Talking About Small Things: An Ode to Summer

Emil “The Real Deal,” pool-ready

Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability. — Sam Keen

It’s early September. The days are still sunny and hot and the sea and the pools still warm, but now, when I awake around 7:00am, it’s dark outside. The solar lanterns we’ve hung around our casita are still glowing brightly. The sun doesn’t think about rising until a good half hour later. In the shops, the strappy sandals and the string bikinis are on sale. The supermercados have back-to-school supplies on display at the ends of the aisles: notebooks, 4-packs of pens, glue sticks, and what I have learned to refer to as “cello tape.”

In Jávea, when the calendar turns from August to September, almost overnight the crowds are gone. It no longer takes twice as long to drive from our home up on the ridge down to town. Parking is plentiful. The beaches are still lively but once again, there is breathing space, and the locals are cautiously venturing out to reclaim their spots on the sand or in the outdoor cafés for what many consider one of the best months of the year.

August traffic jam

There’s been no rain for weeks — months, really. But that’s okay. This part of the world was built for summer. As am I. I love the long days, the relentlessness of the sun. I love the many sailboats with their crisp white sails that contrast with the clear aqua sea — an iconic Mediterranean image — and the kayaks that glide along silently through the water in the early morning softness, as the new day’s sun still hangs low on the horizon. I love the multitude of busy lizards, darting in and out among the rocks, changing from green to brown and back again in accordance with the landscape. I love laundry that dries in half an hour — even the towels — and the hum of the cicadas, which I hear but never seem to see, collectively playing their daily afternoon lullaby that rises and falls, then rises again, in rhythmic, impeccable unison. 

And I love the casualness. As someone who considers Gizeh Birkenstocks in silver to be dress shoes, and who up until last year thought “a bold lip” meant sassing one’s parents, I crave the summer when everything gets stripped down to the bare essentials; what you can carry with you to the beach for a long afternoon. It’s a reminder how little we actually need to have a good day, a good life. 

Sun-dried tomatoes, the old school way, at Riurau de la Seniola

Except for the driving in July and, especially, August, I even love the crowds. I find the energy, the boisterous noise, and the color they bring contagious. I love the smell of sunscreen, the sound of hordes of children playing in the waves, the languages spoken by tourists and day-trippers — German, French, Arabic, Russian, Dutch, Norwegian — as they call to their kids, stroll along the paseo, or pause to study the menus posted on the walls of the Arenal restaurants. I don’t even mind the loud — too loud — whine of two-stroke engines on scooters and motorcycles that buzz their owners to the beaches, the tennis courts, the bodegas, or just laps around neighborhoods up on the ridges above town where the cops are fewer.

I love the twenty-somethings who glide along the sand and the sidewalks, coolly oblivious to anyone older or younger than themselves. They shimmer as much from youthful beauty as the sun’s rays, in their sandals and suntans; the girls in long strappy dresses and top knots, the boys in tight T-shirts, and socks pulled up to the mid-calf, which has suddenly come into vogue, and wearing shorts that, in America, would be considered too short. They glitter through days on the beaches into evenings full of music and cigarettes and Aperol Spritzes, which turn into mornings at cafes lingering over coffees and perhaps one last caña before sleeping it all off the following day, sprawled atop batiks spread out on the rocky beaches.

Sun days

In summer, I often choose to take the long way home; the Cabo de la Nau road that twists and winds its way up to the of the steep ridge where we live. Even though this means I am often behind a line of cars packed with families or young people, which creep along at a snail’s pace, the eyes of the passengers sharply on the lookout for any sort of space along the road — a narrow rocky ditch or slight clearing on the edge of the pine trees — that could be considered a parking spot. From there, they can continue on foot to the beach at Cala Blanca or La Barraca. Even after the most careful of parking jobs, which maybe only every other car bothers to do, a good third of each vehicle still sticks out in the road forcing drivers to reduce their speed even further. In addition to the drivers, there are many others who are riding bicycles, often slowly, and often up the middle of the road, as they are allowed to do. Even more are walking — from where, I can’t imagine — loaded down with beach towels, folding chairs, umbrellas, sunscreen, water shoes, water bottles, water floats. The men walk in pairs, in board shorts and no shirts, carrying heavy ice chests between them; each with one hand on a handle, and with the other, a boogie board or a small child.

I could choose one of two shortcuts but I don’t. They bore me, and in the summer I’m in less of a hurry to get places. And I would miss any number of the micro dramas that unfold as I pass by in my car: the bickering over a parking spot; multigenerational families ambling along, an abuela in her modest and sensible summer dress holding hands with her teenage granddaughter in a belly shirt and Brazilian thong; two young women walking slowly up the road in linen cover ups and rubber flip flops, faces angry, yelling at one another about something, when all of a sudden one of them starts to drop — in almost comically slow motion — the precarious pile of the multitude of beach items in her arms. Her friend (sister? cousin?) watches as first the sunscreen, then the water bottles, then the umbrella all fall to the pavement. She continues to take a few steps forward, ignoring her companion’s plight, before her conscience gets the better of her, throwing up her hands, pivoting, and running back to help. They both start laughing. Once, a couple was standing in the middle of the road, in a deep embrace for a good two minutes, without the slightest concern for the line of cars they were blocking, until they finished their goodbyes and walked in opposite directions to their separate cars. Very few people honked in protest. Most of us have been there before. We’re patient with young love.

The early bird en route to catch a parking spot…

In the summer, my husband and I fall asleep to the sound of house parties up and down our street. If we awaken in the middle of the night, the revelers and the music are still going strong. When we get up for the day at 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning, they are only just beginning to wind down. The music is lower, as are the voices, but no one is quite ready to call it a night. I find it comforting to be surrounded by the sounds of life. 

Likewise, in the mornings, the early risers of each family head outside to buy bread. They amble along in no particular hurry, in fedoras, pressed shorts, and long, flowing sundresses. And they almost always walk, since in Spain, like most of Europe, supermercados or bodegas are found on almost every street corner, and even the most basic of them crank out fresh bread each day. People buy it by the armloads, still warm from the ovens. Buying daily bread is a sacrosanct tradition. And it serves as an excuse for stopping for a coffee beforehand, to look out over the sea and remember the night before.  

Summer staples

Summers are for chucking daily plans or scrapping a to-do list in favor of meeting a friend for a morning coffee at Nostro or the Austrian Bakery, or for an evening aperitif at one of the chiringuitos — pop-up bars that in summers dot the otherwise empty part of the beach between the Arenal and the Port. And over a café solo or a Campari and soda with a twist, we  can “talk about some small things,” as one of our friends calls small talk in his imperfect-yet-sublime English. 

Solstice in a glass

Today, September 6, is the first day of school. And today I bought a watermelon — a big one — as I do roughly every other day, because in summer they’re almost all I eat. But this time when I cut it open, its flesh is pale, and it tastes faintly of cardboard. It will be the last one I buy for the season. In the meantime, I will hold onto my memories of summer. 

In the meantime, I will recall all the small things which, more often than not, are those that mean the most.

Cheers. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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