I am stationed for a few days in a Spanish village on the outskirts of a big town. As is often the case in urban sprawl, the village ends up becoming just one more suburb, and this one in particular is no difficult. Streets full of bungalows are being sold off to build apartment blocks with car parks in the basement. There is still the market square and the local bars and shops, but the sheer volume of traffic passing through does away with any sense of downhome idyll.

The first morning I woke up in Spain, a Sunday more than ten years ago now, I wondered where the music was coming from. I looked out to the street below and there was a gypsy with a synthesiser playing a trumpet melody to a rumba drum loop, and also a man selling chestnuts, shouting something  I later learned was ¡son de León! -they’re from León!- which I presume to be a good place to get chestnuts. Another synthesiser-playing gypsy woke me this Sunday. Later on that morning I saw him in one of the squares. He was about 45 and fat, with a maroon shellsuit and a mullet.

In Ireland, you have to make an effort to overhear things. Not here, where you can hear what they’re saying out in the street 50 yards down, apart from when they’re drowned out by the sound of scooters or drills or cement mixers. Most of the time, they’re talking about food. The other night I woke up as the bar below the apartment was closing. The patrons were pouring out onto the street, and were talking at length about the great feed they had had a couple of weeks back in some bar or other, and what they were having for dinner the following day. People in Spain talk about food the way people in Ireland talk about….people in Ireland don’t talk about anything, apart from property maybe.

The woman who looked after me when before I started school used to buy the Irish News every morning to find out who was dead. No need for that here: each morning, a car with a loudspeaker on top goes up and down the streets announcing who is no more, and the times you can go visit the family in the tanatorio. Funny word that. It means funeral home, but it comes from Thanatos, the personification of death in Greek  mythology. From thanatos you also get euthanasia.

So you hear the names of the dead as you peel spuds for lunch. Nearly every dead person has an affectionate nickname, none of which make much sense in translation, just as you would have a hard time translating someone called Swinger or Mugsy.


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April 2008
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