Now that I´m commuting to the Big City every day, life takes on a wider scope.
On Monday I started my "Español Intensivo: Extranjeros" class at the University of León, a three-week marathon of subjunctivo y gerundios, para vs. por, and durante y desde. It is very hard. The placement test I took yesterday left me very morose. I was sure I´d be put at the rock-bottom beginners´level. I felt very down on myself. I´ve been here in Spain for a year now, and you would think I´d gotten a bit more of a grip on the language by now. Learning new stuff is supposed to always be EASY, dammit.
It is a good thing that feeling sorry for myself is such a crashing bore. Otherwise I´d spend a whole lot more time doing it. I let myself sulk through the afternoon, but decided to cut it out by evening. Too much other stuff was going on for me to keep up the pouting.
Dinner was interesting. Last week I bought a Leon newspaper. The front-page piece featured an adorable pair of horses, a mother and cute baby horse, (a ´potro´) being led into a truck. The story was about the threefold increase this year in the regional production of horse meat. It´s got twice the protein and half the fat of beef and pork, y´know, and it costs about the same. With financial help from the EU and Castilla-Leon, 18 farmers have turned to horsemeat for their livelihood. And we´re not talking about putting Old Paint out his misery at the dog food factory...The fat foal in the photo was heading for the abbatoir, and from there to the supermarket. Colt: the new red meat.
Anyway, in my blue post-exam funk I stopped at the giant hyper-market in Leon on my way home. (when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping). The ´potro´marketing guys were there in the parking lot with a barbecue setup, giving out free samples. What the hay (sorry), they eat this stuff all over Europe... I tried some. It was really quite tasty! So I bought four foal-burgers to take home for Paddy to try. I fried them up for dinner.
Mine weren´t as good as the barbecue guys,´and Patrick said little about the meal. I asked him what he thought. I told him what the meat was. He made sure I wasn´t joking. Then he put down his sandwich and turned away. ¨No more,¨he said.
And so followed a most interesting convo about horse meat, anthropomorphism, vegetarians, vegans, and why it´s OK to eat cows and pigs and fish and chickens and eggs (some of whom we know personally), but not horses. We gave the second half of the burgers to the dogs, and decided to not eat horse if we have a choice. (Him out of some atavistic aesthetic sensibility, me because I found the meat rather flavorless.) Strange. I am the one who´s had relationships with horses and horse people on and off throughout my life. I am terribly allergic to the beasts, but I love them. They seem to groove on me, too. But I´ll eat them, sure. (They´d eat me, too, if I was all that was available. They´re sensible animals.)
Paddy, on the other hand, has never been closer than the homestretch rail to a real equine. Horses have won and lost a lot of his money over the years, and his recent stint of online horseracing has gained us a few Euros, but has caused a noticeable shift in his dedication to the morning dish-washing routine. Still, he can´t. So we won´t.
Anyway, off I went this morning to León for the first real day of class, and found I wasn´t in with the rank amateurs after all. I am one step up, in the lower end of intermediate! I can live with that. And already it´s zipping right up to the edge of my comfort zone. I am going to give this all I´ve got, and really study and cram and learn all this I possibly can. Because it´s stupid not to. I am tired of talking like a 5-year-old child.
Speaking of which: I am in a class of 25 college students from all over the world. They are cramming Spanish so they can start taking regular university classes when the Fall semester begins in October. I weaseled my way in as a ´diversity´student. Which means I am the only 45-year-old person in a roomful of 20-something year-olds. It´s kinda fun, really. I don´t mind... especially since my self-image has me pegged at about 25. Still, during a break in the class one earnest young man brought me up short. He´s from Green Bay, Wisconsin. His name is Chase. I think he´s a little homesick.
"I knew you were American right away, just by looking at you," he told me. I asked him why, seeing as I wasn´t wearing sneakers and my teeth are not bleached a shocking neon white.
"Because you look and dress just like my mom," he said. I looked steadily at him for a second. "I hope that is a good thing," I told him.
"It´s the haircut, and the good shoes. The clothes. You´re wearing that vest, and the jeans and long-sleeve t-shirt. The whole LL Bean thing. So East Coast. You all wear that, and you all look just the same!"
I think he meant it in a nice way. He´s only been in Spain a week, and he probably really misses his mom. And it´s true, my son is just his age. I could be his mom. And if he was my kid I´d smack him upside the head.
As for smacking people, Mario is on the list. The plumbers are due tomorrow, and the Bozo Crew never showed up to dig the ditches for the pipes. I´ve informed Mario (via text message, seeing as he never answers his telephone) I´m filing a ´hoja de reclamacion´against him, a sort of judicial consumer complaint. Down in Andalucia they´re a weapon of choice. Up here, who knows if they´ve even heard of them. Or if Mario knows how to read text messages. Or if Mario knows how to read...
(My friend Tino, always looking for the light, says Mario is a ´picaro,´ a neér do well straight out of 17th century Spanish literature, a clever street-wise gypsy figure who lives off kind and gullible people. I should write him into a story, he says, an updated picaresque. Yes. Great idea. After I get my restitution!)
So who knows what tomorrow will bring? The bell-ridden convent of the Madres Benedictinas seems like forever ago, and miles away. I shall have to drop off some more eggs there soon, and maybe file a couple more prayer requests. Then the judicial writ. Then my homework.