img_5202We wait for no one

I walked as fast as I could toward Plaza de Fonseca where our bus was meeting us lugging a backpack filled with weekend clothes, a bagged lunch and my purse.  It was still dark when I left my apartment at about 6:45 a.m.  The bus was leaving at 7 a.m. and the plaza was about 25 minutes away.

Mathematically speaking, this was un problema.

However, rushing for once forced me to take note of something uniquely Spanish (or perhaps European) that I previously took for granted.

My route took me down two of the biggest avenidas in Salamanca, but there were few people on it.  As I walked (or rather awkwardly jogged under the weight of my backpack) down Calle de Las Carmelitas I encountered a large obstacle directly in the center of my path: a decorative fountain that had probably once served the surrounding inhabitants.  I walked around it and continued on.

Until, that is, I met another large obstacle—a flowerbed.

By the third obstacle I was irritated. This walk could not be done in a straight line.  Detouring around them was seriously cutting into my time.

What gives, I thought to myself. There’s got to be a better way…

I had reached that awkward distance where even a taxi driver might turn away business, but still too far to arrive precisely on time by walking.

Our program director’s ominous warning popped into my head: ”No esperamos.”

Translation given her intonation: We wait for no one.

Shit.

And then I saw it—the other sidewalk.  I veered left where there was an opening in the row of decorative Romanesque, ivy-covered columns and continued down the other sidewalk alongside the storefronts.  The walkway was narrower, but nevertheless, obstacle free.  As I rounded the last corner I spotted the bus and a shadowy figure next to it.  No lights were on in the bus and the person was not moving. I foresaw that I was either the first or last person to arrive.

“Oh good, we were about to leave,” jovially exclaimed the director as I boarded just four minutes past the hour.

Had it not been for the few minutes of time I saved on the other sidewalk, I would not presently be on my way to Galicia.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t have wasted so much time had there not been so many obstacles.  I have literally stumbled upon a physical manifestation of a unique facet of Spanish culture.

“La vida es en la calle”

There is a lot of sidewalk space on the main roads in Salamanca. I’d say approximately three lanes wide.  The streets are only four lanes. A 3:4 sidewalk to road ratio is pretty small when I think of street design in the United States.  And then there is the issue of the obstacles that take up about two-thirds of it.  You must walk around them. Is this an efficient use of space?

If you live a traditional Spanish lifestyle, which includes closing businesses between the hours of 2 and 4 p.m., taking a siesta after lunch and paseando in the evening, the answer is that you’ve asked the wrong question. These sidewalks were built with leisure in mind.  Leisure—one of the most obvious manifestations of the Spanish, “no pasa nada” culture.

I’m now sitting at the back of the bus, typing away while the rest of the group slumbers, and the sun rises over the Iberian peninsula.  Although I’m relieved to have made it in time I think Spain would have nodded my way had I missed the bus. I can imagine that upon missing it I would have walked back, slowly.

I wouldn’t mind walking around her fountains and flowerbeds, and maybe even enjoyed contemplating their antiquity.  Perhaps I would have even indulged one of her hundreds of stone benches, offering a place to take in the chill morning air, and sit still enough to hear her whisper, “hija, no te preocupes, no pasa nada.”

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