It’s all I can do not to leave my mouth open as I sit here and grin at the cinema. I order a beer and some fried fish, if only to justify my behaviour. This is my favourite place. It may not always be, and just a couple of weeks ago I had neither seen nor heard of it but this little plaza right here, right now, is my favourite place.
It’s one of a number of little squares in this part of town, laid out like a coiled string of beads. As with the others it would appear to have multiple names. The names are displayed on multiple ceramic plaques placed one above the other on a wall in the corner, as if the vested interests that come along and rename things have here lacked the ruthlessness required to erase the past; so this square which is called San Hiscio is also, apparently, called Plaza De Perulero.
I couldn’t care less – it’s got a great big cinema in it and I’m in love.
“Es un cine?” I ask a waiter in disbelief.
“No. Era un cine”. It was a cinema, but no longer. Dangerous ideas spring to mind, relating to cinema stewardship, but who am I kidding? I’m no movie buff and I have no money.
So how come I love cinemas so much? Something about promise, the enclosure within walls of such boundless fantasy; the infinite space of the imagination, housed in brick and mortar.
This one should be an eyesore, in a plaza that is otherwise an object lesson in the antique aesthetic of Andalucia. But it isn’t. Built in that “lido” style from the 30’s – or 50’s, I never remember which – it is glorious. An incongruity. A surprise.
Over the last year or so K and I would whisper excitedly to each other about the imaginary home we would live in once we had made our move. The imaginary house, the imaginary Tarifa, the cinema of our fantasy. Each time we would reach a point where we would run out of words. Neither of us seemed capable of pinning down specifics, of describing in concrete terms the things we wanted to be there, in the picture, on the screen, with us and the lagomorph. At these times we both resorted to a singularly inarticulate phrase that nevertheless meant everything to us.
What are the important things about the place we choose to live? We don’t know, but it has to make us smile.
What should our home be like? Don’t know, but it has to make us smile.
We’ve had any number of frustrating, sometimes heated, exchanges in our efforts to form a picture together of the details of our future, the lines and shapes of our success. No joy. But what we do know, after all that, is that if and when this adventure turns out well for us, we’ll be smiling. That’s as specific as we care to be on the subject. We prefer surprise.
I’ve been in the real Tarifa now for just a little under a fortnight, the first few days about as far from any romantic notion of idyll as it gets, awash with forms and photocopies, phone calls and fees. The following week had plenty of spectacle to offer. It has been Feria, the most important week in Tarifa’s calendar. I have witnessed the procession of the Virgen De La Luz, the many caballeros escorting her into the town, the women in their traditional trajes de faraleas, and have seen Tarifa’s people come to life and celebrate themselves, having played host all summer long to so many transient surfers and beach bums.
I’m in and out of the town on a daily basis, so I get to take the drive that brought me here that first day again and again. When I finish up each evening I take a fifteen minute walk to the main road to catch the bus. It’s a winding, hilly coast road that nonchalantly throws up views of the Straits of Gibraltar and the looming African coast.
Where the bus turns towards Tarifa the road is flanked by squat, ill-kempt buildings and lined with palm trees which lean sideways in the strong winds, their fronds just about horizontal in the air. There is something comical about it, especially as the pretty town is not yet visible. One wonders where one is, and why – the whole scene a little scruffy. For those that have made the trip before though, and for those with just a little patience, the descent into the gorgeous little pueblo is about to begin. Europe’s southernmost point, a stronghold for both Moor and Christian across the centuries and a gateway to the Straits; my reaction each time is the same, identical to the reaction I experience in San Hiscio square in front of the cinema – I can’t help smiling.