Thursday, May 01, 2008

Waking up in Andalusia

What a difference a few hundred miles and a change of culture makes. Pristine linen tablecloths, sparkling glassware and cutlery, perfectly cooked food served with attentive courteous service from immaculately dressed, attractive young waitresses. Across the room, three generations of an extended family were celebrating a young girl's first Communion while the beautifully turned-out children played happily around them.

We weren't in England, obviously. This was an average 49euros-a-night hotel restaurant near Granada last Saturday night. No overpriced junk from the microwave. No take-it-or-leave-it table service from fat-arsed spotty birds. No pissed-up shaven-headed yobs and their ugly tart wives. No demented kids writhing on the floor.

I've seen Spain emerge from a dirt-poor donkey-driven Dictatorship to a prosperous democracy where monetary aspirations have been met and exceeded and yet civilised values have, by and large, been kept and nurtured. Along the way, they've overtaken Britain where we've squandered our head start and descended into a place where civility is derided and we're sinking under a slob-centred consumerism.

Onwards to Malaga next day, Sunday, in the neat little Merc I'd rented. An old friend lives near there, in a place on the beachfront line, with an unhindered view over the Med to Africa on one side, and the jungle of thousands of concrete antheaps on the other. We've known each other almost all our lives, and it's a source of some amazement to both of us that we're where we are now, yet still the same as ever. He's been famous, had £millions through his hands and been something of an icon - still is, to those in the know. I've plodded a less glamourous furrow but somehow reached the same place - and that which drew us together in the past still binds us now.

If I'm honest with myself, though, there's something unsettling to me about our irregular contacts - something to do with seeing the ghosts of our old selves. We pushed the nostalgia buttons but the effect soon wears off, like scratching a pleasurable itch. And I found that the comfort zone I've slipped into over the last few years, when I've been forced to limit myself to what's been possible for me, is hard to break out of, so couldn't make the most of being in the company of someone I feel closer to than almost anyone else. His g/f cooked us dinner, and we rocked and rolled till late - him on guitar, me plinking on piano as best as I could.

Anyway, we all went to La Marina restaurant in La Linea for lunch on Monday, where you sit on a sun-drenched terrace with the towering profile of the Rock of Gibraltar as a backdrop, while they bring you dishes, mainly fresh-caught fish, cooked with plenty of Andalusian flair and noise. That night, they returned the favour, taking us to their own favourite restaurant, a place with a lower key ambience catering mostly for Gringo expats.

Tuesday, we were due to fly home in the evening. We'd shook hands and said goodbyes the previous night - he had a business appointment so the day was our own. I was glad, in a way. We found a cafe in the mountains, away from the identical, endlessly-congested urbanisations of the Costa, and lingered over a simple omelette and a couple of beers. Just me and Mme., it was comfortable and familiar after the somewhat rarified feel of the previous two days.

Maybe it's just a loss of confidence, I don't know. Maybe it's just that nothing's ever the same when you revisit it. Maybe (more likely) I've become too set in my ways, too used to assessing things critically. It's given me a bit of a jolt, though - I wasn't expecting to feel like that. Either way, I need to kick myself up the backside and get sparked up again. I've been in the tunnel too long.


Glamourpuss said...

Interesting. It's funny how encountering people who've known you a long time puts you in touch with bits of yourself you'd forgotten about, and makes you consider your current position. Same thing happened to me last night - as for you, it wasn't an entirely pleasant experience.


All Shook Up said...

"in touch with bits of yourself you'd forgotten about" Dead right, Puss. Bits you've lost without knowing it, too.