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Garlic and Olive Oil

My goal is to paint a picture of life in Spain during the seventies and eighties, albeit from a foreigner's point of view. Excerpts are in no particular chronological order.

Catalunya 2017 and 1981
Saturday, October 28, 2017

In October of 2017, Catalunya declared independence from Spain. As yet, we don't know the consequences, but, as far back as the early 1980's there was always a special Catalan situation. I lived in Tarragona and experienced the Catalan new found freedom of being allowed to speak their language. Before moving to Tarragona I resided in Talavera de la Reina. This blog post deals with a conversation I had in 1981 with a private student from Madrid. It is an excerpt from my memoir, "Aventuras in Spain" which can be found at Amazon.

Chapter 20 from Memoir, “Aventuras in Spain”

Chapter 20

What’s going to happen next?!


In 1980 and 1981 I taught English privately to various groups of students in my apartment on the Calle del Prado in Talavera de la Reina. One student was a history teacher who, according to her, spoke the best Castilian Spanish.  Her Spanish was the real McCoy, absolutely. None of this Talaveran slang, and certainly no cutting off the ends of words as the Andalucíans have a tendency to do. She was from Madrid, something she remarked upon every occasion she could get.

“I’m not from Talavera, you know. I’m from Madrid.” She pointed to herself and sighed heavily as if to emphasize this important point. She wanted me to help her with English as the other two in the group, being English teachers, were more advanced, so we decided on meeting an extra time each week to do an exchange. She would coach me with my Spanish and I would go over her English so that she would be better prepared for the group lesson. I quite liked being told how to pronounce Castilian Spanish correctly. It was so much easier than reading rules and regulations from a textbook.

“The letter ‘d’ is suave, soft, at the end of a word. Although it’s soft, it’s still there. Think of the word, ‘verdad‘.” This normally sweet older lady suddenly spoke as if she were a tyrant, giving out orders. This was a side of her I hadn’t seen for normally in the group class she was the quietest. I sat up straight, almost about to salute and stand to attention. I said the word, ‘verdad’, and out came just too strong of a ‘d’ at the end.

“Do NOT pronounce the ‘d’ as in English!”  She actually did yell at me.

Oops. The pronunciation of the letter ‘d’ never had been high on my list of priorities up until that very second.

Verda…th.”  She corrected me, emphasizing the ‘th’ as in ‘this’.

I curled up my tongue and pronounced the word as closely to the way she did as I possibly could. Such a fine point, but it made all the difference to my pronunciation. Not only did she teach me the finer points of Spanish pronunciation, she also told me about her husband and some of the changes in Spanish society since Franco’s death and the beginning of the new democracy.

“My poor, poor husband works so very hard. His office is in Madrid, of course. Not here. And so much does he have to put up with.”


“He has to deal with so many people.” She lowered her head and stared at her stiletto- heeled shoe as she moves her ankle round and round.  “Didn’t you say you might be moving to Cataluna, to Tarragona?”

“Yes, possibly in a few months.”

“Then, you too will have to deal with the Catalans.”

“I don’t know anything about them.”

She grimaced and threw a hand up in the air as if swatting a fly. “Let me tell you a story about the Catalans. One day, my husband, who is a very important man, held a meeting in his office in

Madrid. Guess what happened?”

“What?” I couldn’t imagine where this story was leading to.

“This Catalan man turns up at the meeting. Well, the Catalan man begins talking in Catalan. To my husband, no less. Imagine! In Madrid, in my husband’s office, this Catalan man speaks in Catalan to my husband. In the capital city of Spain! Well, I tell you.”

“Does your husband know Catalan?” Ask a silly question, and be told a silly answer.

“Of course not! What is the name of the country we’re living in? What is the capital of Spain? What is the language of Spain? What passport do the Catalans have?!”

Before I could answer, she slapped the table with her hand. Her forehead was perspiring as she became more and more annoyed, and she grimaced, raising her eyes to the ceiling. I think I was correct in assuming that her questions were rhetorical, and that she wasn’t expecting me to answer.

“Let me tell you, Spanish is the language of the Spaniards. And Madrid is the capital of Spain. When you’re at a meeting in Madrid, you speak in Spanish. Not Catalan.” She fidgeted, played with her thick gold necklace, crossed her legs, then folded her arms. “Now, my husband, who is a very noble man, a man who can enjoy conversation with anyone, decided to get the better of the Catalan. You know what he did?!”

“No.”  Gosh, maybe he punched him on the nose?!

“He answered the Catalan man in French!  Imagine! That shut the Catalan man up. My husband told him that if he could speak in Catalan, then maybe we should all speak in French, or German, or whatever language we wanted. But, that since they were in Madrid, the capital of Spain, where the language is Spanish, then isn’t it the right thing for everyone to speak in Spanish?”

“Why did the Catalan speak in Catalan? Maybe he doesn’t know Spanish?”  What silly questions I asked.

“If the Catalan people don’t know Spanish, then what’s wrong with them? I repeat, what is the name of this country? What is the name of the language?! Of course, they know Spanish!”

“I think that under Franco they weren’t allowed to speak their language?”

“Oh, and that’s an excuse? Just because we have a so-called Democracy now, that’s supposed to mean that they don’t have to speak Spanish?!”  She waved her hand as if fanning herself and muttered, “What is happening to this country? What’s going to happen next?  I ask you!”

It certainly seemed as if big changes were indeed looming over the Spanish psyche. With Franco gone, Catalunya was beginning to take charge of its own destiny where their own language would rule supreme.

Was this what Freedom meant? To be able to speak one’s own language with dignity and respect from others? Or, was Freedom a means to an end, where rulers had the right to dictate and establish order? Whose Freedom should dominate?

Language was very much in my mind, not necessarily Catalan, but Spanish. My husband, for all practical purposes, did not have too much pressure to learn Spanish for English was the language used at his work. However, I had to speak each day in Spanish with the locals who had little if any exposure to foreigners. The one person I was most concerned about was my son.


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Learning and Forgetting Spanish
Friday, February 26, 2016

When I first moved to Spain I taught English privately. Since most of my students were complete beginners I had to translate into Spanish many of the concepts and grammatical rules I was endeavouring to teach.

Now, this was a grand way for me to learn Spanish, especially when I pronounced the words incorrectly. My students would invariably repeat what I had just said, only with the superb, crisp diction that only a native speaker can possess. I hadn't intended to learn Spanish when I was teaching English. It's just the way things worked out.

I had my trusted teeny tiny English/Spanish dictionary snuggled deeply inside a pocket and I'd pull it out any time a student didn't understand an English vocabulary word. I learned an awful lot of new words this way!










Teaching English in Talavera de la Reina, 1981


Fast forward to when I moved away from Spain to live in the United States. I still wanted to maintain my Spanish. All that work and energy I had expended in order to memorise vocabulary words and those pesky irregular verb conjugations, I did not want to have been in vain.

But, there I was, and here I still am, living in an English speaking country.

I remember years ago being so surprised and annoyed with myself when I couldn't recall the word for 'sleeve'. It's 'manga', by the way. I had to look it up. The only word I remembered for counter top was 'mostrador',  but I did learn 'encimera' after watching a video on Youtube. I don't think I ever had heard of 'encimera' before. Or, maybe it's one of those words that fell by the wayside deep within the convoluted wires of my brain. Now I feel I should be out and about saying 'encimera', 'encimera' to anyone who might care to listen. The word for 'hem' I have a problem remembering. It's 'dobdladillo'. I don't think I've ever said this word, never ever. I've heard it, but not spoken it, so that's a good excuse for not remembering it.

In the United States it's mainly Latin American Spanish that you hear. You should see the looks on people's faces any time I'd use 'vosotros'! They'd gaze at me in amazement and yell, "You speak Spanish like don Quixote!"

Oh dear. Now, after all these years, since I don't know anyone from Spain,  I rarely ever use the 'vosotros' form of the verbs. When I was teaching Spanish I always included it in the lessons, much to the chagrin of my students who pointed out that it's usually Latin American Spanish that is taught in the United States. "Tougho lucko", is what I'd be muttering to myself.

See? I soon learned to speak Spanglish! It's something that you hear a lot in the United States. Here's an example. The word for 'lipstick' is 'lápiz de labios', at least that's what I learned. One day I was teaching Spanish when a Chicano student corrected me. Guess what he said? I still laugh each time I think of it. He said, "Señora, no es lápiz de labios. Es lippysticky." (pronounced, leepysteeky) For a second I thought I had really forgotten the Spanish for lipstick. Lol.

In actual fact, Spanglish is really easy to learn, don't you think?  How about saying 'lonche' for 'lunch'?! And how about using the word 'nice' to describe someone who is, well, in fact nice? La chica es alta, delgada, bonita y muy nice. Really! I rest my case.

In the end, when you're learning a foreign language you have to go with the flow. Communication is what is important, even if you find yourself waving your arms about and making funny faces. And if you find yourself forgetting what you took so long to learn? Don't worry, the verb conjugations will never leave you, certainly not completely. You'll be constantly pleasantly surprised at the words you do remember.


Thank you for reading. If you'd like to learn more about my life in Spain in the seventies and eighties my books can be found on Amazon. Here's the UK link to my Amazon author page and to my Kindle books.

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Jumping to Conclusions
Sunday, July 12, 2015

During the years that I lived in Spain many were the occasions that I jumped to conclusions.  Now, jumping to conclusions, or assuming things, isn’t all bad for it can certainly create colour and adventure in one’s life. But, sometimes it can cause inconveniences.


When I first moved to the Province of Cadiz, Spain in 1972, at the ripe old age of 23, I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay. I didn’t have a job lined up, but there was the possibility of securing a position in a bilingual school. I certainly  assumed that at one point I'd be going back to Scotland to live. How wrong was I?! I ended up staying for four years in Cadiz. Not only that, I married, had a child and moved to Virginia. I subsequently returned to Spain in 1980 where I lived for yet another 4 years. Although I’ve visited Scotland many times I never have lived there since I left in 1972.


I knew very little about the person who had offered to put me up when I first arrived in Spain. A colleague of mine had friends who knew this person. Since my colleague and her friends were all teachers, I simply assumed that the kind person who was willing to let me stay with her for a few days was also a teacher. It didn't occur to me to ask questions. I was actually too excited about moving to Spain to even consider that what I was doing was possibly just plain daft. I did get frowned upon a lot when I gave up my secure position as a Primary School Teacher. People  warned me about Franco, about gypsies, etcetera. Many things crossed my mind as I made my decision to leave Scotland and jazz off to Spain, but I simply didn't consider the possibility that the person with whom I was going to live was a prostitute. Ha ha. Surprise! Although I had  jumped to the conclusion that she would be a schoolteacher, everything did work out well. It was very kind of her to allow me, a complete stranger, to move in with her until I found other accommodation.


When I lived with two teachers from the bilingual school where I managed to get a position, I just assumed that I could leave a container of yogurt on the windowsill in the kitchen. That's what I had done in Scotland and there had never been a problem. Absolutely not. However, no wonder my roommate stared at me in disbelief. I think I appalled her completely. Nobody in their right mind would leave a yoghurt on a windowsill in Southern Spain, certainly not when the temperatures are in the 80's. You can well imagine the stench of putrid yogurt that I caused.


Years later, when I was living in Miami Playa, Tarragona I assumed I had remembered correctly the Spanish word for chickenpox. I had recently looked it up in a huge, heavy dictionary with the tiniest of print. When I told the new neighbours that our son had chickenpox I used the word 'viruela'. They became so upset spluttering how terrible, how awful, then fled inside their house and closed their windows. Oh my! Surely chickenpox wasn't all that bad of a disease? I later discovered my error. Smarty pants me who prided herself in her good Spanish had got mixed up. The word for chickenpox is actually 'varicela'. And just what does 'viruela' mean? It means smallpox!  No wonder the neighbours were so perturbed.


When I left Virginia to return to Spain in 1980 I assumed that I’d be able to go back to the United States without any problem. Wrong! I should have read the small print on all the documents I received when I applied for the green card. Turns out, at that time, Resident Aliens could be out of the United States for no more than two years, otherwise, your green card would be taken from you. Fortunately, a Cuban friend of mine in Cambrils warned me about this when I was planning a trip to Florida. Off I went to the American Consulate in Barcelona where my green card was duly removed from my clutching hands. They did issue me a tourist visa so that I could still make the trip. However, I had to start the process all over again of applying for a green card!


From assuming the fire that was burning way far away in the distance couldn't possibly reach our house to assuming there would be running water after I lathered up in the shower, this jumping to conclusions had me jumping up and down so many times!



Thank you for reading my article. If you'd like to read my memoir which has just recently been published on Amazon, it's called "Aventuras in Spain a Memoir".


Sandra Staas

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Musical Notes - Cadiz, Spain, 1972
Thursday, April 23, 2015

During the week I entered the world of the rich with their antique framed tapestries, oil paintings, cooks and maids. It seemed a stiff, cold  existence, regardless of how perfect everything was. Some of my students were wealthy children who lived in fancy apartments with fancy furniture. Everything was perfect in their lives. They were all handsome and beautiful, and they had  every material item you could wish for, from the tiny leather bound dictionary and the gold chain around their necks, to the expensive clothes purchased in boutiques. They floated about serenely, with not a care in the world. They spoke Spanish with the crisp Castilian accent that revealed their breeding and pride that they were not your typical Andaluz who was renowned for not finishing the endings of words.      

     At the weekends I’d meet with a different crowd, people who didn’t seem to be overflowing with riches and who weren’t dressed up in the latest fashion from some charming boutique. Most of them were Americans who were easy to get along with and who wore whatever they wanted, including casual clothes. Yes, it was quite common to see even professional people wearing blue jeans. We marvelled  at how exotic everything was in Spain. How the people were so dramatic, as if they are acting in some tragicomedia. The Americans called the 'peseta' a 'patata' and didn’t seem to care that it was wrong. Come to think on it, quite possibly they didn’t even know that it was wrong! At least they had good pronunciation of the letter A. It’s not so easy for English-speaking people to pronounce the letter A in Spanish.  

     In the evenings, we'd drink Mateuse wine, smoke Virginia Slims and Winston cigarettes. We'd listen to Eric Clapton's 'Layla' silently, drugged by its hypnotic ending that lingered on like a fond farewell of buds flourishing before their time. When the record stopped we'd take turns in blowing on the turntable needle to ensure the music would be pristine and perfect as we carefully placed it at the point we thought the ending would begin. When we'd go for a stroll we sometimes could hear piano music through the open window of some apartment. It could have been a young student practising the scales over and over again. The sound of the piano would stand out above the cacophony of women's voices speaking loudly, of radios blaring forth long advertisements interspersed with occasional long-winded monologues about something that seemed so important. In reality it was just announcements of upcoming programmes, but everything in Spanish sounded impressive to my ears. 

     Listening to the piano music reminded me of my brother who used to practise the scales, his  tongue doubled over in concentration as he willed his fingers to press the correct keys. He'd stare downwards, his shoulders hunched over making him look like an old man. Music is the international language. It transports all who listen and all who play an instrument to a supreme fertile land where musical notes communicate our thoughts, feelings and desires. Perhaps we should all stop talking and simply listen, play a musical instrument and smile.  


     In the early 1970’s people could be out until 4 a.m. and not feel threatened nor be afraid of being mugged, not even if we heard footsteps running behind us. We could stroll through the streets following the aroma of fresh-baked bread that piled out on to the street like a welcoming embrace. The closer you got to the ovens the closer you got to the bars which served that thick nectar of hot chocolate. I’d stick my spoon in the hot chocolate to watch it stay upright. People had told me to do this, to prove how thick the hot chocolate was.

     One night, instead of using a spoon, I dipped a finger into the cup of hot of chocolate and licked the delicious nectar, slowly savouring its richness. I looked around to see if anyone had noticed, half expecting someone to stare at me the way people did when I first arrived. I had always been regarded as the extranjera, the foreigner, complete with sunburned nose and freckles. For the first time it seemed to me nobody so much as glanced in my direction. The clanging noise of the pinball machines ringing out shrilly and the pitch of animated voices sounded like musical notes.  For the first time I felt as if all that I saw and heard around me was normal, that I was no longer an awkward foreigner.



Thank you for reading. If you'd like to read more please visit my web site at        Stay tuned for "Aventuras in Spain", my upcoming memoir about the 70's and 80's in Spain.  

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Ever had a fabulous surprise?! - Rota, Cadiz, Spain, 1974
Wednesday, February 11, 2015


     "Surprise!" My husband grinned at me as if he had just received fabulous news and added, "Guess what?" He rubbed his hands together, causing his brand new wedding ring to gleam in the sun rays coming through the kitchen window.

     What could the surprise be?  We had recently returned from the long and arduous trip to Gibraltar where we had got married. You see, since Franco was in the huff the border between Spain and Gibraltar was closed. The only way to get to Gibraltar was to catch the ferry from Algeciras to Tangiers, then turn right round and take another ferry to Gibraltar.  Maybe he had got the photos we had taken developed?

     "What's the surprise?" I asked, mouth watering, thinking about a lovely tasty treat of milk chocolate that he had perhaps got me from the Naval Base in Rota where the choices of food seemed endless. There, even the selections of bread were spread out over rows and rows, and many a time I'd stand transfixed trying to figure out which bread to buy. I had been more  accustomed to purchasing only either a barra de pan de un duro (5 pesetas) or Pan Bimbo in the local shops, so limited was the choice.  

      "Come with me." He led me outside to his car, a white Fiat that was normally always dirty unless I gave it a good, thorough bath.   

      "You finally washed the car, is that the surprise?" 

He opened the car door and picked up a black furry creature which uttered, "Miaow". 

      "I got him free, on the Base." 

     I should have added to the list of things you could get at the Naval Base in Rota: poor little kittens who were in need of a home. Some lady was giving away kittens free, and since my husband really liked cats, he couldn't resist. 

    "I'll call him Tibby." My husband beamed proudly at me and then the kitten before carefully carrying it inside the house. 

     The wee dog I had found inside a box on the pavement was king of our house and perfectly content to be spoiled rotten. He was therefore, not amused one bit when he saw this little furry intruder. He stood up with a startle and started to sniff the cat, then ran around it tapping it with his paw. Growling and moaning he gazed up at me in dismay, as if to say, "Mama, what on earth have you brought into my house?"

     I will say this of my dog, he was a gentleman. He never bit the cat, nor did he bark at him, well not too loudly, at any rate. What he loved to do was chase Tibby all throughout the house. I think the cat quite liked this. He'd run upstairs and then back downstairs, dive underneath the dining room table with the dog lunging behind him. Whenever the dog actually 'caught' Tibby, by placing his paws on him, the game would commence all over again. The cat would turn round and run the other way.        

     This all sounds like some Norman Rockwell painting where domestic bliss had painted rosy cheeks and golden smiles. However, although our cat and dog were indeed fortunate in that they got a good home, outside on the streets, life was not so kind to animals. You'd come across dead cats or dogs who had been run over by irresponsible drivers. I don't think there was any respect for animals back then in the early seventies in Andalucia. I saw drivers go out of their way to swerve towards a dog or a cat. Perhaps they were just trying to frighten them. I don't know why they'd want to do that, though. I used to see teenagers throw stones at stray dogs. Many is the time that I'd speak sharply to them, tell them not to harm the animals.  I'd be met with surprised stares, and for a second they would cease, only to start once again hurting the animals.

     Tibby was an indoor cat whose adventures outside amounted to a fast run around the walled in back yard and a leap back inside the security of our house. We were therefore puzzled one day when we were out for a walk down to the supermarket and found a cat that looked just like Tibby lying dead at the side of the road.


     "He must have got run over by some idiotic driver." My husband's voice was flat as the realisation that Tibby was dead sunk in. 

     "He didn't normally go so far from the house. Poor Tibby." I looked around to see if there was some hooligan lurking around on his moped. If there had been I think I might have punched him on the nose. 

     "We can't leave him here.  I'll get a towel and carry him home. We can bury him out back."

     It seemed an awfully long walk to our house. I was thinking of Tibby and how much fun he had been, of how he had got on so well with our dog. What a shame he had got run over. 

     We entered the house and were greeted with huge licks from our dog. I was about to relate to him the dreadful news about his buddy, Tibby the Cat, when, what did I hear but a loud "miaow". It couldn't be! Yes, there was Tibby curling himself around my legs just like he always did. We had made a mistake believing the dead cat on the road to be ours.

      My husband picked him up, hugged him tightly and blurted out, "What a fabulous surprise to see you, Tibby!"



Thank you for stopping by.

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Who's the richest one of all?! Salou, Tarragona, 1981
Tuesday, January 6, 2015

I used to love reading magazines like ‘Hola’ and ‘Lecturas’. Images of Princess Carolina of Monaco, Julio Iglesias, Princess Diana, and so many other rich, famous jet-setters were constantly spread out before me. I couldn't help but want to read the articles to find out what the latest gossip was. I’d look up words in my teeny tiny Spanish-English dictionary and marvel at all the vocabulary words I was learning. Highbrow these magazines were not, but entertaining they absolutely were when studying Spanish.



It never bothered me that I was neither rich nor famous, nor that I probably never would be. I was always quite happy living the lives of the rich and famous vicariously for a few moments any time I gazed at their photos and read the articles about them. I think everybody likes looking at photos, and most people like getting their photos taken especially when on holiday.


On numerous occasions, on the beach at Salou, complete strangers would ask me to take their photo. They would splash about in the waves, or pose playfully all the while grinning widely under the hot summer sun.


"Hello!" Lovers, mothers, fathers, friends, grannies, you name it would all call out in the loudest of voices as they shoved their camera upon me. "Would you mind taking our photo?!"


I always obliged. They'd hug one another, throw a ball high into the air, splash water, giggle like hyaenas, jump up and down in the hope that the photos would prove to everyone that they had had an absolutely smashing time on holiday in Salou.  After all, the camera never lies.


"Take my left side! I have a beauty mark there, on my cheek." The woman with a buxom bosom that blended into her buxom belly flirted with the camera. "Can you see how brown I am? If not, I'll move to the shade. I don't tan easily and I want people back home to see how well I looked on my holiday."


I didn't have the heart to tell her that she was as red and blotchy as I was.  Well, she wasn't really as red as me, and did have a little peach colour to her, but I bet you her skin peeled later.


"Take a nice photo of my boyfriend and me, if you don’t mind, that is." The young girl with big brown eyes stared lovingly at the tall skinny boy with big ears and a thick, long moustache that covered his mouth.  It was hard to see if he were smiling or not due to the immense amount of facial hair.


A nice photo? What does that mean? I think she was hoping I'd capture the love between them as they stood close together, the sea behind them, water dripping from them in long, loud drips. She looked cold as she rubbed her hands and her shoulders, even although it was around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.


"Thanks awfully. We’re on holiday together.” She placed both hands on her hips and winked seductively at her boyfriend who took the hint and embraced her tightly from behind. She was no longer a shivering, self-conscious girl, but a strong, attractive woman to be reckoned with. I snapped the photo and handed back the  camera. Her bottom lip quivered as she thanked me again, then turned to look at her boyfriend whose eyes were no longer on her, but on a group of giggling girls parading by.  


The people I used to meet on the beach tended to be tourists who had come over to Salou on a cheap holiday, probably a Thompson Square Deal that included the flight to Reus and two weeks in the sun in a noisy hotel. I never did get to see my photographic masterpieces for even if they put the film in to be developed locally it took at least one day, maybe two.  By then, they, the models, could be on their way back home to dreary skies and languid nights by the fireside. I did so hope that the photos worked out well and that they’d provide comforting, pleasant memories of a holiday spent in Spain. When they gazed at my photos I hoped that they would regard themselves as stars, famous, rich jet-setters living the good life on the Mediterranean.


I used to go to the hotels in Salou for a morning coffee The tourists would arrive from their rooms, ready for breakfast, their hands clutching tightly jars of Roses Lime Marmalade and Typhoo tea bags as if this first meal of the day simply would not be right without the comforts of home. They looked lost as they walked about and tried to figure out which table to sit at. The women, wearing white cardigans, obviously brand new, and probably from Marks and Spencers, looked nervous at the waiters pirouetting about, calling out in rapid Spanish. The men, feet covered in socks and wearing uncomfortable looking sandals, tried to act as if they knew how to order breakfast by nodding their red faces and blinking their bulging eyes. After all, wasn’t that how you ordered another pint in the local pub after you’d had a few?


I wondered how the rich, famous people whose lives were sprawled out in my magazines coped when they travelled the world staying in luxurious hotels, castles and palaces? Did  they try new foods? Were they able to navigate the nuances of different cultures, different countries? Or, did they continue living the life they always knew, staying within their comfort zone, just like the tourists? Their smiles and poses reminded me of the tourists who would ask me to take their photo. Maybe the reason everyone beams huge grins any time we’re in front of the camera is the need to convey how happy we are, how great everything is, even if only for the duration of the click of the camera.  In that, there is no difference between us and the rich and famous.


Not long afterwards, I went to Monaco for a few days. There I was, climbing the hill, camera around my neck; just like one more typical tourist. A car appeared in front of me descending the hill. Guess who was driving it? Princess Caroline!  She slowed down, made eye contact with me and smiled such a lovely, genuine smile. Her skin looked fresh, with little if any make-up. She could have been your next-door neighbour going out shopping, and not the  Royal that she was. It was as if she were taking time off from the trappings of the jet-set lifestyle, as if she simply wanted to be herself.  I was so taken aback at seeing a famous person smiling at me, in the flesh, as opposed to in a magazine that I didn’t even think to take a photo.  As she drove on by, down the hill, my camera lay heavily around my neck as it dawned on me how I had missed a great photographic opportunity.


But, maybe it was for the best that I didn’t take a photo of Princess Caroline that day in Monaco. I would have been looking at the photo over and over and may have ended up thinking of her as just a normal everyday person doing boring, everyday things; certainly not a Royal who lives in a palace. I preferred to think of her the way she was portrayed in my magazines. There, images of an elegant princess dressed in haute couture dresses, hair perfectly coiffed, and face professionally made-up exhibited a lifestyle that appeared divinely perfect and spectacularly magnificent.

After all, as I said already, the camera never lies.


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For Grumpy Bums. Learning Spanish (7) Talavera, Spain, 1981
Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The man who lives on the same floor as me is walking quickly across the busy road, all

dressed up in his suit and tie.  I don't care for him much and I'm glad he doesn't notice me. Whenever I meet him and his wife, he never says anything, doesn't even make eye contact. But, whenever I see him without his wife, he ogles at me, licks his lips, and grins at me like some horrific clown out of a surreal circus.


"You're very pretty. Very pretty. I love your blond hair."  His eyes glaze over as he fondles the gigantic knot in his tie and scratches his crotch.


I wouldn't mind it so much if he acted this way in front of his wife. Instead, any time she's around he's demure, as if butter wouldn't melt in his hot, gaping mouth.


It's so frustrating not knowing what to say to someone who rubs you the wrong way. No pun intended. I stay well back, that way no physical contact can possibly take place. Well, maybe a good whack on his chubby cheeks I could live with!


Words such as idiota, sin vergüenza, gilipollas come to mind. Váyase a la mierda, viejo verde, me cago en tus muertos also come to mind. That last expression I learned when I first arrived in Spain. I was told it was another way of saying 'how are you?'. I actually believed this!  Lol. Better not to use it. You can always just think the words, without actually saying them. Cabrón, necio, zopenco, soso, pendejo are all useful words that come in handy to describe someone who's a real pain in the butt. You need to say them as if you REALLY mean them. That's the fun part.


Mujeriego is a word I hear a lot. Guess in what context?  When people are talking about the king! Who knew? He's apparently quite a womanizer. They also call him a borracho. He does look as if he’s been slapping back a few any time you see photos of him ogling at Princess Diana. I think viejo verde is a good way to describe him.  Not that he's a green old man, but rather a dirty old man. Just like that neighbour of mine. I haven't actually said ''váyase a la mierda" to him for it does seem a bit rude. I don't normally tell people to go to hell. I could say to him, "No me moleste". That does sound tame, though, considering he bothers/annoys me a great deal, especially when he's on his own. Yes, people like him me da la lata. So there. In fact, I would say unequivocally that he me fastidia. That’s much stronger, and quite an adequate description.


You know what's odd about using verbs such as  gustar and fastidiar? You really have to think hard about how to conjugate them. What exactly is the subject? Ha ha. That's the part that causes frowns and snarls. Me gusta el zapato. Me gustan los zapatos. The shoe and the shoes are the subject.


And what's this about a mí también? A mí también me gusta ir de compras. That little 'a' is there. It really is. To me also, to me is pleasing to go shopping. It's SO much easier just to say I also like to go shopping. Now, what on earth do we say if someone DOESN'T like something and you want to agree? She doesn't like the neighbour, and neither do I.  A ella no le gusta el vecino y a mí tampoco.


I used to think I sounded Japanese whenever I'd say 'tampoco'. It just has a certain Japanese ring to it.


Every Saturday there's an open air market here in Talavera. One day I bought myself a wee birdie. I really did. I'm afraid he didn't last long. Por Dios! I think he only lived for a few days. I guess he was ill or frail when I bought him. That odd-looking fellow who sold me the bird was some hijo de puta, son of a bitch, an engañoso who deceived me. This calls for that really good expletive, hostia. I sometimes mutter hostia a lot, especially when I see people at the market put their elbow on the scale when their weighing my tomatoes. “Hostia”. I probably say it  too often, but I like the sound of it. Don’t forget that the ‘h’ is silent. And, keep in mind that it’s pretty strong.



There’s that funny, annoying woman I see at the bus stop each day. She's always dressed up in a suit with a frilly blouse or some elegant dress, high heels, tons of make-up, gold rings and necklaces. You get the picture. Apparently she's cursi.  Maybe it's something along the lines of fur coat and nae breeks? Gosh, and here was I just thinking that I’m not that much of a grumpy bum. I guess I really am a gruñona!


When estoy de mal humor, when I’m in a bad mood, I eat lots of garlic washed down with lovely red wine. But, that’s another story.


Grumpy or not, the best way to learn expressions and descriptions is by listening to the words of the local people. Listen and observe. You don't have to fully understand, you don't have to agree, and you don't have to repeat. You don’t even have to look up the dictionary to get the English definition. Nope. Just accept, and marvel at the beauty of the words.




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One Giraffe and a Movie, Rota, Spain, 1972
Tuesday, December 2, 2014

You never know how an evening will turn out. You can start off alone watching a movie, then all of a sudden, boom, things change. It happens a lot here, in Rota. Things simply evolve, right before your very eyes.


If you live in Rota long enough you soon learn that an evening isn't complete without a visit to the outdoor movie theatre. It's a popular place for teenagers, children, grannies, old aunties, for anyone just wanting something different to do rather than sit on their balcony or patio. It's always hot at night. Even with all the windows open in your apartment, the heat never really dissipates. You might as well be out and about for it's difficult to sleep what with mosquitoes biting you just when you're about to doze off, and the blaring of "Baby Don’t Get Hooked Get On Me” emanating from nearby bars. The American sailors frequent these bars. You can see them strolling along, tossing their Vantage or Winston cigarette butts onto the dirt road. Some of them could be models for the Marlboro Man, wide as their shoulders are.


It's such a foreign experience meeting military personnel, hearing about people being killed in Vietnam. Since I don't drink beer for breakfast, and I'm not counting the days to when I go home it seems to me that I don't have much in common with the Americans at all. Hmm. Maybe I do have one thing in common with the Americans. We both like to discover new places to get cheap wine. In fact, I know a place where you can get a litre of wine for 25 pesetas.  I'll drink to that!


Any time I turn up  at the local outdoor theatre the place is teeming with excited teenagers and children all yelling and giggling. The small boys' short trousers are so long that they meet their knees, and their shirts look like girls' blouses. The girls wear these really long dresses that end around their ankles. Their dainty crocheted socks seem to cry out "I'm loved!  Everyone loves me!" The adults sit patiently on uncomfortable, wobbly seats, smoking Ducados, chattering loudly all at the same time as they wait for the movie to begin.  Americans don't generally go to the local outdoor movie theater. They have their own movie theatre on the Naval Base where they can watch films in English, and where they eat huge amounts of buttered popcorn, or so I'm told.


It just so happens that the place where I'm staying is located adjacent to the outdoor movie theatre.  Now, I don't object at all to paying my entry fee, buying bags of cacahuetes and pipas, and sitting on a hard metal chair. I don't even mind when people stare at me. They can't figure me out, that's why they always stare at me. I'm not American and I'm not Spanish, nor, by the way, in case you're wondering, am I a whore. Not that I mind whores. I just don't want to ever be considered one.


What I like to do many times is multi-task. I like to watch a movie and do other things at the same time, something you can't really do if you're sitting in the middle of a crowd of people all staring with big eyes at the large screen. I was fair chuffed when I discovered that if I climb up on the tiny kitchen counter and carefully position a nice comfortable wee stool, and if I sit up as straight as straight can be on the wee stool, lengthen my neck like a giraffe and peek out the top of the window, I can see the movie! Ha ha. “Fiddler on the Roof” is a great movie to watch when multi-tasking.  Topol, who plays the main character, is constantly bursting into song as he dances around as if he has something stuck up his rear end. So, when I get fed -up with him I clamber down off the kitchen counter and check the toilet.  Yes, it's quite important to see how much water is in the cistern. Many times the water just simply stops running for no reason, so you better be careful when considering  all things plumbing. If there is actually water, it's best to avail yourself of the toilet whether you need to or not.


Fiddler_on_the_roof.jpgI usually check the taps as well. It's always a delight to turn on a tap and see water trickling. It's a constant surprise. I splash my face and neck, trying to cool down. Whilst Topol is singing  "If I were a Rich Man"  with all his little heart, a tape of “Everybody Plays the Fool” cheers up the rowdy crowd in the bar across the road and echoes in the hot evening air. Midst the rabble and cacophony of loud voices singing at the top of their lungs I figure I have time to make myself a bocadillo before Topol's next scene. I like doing several things at the same time. Busy hands are happy hands, or something like that. Then I climb back on the kitchen counter, plonk myself down on the wee stool and peer out the window at "Fiddler on the Roof".  As I steady myself by placing one foot in the sink, I feel as if I'm on the brink of a new adventure. Somehow my crunchy bocadillo de jamón york tastes even better than normal. It's like being on a picnic in some exotic location. Maybe I was a giraffe in a former life? That's why I'm so good at stretching my neck to peer out the window at the movie. Gosh, then who knows what awaits behind the next palm tree, or even the next sand dune?!


Bang, bang, bang!


Someone's at the door?  Just when I'm all comfy and enjoying myself I have to jump down off the kitchen counter and answer the door. Who could it be?




He has to be an American. Short blond hair, large white teeth and chewing gum, he's certainly not Spanish.


"Do I know you?"  If I do, I don't remember him.


"Yeah. We met at a party last week-end."


"Okay."  I met loads of people at the party last week-end. Hmm.


"You said you lived next to the outdoor movie theater. And, well, here I am."


"Here you are."  I take another bite of my delicious bocadillo and chew it rapidly.


"Are you ready?  For the movies? I got a pass for you to go on the Base."


Oops. Now I remember. His name is John, or Jim, or James, something like that. And he had talked about how he could get me a pass to go to the movies on the Base. A movie in English! Not bad. I must have sounded really enthusiastic, for here he is, complete with pass. Not only that, his face is so shiny clean, and it looks as if he's wearing a brand new shirt.


"I'll be ready in a tick." I figure I ought to pay a visit to the toilet to check if there's still water. Force of habit. There again, maybe there isn't a problem with water on the Base. That would be great to use the bathroom whenever, to turn on a tap and have constant running water. I've even heard that there's  air conditioning on the Base. I bet you people don't have to sleep at night with their windows wide open, with mosquitoes zooming around.


"What movie?"


“They’re showing “Fiddler on the Roof”."


I try not to choke. "Em. I was just watching it when you came. It's almost finished."


"You've seen it then?"


Oh, John, Jim, or James, or whatever you name is...sorry.


He looks disappointed, shuffles his feet and plays with the long lapel of his shirt.


"But only in Spanish. It will be lovely to watch it in English." I reassure him.


Constant running water, cisterns that flush, air conditioning, things are looking good. Plus, he does seem a really nice person.


"My name is Shawn, by the way, in case you don’t remember."  He stretches out his hand as if to shake mine.  "We can go bowling after the movie, if you'd like, then get a bite to eat."


"I've never bowled before."


"It's easy. You won't have any problem."  It's his turn to reassure me.



It just goes to show. You never know what's going to happen next, how an evening will turn out. I wonder what else might evolve? Ha ha. Stay tuned!

Thanks for stopping by. If you'd like to read more please visit  or
P.S. Perhaps someone can confirm whether movies were dubbed in Spanish back in 1972, or whether they simply had subtitles? I seem to recall that the  movies I saw in the Province of Cadiz  were in English, but had subtitles in Spanish. I could be wrong, which is why I mention in this post about how I saw "Fiddler on the Roof" in Spanish. BTW my husband and I saw "Jaws" in Cadiz in the early seventies. He's not sure either if that movie was in English or Spanish.      Saludos!

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Who whistled?! Tee hee! Talavera de la Reina, Spain, 1981
Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What's great about our apartment’s location is that as soon as you step out the main entrance of the building you're immediately in the midst of all the action here in Talavera de la Reina.  Across the road  are the park, a playground, a pond, a bullring, and a Simago supermarket. There are bars, restaurants and shops to the right and to the left, and everywhere you look you see people. Calle del Prado is indeed a busy thoroughfare.


The odour of sweat, black tobacco, garlic and stale cheese hits your nostrils, stifling you. It's a relief when children drenched in cheap floral cologne skip by on their way to school. Their black hair is shiny, plastered neatly down on their heads. The fragrance is refreshing, a reassuring confirmation that something good is always nearby.

The blind man is standing in his usual spot, hoping to sell lottery tickets, and the gypsy woman  has already taken up her position in front of Moro, the furniture store. The quick movements of her outstretched hand as she begs for pesetas remind me of a conductor waving his baton at the string section in an orchestra playing allegro.

At the kerb a woman is crouched over her little girl whom she's holding in the least ladylike of positions. Urine splashes onto the side of the road and I can well imagine the relief beyond belief the girl is feeling as she empties her bladder. People walk by, oblivious, and don't even glance over, perhaps too used to scenes like this. A scrawny large stray dog saunters up and sniffs the urine, but even he walks away, head down as if completely disinterested.


The woman is obviously in a hurry as she mutters to her daughter, "Hurry up. Come on. Hurry up! How can a tiny girl like you produce so much?!"

I try not to be surprised and shocked at the scenes all around me and focus instead on crossing the busy road into the Prado without getting run over. I buy my usual coffee at the bar near the pond decorated in Talaveran ceramic which is gleaming magnificently in the morning sun. The town of Talavera de la Reina is waking up, but the park is still quiet, enjoying the beginning of a new day before the crowds disrupt the calm.  

Those old men with berets and walking sticks who sit on the same benches every day haven't arrived yet. I look for them, anticipating their appearance. It's like waiting on an opera or a musical to begin, that magical time when the orchestra is tuning up, preparing for its performance. The old men usually arrive slowly in twos or threes, their voices ringing out in the fresh, dry air as they discuss the recent Golpe de Estado and the wonders of King Juan Carlos who saved the day. This aborted Golpe has been food for thought here in Talavera for the past several weeks. There are those who yearn for the security that Franco provided, and then there are those who are afraid of change, of what the future might bring, of what people could think.


“And so what if the King is a playboy?!” The bartender shrugs his shoulders at me. “He’s proven himself a good leader, a man in command.” He pokes at his crotch, then wipes his nose.  

I sip on the tiny cup of black coffee, and enjoy the rich thick flavour.  

A skinny gypsy girl is crouched down, drawing pictures in the dirt with a long twig. It’s a shame that she’s all alone, but the best time for her to find playmates would be late afternoon when the children come to the park to play after school, giant pastries grasped in their tiny hands.  A puddle forms in the dried up earth and trickles over next to the bushes. just beyond the public toilet.  Maybe she always does the toilet in the open air. Or, maybe the public toilet is dirty? I don't think I want to find out.

She stands up, sweeps her long dark hair down over her back, then takes an old piece of bocadillo from a trash can, crumbles it and tosses the pieces onto the ground. Pigeons appear from nowhere to gobble up this unexpected breakfast. She smiles and giggles at the pigeons parading around heads bobbing up and down, grasping the crumbs of bread.

A group of youths appears, glancing shiftily at one another as if conspiring to get into some form of mischief. They throw stones at the pigeons and congratulate each other every  time they almost hit one.


“Go for it!”

“Make a good dinner tonight!”

The gypsy girl looks as if she’s about to yell at the troublemakers as she places her hands on her hips. Fortunately, the pigeons fly quickly away, wings fluttering loudly above the trees; like violins playing Vivaldi’s Spring, The Four Seasons.

The bartender wipes the counter, turns up the music on the radio and wipes the counter again. Next, he dries his hands on his shirt, then grasps his crotch and walks outside over to a tree where he stands, legs apart, his back to me. I'm so glad he has the decency to turn away from me as he relieves himself of his morning coffee and brandy. He's a real gentleman is the bartender, something I appreciate. Truly, I absolutely without any doubt appreciate his manners, so rare are they to encounter these days. What a shame more men aren’t like him! Yet, even so, I can't help but whistle loudly. Want to know why?

I know he'll be dying to turn round to see who is whistling. You see, it's an old trick I’ve  learned to play. It never fails. Every time, well, almost every time, I see a man urinating outside I whistle. He gets startled and turns round to see who is there. Guess what happens to his hand? Ha ha ha. It gets all wet!

Thank you for reading my post. The image is of an old post card I purchased in Talavera when I was living there.
If you'd like to read more, feel free to click here.

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Don't forget the prepositions! Learning Spanish (6) Cádiz, Spain 1975
Monday, October 6, 2014

In the mid-seventies I studied at the University of Maryland European Campus located on the Naval Base of Rota, Cádiz. What was interesting about this venture into the American educational system, apart from paying an exorbitant amount of money for the Psychology and Sociology courses I took, is that I was able to earn credit for Spanish classes simply by taking the exams. They called it Credit by Examination. Instead of paying for four separate Spanish classes in order to earn 12 credits, I just paid to take four examinations.


I sailed through the first three examinations, receiving an A in each one. Yay! Fair chuffed, I then presented myself at the fourth examination.  I did pass, but I only got a B. Want to know why I only got a B?  It's because of the bloody prepositions! I was puzzled, befuddled, bemused, baffled and overwhelmed by these stupid little words. I didn't even care about them. I really did not pay too much attention at all to them when preparing for the exam. Yet, there they were, in a large section of the exam. I'm not great at multiple choice to begin with, but add to that my supreme lack of knowledge of the use of these damn prepositions, and you end up with a crazed lady about to scream, or at least hide underneath the desk.

Let’s have a look at a few funny little prepositions and their environment. Here are some stories of the world according to 'de'. Such a teeny tiny word, such an innocuous looking specimen, how could it possibly cause so many problems?! Partly it's because he's involved with other words and in so doing evolves into a prepositional phrase.

antes de dormir                before sleeping  

después de trabajar         after working (Note the use of the infinitive in Spanish.)


al lado de                        next to

alrededor de                    around

cerca de                           near


That's what happens when you become embroiled with unsavoury characters. Yes, you change, you even lose your sense of self-worth. Why couldn't he just be straightforward and simple the way he is in this sentence?

Yo soy de Madrid.  I am from Madrid.

Simple, straightforward, without complications. This is the way 'de' ought to be at all times. Absolutely.

¿De dónde eres? From where are you?  Where are you from?

Now, here he is a little bit annoying in that he goes in front of the 'dónde', but I don't mind that at all. I really don't. I can handle this.

Probably one of the first uses of 'de' that you learned was for possession.

La muñeca de Ana.    The doll of Ana. Ana's doll.  (I know, you just want to say, "Ana's muñeca", don't you?  Me too.)

El perro del señor.      The dog of the man. The man's dog.  

Where did 'del' come from?!  It's the 'de + el' which becomes 'del',

Who can figure out what this means?   ¿De quién es el lápiz?

Just when you think you’ve figured out this ‘de’ boy, he goes and tries to make himself all sophisticated and intriguing by hanging out with verbs.

acabar de                Acabo de estudiar.  I have just studied. (Oh really? What did you study?  The preposition 'de'? Ha ha!)

dejar de                   Yo dejé de fumar.  I stopped smoking.  (Bet you didn't!)

tratar de                   Ella trató de llegar a tiempo.  She tried to arrive on time.

alegrarse de            Me alegro de verte. I'm happy to see you.

Why there's a need for these verbs to include 'de' is one of the many mysteries we all encounter. Perhaps our little 'de' is a great big strong lad that words just need to cling to in order to make sense? They can't survive on their own? Really and truly.


Now, ‘de’ isn’t the only cocky little word. Nope. How about ‘con’?    

Look at him showing off in these sentences.

Hablo contigo.                I speak with you.  

Y tú hablas conmigo.      And you speak with me. (So glad that we’re speaking to one another!)


Ella sueña con su novio.   She dreams about her boyfriend. (She dreams with her boyfriend? That’s what it sounds like in English.)

Ella quiere casarse con su novio.    She wants to marry her boyfriend. (If he makes her arrive on time and if she dreams about him, guess she might as well marry him. Don’t you think?)


An even tinier preposition, ‘a’, is equally perplexing, if you want my opinion. Here he is strutting his stuff.

Nosotros asistimos a la clase.                      We attend the class.

Ellos van a viajar este verano.                      They are going to travel this summer.

Yo juego al baloncesto.                                 I play basketball. (Only kidding. I’m too short!)

Sometimes this ‘a’ fellow is there, and sometimes he isn’t. Not exactly a word that you can rely on, is he?! You think you’ve figured out what verbs need him, and then you come across sentences like this:

Yo visito Sevilla.                                            I visit Seville.

Yo visito a mi abuela.                                    I visit my gran.  

You need the ‘a’ as it’s a person you’re visiting. This is the personal ‘a’.

Nosotros escuchamos la música.                  We listen to music.  

Nosotros escuchamos a la profesora.           We listen to the teacher.

That’s that personal ‘a’ again. He just suddenly turns up when you least expect him.


Don’t get me started on ‘por’!. He’s another one that should run away and hide behind the tail of that poor donkey standing forlornly in the field. Who needs ‘por’?!  I personally got along very well without him and his cronies, until I took that Credit by Examination that is, way back in the mid-seventies.


Ella se desvivió por sacar una A pero recibió una B.           She went out of her way/did her utmost to get an A but received a B.  

Me preocupo por el examen.                                                I worry about the exam.


I guess, if truth be told, I blew it. I should have taken into account at least some of the vagaries and whims of the Spanish prepositions when studying for the exam. Och.

Thank you for stopping by! If you’d like to read more about Spanish prepositions here's a useful link. And if you’d like to read about the seventies and eighties in Spain please click here

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