When we first moved to Mojácar, back before there was much going on there, we met a young Spanish fellow who was to become a great friend. We were on the beach at one of Mojácar’s two restaurants in those days, the Virgen del Mar, known of course as the Virgin. Which was an ironic description of the quality of the food, according to those with finer palates, as the bowls of stew of various and dubious quality which issued from the kitchen were, to put it kindly, ‘extremely experienced’.
My mother was moaning about a plate of goat which she had chosen under the impression that it was lamb when an elderly Danish woman, who looked like she wouldn’t hurt a fly but had in fact been extremely active in the French resistance, frightening Germans and French alike with her remarkable qualities and fearless rhetoric, tuned in upon my mother’s complaints and grabbed the chop from her, saying ‘of course it smells, it comes from between the legs’. Which, Best Beloved, is how the local name for inferior cuts from the butcher became known as ‘crotch meat’.
Anyhow, Erna the old Danish woman tossed the offending bit of fried goat at a dog which was snoozing nearby. At this, a young Spaniard who was sitting at the next table rather too closely to a pretty and evidently foreign blonde gave a dog a hearty kick. The blonde stood up, slapped him, and stalked off as our table erupted into laughter.
‘What did I do wrong?’ asked the young fellow, rubbing his cheek.
We explained to him about the foreigners.
The next time we were eating at the Virgin, a few days after our stomachs had settled satisfactorily, we chanced upon the same guy, who was once again talking to a pretty-looking girl, only this time he had a small dog on a leash.
We knew he would go far.
José María did. He was from Garrucha and was studying to be a journalist. By the time Franco died, in 1975, José María was the director of the provincial daily, La Voz de Almería. With the end of the dictatorship, various state-owned possessions were put out to auction, including La Voz, which was bought by members of the PSOE socialist party which had just been legalised by the government.
Our friend José María moved away to Madrid and worked in the Ministry of Culture and was part of the Spanish delegation at the funeral of Mao Tse Tung. His main job, however, was ringing up different ministries around the world and offering trade-offs.
‘Hello Boris, how are tricks? Look, what’ll you give us for Carlos Saura and his Flamenco troupe? The Bolshoi Ballet? OK… September? Yes… Fine, I’ll pencil you in’.
Which, in fact, is what I wanted to write about today.
You see, what happens is, the bloke in Almería eventually gets a call. ‘The who? Bolshoi what? Never heard of them!’
He turns to another of the civil servants, or ‘funcionarios’ are they are called: ‘Pepe, you ever heard of the Bolshoi Ballet, because the Ministry in Madrid are sending them here in October after they’ve done Córdoba’.
And so it happens. The wealth of culture that is wandering around the world, sent as often as not by different ministries (or embassies), is in the hands of people who as often as not couldn’t give a monkey’s. Our boy in Almería alerts the theatre, may put out an advert or two in La Voz (where else?) and his junior will put something on the webpage – in this case the www.almeriacultura.com - which is worth keeping an eye on.
But there isn’t much promotion. I’ve read about concerts the day after they were held, sometimes including a wry note in the report that ‘…despite the quality of the performance, the auditorium was surprisingly empty’.
Sometimes our English-language newspapers are sent the information (although not very often), or the editor might see it in the Spanish press. However, there’s not enough time to go through all the available outlets and try and wring a little news out of them. There are a few ‘que hacer’ (what’s on) magazines in the larger cities, like Madrid’s excellent ‘Guía de Ocio’, but here in the sticks, ah…
The provincial and local Spanish departments of culture are, I think, often rather anally retentive when it comes to putting out information. Sometimes the posters or invitations are printed, but not posted. There’ll be a huge pile of them in some office, still in their boxes.
I am nevertheless assured by the councillor for culture in Mojácar, Angel Medina (who has managed to increase the number of exhibitions and concerts in the town), that his department will soon be erecting three electric notice-boards (in Spanish and English both) to announce that municipality’s cultural attractions.
So, if you hear about a concert or an exhibition – the Almería webpage mentioned above of course only covers Almería City and not, for example, El Ejido or Vera, you will then have to acquire your tickets. Sometimes you can get them through another webpage called ‘tick tack tickets’ (www.ticketmaster.es) and other times, you can only get them from the box office, which can mean driving in to Almería twice.
On some occasions, associations, clubs or businesses block-buy tickets to events, and possibly one’s club would have a bus laid on for a special treat. I know that ‘My Friend Carlos’ is organising a bus to Murcia to see B. B. King in June and the English-speaking Club Taurino de Mojácar and the Dames in Spain, for example (I’ve seen them both in the past few days), variously have a number of events laid on in the coming months.
There are, of course, cultural attractions which are open year-round. The permanent modern-art museums of Antonio Manuel Campoy in the Cuevas del Almanzora castle, the Casa Ibañez in Olula del Río and the Pedro Gilabert museum of sculpture in Arboleas for example. Have you been yet?
While we plan our next trip to enjoy Beethoven, I must tell you the sad news that the old Virgen del Mar, home of the goat, is closed; and José María? He’s retired.