Awesomesauce and Pesto

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Sunday, 20 March 2011 at 16:18

With three day weekends, you can do anything. Part of that anything includes hopping a plane from the nearest airport to the most inconvenient airport in Italy -- Lleida-Alguaire to Milano-Bergamo in one hour forty isn't half bad really. The problem involves getting to and from the airports from Lleida, and Pavia, but that's not something I'm going to delve into. I've had worse transport issues, and that's the core of this I guess.

Friday morning I packed up my stuff, headed off to the airport, and six hours later was getting off a train in Pavia, the city I hold in highest esteem and is probably the dearest thing to me in the world right now. If you're an avid follower and have read through my blogs mentioning the town on the Ticino, you'll know that I am head-over-heels in love with it, and any chance to return is a good one. So, you can only imagine my glee stepping onto the platform of a station I left behind almost two months ago.

I spent the weekend in the company of the most amazing people I have had the good fortune to meet this year: Roxy, Rebecca and Brandon, three Americans who know how to bring a smile into my life, even when I am opposed to it. A night of aperitivo, wine, fruit salad and youtube videos got me back into the swing of Italy; though to tell the truth, I was just happy to be amongst the folks I've missed the most since coming to Lleida. Uh oh, soppy blog!

The plan for Saturday was to go to Parma, but we agreed it wasn't going to be doable, considering we went to bed at 5am and had to catch a train at 1pm. Instead, the girls and I headed on down to Genova, one of the few cities in Northern Italy that I had missed out on. It's quite the interesting place, both on the sea and in the hills -- for a nerdy comparison, it reminded me of Dollet from Final Fantasy VIII. Being a bit of an architecture nerd, I got a little excited at the Cathedral, but the upper part of the city was all too fancy so I started hating on it. Still, it was good to finally travel somewhere with my girls.

Well, until we got on the train back and ended up stuck in Voghera for an hour and a half. It seems something happened between there and Milano Rogoredo, due to the bad weather probably, which caused all the trains to stop. I guess there was a power cut, since Roxy's place was without power when we got back. On the plus side, we got back. But, it was the beginning of some real bad luck -- I didn't get up until 8.30 this morning, meaning I just missed the Intercity at 9.33, and had to catch two different trains, arriving in Milan at 10.40. The bus from Milan didn't leave until 11.00, but thankfully arrived at 11.50, so I didn't miss my flight. However, the flight was so fast that it was due to arrive half an hour earlier than expected...until the air traffic controller in Lleida decided he didn't need to be in work until 10minutes before our scheduled landing time. That meant half an hour circling above Tarregà, a town about 40km from Lleida. Some things you just can't make up.

But, putting aside my transport woes, this weekend has been something I really needed. You might think I'm being stupid when I keep on about how I miss my American friends, especially when you consider how little I've missed anyone from home, or university. I guess I know you Uni/Home friends will be close enough next year that if I want to see you, you're just a phonecall or a train journey away...rather than a longhaul, expensive flight that has to be planned weeks in advance. So, when I say I miss these might just look repetitive, but I mean it: when I miss them, I hella miss them. *audible sigh*

I'll let you go now. I feel like I'm boring you with attempting, and failing, to pour my heart out. I'm never good at this kind of soppy shit, no matter how much I feel it deep down (or on the surface). In short: good weekend, great people, awesomesauce.

Catalan wasn't intended for ranting...

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Tuesday, 15 March 2011 at 21:03

Avui, vull provar alguna cosa nova. Escric tot aquest blog en català, perquè moltes persones són normalment sorprenents quan dic que parlo, o almenys entenc bé, aquesta llengua. Ho sap, també, que molts de vosaltres us sentiu molests, i a molts més no us agrada llegir-ho. No vaig a disculpar-me, i sols vull fer alguna cosa això una vegada per veure tant difícil és per escriure més i més en català.

Vaig descobrir que cada vegada més molts estudiants de català com a llengua estrangera, o segona llengua, són dividits en dos camps: els a que agrada la llengua, i els a que van aprendre-ho perquè era obligatori. La majoria dels estudiants estrangers, em sembla, són del segon camp. Es queixen molt, perquè són en Espanya per aprendre castellà i en els paisos catalans no ho parlen molt. L'altre problema és que són, normalment, de paisos monolingües -- em sembla que no poden entendre un país que és bilingüe des del principi, no com Alemanya o Polònia, on es aprendre una segona llengua estranger, no natiu.

No vaig a escriure aquest blog per dir-vos que és imperatiu que aprendre la llengua catalana, o altra llengua. No vull dir-vos qualsevol cosa això. Ho sé que tot el món és diferent, i que totes les persones tenen en comú la seva diversitat. Però, em molesta quan una persona diu que aquesta llengua no havia de ser parlat en els paisos catalans, perquè no es la llengua del país (si el italià, o el castellà, o el francès). Em molesta molt, perquè demostra una forma de ignorància cultural dins la persona, fins i tot es parla centenars de llengües estrangers.

I, ho sé que em sembla una mica hipòcrita perquè no m'agrada la llengua francesa molt. La meva opinió és que és la pitjora llengua de les llengües romàniques, però no dic mai que els francesos han de parlar un'altra llengua. Ho sé que és la llengua oficial de França, i per això no es pot canviar al Occità o el Català en aquest cas. No obstant, la idea és la mateixa. Podeu dir-me que no us agrada el català. Podeu dir-me que no voleu aprendre mai aquesta llengua. Però, quan em dieu que els vostres professors han de ensenyar-vos en castellà, o les persones dels carrers han de parlar amb vosaltres en espanyol, em sento molest.

El català és parlat per uns nou milions de persones. Amb l'adició de estudiants estrangers, el numero aixeca fins i tretze milions persones. El primer numero, nou milions, és més que la població de Dinamarca i, per això, existeixen més catalanoparlants que parlants natius del danès. Si us plau, no us queixeu de la llengua quan són més parlants que les persones de una llengua oficial de un país existent.

I, ara i aquí, em sento que tot aquest blog és només una gran queixa. Si us agrada la llengua, molt bé. Si no, no m'importa. Si us queixeu perquè no ho enteneu i no voleu provar a entendre, és molt mal. Per posar fi a aquesta diatriba, vull dir-vos dues coses:

"La reacció a qualsevol paraula pot ser, a una persona, una reacció com la multitud o la de la individual. Depen a la persona de preguntar-se: la meva reacció és individual, o reacciono amb la sentiment popular?"  D.H. Lawrence

"Altre llengua és altre perspectiva de vida."  Federico Fellini

Fear and Forgetting

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Sunday, 13 March 2011 at 23:08

Normally, I'd gloss over this sort of stuff, and tell you more about the day-to-day in my life. In the last 7 days, I really haven't had much of an interesting day-to-day life -- I've been mistaken for Italian, I've had two very, very nice late night (or is finishing at 5am and 6am respectively early morning?) chats with my flatmate Ania, and I've cleaned the kitchen to within an inch of its life, twice, only to watch it fall back into decay and disrepair within a few hours. I also forgot -- forgot -- that Pau Vallvé was in Lleida tonight, and so missed my chance to see him. Beyond that, it's been a week that has gone by far too slowly.

Perhaps knowing that I have my return to Pavia on the horizon is making everything seem that little bit slower. Friday at 15.10 cannot come soon enough. I've never flown Ryanair before, and the idea of actually having to fly to Bergamo with them is mighty scary, as they seem stricter than most airlines -- I even think my usual hand luggage is oversized by their measurements, something Easyjet never have a problem with because it's a backpack...just a little bigger. When you start selling your own carry-on cases, everyone else knows you have issues.

So, what I have done this week, besides vegetating, and staying up well past my bedtime to discuss future plans and musical taste, was travelling! I went to Zaragoza; finally, real Spain. I forgot how much I loved Catalan until they stopped playing "Propera parada: [station name]" on the announcements as soon as we got into Zaragoza itself. I guess they only play it for most of the journey because of La Franja being a Catalan speaking region of Aragon. Who knows?

Anyway, Zaragoza is a nice place, but it's not exactly awe-inspiring. Getting off at El Portillo is probably better than Delicias, because then you don't have to walk 40minutes before you see anything more than the everyday. I know I like getting away from tourism, and loved wandering the campos in the Castello sestiere of Venice, where there wasn't a tourist in sight, but Zaragoza is just too big for all of that -- all you need to see begins at the Aljafería, and a trip to the Expo site is an added bonus later on. Admittedly, if we ignore the real, modern city itself, then it's a lovely, non-typical Spanish city. The one thing that must be mentioned is that the Basilica del Pilar actually put the fear of God into me for a few minutes -- I thought San Marco in Venice made me feel small, but this was some other animal, complete with devoted Spaniards praying non-stop. If Christianity ever felt like its power was waning, this basilica would prove that people are still obsessing.

So, I'm rambling because I don't have much to say about it. Sure, go there if you want, but don't mark it down as a "must see" when you're in Spain. Maybe I'm just not as taken aback by Spanish cities as I was by Italian ones? Or maybe they really aren't as great as everyone makes out. On the plus side, I had some really good company for the day!


Posted by Alex | | Posted On Monday, 7 March 2011 at 13:21

Today, on a whim, I went to Abacus. It's our local educational bookstore; think Blackwell's more than Waterstones. Anyway, I went with the intention of picking up a Catalan grammar book for my collection of linguistic tomes I never look at. What I found instead was a copy of a grammar book for learners of Aranese, the Occitan dialect spoken in the Val D'Aran region of Catalonia. I was very tempted to buy it, then I realised it was all written in Lengadocian (or at least a purer form of Occitan than Aranese) so I put it back.

Since that moment, I've been having a few linguistic regrets. You see, we went on a trip to the mountains on Saturday, to Pobla del Segur. There, it was almost like a cross between the Welsh valleys and the dry hills of Spain. In some places, it was verdant and lush in a way you only ever see in city parks that are cared for. In others it was dry scrubland that looked neglected and yet typically Mediterranean. While my Italian friends went to sample the local delicacies of the Carnival, the Polish girls and I decided to hike around the hillsides. It was a really nice 4 hour walk, into the 'back of beyond' -- though I mean that in a purely descriptive way, as the place was genuinely beautiful, it was just miles from the big cities -- but the more I think about it, the more I have these pangs.

Sure, I've been ill, but it's not those kind of pangs. It's the pangs of regret that come with living in a bilingual community where the people actually care about their language. Without trying to sound like an ignorant Briton, I think Wales needs a good dose of someone like Franco to make them realise how important the language is. My Literature lecturer here teaches in Spanish, his students answer him in Catalan and write essays in Catalan; to do that in the UK would amount to a fairly weighty political statement (speaking and writing in Welsh to an English Lit. lecturer)

Of course, I'm not going off on a linguistic rant, espousing the virtues of the Iaith Cymraeg, but merely trying to put up some barriers to explain to myself and you, dear reader, why I have these pangs. I'm from a country that should, in theory, be 100% bilingual. Instead, we're allowed to drop the language at 16, speak English for the rest of our lives, and nobody gets annoyed at it. It's a fine system...if you don't care. What I'm getting at, in the most roundabout of ways, is that I regret not continuing my Welsh education.

I could probably, with the help of a dictionary for the more colloquial words, attempt writing this out in Catalan and it would come out much better than an attempt in Welsh. But, while that may be molt bé, and an achievement for most, considering Catalan is a fairly strong minority language -- 9million speakers in 4 countries; more native speakers than those who speak Danish -- it's not my first language, or even a language spoken in my home country. While I may not come out of this degree being able to call myself bilingual in any of the languages I have devoted myself to, that's not a problem for me. I guess now I feel like if I should be able to call myself bilingual, it should be in the two mother-tongues of my country -- English and Welsh.

In short: if I learn nothing else this year, I can be safe in the knowledge that I want to get back to learning to speak Welsh.