I am convinced that every española
harbors, deep within herself, a very personal version of the Great Spanish Mother. Absolutely convinced. If you press me, I may concede that one or two manifestations of the Great Mother walk the streets of Madrid in a state of severe repression, but they are fighting to get out, I promise you.
I first met the Great Mother in Sevilla, in the form of my friend Isabel, years before she married and actually became somebody's Spanish mother. As long as I have known her, Isabel has been physically incapable of sending me away without handing me a paper bag stuffed with sandwiches and snacks for the train ride ahead. An hour or two after leaving Sevilla, I find myself following the lead of every other passenger in sight, with the notable exception of the odd travelling extranjero.
I set up table on my train tray and enthusiastically sink my teeth into the waiting merienda
. A bocadillo, usually. Jamón or chorizo. Straight from the hands of the Great Spanish Mother.
I've met this maternal instinct in many disguises. She shows up every time I walk in the rain without an umbrella, swim without a towel close at hand, or stand for more than 3 minutes with wet feet. She bellows when I wander onto my terraza a la californiana -
The Great Spanish Mother is younger than me, older than me and just my age. The only sure thing I can tell you about her is that she is invariably female.
If you've yet to make the acquaintance of this generous feminine spirit, I wish you the grace to meet her soon. Spanish mothers selflessly alternate between offering you food and telling you you are absolutely not gaining weight and now that you mention it, look a little thin, hija
I offer you the latest manifestation, in a seemingly liberated 30-something:
The scene: a restaurant atop the Peña de Francia, the highest peak in the Sierra de Francia.
The adored-friend-who-shall-go-unnamed and I have just hiked, grunted and sweated our way up the stony path that carries the more energetic of the day's pilgrims from the Paso de Los Lobos to the Peña. We are eating an absolutely delicious menú
(an ensalada mixta
the size of your head, patatas meneadas
, and fresh grilled cod, if you must know) after a pleasant walk around the Peña and the monastery it has hosted for five centuries.
I order a peach for dessert. The peach arrives, golden and chilly. It is one of those Spanish peaches - the exquisite yellow beauties that leave me reluctant to wander far from Spain in summertime.
Overcome with desire, I lift my treasure toward waiting teeth... and hear a blood curdling scream from the other side of the table.
I am ordered to wash the peach.
"Don't your think they've done that in the kitchen?", I ask.
Icy eyes meet mine. My travelling companion has suddenly been transformed into the legendarily stubborn and endlessly insistent Great Spanish Mother.
I struggle to ignore the orders of the foreign maternal beast and push the peach toward my mouth but no! - I am frozen, held captive by the hypnotic rhythm of the Mother's bony index finger, tick tocking left and right in that way only Spanish index fingers can, marking that quintessentially Spanish NO. The beast's head follows the finger in perfect unison. Left, right, left, right.
While I watch, rapt, the adored and nameless friend pours the last of our drinking water over my peach, capturing the waste in the bowl in which the suspicious fruit was served. She hands the dripping peach across the table
"¡Ya!", says the adored voice. "Cómetelo."
Permission to eat is granted.
Labels: on living in Spain