Deborah Sussman's Mallorca | Chow Bella | Phoenix | Phoenix New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Phoenix, Arizona

Deborah Sussman's Mallorca

If you can't stand the heat -- get in the kitchen. On Thursday, June 13, at 6 p.m. at the Lounge at Crescent Ballroom, Chow Bella writers are warming up for summer with "Fried," an evening of true stories. Admission is free; food and drink will be available for sale...
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If you can't stand the heat -- get in the kitchen. On Thursday, June 13, at 6 p.m. at the Lounge at Crescent Ballroom, Chow Bella writers are warming up for summer with "Fried," an evening of true stories. Admission is free; food and drink will be available for sale.

Today: Deborah Sussman's Mallorca

When I was 13, my parents sent me to Spain with my maternal grandmother. Her name was Maisie, but the grandchildren called her "Caia." It was a name she'd picked for herself because she didn't want to be called "Granny." Caia had bought an apartment in Mallorca, sight unseen, which was not out of character. Now she was inviting the grandchildren, individually, to spend time with her there. I was the first.

It began well. I had bought a diary especially for the trip, and my first few entries are surprisingly chipper. I was glad to be there, the weather was beautiful, the beach was lovely, and I met a German girl my age who taught me how to say "sea urchin" in German.

Instead of dwelling on the deserted, half-finished building in which we found my grandmother's new "flat," or on the many days my grandmother and I spent trying to track down a mysteriously elusive lawyer in the city of Palma (looking back, I think it may have been tto talk about said flat), I wrote about the espadrilles I wanted to buy, the books I was reading and the food we ate.

The Spaniards ate dinner very late -- past what was usually my bedtime -- which was both frightening and wonderful. The frightening part was being out at a restaurant with Caia, who was not the kind of reliable adult I was used to having in charge of me. For one thing, she drank. And when she drank, she got even bossier than usual.

One beautiful evening out by the pool, where the handsome Spanish boy I had a crush on was serving cocktails to the people who'd gathered to listen to music and maybe dance a little, Caia insisted that I waltz with her. Around the pool. To Abba's "Fernando."

Caia was not a small woman, and she tended to wear drapey colorful caftans when she was lounging. I, on the other hand, was small and pale, with stick-like limbs. So the two of us must have been something to look at, especially since I had never waltzed before.

Luckily, Caia didn't like the way I was waltzing, and our mortifying dance ended quickly. The wonderful part of being out to dinner at a restaurant with Caia at 10 o'clock at night thousands of miles from home was the sense that there was much less padding between me and the world than there was when I was with my parents. It meant I had to pay more attention, because the adult with me was not necessarily going to be capable of looking out for both of us. It was exhilarating. Colors were brighter, and I suddenly felt taller. I ate calamari for the first time -- calamari a la romana, which sounded impossibly exotic to me but really just meant fried squid in tomato sauce -- and it tasted like freedom. Delicious freedom. That may have been my first "grown-up" meal. And then, about two-thirds of the way through the vacation, I got a sunburn. because as much as I was paying attention, pointing my grandmother the right way every morning when she set off for the beach in the wrong direction yet again, I was only 13. And I'd never experienced anything like the strong Spanish sun. A wimpy bottle of Coppertone was no match for it. My pale skin turned bright red, hot and angry and painful.

That night, back in the cramped one-room "apartment," the sunburn hurt like hell. Caia wanted to slather me in suntan lotion before I went to bed, but I didn't want to stick to the sheets, so I said no thanks. Looking back, I'm guessing she'd already had a few drinks, because her anger with me seemed to be about something more than just my being sunburned and not wanting lotion on.

Maybe it's because I was beginning to show signs of homesickness, of wanting to be safely back with my parents, where bedtime was predictable and nobody was drunk. Maybe I really was being a brat.

Whatever the reason, my grandmother slapped me, which no one had done before. "You're just like your aunt," she said. "You're nothing like your mother."

I don't remember much after that. I must have managed to go to sleep. A week or so later, I flew home, back to my parents, who met me at the airport. My mother still talks about how healthy I looked when I got off the plane, all glowing and nut brown.

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