Today I’m trying a new experiment – a Guest blog exchange – a bit like a house swap. I’m pleased to welcome my new blogging friend Monna, a Canadian on the loose in Barcelona, who blogs at Teacher meets World. And in return she’s hosting me today as a guest blogger on her site – so when you’ve finished here, head over to her site to read my post on Memories of Travelling and Rome. I know you’ll enjoy Monna’s insights on what different cities she’s visited have taught her.
Teacher meets Europe by Monna McDiarmid
I grew up in rural Canada, in a community so small that there were more animals than people, where we did not have a stop light or even a proper intersection. From my bedroom on this tiny pin-point on earth, I yearned for Europe.
At the time, mine was a storybook longing for castles, dragons and lovely golden-haired girls rescued by brave knights. Later, my longings grew to include the homelands of favourite authors, famous cathedrals and beloved paintings. With Scottish and Irish heritage, I wanted to go “home”.
I grew up. I earned a degree in English Literature… followed by my Bachelor of Education and a Masters. I moved to Cali, Colombia for my first teaching gig and then it was onto Monterrey, Mexico for seven years. Still, I yearned for Europe. Finally, an opportunity arose for me to teach at a small international school in Barcelona. Spain! Europe! Yes!
Each place I have visited had a lesson to teach me. I have chosen six city-lessons to share:
Paris was my first. My first European city, that is… we visited while still living in Mexico. Like Meg Ryan’s character in “French Kiss”, I felt absolutely complete when I laid eyes on the famous Eiffel Tower all lit up in its Sunday-best. The lesson that Paris had to teach me was about Gracious Living. I spied on Parisians buying fresh cut flowers “just because” and waiting while their neighbourhood butcher wrapped a perfect cut of meat in pink paper and tied it with string. Extravagance became commonplace; Decadent Paris leaned down and whispered, “Treat yourself well. You deserve it.”
Florence offered to teach us about eating well. I mean no disrespect to Rome and Venice, both of which are very fine cities, but the Florentines won our hearts and tummies when they plied us with caprese salad made with the most amazing mozzarella di bufala (mozzarella made with the milk of water buffalo), perfectly roasted potatoes, and our newest discovery: Ribollita soup made from vegetables and bread. Florence teaches travellers: Slow down and sit down for your meal. Chew slowly. Taste everything. Have more. Like a mother, Florence instructed and fed us well.
Dubliners have suffered and still they laugh and dance and sing. And they drink some too. I saw Dublin through the eyes of four teenage boys and they loved Dublin and the city loved them back. Our Customs Officer had them in stitches before they even left the airport. Street musicians made naughty jokes that made the boys feel as though they were getting away with something good. The girls were pretty and, everywhere, people smiled at us. Dublin taught us that it was good to laugh and even better to laugh at ourselves. Joy was on the menu. We ordered it everywhere we went.
Sometimes a city about which you know almost nothing will steal your heart. We had planned a week divided between Budapest and Prague, fully expecting that Prague would be the main event, the entree of our vacation. It was Budapest, however, that won us over with its Great Market Hall, thermal baths, delicious and affordable food and ridiculously friendly people. Historically, scrappy Budapest has been a survivor. An American friend, whose parents are Hungarian, describes the Hungarian people as heart-broken but thinks of it as home. That’s how we felt… at home.
In Lisbon, I learned that the wailing of a female Fado singer is one of the most beautiful sounds in the world. Fado (Portuguese for “destiny”) is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor. Some people refer to Fado as Portuguese blues but you won’t really understand it until you’ve heard it for yourself. To listen to Amália Rodrigues, Queen of Fado, singing Velha Tendinha click here. At our favourite little Fado spot, Adega do Ribatejo in the Bairro Alto, we sat packed in like sardines and much to our delight, even the cook sang.
Go Barca! Barcelona teaches that you don’t have to know a thing about soccer to fall in love with this game and this team and the stadium, Camp Nou, where the people of Barcelona continued to speak their language, Catalan, during the dark days of Franco’s regime. The people of Barcelona, los Barceloneses, are fiercely patriotic, not to Spain but to their pre-Spanish homeland of Catalunya which extends up into the south of France. You have to admire a people so fearless and passionate. Barcelona wears its blood red heart on its sleeve.
Two years in Europe have helped me understand that being old takes a toll on a continent. Centuries of plunders and pillages, and the constant threat of these attacks, has left some Europeans distrustful of strangers. The political drawing and re-drawing of borders and boundaries does not necessarily line up with how the people of those “nation states” feel about their fellow citizens.
North Americans have not been tested in the same ways; perhaps this fact helps explain our excessively cheerful demeanor. Check with us again in two thousand years and see how we are doing!