Friday, 25 May 2018

Mañana, mañana

There’s an old joke – my family who’ve heard it far too often would say a very old joke – about a linguistics conference where a Spanish delegate approaches an Irish one with a question.

‘Is there an equivalent in the Irish language of the Spanish word mañana?’

The Irishman thinks for a while before replying:

‘Well, I can think of 32 equivalents in Irish of the Spanish word mañana but somehow none of them conveys the same sense of urgency.’

The joke is aimed at the Irish, of course, but it’s based on a stereotype of Spaniards. The suggestion is that they’re always putting off till tomorrow - mañana - what they ought to be doing immediately. That’s curious because our experience of Spain, or at least that bit of it that constitutes Valencia, entirely contradicts that image.

As I write this, we’re on a train travelling away from Valencia. With some regret: Danielle and I were only too ready to stay on indefinitely in that charming city, and our sorrow is reduced only by the knowledge that we’re travelling towards Madrid where our sons (and their partners) live.
Jacarandas in the Turia Park

What makes Valencia so charming isn’t just the physical beauty of the place, though that’s great enough. Apart from some glorious buildings ranging in antiquity from the middle ages right through to the last decade, it also has the old bed of the Turia river, now a magnificent park, cutting a circular arc through the city. Walking about the place, especially in the kind of weather we had last week, is truly a delight.

At the other end of the Turia and in different weather, last year:
the modernism of the City of Art and Science
What’s still more heartening is the attitude of the people. They have a warmth and approachability that constantly astonishes us. At one point, I was struggling up a street with one end of a double mattress (rolled up but still heavy) on one shoulder (the other was on the shoulder of one of my sons – without it he’d have been sleeping in great discomfort, if at all, that evening). As I tried to balance the weight on my shoulder while trying to bend down and pick up a bag, I suddenly heard a woman’s voice, ‘Wait! Wait!’ She rushed over and put the bag handle in my hand.

That’s a woman I’d never met and don’t expect ever to meet in the future. Such a gesture of friendliness from a complete stranger is deeply heartwarming. As Tennessee Williams would assure us, it’s always good to be able to rely on the kindness of strangers.

But as well as being kind, Valencians are also remarkably efficient.

The flat we bought needed some work done on it. The architect we commissioned to see to it, and who also acted as project manager, brought the work in on time (which mattered: we had furniture arriving from Germany), to budget and to an excellent standard.

While we were staying there, Danielle decided that she wouldn’t wake me when she got up in the night for the usual sort of visit, so she didn’t put on the light. As a result she managed to break her little toe against a table leg, letting out a scream which I suspect woke the whole building and not just me. My interrupted sleep was as nothing compared to hers: she spent he rest of the night awake and only got relief from the pain when she visited a pharmacist who (a) spoke beautiful English, (b) recommended a pain-relieving dressing and (c) applied it to her toe for her.

Just yesterday, we decided that the front door lock was simply too fiddly. You had to insert a key and then pull it out again just far enough, but not too far, to get it to turn. It could take minutes to open the door which was horribly frustrating. But we were leaving at lunchtime today. No problem: the locksmith recommended to us last night showed up this morning at 8:30, and ten minutes later the job was done.

So I can safely say that, whatever the position elsewhere in Spain, in Valencia mañana doesn’t mean ‘at some indefinite date in the future’. It just means ‘tomorrow’ and that can be at 8:30 in the morning if necessary.

Ah, it’s a shame to be leaving that place. We’re already counting the days until we go back. Especially as we’re returning to England, where in building work in particular, the watchword genuinely seems to be ‘never put off until tomorrow what can possibly be left to the month after next.’

As we learned while having work done on our house last autumn, when it comes to mañana, England has nothing to learn from Spain – or Ireland either.

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