Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Perfectly Welcome

It was to be a quiet party, just five or six of us. Maude had baked a cake and John had bought a bottle of champagne. There were a few beers and some sodas in the fridge and I had lit the barbeque ready for my speciality of burnt sausage à la birthday boy. Furthermore, in case my older sister Rachel, who works at the tourist office, could make it, we had some roast potatoes and a salad prepared – she’s a vegetarian. I went to put on some quiet music on the CD player.
Just then, a large blue bus stopped outside our house and people began to disembark. Rachel seemed to be there with them, shouting some instructions. The mass of people began to swell towards our gate. I ran over to see what was happening.
“Rachel, what on earth are you doing?”
“Well”, she said, “they’re tourists. They’ve come to join in. Could you take their picture?”
And so it is. Tourism today is so ubiquitous, that any fiesta, celebration, public event or exhibition must somehow cater for the visitors. Often at the expense of the locals, for whom the event was designed. While the bars, restaurants and knickknack shops all make out like bandits during these affrays (or at least, should), the local people will find themselves relegated to the ‘second row’ or even unable to attend at all.
Take our late summer fiesta. The four day long San Agustín fiesta is a very enjoyable thrash that seems more concerned with its commercial element than its social or religious one. Not only are the shops open until all hours, but a large number of out-of-town vendors come along to see what they can earn. The attractions are staged in a relatively small part of the municipality, so the bars and restaurants who failed the ‘location location’ test will not get much out of the affair (besides paying for the fiesta handbook). Lights are put up and taken down again, bands are hired and fireworks are let off. Is all this effort for the residents – or for the tourists?
The mainstays of commerce are industry, agriculture and tourism. There is precious little of the first two here and so we are obliged to cater for the third. I think that some of our shops sell needlessly vulgar tat – perhaps reckoning along the famous line of ‘pile it high and sell it cheap’ of Jack Cohen – and cheap Chinese souvenirs may attract cheap Chinese souvenir hunters. I’m not against tourists – unless they stand in my way – but I’m against hordes of them. Why not cater for less but wealthier tourism – Monte Carlo rather than Benidorm? We could make our town look nicer and even attract a wealthier type of visitor. After all, the Parador is a better hotel than the Pueblo Indalo.
So, the question is this – why does the tourist office advertise a local fiesta? Is it to help the citizens, or to help the shopkeepers?
In fact, sometimes it is clear that the public fiestas are just private affairs. We have two of this type, the Día de la Vieja and the Romería de San Isidro - both town hall picnics in the country where tourists and even non-local residents are simply not invited. Perhaps because there are no commercial advantages to doing so.
It is an axiom that, before you invite your friends over to your house, you clean the place up. Dust, wash, air and plump and even sometimes even paint, plaster, repair and rebuild. Then you feel better, proud of your home and ready to receive. The visitors come away favourably impressed and satisfied. Shouldn’t our resort receive the same consideration? Why not make our town look nicer and more attractive so the tourist will like it better? (To say nothing of how we might like it better as well). There’s plenty enough to be done. Meanwhile, by all means, give them their free paella, but save some for us.
This article isn’t about just Mojácar, but it’s clear that the pueblo itself is a kind of magnet to the area, a magnet which we all acknowledge, but don’t bother to visit…
Benidorm, by the way, works very well as a tourist destination. It takes a massive proportion of all British visitors to Spain and serves them well. It has a grid-system of streets leaving everyone close to their destination and also close to the beach. For residential tourism however, you will have to go to equally wealthy nearby town of Altea (which has just one large hotel).
My story at the top of the page? Well, here’s a true one. Barbara was hosting a small party on the hill behind the village. She and her pet cow along with some friends were celebrating San Fermín. The running of the bulls – or rather the trotting of one very affable pet cow called Petite Suisse. There was a picnic and some gypsy friends played the guitar, passed the bottle and sang. Some walkers joined in, eating and drinking with the group, while everyone vaguely thought that someone else must have invited them. The walkers, it turned out, thought that it was a town hall funded fiesta. So what – they were made perfectly welcome.

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