To: People on the old mailing list
Subject: goodbye Hinojosa
So I started the last email with Spring has sprung in sunny southern Spain. What a boastful, cocky little phrase. I think I liked the alliteration and just couldn’t help myself. Needless to say, the skies have punished me and the weather has been unusually inclement for this time of year. As one of my students taught me (I really should be paying them), Cuando marzo mayea, mayo marzea. When March becomes like May (May-e-fies?), May becomes like March (March-i-fies?). Really does sound much nicer in Spanish.
Anyway it rained heavily on the majority of the Spring festivities in Andalucia. Which is super unfair, as Spain is already passing a mala racha (bad gust of wind/going through a bad time) what with the stupid abstract economy nonsense ruining people’s lives and all…the least they deserve is a bit of sun for the following fiestas and ferias (I’m still not sure what the difference is)…
Semana Santa, ie Easter, is a week-long celebration involving processions of giant pasos (statues of weeping virgins and bleeding Christs), marching bands, and mysterious hooded figures (think KKK or the Spanish inquisition, except these are meant to be the good guys). In every city and village it’s slightly different in terms of costumes, music, and how the pasos are carried. In some cases, the bearers have to move on their knees through cobblestone streets, and in most cases they can’t see where they’re going and rely on directions from a ‘cox’ of sorts. It’s a very sombre affair; a homage to Christ’s suffering, with the goal seemingly being to generate an ambience of as much collective misery as possible. Culturally, it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve found to connect with since I got here. I just couldn’t muster much enthusiasm to see all the different pasos and had no desire to visit the Semana Santa bars (which are only open for advent) to admire posters of the tortured effigies of years past. However, what I did really appreciate about Semana Santa, was the fact that people genuinely commemorated Easter for what it’s supposed to be about. A refreshing change from the overly commercialised chocolate binge of English speaking countries. Anyway, after weeks of rehearsing, it ended up raining for all of Semana Santa across most of Spain. Seeing as it didn’t rain a drop all winter this was just such unlucky timing. The pasos are very ornate and can’t get wet, so the majority never left the church and processions had to be cancelled. Which really got people wailing.
Romería: is another Catholic tradition, this one more on my wavelength. Many towns in Spain are surrounded by ermitas, little chapels that don’t have a priest or parish, but where people go to pray, leave offerings, and enjoy a quiet stroll through the countryside on their way back to the village. Every ermita has a statuette of its patron saint or virgin, and on fixed dates the statues make trips to and from the ermita and the main church of the town, and this is called romeria. Everybody, as in the entire village, camps out in the countryside for the weekend, and there are masses, firecrackers, live bands, jumping castles and fair attractions, and lots of dancing, drinking, and incredible food cooked over campfires. On Sunday afternoon, people dust themselves off, make respectable, and carry the virgin on foot into the town (accompanied by much fanfare).
Vervena: As far as I can make out, is the same as romeria, except that it’s for the saints and virgins of churches and chapels in the village. In which case there is no camping and no procession, just a party in the street with the same outfit of jumping castles, firecrackers, and cheap booze. Have a quick look at the statue, say a quick prayer, buy some fairy floss for the kids and then get stuck into a cubata of bootleg rum served by one of the old fogeys ‘working’ the makeshift bar.
Ferias. Are week-long celebrations of nothing in particular, but every town has one. They happen once a year, in spring or late summer, when the weather is at it’s (supposedly) mildest and people are at their merriest. It’s really just a big excuse to bring everyone together, have some more public holidays, and showcase the art and culture of a place. In Andalucía, this means flamenco. The fairgrounds swarm with women in long elaborate dresses, men in traditional suits with cropped jackets, and carriages drawn by impeccably groomed horses. Some people dance sevillanas, accompanied by acoustic guitar and throaty wailing*, and the rest do their best to clap along to the music whilst juggling plastic cups of rebujito**and hand held fans.
* the music depends on the caseta (make shift bar). But even if its rock or techno, people still find a way to dance sevillanas
**A refreshing mix of fino (super dry sherry) and lemonade, that gives a whopping hangover.
Los Patios. The old house houses of Andalucía were built hundreds of years ago by the Arabs, with the main design purpose being to withstand the scorching summer heat. The street view is pretty dull; just nondescript white facades, but inside, there are cool, colourful interiors, and gorgeous patios brimming with flowers and fountains and artificial bird sounds. Once a year the private houses of Cordoba open to the public, giving us all a chance to sticky beak and vote for the most beautiful patio. If it wasn’t for the torrential rain which made following the patio-map (in squishy shoes whilst holding on to my umbrella for dear life) impossible, it could have been my favourite festival…
SOME GOOD NEWS: The other day a pigeon shat on me! Quite comprehensively too – on my face, dress, down the front of my dress and even on my underwear. Talk about accuracy! I was all dressed up to go out and had to change everything and WAS NOT HAPPY, especially when everyone kept telling me I should be thankful cos it’s good luck. Well it turns out they were right. The following day I received an email from a woman who runs the language assistant program in Castilla y León, the region of Spain where I’ll be working next year. I already knew I’d been admitted but was expecting to have to wait for months for confirmation of my actual placement. She wanted to know my preference of province, which is unheard of. It’s supposed to be pot luck and we just go where we’re told. Well no sooner did I send her my preferences than she got back to me with my first choice, Segovia! Segovia capital, that is. So it’s back to the big smoke I go… except that it’s not actually a big smoke, it’s only half a million people, nestled on a river, with ancient buildings and a roman aqueduct – postcard perfect and perfect for me too. Should I want a city city, Madrid is only half an hour away, which puts rest of Spain and Europe at my fingertips. I’ll be working in a secondary school, which will be a good change and great teaching experience… and so… I’m feeling pretty chuffed and lucky :-)
Anyhow the next step of the adventure for now is a month travelling through Morocco and Portugal, then back to Spain, where I’ll be doing another week of Vaughan Town, and then spending the rest of summer swanning* round Andalucia. (*Make that squatting in one of mum’s friends’ houses and living off windfall). I’m not quite 100% on the visa renewal process (neither are the people who administrate it), so I may also be camping out in immigration queues, but no matter, at least it will be warm. There’s also the possibility I’ll be popping back over to Australia to lodge a couple of documents, cos that’s a cheap and easy trip to make. If so, I’ll be in touch with everyone to arrange a good many catch ups and get money for jam out of the short time I’ll be home.
So there’s a chance I’ll be seeing some of you soon, I’m just not sure which ones and where… But until then, whomever and whenever you are and may be… bye for now, until I see you face to face, or write to you from El Norte…
La Seño Jeans!
Some little things I’ll miss about ‘Hinojosa City’
- Kids calling my name and waving to me in the street. I used to find it overwhelming, but I imagine I’ll notice their absence when I leave
- Coffee and mini muffin and sometimes WiFi for 1 euro
- An overflowing glass of mi amigo Pedro X for 1.50
- Haircuts for 6.50… do you hate me yet?
- Running to Santo Cristo. It’s a little hill just outside the town, with a ermita on top and a gorgeous view of the countryside. Part of the route is actually on the Camino del Santiago, so I like to think I’ve run the camino…
- Rescuing lost peregrinos (people walking the camino) from the side of the road, helping them find the hotel, and then telling them I’m Australian!
- Seeing crazy nutbag old ladies out in their dressing gowns and hair rollers scrubbing the fronts of their houses in the morning, and the same little old ladies off to church in the afternoon dressed in fur coats.
- Getting free range eggs from the pharmacy
- My little pot plants that the four years olds gave me from the school vegie garden. I’ll be gone before the strawberries are ripe enough to eat :-(
- Old men riding donkeys down the street
- Having coffee with my landlady on rent days. Even if she is a little intense and I forget how to speak Spanish because her green eyeshadow is halfway down her cheek and kind of distracting
- Delicious home-made staffroom goodies, for birthdays, name days, second-cousins-first-communions, every second day there’s something that I just must try because it’s a traditional recipe from the village etc etc. Though I’m increasingly sceptical about the concept of ‘local specialties’. How can a biscuit made from flour, butter and sugar really be unique to this region and none other? (Not that I would ever complain, or refuse something cooked by a Spanish abuela.)
- All of my colleagues and 95% of my students.Some things I probably won’t miss
- Students calling my name and waving to me when I’m out. I used to find it overwhelming, and I still do. I think everyone deserves the right to be anonymous from midnight onwards.
- Smokey bars. The bars here stink like back before the laws changed, which makes me feel old as well as nauseous.
- The marching band rehearsing in the car park under my block of flats.
- The bus from Cordoba to Hinojosa
- The rain from the gutters falling directly in the middle of the footpath.
- Higledy-pigledy cobblestones. So quaint and picturesque, so impossible to walk on in heels, run on in runners, or get-to-work-in-a-hurry on,
- The price of electricity. Absolutely extortionate. I blame it for not being able to make it to Barcelona to geek out at the graphic novel convention. Next year the first thing I’ll be looking for in a flat is insulation and a big wardrobe for all the fleecy jackets I’m going to buy.
- The price of ‘communications’. Though I’m not sure the ‘service’ really merits that title. Fingers crossed when I get to Segovia there’ll be smoother, working internet, and I promise promise promise I’ll be better on the skype front.
- Pigeons. Everywhere. I’ve had a bit of good luck recently, now I’d like for them to leave me alone.