If, in the very olden days, you ever read my blog, even just once, you’d know I was fixated on the bata, the sleeveless housecoat that is made of the purest polyester and printed with flowery patterns or a tight teal, moss or poopy coloured check. I found it fascinating and weirdly sexy. I own three*. Two of which were given to me for a laugh, because of my fixation, and one I bought myself because I liked it.
Along with so many things, the bata seems to be slowly disappearing. I hardly ever see anyone wearing one any more where we live now, apart from some of the older stall holders in the market, and very old ladies who watch the world go by out of their windows.
When I first came to Portugal, it seemed to me that every woman over about 35, owned one, at least where I lived. That was in a big, sprawling, semi suburban village, and the only people I would see during the day were stay at home mothers and grandmothers who spent their days ironing and cleaning and cooking for their families, having a quick gossip at the café or the mercearia and then cooking and cleaning and ironing some more while the tv kept them company and their husbands spent the evening in the café or bar, and their children and grandchildren went their own way to do their own thing.
These women spent all the hours of the day standing up, and so whatever shape they were, pear, apple or stick, they generally had the most perfectly tuned calf muscles. They never stopped. In comparison, I was the layabout Englishwoman in the village (I was the only one back then, and therefore rilly fucking weird and I was object of suspicious looks for many years). I didn’t spend much of my time cooking, hardly any cleaning and I have ironed about 10 times in the last 20 years. As I didn’t need to protect my clothes from grease and bleach, I didn’t wear a bata. But those women were up to their ears in grease and bleach every day. They needed their batas; cheap, quick to wash and dry, could even be worn just over underwear in the horrible summer heat. And I still think that they were truly heroic, dedicating their whole lives to caring for their families. In those days, it was grandmothers who took up the slack and kept the whole country going.
I hope that the passing of the bata is a sign that not so many women are having to dedicate their entire lives to looking after other people, locked away in their houses, making sure everyone is fed, and clean and has their clothes ironed, with just the tv for company while their husbands spend the evening in the bar, because they were, are, heroic, and I wish they didn’t have to be.
*I never wear my batas, because I remain a slovenly creature, don’t mind if I get a bit grimy, and ironing should be banned for good.