3/19/2006

Mein Home, Sweet Home [MARCH 19, 2006]

As expected, the south of Spain attracts quite a mixed lot of residents. Nearly permanent sunny skies, miles of golden beaches, mountains of fresh seafood, and the cheapest wine this side of that boxed stuff Hobo Joe usually carts around (although of vastly superior quality) all meet up at a crossroads here. The result? Colorful characters from the industrialized world over.

While most of these non-Spaniards flock to Andalucía’s Mediterranean coast, known as the Costa del Sol, we still get our fair share here on the Atlantic side, the Costa de la Luz. The guiris (local slang for foreigners) on the Costa del Sol have brought with them ugly utilitarian condo complexes and have inadvertently been the cause for everything from billboards to street sings that are no longer written in Spanish, but in German and English. Thankfully, we’ve been spared this mass invasion and conquest of Spanish culture here on the Costa de la Luz. Most of our guiris only come here as Spanish students and end up staying for the duration of their course – usually six months or so – before returning to Ireland, Norway, Russia or whichever other far-flung corner of the globe or continent they came from.

Of course, there are exceptions but these usually come from the dregs of society: Moroccan migrant laborers, African pirate DVD street merchants, Chinese brand-name design counterfeiters, German homeless alcoholics, and American English teachers. The last lot, though, are by far the worst... They haven’t showered in months, stink of cheap booze, stumble through the streets at night hurling drunken epithets in a language the locals don’t understand, and contributing nothing to society... I just re-read that sentence and sorry about the mix-up. I meant to say the second to last lot, the German homeless alcoholics, not the last lot, the American English teachers, do those things. We English teachers contribute a lot to society and, believe it or not, take a shower every now and then too.


Come on now... He doesn't REALLY look like an English teacher, does he?

Honestly though, I really am amazed at how many homeless Germans there are here. (There aren’t really any homeless Spaniards due to the fact that family bonds are so strong in this country and, no matter what, your parents will always give you a roof over your head – even if you are in your mid-forties, alcoholic, and unemployed.) My first roommate in Cádiz was a Brazilian doctor who has been working in a local clinic for years. He told me how, when he had finished work one day in 2002 and was walking home, a bunch of ragged German street-dwellers started following him and hassling him. It turned out, that evening was the final match of the World Cup (Germany versus Brazil) and they had seen the Brazilian flag on his backpack. They followed him all the way home and continued yelling in German and broken Spanish, "We’re gonna kick your ass tonight!" The one thing I couldn’t understand was, Where the hell do drunken, squalid and homeless Germans from the streets of Cádiz go to watch World Cup matches?


"Wake up guys... Günther, Hans. The big game's on in a few minutes!"

Besides, isn’t Germany supposed to have one of the best welfare states in Europe, if not the world? Aren’t Germans a stereotypically industrious lot capable of building superior-quality automobiles and creating order out of the most random chaos? Why do homeless Germans need to come to the Costa de la Luz when their country is large and rich enough to accommodate all of their numbers and then some? Maybe, the Fatherland is in search of some new Lebensraum. Poland proved too difficult to tame over half a century ago so now the mass armies of destitute, alcoholic Aryans have turned their expansionist dreams to this little corner of Andalucía. Or, more likely and who can blame them, they prefer being homeless by the sandy beach and in the warming sun to living is some half-frozen subway station in Frankfurt. Either way, they’re here to stay.


Screw Deutschland - The bums in Spain get siestas!

This brings me to my main point and the focus of this article. The only German that I know, personally, in Cádiz isn’t of the street-dwelling variety. She isn’t even a temporary student. No, she’s a full-time guiri like me and my only guiri neighbor. Her name is Roswitha and she lives two floors above me. As I previously said, she isn’t of the street-dwelling variety... but she might as well be. She always stinks of cheap booze, hardly speaks a word of Spanish, and stumbles through the narrow streets of the city at all hours of the day. I guess the sunny skies, golden beaches, and inexpensive wine drew her to Andalucía too. Fortunately for me, and for you dear reader, she must have been too sozzled up on the journey down from Deutschland because she ended up here on the Costa de la Luz instead of the immensely more popular, and Germanized, Costa del Sol.

Where to begin with Roswitha... She’s simply incredible. My girlfriend and I met her about a year ago. It must have been a few days after she had moved into our building when she first rang our doorbell. I opened up and saw a skinny woman with short gray hair and sunken cheeks. She appeared to be in her early fifties, "Perdone las molestias. Soy su nueva vecina. [Excuse the disturbance. I am your new neighbor.]" As I continued speaking to her and introduced myself, I realized that her knowledge of Spanish was basically confined to those first few words she had managed to spit out. The rest of the conversation was conducted on her part in a form of pidgin Spanish – using what little she knew of the local tongue and filling in the gaps with German or French. As it turned out, she was unable to open her door and needed some help with the locks. I went upstairs, put in the key, and opened the door on my first attempt. That’s when I smelled the booze on her breath and realized why she must have been having such a rough time getting the damn thing open. "Danke! Gracias! Danke!" she thanked me profusely. I told her it was nothing and, before I had a chance to go, she asked if my girlfriend and I were local Spaniards. I told her I was American and my girlfriend was Czech to which she replied, "Ohhh! Praga! Das ciudad is muy bonita! Muy bonita! [roughly, Ohhh! Prague! That city is very beautiful! Very beautiful!]" Apparently, she had visited Prague in the early Nineties. She said that she was from Cologne, thanked me again while expressing how beautiful Prague was, and bid me farewell with her whiskey-tainted breath as I descended the stairs to my apartment.

A week later. Thursday night. A buzz at the front door. "Si?" I responded through the intercom. "Perdone las molestias. Soy su nueva vecina..." Low and behold, it was Roswitha. She introduced herself once again and told me that she had problems with her lock – if only I would be kind enough to help her with the keys. She had no idea who my girlfriend and I were and asked me the same exact questions as before. When I told her that we weren’t Spanish but American and Czech, a look of surprise descended upon her bloodshot eyes and she began extolling the beautiful and breathtaking qualities of Prague. She then leant forward and told me, with a breath of booze that could have gotten an Irishman drunk, that she was from Cologne.

I think you know where this is going. At least once a fortnight, for the past year or so, Roswitha rings our buzzer and, after the "Perdone las molestias" routine, asks us to help her with the keys. She then inquires into our nationality and ends the conversation by praising the beauty of Prague. We finally had enough on Carnaval Tuesday when she pressed our buzzer at four in the morning. Half asleep, I answered the intercom to see who it was... "Perdone las molestias. Soy su nueva vecina..." That’s when my girlfriend and I let her have it. We told her we were trying to sleep, her locks worked fine if she would just sober up and learn how to actually put the key in the keyhole, and, for God’s sake, she wasn’t our new neighbor. She had been living in the same building as us for nearly a year now and – Yes, we knew – she was from Cologne, she had once visited Prague in the early Nineties and it was a beautiful city. She was taken aback by our sudden explosion of emotions and, when she had finally absorbed it all, asked us how it was possible that complete strangers knew so much about her. I told her to forget about it, grabbed her by the drunken arm, and helped her up the stairs and with her keys once again. By the time she rang our doorbell a week or so later, she had forgotten about the entire incident and the same ol’ routine had resumed.

My girlfriend (or I should now say my lovely fiancée!) and I have now come to terms with Roswitha’s little visits and learned to accept her drunken quirks, whiskey odor, and memory loss. She’s our own little piece of homeless Germany here in the very building we occupy and adds to the general experience of living in Cádiz. After all, the city has to put up with throngs of street-dwelling Aryans and we’ve only got one middle-aged booze-guzzling amnesiac who, for some reason, prefers pressing our buzzer when there are five other just as shiny buttons directly next to it. Didn’t you know? She doesn’t disturb our Spanish neighbors with her "Perdone las molestias" routine, just us. It’s like we share some sort of a cosmic guiri connection here in this foreign land... those wacky Germans and American English teachers like myself must have more in common than I initially thought (except for – and I swear – the whole not showering thing).

5 comments:

Kimberley said...

Hello GC!!

This is such a great yet wonderfully sad story. You would love Buenos Aires, btw. And Patagonia rocks. Yes, it does. I will be doing more posts on the Antarctic trip, while trying not to bore anyone overmuch. Please do come back and visit at www.freshair.typepad.com

Lori said...

I guess we know what you'll be doing for the next year or so...LOL

Have a great day!!!

Ms Bees Knees said...

Roswitha sounds like the hobo that lives under my stairs... crazy fucking germans [of which i'm half mind you!] btw, congrats of your engagement!!!!! you guys were made for one another. ;)

Lisa said...

>:|

Kim/Thomas said...

HaHa! I would love to save your blog on my favorites, however, i'm worried that my 12 year old will see it in the favorites, and click on your site all the time ;)
great stories!
and I love the pics!
kim (another one;)