Do You Believe in Love at First Sight?
What happened after love at first sight? “What always happens,” she says. You start working to build a relationship. In our case it was not just with the people, but also the place, starting with the renovation of our new house, which was our first priority. That was a learning experience that put us in touch with all kinds of people in our new village and gave a nice impulse to our Spanish skills. Converting two village houses into one involves a lot of compromises and creativity. In the end we got what we wanted: a spacious home with indoor and outdoor living spaces, views of the castle and the surrounding countryside, as well as some proper office space, something we had always longed for.
Late, Almost Reluctant Arrivals in Spain
“Rizgar and I used to take our holidays farther afield, places like Hungary, Finland and Kurdistan. It wasn’t till 2000 that we came to Spain for the first time. We were taken with it and promptly bought a flat on the coast of Alicante,” she says, adding, “If we had it to do over we would probably rent a place for six months or a year before buying. If you’re retired you’re not in a hurry. You have time to look around.”
Gillian, petite, in her mid fifties, with youthful pixie hair and a lot of human warmth in her aura, started her professional life as a teacher—she still teaches occasional management training courses around the world on a freelance basis—and retired early as human resources manager for the British Council in Manchester, UK. That’s where she met her husband, Rizgar, who arrived in the UK from Iraq in the sixties to study engineering and stayed on. Having worked worldwide—“from Bogotá to Tokyo,” says Gillian–with the British Council, and lived in Hungary for a period, Gillian already spoke four languages, so she didn’t find it difficult to learn Spanish. “Luckily,” says Gillian, “Spanish is one of the easiest languages to learn.”
To Learn Another Language Is to Live Another Life
“When we decided to take early retirement and come to Spain to live we started studying Spanish some months before
leaving. I must say, the language teaching at the Instituto Cervantes (the Spanish equivalent of the British Council) in Manchester was the finest I have ever experienced.” Both Gillian and Rizgar emphasize the importance of learning the language. “Of course there are areas of Spain where you can get along with just English,” says Rizgar, “but knowing how to communicate with the locals adds a whole new dimension to your Spanish experience. And once you start learning you never stop. After a while it’s painless, like learning on auto pilot; you learn by osmosis.”
He adds, “When you come to Spain to live it’s different from coming here on holiday. Most holiday makers just want to live the English lifestyle in the sunshine. But you are here to stay. This is your life, not a holiday camp. So you begin to put down roots, to find useful ways of occupying yourself—Gillian has started painting; I cook–and to cultivate relations with your Spanish neighbors. Inevitably, over time, your understanding and opinions adapt to a lot of new realities. The Spanish say, “Aprender otro idioma es vivir otra vida.” “To learn another language is to live another life.”
“I’ve always been a walker,” says Gillian, “but our former village—Broadbottom, in the Peak District near Manchester in the north of England—was not entirely satisfactory for me in that respect. The humid climate made serious walking there an uphill trudge. Believe me, it’s not a difficult choice to trade 300 days of murk every year for an equal amount of sunshine!” The Homeris found the gently rolling olive groves and pine woods around Moclín ideal terrain for long, soul-restoring walks, and they soon had company. When they found Lulu abandoned in the street she was a forlorn mongrel puppy with a bleak future. Today she’s an aristocrat.
You’ve Got to Work at It
“Both Rizgar and I are readers,” says Gillian, “and our mountain village is ideal for that. In fact, it’s great for all sorts of introspection, which is a double-edged sword. Thoughtfulness can become loneliness. That’s where people, our friends and neighbors, came in. Making friends in an Andalusian mountain village isn’t an automatic process. You’ve got to work at it. But the rewards are great. The villagers are not intolerant, mind you, but they’re shy at first. Overcoming that reticence requires some effort and creativity.”
These mountain villages of Andalusia (Spain’s eight southernmost provinces) have a centuries-old, largely closed society. The people live their lives according to the natural rhythms of the seasons, the olive crops, the religious celebrations, the interactions among extended families. This framework was unchanged for centuries. So how do exotic foreigners manage to fit in? “I started by giving English lessons to the young people of the village. Then I joined the church choir,” says Gillian. Soon afterwards I became a member of the village women’s association. Rizgar entered by way of the building crew. Then he and I were invited to be mayordomos (literally “butler” or “foreman,” but used as an honorary title for “organizers”) on the village fiesta commission. That culminated in a Protestant and a Muslim forming part of the cuadrillas of men and women who carried the statues of the patron saints, San Antón and San Sebastian, through the village streets during the processions of the Fiestas Mayores in January. That was an unexpected honor.”
A Modest Cultural Interchange That Went from Strength to Strength
Not long after the Homeris moved to Moclín a trickle of their ex-neighbors from England started coming down to visit.
Several of these families eventually bought homes in the village and began their own processes of Moclinización. It wasn’t long before the cultural counselor of the Moclín town hall (Manolo Cultura) asked Gillian if their village in England didn’t have any entertainers. This gave rise to an ongoing cultural exchange between Moclín in Spain and Broadbottom in England. The first group to travel was a joyously raucous troupe of Morris dancers from Broadbottom who wound up leading half the Moclineños in a lively knees-up session in the town plaza.
The next contingent, headed up by Carlos, the mayor of Moclín, and Antonio, the justice of the peace, were received as visiting dignitaries. The Broadbottom folks took them on the Beatles tour of Liverpool, including the Cavern Club, and left them wide-eyed. Then they visited Manchester with its museums and shopping. Marks and Spencer’s was a big hit as was Argos. They ate curry in Manchester’s curry mile and Chinese in China Town. To show their appreciation the Moclineños made a sangria in a (new) dustbin for a Spanish evening in the village hall. To make it more festive the Moclineños emptied a few bottles of brandy in it. The sangría was festive. It was also lethal.
The reports the Moclineños took back to their village went a long way towards cementing relations between the citizens of the two towns. The next year the Moclineños showed up in Broadbottom with a flamenco group who kicked up a storm of staccato guitar, cante jondo (deep song) and captivating Gypsy dance. It sounds better in Spanish: “…armaron la marimorena.” Since then the once-reclusive citizens of Moclín and the English people who only knew Spain’s seaside resorts began to see each other more often and in a different light.