Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Garrucha Pipa Theatre is No More

The news is that the old Cine Tenis down at the far end of Garrucha, the open-air summer cinema also known as the Cine de Verano and the Pipa Theatre, has been sold. I am told that next door's Mercadona has bought it to expand their shelves with more dog-food and gin.
The nearest cinema now appears to be one remaining open-air joint - I think - in Vera and then the expensive ones an hour up the road in Aguilas (yes, yes, with features in English) or the other way in Almería (the Yelmo in the Torrecardenas shopping mall also has English-language films, at least on Tuesdays).
But who goes to the cinema any more?
The Cine Tenis was in fact doing pretty well. Summer crowds would take to the pipa-theatre (so called because of the fearsome din from the appreciative audience). This noise was exacerbated by the fact that the bar was open all the way through the show, so one could stand at the back, leaning on the bar and sip a cold frosty as James Bond elegantly dispatched another villain.
The noise of course was increased still more by deafening and slightly fuzzy speakers which made sure that, however bad your Spanish might have been when you arrived, it would be a lot better by the end of the show.
I reckon I learnt my castellano from my regular visits to the cinemas in Turre, Mojácar, Garrucha and Vera in my tender years. They were wonderful times, as for about ten pesetas, you were treated to a spaghetti western (made in Tabernas) starring Giuliano Gemma, or maybe Anthony Steffen, or Bud Spencer, Terence Hill or any from an innumerable list of other oddly-named Italian stars...
One three-reeler in Mojácar, a cowboy film - they never used to show anything else - was particularly memorable, as they showed the third reel before the second one, which, we all agreed, rather added to the plot.
Then my dad bought what became Mojácar's first video machine, plus just one film, 'The Life of Brian' on VHS, and life was never the same again.
'I say Billy, could we come by and see that film of yours?'.
I had to operate the machine and mix the drinks.
Later on, Bambi de Bruin opened a club in Garrucha where you could rent poorly recorded films for a few pesetas. It was a good business... 
While it's a sad truth that there aren't many good films being made any more (except for 'Mad Max IV', obviously), it's still a nice idea to go to an open-air cinema, grab a beer and some pipas, and watch a show.
If you can still find one.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Tourist Figures, as Accurate as Always

The official figures are in - 1,447,599 tourists visited Almería during the first eleven months of 2018. To think: just one more teensy-weensy visitor squeezed in, and we would have rounded up that figure to 1,447,600.
Figures vary by the season, with lots more trippers docking in Almería in the summer than during the lean winter months (known in Mojácar for some reason as 'the Lycra Months'). But, adding last December to this year's crop, we can probably claim 1,500,000 tourists in Almería in 2018.
All looking for souvenirs to take home, which explains the local enthusiasm: they come, they buy, they leave.
They are only here, apparently, for a brief spell, just enough for a sunburn, a hangover and a souvenir made in a Chinese sweat-shop. The average visit being around half a week.
It would be longer, but the bean-counters have been obliged to add the cruise-ship visitors, who are generally here for just six hours or so.
Now, they can't be quite as specific as they would like, as not all visitors are visitors. Some drive in from Murcia and stay in the spare-room. Some are en transit to Melilla or Seville. Some, visiting Almería, are from Almería. Some just crossed the border from Granada for lunch.
Indeed, some dropped by the province more than once in 2018. We didn't see anyone ticking them off on the road between Puerto Lumbreras and Huercal Overa.
The Almería tourist board, and its satellites, is continually looking for more visitors, with some current drivel about bringing them in to see the plastic farms. Yes, a two-week holiday in Spain with all the cucumbers you can wish for.
The only people that aren't added to the visitor list seem to be those who live in this fine province, including the foreign residents.
But, consider this: while there's no promotion, no office, no agency and no budget for foreign residents, who bring 150,000 euros with them to buy a house and another 15,000 or so for a car and a television, who spend their pensions or disposable incomes on living here for the whole year, which lasts a 100 times longer that does half a week, and who are here next year as well (while the satisfied tourist, whose souvenir key-ring has now probably broken, decides on Italy for 2019).
One reason we are seen with slightly wary eyes is that, unlike the visitor, we put down roots. Almost anything else that you can sell someone will then be taken away by the purchaser. Not a house though, that stays put. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Will We, Won't We, Will We Have the Vote?

One of the downsides of Brexit – as far as the millions of Europeans who live in the wrong place (Britons in the EU-27 or the legions of EU-27 people living in the UK) are concerned – is the lack of information about their future.
It’s almost as if no one cares.
Which, of course, they don’t.
The European Union was always more about trade opportunity than displaced citizens’ rights. And nowhere is this more obvious than in our supposed (and somewhat modest) political privileges. Indeed, it’s hard to even plan for power and influence when you don’t know how many people are going to participate in elections and are in doubt as to how they might vote.
This was the conundrum that faced Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba back in 1995 when his president Felipe Gonzalez, observing a small but significant change in the Constitution made in 1992, decreed that the Europeans living in Spain would be able to vote in European and municipal elections that same year. Rubalcaba, the Minister of Presidential Affairs (the man who much later substituted our residence cards for the handy A4 police letter and passport combo), was appalled. God only knew how they might vote, he thought, allowing the European residents to go ahead in the European elections (after all, you are voting for people who represent Spanish interests in Brussels) but stopping the municipal vote until the next one occurred in 1999.
The constitutional change of 1992 was interesting, as it gave European residents (who now had to register along with their inscription on the town registry – the padrón – their separate plea to vote), not only the active right, but the passive one also (or, in English, that they could now join or even lead a local political list).
Some of us eventually did, and Rubalcaba will have been pleased, four years after his mischief, to note that we voted locally, for local candidates and, in short, behaved ourselves.
In fact, most of us didn’t vote at all, and even today, there is only a modest number of foreign councillors scattered across Spain, in local government or in the opposition, together with just one foreign mayor, Belgian-born Mario Blancke in Alcaucín, Málaga. Many of these councillors are stretched along the coast in (forgive us) small and insignificant towns, are thirty-seven of these are British. Proportionally speaking, the foreign residents are woefully under-represented.
So, what would happen if Brexit caused those British councillors along with all other British residents in Spain to become disenfranchised as is the current scenario from the Spanish electoral commission (‘when and if the UK implements Brexit, their nationals, resident in Spain, will lose their right to vote’)?
Firstly, candidacies from other EU residents, Mario Blancke as one example, would lose way with less ‘foreigners’ voting for their lists. Secondly, town halls, like any other political agency, would take less notice of a population that had no suffrage, and thirdly, the British residents themselves would be returned to that old position of ‘no taxation without representation’ (an ugly place to be, currently suffered by many other foreign nationals living in Spain).
Spain indeed has bilateral agreements with some third countries. Norway from the beginning, later followed by Iceland and a few South American countries along with New Zealand, South Korea and (of course) Trinidad and Tobago (22 of them live in Spain as residents!). Citizens from these countries may vote, but not present themselves as candidates on electoral lists.
An article in El País this weekend changed the game-plan. It said that the British and Spanish authorities were discussing an eleventh-hour agreement to give their guests rights to vote, active and passive rights. ‘The Government hopes that the bilateral agreement would be applied already in the municipal elections of May 26th’. In this agreeable situation, we could maintain our vote in local elections, even if we were to lose it in the European ones – a small loss as things stand. However, in a caveat which would please Rubalcaba, we read ‘...Once it is signed, the deal will be in the same category as any other international treaty and will require ratification by the Spanish and British parliaments. This will probably not happen in time for the May 26 elections next year, diplomatic sources have admitted. In order to work around this problem, the Spanish Foreign Ministry is considering the option of making the agreement go provisionally into force as soon as it is signed by both governments...’. Perhaps, if they had started this conversation two years ago, instead of last week...
Maybe (just maybe) the UK will stay in the EU – either a postponement of their departure or a second referendum with a happier end (hello, Westminster, it would be nice if we were invited to vote in such an important plebiscite this time).
This (apparently, hopefully, maybe, possibly) being the case, we foreign residents will still need to register to vote – by asking for the hoja de inscripción del voto – in our local town halls, before January 15th (or December 31st if you are not from the EU).
Would there still be time to revise our candidate lists for next May, in the event we keep our vote?

Saturday, December 01, 2018

The Quinto Toro

It's thirsty work watching a bullfight, which is why people bring along their own refreshments. Almería itself has a traditional 'half-time' where the crowd passes sandwiches and beers, or a squirt of wine from a bota, to their neighbours.
All good fun. The second-to-last bull, the Quinto Toro, is also the name of Almería's venerated bull-fighters bar, on Calle Juan Leal, next to the Diputacíon near the market.
We went for a drink and a bite to eat last week. Loli left me outside the joint and went off to park (I'm on crutches still). There's a few tables outside on the pedestrianised street, but I went inside, to see the sights (and of course the tapas).
The bar is on the left as you go in, with tapas and a small stove. It's not really a restaurant, but you can get raciones to fill you up.
I had a couple of small beers, with their tapas (a tomato and onion job and then garlic potatoes with boquerones). The bar was founded in 1947, so it's not the oldest place in town, but it makes up for this with the amount of decoration. I admired the posters, paintings and photographs of bullfighters past and present, the odd stuffed bulls head and other other sundry paraphernalia. Then Loli arrived, having apparently parked the car in Murcia, and we went into the small tabled section for a ración of ox-tail ('rabo de toro').
This is a plate of lumps of bone covered in almost a jellied meat, with a heavy gravy. It needs a good glass of Rioja to work. It was delicious.
The bar is fun, and the refreshing walk (hobble) back to the car filled up the rest of the afternoon...

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.