I felt a faint chill as I weeded the Spanish garden, on this autumn afternoon in Ohara. The garden at the back of our house, I designed in memory of the time I lived in Spain. Each time I sit here, I recall the happiness of those months.
When we lived in Spain, there were fewer rules and fewer guests! My mother was very much in love. The gaiety and warmness of the Spanish people had made her more romantic and friendly. Day by day she gradually became more open and relaxed. She forgot that she was born into the Curzon family, and so she began to speak more frankly to our nanny Dingding, who had come with us and she became friendlier to the local people who lived in the village.
We must have been living there in the summertime, as I remember that we all had a siesta every day after a very late lunch. In the heat of the day, we slept on our beds under the soft mosquito nets. Even now living in Ohara, I still every summer like to sleep in a Japanese linen mosquito net. It’s good to keep away unwanted insects and when I am in it, I feel as if I am in my own special world.
At that time long, long ago, I was still only five years old when we lived in Barcelona. I loved to read. My father, who was living in Switzerland, always sent me a present of a picture book to read with his letters. So when we arrived in Spain I already had quite a collection of storybooks. My mother never ever read to me, for she was always so busy but Dingding would help me with any difficult words that came up in the story. My brother Charles who was still only three, on the other hand liked to play with mini cars. He would make wild funny noises imitating the sound of a car while they raced around his cot bed. After a while he would fall asleep and the room became suddenly very quiet. A little later, I also gradually closed my eyes …
After our rest, Dingding woke us up and we changed into our swimming costumes. She then took us down to the beach for a swim in the sea. The sound of the waves crashing on the shore, made me wonder how big was the size of this miraculous world that we live in? The sky in Spain never failed to amaze me, for it was always such a perfect powder blue. Still afraid of swimming in the sea, I began to collect sea shells that were lying on the golden sand. I used them to decorate the sand castles and moat that Charles and I used to make. We became so absorbed making them that Dingding had a hard time getting us to return home to the villa.
I loved the food in Spain, paella, risottos, exotic vegetables and lots of fresh seafood that were caught earlier every morning in the nearby sparkling blue sea. My mother during our time in Spain, grew to love and cook all kinds of seafood and Mediterranean cuisine. For unlike England, there were many more kinds of fish and shellfish to discover in the early morning markets. Also there was a wide choice of summer vegetables to choose from. Every day she walked with Dingding to the nearby market to buy fish and exotic vegetables, which she loved to cook and also to eat!
I always remember the enormous height of the summer sky in Spain, the Sea and the sun mingled in the same beautiful Azure blue colours. After our siesta in the afternoon we would sometimes go for a long walk together along the promenade to watch the sun setting in the evening sky. We would usually stop for a drink in a café on the way home. Unlike England, people had dinner very late in Spain. They waited until the air had cooled and the evening sun had sunk over the sea. Generally we had dinner at 9:00 or 10:00 o’ clock when the air becomes cool and fresh. Sometimes Dudley would light a fire to cook large paella for us all, outside on the barbecue in our garden. We could easily see the Mediterranean Sea from our villa, for the lights of the fishing boats twinkled in the dark night sea, while the cicadas sang us a chorus in the nearby trees. Dudley always preferred to cook outside, whether he was on a boat or on a beach. He was always a happy person looking on the bright side of life.
After dinner my younger brother Charles and baby Caroline were put to bed, as they were still too young to go out at night. I would beg my mother to allow me to go and watch the flamenco dancing with them. I don’t think they took me to the bars every night, but sometimes I was allowed to go with them. I still remember being amazed by the joy and vitality of the dancers. Sometimes, I was invited to join in and dance. The rhythm of the castanets and the stamping of their feet were very exciting to me. Above all, every one who was there looked very happy as they danced.
In those days Barcelona was still a classic medieval town, with many old grey stone walls and cobbled streets. The house that we lived in was very homely, it had five bedrooms upstairs, all the walls were whitewashed and the floors were made of simple polished stone, covered with colourful hand-woven rugs. The furniture was made of simple, rustic pine. It was unvarnished and solid looking. Each room had a wooden chest of drawers, beds and a wardrobe. Mosquito nets hang over each bed and huge fans whirled constantly from the ceiling to keep the house cool on the hot summer nights.
Most mornings Dingding would wake us up and make our breakfast. Caroline was still sleeping quietly in her cot. Dudley and my mother were still fast asleep, dead to the world after a very late night flamenco dancing!
Each day we would go to a Spanish kindergarten four to five days a week. Being so young, we quickly learnt to speak Spanish and because I had dark brown hair and brown eyes, I was often mistaken to be a little Spanish girl
In the early morning, Charles and I would cross the rail tracks and walk with Dingding to the nearby catholic school. Dingding would carry our satchels and say good morning to all the passers by. I can still remember some of the Spanish words I learnt while we lived there. The kindergarten was next door to an old Catholic Church. I was happy to make new friends to play with, and the nuns taught me how to write the alphabet and sing Spanish songs. They were very kind to us. The kindergarten usually finished at one o’clock, when the sun was at its highest in the sky. Charles and I would walk alone slowly back to our house.
Many of the shops had already closed for lunch. The sun was hot and high and not many people were walking on the streets at that time, just a few old Spanish widows dressed in black. Together they were sheltering under the cool green shade of the trees. Their sun burnt faces were half covered with black lace veils. They would be chattering with each other, sitting outside the thick wooden doors of their local church.
If we were especially good during the morning, the teachers would reward us with a beautiful ribbon sash. All the old Spanish ladies would then pat our heads and call out in Spanish “You’ve been good today, haven’t you “Keep it up!’
I remember one day being rewarded with the widest pale pink satin ribbon, I have ever seen. I walked proudly through the cobbled streets, while everybody “ohhed” and “ahhed.” I think that was my first experience of having that sweet feeling of success and of having achieved something by myself. That day had a profound effect on me. After that experience going to school became a place, where not only could I learn and play with my friends, but it became a place where if I tried my best, I could become top of class and feel that I had done something by my own individual power and effort! That feeling was to propel me and motivate me throughout my childhood.
One autumn evening in late September, we all went to see the annual festival of ‘La merce.’ In the Catholic tradition, it honours ‘Our Lady of Mercy’. Crowds of people lined the pavements of Barcelona as this ancient procession solemnly passed by. I can still picture it in my mind, the huge ten meter high carve wooden statues of giants and mythical gods. They were followed by the slow procession of tall wooden statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary. They were being moved over the flower covered carpeted streets to reach the Cathedral. As the statue of Saint Mary passed me by, I closed my eyes to pray.
As I watched the procession, I felt in awe of the statues
It took me a long time to understand who they were. Something slowly began to stir in my heart after that day in Barcelona. The nuns while I was there in Spain had taught me a very important thing. They taught me how to pray.