Diary of an Acclimatised Beauty: Spain

For a brief moment I remembered I have a life in Los Angeles but not one I can return to just now anyway. My life and friendships there all on hold as I’m moderately terrified by the governor who is clearly scared himself. Why else would he classify rioting and destruction as people “lifting their voices” and “rightfully so”? Too much stress that will most assuredly undo hours of meditation and pricey microdermabrasion.

So it’s off to paradise with my Guerlain Kiss Kiss Satin Finish Miss Kiss (its #340 if you want the perfect coral pucker). Believe me it was absolutely necessary as lockdown London had dyed me its usual disagreeable shade of grey. Not too much open in Europe but I had agreed to judge the Vejer de la Frontera Standard Equestrian Show, and although cancelled, I saw no reason not to set off for sunny Spain.

Sometimes I think God made this corner of the world just for me…white sandy beaches, Roman ruins, pesticide-free wines, local artisanal cheeses and olive oil, caves, lovingly raised Iberico ham, blue fin tuna fishing methods that date back 3,000 years to the Phoenicians, and best of all—barely a hint of plastic or trace of the 20th Century.

Sin tea.

My driver carried my bags all the way into the lobby which was eerily devoid of staff. I mean, really no one. I stood at the desk of my five-star boutique hotel for a full five minutes before someone came round the corner to say “Consigo a caballero”. I know what caballero means so I waited but even he didn’t appear for another five at least. Time enough for me to outrun three wasps. The hotel was plainly empty so why it took my refusing the first two rooms before he gave me the room I deserved is anyone’s guess. Rather than causing myself a wrinkle I focused on how nice it was not to have the place overrun with nervous equestrians and the madness that comes with hosting an international event. I had noticed a box of glossy FEI magazines sponsored by Longines that would now go into the rubbish heap of Covid-19. Gosh I hope they recycle.

I called down for tea that never came. That conversation went something like this:

“Un té por favor"

“Cortado?”

“No, té”

“Café Bombón?”

“Té…TEA!”

“Café Solo?”

“No solo!”

“Ah… Café o Americano”

“NO CAFÉ…por favor té”

“Con leche?”

“Si, té con leche”

What I got was sin leche, sin tea. But never mind all of that…it was time for sherry and tapas. Overlooking moorish architecture and the verdant golf courses and polo fields, I sipped gin and tonic (they were prepared for the Brits) and nibbled on transparent strips of acorn-fed ham. Just knowing how these gentle beasts were pampered and coddled made me feel good about the world. A world that right now included just me and my pet wasp.

It was here that I remembered la procesión. The literal procession of caterpillars on all of the green surfaces in Andalusia. Unlike the friendly British caterpillars of my storybooks, these travel nose-to-tail in a poisonous procession and even when dead, the hairs are still virulent. I remember a polo match stopping because one cannot even bat them off for fear that the flying hairs can cause irritation or worse. The prudent method is to first spray them with lighter fluid and then set them alight, taking care not to come into contact with floating hairs. It occurred to me then I needed to scope out a farmacia for histamines and calamine lotion. And butane lighters.

The very next morning I headed to the beach which didn’t work out so well, as it was closed until noon. Not actually closed off-just a sign that said it was closed by order of some authority I couldn’t translate. It also explained that sections had been set aside for people over 65, no sports playing, no footbaths, no showers, and only toilets. Nearby I counted ten lifeguards smoking, and waiting for the beach to officially open. Also nearby—three nurses (presumably to take my temperature in the baking sun?) and a crew that was cleaning cigarette butts and rubber gloves off the beach. Hello twenty-first century. And hello nurses? Don’t they know the most damaging rays are at high noon? One would think they’d weigh in on this. Or the smoking lifeguards.

As I’d decided today I would partake in the freshest cruelty-free traditionally fished bluefin tuna on the planet, I made my way down to Barbate. It had previously been named Barbate de Franco when the dictator himself spent leisure time here and hoped to industrialise the town and grow jobs. That didn’t quite work out nor did a recent push to build more resorts in the area but for what it’s worth the Regional Government of Andalusia now employs about 500,000 people.

No more Romans here.

I think it’s safe to say people spanning the globe know how humane this ancient fishing process is, as refined by the Romans: one man diving into the water with a spear making the death painless and with no risk of choking. It’s an ethical one-on-one, and a skill handed down from father to son as it has been for 3,000 years. I was reminded of Hemingway’s Santiago, man against beast, no unfair advantages.

Interesting that Hemingway in real life fought against General Franco but images reminiscent of Santiago weren't exactly what I found. The process is several state-of-the-art boats that form a circle trapping the tuna inside and that's where the real drama begins. The previously dead-calm sea goes to a violent boil as the tuna thrash and twist until they are rooked into an intricate system of nets which are then hoisted up with giant power cranes and winches and pulled onto the boats, still thrashing and fighting until someone mercifully drives a rod into their gills.

Stunned, I look away and widen my gaze to the floats that hold the nets. Interestingly enough, they are a beautiful hue of french pink against the aqua sea. I couldn’t help think likely stained by blood over the years to achieve that particular patina. These elephantine creatures now piled high lower the profile of the boats by their sheer weight as the boats make their way back to land. There they are met by another giant industrial crane that the Romans, inventive as they were, most certainly did not have.

I remind myself that I am at the top of the food chain but sustainable tuna is off the menu for me today. Just as well that 80 percent of the catch goes to Japan. What I need to know is who does these people’s PR? What I thought I knew I got from rather trusted sources. I am making a bee-line (or in this case a hornet line) straight to a local winery. The upside of all the creepy crawlies here has got to be 100 percent pesticide free vino. Cheers.