Saturday, July 28, 2012

Day 28 - The End

Technically I was not in Galicia for 28 days. That was the original plan. I was going to leave this morning to come to Madrid and meet Shawn. But there wasn't a train that would get me here on time, so I left last night at 10pm. So really it's only 27 Days in Galicia... but that just doesn't have the same ring to it!

As I have mentioned before and as you have probably gathered from my posts, I had a wonderful time in Galicia and would love to go back again. The goodbyes weren't easy, but we all know that we have to move forward and sometimes that means leaving things behind, sometimes even new friends. Luckily with 21st century technology it's easier to stay in touch.

A few more thank you's before I end this. Thanks to Jose del Valle who suggested that I apply for this program and who wrote me a wonderful recommendation letter that helped earn me a grant to attend. And thanks to Cheche who suggested that I could stay in one of the studio apartments that his family owns in Santiago. And thanks to his parents for being such wonderful hosts, I couldn't have asked for a better home away from home situation. And of course thanks to all of you who humored me and read this blog at least once in awhile! I know it wasn't always posted on time, but I did my best given my internet situation. It was nice knowing that people might be reading and it gave me an incentive to keep writing.

Hopefully you all learned something about Galicia and Galego culture, I know I certainly did!

Thanks! Gracias! Grazas!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Day 27 - "Graduation"

Today was the last day of my Galician language and culture class. We had a small ceremony at 12:00 for all of the 88 participants. The members of the Real Academia Galega were in attendance and each gave a speech regarding the pride that the program brings to the Galego community. After that they presented each student with a certificate of aptitude and a diploma of attendance. I have officially "passed" Galego I. If I wanted to attend the program a second time they would put me in the next level.

We signed Galego flags for our instructors
as a Thank You for all they did
To be honest I am pleased and impressed with the amount that I learned over the past four weeks and would especially like to that my instructors Eduard and Rosa. While Eduard had the job of teaching us the more academic and perhaps a little drier subject of theory, we wouldn't have been able to survive Rosa's class without knowing what he taught us. And Rosa's class just reinforced what we had learned with Eduard and showed us that we could, albeit with various errors, speak Galego.

Celebrating our accomplishments
It was a really great experience and I had the opportunity to meet many people from many different countries. Many of us had in common the fact that we spoke Spanish/Castellano before we came, but not all of us, and so it was Galego that kept us talking to each other. It may have been a sort of "Castelego" or mix of the two languages, but it was a great way to practice. Alina and Marina and I would keep each other in check making occasional corrections so we could improve. I would say that one of the things that got us often when we were speaking was using "y" for "and" instead of "e" in Galego.

My Galego certainly isn't perfect, but it's a heck of a lot better than it was a month ago and my experience in this country is something I could get nowhere else. I wouldn't trade it for anything. And a final thanks to Shawn for supporting me throughout this trip. It was strange to be without him for a month and I can't wait to see him tomorrow!

Day 26 - Food

I have always enjoyed Spanish food. Or at least that's how I remember it. When I was in Granada I thought I remembered liking most things. Now maybe the food in Granada is quite different from the food in Galicia and in Santiago, but it turns out, maybe it's not my favorite! Not that it's bad, don't get me wrong, and there are some specialties which are extra delicious (See Day 4 - Tarta de Santiago), but overall I like a little more variety and a few more vegetables in my diet!

For instance, take today's lunch. It is about as veggie heavy as any dish I could order in Santiago. I have a wedge of tortilla española with an "ensalada mixta." Ensalada mixta, or mixed salad, has lettuce, onions and two large wedges of tomato. There is another option which also includes pickled white asparagus and tuna, but that's about it.

I still do love a good Tortilla Española and order it quite frequently. If I choose something else, it usually involves pork, because most things involve pork. There is xamón serano, a kind of Prociutto-like ham; pork chops; zorza, which is the pork meat used to make sausage before it is ground up. They season it to make sure it's right for the sausage but then serve the pieces as well. It's tasty but a lot of meat if you don't have some veggies with it, which they don't. They usually serve it with just fries. I can think of a couple people I know who would love the food here!

Drinks are pretty tasty. You have your standard Sangria, your Licor 43 (best served with fresh squeezed oj or even with Fanta Naranja), as well as a Fanta by itself. This is better than Fanta in the US since it actually contains a bit of juice! They do have beer here, but generally just one type and it's pretty light. I found one place that served a dark beer in a bottle that was pretty good. And there is a Café Licor which is also pretty tasty. It's more of a sipping shot than anything, but yummy. Other than that it's water water water. And rarely for free, it's certainly not something that just comes with your meal anyway.

I certainly wouldn't say the food here is terrible, and some of it is still downright delicious, but it's a tough place for a vegetarian that's for sure. Good thing I'm not one. Although I do not like to eat most fish or seafood, and Galicia is definitely known for that. One thing that I do enjoy from that selection of foods is octopus. This is not to be confused with calamari like we have in the US. It is pieces of tentacles cooked in oil and served in the sizzling pan with a bit of paprika or chili powder on top (I'm not sure which, and I've heard both).

Other things that I have enjoyed while here come from the local panadaría, or bakery. They make amazing bread and delicious desserts. It's difficult to say no sometimes!

It's definitely worth trying some new things while you are here, and if you're a meat and potatos kind of person it's definitely the place for you. If you love seafood and fish you will also find many things to enjoy here. And if you love things cooked in lots of olive oil, then you will be in heaven. And there are fruits and vegetables to be found at the local markets so you can enjoy some of that at home if you live here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Day 25 - St. James Day

Crowds at the Praza do Obradoiro
The festivities began last night. A few friends and I decided to meet at 11:00pm since the “show” would start around 11:30 or so. Boy was that a mistake. We should have met up at 9:00pm to even think about getting a spot in the Praza do Obradoiro! We barely made it to the edge of the plaza but it wasn’t going to do us any good to be there since we would not be able to see the show. So we decided to walk up to the Alameda which offers an incredible view of the Cathedral from a higher elevation. We were of course not the only ones with this idea, and although the view was slightly obstructed it was better than what we had when we were down by the plaza and we were able to catch the show.

Obstructed view!!!
What exactly was the show? It consisted of a series of projections against the facade of the Cathedral. I believe that it was showing the history of the construction of the Cathedral throughout the centuries. There was even one very dramatic scene in which the Cathedral was burned down as a representation of what happened in 977 when the Muslim army raided and destroyed the building. This impressive projection show was followed by an elaborate fireworks display in which the fireworks were shot directly from the Cathedral itself, as well as the nearby Hostal Dos Reis Catolicos (More like a five star hotel!).

More crowds!
It was quite an elaborate show and it appeared as though the whole of Santiago came out to enjoy it. After the fireworks there was a concert near the Cathedral which we went over and checked out. A couple of the ladies stayed to hear the music but I and one other decided to head home since it was already after 1:00am. I am glad that I don’t live near the Cathedral as I’m sure not even my “tapones” or earplugs would have blocked out all of that noise! But I’m glad that I went so that I could see what it was all about.

This morning I took my time getting up and then headed to the Cathedral to see what there was to see. Apparently the king of Spain was attending mass and there were barriers preventing the passage of pedestrians from one side of the plaza to the other (well… not completely, there was a small section to pass through). I waited there with my camera ready but by noon mass had not ended and I was supposed to meet the ladies to see what there was to see. I had to leave the plaza.

When we returned they would not let me into the plaza with my backpack (the small orange one that serves as my purse), so I brought it home and switched to a smaller bag, but by the time I got back I had missed him. So there it is, my almost seeing a king story. Pretty lame, sorry.

As for what else there was to see, there was a carnival in the Alameda which had rides and games for people of all ages as well as lots of food and other things to buy. There was also a protest going on and lots of people out and about. Since it was a holiday the only people working were the people in the restaurants and the tourist shops around the Cathedral, but many people were in the different parks just enjoying the incredibly hot (but no complaints!) day – something we took advantage of as well. All in all it seemed like a pretty relaxing day to me, but who knows maybe there’s more to it that I missed. I would be interested to know, but wouldn’t necessarily trade my experience for it.

In the park
Fairly alarming... a sort of mechanical bull ride for children.
There were only young girls riding and they were trying to
get them to ride one handed...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Day 24 - Galego Music

As anyone who knows me realizes, I am not the musical one in my marriage. And that is an understatement! But Galego music can be pretty interesting. I have already talked a bit about the Gaita, and although it's not my personal favorite, it is quite unique as an instrument on the Peninsula. What makes it so unique, in my opinion is that it is an instrument generally associated with Scotland and the northern Celtic regions. But as I have mentioned before there is a large Celtic influence in Galicia and that of course includes the music of the region as well.

Pandeireta and Ferreña
This past Sunday, I visited the Museo do Pobo Galego and took a few pictures of some other typical Galego instruments including the Pandeireta and the Ferreñas, two instruments that I would generically categorize as tambourines but are perhaps a bit more unique than just that... I don't know, but I'm sure Shawn would. He even mentioned one of them by name when I told him that I had seen these particular instruments but did not remember the name of them at the time we were talking.


On Monday, our mid-day conference was on Galego music. It was a discussion lead by the Galician Folk artist, Uxía (you may recognize her name from the Duas Marias post) and her fellow musician Xoan. Not only did they discuss some of the history of the music as well as certain themes in the lyrics (cultural and language pride among others), but they also performed for us. And I really, really wanted to post a video for you to listen to, but I have been sitting here for a good half hour and it is not uploading... so I'll just have to leave you with a picture of the event... which is a real shame since it is difficult to appreciate the music without hearing it. If you go to youtube and look for Uxía, you will definitely find something. Try the following links to start:

Tua nai é meiga
Alalá das mariñas

Uxía and Xoan

If you are interested in music, I would highly recommend looking into more information than I could possibly give you on Galician music. From my few experiences I get the impression that it is a music that people are quite passionate about. It doesn't take much to get a song started and a dance going. This was proven today when we had our end of course picnic in Teo. People from different countries sang songs from their countries and the professors also decided to sing a song for the group. Their song resulted in a dance which you can see in the picture below. Once the music started it did not stop until we got on the bus. It was probably a good three hours of music all told. Maybe a bit much for me, but all of the Galegos, and many of the other students really seemed to enjoy it.
Galgeo Professors: singing and dancing

Day 23 - Why NOT Galego?

I started learning to speak Galego three weeks ago. There is a lot that I don’t know. But there is a lot I have learned so far. Grammatically speaking it is similar enough to Spanish that I am able to take educated guesses at some of the things I don’t know. I have the endings for my present tense, past tense(s), and future tenses. There is a lot of vocabulary that is the same as Spanish, but there is a lot that is different as well. For example, there are a lot more contractions in Galego than in Spanish (eg. de un – dun, en una – nunha), but once I figured out some of the rules, I realized that I could at least identify them when I read them!
Anyway, I’ve started to try and get brave. It was time to take my Spanish outside of the classroom and my small group of Galego learning friends. So I’ve started to try to speak Galego in restaurants and stores. It’s a curious Galego that is certainly not perfect, but a heck of a lot better than it was three weeks ago.

What are interesting to me are the reactions of the people in these restaurants and stores when I do speak Galego instead of Spanish. In many they seem to take it in stride, accepting that I am speaking their language and simply speaking it back to me. What else would I do?  In others there is a distinct reaction to my choice of Galego over Spanish. These individuals clearly recognize that I am not from around here but rather that I am a visitor. And they get excited!

The two women in the fruit and veggie shop that I have been frequenting were clearly enthusiastic that I wanted to learn their language and asked how my experiences had been so far. It was nice to see such a positive reaction.

Yesterday in one of the souvenir shops, the guy who was helping me sort of raised his eyebrow as though he was not 100% sure that I had just spoken Galego (who knows… I wasn’t 100% sure if I had!). I saw his look and said that yes I was speaking Galego and that I was part of the summer program where we were learning the language. His reaction was a little bit different, although he did continue to speak to me in Galego. He wanted to know why. Why would I choose to study a language that was not considered a global language but rather a regional one. My answer was, Why not?

If languages are going to continue to thrive or at least survive, it certainly doesn’t hurt that outsiders want to learn them. I want to learn the language for cultural reasons. No, I don’t see myself speaking a lot of Galego in the United States, but who knows. I do however see myself reading more of the incredible literature that comes out of this region and is not always translated. I see myself researching the history of emigration from Galicia to Cuba and perhaps encountering documents in Galego. It is a useful language on many levels and hey, it’s cool to say that I can speak a language that some people don’t even know exists!

Day 22 - Where did all the Galegos go?

One thing I am frequently struck by is the number of abandoned houses in Galicia. They seem to be everywhere. Some of them seem to be recently empty, while others have been empty so long that they no longer have roofs or even interiors in some cases. Many of them have “For Sale” signs on them, but many of them just seem to fade into the background.
There are many reasons why people moved away from these homes. Emigration has been a part of Galego history for many, many years. They have left for economic and political reasons, and they have gone to places like Argentina, Cuba, France, Germany, and even just other parts of Spain. In fact, there are so many Galician immigrants in Buenos Aires that it is considered the “largest city in Galicia.”

Some of them left with the intention of returning and were never able to; some left family here that later had to move on or passed away. Some may even still come and go depending on the season, or at least that is their intention. Some of them may have even tried to sell the houses (and in some cases are still trying) and were unsuccessful.

It is a terrible shame; this is probably one of the most beautiful areas of Spain that I have seen. I of course have a special place in my heart for Granada, and Barcelona is artistically unmatchable, but when it comes to the weather and the natural surroundings, I think Galicia has to take the prize. If I won the lottery I would definitely consider buying one of these houses!

Unfortunately, when the economy hits hard, it hits extra hard here, and as a result many people feel the strain and need to move to where there are more opportunities. There may be a handful of individuals who are able to move here and create a new life, but there are very few who immigrate from the exterior to live in Galicia for good.

There is no easy fix for this problem. I only hope that people are able to create opportunities to stay here. It would be a shame to leave this if it were my home.

Day 21 - A Costa da Morte

Galego words: Costa – coast, Morte - death

Saturday was another day long excursion by bus. We left around 8:30 in the morning and headed toward the Costa da Morte (see map!). Our destinations included Muros, Carnota, Fisterra, Muxía, and Dombate, but we definitely made more than five stops!

In Muros, we stopped in and checked out one of the churches. And maybe it’s just me, but I feel that most of the churches around here pretty much look the same. There are some cool architectural features and lots of eerie statues and things, but each church is pretty much shaped the same way and those statues look an awful lot alike to me.

Our second destination was Carnota and here we saw a Galician cemetery. This may sound like a strange destination but I found it interesting because it cleared up some of the things that I didn’t understand about the abandoned cemetery turned into a park in Santiago. We also saw what is called a “hórreo,” or a Galego storage house for grain. These storage houses are built of granite and are elevated from the ground on legs which have a sort of circular plate on top of them. This is to prevent mice from entering the granary. The one that we stopped to visit in Carnota is apparently tied for the longest structure of its kind in Galicia. 

After this we headed to Fisterra which was known historically as the furthest point west in the known world before the European discovery of the Americas. It was interesting to imagine how it would have felt to be standing there and thinking that there was no land further west of this point. Looking around all you can see is ocean, but it must be quite different since now we know that there is something on the other side of that ocean.

In Muxía, we stopped and had lunch and even had a few minutes to dip our feet into the Atlantic Ocean. Now I can say that I have been in both sides of the Atlantic! We also went to the lighthouse and church that are located nearby. We were told to be extremely careful here since swimming in this section of the Costa da Morte is somewhat connected with how it got its name. Here we were able to take some nice group shots of the majority of the students in this year’s Curso de Veran, or summer course here in Galicia.

The last official stop on our tour was Dombate. It is here that there is an actual “dolmen” or burial chamber from the inhabitants of the area from over 6,000 years ago. There are actually two chambers at this location that are on display. One is a recreation, but the other is the actual burial chamber. It is covered by a modern building in order to protect it from further erosion, but it is still quite impressive.

 We did make one last stop after Dombate, and it was the stop I was most looking forward to. In Borneiro, only a couple of miles away, if that, we stopped to see the Castro de Borneiro. A castro is where pre-roman Galegos lived thousands of years ago. What remains are the bases of these homes and communities in the form of stone circles. The deepest structure at this location was maybe four feet tall, but you can still get the idea of the form of the house as well as the close proximity in which the community lived. It is unknown what the different uses of the buildings were, but it is believed that while they lived in some of them, they also housed their animals in others. It was fascinating to think about what it would have been like to live in Galicia at that time, but it is even more fascinating to see the remains of that society as you stand in the middle of it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Day 20 - The Tourist Train

The 6 Euro Tourist Train
The other day I planned to go to the library only to find out that they had recently changed their hours and were now closed for the day at 2pm. As I left I was trying to decide what to do with the extra time I now had on my hands. Sure, I could have gone back to my apartment and studied, or even worked on the editing of a paper I plan on submitting for presentation in the fall... but it was a beautiful and warm day for once and I didn't want to miss out.

As I was walking through the Praza do Obradoiro, thinking about where I would go, I saw my answer. That silly little tourist train that I kept seeing throughout the city was parked right in front of the Cathedral. It was preparing to set off on another one of its hourly tours and I thought, "What the heck?" and bought a ticket.

For 6 euros the train will take you on a narrated tour of Santiago in both Spanish and English. It points out many interesting sites along the way and even gives a bit of history and background these places. It's a pretty relaxing way to see different parts of the city.

However, if I were writing a travel guide and decided to mention this particular attraction, I wouldn't recommend it for most people. If you have trouble walking around but would still like a little insight to certain parts of Santiago, then this is for you. But if you are able to walk even a modest distance or you are particularly interested in the older part of the city, I would skip it.

A so-so shot of the Cathedral

The train itself is long and I am assuming that is why it does not travel to the inner area where the older structures are. Or perhaps the tour believes that people will have walked through there already and just want to see the outer edges of the city. And it's not that the information here isn't interesting, it is; or that you don't see things you normally wouldn't see, you do. It's just that it's really hard to get a good view of these things as the train moves along. Also, if you only understand English, you may struggle a bit to understand the guide or receive an abridged version of the Spanish information. And you may even have missed the site that is being described since it can be difficult for the guide to repeat the information in time.

I have included some of the "pictures" that I took during the tour. As you can probably tell, taking pictures of the sites is not always easy either. All in all, I'd probably give the tourist train 2 stars out of 5. One for taking you to places you might not see and the other for providing an attraction to those who do not wish to or are not able to walk around much.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Day 19 - La Catedral (part 2)

Galego word of the day: As cubertas - the covers

So, I've been in the Cathedral, I've seen the musuem, and I have been up on the roof of the Cathedral as well. The only thing on my checklist that I have not done is go behind the High Altar and see St. James himself. I have already written about going inside the Cathedral and I even talked about some of the things inside the museum, but yesterday was the first time I was able to go on the roof of the Cathedral.

That's right. The roof. Known as "As cubertas" or the covers, the roof of the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela is made completely of granite and as such, it is possible to take a tour of this area of the Cathedral (10 Euros, or 8 in a large group). Even if you have a little bit of a fear of heights, I would recommend this tour. It's pretty informative and gives amazing views as you can see from the pictures.

So why is the roof made of granite? Apparently it was made to protect the Cathedral from further attacks which it had suffered earlier on in history. A stone roof would not burn the way a wooden or straw roof would and it also allowed access to the roof to watch for potential attacks. This was a brilliant defense plan that has helped increase income from tourism to the Cathedral in recent times.