78 – Sex and Rolexes on the Beach

He’s one of the tallest men I’ve ever seen.  And he definitely has the biggest smile.  I guess you have to develop an easy charm and a friendly manner if you’re trying to sell complete rubbish to beach-goers in order to scrape a living.

Gabriel is there most days.  Sometimes he has hats, occasionally sunglasses, but his speciality is high-class watches.  Rolexes.  At a real bargain price of just €50.  Who can resist?

78-beachHe says that enough people do buy from him.  He gets by.  Just enough to pay a little rent for a bed in a room he shares with his cousin, in a house with four other guys in a part of town where the houses are over-crowded and sometimes shift-workers use the beds on rotation .  His cousin Ibrahim came to Spain first, during the Civil War in Sierra Leone.  Gabriel stayed to look after his little sister but after the war, when employment in Freetown was at an all-time low, he followed his cousin here in search of work, and in the absence of a proper job became a mantero (named after the blankets on which they display their wares).

He doesn’t like the winter in Spain – he needs more income to pay for some basic heating, but earns less because there’s nobody on the beach.  Sometimes his cousin gets some building work.  They both do a few hours a week for a big vegetable co-operative but the company favours other workers who will turn up all year round.  In the summer Gabriel would rather work the beach – he likes to chat to the women there.

Gabriel is one of life’s optimists.  “Yes I think people will need watches today, it’ll be a good day” he says.  “Yes I think this week we can pay the rent, it’ll be a good week” he grins. “And look – the sun is shining and the ladies are on the beach”.  His smile lights up his face.

He speaks Spanish clearly and I enjoy it whenever he stops for a chat.  One day I can’t help myself – I do the unthinkable.  I suggest to him that perhaps the watches he is selling 78-greenwatchmight not be genuine Rolexes.  He looks shocked.  “Yes yes, very good watches, best Rolexes in the world.”  He straps a fluorescent green plastic Rolex around my wrist, next to the watch I am already wearing.  He admires the lime-green beauty of it and invites me to do the same.  “Fifty euros – bargain price” he says.  “But for you, beautiful lady, I will lose money but you can have it for forty.”

He is charming but he needs to be talking to people more likely to make a contribution towards his rent money this week.  “Gabriel, I already have a watch, I don’t need another one.  Look, there’s a group of girls arriving – you will have more luck with them.”

“You are lovely lady” says Gabriel.  “Final offer – you pay me €30 and you can have Rolex watch AND I give you the beautiful sex too.”

I ask him how often that particular line is successful.  A soft, wistful smile plays about his lips and the far-away expression speaks volumes as he recollects the last time he smoothed the sand in a private corner of the dunes for “the beautiful sex”.  His focus returns and his grin widens.  “Sometimes I can’t pay the rent” he says “but instead I think about the beautiful ladies I have talked to and taken into the dunes.”  He laughs.  Rich or poor, he makes the best of things.  He says his life is hard but it is good, and he doesn’t want to live anywhere else.  He and I, both immigrants but under hugely different circumstances, share a deep love for our adopted country.

78-Mantero-watches-1I take off the lime-green plastic Rolex and hand it back.  I have no doubt that the price would have gone lower and the “added bonuses” would have increased.  I tell him as I have before, that if he were to sell sarongs I might buy a couple.  But if he is going to meet his daily income target or disappear into the dunes with female company, he is going to have to get back to work.

He wishes me a good day and turns away.  A spring in his step, he makes a beeline for the group of girls unpacking their beach-towels.  He got nothing from me.  I, on the other hand, have expanded my Spanish vocabulary in an unexpected direction.

© Tamara Essex 2013



Back in post number 69 “The Many Faces of Feria”, the language point was about the difficulty of translating book titles, especially those with double-meanings. https://tamaraessexspanishblog.wordpress.com/2013/08/22/69-the-many-faces-of-feria/

One which my profe hadn’t realised HAD a double-meaning was “The Importance of Being Earnest”.  The official Spanish translation gives up entirely on attempting to include the aspects of seriousness, of “earnestness” and simply goes for La Importancia de Llamarse Ernesto”, or “The Importance of Being Called Ernest”.  Shame, but there was nothing they could do!

I think my favourite translation was “Gone With the Wind”, which frankly is made even more evocative in “Lo Que el Viento Se Llevó”, or “That Which the Wind has Carried Away” – love it!

T H White’s tale of King Arthur has the wonderful title “The Once and Future King”, which I had translated in a rather pedestrian manner as “El Rey Pasado y Futuro”.  Much more poetic is the correct translation “El Rey que Fue y Será” – “The King who Was and Who Will Be”.

Any other good titles?  Does anyone fancy having a stab at translating Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”?



11 thoughts on “78 – Sex and Rolexes on the Beach

  1. Ahhhhh, Tamara. I’ve bought beach stuff and sunglasses etc from them, my mum bought a watch once, she loved the haggling…..no ‘extras’ though I have to say ;-). An insight into their lives makes for an interesting read. Thank you.

  2. The “Looky Looky” men (as we called them in Lanzarote) have an optimism and a resilience unlike any other salespeople. They work hard, and never drop their smiles… even when spoken to very rudely by others. Some of these guys faced death in their home country, and death again as they rowed across the waters to escape. They’ve had it tougher than most… but always live each day as if it were going to be so much better than yesterday. I guess in some cases it will be!
    I have no issues being approached on the beach or prom… but I do get quite “firm” when I am eating in a restaurant and have a cardboard roll adorned with Gucci sunglasses and Rolexes shoved between my mouth and rapidly traveling, pulpo laden fork.
    I “acquired” a glittery Santa hat a couple of years ago from a fella who shouted at me along the promenade, “I know you! You are from Playa Blanca! You live there and have black dogs!” I was 40 – 50km from home at the time in a different resort. Wasn’t aware I looked much different from any other Brit. Ah well, it made him a sale because I talked some kids into buying hats for themselves, and so he gave one to me for free for helping the sale along… oh and for being someone he kinda “knew”.

    • People round here call them Lookey-Lookey men too Elle, I’ve always assumed it comes from the need to be always looking over their shoulder for the police. Yes it’s rarely a profession of choice, and each one has some personal story usually involving hardship beyond anything we’ve ever known.

  3. In fact, La Importancia de Llamarse Honesto would probably have been better. Though it doesn’t mean exactly the same, it renders the double meaning better.
    For the Unbearable Lightness of Being, there’s a simple one La Insoportable Levedad del Ser

    • Yes I agree about the Oscar Wilde one Robert, it is easier to “pretend” that the adjective is a name, than the other way round. And yes, you have the correct answer to the Kundera 🙂

  4. Life’s adventures brought to light and written in a lighthearted way – luv’em and the various adventures apply to most of us who read them. Do let us have more – a big thankyou to Tamara – kindred spirit. from Almayate Playa where agriculture meets the Mediterranean

  5. Pingback: 104 – All the Language Points in One Place | A Foot in Two Campos

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