It is time to leave behind my share of the sense of collective shock of the past week in Spain, as described in the previous two blog posts. In this country they celebrate funerals the day after the death. Then Spaniards move quickly on with life.
I haven’t written very much here on the blog in the past few weeks. I have been settling into a new routine, as the memory of working life in secondary school fades away behind me surprisingly quickly. I have forgotten the names of all the badly behaved children already. In teaching, it is always the good students you remember: the ones who thanked you for helping achieve their A-grades. The one who went on to study geology at university because one day you showed her that limestone was not just a boring bit of rock but a new way of seeing the landscape, the planet and the story of life.
Instead of getting in my car and going to work, I now have my pattern of extended morning chores here at El Parral. Then a leisurely lunch. Later, I might walk the donkeys, go for a bike ride, or simply not do anything. Thursday is market day in Vila.
I was never very good at wandering around markets. My long-practised style was to park, stride into the market as a policeman might move in fast to make an arrest; find the particular stall I was looking for, and make a purchase before a quick exit. This is perhaps missing the point of a market, which is to enjoy the experience. In any case, it is a bit too English. I need to consciously remind myself now to be more Spanish.
Last Thursday morning in Vila I had my first deliberate marketflappery session. I will need to explain that, won’t I? My daughter Alys is making a good recovery from a long battle with hip problems and she goes to hydrotherapy twice a week; this has become known as ‘hydroflappery’ in our parlance and the word gets applied to other therapeutic activities. So when I go for a healthy twenty kilometre circuit over the mountain with a short coffee stop in Sella, it is ‘cycloflappery’.
Marketflappery is the deliberate exercising of my idle curiosity muscle, which has long been in danger of atrophy. I entered Vila market from the railway end, past the roasting chicken stall and the cheap shoes stall. I tried to make myself look at the shoes but it was no good, a voice in my head just said, “You haven’t come here to buy shoes.” The same thing happened with the next three stalls, of tea towels and cushion covers, handbags and ninety-nine types of fake branded perfumes.
I began to get anxious. “There’s nothing I want to buy. What am I doing here?” I reminded myself this was a martketflappery exercise and I took several deep breaths to calm down.
I took an extended interest in various types of sausage, brightly coloured sweets, hats and kitchen utensils. With marketflappery it is important to spend quality time gazing at things you do not intend to buy. If you are a man, this rule does not apply to the stalls filled with women’s knickers (of which there are very many and the knickers are very huge). Here you may apply the marketflappery exception to the rule and walk quickly past, not noticing them, even if the knickers are fluourescent orange.
However, marketflappery does require you to pay particular attention to anything which is hideous or in bad taste. Looking intently at fluffy toys and anything made with badly sewn felt is really excellent practice. A smiling stall holder seemed to think I was taking a strong interest in a nylon squirrel, and at this point I have to admit I bottled out and ran away.
I will try again next Thursday. I might even buy something on impulse. But not a nylon squirrel. Or maybe the ultimate success of marketflappery is when I finally walk away carrying my nylon squirrel? Difficult one. We’ll see how it develops.
There is a great article in the online (English language) edition of El País by the classical pianist James Rhodes. I recommend it. He simply states, in bold print: “I have no reason to lie when I tell you that everything is better in Spain” and he goes on to explain why he calls Madrid and not the UK home.
There was something compulsive about this article, as in the opening scenes of the film Amelie when the narrator tells us about the things that she likes, and they are borderline obsessive. Rhodes captures (better than I could presently express it, even though I have known this country much longer than he!) the fascination we Hispanophiles feel. What is it about living in Spain that is so good?
“I have spent hours wandering around the Carrefour de Penalver overwhelmed by the colors and flavours and smells and freshness of it all, seen tomatoes the size of footballs at the fruit shop around the corner from my apartment, eaten cakes made for me by my neighbours who, rather than complaining about the noise, ask me to play the piano a little bit louder. I have discovered the genius of natillas.” (Note to self: read James Rhodes again before the next marketflappery session.)
A science teacher colleague who has also lived in Spain for many years casually mentioned to me recently how he likes the smell of the newsprint when reading a newspaper with coffee in a Spanish bar. So, today I am not reading the news online (despite the above recommendation) but I am having a coffee in Sella reading my copy of El Pais and sniffing the newsprint, but not in an obvious manner or other customers may become suspicious.
Of course, in Spain you buy your newspaper – not at the boring newsagents shop where snivelling overweight kids are trying to nick the sweets – but in a street kiosk. My newspaper was purchased in this kiosk in Vila before driving to Sella. The Bar Casino in Sella only has Información de Alicante and today calls for El País.
Why? Because I want to read this by Rubén Amón: “Rajoy: or who killed don Tancredo.” I read it early on the online edition and that’s when I remembered Steve’s words about newsprint and coffee. This article demands you read it while the newsprint rubs off on your fingers.
Amòn tells of a 19th century bullfighter called don Tancredo López and goes on to describe the deposed prime minister Mariano Rajoy in terms of the “creative passivity” of this bullfighter’s style… Rajoy’s dontancredismo. The article is a eulogy that sends us all away from the ‘funeral’ after the surprise death of the government, feeling that the poor treatment by the roughnecks in the Cortés on Friday has now been avenged by the press. And the PSOE’s Pedro Sánchez – The Man Who Killed Don Quixote? – will need to work hard to prove he has got a tenth of the stature of Rajoy.
And that – for a long time I hope – will be my last comment on the politics of these times. It is going to be an ugly mess for some time to come and I don’t want this blog to be about it. It needs to celebrate Spain and life with donkeys.
Fifty years in La Mancha
In the magazine section of the newspaper is an interview with Terry Gilliam whose The Man Who Killed Don Quixote opened in Spanish cinemas coincidentally with the fall of the government on Friday. In the interview Gilliam says the Monty Python team wanted to offend people to make them think, “But we were not angry: we just laughed at everything.” Asked whether such a thing as Monty Python could exist today, he said no, “Because people are afraid to say what they think. It’s horrible. Everything is black or white: you are with me or against me.”
I can’t wait to see Gilliam’s film. He spent twenty years on it. I have known La Mancha for fifty years and I am sure his film – no matter how unfaithful to the classic text! – will encourage me to read the book for the fourth time. With a pensioner’s rail reduction, La Mancha is within easy reach from here!
Two more years and I can apply for Spanish citizenship. Thanks, Brexit. Like James Rhodes, I have made my choice, and I’ll celebrate Spain.