All good things come to an end

April 21, 2010

Here it is…May, a month always at balance with good and bad emotions; great expectations of a summer due soon against a daunting urgency to prepare for imminent exams.  Yet this summer is different, I have no exams.

Great it may well be, but perfect it is not, because soon I have to leave Spain, the country with which gradually and stutteringly over the past year I have fallen head over heels in love.    The food, the hassle-free and tolerant society, the language, the history, the architecture, one year just simply isn’t long enough to gain real insight into la Vida Española.

Andalucia

After reading a book on Spain’s recent history which featured a chapter focussing on the south of Spain and it’s discernible culture, I was inspired enough to use my extended Easter break (extended thanks to a week and a half of Easter holiday, followed by a bank holiday Monday, two days of work and then another two days of bank holiday – only in España!) to travel to Andalucía the southern most region of Spain, spending two days in each Seville, Cadiz and Almeria.

Cadiz was incredibly pretty, though somewhat boring when travelling alone, although I met some great German guys in the hostel, there really was a limit on how much wandering aimlessly around taking pictures could be done.  Almeria in contrast was butt-ugly, I’m never going back, I arrived feeling like I was in a town where a bomb had just gone off, and left wishing a bomb would go off there.

My favourite was the second oldest city in Europe west of Greece, the enchantingly beautiful Seville.  I stayed in a brilliant hostel, met and partied with travellers from all over the world, took a guided tour, found out that the oranges growing on the trees in the streets weren’t for eating, but there solely for the amazing smell. I made a promise to myself to return one day, hopefully for a prolonged period.

Aside from exploring Spanish cities this year, I have also discovered a lot about life in general; living for the moment, being bold, and possibly the most important thing I’ve begun to learn (and I say begun to as it’s a hard thing to do), is to just slow down and enjoy the moment, not worrying so much about the future, where you’re going in you’re career, education, love life, relax and truly appreciate what you have right now, as nothing about the future is guaranteed, no matter how much you want it.

Getting to know people from all walks of life has opened me up to even more cultures and lit a desire inside me to see the world in its entirety, the many great friends I’ve made here have also helped make this little adventure much more enjoyable and if we never cross paths again, I’ll always remember my fellow Alicantinos.

The culture differences I’ve experienced this year have changed me incalculably, I now plan daily activities around naps, don’t worry about being so Englishly over-polite, I stroll at a solid 2 miles per hour and put olive oil on everything.  But more importantly I see life as less of a competitive race and more of a fun-run, yes I want to do well, maybe more so than ever, yet there’s more to life than career achievements and climbing up that slippery social ladder.

One thing that has quarrelled me a little this year, is the clear divide that lies in the beautiful beach resorts between Spanish locals and the ‘guiris’ aka anybody not from Spain.  Granted, tourists – namely British and German, that come here in their millions each year don’t make much effort to integrate themselves, yet the Spanish view of outsiders is at times stereotypical and holier-than-thou and has led me to think that many Spanish people see the outside world as one huge less-interesting country. Spanish news seldom covers events from the outside world, or at least pass over them briefly, extended live coverage of a food festival in Murcia was prioritised over the Haiti earthquake earlier on this year in one particular bulletin broadcast.

Spain in my opinion needs to take it’s current position as head of the EU council, to show the rest of Europe the real Spain as well as open up the Spanish consciousness to other European cultures.  Of course this xenophobia is not carried by all Spanish people, there are many open and well-educated young people here in Alicante, especially up on the university campus, which I have recently realised is possibly my favourite part of town, outside of the beach and my bed.  The library is extensive, multi-lingual and boasts (not a typical Spanish attribute) a top floor panoramic view of the incredible mountains surrounding the city.  Also, every hot girl in town, of which there are many, seems to be either eating in the delicious university canteen, or studying away in the library.

Though being around so many young Spanish people makes me a little sad that I’ve found it quite a struggle this year to meet many.  You’re never going to make a friend in the middle of the street, so I took it upon myself to join sports teams, do classes and take on language intercambios, yet none seem to have helped me make a close Spanish friend, though I do wonder how close you can really be to someone when there is still such a language boundary.

My contract here terminates on the last day of may, yet I’m going to use an extra month to learn how to cook properly, see the mysterious Basque country and soak up the rays.  I know roughly two weeks after I leave I’ll begin to sorely miss the challenge of living with a foreign language, hopping on a bus at a whim and busking around the charming winding streets of little know pueblos, and being in a country where it’s never too late for anything.

I hope to return to Spain again one day, Seville, Granada and Barcelona are all places I’d happily settle.  If you ever get the chance to do so, please seriously consider working or studying abroad, possibly through the British Council as an English language conversation assistant, let’s put it in perspective; I’m currently sat on my balcony writing this article, listening to some of my favourite tunes in 22 degrees with nothing to worry about for the rest of the week except the last two hours of my 12 hour working week…life could be worse.

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Spain Is Different

April 21, 2010

The sun has arrived! Finally! My house mate conceded to us that we have chosen a foul year weather-wise to live in Spain, by this point in previous year, they had been soaking up the sun at temperatures of around 24 degrees for well over a month.  I have utilized the last month or so to do some travelling within this ‘different’ country – as the tourist board likes to put it.  First up was carnival in Cadiz, Andalucía.  Originating in Brazil, carnival is one of the most celebrated fiestas all over Spain, and Cadiz is the biggest of the lot.  Our theme of fancy dress was ‘animals from Noah’s arch’, but thanks to leaving my costume shopping until the very last minute the only fancy dress I could find that somewhat resembled an animal, was one of the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood dressed as an old woman, needless to say most people had no idea what I was meant to be!  Further trips I’ve taken recently include; Valencia for the annual fire festival – Las Fallas, which sees 40-foot-plus man made effigies of all sorts of comedic scenarios, paraded in the city centre in front of more than one million people for several days, until finally burnt to a crisp late at night in front of the very same, baying crowd.  My final trip was for my 23rd birthday, to the Aragonese city of Zaragoza.   It was a completely pleasant surprise, we went with very little expectations of what to find, and left enchanted by an ancient and lively city.  When we returned back to Alicante, desperately sleep deprived and in need of some sun, it felt a little like coming home, albeit a home in which my apartment is slowly collapsing on one side.  As Easter draws closer, the church street precessions have well and truly begun, and I kind of wish they would stop already! They just walk past so slowly playing the drums and holding huge crosses, I fully respect the traditions and customs of other countries, but most of the time, there’s not even a crowd watching, its like they’re just doing it for themselves. It’s funny though, every time I go to Alicante airport, or Benidorm or any given touristy location, the swarms of Brits-abroad that reside now seem so alien and ugly to me, I love my native country, but there’s no way in hell I’m ready to return just yet.

New Beginnings

February 15, 2010

New beginnings, I love them…there’s very few things I’m scared of (outside of missing my daily siesta, bad tapas and walking too fast – see my last update ‘Turning Spanish’), but being stuck in a dry routine is one thing I detest. When I came back to Alicante after the Christmas break, I knew it was time for a change, I wanted to be in a more central location, and to fill my days speaking more Spanish.  So I moved piso, flat, right into the heart of the city, the barrio, the old town where Alicantinos stroll to eat, drink and sitting just two minutes from the beach, grab a midday beach snack.  I’m now in a very modern, 3rd floor flat with two Spanish guys, Vladimir (no Russian blood) and Miguel, both great guys who love to talk…a lot, I’m quickly perfecting the art of nodding and saying “si si”, when I truly have no idea what’s being said to me.  Sometimes it’s so hard to make small talk, and I feel as though I’m coming across as uncomfortable or uninterested, which is frustrating, but as I said, luckily silent pauses are avoided as Spanish people like to talk… a lot.  Things in Spain, always seem take forever to be done, the country has so much unfulfilled potential, there’s so many beautiful streets and plazas, crowded with pot-holes, cement mixers and cones, great historic monuments are surrounded by construction fences as if to maintain a sense of modesty, what’s funny, is that each pot hole or construction zone seems to have 3 or more workers stood around it seeming to be doing very little but talking.  When my teachers have a department meeting, there’s always a list of agendas to be covered, sometimes 6 or 7 serious debatable topics, but by about the time the second point has been reached, the occasion has fallen into a mass chinwag about one of the profesora’s new necklaces or local beaches.  But you know what, I love it.  The Spanish are so laid back and tolerant, their way of life is so less stressful and the people are a thousand times more content than in any major British city. The Spanish don’t fret to say what’s on their mind, as I discovered in a rather eventful baguette transaction.  The canteen lady asked how old I am, in response to my feeble 22-years, she – as I took the baguette with one hand, and stretched out the other containing money to pay – slapped me full force, square across the cheeks and blasted “GUAPPO!”, good-looking man.  Before Christmas it felt as though I was looking into Spain from afar, now I really feel a part of the country and find myself desperate to submerge myself even more into it’s inimitable way of life.  As I wrote this article a fan fair of drums, folklore-attired dancers, flame throwers and other carnival acts paraded past my apartment, we promptly followed them through the winding streets of the old town to an open plaza, where we found a huge drum group, more fireworks and a crowd of several hundred, dancing and taking full advantage of the free beer on offer…when would that ever happen in England?

Turning Spanish

December 20, 2009

I thinking I’m turning Spanish…I really think so, if turning Spanish can be diagnosed by side effects such as wearing scarf and gloves when it’s 18 degrees outside, not being able to do anything but sleep between 3 and 5 in the afternoon and leaving everything till the last possible opportunity.  Since moving to Spain I’ve gotten so lazy, not that I wasn’t before – as any of my friends or family will surely tell you – but now my bone-idleness has been raised to a whole new level.  For example, it’s taken me three hours to get up to this point in writing this article!   My motivation level is lower than the weather outside right now, but post-Christmas this is going to change, my arse needs to be revved into gear.   I’ve used this last month to do a bit of travelling around Spain; firstly I took a nice little trip to Barcelona, what a city!  The architecture is so original, typified by Gaudi’s breath-taking unfinished Sagrada Familia and running through the beautiful winding thin streets that carve through the old town. My next port of call on the ‘Alec Herron finally got paid by the Spanish government – only two months late’ world wind tour of Spain was the stunning Andalucían city of Granada, a city steeped in history, boasting the world-famous Moorish built Alhambra palace, whilst we didn’t want to pay to get in there (I’m still technically a student!) we enjoyed an awesome view of the monument with the huge Sierra Nevada mountain in the background, and went for a tapas tour of the city, one of the most memorable parts of the trip was the driving there and back, the Spanish take tail-gating to a whole new level, leaving barely inches between cars, undertaking, cutting off and slipways smaller than some cars.  My last update was following a brief period where I really wasn’t enjoying my time in Spain, but a few words of wisdom from my ever-selfless Ecuadorian house mate helped me put things into perspective “At you’re age you only have to worry about having a mentality to enjoy, the money you have enjoy, a girl here a girl there, parties, friends, just enjoy, don’t worry about anything until you get older, have a partner, mortgage, bills to pay, because then you won’t have any choice but to worry, so for now just enjoy”.

1st – Tengo ganas – I think…

November 26, 2009

Tacky postcards from the Costa Blanca

Fed up of my ridiculously belated sleeping pattern, I decided to force myself up early this morning and struggle tiredly through the day with the aim of being so shattered tonight that I’ll pass out as soon as sun goes down. This would ensure that tomorrow for the first time in a fair while my day will begin earlier than 2pm.  As it was a strangely sunny September’s day, I thought I’d celebrate my achievement with a few hours in the garden; tunes, book and sun lounger accompanying…

I can now confirm that falling asleep in your back garden in the sun is never a good idea, especially so if like me you’re a big ginger, it deals nasty repercussions; the worst burnt part of my body is the bit between my eyebrows and eyelids, what the hell is that area even called?

One hour in the Manchester September sun and I’m too embarrassed to show my big pink face at tonight’s weekly pub quiz in Gatley, which we always stand a good chance of winning due to the fact that we can spell.

So how the apeth am I going to cope with a year on the Costa Blanca for my forthcoming years placement as a language assistant in the city of Alicante?  This is one of the overwhelming worries I’m facing…not really.  I cant wait to slap on some factor 50, double it up on the back of my neck and hit the beach, remembering to re-apply every 45 minutes.

I am going to do my absolute best to try and make each and every one of you that reads this column sneeringly jealous of my Mediterranean misdemeanours.

I’ll report back every sangria, paella and fiesta, but more importantly try and give you a taste of what a years work placement abroad can be like for the average UWE student; making friends, seeing new sights and experiencing another nation’s culture.  There are many things I’m going to miss about Bristol too though, the music scene, the friendly people, and the fine dining in Escape bar….

 

Hablamos pronto

 

Alec

2nd – A pinkish brown

November 24, 2009

I’ve been in Spain for only four weeks now, but it feels like I’ve been here for so much longer.             They say time flies when your having fun, but I say it also flies when you’re laying around on the beach everyday doing nothing but turning a nice, sun-kissed pink. Firstly, I’d like to clear a little matter up, I am most certainly not a ‘passionate Man Utd fan’ as stated in last months report, in fact, I do not believe that such a thing exists, I support my local club Manchester City unlike your glory hunting, non-mancunian Publications Editor, Marcus Siddall.   My first few days in this new town, as exciting as they were, were so nerve-wracking.  Wow, the Spanish talk fast and it’s so hot ALL the time.  Manners don’t seem to exist in the street – never expect someone to move out of your way or let you pass first, it’s everyman for themselves, and one thing the Spanish love is a good stare at an outsider, but in contrast, find yourself struggling through conversation with a local and they’re actually very friendly.  After 5 days in a hostel with possibly the worlds greatest thing ever – air conditioning, I moved into my new flat, with a French student and a chef from the Galapagos Islands who doesn’t speak any English so I have a perfect opportunity to practise my Spanish conversation, which is vital, seeing as I spend 90% of my time speaking English to my new group of mainly American friends.  Last weekend I took a little trip to Valencia and saw the truly breath taking ‘City of Science and Arts’, and sampled the famous local dish ‘Paella Valenciano’, which was nice, but right now I miss Curry like hell, there’s none here!  I’ve been working in a local high school as an ‘English Language Conversation Assistant’, which has been great so far, for some reason the kids were so excited to meet me, I was made out to be a big deal and I hope I’m living up to their expectations, their level of English is quite low, but somehow most lessons erupt into a classroom debate about football, but on the whole the kids are great, I remember how we were to our teachers in school and I’m so relieved these kids aren’t even half as horrible as some of the people in my high school. I hope I’m not putting a jinx on things when I say that everything’s going well, I’ve even managed to find myself a rugby team here, though the lack of nightclubs with good music is killing me (what I would do right now to hear a bit of techno or dubstep outside of my ipod!) I feel like a fresher again in a way, everyday seems to hold a new experience.

Hasta luego

3rd – Bit jaded

November 24, 2009

How a month can change things…I closed my last report stating how everyday here holds a new adventure and how I feel like a fresher again. Well now, four weeks later, I seem to find myself just plain bored a lot of the time. There’s not much more I hate than routine, I can’t stand waking up in the morning and knowing exactly how your day is going to go. This is the case with some days here, but of course not all, I’m taking on intercambios (where speakers of two different languages agree to meet and practise the others language) which has been great for me so far, although most are a bit older I have met some great people. What I really want to do though, is meet Spanish people of the same age as me, where are they all?!!? My heavy workload of twelve hours a week leaves me with a little too much spare time, Thursdays are especially drab, I’m not in work all day and the time of laying on the beach burning my behind have long gone. Although the midday average temperature here is still hitting around 20 degrees, there’s a hell of a cold wind, intent on blowing as much sand into your eyes as possible. The nights are such a contrast to the mildly pleasant daytime, the air is piercingly chilly and it isn’t the norm here to have central heating in the house, sleeping in socks and extra layers has become a regular necessity. My Spanish is so much better than when I arrived here, having scraped through the first two years of a prestigious UWE Spanish joint honours degree, I knew settling in here was going to be somewhat of a struggle, but I’m getting by fine, although the time has come I feel to start studying again, and refine all those nagging little grammatical areas I just cant get my head around, such as only being able to speak in the present tense (which make story telling a bit of a struggle). This update has been a bit of a downer, and I don’t want to paint the wrong picture of my experience here, as I am still very much enjoying it, but right now a nice little trip home would be perfect…my mum telling me to get off arse and tidy the house, Shepherd’s Pie, Coronation Street and driving around Manchester late at night, it’s the simple things that I miss right now.

Hello world!

November 24, 2009

This is my monthly article in the UWE newspaper ‘Westerneye’, recording my years work placement in Alicante, Spain.

The first three are in reverse order, apologies!