Month: April 2015

Feria de Sevilla

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Yesterday I visited my favourite Spanish city, Sevilla, for the famous April Feria! Every year the Feria opens it’s doors and the Sevillianos enjoy a week of dancing, drinking and tapas-eating whilst dressed in traditional flamenco style dresses or suits.

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On area of 450,000 square metres you can find endless streets of casetas (marquee style tents) which belong to various families or companies in the city. Each caseta is beautifully decorated in unique but typically-Spanish styles. Along the outside walkways between casetas, thousands of lanterns brighten the sky by day and glow at night.

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A British equivalent of the caseta is probably a beach hut – each owned by a different family, each with different character and style. They obviously serve VERY different purposes but it’s the only familiar concept I can think of.

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The caseta concept is quite unique to Spanish festivals, the casetas vary in size but they are essentially rooms with bars, seating areas and dance floors so that each family can have their own private party with friends. There are also large public casetas (for the riffraf like me) but the feria is first and foremost a celebration for the people of Seville.

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Seeing Sevillano dancing was a highlight. All men and women know how to dance Sevillano, they do it in pairs, they clap and stamp along, moving their arms in perfect synchronisation and looking at each other intensely as they do so. I wish we had a similar dance culture here, it puts the awkward shuffling that occurs in British clubs to shame. There’s also there’s nothing more attractive than a man who can dance, especially if he is well-dressed in a blue blazer like so many of the Sevillanos.

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The best thing about the Feria for me was seeing the beautifully colourful trajes de flamenca, the dresses worn by the majority of the women. Each dress was unique and they are so beautifully intricate, flamboyant and amazing. I also noticed an ingenious design on one woman’s dress which I imagine is a common feature. Under some of the bottom ruffles was a zipped pocket to store a phone, money and other essentials – these beauties are practical and stylish.

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The Feria is known for being quite exclusive and I suppose it probably was, but tourists like me can enjoy it too and I am so glad that I witnessed it whilst I’m here. For me the Feria epitomised Spanish culture and it was a brilliant spectacle to observe. I did do my fair share of participation too though; my friends and I didn’t return home until 4am (this was actually due to a cheap deal on buses rather than a desire to stay so long) so we saw the partying continue way into the night, we attempted to dance along AND we sampled the typical drink rebujito. A successful day all round!

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Expectations

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Back in January 2014 I attended a rowing ball with my boat club at Durham (yes it was as pretentious as it sounds). Unusually, to encourage mingling between members of different colleges, there was randomly allocated seating at this event. Now initially this situation filled me with great excitement at the prospect of being paired with a hunky oarsman who could later become my husband, passing his chiselled jaw line and natural athleticism to our future children (the dream lives on…). This expectation was soon dampened however, when the seat next to me was filled by a very posh, ponytail-wielding rower, who turned out to be a bit of an idiot. Despite immediate disappointment, I told myself that hairstyles were temporary and ploughed ahead with the small talk. We quickly covered the usual topics before moving on to discuss my impending year abroad.

The reason I’m telling you this anecdote is because when I mentioned I would be spending the Spanish part of my year in Extemadura, this boy, who we’ll call Charles, had a very strong opinion to declare. He raised his already up-turned nose a further two centimetres and loudly scoffed ‘That’s the ugliest of the Spanish regions, it has a bland landscape of nothingness and its not worth visiting at all’.

Now this was a bit of a conversation killer for me as I was soon to be not only visiting, but living in this ‘bland region of nothingness’ for a whole eight months. I didn’t bother asking, as I should have, just what evidence or experience qualified him to make that statement, instead I turned to focus on eating my garlicky chicken and wallow in self pity.

What Charles said went on to stay with me long after the garlic aftertaste that evening and I added his comment to my growing list of reasons to be anxious about my year abroad.

After living here for six months I can safely conclude that Charles was wrong. There are definitely more beautiful regions in Spain (the absence of a coastline is a bit of a downer) but Extremadura is still really, really beautiful. As I described in my previous posts about the waterfalls and cherry blossoms in Plasencia, the roman ruins in Merida, and the beautiful parts of my own town Zafra and nearby Badajoz. This region is actually really diverse, interesting and pretty. I am not sponsored by the local tourist board, but I have spent a lot of time in this part of the world and I now feel qualified to prove Charles, and anyone else wrong.

Yesterday for example I went for a hike with my friends and found fields and fields of wild poppies. The other beautiful thing is that the area is mostly untouched and sparsely populated, possibly due to Charles spreading his ill-informed message.

So, the moral of this story: DON’T trust men with ponytails and DON’T write off places before you visit for yourself. I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend!

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Monday musings #11

Believe it or not, when I’m not travelling or sunbathing I’m actually working here in Spain as an English language assistant. Last week I helped in a class based on pronunciation. The teacher rightly told the students that they can get by in England with a Spanish accent but they need to pronounce words more or less correctly in order to be understood. In English there are so many words that sound similar but can give completely different meanings so it’s important that the difference can be heard. There’s a ridiculous amount of these words if you think about it and for those learning English these words sound mostly identical, causing all kinds of confusion. For example, bird, beer, bar and bear all sound the same to many Spanish students. English is a lot tougher than we realize.

So my job for the day was chief enunciator (or something), I had to read out lists of subtly different words and the students had to repeat after me. So there I was slowly repeating perk, park, peak, pick, peck and puck doing my best to emphasize the difference in sound. The students struggled so much with differentiating between park and puck so I repeated them with excessive emphasis paaaarrrk and puuuuuuck so many times that I sounded like I’d developed a speech impediment. After the 34th time I’m fairly sure the students pretended that they heard a difference between the two, to save hearing my drawn out vowel sounds for a minute longer.

We then moved on to ‘notoriously difficult words for Spanish speakers to pronounce’. This mainly consisted of the ‘sh’ sound in words like procession and a personal favourite, the adjective social. I had to repeat the word so many times that after a while I was struggling with the different ‘s’ sounds as much as the kids. They try to say sho-ssial and after the 50th attempt I was starting to mix up the sounds myself. Disastrous. I’ll probably never be able to say it normally again.

To make matters worse the teacher enforced silence (a rare phenomenon in Spanish schools) so that the students could listen intently to my pronunciation. I felt the responsibility of exemplifying correct pronunciation because I am effectively the only access most of them have to natively spoken English. It didn’t help that the teacher gave a long lecture about how I speak ‘standard’ English because I am from Surrey and it’s important for the students to copy exactly what I say. Under all this pressure I definitely crumbled and some questionable examples of correct English were given.

What I have concluded from this experience is that a) when standing in front of 30 pairs of expectant eyes it becomes difficult to function normally b) English is really very difficult and I am eternally grateful that its my mother tongue and not a language I have to learn.

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Cádiz

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The Easter holidays are just one week long in Spain; as opposed to two at home (or five if you go to university!) but the time off was much needed and much appreciated nevertheless. I spent four highly relaxing days in Cádiz where I lazily flitted between the beach, the park and the town square, taking time to read my book and sunbathe. This has actually been my first Easter break without revision in about six years and it was quite blissful.

Cádiz is smaller than I expected and very easy to walk around. It reminded me of Manhattan, New York for the sole reason that its surrounded by water and the streets are in a grid formation. Its beautiful because you can get lost amongst the shops and bars then glance to the right and catch a glimpse of the turquoise ocean.

I spent most of my time being a lady of leisure, listening to podcasts, sleeping and eating frozen yogurt… However when I did get my camera out I captured these snapshots of the seaside scenery.

Cadiz2Cadizcadiz3IMG_0592IMG_0642IMG_0555It was a little sad not to be at home for the holidays, but these beautiful views certainly made up for missing the family Easter egg hunt… For now though its back to another eight weeks or so of teaching Spanish teens. I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone and I know I’m going to miss all this sunshine and traveling next year, so I’ll be enjoying every last second of the next few weeks. Happy Easter weekend!

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