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Never Judge a Book by its Cover #3
by Jilliana Ranicar-Breese

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 wisely.

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!

Written on 23/2/17 in the Hotel Plaza Cavana, Nerja in the province of Malaga about an hour and a half drive from Marbella.