Little has changed in the seven months since I was last in Santa Catalina. Spring and summer have been and gone. The bad news is that Juani and the boys have moved to join her husband in Barcelona. The small bar that she kept on the Plaza de Franco was the most popular in town. Seems it’s been joined to the bar next door by knocking a hole through the wall. I wonder if the owners know? Juani never did get the hang of running a business, not really sure on which side of the bar she would rather be; something she managed to overcome by dancing on top of it at every opportunity. But then again, she never knew on what side of what she was ever meant to be.
Ten years of practice couldn’t quite adjust her from the state of being single to the one of being married. Apart from the ceremony, it was a condition completely beyond her understanding. At heart she saw herself as a painter, something her hand never came to terms with. In the boundless enthusiasm I came to love so much, she’d hang her latest oil on wall of the bar for us to admire, before it even had a chance to dry. I’ve still got part of one on my favourite leather jacket. It might be worth something one day.
And like everything else, though the idea appealed, motherhood proved a bit of a dilemma. Not that she allowed it to distract her. Often out of the house as soon as the bar called to be opened, and just as often before, the boys had learned to raise themselves. At the ages of three and seven that might seem a little hard. Yet, though they’re too young to appreciate it now, it’s something they’ll almost certainly never regret. The experience of being raised by Juani might have seriously damaged their unformed brains. After cooking and eating their suppers, hand in hand, they’d turn up at the bar sometimes. Just to make sure their mother was all right before putting themselves to bed, I suppose. A peek through the door of the bar showed she must have moved out pretty quick as she didn’t have time to take all her paintings with her. I hope that the new owners leave them where they are.
We knew her days were numbered when the brewery stopped delivering and she was reduced to buying supplies from the local supermarket. She’d been using the back of the bills to sketch on.
Those who were there still talk about the last New Year’s Eve at Juani’s. It was the year most of Europe changed over to the euro. It was also the only night she made a real profit. Ten euros was an awful lot to pay for a glass of beer back then, but in the confusion many did. Juani didn’t realise her mistake until it was too late. Luckily, I had enough pesetas left not to get caught out. Though the art world might be a far better place, it’ll be a sad day for the boys if she decides to take up parenting seriously in Barcelona. Left to fend for themselves, they were doing so well.
These days, the fishermen have taken to using Manolo’s bar. Too many tourists were getting into Paco’s and he raised his prices accordingly. Aside from his generous credit facilities, Manolo’s good for the odd fag or two to see them through till their boats come in, if they ever set out. Fishing isn’t what it used to be, Antolin keeps telling me. If overfishing is the problem they’re doing more than their bit to solve it by not going out.
But the holiday season shone brightly on Manolo, what with the mass defection from Paco’s, so the aftermath may see them through till Christmas. He charges one euro for a bottle of Coca Catalina. They call it that because he serves it in recycled Coke bottles. He pours the rough white sherry from an old brandy bottle which in turn is tapped from an oak barrel. His really is the real thing. I shouldn’t have had quite so many on my first night back. Though little changes in Santa Catalina there’s always such a lot of news to catch up on.
Click on to the second short story in the series The Danish Botanist.
This version is a re-edited version of the original article that appeared in the Independent under the title A Winter’s Tale. Despite being informed that the first paragraph is repeated in the version posted on the internate, the paper can’t be bothered to correct it.