18 December 2011

Teaching Christmas Songs

When I'm in a navel-gazing sort of mode, sometimes I like to fool myself into thinking I'm really independent and especially independent-minded, but It's interesting how sometimes I can be kind of made to do things I don't particularly want to do.  The good thing is that usually it turns out well and is a character-building, growth experience (with the exception of that Laurel Caverns trip, right mom?) and in the end, this followed the trend and that Laurel Caverns trip remains the exception that proves the rule -- and parents, consider not sending your children underground in dark caves on a tour alone.  Or going to wax museums before age 16.

In one of the schools where I teach, I occasionally am asked to prepare a lesson for a group of first year secondary students (around 11-12 years old) who are taught music in English.  The first time I did this, they were studying musicals, so we built vocabulary based on "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music -- but the lesson ended with this version by Pomplamoose.  For those of my dear readers who may think they are getting old, 11 year olds now have little to no idea who Julie Andrews is.

When the teacher asked me to do some Christmas carols, I of course agreed, but on the inside, I wasn't too enthused (among other things, I wanted to be sensitive to diversity of holiday traditions and religious backgrounds, even though it would seem that things are not so wildly PC here and the group is quite homogenous -- also, who wants to listen to Christmas music when so far away from home like this?  Not really me).

After unsuccessfully googling existing ESL/EFL solutions, and coming to the realization that large parts of Asia may have strange ideas about American cultural practices, I started poking around YouTube (maybe or maybe not on the morning I was supposed to be teaching the lesson) and thinking about what Christmas music I liked that was also cool, and thought about the Muppets with John Denver.  But a lot of those songs are a bit too advanced for my students, so to scale back, I settled on vocabulary building with "Jingle Bell Rock" -- first, a version with lyrics and then this one:

 The discussion before was something like this:
Maria: Do you guys know "Jingle Bells"?
The Kids: Yes!!!
Maria: Good!! So, we're not going to sing that, because you already know it!
[we learn "Jingle Bell Rock", occasionally dancing in our seats a bit]
For those of my dear readers who may think they are getting old, this was one of those times when the 11 year old kids were kind of shocked to learn that such a cool song was first popular in 1954.

Then, I had told them at the beginning we were going to learn two songs, one would be easy and one would be difficult, and if I was going to sing, we were all going to sing.  As often happens, the kids blew me over with their quickness and coolness.  They did sing (I don't know, when I was their age, I wasn't into singing in music class at. all.), and what I thought might be difficult wasn't at all for them.  I split the class up into three groups, and put these words up on the projector:

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please put a penny in the old man's hat
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do
If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!

It was at this point that I was going to have to bring it, and I sang it once for the class.  They immediately picked it up, amazing considering my not very good singing skills, and then we tried it as a round, in the three groups.  Excellent, I was in front of a group of enthusiastic musical geniuses!  Just to show them that I wasn't making this up, we ended the class with this:

It ended up being a really fun class, and I might be able to be convinced more easily to sing in a classroom setting in the future.  Maybe.

Tapas in Andorra

I wanted to post this earlier in the week, but life gets in the way of life sometimes, doesn't it.

December 6 and December 8 are national holidays in Spain, and so since the 8th was a Thursday and I don't go to school Fridays, with some friends I decided to make a puente/pont out of it!  The goal was skiing in Andorra, but skiing didn't happen, unfortunately -- not for lack of wanting to, certainly, but due to other variables.

The good news is that I got to go to a lovely microstate, I learned the medical history of a Moroccan taxi driver and his bowel troubles that were cured by the geothermal waters, and then got to relax in said waters.  With my friends I also went on the world's longest alpine roller coaster and on an 8km downhill walk on a gorgeous day.  Most importantly though, we discovered Bar Turistic, which became a daily goal for the 3 days we were there.

When we arrived Wednesday 7 December around 11:30PM, after getting checked in to dour hotel and everything, we really needed to eat, because I was the only one who had brought something for the 3 hour bus ride from Barcelona (I had stuffed pizza a taglio from Pizza Gege, yes!).  However, food at midnight in Andorra is harder to come by than one would expect, since it seems people don't sleep much in this part of the world, and if they do, it's got to be Chuck Norris style or something -- haven't figured that out yet.  Anyway, after asking the locals for suggestions, we were heading to another place when we happened upon Bar Turistic.

Sometimes you find somewhere to eat that's just so good that you can't help yourself.  This ended up being that place for us on this trip.  Homemade, straightforward food that 4 people could eat + drink generously for under €10 a head.  And because it's Andorra, also breathe in secondhand smoke and watch locals play darts.

So a first night surprise, and I don't even remember how this came up, except that I think the proprietor just brought them to our table and immediately, it was a throwback to childhood -- madeleines of sorts -- lupini beans (Catalan: tramussos)!
Lupini beans, one of the tastes of my childhood

Saturday night, the 10th, was the football match to watch, the Clásico, Barça v. Madrid.  So of course, above the bar, there was a betting pool:
This chart grew over the next few days, but Santi M. and Tomas were already to be winners.
Visca Barça!

The next day was spent in the mountains of south west Andorra, and after an 8km walk downhill, not only were we feeling it in our hips, we were also feeling it in our stomachs.  While not eaten at Bar Turistic, this botifarra was magnificent: fresh sausage, white beans with some rosemary:
Botifarra at a locally-recommended place underneath the Andorran Ministry of Justice.

But that was just a snack, because there were already more things we wanted to try at Bar Turistic!  First off, the home made croquettes, a specialty of the house:
Chicken croquettes, also involving potatoes and maybe some cheese.  
Often at tapas places, or at bars where there are also tapas, there's a tabletop refrigerated case on top of the bar, and you can see some of what's available to eat.  So from this, we chose some pintxos of pork with some curry seasoning:
Pintxo is a Basque word meaning "spike" and this meat was prepared and cooked on a skewer.

Then something funny happened.  One of the food staples here in Mallorca is pa amb oli, bread with oil, but also involving tomatoes, called pan amb tomàquet in Catalunya.  First off, saying it in Mallorquìn was apparently kind of funny to the Andorran Catalan ear, and then, I made the comment, when it was suggested that we have some, that "we eat that all the time."  This was interpreted as, "give us your best shot," at which point the proprietor was like, "well, how about tongue" and of course, we could not decline.

Pork tongue!

This is now the second time in my life where tongue was presented as a challenge food.  The first time was over a decade ago in Poland, when our tour guide complained that we were being served too much sausage, and they were like, "hahaha we'll show you, here's some tongue in green aspic!"  I liked this dish, as the texture of the tongue was not completely offensive, and the sauce it was cooked in was delightful, along with some sauteed onions.  However, I would probably not order and eat a whole portion myself.

The next, and last night, we had more croquettes, because they really were quite good, and some of this cod salad -- I wasn't expecting it to be cold, or a salad -- but it was really very refreshing, perfectly acidic, and just the right amount of salty, the way good cod should be.

I'm not sure if all of this is particularly "typical" Andorran food -- most of the "Made in Andorra" food there seemed to be cow- and cheese-centered -- but this is typical tapas, and the elements that needed to be present for it to be successful were there: homemade and good company with whom to share it.