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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part III. South East

No Sleep on All Souls Day

Steve Porter
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Mary arrived from Edinburgh on the first of November—All Souls Day—when many Spaniards go to the cemetery to lay flowers in memory of their loved ones. The new month would also see the twenty fifth anniversary of the death of General Franco. Mick had been a student in Burgos at the time. He told us of that day in 1975 when he opened his front door to see his landlord sombrely dressed in a long black coat.

“I wouldn’t go out today if I were you,” the landlord said, “Generalísimo Franco is dead.”

Mick closed the door quietly behind him, raised his fist in the air and shouted “Yah beauty” at the top of his voice. “I think my landlord must have heard me because he only ever said two words to me after that. The rent. Fascist that he was.”

Mick asked Mary what she thought of Elche so far.

“It’s nice. But a lot bigger than I remember it to be. We were here on a day trip from Alicante a few years ago. The main thing I recall is that we couldn’t find a decent please to eat.”

Mick laughed. “You might well find that problem again tonight. There’s definitely a shortage of decent restaurants for the size of the place. I was working in Prague last year and Elche comes as a bit of a culture shock. A lack of culture, I mean. I fancied moving somewhere a bit quieter though. Oh wait. Can you hear that? Let me show you.”

We were sitting in the front room of Mick’s new flat. He lived on the sixth floor and had a balcony overlooking the street below where a car full of local teenagers was cruising past. The sound of Phats and Small was blasting out from the open sun roof—Hey, what’s wrong with you, you’re looking pretty down to me.

“I’m going to drop an egg right through that sunroof one day,” Mick said.

I was glad that I did not own a car. Parking was a nightmare. The locals, naturally keen to talk up the significance of their town, claimed that only Madrid and Barcelona had worse traffic congestion than Elche. That may have been an exaggeration but due to the wealth created by the shoe industry, there were an awful lot of cars about. The basement car parks, common in Spanish cities, were usually full and drivers were often forced to double park on the street. It seemed like Mick, Mary and I were alone in not owning a car.

We had our All Souls Day dinner at La Carreta, a pleasant restaurant which had opened up on the corner of Gaspar Ortiz, where Mary and I lived. As the South American waiter came to take our order, someone ran into the restaurant to announce that illegally parked cars were about to be towed away. This took diners, not expecting to be caught on a holiday, by surprise. Suddenly there was frantic activity as many car owners, with napkins still tucked into their collars, rushed out to rescue their vehicles. I made a mental note of this in case we needed a table at a busy restaurant in the future.

In bed at night, when the sound of traffic and music had died down, stray cats howled outside and the bin lorry rumbled by on its nightly round. The late night noise was preferable to rubbish festering in the heat, which had at least, abated at this time of year.

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationJanuary 2007
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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