Nazareno, Nazareno

It’s Viernes de Dolores in the Catholic world, so you know what that means:

My school is full of nazarenos.

 Now, I know what your American brains are thinking, but this can’t be explained by a few letters: the nazarenos are symbolic of the penitent brothers of religious brotherhoods. In Seville and throughout Spain, these brothershoods march throughout their towns for up to 12 hours, accompanying a float adorned with candles, flowers and an image of Christ or the Virgen Mary.

They say the hoods make the sinners nearly unrecognizable to the people who come from around the world to see Seville’s famous line-up (read a few tips on how to survive it if you do come), but I’d still file it under culture shock.

Though it was tiring (they don’t called it Friday of Dolores, or Sorrows, for nothing!), it was fun to play guessing games with the students and practice prepositions on the two-hour long march.

When the faithful returned to their temple, there were pestiños and rosquillas for all. For now, the mantones and floats are stored until next year, and we teachers get a glorious ten-day break from babies and boogers.

Have you ever attended Holy Week processions in Spain? What was your reaction? Any big plans for Semana Santa? This lady is off to Turkey tomorrow!

The Serendipity of Traveling in Galicia

I have oodles of serendipitous moments while traveling through Spain and the world beyond – from sharing a tanjine with a Berber man to rubbing shoulders with Falete (seriously, he literally brushed passed me on the street in a flare of flamboyant nonchalance). Camera in hand, belly full of food and with my dad or Novio, and I’m totally in travel nirvana.

Still, I gotta throw out this disclaimer: I have just as many flubs and mess ups and utterly frustrating moments when I travel. But I wouldn’t keep traveling if those moments didn’t thrill me and push me to see more.

Just last weekend, I hopped on a plane after work to Galicia, the region where I work during the summer. The food, the people and their sing-song language, the endless stretched of rocky beaches – Spain’s northwest corner won me over on my first visit in 2008, and I now spend my summers working in A Coruña. Kike had spent just an ounce of time here, so I was eager to pay the plane fare and join him during his weekend there.

On Saturday morning, we jumped in his car and drove towards Santiago, windows down. We’d been blessed with a clear sky and warm temperatures and stripped off our jackets as soon as we got parked. I’d been to Santiago four times already, including for the fest of Spain’s patron saint, but coming into the Plaza do Obradoiro was serendipitous: the sun glinted off the stalls selling scallop shells and rosaries, and Camarón was glued to my face as I looked for new ways to capture St. James’s final resting place. From out of nowhere, I heard my name.

Standing just behind me were about a dozen of my old students from Olivares. Like a weirdo, I started sweating, my head spinning. I haven’t found a day to go back and visit a town 40 minutes away by bus, but I suddenly found myself in an entirely different corner of Spain embracing students I taught English to for three years. I promised to visit over Feria and gave everyone a quick kiss more before tailing off behind Kike to the entrance of the Cathedral.

Mass was being conducted in the high arcs of galego. Kike and I had just barely entered when the priest called for the attendants to give the sign of peace. I watched, midday light streaming in through the stained glass, as pilgrams embraced after a long Camino, backpacks still affixed on their shoulders. We circled the church’s chapels before Kike prayed to Saint James that Spain survive the economic crisis.

My ears perked up at the words botafumeiro. KIKEEEEEE I whispered shrilly, they’re going to do it, ¡qué suerte! I couldn’t believe our luck in seeing an enormous incense holder during a Pilgrim’s Mass. The team of scarlet-clad priests gingerly lifted the lid off of the 53kg tin and silver holder. Vaya tajá, Kike noted as I watched the men begin to pull down on the long, braided rope that attaches the botafumeiro to the high ceilings. Like ringing a bell, they heaved together in a perfect synchronization, and the botafumeiro swung like a pendulum – a small ripple that strengthened to a feverish height. My spirit soared along with it.

Kike and I spent the early afternoon walking the back streets between stone buildings, stopping at attractive plazas for a beer and pintxo of tortilla or empanada. I dragged him to O Gato Negro, an unassuming bar I’d eaten at years back. We ordered a bottle of chilled Ribeiro, drinking it out of saucers. Pulpo was our main fare, squishy and seasoned with paprika. Kike stepped outside for a cigarette and struck up conversations with a gallego leaning across the stone entryway of the bar. He returned seconds later, still putting out his cigarette, to order another round of wine and what he called “a crab’s cousin.”  Wrapped in philo dough, the slimy cousin more than got its due. “The man outside said this is the best bar in Santiago, and the cheapest, too.” He wasn’t kidding – a bottle of wine and two raciones ran us a tab of 17€.

I suggested a dessert of queso de tetilla – so named for its shape – and quince with a sweet wine at the Parador, an old hopital sitting at the foot of the Cathedral that has since been converted into a luxury hotel run by the government. Here’s to Los Puppies, Kike said as we shared tiny sherry glasses of vino de pasas. I was happy – belly full, wine making my head ring every so lightly, walking arm in arm with my love. My spirit felt as high as the spires of the temple that marks the end of a pilgrimage with as much force as the waves that batter Coruña’s rocky beaches.

The following day, the gran mariscada was planned. Since camp, I’ve craved the seafood one can eat in Galicia and often use the paycheck (or just really big denominations of euros) to get a nice mariscada, or plate full of different types of shellfish. The day was one of those perfect ones, especially in rainy Galicia – bright even with sunglasses, a hint of a breeze – and Kike had found the perfect place.

…we just never got there. On the back roads out of El Ferrol, his car box shifter thingy gears just kinda, well, gave up. He quickly got out of the car and quickly smoked a cigarette before calling his insurance company. I put my head to his chest and rubbed his back, knowing that the granola bar in my back would be consumed sooner or later.

When he got off the phone, a taxi pulled up and offered to take us as far as Coruña, where I had to fly out of a few hours later. Kike griped about how much the car would cost to repair and that he may not make it down to Seville before my trip, so I suggested we grab a few bees from a grocery store and sit on the Orzán. Looking across the shallow bay to the Torre de Hércules, back leaned up against my duffel bag, we told jokes and sipped Estrella Galicia as the sunlight waned. It felt strangely good to be sharing a place in Spain that I never associated with him, and we could laugh up the negative events of the day.

Galicia has everything that I feel Andalucía lacks – the people who tug at your heartstrings with their generosity, placid beaches, a religious fervor that isn’t just about Semana Santa. I feel at my best in Spain in general, and Galicia takes it to the next level. It’s lovely on the senses and gives me a lifting feeling of serendipity.

Have you ever traveled to Galicia? What are some of your most serendipitous travel moments?

Signs of Spring

While it’s no secret that I love this short-lived season in Seville, we are getting it a bit early. It’s technically winter for a few more days, but we’re already enjoying longer hours of sun, warm temperatures and very little rain – in Galicia, it’s rained 30% less than normal. While I’m all about a rainless winter (I’m a Chicagoan, so the less nasty weather we have in Seville, the more I’m convinced that this is the place for me!), it may all come during Spring’s big festivals, Semana Santa and la Feria de Abril.

Spring is in full-swing here, so I’m set to enjoy. Seville’s hallmarks during primavera are well-known and best enjoyed outdoors. We’re enjoying temperatures in the low 70s, azahar in full bloom and festivals atope. Though April showers may bring more flowers come May, I’m heading out on every sunny day.

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Ya Huele a Primavera

On a popular talk show on Andalucía’s Canal Sur called La Semana Más Larga, the host Manu Sánchez recently griped about the recortes going on throughout Spain.

But Rajoy just wants us to move right into Summer! he spews, citing the recent “frío esteparian” and the subsequent 70º weather. He’s got a point – springtime in Seville is sweet, filled with tipsy afternoons drinking in sunshine and Cruzcampo, fresh breezes and the intoxicating scent of azahar. But Springtime is also the most short lived season, a brief twinkle in the year, and Rajoy’s insistence in cutting the fat off of all that is good and beautiful about life in Seville is just plain loco.

Manu claims that Spring is for the sevillanos to leave “everything in condition” so that the guiris, who olny come in the summer, can have what’s left over (watch the whole show here a la carte and enjoy Manu’s INCREDIBLE andalú). For this guiri who makes like a sevillano and verenea in a different part of Spain, I enjoy the terracitas and fresh aceite like an respectable andaluz.

Apart from the towering palmeras that line boulevards, Seville is populated with orange trees. During the winter months, the naranjos bask in the sunshine, their dimply skin growing its namesake color until the days start getting longer in late February. The oranges of this sour variety are rarely, if ever, consumed in Seville, and the rumor states that only the oranges grown in the Cartuja Monastery are sweet enough to eat.

By the time March lazily rolls around, the orange trees are shaken, the fruit gathered into thigh-high burlap bags and sent off to the British Isles for bitter marmalade. According to the Novio, the city of Seville began to crate and ship them as a gift to the Queen of England. Though I cannot find evidence to support or kill this long-told legend, the people of England start their days off with the fruit spread over their toast, and I with the scent of the orange blossom flower.

The small yellow bud, called azahar, appears for just a week or ten days’s time, smelling a little bit like fresh laundry, lightly scented perfume or a sunny day after a spring shower. I can’t put my finger on it, but crane my nose in the week leading up to Saint Patrick’s Day to catch a whiff. After seeing the buds began to peek out of the branches, I finally smelt it on Avenida de la Buhaira, riding my bike on a sunny afternoon with my sleeves rolled up.

Finally Springtime, the small glimmer of sevillano time that I am so very fond of.

If Manu’s predictions were anywhere near right, we’d lose the azahar, botellines in a sun-filled plaza on a Sunday afternoon, the sand between my toes somewhere lost in the pinares of Huelva. The passionate processions of Holy Week, gone. The lively sevillanas at the Real, finito. Bullfighting’s biggest names, fuera de la cartelera. Kelly told me my first year here: “Loving Seville in the Fall and Winter is one thing, but you’ll completely swoon come primavera.”

Losing our most treasured season, the one we live for atope in the waning sunlight of twlight, the one we wait for through the nights huddled close to the space heater, would mean a little piece of livelihood taken from the penitent nazarenos, a little less arte in our steps during Feria. Spring is the season I live for more than any other.

Sevillanos: Where do you like to spend your tardecitas? What do you do with the perfect weather and sunny afternoons? Any good tips for finding sunshine and relax? Share them in the comments, por favor!

My Seven Super Shots

Maybe it’s just my love of Camarón or my quest to see Seville in new ways, but I was crossing my fingers I’d get to do the Seven Super Shots run by . Similar to the ABCs of Travel, this virtual game of tag centers around photography, which I am all to willing to admit to loving.

The gimmick is to examine the snaps you’ve taken and choose the best out of several categories. When reading a few others on my Google Reader, I already had mine mentally picked out.

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A Glimpse Inside My Classroom

In thinking about leaving education and trying something different, I sometimes think that teaching may really be my thing. After all, I love kids, adore the ones I’m teaching this year,and feel good when I plan a fun unit and my kids laugh in the classroom (who wouldn’t show Kip’s Wedding Song from Napoleon Dynamite to teach “I love” in the classroom?).

For the record, I teach full-time at a bilingual elementary school. This kind of thing is de moda in Spain these days, and this is why I’ll have a job speaking English until the day I die, if I so choose. It’s both a blessing and a curse, as it also limits what people think I’m qualified for. So, I spend my daily grind speaking shouting over two groups of rowdy but adorable six- and seven-year-olds. They get half of their curriculum in English, so I divide my team between English, Science, PE, Art, Music, Math review and sometimes Values. Two classes, totalling 44 students, are at my cargo, so when one group of 22 is with me, the other group is with the Spanish teacher, ane vice-versa. It’s a good set-up when the kids actually remember to take all of their school supplies and books and bags and jackets during our once-daily switch.

I’ve had experience writing curriculum since my second year as an auxiliar de conversacón, and I have a TEFL certificate. In a language classroom, classes should be dynamic, with lots of recycling (asking students to reproduce material they learned earlier in the year, or even in earlier courses) and with plenty of motivation. Stickers, candy, or watching a video in English work wonders with young learners, and a daily question-and-answer with my high schoolers was always fun (if not revealing).

It also helps to have oodles of materials. As we all know, a student of any subject can learn in a multitude of ways, so I try and have plenty on hand to help my niñitos learn. The basis of my curriculum is a series of books for nearly every subject I teach, with the exception of PE and Values. Though I didn’t pick out the books when they were chosen, I have come to enjoy the methodology and have fun teaching them. For English, I use Kid’s Box 2 (Cambridge, ISBN ISBN-13: 9780521688079), which is packed with fun illustrations, plenty of filler and warmer activities, catchy songs and lots of photocopiable materials for me, the T. Science is MacMillian Natural and Social Science 1 (MacMillan,, which I liked for its objectives and beautiful presentation in the book. A solid curriculum that focuses on oral and listening skills can make all the difference in grasping the concepts laid down by the school.

I also try to have a lot of visual cues around the room, though we can’t put anything on the walls. I use both doors, windows, the three cork boards and even my desk to display student work, prepositions, there is/there are and a character wall for my students to get an easy, visual reminder of tricky structures and concepts we’ve worked on this year.

My first graders are learning some basics of reading and writing in English, so we’re using the book Chicka Chicka Boom boom to review letters, and have a weekly spelling bee to reinforce letter names (again, recycling is important in young learners).

Each week, one student is asked to present the letter (in this case, J), and read three words we’ve learned with this letter. They’re a little more graduated in Spanish and refuse to believe there is no Ñ in English, but it’s helping them to learn that you don’t always read what you see. J and G are confused, Y seems like a foreign concept, and water is always spelled g-u-a-d-e-r to them, but we’re getting there.

I’m also trying to focus on using the English they know, similar to bit of intelligences. Please don’t tell me, seño, no tengo lápiz. You know the structure have not got, the word for pencil, and the first person, just the same as you know to say can+I+have. I flat out ignore kids who ask to go to the toilet in Spanish, which motivates them to use a few palabras sueltas. I also have a chart in the room for each class that tracks the oral English they use in class. Ask for scissors in English? One tick for you. After 15, they get a sticker page, and each month will have a small prize for the student with the most points. I did this with tickets for behavior during the first five months of the year to reinforce good behavior and being a good classmate (Spanish kids seem to be very selfish with their colors and erasers). My name is at the bottom of the list for the kids to police me speaking in Spanish.

The above activity I stole from Forenex, the Summer camps I work for. After listening to a story about animals, kids had to draw an invented animal and then describe it, thus recycling everything to body parts to how animals move to colors. I was pleasantly surprised at their enthusiasm and accuracy in describing them.

Though our values subject has kind of been thrown out the window, I’m taking the opportunity to talk about a different value every month. From respect to tidiness to cooperation, we do a small activity or read a book and have a short discussion about them. I used a house as the example, and that each one of us is a house. Which bricks do you choose? Greed and anger, or discipline and forgiveness? This visual reminder is right next to the board, so a simple finger point at sharing tells kids non-verbally that they have to share their rubbers and not distract the class by arguing.

Please don’t think this classroom is a tranquil haven for a frazzled teacher and her rambunctious students. I have my daily “hasta aquí” moments where I lose my patience and I sometimes slip into Spanish. I’m behind in curriculums and rarely have everything neat and organized. I should be at least on letter P by now. But it’s a fun environment that encourages speaking up and learning by moving and playing, which can make all the difference.

Please share any tips and tricks in the comments below, or ask any questions. As a five-year vet and teacher trainer, I know a couple of things about teaching at nearly every level, but I definitely am glad I did  a TEFL degree to help me with classroom management and lesson planning.

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