Jenny Faber on SYA ~ Spain

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Jenny Faber writes from Spain during her year abroad, November 30, 2009

"The Endless Search"

    Back home finding the perfect parking spot poses a serious challenge for my dad, circling the rows of cars like a vulture and stalking pedestrians loaded down with shopping bags following them back to their car. But my dad’s quest for the parking doesn’t even compare with the lengths Juan, my host father, went to during las fiestas de Pilar. Even during frenzied Christmas shopping or a Costco run before the Superbowl, the most hectic parking times in Oregon, it normally doesn’t take more than half an hour to find a place to park. But after an hour of winding through the streets of Zaragoza, Juan didn’t show any signs of weakness, even when we passed the parking garage, with the bright green illuminated LIBRE sign.
    La Ofrenda de las Flores, the most religious aspect of Pilar, started early Monday morning, and Pili and Jorge, my host mom and little brother were up with the sun to join the procession. Juan isn’t a native Aragonese and wouldn’t walk in la Ofrenda.  Instead he and I planned to get to Calle Alfonso in time to see Pili and Jorge walk by in their native costumes on their way to Pilar.  Normally it takes me about fifteen minutes to get to Pilar on the 29 bus, so it should have taken less time by car. It was such a weird feeling being back in a car, in the month I’d been in Spain, I’ve ridden in a car twice, instead taking “tu amigo el 29” as Juan calls it.  I hadn’t expected such an adventure in the car, normally all my exciting transportation moments occur in the bus.
    We started out at 11:15, Juan asking me, “¿Te molestas si fumo?” Sí me molesto mucho but I couldn’t just tell him that. It was a rhetorical question anyway. We drove by my bus stop, just as a 29 was pulling up, the people packed on like sardines, headed to Pilar. I scoffed at their misery, crammed into the bus, the Spanish abuelas staring down anyone without gray hair, trying to get their seat. We’d get to Calle Alfonso much more comfortably than them, and quicker too. We crossed the river and made a quick loop around Pilar, just to be thorough but it was evident we couldn’t get a parking spot that close. That was just wishful thinking. The streets were difficult to navigate, with cars lining both sides, and everyone hurrying in the direction of the Ofrenda. It was like a step back in time, with the women walking around in floor length dresses, with petticoats and shawls and the men wearing stockings and vests. The drive through town was surreal, it would have been much more apropos to ride in a horse drawn carriage.
    By 11:40 we’d driven into a part of Zaragoza I’d never been to and Juan became a tour guide. That fit well with the picture I’d formed of Juan in my mind, when he emailed me in June, saying he’d be my “solucionador de cuestiones”, my solver of questions. In all the ideas I’d dreamed up of my year in Spain, I never thought of anything resembling our parking odyssey.   KISS FM played on the radio, occasional American songs popped up and other times Spanish music courses through the car. Juan told me little tidbits about each song, even the American ones. As we passed certain buildings Juan explained what their used for and occasionally their style of architecture. Sometimes, I could understand him perfectly and was on top of the world, considering myself basically fluent. Other times, I couldn’t understand anything and realized how much I have to learn.
By the time we passed La Romadera, the soccer stadium, we were farther from Pilar than our house was. The casual manner in which we drove around made it seem like it wasn’t vital to find a parking spot and more important to enjoy the drive together. There was no swearing, nor rude gestures at the others searching for parking, instead camaraderie, drivers signaling if a parking lot was full.     At that point, I’d been in Spain a little more than a month; I no longer felt like a stranger around my host family. I was beginning to feel like I lived in Spain, rather than just a tourist. But that still didn’t mean being alone with my Spanish dad didn’t terrify me. Try as I might, I just couldn’t communicate with him as well as I wanted to. He’d ask me a simple question, and I’d repetitively respond with a puzzled “¿Qué?” Or when I got sick of asking him to repeat it with simpler words, I’d just jump in and respond, more often than not answering him about something he hadn’t even asked me. I could handle a short car ride, but the clock kept going and I desperately longed to fill the awkward silence.
 Juan was on cigarette two when we drove back by Pilar to start circling again. The fumes were bothersome, but smoking is an ever present culturally accepted pastime in Spain. The infamous Zaragoza wind, El Cierzo, picked up right as we drove past a construction site, and it was a mad race to see if Juan could roll up the windows of the car before the dust cyclone hit us. The windows rolled up just in time, and a new topic of conversation started, one of Juan’s favorites, about how I would freeze this year. It didn’t help that I wore a dress and tights, perfectly accentuating his point that I never dress warmly enough. But Juan’s nagging doesn’t bother me; it’s his way of protecting me, making sure I don’t become an American Popsicle. “Abrígate” has become Juan’s trademark phrase, replacing hello and good-bye. It’s not uncommon that I’m sent to put on more layers before I’m allowed leave the house.
    At noon we’d been searching for more than 45 minutes, breaking all records from back home. A lesser man would have given into the temptation of the parking garage, only a moment’s walk from where we planned to meet Pili and Jorge. But Juan resisted the lure of the green glowing LIBRE sign, beaconing like a holy grail, and we drove off to scour elsewhere for a parking spot. The farther out we went the easier it was to see people’s desperation for parking. Cars parked on the sidewalk blocked all pedestrians and cars parked in the street blocked all drivers. Once we crossed back over the river and closer to home than Pilar, it would have been quicker to take the bus. After more than an hour of searching we pulled into a parking lot close to home that was overflowing with cars and buses. There were no rows to drive down to look for space, because cars were crammed into every space possible. It was utter madness, and the poor cars parked in the back were stuck until Pilar festivities finished, and the cars would give up their coveted spaces. Juan works in renewable resources, with los molinos, but he doesn’t drive a compact hybrid car. There was no way his SUV was going to be squeezed in anywhere. Though it worked perfectly we hopped the curb to park in a free spot of sidewalk.  It didn’t matter to Juan that we parked closer to home than to Pilar, and still had to walk halfway there. We triumphed, and against all odds, found a parking space. Juan had evidently planned for our extensive search, because we made it to Pilar exactly the time Pili and Jorge walked by, dressed to the nines in their native costumes.