The Menú del Día

One of the most appealing things about Spain is the food, as I’ve already described here and here. And the epitomy of Spanish cuisine is the Menú del Día.

The Menú del Día (or Menu of the Day) is offered by a lot of restaurants and bars. It typically consists of an appetiser (or primero plato), followed by a main course (or segundo plato), accompanied by bread and a drink. For the final course, you usually get a choice between a dessert (postre) or a coffee.

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Typical Menú del Día sign

But having the Menú del Día is like playing a game of Russian roulette. The result can be very good. Or absolutely disastrous….

The good…

If you look carefully, you can often find a Menú del Día for about 10 Euros, which is pretty cheap, considering what’s included.

I’ve had a couple of amazing selections. For instance, on Sunday, I went to this place, where I had a fantastic paella for an appetiser, followed by a hearty chickpea dish for main, and then a coffee.

And in Cuenca, I stumbled upon a bar in the main street which had a wonderful vegetarian stew for the first course, and a gluten free cheesecake for dessert. Plus a free glass of liqueur at the end!

But this paled in comparison to the homecooked Menú del Día which my friend Liz created. Her Menú consisted of salad for a first course, with chicken stew and tortilla for seconds, and then churros for dessert. Yum!


The bad…

However, let’s not pretend that everything is fine and dandy in Menú del Día land. It isn’t. Sometimes, try as you might, you end up having something which is both poor quality and overpriced.

My first Menú del Día fell into this category. I went to restaurant in my street, feeling proud of myself for supporting a local business. Whilst my first course (a soup) was nice, my second course (fish) had clearly been hanging around the bain-marie since the early hours of the morning, and was-how shall I put it?-a bit overcooked.


The ugly…

But even that pales in comparison to the infamous Toledo experience…

A couple of months ago, I went on a day trip there with my friends. The city was festooned with banners, proclaiming it to be the culinary capital of Spain. This got my taste buds working, and although it was only 11 o’clock when we got there, the Menú del Día was immediately on my mind.

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We had a look at a number of restaurants, and eventually decided upon one which was affordable and seemed to be incredibly popular (think queue snaking out the door).

After waiting 30 minutes, we were finally allocated a table. Except that it was for two people, not four. The waiter was not happy when we asked if we could have another table, acting as if it was a personal insult that we all wanted to sit down. But still, no worries. We looked at the menu, and made our selections. The first course was bad. It was spaghetti (FROM A CAN!) or chorizo soup (which was a gluggy mess of congealing bread and a single piece of chorizo).

The second course was little better- some kind of meat (????) accompanied by lukewarm chips.

But the dessert was the real tour de force. When we went to order, the waiter looked at his watch, declared that it was 3p.m., and thus, time for his break, and sat down at the bar to tuck into his lunch. Finally, one of the bartenders came and helped us, and our desserts arrived presently.

I had ordered ice-cream, and my expectations were low. However, even I was surprised when I was presented with one of those dinky little cups with the wooden spoon in the lid, rather than ice-cream in an actual bowl.

Still, it was what one would call a “learning experience.” And it’s true that the sub-par experiences make the best stories. I know I’m going to be dining out (boom tish-sorry, that was bad, even for me!) on this for many years…

I didn’t expect this…

I´m not sure whether I should or shouldn’t be writing this post, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about all day, so I want to share it. Obviously, identifying details have been changed.

When I started helping at the primary school, I was made aware that some of the children have what could euphemistically be described as “problems at home.” Being incredibly naïve, I wasn’t entirely sure what this meant, but assumed that it wouldn’t be anything too out of the ordinary.

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How wrong I was.

A couple of months ago, one of the boys in the higher grade classes, let’s call him José Luis, started giving me hugs and holding onto me when I entered the classroom. There was nothing untoward in the hugging- it was the sort of hug you’d give a friend who you hadn’t seen in years- but I thought this was a bit unusual for a 12 year old boy.

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Still, I didn’t say anything.

When school returned from the break, something had changed with José Luis. Normally, he would be smiling and fooling around in class, but he wasn’t anymore. When the class went on an excursion, he didn’t go, because he didn’t have the permission slip signed. He continued the hugging, but it was more desperate. I noticed that he was really grabbing onto me, and I had to pry him off my legs.

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It was like this. Except with a child, not a panda. And only on one leg. And I didn’t have a camera. Actually, it wasn’t a lot like this at all, but the picture is cute 🙂

Last Thursday, José Luis was absent from school. Yesterday, he was vomiting, and had to go home sick. Today, he was absent again. So I asked his classroom teacher whether he was OK.

“No, not really,” she explained. “He’s got problems at home. His dad left when he was a baby, so he’s been living with his mum. But now she’s left, too. So he’s with his grandparents. And they can’t deal with it. So he’s missing lots of school.”

“Oh. Right.” I answered inadequately.

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But I felt really sad. José Luis is a pretty good kid. Sure, he doesn’t always pay attention. And yes, he could try harder and study more. But he is friendly and he’s kind and he (usually) listens, which is more than many of the other students. I guess he may be totally different at home, and put his relatives through hell. That’s a possibility. But from what I’ve seen over the past 4 months, that doesn’t seem particularly likely.

I just stood there, trying to think what to say, when the teacher continued…

“You know, that’s why he always wants to hug you. I’ve seen him doing it. He’s looking for someone who can be like a mum to him. He thinks that’s you.”

Oh. Dear.

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I didn’t know how to respond, so I made some banal comment about it being nice to be chosen, and that I hope José Luis is feeling better tomorrow.

But I have NO IDEA what to do now.

I feel incredibly sorry for José Luis. However, I don’t want to be his surrogate mother. I don’t know the first thing about being a mum, and I was employed to teach English. That’s all that I’m equipped to do, and even that is difficult sometimes. Both the school counsellor and the classroom teacher are aware of the situation, and are helping.

And yet… I don’t know…but it doesn’t seem to be enough. Now I know what’s happening, it’s hard to forget it and pretend I don’t know.

What’s a Belén?

One of the things I was most looking forward to about Spain was seeing what it would be like to have Christmas in Europe. And one of the unique facets of a Spanish Christmas is the importance placed on the Belén.

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Belén

A Belén is a nativity scene, generally consisting of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus at the very minimum, but usually accompanied by shepherds, Wise Men, and a whole lot of other people and animals.

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Subversive Belén in Barcelona, complete with selfie taker

There seems to be an unwritten rule that one must do their best to make their Belén as fabulous as possible. For instance, the Plaza Major in Madrid was filled with stalls selling all manner of Belén necessities (think moss, bark, sculptures, small barns), whilst my school had its annual Belén making activity.

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Life size Belén in Zaragoza

To say it was competitive is the understatement of the year.

On the first day of December, each grade was told which part of the Belén was their responsibility. Year 6, being their final year, were told to make the three “main players” (Mary, Joseph and Jesus), whilst Year 5 were allocated the shepherds and Wise Men. I’m not too sure who decided that Year 4 would make windmills and bridges (were windmills even around 2000 years ago?), although I’m guessing that it was getting a bit difficult to think of different things that the kids could make by this stage!

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Note windmills

The children were then put in teams, and told to make their Belén things after school and on the weekend. Two weeks later, they brought them in. I was amazed at how much effort had gone into it. A lot of the kids (and parents, I’m guessing) had clearly spent ages making sure their cows looked just right and that the cloth on the Wise Men’s camels was precisely the right shade of blue (I’m serious).

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During the last week of school, the entire entrance foyer was turned into “Belén-land.” The Head Teacher (whose job seems to consist mainly of arranging festive decorations and parties) assembled a big collection of tables, covered them in sand (bags not cleaning up after…) and then the class tutors chose the best creations for the Belén.

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Whilst it looked great, I did feel a bit sorry for the kids whose figures were deemed “superfluous to requirements”. These offerings, which included a beautiful pink Barbie house (very nice, but anachronistic), some tables whose legs had broken off, and a couple of very creepy looking scarecrows (which may have been recycled from Halloween, I’m beginning to think) were banished to the library, where their indignant creators complained bitterly to each other that their work had been snubbed.

But I’ve got to admit, my favourite Belén figurine was the one below. I’m not too sure if a student, teacher, or parent made him, but I congratulate them for their sense of humour.

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The king!

What’s been happening?

I realised today that I have been deserting this blog, mainly because I have been sick AGAIN (or should that be STILL?), and have been struggling even getting out of bed in the morning, let alone going to work, let alone writing here. Excuses, excuses, I know…

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But as it’s coming up to Christmas, things have been a bit quieter and less stressful, although the action at school is continuing. Here’s some memorable things which have happened so far this week (and let me just note, this has been a pretty average week in the school world…)…

1. Attempted throat removal

Aah, yes. The Year 6 class. It always provides for some action, although not necessarily of a pleasant kind. Yesterday, things took a particularly notable turn when Antonio and Raul had a dispute. I wasn’t too sure exactly what happened, but it seems that Raul insulted Antonio’s dad, and in response, Antonio attempted to remove Raul’s voicebox using only his fingernails. Raul turned up to class with a huge red gash across his throat, whilst Antonio was crying and screaming.

Cue a 45 minute lecture from the teacher about “being nice to our classmates.”

In a strangely ironic twist, the next chapter in the Year 6 English text is on why bullying is wrong.

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2. Attempted groping

If the goings on in the Year 6 class weren’t bad enough, they pale in comparison to what has been happening in the Kindergarten group. I’m not sure how or why, but I appear to be receiving a lot of unwanted attention from one of the 5 year olds. It started a few weeks ago, when I noticed something touching my backside. I assumed that I had accidentally brushed against a chair or table, but when I turned around, I saw one of the little boys grinning away, with his hand on my bottom.

At first, I thought that he didn’t know what he was doing. But every day since then, I have found my bum attacked with regularity.

This is somewhat disconcerting.

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I tried explaining to the culprit that “It’s not nice to touch a person there”, but to no avail. Another day, the same dirty mitt approaching my backside.

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I now find myself spending most of the class sitting down, feigning tiredness, in an effort to avoid unwanted pawing.

3. Attempted football match

Every year at the school, there is a students versus teachers football match. The students LOVE this. Most of them play football, and there is even a roster for which grade can use the goals on which day.

Unfortunately, the teachers weren’t so keen.

In fact, there weren’t even enough for a team.

Desperate times called for desperate measures, and participation became virtually unavoidable. This meant that Mary, the very proper Year 5 teacher, ended up playing in her formal dress and high heels (Aside- did you know that they actually make high heeled football boots?!).

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I didn’t ask about the result.

I didn’t dare.

So, that’s a pretty “normal” week for me. Being back at school has been a lot of things, but at least I can’t say it’s boring…