Tengo dos amores (with apologies to Josephine Baker)

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When I first heard “J’ai deux amours” by Josephine Baker I understood the song as an abstraction: a song expressing the feelings of an incredible entertainer from the US who had to move to Paris to come into her own. Now, the song has a much more personal meeting.

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I never expected to become so attached to a city and its people. I did not expect the intoxication that comes from being able to communicate in another language other than your mother tongue (no matter how many mistakes you make in grammar and pronunciation). And like Josephine, often times, I was treated better here as a stranger then I was in my country of origin.

So in my final blog for this site I will let pictures take the place of words and I will let Josephine Baker express more fully what I wish I could.

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Published in: on June 24, 2010 at 1:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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Escuelas privadas frente a las Escuelas Públicas

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The debate in Spain over public versus private education is only on the surface about the quality of the educational experience. In fact, by measurable outcomes there is no difference in level of achievement, entrance into university, or job placement between those who attend public schools versus those who attend private schools. The real issue appears to be about social standing and fear/dislike of the “other”.

The names of schools children attend are used as a badge of honor confirming distinction on both the parent and the child.  “My child goes to the German School”; “My child goes to the British School”; “My child goes to St. ….”. And “Miles (pronounced mee-les), where does your child go to school?” And when I mention that Dominique is attending a public school at first I get that look of bewilderment and then that look that comes into people’s eyes when they feel sorry for you or think that you are an imbecile but don’t want to say anything.

As I have scratched beneath the surface about this and inquired why those who disapproved of public school education did so, at first I heard statements about quality of instruction.  But, this did not stand up to close scrutiny.  The government mandates the curriculum, books and lessons for both public and private schools.  All the kids are learning the same things, more or less. Class size is about the same (sometimes smaller in the public schools). So what is the difference?  The answer appears to be about bragging rights and making sure your child is not exposed to the immigrants in public school…like me.

The focus of most of the fear/dislike is Moroccans, followed closely by South Americans. The belief is that these children do not have the same “values”, or as “well behaved” as Spanish children (see my previous post about the behavior of Spanish children). It is my turn to look at them with pity and as if they are “tonto”.

For the record, I think Colegio Publico Portugal, where Dominique is going to school was a perfect choice for her.  The teachers are caring and made her transition as painless as it can be when you come to a school in the middle of the school year and don’t speak the language.  Do I think the academics are up to par with what she was studying in the States, no. But, as I said earlier, the curriculum would be no different at a private school. And I suspect less caring. So, this whole thing has me thinking about public and private school education in the States.

In Virginia a lot of the private school education (as well as home schooling) is based on religious separation; meaning people want their kids raised with a certain religious doctrine and not exposed to behaviors and beliefs that run counter to theirs. Of course, it is crass in the US to engage in behavior that sets you too far apart socio-economically.  But, everyone knows how expensive it is to go to certain private schools.  Now, my question is do kids who attend private schools in the US fair better than their public school counter parts (asked by someone who attended public school and has not done too bad)? The argument is made on the face that this is why parents send kids to private schools. And of course there are those who argue for “school choice” based on “failing” public schools.

I am just wondering how different we are in the States from the Spaniards.

Published in: on June 1, 2010 at 3:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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El tiempo pasa muy rápido!

Where did the time go?! One day I arrived a stranger in a strange city and the next day I turn around and soon I will depart what has become familiar.

I don’t know exactly when the transformation occurred. Somewhere over the past 17 weeks I went from being the person who asked where everything was and was barely understood and even less understood the answer; to being a person that people ask where things are. The other day a woman asked me: ¿Dónde puedo coger la línea 10? The shock to me was I understood her and even more shocking to me I told her where to go to catch the train and she did not look at me like I had just spoken Greek. I helped a tourist who could not figure out how to pay for the Cercania line (a suburban train system) and told him where to wait on the platform. Random people speak to me, as well as the bus drivers I see every day on my way to SLU or Pozuelo. I know people’s names and the regulars on the bus sit and “charla” with me for our 20 minutes together. I read “20 minutos” every weekday and weekends we visit with friends in the park.

I have not gone half the places I wanted to or accomplished as many goals as I have set out for myself. My book has languished, but I have presented research in Spanish and next week I present a research paper in English in Valencia related to my book project. I am not fluent in Spanish, but I feel confident in my ability to handle situations in the language and I have even debated emotional topics like Gay Marriage, Plastic Surgery, Taxes on the Rich, Religion and Private versus Public Education (more about this one in a future blog) in Spanish.

Most importantly, I have made a few friends. The pictures of the places will be there for the viewing. But holding people in your heart who have helped you navigate the system; invited you to lunch to extend your contacts; shown kindness to your child; made sure that you had something to do on a weekend when you had no idea what to do; shared a box of grits (if you don’t know, don’t ask); allowed you and your child to hang out and watch some TV in English, provided an emergency number “just in case” and patiently conversed with you in Spanish as you developed your communication skills; these are the things that have made my time here special.

And yes, quite frankly, I am ready to come back to the States: to family, to the familiar. But, as I look ahead to the things I want to do in my time that has passed to quickly here I know that there are things and people who I will miss in Madrid.

Published in: on May 28, 2010 at 7:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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San Isidro y 100 anos de Gran Via

San Isidro is the patron saint of Madrid and the public holiday, which coincides with this festival, was on 15th of May. The festivities started the week before and ended on Sunday, 16th of May with the cooking of an enormous Cocido Madrileño (Madrid’s most traditional dish). Additionally, San Isidro marks the start of the bullfighting season in Madrid.

On the day of May 15th many Madrileños dressed in traditional gear head for Plaza Mayor where there is traditional dancing and open air concerts. Casa de Campo, the large park to the south west of the centre hosts rock concerts during the fiestas and there are varied events throughout the city.

A interesting anecdote regarding Madrid’s traditional dress; In Spanish if someone is described as “chulo” it’s quite a derogatory term meaning that they’re full of themselves. Madrileños are often described as “chulo” by people from other parts of Spain. The name of the traditional Madrileño costume is a “chulapo” which comes from the word “chulo”. Unfortunately, I did not capture pictures of this typical dress with the men wearing a flat check cap, waistcoat and handkerchief around their necks and the women wearing elegant dresses, a head scarf and a shawl, although you can see some in the attached video.

This year, San Isdro coincided with the 100 year anniversary of Gran Via, a large theatre and shopping district that connects Plaza de Espana with Calle de Alcalá.  The street is always busy, any time of day or night. In honor of the 100 year celebration they closed the street down, put down blue carpet and turned the entire district into one big party.  I have been in New York’s Time Square and I believe there where as many people or more on Gran Via the 15th.

The videos shows a concert taking place at Plaza de Espana and the official birthday cake and Broadway show excerpts that honored the theaters on Gran Via. All is was caped off by fireworks at midnight, when most Madrileños just begin to come out to party.

Published in: on May 20, 2010 at 4:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Los niños en España son mimados

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The children in Spain are spoiled!!! I know this broad statement is going to get me flack in Spain and the US, but I have overwhelming empirical evidence (I am a professor after all) that children in Spain are indulged to the extreme.  Know let me be clear, “overindulgence” of children’s behavior is tied into all sort of socio-cultural-economic assumptions regarding what is “proper” behavior for a child and parent to engage in, especially in pubic spaces.

I being a Black American of a certain age come from the perspective of “spare the rod, spoil the child”–otherwise known as child abuse in the US now. But, I also understand that the way Black Americans born during the era of enforced segregation and pre-Civil Rights legislation engaged in child rearing practices designed to keep their children alive when they left the house and encountered White people in social situations.  Because incorrect behavior around White people could get you slapped at best and killed at worst (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmett_Till).  This reality resides in my DNA, my wife’s DNA, and the DNA of all Black parents I know over 40.

It is a little different for White people in the US, who Blacks often look upon as being “overindulgent” with their children (see the comedy routines of most Black comedians, especially Bernie Mac—may he rest in peace).  In fact, their was one incident when my wife and I were coming back from the Tom Joyner cruise several years ago and the child of a White parent was engaging in loud obnoxious behavior on a morning we had all stayed up the night before enjoying the festivities.  Finally, the mother swatted the child on his rear and the entire line (several hundred strong) broke out in applause!

But, even by normal US White people standards, whom believe in “timeouts” and maintaining children’s “self-esteem”, Spanish kids are spoiled.  On the metro, at a restaurant, in the supermarket children can be seen “wilding” and the most they will receive is a smile not only from the parent, but too from the adult the kid almost knocked over.  I see parents walking their kids to school in the morning and THE PARENTS ARE CARRYING THE KIDS BACKPACKS! Dominique asked me once why I did not carry her backpack and I gave her one of those looks that quickly told her “don’t even think about trying to go there with me”.

I have noticed an extreme patience with children and Spaniards seem attracted to children, even when they are not thier own.  Countless people (strangers) have reached down and touched Dominique’s cheek, looked in her eyes and said; “¡Qué guapa!” Yes, as a person from the US I wondered where their hands had been and why they where touching my child. But, I have adjusted and come to understand unless I want to invest a fortune in hand sanitizer and cause an international incident that I needed to let it go.

Also, I have noticed that children in Spain feel “safe”.  They routinely walk up to strangers and have no fear of exploring their world.  I set on the train and starting with the 6 year old on my left and spreading to her 8 year old sister and eventually involving the 12 year old friend who was being cool in a seat across the aisle, we began playing peek-a-boo for 6 train stops.  When the seat on the other side of me opened up one 8 year old came and set on the other side of me.  And the 12 year old began to mimic every move I made.  The whole time we where giggling and laughing the mothers did not raise an eyebrow; there was no pulling the beautiful “fair skinned” girls away from the “scary brown man”. There were no looks of disapproval.  Not once were they told to sit in their seats and behave; even when they began to sing songs for me in Spanish that I was suppose to follow along with.

OK, just for minute I want you to engage in a “thought exercise”.  Try to imagine three beautiful White girls playing with a 50 year old Black man who they do not know and is obviously some sort of immigrant on a public train and everyone acting like this is the most normal thing in the world.  Exactly!

So maybe this is a result of  “spoiling” children in a country where children do not fear for their safety, nor are they afraid of “the other”.  They have come to trust themselves and adults.  They have real self-esteem, not the artificial one induced when we give trophies at soccer games for just being on the team.  These kids here feel loved and that the world is theirs—and they act like it.

Maybe, I will carry Dominique’s backpack to school Monday.

Published in: on May 9, 2010 at 4:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sevilla – Semana Santa Pasos

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You can look up the history of Semana Santa in Sevilla and its elaborate processions. I will not address that in this blog and when I am back online I will post some of the hundreds (yes hundreds) of pictures I have taken here. No, this blog is an on the ground response from my perspective as a Black American being surrounded by what at first felt like the world’s largest KKK gathering.

Let me be clear, in my entire time in Spain I have not felt any hostility and negativity directed at me because of my pigmentation (sadly I cannot not make the same statement about my life back in the States). And that statement holds true in Sevilla. But, we often live in our historical memories and it took me awhile to get used to seeing people, un monton de gentes, in robes and pointy hats that looked exactly like those of the KKK. Now, I must admit, this being Europen some of the robes were more fashionable and included colours not normally seen on the KKK. There was, purple, brown, beige, yellow and green to name a few. But, it was the all white ones, with the big cross in the center that caused the collective DNA in my body to stand on edge and prepare for fight or flight. It took all my conscious mind to allow my daughter to accept the piece of candy handed out to children during this time–for the record I still have not let her eat it.

The all black robes are just creepy. Shades of the Spanish Inquisition abounded in my mind. But, as I traveled to the different churches and experienced the faith of the true believers I have began to feel more at ease in the crowds and I less openly practice my karate moves done to ward off any one who may be here literally undercover and want to relive their “southern heritage”.

The processions are indeed magnificent and music from the bands cannot be captured in a picture or a small screen. Also, I must confess (this is a Catholic country after all) that when a woman, an older woman, a true believer on the patio of her piso (apartment) broke out in spontaneous song as the procession emerged from the church carrying a display of the Christ (pbuh) baring his cross; this woman singing with the voice of an angel on high touched my spirit and caused an upswell of emotion that one would not expect from such as I.

The spirit that exist within those who truely come from a place of love and worship of their God can reach out and touch those who do not share the same traditions; but indeed share the same love. A feeling so powerful that it can smooth the sensitivities of collective memories and allow for one of a different faith tradition to share in the transcendent experience of another people.

Feliz Semana Santa
Wishing you Prosperity

Published in: on April 1, 2010 at 10:16 pm  Comments (1)  
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