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An Olive Offer Changed my Life

There was a card table set up outside, like the kids’ table at a holiday meal, but instead it held five vats of olives, different spices and different juices, all soaking under the unusually warm Andalucian sun.  A toothless man smacked his gums as this vat and that, making it clear I had no choice but to trust that his favorites would also be my own.  I walked off swinging a soggy bag of olives as the giddy child with a seasick goldfish in a tight plastic bag after a visit to the pet store.  Excitement makes me destinationless, sucking on olive pits and smiling from ear to ear. 

 An Olive Offer…
Diego also loves olives.  I stumbled into his shop after my purchase, completed complimentary greetings – Hola, ¿que tal? – and tipped the bag his direction.  After the sticky, olive-juice handshake with drips down to our elbows, I was hooked.  His persona was contagious and magnetic; I returned every day at dos y media (2:30) for lunch, music, dancing, good company, new friends, and new discoveries.  All of which constituted siesta.  The Spanish culture runs on its own clock.  Siesta is an integral part of daily life, but is often misinterpreted by outside cultures as an afternoon nap – used synonymously with catnap, snooze, sleep, and forty winks.  Diego was my introduction to the life of the Spanish siesta.  I returned that first day, as he asked me to do, at 2:30 un punto (on the dot) and was surprised to see a handful of other people waiting for the same grand man: Inese from Latvia, Jim from Germany, and Irish Murphy (the only three that spoke limited English), Frenchman Andres, Spanish Gabriel and Luis, and Norbert from Honduras.  Each one had met Diego in a similar fashion to my chance encounter, save the olives, and now all live in Diego’s one room flat sharing rent and forfeited personal space.   

Changed My Life

Diego did not speak English.  Jim and Murphy did not speak Spanish.  I do not speak French, Latvian, and only very little Spanish.  Andres – Spanish and French, and the others only Spanish.  And yet we could all communicate.  Diego’s door is always open, and he uses it as a gate through many cultural barriers: We were sitting outside a café picking through a pile of fried seafood.  Throughout the meal several homeless people and street peddlers routinely came up to us with pleading eyes and outstretched hands.  Without question, he broke into conversation with each as if old school-time friends, and offered them some food.  Many he knew by name because they were people in his eyes, people worth a real conversation, handshake, or cheek-to-cheek greeting. 

“We are all born naked; we are all equal; we are all human.”  Diego explained to me that his great-grandfather was a revolutionary anarchist, martyred for his spoken words (the above phrase included) and published works on the government’s role.  He knew very little English, but knew enough to voice his hatred for President Bush – a common thread I have found throughout all of the countries I have visited.  It was refreshing, however, to hear such a realistic perspective on our government and its policies.  He acknowledged that the responsibility of all American actions with which he didn’t agree did not come down solely to one man; he knew that only a small percentage of Americans were supportive of such actions (specifically the involvement in the Middle East), and agreed on our false claim of democracy: “I will go to the United States when it becomes a democratic society.”  To which he chuckled and continued, “I will never see the United States.”   

As the Mystery Guest to a Spanish Siesta.

I spent my time in Spain in a constant state of siesta.  It is about slowing down, seeing people, enjoying life, and breathing.  Some say Andalucians are lazy; I say they see no need in passing up opportunities for beautiful encounters by rushing through life.  Mary Crain points out factors that will continue to draw people to the Andalucian province of southern Spain in her article.  Will the onslaught of incomers (like myself, but on so many levels un-like myself) discussed in “The Remaking of an Andalusian Pilgrimage Tradition: Debates Regarding Visual (Re)presentation and the Meanings of “Locality” in a Global Era” destroy this pace of Andalucians?  A streetside jig or bar hopping solely for a tapas lunch - small Spanish snacks often served as an appetizer along with alcoholic drinks - and a ¡Buenas Tarde! to old friends.  Watching the sunset on the beach at the base of Castillo de San Sebastian or playing futbol in the plaza with neighborhood kids.  It can not.  I met this man through an extra large, spicy green olive and a pit-spitting contest.  Life is a bag of olives, messy hands, and bad breath with good company that follows the trajectory of a projectile pit landing in victory in the targeted flower pot.  To find a life that makes me forget the rate of travel my feet once traveled, but to still remember the people that keep me returning home is perfect happiness.  Thank you, Diego.  Thank you, Cadiz.  Thank you for my world of siesta.

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