Thursday, December 31, 2009

Recycling Christmas at Luis Casado School, Corrales del Vino

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquantance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, m'dears,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For the sake of auld lang syne.
(Robert Burns)
Happy New Year to the children and staff of Luis Casado School, all my new friends in Zamora, volunteer teachers in Castile-y-Leon, friends and family everywhere.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Workaday Carols

St Dunstan's, situated where the Strand becomes Fleet Street, survived the Great Fire of London. Forty Westminster choristers were roused to throw water on the flames when they came to within three doors of the church.

Originally built between 988 and 1070 AD, centuries of wear and tear led to extensive reparations in 1831.

You could be forgiven for walking past the narrow facade and doorway without noticing it, unless you happened to look up at the splendid tower, rebuilt after the original was damaged by German bombs in 1944.

Although outwardly Neo-Gothic, an octagonal space inside lined in dark wood, like the dining hall of an Elizabethan manor, embraces a short aisle and
seating. The traditional pews are accessed by small end-doors with brass latches. The pulpit, raised to the right of the pews, has an attractive overhead canopy.

Once again, friend and Westminster Guide J. was the source of information about a lunchtime carol service on the 22nd, although I'd also attended one of the regular midweek concerts, timed to fit the lunch hours of local office workers.

The service was much more traditional than the one at St Pauls of the week before. No poems, but readings from an older version of the gospels had the virtue of decorous language that was also clearly understood. A contemporary note was struck when Rev William Gulliford drew parallels between the Christmas story and the plot of a film currently showing in London: 'Where the Wild Things Are'. Both, he said, involved' a malevolent Empire, cynical Kings and dark things lurking'.
Hymns were traditional, and included my favourite', We Three Kings of Orient Are', as well as a sonorous arrangement of the medieval 'Adam lay ybounden'. From this, and the vibrancy of the descants in the other hymns, I suspected that they were professionals. Sure enough, J. enquired and confirmed, they were a group called Chantage.
Here were no stewards in official coats, but clergy and lay helpers to point the way to 'seasonal' refreshments', laid out on tables in an area to the side. . Of course, it's easier to offer hospitality of this kind in a church with a small congregation, and most of these were hurrying back to work.
The fact that St Dunstan's is a 'Guild Church' intrigued me, as a native of Preston, which celebrates a 'Guild Merchant' or trades festival once every 22 years. It reflects the church's particular ministry to the daytime working population around Fleet Street, hence the lunchtime concerts lasting 45 minutes, when workers are welcome to eat their sandwiches. On this occasion J had time to sample Christmas cake and wine before returning to her office in nearby Fetter Lane.

J's blog about Westminster and her walks:

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Curate's Egg

' The readings seem shorter than usual', said J. We were at at the annual Carol Service at St Pauls on Tuesday. Except it wasn't a Carol Service, it was 'A Celebration of Christmas', and some of the reading were poems.

J had tipped us off about the event, but been detained at work. I had to talk my way past the stewards to retrieve her from the throng of 2,000 or so who were turned away. 'It wasn't like this last year', she commented.

The programme was odd mix. Instead of familiar biblical extracts recounting the annunciation, the rejection at the inn, the wrapping in swathing bands, visitations by angels, shepherds and wise men, we had Laurie Lee and Betjeman. Sadly, the modernised bible readings that were retained sounded like clumsy literal translations - the poetic -sounding swathing bands became mere 'strips of cloth'. Some bits struck a discordantly merry note: 'The Night Before Christmas' , an extract from 'Shirley Valentine' and the choir finale,' We Wish You a Merry Christmas'.

There was a good line-up of professionals for the readings: Sinead Cusack, Penelope Wilton and Toby Stephens. Sitting towards the back, I couldn't see them. There were whole sections at the front reserved for the special people, should they are to attend. Not a good idea to declare no room for those waiting in the cold when some couldn't be bothered to arrive on time.
The amplification was excellent. The choirmaster stuck out for more traditional carols, inserting the odd medieval madrigal - 'Lullay my Liking'- and even Latinate hymns scattered among classics like 'Hark the Herald'. No wonder the four little boys in front of me, like four miniature Boris Johnsons, wriggled and giggled.

I admired the way dimmers on the candelabrae continually varied the lighting between nave and altar area and pulpit, emphasising different performance areas. We always knew when it was our turn to sing and when the choir's. That was a good touch

Perhaps it was the lighting, continually casting different shadows and emphasizing harmony of sculpted stone, arches and cupolas under the great dome that made me realise what a wonderful building this was. It made me aware of the contrast with Spanish churches Whereas in the Spanish churches it's the artefacts - statuary and paintings and set-piece depictions, that caught the eye, with richness of texture and representaton, in St Pauls it's the architecture of the church itself that impresses.

So not one thing or the other, but very enjoyable. Next year I'll get there even earlier.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Santa's Mushroom Village

'Er, well, it's a kind of hole in a rock, perhaps all covered in snow'.

Last week I'd met with puzzled faces and blank stares from the Spanish teachers in Zamora. They'd enjoyed my Christmas Quiz, but were stumped by the question: 'Where does Santa live?'

Was it in:

a) a cabin

b) a chimney

c) a grotto

My Oxford Dictionary Thesaurus says a grotto is ' a picturesque cave' and I recall they were popular as writers' retreats in the eighteenth century. Alexander Pope had one in the garden of his house in Twickenham. The local History Museum and Art Gallery in Blackheath, a converted convent, had one too. Maybe it's iconic, associated with Lourdes and other places where the Blessed Virgin appeared. I've always hankered after a grotto, although I'd settle for a caravan at Whitstable.

So I was dismay to see that the Lewisham Santa doesn't have a grotto; he has a Mushroom Village. Why a mushroom village? It's not very Christmassy, and not even a very accurate description, as the 'mushrooms' are toadstools. Maybe it's an obscure advertising ploy thought up by the market traders.

At least the live elf was authentic- when she saw me wielding a camera she leapt down the path and said it would cost me £1 to take her photograph! I suppose it's all in a good cause if the money really does go to the hospice, but I do like a nice grotto at Christmas

Friday, December 04, 2009

Must be Santa

It´s almost the end of my stay in Zamora, and the man from the Junta was expected. Headmaster José Eladio said the Education Minister would visit village schools across the province, to see teacher volunteers. I was bracing myself; less formal than the greeting ceremony at the ‘monasterio’ in Valladolid, but I expected a speech.

In fact, José Ignacio Rodríguez Aguado (great names here), the ‘Jefe del Servicio de Innovación Educativa (great titles, too) arrived during my final session with the teachers. I’d been happy to swap a day at the school each week for a two hour oral English ´seminario´ with teachers in Zamora. I really enjoyed the sessions and it was a welcome change to teach adults with a good level of English.

Nice Victoria, the local 'Jefa´in charge of the Zamora programme, arrived too, with Jose Eladio. When the visitors came in we’d already sung a song :

‘Who’s got a beard that’s long and white?’
‘Santa’s got a beard that’s long and white.’
‘Who comes around on a special night?’
‘Santa comes around on a special night.’

Special night; beard that’s white …

Must be Santa, must be Santa,Must be Santa, Santa Claus.

José Ignacio didn’t have a beard, and it was me that made the speech, prompted by his question,’ How have you found the experience of teaching in one of Castile’s bi-lingual schools?’ To my surprise, I made some sensible comments and give a summary of the highlights. I expect keeping a blog helped - and the Cava.

Planned activities, comparing Christmas menus and playing Snakes and Ladders ‘- resources replenished courtesy of Roy – had to be shelved.

But we’d made a start on Cava and cake supplied by the teachers. The latter was a traditional Three Kings Cake with hidden treasures. If you chanced on one of two little mannequins it´s a year’s good luck, but if you get the ‘bean’ you’re supposed to pay for next year’s celebration. Poor Maria Jose was the unlucky one.

I won’t be there, but I think I’ll come back for the other ‘Santa’ time, - Semana Santa, at Easter.