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El Pasado es Otro Pais II:
Tambores y Biquinis

31 August 2000

Although these garabatos are not intended as a line for emotional washing, it may be worthwhile to provide background to this Andalusian Adventure, if only as corroborative detail to give an air of verisimilitude. So let us lie back on the therapist’s couch and regress to the dark days of 1997, the year which has as good a claim as any other to the title, “when it all started”.
Well doctor, I remember Bryan Ferry singing, “Nevertheless, communication: this is the gift we must not lose.” Sad to say, that commodity was in short supply that summer, due to pressure of work, documentary crews at the Proms and who knows what else. So we were in dire need of our holiday in Andalucia. It was even worth missing the last week of the Proms to have two weeks to ourselves for relaxation, recuperation and renewal.
Therefore we have to ask ourselves: why on earth did we arrange to go on holiday with other people?
Yes, Doc, I did nearly say, “with her parents?” But heaven forfend one should ever stoop to a cliché like that, even in pursuit of a cheap laugh. In fact I like to believe los tesoros can be counted among my dearest friends. Likewise la frisada’s old school chum la abogada and her friend la medica. Ah, what an ominous ring has the phrase, “it seemed a good idea at the time.”
The first real problem was that, though all seemed well when we booked, when the time came to wave goodbye to Blighty, we were in dire need of solitude (some would say that one of us was in dire need of shooting). Our first week was spent in an isolated hacienda west of Ronda, where it was horribly tempting to rip off all one’s clothes and jump — okay, as a non-swimmer, “step gingerly” — into the pool. Not the sort of thing one does in front of one’s out-laws. In my case, not the sort of thing one does in front of anybody of a nervous disposition.
Secondly, of the six of us, four were English and happy to stay that way, with a cuppa at five and dinner at eight, while we had a pretentious need to go native, snacking on tapas all day and eating under the stars at midnight. So when the kitchen turned out to contain a teapot but no paellera, there was the distinct feeling of being trapped in a John Mortimer novel.
Many Tortillas could be fried up using the spiritual battering of that week. As they would not reflect well on this particular survivor, if that is the right word, it is with some relief that a veil is drawn over the superfluous details.
Suffice it to say that, when the party split into its constituent pairs, an even more frazzled couple left Ronda for Cádiz. Now, before la frisada could even begin to get over the Summer of Strain she would need to recover from the Week with a … there must be some suitable word beginning with ‘W’ but it escapes me.
The long, tense drive to the coast left her feeling tired in body and spirit, so it was no surprise that, despite some delicious tapas at el Faro, she was eager to get to bed at an English time. Back in what the Hotel Francia y Paris amusingly terms a suite, we flopped onto the sofa in our tiny salon and I turned on the radio, only to hear the familiar sounds of the Last Night of the Proms.
That could have been me, partying with people pissed enough to want my company, rather than sitting in a drab hotel room with a partner too tired even to stab me. The Prommers sang Auld Lang Syne to mark the end of another season and a tear formed in the corner of my eye and a regret at being in Cádiz that I would have never thought possible filled my heart.

Just then I heard the sound, like Jim Reeves before me, of distant drums. I went over to the French windows, stood on the “balcony” and looked out over the square in the direction of Calle San Francisco. The tattoo got steadily louder and then, in the corner of the square, eight men materialised. Doing a wild, whirling dance at their head was a guy with long, black hair, wearing black tights and braces which stood out against his white singlet. Behind him came four more dancers, less frenetic in their movements but dressed in matching silver mini-dresses and knee-length silver boots. Each one was topped off with a red curly wig, as if it was frisada night down the tranny club. The final three were similarly attired percussionists, two side drums appropriately flanking the proverbial big bass, hammering out the rhythm for their terpsichorean companions. They progressed in this manner through the square and disappeared off in the direction of Plaza de Mina, their drumbeats fading into the balmy southern night.
The people drinking at the pavement cafés in the square watched them go by with an occasional smile as if to say, “Ah yes, eleven thirty: men in dresses dance by: very nice.” Apart from that, in true Gaditano style, all eyelids remained thoroughly unbatted. And, with a big smile of bemusement on my face, I turned to la frisada and said, “You know; I fucking love this town!”

But her malaise was not so easily dispelled. After all, your correspondent had been a major supplier and, when he supplies malaise, it stays supplied. Excursions to places like Medina Sidonia were diverting enough, before we dumped the car (a depressing experience in itself, as the hire base was in the middle of the industrial centre; all but inaccessible, and thus unleavable, without a car, necessitating a long walk down dusty, lorry-hurtling roads without pavements under the hot siesta sun — sorry doctor — yes a little more valium, thank you …) but there was always an undercurrent of discontent.
And currents lead us back, by a convenient modus of recirculation, to La Caleta beach and the wide Atlantic Ocean. There we gravitated and spent our afternoons trying to get back in touch with whatever you therapists say we should be in touch with. La frisada was encased in a minimum-risk swimsuit, fine and practical for the local baths but rather out of place here. Oh, there were plenty of one-pieces, in both senses of the term, in evidence: that’s the essence of the place: nobody cares, wear what you like. The point was, that rather shapeless item was increasingly not what she liked. And, one fine day, she announced that she felt frumpy and ridiculous and was heading into town to buy a bikini. In the emporium in the Plaza de las Flores, she bought four small triangles of material and two pieces of string.
We were back on the beach faster than you can say Alex Garland and, as she strode out into the water, looking pink and magnificent among all the overcooked local youngsters, I thought, “My God, she is gorgeous”, “How radiant she looks” and other corny stuff like that.
After a short swim, she rose from the waves, a pre-Raphaelite Venus, and rejoined me, dripping, on the towel. Within seconds the top had been discarded and that radiant smile was back on her face. And she said that she knew of no other town in the world which could work that kind of magic on her troubled soul so quickly.

Of course, that was not the end of our problems. We were able to create new ones when we returned home. But what I’m trying to say, doctor, is that, compared to your pseudo-scientific profession, with your vested interest in endless repeat visits at exorbitant rates, a stay in Cádiz is the perfect therapy session. Granted, I still have a troubled soul but you could never do anything about that either. And living here makes it easier to cope with, so I won’t be needing you again. This is just to say goodbye to you and let all the other troubled souls out there know that we can now offer the perfect rest cure at extremely modest rates.
Forget Freud, Jung and all their little wizards. Let the magic of Cádiz work on your neuroses. Send now for our full colour brochure.

Terms and conditions apply. Your mind may be at risk if you do not keep up the payments.

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