Monday, 30 April 2007

Leon´s literary circuit, and more

Last week I hit Leon´s champagne and canape circuit - unfortunately without the champagne and canapes - with my guide Dennis.

On Monday to commemorate the anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare the university invited a poet from the capital, Managua, to give a talk and read some of her poems. Dennis [who is also a poet] gave a short introduction to proceedings which received many laughs and was followed by three other introductions (15 mins each). Finally the poet took to the podium and talked for about an hour and a quarter. Unfortunately the volume on the mic was low and the air conditioners - a rare treat in this city - on full blast. Consequently of the 2 hours+ I barely understood a word. Still everyone else enjoyed it.

The following day was the 40th anniversary of Leon Viejo restoration fund. Leon Viejo was formerly Nicaragua´s capital in about the 1600´s is one of the oldest Spanish colonial cities in the Americas.

Many local historians and writers were there as the panel of 4 speakers each said their piece. Three people spoke for about 20 minutes each and then the main guest, a well respected 90-year-old lifted his head from his cane and talked animatedly about about Nicaraguan history in general. After 50 mins he received a prod from a fellow panel member to either wrap it up or get to the point. Well, he did neither and 30 minutes later he received another prod which seemed to do the trick. So, after that did we go for drinks and discussion in the pristine gardens? Alas not, the first speaker came on and had another go for 10 mins.

Unfortunately I didn´t understand much of this talk either. I think it´s mainly the accent and the speed which I´m told eventually I´ll tune into and it´ll all make sense.

From these events though and a few others as I´ve sat there desperately trying to comprehend I´ve come to the conclusion that Latin men just love to talk. Even if half the audience are nodding of and in one instance a woman even made (not took) a phone call without even bothering to leave the room.

I´ve also been seriously impressed by the respect for Leon´s culture and the passion in which it´s talked. There are a bunch of dedicated people here working hard so people won´t forget. And from what I hear it´s an uphill struggle. The government doesn´t have much interest in the nation´s art and culture such organisations do not receive subsidy. What´s also surprising is that in a nation that prides itself on it´s writers and poets no one seems to read in Nicaragua. In Leon, the third biggest city, there are no bookshops, just one place selling secondhand works of Lenin. Yesterday in the paper there was an editorial entitled ´Why don´t we read more?´

I don´t what the answer is but if the champagne and canape circuit is to continue they need to start attracting young people. A 5 minute limit on opening speeches might be a good start.

The past tense - number 1

Last week - with a different teacher - I was taught one of the past tenses. The past participle I think. As with any Spanish tense there are also multiple irregular verbs thrown in. Each set of irregulars has a rule applied to them. This one has 11 rules ranging from, change the O to an E, if it ends in ´gar´ switch it to ´gue´ and my favourite, the 5th group: verbos muy irregular, where there aren´t any rules.

When we get to the rules it´s like someone putting the brakes on. You´re travelling along at a steady speed taking on board all conjugations when suddenly the logic no longer applies and the learning curve grinds to a halt. Still, I guess it´s just a case of remembering them. Whenever I pull a face at the strange rules I am told that English is far more difícil.

I have found that it´s opened the door though to more fulfilling conversation. Given that the interesting things that happen to people are in the past tense it´s nice to be able to talk about them. As long as it does´t involve an irregular verb.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Turned out nice, again

I promised you some politics but so far I´m struggling to fully comprehend all the stories I read and hear.

The biggest story in town seems to be the impending arrival of the rains and whether they´ll be on time. They´re due at the start of May and are desperately needed. As well as this place being a total dust bowl the actual water supply for the town is far lower than it´s been in recent years and is in desperate need of a wet winter.

As for me, I can´t wait either, this place needs a cooling down. However, I´ve also heard that it can rain non stop for whole weeks at a time. A bit of moderation would be appreciated.

Monday, 16 April 2007

View from the Cathedral

See the bright coloured church - Iglesia Calvario?
My Spanish school is about 100 metres in front it.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Adventures with Dennis

I´m really getting into my afternoon excursions with Professor and poet Dennis. I´ve since learnt that a professor is actually a teacher so from here on in he´ll just be know as Dennis.

After Monday´s tour of the old city the following day we went to the art gallery. Dennis, who has quite a short attention span - or perhaps he´s done these tours 100´s of times - wasn´t too interested by the painting´s composition, more about the artist´s origin. Italian, Mexican and Nicaraguan artists got huge thumbs up. He would point to the origin and then usher me to the next one before my eye´s had even reached the canvas.

The gallery actually has a very good collection, there´s lots of religious works from Europe but also some good recent Central American pieces and also a Picasso and lots Rembrandt sketches.

Incidentally, Dennis doesn´t like abstract art (arte abstracto) he shakes his head, sighs and generally doesn´t give it the time of day.

Thursday took us to the Mueso Entomologico that is a one roomed museum full of preserved butterflies and cockroaches, not very interesting in itself but the dedicated owner gave a really interesting talk - in Spanish and then in English when Dennis wasn´t in earshot - about how he goes about getting all the creatures (he goes out into the field catches them and trades them with a network of people around the world).

And finally to Subtivia, Leon´s indigenous district. From what I could gather it is autonomous from the government. It also has the country´s oldest, and dilapidated, Cathedral (circa 1620 I think).

We went in and an excitable Dennis would tug at the fixtures and fittings and say ´muy muy antigua´(very very old) as a piece of altar almost crumbled away in his hand.

In the midst of this daily excitement, if we ever run out of things to say (or I want a break from cathedrals and butterflies) we move onto Dennis´favourite subject, English war-time history.

These are a few of his favourite things:

Bomberderos Lancaster - Lancaster bombers
Colonel Montgomery
The Halifax bombers (wasn´t aware of this one)
Winston Churchill
oh, and aside from the war, the Beatles

Looking forward to next week.

One week down...

So, I´ve successfully completed this week´s tuition and I´m actually beginning to enjoy it. The first few days were really hard, from the moment I woke to the last thing at night every word I uttered aloud was in Spanish.

You expect this to be the case, however, when everything you want to communicate from being passed the milk to trying to ask ´how do you know when a verb is irregular´ it´s pretty draining.

Slowly things are becoming easier. I bought a mobile phone and was informed how to buy credit and register it - not an easy job at the best of times. And, I had a haircut that actually turned out OK, apart from the sideburns that taper to a point, which comes as standard with a haircut here anyway.

Things are good in the house too. The owner, Hilda, makes her living from renting the rooms and is home all the time. So, after classes we usually sit down for lunch - which is the main meal of the day - and exchange a few pleasantries then she does some texting (she´s always texting) and I make a start on homework.

The evenings are when people get back from work and we may sit round the table for an hour. Where I rifle through my dictionary trying to keep up/join the conversation.

Then everone goes off to watch TV in their rooms and if I feel I´ve done enough Spanish for the day I may go to the local bar and read my book.

On the weekendve allowed myself a small indulgence. There´s a bar a few minutes walk away that´s run by a Bristolian. They have really good food there and show the football highlights.

So, I´ve decided that one night per weekend I´ll go there and enjoy some good Bristolian humour and whilst watching the football in Spanish. Not that I´m a huge fan but it beats the national sport of Beisbol.

And that´s my routine for now.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Back to escuela

On Easter Monday I had my first Spanish lesson at the school. It was intense. Given that there´s not many students there at the moment -I´m hoping it´s a quiet time rather than a poor school - I´m receiving one-to-one tuition which is obviously good but a total shock to sit down on a Monday morning and be given an exam and then straight into adjetivos posesivos, followed by me reading a chapter of a children´s book. I have four hours of this everyday.

Still, I was looking forward to the afternoon activities. Everday for the first three weeks there´s an activity go on. Today I had a tour of the historical part of town with a local guide. Of course it didn´t click until I met the guide that because I am only new student at the school I am the only one on the tour. So, I got the old 45 minute talk about freedom fighters with cathedrals and poets thrown in.

The funniest thing was the fact that my guide is a professor and a bit of a poet so lots of people were stopping him in the street to say hello. And when it came to the women he would chat for slightly longer and try and coax a phone number out of the them. My Spanish is poor but I think I knew what he was up to.

Right, time for homework.

Timothy Lumsden in Leon

On Sunday I moved into my new home for the next 8 weeks. I´m pleased to say that it´s pretty much what I expected.

On the positive front, it has a balcony, a fan and a TV (for my favourite Nicaraguan soaps) and the shared bathroom is rustic but fine.

On the slightly negative side, the door doesn´t open on to the balcony, the mattress on the bed is shaped like the letter U and if that doesn´t stop me sleeping, the building site next door kicks in at around 5.30. Normally you´d get the environmental health to sort the latter but in this town everyone seems to be awake at that time so it´s not really a problem.

As for the family, there´s a mother called Hilda and her daughter also called Hilda (aged 6). Hilda junior may be the key to me improving my conversational Spanish. She is the one who asks me questions and finds it hilarious when I get it wrong, such as when I said I had a boyfriend instead of a girlfriend (I said novio instead of novia). Don´t think there´s many out and prouds in Leon yet.

There is also another part of the house where students from the local uni stay - they´re slowly coming back from the Easter break. So, I´m looking forward to heated debates around the dinner table as my Spanish improves.

On the subject of food. I´m going to have to ask Hilda to ease of on the comida (food). I have three meals a day (7am, 12pm, 7pm) and all seem to be getting larger by the day. This morning with my fruit salad I was given a big plate of rice, beans, sausages and tortilla. I made a valiant effort but had to leave half of it. Now how do I get that one across without offending?

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

One to One with a former freedom fighter

Today was my first day on Leon, Nicaragua. Having lapped the square with the iconic cathedral far too many times I decided to take shelter from the oppressive 36 degree heat in the Galeria de heroes y martires. A small museum run by former guerrillas detailing the history of the civil war.

Sadly the main man - who is known to do a good tour in basic English - wasn´t about. So I told the Spanish guide I could speak ´poco Espanol´(a little) and would take his tour. He proceeded to talk animatedly for 45 minutes about the struggle to which I nodded and said ´Si, si´.

At the end of the tour he smiled and said ány questions´, that, I could comprehend.

Unfortunately having only understood about one word in ten and having no idea how or what question to form, I smiled and said no thanks.

I then left the bemused ex Sandinista with a promise in bad Spanish to return after my course and do the tour again.

My Spanish is hopeless. Lessons start next week.

Some rules

There´s a lot of blogs out there (I think it´s called the blogosphere?) many written by travellers looking for life changing experiences. And, regardless of the country or region they all seem to sound the same.

So, I will try and avoid the referring to warm hearted peasants, crazed bus drivers and stunning scenery.

Instead I´ll tell you what it´s like living with a local family, learning Spanish in a short space of time and perhaps share a few lines with those of you who are fluent.

I´ll also try and convey what it´s like living in the second poorest country in the Americas. A country recovering from a protracted civil war, beset by natural disasters that recently re elected the former guerrilla leader Daniel Ortega after a 17 year break.

If I do happen to see the most amazing scenery whilst on a white knuckle bus journey sat next to a beaming peasant then I may have to tell you about it.

What´s the hurry?

I am 31 and for the last ten years I´ve been determined to learn Spanish. After various unsuccessful attempts at tuition I decided that the best way to do it was to immerse myself and go to Spain. Besides another ambition on my wish list is to live in a town house with tiled floors and a large roof terrace in a cobbled suburb of Seville - I wanted this way before Sarah Beaney was selling homes abroad.

During the subsequent years I´ve been saving up for this trip a few things have changed; I have a house which comes with responsibility and a permanent draw on the finances, I have a lovely girlfriend and the venue has changed.

Greetings from Nicaragua
There are two reasons why I opted for a long 16 flight rather than a quick hop on easyjet. Firstly, my money will go a lot further in Nicaragua and secondly, given that the job I just left was for a large NGO - and realistically the house in Seville isn´t going to happen for a while - I should probably give some thought to a life after this. Six months learning Spanish and volunteering for a local organisation will hopefully not only be extremely rewarding but also look good on the CV.

So, the London pad is being rented, I have some money in the bank and my now lovely Fiancee has reluctantly let me go.

This is it, here I am in the historic town of Leon surrounded by volcanoes and people who speak not a word of English. I have six months to learn it. Wish me luck