You know you’ve got a good bunch of people, when the kitty (bote) keeps growing. Nobody wanted to under-pay, everyone was chucking a bit extra in “just in case”. The kitty grew. We began by stopping for ice-creams late at night on the way back to the hotel to use it up but it wasn’t enough, and in the end the final meal was paid almost entirely out of the remnants of the kitty.
There was a lot of food. The week was advertised as “an immersion into the culture and language of Spain”. It seemed that “culture” definitely included food, and we made the most of it. From the generous buffet breakfast in the Córdoba hotel, through a relaxing shared lunch out, to a long evening meal in a traditional Córdobese restaurant, we worked out at the end that we had sampled approximately 60 different Spanish dishes!
Eight people, from eight distinct cultural backgrounds. Four were native Spanish-speakers, four were students of the language. Rafa, the organiser, was the only Spaniard living in Spain. Carla was from Bolivia, Dora was Peruvian though living in Switzerland, and Irene was born in Holland to Spanish parents. They were there to speak nothing but Spanish for the whole week, and to help and correct us. We the students were Charlene from New York, Frank from Amsterdam, Ursula from Switzerland, and me. Not for the first time I had made the hugely incorrect assumption that most people learning Spanish would be British, and not for the first time I had found myself the only Brit. The diversity added richness and interest, and ensured we were never short of conversation.
Rafa organises these immersion weeks in Málaga and in Córdoba. I had picked Córdoba as it is a city I love but which I know far less than Málaga. Also, I had visited Córdoba once before with Rafa and loved both his knowledge and passion for his native city, and his relaxed informal style.
On checking in to the hotel, the welcome pack included the “rules”. There were two. Firstly, nothing but Spanish to be spoken. Secondly – enjoy ourselves. Rule two was rather easier than rule one! Well, I say that more because it is the expected quip – actually the whole principle of an immersion week works incredibly well. As we explored the city and the province of Córdoba, listening to tour guides, learning about olive oil and Iberian black-footed pigs, eating in out-of-the-way restaurants, we were indeed immersed in the culture and the language of Spain, and using Spanish from the moment we awoke until the moment we slept became (as it should) the norm.
Of course no visit to Córdoba is complete without a visit to the Mezquita. Since I first saw it about ten years ago, I had been appalled by what I saw as the disgusting, invasive, disrespectful penetrative act of building a Christian cathedral inside a mosque. But through Rafa’s quiet knowledgeable explanation, I came to understand another perspective. “Where else is there a Mezquita like this, in Spain or anywhere else?” asked Rafa. As you walk around any great Spanish city, wherever you see a cathedral or a great church, below it and before it was a mosque, ripped down to stamp Christianity’s mark. But uniquely, the beautiful Mezquita of Córdoba, the jewel of Islamic western culture, was saved. And it was saved because Carlos V agreed to the plans to build a cathedral inside it. So it’s true, what they say – “Conversation is where you get to change your mind.” I still find the cathedral uncomfortably invasive, but if its presence saved the mosque then it was a price (possibly) worth paying.
The week’s itinerary included visits to countless hidden corners of the city, plus a day-trip to Sevilla, a morning at the ancient ruined city of Medinat al-Zahra, and the rural day out at the olive plantation and the dehesa about which I wrote in October. And food. It included lots of food. Lunch in a restaurante wherever we happened to be. 15€ in the kitty to cover an enormous amount of shared platters and our drinks. Same again in the evening. Coffees somewhere in the morning, and again in the afternoon. Ice-creams while walking back to the hotel. And always money left over. One night we hit a night-club high above the river and overlooking the Roman bridge. Drinks came out of the bote.
Countless, unforgettable experiences. And all in Spanish. With our four “teachers” there not to teach formally but to correct us and help us improve. With their encouragement, chatting in the minibus and over meals, we relaxed into the language until it became more natural. Immersion works – and when it can be this much fun, it’s an ideal way to take a big step forward in improving your Spanish.
(Spanish immersion weeks based in and around Córdoba and Málaga are organised by Rafael Terán Perez of www.experienciavivees.com. Dates for 2015 are now available. All opinions are my own!)
© Tamara Essex 2015 http://www.twocampos.com
THIS WEEK’S LANGUAGE POINT:
All the language points now up to date – ALL THE LANGUAGE POINTS
And as a few people had requested, each language point now has a link back to the original article, as there is often a discussion about the language point in the comments. I hope that it’s useful!