Category Archives: Spanish

From Texas to Oxford via Oviedo

Katerina Levinson, who is currently studying for an M.St. in Spanish and English at The Queen’s College, shares an insight into the year she spent living in Spain.

The blank page of my journal stared up at me, as it sat on the plane’s tiny folding desk. I looked out my window, filled with butterflies and nervousness. I was leaving my hometown of Austin, Texas and moving to Oviedo, Asturias, a rainy, mountainous region in northern Spain.

At the Fulbright España welcome reception.

‘I am moving to a place where I know absolutely no one and where no one knows me. I have never been in front of a classroom before. Castellano is extremely different from the Venezuelan Spanish I learned to speak at home’, I began to write in my journal, as I thought of all of the obstacles that awaited me.

The cathedral in Oviedo

It was September 2017, and I had just graduated with my B.A. from Baylor University in Texas. I had received a U.S. student Fulbright grant to work as an English teaching assistant for 12-18 year-olds for one year. I had turned down a permanent teaching job offer in Texas, which would have allowed me to stay close to my family and live with my friends. Instead, I chose to move to a place where it would rain more in one week than it would in three months in my hometown; where it was impossible to find any of the Mexican cooking spices from home that I loved; and where I had to change the Venezuelan vocabulary I grew up with so that I could be understood.

‘Have I made the wrong decision?’ I went on to write.

When I arrived in Oviedo, I had found a place to live with a few girls who were around my age. The same night I moved in, they invited me to dinner with their friends. As I began to feel pangs of hunger, we finally left for dinner around 10:30 pm, the normal time when young people would eat in Spain. The group we met up with immediately adopted me as a friend, and I found that it was easier to make friends in Spain that it was at home because of how friendly the culture is. We finished dinner around 1 am, and we walked home through streets filled with people who were eating tapas and drinking cañas as if it was 1 pm.

My friend and I celebrating at an espicha. The restaurant is decorated with barrels because it pours cider for its guests directly from the barrel.

I came to love Spain because there was always an occasion for a fiesta and for socialising. My friends and I would often have long dinners at my house: even after the food was gone, we would continue sharing stories at the table for several hours (the after-dinner conversation is called the sobremesa). There were also many local Asturian holidays and frequent religious holidays that would call for celebration with wine, typical foods, and street parades. I would even walk into the teachers’ lounge at school to be regularly greeted by one of my colleagues pouring me a glass of wine before class because it was a local holiday.

While in Spain, I discovered how distinct each region’s culture is. Asturias is heavily influenced by the Celts, so its cuisine is filled with hearty stews and its cultural music features the bagpipes. The most typical alcoholic beverage of the region is Asturian sidra, cider made from locally grown apples. This drink is poured—escanciado—from as high as your arm can possibly reach. The season for tasting cider is celebrated at special festivals called espichas. Guests drink the cider poured directly from the barrel and stand at long tables filled with typical Asturian platters—cured meats, Asturian cheeses, Spanish omelettes, and more—socialising, while listening to Asturian folk music.

One of the English classes I taught.

When I was in the classroom, I found teaching to be a meaningful time of cultural exchange with my students. My students were very interested in the culture of English-speaking countries. I tried to introduce them to American popular culture by holding debates in English on controversial topics, introducing them to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ for Halloween, and giving them sorting hat quizzes from Harry Potter. I also started an English poetry club for my students outside of class. At our first poetry meeting, my students said they found poetry ‘boring’. But as we discussed how Maya Angelou or Wendell Berry related to Spanish culture and ate American baked goods cross-legged outside, I found that the numbers only multiplied with every meeting.

Nonetheless, our outdoor gatherings were not always frequent; I was not prepared how wet the Asturian climate would be. In fact, Asturias resembles typical gloomy English weather. But because of the frequent rain, it boasts beautiful green mountains and hills, giving it the nickname, El paraíso natural (the natural paradise). It is home to beautiful seaside villages on the Bay of Biscay, where green coastal walking paths undulate along its hilly coastline. When the sun is out, the glory of Asturian nature is iridescent.

After many late-night dinner outings, meaningful cultural conversations with my students, and adventures in the mountains and on the coast of Asturias, I realised I certainly had not made the wrong decision about moving to Spain. As I am now studying Spanish visual art and literature from the Golden Age at Oxford, my Spanish adventure had only just begun.

by Katerina Levinson

Image credits Katerina Levinson

Spanish flash fiction results 2021

We recently launched our annual Spanish Flash Fiction Competition, which closed in March. The competition was open to students in Years 7 to 13, who were tasked with writing a short story of no more than 100 words in Spanish. We had a brilliant response, with entries coming in from across the UK and beyond, and in total we had more than three hundred submissions.

The judges praised the high standard of the entries across both categories. We would like to thank everyone who entered the competition and commend you all for your hard work and creativity in writing a piece of fiction in a different language. This is a challenging exercise, and a significant achievement.

We are pleased to say we are now in a position to announce the winning entries.

In the Years 7-11 category, the winner is Sophie Hobbs in Year 10. The runners up were Adam Noad in Year 11 and Abisola Daodu in Year 9.

The judges also highly commended Joe Gutierrez Thielen, Jonathan Visan Gherghe and Isabella Ooms.

In the Years 12-13 category, the winner is Ada Janowicz in Year 12. The runners up were Sofia Hoad in Year 12 and Eden Farber in Year 12.

The judges also highly commended Hannah Newton and Mariam Siarli.

¡ Felicidades! You’ll be receiving your certificates in the post soon.

If anyone is curious to read the winning entries, we will be publishing them in the coming weeks. Congratulations to our winners, once again!

Studying Spanish and Portuguese: New Videos

Recently we welcomed potential applicants to our online open day for Spanish and Portuguese. If you were unable to attend but would like to know more about studying either of these languages at the University of Oxford, we are delighted to share a playlist of videos featuring tutors and students talking about our undergraduate courses. You can view the videos on our YouTube channel here.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Spanish Literature Podcast Episode 6: Two Short Stories by Cervantes

Episode 6 of the Oxford Spanish Literature Podcast, the second episode of the second series, is now available to listen to. This episode features Jonathan Thacker (King Alfonso XIII Professor of Spanish Studies) speaking about two short stories by Miguel de Cervantes, Novela del casamiento engañoso and El coloquio de los perros. Listen to other episodes in the podcast series here

Spanish Literature Podcast: Lorca’s Bodas de Sangre

Episode 5 of the Oxford Spanish Literature Podcast, the first episode of the second series, is now available to listen to. This episode features Laura Lonsdale (Associate Professor in Modern Spanish Literature) speaking about Bodas de sangre, by Federico García Lorca. As in previous episodes, the first part of the discussion covers the historical and literary context of the work, as well as some more detailed questions about the text itself. The second part of the episode focuses in on a close reading of an extract from Lorca’s play. Listen to other episodes in the podcast series here

Responding to Literature through the Arts II

Oxford first-year Spanish students have taken the opportunity to respond creatively through the visual arts and creative writing to some of the literary works they had studied earlier in the year, or works they plan to study next year. We saw one project last week. Here are samples from three more.

 Josh Aruliah (Spanish and Linguistics, Keble College)

“This drawing depicts my interpretation of Jorge Luis Borges’s ‘Library of Babel’, which is a hypothetical library that consists of an indefinite number of identical hexagonal galleries and contains every possible book that could be written (up to a certain length). I featured illusions, drawing inspiration from the work of Dutch artist M. C. Escher, to convey the impossible and bewildering nature of the library; the staircase and the railings are inconsistent and demonstrate the lack of a fixed direction of gravity. It is not a literal depiction of the library as I aimed instead to portray the perplexing experience of trying to visualise Borges’s fascinating creation. The short story reveals that almost all of the books contain complete gibberish and, therefore, the librarians seem to be condemned to an eternal and vain search for meaning. There is little distinction between the books and galleries in the drawing, with the upper gallery perhaps giving the impression of a reflection, which demonstrates this idea of endless futility.”

Darcie Dorkins (History and Spanish, Exeter College)

“I chose to paint Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, one of the most important figures of Spanish colonial literature, whose works were widely acclaimed during her lifetime and continue to be celebrated today. I was inspired to visually explore the conflicting notions of restriction and freedom in Sor Juana’s life which stemmed from her overlapping roles as a nun, woman, and outstanding writer, with a particular focus on one of her most widely read poems, ‘Hombres necios’. Thought to have been written in around 1680, I felt that the poem was a valuable representation of the precarious space she occupied between contemporary religious, intellectual and literary spheres in both her native Mexico and in Spain, where her works were also popular. To this end, I aimed to incorporate various symbolic elements within the piece: Sor Juana herself, as the subject of many striking portraits; the visual prominence of religion, a defining feature of her life with considerable implications for her literary career; and a book, to represent her extensive learning. I also included a mirror, as in ‘Hombres necios’ Sor Juana symbolically confronts men with the realities of their irrational and impossible standards for women, along with birds and an open cage to reflect the issues of restriction and liberation in her life.”

Darcie also translated the closing lines of Sor Juana’s Primero sueño (First Dream), a notoriously complex and linguistically rich poem:

Llegó, en efecto, el sol cerrando el giro                                    

que esculpió de oro sobre azul zafiro.

De mil multiplicados                                                            

mil veces puntos, flujos mil dorados,

líneas, digo, de luz clara, salían

de su circunferencia luminosa,

pautando al cielo la cerúlea plana;

y a la que antes funesta fue tirana                                       

de su imperio, atropadas embestían:

que sin concierto huyendo presurosa,

en sus mismos horrores tropezando

su sombra iba pisando,

y llegar al ocaso pretendía                                                  

con el sin orden ya, desbaratado

ejército de sombras, acosado

de la luz que el alcance le seguía.

Consiguió, al fin, la vista del ocaso

el fugitivo paso,                                                                   

y en su mismo despeño recobrada,

esforzando el aliento en la ruïna,

en la mitad del globo que ha dejado

el sol desamparada,

segunda vez rebelde, determina                                         

mirarse coronada,

mientras nuestro hemisferio la dorada

ilustraba del sol madeja hermosa,

que con luz judiciosa

de orden distributivo, repartiendo                                        

a las cosas visibles sus colores

iba, y restituyendo

entera a los sentidos exteriores

su operación, quedando a luz más cierta

el mundo iluminado, y yo despierta.                                 

And sure enough, the Sun arrived, sealing the orbit

it etched in gold upon the sapphire blue sky.

Born of a thousand

times thousand points, a thousand golden streams,

and lines, I say, of pure light, which radiated

from its luminous circumference,

marking the sky-blue page;

and, converging, they charged towards

that former sepulchral tyrant of their empire,

who, stumbling over her own horrors,

treading on her own shadow,

erratically with haste, trying to reach the West

with her now confused, disorderly

army of shadows, pursued

by the light following closely behind.

At last, that fugitive retreat

gained sight of the West,

and, recovering from her downfall,

steeling her crushed spirit,

rebellious for a second time,

she resolves to see herself crowned

in that half of the globe that

the Sun has left unprotected;

meanwhile, the golden tresses of the Sun

beautified our hemisphere,

and with judicious light

and ordered generosity reimbursed

all visible things with their colours,

and restored the external senses their full

operation, leaving the world illuminated

by a more certain light, and I awake.

Responding to Literature Through the Arts

With the cancellation of first-year exams in Oxford earlier this summer, several students took the opportunity to respond creatively through the visual arts and creative writing to some of the literary works they had studied earlier in the year, or works they plan to study next year. Their projects included a Lorca play turned into a short story, a García Márquez short story turned into a play, and an election campaign poster for Coronel Aureliano Buendía.

Here, and in next week’s post, are samples from four projects, all under the direction of Dr Imogen Choi:

 Imogen Lewis (French and Spanish, Exeter College)

“For my final creative piece of the first year I decided to focus on Golden Age poetry (specifically sonnets), and its presentation of the much-idealised Petrarchan Woman. I studied the works of three of the best-known Spanish poets: Góngora, Quevedo, and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. While the ‘conceptismo’ aspect of these poems is easily captured in a painting (i.e. one can easily picture and reproduce a woman’s ‘pearly white teeth’ or ‘alabaster’ neck), it is the notorious ‘culteranismo’ aspect (the essence of marked opposition and play-on-words) that is much harder to depict.  While Góngora captures the quintessential “cabellos de oro” of the Petrarchan woman, Quevedo ponders the “figura de la hermosura pasada”, and Sor Juana even begins to question identity and the representation of idealised beauty through the figures of painting and “retratos”. On the left two thirds of the piece stands the idealised, beguiling Petrarchan woman, but as the eye naturally moves from left to right we see what is really hidden behind the appearance of these poems – latent decay and and cynicism about age and beauty.”

Costanza Levy (Exeter College)

Eyes of a Blue Dog is a short play in English. It is an adaptation of Gabriel García Márquez’s short story, Ojos de perro azul, which narrates the relationship between a man and a woman who only meet in their dreams. The ambiguous narrative explores death, desire and the passing of time through the lens of a dreamworld. This theatrical adaptation uses dialogue, a stark set design, blue lighting and the music Charvela Vargas to evoke the central themes of Márquez’s modernist work.

Eyes of a Blue Dog

‘La llorona’ by Charvela Vargas fades in.

A deep blue light fills the stage.

‘He’ is standing to the left of the bed. ‘She’ is sitting on the edge of the bed. She looks at him, perplexed.  He stares back at her for some time.

‘La Llorona’ fades out at 1 minute 24 seconds. 

1

He They’re so bright.

She What?

He  Your eyes. They’re so bright. And blue. Grey-blue. Ash-blue.

She I’ve been told that before.

He  Like a blue dog. The eyes of a blue dog.

The light flickers, then it is dark, except for the candle. ‘He’ lights a cigarette. A harsh white light shines on ‘She’. She is still. There is the sound of fire burning.

[…]

He You’re like a statue. Like some copper statue I’d find in a museum.

He walks around her.

But I recognise you. I’ve seen you before. Who are you?

[…]

She I wish I could remember where I’ve gone looking for you.

He Me too. In some part of the world, ‘eyes of a blue dog’ is scrawled over all the walls, over all the floors, posted through all the letterboxes.

Every night, I tell myself, tomorrow. Tomorrow you’ll remember this, and you’ll know how to find her. Then every morning, I wake up, and it’s all gone.

‘He’ lights a cigarette.

I wish there was something. Something that gave us some sort of idea.

The light flickers. 

A white light shines on ‘She’. She shivers. The shiver becomes a shudder.  There is the sound of fire burning. She crumples to the floor.

It is dark, except for the candle and the cigarette.

Student Snapshot

Over the last few weeks, we have shared with you some of the material we would normally tell you about at an open day. Dr Simon Kemp, Tutor in French and Co-Director of Outreach, gave us a video overview of what it’s like to study modern languages at Oxford… but do the current students agree?

We asked three current undergraduates to tell us a little bit about their experience of studying languages with us: Dalveen is in her first year studing Spanish and Linguistics; Alex is in his second year studying French and History; Charlotte also studies French and History and is in her final year. Here they give us a glimpse of what Oxford has been like through their eyes.

Spanish Flash Fiction: Commended Stories

Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay

Today we bring you the final collection of stories from this year’s Spanish Flash Fiction competition, having seen the winners, runners up, and highly commended entries in the last couple of months. Here we have some of the commended stories. A huge well done to everyone who took part in the competition and particularly to those who were commended by the judges.

Reminiscencia de mi abuelo

Una sonrisa infantil brillaba en su cara, tan inocente, a pesar de la frente arrugada y la piel envejecida. Sus ojos llenos de mil tonos de azul admiraban el paisaje perfectamente imperfecto. En su expresión, había una pura alegría de vivir – estaba sentado en un banco precario, acurrucado, los rayos del sol cayendo sobre su frágil piel manchada de pecas. Contaba historias, como si fuera un niño liberado de las cargas de la vida.
Años después, me siento en el mismo banco; sin embargo, todavía siento su presencia, a pesar de que él no está aquí.

(Flora Moayed, Year 10)

Una Noche En Madrid

Madrid. Las calles estaban llenas de color. Deliciosos olores vagaban por el aire. El ajetreo u bullicio ruidoso de las noches hizo que las calles cobraran vida. Fuera de un restaurante, se sentó una niña sabor de sus churros riquísimos. El azúcar cubrió sus labios que lamió con deleite. Las farolas eran estrellas que guiaban el camino. Sonriendo y charlando, la gente pasaba caminando; ocasionalmente alguien se detenía para entrar a un restaurante.
La noche era joven.

(Martha Pearce, Year 11)

El buzón

La chica siempre devoraba esas cartas, que llegaban – ¡inesperadas! – en
su buzón rojo, oxidado.

Sus dedos temblaban cuando abría los sobres sepias y acariciaba cada palabra
…hasta que las letras florecían. Una avalancha floral. El sonrojo dulce y el amarillo tierno.
Cada sílaba podía oír el ritmo de su intención y recordaba cada pieza del rompecabezas
olvidado, desde hace años.

Pero la chica no podía transcribir la voz de su mente en palabras de tinta

entonces el remitente pereció,
sucumbió.
decían:

una falta de humanidad.

(Martha Wells. Year 12)

SPANISH LITERATURE PODCAST

Now available online is a series of podcast episodes featuring members of the Spanish sub-Faculty talking about some of the works that we teach at Oxford, produced and presented by one of our own Modern Languages graduates, Christy Callaway-Gale.

The series is aimed at people thinking about applying for Modern Languages at university, their teachers, and also the wider public. We hope to share our fascination with literature in Spanish, to explain why we love teaching it, and why we think you might love it too.

Each episode features a different member of the Spanish sub-Faculty talking about a work of literature from their area of expertise. The format is quite informal, more a relaxed interview than a lecture. As studying Spanish at Oxford involves looking at literary texts in a lot of detail, each podcast episode also includes a segment where tutors perform a close reading of the text (or extract of the text) they’ve been speaking about. We hope this will de-mystify the literature we teach on the course and, if you’re interested in applying for Modern Languages at university, that it will give you a sense of what it might be like to study Spanish at Oxford.

In the first four episodes, we travel from the medieval period to the twentieth-century. Geraldine Hazbun talks about the beautiful and moving poem, Coplas por la muerte de su padre by Jorge Manrique. Oliver Noble Wood introduces listeners to a classic of early-modern picaresque fiction, Lazarillo de Tormes. Moving to Latin America, María del Pilar Blanco gives an insight into the writing of the Mexican Revolution, with Nellie Campobello’s Cartucho. Finally, Dominic Moran talks about Julio Cortázar’s expertly crafted, highly deceptive short story “Continuidad de los parques.” 

Future episodes, we hope, will feature Spanish-Peninsular literature, as well as more texts from the medieval and early modern (Golden Age) periods.

And you can listen to the trailer here…

Ben Bollig.

Professor of Spanish American Literature,

University of Oxford