Saturday, December 03, 2022

More from Oklahoma

 I'm now home again, after a jolly month with the kids and grandchildren. How old I am getting! 

Mind you, a few years were shaved off as I drove at high speed across three states in a Porsche GT3 and later, coming back, a Porsche GT4 (this one has a stick shift). The cars were lent to me by a friend of my son's, none the less welcome for that. 

While not eating enormous dinners every couple of hours, I was also treated to a flight in a Cesna - a craft which is rather like a SEAT 600 with wings - over Tulsa and in to Bentonville in Arkansas for breakfast.  Another adventure was a day of chilly off-road driving in something called a RZR (it doesn't have windows) and eventually a Jeep. 

Then there were the huge Thanksgiving meals to wade through (Urrp!).

Many thanks to my kids and their friends for a fine vacation!

Friday, November 11, 2022

Travel Broadens the Mind

 It has been a while since I went anywhere much beyond the driveway. In the last four years, between the usual state of penury, a broken leg back in the latter part of 2018 and the Covid excitement where we were locked in (luckily, in our case, this included a few acres of stables filled with friendly horses, cats, dogs and chickens), we haven't been out.

There weren't many opportunities to head out somewhere. And anyway, those critters need feeding. 

It's true that in that period, maybe 50 months since we visited the Basque Country, we've been to San Jose for lunch a few times, twice to Granada to buy horses and another time to Guadix for the same reason; then there was a bus trip to Seville last year to see the horse-show (one boozy night in Dos Hermanas). 

So here I am, writing this in a town in Northern Oklahoma, right after the midterm elections (it seems that the Trumpers have been disappointed). I have a month here, staying with two of my kids, both outdoing the other to provide me with adventures. Tomorrow I shall be driving a Porsche GT3 to Eureka Springs in next-door Arkansas, where I shall meet fellow enthusiasts (assuming I get there, it's a couple of hours drive, even at full speed - and I'm used to managing something a fraction more sedate).

I'm an old hand on America - I've jetted in (or driven in, or once, floated in with the QE2), over my lifetime around nineteen times. But things are changing and there are a few twists, like Walmart closing at 11.00pm (it used to be open 24/7) and, sad to relate, the rate of exchange isn't very good these days. 

Most of the cars and trucks are as massive as ever.

I was surprised on arrival in the Dallas - Fort Worth airport to see posters regarding facial recognition. I haven't been in the USA in six years, but before I could hand over my passport the friendly immigration officer smiled and said, 'Why, hello Lenox, good to see you again'. Crikey!

Another thing that surprised me, especially as I live in an area of Spain full of plastic farms (los invernaderos) many of which are dedicated to growing marijuana, to find that it has been legalised in Republican, bible-belt Oklahoma, and that in our town here - of maybe 15,000 inhabitants - there are at least ten 'weed shops'. 

Who smokes that shit?

The weather has been good so far, warm and blue skies, but I'm told the rain and low temperatures are on the way (minus five celsius tomorrow morning). 

I hope that car has heating... 


I drove down in the GT3 (an automatic) and later came the other way in a stick-shift GT4. We spent the weekend having fun with some friends and drove around 800k deep into Arkansas and Missouri.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

When Money Meets Taste, There's no Competition

Mojacar is one of the Most Beautiful Pueblos in Spain. I have to say, I don’t know why: maybe it's an accolade you pay for.

The village itself is certainly dramatic, with white cubist houses (almost all of them new or rebuilt in the last twenty years) and narrow streets. The streets are too tight for cars, and the donkeys have all gone. There is little or no graffiti, which is a point in its favour, but there’s a gigantic hotel of 294 rooms which, from certain angles, takes up a large chunk of the view, and has been closed since 2008. It belongs to a private bank from Madrid which occasionally puts it up for auction.

Moving up to the main square, La Plaza Nueva, we find El Mirador, a viewpoint which is the roof of an unfinished building, meant one day to be the new town hall. It’s covered in tables, and served by three different bars. On it, there’s a square box, which will become the top of a lift-shaft.

The view is of the ‘Valley of the Pyramids’ as the Tourist Office grandly (if erroneously) calls it. The nearest thing to a pyramid being the hill of Old Mojácar, now seriously and permanently disfigured by enthusiastic archaeologists searching for the mummified remains of Walt Disney. The diggers have meanwhile found evidence of a ninth century fortification, along with a few shards of pottery and a hash pipe. Even the Tourist Office, which claims that Mojácar was once, in Greek times, known as Murgis Akra (taking us back an extra two thousand years) must realise that we are losing more than we are gaining by burrowing into the venerable old mountain. It was never a settlement, despite some temple buildings, for the obvious reason that there is no water there, its indefensible, there’s no place for the animals, and there’s nowhere to run… unlike the mountain half a kilometre away we now know as Mojácar (or its Moorish name of Muxacar). As to its age, I once found a Roman coin there dated from AD200, a thousand years earlier than the subject of the current dig.

Mojácar is, I think, dramatic. It has harsh colours (much prized by artists): the blue of the sky, the white of the architecture, the brown of the mountains and the red of the sunburned tourists. The village certainly has its attractions – beyond the innumerable souvenir shops with large picture windows, the neon bars and restaurants and the amusing ‘running man’ exit sign up past the church. 

Placed there, no doubt, just in case the Moors suddenly return.

The Fuente area at the bottom of the village is not worth more than a glance, and no doubt the judges for the Most Beautiful Pueblo in Spain were whisked smartly past the large urbanisation down there.

The beach, where ninety percent of the population resides (more properly described perhaps as ‘the coast’), has its pros and its cons, with a nice sea-view, low two or three storey buildings interspaced with a few massive hotels, and a large number of beach bars which have universally moved away from the temporary structures of yesteryear equipped with a fridge, some cold beers and a fresh sardine or two being scorched on a hotplate.

The narrow beach-road, built for a rather quieter time, is now to be reinforced with a second road which will cut through the urban growth behind the Front Line, and allowing further speculative building: as the municipality turns into a metropolis. 

Mojácar was a poor village, in a poor province, and there is little sign of architectural excellence beyond the drama of the glorious tangle of cubed homes (painted white in the mid-sixties by order of Mayor Jacinto). It was briefly a bohemian place for foreigners and Spaniards alike to hide from reality, but later it became a place for tourism, urbanisations, hotels, get-rich-quick-schemes and family politics. If massive walls had to be built, or hills sundered, or land expropriated and promises broken; then, in the name of profit, so be it. 


Monday, October 10, 2022

Winter is Coming

It’s likely going to be a tough winter in Europe, and one solution for those who can afford it – and there’s an oxymoron – is to head south to the Mediterranean.

We read of a new type of holiday – one that would need to stretch for six months to fully avoid the northern freeze – called ‘thermal tourism’.

Well, for the British the figure would be for three months tops to be exact, what with the Schengen rule of 90 days in any 180 for non-EU visitors to most of the Old Continent. November through February maybe. Still, it’s better than nothing.

While those living in the colder parts of Europe will be welcome to consider moving south for an extended period, the promotions are probably more centred on a couple of weeks holiday in the sun before returning home to chilblains, woolly hats and hot toddies. After all, we are talking here about the powerful hoteliers and their lobbying over at the Ministry of Tourism, rather than Ethel’s empty flat overlooking Garrucha harbour.

The Greeks and the Spanish are both working on their campaigns, as they welcome the chance to bring extra tourism out for the low season:  “Wanna feel 20 again?” asks one of the billboards slated to appear in London and other capitals across the continent. “With warm winter temperatures up to 20C, Greece is the place to be,” it proclaims, next to an image of an older couple lounging on a yacht, wine glasses in hand.

A senior Spanish tourist expert brings the clincher to the table when he says: “From what we’re seeing, people are realising that it’s cheaper to come here than it is to put the heating on at home”.

However, you should probably be laying in some firewood (or whatever the equivalent is in non-smoking areas) before you sign up: it’s going to be an almighty shock when you return to your chilly casa!


Monday, September 26, 2022

Local Elections and the British Resident

There has now been a pronunciamento on the subject of the vote for British residents in Spain for the municipal elections.

One of the many joys of the Brexit meant that the British residents in the EU lost a number of privileges, without apparently gaining anything much in return. One loss was The Vote in the European elections (not that any MEP ever spoke for the foreign residents), and another was our switch from ‘ciudadanos comunitarios’ to ‘residentes extranjeros’ with our snappy new TIE card. Those without them only being allowed in the Schengen Area for ninety out of 180 days, regardless of property-ownership. Indeed, we TIE-owners can stay in Spain, but we can’t spend more than 90/180 days elsewhere in the EU either.

We became, with Brexit, something less.

The municipal elections have always been of more interest than any other one – since one vote has little sway in a national or regional poll, but in a municipality with mere thousands (or maybe just hundreds) of voters, your word counts for something.  

Despite the ruling from the European Court of Justice following a case in France, it appears that the Spanish/British bilateral agreement on (at least) local voting rights remains firm, if with a few extra formalities to undergo.

These include having to prove you have been a resident in Spain for more than three years (alas, your TIE card makes no mention of your antiquity) and to claim your right to vote (for next May 28th local elections) sometime over the Christmas season. The Election Board (INE) should be mailing out a card soon to the British residents showing our seniority - a proof we will need to show when we register at the town hall.

As to whether one can still join a local party-list as a Brit – a British resident who is also currently a councillor says that ‘yes, we can. Unlike other non-EU nationals, a Brit can still be placed on a voting-list’.

The Spanish/British bilateral accord on voting rights post Brexit from January 2019 is here.

For other nationalities, resident in Spain, there are three alternatives.

-EU citizens can vote in European and local elections, and stand as candidates.

-Certain other nationalities can vote in local elections. The countries with an agreement with Spain (together with the UK) are Bolivia, Cape Verde, Colombia, Korea, Chile, Ecuador, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, Paraguay, Peru and (for some reason) Trinidad & Tobago.

-Nationals from anywhere else can’t vote (such as… Moroccans, Brazilians, Argentinians, Venezuelans or Canadians…).

In a municipality, it is clear that everyone over 18 should have the vote, as a town hall must represent all of its citizens, not just the ones with the right paperwork. Otherwise, which bit of land will get re-zoned, or who will receive preference in some local project or engagement?

(We are reminded that many Spanish voters, resident elsewhere, opt to maintain their name on the local padrón and vote in consequence).

In our experience, not many British residents voted in earlier elections, and the likelihood is that, with these fresh impediments, even fewer will bother this time.