Jumping to Conclusions

During the years that I lived in Spain I think many were the occasions that I jumped to conclusions. Jumping to conclusions, or assuming things, can certainly cause one's life to become both colourful and full of adventure.
When I first moved to the Province of Cadiz, Spain in 1972, at the ripe old age of 23, I assumed that I'd go back home after possibly one year. Although I didn't have a job to go to, I had been assured that something would turn up, especially at the local bilingual school. I guess at the back of my mind I had the vision of possibly spending a school year in Spain, but not longer. Regardless of how long I'd remain in Spain I did assume that at one point I'd go back to Scotland and continue teaching there.
How wrong was I?! I ended up staying for four years in Cadiz. Not only that, I married, had a child and moved to Virginia. I subsequently returned to Spain in 1980 where I lived for yet another 4 years.
I knew very little about the person who had offered to put me up when I first arrived in Spain. A colleague of mine had friends who knew this person. Since my colleague and her friends were all teachers, I simply assumed that the kind person who was willing to let me stay with her for a few days was also a teacher. It didn't occur to me to ask questions. I was actually too excited about moving to Spain to even consider that what I was doing was possibly just plain daft. I did get frowned upon a lot when I gave up my secure position as a Primary School Teacher. People even warned me about Franco, about gypsies, etcetera. Many things crossed my mind as I made my decision to leave Scotland and jazz off to Spain, but I simply didn't consider the possibility that the person with whom I was going to live was a prostitute. Ha ha. Surprise! I had  jumped to the conclusion that she would be a schoolteacher, however, everything did work out well. It was very kind of her to allow me, a complete stranger, to move in with her until I found other accommodation.
When I lived with two teachers from the bilingual school where I managed to get a position, I just assumed that I could leave a container of yogurt on the windowsill in the kitchen. That's what I had done in Scotland and there had never been a problem. Absolutely not. However, no wonder my roommate stared at me in disbelief. I think I appalled her completely. Nobody in their right mind would leave a yogurt on a windowsill in Southern Spain, certainly not when the temperatures are in the 80's. You can well imagine the stench that I caused.
Years later, when I was living in Miami Playa, Tarragona I assumed I had remembered correctly the Spanish word for chickenpox. I had recently looked it up in a huge, heavy dictionary with the tiniest of print. When I told the new neighbors that our son had chickenpox I used the word 'viruela'. They became so upset spluttering how terrible, how awful, then fled inside their house and closed their windows. Oh my! Surely chickenpox wasn't all that bad of a disease? I later discovered my error. Smarty pants me who prided herself in her good Spanish had got mixed up. The word for chickenpox is actually 'varicela'. And just what does 'viruela' mean? It means smallpox!  No wonder the neighbours were so perturbed.
From assuming the fire that was burning way far away over the other the side of the mountains couldn't possibly reach our house to assuming there would be running water after I lathered up in the shower, this jumping to conclusions had me jumping up and down so many times during the years that I lived in Spain.
Here I was living in Pittsburgh, and still jumping to conclusions. It's not right, I know, but, as you can see, there was a pattern already etched out.
I assumed when I went to the local supermarket to purchase bread that it would be an easy task. Not so. You'd think I had learned that there were so many choices of bread after having lived in Virginia. Nope. Somehow, I had forgotten about the vast array of breads that would be eagerly gazing at me. Where to begin? What exactly was Pumpernickel bread anyway?! I picked it up and stared at it, hoping it would talk, tell me what it tasted like. Replaced it. Picked up a different type of bread, squeezed it, just like what you do in Spain, and put it back down too. Oh dear. Just a nice crispy, crunchy bread is all I wanted. A French baguette is what I was looking for, but back in 1984, I didn't see any. In the end, I think it was Wonder bread that I bought, only because it looked like Pan Bimbo, the soft bread that you got in Spain.
I assumed when I enrolled in graduate classes that I would be taught. I really did. I also assumed that I would have to study, work hard, and complete all assignments on time. I was ready to do my part and I naively assumed that the professors would do theirs. Granted, not all the professors were lazy lumps who  thought  by quoting others that somehow this made them appear to be wise and oh so knowledgeable, superior, and God's gift to the University of Pittsburgh. God help those who have the wit to quote themselves, that they may reap the harvest of their ideas. 
Do feel free to quote me on that last sentence! After all, once you get quoted that means you have been ordained into the gathering of Truth and Fiction where surprise and disbelief are sketched into the collective memory.








Musical Notes - Cadiz, 1972

During the week I entered the world of the rich with their antique framed tapestries, oil paintings, cooks and maids. It seemed a stiff, cold  existence, regardless of how perfect everything was. Some of my students were wealthy children who lived in fancy apartments with fancy furniture. Everything was perfect in their lives. They were all handsome and beautiful, and they had  every material item you could wish for, from the tiny leather bound dictionary and the gold chain around their necks, to the expensive clothes purchased in boutiques. They floated about serenely, with not a care in the world. They spoke Spanish with the crisp Castilian accent that revealed their breeding and pride and the fact that they were not your typical Andaluz who was renowned for not finishing the endings of words.   
    At the weekends I’d meet with different people who didn’t seem to be overflowing with riches and who weren’t  dressed up in the latest fashion from some expensive boutique. Most of them were Americans who were easy to get along with and who wore whatever they wanted, including casual clothes. Yes, it was quite common to see even professional people wearing blue jeans.  We marvelled  at how exotic everything was in Spain. How the people were so dramatic, as if they are acting in some tragicomedia. The Americans called the ‘peseta’ a ‘patata’ and didn’t seem to care that it was wrong. Come to think on it, quite possibly they didn’t even know that it was wrong! At least they had good pronunciation of the letter A. It’s not so easy for English-speaking people to pronounce the letter A in Spanish
    In the evenings when you strolled about you sometimes could hear piano music through the open window of some apartment. It could have been a young student practising the scales over and over again. The sound of the piano would stand out above the cacophony of women’s voices speaking loudly, of radios blaring forth long advertisements interspersed with occasional long-winded monologues about something that seemed so important. In reality it was just announcements of upcoming programmes, but everything in Spanish sounded impressive to my ears. 
    Listening to the piano music reminded me of my brother who used to practise the scales, his  tongue doubled over in concentration as he willed his fingers to press the correct keys. He’d stare downwards, his shoulders hunched over making him look like an old man. Music is the international language. It transports all who listen and all who play an instrument to a supreme fertile land where musical notes communicate our thoughts, feelings and desires. Perhaps we should all stop talking and simply listen, play a musical instrument and smile.
   In the early 1970’s you could be out until 4 a.m. and not feel threatened nor be afraid of being mugged.  There was no fear, not even if  you heard footsteps running behind you. You could stroll through the streets following the aroma of fresh-baked bread that piled out on to the street like a welcoming embrace. The closer you got to the ovens the closer you got to the bars which served that thick nectar of hot chocolate. I’d stick my spoon in the hot chocolate to watch it stay upright. People had told me to do this, to prove how thick the hot chocolate was.
    One night, instead of using a spoon, I dipped a finger into the cup of hot of chocolate and licked the delicious nectar, slowly savouring its richness. I looked around to see if anyone had noticed, half expecting someone to stare at me the way people did when I first arrived. I had always been regarded as the extranjera, the foreigner who even had a sunburned nose and who spoke funny Spanish. For the first time it seemed to me nobody so much as glanced in my direction. The clanging noise of the pinball machines ringing out shrilly and the pitch of animated voices sounded like musical notes.  For the first time I felt as if all that I saw and heard around me was normal, that I was no longer some awkward foreigner.

Ever had a fabulous surprise?! Rota, Spain, 1974




   "Surprise!" My husband grinned at me as if he had just received fabulous news and added, "Guess what?" He rubbed his hands together, causing his brand new wedding ring to gleam in the sun rays coming through the kitchen window.

     What could the surprise be?  We had recently returned from the long and arduous trip to Gibraltar where we had got married. You see, since Franco was in the huff the border between Spain and Gibraltar was closed. The only way to get to Gibraltar was to catch the ferry from Algeciras to Tangiers, then turn right round and take another ferry to Gibraltar.  Maybe he had got the photos developed?

    "What's the surprise?" I asked, mouth watering, thinking about a lovely tasty treat of milk chocolate that he had perhaps got me from the Naval Base in Rota where the choices of food seemed endless. There, even the selections of bread were spread out over rows and rows, and many a time I'd stand transfixed trying to figure out which bread to buy. I had been more  accustomed to purchasing only either a barra de pan de un duro (5 pesetas) or Pan Bimbo in the local shops, so limited was the choice.  

     "Come with me." He led me outside to his car, a white Fiat that was normally always dirty unless I gave it a good, thorough bath.   

     "You finally washed the car, is that the surprise?"

He opened the car door and picked up a black furry creature which uttered, "Miaow".

     "I got him free, on the Base."

    I should have added to the list of things you could get at the Naval Base in Rota: poor little kittens who were in need of a home. Some lady was giving away kittens free, and since my husband really liked cats, he couldn't resist.

    "I'll call him Tibby." My husband beamed proudly at me and then the kitten before carefully carrying it inside the house.

    The wee dog I had found inside a box on the pavement was king of our house and perfectly content to be spoiled rotten. He was therefore, not amused one bit when he saw this little furry intruder. He stood up with a startle and started to sniff the cat, then ran around it tapping it with his paw. Growling and moaning he gazed up at me in dismay, as if to say, "Mama, what on earth have you brought into my house?"

    I will say this of my dog, he was a gentleman. He never bit the cat, nor did he bark at him, well not too loudly, at any rate. What he loved to do was chase Tibby all throughout the house. I think the cat quite liked this. He'd run upstairs and then back downstairs, dive underneath the dining room table with the dog lunging behind him. Whenever the dog actually 'caught' Tibby, by placing his paws on him, the game would commence all over again. The cat would turn round and run the other way.  
      
    This all sounds like some Norman Rockwell painting where domestic bliss had painted rosy cheeks and golden smiles. However, although our cat and dog were indeed fortunate in that they got a good home, outside on the streets, life was not so kind to animals. You'd come across dead cats or dogs who had been run over by irresponsible drivers. I don't think there was any respect for animals back then in the early seventies in Andalucia. I saw drivers go out of their way to swerve towards a dog or a cat. Perhaps they were just trying to frighten them. I don't know why they'd want to do that, though. I used to see teenagers throw stones at stray dogs. Many is the time that I'd speak sharply to them, tell them not to harm the animals.  I'd be met with surprised stares, and for a second they would cease, only to start once again hurting the animals.

    Tibby was an indoor cat whose adventures outside amounted to a fast run around the walled in back yard and a leap back inside the security of our house. We were therefore puzzled one day when we were out for a walk down to the supermarket and found a cat that looked just like Tibby lying dead at the side of the road.

    "Tibby!"

    "He must have got run over by some idiotic driver." My husband's voice was flat as the realisation that Tibby was dead sunk in.

    "He didn't normally go so far from the house. Poor Tibby." I looked around to see if there was some hooligan lurking around on his moped. If there had been I think I might have punched him on the nose.

    "We can't leave him here.  I'll get a towel and carry him home. We can bury him out back."

    It seemed an awfully long walk to our house. I was thinking of Tibby and how much fun he had been, of how he had got on so well with our dog. What a shame he had got run over.

    We entered the house and were greeted with huge licks from our dog. I was about to relate to him the dreadful news about his buddy, Tibby the Cat, when, what did I hear but a loud "miaow". It couldn't be! Yes, there was Tibby curling himself around my legs just like he always did. We had made a mistake believing the dead cat on the road to be ours.

My husband picked him up, hugged him tightly and blurted out, "What a fabulous surprise to see you, Tibby!"