Never Judge a
Book by its Cover #3
It was 1973
when I went on holiday with my parents to
Marbella before it had been established as the HQ
of the Costa del Crime and Port Banus had not
been thought of, let alone constructed!
A very ordinary holiday but I recall two things.
The beautiful village of Mijas with white walls
and dark pink bougainvillea and hanging baskets
of perfumed flowers. The village was full of ex-pat
Brits getting drunk, perched on high stools in
the bars because there was nothing else to do
during the day except drink the cheap alcohol.
The other memory was the delightful Plaza de
Naranjas, full of orange trees and cafes in
Marbella. It was there that I met the formidable
American sixty-something Beatrice Whittles from
Philadelphia who spoke to me from the next table.
Two years later I rented out my flat for a year
and became an adventurer again having tasted the
wanderlust adventures in South America in 1970. I
had carefully planned six months travelling
around America ending up in California where my
cousin Johnny lived and six more in Mexico.
The journey would start in Canada visiting
my best friend Helga who, at that time, was
working as a radio journalist in Toronto for the
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I
travelled down from Toronto in April entering the
US in Boston. Next, I continued on to
Williamsburg, Connecticut, New York and
Washington where I had connections. Suddenly I
thought of powerful Beatrice who had invited me
to stay. Thence I arrived by Greyhound bus from
Washington and was warmly welcomed by the tough
old buzzard who lived in upmarket Melrose Park.
Beatrice lived in a large old English
clapperboard style detached house. It was painted
white from the outside and appeared to be 'normal'
but inside it was painted Schiaparelli Shocking
Pink (after the famous perfume of the 50s)
contrasted with black shiny painted wooden floor
boards throughout. The walls were dramatic pink
everywhere you looked except for the large formal
lounge. There, carefully positioned, the focal
masterpiece hung over the marble fireplace, was a
magnificent original Dufy circus painting with
horses. I proudly stood in front of the painting
while Madame photographed me dressed to kill and
still have the photo today. Madame had good taste
and spent her hard earned money carefully and
I was made most welcome despite our age
difference. Beatrice had retired from a
successful career in advertising having her own
agency in the city. Her grown children had flown
the nest and were in Washington and Manhatten.
She had turned one of the bedrooms into a studio
and, influenced by strong colours, began to paint
landscapes from her European Mediterranean
travels. She had had great success exhibiting in
her native Philly and New York commanding high
prices for her oil paintings. My favourite was,
of course, the Plaza de Naranjas in Marbella.
She proudly showed me around her city. I saw the
famous Liberty Bell, art galleries and museums
after taking me out for humongous breakfasts but,
like a mother, always controlled what I ate. A
very bossy demanding woman but I adored her
creativity, spirit and strength. A woman who knew
what she wanted and was not afraid to speak up
and ask or should I say demand! An intellectual,
she was running out of years having no time to
waste on the trivial things in life like
hairdressers, manicures and fashion even though
she was dressed in French or Italian chic clothes
brought back from her travels. Yes Beatrice was
svelte and she knew it!
She almost starved me! She had decided to compile
recipes of Macrobiotic dishes. Brown rice was the
order of the day for light lunch and dinner! She
would experiment on moi! In the end, after five
nights, I grew used to her bowls of organic chewy
rice with Japanese seaweed, soya dressing,
sprinkled with strange nuts and seeds. Madame was
writing and compiling a cook book and had a New
York publisher waiting in the wings. I was her
guinea pig victim! She needed me it seemed to
experiment on as much as I needed her hospitality.
I was an impoverished TEFL teacher who had rented
out my London flat to a gay doctor demanding two
months rent plus a month's deposit against damage
in advance which financed my adventure.
Decades later I find myself not too far away from
Marbella. I have never been back to see those
famous orange trees where the spirit of Beatrice
Whittles and Jilliana is ever present. Viva
Beatrice! Viva Jilliana! Viva Espagna!
on 23/2/17 in the Hotel Plaza Cavana, Nerja in
the province of Malaga about an hour and a half
drive from Marbella.