Back Home, Cakefree and Dried


A week at home, inhaling familiar scents, snuggling into sheepskins, easing on the old routines and remembering to wake in time for school. In the evening when Fin has gone to bed we pore over photos on the laptop, pupils dilated to absorb the light that floods every shot.

So just allow me a little indulgence, a little more time in the sun while I share some vignettes of Spain and a timeless fortnight that was almost endless and yet over too soon.

The first few days were crisp with newness, just visiting the pharmacy for suncream was a rare pleasure - people crowded up to the long counter and peered at us as we tried to explain ourselves, Nick in Spanish and me with my hands. The pharmacist smirked despite himself when I used the colloquial, 'bichos' (bitchoss) to describe what had bitten me in the night and not the more formal, 'insectos'. Eventually, after much discussion about which kind the bichos might have been, we left the shop blushingly clutching our expensive purchases and accidental faux pas to a chorus of, 'Adios!'.

We were staying in a town unaccustomed to English tourists where paleness has a rare gleam to it and all around were brown eyes and treacle toffee skin. Everywhere you looked were tiny, beautiful women, with small waists and shining black hair, dressed in the shortest of shorts and impossible wedge sandals. The men however, had gone to seed by the end of their twenties, round and frumpy looking - we watched groups of them curl their thick fingers around an ice cold beer mid morning and knew just how it had happened.

Nick spoke Spanish bashfully, waiting for his confidence to develop with his tan. Often, people would look at him as though they didn't understand a word and resort to sign language instead. They refused accept that this tall, blue eyed, fair skinned man was a Spanish speaker - even though their ears must have disagreed. Others just fell into easy conversation as we sat at a shady cafe table, or bought some meat at the market. Walking away from these impromptu conversations, Nick's chest would swell a little as he detailed some difficult verb conjugation successfully made. Consequently, the next conversation with a native speaker would start 'buena' dia', as he tried out the lazy local pronunciation with dropped ends of words and a large dollop of sweaty insouciance.

I sat dumbly by, gesturing to Nick when I needed something said. A thousand French phrases tumbled into my mouth, emptying it of the little Spanish I do know, as I said again with a smiling shrug, 'no hablo español...'  and let Nick do the talking. It felt both liberating and frustrating to rely on Nick to speak for me and trust that when we sat down to eat something, he had conveyed the importance of comida sin gluten. But we got through the holiday without a crumb entering my mouth and even found that food in the supermarket was helpfully labeled, 'sin gluten'. In the local Mercadona we chanced upon goats milk yogurt and kefir that I fell upon with unrestrained joy, as though meeting an old friend. We enjoyed it later, sweetened with a dollop of honey, chilled and shaken to a froth that sat on our top lips as we drank.

We mostly ate at home, buying fresh vegetables, huge knobbly tomatoes with a disconcertingly green hue and a fantastic flavour, small crisp cucumbers with tough skin and pips and sweet, mild white onions to make the bowlfuls of salad we ate with every meal. In the market was the freshest fish you can imagine, with displays that changed every day. Huge hunks of swordfish and tuna sat alongside spiny clams and tiny dabs.

Most of the fish we couldn't even find a translation for and just had to go on instinct - looks fresh? - ok we'll take it. As there was no filleting knife at the apartment, and no oven, we asked one fishmonger to fillet some bream that we had bought. But he shook his head and explained that this was wrong, deftly slicing the fish into a butterfly and instructing us to fry it, a la plancha, bones and all, whilst smacking his lips and making the universal sign for tasty - fingers to the mouth and up into the air with a beatific smile on his face, as though having a religious experience. We took his word for it, (because you just don't argue over food with a Spaniard) and fried them for supper. They were delicious, crisp and succulent, quickly cooked and easily boned. He was right, of course, not quite a religious experience - but almost.

After lunch every day we closed up the shutters and lay down for siesta. At first, Finley squirmed and wriggled under the change to his normal routine. We told him each time, if he wanted to be up to the wee small hours like Spanish kids - he just had to sleep. Soon enough, he would push his empty plate away, stretch languorously, yawn and inform us that he was just popping off for forty winks. We too did the same, drifting off to the slow turning of the ceiling fan and waking as the beach broke through our slumber and called us back again.

The days soon fell into an easy routine of mooching, food shopping and decamping to the beach for the long, hot breezy afternoons. Finley rolled about with his body board in the warm waves that crashed with soothing regularity onto the shallow slope of the beach. We read and snoozed, played backgammon when Fin came out of the water and when the sun started it's journey south, we made our way to the bus stop, sandy and sun-warmed, for the air conditioned ride back to town and a home cooked supper.

In the evenings the town came to life long after the sun had dipped below the horizon. Sand free and dressed to kill, we let it wash over us as we wandered under the tall palm trees hand in hand. A late night market stretched the length of the riverside walk, full of cheap tee shirts and African rush pots. Street vendors selling freshly made crisps, peeled huge sacks of potatoes whilst watching soap opera on tiny portable televisions. The warm night air was filled with the scent of tobacco, perfume and the lingering smell of still water in the drains. Children ran about us unhindered as their parents promenaded in their very best clothes. In amongst glitzy bumper cars, bouncy castles and merry-go-rounds was a bloke with a bunch of clunky looking go-carts. Each night Finley had a couple of euros to spend on amusement and he invariably chose the go carts, zooming away into the darkness furiously peddling with his knees around his ears, and then back again into the light and noise to perform a daring handbrake stop.

The nights passed in a blink; hot and darkly shuttered. Sleep left reluctantly as we rubbed our eyes and cracked open a morning window to gasp at ice cream skies and another sun filled day full of promise. 

Even the jostles of daily life, missing a bus, finding something for Fin to do, sweeping the sandy flat, all melted away on the beach. Once there, time was an irrelevance and our sojourn felt endless. I must remember in the depth of winter, when I am rootling about for a warmer jumper, that this sojourn in the sun has not ended with our return. Should I need to feel the sand between my toes again, all I have to do is close my eyes and remember.

I have a few things in the pipeline, a review of Kalahari Teas, a recipe for Spanish carrots and a little entry for Dinner with Disney - this month's theme for Go Ahead Honey It's Gluten Free!. Bear with me my lovelies while I gather my thoughts. x x x