December 22, 2008


As promised, I rushed back to Sra Noriega after the last Spanish class to lend a sympathetic ear to her woes and seemingly unending reminiscing about her youth and ardent wish she’d met Juan Antonio then and not Señor Noriega.

As she poured me yet another fino, she hardly stopped to draw breath, regaling me with tales of her courting days and the changing times.

Having to be home at 9 pm (even if the film finished at 9.15) seems to have been the least of her trials then. With Señor Noriega waiting outside, she and her sisters would often be made by their grandmother to offer prayers to numerous virgins before being allowed out, and the same grandmother would sit with them while they played parchis (ludo) - wearing sunglasses so that they wouldn’t be able to tell if she looked away or closed her eyes for a second.

And so she rattled on about the way courtship used to be conducted in Spain with little privacy until after the wedding ceremony. Some customs, she continued, still exist such as the petición de mano when the two families get together for the official "asking of the hand" and the practice of asking friends round to see the future home of the happy couple. This is then usually followed by a post-honeymoon invitation to see the photos of the wedding and the now lived-in home.

I was happy enough for her to carry on without interruption - if only to help her get things off her chest.
Until, that is, she unexpectedly burst into tears again.

"How can our two families - Juan Antonio’s and mine - ever get together for the petición de mano, let alone for our wedding, when my children won’t even speak to him?" she wailed in despair, clasping the hapless Lola to her ample breast.

How indeed?

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