Nils' Spanish adventure!
03.11.2011 - 12.11.2011 12 °C
I am back in France after having completed an intensive English for Spanish business people course in a place called La Alberca, about a three and a half hour bus ride from Madrid. We were actually about 50 km from Portugal. It was quite beautiful, although we had our share of inclement fall weather.
The format was a little "zany", as we had 22 separate one on one conversation sessions over the course of the 8 days in addition to simulated teleconferences, telephone calls, skits, and assignments. Generally, you were busy from 8:00 a.m. until late at night, with some breaks.
The "master of ceremonies" was an ex-Royal Navy gregarious sort who kept the show running with dry, sometimes off colour humour of which I am sure the Spanish had an at best limited appreciation of.
All in all it was a great experience, and the Spanish people were very friendly and gracious. I learned a lot about Spanish culture, economy, arts, families, jobs, no jobs, pig farming, high speed trains, bull fighting, religious festivals, bull fighting, box plants, Arthur Anderson etc., etc...
A few tidbits which I found interesting :
1. At the height of the troubles in the Basque region involving ETA, there were 3000 to 4000 full-time bodyguards employed to protect Judges, prosecutors and other public officials. I am not sure whether defence counsel received, or required any protection !? There are now the beginnings of a provisional ceasefire. This is of course a positive development. However, I understand it is a bitter sweet situation vis a vis the bodyguards as these were relatively high paying, full-time jobs which will be essentially impossible to replace. Can you imagine what it cost the government to fund that type of protection ? That is like a mini, full-time army. ;
2. Iberian ham - part art, part science, entirely delicious. The Spanish take their "ham" seriously. And this is "ham" like a Trabant is, I guess, a car.
This ain't no Maple Leaf Foods product, with all due respect. So here we go with what I understand. The best product comes from free range Iberian pigs. They have up to 1 hectare per pig grazing area (!) In their final Fall and early Winter, they graze and cavort on the aforementoined land engaging in their favourite porcine games. During this period they exclusively eat special acorns. I was given one from my new friend Antonio. The combination of this nutty diet and the enviable room to roam which they have creates the best grade product. Our Spanish friends referred to the little guys as athletic pigs.
As far as quality control is concerned, after the pigs are removed from their equivalent of nirvana, the meat receives a type of biopsy in order to determine whether it is the highest grade or if it is something lesser. This is important because the highest grade ham sells for up to 15 Euros per 100 grams in the designer butcher shops of Barcelona and Madrid ! They are presented as cured pig legs held in place by a clamp. The butchers have all manner of fantastic knives in order to perform their craft.
The top grade product is cured for between 24 and 30 months, so I presume there is always product in the pipeline. I was lucky enough to try this
delicacy a few times, and it was really quite amazing ;
3. Public transit - Spain may be suffering its own economic woes along with a chunk of the rest of Europe, but I must say the public transit system in both Barcelona and Madrid is absolutely first class. Modern, quiet, fast trains which appear to run on time. The stations are in good repair
and the system appears to be pretty user friendly. I don't know if the product is economic, but a very impressive infrastructure has been put in place. I was/am impressed. Our big Canadian cities could certainly learn valuable lessons from our European neighbours ;
4. Hats off to the Spanish participants in the Pueblo Ingles programme - 22 native Spanish speakers participated in this programme. They were instructed not to speak Spanish for 8 days. They largely complied with that edict as they were subjected to accents from Sydney, Australia, New York, Newcastle, Southhampton, Toronto, Trinidad, Long Beach, Sussex, Columbus, Miami and New Jersey to name a few. Their heads must have been pounding with the crazy variety and volume of the "data input" ! I must say that they were all enthusiastic, friendly, gracious and interesting.
It was a fantastic opportunity to learn about modern day and not so modern day Spain. Of course the final conclusion was that I should do this type
of a programme in French....we shall see
I was very impressed and touched by the heartfelt and healthy enthusiasm the Spaniards had for their country's
traditions, festivals, cultural events, music, food, sport and families. All expressed so fabulously in their lyrical native tongue, when they were not under the Anglo only law !
As an side, on the topic of public transit, the AVE train from Madrid to Barcelona is pretty great. It tops out at just over 300 km/h and it is smooooth. It is a really pleasant way to travel. A voyage of around 660 km took just under 3 hours, with one stop.
Otherwise, all well here. It's volleyball night, so I am travelling to Sete with Max and Angus is playing in Meze. They are both enjoying "volley" as the French call it. It is neat to see Angus get better, as he hadn't played volleyball before. Max and Angus practice with a foamy soccer ball, either in our apartment, or downstairs in the garage, washing machine area. A few glasses and bowls have been sacrificed in the process....
Because Max is an "etranger", he is not allowed to play in the tournament games. However, he does have 4 hours of practice and internal club games every week. Sete is a fairly serious volleyball community, so it is a great experience for him. The pro games are hilarious with the level of support via air horns, trumpets, drums and megaphones reaching a fevered pitch. It is refreshing to see that level of enthusiasm for a non big money, non-corporate sport. It is just plain local grass roots support.