Thursday, October 29, 2009

Have you heard the Angels singing?

Have you heard the Angels singing?

Lydia the music teacher tipped me off when she drove me to the village school in Corrales: sung music by Vivaldi and Purcell at the cathedral - by a group from London! She couldn’t attend herself. ‘It’s free, so arrive early to get a good seat’, she said.

It was the first time I’d seen the cathedral at night. The impressive dome dominated the skyline, and the interior was a vision of gilded splendour. On a previous visit I’d just wandered round a series of ante rooms, gawping at tapestries of the Siege of Troy, a massive Semana Santa procession platform, elaborately decorated silverware and paintings.

I needn’t have worried about a central position. The sponsors, Caja España, had provided monitor screens so the singers and players could be viewed in close-up – especially when the camera dwelt on a lively blonde first violinist and a handsome countertenor.

The strangest thing, for me, was the bars between the audience and performers – not light, decorative wrought iron, but heavy-duty ones that obscured the view. Some VIPs were allowed on the orchestra side.

While I waited I looked at the programme, with its alluring question on the cover: 'Have you heard the Angels sing?'. Inside was summary in Spanish of the lives of Purcell and Vivaldi, and the words in Spanish and English to the five settings of psalms by Purcell and then a Latin text for the Vivaldi ‘Dixit ….’ There was a short ‘sonata de trompeta’ between Purcell psalms. It was a hollow-sounding instrument of a dull copper colour, like an over-sized Victorian child’s toy.

The line-up for the moving Purcell psalms was a soprano, two counter-tenors and a tall baritone, with the occasional accompaniment from other singers. If there was one fault with the programme it didn’t have photos identifying individual performers, although Peter Pickett the conductor and founder of The New London Consort group was obvious. The concert was the first of four in cathedrals in Zamora, Valladolid, Leon and Palencia.

They saved the best ‘til last, and the Vivaldi, with everyone singing and playing together, was uplifting. Amid the applause that echoed round the roof, did I feel a hint of national pride? Or was it the angels singing?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Playing up agains so I can't upload photos. Will have to wait until tomorrow, which is what worked last time.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I can’t get no calefacción…

I’d been looking forward to Saturday 24th, the day the heating was to come on. Yesterday was a mild 14° but mornings are a bit chilly and one day last week it reached only 8°, even at mid-day.

The notice in the hallway was dated 2008, but José Eladio assured me it was because it was the same date every year.

I was surprised, then, when the radiators were hot on Friday 23rd, when I arrived home from school. Not for long and not all of them – the bedroom and hall ones remained cold and the knob to make them hotter was stuck. Best not force them, I thought, after my disaster with the ‘persiana’ last week: I tugged the cord too hard and the blind disappeared into the box over the window.

The heat must be on a trial run, in case adjustments were needed.

Then the same thing happened on the 24th. The radiators had been on for an hour when I left the flat at one and were cold when I got back at seven. Today they haven’t come on at all. There’s obviously someone at the remote control, working to a bonus.

José Eladio and Olga have been so kind to me I don’t want to raise a further problem. They went out of their way to help when I arrived – Olga offering a room in her lovely flat, with my own bathroom, at such short notice, and José Eladio ringing agencies trying to find a place within the Vaughantown budget. In the end he resorted to friends and relations. He even drove me round to view and it wasn’t his fault the first one was too big.

When I expressed my thanks he said, ‘It’s normal’.

Are all Spaniards so kind and helpful? I think maybe they are. ‘It’s the weather’, says Olga.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Chance Encounter

I don’t believe in coincidences as a rule, but what happened last Sunday made me wonder.

I was attracted by the title of a book in the window of an upmarket souvenir shop: ‘Un sueño de Barro and Piedra’. The cover had a reproduction of a painting of a road leading into a village of red-roofed houses.

In the store, a woman was bustling among cheeses and wine and figurines. The book stood on a rack of photo guides to Zamora. I thought I’d better make sure I could read it, with some help from a dictionary.

It was a collection of short essays by Herminio Ramos Perez, born in a nearby village in 1925. An introduction described his career after his move to Zamora, where he became a respected teacher, writer and expert on ceramics and local history. He was elected as a councillor, and nicknamed ‘El Maestro’. An informer who reported his left-wing views to the school authorities cost him his job in the 70s, a serious setback because he had eight children.

At 6.5 Euros, with excellent line drawings of Zamora’s main buildings by the cover artist, it seemed a bargain. The shop-owner finished a phone call as I browsed among postcards and some boxes of biscuits baked by nuns in a local convent.

It was as I turned to leave that the owner became excited, calling out, ‘Eh! El Maestro! El Maestro!’ She pointed to a little old man in a suit, who was making his way slowly down the street, hesitating with each step and feeling the ground with a walking stick. I saw he resembled a small statue I’d seen someone drawing. I soon caught him up.

Somehow inspired, I stuttered in Spanish that I was a volunteer teacher. Would he sign the book I’d just bought? I could understand some of his reply. Corrales was near his own village, he said, and even told me how many hectares had been under wine cultivation in the past. He was sad to hear there are now only 57 children in the village school. He apologised for his poor eyesight and insisted on returning to the shop, where the owner’s son helped him up the step. He wrote a shaky inscription in the book.

After I told Olga about it next day, I could just about make out what she muttered in Spanish to a colleague: ‘Huh! How come I never met Hemingway in the street when leaving a bookshop in England?’

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Medieval Market

‘Don’t forget to go to the medieval market, said Olga. She was off to spend the weekend with friends in Galicia. It seems to be the vacation place of choice for Zamorans; it has a seaside.

It’s not surprising that Zamora, a town with so many twelfth century buildings, should celebrate the past, certainly there seem to be a lot of institutions dedicated to the study of ancient times. However, I was told this is the first ‘medieval market’. ‘People will be wearing disguises’ said Jose Eladio. Masquerades are a local enthusiasm, and he has his own costume for the Semana Santa procession. It's claimed to be the best in Sapin, and not only by Zamorans

The streets certainly looked the part - decked with banners and lined with stalls covered in brown material, I must say, seemed kitch, especially stalls selling jewellery and whimsical ceramics. A stall with Breton crépes and a man draped with a python seemed bizarre additions.

. However, the entertainments were good, with pipe and drum music to create an appropriate festive mood. Musicians accompanied a ‘dancing bear’ (a man in a costume) and a hawking demonstration where an eagle swooped from a tent canopy to a knight with a gauntlet.

‘Artisans’ were engaged in engaged in medieval trades, such as stone carving and embossing metal dishes using a hammer and nails, and there was a display of medieval stocks and instruments of torture with gruesome descriptions.

There were even games for children, such as this one where the aim was to raise a wooden disk by pulling ropes and not letting it slip through the holes.

The main attraction was an awning where people sat at tables and ate from wooden platters. Beside the spit with the roasting pig, an octopus was stewing in a vat, its tentacles breaking the surface of the reddish water. Smoke and the smell of roast pork filled the air. From a rectangle of counters, waiters in costumes served beer and food. Occasionally a server would shout ‘pulpo’ and chop fiercely at a tentacle cut from the mass. I ate a portion served on potatoes, accompanied by a caña of beer. Nothing medieval about the price, though -15 Euros.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

There seems to be something wrong and I can't load photos because the upload box isn't appearing. I'll try tomorrow to write about the Medieval Market. A bit of a nuisance as I came on purpose to the library. I hope the problem's only temporary. Maybe I'll put the photos on picasa.

Monday, October 19, 2009

School Trip to a Sewage Works

‘Sheila, I have something to tell you. Friday a coach comes to the school and we all get on. Then we go for –what do you call that?

‘A school trip?’

Jose Eladro, as always, looks pleased to learn a new English expression.

It’s Wednesday, my first day at Collegio Luis Casado , and I’m to have Thursday off thanks to some exchange that hasn’t been organised. So it’s been a one-day week.

‘Oh, that’s good.Where are we going?’

‘We visit a place where residual water is made cleaner’

What a coincidence. Only last week we said farewell to our temporary lodger, Stan, water treatment engineer whose new job had been confirmed. He said one of the company’s works was in Castile-y-Leon.

It was a bit noisy on the coach. ‘Corrales is a ‘shouty’ village said Lydia, who’s been teaching four years.

‘It’s the weather!’ said Olga

The presentation is too technical for me, so I’m impressed by how attentive the children are.

The children shout with horror when we enter the indoor part of the plant, and come out again holding their noses. ‘It’s whiffy.’, laughs Olga. It’s another word I taught her when I heard the Spanish pronunciation of ‘Wifi’.

After, we go to a church in the town of Benavente, which is much more interesting – twelfth century, elaborate gilded set pieces inside. I tell Olga that they remind me of the Byzantium exhibition I saw in London, but she surprises me when she tells me she prefers plain churches. Where does she find them? Not in Zamora, that’s for sure.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Place of my Own

Tonight, at last, I'll unpack my suitcase.

Yesterday Jose Eladro, who 's unlike any headmaster I've ever met, took me to look at two flats in Zamora. The first, above a parade of shops near the station, was big, dark and dusty. I could soon become very depressed there, so I turned it down. That was a pity, because Jose Eladro's brother-in-law was the owner.

The second place, on the sixth floor near the river, overlooked a football pitch. There was only one bedroom, but a sofa bed in the living room should be OK for guests. It's not so near the historic centre, like Parador Olga, as I call the teacher's flat where I'm staying. But a stroll along the banks of the beautiful River Duermo will take me there in ten minutes. Alternatively, a walk down Santa Clara, the main street of the new town centre, leads to the old Plaza Mayor at the end.

The owner is an old colleague of Olga's. As Spaniards like to live near where they were born, there's an inevitable connection in small towns and cities.

I only realised this morning that I'd been so taken with the floor-to-ceiling window in the kitchen and the light, I hadn't even noticed whether there was a table in another room. The kitchen has only a breakfast bar, and I hope to do lots of writing in the flat, located in a street called Puerto Novo. 'A new door' said Olga, which sounds very auspicious

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Our Reception at Vallalodid

The room for the official reception at Vallalodid reminded me of the Painted Dining Hall at Greenwich Naval College. It was smaller and older - the tenth-century building had played various roles, including serving as a monastry and, much later, a twentieth century psychiatric unit. On Tuesday the Minister for Education in Castile-Leon greeted us volunteers for the 'bilingual schools' project.

We were fourteen - more or less. One at least was still tracking down luggage left in Atlanta, and I'm not sure everybody caught the early train from Madrid. On my left in this photo(I'm in the middle smiling at the camera) is the only other volunteer from England -we'd travelled together by metro to Madrid railway station - although there's a Scottish lady in there somewhere. The others are retired teachers from America, Canada and Australia. We met for the first time at a tapas reception the previous night in Madrid.

At the same reception I'd met Richard Vaughan, the founder of Vaughantown systems, a company which brings native English speakers to Spain. It was under their aegis that I'd done a week's volunteering in Extramadura in September 2008.

What a contrast between the grandiose ceremonials and my actual workplace. We've been assigned to small towns and village all over the Castile-Leon region, and this is the playground of Luis Casado primary school -57 pupils and 8 teachers - in Corrales del Vino, (pop. 1,000) a few miles from the ancient capital, Zamora. Lucky for me, the teachers live in the city and drive out to the school.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Autre Pays...

'You've done what with the tram ticket?'

My son goes into the usual exasperated laugh and eye-rolling that's his stock response to much that I do.

I, meantime, am standing with said ticket, now black on the underside, in one hand. In the other dangles a tea-towel bearing a blurred black rectangle the exact size of the ticket.

'I told you not to do it!' He throws his hands up and pivots, eyes on the ceiling.

We are staying at D's flat in Brussels, where he's come to work in some vast financial corporation. As it's Friday he'd gone off on the tram to work, and I'd tidied up a bit. About half past ten he rang to ask if I'd found the ticket on the table:

'In case you want to go into the city. It has some credits and you feed it into a slot on the tram when you get on.'

Seemed reasonable, but where's the ticket? Ah, yes, there it is, all crumpled in the waste bin.

Instead of going into the city R and I spend the day recovering from Euro-lag - drinking coffee in the market square and being persuaded to spend £20 on 3 kilos of mussels which the stall-holder assured me would be barely enough for three people. Another mistake, going by the reaction when I told D over the phone. I was spared the eye-rolling on that one.

He more than made up for it when I showed him the bent ticket at the flat.

'Oh, you've buggered it, now. See what it says on the bottom - 'Ne pliez pas, SVP'?

'Never mind, I can iron it!'

Even R joins in the remonstrations on that one. 'Don't do that. I've got all the details and one or two others to return - they give out refunds. '

So I waited until their backs were turned and did the deed - resulting in the back of the ticket being transferred to the towel.

'What a scam! I bet they make a lot of money that way!'

So I'm glad to get back to London with my Freedom Pass and the trusty Oyster-swipe system.