Monday, May 28, 2012

Belchite, Escucha, and Sarrión

Friday was my very last day in the primary school. The teachers all left for Turkey as part of their international project they're doing and won't be back until the day after I depart for home. It was depressing to have to say goodbye to them and then just kind of stick around. I don't feel nearly as integrated into the high school, and the teachers that I do feel more comfortable around are gone to Andalucia as part of a student project. I still have the language school, though, where my coworkers and students are always really friendly. Unfortunately, the last two weeks have been day after day of saying goodbye to each class of students, as each day is the last I'll be there with that particular group.

This weekend, I went to Zaragoza yet again and stayed with the other Italian teacher from the language school. I met her family, which was really entertaining, and we all set out on a busy day trip to Belchite and Escucha. She had been wanting to show me Belchite for quite some time, but due to various scheduling differences and whatnot, we hadn't been able to go. I'm glad that during my last weekend, I finally got to check it out.

Our first stop was seemingly in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the countryside a decent distance from Belchite. There was a bunker of sorts and some trenches from the civil war. It was quite different from the other places I'd been to, so it was a welcome addition.

After walking around the bunker and trenches for a while, we got back in the van and continued our journey. We followed a road that had a number of potholes that rivaled some Bath County backroads and ended up in Fuendetodos, the birthplace of Francisco Goya. Unfortunately, we didn't take the time to check out Goya's childhood home. Instead, we just grabbed some bocadillos and headed on our way.

Our next stop was Belchite. We drove through the "new town," which was more or less like any other town of its size in Spain. There were kids running along the sidewalks, old men standing outside of bars, smoking. The city seemed very much alive. But then we arrived at the gate that separates the newer part of the city from its devastating past. 

There was definitely a change in atmosphere as we passed under the gate and into the old city, now a monument to the civil war, and hardly close to anything resembling a city. The contrast between the new and the old was haunting. Whereas the new part of the city was a living, breathing entity, the old part was just silent. Everything was still. In a way, it was nice. Yet I couldn't help but to reflect on everything that had happened there and realize that it was once a thriving city, one of the most booming places in Aragón. And now all that remains is rubble. 

At one point, people fought over this place and ended up destroying it completely, along with over half the citizens and an untold number of soldiers from both sides. I guess it's one thing to read that in a book, but a completely different experience to see the evidence firsthand. I can't imagine how I'd react if I were there in 1937. Just seeing the ruins made me feel so depressed about the human race and its capacity for such destruction and hatred. 

I'm not sure how to translate the verb rodar in this context...but here goes:
Old village of Belchite,
Now the young lads don't patrol you
They won't hear the jotas that
our parents used to sing


We walked through the city and visited two different churches. Both had been bombed quite heavily, but the second seemed to be the most important and has definitely seen better days. It served as a hospital during the battle, but as the Republicans weren't all that concerned with churches, they directed their fire there as well.

I think I was the only one who actually cared that much about Belchite. I guess it was an interesting place for the rest of the family, but they didn't seem to take it that seriously. The grandmother was concerned about ghosts of the fallen citizens and soldiers that supposedly haunt the city. The three children were trying very hard to convince her that they had heard the ghosts every five minutes. I ended up wandering off and reflecting for a while. I wasn't sure whether I was glad Franco had declared this place a monument to the war or upset that he forced all of those people to abandon their homes (in addition to their fallen family members) in order to leave the city as a testament to the horrors of civil war (and probably the "atrocities" of the Republicans).

It was great that I got to visit such an important site for the civil war, but I was definitely glad to leave the place. It was both incredibly exciting and depressing, but nowhere close to uplifting. Neither was our next destination, but for different reasons.

We made an hour-long journey to Escucha, which happens to be a town where some of my students in the primary school are from. It is an area that is very dependent on the success of its coal mines, which peaked my interest as it would have some relevance to Eastern Kentucky. We went down into a coal mine museum of sorts, which was basically taking a little tour of part of a mine that's no longer in use, where they had set up models of workers and explained the different methods used for extracting coal. 

I was surprised that the tour guide lady avoided trying to convince us that coal is the best energy resource we have and that we should all love it because people need jobs. She actually focused a lot more on how Spanish people don't strike enough and how in the past miners were pioneers of striking for workers' rights. She told me and the kids present that we needed to be educated and fight for our rights. She may have been trying to instigate a revolution of some kind, I'm not really sure.

Going down into the mine was an interesting experience, if nothing else. It wasn't as exciting as Belchite for me, but I did learn a few things. Afterward, we drove back to Zaragoza. Along the way, my host's husband and I chatted it up about music. I told him I liked ska music and he decided to introduce me to some Spanish ska. I've already listened to some crazy anarchist ska music that I found, but I also enjoyed what he let me listen to. It was ridiculously difficult to understand the lyrics, which is understandable considering it can be difficult to understand them in English.

We got back to Zaragoza and I watched Eurovision with the children. They were really excited about it. It looked like some kind of American Idol thing but with contestants from all kinds of European countries (though I'm sure that's an oversimplification that would insult fans). We ate a late dinner and then I stayed up for a while longer with my host's husband and educated him a bit about Kentucky. He was intrigued by the UK basketball team, so we looked at some videos on YouTube, which eventually led to us sharing stand-up comedy videos somehow. I think we laughed more at how difficult it was to understand South American Spanish subtitles at times than the actual content of the video.

In the morning, I said bye to my host and caught a train to Teruel. I'm pretty much sick of buses and, despite the trains being more expensive and taking longer, I prefer them a thousand times over. They are a much more pleasant ride. Thankfully, barring some weird turn of events, I won't have to ride the bus for the remainder of my stay in Spain. 

Sunday afternoon, I headed with my trench-going friend, Ricardo, to Sarrión. It's the village in Teruel that is famous for its truffles, which I bought as gifts for Christmas last year. The last time Ricardo brought me to Sarrión to look at trenches, we couldn't pass part of the road because of a thick sheet of ice. This time the weather was great, and there was a nice mountain breeze instead of the intense heat that has been around the past few weeks.

The trenches in Sarrión were very good defensive positions and would have been extremely difficult to overtake, had the Nationalists not had the Condor Legion on their side. Despite having such a great trench system set up and all the little bunkers from which to fire, it didn't really protect them from relentless bombing from German aircraft. The result is a ton of rubble and some rough-looking trenches and bunkers left over.

Thanks to Ricardo, I also tried, for the first time in my life, to both drive in Spain and to drive a manual. I failed miserably because I couldn't get the timing with the gas and the clutch right. As I didn't want to waste half the afternoon doing that, I gave up pretty quickly. I figured that not driving for the past five months was also a good reason not to try it. Oh, and I'm not sure if I can legally drive in Spain without a special permit.

After I got back from Sarrión, I headed out to have dinner with one of my students. She introduced me to a girl working on a doctorate degree in literature from the Spanish Civil War and her boyfriend, who is interested in comics and trying to read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Perhaps the coolest part about them, however, is that they've both been to Lexington, Kentucky. She has lived there for two years, working as a Spanish teacher at UK. He visited her for a couple of months this year. So I got to exchange stories and experiences with them and we compared Teruel and Lexington. She will be going back to Kentucky in August and he may visit again as well for a longer period of time. Hopefully I will be able to practice some Spanish with them at some point. I prefer Castilian Spanish, so that would be awesome for me.

I've only got a few days left in Spain and no other trips planned. I think the rest of my week will be filled with packing and goodbyes. There is a saying that people have about Teruel that goes something along the lines of, "People come to Teruel crying and they leave it crying as well." Which I guess is supposed to mean that they see Teruel as a terribly small and uninteresting place to live and then by the end they don't want to leave. I'm not sure I ever saw it as a bad place to live, but I will be sad to leave it behind. 

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