Thursday, May 19, 2011

English Class

I work with several sections of students, one of which is the bilingual section.  Most of these bilingual section students have had English class since primary school and now attend every class in English except for math and language.  In class, they speak English.  Occasionally during recess they speak English.  They still make mistakes, of course, but it's really quite impressive to watch these 12-year-olds in action.

Generally, my job is to go over the speaking and listening exercises in their textbooks, helping them with pronunciation and providing them with a native accent to emulate.  Occasionally I teach an actual grammar lesson, but the teacher is much better at it, so I usually defer to her so I can watch and learn.

Today, however, she was called out of class and asked me to teach Reported Speech.  What Speech, you say?  Yes, that's what I said last week.

Take a moment to note the differences between these two dialogues:
- "Are you happy?" she asked him.
- She asked him if he was happy.

The second is an example of reported speech.  It probably seems like a no-brainer to flip the two, doesn't it?  But I would like to point out that the verb tense of the question changes, as well as the word order... and it is no longer a question.  And you use a different order for a question such as, "Where are you going?"  Additionally, 'may' changes to 'might,' 'can' changes to 'could,' etc.  Complicated stuff.

Luckily, I had introduced the concept with an activity on Tuesday, so I was familiar with the nuances.  Taking a deep breath, I started in.  It actually went quite well, and the students quickly picked up on the differences between reporting statements and questions, etc.  By the time we got to reporting orders and commands, the teacher was back and I handed it over.  She is really fantastic about asking students to apply the information immediately with verbal question-and-response, and after teaching about reporting commands, she began to go around the room, practicing.

The results were comical.

She began with Raul, who was looking at the examples in the book.  "Raul," she said evenly.  "Don't look at me like that!"

Raul's head snapped up and he looked around in utter confusion.  "But I..."

"No, begin, 'Pilar told me....'" Pilar corrected.

Slowly, understanding began to brighten his face as he realized what was going on.  "Ah!  Pilar told me not to look at her like that!"

A murmur arose from the class, who had been equally confused.  They seemed relieved.

Pilar moved on to Javi, a round, sweet boy in the back who is enthusiastic to learn and content to be himself.

"Javi," she asked.  "Will you marry me?"

The class erupted, and Javi's face instantly changed colors.  It was clear he was trying to construct a diplomatic response and having enormous difficulty; meanwhile, the whole class was urging him to say yes.  "Dude, Javi, she wants to marry you!!"

Pilar, not anticipating this response, finally stopped laughing herself.  "Pilar asked..." she crowed.

Relief swept over Javi's face as he burst into giggles.  "Oh!  Pilar asked if I will marry her."

"Would marry, Javi.  Would marry, not will."

"Pilar asked if I would marry her," Javi repeated.

Several students repeated this under their breaths, trying it out.  Angel, a brilliant bundle of constant energy and disruption, rattled off a few jokes in Spanish at Javi's expense.  Pilar silenced him with a look and continued practicing the language with other students.  Despite seeing their classmates' repeated confusion, thinking Pilar was really asking them questions, most of the class mistook the exercise and tried to respond to her statements rather than reporting them, and then they bashfully corrected themselves.  And as it characteristic, Angel's silence didn't last long, and he was soon back to joking.

"Angel," Pilar cried severely. "Shut up!"

He paused in his conversation, thought for half a moment, and flashed a quick smile.  "Pilar said... no, Pilar told me that I must shut up!" he replied, triumphant.

Again caught off guard, Pilar recovered quickly and laughed in spite of herself.  "Pilar told me to shut up," she corrected.  "You must use the infinitive, remember. But this is real life.  Be quiet."

"Pilar said that this was real life," Angel reported dutifully.

Alberto was listening attentively.  "Angel said that Pilar said that this wss real life," he muttered, half to himself.

Jose heard it and grinned.  "Alberto said that Angel said that Pilar said that this was real life," he called out.

Rafa picked it up.  "Jose said that..."

And it was downhill from there.

Now then, after all this, I am happy to report that the 1D students can successfully report what happened today.

Mission accomplished.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Driving in Italy

It's been awhile since I've posted about everyday life... I'll get back to it soon, I promise.  Humor me once more.

So, last weekend I returned to Italy, not because I loved visiting so much over Easter, but because way back in February, I bought a ticket to Milan - a springing off point to visit Verona (to gather Romeo and Juliet material) and Cremona (the birthplace of the Stradivarius).  To do all this traveling, I decided to rent a car, rather than strap myself to the mass transportation schedules.  Plus, I felt that this was the cherry on the top of a sweet, sweet life in Europe.  As it turned out, it was possibly the best experience of the whole saga.  That is to say...

Italy be damned... I just enjoyed driving!

However, you need to know several things before reading the rest of this post.

First, almost all European cars have a manual transmission.
Second, I have driven a stick shift all of... oh, three times in my life.
Third, my adventures usually involve very great amounts of good luck... or very great amounts of bad luck.  Or blessing.  Or grace.  Or whatever you want to call it.

Please take a moment to pause and ponder this seeming difficulty.  Also note:  if you've never had to learn how to drive a stick shift before, you might not fully appreciate the following account, but perhaps you will be better advised for having read it.

My adventures began in the Milan airport, searching for my rental car agency.  I knew ahead of time that I'd have to call them upon arrival because they were not located on-site... but I'd lost my cell phone the week before... and the pay phone wasn't working... and I was short on change anyway.  Luckily, I had no plans for the day.  Arrive, get situated, see what the day holds - that was my game plan.  At last, another rental car agency directed me to a different terminal where I found a working phone.  The Advantage lady told me to meet her at Exit 7.

There are 12 exits.

If anyone had been watching, they would have seen a starry-eyed female of dubious nationality (people mistake my nationality on a regular basis) and a black backpack wandering up and down the rows or doors.  Finally, I located the numbers, and off we went.

As we pulled up, there was a yellow Fiat Panda sitting in the parking lot.  It was the funnest car I've seen in ages.  I froze in sudden meditation. Please let that be my car, please let that be my car, please let that be my car!!!!! 

Oh yes.

It was my car.  I got in the driver's seat and let out a whoop.  This is going to be fun, I thought... now then, how do you get it into reverse??  Five minutes later, the girl came out and laughed as she showed me the trick.  "These are different from American automatics, aren't they?"  Yessss......

I won't bore you with the awful details of those following few minutes.  As it turns out, the emergency brake is another addition Americans don't usually think about.  Safe to say, I was relieved to get on the highway and be at a constant speed.  After a few kilometers of highway driving, my window was down, the music was up, and I was rocking it.

It was a toll road.

And you know what that means.

Six cars deep, start-and-stop, inch-your-way-up traffic.

I put my hazard lights on, said a little prayer - okay, a big prayer - and began to move up.  VROOOOM... screech!  VRROOOOM! *engine dies*  VROOOM.... screech! *engine dies* Thank God I had enormous sunglasses on.  At last, I got up to the toll window with, well, exceptional power, and the woman just looked at me and shook here head.  "Dios mio....string of Italian...." I just looked at her as pathetically as possible and said, "I know."  And I went on my merry way.

Oh, did I mention that I didn't have a map of Milan?

I had written down instructions on how to get to the hostel, but apparently in Italy, street names change every block, and within two minutes I was hopelessly lost.  Always the optimist, however, I decided to follow the signs toward the Center, where there were bound to be tourist maps and such.

The thing about having a car, though, is that you have to leave it somewhere (as opposed to simply walking around).  And the thing about driving in Europe is that there isn't any parking.  Anywhere.

...unless you find a parking garage!!

And you know what that means.


For those of you who are unfamiliar with stick shift cars... you have to take your foot off the brake in order to accelerate while holding down the clutch, and in the space of time it takes you to move your foot, the car begins to roll backward.

It is a really good thing that:
1.  No one was in the car with me.
2.  No one was behind me.
3.  No one was coming down the garage ramp.

I turbo'd that thing up as fast as I possibly could.  It probably took a major campaign from Heaven to ensure that I did not, in fact, go barreling through a wall... but I arrived in one piece and packed my smart little car into a smart little parking place, dusted off my coat tails, and proceeded to find a map.

As you can probably imagine, the adrenaline was coursing through my body at 800 times the recommended quantities. It was time for lunch.  After cheap pizza, I was still at 600 times, which can only mean one thing:  sightseeing.

Afterwards, having procured a map and ready to get back on the horse but not yet ready to brave the rest of Milan, I decided to go to Verona for the afternoon.  Highway driving for a couple of hours... yes, it sounded nice.  I drove down the ramp (at a much slower speed) and stopped to get directions from the attendant on duty, an older gentleman.

He took one look at my car (perfectly intact, of course) and smiled wryly.  "So you're the one.... trying to be like Alonso in Formula 1, huh?"

I just looked at him as pathetically as possible and said, "I know..." and fled.

The trip to Verona was successful, and it should be noted that Italian countryside actually resembles that of Oklahoma (except for the random vineyards and Italian architecture...).   Unfortunately - or fortunately, depending on your humor, on the way back, I encountered even worse toll booth woes.  At first, I was concerned because it seemed like I was practically living on the clutch, but I recalled driving Patrick's green Mustang around Edmond this fall (that was my second time driving a manual... I still can't believe you let me do that, Sweetums...) which had a killer clutch, and he mentioned that driving in city traffic was always painful, so I took this as a good sign.

Unfortunately, it was dark when I got into Milan... and I might have gotten hopelessly lost.  So much so, a kind stranger explained, that I wasn't even on the map.


Saturday's journey to Cremona was even more successful, and I returned to Milan feeling like quite the expert.... if I could have driven into Milan waving at the crowds like Kate Middleton, I would have, for it was certainly merited : )

It was a good experience.  I got some cool pictures and some even cooler stories.  The end.

P.S.  KMAC, I still hate conclusions.  Sorry.  In this case, I call it Writers' Prerogative... or personal laziness... either / or.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Semana Santa: Rome

“Every one soon or late comes round by Rome.”   - Robert Browning

And that is precisely why I didn't want to got to Rome.  A petty case of social rebellion, I admit it.  But... to be in Rome over Easter... that might be worthwhile, I reasoned, and besides, not as many people can boast about that.
And off I went. 
Let me tell you, you should go to Rome.  Going at Easter is pretty swell, but Rome deserves it of its own merit.  
I arrived in style - and by that I mean with unwashed hair, saggy jeans, and day-old socks.  Checking baggage costs extra money, you see.  My backpack and I were on pretty intimate terms by the end of it. 
For the first few moments, Rome seemed like all the other European cities I've stumbled across.  Ditching my backpack, I checked into the hostel, ripped a map off the big stack at the front desk, and began my wanderings.  It should be noted that, although I still probably qualify as spatially challenged, my map-guessing skills have improved remarkably since Lisbon.  Going in the general direction rather than street-by-street is much more efficient, it seems.  Columbus has got nothing on me.
I started out west, in the general direction of the Spanish Steps.  On the way, I found myself in the Piazza della Rebpulica, which is, in fact, somewhat in the right direction!  There was a large unsightly church there, and usually I skip large unsightly churches having overdosed in Spain, but I went in anyway.

It changed my standard for beauty.  Permanently.
As it turned out, this particular church was one of Michaelangelo's last projects (a fact I found out after being totally awed).  Perfect colors, spacious and well-proportioned, I made several circuits, looking up open-mouthed.  Breathtaking moment number one.

Continuing on, I eventually found myself at the Fountain of Trevi... breathtaking moment number two.  It is easily my favorite place in the city.  Something about the juxtaposition of massive, intricate sculptures and enormous, rugged rocks with falling water... hard to beat.  Plus, it was mobbed.  The energy bouncing around was nearly tangible as tourists jostled around for pictures and swung under rails in order to get closer to the water (regardless of age!).  This was also my first experience with gelatto... sublime.

The rest of the day proceeded in a similar fashion, though nothing could quite compare to my first two experiences.  After Athens' dismal countenance, wandering around in utter beauty and charm was a welcome relief.  Every corner had a new surprise or scene.  One street was full of bohemian art galleries... also a favorite!  And so the day progressed.

My fellow travelers arrived that evening after an unfortunate 10 hour siesta in the Sofia airport.  Getting pizza to go, we arrived at the Colosseum just as the Pope began his Good Friday address.  The square was packed, and a cross of candles stood above the crowds, its flames flickering in time with the liturgies.  Some of the crowd were just interested tourists (that would be us) while others were deeply involved Italians, reciting the lines by memory.  Above it all was a strange oscillating metallic object in a tree, carefully concealed behind the leaves.  Hmmm.

The next day, Will and I, who had never been to Rome before, went hard-core sightseeing.  Let me tell you, tours are the way to go.  We lucked out on the guides... each one could have been a sitcom character that just happened to know the last 2500 years of Roman history.  Everything was crowded, of course, but the strange thing about Rome is that the people kind of fade in relation to what you're looking at.  The crowds also preclude all efforts to preserve Japanese trademarks from tourists' cameras... i.e. the Sistine Chapel.  People unabashedly ignored all requests to put away the cameras.  Really, from the guards' point of view, it must have been a hopeless circumstance.  The Chapel packed to capacity and the Pope delivering universal pardon in less than 24 hours... there was no winning.

 As for that Pope and Easter Sunday, I went not knowing what to expect.  I imagined that St. Peter's Square would be mobbed.  In fact, it wasn't.  And the line to enter (airport-style security)... well, it's amazing how short it can be if you start in the right place.  As I said, universal pardon.

Now then, a note on the Colosseum.  It's cool, first of all.  (Dad, I took particular notes for you :D)  But let's talk about this Christian martyr business.  The Church officially took back its accusations of killing Christians there in the 50s.  Only one emperor did this, and it failed.  Why?  Let's think about this logically.  Gladiators and prisoners walk out of the Door of Death into the ring, desperately hoping to live and prepared for a valiant struggle.  This makes for a good show, and it furthers the Roman propaganda that no matter how vicious it gets, everything can be conquered / controlled by Caesar.   

Christians, on the other hand, aren't so concerned about living, are they?  Do they fight hard and/or beg for their lives?  Not really.  To live is Christ and to die is gain.  And if they're not afraid of death but Caesar is, who is greater?  So, politically and socially, would it really be a good move for Caesar to use them for entertainment?  Not really.  End of note.

Go to Rome.  It's worth it.