We were a group of 4 and generally got along quite well. There was an understanding between us that every for every little extravagance we treated ourselves to we should balanced by doing something culturally uplifting ; a sort of Presbyterian ethic I think , but none us were. The cultural episodes generally involved visits to old cathedrals, ancient ruins archaeological art sites, galleries and such.
The cathedrals I particularly enjoyed but my demand for a guided tour was always rejected by the others as being too’ touristy’
They all had a smattering of Spanish or Portugese or both. As I had neither I always felt a bit cheated in this regard, bit I persevered .
Needless to say I would find out more about the site by reading the ‘touristy ‘ book after the event - not quite as good as learning in situ , but that was it.
I could of course had been more adventurous and hired a guide my self and let them wander off on their own.
But there is in my psyche a discipline which t suggests that there is only one thing worse than absolute order and that is no absolutely no order .
I had a propensity to wander off track after such a guided tour and this caused the others hours of distress in trying to find me . I was unlikely to come to any harm , but as Marie drove and were usually quite a few miles from the hotel , the whole ordeal of having them looking for me was not worth the risk.
.So the cultural outings were conducted along a path least likely to cause such a misadventure . Caution triumphed over adventure every time and so we experienced neither the totalitarianism nor the he chaos of my aphorism.
We did of course take a ‘ personal day ‘ - a day off from each other about mid way through the holiday.
This served the dual purpose of easing the inevitable tensions which accumulate having been in one another’s company for so long each day. Married people after all only spend some few short hours of any day totally in one another’s company.
The other purpose it served was to allow the ladies the luxury of shopping without having two lost urchins I tow everywhere they went
But I have digressed . To return to my tale .
I particularly liked to lounge slothfully around the pool. It was a something I imagined the Sybarites would approve of , and as this was that sort of holiday , I felt quite at ease - well lounging slothfully.
The atmosphere around the pool was for the most part almost sombre. Any engagement in conversation likely to cause merriment was sure to raise eye brows and affronted looks from sunbathers over their Gucci sunglasses.
So the silence was punctuated only by the sound of champagne bottles popping or the even more rarely ,the watery lapping of a lone swimmer gently doing the breaststroke ; head carefully poised above the water .The rare s splash of a diver would cause a communal start . People just lounged ,read , and lost themselves in walkmans or I pods. The atmosphere could scarcely ever be describes as uproarious .
I rarely stayed there for more than a half hour at a time. The idea of lying under a scorching sun testing fate with cancer carrying waves for any protracted in order to develop an unnatural skin colour seemed lost on me . period . No. it seemed a cruelty I could endure only in short bursts. And only then to invigorate the body after the languor the sin induced. sun worship. Part of the yin yang thing perhaps.
We were to go to the beach on the following day. This was another of the degenerate things we allowed ourselves , the common belief that again it was too touristy , and this was only countenanced if the beach was utterly secluded or sufficiently long to deny any proximity to English speakers. I confess to a loathing for uninvited stoplessness ; I say uninvited because frankly the vista does not suit women of a certain age and those whom it does suit would be likely to consider you a pervert for looking at them .
Then there was all the other lewder or risqué behaviour which you could be saddled with on a beach. There were mobile phones which have become such a ubiquitous vexation that you really have to plan a day to the beach with a degree of circumspection and strategy.
I was just having a shower before dinner when it happened .
In that blind moment between shower and towel I was leaning against the shower rail when the whole apparatus detached itself from the wall and I came crashing down on my ankle.
I managed to get up . The pain was quite searing , but I managed to get up and get to a phone . The thing was red rotten. I called for Marie and within minutes they wall arrived. Marie sent for the manager , propping me up. Tom suggested a pillow . Someone else suggested ice. Soon the manager arrived as did poor harried Eduardo.
They were the essence of hospitality and concern . They insisted on calling the hotel doctor. This I declined against Marie’s’ s advice.
- it might be a mistake to make too little of this - she warned
I appreciated this but I was disinclined to make more of it than a simple sprain. Also there is the disadvantage of attending hispital as a doctor. They tend to over administer and often overlook the fundamentals in ruling out ombscurities. So I had a foreboding of being kept unnecessarily in hospital , having an unnecessary MRI scan .
They sent for the ice , and poor Eduardo was there taking undue concern to minister to the fallen , with all the devotion of a nurse from another era.
I appreciated all the attention , and the feeling of being pampered was quite pleasant .
- A little more of this and I’d be quite at home with the Santes - I said .
Eduardo gave a start
- Oh No!! Senior - No say ,,Plis “ no Say this !!
The manager was quite charming and put room service at our disposal for the evening.
And any other little thing ; I was only to ask. Should I change my mind about the doctor or the x aray I was only to say so. He would remain on call for the evening and extending his profound regret on behalf of the hotel group he bade us good evening
When he was organising the Ice I asked Eduardo for just one large litre of ice . The served beer in these half litre glasses , which are never satisfactory. I have a rule about drinking . A pint a half hour. It should be sufficiently cold when server to last a half hour.
Could that be arranged.
- ahh , he smiled and wriggled his hands in a little mime of secrecy
- yeees !! Ii sink soo .
So he duly arrived within fifteen minutes with a magnim of champagne on a bucket of ice.
I looked at Marie
- All for us -I said
- No dogs
No Dogs and No Mrs santes - Eduardo saud with a little triumph.
I thanked him but said all I really wanted was a coool litre of beer and some panadol.
I couldn’t bear the disappointment on his face-
- and then we will have the champagne with our meal.
When he’d left Marie said it was cruel to put the poor man through this.
- You mean it seems to be doing things on the cheap ?
- a bit like bringing a take away in to dinner - she said I suggested .
Anyway I admit to being one of these uncultivated philistines who don’t know how to eat or drink. I wonder about these epicures anyway .Do they need to be paid to tell me what I like . Anyway I’m not paying to take his advice. Champagne holds no enchantment for me at all. Its just a white wine brewed under its own pressure . Its supposed to come from Champagne and have so many grapes to the bottle and so on , but its still mostly about the carbon dioxide. I’m uncouth- but some people are sensitive to these things unless you say it straight up- demystify it and theres‘s no problem at all . They just take you for a boor .
So the following day I had hoped to go on the boat trip, but didn’t’t feel up to it . The others went and as I lazed at the pool drinking cool beer I saw the boat bobbing under the cliffs heading for the grotto. I was fascinated to hear how Mrs Santes behaved as they had adamantly refused to take the dog.
Mrs Santes was affronted to the extent that I felt certain there would be some dreadful retribution . I was surprised that she went at all without the detestable animal , leaving him in the charge of the much beleaguered husband .
When I asked Eduardo about it he said;
.-No NO senior .. He miss trip to grotto .. Very sad .. Very sad .. Oh it was therrribal therribal.. Sacnta maria.. !!-
There was more I felt sure , but I was happy to wait.
The sea seemed calm from the ramparts , where I had hobbled out to see the little cruise boat leave the harbour for the islands on little archipelago which made the cove ,
From here you could see sailing boats heading down for the African coast.
It was a straight downwind run from here and even with my little acquaintance of sailing you could have endless adventures .
I started to fantasise about such a trip. To sail from Portugal to the Noeth African coast - it sounded so esoteric and daunting. But is was really just a trip of about twenty nautical miles , yet the notion of going from one continent on a sailing boat seemed to have an enchanting allure.
I spent the afternoon around the pool , sipping beer and cooling off with the odd dip . It was a luxuriously decadent afternoon. Eduardo had spotted me and kept coming with cool bottles of beer , which I suspect was at the instruction of management , because every time I said enough he insisted. , that someone insisted . It was too complicated to resist , besides it was just the kind of afternoon I wanted.
Mr Santes appeared mid afternoon , in Hawaiian swimming shorts . He looked quite a picture , the roundness on his anatomy seeming exaggerated somehow in his trunks.
He seemed quite jolly. Gone was has the persecuted look. And he for the first time since Id seen him his face seemed to assume the sunny kind of aspect you’d expect to go with this physique . Mr Santes would have been an ectomorph .
To me he however , seemed a little conspicuous on his own, but he seemed oblivious to any scrutiny. His ebullience , if I may call it that ,seemed to grow during the course of the afternoon , and he even saluted me with a Obrigarde and a smile at one stage .
When the others returned I was quite jolly from the beer .
- how did the sea fearers fare !!
-well in fact Marie said primly. She disapproved of drinking during the day.But I was on sick leave and was taking every advantage that my remaining infirmity would afford me. Marie knew this .
- and how did stout Santes fair - I asked as Eduardo arrived with another beer. I could see Marie was trying to make a calculation of how much I’d had to drink ,
Bot Mrs Santes . No she hadn’t made a fuss at all once she got on board. What about sea sickness. Surely she got seasick .No she hadn’t . Most of them had unfortunately , but not Mrs Santes.
- too worried about the dog , I suspect !
- you don’t seem to have been too worried mister - Marie said. ‘Mister’ was a bad sign. ---You seem to have treated yourself quite nicely -Marie said as I accepted another bottle of beer from Eduardo. They were half litre bottles , you understand .and I was becoming used to this little sojourn as the fallen victim. I could see however that my sympathy collateral was ebbing away all too quickly .
Just then we saw Mrs Santes coming out of the hotel in a sudden squall . The type that sailors dread and catch you unawares and cause many a boat to gybe with untold consequences.
She was in s state of heightened excitement .Mr Santes was back in harness on her trail as was poor Eduardo. She seemed to be shouting at everyone and anyone .
Marie picked it up.
- the dog is missing !! She told us .
Going in to dinner all the talk was about the missing dog .
The topic seemed to allow these restrained strangers let down their communal reserve and actually talk to one another. There was a buzz of excitement in the dining room which was not quite animated but less finery than before. We were as guilty as the other parties in this reserve thing and now we found ourselves actually talking to people on either side of our table. It seemed that Mr Santes had left the dog in the room while he went down to the pool. He checked on the dog about an hour later and feeling that the aor conditioning was insufficient he opened a window. Oh yes he regretted now that he should have known better , but when he realised his error he went back to the room immediately to see the dof scamper out the window . Mr Santes seemed to think the dog was chasing a rat. The manager took unberage at this so he said maybe it was a mouse. In any case Mr santes went out after the dog but the parapet was too narrow for him to effect a good chase so taking his bearings carefully he calculated where the rat or mouse was headed and geaded down in that direction himself. His persuit had led him to the edge of the tennis court and there the trail seemed to go dry .Mrs Santes had rounded on him scornfully-
a useless waster of a man
Could she not leave her beloved ..
No she was a fool to have trusted him ..
She lambasted him with the wildest invective in the centre of the foyer . And eventually a search was instigated for the wretched animal and poor Eduardo was in charge on the window ledge leg of the search.
- I wonder if he would do us all the kindness of standing on its head , and put us out of our misery, if he has the misfortune to find the blasted thing - I said
- that’s disgusting said Marie
- youre drunk!
- no just a thought.!!
- If you have nothing positive to say , say nothing Marie said
- its just that in the morning madam, I shall be sober , and that dog shall still be ugly- I said paraphrasing Churchill.
Somewhere about nine thirty dinner was interrupted by an announcement from the manager. He came to the middle of the dining room and asked the guests for thir pardon. He had an announcement to make . He then proceeded to the little stage area where there was a 3 piece band playing some background amorphous music which never seems to have a break or , just drifting seamlessly from one piece to another , never expecting or receiving any attention at all.
The manager regretted to interrupt dinner but , Mrs Santes dog had gone missing and if anyone saw the dog any where during the course of the afternoon the management would be most grateful if they could report to the foyer.
I saw Mrs Santes standing petulantly beside him, scrutinising the diners. No one got up, and Mrs Santes and the manager left.
They had now extended the search to the outside. Some one had called the police who when learning that the call was about a missing dog , evidently took a dim view of Mrs Santes and her dog and made some uncouth remark. She threatened to tell his superiors and he with the rebellious disregard for her class said something even more uncouth and ordered his men out of the hotel.
|Eduardo seemed to think of him as a heroic figure ,; the true sense of a proud Portuguese The type of navigator spirit which conquered the part of the world which the Spanish and British had left. These were the pictures of these dashing men all over the hotel, and one could identify with Eduardo in yearning to express some of the bravado of his race . In the policeman he had found such a hero.
But his invigorated national pride was not to last. Some time later they had decided to extend the search outdoors and I saw poor Eduardo heading off , throwing his eyes to the heavens. What more tragedy could befall him they seemed to be saying, as he headed out with a press ganged team of cleaners and porters , doormen , with an array of utensils. One had a torch , another a broom , and one had a white sheet , whose purpose eluded me completely.
The sun was going down , and apart from a slight breeze the evening seemed quite pleasant .
After dinner we went to the lounge for a drink.and I went out on to the terrrace for a cigar I liked to watch the sail boats coming in to harbour with their red and green navigation lights on, hooting one other in salutation as they passed. They were taking down the awnings.They reminded me of our little community here in the hotel. On board you took these liberties with strange boats passing in twilight . It was a sort of recognition that we are part of a community also. We have our maritime laws and courtesies , our for passing one another codes and our lights and flag system , which the landlubber were quite ignorant of , and this bonded us; but at dusk it was always more noticeable how more graciously sailors paid obcervance to these codes.
And in the loss of this pathetic dog we had formed a community of sorts where there was none before.
When I came in there was a lot of animated discussion going on .
- Mrs Santes is now missing !
- who’se missing her - I said
They’ve called the police again.!!
- oh god no. Is there no end to this charade.- I genuinely thought .
It was dark now and the wind had picked up. Mr Santes was distraught . He was sitting in the foyer waiting for the police . Ma !! He kept sobbing pitifully .He seemed to be making a presumption even before the police had even expressed any concern.
Some of the guests went to say soothing words to him, and he shook their hands in gratitude .
The police came again, and this time I met face to face with Eduardo’s hero of the night . He was wasting no time now. He had set his men at different little tables in the foyer and the guests were asked to report when they last saw Mrs Santes .
The wind was gusting now as policemen went in and out . They had called the coastal helicopter.
The drama was taking on a new dimension as we went out and saw the helicopter pick up from the front lawn and career down along the cliff face , its powerful lights searing through the night.
The diners who had usually retired at this time were all gathered in the lounge ; some on the terrace outside,. The guard of privacy come down like a luffing sail as each felt he had an intimate role in the growing drama.
More policemen arrived , now with a group evidently attached to the local cliff rescue, and these now headed off into the night in search of Mrs Santes.
The helicopter would come swooping up over the cliff , and its lights and noise would hit you of a sudden as it broke the precipice , the downdraft scattering glasses and deck chairs as it passed overhead.
The search was called off some time after three to resume at dawn. Mr Santes seemed inconsolable. I went to him as did everyone .
- I Know Senior - If I know when I saw you at the pool .. He trailed off and gave me a doleful look, with his big round sad eyes as if to say - that was the last happy moment I had on this earth .- or maybe I just imagined that part,
When I came down in the morning everyone seemed very subdued . I was I knew there had been bad news .
- they found her body - Marie told me
A sudden shock seemed to hit me. All the unflattering things I’d said about her made me feel guilty for some reason.
- she was found below the rampart- Marie continued.
- she’d fallen over 200 feet.
- Good Lord ! - I was shocked. Shocked because people like Mrs Santes didn’t die , not like that . Tragedy like this was for other people .How wrong you can be. Now the woman was dead.
I could see her hideous hair , all her despicable haughtiness , her disregard her lack of consideration . But now she was dead . No more of that .
- they took her body in the helicopter - Marie continued.
- didn’t’t you hear all the commotion
No I confessed . The other diners had retained their affability , but their common denominator was obviously now sadness
What was there to do , I wondered out loud.
- well we should go and sympathise with Mrs Santes - Marie suggested .
- of course I agreed.
We found him sitting under the awnings , smoking a cigar. He had a glass of brandy on his table. He looked wistfully out to sea
We offered our condolences - Marie spoke in Spanish which was his native tongue. He seemed to brighten a little chatting with her , and his bovine eyes glittered again , fleetingly alert and lively.
The waiter had arrived unsumoned . Mr Santes asked us to join him .Marie looked at me. I shrugged .The least we could was be civil.
I accepted a brandy in collegiality , though I needed it in therapy . Marie looked away . Yes I knew .But this morning I felt I could do with a little comfort.
He seemed quite a convivial man when speaking in Spanish . he spoke quickly to her. Then he would turn to me and they would both explain more slowly than I thought necessary.
- Mrs s was German. They had been married for five blissful years. He had been married before , but his wife had died tragically . And now this , he shook his head in pitiful disbelief. Mrs Santes was a loner he admitted to Marie . She was brought up that way, you know . An only child. Daughter of a beer magnate. She never had a chance to make company with other children. And she found it impossible to make friends now. As you could see.- He looked expectantly , his heavy eyebrows arched like half moons complimenting the rest of his facial contours.
No , he said they were too old for children when they married. Mrs Santes wanted to adopt. But really he thought no , she oughtn’t’. His greatest regret . He confessed was not making an effort to teach her some social intercourse. That was an unfortunate part of growing up in a wealthy household . He regretted thaaaat awfully. She could have been a likeable person if he had treated her differently. But that was all to late now,. How he envied people in little groups such as our own , simply enjoying each others company. She had missed out on al of that . And yes there was no point in teling him otherwise; people didn’t like Mrs Santes . It was sad . If he’d only taken the time to tutor her in the art of mixing with people. Deep dowwn she wanted to be like other people , happy and gay , but she was lost and she was conscious that people disliked her . Eventually she even stopped trying to appear less aimable than she was ans that made the whole thing worse; a sort of a spiral; she disliked people for not likeing her and , they disliking her even more for her not liking them.
It was a bit early in the morning for this study of the human psyche > I was just getting bits of it anyway.
As for Mr Santes . It transpired that he was a master in medieval architecture .Yes he had heard us discussing thses very buildings we had visited . |Why he had written about many of them .Such a pity we did nt know , at a time when there wasn’t so much sadness. He could have advised us on some of the sights
- n o ! Marie said
- that would be like asking me to attend to someone sick in the hotel.
- oh no Mr Santes said .He envied us going out on our little expeditions. He couldn’t’t help overhearing our conversations sometimes over dinner.
- he smiled and his round shoulders shuddered , and he chortled a little before he recomposed himself.
No it was a pity- particularly when he’d only recently published a paper on one of the sites . He would have been quite happy to have given some instruction. Many tourists are so boorish are they not.?? He hated boorish people .
I was thinking about me and champagne , but it wasn’t the place to expand , despite the fact that Mr Santes seemed quite willing to talk so freely about himself.
We left Mr Santes to his brandy and his thoughts and I said
- isn’t he quite an extraordinary little man ,
-You’d wonder I continued - how he ended up marrying Mrs Santes - loneliness said Tom .. It was not a moment for an unchristian comment so I said I wondered what would happen now .would we be expected to stay for some sort of church ceremony
-oh no Marie said pensively
- I was thinking about that too - she said
,-Neither he nor Mrs Santes had any organised church .
- surely they were married in one - well he being Spanish I thought.
- no , they were married in a civil ceremony , in Germany.
- but .- Marie continued--I do think that we should ask the other guests .. You know . Everyone needs to have some sort of closure.
Marie would have come up with the idea anyway , but I regretted pushing the matter along. When she gets an idea , and its usually motivated from the purest altruism nonetheless she has a tendency to be downright adamant about its probity. And she doesn’t restrict herself in this regard . persisted , and when she did people generally agreed quite readily . She could give an authoritive nuance to anything and dress it up as a common sense obligation . Or at least the thing a sensible person would hold. - she made an obligation of what might otherwise have been passed over ; common sense . Where it might neither have been common or sensible . She had that easy facility whereby if she s suggested something . I found , that she was remarkably persuasive it obtaining a spontaneous approval. Where others might have to struggle to get cooperation , she pitvhed it in such a way that unless you were to do the noble thing by your own standards , why there was little point of being entrusted with this confidentiality. By this subtle device she could make an unremarkable occasion a pious goal.
So she arranged a little service in the local chapel . A non denominational thing. Which meant of course that she had roped a priest and a vicar into the affair.
Most of the gusets stayed for the service which was held the following day.
There was something very austere about the thing. It lacked sentiment of any kind . The two clergymen said a few words in Portuguese and a few in English. Just to say that in the absence of relations or family it was nice of the guests to give their support to Mr Santes at this difficult time . One said also ’ trying and sad time’ ; The other said. Just difficult . Then they both left it at that . There was no liturgy and the thing could have been held in the foyer of the hotel for all its formality or structure or lack of.
As Mr Santes had arrived quite late during the proceedings.
We met him briefly leaving the chapel. He didn’t’t wit round to shake peoples hands . He was gone as we walked back to the hotel.
It was more of a disapointment to Marie than anyone , but she’s a practicle thinler on these occasions. If it didn’t mean that much for the intended party, so much the pity. But for her part, she had done her duty. What duty you may ask , but I wouldn’t if I were you,
By the time we’d reached the outer perimeter of the rampart Mr Santes r s was proceeding down the winding avenue in his masarati looking quite dapper - well dapper for a man of his countenance in a sports car . He was wearing a yellow scarf and a cap. He could have been fantasising about aeroplanes , rather that one coming away from a service for his dead wife.
One languorous wave and he was gone.
-What about the .. Well the removal I wondered to Marie
- oh I’m sure they have undertakers to look after all of that ; Marie was finished with the affair. As far as she was concerned the chapter was closed. And so it was for the other guests .
You could almost see the fleece of formality come over them once more; and that veneer of detachment cocoon them from the relaxed conviviality. Its purpose had been served. The same reserve which had prevailed when they first encountered on another returned .as they bade their restrained goodbyes , dainty meaningless handshakes -each returned to its cocoon. As did we.
We all moved on . On to different locations.
Our lives would be no different from knowing the Santes. In a while we would forget all about them ,The episode might come up when showing photographs to cornered relatives at Christmas.
But for us the story was not quite over .
The following year we went to Spain . Again the practice of balance between the decadent and the cultivating prevailed.
We were on one of the latter expeditions which had taken us to the Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona. A most extraordinary structure which leaves you quite speechless inside and out.
I was looking up at the spiral structures on the east wing , waiting for the others, when I saw emerging from the arch the unmistakable figure - the tomato atop a melon with two cocktail sticks- Yes ! It was Mr Santes . Just then the others joined me, and as they did Mr Santes spotted us.
His face lit up with a glee you could pick up from the hundred yards which separated us and he came waddling over in a state of great bon hommie.
He and Marie started speaking in Spanish and it was only then that I noticed thaat Mr Santes was not alone.
- Ahha -- I am a boor am I not.. Please forgive me.. I have not introduced my wife.
The new Mrs Santes was as charmless as her predecessor. She looked imperiously at us , from one to the other.
Mr Santes insisted on bringing us for coffee. He had a little office nearby as he was writing a paper on the great cathedral.
To my surprise , in contrast to the former Mrs S , he just took this one in tow . She seemed to brighten only in the few moments he spoke to her. She was like those slow flashing lights on a Christmas tree.
He seemed quite delighted to see us, and as good as his word , he brought us to his little office overlooking the cathedral., or one of its many spires at least.
Yes he’d had a harrowing year since Mrs Santes death , and what with the estate , all the trouble , you see when there is wealth. And only now was he finding his feet again.
As for the new Mrs Santes . Well it was that problem with the children from wealthy families . Particularly when there were no siblings. No Mrs Santes was a poor mixer. She simply didn’t know how to mix. She went to a private school . All the disadvantages of the very wealthy . It was such a pity . Why ! Up until very recently she had a security detail round the clock. Well . He put his foot down there . No more security .- the heiress of a mining company in Sierre Leone - diamonds - father recently deceased - devoted to his only daughter - . Well said Mr Santes they needed their privacy and well he was going to devote all his energies to educate her in social intercourse. She was a loner he said. Alone in life, and he too was alone when she came into his life .
Mrs Santes took down her shoulder bag.
I looked at Marie.
No It couldn’t be .