I often hear from expats who have trouble integrating into their local communities. For some, life may simply revolve around a bar culture, because it is there that they will meet expats like themselves. Other expats often slip happily into fully taking part in local activities and social events for expats, with many also joining in with local community activities, particularly when confidence with their language skills develops. This was my experience of expat life in the Costa Blanca, where the range and variety of available activities, as well as the willingness of expats to take part always surprised me. Whoever said that the British are reserved?
Of course, there are expats who live in parts of rural Spain and the Canary Islands, where it is not quite so easy to take part in social activities, and particularly when it is necessary to travel at night, with events often beginning at 9.00 pm, and with very little or no public transport available. This is often where hobbies and interests become important if craving for expat television is to be avoided.
A few weeks ago, I was drawn to a sound from a musical instrument that I have not heard for many years. I recognised the instrument immediately and followed the deep, rich, flowing melody to its source. It was a cello, and lovingly played by a young man in the main street of our small town. I had never seen the cellist before, but he was clearly a highly proficient musician. I sat on the wall nearby and listened as he skilfully made the cello ‘speak’ to anyone who would listen. I stayed for some time listening and remembering a time when I played the violin in the school orchestra as a teenager. I remembered that I too had wanted to play one of the school's two cellos, but as I was not particularly skilful, my request was denied and so I was destined to play second violin during my time at the school. Last year, I resumed playing the violin once again after a gap of many years. As is the case with riding a bicycle, early learned skills are not easily forgotten, but it is just more painful with the passage of time!
Over the subsequent weeks, I thought a lot about the cellist and my experience on that sunny morning in town. I found myself searching for and listening to cello music, and particularly performances by soloists. Eventually, I made up my mind to learn the cello. It was, after all, another stringed instrument, which I am used to. Admittedly, I would not be tucking this instrument under my chin, but a new challenge is good for all of us, isn't it?
Last week, my new cello arrived from Germany. It is a beautiful and amazing instrument that arrived in an enormous box. I had assumed that it would arrive by courier, and was amazed to find our postman struggling to deliver it in his car. The car seats were folded down, as there was hardly enough room for the postman, let alone the rest of his post. It took two of us to lift the instrument from his car and into our house. He admitted that he was delighted to be rid of it! Amazingly, my order took less than a week to travel from Germany, which also included a short spell in customs, which again is unusual over here.
So there we have it; a chance encounter with an unemployed cellist during a shopping trip to my local town has led to what appears to be a life changing experience. I am busily ploughing through the tutor book and enjoying every minute of it. I should also add that most municipalities in Spain offer instrumental music tuition, usually in groups, and at a reasonable cost. So, if you have ever felt the urge to learn the Spanish guitar, now maybe is the time.
Expats be warned. If anyone sends me an email complaining that they are bored with their new lives as expats, I shall now be recommending very firmly that they take up a musical instrument. It is both mentally and physically challenging and may lead to all sorts of social, as well as musical experiences. As for me, I may well consider taking up the Spanish lute (laúd español) next year.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.
© Barrie Mahoney