Sunday, February 28, 2016

Love Letters: Do We Save them? Where? Why?

"You are always new. The last of your kisses was ever the sweetest; the last smile the brightest; the last movement the gracefullest. When you pass'd my window home yesterday, I was fill'd with as much admiration as if I had then seen you for the first time...Even if you did not love me I could not help an entire devotion to you."

This is an excerpt from John Keats's love letter to Fanny Brawne, found in the book Bright Star: Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne. Although they knew each other for just a few short years and spent a great deal of that time apart due to Keats's worsening illness, which forced him to live abroad, Keats wrote again and again about Fanny - his very last poem is called simply "To Fanny" - and wrote love letters to her constantly. She, in turn, would wear the ring he had given her until her death.

Don't  you agree that there is a certain allure in love letters? The thoughtfulness, the time devoted choosing the appropriate words, the handwriting, the unsteady hand when writing a moving segment, ... I don't think a WhatsApp message has quite the same effect on the receiver.

 I strongly encourage you to listen to this podcast by Michelle Janning, a sociologist at Whitman College. Her talk, "Why Love Letters Matter, Even in the Digital Age", analyses how stuff matters in our social life, and how the things we save (and where we save them) says a lot about us. I have tried to summarize some of the aspects she discusses right below.

"Letters matter because they represent memory at both the individual and collective levels (...) Letters matter because they are the texts of our identities". They are useful for self-definition, who we are or who we don't want to be any more. But it is not only about them, when aggregated, they can give information about a collective memory.

M. Janning carried out an online survey of about 400 individuals in the USA, analyzing the use of paper letters (both in digital and paper formats), paper cards, emails, notes, Facebook messages, cell phones, landline use, Skype and Snapchat in romantic relationships. She wanted to map out the different meanings people attach to digital, audiovisual and paper communication, and how age and gender influence saving practices.

What different meanings do people attach to love letters? Her findings indicated that most people still save love letters (over 75%) even if they agree they are fading away.  The most commonly noted assets of paper letter-writing were tangibility, sacredness, rareness and a tendency to promote intimate communication. 

ICTs create a presence in absence for partners in long-distance relationships, and "meaning" to them is based on the ability to reach their partner quickly. However, the fans of paper letters rely on the romanticized image of life before ICTs when lovers are perceived to have spent more time on the singular task of communicating with one person at a time. The other side is really about their asynchronous nature, which allows them to be less inhibited and more strategic in self-presentation. Both writer and receiver exercise patience, and it always requires delay and inefficiency. 

As regards the saving practices, Janning points out that  "Possessions are extended selves that serve as memory markers." Saved objects help people remember relationships and stir emotions about a past relationship. Our digital versions of objects, because of their intangibility, are less a part of our selves, and they have different rituals of possession and disposition. 

Age does not affect whether people save mementos. It is more common to save objects from romantic relationships than not to save them. Younger respondents are more likely to save digital letters than older respondents, but saving love letters is a timeless behavior that spans generations.

Gender affects whether people save relationship mementos. Women save more love letters, but when it comes to frequency, men revisit their saved love letters more than women. 

Janning states that there are people who still write paper letters because to do so connotes a love and devotion that seems to be lost and she says that we need to be more thoughtful now, because it is not only the content that requires scrutiny by the writer, but also the format.

Her final advice:  First, learn how to address an envelope; second, remember that individuals and relationships should think about what is most meaningful for them and their partner in their communication, that is, couples should intentionally discuss communication preferences.

I invite you to visit her blog, where she also looks into some other aspects, such as the location where people store love letters. Don't miss the "About" section and her explanation about the "between-ness" of life which I share, by the way.

Letters in Music: "Please, Read the Letter"

My two-year stay in Lawrence, Kansas (USA) was a life-changing experience for me in many different aspects. A learning experience because you find yourself in a new country, a different community, without being in the comfort zone of your family, friends and neighbors. And you can't imagine what that implied for a girl from a hamlet in Santa Comba!

It had been a dream of mine to go the USA and I must say it did not disappoint. I found myself at ease, and in some respects, in a country more suitable to my personality, attitude and beliefs. I like the way they do things, some of their social codes and traditions, the way in which people interact with one another and their culture, for example their music.

In this regard, I love listening to different music genres and learn about world music. My Erasmus experience had already allowed me to find out about Greek, Italian, Chinese or Taiwanese music thanks to the people I met in halls of residence and at the uni. Kansas, however, was like a Master's degree in country music! I am really thankful to my good friend Summer Oakson, who took me by the hand to learn about the different types of country music and showed me there was country beyond Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks or Kenny Rogers, which were the singers I was familiar with thanks to the CDs I had bought in England or in Discos Gong in Santiago (I can't tell you how much I miss that store!).

Thanks to Summer, I learnt about Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney, Deana Carter, Martina McBride, Billy Currington, Scotty Emerick,... and many others. Long car rides singing to their lyrics and unforgettable concerts. One of those was the concert by Alison Krauss and Union Station in Kansas City (Starlight Theatre). For me, Alison Krauss and Candice Night (lead singer in Blackmore's Night) are the best female vocalists ever: honey-sweet, haunting voices.

The thing is that Alison Krauss and Robert Plant collaborated to create a beautiful record, Raising Sand, which was released back in 2007 and which contains a moving song about letter-writing, entitled "Please Read the Letter." Critics praised Krauss and Plant's vocal harmonization saying the "key to the magic is the delicious harmony vocals of the unlikely duo" (source: Wikipedia).

"Please Read The Letter"

Caught out running
With just a little too much to hide
Maybe baby
Everything's gonna turn out fine
Please read the letter
I nailed it to your door
It's crazy how it all turned out
We needed so much more

Too late, too late
A fool could read the signs
Maybe baby
You'd better check between the lines
Please read the letter, I
Wrote it in my sleep
With help and consultation from
The angels of the deep

Once I stood beside a well of many words
My house was full of rings and
Charms and pretty birds
Please understand me, my
Walls come falling down
There's nothing here that's left for you
But check with lost and found

Please read the letter that I wrote
Please read the letter that I wrote

One more song just before we go
Remember baby
All the things
We used to know
Please read my letter
And promise you'll keep
The secrets and the memories and
Cherish in the deep


Please read the letter that I wrote
Please read the letter that I wrote
Please read the letter that I wrote

Please read the letter that I wrote
Please read the letter that I wrote
Please read the letter that I wrote

The song actually won the Record of the Year award at the 2009 Grammy Awards. ”There’s an air of fragility within the song. It’s about unfinished business," Plant said.

It certainly is an ode to the power of letters, and this one must have been quite important since no mail service was used, it was just "nailed to your door". Wow.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Overview of our Creative Writing Project "Palabras da Man ao Corazón" in Numbers

Since we have started a second line of work in our project which has to do with postcard writing, I thought it would be a good idea to give you an overview of the scope of our project and how far-reaching it is.

I am truly impressed, I have to give it to Seth Godin, tribes are really about "leading and connecting people and ideas. And it's something people have wanted forever". I can't believe that an idea I had last year has turned into a budding project which, granted, is still taking baby steps but has been met with great enthusiasm and willingness to participate.

That really says something about 21st-century educators, don't you think?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Japanese Calligraphy Workshop: NORIKO FUKUSHIMA

This academic year has certainly been the year of languages for us so far.  Because we can't forget that EOI means "School of Languages", not only English, and even though we only offer English classes at the moment, we aim at offering students the opportunity to at least get a taste of other languages. 

Nous avons eu une pièce de théâtre, “Petite pension à Paris”, écrite et mise en scène par Fernando F. Garcia, le 28 Novembre 2015. It was awesome because even though French was the main language being used throughout, they also included dialogues in Italian and German.

Now, last Tuesday, February 23 we hit a milestone in our satellite branch here in Ribeira. As part of our creative writing project, we had thought about the idea of having a Japanese and an Arabic calligraphy workshop here, to introduce students to the writing systems of these languages that are normally regarded as "complex" or "difficult".

Well, thanks to Noriko Fukushima, a Japanese lady who also happens to be a student in the satellite school in Noia, this dream has finally come true!

Noriko gave us some insight into the history of Katakana and Hiragana alphabets and also into why Kanji is also used in Japanese. She also explained how the writing systems have evolved until their present form and use.

Attendees paid close attention and took notes. Then came the part that thrilled everyone, regardless of age or interest in Japanese. Noriko had prepared a worksheet with the Katakana and Hiragana alphabets for us and then she asked us to write our names using them.

We all tried our best and found out that it was actually quite complex! Thankfully, Noriko was kind enough to offer individual help and solve our doubts.

Then, Noriko had us practise the correct order of the strokes in each character, patiently explaining how to do it.  Finally, there were some questions about how long it took children to learn how to write correctly, and whether it was hard for them to learn the Latin alphabet, which she also explained in detail.

I had the opportunity to discuss the workshop later with some of the students who attended and they all agreed it was really refreshing to learn about a language we know nothing about, and that it was a real pleasure to listen to Noriko's polished English pronunciation!

We really would like to thank Noriko for preparing, coming all the way to Ribeira and give us such a nice presentation!


As we had pointed out in a previous post, the postcard exchanges among schools have already started, which is very exciting!

By way of example, students from CEIP Frións and CEIP Heroínas de Sálvora will be exchanging cards with a school from South Carolina in the USA.

Teresa Hernández, a teacher who works at CEIP Heroínas de Sálvora who is also taking part in the traveling notebook project, has kindly sent us some photographs of her students writing multilingual postcards to send to their new American penpals. Look at all those cute happy faces!

Wishing all these postcards a safe trip!

Let me also use this opportunity to recommend a visit to the fantastic blog that they have been using for this past year to let others know about a project they have been carrying out among 3 different schools with the aim of promoting art in school. 

Parabéns polo voso estupendo traballo e entusiasmo!


Last Saturday I had the opportunity to go on a literary hike which took us along the locations that inspired or are mentioned in  the book Costa do Solpor, written by Xosé María Lema. The story is meant to be a follow-up of what happened to the Hispaniola, the schooner from Stevenson's novel Treasure Island. It is a beautifully written book, with carefully chosen words and expressions and in which the location is almost a character in itself.

I really enjoyed the hike and the sights, but I also loved the human dimension of the activity. In fact, we had the opportunity to listen to Alexandre Nerium, a poet from Fisterra who showed us the Castelo de San Carlos and also delighted us with a touching poetry recitation. I am including below one of my favourites:

Cabaleiro do mar

Cabaleiro do mar, fun cabaleiro
dun castelo de estrelas desvalidas,
entre cachóns de anémonas perdidas,
entre cinzas que afloran no salseiro.

Cabaleiro do mar, fun cabaleiro
na galera de mans esvaecidas,
entre bágoas de sal esmorecidas,
amarrado á mesana dun veleiro.

Cabaleiro do mar; de pés mollados,
entre alfanxes sombríos, ondulados,
de azagaia sutil e nacarada.

Cabaleiro de soño e de serea
tumbado no devalo da marea
sen pavés, sen loriga e sen espada.

(De De mar e vento, Espiral Maior, 1997)

Another big discovery for me was Miro Villar, also a poet from the area (Cee). He did not recite any poem but as soon as I got home I "googled" him (don't we all do that nowadays?) and I came across another unexpected treasure, which was his intimate, heartwarming blog.

This is a very detailed, thorough blog which I honestly think could serve as an encyclopedia or reference list for anyone who, like me, loves poetry but never really had an education in this genre because, let's be honest, how much poetry was included in our school programmes? I don't know what is being taught nowadays, but as for me, we did not go beyond Antonio Machado or Jaime Gil de Biedma in Spanish. In Galician we never even read a whole book of poems, we just read isolated texts that appeared in our textbook. I guess something similar happens with theatre, which I think it's a little sad. 

Anyway, it was here that I found a reference to Rosalía de Castro's letters, which are available online here for anyone wishing to read them.

They are beautiful letters, very much in line with her poems, where she, as they say on this website, "takes her dose of sorrow without dilution, but remarkably, also without bitterness". I feel privileged to be able to access these letters nowadays, years after she has been long gone, but I also feel that we are somehow prying into her life. 

It made me think of an experience Patri Fernández and I had when we visited Viñetas desde o Atlántico in August last year. We were visiting the book stalls and all of a sudden we found a box with vintage cards. Accidentally, we noticed that some of them were written and we couldn't help but reading them. It turns out there were about 15 cards that had been exchanged between a couple during the 70es. She had been living in Coruña and he was from South Spain. Tender words being exposed to eyes which were not meant to participate in this intimate exchange.

What will happen to the letters/cards I have exchanged? Will they ever be found in a street market or in a museum exhibit? I can't help but wishing the contents stay private, between me and the recipient. A one-time act of communication. 

But I guess once you send those letters, any control over them is gone, you have to let those birds fly free... and in any case I am sure glad I can read Rosalía's letters nowadays.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Postcrossing Meetup (Received Cards): FREYA from CHINA

This rainy week we have received a really cute card from Zhejiang, an eastern coastal province in China whose capital is Hangzhou.

The writer is Freya. Freya and I have actually been penpals for about one year now and I have learnt a lot about China, its food and customs through her beautifully handwritten letters and cards.

She has been learning Spanish for about 3 months now and her command of the language is outstanding already, in fact, she has written the whole card in polished Spanish.

The card Freya sent shows one type of traditional costumes in China, the Ruqun (襦裙). It consists of a blouse (, ru) and a wrap-around skirt (, qun; also called , chang). It is the eldest type of hanfu which is said to have been worn by the legendary Yellow Emperor (source: Wikipedia).

 We are very grateful for your card, Freya, we will make sure and answer back on April 16!