(From The New Entertainer, June Edition 2004)
I was walking down the street the other day, minding my own business, when (out of an orange coloured sky) a car hooted behind me which practically gave me a heart attack. What's the hurry?
It's not like there's any room on the pavement for me to walk which is why I understandably choose the street. The pavement is full of trees, cracks, holes, dust-bins, ONCE stands, chairs and tables, parked motorcycles, telegraph poles, telephone booths, low flying shop awnings (duck, or lose an eye), an old iron bench, a half-filled skip, prams and trolleys, visitors from the north (who evidently don't know the rules), shop signs, accordion players, traffic directions and postcard stands. Many motorists have parked at least two wheels on the pavement, which varies arbitrarily from several metres wide to the width of a hand. Some flagstones and cornerstones are missing. A dusty square hole suggests a departed tree.
A pavement, in Spain, is rather like the tile skirting in a room: it's there strictly for show.
So there I was, walking down the street, dodging the pedestrians, cars, motorbikes and ice-cream carts when this car honked behind me! Not that I took any notice.
The cars are double-parked down the High Street, the Calle Mayor, some with their emergency lights on giving the impression that the drivers will soon return. A bus disgorges passengers from the middle of the street while the traffic waits with more or less patience behind. A motorbike with several passengers takes to the pavement. Its exhaust pipe appears to be missing.
In front of the bank, work-men are inexplicably painting a new zebra crossing. They will just do half the street (protected by red cones) this morning and perhaps they will return tomorrow to do the rest. Perhaps not. There's a zebra crossing on the other street which was never finished, as if the diligent street-crossing pedestrian will be obliged to give up his object in mid-flow, or perhaps he'll pass obligingly through into another dimension. Like most of the people in the scene, I am only faintly interested in what the painted white stripes are for: a decoration...? a service...? Do children try just to walk on the stripes for good luck?
In Almería city, the town hall has painted them in attractive red and white bands. The opposition councillors are complaining: they should just be in white. Preferably a white that fades after a few weeks...
A family of gypsies is standing on the pavement now, just opposite a zebra crossing. Are they thinking of using it, or is it just a comfortable place to stand. The traffic hesitates slightly in doubt. But no, it's just a variation of the companionable group standing on a street corner, chatting away agreeably while, inadvertently, breaking the flow. Who's in a hurry anyway?
Seduced by the white lines, a visitor lurches into the street. Streets are indeed for crossing, nobody disputes this, but the white lines are not there to make you forget to look at the oncoming traffic, or to forgo waving a rolled up newspaper at it. A car pulls to a halt as the visitor heads blindly across the street towards the souvenir shop: the car behind swerves and accelerates past the first one, narrowly missing the opportunity to make the 'sucesos' page of the provincial daily. The nearby municipal policeman, shocked into inaction, decides it is time to go and have a quiet nip in the English bar. Perhaps he won't have to pay.
I am sat at a nearby table under a spreading tree, trying to ignore a panhandling dog who somehow thinks I might share my tapa with him. Buggeroff I tell him, flapping my paper in his direction. Shame tuts an oily Englishwoman at a sunny table nearby. The dog edges hopefully towards her. It growls at an approaching street vendor clutching several miracle spanner kits and a fishing rod. Looky looky, he mumbles disconsolately at the Englishwoman as the dog edges him off.
I get up to pay, to find that someone has picked up the bill already. The bank manager... the cop... or, surely not the barman? He's an Atletí supporter.
A wave of horns echoes down the street as the double parked cars take their inevitable and regular toll. It's a perfect moment to amble across to the shade and check out the blind man's lottery results. Money back or try again! A bicycle has been chained to the bench in front, slowing the pedestrian traffic down still further. I'm not too judgmental about this, seeing as the bike is mine. I release it from the bench and we slowly walk along the street towards the port and the prospect of a fish lunch. I'm not in a hurry.