Saturday, May 12, 2012

Habeis ganado? Que si, hombre

Almost nine months ago, we auxiliars-to-be sat in an airless, windowless room in Madrid talking to one of the American consuls. She was speaking about safety, urging us to be careful of muggings and pickpockets. "But," she added, almost as an afterthought, "there's something you have to understand about Spanish people. To them, the street is an extension of the living room, and they treat it as such. You need to be careful, of course, and sensible. But help is never far away on the Spanish streets."

When I first arrived here almost nine months ago, I think I was too busy in my head to really see the miracle that is Spanish summer. By the time I had adjusted and settled in, the days were ending earlier and the trees bending over the Rio Carrion were tinting yellow. Outdoor tables at cafes were stacked and put away; the fog of winter (both bone-chillingly literal and metaphorical) obscured what had come before.

And then, to be honest, the weather this spring hasn't been ideal, either. After the driest winter in 70 years, we had several weeks straight of cold, raw, rainy unpleasantness. We powered through a wet Semana Santa and still managed to enjoy it (posts forthcoming), but I admit it put a damper on this last month or so.

And then suddenly this week--summer, and I understood finally what she had meant.

The heat arrived a few days ago, without any real warning or transition, and it happened to coincide with a very important soccer game, the championship of the European League. I've never been much for soccer, but the electric atmosphere combined with the sudden warmth of the air to create something remarkable. Tin tables and chairs sprouted like mushrooms and the streets were choked with the chatting and strolling multitudes. At game time, children chased soccer balls of their own in the main square while muffled roars sounded from the surrounding bars. I sat with friends and savored the first outdoor beer of the season, then walked down the deserted main street listening to the game's aftermath. We passed a couple of celebrating fans in striped red-and-white jerseys. "Habeis ganado?" we asked them-- "Did you guys win?" "Que si, hombre," the taller one yelled over his shoulder. "Obviously!"

We turned the corner and passed a similarly exuberant bar, festooned with red and white cloth and team flags, spilling warm yellow light into the street. Through the window I could see a cluster of men packing food into plastic containers to bring home. Outside, by the window, three grandmother types played cards and sipped beer. I looked at my watch: 12:30 am. The week before, the streets had been empty, reflecting moonlight in freezing puddles. Now it was like these women had always been here; like they had never been cold in their lives.

The heat continues as I write this, and our sudden summer is calling for a shift in schedule. Already things feel lazier, more relaxed... and they are definitely pushed later. It's this change (along with the retaking of the streets) that's made me feel in the last few days that everything is falling into place. Chatting with my roommate over lunch, greeting acquaintances in the grocery store or at the park, enjoying the late night warmth--I feel like I've finally found my rhythm.  I'm a notorious night owl, and it's thrilling to sit in air as warm as bathwater with a group of friends drinking a beer, surrounded by a crowd so robust that the waiter has to tell us any food we order will take an hour to arrive. The night is dark, thick, hot, ringing with the clink of glasses and jostling cutlery. There are sleepy children eating ice cream and older couples walking arm-in-arm. In the United States any of these people would be snug, safe and sound in their beds. But here in Palencia, it's 1 AM and summer has arrived.

No comments: