Friday, 29 March 2013

Dia de la Paz; Peace Day in Spain

In Spanish schools, 31 January is celebrated as Dia de la Paz, a national day of peace and non-violence.  As mentioned in an earlier post, Life in Spain, first impressions, I was able to watch, from my balcony, the festivities in the playground of the local elementary school below.  It was quite noisy, and I didn't really understand what was going on!  

Once I started volunteering at the school, I was able to find out more about it.  Last week, the children were learning the 'simple past' tense,  so I thought it was an excellent time to ask them about Dia de la Paz.  First they showed me the board they had made with all the pictures from that day.

Then, I asked them to remember how they had celebrated, and write some sentences using past tenses.  We talked about it for a while, and I asked them some questions.  

I'll let the children tell you about it in their own words:  

Child 1:  The teacher told us a story about the colors of the rainbow.  

Child 2:  We played a game with balloons.
Me:  What was the game?
Child 2:  We were fighting about the color of the balloons -- what was the best color?
Me:  How did the game end?
Child 2:  We decided that all the colors were the same.

Child 3:  We held up the balloons.

Child 4:  We made a rainbow with balloons.

Child 5:  We listened to music and danced.

Child 6:  We made paper birds in different colors.
Me:  How did you make them?
Child 6:  We folded paper.

Child 7:  The teachers gave us rice.  
Me:  What did you do with the rice?
Child 7:  We put it in the balloons and shook them.  
Me:  What did it sound like?
Child 7:  It sounded like rain.

Child 8:  We made bracelets in different colors.
Me:  How did you make them?
Child 9:  We cut string and we tied it.

Child 10:  We listened to a story.
Me:  What was the story about?
Child 10:  It was a sad story.  
Me:  Why was it sad?
Child 11:  A girl was in the hospital and she died.
Child 12:  Because she didn't have enough paper birds.
Child 11:  It was after a war.  The bomb.  In Japan.  
Me:  Was it a true story?
Child 12:  Yes.

Child 13:  We spoke about Peace.
Me:  What did you talk about?
Child 13:  Balloons.

At the end of the class, I asked the children what their favorite part of the Day of Peace had been.  Answers covered pretty much everything mentioned above:  The stories, the balloons, the game, the rainbow, the bracelets, the music and dancing, and the paper birds.  

Monday, 25 March 2013

All I need to know about life I learned playing cards with Grandad

This blog post is dedicated to my Grandad, Herbert Edward Walmisley:  March 25, 1895 – December 24, 1977

Today, March 25, 2013, is my Grandad's birthday.  He would have been 118, exactly 100 years older than Corin.  Grandad died when I was 17 and Lala (which is what we called my grandmother) went to live in another city, but before that, their house was my favorite place to be.  I spent hours with Grandad discussing everything from the meaning of life to how to grow the best runner beans.  We did the Times crossword together.  We watched Upstairs Downstairs. He listened to my hopes and dreams, he encouraged me, he told me stories about his childhood, being in the trenches in World War 1, and his days as a cavalry officer in India.  He taught me lots of things, including French verbs and proverbs,  chess, mathematics, how to draw in perspective, card tricks, and card games.  

Here’s what I learned playing cards with Grandad:

  • You don't choose your cards.
  • Some cards are better than others.  
  • You need both luck and skill.
  • There are winners and losers. 
  • There are rules.
  • Some people cheat.
  • In some games you can change your cards.
  • Sometimes you have to take a chance.
  • Eventually you run out of cards and the game ends.

How can these lessons be applied to the game of life?    

1.  Play the good cards wisely:  If you have good cards, you’re lucky.  Make the most of them because when they're gone, they're gone.  As Grandad would say, 'don't throw them away.'   Use your talents, don't waste them.  If you have money, invest it in something with a long term payoff, like a house or education.  

What is the most important card of all?  Grandad knew, of course.  He used to ask me ‘if you could have just one wish, what would it be?’  My 13-year-old self always had the same answer:  ‘a horse.’  I remember him gently making the case for health being the better answer.  He was right.  Good health is your ace of trumps – if you’ve got it, don’t squander it.   One day you'll need to play it.      

2.  Develop strategies to compensate for the cards you lack:  If you didn’t get many, or any, good cards, it’s no use bemoaning your bad luck or comparing yourself to others who were dealt a better hand (or who cheated).  Sometimes you just don’t have the card you need in a particular situation, and, guess what?  It isn’t your fault.  Remember, you don't choose your cards.  There is no magic bullet for fixing a bad hand, but there are some things you can do.  

(a)  If you don't have enough 'money' cards, you probably only have two options.  Like Jurgis in The Jungle and Boxer in Animal Farm, you can adopt the maxim ‘I must work harder'; or, you’re going to have to cut back on expenditures.  Sometimes, both are necessary.  (Sorry, folks, no rocket science here!) 

(b)   Low on 'good looks' cards?  A lot has been written (here’s a link to an article in The Economist) about how attractive people have easier lives, and how less attractive people have to work harder to get others to like them.  This affects their success in all aspects of life including relationships and careers.  That's just the way it is.  Life's not fair.  But, looking on the bright side, working harder at being nice can't be all bad.

 Maybe you think you need more 'intelligence/talents' cards?  In fact, everyone has talents and intelligence, but there are different types (see Gardner’s theory of ‘multiple intelligences’).  The difficulty is that not all types are equally valued, depending on what part of the world you live in.  What to do?  Try the creative approach.  What did you like best at school? What are your interests and hobbies?  Ask your friends what they like about you, and what they think you are good at.  Then visit a career advisor to see how you can capitalize on your unique skills.  

(d)  The more cards you have in your 'support network', the better.  In good times, you have people to share your happiness; in hard times, you have help and moral support; and in neutral times, you have company.  An effective support network means that there is always someone who 'has your back'; that you will always feel cared for and valued.  If you didn't get the 'supportive family' card, you'll have to build your own network of friends.   It’s harder work, but it’s well worth it because having strong cards in this area goes a long way to make up for deficits in others.  

(e)  Choose the right career.  This is the one single thing you can do that has the most potential to counteract the effect of bad cards and maximize the effect of good ones.  The right job can bring you happiness, fulfillment, a support network, and financial independence.   If you are young, the game is just beginning.  See a career advisor so that you can get it right the first time.  If you are older, and the game is already underway, it's not too late to change.  There may be significant obstacles to overcome; chances are, you will have to play some or all of your trump cards to make it happen.  But that's OK.  If you need them, play them.  That's what they're there for.  As Grandad used to say, 'what are you saving them for?'  

3.  Respect others.   The rules are there for a reason.  Play fair.  Don’t cheat.  Wait your turn.  It’s not all about you.  There are other people playing the game.  They deserve the same opportunities that you have.   

Respecting others also means not comparing yourself with, or judging, others.  Everyone starts the game with different cards.  Your cards determine how you see the world, how you play the game, how you problem solve.   Others, having been dealt different cards, are living in a different version of reality. 

 There are some people playing the game who don't respect others.  Some people don't play fair; some people cheat.  You will most likely run into some of these people in your life.  Although you can take steps to protect yourself from the most predictable forms of cheating, sometimes it's out of your control.  Sometimes you won't see it coming.  Don’t let it change you; accept it as a cost of playing the game.  

At the end of each hand, Grandad and I would analyze how it had gone, and he'd give me tips for the next game.  He'd say things like 'you should have brought your trumps out earlier' or 'you played your queen of clubs too soon.'  I don't remember us ever paying much attention to who had won.  We didn't care.  What was important was how we'd played the game. 

Here are some pictures of Lala and Grandad as I remember them best:  In 1973, at their Golden Wedding (left) and in the summer of 1977, in Bournemouth (below).

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Out and about in Cantabria -- In pictures

Here I'm posting some of my favorite pictures from our adventures in Cantabria during February and March, 2013.  

The Magdalena peninsula, located in Santander between the bay and the beaches.

Views from the peninsula:

Venturing further afield -- the beach at Liencres -- a short bus ride to the west of Santander.  We walked back along the coast to Santa Cruz, and then got a bus back to Santander.  


Walking back along the coast we had the sea to our left .....

.......cows and mountains to our right.

For our next adventure, we crossed the Bay of Santander on a ferry and arrived at Somo.

Here's the view looking back at Santander from the ferry.  The building with the turquoise front is the 'Palacio de Festivales', a theater/concert hall.  

And here's the beach on the other side:  Somo.  It's a popular year-round surfing spot.

On my birthday we walked out to the Cabo Mayor -- along the bay, past the peninsula, along the two Sardinero beaches, and then up to the top of the cliffs.

Chances are, I wouldn't have noticed these padlocks along the coastal path if I hadn't been reading about them the night before on Steve Cunningham's sabbatical blog post 'Russian weddings.'   Click the link to access Steve's blog and read more about this tradition.  

It was a very windy day up on the cliffs....

Happy birthday to me!!!!

Feb 27, 2013

Walking back along the beach, not a lot going on -- but thought this sign was interesting.  

While having a birthday lunch on the beach, we watched this guy kitesurfing.    

For our next outing, we decided to head south, i.e. away from the coast and towards the mountains. We took a bus to Obregón, walked through Parque de la naturaleza de Cabarceno, and then followed a mountain trail into Liérgenes.  From there we took a train back to Santander.

Here we are on the trail:

Next, here are some pictures from when I went back to Somo on the ferry by myself, then headed east along the coast to Galizano via Langre and Loredo.  Here are a few pics from that day.  

Between Somo and Langre

The beach at Langre

This was supposed to be my house; somebody missed the memo!

Church at Galizano
Finally, here are two pics from our outing on March 23, when we got a train southeast to Gibaja, walked up a mountain, got lost, and met a few horses (and various other animals).

We have a lot more exploring to do, so stay tuned for 'Out and About in Cantabria Part 2.'

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Are the Spanish more trusting than Americans?

It would never have occurred to me to research or write about this aspect of life in Spain, or compare it to the US, but you never know what interesting phenomena you are going to run into when you go to live in another country. 

There have been three particular incidents/situations here that have caused me to ask this question.

First, going out for Tapas.  Tapas, or 'pinchos' as they are called here in Cantabria, are snacks sold for (usually) 2 euros each at bars and cafés.  (As I mentioned in a previous post, 'Life in Spain: First Impressions', bars and cafés in Spain offer more or less the same selection of food and drink, but have different opening hours).  How to describe pinchos?  Well, imagine a loaf of French bread, or a baguette, cut up into lots of small pieces.  Then add 2-3 layers of toppings to each piece.  Blue cheese with roasted red pepper and an anchovie.  Bonito or tuna with caramelized onions and an olive.  A piece of omlette with white asparagus and a slice of tomato.  So yummy -- but I digress. 

When you go to a bar in Spain, you can either (a) sit at the bar, (b) sit at a table, or (c) sit or stand outside on the sidewalk (or street in pedestrianized areas).  Wherever you sit, you order from the bar, but you don't pay until you leave.  It would be so easy for someone to walk off without paying, but you are trusted not to.  When it's busy, and you are ordering from multiple people working at the bar, you start to wonder how they are keeping track of your bill.  Then you discover they aren't.  When you ask for the bill, they ask you what you had.  It's up to you to tell them how many drinks and pinchos you ordered so that they can charge you accordingly.  It would be so easy to cheat and give a lower number, but you are trusted not to.  

Second, health care.  For some time now, I've been in need of physical therapy following injuries to my hand and knee.   But, with the other demands on my time, I haven't made it a priority.  So, one of the things I decided to do while on sabbatical was start a course of physical therapy.  The treatment is fascinating -- my hand goes into a hot paraffin bath before being worked on.  I was skeptical at first, but it's amazing how well it works to ease stiffness, take away pain, and increase flexibility.  I might have to buy one when I get back to Florida.  But, again, I digress..... 

So far, having gone to physical therapy three times a week for the past couple of weeks, I am the only person who has brought up the concept of payment.   There is no 'front office'; the physical therapist manages his own accounts.  When I arrived for my first session, wallet in hand, he waved it away, saying 'no no, you pay at the end.'  At the end of the session, again I tried to pay, but again he waved me away, repeating 'you pay at the end.'  It turns out that 'at the end' means at the end of the treatment (which he expects to last about 6-8 weeks).  I had to insist on knowing the amount -- as a self-pay private patient, I have to keep track of how much I'm spending.  He said it would be 30 euros per session (slightly less than the 40 dollar co-payment for physical therapy covered by insurance in the US).  He hasn't asked me to fill out any forms; he hasn't asked for any ID.  He doesn't even know my last name, let alone where I live.  He takes everything I say at face value.  He trusts me.  

Third, volunteer work.   Ever since watching the 'Dia de la Paz' (Day of Peace) festivities in the playground of the local elementary school the day after we moved into the flat,  I had it in my mind that I would like to volunteer at the school a couple of mornings a week.  For more information about the celebration, see picture and description in my post 'Life in Spain; First Impressions.  (I'll be writing more about how Spanish schools celebrate this day in a future blog post).  

Eventually I summoned up the courage to present myself to the school, introduce myself, and offer my assistance in English and/or music classes.  I was taken to the director's office, and five minutes later found myself in a classroom interacting with children.  They did not ask for ID.  They did not ask me to fill out a form, provide references, or complete a background check.  I did not have a child at the school.  I was just a person who quite literally 'walked in off the street.'  I could have been anyone.  Their response was to thank me and put me to work.  They trusted that I was exactly who I said I was.  

So this brings us back to the question at hand:  Are Spanish people naturally more trusting than Americans?  I felt I had to know if any research had been done in this area, so I googled the question, and found very little; only this 2012 Australian study that analyzed online behavior across cultures.  You can read the full article here:  it's called Internet behavior:  Americans too trusting, Spanish too superficial, and Germans are annoyed.  

As you can guess by the title, the results suggest that, as consumers and evaluators of online information, Americans are the most trusting, Spanish are the most likely to be influenced by the appearance of a website, and Germans are the most concerned with accuracy.   

Of course, none of the situations I have described above relate to 'online behavior', but I thought there might have been some correlation between trusting face to face and trusting online.  

I have no idea what all this means, so I'm afraid there is no satisfactory conclusion to this blog post.   Comparing my experience with the research, there seems to be a contradiction.  But, maybe there isn't.  If Spanish people make judgements based on appearances, as the study suggests, perhaps they decided that I looked like exactly who I said I was.  And perhaps Americans, being naturally trusting, have had to put systems in place  (i.e. payment up front, ID checks, background checks) to protect themselves from being taken advantage of. 

Very interested to hear what others think, so please feel free to post comments below.  Thanks!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Turkish proverb

Turkish proverb:  Ateş düştüğü yeri yakar.

English translation:  Fire burns where it falls.

What do you think this proverb means?

(a)  It is a proverb about being careful.  It means you should pay careful attention to potentially dangerous situations so that you will be prepared and can avoid them.  

(b)  It is a proverb about pain.  It means that pain is suffered the most by the person or people who experience it.  We cannot really understand the suffering of others if we have not experienced what they are going through.

(c)  It is a proverb about hope and perseverence.  It means that even when something bad happens to us, we need to keep going in hopes that the situation will improve in the future.  

The correct answer is (b).  Pain is suffered most by the one who has experienced it.  This proverb recognizes that we cannot really understand what another person is going through because the 'fire' is 'burning' them, not us.  

This website has much more about Turkish proverbs

Thanks to my student Hatice for sharing this proverb.  

Czech proverb

Czech Proverb:  Kam vítr, tam plást

English translation:  Where the wind blows, goes the coat.

What do you think this proverb means?

(a)  The proverb is about having no fixed position on a topic.  It describes a person who changes his/her opinion based on what he/she thinks others want to hear.  

(b)  The proverb is about being prepared.  It describes a person who plans ahead for all eventualities; for example, if the weather forecast is for wind, that person brings a coat.

(c)  The proverb is about flexibility.  It describes the ability to adapt to changing situations and technologies.  

The answer is (a).  This proverb is used to describe a negative characteristic; the tendency to change one's mind multiple times in order to always seem to be agreeing with the prevailing opinion or popular viewpoint on a topic.  In US politics, this has become known as 'flip-flopping.'

Thanks to my student Pavla for sharing this proverb, and to the author of Ara-bomshell's blog for permission to use her photo.  

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Garmisch then and now; a lesson in long term memory

Top of the Hausbergbahn, March 2013

Garmisch revisited:  One of the essay topics we used to give students for their final exam was ‘if you could travel to any time, past or future, what time would you choose, and why?’ 

Reading the essays, I’d think about how I would have answered the question, and I'd always think of Garmisch.  That’s where I’d choose to go!  Garmisch, around 1980.  After school, when my friends all went to university, I wanted to travel instead.  Somehow, I ended up in Garmisch.  Instead of getting a degree, I spent three years working in a hotel, learning German, and skiing (see pic below from 1981!)

skiing on Zugspitz, April 1981
For the past 30 plus years, I’ve dreamed of going back to ski in Garmisch, or, to give it its full name, Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  Once I realized I could make it happen this year, I tried to stop myself from having unrealistic expectations.  What if I was disappointed?  What if it had changed unrecognizably?  Would all my memories be spoiled? That must happen sometimes when people re-visit a place from their past.  But, this turned out not to be one of those times. 

Zugspitz March 2013, almost the same view!
21 again?  On arrival, the hotel staff complimented me on my German, and asked where I’d learned it.  Here, I said.  I used to live here.  And then I thought to myself, ‘before you were born.’  None of them looked over 30; their whole lives had taken place during the time since I last spoke German.  You'd think this would have made me feel old; instead, I had the distinct feeling that, like Benjamin Button, I was growing younger by the minute.  Garmisch was working its magic! It wasn’t long before I was pretty convinced that I was 21 again.  My legs were happy to cooperate with this age change;  after a hard day’s skiing, I still had unlimited energy to go walking all over town.  Five days in a row.  

I used to work at a hotel on this street

But, of course, not everything was the same.  In 1981, I used to ski until 2 p.m., work until 10 p.m., and then go out to the disco where my friends and I would dance all night to ‘Billy Jean’, ‘Brick house’, 'Staying alive', ‘Play that funky music’, and ‘Don’t stop til you get enough.'  I decided to make no attempt to replicate this particular activity from my past, (suspecting anyway that I was unlikely to find, in 2013, a disco playing the soundtrack from Saturday Night Fever).

Skiing:  How has skiing changed?  Well, chair lifts have been added to, or in some cases replaced, T-bars.  The cable cars are still the same, but talking on mobile phones has replaced smoking as the preferred way to pass the time on the ride up the mountain.  Ski passes now look like credit cards and have a contactless chip; you put it in an inside pocket and forget about it.  So much better than the old paper kind you had to hang on your jacket zip and show every time you got on the lift.

I didn’t mind going skiing alone then, nor did I mind it this time.  Then, of course, I was a ‘local’, so I would always run into someone I knew on the slopes.  We’d ski together for a bit, until one of us had to go to work, or until we ran into other people we knew and went off in different directions.  This time I was visitor, an outsider, so no chance of meeting up with a local ski buddy.  But, (always look on the bright side) I didn’t have to leave the slopes at 1:30 to go wait tables!

Views:  The views from the ski slopes haven’t changed.  What has changed is my appreciation for them.  I barely noticed them before; I was only interested in skiing fast, experiencing that adrenaline rush, keeping up with my ski patrol friends. 

Wandering through the streets of town during my afternoon walks, I realized how much I'd taken the beauty and grandeur of the alpine landscape for granted when I lived there.  Mountain views are everywhere, in every direction, and for everyone, because there are no high rise buildings in Garmisch.  I guess living under the Alpspitz and Zugspitz is like everything else – you don’t notice what you are used to.  

view of Alpspitz and Zugspitz from town

church in Partenkirchen
Memory:  It’s always fascinating to experience first hand the mystery of how memory works. (Note:  I’m writing a separate blog post specifically about language memory and my horrendous, hybrid ‘Germish’ sentences).

My lesson in long term memory retrieval came when I saw the Horn sign.  In the ‘old days’, the Horn was the black run I was always getting into difficulty on, the most challenging run on the mountain.  I came across it on the morning of the second day.  Up to that point, I hadn’t remembered the names of any of the runs;  I'd lost my ‘mental map’ of the mountain.  However, once I saw the sign saying Horn with the black diamond, everything came back.  The way down.  The names of the other runs.  The layout of the mountain.  Random German words and phrases.  Songs.  And, people.  People I hadn't thought about in years.  All these appeared by magic in my mind as if a switch had been turned on.  The experience was so powerful that I’ve been thinking about memory ever since, and how to harness its potential to improve language learning and acquisition for my students.

By the way, if any of my skiing friends are reading this -- I didn’t go down the Horn; I thought about it though!  There was a sign saying Lebensgefahr (literally ‘life danger’!)  A couple of kids, who looked about 10, ignored the sign and zoomed on past.  In 1981, I’d probably have followed them, thinking ‘if they can do it, so can I.’ But, not now.  I have to make some concessions to middle age. 

If you ever get the chance to visit Garmisch, go!  It's a beautiful, happy, magical place; I’m so glad that I went back as part of my sabbatical adventures.  Although I had thought it might make me feel old, revisiting the neighborhoods and ski slopes of my youth; it didn't.  It made me feel young.   

Couple more pics below: