LOG 1: July 3, 2010
I’m still mystified that I was able to arrive safely in Barcelona without losing my luggage or missing a connection. That alone is a vote for confidence in this semi-insecure person who feels as if she is masquerading as an academic.
The trip over was filled with pages of Csikscentmihalyi’s book on Creativity, which seemed to set the tone for the venture. Given that I used many of his words to substantiate the paper that I wrote for this conference, it seemed appropriate that it was the first book that I picked up on this trip. Somewhat of a disappointment, the book had a few poignant moments that helped me remember who I am and why I do what I do. The craziness of creativity is so embedded in my personality…I just need a bit of affirmation now and then to remind me that I’m not alone.
A great gift happened after almost missing my flight to Barcelona. Because the flight from Amsterdam was two hours late, I squeaked in just in time to make my connection to Barcelona. A young European woman was seated next to me and I didn’t dare say a word until I was confident that she spoke English. Her interactions with the flight attendant gave way to some stimulating conversation about bravery, courage, and expressing creativity. Tule is a young Finnish woman whose father works with the cell phone company, Nokia. She was lucky enough to spend her senior year in high school in southern California and credits her perfect English to the romance that she cultivated while in the states. I learned plenty about her family and the reserved-ness of Finns, in general. The upside is that they are extremely hospitable and will gladly take care of their own. (She’s staying with some young Finns in Barcelona until she can find a place of her own. She isn’t worried at all and says that she can always trust a fellow Finn.) I told her that Northern Minnesotans invented St. Urho’s Day because the Finnish immigrants were jealous of all the fun the Irish had on St. Parick’s Day. I told her that it was either a day before or after March 17th and the color for St. Urho was purple. We had a good laugh because she was wearing purple.
Tule was interested in my project and wanted to hear about my students. After showing her Aidan’s piece, she told me that her name meant “wind” in Finnish. A nice touch. We figured out the aerobus together and saw each other to Place Espanya. I was so tired after 20 hours of travel and thought this encounter to be somewhat strange and wonderful…and I can’t help but think that she was an angel.
The Gaestehaus Gran Via was impossible to find. Even with the address (429 Catalonia), I finally questioned the folks at the Deutches restaurant on the same block as to its whereabouts. I’m guessing that this wasn’t the first time anyone asked, because the proprietor readily showed me the entrance and gave me what seemed like “insider” instructions. Unmarked, simple, OLD, quaint, no air-conditioning….I love it now that I’ve found it.
Catalonians are a vibrant people. I sat outside at the restaurant across the street and gawked at people. Older women than me have no problem with strapless dresses and spike heels. These old crones are out in droves…not always with their husbands…but in groups ready to take on the town. Maybe it’s because the WORLD CUP win has erupted in the city. Horns are honking, people are cheering, and I’m sure a bus or two is being turned over. I learned that Germany took Argentina 4-0 on the plane today, so will be interested in seeing the headlines tomorrow morning.
LOG 2: July 4, 2010
Strange to think that my family is sitting at the lake today and I’m not there. I can’t remember the last time that I wasn’t home for the 4th of July. It almost seems like a sacrilege that the Hauperts aren’t there. I’m thinking that our absence will make Orrin’s absence a little less obvious.
What better way to start a Sunday morning than an exhibit of 11th-13th century Catalayun frescoes from Monasteries dotted throughout Catalonia? After seeing the exhibit, I certainly couldn’t think of anything better. Westerners from the same era could have taken some lessons from their Spanish neighbors. Instead of adult and dour figurines, the Spanish frescoes were vivid and expressive. Each sala was designed architecturally to present each fresco the way we might have in its home church. The exhibit was so well done…mini-model churches with an accompanying map made the exhibit feel more expansive. I adored the reverent Madonnas, majestic Jesus’s, and deep, rich colors that were used for each image. A real treat.
For the next two hours I strolled and wandered, wandered and strolled—peeping into the Caixforum and Poble Espanya before catching a cab up to the Sagrada Familia. What a let down that was. Mobs of tourists were paying 12 E to get a glimpse at this ugly monstrosity that Barcelona claims is one of Antoni Guadi’s best works. To see it in person is something like a prize-winning sand sculptor, but not quite as interesting. It would be better if it was a best kept secret than one of the Barcelona hot spots. The crowds and vendors really killed it for me.
One goal for today was to figure out the Metro before taking it tomorrow morning to the conference. Some know-it-all guy at the airport was telling Tule (remember her?) and I that his daughter-in-law takes it, but doesn’t like to. He told us to guard our belongings and always watch our backs. Given that I’m doing that anyway (maybe too much), I was confused when I saw lovely art work, mothers with babies, and generally, lots of nice folks. It was clean and easy to manage, so the trip to Desscanes (beach area) was a snap.
Most of the rest of today was spent walking, walking, walking. I strolled the Barcenoleta beach area, walked up La Rambla, went to church at the Cathedral (where I met a friendly Canadian family), ate some dinner at a whacky, highly-charged restaurant at the end of La Rambla, and bought some cool gifts for the kids from street vendors. I forgot to mention my detour to the Dahli museum after mass at the Cathedral. It was thundering and sprinkling as the Canadian family and I exchanged our short stories, so we made quick goodbyes and dashed for cover. My cover was the Dahli museum which held a number of his pencil drawings and sculptures. Weird stuff. I always found his paintings of the Last Supper and Crucifixion to be profound, so it was hard to make the connection between the personality portrayed in the museum and those paintings. Photographs show a wild and crazy guy with a waxed moustache…a cross between Groucho Marx and Vincent Price…producing a bizarre mix of fantastical images that span religious to demonic motifs. Yes, weird.
LOG 3: July 5, 2010
Not knowing which stop was the Princessa Sofia Hotel, I decided to take the METRO all the way to the end of the line. The map wasn’t much help with the location of the hotel, but I knew that I was going to be in the general vicinity. Luckily, there was a cab sitting at the corner after I got off the METRO, so I paid 5 E to get to the hotel. I now know where I’m going.
I was so impressed with everything that I experienced today. The facilities are gorgeous and the conference is extremely well-run. We received a computer bag full of amenities and people seemed genuinely interested in sticking around and learning from one another. During the morning coffee break, I met two women from Saint Mary’s University who are presenting their work during tomorrow afternoon’s oral presentations. It was strange that they were standing in line right behind me, waiting for their coffee, just minutes after I made a little prayer asking for the courage to make some good connections.
I’m amazed at how teachers have embraced active learning principles and assessment as the new wave of teaching. Just this morning, I listened to presentations by Irish, South African, Turkish, Pakistani, Malaysian, and American teachers who were all moving away from the traditional, lecture-based style of teaching toward classroom experiences that incorporated work with “real world” media—whatever form that might take. Teachers from fields like Chemistry to Wood-working to Mathematics to English Literature were all coming to the same conclusion in their educational research—students retain more, learn better, and report higher satisfaction when they are actively engaged in the learning process. Countries that I presumed were “backward” in education were coming up with some impressive results. What was even more impressive was that they wrote and delivered their papers NOT IN THEIR NATIVE LANGUAGES, but in English. Needless to say, I’m humbled by their accomplishments.
Beyond brilliance and being multi-lingual, the people I have met are extremely warm and friendly. I was struggling to put my poster up, but the laminate was so stiff that it kept curling and wouldn’t stay in place. Suddenly, this burst of energy appeared saying, “I help you.” The poster refused to stay up, but she was so determined to get it in place, I assumed that she was part of the conference. It didn’t take long to figure out that Lola (University of Malaga, SPAIN) had a poster at the same session and just couldn’t help but be helpful. She just bubbled all over--handing people extra copies of her paper and then beaming with enthusiasm over other people’s work.
The session was scheduled for four hours, and for the three hours that I was on my feet, I was never bored. The same dedication to engaging students was evident in the poster session as well. I especially enjoyed meeting Graziana Ramsden from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Glinda Irozoque from the National University in Mexico. Graziana grew up in Barcelona, speaks four languages, and is thoroughly brilliant. She chose MCLA because she professes to be almost fanatical about her passion for teaching and wanted a school where class sizes were small enough that she could get to know her students on a more personal basis. She likes to think that her dedication might make a difference in the lives of her students. Glinda was a pleasure, as well. Her chemistry “lectures” are HUGE (at least 75 in a class), but she’s still committed making teaching more extraordinary than ordinary. She says that it takes forever to correct her self-designed projects, but that the pay-off in their learning makes it all worthwhile.
I’m so glad that I was too nervous to submit a proposal for an oral presentation. Not that it would have been accepted anyway, but the exposure is slim (15 minutes) compared to the lengthy, not to mention personal, encounters I had this afternoon. So many different people were curious about my poster (probably because I’m the ONLY MUSICIAN in this cast of 500) and wanted to learn about the software programs that I use for the composition projects. All were interested in the work of my students and enjoyed talking about interesting projects that moved students toward excellence. I want to name a few stand outs because I don’t want to forget their sincerity: Rui Neto from Portugal struggles with motivating his students, Graciela Ruiz-Aguilar from Mexico was accompanied by her parents, and Christina Xinyan Xie from China was accompanied by an Italian friend who slipped away before I could get his name. Graciela, in particular, is a biologist and her father a retired musician, so he was particularly interested in FINALE. I let him try the program and we talked about how the software might help younger students get interested in theory. I also can’t forget Miguel and Irene (who grew up in St. Louis and teaches medical ethics in Mexico). All in all, there were lots of laughs and discussions about teaching and I’m glad to have accomplished the one goal I set out to achieve—to learn a little about what teachers from around the world are doing in their classrooms.
LOG 4: July 6, 2010
I didn’t get to sleep last night until almost 4:00am and it looks like the same pattern will repeat itself this evening. Maybe I’m just too old and inflexible to adapt to the time change? I did allow myself to sleep in until 10:30am and didn’t arrive at the conference until noon. I caught the session on EDUCATIONAL TRENDS AND BEST PRACTICE CONTRIBUTIONS which included teachers from Malaysia, the UK, Italy, Slovakia, Portugal, and Turkey. The presentations weren’t easy to understand or follow, but I still think it’s courageous for non-native speakers to present in English. The Turkish presenter apologized to the audience for his poor English. Not necessary, but very sweet.
I met Graziana for lunch and we were joined by Glinda and Irene. Glinda and I had a lengthy conversation about her work in Barcelona and her upcoming fellowship to study in Karlsruhe, Germany. She was also apologizing for her English, but I reminded her that I was the one forcing her to work so hard. Between Graziana’s story about buying Barcelona Barbie’s for her twin daughters, Irene’s life experiences which led her to medical ethics in Mexico, and Glinda’s description of her daughters and their life work, I completely lost time and was late to Jane and Eileen’s presentation on the use of Tegrity in the classroom. The Tegrity program sounds like an interesting option for online classes—a sort of file share option that makes lectures available to students. They claim great success maintaining attrition through it’s use in non-traditional education courses, in particular. Irene’s presentation was an outline of her online medical ethics course which she designed and implemented from scratch. Her straightforward and friendly manner made for a pleasant and informative session.
The remainder of my conference experience was spent in the poster room chatting with Glinda, Miguel, Graziela and her father. (I’ve decided that the Mexicans are the friendliest people here.) Graziela’s father is a musician and really wanted an opportunity to talk about his own field. He doesn’t speak any English, so Graziela was forced to translate. She then shared her passion for soil conservation and told me that part of her work is dedicated to ridding farmland of harmless pesticides by introducing a fungus that “eats” harmful chemicals, thereby healing the land. She said that the greatest challenge for her was convincing farmers who couldn’t afford to let the land rest for a year.
She hits road blocks because there isn’t incentive money from the government and many of the farmers won’t take her seriously because she’s a woman. The conversation didn’t stop there. She’s extremely annoyed and anxious over the oil spill in the Gulf and is worried about the extent of long-range damage it will cause. According to her, the bio-remedies that scientists are proposing can only effect a small percentage of improvement. I could go on and on…what a fascinating and lovely person.
My evening was a nice mix of alone and social time. I planned to meet Graziana at Jaume I METRO @ 7:30pm, so decided to walk the distance and take in more of the city’s sights. The route took me past the Placa Catalunya fountains and down the Portal de l’Angel where there are a dozen craft vendors selling earrings, soaps, and other works of art (which I just couldn’t resist). I met Graziana and we strolled through the Ribera neighborhood where she used to live. She waited for me outside the Santa Maria del Mar church—telling me to take as much time as I needed in this pristine 12th century Gothic wonder that was built by the Catalonian people. Stunning. Our meal was at her favorite tapas restaurant—SAGARDI on Argenteria, just a few short steps from the Santa Maria del Mar. She explained that tapas became a fad when one of their kings (I forget who) asked for a piece of bread to cover the top of his drink…then asked for more and more to put on top of the bread. It sounds rather silly, but his requests turned into a Catalonian specialty. In the short time I spent with Graziana, I learned about her experience as a volunteer for the 1992 Olympics, that there are ancient Roman ruins which halted the restoration of the Mercat del Born, and then caught a glimpse of the ornately decorated Palau de Musica before jumping on the METRO (which is great, by the way). She is quite an impressive woman and I was honored that she was willing to take the time to show me around.
Tomorrow is Montserrat.