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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part I. North West

The Planners’ Dream Goes Wrong

Steve Porter
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Kane had agreed to meet me off the train in Vigo. I had spoken to him on the telephone and knew he was Irish but I had no idea what he looked like. I reverted to stereotypes and moved slowly towards the station building looking for someone with a red beard and a freckled complexion. No one approached so I strolled into the central waiting area. I waited on a bench in the centre of the building in order to be easily spotted. Then I tried phoning his school but got no answer.

An elderly couple approached me outside and asked if I was looking for a place to spend the night. After some hesitation we agreed on a price. The infamous Galician rain came down. The couple talked as we walked. I had been studying Spanish for several years but struggled to understand what they were saying. It would take time to get used to the mumbling accent. That was if they weren’t psychopaths, in which case my body would most probably be thrown to the gulls in the nearby dock by early morning.

The hostel seemed okay and even had a TV. I watched a show where the celebrities and the audience kept ominously repeating the year in unison. Mil novecientos noventa y ocho. I wrote this poem:

A gull-grey night in the exaggerated rain
old men in autumn suits
dream of lovers anchored near the bay—
a traveller divines the invisible moon over Mexico Street.
Thinking only of shellfish and umbrellas
he leaves his dismal bags by the open window
and watches a repeat of tower blocks and cranes—
Leith is shipwrecked off the pale horizon.

I left Mexico Street the next morning. The names of some of the streets in this part of town seemed apt: Uruguay, Brasil, Venezuela. Vigo was like a Latin American ghetto. It wasn’t that people were poor or that the city lacked commercial facilities, just that many buildings were ugly and lacking in cohesion, as if put up by a drunken architect in a hurry to get to the pub. On the same street was an eight-storey building next to a four storey and then a row of cottages. Buildings lacked colour as well as style and on a wet day such as this you were hard pushed to tell the difference between Vigo and a large British fishing port like Aberdeen. Things brightened up somewhat in the sun. The most attractive sight was the view out of the city; lobster creels bobbing in the bay and green smoking hills above the town of Cangas on the other side of the water.

I got in touch with Kane at last and arranged to meet later that same morning. I was reading El Faro de Vigo in the café when he finally turned up. He looked quite severe in his pig-eye spectacles, a bit like Eric Morecambe but minus the humour. We exchanged formalities.

“Sorry about last night,” he said. “Er, something important came up at the school.”

It didn’t seem to matter that I had travelled a thousand miles to get here. Couldn’t he have sent someone else to meet me if he was busy? Anyway, I decided it was best to leave it. He drove me to another hostel that was not up to the standard of the one on Mexico Street.

“Well I’ll leave you to settle in,” he said. “You’ll meet some of the other teachers over the next few days. There’s another lad coming tomorrow. He has a very Scottish name.”

“Oh? What’s he called?”

“I don’t remember. He comes from some highland village, I think. Anyway, see you in a day or two.”

I took out a recently purchased short wave radio and tuned in to the football on the BBC World Service. Alan Green got climactic over another Manchester United attack as the rain fell between two giant tower blocks onto a concrete basketball court. The rain went Spain, Spain, Spain, Spain, Spain, on into the night.

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationJanuary 2006
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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