The Lady from Leon and the Washing Machine - Talavera de la Reina, 1980

Much as it was a wonderful opportunity to experience life in Talavera de la Reina and visit the surrounding villages, we found the people in this part of Spain an awfully serious bunch. There was no stomping of the feet, no clapping of the hands like what you found in Cadiz. There was no Andalucian humour and no loud shrieks of laughter were to be witnessed.

would daydream about moving to the coast, to the Province of Tarragona.

packed up to leave Talavera de la Reina for the coast.  After several months one year of living here my Spanish has improved remarkably. Well, that's what I think, anyhow. After one year of living here, in this arid part of Spain where very few foreigners reside, we are deliriously happy about moving to the Mediterranean. We hear wonderful things about Salou, Cambrils, and all the villages along the coast of Tarragona. Apparently the whole coastline is international. People from Sweden, Yugoslavia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other countries work and play throughout the Province of Tarragona.

Not that the people of Talavera are any less special than the international crowd. It's just that they seem such a serious bunch of people. No stomping of the feet, not even at the annual feria, no Andalucian humour, no loud shrieks of laughter are to be witnessed here; certainly not on a daily basis. Any guffaws you might hear usually come from me as I try to figure out how to work the washing machine. You place the hose inside the machine to fill it up? After said machine goes chugalug, you then place the hose at bottom of said machine in a drain or bucket to drain the water? Okay. Then what do you do next? Hmm.

One day a pipe of this splendid washing machine breaks. I manage to get a workman who has  'voluntad', whatever that means, to repair the machine. He's a very silent person. No radio, no humming or singing, and definitely no clapping of the hands are involved in his presence. After living in Andalucia for four years in the seventies I somehow expect all Spanish people to be dancing and clapping their hands. I think that has been part of the cultural shock here in Talavera de la Reina. Somebody, please make these people smile!

The workman replaces the pipe and announces in a quiet voice that the washing machine can now be used. Humdingery doo! He leaves just as quietly as he arrived, presumably with his 'voluntad' intact. I set about the task of placing the dirty clothes inside the machine, inserting the hose and turning on the tap. So far so good! I'm a happy person. Doesn't take much to make my day. Just when I'm about to knock on the Lady from Leon's door to tell her the washing machine has been repaired, guess what happens?

The pipe that the workman with the 'voluntad' used to do the repair comes flying out of the machine . Water gushes up in the air and all over me. Water runs into the hall, under the front door, and out into the corridor. There's a flood. Someone is banging at the door. Drenched, I open it and find The Lady from Leon.
     "There's water all over the place!"  She's frowning at me,
     "There is?" I'm trying to sound scientific.
     "What happened? Look, there's water going underneath dona Jimena's front door!" The Lady from Leon chuckles.
      "I don't think the workman did a good job repairing the machine." Now, that's the understatement of the year.

 Together we figure out we should somehow turn the water off. The Lady from Leon, being big and brave marches through the water now up to our ankles and duly turns the tap. She examines the pipe with all the scrutiny she gives when choosing tomatoes at the local market.
      "Look!"  She holds up the pipe. "This is an awfully narrow pipe. I think it's a gas pipe!"
      "You mean the workman used the wrong pipe?"  Brilliant deduction on my part.
We stand there gazing in amazement at the washing machine and the water on the floor. Then slowly burst out laughing. Already word has got around and the next thing the neighbours arrive shaking their heads in disapproval. They glare at me, at the washing machine, and at the Lady from Leon.

      That's when it dawns on me that I'm really not the only foreigner living in this apartment complex. The Lady from Leon is also a foreigner. After all, she's not from Talavera, either. 



The Secret of the Crazy Lady. 1981 Miami Playa, Tarragona

In 1981 my husband, small son and I were living in Urbanización El Casalot, Miami Playa, Tarragona. This was brand new development and construction was still taking place. Across the road from our house workmen yelled and babbled among themselves, in between peeing on the street, spitting and blowing their nose on the ground. Their transistor radio would be blaring forth with loud advertisements forGalerías Preciados, condensed milk and Camel cigarettes - 'El sabor de la Aventura!'. Occasionally the workmen would burst into song, imitating Julio Iglesias singing "De Niña a Mujer" and "Hey". They were actually pretty good singers, not that I'm an expert, but Julio Iglesias himself would have been happy, I'm sure, to be listening to this open-air concert.

There was something else the workmen got up to besides hammer and bang and make lots of noise. They would play with a puppy. He looked like an Alsation or a German Shepherd pup, based on his colouring as he frolicked about and had lots of fun playing with the workmen. That is, until they stopped work for the day and went home. Guess what they did with the pup?

They hid him inside the house they were constructing. They basically bricked him up so that he couldn't get out. How did I know all this, you might be wondering? At night I heard him howl his little head off. He was a poor wee soul. I couldn't stand it any more, one Sunday when I knew the men wouldn't turn up I searched for him inside the house. The howling was coming from a corner where there were bricks stacked up. I pulled the bricks away scraping and scratching my fingers in the process. Lo and behold, there he was! He jumped up and down, his tail wagging, his tongue hanging out. He was absolutely filthy, covered in dust and cement and who knows what else.

I picked  him up and took him across the road to my house and gave him a lovely bath. I fed him and offered him water. I really wanted to keep him, but reluctantly I decided that that wasn't practical. We didn't know for how long we'd continue living in the area, and anyhow, presumably he belonged to one of the workmen. I had no choice but to take him back across the road, place him in the corner and pile the bricks up around him so that he couldn't escape.

That night as I heard him whine and howl I wanted to rush over and cuddle him. I couldn't wait until morning when the workmen would be back for at least then he'd have company.
On Monday morning the workmen arrived, making as much noise as a herd of elephants stomping around. I spied on them from behind the lace curtains to see if they would let the pup out. They did, thank goodness. Out he came, leaping up and down, his tail wagging furiously. He looked over at our house as if ready to visit me and have another bath, maybe some tasty food.

The workmen stared perplexedly at him, scratching their foreheads. How did the pup get so clean?!
Did someone give him a bath?!

I think my secret was out for the workmen turned and gazed over at our house.

"Señora loca! Crazy lady!"  they called out and laughed loudly.

Thank goodness they were laughing and weren't annoyed that I had removed the pup. Maybe they really did care for the dog after all?

FOR SEQUELThe End of the Amazing Tale of the Fabulously Fantastic Alfa Romeo - Catalunya/Andorra, 1983

1983, Andorra La Vella

Desperation seeps its  seedy way through my bones. I have no choice but to get rid of the fabulously fantastic Alfa Romeo. Between legal shenanigans in Spain and our imminent move to the United States, the best thing is to cut one's losses and dump the car.  Ouch!

I swear my Romeo blinks away a tear as it reads my thoughts.

I park him in  front of one more car dealer, Automóbils Jordi, on the Avenida Santa Coloma. Please take my car.  I'm hoping nobody can hear my thoughts, nor sense my desperation. Maybe Jordi won't realise that my Alfa Romeo was manufactured in Brazil for export to Poland, and that somehow it ended up in Heidelberg, Germany where I purchased it. Maybe he'll be just dying to buy a lovely Italian car. I inhale deeply and march in.

"Do you want to buy my car?  It's a delightful and magnificent Alfa Romeo." Do I sound bright and cheery?!

"No, señora. If I buy it from you, then I have to sell it, don't I?" He shrugs his shoulders.  "I don't know of anyone who'd want to buy your car. That's the problem." He stares through the showroom window at my sad-looking vehicle.  Word must have already got round that there's some really red and pale, blotchy foreign woman trying to sell an Alfa Romeo with a spurious pedigree.

"I'll just leave it in the street, then. I can't take it back into Spain." I get ready to leave.

"One moment, señora. Maybe I can help you after all."  He knows I'm desperate. His eyes are twinkling as he sums me up.

"You want to buy the car?"

"No. I don't. But I can try to sell it for you. Just give me the documentation of the car and I'll see what I can do for you."

Call me a fool, call me a stubborn fool. But I'm simply not about to hand over the documents, not without getting paid! Little does he know, that I'll take anything, even five thousand pesetas.

"And how would you get the money to me once you sell it? I live about five hours away."

"Oh, señora. Don't worry. I'll mail you the money."  He's smirking at this point.

"No. No deal. Give me the money now, and I'll give you the documents."

I'm surprised at my tone of voice. I feel as if I'm in a boxing arena fighting a World Heavyweight.

"Señora, señora. Don't you trust me?"

That question doesn't even deserve an answer.  Ha ha.

In the end we reach a compromise. I leave the car with him, but I retain the title deed of the fabulously fantastic Alfa Romeo. He's to contact me if he gets a buyer and I've to rush back to Andorra with the documents.

What a daft situation!  It would have been better to have just rented a car instead of getting messed up with foreign plates, the Guardia Civil, and now this escapade of fleeing to Andorra. Financially it would have been the same. I think the fabulously fantastic Alfa Romeo cost $3,000. Still, it has been an adventure!

P.S. Do you think I ever hear from Automóbils Jordi?!

P.P.S. And I wonder where my fabulously fantastic Alfa Romeo is now?


We're Not So Different From One Another After All - Talavera de la Reina, 1980

It's 1980 and we have just moved to Talavera de la Reina, Spain. We're living in a long skinny apartment on the Calle del Prado, right downtown.

Our neighbours are curious when we first move in. They stare politely at the boxes being unloaded and piled up in the lift, and smile shyly.  But, they keep their distance after a few days once they realise that we're harmless and won't disrupt the peace. Well, all except one. She's the Lady from Leon whose apartment is directly opposite the lift. She knows everything that is going on, all the comings and goings of everyone on our floor. And every time she sees me she either wants to accompany me or find out where I was. She laughs a lot, talks a lot, then talks some more and giggles some more. She wears the old-fashioned clothes that women tend to wear here once they reach the age of 50.

Sometimes it's difficult to get away from her, for every time I exit the lift she opens her apartment door and starts chatting.  She even follows me to my apartment and invites herself in.
"What is that?"  She screams and points to our television. It's one of those big ugly things that sits on the floor. Why we ever brought it with us from Virginia, I can't fathom. It doesn't work in Spain. So I tend to use it just to place things on top of it, almost as if it were a table.
"It's a television."
"I've never seen a television like that in the whole of my life!  Why is it on the floor?!"
"That's the way it is." I've never thought about it before.
"But..."  She bends over to gaze at this odd television, "It must be difficult to watch. Isn't it?"
"We're normally seated any time we watch it."  I try not to laugh. "But, it doesn't work here. It's a different system."

She wanders about staring at everything and screams again.
"What are they? "  She's staring at my husband's golf clubs.
"They're golf clubs."
"I've never seen anything like that in the whole of my life!"
She takes a club and holds it high pointing it to the ceiling.
"Nobody uses things like this around here." She shakes her head in disbelief. "If the people upstairs make a lot of noise you could bang the ceiling!" She laughs loudly and I half expect the person who lives below to bang their ceiling due to all the noise the Lady from Leon is making between clunking around on the wooden floor and talking shrilly.

"What are they?"  She picks up a packet of Virginia Slims and examines it closely.
"I've never seen cigarettes like that in the whole of my life!"  She takes one out of the packet and pretends to smoke it. "My goodness!  They are long and thin! Must take for ever to smoke them!"
She stares at me with a puzzled look. Her forehead has deep wrinkles and her eyes crinkle when she smiles. "Where did you say you were from?" Then she laughs loudly.

"You're a breath of fresh air, you really are. I'm looking forward to getting to know you."  She hugs me tightly.

I'm hoping she doesn't start kissing me. I'm not used to all this touching and expressions of emotion. I pretend to hug her back, then move away. I know she means well. She's probably lonely, that's why she finds my life so interesting. But, there again, I find her and all the people here in Talavera interesting. I can't wait to experience the next day, the next  hour, the next minute. I can't wait to explore, to speak more and more in Spanish, to smell the smells, to touch everything around me.

I place my hand on the Lady from Leon's arm. "We'll have fun together, I'm sure."

"Of course! And any time you want to watch television, just knock on my door!" She grins widely and then the Lady from Leon skips her way down the long skinny hall to the front door.