‘You know what people do when they move to Spain?’ my taxi driver told me, ‘they drink and read. It ruins them. Nice weather, though.’
The tiny town of Gaucin, in the mountains above Ronda, isn’t famous for much; it makes a type of sloe-gin and good local tapas, and there are tiny colourful birds everywhere. It’s postcard-pretty, with painted geckos on the walls, the kind of place where children play ball games in the street instead of watching TV. By May it feels like the height of August; there’s a small hotel, a neat square and a church. The houses are whitewashed and shuttered against the heat. The residents all known each other. Around 10% are English ex-pats. There’s one genuinely knockout restaurant called Lateral, shunned by locals who harbour complex grudges.
But then there’s the view, like that New Yorker cartoon which shows the states and other countries stretching off into the distance. From almost anywhere in the town the view is framed by two mountains, one topped with a ruined castle, then miles of green fields, the shoreline, the angled rock of Gibraltar, the coast of Africa and mountains beyond that. My old agent Serafina now lives here in regal but to my eyes isolated splendour; doesn’t she find it lonely? She laughs, appalled by the idea. She clearly knows everyone in town, including the man who once robbed her. A misunderstanding; all is forgiven.
I can’t in all honesty ask her if she misses Shepherd’s Bush, because who in their right mind would? In Serafina’s house you can see Africa from the bedroom, and the air is filled with the scent of lilac and oranges. Gaucin is frozen in time, a dream-state of a Spanish village where only the occasional rustle of a Sunday Times indicates the presence of tourists. The masses are 50 kms away, frying themselves at the coast. ‘You come from London?’ says a waitress, vaguely horrified, ‘where they all go buzz buzz, like bees?’
‘I’m afraid so,’ I admit, apologizing for living in a city where we work hard to make enough capital to live like people with hardly any. It’s madness, of course, but I couldn’t live here. It’s just too nice, too quiet, too real, and the danger is that I might get used to it.