This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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In Santiago (de Compostela)

galicia-35Next to Bologna, Santiago de Compostela has been another happy surprise this summer, stemming from absolutely no plans to visit, and therefore absolutely no expectations. The cute, maze-y little old town, the interesting surprises (fountains, ice cream parlors) behind every corner, and a lovely green park make spending a day or two in Santiago a pleasure.galicia-25And the food. Who knew. While I am on a nearly vegan diet at home, in Santiago I devoured mussels in all shapes and sizes, freshly made with garlic, butter, and herbs. And octopus. And fried green pimiento peppers. And cheeses. And wonderful Ribeiro region white wines.
galicia-22Santiago de Compostela is home only to some 100,000 inhabitants so it is walkable. And probably very liveable, as well. Twenty-four hours in this city was not quite enough and so this lovely place certainly goes on my “cities to return to” list.galicia-23(Santiago de Compostela, Spain; September 2019)


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In the middle of nowhere, a monastery

galicia-30In the middle of the forest there was a crystal clear river, straddled by an old stone bridge. There was river water welling up through a small fountain in the stone wall. And an ancient, weather-blackened monastery. Absolutely in the middle of nowhere. I hear it is more than a thousand years old.

Galicia is full of small and sometimes surprisingly large monasteries scattered about the forests and mountainsides. galicia-32As I stood on the tiny inner courtyard overlooking the Eume river valley I could not help but wonder how and why sites for monasteries were once chosen. Was it the result of a spiritual experience of the founder, on-site? Or simply strategic, to keep an eye on the locals? In any case it must have been incredibly difficult to start from scratch, and not just carry up and install the granite bricks, but to create an infrastructure with water and food delivery to uphold survival of sometimes dozens of monks.galicia-31(San Xoán de Caaveiro, Fragas do Eume, Spain; September 2019)


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September is still summer in Spain

galicia-33September is still summer in Spain. Even in the fragas, the old-growth forests of the cool, rainy Northwest. Walking in a fraga is like walking in a fairytale forest overgrown with old oaks, chestnuts, and ferns; with mosses covering the trunks and and lichens dangling from the branches. galicia-29The water is pure and cool. I heard the Eume river is home to hordes of trout. This is probably what much of the Atlantic coastal forests looked like, before the industrial revolution. Fortunately bits and pieces are still conserved in Galicia.
galicia-28(Fragas do Eume; Spain; September 2019)


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Galician houses

galicia-27There does not seem to be much light in old Galician houses, what with small windows half-covered by wooden frames. But the way they are built, like old monastery walls out of thick rocks by masonry, they will probably last for a very long time. I have seen old ruins still standing, without any mortar holding the stone bricks together. Certainly helpful in a climate with wind, rain, and snow most of the year round.galicia-5

(Fragas do Eume, Spain; September 2019)


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Last night, in San Sebastián

SS-8Me duele la rodilla. My knee hurts. Quite a lot, actually. I could hardly get up into my high princess bed last night. The Dominican el profesor de Zumba (i.e. a young, curly-haired, unprofessorial instructor) took us all through a whirlwind hour-long zumba class in a fiesta del barrio (or neighborhood party) last night in a nearby town.

Among tall apartment buildings there was a square filled with tents and stools and tables and a barbecue and a bar – and the zumba stage. Naturally, the dancing did not end with the end of the zumba class. It was quite a while since I last danced this much latino dances, and I learned that while dancing is doable, my broken and surgery-repaired knee does not like zumba at all.

Thankfully, there were freshly grilled sardines and Basque cider, as well. And most wonderfully, even the kids were not forgotten – or put into bed. They had their own program until 11 pm: a limbo competition, dance class, and dancing on stage with the DJ. Even three-year-olds were fabulously feeling the beat. This is how you raise kids to become adults who like fiestas and know how to move. Not the Finnish way where kids are told to stay away from the dance floor instead of being guided to show how to behave on one. Although I did hear a rumor that Basque men do not dance. Hopefully this is soon in the past (preterite or imperfect?) tense!

I sit and write in my room, before leaving San Sebastián. The clock struck twelve, the air alarm test just ran, and my lovely landlady is trying to locate my laundered yoga bra which is perdido. From my window I can see the Christo statue on Urgull, still standing in the same position of blessing: slightly bent, with one hand held high. I am sure there are people in the little bar below.

Life goes on in San Sebastián. Instead of busy fishing and foreign trade brought in by ships there are foreigners eating fish and brought out to sea for a day’s outing. Hordes of kids are swimming on one half of the beaches, while the other ones is always claimed by boarders surfing. And just like hundreds of years ago, people still fish with hooks and lines off the rocks at the boardwalk behind Urgull. And I need to leave in just two hours.

(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)


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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)