Story of a Botijo

El último curso de Reválida que di en la Escuela Oficial de Idiomas (1988-89) lo recuerdo muy gratamente. Eran todos alumnos y alumnas geniales y más que alumnos eran amigos. Entre los más distinguidos, se encontraban Bernardo Serrano y Cristóbal Contreras, dos pastores evangélicos, con los que sigo manteniendo una buena amistad. 
Fue un curso en el que se publicaron varias historias mías en Sur in English y, con este motivo, yo animaba a mis alumnos a que escribieran sus propios relatos. Bernardo, autor de varios libros superinteresantes sobre temas religiosos, editados en Publidisa, fue uno de los que aceptó el reto y escribió una divertida historia sobre algo que le ocurrió en un viaje a  Canadá, adonde había ido invitado, como representante español, a tomar parte en el Congreso Internacional Evangélico Anual, celebrado en Montreal, seguido de un tour de conferencias por todo el país. Hoy comparto con vosotros su relato, que  fue aceptado para su publicación en Sur in English y que espero sea de vuestro agrado:

Story of a Botijo

The days before my journey caused me great excitement. Shopping  everywhere. A suitcase here,  a bag there, and souvenirs, lots of souvenirs. As the day was nearing I became more and more nervous, after all it is not every day that one goes overseas. The sixth of May was a red-letter day for me;  that was the date of my first trip to Canada.

I had received a formal invitation from a group of around 600 women to be their guest lecturer representing Spain that year, and of course my aim was to put the national flag as high as it could be.

I can still remember the sidelong glance of the shop assistant when I asked her for 45 fans and some castanets, as well as 30 Toledan paper knives... what would be more typical than those Spanish presents! —and I had to visit at least 60 different places in my 45-day stay in the Maple Leaf Country—. Little did I imagine that all my hostesses had already two Spanish fans, a pair of castanets and several Toledan letter knives. Definitely, I wasn't original at all.

For my beloved friend Mart I had decided to buy a glazed «botijo», as I knew he was keen to have one, since his last visit to my town in summertime, when he received a good cold water shower when drinking from a «botijo», trying to learn how to manage it.

At the airport

I went with my family and friends, who had come to see me off, to drink a cup of coffee in the bar at the International Airport, and Goodness! how expensive can 18 coffees at an Airport bar be! No sooner had I paid than I said loudly: «Friends, we have come here only three times: the first one, the last one and the only one!». Laughing and joking we left the bar talking about the rip off we had fallen victims to.

The loudspeakers announced «Passengers on Iberia flight 197 to Montreal, please go to gate number three», and there I was —smothered with kisses by my fans— with butterflies in my stomach and going through passenger control.

My wife, my little son, my mother-in-law, my father-in- law, my sisters-in-law, my brothers-in-law, and all the «in-laws» in the World were there! and  they began to wave their handkerchiefs saying «Goodbye» while some of them only stared at me as if I were the «Indiana Jones» of the group, ready to slide into a thousand adventures. Smiling to myself I thought «it seems as if I were off to the III World War» and waving my hand as best as I could — I was carrying a bag, a briefcase and a beautiful glazed «botijo» to Mart, my friend— I said «Bye» to all my friends and relatives.

Nothing happened when I dropped the briefcase and the bag into the conveyor belt and the metal detector, but as soon as I placed my friend's «botijo» I could notice some policemen getting hot under the collar and I could see how they kept looking at me out of the corner of their eyes. The «smartest» of them, took up my «botijo» and looking inside through the holes asked me with a doubtful gesture: «What is this?». Then, with an elaborate indifference I answered: «A botijo». However, I must admit that it might not be too common to carry a «botijo» from Spain to Canada, however much my friend Mart would appreciate it.

I put all my documents in order... where have I left my passport?.. and I went through the customs and then to the runway. Behind me I left relatives and friends while in front of me an Adventure World opened its doors for me. For a moment I felt almost like bursting into tears, but secretly I rejoiced at having 45 days to myself ahead.

On flight

The 747 of Iberia looked huge. The air hostesses gave us a warm welcome showing a toothpaste commercial smile, smiles that turned icy as soon as they looked at me and my «botijo» —glazed, very nice - on board.

To an ordinary Spaniard, not used to travelling in «Jumbos» it is a real adventure to go on one of them. Comfortable armchairs that can be changed into beds, an up-to-date decoration and lots of cinema screens, yes, a lot of them, one for each forty seats.

With my non-existent experience in transcontinental flights, I searched for my seat, praying that my number wouldn't be a first row one in front of the screen. 38C, 40C... «next aisle» —pointed to me a Colgate's representative— and 42C!, that's mine! Speaking in a whisper I told myself: «Jinxed! There's a jinx on me». My first transoceanic flight and I got the corner seat in the first row! The crick in my neck was now assured! And, to cap it all, I still had the problem of my «botijo». It was obvious that the Boeing 747 designer never foresaw that a Spaniard could be capable of such stupidity as taking a «botijo» to the New World; if he had, he would have placed some hooks in the aeroplane to hang those «country fridges» as people in my town call them. If I placed it under the seat, it could roll and finally break, it was also dangerous to put it in the upper part over the seat because it could drop and break as well. I kept asking myself about it, realizing that I was making myself ridiculous —and Spaniards have a terrible sense of ridicule—. How foolish of me to buy a «botijo» for Mart!

In my despair, «Miss Colgate —one of the kind hostesses— came to my rescue and, keeping her fresh smile, suggested that I take my precious burden to the air hostesses' cloakroom, and hang it there; suggestion that I couldn't refuse; then, giving her my «botijo» I rushed to my seat and I got ready for the flight.

In five minutes we were flying over Malaga and ten minutes later we had all the air hostesses imparting through mimicry the way to use the life belts, while an off voice gave indications in case of accident. To tell the truth, I thought  that Iberia was the best Spanish Airline... anyway it was the only one...
Three minutes of rest and a hostess proclaimed with a metallic voice: «Press, magazines, «periodicos»...». As I proposed to brush up my English in that journey I asked her for the English press. The girl pointed at the English section to me, and I -owing to that blooming mania of affecting superiority— chose the most uncommon one, a pink coloured one that I had never seen in Spain before, and it turned out to be «The Financial Times»! Rotten luck! And there I was with an intellectual pose reading pages and pages of the stock market quotations and so on! It never rains but it pours!

The flight was estimated to last 7 hours, but every 20 minutes or so smiling air hostesses kept giving us slippers, peanuts and the «dreaded» orange juice of Iberia, all of them with the yellow and red anagram of the airline. I felt uncomfortable with all that coming and going, and on the other hand I couldn't avoid thinking about how my ravishing companion —Mart's «botijo»— would be getting on.

Finally, one hour and a half after taking off the loudspeakers announced the beginning of the movie «The Golden Lake» with Catherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda, which they had both received Oscars for. Then, the sad news: «The price for earphones is two dollars». Oh dear! this Iberia...

Of course, as a typical Spaniard —and I can't still understand why we Spaniards as soon as we go to another country become more mean— I refused the earphone and I endured the whole film reading Katherine and Henry's lips speaking in English. That's brushing up English! An unforgettable experience, never to be repeated!

At twelve o'clock we were served the meal, consisting of a precious tray, orange-coloured -how could it be otherwise?— and some vague colourful stuffs that would gladden anyone's eyes, but hardly fill their stomachs. After having a coffee I decided to pay a visit to my friend, the travelling «botijo». «He» was rather well, because the hostess, foreseeing possible bumps, had wrapped it up with a towel like a turban... then, I came back to my place waiting for my next orange «juices»? -six in all during the trip.

At two o'clock we were informed that in a few minutes a cold supper would be served. Supper?.. Yes, we were getting to Canada and it was 9 pm. It was then that I noticed the time change, which I would be more conscious of in the following days. The smoked salmon and hors d'oeuvres were eaten with relish. One even felt a full up sensation due to two meals in five hours.

From above, Montreal with its «Mont Royale» —which the city took its name from— looked wonderful. We had a smooth landing and then the ordeal started again. Customs! I was carrying a big suitcase, a big briefcase, a big bag, and a «botijo»! A policeman asked me in perfect French: «Quesque vu- vule declare?» —or at least that was what it sounded like to me—. In an extemporized French I told him: «Ye ne parle pa franse, silvuple, English». Courteously he began to speak in a strange English, worse than mine at that time —so bad was his— and then I could hear again the fateful question: «Whatt is thatt?»... As white as a sheet and shaking like a leaf I answered: «A "botijo', for my friend»... «A... whatt?» insisted the official, then, doing my best in English I explained to him that was something you put water in and that in Spain was used to drink from.

I never knew if he believed me or not, but making a sign with his hand he opened to me the gates to Canada. Taking my suitcase, briefcase, bag and and “botijo”  I went through the airport into the Montreal streets, while I said to my travelling companion: «Boy, you have caused me a lot of problems, but finally, here we are! Shudder, Canada!

Bernardo Serrano Gutierrez

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