23 Jan 2020, 6:15am
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Chronicles of Spain, 1966: Putting On Horns

Chronicles of Spain, 1966: Putting On Horns

(bodhisattva connotes a being who is ‘bound for enlightenment’; a person whose aim is to become fully enlightened.)

By Kate Chamberlin

Putting On Horns

Weighing in at 110 pounds, 5-feet 4-1/2-inches with naturally curly blonde hair, I was neither a petit nor queen-sized college student studying in Spain. To the Spaniards; however, I was a unique contrast to their average height, dark hair and swarthy skin tone. I was happy to chat with any and all of them to soak up as much Spanish culture as I could during my 6-months in their country.

Chacolo patiently listened to me butcher his Spanish language, discern what the heck I was trying to say, and tell me the correct version. He liked to walk with his arm around my waist and, since he was below average height, I’d rest my arm on his shoulder. The Señora of the family I lived with, who  had a two-year old daughter and was 7-months pregnant with their second child, said it looked like I was nursing him.

He had much simpatico and when my 21st birthday came around on July 20th, gifted me with a set of La Tuna serenading mariachis. Each inch-tall musician had a Spanish instrument in his hands with tiny ribbons streaming from their black capes.

The first young Spaniard my brunette college roommate met hit it off right from the start. Phyllis, a Spanish Major, and Miguel spoke only in Spanish unless I found myself in a muddle, at which point, they could both verbally bail me out in English. My major was Elementary Education with a Spanish Minor, so, I liked to try to talk with everyone I met.

Conrado’s dark, curly hair and swarthy skin with penetrating, mahogany eyes fit my stereotype of a Spaniard. His basso voice resonated inside me, though he wasn’t terribly patient about my poor Spanish. I felt happy and comfortable walking next to his tall, lean figure. I was flattered when he called me chata, until Miguel told me Conrado’s nickname for me meant “pointy nose”; the true definition of chata means pug nosed, but it also is a term of endearment that has nothing to do with the nose, just like calling someone honey.

One afternoon, Phyllis, Miguel, Conrado and I went to a local bodega (say: bo-DAY-ga) where several friends were getting together a fiesta in the party room of the bar. As we descended narrow stairs, the musty odor of the basement was liberally laced with scents of stale wine, beer, tobacco and cheap perfume along with music and laughter.

The scarred, trestle tables in the dimly lit basement room were laden with pitchers of wine, beer, fried pig ears, nuts, churros, and other snacks. Eight or ten people were already seated on the long, wooden benches on each side of the table.

The party was fun, loud, and we were all having such a merry time of it. Suddenly, a fellow wearing heavy boots hopped onto the table and began to do a dance by   stamping his feet in time to the loud music. We each grabbed our wine and a snack bowl as everything began to bounce up and down. I could see how the table had become so scarred, if this was the Spanish style of entertainment. To my amazement and amusement, the table dancer was Chacolo.

He had a very serious and fierce expression on his face as he put a fist with the pointer finger up on each side of his head. He stamped and fake ran at Conrado, as if Chacolo were an angry bull.   Everyone except Conrado and I yelled “olé!”, urging him on.

When I yelled into Conrado’s ear to be heard over the noise, I asked him why Chacolo was acting that way, he explained that, in Spain, when a man wins the other man’s girl’s favor, the looser has had “the horns put on him.

The party sort of lost its merriment for me after that. I felt awful for unknowingly hurting a young man that I didn’t realize cared for me that deeply in such a short time.

While this anecdote still gives me angst, my Mother would have been mortified to know I’d been so naïve as to not know what I’d done. So, I didn’t tell her.

 

17 Jan 2020, 5:54am
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Chronicles of Spain, 1966

Chronicles of Spain, 1966

(bodhisattva connotes a being who is ‘bound for enlightenment’; a person whose aim is to become fully enlightened.)

By Kate Chamberlin

 

  1. In A Grassy Field

The clouds scudded across the warm night sky, obliterating the starlight and silver quarter moon. My girlfriend and I had spent a fun-filled afternoon and evening visiting the families of several Spanish boys that had picked us up in the college city of Valladolid, Spain.

Before doing my practice teaching my senior year in college, I lived in Spain from mid-May to mid-December, 1966. Armed with a minor in Spanish, I wanted to immerse myself in as much of the Spanish culture, people, and language as I could. Phyllis, who had a major in Spanish, and I attended the Catholic Mass in Spanish and Latin every Sunday, accepted each invitation to tour the big city museums, take classes at the university, witness a bull fight, and experience las fiestas in small villages.

When several boys we’d seen on campus invited us to go with them to their pueblo’s fiesta honoring the town’s saint, we accepted. The afternoon and evening were lively with going from one home to another, each packed more fully with that family’s extended relatives. Everyone wanted to see las Americanas morena and rubia. Phyllis was a brunette and I was blonde.

Each family produced the best they could afford of fried pig ears, spicy sausages, breads, and of course, wines of varying quality.

Half-way back to the university in the middle of the night, all the wine we’d consumed, needed to be released. We saw no lights of a friendly inn, passed through no towns, and no homes were near-by. We were in the middle of no-where. The boys knew it wouldn’t be a problem for them, but, what to do with las gringas?

Eventually, they stopped the car on the side of the road. They were going to unbutton and go on the grass next to the car; however, Phyllis and I were a bit more modest and chose to cross the road and climb over the fence into a grassy field. We flipped up our skirts, slid down our panties, and squatted with the anticipation of relief.

It was then that I heard heavy breathing and, possibly, a snort behind us. I thought it was a crude joke for the boys to sneak up behind us like that, but, when I looked over my shoulder, my face blanched and I felt a horror I’d never felt before.

As the clouds briefly cleared from the face of the moon, I saw I was staring into the dark eyes of a very large, smelly bull, not five feet away. He snorted again and took a step toward us.

My urinating stopped on a drop and I took off for the fence with Phyllis right behind me. The boys couldn’t stop laughing, as they knew the bull lived in that field.

Fortunately for us, el toro was the Ferdinand type of bull, who was more curious than angry.

While this anecdote is funny now, my Mother would have been mortified to know I’d even thought about peeing in a field, instead of a proper bathroom! So, I didn’t tell her.

 

9 Jan 2020, 8:40am
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Chronicles of Spain, 1966

Chronicles of Spain, 1966

(bodhisattva connotes a being who is ‘bound for enlightenment’; a person whose aim is to become fully enlightened.)

By Kate Chamberlin

 

  1. Shipboard Costumes

The tiny tug boats nudged the huge Greek Line ship away from the crowded New York Harbor dock amidst much fanfare, horn blaring, tears, hugs, and hopes. Our group of college students were off to study in Spain for six months.

The young, Greek boys who staffed the ship, waiting on passengers every whim, set-up and served lavish meals for First Class passengers and sumptuous meals for the rest of us were very accommodating. Their good, but broken English, fascinated us. It didn’t hurt that all of them were handsome and about our age. We were always asking them what the Greek word is for Good Morning, Good Night, or this or that, and on and on.

The ship was also loaded with quite a variety of other young men and women, too. We met each other through the many activities available for our entertainment. Eating was the main event, but, the parties, dances, contests, and sports abounded at all times of the day and night.

One evening, a contest for the best costume was announced. We were to parade before the First-Class passengers after their dinner and they would judge our costumes and award prizes in various categories.

One young man in our new circle of acquaintances asked me if I’d partner with him as a Muslim couple. Why not? We wrapped up in separate sheets from his cabin. As we were about to enter the First-Class dining room, he admonished me to remember to walk behind him and keep my head  down with my eyes on the floor. Well okay, I played the part, even though we didn’t win anything.

I didn’t think much about it at the time, but later, I marveled at how demeaning that was. And to add insult to injury, when he walked me back to the cabin I shared with my college friend, Phyllis, he shoved me up against the closed cabin door, insisting he was coming in with me for what he felt was his due. Apparently, one of the Greek staffers heard our scuffle and rounded the passageway corner causing my date to angrily stalk off to bother someone else. We avoided each other for the rest of our 7 day Atlantic crossing.

Decades later, I’m still embarrassed about the costume and angry about his assumption that I’d sleep with him; but, my mother would have been mortified to know her prudish, smart, feisty daughter had let herself get into that situation. So, I didn’t tell her.

 

 
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