Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Dispatch From Another Planet

We still are in Spain, but might as well be on another planet.

We now are in Torremolinos, a beachside resort town way down on the other end of Spain. Patrick has family down here, English people who expatriated back in the 60s and 70s into their own English-speaking enclave.

I wrote about Torremolinos before, so I won't repeat myself (I am not quite THAT old yet.) I think so far the most fun thing about this holiday is the little house a neighbor lent us to stay in. The neighbor's name is Horst, and we have never met. We don't have to, I think... his holiday house tells me so much about him and his tastes and passions that I can let my presumptions run wild.

Horst is extremely German, a Dusseldorf man with a Teutonic love for orderliness, heavy furniture, slipcovers, and bathroom humor. The house is tiny and exqisitely organized, but with little touches of holiday-home whimsy... the toilet seat is a dazzling work of seashells, marine life, and rainbows, all preserved for eternity in blue-green lucite. There are sheets draped over the protective slipcovers over the sofa cusions. And a lovely plaque is hung above the front door, carefully executed in decoupage: a portrait of a very serious tabby cat.

I am very happy and grateful to Horst for his hospitality. We will leave a bottle of champagne in his fridge when we go, and we'll make sure all the towels and sheets are washed and folded and returned to just where we found them. (A large portion of my family is German, so I can appreciate all this.)

The other fun thing is Jack, one of our fellow holidaymakers. Jack is Paddy's grandson, and he's now about 5. When I last saw him he was deep in the throes of being two years old, a painful condition for everyone within range. Apparently time helped him get over that, and now he is a delightful, bright, funny little boy. Jack and his family live in Ealing, in West London, so it shouldn't surprise me when he opens his mouth and English comes out.

But what English! It's clear, plummy London, with words straight out of a Noel Coward musical and said in a sweet little-boy voice: "Mummay, wheh's moi bathing costume?" he cried out yesterday across the garden (It's "garden" here, not "yard.")And it's "bathing costume," not "swim trunks.")

Jack is my step-grandson, a part of my family. And he sounds so foreign to me!

But in a place like Torremolinos, "foreign" is rather lacking in meaning. Here I am, an American, vacationing among the Brits and sleeping in Der Deutsche Haus, here in southern Spain. I wake in the morning to the sound of Spanish garbage collectors shouting in heavy Andalusian accents as they bash steel trash containers ("rubbish bins," I mean) down the concrete alley, a racket I'm sure brings joy to the black hearts of trashmen all over the world. Across the lane I can hear Jack singing an ancient English nursery song to his little sister ("Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, like a tea-tray in the sky"... but that tune? Mozart wrote that, I know. And in the background of his song Sponge Bob Square Pants chatters from the TV set. So good to know my homeland contributes so much to international culture.

For breakfast, sharp black linseed bread from the German grocery, and real Dutch Maasdammer cheese, and Colombian coffee, and apples flown in from Israel. Through the walls the duplex neighbors are playing Portuguese Fado music. I spent a relaxing hour copying out recipes from a Thai cookbook.

And now everyone else has gone into town. Me and the dogs are lazing here, contemplating nations and identities, accents and locales, enjoying the songs of cicadas and air-conditioning units, chillin' by the baby pool out on the patio.

Planet Moratinos is a long, long way away. I wonder what the chicken girls are doing today.

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