It is four degrees Celsius today in Barcelona and that is making everyone feel Christmassy indeed. I am home alone today and right now my i-pod is shuffling its way through 345 Christmas songs. (DP will be very happy… grateful, even… when he learns that I hosted this very special Christmas concert while he was out).
I have a number of Christmas-in-Barcelona moments to share today:
ONE LAST STORY ABOUT SHIT
One of my colleagues at school, a teacher of Spanish and Catalan, meets twice a week with the foreign students in grade seven. She provides language support and teaches them about Catalan culture and traditions. The class meets in my room so I get to watch their (mis)adventures in language and culture. (Actually, given that I teach English to those same students, I get to witness the crazy carnival of their language acquisition in TWO languages). Last week had been chosen, you guessed it, as the perfectly appropriate time to talk about Christmas and, as we have discovered in this blog, the Catalan Christmas is never complete without a little shit. The teacher distributed, to the students, a hand-out that described several traditions, including both the “Caganer” and the “Caga Tio” and I watched their faces as they read the word “shit” in Spanish and then in English. They looked nervously at each other, almost-but-not-quite giggling. “Is this some kind of joke?” their faces said… “Has our teacher totally lost it?” The teacher then assigned each student a section to read aloud and I could see the boys counting how many times they were going to be allowed to say SHIT out loud in their paragraphs. I had some photocopying to do but there was NO way that I was going to miss this class.
So the reading began and the grade seven boys did their best not to laugh as most of the girls stared at them with grandmotherly disapproval. I will admit here that I did, eventually, lose it … I absolutely could not keep my composure (and I would defy you to try) when a sweet little blonde boy asked the teacher, “Why are Catalans so obsessed with the act of defecation?” An excellent question, I thought. The teacher thought about the question for a moment and then responded, “It’s the one thing we all have in common.”
SCHOOL CHRISTMAS PAGEANT
That same night, the students of our elementary school (grades one through five) hosted their annual Christmas Pageant at the auditorium of “Escola Pia,” an ENORMOUS school down the street from us. Our campus is tiny; the main building is an old Spanish villa and we don’t have space for an auditorium. Now, never having been an elementary teacher, I have never attended (let alone organized) one of these extravaganzas… certainly not since I was a student myself. Let me just say, “I had NO idea!” I had no idea how many times children have to practice a song in order to perform it at a Christmas concert. (I am thinking that the process must be very similar to that of brain-washing). I had no idea how astonishingly LOUD thirty grade five students could be as they practiced their songs on the patio directly below my classroom where we were straining to hear the audio CD of “The Giver.” I had no idea that a grade three teacher would actually choose to comb the city looking for the perfect little Christmas hats for all 18 of her students and that she would finally find, on the night before the show, 18 adorable red headbands with little reindeer antlers and that she would buy them with her own money. I had no idea about the absolute chaos caused by 200 students arriving at the auditorium… and their grumpy parents (trying oh-so-hard to be merry) as they tried to find seats together. I had no idea how CUTE the kids would be as they sang their Christmas songs from around the world (the title of the show was “Postcards from Santa”)… and that, at the end of the show, the kids would all stand, turn to the audience, and sing us a Merry Christmas. And that they would wave to us… just like the von Trapp children did as they sang “good-bye” in “The Sound of Music.” People actually cried… I had no idea! Then the Principal thanked the music teacher, the director of the show, and her lovely assistant who was none other than DP… and he waved one long arm out from behind the curtain. (He definitely cannot be accused of hogging the spotlight). Ask him if HE had any idea about helping out with a class of grade five students during the pre-Christmas season (so much candy… so much sugar…), or about coaxing them through their performance in the Christmas pageant. (As the grade five students “host” the concert and are, therefore, onstage for the entire show, I suspect that might be another blog). After the concert, a handful of teachers helped strike the set and the School Director brought us a poinsetta to take home. Cool! We carried this enormous Christmas plant home on the metro and I thought about how much I liked the show and how it had been so much work for so many teachers for weeks and weeks and then, in just an hour, it was over. This is what mom says about Christmas dinner… you work hard, over several days, to prepare a wonderful meal and then it is all gone so quickly. I would like to believe, however, that the memories of the Christmas show (and the Christmas dinners) are what make the work worthwhile.
STAFF CHRISTMAS PARTY
What a week! On Friday night, at 9:00 p.m., the entire staff of my school gathered at a downtown restaurant for our annual Christmas dinner and party. The administrators had booked the second floor of the restaurant and one of the secretaries had assigned each of us to a table of 10. Apparently, she ensures that people with a special loathing for each other do not end up at the same table which is very considerate and a little it hysterical given that there are only 60 of us. The good news is that DP and I are mostly unaware of these relationships-turned-sour and I hope to continue to be for at least another semester. For my money, this was a pretty merry gathering. The Director asked each of us to check for a gold star stuck to the bottom of our chair and five of the six Canadians on staff found just such a star (crazy odds for the Canucks… as there were only 21 stars in total). The gold star entitled each of us to a bottle of cava which is Spanish-made sparkling white wine (like champagne but don’t say that to a Spaniard). We drank my bottle, with friends, the following night over dinner and I can personally attest to the 11.5 % alcohol content. This cava was made by the husband of one of the teachers who owns a local wine business and in a particularly lovely touch, the wine given away as the prize actually bears the last name of the wine-makers wife and our colleague: “Gausa.”
The wait staff seemed slightly frazzled by the prospect of serving dinner to 60 teachers (many of them foreigners with little Spanish) who were already starting to feel the pleasant effects of the free wine accompanying the meal. We started with pan de tomate (toasted bread with a layer of fresh tomato rubbed on top), cheese, jamon (ham) and salad served on large platters. For the main course, waiters served five types of meat off heaping platters. I want to be clear, here, about the meat. We were not given a choice of five kinds of meat; each of us was served five different pieces of meat. My dad would have been in meat-lovers heaven at my Christmas party. My brain went into absolute overload when the waiter with the shaky serving hand reached me; “Pollo, por favor,” I said. Chicken, please. “Only chicken?” the waiter asked, astonished, in Spanish. Si! Yup, only chicken. “Two pieces, then,” he suggested loudly The chicken was amazing… it tasted as though it had just come off a spit which I must concede that it may have.
Dinner was followed by dessert and coffee (a separate course) and, during this time, we were invited to reveal ourselves (just our identities) to our Secret Santa. Almost every member of the staff participates in the annual Secret Santa exchange; on Wednesday and Thursday of last week, we left small gifts (minimum 1 Euro) for our “person” (no adequate word for this – giftee?) and, on the night of the party, we exchanged our “big” gifts. I delivered my gift to my “person” who was sitting at the other end of the long narrow restaurant and, what with the very merry-making and the hugging and gift-admiring and general drunkenness of my colleagues, I wondered if I would ever make it back to my table. As I finally sat down in my chair, I saw that Begonia, one of our cafeteria ladies, was headed towards me. When I saw Begonia, I remembered something that had happened a few days earlier when several staff members who make jewelry and clothing and other good things hosted a Christmas Sale at school. I had admired a necklace being sold and had asked the teacher who made it to hold onto it for me as I was going upstairs to get my money. When I got back, however, the necklace was gone; the teacher said “Oh, I hope you don’t mind but Begonia really wanted that necklace so I sold it to her.” It was a beautiful necklace but I did not mind at all; I felt both surprise and delight that one of our cafeteria ladies could afford 15 Euros for a necklace. As a point of reference, this never would have happened in Monterrey. So here we are at the party and Begonia has a little bag for me and inside the bag is a box and inside the box is the necklace that I had admired. Begonia had bought it for me. We are friends for life, now, Begonia and I.
DP and I leave for Florence on Thursday. We will spend five days in Florence, five days in Cinque Terre and five days in Lisbon, Portugal. Although I will not be blogging during our trip, I will be recording my observations and thoughts for future entries.
We wish you a Merry Christmas! (Imagine me waving like one of those von Trapp children).