Thursday, November 27, 2014

Learning Spanish and Consorting with Velasquez

La Clase de Español

Astrid and Emily with Nuria
In la clase de español, we are seven students, another returned to Seattle last week, one absent for photos and one teacher. A venture that began with trepidation has proven instead enriching and fun, an entrance into a group conversation so missing from these first six weeks in Madrid. We eight merge from different countries: Azerbaijan, Denmark, Indonesia, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, Spain and the U.S. We meet Monday through Friday mornings, four hours each day. I entered in the fourth of a 12-week course at AIL Madrid and now near the end of my second week. I am, of course, the oldest in the classroom, maturity and experience offset by the inability to recall well-known English words now tumbling about with new Spanish words. I envy the young minds quickly grasping the new language and spilling it back into the conversation.

Click center to enlarge photos.

The Spanish class 

We laugh, struggle, agree and disagree, share classroom jokes, fear mistakes and embarrassment, and bumble successfully through assignments comparing distant hometowns with Madrid and orating on the traits of our new barrios. (Barrios equate to a section of town; in Washington, Capitol Hill was my barrio; in Madrid, it's Prosperidad.)
From left, Indah, Arina, Maria, Nuria
We gesticulate and mime, 

grin and grimace to define a word without resorting to English, our only common language, but taboo in the class. I am rejuvenated by conversation that I understand -- not every word, but who listens to every word in a group dialogue? To laugh spontaneously, to comprehend the gist, to be in the midst of group think brings connection. Language knits us together in the classroom, but when we leave the classroom, the threads fall away; we leave by ones or twos and Spanish fades into other idioms; we travel to barrios across the city. 

Travel -- and language -- offers that venture down another road, a taste from another kitchen, a glimpse into another backyard. We step outside comfort and into challenge -- desafio -- when we choose to move away from home and family, to slither through caves, to hike the Inca Trail, to join the Army, to run with the bulls, to motorbike through Hue or across South Dakota or even when we relocate to a new neighborhood. Along with challenge, I travel in search of connection, however fleeting, to my passions, to my traveling companions and to those encountered on parallel and intersecting paths. More words in Spanish plus a dash of syntax should oil the efforts.

In the Museo Nacional del Prado

Connecting with both Spanish history and art, Rich and I spend a couple of hours consorting with Diego Velázquez in the Prado. We happen in on the anniversary of the museum celebrated with free entrance, so we feel free to meander rather than try to see all 7,000 works in an afternoon. We go in search of "Las Meninas," considered one of the world's great paintings. Velázquez (1599-1660), court painter to King Philip IV, captures Princess Margarita with her attendants in "Las Meninas," and the depth of the court scene in the larger-than-life painting has captured audiences for hundreds of years. As an aside, we learn through the portraits that the tiny princess in Las Meninas married at 15 and died at 22, and in her portrait at 15, she does not look much older than in "Las Meninas."  Wandering through salons of Velázquez paintings, we see why he's often called a photojournalist. Rich and I find ourselves immersed in following the royal lineage through the portraits. We relish the details and the world Velázquez depicts in the portraits.

We are also drawn to another of the major paintings by Velázquez, "Los Borrachos," in which hard working farmers celebrate with the toga-wrapped god of wine. Rich says, "I remember partying with those same guys when I was in Madrid years ago ." 

It's all about connecting.  
Pamplona 2011

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Note: While you all ate turkey, I accidentally ate my first aguilas (baby eels) hidden in a tapas. 


  1. I am certainly enjoying hearing from you ---and hearing about all that your two have been doing. Sounds like you are really learning the language!!!!! That is a good thing.