And flow the conversation did, at least among the Spanish speakers. The Romanians mostly listened, though I suspect that would have changed if he'd had some facility with Castellano. He had a tendency to mutter comments to himself as his eyes followed the conversation around the table, the two of them occasionally whispered commentary to each other after one of her translations, sometimes laughing quietly as they leaned together to confer.
Conversation turned to the subject of machismo. I can't tell you how we wound up there, I can only report that all three South American males made it clear they considered the women who lived in machista cultures to be responsible for a full 50% of that social dynamic. Maybe more than 50%. Could have been a pre-emptive thing, setting that opinion forth as strongly as they did -- getting the boot in before any females took it upon themselves to begin dumping responsibility on the guys. Teté accepted it diplomatically, acknowledging some of the guys' argument before using that as a stepping-off point. A smart cookie.
Tracy looked unhappy with the general tenor of the South American male position, though everyone's stance softened some with further talk. The Romanian guy became noticeably restive until I gave him an opening to speak up in English. Environment trumps genetics/gender in determining who we all are, what we all do, he said. The rest of the table listened to a translation of that, agreed in a shoulder-shrugging way, the conversation immediately reverted to Spanish, galloping off to topics like politics, the holidays, the state of our respective countries, critiques of Spain/the Spaniards (there being no Spaniards present to defend themselves).
And so it went. Midnight arrived, cheeks were kissed, wishes of Feliz Navidad exchanged. Food, cider, champagne got inhaled. Dessert appeared, disappeared amid good-natured struggles over who got to wield the knife and distribute which kind of cake to whom. The Romanians retired to their bedroom around 1 a.m., I began to lose steam around 1:30. Ten or fifteen minutes later, the Venezuelans excused themselves, I said good-night, found myself heading out of the building with Juan and Henry, riding downstairs in what may be the single most cramped elevator I've ever sidled into (resulting in brief, unexpected physical intimacy with my fellow crampees).
Needless to say, all the conversation spoken in all the various accents (with varying intelligibility to my ears, depending on the speaker) gave my Spanish a serious workout. The quality of my comprehension fluctuated, depending on the speaker, my ability to respond came and went, as if I needed to withdraw at times before I could re-engage without making too much of a mess with my middle-level Castellano. I was ready to go home when I got out of there, and for the first time in a while felt glad to get away from having to speak Spanish.
The 25th found me in bed until noon, as decadent a Christmas morning as I've ever spent. Dozing, reading, dozing some more. At two o'clock, I stood outside la Estación Príncipe Pio over on Madrid's west side, waiting to board a bus that would take me out to Villa Viciosa, one of the city's many 'burbs. Where my landlords, John and Pat, live. Where we would rendezvous at their son's home for Christmas dinner (me hauling the now customary bottles of cider and champagne). 'Get there around 2:30,' John told me when we spoke a day or two earlier. The bus dropped me off in the town center just after 2:30. Bobby, the son, had offered to come pick me up. I pulled out my cellphone, dialed. He answered, we had a brief, almost terse exchange. I said I was there, he said he'd be along to get me, we hung up.
The temperature had slid up into the 40s, sunlight poured down in abundance. A sizeable fountain not far up the road did its thing with joyous abandon. Couples walked by arm in arm, some pushing baby carriages. A beautiful Christmas afternoon. My bladder decided right then that it needed to be relieved, refused to take no for an answer. I had to shuffle off, find a secluded spot near a row of stores, between cars, to take an embarrassed, slightly shamefaced yuletide whiz. Got back to where I said I'd be waiting just in time for Bobby's arrival.
I mounted up, we shook hands, exchanged Feliz Navidads, he turned the car around, headed back toward home. I filled him on the previous night's dinner, we did small talk until arriving at his place. Which turned out to be the local equivalent of a townhouse in a sprawling, brand spanking new development. A small but nice place that he and his Spanish sweetie moved into a few months back.
I found myself in a living/dining area with sliding glass doors, afternoon light filling the room. The yard outside those doors: teeny, bounded by a slatted fence, which gave off onto a little bit of land that gave off, in turn, to a highway, and more land off beyond that. And right outside the teeny yard, right on the other side of the fence, stood one of those huge honking towers that carry high-tension wires, the kind that look like a stylized version of a metal giant holding electrical lines. I'm not sure I'd ever seen one so close up. Impressive. And fortunately, the locality had agreed to move the lines away from the housing development in the not-too-distant future, off to the other side of the highway where they would join other big metal giants, holding other high-voltage lines. Man, talk about a stroke of good fortune.
So there we were. Me, hovering around the living room, Bobby and his sweetie Sandra at work in the kitchen, getting things ready for the arrival of the rest of the family. I knew Bobby least of anyone in his family, after a few minutes small talk seemed to dwindle. I hovered, they worked. 3 o'clock passed, then 3:15. No sign of the 'rents. Bobby and Sandra got out a bunch of tins, began pouring finger food into bowls, immediately cheering me up. Most of it turned out to be unidentifiable fish/shellfish stuff, the kind of chow around which I maintain a prudent distance. But still. Olives, some with pits, others stuffed with blue cheese. Peanuts. Those few items enough to keep me content while some other brave soul digs into unidentifiable fish parts.
And finally the rest of the family materialized -- John, Pat, their daughter Anna -- armed with the meal: turkey, mashed potatoes/turnips, stuffing. Vegetables of some sort, too, undoubtedly, though I'm damned if I could tell you what they were. Not my main focus of attention, apparently.