Día de los Muertos y Dia de Todos Los Santos


This will be my first year experiencing Day of the Dead, All Soul’s Day/All Saints Day in Spain. Funnily enough I haven’t spoken to any of my friends here about what is usually done to celebrate in Madrid. So consequently I have done some research, and this is what I have come with.

Oh, an interesting note to add before hand; Día de los Muertos has an uncanny resemblance to original Celtic celebrations, which were also celebrated on November 1st. The Celtic peoples honoured their dead; believing that November 1st was a day of transition between the old and the new. The people made offerings to their dead of fruit and vegetables; as those who had died (the spirits) would travel to the land of the dead together.

Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) it is traditionally a Mexican holiday on November 1st; family and friends come together to pray for, and remember friends and family members who have died.

Traditions connected with this holiday include building private altars to honour the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, along with favourite foods and beverages of the departed. Visiting graves with these as gifts is part of the celebration too. They also leave possessions of the deceased at the grave.

This holiday has its origins dating back hundreds of years; Aztec festivals for the Goddess Mictecacihuatl were the inspiration.

Day of the Dead has connection with the Catholic holidays of All Soul’s Day on November 2nd.

In Spain Dia de Todos Los Santos (All Saint’s Day) is celebrated on November 1st. In Madrid the 1st has been declared as a holiday, and most businesses will be closed.

Ofrendas (offerings) are made on this day to the dead. Friends and families visit the graves of their loved ones; to pray for them, leave candles and flowers. People will travel back to their home-towns, and villages to offer their respects also.

Presents are often given to children too; usually sweets and toys (similar to Halloween).

Streets are congested with cars heading to the cemeteries, out of the city. Florists sell more flower arrangements than at any other time of the year. Bakeries produce special orders of specific pastries like Hueso de Santos (Saint Bones). This pastry is traditional and made of marzipan, egg and sugar syrup.

People in Spain are frequently named after a saint. As is the case in many other Catholic countries; consequently people have their birthday, as well as their saint day, in honour of the saint they were named after.

Another little fact to add is that the play ‘Don Juan Tenorio’ is also traditionally performed during this time in Spain. In fact, once a year for over a century this tradition had taken place!

Copy Right Notice:
© Bex Houghagen and The Savvy Senorita, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bex Houghagen and The Savvy Senorita with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Brain Plasticity – How Do We Learn?


Brain Plasticity – looks as complex as it sounds?

Well, last week I had my first official Intercambio meeting (Spanish and English language exchange), via a college here in Madrid. I have written about learning Spanish in a previous post, and the trials and tribulations of becoming accustomed to a new language and life setting. It is not as though I don’t use what Spanish I have learnt, or practice with others, but this Intercambio meeting was the first step in officially ratifying and testing my learning.

Needless to say I felt very nervous. One reason was the fact I didn’t know who I would be meeting with, and I couldn’t be certain whether we would have any common ground to even begin a conversation with. Secondly I really pinned my hopes on using this meeting as a vehicle to gain acquaintance with new people, and to continue to expand my networks; hence I really wanted the initial meeting to go well. Thirdly I was aware I was succumbing to my inner disappointments, because of my lack of Spanish language skills. I therefore felt I was going to be somehow inferior to everyone else present. I have this belief that everyone I meet has mastered a second or third language far better than I ever will; not a conducive thought for the learning processes to take hold (I know).

Anyway, I was eagerly punctual, as always and begun chatting to one of the staff at the college who is Romanian. He was trying to reassure me that it does take time to learn any language well enough to speak confidently, while proceeding to provide me with the same advice I usually receive; go out more and interact and listen to the language being spoken, watch television and listen to the radio. Basically submerse myself in the language on a daily basis.

Of course I agree with this, but again I seem to struggle, though admittedly I am not submerging myself enough.

However, I have reached a point where I am considering my brain’s capacity to actually learn a new language. Is it physically possible for me to learn a new language, have I the specific abilities required in this type of learning or is it merely my self doubt hindering my abilities because I insist on being under confident?

Learning is a complex, but it often happens without conscious recognition; it is something we do everyday without thought. I wondered how it was possible to even begin learning anything, how is learning made easy or completed by the brain. Well, after studying Psychology I know the scientific facts of how the brain absorbs and retains information; written, spoken, memories and actions. I have learnt about Neurons, Neural pathways and Synapses. Yet, how does what we learn, see or do actual stick; what acts do we complete whilst learning something to make the physical processes in the brain kick in?

I considered the theory of ‘brain plasticity’, I wondered if it were applicable. Put simply this theory states; plasticity is something that occurs when we engage in new learning and experience, the brain begins to establish neural pathways to compensate. Neural pathways or circuits are routes made of inter-communicating neurons. These routes are created in the brain through learning and practice; like retreading a path. Visual and auditory cortex’s can be involved in the process, as well as muscle memory. The more you revisit the new experience or learning activity, the stronger the connections become, the more efficient they are made and the faster cognition will become.

Sounds simple enough right?! Well, I now have begun to wonder if my brain has lost out on this plasticity malarkey. Just how much brain plasticity I have in reference to being able to learn new language skills?

Now I haven’t completed a scientific test, but surely not all people are able to learn and perfect everything? The scientific theory seems to make it all sound so easy; the old adage of practice makes perfect resonates throughout it. Yet, what if the practice itself is difficult? What if you prefer something more than the other, won’t that effect what and how you learn? How is it that I can read or watch something I find interesting in English, and retain the information immediately, and in Spanish I feel as though my brain resists the information and learning process?

Are some areas of learning or things to be learnt, just out of bounds for some people? I mean not everyone can dance, play guitar, recall their maths times tables; so cannot that be true of language?

I feel there is always a piece of the learning process missing when it comes to practising Spanish. I know practice and effort are the key, but also self belief, confidence and understanding what we are learning have importance too. Maybe they hold more importance than the actual effort and practice. From experience repetition and effort doesn’t always succeed in making learning kick in and stick. Or could it be that once you get past your teens learning becomes more difficult; because finding the time and head space to fully dedicate yourself, and concentrate completely on learning something new becomes more scarce?

Anyway, I intend to put the theories to the test, on myself in any-case. I have the opportunity to do so as the Intercambio meeting went well, and I will be meeting with a couple of people on a regular basis to practice Spanish. Hopefully I can then shock my brain into action or reaction! I don’t really want to seriously consider the fact that my brain might not have the capacity to learn a new language; that thought doesn’t appeal to me. I feel there has to be a way! I will therefore use all the learning techniques available to encourage plasticity. After all, I am Mistress over my own brain, or am I?

Copy Right Notice:
© Bex Houghagen and The Savvy Senorita, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bex Houghagen and The Savvy Senorita with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The ‘Real’ Madrid Experience – The Halloween Extravaganza


Now I know traditionally Halloween is not a Spanish past time. In fact, check the internet for ‘Ghost Tours’ or ghostly anecdotes regarding the city, and you won’t find any! Well, maybe one, regarding the haunting of the Casa de América on Paseo de Recoletos. In fact even making enquiries with people from Madrid about ghosts, and such like, produces strange and quizzical expressions, often followed by; ‘Don’t those type of things scare you’?

Me encanta (I love) Halloween!!!! It has been my favourite time of the year since I was a child. In fact I wasn’t certain what celebrating Halloween would be like in Madrid, so it is now that I find myself missing the UK most; well, at least the part of the UK I was raised anyway. Now there is a place where autumn truly is autumn! This dramatic change of season, for me, adds a touch of atmospheric dark romance to the run up to Halloween. The fragile trees, the colder weather, heavy clouded skies, the rugged scenery and the dark nights all lend their hands perfectly to the Halloween theme.

Madrid is not rugged, not surrounded by old graveyards and churches, cobbled streets, ancient houses, dark forests, rivers, valleys, mountains or fields; so then how can I celebrate Halloween here?!

Well, I may not be going the whole nine yards and re-decorating the house as a scene from a Hammer House of Horror film, but I have managed to find one concession towards making my Halloween feel like home. It is the humble Pumpkin! Don’t laugh, it may seem pathetic and childish, but I love carving Pumpkins for Halloween. It’s a ritual I have held onto for seven years, and I don’t intend to let it slip this year! This one little thing gets me in the Halloween ‘spirit’; so I say thank you Carrefour for stocking them!

Anyway, so what else does Madrid offer with Halloween in mind, well, seems like the other element missing here is ‘the’ party. Of course, on this front there is no need to worry; Madrid does parties probably better than anywhere else!

So, today I have been hunting high and low, not for ghosts and goblins though, but for the locations of these suitably scary parties and themed events.

Something Different:

Parque de Atracciones – Casa de Campo, Madrid
http://www.parquedeatracciones.es/

This theme park throws annual Halloween-fests which run on until 4th November. The park and grounds have been suitably redecorated and is hosting a wealth of Halloween treats such as; music, street entertainers and shows. Also, ensure you take a stroll through Zombie Town, and pay a visit their four interactive fright night experience ‘Haunted Houses’; Horror Circus, Necronomicon, Hospital of the Dead and The Old House.

Extremauncion – outside of Madrid on the A5 (Highway) passed Navelcamero
http://www.extremauncion.com/

A themed weekend of scary events in a remote location; Halloween dinner, drinks, a tour to set the ghostly scene, passage of terror in abandoned mansion, actors dressed to scare and camping out in a ‘haunted’ cemetery. It appears to be the complete Halloween experience in one, for a price.

The Halloween weekend will cost anything from; 70 – 80 Euros. Far cheaper if you just limit the experience to the passage of terror, seems to be roughly 6 Euros.

They do open every Saturday however, and the entry prices are not as steep ordinarily.

For their extra special Halloween-fest the dates are: 31st October to the 4th
November, and the price will be that bit extra.

In the evening the events are not suitable for children.

Enigmatium – Somewhere near to Plaza de Castilla
http://www.enigmatium.com/halloween-madrid.php

I say somewhere near Plaza de Castilla not to be facetious, but because two days before you are due to honour your reservation at the restaurant, you will receive the first clue as to where this restaurant is actually located.

The special Halloween events in this restaurant will be run 31st October / 3 and 4th November.

Check out their website for further details of the evening’s entertainment.

The Walking Dead Live (Zombies Laser Combat) – Esquivias which is 35km from Madrid A42 towards Toledo. http://www.iberikapaintball.com/paintballmadrid/paintballmadridhalloween.htm

There are limited places and ensure you wear Halloween costume as they have prizes for best dressed.

The price 49 – 69 Euros; this includes real-life zombie laser tag combat, open bar, dinner and extra after dinner surprises to test the attendee’s nerves.

Clubs and Festival:

Thriller Music Festival – Madrid Arena
http://thrillermusicpark.com/

Line-up:
Steve Aoki, Autoerotique, live PA by Army of the Universe, Ed is Dead and Julien Leik.

Tickets 22 Euros. Free drink for all who go in fancy dress, also competition for best dressed and the winner will receive 3,000 Euros.

Mondo – Calle Arlaban, 7, Madrid

31st October – DJ Hell

Siroco – Calle de San Dimas, Madrid

Music is usually; breaks, Electro-Pop, House

31st October – Fort Romeau, Hyman Bass, plus other guests.

Sala Lujuria (Creepy Halloween Party) – Leganitos, 7, Madrid

Music; Dubstep

31st October – Ruben G / MadBass.Madrid, 1st Degree / HDK.Madrid
Nubdub / HDK.Madrid, Skaar / HDK.Madrid

Puerta del Sol and Irish Bars:

27th October Halloween Pub Crawl – pick up point Plaza Mayor
http://www.getyourguide.com/madrid/skip-the-line-madrid-halloween-pub-crawl-t15281/

Start time is 22:00 at Tourist Information at Plaza Mayor.

Price is 24 Euros which includes; visit 3 bars and a club, free alcohol, VIP entry to the club, costume prizes.

Most Irish Bars in Madrid are holding some special event or another over Halloween; including fancy dress prizes, drink offers and special cocktails. Here are some of them below.

Dubliners – Espoz y Mina, 7, Madrid

O’Connell’s – (address as above)

O’Neills – Principe, 12, Madrid

Final Note:

I’m planning to do an updated version of this post, once I have sampled the fright night on offer here in Madrid. So with the Madrid party ethos in mind I intend to make the most of Halloween here this year, which will include donning the fancy dress, and taking a stroll around the streets to frequent the many bars. Then and only then will I truly know what my favourite day of the year is like in this crazy city!

!!!!!!Wishing you all a wonderful and happy Halloween!!!!!!

Copy Right Notice:
© Bex Houghagen and The Savvy Senorita, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bex Houghagen and The Savvy Senorita with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Happy ‘Fiesta Nacional de España’ Everyone!!!!


Happy National Day!!

Hispanic Day (Día de la Hispanidad) or National Day (Fiesta Nacional de España) is an annual national public holiday in Spain on October 12. It commemorates when Christopher Columbus first set foot in the Americas in 1492.

The oh so severe looking Mr Columbus.

What Happens?

The King of Spain supervises the raising of the Spanish national flag in the centre of Madrid. He and the Prime Minister will then lead a military procession. This parade includes representatives from most of Spain’s military units and various military vehicles. Armed forces’ planes perform aerobatics above the parade route and display yellow and red smoke to represent the Spanish flag. Radio, television and Internet news services broadcast live on these events.

Another day off then?

Absolutely! Did you know that Madrid has celebrated 16 Public Holidays this year?! So many I feel I may have lost count and missed a few in-between!

Hispanic Day IS a day off work!!!! I would say normally spent at home, quietly, with family members and close friends, but, knowing Madrid I’d say more like an opportunity for a PARTY!

However, this afternoon, it is oh so quiet……

Generally many businesses and stores, except Opercor (super market) are closed. Public transport services have a reduced schedule too.

If National Day happens to fall on a Sunday, regional or local authorities can move the public holiday to a different date. Example: If October 12 falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, then many businesses and organisations will be closed on Monday October 11, or Friday 13 October.

Some people may use the long weekend to take a short vacation in Spain or abroad during these days. Either way it is ANOTHER excuse for a, party! ‘When in Rome’, well, Madrid anyway, it would be rude therefore NOT to follow their lead!