Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Traditional Spanish garb is kind of awesome.

Last weekend I agreed to attend a banquet for my mentor's dance group in Teruel. I showed up after the dinner (as it was 30 euros per plate) and had some dessert. Most of the dancers were sufficiently inebriated at this point, which was entertaining for me. They repeatedly sang a song that would call out a person in the room to dance like a jellyfish. I'm not sure why this was done, but eventually even I was called out to wiggle my arms around. The dessert was some kind of delicious mousse with raspberries. After that we headed downstairs for a picture slideshow of the dance group and to watch some dances and hear the Spanish folk songs being played by their band. They dance/play the jota, which is a traditional Spanish style. The singing isn't all that appealing to me, but it is fun to experience the cultural aspect of it.

I mistakenly thought that this was the extent of the night. Afterwards, the dancers went to a pub nearby and continued to dance and increase their level of drunkenness. At least they were entertaining. The worst part of it all was having to listen to a talkative, cocky Argentinean bartender with a microphone. I wasn't a fan of the music being played, but I couldn't really hear it over his incessant boasts that he could get any girl in the bar. More power to him.

After the bar, my mentor's brother led us to a "disco movil" (I believe that's how it is spelled). It was essentially a discoteca or dance club set up temporarily in a big warehouse. It was not the least bit enjoyable. The music was horrible and loud and the people were all high on something besides alcohol. One guy was throwing small amounts of change at a pizza vendor and demanding food, despite the vendor telling him it wasn't enough money. Needless to say, we didn't stay there long.

The next day I watched two of Almodovar's films, "La Mala Educacion" and his new one, "La piel que habito". The first was lent to me by a new friend who works at the Foreign Language School in Teruel. The second I watched with my roommate David and his lady friend Pilar. Both films were very intense and provocative, as is Almodovar's style. I really liked the concept of the new film, though. And I believe I understood most of the story despite it being entirely in Spanish with no subtitles. I watched the movie in the cinema in Teruel. It is over one hundred years old and was converted from a stage to a movie screen. It still has the balcony seating on the sides.

This week I started at the secondary school in Albarracin. Though the kids behaved entirely different than the 10-12 year-olds, most of them didn't know much more English. I have been somewhat impressed by the upper-level students, though. They managed to ask me some fairly coherent questions and I taught them vocabulary for facial expressions, clothing, pattern styles, etc. They managed to successfully apply the new vocabulary when describing pictures of my friends that I dug up from my external hard drive. Jac was especially popular for his many different hairstyles/colors and his variety of dress. One of the other classes prepared questions to ask me in English, which I thought was a decent exercise because it allowed them to form questions and ask them orally without the pressure involved with creating ideas on the fly. Given their level of English, it was probably a good thing. However, they came up with some of the weirdest questions, such as "when did you first kiss a girl?" and "if you had kids, what would you name them?"

Last night I followed the dance group through the streets of Teruel while they danced and sang. It was quite enjoyable. Afterwards, Ana and Louis took me to their apartment for dinner. I got to play Louis' bass for a while and listen to some of their music. They bought me a Spanish Civil War book about the Battle of Teruel in a bookstore and gave it to me last night as a gift. They are so helpful and friendly. Louis prepared pizza, omelets, mushrooms, some kind of sardines, and of course bread. I skipped out on the sardines.

As usual, Ana and Louis led me to a bar after dinner. They have a tendency to say something in Spanish that I don't quite understand and then they get up and expect me to be ready to follow them. We went to a really old pub that is apparently notorious for attracting strange people. It was entertaining. Louis had to explain a lot of the conversations because they were full of slang and cursing that I wasn't familiar with, but watching a drunk man force another drunk man to dance with him is enjoyable without understanding a word of what they are saying. Louis shared a tea with me, which is uncommon for Spaniards. They are strict coffee drinkers and they denounce American coffee as too watered-down.

Today I woke up early and headed across town to meet up with Ana's family to participate in the Catholic fiesta honoring St. Pilar. I didn't get much about what the festival was supposed to be about other than putting flowers on a pyramid-shaped wire structure. I don't think there are many religious people in Spain, at least not among the younger generation, but they all go along with the traditions. So no one clearly explained what was going on, only that it was some sort of mass. The dancers danced for the mass and the band played as well. I got to dance with a baby too. They abandoned her in the back room while they went to perform, so I babysat. And by abandoned I mean they all just walked off without securing a babysitter or anything. Anyway, the baby enjoyed the sounds of the dancers and the music and started bouncing about. It was adorable.

The best part of the day, however, was that I got to dress up in traditional Spanish garb. I had lacy socks, velvet shorts, a corduroy vest, and a pirate-like headpiece. I think a picture will describe this better than I can in words:

After a dance in the nearby park, I was invited to lunch by Ana's parents. We met up with their family at a fancy restaurant. It was 20 euros per plate. Her family paid for everything. The helpfulness must run in the family. Ana's father has a great sense of humor when I actually understand what he is saying, which made dinner fun for me. I ordered what I understood to be pork steak, though I didn't receive it until much later. We had I think five or six rounds of appetizers prior to the main course (salad, rice, mussels, bread, a couple different kinds of pork with bread, etc.). By the time I got the pork steak, which was a huge hunk of meat, I was about to burst. Then I had ice cream in the shape of the star of Teruel with hot chocolate poured over it. Absolutely delicious, though my stomach hated me later.

I seem to be comprehending more Spanish conversations and picking up on quite a few colloquial phrases. I'm not sure how fluent I will be after all is said and done, but I think this is an excellent way to learn a language after you have the basics. And I'm not just learning a language, I'm absorbing so much culture. I have so many opportunities to learn here.

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