‘Marta’s horrified.’ My mother forced her way into my thoughts. Her campaign to dissuade me from working in Buenos Aires had begun. I had recently returned from a not very successful stint as an au pair in Greece. The Falklands war had actually broken out while I was in Athens, so her maternal concern was more than justified.
‘She says you must go to learn Spanish – in Spain. Here.’ Thrusting an address, torn from an envelope, under my nose. ‘It’s a friend of hers. He needs teachers. Go and speak to her.’ Her tone and insistence meant I had to go and visit her friend.
Marta hailed from Madrid and during my teens held the most successful Tupperware parties in the neighbourhood. In attendance at these parties, as minder to Marta’s three children, our reward for good behaviour was the remains of the buffet. I did not know then I was being initiated in Tapas. There were no cheese and ham sandwiches or Victoria sponge and a cup of tea at Marta’s. Instead, there was Spanish Omelette, home made with lots of egg, potatoes and onions; it was always succulent and substantial. To wash it down there was Sangria. Omelette was always left over, but there was never any Sangria. This was the key to her success. A few too many sips had her guests signing up for even more space consuming, sculptured plastic solutions to problems nobody ever knew existed. Creating collections of butter dishes and wilted lettuce revitalisers than anyone would ever need, give away, donate to charity shops, in a life time. She was the party plan organiser’s dream hostess.
Meeting Marta in Madrid
The teaching post with Marta’s friend Ricardo did materialise, but I never did get to Buenos Aries. I had started studying for psychiatric nursing instead, which was what I was doing when his reply turned up, three years later.
A letter, that was to change the course of my life, beginning my intense lifelong affair with Spain. A decade after the parties, I met Marta in her mother’s poky flat in Madrid’s Goya district, which must now be worth a small fortune.
‘So you like Madrid.’
‘Me encanta, I adore it. How have you been able to live in Edinburgh all these years?’
‘I love my husband, but we shall retire here. Do you want tea?’
‘No thanks, I hate tea.’
‘I remember you’re a coffee lady. The coffee’s much better here.’
‘That’s an understatement.’
‘Well you won’t need a kettle then.’
‘I suppose not.’
‘My electric kettle is the only thing I’m going to bring from Scotland.’
Plastic and Passion
Obviously her Tupperware collection, she always got the best, biggest and most expensive hostess gifts ever, hadn’t made a lasting impression. I felt sad that thirty years in a country had left so little impression. Marta’s indifference to my homeland distressed me, especially as I suffer what can only be described as passion for Spain. On more than one occasion, I have behaved like a petulant and wronged lover. Driven to the point of no return, the need to escape so destructive I have thrown away everything I had worked towards in a matter of weeks, storming out swinging my hair behind me. Along with fifty boxes of personal effects, thirty of which were books, the kettles I always gave away. Affairs though are heady and addictive and less than three months away from the country I was suffering withdrawal symptoms. I missed the luminance of the sky, the bold colours, and the extreme climates. I longed for the tastes, the aromas, the sensuality, and above all the vitality. The Spanish love life, and their relationship with it is a heady cocktail; intoxicating in its energy.
Meeting the Boss
This however, I still had to savour and suffer when Marta’s friend Ricardo had met me, only a few weeks previous to the meeting with Marta. Battle worn and square bummed after the long gruelling bus journey from London to Madrid, no cheap flights on the Internet then, only scheduled flights that were more expensive than my credit card limit.
Ricardo did not find it difficult to locate me. I was the only one not submerged under the welcoming committee blanket of loving relatives. I was unable to take in Ricardo’s first guided tour. A short while later we pulled up outside, in front of, what I was later to learn was Ricardo’s home. He turned, grinned and asked,
‘What do you want to do?’
‘Shower and sleep.’
This response made me a little uneasy, I had been told a flat was part of the employment package. I was too drained to think straight, even while I was not in motion, I felt as if I was.
I asked, ‘In the flat?’
Ricardo responded with a big grin, ‘oh that’ll be ready mañana, we’re in Spain.’
I was soon to learn that it was true, mañana meant any time in the future except the following morning.
‘A pension, Marta’s flat in Goya or to stay with friends of mine.’
Ten minutes later, I was deposited by Ricardo with Rosa and Manuel. I was on the verge of crumbling like a sponge, over squeezed, and over dried. We arranged to meet the next day at ten.
Having been slapped awake by the laser bright sky, I had lain in bed, nervous about the coming day when I was duly summoned to breakfast by Rosa. I was offered what I was to learn was a typical Spanish breakfast, milky coffee and biscuits, this was my first major communication problem, as I detest milk. The biscuits were Marias, Spain’s answer to Rich tea and just as uninspiring. The Spanish compensate for this bland breakfast by having a meal timetable that covers every part of the day, filled with food as flavoursome as my first Spanish omelette. To my delight, I was to discover I had arrived in foodie heaven.
This is an extract about the book I am editing on my life in Spain.