Saturday, December 01, 2018

The Quinto Toro

It's thirsty work watching a bullfight, which is why people bring along their own refreshments. Almería itself has a traditional 'half-time' where the crowd passes sandwiches and beers, or a squirt of wine from a bota, to their neighbours.
All good fun. The second-to-last bull, the Quinto Toro, is also the name of Almería's venerated bull-fighters bar, on Calle Juan Leal, next to the Diputacíon near the market.
We went for a drink and a bite to eat last week. Loli left me outside the joint and went off to park (I'm on crutches still). There's a few tables outside on the pedestrianised street, but I went inside, to see the sights (and of course the tapas).
The bar is on the left as you go in, with tapas and a small stove. It's not really a restaurant, but you can get raciones to fill you up.
I had a couple of small beers, with their tapas (a tomato and onion job and then garlic potatoes with boquerones). The bar was founded in 1947, so it's not the oldest place in town, but it makes up for this with the amount of decoration. I admired the posters, paintings and photographs of bullfighters past and present, the odd stuffed bulls head and other other sundry paraphernalia. Then Loli arrived, having apparently parked the car in Murcia, and we went into the small tabled section for a ración of ox-tail ('rabo de toro').
This is a plate of lumps of bone covered in almost a jellied meat, with a heavy gravy. It needs a good glass of Rioja to work. It was delicious.
The bar is fun, and the refreshing walk (hobble) back to the car filled up the rest of the afternoon...

Saturday, November 10, 2018

A Place to Read

I like this picture. There's nothing like a small cosy bedroom filled with books. My own bedroom is a lot bigger than this, and I've spent the last two months in it, mostly, with my lower leg in a plaster-cast.
I'm not one for the television - I can't hear it properly and the programs don't interest me, but I do like to read.
In the past two months, I've read maybe twenty-five books - some tripe, some instructive and some very good. Luckily, the old house, in our family for over fifty years, is full of volumes - some of which I haven't read; while others - and thanks to what might be described as a 'senior mind' -  I can't remember if I've read or not.
But while you don't need much more than a good reading light and a warm blanket, that room in the picture - I hope it has doors - looks just about perfect for me. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

I briefly ran a bar in Bédar and made some very nasty tapas. Urrrpf.

My first (and penultimate) foray into business was to open a bar in Bédar in 1976, when I was a nipper. The Bar was called 'El Aguila'. I sold Aguila beer and Aguila cigarettes (clever, eh?). The beers, served in small bottles of 20cc (known as 'quintos' or - if you can pronounce it - 'cervecillas') came from a warehouse in Cuevas, and I could fit seven crates of them in my car. Thirty to a crate. The smokes, a brand similar to Ducados (strong black tobacco) came from a shop in Bédar called 'la tienda de Simón', which sold everything - from a wheelbarrow to a shower-bucket. A tin of butter to a postage stamp. Cigarettes and a tot of brandy. A useful place indeed.
Creating a bar takes a bit of work.
I had three old houses in Bédar, bought by my father for ten thousand pesetas (sixty euros) off of Old Gregorio in 1966. My father, whose Spanish at the time was non-existent, wasn't sure if he'd just paid for a very expensive lunch at Pedro's bar or if he was now the owner of three houses bought - apparently - off someone called Hermano. Herman to his friends.
I fixed them up, slightly. Knocked a hole through the walls. Built a kitchen somewhere, brought in a few mattresses and a sofa. The houses, now one, had electric, but no water. I put in a wrought-iron window terrace in the larger room for the bar, placed a plank of wood on top and was about good to go.The cross-eyed water man - who brought supplies in four large clay cántaros on his donkey - kept everything sluiced down, and the lavatory on the terrace was strictly soak-away.
The doctor from Los Gallardos came for an official look. He said the downstairs was fine, but the upstairs was off-limits. Three rooms and a terrace  for the public to enjoy: a bit of razzmatazz for the Bédar denizens.
The bar in theory was to be run with EJ Whyte, an Irish American who lived in Bédar and was responsible for bringing Fritz the artist to the area on the back of a BSA in around 1962. However, after enormous trouble getting work permits (think on this Brexiteers) - many trips to Almería, papers, fruitless visits, long walks up and down looking for obscure offices and people who had 'gone out for a coffee', stamps and photographs... EJ finally told the little man in the employment office in Almería to shove it up his backside, leaving me, as it were, in sole control. The card in the photo is the official permit to handle food. They give you a nail-brush and peel your eyelids.
Thus, I ran the bar by myself (sometimes my friend and local builder Juanico joined me - once arriving with a live and evidently stolen sheep which, after meeting a violent end on the bar-room floor, improved the tapas for a week or so). Beers and tapas. A quinto beer and a really quite horrible tapa cost 10 pesetas (seven céntimos in today's money). Since the local youth liked to play chinos (spoof) for a round, I found that I was drinking rather a lot. Perhaps many bar-owners do. I remember one in Los Boliches who used to surreptitiously finish all the dregs from the returned glasses. I rather doubt he's still going today.
My tapas weren't very good. I had bought a chapa, a large piece of iron plate, off Juan el Fraguero from Mojácar, and this was put on a small gas-fire. I would cut frankfurters sideways, sliced down the middle, with a squirt of hot sauce. I also offered costellitas: the bit of bone on the end of a rib with a nub of gristle hanging off it, also with a squirt of hot sauce. Bédar has long since had trouble with ulcers, apparently - it was good hot sauce. Then there was the mysterious bits of off-cuts in the bag of costillitas from the butcher's daughter in Cuevas. Juanico identified them as being rams' testicles. Apparently she liked me, he reckoned.
I had a record player and four of five records - the most popular being Nat King Cole singing in Spanish. Nat's accent was worse than my father's, but the clientele seemed indulgent.
My neighbours weren't convinced I wasn't running a brothel. One day, old dad came in for a chatico de vino (six pesetas). After about a dozen of these, he was sure that the place was of a moral rectitude seldom found in Spain. Several of the local kids actually carried him, gripping his arms and legs as he sang one of Nat's most popular numbers, home to his missus.
The bar was fun - sometimes. But it wasn't a money-maker. At threepence a beer, I wasn't making a fortune. My girlfriend didn't like it much, once hitting me on the head with a beer-crate.
I rented the place out after three months to some Brit football enthusiast called Roger for a Greenie - our name for a 1,000 peseta bill (6€) - per month. He of course never paid, although the tapas improved slightly...
The rest of the house, about two thirds of it if you counted the creaky bits upstairs, carried on as mine. The ceilings were made of beams, cane and plaster. Some of the beams were made of pine and others were just pita, the century plant stalk. I can tell you, they aren't very firm after a few decades...
One day, EJ came to stay the night. I left him the key to the house and went down to Mojácar. EJ relates that he suddenly woke with a terrible thirst, remembered there was a bar next door, and battered down the intervening wall using a butano-bottle as a sledge-hammer. He says he served himself a cool beer from the bar and meekly went back to sleep again. House guests, hey?
A few years later, I fixed up the whole building properly into one large and slightly eccentric house.
It's sold now.



Thursday, October 11, 2018

Guernica Renamed (and Reinvented)

One of Spain's most famous paintings, the dramatic and bleak artwork known as 'Guernica' and painted by Pablo Picasso, has an interesting history. 
For one thing, it was painted before the attack on the Basque city of Guernica by the Condor Squadron in April 1937 (in passing, one of the pilots in the Luftwaffe 'Operation Rügen' was a man called Günter who used to drink in a Mojácar bar called La Sartén back in the seventies). 
The painting was originally called 'Recuerdo a mi amigo Sanchez Mejías', a bullfighter who had died in the ring in August 1934. Picasso finished the painting, dedicated to his friend, in February 1937 (two months before the Guernica atrocity) and it was already hanging in the Spanish Pavilion at the Universal Exhibition in Paris. With a practical eye on current events, a culture delegate from the Republican side decided to rename the painting following the attack.
From Luciernagas y Coyotes we read: 'The painting does not represent any act of war, but rather the death of a bullfighter; with the bull agonizing, the frightened horses, the horrified gestures from the public, the light bulb over the infirmary and the broken sword in the foreground.
The bullfighter, lies broken, with his sword broken, because he has lost, and the bull appears with the sword stuck, with a anguished expression: his name was "Granadino".
The symbolism of the mother with the child in her arms, crying, is that of all mothers losing their child, regardless of their age (losing a child is unnatural, as parents usually die first), so it shows her great anguish, as well as all the other characters, because he was a very admired bullfighter'.
Whether it honours the death of a bullfighter friend or stands as a powerful symbol against war, Picasso's masterpiece is worthy of its place in the world's collection of masterpieces.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

A Short Break

Before the fuss with my broken ankle, Loli and I had taken a week's holiday, driving towards a tiny rural hostal called Apikale in the tiny settlement of Bedarona, north of Guernika. The house is on a high lip of verdant land, with falling cliffs to the ocean far below. There's not much in the way of beaches, and the tide races in twice a day.
Álvaro and Susi run the place. There are just four comfortable bedrooms with large wooden terraces, and downstairs there's the kitchen with a table, a breakfast room and a lounge. Generally, after helping out, we would settle around a table outside for some memorable meals, and plenty of local wine. The other guests ranged from Spaniards to Swedes, to a young Belgian surfer couple and so on.
The nearest neighbour is half a kilometre away, and the house is ringed with forest, hiking trails and fields.
In one field, there was a cow.
My companion Loli, who runs Albero Centro Ecuestre in Almería, a riding school, likes cows. This one was pregnant. Loli's joy overflowed when it delivered (with her help) a fine young bullock.
The mother was exhausted, and Loli milked her for her colostrum - the mother's first sticky lactation which is full of special nutrients. The things that happen on a holiday.
We spent three days with Álvaro and Susi, with some walks, a trip to the local port of Lequeitio where the beers are very large, the tiny beach is briefly available for bathers and the locals are friendly - if, like everyone in Spain, a little tired of so many tourists.
The season is short at Apikale, and they are now closed for the winter.  



Monday, October 01, 2018

Murdoch Looks at Spanish Acquisitions

Imagine if Rupert Murdoch, the right-wing champion and defender of both Brexit and Donald Trump, the owner of Fox News, the Times of London, The S*n and dozens of other influential far-right newspapers and TV channels, were to pick up some major Spanish daily newspapers to add to his collection.
Working with his star employee and lobbyist José María Aznar, the one-time president of Spain, the naturalised American mogul is currently in talks with RCS Media Group, the Italian owners of El Mundo (Spain's second newspaper) and is also looking at acquiring shares in the august ABC newspaper.
The main Spanish newspapers aren't already far enough to the right?
They will be.

More on this here.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Magic Roundabout

Mojácar is known as a refuge for artists. These days, the shine may have worn off this idealistic statement, what with control of the local culture being firmly in the hands of the mojaqueros, who often feel that foreign artists are all a bit pretentious and anyway, coño, it's our town to do with as we see fit.
So, tiptoeing past the astonishing municipal art gallery with one enormous room blessed with an entire wall of windows, past the exotic one-legged stainless steel figure at the Fuente roundabout - once around no touchee - we hurry down towards the beach to be met with another roundabout, this time designed to look like the top of a box of childproof aspirins adorned with a (patented) Drunken Indalo that stares firmly towards Garrucha, from whence come the innocent visitors to our fair resort, all ready to empty their pockets in our tasteful souvenir shops while filling our narrow ill-planned beach avenue with their vehicles - at least during the short season that makes up our current attempt to be 'the most beautiful pueblo in Spain': for family-oriented tourism anyway. 
Returning to the delightful roundabout, which used to have a complicated system designed to throw water into the air in a riot of changing colours, something which proved to much of a strain on the pumps (no doubt supplied by a local ferretería, of which, the less said the better) that they soon gave up the unequal struggle and a fellow from the Town Hall was encouraged to supply an easier low-maintenance design.
Incorporating a gift from Cosentino (the marble people from Macael), the eighth wonder of the world was duly completed as described above. But, and here's the rub, it went a fraction over budget. What should have cost (an appalling) 27,800 euros eventually came in at a mind-numbing 44,000 euros.  The Town Hall approved the extra cost in a plenary session this past Thursday. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Just Sayin'

A long time in bed, as I nurse a broken ankle. The public hospitals here in Spain are good (I lost my private health insurance along with my late wife Barbara's years back after being ripped off and left without a bean by some vulgar yahoos). What in America would have cost the earth - enough X rays to make me glow in the dark, a trip in an ambulance, an operation on my ankle with a plate and nine screws, two casts so far and more excitement still to come - here is free.
A bit boring though.
I lie in my cot, reading - Rafael Sabatini at the moment - and play around on the Android, posting rubbish on Facebook and looking up obscure facts on Wikipedia. 
Goofing off, but careful with my leg: the only movement a regular trip in my wheelie-chair to the bathroom.
Next week, I'll be a bit more mobile, and will return to writing my newsletter about Spain - Business over Tapas.
Funny, I always say that September is my favourite month.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Keep España Tidy

Our local English-language radio station Spectrum has this excellent campaign to clean up the beaches.
Spanish beaches are often filthy (as are the verges of almost all roads, the countryside and anywhere else which is is outside the private home). Spaniards, so generous and thoughtful towards people they know, meet or inter-react with, appear to have no concern for the public in general - and will often be surprised to find that - for example - they are inadvertently blocking the way... or having an innocent chat in front of a zebra crossing... or leaving a quantity of trash near to a dustbin rather than in it.
The Mojácar beaches, it must be said, are cleaned daily and are in great shape (a cost which must be borne by the tax-payer). But those who visit will often leave their wrappers, fag-ends, bottles, cans and cardboard trash behind them, saying 'well, the cleaners get paid to pick it up and they need the job' (which is a bit like punching someone in the mouth and saying 'the dentist needs the job').
In Almería, on the popular Playa de Zapillo, the accrued trash by nightfall is astonishing. Mounds of garbage. The Almerians like to picnic on the beach, and will bring chairs, a table, an umbrella, a cold-box and a radio. Not all of it is returned, needless to say.
Wandering along the beach the other night, barefoot in the sand, I could see not only the surprising amount of crap on the beach, but also a fair amount of it floating in the water. Then two young black kids, exercising nearby, surprised me by picking up the litter on that patch of sand, and taking it to the nearest dustbin.
It may be a cultural thing, but it is surprising to see few if any campaigns about keeping this beautiful country clean.
So, well done Spectrum.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

It's Been a Long Summer...


While we shudder quietly over the story in The Mirror of the elderly British tourist who found ‘too many Spaniards’ on her Benidorm holiday (here) and the report in The S*n which says that sneaky Spanish inspectors are ‘counting the towels’  draped on the terraces to find the illegal apartment lets, and the ‘go ahead and jump’ advice to those tourists in Barcelona with a balcony (here in Público); we can begin – those of us who don’t own souvenir shops or flag-waving bars – to consider that it’s now the second-half of August: not long left before this splendid and beautiful country settles down to the quieter season, when we residents will once again be able to appreciate our surroundings – and wonder why we are never mentioned or considered in the tourist-hungry literature of the Spanish resorts despite our wealth, support and enthusiasm for this, our chosen country of residence.

Monday, August 06, 2018

It Ain't What You Do, It's the Way That You Do It

Lenox Napier, the tone-deaf writer from Spanish Shilling, has received special recognition this week from a Tibetan reader was has honoured the scribbler by awarding him with the prestigious Cringing Wowser award, a rare distinction which has only been given to one other person so far - Walt Disney's nurse Ethel.
'This is for all my readers', said Napier nervously, holding the small award between his fingers, 'and is no doubt down to my time working in the feminist movements, making sure that they are written about with sensitivity in my various books, including "My Time as a Double Glazer" and "Charity Begins at Home"'.
Pressed to say more and help fill out the article, Napier added, 'It goes back to my years with "Six Toes", an association which helped Buddhist mathematicians living in the Orkney Islands with their homework'.
'I once found a woman on my doorstep, and sent her home', says Napier, 83, as he tried to swap the award in the local nick-nack shop for its monetary value.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Excavation of Old Mojácar

The archaeologists from Granada University are winding up their first season dig on Old Mojácar, the mount that can be viewed from the village mirador. Old Mojácar was inhabited for thousands of years - in some way or other - and was a settlement held by the Moors from the 700s to around 1300 when they moved to the safer hills of today's Mojácar.
 Lara Delgado and Professor José María Martín Civantos are leading the group of enthusiastic archaeologists and they explained something of the story of the mount. The current dig is in two sites, one, half way up the hill, is at the wall of the settlement, with its gate and some nearby small dwellings places.
 At the top of the hill, where the water-cistern ('aljibe') is located, they have found a second cistern under a tower, a kitchen, a forge and a guard-house. The hill was evidently walled from around half-way up, with the wall curving upwards on the south side, like a badly-draped necklace, with perhaps a dozen fortified places along the wall, towers of a sort. The inhabitants would in fact generally live outside and return to the walled settlement perhaps at night or more in times of uncertainty.
The finds will be taken to Granada for analysis, and the excavations will be sealed until next July, when the team will return.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Almería is a Beautiful Province to Explore

Mojácar is a nice looking village with astonishing views and a residential quarter of white cubist houses and narrow streets which has been left largely in peace. The main square and surrounding alleyways are however more of a commercial mall than an attractive little pueblo: neon and hawkers, souvenir shops and blackboards. One of 'the most beautiful villages in Spain'? Well that's just marketing.
Almería has some rather less spoiled and even more beautiful pueblos. Out of its 102 municipios, more than a handful are really quite splendid. Bédar is the first one. Its views are even more dramatic than Mojácar and its streets are just as narrow. The houses though are well-preserved rather than turned into apartment blocks or commercial premises, and apart from a slightly odd statue at the beginning of the village (all Almería pueblos have at least one Junta de Andalucía funded statue for some reason), the village is very satisfying. Like almost all Almería pueblos, it's quiet and peaceful... and perched on a mountain.
Not far away is Sorbas in its remarkable setting crouched over (rather than on) the cliff. Narrow streets again - a donkey was all you needed in the old days.
Senés - a tiny Alpujarran village of just 600 souls up past a huge underfunded solar plant - is quite beautiful. Hardly any visitors ever come to visit so it is unspoiled and blessedly free from souvenir shops, disco music and quiz nights. Their Moors and Christians (August 5th and 6th) is restrained: four people mounted on horseback declaim the old poetry of the Cid. The beer is cheap, too.
Also in the Alpujarras (an excellent area which carries on towards Granada), there is Abrucena, a  quiet little village which can trace its history back some nine thousand years.
Vélez Blanco - up towards Huercal Overa and then inland, is by far the most beautiful pueblo in Almería. Better still, it has an absolutely wondrous and photogenic castle. Superb.
The castle at Vélez Blanco
(The village claims provenance for the Indalo, one of a clutch of  prehistoric drawings in a nearby cave called the Cueva de los Letreros which is of course silly - the Indalo, My Dears, is mojaquero).
Serón up in the Valle del Almanzora has many historical sites as it was founded by the Nazaries in the thirteenth century (it also has the best jamón);  Cuevas de la Almanzora with its castle and gypsy caves; Laujar de Andarax with its wineries and its fountains;  the small agricultural gem of Laroya hidden in the hills of the Filabres and the quiet old-fashioned pueblo of Ohanes, again in the Alpujarras.
For flat roofs and white houses pitched in narrow streets, the mother-lode is Nijar with its pretty main square and church. The municipality of Nijar is the second largest in Spain and hosts a number of smaller villages of interest - Las Negras, Rodalquilar and the fishing villages of Agua Amarga and of course San José in the Parque Natural del Cabo de Gata.
An old mill on the way towards San José
Lucainena de las Torres is another splendid village hidden in the interior hills of the province. Like Mojácar, it is a member of the 'Most Beautiful Villages in Spain' organisation. Again (and unlike Mojácar), it is largely unspoilt.
Just two more for now - Vélez Rubio is a fine place, a little larger than its neighbour and known for its superb XVIII C. church and its local museum with examples of local habitation going back 30,000 years.
Finally (and with apologies to Lubrín, Tabernas, Antas and Adra), there's Berja, at the foot of the Sierra de Gádor. A wealthy farming pueblo with some good architecture and copious historical sites. So much to see - and I've probably missed a few other beautiful Almerian destinations.

 



Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Invasive Species


We are defended from the threat of ‘invasive species’ by laws, the Ministry of the Environment and the sterling is sometimes arbitrary work of the ecologists. Without them, Spain would be full of peculiar animals, fish, birds and plant-life.
As we know, it pretty much is anyway.
To combat the uninvited guests that sometimes take over from the autochthonous species (no Briton is unaware of the Gray Squirrel that was introduced from Canada to the UK a hundred and fifty years ago, only to drive the native Red Squirrel almost to extinction), the front-line in our defence is sometimes pushed to take extreme measures.
While no one will admit it, the Black Snout Weevil (here), cousin to the palm-killing Red, was almost certainly brought in to eradicate the Agave plantation near the Almería airport – a plantation that’s been there for around 100 years and has been an indignant thorn in the flesh of every true-blue ecologist since then. Why, we have no idea, since nothing else grows there anyway. Their grub, by the way, is the thing you find in the bottom of a bottle of mescal.
The snout weevils have now been introduced – one way or another – and are doing a splendid job in reducing the agave not only near the airport, but in private gardens across the province, joining the Red Palm Weevil and the Cochineal Fly in killing Spain’s palm trees and prickly pear.
Another concern of our zealous friends are the cotorras (here), the large green Argentinean parrots that have escaped from captivity and currently infest city parks in much of the Spanish territory. This ‘green demon’ – around 30,000 of them – is taking over from the Madrid sparrow, says Antenna 3 (video).
The ecologists, including SEO-Birdlife, Amigos de la Tierra, Greenpeace, WWF and Ecologistas en Acción, are currently at odds with the Government which is allowing certain ‘invasive species’ the right to stay – as they are fun to hunt and eat. The Black Bass, carp, pike, catfish and so on (here).
Not that one should worry unduly – but there are probably some ecologists who might go so far as to consider us foreign residents as ‘an invasive species’. Just kiddin’.