I first went to Spain December 1970. I was seventeen, shy, tongue-tied to all intents and purposes, especially in Spanish, callow, and totally unused to alcohol.
The family I stayed with were inordinately rich, very kind and hospitable and, I thought, extremely old. Now, when I think about it, they were probably in their late forties, early fifties. But, as I say, they seemed old and very formal to me. They had a lovely maid who spent a lot of time teaching me basic conversational Spanish and taking me out shopping, and even one evening on a bar crawl. I hated it – I said I was shy and I really didn’t want to “ligar” or pick up anyone.
But that sounds ungrateful. The whole household was incredible and did their best to entertain me.
One evening I was told to get dressed very warmly – it was -18C outside as we were going to some tapas bars. Tio José, tía Paquita, Laurita, their niece, and I.
We went outside, our eyes and nostrils freezing over, and quickly entered the first bar. A glass of wine, a tiny plate of something, they tried to get me to eat whelks and cockles, but I just couldn’t, so ham and olives and tortilla. All very new to me at the time. Quick, quick and onto the next bar. I don’t know how many we went to. They were all tiny and packed with people. You stood st the bar where it was cheapest and quickest. You paid more if you sat by the wall or even more in the restaurant parts. I think it may still be the same. The tiles on the walls were all ornate and beautiful, as I remember, as was the lighting. The noise was incredible and so were the floors. You walked through a flurry of cigarette butts, cocktail sticks, seafood shells, and hard paper napkins. I am sure they were cleared up several times a day, but my convent girl sensibilities went into overdrive.
I don’t know which bar it was, but I eventually needed to go to the loo. My sheepskin coat was safely with Tia Paquita. I sat down and looked st the door in front of me. This very red faced and extremely giggly person was laughing at me. I couldn’t quite work out who it was or why she was there. She was wearing a very similar dress to mine – burnt orange with military style buttons strategically placed in two rows down the front – the look finished off with white lace tights and white patent plastic boots. Style! By the time I had worked out that the person opposite me was indeed my reflection, quite a lot of time had elapsed. But before anyone had the opportunity to send out s search party I emerged ready to tell the dirty tale in my rapidly evolving Spanish. Alcohol certainly does something to language!
I remembered all this today as we have just arrived in Malaga for the start if our holiday. We sort of unpacked and decided to go for a little refreshment. We turned into a side road. And there was this tiny bar beckoning to us to come in. My youth flooded back as I saw the tiles, the hams, the tapas. The barmen arguing.
We ordered some wine and Serrano and cheese. Delicious. But the floor was clean and the portions enormous. No possibility of a bar crawl here!