“Home was the place you lived now, the place you lived then, the place you came from, the place you went to. The place you want to be at the end of the day, when your feet are tired and you want something hot for dinner.”
– Queen of Beauty by Paula Morris.
“This building,” I say pointing to the stunning verandah-ed manor lounging across a whole block of the main square of Tamariu, “someone’s home? Una casa?”
The waiter’s wonky eyes brighten and he nods “Si, casa.”
I ask if a single family owns it, but he doesn’t have enough English and I don’t have enough Catalan. Two tables away, a silver-haired British man drinking a cold glass of Rioja catches my eye.
“Six or seven million would buy it,” he says. He can’t be the owner, not sitting right there! “The owner, an old girl, she’s 86, is down on the beach with my wife. Beautiful place but very old-fashioned. I was sick here in Tamariu once and stayed there for ten days. My wife just about gave up – it was so far from the bedroom to the kitchen.”
He tells us the house originally belonged to the owner of the village’s sardine factory which stood where Hotel Tamariu is now. There’s nothing on the internet about the sardine factory; in fact no history prior to the 1920s. I get the feeling the locals are happier keeping this place to themselves.
“We worry about the old girl and what will happen with the house,” he says.
“She has children?” I ask.
He shakes his head and guffaws. “Oh yes, but it’s a mess, all bloody divorced.”
He’s been coming here for 42 years, and spends six months out of twelve at the apartment they own here. His children and their children come every summer too.
“They won’t go anywhere else,” he says packing his wallet and keys into his beach bag. I wouldn’t either if Tamariu was closer to home.
“By the way,” he says, as he starts walking away, down to the beach: “I love how you Kiwis play rugby.” Ahh, the usual singular piece of New Zealand datum rears its head. He wanders off, smiling heartily. He turns back once more, only just within earshot, and whispers:
“Don’t tell anyone. Don’t spread the word. Tamariu is our paradise, it’s home for us.”
Home has been on my mind a lot this week. When you’re travelling, you find a piece of home wherever you happen to be. For the last week home has been here at Tamariu Beach on Spain’s Costa Brava. I have only dared imagine a place like this, so perfect that even after a week I’m not immune to its beauty. I walk down the alley, past Paco Boats, past the pizza and crepe man (who gorgeous Claire-from-Oxfordshire reckons looks like Heisenberg), past the little boy pretending to be a monster. At the end of the alley the view opens up like a flamenco fan revealing the sparkling waters of Tamariu beach, dotted with small wooden yachts. Jutting rocks of terracotta and caramel – Tamariu’s left and right arms – cradle the deeper waters of the Mediterranean. A two-meter-high diving board nestles into the rocks, host to a stream of squealing children.
The small promenade is lined with seafood restaurants and there are no shops to distract. The accents under beach umbrellas are Spanish and French, and a few British. We’ve not heard an antipodean accent for weeks. Bikini tops are off. Brown skin gets browner. We’re the only ones in sunhats, which we hang off the radiator each afternoon when we return home to our small, white hotel room.
So, this week, ‘home’ is lying on my towel on a patch of, coarse golden sand. Home is watching my children playing with a yellow bucket and spade at the water’s edge, wearing grubby sunhats and togs whose elastic has gone. Home is Jez sitting up and smiling, asking the biggest question of the day:
“Where to for lunch?”
“I wonder,” I laugh. We already know. We’ve found more pieces of home at Bar O’ra for lunch and El Palanqui (looked after by Enrique) for dinner, and Hotel La Caleta (Miriela, Marti, thank you) to lay our heads. Today, these places are home.
But, when tragedy strikes, even these beautiful places can’t replace the real thing. I knew the moment I saw Aunty Jan’s missed call it was bad news. Aunt Gloria passed away last night. The aunt I never met. The half-sister Dad never met. It’s a long and complicated story – unraveling like a spool of forgotten thread. In brief, Jan and Gloria are the daughters of Dad’s birth mother. Dad was adopted by my grandparents Jean and Colin Barley in 1946, along with his sister Muriel. Dad died at 50, before he could find out about his birth family. Two years ago, with help from Mum and her friend Julie, I began the journey of discovery. I never counted on discovering so much sadness, laced with the occasional beam of light. The story is far from over, and one I’ll write more about in the future.
This morning Jan wrote:
“These are times I wish I had a big brother to be alongside of me. David will always be there in spirit and hopefully he will be there to comfort Gloria…she was so afraid of dying…”
I cry for Gloria, for Dad and I cry mostly for Aunty Jan. Dear Jan. My heart is with you today. I know you carry the responsibility of your family on your shoulders, in your heart, on your land. I wish your big brother, my Dad, was alive to put his arm around your shoulders and to share the load. Most of all, I wish I was home to stand in Dad’s shoes, next to you, as Gloria’s casket is lifted and eulogies are read; as flowers are placed and tears are shed. Today I feel a long, long way from home.
Home is wherever I lay my (sun)hat.
Home is Tamariu (now).
Home is Mas Gatell (tomorrow).
Home is Harbour View Road, Pt. Chevalier.