Amanda Bennett: A Year in Zaragoza, Spain

Jalouín October 31, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — psychohistoria @ 12:35 pm

The phonetic translation of “halloween” looks nothing like it, but after all, it’s a very “North American” holiday. However, Spain has been introduced to the festivities of the last day of October, for better or for worse. Children now hear ghost stories in literature classes, teachers dress up like witches, and of course there is trick-or-treating…with the children saying “trick or treat” in English. comical for us native speakers due to the three hard “r”s in the phrase which don’t exist in Spanish.

Before the introduction of Halloween, the the weekend around the 31st wasn’t deprived of holidays: November 1 is All Saint’s DAy, which involves the purchase of a type of marzipan sweet called “Huesos del Santo” and some circular baked goods called “panalletes” or “buñuelos” with flavors like lemon, coffe, and pine nuts, but above all, bringing flowers to the graveyard to decorate the tumbs of dearly departed family. All Saint’s Day generally means a steady flow of customers in the florists.

But this year, there are more temporary Halloween costume shops selling brightly-colored plastic masks and synthetic-material body suits alongside fake swords and faux bunny ears. And the stream of consumer traffic has been altered by these new islands. THe florists report a significant drop in customers, who perhaps are choosing to spend their money on a costume for their children and candy at El Rincón instead of on bouquets for their grandparents’ graves and panelletes for All Saint’s Day.

I don’t want to imply that Halloween is bad or that dresing up in a costume made-in-China is a horrible moral offense, but I do regret that the delicious looking sweets in the wonderfully traditional candy shop are overshadowed by a plastic pumpkin filled with M&Ms in the new store next door. Halloween is viewed here as a very United Statesian holiday, and it also makes me a bit embarrassed that our greatest holiday influence is one in which children try to get as much candy as they can from their neighbors.

Luckily for me, I won’t miss out on the more traditional festivities of All Saint’s Day; although I don’t think my host mother brings flowers to the graveyard, she did mention something about thsoe Huesos de Santos…

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Los Pirineos October 30, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — psychohistoria @ 9:26 am
España 10 12

A bubbling mountain brook

After seeing the Andes in Peru, and the gorgeous sites of western New England with Elements, I was dubious when I signed up for the option hiking excursion to the Pyrenees. Could anything stand up to the ancient green terraces of the Andes or the gorgeous forested waterfalls of Vermont?

Yes, something can.

España 10 (42)

The Pyrenees

We stopped for dinner in Jaca on our way to the mountains. My host mother had packed me a sandwich of tortilla de champiñones – a mushroom omelet placed between the two halves of a baguette. The idea of an omelet sandwich is still rather strange to me, but after the long bus ride, the sandwich, still warm from the aluminum wrapping, was delicious. Jaca has a great castle, wonderfully historical despite the intriguing “1% cultural” sign, with a huge moat surrounding it. Unfortunately the castle was closed, but we stood gazing across the moat at the imposing stone walls and the movie-esque drawbridge gate.

Suddenly, motion in the moat caught our peripheral vision: a huge hoofed and antlered animal had just rounded the bend and was wandering past us! My host mother had also given me muffins to bring, so my friends begged mercilessly that I “give the moose a muffin”, but due to my doubts about the moose-ness of the animal and my “do not feed the animals” stance, I resisted. We did, however, continue watching, only to see another beast come into view!

Right as I said “I hope they don’t engage in territorial fighting,” another group of students rounded the bend as the hoofed animals locked antlers. Luckily, one of the boys was an avid deer hunter and informed us that despite their huge size and gigantic antlers, these were indeed white-tailed deer, grown to an unnatural size and age (14 years, he guessed) due to the lack of predators or obstacles in the moat.

We later learned that the deer were placed purposely in the moat at some point in history, slightly tingeing our excitement at seeing “wild” deer fighting. However, despite the intrigue of the deer squabble, it was soon overshadowed by the true destination of the trip: the mountains.

We arrived at the albergue (hostel) and chose our rooms: 2 rooms for 12 girls and the same for the boys. The night inevitably turned into a great pajama party, eventually ending in sleep in anticipation of the hike the following day.

España 10 (28)

Pretty mountain flower

The alarm rang at 8 o’clock, and we descended to the hostel’s comedor for breakfast. The best bread I’ve yet to have in Spain and some good cheese, accompanied by a glass of orange juice, was a great pre-hike meal. I’ve grown to appreciate a delicious cheese sandwich.

I don’t want to mislead you with “sandwich”…the bocadillos here are not made on plain old wonderbread. As aforementioned, the pan of choice is the baguette, the long thin “French” bread. These lovely sandwiches can reach a foot in length while maintaining a mere few inches in width – wonderful gastronomical physics.

But the albergue’s breakfast was only a precursor to the wonderful day to come. We donned our backpacks, loaded with trail mix, water, and penny candy from El Rincon, and the multiple layers we had brought after many warnings of the cold in the Pyrenees, and the bus let us off at the base of the peak we were to climb.

The first things to come off were the hats, followed by coats, and then mittens and gloves. Finally the scarves found their way into backpacks too, and we were sweating under the mountain sun.

We hiked for a few hours, stopping to refill our water bottles from the mountain stream and pass around the nuts and raisins we’d brought. We reached the snow line, but the day was still warm.

The views were too beautiful to describe in words; even the photos don’t do them justice. At the end of our hike was a beautiful glassy lake.

España 10 (47)

El Lago

Climbing up on a snowless rock we pulled out our epic sandwiches and lunched on the top of the world.

 

Fin de Fiestas October 23, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — psychohistoria @ 9:01 am

Quite a bit has come to pass since Los Pilares ended on Sunday, but the photos are too beautiful to not include:

A model of the basilica del Pilar....in chocolate!!!

A model of the basilica del Pilar....in chocolate!!!

The fireworks that terminated the festivals with a bang!

The fireworks that terminated the festivals with a bang!

More fireworks, which we watched from our terrace, of course.

More fireworks, which we watched from our terrace, of course.

The finale was a burst of white.

The finale was a burst of white.

After the fiestas, we returned to classes and lots of quizzes and tests. We have finished Song of Solomon in English class and are preparing our essays, whilst my political science class is arriving at Machiavelli and in history, the Arabs have just arrived to the southern coast of Spain. However, in Art History, the Romans are the ruling empire.
On Tuesday morning, I noticed a small ad for Aragonés classes. Aragonés is the local language of Aragón, developed simultaneously with Castilian but in isolated towns in the north. It is similar to Castilian (the Spanish taught in school and spoken in South America and the majority of Spain), similar enough that I can understand it. During a free period, I went to sign up, and was happy to meet amiable people excited that an American wanted to learn their dying language. What intrigued me was the linguistics: I figured that comparing Aragonés and Castilian would be an interesting exercise.
I walked into the class, and suddenly realized that it was an immersion class, that the next youngest student was 26, and that half of the people had been studying Aragonés for at least 3 years.
Although everyone was amiable and very nice, I’m thinking that after one more class, I will drop the activity simply because I feel as though I’m a bit out of place there! Also, I found an art class on the same day of the week.
On Wednesday, however, I was also busy. The school has purchased a season pass to the Auditorio de Zaragoza (the classical music performance center), so a friend and I were able to attend a concert for free. Our evening began with restaurant lauded for their brava sauce – they only serve sandwiches, and only with this Spanish sauce. We got our bocadillos to go and walked to the Auditorio, only about a 30 minute walk. We arrived to a gorgeous building bustling with nicely dressed concert-goers. Our seats were fantastic, offering a great view of the orchestra. The music was wonderful as well – Debussy, Saint-Saëns, and Berlioz, played by the Symphonic Orchestra of the Leipzig Radio, from Germany. The Saint-Saëns piece, possibly my favorite, was a cello concierto featuring a wonderful cello soloist. A lovely evening, despite the fact that I arrived home at 11:00! (Not much time to study for my vocabulary test!)

Every Thursday, I have Joven Erasmus, an extra-curricular class composed of 8 Spanish students and 8 SYA students. This week we discussed the differences in the school systems of each country, which made me slightly homesick because I had to talk about Deerfield but was also really interesting. However, I have decided that without a doubt the American system is better (or at least the Deerfield system, which I suppose is actually very different from the experience of the vast majority of American students).

Today, I’m running home after school to pack for the overnight trip to the Pyrenees, an optional trip organized by the school. We’re spending Friday night in a hostel in Jaca and on Saturday, we’ll be hiking in the Pyrenees! I’m slightly dubious that it will match the wonderfulness of an Elements trip, but I’m hoping I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

 

Barbie and Ken October 21, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — psychohistoria @ 8:44 am
Ken dressed in the traditional aragonés clothing, on his way to perform the jota.

Ken dressed in the traditional aragonés clothing, on his way to perform the jota.

A display in the window of a store in the same building as our school.

 

Televisión

Filed under: Uncategorized — psychohistoria @ 8:38 am

I sat down with my host mother to watch a series after the daily news. In three minutes (the review of what happened last week), we see: a bar, a man and woman kissing, two soldiers drinking, another kiss scene, two men kissing, a man fall down a flight of stairs, we discover that one of the men was a priest, and another kiss scene interrupted when the man is shot. Gotta love Spanish television.

 

Príncipe Encantador October 19, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — psychohistoria @ 2:46 pm
Castillo de Loarre

Castillo de Loarre

“Abrígate, abrígate!” Carmen insisted that I put on at least two more layers, a scarf, and gloves. We were, after all, going to the “pre-Pyrenees” to the Castle of Loarre. Joking that we’d be on the lookout for Orlando Bloom (The Kingdom of Heaven, a movie starring him, was filmed in and around the castle), we headed out with Carmen’s friend, Paloma.

We first stopped in Huesca (the capital of the province to the north of Zaragoza), for some post-breakfast coffee, which turned into a second breakfast when we bought a croissant-type bun. Since Paloma used to work in Huesca, she gave us a quick private tour of the two most famous churches, one from the thirteenth century.

Our next destination was Bolea to visit the Colegiata de Santa María la Mayor, another pretty little cathedral. I enjoyed applying my knowledge of Roman, Gothic, and Romanesque architecture from my art history class to the various churches.

Todavía acercándonos...

Todavía acercándonos...

Finally we arrived in Loarre and drove to the defensive castle, perched atop a small rocky mountain.

Castilla de Loarre, un castillo defensivo

Castilla de Loarre, un castillo defensivo

The castle was beautiful, a labyrinth of arches, two small chapels, and little towers. The weather was perfect as well: I actually ended up taking off my coat, scarf, gloves, and sweatshirt. The view from the castle was brilliant, overlooking various cultivated fields and little olive groves.

A view almost as good as that from the Rock!

A view almost as good as that from the Rock!

We finished our day trip with a grand lunch in Ayerbe on the way back to Zaragoza. We didn’t find Orlando Bloom or prince charming, but it was definitely worth the trip.

 

Las Fotos October 16, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — psychohistoria @ 9:05 am
My host mother and myself dressed in traditional Aragonés clothing in front of an advertisment for the Pilar festival.

My host mother and myself dressed in traditional Aragonés clothing in front of an advertisment for the Pilar festival.

A man from the Canary Islands dances.

A man from the Canary Islands dances.

Two children from the Aragon section dressed in the traditional Aragonés clothing.

Two children from the Aragon section dressed in the traditional Aragonés clothing.

The Andalucian group - the land of bright colors, hot weather, and flamenco!

The Andalucian group - the land of bright colors, hot weather, and flamenco!

My host mother's neice, me, Carmen (my host mother), her sister, and her nephew (who cried almost the entire time).

My host mother's neice, me, Carmen (my host mother), her sister, and her nephew (who cried almost the entire time).

From the north of Spain, where there is a large Celtic influence.

From the north of Spain, where there is a large Celtic influence.

On Sunday, I woke up to my host mother ironing. Due to the lack of mechanical dryers here, she irons a lot. However, this morning the garments subjected to the steam included a 50-year-old shawl, and her grandmother’s jewelry box lay open on the table next to her. We were preparing to dress in traditional Aragonés clothing for the Ofrenda de Flores – the offering of flowers to the Virgen del Pilar.

Despite the wind, the day was perfect, which explains why 300,000 people joined the procession, all donned in traditional dress and carrying bouquets. If one joined the parade at the beginning, the wait was about 2 hours to reach the Virgen. However, my mother, a Zaragonana through and through, knew where we could cut in about 10 minutes away from the end.

The Virgen del Pilar, atop a huge wire structure covered in flowers.

The Virgen del Pilar, atop a huge wire structure covered in flowers.

This was what awaited us as we rounded the corner into the Plaza del Pilar: a huge wire pyramid, with its top two terraces already covered in flowers, and a statue of the Virgen on top.

The next day, Monday, brought the Ofrenda de Frutos – the offering of food. Monday was also the Día de Hispanidad, the day of Spanishness, the Iberian end of Columbus Day. This Ofrenda was a huge parade of groups of people from each autonomous community in Spain, including the Canary Islands. Each group was dressed in the traditional clothing of their area, and most had music and dancers as well. This time my host mother and I just watched.

The Pilar festivals are much more than parades, however. They now include free concerts, churros and almendradas, days off school, and rampant drunk Spaniards. And although we are back in school, the festivals haven’t ended. Street vendors still line the main avenue, which has been cut off from traffic for the entire week, and there is a giant stage outside our school building that was sound testing all yesterday. Zaragoza’s population was doubled by the visitors last weekend, and many are still around, looking forward to the final festivities to come.