Buena Noche, Christmas Day and Boxing Day…

30 12 2009

I spent the Christmas week with the Knowlsons which was really great – relaxing, chillin’ by their fire and drinking cups of tea. The Knowlsons have been here for over 20 years. Peter was here as a young man, then Kate married him and came out here and now they have 4 boys from 19 down to 11. The boys are hysterical with really proper English (which I find highly contagious!) but they’re all incredibly lovely guys and loads of fun. 

The tradition in Spain is to have the family meal on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas day – that’s the bigger deal. But first, all the younger people (in Córdoba at least) go out for the day. The bars, pubs and clubs open at 10am as if it were 10pm. So everyone goes out and parties hard during the day then drags themselves home for a slightly sizzled dinner with all the family.  We had a huge ‘Spanish’ Christmas Eve with the family and some friends from the church. But unlike everyone else – we turned around and did Christmas all over again the neck day!

Spending Christmas with 4 teenage boys meant watching them open loads of presents. Christmas day, the younger two boys woke up at 8:30 (after a fair bit of arguing and negotiation the night before with the older boys – they’d wanted 7:30 and the older 2 wanted 9…) and by 8:45 the family were downstairs doing their stockings in their parents’ bedroom. Then we did a huge traditional English Christmas lunch after stacks of presents for the boys. They’d also wrapped a few things up for me so I’d have them. For example, an Aussie visitor had flown over and brought my box of earrings so they wrapped that up as a Christmas pressie. Then I had taken some presents that arrived in the mail before I left so I had quite a motherload!

I managed to catch my family on Skype and a few friends over the phone which was really nice. My brother and his wife got really ill with food poisoning the night before Christmas and they had to call a doctor out to give her and injection to stop her throwing up. So it turns out the family Christmas at home wasn’t quite ideal either 🙂

Since normally for me Boxing Day is usually a day of leftovers and relaxing – when a friend asked if I wanted to go out I was a little thrown! But in the end we just did lunch on the 27th. Then on the 29th we had a huge party for the 30 odd who make up the missionaries and their families, hours of fun and lots of Spanish speaking…

Over the next few days, each night we watched the collection of new DVDs the boys scored over Christmas – Harry Potter, Transformers 2, and the first disc of the Friends full seasons DVD collection… I had a room upstairs which has a double bed and everyday I woke up feeling like a princess. I’m so getting one when I move at the end of the year in Cordoba.

Beléns everywhere you look

26 12 2009

At Christmas there are Bélens (nativity scenes) everywhere. They’re in shop windows, in churches and there’s one in the tiny courtyard at our language school, behind the gate – which is kind of the Jailbreak version… Not only do they have Jesus and his folks and a bunch of animals, the Bélens here are whole cities – you can keep buying a little bit more each year and create an entire city with everything from the veggie patch next to the Inn they’re staying in, a waterwheel for the river that runs by, or even the temple – it’s like seasonal Lego! Lots of houses also have a Baby Jesus flag (or variation of) which you can buy from the Catholic churches and hang like flags from all the balconies. Others have gone for Santas climbing up a rope or the 3 Kings climbing a ladder (I guess they leave their donkey’s downstairs?) Alfonso took this photo – a case of never the twain shall meet!

Day of Health…

22 12 2009

Today is the Day of Health. Not because Spanish are health fanatics (although surprisingly they are surprisingly into fitness and healthy eating). Today is the day of the Lotería de Navidad, or Christmas lottery, and everyone has a ticket.

There’s a 3-hour broadcast of the draw of “El Gordo”, live on national TV. Kids wearing school uniforms almost  chant the winning numbers and their corresponding prizes. These kids have been practising for weeks and put your bingo callers to shame… check them out at http://www.elpais.com/multimedia/player_video.html?xref=nuevo_directo_cnn

I think it’s the world’s biggest lottery in terms of the size of its prizes and number of participants. 80% of the Spanish population takes part in the Christmas lottery and it’s half of what they spend in total on lottery tickets. The name “El Gordo” actually refers to the first lottery prize, literally “the fat one” or “the big one”. And everyone is going to win. I’m not sure if it’s an inbred confidence of a positive attitude or a complete denial of mathematics but their’s this optimism that is unbelievable. There’s this aura of: “Despite the odds, someone has to win – and why shouldn’t it be me?” Mari Cruz reckons it’s because their deeply catholic and so God has got to be on their side… And although the odds are less than getting hit by a falling satellite… when the numbers are called people are genuinely surprised their number wasn’t called 🙂

So why the day of Health? Because even though ‘I/you/we’ didn’t win anything, we’ve got our health – and that’s what counts 🙂


Christmas at the language school

18 12 2009

We finished the year in the language school with breakfast together. Actually it was really well done! They ordered tostadas from the café around the corner, each of us with a different topping. What came was a whole basket of toasted half rolls, the bacon all sliced and in a jar, and the fresh tomatoes crushed up and in a ketchup bottle – for easy application… Then I had ordered a tea – I don’t know why, because I should have learnt the time before… when I said tea with cold milk, I was distinguishing from tea to which hot milk is added. What I got was a tea – made on milk with a splash of hot water added. Then they pulled out the wine – or Raison wine, to be precise. It’s quite sweet – as close as you can get to a breakfast wine I guess 🙂 It was a great way to end the year – here’s hoping I’ll remember something of what I’ve learnt after the holidays!

Conversations in Spanglish

17 12 2009

Each week I meet a few times with Virginia. She’s a Cordobesa who is studying English and teaches Spanish at a local school. We catch up for a cuppa and chat in English and Spanish. The other day we spent an hour in a bar drinking hot chocolate and playing connect 4. As well as being a great education in the best places to eat around town and a lot of fun – she’s really good at explaining things I should be saying better. One of our first conversations, she asked what the difference is between the Catholic Church and the Protestant church. I stumbled through the answer but it was a great taste of conversations I hope to be able to have again and again in the future.

Women’s Meeting

14 12 2009

I went to a women’s meeting for Christmas this Saturday. It was great to meet some women from churches outside of the city, from regional Córdoba and hear a bit about their churches, and also to catch up with a few of the ladies from Peñarroya. And of course – to share food 🙂 The cakes were delicious and there were quite a few women with us in the bar where we met. And when everyone ordered drinks I got a tea. (I’ve finally decided to move past my snobbery and I’ve learnt to order a tea in a coffee shop. In OZ I wouldn’t dream of paying for hot water and barely a scratch of milk with my tea bag – but after a few false starts with hot chocolate here, I’m a tea orderer. Or at least I thought I was until my tea came!) I asked for tea, black, with cold milk. The thought process was, I’m trying to avoid getting red tea (Rooibos) and I don’t want warmed milk. What I got, was a dash of hot water in a cup of cold milk with the bag floating on the top, all the flavour all but sealed in. It was hysterical! But I’m always very well looked after and within seconds someone had gone to get a proper tea.

 – Language Update

I’m still struggling with being on the front foot all the time, being the first to go say hello, but I did. My plan was to walk about and start a conversation with three women, which I managed fine – until I got past hello 🙂 Once you start chatting, they’re so lovely; it’s just starting that’s so hard. And it was great to have Spanish speakers around me I could introduce so they could carry the conversation. While I’m getting to the point where I can follow conversations (about simple things) but I find it hard to carry a conversation so I need someone there to provide that.

 – Thoughts from Kate’s Sharing

One of the things (I think) Kate mentioned was how narrow we think in terms of unfaithful. When a wife speaks poorly of her husband, when she complains about him to colleagues or in front of their children, then she’s being unfaithful. There are so many little ways that I’m unfaithful to my family, to my colleagues and to friendships. Unfaithfulness begins in little ways and becomes a habit forming dismissiveness of the responsibilities of relationship – to be faithful, to be loyal. That’ll be one of my things to mull over this December…

Friendly Directions

11 12 2009

Over the last few days I’ve been struggling a bit with the fact that I spend so little time talking Spanish. I try hard to cut down the amount of time I spend in English each day – writing emails only for a limited amount of time, avoiding English tele etc (mind you the dialogue of English in my head is inescapable :). But while that only cuts down English it doesn’t increase Spanish conversation. There are only so many times a day you can subject those you live with to inane conversation just so you can practice Spanish. I meet with Virginia twice a week, half of which is in Spanish and then there’s dance class – not really conversational.

I met and American who goes every day to a bar to practice Spanish with whoever is there. While I’m not quite up for that – I did get a kick in the pants from that conversation so yesterday I decided to make a friend. I went to a little shop near the language school and rather than having a brief ‘nothing’ conversation with the girl who works there, I started a conversation. Elena hasn’t finished her degree but she’d like to go back to complete it next year. She works a ridiculous amount of hours on her own in the shop, loves photography and ideally wants to be in photojournalism. And she also wants a dreadlock in her hair. And she’s my first Chloé-initiated friend in Spain.

Feeling buoyed by my effort, when someone asked me for directions later to the Town Hall (directions I couldn’t really give in English the streets are so windy and complicated) instead I took them on a walk and chatted (albeit limited conversation) all the way to my bus stop and gave them directions for the last 100 metres.

It’s great to make friends in my city and help people around in my city. And today racing up the stairs I got that sense again that this place is my home – and while other people would never guess it since I sound so lost and confused in Spanish, I’m feeling like I belong to it and it belongs to me.