SPAIN HAS CHANGED….
Diana Rodriguez reminisces on how Spanish ways of life have changed
My first visit to Javea was in 1962 when I was 14 years old and my family came seeking the sun. Both my parents grew up in the Far East and I was born in Singapore so the cold, grey weather of England really didn’t suit us. Thoroughly tired of the cold weather, my parents decided to buy a place by the sea in Spain. My mother saw an advertisement in the newspaper of houses for sale in a little village on the coast of Spain. One miserable, freezing November day, my mother left England with my sister and arrived in Javea, Alicante, to blue skies and brilliant sunshine.
They visited several “casitas de campo” and finally decided on one that was built on a hillside with views over the valley, the sea, and all the way inland across the mountains. My mother had to consult with my father about whether to buy it or not, so she booked a call to him in England at the telephone exchange in the village. When she arrived at the appointed time, she discovered that the whole village had turned out, casually standing by the exchange to overhear the foreign lady speaking ENGLISH!
The following July, my whole family (parents, grandmother, my sister and I) drove over from England all the way through France for our first look at the house. What an adventure! That first summer there was no electricity, no running water and of course no refrigerator. For light we used candles and a couple of gas lamps and for water we had an ‘aljibe’ – an underground water reservoir with a bucket to pull up the water. Once a week we would order a delivery of fresh water which would arrive in a little tanker pulled by a small tractor. To keep our food cold we would buy ice from the ice factory down by the river. My father had bought a small moped and it was my job to go down each day to buy a block of ice to put in the cold box. I’m sure you have all seen photos of French people riding a bicycle with a baguette strapped on the back – well, imagine me with a yard-long block of ice strapped on the back of my moped!
We were the only foreigners in the village and because we had a car everyone thought we were really wealthy – there were only three other cars in the village and they belonged to the mayor, the doctor and the notary. Everyone else used a cart or a carriage pulled by a donkey or a mule or, if they had the money, they would drive a Vespa motor scooter. A man driving and the woman sitting sidesaddle on the back was the norm. During those times, it was considered indecent for a woman to ride astride.
My sister and I spoke no Spanish but we made friends with some of the girls in the village and we were welcomed into their group. Every evening we would join them as they went ‘de paseo’ (for a stroll) around the village. At that time, under Franco’s dictatorship, there were, of course, no miniskirts, no cropped tops, no bikinis and very strictly controlled mingling of the sexes. So our ‘paseo’ consisted of a group of ten to twelve giggling girls who would wander around the village and – oh so casually – ‘bump into’ a group of boys who considered themselves manly and irresistible and would show off by talking loudly and pushing each other around. We would be under the eagle eye of the mothers and grandmothers who would be sitting on low rush-seated chairs in the street in front of their houses as they wove baskets, knitted or made lace. This meant we could only stop and chat for five minutes and then would have to separate and move on.
Once a week there would be a dance in an open-air patio with a live band and everyone – young and old – would dress up in their best and pay their 3 pesetas to go in. We’d then spend three hours dancing and chatting and giggling and making eyes at the likely boys and young men – all strictly chaperoned of course. No respectable girl was allowed to go out by herself with a boy so she always had to be accompanied either by her older married sister, by her aunt, or by some other suitable chaperone. In those days the Guardia Civil could impose fines on couples caught kissing in the street. Even holding hands in public was frowned upon !
My grandmother caused a sensation as, although she was a widow she did not dress in black. At that time in Spain most women – even young girls – wore black because of the strict rules of mourning. If you were not in mourning for seven years for a parent, it was four years for an aunt, uncle or sibling and of course if a woman was a widow she wore black for the rest of her life. Many young women even had to marry in black if they were in mourning for a family member. However my grandmother did not – in the village they called her “la abuela rosa” (the pink grandmother) because she mostly wore pink or pale blue and she received many an envious look from the black-clad women of the village.
The following summer, electricity -although unreliable and with the current fluctuating constantly–finally arrived. This meant we could have a refrigerator and even use a hairdryer, a great luxury at the time. We also had a new water supply but that too was unreliable – it came from a private source belonging to Rafael just up the hill from us, and it ran through pipes that were buried only a foot below the surface, so any vehicle driving over them would break them. We discovered years later that Rafael would fix the breaks by wrapping the broken pipes with old sacks, a pair of trousers, discarded sheets, plastic bags…. No wonder we had no water pressure!
Twenty-five years later, when my husband and I moved to Javea from California in 1987 and enrolled our children in the village school, life was very different. Our house had undergone a transformation and Spain had moved firmly into the modern world and there was a large foreign population who resided in Javea to enjoy the sun. Many Spaniards spoke English. Nearly every family owned a car and many of the young people went off to university in Valencia or Alicante.