I still take a Spanish class. In fact, because of the Spanish class, I have just started to work in the same academy as an English teacher. This week our homework was to write an essay using lots of past tenses. I chose to write about my first ever trip to Spain, to Barcelona, back at the beginning of the eighties.
Writing that essay I was reminded of the places we stayed and the things we did. I remembered the hostel, just off the Rambla in Barcelona that cost 500 pesetas, maybe a couple of quid, per night. There was only cold water in the room and the beds were like cots - they squeaked, they were simple but the sheets were shiny white. To have a hot shower I had to ask for a key and pay a small supplement. The Spain I encountered was a step back in time. The shops were shops where you had to ask for things from the person behind the counter. In the restaurants lots of the food was the sort of cheap, peasant food made from knuckles and offal. If you bought something safer, like a pork chop, you got a pork chop and nothing else on the plate. Puddings were restricted to a sort of custard, a creme caramel or fruit. There were people on every street corner with tiny stalls selling sweets or packets of cigarettes. Lots of the streets were narrow alleyways and, as well as the more modern cars and vans, there were still lots of strange three wheeled put put vehicles and small, smoke belching, lorries.
I was just talking to Maggie about this. She thought I was exaggerating a bit but she agreed that when she got to Spain, in the early nineties, it was still very old fashioned. She mentioned seeing an old woman, in Madrid, dressed in the rigorous black of a widow, pulling a small cart behind her loaded with cardboard and negotiating the city traffic. She remembered Extremadura as a place lost in the past. I remembered Extremadura too, particularly a row of colonnaded shops in Caceres blackened with age, though, as Maggie pointed out, that's a bit unlikely as Extremadura didn't ever really industrialise in the dark satanic mills mode. That journey to Extremadura started, for me, in a bus station in Seville where a couple of nuns shouldered me to one side as I hesitated over which bus to catch when the one I wanted was full. The ticket office was a squalid building with a long queue in front of the tiny ticket office window. My first time in Galicia, as part of some youth worker exchange programme, introduced me to a part of Spain where donkey carts were still a common sight.
This week I celebrated the twelfth anniversary of being here. I drove away from Huntingdon with the last few possessions packed into the MG and Mary the cat besides me on 7th October 2004. We overnighted in France so I must have arrived in Santa Pola on the 8th
As we settled in to our new home most things were just bureaucratic hurdles to be overcome but I do remember other steps which seemed to be from some sort of Kafka novel. Getting a gas cylinder required so much paperwork that it seemed like an affront to personal freedom.
When I first started to write this blog we had just moved from dial up to an ADSL Internet connection. I often used to rail against the useless Spanish websites and the paucity of easily accessible information. It's not the same nowadays. Some Spanish websites still don't work well but, in general, most do. Shops are usually browse and self serve rather than having to ask for things. Last night as we had a few tapas there were concoctions with curry sauce drizzle, skewered, battered prawns in a sauce and puddings made from mango and white chocolate. The cars, the clothes, the biscuits and the cinemas are much like everywhere else. There may still be narrow streets in places and not all the donkeys are gone but now they are no longer anachronistic, they're a reminder of the past.