……