2/28/2006

The Winter of Our Discontent [FEBRUARY 26, 2006]

A friend of mine spotted his first nipple of the year on the beach a few days ago. One of the young and firm female varieties. Granted, the owner of the nipple in question probably wasn’t Spanish. She was most likely from Sweden, Denmark, or somewhere else in the frozen extremities of this continent, but her actions had a significant impact nonetheless. As they say here in the south of Spain (well, they don’t actually say it but they should, damn it), "When the first Scandinavian doth her buxom breasts bare, ‘tis Winter’s end so gather and stare!"


"Keep a look-out fellas... We're bound to see a nipple sooner or later..."

I know it doesn’t seem right that I’m officially calling an end to winter during the last week of February – especially while my girlfriend’s family in Prague is currently experiencing -1C (30F), mine in Philadelphia is living through 25F (-4C) and New York City is just recovering from the worst snowstorm in its history – but a Scandinavian nipple is a mighty portent indeed and one that is best not ignored. Honestly, though, winter is something we never really experience in full here in Cádiz. It typically only lasts for about two months and during that time the temperature hardly ever drops below freezing anyway. Now I know what you’re thinking: "There are only two months of mild winter in the sunny south of Spain? What am I doing here? Why the hell don’t I sell the house, put all my stuff in storage, send the kids to boarding school, lock Granny up in a retirement home, and move down there to España by the sandy beaches and sunny skies too?" But don’t be too hasty. There are a few things you should consider first before telling Granny and the young ones to start packing their extended-stay suitcases.


Sunbathers? But isn't it winter? They must be Scandinavian

First of all, just because the local Spanish say there isn’t any winter here doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true. Like I stated earlier, there are a good two months of cold here. Who cares though, right? Cuddling next to the crackling fireplace in the warm living room for only two months out of the year isn’t that bad. Normally, I would agree with you but there’s one thing not to be overlooked. You see, the southern Spanish are just so damn reluctant to admit that it actually gets cold here, that they choose to ignore it altogether. What’s that you say? How can they ignore the cold? Well, according to the local wisdom all along the coastline of Andalucía, the easiest way to accomplish this is by not installing central heating or radiators, let alone that fireplace you were fantasizing about, in any building – not anywhere and not at any time of day or night – no matter how bitterly cold it gets. "This weather will pass soon enough," the seaside residents throughout the region state with pride. I’ve been living here for the better part of two years now and have yet to see an apartment or office building with central heating. During the month of January, my girlfriend and I were forced to wear three or four layers of clothing (and she would often wear her scarf as well) to school as we stood in front of the frozen classrooms and taught our shivering students. By contrast, each classroom in the school is fully equipped with air conditioning.

Ask any Spaniard from this region about winter and they’ll proudly reply, "Winter?! Ha! We don’t have winter here!" But then again, you’ll only hear that reply for ten out of twelve months. The other two, they’ll rub their hands together in the heating-less cold of the local bar or café and dumbfoundedly reply, "Winter?! Ha! You are unlucky, amigo, because this is the coldest winter I have ever experienced!" I thought last year, when I had asked the same question, was the coldest winter he had ever experienced. Either every year for the past few generations has been miraculously colder than the last, or the locals are suffering from some serious short-term memory loss which has resulted in complete ignorance when it comes to indoor heating.


Those winter sunsets are still just as stunning as the summer ones

Another byproduct of this utter reluctance to acknowledge the existence of winter is what I call the "If it doesn’t exist here, then it doesn’t exist anywhere" mentality. For example, locals are often surprised when I tell them about the wonders of this thing I call central heating and how, often times, I feel colder in Cádiz than I ever felt in the Czech Republic or Pennsylvania. "But it is warm here and cold there, no?" is their only puzzled reply. Yeah, that’s right. But it’s not cold at home. "In Cádiz," I tell them, "your toes are freezing whether you’re waiting at a bus stop or in a bank." "When?" they inevitably hit back. "In winter, of course." "But we don’t have winter! Only this year it is very cold. The coldest I have ever experienced!" Go figure.

This year’s winter, however, truly epitomized the "If it doesn’t exist here, then it doesn’t exist anywhere" mentality and greatly more so than others gone by. A Czech friend of mine, who is now visiting us here in Cádiz for about a week, flew into Madrid a few days ago. At the time, the Czech Republic, which had outranked both the USA and Canada, had just made it into the final four of the 2006 Olympic Ice Hockey Tournament. The very night he arrived in Madrid, there was a big game on to see who would advance to the finals. He searched the entire Spanish capital city of nearly 4 million people and could not find one pub that was showing the match. In fact, when he asked various bartenders if they could switch over the TV to Ice Hockey, they first said they didn’t understand what this Ice Hockey he spoke of was and then stared at him in wide-eyed wonder as he attempted to describe this mythical sport where people somehow magically glide across ice as they balance a wooden stick in gloved hands. While most of the world was busy watching the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, their Mediterranean neighbors to the west were oblivious to the fact that it was even going on. Had you asked any Spaniard across the country about it, they would have undoubtedly replied, "But I thought that already happened in Athens two years ago?" It’s as if the Winter Olympics had never happened at all here and couldn’t even be fathomed by the 40 million inhabitants of this land. Not one event was broadcast on national Spanish television. Not even the (from what I’ve been told were elaborate) Opening or Closing Ceremonies were shown. The evening news mentioned the city of Turin only once or twice and the written media ignored it completely. In fact, I doubt if a single Spanish team participated in the whole damn sporting event. For God’s sake, even the Jamaicans have a bobsled team! But that doesn’t concern the Spanish. Sure they have snow here (Madrid and many other cities to the north are routinely blanketed with the white stuff) and plenty of ski resorts but, like I said, winter doesn’t happen here. It’s something that happens in other countries and other regions.


Spanish Sportscaster:
"Wait a minute! Are you trying to tell me there's a WINTER Olympics too?"

So where am I going with all of this? Well, don’t be so hasty to send off Granny and the kids just yet because of the winter in southern Spain. Although it only last for those two months, I’m sure you’ll eventually grow to miss your indoor heating and the occasional sight of snowflakes slowly melting on the windowpane. Worse yet, if you’re a sports lover, get ready to wipe your viewing repertoire clean of practically everything except for football (the soccer variety) and maybe a game of basketball every now and then. Winter in Andalucía is short, but it can be a brutal two month affair indeed.


Ahh... Winter's finally over! It's time to enjoy the first BBQ of the year

All of that, however, is now behind us. It is no longer the Winter of our discontent but the beginnings of glorious Summer. My Czech friend and I have been enjoying the currently sunny 17C (62F) weather and even had our first barbecue of the year by the Atlantic this past Friday. We took out the beach chairs, lit the charcoal, threw on a few steaks and popped open some beers as we looked through our shades at the few, yet clearly present, sunbathers down the other side of the beach. They weren’t topless, weren’t that young and probably weren’t Scandinavian, but it didn’t discourage us from staring. The message was clear: Another miserable winter in Cádiz – one that, like the lost city of Atlantis, no one is even sure ever existed – has finally come to an end. It’s time to join the locals in their denial of the fact that it ever gets cold here and soak up the warmth... All as I go to the beach more and more frequently in order to keep a look-out for my first bare buxom breast of the season. And don’t you worry, I’m confident it’ll come along soon enough. Scandinavian nipples are like springtime dandelions. Once someone you know spots the first one of the year, countless others are soon to follow in bloom.

6 comments:

Ms Bees Knees said...

you could drop me off right in the middle of the sahara desert and I would still freeze my ass off guaranteed. i'm just always cold. i assume that has a lot to do with me being raised in sunny california... who knows. i just hate the cold. hate. it.

Chiri said...

Ay, those bright and biting winter days in the south of Spain, when fur coats and sunglasses are worn at the same time, and the guiris go swimming anyway, because the sun is out.

Tenerife Scribbler said...

Yes but I bet they build waterproof houses, unlike here!

Lisa said...

Aw c'mon. Where's the picture of the nipple, you teaser.

J said...

I totally know what you mean. I remember being cold at night when I went to Andalucia (including Cadiz) in 2000. At the time, I was living in Poland and wasn't used to being cold while sleeping due to how good the heating.

Anonymous said...

I just saw a homeless person crawl out of a cardboard box with urine icicles on one of its windows (i.e. boxtop flaps). And you think you have it rough on the Spanish Riviera....pshaw.