Mediterranean Matters

Travel time: May 2004  |  by Neil Hougham

I love the Med and I love in particular Spain (but not too touristy) and the Greek islands. This summer I am well overdue for another trip, laptop and writer's notebook in hand. But first, here is a memory of holidays passed.

Frozen Orange Juice

In common with half the population of the UK (and indeed much of northern Europe) I have at various times holidayed in Spain or Greece or Italy etc., courtesy of that 20th Century leisure phenomenon, the package holiday. And although it was the packages that first introduced me to the delights of Mediterranean life, I have returned many times: sometimes on another such holiday, sometimes by scheduled flight, and sometimes by car, flogging it down the autoroutes. Dover in the early morning haze, Lyon by tea-time for a well-earned night's rest, and then onwards, still pushing south on our migratory course until we skip past Perpignan (if we are bound for Spain) and cross the border into the land of the Basques.

It doesn't matter where you go from there - inland onto the hot Spanish plain or down to the coast, all sand and sangria. We all have memories of such holidays: frozen orange juice (I'll buy you one more... Peter Sarstedt, I think), always crème caramel for pudding, calamine lotion, and little black plastic bulls.

There are many stories to tell of such times, but for me the single solitary purpose of those trips is the calm and stillness that follows noon, when all true Englishmen are met by only mad dogs as they roam the streets. I prefer at that time to sit in the shade and not actually siesta, but certainly do nothing more energetic than turn the pages of a trashy novel.

Picture the scene. It's hot and dusty. Could be southern Spain, but it could just as easily be a Greek island. It's about one thirty in the afternoon, the July sun is at its zenith, and the stillness almost throbs in your ears. The cicadas keep up their own steady rhythm section, if one was required. The heat beats back off the concrete patio at the back of the villa. The high white painted walls keep out prying eyes, and the old black-clad maid is well indoors by now anyway, checking her lottery numbers and dreaming of Enrique Inglesias. On the table are two wine bottles, one empty, one half so. The clean plates show that the pasta salad was of some note. There is shade beneath an olive tree that grows close to the wall, its shoots picking away at the cheap mortar as if in an effort to escape the confines of the garden. By the tree is a large beach towel, and on the beach towel are a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses, a Steven King novel, and a bottle of factor fifteen.

You go inside to escape the heat, and the tiles are as ice cold as the patio is surface-of-the-sun hot. Tripping quickly across to get onto the sanctuary of a reed mat in the kitchen area, you gain the six-foot Kelvinator fridge. Cool air rolls out as you open the door and grab a bottle of Heineken and you briefly press it against your forehead: heaven! A sudden weariness makes your shoulders droop and your knees sag; well, maybe a siesta wouldn't be such a bad idea after all.

The bedroom is typical of its breed: twin beds with brown wooden frames, carefully designed to catch your shins as you stumble to the loo at three in the morning, a brown wood dresser with a small glass vase and some fading dried flowers, an old armchair, and a cavernous wardrobe that ten thousand woodworm call home.

The sheets are crisp and white, and you pull the shutters close, just leaving a chink for whatever cool air you may be lucky enough to find. The pillows are soft though and you snuggle under the sheet, getting drowsy to the lullaby of the insects outside the window, and the crack of the stones in the heat.

© Neil Hougham, 2004
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The trip
Start of journey: May 2004
Duration: unknown
End of journey: May 2004
Travelled countries: Spain
The Author
Neil Hougham is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 17 years.
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