As Christmas loomed the BLF [Bloody Lady Foreigner] got tired of my noncommittal ‘yeah I’m coming I’ve just got to sort out XYZ, I’ll book flight’ and bought me a ticket to fly out on Christmas eve for dinner with her mum and dad. So I could take a turn at being the Bloody Foreigner or ‘Guiri’.
Fly to Alicante; turn inland away from English Spain, towards desertification of ‘Spanish Spain’. The hillside towns of Alicante look great in twilight, all the grey cemento seems to disappear and each town’s illuminated hill top castle, sitting above a carpet of terracotta roof tiles, gives the place its picture-postcard Spanish-ness. BLF’s mum and dad live in a converted office block.
In their 80’s they look back on Franco as a good man who did a lot for Spain, and like so many right-wing atavists who have moved from the country, have decorated their house by looking back over an idealised rustic past; recreating it, through rose-tinted glasses, in plastic, in the 70’s. It’s er ‘Spanish’. Like all families that remember wartime deprivation, food is a cipher for love and Spain being the land of the never-ending meal mum means business. She has every kind of slicer and dicer, a fridge the size of a black cab and her own doughnut making machine(s). Churro’s and hot chocolate, become eggs, spuds and black pudding, which become tapas, which seamlessly becomes a lunch of soup, peas served as beans rather than greens, and cold-cuts, followed by beers and tapas which are a warm-up for dinner [four courses] after which its time to go for drinks which come with more tapas. All you have to do to be a good son in-law is to eat the lot. My kind of place.
The BLF’s brother turns up for the Christmas eve meal, sporting that ‘covered in adhesive and plumbing grime’ look BLF finds so annoying at home and sits at the table stuffing his face. While his mum and one sister wait on him. The BLF explains “If he even carried his plate to the sink he’d be on his knees sucking a bag of dicks like your Krissie Dee, its serious, washing up could turn a Spanish man queer.”
Mum is the easiest person to understand in Spain. She works to a simple formula; everyone not born in Spain is both stupid and deaf, so she shouts. S-l-o-w-l-y. It’s great. On Christmas morning I’m making coffee: a gasp of horror tells me Mum has joined me in the kitchen, she hustles me away from the stove and makes the coffee herself. As I walk back through to the bedroom with the coffees BLF reluctantly sits up in bed. Cheerily I tell her ‘Your mum says you’re a lazy slut and a disgrace to Spanish womanhood’. ‘How? How did she say that? She doesn’t speak English’ I point to my forehead ‘Telepathic-O chica!’
Same day. Several meals later. In search of local colour we head to the campo to visit a ghost-bar. Two guys owned a successful bar in town, they sold it at the right time and one of them took his share, building a traditional villa with a walled garden and a view. Being a generous sort he invited his former business partner and best friend to share in his good fortune selling him some of the land. The other partner it turns out had always harboured ambitions to be an architect, not the kind of ambitions that lead to architect school, the kind that leads to a giant cemento golf ball blighting the buena vista. From a distance it all looks very 007, close up its more Blake’s 7. No one ever goes there, he sits outside it in a deckchair, scowling, and his former best friend no longer speaks to him.
No Spanish travelogue is complete without the extended family meal story. Fortunately we have a surprise birthday party to attend. Without the slaughtering of a pig its pretty similar to a gathering in blighty. Three generations, all with their own take on the local fashions and food. Same-same as here, the men own barbequing and all forms of outdoor cooking, the women are in charge of tearing the Tortilla into small pieces and keeping the kids safe from dads who are discovering their inner macho with a chainsaw. Away from the potential bloodbath the Gazpacho Manchego team are enthusiastically butchering Quail, Partridge, Rabbit, Chicken and three kinds of blood sausage for the huge wok, which bubbles over an open fire. The meats are precooked in a broth, allowed to cool, before being de-boned and added back to the broth with the tortilla as pasta in a very loose soup. This time the Gazpacho Manchego was game and country food, which includes snails, seasoned with thyme, but you can have it with seafood and saffron.
Some of the guys like their food, up-close-and-personal too, so we talk hunting in spanglish. Well, we try. I’m asking them about a very small bullet we use for shooting rabbits: the .17HMR. “Here .22 is minimum” So far so good, emboldened I try "desafortunadamente in ingless fantastico pour caza conjo” I thought I was saying ‘that’s unfortunate in England they’re fantastic for hunting rabbits’. I’ve announced that we use them for hunting cunts.
BLF: ‘He only knows four words and he gets them wrong”
Looking in from the outside Spanish people seem to adhere to a dress code. Mum put her housecoat back on the moment the Christmas meal finished, dad was never seen without his uniform; green cords, and cashmere long-sleeved polo in dark blue. An outfit so ubiquitous among men over 55 that I’m not sure they even sell them in other colours. When women reach a certain age they seem to favour dying their hair a russet-biege and collecting clothes and bags to match, you’ll see whole streets of them in the shopping district. It was good to see that that traditional and international symbol of latin womanhood in a cold climate, the shiny puffer jacket was making a comeback “ if its shinny its smart, not too sporty”. So now we know. At the do the chicks all remind me of my ex-wife; skinny, glamorous, super strait dark hair, big sunglasses, and wonky teeth. BLF explains ‘Only extractions on the health service, and in Spain no fat woman can have sex, we don’t have pub toilets and car parks like England, she’s got to stay at home crying with her mum.’
Before we leave we make a trip to BLF’s favourite watering hole “We’re going to Café Poof”. “So you collect GBF’s here too?” “We don’t have any words that end in B so we pronounce it F”. At Café Pub I make a reasonable fist of ordering ‘same again’ for everyone else and a double espresso [café solo, dos, misma copa ] for myself. My Spanish is shit but the waiter clearly understands. BLF wades in with protracted further instruction, the waiter is now looking proper confused. “I told him what I wanted and he defiantly understood”. ‘When you can speak Spanish you can order anything you like’.