Thursday, October 9, 2014

What big teeth you've got...

Valencia. City of oranges. City of paella. And for one month only...

City of Dinosaurs!

I didn't have time to enter the exhibition itself today (this little monster is parked outside), so I can't give a view as to its quality. But if you're planning a visit to la capital del Turia this month, and you have an interest in dinosaurs, then this might be for you.

The exhibition runs until the 26th of October and you can check out its website here I'll post a few snaps from inside next week.

The exhibition is on Carrer de Nino Bravo, facing the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia (the Opera House).

 Until then...

Hold tight!

Ride 'em, cowboy.

He's behind you!

What big teeth you've got...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

They think it's all over...

Fallas, that is. 19th March, every year, la crema and it's over. Right? Well, not quite...

We visited Alicante last week to see the annual Los Hogueres de San Juan fiesta and were confronted by...

You'd be forgiven for thinking...

Although, there were a few subtle differences from (the 'real') Fallas. Certainly the crowds were much smaller than we usually meet in Valencia city, but then we were in Alicante on the first day of the celebration. And the statues certainly didn't reach the heights of the larger ones in the capital.

But there were mascletas and bands and food and a crema... and more food.

So if you want to sample Las Fallas without the crowds and the cost, check out Los Hogueres de San Juan in Alicante next June. And keep your eyes open...

I imagine this would be useful for seeing round corners...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Faces of Fallas 2014

I always enjoy visiting Fallas before they are completed. There's less of a crush, and a chance to see the artists at work...

Here's a selection of snaps from the weekend.

The stage is set.

Not the time to lose your head.

Now, when you said, 'Shoeshine...'

You're getting too big for your own good.

Pretty in pink.

Take aim...

Look at...!

I can see the future...

Brush up...

Who are you looking at?

Nit de Foc!

Night of Fire. There's really not much more to say; the pictures tell the story. Burriana, a quiet little place really... 

Oh, and don't wear your new coat..

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Valencia Loses its Shine...

Palau de las Artes Reina Sofia.

The Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences) is the 'crown-jewel' of modern Valencia. At the eastern end of the (now dry) River Turía bed, it stands like a collection of recently-landed space craft. The Museo de las Ciencias and the Hemisferic are impressive buildings, but the most spectacular of all is the Palau de las Arts Reina Sofia (the Queen Sofia Opera House). Designed by local architect Santiago Calatrava and opened in 2006, its white-tiled facade glitters brightly in the sunlight...

Museo de las Ciencias.

Hemisferic (left) and the Palau de las Artes Seina Sofia.

Well, it used to...

In 2013 parts of the tiled covering began to buckle, and then fall off. The cause of the problem (and therefore the target of the finger of blame) is fiercely disputed. Some point to recent high winds while others cite the heat, as if a modern retelling of the 'Sun verses Wind' fable was being played out in the centre of Valencia.  In an update to the tale, yet others blame 'the wrong type of glue' (used to stick the white ceramic tiles onto the steel shell).  

A decision was quickly taken to remove all the remaining tiles for safety reasons, and in little more than a fortnight a team of workers scaled the walls and ripped them off.


... and after.

As the financial crisis has hit Spain, Valencia has suffered more than many other areas. The City of Arts and Sciences was dubbed an expensive 'white elephant' by many even before the economy collapsed. But Calatrava's problems don't end in Valencia; a string of other 'prestige' projects are also turning sour. 

The 'Ysios' winery, near the Basque town of Laguardia, has a stunning undulating roof... which is leaking. In Oviedo, his Palacio de Congresos cost him over 3 million euros in compensation when part of the roof collapsed. The Zubizuri bridge in Bilbao has had its glass walkway covered in black matting to prevent people slipping on it when it rains, while another bridge (over the Grand Canal in Venice) needed expensive repair work and has provoked a 4 million-euro claim from the Italian Treasury. 

Ysios winery's beautiful (leaking) roof.

Back in Valencia, a local politician (Ignacio Blanco) has a website showcasing what he claims to be Calatrava's (many) faults. loosely translates as 'Calatrava bleeds you dry'. 

The 'starchitect' isn't taking all this criticism passively. Far from it; the Spanish newspaper El País recently reported that he's moved all his money to Switzerland.

So, if the local Valencian is planning on making himself (and his money) scarce, at least he will leave the city of Valencia with a reminder of the times when the money flowed freely. 

Maybe not a such white elephant after all, more a traditional grey one.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What's in my Bag?

I was recently asked by the TES (Times Educational Supplement) to contribute a 'What's in your Bag?' piece. Here's a link to it, including those by other contributers:

And here's the full version of my bag's contents (before editing):


Here's my bag, and by way of explanation... this is my 'weekend' bag. On Saturdays and Sundays our school is open for 'weekend' school with different teachers and different children. So... seeing as none of the cupboards lock in my room, everything that I want to see again on Monday morning must squeeze into my bag.

Moving clockwise from bottom left...

1. My mobile phone. But not for the obvious reason. My mobile phone (luckily) came with a superb English/Spanish dictionary built-in, so when Pedro pelts across the playground screaming, 'Cabrón!' at Miguel, I can haul him in and give him a (metaphorical) clip 'round the ear. (Cabrón is one of the milder swearwords my dictionary can cope with, although it's essential in class as well so that I have half a chance of understanding the Spanglish that is the main means of communication used by my children.)
2. Memory stick. Not my choice of style or colour I'll hastily add. A gift from a child.
3. Thermos mug. Coffee in winter (yes we do have one), water in summer. I like to have the flexibility not to go to the staffroom at break. Especially if there's been a Cabrón incident to attend to...
4. El País newspaper. My homework. I'm a slow learner (even with a superb dictionary) so the Sunday edition lasts all week.
5. Valencia v Manchester United Champions League commemorative scarf. This usually hangs from the ceiling to generate 'discussion' between me and the Valencian children but always comes home at the weekend. This season I'm considering leaving it there...
6. Laptop. How did I ever teach without this?
7. 'Dave' the puppet. My class are 6- and 7-year-old Spaniards. Even the shyest child can't resist telling Dave off when he starts picking his nose. He's not really naughty, I tell them, he's just a bit of a scamp. (No, that's not the same as Cabrón!)
8. Hat + sunglasses = playground duty!
9. Highlighter pens, what Spaniards delightfully call fosfis (Foss-fees). I now call them fosfis too.
10. Permanent markers. We do a lot of singing. The children are always bringing in CDs to take copies of the music/lyrics home.
11. HD Flip video. We do a lot of videoing as well. The children love to see themselves up on the interactive whiteboard. I love them to hear themselves talking in English. 
12. IWB stylus. I want to see this again on Monday!
13. English/Spanish power converter.
14. Camera. I take lots of snaps whenever a child brings in a shell, leaf, snail, wild hedgehog. Then we write about it on the IWB, then we read about it together... We also do regular 'show and tell' lessons where everything else comes in. Bikes, skateboards, parrots, enormous paella dishes...
15. Blank CDs.
16. Secret supply of whiteboard markers. The stock cupboard is locked and guarded and opens (without much warning) at odd and infrequent hours...
17. Secret supply: glue sticks.
18. Secret supply: pencils...
19. Secret supply: This one's a secret!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bull-running... for kids!

Hemmingway introduced the world to running with bulls at Pamplona’s annual San Fermin fiesta (in which you can risk your life in front of a herd of charging ‘toros’). But did you know that there is a much more ‘animal (and human!) friendly’ version? One in which the only screaming you will hear will be the intense piercing squeals of young children having devilish fun... and where the only bulls involved are on wheels!

Encierros infantiles’ or ‘children’s bull-runs’ are becoming an increasingly popular part of those Spanish fiestas which include bull-running (which are by no means confined to Pamplona). I was in the Valencian community during the summer and saw encierros infantiles advertised in the local press almost on a daily basis. I popped along to the small town of Nules (population 13,000 and pronounced noo-les) to see what all the screaming was about.

I arrive early and find the town set up for a week of full-blown bull-running. The pretty main plaza (the size of half a football pitch) is dominated by the ayuntamiento (town hall) boasting bell and clock towers. But today the plaza is made smaller by the cadafales which have been erected around its perimeter. Cadafales are cages made of steel bars, thick enough to withstand an assault by an enraged bull. On top of the cadafales the genteel folk sit and sip cañas, while underneath the young and the brave (some may say foolhardy) seek refuge when the bull gets too close. The cobbles are liberally sanded and it seems as though every child from miles around has come to make sandcastles. But don’t be fooled, a white van pulls up in the corner and the castillos are trampled in the stampede.


       From the van emerge the Bou Per la Vila (Bull in the Town) team, a heavy-duty sound system and half a dozen carretones taurinos (bulls-on-wheels). The excitement level of the couple of hundred children in the square ratchets up a couple of notches as the back-doors of the van swing open to reveal the bull-heads, with horns topped by golf-balls. Who said élf ´n´safety never made it to Spain? The sound-system booms into life, Gangnam-style, and babes in arms have their photos taken by proud parents in front of the waiting carretones. Red neckerchiefs (similar to those worn by the San Ferminers) are given out and a quick warm-up session is attempted before mayhem takes over. And then it begins; the screaming goes Richter, the bulls are on the move.

The older children, anyone over about 10, run towards the bulls or after them. Younger children, the 7 or 8 year-olds, generally seem to run away. Anyone younger than that (who is able to run) doesn’t seem to know what to do, and usually ends up running around in circles, screaming their head off. If you take your eyes off the bull for a second, you will see that the adults carrying babies, or holding the hands of 5- or 6-year-olds (to keep them ‘safe’) are actually having as much fun as the children.


At a given signal, the carretones charge en mass up a long side street, followed by what must now be three or four hundred children (and adult ‘carers’). All goes quiet for a brief couple of moments before the crowd spews back into the plaza pursued by the bulls, like an uncorked Cava bottle.


There is a call on the PA for ‘toritos pequeños’ and anyone who has brought along their own mini bull on mini wheels is now welcome to join in the mayhem. Adults chase children. Children chase adults. Bulls chase bulls. Some children have brought capes while others are even riding the bulls!

The Bou Per la Vila team then defy all known laws of child-psychology by asking the hyper-excited children to form lines for individual ‘runs’ against the bulls. This won’t happen, my experienced-teacher’s brain tells me, confidently. And I am wrong.

I have to confess, I’m no fan of bull-fighting or (adult) bull-running, but for an evening I regret bitterly that I was born and brought up in Cricklewood, rather than Nules. It seems to be the most fun it’s possible to have as a child, without actually doing anything ‘wrong’. 

I shot some video in Nules. It'll give you a pretty good impression of the atmosphere:

Nules night run

And here's the 'real thing', an adult 'bull-run' from the nearby town of Burriana:

Burriana run 2013

But be warned... There is no doubt that the encierros infantiles escapades, while being good, clean fun for all the family, are also the perfect recruiting sergeant for the next generation of (adult) bull-runners. These events bring people (and therefore money) into the small towns that host them. Just don’t be fooled into thinking that the adult events are the same ‘fun’. Four days after my afternoon in Nules, a local man was killed in that day’s run.

So, if you want to experience Spainish ‘toro’ culture in a safe (if noisy) way, then take my advice and ignore the bull-ring with its blood and gore, and instead seek out an encierro infantile for all the family to enjoy. They’re especially common in the summer months, in the towns inland from the packed beaches. Take a break from the sun, sea and sand... and run!

Read more of my adventures in Spain in my eBook, Zen Kyu Maestro: An English Teacher's Spanish Adventure. Click on the cover for more details: