In my experience, Spaniards are almost uniformly and unhesitatingly generous. Time, money, advice, directions—hundreds are the times I’ve said thank you, and dozens the times I’ve had to refuse help because I was not in need, only appearing so as I paused on my way, gazing around to admire the morning. Gracias is thank you, and gracias de todos modos is thanks anyway. De todos modos, in all manners. How appropriately extravagant the expression sounds when translated literally. All manner of aid met with all manner of thanks.
On a trail race, an extreme marathon I ran in the Picos de Europa mountains seven years ago this month, other runners offered me water and food, salt, counsel, encouragement, and, at the end, after 26 miles and more than seven hours, when cramped muscles meant I couldn’t walk a straight line, these other runners pointed me to the wading pool set up with ice and water to relieve aching legs. Four people were in already, two others taking off their socks and shoes, about to join them.
I also bent to take off my socks and shoes, and triggered a series of cramps that nearly threw me on my face. Someone was there instantly, holding my foot and pushing back against it to stop the cramp, and when the pain subsided, this kind person unlaced my shoes for me and steadied me as I climbed in, whereupon I again nearly fell on my face as a cramp twisted my leg out from under me.
Or so it felt. I had never experienced anything like those cramps in all my life, though after hiking down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I had the next day the stiffest legs I’ve ever had. In comparison, that was nothing because it was passive—it hurt in reaction to movement. These cramps after the marathon were like snakes, alive and writhing in my legs, digging fangs into my muscles. Eahh! I yelled at each new bite, and, excessive or not, my expression of pain was met with sympathy by a pool full of people who were not too preoccupied by their own pain to help me deal with mine. All around us on the sunny afternoon in Cangas de Onís, tired runners with their own stiff and aching limbs mingled with onlookers meandering around the finish zone, taking in the scene, enjoying the camaraderie, calling out to acquaintances, standing a friend a beer, and the friends of the friend, too, everyone pleased with everyone. Winners, losers, onlookers, servers in the bars, children, babies, old people—all manner and age of man and woman, it seemed, were joined on the set, performing their roles with enthusiasm. Not only had they learned their lines but seemed to believe them. Sitting in the pool, numb by then in the icy water, looking around, enjoying the scene, I believed them too. Did the water help my cramps? I don’t know, but, de todos modos, the company did.
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