Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jo Parla Catala!

Well, not really, but I’ve started to learn, and that is important too.

In my class there are people from Somalia, Bolivia, Czech Republic, Afghanistan, Ecuador, Argentina, Columbia, Morocco, Philippines and Spain. Yes. There’s a young girl in our class from Spain and she’s learning Catalan too.

I asked the Spanish speakers why they were learning Catalan, when everyone could understand them anyway. They said, ‘Because we live here.’ Its not a matter of being understood or understanding. By learning Catalan we make a commitment to belonging to our new home.
I have been an English teacher for ten years. I know people complain that English is difficult. Some problems with the English language include pronunciation. Like ‘they were too close to the door to close it.’ The pronunciation of ‘close’ changes depending on its meaning.  The meanings of words may not mean what you think. For example ‘quicksand’ is not quick at all and boxing rings are square.

Catalan is both familiar and very complex for an English speaker. There are some words that are similar to both languages, like  patate/potato, llac/lake, oli/oil. However, the question I ask you is, why do that to your verbs? Why make it so difficult?

And why does a plant have to be a male or female? It doesn’t make any sense to me and just makes it harder to learn. It’s a new word and a gender. La mare is the mother. El pare is the father. We know, without doubt, that she’s a she and he’s a he. And then, the mothers turns into les mares. !!!???


I know what you are going to say – ‘because that’s the way it is.’ I understand.
I have a confession to make. When my best English student says ‘but it doesn’t make any sense.’ I say ‘look, it doesn’t have to make sense. You just have to learn it. Monkey see, monkey do.’  Looks like I’m the new monkey in town.

 Originally posted in Revista del valles.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Culture Abounds

Every week I am surprised by the little gems the Oriental de Valle holds within her landscape. History lies behind every stone. Stories and traditions unfold like an intricately designed tapestry. I can not help but be intrigued by the depth, the layers and the details.

This week I discovered dolmens and went to visit the one on the black mountain.  I have seen pictures of dolmens before, but I did not know what they were called, or that they were so prevalent in the Mediterranean area.

I am aware that this dolmen may sound rather dull to you, dear reader. You’ve probably ‘been there and done that’ and went on to more spectacular outings. However, for me, this dolmen is not just ‘one of many’ that exist in the area, but a symbol of continuity, common ground and humanity before the lines of countries were printed into text books. Dolmen have been found in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The aboriginals of Australia were nomadic people. The had no need to cultivate lands or build homes that lasted the seasons. We have cave paintings and relics of hunter gather civilisations.  The Romans never touched our shores. The Vikings, the Celts, the Goths – these were European stories told in schools when I was a child.

We had suburbs and malls, cricket pitches and story books full of places that snowed at Christmas and talked of far off places like Spain.

Thirty years later, I sit here, dwelling in the lands many of the stories of my childhood were built upon.

The dolmen remind us we are people who have continued to evolve, recreate themselves and adapt to the new circumstances. In these days of mass migration, of peoples of all regions coming together, it is rewarding to look back and see the commons in our human development.
As always, I send you thanks for being here. Thanks for taking me into the design of the great mosaic of Catalonia.

Originally posted in Revista del Valles 

Fabulous Food

Olive oil! Salt! Tomatoes! Bread!
What more can we ask for?
I laughed a when I first understood the expression ‘patomaquet’. Bread and tomato? That’s the typical dish of the area?
I was unprepared for the serious and staunch pride of this simple Catalan fare by its people.
‘si, si patomaquet!’
When I first saw people pouring olive oil onto their bread, I was quite literally horrified. In Australia, we’ve been well tutored in the risks of cholesterol and heart disease and we use a table spoon of oil to cook with. 

Here, you pour olive oil with indulgence and some sort of innate knowledge of the ‘right’ amount.
I grew up with plain British traditions and was often served ‘meat and two veg’. This means dinner was a lamb chop and two sorts of vegetables, one of them green and the other a potato.
In the 1990’s there was, at some levels of our society, a kick away from the traditions and a movement towards embracing the different cultures Australia had attracted. The Mediterranean one included.

The Mediterranean diet has been happily modified for the Australian palate. We drink more wine, we drink more coffee and we love our three p’s – Pasta, Pizza and Paella.
But again, the ‘real’ thing is not quite the same as it was back home.
For one thing, your olive oil tastes really really good. The friends I told you about last time, they were ‘ohhhing’ and ‘aaahhhing’ in a most embarrassing way every time they put something in their mouths.

The smell of olive oil is addictive.
Then you add a little salt, garlic, put it all onto a slice of white farm style bread. Place a few slices of juicy tomato on top! Ohhh! It looks like Australia is ready to add another P to our favourites – Patomaquet!

Originally published in Revista del Valles

Autumn in Granollers

Well, here we are.  Its well and truly Autumn. There is a collective sigh going around.  The days are getting shorter and we don’t have to get up at ungodly hours to see the sunrise.  Its pink in the sky at 7.30. A respectable time for the sun to rise.

People are starting to wear darker colours and orange is coming out of the closet.  Young people are getting caught at 8 in the evening in just a singlet while their arms change colour from the cold air.  Pumpkins are decorating some shops and there is a strange dried vegetable for sale in some bakeries. I asked what it was and discovered it was  a moniato. Ahh, that makes it clearer. Lucky for me I’m in the age of google. This vegetable goes under the name of ‘sweet potato’ in English speaking countries.  I love sweet potato with a bit of butter.
That reminds me, while you drip olive oil on everything that is going into your mouth, we (people from countries of old British rule) smother our food in butter. Butter made from a cow. My parents used to use ‘dripping’. Dripping is the hardened fat derived from slow oven cooked meat. They used to eat bread and dripping.

In Australia, the days of full fat butter have turned into days of olive oil margarine, or sun flower oil spread. Its not quite the same. All in the name of healthier eating habits. I’m sure things for you have changed too, but you are still dripping olive oil on everything and eating chocolate and croissants for breakfast, just like your parents.

We’re not quite into the swing of the colder and darker weather yet. There’s a feeling of resistance in the body to adapt to change. Yes, we’re happy that the sun is not so strong, but its not quite cold enough for our favourite winter jacket or to pull out the big cosy blanket for the sofa.

Autumn is a season for change. We have two and a half months left before the end of the year. Do you remember your New Year Resolutions? Its never too late to get back up on the horse you know. I’ve promised myself to learn how to make a great cake, to eat dried moniato and speak enough Catalan that I will confidently say ‘jo’ when someone asks who is the last one. What are you going to do, in this season of change?

Originally published in Revista del Valles

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hugs and Kisses

Last month my son started school here in Granollers. He is learning Catalan. However, the language is only half of the journey into understanding another culture.

We are both struggling with verbs, pronunciation and  trying to remember the masculine or feminine of your nouns. We say ‘the’ and you say ‘la’, ‘el’, l’, ‘les’, ‘els’. That’s the easy part.

The difficult part is getting used to the high emotional tone of some of the people here. Casual conversation sounds like an argument. ‘What are those people arguing about?’ I ask. ‘Oh, nothing. They are discussing the weather.’ Oh.

People here generally greet each other with two kisses. If I offer my hand for a handshake, some people are offended and force me into a hug and pressing of cheeks and kisses that sound in the air and is felt sometimes upon my cheek.

Affectionate displays are not so common in Australia. Men do not usually kiss each other. The closest Australian men get to close physical contact is a hard slap on the shoulder and a manly ‘G’day mate.’
I remember watching the soccer/football in Australia and being surprised by the hugging and close physical contact of the players.

My son is also experiencing difficulties in accepting the physical approach of other students at his school.  He asks why the other students keep hugging him, patting him and generally touching him. I try to explain that it’s a different culture, that people are very physical here and demonstrative.

In actually fact, I think it’s a healthy change in our lives. I think something that was missing from my childhood, was the comfort and caring of friendly physical touch. I was very happy to see the other children coming and embracing my son at school. He shrunk into his body, but I think with some practice he will improve. He’ll get used to hugs and touch and be able to receive the kindness for what its intended. As a sign of affection and comfort.

In the spirit of positive cross cultural exchanges – un abracada!

 Originally posted in the Revista del Valles 

‘Caganer in Cagalunya’

There is a Christmas Market in the Porxada selling decorations for the festive season. My son wants to build a little nativity scene. We have never done this before.  He is very interested in the Romans.

While we were admiring the little statues of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and toga draped Romans, we also came across a little man with his pants down squatting in a most surprising position. We discovered the ‘pooper’, or as he is named on the internet, the Caganer.
Truly, to the uninitiated, it’s a shocking thing to see amongst the wise men, shining stars and angels.

A traditional Catalan caganer from the front.

It seems the custom started in the 17th century, but nobody seems to know why it started or why it is still popular today. Now it is part of the Catalan tradition, and can also be found in other parts of Spain and in Portugal and Italy.

Coming from a reserved and rather dry British culture, it’s hard for me to see the humour in such a thing. I can only surmise it was an act of resistance, the same way the Catalans are symbolised by the donkey, instead of the bull as of other parts of Spain.

However, from all accounts, the Catalans are practical, pragmatic people who like do not like to stand on ceremony. They are straight forward, to the point and say things like  "menja bé, caga fort i no tinguis por a la mort!" (Which was translated as Eat well, shit strong and don't be afraid of death!)

If I think more along these lines, I must say I was also shocked when I first heard people swear  by defecation on God, Mother Mary and Jesus  in what seems to be the most disrespectful way to my ears.

I have also heard that you beat a ‘poo log’ for presents at Christmas time?

My son came home from school the other day laughing and saying ‘Cagalunya’. At first, I told him that this was disrespectful, but after further consideration, and all the pooping going on, maybe its not such an ill fitting name after all. 

Originally posted in the Revista del Valles

Image thanks to Wikipedia

Monday, November 23, 2009

Canyelles in November

This weekend we went to the beach apartment. I don't remember being there in the Autumn before, but the thought of going to the beach was irresistible.

Below is the view behind the apartment. We're on the third floor. Most of the coves on the Costa Brava were totally destroyed by over development in the 60's and 70's.

We are lucky, because this cove has only one side that is developed. The other is privately owned.

Below is the view from the apartment, as seen in the evening on Friday when we arrived.

Below us are car parks (the area is totally full in the summer) and a restaurant with a kiosk and a playground. On the other side (the right) is a little marina. At night time, we can hear the gentle waves crashing against the shore.

Below is the living/dining room and Jett sweeping on Saturday morning. There is a nice little balcony here.

The restaurant is on the left, the apartments on the right. The beach - straight ahead!

Canyelles Cove

Some bricks for Lizzy.

Some little fruits I saw growing. Everything changes so much in the Autumn.

Below - the Catalan Flag

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Goodbye Summer

Our first Granollian Summer has been and gone and Autumn is pushing in with rain and a cool breeze. These moments of transition, when the familiar one is still with us, but the entrance of the new can not be denied, bring me into a state of contemplation.

August was a barren month! There were hardly any cars on the roads and the Porxarda was quiet except for pigeons and a grandfather dozing under a tree. The shops closed, people left for their summer vacations and even the famous chips shop locked its doors. 

Granollers was like a baking oven. Sun beating down from above and the hot concrete cooking us from below.  Someone said there would be the blessings of rain, but I didn’t see much of it. I drank my first claro. I ordered ‘clara’ accidentally, but we managed to fix that naughty vowel. We call the drink a shandy in Australian English.

I had a busy summer with visitors from Norway and Italy coming to visit famous ‘Barcelona’ and I had started a beginners intensive Catalan course. I complained that it was too difficult, and the teacher explained that’s why it’s called ‘intensive’, with an expressive shrug of the shoulders. So much for sympathy.

It was my first festa major also. Wow. I hardly slept and it seems nobody who stayed in the town did either. You knew what to expect, but I! How innocent! People had said there would be activities all day, but I had no idea that there would be so many people. The town did an excellent job in cleaning everything up every day to start the new festivities all over again. Granollers was well organised and  had people coming from all over the place to see what the ‘fok’ was about.

Goodbye Summer. See you again next year.

 Originally posted in Revista del Valles 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bricks from Montblanc

This is a post especially for brick lovers - in particular Elizabeth. I must extend a warm and heart felt thanks for showing me the beauty of the brick. And now, I'm sure, part of me will always see the world with a shade of Lizzy's love of bricks.

The above is a brick play ground. While all the other kids are on the swings, you could examine the different bricks! :)

This little girl is fantastic - holding that ugly thing like it was beautiful. How to see with the heart!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Catalonia, past and present

Part One

Just touching lightly on a huge topic.

Catalonia has not yet come into her own. She is blooming after the repression of the Franco years and the introduction of Spain into the European community, but she is still shaking off the hold of Spanish rule and bucking at the new people coming to live amongst her people.

There is insistence of speaking the Catalan language, of waving the Catalan flag, of protecting the Catalan culture, and yet, it seems, she is reacting against her past and not resonating with the prosperity of her present.

When we were travelling to and from Australia, people asked Albert where he was from. He would say ‘Spain.’ They would say, ‘Madrid?’ He would say ‘No, Barcelona.’ There would be a great smile and warmth and the word ‘Catalonia?’ and, no matter how many times we had this conversation, we would be amazed that people knew the difference.

Obviously, the soccer team, Barça has helped sell the awareness of Catalonia to soccer watching nations. However, Barcelona as a city, has become a by word in cultural cool. Its sexy, its charming, its hot, it has everything a traveller is looking for. The Costa Brava is near by, the Pyrenees is over the hill, and the food is to die for.

So, the world knows about you. They know you exist. They know you are not the same as Spain. They see you as a most beautiful, charming and wonderful place. With something unique to offer the world.

Now its time for you, Catalonia, to accept your position as a jewel in the crown of the world.

Cleaning the Cupboard

I have trouble cleaning. Sometimes. It kind of creeps up on me and suddenly there are little dust bunnies and little spills on the floor and dust piling on surfaces.

I usually wait until I can’t stand it anymore and then I do a BIG clean. It can take hours.

Since moving to this apartment, I’ve been pretty consistent, however, I needed some motivation. I asked my friend to e mail me every time she cleans something. Well, not sweeping the floors or doing the dishes, but everything else.

I have a schedule up too, on my computer, of all the little jobs I’m suppose to do. I’m a big list maker. Some days I do it, and some days I don’t.

Anyway – as a commitment to cleaning, and a commitment to letting my friend help me, I took a photo of before and after I cleaned the kitchen cupboard.

The other thing too, is I don’t have a feel for where things should go. I have trouble knowing if I should put the bread over near the tea, or with the biscuits. If someone has some tips, or would like to come over and sort it all for me – you are very welcome.

Making a home. Through the clean and the unclean times.