Susanna Pyecomb and Miriam Appleton-Brown are looking forward to their “jaunt” in Ibiza. No, it won’t be that kind of holiday… In their early 50s, neither is looking for the clubbing experience – though they agree “a little dance” might be nice. The friends, who live a couple of Surrey meadows away from each other, bonded years before at the parish hall’s Introduction to Watercolour classes. They’ve since taken up painting with gusto, and now Miriam’s decree absolute has arrived, she’s celebrating with Susanna on a Mediterranean art trip. Susanna has a “pass” from her ever‑busy barrister husband, Rupert.
Paintbrushes and palettes packed in their carry-ons, the women disembark at Ibiza airport, find their luggage, travel rep and the rest of the party: Fran and Polly, two lissom Brighton art students, and Henry, a suave and well-kempt 40-something Londoner.
It’s early evening when they arrive at San Juan, to the north of the White Isle. Heading towards Cala San Vicente, the minibus stops at a run-down farmhouse: Chez Carlos. Susanna and Miriam have genned up on the “intriguing” Carlos, the artist who’s welcoming them into his studio and his home. He’s renowned for his “raw, emotive” paintings, which, to the Surrey gals, are oddly exciting in their splattery abstraction.
The man himself emerges. He’s gorgeous – big, brooding and dark; Javier Bardem meets Benicio Del Toro. Susanna jumps out in an inexplicably girlish manner, followed by the others. Carlos kisses each woman’s hand, gives Henry a bear hug and shows the ladies their rooms. Rustic, bare and slightly dusty, they’re hardly luxurious. Miriam would normally demand an upgrade, but she’s strangely thrilled by everything tonight. The women are on the first floor, the men upstairs. Carlos tells everyone, “If any of you need anything – even in the bedtime – I’m up here…” His Spanish lilt seems as thick with possibilities as it is with rolling Rs. Over Carlos’s lamb and apricot tagine and copious bottles of red, the young women flirt outrageously. “It’s so vulgar,” Susanna whispers to Miriam. Carlos suddenly claps. “Now to my outdoor studio – the garden! We sketch.” “That’s keen,” says Miriam; neither was expecting to demonstrate her artistic prowess tonight nor had they envisaged the next declaration: “First we make fire, for charcoal; then we draw the sound of the ocean.” Come 2am, Miriam and Susanna, unconcerned by soot or mosquito bites, have drawn just that, along with the “smell of honey” and the “rhythm of the night”.
Carlos is very attentive. Henry has already headed for bed, but none of the women is prepared to go upstairs first. This is recognised by all four as a declaration of war; it is going to be a long night. Carlos opens the brandy.
Next morning, the females are out to impress. During “abstract painting”, Carlos implores everyone to lose their inhibitions. The young women remove their clothing, cover parts of their anatomy in paint and make an impression – not just on paper. Miriam and Susanna are barely speaking to them, or each other. Susanna asks for Carlos’s help with her artwork – arcs of paint thrown across a canvas. All it needs is a couple to tango across it, “to embody passion”. Miriam, furious at seeing Suze clinging to Carlos, says she’s having trouble “encapsulating the sensuousness of the Ibiza air”. Carlos takes her hand and runs through the orchard with her, urging her to “fill her lungs”.
During an awkward lunch, Carlos announces, “Señoras, we have a treat this afternoon: life drawing with the best model I’ve ever known. Such beauty! Mi amor will pose for you.” How stupid they’ve been! Of course a man like this has a girlfriend. She probably looks like Penélope Cruz. Miriam directs a conciliatory smile at Susanna. On the way to the life-drawing pavilion, her remorseful friend says, “I don’t know what we were thinking… We’re nowhere near being Vicky and Cristina, and this is certainly no Barcelona.” They’re even further away than they realise, for the model embracing Carlos is not a Penélope-esque stunner but the debonair and gentlemanly Henry.