Where's My Bed?! February, 1981

February, 1981, and we're living in Talavera de la Reina.

I'm teaching English to two children whose parents own shops in the town. All of a sudden the doorbell goes and I find the parents standing in the doorway in shock, panic-stricken.

"We've come to pick up our children, señora."
"Yes, they need to come now. Right now.  Hurry up!"
"Why? What's happened?" I'm surprised to see the parents for they never burst in like that in the middle of a lesson.
"Shots. There were shots fired in the Parliament in Madrid."
"Nobody knows what is going to happen!"

They all leave just as fast as they had appeared.

I wonder what they're talking about, what's going on? The one person who'll know is the portero. He knows everything about everything and about everyone. Even what he doesn't know he makes up. Still, he's a good person to talk to.

Downstairs I go to look for the portero.

He's panic-stricken too. "Señora!  Ay, señora!  Shots fired in Madrid. Be careful!"

I begin to wonder if everyone has gone mad. Madrid is a good 90 minute drive away.

"My wife has gone to buy flour and sugar. Lots of it. Who knows how long we'll need it?"

I'm now certain that people are going crazy around these parts.

"People are closing their businesses. They're going home and locking the door. Señora, you do the same."

I dawdle upstairs to the apartment, all the time wondering what has caused this hysteria.

My husband returns from work.

"Pack your bags. We're going to Portugal!"

What? Not you? You're also going crazy?  Am I the only sane one around here?!

My husband explains that something big has gone on in Madrid, how the military has taken over the government and how nobody knows what could happen. He figures we should perhaps go over the border to Portugal until events settle down.

In the end we decide it's safer just to stay, for who knows what the road could be like?  We sit up to the wee small hours watching the recording of some man play the guitar on the funny little black and white television. There is no information being emitted. We know nothing. Maybe we should have gone over the border? Maybe there will be another Spanish Civil War? Yikes!

Later, the King appears on the television, looking serious and in command. By his side is his son. The King gives a riveting speech. He tells people to stay at home, not to be on the street. and bellows forth, "¡Viva la Democracia!  ¡Viva España!"

Well, really. Now can we go to our bloody bed?!

Strutting About, 1973, El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain


It's late afternoon, 1973, in El Puerto de Santa Maria. I look out the window of the apartment at  the horses being trained for the Feria. A man has one tethered and he holds the strap loosely as the horse walks round and round in circles. It tries to get away, but the man pulls it back and soon the horse settles down. It starts to strut, lifting its hooves high off the ground.

The Feria is one of the most important events of the whole year. It's a time for not just the horses to strut around, but for the people as well. The women wear brightly coloured dresses that flair out each time they move a leg, and the men are dressed in tight-fitting trousers and short jackets that make them look as if they're wearing their big brothers' hand-me-downs.

I've been practising the Sevillanas dances with one of the teachers from the school. We attend a local church where they offer free dance classes. Pretty good, if you want my opinion. The instructor is this really skinny, tiny man, about my height.

"Straight back, chest out. More! More! Arms up straight. Now, wiggle your fingers."
"I can't do everything all at once!"
"Smile! Grin! Lift your leg up!"
"I can't lift my leg. It's stuck."
He starts clapping his hands in rhythmic palpitations. My feet stomp about as if I'm pressing grapes.
"Don't look at your feet! Look up, chest out. Posture!"

The other teacher is really good at this stuff. She dances elegantly. Her arms and legs seem to dive through the air and her fingers swoop up as a bird taking off.  My spine is bent over backwards and I'm practically falling over. My fingers look short and chubby and my feet are like lead.

"Arms high in the air. Sensual hands, please. Legs, kick high!"

I don't know what sensual hands are, but I give it a shot and pretend I'm poking at the instructor's funny, bulging eyes.

"Well done, senorita. Well done!"

He seems pleased!

Feeling quite chuffed with myself, I strut about, chest out, arms high, fingers sensual as they flutter in the air.

On the way back to the apartment I notice people seated at small tables. They're laughing loudly and smoking. Someone throws an empty Ducado packet on the ground. Small groups saunter along all the while clapping their hands in short staccato movements. I feel my feet tapping, my back arching,  and I have this urge to clap my hands too. Gosh, all this Feria stuff is catching!









The Glass of Milk and the Lobster, 1972, El Puerto de Santa Maria

It's 1972 and I'm sharing an apartment in El Puerto de Santa Maria with two teachers from the bilingual school where the three of us teach.

It's always hot here.  You can't escape the sun, for it reaches even to the back of your knees. I become redder and redder, and the freckles on my arms blossom forth like the morse code tapping fiercely some important message.

The teacher with the lovely complexion and quizzical stare gazes upon me.

"Do you know you're red?"

"Emm." I'm not sure if this is a rhetorical question. Doesn't everyone go red in the sun?

"And what are these things on your arms?" She touches my skin lightly as if afraid she'll catch this red disease she sees before her.

"Freckles."  I make a mental note to look up 'freckles' in the small red dictionary I carry around with me.

"You don't go brown?  Why not? Everyone goes brown."  She looks appalled.

I almost want to apologise for being so red, for not going brown, for not looking so gorgeous and beautiful as all the other senoritas who swagger about with the confidence of a bullfighter before the bull.

"You look like a lobster." She adds, reaching her finger out to touch my skin again.

"It's due to the sun. You see..."

"You didn't look much better when you first arrived."

"I didn't?" Gosh, how could that be? I hadn't been in the sun before coming to Spain.

"When you first arrived, you looked like a glass of milk!"




I have...what?! 1972, El Puerto de Santa Maria

It's 1972 and I'm teaching in a bilingual school in El Puerto de Santa Maria, way down in the Cadiz Province.  The deal  isn't so bad. I get free accommodation and free food, not to mention some cash paid under the table. If Franco only knew!

Knowing only two words in Spanish, "Adios, amigo", I live in a dream-like state of total surrealism. I haven't a clue how to pronounce my students' names, let alone carry out a simple conversation. When one little boy announces, "Tengo caca" I simply stare beyond him with a big smile, hoping I at least look semi-intelligent.  Doesn't 'tengo' mean, 'I have'?  He was probably telling me he had a new toy, wasn't he?

The smell of sunflower seeds and cologne clings to the air. The children's hair lays plastered in a brilliant shine and their gold chains and medallions gleam in the Andalucian sun streaming through the classroom window.  I suddenly wonder if they are safe, if anyone might yank the gold chains from their necks and run off with them. My arms reach out to protect them, and they each hug me tightly staring up at me with huge big eyes.

All, that is, except the little boy who had  announced earlier, "Tengo caca." He's still standing at his desk, looking very mournful. I wonder what could possibly be wrong with him?!


FOR SEQUELThe Alfa Romeo - Part Two

The tale of the fabulously fantastic Alfa Romeo with identity crisis continues.

1982. The two Guardia Civil arrive at my house.
"Buenos dias, senora." They greet me with big grins.
At least they're civil. No pun intended.
"Is that coffee I smell?" The big jefe, boss, enquires, his nose sniffing in appreciation of my culinary talents.
He can't really be expecting me to offer him coffee??! Not when he's here to denounce me.
"Would you like some?" I try to smile and be a gracious hostess.
"Well, yes, that would be nice. Muchisimas gracias, senora."
I disappear into the kitchen to get some cups, all the while muttering under my breath.
"Senora!"
"Yes?" I'm expecting them to tell me how much sugar they want in their coffee.
"Have you any typing paper? We seem to have left ours in the office."
They've got to be kidding. First of all they want coffee. Now, to add insult to injury, they expect me to provide them with typing paper so that they can type up my denouncement?!
"Anything else that you'd like?"  I try not to speak too sarcastically.
"Can we use your table?"
They place their typewriter on top of the dining room table and proceed to type with one finger.
This is going to be a long process, I just know it.
"Senora, you do know that we'll have to clamp your vehicle?"
"What?" I hiss and splutter. Then my brain kicks in as I recall the butano man who has to have access to the garage when he replaces the butane bottles. "But the butano man, how can he enter the garage if my car is in front of it? With clamps on it, no less."
"Hmm. You're right senora. You need to be able to move your car. But, you must promise not to drive it. Palabara de honor. Word of honour."
I try not to laugh.
"Of course I won't drive it."
"Good coffee, senora. Very tasty." He swallows it in one gulp.
"We're giving you a fine."
"I haven't done anything wrong. I did check with the Customs in Tarragona and they told me all I had to do was take the car out of the country every six months. That's what I have done."
"Oh, don't worry, senora. You won't have to pay the fine."
"I won't?"
"No, of course not. We give you the fine, you appeal the fine. That's how it works."
And then they stood up and left.
How on earth was I to appeal the fine?   TO BE CONTINUED

FOR SEQUELhe Alfa Romeo - Part One

This is the first installment of the amazing tale about the fabulously fantastic Alfa Romeo with an identity crisis.

It's 1981/2 and we're living in Miami Playa, Tarragona. Technically speaking, I am a tourist. This means that I have to leave the country every three months to get my British passport stamped. No big deal. Always up for a quick getaway to Andorra or Perpignan!

I check with the Aduana , Customs, in Tarragona about the procedure for bringing a foreign car into Spain. "You'll  have to take the car out of Spain every six months", declares the big boss at the Aduana.  Ningun problema, not a problem, not at all. Wasn't I already having to go over the border every three months?

Off we go to Heidelberg, Germany to purchase a car. You may think it's a BMW, or a Mercedes that we bought. Nope. It's an Alfa Romeo. This poor car has an awful identity crisis. It was manufactured in Brazil and was to have been shipped to Poland. Don't ask me how and why it ended up in Germany!

Months go by, and I'm happily driving the Alfa Romeo up and down the main coastal road between Miami Playa and Tarragona taking my son to the Anglo American School. By then, we have progressed from the German export plates to Florida ones. By then I've already been over the border fulfilling my obligations of getting my passport stamped as well as taking the car out of Spain.  All is well, at least that's we believe. (Below, is an image of the motor vehicle statement registered in Florida.)



One day, driving back from Tarragona, I spy a Guardia Civil jeep behind me. Oh no! They can't really be after me? Can they?  No, of course not. If they were, they would have flagged me down. I continue on my way and turn off the coastal road to enter the town of Cambrils. Guess what? The  Guardia Civil jeep turns off too. It follows me all the way to the centre of the town and parks close to me. Now what? What the heck do they want?

Hmm. Right there and then, in front of the whole of Cambrils Centre the Guardia Civil denounce me. They weren't just any Guardia Civil,  for the one who does the denouncing is the big jefe, the big chief. It's all because of the foreign car, the Alfa Romeo, with the foreign plates. I explain to them that I spoke to the Aduana in Tarragona and was told that there was no problem bringing the car into Spain as long as I take the car out of the country every six months.

That falls on deaf ears. The two Guardia Civil men strut about, their chests puffed up  like cockerels about to get into a fight. They announce that I can no longer drive the car. Yikes!  But, I have to pick up my son from school and take him home, don'' I?  "Vale, okay, senora. Pick up your son, take him home. We'll come by tomorrow to fill out the paperwork."  They know where I live?!  They don't even ask for my address. They certainly do know where I live.

Relieved that I can still drive the car to the school and back home, my knees are nevertheless shaking. I have never been denounced before. This is what it feels like to be a criminal?!

The next day, the big jefe and his sidekick turn up at the house.   TO BE CONTINUED





Time in Talavera de la Reina, 1980

A favourite expression in Spain in the early 1980's is 'manana', tomorrow. Want to go to the movies? Sure, how about 'manana'. You call the plumber and he tells you that he'll come by, 'manana'. Or worse, he might say, 'pasado manana', the day after tomorrow! Why aren't you working? Oh, I will, 'manana'. When will I see you?  'Manana'.

Time has different meanings here in Talavera de la Reina in 1980. Things don't begin on time, things don't end on time. Things somehow just happen, and continue to happen for as long as people want. Let's go to the Prado manana. Okay. What time?  En la tarde. In the afternoon. Yes, but at what time?  That's when you get the shrugging of the shoulders and the hand waving deftly in the air. What a silly question to be asking. What time?!

Everyone hangs out at the Prado in Talavera de la Reina. There's a nice duck pond and lots of benches with old men sitting on them. They just sit. That's all they do. Sit and talk. There are also young mothers with small babies. They just sit as well. They all just sit. They all just sit and talk for hours and hours and hours. Business men from the banks and offices stroll by and just sit. In between puffing on their cigarettes they talk loudly and wave their arms about. In the end, however, they too just sit.

I try to do the same. Just sit. I sit down on a bench in the Prado and watch the ducks, watch the people. After twenty minutes I'm feeling guilty about doing nothing. I keep looking at my watch. I wonder how banks and offices function when the people behind the desks are all sitting here in the Prado.

Time becomes blurred in the morning sun. There is no specific time to do anything. The only thing that matters is being able to do nothing any time you want.




From Spain to Gibraltar - 1974

It's 1974 and my soon to be husband and I leave El Puerto de Santa Maria, Cadiz to go to Gibraltar. Seems it's the easiest place to get married. With Franco still in power, bureaucracy has so much red tape that you get tangled up in your own shadow.

I don't remember ever being too concerned about living in a dictatorship. Before moving to Spain to teach in a bilingual school, I did read that it would be best not to discuss politics with the local people. Okay. Sounds good to me. At that time the only Spanish I knew was "adios amigo", so there was never any fear of my becoming embroiled in any political discussion.

In 1972 the border between Spain and Gibraltar was closed. Franco had made sure of that. The only way to arrive in Gibraltar from Spain was to go to Tangiers and then basically retrace your steps and finally enter Gibraltar.

Guess what? I succumbed to some dreadful gastrointestinal disease whilst in Tangiers. I was dying. That's what it felt like. By the time we finally got to Gibraltar all I could do was to collapse on the skinny narrow  bed after my stomach had emptied itself in the most unladylike fashion. Welcome to Gibraltar!

The next day we made our way to the registrar office where we were duly married. No photos, however. Not one single one. I was doing all I could just to mumble the necessary utterances that got us the wedding certificate. And for the wedding reception? How about some bland scrambled eggs to settle a very queasy stomach?!

Up high on the rock we were accosted by an ape. Or did I just imagine that?! That night I won the jackpot in the slot machine at the casino. And I'm not even a gambler.

The next day it was back to Tangiers and then once again to Spain located within walking distance of where we got married in Gibraltar.

I should have written to Franco himself and complained to him that it was all because of his closing the bloody border that I got so sick in Tangiers!




Soup for a Crowd — Talavera de la Reina, Spain, 1980


It's 1980 and we're living in Talavera de la Reina at Calle del Prado,11. Our apartment is above
a furniture store across the road from Simago, a large supermarket. Nice central location! 
Early afternoon in our apartment building is full of smells, some not so bad, and others, well, they
take a bit getting used to. Garlic, cheap cologne, black tobacco, sweat and even more garlic all
whiff up your nostrils and explode in a gigantic kaleidoscope of olfactory dizziness. It's lunch time,
and the occupants next door get ready for the main meal of the day.
Our next door neighbours own a restaurant just down the road. By the way they entertain every
 day one would think that their restaurant was actually inside their apartment!  Through open
 windows you can  hear the lady of the house whisk eggs which she uses to fry up her special
tortilla espanola. Pungent odours of fried garlic  mysterioiusly float through the air and settle
 onto windowsills as the ritual for cooking for a crowd commences. 
First to arrive are the youngest children, yelling and calling out. After they  finish eating, 
an older crowd arrive, also yelling and calling out. I think there's  even a third group of
 people that arrives, all the while yelling their heads off as if everyone is deaf. 
The lady of the house certainly does enjoy cooking. She even cooks for the restaurant, in addition
to serving up meals for some twenty or so people each day in her own apartment. Although we
 haven't spoken too much, she isn't  unfriendly, by any means. She's just simply too busy to
be dealing with la extranjera, the foreigner, whose Spanish leaves a lot to be desired, and whose
pale, pale skin is just, well, too pale for around these parts. She always gives me a huge wave
and a gigantic grin as she marches by any time we meet in the corridor. 
Therefore, I don't mind at all when my husband asks me to get her recipe for alubias blancas,
white beans. We ate at her restaurant a few times, and he really enjoyed her white bean soup.
He loved soaking his bread in the soup bowl as he made sure he'd get every single drop of this
 nectar.
"You want the recipe for my sopa de alubias blancas?"  Her face lights up as she pronounces
"sopa de alubias blancas" with pride and genuine caring. She grins kindly on me as if we
have suddenly become best friends.
"Yes, please. My husband really loves it.  And I do too, of course." I hastily add. 
" You start off with a good caldo, broth. White beans, paprika, garlic, olive oil. And, what gives
it that special flavour is the head of a cow."
"The head of a cow?" I try not to sound too uninformed. 
"Claro que si. Of course, The head of a cow.  That's what we use in the restaurant."  She taps
 me on the shoulder and proceeds to walk away.
"Oh. Wait a minute. It's just for you and your husband, isn't it? Then, the head of a cow might be
too big. Use the head of a pig. Yes, that would be better. Sometimes I've used the head of a pig
 instead."
"The head of a pig?"  I mumble, wondering where on earth I could find the head of a pig.
"Oh. Since it's just for two people, then maybe the ear of a pig would be quite sufficient."
"Thank you. Thank you so much. I can't wait to try your recipe." 
I really can't wait to try her recipe. But, I'm afraid I won't place any head in it. Not even
a tiny head!