On Holidays:- Wednesday,15. August 1996:- It is not true that everybody who is a resident in France goes on holidays on the Riviera. First off, not everybody in the country goes on any holidays and, secondly, only rich or crazy people go to the Riviera.
The rest of us, if we can, go where we can. After several summers of wearing sweaters in Normandy, my Mrs. E. insisted we go to the sun and arranged with a colleague to rent his holiday palace, right down south, on the Golfe du Lion, on the Corbières coast. Try to imagine our surprise upon arrival to find that we were to spend three weeks in a garage. Just try it.
Mrs. E. has a job near the Opéra in an office full of French people and she brings home many wonderful tales. After the garage fiasco, she came home one evening claiming that a 'Club Vacances' holiday was the thing for us. We gathered a ton of brochures from various places, and finally picked a location on Spain's Costa Brava - with the idea that if we didn't care for the 'Club' part, we would at least be in a friendly country.
What the brochure didn't tell us, we learned on arrival. The 'Club Vacances' was indeed in Spain, but it was an entirely French operation, and the nearby town was a real-estate speculator's idea of pure profit rather than any sort of Spanish - or Catalonian - town or place. It took less than 90 minutes to learn these two facts.
The sun was definitely shining though and it smelled like Spain; that hot, piney smell, and the 'Club' had a pool for the kids. This paragraph is short, because this was the good part.
What can I say? It wasn't too bad - we overlooked the pool so we could see the number one kid; the other one I had to babysit most of the time as he was two and very mobile. Luckily, he would not step off the pool deck onto the pine needles lying on the gravel.
Everybody went to the supermarket and bought food, just like at home; brought it back, just like home; and cooked it at exactly the same time as at home. There would be a fair crowd around the pool until 13:00, then pow! everybody would go to their apartment balcony and eat lunch. This happened at 19:00 in the evenings too. As the layout of the building was a 'U' with the pool in the centre, everybody could see what everybody else was having and because of the acoustics, hear just about what everybody was saying. We would have been better off in our row-house backyards in Leeds or someplace.
The 'Club' had a bar, by the pool terrace. Although one of the fellows working there was Spanish, the management was French - so it couldn't be really classified as a 'bar in Spain' and if it had been in France its license would have been in peril. As a former bar person, I can say I've seen better bars inside small frigos in motel rooms.
The bar had the candy and ice cream bars for the kids and it also had a - pure Spanish - slippery tile floor. The sign outside saying don't come in with wet feet - even in English - was totally ignored by the kids, which I would have approved of, if it hadn't been so dangerous. The pool toilet was also in the bar.
The bar guys weren't bad sorts even though they were bored out of their minds and nursing pretty terrible hangovers all day and they were pretty happy that I had had the foresight to bring some Albert, Freddy and B.B. King tapes with me - but these could only be played after the bar doors were shut and everybody else had gone to bed - at the same time as at home, which is darn early for Spain. This meant that the bar guys could go out and get new hang-overs all night long, every night.
The closest beach, in a tiny cove, was for adventurous types - this part was the real Costa Brava - but tricky for small kids and impossible for really little ones. The beach café was like ones you see in France - basically a frites stand with hotdogs, so that was another nonplace in Spain.
The town was - not a town. It had a monster curving beach, a wide promenade, and a wall of apartment buildings, several blocks deep. On the landward edge of the buildings was the main street: a collection of trinket shops, beer halls, discos and pizzerias. I found a couple of bars that could barely have passed for every Spanish town's 'Bar Central' and at the times I was in them - before noon - they were competent enough for me to get an 'agua con/sin gas' without trouble. I only went over there to beat the rush to the cash machines.
Our whole crew did the obligatory tour of this main street one evening and it was sort of like a fête forrain laid out longways, which had the advantage of being hard to get lost 'in' even if you can't figure out where you are, 'on' it, because it all looks the same. In the mornings I went to the closest part to get fresh bread - and this is a fairly new thing on Spain's coasts: fresh bread shops - all I ever saw before were those little hard-crusted 'pans' that you get in little grocery shops - you know, the ones with the grey white part.
The 'Club' put on a couple of 'gala' evenings and I watched these from the balcony, with the little one nearby, and listened to my Walkman, as the bar guys did not play Albert King for these affairs. They played five-year-old French 'tubes-d'ete' and nobody complained at the age of them, and it all shut down like the blackout at midnight in any case.
A few brave souls would sit out on their balconies past the unofficial curfew; sipping the good grape, red tips of cigars glowing occasionally, and it was warm and the pines smelled piney and you could hear the disco motorcycle maniacs speed-shifting down on the main road, and sometimes some loud shouting and bottles breaking - you know - some typical Spanish sounds.
There was no point in wasting imagination on it though. It is a long time since I've been where I started, way down south, and it may be all changed there too - so instead of trying to imagine this place as being something that it isn't and never was - I will just remember the real places I've been. In this air, it is almost as good as being there again, and I do not think of the reality I will see in the morning when I go and get the money or the bread.
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