The Glass Half-Awesome

Wherever you go in Spain, you will hear a steady stream of compliments. ‘Guapo!’ old ladies coo adoringly at passing children – ‘gorgeous!’. ‘Hasta luego, guapa!’ girls call out to their friends as they say goodbye. So many Spanish people have this trait that it makes me think it must be genetic. I shall christen it the ‘Guapo Gene’.

What is so wonderful about the Guapo Gene is that it doesn’t matter if you are obese, bald, have a patch over one eye or spinach between your teeth; someone, somewhere, will call you guapo.

The more cynical among the ex-pats here would have you believe that it is down to a fundamental duplicity in the Spanish character, sown during the religous persecution of the Second Republic when tens of thousands of Catholic monks and nuns were massacred and their chapels looted by communist-minded Republicans, and watered throughout the highly conservative Franco years, when Republicans were in turn forced to take their beliefs underground for fear of being taken into the woods and shot.

It might well be true that people’s opinions here are hard to decode. On an average market day in Órgiva it is not uncommon to see German sadhus in full orange regalia, French monks in Tibetan Buddhist gear, Algerian Sufis in white robes and wildly coloured turbans, and even, on occasion, an elderly gentleman in a fine suit wearing a green moustache. Not once have I seen a Huevero* bat an eyelid.

However, I prefer the theory of the Guapo gene. In the same way that smiling actually increased the levels of seratonin in the brain, thus making you feel happy, and that laughing falsely as is practised in Laughter Yoga leads almost immediately to riotous real laughter, I have come to believe that telling the world it is beautiful actually makes it seem more beautiful.

Furthermore, being told you are gorgeous on a regular basis – as anyone who reads those hallowed institutions of scientific knowledge, women’s magazines, already knows – makes you feel gorgeous. The belief is implanted, watered, and in time it takes root. Real flowers blossom out of plastic ones.

It might sound fake, but on that everyday level of waking up in the morning without a terminal sense of dread about the impending awfulness of the day and the utter pointlessness of life, I will choose to think of the glass as half-awesome. And the glints of light in the water will be made brilliant through its half-awesome lens.

* Hueveros/as are people from Órgiva, from the word huevo, or egg. A huevera, incidentally, is an egg-carton. The name supposedly dates back to a time when the church’s twin steeples were painted egg-yellow.

Excuse Me (prod, prod), Am I Annoying You?

Insomnia ball, chilling in the moss

Not long ago, awake at midnight having conked out putting Caveboy to bed, and trying to use up my mistimed wakefulness with the self-hypnotic powers of crochet (see pic), I found myself churning over thoughts in my head, not unlike that machine most beloved to Shamsie, the humble concrete mixer.

What sprang out of the rumbling mortar mix of my subconscious was something Caveman and I had been talking about that evening; he thought he’d accidentally offended a mutual friend when he jumped into a misheard conversation with what was meant to be a witty comment, but which clearly left her stung.

I started thinking, as I added stitches to my lurid pink woolly pentagon: had I also offended her? That morning, leaving Shamsie at his kindergarten, all of the mothers had seemed a little off with me. Was I barging about like I owned the place, without realising the revoltingness of my behaviour? Was I making insensitive comments to sweet, stingable souls? Was I being (triple ugh) smug?

I was reminded of a story Caveman once told me about a man he’d met in India. Meditating peacefully under a tree one day, out of nowhere a slightly over-exuberant Indian man came up, prodded him in the shoulder, and said loudly, “Excuse me, sir! You like meditation?”

How do we know what effect we really has on other people? Short of them uniting in one voice and booing you out of the room, there is an infinity of possible reactions people might conceal beneath the veneer of common decency, cordiality, convivial spirit. Was I one of those people who others cringed at in secret? The idea made my crochet hook turn faster and, I fear, more haphazardly. Eventually I went back to sleep, but not without a sickening sense that I might be taking the world’s approval for granted.

Morning comes, and the other parents seem their usual chirpy selves once more. The friend Caveman thought he’d offended did not even recall the incident, let alone bear a grudge over it. Smiles once more felt genuine; perhaps they had all just had a better night’s sleep.

Annoyance, however, lingered on as a recurring theme for a number of days. The cave witnessed much aggro between cavespouses, largely due to my low-lying invisible tantrum rearing its head. I remembered that post on this blog a few weeks back, and reminded myself that when the toddler is throwing jars of peanut butter onto the floor it’s generally because he’s in need of some positive attention. That toddler in me has clearly not grown up, but needs the same wise treatment as I (sometimes) remember to give Caveboy.

But it is a far broader theme, annoyance. Spain is brimming with it. Whether it’s the rowdy drivers yelling abuse at roadhogs or poor parkers, or the fiery, passionate romances that drench the Mexican soap operas – and, by extension, the ordinary folk absorbing the melodrama – Spanish people seem to be quite happy to vent a bit of steam. It almost seems to be a national pastime. Petanque in France, yodelling in Austria, getting up each other’s noses in Spain.

The good thing is that the steam, once vented, quickly dissipates. Nobody stays ruffled for long. And for the things which really nettle us ex-pats, locals appear to have an immense elasticity and boundless patience.

So this morning, having dodged the herds of goats and sheep that so often block the rough tracks we live down, I found myself hunting for a parking space in the notoriously windy, steeply-sloped roads of the town, jammed to the hilt with traffic because the funfair has settled its vast, gaudily-lit wings on the main parking lot, and what do you know? The road is unexpectedly blocked by a cheery funeral cortege.

The grumpy man on the motorbike in front gives me a gesture indicating I hang back and be patient. The world slows to a dream pace for some minutes. Even the man on the motorbike putt-putts respectfully along behind the colourful, chatting mourners. Some things aren’t worth getting ruffled about, he is saying; don’t give the annoyance a home.