I WAS on an exchange visit to my Spanish penpal in Getafe, just south of Madrid. It wasn’t my first trip alone or abroad but it was an odd kind of holiday, not speaking the language. While Jose’s English was a million times better than my Spanish it was still pretty rudimentary and I couldn’t help feeling a little isolated and homesick at times.
Jose was a very sweet and considerate guy – much more than I was when he made the return trip to the UK, let’s put it that way – and probably noticing I was looking a bit miserable, he took me to see a subtitled version of The Life of Brian at a cinema in the centre of the town.
Unfortunately, everyone else in the cinema was reacting to the subtitles rather than what the characters were actually saying with the result that most of the dialogue was drowned out by what I remember as gales of slightly nervous laughter – the Church was an integral part of Franco’s dictatorship afterall, and he was not long dead. Not long enough, obviously. Either way, Spain was (and remains) a very religious country.
At the time, I think the place was just getting more liberal in general. Jose also took us – him, his girlfriend, and one of her mates from school with another exchange student from the UK – to a community hall in the middle of a big estate to see some Spanish art-house movie. It got progressively more erotically-charged before an excrutiating, crazily explicit scene that forced Jose, after much nudging from his mortified girlfriend, to lead us out of the hall to hoots of derision from those seated behind us.
Travel may broaden the mind and all that but the mind broadening can sometimes be a fraught process. The main evening meal, as is usual in and around Madrid, was usually about 11pm and not having eaten since the afternoon, in a rare display of good manners, I ate everything that Jose’s mum put in front of me, from black pudding to squid soup – including little tentacles with tiny suckers on them and what I think might have been an eyeball. An EYEBALL! The horror.