Monday, November 30, 2009

Carrie's Visit to Zamora

Carrie´s Visit to Zamora

Altogether, there are sixteen of us volunteer retired teachers and we´ve been posted to ´bi-lingual´village schools all over the Northern province of Castile and Leon . The schools are near the historic cities of Spain´s largest province: Burgos: Valladolid, Avila, Soria, Segovia, Palencia, Leon, Salamanca and Zamora. I really enjoyed the weekend when Carrie stayed with me in Zamora. She´s a Canadian with a warm personality and an interesting background, staying in Salamanca, only an hour by bus from Zamora.

We were blessed with a fine Sunday morning for a walk by the River Duero. In the background, the ´romanico´Puente de la Piedra´

By yet another of the coincidences that have happened since I arrrived in Spain, Carrie´s 'host' English teacher , Belen, has a connection with me. We´d never met, but we´ve exchanged homes.

For some years Roy and I did home-swaps via an Internet company, and once went to stay in Salamanca for a week. By chance, she saw my name on an email I sent to Carrie and said ´I know that person´.

So she proposed coming to collect Carrie to drive her back on Sunday and I reserved a table for us at one of the restaurants that Olga recommended. It was ´Sancho 2´, is in a small park in Zamora. The food and company were excellent.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Concert For St Cecilia It`s too complicated for me to tell you where the conservatory is`, said music teacher Lidia. 'I will drive you there.' I was glad of this, as although I was keen to attend the students' concert, the temperature in Zamora had suddenly dropped. It was a foggy 1 degree in the morning and never rose above 5 that day.

Fortunately, Lidia´s flat is across the street from mine, which makes it convenient for her to drive me to Corrales three times a week. Her duties take her to other villages on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Lidia plays the violincello, as it´s called here. Last week she took the 'cello to the school. The children were still enthusiastic following the visit to a special concert in Vallalodid, so she wanted them to see the 'cello close up. She was feeling nervous about it, though. ´Did they damage it?´I asked her on the way home. No, she said, but she´d misjudged the width of a doorway and managed to break a string all by herself!

The music conservatory in Zamora is housed in what was once an orphanage, and I suppose the concert hall must have been the chapel. It was certainly well supplied with the gilded grotto-like structures called 'retablos'.

This concert had just the kind of informal atmosphere I enjoy, with a good turn-out of relatives, and all the pieces were short, so no strain on the attention. Naturally, guitars featured prominently, fifteen all at once for once piece. fMy favourite was the Villa Lobos solo, though, and I was moved to tears by the concentration of the fourteen year old performer.

Even though I was driven there and back I wore my red coat for the first time. It´s milder now, and I´m back to my padded vest, or flak jacket as Roy calls it. So my musical education continues.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ready to Fly: Storks in Zamora

It´s not unusual to see storks in the centre of Zamora. I could hardly believe it, all the same, when I first saw one pass overhead. It was warm enough, then, to sit in the Plaza Mayor and drink gin-tonic, Spanish size.

Sweeping over distant rooftops with legs and necks outstretched they circle like low-flying aircraft, then suddenly appear overhead, casting a shadow. The separated black wing feathers are clearly visible.

Yesterday they were unusually numerous, seven or eight circling all at once. Even the locals stood with faces upturned as I made my way to the library at 6pm. The birds not on the wing were perched on nests around the Plaza Mayor , or standing on chimneys, looking as if they might launch themselves any minute.

When I left the library an hour later it was dark and there was heaviest rainfall I´ve ever seen here . When I mentioned the birds´ unusual behaviour to Olga this morning she suggested they were getting ready to fly South. Like me, they know it´s almost time to go, but they´re savouring their final days in Zamora.
Hasta Luego

I thought Roy would miss his cronies, not to mention his bridge games, if he stayed too long in Zamora. So I suggested two visits instead of one; stay a week, return to London for two and join me for the final ten days. I even managed to book us on the same return flight.

On Sunday, though, when was in the kitchen consulting the Madrid Metro map, two weeks alone seemed a long stretch. And it meant four journeys for him instead of two.

Going by his postcards, what Roy most liked about Zamora was the food and drink. On every card he mentioned a three-course ‘menu del dia’ at 8 Euros, including half a bottle of wine. I joined him on his exploration of the town on two days but the rest of the time I was in school. My favourite time was a stroll by the lovely River Duero on his first day here.

It was almost like being back home when we visited the Zamora´Multicine´- excpet that all the films are dubbed into Spanish. As the one we saw was ´2012´, it didn´t really matter. It would have been bottom of my list in London, and even here all the mayhem palled after the first hour, but we enjoyed it.

I don´t think Roy was at all interested in going to the circus, but I caught this shot of him him standing next to poster. I have to be sneaky because he thinks I´m a pest with my camera.

For me it´s eyes down for a final three weeks, but the last two will be lightened by his return. Then, when we get back to London, I´ll make reparations by being a top-notch stay-at-home wife.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fruits of the Earth

‘Old people can make ink from those –what do you call them?’ Jose Eladio the headmaster pointed to some strange-looking fungus growing under a tree. In front of the school, one or two trees of the pine variety are confined to square patches of earth. Spindly toadstools with frilly black edges had sprung up beside them.

The growth and harvesting of plants is something I’d been aware of in China, where Í´d watched farmers on the hillside opposite my flat. This had been forgotten in London, near a market supplying exotic fruit and veg from across the world and a supermarket full of canned and frozen goods. I was reminded, now, that plants are also a source of dyes and inks.

‘This time of year they also gather the kind you can eat’, said Jose Eladio. He added that the local people went out to collect them when certain weather conditions prevailed, such as showers followed by sun, to sell later. ‘Twelve Euros a kilo. It’s money for free!’

Next day a notice outside an upmarket restaurant in the historic centre advertised a week of speciality mushroom-based menus.

On Friday I took part in a harvest myself, ‘Come, Sheila’, Jose Eladio announced at break time. ‘We’re going to take the olives from the school tree.’

Some days before I´d been given a tour of an area the size and shape of a city allotment, not at its best in early November. Three large cabbages grew in an otherwise bare middle part. Some rosemary and other hardy herbs and thin trees grew around the perimeter. Conditions here don’t encourage luxuriant growth.

Between the silver and light green leaves of the olive tree, though, shiny oval black berries were clearly visible. A single pupil-volunteer held a plastic bag and helped the teachers pick, whilst his classmates played football. Here’s a young horticulturist-in-the making, perhaps.
The tree wasn’t big, and Jose Eladio could reach the highest berries.
I love olives, so I tasted one I´d picked. I immediately hurriedly spat it out; it was horribly bitter. The science teacher explained they’d need several days of soaking and changes of water to make them edible.

They’re now on the draining board in the staffroom, a timely reminder for a Londoner that olives don´t just come from tins and jars.

Friday, November 06, 2009

School Dinners

Here in Corrales the children are full of beans –literally. Today's treat is a Paella starter, with fish to follow, but I bet we'll see some beans tomorrow.

Lunch has three courses: a vegetable starter, which may be soup, green beans cooked with ham pieces or white beans with bits of chorizo, then almost always baked fish and lettuce, occasionally chicken or veal and lettuce, and bread. To finish, there’s fruit or yogurt.

The staff who eat at school, including me, have the same food. The children staying for lunch, who remain at school for afternoon activities, eat in a dining room. I usually go with Olga or another teacher to collect the teachers share from the kitchen. It comes back to the staffroom on a trolley.

Lunch is the time when I get to practise speaking Spanish, when I can get a word in, but there are usually no more than four of us. I still can’t understand much of what’s being said, except in a very general way. Teachers take it in turns to stay on each day and supervise the afternoon sessions.
Enough fuss has been made about English school dinners. Here it's more as I remember it back in the old days - except with more beans.