Una bienvenida de Querétaro!

Monday 5th November 12 at 1:58 am

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Hello everyone.

It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?  Well, blogs have gone out of fashion completely (mostly?) and now any old twit tweets.  I’ve decided to resurrect this for the nth time to document a bit my new life over the ocean in Mexico.

To be precise, I’ve moved over with work for six months to the company’s small office in Querétaro, a largish city to the north of Mexico City (DF in local parlance).  I’m not supposed to repeat how nice the city is (to keep it a “hidden gem”), but as it goes, it’s very clean, very friendly and very pleasant to amble around and look at.  I’m currently staying at a place called Queretaro Home B&B, which I have no hesitation in recommending.  (The owner is an extremely amiable former chef (i.e. delicious breakfasts) hailing from Canada, with an enormous wealth of information about the city and the country.)

Once I know the place a bit better, I’ll write a more in depth account.

I arrived just in time for Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), the festival celebrated pre-Christianity and now the two are fused to give the visitor here quite a spectacle.  Queretaro isn’t a place where the biggest celebrations are (I’m told the state of Michoacán is where it’s at) but I’ve still seen rather a lot going on.

Here are some photos to whet your appetites! More photos should follow on Flickr at some undefinde point in the near future.

(As I used to do way back) Now Listening: Gorillaz - Empire Ants (ft Little Dragon) spotify youtube

This’ll do for a first post.

And the result is…

Friday 18th June 10 at 7:49 pm

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This seems a good time to make post No. 2 to the blog, if I’m going to keep things up.  Today was a pretty momentous occassion for me and my fellow engineers at Bristol.  Today was results day.

After spending the day biting my nails, going on a long walk to pass the time and generally getting rather anxious, the email finally came in: results had finally been posted on the noticeboard in my department.  A race across Bristol on my bike (at least it stopped me biting my nails right down to the quick) and almost storming into the building to get to the results.  And there it is.  A first!

I must admit I’m pretty jubilant; to think that the five years of hard study (the four here and the one before) have paid off so well!  Still can’t quite take it in properly.

Anyway, a toast to all the engineers today: we can all be pretty damn proud of what we’ve achieved over the last few years.  Bloody hard work but I hope everyone can say that overall they’ve enjoyed it and had a good time at Bristol.

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Is Done

Wednesday 2nd June 10 at 4:53 pm

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My good friend Chris and I were talking recently about eschewing the instant gratification thought-diarrhoea of Facebook statuses and Twitter feeds and re-lighting our old blogs from back in the day, when people let the world know their every thought in whole sentences.  Generally a once-weekly splurge to the world was sufficient; if you were approaching a daily post it whiffed a bit of too much self-interest.

Today I realised was the perfect day to start again, not least as I’d popped a status update on Facebook telling my contacts with the taciturn “I’m done” that I’d sat the last exam of my finals.  Indeed, the die is now cast and I await results day to see what four years (plus the false start I suppose) of hard graft are worth.

I must admit, the sensation was strange having finished.  As in previous years, I felt the brief initial wave of elation, which quickly subsides to an anti-climatic “I want to go and file my notes into folders, have a nice cup of tea, and nap.” Partying is for later, particularly this year as I’ve finished a few days before my classmates so I have to keep quiet.  In fact, all I have done so far is get home, moved the hillock of laundry from my room to the washing machine and listened to a whole heap of music.

The realisation of finishing the degree hit in a bittersweet wash of slightly manic laughter tinged with the sadness of feeling a chapter closing.  All the effort is about to be weighed and judged, anticipating results while saying a lot of goodbyes I imagine, which is the hardest bit. It’s nothing new of course: leaving school, college, the gap year, Selwyn, Valencia and now here. They are times to stop and take stock before carrying on, taking a breather and looking back on the view behind.

Before this gets soppy or anything, I’ll sign off.  With the tradition of the days of my first blog, I’ll sign off with a musical note (that wasn’t meant to be any sort of pun).  Today’s seen a whole tranche of old, nostalgic tracks being played, and plenty of guilty pleasures (Alanis Morissette’s “Thank U” or N-Trance’s “Set You Free”, anyone?).  Anyway, the track I put forth today — with the bonus these days of a direct Spotify link, a new feature for this blog — is Roxy Music’s “Mother Of Pearl”.

Update!  Chris’ new blog is at this new address.

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Carnaval and the Start of Fallas

Thursday 5th March 09 at 10:12 pm

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Exams have been and gone, I’ve recovered and become angered by The System, and the Poly is taken over by election fever.  Actually, it isn’t, but the candidates like to think it is, what with electoral debates on UPV TV and all.  One is promising laptops for all and has such a swish election campaign all it achieves is to look tacky.  They’ve both gone web 2.0 with blogs and YouTube clips and twitter and things.  To me it all seems a bit silly, so I’ll leave that topic there.

Currently I’m amused by a sentence on a BBC News story I read today, about the debate over the collapse of bee colonies:

It is believed these chemicals can act like alcohol on humans, disorienting the bees and causing them to get lost on the way home.

So is this implying that all humans get lost on the way home after chugging a pint?

The other amusement is coming from Spanish president of the government, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. He let slip in a televised statement that there now is, between Spain and Russia, an agreement to “stimulate, to assist, to fuck… to support Russian tourism”. Ooopsie daisy. It’s clear he realises what word has just come out of his mouth, but can you imagine being in that position? Dear oh dear.

The end of February kickstarted the season of celebrations, with Carnaval.  For those in GB that don’t know what it is, here is an article on Wikipedia.  Here in Valencia, it’s taken as an excuse for yet more partying, but this one is unofficial.  Apparently the Carnaval parade in my barrio was stopped by the police, who hosed them down and shot rubber bullets.  Here is a video on YouTube showing the dissolution into trouble. Either way, it was an excuse to dress up in disfraz and to get reduced entry to clubs for the effort.

Before any of the troubles, I managed to capture a video of one part of the parade in Benimaclet, with the human tower troupe.  (In my visit to Taragona there was a museum about it as they say they have the best ones there.)  Basically, people clamber on top of each other in an organised fashion to make this tower.  Check out the YouTube video below (or this link if you’re reading from Facebook and it doesn’t come up).

The first day of March heralded the start of Fallas, Valencia’s very own unique festival which lasts until the 19th of the month.  I’m not sure I can effectively describe it, so here’s yet another pointer to Wikipedia.  Or you can be patient, and as things happen and I take photos or videos and upload them here.

Meanwhile, below you can find are a selection of photos of the Mascletà in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento.  As I described way back in October, a mascletà is essentially a fireworks display but for the sound rather than the visual effects.  It’s five minutes of eardrum-popping body-shaking explosions and lots of smoke.

During the festival, one takes place each day at 2pm prompt, the plaza filled with people and the fallas girls (there must be a name for them) standing on a balcony of the Ayuntamiento with their traditional costume.  Bizarrely, it is also relayed live by the local television and radio stations.

The Fallas girls.  Notice it is before the mascletà, before the smoke.

The Fallas girls. Notice it is before the mascletà, before the smoke.

It begins...

It begins.

 

Now you see it (just about)...

Now you see it (just about)...

...now you don't.

...now you don't.

 

Little puffs of smoke in the sky; sparks and flashes in the plaza.

Little puffs of smoke in the sky; sparks and flashes in the plaza.

 

And it's over...for today.

And it's over...for today.

Looking the other way down a street from the plaza.

Looking the other way down a street from the plaza.

 

Oh, and finally one last photo I’d been meaning to get for ages (actually, thanks go to Samuel for taking the photo). Since the day I twigged what it sounds like when said in English, I can’t now not see it like that. I’ll leave it there on that note.

 

Colon Fluid.  Nothing more need be said.

Colon Fluid. Nothing more need be said.

Oranges, dogs and football.

Wednesday 11th February 09 at 4:24 pm

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I haven’t written for a while, and that’s because nothing has really happened apart from the exams.  Now I am back to normal, still not much has happened.  I went to Tarragona and got rained on (but it was good fun nevertheless) and that’s about it.

I’m outraged at the stripping of the trees that line the streets of their oranges.  (In reality, they were starting to rot and make a mess on the pavement, so it’s for the best.)  No longer can I stand on my balcony, coffee in hand and gaze at the bright orange blobs dotted in the dark green foliage.  On the other hand, I am excited about the appearance and resulting perfume of orange blossom whenever that should arrive.

This morning I walked passed the world’s gayest scene.  As I wandered down the street, I glanced in a hairdresser’s to see (1) a super-camp looking hairdresser guy with super-camp hair and (2) matching tiny palm-sized dog, sitting on the side by where he was working, dressed in very similar attire to its owner and with identical hair.  How cruel to give a dog that gay choppy-hair look.  At least the highlights were natural.

Tonight is the England vs. Spain friendly.  For one day only I’ve developed an interest in the sport.  EEENGEERLAAAAND! (etc.)

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Small world

Sunday 25th January 09 at 4:09 pm

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Interesting fact: John Cabot (actually an Italian, real name Giovanni Caboto) lived in Valencia before living in Bristol.  How’s that for a small world, or at least a strange joined-up history.

All I have to do now is live in Venice (does having been on holiday there count?)  and discover, say, Atlantis.

Exams and Public Paella

Sunday 18th January 09 at 6:50 pm

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This time I write to you not from an airport departures lounge, but from the middle of the first examination season here.  Revision time, like the departures lounge, is one of those points in life that no-one likes to be.  One is here, waiting for the next step (flight or exam) whilst trying to find something to do, whether that be ruffling through notes or browsing duty-free (despite being on an intra-EU flight).  I wouldn’t go so far as to say revision time is killing time (ha! I’d like to say it were), but it’s definitely a limbo of ill-ease.

Each time I find myself facing exams, I notice certain characteristics of my approach.  Procrastination has become refined; it’s no longer a random process of finding a distraction, I now mentally select what I will do to break the revision.  Here in Valencia, that involves going for a walk to the greengrocer’s (fruit is healthy! It’ll help in the long run…) or making tea in the microwave (kettles aren’t usual items here, at least no-one seems to have one) amongst other things.   Another choice of course is writing, which when you’ve been scribbling sums for hours is a blessed relief.

A lot of the exams I take involve a multiple-choice test as part, if not all of it.  These things I don’t like for many reasons, the main one being you have no way of proving you know something about a topic even if you can’t arrive at an exact answer.  They’re fine for testing “bullet point” facts, or perhaps even quick calculations of fundamental quantities, but to test and probe someone’s knowledge is impossible.  The ones I’ve faced here are negatively marked and designed to catch you out with real red-herring answers.  The idea is to pick the “most correct”, so several could be correct but not the whole picture.  Added to that there is the subtlety of language used.  My fault has always been not to read the question properly, so throw in language doubts, and there’s a real problem.

As a relief from exams, the other day with a couple of friends I took the Metro line I live on out of the city into the surrounding villages and countryside.  I’ve got to say it was a blessed relief to escape, if just for the afternoon!  To be walking along the sleepy streets, through the dead town square, reaching the edge of the village and continuing into the farmland and orange groves was just the thing I needed.  Picking the odd orange or clementine here and there from the trees or the ground and smelling the rich, sweet aroma of the fruit in the air definitely lifted the spirits.  Between mouthfuls and with hands sticky and dripping with the fruits’ juices, which, perhaps because of the situation, seemed much sweeter and tastier than usual, we were checking for an irate farmer with shotgun.

Whither will the road take us?

Whither will the road take us?

"Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clements..."

"Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clements..."

An odd encounter in the town at the end of the line, Rafelbunyol, were the smoking remnants of fires laid to cook paella, en-masse.  Not just one, but there were at least a couple of dozen smouldering heaps of ashes and bits of log all in a line, surrounded by discarded rice packets and bits of spilt paella.

Happy new year

Thursday 8th January 09 at 12:12 pm

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I wrote this waiting in the departures lounge at Gatwick on my way back to Valencia:

Ok, so I never did write about Madrid, which is just me being lazy more than anything.  We’ve found ourselves now in 2009; and with that I wish a merry new year to anyone reading this.  At the moment, more specifically, I find myself in Gatwick south terminal’s departure lounge after the person-rape of security here.  To be fair, it didn’t feel as invasive this time as it has done before, or perhaps I’ve got used to it now and accept that it’s acceptable to plod around with no shoes on in a grimy public space taking my belt off.

Anyway, I’m on my way back to Valencia after a slightly odd Christmas (various at-home things), but it was a pleasant break nonetheless, despite being so short!  Too short in fact, and I even went home before the term ended.  One thing I’ve noticed about the Spanish academic year is how long it is, with very little time to rest, recuperate and assimilate all that knowledge from all those notes.

My flight’s disappeared off one information screen onto the next in the series that happens to be broken.  Having found one of the few seat that actually face an information screen this is a bit annoying!  (Why do airport information screens always point nowhere in a direction that doesn’t appear useful to anyone?)  I’ll have to move off and find something to do and sacrifice my seat.  Tata.

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Tata for now

Friday 19th December 08 at 5:02 am

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Alright, I know I said I would write about Madrid, and I will.  I still need to sort out the photos and things first, and then I can finish writing about it.  After all, a picture is a thousand words.

It’s come to the end of the first “cuatrimestre” here in Valencia, and tomorrow I’m about to jet back to the familial abode for, in theory, rest and relaxation.  In reality, it’s going to be two weeks of solid, horrible revision in preparation for the exams literally the day after I arrive back after the break.

The festive feeling is quite strange here.  For one thing, the trees are full of oranges (which are now starting to drop and be squashed and annoying on the pavement, adding to the instinct that you need to develop to avoid the dog shit) and there are no mince pies.  Christmas is not Christmas without mince pies.  Another thing is how it can still be 18ºC in winter.  I’m not complaining, but it’s strange!

Naranjos! Tarongers! Orange trees!

Naranjos! Tarongers! Orange trees!

Then there are the usual Christmassy things, like huge nativity scenes (see below for the one in my School) and humungous Christmas trees (like the one in the main square).  The one in my School is studded with notes to the Reyes Magos (Three Wise Men, or in the case of one, to “Gauss, Fourier and Laplace”) asking for improvements to the department building or for certain lecturers to improve their personal habits.  I should’ve noted them down, some of them were pretty inventive…a tradition that would be pretty cool to introduce in Bristol!

Nativity scene in my Escuela

Nativity scene in my Escuela

Christmas tree in Plaza del Ayuntamiento

Christmas tree in Plaza del Ayuntamiento

Another thing I encountered the other week in my School was this bizarre trophy, given for the traditional troupe of male singers, musicians and general merrymakers, called a “tuna”.  Apparently it’s “la Dama de Elche”, whoever she is, but to me she’s more like Princess Leia.  Decide for yourselves…

La Dama de Elche and/or Princess Leia

La Dama de Elche and/or Princess Leia

I meant to mention before about the concept of “botellón”, which features quite largely in the life of the yoof in Spain.  Essentially it’s a huuuuge number of people that take to the streets en-masse to drink between about midnight and 5 or 6am.  In Valencia it’s in the roads around one of the campuses of the Universidad de Valencia and there’s usually literally hundreds and hundreds (if not thousands over the course of the night) of students.

Botellón in Tarongers

Botellón in Tarongers

The idea is to get very drunk, very cheaply.  The streets quickly become littered with discarded Fanta bottles and the glass of vodka and rum bottles is smashed everywhere.  It’s not unusual at all to turn up with glasses and ice too, or the dedicated (aka boy racer chavs) bring their cars with pimped-up stereos for entertainment.  Fanta (or coke) with the cheapo 56-cent cartons of red wine to make “tinto de verano” (or “calimocho” with coke) is a surprisingly popular combination.

Oh, one last thing, here is the infamous 24-hour bread machine of Benimaclet.  So useful, practically right outside my door, and full of fresh baguettes baked the same day.  Why don’t they have more of these around the place?

24-hour bread.  What more could you ask for?

24-hour bread. What more could you ask for?

The last few months have gone as fast as anything, and I expect the next will go even faster.  So tata for now to Valencia, and see you in the new year.  ¡Felices Fiestas!

¡Feliz Fiesta!

Saturday 29th November 08 at 7:48 pm

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I must admit I have been rather lax (or should that be lazy?) in keeping this blog up-to-date.  The idea was for it to be my communication channel back home, and also for my own benefit to keep a record of what’s happening to me this year.

Right now November is almost out and winter has arrived.  I say winter, the coldest it’s been here that I’ve noticed has been 7ºC, which can’t exactly be described as freezing.  It certainly feels it though.  Does that mean I’ve adapted to the warmer climes and when I step off that aeroplane at Gatwick in three weeks’ time I will turn to a block of ice?

The other thing telling us winter is upon us is the arrival of festive themes in Mercadona.  The ceilings are swathed with tinsel, the carrier bags wish us “Feliz Fiesta” and the legs of jamon serrano are out in stacks.  It’s an odd sight the huge containers full of legs of ham, the skin with a subtle gleam and the dozens of trotters waving us a jolly merry Christmas.  I would’ve taken a photo, but who takes photographs in the middle of a crowded supermarket?

Not my photo, but you get the idea.  JAMON.

Not my photo, but you get the idea. JAMON.

The other thing I’ve been meaning to make comment on is the language thing.  Obviously that’s a big part of the experience of moving to another country, so it should get a mention!  My own experience of it is that there’s always a background feeling of frustration: conversations never seem to get any easier.  This I put down to the fact that the more vocabulary and structures you learn (or become comfortable using), the more complex conversations become and the more you have to learn again.  In essence, the more “conversational doors” you open, the more the scope broadens and the complexity increases.  It really is a case of practice makes perfect.

After a long day of lectures and practical sessions, often my head is swimming with all the hard work it’s done.  As it goes, I’m a bad one for learning from lectures as I zone out most of the time, so here I have to try twice as hard to be on the ball.  The juggling of listening to the other language and learning new concepts at the same time is exhausting.  At the same time it is pleasing to realise that it is possible and that I can do it, if not 100% of the time.

With friends, the problem is one of the speed of conversation and the use of slang: obviously, the way you chat in a bar is far removed from the language of laboratory notes!  Again it is rewarding realising you do understand after all, especially when you comprehend a joke, or better, crack one of your own.

This week I head off on a trip to Madrid for a few days, so that should mean photos and more stories very shortly.  I never make promises, but I’ll make an effort to get something written.

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