Thursday, October 01, 2015


Hotel Algarrobico. A Decision?

The issue of the Hotel Algarrobico was due to be resolved this past September. But, as usual and to nobody's surprise, it wasn't. It's an ugly building, erected on the coast (there wouldn't be much point on erecting it in the interior, now would there?). The hotel is twenty stories tall and has - or will have, or would have 411 rooms. It would, if ever opened, bring employment to Carboneras, the unattractive town nearby, famous for its dirty power station (far more ugly than the hotel) and its impossibly grand sports stadium which the town hall can't afford to open.
The hotel is just part of a larger projected urbanisation, with shops and restaurants and bars and souvenir shops, all aimed at amusing the tourists who would fill the Algarrobico from the day it was opened, back presumably in about 2008, if it hadn't have been stopped by an inconsiderate politician in far-off Madrid called Cristina Narbona, at the time, PSOE Minister for the Environment.
The hotel was almost finished when the order came through in 2006. The surrounding rock-face had been cut and shaped into space available for the satellite commercial centre and the main building was at the stage of putting in the interior work: 94% finished, says Spanish RTVE here. The builder, Azata del Sol, said and says that it had all the correct paperwork, the ecologists (such as Ecologistas en Acción, Greenpeace and the eccentric Salvemos Mojácar), who managed to halt the wretched thing, say that it is in a national park and can't be built.
As with the 300,000 'illegal homes' in Andalucía, nothing was said until the eleventh hour.
Now, years later, there is still no answer - or rather, there are too many court decisions, some for and some against. Whichever side wins, the Public will lose. If it's Azata, then they will claim massive damages to repair the site, ravaged by time and various attacks from vandals, ecologists and souvenir hunters. Furthermore, after all the excitement, would people want to stay there anyway? Maybe Azata doesn't want to win any more - so just pay them off their investment, plus lawyers, interest, loss of earnings and what have you. If the environmentalists win, then the entire site would need to be demolished and the whole area replaced, somehow, with an innocuous chunk of coastal cliff. How much would that cost? The price of a hospital or two, without doubt.
And, in a region with 35% unemployment, and little chance of alternative income beyond tourism, what about the job losses?
So, whoever gives the order can expect a short future in politics. Best just to change the subject, pass the buck, shrug and let the stupid thing continue to rot. 

Monday, September 21, 2015


Medio Ambiente Fails Again: Cabo de Gata

The Cabo de Gata is a beautiful and untouched area outside the city of Almería. You may have to pass through some plastic farms to get there, but once in the tiny villages of Pozo de los Frailes or San José, the charm kicks in with a vengeance. Small restaurants and bijou hotels, a port in San José, a mixture of fishermen, retired Spaniards and odd-looking hippies in old vee dubs and on bicycles. The surrounding hills are free from any intensive farming and, apart from the odd decorative windmill, are simply green rolling hills. The whole area is carefully protected by the agency of the Medio Ambiente.
Just through San José, there is a untarred road that leads to the fine and untouched beaches of Los Genoveses and Monsul, the former chosen as the top beach of Spain 2015 by Antena3 (here).
Unfortunately for the region (part of the larger Parque Natural de Cabo de Gata - Nijar), one of the many things the environmentalists fail to do is look after the chumbo cactus, the nopal, the prickly pear. They say that it is an invasive plant (ratified by Royal Decree Nov 2011) and, as such, it is not within their remit to care for its protection. The picture here is a glimpse of a large plantation of the cactus, taken just behind the prizewinning Playa de los Genoveses. The bug in question is the tiny cochineal fly, which lifts off in its millions at night, to uncomfortable effect. The infection, the sticky white stuff, is carried by birds. It is slowly wending its way westwards towards Granada and Málaga.  The plants do not recover although the roots seem to be OK: fresh shoots are soon consumed by the pest.
The Medio Ambiente also has a large park just outside Almería City, 14 hectares of land with an exhaustive collection of local trees, shrubs and plants, with walkways and ponds, called El Boticario. The park was built with European funds and the Medio Ambiente has been trying to offload it to the diputación (County Council), or the Town Hall of Almería, ever since completion in 2005. There are no takers.
The result, the park is dying. The cactus (hello, I thought they were 'invasive') are infected, as are a number of other plants. Nothing appears to have been watered or pruned. The smaller flora has long since dried up and died. (A return visit to the Boticario: Spanish Shilling, June this year, here).
There is a push to change the law regarding the status of the prickly pear, whose infection has damaged much of the hills and plains of Murcia and Almería, and we can only hope that it proves successful. Soon. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015


The Ascent of Old Mojácar


Mojácar Could Have Been a Contender...

There’s not much acknowledgment of history in Mojácar as a rule, so we’ll gloss over the first few thousand years of the town and arrive, breathless, in the times of the Mayor Jacinto Alarcón, in the early sixties.
That perhaps modest wave of artists, the Indalianos, mainly from Almería (a city surprisingly wealthy in culture - you can see some of their work today in the Doña Pakyta Museum in downtown Almería) had been and gone: weekending in Mojácar, drinking and painting. They had introduced, or at least, promoted, the local stick figure, which they called after themselves – the Indalo.  Mayor Jacinto, in charge of a moribund village, had been glad to receive them, and he allowed them to stay in a few tumbledown houses. He instructed the artists, the poets and the writers – go and tell people about our town. By about 1962 Mayor Jacinto had an even better idea – to give away ruins or land to those who would fix them up (bringing sorely needed wealth into the community).  Many came, and the town, with less than 600 inhabitants in 1960, began to slowly revive. A small hostelry, the Hotel Indalo, opened in the Plaza Nueva, and, with its bar and first-floor restaurant, it thrived. Some mojaqueros, living in Lyon, Barcelona, Frankfurt or Madrid, heard of the new growth in the pueblo, and they returned.
The foreigners came. They found the village to be a thing of beauty, and above all, cheap. A house in 1966 would cost five hundred or a thousand pounds. A glass of beer, a few pesetas. They brought with them the habits of the swinging sixties: the Beatles, free love and a stick of hashish. The mojaqueros learned of these things as they began to find lots of work in the construction industry. The unexpected introduction of the Almería airport (Franco never liked the province) and the Mayor’s skills at Court bringing us a Parador Hotel in 1964 helped immeasurably. Mojácar was on its way.
Mayor Jacinto was strict, insisting that houses should be traditionally built – with small windows, flat roofs and whitewash. No high-risers and everyone to have a view. The rules were broken by the first hotels, the Mojácar, the Moresco and on the unexploited beach (land at one peseta for ten metres, no takers), the Hotel Indalo. The tour operator Horizon had discovered Mojácar and made it its flagship resort (before going spectacularly bust).
Mojácar’s fame grew abroad. The Indalo was often seen in London and Mojácar became a small phenomenon internationally. More foreigners came and a couple of local families began to take over the local economy. They became very wealthy. By 1990, they were multimillionaires –and friends of the mighty.
Everyone lived together more or less agreeably (as they still do today in Turre): the money was all foreign and it kept on arriving, ending – sooner or later – in local pockets. As perhaps it should. Mojácar itself, with the old mayor’s retirement in about 1978, began to change from a residential town to a tourist resort. A Corsican businessman knocked down the village carpentry in the square – a squat building connected by arches spanning the narrow streets on either side – and built a three story nick-nack shop called Sondra’s. The first ‘democratically elected mayor’ (the foreign population of course couldn’t vote) also allowed the rest of the main square to be demolished, including a beautiful theatre, and a furious scramble of more nick-nack shops appeared on the three levels of the ‘Multicentro’: tee shirts, beaded wrist bands, pottery from Nijar and junk jewelery from China. The old hotel, the Indalo, that decrepit but key building that commanded the square, was similarly demolished for even more ‘souvenir shops’.   On the beach, the Pueblo Indalo was built. The town had decided that tourism brought in more money than resident home-buying foreigners. Tourists spend heedlessly and then they go away; home-owners stay (and perhaps vote, or try and compete in jobs and businesses). Old Jacinto’s call for ‘Mojácar, where the Sun spends the Winter’ was, for some reason, ignored and the town became very seasonal. On the construction side (where the real money lay), small apartments, good for a couple of mildly uncomfortable weeks, were built rather than comfortable villas.
By 1985, as local homes were demolished and rebuilt to architects’ designs, the village had begun to change from ‘a beautiful Moorish clutter of cubist homes’ to a slightly ugly town with narrow streets and a wonderful view. The foreigners themselves continued to enjoy Mojácar (although its fame abroad was vanishing), and many chose to live in La Paratá (on a high mountain overlooking the beach, ridiculously British), or along the beach itself, still at apparently ludicrous prices. Mojácar was a fine place: there was no Sky television and the only news came from the World Service of the BBC – far off and, beyond the fluctuations in the daily rate of exchange, of little interest.  
The second mayor (third really, the age of ‘mociones de censura’ had begun) was Mayor Bartolo, a PSOE man who had worked in the Turre Caja de Ahorros. Bartolo was – one way or another – influenced towards the new president of the Junta de Andalucía, Manuel Chaves, and, inspired to make Mojácar a modern town, he brought back an architect called Nicolás Cermeño, by chance Chaves’ nephew, to rebuild the old Mojácar fountain – La Fuente.
It would be the beginning of the end of Mojácar and its easy cohabitation.
Remarkably, an open meeting was held in the Town Hall to discuss the plan for a new tourist fountain to take the place of the old public one. The mojaqueros were against the idea – one of them, José María (carpenter and undertaker), gave a famous speech about how he had seen enough marble to last a lifetime and he was against an austere gray marble fuente. We all agreed.
Work began a few days later.
The foreigners were aghast. An early copy of ‘The Entertainer’ (the English-language newspaper) has a picture of a local Brit holding a placard which reads ‘Ninety Thousand Pounds to Wash my Knickers?’ (the reference being that, in those days, the fuente was used by washerwomen as a laundry). A few days later, the foreigners made a demonstration in protest against the outrage. They were (unwisely) led by an American actor and long-term local resident called Charles Baxter (who lived openly with his Spanish boyfriend) together with Silvio Narizzano (whose sexual perversions in Hollywood and London were palpably well-known locally, as was his artist and playwright boyfriend Win Wells). I was warned by Antonio, a local friend, ‘to keep clear’. It was well that he told me, because the foreigners, amassed in the main square, were set upon by the mojaqueros and a fight developed. Eventually, the Guardia Civil arrested Silvio (later to be freed: ‘unshackle that man’, said the mayor standing outside the Town Hall. Silvio gave him a large bunch of roses and a kiss). Shortly after the event, Charles Baxter – the gray-haired dapper doyen of the foreigners – left Mojácar for good.
The mojaqueros had the last word – we don’t like the new fuente but it’s for us to complain – not you. The relationship with the foreigners was broken.
A few months later, Bartolo used the same architect to ‘remodel’ the Castillo. No one complained.
Years after (in 2014), a local man called Francisco Haro, the son of the old owner of the Hotel Indalo, wrote an astonishing homage to the early foreigners who had brought Mojácar back from the brink of ruin, a fully-illustrated book called ‘Mojaqueros de Hecho’ (Honorary Mojaqueros). Tales of Fritz the mad artist, Charlie Braun, Bill Napier, Paul Beckett, Ulf Dietrich, Ric Davis, the Polansky brothers, Salvatore, Geri, Theresa and many more who brought wealth, fame and fun to the area. The book was completely ignored by the current Town Hall which has, at best, an uneasy relationship with the guiris. These days, and despite the 60% of foreign inhabitants (more or less, depending on the vagaries of the town hall padrón), Mojácar is considered officially as a seasonal tourist town.

Monday, August 31, 2015


Bullfighting on Horseback

Bullfighters on horseback, the Spanish rejoneadores. This was the offer on Saturday 30th August, the last day of a six-day bullfight festival in Almería. the top picture is of the alguaciles, who keep the Law. The second picture shows the three rejoneadores - Hermoso de Mendoza, Leonardo Hernández and the Frenchwoman Lea Vicens. One of the cuadrilla is in the third photo. The rest are pictures taken during the corrida.

Like most people who have lived here a long time (!), I have always been tolerant of bullfighting. I went to see one or two over my time, here and there, even including one with the 'Mojácar Bullfight Club' in a small town in Granada called Huescar a few years back. They managed to fill a bus with Englishmen for the rumble.
Later, as my conversational Spanish improved, I spent more time with Spanish friends. I would become accustomed to joining them sometimes in a bar over a whisky to watch the toros on the television. Among the group, an artist and a writer - both good friends of mine - would gossip with one eye on the corrida above, while occasionally shouting 'olé' or 'get tha fuck outta here' as necessary.
Since my wife died last year, I've been helped a lot by another Spanish friend, whose father was a famous bullfighter called Antonio Bienvenida. I've heard some of the stories.
These days, I move pretty much in a Spanish circle, my companion is Spanish and, like her friends, she goes sometimes to bullfights. I've been to three in the past year. I could claim that bullfighting is cruel and stay home and sulk, I suppose, but that would be silly.
In reality - notwithstanding the British view on Los Toros - no one goes to see them suffer. We go to see the skill, the art, the bravery and the excitement. No one, no one, likes to see an animal die. But it has to be part of the spectacle. The Spanish contrast the four years living on la dehesa (a huge open farm) and a brave death, versus nine months in a cage and a bolt through the forehead for a normal meat animal.
I can understand the point of view of a vegan - they are at least consistent - but a Briton who knows next to nothing about Spain, about her culture, her language, her history, her politics and her family-relationships, and yet likes his steak and chips - is hardly the right person to lecture me on the morality of la tauromaquia.

Sunday, August 09, 2015


Senés, the slate village of Almería

Back in Senés - a small village in the hills behind Tabernas. The pueblo uses slate for its construction rather than brick or tiles. Senés has its Moors and Christians festival this weekend, and here's a few pictures.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015


August on a Half Shell

Driving home after a beer on the beach. I'd hoped for one in the pueblo, but there was no parking left: at 8.00pm. Why not build public parking Mrs Mayor, more parking means more cars means more customers. Who knows, even residents. 
There's a bar in the village, says they make their money from tourism. It's a pretty place, open all year long and run by residents - not those people who open for a couple of months during the high season then fuck off away for the rest of the year. Proper residents they are, with an interest in the village. I reckon I must have spent about 10,000€ in that bar over a lifetime of drinking. I'd like to see the tourist who could match that.
So, the beach. Lots of traffic but the bar I went to, on a side street, was pretty quiet. Some fellow was out last night with a shotgun (or a pellet gun, you know how we exaggerate) and he fired both barrels at a group of people waiting to get into (or out of) a discotheque at five in the morning. So, more police I expect. I drank my beer, ate a tapa and came home again. 
Our road is interesting: no street sign, no pavement, no pedestrians, hardly any houses (there are fourteen), but 59 street lamps, put up just days before the election. Thirteen of the home-owners are against the street lights, the last one on the line is, apparently, in favour of them - although he will have noticed the alarming increase in the moth population. 
Mojácar in August: tourism is in full flood and the cash-registers are ringing. Unemployment is down as summer jobs abound. There are warm queues outside each cash-point (most now charging two euros or more for non-account holders) and gangs of youths wandering up and down our one (one!) street and occasionally being sick in the flower beds. Many of the residents have given up the unequal struggle and either stay quietly at home, panting in the heat, or else they have left for a visit to their countries of birth. Festivals, smoke, noise, music, crowds and – above all – profit. 
September is still a month away...

Thursday, July 30, 2015


The Hatred is Strong in this One, Luke

Goodness, the fuss about a lion.
I have a Facebook account which serves me a regular dose of people's thoughts, opinions, photographs and convictions, strongly spiced with nobility, beauty, wonder, politics, racism, hatred and stupidity. Much, perhaps, like anyone else's Facebook page. I have taken to removing ('unfriending') some of the worst posters, who lean towards the negative over the positive. So, rather than talk about those people who post beauty, useful information, home-pictures, friends, music, jokes or funny videos, I should like to comment briefly on those others who like to post pictures of dead or suffering animals ('animal porn'), or find and support ignorant racist cant from Stormfront or Britain First, or who choose teasers which are solely designed to bring the reader to a separate page often dripping with viruses (known, apparently, as 'clickbait'), together with those with aggressive opinions (often from the vegans, or that unfunny comedian Ricky Gervais) or other posters who have an agenda - not to be against something, but to be against someone else being either indifferent or - worse still - in favour (bullfight pictures from the anti-taurinos - yawn!).
If you believe that shit, go and do something about it. Don't just post a picture of a baby seal being squished by a baseball bat just to ruin my morning trawl through the Facebook over breakfast; why not go and buy a fucking airplane ticket to Canada? And while you are at it, seated on the plane perhaps wondering how you are going to persuade a team of highly-unpleasant seal-killers, or dolphin-slayers, or dog-eaters, or bullfight-enthusiasts  or even some fucking Zulu with a huge cheque hidden in his jockstrap hauling along an idiot American hunter with a bow n' arrow (for Christ's sake), just consider that the rest of us are not impressed by your thirst for revenge, your call for vigilantism or your support for public lynching, all from your own home and in the knowledge that you will never be called out. These kind of posts don't make you strong, or clever, or (God forbid) attractive. They make you ugly.

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