Published: March 29th 2011November 20th 2010
Today marked not only my last visit to the beautiful La Seu Vella, but also my last day living in Balaguer. I have had a rather ignominous departure from the school and my final pay was grudgingly handed over accompanied by a dual language double tongue lashing. Further outrage was sparked by my refusal to sign the formal letter presented to me due to the fact it was written in Catalan. After ducking a heavy Catalan dictionary launched across the desk at me by the director I insisted on being allowed to write my own letter in English, or at least Spanish.
I left the school rather sadly, unable to say goodbye to any of my students or offer my apologies or explanations to them, but at least armed with the class registers and the wonder of the cyber world - facebook.
I am both relieved and sad to be leaving. Balaguer is a pretty city, I like my flat, I like living in Spain and I like the vast majority of my students. My trials have come from the sheer number of hours forced on me, which although since reduced are still a lot and do not account for the
time needed to prepare lessons, mark homework and write exams. I have had a few difficult classes - a fabulous group of teenagers including one who must be the epitomy of all teenage defiance as she sat there, a waif like blond, staring blankly at me with blue eyes while forming the repitive chant of 'no se, no se, no se nada', around the rotating piece of gum in her mouth. I also had quite a shock when I found myself confronted with a group of older women whoose attitude seemed little different from those teenagers. They would speak to me in Catalan and on realising I couldn't understand them, roll their eyes and translate into Spanish, and if I didn't understand that would snigger and laugh with each other. By the end of the first week they had blatantly decided they didn't like me and would enter the classroom without a 'good morning' or 'hello', would refuse to speak to me unless it was about the lesson and then would only use English when directly reading an answer out of the book. To make matters worse they continually complained about me to the principal who instead of supporting me
asked me to adapt lessons, speak in Spanish to them and generally ignoring the most basic problem... that these students were in an intermediate class yet somehow had got that far without understanding words like 'with' and 'are' and being completely unable to respond whenever I said 'Hi, how are you?'
Yet none of this was quite as difficult, or truly bizarre, as not being allowed to be ill. After the first strange occasion of being tracked down at home for missing a single lesson due to a misunderstanding, I had two occasions of phoning in ill only to be told, 'So? Take asprin and come to work!' and towards the end finally had enough of this treatment and left a message to say I was sick and locked my doors, pulled down the shutters and refused to answer the endless buzzing of the front door bell. It was around this time that friends back home actually pointed out how ridiclous my situation was and that people can take time off work and that it really isn't normal to sit quietly in a darkened flat hiding from your boss who has arrived at your front door!
So all in all,
I am sad things haven't turned out differently, because I still feel I could have been very happy here in Balaguer if only the school were run differently. My more immediate response though is one of pure relief at not having to struggle into school tomorrow or the next day or the day after.
My friend from Girona arrived and stayed for the weekend. I found it amusing to be in the position of tour guide when it's his country, but he's never visited Lleida before. We took the train to Lleida and walked towards La Seu Vella. We stopped by the new cathedral, which though closed, has a pretty facade and the trees beside it had turned beautiful autumn shades, actually in a row one tree yellow, one orange, one deep red. We climbed the steps up the hill and entered the old cathedral complex.
Already past 4pm when we arrived the old carvings on the cathedral glowed with the warmth of the early sunset. We walked around the upper area beside the main entrance before finally going inside. I found that this time I had to pay, so I suppose my last visit must have been on some
day when entrance was free as the last time I wandered in they merely handed me a leaflet and waved me inside.
We explored the cloisters and then climbed the steps of the 60m octagonal bell tower, which I have decided is an excellent workout. We emerged at the top, the wind already buffeting us as we walked across to the edge to look down on the city stretching stretching to the horizon on all sides. Clouds of tiny moths were fluttering around the edges of the wall, their tiny transparent wings glowing as the sun shone through them. We circled the tower and then returned to the cloisters and the church.
I was relieved to have more time inside the church this time. We walked the quietly echoing hall, gazing up at the high arched ceiling, stopping to admire carved and painted sections of the stone. Eventually we merely sat in the peaceful space, talking in whispers and then admitting we needed to start making our way home. We walked around the outside and looked across the city to the train station, the moon shining overhead while beneath streaked the last red of sunset. The cathedral itself had turned
orange in the glow and we took one last walked around the side before walking hurriedly back to the train station.
Back at home I started to pack away everything, slowly turning my home into an empty flat as my pictures came off the walls, my things were shoved back into the suitcase and everything was reduce to the small heap of things ready to be loaded into the car.
Tomorrow we leave for Barcelona and from there I will take the train to my friend's house and spend my last couple of days there. I am now sad to be leaving. I like Spain and I love being close to my friends here. The good news is that I am going home for a long holiday and will be returning to Spain in January for a new job... even closer to the friends I am currently sad to be leaving.
There are more photos below