Thursday, July 02, 2015


Mojácar was an Artists Town

Mojácar was 'discovered' by artists. Until the 1950s, there was little to be said about the town. It had fallen into obscurity and there were few people left. The population was numbered in the hundreds and the rest had gone away, either in search of work, or through political problems following the Civil War. A film crew descended on the village in 1953 and shot part of 'Sierra Maldita' (short video here. Mojácar appears from Minute 3). There was no road to the village in those days, and the crew parked in the river-bed below and mounted the hill on donkeys.
The village was in ruins. Those who left would disassemble their homes, selling the iron rejas, the beams, lintels and woodwork. There would have been no chance to sell the house, no takers. An abandoned home in those days was a ruin open to the elements.
The artists came during that decade, a group from Almería who called themselves 'Los Indalianos', after the Almerian Saint Indalecio. They found a local totem here, the little Mojácar man, an inspiration to any self-respecting artist, and so named it after themselves, and that's how 'El Indalo' was born. They painted portraits of the local people, paintings of the town and the sierras, and were inspired by the light, the landscape and, I think, the poverty.Their art can be seen in the Doña Pakyta museum in Almería (where the Rambla and the Paseo meet) and is well worth the visit. The Mojácar Town Hall owns no examples of the Indalianos, and has no interest in the subject. Indeed, in the museum in Almería, there is no mention of Mojácar and the 'Indalo' is credited as a totem from Vélez Blanco (yet, in the enormously detailed 27 volume Espasa Calpe encyclopedia of 1920 - there's a set at La Voz de Almería - there's no mention of 'Indalo').
Then came the foreign artists and their companions. Apart from Jacinto Alarcón, mayor during the final Franco years who gave land or ruins to those foreigners who agreed to repair of fix them, little notice was taken of these settlers who brought in the money that began to make the local people wealthy.
Today, we have a remarkably ugly 'municipal art gallery' which shows exhibitions in a desultory way. No one goes. The artists themselves have largely chosen more welcoming villages in the sierras, as these days, Mojácar prefers tourists.

Monday, June 22, 2015


Mojácar Earthquake

Mojácar and Vera were largely destroyed in an earthquake which occurred on the night of November 9th 1518. Articles in Spanish here and here tell the story.
There had been a series of worrisome trembles that year ever since mid-June, but nothing to match the final convulsion.
Briefly, with the eternal threat of the Barbary Pirates (I wrote about them here), and all the local defenses demolished by the ferocity of the earthquake - we are on a major fault line, the same one that finished off the Minoan Civilization in Crete in 1450BC - the area was suddenly and abruptly in a bad way. It was, after all, just thirty years after the towns had been liberated by the Reyes Católicos.
It was a Tuesday, and the earthquake arrived around about midnight. Vera was totally destroyed (the hill behind the current location of the city 'Cerro del Espíritu Santo' was the old town) and Mojácar was badly hit. There's an eye-witness account from the then mayor of Mojácar - Iñigo Guevara - who described the collapsed castle in these terms: 'I saw it all fallen in, until the very foundations were visible. There is almost nothing left of the fortress which is so flattened that it appears to have been destroyed by all the artillery of the world'. A report from the time says that almost a third of the eighty homes which made up Mojácar had collapsed. Another report says that the clergy were frightened to give Mass in the church due to its state. It says in the original:  "En la dicha villa de Moxacar no se dize misa a causa que los clerigos no osan entrar a dezir misa a la yglesia porque esta para caerse a causa del terremoto que agora hizo”. A little over a dozen people died in Mojácar as a result of the earthquake. In Vera, the death-toll reached 150. The survivors of the catastrophe  fired an arrow into the sky to chose the site of the new town (Wiki).
Vera in the Middle Ages
The Pirates? 1,500 Moors showed up outside the defenceless village of Mojácar on October 7th 1522. Some of them might even have been born there. No doubt it was time to head for the hills...

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Back at El Boticario

Trawling back to last September here on Spanish Shilling, I wrote about the Parque El Boticario outside Almería City in the Los Llanos de La Cañada (near the Riding Club). This is a 14Ha park designed by the Conserjería del Medio Ambiente, stocked with all the different flora of the province ('1.300 árboles, 2.000 arbustos y 75.000 plantas'), with a duck-pond, 'Moorish gardens', children's park and other wonders. The whole thing, built with European funds, was hastily offered on completion to either the Diputación or the City of Almería. Both declined the kind offer.
So Medio Ambiente (a bloated and largely useless organisation - how could it be otherwise?) was left with the job of maintenance, gardening and watering. They naturally dropped the ball. The park last September was dry and in a sorry state - some of those senior's exercise machines which every village and town feels obliged to buy and leave dotted around, were rusted out. Some overflowing dustbins from a Sunday party. Some dead trees and bushes, some infected plants (chumbo, palm trees and olive, indifferently attended.
A second visit a couple of weeks ago, after a few spring rains (a few), and the Boticario looked a little better. There's a large bar/restaurant, evidently rented out privately, on the edge of the park. Perhaps it pays for a gardener or two.
The park is open - except on Mondays - and it's a nice and of course quiet place to visit, but don't expect to see the maintenance and respect it deserves... 
Later:  I returned a third time later in June, and walked around the higher part of the park, where the shrubs are ever drier. Then, on leaving the park out of the gate - just in front I found the Bar Álamo (it means a poplar tree). Great air-conditioning, and the owner is an accomplished artist with some of her pictures up on the walls.

Monday, June 15, 2015


The Bug in the Computer

This fine looking but rather creepy picture was made by an AI, an Artificial Intelligence. A computer. I understand that it was told to go and make something artsy and this is what it came up with. The story is here.
We have been warned about these things - computers which are so clever that they can upgrade themselves without our interference, making them cleverer still. Those who enjoy Terminator will be familiar with these things, and the premise - or perhaps promise - that they will one day decide that the World doesn't need Humans any longer.
Cue the sinister music.
While I am not the one to write the story, in my version there would be a saviour. Small and fairy-like, in their tens of billions, those minuscule flies from the chumbo, the prickly pear, that have assailed Almería this year. They swarm and fill our eyes, noses and mouths. They go straight through the mosquito netting. They swat into a tiny red blob of cochineal. They are in our drinks, our food,they are clouding milk-white around the lights and, most destructively of all, they fly into the fans and the insides of our computers.
Short-circuiting them.
Would the AI stand a chance against the tiny creatures that have defeated our scurvy ecologistas? Not likely! 

Monday, June 01, 2015


Barbara Napier. It's Been a Year.

Barbara died a year ago, and I miss her.
She was a brave woman and a kind one. She suffered from a disfiguring disease called Wegener's Granulomatosis, and from 2002 until her death on June 4th 2014, she was not only in terrible pain, but was forced to undergo the most humiliating and terrible punishment, together with at least thirty major operations. These were either paid by the insurance we had, or later, when money was tight, by the Spanish National Health (which is very good, and our thanks to them).
Barbara was born in San José, California on July 7 1953 (she wrote about her early life - and her poisonous siblings - on her blog here) and she arrived in Spain in around 1980, staying originally with her parents who were living in Mojácar, but soon, in her own house on land next to the family estate.
She must have been amazing when she was young. Here's what a friend of Barbara called Sharon wrote:
'I just wanted to share a special memory I have of Barbara with you. My parents lived on Trinity Ct. near Foothill Elementary School and Barbara lived miles away from me in another part of Saratoga. One Saturday she called and said she was going to come see me. About an hour later the doorbell rings and Barbara is at the front door and her horse was out on the street. It must have been Jiggs. She got back on him and we stood out there and chit-chatted for a while until she decided it was time to ride him home. Of course for her to ride to my house and back home she had to ride on Highway 9 for several miles. I always wished I could have seen the expressions on the faces of drivers as she rode her horse home on a major highway. She was one of a kind and fearless. I feel honored to have known her'.
Barbara soon learned Spanish, by mixing with the local farmers and showing her interest in animals. She would go out riding with Don Diego, the doctor, as he did his 'rounds' of the far-off isolated cortijos up in the hills. One old lady complemented her on her idioma - 'you ain't from around here', she said, 'not sounding like that... you're probably from Los Gallardos!'. Barbara was immensely pleased.
Barbara ran a donkey-taxi on Mojácar beach her first year here to make ends meet (it was really a mule) and had a job working as secretary for the mayor - Paco Marullo. Later, after we met and married, she started a charity here called 'Animo' to help disabled kids using equine assisted therapy. Put 'em on a horse and let 'em go, in my (very ignorant) words. Many children came through our stables, and many more volunteers helped, until the money ran dry thanks to a newspaper I ran (rather badly). Barbara traveled to various meetings, in Germany, Austria, France and England, and held a congress here with guest-speakers from the various world bodies, including the FRDA and other major players in the field. The head of the ONCE told us once that he heard about Barbara's work while in Australia. Spain being Spain, Barbara's efforts were totally ignored in this country, but 'hey'.
You can read about her charity and her love of animals on her blog Animo.
Later, she tried to set this dream up a second time, if on a smaller scale, but with not much enthusiasm from the Spanish once again, apart from the brilliant support of Loli Berenguer from the Centro Ecuestre Albero in Almería, and a luke-warm support from the University. The Mojácar Town Hall, of course, never took the slightest interest in any of this, not even when Barbara organised competitions of donkey baseball during several years.

Portrait of me, Barbara and Daniel at my art gallery in Bédar. Photo by Michael Sucker.

Barbara with Padre Ángel from Mensajeros de la Paz. On the right is Dra. María Rose.
Barbara loved kids, and the house was always full of them. Many - and I exaggerate only slightly - stayed for several years. A hard day at the newspaper and a warm welcome from the children, or an important lesson of relativity from the disabled kids over at the stables.
We have three children of our own, Jessica, Amber and Daniel and four grand-children. They all live in the USA (jobs for foreigners - even bilingual ones -  are scarce in Spain).
Barbara was my soul mate, and now she's gone.

Saturday, May 30, 2015


The Threat of Brexit

A bit like the 'Big One' which threatens California, Britons living in Europe are worried about the distant rumblings of a possible retreat by London from the EU known as 'the Brexit'. What would the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union mean for the two million or so Britons living in Europe, and, does anyone in the UK care?
The answer to the second question is easy enough. They don't. This is because we Britons living in Europe have no voice, no champion, no representation.
If London left Europe, then the Britons living in France, in Spain, in Germany or in Poland would find their lives changed considerably, but worst of all, no one knows by how much. It would not even be a decision made by the British as to what would happen to us, after all, they would no longer be a part of the European Parliament. In Spain, we would expect to be treated as non-European citizens with the return of work permits. We would have convertible accounts at the bank and a visa in our passport. We would lose medical coverage and social security. We would of course lose the vote locally (many of us have already lost it in the UK) leaving us even more 'voiceless and forgotten'. Even the Gibraltarians have more rights that we do.
Would we be thrown out of Spain? The eccentric Mr Farage, leader of the 'euro-sceptics' thinks not – we are such a benefit to our Spanish hosts, pumping in money to the country by the hour. I don't agree.
Britain is a country, that like any other, is ruled by opinion and experience. We, the 'ex-pats', are neither popular nor appreciated. But the looming referendum is not about us, it is about the future of Britain itself. What to do with all these pesky Europeans who are filling up the country, taking our jobs and our women? Particularly the Eastern Europeans, who will work for half of what any self-respecting Briton would expect.
Back in the sixties, a leading member of the fascist National Front and cousin of my mother, told us that they only wanted the support of the little people, the workers, the unskilled and unschooled. These are the people who follow our philosophy, he cried, thumping the table, these are the folk who hate the foreigners... (We left the UK shortly afterwards).
So, if Britain decides against staying in Europe, despite the inevitable loss of earnings by the chocolate factory who sells sweeties to Poland, or the paper handkerchief manufacturer with twenty four languages squeezed onto the box, the battle is not about British industry, it is to do with the immigrants.
If the bigots win, then the Poles and the Lithuanians and the Romanians will need to leave. But so, of course, will the 200,000 Spaniards living in the UK, and the 350,000 Frenchmen. Despite this, does anyone seriously think that Madrid or Paris would nevertheless accept Farage's nonsense and allow us all to stay?
Which begs the next question. Where would Whitehall put us all? Tents on Salisbury Plain?
Perhaps Brussels should take care of us (as currently, we are still Europeans) and draw up a plan to create a kind of Nissan Passport to give those of us about to be defenestrated by the British voter special rights as Europe's first full citizens.
But, putting fantasy to the side for a moment, the bottom line for a possible departure of Britain from the European Union leaves this all-important uncertainty – no one speaks for us, therefore, we receive no answer.
What is going to happen to us?

Saturday, May 16, 2015


The Worm Has Turned: British Ex-pats May Have a New Champion

Spain is stuck in a year of elections. We had the Andalucian ones back in late March – still unresolved and now with the threat of fresh Andalucía elections for September. We face local elections across the country on May 24th. These are joined on the same day by regional elections in most parts of the country (excepting Andalucía, Catalonia, Galicia and the Basque Country). In September, the Catalonians will be holding their own regional elections, with a view towards independence in the near future. Finally, probably in November, we shall be called to the urns once again for the General Elections.

The two major parties, the Partido Popular and the PSOE (the traditional right and left) are joined by not only the usual regional independent parties, some of which are as old-fashioned as the PP and the PSOE themselves, but also by upstarts Ciudadanos (right wing) and Podemos (left wing anti-austerity).

One of the more interesting struggles, however, will be resolved next Sunday, when the small town of Mojácar in Almería goes to the polls, because one of the leading parties there is headed by an Englishwoman called Jessica Simpson. 38 year old Jessica is the candidate for 'Somos Mojácar' (We are Mojácar) which is a group made up of various different local parties and associations. Jessica, like only a few of the majority British resident in the resort, is bilingual, having lived locally for almost all of her life. She is married to a Spaniard and has two children going through the local school system.

Jessica is interesting to the local panorama – a foreigner at last within the Town Hall to represent integration and foreign participation in that most hallowed of Spanish institutions, the plenary session of the Town Hall (she already has four years experience as a local councillor), but she could be more interesting still as a champion for the voiceless Britons living in Spain.

There are something between 290,000 and 750,000 Britons living in Spain (depending on who one believes) and they have little or no voice in what is going on. Spain to tax them unfairly or to demolish their homes? No one to stick up for them. The UK to leave the EU, causing untold and ill-considered hardship? No one to defend their interests. Europe has a parliament made up of MEPs, but none of them represent either their citizens abroad or the larger group of émigré Europeans – thirty million who live in other European countries, of which two million are Britons. There is, in short, a large group of displaced and voiceless Europeans living within the very cradle of democracy itself.

In Europe, we need more Jessica Simpsons, but first, she must win Mojácar.

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