Photo Exhibit “¡Te espero en el patio!”

You’re all invited to my first photo exhibit in Asturias, a region of Northern Spain. The exhibit is a series of portraits taken of children at play in a rural public school. The exhibit is located at the library in the Casa Municipal de Cultura in the village of Lugo de Llanera, Monday through Friday, from February 13 to 27. The hours are 11am to 2pm and 4 to 8pm.

"¡Te espero en el patio!" exposición fotográfica del alumnado del colegio público de San Cucao

Neighbors

“What would you do?” asked Marcos. He looked around the room at the other dads who were also sitting in the circle, cross legged, on mats.

“Call the police,” one dad offered with a shrug.

“Tell them you have a baby, and ask them to keep down the noise after midnight,” suggested another.

The group discussed these options for a time, and then I interrupted.

“I have a question” I said. “Are you more worried about the noise, or about the little kids whose parents are yelling at them that late to finish their English homework?”

“I’m worried about the whole family,” Marcos said.

“So you want to be their neighbor, not just the stranger next door,” I said. “In that case, I think the next step is to introduce yourself and get to know them and their situation. Then, maybe, you can help them.

I hesitated. I knew what I was about to say next would seem ridiculous.

“Next time you meet in the hallway, introduce yourself, and invite them over to your house for a coffee or a meal.”

Everyone laughed, as if I had just delivered the punch line to a joke.

When the room had quieted down again, one of the dads showed me his palms as a kind of apology. “I think I speak for all of us when I say that’s not the Spanish way.”

Christmas Cookies

“Now can I have the box?” Alex asked, already trying to pry the box of Christmas cookies from my hands before I could answer.

I let go of the box, and Alex ran ahead of me. “Hold on to the box with both hands,” I yelled after him. He stopped in the middle of the square and looked around, then he looked back at me. I pointed at the group of homeless men huddled together on a bench. Alex grinned, then dashed over to where the men where sitting. He knelt down in front of them and gently set the box on the ground. He opened the lid. The men leaned in to see what was in the box.

“Would you like a cookie?” Alex asked. He explained to them that he had decorated the cookies himself, and then two of the men took a cookie from the box and thanked him. The last man sat looking at the box.

“You can have this one,” Alex suggested, picking up a cookie and holding it out to the man. “It’s a snowman. I made it for you. The silver balls are his eyes, and I gave him pretzels for arms.”

“Thank you,” the man said and wrapped up the cookie in a napkin.

Later, after the box was empty and the square was full of people eating Christmas cookies, and after Alex had begged me to let him do it all over again, and after we had cleaned up after all the children who had decorated and given away cookies, then we gathered in a circle by the front door and gave thanks for what we had just seen.

Many of our friends and neighbors had filled this very room this morning, eager to practice generosity, and they had experienced joy as a result. They had thanked us for the gift of giving, and they had asked us to please invite them again.

I had to smile. Well, I guess if God’s revolution started in a stable in a small town with a baby and a some smelly shepherds, why couldn’t ours start with some cookies, frosting and sprinkles?

Ejemplo

“Cuánto mayor me hago, menos creo en la gente,” me dijo Fran. Nos sentamos en silencio en un banco del jardín infantil y miramos a nuestras hijas prepararnos una sopa de arena con un bote de Actimel.

“Yo creo en Dios, pero sé que la mayoría de la gente cree en la humanidad,” le dije. “Tú no crees en ninguno, pero de alguna forma, parece que eres feliz.”

Fran me miró y se rió. “Tengo mis días,” me dijo. “Desde que Celia y yo nos separamos, ha sido terrible.” Suspiró profundamente.

“Solo tengo a mi hija,” me dijo. “Le hace falta un ejemplo, y eso es lo que voy a ser. Eso es lo que creo.”

Lee esta entrada en inglés / Read this post in English

Example

“The older I get, the less I believe in the goodness of people,” Fran said. We sat in silence on the bench in the playground and watched our daughters preparing soup for us with some sand and an empty yogurt container.

“I believe in the goodness of God, but most people believe in the goodness of people,” I said. “You don’t believe in either one, but somehow you still seem happy.”

Fran looked at me and laughed. “I have my days,” he said. “Ever since Celia and I separated, it’s been rough.”

He sighed.

“All I have left is my daughter,” he said. “She needs me to set a good example, so that’s what I do. That’s what I believe in.”

Read this post in Spanish / Lee esta entrada en español

It’s All About Who You Know

“A Spanish friend told me making friends with valencianos is not easy,” I said to the woman at the tourist office in Valencia. “Is that true?” I asked.

“Who told you that?” she asked. “I bet it was a Catalán.” She rolled her eyes.

“Well, is it true?” I asked.

She sighed and shook her head at me in disappointment. “Of course it’s not true.”

She took a pamphlet and a pen, scribbled something down, and pushed the pamphlet across the counter to me. “Now you have a friend in Valencia,” she said. “This is my email address. Next time you’re in Valencia, let me know, and I”ll show you around.”

“But I don’t even know your name,” I said.

“Carmen,” she said with a smile.

“It’s nice to meet you Carmen,” I said. “So, how do people from Valencia make friends?” I asked.

Fútbol and las fallas,” she said automatically.

“What are las fallas?” I asked.

“It’s lucky for you we’re friends because I belong to one of the oldest fallas in Valencia. In fact, one of the women in my family was the first queen of las fallas.” Carmen went on to explain that a falla, also known as a casal faller, is a group of friends, usually from a specific neighborhood, that hold fundraising parties and dinners all year long with the goal of constructing a giant cardboard and paper-mâché monument. After a five-day party leading up to March 19th, all the monuments except for the very best are burned in the streets.

foto de una falla de un matrimonio, valencia, españa

“Anyone can join a falla,” Carmen said, “because, after all, we’re so friendly.”

“Okay, so if I wanted to join a falla today, how would I find one?” I asked.

“Well, you’d have to know someone,” Carmen said.

“So that’s the catch,” I said. “You need to know someone to join a falla.”

Carmen wagged her finger at me. “You don’t have to worry. You know me.”

***********

The phrase “It’s all about who you know,” is true in most places, but it’s particularly true in Spain. I thought about Carmen this week because my daughter asked for paella for her birthday lunch. I knew I wouldn’t have the time or money to find my daughter an authentic paella prepared hours in advance and served in a paella pan.

I wondered if I could find a place in my neighborhood that served paella to go. So, I tried various Google searches, including Google maps, until I finally resorted to simply asking my friends if they knew of any place that served paella. Sure enough, I had to actually ask a human being before I found a place that I could walk to that would serve paella to go for my daughter to eat over her lunch break from school.

Smartphones and tablets and laptops connected to wifi only get you so far here before you need to talk to someone or make a friend to get the information you want. I’m not sure that’s the case anymore in some places in the world. I like needing people to survive, even for something as simple as finding a place to eat.