One month, un més

28 October 2008

As of today I’ve been in Spain for a full month. Every day is the longest I’ve ever lived outside the country.

So it seems appropriate today to transcribe here my first day of school, on Monday, 5 October, that is scrawled right now in blue pen inside my notebook, artifact of the notes I took on the bus. As of that morning, I don’t know what classes I will be teaching, where my school is, what the countryside looks like, or where anything is. I haven’t changed a word.

8:15 a.m. My first day. Walked for almost an hour in the predawn, the sky blue & orange. A man clapped the birds out of the trees – in the morning they sing incessantly from the branches lining the Gran Eje. Writing in English might be a way to survive all of this.

So – first day. Walked a mile, two, sweating by the end, worried I wouldn’t make my bus. Spilled coffee all over the stainless steel counter of the bus station diner, & forgot to order chocolate for dipping with my churros. An old lady at the diner apologized for me: La mala mañana, she said, & shook her head as I gulped down hot the second consolation cup poured for me wordlessly by the sighing man in spectacles who worked the espresso machine. The churros were dry & fried & without chocolate they left me feeling queasy; I couldn’t finish them.

Next to me an old man came in for a morning glass of anis liquor & drank it in two sips & then took a glass of water.

I asked the bus driver twice to make sure it was the right one for Bédmar, walked out, checked the sign on the front, walked back in. The second time he gave me a look and said, “I took your ticket, right? I wouldn’t have let you on if this wasn’t the bus for Bédmar!”

Remember these moments. They don’t come again. This is a good thing.

8:41. The aútobus is playing “Bleeding Love” on the radio. A muddy, drought-emptied riverbed. Burning brush between the olive trees. Open fire in daylight always looks out of place. Geometric rows of olive trees, perfectly straight, stippling the hills. They cut right through the stone ruins of one ancient farmhouse, I cannot tell from which century. The walls here have been built & rebuilt. Corrugated iron on the roof of one, laid over ancient stone. They harvest olives between November & February largely by hand, laying out tarps underneath and beating the branches with sticks.

8:47. Olive trees & cut traverse roads only. The landscape is almost entirely given over.

8:56. I am the only one left on the bus. (Wait – two abuelas just boarded.)

[After the first stop, at Mancha Real – retrospect].

8:58. Broken glass bottles inset on the top of the concrete walls backing these houses.

9:07. From the ridge, looking down below, a dozen small brush fires dotting the olive wilderness, smoke pluming. Low hazy fog.

9:08. The ayuntamiento labels the centro & other sights of even the smallest pueblo. (Jímena, in this case). Cliffside pueblos blancos. There is another ancient castle, a tiny one, ruined, right up against the church, which abuts the fortifications, at the highest point. What a god-damned lookout. The entire valley is spread out below like a rumpled bedsheet.

– Cliffside garden paths.

– Bédmar a valley town, I think? I still don’t see it. The road winds. It is hidden behind hills.

– THERE it is. 9:18 a.m. Low elevation, but built into the side of the biggest mountain around. The castle is a little up the side of the slope – Scratch low elevation. It’s higher than I thought.

– Bédmar: Municipio de Olivio. So says a painted tile sign at the park at the foot of the hill. The driver honks and waves at a man in blue coveralls filling water in a bucket.

Después. Asked directions in succession, as in a fairytale, of a shambling pensioner, a man with a glass eye, & three grandmothers, who mumbled Buenos días together; each replied in an incomprehensible local dialect. The village is indifferently windswept & dilapidated & kind of beautiful. I eventually find my school. The chemistry teacher jokes heartily with me – I don’t understand him – & wears constantly a white labcoat.

First class: 1º de ESO. Sixteen students, mostly 11-12 yr. olds, with two repeating & disruptive 13s. Colors, numbers, “How are you?”, “What is your name?”, & lots, lots of Spanish. Helped two teachers in the lounge with music & natural sciences, which apparently are my bilingual classes. Was given the tour. Drove back with a teacher & talked Spanish for perhaps half an hour.

James Sligh, day one: Teacher of English, music, & natural sciences, & sometime auxiliar de communicación. What on earth have I gotten myself into?

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