The first time R visited my hometown of Don Benito we walked through one of the local parks. Far from impressed, he said in a sad voice ‘parks here are made of dirt’. The word ‘park’ conveys quite a different image in the UK and Extremadura. No lush green areas with gorgeous grass around here. Too hot. The grass is a real treasure, so you should expect to see it only under trees, in shady areas that are watered daily.
It’s funny how the same word can have such different associations in English and Spanish. In 2005, I started spending my summers in Ireland and I moved abroad for good in 2009. Since 2005, I’ve only been back to Extremadura in summer twice, and my idea of summer has suffered some sort of ‘Britification’. Now I wear summer jackets, I long for dry days, I check BBC Weather daily and plan barbecues in the garden. Before my first trip to Ireland, my idea of summer was that of Extremadura summers, which are quite different.
The unbearable heat
When temperatures go over 37-38 degrees, the cooling effect of a good cold shower disappears as soon as you get dressed. In two minutes, you’ll be sweating again. By the second week of July, everyone is already complaining about the heat. ‘I hate summer!’, ‘This is unbearable!’ and ‘I can’t wait for autumn to come!’ are the most common complaints.
Walking barefoot is something generally frowned upon in Spain, and it’s considered a sign of bad manners (nobody takes off their shoes in the office or when visiting someone). In Extremadura, tiles are the type of flooring chosen by 99% of property owners. They are easy to clean, cheap, low-maintenance, and help keep the house cool in the heat. Summer means mums will be a bit more flexible and will allow you to walk around barefoot. And your feet will be very thankful!
In Spanish, when we say piscina, we always refer to an outdoor swimming pool, unless it’s winter when we go to piscinas climatizadas (indoor swimming pools). Something that keeps shocking me in the UK is the number of British adults and youngsters who cannot swim. In Spain, swimming is considered a basic life skill, and you learn it when you are little, no matter where you live. Summer for me meant attending swimming lessons for a few weeks every year until I was seven. After that, it meant spending most afternoons diving to the bottom of the pool to collect tiny tiles that became detached and playing ‘Guess the song I’m singing’ underwater with friends.
If swimming pools were the usual weekday pastime, natural pools were the weekend treat to many children that, like me, grew up in northern Extremadura. The Lago de Jaraíz was one of the classic excursions for a day out of swimming in cold waters, sunbathing, and picnicking. Other popular places were Las Pilatillas (in Garganta la Olla), Las Pilas (in Collado de la Vera), and the gargantas (rivers) of Cuartos (in Losar de la Vera) and Jaranda (in Jarandilla de la Vera).
Summer meant delicious seasonal fruit, such as melon, watermelon and my favourite of them all: peach! This is one of the things I miss the most from Extremadura.
Collecting fruit was another popular pastime when I was a child. I remember spending afternoons with my grandmother in Alburquerque collecting prickly pears (higos chumbos) by the road and leaving my home in Jaraíz with a small bucket to collect blackberries and figs from a plot behind my house.
Waiting for sunset to come
Not going to the swimming meant spending whole afternoons and evenings at home, killing time until sunset, before heading out. I’ve never been a siesta person, so I had lots of time for reading or listening to music in my room while sipping homemade lemonade. Many foreigners find Spanish opening hours (or rather closing hours) quite annoying, but it makes total sense for us. Nobody in their right mind goes out shopping, or running, or drinking (or going out at all) in the afternoon at over 40 degrees. We remain at home until the sun is low and temperatures are bearable. And once you’re out, you never know what time you’ll be back. Afternoons may be long, but so are nights. And you should make the most of them!
Shitty music is a summer classic I hate, and something included in my list of things I don’t miss from Extremadura. For some reason, summer is the perfect moment to launch low-quality singles everyone will dance 24/7 for a few months, before being forgotten forever. The canciones de verano are Latin pop songs characterised by a danceable beat and a monotonous rhythm. Their dumb and unimaginative lyrics look like they’ve been created in five minutes (‘I know you want it, babe’, ‘Touch my body’ and the like). To make things even worse, many of them involve some stupid dance moves that get unbelievably popular. This small compilation from 2002 includes some great examples of summer songs.
In Spain, there are national public holidays, regional holidays and local holidays. Each village and town has, at least, a big feria that lasts for a few days. It’s usually dedicated to a patron saint or a local product (in Jaraíz de la Vera, their ferias are dedicated to the cultivation of tobacco and peppers) and involve some serious drinking and going out. By that I mean going out in the afternoon-evening, coming back home for dinner and a shower, before heading out again and staying up until sunrise (which is as late as 8 am). For three or four days in a row. It’s as crazy as it sounds, and guess what… You’ll be dancing to all those horrible canciones de verano all night long, because they play the same music everywhere. Nobody cares. It’s summer! You’re so into the party mood that you dance to anything. After a few drinks, you’ll even dance to the annoying music from the children attractions, if you’re asked to. Ferias are, in general, a lot of fun when you’re a teenager or in your twenties, but now I struggle to keep up with the crazy party lifestyle many of my friends still have. I used to be one of the last ones to go home and now they take the piss out of me and say ‘Look at you now!’.