This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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Fin(n)ished Spanish

SS-17Last day of class today: this girl has Fin(n)ished Spanish. We played hangman, or rather, nuestra profesor’s version where the poor guy or gal is forced down steps into an ocean full of sharks.

Two weeks have improved my Spanish speaking skills by leaps and bounds. When I arrived I was able to understand slow and clear conversation, and I knew all of A1 level grammar. Now I am better at picking up spoken Spanish, and my poor brain does not require quite as much computing before it manages to spit out a sentence. Whether that sentence is entirely correct is up to chance, but at least speed to output has improved quite much. A2 level is mainly past tenses and future tenses, and will be difficult to master at home without the constant drilling of a live small group setting. I may need to come back here to get a hold of it.

My housemate came clomping home at 5 am this morning, from pintxopote (pintxo and drink for 2.50 euros all over town). Her alarm went off at 8 am – and kept going off at regular intervals until I left for school. I quite liked the modern classical music sound of her alarm but could not understand how one can sleep through it. Then again, if one does not wake up to one’s alarm, it is probably healthier to just catch up on sleep. And she did show up for the second half of the class – well done housemate.

I spent the afternoon writing on a bench behind mount Urgull, overlooking the promenade and the sea. It is the only place in the city without a bar, since the pop-up bar opened on top of mount Urgull. This promenade is also one of the few open spaces without houses, as well, and people come here to take in the fresh sea airs and watch the waves. At least daytime. Night time is probably quite the adventure. Oh, and quite a few locals come out here to fish with line and rod. Sardines, perhaps?

I quite like the cityscape of San Sebastián. It is just the people I am out of sync with: the hours the stores are open are the hours I am either in class or busy with something else. Lunch time, when I would rather shop, they are closed for siesta (this is of course beneficial for my budget). The lack of healthy early café breakfasts is a problem, especially between yoga class and school start. The late lunches are a problem: if one must skip breakfast, why can’t one be served lunch anywhere by noon the latest? The way-too-late dinners (starting at 8 pm) are a problem because I need to be in bed by 10.30 if not sooner, and asking my body to digest food while sleeping means more fat stored where I do not want it to be stored. The elbowing tactics in pintxo bars and the lack of quiet cafés and lounges to read and write in is also a challenge.

Perhaps if I lived here and were less dependent on food services I might quite like San Sebastián’s lifestyle. After all, beach, yoga, good food (other than pintxos) and outdoors is not a bad combination.

(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)

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Past tense

SS-16The Spanish preterite tense is not my friend. How can poder become puste, and venir vino? Vino, as in wine. Really.

When practicing past tense, talking about biographies is a natural topic. We were asked to write ours in simple sentences. I kept adding to my list of dates and events long after the others were done, and I am still in my thirties. When I read it out to class our teacher’s comment was “your life is like two entirely different halves.” She was right. In one I was a scientist living in Finland, married to a Dutch man. In the other I am a business woman living in Denmark, with a Spanish man. For now.

My young British housemate came home at 1 am last night, again clomping over the floor in her shoes. She closed the door to her room with a bang, and after a moment’s silence there was a huge crash. I thought her suitcase had slipped and fallen onto the floor. In the morning I was happily surprised that she followed me to school – and filled me in on the details of the previous night: it was not the suitcase that had crashed, but she herself.

My beauty sleep was doomed anyway, due to a catfight at 3.30 am (yes, literally, between two whining and spitting cats), and a drunk brawl at 4 am. Indeed, my dreams were visited by two drunk French men who argued about a third person who was not even present. Later I heard they woke up not only me and my landlady, but my Dutch classmate in a house a few hundred meters away. Indeed. This hotly contested third person must have really mattered to them, the way they sorted out their differences in the calles at 4 in the mañana.

(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)

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Upgraded means more work

SS-11Monday night, linden flower infusion from a huge yellow Winnie the Pooh jug, and homework. Today we were moved into A2 level Spanish. Nobody congratulated us for reaching the end of A1. Instead, past tenses were thrown at us, and this is where the confusion begins when learning Spanish. The preterite form is a swamp which only the most determined ones cross, and not without sinking a few times.

I tried to remember the preterite form from my Rocket Spanish level 1 classes, but I could not. I thought there was a hole in my memory. I sweated. I wrote. I worked my brain in overdrive. During the break in passing the teacher mentioned that we had all been upgraded to A2 level today. No wonder this was difficult; I had never in my life seen these verb tenses. And while I did not learn many words in the preterite today, I learned that it is indeed much better to work and sweat alone at home all winter and then repeat the lessons in class, diving deeper into familiar content.

I spent an hour on my deberes. I suspect this last week will be tough. And then I need to start over at home, with more time. Because how can hacer become hago and then hice but ella hizo?

(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)

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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)


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)


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)


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)