Friday, September 13, 2013

More "Life in Guanajuato" - August and September, 2013

We're having such an interesting time here in Guanajuato this summer that we can't stop ourselves from writing too much and taking too many photos for just one blog post!  So here's installment number two:  (1) more about Guanajuato in general (also see our post of January 21, 2012,  which talks about our first visit to Guanajuato: "Mountain Sojourn -- January 14 to 24") and (2) our musings about our experience studying Spanish. 
Clases de Español

Since early August we have been attending Spanish language school three hours a day, five days a week.  Bryce’s Spanish vocabulary and general fluency have both improved but Molly gets the “most improved” award (which of course is due to how much room for improvement there was to begin with!).
There are several Spanish language schools in Guanajuato but after touring a couple and talking to other language students we met in town we chose to study at Plateros Spanish School.  The deciding factor for us was that Plateros (Spanish for “silversmith”) has a reputation for being the most academic of the local schools.  Our fellow students have included a Japanese student sent to Plateros by her export company employer, and another student studying to obtain a formal fluency accreditation accepted by Japanese employers.  Plateros will teach Tourist Spanish on a short-term basis, if that’s what a student wants --- but its primary focus is on helping students achieve Spanish fluency quickly.
Many language schools focus on teaching survival/travel Spanish and creating a social environment for tourists.  They advertise that in addition to language studies, they offer group cultural outings and cooking and dancing lessons.  Perhaps if we did not have the built-in comfort of traveling with a partner or if this was our first visit to Mexico those additional activities would be more appealing to us.  But since we can’t dance (in the interest of preserving our union we gave up dancing lessons long ago) and are comfortable with making our own travel, social and cultural arrangements in Mexico, we chose a school on the basis of which school would improve our Spanish quickly.  We have been impressed with how well organized the classes are, and how knowledgeable all of our teachers are.  We are really happy with our choice, and would recommend it to anyone that wants to study Spanish. 
Maestro Rojilio y Estudiente Molly
When we say that Plateros' main focus isn't entertainment, that doesn't mean we haven’t enjoyed the social aspect of being “back in school”!  We join our teachers and fellow students on Wednesday nights for beer and (in Molly’s case, still fairly primitive) Spanish conversation.  We’ve been to a student pub that literally disappears after hours when the wooden benches and disassembled saw-horse tables are stacked inside the little bar; a bar that serves free food (from nachos to posole) as long as the table is buying beer; and places with electro pop music that we would not have otherwise chosen to hear.  We’ve enjoyed learning about life in Japan, Korea and Estonia as well as Mexico, and a bit about the culture of the international 30-something set. 
Komiko y Nosotros

Conventional wisdom has it that learning a second language helps maintain brain function in one’s later years.  We of course hope that all of our hard work will help stave off dementia . . . but what we can attest to is that language learning really works the brain!   We have both experienced a new type of tiredness – so perhaps our doziness in university wasn’t all indulgence induced!  On a couple of occasions Molly has had the classic “actor’s nightmare” (it’s time to go on stage and she hasn’t learned her lines) and she often wakes up with odd, disconnected Spanish phrases rambling around in her head ( “porque -- tambien – a la izquierda” [“why -- as well – to the left” . . .]).  Yes just like university – performance anxiety and confusion included!  
All of this brain processing stuff is just subconscious learning, of course (at least that’s what we tell ourselves!).  The only identified downside of our Spanish studies is that, for Molly, Spanish is no longer background music.  Overheard conversations are no longer simply rhythm and tone – they are now partially understood! 

Guanajuato Outings
When not in school or doing homework (yes – remember homework?) we have been exploring Guanajuato.  Our experiences to date include:

Food:  We’ve found the majority of the restaurants to be so-so, with a few exceptions.  The best food in town is at the taco and tortas fast-ish food places.  We’ve noted our favorite eating establishments of all types on the Crew Reviews page. 
Music:  Concerts by La Orquesta Sinfonica de la Universidad de Guanajuato have become a Friday night ritual.  The orchestra is a professional orchestra connected to the university, not a student orchestra.   Its home is the Teatro Principal, a lovely little art nouveau theater that has (at least to our relatively untrained ears) good acoustics.  It’s a thrill to hear a full orchestra in a 300+/- seat theater!  We’ve heard some very modern compositions – one conducted by the composer, Adalberto Tovar, a graduate of the university’s music program.   We’ve also been introduced to works by Mexican composers Carlos Vidaurri and Eugenio Toussaint and are looking forward to tonight’s all-Mexican composer program.  All of this for 80 pesos per ticket (at today’s exchange rate: $6.15 USD)!  Thank goodness there are some places in the world willing to subsidize classical music.  There are also free pre-concert lectures but we haven’t braved them as Molly’s Spanish is not quite up to that challenge (she’s working on shopping with dignity). 
Out and About:  One of the big joys of Guanajuato is just rambling around.  There’s an interesting view at every turn.  There are churches, of course:  


Including statues of St. Patrick!
Apparently there were some Irishmen
that fought in the War of Independence
(go figure).

 And fountains:

Our Favorite Fruit Market
Is Off Screen Left

There are narrow streets -- which sometimes defeat even the professionals --

Two Busses . . . Narrow Turn . . .
Which Paint Job Will Be Sacrificed?

. . . handsome young folklorico dancers:

and goofy tourists posing with goofy street performers:

 And there is the big traditional marketplace:

Really, everywhere you look, there's Mexico!

Museums:  We spent a lovely Sunday afternoon at the Museo Exhacienda San Gabriel de Barrera just outside of Guanajuato.  The term “hacienda” usually means a large ranch and an “exhacienda” is usually a former hacienda now used for non-ranching (usually touristy) purposes.   In the mining area of central Mexico the term exhacienda is also used to refer to a property that served as the home of a mine owner and the place where precious metals were extracted from that mine’s ore.  Apparently those 17th Century mine owners had no wimpy environmental concerns . . . either for themselves or for the many workers exposed to mercury on their property.  Notwithstanding the soil’s likely residual toxicity this exhacienda has several lovely gardens and there is a nice domestic museum in the hacienda dwelling. 

We visited the Alhóndiga de Granaditas.  This former granary was the site of the first big battle in the decade-plus-long Mexican War of Independence.  Today it’s a very well-done museum that tells the story of the Guanajuato area from Pre-Conquest through
Example of the Negative Glazing Technique Used By
the Chupícuaro People Pre-Conquest

Pre-Conquest Pottery - The Chupícuaro Added Human
Features to Their Pottery (See Tiny Hands on the Side!)
the War of Independence.  The museum includes some fairly gruesome murals by José Chávez Morado that depict the Spanish abuses leading to the War of Independence:
And Showing How The Inquisition
Provided Fashion Guidance to the KKK . . .


Between the information provided at the Alhóndiga and at museums we have toured during our excursions to a couple of nearby towns we are beginning to piece together the story of Mexico’s independence. 

To Come:  And speaking of the War of Independence  . . . Mexico celebrates the beginning of that decade-plus-long war on September 15 and 16.  Signs of impending fiesta are all over town – green, white and red bunting is being draped over everything that doesn’t move (and some over ‘things’ that do: green, red and white shawls, ladies?).  We have a flag to wave, courtesy of recent visitors Leilani and Mike from s/v Lanakai, and will be joining the throngs on the night of the 15th to hear the Grito de Independencia (Cry for Independence) and yell Viva Mexico! in response.  We will be on hand the following morning to watch the parade – which may come right below our bedroom windows because Calzada del Tecolote (which runs to one side of our house) is a part of the Ruta de La Independencia!  We will report in on all of the excitement and on our visits to a couple of nearby towns.

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