Take me with you

Love in all its forms (from fantastical to fanatical)

Why am I writing about love? Well, I had a bit of a hangover so I watched Gossip Girl. I really don’t enjoy this programme, I promise, but I got trapped in that futile yet forever burning Chuck-Blaire love predicament for about 10 minutes and decided to follow that thread. I had a day of exploring love through popular culture (basically loads of ‘romantic’ films) and found it hard to concentrate.

Firstly, I watched To Rome With Love, the newest Woody Allen film, whilst baking a lemon drizzle cake. That’s what people in love do; bake things for their partners, right? Otherwise you’re just making cakes to drown your sorrows about being alone. Anyway, I watched To Rome With Love and surprised myself with some rather good cake. This film is a comical observation of some people in Rome. It’s a typical comedy from the big WA with him playing the usual satirical negative character and containing a suitable amount of crossed wires and sex. It made me laugh a bit and then think about how I want to learn Italian. The majority of the film was in Italian and I could weirdly understand it. So, maybe I should move to Rome. Well, not Rome, that’s too typical. Florence. I backpacked to Florence once. It was lovely. I could visit Michael Angelo’s David every day. Anyway, back to the theme of love.

Next up on the love marathon was the German film Bliss or Glück. (This time I needed the subtitles!) It’s about two young people, Irina and Kalle, who live on the streets of Berlin and hide from disturbing pasts. The film follows a precarious route, much like the delicate rollercoaster of being in love. So I had another slice of lemon drizzle and contemplated their blissful bubble of love through some gentle poignant subtleties in the film. I particularly like the deer in the fake garden of Irina’s Berlin flat that represents the security of her countryside home she had to leave behind. However, in a somewhat extreme twist, an event leads Kalle to face his fear of blood to preserve their life together. In a small SPOILER, I will tell you it involves a dead curb-crawler and an electric carving knife. It’s a shocker. It’s fantastical, fanatical love, isn’t it? I mean, how far would you go for love? Would you chop up a man despite your vegetarianism (interestingly, it was this fact that got Kalle out of prison). I feel like a terrible anti-romantic but I just don’t think I’d do that. Then again, maybe I’ve never felt such intense bliss. Maybe mutilating a corpse is the final test?

I then decided to listen to Aint No Sunshine When She’s Gone a few times in a row and wondered if anyone felt like that about me. Then I listened to Le Temps De Vivre by Georges Moustaki and tried to soak up the lyrics and the romance of French. This song is about how love makes everything possible if you give it a chance to live. In my experience, love has only made things less possible.

I gave a pep talk to a friend of mine going through some heartbreak. He’s in that ‘no light at the end of the tunnel’ phase – not even my clichés that ooze positiveness could warm his darkened heart and stop his chain smoking. It didn’t make me think much about love. I just felt good about the fact I’m not in that tunnel. If love was personified as Caroline, this is how I’d feel about her.

In a complete juxtaposition of the dark side of love, I finished the day off watching Grease. I love this film. I wish my life was led through the medium of song and dance. Then I really would be in bliss and I could stop for a moment and appreciate love.

Is it really too much to ask? “You’re the one that I want…..”

Katie Sims in Pamplona, Take me with you

Save Erasmus!

As news breaks that another European institution is struggling from the economic crisis in Europe, despair intensifies.
Every time a new story hits the headlines about cutting social programmes, I know an opportunity has just been denied, life has just become a little more closed, a little less of a future is being offered, a little less hope exists.
The possible bankruptcy of the Erasmus programme was something that hit a nerve with me. I studied languages at university and as part of my degree, I was offered the opportunity to study abroad.
According to a survey by the British Council, 79% UK adults agree that they would have better job prospects now if they had seized the opportunity to study or live abroad.
My job prospects may have been increased but it was my personal development that really soared. Everybody knows being fully exposed to the language is the best way to learn but it was the first steppingstone for me to adventure and an open mind, which has led me to where I am today.
I come from a small town in Essex. Going to the nearest city, London, was still an exciting day out for me at that time. Lyon was my first experience living in a big city. The initial excitement was huge as we explored and went to or hosted parties, lots of Erasmus parties!
We lived in a little white washed apartment and paid far too much money for it. The third bedroom was actually only 5 foot in height. We each got a hunchback from spending time up there. A stoop my ballet teacher would slap my wrists for still remains, I tell you.
You climbed up into the little maisonette third bedroom via a slippery varnished ladder that sat right next to a long French window. This invited a fall of many metres from our top floor flat. We had to construct makeshift insulation in the winter because the high ceilings and tiled flooring left the flat unbearably cold. We used the heating in emergencies or when we could see our breath. Once, my flatmate incinerated some fishfingers so that our shining maison blanche was covered in a layer of soot.
Learning in French was difficult. I experienced failure for the first time as I tried to get my head around translation and the negative marking system in France. We went to the market every weekend, drank red wine, ate the cuisine, went skiing for the first disastrous time, backpacked the south coast, visited cities, and it was wonderful. I made best friends.
I learnt incredible amounts about how to manage living abroad and I fell in love with it. I also discovered a little bit about the realities of life.
There are two thick ribbons of water flowing through Lyon that section off parts of the city; the Old town, the industrial quarter and the island in the middle. It is a beautiful place, the architecture is pristine and so many grand buildings fill the centre where I lived. However, at some point, when my rose-tinted tourist glasses had been removed, I started to notice the social problems of big cities. I saw the homelessness, desperation, ghettos, crime and unpredictability of city life. I realised the demand for support, soup kitchens, social care and initiatives for integration, amongst many more needs.
The Erasmus grant made my time in Lyon possible. I had worked all summer beforehand and found a nanny job in Lyon (another experience as I became “mum” for the children) in order to afford it. It opened my mind to so much and led me so far, from Mexico to Spain to Honduras, from social projects to teaching abroad to working in the developing world.
And now I hear Erasmus, along with other EU social programmes, are in financial difficulty and their pleas for help falling on deaf ears. Austerity of this kind is so hard, too hard.
After calls to up the annual EU budget by 6.8%, an increase of €9 million to cover floundering social funds, four EU countries – Austria, Britain, The Netherlands and Sweden – declined, while France, Finland and Germany demanded €5 billion more in cuts. How far can it really go?
Alain Lamassoure, head of the European parliament’s budget committee, blamed this situation on the austerity-minded governments of the EU. His bleak forecast following the announcement of bankruptcy from the European social fund is that the Erasmus programme and the Research and Innovation fund will be next. Karina Ufert, chair of the European Students’ Union, called for addressing the budget shortfall by “using money from under-spent EU funds”.
Given that the EU only spends 1% of its annual budget on education and training, surely it’s time to support the interests of young people and make mobility accessible to everyone even throughout these hard times. If there really are under-spent funds, then save Erasmus! If there aren’t, let’s dig deep because it truly is invaluable and I recommend it to each and every young person.

Take me with you, Uncategorized

Ghoti or Fish?

“102-year-old man creatively critiques English spelling”
This man fights the cause for changing how we spell in English.

The irregularities in the spelling of English cause endless doubt and worry for both natives and learners. George Bernard Shaw, another critic of English spelling, came up with this example:

The word “fish” could legitimately be spelt “ghoti” with the gh from “enough” /f/ the o from “women” /ɪ/ and the ti from “nation” /ʃ /.

rEvolution is coming…

- fish /fɪʃ / ghoti fish /fɪʃ / ghoti fish /fɪʃ / -

Katie Sims in Pamplona, Uncategorized

So, you think you know everything about San Fermín?

THIS fiesta is known worldwide. It’s Pamplona’s biggest event of the year. But do you really know what it’s all about?

Who is San Fermín?
Fermín was, of course, a normal person once. He was the son of the Roman So, you think you know everything about San Fermín?ruler of Pamplona. His father was converted to Catholicism by San Saturino in about 300 AD. Fermín was sent to Toulouse for religious instruction and returned as a bishop.

Why do people wear the red scarf (panuelo) around their necks?
This is related to San Fermín. As a newly consecrated bishop, Fermín began to spread his teachings. He ran into trouble in Amiens in France. He was tortured and beheaded there and became a martyr. The panuelo represents his death, bleeding from the neck.

Why do people wear white?
There are three different theories on this. One is that the peñas, which are local social groups in Pamplona, started to wear white to differentiate themselves from the rest of the crowd. From here, the tradition spread. Another thought is that before the Running of the Bulls was even an official event, people still needed to guide the bulls from their enclosures to the Bullring. They were helped by people on horseback but also others who ran in front of the bulls to get them to follow. These people wore white – hence the tradition. The final theory comes from the three fundamental pillars of the festival. One is spontaneity, the second tradition and the third anonymity omitting any wealth, social background or politics. White ensures the anonymity.

Did you know there are two San Fermín fiestas?
The big messy international one is starting this Friday 6th July, but there’s also a local traditional celebration of the Saint Fermín in September. There is no bull run or fight, but the religious ceremonies take precedence and, of course, the drinking, fun and fiesta too.

How does the fiesta of San Fermín retain political anonymity?
This is well thought-out fairness. The responsibility of lighting the rocket for the Chupinazo (this is the opening ceremony at 12pm on Friday) is rotated between the different political parties.

Who are these crazy giants and people wearing huge hollow heads?
They are the Gigantes and Cabezudos. The parades of the Gigantes andCabezudos happen everyday of the fiesta. They carry pikes with foam balls on the end and will hit you with them if you annoy them enough. There are five pairs, to represent all the continents on Earth. Aha! But before you geographers slap my wrists, I know there are six (land masses)! But when this tradition first began, they had no clue about the land down under, and, well, the traditional number stuck. Try to spot the affectionately named potato head and vinegar face Cabezudo . Children provoke these clumsy top-heavy characters and run quick to avoid the beating!

Did you know there is an unofficial running of the bulls every evening at sundown?
The bulls need to be moved from their enclosures to the pens from where they start the encierro the next next morning. At sunset the short run is made in mystical darkness. The street lamps go out, the crowds are hushed, the nearby fairground comes to a standstill to allow the bulls to move in peace. You can watch this by the river. Listen out for the horn signal.

Do you like garlic?
In Plaza de las Recoletas there used to be a huge garlic market each year. Now only two stalls remain but the long garlands of garlic are of unrivalled quality.

Finally, where can you find the best lemon sorbet during the festival?
At the peña headquarters of Gaztel Eku in a back street off of Calle Mayor.

Many thanks to Free Tours San Fermín for all the information. Join them every evening from 2nd-5th July at 7pm at the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) square. They’ll show you the city, tell you about the history and give you some essential tips for any of you brave enough to run with the bulls!

Enjoy the fiesta!




Katie Sims in Pamplona, Uncategorized

Have you been in Portugal?

AS a teacher of English in Spain, reading the news recently that Spain ranks lowest in English proficiency in the whole of Europe brought me to despair.

I spend half my classes trying to convince my students that their English level is not that bad in a constant attempt to boost their confidence, to allow them to experience a trust in the language, and me, so they don’t give up their valiant embarkation on this language we call English.

Whilst offering excuses such as: “The Portuguese speak better English than us because they don’t dub the TV programmes. They are exposed to the language when they are children. Spanish only has five vowels,” their worried exam-ridden faces look to me for reconciliation, advice and agreement. Of course, I give them this, even though they’ve just asked me “Have you ever been in Portugal?” A phrase that, despite my futile attempts to quash (as well as my niggling feeling that it doesn’t really matter anyway), continuously comes my way, followed swiftly by “I recommend you going”.

I often tell them about all the different Englishes in the world, quoting my sociolinguistics lecturers about how loads of variations of English exist, just as the Queen’s one does. Indian English, African English, Chinese English are all recognised and understood, therefore European or Hispanic English is just as viable – reinforcing the idea that effective communication is key for this lingua franca we’re so lucky to have as our first language.

Having said all this, their C1 examiners will cringe with imperialist rage at this mistake, therefore I continue to drill it out of them like a military sergeant.

I hear a distant cry for Esperanto… but it’s far too late for that now. The world is in the grasps of globalisation, that unstoppable viper. And a positive result of this is that English language resources are in such abundance it would be illogical, and basically impossible, to try and convert us now.

I often reiterate that their learning of English is courageous. So what if I can’t hear the difference when you say “work” and “walk”? The startling and shameful statistics of foreign language learning in Britain is another one of my arguments. According to Eurostats, 5% of Spanish children don’t learn a foreign language, in Britain the percentage is 50. Fifty percent. It’s embarrassing, frankly.

Furthermore, my guilt at their belief that learning English will get them a job (and subsequently keep me in work and make Cambridge a lot of money) is just another uncomfortable ripple of anger I feel towards English. These damning reports against learning English in Spain are not helping my plight.

Please, give ‘em a break!




Take me with you, Uncategorized

Festival Tres Sesenta round two


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Well, after the intensity of the second night in the ciudadela and the numerous after parties, the effects of which could been seen in the pasty faces and gentle sipping of the first caña, the line up for Saturday offered an equally exciting selection of acts. Amor de Tokio and Triángulo de Amor Bizarro introduced the evening. The sweet vocals from, Isa, the lead of Triángulo de Amor Bizarro set against the blood-pumping guitar was in pleasant contrast with the other male-dominated acts.

Eladio y Los Seres Queridos played some slow feel-good songs, even pummelling out a rendition of forever young to the delight of the audience. Xoel López introduced a gentle folk sound to the festival with flamenco undertones and great percussion from the bongo drums.

Vestusta Morla with their hot indie folk sound gave a sharp performance, their popularity and quality a result of 10 years of perseverance on the Spanish gigging circuit.

Finally, Mendetz stormed in as the last act of the Tres Sesenta festival 2012. Their energy-boosting set changed the mood and frantic finger-pointing dancing took over as the then pleasantly inebriated crowd soaked up their euphoric electro and ambidextrous musicality.

An enchanted local, Nerea said “There were bands which really surprised me, Cápsula for example were really entertaining. It’s been the first time an indie festival has taken place here and all the music lovers of Pamplona are looking forward to the Tres Sesenta 2013”.

A raving Brit’s opinion, Nick, “The music scene in Pamplona needed a bit of a shake up and this festival was it. Dinero are worth checking out and Mendetz were incredible. With an entertaining line up, cheap drinks, good food and a local feel, this festival has got it all”.

Another unsuspecting student, Aussie Ed, “Highlight of my year here.You should know, Pamplona’s not just all about San Fermines…”

Take me with you, Uncategorized

Festival Tres Sesenta round one


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The Tres Sesenta festival invaded the castle walls of the normally immaculate ciudadela to offer a 3-day line up that was nothing short of luminous.

A whole host of festival goers that you don’t normally see in respectable old Iruña seized the ciudadela for a weekend of rock and indie. With a vast selection of local and national bands, this carefully thought-out and intelligently executed festival marked a big moment for the music scene in the unassuming city of Pamplona. Even the plods couldn’t calm this unruly disturber of the peace. (They arrived with their decibel reader, nobody cared).

A warm-up on Thursday evening saw local groups Joe La Reina, Muy Fellini and El Columpio Asesino entertaining like old friends. The public enjoyed a free pintxo (tapas) and a glass of something with their €6 ticket (entrance was free for those who’d bought the weekend pass at an unarguably cheap price of €45). The long summer evening allowed for lounging festival enjoyment with a scattering of cushions, a cool glass of Kalimotxo (an ingenious mix of coke and red wine) and warmth in the air, such is the uniqueness of Spanish festivals.

Wilhelm and the dancing animals and Dinero warmed up the crowds on Friday evening. Wilhelm and the dancing animals had a great artistic energy with their folk, punk blend, whilst Dinero played some heavier indie tunes, drawing in a crowd with equally long hair.

Cápsula, was the third act of the evening, and although the sun was still shining, their wild Argentinean smoulder rocked the arena. The red-clad lead entertained with his escapades, jumping off the stage and trying to swallow the microphone.

We Are Standard, having won MTV’s award for best Spanish band and appreciation across Europe, were the most internationally acclaimed band of the evening. They followed the psychedelic rock of Cápsula with their reminiscent 90s electronic indie. The euphoric build-up in their melodies captured the audience and made for some sweaty festival dancing.

Next arrived the guapo indie group Supersubmarina. An excited mob of female fans were waiting like baited piranhas for the group they most wanted to have babies with (according to the homemade placards). Their pop-rock sound was popular, as well as their generosity as they threw their belongings into the crowd. There was much female scrapping and scrabbling to get ones hands on their drumsticks, so to speak.

Love of Lesbian, an indie pop group from Barcelona, had some big tunes to offer the crowds and rounded the night off nicely as everyone sang the evening out. Their performance was calm and earthy, inducing swaying of the lighter and general happiness.

Take me with you


If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. 

Pearls of absolute wisdom from Ken Robinson.

Have you discovered TED talks yet? I often sit down to eat my lunch, somewhat sadly, with an episode of Grey’s Anatomy; a programme full of revelling in the gossip and sex of a Seattle ER. McDreamy and McSteamy are reasons enough to watch an episode, or an entire series, with a slightly numbed brain, eyes unfocused. But recently education, both personal and of the masses, has been on my mind. TED talks are something to fill those moments when I find myself staring out of the window, with a worry frown, asking myself what’s next in my personal education. Am I learning enough? What can I offer to the world other than reveal what happens to George in the 5th series of Grey’s? (don’t type this into google, you’ll suffer a massive spoiler haemorrhage).

TED talks has a huge selection of thought-provoking pieces with ideas worth spreading. From jaw dropping inspiration to informative interest, let your inquisitiveness take you.

This talk from Ken Robinson is something I selected today. Not only is he a fine, comical speaker, but openly and honestly, I agree with what he says. Our world of focussing on academic achievement is unrealistic, elitist and, well, unhappy. If education is something that our evolution has allowed us to acquire, then let it be free without boundaries of economy and social class. Let personal education and discovery be surmount to a grade on a piece of paper. Let us embrace all types of intelligences and use them all to help cultivate our world.

And I’ll just continue flitting back and forth about doing a Masters. One day, it’ll all become clear.

Katie Sims in Pamplona, Uncategorized

The music scene in Spain

SPAIN is full of music. Whether it be children learning to play instruments, teenagers experimenting in rock bands, talented local groups, a sprinkling of international festivals, lively charangas in the streets at fiestas creating a whirlwind of happy dancing and singing, thoughtful poetry in their lyrics, passionate emotions in their performances, it’s deep within their artistic culture.

The music scene in Pamplona is nowhere near as developed as it could be. There is a collection of interesting cultural centres and venues that do see a few bands, though it often costs you a 30 minute journey to an industrial park and more than you’d hope to pay.

Nevertheless, last year I saw Muchachito Bombo Infierno in Totem, a venue in Pamplona. The band is from Barcelona and their performances are invigorating. A drummer with incredible dexterity, planting a rhythm for Music is all around…the brassy sax and trumpet, then the rapid plucking of the guitar strings, all staged against a huge canvas being painted live by the band’s artist. The concert only finishes when his masterpiece is completed. The canvas now hangs proudly in the club.

Furthermore, I’ve written in the past about some interesting localized micro-concerts that happen occasionally in Pamplona. There was also a week-long event organized by the government in Civivox where local bands performed. Entrance was free and Pamplona’s young up-and-coming artists designed the sets. The venue was full and the audience varied.

Of course, there are the huge annual international festivals in Spain such as Primavera Sound, which happened last weekend. Benicassim is popular. In this region, there is Bilbao BBK Live where The Cure and Radiohead are headlining. There’s some great diversity amongst the acts too, from Enter Shikari with its hardcore rock, to Four Tet‘s experimental electronic indie. The lineup is still overwhelmingly music in English, but there are a few local bands such as the Basque Zea Mays playing.

So, all hope’s not lost!

Finally, this unassuming city, Pamplona, has done something to promote Spanish music. This weekend is the Tres Sesenta Festival. Bands from all over Spain are preparing right now for the festival in the Ciudadela of Pamplona. I’m excited. I’ll report back soon.



Katie Sims in Pamplona, Uncategorized

Fast-forward in the Pyrenees

The Pyrenees is transformed for summer. Bears, snakes, ice-cold rivers and bemused locals

THE sun was hot after so many weeks of rain and cloud in Navarra.

The sky had cleared leaving brilliant blue stretching endlessly ahead. The rolling valley of Roncal was cooler, one hour upwards from Pamplona. This valley sees a drastic change each year. Just two months before it is covered in thick snow that disguises any trace of summer in the Pyrenees. There is only the odd dark twig that pokes its head above the carpet of white. You can see the roofs of small dark shepherd’s dwellings and paw prints are the http://www.theolivepress.es/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/pyrenees.jpgonly indication of wildlife. Much like a sped-up wildlife programme, fast-forward is pressed and the motions of the seasons flow rapidly. The Pyrenees is transformed; flowers sprouting, leaves blossom the trees with that unique sun-induced green, luminescent against the dark evergreen hue that’s there all year round.

As we walked over and through the foliage, wildlife peaked out everywhere. Bears once roamed this area in large numbers and a conservation project has tried to reintroduce the native brown bear species but without much success. The local shepherds found it difficult to manage a natural predator to their livelihood. The government set up a compensation programme to cover for any loss of stock and many efforts were made to preserve the bears’ natural habitat. However, the bears didn’t seem to thrive in the valley. Camille, the last lonely Navarran bear, disappeared last year.

No bears, but we did come across a snake, well actually, it came across us. I’ve never seen one move before. We often use slither to describe the movement of snakes. This snake slithered across our path – the dry rocky path – but slither is the wrong word. Slither evokes visions of slime, clinging to the ground, passing over obstacles with the body following the shapes underneath it. This snake moved like there was nothing beneath its belly, no thorns, jagged dry rocks or hot crumbly earth, almost as if levitating off the ground, its head high and its muscles moving in an S-shape. It moved across our path with no fear, no trepidation when faced with human feet. He audaciously stopped the human traffic on his journey across the forest floor. It was grey with dark brown diamonds on its back, only a baby, but with the courage of a viper!

Despite the arrival of summer, glacial water flows deep and strong through the Roncal valley. From high up in the mountain where the peaks are still glistening with majestic white snow, we splashed our red faces with the cool luxurious water. The villagers of Roncal looked on in amused horror as we walked out into the icy water. The water flowed strongly over well-worn rocks, slippery and smooth from millions of years of rushing mountain minerals. Eventually we succumbed to the current and swam against it like on a treadmill or relaxed and floated like leaves on the surface. We dried off on the patio before moving onto the next gathering of grey-slate roofs, the village of Isaba.

In Isaba there is a footpath that heads uphill through dense forest. The path is cobbled and covered in moss. It is a pilgrimage, dotted with crosses, which leads to the old village chapel. The chapel has small medieval windows, a wild-looking garden with pots of flowers and fruit trees and a spring-water tap for weary travellers. Heading out through the back gate, a crooked sign holds the message “el puente esta roto” “the bridge is broken”, but we took it anyway.

After walking through the forest and down a very steep verge we reached a section of the river that was particularly raging. The icy water splashed over rocks forming whirlpools. Unwilling to turn back, as this would mean scaling the verge again, we decided take off our shoes, tie the laces the together, hang them around our necks and brave the ferocious water. After a few struggles, a near miss with the guy holding a camera, and an ingenious production line which meant the electrical items and shoes arrived safely to the other bank, we made it. The other bank was completely covered in wily stinging nettles, clearly this bridge has been broken for a long time, but we cleared the verge and arrived directly onto the main road that lead back to Isaba. Our muscles and adrenaline having worn out, our skin stinging and our clothes wet, we slumped into a taberna where the bemused staff served us icecream and copious amounts of water.

On the way back to Pamplona, we stopped off at the impressive Foz de Arbuyan. It is a deep canyon carved by the Salazar and Irati rivers. It is a wonderful bird sanctuary. A knowledgeable bird watcher pointed out red kites, buzzards, an eagles and vultures. Whilst observing the soaring birds and with a strong evening breeze, our bodies recovered before heading back for a good night’s … pintxo-ing.