Freshly shorn Marigold sporting a new look
This blog post was missed off the end of the previous one – search as I may for a convenient scapegoat I can only blame pilot error - but here it is now, even if this means the poor old blog remains somewhat out of sync as regards actual timescales.
Madrid does not typify Spain or Paris even remotely reflect the rest of France. Similarly, Marbella is a world away from most other Spanish resorts while Portugal’s Algarve is almost a foreign land compared to most of the rest of the country. There are great swathes of both Spain and Portugal where tourists never go and if by some mistake they do, they never linger and the world passes these places by. Where we are today, for example.
We're still in Spain, but only just as the border with Portugal is just down the road. We moved on up the coast after leaving Cadiz, thinking we'd swan around Portugal for a few days, but the weather turned for the worse so we've decided to head back south again. We're in a frontier town which is like frontier towns all over the world: sad, tired and lacking a clear identity.
Scudding clouds careen across the sky, driven by the wind whose ubiquitous presence had dominated the past two days. We sought refuge in a bar; dingy on the outside but where bars in that misbegotten region where Spain morphs into Portugal are concerned, appearances are often deceptive. Marigold glanced around and turned back towards me.
‘Fabulous,’ she said.
It wouldn't have been most people's description, but I knew what she mean. Inside was dark, more than a bit gloomy in fact, but there were heated trays of tapas on the bar, a fair number of customers and a sign that said ‘free wifi.’ Such are the expectations of twenty-first century customers: not just beer and wine, but food and wifi as well. Mind you, the place itself was pretty grim.
A middle-aged man shambled in behind us. The man’s complexion was the colour of wallpaper paste that had been allowed to stand in the bucket overnight. Complete with lumps. He stood in the doorway as if carrying a heavy rucksack, slightly stooped over and a pained expression fixed to his face with an air of permanence. His clothes were dark and faintly musty, hanging in loose fold with random creases at inappropriate points.
My first impression was of a sepia photograph depicting some unknown ancestor long since departed discovered while searching through a shabby trunk in the attic. Had we entered the Twilight Zone? The man behind the bar grunted at the new arrival, he grunted back at him and went to sit at one of the tables at the back where another group of Adams Family impersonators were sitting.
The landlord shouted something I didn’t catch into the curtain behind the bar and a woman poked her head out and then came from behind the curtain, surly expression rooted in place. None of the drinkers even glanced at her as she collected the debris from the tables, empty glasses, crisp papers, her expression bleak enough to curdle milk.
We ordered a few tapas and a drink and took one of the free tables. After the initial staring that every stranger knows and expects in an unfamiliar town, conversation resumed.
Our food was served with a side order of indifference. The waitress was bored and didn’t mind showing it. Even so, it was excellent. Piping hot and quite delicious.
Marigold chose well. I usually defer to her expertise when it comes to tapas. She knows what I like and if one of the more unfamiliar selections turns out to be almost raw bulls’ testicles– yes that did happen once – I escape any possible censure.
We got online after asking the barman for the password. I’d already tried 12345678, which is a good old standby in the less sophisticated hostelries, but no good. The barman scratched his head and laboriously wrote out 12346789. Impressive. Just miss out the number 5 and you have an unbreakable code. Bet the Bletchley Park chaps would have been up all night trying to crack that one.
A problem arose when Marigold needed the facilities. She was the only female in the bar and there didn't appear to be a ‘Ladies.’ I made enquiries and the landlord nodded reassuringly. He escorted Marigold to the appropriate door and stood outside, on guard, arms outstretched in silent warning to other customers that a lady was inside. When Marigold reemerged, she was shaking with suppressed laughter and on the verge of hysterics!
‘I was laughing so much I could barely pee,’ she finally managed to say.
Outside the door, the town was dying and seemingly not even bothering to fight back. Empty shops littered the area and the few passers-by wore shabby clothes and an air of defeat. The decline of a town is usually a gradual, creeping metamorphosis, but here its inevitability must have been evident for some time. Not even worth opening a file or conducting a post-mortem. Self-inflicted death with the inhabitants as willing accomplices would be a coroner’s verdict. It was time we moved on. By tonight we’ll be far away and tomorrow the sun will be shining.