[For an explanation of what’s going on here, you might read Incognito ergo sum.]
I got to Albarracín on the evening of my second day in Spain, after two trains and a taxi ride. Albarracín is a small town (1100 inhabitants) in the mountains, half an hour’s drive from Teruel, the smallish capital of the second-most sparsely inhabited province of Spain (after Soria). It is in the Comunidad autónoma de Aragón, an arid region in the northeast of Spain. For some reason, the area appeals to me greatly. Perhaps I am somewhat attracted to extremes and harsh conditions (something my wife would probably agree with), but perhaps it is also because this place is so very different from the lushly verdant and populous northeast of the United States, where I spent my formative years.
I say that this is an arid region, because it usually is. However, as luck would have it, my stay here happened to coincide with a period of insane rainfall throughout Spain, which meant that I spent much of my first week here being cold and damp. Having brought clothes that were too warm to Switzerland, where it was quite warm, I compensated by bringing clothes that were much cooler to Spain, where it was too cold. And to make matters even worse, the weather back home in Sweden was unusually hot and sunny. So people were sunbathing back in Härnösand while I sat shivering in my one sweater and thin socks in my chilly little flat, hewn from the side of a mountain. I said to a fellow here, “I didn’t know it could rain so much in Spain”, and he replied “Neither did we!”
Interestingly, while the rain drummed on my balcony, I spotted an article on the New York Times website on “water problems in Spain”. Clicking on the article, I was bemused to see that it was on the scarcity of water in Spain, and the long-term problems that global warming is creating here. This points out a common anti-synchronicity problem in foreign news reporting: unless there has just been an earthquake or typhoon, most US articles on other countries usually have been in production for several weeks and are on much more long-term topics. This can lead to bizarre mismatches between the news they report and “current news” in the country itself, as when there is terrible flooding in parts of Spain and the New York Times reports on the lack of water.
Albarracín is very much a tourist town (if you look at the pictures, you will see why), but because most of the tourism is domestic (meaning that the tourists are Spanish, not that they come into your house), the tourist trade fluctuates with the weather. On bright sunny days, the tourists spring up like mushrooms, and the chirping of the birds is joined by the clicking of camera shutters. But when it rains as though we had all been very naughty and needed to be punished, the few tourists you are likely to see here are foreigners, who are fairly locked into their travel plans and simply have to make the best of it.
This was true of a sizeable group of Japanese tourists who were here for several days. Apparently, they were a group of retirees who were here on an artistic outing; they were here to paint scenes of ancient Spain. The braver ones would station themselves under the eaves of buildings, wearing slickers and carefully shielding their watercolors. “An appropriate choice, watercolors!” I wanted to say, but figured it would likely be lost in translation.
I was having lunch one day in a cozy little restaurant when the whole group of Japanese painters came in to eat. It was fascinating to hear them examine the menu. Very few of them knew any Spanish, and as they pored loudly over the items—“ES-PA-RA-GOS-CON-MA-YO-NE-SA”—I realized that they were having trouble not just with the language, but with the alphabet. Of course, I would have the same (nay—a much greater) problem if the situation were reversed, though exactly what that would entail is something I won’t take the time to figure out.
At any rate, I enjoyed the rather chaotic and excruciating process of the Japanese lunch order. “TOR-TI-YA-ES-PA-NYO-LA, kore wa, nan desu ka?” “Spein no omuretto desu yo.” The waitress’ hair was noticeably longer (and greyer) by the time she got the last order written on her pad, but she was unflappably pleasant. Maybe she, like me, was glad that the tables were not turned (literally or figuratively).
The next day was a bit sunnier, so I did my laundry, hung it out to dry, and went out for a walk. Rounding the corner, I nearly collided with one of the elderly Japanese tourists, who had set up his easel and was starting on a painting of the very house I was living in. My first reaction was to be pleased, but then suddenly I was struck with horror and thought, “Shit, that Japanese guy is going to paint my underpants!” Which probably makes me the first person in history to have constructed this sentence. Maneuvering a bit back and forth behind the painter, I assured myself that from this angle, my clothes were not really visible, so my underpants were saved from the dubious future of hanging on a wall somewhere in Japan.
Posted by: Gregory