“A subtle difference” by Alberto Legaz. For three years I had been working in Germany. At that time I worked for a consulting enterprise as a software analyst and designer. On the verge of the Y2K (year 2000), there was a lot of work in this field because of the effect of the new century, and the imminent arrival of the euro as common European currency. In this context of good opportunities, I decided to go to there to learn a new language and to know other people and culture. Besides, I would get higher incomes (per-diems), and it is only a two-hour flight home, I could come back for a weekend every time I wanted. In fact, I had at my disposal a flight back home every fortnight, which I used many times in order to broaden my knowledge of Goethe’s land and many other near countries instead. The only restriction was that the plane or train ticket I took had to be cheaper than a flight back home. Then I enjoyed the chance to visit among others many interesting cities such as Amsterdam, Berlin, Budapest, Copenhagen, Prague, Vienna, Warsaw… until one day a little light shone on me; Frankfurt has the largest airport in Europe, with direct flight connections everywhere usually with different flight-companies, so according to the law of offer and demand, there had to be cheaper flights to the American dream. I was right. I told my girlfriend; I took fifteen days off and I booked two tickets destination the Big Apple. We decided to visit Boston for three days too. Then I had the plane tickets, so I only needed the lodging. I took a look at some brochures and I felt really disappointed; staying one night in a touristclass hotel in Manhattan is twice as much as a very good one in Europe. I commented this with a German colleague who also travelled a lot and he suggested booking youth hostels there. The price of them was very economical and they were situated in the heart of the cities. So there I went the very same evening. In both cases (NY and Boston) the ones we had chosen were available and though we had to share the room with other four people, we were still young, bold and fearless… or unconscious, who could tell?
The only difference when I made the reservation by phone was, that in the NY hostel they asked me: ‘Where are you from?’ whereas in Boston they asked me: ‘Where are you speaking from?’. Obviously, the answer to these questions was different, but I did not notice that until we finally arrived at the States. In New York, we were lodged together with another four Spaniards. Then we thought about how really nice these Americans were to let us stay together with other people from our same nationality. However, in the Boston hostel, we met two German couples in our room. They were astonished, because they expected another German couple as they were told so at their arrival in the reception desk, and I was commenting to my girlfriend something in Spanish. They politely introduced themselves and asked us: - Where are you coming from? As I noticed the others were talking among them in German, thinking they would feel more comfortable, I answered: -
Wir kommen von Frankfurt.
Frankfurt am Main?, he replied.
Ja, Ich arbeite bei der Commerzbank in Frankfurt am Main.
Unglaubich!, was his final word.
Then I though about the subtle difference of the question they asked me when I made my reservation, and the different reaction it could provoke. But when you are unaware of the intention of a such a simple question, I guess you are not prepared to answer to it properly. There was no problem at all with the roommates, these Germans were friendly and polite, and we can communicate with each other either in German or in English. But I always think twice whenever I speak in a foreign language specially on the phone, a slight misinterpretation could lead to a different situation from the one you are expecting.
American Literature – True Tales
NIGHTMARE I was sleeping in my bed when I heard people getting closer and closer. I didn’t know who they were, but I paid attention to their unfamiliar steps. They touched me. In fact, they took me. I could not move. I was so sound asleep that I couldn’t say a word. Who were those people? Where were we going to? No idea. When I woke up I felt ropes in my arms and legs that prevented me from moving a whit. I still had my eyes closed and a very bad taste on my mouth. I tried to open my eyes. Where was I? What had happened? And what was going on? Someone had realised that I was conscious and came closer. I finally opened my eyes a little to find a powerful light coming directly to me. -
What´s your name? – asked a woman.
Belén, as I suppose you already know.
I started to wonder again. Why was I there? It had to be a mistake. I was amazed. Which was the reason for my kidnapping? Were they going to ask for a ransom? I’m not rich and my family isn’t either. I couldn’t understand anything. -
Tell us, where have you put the disk? – This time it was a man with a very deep voice.
What disk? I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Don’t be stupid. You know perfectly. – Continued the man.
It made no sense to me. Who were those people? Why were they asking me that? Were they going to kill me? Not only was I in their hands, but also I had not the answers they were looking for. I felt panic. -
Are you going to tell us the truth? – this time it sounded as a threat.
Well… It is not that I refuse to answer; it’s only that I don’t understand the question.
There was a very strong noise, as if a table had fallen and I’ve never remembered what happened then. I couldn’t say how much time had passed when I was able to open my eyes again, just to notice that everything was darkness around me. Although I listened carefully, all I could heard was nothing but my heart beating. Strangely, there was something familiar… I knew that place… It was my room! I moved my arm, as it was free, and turned on the light. Everything had been a bad dream, but what a realistic one!
Belén Hallado Arenales
AT THE MUSEUM
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is famous throughout the world . The Met´s exhibitions include comprehensive collections of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, European and pre-20th century art. It was spring.There´s always lots to do at the Met´s ! I thought. But I never thought that a museum could have made such a remarkable error . It wasn´t a Saturday. I had just remembered that the museum housed a lush recreation of a Ming Dynasty Chinese garden . So I decided to visit it. It was not crowded. Someone said that Woody Allen had just left the building a few minutes before. This is just another anecdote of my stay in New York . I remembered quite perfectly that I was getting tired of seeing things when something attracted me. The thing said: “ The Altamira ceiling “ . Galicia. Frankly, at first I didn´t understand what it was all about. The picture was supposed to be part of the Altamira Cave , -the ceiling, - in Santillana del Mar, Cantabria. But the name of Cantabria didn´t appear at all. I was still looking everywhere in case I hadn´t paid much attention before. But nothing ! According to the picture, it belonged to Galicia. Do you know what I decided to do before leaving the museum ?
Suddenly, I saw a curator in the distance . I told him that they had made a big mistake situating Altamira in Galicia instead of Cantabria and all that . Do you know what he said to me ? He just started by telling me a story. He said he had been traveling through the Basque Country and there he sometimes wore the typical basque hat , so, he said, many people took me for a man from the Basque Country though I am American. That´s all he said to me . I didn´t reply. That was quite a little chat . When I finished my visit, I was thinking that even in one of the best museums of the world the officials in charge of it show ignorance about the stuff they display .
MY ITALIAN SLICE OF LIFE.
I was 20 years-old and started the third year of my degree at University in Santander, when my Italian adventure and one of the funniest trips I´ve ever made took place. The class had decided to prepare a trip out of Spain using the ¨excuse¨ of being just in the middle of the degree and starting the most difficult years. We had thought and voted for Italy as a good country considering we were studying Law and Roman law is so important for jurists. And although the target of the trip had nothing to do with Law but with entertainment my group of friends and me we lived some legal ¨experiences¨.
It was the first trip for me and my classmates together, at last the first “long trip”-for more than a week-end. It started in Nice and finished in Rome, after 10 days stopping in Padua, Verona, Venice, Pisa, Bolonia and Florence. The first ¨legal souvenir¨ that comes to my mind took place in Nice, in France, our first stop, when we were trying to visit the Negresco Hotel and taking some photographs, and someone said or”cried” Brad Pitt was in a car arriving at the hotel. I don´t need to explain the effects those cries had in most of the girls´ hormones making them run through the entrance and forgetting France is a country famous for its security measures and GENDARMES, who finally arrived and spoke with some of these students for a while....NO MORE PROBLEMS THIS TIME!!!!!! After visiting the romantic and lovely Venice, Verona, and Padua we stopped in Bolonia for a day. We arrived there for lunch time and we decided to have a sandwich in one of its beautiful parks near the university, in which we decided to enter too at that time students were leaving. But obviously forgetting the rules this time too: Our European student card was available only for the museums not for taking ¨free lessons¨ like Italian students. I mean that when we were trying to visit the university inside, we were invited to show our passports and leave the place .When you are 20 and haven't travelled too much, when you want to visit every place and discover every detail you probably forget the rules......And if apart from that you are a very ¨little- time tourist¨ you can live situations like the following one: SITUATIONFlorence, the week-end, full of tourists, young students wanting to see everything....We decided to eat in the queue of the Ufizzi Museum; I remember myself opening sandwiches bags and using a knife to spread MY ITALIAN SLICES OF BREAD . But one of my friends, always 'so smart ' , explained she wanted to eat sitting, maybe in the stairs but sitting. When we finished the visit at 5 or 6 in the evening she had to be so hungry and tired that she opened a sardines tin without waiting to go out of the museum. She sat down on a step of the last stairs of the museum while some of us went shopping for some postcards and souvenirs.We returned and saw the oil of the tin all around the stairs because someone had pushed her while leaving the museum; the smell was almost unbearable and everybody started to look at her. Two initially kind and nice 'carabinieri' arrived at the place and explained that she was dirtying a masterpiece-those stairs were part of the museum, of the historical building, not only the stairs of the exit. This time it wasn't possible to avoid a fine. I´d like to offer more details of our anecdotes and feelings, but probably the most important thing in this 'singular trip' , as in every trip has to do with the importance of the friendship that was born between us . Sharing 10 days, 24 hours full of experiences, were much more than 2 years studying together at University . We are still good friends today after more than 10 years
living each one in a different city and having travelled many other times after that one Good friends and accomplices that donÂ¨t need to speak, just to look at each other to understand our feelings, especially when people speak about that trip in a conversation......
If I had to choose one of the most productive and emotional periods in my life, that would be the time I lived in Mexico. Two years of good and bad moments. Two years filled with joy and learning. A period that taught me that I was able to live away from my "roots", away from the only world I had known, so far.
I remember it was not easy to make up my mind. I did not have my father's blessing so I knew that going ahead with my plans and moving to Mexico would be an act of defiance and disobedience. Still though, I managed to find the strength to take the risk. I am sure he has already forgotten me. I do not exactly know what finally prompted me to embark myself on that adventure, but I know now that the experience deeply marked my whole life. Mexico is in many ways a very special country. Not only did the people make me feel as if I was at home, but they also made me forget about what I had left behind, and how far I was from what I regarded as "my place". I know that in terms of adventure, I am no match for most of my friends, but my time in Mexico did teach me that I am perfectly capable of getting used to new situations and lifestyles. I remember the long, unending conversations with my best friend there as one of the most satisfactory moments in Mexico. Sitting at the patio, outside his house, I recall how much I used to struggle to keep my eyes open not to miss a single star in the sky. Nevertheless, I always ended up feeling so heavy lidded that I could do nothing but surrender to the charming atmosphere and fall asleep.
But I also remember tough moments during my stay there. Have you ever heard the noise a bullet coming out of a gun makes? I know. My friend was driving me home when, out of a sudden, a person driving another car produced a gun and shot at me! Fortunately, he missed... It may sound unbelievable and even thrilling now, but I remember being very scared and confused. I did not know how legal matters worked in the country, or how passionately some people could act. Luckily, this bad experience did not put me off and I continued to enjoy my life in such a wonderful country. If I remember Mexico as one of my favourite places, it is because while living there I somehow became aware of the fact that your home is made up of people rather than places or things. And those people will always be in my heart.
MY JAPANESE AFFAIR BY EMILIA PORTILLO ARGOS
The journey to Japan in the vibrant plane was longer and more uncomfortable than normal. Once in Tokio’s airport, panic striken my mind while I crossed the city by car, it was to be lost in that urban jungle, immense, messy and without reference to any town center, full of neon lights. When I reached my sister’s house I felt safety in the peaceful atmosphere of her home. I was very tired and I wanted to go to bed so I gave them their presents and went to rest. The next day, I was going to be introduced to my brother-in-law’s fathers. Okasa, my brother-in-law’s mother reminded me of Angela Channing , and as time passed this resemblance to the aforementioned was proved to me. She and her husband gave me a welcoming meal. Most of the food was raw. “ I have prepared it specially for you” said Okasa, in a soft and courteous voice, encouraging me to begin to eat as she observed I was reluctant to do it. “This Starts well” I said to myself while I introduced a piece of raw fish in my mouth. Soon after this I noticed my face was getting warmer and warmer till it became red like a tomato. When I swallowed my last piece of tuna I asked for the bathroom where I vomited. Once relieved I returned to the dinning-room livid and half-sick desiring to get to the desserts. But when the meal finished Okasa asked me if I know to draw. I said “yes” without malice and in no time at all I found myself with a paper and a pencililsil in my hand and Okasa in front of me , posing to prosperity. To my surprise, the portrait I did was very good. “ Things are getting better” I said to myself euphorically. “We will hang it on the front wall of the hall” she said happily. Later I realized that when the door was opened, my drawing was covered by it. My next mix-up was with Happy-o, the family’s dog, an enormous English sheepdog I had to go for a walk with while my sister cooked, with such bad luck that a few meters ahead we tripped over a fierce poodle that made my coward canine friend take to the hills. Happy-o never seemed to stop running and I didn’t either because I held to him with strength so as not to lose him. Alter avoiding some obstacles Happy-o stopped at least, exhausted. We were lost. I say “we” because Happy-o didn’t appear to know how to find the way home. In Fact, he looked at me trusting and stupidly waiting, it appeared to me, I was the one who had to find the way home. I began to be seized with panic, but fortunately I found a postman who helped me to reach home before I suffered a heart attack. It was dinner time, and I laid the table. I was putting the soup tureen in the center of the table, when a scream stopped me: “no, no, no Emily. That is Happy-o’s soup”. This spoiled, silly twit dog eats better than most people, I said to myself. He should be called “ Lord Happy-o”. My sister’s kitchen looked like a drugstore. There were more bottles of tablets than packets of food. I retired Happy-o’s food and put instead a plate full of bean pills, accompanied with pea pills and concentrate meta pills. A brilliant idea, I thought. The view of the plates left my sister and her husband speechless. Food was not my strong point, I realized.
The following day, Okasa decided to dress me with a kimono. My kimono had horizontal lines and hers had vertical ones.. As I discovered later, the horizontal lines made the figure look fatter and the vertical ones made the figure look thinner. Once dressed in the kimono, I decided to go for a walk and have a drink. I found a lovely place in Ghinsa to have a coffee. When I entered the place I noticed that everybody looked at me and I thought that I must be the most beautiful girl they had seen. But something must be wrong because they didn’t look friendly. In Fact, they invited me to leave. My brother-in-law explained to me that that place was only for men. But who was going to know, I excused myself, above all if one doesn’t know to read Japanese. I came back home slowly, the kimono didn’t let me do it in any other way. Someone should design the mini-kimono, up to the knees, to let people run in case they should be in a hurry. Everything was very show and formal in Japan. When you where shopping you could see it clearly. Each present was artistically wrapped, first in paper, then in a cupboard, and finally in a plastic bag. This process is marvellous if you are not in a hurry but if not, they try your psychological balance. Quicker than I expected the day to come back to Spain arrived. I had a tourist class ticket but when I was entering the plane, the Captain invited me to travel in first class because there was a free seat. I couldn’t believe it. I sat back in my comfortable first-class seat and took out of my handbag a postcard I had bought in Japan. It represented the image of three monkeys, one had his hands over his eyes, other had his hands over his eras and the third had his hands over his mouth. Oriental wisdom, I thought, as I drank a champagne glass surrounded by comfort and luxury. In such atmosphere, I drank a toast to wisdom in general and to good life in particular.
THE CAVE When I was a university student, every summer I had a summer job as a camp leader in a workcamp organized by some friends. It took place in a small village in the heart of the Maestrazgo Mountains, a very lonely and isolated place. We used to work with volunteers during the week in projects for the development of the village. However, we had the weekends free and we played games, we took part in workshops, went on excursions and so on. Several times, in our excursions we included orienteering races 1. First of all, we introduced the participants to techniques and orientation instruments. After that, we made groups of four or five people andâ€Ś Off we went! The end of the race was usually a nice, special place, as a reward for the effort. That summer, the arrival point was La Cueva del Santo. It was on the top of a mountain dressed by pines that grew on the dry red earth. On the way up, the warm breeze brought us the perfume of rosemary and ajedrea. Sometimes I was overwhelmed by nature, and I was feeling more and more like a lost animal, sweating because of the inclination of the ground. When we finally arrived at La Cueva del Santo, it turned out to be a thin crack on the rock. People from the village had told us that only four of us could come in at each time, because it was very small inside. So my team and I, crawling like slugs got into the cave through a narrow tunnel with our flashlights. Once at the bottom of the tunnel, the space became wider and the four of us sat down on the rock. A member of my team suggested turning the flashlights out and keeping silent for a few minutes. Dark. Fresh. Silent. Wild. Sacred. How could I describe that moment? It was a very strange sensitive experience. No water. No earth. No air. Just dark. Fresh. Silent. Wild. Just sacred. When finally one of us turned the flashlight on, I realized how calm and peaceful I felt. I left the cave and went down to the village with the others. After that summer, years went by. I never came back to La Cueva del Santo. However, I feel nostalgic about it. I wonder if death might be something similar.
Orienteering is a sport that combines racing with navigation using a map and compass.
WHAT IS YOUR NAME? I was 14 years old and I was about to finish my primary education. It was called EGB. Our Spanish Language teacher came into class and before starting the lesson he said: “All right, most of you have decided to continue studying and to do Bachillerato. O.K then, the school is going to help you with this new step in your lives. The secretary is going to be in charge of the enrolment process involved in entering the new Secondary School. We will get everything sorted out for you, filling in the forms, sending documents, etc. The only thing you have to do is to check if all your personal data are correct. In the case of the girls it is very common that your name includes MARÍA and you may not like it but it will have to be written as well in the form. Check at home with your parents and if this is the case let us know as soon as possible, it is very important.” So I went home almost with the certainty that my name did not include MARÍA but I asked my mother just in case: “Mum, my real complete name is not MARÍA Yolanda, is it?” “Ugh”, my mother swallowed in silence, “No, sweetheart, your real name is JULIA” “What?” I cried “Julia Yolanda?” “No, no, just Julia”. “Mum, you are kidding me, aren´t you? I mean my official name, the name that appears in the family book, D´you see what I mean?” “Yes, and Julia, just Julia is the name that is written in the birth register and in the family book. You can check yourself” So I did it. I checked and I confirmed that my only real and official name was Julia. Then a feeling of disappointment and confusion invaded my mood. After trying to find out an answer to my new circumstance, actually without any success, I asked my mother: “Mum, how come I have been Yolanda all these years when my real name is a totally different one. Mum, Don Antonio is going to kill me!!” “I´ll explain it to you, darling. When you were born, you know that your brother was still a baby, so your dad and I were really busy and stressed. We scarcely had time for anything. The days passed and
neither your father nor I had registered you in the registration office. It was him the one to do so. He worked long hours and the only way to do it was during his work time. He was driving the car and couldn´t find a proper place to park so he asked his work-mate to enter the office and do the registration for him. He accepted to do so and asked “What´s the name of the baby?”, “ Yoli”, answered my father, “O.K Yuli” his colleague replied and entered the office rapidly. When he was asked about the name of the girl he said “Yuli”. The civil servant looked at him with an angry face and answered “Yuli, Yuli!!, this is an English name and we are in Spain, the Spanish name is Julia and that´s it”, he sentenced, “O.K, all right, that must have been what my colleague has meant, fair enough!”. He finished filling in the form and went out. Your father really didn´t care about the misunderstanding and the change of the name, but it drove me mad when I find out. Yolanda was the name I wanted for you and that´s how you have been called since you were born. When you got baptised the name was Yolanda, and I was pretty happy with that.” “Mum, Don Antonio is going to kill me!” I went to school the next day and I explained the whole story to my teacher. He couldn´t believe it and went mad at me. “Don´t you see that you have been studying all these years for nothing. The person registered in the school doesn´t exist!” He cried very angrily. “Yes, Don Antonio, I understand” I answered in a soft and embarrassed voice. “Right, I´ll send your school book to the Ministry of Education and let´s see how I can fix this absurd confusion. Oh, I just can´t believe it! To be honest I don´t really remember how I felt. I suppose a bit ashamed but that was it. It had not been anybody´s fault anyway, just a stupid confusion so I was not going to put the blame on anyone or feel guilty. My yellow school book has the name of Yolanda crossed out with an ordinary Bic ballpen and Julia above written with a thicker crayon. That was how my student life, almost vanished by the misunderstanding, existed again. That was also how I gained a double identification that I deliver according to the social situation. It took me a while to get used to being called Julia but I am happy with all this. In an informal situation I can make a choice when I answer “What is your name?”. Julia (Yolanda) Ortiz Arellano
A SLICE OF MY LIFE: ‘Lessons’
When our literature teacher told us to write a draft about our life, I was frightened. The first thing I thought was: ‘I have been living for years and now I’m not able to write about anything. No special story comes to my mind right now!’. I have travelled a lot, I have lived abroad and also in several cities within Spain, I have so many interesting friends and, of course, many entertaining things have happened to me. Nevertheless, it’s so difficult to write about only one story with no mention of the others… All that has happened in my life has been a series of events that have happened in order for me to learn so many things about life. As this draft cannot be longer than 360 words, I prefer not to tell a story but rather tell what I have learned during these 33 years. I will say that I have taken some things from my favourite authors which are now ‘slices of my life’ and are always with me. Mainly, I have learned that the less time wasted …the more things I do …and that opportunities are not lost forever when you let them go ... other people take advantage of them … I have learned that everyone wants to live on top of the mountain ... but all the happiness passes while you climb it… and you need to enjoy the journey and not think only of the goal; that when sowing resentment and bitterness, happiness is going elsewhere; that a smile is a good way to improve your appearance; that we need to use good words, so that tomorrow we will not regret it; that nobody is perfect, until we fall in love; and that life is tough but you should try to be tougher. In the end, I have learned that life is a constant lesson, that tests you always and lasts forever!
The Magical Wig “Every time you plan a lesson, imagine the worst possible scenario and then you’ll be ready to cope with chaos”, that’s what one of my friends told me before I started teaching and I always thought she was exaggerating. However, time proved her right. After finishing university, I worked as a language assistant in England. I was working in a secondary school and they offered me an extra job which was really well paid. It was a mother-tongue school, that is, children of Hispanic origin who had been adopted by English families. I only had to spend a couple of hours with them playing games, watching cartoons, etc. It seemed a piece of cake so I took it straight away. My first day was awful, I had taught secondary school students and I thought this could not be any harder, but I was totally wrong, there were kids all over the place, literally. After this awful day I got some advice from a friend who taught primary. Among many different ideas about how to set routines within the class, she suggested “the communication circle.” Everyday I should set some time for the kids to talk freely about anything they wanted. They sat on a circle and they had to listen to the person with the magical object. If they didn’t respect the rules they would be excluded from the circle. I really wanted my class to work and I spent a whole weekend planning what to do. I found this crazy wig that had colourful curly spiky hair and a bald patch and I immediately knew the kids would love it. When the class started, everything went much more smoothly and as days went by, I could finally relax and enjoy. After a month, the head teacher told us in a staff meeting that many kids had lice so we should watch out because they were spreading really fast and they couldn’t understand how. I immediately knew, my wig, which the kids loved and wanted to wear all the time, was spreading it. I checked the list and all the kids were in my class. I confessed to the head teacher feeling totally mortified and told her I could talk to the parents to explain what had happened. She told me to forget it and burn the wig so no one could trace where it had come from. That’s when I understood what my friend meant.
A SMELL YOU DON’T FORGET When I was a little girl one of my biggest fears was the sight of blood. As years have passed, I have been able to overcome my phobia in a somehow masochistic way: by watching -forcing my eyes open- horror, even gory, films or medical documentaries with real surgical operations. But my ultimate test came quite a few years ago, when I was in my late twenties and driving in the company of my youngest sister, a Psychology student. We were on the road to Oviedo and we had just passed Llanes. Suddenly a dark car overtook us and went on to overtake also the one in front of us, but when the driver was just about to go back to his lane, he then realized he was doing this too soon and therefore he would hit the car he had just overtaken so, in order to avoid that, he quickly swerved and- to our astonishment- the vehicle rolled over in the air above the dividing barrier landing upside down in a gutter. It all happened in seconds. The car in front stopped and a couple looking pretty shocked stood there motionless. Although so were we, we stopped too and decided to get out and take a look. Having recovered from the impact, the first thing we did was to call the police and an ambulance, explaining where we were (the nearest sign post indicated the exit to Pravia). It was then when we all heard a faint voice asking for help. My sister and I (in my case, not without reluctance) approached the badly damaged vehicle and saw the windscreen was broken and full of blood, but the victim was alive and conscious. He was a man in his thirties - if it could be reckoned at all - and he was upside down, his body twisted, with the seatbelt still fastened and his head - which was bleeding profusely - against the roof of the car. In these circumstances, we all know the victim should not be moved from the same position, but my sister was sure that if we left him upside down losing blood through the big gash he had on his skull, he would not live much longer, so she insisted we had to get him out of there. In addition, the smoke which was coming out of the engine looked quite threatening. The other couple exclaimed that it was crazy, so my sister had to persuade them to try – at least- to lift the vehicle since otherwise we could not open the door. Finally they agreed and started to lift it slowly while my sister and I got hold of the man and took him out with extreme care (for some reason as soon as the couple finished their task -and maybe as soon as they saw the victimthey just left the scene). Luckily he could walk so we moved him a few meters away from there - he complained about the shoulder, and I realized that he had broken his collarbone, as the shoulder was curiously hanging asymmetrically - and sat him on a big stone. Then I fetched a blanket from our car to cover him and keep him warm. It was then that we appreciated the terrible injuries he had on the side of his head. I don’t know if you have seen the film “The Elephant Man” by David Lynch, because I can find no better way to describe the shape of that head. The forehead and part of the skull were amazingly swollen, so the left side of his face looked really disfigured, apart from the terrible cut from which the blood kept coming out . However, it wasn’t the sight of blood what really put me off but rather, the smell of it. It was an intense, penetrating, sickening smell difficult to endure.
My sister advised me that it was essential to keep him awake, aware and talking, so there I was, sitting next to a man I could hardly keep my eyes on, fighting against my desire to throw up (that smell…), trying to hold a decent conversation pretending to appear calm and confident. He seemed obsessed with whether he had caused any harm to anybody but we told him he hadn’t. We kept asking him questions about his family, girlfriend and their telephone numbers- which he gave with great efforts as he was struggling not to close his eyes. He then asked about his car and, feeling the blood covering his eye, about his appearance, but we subtly changed the subject thinking he would not like to hear the harsh reality. In the meantime, curious passers-by stopped and watched from far away. It was after 10 minutes when the police turned up and the first thing they did was to disperse – with not very good manners indeed - people who were obstructing the traffic. Then, keeping a reasonable distance from us, they asked what had happened and how things were going. My sister answered with sarcasm they could see it by themselves. One of them came a bit closer and asked for phone numbers to inform the man’s relatives as, and I’m quoting his words, “with you, youngsters, one never knows…” (I wonder what on earth he meant by that). Again he left us alone with him and went on to regulate the traffic. At last after 20 endless minutes the ambulance came. We gave them the information they requested and then quickly took the injured man to the nearest hospital, which was in Arriondas. After this incident, still with these mixed feelings of nervousness, nausea and uncertainty we returned to our car in order to continue - slowly- our journey. Once we were in Oviedo we phoned the hospital in Arriondas to enquiry about Luis Gomez, as his name was. They informed us they were still doing some tests on him but there seemed to be nothing serious, and we hoped they were right as we never heard of him again. I admit it was a really unpleasant experience but I felt proud of myself for having been able to put my phobia and my repulsion aside and help someone who really needed assistance, or at least, moral support. However, whenever the incident comes back to my mind, it comes together with that awful smell you never forget, the smell of blood.
THE POWER OF COMMUNICATION
I was almost 12 when my family moved from a big city to the little town where now I live (in those days it was even half the size that it is nowadays). At first, it wasn’t a big deal, for at that age I found it quite easy to make new friends. But as time went by, I started to feel that something was not going right. As young as I was, I was used to listening to Hard Rock music and Heavy Metal, for it was the music my brother, who was 8 years older than me, listened to at any time. It was the 80´s, and this kind of music was at its highest, and blew up as a real revolution! As soon as I became a teenager, my love for Rock grew higher and higher, and there I was, a 13-year-old rock-chick girl in a little town with no one to share this thing with. So this sensation of incomprehension took hold of me, and I started to write little poems to express myself and relieve in some way this feeling of being ‘a fish out of the water’. One fine day I made up my mind and sent one of my poems to a very famous rock magazine, with a letter looking for writing with people who loved Rock and Roll as much as I did. The fact of sending it made me feel pretty good just by the thing itself; I actually didn’t expect it to be published in the magazine but, anyway, I promised to answer back all of the letters I would receive. Surprisingly, it happened to be published, and I bet the poem had much to do with it, for I started to receive letters of people from everywhere and of any age at a rate of 4-5 a day for months!! Even years after the publication, I still received new ones from time to time. They were all people who felt identified with me and my poem, people who needed to communicate with others like them, with others like me... And in that moment I found the truth (and as The Police said...): “seems I’m not the only in being alone”!! So, since a promise is a promise, I started to answer back all the letters. It was a hard task to do and it took me years to get it done, but I did! Some of the people who wrote me only meant to praise my poem and send a few words, but most of them became real relationships with periodical correspondence exchange, and some of them ended up being real friendships I still keep in touch with today in another, more technological way (via the internet, cell phone or whatever). Most of the people were great and really cool but, of course, some of them were really peculiar like, for instance: the boy who sent me his beloved comic collection for he was sure I would sent it back to him some time (I didn’t like comics anyway!!); or these girls who told me they had run away from their homes and were living now with a woman they had met in the streets; or this guy who was in prison and I used to send him rock stars posters to cheer him up; or the guy who asked me for permission to use my poem as lyrics for a song of his own rock band; or this other one who used to write in the most unusual papers, such as old calendar sheets, napkins, or tiny pieces of paper (of course, perfectly numbered so that I could find the way to read them in order!)...; the list would be huge. I even got to know in person a boy and a girl who lived near my own town. Hadn’t it been for that magazine, I’m sure we even wouldn’t get to know to each other ever, close as we lived to one another. So, I was so busy writing letters for so many years, I just stopped writing poems. I figure I simply didn’t need to do it any more, for I had a better way to express myself. Actually I’m not able to write any poem at all today. Those times went by, and it’s all due to the power of communication that, in some way, saved me from very uncomfortable feelings in the most difficult years in anybody’s life. Now I can say that sending that letter in that very moment was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. LONG LIVE ROCK AND ROLL!!!
SLICES OF LIFE AIRPORT ADVENTURES I don’t know how this story would have ended up had it occurred in the recent past. But those were the times before 9/11 and they were also the times of my “early” youth and my not yet very wide travelling experience. My story takes place at Heathrow airport during my incredibly-exciting first trip towards Northern Ireland, my Erasmus destiny and home-to-be during that following year. It was indeed my first trip involving airports, boarding desks, customs and stop-overs in which I found myself without being part of an unconcerned “herd” led by an all-mighty-all-knowing teacher-guide. As you may imagine, I felt certainly happy to at least have a travelling companion, a school mate as it happens, sharing the same university destiny and apparently, as unknowledgeable as me in airport issues. So there we were! We had already found our gate and this time we were on time, so having everything “under control” there was nothing much to do but to chat at ease while waiting on the chairs typically designed for such purpose at airports. Around us, a few other passengers also waited patiently for the plane that would take us all to Belfast. I would not be able to say how much time we spent there, but I do remember that when we finally looked around we found ourselves… alone in the place. A feeling of unease was starting to crawl inside us. We were there, looking at our watches, wondering whether we should have actually gone to some other desk, or whether some incomprehensible (damn English!) but important announcement had escaped us, when we saw this flight-attendant approaching us. - Are you Mss. “Sercadilou” and Mr. “Garsía”? she asked. An “Oh, oh” crossed our minds- “Yes, we are”, we replied, our eyes full of questioning expectation (how on earth could she know our names?). Apparently they had been waiting for us at the boarding gate, with no success (well, how should we know?). – “Could you come with me, please?, she said. Not much choice. We followed her through a corridor (aaand the boarding gate?, I thought) and into a room, a dark room with no windows (and I promise this is not part of my wild imagination that by then, I can tell you, was already flying high) where three uniformed officials were standing in front of a large desk. On top of the desk, to our astonishment, there stood two luggage bags, mine and Jose’s, since that was my partner’s name. – What are you carrying in your bags? – one of the officials asked. Jose and I looked at each other. – Clothes?, we muttered hoping the officials could see the obviousness of the situation as well. No luck. – Can you open them, please?
So there we were again. That was the second time in the same day that I saw my underwear all spread out on a table together with some other “personal belongings” including a teddy bear, which was equally embarrassing for me at the time (what! I had to decorate my new room, wherever that was going to be that year). I suppose I should mention at this point that on the first part of our trip I had already had my suitcase opened. Well, they had already checked that the little pen-knife my father had given me as a present was just under the legal length (I could not kill anyone with it), so, what did they want now? At that moment, Jose turns to me and says – “I think I know what they are looking for. It’s the chorizos”. Before I could say anything, one of the officials took a neatly packed parcel the size of two shoe boxes out of Jose’s bag. It had obviously been detected by the x-ray machine, but they were not sure of the content. My packet was considerably smaller, but still detected. –“Food”, we hurried to say, “it’s food”. I believe this time it was the officials who were perplexed. They were standing there, looking at us and holding with two fingers those pieces of “dead meat” (after all these years of hanging around with foreigners I know that’s what they were really thinking -do they eat meat alive or what?). Anyway, after short considerations I suppose they thought us harmless and let us go (the plane was waiting for us after all) not without making us promise first that we should declare that at the Customs in Belfast. – Certainly, sir. No problem. And we left. After an otherwise uneventful flight we were just another brief moment of embarrassment away from our destiny. “Ladies and gentlemen we have just arrived at Belfast airport. We hope you’ve had a pleasant flight. Thank you for flying with us. Mss. “Sercadilou” is requested to pass to the cockpit, please; Mss. “Sercadilou”, please…” What the h…! Apparently our suitcases had been travelling in the cockpit, so we picked them up and got off the plane resigning to the idea that our precious load was going to end up soon in the hands of some unappreciative customs officer. In fact, we meant to keep our promise but for some strange circumstance we never found out where the Customs were. Instead, a tempting door to the street was calling us only a few meters away from where we were standing. Jose and I looked at each other and without uttering a single word we headed towards our freedom. After all we could enjoy some Spanish food that year.
Mónica Cercadillo López de Medrano
My relationship with Great Britain is a bit peculiar. I mean, when I go there, something happens to me. So far nothing to complain, just anecdotes to tell my friends, family and my future generations. This story starts the day I decided to spend the summer working as an au-pair. This time I wanted to be free. No more classes in the morning and excursions in the afternoon. This time I wanted to live like a British person, not like a foreign student. The idea was great, so I tried to spread it to my friends. I got only one supporter. My friend Ann who is as adventurous as me. We planned everything but as usual, things don’t turn out as you’ve planned and this time wouldn’t be an exception. We both found a family but she would live in Oxford and I’d live in London. As a result, we only saw each other twice for one month and a half, but that’s another story. I remember the agency name: “Helping Hands”. I don’t know if they still run the business. First time I talked to the agency was to tell me my host family details. Mr and Mrs Tucker. They had an only child, Tom, who was 7. They lived in Loughton, a village near London. “Please write a letter to them and send a photo of you to the Tuckers” said Mary, my supervisor in Helping Hands. “And once you’ve got your flight arrangements, phone them” she continued saying. So that’s what I did. Everything was sorted out or that’s what I thought. However, a week before leaving Spain I received another call from Mary. “Nouela (as she called me) I’ve found a family for you, the Browns”, she said. I was a bit shocked and confused “The Browns? But you told me my family were the Tuckers” I said. “Don’t worry. The Tuckers have changed their minds about taking on an au-pair. Now your family are the Browns” she said. The Browns were 5 people! I mean 3 children! Adam 10, Tom 8 and Fiona 6. Honestly the change didn’t look like what you’d call a good change. So there I go. Phone another family. I think I’ve already gone through this. Anyway, the adventure started a bit messy, but nothing to spoil it. Finally the feared moment arrived. I was flying to Heathrow alone and I was terrified. First thing to do: Pick up the luggage (just follow the rest of the passengers). Second thing: Go through the way-out gate and walk on the catwalk where everybody is looking at you. For some people that moment could be their glorious moment. For other people the idea of going through that gate and looking for someone holding a card with your name on it, was like going to a slaughterhouse. And you could be the chosen one!! So, lucky me! No card with my name! The moment of relief started to become a stressful one. No one is waiting for me!! 15 minutes later a man and a boy in a hurry approached me. “Nouela?” asked the man. “Yes” I said, “At last!” is what I thought. “Sorry we got stuck in a traffic jam. Is this your luggage?” he said while he picked it up. At that time I didn’t know I was about to make a big mistake. “You must be Tom” I dared to say to the boy. “Yes” he said proudly. He looked a bit shy but
appearances can be deceptive. We drove for an hour until we got home and during the journey Tom didn’t stop talking, talking and talking. “This is going to be hard and there are two more left to meet. “Oh dear!” I thought. By the time we got home I knew his favourite colour, sport, food..and all this together with my questioning. It was like three degree! He also told me that they had moved a month ago and he was still meeting his new neighbours. Once at home Tom was my tour guide. He kept on talking while he took me to my new room. Without paying attention to what he was saying I asked him: “Tom, where are your brother and sister?”He looked astonished. “I don’t have siblings” he reply. “Oh my God!! Oh Dear!! What a f..thing I was thinking when I went with them without even asking their names!!”I thought. I remember going downstairs tell Daniel (Tom’s father) that I shouldn’t be with them but with the Browns. You can’t imagine that moment. It was like a comedy film but I wasn’t laughing then. Next thing was Daniel swearing on his mobile phone while I was phoning my parents from their home phone. My parents had gone through a nasty experience as well. I had just left the airport when the Browns arrived, and as they didn’t find me, they phoned my house. However, my parents don’t speak English. They only understood Noelia, but they started to think a lot of things. They spent one hour trying to find my English teacher so that he could phone and tell them what had happened to me. 1h15 minutes later I was phoning them. They were quite nervous. I told them what had happened and my mum just repeated “It’s the last time you go alone! It’s the last time you go alone!”I was seventeen then. Obviously I kept on going to England and peculiar things have happened to me since then. So what happened in the end? You must be wondering. The agency (they hadn’t said anything to the Tuckers, so they thought I was still their au-pair) took me to the Browns’ house with Adam (the man of the house while his father was out), Tom (my personal stalker. Anytime I had a shower he tried to unlock the door) and Fiona (The little princess. She followed me all the time to brush my hair). My first misunderstanding was that both boys were called Tom and his siblings could be at home. The second misunderstanding was that they had moved a month ago, so if the address was different, there was nothing strange. It wasn’t a bad summer after all, and by the way, the following summer I worked as an au-pair for the Tuckers, but that’s another chapter. Noelia González.
¿Mande? So you answer and then he answers back and you keep on talking but you can not see his eyes while he is answering you. You realize he looks at you somewhere between your knees and your feet. You notice his voice is soft -his shyness moves your skin- and so fearful that you think he is speaking in a language different than yours. He is not. You work at the dairy farm. You learn how to milk cows and how the machinery works. You get 12 cows every 20 minutes into the milking room. 7 hours a day. You learn many other things about cows. You can not tell more about the cows because your story would be too long. ¿Mande patrón? So you learn he was a carpenter down there in his hometown. Not married. Many brothers and sisters. Near Zacatecas. Somewhere in Mexico. His name is Feliciano. He also works at the dairy farm. He makes 5 dollar per hour. He would make 6 if he had a driving licence. 8 if he were the translator. You don`t have a driving licence but you are the translator. Lucky you. Eau Claire. Winsconsin. Both Feliciano and you, work ilegally at he farm. You learn that he crossed the border. You don`t learn how because he doesn´t want to tell you. You learn that he saves money to send it to his family, pay debts, buy a house at home, have a better life, no details, mafia is involved. You need money because you are broke and you want to go to New York. MOMA. MET. Blue Note. East Village. Looking for adventures. ¿Mande patrón? Yes, in this paper you have the steps you have to follow. I wrote them down for you so you can learn faster how to use the machinery. If you have doubts you can check the list. You tell him this in Spanish, obviously. You are excited. You think it will help him. You asume all the time that he can read. He can not. Then you feel something dry or dangerous or isolated in your lungs or near. Like a long nail. Like a fat snail. Like a squashed fruit. Or maybe something different. Who knows. Hola Feliciano ¿Mande patrón? I am not the patrón, Feliciano, I only translate, I milk cows like you, me llamo Pablo. Claro, patrón.
A lucky encounter What Iâ€™m going to tell you happened to me on my first visit to Edinburgh. It happened one day in mid October several years ago. I was travelling from Bilbao to Stansted airport in London and I had decided not to book a room in advance because I arrived in London early in the afternoon, so I had plenty of time to find a room for the night. Therefore I had only booked the train ticket to Edinburgh for the next day and a room there. While I was waiting to collect my luggage I met a young girl who told me it was her first journey to London. She was terrified because she was going to stay with a family as an au-pair and they had told her to phone them as soon as she arrived at the airport. However, her level of English was very poor and she asked me if I could phone in her place, I did and decided to stay with her till the family arrived. By the time I caught the airport bus to get to London I was beginning to get worried because I didnâ€™t know where I was going to stay that night. Sitting opposite me in the bus there was an Indian lady and we started talking. She was coming from Delhi, she used to spend 6 months in London and 6 in Delhi and that was her first night in London. She asked me where I was going and where I was staying in London. I told her I still had to find a room and she told me it was very difficult to find a B&B with vacancies at that time of the day, because it was already dark. My worry increased, although I tried not to show it. She offered me to stay in her flat and although I refused her offer a couple of times, by the time we arrived at the coach station it was really dark and I decided to accept. The flat was quite near the coach station and in the morning she even helped me to take my luggage to the train. I think I was really lucky to meet Anita, this was her name. From then onwards I always book in advance, just in case.
By Pilar Acebo
A QUESTION OF FATE If the next car passing by is red, I will do it; if it´s a black one, I won´t. No more doubts or hesitations, as simple as that, it´s decided then… Damn! It´s a motorcycle. But it´s red. Does it count? I´m not sure. Why hasn´t anybody bothered to establish the rules of this game? Important decisions are handled here. Never mind, I will wait for the next car (just cars; not motorcycles, scooters or buses). Ok, I´m waiting, and waiting. I should have chosen a road with more traffic. It´s always the same: you need something to happen, and it won´t happen anymore. Wait, here comes one. Oh, my Godness, it´s salmon-pink! Who in his right mind would buy a salmon-pink car? It´s the ugliest thing I have ever seen! It´s like my parents´s living room. How many times had I told them? And despite this, they painted it anyway. Because they needed some colour different from white, and that one was the only one that could go with the couches, but, even now, I can´t step into that room without noticing that it is not the right colour. Because these things are important, you have to live with them, and it´s a common space, an agreement must be reached; but no, these things don´t work that way, because nobody listens anymore, it doesn´t matter how many reasons you give, or how hard you try to convince them, they won´t listen at all. But, wait, this is not the point, I was about to make a decision, and this is not working. So, I think I´m just going to flip a coin. Since the beginning of time (or at least, since the beginning of economy), humanity has relied on this simple technique for the most complex decision-making. So many people can´t be wrong. Heads: I will do it. Tails: I won´t. Simple and effective (what else can you ask for?). It´s decided, then. There is nothing like leaving important matters into the hands of destiny. Now, I just need a coin.
EVERYTHING HAS GOT AN END I’ve never had a special attachment to any object or material belonging, except for my first car. It was the car where all my family used to travel when I was a child. It was a beautiful grey Renault 11. It said “5 speeds” on its back, as this was a plus when it was bought. When I started studying at University and living in a different town to my parents’, I sometimes borrowed it for a short period of time. Afterwards, my family bought a new car (something I’ve never forgiven), and I became its owner. I started taking care of it and had to pay for its each time more frequent break-downs. But it meant freedom, fun and movement to me, and I began loving it beyond its practical meaning. My father was a mechanic and knew something about cars, so he started advising me to buy a new car when its problems got more and more frequent. He said it was risky to drive an old car on motorways, it polluted and wasted a lot of petrol and so on. But I always found a reason to keep it for a bit longer: first, when I started working, I didn´t have enough money; then, I had money to buy another car but not to pay for a garage, and what a pity to keep a new car in the street…; afterwards, I was going to live abroad, and how stupid to buy a new car and then move to another country… I never found the right moment to change my car. Many years ago, I had a little accident on a motorway, and a policeman told me: “it’s useless to repair this car, you’d better buy a new one”. I of course had it repaired. But everything has got an end. The end of my Renault 11 was long and painful. It didn’t break down, it never left me voluntarily. First, someone got into the car and my radio-cassette was stolen. I couldn’t understand why the thief didn’t take the car, but I was happy anyway not to lose it. A few weeks later, someone got into my car again, stole my documents and a pair of glasses, and left the car on its place. And a few weeks later, always in the same town, my car disappeared. It was definitely stolen. The police didn’t pay much attention to the theft, but believed it was me who didn’t remember where I had parked it. It was not easy, but I learnt to live without it. I finally bought a new car, a few months later, when it was clear my beloved Renault 11 was not going to appear. And three days after I got my new car, the grey darling turned up. Definitely out of use. My father was so happy to see me with a safe, new car, that I cannot avoid thinking it could have been him who organised the theft. Who knows. I find it hard to throw away something still in use, I hate wastefulness. There is so much in some places, and so little in others… Now I’ve got a little, old cathodic television, my first TV. In 2010 we’re told TVs will have to become digital. I don`t want to buy a new television. Will it be stolen?
Sara González González, January 2009