Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Adra (because it's there)

Over the years, I have visited many parts of Spain. I've studied in Seville, lived in Madrid, spent long hospital time with my poor wife in Pamplona and run offices in Altea, Benhavís, San Pedro and Fuengirola (the old newspaper I had called 'The Entertainer' - from 1985 to 1999). Plus an office or two in  Mojácar, where I normally live. I know the province of Almería pretty well, with time spent in the capital and trips to various towns and villages over the past fifty years.
But, I'd never been to Adra.
This hardly makes me unique. No one has ever been to Adra.
Adra, at 25,000 inhabitants, is the large fishing port that signals the end of Almería heading west into Granada and Málaga. In the old days, it was a turn-off from another switch-back curve on the ghastly road between Málaga and Almería (there were 1,060 of those horrible switch-backs, as the old N340 curved and wiggled through the sharp hills), but now the fishing town is close to the bright new motorway. There is still little inclination to visit the place, which, as I finally discovered this weekend, is a shame.
According to Wiki (we couldn't find a tourist office), Adra is the fourth oldest town in Spain, founded in 1520BC. Let see... flattened by an earthquake in 881, yadda yadda, it had the first steam engine in Spain and is a big fishing port...
Yep, the man from the Wiki hasn't visited there either.
So, in the spirit of 'because it's there'. I went with my girlfriend to give the car a good growl, see the sights, buy a 'He who is tired of Adra is tired of Life' bumper sticker, and hopefully enjoy a good fishy lunch. The road swings you in, through and out in a confusing swirl, but then, as your heart sinks and you wonder whether the next town down, Motril, might is open, the planners relent and bring you back down to the harbour.
Last Sunday there was, by chance,  a flea market. We walked around, admiring a stand selling Franco memorabilia, and eventually, while looking for a bullfight poster for a friend, we bought a couple of naïf pictures from another dealer.
Adra looks like a place which is worth getting to know, or maybe a great place to hide, as nobody would ever think of looking for you there. It's probably chock-full of museums and interesting relics and buildings, plus a few wanted counterfeiters and smugglers (the murderers prefer Marbella, obviously), but we were there for a beer and a fish-head.
My companion didn't want to eat in the Club Náutico (you can never go wrong in a Club Náutico) so we walked past some dowdy looking places, including a 'American/Italian' joint, before alighting on Taberna La Granja, a splendid and atmospheric bar/restaurant in a back street. We ate a satisfyingly expensive lunch there and returned to the car.
La Granja - and you are on your own here - has a great Tarta de Whisky. The owner pours half a bottle of scotch over it to make sure that it meets with the diner's approval.
Worked for me, although I may have got a ticket driving home...

Thursday, November 16, 2017


Independent Almería Towns

In the last hundred years or so, a number of Almerian towns and villages have become independent from their larger neighbour. In all, about fifteen, including El Ejido (now with a population of 89,000), Garrucha and La Mojonera. Indeed, until 1981, El Ejido was just a district of next-door Dalías.
The latest to gain independence, only last year, was Balanegra, when it departed from Berja.
There are now 103 municipalities in the province, including the newer ones of Roquetas de Mar, Pulpí, Carboneras and Los Gallardos.
Which one will be next: Mojácar Playa perhaps?
Perhaps even more peculiar is the story of Huercal Overa, which until 1668 used to belong to Lorca, in the province of Murcia.

Almería Hoy has more here.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017


Tourism: Snakes and Ladders

Tourism is a wonderful business. Instead of a fair trade between nations, it’s just an invisible export. The punters arrive, get sunburnt, see something, acquire a tattoo... and go home again, empty-handed. Their money remains safely in the hands of the shopkeepers and the hoteliers. What a business. However, it’s a gamble that they may not be back next season. The service may not have been good, or they may have been rumbled over the diarrhoea scam, or maybe Brexit finally pulled the pound down and the cost of a week or two in Benidorm rose accordingly.
Britons may account for 20% of all foreign visitors to Spain, but close behind them are the Germans, the Dutch and the Italians. All of whom are just as likely to choose another destination next year (especially the Italians, who, unlike the rest of us, are always moaning about Spanish cooking).
Other countries are competing for Spain’s amazing 80 million-strong tourist business, and tourists may easily chose another destination next time – after all, there’s not much loyalty among the holidaymakers. Back home with a sun-tan, it’s nice to be able to say ‘oh this year we went to Miami’. Then there’s the media: one wrong word in the Daily Express or Bild Zeitung and they’ll all be trotting down to cancel their visit to Ibiza.
Other countries have had problems – the terrorists, political upheavals or maybe a shortage of gin – but now we hear that Turkey, Egypt and Tunis are considering devaluing their currencies precisely to bleed off (sorry) some of Spain’s massive harvest.
Now is the time for travel fairs, with the London World Travel Market closing its doors this Wednesday, followed in due course by the FITUR in Madrid (January 17 – 21) and the ITB in Berlin (March 7 – 11 2018). All of these major markets are there to commercialise their own resorts and offers, with special prices, ‘all-inclusives’ and a host of other tactics. Last year, worldwide international tourist arrivals rose to 1,235 million people – now that makes one’s fingers tingle.  Our tourist councillors, plus their entourage, will be busy.

Thursday, November 02, 2017


The Balloon that Fell in the Sea

There's a fascinating Facebook page called ALMERIA & PROVINCIA VINTAGE with old black and white photographs and many a story of bygone times. Here's a recent post by Juan Marcos Puel, translated into English:

'In 1907, Alfredo Kindelán Duany, a soldier and aviator, considered the founder of the current Air Force, participated as an amateur in an aerostatic competition held in Valencia. The balloon with which he ascended - christened "Maria Teresa" - crashed due to an unexpected storm that dragged him more than 15 miles from the city towards the high seas. And as fate is capricious, after hours of drifting, refusing help and refusing to leave his balloon, when the situation was already critical, he was fortunate enough to be glimpsed in time by an English steamboat. The crewmen of the "West-Point" steamboat, which was heading for GARRUCHA, rescued him from the cold Mediterranean waters and from an almost certain death. Upon his arrival in Garrucha, he was offered lodging and a welcome worthy of a hero. The photographer Gómez Durán captured in a snapshot the welcome of the Garruchero mayor of the time, Sr. José López and the wealthy merchant Sr. Simón Fuentes who housed Kindelán'.

Saturday, October 28, 2017


Mojácar and Turre: La Belle et le Bête.

Mojácar is the more beautiful of the two towns - there's no doubt about that. The one, with its narrow streets, its white flat roofs and its astonishing views - the other, a flat unattractive town a few miles inland. Whether Mojácar really is one of the most 'Beautiful Towns of Spain' is perhaps more down to marketing than to common sense. After all, and without going any further, where is Bédar on the list?
Mojácar has an energetic tourist board, a number of hotels (and thus, punters) and a swollen number of businesses that only cater for the visitors: souvenir shops in particular, but night clubs, camel rides and rent-a-bikes. Now with the 'season' over, the huge number of visitors reduced to an agreeable trickle, many of the shops, bars, restaurants and, above all, souvenir places are closed. One I saw in the village last night has a sign on the door that says: 'See you at Easter'. In a few weeks time, when I clamber up the hill for a beer, I'll be lucky to find anything open at all. Mojácar is for tourists. We've all heard that. That's where the money comes from and the residents are welcome as a second string to this fabulous business. Mojácar is like Disneyville: it closes tight at twelve midnight when the coach turns back into a pumpkin.
Turre on the other hand has as many people on the streets in November as it does in March and in August. It's a residential town, without a beach, any hotels, camels or tourists. You can see the difference just by going to the market. The shops and restaurants there pretty much stay open all year (except when they change ownership) and, you know, there are no souvenir shops at all. In Turre, where the large foreign population speaks no more Spanish than it does in Mojácar, there's a sense of participation: of camaraderie.
I love the Mojácar views, but I prefer the integration and timelessness of Turre.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


Bédar, Revisited

A friend wanted me to take him up to Bédar to eat a leg of lamb at the Miramar. Now that's a reasonable ambition to have on a warm autumn day, so we went. Yesterday, the views were perfect following the rains on Wednesday. The sky was full of fluffy clouds and the countryside gleamed in the clean light.
We arrived in the village, parked, and found the Miramar was shut - they were on holiday said the sign.
Let's walk around, said Andrew.
I wasn't keen.
My dad had bought a house in Bédar - well three houses - for the 1966 equivalent of £60. The story goes that dad wasn't absolutely sure if he'd just had a remarkably expensive meal at Pedro's or whether he was the new owner of three connecting ruins in the Calle Virgen, up above the church.
The houses had electric, two stories each, and around seventeen rooms between them. For some reason, my dad put them in my name.
Some time later, I was living there, now in my mid twenties. Bédar by about 1975 was still a wreck, but could boast a few more foreigners. In my establishment - the three houses had been clumsily knocked into one - there lived me and my girl, a Chinese guy and his girlfriend (man, could he cook!), a German friend with a guitar, and a copious supply of pot.
Not much happened that year. We listened to Dollar Brand, Randy Newman and, when the mood took him, Mick on the guitar. On the large terrace, Fritz the painter was finishing his masterpieces, usually with guffaws and large hits of brandy and spliffs.
The views from there: with the rest of Bédar falling gently below, Mojácar shimmering in the distance, the dried-out countryside and the mountains tumbling down towards the Blue Mediterranean. Pedro's remained open if we felt social.
Not bad for a season.
But life goes on. I eventually fixed the house - briefly as a bar (El Aguila, beer with tapa: ten pesetas) and later made a proper conversion, slimming the property into twelve rooms, with a roof terrace and a picture window upstairs.
The town hall went electric and put one of its innumerable new orange sodium lights on the wall just outside the same window, making the move towards heavy curtains and suburbia inevitable.
I left the house to my girl, moved away, started a newspaper and, fifteen years later, after mortgaging my house in Mojácar for a vast sum to pay old printing bills, I sold the newspaper to some agressive employees. They never paid me (it's a long story) and I was forced to sell the Bédar property to satisfy the bank. I gave my girl some money to finish off her own ruin in the hills, and life limped onwards.
Meanwhile, I was married and my beautiful wife was ill. We had no money then - it was 2002 - and we spent that Christmas in a hospital in Madrid where an operation went wrong, disfiguring her for life.
I never went back to Bédar.
So, yesterday, here I am. Back in the village. I recognise a few of the bedarenses. I get some hugs and some saludos. 'Napia', they say, 'how's it going?'.
We walk past my old house, now sold, fixed up and resold. A woman peers at us from over the fancy new upper balcony.  She's probably British - there are now a lot of Brits in Bédar.
Despite myself, the village looks very pretty. The home-owners seem proud of their properties and everything is sparkling white, with plenty of decorative plants. The streets have been fixed at some point, now tiled rather than lumpy flagstones. Apart from an ugly electric sign outside the town hall and a truly awful marble statue of a miner in the upper square, the place looks great. If I had have come for the first time and had some money...
Bédar compares well with Mojácar. The later has suffered greatly at the hands of the local population, which has taken the village and turned it into an obscene Disneyville, loaded with souvenir shops waiting, like spiders, for the tourists to come. Mojácar was demolished and raped. Bédar - which has no knick-knack shops, no underground parking and no large ruined hotels to complement the view - is now the better place.
But, I'm not going back there again.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017



Spain has an enviable system of describing distances. Rather than kilometres, they use time. Or they may use rest-stops, cigarettes smoked, or even brothels (depending on your route, Mojácar to Almería is a six-brothel voyage). For short peregrinations, I use dustbins.
I walk the dog each day past four green 'contenadores'. These large bins, together with smaller empty waste-baskets with an inverted bin-liner bobbing out of them, are liberally distributed along my route, and indeed all over Mojácar. People often like to leave their rubbish near the giant receptacles, perhaps to stop it from feeling lonely. Sometimes, they even put it inside the bins (where, in wealthier neighbourhoods, the beggars climb it afterwards and throw everything out again).
Unlike some northern nations, Spain has never held a poor opinion towards rubbish, and it is traditionally thrown on the floor, or out of windows or the open doors. I wonder sometimes if that was why they invented windows - an easy place to discard unwanted trash.
Sometimes, as we are lighting a cigarette or searching for the next brothel in the car, we must swerve violently as a surprise missile is hurled from the vehicle in front.
Along the side of the road, we find glass, trash, rubbish, human and dog faeces, dead things, empty wine bottles (do drivers savour the last drop of the vino before jettisoning the bottle?), old bits of clothing and sundry french letter packets. Clumps of old copies of the Weenie...
There is no Spanish version of 'Keep Britain Tidy', even though those contenadores are emptied daily (rather than twice a month as, apparently, in the UK).
I don't want to be seen to be a bore. But the countryside is a mess.
With the exception of rampant litter-buggery, I love Spain.


The Essence of Spain

An essay from a student in Málaga called Laura Moreno de Lara:

‘No, honey, you're not a Spaniard. To be Spanish is not to wave the flag, nor to scream like a bore phrases of hatred that I hope you do not feel. Nor is it to put a wristband on your wrist, or sing Cara al Sol (the fascist anthem). The concept of being Spanish is something totally different, or at least should be, because at this point, I do not know what else to tell you.
As a Spaniard, I’ll tell you what for me it is to be Spanish:
To be Spanish is to burn when Doñana burns or to tremble when the City of Lorca trembled; it is to sit and listen to folk stories in Galicia and to believe them; or to go to Valencia and not feel rage to read a poster in Valencian, but rather that you are pleased with yourself to be able to understand it. To be Spanish is to think that the Canaries are as good as the Caribbean.
To feel Spanish is to suffer for not having lived la movida madrileña; it’s to fall in love with the sea when hearing Mediterraneo by Serrat; it’s to ask while drunk if your Catalan friend would teach you to dance sardanas, to want to go to Albacete to check if their feria is better than the one in Málaga and to be surprised to see just how beautiful Ceuta is.
For me to be Spanish is to be proud that in Andalucía we have beach, desert and snow; to feel almost as if it were my doing that a Alicantino is so close to winning a Nobel, to ask an Asturian to teach me to pour cider properly and to die of love seeing the beaches of the Basque Country in ‘Game of Thrones’.
You know how Spanish it is to drink a beer in the early afternoon: the Galician orujo, the siesta, the calimotxo, the paella, the tarta de Santiago, grandmother’s croquettes and the tortilla de patatas. It is the desire to show you the best of your city to the one who comes from outside and that you ask him about his; it is to make friends with a Basque and ask him to teach you how to count up to ten in euskera, just in case you return for 2 or 3 more pintxos; it is to be proud of being the leader of the world in transplants, of being part of the land of a thousand cultures and of being from the country of good cheer.
There is nothing more Spanish that having the hairs on your neck stand on end with a saeta or with a copla bien cantá (well-sung flamenco verse); seeing the sunset on the beaches of Cádiz; to discover almost without wanting to some fresh paradisical cove in Mallorca; to walk the Camino de Santiago in September cursing the cold or learning in Salamanca or Segovia that you do not have to be big to be beautiful.
So, I think, my love, miarma, honey, darling, my child ... that is to be Spanish, the rest of it is politics. But if you want to insist on your view of politics, I also want to say that you are wrong: because being Spanish is not wishing to break the face of anyone, but to suffer the unemployment situation of your neighbour or those terrible scenes of eviction that you have seen on the TV. Being Spanish is not opposing the YES or NO supporters of an entire autonomous community, but rather it is to be angry when they treat us like arseholes with each new case of corruption. To be a good Spaniard is to wish that in your country there is no more poverty, no more ignorance, no patients being attended in hospital corridors and, Goddammit, to want to stay here to work and contribute everything that, for so long, you have learned.
That is to be Spanish, or at least, I hope so’.  Laura Moreno de Lara (The original is here).

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