Thoughts on Spain

It is raining when we reach Madrid Airport, just like it was when we left J.I.A. nine and a half hours ago, and just like it will be when we reach Malaga three hours from now. It is a persistent, unexceptional rain; we barely blink when it blows against the huge windows and falls fruitlessly onto the tarmac outside

My brother may be calling me; I am not certain, in this mid-morning pre-dawn confusion. He left me a few minutes ago, armed with a plastic bag filled with the thick bronze Spanish Pesetas to find a Coke.

My brother may be calling me; I am not certain. I am suffering from that jet-lag unique to the nine p.m. from Johannesburg to Madrid. A dull aching; no variance in emotion, oily and bruised.

My brother may be calling me; I am not certain.

The English, as a culture, and its bastardised brethren the United States of America, and to a lesser extent South Africa and Australia, are single-handedly responsible for destroying paradise. Their innate curiosity, and their adopted problem child capitalism has transformed the untouched beaches and startling jungles of Spain, Africa and the East into souvenir shops and McDonalds'.

Perhaps that is the flaw: that wherever the British or their brethren may travel, they always long to create another London; a place of dark blues and greys far more poignantly reminiscent of the North-East of England than a simple spray of wild flowers. Only the dark optimism of the American psyche saved New York from being New London. And maybe this would explain the British passion for overpowering Scotland: the longing so built into the national character that almost from the womb, the typical Brit longs for the penance and subdued formality of the Highlands.

The only nation more detestable for picking up this expansionist philosophy is the Japanese, who not only do it knowingly, but faster, cheaper, and with advertising campaigns starring Sylvester Stallone and Tom Hanks.

One day we will wake up and find Bali gone; and in its place huge billboards proclaiming 'You Can't Beat The Real Thing' and 'Over 1 Billion Served'. And quick as a flash, in one last glorious burst of exploratory discovery, Sony will purchase the moon, and sell pieces of it to visiting tourists.

The clouds here on the south of Spain have an impressionistic, three-dimensional look to them, a foreign feeling of depth and texture. Equally distressing is the inability for the sky to control the eye-widening salmon-pink colour it invariably turns at sunset, instead of the usual baby blue.

As we walk to dinner, I am reminded of the impression I received when I first arrived: this is weather with a purpose, undeniably indifferent to popular opinion; without malice, but certainly without favourites. Cliff and I take photos of the Castle Bil-Bil as the clouds, silver linings afire with rosy flame, fade into the the blue-black of ten o'clock.

Cliff and I sit up late at the sidewalk tables of a Spanish tapas bar. After sampling everything but the tripe, I am almost, but not quite, driven to buy a box of cigarettes.

The effort involved in getting change, coins for the monolithic, brooding cigarette machine puts me off, and we walk back to the Sahara Sunset swinging bottles of Aguilar and watching the youths on scooters racing suicidally through the midnight streets of Benalmadena.

The N340 is a narrow, silver highway that runs from near Rincon de la Victoria in the East to Cadiz and Gibraltar in the Southwest; through the permanent metropolitan beachfront bustle of Malaga, though Torremolinos, Benalmadena, Fuengirola, Marbella, Alcantara and Estepona.

But if you leave the beachfront road and turn north somewhere near Marbella, you will travel towards the lower Southern foothills of the Spanish mountains. Here, you will climb more than a kilometre up the face of the aptly named, volcanically-coloured Pink Mountain, and if you turn around and gaze back towards the coast, you can see, past chestnut trees, Kashogi's mountain hideaway, and thirty kilometres of rolling fields, all the way into the clear waters of the Costa del Sol.

But if you continue onward, over the equally descriptive White Mountain, you will crest one final rise and find yourself staring down into a bowl filled with sunlight, and the medieval Moorish fortified city of Rhonda.

What kind of strange colonial magnetism can make 30 000 people cling desperately to the jagged edges and steep cliffs of a home on a mountain so small it's actually called a rock? What incredible patriotic fervour must be contained in each one of those souls; to wake each morning and be definite of others cradling the certainty of your existence; the incontestable knowledge that you sit, solitary, a somewhat nearer fighting fortress in what remains of a far flung empire.

I dwell on this on the long road from Malaga to Jerez, and imagine as explanation God's obsidian arms pushing an enormous hand into a perfect corner of Darling England, and transplanting a piece of the Isles into a dollop off the coast of Spain.

Sometimes, when the mist is thick, the Gibraltans do not have to see the coast.

We are delayed for an eternity. After laughing at a flight to Caracas that befell a similar fate earlier on, we are visited by the hand of justice and are grounded while technicians sort out deliberately vague terms like 'technical problems', terms that span a range of possibilities from engine failure to drunken pilot.

The announcements at this time of the morning are croaked out by a mumbling mongoloid, obviously a fan of the Marlon Brando school of vocalisation. They are also made in a kind of obscure Oriental dialect of Spanish, rendering all facts completely incomprehensible.

The stewards on gate duty also seem completely incapable of telling time, and so we do not know how long our plane is grounded, whether we are at the right gate, or even whether we have any chance of leaving Madrid Airport alive.

They have closed the coffee bars and restaurants; no one has any food or drink, and the more restless passengers are eyeing my muscular thighs hungrily.

My family form a circle around our duty-free shopping bags, and wait for the worst.