Welcome to Villafranca de los Barros, my home for the next eight months. Bang in the middle of Badajoz. Hub of a roaring trade in wine. A bus and train station that chivvy passing vehicles on their way to larger, busier districts. Population count of about four or five thousand. Englishmen in that count: one.
It’s the Feria de El Pilar this weekend. Spain’s national holiday is coming up this Monday, so naturally the whole world has shut down for the extended weekend. The banks, the bus service, the whole shebang. Everything but the cafés, of course, which are plying a roaring trade. On the north side of town, the barrio El Pilar, there’s rides, stands and stalls of all kinds, more than a few of them manned by out-of-towners. In a couple of hours wandering I spotted a West African, three Peruvians, an Andalusian and a couple of gypsies. The latter you can tell when you hear them speaking Caló, a language I really must try to learn someday. Villafranca suddenly got multiracial. Not that that’s a big deal – we live in a shrinking world – but you tend to notice these things all the more when you live and work in a town like this. But despite this sudden influx, one citizen continues to draw attention wherever he goes.
I teach at two of the five schools in town and a third offer is on the table, should I choose to accept it. That means there’s hardly a family in town I’m not in contact one way or another. It has its ups and downs. I won’t lie, the celebrity status is a pretty good feeling. It’s nice to know that you can hardly go two streets without getting a friendly wave from someone you know. That’s what I applied for, after all. Like I said before, though, it screws over a good night out. After browsing the stalls last night I thought I’d investigate where all the music was coming from, which turned out to be a giant dodgems affair rigged up beside the club/bar Latino. Cue fifteen minutes of ‘¡RAFA!’, ‘Oyé, ¡Benjamín!’ and ‘Acho, ¡es el inglés! ¡El inglés!’. Outside of class I don’t have a problem speaking to them in Spanish – it comes naturally – but I don’t half feel like it’s a kind of pariah celebrity status. What would you think if you were out drinking with your friends and you ran into one of your teachers?
I left them to it. I’d love to investigate that Latino club at some point, but not alone, and not on a night when I could end up dancing in front of half my students. Not a good idea, not in the slightest.
On the plus side, I now officially exist. I have that legendary slip of plasticised green paper that is known as the tarjeta de residencia, a vital piece of ID that differs from my others in that it’s a fifth of the size, covered in plastic and green. Go figure. In previous years, all you needed was your passport and the NIE was yours. This year, for whatever reason, they mixed it up a little, throwing in an empadronamiento into the mix. That’s a housing contract that’s been run by the town hall, filtered through its database and processed into a slip of paper, which you exchange at the police station for the tarjeta de residencia. Easy enough, unless your landlord got the door wrong, which meant chasing him down at his day job, getting him to doctor the contract and racing back to the town hall, there to be informed that they didn’t have the UK, Great Britain or England on their systems. Another reminder of how very odd I must be.
The director and my mentor whisked me back to Almendralejo and the foreign affairs office of the police station, where Antonio behind the desk was just as beleaguered as he was last time, this time with four Russians enquiring after a work permit. It took about half an hour to process the latest administrative details, but eventually he came back smiling with my new card and much patting of the shoulder. Again. Blonde hair does you wonders in some parts of the world, no matter how much I wish I could have been born with my grandfather’s manchego swarthiness.
So that’s the end of that, and with a green card in hand, you know what that means! I’m finally able to open a bank account, some three weeks after arriving! Well now, don’t get your hopes up. It being El Pilar, I can’t actually do that until Monday’s been and gone, and what with my timetable being the way it is, that means the earliest opportunity I’ll get is next Friday. So, until then, that final hurdle, all I can do is wait. A three-day week beckons and the novel’s coming along nicely, so it won’t be too long a delay. I’ll let you know about my first adventure in a separate post, when my thighs have stopped punishing me for walking a good forty-five kilometers in a single morning. Yours foolishly, BB x