Al mal tiempo, buena cara

I learned this expression this week. It literally translates to “to bad weather, good face,” but is about having a positive outlook in difficult situations. I wouldn’t say that I’m having struggles, but the weather here is kind of nasty right now. The last three or four days we’ve had highs in the low 60s and rain, with more rain in the forecast. I evidently acquired the weather tolerance of a Southern Californian pretty quickly, so it will be interesting to see how I’m able to re-acclimate once I get back to snowy, freezing Omaha and Boston.

Even though I’m not letting the mal tiempo get me down, I am thinking about putting on a buena cara with respect to my Spanish acquisition. I leave Spain in one month from today, and I still feel like there’s so much to learn. I continue to trip up on the smallest things, like using the wrong article (nouns are gendered in Spanish), choosing the wrong past tense form (there are three), or just conjugating incorrectly, not to mention the thousands upon thousands of words I have yet to learn. Despite feeling a bit pessimistic sometimes – how much can I really learn in a month? – I’m still working hard and trying to pick up what I can before heading back to the States.

I was hoping to learn more Spanish through my weekly volunteering at a local school, and I have; I can now name most of the organs involved in the circulatory, respiratory, and digestive systems and describe in the most of basic of terms the rotation of the earth.

What I hadn’t necessarily expected was to learn about English.

On Tuesday, while helping a class of third graders learn how to describe their homes, I posed questions such as, “Do you live in a house or a building?” and “Does your apartment have a balcony?” The students here learn British English. The difference hasn’t really been an issue, aside from on my first day when I spoke to a group of 14-year-old students in English who confessed to their teacher that they couldn’t understand me through my American accent. However, I thought I was familiar enough with British vocabulary to not have further problems. I can learn to say flat instead of apartment, I thought.

Well, did you know that British grammar is different? Instead of asking the students, “Does your apartment have a balcony?” I had to ask, “Has your flat got a balcony?” (Appropriate responses include “Yes, it has” and “No, it hasn’t.”) I’d always learned that “have got” is incorrect, but there it was in a textbook printed by the University of Cambridge Press and endorsed by the Cambridge English Language Assessment. The real trouble came later when I tried to ask, “How many bedrooms does your house have?” and struggled to form the sentence, “How many bedrooms has your house got?” It felt I was speaking another language. My stumble led to a conversation with the whole class about the differences between British and American English. Afterward, one girl confessed that she’d thought to herself, Ella ha confundido su propia lengua!

The weekend before last, the whole PRESHCO crew took a short trip to Granada, a city about a 2 hours’ drive south of Cordoba. Before I get into why Granada just might have broken into my top 3 Spanish cities, a bit of Spanish history that I’ve picked up from tour guides and in my classes:

Several groups ruled the Iberian Peninsula before the unification of the territory that is now Spain. First the Romans, who were replaced by the Gothics, then replaced by the Muslim territory of Al-Andalus. The Muslim conquest began in the year 711 and within seven years they had conquered almost the whole peninsula. Where was the capital of Al-Andalus, you ask? Córdoba. The Arabic influence is still all over the city, especially in the architecture (e.g., the Mezquita).

In 722, the Christians began the Reconquista and spent the next seven centuries conquering the same territory that the Muslims had conquered a decade earlier, but more than 100 times slower. The year 1492 is an important one in Spain: it was then that Granada was the last city to fall to the Christians, the Reyes Católicos (Fernando and Isabel here, Ferdinand and Isabella in English) unified the country, and soon thereafter sponsored the trip of a guy named Christopher Columbus who went on to “discover” America.

Fernando and Isabel considered the conquest of Granada their greatest achievement and chose to be buried there, so during our trip we got the chance to visit their mausoleum. The most famous site in Granada, though, is called the Alhambra, an ancient city within the city. We spent our first two hours after disembarking the bus exploring its beautiful gardens full of brightly colored flowers (and… cats?), its intricately decorated palaces, and its breathtaking views. I’ve decided that I want to live there and, once you see a few pictures, I bet you will too.

In the evening we went to the Saint Nicholas viewpoint and arrived just in time to watch the sun set behind the Alhambra. As I told my family later: I do a lot of reading and sometimes sunsets are described as looking like fire. Honestly, before that day I’d never looked at the sky and thought, That sunset, it really looks like the sky is on fire. But I think I sort of understand now. It was the prettiest thing, and I just wish the photos I snapped could do it justice.

The fun didn’t stop there, though. After walking around the city for a bit, all of PRESHCO went to a flamenco show. Flamenco dancing is very rhythmic – like tap dancing’s cool Spanish cousin, or something – so I was already excited, but I was blown away by how the dancers improvised to a live flamenco singer and guitarist. The show was an hour long, but I gladly would have stayed the rest of the night watching.

The Alhambra, a burning sky, and flamenco were all my favorite things ever, so I would have been impressed by Granada regardless, but I really did enjoy the feel of the city. I was reluctant to get on the bus to head back to Cordoba after only a bit more than 24 hours, but there’s more travel to come! Tomorrow I head to Toledo and Madrid for another short trip.

When I’m not traveling, I still spend my time in my culture and academic classes. My UCO classes haven’t exactly gotten easier, but they haven’t gotten harder, so I think that’s something. I’m still loving living with Fátima and José and exploring Córdoba when I get the chance. I’ve taken some more photos of the city, too (a few of them below).

Other updates and observations from the past two weeks:

  • I finished reading my first book completely in Spanish! I wish I could say it was something really sophisticated and impressive, but it was El Ladrón del Rayo (a.k.a., The Lightning Thief), my favorite book from my childhood. Still, it’s a milestone that I’m excited about!
  • In my sevillanas dance class we finished learning all four sevillana dances. We’re only three weeks away from our end-of-term performance….
  • I know I’ve already dedicated quite a bit of this post to writing about Granada, but I’m going to write more. About granada, that is, which is Spanish for pomegranate. I think I can count on one hand the number of pomegranates that I’ve eaten in the U.S., but here, there have been about 20 of them in my kitchen for the last two weeks and I probably eat one every other day. Love the Mediterranean climate and José’s campo!
  • I registered for my spring semester Wellesley classes last Wednesday. It was a weird reality check. Yes, there is Life After Cordoba.

I think a lot of us PRESHquitos have been thinking more and more about going home as it gets later in the semester and the novelty of being abroad has partially worn off. Last week I had a series of dreams about going home and I’ve started a list of all the things I want to do (and all the English media I want to consume) during my month off in a few weeks. I still don’t feel completely ready to go home, but I think I will be when the time comes.

But until then… wearing my buena cara. 😊

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