Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Adventures in Archaeology!

I think I'm going to add archaeology to the list of things I want to do when I grow up. Monday, I went with Ricardo and his archaeologist friends to visit some excavation sites and hike around the area surrounding Rubielos de Mora. It's an incredible area to look at and we picked a beautiful day to go hiking.

We visited three different spots in the region - a ruined lookout fort, a mine, and a canyon full of caves where Islamic people lived in refuge during the Christian reconquest of Spain. The ruined lookout fort was constructed sometime during the period of Islamic rule in Spain (the professionals told me sometime around 1100-1200) as a way to lookout for enemies and to have a point from which the nobles could rule over the peasants below. A couple of centuries later, the Christians constructed a small "ermita" which is, from what I understood, a Christian temple of sorts to one saint or another. It's reminiscent of Greek and Roman temples to various lesser gods, with the lesser gods being replaced by a saint that provides some form of protection against something (storms, bad harvest, etc.). The group of archaeologists had been working on excavating this site for a while but had to temporarily abandon the project because of the weather in December. 

Part of the ruined wall.

Ermita from afar.

Inside the ermita.

The site from afar.

Next, we headed to a site that Ricardo had been looking for. I'm not sure where he found out about it, but there was supposed to be some kind of ancient copper mine and he was excited. We actually found the mine, but I'm not sure why he acted as though it was supposed to be some sort of legendary expedition:

I honestly thought we were going to have to pull him out by his feet because there was barely enough room for him to crawl in there. The region was quite deficient in copper deposits, so I assume whoever mined this hole in the wall was disappointed and left after digging for a few minutes. We spent an hour or so hiking around the area looking for pieces of pottery and copper. We found a few small pieces but nothing special. The view was gorgeous, though:

The third site was where the archaeologist team was actually working at this point. I got to meet the little team and watch them dig around. It was interesting, albeit tedious-looking. This site is down in a canyon where there are a lot of caves that Islamic refugees were hiding in during the Christian reconquest. The team found several graves of smaller children from that period and some ruined stone walls. I hiked around a bit and looked at the caves up in the rock faces. If people were actually hiding in these places, they had to have had a difficult time accessing the caves (I suppose that's part of the point). 

There is a goat peeing in this picture. It maintained eye contact with me the entire time.

Archaeology seems like a fun way to do historical work. I'm sure my entirely theoretical history degree would allow me to get a job digging around like Indiana Jones someday. But sitting in a library reading generally means you avoid snakes, so I suppose it depends on how adventurous I'm feeling.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Los Medievales

Here's me in an outfit again.

This weekend, Teruel was decorated like a giant Medieval festival and people came from all around to dress up like Lord of the Rings extras and get ridiculously drunk in the streets. I've been to a Renaissance festival in Ohio several times, beginning in high school. I like the Medieval setting and the garb and the atmosphere in general. But Teruel apparently makes Ohio look like child's play. Here, there were vendors lined up from the city center to the park, over half a mile away.

In the city center, there were all kinds of haymas, which are private tents and campsites that represent a group of Medieval characters. To get one of these tents, you have to pay a fee, write a research paper justifying your group's historical relevance to the time period, and then decorate the tent in such a way that it represents some aspect of your group's purpose. There were tents for the catapult launchers, the monks, the blacksmiths, etc. Outside the tents, they were cooking out and drinking; inside the tents, there were microwaves, mini-fridges, couches, and so on. They stayed out there day in and day out, all weekend, drinking and eating to their hearts' content.

Haymas from afar.

There were also a lot of interesting food vendors. Most of them were the usual Aragonese staples of cheese and ham, but there was also the occasional squid. A lot of people had desserts as well. And then others blatantly disregarded the Medieval theme and had rows and rows of processed candies. However, I was most interested in the herbal stands that offered all sorts of herbs to cure whatever may ail you. They had something for headaches, back pains, and even one for eliminating fat. I suspect that you were supposed to smoke whatever it was and you'd just not worry about being fat anymore or having a headache.

Assorted meats.

Cutting some squid.

Walking through the streets, you could find all sorts of people dressed up as knights and peasants, but my favorite were a group of wandering, crazy fishermen who "accidentally" slapped people with fish as they walked by. They had the fish hanging on their poles over their shoulders and would swing around and smack people as they walked by. They showed up everywhere, harassing children and old people alike.

Crazy fisherman clan.

As the festival lasted for three days, I got to enjoy having a Medieval-themed birthday as well. I decided to go early in the day Saturday to have a look around. It turned out that the crowd from the night before had somehow mutated into an unmanageable size, making it near-impossible to get around. I ended up buying some chocolate desserts and heading back to the apartment. I did snap a few pictures of the crowd before I left, though:

The viaduct, packed to capacity.

My roommate made me an awesome birthday lunch. I'm not sure what the first course was, aside from delicious, but it contained potatoes, bacon, hard-boiled eggs, tuna, and some sauce. It was kind of like a big salad of sorts. We also had freshly baked bread from the bakery on the side. For the main course, we had lamb. And the finale was a tiramasu cake, topped with sliced strawberries and candles in the shape of a two and a three:

Later, my roommate and I returned to the city center to enjoy the festivities. We split up so he could go meet one of his friends and I could have another look around. I ended up in the Plaza del Torico (the place with the little bull on top of a column), where I found hundreds of people staring apprehensively in one direction. I was confused until people started scattering and yelling and a bull ran through the square. I was quite dumbfounded but I decided to take a few pictures. I was convinced I was going to get my first shot of someone being impaled, but that didn't happen. 

I made sure to keep several layers of squishy people in between myself and the bull, so as to ensure my survival. There was little to worry about, though, because there were plenty of idiots willing to dance in front of the bull and annoy it enough that it had no interest in me. I took a few pictures and then ran away to find my roommate before I got trampled by the bull or all of the crazy people standing around.

I met up with my roommate and his entourage of teacher friends with lots of babies and we went to a Medieval tournament in the Plaza del Toros. Normally, it's a bullfighting ring (though usually only during the summer). This weekend, it was filled with knights and horses and drama. There were six knights in total, three on each team. Our section was represented by the White Knight, who was on the good guy team along with the Green and Brown knights. The other team had the Blue, Grey, and Black knights. The Black Knight was the villain and he was just really mean to everyone. Thankfully, he died in the end. Unfortunately, he was the last knight to die, leaving the Green Knight the victor. My original prediction was that the White Knight would defeat the Black Knight and satisfy the classic good over evil story. I guess this group was trying to push some kind of New Age, environmentalist agenda.

Score one for Mother Nature, Greeny.

Overall, it has been a very enjoyable birthday weekend. I need to have more Medieval themed birthdays in my future (that aren't just Dungeons and Dragons games). 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

To the trenches

I went with one of my students from the language school Saturday to Sarrión, a small town about half an hour from Teruel. His name's Ricardo, an older guy that smells strangely similar to my grandpa despite being significantly younger and sporting much less hair. I'm not exactly sure what he does for a living, but he knows quite a bit about bird watching and botany. He also has a really difficult time walking and talking at the same time. It may have been a sort of pause for effect, but every time he needed to explain why something was historically relevant or why a plant was interesting, we had to come to a dead stop and ponder it for a moment before we could move on. We had to do the same when he stopped to pee.

Unfortunately, we never made it to our intended destination. We had planned to hike around a civil war site a few miles away from the town. We only made it a mile or two down the country road before we found a hill covered in a blanket of ice a few inches thick. We decided not to test our luck in his 2-wheel drive hatchback. Thankfully, Ricardo had a backup plan in mind. He took me to a fish hatchery.

The fish hatchery turned out to be quite small and unimpressive, but the trails that followed along the riverbank and through the hills behind it were enjoyable. Ricardo taught me quite a bit about the fauna of Aragón and some of its feudal and modern history. Apparently a great deal of the pine trees in this region were planted by Franco because no one would trade him any lumber. There are other plants that have stuck around since the Mediterranean was significantly more tropical due to their ability to resist extreme heat and cold, dry spells. And the little run-down buildings we kept running into while we were hiking around in the countryside were remnants of old farmer's houses that were vacated when Franco was paranoid about rebel soldiers living in the mountains (see: Maquis). I also got to see what he claimed to be an eagle, using his bird-watching binoculars. He probably could have claimed it was any larger, predatory bird and I'd have believed him.

We hiked two or three miles through the hills until we came upon a main road. We decided to look around on the other side of the road and found a big steep hill to climb. We stumbled across some smaller trenches in what was probably a good lookout spot during the civil war. I was excited. I cut myself up on wild brush more than I intended, but I got to see some trenches, so I was okay with it. We ended up having to walk back to the car in the dark because we budgeted our time poorly. The sun sets entirely too early in February.

After walking around in the cold for a few hours, Ricardo and I returned to Teruel and grabbed some coffee in a little bar near the hotel I stayed in my first few nights here. We got there just in time to watch the drunk patrons yell at the soccer game on television. The window of opportunity for that sort of spectacle is quite wide in Spain. I met one of Ricardo's friends, a gruff old man that reminded me of one of my college history professors. It may have just been the beard, the swearing, and the forwardness because he lacked any insightful rants about American history theories. I'm fairly certain this guy started smoking as a fetus. He came close to coughing up a lung on occasion and it was nigh impossible to understand him. It turns out he is a police officer. He had an ID card and everything. And just when I thought there was no way I could like him any more than that, he paid for our coffees.

Ricardo and I made plans to meet up at a bar called Casa Andalucia to listen to live flamenco. Someone screwed up when they made the advertisements or the band is going through some kind of identity crisis because it was certainly not flamenco. It turned out to be some kind of modern, South American-influenced music. There was an electric guitar that played a similar mellow solo 17 times too many every song. We decided to go to another bar for a rock concert instead. The rock band played the same upbeat guitar solo just as frequently and unnecessarily but at least it was exciting. I may never be able to hear some of those frequencies of sound ever again, though.

This week I don't have to work on Friday because Teruel is celebrating it's Medieval heritage this weekend with a giant festival that transforms the town into a Middle Age fantasy land. From what I've heard, it's like the Renaissance Fair I used to go to, except everyone thinks it's cool. I'm going to try to find a costume to wear. I'm sure it will be just as great as the last one I tried on.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Enjoying a few nights off and my debut in a local newspaper.

Until this Wednesday, I had been enjoying a relaxing week and a half of free evenings. The students at the language school were taking their exams, so I got a nice little break from teaching at night. To some extent, it has spoiled me. I was reluctant to return to spending twelve hours a day in schools, as you might imagine. During that week of liberation, I spent some quality time with my roommate. I found a brochure advertising the "Ruta de Perolicos," an excellent economic initiative for local businesses. Basically, for one week a bunch of the local bars in Teruel make their own soup and they sell you a serving size for a euro. The idea is that you will go around trying all of the soups, buying a little bit at each place. It worked well for us because we went out three nights in a row and ate for next to nothing. There were soups with seafood, cheese, chorizo, beans, and vegetables. Each one had its own special recipe. They were all delicious. I'm sure my opinion was in part influenced by the fact that it was below freezing outside. 

The last night we went out was last Thursday. We decided to end our trek with a stop at a basement bar that has jam sessions on Thursday nights. The guys who played were impressive. They played a lot of rock music with flamenco influence, which I really enjoyed. Ana, her friend, and my roommate's friend joined us. Ana decided to convince the owner of the bar that I should play bass with the band. My roommate's friend and I joined them and messed around for a bit. It is awkward doing improvisation when you don't know much about musical scales or styles outside of what you normally play. I had a lot of fun, though. Pictures were taken but I don't have them at the moment. I'll add those when they're sent to me.

Last weekend a cold front moved into Spain. The news footage of Barcelona and San Sebastian's beaches being covered in snow deterred me from traveling north. I decided to stay in my apartment and study Spanish instead. It's nice to sit inside and watch it snow from the comfort of my desk. I started reading a book on the history of anarchism in Spain. I'm improving quite a bit because I don't have to crack open the Spanish-English dictionary seventeen times per page at this point. I have made quite the vocabulary list from the words I want to be more familiar with and especially the ones I had no idea of when I was reading.

My study time has been cut short by my class load once again, however. I did make the decision to stop my private lessons indefinitely, though. So while I do spend entirely too much time teaching English, I now allot several more hours per week to practicing Spanish. This weekend I plan to watch a film or two about the civil war and to visit some trenches in the mountains with one of my students who prefers to speak in Spanish, so I'm excited about that. 

This week I received some prime scrapbook material from my colleagues at the language school. I now have a program of the events that took place during the week I gave my presentation and a newspaper clipping that explains my lecture and has a picture of me. I'm going to be famous.