Upon listening to a lecture on engineering in the third world: Three solid hours of listening hard, trying to understand the scientists’ university lecture. Sometimes I repeat the words silently, let them roll around in my mouth, hoping that their hard shells will give way to reveal the soft sweetness of understanding within. The Spanish words are like flamenco singing, strong consonants like castanets, alternating with guttural soft “g”s where you do not expect them. Sometimes the speech goes too fast to hold onto a single word, and my mind skims over the cold hard stones. They escape my grasp, and I cannot crack open any of them. Tired, I let them slide by.
Signs: English-language signs are in fashion, lending a sense of the latest style to the goods being sold. We English speakers snicker at the way that foreigners put words together. Instead of “Dunkin’ Donuts”, the name of the chain is altered here to “Dunkin’ Coffee”. What is being dunked? A nearby cafeteria is called “Flunch”, altering the word “lunch” with a zesty “f”. Doesn’t it make you want to try the food? I love the sign on a store “So JHappy!”, reminding Spaniards that in English the “h” is not silent.
When we’re done snickering, we go back to trying to understand the fluent Spanish all around us. When you trip over verb tenses and can’t find basic vocabulary words, it’s hard to remember that you’re a capable adult!
Thanksgiving: It is of course a day like any other here. We decided to move it to the weekend so that our hosts could join us in a meal. We looked high and low for cranberries without success. We did find a turkey, and chestnuts and wonderful ice creams. Calabaza (squash) will substitute for pumpkin, though we did hear that the large orange variety we call pumpkins are sometimes available. We’ll be making stuffing by hand, which will do us good. And apple pie can be made everywhere!
Weather: Yesterday was the first frost. Almost a month later than at home, where we usually can count on a frost by Halloween. I went for my morning run and the grass was crispy and white. We do not have our winter coats, so each daily drop in the temperature is greeted by a sense of foreboding. Not wanting to carry extra clothes with us to warm Kenya next week, we tough it out with sweaters and the old standby, layering. I tell the kids that it doesn’t matter what we wear here. Shirts under shirts and socks over socks – who cares?
Flamenco: It is Spanish to the core. A mix of Moorish music in the minor key, red and black and drama for Spain and its bloody history, and gypsy mystery, from the Roma people who originated in India many centuries ago. Many of the songs voice the same familiar laments as cowboy tunes, the words just as cheesy. But still they give me goose bumps. A people (or peoples, since flamenco was born in the gypsy/Jewish ghettoes of Spain) oppressed, singing about the tragedy and injustice of life. The songs give voice to the deepest sadness in the world.
What I see in the marvelous dancing is a pride, a regal bearing. The woman tosses her scarf over her shoulder and gives the man a haughty look. The insistent tap dancing moves call attention to the strength and pride of the dancers. Yet the people who created this music originally lived in caves in Granada, in the Sacramonte hills, where they worked as potters and rag sellers. Metalworking was the most elevated profession, one to aspire to. The holy spot for flamenco today is a warehouse in the urban Roma ghetto outside Sevilla, the Poligono Sur. Flamenco today is mixed with drugs and violence, yet flamenco dancers have an incredible mystique. To be a flamenco star is to be a hero in Spain.