I write from Retirement Central HQ – Bilbao. At last I’m in my element. No more of that ERASMUS nonsense being lost in the crowds of equally lost, foreign students headed for the nearest McDonalds… I’ve turned over a new Spanish leaf. And the wind has brought me to northern Spain – and weathered me somewhat on the journey. I’ve slotted right into this world of OAPs. Everything is at half-speed. Crinkles and wrinkles galore. I’d better come out with it… I am embracing retirement at the age of 20. (Can you only retire if you’ve had a full-time job?)
If you can’t roll your ‘R’s, I’m afraid much of my Spanish experience will be lost on you. After all, my new name is ‘HaRRRRiet’. Say it aloud. Ugly, eh? Here’s another one for your newfound tongue rolling skills: ‘¡QUE HORROR!’. Literally ‘what a horror’, this is used to express any degree of panic/shock/worry/disgust/anger… Ranging from ‘Woah, it’s raining. ¡QUE HORROR!’, to ‘My flight has been cancelled. ¡QUE HORROR!’. But you know things are taking a step up on the Spanish scale of stress when ‘HORROROSO’ makes an appearance. Try that one. Everyday is a good day to exercise your tongue in Spain.
A vision of Spain would be incomplete without mentioning the perrrrritos. Try saying that, with all the rrrrr you can summon (think flamenco, tortilla, bullfights). And that, mis amigos, is enough for you to make friends with everyone on the block. I’m living in an area called Sarriko (to me, Sarri-coca-cola). Wanna be a local? Purchase a perrito. That is, a miniature dog. Add ‘bonito’ (a positive adjective used to mean ‘cute’ or ‘sweet’ or ‘pretty’, although trust me they’re not even close), and you’re on your way to having lots of OAP best friends. Picture the scene. You’re popping out to the fruteria and there’s a crowd of OAPs heading your way, gabbling at the top of their voices about their perrrritos, the extortionate price of a cafe con leche and their recent card game losses (it sounds as if they’re all on the phone since none of them are listening to each other, each one on a completely different topic). You’ve got two options for getting past them on the pavement – compliment the dogs or charge through the kerfuffle of trolleys, umbrellas, walking sticks and dogs (all of the yapping variety). “¡QUE BONITO, QUE BONITOS LOS PERRITOS!”, I cry (all the time thinking ‘QUE HORROR’). This works as a sort of ‘local password’ to let me past. Recently Spotted: gangster pug. The ‘street look’ has gone canine. Black leather bomber jacket, fur-lined hood. Quite the dawg. Who thought that putting your prized pup in a puffer would catch on?
Thinking of moving to Spain? Brace yourself… for the most awkward lift journeys possible. Social greet other residents of your apartment block with the classic ‘Buenos días/Buenas noches’ (or ‘Hola’ if you’re feeling abrupt and British) as you enter the lift. Silence ensues. But it’s that kind of silence that you can almost feel. Four others are standing uncomfortably close to you. The lift creaks. Two of the old ladies are clutching smelly yorkshire terriers. You try to save your bag from their complete slobber treatment (dogs, not grannies) and inch yourself away. You turn slightly. Everyone is looking back at you in the mirror. Dogs included. The silence is only interrupted by a sweaty man chewing a dubious flavour of gum – I’m guessing tropical fruits by the orange bubbles which are almost popping into my hair. PING. We’re finally there. Everyone piles out. But we’re on level 14. Wrong lift.
In other news, the Bilbainos have been basking in the ‘better-than-Britain’s-best-heatwave’ 35 degrees celsius. In April. Not forgetting, however, that this part of the country suffers the paraguas problem. That is, no-one goes outside without their umbrella. A few weeks in and my stifled chortles at this strange obsession were quelled. The sun is making an appearance in Bilbao and BOOM the clouds want a look in. They fight. Sun, nil. Clouds, score. The rain in Spain doesn’t fall mainly on the plain. It falls mainly in Sarri-coca-cola. Take that, Eliza.
But back to balmier days and UV rays… A few weekends ago the sun hosted a party. Almost all of Bilbao went to the beach. Found a sorbet van (weird, where’s Mr Whippy?). Topped up on the vitamin D. The freckles attacked. Forgot bañador. Swam in clothes. How I got burnt shoulders is quite beyond me. Never fear, a grandma is here – with a dubious solution. Standing behind me, clutching two halves of a lemon above her head (she’s small). Lemons squeezed onto my shoulders. Pips and pith. Down my back. I smell like a cheap air freshener, mmm zesty.
Adiós, it’s tortilla time… ¡Qué horror!
Hit me with a HORROROSO story or just ¡HOLA!
Not-yet-gangster giant perro – officially, ‘el poopy‘.