Toby Kay | Summer not in the city
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Summer not in the city

The sky has turned blue, Maria brown, and I red.

Summer is here and Oliva is in full swing. Last weekend we had a dog parade, a figatele and gin party, and a box-car race.

It’s not Benidorm, but we like the quaint small town aspect to life here.

The figatelle and gin shindig was in the square by the house. Figatelles are a local speciality – halfway between a meatball and a faggot, with added liver, wrapped in caul fat and served on a bit of bread.

They taste much better than they sound.

The local church has had bits dropping off it over the last few months and this is a fundraiser. The music runs late into the night but after a week of travelling we are too tired to attend. Friends tell me that the police arrived at 11pm to make sure that the music stopped. It did, but as soon as they drove away everything started up again.

We went to the box-car race last year. Homemade gravity-powered boxcars lurch down one of the steepest hills in town. I was hoping for more speed and possibly some injuries. Nothing life-changing, but just enough to pique interest. In actuality one giant plyboard creation in the shape of a rubber duck needed some help to keep going after it ground to a halt.

No doubt caused by a surfeit of figatelles.

This coming weekend the paseo is being taken over by a “medieval” market. The usual market is just a Friday affair, with the mainstays of produce being cheap clothing and fruit and vegetables. The medieval market will be more crafts, cake and booze. It’s how I imagine Etsy’s offices on Friday afternoon before a Bank Holiday.

Last week we were in Gothenburg and then a day trip to Valencia to meet Maria’s cousin and his family who are on holiday from Finland.

It drove home the differences between Northern Europe and where we now live.

There are the obvious factors. Price of food and drink, the weather, customs and traditions. But intriguingly the people are different, but somehow similar. The Spanish, despite their loud children and late-night fiestas are a private people. Houses are shuttered up against the heat, but also outsiders. The only others we see on adjoining roof terraces are expats. Or the occasional Spanish laundry-hanger.

When we were living in Sweden, we found, despite Maria’s inherent Swedishness, that the locals were not keen to welcome strangers into their circle of friends. We have made some Spanish friends, but none well enough to be invited round for a figatelle or three.

Perhaps the one other striking similarity is in the innocence of a small town life. Having spent most of my adult life in central London; our times in Trelleborg, and now Oliva seem a thousand miles away. Figuratively as well as literally.

Maybe it’s the same in small town Britain, but I suspect not. In anything that can be classified as a town in the UK, there always is an underlying sense of grittiness for me, that seems to be absent in Scandinavia and Spain. Neither are complete bastions of wholesomeness, but there is a slight naïveté that adds an undeniable charm.

By contrast, the expats on Oliva seem to have made up for any reticence of their home nation or their current hosts. Maria remarked that she hasn’t made so many friends since her twenties (an increasingly embarrassingly long time ago for us both). This is what make life here special. The spirit of the town, new friends and a dislocated community of individuals eager to embrace the culture around them and, in the words of E.M Forster, “Only connect”.

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