Sensory Pleasures – Rota, 1972 E BOOK

From Monday to Friday I was busy teaching at the bilingual school in El Puerto de Santa Maria. When I wasn't teaching I was studying Spanish and practising new vocabulary and verb tenses with the two Spanish teachers I lived with.

Week-ends were completely different for that's when I got out and about and mixed with other foreigners.  On Saturday afternoons I made my way to Rota, to hang out with the Americans who worked on the Naval Base. There were also people from Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand, and Scandinavia who were travelling the world, just drifting around. It was bit like meeting characters from James Michener's book,'The Drifters', and I felt intrigued as if my nose and ears were tingling with sensory pleasures.

There was the smell of Brut after-shave, Head and Shoulders shampoo and Dial soap as well-showered faces greeted guests, ready to entertain and be entertained.

I couldn't tell the difference in accents between the Australians and the New Zealanders, and the Americans all sound the same to me. They laughed loudly, even although most of them weren't happy to be in the navy, nor in Spain. They only signed up so that they wouldn't be drafted to go to Vietnam. I loved the delicious aroma of charcoal being fired up as they got ready for a great barbecue of huge thick steaks. Midst grilled meat, cold beer and Mateuse wine we thought only of what was happening right now. We didn't talk of the Vietnam War nor of Generalisimo Franco. I guess we were all drifters, just passing through, getting along despite hangovers and dirt roads.

It was a pleasure to converse in English with adults, instead of children. It was thrilling to meet people from so many different places.  I felt as if I've stepped inside a play or a novel and I was part of a journey that was going around and around, with no destination in mind. I was reminded of Joni Mitchell's song, 'The Circle Game', and I marvelled how it seemed as if Time had slowed down, that all that mattered was who and what was in front of me.

On the radio blaring forth from an open window some woman constantly told anyone listening to take a 'navy shower' in order to preserve water. Her voice sounded soothing, seductive, even, as she explained that you should lather up and then turn the water off until you were ready to rinse.

"Take a navy shower..."

Parts of Rota seemed more American than Spanish.  There were streets where all you heard was English and where the bars were endless. Benny's Bar, The American Bar, The Sangria Shack, were just a few that the Americans frequented. Not everyone was pleased with the American influence. Some of the local people were quite vocal in their appraisal of the American presence and  they discussed loudly their thoughts whilst playing  games of dominoes.

"The Yanks cause trouble!"

"I certainly don't want my daughters mixing with them!"

The car rental dealers, however, were happy with the influx of American sailors, as were the landlords who rented out their flats. The bar owners were over the moon.

"The Yanks bring in lots of money!"

Since apparently the American government paid Spain tons of money for the privilege of using the Base, I guess then, those who were annoyed with the presence of the Americans should have taken it up with Generalisimo Franco?  But, do you really think that a few locals in Rota could have influenced a dictator?  After all, in the United States people were demonstrating, protesting the war in Vietnam, yet still the war continued.

Sometimes you have to wait and let events sort themselves out, allow for the vagaries beyond our reality to settle into a peaceful routine.

Regardless of the influx of American sailors, Rota still managed to retain its charm and authenticity.
In the evening, when the Rotenos strolled about hand in hand down to the harbour, when children squealed and darted in and out as they chased one another, you'd never have knowb there were so many foreigners living there.

The Spanish routines of the paseo, (stroll) of children being up late, of whole families sitting outside talking, of lovers gazing at the stars and the fishing boats, all continued. You could still hear the dripping of water on tiled balconies as the geraniums were watered, and you could still smell  that comforting aroma of garlic and olive as it trickled up your nostrils.

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