We were sitting at the bar in The Donegal Irish Pub in Portugalete, Bilbao.
‘How was work?’ Arantxa inquires.
‘Good. I had my Adult Conversation Class today.’
‘Interesting. A chance to talk about risqué and taboo topics.’
‘You said ‘Adult Conversation,’ right?’ Arantxa inquires.
‘Yes but…It’s not like that. It’s just a conversation class for adults who want to practise their English.’
‘Shit. I should probably get the name changed, now that you say that. Anyway, I showed them this clip from youtube; Wolter’s World. Ever heard of it?’
‘Basically, this Wolter’s World thing – it’s a guy who travels around different countries and does two lists; 5 things he loves and 5 things he hates about whatever country he’s in. So I got the students to do their top five loves and hates about places they’ve been. Then I did my list; On Bilbao.’
‘Brave. What did you say?’
‘Whattya wanna hear?’
‘Well I love the blinds here.’
‘The shutters, you know? Outside your window? They make your room sooo dark.’
‘That is the best thing about Bilbao!!?’
‘I didn’t say it was the best thing. But it’s one thing about Bilbao that I love.’
‘Still! It is not a very good thing to say. Shutters! What else?’ Arantxa scoffs.
‘Well; I love the Irish bars too – like here, the Molly –‘
‘Okay. I’m joking!! Relax.’
Arantxa takes a sip of her pint.
‘Go on,’ she says warily.
‘The cafés. I love the cafés here. The coffee is good, you can get tasty pintxos, you are allowed throw your rubbish on the floor and everyone always says goodbye when they are leaving. People here use their cafés. It’s part of the day. And it’s usually the owner front of house. I like that. You get the same person every time you walk into a place. Although, sometimes I pity them.’
‘It’s like they set up this café and now they are tied to the place, you know? They never leave.’
‘Yes. But it is like that for you when you are, how do you say, self-employed.’
We reach for our pints.
‘Okay. What else?’ Arantxa asks, warming up.
‘Hills. There are lots of hills here and they are right next to the city. Plenty of hiking opportunities. I love how you can get off the metro in central Bilbao and walk to Pagassarri where you have amazing views of the city, the river and the sea. Then, in the other direction, hills as far as the eye can see.’
‘Yes. It is beautiful.’
‘You guys are so proud of your metro here, right? It’s fast, it’s immaculate it’s economical and on Saturdays it runs all night. I remember one time, during Aste Nagusia, I was getting the metro around 4 am with a beer in my hand. And this guy made that gesture with his fingers, to indicate he was watching me. He was telling me ‘Don’t spill that beer on our metro.’ I remember looking around and realising; I was the only one in the whole carriage with a beer. And it was like 4 in the morning during Bilbao’s biggest festival, you’d expect people to be a bit messy. But not on the metro. That’s how proud you guys are of it. It still looks brand new and it was built back in what…’
’1995 I think.’
‘It’s funny; In the cafés you make a mess but on the metro, you keep it clean.’
‘That is just the way here.’
‘Yeah. Anyway, the transport here in general is good.’
‘Another thing I love is your culture.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well here I am in Spain- ‘
‘The Basque region,’ Arantxa corrects.
‘Well that’s just it,’ I chuckle. ’I love how you guys have your own identity. You have your own language which is pushed a lot more than Irish is back home. You have your own sports, like pelota. You have your own festivals like Aste Nagusia, San Thomas. You even have your own Santa Claus in Olintzero.’
‘And our own jokes too. The Patxi jokes.’
‘Yes. They are jokes about how strong the Basque man is. The Basque man has a reputation of being very strong.’
‘Cool! Like Paddy Irish man jokes. But that’s it! I love how the Basque region has its own culture. And if I go to Galicia; they will have their own thing going on too. That’s great. I mean with globalisation and TV we are all watching and eating the same shit. It’s the stuff that sets regions apart that’s interesting.’
‘Sure. Okay, so that’s five.’
‘What? No it isn’t. I’m not finished yet.’
Arantxa counts it out on her fingers.
‘The blinds, the cafes, the hills, the metro and our culture. Five, no?’
‘Oh shit. Well I wanted to mention the people.’
‘What about the people?’
‘Well – people here are very friendly. Also, they love the Irish people. I was in a bar last Saturday watching England V Ireland and all the locals were shouting for Ireland. Some even had jerseys. They are generous too. There has been a lot of nights out where locals have bought me drink…’
I smile until she gets the hint.
‘Perdón. Otra mas?’
‘Sii!!!Una mas por favor!!’