far too much writing, far too many photos

[Written on 27 Sept.]

The weather here these last few days has been spectacular. Yesterday, for example: nearly luminescent, air filled with hazy, golden sunshine, temperature cool early on, warm in the afternoon. A radiant late-September day. Today turned a bit overcast, which feels just fine to me. Changeable skies are part of the autumn package. And so the days spin by, the new season edges in.

I’ve been back in school, classes commencing at 9:30, with a half-hour break from 11:30 to noon, then continuing on until 1:30. That’s the theoretical schedule, anyway. This being Spain the reality’s a bit more relaxed, or, in Anglo-Saxon anal-speak, a bit more slack. Classes gradually get going sometime in the neighborhood of 9:40, 9:45. The break happens somewhere around 11:30 — maybe earlier, maybe later. Classes start up again after twelve sometime — 12:10, 12:15. The two instructors I’ve had this week are reasonably conscientious, so while the classes often get creakingly underway ten or fifteen minutes late, they tend to run over, providing more or less full-length sessions. More or less.

A woman named RocĂ­o has the first session mid 50s, extremely entertaining, with a warm manner that sometimes slides into something harder, more controlling. I’ve known a couple of students who had problems with that, but it so far hasn’t bothered me. She has a way of acknowledging her eccentric episodes, so good humored that I find it endearing. There is something schoolmarmish about her, offset (and then some) by a sunny goofiness, a genuine sweetness.

After the break: Pablo. An authentically interesting character — one of the higher-ups in the Spanish Department at this language school (part of a concern with schools in many countries, including several cities in Spain). When I showed up for my first day, Pablo did the assessment interviews for the newcomers: a bit of chat, some written testing. The impression I and two other students had: he couldn’t have given a shit less, unless you were an attractive woman. During the succeeding months, in the course of further dealings with him, he became much friendlier, much more congenial, to where I find I genuinely like the guy. A sharp, interesting individual, and an excellent teacher. A bit tougher in manner, at times, than Rocio — though that seems to have mellowed with time — but also funny, smart, with a goofy laugh. Rumpled looking, a heavy smoker, with longish curly dark hair and skin slightly more olive-toned than the northern European skin shades.

His outfit today: a pair of what might loosely be called loafers — the newest or best-kept part of his ensemble. Khaki pants, generously creased and wrinkled, in need of a rest. An office shirt — clean, vaguely aquamarine, unbuttoned, untucked, with a t-shirt underneath sporting a photo of the Manhattan skyline, the World Trade Center prominently included, the legend NEW YORK above and below the photo. His way, maybe, of showing solidarity. Hair a bit wilder than normal, almost exuberantly so, long curls and frizzes pointing asymmetrically in every direction. Eyes a bit red, as they often are. Unshaven. And his teeth — well, Pablo’s teeth are an important part of the picture. Not ugly, but not matinee idol fare, either. A bit out of whack, a bit anarchic, so that when he smiles or laughs his aspect becomes radically distinct from his more serious moments. With mouth closed, eyes fixed on something, he begins to look a bit dangerous. In laughter, something altogether different shines through.

His classes this week started off with rigorous sessions of torture concerning complicated verb-tenses, something that blessedly segued into lessons on Spain’s recent history, the period called The Transition, from the end of the Franco years through the beginning of the current constitutional monarchy/democracy. A spread of years extending from the 60’s into the early 80’s, the principal action taking place in the 70’s, a time of intense change that must have been amazing to live through, climaxing in the attempted coup in ‘81.

It’s a intriguing part of the picture here, the bizarre patchwork of Spain’s 20th century history — periods of big instability, punctuated by brief attempts at stability that never seemed to take. The nightmarish, deeply divisive civil war from 1936 to 1939, resulting in the brutally repressive regime that lasted until Franco’s death in 1975. During the final few years of his rule, as life in the States and western Europe underwent tremendous change, different elements in Spanish society began pushing against what was essentially across-the-board repression, and Franco’s death sparked a passage of incredible tension and transformation.

It’s fascinating to listen to Spaniards talk about all this. Apart from this week’s nicely balanced overview from Pablo, everyone else I’ve ever heard refer to the war, Franco and the complicated dynamics within the society during all that has expressed their thoughts vehemently. An epoch so recent that it’s still alive in many ways (not least of which is the current political landscape), and the intensity of emotion that spills out when people discuss it is striking and poignant. (On the other hand, numerous Spanish 20- and 30-somethings have told me they’ve had it with the continuing obsession with the war and Franco.)

During all this intrinsically dramatic stuff, there’s the perpetually-changing spectacle of the students in the class — a constant parade of personalities and cultural collisions different from anything I’ve ever experienced.

To begin this last week, class consisted of a 20-something guy of Indian descent named Ravi — not from India, as far as I could tell; English seemed to be his first language. There are generally opportunities to pick up details like that, but Ravi never hung about in available ways outside of class, never offered anything about himself in class. He mostly gravitated to another 20-something, a Texan named Cody — he of the pretentiousness comment. A difficult guy to warm up to, not serious about classwork. Not that he was around long enough for his personality to become an issue: he lasted two days then disappeared.

There were two young women of Japanese stock, one from Japan, here studying Flamenco, and one from Brazil — both intelligent and interesting. Then there was a Russian woman from St. Petersburg, a language teacher, intelligent and pretty. Midway through the week, an outgoing French guy in his late 20s named Javier showed up. And yesterday a 20-something woman who’s apparently lived all over the world completed the group.

A group, apart from myself and the Russian woman, of 20-somethings who bonded with each other more and more on that basis as the week went on, a connecting that I — an older writer, American, with a propensity for jeans and pointy black boots — clearly was not part of. Too much of an anomaly, I think.

I’ve taken classes at this school during much of the last 14 months, the various groups that have been the most fun have had a real spread, age-wise, something that ensured everyone gets included in one way or another. But if one group doesn’t work terrifically well, individuals will leave, other individuals take their place, giving birth to a whole different chemistry. Of the seven people in class today, four will be gone on Monday. Other folks will become part of the mix. And there’s simply no way of telling whether it’s going to be a great time or just a group I’ll be parked in while working on my Spanish.

People come and go, it’s part of life. Must be strange to work in a situation where an accelerated, intensified version of that is part of the basis of one’s experience — faces constantly coming and going, different personalities streaming through. You get to know them a little, they disappear, other faces materialize. It’s so much the norm that every time I show up for a few more weeks of classes, the teachers all seem genuinely surprised to see me again.

Being different: it’s good.

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