For as long as I can remember, we used to escape from Barcelona to my grandparents’ villa in El Vinyet and spend long summers and weekends there. As life would have it, I was to return to that very house many years later as a tenant!
School would break up before the verbena of Sant Joan on 23 June and we would not return to our classrooms until the end of September, by which time the heat was less intense and we were looking forward to going back, almost bored by the length of our summer holidays.
Life was lived at a slow pace; an afternoon on the rocks in front of a blow hole near the cemetery would provide enormous entertainment, watching the piece of paper we had dropped into the hole blast up into the air. On some afternoons, the son of engineer and painter Miquel Utrillo who lived on the same road as we did, would let me ride his donkey, leading us by the halter to the promenade and back again.
The pastry shop La Estrella would deliver a delicious breakfast to our door, (its burgundy-painted wooden façade is still visible on Carrer Major 52) and there was a farm below the train tracks where we could buy fresh milk in a neighbourhood known still by many as La Granja.
My father had a white Salmson convertible and I can still remember the excitement of the drive from Barcelona to Sitges along the Carretera de les Costes, the scenic coastal road. During the years of my childhood, cars sales in Spain were exponential, and photographs of the Passeig de la Ribera with shiny cars parked below the church are a testimony to that growth.
Our family had a blue and white striped beach awning in the Club de Mar, an institution that was founded in 1952 and still exists today, and as kids we would play in the shade alternating with dashes to the water.
When we were seven or eight years old, we would walk along the beach to the breakwater under the church where our swimming instructor would be waiting for us to teach us to dive from the rocks!
When I was fourteen, I was given a Vespino motorcycle to be able to go back and forth from Sitges to Sant Pere de Ribes, where I had my first job teaching French to the children of a large family. In those days, nobody wore helmets, not even for long rides. I recall having driven on our mopeds behind my father from Barcelona to Sitges and it took us two and a half hours. The rest of the family took the train.
We would meet up with friends at the Golfito, an institution in El Vinyet where we would all enjoy the enormous, delicious bocadillo de jamón made by Juanito. Some evenings would find us watching a film at the open-air cinema either at El Retiro or El Patronat, eating pipas (toasted sunflower seeds) and leaving piles of husks on the floor. To our delight, geckos would dart across the whitewashed wall that served as the screen, snapping up insects attracted by the light.
I cherish these childhood memories and it gives me great pleasure to see groups of children and adolescents enjoying themselves en pandilla, as I did when I was their age.
The Festa Major and Santa Tecla (the festa petita) have always been the height of the summer in Sitges. I was born on the 23 August, the night of the grand fireworks and for many years I thought the festivities were to celebrate my birthday.
Local families still plan their holidays around the dates of the fiestas as nobody wants to miss the fun, adults and kids alike excitedly designing their group Ts and painting their straw hats. As Sitges grows, I marvel to see how its traditions are kept.
Sitges has a special place in my heart and just as for others before and after me, it is my home and my passion.
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