Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos
13th-century castle, El Puerto de Santa Maria. That WAS our house to the left and behind the tree!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Learning, Spanish-Style

One of our goals in coming to Spain was to have the time to really get to know the area.  We lucked into Southern Spain, which has a reputation for being laid-back and party-central.  It also has exactly the weather I love, at least so far:  warm, at times hot, with these lovely warm evenings and fresh, but not cold, mornings.  El  Levante blows hard at times, a dry desert wind coming off the Sahara and across the narrow mouth of the Mediterranean; it is similar to the Santa Ana winds we are used to, only they blow shorter and more furiously.  Don’t leave your laundry out! 

Another thing I am learning, which for me is one of the top 10 reasons to love Spain, is that we are living in the middle of the best sherry region in the world.  I didn’t much care for sherry back in California; it tasted like a stronger version of a mediocre wine.  However, I also didn’t know much past “cooking sherry,” which Todd would usually drink up before I even got a chance to cook with it.  Here, in Puerto, there are no fewer than SEVEN sherry bodegas.  The pungent smell walking past them is fragrant with the scent of fermenting grapes. Tia and Sasha continually peer into the dark windows to see what it looks like in a bodega.  Within walking distance of our house we have five of the seven bodegas, two within two blocks.  But by far the best for me is the definition of sherry:  from vino fino, the very dry sherry, to cream sherry (standard) all the way to Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez.   You can take your empty bottle down to the bodega, where they will fill it up from the cask with your choice of sherry for 4 Euros.  What a deal!  And delicious, too. 

Wow!  It’s acceptable, even encouraged, to drink sweet wine here!  A top-ten reason for me to live in Spain.  All of a sudden, my interest in wine has re-ignited.  There is even a type too sweet for me, the syrupy sweet (yet still powerful at 14% alcohol) Pedro Ximenez, a dessert wine that is best used over vanilla Haagen Daz ice cream.  Yum!

Then there’s the learning going on at Nuestra Señora de la Merced.  Tia and Sasha first reaction to their new school was, “And they have BLACKBOARDS in all the classrooms!”  (This in comparison to our previous school, Nestor, where each teacher had a Smartboard connected to the computer.)  This low-tech atmosphere, however, is not proving to be an obstacle.  Both girls had to catch up in caligrafía, as Spanish kids are taught cursive from the first grade.  At my first parent-teacher conference, both niñas earned high praise from their profesoras, and are making friends.  It helped that two other American girls from San Diego, Isabella and Daniela, are in the first and second grades at La Merced (see photos!).  

At La Merced, there are NO extracurriculars:  no sports, no clubs, no after-school nothing.  There’s not even a playground; the recess is spent on the rooftop patio, which is a concrete surface with high walls to keep the kids from launching off.  No balls, no jump ropes, nothing.  Leave it to my kids to both teach the Spaniards how to play “horse” using the sleeves of jackets tied around the waist to make the reins, and “Down By the Bank of the Hanky-Pank,” a elimination game involving slapping hands in a circle.  No matter:  the Spanish curriculum also mandates a music class, an art class, and an optional religion class (we chose Catholic, so we can understand all of the religious festivals!).  And there are plenty of extracurricular things to do here:  Tia and Sasha made their theater debut in a performance of “King Arthur’s Quest,” with Tia a Damsel in Distress and Sasha a Camelotian, thanks to the U.S. Navy’s sponsorship of the Missoula Children’s theater. 
Feria Tents
Alongside horseriding and school, we are also learning about how Spaniards enjoy themselves.  Although Feria season is pretty much at an end, there are still a few Ferias to be attended in the smaller outlying towns.   We went to one in Villamartín two weeks ago, arriving at 7 pm.  The scene was part carnival, part Carnivál:  Women were walking around dressed to the nines, high heels and the most outrageous feria dresses you can imagine (see slide show in last post).  The feria grounds were covered in tents with different musics blasting out of each one, next to churrerias (where you can get thick cups of hot chocolate and unsweetened churros), next to carnival rides of all sorts, blaring music that is not allowed in public in the U.S. (this NOT FOR KIDS! song was played throughout our whole ride on the Super Saltamontes
A Not-So-Dangerous Feria Ride

The feria rides also included those that will never be seen in the U.S.  Tia and Sasha’s favorite ride, of course, was one with huge transparent plastic balls floating around on the surface of a small pool.  Kids were zipped up inside the plastic balls, trying to walk and  falling smack on their faces.  Tia and Sasha chose that as one of their two ride choices, and decided to go in together.  I laughed myself silly as Tia stumbled forward, with Sasha traveling up the side and tumbling down on top of her.  Todd was not so amused, his eyes getting bigger and bigger as the minutes ticked past…finally he couldn’t take it any more, afraid they would pass out from lack of oxygen, and had the operator pull Tia and Sasha over and out of the big-kid plastic-bag equivalent.  I have to admit, it made me uneasy as well, as funny as it was.  Tia and Sasha, of course, rated that ride one of the #1 things they have done in Spain, and insist that at the next Feria we attend, they will choose that ride even IF they are in feria dresses!  We left at 11 pm; things were just getting started, and the schedule listed performances until 4:30 am. 

So as you can see, there is a lot to learn here.  Stay tuned!

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