Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Castellers: Catalan Trust

The Catalan culture is stereotyped in Spain as being a stingy, over-thinking, selfish one. But the truth is, they are frugal, logical, trusting people. Nothing shows the Catalan trust like the team sport of Castellers. My host sister, M, asked me to accompany her to her practice last night. It was my second time going, and my first time going somewhere alone with the bright-eyed seven year old.
 Castellers is the building of human 'castles' and is seen throughout Catalonia during big festivals and events specifically for the Casteller competition. The castles are built up of people ranging in age and height, and always include adults, children, men, women, boys, and girls. Dozens of them.
 The 'uniform' for Castellers is a long bandanna wrapped around the waist, and a high collared shirt. The collar of the shirt is worn up right, to protect the neck from those climbing your back. The bandanna serves as a step for the shorter climbers when making their way up the tower.

 Now when we talk about trust, we see here a young man holding up M by just her ankles. Similarly, I felt the trust of her mother, E, as she let me take her daughter to the practice. It is a big responsibility to be trusted with someone else's child, especially when the child is spending an hour standing on people's shoulders and climbing up and down like a monkey.

 There are different styles of castles that they build. They can be as few as this, with three people in one tower....
Or dozens in towers made up of as many as six layers with five or more people on each layer. The names for the different types of castles are given in the numbers in Catalan of how many layers there are and how many people are in each layer. The castle is almost always topped with a small child who crawls over the top, and then slides back down into the base. Most of the people at the base serve as catchers in case someone falls.
 I hope you enjoyed the video and that some day you get the chance to view one in real life. It is simply spectacular what people can accomplish when they work together.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

What Sorcery is This?

I am aware that I have a way of doing things that is unconventional. My study abroad experience is of course no different. I have elected to do a full calendar year abroad rather than an academic year, as you may be aware from reading my blog. It is gloriously entertaining to watch the faces of people at the university recognize me from this winter, scratching their heads and asking "Estuviste aqui antes, no?" "You were here before, weren't you?" I am certain that my situation is new for my program, and is probably new for the university I attend. Already I have encountered some kind of hick-up in the university email system related to my situation.

Another amusing reaction I receive is how impressed my previous acquaintances are with the level of Spanish I have reached in such a short amount of time. Thinking about it, I have been studying the language since last June, more or less. I took eight weeks of intensive Spanish over the summer in 2011. That fall semester I took the first term of second year Spanish. At the end of which I could confidently introduce myself and ask for the bathroom, but could not hold any form of spontaneous conversations. My first semester in Barcelona saw some improvement, but not as much as I had hoped four months would bring. The real turning point, I discovered, was the second time I enrolled in intensive courses. I spent one month with a handful of others speaking and practicing Spanish four hours a day, five days per week. At the same time I was meeting about twice per week with a Peruvian woman for language exchange. By the beginning of July I was talking politics and far above a B1 level in Spanish.

At this moment I feel the need to explain that in Europe, your linguistic level is measured on a six level scale. A1-C2. With A1 being someone who knows next to nothing, and C2 being an educated fluent speaker. A B1 is someone who can have basic conversations and convey ideas, but only on limited subjects and in simple sentence structures. C1 would be generally considered fluent with no higher education. For a fuller description, pop over to wikipedia and search for ways to measure language ability. They also have the American scale to compare with.

 I took the month of July off from classes, for my trips to London and the village, but continued daily practice with my brother in law, O, his family, and the local college students with whom I went out on weekends. Especially with one specific young man. The second half of August and the first week of September I spent in more intensive classes, where they placed me as a high B2 or low C1 (the group was small and we were quite mixed).
Now, back in Barcelona, I am enrolled in five classes taught entirely in Spanish and speak daily with my host family in the language.

When it all comes down to it, there are three important steps, I believe, to learning a language.
1. Get a practical base: That is, take a class that teaches fundamentals and a good deal of vocabulary.
2. Talk with someone: Once you can understand the basics, build the complexity by talking, if possible, on a daily basis with a native speaker. If you are too shy to talk much, find someone who likes to talk. It will be good for you to just listen, sometimes.
3. Use it in daily life: Listen to music in your new language. Watch movies, talk to friends, and read the news. Immersion is the fastest way to learn. And that means using the new language as if it was your first.

I believe that with full immersion the average person could reach a B2 level in around six months. That would be 20 hours a week of intensive course work (with 10 to 15 hours of practical homework outside of the class), four hours of conversation with a talkative native speaker, and an additional 5 to 10 hours of media or "fun," listening, watching, and reading. In short: 39-49 hours per week of the language you are trying to learn. (Or 936-1176 hours total.)  Obviously most people cannot give up that kind of time all at once. But this is my theory on learning a language quickly. Like anything else worth doing, it takes time, effort, and a will to succeed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Back to Barcelona!

It was a bitter sweet goodbye as I left the Santander airport for the one in Barcelona. The summer went by so quickly, I hardly noticed how much my Spanish had improved, or how fond I had grown of the people there. Especially of one person in particular. It seems traveling women in my family are fated to meet someone special on our journeys. But romance is not a topic I intend to attend to here.

I was apprehensive as I got off of the plane, not sure if things would be alright, if coming back for the fall semester was what would be best for me. But the second I was on the street of my host family's apartment, I felt a sort of relief. I knew I was where I belonged. A hug from my host sister told me that they thought so too.

Of course, back home, September 11 marks a devastating day in our recent history. It is one of the few moments in recent history that everyone in the USA felt truly united. But here in Barcelona, September 11 is celebrated as the day of Catalonia. It represents their want to be severed from Spain.
 The Catalonian flag is a golden background with four red stripes. The Catalonian flag for independence includes a blue triangle with a five pointed star. Today I watched dozens of people carrying or wearing this mark of independence.
Buildings were strewn with either of the two pertinent flags. I suppose using the standard Catalonian flag signifies that you are neutral and flying the other shows your support of separation. Personally, although my feelings do not matter at all in this question of nationalism, I think that wanting an individual government is a sign of regression. The world improves when we are united.
People should be free to speak the languages and practice the religions they choose, and should not feel the need to seek out rivals or enemies. There should be no "them against us" situations. Just "us" against whatever mother nature throws our way. I believe cultural heritage and pride in that heritage are important. Especially if we are to keep open minds. But we must not be so prideful that we stifle the chance at unity, the chance for harmony. I take pride in acknowledging that I am a member of the human race. I hope someday everyone will be able to put first that they are human, and second that they are of a specific nation.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Summer Festivals

It is a ridiculous statement to say that there is a 'party season' in Spain. The Spanish are all about everything that defines parties. They love to get together in big groups, drink, eat, dance, and have the best time of their lives. There are festivals, holidays, and celebrations that take place all over Spain throughout the year. But the summer months are the most concentrated form of this. With all of the youth free and in the streets, what better way to keep them entertained than to give them something to celebrate? I would argue that the theory here is that happy children have no reason to cause problems.
It is fair to say that this concentrated part of the year begins in June on with San Juan (Saint John) day, a national celebration to signify an end and a beginning. It is much like how we treat New Years in the US. It is a celebration to get rid of the old and bring on the new. Students, whose school-year has ended, burn notes or tests to show they are done with the year. Some people burn a list of things they want to change in their lives or something they want to forget. In Santander the entire city and the surrounding villages go to the beach where they start bonfires, drink in excess, and bathe in the ocean throughout the night.
Following this nation-wide celebration, the first of the localized festivals begin. Every city, town, village, and settlement has its own unique celebration. Generally it is related to a Patron Saint or significant event of the location.
The celebrations, or Ferias (fares), generally consist of street music, food, and drink, as well as a local custom. One of the more well known festivals is that of the tomato fight near Valencia, which takes place every August, and consists of an entire town throwing old tomatoes at one another. Most festivals last several days, and contain set events for each day, tending to end the festival with the most peculiar of them.

In Tarilonte, the darling village in which my O's grandparents live, the festival is a three day celebration. The first day consists of an honorary lunch for the elders of the tiny town (they hold a winter population of thirty), and large family dinners in individual houses. The second day is the Patron Saint's day, and is centered around attending church, carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary, and ringing the church bells manually. Then musicians set up at night to bring excitement and dancing to the street as everyone dances their shoes off. The third day is the most interesting, and would remind most Americans of Halloween. The events of the day go as follows: everyone dresses in their worst clothes, or cheap costumes, and head to a particular house. Along with the crowd is a walking band that plays exciting music.
  The first house has snacks and drinks. Everyone takes a beer, a cup of soda, or some sangria, and a handful of snacks. Once the first house is exhausted, the horde of perhaps two hundred (children, adults, everyone but the eldest members of the community and the heads of house of each house) moves on to another house where the consumption continues. This goes on, and by the third or fourth house, someone will have started spraying someone else with water, or with sangria.
 By the end of the walk, most people are soaked, drunk, and dancing and laughing like they've never done so before. The party reaches their final destination at around six PM after beginning at around noon. They reconvene in the town square where the band stage is set up and begins playing again once it becomes dark. New comers to the festival, and anyone who is particularly peculiar, will be dragged at some point during the events of the day to the fountain, where they are either forced under or must submerge of their own free will. 

Similar festivals are played out in every village on some weekend between June and September. In Santander, it is a two week event that includes street-vendors who sell cheap bite sized snacks with drinks, have fare-rides, and a circus or other similar entertainment.

If you are looking for a time of year to party your way through Spain (which is not at all a hard thing to do) I suggest the summertime. You are guaranteed to find something going on in every region you visit, no matter what days or weeks you have the chance to be here for. I would suggest if you're coming in July or August, that you travel for the Northern regions, because the central and South of Spain are quite warm throughout the summer (reaching triple digits in Fahrenheit almost constantly) while regions like Cantabria, Galicia, and the Basque country are cooler and have rainy spells for all of the Atlantic currents.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

London Part Two

As I said previously, London is among the best European cities to visit with children. It is difficult to find a good cultural experience that can be enjoyed by all ages. Everything down to the people in the street makes it a family friendly adventure.
 One stereotype about the weather in London is that it rains all the time. It certainly rained nearly everyday during our time there, but it was not all of the time. It seemed that every morning we awoke to a bright and shiny day, but by late afternoon there were storm clouds, and by dinnertime we were ducking inside and wringing out our coats. This I believe attributes to the general upbeat attitudes of the population. They awaken everyday to sunshine, and so have a great start to their day. Then when the rain comes in the afternoon, they are still happy from the morning and go about their day with smiles. This is different from where I am from, the US North West, where when it rains it pours, and does so all day and all night, with a few breaks when the wind blows just right.

 We toured the royal carriages one afternoon. There are about a dozen different coaches, mostly wooden or metal, that are meant to be horse drawn. This golden coach, which requires a dozen horses to draw it, is used in coronations and other important events in the royal family.
 We attended a theater production of the play "Wicked," which was a wonderful sight to see. It is a good idea to choose a couple shows to see at the end of your days in the city. Buy the tickets ahead of time, by about a week, to get good seats, or you can wait in line early in the day for unsold tickets on the day of the show. Either way, it is a nice break from walking and museums to sit down and watch a three hour show and be amazed by costumes and elated by song.
 The White Tower of London is a wonderful place to visit. If you've only got one day in the city, this is what you should see. There is a bit of everything for a single entrance (although it is one of the most expensive places to visit in the city). There is a small chapel, towers with historical relevance (such as having been prisons for famous figures), history lessons in every tower, and beautiful structures. In the central tower you can view a collection of armor and weaponry, centuries old and from all over the world. You can browse through the crown jewels and enjoy a small military museum. And there are generally tours available, included in your ticket price, given by royal guards with vast knowledge of the towers.

The second religious monument we visited was St. Paul's Cathedral. It is a beautiful and unique representation of community togetherness and faith. The grand structure is filled with sculptures and artwork that celebrate the Christian faith, while avoiding directly citing Catholisism. It is a difficult balancing act, and is fascinating to view. Below is a gorgeous set of stones in dedication to deceased persons and groups. Inside the dome are beautiful fresco style paintings of Jesus' disciples. 

On the second to last day, we spent our morning in Kew Gardens, a beautiful and robust acreage filled with greenhouses and covered in exotic and domestic plants. After which we enjoyed English Tea for lunch, and then spent the afternoon shopping. The next morning, as we had an early afternoon flight, we enjoyed a traditional English breakfast before heading to the airport. 

In summary, it is hard to go wrong on a visit to Yon London Town. Think about what interests you, and make time to do those things. If you're a history buff, you've got endless choices. If you're into fashion or shopping, you've got avenues of options. If you're into nature, there are museums, parks, and gardens awaiting your visit. It would take a year of touristing every single day to run out of things to see in London and the surrounding boroughs. The biggest thing is that you have a plan, buy your tickets ahead of time, and eat as many scones as your belly will hold.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

London Part One

I had the great fortune to spend one week this July in London with Rana and O. I will tell you right now, one week is barely enough to see the majority of the city, and you would need far more to see anything outside of the main downtown area, even if you can handle doing touristy things for sixteen hours a day. (One must sleep, afterall)
 After having visited cities in the Northern and central regions of Spain, two Italian cities, and much of South Western France, I thought I had tired of seeing European architecture. The second I stepped out of the train station I realized I was wrong. It was a refreshing and beautiful change from Mediterranean buildings to British structures. The overall feel of the city was cheery and uplifting, as compared to the calm and serious soberness of Paris, or the exciting and tense sensation one feels in Barcelona. Suddenly I felt the need to smile, say 'cheerio' and go about my business with a spring in my step.
 We stayed in a loft style flat above some shops in a peaceful London outskirt neighborhood. Our hosts were a couple from France and Sweden, who now work in London. The directions we were given to find the place included looking for this bread shop called 'bread shop.' We arrived in the evening, and so finished our first day by eating dinner at a local pub.

 The second day we went to see some of the major sights. First stop: Buckinghum Palace and the Changing of the Guards.
 The palace is a sight to see, and has a beautiful park and pond near by. When we arrived they were in the process of setting up for the Olympic games, so much of the park was covered with temporary barriers.
 The changing of the guards is as much worth seeing as all of the hype will lead you to believe. My advice: GET THERE EARLY. During the summer they do it twice daily. But there will be a big crowd, especially if it is a nice day, of tourists wanting to get a good shot. The hats on the guards will make you grin!
 Here is a guard in a guard house outside the palace.
It is not a trip to London without seeing a red telephone booth and riding in the top of a double decker bus. Afterwards, go to a pub for some beer, or a cup of tea.
All of the museums owned by the city are free to the public with a suggested donation of three or four British Pounds. This includes the natural history museum, many art galleries, among other things. Like many large tourist attraction type cities, London offers a "tourist pass" that enables you to get into almost every attraction in the city for free or at a discount. The London Pass can be purchased for a one day use up to a full week's use. With it you will receive discounts at certain retailers, free or lowered entry to Prince Albert Royal Hall, boat rides through the canals, and even entry into the London Tower (which is where you get to see the crown jewels and the military museum). If you so choose to spend more than a day or two in London (which isn't even enough time to see all of the free museums), you should consider getting a London Pass.

Big Ben is of course the symbol of London that most of us Staters think of when the city is mentioned to us. It is a towering and beautiful figure, and like most monuments, draws a great crowd.
There are two major "cathedrals" to see in London. Westminster Abbey (pictured here) and St. Paul's Cathedral are both worth your time. Whether you are of great faith, little faith, or no faith, they are beautiful buildings, with inspiring stories and traditions. Westminster is known for having held Princess Diana's funeral, the Queen's inauguration, among other important events in the royal family. St. Paul's is celebrated as being open to all faiths for worship, and to all people for events of the world. In the aftermath of world devastation, such as the 9/11 event in the US or the Tsunami in Japan, the Cathedral holds public prayer and grief sessions, especially to help visitors to the city who are from the location hit by the tragedy. If you go, be sure to check out the crypt.
We got a chance to checkout the Churchill War Rooms, which is an interesting museum, set up in the actual location of the War Rooms. There are displays set up to demonstrate daily life during those days, and maps from actual events and strategies. I'm a lover of maps, so this was a real treat to see.
It is not a trip to another country if you don't try the local cuisine! British pastries are a delicious way to start the morning. Chances are, if you're staying in an apartment at the edge of the city, there is a bakery right down the street from you, filled with all kinds of crumpets and scones just waiting for your teeth to sink into them. Don't forget to order a pot of tea to go with them.
Of all of the European cities I have traveled in, London is by far the most child friendly. Their museums, with the exception of Church's and Art museums, have interactive activities that engage and excite the young and the young at heart. When we visited Kensington Palace, and spent time in the party rooms, there was a card game you could play as you went along. Each card had a fact about etiquette of the court during earlier centuries. There were also places where children could sit and draw, and in a room that showed toys from the childhoods of past rulers, there were replicas out in the open to be touched and handled by all.
This beautiful block caught my eye in the Drawing Room. I am a lover of time keepers, and with a map on it, it was a wonderful site to see.

As we exited Kensington Palace, we were greeted with the site of classically dressed dancers (as well as tourists who were classically dressed in jeans and t-shirts) performing line dances. There was much going on in the city as a celebration of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, and this was one of the events. If we had arrived closer to the beginning of the dance, I surely would have joined in.
The structure above is a monument that was erected for Prince Albert after his death. It was a part of an enormous project made in the late Prince's honor. Situated at the far end of Hyde park (opposite of Kensington Palace). The money that had been earmarked to build the Prince Albert Royal Hall was used instead on this monument. The Hall had to raise funds by selling seats with one hundred year contracts for families. To this day the royal family holds a private box in the grand theater. We enjoyed a tour of the Hall, but photography was not allowed inside. It is known to have played host to many performers and incredible performances, and is well worth a visit if you've got a chance.
The Natural History Museum is among the many places open to the public and free to enter. There are many beautiful fossils preserved here for all eyes to see. At the time of their discovery, these dinosaur bones were thought to be some form of alligator.
In the museum is this beautiful collection of hummingbirds, possibly hundreds of different kinds.

There are several markets in London, all of which are worth a visit if you have the time. Camden Town (pictured here) is full of shops that celebrate all kinds of fashion styles. As one of the European fashion capitols (like Paris, Rome, and Barcelona) London sports its own twist on modern fashion. Portobello Road Market is an exciting place to visit if you're looking for a unique clock or other decoration, or just enjoy browsing through antiques and indie fashion.

We enjoyed an afternoon at the zoo, watched some animal shows, and said hello to many friendly creatures.
The London Zoo has a beautiful butterfly exhibit right now, which includes some gorgeous nocturnal moths. O demonstrated the size of this beautiful creature with his hand.

England has one of the largest collections of international relics in the world. There are pieces from Ancient Egypt, Greece, and the Middle East, as well as from all over Western Europe and all across Asia.
This Roman imitation of a Greek statue shows the eternal interest of one culture in another. Centuries later, England found themselves imitating Roman culture, Egyptian culture, and so on. Today, many Western youths try to imitate Japanese and other Asian cultures in their decoration, fashion, and diet, while many Eastern youths do the same with Western culture. It goes to show that in human nature we always want what we do not have.

There are two types of vehicle you are bound to notice in London. The double decker bus and the taxi cab. Another important and often confusing thing to note, they do indeed drive on the opposite side of the road in England. It is my advice that you use public transit and walk rather than drive a car yourself if you are used to the more international road direction of the right hand side.
This little restaurant in the China Town area of London had me concerned. Are those the kind of people they serve, or the food they serve to the people? Either way, I'm not sure it is somewhere I'd like to dine.
But joking aside, if you're into different cuisines, and you tire of fish and chips, China Town London is a great places to look for and have a hot meal. The prices tend to be more reasonable than other parts of town, and the selection is vast. There are other culturally focused neighborhoods in the city, all of which have wonderful restaurants for your tasting pleasure.
We enjoyed a meal at Mr. Kong's restaurant when we visited China Town. Often times these kind of restaurants will have a suggested tourist meal for multiple people. It tends to be of high value and have all of the most popular dishes included, and will save you time if you don't want to go through the whole menu. This particular restaurant was full of locals, including business men and what appeared to be a couple celebrating an anniversary.
Again, I was very happy to be seeing a different sort of architecture.
I adore the Tudor style buildings. Much like Basque architecture, it is a beautifully contrasted style, with the dark lines and white walls.
We took a boat tour through Little Venice, a set of canals that run through the city.
Canals were made throughout England as a means of transport, by boat. The boats were tugged along by a single horse, and were home and office to merchant families. Today most of the boats are stationary and serve as permanent dwellings for many English citizens.

London is a wonderful place to visit, I especially encourage people with children who would like a European experience to visit this friendly city. There are many more things I'd like to talk about, and will do so in a later post.
Enjoy your summers, my dear readers.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Madrid, Culture Shock, and Adjustment

It has been a while since I have updated this blog, and I have a decent reason. First I will update you on the trip I took to Madrid with Rana a few months ago. I'm mostly going to talk about the food there, so if you're hungry, might want to grab something before you start reading, or you'll be drooling by the end.

 For lunch on the first day we ate Specialty Spanish Tortilla at a classy little place called Casa Paco. The variety of Tortilla they had was incredible. An interesting difference between Cantabrian Tortilla and Madrid Tortilla is that when people in Cantabria make it with something else, they put it on top, usually with some mayo or a fried egg. In Madrid, the extra ingredients are baked right in.

 For dinner one night we went to a new chic little bar called The Flamingo. We had croquetas, which are probably my favorite Spanish cuisine. The ones we had were filled with Cocida, a traditional stew of the region, that might remind one of a vegetable beef stew.
 It is often a good idea to stop for tea in the afternoon if you've been walking all day. 
 Bakery combination cafes are not hard to find in Spain's capital, or in any large Spanish city really. Most go in for a sweet treat and a little pick-me-up of coffee. We had tea.
 I am a pastry fanatic. The only things I truly liked the time that I've been to France were the Southern architecture, and the baking. Madrid also has a high level of deliciousness when it comes to baked goods.

 We also went to a couple of bookstores, the first one to find a map, and later just for fun. Rana loves books, and I enjoy the feeling of a bookstore.
 This particular bookstore, our last stop before heading back to the airport, is also a cafe. We enjoyed a quick breakfast and the smell of old bound paper on that final morning in the big city.

Since Madrid, which took place in late April, I have been through several phases of culture shock, have changed my activities quite a bit, and have made new friends.
When I first arrived I had very little to do. I started going to the highschool where Rana works to volunteer with the business teachers. I sat in on lectures, helped them develop powerpoints, and in general was bored out of my mind, with little improvement to my Spanish after about four weeks. During this time I felt like I did not truly have anything that was my own, that I was wasting the time of the students because the teacher slowed down to help me understand, and that I was not getting anything out of the situation. I was starting to dislike the little things about Spanish culture. Certain pleasantries and social norms that I had trouble conforming to. Such as chatting over coffee on a daily basis, drinking coffee on a daily basis, and so on. It is always the silly little things that get on your nerves. Depressed and stressed, I informed Rana that I did not want to go back. She agreed it was time for a change.

My sister signed me up for Spanish courses at the university, and also put up a sign in the supermarket advertising my services as an English tutor/babysitter. My first week of Spanish class was with a Polish girl and the teacher. I improved quickly with four hours a day using Spanish in the classroom, and then another hour or so chatting with O or Dori. Soon after I began giving classes to local children. 

I currently have six students, and am to start with at least two more later next month or in August.
My Spanish course ended last week, and I am now near a B1 level of the language.

In addition to everything else, I had been visiting, on a semi-weekly basis, a Peruvian woman, for language exchange, as well as a local fellow around my age. I would talk and listen for hours with the woman from Peru about absolutely nothing and everything at the same time. She has gone to Italy for the summer, but I hope to see her again before I return home in December.

The local fellow, heretoafter referred to as Anan, is another case altogether. We have gotten together for conversation only twice. After each time he invites me to come out with he and his friends for drinks and dancing or to watch a game or participate in a local festival. Thanks to him, I have been able to truly see the nightlife of the precious coastal city of Santander.
The discos here are a bit slow moving, and play overly typical tracks. The youth play drinking games with sugary wine substitutes before going to go dancing, and the youth are notorious for trying to play matchmaker with their friends and new acquaintances. Anan enjoys drinking a bit too much, and always seems unable to remember the evening's events later on. His girlfriend, Ria, who is also the older sister of one of my students, is sweet and has been a true lifesaver for me.
It is important to remember these simple rules when going out in Spain, ladies: ALWAYS carry tissues. There is no guarantee of toilet paper or clean seats. Go the bathroom before leaving the bar, you don't know how long you'll be walking to get to the next place. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing, you don't know how long you'll be walking. 
If you ever happen to be in Spain for the beginning of summer, and are in Santander for the day of San Juan, be sure to go to the beach. It is a wonderful site, with all of the bonfires and happy students. Everyone drinking and burning their notes from the year. Before the end of the night, many of the population will have bathed in the ocean, most of them in the nude, and most of the city's children will be among them. A Spanish festival is a must see for anyone.

That is all for now. Expect more updates about my students and my upcoming trip to London in the next couple of weeks!