Esto será mi última entrada de blog. Gracias por leer sobre mis aventuras en Valencia. Siento tener que ir, pero tomo memorias de este país hermoso, la gente caliente, comida asombrosa, y la maravillosa ciudad de Valencia conmigo. Sobre todo, gracias a mis estudiantes, el programa WCCCSA, y mis amigos de escuela AIP. Amé cada día aquí. Siempre recordaré esta experiencia.
I’m finishing my adventure where it began, in Madrid. I’ve enjoyed re-visiting some sites and finding new ones. I finally made it to the Reina Sofia Museum of Modern Art to see the one painting I was determined to see for three months: Picasso’s Guernica. After learning about the horrors of the bombing of Guernica, when Franco invited Hitler to “test” his bombs on a civilian population, I knew the painting would be powerful. Picasso painted it in France after learning of the bombing, and it only came to Spain after Franco’s death. I’m so glad I got to see it; what a special moment on the last day.
A new challenge: I’ve seen a lot of demonstrations around town, but I found out today (accidentally from a Spanish man on the train to Toledo–once again, I didn’t get the memo), that tomorrow a national strike is planned. From what I understand, starting in the morning all public transportation (buses, metro) will be shut down and workers from many areas will be taking to the streets to protest current economic policies. It happens that this is my “get-away day,” as my grandma used to say, so getting to the airport and up in the air should be interesting. I wish I could stay and observe, but if all goes well, I’ll be winging my way stateside tomorrow. It seems a fitting close to my adventure–nothing here is ordinary (at least to me) and the people are passionate about their politics as well as their families, their food, and their culture.
Holy Toledo! According to Señor Rick (Steves), this expression likely originated with Sephardic Jews who called Toledo the holiest city in Europe (back when Jews, Muslims, and Christians thrived together here). I spent the day exploring Toledo, only a half hour train ride from Madrid, and found it absolutely charming (of course, I have yet to meet a Spanish city I didn’t like). Perched up on a hill, the whole city has been declared a national monument, keeping its rich historic, artistic, and spiritual center intact. I visited the Cathedral, which Señor Rick calls one of Europe’s best, as well as the central plaza, shopping district, and several former synagogues, now museums. This is definitely a town worth visiting.
I will still be posting a couple more blog entries from Madrid and Toledo, but tomorrow I leave Valencia, so I thought I’d round up a few parting photos. Today I met with and said good-bye to the staff at the AIP school, which was hard to do…everyone there has been just lovely to work with. My son Jordan and his girlfriend Kelsey took off by train this morning to return to the states. A great travel story here: we were at the Juan Sarolla train station right on time, about 6:45 for a 7:10 train. Unfortunately, all of the clocks showed 7:45, and the 7:10 train was long gone. I definitely did not get the memo that daylight savings time kicked in this weekend! Fortunately, they were able to get on another train and made their flight, but only with the addition of a 50 euro taxi ride from the train station to the airport! Just one of the joys of travel, and really, it is a joy even with bumps in the road. Valencia feels like home and I will miss it very much.
As previously noted, one of the highlights of our trip to Barcelona was a Catalan cooking class offered by the “Cook & Taste” school in the historic district. Our chef, Lluis, was the perfect teacher, with Spanish charm and advice about everything from how to drink from a glass to which olive oil to use. Our menu consisted of roasted sweet onions with romesco sauce, red bell pepper soup with saffron and cod, Valencian style paella, and Catalan creme. I’m not sure I’ll ever make any of these, but I’ll bring the recipes home for my cooking friends. We all participated in preparing the food, and of course enjoyed our handiwork for lunch, which was delicious. We also had some other amazing food in Barcelona, including wonderful salads and tapas like shrimp in garlic and olive oil, mussles, thin ham and cheese, olives, poppers, and good vino y cervezas.
I’m glad I left Barcelona until near the end of my stay in Spain…what a beautiful city! I traveled there with three friends and their husbands, and my son and his girlfriend also came up by train to see a Barcelona FC game in Nou Stadium, one of the best teams in one of the best stadiums in the world. The first day was rainy, but the sun came out on the second day and we were able to get to many of the sights.
Of course, Barcelona is known for the creative architecture of Antoni Gaudi, but it is also the capital of Catalunya, Picasso’s birthplace, the cradle of moderniste architecture, a soccer capital, and a popular European travel destination. There’s an old city with a beautiful cathedral and historic Jewish district, the well-planned Eixample district with wide avenues and walkways, Barcelona’s main pedestrian walkway, the Ramblas, a mountain, the waterfront, and more. It was thrilling to see Gaudi’s work on the Sagrada Familia as well as Park Guell and other structures…unbelievably creative! A highlight of the trip was a Spanish cooking class, but I’ll describe that in the next entry.
The final four days of Las Fallas were everything I had been told they’d be. The population of Valencia swelled to more than double, there were non-stop parades and firecrackers going off, the “falleras” and “falleros” were everywhere in their amazing costumes, people were cooking paella in the streets, and giant ninots or puppets were around every corner. In my neighborhood, there were two days of parades that were 10 hours long! The falleras and falleros, picked by their communities, filed past my apartment carrying flowers that they would deposit on a gigantic wooden structure of Mary in the Plaza de la Virgen. Every morning for four days a series of firecrackers were lit right outside the window at 8 a.m.—a little disconcerting, to say the least. Valencians love their firecrackers…even small children could be seen throwing “poppers” everywhere. Along with the students, my son Jordan, his girlfriend Kelsey, and several friends arrived in town just in time to see the show.
The holiday climaxed Monday night. We attended the “Parada de Mora,” parade of the Moors, in which various groups dressed in Moorish costumes marched by, accompanied by camels, horses, and wonderful North African and Middle Eastern music…fantastic. Finally, at midnight, each of the fallas or ninots were burned while crowds cheered…literally, the city was on fire. From my balcony, I could see the figure of Elvis go up in flames.
I must say, I’m glad to have the “usual” Valencia back, but it was an amazing experience. At 2 am, I went to see the majority of my students off as they got on a bus for Madrid. Four of them will continue to travel for a while, but the rest should be home in Washington by now. I will be here for another 10 days, with some side trips to Barcelona, Madrid, and Toledo.
This week, students took their finals in Spanish and psychology, we celebrated with end-of-the-quarter activities, and Las Fallas, the huge Valencian festival, began to take over the city. Each community (some 500 in number) prepares for an entire year for the Fallas, building a falla or ninot, planning events, and selecting the Fallares (an honorary position requiring quite a bit of work). This week, the Fallas went up all over town, as did bunello stands and large white tents for community meals. The mascleta, the daily firing of firecrackers in the center of town, continues unabated, and is now accompanied by random firecrackers going off day and night. Today is the Friday of the four-day weekend during which Las Fallas reaches a fever pitch, and then on Monday all but a few of the Fallas will be burned at midnight. Should be something to see!
The build-up toward Fallas, the huge Valencian festival which will go into overdrive from Mar. 15-19, is clearly evident now, with daily firecracker shows, adults and children dressed in traditional Fallas wear, parades, live music, bunyol (like churros) stands, and paella-making in the streets. Miguel took the students and I to the exhibit of the Ninots, the puppets constructed for Fallas that will eventually be burned the night of Mar. 19. That is, all but one will be burned; we participated in voting for the one children’s ninot and the one adult ninot that will be “saved” and installed in the Fallas Museum.
Most of the ninots are satirical: they make fun of public figures, daily life, and political issues (some of them make fun of American figures). I enjoyed the humor and think we could benefit from some “lightening up,” but I was also a little uneasy about some of the themes (I would not want to be the butt of some of these jokes!). Some ninots reflect well-known characters (e.g. from Disney or rock stars) and some are more traditional. Apparently it takes several months to make these figures out of paper, wax, wood, and styrofoam, and each community has at least one. The ones we saw in the exhibition are life-size at most, but there are some in the street that are as tall as buildings. All will be sent up with firecrackers and fireworks around midnight on the 19th. I’ve just added a sample below–there are more than 500 of these.
Thanks to Fernando, the assistant director at our school, we were able to organize an all-day excursion this week to another school and a nursing home. This school is a private school for children ages 3 (and some younger for day care) to 18, and once again we were impressed with the level of academics as well as the behavior of the children. We were able to visit classes at every level and observe many of the projects the children were working on, including making “fallas” in an art class for the upcoming festival. We particularly enjoyed hearing children in an English class recite poems they had written that were quite funny, tough to do in a second language! Children attend classes from 9 until 5, and have regular homework from the primary grades on up. Of course, we realized that this private school had many advantages unavailable to children in the public schools; the disparity here is not unlike that found in U.S. schools.
After lunch in the teacher’s cafeteria, the two school psychologists who showed us around also escorted us to a nearby nursing home. Since those older adults who are functioning relatively well live with or near their families in Spain, the residents of this home were by and large incapacitated by Alzheimer’s and other serious health problems. The students particularly enjoyed seeing the farm animals on the property; apparently the residents are responsible for feeding and caring for the animals as part of their therapy.
As with the previous school, I’m not including any pictures in which children can be identified, nor any photos of the “ancianos” at the nursing home (I’m feeling pretty anciana myself!). I’m also including a few photos from Spanish class as we wind down the quarter.