Amanda Bennett: A Year in Zaragoza, Spain

Cádiz Continued April 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — psychohistoria @ 6:55 am

The view from the roof of my host family’s apartment was incredible, stretching across the bay of Cádiz to the city.

Tonight I’ve put on a CD of La Falla, with his “Andalusian Gypsy Scene” El Amor Brujo. Perhaps the fact that it is being played by the London Symphony Orchestra saps some of the Spanishness out of it, because the pieces don’t particularly evoke Spain, and the so-called “jota” would offend any decent jota dancer despite his attempt to include castanets, but perhaps he’s just warming up with the introduction pieces.

Vejer de la Frontera was a beautiful little town, part of the “Villas Blancas”, five coastal pueblos composed of white-washed houses nestled into the mountainside. After searching for a parking spot for ages – Cádiz has serious parking problems – we walked up to the family’s favorite bakery. I had a generous piece of poppyseed cake, a rich cake black with the tangy tiny poppyseeds. We then explored the town, going up to the castle, past a couple of churches, and ending at a little plaza with a pretty fountain and the entrance to the town’s gem: an Arabic tea-house and inn. We walked through the gorgeous dining area to reach the equally stunning tetería, with cubical red seats and a terrace above. The drizzle kept us inside but nothing could keep me away from my Pakistani tea, which I enjoyed as we discussed everything from politics to Paula’s class schedule.

The next day I saw her schedule for myself. School started at 8 a.m. and went until 2:15 with a half-hour snack break around 11. I don’t remember the exact classes, but I do remember economics (we went to the computer lab to invest in imaginary stock), math (a refresher course for me in derivatives – my teacher from last year would be proud to know that it all came back quickly and because of my calculator-free training I excelled in simple mental math computations!), and history (the American stock market crash of 1929). That afternoon Paula had a math tutoring class so I went with her parents to Cádiz again, where we took a spin by the salinas. Cádiz used to make a lot of money evaporating sea water in fields that look like organized swamps, but now mined salt has swept the market and many of the salt fields are flooded or empty.

salinas with mountains of sea salt

The days flew by and melted together, so I’m having trouble recalling the exact sequence of events…on Friday school ended early and we went to the cemetery, the duck-less Duck Park, and for churros. We then hung out in the big park, sitting on the grass (southern Spain actually has grass!!) until Paula’s brother picked us up to go home for lunch. Lunch was just a hiatus from friends, and soon we were back in the streets until my midnight curfew. Her friends were great, and we had a wonderful time – I really wish Cádiz wasn’t so far away!

On Saturday, we went to Jerez de la Frontera, a bigger city hosting a manga fair that weekend. A manga fair entails a variety of booths selling anime and comic paraphernalia, Japanese candy, and lots of people dressed up as their favorite television characters or music stars. We didn’t wear costumes, but we had a great time watching those who had! We took the train back – Spanish trains are incredible – and spent the last remaining hour of the evening on a bench overlooking the Atlantic.

The only time the renfe trains are not incredible is when they come to take me away from places I do not want to leave. Don’t get me wrong; I love Zaragoza too, with its Tubo tapas bars, art museums, moderista and renaissance and mudéjar architecture, and my host mother. However, in San Fernando I had made my first true Spanish friends of my age, and hanging out with them was an experience I wanted to repeat every week of the few remaining I had. The distance between Cádiz and Zaragoza, however, proves to be a complete budget-wrecker, so I had to say goodbye for the foreseeable future.

The travel gods were once again on my side, however, and decided to complicate the trip back for the six of us returning from various Cádiz cities to Zaragoza on the same train. It was a train-hotel, due to arrive in Zaz at 5:30 a.m. after a 3-hour stop in Catalayud for engine repairs. However, the engine didn’t end up needing work and we arrived in Zaragoza at 3 in the morning. After a taxi ride and some elevator buttons I was outside my apartment, keys and luggage in hand, with just one problem: Carmen, expecting to be up by the time I got home, had left her keys in the door, making it impossible to open even with my own set of keys. I called her mobile, but I was already low on battery and about 5 calls later it died. I then rang the doorbell, but reaching a level of frustration I pushed the button for a solid 15 seconds, until with a pop! the doorbell blew out. Sitting helpless at the top of the stairway in the middle of the night, I was truly at a point of desperation. I had only one option, and it broke my heart: I’d have to go down one flight and wake up my light-sleeping host grandmother and have her call Carmen until she woke up.

With heavy feet and a reluctant hand, I rang the pleasant doorbell of my abuela’s apartment; its cheery notes seemed to mock my situation. Spewing apologies, I explained the uncomfortable situation, but eventually ended up in the correct apartment and in my own bed, with just another reason to have stayed in San Fernando!

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