This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Week 1: completed!

grammarYesterday we completed the first week of class. Some students are leaving, and some new ones will arrive. The pace of the lessons may be fast for someone who hears everything for the first time, but for me this is a highly useful repetition of the Rocket Spanish Level 1 content which I completed last winter. Together with the vocabulary cramming I also undertook last winter I am able to stay afloat and relaxedly listening to what is brought to our attention, obtaining a deeper comprehension of the grammar, and picking up 3-6 words every day.

When I go home I have a lunch with fresh or steamed vegetables (yay! No pickles or pintxos!) and complete one chapter from our grammar book, on top of our official deberes as well as a good helping of the the frequency word list.

I am happy to notice this system works for me. I am (limitedly) communicative in Spanish and able to carry out a longer but simple conversation. I just need a little more time and education to climb across the hurdle that is becoming effectively communicative. I am already dreaming of the day when I can finally add a fifth language to my list of “fluents”.

Last night I celebrated the successful completion of week one and tried to be quiet the following morning, as my land lady’s door was still closed. She comes home late every night and I often do not hear her at all, as I get up early for yoga. But around 10.30 am I desperately needed the ironing board from her room and moved to plan B, hunting around for a shirt which did not need ironing.

Suddenly the front door opened and my landlady entered, looking surprisingly fresh for an all-night-out. Turned out she had not been at home at all that night. Naturally my mind swung into all sorts of ideas about the adventurous life of my landlady, until she brought the boring reality down: she had been with her family and ended up too far from home so she stayed over with them.

Ah, if only I had discovered that my otherworldly-efficacious landlady did not only run two jobs and a social life, but was the life of the party every weekend as well.

(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)


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Beach day and time-traveling in Spanish

Flysch-4Today was a beach day. I also got sufficiently much sand in my notebook. I found myself needing a new pen and finally located a stationery shop 10 minutes before siesta closure. I then proceeded to spend five of those trying to explain to the shop clerk what a rollerball pen was. “No es una pluma, y no es un stylo o biro. Es un otro lápiz. Más fácil para escribir…” I finally dug out my current pen from my backpack and showed it to her. “Ah!” her face lit up. She did have a Stabilo Worker, although what “rollerball” is in Spanish I still do not know. I missed my heavy, clunky Faber-Castell but as it is too showy outside of the office world I left it at home.

I briefly encountered my landlady again today. “Muy mal!” she scolded me and my housemate, Swiss Patrice, as she walked into the kitchen. “You do not learn Spanish if you speak English” she added, and bullied us into another early-morning brain-numbing conversation in Spanish.

Today’s class was all about the imperfect past tense. “If the time is not completed, you should use this tense” explained our teacher. For example, today is not yet over and neither is this week. Makes sense. But it turns out that for Spaniards, “a while ago” or “five minutes ago” is also not a finalized time or activity. “Pues sí, está finito, de verdád?” I tried to argue. “No, pero it is still part of today, and today is not finito…”

The Spaniards seem to consider time within a day a dimension accessible for back-and-forth time travel.

(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)


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But first, yoga. And then, Spanish and cleaning.

SSyoga.jpgBut first, yoga (early-morning ashtanga Mysore in a quiet, wonderful studio). And then, Spanish class.

Today we discussed the “futuro”: what will do next weekend, next month, or in a year? We were asked to create a list of activities we planned to do in the weekend. “Wash my clothes”, I wrote. “Sleep in my room. Practice yoga.” “Now,” our teacher said, “please invite the classmate next to you to join you in your weekend activity.” I turned to look at Swiss Mattias and dubiously asked him, “vas a lavar mi ropa conmigo?” Would you like to wash my clothes with me? “Ni hablar” he instantly replied. Don’t even speak of it. “Um,” I said, “vas a practicar yoga conmigo?” “NO” he responded, with emotion. “Uh, puedo limpiar mi casa” he said. I sighed. Obviously cleaning his apartment was more important. I gave up on the thought of asking him to sleep with me in my room.

I met my landlady this morning. For five minutes, then she was gone. “Hola” she said, and tried to coax me into speaking Spanish first thing in the morning. She failed, told me to close the kitchen door when I was done, and left for work. Ainhoa is probably in her late forties, lives alone, rents out two rooms, and works two jobs: a morning job and an evening job. She is usually home between noon and 4 pm, which is why I never see her. And which is why everything in her apartment is covered in dust or grease. I would not wish to spend any precious time cleaning, either, if I had her daily schedule. But as it is now, my fingers itch to empty it all out, polish her beautiful dark hardwood floor until it gleams, and sort everything she owns into neat, beautiful boxes placed in her gorgeous hardwood cabinets (“accidentally” throwing 2/3 of her old foods, spices, cleaning chemicals, and cosmetics away).

Instead I sweep the sand from the floor of my room every day. I have not found a dustpan so I wipe everything up in wet toilet paper. I am afraid of offending my lovely landlady’s hospitality so I only dream of the dustpan.

(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)


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The dance of the giant Basques, and stumbling into Spanish

SS-1La Semana Grande includes many odd things in its program. Such as a dance and parade of giant Basques. In berets, of course (“baskeri” in Finnish and “Baskermütze” in German).

Spanish class started today. As there was no A2 group starting I was put in the last week of A1. I sat down with 8 women and a female teacher. Thankfully for the sake of diversity, a quarter of an hour into the class the door opened and one man rushed in, to even out our class at least a little.

There is no English spoken. At all. “What is ‘lechuga’?” asked a Filipino student. “Well,” our teacher replied in Spanish, “it is a vegetable. For salads.” “A cucumber?” the student asked. “No, it’s more leafy….” and the teacher went on explaining until I could not help myself and burst out in plain English: “it’s lettuce.” “Ah!” the classmate said. Our teacher gave me an annoyed eye. But really, it was enough effort and time spent, and at least we could move on with the program.

After half of the 3-hour class was spent in introducing one piece of grammar, we spent the remaining time speaking, practising introductions and playing word games. The teachers had high hopes for our vocabulary: the first word game required us to name a word that started with the same letter as the one the previous word ended. Lechuga. Aire. Entender. And so forth. I would be in so much trouble here, if it were not for the endless hours of studying “the 1000 most frequent Spanish words” list all throughout the year.
SS-2(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)


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San Sebastián in August

SS-7Bronze-tanned Spaniards with perfect skin and beach hair.
Kids screaming with excitement in the surf.
Loud Spaniards shouting to each other.
Loud Spaniards laughing like seagulls.
Sailboats moored in the middle of the bay.
The afterglow-heat of a hot day on stone walls.
Ladies with big backpacks and hiking poles, on their way to Santiago de la Compostela.
Rain clouds hanging heavily over the hills.
Sangría instead of Aperol Spritz. Good.
Straw hats. They must be in.
No selfie sticks. Really.

Today still benefits from yesterday’s heat. It will rain tonight, and it might begin any moment. Yesterday was blue sky, 30 degrees Celsius, and a beach day for the thousands. The La Concha beach was a sea of crawling brown bodies and a constant droning voice. This is where Spaniards (and some French) come to vacay. Perhaps to get out of the heat and drought of Southern Spain. Or from the coolness of the mountains. The climate in San Sebastián is a comfortable in-between.

I came here for two weeks of Spanish language classes. Really only ten days of school. I have been studying Spanish since last October, and while I think my efforts have been haphazard at best, the level test somehow put me in A2. Fortunately there will be no A2 group starting this week, so I will be put in A1+. Whatever that means. If it means understanding basic spoken Spanish and being able to produce more or less useful words and nearly no complete sentences, then they got me in the right group. In two days’ time I will find out how lucky I am, or if I am bound to be feeling ashamed and frustrated for ten days.
SS-8(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)