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Sport 40: 2012


page 98


When Gran turns sixty, she decides it warrants a double celebration— one in Finland, one at her summer residence in Spain. As we pass through Torremolinos I scan the streets for my childhood hero. History has proven him right. The Amoco Cadiz is on everyone’s lips, images of oily birds litter the news. Exxon Valdez has yet to be built and climate change is still decades away, but from this moment on I will remember the singer’s eyes as harbouring a mix of the despair of a budding environmentally conscious generation, and the kind of optimism only the young and undefeated can muster.

Gran disembarks at Malaga airport, balancing three polystyrene boxes containing homemade cakes slathered in mocha butter icing and kinuski, a toffee made with burnt sugar, butter and cream, elaborately decorated with silver pearls and marzipan roses. ‘Leftovers from my party.’ Gran hands them to us as if they were hatboxes containing the latest haute couture. ‘Didn’t want them to go to waste. Careful now.’ By the time we reach the car we’ve already been given a taste of her birthday party. The photos reveal the crème de la crème of the village mingling with farmers and forest owners under the crystal chandelier in the farmstead’s formal lounge; the lingering evening light, as much as the vodka and wine, raising everyone’s spirits after another long winter. I can tell Gran lived up to expectations. Her hair coloured a fiery red, carefully undulated, set off against an emerald kaftan, sparkling with faux jewellery. Grandpa at her side, doused in Old Spice, poking the air with the inevitable stinky cigarillo. ‘Exchanging Winter War anecdotes with a former lieutenant, no doubt,’ Dad muses,

‘or perhaps checking on the forestry stock market.’ Grandpa’s secret investment portfolio a standard post-midnight discussion topic at our family gatherings. In each photo Gran smiles the smile of film stars as she towers above the crowd. The bank director, the sawmill chief executive with his Clark Gable moustache, and the colonel who owns the village’s only hotel, barely reach to her shoulder. ‘My God, is that Liisa?’ my auntie asks and points at a mousy apparition with a hairdo that will rise to fame with Margaret Thatcher. That’s what happens when you live in a remote rural community, where the young leave for greater opportunities the day after they’ve graduated: you have to catch up by proxy. Each time you notice new furrows in the land and page 99 the people you’ve known all your life. You begin to notice that your memories hold stronger colours and are more fragrant than reality. And, over time, it becomes unthinkable that you would one day return.

We apologise for not being able to attend the party, as most of us now live overseas. Gran beams and assures us that being with her here in Spain is all that counts. After cakes and coffee, lots of red wine and three games of ruuvi—a cross between bridge and whist that has been known to cause players to gamble away their homes; all the more civilised this time since Grandpa is not present to call his partners idiots and asses—we take Gran to see flamenco. I’ve entered the no- man’s-land between childhood and teens, acutely conscious of my body, bewildered by its awkward growth spurts, its non-cooperative behaviour. It doesn’t help that my older rockabilly cousin flip-flops between considering me an annoying brat and a promising flirt. It doesn’t help that my auntie and Mum smile a knowledgeable smile and say, ‘What’s the story with cousins these days, are they allowed to marry?’ I’m good at soccer and raiding plum trees at dusk. I’m the fastest runner in the neighbourhood. A few months earlier I coaxed a friend into cutting off my overgrown tresses, revealing a swan’s neck and delicate ears, the effect surprisingly vulnerable. I won’t give up on my tomboy status yet, even if it means shoehorning my body into tight T-shirts in an effort to flatten budding breasts. The flamenco takes me by surprise. Never could I have imagined the power of a ruffled skirt, the determination inherent in the clack of a heel, the pride and beauty of heads held high, accompanied by clicking castanets. I don’t even notice the male dancers, they pale alongside the women. For months afterwards Mum tells me off for turning up my nose and stomping my foot whenever I want to make a point.