‘Sexy Beer’ on the Beach

I still remember watching the news on the day that topless tanning became legal in SA. It was around the mid-nineties and I recall being grateful that SA was at last letting go of some of the puritanical vestiges of our past. But when I caught sight of these bronzing beauties on Barcelona’s beachfront the other day, I started to think that the top-less tanning law may have had some positive spin-offs:

As it turns out, the view above was nothing compared to what we were about to witness. About half an hour later we saw someone strolling across the beach, absolutely stark frigging naked. Yip – 100% kaalgat from head to toe. We checked the bodies around us to see if we’d accidentally plonked ourselves down on a nudist beach, but no – everyone around us had their crown jewels covered up. The good thing about having one, lone, naked ranger on a beach full of bathing-suited people, is that it’s okay to stare, because, hell, everyone else is staring their heads off.

Later on, we were able to work out what had given the nude dude the balls (pun completely intended) to prance around in his birthday suit. The secret was revealed to us in the form of a beach hawker, who approached us offering not your usual selection of Dairymaid – no – he was selling cans Spanish lager. “Sexy beer! Sexy beer!” he exclaimed waving the cans in front of us. We politely declined. He looked wounded for a second but then he narrowed his eyes as though he were sizing us up and tried the following instead: “sexy drugs! sexy drugs!”

Nothing like knowing only 3 English words to completely focus one’s sales efforts.

That evening, as we walked around the vibey little alleys in an area called Born, the products and services on offer were to get even spicier. We had paused to discuss whether we would have pizza or tapas for dinner, when I heard a voice near my ear. It seemed to being saying “Steaks! Steaks! Steaks!” Although I don’t like strangers coming close to me at the best of times, a little bief-steak was sounding like a good way of breaking the deadlock on the pizza/ tapas debate. Instinctively I turned in the direction of the voice.

BEEEG mistake.

I was confronted by a scruffy little man whose eyes lit up as I looked his way. And when he stared repeating himself I realised what he’d been saying all along. It wasn’t steak at all. Nope – it was “Sex! Sex! Sex!”

Despite the sexy drugs and the sexy beer we’d been offered earlier, I could not have been more taken aback. Once again, I politely declined. “Thanks, dude. I’m married so I wouldn’t be keen either way, but I respect the fact that you’re trying to feed your family, so I’d like to give you some hints on your marketing efforts: if you’re the guy who’s actually delivering the service, then best of luck. However, if you’re working on behalf of some sexy Spanish gigolo, you might wanna whip out a picture of your boss for potential consumers. I think it would really enhance the sales drive. Hasta luego!”

Okay, so that’s what I would have said if I hadn’t been so completely freaked out. What I actually said was, "Oh my God! AAAAHH! Help!", ran towards The Sister, clung onto her little legs for dear life and didn't stop shaking for a good five minutes.

A South African in Barcelona

I experienced some panic in my first few hours in Barcelona. There were strong signals that my girls weekend could turn into a solo expedition – The Sister and two friends were supposed to be arriving from London but EasyJet had started cancelling some of their London-Spain flights because of an air traffic control strike by the French! (Not just Transnet who enjoys a bit of strike action, apparently). Planes have to fly over France to get from London to Barcelona, so the girls were in danger of being properly stranded. Then there was the Best Friend who’d missed her Barcelona connection because a diabetic medical emergency had stopped her from disembarking in London. She was also now potentially stranded in London because of the frigging Frenchies on strike.

Despite these bad tidings, I decided to make the most of this new city and left the apartment to go and explore. Armed with absolutely no information on Barcelona (besides Vicky Cristina Barcelona – duh) I decided to do what women do best: ask. I walked into a café on my street corner and, in very broken Spanish (with some Italian thrown in for good measure), I said something which probably sounded like:

“Where is walk, city, famous, beautiful, tourist, nearby?”

The Gran and Gramps behind the bar could not have been more charming and, happily, they seemed to understand precisely what I was saying – when in doubt, use muchos key words. Within minutes, I had enough information on nearby attractions to keep me occupied for many hours – that is, if ever left the café because Gran and Gramps couldn't stop chatting. After a long chin-wag, they asked me where I was from. I told them I was from South Africa. Response to my nationality abroad never cease to amaze me. The Apartheid regime was almost as internationally infamous as the Nazi regime and yet tons of people the world over seem to be surprised that there are white people in South Africa. Gramps, for one, was having none of it. He was convinced that I was having him on. I've experienced this reaction so many times that sometimes I get a bit impatient, but this old man was such a honey that I tried to humour him. I told him that I knew it sounded incredible but that it was absolutely, one hundred percent true.

Still, looked skeptical. Finally, he decided to demonstrate to me just how silly my little story sounded.

“If you’re South African,” he said, “then I’m Chinese!” and he pulled up the corners of his eyes on either side and nearly killed himself laughing.

I was liking the Barcelonians more and more.

By now it was about 5pm and I wanted to check whether the girls would be able to catch a bite to eat chez Gran and Gramps when they (hopefully) jetted in at about 11pm. So I asked them what time they closed shop, to which Gran replied, “Oh, we close at 1.”

I was like, “One a.m. in the manana? Seriously?” I could barely remember the last time I was awake at that hour, let alone working. I felt tired for her.

Welcome to Barcelona:
9:30am: the city's a morgue, except for a few tourists
10am – 12pm: shops open for a little taste of the work day
12pm – 4pm: Leisurely lunch and then SIESTA, baby! (who can argue with them there?)
4pm – 8pm: shops open
11/ 12pm: dinner
1am/ 2am: clubs open
4am/ 5am: the dance floor is packed
8:30am: clubs close for the night, er…I mean, the day…

Serious body clock adjustment required for us Anglo-saxons!

Natalie, Angel, Barcelona

I'm always on high alert when I travel overseas. Kind of ironic for a Joburger, I know. I think it’s some kind of Moonbag Mentality of “they rob you over there”. It was instilled by my mother when I was a teen and it's somehow never left me. Arriving in Barcelona the other day was no exception. I was only meeting up with friends later in the day, so I was traveling into the city alone and was thus on extra high alert.

We'd reserved an apartment on-line, and, as the first to arrive, I had to collect the keys and pay the agent. I had dutifully sms'ed the agent – one "Lorgia" – to up-date her on my arrival in Paris. I then let her know once I’d touched down in Barcelona. I informed her once I'd picked up my bags. And then I sent her a last little sms reminder that I was in a taxi, on my way to the apartment. Just to be sure that I wasn't left standing on a street corner waiting for her.
Well, my plan completed back-fired. When I reached the apartment entrance, Lorgia was nowhere to be seen and I was indeed confined to the street corner with two big-ass suitcases, looking like a homeless person. Nice.
Absolutely no sign of Lorgia and no answer from her cell.
To make matters worse, an annoying little man kept sticking his head out of the window above me, trying to chat me up in Spanish. He was also signaling that he’d open the entrance door for me, but I was having none of it. I was a street-wise Saffer and there was no ways I was going to fall for his offers to let me into the building while I waited for bl**dy Lorgia. I would just wait patiently (okay, impatiently) in my sweaty, stinky travel clothes, in the boiling sun for this woman.
Eventually the silly cow answered her phone. When I told her that yes, I was outside the apartment building, as arranged, she seemed genuinely surprised. She then told me she’d let me in. “OMG!!!” I thought, “She’s been INSIDE the whole friggin’ time. Grrrrr”.
Next thing, the entrance door was buzzed open. I stepped inside and nearly collided with the annoying little man. “Oh God – you again,” I thought, but he was bustling around me so I decided I would let him drag my two humungous suitcases up the stairs. Not my problemo if he wanted to be so ingratiating. I just needed to find Lorgia and then I’d get rid of him.
He seemed to be moving my bags with purpose and because I had no clue which apartment this woman was meeting me in, I confess I kind of followed him. Straight into an apartment. Which turned out to be empty – i.e. no Lorgia.
Now I was alone with the annoying little man who was suddenly not only annoying but also completely freaking me out. Where was Lorgia? "Donde esta Lorgia, dude?" To which he replied that he was Lorgia’s colleague and that I needed to give the rental money to him, not to Lorgia.
“Ja, RIGHT, dude! Do you seriously think I was born yesterday?” Okay, that's what I wanted to say except that those words don’t form part of my miniscule Spanish vocabulary. Plus I was locked into an apartment with 40kg of luggage in a completely foreign city so perhaps it wasn’t good to antagonise the man…
I managed to get across the notion that Lorgia had NOT told me I would be meeting with a “colleague” of hers. So, until he could provide some kind of proof that he was Lorgia's colleague, he wouldn’t be seeing one single cent from me. Of course, if he was a full-on baddy and not just a con artist, then he could always just whack me over the head and grab my hand-bag but I was holding thumbs that he was an first tier criminal and not into knives, etc.
“Me llamo Angel,” he said (pronouncing the first syllable “an” like the “un” in “under” and the second syllable “gel”, like the first part of the Afrikaans word geld – i.e. with a hard “g”. ) That was his proof? Telling me that he was named after a religious symbol? I gave him a look that said “you’re gonna have to do better than that, buddy boy” and tried to look super hardcore, when inwardly, I was petrified. Had I survived the streets of Joburg only to be conned/ mugged by a guy named “Angel” in Barcelona?
After about an hour of Angel saying his name and insisting that he was Lorgia’s colleague and me giving him the death stare, the elusive Lorgia eventually returned our 17 missed calls. She confirmed that yes, Angel was her errand man and I could safely hand him my cash. Er…thanks for letting me know, lady!
So that's how we ended the staring stand-off. Angel handed over the keys, I handed over the cash and he shuffled off into the streets of Barcelona.
It took three days before I was convinced that he wasn’t coming back to raid the apartment with his spare keys. Seriously, though, can you really trust a dude called Angel?
Apparently you can but I wasn’t taking any chances.

Brunettes Bite Back

The Husband and I watched Vicky Cristina Barcelona last night. About two seconds into the movie it becomes patently obvious that blondes have more fun. Granted, “blondes” in this case equals Scarlett Johanssen who is no ordinary blonde, but still…

I know the “blondes have more fun” thing has been a universal truth since before Marilyn, but I still think it’s unfair. Last night, I was feeling a tad more upset than usual about this state of injustice. Out of nowhere, I found myself throwing a tantrum in front of the TV, “I hate it! I’m Vicky, the boring brunette and the blondes get to be Scarlett. IT’S NOT FAIR!”

I’m not normally this unhinged (okay, not always) but I think I was feeling extra brown-haired and banal after a little episode the day before. I’d just finished a fun-filled Chardonnay lunch with two girlfriends and was dashing to my 3pm hair appointment when Ballito Babe (the little beetch has just fallen in love with a hot, older man and is upping and moving to Ballito this weekend – hence the name) goes: “Are you getting highlights? Get some highlights. No really, Nats, you should get some highlights.” I was trying to shoot daggers at her with my eyes for moving to Ballito, but now, she was insulting my au natural, aw so BROWN, hair-colour. Just to explain: when I first met Ballito Babe I went blondish for a couple of years. Just to test the “more fun” theory, you see. (And the answer’s yes, BTW. Men really are that shallow). After month 22 of peroxide sessions, I had a hunch that things were starting to go a wee bit pear-shaped in the hair department. But when my father (he’s a man of few words, to begin with, but when it comes to the topic of my sister and my appearance, he’s practically mute) said,”You look common,” I knew my blonde number was up. Ever since then, I’ve been brown and proud. Well up until last night, anyway.

When I announced that I was “Boring Vicky”, I did realise that I came across as a completely lame, self-pitying female. What I hadn’t bargained for, however, was The Husband’s response. “Great, so that makes me Dependable Doug!” (Doug is Vicky’s super dull, fiance). This may have been kind of amusing for five minutes, but instead, he sulked the whole way through the movie. No matter what I said, I could not convince him that the whole Scarlett/ Vicky/ blonde/ brunette thing had NOTHING to do with him whatsoever. To make matters worse, Doug’s character got more and more loathsome as the movie progressed. “I can’t believe you’d compare me to that guy!” I was like, “I’m not! This is so not about you”. And then the movie would flash to a shot of Doug in his neatly pressed fawn-coloured Bermudas, with his iron-over side parting and his preppie accent. He’d be boring Vicky and co. to death about his latest golf game. Snore. And I’d try again: “You don’t even play golf. In fact you HATE golf. You’re a sexy cyclist…”

“Baby………..?” I tried again. I have to say that his lip did start to pick up a bit when I mentioned ‘sexy’ and ‘cycling’ in the same sentence.

In the midst of all this, I was still silently seething as Scarlett’s character continued to, quite literally, have all the fun, as she lived out her sultry, romantic dream with Javier Bardem in balmy Barcelona. (Blonde beetch).

And then, all of a sudden, the brunettes bit back. Enter Penelope Cruz as Javier’s magnificent, fiery, talented, dark-haired ex-wife, Maria Elena.

Sweet revenge.

Even Scarlett’s character with her comparatively goody-two-shoes, all American twang was starting to look a bit washed out in comparison. (And that’s saying something). Of course, Maria Elena turns out to be a stark raving lunatic but by then, Scarlett’s Cristina character has been exposed as immature and flighty.

So maybe blondes don’t always have more fun.

Anyway, I will soon find out since four ice blonde Icelanders have just stepped off the ’plane and into my living room for a week-long visit to Africa. Two years ago, I spent four days in Iceland in mid-summer with chattering teeth and cobalt blue lips, while the North Sea winds whipped through every bone in my body. I don’t know if it’s universal karma but the torrential Joburg rains should have them feeling right at home in no time. Or perhaps it’s another form of revenge against the blondes?