Tuesday, 10 June 2008


Now it is time to write about an ubiquitous bit of Spanish color: the mono.

In Greek, "mono" means "one." In American Junior High Schools "mono" means "mononeucleosis," a strange disease that makes you feel really tired and keeps you out of school for months at a time.

In Spanish "mono" means a whole lot of things, but today I´m focusing on the bright blue canvas kind that forms the background of working-class Spain. Monos are overalls, one-piece "boiler suits." Electricians, farmers, plumbers, tile-setters, ditch-diggers and bricklayers all arrive at their worksites dressed in their usual polo shirts and khaki pants. They find a likely-looking place (often within plain sight of whomever may pass by) and strip off their shoes and pants. They then step into their mono, zip it up over their tummies, put on their boots, and get to work. (No, I´m kidding. They really take a break for a cigarette.)

At 2 p.m. they step out of their monos, put on their regular clothes, and have lunch. And at 4 or 5 they step back in for a couple of hours. Monos are a great idea. They keep polyurethane foam, paint, tile adhesive, mortar, solder, and sheep manure from staining your clothes. They keep you warm when it´s chilly.

And they´re stylin.´

One thing we were obliged to do when we started hiring people to work for us was to supply them with monos. Last fall when Patrick the Czech was here he wore a mono left behind by the Bozos, but we knew we didn´t want to keep that thing around. Blazoned on the back was an ad for Reformas Gonzalez, and it was difficult not to lob bricks at it.

When Paddy and I started working in concrete and plaster and polyfoam ourselves, and our clothes began to unaccountably stick to other clothes in the hampers, we decided to invest in some monos for ourselves, too. We paid 15€ apiece for two nice monos at the hardware store. One has bright yellow racing stripes. The other is plain blue, but has a "special cut," the man told us. Estebanito told us later we shouldn´t have paid more than 10 for them, and the guy just sold us the extra fancy ones... that we could´ve had some nice green ones with "FertiBeria" printed on the back for a mere 8€. (the Milagros own a FertiBeria franchise. But green monos are the exclusive fashion statement of moonshiners and agricultural workers, and I personally hesitate to label myself as a Fertility Symbol.)

Anselmo from Valencia, ever the fashion icon, refused to wear monos. (Do-rags, yeah. Monos, no. Go figure.) So our flashy blue-and-yellow Speed Racer mono saw its first service with Thomas the Dutchman. He was a bit too tall for it, but it served its purpose. It has some paint smears on it, and some polyfoam (which you cannot use without getting all over yourself forever), but that only added to its rugged charm.

And now that Paddy and I are doing some concrete finishing, we are ourselves joining the Ranks of the Mono... Patrick in the Speed Racer model, and myself in the Special Cut. We are liking them, because they are warm, and because they are THERE. They´re available. They fit over anything, they´re comfy, tough, and you can get them as dirty as you want without worrying about ruining them.

I will never wear my mono outside our walls. The women of Moratinos would be scandalized, I´m sure... they all still wear skirts and sensible shoes everywhere, every day. Monos are Menswear, right down to the double-zipper in the front to make peeing more possible. This is where my mono fails me. I learned very quickly to visit the toilet the very moment I felt the urge, and to limit my intake of liquids when wearing one. Because even a quick widdle means climbing the whole way out.
And I can´t say mine fits beautifully, as it is made for a man´s body. It´s baggy in the bottom and the crotch, so I hike it up and put a belt around the waist, and ... et voila! A perfect boob!

Paddy´s suit fits him snugly. He complains that it accents the roundness of his paunch, but I think anyone with a gut would feel the same way. Here in rural Spain, every day is Easter, with multicolored egg-men tottering atop tractors and repairing walls and highways, their monos quiet declarations of their class, status, and ongoing employment. To wear a mono means you are gainfully employed and hard at work. Unless of course you have a cigarette that wants smoking just now. Or you need to pee.

Oh... Mono in Spanish means "monkey," too. It also means "cute."


Elizabeth said...

I always translated the mono you're talking about as "one-sy," sort of like the homoerotic outfits wrestlers wear. Slightly uncomfortable for the viewer, but functional for the wearer. Culture is fun!

Kiwi Nomad 2008 said...

I have reached Palencia and am spending the night in Itero de la Vega! So I am not far away from you; I hope I manage to find you in a few days!
Margaret - KiwiNomad06