The Escape to the Mediterranean
The Lives of the Privileged–A Short Story Like Life Itself
Charles Livingston is a privileged person. Each day from Monday to Friday he gets up at 5:15 a.m. in order to catch the train that will leave him in Victoria Station at 8:15. From there he catches a bus that will take him to the City of London where he works as an account executive in an advertising agency. Charles has worked for nearly 20 years at Abernathy and Frump and earns a good salary. After years of getting his shoes wet on rainy days he has opted for wearing old shoes for the trip to work, carrying his dress shoes in a knapsack. He likes the knapsack. He carries it jauntily on one shoulder and feels it gives him a youthful air. His wife Margaret, a nurse in a large London hospital lives a similar life. After enduring this routine for many years Margaret sometimes asks herself: “If this is the life of the privileged, how’s the life of a galley slave?”
Infrequent Intervals of Relief
Practically the only relief the Livingstons enjoy each year are the three weeks of holiday they spend on the Mediterranean, which attracts them with an atavistic force, as if they were returning to their most remote origins. They have visited practically the entire Mediterranean Basin: the Costa del Sol, La Cote d’Azure, la Toscana, the Greek islands, Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia. They spent one holiday on Croatia’s Adriatic coast where they were taken with Dubrovnik. In the early years, with the children, they traveled with knapsacks and slept in hostals, but now that they’re on their own they stay in good hotels.
In recent years they return regularly to Andalusia. Charles is fascinated by flamenco, the Spanish football liga and sea fishing. Margaret likes the art, the gardens and the bulls. She read Hemingway when she was young and wants to experience the ferias of San Isidro in Madrid and San Fermin in Pamplona. Her afición is such that she tries her best to read the bullfight criticism in El Mundo.com. She wants to improve her Spanish and goes to night classes twice a week at a local language school. The Livingstons have friends who have immigrated to the Spanish coasts, friends whom they find frankly rejuvenated.
With each trip to Malaga or Granada, they find the places and customs more familiar, more welcoming. They’ve become devoted to the revolutionary practice of strolling from bar to bar on summer nights, tasting different wines and fried tidbits of sea beasties. Some years ago they changed the dates of their holidays from August to September. They love it when the waiters remember them from one year to another.
Dreams of a More Rewarding Lifestyle
For years Charles and Margaret have shared the dream of many Europeans who live north of the 50th parallel—a line that passes roughly through London, Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt and Prague—to leave behind them the routine, the cold and grey skies and move to the Mediterranean. Such is the intensity of this dream that it is becoming an obsession: a new life in Spain.
They are convinced that they can recover on the Mediterranean part of all they have lost during their long years on the treadmill. And they may be right. They can recover time, enthusiasm, long sunny days, discoveries, friends … They can linger over the newspaper during outdoor breakfasts, indulge in long walks along the beach or in the mountains, play golf and tennis, adopt the authentic Mediterranean diet with local olive oil, lose a few pounds, learn a new language and imbibe some good wines with friends, all without the curse of “tomorrow I’ve got to get up early and catch the train.” Soon they’ll have grandchildren and will be able to spend quality time with them. Margaret, at last, will enjoy the time and place to perfect her Spanish.
The Changes That Make It All Possible
The Livingstons are aware of the changes that have taken place in Spain and its relations with the rest of Europe since they first came here on holiday at the end of the seventies. Many Spaniards, particularly the younger ones who have studied and worked abroad, are net contributors to the European project. Not only have Spain and its inhabitants evolved greatly over the past 30 years, but they have merged with Europe to the extent that citizens of other countries of the European Community now enjoy the same rights here as they do in their home countries.
One of Margaret’s British friends, resident in Malaga, told her about dealing with a major illness in Spain. The friend’s husband had a bad heart attack. “It was like the old days in the U.K.,” said Margaret’s friend, who was moved by the warmly human treatment they received from the Spanish doctors and nurses and even the hospital administrators. “And the cost of the whole experience was covered by the Spanish Social Security system.”
What Are They Waiting For?
If the Livingstons still haven’t acquired the Spanish home of their dreams it’s mainly for two reasons: inflated prices and the fear of possible irregularities in real-estate deals. They also fear they might encounter a legal and bureaucratic labyrinth they would have trouble navigating. Until they perceive clearly the solution to these potential problems it’s doubtful that they will take the decision to invest in Spain, even though prices are now dropping. The Livingstons are only waiting for someone to explain the issues better and to offer them solid guarantees. Thanks to recent legislative advances and banking regulations these guarantees are available today, but the Livingstons don’t know that yet.
It’s not that they have discarded their dream. During long British winter nights Charles and Margaret—like so many other Europeans—go to Internet to renew regularly their dream of Spain. There they find myriads of barren real-estate sites, mere data bases of properties for sale and promises of bargains without the least collateral information beyond crass commercial considerations. The real-estate firms seem not to know what they’re selling—or should be selling. Even more than a new house, people from other countries, people like the Livingtstons, want a new life. But nobody is explaining to them the intensely rich and varied life that awaits people like them in Spain. Their dream of an escape to the Mediterranean is within their grasp. All they need is the necessary information to make it happen. Welcome to ¡Alegría!—The Joy of Spanish Living.