Category Archives: Tales from Spain

Do I hate Bilbao now?

My psychologist asked me: “Are you happy to go to the places you know in Bilbao?”. I laughed. “I hate Bilbao” I said.

I often laugh and pretend like things don’t bother me. I use flippancy to cover how shit really, really gets under my skin.

I reflected on her question during the day, and I thought about standing under the puente de la salve (the big bridge near the Guggenheim) the day before, and telling someone who was visiting Bilbao the story of my friend who took her own life there. I can’t share that story here as I don’t want to  cause more pain where too much pain has been caused already.

Here’s the bridge where my friend killed herself.

Here’s the street where I last saw her alive.

Here’s the plaza where a man groped my bum and pretended like it was an accident.

Here are the steps where someone who followed me to the bathroom and tried to force me lives with his parents.

There’s the dance academy that offered me a job, which I turned down as I found out about sexual harassment in their other dance classes.

Here is the street where someone big in the art world in Bilbao also groped my arse, tried to kiss me, asked me 4/5 times: “Why don’t we fuck every now and again?”.

Here is the bar where an old man started touching my hands in a weird way, and when I asked him politely not to, he started screaming at me, enraged.

Here’s the street where someone called sexual stuff to my friend with brown skin.

Those are the steps where a Moroccan dude sex attacked my friend. There’s the police station where she was shown photos of men who all had bruises on their faces already.

There’s the bar that refuses to serve black people.

 

I don’t think I really hate Bilbao, but I think I stayed here too long, became too frustrated with not being able to be a force for change here. Instead of becoming a force for change, I became an angry knob head, and probably had the exact opposite effect to the one I was after. I became embroiled in thinking I was trying to change things here, when really, what I was trying to do was resolve conflicts from my past, like sexism I experienced as a girl growing up in Wales in the 90s, or The Troubles in Northern Ireland and how they scarred my alcoholic mother, how she never really mentally left that tense, judgemental atmosphere.

I hate what I became in Bilbao. I did the best that I knew at the time. The surroundings affected me. I’ll do better next time.

The problem is, I assume that something else is “right” and I am “wrong” and so I try to chop pieces of myself off in order to fit in with the people/society around me. But I’m a big character, with a big heart and wild ideas, and I can only ever fit in a big, diverse, modern city, not a village.

To be honest, Bilbao is a great place to live, if you have the things that make people happy, like: a job you like, supportive friends, a great partner. I have always been too wild for many people, too “out there”. I shot out of my village in Wales as if I had been on starting blocks. I wanted to escape my mother’s alcoholism so badly, I took every drug around, I ran off to university, I ran to “Spain”, and then I was dragged back by the duty of taking care of my mum at the end of her illness. Then I was completely f*cked by complicated grief, lost the ability to speak Spanish, lost my identity.

I think I’m too outspoken, and I’ve always been too curious, too adventurous, too flirtatious, too imaginative, too loving, too free. Too willing to try new things, new ways of doing things. Too willing to stand up to bullies. To fight. I like safe cars and fast, honest men. On bad days, I imagine all my enemies all sitting round in a room, describing me as a conflictive, aggressive, psycho bitch, or just simply, “that toxic cunt”, as if they have nothing better to do with their lives than discuss moi.

At a festival at the weekend, I saw someone I used to hang out with a few years ago exchange a look with her friend upon seeing me, and they quickly walked the other way. I had tolerated this girl at first, thought she was ok, even nice, but then later found her to be basic, racist, and we had once had an argument about sexual harassment and her entrenched conservative views about how foreign women behave came to the fore. I felt relieved that she now avoided me, even amused, which surprised me. Despite my sometimes flippant, even cuntish behaviour, deep down I’m a little girl who wants everyone to like her. I asked myself what I had done to make her avoid crossing my path, which is what provided my amusement. Was it something I had said to her face while we had argued? Was it something I wrote on my blog about her narrow minded, suffocating views from her conservative culture? Was it someone I had sex with that she didn’t approve of?

Was it all of the above?

 

 

 

 

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The dance floor

It was carnival weekend. Everyone was out in their finest fancy dress, having drinks with friends and smiling.

We got to La Ribera bar at 11:30pm. The band still hadn’t started yet. People were dancing Lindy and having fun.

As usual, there was a large group of people standing on the dance floor, people who (as far as I knew) didn’t dance. I said to some friends “How about we go round and politely ask people to move to the sides?”. My friends responded “Or we just go like this when we dance” and motioned kicking and pushing them.

I decided to ask them politely when the live music started. I started like this:

“Hi guys. Would you mind please moving to the sides because people want to dance?”

The group had about 10 people. The girl next to me pretended like she hadn’t heard.

One guy, who I assumed was gay, said “brrbrbrbrrbrbrbrbr”. (yes, ok, sometimes when the music is loud and I don’t know someone I don’t understand what they say in Spanish)

I asked him to repeat it.

-I’ve bought this drink. This is a bar. I have a right to be wherever I want.

-Yes, of course. But this is the dance floor. There’s a lot of other space in the bar.

-It’s aggressive to ask.

-I don’t understand. How is it aggressive? It’s a question of safety. Girls dancing with heels have really hurt my feet and ankles, more than once.

-Yeah yeah, whatever. We are dancing.

I suppose it was aggressive in a way, because as gay men, these people have probably been told they’re not welcome in a lot of places, in both overt and subtle ways. I’ve experienced being at bars where there is football, and feeling very unwelcome, and getting shouted at for getting up to get a drink and obscuring people’s views.

I waited for the guy to finish his g and t. He held the glass for a long time. Then I asked him to dance.

-Noooo. I don’t know how to dance

He said, with a strange look on his face. Maybe he knew that the dance culture was already too heteronormative. Maybe he was tired of standing up and being himself to that tide of shit.

-Please. I’m a teacher.

-Of course you are.

-Would you like to dance as a leader or a follower?

-A follower I suppose.

-Let’s do it!

-No. Really no.

Soon after they left. I suppose they only came for one drink on their night out. Judging by how rude they were, I suppose they were from out of town, as people tend to be dick heads when they think no one will see them again.

It wasn’t a nice experience. I suffer from anxiety so as soon as he told me “he had every right” etc, I felt very nervous and didn’t want to walk past his group, nor dance near them as I didn’t want to be shoved in to them by leaders who were bowling with followers by accident, or accidentally do that when I dance as a leader with a  follower. This is something I don’t observe men being preoccupied with, as they dominate the dance floor, people making space for them. Sigh. How can I learn to be half as confident as a mediocre white man?

What I’ve learned:

Bring lollipops to partner dance events to give to people who get the frick off the dance floor. SWEET SWING BABY! YEAH!

 

Santutxu: Not a Matriarchy

“Santutxu is the most densely populated neighbourhood in Bilbao”, he told me, after we were hotly discussing how population density makes poverty in the UK completely different from here.

I looked in to it. This is an urban legend, a little saying people repeat over and over again, Trump style, until it becomes true.

Are you sitting down? Because I have something to tell you.

Santutxu is 100% not the most densely populated city in Bilbao. No way… Unai?

I wrote a blog post about it here, and my friend changed the Wikipedia entry, and I thought the battle was won. But the war waged on.

Another (güiri) friend quoted the old most populated thing to me again, and I explained to him the (I thought) amusing little anecdote. “Be careful of fake news!”, I patronised him.

Then, what should I find on Wikipedia today, almost a year later?

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Yes, that’s right. Some bright spark had yet again changed the Wikipedia entry for Santutxu to read that it’s the most densely populated you-know-what in the you-know-who.

I breathed deeply. I try to keep an open mind, I really, really, do. I checked the sources, yet again, and yet again they show that San Francisco is more densely populated than Santutxu.

So, I finally made a Wikipedia account to set right this unspeakable wrong.

It was much easier than I thought (name and password. That was literally it), but then I was a bit fazed by the html code, but I managed to bodge it.

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The reason it irks me so much, as I’ve already said, is it’s something people repeat over and over again until “everyone knows” it. It reminds me too much of the matriarchy myth, a myth Basque men would often casually educate me on, expecting me to side with them about Basque women being too “mean” or “bossy”, because their definition of a “matriarchy” is a Catholic patriarchy where women control men’s money, and also refuse to have sex, because they are such nasty meanies…

For the last time, women can have multiple orgasms, and therefore can potentially enjoy sex more than men, and if they ain’t enjoying their super powers… there’s a densely populated problem going on, in Santutxu and beyond.

Long live fact checking, statistics, and Wikipedia’s super easy to use interface. I salute you all!

A Weekend in Bilbao

Thinking of spending a few nights in Bilbao? Here’s a quick run down of some essentials for your trip.

Practical Stuff

>Bilbao is very green, which means it rains a lot. Bring waterproof shoes and a waterproof coat. The city is very informal, and you can wear hiking boots, trainers, or sneakers on a night out without anyone batting an eyelid.

>If you like to walk, you will adore Bilbao. Things are reasonably close together, and there are lots of nice buildings, bridges and bars/coffee shops. If you’re too tired (or it’s started to drizzle) the metro is cheap and well designed.

>The airport is just 20 mins from the city centre. (There is nothing I hate more than a long arduous journey to catch a plane)

>People here are the friendliest in the world and will always try to help you, whether they speak English or not.

Guggenheim Museum

If you don’t fancy paying 13e to see the exhibition, the building itself is well worth a look. Designed by Frank Gehry, and inspired by the sea, the building is controversial due to the way it contrasts with the surrounding architecture. Personally, I 100% love it, although I never experienced the city without it.

Guggenheim Bilbao

Casco Viejo

The old part of the city is nicknamed “The Seven Streets”, but don’t be fooled. It’s basically a labyrinth, but there are so many excellent bars, you desire to leave won’t be a problem.

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Pintxos

Have you ever eaten tapas, and thought, I wish this food was on a small piece of bread, with a stick in it, and with a complete rainbow variety of tastes and textures? Then you are going to have some sort of food orgasm over “pintxos”, which is Basque for “cocktail sticks”.

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San Mamés Stadium

If you’re a football fan, you might like to take a look at Athletic’s stadium.

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Walk along the River

Prosperity, and the subsequent rejuvenation of Bilbao (from an industrial port town) since the 90s has been nicknamed “the Gugghenheim Effect” by the press. If (and that’s a big “if”) it’s not raining, you can take a wonderful stroll by the river.

paseoMaritimoRVictoria

Not Climbing Artxanda

Basques know how to organise stuff well, and as you walk around the Bilbao, you will see that although there are a some steep hills, there are also easy ways to get around climbing them.

A “funicular” is a small train that goes up a hill. A great thing to do (on a clear day) is catch this tiny train from the centre, up Artxanda, which offers a great view for the whole city. They you can walk back down, or take the train back.

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Day out to San Sebastián

San Sebastián is just an hour by bus from Bilbao, and although it is said to be a bit more expensive, it is also famous for it’s culinary offerings. If you like to pack in as much as possible on your weekends away, this nearby city on the coast might be a nice change from the big smoke.

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Women: Contraception in Spain

Here’s a compendium of info about birth control in Spain, from my own personal experience, top what my friends/coworkers/doctors have told me.

Contraceptive Pill

Cost=between 4 and 15 euros a month

Brits: Stock up on 12 months of the pill before you leave the UK. You will save between 36e and 180 euros over 12 months

You can easily find the brand name for your pill in Spain. I’ve also been told that you can take your empty pill box to the pharmacy (if you live in Madrid) and they can/will search for the equivalent for you and sell it to you without a prescription. When I lived in Madrid I was told (by a pharmacist) that whether it was sold to you or not without prescription (this goes for the morning after pill as well) depended on how conservative the person was serving you. In the three years I lived in Madrid, I never had any problem whatsoever.

My experience in Bilbao has been that pharmacies that will let you buy the pill without a prescription are few and far between. Not sure if this is due to the Basque Country being more Catholic or just general regulations.

In general, there are two types of pill that are covered on social security, meaning that they are cheap (4e for a months supply). These are Diane ( ) and . All the rest are around 15e a month.

Nuva/Merina Ring

Rough cost per month: 20e

This is a ring you insert into your vagina that releases hormones to stop you ovulating.

IUD

Rough cost for  years:

US citizens living in Spain: Might be covered on your insurance (Mapfre, Sanitas)

Many women are now opting for an IUD (a copper device that is fitted into your uterus that lasts for several years). It’s important to get one fitted a while before you go abroad for your follow up appountment.

Implant

Rough cost for  years:

 

 

Disclaimer: This article is includes my research, opinion and opinions from other women I’ve spoken to. Please consult your doctor.

 

The Marshlands (La isla mínima)

Director: Alberto Rodríguez
Writers: Rafael Cabos, Alberto Rodríguez

One of the most well made films I’ve seen in Spanish. A police drama rich in sociopolitical commentary, reminiscent of True Detective.

The ending is bitter sweet; some criminals walk free.

Director: Alberto Rodríguez
Escritores: Rafael Cabos, Alberto Rodríguez

Una de las mejores hechas películas en castellano. Una drama policiaca que recuerda de True Detective.

Eo final es agridulce; algunos criminales están libres.

Abusive relationships: the best friend

I’m not sure if abusive relationships are common or if there’s something about me that attracts people in them.

My first contact watching my friend be abused was when I was around 17 or 18. My best friend was cool as shit, and I stuck to her like glue because I thought her coolness might rub off on me. I can see now that I had been jealous of her, that I had followed her. I didn’t see that at the time. I think my pattern is to follow. I tend to form friendships with gorgeous, intelligent women, and be her less attractive slightly geeky weird friend. I don’t know if that has to do with growing up the youngest of three sisters. I don’t know.

Anywho, her boyfriend and her were locked in a soap opera style off and on relationship. Things would be off, she would tell me (us) about what he had done this time, then things would be back on again. I suppose neither of them liked the chaos, but maybe it felt normal, maybe it gave them a rush. I don’t know.

The most recent time they had broken up, I had shared with my friend that I was glad because more than once I had felt uncomfortable around her boyfriend, like he was trying it on with me. A few weeks later, they were back on again, but the latest outrage was that he had text a message to her mum, that he had meant to send to her friend, about how hot he thought her mum was. Then she said “What’s next? He’s going to try it on with my best friend?”. I must have said something at this point, mentioning about the time when he had tried it on with me. And she said: “No, I meant Caz”.

That was it. After that conversation we never really spoke again. That was the first friend I lost due to an abusive relationship. My sponsor now says that, in her experience, friendships break down in these sorts of situations when the friend is judging, when the person in the relationship feels judged. I get that. I’m trying not to do that anymore.

I thought if I just said something (as was my duty as a friend) that my friend would stop getting hurt. I hated hearing about all the bad stuff that was going on.

I suppose that this friendship was due to end, as I had moved away and had started a life somewhere else. I still blamed the abusive relationship though.

My next experience with abusive relationships would come 4 years later. It was actually because of the abusive relationship that I met my friend. She is awesome and we still talk. There was a time when I needed to step away from the friendship for a while, as I couldn’t bear to witness her pain, to hear about the latest. She was able to leave him when she was ready and now she is living happily every after and loving life.

I suppose that the only relationship where I’ve come close to allowing myself to be abused was when I became addicted to a guy, between the age of 19-22. I depended on him emotionally. Days when I didn’t see him were days wasted. He was witty, intelligent, the life and soul of the party. People always said I was the male version of him. We were amazing together, ying and yang, soul mates… Things ended with him moving away and never answering my calls or contacting me, and then I found out through the grapevine that he was with someone else. I pined for him, for years. No one made me laugh like he did, no one…

I could tell more details of the sordid affair, but that’s beside the point. I lay down on the floor, and he wiped his feet on me. He was one of those amazing guys, you know? He had it all. Narcissistic, a liar, cheated on his girlfriends, and an alcoholic, and I lapped it up. Lap lap lap. Like a little cat. There’s a lot of alcoholics in my family and seemingly every guy I fall in love with I realise (after we’ve broken up) that he’s an alcoholic/problem drinker. While we’re together I’m like “I don’t count other people’s drinks” and then a year later I’m like “woah. That’s a lot of glass in the recycling”. The point is, he wasn’t an abusive guy. But if he had been, I would have been totally “love” trapped in that.

The most recent contact I’ve had with an abusive relationship has been my friend from high school. It was completely, spectacularly horrific. Bruises. Police. Suicide threats.  Him claiming to be the victim. After it had ended, she told me all the signs were there, she told me that she felt like a twat for being “one of those people” who does all “those classic things wrong” like ignoring when someone’s secretly installed an app on your phone to know where you are…I tried my best to be supportive but in the end it was just too painful to hear about his next escalation after the big explosion. It went on for months and months after the relationship itself had ended, her trying her best but feeling completely awful, him threatening to commit suicide, and every time she told me about it (she was going there as he was a suicide risk and his parents weren’t coming to take care of him, completely palming his care off on her) I felt like someone was stabbing me in the stomach. And it wasn’t even me it was happening to.

In the end I had to let her know that I couldn’t hear about what was happening anymore. That it was too painful. My first instinct is to try to rescue, to try to fix, but that does not help anyone. People want you to listen not to offer “solutions”. Ex boyfriend with a history of mental illness off his meds and threatening to jump out the window? Have you tried yoga?

And then, there’s the other side. My friend told me recently that she had smacked her boyfriend. I was shocked. I had often asked her if she ever wanted to smack her partner as it was something that happened to me when I lived with my ex. I remember once, I was reading on the sofa. He came in and started watching something on TV, with his giant headphones, and I could literally hear everything. Every single word. And he’s there pissing himself with laughter, really enjoying this show, and I just had such an urge to belt him across the face. Of course I didn’t act on it, and I was shocked at my own dark desires, and I asked my friends who live with their boyfriends if that was normal. They told me it wasn’t.

But she told me she had smacked him across the face. That he had fallen asleep and that she couldn’t get in the house and…There’s a part of me that wants to talk to my friend about it. “I don’t think he remembers” she said. “Don’t do that again” I might say. Is it my place to do that? My sponsor says: “Be open. Ask open questions”.

I just don’t know what to do about life anymore. The older I get, the less the world is making sense, the more I want to go and live on an island. I’m starting to become convinced that men and women shouldn’t live together, that the whole idea of the nuclear family is a product of the industrial revolution and capitalism, meaning we share less and buy more, and I just want to take a bunch of good people and go live somewhere in peace and harmony, no more pain and suffering, no more violence. Hopefully the feminist old women’s home will work out, where we can all knit sanitary towels for girls in developing countries and compare tips on vibrators.

I love my friends. They are all beautiful, incredible, vivacious women, so amazing each of them that I can’t get laid when we go out as I look less attractive standing next to them (remind me to get friends that no one fancies so I have a chance in this cruel, superficial world!). I hope when my time comes to be in a relationship that is abusive, they will… well, there’s nothing they will be able to do. You can’t save anyone except yourself. Adults make choices based on the options that they have, or those they believe they have. I’m glad I have a sponsor to point out options I never would have thought of by myself. Let’s see if I have the courage to try them.