Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tourism in Mojácar

With the build-up to the local elections of Sunday May 24th, we shall be hearing ever more about how 'tourism is our only industry' and how we must plan our town for the benefit of our visitors.
Very nice. Why do we actually want tourists though? It's in the quote, 'it's our only industry'. You see, we don't particularly want tourists, they slow everything down, get in the way, cause queues, caravanas, empty the shelves; they are noisy, belligerent, they throw up in our gardens and they crash merrily into our cars. They don't respect our quaint customs and often don't bother to dress when they go to the supermarket. Next year, they'll chose Corfu instead. The fact is, of course, that we don't want or like tourists at all: it's their money we like.
So, we have parades, concerts, rubber castles, fiestas, endless shows in the village square and an expensive tourist department (where the councillor is, for some reason, monolingual in Spanish). All paid for by the local residents so that we can have lots and lots of tourists. In the summertime, anyway. There's a great quote in this week's Business over Tapas that comes from a company in Mallorca called NT Incoming, 'one Russian tourist is worth five British ones', they say. Heh. They don't mean - I think - that our sock and sandal society is five times harder to bear than that of a Cossack, but rather that the Rooskies spend more dosh while holidaying in the Balears.
Those of us who have shops want tourists, but the shop-owners are only interested in those who come through their doors and buy stuff. Which in Mojácar, means tee shirts, leather bracelets and cheap Chinese-made nick nacks. No one who lives here buys this junk, it's for the tourists; cheap tourists evidently (no swanky American-Express-carrying Russians in the Hotel Best or its charming sister the Second Best). If you don't own a shop - and of course there are many, many families who do - then you don't have an abiding interest in seeing tourists take the last parking space outside the Parque Comercial. Now, those families with shops like tourists, under certain conditions already outlined, so they will support a political party, especially one run like a pirate ship by a close family member. The rest of us will merely wonder why the place looks like Disneyworld in the summer months and Disneyworld After It's Shut for the rest of the year.
Residents buy a house, they buy a car, a washing machine (or several if they choose López). They pay local taxes. They bring in money every month from outside. They love their home, their street and their town and want to see it pretty, not covered in sick. A calculation says that a resident spends the same in one year as 500 visitors to our town. Remember, the hotels are as cheap as they can be, with the food prepared in Málaga, with cheap foreign labour cleaning the rooms and scrubbing the floors (so, no jobs for the local there). Our tourist office spends its time and our money pandering to this kind of cheap tourism (remember the Hotel Moresco, closed for eight years now and owing 165,000€ in IBI) and, remarkably, forgets the one hotel open all year, full all year, and with wealthy patrons (who naturally wouldn't buy many tee shirts): The Parador.
Those foreign-born residents who live here all year round, enthusiastic settlers, are served by one English-speaking local woman in the Town Hall. That's their lot. There's no 'Foreigners Department' manned with fellow-Brits to help them get through the paperwork, or advise them of their rights and obligations. There's no alternative to clambering up the steep hill to the village ayuntamiento (strategically located as far away from any parking as is possible), to see if they have had their names taken off the padrón, or if there's something about them on the tablón de anuncios. There's no European Day or Foreigners Day or, despite being more than 60% of the entire community, there's no one from the foreigners with a job in the swollen town hall, where those locals who don't sell saucy tee shirts seem to end up.
Hotels are ugly things and they only last for so long. They might be converted into apartments eventually (like the old Hotel Mojácar), or left to rot like the Moresco. They may be built by speculators but never opened (the Hotel Chamberrí in Marina de la Torre or the ghastly hulk in Playa Macenas), or their permissions might be unkindly withdrawn (Hotel La Mata). Their owners are usually murky businessmen from Catalonia, plotting from afar to close down local apartment rentals.
Why should our politicians crow about tourism being our business? It's not: it's theirs!  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Simple Life

I was asking the mayor of the small town where I was staying in Oklahoma about planning permits. Specifically I said, to build on a piece of land outside city limits. 'Well, there are three types of building; housing, commercial and industrial. For housing, building a place on your own land, there are no requirements at all'. You just build... whatever you like. No one comes from Washington with papers and judges and bulldozers, no one from Oklahoma City tries to interfere in local planning.
Public official are there - and this is a novel idea - to help rather than to obfuscate as they must in Spain.
The town where I was staying - I'd been to visit two of my kids over Thanksgiving - is growing. There is no limit imposed by the regional or state capital about growth. It's simply supply and demand.
The mayor works for the interest of his community. He is helped by an official called a Town Administrator, a professional who knows the rules and regs. Such as they are.
Paperwork is minimal in Oklahoma. Your 'title' to your car, for example, you can keep in the glove-box, or at home. You can sell your car, transfer title, just by giving the buyer the paper, a bit like how in works in a game of Monopoly. You then go to the local registry (there's one in every town, not like booking a visit with Tráfico and then trailing into the City for an entire morning). Simple. The transfer fee is 25 dollars. For that matter, a driving licence, obtainable in a morning from scratch, is 25 dollars!
Sales tax is low at 9% in that town, as compared with the flat 21% enjoyed across Spain.
Parking is easy in Oklahoma. There's room because there's planning. Planning because it makes sense to have parking spaces for clients or visitors. It's a practical society.
Walking around the town, I saw signs in many shop windows looking for staff. 'If you don't have a job here', I was told, 'it's because you don't want one'.
Yes, there's more room than we have here in Almería; but looking out of the window of the airplane as I flew in to our airport, I saw a lot of empty space... We have an unemployment of 36%, a black economy of 31% and a kleptocracy for a government. If it wasn't for the guns, I'd prefer Oklahoma...

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Another One Bites the Dust (Heh!)

Following on from a recent post in The Entertainer Online...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Luxembourg Scandal

The Luxembourg scandal – where many large companies have quietly set up subsidiary offices, paying very low taxes and, with creative interior billing, manage to pay almost no taxes at all in other countries where they operate – has received a major disclosure  recently. The Guardian runs an extensive exposé titled: 'Luxembourg tax files: how the tiny state rubber-stamped tax avoidance on an industrial scale' and Business Insider lists the companies involved here. El Confidencial covers the story for the Spanish readers, saying that over 300 multinationals are involved in the report from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists which runs to 28,000 pages. All of these companies use one of the 'Big Four' accountants, and just one revealed, PricewaterhouseCoopers, is said to have arranged tax savings of around 700,000 million euros between 2004 and 2010. A quote from the ICIJ exposé: 'Companies have channelled hundreds of billions of dollars through Luxembourg and saved billions of dollars in taxes. Some firms have enjoyed effective tax rates of less than 1 percent on the profits they’ve shuffled into Luxembourg'. The new President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, was the Prime Minister of Luxembourg when many of these fiscal advantages were approved by the Government, says El Diario, and, as Infolibre notes, Spain's own Minister of Finance Luis de Guindos was director of the financial division of PwC between 2008 and 2010. We are left with just three more links in this paragraph, the first from Twitter reminds us of the plan to create wealth, jobs and employment reforms from the 'Consejo Empresarial para la Conpetitividad' (mentioned in Business over Tapas last week) with the comment 'In other words, the big companies that on Monday asked us to fight against the Black Economy in Spain are the same people who pay 1% in Luxembourg'. The second, Britain's Private Eye returns to the story noting that '...the practice explains why the ratio of foreign investment to GDP in Luxembourg is the highest in the world at 4,700 percent (compared to the UK, itself fairly high, at around 50 percent)'. And lastly, there's an article about the Spanish presence in Luxembourg from El Diario here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Las Salinas de Aguadulce.

Aguadulce is the pretty urbanisation with a sports marina forming part of the village. It is on the coast, and backs on to El Ejido (Almería), the huge plastic-coated agricultural town which is famous for all the wrong reasons. The urbanisation shares the coast with a small protected area, Las Salinas de Aguadulce.

Monday, November 03, 2014

A Brief Visit to Córdoba

To get to Córdoba, take the signposted road northwest out of Granada. For someone used to Spain's fine motorways, it was a shock to find that the route, the N432, is a single-lane road that wanders past some castled towns heading lazily - and sometimes bumpily - through the olive trees of northern Granada and into Jaén, then over some gentle hills and so to Córdoba. Around 160 kms: 2.5 hours.
Unlike Granada, where I always am feeling choleric by the time I've found where I am heading for, Córdoba was very easy to navigate. Up, over the river, northeast along a wide boulevard and the hotel on the right. Two friends showed me around.
One, who is studying veterinary science at the university, told me that it's very hot in the summer (as we know from watching the July TV thermometer which is almost always filmed in the city), and very cold in the winter. When it rains, she continued, it does so for several days at a time. This past weekend, the weather was perfect. Everyone was enjoying the warm Indian summer and I even saw an army general driving along on his scooter (not a sight you often see these days).
The old part of the city spreads over a large area - much larger than Granada - and it is like walking around in a typical andaluz village, with narrow streets and white houses. The astonishing mesquita is near the wide River Guadalquivir. It has a large square formal Arab garden, walled and restful, with a cathedral spire on one end, and the opposite side standing against the walls of the giant mosque.
A truly breathtaking building. I could hardly see it for the tears.
Outside, over a beer, I listened to an old blind man playing his guitar and singing: 'Cór-do-ba'. We walked the streets, past some Roman columns, saw the famous Royal horse-riding school and had a meal in a restaurant under the smiling picture of Manolete, the City's famous bullfighter who died in the ring in Linares when he was just 30.
My weekend in the city included a massage, a sweat and a soak in the Moorish baths located down a narrow street. They serve you a glass of mint tea, Arab style.
I always had a slight feeling against
Córdoba - I was wrong. it's quite stunning.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Eve and the Trippers

I was in our local cemetery, where the foreigners at last lie in peace with their Spanish neighbours. Walking around slowly: looking out for my parents, for old friends and for people I knew. Here is the British bullfighter; there the Air-Vice Marshall. Here is my dad. There is my mum. Here's Fritz the artist, who's headstone claims he was born on November 31st, a month with only thirty days. Old Pfeiffer, whose apfelstrudel was all the rage in Vienna, is there: dead these forty years. And then I saw the stone for Eve Steinhauser, who despite her name, was an Englishwoman who worked for Horizon Holidays.
I had also worked for them, briefly, when I was 17; taking tourists round the sites (the sights) in Crete, the old Minoan Civilization. A posh accent describing the Minotaur to retired doctors, bank-managers and their wives. I was at the top end of the tour-operator's offer, a subsidiary of the holiday-company called Wings.
Eve had been sent to Mojácar by Horizon to see if it was worth bringing their holidaymakers to the small resort. Mojácar doesn't really work as a tour destination - it is a pretty village two kilometres away from the sea on a high hill, with beautiful views, and with a long coastline (for all practical purposes) of a dozen kilometres. From your hotel to wherever you wish to walk... is a long pull. There was no bus then although there was a couple of old taxis - we are in the early seventies; but there wasn't much to do after a hot walk, besides take the inevitable tour to the cowboy town in Tabernas an hour away in a coach (cue some Morricone music) or see some dodgy Flamenco in the hotel disco.
So Eve, conscious of the fact that a man who works in a toothpaste factory wants a holiday that won't stop, knew that Mojácar wasn't the right place. There was just one hotel in the village that could work and nothing of any size on the beach.
But then she met my mother.
Heather had suffered from encephalitis some years before she came with my dad and myself to Mojácar in 1966. The scars in her mind were slight, but she had no spacial memory, no recent memory, and she had somehow lost the bit that stops you from being rude to strangers.
  One night in the bar:
Eve - I'm here to see if Mojácar is the right place for a tour operator.
Mother - Don't you fucking dare to bring in those arseholes to our town you horrible (and frankly, really quite hideous) woman.
Eve would tell the story (since my mother forgot) - I had quite decided to tell Horizon against coming to Mojácar, until Heather changed my mind.
  So, the company came to the village, to turn it into a resort. They bought a second hotel on the hill, a hulk which they were forced to demolish, before rebuilding it alarmingly over-budget. With the new hotel, the Moresco, and the other place above it, the Hotel Mojácar (built with public money by Roberto Puig - a Valencian who couldn't bear the thought of customers in his hotel), Horizon Holidays opened Mojácar, as my mother would say, to the fucking trippers.
Horizon was bringing in tourists, the Mojácar people reacted accordingly. The foreign residents, who had brought in money, bought houses and opened bars, were quickly dropped in favour of the trippers. Nicknack shops opened, and Old Jacinto the mayor changed the name of the main street up to the village from the Generalísimo to Avenida Horizon.

The company, now heavily invested in Mojácar, was allowed to build another hotel, an ugly skyscraper on the far end of the beach: a twelve storey monstrosity called the Hotel Indalo. Shortly after this, as the millions of British trippers insisted on continuing to enjoy their holidays in Benidorm, several hundred kilometres up the coast, Horizon quietly went bust.
Clarksons came and went, as did other tour-companies of the era. Mojácar attempted to sell the tourists (here on a shoe-string holiday) small and squashed-together apartments. No one was buying villas any more.
With an ever-larger presence of Britons in the town, whether living here or merely visiting, it was only a matter of time before we twinned with a tourist town, and where more appropriate than Encamp, the Andorran town famous for its banks with no questions asked. The Avenida Horizon became the Avenida Encamp. The Hotel Mojacar was rebuilt as apartments, the Hotel el Moresco has been closed for several years (never to reopen). The Hotel Indalo is now the Hotel Best and the beach is full of bars, ice cream joints and of course, an unending supply of nicknack shops selling Chinese-made goods.
Benidorm, meanwhile, continues to grow.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Coming Through...

The pavement - the bit pedestrians are meant to walk on - is full of trees, parked bikes, dustbins, contenadores, signs, street lights, low-hanging shades, wheeled souvenir stands, metal anti-parking posts, ONCE boxes, benches, marquesinas and... of course... café tables and chairs. No wonder we must walk on the road instead.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Starting Somewhere: A Novillada

The day will come, if you go to bullfight-school, when you will be called upon to strut your stuff. It will be an expensive exercise, paying for rent on the bullring, paying for your cuadrilla (your crew), their crew, then paying for the hotel, transport, costumes, insurance and... a bull. So, better make it work!
On Sunday, I joined some Spanish friends at the Roquetas de Mar bullring to see a group of young novilleros, junior bullfighters, in a free entertainment for the public. Eight young men from the Escuelas Taurinas de Granada, Córdoba, Atarfe, Jaén, Puerto de Santa María and Almería (who knew there were so many schools?). On Friday and Saturday, there were apparently three more similar sessions with each young man (one was just 14 and he looked it - I saw him in the stands) fighting one bull each. One chance - that's bullfighting! Across the three days, there would have been 32 brave or foolhardy young fellows presenting themselves to the public for the very first time.

Having arrived late - the novillada started at 11.30am - I only saw five on the day. Three earned themselves two ears apiece from an indulgent crowd and the other two had some problems - one, who tried his hand as a picador as well as a toreador (the word doesn't exist), was tossed by the bull on both exercises. Indeed, poor chap spent more time lying on the sand with his arms over his head that standing upon it. Nevertheless, a couple of the bullfighters showed great promise. It's good to know that la corrida has a future in the hands of these confident and brave young men.
There is a growing group of people who consider bullfighting to be an anachronism and evil. They are known as anti-taurinos. They wouldn't have enjoyed the spectacle in Roquetas over the weekend, but at least they stayed away from the gates this time.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Autumn, Maybe Some Rain

After months of drought, the rains have come to eastern Spain. The Gota Fría is the time when the heavens open and the streets flow with water, when underground car-parks fill and when everyone looks surprised at the power of nature. It makes sense for the Junta de Andalucía, speaking as always for the ecologists, to say that you mustn't build in a rambla or on a flood plain, although Pueblo Laguna, outside Garrucha, regularly disappears at this time of the year under a tidal wave of water coming down the local riverbed, the Río de Antas, where it is briefly trapped by the weeds, cane and debris left in the waterway at the insistence of the very same ecologists. A friend called Casimiro tells the story of how, last year, he was looking for a mop after some water came under the door, when his picture window suddenly blew in as water from the rains, released by a collapsing bridge, covered him in seconds up to his neck.
So we read in the news of flooding in Mazarrón in Murcia, and more in Pulpí. So far, it's been less severe locally, with Mojácar merely damp, but there is more bad weather forecast for the coming days. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Quiet Week on an Island

I've just spent a week in house in the high hills of the north western part of Mallorca staying with some friends. The hills themselves are a World Heritage site (which means they are very pretty) called the Sierra de Tramontana and they surround several villages such as Deìa - our nearest port of call, a village with a small population of residents and an endless transient pop of German senderistas walking the local trails. Guten tag, I say politely, as I pass them. A nearby town, Sóller, has an electric train, a cathedral and a pretty little port for swimming and eating well. It's a far cry from the ghastly resort of Magaluf far to the south.
Where I stayed, a house with four bedrooms, a couch and no Internet connection, I could see the small bay far below - accessed by 200 steps cut into the stone. There is a small beach bar down there to make the descent worthwhile. Above and behind the house, there are any number of old olive trees, gnarled and bent by the centuries. Here are some pix.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Park Life

According to the Almeríapedia (yes, there is one), the Parque el Boticario just outside the City in La Cañada is 14 hectares in size, that's 34 acres, and it's a large park that proposes to introduce all the different plant life from the province, from trees to plants, from cactus to weeds and, for some reason, from lumps of stone to other lumps or marble. Cute idea. There's a large restaurant/bar and a giant playground as well.
Built for the boys over at Medio Ambiente with government and European funding, opened in 2005, the parque has spent the last nine years drying out, rotting and falling to bits. The bar and restaurant are closed and some of those senior citizen exercise machines - yes, they're there too - have rusted out completely into absorbing works of sculpture. The ponds are almost dry and there're weeds and garbage where there shouldn't be.
It's not surprising I suppose, the Medio Ambiente people (think 'politically-fired environmentalists') are keen proponents of returning Almería to the stone age (Demolition of the Algarrobico Hotel, their refusal to address the prickly pear issue and the spiteful insistence on the demolition of foreign-owned houses across the hinterlands of Almería together with the consequent impoverishment of the small interior villages). So, there's simply no time to look after their flagship park with '75,000 plants'. However, according to the Almeríapedia post, the Consejería of the Medio Ambiente merely built the park, before attempting to cede it to the Almería Town Hall, or failing that, the Junta de Andalucía. Neither of whom wanted it.
Today, it was open, hot, and empty. We saw not one employee there and no visitors either. It has lots of trees, bushes and plants as promised, but they certainly needed watering. The prickly pear had some infection and the explanatory signs had all been burnt black and unreadable by the elements. All said, it was still an interesting visit (after all, the rest of the province is in a similar state of desertification). Just bring a bottle of something to drink, and if you are feeling generous, a full watering can... 
The barman in nearby La Cañada (it's thirsty work walking around a 14Ha park - and on another subject - the tapas are huge), said he had gone along when it was first opened, but expressed surprise to hear that these days it was practically desolate.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Prickly Pear Plague

The plague of the prickly pear has not gone away, indeed, it has got worse. Whole swathes of inland Almería are covered with dead and dying chumbos, with clouds of the male insects, a tiny white fly which turns into a red mess when you smear them, flying around the evening lamps. So many, that they will fill your eyes and mouth. The females, meanwhile, have their heads inserted into the plants, while the miniscule young hang in those white filaments which adorn the stricken plants, ready to be taken away by a gust of wind. The hills look as bad as this sounds - drooping, dying, drying.
The ecologists, of course, do nothing, Their concern is the ghastly Hotel Algarrobico and bothering the houses owned by the foreigners up in the moribund pueblos of the interior.
Now, however, the Cochineal Bug Dactylopius opuntiae is moving onto other plants, with damage found, apparently, on figs and vines.
The reason why the ecologistas don't want to move on the chumbo problem is because, they say, the chumbo is a planta invasora: it's not natural to Spain, therefore it shouldn't be protected. Brilliant! Well done those city-bred nitwits. The patata and the tomate are both invasoras as well!
Since spraying the prickly pear doesn't work - who is going to spray the wild ones? - the answer must lie in finding something that eats these bugs: a natural enemy. Somebody needs to go to Mexico.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mojácar: This Thing About Noise

A new group has just appeared here in Mojácar, it's against excess noise. Here's its pitch:
 'The Platform MOJACAR WITHOUT NOISE is a nonprofit organization which has been created by a number of neighbours and residents who defend their right to be protected against acoustic aggressions of any type and anti-social behaviour in special during the holidays.
We don't belong to any political party and we believe in the democratic dialogue that generates the balance among the citizens from a responsible position. It has been created because of the continuous disturbances from bars, discos, etc and in residential areas that generated too much noise and anti-social behaviour.
This platform is open to the participation of any neighbour or resident in Mojacar who wants to share, report or look for support in the fighting against the damaging effects of noise or anti-social behaviour'.

Mojácar is bitterly divided between the mayoress' party and the opposition parties. The first is strongly in favour of noise control, with fines for excess noise, live music, 'high heels in apartments', 'playing dominoes noisily' and dogs barking loudly. All very commendable and no doubt a vote-catcher for residents sick of the young tourists who are up all night, boozing and shouting.
On the other hand, the slightly less tenable argument that noise is an inevitable by-product of tourism, which, we are told, is 'our only industry'. Mojácar, they say, lives from tourism, as if the tourists should have precedence over the residents' right to live here peacefully.
Years ago, things were truly awful in the short summer season which Mojácar seems to prefer for its tourist season (with many places closing for the winter once August is over). There were three bars on the side of the village nearest to me and they would play ear-splitting music until four or five in the morning. I once wrote a piece in Spanish for a local newspaper saying that I couldn't fall asleep each night until one or other of the bars played that particular summer hit that I so enjoyed. In reality, music over distance, mixed or otherwise, loses its shape and all you get is the bass line. Boom boom.
Yes, live music is fine, but let's limit it to midnight. Indeed, you could try starting the entertainment a bit earlier!
The arrival of the new anti-noise group may be a political manoeuvre from the Town Hall, cynically outed to gather votes for next May's local elections, or it could just be the cry from people fed up with the ghastly tourist season, now drawing to a close.
But unfortunately, the village fiesta has just started. Extended by an extra day this year to five, the fiesta started with a bang (to coin a phrase) and means to carry on with as much noise and loud music as possible. Last night's band in the main plaza of the village lasted in full boom boom mode until six this morning. The bangs from the 'firecrakers' (as the Town Hall calls them), but thunderflashes to you and me, are enough to scare the animals, make the dogs bark, frighten the horses, and irritate the neighbours. Is the Town Hall against noise? Really?
Above all (and now we shall see if it is really apolitical), will the new anti-noise association make a stand?

Contact the association at:

Saturday, August 23, 2014

High-Stepping Times in Moras

We had arrived there by walking down a path in the darkness, ducking under trees ill-lit by our mobile phones, and along a riverbed as far as the tiny village called Moras. We had been eating a picnic dinner with some French people who had bought and fixed up a small farmhouse in the sierras behind Sorbas, with a view from their terrace of the crumbling hamlet huddled under the cliffs across the valley. Tiny biting flies clouded around us as we ate salad, chorizo and salmon. A German called Thomas was explaining about the village fiesta and the music that he and a small group of Spanish friends were rediscovering - old music from forgotten times.
Safely arrived in the village square, the seven musicians set up and began to play: Old malagüeñas, strange songs from the hills of Almería, peculiar pieces sung by a local woman ('I can't dance when I'm wearing my specs' was one). A few people tried anyway...
Over at the bar, I sunk a few beers and wondered how much a better camera might cost...

Friday, August 15, 2014

The End of an Affair

Local writer Paco Haro presents his book this Saturday 16 August about the early foreigners who arrived in Mojácar between thirty and fifty years ago. It's called 'Mojaqueros de Hecho'. (8.00pm at the Artesan Centre). Paco's father ran the small hotel in the main square where most of us stayed while we found our way around and perhaps bought an old house locally.
The book is divided into four sections, plus cameos about some of those involved. I'm reading the third part at the moment which talks about the end of the simple times of Mojácar when the investors in suits and ties started to arrive to build their apartments and their ugly and charmless hotels, make a quick profit and move on. It talks of how the most charismatic bits of the town were torn down - the old theatre, the hotel Indalo, the Arco de Luciana, and above all, the Fuente. When plans were announced by Mayor Bartolo to demolish the old Arab fountain and to raise up a marble mockery in its place in around 1988, Paco recalls in the book how the foreign residents reacted to a man, and together with local artist Félix Clemente Jérez and local carpenter José María Pérez, they went so far as a raise a demonstration in the main square with banners and whistles. I remember one sign held by a long-term resident and featured on the front page of The Entertainer - '90,000 pesetas to wash my knickers'. There was suddenly a large fight and it became clear, as Paco remembers, that we had passed from being 'fellow mojaqueros' to 'guiris de mierda'. They didn't need us anymore.
Following that demonstration, the new fountain was built. The whole reason for it was to favour an architect connected by family ties to the President of the Junta de Andalucía. Paco says in his book that following this episode, there were two prices in the bars, the shops and as offered by the local repair people - ours and yours. Suddenly there was no more theatre, cinema, art or music. Just commerce, disneyland and greed.
Mojácar remains a special place - the streets continue to be narrow (except where the current mayoress has demolished a couple of houses and turned the result into a large and spacious square) and the views are as delightful as always (except where the electric company put up a line of giant pylons across the so-called Valley of the Pyramids). The old narrow windows are now wide plate-glass affairs and the modest shingle nailed crookedly above the shops are these days giant neon signs. The summer queues of young and enthusiastic party-goers and bathers keep the businesses full as 'the only industry here is tourism' becomes the mantra (who needs residents?).
In Mojácar, we would sell our souls for an extra dollar... 
So, my heartfelt thanks to Paco (and many other local friends), because while the soulless commercial side of our town is, generally speaking, a tragedy (you should see the tee-shirts), there are still those who would imagine Mojácar as a more people-friendly place: a residential town. That second picture of the fuente, the one in marble...? Above it is an art museum (or would have been, the Town Hall decided at the last moment to make it a municipal gallery instead). 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Senés: A Simple Fiesta

Senés is a pretty village in the interior of Almería. It's in fiesta this weekend, with its own version of the Moors and Christians. This edition has a small cast, with plenty of poetry and action. It seemed to be directed for the pleasure of the locals rather than for any larger commercial reasons.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

A Day at the Toros

'The history of the bullfight is intertwined with that of Spain, so much so, that if you don't know the first, it would be impossible for you to understand the second'. José Ortega y Gasset.
'The bulls are the most cultured fiesta that exists in the world'. Federico García Lorca.
Illustration by Picasso (he liked them too)

I went to the bullring in Roquetas de Mar last Saturday. It's a new ring, built in 2002. Inside, they tend to look alike - round and painted red and yellow, with the narrow escape burladeros for the crew to get, quickly, out of the way. The sand is yellow powdery stuff called albero. However, being a modern ring, it has a few extra attractions. A small and interesting museum of 'bullfight stuff' - suits of lights, posters, mounted bulls heads, capes, photographs and video... plus the interesting revelation that there are sixteen permanent bullrings in Almería. A second gallery, just opened, has a collection of serigraphs from Picasso and Goya both. Fantastic. Seventy five of them and nobody there. Wow.
Later the same day, I was in Berja, a small agricultural town in the Almerian hinterland. It was their fiesta and I had been invited to a bullfight. We were a group of ten and we were in the sunny seats (called sol as against the more expensive sombra) and we were in the front row, on the barrera.
The entertainment was provided by El Cordobés (son of the sixties icon); plus El Fandi from Granada, who places his own bandilleras decorated in green and maroon, the colours of his city, and finally Almería's Torres Jerez. They have two fights each. Next to me sat a young woman who is studying veterinary school in Córdoba: a six year course. She wants to specialise later to become a bullfight vet. She knows all the fighters, their special passes, their history and their colours. She knows all the arcana about the toros and tells me pieces of information as the afternoon continues and sandwiches and beer are pressed into my hands.  The boy on the other side of me is shouting for an ear from El Fandi's second kill and, as the matador makes his circle of the ring, he tosses up the grim relic to my excited friend. 'I'm not having that in my fridge', says his mother sitting just behind me.
What to say? It was fun. The matadores played to the crowd, but they appeared to respect the bulls. Perhaps you can understand that, and perhaps you can't.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Hotel, My Friends, is Legal!

The ecologists were sat round a fire, trying to open a tin of beans with a corkscrew. 'The Hotel Algarrobico is Legal', shouted one of them, holding a piece of newspaper that had blown in from a nearby building site they had successfully stopped last year. The building licence granted in 2003 for the ghastly twenty storey hotel was kosher, rules the Supreme Court. Now, of course, the builders can sue both the Andalucian Government and the environmentalists for interference, trespass, work stoppage and degrading the gigantic building. Should be a nice sum of money, says an eco-warrior uneasily to another, covered inexplicably with baked beans and nursing a bleeding thumb.
So will the promoters finish the hotel, sell it to the Swedes, or turn it into an old people's home, as suggested by the local mayor?
I know, they could give the penthouse suite to Helen and Len Prior!
Later: the plot thickens once again, as on Wednesday 6th August, the Junta announces that it has expropriated the land and will knock down the excrescence that is erected on it. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Almería Bombarded by the Germans

An interesting piece of history here recalls the story of how the Germans bombarded the City of Almería on May 31st 1937.
A squadron of Republican bombers, Tupolevs, had flown out of a Murcian air-base some days before and had attacked a German battleship (under, apparently, the idea that it was the Admiral Canaris, a warship used by the Nationalists) which was moored in Ibiza. The ship was in fact a German pocket battleship, the Deutschland, which suffered the loss of over thirty crew-members as a result of the strike. The Deutschland belonged to Nazi Germany, a country which in 1937 was part of a non-aggression coalition but the ship was, nevertheless, trespassing within a ten mile exclusion zone.
Appraised of the incident, Hitler was incandescent and planned to shell Valencia (the provisional capital of the Republicans), however, on reflection, Almería as a smaller target was chosen and another battleship, the Admiral Scheer, was chosen for the job, together with four supporting destroyers, the Albatros, Luchs, Seedler and Leopard.
The Admiral Scheer, while in Gibraltar.
Over 200 rounds were fired at the undefended port and city. Fifty people died, another 55 were reported wounded and a number of buildings were destroyed. Unlike the attack on Guernica some weeks previously, the German forces made no effort to disguise their nationality, nor to work in any alliance with the Rebels. This was about revenge.
Great Britain and France made small complaint and the event was swept under the carpet. Meanwhile, a large web of tunnels was quickly built under Almería to protect the population from further attacks - enough to protect 35,000 citizens (the tunnels are now a tourist attraction) from the privations of the Nationalist, Italian and German forces. As 150,000 refugees from Málaga, newly taken by the Nationalists, struggled into Almería, adding to the incalculable stress of the situation. The city itself was shelled another fifty times by the Rebel forces in the following months.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

More Government Censorship, with the 'AEDE Canon'

Our boys at El Mundo write about those who profit from their labour... and then helpfully add a link to Facebook, Twitter and Meneame.

The 'Google Tax' was solemnly passed by the Government on Tuesday (without debate). This is a canon that must be paid to a select coterie of daily newspapers when any 'non-significant fragment' of news in aggregated, anywhere within Spain. The AEDE get the money, regardless of who is quoted and linked to, while the evident argument that a link merely adds readership to the site in question has been laid to one side yet again – here in Spain, it's about the power of the lobby, in this case the most powerful news groups – to cause a censorship of the lesser media (and pirate some extra cash). Take Menéame for example (Spain's version of Reddit), who last year provided readers with some 300 million links to original material. The editor says he can either close down... or move abroad. Facebook, Twitter and a whole host of smaller news providers will be affected. For commentators, bloggers and bad English-language gazettes, it will certainly be harder to find the news to share with readers. I suppose they can either make it up, or just pinch it without attribution. 
So - will you now be better or worse informed about the news, analysis and events going on in Spain following the implementation of the 'Canon AEDE' otherwise known as the 'Google Tax'? More opinion here and here. A list of the AEDE controlled newspapers here.
Oh my goodness, am I breaking the law? 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Machine Life in Adolfo Suarez

Ar the airport in Madrid, having got through immigration and customs at warp-speed, I galloped through the giant shop which takes up a serious chunk of the airport, sticking religiously to the narrow grey road that winds through it, while chanting an incantation against faeries, majick and sourcery, to arrive some time later, safely, at the wing which serves the flight to Almería. I had time for a coffee: a decent one, at last (I had been in America, where the coffee is weak and the waitresses are jolly).
The man made me a cortado and I chose a bun. That, he said, would be three euros forty. I waved a five at him, but was told to feed it into a machine, where, in due course, my change would clatter into a convenient tray. 'Look', he said, doing it for me.
So, how do you tip a machine?
'It'll never make it to my pueblo', I told him.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Current Events

I don’t even know if I feel much like writing at the moment, besides keeping the tradition alive of posting something – at least – once a month here on the Shilling. My Darling Barbara died less than two weeks ago on June 4th, victim of a long-term and horrible illness, named after the concentration camp doctor who apparently first identified it: Wegener’s Granulomatosis.
We buried her in the Mojácar cemetery on the Thursday, surrounded by the usual group of fascinating and occasionally rather odd friends that one finds if he lives here long enough: indeed, I just wanted to rush home and tell Barbara who was there to say goodbye – which was pretty much everyone except for an estranged brother of hers who thunders aimlessly about Mojácar on a Harley all day long.
But that’s over now: I’ll write about Barbara a bit later on...
I flew out the next day, Friday 6th, to California, where my younger daughter lives. I have always liked America and, over the years, I’ve visited or stayed there better than a dozen times, including lengthy stays in San Francisco in the mid-seventies and in southern Los Angeles a decade later. This time, I’m staying in Laguna Beach, further south and not so far from the Mexican frontier. Laguna Beach is a small resort overlooked by some spectacularly expensive homes (5 to 10 million dollars or more). The Pacific Coast Highway runs through it, furnished with more expensive and exotic cars than I’ve ever seen before. I saw an antique British sports three-wheeler yesterday. Stretch limos, Maseratis and souped-up golf carts roll past as I walk along the coast, with the beach on one side and an amazing 180 art galleries (!) on the other. Unlike Mojácar, Laguna Beach really is an artist’s destination – although few of them live in those big six million dollar mansions above the bay.
I have walked around the resort a few times – it’s tasteful, with no large hotels or signs of vulgarity – no wally-trolleys, neon signs or Banderas Azules to reassure the doubtful of the efforts made by the local authorities to keep their citizens happy. The architecture, a mixture of wood and brick, is much more varied than we are used to. No doubt the teeming hordes live elsewhere. As expected, the streets are crammed with beautiful, skinny blond girls.  
The bus has a ramp on the front for bicycles, and the post office sells greeting cards. The local restaurants seem healthier than I might expect – there’s no evidence of French fries, or fast-food outlets. It’s an expensive town, with Thai, Mexican, suchi, and fancy places, together with some good (large) bars with live music and capable staff. Parking is expensive, with parking metres, but free to residents (who, presumably, have bought a permit off the town hall). But why not – tourists should not be able to take all the parking spots, don’t you think?
One of the things that is expensive is health care. An old case of sciatica returned to pain my leg, severely. I couldn’t walk more than a few steps. I tried a Thai masseuse (I would have tried one anyway) and then a chiropractor. I had my feet done over at the Chinese pedicure. I then found a local sports-injury centre with machines, weights, some rather nasty vitamin supplements and some friendly staffers who joyously twisted me into knots for two days (all I could afford).
I’m staying with my daughter and her Spanish husband, so I am speaking rather more Spanish here, between home life and visits to bars and restaurants where the staff are slightly surprised-looking Mexicans, than I do at home in Spain. Each morning, I even get to see a re-transmission of the news from Madrid on the frankly gigantic TV they have here. So, I’m keeping up with things at home.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Homage to the Foreign-Born Mojaqueros

Mojácar was just another crumbling Andalucian village until the beginning of the sixties, when the mayor, Jacinto Alarcon, had the idea of giving away scrub-land or houses in ruins to those who would improve them. The town had drifted from 6000 inhabitants before the Civil War to nearer 600, and the advent of enthusiastic forasteros become the beginning of a new chapter in Mojácar's history.
The new vecinos brought their new ways, their culture, their tastes and, above all, their money with them. The town thrived.
While few local people have ever acknowledged the impact on their lives of the 'foreigners', whether they came from Madrid, Munich, Manhattan or Manchester, and the Town Hall still merrily refuses to do so, local historian (and ex-municipal cop) Francisco Haro, son of the old boy who ran the Hotel Indalo in the Plaza Nueva, has written a book about those fascinating and peculiar people who descended on the pueblo in the sixties. Here you will meet Sammy, the gay New York mafioso on the run from his family; Fritz the eccentric painter who could down a bottle of anis at a sitting; Charlie Braun, the large German womaniser who skied for James Bond, Tony Hawker who built hovercraft in his spare time, my parents Bill and Heather, My parents-in-law Jim and Mary, and so on. Bars, shops, ateliers were opened; intrigue, stories and the occasional feud followed. The local talisman, the Indalo, the little stick-man with the bow over his head, became as well-known in London as a bottle of Terry brandy.
The town eventually allowed itself to be seduced by a large tour-operator who set about ruining (once again) the attraction which had, for a brief decade, made Mojácar the bohemian capital of southern Spain. Local greed brought poor choices for the village, demolitions of historical buildings, unimaginative architecture and a plethora of small rarely-used apartments squeezed into an inadequate infrastructure.
The book is called 'Mojaqueros de Hecho' and will be presented in August.