Norwegians sing about not wasting precious time sleeping during their luminous summer nights. And with those long and dark winters, who can blame them?
I have noted however, a similar nocturnal awakeness phenomenon here in the Spanish south. In our hometown of Ronda people also choose to stay awake longer and later, or seemingly not sleep at all in summer. This is not due to the midnight sun of course. The reason is simply that at this time of the year the nights are ironically the best part of the ‘day’.
When daytime temperatures exceed 30 degrees Centigrade in the shade and eggs can fry upon any sunny ledge, it is wise to seek shelter. Unless you must go out, the safest alternative is to stay indoors and only cautiously emerge from hiding in the late evening. Ronda is not as hot as Córdoba, otherwise known as Spain’s frying pan, whose temperatures can get near 50 degrees. Our town’s saving grace is its altitude and the mountains that surround us, which brings overnight temperatures down into the mid-teens. This dip provides a welcome break from the sizzling rays and a much needed cooling down of all systems.
As soon as darkness falls the people of Ronda flock out on the street, young and old, to seize the day by night. Actually, we do not have to leave our home to observe part of this summer night tradition. While our street is almost eerily quiet during summer days, when we head to bed around 11 pm it seems that all the three-year-olds in the neighbourhood have suddenly been let out to play, not to be called home until the wee hours of the morning.
For once, my husband and I decide to stay up and join the locals in a nocturnal summer stroll to see what happens in Ronda in midsummer after dark.
The restaurants in our local square are popular all year around, but on summer evenings there can be dozens of groups waiting for tables. Whether the guests get seated at 10 pm or at midnight, never mind, appetites are only sharpened. Families, including frail grandparents and toddlers way past recommended bedtimes, order drinks and food enough for a small army, while the barrio’s stray cats lurks about, waiting for a spare morsel.
The playground swings are in demand long after midnight. Children run around on permanent sugar highs, only coming back to their parent’s table to hurl down a last sip of Coca Cola or to get maternal comfort over a scraped knee. While elderly residents occupy the surrounding benches, youngsters on bikes and scooters zoom around the plaza in semi darkness. Older boys play a game of football, booting the ball onto the street or under restaurant tables without anybody taking much notice.
The local teenage girls have other games on their mind. With almost three months of holiday and generally no obligations other than rolling out of bed in time to be served lunch, their main occupation is parading about. The girls gather in large groups, generally scantily dressed in identical far-too-brief (practically cheeky) shorts, crop tops, sockless white sneakers, long ironed hair and the latest in dental-brace technology. They head downtown where similar groups of the opposite sex are waiting. Later, we see the girls again, one dragging along a pimply boyfriend, whose squeaky voice doesn’t seem to take away from his many charms. Like the tomcats in the barrio, the teenage lads circle around the females, ready to pounce, hoping to end the night with a hand snuck into bodily crevices that daylight hours would not permit. Such is teenage love and young lust readily on display on hot summer nights.
In the Alameda park, proud parents promenade with strollers, dogs chase balls and couples watch as the sky goes from pink to purple to deep cobalt blue.
Ronda isn’t yet offering midnight shopping to jetlagged travellers, so the street-long pedestrian mall turns into a bar hopping exploit. There are no lack of patrons in any of the town’s restorantes, courtyard cafés, rooftop bars and street-side eating establishments.
Waves of loud conversation and happy cheers are only interrupted by an occasional late night lover’s quarrel. Inevitably, a woman will be seen weeping into her cell phone, later to be reunited with her betrothed, proving that hot nights may lead to happy endings.
We notice a lot of parents with young children hurrying across the Puente Nuevo into the historic quarter of town. Are they finally recognizing that the witching hour has long passed and are going home to put their kids to bed? Following the crowd, we come to an impromptu outside cinema, set up against the old city wall. Several hundred popcorn-fuelled children with parental guides stare wide-eyed at the screen. The town is offering free movie Wednesdays with today’s feature being the latest animated version of Ferdinand. All the bulls are speaking Spanish, as they should, of course.
The church bells of Santa María la Mayor strike twelve, but nobody budges.
Like some other churches in the south, Santa María has opened their roof for visitations. We decide to end our night by climbing onto the catwalk leading around the church towers. We soon realize that we are not the only ones with this idea, as moon gazers and hobby astronomers naming star constellations join us in enjoying Ronda’s best night views.
Feeling content with our expedition, we head home through the old town, careful not to be flattened by nocturnal speeding bikers, pizza delivery mopeds or a lonesome brave runner. For night owls who have had enough of street roaming, there is always an until-sunrise concert on offer, or if less festively inclined, night walks with head lanterns.
Even the animals in town seem to keep summer hours. A canine choir competes with a 1980’s remix band playing at a wedding somewhere up on the cliff.
The town does eventually quiet down, except for the occasional braying sheep, love struck cats or partying neighbours, but by this time we are in bed with our windows open, letting in the cool night breeze and the scent of night blooming jasmine.