Freddie plunged into the swimming pool and swam underwater to the far side in a few easy strokes. The tiles beneath him were smooth to the touch and intensified the blueness of the space. He surfaced, shaking the water from his hair and climbed onto the side of the pool. It was going to be another hot day, and the gentle breeze that blew from the sea was warm and it carried a slight saltiness.
After breakfast he got dressed and checked the map again. They were planning to visit Valldemosa, a small town high in the mountains, where the composer Chopin had once stayed and written one of his most famous pieces. He knew, from is research, that the town was very pretty and had changed little since the composer’s time there. Recent building along the coast, where hotels and apartments were erected almost continuously, had made little impression on the old, inland town whose recorded history went back almost a thousand years. Now that Freddie was on Majorca he was excited at the thought of visiting the place where the great man had once stayed. He had been a fan of the composer’s work for many years and knew it well. This was going to be fun and he closed his eyes and imagined Chopin’s delicate fingers gliding effortlessly across the keys as he played. The sunbeams dancing on the pool’s water seemed to share Freddie’s excitement.
Oh to be beside the sea
‘You’re up early.’
Freddie opened his eyes and saw his mother standing at the patio doors and about to step out. ‘Hold on, Mum,’ he said ‘those tiles are very hot, they could burn your feet!’ He went inside and got a pair of slippers for her. ‘Now, put them on.’
They sat at the table, beneath a large green parasol, and took in the magnificent view of the bay where yachts rested as jetskiers cut white trails in the blue water. Overhead, in the clear sky, sunlight sparkled off a jet as it sped towards Africa, its contrail like a tear in the heavenly cloth.
They enjoyed tea and toast and his mum talked about the beautiful setting. ‘Reminds me of….Italy,’ she said ‘it’s like being on the Amalfi coast. It was all steep cliffs and water as blue as anyone could imagine. Wonderful!’ She smiled at the memory.
‘Yes, it’s really something.’
A few minutes later his sister, Jilly, came down and joined them at the table. ‘Are we all ready for the day?’ she asked and sipped her coffee. ‘It’s going to be hot up in Valldemosa, really hot, not cool like here.’
‘But it’s roasting,’ he said.
Jilly raised an eyebrow. ‘Better make sure you put on some sun block,’ she said looking at him, ‘you have to watch yourself. You’re on holidays and you don’t want to be getting sick.’ She spent plenty of time at her villa, and knew that you had to be careful in such heat.
A small, puffy cloud slid past the sun but still the temperature rose.
They stayed at the table taking in the postcard-like scene. Above, gulls swooped and cawed, and along the road below palm fronds waltzed in a steady rhythm. It was idyllic and Freddie was reluctant to move but the lure of Chopin was too much. ‘When are we going to leave?’ he asked.
‘There’s no rush,’ said Jilly putting her cup down. ‘I thought we might go into Palma first, as I need to get some things there. And Mum and I can do some shopping.’
‘That would be lovely,’ said Mum quickly and he knew that Chopin would have to wait a little longer.
‘Sounds good to me,’ he said and got up and dived into the swimming pool again.
Palma was hot, with a street temperature gauge showing 35 degrees, and it wasn’t even midday! Jilly and Mum went shopping while Freddie explored the cool back streets and spent a pleasant half-hour in the Arab Baths. The peace and quiet behind the ancient walls, where tall trees and gurgling fountains made their own paradise, was at odds with the hustle and bustle of the town centre. He stayed awhile soaking up the atmosphere as the aroma of lavender and orange blossoms drifted exotically by. He wondered if Chopin had ever been here, for if he had, it would surely have inspired him. The place was intoxicating and nobody could help but be charmed by its stillness.
Freddie and the ladies met up in the Plaza Mayor and he sipped a badly needed cold beer. It was getting hotter by the minute and his Mum had to open her bag, root around, and take a puff from her inhaler.
‘What else is in there?’ he joked and Jilly laughed as she took a quick look into the bag.
‘That’s for me to know!’ said his Mum smiling and winking at Jilly. She had carried that crocodile-styled (or Croc as he humorously referred to it) bag for years and he often joked about its contents, but had never managed to find out what it contained. She took it with her everywhere – if you saw her you saw the bag as well.
They left Palma and its boat-filled harbour behind and headed north as the road noticeably began to rise. Into the hills, passing the university campus, the road ahead was a black streak on the brown landscape where rows of olive trees and orange bushes spread their leaves.
Twenty minutes later they arrived in Valldemosa and Jilly parked the car in the shade. Freddie opened the door and the heat hit him like a slap in the face; it was like nothing he had ever experienced. Applying more sun block and checking that his Mum was ok they quickly got into the shade offered by the tall, narrow streets.
The town was busy with holidaymakers strolling easily about the cobblestoned streets, while others sipped cold drinks beneath big parasols. Craft shops and local artists attracted business as sunbeams streaked between swaying leaves, dappling the well-worn stones.
‘That’s where you want to go,’ said Jilly pointing to an old monastery at the end of the street. ‘Mum and I will sit in the shade over there and we’ll see you later.’
‘Ok,’ said Freddie, but noticed that Mum’s breathing was getting shorter.
‘We’ll be ok,’ Jilly said catching his eye. ‘Go on.’
‘La Seu’, Palma cathedral
Walking to the end of the street he stepped onto a blanket of shade where the monastery cast its cooling welcome. It was built over seven hundred years ago and had aged well with few obvious signs of repair. The bell-tower’s shadow stretched across the street square like a long, pointing finger. He took a photograph and went inside.
He spent the next hour in the picture gallery, pharmacy and cells where Chopin had lived during the winter of 1838-39. He had travelled here, to the mountain dryness, to seek relief from his worsening tuberculosis. Sadly for him the weather was particularly damp that year and it did little to alleviate his discomfort. He did, however, manage to write a number of preludes, of which The Raindrop, inspired by the rain falling from the roof of his apartment, is the most famous. Standing in the corner of the small room opposite his piano Freddie imagined Chopin sitting there, pen in hand, composing and sometimes glancing out the window at the forest below and the expanse of Palma Bay beyond. In such a beautiful setting it was easy to see what had inspired him.
Afterwards he met Mum and Jilly and savoured another cold beer as they sat under a large parasol and watched the world go by. Across the road a guitarist played and spicy aromas drifted from a nearby tapas restaurant.
Mum took another puff from her inhaler and put it back into her bag. ‘Are you ok?’ he asked.
‘Fine,’ she said ‘it’s just very dry and dusty here. I’ll be alright.’
They went home, unloaded the bags that Jilly had bought and carried them downstairs into the kitchen. With the sun, now a large orange ball, they again sat on the patio and had dinner. Around them the sound of birds on the wing and chirping crickets was a noisy chorus. They chatted about the day and what they might do tomorrow when Mum reached for her bag.
‘What’s wrong, Mum?’ asked Jilly an edge of concern to her voice.
‘My bag, where did I leave it? Did you see it anywhere?’
Jilly got up and looked around the patio and then inside, but she couldn’t find the bag. ‘I hope that you haven’t left it at the bar in Valldemosa,’ she said and tried desperately to remember when she had last seen it. Freddie remembered seeing it at the bar, but after that he couldn’t tell. He could feel panic in the air and wondered if the local pharmacy was still open.
‘I don’t know,’ said Jilly ‘it’s late and it might be closed, but we better check it out. Come on.’ They left the villa and drove into town to find that the pharmacy was closed, but there was an emergency telephone number on the window. Freddie dialled and in stuttering, schoolboy Spanish found out that a pharmacy in the next town was open but would be closing in twenty minutes.
Jilly drove as quickly as she could and, thankfully, found the chemist, its green, neon sign flashing at the end of a long, busy street. Freddie dashed inside and, with Mum following, he explained the situation, and in a few minutes they had two new inhalers. The panic was over and Jilly took it nice and easy on the way home where she opened another bottle of wine. ‘I needed that,’ she said as they clinked glasses. The ladies sat again on the patio and Freddie went inside to put on a CD. As the air filled with the sound of Chopin’s beautiful music Freddie slowly sipped his wine and knew that it had been a great day.
Later, when he was going to bed he went into the lounge upstairs to get the book that he had been reading. He reached down to pick it up and couldn’t believe his eyes when he noticed something lying there, partly hidden by a cushion. He grinned, shook his head, and picked up his Mum’s bag. He gave it to her, and she was a little embarrassed at not remembering where she had left it. Everything was fine and, after all the panic and running around, there was not a crocodile tear in sight. Buenos noches!
Keep an eye out for The Croc