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Smack My Beach Up III:
La Vida es Una Playa

June 14 2000

Here comes summer. This is not obvious to the untrained eye. The sky is the same insistent shade of blue and it’s no hotter than it has been since I moved here — boiling. Schools and Universities haven’t quite broken up yet, but the same number of chicas in the same, skimpy bikinis are out there turning an ever more unhealthy shade of brown as soon as lessons are over — I should interfere?
So, how does one detect the approach of what we Gaditanos call verano? Simple: it’s in the local paper. There I was in my usual bar, drinking my freshly-squeezed orange juice and pretending to understand Monday’s Daily of Cádiz, while waiting for my café y tostada. Suddenly, a picture of the local playa caught my eye. Knowing my plan to import a portion of la Caleta into the apartment, you won’t be surprised to hear that I reached for my trusty pocket dictionary and began to translate:

One module less for the loss of an arena

From the next Thursday begins to function all the equipment on
the beaches, except for a module of Saint Mary of the Sea”

By the time I’d worked that out, my coffee was cold and a passing sloth had run off with my toast. There was nothing for it but to buy a paper and study it in the comfort of my own home.
My first mistake had been linguistically understandable. What kind of language uses the same word for sand and arena? (Latin, actually … Ed.). Apparently, a loss of sand is responsible for the reduced facilities at Santa Maria del Mar. It’s all coastal erosion, long shore drift and other GCSE Geography stuff, leaving miles of golden rocks. No doubt it’s the same current that flips round the headland and dumps crap on our beach.
That sorted and the night still young, I turned to the paragraphs dealing with our little stretch of sunshine, sand and sewage. A map with helpful icons informed me that, in addition to the bright yellow waste bins we so conscientiously keep clean and empty, we are promised a “road for embarkings” (on sail boards, judging by the symbol). A horse’s head on a stick represents, not a snack bar run by the Mafia, but an “infantile zone” , and next to that a “volley beach”. To the South of the magnificent balneario, dating from 1926 and probably out of use since 1927, we have the chance to hire umbrellas and hammocks (or are hamacas deck chairs?), alongside another volley beach and a much-needed installation, which the key describes as “shower, fountain, feetwasher”.
Be that as it may, the locals here seem less than happy about some of these seasonal changes to their unspoilt little beach (this of course assumes that broken glass, fag ends and suspicious brown lumps don’t merit the use of the verb to spoil). No matter that the missing module of the new town’s beach, two kilometres nearer to the mainland, is “practically the unique modification with respect to the previous year”; Gades, the Viña residents’ association, “has denounced how the beach within the walls ‘follows even though with much delay it puts itself a point for the season of summer’”.

The “first protests” about this took place last Sunday, “with high tide and the module closed. ‘It is impossible to pass until the Club Caleta’, said the residents”. Local politics, red in tooth and claw: I wish I’d been there.
But better late than never. There’s no point living here and not taking part in local affairs; otherwise I might as well have stayed in Hampstead. I realised that my translation may have missed some idiomatic subtleties and that my continuing inability to distinguish one word of the local dialect could prove frustrating but was sure that the innately friendly Gaditanos would be impressed by my willing spirit.
How right I was. Round at the local h.q., in my best Spanish, I offered my services. A carefully rehearsed routine about the beach in my apartment seemed to pay dividends as a humorous ice-breaker. I was welcomed with open arms and a large glass of the fiercest sherry that yet stripped paint. Amid much laughter I nodded and smiled at the rapid-fire gibberish that assailed my ears and, at the end of a long evening, wove my way back home feeling that I had truly arrived in Cádiz.

The piece of paper which arrived this morning should serve as a warning to all who are tempted to put politeness before communication. The beach volleyball tournament runs from mid-July until the end of August. The semis and final will all be played on Court One and preliminary games will be played on Courts One and Two; namely my lounge and bedroom. It’s no disaster: I’ve learnt a valuable lesson — and I have got the job of supervising the shower facilities for the women’s events. Apply now for tickets: 2,000ptas, Court Two, 2,500ptas Court One and 8,000ptas, Shower.

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