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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part IV. North East

Somewhere between Glory & Disgrace

Steve Porter
Smaller text sizeDefault text sizeBigger text size Add to my bookshelf epub mobi Permalink Ebook MapOporto, Ponte Dom Luis

I put on the light and get dressed. Mary turns over and puts her head under the duvet. In the kitchen, I make myself some tea and pà amb tomàquet—grilled bread, smeared with olive oil, chopped tomatoes and garlic. After opening the blinds on the French windows I sit down to eat. My neighbour opposite is rolling up the blinds on his balcony. He is rubbing his hands together and looks very cold in spite of the hat and scarf.

I switch on the news. Spanish glory at the Winter Olympics was short lived. The presenter says that Johan Mühlegg has failed a drugs test. The cross-country skier is to be stripped of the three gold medals he has won. The report mentions his German origin and the fact that he received sponsorship from the Murcia area. The Spanish press had christened him ‘Juanito’. Now he is back to being plain old Johan Mühlegg.

I put on my duffel, woolly hat and scarf and set off for work. The fog is so dense I can’t see the outdoor market, which takes place every Wednesday at the bottom of the street. A few of the hardiest stallholders are already out, sliding metal poles together and hauling t-shirts and underwear from their vans. I cross the bridge over the River Ges. The fog there is even thicker. At the other side of the bridge a digital clock shows the temperature:

Minus six degrees
Scarf wrapped round my face
Is this really Spain?

I climb the hill towards Sant Vicenç, stepping off the road to let the occasional car past. Normally the fog has lifted a little by this point on higher ground and you can see the peak of Bellmunt. Near the gates the factory appears out of the whiteness like the House of Usher.

As I open the front door the factory heaters are blowing hot air. “Bon dia,” I say to a worker on the stair and enter the office-cum-classroom. The students are always five or ten minutes late. Time enough for the numbness to lift from my hands and face. Then Ferran appears and asks if I’m cold.

“Freezing. And you?”

“Not so bad. It’s not as cold as last week.”

“You are lucky you have a car,” I say.

“Well, you must learn to drive.”

“So I am always being told. My bosses want me to learn so they can send me out to more factories. Did you have a good weekend?”

“Well, sort of. On Friday I went out for a few drinks in Vic. The rest of the time I was revising for the exams.”

“Oh yeah, right. For the engineering certificate.”

. I want to be my own boss some day so I can have most of the day off like you.”

“So it will be evening shifts when you work for yourself, will it?”

“Well, let’s see if I pass the exams first.”

The door opens again and Jordi Ros enters.

“Hey! What time do you call this?” asks Ferran, pointing to his watch. Jordi just smiles.

“Come on, I was up burning the midnight oil last night. What’s your excuse?”

“I couldn’t sleep,” says Jordi Ros. “I was upset about Juanito, the Spanish Golden Boy.”

“Bullshit,” says Ferran.

“What did you do at the weekend, Jordi?”

“Oh, just the usual. I took my son’s football team over to Vic.”

“And did you win?”

“No, but we didn’t expect to win. We are like Barça except we spend less on the players.”

“Okay lads, let’s have a look at the book. I want to finish Unit 8 by Easter.”

“He’s a hard man,” says Ferran.

“Page fifty two, brands and sponsorship. Can you think of a slogan for this high energy drink called Zumo?”

Jordi Ros pauses, smiles and says, “If you want to be like Juanito, drink Zumo!”

The fog has lifted and a pale sun appears over Bellmunt. I walk back into town for my morning coffee. The bell on the town clock tolls twice. Half past nine.

Although the staff is Catalan-speaking in both my regular cafes, I have somehow established the habit of ordering in Catalan in La Granja and Spanish in Can Pietx. This morning I choose La Granja, where the waitress bids me “Bon dia” and I ask for a cafè amb llet. Had I gone next door I would have said “Buenos días” and ordered a café con leche.

As a foreigner, I have been awarded the bilingual freedom of Torelló.

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationSeptember 2007
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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