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Pass The Cambridge Proficiency In English Exam: Check

6 Jan

(Number 5 on the list)
In 2015 I gave myself a useful present: a 40-hour course to prepare myself for the Proficiency in English Exam.

 
I did this for three reasons:
• I love English.
• I´m an English teacher, but not a native speaker. So that certificate will be a great help when I start looking for a job again.
• I´m often asked to prepare people for language exams, so I thought it would be a useful experience doing an exam myself.

So that´s how I got to spend eight Saturdays in a row bent over linguistic exercises. My fellow students were a bunch of bright and brilliant twenty-somethings and one sweet-tempered middle-aged woman. Most of us were strangers to each other, but again that Spanish magic happened, the way I´ve seen it happen so many times before. You put some Spaniards together and within a few hours they will have managed, with the skillful use of casual conversation, to tie a group together that is ready to collectively celebrate Christmas, New Year´s and each other´s birthdays. Whenever I get to be part of that experience, I always feel blessed for living here.

 
Our teacher was a loveable Scottish girl, who repeatedly expressed how sorry she felt for having us all locked up inside on a Saturday evening. But those were needles worries, because it always seemed to fly by.

 
The exam took place at the end of November, in a fancy hotel. It took just about the whole day, hours and hours of intense concentration. I was tired but in full Border Collie mode, so I managed all right.

Today is Three Kings´ Day, which is a big thing in Spain. The Three Wise Men bring presents to all those supposedly well-behaved children, the way Santa Claus/Father Christmas does in the English-speaking world, and Sinterklaas in Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands. But apparently those magic kings also have some leverage with the people at Cambridge, because we´ve just found out that our results are already online.

And I passed!

Thank you, Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar!

The Blanket Skirt: What Friends Are For

24 Nov

I had a piece of blue tartan fabric lying around and sewed it into a skirt –plain and rough, more for practise (see item 12 on the list) than fashion. But I wear it anyway.

Now there´s a woman I know, really pretty with long black hair, always dressed smartly. When she saw my skirt, she started laughing.

“Is that a blanket you´re wearing?” she grinned.

I explained her that it wasn´t, that I had sewn it myself. Showed her how amateurishly the zipper had been installed.

“Oh,” she said.

That evening I looked at the skirt again and realised that, yes, the fabric was indeed intended for blankets. Whatever, I thought. And the next day I wore it again to take my daughter to school.

When I met up with my friends at the school gate, Ramón pointed at the skirt with a smirk on his face and said: “What are you doing wearing a blanket?”

I just smiled and shrugged my shoulders.

Then suddenly the black-haired woman, who is part of our little group, turned to Ramón and told him off in a stern voice.

“Hey!” she said. “She sewed that skirt herself, you know!”

She was all serious, not a trace of irony.

I hadn´t felt in the least offended by that blanket-remark, but still I thought that was really sweet of her.

 

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Sing At a Wedding: Check

15 Sep

(Number 4 on the list)

Take everything you know about weddings and store it in a far corner of your mind for the duration of this post.

Now think bellydancers and paper airplanes. Think festivalbracelets and foodtrucks. Think blonde female priest. That´s the kind of wedding I was invited to by Tim and Tina. And they had asked me to sing. What an honour!

It all started off a lot less glamourous than I had imagined. Excruciating pain in my left eye the day before, frenzied search for an eye-doctor. Damaged cornea, he said, and an infection on top of that. I was in a bigger panic than the day before my own wedding. Luckily the eye-drops I got worked wonders, but I couldn´t wear my contacts, nor any make-up. So I had to resign myself to singing to strangers while wearing my glasses. Uh-oh. I know how silly that may sound to you, but I have a dioptry of -13, which means my eyes look very, very small behind my glasses, which gives me that hyper-intelligent, but far from sexy, nerd-look. But apparently it´s a lot easier to get over something when there´s absolutely nothing you can do about it.

The wedding took place in a beautifully restored Flemish barn, where a stage had been mounted and decorated with colourful Indian lanterns. Tina, who is a gifted belly,- and Bollywooddancer although Belgian by birth, wore an amazing cream-coloured Indian wedding dress. She had bought it in Mumbai, just after Tim had proposed to her in front of the Taj Mahal (which is a super cliché thing to do, and therefore a very original thing for Tim to do, who usually keeps himself very far from clichés).

The ceremony was lead by our friend Leen, a teacher, singer and actress. She did a marvelous job, with lots of love and humour. There were many moving speeches, Tim´s brother and his wife gave a wonderful performance of “Head Over Feet” from Alanis Morrisette, and then I got to sing an a capella version of “Don´t cry for me, Argentina”. I had adapted the lyrics -the chorus going something like this, to give you and idea:

I love you so much, Tim, said Tina/ and I promise I´ll never leave you / all through my wild days / my mad existence / I´ll keep my promise / don´t keep your distance – etc.

I´d been very insecure about the lyrics – unlike the chorus, the verses had nothing to do with the original text anymore and were very personal. It´s quite a risk, taking something you´ve made up all by yourself and throwing it out into the world. It makes you very vulnerable. So I was super-nervous, hands trembling like crazy. But everybody was listening attentively, like they didn´t want to miss a word, and I got so much positive feedback afterwards that my fear of coming across as the Ultimate Nerd slowly evaporated.

Instead of wedding rings, Tim and Tina exchanged festival bracelets -how cool is that? Imagine a bride with a pair of pliers in her hands! Then Leen and I sang “A Whole New World” from the Aladdin movie. By that time I wasn´t trembling anymore, and it was beautiful. It´s so nice to sing a duet. It´s one of my favourite things in the world.

And then came the most spectacular surprise: a live show of belly-dance and Bollywood performances! Fourteen dancers taking turns swirling and swaying around, tying bells at their feet, throwing scarves in the air, through the movement of their bodies invoking all the emotions on the spectrum of love. And of course Tina was there, dancing as we had never seen her dance before, with that irresistable joy and conviction that brides radiate on their wedding day. We just stood there, gazing at her with our mouths open wide.

Unforgettable.