24 April 2011

semana santa

This week is Semana Santa (Holy Week), or the week before Easter. Being a country dominated by Catholic tradition, Semana Santa is one of the most important times of the year in Spain. There are processions all over the country every day for the whole week with various figures of the Virgin Mary and Jesus on huge floats, or pasos, carried by hand by the costaleros.

Here is a short video from the tourism office about Semana Santa here in Santiago:

I wanted to share some of the pictures from a procession I saw on Viernes Santo (Good Friday) in Santiago. A warning, their costumes (the nazareno, or robe, and capirote, or hood) look eerily similar to those of the KKK. Unfortunately the KKK decided to model their getup after the Spanish one, which has been around forever. In Spain, however, it is considered holy and reverent. Depending on which hermandad or cofradía is processing, the outfits are different. Many people walk barefoot or chain their ankle, and cover their heads in mourning and to hide their faces because of the shame of their sins committed throughout the year, their identity only for God to know. Although the processions are much, much bigger and elaborate in Andalucía, they are still stunning to see here in Santiago, especially as I have never seen anything like it before.

Easter is celebrated very differently here than in the United States. It is very un-commercial. There is almost no sign of Easter in the stores--no Easter bunny, plastic eggs, Peeps, jelly-beans, etc. There are traditional cakes and foods associated with Easter, such as torrijas (essentially the Spanish equivalent to French toast). Easter is a very religious event, but also a time of celebration. 

I am by no means an expert about Semana Santa. To learn more, check out this article which has a lot of pictures. (NOTE: the pictures are mostly, but not exclusively, of Spain. Read captions to know where the pictures are from.) Also, see this website and this one, which contain more information as well. It's worth it to check them out if just to see the pictures.

To those of you who celebrate it, Happy Easter,  or ¡Felices Pascuas!

19 April 2011

la dauphine rencontre son royaume

La place Dauphine on the tip of the Île de la Cité
Okay, so I'm dreaming a bit. I just got back after a week-long trip to la Ville-Lumière- Paris. It was, needless to say, everything I was hoping for and more. I have wanted to go to France ever since I was a little girl. Here begins the paragraph where I begin to ramble unnecessarily about why (feel free to skip ahead):

Being born with a last name like "Dauphinais", I tend to get a lot of questions. Learning to spell it was a task in and of itself as a little kid, and it lent to many nicknames. I'm always having to correct spellcheck and professors calling my name the first day of class. My last name has several meanings, the most common one being the regional name from someone from the Dauphiné region of southeastern France. My favorite, however, is that when the Dauphiné region became part of the Kingdom of France in 1349, the title of 'dauphin' denoted the heir apparent to the throne, and it became another title for the name "prince". Other than meaning "someone from Dauphiné", I prefer the translation of "born of (-nais) the prince (dauphin)". What does this draw me to conclude, in a rather egotistical way? I must be related to the former French royal family, of course. And that these must be my great-great-great (times I-don't-know-how-much) grandmothers and grandfathers. Ah well, ancient history aside (they were mostly executed anyway, and in all reality, my relatives were pesants who immigrated to Québec), it was very interesting to see a lot of things named with the same root as my last name! (streets, cheese, wine, squares, stores, etc.) Regardless, I have always wanted to go to France to "meet my kingdom" so to speak.

The trip started out a little rocky; missing our flight to Madrid (my fault) and scrambling to take the 7-hour train ride to Madrid, the crazy lady at the Madrid airport checking luggage size for RyanAir who almost didn't let me on, security not understanding why the novio's airplane ticket said he was from Puerto Rico but his passport was from the USA, just to name a few. However, against all odds, we arrived and were blessed with beautiful weather.

Un pissenlit, le Champ de Mars, et la dame de fer
Paris was stunning. The expression that comes to mind is "sensory overload." It seemed like being there in April was the perfect time. It wasn't too hot, there were flowers in bloom everywhere, it still isn't the peak tourist season, etc. For all the stereotypes that circulate around the USA about the parisiens and the French, I don't know where they come from. In my experience, the metro was nice, the people were friendly and stood by patiently while I tried to express myself in my very rudimentary French, the city didn't smell bad (unless "bad" smells like fresh flowers, pâtisserie, and boulangerie), the streets were pretty clean, the food was great, and it wan't that much more expensive than Spain. (Once again proving the stupidity of stereotyping).

Artichauts au marché
Although I definitely had goals for things I wanted to see, I really enjoyed wandering aimlessly around the city. Parisians seem to do everything for the sake of art and being esthetically pleasing. Every little detail is just adorable. And let's just say that I ate enough pâtisserie to last a lifetime, and the Parisian croissants blow anything I've ever had before out of the water. Since the weather was so good, most of my afternoons were spent having picnics with the multitude of Parisians and tourists, complete with lots of baguette, fromage, and vin.

Paris is also HUGE, comprising of twenty arrondissements, each one with tons and tons to discover. I'm not quite sure how the novelty of living there could ever wear off. I felt that a week was not enough to even scratch the surface at all the things I wanted to do, see, and experience there. In the future, I would really love to see other places in France, specifically the part where my family is from, and one new goal is to spend a few months in France at some point in my life studying more French and eating pâtisserie. I will definitely be back to Paris, hopefully for more time in the future. 

Some more pictures:

L'arc de triomphe

Les macarons. Not to be confused with "macaroons".

les fleurs parisiennes sont très belles en avril

Now I find myself back in Santiago with the rain. It is Semana Santa (Holy Week) and I get the week off. I am not quite sure what I am doing,  but I hope to see some of the Semana Santa processions, even though I will not be in Andalucía, where the most popular of them are. It seems like there is so much about Spain that I need to write about, yet at the same time I feel like I have barely been here the last few weeks because of traveling. Not that I'm complaining, but it is nice to get back to mi vida española and resume some kind of normal schedule and feel like I'm actually living in my apartment again. In less than two weeks it will be May, which means I will be back in the United States sooner than I know it. So, so bittersweet indeed.

12 April 2011

sol africano

I have returned from my trip to Tenerife happy, tanned, and burnt by the African sun. It's probably a good thing I didn't get assigned to teach in the Canary Islands or I would most likely need to see a dermatologist every week to check for skin cancer.

The Canary Islands are an archipelago of seven islands located 100 km (60 miles) off the western coast of the countries of Morocco and Western Sahara. They are part of Spain, like the Hawaiian Islands are to the USA. I was immediately taken aback by how much I didn't feel like I was in Spain, for many reasons.

The food and atmosphere is completely different from mainland Spain. From what I saw, there were no ham legs hanging from the ceiling, nothing that really looked like tapas, actually good service and friendly people, way more reggaeton and bachata playing, and a total island feel. Additionally, there is the huge change in accent. Canarian Spanish is the closest variant spoken in Spain to Latin American Spanish, or more specifically, Caribbean Spanish. In las Canarias, it's guagua, not autobús, and papas, not patatas. Even my Puerto Rican novio had to agree that their Spanish sounded startlingly like his own.

In case you're curious: papa is the original and "correct" word for "potato" in Spanish. Potatoes originally came from the Andes. Papa is the word for potato in Quichua, one of the languages spoken there before the Spanish brutally took over. Around the same time, the Spaniards came across batatas, or sweet potato, from the Taínos, the group of people that lived in the Antilles, or the Caribbean (principally on the islands of Puerto Rico and Haiti/Dominican Republic) before the Spaniards showed up. The sweet potato is only very distantly related to the regular potato. As a result, the super-intelligent Spanish conquistadores confused papa and batata, and ended up with patata. Regardless, they still like to "correct" me when I say papas fritas instead of patatas fritas. Sigh. Okay, that was my linguistics lesson for the day.

Tenerife was stunning, and I really wish I had more time there, and were able to see some of the other islands as well. The people were extremely friendly, and definitely have my vote for the nicest Spaniards. If you go, you should know that parts of Tenerife are a huge tourist trap. German and British tourists come in droves to the Canary Islands, which gave parts of the island a sort of artificial feel, unfortunately. I also didn't realize the sun there was going to be so strong, and I got a pretty nasty sunburn on the first day, which put a damper on my beach-going activities for the rest of the trip. I suppose the strong African sun is not meant to be taken lightly. I didn't wear sunscreen at first, which was not very smart on my part, considering that living here in Galicia, I haven't seen proper sunlight since September!

el Drago, a tree native to the Canary Islands

On Saturday we took a bus all around the island, which is basically one huge mountain. There is a lot of diversity in climate and vegetation as a result. Mount Teide, the name of the mountain, is the highest peak in Spain. Part of the island is very mountainous and has a lot of cliffs, which made the bus ride interesting to say the least.

And now, I'm off to Paris for a week on another adventure! I'm currently in the train station in Santiago waiting to go to Madrid, because I didn't read the plane tickets correctly and missed the flight to Madrid before we leave for Paris. Needless to say, it was a fiasco of a morning thanks to Ryan Air's inflexible policies. Way to go, Ashlee!

04 April 2011

a day in the life...

What I see on my walk to work
Life in a new place can be exciting. However, spend enough time there and you will start to see that people are still people everywhere. Generally, it's the same things that make us all tick deep down, with some little twists. Living someplace is obviously much different than visiting or traveling there, and the initial, overwhelming sensation of newness gradually wears off as life begins to form into some semblance of order. The same goes for my life in Spain.

So what does my typical day consist of? Well, Spanish kiddies don't start school 'til 9:30 am, the lucky ducks. But this makes for lucky teachers too--I wake up around 7-8, depending on how much I feel like snoozing. Even at 8:00 am, it's still almost pitch-black here in SdC. I proceed to stumble in the dark, making my way to the kitchen, cursing Spanish pisos for having unpredictable and inconvenient locations for light-switches. I normally have tostada con mantequilla y mermelada (yummy toast with butter and jam), fresh-squeezed orange juice, and Cola Cao (like Nestle chocolate powder, but better). I shower and get ready for work, check the weather to see if I need to bring the big umbrella or the small umbrella, and head out around 9:00. I step outside and take my first breath of fresh Spanish air, inhaling the delectable scent from the panadería across the street. I pass the construction workers who have been ripping out my street's road since way before I got here, and I wonder when if they'll ever be finished. I continue on my way and reach a pretty killer hill, but I'm rewarded with a beautiful view of the zona vieja and the catedral. A half hour after I've set out,  I arrive at CEIP López Ferreiro.

My school day normally consists of 3 classes of around 50-60 minutes each, a 30-minute break, and then 2 more classes. Teaching is hard. My students love to give me grief; they are unforgiving. In every class though, there are the good ones who make it worthwhile. In the classroom I am the walking encyclopedia, fielding all types of irrelevant questions from "Can I go to the bathroom?" to "Do you have computers in your country?" to "Why do you have a Cuban accent?". When recreo comes, it is much appreciated, and I usually spend most of it talking to the other teachers or doing work in the teacher's lounge. When the bell rings, it's back to the books until 2:30, when school is out for the day. As soon as the timbre sounds, my students are racing out of the building to go home and have la comida. Teachers here in Spain leave right when the bell rings too, much to my surprise.

I begin my trek home, cursing the rain that has started to drizzle. Stores have closed for siesta, but sometimes if I hurry, there are still a few places open. I arrive home around 3:00 pm and make lunch for myself, and end the meal in typical Spanish fashion with yogurt or fruit. Even though I've been in Spain for over six months now, around noon, my stomach still starts growling for some food, even though it's not lunchtime here yet. My biological clock has still not completely adjusted, and when I arrive home, I'm usually starving. Lunch in Spain is the biggest meal of the day, and for most Spaniards I've met, still very family oriented. Later in the afternoon, I have French class at the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas or clases particulares (private lessons) that I give for English.

Afterwards, I run my errands, such as buying bread at the panadería and my fruits and vegetables from a frutería, and then my favorite stop at the charcutería, where I can get my delicious jamón and quesos. Later, I come home and prepare myself for the next day, and for la cena, dinner.  Dinner here is eaten around 9:00 at the earliest, and is usually something small, more like our lunch. If you're lucky enough to live in a place like Santiago, you can go to almost any bar, order something to drink, and get a big plate of tapas for free. If you go to a couple of bars, you get enough food to fill your tummy and drinks for 3-4€. Not too shabby! Spaniards are super social, so my day is often peppered with "shopping" trips or going to tomar algo with friends on a whim.

So there you have it, the general pattern of my day here. The weekends are another story, and are very varied. This weekend, I'm off to Tenerife, an island of the Islas Canarias off the coast of southern Morocco. I'm super excited for some sun and beach, and to finally make it to the Canary Islands!