The Truth About Spain

photo: costa brava playa
Late in the afternoon, the beach looks like
it is more crowded than it is.

Based On One Tiny Deadend Place

Costa Brava:- Saturday, 22. August 1998:- Have you ever gone back to a place you didn't much care for? I guess everybody has. But I mean, a place where you were on holiday; and you thought when you left it, that you'd never see it again.

I must be getting mellow. Either that, or Spain is getting tame. Or I'm getting too old to dance.

A long couple of years ago, when we were still being poor but we had our noses full of Normandy, Brittany and garages as holiday rentals, we got a chance to go to an inexpensive 'company' apartment on the Costa Brava.

I looked at the brochure and then I looked it up on a map and couldn't find it. It was some place on the Bay of Roses and the only thing I knew about it, was that Captain Hornblower had had a lot of trouble with the Bay of Roses. He was afraid of getting caught in a 'lee wind' there.

Captain Hornblower was always worried about something even though he was a big hero. I'm glad I've since found a new captain who just says "Let's do it," and regardless of being outgunned and being on a lee shore, he out-thinks his opponents - just like Hornblower did, but without the angst - and he wins the day everyphoto: seaview, costa brava time, and revels in being a hero. Everybody claps him on the back and says, "You're a jolly good captain, mate," or some such seatalk as that.

From the beach above - its view, early in the morning.

At any rate, in this place that wasn't on the maps I had, I found out what a 'lee wind' is. Hornblower had a right to be worried. What happens is, in the morning the wind blows from shore to sea and in the afternoon it switches directions, and blows from sea to shore.

If you get your king's 74-gun ship of the line on the wrong side of this wind, and the French are coming from the sea side and you are drifting into the range of the Spanish shore batteries, you are in bad trouble. This never happened to Hornblower, but he worried about it a lot.

Sitting on this beach, about two kilometres long by 750 metres wide, trying to keep the sun off a three-year-old kid while the wind was doing its switcheroo trick, was not a fond memory.

The other thing that bothered me about this place was that it was hacked out of a fluvial swamp, and tricked up to be sort of vacation community with canals. The river, called the Muga - I am not making this up! - is still there, to the south, and on the other side of it was and is a mosquito farm, known locally as a wetlands park.

So, if on one hand, if the wind could be annoying by blowing over the stoutest parasol, it could be equally annoying if it stopped - because the inmates from the nearby game preserve could invade our little canal-riven paradise.

Fast-forward to last year when our number came up inphoto: interior hotel, costa brava the 'company' apartment lottery again, and I was looking at a two-week period in this place. Two things made it a different proposition: the, now two, kids don't have ear infections so we can use the pool, and second, the pool is surrounded by the hotel-apartment, so the wind is not a problem.

An exterior hall in the apartment-hotel.

The other problem of the general tackiness of the place - there is no Spanish town there - I chose to ignore. Perhaps best of all, I got a parking place where I didn't have to move the heap every half day or on market days.

When we went to the beach the wind wasn't nearly as strong as it had been years before, and its afternoon switcheroo wasn't as noticeable, because I spent the afternoons by the pool.

I had to go in the water a lot because the short one can't swim and couldn't stand the baby pool. He likes to play jump in the big pool, about once every fifteen minutes. Too much exposure to too much sun is bad news to our northern skins, so helping him out is sort of a free suntan lotion.

After two weeks in Venice-on-the-Swamp we bid farewell to the minuscule Rio Muga and took a short drive down to our regular ratlands place, tophoto: beach promanade stay in the apartments owned mostly by local Catalans.

For all the 'crowds' in August, some are hard to spot.

Somebody must have pulled some weight with the local city council because the garbage dumpsters had been renewed, the swimming pool on the beach is about to really reopen, and there were also one or two new bars tucked under the swimming pool - oh! - and over the winter the storm drain had been fixed up and part of the path just behind the beach had been transformed from dirt into tiles.

For diehard oldtimers, they left the wasteland between the videogame parlor and the pétanque pitch untouched.

Otherwise it was the same dump as it is this year. The mini-bus to town is the same and the driver is the same guy who will pick people up anyplace they flag him down and he always runs with the radio on a good station like Radio Sunburn.

The same ladies run our apartment rental agency and they get the same guy to fix the same washing machine that breaks on day one, and when the car mysteriously breaks down just as we are about to drive home, the same guys will come out from town in their same 1971 Volkswagen Variant wreck of a fix-it truck and will say they have to haul the heap into the garage, and the bill will be the same 13,000 pesetas as last year.

The bigger kid has been taking Spanish in school and playing football, so when he goes down to play with the barefoot Catalan kids in the dark after dinner, they are going to get a surprise.

The little one, when he jumps in the deep pool is going to get a surprise too when he finds out he's going to have to swim his way out of it.

You may think lying around a crowded beach in Spain, under a boiling sun, is a serious waste of time. When I am doing it, I look at all the other people who are seriously doing it, and it looks to me that they are seriously wasting time.

Well, this is not everybody on the beach. The other families, the ones with kids, do not get serious lying-around time. Kids arephoto: barber shop, palamos notorious for not lying around in one place for very long. If you like to read big, trashy novels, while lying around, do not try it with kids around.

Not far from the new, there is the well-kept old.

They give you about two-thirds of a page before they are in your face again. This is why I read 'Hola!' every other week. This excellent magazine tells me when Juan Carlos is on Majorca and I usually catch the issue that features the Prime Minister making the ritual summer visit to the King.

The King is dressed like everybody else on the beach in Spain in summer and the Prime Minister wears a 'prime-minister' suit. The King looks cool and the Prime Minister looks too hot.

It takes about two days to read this even though the feature usually has several full-page, out-of-focus, out-of-register, blurry photos. If by luck and I get through it fast, then I can read about Princess Ira's birthday party in Marbella.

This is so engrossing that I do not immediately notice that the kids are not 'in my face.' When I look around to see where they are, I wish I hadn't.

Where else would they be but on the rocks, diving for octopus? Luckily this is not a really dangerous activity as the local octopuses are not man-eaters. Diving through eyes-of-needles to miss the rocks is slightly more tricky. I usually decide to read a bit more 'Hola!' until I am called over to identify the bodies.

In the evenings the take-away joint has roast chickens and paella and sardines sometimes, and some Catalan version of cassoulet for people who like wieners and beans. The trick is to scoot back to the apartment, carrying a 1937 Packard hubcap full of paella before it gets cold, without burning your fingers for half of the way.

When it is dark, a gay time can be had by visiting the bars hidden under the swimming pool. There is a choice but they are pretty similar - they all have industrial-grade super-powerful stereo systems on which factory noise is played instead of music. Paris' Tango craze has not reached our part of the Costa Brava yet.

If you sit outside on their dirt terraces, you can hear all of them at once. To hear a particular one, not that you'd want to, you have to go inside; but since they are all under the swimming pool, their ventilation is not the best. It suits the 'music' though.

At one end there is a big video-game pool-hall place, which has portholes for looking at the bottom of the swimming pool. The main characteristic of this place is its cement floor and its bumpy pool tables.

Except for the pizzeria and a slightly Spanish café, this is it for local night life. The Catalans inphoto: beach, sa tuna our apartment complex therefore prefer to watch TV, and I think there is a choice of two channels. If football is on, everybody watches the same channel. Sound reception is good, even without a TV set.

One of the Costa Brava's smaller, and quieter, spots.

Older brothers call out the scores to their younger brothers who are outside, playing football in the dark. With all the windows open and everybody sitting on balconies - watching the TVs in their living rooms - there is a great feeling of community.

I wonder if our neighbors do the same thing at their homes, in Gerona or in Barcelona. I wonder about a lot of things, none of which have any connection to philosophy.

That's why there is so little to do here. There is plenty of time to wonder. I think I'll skip getting next week's 'Hola!'

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