A couple of days ago I boarded an Alvia train for what turned out to be the journey from hell. Not to exaggerate, but what I witnessed in there was also, I think, the social remnants of Francoism, or perhaps even the Middle Ages. What I saw was the following: three retired couples sharing jokes about “fags” and “gypsies” at the top of their lungs. They screamed; they roared; they bellowed. Meanwhile, two children ran up and down the aisle hitting passengers while their mother barked at her ex-husband on the phone. More vociferous couples showed up. A man produced a bandurria, a mandolin-like string instrument, and began to sing songs.
I complained, and they laughed. They couldn’t understand why I was complaining
I ran for help. I found the conductor and explained the situation. As I was wrapping up my exposé, the conductor got a phone call. It was his wife. He started talking to her in a loud voice, too. When he was finished, he told me to change train cars. Which one should I change to, I inquired? He replied that things were looking bad because the train was packed. Then he laughed. Then he walked away.
I went to the cafeteria car, where I encountered half a dozen young people in athletic garb, bawling at one another and taking selfies to share online. I went to the bathroom. There was a turd floating inside the toilet. I returned to my seat. The party was going strong. My train car had morphed into a local bar, into a filthy village gambling den, into an obscene county fair filled with “olés.” The only thing missing was people smoking and spitting. It also smelled bad. You could hear the farts concealed under the laughter. A lecherous-looking man in his seventies was wearing suspenders with the colors of the Spanish flag. I was forced to hear all the village gossip from the mouths of my travel companions.
Two children ran up and down the aisle hitting passengers while their mother barked at her ex-husband on the phone
Two seniors in their eighties started to dance. One of them fell on top of the other’s wife. “You touched my wife’s tits!” laughed the husband, his voice tinged with a barbaric euphoria. Later, they took out the cold cuts. They ate cheese and chorizo and drank wine from a wineskin. They burped. They bent double with laughter. They were celebrating their trip to Madrid. I found out all of their names. I also learned the names of all their relatives, whom they phoned from time to time. They argued about where they would go for Christmas. They were all part of some sort of club that organized recreational activities. But what I was seeing was not at all recreational. I was witnessing the appropriation of public space by a group of ill-mannered, uncouth and even cruel Spaniards. Because bad manners in Spain are a form of cruelty toward other people.
I complained, and they laughed. They couldn’t understand why I was complaining. It was not their fault that they lacked manners, because they were not even aware that a train car is a common space. They did not see me, like they did not see the other passengers. They were the only people who existed in the world. They, and their cruelty towards the rest of us. They were not bad people. They were simply the eternal return of a Spain that never fully disappeared to begin with. I felt nostalgic, a dark form of nostalgia for myself. Because this is where I come from.
English version by Susana Urra.