As if we hadn’t had enough time off from normal classes already after Semana Santa, last week the Casa de las Lenguas halted the typical schedule and gave us a week-long session of cultural workshops. These talleres, each taught by familiar professors and faculty members, took us out of the traditional classroom setting and into new and more challenging environments (especially if you took the dance class).
With none of my workshops starting before 3:00 in the afternoon, I wasn’t about to complain. I figured an easy week with a few fun, kindergarten-level activities were in store, but by noon on Tuesday morning I found myself busier than I had been any week since my arrival.
My workshops of choice were periodismo digital (digital journalism) and fotografía (photography). For the latter, the belovedly frank professor Concha tallied votes for a theme then told us to go take some photos and come back on Thursday. For something that seemed to mean so very little to the professor, you’d think I might have put in the corresponding amount of effort, but I and many other students wanted the photos to actually be good. Unfortunately, with just under a week to do so, I doubt most were satisfied with their results, but the practice of scouring Oviedo with a photographer’s eye was a nice refresher after four months of noticing the same.
One of my photos, which will never win any prize I can think of, at the very least reminded me of something important. Searching the city for desperfectos (imperfections), the week’s theme, I found a crippled man by Calle Uría. He was wandering in slow, small circles by a statue, with nothing but a plastic Alimerka bag and his supports. He may have been begging, but I am forced to assume that something about his actions were illegal, because the police were not long in arriving. Taking two cars might have been excessive.
Oviedo is known as the cleanest city in Spain, and it’s obvious that the city tries very hard to keep that title. We get a little spoiled here knowing that an army of street cleaners will come by every night to clean up after us, but looking nice and polished requires more than just picking up leftover trash. There’s a darker side to maintaining good face value, and that involves cleaning up people as well. As much as we love living in the “fairy-tale” city of Oviedo, every once in awhile it’s important to be reminded that it too is a real city, with real problems.
My brief investigation into the world of the disenfranchised of Oviedo didn’t stop with a simple photograph. My story of choice for my journalism workshop was to speak with the owners of one of Oviedo’s few (read: I think maybe two) thrift shops, which is actually only a small extension of an organization called AIRA which works to help immigrants in Oviedo stay on their feet.
The immigration debate in Spain is practically identical to the conversation we’re having in the United States, but the tension is felt all over the country as immigrants are much more dispersed. All over this wonderful city of Oviedo are people walking on eggshells hoping to not only make enough money in an already unforgiving economy, but to hope that the police don’t look at them too closely either.
So I think the talleres actually worked. Their goal, to get us to think about and understand Spanish language and culture from another perspective, certainly found completion in me. Our education here is more about being outside the classroom than in, and sometimes all it takes for a good lesson is to walk around Oviedo with a camera and a notepad.