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 sometragicomedia. 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.