I’m coming to the end of my time in Aragon and these past few days have only made me feel sadder at the prospect of leaving. I have been having so much fun, exploring all that Aragon has to offer, that I think resuming life in England will feel quite tame.
The other night, many members of the village got together for a dinner. We ate outside on a kind of picnic area which overlooks the mountains and neighbouring villages. Everyone was telling me they now want an au pair and were trying to persuade me to come back the following summer, bringing a friend this time so that I could also have someone to hang out with. One of the mothers, who is very young, said to me that I could help her children with English during the daytime and go out partying with her in the evening. It didn’t sound like a bad idea to me! We had toasted sandwiches, pizza, salad, pan bambino and there was ice cream and cake pops for desert. Needless to say I was very full by the time we left. The mother of the family thought it would be fun to light a Chinese lantern, an idea which the police officer who was among us didn’t like entirely, but by the time he voiced his objections, the lantern was already up and floating away. Deciphering the instructions were very difficult, no doubt having been translated from Chinese to English by someone who was not a native speaker of the latter language. But despite this, it was a great success and it was amazing to watch how far the lantern went.
The next morning, I went to visit a family friend’s holiday home, which has been turned into a museum. When I arrived, the owner was working away in his workshop, fixing an antique clock. The man, it soon became clear, was very intelligent and I was very impressed as I walked around his workshop and saw all the old machinery, cars and tractors which he had returned to working order. His wife, while not an engineer, also had created an amazing space filled with objects from the past, including furniture, toys, medicine bottles and old food packaging. Their collection was extensive; the garage alone, where the vehicles and the machinery were kept, stretched across five floors. People here do seem very good at preserving history and understanding the value it has for future generations. Perhaps it stems from the ‘waste not, want not’ attitude I described in the previous post. People don’t really tend to throw things away or change them because they either don’t have the money or are used to being surrounded by people who aren’t interested in constantly upgrading to the next best thing.
The engineer whose house I visited was certainly not your typical Spanish man in that he is very fastidious and punctual. As I sat chatting to him on a bench, we awaited some of the other people who were to accompany us on the tour. His wife came up the stairs and he angrily asked her where everyone was. ‘Don’t worry, they’re coming,’ she told him, explaining that the group (which included members of the family as well as some family friends) had had a busy working week and that, after a late night, had had a lie in. ‘Didn’t I say to come at 10:30? And what’s the time now? 10:36!’. The wife, who was the calm antithesis to him, told me that he was very demanding. I told her that I imagined he had to be very precise to work so painstakingly on old objects. ‘Yes,’ was her reply, ‘but he needs to understand that not everyone is like him.’
After the tour of the house, I went to a pool party, attended by the youths of the town. I heard about the party through a young girl the mother introduced me to, but she didn’t even end up coming, and in any case I barely knew her, meaning that I went there feeling apprehensive, worried that I’d feel very out of place amongst a sea of strangers. However, within a few minutes of arriving, I already felt relaxed. ‘You need to get in your bikini,’ one of the girls told me. ‘No one walking around here is wearing clothes.’ Everyone was incredibly welcoming, making sure I had something to drink, offering me a towel to sit on, coming and chatting to me and, at one point, I was picked up and thrown in the pool because it was decided that I was not wet enough. The mum told me I could call her whenever I wanted to be picked up, but I ended up having so much fun I stayed as late as I possibly could.
The next morning, not feeling hungover but certainly feeling tired, I met up with the grandparents of both sides of the family and piled into a large, 8 seater mini-van to head to the Pyrenees. The town I am living in is part of what they call the Pre-Pyrenees since we are situated more or less at the foothills of the mountain range. As a result, the landscape here is already mountainous, but nowhere near as impressive as the incredible, green mountains I saw when we drove the short distance to the Pyrenees town of Benasque. The town itself was stunning; with a booming tourism industry, it is very upmarket and well maintained, with stunning old, stone houses. In a nearby hotel, we swam in thermal waters which were so warm it was like being in a bath. We also went up on a ski lift, sweeping over the luscious mountains, speckled with wildflowers, to a great vantage point which overlooked the highest peak in Spain. The mother and I later went on a short hike through tall trees and past waterfalls and streams. I was thoroughly in awe and felt truly lucky to be able to have had such an amazing experience without having to spend a penny.
On the way back in the car, the grandmother said to me, ‘people in England don’t know much about Spain right?’ If I have to criticise the Spaniards on one thing, it is that they tend to look down on England quite a lot, without knowing much about it. People here don’t travel much at all and I’ve met few people who have been to England. They’re convinced that we have terrible food, that it’s always cold, that we don’t know a thing about Spain. English food certainly has a far greater variety than Spanish food, for one, and we certainly do know a lot about Spain. In fact, traveling is something that we do well and Spain is a popular country for us to visit. Furthermore, most English people are pretty cultured. Even people I know who I would describe as not particularly intellectual, who perhaps haven’t been to university, know a lot about politics and enjoy reading, even if their reading material is not very high-brow. Here, I am the only person to whip out my book at the pool. Conversations on politics, which are common amongst my group of friends in England, are seldom had here and, when are had, reveal a fair level of ignorance. ‘The reason we don’t have as much terrorism in Spain as in England,’ suggested one Spaniard, ‘is because our police force are good at combatting it because we’ve had lots of practice due to ETA’, the Basque separatist movement. This, of course, is completely erroneous. The mother of the family, who is definitely not stupid, also didn’t know that England was predominantly protestant, which is fairly common knowledge. After all, it was Catherine of Aragon (that is, the region I am currently staying in) who was the reason Henry VIII decided to separate from the Catholic Church.