Saturday, April 14, 2012

Dinosaurs and Mortar Shells

This Thursday, instead of having one of my normal English lessons, I got to go to the local dinosaur museum/theme park in Teruel. By theme park, I don't mean giant roller coasters or anything. The small attractions are mainly aimed at children. It's still quite impressive, considering Teruel doesn't really have anything else that's comparable in terms of being so technologically advanced. One of the students gave us a tour of the main museum, which houses several large skeletal reproductions and even some real fossils and fossilized footprints. I commend the student for attempting to give a presentation in English, given the number of really specific vocabulary words he had to use and the typical shyness Spanish people seem to have about speaking in English. It was a nice change of pace in comparison to being in class and I didn't really have to do anything besides help with pronunciation and a few unknown vocabulary words. I'm also glad dinosaurs still manage to retain their strange allure and weren't just a passing childhood fad propagated by Jurassic Park.

Today, I headed with some students to Monterde de Albarracín to take part in an English-speaking activity. One of the students, Santi, owns an old country house in the small village of Monterde, which is located in La Comarca de Albarracín (kind of like a county that contains several small villages, including Albarracín, where I work). We had originally intended to have a weekend-long retreat, but due to insufficient numbers, we limited it to
one Saturday afternoon. Santi renovated his house in 2005 and made it into a really nice place that people can rent out for the weekend. It's an original old house and still retains many of its antique features. Monterde is near enough to Teruel and Albarracín that this place would be great to stay in. You would have to be interested in isolating yourself in a very rural region, though.

The day was mostly cloudy and rainy, but we had a short period in the afternoon where the sun came out. We took a short hike through and outside the town. It looked like it had once been a fairly nice place, given the size and style of some of the houses, but most of it has fallen into disrepair and the population has dwindled to only a few small families. It still looks like a cool place to go hide out for the winter or to spend a summer hiking in the nearby mountains.

Group of my students (all of which are older than me)

City center with 16th century church


Santi also showed us his nearby garden, which wasn't all that pretty at the moment, given that we haven't had much rain or warmth yet (especially in Monterde, as it's located at about 1,300m above sea level). He also has a giant dog that he keeps behind his house. If the dog had stood on his hind legs, I think he could have rested his head on top of mine. He was really friendly, though, and I got to give him a (timid) head rub.

Apart from the hour or so of decent weather, the rest of the time we hid inside and played games and ate lots of food. We played Pictionary, which was fun to try to explain in English. They already knew the rules, but trying to get them to understand all of the vocabulary and phrases in English is not always easy. And getting them to guess your drawing in English can be an even harder task. It wasn't just the language barrier either. There were cultural and even botanical differences that made it difficult to convey even simple concepts. I drew an oblong watermelon with the faint green streaks and they thought it was some kind of alien baguette. Apparently Spanish watermelons are perfectly round or something. Beyond that, abstract concepts were almost impossible to convey. Fortunately, I had some help from an English teacher at the university. She's not a native speaker, but things would not have went as smoothly without her.

For lunch, Santi prepared a giant bowl of various meats, a bowl of bread, and salad. There was morcilla (bloody sausage with rice, I think we call it black pudding, though I'd never tried it until I came to Spain), lamb, and different types of sausages. I don't think it would be very easy to be a vegetarian in Teruel. Anywhere you go, there is just a ton of delicious ham hanging from the ceiling.

After lunch, Santi gave me a present. It is a mortar shell that supposedly originated from the Spanish Civil War period. I'd like to verify that somehow (it looks similar to a Soviet model found here, but not exactly the same). Given that no one really wanted to make their contributions to the civil war all that obvious, there are no distinguishing symbols or marks that I can find that would point to one country in particular, unfortunately (though most likely it's either German or Soviet). The cap is off and there is nothing inside, so it's not going to explode or anything. I'm still trying to figure out how I'm ever going to get it back home...

I haven't been able to research as much about the civil war as I had originally intended (apparently you need to know Spanish before you can read and interview people here), but I'm making a few contacts and getting some photos and whatnot. Now I have a mortar shell, which is crazy. I may have preferred something less threatening as far as getting it back through customs, but I'm excited about it nonetheless.

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