I just learned that the place where Michelle Obama is staying in Spain is next to my old house!
In 1987, my family moved to southern Spain. Our house was a cortijo, a one-level farmhouse built around a courtyard, and was only accessible by a dirt road leading into the local village 2 kms (about a mile) away.
Although we weren’t in the middle of nowhere, we were near natural wilderness. My brother, Teddy, and I used to go for long walks in the campo, making up our own Famous Five-inspired adventure as we went along.
We’d scale over our fence and run down the unofficial road to Lake Taraje, passing a large carob tree with a sad-looking donkey tied up underneath. I remember being told that wild boar roamed the area, although I never saw one.
Lake Taraje is actually a reservoir that is full in winter, but drained in summer. I always marvelled at the dried-up bed, whose bright green moss was something of an anomaly in the usually ochre palette of a Spanish summer. Come winter, the stillness of the lake and its murky depths used to freak me out, even though I knew what lay underneath.
Regardless of the season, once we reached the lake we’d follow its river upstream, heading north into the foothills of the Ronda mountains. We’d scramble through rocky streams, with the occasional bushy oleander branch thwacking us in the face, and follow goat paths overgrown with gorse and prickly shrubs that scratched our calves, but we didn’t care.
Our trails usually led to a long-abandoned house in ruins where we’d enjoy plain tea biscuits and peach juice. This was a favourite game – to end up in a broken down house and pretend it was ours. (My best friend, an American girl who I will call Flor, even went so far as to name her local dilapidated shack Teahouse of the August Moon, presumably after the Vern Sneider novel.)
On my recent trip to Spain, where my mother still lives, we took a little trip down memory lane. We approached the cortijo via the back route from Benahavís and I didn’t recognise where I was. The lake is still there, but gone is the feeling of wilderness: what was my bumpkin jungle is now a golf course.
I suppose this all sounds rather sentimental. The impetus for sharing this snapshot of my childhood comes from the fact that this golf course is part of a rather fancy resort, Villa Padierna – where Michelle Obama and her youngest daughter are currently staying.
And, according to Google Maps, it looks like Villa Padierna was built upon the land where my abandoned goat-herd house used to be. Quelle coincidence!
-Hey, mi casa, tu casa, FLOTUS!