Monday, March 13, 2023

Under Plastic

I live in an area surrounded by greenhouses.

Plastic ones.

In Almería, and perhaps only counting those invernaderos which cover the dry earth from El Ejido and Dalías east towards Almería City and La Cañada, there are said to be 36,000 hectares of crops growing under plastic. There are more west towards Adra, with the provincial frontier with a small bit of coastal Granada, and on the northern side of Almería; more still around the curiously-named town of Campohermoso (plastic farms are most certainly not hermosos - that's to say: beautiful) located in the campo de Níjar and, back on the coast, as close as they can manage to install them around the attractive natural park of the Cabo de Gata.

An article in the Spanish press calls Almería 'the Orchard of Europe'. It may be thinking more of the olive trees out towards Tabernas and Sorbas, or maybe the lemon tree I've got planted in my garden (you can see it from the street), but our main contribution to the supermarkets of Europe (and even those of the UK when Almería isn't heavily snowed in - at least according to the Daily Express), are the plastic farms, where we grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and melons (and, er, marijuana too). 

The number of hectares under plastic in the province hasn't changed in twenty years, which seems unlikely, since new ones are always going up, but there you go. 

View from somewhere above El Ejido taken last week

The plastic farms are raised on land which is pretty infertile: blasted by the sun and bone-dry. Back in 1960 (lots of photos here), someone figured out that covering the plot with plastic and bringing in the water - generally from underground aquifers, would encourage the plants to grow faster and stronger. It gets very hot inside the invernaderos, and frankly a bit hard to breathe on the days that one sprays with weed-killer or pesticide, but the profits are good, and the workers don't seem to have anything much to say about the conditions. 

This is because most of them are either 'undocumented' or registered as migrant workers. Many live in wretched conditions (El Walili, a long-term bidonville in Nijar, was abruptly torched and bulldozed flat recently. It had some 500 residents who were obliged to scatter). Around 98% of the workers in these farms are foreigners says the local union, a number somewhere between forty and fifty thousand, and of course they don't have many rights, and certainly not The Vote (needless to say, the racist Vox party does well in the agricultural sector). A further 30,000 (generally Spanish or at least European), work in the packaging plants or as truckers hauling the produce north. 

An article in Público runs details about the labour inspections in the invernaderos and the difficulties of the inspectors in finding who, where and what. According to this, in the last five years, some 11,000 workers have been found to be improperly employed, and the inspectors have handed down around fourteen million euros in fines. Agrodiario on the other hand says that the field-workers are all legal and well paid.

The plastic eventually perishes, and is either lovingly collected and sent to a proper recycling plant, or more likely, discarded in one way or another. An article on Google claims that around 80% of all used plastic ends up either as landfill or simply junked, and another 12% is burned (often in 'accidental' fires). An article at Wiki claims that around 30,000 tons of plastic waste is produced annually. On the bright side, a study by the University of Almería claims that the giant immensity of the plastic actually reduces global warmth - at least locally - by reflecting the sun's heat back into space. 

One of the smaller support industries belongs to the bee-breeders. They produce small hives of a few dozen bumble-bees which are then installed within the plastic farms and employed to fertilize the plants. I sometimes find a stray one coming to inspect my lemon tree (they sting like the very devil).

Almería was always a poor and forgotten part of Spain. Now, with its gigantic industry of plastic farms, producing in 2022 a massive 2,787 million euros in sales, it's certainly odd that Vícar and Níjar are the two poorest municipalities in the entire country.


Thursday, March 02, 2023

Gentlemen, Gentlemen.

While Spain has made leaps and bounds in almost every sphere, public lavatories still need some way to go. We may no longer be in the field of the early travel guide which recommended in the brief section under 'Conveniences' to 'where possible, best start your own', but there are still a few problems that need ironing out.

Being a fastidious and modern country, ruled by all sorts of obscure interests - often of a commercial leaning - we must now expect wheelchair-accessible toilets, even if the building in question has a stairway to get to it. Perhaps, you see, you broke your leg after you gained the bar.

 Probably tripped over the step.

Some lavvies don't have a seat, for a reason which I shall shortly be examining, and customers, certain customers, may no doubt be obliged to fastidiously hover over the pan. Which is hard on the thigh muscles. At least these thrones will flush in an orderly way as a rule.

Many years ago, my mother pulled the chain of a local dunny and the whole tank fell off the wall and on to her head. The rest of us standing around the bar were left speechless as she returned, drenched, from the servicio. I believe I learned several words I hadn't come across until then. 

Worse still, there are those latrines that don't rinse, and haven't for some time. The lever has disappeared, or maybe it rusted. You probably won't find them in your local bar, but if you find yourself caught short in the wrong neighbourhood, you'll see that, O Lordy, they exist.

One horrid sort of privy is the old-fashioned squatter, which is a kind of perforated porcelain base with two raised bits for your feet, pointing either one way or indeed the other according to the nature of one's purpose.

On the bright side, the days of being invited to put the used paper in a handy nearby basket have more or less passed.

Pissoirs, those elegant against the wall systems, are odd. They are often fixed to the wall in an elevated position, too high for the shorter gentleman. Oddly, in the USA, this tendency is reversed, with the urinal apparently installed for those of a smaller stature. Our local hotel favours these plumbing fixtures in a basement setting, which is fine, only the automatic light tends to go out after a brief time, which can be annoying if one is day-dreaming.

New Spanish bogs have lower and close-to-the-porcelain tanks, so a collapsing reservoir rarely happens anymore, even if the flow in the modern variant is somewhat reduced. They have a small and large flush to save water. Which may explain why customers sometimes feel that their brief visit to the WC is rather second-hand.

Indeed, I once stayed in a very smart hotel in Melilla and, on removing the wrapper on the crapper and lifting the lid, found a large turd in the bowl.

They had a chocolate on the pillow, too.

Talking of low tanks, many modern privies have a pan so close to the flusher than the seat won't stay vertical for the discerning gentlemen. It's hard and unnatural to try and hold the seat up while taking a whizz, so the usual thing is to not bother, and merely piss all over the commode, seat included. Using one foot to hold it up doesn't work either unless you have a good sense of balance and, besides, are seriously well-endowed.

'Yes, I've finished, go ahead' you mutter to the next person as you make your escape.

Maybe as many as a quarter of all public johns have this unfortunate design-flaw, at least around where I live.

One small step better, other thrones have a seat which appears to be steady when lifted to the vertical, but will suddenly fall from the position with a mighty crash. If that doesn't make you jerk mid-stream, nothing will.

It's all because the tank is to close to the khazi, for goodness sake. I can't imagine who designs these things, the potty company or the installers.

It's as if the Nation's fontaneros all sit down to pee - or maybe they have a secret code of humour... 

But Hush!, the Secretary has just informed the President of the Worshipful Guild of Plumbers that he may rise at his convenience and deliver his speech to the congegration. Apart for his tendency to tell fart jokes, one can be sure how he will begin:

'Ladies and Gents...'


(A re-write from a piece of mine from May 2015)

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

You Still Can't Keep a Tortoise

 A couple of new laws in Spain are bringing some confusion and, as it were, teething problems. The Only Yes Means Yes law, designed to help protect women, has caused some rapists and abusers to have their sentences reduced on appeal – maybe by judges hoping to cause political issues, maybe because the law itself was poorly designed – and maybe simply a chance for the PSOE to distance itself from its associate the UP as we slowly approach the elections pencilled in for December (at the latest). We remember that the PSOE also studied the Only Yes Means Yes law and helped to pass it in Parliament, but appearances mean a lot when one is on the campaign trail.

A second law was approved last week by Parliament – the Animal Welfare Law – which is now in debate at the Senate for its final ratification.

This one is on the surface a good thing, awarding protection to our pets and our working animals – while, under pressure from the huntin’ community – excluding both hunting and livestock-guard-dogs and, as a nod to tradition, bullfights. The bible for the outdoorsy types is the magazine called Jara y Sedal and it naturally pulls no punches in its criticism of the new law. On the other side of the equation is the ‘animalist’ political party called Pacma which says the law doesn’t go far enough, with reference to the evident exclusions of protection for hunting dogs and the toros bravos.

In short, the law (which will shortly be published in the State Bulletin), says no commercial sales or private breeding for dogs, cats and ferrets; a brief (free online) dog-handling course for owners and compulsory insurance; no leaving domestic animals without supervision for more than a day (dogs) or three days (other pets); a list of approved-only species for pets; and no wild animals in circuses or parades.

 picture by Sedat Girgin

The evident point is that those who are unable to live within these boundaries will likely consider either abandoning or ‘euthanizing’ their spare critters.

Meanwhile, the Northern European residents, who will probably be massively in favour of this law, are busy agitating in the pueblos on the costas for dog-beaches, dogs on the bus and even dogs in the restaurants.  

Monday, February 06, 2023

How Many Foreigners Live in Mojácar?

As Mojácar gets the green light from the Junta de Andalucía for its PGO - its growth plans for the next few years - how is the population evolving?

Figures are always excruciatingly exact with the Spanish bean-counters, and usually wrong. Here we have the study as regards those on the padrón at January 1st 2022. Those not on the padrón (the town halls registry of inhabitants), plus all the short-term visitors and tourists, evidently are not considered. 

Also, we are fourteen months away from the beginning of 2022. Things will have changed.

Furthermore - a question - are those foreign children born in Mojácar considered as 'mojaqueros' or as 'extranjeros'?

The figures:

Born in Mojácar: 18.9% of the population: 1,424 (does this include extranjeros?)

From the rest of Spain: 27.39% of the population (2,062).

Foreigners: 53.69% (4,041). 

Of the foreigners, 53.1% are British - far ahead of Romania (4.4%), France (4.4%), Germany (3.7%) and Italy (3.2%). 

The Brits living in Mojácar number 2,147 souls officially.


Friday, January 20, 2023

The Neverending Chocolate Lights

Alright, hold onto your hat!
Mojácar will now keep their Ferrero Rocher chocolate Christmas lights up until...
February 28!
It gets worse
Next year, says the Voz de Almería: '...the Town Hall says that with more time to prepare, the proposal for all those who return to the municipality in the winter time will be much more impressive...'


Saturday, January 14, 2023

Ask, And You Shall Receive (Maybe)


This one starts with a conversation on Facebook. Somebody posted a question along the lines of: ‘I’ve had it with the UK and I want to move to Spain, is it easy to find a job?’

Us old hands living in Spain for long, longer or longest were happy to post answers to this. Here’s mine:

‘The Spanish won't employ you over their own, or hire you over their own. That's assuming perfect language skills and all papers in order. Thus, you either find a foreign-owned business - a bar, English-language newspaper, real-estate office... or you self-employ. Some of us (and this is frowned on) seek to live by ripping off our fellow countrymen’.

This last bit set the cat among the pigeons.

It seems that I aren’t the only one who has learned through experience not to trust the first person who sidles up to me and says ‘What Ho, Old Stick, Can you lend me a few bob, I’ll pay you back when the cheque arrives from my parents’.

Because, you know, he won’t.

Not that one wishes to discourage those who seek to the leave the Old Country for a better life abroad.

And Life is, after all, an adventure.

Moving to Spain, an excellent place to live, is a good idea. It’s best to have money coming in from outside to keep one in gambas and albariño; perhaps a pension, or some regular dividends, or even a wealthy older brother who subscribes firmly to the aphorism ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’.

The second-best way is to find a job (like our intrepid Facebook correspondent) with the disadvantages and cautions listed above.

The third (minority) way is to try and snow your fellow countrymen, until such time as circumstances merit a swift departure for somewhere new and innocent.

Beyond being short-changed in a shop, the times I have been conned over my lifetime in Spain has always been by fellow-Brits. A pity really, but there you go. It’s not like it happened every day, but I’ve been living here a long time now…

No doubt the Dutch would say the same thing about their own countrymen, and amen with the Germans and the Danes.

There's a page on Facebook called ‘Named and Shamed, Costa Blanca’. This type of page, of course, can sometimes be counterproductive, and watch out for the legal profession when dropping a literary dime on someone. However, the content will help put us on our guard.

Returning one last time to the thread mentioned above, and how it’s always one’s fellow countrymen and never the Spanish who hand you a sob story or a cunning get-rich-quick scheme that only needs a bit of seed money; Amalia, a woman living in the UK, posted an interesting (bombshell!) observation: ‘I must say this also happens in England between us Spaniards’.


Sunday, January 01, 2023

Planning a Trip

The editor calls in a junior staffer, probably after a late lunch involving shrimp, and says, I want a story by tonight on three of Spain’s finest and least-known villages. Over the road, another editor, this time belching gently after a few too many glasses of beer, is telling his wife (the one who does most of the work) to get out there and find a few interesting destinations along the Costa Blanca, with some decent stock photos.

Maybe tie it in with an advertiser or two.

Another one, thinking of its expat readers, finds its latest copyist a job to do: tell us of the least-known Spanish cities and their manifest attractions. We find out that there are but three: Badajoz, Soria and Ceuta. They are, nevertheless, ‘some of Spain's most exquisite hidden gems’. The story merits a brief paragraph on each.

My own adopted town, Mojácar, has enjoyed thousands of pages of copy over Christmas as an Italian chocolate company decided to stump up for the Christmas lights (including its name charmingly blazed across the highest building in the town square). The mayoress is so pleased by the onslaught of visitors (all eyeing the fifty or more souvenir shops waiting anxiously for their trade) that she has extended the illumination until, at the very least, the end of January. Unfortunately, the destination’s tour hotels weren’t in on the plot, so they are all seasonally (and firmly) closed.

Meanwhile, the agency that runs ‘Spain’s most beautiful pueblos’ has chalked up another six for 2023, including Trevélez in Granada (a touristy Alpujarran village with good trout and jamón).

Looking for a beautiful village to visit? Trusty old Google throws in its hat with over six million results, including: ‘15 of the most beautiful villages in Spain’ - The Points Guy, ‘The Most Beautiful Towns in Spain’ - Culture Trip, ‘18 Beautiful Towns In Spain To Visit’ - Hand Luggage Only and from someone we have at least heard of: ‘Spain’s 30 most beautiful villages, as voted for by readers of El País in English’. Nice pictures: Mojácar comes in at Nº27.

Of course, one always wonders about readers’ votes…

So, as we fill the car once again, only to discover that the twenty per cent gasoline-discount has disappeared, and open the map to our chosen destination for the day, we hope (forlornly?) that it won’t be too full of coaches, tourists and screaming children, and that there will be a parking space somewhere near the restaurant that Tripadvisor enthuses so strongly about.

Spain has just over eight thousand municipalities, and some of them can count on a handful of nice villages all within the same parish. Níjar in Almería - for example - can boast the attractions of the Cabo de Gata, San José, la Isleta del Moro, Agua Amarga, Las Negras, Fernán Pérez, Pozo de los Frailes, Rodalquilar and even Níjar itself (plus another sixteen rather more humdrum settlements besides).

So, between one thing and another, those travel stories are a full job for an editor.