Like thousands of families around Spain, Marina and I have left the heat of the city and headed for the in-law’s house in a village in the Sierra above Madrid, not far from El Escorial, to try to cool down. The same thing is happening in Seville, Valenica, Malaga… wherever there is higher ground nearby, it is typical for those that can afford it to have a summer mountain or hillside retreat in which to live out the hottest two or three months of summer. The trouble is, that at only 300 metres (1,000 feet) higher than the capital, it’s still pretty damn hot…. Here is an outline of yesterday’s timetable, a fairly typical day in the Sierra:
9 a.m.: Wake up, annoyed, having seen the time. The only cool part of the day, from 7 until 9 a.m., is now lost, the sun is up and already burning. It is still 30º C (86º F) inside the house. Feeling horribly dehydrated from the two, just two, glasses of wine I had late last night with dinner.
12 a.m.: Having worked for a couple of hours outside on the terrace, under the shade of a thick stripy awning, it is now just too hot to be outside at all. It’s the switching point, where the house, now up to 32º C, is noticeably cooler than the fresh air in the garden, so I retreat inside with my laptop.
1.30 p.m.: The in-laws go down to the small pool in the garden to wilt by/in the water. Aperitvos might be rustled up, some jamon and queso, patatas fritas… lunch is still a loooong way off. It’s at least 36º C (97 ºF) down there. I jump in and out of the water, but retreat back to the shade straight away. “¡Qué ingles eres!”, how English you are, they call after me as I run from the sun.
2.45 p.m.: Time to start preparing lunch, slooooowly.
3.15 p.m.: Nope, still too early for lunch. Time to swim again, apparently.
3.30 p.m. – 4.30 pm.: Lunch! Followed by a long siesta for most of the family. Too hot to sleep, I continue to stare drowsily at the laptop. Doing anything productive is impossible.
5 p.m.: The hottest part of the day. I wander listlessly through different rooms of the house, out onto the terrace, into the garage, looking for, feeling for, subtle temperature differences, trying to find somewhere, anywhere, that it’s cool enough to think. No air-con here. It is insufferably hot everywhere.
8 p.m.: The family is down by the pool again. I wait half an hour to join them, when the sun has gone behind the trees and the temperature outside finally begins to go down, minimally.
9 p.m.: Desperate for beer. Decide, mistakenly, to wait for dinner.
10 p.m.: Desperate for dinner.
11 p.m.: As pubs across the UK are shutting, expelling their drunken clients to stumble home, we arrive at a local bar for the first beer of the evening, and dinner, which is served by a resigned looking Argentinian waitress 30 minutes later, at 11.30 pm. Children from the age of 3 upwards run energetically amongst the tables, no sign of bedtime yet. At last the temperature outside has dipped just below 30º C (86º F), and it feels wonderful to be eating in the fresh air. We finish dinner half an hour past midnight, a touch late, but still perfectly normal in these parts!
1.45 a.m. Lying in bed, stomach full, no breeze, still 30º C in our bedroom… waiting restlessly for the usual too-full, too-hot, crazy dream sleep of summers in the Sierra above Madrid…
This summer-sierra lifestyle is getting hard-coded into me as the years in Spain go by, and despite the struggle with the heat, I wouldn’t change it (the occasional welcome breeze, the cool of the pool, the aperitivos, midnight on lively bar terraces) for anywhere else in the world…