"I don't think a women sunbathing without the top half of her bikini offends anyone," Placido Conde, governor of Malaga province on the Mediterranean coast told reporters this week. "So I don't intend to do anything about it."
In a tree-shaded corner of Madrid's graceful Retiro Park an open-air movie theater operates after dusk in the summer. Watching "The Marx Brothers at the Circus," a teen-ager the other night was handing around a porro--a marijuana cigarette--to his friends. Nobody seemed to mind.
Topless women at beaches and pools and the scent of the weed from Morocco are two indicators of an officially sanctioned tolerant mood that marks the first summer in office of Spain's Socialist government.
Conde is just the latest official to speak his mind on the "monokini." Mayors up and down the coasts have been saying the same for the past month. His stand, however, earned him a bouquet from Madrid's Diario 16 newspaper, which observed that "governors before were not so sensible."
Spaniards recall how two-piece swim suits introduced by foreign tourists were officially frowned on in Gen. Francisco Franco's time. A decade or so ago the tricorn-hatted Civil Guards used to patrol the beaches to enforce the strict code of public morality.
Midway through July an overhaul of the penal code came into effect that included, among other innovations, dropping criminal sanctions on the possession of marijuana for personal use. Asked to define what personal use meant, a Justice Ministry official said, "Probably something under a kilo, but of course its up to a judge to decide that." The key change was that personal possession of a "soft" drug was no longer a criminal offense.
Under the new directives, however, smuggling and selling marijuana remain crimes and offenders face a prison term of from one to six months. The sentence is higher if the drug is sold to minors, at schools or in military camps.
The penal code revision drew a distinction between "soft" drugs and "hard" ones, such as cocaine and heroin, and set prison terms of between 6 and 12 years for possessing or selling the latter. Formerly the same maximum 12-year term could be handed down whether the drug was hashish or heroin and whether trafficking or personal use was involved.
The official attitudes to changing social practices are new. The mores themselves are not. Some women were already shedding their bikini tops last year even on the sedate north coast beaches of San Sebastian, the traditional favored watering hole of Madrid's rich.
Many young people, despite the harsh potential penalties, have been smoking marijuana more or less openly for years.
"We are just acknowledging a changed reality," said Justice Ministry spokesman Francisco Gor. Playing down the implications of lifting the ban on smoking pot he said the legal overhaul had simply clarified blurred and outdated drug legislation.
When the penal code revisions sponsored by the Socialist justice minister were debated in parliament earlier this year the conservative minority offered only token opposition. At their annual convention, the conservatives' youth wing had called for removing penalties from the use of marijuana.
Even the Roman Catholic Church, which retains a powerful voice in Spain, said little on the marijuana issue. Nor have there been protests from the pulpits over waterside nudity. The clerical criticism is directed almost solely at the government's planned lifting of bans on abortion when the legislature reconvenes after the summer recess.
Some see in the coexistence of the old and the new a new-found Spanish virtue of being able to "live and let live." In Madrid, punks crowd the summer sidewalk cafes in the cool of the night and, in an increasingly visible example of change in a macho society, transvestites stroll up and down the main Castellana Boulevard barely drawing a second glance.
And yet nobody would claim Spain is a completely secularized society or that the old Spain has gone forever.
Thousands gathered this week at a Madrid convent to attend an annual ritual in which the dried blood of a 13th century saint known as Pantaleon becomes liquified inside the chalice where it is kept. To witness this happening, which coincides with the saint's feast day, is supposed to bring good luck.
"More people come every year," the abbess of the convent told a radio reporter.
Spain's veneer of modernity is only one of its faces. A few miles inland from the suntanned breasts on the coastal resorts women remain robed in black from head to foot in the white-washed pueblos that appear untouched by time.