Summer nights began to explode into party mode. Twenty-four hour bars, sangria, tapas and open flirtations. Life was free, the nights were warm, music was plenty and we danced until dawn. In Australia, I was usually in bed by 10.30p.m. in preparation for 8.30a.m. meetings at the office. I was used to dinner parties with friends and after work drinks with suits. My curiosity was aroused. Could I adapt to this scene? With TS’s encouragement, my chameleon returned.
“I’ll meet you at 11.30pm chica, below the clock” was the familiar call as classes ended each day. There were bars, clubs, cafes, dozens and dozens of them, and music poured from everyone until dawn. The most popular bars catered for the hundreds of American sorority and fraternity “90210ers” who spilled over onto the pavements' night after night spinning American top forty CD’s nonstop. We would visit “Submerino”; “Puerto de Chus” and “Cafe Moderno" which became our regular nocturnal haunts. First stop was usually “El Litro bar” because the beer was cheap, a very popular watering hole for many of the guys on warm summer nights. Not much of a beer drinker, I managed one and then two or even three pints as a warm up before heading off to dance. As the weeks passed, we started to explore new streets, bars and clubs offering more variations. The party atmosphere never seemed to end. “La Capitan Haddock’s” attracted an older Spanish crowd and played jazz and blues. “The Sabor," was full of Latin Americans, who partied all night to traditional sambas and rumbas. “El Balcon” was rocking locals to modern contemporary Spanish top forty and “Camelot” played 50’s/60’s rock and roll in the early hours before dawn.
On Tuesday nights, “La Biblioteca” (The Library Bar) was packed to the rafters. Low, dark and loud, the books lining its walls literally fell from their shelves as the bar throbbed to the latest House music. There was a clever catch. Squeezing through the throng, students could flip heads or tails for their drinks. If they won, no charge. Exhilarated whoops of excitement resounded before being drowned in that smoky haze. During those first dawn busters, getting home in the early hours was a whole new experience for me.
It was one of those euphoric days and I had danced until 4.00a.m and the bar was still packed. My camarero (waiter) had bought me my share of free drinks and I was ready to leave. I politely rejected his passionate offer to drive me home. Through the throng of dancers in the Submerino bar, I caught Shami’s eye.
“I’m off” I intimated. Her 5’2” bare midriff, slim frame slid toward me.
“Had enough?” she yelled above the techno beat.
“Si, gracias chica. Hasta luego”
“Get a taxi, eh! Don’t walk on your own” Her words bounced away.
“Salamanca is very safe at all hours” I called back, remembering Doña Louisa’s advice.
“You can easily walk - no te preocupes” (don’t you worry). Her home was a mere 10-minute walk from the town center. I respected her advice but I trusted my TS instincts. If I can get a cab, I will, I promised myself.
I spied the exit through the smoke and stepped into the street alone. The cool night air was so refreshing that I was suddenly wide awake but I was out of luck. Dawn rush hour had not begun and the taxi rank outside the Plaza Mayor was yet to fill with cabs. After the throb of the bar, the silence of early morning sounded eerie to me. Preferring not to stand alone in the dark, I decided to walk, hoping to soon flag down an approaching cab.
City women walking alone at night are aware of the tension and quickening throb of their heartbeat while listening to footsteps echoing against empty pavements. I zipped my leather jacket and made sure my money was secure and my arms were free to ward off surprise attacks. There were no taxis in sight.
A dog barked far off as I made my way up Calle Sancti Spiritus, an uphill climb. My breathing was heavier now; my lungs struggling against the smoke from the bar, which still clogged my once pure Australian lungs.
As I turned the corner, into the main street Paseo de Canalejas, it seemed deserted. I was leaving the hub of the town center. I wished my heels were rubber soled so I could slink quietly past any strangers lurking in the shadows. The road was empty. I turned out of Paseo De San Antonio, the last downhill stretch. Behind me, across the street, a middle-aged man appeared alone under the streetlight and continued in my direction. This did not seem good. I remembered my friend’s scribbled words on my farewell card:
"You are so strong but you like all of us are so vulnerable. Please, take care of yourself first before anything or anyone else”
Thirty paces behind me, the stranger sniffed loudly. Was he catching up with me? Was I thinking too much? I couldn’t tell. I moved to the center of the road where the lights were brightest and, turning into my street ran the last few meters to the entrance of my apartment, my heart beating quickly. I knew better, but the options seemed few.
I came to realise later that my fears were unfounded. Over those wonderful summer months, we learned that Salamanca was indeed very safe. Soon we overcame our initial fears, which we had brought with us from our big and often violent cities. As the weeks passed, I often walked home alone in the pre-dawn hours, and came to relish the quietness of the dark city streets, that had once filled me with useless anxiety.
Adapting to the different rhythm of life and encouraged by TS, I danced more and more until often the night became morning. Then yawning, we would visit early morning cafes and sample “churros," sweet freshly fried bread curls, to be dunked in thick hot chocolate, a specialty of Spain. Laughing merry groups of young student men, plastered with arms around each other, would sing to the dawn. We marvelled at our stamina, cherishing the thought that the months stretched out ahead and there was ample time and friendships to do it all again and again.!