Friday, January 17, 2020

Mojácar. What are we selling today?

The international tourist fair - FITUR - returns to Madrid in late January for its fortieth edition, and, frankly, everyone will be there. Will over 11,000 exhibitors looking to part potential tourists from their hard-earned dosh, the industry shows no sign of slowing down.
Oh, there are stories of places which have become so swamped with tourism that they really need to be avoided (unless one has a 'bucket list' or a death-wish), but the urge to travel, a kind of luxury available in centuries past to the wealthy few (or to unwilling soldiers), is now de rigueur. Travel, they say, broadens the behind.
The last thing the industry wants is trouble. Keep things running smoothly, complaints to a minimum and profits to the max. The best customer writes something nice on Tripadvisor and returns next year for more. So good to be an habitual.
The local businesses like tourism too. In fact, some 'beautiful' destinations change their identity to pander to their visitors. Just in Mojácar village alone, there are fifty souvenir shops, and none of those owners want to see the hordes diminish, even if the town, which lives almost exclusively off its foreign residents for eight months of the year, becomes slowly less of an ideal place to live. Local people now have enough funds to demolish their old home and put up some apartments. They'll probably rent them out (there are countless AirBnb offers in Mojácar) and move to live at La Fuente.
The Hotel Moresco is hard to miss
Our massive hotels which are so vital a part of a tourist destination slowly rot in the warm sun and are eventually abandoned at the stroke of an accountant's pen in Barcelona or Hamburg.
The Hotel Moresco is not a building which can easily be torn down, and it takes up a whole side of the village view. It's been closed since 2008 and now belongs to the Madrid Regional Government, who have (needless to say) other fish to fry. It is now a home to squatters. Hotels, once they've lived their purpose, can sometimes be converted to apartments (the Hotel Tío Edy and the Hotel Mojácar are two of these), but don't count on the Moresco being fixed. For one thing, there's no parking to be had. Along the beach at Macenas, another hotel - this one unfinished - lies abandoned. Like the Hotel El Algarrobico in next-door Carboneras, politicians will rub their chins... and change the subject. It's not a vote-catcher.
Hotels make money for their builders (and previous land-owners), but the company will be run from Catalonia, the meagre staff will be South American, the food 'catered' from Málaga, half of the package monies will remain in the country of source and that low low all-inclusive offer leaves the nearby bars and restaurants plain out of luck.
Mojácar politically speaking appears to prefers tourists who spend in the souvenir shops to residents who buy houses, cars and white goods, who pay taxes and services, who spend during 365 days in a year rather than for an average of five. Mojácar has actually shrunk in permanent population in the past few years by 22% since 2011.
The town also prefers bucket and spade tourism over youthful noisy party-goers. Who knows - perhaps they are right.  After all, there are twice as many local residents over 65 as there are under 20.
The Indalo figure looks towards Garrucha
Mojácar Playa today is like Butlins - safe, secure and sexless.
The one single road bleeds the traffic slowly up and down along the beach during the season like a bad case of cholesterol. Cyclists slow the flow still further, as they must peddle dolefully past the souvenir shops: their lycra trousers hold no pockets.
Mojácar's sewage problem is un-addressed, the beach bar issue is treated with a hammer.
The village itself is Disneylandia cute, charming and (as the Spanish say) cutre. There are a smattering of buildings remaining that are over a generation old - the rather ordinary church, the wonderful Torreón and the old Moorish arch under it; the cute Casa de la Canana museum run by the Russian couple...
The main square, known as the Plaza Nueva since the fifteenth century, has been corrupted, changed and destroyed in the past forty years. The small Hotel Indalo is long gone, the fantastic Aquelarre theatre is lost, the carpenters' with the arched street rising towards the church is now one of a swarm of poorly-built nicknack shops, often with huge display windows and signs in broken English: Tobbaco sold here. Worst of all is the spreading and apparently abandoned Mirador (with its future lift-shaft hood) and the three empty stories below of putative town hall and police station. 
In the village, what was bohemian has now become bourgeois. Perhaps one shouldn't mourn for the time when the impoverished local people were pleased for the custom, and proud of their pueblo, as viewed through our eyes.
In the long winter months, the stores are all closed and the residents gather in the few bars which remain open, or take the bus down to the supermarkets below. Nearby Turre, ugly and charmless, without a beach, hotels or souvenir shops, by contrast, is bustling all year long.
Mojácar is of course astonishing. It has a dramatic view which is hard to beat. The narrow white streets and harsh blue skies are a magnet for artists, or at least, they were. Now the Town Hall, which operates its own art gallery just above the remodelled fuente (it was going to be an art museum) puts on desultory shows and holds a modest collection of art in storage. But it possesses no paintings from the esteemed Indaliano Movement (who introduced the Indalo), or from the later masters who painted locally - Fritz, Beckett, Guirado, Coronado and so on. It's almost as if outsiders are not appreciated, except, grudgingly, when their wallets are open.
We home-owners have an investment in Mojácar. Properly managed, demand (and our investment along with it) will rise. If there are too many new apartments crushed into the landscape, then just a small handful of people take a profit and our properties are sidelined.
With the village, sensational looking if not beautiful, the seventeen kilometres of playa and the hotels placed, thankfully, at either end, Mojácar has a reason to be at FITUR: its job, to squeeze a kilo of rice into a pound jar. The promotion is done without foreign help or participation. The Golden Indalos have gone, after it was found that Ric Polansky, me, Beatrice Beckett, Pat Moroney and others were bubbling dangerously to the top, all of us having lived in Mojácar for over fifty years apiece. Indeed, if all of the foreigners left suddenly (thanks Boris), then there would be nothing left to show for our presence. No streets are named after us (the present administration has renamed Cheap Pete's alley - Calle de Pedro Barato - as Calle Cal). The largest extant sign honouring the forasteros is a small brass plaque outside the Pavana remembering an Irishman.
Now, the town wants to selectively remember its past, with some ill-judged evisceration of Old Mojácar, as we are told that it was the original settlement and inhabited during the ninth to eleventh centuries. What about before? Weren't the Romans here? Why would they live there when there's no water or escape route?
We celebrate our (slightly invented) history with an artful Moors and Christians parade and allow everyone to attend (far from the various festivals held at the fuente or the Artisan Centre, like the Vieja Remalona and the two of three romerias each year, plus fiestas in Sopalmo and now Las Paratas). Where's the International Day held?  
So, as the town hall spends its budget on staffers (loyal staffers), and tourist promotions, what of the future? One tragic demolition, or an act of terror, or a cholera incident or whatever, and the whole tourist industry crumbles. We residents, at least, will stay loyal, if largely ignored.
How many of our children - bilingual all - have ended up as local cops, or working in the town hall?
Mojácar is a special place for me - I've lived there for three quarters of my life - but it has changed. So have I, no doubt.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Going Cheap: One Castle!

Almería's Alcazaba was once put on the market by the City Hall. It must have been a bit strapped for cash when, in 1866, the castle and its 37 hectares of extension were put up for sale for 1,175 pesetas (seven euros), which even then, sounds a bit cheap.
The city wanted to expand in the direction of the castle and so the offer included the rule that anyone who bought it would have to demolish the hulk that crowned the hill behind Almería and haul away all the rubble. Tourism hadn't been invented yet and only a few nutters were enchanted by the historic or scenic value of the monument, described by Wiki as an XI Century fortified complex.
(The Alhambra in Granada was also ready for demolition more than once, and for Mojácar readers, their castle was demolished in its entirety in the nineteen forties and fifties).
The demolition clause proved the undoing of the sale, due to its prohibitive cost. Nevertheless, much of the old castle walls were successfully demolished in the late XIX Century.
The Alcazaba finally received protection as Monumento Histórico Artístico in June 1931.

Friday, January 03, 2020

Mary Jane

There will be few readers who don't have a firm opinion about marijuana, so I won't dwell on the mafia hoping it will never be legalised, or the medical uses thereof and so on. We'll leave the American War on Drugs, cranked up by Richard Nixon and now quietly imploding as more and more states legalise the consumption of cannabis, for another time.
Here, they reckon that 7.3% of Spaniards aged between 15 and 64 smoke it at least once a month. That's 2.2 million people (2017 figures). Which, in turn, is a lot of product consumed.
Since the consumers can't buy it in the estanco (where the Ministry of Health could guarantee the quality), they must either grow their own (apparently, one is allowed a couple of plants, hidden from public view, for private use), or buy it from Dave (not his real name) down in Chinatown.
In short, it keeps a lot of people in business. Not however the sort of folk that the Authorities should approve of. But there you go. A few get caught, a few more more make out like, er bandits.
Almería Hoy has an interesting headline this week: it says that 244 'narcos' and three tons of weed were decommissioned across the province in 2019.
We wonder how much survived the police raids and made it down to Dave.

Friday, December 27, 2019

White Rabbits

We are in that small space between Christmas and New Year (complicated slightly by the Spanish who insist on celebrating the Twelfth Night followed by school the following morning). We must face the disappointment of not winning a farthing on the Christmas lottery last week, together with the gloomy certainty that we also won't win anything on El Niño (drawn on January 5th), with a sense of inevitability, especially when we are repeatedly shown on the TV the people who won vast sums on their chosen numbers waving uncorked bottles of cava and looking just like the people did on the TV last time around. God, they are so undeserving.
I haven't enjoyed Christmas much this time to be frank, possibly because I was tricked by the calender hanging next to the computer (turns out it's from 2018) and so I missed the first day of December, and in consequence, my customary shout of White Rabbits, which brings - as readers will know - guaranteed perfect luck for the entire month.
And horrid misfortune if you forget.
My wife Alicia broke her leg on the first day, and has been in bed ever since. The national health, usually so good in Spain, was not up to scratch, and she had to wait ten days in hospital before she had an operation. So, she is running (a poor choice of word) ten days late on her recovery. I reckon it'll be San Valentín before she can get on her feet for rehabilitation and horseback riding both.
Amongst other disagreeable tasks, I have been obliged to take over the cooking.
This involves me receiving instruction called from the front room - Alicia is in the sitting-room supine on the couch - as I clumsily break eggs and stir the rice. Our diet has never been so varied.
The horses need attention as well: straw, oats, grain and so on, plus the shit duly shovelled. I have help for this, so don't have to get too down and dirty. Just an artful smear of poop on my cheek, and maybe a wet trouser-leg for effect.
I had asked for a small pension from the indulgent Spanish government back in February, but, as 'things from the palace move slowly' (a local axiom), I still haven't taken my seat on the gravy train a mere ten months later. In short, fourteen years of running The Entertainer (the precursor of The EWN) between one thing and another hasn't paid at all well.
Other misfortunes... well there were a few, but nothing which will survive into the early moments of January, when I shall be found standing on the roof, bellowing White Rabbits at the startled neighbours!

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Pirates off Macenas

A 'londro' - the kind of merchantman that appears in this story
In the middle of the 18th century, the Catalonian merchantman “San Raimundo”, was heading for Cádiz loaded with wine. She had been anchored off Águilas (Murcia), waiting for better weather. On January 22, 1741 she set sail and soon after, a Moorish vessel was seen to be in pursuit. Trying to flee from her pursuers, she headed for land, running aground on the beach near Mojácar's Macenas tower. The patron Domingo Benapres and the crew jumped to the sand: "without time to save anything other than myself and those of the six men and the cabin-boy, three rifles, a life-boat, five oars, the two anchors and some bedding".
The Moorish pirates managed to re-float the ship and took it with the cargo of wine included; but for some reason, they left one of their fellow-pirates behind on the beach.
The following morning, the Mojácar troop, which had come out after being informed of the presence of pirates, found the Moor, seizing him, and shortly afterwards, they also located the eight Catalonian sailors.
Following the strict orders of the time to avoid the costs of contagion of plague and other contagious diseases, they began a curious caravan towards Vera, which Diego Soler, one of the soldiers of the cavalry troop, recounted: “From the Rambla de Macenas, the Company of Mojácar escorted the Moor to Vera by foot in this way: at the distance of a rifle shot, while a single soldier went before to show him the way. Following the Moor at a similar distance went the eight sailors, and finally the troop with their weapons, without allowing any mixing the one with the other, as had been ordered by their captain despite knowing that none of the sailors or the troop had been at any time close to the Moor”.
The military commander in Vera threw his hands to his head when he saw the caravan arrive and ordered them to return at once to the place of the encounter, to pass quarantine there.
Luckily, the patron of the merchantman was able to justify the evident state of health of his sailors, and, sending word to the warden of the fortress in Águilas, the quarantine order was lifted and the crew were given permission to return on the first ship that could take them back towards Catalonia. As for the Moor, he would have to suffer his quarantine and, following that, be judged for piracy.

From an article in Almería Hoy by Mario Sanz Cruz.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Lost Art of Hay Surfing

Every farm in southern Spain has something called an 'era' which is a flat dirt circle, I think called a threshing circle in English, where the hay would be put after being cut with a scythe. A wooden board with rows of knife-like wheels underneath was pulled by a donkey and driven with long-reins by the farmer. Weight must be applied to the board in order to cut the hay, hence the children. There are actually several different boards with different types of knifed wheels for each phase of cutting. It was a very exciting time for the children when the farmer called them to come and sit on the board while he went round and round. It takes several days to cut the hay into small pieces and release the grain from the stalk. It is a sticky job, in the heat you get covered in pieces of hay and it is a bit like a ride at an amusement park, bumping up and down it is a rough ride especially when the hay is in the centre at the beginning, it gets to be a smoother ride as the hay gets spread around the circle. The board sometimes even flips over.
No harm is done because you just fall into a huge pile of hay. You must watch your fingers though and can’t hold on to the board for risk if being cut by one of the blades. When the threshing is done you must wait for a windy day and with a naturally grown pitch-fork, you throw the hay in the air. These pitch-forks grow on a tree in the shape of a fork and after being whittled down a little make the perfect pitch-fork. On the windy day, and after hours of repeating this procedure of throwing the hay in the air, the cut hay is on one side of the era and the grain on the other, it is quite ingenious really, each to be stored and used throughout the year. I would like to have shown you a picture of the pitch-forks but ours was lost. We have an era on our property and across the street is another era that is shared by three houses: it is communal property and doesn’t belong to any one of the houses but to all three. It is things like this that make buying land in Spain difficult. For example a long time ago your grandfather may have traded a donkey for the large algarrobo tree on the corner of his property, the donkey is long since dead but the tree on your land now belongs to someone else.

From Barbara Napier's Animo Stories here

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Grand Projects

A friend from Madrid sent me this:


I ran Spain's largest free-paper (in any language!) back in the eighties and nineties. There were three editions: Costa del Sol, Almería and the Costa Blanca - I never got as far as the Balearics. Of course, a free paper doesn't mean the printing and distribution doesn't need to be paid. The idea is to put in lots of adverts (and some decent copy to make it worth while picking up). Thus the balance - the advertisers pay for the printing (and maybe a bit for the owner to buy a beer).
These days, with colour, the internet, competition, embarrassing self-promotion and a sprinkling of sharks in the world of the expat press, I'm sticking to just producing a few blogs instead.