In Plenary, Production on November 8, 2013 at 10:21 am
“No puedo vestirme bien,” I complain to L, who employs me.
In Tarifa the year has made its mind up: it’s autumn now, the mornings fresh and dim despite the clock change, the evenings dark and every few days or so what I now, after a few years of Andalusian acclimatising, call cold.
In Algeciras it’s a different story – the unseasonably late summer lingers on without consistency; yesterday it was fresh enough but today it’s just plain hot. Because I live in Tarifa I’ve come to work in a warm top that I regret the minute I step off the bus. Nineteen kilometres separate the two towns but there’s the small matter of a mountain in between and the temperature differential ranges between noticeable and shocking. Catches me out every time.
It’s particularly maddening at this time of year. I know I will have issues in my little classroom today. Gender issues. I will flick on the aircon to get the room comfortable and when the kids arrive, the debate will begin. Girls vs boys and me.
“Que frio!” M will exclaim, crossing her hands to rub her upper arms theatrically.
“Maestro!” P will chime in, her face a picture of suffering.
Never mind that both of them are basically wearing beachwear to school. The boys and I will look at each other as we always do, like sulking puppies. More
In Presentation, Production on October 3, 2012 at 9:23 am
This makes a change.
I’m sitting in front of a half litre of dark beer, brewed just a few feet away, bubbly and flavourful. Tucked into an alcove at a wooden bench, I’ve found a space for myself. It’s a beautiful room, actually – low ceilinged on the ground floor of an impressively proportioned brewery building. The wooden beams overhead are supported by heavy iron pillars in an industrial but elegant style – I’d call it Victorian but I can’t imagine they call it that here, in this elegant little town in a quiet corner of north east Bavaria, famous for its numerous beers, on this crisply cool, dark Autumn evening.
Yes, it certainly makes a change. On the other side of the room some kind of team gathering (an all-male line up along a long bench and all wearing the same blue polo shirt) provide a robust soundtrack, but their noisy hubbub – from yodeling (I shit you not) to beer songs – blends easily with the hum of the other patrons’ chat.
K has told me to get lost. Her oldest friend is getting married in the morning and they’re having a quiet little hen night, just three of them. She has decided I’m to be left to my own devices in her beautiful hometown with a pocketful of cash. More
In Plenary, Presentation on December 21, 2011 at 6:18 pm
Less than an hour’s drive from Tarifa, over the mountain, through Algeciras and around the bay, is Britain – probably the most distinctive physical feature in the whole of southern Spain. Many of you will know, of course, that Britain is a small, over-crowded and heavily urbanised island but you may not have been aware of some of its lesser known attributes; the commanding views of Africa’s northern coast, the small but stubborn population of Barbary Apes (unique amongst all apes in that they are in fact monkeys) and of course the tell-tale British surnames; Tewkesbury, Finlayson, Parody, Netto, Buttigieg, Benady, Santos, Spiteri, Zammit, Xerri and Crisp.
The main bulwark of the British economy is money itself. Investments, insurance, pensions and numerous other products I have a very poor grasp of are sold from here. Poker, a possibly related activity, is also popular. After that it’s booze. After that it’s cigarettes. And after that it’s you; the tourist. You come to get in the cable car and go see the monkeys. Then you buy some booze and cigarettes. Then you leave. It’s almost as if you came here for gambling, booze, cigarettes and monkeys! You certainly don’t come, I would hope, for the food.
Britain is peppered with traditional pubs – recognisable by their grim exteriors and sticky carpets. More
In Presentation, Production on October 26, 2011 at 9:55 am
Rubber lip grunt for dinner. With wedges. For the wedges I take two or three Patatas de Sanlucar – a huge and delicious potato that is ideal for frying but that also does very well in the oven – and slice them into chunky sections. I coat them in a little olive oil and a good bit of salt. Sometimes I add a spice, such as smoked paprika or ras-el-hanout, but not this time. These potatoes pack plenty of flavour and I don’t want to obscure it.
So that’s the wedges. Once they’re in the oven I start on the sauce. It’s got capers in it. And I saute up some broad beans with garlic and tiny bits of Spanish ham – a local classic to which I add a little fresh mint. This is going to be great!
We’ve been for a long walk over some hilly, coastal terrain and the season has changed, so I have weather on my mind as I cook. Going into a second year here one is made aware of the changing light as it comes round a second time; with deep satisfaction I am observing weathers I have seen before – the cooling of the air as I walk through town every day to the bus stop, the blinding sunlit facades against a backdrop of black cloud in windy, mixed skies and the odd drop of what will soon become downpour. It’s Autumn again, as it was when I got here and, almost wilfully, fell in love with the place. More
In Practice on October 12, 2011 at 10:36 am
Lessons have begun again. We’ve been joined by Stefan, a German who has been here for eleven years, and someone else is due next week. In a fortnight or so there’ll be five of us we’re told by Luis, the teacher. Two hours is a pretty punishing length of time to sit still and attempt to acquire language, but none of us can make it on any other day but Friday. We feel fairly smug studying alongside someone who’s been here so long, so we must guard against that I suppose.
We like Luis – he likes food and wine, the Arab history of Spain and getting out into the open country, so we feel compatible. Also, he’s from Madrid, so when he speaks we understand it, as opposed to the consonant-free andaluz of the average Tarifeño. Well, K understands him. I do my best. Picking up between forty and sixty percent and guessing at the rest seems to be working for me so far. Given my distractable nature it’s more or less what I’ve been doing with English all my life, so no big change.
He’s invited us along the next time he and his “little group” go walking in the mountains. I will pester him about it too, until he honours the invitation. We need to find ourselves more frequently in the company of Spaniards. Especially K; unlike her I spend my days in Spain and not in glorious British isolation on the Rock but, to be honest, when it comes to reaching my goal of good conversational Spanish “Teacher! Alejandro stuck his pen in my arm!” doesn’t really help. Read the rest of this entry »