On the opposite side of the Spanish cross-walk stood a young, clean-shaven boy. He had short, dark hair and the eye-glasses of a person you hardly know is there. His face was buried in a newspaper. He looked unintimidating, kind of nerdy. That must be Sergei! - the 17-year-old who'd stayed with my fmaily in order to learn English; the excited lad who'd lost so badly in my "Competition of the Week" program.
Just then, somebody suddenly jumped on my back abruptly out of nowhere, at that moment. I turned to see my attacker was a thin, slouch-muscled youth. He wore his black hair long in back, short in front, and his sideburns reached towards his mouth taking the shape of pork-chops. I recognized the glasses. Sergei! We laughed all the way to his family's apartment.
Sergei was still a funny goof-ball. He said, "Competition of the Week' to find the missing cheese," when we were looking through his mom's packed refrigerator. He still sang in the shower, loudly like a wounded dachsund. And he still played silly Spanish music in the house, and he and I waved our arms and yelled to it.
But, not just Sergei's hair had changed. He now liked intelligent conversation. We sat in his burnt-orange room, under walls decorated with Sergei's paintings, anti-war collages, and a photo of when he had gone to clean up Spain's recent big oil spill.
Over chocolate-touched tea, I told him of my communist ideas. Sergei -sitting like a Buddha with a mullet hairdo - told me he believes the American media really shapes how the American people think. The media really creates fear in the public, he thinks. He wonders why America doesn't try to educate its people more.
He told his family I was a communist, first-thing, when we sat down to dinner. Oh, boy, I felt awkward.
But, this set the stage for my unlikely friendship with Sergei's 78-year-old communist grandfather. He was a short, slow-moving, white-haired man with a lot to say. He told me many Americans had come over during the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War. They helped to fight against the right-wing fascism of Franco. The Spanish people eventually lost, and Franco's dictatorship lasted until the 1970's. Those Americans had possessed high status in the U.S., and some of them had communist leanings. When they returned home, they were bitterly discriminated against.
"Lunes a martes, no se aparte," Sergei's grandfather told me a Spanish saying. (From Monday to Tuesday, there isn't much difference.) He was referring to Americans Bush and Kerry, both right-wing politicians in Spain's eyes. He showed me a ballot for the Spanish senate. There were about forty candidates listed, hailing from twenty-two different political parties. They included right-wing, left-wing, fascists, communists, the green party, the anti-bullfighter party against the mistreatment of animals, etc.
Politics are big in Catalonia, the region which makes up a chunk of Northeast Spain. Among other freedoms, the Catalonian people's local language, "Catalan," was banned during Franco's rule.
Sergei's family lived on the Mediterranean coast north of Barcelona. Late October temperatures were friendly here. Nevertheless, only I swam in the sea true blue with a hint of aqua. The thick water discreetly stole my body warmth. It seemed difficult to penetrate deep, like a territorial dogfish shark that pushed me towards the absorbing sand.
We fled from the sea up Catalonia's mountains, for Sergei's 21st birthday. Americans Elaine and I joined Sergei and his friend, Boular (whom Spanish intermediate, Elaine, called "Bailar" more than once), and more Spanish friends. We visited the Pyrenees, which Elaine thought were more beautiful than Montana.
The great and close mountain faces of the Pyrenees looked like they were on fire. Shrubs and gentle decidious trees painted the mountains: the orange of a red-head's freckles; the color of the sun's rays during the sharpest angle of a sunrise; or the flame-red of devils. Minute villages dotted the mountains. The gray stone that had made the villages also seemed to have been tinged orange by its location.
At 2134 meters altitude (over 6000 feet), the Pyrenees turned white. We ventured up there one day by car. A thick film of snow bullied the land. Poor, beaten pine trees gave way to a barely flowing mountain channel. And we couldn't see past the cool earth which leapt up in front of us. Snow-flakes trickled from the freezing air, and the scene was as beautiful as the best Christmas wishes.
We stayed at Boular's grandmother's house down at 1400 meters altitude. A wood-fire stove kept us warm enough to "disfrutar" (enjoy) the Catalonian culture.
We ate like wild-pig gods. Elaine and I fell in love with "pa amb tomaquet." This was quite simple, really. Catalonians toast bread - the higher-quality the bread, the better. They smear a tomato half on it. They wet it with olive oil and sprinkle on salt. With or without cheese, it's one of the world's amazing foods.
Elaine also adored "tortillas," or Spanish omelets. They're made by frying sliced potatoes with onions and eggs. They're tender, filling, and country-tasting.
On October 31st, we and Catalonia celebrated a special day, the "Castanada." It was less complex than Halloween. We just roasted "castanas" (walnuts) and ate them warm. Mmm ...
Spaniards are noticeably crazy about meat. They cut hard slices off of preserved pork and beef and pig tongue, and just about everything. I ate it, but I wouldn't have voted for it in a Spanish election.
Elaine was struggling to practice her Spanish. We were drenched in Spanish and Catalonian culture. At one dinner, in order to make us feel more at home, Sergei held up a Coca-Cola bottle and said, "Typical American!"
By night, we enjoyed "kalimotzo" (red wine mixed with Coca-Cola or Fanta). And we played a drinking game called "Ki-din-ki."
"Ki-din-ki" required us to take turns rolling dice under a cup. Each player would have to either match or top the previous player's dice roll, or else lie about what he'd actually rolled. The following player could choose to look under the cup, and a shot of kalimotzo would be risked on whether or not the truth had been told. A four was the lowest roll. Any pair beat a non-pair. And a roll of three was "Ki-din-ki," and the roller could assign two shots to others.
As Sergei became more drunk, his lying became worse and worse. He just kept saying he had "tocho." "Tocho" was Catalonian slang for "eleven" in this game - and kind of cool to say, which I think is why he kept saying it. He announced "tocho" once and passed me the dice.
I looked under the cup. He'd been lying. He drank. He started the next round. He could've rolled anything at all; there was no pressure on him. "Tocho," he announced calmly. I checked. He drank again. "Tocho," he said once more. He drank again. The object was not to drink.
"Hasta que yo tengo tocho," he declared. (Until I have tocho ...)
He rolled. "Tocho," he said, trying to appear serious.
He drank again. "Cuestion de orgullo." (It's a matter of pride.)
He rolled again. He shook his head, mourning all the drinking he'd done. He passed me the dice. "Cinco," he said, defeated. (Five.) Cinco was one of the lowest rolls possible. But ... I still didn't trust Sergei. I checked. He'd rolled an eight!
Sergei drank again.
"Por que!?" asked Elaine. (Why!?)
Not everything makes sense in Catalonia. But, nevertheless ... Viva la Catalonia! Ay, ay!!!
- Modern Oddyseus
LATEST LOVE-LIFE LISTING: Elaine and I are back to being more than friends. We're trying to determine how our relationship can work out with our two very different life paths. Wish us luck! It's "complicado" ...
Much thanks to Sergei, Paquita, Albert, & Guifre; and Boular & Boular's grandmother for the places to crash!