Saturday, April 18, 2009

Future Imperfect

‘So what do we want the future of our town to be like?’ I asked the founding members of the latest version of our chamber of commerce. ‘We can have tee-shirt shops and bus loads of tourists, fancy hotels and convoys of BMWs or lots of satisfied residents living in peace and tranquillity’.
Behind me, a champion of the tee-shirt school of thought got to his feet. ‘We need more tourists and we need to bring them in through aggressive advertising and promotion,’ he said. Paid for, no doubt, by thee and me.
The occasion was a meeting in a local hotel. We were about thirty, divided as always in ex-pat Spain by the twin curses of monolinguality and self-interest. The local people consider that the town is for their exclusive use and that the visitors here (even those who are third generation) have as few rights and opportunities as possible.
Our town is beautiful. It’s a white cubist village with narrow walking streets, which has adorned the top of a hill overlooking the sea since the dawn of time. It had almost disappeared, falling into rubble and abandonment, by the mid to late fifties and only the arrival of artists, followed by settlers from elsewhere during the following decade, allowed the village to re-group, and those of its citizens who had moved away to France, Germany or beyond, to consider returning. At least to sell off a few plots.
So it began. The older kids had inherited the agricultural lands – land where the water was no longer arriving. Many of them had left for better opportunities elsewhere. The second-born got the worthless beach-land, where no one lived, no one fished and no one went.
Now, years later, the greed has set in. The village overlooks seventeen kilometres of beach, strung out beside a narrow and poorly planned road with no possibility of widening it and equally no chance of building a parallel road to relieve the increasing traffic density. The tourist hotels don’t really work in the town’s benefit as their visitors aren’t going to walk very far along the thin coastal strip, and because the hotels themselves, having been forced to make cut-throat offers, don’t want their customers to leave the premises. If they are going to drink, by Golly, they’ll do it here.
Bad news for our eight hundred bars and restaurants.
Since builders make better money off apartments than they do houses, our town has built an endless number of small, ugly and, by necessity, cramped apartments that are, inevitably, used only a few weeks of the year. Our eight hundred bars and restaurants mentioned above are therefore beholden to the year-long residents who either live in the reduced number of houses that the town possesses or, if they are in those small apartments – usually paying quite ferociously high rents - they probably can’t afford to go out anyway. The best return on one’s buck for the builders (and the corrupt officials who sign them off), being apartments, then the worst return is parking spaces, roads and gardens. As far as the first two go, there are never enough parking spaces, which mean that there are never enough places for the customers to leave their cars (I have to spell it out here), which in turn means that the eight hundred bars and restaurants (many of whom also pay a cripplingly high rent) don’t get enough customers. I usually drive up to the pueblo for dinner; drive around looking for a space without success… and then motor on inland to the next town.
I’m sorry, I was hungry.
The narrow roads, which kink and higgle n’ piggle around the different borders and narrow pavements, are usually too tight for two cars to pass, or one to park. Nice planning from the tee-shirt shop philosophers who, unfortunately, have run the town hall for the past thirty years.
Teddy bears, humorous ashtrays, wobbly pots, rag throw-rugs and vulgar tee-shirts: Louche shops selling tourist-tat. Where are the theatres and the noble buildings? Why haven’t the wealthiest (and, trust me, they’re wealthy!) local families donated as much as a wooden bench to their community in all these years?
I turned to the chap who wanted busloads of tourists – one can only imagine that his interest was in his three-storey emporium – and asked him if his new shop (his old one had tragically burnt down last summer) would be a fraction less ugly than its predecessor. ‘Oh’, he said, ‘I don’t know, you’ll have to ask the architect’.
‘¡Ay Pobre Mojácar! La tratamos como una vieja puta. Todos querremos joderla y nadie quiere comprarla flores’: Poor old Mojácar, we treat her like an old whore. All we wanna do is fuck her. No one wants to buy her flowers.

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