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Idyllic times when fishing villages were all the go the Costa Brava

lloret-de-mar
An uncrowded beach, family-run inns and guesthouses, fishing boats and genuine local cuisine: a place familiar to millions but unrecognisable in this postcard of Lloret de Mar in the 1950s.

MEMORIES continue to be stirred as I return to flicking through those old postcards about which I wrote some time back.

And this time there were none of  the earlier struggles of recollection when I gazed at the next two postcards in my time-worn pile.

So much to remember here. So many highs. Such a crush of never-to-be-forgotten places, people, events and incidents enjoyed in a couple of weeks.

And memorable on a different level for being a time of decision-making; truly the crossroads on my journey through life.

Also I wonder about the boozed-up thousands who nowadays throng the high-rises, restaurants, bars, discos and clubs of this grossly overdeveloped strip of once idyllic Catalan shore. Do they derive even a smidgen of the happy and abiding memories that have been mine for more than fifty years?

Do they even remember from one day to the next how their yesterdays have been spent?  Do they at any time have the remotest of contact or connection with the Spanish culture, its people and its lifestyle?

For me, Lloret provided fifteen days of wonderment, unabated pleasure and a simmering of youthful romance.

It was where I first felt the thrill of immersion in another land. One so different from my own – language, food, customs, the day-to-day routines. As a simple example, it was here that I learnt how to make a salad dressing. In Britain’s austere post-war years, such a culinary basic was almost unheard of unless it oozed as a thick cream from a Heinz bottle.

But I soon learnt this basic skill thanks to another lone, more worldly, traveller living in our small guesthouse only a few steps back from the beach. He called for vinegar, olive oil (only ever seen used only for medicinal purposes), a shallow dish and condiments.

I watched fascinated as he melded them into an unctuous concoction. Part of this he spooned over our salads. The remainder he invited me to use as a dip for chunks of newly-baked bread.

It was my initiation into a world of food I never knew existed and which has given me lasting pleasure ever since.

The culinary wonderment continued. As the message on one postcard naively notes, “I had a meal the like of which you’ve never seen, consisting of prawns, shrimps, mussels and squid in a rice dish plus chicken. Paella it is called.”

I also commented, “The way these people eat is unbelievable.”  A comment probably resulting from a visit I made to the legendary Los Caracolas (Snails). It was then already more than a century-old and still is the haunt of the world’s movers and groovers.

Somehow its status among the rich and famous passed me by; I was simply in awe of the setting, the atmosphere  – and the food. This was fine dining in extremis, but done with not a single hint of snobbery or elitism. How could there be when little ol’  twenty-something me from the back-blocks had not only passed through its doors but also could pay the bill.

These explorations into the culinary world were not the only steps into unknown territory. There was my first attendance at a bullfight  (okay, each to his own) and being enraptured by the whole extravaganza.  Call it my Hemingway period.  “Will go again,” said my postcard home.

Diane and Me, Lloret De Mar 1950s
Catalan cellar nights: with Diane (get that jacket and tie!!)

Then there were the night-time excursions into the cellar bars for copious wine and Catalan folk music. This was usually in the company of locals of my own age as I broadened my knowledge of the language that I had already been trying to learn back in England.

Again there was a wide-eyed comment on the postcard: “Just got in at 3.30 am – early by their standards.”  And later, “I’ve seen the fishing fleet return three times now at way past 3 am.”

Back then the local boats would pull up on the beach and unload a haul of anchovies. Today? What fishing fleet?  In its place, terraces serving full English and “tea as mother makes it”.

Nearly always throughout this Spanish interlude I was accompanied by Diane, a delightful young woman I had met back in Worthing. She worked in her family’s travel agency which was right at the forefront of  what became a massive explosion in packaged holidays.

Already they had built their own villa in the hills above Lloret. This was also a base from which to run holidays to a handful of guesthouses in the area.  It took little persuasion to get me to book one of their Lloret de Mar packages, especially as Diane would be there to escort and guide me.

Coincidentally, not only had I been learning Spanish but also contemplating changing careers to become a tour host, preferably based in Spain.  The money was good, the commission a bonus and there was a long break in the off-season when I could teach English in Spain.

The two weeks in Lloret took me closer to making the change, especially when the involvement with Diane deepened (siestas at the hillside villa, Sunday family lunches at her home back in Worthing,  the hint of a job with the firm … and more, suggested Diane).

It was touch and go.

Then family intervened. Let’s just say my dear parents were not best pleased to have me decamp to live among a lot of foreigners, drifting around Spain, with an uncertain income and, above all, that big no-no of “no security.”

Back then parental control and influence were far stronger. Not like these free-wheeling times when even pre-teens seem able to dictate terms.

So I relented and, as is often said, the rest is history.

But I can’t help wondering down what paths I would have wandered if I had followed my passion.  And what did become of Diane?

One thing is certain; I would be making a big detour around what the once alluring Lloret has since become.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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