Your ordinary everyday stories
When I was on a DIMA posting to Italy and Spain I used to travel to regional centres to do interviews. As much as was practical, I preferred to take the train rather than fly. This is because I found trains to be an ideal place to practise my Spanish and Italian.
The Spaniards in particularly are very friendly on trains, especially families. They will chat to you happily for hours, they will offer you food and wine, pass you a baby to sit on your knee and talk baby talk to. Sometimes at the end of a train journey I felt like I had been out on a family picnic with people I had known all my life. Wonderful folk!
One Sunday night I took the overnight train to Galicia, in the northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula. The people there are very proud of their Celtic heritage, their distinctive language (gallego), their green countryside, and their wonderful seafood and wine.
But back to the train. It was late, I went to the dining car to get a hot drink before bedtime. The buffet was not far off closing, there were only two fellows in there, sipping wine or beer. They were what the Spanish would call "chulos", which is to say....well, put it this way...not the military type (long hair, etc).
I point this out because behind the bar, hands aggressively on hips and a look of defiance on his ruddy face. He was definitely an ex-military cook, with sleeves rolled up and very martial tattoos on his forearms. He had a cassette player on the bench, and he was playing a recording of military marches, VERY LOUD! He glowered at the chulos: "¿Os gusta?", he challenged. ["You like it?"]. "Está bien" ["It's OK"] one of them muttered. The cook turned the music up even louder and glared at them some more.
Next morning (Monday) I got off the train in Vigo, a beautiful historic town on the coast. I checked into my lodgings, a little room of a very old hotel. My window looked out over the narrow street to the town hall clock, which was at just about the same level as my room. As the street was so narrow, the clock was very close, very close indeed.
After my day's interviewing I went out and walked around the old city centre a bit. Beautiful old stone buildings with glassed-in verandahs to keep out the wind and rain and make the most of whatever sun they get in between rain squalls. I went into an old stone restaurant with things cooking in pots on open fires and on wood-fired stoves. It smelled delicious. I dined on delicious seafood soup (purple in colour because of the squid ink) and various seafood delights washed down with the also very purple local wine.
I decided to go to the local cinema. It was 1981. It was packed full, even though it was a Monday night and people presumably had to work the next day. I thought there had to be a special explanation, and there was. From eavesdropping on chat I pieced together that tonight was the first night that they were showing a film, part of which had been filmed in a local village, not far from Vigo. Everyone from the village was there, hoping to see themselves in one of the crowd scenes in the film. There were folk of all ages, from babies to grandparents. A nice extended family gathering.
Things started to go wrong when appeared that the only crowd scene that was likely to be shown lasted all of 3½ seconds, and you couldn't really see anyone close up. The muttering started, but they hung around. Which was a mistake. Things took a turn for the worse when the plot started to deteriorate, as far as the audience was concerned. Don't forget that this film was portraying their village to the world, and I guess they thought that everyone would think that what happened in the film really happened in the village. Anyway, the problem was that the female lead actress, who was supposed to be a village girl, was jealous of her brother's girlfriend and tried her hardest to get rid of the girlfriend.
She succeeded, but the mood in the cinema grew ugly as it became apparent that she was starting to take a romantic interest in her brother, trying to seduce him. By the time she started kissing and hugging him and starting to take off her clothes for him (the action was taking place in a wine cellar under a house), the cinemagoers were standing up booing, jeering, some waving their fists at the screen and shouting out ¡Qué escándalo! ¡Sinvergüenza! (What a scandal! Shameless!) and suchlike. I decided it was a good time to leave.
I had to spend the Monday night there, and the next morning I had to drive a hired car to my next destination, Gijón, in the province of Asturias. That would have been OK, were it not for the fact that as soon as I got back to my hotel room I found out that the town hall clock chimed out its tune every 15 minutes. Wonderful! And as I mentioned earlier, it was VERY close. All this is by way of pointing out that next day when I was driving, on my own, I was very tired. The sky was grey and drab. It was drizzling, as usually. The rhythm of the windscreen wipers was hypnotising me, perhaps. I was on and old, narrow, winding road, very much up hill and down dale.
As I drove along half asleep at the wheel (luckily I wasn't speeding) one of the front wheels came off the bitumen and I couldn't get it back on because the bitumen was higher than the shoulder of the road. I veered off into a ditch. Fortunately, there were no obstacles and I was a little shaken, but OK.
I got out, walked around, inspected the site. I found out that the reason the bitumen was so much higher than the shoulder of the road was because this stretch of the road was actually an old Roman road which had had bitumen laid on top. You could see the cobblestones at the edge. I looked around, found part of a dislodged one and kept it for a souvenir. I still have it today.
Although it sounds sacrilegious, the Roman roads actually keep better when they are in use like this, because they do not suffer so much from erosion and weed growth. I sat in the car, looked at the cobblestone, and had a rather curious thought. Oh well, I figured, if I had died here at least I would have died in a historic spot, and my descendants would have had a bit of a talking point.