Saturday, 31 December 2011

Reflexiones y Prepósitos


It wouldn't be New Year's Eve without the obligatory resolutions and reflections on what you've done over the last 12 months, so here they are.

Come to think about it, 2011 has been possibly the best and most exciting year of my life. There have been some big milestones, such as finishing my dissertation (on judicial activism in the age of terrorism if you're at all interested), graduating, spending two months in Nepal and moving to Spain to start my first 'proper' job. I've also had the chance to get to know some amazing new people and share fantastic news with some of my oldest friends, two of whom have just got engaged!

Put simply, 2011 was a year of feeling the fear and doing it anyway. It's been a year of saying 'yes' to things I wouldn't usually say 'yes' to and it's worked out pretty well. I hope to live 2012 in a similar way. I do, of course, have a few resolutions for next year though:

Stop bloody worrying so much.

I've always been a bit of a worrier. I thought I was finally waving goodbye to worries and fears when I moved to Spain, but that now my circle of friends are starting to acquire grown-up jobs, mortgages and fiancés, I occasionally seize up with terror that I don't know exactly where I want to be or what I want to be doing.  'And dear God', I think, 'maybe soon I'll become one of those lonely, crazy cat ladies.'  This is exacerbated by the fact that I don't even really like cats all that much.

In the book I've just read, there was a character who is full of worries about everything from what she's going to wear tomorrow to how to eradicate world poverty. When I identified with her agonising over the correct way to sign off an email, I realised that it was time to chill out a bit.

The point was driven home in a lovely passage where a friend / lover / man who is very bad at punctuation writes her a letter that amused and reassured me:

    'I know that you feel a little bit lost right now about what to do with your life, a bit rudderless and oarless but that's okay that's alright because we're all meant to be like that at twenty four... I certainly don't have a master plan I know you think I've got it all sorted out I haven't I worry too I just don't worry about the dole and housing benefit and the future of the Labour Party and where I'm going to be in twenty years' time and how Mr. Mandela is adjusting to freedom.'
Be less 'permissive.'

The word 'permisiva' is a term that my flatmate came up with to describe me. Definition: 'habitually or characteristically accepting or tolerant.' But not in a nice, easy going way – it's more of a 'do/say whatever you like to me and I'll just sit back and take it because I'm very non-confrontational' way. Sadly, I think she makes an excellent point, so next year I'm going to be a bit more 'inpermisiva'... or whatever the opposite of 'permisiva' actually is.

Keep learning.

I'm aware this will sound immensely sad, but looking back on the last year, some of my happiest days were spent holed up in a library with my head stuck in a copy of Human Rights Law Review or International and Comparative Law Quarterly. I probably didn't appreciate this enough when I was at uni, but I love  getting my head around theories, constructing arguments and applying the law to real life situations. So more of that when the teaching's over, por favor.

But while the teaching continues, I resolve to keep up my language learning. After all, I have only five more months to stop making senseless gramatical errors in Spanish!  

And then after those five months... I don't know.  But I'm not going to worry about it.

¡Feliz año nuevo a todos!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Más regalos!


Before I go home for Christmas tomorrow, I would just like to reiterate how AMAZINGLY LOVELY everyone here is.  In the last week, I have acquired yet more gifts, including bottle of reserva from one of my students, a keyring from a barman who likes my accent (I know a keyring's not very exciting, but we might as well count it) and a big box of traditionally Riojan sweets from the mother of two of my students.  The wine and sweets are now in my case so I can take a taste of La Rioja home with me :)

Come to think of it, wine and sweets are about all that is in my case.  I might have to wear the same outfit every day for a fortnight, but at least I'll have a glass of Campo Viejo in one hand and turrón in the other!

Anyway, I have to get up at 6am tomorrow for 13 solid hours of sitting on buses and planes and hanging about airports.  It's definitely bedtime.

Buenas noches España, hasta pronto!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

La enseñanza


So despite the fact that I came to Spain to teach, I haven't really written anything about how I'm getting on in the school yet. The reason is that I thought that with time I'd be able to gauge if things were going well or not, but to be honest, I'm still trying to figure out what a good teacher actually is.

Is a good teacher strict or lenient? Should classes be fun or serious? Should a language teacher focus more on grammar than on speaking and understanding? Is a good teacher open and personable or do they cultivate an air of mystery?

The response, as I'm finding, is that there is no set answer to these questions. Even when I myself was in high school, there were teachers who had very different approaches to their classes, but who excelled in their profession in their own ways. The common thread was that they were all passionate about their subject and wanted to transmit that enthusiasm to a new generation.

When I think about it, I owe a lot to my old French teacher for making me as interested in travelling and language learning as I am today. I swear to you, I took the decision that I was going to learn French and Spanish and live in both France and Spain when I was 11 years old. And it was all because I was mesmerised by the fact that my teacher could speak three languages fluently and was full of anecdotes about time spent living abroad.

When I think about what kind of a teacher I am, I can recognise both my strong points and flaws. On the plus side, I genuinely want my pupils enjoy my classes, to be enthusiastic about learning English and to be able to communicate. On the other hand though, I think I'm a bit too tolerant of less than perfect behaviour because I want all of the kids to be on my side.  It is, of course, very easy to exploit a friendly, likeable teacher and turn lessons into a farce, whereas a teacher who is hard on pupils pushes them to learn more and is essentially more effective.

So at the moment, I'm trying to find a happy medium between strict and lenient. This entails trying to perfect a stern, teachery tone to use with problem pupils, but it's difficult because I don't have a bad temper and hate raising my voice to anyone. The last time I gave someone a proper row in my class*, I had an uncontrollable urge to burst into an fit of giggles, but luckily he looked at me as if I'd just killed his dog and I regained my composure.

*  It went a little something like this:
* pupil who has written one line of given task is laying across his desk*
Me: Pupil, please take your head off your desk and complete your work.
* pupil raises head momentarily and then puts it back on the desk when I turn around *
Me: Get your head off the desk.
*pupil does as before *
Me: Head. Off. The. Desk.
Pupil: But I'm tired, miss.
Me: We are all tired. I'm tired too. But do you see me lying across a table with my eyes shut? No, you don't. Because this is a SCHOOL, not a bedroom. NOW GET YOUR HEAD UP OFF OF THAT DESK RIGHT NOW OR GET OUT!

Love for teachers: - A nice bit of slam poetry about 'What Teachers Make.'
I'll even let him away with hating on law school...

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Hoy en clase...


I was doing a listening exercise with the song 'We Found Love' by Rihanna.  Filling in the gaps of missing words produced some interesting results...

Yellow time in the light
Now we're standing side by side
As your shower crosses mine
What it takes to come alive

It's the way I'm feeling
I just can't drive
But I gotta let it go.

(The correct version can be found here: !)

The best part, though, was when I asked them to translate the phrase: 'It's like you're screaming.'  One boy raised his hand and proudly stated:  'A mí, me gustan los helados.'  ('I like ice cream'!!)

Thursday, 8 December 2011

La Laurel


I've just been asked a very interesting question: 'What's your favourite street in the world?'

Until I moved to Logroño, I'd probably have been tempted to say something clichéd like La Rambla in Barcelona or the Champs Elysées in Paris, but now I have a proper answer: La Calle Del Laurel.

This street, or the 'Senda de Los Elephantes' as it's colloquially known, is the perfect place to go with friends to chat, eat and drink. Its 16 metres are jam packed full of pincho bars, each of which specialises in a different kind of ABSOLUTELY DECLICIOUS food. There are too many bars to tell you about them all, but Blanco y Negro and Bar Soriano deserve a special mention. The former does a pincho of melted goats' cheese, ham and rasperry jam on fresh bread, and the latter's specialty is champiñones smothered in garlic butter. Yum.
You really have to try these to appreciate how good they are.   Let's just say that the owner  has been selling them like hot cakes for over 30 years.

But it's not only because of the food that I love this street. It's one of the first places I came when I moved here and it me feel like I'd truly arrived in Spain. Not gimmicky, touristy Spain, full of overpriced sangria and bravas, but a place where I could get the full cultural experience.

La Laurel by night.  In my mind, the reason referred to as 'The Elephant
Trail'  is because you'll probably be as big as one by the time
you've finished eating in all the bars!  However, a Spanish friend reliably
informs me it's because 'coger una trompa' (literally 'to catch a trunk')
means to get hammered!

The street at night buzzes with energy and is full of people of all ages (including children – it's still slightly strange for me to see infants toddling around bars at midnight!) out for a good time. Unlike in Scotland, this doesn't mean getting outrageously drunk and stumbling home when you can't handle any more – it means savouring your food and your glass of wine and enjoying the company that you're in.

Great company and some of Soriano's famous mushrooms!
Also, since Logroño is such a small city, I almost always meet someone I know as I wander along this wonderful pincho trail. I'd never have imagined this would be the case when I first set foot in Laurel two months ago, knowing no-one and only capable of ordering food through the universal language of  pointing...

I'm not the only fan of this great street,
one of its bars has a place where people
can leave a photo in homage to it!
Many have obliged...
I will surely join them when I have a passport photo to hand,
but for the moment, a picture of me in front of the board will have to suffice!
              Anyone who's interested can find a guide to the street here:
(Yes, that's correct, La Laurel even has its own website)

Friday, 2 December 2011

Regalos de Logroño


So since receiving the free bottle of zurracapote the other week, I've managed to blag some more freebies simply by virtue of being a guiri.  

Por ejemplo:

1)  When I went to the supermarket and my flatmate told the cashier that I'd never tried the sweet in my basket (polvoron), I was told to take it for free.

2)  When I went out for pinchos last night, the owner of the bar I was in kept giving my friends and I plates of different meats to try.  He also taught us the expression 'culo veo, culo quiero' (literally, 'I see ass, I want ass!'), which you can say when your friend orders food which looks so good that you need to order it yourself.

3)  Somehow, I've struck up a weird kind of friendship with the bus driver who takes me to work.  It's surprising since all of his conversation starters only include one word.... the first time he spoke to me, all he said was 'Rusa?' ('Russian?') and the second time, it was was 'profesora?' ('teacher?')  So yesterday I got on the bus and he gave me a book with parallel text in English and Spanish.  Bless him.