Stand and be Happy or Give Me a Bush! - Rota, Spain, 1974 FOR E BOOK

There was one thing that I did not like at all about living in Spain. Guess what that was?!

The public toilet!  No only was it a question of dealing with the oddest of odd toilets which tended to be a hole in the ground, but it was also the extreme lack of said public toilet. Beggars can't be choosers, and I guess a hole in the ground, if you were lucky enough to come across it, was better than the rear end of a bush.  As for the toilet paper, well, don't get me started. It was like brown wrapping paper.

One day,  I was driving along a narrow country road going towards Rota.  Maybe I should have used a rest room before setting out, but, who would think that there wouldn't be any toilets ANYWHERE?! Rather than hide behind a bush, I stopped at a teeny tiny bar at the side of the road hoping there would be a public toilet. Please, show me the hole in the ground so that I may stand and be happy!

"Can I help you, senorita?"  What a pleasant man. He smiled at me, pleased that he had a customer.

Desperate as I was, before I even ordered a sherry or gaseosa, I blurt out, "Is there a toilet here?"

"Of course, of course. Senorita, of course."  He seemed pretty definite that there was a toilet. Good news.

"My aunt will escort you."

What? His aunt will escort me?  Why?

"I'll be able to find it. Thank you, anyway."  I was trying to be nice and polite. Just tell me where the bloody toilet is so that I can end my misery.

A woman appeared from behind the beaded curtain at the back of the bar. She was short and chubby and was wiping her hands on her dress. She looked like a nun, dressed completely in black. She was wearing a long gold chain and hanging from it were a medallion and a crucifix. In the medallion was the photo of someone. I wondered whose photo it was?

"Senorita, you want to use the bano?"

I was practically jumping up and down at this stage, but I managed to blurt out, "Yes, could you tell me where the toilet is?"

"I'll escort you."  She extended her arm as if to show me outside.

Gosh, where was the toilet? Outside? I didn't see any toilet when I parked my car.

"Come with me, senorita."

She beckoned me to follow her outside into the late afternoon sun. Where were we going?

Next to the bar was a shack, for want of a better word.

"Come, come with me." She's grinned, revealing really ugly teeth. Her face was like the land, all dried up and lined, and she smelled of garlic and strong cheese.

Now, I wasn't sure what was going on, but my bladder was in dire distress, so I had no choice but to follow her.

"In you go." She indicated the shack.

Oh, the toilet was in the shack?  Odd.

It was dark inside and there were no windows. After fumbling for a switch I began to think that perhaps the electricity has been turned off?  Or worse, maybe there wasn't any electricity. I hoped the old woman wasn't going to mug me, I really did.

I had to strain and strain my eyes in order to see. It was worse than being inside a picture house.

Guess what I saw?

A bucket!

I wasn't sure if the bucket was empty. While weird images flashed around in my mind the man's aunt announced, "I'll stand guard. In case my nephew or any of the other men come in."

I felt so very rude and ungrateful when I declined the use of the bucket. I mumbled something that even I didn't understand and started to back out of the shack.  I don't know what shocked me more, doing the toilet in a bucket that others may have used and whose bodily excretions could very well be still lurking around. Yikes!  Or, having the woman stand guard as I emptied my bladder.

The human body is strong. Its fortitude knows no boundaries. Somehow I clenched my bladder with every muscle and convinced myself that relieving myself behind a bush was much, much better for my health, my sanity, even my modesty.

In the Playground - Miami Playa, Tarragona, Spain, 1981

It's the summer of 1981. The school year is over. No more driving up to Salou for several weeks to my five year old son's school, El Colegio Elizabeth. Instead, my days are now busy with taking him to different activities. Down by the main coastal road there's a swing park that we frequent. It's a pleasure to watch him smile as he runs about and interacts with children from different places. Being a foreigner isn't so important here in the playground.

You can hear French, Spanish, English, and Catalan ringing out in between squeals of giggles and loud laughter. But, it's the giggling that is the common language.  It binds the children together and supersedes all adult concerns about politics, prejudices and the latest shocking events in the news.

For example, here in Catalunya, Catalan is being used more and more. It's become a scandal almost. People say that in order to get into the university at Tarragona you need to speak Catalan. Too bad if you're from Madrid, or some other part of Spain, for the chances are that you won't know Catalan. At the end of last term at El Colegio Elizabeth, some parents got angry at meetings. They had asked a question in Spanish but the headmaster responded in Catalan.

"Catalunya is part of Spain!  Spanish is the language of Spain. How dare you answer us in Catalan!"

Even at the weekly market, from one week to the other, all of a sudden everyone is speaking in Catalan. Normally they speak it among themselves, certainly not to foreigners.

"If you're going to live here in Catalunya, you better learn Catalan!"  Yikes. What happened to the normally cheery woman whose oranges I buy?

I've already learned Spanish, what more do they want? If Catalan people were to live in Scotland, nobody in Scotland would expect them to speak Gaelic or even any words remotely related to the Scottish dialect. Stuff that up your jumper.

All around me young children communicate with one another. It doesn't matter if they're talking in French, Spanish, English or Catalan. They offer toys, they offer smiles, they chase one another and run zig-zag in make-believe worlds where everyone is accepted; where even the baddies and the goodies change roles.

I keep thinking about the actress, Romy Schneider who has just lost her son in a freak accident. It's been in the news a lot. He was climbing over a metal fence and got impaled. I can't get the image of her son being impaled out of my mind and of how she, his mother must be feeling. I wonder how many other parents are right now overly-protective, fearful that something similar could happen to their children?

When my son runs over to the swings with another little boy I shout out to him, "You be careful! Hang on tight. You could fall and hurt your head!"  But I don't think he hears me due to the laughter of the  children in the playground, and  the music coming from the bar close by. It's Julio Iglesias who's singing away,"Hey" followed immediately by "De Nina a Mujer".

My son swings back and forth, going higher and higher, then he jumps off, landing perfectly on his two feet. He looks up in my direction me as if to say, "See? There's nothing to worry about."

I give a sigh of relief.

"Hi, how are you?"  It's my Flemish  friend who has just arrived with her two boys. "What are you thinking about?"

"Julio Iglesias!  If he were to ask me to dinner, I would not refuse!"

Her boys run over to where my son is and the three play together.

"Gosh, it's hot today. I made cold soup. Come by later and have some." She's smiling at me, her long dark hair glistening in the late afternoon sun.

"Sounds good."

I enjoy being with my Flemish friend.  I help her with her Spanish and English,  and she helps me with my French. Occasionally we'll even come up with a Catalan word. Ha ha. We glide from one language to another without a thought. I believe it's because we just like to talk to each other that makes us able to use different languages even mid-sentence.

I'm not familiar with the Flemish culture. I only know that my Flemish friend keeps to herself, doesn't mix much with anyone. Perhaps she and I would not ever have become friends if it hadn't been for our sons.  They brought us together. It's as if the simplicity of how children play and laugh so easily has made us less cynical, less prejudicial and more accepting.

And so the frustrations about life in Cataluyna and concerns over shocking events in the news dissipate as we sit on a wooden bench, converse about recipes and watch our children play in the playground.