April 13, 2007

4/15/07 Almansa Spain

Well, I thought I'd give you a better idea of what life is like studying in Almansa.

First, Almansa is about an hours drive from Alacante, inland from the Mediterranean coast. It is a city of about 30,000 people in which the biggest industry is making shoes. As you can imagine, the importation of goods from China is making it tough for the local businesses to compete. Unlike cities in the US, the town is very concentrated, very compact. I can run to the edge of town in less than 10 minutes in any direction (and I run slow).

The streets are very narrow, usually with barely room for a car to park and one lane of traffic. Sidewalks are very narrow too. Homes are more vertical, with most of the inhabitants living in apartments. Instead of yards, there are a few large parks where people congregate. But most homes have a patio or courtyard where you can always see lots of potted plants. The city is spread out below a huge castillo, or castle-fortress, that dominates the landscape.

The town surrounds the base of the castle

From the top you can see the whole city down below

I was first a student of Amparo´s during my first trip to Spain in 2002. She was just starting her language school in another small town called Sallas de los Infantes, near Burgos, in northern Spain. Her husband, Santi, worked in the city hall there as a lawyer. Their daughter Miranda was 3 years old at the time. They decided to relocate here in Almansa because it was closer to Amparo´s family. With the help of her brother, an architect, she designed a 4 story school-hostel, complete with classrooms, offices, computer room, living quarters, and even an elevator. To me it´s all very modern. All construction here is built of concrete. Outside, the buildings don't look like much, but inside is always beautiful. They use tile everywhere. About the only things made of wood are some of the doors. It still amazes me that here at the hostel, the stairwell is made of marble. They build things to last here.

My school, Aula sin Fronteras, is near the center of the city. I can see the main 'city market' three or four blocks away. But when I go for a run in the other direction, the edge of the city is only two blocks, then I follow a sidewalk that goes around the city edge. Above the school is Hostal El Studio. Amparo and Santi´s idea was that the rooms would be for students, and they would rent the rest out as a hostel. They run a very, very nice hostel. The rooms are so clean, and with a full kitchenette. And everything is handicapped accessable - something not usually seen in here. While getting started, the hostel has done much better than expected.

The view outside my hostel window

I have class in the mornings. Because it's just me, usually Amparo and I just have long discussions, sometimes going for a couple of hours without a break. She uses the discussion to help me with my grammer, but everything is spoken in Spanish. I actually had difficulty yesterday thinking of English words when asking a question. Guess my brain is trying to decide which language I'm speaking. (smile) At one point, Amparo commented on how she loves the English language, how it can say so much in so few words. Something that might take 2 or 3 words to say in English, might be 8 or 9 in Spanish.

Amparo and Santi literally live just around the corner. It is so nice to sit down and eat with the family. Not only is it different conversation than in class, but I get to sample Amparo´s very good cooking of the local cuisine. Usually there are two courses, maybe a soup, followed by the main course of fish or chicken. For desert, the Spanish prefer fruit. A little bit later, we pack up the kids and go back to school, even for 3-year old German.

German playing before heading back to preschool
Notice their school smocks/uniforms?

Sometimes I have a bit more class in the afternoon. Afternoon in Spanish time for me is about 4pm. Later, after the kids have come home from school, lots of people are out at the park. I think they would all stay out later if the weather was better. Most families eat dinner after 9pm. In class Amparo says that traditionally there are five meals, lunch being the biggest, but for her family they only have three with extra for the kids. The weather here has been good for studying (keeping me inside), cool, in the 50s, cloudy and raining off and on.

The whole family: Amparo, Santi, Miranda & shy German

Besides trying to fit into 'Spanish time', the other cultural thing that is difficult for me is greetings. Coming from the Midwest, I'm used to saying hello or at least nodding my head to everyone you pass on the street. Here, I'm told, that isn't done. But if you run into friends, it is always a handshake for the men and kisses on the cheek for the women.

They will have a lot of foreign visitors in the coming weeks because of the 300th Anniversary of the Battle of Almansa, called one of the most pivotal battles in European History. In 1707 soldiers from Spain, France, Ireland, Holland, Germany and Portugual, representing many of the other monarchs in Europe fought here to decide the Spanish succession. Almansa is known by Spanish children like Gettysburg is taught to kids in the USA. There are a lot of events planned, including a battle re-enactment.

And then in the evenings, I cook dinner, work on homework, watch television and keep up to date on the internet. So, that's kind of a typical day for me here.