All dressed up and nowhere to go – 1973, Cadiz, Spain

September 11, 2014
Sandra Staas

I’m really lucky. It’s been so easy to get private students here in Cadiz. Who knew?  I had no idea English was such an important language. Word of mouth gets out that a native speaker of English is available to tutor and before you know it, I’m trying to decipher spidery hand writing written by yet someone else who wants to learn English. The notes are always signed and duly underlined with a flourish.

It seems as if everyone knows someone who wants to learn English. Walk into the corner bar and Julio who’s preparing his famous pinchitos with just the right amount of paprika and garlic tells you about someone from down the road whose cousin’s best friend’s brother really, really wants to learn English. He truly does.

“He wrote his address for you.” Julio hands me a transparent, crumpled paper serviette. “There, there’s his signature.”  He points to something that looks like an abstract painting.  “You can do the lessons here, if you’d like.” Julio grins. “I can listen in and learn English for free! Ha ha ha!”

“Why do you want to learn English?”

“I could get a good job as a waiter in Torremolinos. Make more money. Make love to the Swedish girls. Ha ha ha!”  Julio is always laughing. He even laughs when there’s nothing funny.

Businessmen and other professionals have their own ritual of writing their signatures. They pull out a fountain pen from the inside pocket of their jacket and write their full name which consists of four, maybe even six words, with flair and conviction. They underline this work of art once, sometimes twice with a zigzag design, then beam at me, as they twirl their black moustache thoughtfully and provocatively.  They lower their head, and with extreme care and precision gently blot dry the ink. I am duly impressed and intrigued by the drama I witness and tell myself I really need to work on my signature.

One of my students is a sullen person, about my age, who sits with his head down and says nothing of any consequence most of the time. We meet at his fancy, expensive flat. Behind him on the wall are dark, ugly paintings with ornate frames. The table we sit at is opulent as are the chairs. Everything is large, formal and cold. I can’t smell anything, not even garlic and olive oil, not even cologne, nor chlorine, nor sunflower seeds. The air has no character nor warmth of any kind. There’s just a ray of sunshine that pierces the table, almost cutting it in half.

Any time the sullen student opens his mouth he talks about Alice in Wonderland. Occasionally he even asks me out. I don’t bother responding when he invites me out for I get the impression that he’s crazy. He loves Alice and says he can see her.

When I tell my friends about his invitations to go out with him, they implore me to do so.

“How many times will you ever be invited out by an aristocrat?!”

“You’ve got to say ‘yes’ to him!”

I explain that the guy is off his head. That he has conversations with Alice of Alice in Wonderland.

“Who cares?!”

“He’ll probably take you somewhere nice.”

“You’ll meet his friends. Then you can introduce us to them.”

In the end, I decide that I’ll go out with this distant cousin of the Grimaldis of Monaco, even if he is crazy. Why not? My friends are probably correct. I’ll have a nice time, and going out with a conde doesn’t happen to me every day. I reckon I’ll just go out with him the once. No harm in that.

For the next lesson I decide to wear my brand new fitted pink blouse with pointed lapels and my brand new tight red trousers with huge wide flairs that I can hardly button, let alone zip up. I actually paid full price for both these garments in a local boutique. Normally, I wait for the sales before purchasing clothes, but I really liked the combination of the blouse and trousers. I think a blouse is more formal than a smock, more ladylike. And, if I’m going to be wooed by a hoity toity fellow, I might as well look really nice, don’t you think? I spray myself with Shalimar perfume, something I very rarely do. Feeling fashionable and elegant, I’m all set to be invited out by the conde boy.

He sits opposite me with his head down as usual. I try to get him to speak by asking him questions.

“What did you do yesterday?”  That’s always a good question to get people using the preterite.  He’s supposed to know English and my job is just to help him increase his conversational skills.

Out of the blue, he looks up at me and starts talking about Alice, about mirrors and how drugs help him see things that other people don’t.

“I love Alice. I really love Alice. I love her.”  He turns round and gazes at the mirror behind him “Do you see her?  I can.”

I listen and I listen, all the while expecting him to get around to asking me out.  Instead, he keeps talking about Alice in Wonderland and jerking his head to stare at the mirror. I don’t think he even notices my nice clothes nor the fact that I have a seductive aroma emanating from behind my ears. I do like Shalimar, but it tends to make me sneeze, so I only use it on special occasions.

Before you know it our time is up. Well, really.

I don’t believe it! The very time I am about to say ‘yes’ to him if he invites me out, he doesn’t ask?! What bad luck! And on top of it all, I think I feel a sneeze coming on.

So much for being wined and dined by a count.

The more I think on it, I believe it’s really for the best. I don’t even like him. And he is so weird.  I think he’s a poor, pathetic, pitiful, portrait of a person. His title, the luxury apartment complete with live-in maids, the rich lifestyle mean nothing.  In fact, I bet you his signature is not nearly as interesting as mine. He’s really just another drug addict.  Don’t you agree?

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All dressed up and nowhere to go – 1973, Cadiz, Spain