far too much writing, far too many photos

A classically spectacular July day –- brilliant sunlight, clear blue skies, temperature in the high 70s with a slight, delicious breeze. The kind of day it would be impossible to put a price tag on.

This morning’s class began with the group from last week intact -– me along with the three women students and Alicia, the instructor. [See entry for 16 July.] Until about halfway through the morning when Pietro, a 30ish Italian guy, got tossed into the mix. We are supposedly the school’s highest-level class, but this guy’s Spanish is markedly more advanced, to the point that he almost immediately began dominating the scene. Any time a new personality gets added to a closed group, the chemistry changes, but this threw the existing dynamic completely off its axis.

Pietro: tall, thin, slightly mannered, nicely dressed in the international student style with modish glasses and hair so short his head is practically, though not quite, shaven. He likes to talk, began doing so pretty much as soon as his butt landed in a chair. None of this is to imply that he’s anything other than a good person, ’cause I think he is. (A good person.) It’s just that his Spanish is so much sturdier than ours and his personality aggressive enough that his energy pretty much elbowed its way into the center of things and took over.

It’s interesting to watch how energy/chemistry shifts in small groups, to watch individual personalities and what they bring to the mix, how the energy swirls and eddies in response to different factors: interactions, changes in mood, the quality of individual performance. It’s interesting to watch the personality looking out through each pair of eyes, with all the intelligence and belief systems packed in there. And it’s interesting to watch an individual observe and respond to whatever’s going on, a process that can be so liquid and so finely detailed that I’m sometimes not sure how we get through our days without being astonished over and over again at the complexity of all the beings — all those self-contained universes, crammed with potential and surprises and depths we can only guess at -– that share this world with us.

During the morning class sessions, Alicia has been flaying us alive with the subjunctive verb forms (or as Jack Nicholson might put it, the GOD-DAMN subjective verb forms) with their infinite variety of uses and exceptions. We had a new instructor for the after-break session, an intelligent woman named Belén. Alicia apparently informed Belén that she’d been torturing us for quite some time now with the subjunctive, letting her know which particular use she’d flogged us with this morning. Belén bore all that in mind as we (mostly Pietro) talked during the second session, mentioning at the end of class that everyone (except Pietro) seemed to have a fear of the subjunctive since no one (except Pietro) used it at all, in any way, at any point. Why does all this seem so entertaining to me? Should I be worried about that?

The name ‘Belén,’ it turns out, is Spanish for Bethlehem. She mentioned that to introduce the idea of Spain’s ingrained religious leanings, using the results of a UNESCO poll to illustrate the way Spanish Catholicism has been morphing. For instance, according to these figures, 60.8% of the Spaniards polled support legalizing euthanasia, with only 12.7% against, though a whopping 23.1% abstained from taking a stand. (3.3% refused to answer at all.)

49.5% supported legalizing marriage for gays, 20.8% came out against it, a mighty substantial 26.5% abstained. (Again, 3.3% refused to answer at all.)

45.9% supported eliminating celibacy for Catholic priests, 11.7% were against, and once more, an extremely substantial 38.6% abstained from taking a stand. (3.8% refused to answer at all.)

46.9% supported allowing the ordination of female priests. Only 10.8% came out against this idea. 39% abstained from answering. (3.3% refused to answer at all.)

When it came to expressing their religious preference, 6.3% professed to be ‘fervent Catholics,’ 27.6 professed to be ‘lukewarm Catholics,’ 38.5% identified themselves as ‘baptized Catholic and not practicing,’ which left 27.6% for the categories, ‘indifferent,’ ‘non-believer,’ ‘Atheist,’ ‘Don’t know,’ and ‘Bugger off.’

Belén’s point: during the time of Franco, Catholicism was the one and only permitted religion. The only possible way to get married? In the Church. Catholic education? A mandatory part of the school curriculum. Since the Generalisimo ‘went to the other neighborhood,’ as the Spanish euphemism for dying goes (fue al otro barrio), and liberty has taken root and flourished, there has been some movement in other directions.

I draw no conclusions -– who knows how many people were polled to provide these statistics and how accurate the numbers actually are? I also think, like everything, the Catholic Church has its place in the big picture, and will wax and wane, will have its cycles and its lifetime.

Spain’s an interesting place, though. In 25 years, it’s evolved from an isolated backwater to a sophisticated, high-profile 21st century nation, holding the current presidency of the EU. A lot of ground to cover in a quarter of a century.


I have not been getting the kind of shuteye my body would love to be getting during my time here. Not that I’m sleeping poorly. I’m actually sleeping pretty well. I’m just getting to bed real damn late.

This is not my fault. First of all, the Madrid sun goes down late enough that the sky remains light until after ten — exactly the way it should be with summer in full swing and the weather perfect. Second, there’s so much going on, so many people about, so many things to see, so many tiendas and cafés and restaurants beckoning every time one steps outside that it just doesn’t make any sense to get to bed before midnight. It’s almost as if my body simply doesn’t realize that the night has worn on and I have to be up at a reasonably early hour to get showered, shaved, dressed, fed and out the door for to spend the morning suffering in class. It feels good being up, with all the energy in the air and the sound of all that life going on out in the street. It feels good until I’m sitting in class the next morning wishing I were asleep.

Not that I’m complaining. These are great problems to have.

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