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Posts Tagged ‘expat’

El Consumismo

In Plenary, Presentation on October 4, 2013 at 7:18 am

El Consumismo

K is throwing a few things into an overnight bag and I’m on the other side of the bed pretending to do the same, although really I’m just hanging around.

“Explain to me exactly what you mean,” she says, coiling the flex around some kind of hair tool, “by lunch.”

A doozer of a question. Not for the first time, I take a good long look at my fiancée.

“Something to eat,” I reply – an uncertain, questioning inflection finding its way into my voice, “in the middle of the day.”

She’s brushed past me and is gathering up small bottles and vials in the bathroom. No response.

“A light meal,” I call after her, “in the early afternoon?”

She returns with a bag of cosmetics and a faceful of scorn.

“I know what lunch is, you moron. I meant what did you have in mind?”

Once again she has me on the back foot. I hadn’t thought the suggestion a controversial one.

“I, eh, didn’t…I don’t really…” I drop the pair of boxing shorts I’ve been fidgeting with into my little case, “I just thought we’d…you know…we might…eat something.”

“In La Cañada?”

We’re off to Marbella for the night More

La Venta

In Presentation on September 27, 2013 at 8:05 am

La Venta

The bus that I take from Tarifa to just outside Algeciras where I teach in an English academy is regular but infrequent – I’m left with over an hour to kill before I start work and I kill it in a roadside venta with a café con leche and a slow, bad-tempered netbook. Since my previous job was in the same area I’ve been a regular there now for three years and the coffee is often plonked in front of me before I’ve opened my mouth. I take it to the terrace and sit in the deafening noise of the port traffic – juggernauts and container trucks – trying to concentrate on whatever it is that day.

The neighbourhood is called Los Pastores and the one behind it, where I work, El Cobre. Neither of these places will ever feature heavily in Ideal Home or Town & Country and the latter in particular raises eyebrows when I tell people I work there; they often seem mildly surprised that I’ve lived to tell the tale. I’ve never experienced anything on my way to or from work but a few curious looks and a laid-back family feel to what is undeniably a down-at-heel barrio. I would concede though that a number of the inhabitants appear to be interesting.

I’ve written about the venta before and the tortuously slow process through which I eventually came to feel accepted and comfortable there. Nowadays it’s a fait accompli; I’m more or less treated like royalty. I’ve seen staff come and go and whenever a newbie arrives he or she is taught quick sharp that mine’s a coffee. I’ve had knowing conversations with the dueña about how the ideal olive is a cracked one with the stone in, More

El Incendio

In Plenary, Uncategorized on September 20, 2013 at 8:11 am

El Incendio

Filthy smoke obscures the coastline as I pass through Pelayo, Spain’s wettest village they say and the last stop before I get off the bus for work. It’s a mountain village above Algeciras, surrounded by beautiful Parque Natural – pines and cork oaks and rocky arroyos that spill down towards the sea. From Pelayo you can see both pillars of Hercules, one on either side of the Strait, or you can when the humid little pueblo isn’t shrouded in mist, which is most of the time.

Today though the fog has been replaced by the skyward plumes of dirty smoke on an otherwise clear day. Another long, dry summer is coming to an end and the crackling, brittle ground is burning. The brown cloud is drifting toward Getares, a suburb of the port, rising from a line of fire on the hills closest to the coast, maybe a kilometre from the road. Southern Spain is accustomed to wildfire and the authorities do not fuck around – the sky is loud and busy with helicopters that to and fro from a flooded quarry closer to town, huge and heavy water bags swinging from their bellies.

It’s quite something to see how much water those things hold – they release it slowly rather than all at once, making wet contrails for some distance before the bag is spent and the helicopter returns to the quarry. On the one hand, the quick and thorough response of the emergency services is testament to human ingenuity; how clever and conscientious we are, with our airborne water-carriers and our fire engines, our busy heroes working hard to save the day! More

El Gastor

In Practice, Production on September 4, 2013 at 10:36 am

El Gastor

“You’d have a shit life,” says K, leafing through one of those magazines of hers in a deck chair out by the kidney-shaped pool, “without me.”

Strong words, but I believe she has me on this one. I give the proposition a moment’s thought, just in case, but no – I’ve got nothing. Still, I like to give as good as I get and after a brief period of reflection I manage to deliver a retort I think I can live with.

“We’re going to need more wine.”

“We have two bottles,” she says, eyes on the page.

“We have one bottle.” It’s exhilarating to be a step ahead of her. “I used some for the chicken.”

She looks up.

“You used a whole bottle of wine for your chicken?”

I shrug, lacking a magazine of my own to hide behind.

“That’s coq-au-vin, I’m afraid.”

She returns to her portfolio of cranky, hungry young women teetering on heels in what I assume are circus costumes.

You’re a coq-au-vin, I’m afraid.”

I pick up my book. That’s as maybe, I think to myself, but we are going to need more wine. More

Los Lugares

In Plenary, Presentation on August 6, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Los Lugares

Usually, when we arrive in a new place we get our bags inside as quick as we can and head out to look around. Not so in Santillana – we loiter in our little studio apartment, showering and catching up on emails, glad to be inside. The truth is the streets of this perfectly preserved medieval village – famed throughout Spain for its picturesque beauty – were intimidating as we drove in, dropped our bags off and drove out again to leave the car in the mandatory car park on the edge of town.

To say the place is popular would be to put it mildly. What would appear to be the two or three principal streets and square swarm with tourists and day-trippers. Getting even our small car through them is a cocktail of fear, rage and regret. The place is awash with cheap t-shirt emporiums and the kind of mass-distributed trinkets you could pick up in Málaga or Madrid. Somewhere behind all these multi-coloured leather goods and straw hats is the place that Sartre called “the prettiest village in Spain” but, as K succinctly puts it, “I think we got here about two hundred years too late”.

There are a few genuine artisans working here – jewellery, art, furniture – but lots of it’s just tat. A little girl’s flamenco dress, in Cantabria. Really? The region is famed for its anchovies and if the shop shelves in Santillana are anything to go by, they all come from this inland town; if the prices are anything to go by, they’re golden anchovies. We don’t see a single butcher, or electrical appliances store, or fruteria. More

La Gratitud

In Plenary, Production on July 13, 2013 at 8:49 am

La Gratitud

We go to dinner at L’s apartment in one of the soviet-style blocks down by the water and as usual there are another few people for us to meet.  As we climb the stairs to his second floor flat we find ourselves doing so with his son and his son’s girlfriend and once inside we are introduced to A, a woman of Argentine origin who now lives in El Puerto de Santa Maria – about an hour away – and who struggles, as we do, to make small talk as the others huddle in the kitchen preparing the food.

In his text message, L boasted that the dish on offer tonight had a five hundred year pedigree, billing the dinner as “una cena andalusi”. In fact there are two “platos” and I never clarify which one he was referring to – some tabouleh with herbs, apples and raisins and an andaluz salad I have read about and attempted myself but never tasted in anyone else’s home, a plate of orange slices, olives and bacalao, along with more raisins and potato wedges.

The latter is carried in by P – who is always here – on two plates while B, a Swiss woman who lives in Tarifa with her Spanish partner and who speaks tarifeño Spanish like a sailor, brings in the tabouleh and the meal is underway. We always like coming and tonight I’m glad to be here even though there are good days and bad days as far as my Spanish is concerned and I find myself slipping in and out of comprehension and a little frustrated with myself at times. I do pick up that A is some kind of music therapist and when the conversation turns to the food More

Los Portentos

In Practice, Production on June 24, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Los Portentos

Some fuss at the front of an apartment building as the bus sets out for La Linea through Algeciras city centre. One of those unassuming if not quite unattractive pale redbrick efforts – six or eight storeys, double recessed balconies on the street side and the obligatory green and striped awnings hanging low over the railings which because of the recess protrude just two or three feet from the façade. A block of a building – we lived in one just like it in Madrid – I will have passed it by many times and never given it a moment’s thought.

Today the front entrance is cordoned off with police tape and a few policia local are in attendance. Some stand with hands on hips or arms folded and others talk on their radios, surrounded by a small crowd – just twenty or so – of neighbours. Several people are deploying the video-making function of their smartphones or making calls themselves, their necks craned upwards. A bus-full of necks, mine included, also crane to follow their line of sight.

For four stories above them the awnings have been damaged, knocked from their hinges to dangle dangerously overhead. I instinctively look to the ground to see what might have done the damage and sure enough, a significant amount of rubble lies at the little crowd’s feet. Looking up again establishes that the rubble used to be the protruding few feet of both adjoining balconies on the fifth floor. Where they should be is an open scar – a few pot plants teeter More

Las Codornices

In Practice, Production on June 13, 2013 at 10:27 am

Las Codornices

I should be running down by the water this morning, or at least walking faster, but I just have to slow down to look around. Everything is exceptional today – a great mixed sky like an oil painting, the cloud cover overhead breaking up in the east where the sun rises and graduating westward to a dull gloom which hangs low over the water, the whole sweep of it culminating in a funnel about a kilometre out where rainfall engulfs a short line of fishing vessels and their orange-buoyed nets.

Up past the sports field the spring flowers have gone to seed and their vibrant yellows and purples are beginning to recede into the dustier, dry grass hues of high summer. It’s very early and very quiet – quiet enough to hear the fish break surface in the river and for a few rabbits to linger in the open. A long-legged spider crosses the wooden walkway, pausing as I pass.

I go as far as the old military bunker and then cut across onto the sand. About two kilometres up the coast, the rock promontory of San Bartolome is lit up in a pin point shaft of sunlight that cantilevers its way in over an adjacent hilltop and illuminates the cliffs with precision.  The sea is almost as calm as the river today, lazy waves yawning and sighing their way in and out over the sand. A few footprints, a few paw prints, the island like a surfaced submarine, the mountains of Morocco behind it; it’s a clear day and I can see deep into them.

This is a place that makes you feel More

Los Tabancos

In Presentation on June 2, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Los Tabancos

We go to Jerez. Our usual hostal: cheap, clean and sparsely furnished. Two high little windows into the alley, a cool-tiled floor, a double door with ornamental balcony that overlooks the inner patio, its railings hung with geraniums, a fan in the corner, a chair.

I go for a walk while K sleeps and, finding myself in an old tabanco (a sherry bar that serves from the barrel), I ask for a palo cortado; on a prompt from the ageing barman I stipulate that I’d like it chilled. Then I settle down with it at a barrel-top table and stare into the middle distance like the other two unaccompanied men in the place.

Tabancos will sometimes sell the region’s wine by the bottle as well and there are a few rickety old shelves for the purpose as well as large urns and plastic containers of sherry vinegar. I’m the youngest here by a long way, and I’m not that young. If you require vivacity in your watering holes it probably wouldn’t be for you, with its assisted-suicide-through-sherry vibe and pickled old men, but I like it. When I came in the guy behind the bar looked genuinely surprised to see me but by the time I get up to pay and leave, asking as I do if it would be alright for me to take a photograph of the place, he’s become friendly and says that of course it would. He does advise me that if he himself is in the photo he will charge me.

“Like Ronaldo does,” he says.

“Fine,” I reply, “please get out of the way.” More

Lily

In Practice, Production on May 27, 2013 at 9:26 am

Lily

I should be typing this in El Puerto de Santa Maria. We were to be there this weekend, celebrating my birthday and joining the last dot on our sherry map. Admittedly it isn’t a very complicated map; the town is the third and final dot on the famous Sherry Triangle, for us. We’ve already spent fine days sipping wine in the other two, Sanlucar de Barrameda and of course, Jerez de la Frontera. They like their place names long in this part of the world.

But I’m not. I spent the day grieving instead, in shock over the loss of a little cat that might as well have been a child to us. Birthday activities included searching the house from top to bottom, doing it again, and again, talking to more neighbours than we knew we had, covering Tarifa in missing posters, contacting vets and cat shelters, rocking back and forth and drinking to take the edge off it all. Getting used to the idea of her being gone for good.

Then she came back. After thirty hours, a helpful neighbour came to our door to tell us he had seen her underneath a car on the next street. He wasn’t the first Samaritan of the day and we trundled off behind him, myself already a little worse for wear and expecting another false alarm, but it was her. K in floods of tears. Bottle of wine promised to the neighbour.

So my birthday presents this year have been the fact that the cat isn’t dead and a horrendous hangover. Not much of a story, is it? Cat goes missing, cat shows up. Still, I got some mileage out of it More

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