One Giraffe and a Movie, Rota, Spain, 1972 USE FOR EBOOK

You never know how an evening will turn out. You can start off alone watching a movie, then all of a sudden, boom, things change. It happened a lot in Rota. Things simply evolved, right before your very eyes.

If you lived in Rota long enough you soon learned that an evening wasn't complete without a visit to the outdoor movie theater. It was a popular place for teenagers, children, grannies, old aunties, for anyone just wanting something different to do rather than sit on their balcony or patio. It was always hot at night. Even with all the windows opened in your apartment, the heat never really dissipated. You might as well be out and about for it was difficult to sleep what with mosquitoes biting you just when you would be about to doze off, and the blaring of 
"Baby, don't get hooked on me" emanating from nearby bars. The American sailors frequented these bars. You could see them strolling along, tossing their Vantage or Winston cigarette butts onto the dirt road. Some of them could be models for the Malboro Man, wide as their shoulders were.

It's was such a foreign experience meeting military personnel, hearing about people being killed in Vietnam. Since I never drank beer for breakfast, and I wasn't counting the days to when I went it seemed to me that I didn't have much in common with the Americans at all. Well, maybe I did have one thing in common with the Americans. We both liked to discover new places to get cheap wine. In fact, I used to know a place where you could get a litre of wine for 25 pesetas.  I'll drink to that!

Any time I turned up  at the local outdoor theater the place would be teeming with excited teenagers and children all yelling and giggling. The small boys' short trousers were so long that they met their knees, and their shirts looked like girls' blouses. The girls wore these really long dresses that ended around their ankles. Their dainty crocheted socks seemed to cry out "I'm loved!  Everyone loves me!" The adults sat patiently on uncomfortable, wobbly seats, smoking Ducados, chattering loudly all at the same time as they waited for the movie to begin.  Americans didn't generally go to the local outdoor movie theater. They had their own movie theater on the Naval Base where they had the luxury of watching films in English, and where they would eat huge amounts of buttered popcorn, or so I'm told.

It just so happened that the place where I was staying was located adjacent to the outdoor movie theater.  Now, I didn't object at all to paying my entry fee, buying bags of cacahuetes and pipas, and sitting on a hard metal chair. I didn't even mind when people stared at me. They could never figure me out, that's why. I wasn't American, nor Spanish, nor, by the way, in case you're wondering, was I a whore. Not that I mind whores. I just never wanted to ever be considered one.

What I've always liked to do is multi-task. I like to watch a movie and do other things at the same time, something you can't really do if you're sitting in the middle of a crowd of people all staring with big eyes at the large screen. I was fair chuffed when I discovered that if I climbed up on the tiny kitchen counter and carefully positioned a nice comfortable wee stool, and if I sat up as straight as straight can be on the wee stool, lengthened my neck like a giraffe and peeked out the top of the window, I was able to see the movie! Ha ha. "Fiddler on the Roof" was a great movie to watch when multi-tasking.  Topol, who played the main character, was constantly bursting into song and dancing around as if he had something stuck up his rear end. So, when I got fed -up with him I clambered down off the kitchen counter to check the toilet.  Yes, it was important to see how much water was in the cistern. Many times the water just simply stopped running for no reason, so you had to be careful when considering  all things plumbing. If there was actually water, then it was best to avail yourself of the toilet whether you needed to or not.

I usually checked the taps as well. It was always a delight to turn on a tap and see water trickling. It was a constant surprise. I splashed my face and neck, trying to cool down. Whilst Topol was singing "If I were a Rich Man" with all his little hear, a tape of "Everybody Plays the Fool" cheered up the rowdy crowd in the bar across the road and echoed in the hot evening air.

Midst the rabble and cacophony of loud voices singing at the top of their lungs I figured I had time to make myself a bocadillo before Topol's next scene. I always liked doing several things at the same time. Busy hands are happy hands, or something like that. Then I climbed back on the kitchen counter, plonked myself down on the wee stool and peered out the window at "Fiddler on the Roof".  As I steadied myself by placing one foot in the sink, I felt as if I was on the brink of a new adventure. Somehow my crunchy bocadillo de jamón york tasted even better than normal. It was like being on a picnic in some exotic location. Maybe I was a giraffe in a former life? That's why I was so good at stretching my neck to peer out the window at the movie. Gosh, then who knew what awaited behind the next palm tree, or even the next sand dune?!

Bang, bang, bang!

Someone was at the door?  Just when I was all comfy and enjoying myself I had to jump down off the kitchen counter and answered the door. Who could it be?


He had to be an American. Short blond hair, large white teeth and chewing gum, he was certainly not Spanish.

"Do I know you?"  If I did, I didn't remember him.

"Yeah. We met at a party last week-end."

"Okay."  I met loads of people at the party last week-end. Hmm.

"You said you lived next to the outdoor movie theater. And, well, here I am."

"Here you are."  I took another bite of my delicious bocadillo and chewed it rapidly.

"Are you ready?  For the movies? I got a pass for you to go on the Base."

Oops. Now I remembered. His namewas John, or Jim, or James, something like that. And he had talked about how he could get me a pass to go to the movies on the Base. A movie in English! Not bad. I must have sounded really enthusiastic, for here he was, complete with pass. Not only that, his face was so shiny clean, and it looked as if he was wearing a brand new shirt.

"I'll be ready in a tick." I figured I ought to pay a visit to the toilet to check if there was still water. Force of habit. There again, maybe there wasn't a problem with water on the Base. That would be great to use the bathroom whenever, to turn on a tap and have constant running water. I had even heard that there was air conditioning on the Base. I bet you people didn't have to sleep at night with their windows wide open, with mosquitoes zooming around.

"What movie?"

“They’re showing “Fiddler on the Roof”."

I tried not to choke. "Em. I was just watching it when you came. It's almost finished."

"You've seen it then?"

Oh, John, Jim, or James, or whatever you name is...sorry.

He looked disappointed, shuffled his feet and played with the long lapel of his shirt.

"But only in Spanish. It will be lovely to watch it in English." I reassured him.

Constant running water, cisterns that flush, air conditioning, things were looking good. Plus, he did seem a really nice person.

"My name is Shawn, by the way, in case you don’t remember."  He stretched out his hand as if to shake mine.  "We can go bowling after the movie, if you'd like, then get a bite to eat."

"I've never bowled before."

"It's easy. You won't have any problem."  It was his turn to reassure me.

As I said, you never know what's going to happen next, how an evening will turn out. I wonder what else might evolve? Ha ha. Stay tuned!

Ole to the ban on bullfighting

The following is one of several of my articles published at Powder Room Graffiti, an online magazine. This has since been taken over by different people and the name has changed to In the Powder Room.  They seem to have done away with the original articles, unfortunately. The articles were to be short, around 500 words, which was a challenge, as well as a good learning experience.

Ole to Banning Bullfighting

What honor? What choice?
by Sandra Staas (Mon Aug 02, 2010)

The recent ban on bullfighting in Catalonia was based on animal welfare grounds. However, those against the ban state that the reasons are actually political. They believe that the ban on bullfighting is simply a means for Catalonia to show Spain how different it is, and how one day they may actually acquire full independence from Spain.

Catalonia does indeed consider itself separate from the rest of Spain as can be witnessed from the tendency of the people to insist on speaking in Catalan to Spaniards from different regions and even to foreigners. Speak in Spanish to a Catalan and the chances are that he'll reply in his own language. I know because I spent three years in Catalonia.

Regional pride is, well, pride, that‘s all. Retaining one's own regional language or dialect, is understandable, but to insist that others speak this regional language is simply not acceptable. The fact that Catalonia is indeed 'different' from the rest of Spain is undeniable, but to therefore assume that the ban on bullfighting is political, is erroneous.

I remember watching debates on Spanish television when I was living near Madrid. They were heated arguments over whether the bullfight should be banned. One argument that came shining forth, through yelling to the point of hysteria, and arms waving like madmen, was that the bullfight proved that man is superior to beast. Let's assume that this is true. Just how many times do you have to prove that man is superior to beast? Does anyone really need or want to prove this, anyway?

Those against the ban cite the fact that the bulls are bred for bullfighting, that it is an honor for the bull to die in the bullring. Bloody hell. I don't think the bull knows this. Whilst the bull is being stabbed by the picador's lance, whilst the blood is spilling out of him, are we supposed to actually believe that he feels a sense of honor? When the matador fails to kill the bull with one single lunge of the sword, and the bull bellows in pain as its legs crumble to the ground, are we to believe that he's feeling even more honor? When the matador gets gored we're expected to feel compassion for him. But, nobody forced the matador to go into the bullring. It's his choice to do so. The bull, on the other hand, has no choice.

All Dressed up and Nowhere to go -1973, Cadiz, Spain USE FOR EBOOK

I was really lucky for it had  been so easy to get private students in the city of Cadiz.  I had no idea English was such an important language. Word of mouth got  out that a native speaker of English was available to tutor and before you knee it, I was trying to decipher spidery hand writing written by yet someone else who wanted to learn English. The notes were always signed and duly underlined with a flourish.

Everyone seemed to know someone who wanted to learn English. Walk into the corner bar and Julio who would be preparing his famous pinchitos with just the right amount of paprika and garlic would tell  you about someone from down the road whose cousin's best friend's brother really, really wanted to learn English. 

"He wrote his address for you." Julio handed me a transparent, crumpled paper serviette. "There, there’s his signature.”  He pointed to something that looks like an abstract painting.  “You can do the lessons here, if you’d like." Julio grinned. "I can listen in and learn English for free! Ha ha ha!"

"Why do you want to learn English?"

"I could get a good job as a waiter in Torremolinos. Make more money. Make love to the Swedish girls. Ha ha ha!"  Julio was always laughing. He used to even laugh when there was nothing funny.

Businessmen and other professionals had their own ritual of writing their signatures. They would pull out a fountain pen from the inside pocket of their jacket and would write their full name which consisted of four, maybe even six words, with flair and conviction. They underlined this work of art once, sometimes twice with a zigzag design, then beamed at me, as they twirled their black moustache thoughtfully and provocatively.  They lowered their head, and with extreme care and precision gently would blot dry the ink. I was always duly impressed and intrigued by the drama I witnessed.  

One of my students was a sullen person, about my age, who sat with his head down and said nothing of any consequence most of the time. We met at his fancy, expensive flat. Behind him on the wall were dark, ugly paintings with ornate frames. The table we sat at was opulent as were the chairs. Everything was large, formal and cold. I couldn't  smell anything, not even garlic and olive oil, not even cologne, nor chlorine, nor sunflower seeds. The air had no character nor warmth of any kind. There was just a ray of sunshine that pierced the table, almost cutting it in half.

Any time the sullen student opened his mouth he talked about Alice in Wonderland. Occasionally he even asked me out. I didn't bother responding when he invited me out for I got the impression that he was crazy. He loved Alice and even said he could see her. 

When I told  my friends about his invitations to go out with him, they implored me to do so.
"How many times will you ever be invited out by an aristocrat?!"

"You've got to say 'yes' to him!"

I explained that the guy was off his head, that he had conversations with Alice of Alice in Wonderland.

"Who cares?!"

"He'll probably take you somewhere nice."

"You'll meet his friends. Then you can introduce us to them."

In the end, I decided that I'd go out with this distant cousin of the Grimaldis of Monaco, even if he was crazy. Why not? My friends were probably correct. I could have a nice time, and going out with a conde certainly didn't happen to me every day. I reckoned I'd go out with him just the once. No harm in that. 

For the next lesson I decided to wear my brand new fitted pink blouse with pointed lapels and my brand new tight red trousers with huge wide flairs that I could hardly button, let alone zip up. I actually paid full price for both these garments in a local boutique. Normally, I waited for the sales before purchasing clothes, but I really liked the combination of the blouse and trousers. I thought a blouse was more formal than a smock, more ladylike. And, if I was going to be wooed by a hoity toity fellow, I might as well look really nice. I sprayed myself with Shalimar perfume, something I very rarely did. Feeling fashionable and elegant, I was all set to be invited out by the conde boy.

At the next lesson he sat  opposite me with his head down as usual. 

"What did you do yesterday?"  That's always a good question to get people using the preterite.  He was supposed to know English and my job was  just to help him increase his conversational skills.

Out of the blue, he looked up at me and started talking about Alice, about mirrors and how drugs helped him see things that other people didn't. 

"I love Alice. I really love Alice. I love her."  He turned round and gazed at the mirror behind him "Do you see her?  I can."

I listened and I listened, all the while expecting him to get around to asking me out. Instead, he kept talking about Alice in Wonderland and jerking his head to stare at the mirror. I don't think he even noticed my nice clothes nor the fact that I had a seductive aroma emanating from behind my ears. Much as I liked Shalimar, it tended to make me sneeze, so I only used it on special occasions.

Before you knew it our time was up. Well, really.

I couldn't believe it! The very time I was about to say 'yes' to him if he invited me out, he didn't?! What bad luck! And on top of it all, I felt a sneeze coming on.

So much for being wined and dined by a count.

The more I thought on it, I believed it was really for the best. I didn't even like him. And he was so weird.  He was a poor, pathetic, pitiful, portrait of a person. His title, the luxury apartment complete with live-in maids, the rich lifestyle meant nothing.  He was really just another drug addict.  Don't you agree?

'Lo', that Playboy of the Spanish Language - Learning Spanish, Part 5

At times, learning Spanish makes you feel as if you're in some odd planet where 'lo','le', and 'la' make no sense. You mumble the words hoping that nobody really hears them, and you even cover your mouth pretending to cough. It's enough to make you sneeze and scratch your forehead in utter confusion!

Let's check out a little bit of the mysterious world of 'lo'.

¿Tienes el libro?  Sí, lo tengo.   What does the 'lo' refer to? Here 'lo' is being used as a masculine singular direct object pronoun. Do you have the book? Yes, I have it.

Here's another example of 'lo' being used as a masculine singular direct object pronoun. ¿Conoces a Pedro? Sí, lo conozco.  Do you know Pedro? Yes, I know him.

Want to know a funny thing about 'lo' in the above sentence? You can also use 'le'. Le conozco. In actual fact, what I learned way, way back in the seventies was the use of 'le' referring to both the direct and indirect masculine singular object pronoun. That made life a little bit easier. Lol.

I just knew you'd find that intriguing! It's possibly a regional difference. Here's a nice wee link that goes into the concepts of loísmo and leísmo in more depth in case you fancy a trip deep into the wild world of 'le' and 'lo'.

Here is Mr. 'lo' being used as the neuter direct object pronoun. ¡Yo sé que tú lo sabes!  I know that you know it. No, yo no lo sé. No, I don't know it.

Here's another example.  Nosotros lo comprendemos. We understand it.

Hmm. That sentence could also mean 'we understand him', couldn't it? If you use 'lo' for both him and it, then context becomes very important.

Now, what's going on with this 'lo'? Lo que a mí me interesa hacer hoy es ir de compras.  
He's gone and got himself a buddy. Amigo 'que' has wandered in, and he's not about to leave. How annoying. In English we don't need this 'lo'. Nope. We can say, "What I'm interested in doing today is to go shopping." You just know things are more complicated in Spanish! Think of 'lo que' as meaning 'that which'.

Here's another example of lo que''.  Lo que pasó es que  Ana se despertó muy tarde. What happened is that Ana woke up very late. ( I wonder what else happened? Was she late for work? Did she miss her flight? Pobre Ana.)

'Lo' can have other buddies besides 'que'.  Here he is with 'bueno'.
Lo bueno de estudiar mucho es que sacarás buenas notas.  The good thing about studying a lot is that you'll get good grades.

And here he is with 'malo'
Lo malo de no ahorrar dinero es que no podré comprarme una casa bonita.  Can you guess what 'lo malo' means in English?

As you can see 'lo' is not only the masculine singular direct object pronoun for 'it', 'lo' is also the neuter definite object. But who really cares what he’s called?!

Here is 'lo' sneaking into the land of discussions and beliefs.

Lo de Ana es que siempre se preocupa demasiado. The thing about Ana is she always worries too much.

Lo de las guerras es que nadie en realidad gana. The thing about wars is that in reality nobody wins.

This 'lo' fellow certainly is very fit as he creeps around ready to pounce and surprise you. Here he comes again in different expressions.

Por lo visto              Apparently
Por lo pronto           For now
A lo mejor                 Probably

They simply just use 'lo'. End of that story. Golleee. I'm happy that I don't have to think and wonder too much about the use of 'lo' with these expressions.

Regardless, if you want my opinion, this Mr. lo would be considered a hussy, a complete trollop, if he were a 'la' and not a 'lo'. He just keeps on popping up here, there and everywhere. What a playboy! Is there no loyalty in words? Can't a word just be, just simply mean what it ought to mean? Is there nothing a word will stoop to in order to be used? I rest my case, ladies and gentlemen of the jury.

TAREA (Homework)

Finish the following in complete sentences. Imagination is required!

Lo bueno de vivir en España_____________________________________
Lo malo de no saber cocinar_____________________________________
Lo de Pedro es que ____________________________________________
A lo mejor yo__________________________________________________

Can you guess what ‘sabelotodo’ means?


'Se', the Anti-Hero. Learning Spanish. USE FOR MEMOIR

One day in the autumn of 1980, when I was living in Talavera de la Reina I spent a morning in Madrid. Keen to learn more Spanish, I browsed around a shop selling just about every text book you could think of.  Amongst this array of books, one caught my eye. It was a teeny tiny, skinny minny paperback which looked completely innocuous. However, as I flicked through the pages the contents were enough to make my skinny minny brain puzzled and perplexed.

The only subject of the book was the Spanish word, ‘se’.  Can’t be that bad, can it?  I can hear you mutter. And you’d be correct. He’s just a wee word is this ‘se’.  

But, gollee wollee, he certainly does change the meaning of sentences. He evolves and revolves, slipping and sliding just like any elusive anti-hero we all love to hate.

Let’s look at some uses of ‘se’.
El niño se llama Juan.    (The boy calls himself Juan.  The boy is called Juan.)
Ella se llama Ana.   (She calls herself Ana. She’s called Ana.)
¿Cómo se llama usted? (How do you call yourself? What are you called?)
¿Cómo se llaman ustedes? (How do you call yourselves? What are you called?)
Ellos se llaman Miguel y Juan. (They call themselves Miguel and Juan. They’re called Miguel and Juan.)
Ellas se llaman Marta y Josefina.   (They call themselves Marta and Josefina. They’re called Marta and Josefina.)
As you see from the above sentences ‘se’ can mean himself, herself, yourself, yourselves, themselves.
Here are other examples of sentences using ‘se’:
Ella se baña.  She bathes (herself).
Ellos se levantan a las ocho. They get up at eight o’clock. (They lift or raise themselves)

I’m sure you already have read about reflexive verbs and their reflexive pronouns, so maybe this is a bit too easy, but it’s always good to review things. Let’s look at another use of ‘se’.

The sentences that I love are the ones where you say something along the lines of “I give it to you”. What is the word for ‘it’, and, what is the word for ‘to you’, assuming we are using the formal singular or plural?  This is when you have to really think hard. Or, at least I always used to have to. Hmm. Where to begin?

What does ‘it’ refer to? Let’s assume it’s a book. That’s masculine, singular. ‘Lo’ in Spanish.
Sure would be nice if we just had to say “Doy lo a usted.” Gosh, doesn’t that look weird! It sounds weird too.

The ‘lo’ (it) goes in front of the verb. Most annoying, I know, but you do get used to it.
Lo doy.”  I give it. 

So far so good. But what about the ‘to you’?  Remember, we’ll use the formal ‘you’ here, singular and plural.

Roll of drums….. I wonder what teeny tiny word you need?  

It’s ‘se’!  

Se lo doy.   To you it I give. In other words, I give it to you.  The indirect object pronoun ‘se’ is placed first.

But, wait a minute. That pesky little ‘se’ can also mean ‘to her’, ‘to him’, ‘to them’. He is a pesky little thing, isn’t he?

What are all the possible meanings of “Se lo doy”?

I give it to him. I give it to her. I give it to you (singular and plural, formal). I give it to them.
Oh my!

Let’s clarify things.

Se lo doy a él.  Se lo doy a ella.  Se lo doy a usted.  Se lo doy a ustedes. Se lo doy a ellos/ellas. 

Yep.  Welcome to the exquisite expansion of sentences simply to clarify the meaning brigade.  Not to worry. With a bit of luck the context will let people know what the ‘se’ refers to. That would be good!  

What does this mean?  Se lo doy a Paco.  
(Not going to tell. It’s a secret! Ha ha.)

Have you seen funny things like, “Se habla español”, “Se prohibe fumar” “Se vende casa”? That’s that ‘se’ again just popping up everywhere. Here it can mean “Spanish is spoken”, “Smoking is prohibited”, “House for sale”. It’s the passive voice. Who really cares what it’s called? I know. Life is tough enough without having to get all dramatic over a silly little mannequin called ‘se’.

Here are some other examples of where ‘se’ is used.

Se puede comprar muchas cosas en el supermercado.  You can buy lots of things in the supermarket.
Se conduce muy rápido en España. People drive very fast in Spain.
¿Cómo se dice ‘table’ en español? How do you say ‘table’ in Spanish?

It’s basically the impersonal use. In English one translation is to use ‘one’.  One drives very fast in Spain. Does one? Yes, one does. (Just don’t forget that when you brake, your car doesn’t stop immediately. I don’t think people knew that way back in the seventies and eighties.)

I bet you think that that’s all there is to ‘se’.  Nope. It isn’t.

There’s more. (Yikes!)

Ellos se conocieron en una fiesta.  They met one another at a party.
Ellos se enamoraron. They fell in love with one another.
Ellos se escribieron. They wrote to one another.
Ellos se pelearon. They fought with one another.
Y ahora no se hablan. And now they don’t speak to one another. 

Yes, ‘se’ can also mean “one another”.

This is just some of the numerous meanings for this wee smout of a word.
Se usa muchísimo esta palabra ‘se’ en español, ¿verdad?  This word ‘se’ is used a great deal in Spanish, isn’t it?

So, how do you say ‘se’ in English?!  Well…

Needing Wits and Getting Diddled - Talavera de la Reina, Spain, 1980

My neighbour across the hall,  the Lady from Leon, rushes over to  inspect my purchases from the Simago supermarket as I step out of the lift. My arms are yanked almost out of their sockets with heavy loads of potatoes, onions, apples, tomatoes, garlic, bottles of gaseosa, and even a rotisserie chicken.

Her head disappeared into my net bags as she  poked and squeezed, examined everything carefully for freshness. With huge grunts and groans she then glanced up at me and announced,  “Why pay high prices at Simago for vegetables that aren’t even fresh?! Next week, you and I will go together to the market.  I’ll show you how to really shop.”

I guessed she was right. The merchandise at the weekly market was indeed probably fresher, so I decided that I might as well agree to go with her. 

The following week arrived and The Lady from Leon rang my doorbell.  Before we could even say an  'Hola' the lift unexpectedly arrived. Many times you had to wait for ages on one, so I rushed over and held the door open for her.

“Are you ready? Now, you have to be alert.” She sounded as if she were scolding me.

We made our way downstairs and outside onto the busy streets.  A woman was holding a little girl who was urinating at the curb. I was always surprised to see things like that, but the Lady from Leon didn't comment, so maybe it was quite normal. There were  gypsies wandering around with their hands outstretched.  I never knew whether to give them money or not. I had heard that if you din't give them a few pesetas that they would put a curse on you, but the Lady from Leon ignored them. So, I did too. I really never did like how one of the gypsies would look at me. She would always be standing at the entrance to the apartment complex, always seeing me leave, and she'd be there whenever I returned. 

“You need your wits about you at the market. Don’t let them diddle you.” The Lady from Leon warned me.

“I won’t. I mean, I will… try to be alert.” I felt el as if I were going on a field trip. Maybe I should have been taking  notes?

The Lady from Leon was well-prepared for shopping with the tools of the trade. A huge basket dangled from one arm and inside the basket were net bags. All would be be filled by the time we got back to the apartment, of that I was sure. Shopping at the market was serious business and I had seen her come back laden with kilos of fruits and vegetable. 

“You don’t have a bag with you?!”  The Lady from Leon looks appalled. “Here, take one of my net bags. How else are you going to carry your things back?!”  She handed me one of her bags.

“I wasn’t planning on buying much.” I guessed I needed to acquire more wits about me if I’m going to succeed in this excursion.

The Lady from Leon marches down the road as if she were on a mission.  We were soldiers, protectors of the non-diddling group who would never, ever be diddled, and we walked in step towards the market.  She waved at acquaintances with the flick of her wrist and a loud “Buenos dias!”

“Want to know how to get free food?”  Her eyes were twinkling at me mischievously.

I nodded, even although I didn't really want any, especially food that had been lying outside under the sun with dozens of people coughing or blowing their nose over it, never mind all the flies buzzing about.  

“You ask to sample whatever it is that they’re selling. After going round different stalls, your belly will be full!” The Lady from Leon laughed heartily.

People are pushing and shoving, and the vendors are calling out, trying to get everyone’s attention. The pungent smell of strong cheese fills the air. The chirping of budgies and other small birds add to the noise. Children chase one another and squeal loudly. There’s a strong stench of body odour emanating all around me. Flies squat on the bread and pastries and gaze up at us defiantly. People are sipping on coffee, some are slapping back Anis or brandy, others are spitting seeds onto the ground, or picking their teeth with toothpicks.  I feel as if I’m entering a play being performed on stage. Everyone seems to know his or her role, including the stray dogs prowling around looking for scraps to eat. I think I'm the sole member of the audience, but that's still a role, isn't it?

I spy a vegetable vendor. His tomatoes are enormous and covered in dirt.  The Lady from Leon picks some up and squeezes them. She shoves them to her nostrils and sniffs loudly, then places them down and starts the process all over again with other tomatoes.

“There. These are good ones. Very fresh.  Fresher than the ones at Simago!  Clean them with vinegar. They’ll be fine.” The Lady from Leon assures me.

“I think I’ll get myself a kilo.”

“Watch the scale. The people here could diddle you. ”

“I will. Don’t worry.”

“I’m going to look at the table covers. The women in the small villages make them. Meet me over there when you’re done.”  The Lady from Leon weaves her way through the crowd towards the stall selling table covers and napkins.

I hand the vendor the pile of tomatoes that the Lady from Leon has chosen for me.

He places them on the scale. Guess what else he does?  

He places his elbow on the scale, too!!

Now, he wasn’t even surreptitious about this. I mean, he stands there right in front of me complete with his elbow on the scale. Does he think I don’t notice?

“Senor, your elbow is on the scale.”

“No it isn’t.” He quickly removes his elbow. Then, guess what he does?  

He places his hand on the scale!

I need to do some quick thinking to prevent an escalation of this potential tomato battle.

I stare at his hand, then stare at him, making eye to eye contact. I’m trying to embarrass him into removing his hand from the scale. Does it work?


I calculate that he’s possibly only diddling me out of one tomato, but who’s counting?

I quickly pay him, place the tomatoes in the net bag, and rush over to meet the Lady from Leon.

“Ah, you got your tomatoes!  Did he try to diddle you?”

“Em. Well, no.  Not too much.”

The Lady from Leon chides me with the look she gives the milkman any time he tries to diddle her out of a few pesetas.  She has very expressive eyes, without a doubt.

“You’ll learn.  Don’t worry.  Just look at the lovely table covers!  Hand embroidered. I think I’ll buy one to take to my sister in Leon.” 

I’m relieved that her attention is now taken up with the hand embroidered  linens.  She is right, however.  I do need to have my wits about me. I should have insisted that the vendor remove his hand from the scale.  Oh well.  On top of it all, I have to lug around two pounds of tomatoes all through the market. I always get mixed up thinking that a kilo is a pound. It never fails. 

Dreadful Dentist and the Grouping of Blood - Cadiz, Spain, 1973 USE FOR EBOOK

One thing I've always hated to do is to visit a dentist. Bad luck would linger around my mouth like a mass murderer about to pounce.  So many odd things and mistakes had happened any time I was in the clutches of a dentist. Therefore, it was with butterflies in my stomach and sweaty palms that I ended up at a dentist in Cadiz. It's not that I had actual toothache, it was more a dreadful feeling that something was not quite right with a tooth on the upper jaw.

"Open your mouth."  The dentist looked like a band leader conducting his orchestra, or a lion tamer goading his long-suffering animal to perform.

Now, opening my mouth wasn't the problem. It's what happened next that caused me great consternation.

He picked up long, thin, pointed instruments and proceeded to poke and probe.

"Aha. Senorita, you need to have the tooth pulled."

"I do?"  I'm surprised, for I'm not in too much pain at all.

"I can pull it now, if you like." He grinned down at me.

Before I could nod or shake my head he injeced the tooth, presumably with anaesthetic. In fact, he injected all around the tooth maybe three or four times.

Guess what?  He was injecting the wrong tooth! He was sticking the needle into a tooth on the lower jaw, not the upper jaw.

He placed the needle down, picked up the pliers and pulled and pulled. The pain was beyond any pain that anybody had ever experienced in the whole of the whole world's life. Believe me. There was no time for the anaesthetic to work.

I heard a crack.

"The tooth has broken, senorita. Don't worry I'll get it out."

He then yanked on a drill and drilled deeply to duly remove the remainder of the tooth.

I'm dead. I have to be dead. I can no longer feel the pain. When there is so much pain, you reach a point where everything goes numb.

Or, maybe it was the anaesthetic finally kicking in.

"Here, take this."   He offered me some cotton wool and added, "Goodbye,senorita."

He was dismissing me.

I couldn't even think of any Spanish. Not a single word came to mind as I nursed my bleeding mouth. I wanted to yell at him for pulling the wrong tooth. I waned to kick him in his fat ugly face.

He grinned widely at me as he ushered me to the door and played with his moustache.

"If you have any more teeth problems, just come back, any time. Ah, one moment.  Do you want to take your tooth with you?  A little keepsake?"

I would love to take my tooth with me!  I would love to still have it, you idiot of idiots!

I had to tutor two nurses at the local hospital, the Residencia Zamacola. They were  beginners who were really keen to learn English and I didn't want to disappoint them.

I arrived in pain, sharp, searing pain.

"What's wrong? You look pale."

Both nurses looked at me with concern.

"Sit down and relax.  Tell us what happened."

I related to them the best I could about the inept, unprofessional, stupid, moronic, dreadful dentist.  I don't think I made much sense as I struggled to speak in Spanish, all the while, spitting blood onto the cotton wool.  The best evidence was in my mouth which they both gazed into with huge eyes.

"You need to be careful when it comes to dentists. Some of them are doctors who have only done six months of dentistry."

"The pain will go away.  Do you know your blood group?"

I stared at them both, not believing for a second that the pain would go away. I had never ever thought about my blood group, and I didn't really care what it was.

"We can test your blood group, if you'd like."

I don't know why they offered this. But they did, and I got my blood group tested.

It's AB positive.

"It's quite a rare blood group. That makes you special."

Both nurses smiled down at me.

I didn't know how to smile. The pain was too deep. I still, to this day, don't understand why doctors could do just six months of dentistry and become a dentist. It's simply was not right.