Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Potato Potatoe Tomato Tomatoe

At my work, I have the pleasure of working with a lovely English girl.  If you know her country well enough, she might tell you she is actually Cornish, but in the end, she speaks the English of the mother country.  And while we both speak the same language, it is funny how often we come upon things that the other person doesn't say or says in a different way.

When I worked in the Academy, I taught a specific day or so about British vs. American English, because although the poor kids are learning one language, you can't say zucchini in England and you can't say corgette in the States and have people understand what you're talking about.  Here are some of the differences in vocabulary that I used to teach - let's see if you knew them all.

American English          British English
 french fries                        chips
 apartment                          flat
 parking lot                         car park
 main street                        high street
 elevator                             lift
 eggplant                            aubergine
 trunk (of car)                     boot
 diaper                                 nappy
 round-trip                          return
 schedule                            timetable
 track and field                   athletics
 gas                                     petrol
 sidewalk                           pavement
 soccer                               football
 stroller                              push chair
 truck (semi-truck)            lorry
 street musician                 busker

While I am not teaching the 1 year olds about the small differences in the language, my workmate and I get a big laugh out of it all day.  For example, one day she came up behind me and said  'oh you have a ladder!'.  For me, a ladder is something you climb up to get onto a roof or something no?  What she was referring to was the run in my nylons.  When I asked her if that's what she meant, she started laughing hysterically that I even called them nylons, as in England they call them tights.  What a mess!

Some are quite funny like those, but some differences could get you into a bit of trouble.  In England, the word 'fanny' means a girl's private part but in the States we know it as a tush.  Imagine if you went to Britian and commented that you thought a girl had a nice fanny!  Bad news bears.  Vice versa, if a Brit came over to the new world and said 'I could murder a fag right now', he wouldn't be saying it in a derrogatory way, no no.  In British English that sentence means 'he could kill for a cigarette right now'.  See the problem?! 

The vocabulary isn't the only thing that could make for a sticky situation, but all parts of speech.  In the USA we would say the date is June 31st but in England they would say it is the 31st of June.  Or if you want to meet someone at 5:45pm in the States you say five forty-five but if you're meeting that someone at the Queen's home you would need to say quarter to five.  These little type of things are easily understandable and don't cause much problem between the Yankees and the Brits, but they are things that do stand out.

Spelling is also a doosy.  Theater vs. theatre,  center vs. centre, neighbor vs. neighbour, meter vs. metre, practice vs. practise - things like this drive me insane.  When I used to correct papers, I would sometimes have to think twice - 'CAN it be spelled like this?'  Even my thinking could go both ways because in American we say 'spelled' but in English it's 'spelt'.  Same story goes for dreamt, learnt, spoilt, smelt and knelt.  Poor English learners.

To make it worse are the difficult-in-any-language prepositions.  In the States you play 'on a team' but in England 'in a team'.  For us Yankees, we talk about what we did 'on' the weekend but they say what they did 'at' the weekend.  If I tell you that my old office building in NYC was 'on' 6th Ave., Prince William would tell you it was 'in' 6th Ave.  After speaking the way I learned (not learnt!) for so long, these changes in prepositions sound preposterous to me.  How can my building be IN a street?!

As time goes on though, I see myself influenced by all these mother tongue speakers.  Nowadays, it isn't uncommon to hear the following come out of my mouth:
 - 'I was taking the piss out of her. '  No No, it has nothing to do with pee, but it is the English way to say 'I was making fun of her'.
 - 'Would you like a biscuit?'  and this isn't something I utter at the Thanksgiving Day table.  Biscuit in British English is cookie and since all the kids learn it at school, it is weaseling its way into my vernacular.

Between mixing up vegetables, not understanding jokes and pretty much just being silly, I think the funniest British vs. American English moment I had was a few years ago with my friend from London.  It finally was a sunny day in San Sebastian and I commented 'I'm tired of pants, I'm gonna wear a skirt today'.  She, confused, said 'Amanda, you're not going to wear pants with your skirt?!' to which I said 'of course not, I know some people do, but it's so ugly, I don't like it all!'.  She had a serious look on her face and then asked me...'what does pants mean to you?'.  Turns out pants in British English means undies, so this whole time she thought I was going to wear a skirt sans the knickers!  If you want to say what we call pants in England you must say trousers.  Go figure.

There are tons and tons of differences, and when my workmate and I try on each other's accents we really get a kick out of trying to imitate the other's language.  Unless travelling, it's not so useful, but definitley worth a chuckle, but if you DO go to England, don't forget your 'pants'!


Monday, May 28, 2012

Basques sell sea shells by the sea shore

May 14th, 1901 is an important date in Basque history - not for a war or an election, but for an event that was the last of its kind in the long story of the Basques.  On this very day, around 9am, a treasure appeared to the men of Orio.  A treasure not in the sense of a pirate treasure box or a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, but the type of treasure that rowers of that time dreamed of - a Right Whale (a sort of humpback variety).  The Oriotarras, what people from Orio are called in Basque, rushed to their boats and headed out to sea at top speed.
A fin or sei whale caught by some local Basques

At this point, the Right Whale was practically extinct in the Bay of Biscay.  After years and years of hunting them, barely any had survived and the talented Basque sailors ventured up to the Nordic Seas and to North America for new whale meat.  So, when this appeared, you can imagine their adrenaline pumping!  They had to arrive to the whale and harpoon it before the rivaling neighbor towns of Zarautz or Getaria got there.  In whaling, first to harpoon is the town who claims the coveted prize.

In honor of this final kill, a poem was composed in Euskera to honor the famous day.  In it, they describe the whale who moved agilely in the water as if he had lice and was trying desperatley to remove them from himself.

Upon seeing him from their fishing village, 5 Orio men, burly as they are described grabbed their rowing teams and raced out to catch the beast.  In an older and traditional Basque style of rowing, the men looked to almost lay down as the fiercely paddled out to see, from the comfort of their little inlet.  The five boats were led by the 'traineras' (drifters - those who steer the boat and harpoon the whale) who are now immortalized in Orio - Olaizola, Loidi, Uganda, Atxaga and Manterola.

The made it to the whale and without further ado, killed the massive creature who let out terrible and immense screams according to the poem.  Some disagree, saying a rival town arrived first and Orio swept the whale out from under their feet and stole him, but ask any Oriotarra and their rowers were the ones who claimed the spoils fair and square.

Measuring 12 meters long (almost 40 feet) and 10 thick (about 32 feet) it is said they the whale's body weighed over 30,000lbs and even more with his tongue!  It was a heck of a catch and earned the Oriotarras a lot of pesetas and the fame of having caught the last Right Whale in the Bay of Biscay.

While the Basques no longer hunt whales, they do maintain the rowing competitions that used to be used in them.  When any town saw a whale, they gathered their best rowers and dashed out to catch it.  Nowadays, water spouts from whales are hard to catch, and when they do appear the same reaction doesn't happen, but throughout the rowing season, the Basques constantly battle against each other to show who can make it out to sea and back the quickest.  Rowing as their ancestors did, they look to paddle with just as much strength and desire to make it out and back, whale or not.

In Orio, this momentous day is accounted for in an entire plaza that the town has used to honor it.  When Cathy and Grammy came, we took them to the plaza where you can see, with tiles and mosaic art along with part of the poem, the story of the last hunted whale in the Basque Country.

Famous for this as well as their constant rowing skills, everyone always ask me if Joseba is/was a rower since he is from Orio.   It's like asking if someone from Texas is a cowboy or someone from California has been to LA - it is part of this little fishing village's fame and it so far embedded in the culture that it cannot be lost. 


Monday, May 21, 2012

My painting career comes to an end

As most of you know, this year I decided to sign up for an oil painting course.  My first 'work' was a scene painted by a famous Basque artist of San Sebastian.  It took me ohhh so long and being my first real painting ever (besides a still life exercise we did in class) I was quite proud of it.  In the end, I thought it was the perfect souviner to give to Grammy for having come to visit.

My second painting was personal as well - it is a scene near Joseba's old house that when I lived there in the summer, I used to pass everyday on the bike.  At low tide there was always this colorful but fading boat that sat on the muddy ground with a ladder to nowhere.  I can't explain why I love it so much but every time I passed it I just smiled a bit.

Since we don't live in the 'country' anymore, I decided painting this scene and hanging it in our house would be a great reminder of our wonderful days there.  While I only had 4 classes (about 1.5 hours each) I am quite happy with how it turned out.

Here you have the short evolution of the painting along with the original.  It's obvioiusly not going in any art exhibitions but it will hang in our home, so I think it's good enough for that :)

The Original

Day 1 - Putting the Color

Day 2 - Working on the foilage and rocks

Day 3 - Perfecting the rocks and doing the ground

Day 4 - Boat Boat Boat and ground

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Oustanding Out-of-Towners (Part 10)

After such a sunny day, there was nothing more to expect than a day of rain.  That is how San Sebastian weather seems to treat us.  Although filled with a lot of precipitation, we didn't let it rain on our parade and made sure to spend the last full day in the city doing what girls do best - shopping and drinking wine!

We headed to the center in the morning on a mission.  Cathy, the pottery lover of the family, headed into a kitchen shop much to her delight while Grammy and I headed to the Old Part to look for souviners.  From earrings to oven mitts, we were able to find everything quite quick and then headed to meet Erika,  my old boss. 

Grammy was quite excited to meet her, as she knew so much about her!  Heck, she had even talked to her a couple years ago when Joseba and I visited Erika in Sweden.  I am sure Grammy was quite surprised to see a Swedish number pop up on her called ID, but it was us and boy was she happy.  Erika has always seemed more like a friend to me than a boss.  We meet for lunch, she came to our wedding, we visited her family, etc so it seemed appropriate that she meet my family and show off her brand new adorable baby boy, Alex. 

We sat down in a small cafe with the coveted window seat and just talked and talked.  Soon after Cathy joined us and I felt a bit outnumbered in the crowd of blonde and white haired ladies!  Erika had heard so much about Cathy and Grammy that she was quite excited to meet them too and it was sad to part ways as Erika headed for the bus home and us to the bookstore for some more 'pressies' (presents as Cathy calls must be that New Zealander's influence!).  However, we did manage to capture a 'Swedish Sandwich' photo, where I am squished between my two favorite Swedes!

Next on the 'to-meet' list was my close friend, Emma.  Grammy also had her up at the top of her list.  Back when we got married, Emma contacted Grammy to ask her to send something (a letter or video) for me to be given on the special day from Grammy, so she could be part of it.  Using Facebook she found her in a hot minute and wrote her.  Seeing as Emma speaks something like 9 languages, it was no problem for her to write Grammy a note in English and get a lovely note and photo, which she gave to me right after we said our vows.  With long dark hair and a cute little figure, Grammy commented that Emma was even prettier than in the pictures!

We headed to another bar, seeing as the sideways wind and heavy rain impeded any sort of outdoor strolling and ordered what would be our last pintxos of the trip.  Stuffed to the brim and after talking over some wines, we bid adeiu to Emma and then headed back to their apartment to finish packing and relax. 

The rain finally stopped and made the walk home much more pleasant.  We hung out at the apartment just a smidge and then headed off for more socializing - another meeting with Joseba's mom and him.  As the queen of presents, Maixus gave Grammy and Cathy each a lovely pair of earrings and a bottle of the Basque wine, txakoli, which was made with grapes that are grown on her family's farm.  A  very sentimental and tasty gift for sure.  And although Grammy doesn't have pierced ears, I imagine sooner or later she will find a way to get them converted into clip-ons!

After Cathy and Grammy's final hugs with my mother-in-law, Joseba whisked her back home and we headed back to start cooking the last supper.  Delicious as always, we enjoyed our last night together just calm and quiet. 

Bright and early the next morning though, we had to take my ladies to the airport and say our goodbyes.  Since we are coming to visit on July 24th though, it was more like saying 'see you later' instead of goodbye and I barely even cried, which is a miracle for me. 

After they left as I rode the bus home alone, I still was in wonder at the amazing week that had just happened.  To be able to show my family my life was incredible.  I loved every moment of it and am so amazingly thankful that they took the time to come and visit me and our life here.  Now instead of just reading my blog, I hope that they can walk down the streets with me as I go through the Old Part pintxo bars, or recognize some views if I post a pic of a sunny day or taste the scrumptous breakfast if I meet a friend for a cafe con leche.  While they left, I think I kept a bit of their hearts here with me, for which I thank them and am now waiting for the return trip ;)


Friday, May 4, 2012

The Outstanding Out-of-Towners (Part 9)

With an amazing forecast for Monday, we decided to jam in all the stuff that requires sun into one day.  We got an early start and were delighted after so many days of rain to have a clear sky!

We hopped on a bus to an outlying part of San Sebastian called Pasaia.  With only 3 neighborhoods, it is quite a small village, but albeit small it is quite lovely.  The bus dropped us off in the neighborhood of San Pedro, or the purple side as we came to call it.  San Pedro and San Juan, the neighborhood where we planned to go, are seperated by a bit of water that flows to the port.  Vicious rivals, San Pedro's color for rowing events is a deep purple and San Juan is a hot pink.  During rowing season, you can see flags flying with pride on both sides of the water.

A few minutes walk from the bus was a small little boat that would take us from the purple side to the pink side, which is just too picturesque it should be in every book of cute port towns.  The boat only takes about 1 minute to get from one side to the other, but while you're on the water, the town looks even prettier than from the banks where you board.  We pulled up and jumped out - for an 83-year old woman, Grammy did amazingly well deboarding that I think she surprised many people around her.

Basically built between the edge of the mountain and the sea, San Juan is a small and narrow little place - with only one road in the whole town.  We perused in one direction to start - admiring the window boxes with flowers hanging out, cute and creepy doorknobs and little alleys that led right to the water.  Once we reached the edge of town, we merely turned around and headed down the cobble stone street back to the center and this time headed out towards the water.  Starting on this path, we could have feasibly walked all the way to Hondarribia where we had been on Friday but its about 15 miles, so that wasn't really on our to-do list haha.

We did however, in the 20 minutes we walked get to see some interesting trees that were grafted together all along the riverside, the main plaza with it's narrow houses and colorful wood beams, and towards the end of our walk - lighthouses!  The town is just completely adorable and had we had more time we might have enjoyed the atmosphere with a coffee or something but sunny days were hard to come by during their trip so we moved onto other things that required the rays and caught the bus back to San Sebastian.

We got off quite near an ice cream shop and couldn't pass up the opportunity to walk along the coast with a cone in hand.  Everyone of us got a delicious treat - mixing two choices like always here.  Three woman - each from a different generation - enjoying an ice cream in the sun made for a great sight :)

We worked our way around the Old Part's mountain, Urgull, and had great views of the Bay of Biscay with the waves crashing against the massive cubed-shaped rocks.  After walking about 30 minutes we arrived at a special point on the 'Paseo Nuevo' as the street is called - the point where the painting I had been working on for so long is taken.  While working on it, I decided that I wanted to give it to Grammy as a momento of her trip here and was looking forward to her seeing the scene in real life!

Our walk continued in the sun and we meandered through the port passing by all the restaurants with seafood smells wofting from them.  We passed by the Old Part again as we made our way to the Concha beach where we grabbed a couple bites of our sandwiches.  The ice cream had taken up quite a bit of space in our bellies so we weren't stopped for long!

We continued our Basque stroll along the entire beach, catching some great glimpses through the white rail that is so iconic of the city.  Miles and miles of walking lead us to the 'funicular' - the elevator sort of street car that climbs the side of the Mount Igeldo to take us up to the top for spectacular views.  From up there we were able to admire Donostia in all its glory.  With a turquoise sea right below hugging the sandy beaches with little dots of people on them the water scene seems like a Caribbean view.  The lush island smack dab in the middle and the mountains in the background reminded us that we were very much in the Basque Country though.  When people come to visit, this is my favorite place to take them - but only if it is sunny.  I love the contrast of the sea, the church steeples, the mountains and the beach all at the same time.  It always really makes me appreciate the beauty of where I live.

Having passed lunchtime, we wanted to enjoy the sun as much as possible and took the funicular down again to head to the 'Peine de los Viento' - the Wind Comb, sculpture a few minutes walk from the mountain.  Created by the famous Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida, this sculpture is probably his most famous and it draws mosts tourists from the Old Part to admire it.  With 3 seperate pieces, these 'combs' make a cohesive work as they interact with the mountain, sea and wind that surround them.  Each one stands for something different - the past, the present and the future.

Besides the sculpture, the whole plaza area is also lovely to see.  With little areas that are like blow holes, when the waves rush underneath the rock, air rushes out and those who are standing on top of one get a blast of sea air!  Although I have lived here for 4 years and have seen hundreds of people do it, I had never actually stood atop a blow hole.  When Cathy did it, it looked fun and I decided to drag Grammy to one and when the air rushed up we both screamed and laughed at the same time.  It was hilarious and very memorable!  And I just adore the pic that Cathy snapped of us.

With the pedometer saying almost 10 miles of walking, we decided that that was sufficient for a sunny day's walk and headed to a nearby bar to refresh ourselves with what else but with Txakoli (Basque wine) while Joseba drove to come pick us up.

Having not had so many sunny days during their trip, I was so happy we were lucky enough to have one of the last days be so great!  They were able to see San Sebastian and its true beauty :)