Monday, 9 April 2012

Wince Wave #1

You can see victims of the syndrome anywhere.  You are riding on a bus, say, and an ordinary-looking man across from you suddenly makes a grimace of pain.  This is probably not a heart attack, but a "wince wave”, something you have said or done whilst inattentive, bewitched or intoxicated, the memory of which will for the rest of your life cause you to cringe.

It’s not possible to give a fair account of your life without disclosing your wince waves. That means this is probably the first of many to follow in this blog.

           My wife and I had not been resident for long in a remote mountain village of the Sierra Nevada in southern Spain. Having visited in January of one year, we were bedazzled by the sight of almond trees in full, glorious blossom. Seeing them against the background of snow-covered mountain tops at the blue margins of the sky had been one reason we wanted to live there.

We bought a run-down house for about a month’s pay and moved in one September. Our Spanish was elementary, but, by carrying a phrase book with us and asking people to speak slowly, we could manage.  Our only acquaintance was the builder helping us make our house habitable, a man named Antonio.
           We had seen local farmers carrying full sacks of almonds on mule back to the road for collection by the cooperative, and I thought it might be nice to get some for ourselves. We asked Antonio.

“My friend Pepe has plenty,” he told us.  “Let’s go see.”
           We followed him up one of the winding streets to a house whose bolt-studded wooden door was left ajar to accommodate the back end of a mule. Pepe was filling a store room with unshelled almonds. He greeted us cheerfully in unintelligible Spanish. Antonio explained that we needed some almonds for the house.  Pepe smiled even more broadly and disappeared upstairs to return with a large plastic bag.

“I told him five kilos was OK,” Antonio said.
           Pepe began generously shovelling almonds into the bag. When it was full, I had an inspiration. We were new here, greenhorns from somewhere else who couldn’t speak the language. The guy was probably ripping us off.  Maybe there were only two or three kilos of almonds in the bag.

“More,” I said.
            Pepe obliged by starting another sack. When that was full, he looked at me inquiringly.  I was on a roll. I might be a foreigner, but my Mama didn’t raise no fool.

“More.  Keep going,” I said sternly.
            My wife was starting to twitch beside me. The third bag was nearly full when I signalled that I now believed we at last had our five kilos. He handed over the sacks, still smiling broadly.

“How much do we owe him?” I asked Antonio, expecting a laughable price.
           I got one.

“You don’t owe him anything,” Antonio said.  “It’s a gift”.”

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