Untitled articles of my year in León: Part One
“It’s very cold in León”.
Everyone says “it’s very cold in León”; people from León say it, people who haven’t been in León say it and people who heard that it is cold in León also say it.
When I told a few people that I was going to study for a year in León, that I got accepted as a student in the Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad de León with an educational grant from Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores del Generoso Reino de España, a lot of them said “Oh, it’s very cold in León.” Filipinos who have been in Spain said it. Filipinos who haven’t been in Spain said it. Spanish professors in the Instituto de Cervantes de Manila said it. Filipino professors in the Instituto de Cervantes de Manila who have been in Spain said it. Everyone made that remark to me and the only other comment that stood out was “Oh, the current president of Spain (José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero) is from there….” This was immediately followed with a brief pause… “and it’s very cold there, too.”
I wasn’t even in León at that time, yet I already felt cold. But if you have lived in the Philippines all your life, you really can’t fathom what’s going to be cold and what’s very cold. My sole reference to colder climates was a brief visit to Baguio City. That’s it. I could only do as much as imagine a different kind of cold. There was an excitement to finally witness, touch, taste and smell snow and see your warm breath condense and thicken in the air.
“Bring some warm clothes.”, they told me. I thought the same thing: if you have lived all your life in the Philippines, you most likely have no idea what warm clothes are.
I arrived there early October. I didn’t see snow. I didn’t see my warm breath in the air. There was a chill in the air. It was sunny but you didn’t sweat under the sun. It was nice. It smelled of earth. I was hoping to see red leaves, orange, auburn or brown leaves and see them fall from the trees. Not yet. It was still summer technically, last days of summer. Autumn was upon us and there was the fulfillment of the promise of the very cold to happen.
Let’s fast forward to the present: sixteen years later, I now have an idea of what’s cold and what is warm. My body is acclimatized. It is informed. My brain can now distinguish different levels of cold and warm. It can tell what dry cold is, humid cold, hot, dry hot and humid hot. Yes, I now know what warm clothes are. And now, I look back to those months of October, November and December in León and I take a pause and wonder in amazement.
I have to say that I was freezing! And I use the word “freezing” deliberately. And I know that I survived the freeze because I didn’t know better. It is funny.
The university dorm was on the other side of the city and the Centro de Idiomas was on the other side, downtown… near the river Bernesga . In the early mornings I would see my fellow university students, heavily dressed, as they went the opposite direction to the faculties as they call it Ciudad Universitaria, while I, alongside other Erasmus language learners, was going downtown. I recall it now.
They were looking at me. I was probably a sight: Asian, dark, snotty, teary eyed, chapping dry lips carrying a happy disposition to learn Spanish and clearly underdressed. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?
I remember having Irish friends, Swiss classmates, Americans and Japanese! And the only person who addressed my lack of layers was this girl from Lesotho, Ithabi. African. Sweet classmate. I would arrive in class, go to my seat and take my very, very, very thin jacket and reveal that I had only a short-sleeved cotton T-shirt under it.
I remember her approaching me and asked, “Aren’t you cold?” Long pause. I looked at her. “Because it is really, cold. Aren’t you cold? That’s all you are wearing?”, she followed.
What you didn’t know couldn’t kill you. I really didn’t know what cold was. Fast forward again to the present. Damn. I was a Viking at that time.
To be continued…