A Voice In The Crowd: Salamanca today

July 1, 1993

A Voice In The Crowd: Salamanca today

By By Jim Spelman

On Monday, the 5th, I leave Spain, my home for the last few months, for England and a week with my son, Jim, and new grandson, Leo. Then on the 12th, I board my flight for the U.S. As my son, Alex, said to me on the phone the other day, “You´re in for another culture shock.”

He’s right, you know. Darn, I thought I was through with all that! It´s taken me more than two months to adjust to the changes I had to make when I came here, and now I have to go through it again? It certainly won´t take long to re-adjust to home, will it? We´ll see. While I´ve been here, I´ve missed my family and friends, my usual haunts and routines, my wheels and the freedom of movement they afford, but most of all I´ve missed my privacy.

When I visited Cuba, I learned that wealth is an attitude—a perspective. Here in Spain, I have learned that privacy, to me an important element of wealth, must also become a state of mind, or it is virtually non-existent.

Here, no matter where one happens to be, there is always someone, usually many someones nearby. If I´m at home, the people upstairs or in the apartment next door are forever moving furniture, talking or watching MTV. (Two of my present gentlemen neighbors are wannabe operatic baritones and do much of their “practicing” while I´m trying to go to sleep.) Nor is there any solitude in the many parks, which are favorite places for groups of friends to gather to talk or play music.

And, on the street one cannot avoid being bumped and jostled as the crowd moves by and along. The violations are not intentional; it´s just the way it is.

People in Spain literally live on top of one another. Since few can afford the luxury of a single-family home, the boulevards, avenues and streets are lined with multi-family buildings containing from four to scores of units. Often the lower floors are occupied by offices, shops, cafeterias and other businesses.

Because all of these buildings abut and back up to one another, there are no rear entrances. A huge complex of apartments will have only one means of entry, exit or—escape; the door to the street.

All deliveries are made through that one portal and carried up the front, and only, stairs or, if available, in a usually very tiny elevator. Furniture deliveries and removals are done through windows facing the street with the aid of specially designed hoists. Often, narrow streets must be closed to traffic while such a task is being accomplished. I doubt if I´ll miss the closeness of things and lack of personal space I´ve experienced here, but I will miss the aura of conviviality and panache. It may take some time for me to become accustomed again to the peace and quiet, almost silence compared to here, of my home and neighborhood.

I will miss my lovely wife, who will be continuing her studies at the University of Seville and our gracious hostess, Monica, but I don´t think it will take long for me to take up and enjoy my old habits and routines.

It took me a while to become accustomed to paying a dollar for a single coffee. And to receive that, I must ask specifically for American coffee in a big cup, or I´ll be served a demitasse with about two tablespoons of brown goo in it. The upside is that they use as much freshly ground coffee for one cup as we do for five or six. Will I miss the thick European stuff? Will I be able to put away my usual eight or nine cups of Morning Glory coffee when I return?

We´ll see.

A Spanish luxury I will miss is freshly-squeezed orange juice. We can watch three fresh Valencia oranges being squeezed for each glass of “zumo de naranja” served to us in the bars, restaurants and cafeterias here. In the supermercado it´s $2 for two liters. The downside of that is that in Rockford, it would take 10 or $12 dollars worth of oranges to get the same two liters. What do we pay for a half gallon of premium juice in the U.S.? About $2? I can get used to that! A peculiar Spanish thing I will miss is the pleasantly unpleasant musty, fishy, cheesy odor of the open air mercados where Salamancans purchase all kinds of cheeses, air-dried hams and sausages, fresh meats and fowl, fresh and frozen fish and seafood and a glorious selection of garden-fresh produce.

In the States, we are accustomed to shopping in megastores and malls. Here, many hundreds of small merchants compete for people’s business. Spaniards love to look nice and dress elegantly. There are more shoe and clothing stores in Salamanca than in all of Illinois. The number of beauty salons and spas, some for women, some for men, some for both, is astonishing. Since I´m not much of a shopper, I doubt if I´ll miss the multitude of stores, but I know those who love to shop will, when they leave Spain, mourn the loss of variety and choice they offer.

Freshly-made ice cream is a treat readily available and consumed in huge quantities here. Many of the bars and cafeterias make their own and serve it from windows opening onto the streets or plazas. Some of the places reputed to have a better product, have long lines waiting to be served.

In Rockford, I´ll have to drive someplace to do my “work off the ice cream” walking. That´s OK, but here walking is the way of life which makes it sooo easy! I´ll miss it!

As I´ve said before—no matter where I am or where I´ve been, home is home. It´s where I belong and where I want to be. It´ll be good to get back.

Jim Spelman is a local attorney.

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