Sunday, December 21, 2008

Belen Viviente

Ubrique's Belen Viviente (Living Nativity) was a huge success, and for me, an experience of a lifetime. I have never before witnessed an entire community come together to put together such an incredible Christmas display. Most people were out working at 8:00 am setting up structures and converting the Casco Antiguo (the historic part of town) into a scene straight from first century Bethlehem. Others trickled in throughout the day, and some just came to work the actual "event" which started around 6:00 pm and ended at 3:30 am. Regardless of arrival time, there were hundreds of people continually working to make this all come together, and it did indeed come together - flawlessly. Well, I guess I technically shouldn't say flawlessly. There was one glitch: Ubrique (yes, the entire town) lost electricity for about 2 hours, so most of the Belen Viviente was plagued by complete darkness for a while. Fortunately for me, I was working at the Census and and was surrounded by about 20 candles! We were the only station with light :-) Aside from this, however, the Belen Viviente was perfect. Not only beautifully constructed and carried out, but there were thousands of people from all over Spain (and from England, Germany, Argentina, etc) lining the streets. It truly was a sight to see. A Belen Viviente to spread Christmas cheer, bring people together in celebration, and to raise money for charity - could there be a better way to spend your Saturday night?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cosas de Navidad y El Belén Viviente

First semester grades were due yesterday afternoon. Grades are quite different in Spain than in the U.S., and instead of sending report cards out, parents come to school to talk to the teachers and get their child(s)'s grades. I guess you could compare it to parent-teacher confrences...with report cards thrown in the mix. To celebrate the close of the semester, and in preparation for Christmas, the Director (Antonio) invited all the teachers to an afternoon chocolate (i.e. "afternoon tea" if you will). All 30 or so of us got together for a light snack of churros with hot chocolate, followed by some home made mojitos, and topped off with an hour or so of chatting and singing Christmas carols (in Spanish of course). While it is well known that the Spanish really enjoy and know how to have a fiesta, it must also be noted that they are fabulous singers. Something about Spanish music just energizes anyone and everyone. It just warms you up inside and makes you want to get up and dance (especially after a few mojitos)... Each day I am realizing more and more that I truly am enamored with the Spanish way of life - and while I am going to miss my usual Colorado Christmas with my beloved parents, I am excited to experience something new.

Vale...ahora, tengo ganas de escribir en español, así, voy a hacerlo. Pero no os preocupéis, hay una traducción debajo.

I have the urge to write in Spanish, so, I am going to. But don’t worry, there is a translation below. :-)

Este año, como estoy viviendo en España, voy a participar en una costumbre española: el Belén Viviente. El Belén Viviente de Ubrique es famoso por Andalucia, y cada año más de 10,000 vienen a Ubrique para verlo. De verdad, es algo muy bonito. Este año, el Belén Viviente es por el sábado, el 20 de diciembre. Vamos a empezar a preparar por el Belén a las 8:00 por la mañana el sábado, y empezaré la obra a partir de las 8:00 por la noche, terminando a las 3:00 o 4:00 domingo por la mañana. Estoy emocionada quedar la noche entera participando en el Belén! Aunque la siguiente pagina de web esta escrito en español, merece la pena visitarla: También hay que ver el video de YouTube:

Since I am living in Spain this year, I thought I would participate in a truly Spanish tradition: a “living nativity.” Ubrique’s “living nativity” is famous throughout Andalucia, and every year, more than 10,000 people come to Ubrique to see it. It really is something beautiful. This year, the event will be held on Saturday, December 20th. We will be setting up and preparing for the event starting at 8:00 am Saturday morning, and will begin the “living nativity” around 8:00 pm, finishing around 3:00 or 4:00 am Sunday morning. I’m quite excited to make a night out of it…! Although the following webpage is written in Spanish, it is worth checking out (see above link). You also should check out the video of Ubrique’s “living nativity” on YouTube (see above link).

On a side note: the first link will take you to our main web page, and the top photo is a photo of the plaza del ayuntamiento and my house! You will see three red roofs in a row at the top of the photo, and I am in the middle, the top floor.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Venturing out of Ubrique

Every year, on the 6th of December, Spaniards celebrate Día de la Constitución (Constitution Day). It is a day to commemorate and celebrate the passage of the constitutional referendum of 1978, when the Spanish public voted in and approved the Spanish Constitution (Spain's movement towards a more democratic society after decades of rule under Franco's dictatorship). Depending on what day the 6th falls on, Spaniards usually end up getting several days off of work or school, and sometimes are fortunate enough to celebrate a long weekend. This year, Andalucians celebrated Día de la Constitución with an extended weekend from Friday, December 5 to Tuesday, December 9. Although there were some local festivities in celebration of the holiday, I decided to take the opportunity to travel to Copenhagen, Denmark to visit a friend.

While I couldn't be more in love with Ubrique, it does have one (and yes, only one) flaw: traveling to and from Ubrique to the next nearest airport (whether Sevilla, Jerez, or Malaga) is quite a challenge and an adventure in-and-of itself. For example, although my flight was not until Thursday morning in Malaga, I had to leave Wednesday afternoon at 3:00 pm in order to catch one of two daily buses that go from Ubrique to Malaga. Then of course, I had to spend the night in Malaga...then leave for Copenhagen in the morning. The same challenges awaited my return as well - I flew in on Tuesday afternoon, but not in time to catch the bus back to Ubrique. So, yet again, I had to spend the night in Malaga, and catch the 10 am bus home Wednesday. I might also mention that by car, Malaga is only 1 hour 45 minutes away. In is a full 4 hours.

However, once I arrived in Copenhagen, I didn't have much trouble getting around. There is a good metro system, but I chose to walk most everywhere (save money, get exercise, see the sights...). Copenhagen is a beautiful city, and quite different than anything I have ever seen. Several things stood out. First of all, I have never seen so many bike-riders in my life. Having gone to college in Portland, OR, one of the most progressive and environmentally friendly cities in the US, I never again thought I would be surprised to see someone commuting to work on their bike. But believe me, Copenhagen takes the trophie for this. Not only do they have designated bike lanes (with signals and everything), but they have the right-of-way. And yes, it is almost more dangerous to cross the bike lane, than run across a lane of traffic. It is quite an impressive site - especially since all the Danes ride with style as well. Who would have thought you could ride a bike in stilettos, fur coats, and/or flowing dresses? Well, now I know for a fact it is possible. Aside from the heavy bike traffic, Copenhagen has several other fascinating aspects. For instance, the architecture is incredible. There is a wonderful dichotomy of new/contemporary and old/traditional buildings lining the rivers, and surrounding beautiful, large town squares/plazas. Most of the older buildings are quite colorful, or constructed with brick and copper (a beautiful contrast!). Then, there is also a random "city" (more like an autonomous community) within Copenhagen, called Christiania. Apparently Christiania is not entirely governed by the Danish Monarchy, but instead has its own mini-government that allows the legal buying and selling of marijuana within the boundaries of the community. It is one of Copenhagen's most commonly visited tourist spots. While I did wander through the community, I didn't think it was anything too exciting. However, everyone in Copenhagen seems to love it. I suggest googling it if you are interested, it is neat to check out. Perhaps the oddest thing about Copenhagen has to do with their restrooms... There is absolutely no separation between the shower and the rest of the bathroom (toilet, sink, etc). As such, when you shower, you flood the entire bathroom. And when you aren't showering, and you use the toilet or sink, you are technically walking (in your filthy street shoes) in the shower. It is very random, and I've never quite seen anything like it. But hey, I have a new found appreciation for "normal" bathrooms with divisions. And last, but not least, it is true that all Danes are tall, slender and blonde. To be honest, I have never seen such an homogenous society. As Copenhagen is a fairly large city, it surprised me to see such little diversity. Upon talking to various people, however, I learned that Denmark has a very strict immigration policy, and that in general, does not want/accept immigrants too openly. While they truly are beautiful, and seemingly quite happy people -- they are a little "too perfect" and closed-up for me.

One of the 5 days I was in Copenhagen, my friend and I did venture across the Oresund bridge that goes from Copenhagen to Malmo, Sweden. We only spend about 5 or 6 hours in Sweden, but even in that short time, we were able to see a lot of Malmo. There are several castles, gardens, parks, mansions, and town squares that are just beautiful. And only about 20 minutes away in train from Copenhagen, it was a perfect day trip.

I enjoyed seeing two new countries, and am very fortunate to have had the opportunity. Yet, while Copenhagen and Malmo were both beautiful cities, it is good to be back in Ubrique. I feel I am home :-)