The People of Gibraltar
1950 - La Terrasse - Memories of la Caleta

Lavagna and Robba - Pisharello and  Bonfiglio
Delipiani and Bernard Calamaro  - Mr Macarri

One very hot afternoon this summer (1) as I strolled along the road above Catalan Bay village (see LINK) it suddenly registered in my torpid brain that at last they were going to build something on that area of sloping ground that over the years has deteriorated into a sort of cat jungle. And the next moment a host of memories came rushing back. 

Anyone who remembers that place when it was La Terrasse bar-restaurant (2) will bear me out that it was a gem, with its several terraces, winding stairways and nooks and crannies that reached down almost to the level of the village waterfront.

The clump of trees bottom left with the two palm trees more or less hides the location of the old Terrace bar-Restaurant    ( From a 20th century photograph )

Several large trees, still there, added much to -the special atmosphere of the place, and whatever it is they’re going to build I hope they have the good sense not to knock them down for the sake of a few extra square yards of space, because that tiny grove contributes much to the overall appearance of La Caleta.

At night, the many discreet corners of La Terrace provided as many havens for courting couples, where they could whisper and giggle in relative privacy and do all the things lovers do - well, not all, perhaps. But anyway it was a great pity that La Terrace should have remained - to put, it very politely - shut all these years of closed-frontier situation when people have most needed open-air places of entertainment in the summer.

Although I used to frequent La Terrace fairly often in the mid-50s one occasion in particular has stuck in my memory. It was one evening at the time of the Queen’s visit when the whole of Gibraltar was in a festive mood and naturally La Caleta was no exception.

I was having a drink in one of the aforementioned quiet comers (if you must know, with my girl-friend doing all the things etc., etc.) when we heard distinct sounds of jollification coming from below. So we ventured down to the lowermost terrace - which incidentally was a dance floor - and for the rest of the evening we were treated to an unforgettable free show.

One of the few easily available photographs of La Terrace - the bottom white wall on the left with the white posts was the lower terrace and dance floor

An RAF band that had been brought out specially for the occasion of the Royal visit was billeted in Catalan Bay, and many of its off-duty members, beer mug in one hand and musical instrument in the other, had gathered by the sea wall to put on an informal concert for their hosts and make the most of the beautiful evening - l'm not sure if the moon was out, but it should have been.

And then suddenly a small chubby man with an angelic face was ushered to the front by his fellow-villagers. He stood smiling shyly for a few moments, then conferred briefly with the band leader. And the next moment the velvety May night was pierced by one of those liquid quasi-falsetto voices a la Tito Schipa.

Older readers will no doubt recognise the singer as a gentleman by the name of Lavagna, who often performed in Fiesta en el Aire, and who rendering of ‘Sorrento’ that night brought the house down. And the matter did not end with ‘Sorrento’.

Catalan Bay has changed a great deal in recent years. Not necessarily for the worse - simply changed. Obviously it’s an improvement that more people are better housed, and whether the fact that fishing - once the life-blood of the village - has been relegated to a secondary role should be considered a good or bad thing is for the fishermen themselves to decide. The big change, of course is the Caleta Palace Hotel which overshadows the village.

One thing that never seems to change is the levante, that two-faced Janus both friend and foe of the Caleteños, which at its best brings fishing weather and balmy evenings with the sea smelling faintly of water-melons, and at its worst bring the storms that swallow up the tiny beach.

Stormy levante swallowing up the beach

Today, as with a great number of fishing villages along any coastline with the right climate, the accent is naturally on tourism. Perhaps it is its very tininess - even by Gibraltar standards - that gives La Caleta its special flavour, its small size accentuated by the towering heights behind it. 

There is also the immediacy of the sea, the maze of little alleys and steps with boats parked here and there, that little gem of a church, not to mention the resident colony of herring gulls which seem so much a part of village life they should be given the right to vote. Besides - perhaps temperamentally I take a special delight in this - nobody ever seems to be in any great hurry in La Caleta.  And last but not least, there are still a few older villagers around who know more about fish and the weather than the rest of us put together.

But this is supposed to be "Remembering". La Caleta used to be different in many respects. Even the topography seems to have changed. l have a photograph dated 1925 taken from the landslide end and the beach appears distinctly larger than it is today at low tide. There is a row of tents close to the shore and plenty of space for another row behind with an ample passage between rows.

Probably the photograph referred to in the text   (1925 )

No doubt the present sea wall impinged on the sands from behind, but sea has also been eroding the beach — in this photo there seems to be hardly any water below the near side of la Mamela. 

La Mamela - a large stone at the south end of the beach  - the name is derived from "mamella" the Catalan name for a woman's breast     ( National Geographic ) 

Older photographs of La Caleta show marked differences in the village itself. But one way or another it has always had a special fascination for people from the other side of the Rock

Before the war it seems that my parents idea of a perfect night out was to picnic by moonlight in La Caleta (there was certain lady in the village gifted in the art of preparing "callos" which presumably they washed down with Simonds' Beer.) (3)

Eric's mother and father somewhere in Catalan Bay - no doubt looking forward to a hearty plate of Callos (4)    
But I can go much further back than that in second-hand memories. In the 1880s my maternal great-grandfather used to rent a place in the village during the summer months, and his youngest daughter - my grandmother then in her teens - was a sea-bathing enthusiast. I don't suppose she wore a bikini but still it must have been considered pretty daring in those days.

Maria Luisa Gomez - Eric Chipulina's maternal Grandmother  - as a young woman

Catalan Bay ( 1880s - G.W. Wilson )  (See LINK)

lt’s curious how, despite the upheavals of the last war and despite much more intermarriage with West-side foreigners during the post-war years, some Gibraltarian surnames are still labelled ‘Caleteño’: Robba, (see LINK) Pisharello, Bonfiglio, Calamaro, to name a few.
There used to be an old joke that if you shouted “Hey, Robba!” in La Caleta half the population would look up (come to" think of it, the same joke could well be applied to my own surname on the west side of the Rock).

I've known quite a few thorough-bred Caleteños in my time, either in the course of daily life or because l was at school with them One particularly belongs to these pages of ‘Remembering’, the late Bernard Calamaro who was the victim of a motor accident some 30 years ago. He was only in his early 20s then, a great sportsman turning out in Gib United colours as their latest discovery.

Bernard Calamaro - top row second from right   (With thanks to Eric Pozo )

To get away from this sad note, l also recall a gentleman by the name of Dellipiani - perhaps he’s still around - who was a sort of one-man met office. If you wanted to know what the weather was going to be like on a specific date for, say, an important sporting event, he was definitely the man to consult. I've heard organisers discussing arrangements and invariably someone would ask "What does Dellipiani say" and then getting angry with the poor man because he forecast rain on the day. Such is human nature.

But I mustn’t forget to mention veteran schoolmaster Mr Macarri - and I mean Mister with a capital M. In Madeira during the evacuation under conditions of acute shortage of text books, he had the unenviable task of trying to knock sense into scores of unreceptive skulls, among them my own. Perhaps in the privacy of his own home he would occasionally bang his head against the wall from sheer frustration but in public I don't recall ever having seen him lose his temper, though God knows he had every reason to do so.

His severest expression of disapproval was a flick of one forefinger and the memorable words "Proceed to the line!" A philosophical man if ever I met one.

Written by Eric Chipulina.

1. Probably very late 20th Century
2. I knew it as la Terraza - or la Terrasa in Llanito (see LINK
3. Simonds' Beer. During the 19th century Simonds' Brewery was one of the main suppliers of beer to the British Army and branches were set up in Malta and Gibraltar. 

On the right a partial view of a bar in Governor's Square selling Simonds' Beer

4. Callos - A traditional Spanish stew consisting mainly of tripe, chickpeas and blood sausage.