El Nabo

In Plenary, Production on November 8, 2013 at 10:21 am

El Nabo

“No puedo vestirme bien,” I complain to L, who employs me.

She laughs.

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.

“What are they talking about?” our eyes will silently ask each other. “This is a small room with a closed window in the south of Spain on a sunny day. There are ten people in it. Ten human bodies. It is hot.”

“Why are they saying it’s cold, teacher?” the little boy eyes will plead with me. They don’t understand yet. Neither do I.

I have three just three words for you, M.

Car. Dig. An.

Of course my retort is imaginary. I can’t remember the Spanish for cardigan. The girls, who we outnumber eight-to-one, will win again and we will sit and sweat and suffer. Later, as I walk to the bus stop in the dark, damp from the experience, I will be cold. Jesus.

K will be waiting in Polly. I always glance back over my shoulder to the back seat when she picks me up to see what she’s got for dinner. Food is another measure of the changing seasons; for the last few months it’s been all about fish and dressed tomatoes but as I lift open the shopping bag tonight a couple of gongylodes are revealed with a tub of crème fraiche and some dark brown bread.

The seasonality of food is partially a question of altitude: a bell-jar graph that peaks around February as we eat the oranges, apples and pears from the upper branches of a receding winter. Then it’s the gooseberries and apricots of spring as well as the sweet new leaves of the warming weather.

In summer we can stand in our garden and look our food right in the eye – climbing tomatoes and beans – but we’re looking and bending down by the time August and September arrive with their aubergines and marrows.

It’s when the temperature really drops that so do we, down to ground level, digging in the dirt itself for swedes, parsnips and celeriac. Hence the gongylodes on the back seat. When we get home we’ll peel and chop them, adding them to a pot with some onions, leek and celery and when they’ve fried for a few minutes, some swede and chopped carrot along with a fairly finely diced potato to thicken the soup.

We’ll eat it with beer, bread and butter and with the night time framed by the window there could be no better illustration of the sudden transition we’ve made between seasons. Just last week the children I teach were dressing up for the rather disneyfied version of Hallowe’en that seems to be everywhere nowadays.

It’s the dark time of year and as if to protest, the light has exploded in a myriad of shocking colours. At dawn the skies are purple and green, the gullies and ridges of the African coast across the water crystal clear and ghostly blue. The last brilliant performance before we hunker down for winter and our meagre daily ration of hard white sunshine. When the skies cloud over we’ll crave even that.

I commented to K the other evening (it may have been during an anti-capitalist rant, I don’t remember) that we’d probably all be a lot healthier, physically and mentally, if we did away with all of this clock changing nonsense and just obeyed the sun that gave rise to us all and its seasons. Winter would be the hibernating part of the year. We’d all get up a lot later and bed down a lot earlier. Not a lot would go on in between. It would probably involve a lot of cider.

But no, if anything it’s the opposite. With the pleasure of summer behind us it seems the whole northern hemisphere hunkers down, not to hibernate but shoulder to the wheel, embracing a joyless vista of work-related objectives and banal to-do lists. September marks the start of a new year for an English teacher and as a writer too, things are hotting up – more paid writing gigs and a book to plough ahead with. It doesn’t help that the unwritten part of it grows at an exponentially faster rate than the written part.

It feels like the pressure is piling on just when it should be alleviated. The harvests are in – surely we should all be winding down, the height of our exertions a quick roll in the warm hay with a rosy cheeked someone? But no…

I suppose we’ll have the heating on soon. In the average Tarifa house, heating means one of those portable radiators on wheels or, as in our case, a three bar electric fire that devours electricity (more pressure) and effectively  heats a semicircular area approximately half a metre deep directly in front of it. Of course, K will want it pointed at her. We will fight battles of will over who gets to sit closest to it and have it point at them. I will lose of course, never mind her vastly superior stash of woolly socks and fleeces.

  1. It’s not just the youngsters … we had the same temperature arguments when we were teaching English to a lawyers’ practice. ‘Que frio’ at 24 degrees from the women, and the blokes dying of heatstroke. Must be something in the Spanish genes!

  2. Congratulations on the paid writing gigs, and good luck with the book! Hopefully our strange way of hunkering down to work in the winter rather than hibernate will be net positive for you.

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