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.