On my last weekend in Oviedo, after Kyle had joined me, we went out on a beautiful, sunny Sunday for a bottle of Asturias’s specialty: sídra.
Sídra is an alcoholic apple cider that requires a very particular manner of pouring and drinking. The cider is still, rather than sparkling, so to aerate it a small amount must be poured into a glass from a large height, hitting the inside of the glass on the way down, and then drunk quickly like a shot. The pouring is a skill, but the bartenders in Asturias have it down to such a fine art that they barely even look at what they are doing, and can pour with three glasses in hand.
I have to admit I am not a huge fan of the flavour, and I am terribly bad at drinking it all down in one go. Still, it is refreshing on a sunny day (although I found there were only about three of those during the whole of May) and it is an important part of the regional identity. Plus, it is super cheap: two bottles (which equals about six of the small glasses per bottle) for €5.20.
Nearly four days of almost total bed rest later I’m ready to start filling you all in on the last six weeks worth of adventures. Let’s go back to where I left off, Carnaval.
As you may remember, in Asturias there are two weekends for Carnaval, the last weekend before Lent and the real Carnaval, and the following weekend when Oviedo throws its own party.
By the second weekend of Carnaval I have to admit I just wasn’t feeling the motivation; the all-night dancing and freezing cold dawn Navia wanderings had taken their toll and I wasn’t feeling very well. So rather than hit up Carnaval with the other twentysomethings and repeat the partying and dress ups, I decided to enjoy the family-friendly version of Carnaval.
So I meandered down to the centre of Oviedo early in the evening to check out the parade of groups wearing fabulous, bright costumes. The parade finished at the Plaza de Alfonso II, otherwise called the Plaza de la Catedral, where there was a big stage set up for the costume competition, complete with D-grade local celebrities to judge (there was a female judge dressed up as a dominatrix I’m pretty sure, she was even prancing round with a riding crop… It was all kinds of weird). As the parade wound up the Plaza filled right up with people and the competition got under way. My personal favourite was the Oreo biscuits complete with box (typical of the sweet-tooth, right?).
However I didn’t ever find out if they won the group section as during that section the heavens opened. And properly opened. I have never seen such a large crowd dissipate so quickly! People were sheltering in doorways or under balconies from the heavy rain and rising puddles or braving it and getting drenched (that was me, I forgot my umbrella. Stupid, stupid thing to do; in Asturias you never ever leave the house without your umbrella!). Halfway home the thunder and lightning started and I experienced my first, albeit brief, Spanish thunderstorm.
All in all it was a fun evening, the effort that goes into the costumes is remarkable and the monetary value of the prizes likewise!
The Mythology Society even had a dragon
The Plaza de la Catedral starting to fill up
I have to admit it: two and a half weeks in and I’m really enjoying myself. (The first thing I thought when I saw that sentence was, “Ah, must check that they know the “l” in “half” is silent.” That is something I came across in a private lesson last week.) Yet, if I had written this blog last Tuesday after school, I would have said how terrible I thought I was doing and how the teachers must all be thinking that I’m hopeless. What a difference having two great lessons at the end of the day, as opposed to one mediocre lesson and one shambles of a lesson, can make to your general mood and opinion.
You will have worked out, then, that it hasn’t all been entirely smooth sailing at school so far. There have been times when I have felt very unqualified for the work I am doing, and have actually wondered if some of the staff think I have some teaching experience. I don’t. I have been a mentor/tutor to some small groups of girls at a high school, but I have never, ever stood up in front of a class to teach. (Unless you count teaching a few ballet classes about 6 years ago..!)
A few times since arriving here, I have felt totally thrown into the deep end when asked to occupy the class for the entire lesson with a worksheet given to me about 10 minutes beforehand, while the teacher sits at the back of the classroom marking work. Fortunately, most of the time I am acting only in my stated role of “language assistant.” This means that the teacher runs the class and I help them and answer student questions. Or, I am given an activity to do with the kids a day before or a few hours before and I can prepare myself. Or, in one year level, I have been presenting Australia to them for the past three lessons. When I can prepare myself, I feel like I can actually pretend to know what I’m doing. When trying to make it up as I go along, I fear I fail miserably!
My life as a language assistant.
These bumps in the road are normal, and I’m sure I will only gain confidence as I go along and work out my role in the classroom and how I can best help these kids. I work with the bilingual classes, the students who have elected to do a number of their subjects in English, rather than just taking English as a second language subject. So far I have been impressed by the general level of English and by the confidence of many students. I still have days where I say something and all I get in response is a look of utter incomprehension but I don’t doubt they’re still becoming accustomed to the Australian accent!
With that, Happy Australia Day! I will be going to work, it is freezing cold and the only Australian food I have here is Vegemite. Ah well, it is a year of firsts.
Oviedo is a strange, contradictory place I am beginning to suspect. On the one hand, everyone lives in town in an apartment so that they can walk to and from work. And they also love the social aspect of walking everywhere, so that they can bump into their friends, see people and be seen. But then, they all have cars (even though no apartments come with parking) and drive to big shopping centres in the middle of town, centres similar to those we have in the suburbs, such as Marion or Castle Plaza. And at 6pm you can often be stuck in a very unpleasant traffic jam.
Similarly, for a “pedestrianised” people they can be appallingly bad at taking care when pedestrians are on the road. I carry the details of all three of my travel and health insurance policies on my person anytime I step out onto the house. There are zebra crossings at nearly every single intersection but I still haven’t quite got the courage to trust the drivers will give way to me. (This is also partly because I am only just this week getting the hang of looking to my left for oncoming traffic when I cross the road.)
Asturias is also a region known for its cows and dairy products. Yet, milk here comes as UHT and cheese is made from a mix of cow and sheep milk (it has a strong flavour but fortunately it is no match for my Vegemite which overpowers it completely!)
Since coming here I have also found that any native English speaker is in demand for giving private English lessons. So why, one must ask, do they insist on dubbing every single English-language television program and film into Spanish? They could instead use subtitles and give the many, many English students a chance to listen to genuine accents, and in the process improve their own.
So far Spain still seems a contrary country (for instance, I know they have great food and like eating it, but when, oh when, do they eat it?!) But I love it. I love having to buy fresh bread every two days because my “barra” (like a baguette) is starting to go stale and no self-respecting household in Spain can be without bread. I love that even though my milk is UHT it proudly says it is “leche asturiana” (Asturian milk) on the carton. I love going out for a walk and seeing half of the city’s population out doing the same thing.
On that positive note, I hope you all enjoy your Monday mornings, while in Spain we cling a little longer to Sunday night.
As you may have already noticed, I have a new photo in my blog header. This is one of my own photos taken in the centre of Oviedo at the start of the shopping mall. Yes, that is a sculpture of a backside you can see there to the left.
I have discovered that Oviedo is home to many sculptures (and also fountains and roundabouts but I’ll tell you all about those another time). These sculptures are generally quite unique and even bizarre. A classic example of the bizarre is the bum. It is called the “Culis Monumentalibus”.
The "Culis Monumentalibus" Statue
You will be even more surprised to learn that the other side of the statue is exactly the same. It is a double-bottomed woman.
The back side of the backside
Given that she is also four metres high, quite wide and has two big bottoms, surely all the rest of us ladies can feel somewhat better about the size of our own derrières? Perhaps that is why it is stationed at the start of the shopping strip. No matter how big your bum looks in that pair of jeans it will never be as large as the two immortalised in bronze just outside!
So, it is a Friday night and I have decided I am staying in this evening with my computer, some books and my heater and blankets for company. As you may have already deduced, it is very cold here at the moment. By my standards at least. And with similar conditions predicted for the rest of the weekend, there will be no new stories of gallivanting about the region this weekend I fear.
This morning I was most cruelly dragged out of bed at the hour of 7.45 AM in order to be at a 9 AM appointment. I was not pleased to be forced out of bed so early on a Friday, a day off, and even less pleased to get outside to find it was about 4 degrees Celsius. And I still had wet hair. But this is the price one pays for moving to the Northern Hemisphere in mid-winter and I survived. I suppose it must be considered a bonus that the sun was shining, even though it didn’t bring a shred of warmth but rather a very crisp feel to the air. Still, nice to see the sun considering how often it is cloudy and rainy here.
This offending appointment this morning was with the Oficina de Extranjería (essentially an Immigration Office) to be registered as a foreign resident in Spain and assigned my Número de Identificación de Extranjero (Foreigner Identification Number). This NIE is apparently essential for all things in Spain such as being paid and purchasing a SIM card for my phone. Welcome to Spain, please hand over your identity in exchange for a number!
Fortunately, the meeting was brief. However the process towards finalising my residency status is only half completed. I now have my NIE but I have to go back in one month to apply for a card that will show my status as a foreign student in the country, entitled to stay for one year. And then, all of the paperwork should be finished and I will be nearly halfway through my stay.
I decided to make the most of my early start by using the rest of my morning to walk around a bit of Oviedo I had not previously explored. I should say to walk very very fast around Oviedo, as it remained about 7 degrees and as clear-skied and bitingly fresh as the morning all day. Fortunately (?), Oviedo is very hilly so I warmed up quite quickly, but not enough to remove my gloves or scarf or to wish I had not worn so many layers of thermals!
At this stage my plans for the weekend are exceedingly dull – hating, as I do, the cold weather – but I will take the opportunity to add a few new stories for you and to upload some photos, as I know that’s what you really all care about!!
The magnificent gum tree I found in Campo de San Francisco yesterday. It’s nice to have some Australian company.
Me and my new Australian friend.