Like an ungrateful son, Claude had swallowed up all of our savings and now he was moaning incessantly. We didn’t have a map and relied upon the assistance of road signs to point us towards Granada and our intended destination.
Toll roads meant that our smaller funds were being swallowed with equal regularity. The water torture of noise continued until, at our threadbare worst, we pulled off the motorway. The school in Orgiva may have well have been on the moon for the likelihood of us ever seeing it.
Never look like you are a double-dumb foreigner in a country of cute operators.
At their best, the Spanish can be incredibly helpful whilst at the worst, as with most nationalities, they can be a condescending no-comprendo curse for those truly in need.
We were foreigners, in an old French car, and we had no map. The truck-stop were we pulled into was full of truck-drivers not now driving but enjoying an early siesta. They looked upon us with arrogant amusement and when we opened our mouths to speak, only pigeons flew out.
I think that I may have inadvertently asked to sleep with someone’s grandmother whilst attempting to get directions for Granada. We got away from our helpers before they were able to digest what I had mis-said.
“Why did that fat guy respond like that?” I asked my missus-to-be.
“I think you said that you wanted to sleep with his grandmother.”
“No I didn’t. I asked him how to get to Granada.”
“No you didn’t. It sounded to me that you were using the common-tongue for ‘to sleep’.”
“Hang on…Did I?”
“Yes. That’s the thing with you and languages, you just go charging in without having any real clue as to what you might be saying.”
“That’s part of the whole adventure, isn’t it?”
“What? Getting beaten up by a column of crazy truck-drivers who take offence at you politely telling them that you would like to shag their grannies?”
“Hold on there. I said singular, Granada or granny.”
“Yes, but you were looking at them all.”
I understood and accepted what she was saying and it did go some way to explaining the increased volume of the truckers along with their seemingly aggressive encroachments upon my English personal space. I checked the rearview mirror and was relived to see not a single truck following.
“In future, think about what you say before you say it.”
I thought about what she had just said and decided to not say what I was going to say (which was that that approach would take all the fun out of the situation).
“Yes, mistress of darkness and languages.”
I got one of her looks and finally realised that it was by far the better part of wisdom to keep it zipped.
Rejoining the motorway allowed us to pay yet another toll. We had received some type of directions before the whole business with the grandmother kicked-off and we tried to follow them as best we could. Both of us in a car, on a hot sunny day, in a foreign country, without any sense of written, drawn, or genetically inscribed directions meant just one thing; and this was pre-cuckoo days.
The air danced around us in a passion of blue and to cap it all the bloody noise coming from the crap Gaelic garage-dodger was driving us to distraction. There were no signs for distraction so we pulled off again after two hours driving, and cursing, to follow the road to a place called Vitoria Gasteiz. This was Sonya’s idea (she of the wife to be appellation) and I was a little dubious. It was obvious that we could not fulfil the requirements of our original journey, so it made sense.
What didn’t make sense was the fact that Sonya chose this place at random.
It was just a sign on a motorway and it didn’t sound particularly Spanish. Besides, we were still in northern Spain and not in the southern soul of that great country. A good meal, a walk to stretch the limbs and a night’s sleep would do it. After that, it would be Granada por favor! I was not even vaguely aware at that juncture that something was amiss. The stars had a strange alignment that I had not noticed and Sonya had a knowing smile. Perhaps she was coming around to the idea of Spain after all?
Nothing can prepare you for a Spanish city. For me it was being locked in a kaleadoscope of images, shades, aromas, and exaggerated articulation. It was Laurie Lee come to life. It was Spain, but it was foreign and still somewhat out of time with the rest of the world. That’s what I most loved about it, Spain was still to grow into the latter part of the twentieth century and it suited my desires. Back in England, Cool-Britannia was being formed with Oasis and Blur as its outriders. The Tories were still in charge, but the world was beginning to turn away from them. The fresh breeze of real European union was blowing across our provinces and mobile phones were shrinking from the size of half-bricks to lozenges.
And yet here was northern Spain lost in a time that predated all of that. It was as if we had travelled not just in space, but in time.
And all the while, my wife of the future was beside me wearing the kind of smile that is able to outshine even the brightest of Spanish suns.