If you want to catch up on this story you will just have to go to the blog and scroll through at this point. I am in Spain, it is three years ago and I am contemplating having a sexual encounter with a man nearly half my age while delving into the Zen-like state of living like a Spaniard….
As I sit on the afternoon beach at Sitges, I enjoy the sounds of small naked children gleefully running about playing in the sand. Hw sad it must be for Spanish children to reach the age where they must wear a bathing suit and give up the free feeling of the sun and breeze on their whole bodies. I myself am enjoying sun bathing topless which is socially acceptable on all Spanish beaches. The absence of Puritanical prudence (and neurosis) in terms of one’s body is one of the many things I adore about the culture. On this shore covered in families and couples of every combination there is a happy relaxed feeling about human bodies. It is not that the Spanish are careless about how they look- quite the contrary is true. They are a clean, mostly lean, well- groomed bunch. They are simply accepting and comfortable in their skins unlike their perfection obsessed American cousins. Their self -confidence is inspiring. As I observe the people within my immediate radius I determine that there are women of every age, size and degree of fitness wearing bikinis. In fact I see only four women in one piece bathing suits during the entire day. These are not the high wasted, skirted or tankini styles that are popular for women past thirty-five in the States, no sir, these are real, small top and small bottom versions of the classic. These women are not hiding their post child bearing middles with wrapped towels or cover-ups, they have confidence in the way they look. They are carefree but not careless. They are inspirational. I love that their body comfort level gives me permission to expose my stretch-marked midriff and feel like I am not offending anyone. In fact I feel pretty damn good about it. At forty-six I am in pretty good shape but in my own body- conscious culture, often I feel the need to cover up with a one piece in order to conform to an unspoken rule of propriety. It annoys me that I feel I will be judged harshly by other people regarding the choice of swim suit and what body “flaws” are exposed. Just this spring I was reading an online fashion advise article that stated that women over forty should not wear a bikini unless she was in exceptional shape and maybe not even then. What sort of ridiculous statement is that? It shows how judge-mental our society is. Why should anyone care what one wears on the beach? Why should I cover up so much of my body just because it does not meet airbrushed- fashion- model- magazine -photo standards (or for that matter the standards of some twenty-something gay male fashion writer)? For the most part I act within the boundaries of acceptable hygienic behavior. I am free of hair where I am supposed to be, recently showered and wear deodorant –all things over which I have control. I am in good physical shape- which is also within the realm of my control. But the stretch marks are out of my control – so why not just accept them and go for it?
I want my daughter to be more exposed to this attitude of physical acceptance which is just more motivation to find a way to spend some real time in Spain.
I call David from my mighty iphone to brag about being on the beach and to tell him about Marianne’s idea to start a creative writing program at the University of Barcelona.
He should be a part of that. I tell him I am planning his life in Spain for him and he laughs. It would be heaven to live here for a year or two. It is the perfect time for Elinor to do it. She is still at a versatile age and forming her opinions about her body image and how society functions. A European slant on those things would be fantastic for her. It would be fun to have a cadre of Spanish and ex-pat friends (Marianne, David, Ricardo, Kirana, Gloria with yet unmet additions) to have a salon and discuss women in literature and write our asses off and live like Spaniards. I imagine dinner parties of tapas and red wine in a garden courtyard somewhere in Barcelona or Sitges, little white Christmas lights festooning trees surrounding a large wooden table. Cigars smoke and conversation about some interesting point about women in literature filling the air. There is laughter and friendship. Oh, just sign me up, already!
To live like a Spaniard is my dream life. Up early in the morning to get your work done before it gets too hot. Eat a big meal in the middle of the day. Siesta whether that means a nap, making love or both. Maybe back to work, maybe not, until 7:00 or so. Tapas with your whole family or your immediate family and friends at 10:00pm. Bed at midnight and repeat. Heavan. Somehow this schedule fits the natural rythems of my body better than my American schedule which involves getting up really early, making a substantial breakfast, going to work having a small lunch around noon, staying at work until the early evening, making a big dinner and hitting the sack around 10:00pm. On my American schedule I become exhausted every ten days or so and can barely function for a couple of days. It is the absence of enough rest. A nap in the middle of the day is so key to my happiness and somehow just works better for my body. My uncle Frank used to take a nap around 3:00 pm everyday and he lived to be 97. I could stay up much later and be refreshed the next early morning when I was teaching school and took naps in the afternoon.
The days seem so long here with this Spanish schedule and not sleeping does not help. But somehow I am managing to be somewhat coherent and not grumpy.
The beach is lovely but crowded. It is a holiday week in the summer and there are locals, Barcelonains and tourists here. After a bit of sun, I head over to a cool store located on the road that runs along the beach. GET THE NAME OF THE STORE FROM KIRANA. I try on a few outfits including a totally fabulous dress that was about 300 dollars. Everything is more expensive in Europe. Food, housing, clothing, gas, electricity, water are crazy expensive. Yet most Europeans still manage just fine without all the stuff we Americans think we need. Our European cousins also take vacations every year despite the expense of everything else in their daily cost of living. Americans can learn a great deal about setting smart priorities from Europeans who as a whole tend to take only what they need and spend money on the things that are more satisfying in life. Their houses are also set up to conserve water and electricity, cars are smaller and more fuel efficient and they walk or use bicycles much more than we do. It is just smarter. Walking along the streets of Barcelona, I also noticed that many women were wearing styles that were not exactly current but they still looked great. There is an attitude of using what you have longer and adapting things to work. How one dresses is less about trend and more about style which is ultimately more cost effective. When one dresses in one’s personal style they buy less. The closet is full of pieces that look great on one’s own figure and is suitable for one’s own coloring. Then a few key items can be added in a season to update the current wardrobe rather than replacing it with a bunch of new things.
There is one fabulous dress that I try on that would be wonderful for Spain but not really have a place in my life in Richmond. It is by a Spanish designer and resembles an outfit that Penelpe Cruz wears in “Vicky Christina Barcelona” while she is painting. It is a lapis blue and long. It is made of a delicious thin sort of crinkly cotton with a wispy silk overlay skirt that attaches to the strait cotton base dress at the hem to create a very long soft bubble skirt effect. It is truly sleeveless with two inch wide straps draping over the shoulders to a mild scoop neck. A died to match crocheted piece is sewn on top of the fabric at the bust coming down about six inches from the neckline. The straps meet between the shoulder blades to make a long racer back that meets the skirt part at the base of the spine. There are no sides to the top of this dress. I first try it with a tiny white tank top and it is very cute. Then I go for broke and try it with nothing underneath making a dramatic evening look. The soft fabric gently caresses my tanned skin and though the dress is sort of biggish and drapey it is very sexy in the way it reveals the skin. I want it but it is two hundred and seventy-five Euros- way out of my budget and since I can wear it maybe once in Richmond or around my house it is not worth it. Reluctantly I hand it back to the shop keep and head up the hill to find Pui a cute much more affordable store manned by a French girl. I purchase a corn flower blue top, a pair of earrings for Danielle, some bracelets for gifts and one for myself. I now have a momento of Sitges that I can wear anytime to bring me back to the palm trees and warm Mediterranean beach.
I meet Kirana at the church on the hill and Gloria comes a couple of minutes later. Gloria is an ex-pat of 30 years who is originally from Austin, Texas. She now lives in Sitges and has just returned this day from a trip to Turkey. She is older than Kirana and me – in her 60’s. She has blunt cut chin length grey straight hair. She is roundish and has twinkling blue eyes. I instantly want to be like Gloria when I grow up- a world traveler and someone who had the guts to get out and go to a foreign country to live. A person with a very intact sense of adventure.
Gloria chooses a Basque restaurant on the Calle Mayor called Taberna Vasca Izarra and we begin to walk through the skinny cobble stoned Sitges streets to get there. The restaurant was not fabulous for me. Small with uneventful décor with plenty of cigarette smoking taking place. Basque cuisine is very similar to the cuisine of Southern France which is lovely in France but seems affected in Spain. Why eat a watered down version of French food when there is so much wonderful food in Spain? I ordered a salad and something made from duck and a cider that is typical of the Basque region. The salad was good but the duck was bland. The cider was almost un drinkable – bitter and harsh. I felt as though I had eaten a bowling ball following the meal and remained so until the afternoon of the next day.
The heavy feeling in my stomach combined with the chatter of people and the chiming of the church bells keeps me from a good night sleep once again.