Saturday, November 10, 2018

A Place to Read

I like this picture. There's nothing like a small cosy bedroom filled with books. My own bedroom is a lot bigger than this, and I've spent the last two months in it, mostly, with my lower leg in a plaster-cast.
I'm not one for the television - I can't hear it properly and the programs don't interest me, but I do like to read.
In the past two months, I've read maybe twenty-five books - some tripe, some instructive and some very good. Luckily, the old house, in our family for over fifty years, is full of volumes - some of which I haven't read; while others - and thanks to what might be described as a 'senior mind' -  I can't remember if I've read or not.
But while you don't need much more than a good reading light and a warm blanket, that room in the picture - I hope it has doors - looks just about perfect for me. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

I briefly ran a bar in Bédar and made some very nasty tapas. Urrrpf.

My first (and penultimate) foray into business was to open a bar in Bédar in 1976, when I was a nipper. The Bar was called 'El Aguila'. I sold Aguila beer and Aguila cigarettes (clever, eh?). The beers, served in small bottles of 20cc (known as 'quintos' or - if you can pronounce it - 'cervecillas') came from a warehouse in Cuevas, and I could fit seven crates of them in my car. Thirty to a crate. The smokes, a brand similar to Ducados (strong black tobacco) came from a shop in Bédar called 'la tienda de Simón', which sold everything - from a wheelbarrow to a shower-bucket. A tin of butter to a postage stamp. Cigarettes and a tot of brandy. A useful place indeed.
Creating a bar takes a bit of work.
I had three old houses in Bédar, bought by my father for ten thousand pesetas (sixty euros) off of Old Gregorio in 1966. My father, whose Spanish at the time was non-existent, wasn't sure if he'd just paid for a very expensive lunch at Pedro's bar or if he was now the owner of three houses bought - apparently - off someone called Hermano. Herman to his friends.
I fixed them up, slightly. Knocked a hole through the walls. Built a kitchen somewhere, brought in a few mattresses and a sofa. The houses, now one, had electric, but no water. I put in a wrought-iron window terrace in the larger room for the bar, placed a plank of wood on top and was about good to go.The cross-eyed water man - who brought supplies in four large clay cántaros on his donkey - kept everything sluiced down, and the lavatory on the terrace was strictly soak-away.
The doctor from Los Gallardos came for an official look. He said the downstairs was fine, but the upstairs was off-limits. Three rooms and a terrace  for the public to enjoy: a bit of razzmatazz for the Bédar denizens.
The bar in theory was to be run with EJ Whyte, an Irish American who lived in Bédar and was responsible for bringing Fritz the artist to the area on the back of a BSA in around 1962. However, after enormous trouble getting work permits (think on this Brexiteers) - many trips to Almería, papers, fruitless visits, long walks up and down looking for obscure offices and people who had 'gone out for a coffee', stamps and photographs... EJ finally told the little man in the employment office in Almería to shove it up his backside, leaving me, as it were, in sole control. The card in the photo is the official permit to handle food. They give you a nail-brush and peel your eyelids.
Thus, I ran the bar by myself (sometimes my friend and local builder Juanico joined me - once arriving with a live and evidently stolen sheep which, after meeting a violent end on the bar-room floor, improved the tapas for a week or so). Beers and tapas. A quinto beer and a really quite horrible tapa cost 10 pesetas (seven céntimos in today's money). Since the local youth liked to play chinos (spoof) for a round, I found that I was drinking rather a lot. Perhaps many bar-owners do. I remember one in Los Boliches who used to surreptitiously finish all the dregs from the returned glasses. I rather doubt he's still going today.
My tapas weren't very good. I had bought a chapa, a large piece of iron plate, off Juan el Fraguero from Mojácar, and this was put on a small gas-fire. I would cut frankfurters sideways, sliced down the middle, with a squirt of hot sauce. I also offered costellitas: the bit of bone on the end of a rib with a nub of gristle hanging off it, also with a squirt of hot sauce. Bédar has long since had trouble with ulcers, apparently - it was good hot sauce. Then there was the mysterious bits of off-cuts in the bag of costillitas from the butcher's daughter in Cuevas. Juanico identified them as being rams' testicles. Apparently she liked me, he reckoned.
I had a record player and four of five records - the most popular being Nat King Cole singing in Spanish. Nat's accent was worse than my father's, but the clientele seemed indulgent.
My neighbours weren't convinced I wasn't running a brothel. One day, old dad came in for a chatico de vino (six pesetas). After about a dozen of these, he was sure that the place was of a moral rectitude seldom found in Spain. Several of the local kids actually carried him, gripping his arms and legs as he sang one of Nat's most popular numbers, home to his missus.
The bar was fun - sometimes. But it wasn't a money-maker. At threepence a beer, I wasn't making a fortune. My girlfriend didn't like it much, once hitting me on the head with a beer-crate.
I rented the place out after three months to some Brit football enthusiast called Roger for a Greenie - our name for a 1,000 peseta bill (6€) - per month. He of course never paid, although the tapas improved slightly...
The rest of the house, about two thirds of it if you counted the creaky bits upstairs, carried on as mine. The ceilings were made of beams, cane and plaster. Some of the beams were made of pine and others were just pita, the century plant stalk. I can tell you, they aren't very firm after a few decades...
One day, EJ came to stay the night. I left him the key to the house and went down to Mojácar. EJ relates that he suddenly woke with a terrible thirst, remembered there was a bar next door, and battered down the intervening wall using a butano-bottle as a sledge-hammer. He says he served himself a cool beer from the bar and meekly went back to sleep again. House guests, hey?
A few years later, I fixed up the whole building properly into one large and slightly eccentric house.
It's sold now.



Thursday, October 11, 2018

Guernica Renamed (and Reinvented)

One of Spain's most famous paintings, the dramatic and bleak artwork known as 'Guernica' and painted by Pablo Picasso, has an interesting history. 
For one thing, it was painted before the attack on the Basque city of Guernica by the Condor Squadron in April 1937 (in passing, one of the pilots in the Luftwaffe 'Operation Rügen' was a man called Günter who used to drink in a Mojácar bar called La Sartén back in the seventies). 
The painting was originally called 'Recuerdo a mi amigo Sanchez Mejías', a bullfighter who had died in the ring in August 1934. Picasso finished the painting, dedicated to his friend, in February 1937 (two months before the Guernica atrocity) and it was already hanging in the Spanish Pavilion at the Universal Exhibition in Paris. With a practical eye on current events, a culture delegate from the Republican side decided to rename the painting following the attack.
From Luciernagas y Coyotes we read: 'The painting does not represent any act of war, but rather the death of a bullfighter; with the bull agonizing, the frightened horses, the horrified gestures from the public, the light bulb over the infirmary and the broken sword in the foreground.
The bullfighter, lies broken, with his sword broken, because he has lost, and the bull appears with the sword stuck, with a anguished expression: his name was "Granadino".
The symbolism of the mother with the child in her arms, crying, is that of all mothers losing their child, regardless of their age (losing a child is unnatural, as parents usually die first), so it shows her great anguish, as well as all the other characters, because he was a very admired bullfighter'.
Whether it honours the death of a bullfighter friend or stands as a powerful symbol against war, Picasso's masterpiece is worthy of its place in the world's collection of masterpieces.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

A Short Break

Before the fuss with my broken ankle, Loli and I had taken a week's holiday, driving towards a tiny rural hostal called Apikale in the tiny settlement of Bedarona, north of Guernika. The house is on a high lip of verdant land, with falling cliffs to the ocean far below. There's not much in the way of beaches, and the tide races in twice a day.
Álvaro and Susi run the place. There are just four comfortable bedrooms with large wooden terraces, and downstairs there's the kitchen with a table, a breakfast room and a lounge. Generally, after helping out, we would settle around a table outside for some memorable meals, and plenty of local wine. The other guests ranged from Spaniards to Swedes, to a young Belgian surfer couple and so on.
The nearest neighbour is half a kilometre away, and the house is ringed with forest, hiking trails and fields.
In one field, there was a cow.
My companion Loli, who runs Albero Centro Ecuestre in Almería, a riding school, likes cows. This one was pregnant. Loli's joy overflowed when it delivered (with her help) a fine young bullock.
The mother was exhausted, and Loli milked her for her colostrum - the mother's first sticky lactation which is full of special nutrients. The things that happen on a holiday.
We spent three days with Álvaro and Susi, with some walks, a trip to the local port of Lequeitio where the beers are very large, the tiny beach is briefly available for bathers and the locals are friendly - if, like everyone in Spain, a little tired of so many tourists.
The season is short at Apikale, and they are now closed for the winter.  



Monday, October 01, 2018

Murdoch Looks at Spanish Acquisitions

Imagine if Rupert Murdoch, the right-wing champion and defender of both Brexit and Donald Trump, the owner of Fox News, the Times of London, The S*n and dozens of other influential far-right newspapers and TV channels, were to pick up some major Spanish daily newspapers to add to his collection.
Working with his star employee and lobbyist José María Aznar, the one-time president of Spain, the naturalised American mogul is currently in talks with RCS Media Group, the Italian owners of El Mundo (Spain's second newspaper) and is also looking at acquiring shares in the august ABC newspaper.
The main Spanish newspapers aren't already far enough to the right?
They will be.

More on this here.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Magic Roundabout

Mojácar is known as a refuge for artists. These days, the shine may have worn off this idealistic statement, what with control of the local culture being firmly in the hands of the mojaqueros, who often feel that foreign artists are all a bit pretentious and anyway, coño, it's our town to do with as we see fit.
So, tiptoeing past the astonishing municipal art gallery with one enormous room blessed with an entire wall of windows, past the exotic one-legged stainless steel figure at the Fuente roundabout - once around no touchee - we hurry down towards the beach to be met with another roundabout, this time designed to look like the top of a box of childproof aspirins adorned with a (patented) Drunken Indalo that stares firmly towards Garrucha, from whence come the innocent visitors to our fair resort, all ready to empty their pockets in our tasteful souvenir shops while filling our narrow ill-planned beach avenue with their vehicles - at least during the short season that makes up our current attempt to be 'the most beautiful pueblo in Spain': for family-oriented tourism anyway. 
Returning to the delightful roundabout, which used to have a complicated system designed to throw water into the air in a riot of changing colours, something which proved to much of a strain on the pumps (no doubt supplied by a local ferretería, of which, the less said the better) that they soon gave up the unequal struggle and a fellow from the Town Hall was encouraged to supply an easier low-maintenance design.
Incorporating a gift from Cosentino (the marble people from Macael), the eighth wonder of the world was duly completed as described above. But, and here's the rub, it went a fraction over budget. What should have cost (an appalling) 27,800 euros eventually came in at a mind-numbing 44,000 euros.  The Town Hall approved the extra cost in a plenary session this past Thursday. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Just Sayin'

A long time in bed, as I nurse a broken ankle. The public hospitals here in Spain are good (I lost my private health insurance along with my late wife Barbara's years back after being ripped off and left without a bean by some vulgar yahoos). What in America would have cost the earth - enough X rays to make me glow in the dark, a trip in an ambulance, an operation on my ankle with a plate and nine screws, two casts so far and more excitement still to come - here is free.
A bit boring though.
I lie in my cot, reading - Rafael Sabatini at the moment - and play around on the Android, posting rubbish on Facebook and looking up obscure facts on Wikipedia. 
Goofing off, but careful with my leg: the only movement a regular trip in my wheelie-chair to the bathroom.
Next week, I'll be a bit more mobile, and will return to writing my newsletter about Spain - Business over Tapas.
Funny, I always say that September is my favourite month.