So, Valentin has attacked me in my sleep. He has pounced at my face and clawed me above my left eye. There’s a deep red gash that is very long and that I kept having to explain to the kids at school.
“Mi gato.”, I would shrug. “Yo estaba dormiendo anoche y……yo no sé….algo asustó a mi gato o….algo…ah…lo ha asustado?…yo no sé…una mosca…eh…cualquier…”
Such a pleasure for these people, to listen to my assault on their language. To stand by and watch as I single-handedly ruin it. They do quite well, generally, it has to be said, under the circumstances, in terms of remaining polite.
Please, please stop, their faces beg. We don’t want to know your stories, or about the things that have happened to you, if it means listening to this.
But I needed them to know. Apart from the fact that I didn’t want the gash on my forehead to be quietly attributed to some sort of alcoholic mishap, it had been a first for me, being attacked in my bed. It’s as though a rite of passage has been successfully navigated. In a way I feel as though I’ve shared an experience with the James Bonds and Chuck Norrises of this world.
They always seem to leap up and respond with lightning precision when attacked in their beds and indeed, as soon as my stumbling hand had found its way past my little pile of non-fiction to the switch for the bedside lamp, I did too. Problem was, initially, I had no idea what I was reacting to; one minute I was lost in floaty bye bye dreamy land, the next I was halfway to the bathroom, blood streaming down one side of my face. The cat had leapt into the open wardrobe and from there under the bed.
“Poor thing”, said K from the bed and no, she wasn’t talking about me.
“He must have got an awful fright!”
I blinked at her with my one eye.
I crouched at the end of the bed with my head near the floor, peering underneath it at a very startled looking felid. I tried to appear pleasant as bright red, generously oxidized blood flowed from my head wound and formed a puddle on the white tiles beneath me.
“Come on lil fella”, I cooed. “It’s ok. Come on lil fella.”
“Eh, I think we both know that it is not ok”, said the perfectly circular pair of eyes staring back at me and my blood. “And I am not coming anywhere near you, since I suspect that you would then kill me.”
Right. I wouldn’t actually; in fact I found myself feeling bad for the little guy but I could see it from his point of view and so I left him to it. Strange to be so concerned for something that had damaged me, trying to reassure it as I bled. Is that what fatherhood is like?
A couple of nights later, before we fell asleep, we spotted him on the bed. His head was whirring round improbably as his eyes tracked a mosquito and the penny dropped. He had been hunting, and in the tunnel of his predatory vision had forgotten about me completely. So, as always, there’s a silver lining – another reason to hate mosquitos, and there’s little I love as much as loathing mosquitos. Valentín: blameless.
Indulgent parents that we are, we have decided that the little chap should have a shot at being let out front into the big bad world. He’s only had the back patio till now. We can’t bring ourselves to remain calm in the house when we let him out, so we go out with him and follow him around. The neighbours will no doubt have concluded that we are utterly depraved, as we herd a single cat up and down the street outside our house, utilizing a classic pincer formation.
Neighbours. We didn’t really have any when we lived in the old town. Our apartment was in a building of three but the other two were empty for most of the year and occupied by (frequently very annoying) tourists in the summer. Here, we have neighbours. It’s a neighbourhood. My plants have a chance of being watered when we next take an extended trip. Even if they think we are bonkers, I think I could get one of them to water the plants.
It’s good – we’re that little bit more embedded in life here, what with neighbour on one side (forget name), and neighbour on other side (forget name). Our new Spanish teacher wants to get us out and socialize with some people she knows so that will be good too.
Despite becoming a teacher of English I have retained my penchant for drinking wine I can’t afford, and this has led to our patronizing Tarifa’s poshest wine shop – Vino Divino. The guy is Italian in actual fact but Spanish is the lingua franca so we get a bit of practice as we chat with him, and this week we were invited along to a wine and cheese tasting he had arranged for around thirty people.
I was a little nervous because it would mean a whole evening of socializing busily and entirely in Spanish, in addition to which I was now sporting a fabulous gash on my forehead, but the venue alone was enough to rope me in – the mysterious Casino de Tarifa. Just opposite our local shop, we’ve seen Tarifeños go in and out of this magnificent 18th century building but never foreigners.
It’s the kind of place where you have to be a member of some kind of association to get in and where some members can probably trace their families back to the founding of the town. That kind of thing. We’d only had glimpses of its chandeliered salons through the large sash windows. So was I going? You betcha.
The interior was labrynthine – the kind of floor plan you only got before we gave up on aesthetics when building and plumped for expedience. Through a vestibule with multiple rooms off to each side and into a little bar, from there into a covered courtyard and behind that the games rooms – felted tables with leather arm rests for the serious player surrounding a billiards table and numerous more private niches.
We sat in a splendid room, an oil painting of good old Guzman El Bueno looming over us. The wines were very good. The cheeses were very good. Best of all though was the evening; we were all to chip in the princely sum of eleven euros to make the degustación possible but no money appeared to be changing hands. K, an accountant and a German, was keen to know when we should pay.
“It doesn’t matter”, said R, the organizer, with a shrug. “Whenever you like.”
She couldn’t get over it. It may be difficult to extract her from Tarifa and small town Spain if and when it’s time for us to move on. Coming after some bitterly sad events for us it was an enormously welcome experience – cordial and inclusive, and not a tortured facial expression in sight as we conducted ourselves in Spanish as best we could, understanding almost everything and enjoying the opportunity to give our language skills a good run-out amongst some patient, understanding Tarifeños.Follow @RobinJGraham