Tag Archives: Spain

Welcome to Jaén: The City Surrounded by Olive Trees

Greetings from Jaén! I have been here for about two weeks and there is already much to report.  But maybe I should start with how I got here…

 North American Cultural Ambassador Program

I am here in Jaén helping teach English to students in a public elementary school. I applied last Fall. The program is considered a continuing education grant and really provides a lot. For example, I have already received my free private health care card and a student visa to live here for one year.  The program has days off in place (we only work four days a week) so that we can explore other parts of Spain and Europe.  We work with the schools to establish a work schedule of 12 hours a week. We receive a stipend for our work that will cover most basic expenses. So, yes, I am super excited to be a part of this program.  When I applied I chose Andalucía, an urban center and primary/elementary-aged children. When I was notified that I was accepted I did not know where I would be living. I found out when I received a letter telling me to report to said school on October 1st in Torredelcampo a small town outside of Jaén.

First Days in my New City

I arrived in a torrent of rain about two weeks ago. The rain was unusual but very much appreciated. Jaén is one of the # 1 producers of olive oil in the world. This year it was too dry so the rain was seen as a blessing for those who depend on the olive oil crop for there livelihood. I decided to stay in a hostel for the first week since I was arriving the weekend before starting work in Torredelcampo. The first day I did what I love to do, which is throw my map in my back pocket (with the hostel clearly marked, of course) and head out to explore, choosing streets that look interesting.  I saw the famous and enormous cathedral and much of the Casco Antiguo or old part of the city.  I also stopped for a café con leche and immediately felt at home as the men around me started to discuss the latest news in soccer! I will write about teaching in Torredelcampo in my next entry, but here are some of my first impressions of Jaén:

1)   Jaén is nestled in the mountains. At night you can see a large cross and remnants of the Castillo de Santa Ana (Saint Ana’s Castle). It is gorgeous.

2)   Every time you get a glimpse of the outskirts of Jaén all you see are rows and rows of olive trees. They call it the “mar de olivas” or ocean of olive trees.

3)   Although this city is really small it seems to have everything that I need…stores, restaurants, cafes, etc.

4)   At night the city is a little bit sleepy. I have only been here for a little while, so maybe when I experience more weekends, I will know more about the nightlife. :-)

5)   The people here seem extremely friendly and helpful.

6)   Outside of the city is a paved path that extends all the way to Cordoba. My roommate, who is a personal trainer, took me there for a free session. Five minutes by car and you are running under the hot sun, surrounded by olive trees. Not bad I say.

All I can say is that I am starting to like it here!

Hispanamerican Paella

I consider myself very lucky. One of the first people I met here in Sevilla is an American Expat. She was my roommate and really helped show me the ropes. She helped me open up a bank account here, introduced me to people in the neighborhood and gently informed me that flamenco was a lot more complicated than I had anticipated.

One marvelous adventure that happened as a result of her introducing me to people in the neighborhood was that I met the chef of the restaurant near our apartment. This is the local joint. On Saturdays families congregate for hours drinking cold beers and chatting while their children run around playing.  The chef, Juan, is extraordinary. His food–divine. One day we ran into him at another tapas bar. He got off work early and was in a great mood. He was telling me about his cooking experience. As a joke I mentioned how before I left California some friends had suggested that I make paella. I told them and him that paella was beyond my current cooking skills. Well, Juan looked at me and shrugged. He said, I make paella every Sunday. Come down and I will show you how I make it. I was thrilled!! So, we got together a couple of Sundays ago and I learned the steps to making Paella. I am proud to say that it was delicious–and Juan dubbed it hispanamerican and told everyone I had made it, although in reality I had done nothing but observe. Instead of taking notes, I recorded mini-videos. Here is the link to see my paella videos. I apologize in advance that they may not be in the right order. Let me know if you try this at home! Provecho! The steps are as follows:

1. Bay leaf and olive oil

2. Ingredients for mixed paella (a review)

3. Red peppers

4. Carrots

5. Onions

6. Olive oil and meat (chicken and pork)

7. Calamari and water

8. White wine, etc.

9. Azafran

10. Brandy

11. Rice and Shrimp

Flamenco dreams

Well, i have survived my first week of flamenco “boot camp”! In fact, i also enjoyed it…a lot. However, to say that I was/am green when it comes to flamenco is a serious understatement. To give you an idea of the complexity of flamenco, this link will take you to a page that describes some of the history of flamenco song and dance. I had no clue. None. So, having taken some classes in Flamenco in Berkeley I signed up for the “beginners with some knowledge” class. I knew I was in trouble when another student asked my how many years I had been dancing. haha. I was like, hmm, maybe 20 hours? Needless to say 15 minutes into the class I realized that I was way out of my element. Luckily there was a beginners class next door.
The beginners class was great. There were 2 women from France, one from Turkey and a Spanish man. We learned part of a choreography to a Fandango (see link above). It was complicated but fun and our teacher was patient with us and able to help us understand how to hold our bodies, move our arms, stomp our feet all while being able to breath. it felt like quite a feat at times. I had to tell her at one point that the left side of my body was “en huelga” or on strike. It was not participating. I am looking forward to next week’s class.
In the meantime, I have also been running around Sevilla trying to find a place to live. I have one more week in my current place. I really enjoy where I live now, but someone is coming in right after me. Looking for an apartment is always an interesting way to get to know a city, also. There have been okay places, “interesting” places and one really nice one so far. I have one more to view tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

My purple flamenco shoes!

Hola from Sevilla! I wanted to give an update on my latest adventures.
The first two nights I was in Sevilla I stayed in a hostel (Samay Hostel). It was quite nice and I felt safe and welcome there. It provided a good launching pad for exploring my new city. The first day I grabbed a map, had the woman at the front desk point me in the right direction and I purposefully “got lost” in the city. I would look up/down a street and decide whether or not it looked interesting. I saw the beautiful Giralda and some fun street and great shopping. My favorites so far are (in particular order): the wedding dress shops, the tiaras and I saw two purses that were fabulous, one in the shape of a castinet and then other designed after a matador’s cape. Incredible.
The last night in the hostel i met this young woman who is about to start her senior year at Stanford. she was on a “creative project trip” which will look at the influence of Spanish architecture on California. I wanted to be social that night (it had rained all day and I took a nice nap after “braving” the elements) but did not want to drink, so i invited her to join me in a moorish-styled tea bar. we had a great time chatting. It was nice to have some company and she was interesting and had done some very interesting traveling.

My new (temporary) home!
This . so, there was some confusion and i waited downstairs for an hour thinking the guy i was going to meet was not there and he was upstairs wondering where in the heck i was. luckily i decided to move to the nearby cafeteria and he saw my luggage (i knew it would come in handy!). well, he couldn’t be nicer! i have a great room and feel comfortable here. also, as luck would have it–the other woman in the flat is american and she has been dancing flamenco for 2 years. she has taken to it, like i took to salsa. :-). she has been wonderful! she is probably in her late 50’s, married to a swede who works in bulgaria a lot…so she comes to sevilla to take flamenco classes. she happened to meet the grandson of one of the most famous male flamenco dancers in history (El farruco) and now takes classes with his cousin. she took me to a class that she goes to at night where they basically do drills to practice the basics. the man who teaches the class seems really nice. it was overwhelming to watch, though, since i am not sure yet that my feet can move that way—and at tempo. he wasn’t worried about it. so, that would be in the afternoon after going to class in the morning. AYE! talk about boot camp! also through my roommate, i found a place to rent flamenco shoes (they are easily 100 euro+ to buy!) and guess what–they are purple! hurray! so, that was my adventure for today-getting my shoes. there is also a gym around the corner that i might check out in a bit. i think that i will have enough exercise with the flamenco classes, however. :-)