Monday, December 24, 2012

My First Semester As A "Profe"

     Well, the world didn't end but the semester sure did. On Thursday I finished my first semester as a(n) (assistant) teacher. I loved it. It's sort of cheating I guess, because I don't have the responsibilities of grading papers or disciplining students, but still, I teach classes. Being an assistant is great, because I only have each class once a week, so the students are always excited to see me.
     The kids are really great. They're also really talkative. You cannot get a class to be silent for more than ten seconds, ever, except one class I have of 12 year olds who are all very good students and love to learn. Well, 1 for 16, could be worse. But what the classes lack in discipline they make up for in amiability. I can't go five steps in the halls without five students saying hello to me.
     The last week of the semester was the best week. I prepared a Hanukkah lesson for all of my classes so that they could learn something new and not be bored with the same old Christmas lecture. It worked. Many of the students had never even heard of Hanukkah. I told them the story, some traditions, gave them a worksheet, and finally two Hanukkah songs. First, we listened to them ("Hanukkah O Hanukkah" and "I Have A Little Dreidel"), and then I brought out a guitar I had borrowed from the music room and we sang the Dreidel song. It was great, everybody was entertained and happy, and all week I would hear kids singing the refrain in the halls. After we sang the song, I played a little Blues tune on the guitar, which is what they really wanted me to do. I was greeted with loud applause, chants of "¡Tú sí que vales!" (which can be translated as "You are really worth it"), and requests for more. It was really great to see them all interested. Afterwards, I asked them to sing a traditional Spanish Christmas carol, of which there are many. They sound much more like Hanukkah songs than popular American carols.
     The week prior, I had gone to school on Friday (I don't work on Fridays) just to teach a couple of P.E. classes how to play baseball. I had done this once before, and since then all of the gym teachers have been asking me if I could come teach their classes. The kids really love it and I am happy to teach them. No one really plays baseball here in Spain. It's like rugby in the U.S. You don't find many people who know exactly how to play or have seen or played a game. So I suppose I'll continue next semester guest-teaching baseball when I can.
     It's only been a little over two months, but I've learned a lot about teaching. For one, it isn't easy. Trying to entertain 30 kids (or at least get them to listen) is pretty difficult. But I have realized that if just one person is wanting to learn, it's worth it. Also, I've learned the benefits of teaching the same lesson more than once. The first time is like a disaster compared to the third or fourth time. Hopefully, with practice, first lessons will be more honed. Thirdly, being a teacher means I learn every day, whether it be a teaching method, a way of explaining something, how to deal with a situation, something about Spanish culture, or even about British culture (the student books are Oxford). I really enjoy being in a learning environment.
     And then there are the other teachers. They are extremely nice and helpful. I have good relationships with all of the English teachers, as well as the music teacher, a couple of P.E. teachers, the cafeteria lady, and various people. Before I arrived I had heard of auxiliars last year being uncomfortable in the break room because of the economic crisis, but that has not been my experience at all. Everyone is very pleasant and it is a real pleasure to be at school.
     En fin, I had a great first semester (or technically, trimester), and I am looking forward to the new year. I know I will continue to learn and hopefully I will improve as a teacher, or as the kids call me, "profe."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Spanish Language Fluency: A Work In Progress

     Last night I watched a Spanish film (Hable con ella, a film by Spain's famous director, Pedro Almodóvar). This was an event, because it was the first Spanish film I have watched without subtitles and understood the dialogue. This is to say nothing of the film— It was very weird, though I recommend it. The point is, I was able to follow, for two hours, the dialogue and plot of this film. I consider it an accomplishment, and something I could never have done before I arrived in Spain.
     I have been in Madrid now for two and a half months. In this time, my Spanish (listening comprehension, speaking, reading, writing) has improved greatly. One of the biggest factors is, of course, that I am surrounded by Spanish speakers every day. But without putting forth much effort, I could easily pass these months without improving much. Fortunately, I am trying to take full advantage of this opportunity in Madrid by learning as much Spanish as I can. I am doing this in several ways.
     First, I live in an apartment with Spanish speakers (a Spanish guy and a Brazilian guy— recently I moved from my old flat, but that is a story for another day). Secondly, I attend an "intercambio" every week, which is a language exchange, held at a bar, where people go to improve the language they're learning. I've been going to this intercambio since my first week here, and have made a few friends, who I meet there each week.
     Thirdly, I have a one-on-one intercambio with a guy in his mid-twenties from Madrid, for two hours twice a week. We walk around the city, he shows me places I haven't seen, and we split the time between speaking English and Spanish. Needless to say, between these intercambios, I am learning how to speak "real" Spanish.
     Fourthly, I speak Spanish at school with teachers as much as possible. I have even made friends with one of the P.E. teachers and have taught one of my classes (in Spanish) how to swing a baseball bat. More lessons are to come, and eventually we're going to play a game. Moreover, next week I'm going to start a third intercambio with one of the teachers, staying after school for an hour and a half or two hours once a week.

(The word notebook that is always in my pocket. Almost time for another one.)

     And since that is not enough, I have enrolled in an advanced Spanish course which meets for one hour, three times a week. Monday will be the beginning of my second week in the class, and the level is very high. There are around ten people in the class and I might be the worst at Spanish. The level is C1, which is the second highest level on the European Union scale of foreign language proficiency.
     I am taking the class for two reasons. The first is to improve my Spanish in general. The second is to prepare to take a Spanish exam at the end of May. A couple of weeks ago I started thinking about taking a test toward the end of my time here in Spain, in order to see how much my Spanish will have improved. I found the D.E.L.E (Diploma of Spanish as a Foreign Language), which is issued by the Instituto Cervantes, and is the only official test recognized by the government of Spain. It is equivalent to the English proficiency tests given by Cambridge. Tentatively, I am planning on taking the C1 level test, which is the second highest level test that the institute issues. This test is hard.

"The DELE C1 diploma proves that the student's progress with the language has been successful and that he or she has a higher than advanced level of Spanish. This diploma certifies the linguistic ability to understand and recognize implicit meaning in a wide variety of lengthy, difficult texts. It also certifies the ability to express oneself fluently and spontaneously without showing any signs of making any unnatural effort to find appropriate expressions, and to make flexible, effective use of Spanish within social, academic and professional contexts. Finally, the diploma certifies the ability to produce clear texts; correct in structure and detail, written about complex topics, and showing the correct use of organization mechanisms, articulation and cohesiveness." 

     Needless to say, if I were to take it now, I would certainly fail. But I have six months to improve my Spanish, and I am hopeful that I will be at or near this level by June. Even if I'm not, I think that having this concrete goal to strive for will push me to improve my Spanish more and faster than I would without a self-imposed challenge. The course that I have enrolled in will meet until the test date, which is great because it is an extended period of time, and the class is not solely focused on studying for the test, though we will to practice exams, but rather it is guided toward Spanish language improvement in general.
     Finally, I am trying to read as much in Spanish as I can, including newspaper articles, poetry, plays, and (maybe) books. Currently, I am reading Lorca's drama, Bodas de sangre (Blood Wedding). I don't think it's going to end well for the characters.
     And as for writing— the main source of improvement is through email, though Facebook helps too. I've been sending more emails in Spanish than I thought I would, and not just one-liners. When I attended the Leonard Cohen concert back in October, I sat next to a woman who struck up a conversation with me. A mid-fifties madrileña, we talked before the show and during the intermission, and I got a bite to eat with her and her friend after the show. We've been exchanging emails once a week or so since then (she writes long emails, not just quotidian in subject matter, but discussing literature, philosophy, and writing). So naturally I have to reply in paragraph form, which is good but also means her emails stay in my inbox un-replied to for a little longer than usual. We finally met up again this week to attend a classical cello concert and it was great.
     All in all, I am really enjoying my time in Madrid, and I don't have much 'learning withdrawal' from college because I am learning every day.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Antonio Machado



   In Segovia I toured the house in which Antonio Machado lived for over a decade while he was a professor in the town. Antonio Machado was a 20th century Spanish poet and playwright. He was a member of the Generation of '98, a group of Spanish literary figures who wrote some of Spain's finest works.
     I first read Machado in a Spanish literature class in college, and enjoyed most of all his use of imagery. In fact, the beautiful use of imagery is perhaps what I like most about Spanish poetry. Anyways, this is to say that I was glad for the opportunity to visit Machado's residence, because I have been reading his poetry since I have been in Spain. 

Machado rented a room in this house from 1919-1931. It is located in the heart of Segovia, only a few blocks from the Cathedral. 

His room has been preserved, with some of his books laid out on the table. 

      I've attempted to translate a couple of Machado's poems, which you can read below. The first one is called "The Traveler," and the second is a poem dedicated to José Ortega y Gasset, who was Machado's friend and one of the most important Spanish philosophers of the 20th century. I decided to translate the poem because one of Ortega y Gasset's books is displayed on the table in Machado's bedroom. 

(A portrait of Machado, drawn by Picasso)

     Translation is difficult. Poetry in translation is never true to the original, because poetry, more than any other type of writing, hinges on every word and every sound. One must always make concessions when translating poetry. It is nearly impossible to produce a literal translation that maintains the meter and rhyme scheme of the poem— not to mention word order or poetical techniques that deal with sound, such as alliteration. Different problems arise depending on which language one translates to and from. 
     Translating from Spanish into English has less difficulties than translating from a non-romance language into a romance language, but problems still persist. In one of the poems below, I found it impossible render the ambiguity in the subject of a sentence. This is because Spanish has the same possessive pronoun for "his" and "its," and also because a verb conjugated in the third person could refer to "he" or "it," and without the inclusion of the pronoun, there can be ambiguity pertaining to what (or who) is the subject of the sentence. This ambiguity occurs several times (probably intentionally) in Machado's "The Traveler." Therefore I was forced to make a decision (on several occasions) as to what was the more likely subject of the sentence. Another problem with these poems was word order (or the addition of words). It was simply impossible to keep the same word order in translation without rendering the translation nonsensical. And because conjugated verbs (usually) reveal the subject of a sentence, making the use of a pronoun redundant, I often had to add a pronoun to convey the subject of a sentence. These might sound like little things, but added up, you get a translation that is very different from the original in structure and flow. So, here are my inevitably imperfect translations, side by side with the originals, so you can see all the flaws and differences in structure.

El Viajero                                                                   The Traveler

     Está en la sala familiar, sombría,                                 It is in the familiar foyer, shady,
y entre nosotros, el querido hermano                          and between us, the dear brother
que en el sueño infantil de un claro día                       who in the infantile dream of a clear day
vimos partir hacia un país lejano.                                we saw depart toward a faraway country. 
     Hoy tiene ya las sienes plateadas,                               Now he already has silver temples, 
un gris mechón sobre la angosta frente;                      and a gray lock of hair over his wrinkled forehead;
y la fría inquietud de sus miradas                                and the cold unrest of his looks
revela un alma casi toda ausente.                                reveals a soul almost completely absent.
     Deshójanse las copas otoñales                                    The autumn branches of the musky
del parque mustio y viejo.                                           and old park lose their leaves. 
La tarde, tras los húmedos cristales,                            The evening, after the wet crystals,
se pinta, y en el fondo del espejo.                                is painted, and in the depths of the mirror.
     El rostro del hermano se ilumina                                The brother’s face illuminates 
suavemente. ¿Floridos desengaños                              gently. Flowery disenchantments 
dorados por la tarde que declina?                                golden in the declining afternoon?
¿Ansias de vida nueva en nuevos años?                      Longing for new life in new years?
     ¿Lamentará la juventud perdida?                                 Will he lament lost youth?
Lejos quedó —la pobre loba— muerta.                       Far away it stayed —the poor she-wolf— dead. 
¿La blanca juventud nunca vivida                               Does white youth never lived 
teme, que ha de cantar ante su puerta?                         fear, compelled to sing before its door? 
     ¿Sonríe al sol del oro                                                    Does it smile at the golden sun
de la tierra de un sueño no encontrada;                        of the land of a dream never found;
y ve su nave hender el mar sonoro,                              and see its ship split the sonorous sea,
de viento y luz la blanca vela hinchada?                      of wind and light the white inflated candle?
     Él ha visto las hojas otoñales,                                       He has seen the autumn leaves,
amarillas, rodar, las olorosas                                         yellow, turn, the aromatic 
ramas del eucalipto, las rosales                                     branches of the eucalyptus, the rose bushes
que enseñan otra vez sus blancas rosas...                      that show again their white roses...
     Y este dolor que añora o desconfía                               And this pain that longs for or distrusts
el temblor de una lágrima reprime,                                the tremble of a repressed tear, 
y un resto de viril hipocresía                                          and a residue of virile hypocrisy 
en el semblante pálido se imprime.                                imprints itself on his pale face. 
     Serio retrato en la pared clarea                                      Serious portrait on the wall 
todavía. Nosotros divagamos.                                        continues to clear. We digress. 
En la tristeza del hogar golpea                                       In the sadness of the home thumps
el tictac del reloj. Todos callamos.                                 the tick-tock of the clock. We all fall silent. 

(Meditations of Quijote was written by the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset)

Al Joven Meditador José Ortega y Gasset               To The Young Meditator José Ortega y Gasset1

A ti laurel y yedra                                                       May laurel and hydra 
corónete, dilecto                                                         crown you, beloved
de Sofía, arquitecto.                                                   of Sofia, architect. 
Cincel, martillo y piedra                                            May chisel, hammer and rock
y masones te sirvan las montañas                             and masons serve you, and the mountains
de Guadarrama frío                                                      of cold Guadarrama
te brinden el azul de sus entrañas,                            offer you the blue of their entrails,        
meditador de otro Escorial sombrío.                        meditator of a different somber Escorial2              
Y que Felipe austero,                                                  And may austere Philip3 
al borde de su regia sepultura,                                   on the edge of his royal burial,    
asome a ver la nueva arquitectura,                            peek out to see the new architect,          
y bendiga la prole de Lutero.                                     and bless the offspring of Luther4  

1 An important 20th century Spanish philosopher and friend of Machado. Gasset wrote Meditations on Don Quijote and Revolt of the Masses, among many other works.

2 A former royal palace and monastery constructed under the reign of Philip II in the 16th century. It is located 30 miles outside of Madrid, in the Sierra de Guadarrama. Almost all Spanish kings have been buried in El Escorial since its construction. It is architecturally austere, built mainly of granite with a simple exterior. 

3 King Philip II of Spain (1527-1598).

4 Martin Luther. Philip II spent much of his reign actively combating the Protestant reformation. 



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Two Weeks Of Concerts — From Bach To Patti Smith

     The six concerts I've attended in the last two and a half weeks probably all deserve their own post. But time is short and reading about music is certainly not as enjoyable as listening to it. But don't worry, I've posted links to some of the music I've heard. Here are the concerts I've attended since late October: Bach Modern (Bach and contemporary pieces for piano); El Cigala (famous Flamenco singer); Michel Camilo and Tomatito (Jazz/Flamenco pianist and guitarist); From the Vihuela to the Electric Guitar (A history of the guitar); Patti Smith; Canal Street Jazz Band.
     Madrid is proving to be a music mecca. There is an endless variety of music to choose from, and the performances are world class. Nicolas Hodges, the pianist for the Bach concert, has played with all of the world's top symphonies. El Cigala is perhaps the most famous contemporary Flamenco singer, and The New York Times selected his performance in New York City as the best concert of 2011. He didn't disappoint when I saw him— though honestly, I was more impressed with his guitar player. Here's a video of the two, and here's a video of the guitar player by himself. Flamenco is to Spain what Blues is to the United States. It has its own rhythms and scales, its lyrics are often melancholy, and though it was cultivated in Spain and identified as Spanish music, its origins are foreign. I wish I could play it.
     Tomatito famously played with Camarón de la Isla, one of the most celebrated Flamenco singers of all time. He is an incredible guitarist, and has been playing with Camilo, a jazz and Latin pianist from the Dominican Republic, since 2000. It was obvious watching the concert that they are both virtuosos. Being a guitar player, I thought the grand piano sort of overpowered the Flamenco guitar and wished it were the other way around. Here's a video to give you an idea of the duo.
    Last week, I went on a field trip (as a teacher/supervisor, woo!) with a couple of classes to a guitar concert at La Fundación de Juan March in Madrid. The concert was closed to the public, so it was a special performance for select high school classes. A musicologist gave a lecture on the history of the guitar and its predecessors, and after he had given the history of an instrument, the guitarist would play a few songs on said instrument. The instruments played were the vihuela (a 16th century guitar-shaped instrument with six doubled strings, like a 12-string guitar but smaller), the baroque guitar (17th and 18th centuries, with five strings and a small body), the classical guitar, and the electric guitar. As you might have guessed, this was awesome for me. Here's a video of a song for vihuela by the composer Luis de Milán, written in the first half of the 16th century. And here is my favorite piece that was performed, a sonata by Fernando Sor, a famous 18th century Spanish classical guitarist.
     Then on Thursday there was Patti Smith. She has a really great voice and sounds as good as ever. The band played a couple songs from her new record, but there were also plenty of songs from Horses, including my (everyone's?) favorite, "Gloria." I was able to stand right in front of the stage, and the crowd was good. For a concert without electric guitars, it sure sounded pretty heavy at some points. And of course, they played the 1978 hit (co-written by Smith and Springsteen) "Because The Night."
     And finally, Saturday, I went back to Juan March to see the Canal Street Jazz Band, who performed songs such as "Jeepers Creepers," "Saint Louis Blues" (the first time I actually heard this performed live), and "Tiger Rag."All of the musicians were from Madrid, except for the band leader, who was from California but spoke Spanish really well. This free concert was part of the Foundation's annual Jazz concert cycle.
     So, in sum, I believe I will see more quality concerts this year than I've seen ever before, and at a better price. I'm really glad I was placed in Madrid, and am pleasantly surprised at what a cultural capital it is turning out to be.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

General Strike in Spain — 14 November

     Today there is a strike. In all of Spain. That means, among other things, that public transportation is limited. I waited for 35 minutes for a train that usually runs every 4 minutes. It also means that many professors did not go to school, nor many children. My first class had two children. My second had one. 
     So why is there a strike? Put simply, some people don’t like what the government is doing. The strike was organized by the CGT, a labor union, along with other organizations around the country. Their reasons for the strike are that the government’s spending cuts and reforms are dismantling basic public services and have led to a situation of social emergency. 
     It’s true, the economy has seen better days. Several years ago, when the United States’ housing bubble burst, Spain’s did too. Yet while (some would say) the United States is climbing out of its economic crisis, people in Spain feel their economy is continuing to decline. According to the CGT pamphlet I was given, six million people are unemployed, and over 50% of people under 25 don’t have a job, 700,000 people have been evicted from their homes, and millions of people are on the threshold of poverty. 

("They leave us without a future. There are guilty people. There are solutions. General Strike!")

     So...why does an American have a job (provided by the government) in Spain, and why is that fair? Maybe I shouldn’t make myself answer such difficult questions. But it’s something I’ve thought about a lot, and I don’t feel guilty about having a job here. I’ll tell you why. Spain believes in the importance of the English language, and that people who speak it as a second language will have more job opportunities, more knowledge, and be more cultured. It’s really a beautiful thing to be investing so much money in the education of Spanish children, and with the specific goal of giving them more opportunities in the world through language learning. And I would like to think that I am playing a small part in that goal. Having native English teachers in Spanish primary and secondary schools is for Spain what having native Chinese speakers in American schools might be like. In other words, if one believes that knowledge of the Chinese language will continue to grow and give opportunities to those who know it, having a native Chinese speaker to educate American children would be a wonderful thing. 
     Secondly, the monthly scholarship I receive is being entirely spent in Spain. While the government might be giving me money, I am reinvesting it in the Spanish economy. All of it. In restaurants, grocery stores, museums, concerts, clothing stores, music stores, street vendors. The bottom line is, I’m not taking the money and sending it back to my homeland. I’m spending it. 
     So, I am receiving a monthly scholarship in exchange for teaching English to Spanish youths, and I am spending that money in Spain. I think that is justifiable. I think I am doing a good thing. And I think people should read this Robinson Jeffers poem (feel free to adapt it to apply to the country you are from):

Be Angry At The Sun
That public men publish falsehoods
Is nothing new. That America must accept
Like the historical republics corruption and empire
Has been known for years.

Be angry at the sun for setting
If these things anger you. Watch the wheel slope and turn,
They are all bound on the wheel, these people, those warriors.
This republic, Europe, Asia.

Observe them gesticulating,
Observe them going down. The gang serves lies, the passionate
Man plays his part; the cold passion for truth
Hunts in no pack.

You are not Catullus, you know,
To lampoon these crude sketches of Caesar. You are far
From Dante's feet, but even farther from his dirty
Political hatreds.

Let boys want pleasure, and men
Struggle for power, and women perhaps for fame,
And the servile to serve a Leader and the dupes to be duped.
Yours is not theirs.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Ávila is two hours northwest of Madrid, surrounded by the plains of Castilla and in sight of the Sierra de la Paramera. The city is famous for its medieval wall, which surrounds the old city in impressive fashion. The wall (la muralla), has encircled the old city since the second half of the 12th century. Its 2500 battlements, 88 towers, and 6 gates have been wonderfully reserved. In fact, you can walk along the majority of the wall.

The Cathedral is actually built into the wall. It was also begun in the 12th century, yet wasn't finished until the 16th century. It was the first Gothic cathedral in Spain. 

Every time I enter a cathedral I am grateful I took "The Medieval World" with Dr. Byrne in college. Thanks to that class, I know what I'm looking at when I'm staring at the ceiling of a cathedral, the exterior, the floor plan. So I was impressed with the variety of vaulting techniques found in Ávila's Cathedral. Constructed of red and white granite, it's a beautiful cathedral. 

 I also visited the Basilica de San Vicente, built in the 12th century at the site of St. Vincent's martyrdom. It is one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture in Spain.

(Nice portal.)

Also, I had castañas (roasted chestnuts) for the first time. They were meaty and good. 

Without a doubt, the most impressive part of Ávila is its wall. You can get a really good look at it by hiking outside of the walls, crossing the river, and walking up a hill until you come to Cuatro Postes (Four Posts), which is exactly what it sounds like. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Saturday a friend and I took a train to Segovia with the other English assistant from my school. Segovia is most famous for its impeccably preserved first century Roman aqueduct. It was certainly a sight to see, but was just the beginning of a wonderful day.

In the morning there was rain, which drove us into Segovia's Cathedral, begun in 1525. It towers over the small city of Segovia, rising high above the otherwise quaint streets.

After a walk through the medieval Jewish cemetery outside of town, we went to see the Church of La Vera Cruz, a 13th century church constructed by the Knights Templar. Its dodecagonal design is based on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Located on a hill outside of the city walls, it has good views of the city. 

Next we walked up another hill to get a good view of the Alcázar. The palace was originally built in the 11th century but was completely renovated in the 19th century due to a fire (it had been used as the Royal Convent of Artillery). Some say it is the castle after which the Disney logo is modeled. Needless to say, it was worth the hike out there for the view. 

Later, we went to the house of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado (1875-1939). It was a really nice tour and I'm going to make a separate post about it and his poetry. That's all for now. More posts on Flamenco concerts and medieval cities are coming shortly. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Spanish National Orchestra

     Recently I wrote about a great Flamenco guitar concert I attended at the Auditorio Nacional de Música, part of the Centro Nacional de Difusión Musical, and said I planned on attending more concerts at that venue. Well, it's happening. Friday night I showed up half an hour before the show to buy a ticket for a piano concert. After getting to my seat, which was actually situated behind the stage where the chorus sits, I realized I had bought a ticket to the wrong concert. The venue has two halls, a large one and a smaller one, and often concerts take place simultaneously. I had mistakenly purchased a ticket to see the Orquesta Nacional de España.

(The view from my seat)

The musicians wandered onto the stage and tuned their instruments, and then the conductor, Pablo Heras-Casado, entered. My vantage point from behind the stage and on almost the same level as the musicians turned out to be exciting, because I could see the conductor’s motions and faces clearly. He was a very entertaining conductor to watch, appearing happy when lighter movements were played, and wild when the music intensified, winding up and throwing his arms in the direction of a musical hit or a cymbal crash. 
The first piece was composed by Anton Webern and included the entire orchestra. For the next piece, about half of the orchestra left the stage and Anne Gastinel, a cellist, took center stage, dressed in a long metallic silver jacket and an orange sweater. This piece (Concert for Cello and Orchestra in C Major, Hob. VIIb: 1) by Hayden contained some familiar melodies, including one that sounded vey similar to the melody from “Uptown Girl” (The music video is priceless). If you want to compare the melodies, click on the Hayden piece and scroll to the later half of minute 11.  
There was an intermission before the final piece, originally a fifty minute quartet with piano written by Brahms but arranged for orchestra by Arnold Schönberg. I was very impressed by the entire concert, and felt like I was appreciating classical music properly for the first time. I really feel like my vantage point from the choir section had a lot to do with my attitude— I felt like I was part of the performance, and, unlike previous times I’ve attended an orchestral performance, I didn’t feel tired at all. Being able to see the conductor clearly gave me insight and foresight to the performance— he was like a guide giving me directions on where the performance was going next. 
I’m looking forward to attending two more concerts this week (a piano concert and a Flamenco concert) at the same venue, and as always, buying last minute discounted tickets only sold to “jóvenes” (people under 26 years old). For around six euros a piece it’s hard to pass up such quality performances. 


Saturday, October 27, 2012


Two weeks ago I went to Cercedilla, a small town an hour by train from Madrid. It is a popular destination for madrileños because of its proximity and good hiking trails. After three weeks in the city, I was ready for some fresh air.

The temperature was perfect and the air was clean and crisp. I met a few other English teachers and we made our way to Los Miradores de los Poetas, an outlook with great views of the Fuenfría valley below and the Guadarrama mountains in the distance. 

Once at los Miradores, I began to see verses of poetry written on the rocks. Then I saw a metal box in a rock that declared there were books inside written by the Spanish poet Luis Rosales, who wrote poems about Cercedilla, and they were for passerby to read while they sat on the rocks. I looked inside and to my surprise I found a plastic box with papers and books inside. Unfortunately, there were no books by Rosales, but it was a nice thought nonetheless. 

(The box with books)

(The painter and the painted)

After a good rest, we continued the hike. We missed a turnoff somewhere along the way, and ended up on the Carretera de la República, a fortification used by the Republicans (the good guys) in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). 

Then we arrived at the Roman road, dating back to the 1st century. It descends from the mountains down into a valley. It eventually brought us back to where we had begun the hike. 

The missed turnoff was fortunate, because we were able to see much more than we had planned to see. The hike was around 10 miles, with great views, good exercise, and most importantly, fresh air. It's a great day trip from Madrid, especially if you need a break from cigarette smoke and exhaust. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cañizares — Flamenco Guitar Concert

     So there I was, sitting in my favorite café, at a different table than usual, when I glanced at the wall and saw a large poster advertising concerts at the Centro Nacional de Difusión Musical. I browsed the events to see if there were any I might be interested in attending. Then I saw the concert series titled "Andalucía Flamenca." Then I saw "Cañizares, guitarra flamenco." Then I saw the show was in an hour and a half. Then I went to the concert.
     An hour before the show, the box office opens up to sell "last minute" tickets to people under 26 years old. Lucky me. I bought a ticket for 6 euro and sat down to watch "Guitarra Solo Dúo Flamenco." The featured guitarist was Juan Manuel Cañizares, accompanied by Juan Carlos Gómez on second guitar. Cañizares, called the poet of the guitar, is a world-renouned guitarist from Spain. He represents ( I'm translating now from the concert agenda), the image of the contemporary flamenco artist, open and flexible, cultured and attentive to multiple influences of the best music in five continents— though above all, and as has been manifested many times, he is considered a flamenco guitarist. Cañizares has toured with flamenco legend Paco de Lucía, and is the only flamenco guitarist to have been invited by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra to interpret the Concierto de Aranjuez in a gala celebrated at the Teatro Real de Madrid, under the direction of Simon Rattle. He was also awarded the Premio Nacional de la Música in 2008 and has composed different works for the National Ballet of Spain. That is all to say, he is good at what he does.

(Juan Manuel Cañizares)

   The show itself was amazing. Cañizares played the first few songs my himself, after which Gómez, the second guitarist, joined him on stage. They were unbelievably tight, playing arpeggios, fast lines, and chords in perfect time with each other. Here's a link to a video that will give you an idea of what they did (except there were no drums at the show I attended), and here is a link to some videos on his website that give you an idea of the different types of songs that were played.
     They played everything from guajiras to tangos, ballads to rumbas. The show was varied in tempo and feel, and lasted for nearly an hour and a half. It was an inspiring and very, very humbling experience. These guys grew up with guitars in their hands and have not put them down. The things they can do require decades of dedication. This is not something a guitarist watches and thinks, "I could do that." They are on a level that makes one feel like going home to practice and also like going home to throw away one's guitar. Fortunately, I do not aspire to become a professional flamenco guitarist, so seeing the performance was not as crushing as it was uplifting to me.
     The concert series runs through May, with a show every month by different notable flamenco artists. I hope to go to most of them, and aside from that, the venue has many other types of concerts that I plan to attend in the coming months. It's nice to think about how a glance to your left at a café can have a lasting impact.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


     Two weeks ago I took a day trip to Cádiz from Sevilla. Cádiz is a peninsula, bordered on three sides by the Atlantic. It proudly claims to be the oldest city in Europe, having been founded around 1100BC by the Phoenicians. Since then, the city has been occupied by the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moors, and finally the Spanish in 711. The city's ports have been the sight of departure of many voyages to America, including Columbus'. The city's Golden Age was in the eighteenth century, when Cádiz practically had a monopoly on overseas trade. It was also the site of the first Spanish constitution, written in 1812.

(The entrance to the old part of the city, with statues of Hercules. Legend says that Hercules separated Europe from Africa and thus formed the straits of Gibraltar).

     I arrived in Cádiz on an overcast morning, eager to smell the saltwater air. The old part of the city, the only part worth visiting for historical reasons, is small and very walkable. 

I made my way to the Cathedral, which was begun in 1772 and completed in 1838 (relatively recent by Europe's standards). It's a beautiful cathedral, with a golden dome and high barrel-vaulted ceilings. It began to rain while I was walking there, so I decided to go in and sit down for a while Mass was held. 

     Next I went to one of the city's two castles, Castillo de San Sebastian, constructed in the 18th century. To get to it one walks down a long jetty, passing fishermen with 15ft long poles and no reels. It was interesting to think that I was looking for the first time from the other side of the Atlantic, in the direction of the United States. 

I continued my walk around the city, finding a couple of small parks with different types of trees, including some very, very old cypress trees. 

The rest of the day was spent walking around the city and admiring the ocean. It is a city full of history, which is important to experience, but for being surrounded by the ocean it felt a little stagnant. Maybe it was because I was alone, or because it was cloudy and raining, or because it is removed from the rest of the country with only one way out. Nevertheless, I am glad I went, though it is certainly a place to visit for only an afternoon.