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.


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