Spanish Halloween

One thing which has really surprised me since coming to Spain is how excited people seem to be about Halloween. A few weeks ago, I noticed isolated decorations appearing in shop windows, but by Thursday¬†almost every store in my neighbourhood seemed to have been gripped by the fever (including the gluten free cafe, which had these cool cupcakes that I simply HAD to try ūüėČ ).

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How I suffer for my art!

My school was not immune to the collective fervour, and for the past two weeks, all attention has been focused on the annual Halloween fiesta. From what I can gather, this fiesta seems to follow the same rules every year, namely:

1. Each class participates in the Best Decorated Pumpkin Competition, which involves the students (or, more often than not, the language assistants like me) painting a pumpkin as some kind of character. This year, there was The Joker and M & Ms (for Monica and Mari Carmen, the two Year 4 teachers).

2. It is compulsory for every teacher to decorate their doors in the appropriate Halloween style. Some of them are crazily competitive, and want to have the best door EVER. Cue considerable angst about originality and whether anyone else’s looks vaguely similar.

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3. After lunch on the Friday before Halloween, there is a “Halloween ball.” Everyone (and I mean EVERYone) is expected to dress up in some crazy costume, and sit outside in the sun for an hour while all the year groups perform their “special Halloween dance.”

Friday was my day off, but it was made very clear to me that if I didn’t go to the Halloween ball, it would NOT be viewed kindly.

So, on Thursday night, I found myself at the closest discount store, trying to assemble a costume with a minimum of both effort and cost. I decided to go as a witch (boring, I know), as I could wear my long, black flamenco skirt, and all I’d have to buy was a wig and a witch’s hat. But all the long black wigs were sold out, so I ended up with a wavy silver and black variant.¬†And the only hats left had absolutely repulsive purple bows on them (what kind of witch wears a hat with BOWS?!), so I spent most of Thursday night removing said bows, and chucking them in the bin.

Although I was annoyed at having to go to school on my day off, I actually LOVE dress up parties. I find it strangely liberating to totally change your appearance, and see how others’ reactions alter.

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Here’s me in my witch costume

Almost all of the kids were in fancy dress, and they looked fantastic.

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Class photo. At the back, with the white make up, are two of the other language assistants, April and Marcy. The girl with the pointy yellow hat, Jenna, is also an assistant. Michaela, in the white dress, is a character from¬†“The Exorcist”. The girl with the blue face is Marta, the smartest student in the class BY FAR. She’s about 2 grades ahead of the others. She’s one of my favourites.

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Two of the girls from the Year 4 class

And some of the teachers had made a pretty big effort, too. This is Mary, who looked COMPLETELY different!

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The only problem with the disguises was that some¬†of the kids didn’t know who I was. I went to the kindergarten class to say hello to Fernanda and Camila, and they had NO IDEA. This made me so sad. In desperation, I got out my glasses, and Camila yelled “HELEN!” and began immediately racing around and being mischievous, as per usual.¬†Phew!

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With glasses again ūüôā

The dancing was a bit of a disaster, to be honest. Because it was so hot outside, and we were all decked out in our 100% polyester costumes, nobody was really paying much attention, and were too busy trying to find a modicum of shade.

Overall, Halloween in Spain has been an interesting experience. But let me just say, if I EVER have to hear/see/do The Skeleton Dance again, I will throttle whoever is responsible!!!

The student “axis of evil”

I’ve always admired the phrase “axis of evil”, even though I don’t approve of George W. Bush’s politics. It’s so evocative. So descriptive. So dramatic. Whoever wrote it (hello, speechwriter!) deserves to be congratulated (interesting aside- although I’m not overtly political, speechwriting strikes me as an ideal job. I would LOVE to do it).

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Anyway, whilst George W. Bush may have listed Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as the original “axis of evil”, these places have since been usurped by the three most naughty and downright evil students in the history of bad students.

I wish that I was a teacher who liked all¬†students equally, but I’ve got to admit, some drive me ABSOLUTELY INSANE, and it’s all I can do to last the entire lesson.

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So, with this in mind, here are my Top Three Bad Students (with identifying details changed, obviously…And note that they’re all given a 1, because they are as bad as each other!).

1. Javier

Javier is five years old, and in the infants’ class. The problem with Javier is that he absolutely refuses to sit on his chair. Regardless of coaxing, bribery, orders, whatever else, he won’t do it. Instead, he suspends¬†himself upside down beneath the desk, or crawls across the floor, or hides under the teacher’s chair. I have physically picked him up, and put him in his chair, but he won’t stay put. Then, I invariably step on him, and it’s The Worst Thing in the World, with tears and complaints, and everything else. And this happens in EVERY class.

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1. Juan

Juan is ten years old, and is obese. He is in the Year 5 class, but he doesn’t bother listening to the teacher. Instead, he spends the whole class making fun of one of the special needs students. This makes me SO ANGRY. I appreciate that Juan has probably been bullied because of his size and shape, but to be so nasty and horrible to a student who doesn’t have the capacity to understand is simply unacceptable. Juan makes me¬†FURIOUS!

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This is not an accurate reflection of Juan’s physique

1. Isabel

Isabel is eleven, and is absolutely diabolical. She is sneaky and sly and devious. When the class teacher is there, she is sweetness and light. But as soon as the teacher leaves the room, she is a total demon, yelling and screaming and misbehaving. I would actually prefer it if she misbehaved the entire day, rather than this devious falseness. She knows EXACTLY what she is doing, and every action is carefully calculated. The problem with Isabel is that she is popular, and so when she misbehaves, most of the class follows suit. Sometimes, we have a battle of wills. I know what she’s playing at, and she knows how I’ll respond. So we sit there in class, staring at each other with mutual hatred. Seriously, she is a demon incarnate. My aim is to bend her to my will (horrid as that may sound, all I want is for her to stop the puerile games).

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Will I annihilate the axis of evil by the end of the year? I seriously doubt it. But I am planning to give it a REAL good try. If I can walk into a class which contains one of these three students without wanting to scream, it will have been an achievement ūüôā

My new Wednesday ritual

On Wednesdays, I am fortunate enough to only have three classes at the school, which means that I finish work at 11:15 a.m.

Needless to say, Wednesdays are my favourite school days…

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The first few weeks of the school year, I ended up wasting my half-day off by hanging out at home or doing something thrilling like the grocery shopping, but last week, I decided that I should expand my mind with more worthwhile activities (Oh dear. That sounds insufferably affectacious). I was at a bit of a loss as to what I could do, but then I remembered that on the way to the station, I pass a couple of small museums, and so I decided that Wednesday afternoon would be my Official Museum Visiting Time.

Today was Day One of my new Wednesday ritual, and¬†I went to the Sorolla Museum. Here’s their website.

Joaqu√≠n Sorolla was a Spanish painter (interesting aside- well, interesting for me!-Joaqu√≠n is my absolute¬†favourite Spanish boys’ name) ¬†and after his and his wife’s deaths, his house and artworks were left to the state on the proviso that they be turned into a museum.

The museum is absolutely amazing, because it’s a perfectly preserved early 20th century house, surrounded on all sides by ugly apartment blocks, and with a main road right out the front (thankfully, the house is shielded by a beautiful garden).

Inside, it’s like a time warp, because all the furniture is original, and they’ve tried to leave it as it was when Sorolla died in 1923.

One of the most interesting rooms is¬†the studio. The walls are covered in Sorolla’s pictures, and the unfinished canvas that he was working on when he¬†died is still there, with the paints and brushes laid out in front. It looks as if it is¬†still being completed, and the artist has just nipped out for a break.

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To be honest, I didn’t know anything about Sorolla’s art before¬†I decided to visit the museum. From looking around the house, it seems that he mainly focussed on¬†landscapes and portraits, using oils. It was really interesting to see that the faces in a lot of the portraits were being reworked, so I’m guessing that he mightn’t have felt so confident in trying to capture likenesses. This was comforting,¬†and now I don’t feel so bad about desperately trying to avoid drawing faces in Year 10 art!

Of the completed portraits, I especially liked two, a self-portrait Sorolla had painted for his wife, and the other of his daughter.¬†The self-portrait says “To my Clotilde, Joaqu√≠n” down the bottom, which is think is lovely.

So, this was my first educational Wednesday excursion. Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep it up! Madrid is full of small museums, so I don’t think I’ll run out of possibilities in the time I’m here ūüôā

Coffee in Spain

As a keen aficionado of caffeinated beverages, the prospect of living in Spain for 9 months excited me immensely. After all, Italy is the home of coffee, and Spain is right next door! It would have to be good, right?

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Wrong. Very wrong.¬†So wrong, it’s not even funny. Etcetera, etcetera.

For the past few weeks, I have being trying (progressively more desperately) to find an OK coffee. I long ago gave up on finding somewhere “good.” In fact, I would be happy with “passably decent” now.

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My face after pretty much every coffee I sip here.

I’m not sure if it’s because I take my coffee with milk (perhaps the espresso is better?), but pretty much every cup of coffee I have ordered has been so bad, as to be virtually undrinkable.

There’s a number of reasons for this:

1.The Spanish preference for UHT milk. I REALLY don’t understand this. When I was growing up, UHT milk was something that you endured when your family ran out of fresh milk. However, in Spain, UHT milk seems to be the preferred option. And¬†when a coffee is made from UHT milk, it tastes, well, pretty horrible…

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UHT “milk”- stale and nasty. How true.

2. The fact that the baristas don’t know how to use the coffee machine. The other day, I went to a cafe with all its signs in English, and with “flat whites” on the menu. I was excited. VERY excited. Was an OK coffee in the offing? Ha ha ha! Although the menu promised flat whites (at the exorbitant price of 3 Euros each), the barista clearly thought that the definition of “flat white” was “lots and lots and lots of froth.” So I ended up with a cup of milky (UHT, might I just add) froth, with NO COFFEE!

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3. Taste preference. Yesterday, I went to a cafe with my Spanish friend. She ordered a decaf coffee (she specifically asked for a Nescafe SACHET- sorry about the capital letters, but this is important!!!), with UHT milk. For me, such an offering would be a fate worse than death. But my friend was absolutely delighted with this foul concoction.

I realised that things had reached a particularly low point when I went to what has been termed by the popular press “the best cafe in Madrid.” OK, it wasn’t THAT bad. The coffee was alright. But it didn’t set my world on fire, so to speak.

I would give it 3 stars.

Out of 10.

Nonetheless, some things about the coffee are good.

1. First, it’s cheap, only about 1.40 Euros for a cup. That’s the equivalent of $2 Australian. But when you consider how bad it tastes, even that seems expensive…

2. The whole coffee preparation experience is something to be enjoyed. When you order your repellent beverage, the waiter asks whether you would prefer your milk hot or warm. He or she then extracts the coffee, before appearing at the table, coffee and milk jug in hand, and making a big show of pouring the appropriately heated milk into your cup.

3. The cafes can be nice. I have found a couple of “good” cafes, where, although the coffee is typically horrible, they have papers (which, admittedly, I have trouble reading, given my lack of Spanish skills) and a nice feeling, which ALMOST makes up for the fact that the coffee is so abysmal.

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Cafe which I like

With this in mind, all I can say is that if someone is looking for a failproof business venture, setting up a cafe in Madrid, where the milky coffee is nice and well-made, is bound to attract a strong clientele of homesick Australian coffee snobs, if nothing else!