ISSUE 6: OCTOBER 2015
. ARTS . TRAVEL . CURRENT AFFAIRS . YEAR ABROAD . LANGUAGES .
ABOUT US The Definite Article is Durham University’s Modern Languages and Cultures magazine. It was established in 2013 and is written and edited by students from the School of Modern Languages and Cultures. Editorial team: Ellie Stefiuk, Hannah McIntyre, Emma Bradding, Francesca Nunn, Louise Irvine, Emma Taylor Front cover photography: Hannah Davies Title graphic: Alex Bennett We are always delighted to receive your contributions. These can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
EDITOR’S NOTE Welcome back to Durham and to the sixth issue of The Definite Article. After spending a year abroad, it’s great to come back to Durham and the much-loved Definite Article team. I’m sure any veteran year-abroader will tell you that their time away from the Durham bubble has provided them with a lot of time for self-reflection and self (re)discovery. It’s a turning point. It makes you think about what you have achieved and what you want to achieve in the future. You get to experience so many new things and new cultures. Even though, like any other year, there are highs and lows, in spite of my initial scepticism and pre-year abroad anxiety, I can confirm to all of you that it really is as special an experience as people make out. So, if you are jetting off on your year abroad this year or in years to come, make the most of your time away and grasp every opportunity this experience offers you. Whether you’re a fellow year abroad veteran, currently on your year abroad, a future year-abroader or a fresher (basically pre-year abroad training!), this edition of The Definite Article should ease you into the new academic year. We have a stunning front cover photo from the French Riviera by Hannah Davies and we have our usual eclectic mix of articles: from our feature on the current refugee crisis to a review of Estrella Morente’s performance at the Royal Festival Hall and a Danish snack challenge! Thank you to everyone who has contributed and to the editorial team for their continued support. All that’s left to say is enjoy and good luck for the new academic year, wherever you may be! Ellie Stefiuk
CONTENTS . ARTS . A FISH OUT OF WATER? ESTRELLA MORENTE AT THE ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL P.5 REVIEW: IL SANGUE DEL MIO SANGUE P.7
. TRAVEL . PARADISE LOST? THE REALITY OF THE TOURISM INDUSTRY P.10 A CAFÉ WITH A DIFFERENCE P.13
. CURRENT AFFAIRS . THE REFUGEE CRISIS: OPINION AND EXPERIENCE P.16
. YEAR ABROAD . THE END OF THE ROAD P.21 ADVICE TO MY PRE-YEAR ABROAD SELF P.25
. CUISINE . SWEET CHILLI COUSCOUS P.27 SEASON TO TASTE, AND SERVE P.29 DANISH SNACK EXCHANGE P.31
. LANGUAGE . THE DELIGHTS AND DESPERATIONS OF AB-INITIO LANGUAGES P.34
. ARTS .
A Fish Out of Water? Estrella Morente at the Royal Festival Hall As a fourth year linguist returning from my year abroad, the role of the ‘curious cultural outsider’ is certainly not a new one for me. Whether it was bullying myself into enjoying beer in Berlin; persistently venturing into one of Paris’s many pharmacies to see if I can successfully explain “chesty cough” in French; or simply adapting my habits to suit the specific etiquette that each culture has regarding pedestrian traffic lights (dodging the little red Ampelmann in Berlin is social suicide whilst Parisian habits are more akin to games of Frogger) - I somehow developed a thirst for being outside of my comfort zone, for challenging myself. In fact, the feeling of being an outsider became somewhat comforting. Upon my arrival in Paris, being unable to passively understand strangers’ conversations on the metro was a relief. I felt at home. It’s for this reason that back in August, this French and German student went to see Spanish flamenco singer Estrella Morente at the opening of David Byrne’s Meltdown Festival at the Royal Festival Hall. The London Eye, the Thames, Waterloo sunsets there are few things more classically London than the environs of the Royal Festival Hall. Yet, Morente, noted for her contribution to the Volver soundtrack, attracted curious Londoners and displaced Spaniards alike, all searching for a slice of la piel de toro. As the perfect cultural ambassador, Morente and her band delivered an authentic performance in staccato Spanish, complete with neat harmonies and vocal trills, effortlessly syncopated hand clapping, spontaneous, passionate dance interludes and a constant, rich hum of the strummed guitars that made silence all the more impressive. Morente is equally a fine actress, employing dramatic gestures and subtle expressions to tell her story - although I couldn’t quite understand the words she sang, I certainly felt them! We were transported to southern Spain - the backlighting accentuated the band’s figures, like the edges of wet stones on
a Sevillan beach, and they often nodded encouragingly at each other as Morente wandered the stage, greeting her amigos in the audience. At times, it felt as though we were outsiders eavesdropping on a lazy Spanish evening. Indeed, bringing us back to reality and reminding us that we were in fact in central London, Morente left the stage after her encore singing Chim Chim Cheree from Mary Poppins, just as British and just as charming as Dick Van Dyke himself. It struck me during this Spanish occupation of the Royal Festival Hall that it was a microcosm of the things I felt during my year abroad. As a British nonHispanophone at a show that was an immersive paragon of Spanish culture, the year abroad post-arrival sense of simultaneous alienation and curiosity came flooding back. My first reality check came upon my arrival at Berlin-Tegel and realising that being nearly fluent in academic German does not equal being fluent in everyday German, and navigating Goetheâ€™s Faust does not automatically guarantee being able to differentiate between the plethora of German hams in the supermarket. Thereâ€™s that feeling of immersing yourself in the host country's culture, but never quite managing to belong. This being said, I could also empathise with the Spanish side of the audience - searching for some familiarity, the comfort of home in between trying to make sense of a country with different lifestyles, cultures and languages. In Paris, where most shops except boulangeries and restaurants are shut on Sundays, a trip to the Marks & Spencer on Boulevard Saint-Michel became an almost spiritual experience, religiously stocking up on crumpets, Jersey milk and tubs of mini Swiss rolls. I even recognised parts of myself in Estrella Morente, who was bringing overseas aspects of her own culture of which she was particularly proud. In my own case, it was the ritualistic recreating of afternoon tea, offering guests some Yorkshire Tea with crumbly Custard Creams that had survived the journey over. A flamenco show in London may seem like a strange place for introspection and self-reflection, yet nothing else has come quite so close to evoking the emotion and adventure of my year abroad experience. Francesca Nunn Image: southbankcentre.co.uk
Il Sangue del Mio Sangue Marco Bellocchio’s 2015 Venice Film Festival Entry In 17th century Bobbio, rural Italy, a knock at the door of a convent marks the arrival of our protagonist, Federico Mai, and the start of our feature-length journey through time. Sent by his mother, Federico arrives at the convent to restore the honourable reputation of Fabrizio (his twin brother and a priest) by drawing a confession from Sister Benedetta, whose bewitchment is supposedly the cause of his suicide. We witness the many trials for sorcery of Benedetta, but to no avail. Indeed, even Federico, bewitched and seduced by this woman just like his brother, fails to obtain her muchdesired confession. What then is Sister Benedetta’s fate? Lifetime imprisonment, tightly enclosed by a stone wall. Yet, as the first stones are laid, we are seamlessly transported to Bobbio of today and the buzz of a doorbell marks the arrival of… Federico Mai. Here the central theme of Marco Bellocchio’s film is introduced: Quanto è presente il passato? Indeed, what are the parallels, if any, between the past and the present? We are back at Bobbio’s convent, now an abandoned prison, and Federico Mai, is sent to show the property to a potential buyer, a Russian millionaire. The arrival of this foreigner excites the same fascination amongst the villagers as that of Federico Mai amongst the Sisters at the convent. Likewise, the discovery that the supposedly abandoned prison is inhabited by a count, nicknamed the Vampire, arouses the same
fear and suspicion as the witchcraft of Sister Benedetta. Here, Bellocchio’s use of the same actors creates, with a subtle elegance, an echo of the past in the present. An echo which is perfectly captured by the film’s soundtrack, an eerie and haunting choral interpretation of Metallica’s ‘Nothing Else Matters’. At night, our ‘vampire’ frequents the land of the living, observing the changes in the village and the transience of the present whilst the effects of Time are evidenced by the fragility of his body and the wrinkles on his face. This Venice film festival entry’s reflection on Time is further expressed by the director’s abuse of chronology since this film does not conclude in the present-day, but back at the convent. Thirty years after Sister Benedetta’s imprisonment, Federico has returned, now a cardinal, to remove the stones that enclose her. Expecting to discover a rotting corpse or a skeleton, Federico collapses and dies upon the miraculous vision of Benedetta emerging, eternally youthful and Eve-like, from her prison. We find evidence of the past all around us with our surroundings, buildings and ancestors, yet can we freeze and capture Time, as the Count so desires? Indeed, this film offers an intriguing exploration of time, history and memory. For Bellocchio, Time is mesmerising, bewitching and elusive, just like Benedetta. In this film he unveils the eternal truth that with the passing of years, Man evolves and ages, while Time, with her unwavering vitality, marches on indifferent to the suffering that she causes to Man. Ellie Stefiuk Image: mymovies.it
. TRAVEL .
Paradise Lost? The reality of the tourism industry Let’s play word association. When I say tourism, what do you think of? Beaches, ice cream, plane tickets and giant cameras. Technicolour images of the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal, people posing on icing-sugar beaches under a sky so blue it hurts your eyes, snorkelling amidst cities of coral and lying in a gondola in Venice. The image of tourism, often propagated by the travel companies themselves, is perpetually sunny, inviting us all to explore and have our own adventures. Take one look at your Instagram feed in summer and it will read like a virtual holiday brochure from a travel agents, filled with photos of Caribbean seas, selfies in front of famous landmarks and the seemingly ubiquitous shot of someone drinking out of a hollowed-out coconut on a beach. These photos are often accompanied by #wanderlust, a phrase conveying the desire to travel and explore. Whether you are a student on a gap year or a stressed office worker in need of a detox, we all want to see the world and we want to see it #wanderlust now. And this is exactly what we are doing. More of us are travelling than ever before, creating an annual tidal wave of tourists that cascades across the world during summer in a blur of sun cream and postcards. This is mostly due to the birth of the budget airline, which made holidays that once seemed like an expedition of epic length and cost into something most people could afford. EasyJet, for example, carried around 67.1 million passengers in a twelve month period alone, and these numbers are rising year upon year.1 Whilst previous generations took trips to Blackpool, we go to Bali, Thailand, Australia and New York; in winter we ski in the Alps and in summer we sunbathe on tropical beaches. Our taste for travel, made possible by cheap plane tickets and extended holiday leave, has become insatiable. It is a taste developed from the theory that travelling is good for us, and being a tourist does have many (self-orientated) benefits. A week in the sun, far away from deadlines and grey rain, allows us to switch off and refresh after a year of stress and mundane problems. Whether you’re scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef or sightseeing at the pyramids in Egypt, your normal life of being forever stuck in traffic jams seems like a world away. Travelling allows us to transcend our reality for a moment, introducing us to new cultures, countries and ways of life,
reminding us that there is more out there than the daily nine-till-five. We become, through tourism, more culturally aware (and more tanned), more global citizens of the world. Tourism also has undeniable perks for the tourist destinations themselves, bringing vast amounts of money and attention to certain areas. In several situations, the tourism industry has become a goldmine, providing employment and business opportunities for the population. On some Caribbean islands, more than half of the people in work are in some way employed by tourism, yet the industry also has economic benefits that are less obvious. The wealth tourism brings in through taxation and tourist purchasing power contributes to the local economy, funding the construction of schools, hospitals and other public services. The infrastructure of a community also improves, due to tourist demands for good transport links, running water and reliable electricity, introducing a more comfortable standard of living for populations by introducing modern conveniences. Moreover, tourism also funds the conservation of many tourist destinations, which often rely on the income the industry brings. A ticket to the Coliseum, for example, will directly contribute to the preservation of the historical monument, whilst paying for a safari in Africa will help fund wildlife trusts and national parks. However, letâ€™s return to word association for a minute. Whilst when I say tourism you, as the tourist, see glossy holiday brochures and cocktails on the beach, the local population would see a different Â reality. The tourist industry does not mean one big holiday for inhabitants of tourist destinations, and for many workers life is not a beach. Whilst the economic benefits of tourism are apparent, so too are the economic pitfalls. In many cases, due to sheer numbers of tourists, the tourism industry has almost swamped the local economy, forcing it into a one-industry market that is over dependent on the whim of tourists, which is fickle and easily swayed. Many villages become ghost towns in the wintery, out-of-season months, with high unemployment and shuttered high streets. Moreover, for local economies that are so dependent on tourism, events that dissuade tourists from visiting that particular destination can be crippling. After the economic crisis in Greece, for example, tourists refusing to visit the region meant that islands such as Spetses saw a drop in business by around 40%, leading to high unemployment and bankrupt hotels. Tourism, however, has not only founded fragile economies, but also communities that are based on tourist fantasies, almost enforcing a kind of backwardness. Picturesque villages which look so idyllic in a camera frame are often lacking in schools, hospitals and other public facilities, for fear that the necessarily large and modern buildings would ruin the aesthetic ideal of the tourist destination. Like exhibitions at a zoo, tourists flock to take photos of ancient ways of life and locals dressed in traditional costume, tying the inhabitants even further to the past. Tourists arriving with the desire to escape from the modern world complain about the arrival of supermarkets, modern housing and tarmacked roads that, although not as aesthetically pleasing, make a real difference to the lives of the local community.
Despite the tourist’s desire for the destinations to remain unchanged, the tourism industry itself often impacts the area in ways that are detrimental to its survival. Environmentally, tourism is often an eco-disaster; before tourists even arrive at their destination, their plane has leaked vast amounts of carbon emissions that erode the beaches and bleach the coral that the tourists actually came to see. In an incredibly ironic twist, tourists are destroying the very places they crossed the world to visit, with deforestation making way for concrete jungles of hotels and restaurants, and golf courses sapping the area of water supplies.1 Turtles washing up on sandy shores, choking on a plastic Coke bottle, do not just exist in a David Attenborough show but it is a reality we must face. Tourism, however, does not only corrupt the environment, but also destroys the destinations themselves. Venice in particular is a case in point. With around 60,000 visitors a day, the city is actually sinking, partly due to the colossal cruise ships which cause underwater waves, eroding the city’s foundations.1 Are we, as one journalist asks, actually ‘loving Venice to death?'1 In our eagerness to reach foreign shores and take that ultimate holiday selfie, we are trampling over what makes these places unique to begin with. As a tourist in the twenty-first century, we have the unique opportunity to quite literally spread our wings and fly; with the world at our feet and plane tickets at our fingertips, we have unprecedented access to all four corners of the globe. Like children at Christmas, we excitedly unwrap what the world has gifted us, but like children we can often, in a moment of carelessness, break what we have so eagerly awaited. Travelling is a wonderful gift, and we should make the most of what is out there; whether you’re trekking through the Amazon rainforest or watching the sun rise over the ocean, it makes unforgettable and irreplaceable experiences. And that is where the crux of the matter lies – these destinations are irreplaceable. We cannot rebuild Venice nor create another Great Barrier Reef; once they are gone, they are gone forever. When travelling, ‘take only pictures, leave only footprints’. The world is our oyster, not our personal playground. Emma Taylor Image: exploringthearth.com Sources: thisismoney.co.uk; greenhotelier.org; america.aljazeera.com; unep.org; dw.com
A Café with a Difference Schön, dass du da bist! Can you hear the music? Can you see the happy faces, the warm light glowing through the window – just there, beyond the archway, across the courtyard? Come closer, have a look. This is Cafe Impuls. It’s a modest location, isn’t it? Here in the Hinterhaus, in the quiet, family district of Pankow, North East Berlin. You’d hardly have thought this place existed if you hadn’t heard the music faintly playing as you were walking home, although the name is painted boldly enough beside the door, white letters on an orange background. But you’re not interested in the exterior, I can tell. No, I’m not surprised. It draws you in, somehow, doesn’t it, the warm atmosphere, the joy resonating in harmony with the music. You want to be a part of it. Well, come on then! What are you waiting for? The door’s open – look, someone’s come to welcome you already, they’re delighted to see you! They’ve struck up a new song, now, the mismatch band at the front: you’ve not heard it before but it’s calm, exquisite, even, in spite of its imperfections. You feel yourself relax. Indeed, it’s almost as if you’ve left your worries at the door. It’s been a long day, a long week, and it’s a relief to be able to let go for a while, to let go of your troubles and to smile and to laugh with these strangers. Had you forgotten that they’re strangers? No wonder! You are entirely welcome here. Let me introduce you, anyway: the tall lady who first greeted you, that’s Doris, she’s in charge and she is so wise, so gentle, you can’t help but admire her. The two girls beside you are working here on their Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr. And the man on the guitar with the deep voice, the beard, the tattoos on his forearm – he almost looks intimidating, you say? He’s not at all! That’s Benny, he has an incredible voice, and he’s ever so kind. And all the others, well, they’ve probably come across this little place just as you have. It’s a shame that the evening has to end, isn’t it? It is late, and you must continue your homeward journey; but the darkness no longer seems so complete, your worries are lighter than they were, and the warmth and joy and love that filled the little café remain with you.
So schön, dass du da warst! You will come again, won’t you?
Cafe Impuls describes itself as a ‘Treffpunkt’ – a meeting place. It is a voluntary Christian project that aims to introduce people to Jesus in the city of Berlin, where many know nothing about him due to the East German politics of the last century. More than just a café, it holds a wide range of events, which attract young and old alike. I had the wonderful opportunity of spending a month this summer working with the café’s team, and here I have tried to convey the atmosphere that is so much a part of what it has to offer. Rebecca Thorne
. CURRENT . . AFFAIRS .
The Refugee Crisis Opinion: the downfall of the EU?
The largest refugee crisis since the Second World War shows no sign of abating. As the weeks go by the headlines just keep on coming, as one by one the states of Europe try, and fail, to cope with the influx. The conflict in Syria has displaced at least half of the country’s population, and the strange by-product of this human tragedy is that the EU has come under yet more pressure and scrutiny from the British press. Europe and the ideals of political union have, of course, been a hot-button topic in the UK since their conception, and perhaps never more so than this year, with an impending referendum on our membership. The sheer scale of the refugee crisis provides a tough test to the structures of the EU, one that could prove decisive for the millions of Britons wondering which way they should vote. Unfortunately, the European Union’s response to the refugee crisis has been anything but unified. Heads of state are more preoccupied with laying blame at each other’s doors, than with working together to provide solutions. Geography is not in our favour. The brunt of the burden is being carried by Greece, by Hungary, by Croatia, countries without the resources of their Western peers. It is a matter of mere weeks since the collapse of the Greek economy appeared inevitable, how much more can they take?
The greatest challenge of the Eurozone has always been to provide effective economic policy for such wildly differing countries as Germany and Greece, and the problem posed by the migrant crisis is, in many ways, no different. Whilst Angela Merkel has admirably committed to accepting huge numbers of refugees into Germany, the boats continue to arrive on Kos and Lesbos in even larger numbers. The ultimate destination of these refugees may be Berlin, but, for now, they are the responsibility of Athens. Hiding behind our narrow channel, the British response has been somewhat reluctant. Time and time again it seems as though the UK prefers to appear on the stage of international affairs as a solo performer, and not as part of the EU ensemble. Cameron and Merkel have never been more at odds with one another. For Cameron, opening the borders, beginning with Calais, would only be to throw fuel on the fire and encourage desperate Syrians to put their lives in the hands of the traffickers. He would prefer to welcome refugees directly from the camps of Lebanon and Jordan. Merkel, however, is prepared to fight for compulsory quotas for each EU state, and, with the support of France, it is once again the UK alone who seem to be out of step with the views of Brussels. The fact that the situation has become so dire is surely an indictment of the European project. Italy has been demanding further aid for rescue operations in the Mediterranean for several years. The EU could, and should, have predicted the worsening of this crisis. And if the EU cannot respond to humanitarian emergencies, then what is the point of sustaining it? But there are other factors at play. Cameron is in the midst of renegotiating the UKâ€™s membership terms, determined to bring back results for the Eurosceptics in his own party and for the millions who voted UKIP at the general election. Top of his wish list: a redefinition of the principal of free movement. Theresa May wants the freedom to deport Europeans who come to the UK and fail to find work. The Tories well know that a European diktat to open the borders, even to refugees fleeing war, would go down terribly with a population who fear immigration. As Russian bombers fly over Syria, the situation will likely worsen before it improves. Whether it be via the EU, or as individuals, the leaders of Europe need to get their act together, and soon. Hannah McIntyre Image: theguardian.com
The Refugee Crisis Experience: Living and volunteering in Jordan As an Arabic student, I have spent the last 5 months in Jordan, the country with the third highest influx of Syrian refugees (after Turkey and Lebanon) and thus dramatically affected by the ‘biggest humanitarian crisis of our generation’. It’s the home of the infamous Zaatari refugee camp, which hosts over 80,000 refugees, and is the first destination for ‘new arrivals’. I first visited the Zaatari camp with the organisation Dar Al Yasmin, which works to provide better living conditions in the camp and to put on events and activities for the children. I was taken to a centre adjacent to the camp, and was part of a group organising arts and crafts for younger children, who were a little disappointed that my appearance more closely resembled theirs than that of the ‘typical’ Westerner for whom they were hoping. A group of German students also joined us for the day, having driven donations over from their university as part of an enterprising car rally. Emotionally, it was hard to unload the boxes straight into the centre to be organised, when we could see queues of desperate families forming. Where financially possible, many families move out of the camps and attempt to create a life for themselves in the nearby towns, but there are limited opportunities for them, and prejudices and preconceptions surrounding their presence are unfortunately prevalent. To raise awareness about the crisis and its consequences in Jordan, as well as showcasing the talents of the refugee children, Refuge Drama Productions created the musical ‘Oliver! In Arabic’, with support and financial contributions from Sir Cameron Mackintosh. The musical was translated, set in present day Amman (adapted from the original setting of Victorian England, although surprisingly few amendments were necessary), and performed by a combination of Syrian refugees and professionals from Egypt and Lebanon. As someone who enjoys performing, and having been able to watch a rehearsal earlier in the month, it was so moving to see the progress and the
‘empowerment… self-confidence and creativity’ of the children, all things which constituted part of the company’s original aims. My friends and I left on a high, impressed by the level of professionalism of the evening and hopeful about the ripples it may create, although we were also aware that the evening’s stars would in all likelihood return ‘home’ to face the same daily challenges as before. The media focus is undoubtedly on refugees from Syria. However, there are also thousands of Iraqi refugees, particularly Christians who have fled ISIS and their hideous ‘conversion or execution’ ultimatum. Unlike the Syrians, they are not officially recognised as refugees and therefore do not qualify for various ‘privileges’, such as admission to schools or access to healthcare. Some friends at a church I attended began to offer free English lessons to new Iraqi families in the area, and I was assigned the (less desirable) ‘kids’ group. The limited resources and very unpredictable levels of enthusiasm for the English language meant the experience was challenging, but being part of the scheme offered another insight into the desperation of these wonderful and generous families who found themselves stuck in a new country with a very insecure future. They remained hopeful and generous (even throwing a birthday party for one of the volunteers) and were so committed to the English lessons, which for them represented some kind of opportunity or stability. I also had the privilege of meeting Canon Andrew White, who until last year was the vicar of Baghdad, but amidst death threats and miraculous escapes, was ordered out of Iraq by the Archbishop of Canterbury for his own safety - I don’t think he would ever have left otherwise! His organisation, The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, provides food, accommodation, schooling and healthcare to hundreds of desolate, and seemingly overlooked, Iraqi refugee families, and they rely on public funding to do this (so please consider supporting them!). It is hard to know how to conclude- I returned home a week ago and already my experiences don’t seem very real to me –but what is clear is that the refugee issue is an inescapable problem in Jordan, where cities are full to bursting and resources, particularly water, are limited. It is welcome news that European countries are opening their eyes to the crisis, but as Canon Andrew White has himself pointed out, while the current media and support is focused on those crossing the borders into Europe, there must be a greater focus on the poorest and most vulnerable who are left behind. Susie Cox
For more information about the organisations mentioned: Dar Al Yasmin – http://www.daralyasmin.org/ Refuge Drama Productions – http://www.syriatrojanwomen.org/oliver.html FRRME - http://frrme.org/ Image : theguardian.com
. YEAR . . ABROAD .
The End of the Road
So it seems I’ve reached the end of an era: the year abroad is over. After returning from Valencia (and enjoying a last-minute September getaway to Lyon, naturally), I finally find myself back for good in a rather rainy England. This incredibly sad fact also means that the time has come to put this blog to bed. So this is it, I bring you the FINAL post of Tales From a Year Abroad, including my experience at La Tomatina and a little reflection on the past 13 months: I’ll pick up from where I left off: La Tomatina. As I outlined last time, this fiesta, dubbed the ‘World’s Biggest Food Fight’, takes place in a small town named Buñol, a quiet, picturesque and traditional Spanish pueblo of about 9000 people (for those of you who read my French posts, we’re talking smaller than Saint Junien…), which on any other day of the year would have been a lovely place for a picnic. On the last Wednesday of August, however, up to 50 000 people descend on the village for La Tomatina, to lob rotten tomatoes at fellow foodfighters and (quite literally) paint the town red. Having left Valencia at 7am, we arrived in Buñol about as far from ‘bright-eyed and bushy-tailed’ as can be (I think ‘bleary-eyed and terrified’ would be a more accurate description). Dressed
in old rags and armed with swimming goggles and a bottle of sangría, we were immediately herded into the centre (specifically to ‘Unloading Point 3’, whatever that meant), where we suffered several ice-bucket showers at the hands of the residents of the flats above, and repeatedly questioned what kind of insanity came over us when we booked tickets to such a fiesta. After a painstaking hour-long wait, 11am finally came around. We heard a starting gun, followed by the ominous beep beep beep of a truck beginning to reverse. Moments later, said truck began to edge through the crowd and as it did, some five or six guys began throwing the tomatoes it contained into the throng of people below. After a second truck did the same, I was beginning to think this wasn’t so bad after all – the fight was actually relatively calm and I had so far only endured a few hits from rogue tomatoes. I then remembered we were standing at ‘Unloading Point 3’, and the realisation of what this meant finally hit me. As the third truck reversed into the crowd, no tomatoes were thrown from it; instead, the truck simply tipped up and ‘unloaded’ its mushy red contents into the street. A tomato-river ensued and, aided by the slope of the road we were standing on, we soon found ourselves wading through what can only be described as a tomato replica of Venice. The fight reached a whole new level as its participants (us included) fished out any remaining whole tomatoes and threw them at one another, before scooping up the liquid by the bucket and emptying it over the heads of unsuspecting friends. It was absolute chaos, but actually pretty good fun, believe it or not. When the klaxon sounded to signal the end of the fight, we were unavoidably covered head-to-toe in rotten tomato-y pulp, and it was with a mixture of relief and disappointment that we made our way out of the town centre to get cleaned up. After queuing for almost an hour in the midday sun (during which time the phrase ‘sun-dried tomato’ took on a whole new meaning), we finally reached the showers, (or rather, we were hosed down by a generous and spotlessly clean local resident outside their flat), and it was soon time to head back to Valencia: we had survived. It may have taken a good few days to completely get the remnants of tomato out my hair, and I did stick to sauces other than ketchup for about a week afterwards, but La Tomatina was fantastic; an experience I will never forget and a perfect way to round off my year abroad.
And with that, it was pretty much time to say goodbye to Spain. Leaving was really tough – although I was looking forward to going home, I think I have slightly fallen in love with Valencia, and the thought of leaving such a beautiful place was not a pleasant one. Going into the office for the last time was a surreal feeling and it was sad to say goodbye to the people I have been working with for the past few months. Fortunately though (or perhaps unfortunately, I’m not sure), as I discovered that day, my Chiqui Emprendedores legacy lives on in the promotional video for next year’s camp, in which I say a few sentences about my experience as a coach. So now here comes the cheesy part: the reflection. Before I left Valencia, I was lucky enough to do one last day trip, this time to the beautiful town, fortress and amphitheatre of Sagunto, a lovely setting to conclude the travelling side of
my year abroad. Discovering new places is something I absolutely love and it’s really quite amazing to think of everywhere I’ve been lucky enough to go to this year. In the past 13 months, I’ve lived and worked in Saint Junien and Valencia. I’ve spent weekends in Limoges, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Tours, Barcelona, Madrid, and Oropesa. I’ve done day trips to Oradour-sur-Glane, Poitiers, Saint-Émilion, Blois, Collonges-la-Rouge, Curemonte, Benicassim, L’Albufera, Xàtiva, Buñol and Sagunto. I’ve travelled through the Basque Country, stopping at Bayonne, Biarritz, Saint-Jean-de-Luz and San Sebastián, holidayed on the Costa Blanca and in Lyon, and celebrated Hogmanay in Edinburgh. And finally, I’ve taken a Megabus through Paris and Brussels to reach Amsterdam. This may have involved a mixture of meticulous planning, spontaneity, countless journeys by
train, plane and automobile, and an inordinate number of transport delays, but to say it’s been worth it would be an understatement: it’s been incredible. Someone asked me the other day how I would sum up my year abroad. Well, living and working abroad for a year is something I always knew I had to do as part of my university course (indeed, it was something that attracted me to a languages degree in the first place), but there was always a small part of me that doubted I could do it. Yet here I am: I not only survived it, I loved it. Of course, it hasn’t been plain sailing by any means – this year has presented me with some of the hardest, loneliest and most stressful times of my degree so far and there were even moments when I was close to giving up altogether. But it has also been a year where I have learnt an incredible amount, overcome more challenges than ever before, met some fantastic people and made unforgettable memories. So, how would I sum up my year abroad? 13 months, 120 French teenagers, 50 unruly Spanish children, one bout of shingles, a few bouts of homesickness, too much French bureaucracy, too few Spanish signposts, more food than I care to think about, a French orchestra, a Spanish reggae festival, an Occitan lesson from an old lady I met in a bookshop, a glove maker, a TV debut and contact with the International Space Station. I think that pretty much sums it up. Thank you to everyone who has made this year amazing, and of course, to those of you who have faithfully stuck by this blog through thick and thin. Who knows, maybe one day it will be reignited – after all, I will undoubtedly continue to travel in the future – but for now, I must bid you a final au revoir and adiós: I have a degree to finish. Over and out. Chloe Nash Find out more about Chloe’s year abroad adventures by reading her blog: http://talesfromayearabroad.blogspot.co.uk/
Advice to My PreYear Abroad Self As told by real Year Abroad survivors…
Don’t get sucked into the trap that is the Erasmus social scene. It can be very tempting to spend all your time with people in the same boat as you, especially when you first arrive. But weeks quickly become months and you find you’ve spent five months with a load of Anglophones. To really avoid English, think about skipping the capital cities and going regional. I took a job in Amiens over Paris and it was the best decision, outside of the classroom I worked in I never heard English – scary, but necessary.
Try to live with native speakers. It’s the best way to get the ‘full immersion’ experience – you are forced to speak in the target language ALL OF THE TIME. As an ab-initio language learner, living with a native speaker was exactly what I needed. At the same time as making waves of linguistic progress, you also make great friendships and get a full cultural immersion!
Plan ahead. Think about how you want to organise your year abroad. Do you want to spend more time in one country than another? If you plan ahead, you avoid the mad panic and stress of not having a placement organised at the end of second year. Exams in second year would have been a lot less stressful if I had known where I was heading.
Learn to say yes. Whether it’s an invitation to a dinner party organised by one of your colleagues or to a friend’s cousin’s daughter’s first holy communion, a live nativity or even the regional finals of Miss Italia, saying yes opens up an endless stream of new experiences. These are undoubtedly the things you will remember the most once you leave.
Put in the time to find a work placement with a target language-speaking company. Not only will you be immersed in the language but you will have the opportunity of making target language-speaking friends from day one. Oh, and a work placement looks great on your CV.
. CUISINE .
Sweet Chilli Couscous Delicious served hot or cold! Ingredients (serves 4): Couscous • • • • • • • • • • • •
Sweet chilli sauce
Sunflower oil for frying 1 medium sized onion 1 large garlic clove 1 courgette 1 red pepper 1 green pepper 200g plain couscous 350ml of water 1 vegetable stock cube Handful of fresh coriander Black pepper 2 teaspoons of cumin
• • • • • • •
120ml water 40ml white wine vinegar Tablespoon of balsamic vinegar 2 fresh red chillies 2 large garlic gloves 75g of caster sugar 3 teaspoons cornflower
Cut up the onion and crush the garlic cloves.
Fry the onion and garlic in a large pan on medium heat.
Cut up the courgette and peppers and add to the pan once the onion begins to brown.
Boil 350ml of water and add 1 stock cube. Pour the stock over 200g of couscous. Add fresh coriander (cut-up), a sprinkle of black pepper and 2 teaspoons of cumin.
Mix the couscous with a fork and cover with a saucepan lid for 5 to 8 mins.
To make the sweet chilli sauce, add 120ml of water, 40ml of white wine vinegar and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar to a saucepan. Cut up 2 fresh red chillies and 2 large garlic cloves and add to the pan, along with 75g of caster sugar.
Bring to the boil and leave to simmer.
Mix 3 teaspoons of cornflower with water and slowly add to the sauce, stirring continually.
Add the fried vegetables and sweet chilli sauce to the couscous and mix well. Serve either hot or cold with a side salad.
Season to Taste, and Serve In the summer of 2014, I moved back from Rome, my home-town of 11 years, to Brighton. The English seaside town has little in common with The Eternal City, and its rugged, rocky coastline can hardly compare to the Mediterranean, which was a mere 20 minute cycle ride from home. However, Brighton's astounding abundance of both Italian speakers, notoriously the loudest among foreign tourists, and the multitudinous Italian eateries peppered around the city, have helped to alleviate the culture shift, and have made it considerably less shocking. Yet still, almost 6 months after the move to England, the differences in food culture are startling. A simple Sainsburys' shop stuns me. In bleak midwinter, I can walk into any supermarket and encounter aisles of multicoloured fresh fruit and vegetables, the majority of them deriving from the faraway forests and fields of Peru, Ecuador and Kenya. Punnets of strawberries and raspberries are available year round, while their usual UK harvest season begins in May and blossoms until late autumn. A recent BBC poll is no more optimistic; expressing that fewer than 1 in 10 Brits know when the UK's most popular fruit and vegetables are in season. It is the apparent readiness and ripeness of the fruit available on supermarket aisles rendering us as shoppers too spoilt for choice. While many Britons claim to shop healthily, ethically and organically, how many of us can truly profess to shop seasonally? The Mediterranean shopping culture is a whole other world. Our shopping lists focused on the ingredients for the week's recipes, often inspired by the monthly magazine 'Cucina Moderna', or 'Modern Kitchen', with its innovative ideas on how to take advantage of November's bounty of unpopular winter greens such as chard, kale and cabbage. The pursuit to fill the pantry, fridge and fruit baskets was a vast and variegated task. My mum would begin at the fruttivendolo, the local fruit and vegetable stall, and we departed with more than we bargained for: bunches of fresh parsley and the occasional well-worn recipe. Next-door's macelleria,
supplied us with locallyfarmed chicken and mince for the week, while the panetteria, would be our last stop, and after buying a hunk of ciabatta for lunch's brushcetta, we'd plan the rest of the day's antics over slice of salted pizzetta bianca and perhaps an iced coffee. Compare that to the usual, hour-long supermarket sweep we are accustomed to and consider the sizeable lifestyle changes such a time-consuming endeavour would entail. And many Italian families would go further; buying freshly made pasta, and pastries and that specific variety of mozzarella di bufala crucially from the region of Campania. Britain's weighty food issues abound aside of localism and seasonalism; such as our reluctance to spend time cooking and buying proper food irrevocably linked to the convenience of ready-meals and microwave marvels; things I will simply have to adjust to. In essence, I can only hope for the Italian attitude to food that I have grown up with to gain fertile ground in this country, but in reality, the diversity of climates and cultures makes this a very far-fetched dream. Yet I do wholeheartedly believe we can all play our part, and making the effort to buy locally, or in season, or from independent stalls and allotment market sellers can only improve the situation. A move towards a greater consciousness and concern for food provenance and seasonality cannot, like Rome, be built up in a day; but alas, solely requires a few builders to make a work in progress. Abigail Sumption
Danish Snack Exchange A snack revolution Are you bored of your usual snacks? There’s nothing better than discovering a delicious new snack while on holiday, but now you don’t need to travel abroad to explore the culinary delights of the world. Recently I’ve started learning Danish through Duolingo, and in an attempt to broaden my knowledge of Denmark I participated in a snack exchange with a young man from Denmark. In exchange for a box of Danish snacks, I have sent him a plethora of traditionally British goodies, including Cadbury’s chocolate, digestive biscuits and flying saucer sweets. I approached his box with a slight trepidation, what if I didn’t like anything my new Danish pal had sent? Asbjørn informed me that some of the items were ‘jokes’, and reassured me that it was okay to ‘spit them out straight away’, so here’s my textual unboxing of just a few of these new Danish delights. Galle & Jensen: Thin slivers of excellent quality chocolate, designed to be eaten on hot buttered toast. Asbjørn tells me that this is a great hangover breakfast, but this remains to be tested. It feels strange to eat something so hard on toast, rather than a spread, however I’ve been converted. I doubt this would work as well with the 30p Tesco everyday value dark chocolate that I’m used to, yet desperate times call for desperate measures. Piratos: I move on to these salty liquorice pirate coins. Apparently only Scandinavian people like these, and they were presented as one of the ‘joke’ items. In all honesty, these aren’t as bad as I was expecting, perhaps my newfound Scandinavian side is coming through. I wouldn’t eat these everyday, but I wouldn’t object to trying them again. Anthon Berg Guld æsken: Yum, luxury Danish chocolates! Filled with everything from liquor to fruit to marzipan, these are utterly decadent and ridiculously delicious. A personal favourite was the chocolate covered marzipan, something which appears to be a particular Danish favourite. Skildpadde: Dark chocolate turtles, filled with a rum caramel cream. Yes, they’re as amazing as they sound. I’ve come to the conclusion that everything tastes better when turtle shaped. Liquorice pipes: Novelty liquorice in the shape of pipes. I’m told that these are only to be consumed while talking like an old seaman. I conducted an experiment, and found this to be irrevocably true.
Skum bananer: Those foam bananas you used to get from the pick’n’mix, but covered with reasonably bitter dark chocolate. The texture is strange at first, but it definitely grew on me as I neared the end of the bag. I felt the chocolate added a delicious layer of class to my childhood favourite sweet. All in all this was a very fun exchange. I definitely feel like I know the Danish way of life better having tried these snacks. I found Asbjørn through the Snack Exchange community on Reddit, and I’d recommend it highly to anyone interested in immersing their tastebuds in a different culture. Just go to reddit.com/r/snackexchange to participate in exchanges with people from all across the world! Sara Halliday
. Languages .
The Delights and Desperations of Ab Initio Languages Starting a new language from scratch at university is both an exciting and terrifying experience, filled with all of the joys and frustrations of language learning in school, but at twenty times the speed. The opportunity to choose from a wider variety of languages and not be limited to the typical French and German offerings of most schools is a massive draw for many linguists looking to expand their knowledge. Interestingly, the demanding nature of an ab initio course is seen as both a positive and a negative â€“ it means that you continually make noticeable progress, learning something new in every seminar, and the sense of achievement at the end of the first week when you can have a conversation (albeit a very, very basic one) in your new language is incredible. Moreover, with the intensity of the course being so high, you are able to form strong friendships in a short space of time, as you are all working on the same thing. The intensity can also lead to pretty strong competition amongst some of the classes (especially Russian, Iâ€™ve heard), and means that you are learning endless vocabulary and grammar points. On the other hand, the difference in teaching from school is enormous; being taught grammar properly from the very beginning, rather than having it thrown in sporadically, means that you have much more solid foundations in your new language than you will have had initially in other languages. Furthermore, it is extremely satisfying when you can start to make links between your new language and your other languages, and I found that doing Spanish ab initio helped improve my post A-level French, particularly when it came to grammar. While it can be disheartening to compare your grasp on different languages, just remember that you will get there eventually and the year abroad will help massively with that. However, one difficulty of the quick pace is that if you get stuck on a particular concept, you do not get a chance to go over it again until recap at the end of term, but as the staff are all so helpful and supportive, if you get really stuck you can always go and find them during their office hours. Over the course of the first year, you are bound to hit a few walls, but the sense of achievement that you will get once you break through is well worth the initial struggle. On the whole, doing a new language at university has been one of the best decisions I could have made. Although it is constantly challenging, it is also incredibly fulfilling as you are able to extend your knowledge of languages and
meet like-minded people, making it an incredibly worthwhile experience if you are looking to try something new. Louise Irvine
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