Our village of La Fresneda is small, but it does have two butchers, two bakers, a swimming pool, a restaurant, a chemist, and, of course, a bar. In fact when the swimming pool is open it provides a bar so, in the summer, there are two. And in the past the restaurant also had a bar, so there were three.
Nonetheless, the main bar, the one where major items of gossip are exchanged over coffee, where football is reverently observed, where tricks for growing the largest radish are shared between close friends, where the growing number of retired (jubilados) meet for cards and take their one drink of the day, where the paseos pass and the mayor scoots by at least three times a night, this bar is Bar La Plaza (the bar in the main square).
Bar La Plaza is nothing special. A single room some ten metres long with toilets at one end. There is a bar on the left which surrounds the open plan kitchen and, of course, centre stage, a large screen TV. When I first came here the bar was run by the only slim woman in the village. She had ejected her alcoholic husband from both the bar and her life and was subsequently pursued by both village carpenters. One had the deepest voice that I have ever heard and became her barman. The other made gifts of shelving and cupboards and became her lover.
Finally she left the bar to start a laundry business. The barman carpenter died and the lover carpenter returned to his wife. She is still slim and catches many an eye as she walks about the town, but not that of the remaining carpenter: they ignore each other.
After she left Ramon and Montsie took over the bar. They gutted the place and installed garish clusters of red lights more suited to a city night club. They were going for the younger set of which there are rather few in the village. At first they adopted a guise of charming hosts but as time passed and the same few villagers came and went, buying little and sitting long, they changed.
Ramon sat at the most distant point in the bar barely visible behind his laptop which he shared with one of the new intake of bikers who had moved to the village. Any call for a drink was met with obvious reluctance as he slowly moved to the bar, his eyes loath to leave the screen. Montsie, when present, sat dejectedly behind the bar or talked to some of the biker set offering service with a scowl when required.
I was mortified. The bar, yes the bar, in the village of my second home was becoming the last place I would want to drink on earth. I seriously considered selling up and locating elsewhere in Spain. Then, one night as we were dining in a nearby village with Spanish friends, we heard that they had “buen noticia” (good news). Ramon and Montsie were leaving. New people were taking the bar. Phew.
Balthazar and Ampora were a very different couple. He was a lethargic man of few words whose main interest seemed to be holidays in hashish rich countries. She was a delightful lady of impressive appearance and with good English. We liked them, they ran a good bar.
But this time when we returned to the village they had gone, new people were running the bar, and this was not the only shock. The place next door had been turned into a bar as well: and the proprietors of this new bar were none other than Ramon and Montsie! I just could not believe it, I really could not.
The new owners of the original bar were delightful. Miguel and his son Raul hailed from Barcelona and had bought the lease on the place without being told anything of the plans for the second bar. Miguel is an affable, pipe smoking Spaniard with a long pony tail and his son is an athletic looking twenty something with good English and a desire to practice it. We have stuck with them, though our loyalty is somewhat contorted since they are new. Other loyalties in the village run along family, friendship or enemy lines. We watched with interest who goes where. Visitors to the village are confused. They sit at the outside table of one bar and use the toilet of the other, order drinks from one and food from the other. Ramon and Montsie scan the fast emptying plaza in the hope of new clients. They barely look at us since we do not visit their bar much, if at all, and perhaps they can sense that we remember and our remembrance stirs their own memories.
Last week Ramon the elder passed my little building site. He is the father of Ramon the younger and is the local antique cum rag and bone man and a dominant local character. I was surveying the stones delivered to me by Enrique the builder who fell to his death from roof of a house nearly a year past. The stones are rubbish and I can only use them after a great deal of shaping. I told Ramon that I needed stone and he said that he had some – no charge. No charge, from a man who wheels and deals? I went to see the stone, it was good. I rolled it down the hill to the road and arranged for a man with a tractor to help me transport it. I paid him well and later pressed an envelope into the shirt pocket of Ramon who looked surprised and amused.
But now I am in debt to the Ramons. Should I use the new bar or stick with Miguel who tells me that he wants to start a nudist campsite in the countryside near our village. Meanwhile our friends from the Netherlands are appalled that the local council should give permission for another campsite since they already have one nearby. We are confused by mixed loyalties and are too old to remove our clothes publicly, but we watch with interest this healthy rivalry knowing that whatever trick is pulled there is only room for one camp site and one bar in this village. I can hardly tear myself away – but Britain calls: there is guiding to do and decoration to be done.