I think I’m contracting hayfever, which is frankly ridiculous in a place that’s almost as dry as Jordan. Or maybe that’s just my sinuses reacting to an overdose of chorizo in last night’s risotto. Whatever it is, it’s spoiling the atmosphere.
It’s two o’clock on a Sunday afternoon here in the Parque de la Paz in Villafranca de los Barros, which means the town’s finally awake and everybody and their five children are out to enjoy the sunshine for a few minutes and then spend a good three hours in the shade, chatting noisily over a pint or a cafelito, more often than not the other way around to what you might expect. Where the students of the town are is anybody’s guess (I suspect they lead a more nocturnal existence at the weekends), but all the families converge on the park come Sunday morning. Scores of children on roller-skates climbing up and down the ramps by the Bar Atalaya whilst mami and abuela witter away with babi in a pushchair, getting ogled at every other minute or so with cries of ‘ay que linda, ay que linda’ or such like. One or two of the children who aren’t too fond of roller-blading are tottering around in oversized shirts, hands stuffed into crisp-packets and gaping in wonder at everything that moves. Especially the strange individual sitting on the bench on his own. Who even does that?
It’s both the easiest and the hardest thing about village life in Spain. Or village life just about anywhere, come to think of it, but especially in Spain. It’s a big family world, and if you’re not part of the family… well, you get the idea. Little Sunday idylls like this remind me just how much I’ve always wanted little dark-eyed curly-haired toddlers of my own, and whereas in England that kind of remark would probably earn you a wary look if not a second opinion from most people, here in Spain it’s a totally natural thing to be baby-centric. It must be – these Spaniards have giant families. One of the students I’m to be teaching put me in a tight corner when, during an introductory class, she asked ‘why is your family so small?’. My colleague apologised on her behalf and told me I didn’t have to answer that one, but the point had been made. I come from a family of four, including myself. Naturally, then, I’ve always loved the idea of a large family. It was one of the things I treasured most about my first relationship. We all want what we can’t have.
I suppose I ought to tell you that I’ve found somewhere to live for the next eight months. It was almost too easy. The new mechanics teacher from Plasencia made good on his offer and I’m now conveniently based just five minutes’ walk from the centro, and one minute’s walk from the park – which, ironically, is to be my internet hotspot for the rest of the year. I’m not going to complain about that. It’s a wonderful place to be. With any luck, in a couple of weeks I’ll have found the younger generation of this town and this may prove to be their hangout too – albeit at a different time of day, of course. That’s the only thing I envy the Erasmus students for; a ready-made social circle of people their own age. But at least I get the golden kernel in that I am, quite obviously, the only Englishman in town. And I mean that quite literally. There are two other auxiliares to be working here when October rolls around, but they’ll be living in Almendralejo, leaving me as the English-speaking bastion here. That couldn’t suit me any better. Because that means that, apart from when I’m teaching, or when I’m reading or writing my novel, the only language of communication I’ll be using out here will be Spanish. And unlike Andalucia, where (beautiful though it is) I might well miss half of what is said in the slur, I understand everything here. It’s an enchantingly countrified strain of Castilian, and that suits me down to a T.
When the time is right and I’m fully settled in and documented (the latter awaits in the Oficina de Extranjeria in Badajoz tomorrow, or as long as it takes) I’ll head for Olvera, where I’m lucky enough to have a host of old friends waiting to meet me, after I had to leave them behind to return to life in England, now almost nine years ago. I should thank my stars for that much. It may feel like I’m an outsider, watching all these families going about their Sunday paseo, but I’ve got my toe in the door already and I’m working the rest of my foot in as we speak. BB x