This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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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)

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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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Conferring fish and curious crayfish

SSaq-1I spent the afternoon studying conferring fish that look like plants growing from the sand, curious lobsters with bulging red eyes, and schools of tuna and sardines. The aquarium of San Sebastián is tucked away at the end of the old port. Half of the exhibition was about seafarers, types of trade and ships, corsairs, fishing, and whaling. I learned that Basques were famous for their shipmaking and seafaring skills, even if they rarely represented as captains on ships.

The aquarium was nicely built but enveloped in the noise of Spanish kids. It shames me to say I find Spanish children very rudioso (and sometimes their parents, too). Everybody could hear each other so much better if only they turned down the volume a notch or two. I hope the sea creatures have soundproof glass.SSaq-2My new housemate came home last night at 00.30 am, clomping over the floor in her shoes and having no discretion to us sleepers. This morning she got up in time but said she would catch up with us later. She did indeed, not by coming to class but by taking photographs of my homework when I got back. I guess it can sometimes be more efficient to only focus on getting homework right.SSaq-3(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)

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Probably the longest job title ever

SSaq-4Did King Carlos of Spain hold the longest job title in the world? ”King Carlos of Spain, king of Castille, Leon, Aragon, the two Sicilies, Jerusalem (!), Navarra, Granada, Toledo, Valencia, Galicia, Mallorca, Sevilla, Cerdeña, Córdoba, Córcega, Murcia, Jaen, the Algarves of Algecira, Gibraltar, the Canary Isles, the East and West Indies, and the Isles and Continent of Oceania; Archduke of Austria; Duke of Burgundy, Brabant, and Milan; Count of Habsburg, Flanders, Tyrol, and Barcelona; Lord of Biscaya and Molina etc.”

“Etc.”? What does that even mean? How long was the full list of his titles?

(San Sebastián aquarium, San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)

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País Vasco

SS-14The Basque region, or Euskal Herria, stretches across the French-Spanish coastline border, from West of Bilbao to East of Bayonne; and South as far as the Spanish Navarra region goes.

In and around San Sebastián (or Donostia in Basque), all road signs and street signs are first in Basque and then in Castilian Spanish. Most restaurants have a Basque name. It seems to be widely spoken, as there even is a Basque language university. Yet, in San Sebastián the language seems to be buried under the tourists as I cannot hear it spoken on the streets at all. Maybe it is more spoken in villages?

The Basques have a simple but confident culture, with some pizzazz. Their idea of sports involve lifting 300-kilo blocks of stone. They love artesanal cheese, ciders, pintxos, pickles, meat, and fish. Food is obviously a big deal as San Sebastián as a city has the most Michelin stars in the world. Yet the gastronomic “sociedades” or clubs are still only open for men. Basque music sounds a little Celtic or Scottish, with flutes and percussion and bagpipes. Their rudimentary version of a wooden xylophone is played by two people using two wooden stick each, and the sound is a melodious percussion with a beautiful timbre, a little like a tribal beat from Africa. I was told Basque men do not like to dance, and move in tight-knit gangs from childhood called quadrillas which are impossible to join later in life.

The stereotype comes across as an introverted culture, either mountain-dwelling or seafaring and exploring. Quite something else as the passionate, flamenco-dancing culture of Andalusia in the South.SS-15(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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This hot afternoon

SS-12Sunshine, with shade under the tamarind trees
White tables and chairs against white boardwalk
Women in flowy flowery dresses and gentlemen in panama hats
Behind a white-painted Belle Epoque iron railing, a busy beach with bathers
White Ferris wheel spinning
Orange Apérol spritz is (unfortunately still) the choice of many
Hiking sandals, on both men and women (why?)
Straw hats, very few baseball caps
Murallas of Parque Urgull
Patatas fritas and calamares

I have a new housemate. And she is the new girl in class. She is young, from Newcastle, does not do any exercise, does not like to work, and she smokes. Also, she favors to pronounce Spanish as if it were English. All this I found out in our weekly introductions exercise in class. I try to not judge her because she is different from me. At least she is here, working hard on learning Spanish. And I am sure the rest of the class has pigeonholed me in some way as well. Perhaps they think I am snooty because I wear pearls practically todos los días.

(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)