Saturday, December 23, 2006
A beach isn't a playa, it would appear, unless it's covered in various attractions for those who aren't content with swimming, drinking and kicking sand into weedy looking people's faces.
Therefore, the Junta de Andalucia parcels out occasional spiffs to those lucky towns which are on the seaside to help furnish their playas with all of those good things a playa evidently needs.
In Mojácar, a recent 1,2 million euros playa-lift gave us wheelchair accesible showers, signs, flags, palm trees (very nice) and endless sports and kiddywink areas. We now have both of these last attractions spaced evenly, every two hundred metres or so, along our entire front. As you can see, they go downhill fast.
The basketball court in the back there, is finished with astroturf. Very hardy and long-lasting no doubt, but - Heavens! A ball won't bounce on astroturf!
What it will do, is bounce or fly onto the road (immediately on the right).
It seems unfair that only beaches should have these admittedly rather hideous looking attractions and neither the rest of the town, nor indeed those unfortunate towns to the inland should have them. On the other hand, they don't have beaches which need 'taming'.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
One of those days - I was just writing those words when the power flickered and jumped, and another fifty computers from the Lower Almanzora sent out a puff of smoke and, simultaneously, in ASKII, they shouted, well, fuck it, I'm outta here. Sevillana's master-plan to persuade our local politicos to allow them to string up a fresh new high power line across our view is to have leetle cuts about once a day. Not ee-nuff power, they sob over the phone if you yell at them; but, oddly, there's enough power in the middle of the summer when fifty thousand air conditioners are being goosed.
There is the Mother of all Power Stations in Carboneras, recently voted by Greenpeace as being the forth dirtiest in Spain (twentieth in Europe) and, of course, one of the biggest. Enough power to burn the entire province off the map. We have other power units locally, including a modest solar power station (well, it's the biggest in Europe, after all, we do have a lot of sunshine) and two diesel burning power plants respectively in Palomares and Antas. Roll on, the German takeover of Endesa (Sevillana) says I.
Anyway - I was going to make a small point over the Andalucian tax authority.
They sent me a letter saying I owed them some money, which I signed receipt of in triplicate, adding my special tax number and inside leg measurement. So today, finding myself at a loose end, I went to their office in Vera (you wanna try parking in Vera), pockets just abulging and abursting with cash, to be told by an ill-dressed looking specimen in the forth office I went to that, thenkyou, no not here I had to go to Almería. A day wasted. The problem, it turned out, was my name. In keeping with most foreigners, I have a first, middle and last name. In Spain, and vive la diference says I, you have various first names ('nombres') ending usually in María - regardless of sex, followed by two surnames, a patronymic and a matronymic: your father's and mother's first surnames respectively (called 'apellidos'). My own name might be something like Lenox María Chuckleberry Smith, with the Chuckleberry being the vital name, registrywise, even if I prefered to go by the more pedantic Smith. As our colourful president, José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero does. You probably know all of this, but then, you probably don't work among those dozy people that make up the tax-collectors.
So, having looked me up under Chuckleberry in three different offices, to which I was passed with a singular lack of interest on their part and a rapidly increasing amount on my own, to say nothing of the 4.5% compound figured out by some computer deep in the bowels of the earth somewhere in out Capital City, I was eventually told that I must away to Almería if I wanted to pay, or, at any rate, to leave them in peace in their comfortable crib in Vera.
In real life, creditors are always much more taken by the idea of relieving you of a few readies. Not when the dazzling institution of la burocracia española gets involved. The fun is all in the paperwork, the needless turns around the city, the 'gone for coffee' or 'come back tomorrow' appointments.
Once, in Huercal Overa (a grungy town that doubles as our main tax office), I went to pay my five bob. You must collect a form from them, go to the bank, their bank, and pay your cash and then return to them with the receipt. This puts off quite a lot of citizens and makes the funcionarios life easier. The bank they had an account in was closed for repairs. I had to drive to Puerto Lumbreras, in the next province, to pay my shillings and obtain a ticket. Now, how much time do you have to waste?
I return back to the office, where, after a great deal of telephoning both Almería and Vera, and explaining that my name was really Chuckleberry, they graciously allowed that I could pay, both locally and tomorrow. But to hurry, before they charged me extra interest.
Friday, December 01, 2006
Saturday, November 11, 2006
There remains some confusion about foreign nationals being able to vote in local elections in Spain next year (May 27th, 2007).
All those members of EU countries who are over eighteen and are registered on their town hall registry, the padrón, may vote (and, indeed, run for office) as long as they have signed the voting-form sent out by the INE (the National Institute for Statistics that is also the Election Office).
Norwegians may vote, but not stand for office (a bi-lateral agreement with this non-EU country stands).
Romanians and Bulgarians may vote and also run for office (these countries join the EU on January 1st 2007).
If you signed the form in 2003, then you will remain on the electoral list.
Some EU citizens have already filled out their voting-form expressing their wish NOT to vote. This can be remedied for those who have had second thoughts, by returning to the town hall and re-applying for their right to vote from the person who runs the registry (in Mojácar, it’s Carmen).
Copies of these forms (for those on the padrón, who wish, or now wish, to vote and haven’t signed a form) are available at the office of The New Entertainer, in the COPE Radio tower at the Parque Comercial on Mojácar beach. These are a formal declaration of one’s right to vote in local and European elections.
Copies also available from the British Embassy at http://www.ukinspain.com/
To live in a community must suppose one’s support and interest in that community’s future. That your town or neighbourhood is safe, clean, quiet, secure and attractive (is it?). That there are enough doctors, teachers, police, postmen, garbagemen, gardeners and so on (are there?). That your community has enough parking spaces, green spaces, cultural offers, electricity, sewage, water, sports stadia and so on (does it?). That your nationality is represented in the town hall: where people will speak your language and understand your concerns (no comprendo?). That the amount of speculative building is strictly controlled so that your community grows naturally and your property increases in value (does it?).
Those who can vote but won’t make the effort are, in effect, against integration and improving their surroundings.
Who to vote for.
There will be a variety of parties looking for your support. Most (if not all) will have similar programs (everything to be better, cleaner, taller…). Both local-issue parties as well as national parties (Conservative PP, socialist PSOE, nationalist PA, communist IU etc) will be seeking power. In most municipalities, two, three or four parties would seek office, although famously, in Mojácar there were nine parties in 2003.
A party with some British candidates on its list (in high position if they are to get into the town hall) would be a useful start...
A party will produce a list of names (the number of council seats plus a couple of spare names – in Mojácar, a total of thirteen plus two). These fifteen names will be a list for Party X. Party Y and Party Z will also produce their own lists. The number of votes counted at the election will produce a harvest of names from each list. These names become the new councillors. The parties will then decide on the new mayor and balance of power according to their strength in numbers. In the event of a majority (seven or more out of thirteen), the party concerned takes office. The first name on their list being the mayor, the following names being the new councillors. Roughly, if there were thirteen hundred votes counted for thirteen seats, then every one hundred votes would produce a councillor. The voter will bring his passport or another I.D. (with photograph) and he then votes by choosing a candidature from the different parties running for office (a white paper with the party name and its list of candidates) and then placing that in an envelope and then into the ballot box.
European citizens have to be on the padrón and to have claimed their right to vote at least four months before Voting Day (May 27th 2007) so should have completed their papers by mid January. After this cut-off date, the Election Board (INE) will post a list of all those who have the right to vote. This may be amended but not added to.
Feel free to use this article..
Monday, November 06, 2006
I was tired, stressed and gloomy. It was the perfect moment to go home and have a long hot bath. No power or water cuts in Paradise today, for a change, so I was soon bubbling gently in a steamy soupy tub while practicing my scales.
The Romans had an impressive water system, based on the laws of gravity. Their aqueducts were designed to allow water to fall exactly seventeen cms per kilometre, a speed that allows for the smallest speed of flow. These aqueducts fed public fountains, some wealthier private homes, and above all, the public baths, which Romans felt was the nadir of their civilization. In their baths, they were cleansed physically and mentally. To a Roman citizen, the baths were civilization.
Rome, by the first century AD, had 420 kilometres of aqueducts feeding it from different sources. A hydrographer recently noted that New York didn’t overtake Ancient Rome in volume of water consumed until 1985, and the Romans, of course, had neither electricity or pumps, or rubber washers or plastic piping to help them.
Some of those remarkable aqueducts, built two thousand years ago and used to refresh all of their cities throughout the Empire, are still extant and there are even a few left in Spain, including some that still work! Water was rarely a problem which is how they could build such large cities.
I don’t care for showers. They are violent, fast, and efficient rather like a flight on Air Vobiscum. To continue the simile, a bath is slow and pleasant, roomy and cultural (that is, if you read a book in the tub or listen to the radio or you like to sing). A bath has the same finality but takes its time, a bit like the train to Madrid.
Bathing has always been a civilized event, as can be shown by the Arabs with their hammam, and the Scandinavians, the Russians and the Japanese with their different traditions. Saunas, Turkish baths, Jacuzzis and the rest of them are for relaxing in and, yes, wasting a bit of water.
The average amount of water used by a Spaniard is 175 litres per day. This is a couple of goes on the lavatory, a shower, washing a few dishes and some teeth, a shave, a coffee and a quick squirt with the watering can along the window-box. Now, along comes the ministry with a chilling new order. Spaniards are to use 60 litres per day and to pay a surcharge on anything over.
As a Roman once said while looking out of a window in his bath-house – ‘Bugger me! The Barbarians are at the gates’.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Bloody season on us already.
I thought I’d get this piece over with a bit earlier this year and concentrate on the one good thing that Santa brings. Namely - fantasy. It’ll just cost you twenty euros to buy a slice of magic and, the sooner you buy one, the longer you’ll enjoy it. You see – it burns out on Lottery Day, which in this case is December 22nd.
It’s the ‘decimo de navidad’, the Christmas lottery.
I win giant sums on the lottery every week, according to the various e-mails that come my way via Nigeria. Sadly, they are all scams. There is no such thing as a huge prize on offer when you never bought a ticket. But here, the ‘decimo’, in fact a tenth of a lottery sheet, which cost you those few bob, will keep you in fantasy, in lalaland, from now until the draw. For the shrapnel in your pocket, you could have three hundred thou in your hot and sweaty for Christmas. In fact, the moment you buy that ticket, you already do have the money, at least until you hear different, you just can’t spend it yet. But you can dream.
A friend says that you have more chance of being hit on the head by a fellow who forgot to pull his rip-cord than winning the Big One. Quite an image, but he’s quite wrong. I’ve already won!
Anticipation is half of the pleasure, although it’s true that I would prefer the gut-wrenching excitement of seeing my lottery ticket on the front page of the daily newspaper. With me attached to it in a proprietary sort of way. Still, I’m having lots of fun these days mentally ordering my new car, my new apartment in Marbella (they are surprisingly cheap at the moment), my crate of old and fine wines and a well deserved holiday for two in Australia.
If there’s anything left after that, perhaps a butler, a Cesna and a yacht might help soak up the remainder.
For some reason, the Lotería de Navidad is known by the English as ‘El Gordo’ when this is just the slang name for the main prize, available from any of the national lotteries that come out, more or less, twice weekly, plus indeed any other huge chance pay-out. There are so many different ways of winning a fortune – or betting one – with the football pools (las quinielas), the daily ONCE blind association’s draw, the ‘primitiva’, the lottos and so on.
Then there is the fascination for the one-armed bandit, whose merrily twinkling lights are always working to intrigue you into slipping the damn thing a euro or two while you are trying to sink a quick nip after a long day at the office. There is even an association to help ludopaths (as they are apparently called – those crazed gamblers who haven’t figured out that the House always wins). It claims that there are a million sufferers in Spain and attempts to wean them off the dice, the cards and games of chance. I bet you know one.
So, it’s risky business buying a lottery ticket and entering into the world of chance, although I feel oddly confident. As the fantasy-writer Terry Pratchett explained once, ‘a million to one in my book is practically a certainty’.
While Homer Simpson would (indubitably) say: ‘A million to one – I like them odds’.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Jessica and Oscar tied the knot yesterday in great style as the leaders of two gangster clans. Around two hundred people took part in the event, which started with aboat trip, with no cement over-shoes, out of Garrucha and along the coast. Steve from The Universal Life Church performed the simple ceremony. A large dinner and dance was held at the Hotel Mexico later on in the evening. Our congratulations and best wishes.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
I mean, ‘four bombs which hadn’t been armed’, rather than ‘four defenceless bombs’. That would have been cruel.
The gerfuffle as the remains of the aircraft, blobs of raw plutonium and the four bombs were re-secured by the Americans are well known. Two bombs landed on the ground in Palomares (‘falling open and melting everything in their path’ according to unverifiable reports) and the other two fell in the sea, where one was soon found while the forth was finally located in a deep trench off the coast several months later by Alvin, that cute little mini-sub that starred in National Geographic magazines of the period. Antonio the wise old fisherman with the 150-metre ice-blue stare suggesting fully-fledged insanity may have helped. He was certainly cheaper to fuel.
Franco was on board the Fifth Fleet American destroyer for a brief visit and toying with a complimentary Easter bunny as the bomb was fortuitously hauled aboard.
A suggestion from the time was that the last bomb was in a very deep hole in the sea and was impossible to extract, so a plastic reproduction had been lowered off the other side of the ship to be triumphantly raised in front of the mad Caudillo to cheer him up.
Fraga Irribarne the Minister of Tourism, perhaps unaware of this sleight of hand, famously took a dip in the sea with the American ambassador at the time to show there was no radiation. On the other hand, they carefully enjoyed their frolic in front of the Mojacar Parador, some ten kilometres down the coast.
The Marines removed 800,000 tons of topsoil, fertile and safe, and took it to South Carolina, because, you see, there was no radiation.
It's now used to grow terbacca.
A small desalination plant was built in Palomares by the Americans for thirty million dollars as a kind gesture (it was quickly closed down after the resident engineer moved to Mojacar to open a beach bar and, seeing that he wasn't coming back, the Catalan caretaker sold the guts of the building for scrap). A few rusting Geiger counters were left to record the ambient radiation level – if only there was any – and new construction extending from Vera Playa into Palomares and Villaricos was given the go-ahead by forward thinking planners (I could have written ‘greedy capitalists’).
A recent test on Palomares snails (please pay attention here if you count gastropods in your carefully balanced diet) has shown a higher than normal level of radiation. That luminous slime they leave as they melt their way over the rocks is, apparently, smokin’.
The American Department of Energy, together with the CIEMAT Spanish atomic agency, has now bought ten hectares of land which had been previously cleared by speculators ready for some building, although the dust already raised and blown to the heavens by the tractors and… no, I’m not going there.
The public consortium will now clean this piece of land over the next two years.
Local ecologists have reacted to the news by saying that a much larger area needs to be sanitised.
The half-life of plutonium is a lot longer than ours.
For the meantime, don’t eat the snails.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Nine parties stood in 2003 in the local Mojacar elections.
About 2,500 people voted.
Six parties got enough votes to obtain councillors.
The biggest party was the conservative PP. It got four councillors.
The usual alternative to the PP is the socialist PSOE. It got two councillors.
The other four parties - one left, two right and one nationalist - all shrimpy groups with two or less councillors, between them raised a quorum with seven votes. The mayor was Carlos from the Hard Left (AiZ).
Two years later, there was a motion of censure against Carlos with one guy from the nationalist party (PA) crossing the floor and joining an unlikely coalition of the PP and PSOE. The new mayor was Gabriel, from the PSOE (with its two councillors).
An agreement was apparently reached between the two plotters, Gabriel (PSOE) would be mayor for a year and Rosmari (PP) would become mayoress for the final year. No one had seen this document.
A year passed.
A few more months passed.
Gabriel eventually agreed that he would pass the staff to his partner on October 2nd and when the day arrived, he announced, to no one's great surprise, that he had changed his mind and was not going to quit his position.
The PP (under threat, apparently, from Head Office) walked.
The famous document from the motion of censure surfaced today. In it, the two socialist councillors and Rosmari (from the PP) agree to divy up the town hall between them.
As the four members of the PP walk out of the town hall (and their monthly wage), one falters for a moment... and goes back inside.
The current make up (as of today) is
Gabriel - Mayor PSOE
La Peque - PSOE councillor
El Transfuga - the ex PA turncoat from 2005
Jose Luis Cano - ex PP (he's presumably been fired).
In the opposition, as of today...
Two hard left (AiZ)
Two right independent (GIAL)
One right independent (NGM)
One nationalist (PA - used to be 2)
Three conservatives (PP - used to be four)
- that's a total of nine members of the opposition...
So - a lame duck government until the next crisis - or until the next local elections of late May 2007. Don't miss them, now!
Saturday, September 30, 2006
So, a trip to the Big Al to hang around in the pasillos outside the juzgado penal number two. There are no chairs for the large number of fiends, friends, families, witnesses, lawyers, funcionarios and hangers on, so I sat on the floor and read my book. You can't not attend, forgive the double negative, or you'll get fined.
Never ever go anywhere in Spain without a book. Especially a grammar. I keep War and Peace in the car for these occasions. In the original Russian.
So, two hours late, the clerk comes out and announces to los interesados - me and some dangerous looking kid (and his appallingly dangerous looking family) - that the case had been postponed until next March as the kid's lawyer hadn't shown up.
A whole morning lost for nothing.
Spain's justice system is notoriously slow as this vignette illustrates.
Don't add to it by being a witness.
Monday, September 18, 2006
There was a protest on today over the proposed parking-centre for Mojácar pueblo. No one came.
It was a nice warm day, and although the organisers – Salvemos Mojácar – had attempted to cover their backs by warning that observers would be taking names, the fact was, the protest was a failure.
They usually are in the pueblo, which likes to complain noisily but keep a weather eye on the political fall-out of any public commentary. One never knows, does one?
Previous protests in the village included one years ago against Bartolome Flores’ destruction of the old fuente, when the foreigners took it into their heads to carry banners through the square. I remember one fellow, clutching a notice that said ’90,000 pounds to wash my knickers’ getting beaten over the head with his own placard by a mojaquero who told me afterwards – ‘yes, we are against remodelling the fountain, but no foreigner is going to tell us what to do’. So – what's the plan, José? Stand at the back and look slightly indignant.
Quite – the old ‘softlee softlee catchee monkey’ approach.
Another memorable march, when Rosmari, now the current leader of the PP, first switched sides from the PSOE to the conservatives back in 1993, thus ending Bartolome’s reign in the town hall. A handful of people gingerly traipsed up the hill with ‘Rosmari, devuelvame mi voto’ banners (Gimme my vote back).
The protestors’ arguments are probably specious. The view from the village would be the same from above the parking-centre as from El Mirador. Extra parking could mean (a drum roll) extra cars: more tee-shirts and humourous ashtray sales and more comfort for residents. It could, of course, if they built more offices and shops there, also mean the opposite.
Salvemos Mojácar and other local protest groups have had some success in slowing down the developers’ dream of a new and decidedly scruffier Marbella. The frightful Hotel El Algorrobico – apparently one of seven hotels, fifteen hundred homes and a golf course – has been stopped dead. Not, perhaps, knocked down, demolished, raised and returned to the original dust, but, ‘stopped’ at least.
The twenty-storey hotel is now a political chestnut, and has put the socialist Junta de Andalucía, town hall of Carboneras and the Ministry for the Environment at loggerheads. It’ll cost a fortune to knock it down, but it is palpably illegal. Perhaps some magnificent compromise will be reached – a hostal for sub-Saharan immigrants or a home for battered mothers. Perhaps it will just sit there and rot.
The pressure groups and local protestors want a return to a simpler life. No argument from me on that score, except for the small problem that going back in time is impossible. I would certainly like to drive about on the beach rather than inching forward, trapped in a column behind a cement lorry and the Wally Trolley. I would prefer to park in the village square than half a kilometre away at the bottom of a dusty hill. I prefer the old days when there were no beggars or accordion players. Put me down for twenty five Peseta beers and kind Swedish girls.
Mojácar needs sensible dialogue towards where we intend for our town to go. Orange boiler suits and whistles aren’t helping.
Perhaps he’s a she. It’s hard to tell. One thing I know, however, is that he's impervious to sprays. He laughs with an eerie little chuckle, almost a buzz, as he wings through the poisonous mist. From his position upside-down on the ceiling, he practically twirls his moustache in a debonair manner as he watches me settle again. A hiss from me and a buzz from him. Rightback attcha!
He makes another pass which I ignore for the moment. He lands again and begins to amble up my leg.
The latest spray I have, from the House of Bloom, claims to be effective even against moscas persistentes. Persistent flies. I blast half a can straight between his eyes and return to the bed, attempting to focus on my book again, which I can’t remember if I’ve read before.
I turn the page and find a note there written in pencil. It looks a bit like my handwriting.
It’s our own fault. In other times, the light over the door would attract insects at night, fireflies, damson flies and shield bugs (those green ones that buzz loudly and smell agreeably of pine). It was a bucolic, earlier age, which has now passed into history. We insisted on our comforts and moaned because the plug-in pest killer wasn’t working any more. We scratched. Finally, our patience gone, we complained so much earlier this summer about the flies and the mosquitoes that the town hall spent some of their hard-earned firework-money on massive fumigations, with the result that few insects survived. There’s no more butterflies, beetles, dragon flies or Golden Splendour Beetles left. No thrips, coleoptera, fritillaries, mantids or Death’s Head Moth to soothe our souls with the wonder of Mother Nature. Just the toughened survivors: flies, fleas, mossies and cockroaches…
Of course, there are those poor humans who hate all insects, just because they once got stung. This is like hating all aliens just because you were once kidnapped, transported and indecently probed by Martians, as I believe recently occurred to one of our councillors. There’s something about it in this book I’m holding in my hands as I drift asleep-
The fly is back, it loops an impressive turn through the mist of falling woodworm from the beams before it returns to wash its feet on my nose, running its tiny fingers through my eyebrows and drooling spitefully on my cheek. Fully alert now, I seek cover. I try and continue reading under the sheet, but fail on several counts.
At night, it comes back, and if the moon is full, it will have switched into a smaller, faster shape; a shrill whine and a taste for blood.
I’ll stay awake, fearful and alarmed.
Frightened, you see, because he can metamorphose from one kind of insect to another. From mosca to mosquito. He is that most terrifying of creatures, half one thing, half the other.
He is, of course, a were-fly.
Friday, September 15, 2006
Hay poca gente hoy en día que no tenga un teléfono móvil.
Por estar empezando a llegar a la edad de la chochera, en la que olvido todo y hasta olvido lo que he olvidado, he tenido que introducir unas rutinas en mi vida para ahorrar viajes y paseos inútiles. Ahora, cuando salgo por las mañanas, canto una pequeña cantinela que me ayuda recordar no olvidar mis trastos. Más o menos es algo como, “anteojos, billetera, teléfono y testículos”, a la música de “Viva España” (y toco los cuatro puntos de la cruz).
Soy propietario de un móvil desde hace unos tres años. Si todavía no se manejarlo bien, si no puedo acceder a Internet, utilizar la brújula o encender la linterna, por mi condición de ser “mayor de edad”, al menos puedo llamar o contestar en la mayoría de los casos. No siempre tengo éxito, porque, a pesar de vivir a cien metros de una torre de telefonía móvil, en mi panorámica diaria, no tengo cobertura en la casa menos en el cuarto de baño. Así, sentado en el trono, hago mis negocios, tanto personales como comerciales.
-¿Qué es este ruido?
-Es que está pasando un coche.
-Suena más como un camión.
El otro problema es el diseño moderno del aparato. Si tocas este botón, se activa el altavoz. En la calle, o sentado en una cafetería, habitualmente guardo el móvil en el bolsillo de mis estrechos pantalones Levis, en consecuencia tengo a veces problemas al sacarlo sin tocar el botón antes mencionado.
-¡Si!, dice una voz desde mi pantalón.
-¡Oiga! Espere un momento, chillo, mientras intento sacar mi mano y el aparato juntos, pero no unas monedas, papeles, chicles, el billetero, las llaves y otras sorpresas y tesoros. Es un poco como la historia del mono y el cacahuete: el mono mete la mano en un jarrón en el que hay un cacahuete dentro. Si cierra el puño para cogerlo no puede sacar la mano. Por tanto o saca la mano vacía o no la saca.
Mi pantalón, mientras tanto, sigue conversando, con la consiguiente diversión de la camarera lituana.
A pesar de sus inconvenientes, el móvil es muy útil. Tiene una pantalla que expone la lista entera de mis contactos y amigos y fielmente me dice quien me está llamando (mientras tenga mis gafas a mano y no haya olvidado cantar mi rima esa mañana al salir y darme cuenta de que las he dejado en casa).
Los que no quieren que vea su número de teléfono en la pantalla, pueden mandar la información de que se trata de una “identidad oculta” para mantener su anonimato. Casi siempre se trata de alguien buscando a un tal “Benji” que, supongo que fue el abonador anterior a mí.
-¿Benji?- No dicen mas.
-Hello. Yes. Bonjour. Gruss Gött, Yo soy Benji. Oui, Diga... y feliz viaje. No importa como conteste, porque cuelgan enseguida. Todos cuelgan, cabe decir, menos una, que empezó a hacerme preguntas raras. Supuse que se trataba de una policía de inmigración que buscaba al tipo. Para felicitarla, y suponiendo que tenía una buena cuenta para gastos extraordinarios, la mandé a Miami para seguir con sus investigaciones.
La gente están llamándonos, a Benji y a mí, todos los días del verano. Estoy convencido de que se trata de un mafioso, y, por el acento de la gente que me llama, a lo mejor es uno de éstos que trabajan traficando con las personas. Sospecho que el número del teléfono de Benji (ahora el mío) está pintado todavía en algunas chabolas de Mauritania, o quizás en la puerta de un banco allí, y que lo anotan personas que van buscando viaje a las Canarias donde encontrarán una vida mejor. Visto el volumen de pateras y la amnistía casi automática del gobierno español, es sin duda un gran negocio. Me sorprende incluso, dada la peligrosidad del trayecto, que los responsables de bajar el número de muertos en las carreteras españolas no estén proyectando hacer algo parecido en las vías marítimas entre el continente africano y las playas españolas. Podrían salvar muchas vidas y ayudar aún más en el esfuerzo de hacer más multi-culturales nuestras ciudades.
No tiene nada que ver con lo anterior, pero ¿has visto que el Rubalcaba y La Bufanda están interesados en dar el sufragio activo y pasivo a todos los del Tercer Mundo que han recibido, “excepcionalmente”, su permiso de quedarse aquí para que voten en las elecciones locales? Vaya... vaya... ¿A quien elegimos?
El desaparecido Benji, el que antes ostentaba mi número de teléfono, y suponiendo que no se presente pronto como candidato por el ayuntamiento de Valencia, probablemente estará ya en el fondo del océano junto con algunos de sus clientes. O quizás la suerte haya sido otra y, con una residencia nueva – y un nuevo número de teléfono – está construyendo una urbanización enorme al sur de Madrid pagada con dinero negro (nunca mejor dicho).
Éste es un país lleno de oportunidades para todos, siempre que tengas un móvil.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
We have a newspaper or a magazine, together with some bloke who is going to wander around the bars and sell advertising, another chap with an old van who says he knows the area well and will deliver, a young wiz-kid for the layout on the computer and a printer up in Ciudad Real who won’t charge too much.
Between the adverts in the mag, we are going to have spaces, which will need filling. We are going to need a writer.
Now, the given. We are in Spain; we are continually learning about this country and we are all, readers and publisher alike, part of the same great adventure.
So, let’s print articles about lipstick. Articles about the North American fox, about fennel, Coronation Street, Tony Blair, Red China, Marks and Spencer’s, Manchester, fajitas, Iraq, facelifts and the price of strawberries… in Oxford.
There’s a splendid opportunity to write about sports (if such a thing grabs you), about the victory of the Spanish basketball team, the Spanish Grand Prix champion, our cycling and of course, our football. But no, with the exception of the odd incoherency about or from David Beckham, we are treated to articles about Fulham or Arsenal.
To remind us further that we are now living in Spain – presumably at our own free will – we are offered the week’s or even month’s television entertainment. The Sky satellite service from Britain.
With rare exceptions, the articles we reproduce for your reading pleasure will appear unsigned. Yet, some poor joe wrote them. Writers usually get tuppence for their efforts anyway, but they do like to see their name in print. When one of our local newspapers prints some piece – apparently to fit some hole on page nineteen next to the advert about cesspit repairs (seventeen years experience) – as often as not, there will be no credit of a writer.
In The Euro Weekly, there are hardly any articles at all with writers’ names attached. Even when the essay starts with an ‘I’. It’s not the only offender.
Much of the material which appears in our local newspapers and magazines, if not about Spain, the process of living in Spain, the culture of Spain, the language, geography, history, traditions, people, food, politics, art and literature of Spain, appears to have one thing in common, one general point of union. The articles will come from the Internet.
You can imagine. ‘Geoff, I’ve got a hole on page 32’. ‘Don’t worry, Alice, I’ve found a bit on the Pyramids’.
Unless you have paid for it, or have a signed letter from the writer or the agent, this is called plagiarism. There is a handy program on the Internet to compare an article with another published one. It’s at www.copyscape.com
Another kind of scrip will sometimes float around in a newspaper. Sometimes it will be labelled ‘advertising feature’ and sometimes not. It will be an article handed in by an advertiser with, let’s say ‘not entirely impartial recommendations’ regarding building, eating, investing, shopping and buying a second hand car. Since these ‘puffs’ are invariably set in Spain, the reader might fall upon them with more enthusiasm than they in fact merit.
I like good writers. I think that they make a newspaper worth picking up. I think they entertain and educate the reader. I think a good writer is worth paying something. I think it’s an opportunity worth taking.
Forget plagiarism, cynical and bad editing and gratuitous puff pieces. Ask to read something decent about Spain.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
The fiestas are all but over (just... one... more... week-end...) but, since the standard of the entertainment here in Mojácar has been derisory over the past couple of months - not a single worthy act during the entire summer season - Lenorex Productions (Is It Live - or Is It Lenorex?) have decided to put on one Top Class Act.
And I've got a ticket!
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
The PSOE has long worried about the ‘foreign vote’ in local elections. In 1994, the government of Felipe Gonzalez had proposed that those Europeans living in Spain and listed on the padrón (the town hall registry) should be able to vote in local elections. The paperwork was prepared for the June 1995 elections but an ambitious junior minister, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, put the blockers on it at the last moment with the very real worry that the foreigners would probably vote conservative…
In the end, the Europeans were allowed to vote for the European elections (where they of course made no impact), but not the local ones…
By 1999, with a PP government in power and new European rules on émigrés, we were able to – finally – vote in local elections. I was 45 and at last had the vote. I had never been able to vote – beyond the thrilling 1995 European election – in any meaningful way either in England – where I’m from, or Spain, where I’ve lived and actually held residence since 1969.
I could not only vote, I could appear on a list and ask to be voted for. The Spanish inter alia changed their constitution to allow for this for the first time since it was written in 1978. The Europeans, over eighteen, registered on some padrón and who had signed a note asking to vote were able to involve themselves in politics. Added to this, the Norwegians (not a EU state) were able to vote – although not run for office.
Although the ‘European’ vote was never going to make much difference – we live in small coastal pueblos rather than politically powerful cities – the outcome was rather disappointing. A relatively small number of Europeans turned up to the polling booths (some to be turned away for various obscure reasons) and some thirty coastal pueblos – occasionally fielding foreigners safely far down their lists – were in some small measure affected by the European vote. In Mojácar, an independent party, Mojácar 2000, was able with foreign support to wrest control of the ayuntamiento. Its councillors were Spanish.
In Jávea (Alicante), a foreigner became a councillor. There was little else to report.
In 2003’s local elections, the foreigners managed a little better, with some 550 voting from the possible 1,950 enfranchised Europeans in Mojácar. No councillors though. In Jávea, the councillors grew to three and they have now formed their own political party for next May’s local elections (Nueva Jávea at www.nuevajavea.com ).
The proposed European Constitution that was thumping about last year, supported by the Spanish but roundly thrashed by the French (and promptly dropped from the ‘to do’ pile of Tony Blair and others), is unkind to Europeans who live in other countries than their own. We can not vote in regional or national elections or – of course – in referenda. We are powerless in Pan-European elections because of our spread. These evident reasons would make us ‘second class European citizens’.
So in Spain, the European vote has slowly grown. Returning to Mojácar, citizens’ meetings, bad politics (still no foreigners or even English-speakers working in the town hall) and better awareness have all started to bring the European residents out of their self-imposed isolation. Mojácar now has as many European as local voters. The field begins to look interesting…
Enter, stage left, our old friend Rubalcaba, now the Minister for the Interior.
All foreigners should be able to vote in local elections, says the socialist, as it’s only fair.
Well, yerss, but the socialist interest is in votes rather than rights. The large number of immigrants that have flowed into Spain from the Third World and have received indulgences or amnesties from the government, together with work and residence permits, will hardly be voting for the conservative Partido Popular.
Let’s look at some numbers (El País 23 August 2006).
Europeans in 2003 (i.e. ‘registered’, being politically expedient but not true numbers): 360,000. In 2007, this should increase to 620,000. By 2007 there should be 165,000 Brits. From the non-EU bit of Europe, and joining the Union in December 2006, there should be 190,000 Rumanians and 60,000 Bulgarians (the Spanish authorities actually estimate the real figure for these two nationalities at 480,000). From certain South American states, add another 350,000 (Spain is fond of South America. Rubalcaba said in a recent speech that he wants to cement the Ibero-American brotherhood. I don’t think they’ll be voting conservative either). The addition of the rest of South America (Ecuatorians in particular), Moroccans, Chinese, Sub-Saharans, Russians and my wife, a (non-voting) American passport holder, were too much for the El País to consider, but there are, in fact, some four million foreigners living in Spain at the moment. Theoretically, perhaps three million would qualify: most being supportive of the PSOE from whence the manna floweth.
These wonderful ideas are not acceptable to Brussels as yet, but the PSOE has firm intentions for next year and the PP is currently on its back foot.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
The traffic has been intense over the past couple of months. There are few places to park (you don't make money building parking spaces) and the visitors have taken all the spots. The streets are decidedly narrow and won't support more than one line of parked cars (even that will clog up some calles). The shop-keepers have to walk miles as the roads are blocked with delivery trucks, people getting lost, Mojácar choo choo trains, people going around showing off their huge four-wheel drive gas-guzzlers and then there's the few parking spots being reserved for minorities for artistic rather than practical reasons (the handicapped, scooters, those with no sense of justice etc). Zebra crossings, enormous trash cans for bottles, for cardboard (overflowing at the moment), skips, gazeeboes, signs, huts, tourist offices, kiddy-gardens and even a few trees, all contribute to make parking spots hard to find. Especially when you're working.
Which is why we double park. Actually!
A new block of shops and offices, just built in front of the Parque Comercial on Mojácar playa, has no on-ground parking at all. I suppose they're gonna use the existing parking. Well done the planners.
Anyway, here's a view of a site just behind the Parque Comercial. As you can see, in a sudden burst of solidarity with his cousins who run all the shops there, our boy has fenced off the block so as that no one can park there. You see, ¡es mío!
Later: Well, no. It's even worse. It's not the owner who is closing off this space for about a hundred cars. No. It's the neighbour. The vecino de enfrente. He doesn't like dust apparently. There you are.
I spent most of this afternoon driving around there in circles.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Here's a cute summer picture of Mojácar. It looks much more peaceful here than the reality of the holiday thrash. The August fiestas will begin on Friday 25th of the month, concluding on Monday 28th. There shouldn't be anyone left after that to party...
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Being a complete idiot, I believe every word of your tragic tale, and, since I am also a greedy idiot, I am intrigued by your kind offer to give me fifty per cent of the twenty five million dollars U.S. that your Dad left hidden under a rock just behind the B of U’s urinals. I understand that all I need to do is to give you my bank details, passwords and so on so that you can transfer this sum to my account, where I will hold it safe until you show up and I will give you half of it. I would be Honoured to be an instrument in your cunning yet noble plan to export your daddy's lolly to Civilization.
I have to tell you, I have received no less than seventy (yep, Seventy!) similar offers in the past month, all obvious frauds, and I must warn you to be on the look-out for clever yet dishonest people who rely on the duplicity of strangers.
Perhaps you should give me your bank details so that I can be sure that you won’t be defrauded.
Monday, August 07, 2006
The old milk was a definite bluish colour and came in a 1.5l glass bottle with a narrow top and a metal cramp, like a coke bottle. This stuff could sit in the sun for weeks without losing its taste and often did. Apparently, to help it last, they took the cream out of the milk and added a shot of pig fat. The blue colour came, apocryphally, from the formaldehyde that kept the mixture quiet. This explains why breakfast cereals came to Spain rather late. Pour that stuff over your Frosties, it would have eaten them before you could.
Later UHT milks from different companies, now mostly in the handy tetrabrik box, became acceptable for coffees and so on. A cup of (proper) tea would be shaken by this stuff, but you can get used to anything. Now, we even have sippin’ milk in the supermarkets. Tastes good.
While milk has never been considered a serious drink (despite the best efforts of some of the producers to tell us different in the usual kids adverts), it has certainly spawned a whole slew of versions. We have milk with vitamins, milk with calcium, skimmed milk, partially skimmed milk, milk with royal jelly, milk with acidophilus (a handy bacteria apparently found in drool), specially flavoured chocolate, vanilla and strawberry milks, rice milk and soya veggy milk. In point of fact, I doubt any of them ever loitered under a cow. Certainly Barbara’s pet calf, Petit Suisse, refused point blank to drink one particular brand, the Valencian-produced ‘Leche Ram’. I see the company has since gone pear-shaped. Perhaps the calf knew something.
At the same time, yoghurt has done just fine. I think I first tried yoghurts here in Spain as a child. The Danone people (a company from Barcelona), were putting out their early flavours by the time I first arrived here in 1966 (they actually started in 1919, selling the stuff in farmacias) and apart from the plain one (add jam and sugar), there was at least a strawberry one going strong. How long they might have lasted outside a fridge is probably best not to consider today. These days, there are an untold number of flavours clogging up the nation’s cold-shelves, with anything that grew on a tree or a stalk being processed into a yoghurt cup. You can now even get ‘Greek yoghurt’ (thicker than the usual stuff). Spain is not, with this notable exception, very kind to Greece (try and find a Greek restaurant, a pair of crapcatchers or a bottle of ouzo).
Together with yoghurt, another milk-based little number on the shelves is guajada, a set rennet made from sheep’s milk. It comes in a little stone pot. With a squirt of honey, it’s pretty good.
Spain triumphs with its ice creams. The main area for ‘artesanal’ ices is the interior of Alicante and Valencia provinces, notably Jijona (also famous for its nougat). Heladerías cover the main streets and offer dozens of alternatives. They (thank goodness) are all licenced, so you can put a shot of whisky on top of your tart. In fact, tarta al guisgüi (as the purists would spell it) is one of the best and most august of Spain’s postres, together with the ice-cream bar with two or three flavours (vanilla, strawberry and chocolate), natillas (a custardy thing) and the ubiquitous flan, the crème caramel. Then, there’s leche frita, or ‘fried milk’ – it comes in caramel covered chewy lumps – to try as well.
Before the fridge came along, and those fat blue bottles of Puleva ‘milk’ were still being used for arcane cooking reasons, Spaniards would often put condensed milk (which I think came from Holland) in their coffee. They still do, and as a ‘bonbón’, your coffee will give you a good kick-start.
Monday, July 31, 2006
He didn’t look too worried; he probably has an air-conditioned home, an air-conditioned car and an air-conditioned studio. Come to think of it, he’s probably, partially, the reason why the weather is so bloody hot.
My house backs into the side of a ‘terraza’ – one of those thin flat fields that climb up the side of the hills and are built up with heavy stones that the peasants used to fashion before the water table fell and the foreigners arrived clutching wads of cash and golf clubs. Together with thick walls (it’s an old house) and high ceilings, it’s moderately cool inside.
We have mosquito netting on some of the windows – the cats are working on reducing the percentage – and a few ‘plug-ins’ here and there. The town hall claims that it has recently fumigated the area, and indeed, there are no other bugs around, except the aforementioned mosquitoes and their daytime friends the flies.
The shopkeepers are unclear as to whether they have sold more or less tee-shirts and humorous ashtrays this year (our sole commercial activity besides rum-and-cokes and apartments) although most agree that there are more visitors who, for some reason or other, spend less.
Since residents rarely venture into the humorous ashtray shops and favour their own tee-shirts (often displaying an amusing play on the word fcuk), the shop-keepers are keen to attract… yet… more turistas with plans to build a huge car-park in the village (containing a hotel, a disco, offices, apartments, tee-shirt emporia and other attractions which, together, - and let’s face it - pay more than parking spots do). Anyway, the walk will do ‘em good!
A new statue has been erected at the back of the village of Mojácar. It is the third in a line of mojaqueras draped in their finery. In fact, such mythical hooded creatures, dressed in shawls, skirts and aprons, with perfect chests covered in a brocaded blouse, with their faces covered with a shawl gripped between their teeth, would carry huge earthen pots of water on their heads up from the fuente. You can imagine how hot they used to get.
This particular one, in bronze, appears to be shaking the dust off her feet. She cost the Ayuntamiento 25,000 euros, and is the Parthian shot of our mayor Gabi, who will be handing over the keys to the petty cash to his successor RosMari Cano in two months. Whether a more appropriate statue for the pueblo would be a man dressed in sandals, hat and sunglasses, with a camera round his neck and carrying a small plastic bag with ‘souvenir’ written on it is hard to say. After all, we don’t like to recognise anyone’s efforts towards this community unless they are at least fifth generation or, at a pinch, in the air-conditioning business.
Monday, July 24, 2006
The plant (I discover) is a kind of tuber, very good for you and all that, and almost impossible to get rid of if it is growing in your garden. On the bright side, you can always make more horchata since the drink only lasts a few days before spoiling.
Not many people like it, which seems a shame, and the drink is low on the list of an Almerían bar’s priorities, however, after twelve hundred years or so in relative obscurity, its time has finally come. As so many things in Spain, horchata has become political.
It started the other day, with Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Valencia.
Now, as the Partido Popular has slightly lost its teeth while the government espouses its new ideas, which could be summed up as ‘all change’, the champion of good old family values, whether as a Catholic or not, have been firmly passed to The Church, and its leader, the German Shepherd.
Dressed in white for purity, and quietly ‘not connecting’ with the president, the Pope’s two days in the Levante city were a success for the faithful – those who yearn for the good and simple times of the past, a more innocent age, in short, the small ‘c’ conservatives.
It has always been told that horchata was invented by the Valencians during the time of the Moorish occupation of Spain – which lasted for a pretty healthy seven hundred years or more and helps explain all those Moors and Christian festivals and why they keep putting up statues of hard-working mojaqueras with their faces covered all over Mojacar. At any rate, such a Moorish girl had once lifted her veil just enough to take a healthy chug of some milky looking drink when a Christian king, Jaime 1 de Aragon, happened along on his horse and asked if he could have a go. ‘Cor’, he said, ‘this is gold, girlie’, or, in valenciano, ‘Això és or, xata!’. Horchata.
During the Pope’s recent visit to Valencia, now one of the hold-outs of conservatism, Catholicism, anti-Zapatero-ism and so on, the horchata makers filled the city with wheeled carts and sold the drink to the pilgrims. The Pope, following in Jaime’s royal footsteps, was graciously inclined to take an iced glass of the beverage, pronounced it delicious, and thus nailed its fate as a truly catholic… well, you get the picture.
Let me help. The drink is made by small manufacturers (not evil multinationals) and is the only thing that’s wet that cannot be mixed with any form of alcohol. It separates instantly when a shot of grog hits it. That, and it’s white.
Please contrast this refreshment with the socialist’s preferred beverage – sparkling wine from Barcelona. The ubiquitous cava!
And horchata is good, too. Perhaps an acquired taste, but I often enjoy one during the summer months. Unfortunately, come October 1st, like homemade ice cream, the tourists and (hopefully) Mojacar’s mosquito population, horchata disappears for another season.
Friday, July 21, 2006
It can’t last though. Sooner or later the electric company, Sevillana, is going to have one of its click-clack power shorts which is apparently caused by birds taking off from the line from Vera and has nothing to do with the poor maintenance on the equipment or the splendid cars operated by the share-holders.
So, it happened. The brief thunk of the power stopped the internet connection, and I was once again obliged to deal with Telefonica. That, or to ceremoniously disembowel myself on the kitchen floor, which is generally considered less painful.
I started yesterday, in the office, by ringing Telefonica on 1004. I then tapped in my phone number. I then listened to music. I then met Alfredo, who rather thought it was a technical problem and not a mere overdue bill. After trying to sell me a special summer telephone deal, he passed me to a colleague who was of the sound opinion that there was nothing wrong with the line and that, indeed, coughing up something in the billing department would do the trick and, oh, by the way, could I press a button to tell the company if I had been treated politely. A number one, if I would be so kind.
The new billing lady, after making sure that I knew my telephone number and wasn’t in fact carrying a false residence card number – which I was as a matter of fact, as the phone is in somebody else’s name – finally gave me a price.
You can only pay your old phone bills at the Banesto bank. There’s one in the village.
I drove up the hill, past all the parked tourist cars, and then down the other side for some distance. It’s hot and dusty and a pull to totter up to the top again, just to pay the 100 euros and eight cents that the Telefonica company wanted.
The Banesto bank in the pueblo is a small room with two tables, one computer, a few concerned looking ashtrays, and a sign saying that you can only pay Telefonica bills on Tuesdays and Thursdays and before 10.30am. And an air-conditioner. It’s Thursday midday and I’ve spent enough time on this. But, on the bright side, I'm cool.
The bank flunky tries to send the wretched company a transfer anyway. But the computer won’t accept it. ‘Come back on Tuesday morning, early’ suggests the fellow. Or, perhaps he said ‘wear something light and get the morning off from your work. Another five days without phone or internet will put you in a splendid mood. Your walk up the hill, past all the accordion players and elderly beggars will place you in a happy frame of mind and when I finally take your money you will be pleased to consider that, in a mere 48 hours after the transfer, your phoning and surfing rights will be fully returned to you’.
I went into the bar next door. Carmen is nice. She set me up a beer as I rang 1004 on my mobile phone. Typed in my number. Listened to music, diddle di diddle di dee… Our operators are busy, please call back another time…
So I was talking to Carmen while holding the phone to my ear after another attempt, when a voice suddenly came on in… English!
‘Yess, how can ay help you?’ ‘Lissen, girlie, I wanna pay my phone bill and the stupid bank says that the figure is wrong and I’ve spent the whole morning farting about and I…’
‘Yes sir. The computers are down here. Call again later’.
So I will.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Note: no sparrows were hurt in the making of this photograph
Without doubt, it’s the oddest city on the Spanish mainland. Cartagena (New Carthage, Cartago Novo) is a navy city about 60 kms from Murcia.
Imagine two mountains, with the sea flowing in between them. A third mountain stops the sea’s progress further inland. This third mount has massive fortifications and is topped by a castle. Around and behind, the city stretches, in most cases old, bombed out, collapsed. Narrow streets with boarded up shops and ornate nineteenth century fronts held up by builders’ supports. Old bars – the type that looks like a garage, you can pee out the back. Arab tea-rooms (no booze, but good lamb dishes). The occasional massive colonial structure or military barracks in mothballs. We walked down one narrow street (in the Arab quarter) which decanted apologetically into the ground floor of a ruined house. Wire on the left held us from a crag with a tower on it. The track continued through the wall of a vestibule straight into a small room with a virgen in it and a dozen lit candles, and out, left, into the sunlight again.
Cartagena has a political party (currently just one councillor in the ayuntamiento) which wants independence from Spain. In 1873, The city not only had a majority for the Partido Cantonal, it actually declared UDI and, worse still, declared war on the rest of Spain. It took an incredible six months before Spain’s forces could overrun the rebel city (in January 1874). These days, they talk about leaving Murcia as, perhaps, a good place to start.
The city was an important naval port. With the end of conscription and a new professional navy on the passing of Francoism, Cartagena went downhill. Never a pretty place, with the money turned off the city took a powder. Today, European funding appears to be re-awakening the ancient city from its recent slumbers and a new (and apparently pointless) toll route is being built between Cartagena and Vera.
We were there for a concert. To get to the castle, you have to walk around the mountain from the main avenida, then, you can only climb the hill by taking a ho, in your face, modern glass zippy-lift up to the top, then along a stainless steel structure with lights… onto the castle forecourt. Dozens of peacocks were sleeping there, perched high in the pine trees or on ornamental bridges. The port far below between those two mountains, illuminated by the full moon.
The concert tonight was Abdullah Ibrahim (as Dollar Brand calls himself now). Dollar Brand – I knew him back in 1975 – is a wonderful pianist from South Africa. He led a trio with a two-hour concert in front of a narrow tower up on the high mountain. Just a piano, a double bass and percussion. And the odd cry from the peacocks…
The walk back was spooky. No one on the streets. Hardly any lights.
The hotel was modern and ho-hum. The air conditioning leaked drip, drip, every second or two. It was their carpet.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
I’ve got the record somewhere, featuring that song which goes ‘black ees black, I wonn my babi back’, the smash hit for Los Bravos in 1966. Not bad, that, as it was a rare foreign pop group that made the US charts (Nº 4 in the top 100) and the Brits (Nº 2 in the fab fifty, our pop songs always being worth twice as much was theirs). Los Bravos had a German singer, little Micky from Berlin, but the rest came from Spain. Micky was the youngest, born in 1945. He’d be 61 now.
Los Bravos are coming to play a concert in Vera on August 11th. I hope that the concert hall is wheelchair accessible.
Better still, Los Puntos are also billed for the occasion. Los Puntos were a band that produced an endless supply of Beatles-like smasheroos in the mid to late sixties. They came from Cuevas (the next door town to Vera) and still perform on occasion. Pepe Grano de Oro wrote a song (anthem) for Mojácar a few years back.
About ten years ago, while enjoying a rare holiday, I saw Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders on a cruise ship. I think the bassist was a replacement (he still had all his hair), but the rest were very much the original line-up. Wayne wore a hat.
Typically, the group would perform one of their hits (Groovy Kind of Love, The Game of Love and so on...) and then, at its conclusion, would hold on to their instruments for mutual support and attempt to recover their breath. Whoo! Thank goodness songs were only three minutes long in those days! Wayne would tell a joke as the others took their pills. We didn’t care, we knew what it’s like to pant and wheeze.
I hope little Micky from Berlin will be OK up there on the Vera stage, as concerts here tend to start rather late. Los Bravos might be on last, after Jeanette, Tony Ronald, Los Puntos and the rest of them.
Vera August 11th Oldies Concert. Vera bullring from 11.30pm
Friday, June 23, 2006
On football night, the whole town would be quiet, apart from the bellow of a million television screens and the occasional shriek from the viewers along the lines of ‘shoot the ref’ or ‘kill the tropical gentleman playing wing for the other team’. This being a loose translation, but one that, I hope, manages to maintain the sentiment.
Eventually, two things would be bound to happen. The first would be a dozen heavy explosions as Pedro, the town pyrotechnican, blasted skywards a few rockets substantial enough to have given Werner von Braun a flutter of pleasure, regardless of who won as long as somebody did (Werner’s sentiments exactly), and, secondly, the final whistle would invariably presage a great outpouring of voluble football fans into the streets, bars and knock-shops of the community.
But, with Barcelona apparently winning every cup ever cast, plated or pressed, with ‘their foreign team-maters’ beating ‘our foreign team mates’ (assuming you’re a Real Madrid, Valencia or Seville supporter), I had kind of assumed that the whole season was finally washed up for another year. Actually, another three months, but, even that’s a start.
It’s our own fault, of course. The game was invented by the English – apparently as an economical way of keeping warm. It was later introduced by the Scots (who had previously been prospecting in the hills and run out of porridge) into a small mining town in Murcia in the later part of the nineteenth century. In fact, the oldest footie pitch is still there. In Aguilas!
Spain’s most famous commentator is English. He’s called Michael Robinson and he used to play for Osasuna (who did rather well this year). If you know him and David Beckham (who he? – Ed) then you can usually get a drink or two out of it. Of course, if you know Ronaldihno, you might get a full dinner…
Now, to my recent surprise, the world cup has started. Trinidad and Tobago against Finland. Most unfair, Finland should have teamed up with Sweden and given them a good thrashing.
Catalonia wanted to field its own team – after all, in the Reino Unido we have Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, England and the Scilly Isles all fighting their corner, so why shouldn’t the really-jolly-nearly independent republic of Catalunia have its own chaps? Spain (or if you prefer – the lumpenspain) is in fact quite in favour of the idea, considering that any Catalonian player found in the Spanish team would probably score an own-goal just out of spite.When another country’s team plays, even if we couldn’t find it on a map, we roar with pleasure or rage. Pathetic. Personally, if Ethiopia beats Cyprus or not, I can truly claim not to care – as long as the office doesn’t close early again.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Two pictures from last night.
The truth is, the first picture is posted here for the pleasure of a ‘statistically appreciable minority’ of those that visit this site – namely, myself.
Well, you are welcome to marvel at the picture (a rare portrait of your guide to this site, taken last night in a natural pose in, for some reason, the Almería bull ring, where, as you can see, I was not entirely alone). If there’s a point to this posting, it’s that you can always find something peculiar, interesting, remarkable or unforgettable if you tear yourself away from the television, the football and your English neighbours and go and try something different. That and… it’s best to take a camera.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
So, you can see what happens during the World Cup. Between the fans staying either at home, or at least in front of the TV set inside, together with the still far from calm weather (it's mid June and still snowing), there's not much action on the deck.
Today, a number of cars are supporting little flag-poles together with their national emblems stuck to their back windows as they motor past. Quite embarrassing for the ordinary folk - especially those who had carefully ordered one from Trinidad and Tobago. In retrospect, it's just as well that they arrived late at the post office...
Meanwhile, as an occasional shriek filters out from the bar inside - either a free kick or one of the Russian girls dropping a beer down the neck of a punter - the terrace is peaceful and calm.
Like the old days...
Saturday, June 10, 2006
It's a surprisingly overcast weekend, with some rain over Mojácar and lightening up in the hills beyond. This morning, the second day of the three-day Moors and Christians bash, I staggered and wheezed up the hill from the Campo de Fútbol - converted into a parking lot - to have a look at the medieval market and the street musicians.
Nevertheless, in my picture, the new Morales leasure centre and business emporium has stolen into centre-stage (that's the massive crane above the hulk). I'm told they've all got a small hallway each where they will soon be able to sell teeshirts and humorously shaped ashtrays to their heart's content.
The market is fun, with the vendors dressed up in sacks and selling plastic key-chain witches, oulde bed-side lamps and other memorablia from a byegone age. A rather good street-band hops past playing an old Malicorne number on whistles, bagpipes and drums. A Rumanian accordianist twitches into 'O Sole Mio' outside the Indalo to the faint horror of the tourists. Spare a shilling, Guv?
A Mojaquero decides to drive his car through the square and up to his eyrie. Outta the way, he honks at the tourists. It should be fun tonight.
Friday, June 09, 2006
Which was a relief in one sense, I’m not going to keel over the steering wheel with a cracked pump and disappear with the old banger over the cliff. At least, not today.
Talking on a mobile phone is illegal when you’re driving. Like many other agreeable activities which one can get up to behind the wheel, yes… many agreeable activities (dreams for a moment)… Whoa! I almost left the road there. Jeez – that was close.
So, since I don’t have a chauffer like the head of the traffic department, a political oaf called Pere Navarro, and therefore can’t answer the phone and plan my next piece of business; and, unlike Mr Navarro, who is concerned about the heady mixture of saving lives, pissing people off and furthering his brilliant career in the PSOE, I just want to sell another set of encyclopaedias… Shit! I'll have to pull off the road.
There’s a handy lip on our roads, called the arcén. That’s where you go when you need to stop the car and do something else. You don’t want to spend too long on the arcén as it can be quite dangerous, with truck drivers thundering past your narrow ledge of safety or perhaps, nodding off as the tachometer clicks into the red, they drive straight in, through and over you. The sod never even noticed.
Then, there’s the road-cops, los primos. The cousins.
You can’t loiter with your vehicle on the arcén unless you have your emergency lights on, are wearing a kind of psychedelic pyjama top and have placed your warning triangles both fifty metres before and behind.
Unless it’s a motor-bike. They haven’t figured out where you can carry the triangles yet.
If they show, the cops are going to want to see if you carry spare light bulbs, a driving licence and the rest of it – and they will be looking for illegal immigrants hiding under the spare wheel, traces of narcotics in the ashtray and an illegal radar trap apparatus stuffed down your jumper.
Pere Navarro has introduced the ‘points system’ now. You start with twelve on your licence and the police are under instruction to start the carving. Aggressively. They take any more and, shit, I’m walking home. It’s all right for Pere, he can always get another chauffer.
All this to answer the phone, which has stopped ringing by now anyway.
So, I pull the stupid yellow day-glo number on, over my head. The price tag is flapping on my chest so I wrench it off and (no one looking) throw the bloody thing into the undergrowth.
To the boot of the car to get the triangles. You need to carry two of them – one for ahead and the other for behind. They had better not blow over, the cops might think I just threw them onto the road in a petulant rage.
I take the first one up the road and pace out fifty metres, forty-nine, fifty. Then back to the car and repeat the same process the other way. I will have walked over a quarter of a kilometre by the time I'm through with this but, anyway, I’ve dumped the second warning sign on the ground here on the curve and I've brought the phone and am now gonna…
There’s some bloke up-road from me. He’s standing a hundred metres away, just by my front triangle. It trembles in the slight wind. –You wanna buy this thing off me, he shouts.
-You fuck the fuck off, bastard! A huge trailer rumbles past and the triangle, grateful for the distraction, is blown off the border and flitters down into the valley below.
I’ve picked at the phone now for the re-dial and am walking back to the car, one eye on the gypsy and the other out for the cops. I’ve got my surviving triangle tucked under my arm where it gently rips my pyjama top.
It was a wrong fucking number. But you knew that.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
His shoe-prints can still be found on the inside back door of the Mojácar paddy-wagon, next to the dent caused by Peter Honey’s head as he engineered his daring escape on a steep hill approaching the Huercal Overa hospital after being taken, unconscious and just in time, from the gentlemen’s lavatory located, vaguely speaking, somewhere behind the Bar Indalo.
Times change, and now thousands of people will dress up as Moors (a sheet, a pair of slippers and a readily available ID card being the main features) or as Christians, where an all-weather suit, an orange tie, brogues and a trilby hat is the obligatory dress. It's theoretically the celebration of an agreement made over a glass of blackberry juice in 1488 by the local mayor (a Moor) and the leader of the besieging Christian forces who was anxious to carry on towards Granada (where you could get a decent beer).
The three-day jag ends on Sunday afternoon (June 11th) with an endless procession through the main square of our town and off, away down the hill to the awaiting busses below. Six well-represented guilds, in full and exquisite costume, will make the march-past, with a ambulatory band between each one to keep the peace and provide musical refreshment for those onlookers too foolish to have found shade and shelter in one of our agreeable if slightly over-priced bars. Although no tomatoes are thrown, no bulls are loosed and the paella has usually all gone by the time you’ve found a plastic plate and scraped it clean, the Moors and Christians is a festival that is certainly worth visiting.
Tell them I sent you.
Friday, June 02, 2006
This is a picture of a bit of road. Yes, yes - prize winning stuff. This portrait of a piece of the King's highway is just below the Mojácar fuente and is taken on the first bend going towards Turre. It's a highly travelled road, with the one-way traffic through the pueblo returning on this section, plus the through traffic going both ways. It's serpentine, narrow... and is heavily used by pedestrians who live in the barrio down below, or who are walking to and from the cemetery, preferably dressed in black. There's never been a side-walk here, but there used to be a kind of narrow way for walkers which, with the nice new metal traffic-guards, has now been made redundant.
Previously, you would merely fall to safety if a bus was coming up behind you or, at a pinch, you could tangle yourself with a cyclist panting up the rise in his purple acrylic outfit and silly hat. Now, to avoid the increasingly speedy and dense traffic, a pedestrian needs to be able to - hop - leap over the balustrade before dropping several metres to safety.
It's not that easy, says the town hall. The road belongs to the diputacíon - the county council. They won't consider a side-walk here (until somebody presumably kicks up a stink). However, the town could incorporate this stretch of road (it's within existing city limits) and create a pavement, probably at the cost of some minor expropriation.
Or, how about this. They could put up a 30kms speed sign...
Friday, May 26, 2006
The somewhat gabby hairdresser lady established that I was a tourist, had once ‘run the bulls’ (madness!), loved to eat fish à la Navarro and pointed out that there was nothing like a trip to the ‘pelu’, the hairdresser, to pass some time. She motioned to Brad Pitt on the wall behind her and we agreed that, yes, I’d like to look exactly like him.
I had a ‘Number Four’. An electric clipper thing with a bit extra on the top (in case a future barber or member of Brad Pitt’s family reads this).
There’s a lady in Mojacar who seems OK. She looks like Lisa Minelli. She runs a hairdresser just downstairs from the office. I sometimes belch, break wind, sneeze, hoot or yap as I pass her office. It’s nothing personal, it’s just next door to a popular bar. Sometimes I inadvertently surprise her as I groan from a cold beer or snort from some minor blockage caused by a shrimp. It has occurred to me to be embarrassed by these small yet regular dramas, but I reckon it’s her move first.
Lisa once cut my hair, in the days before I knew about choosing a number for my grooming pleasure – now that I come to think of it, a convenience similar to dining at the Chinese (Numbah Foll - and easy on the MSG).
Normally though, I go over the way to this gloomy fellow called Pedro. The idea will come to me (must cut hair) as I pass his shop and, if it’s empty and Pedro is evidently immersed in his newspaper, I’ll go in.
Numero Cuatro I told him today. Easy on the top.
Walking back to the office, surrounded by flies attracted, I suspect, to the hair-gel that Pedro has slapped onto my head, I was visited by a violent sneeze. The kind that shrieks. Yaaahhh!
Just at that moment, as a bullet of snot ricocheted across the empty walkway, I saw a startled looking Lisa Minelli having a smoke on the terrace. I’m not sure, but I don’t think she was very impressed.
Monday, May 22, 2006
The Corte Inglés used to have a competitor, Galerias Preciados, but this was owned by a rather nasty enemy of the first PSOE government after Franco kicked off, and Felipe Gonzalez’ government simply… expropriated it. There’s a rather full exposé of the giant shop at http://www.nodo50.org/elotropais/n3/corte.htm if you're interested.
It includes this quote from the president and main shareholder, Isidro Álvarez, "no hay quien pueda con nosotros" (‘no one can beat us’).
The chain eschews advertising in the foreign language press (except the Diario Del Sur’s ‘Sur in English’) and, is the kind of shop that, this reporter at least, tends to go to as little as possible, usually making a U-turn just after entry.
Practically every city in Spain has at least one Corte Inglés and Almería is quite put out that the province’s second city should have stolen the march to become the first one in this hitherto rather forgotten province (Almería City still hopes for its own outlet).
The last one built that I know of is the one in Pamplona’s old-town. This particular one is nine stories high and is executed, for some ghastly architectural reason, in grey iron chapa. ‘Hideous’ is an understatement.
The department store is a kind of Bourgeois status symbol, with millions of Spaniards going about visibly holding their iconic shopping bags with the green triangles on it (even if they contain produce from other cheaper commerces).
The great debate about El Corte Inglés - or for that matter WallMart, is whether a super-store like this adds convenience to the shopper or whether it freezes out the small commerce ‘down-town’. Like anywhere else, it’s a debate where the Shilling decides.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
Anyhow, after I found my friends, we went to the bar which used to be called 'The Drowsy Duck' and is now, I think, called 'The Irish Bar'. Very atmospheric.
And quite large, at least 200 metres worth of merryness. The ceiling, as you may see, is decorated entirely by newspapers. The whole lot, and this is the unnerving bit, by old 'Entertainers'.
Now, like anyone in the free-newspaper business (that's quite a chunk of people these days), I don't like to see hard worked and well-produced copies of my newspaper doing service as wrapping paper, floor driers, or blocking out shop windows or perhaps sitting in out-of-date piles somewhere. It's not really why we bothered, don't you see?
The 'Irish Bar' papers on closer inspection date from the time when... (*the rest of this article has been removed by an injunction from the Vera Court).
The mosquito, male, is a dull kind of fly that sips nectar all day long at some flower with its legs crossed and smoking a cigarette, come to think of it, rather like the rest of us. Only we put gin in ours. It’s the female that causes the trouble.
Which just goes to show, once you wrench the fur off, how similar to each other all of The Earth’s many species are.
The female will land apologetically onto an exposed piece of flesh and inject a portion of saliva into the bite, a tonic that causes a moment’s anaesthesia, followed by a quarter of an hour of itching. She needs your blood to nourish her fertilised eggs. You need the saliva to catch Malaria and Dengis Fever. The mosquito considers the operation a fair trade.
Our mosquitoes are well-fed and voracious. Yet, despite their weight, they can still fly. They may need to take a run at it, wings flapping furiously, their cargo of blood churning and slopping around in their stomachs, but they can usually take off in the space of a few feet. However, there is a second variety which breeds in the giant un-drained swamps of Garrucha and Pueblo Laguna. Here, the insects are so heavy from generations of over-feeding, their wings have atrophied and these creatures have in fact lost the power of flight. They are about the size of a squash ball and are obliged to gallop across the land in the search for any exposed ankle. When fully refreshed, they can be easily, if messily, dispatched.
Our own observation is that neither mosquito pellets nor spray slows them down much, or, at least, we note that they can get in a few bites before they die. Sometimes they do both simultaneously, which can cause embarrassment to both parties. The only alternative to becoming an involuntary intra-species blood donor is to close the window at night (which has the added advantage of closing out the sound of those who don’t have to get up in the morning). The drawback to this is that it’s getting very hot now… very hot… ver…
Sunday, May 14, 2006
The Love Birds appear to keep their inside numbers at around eighty, with various more living outside.
I feed them on a basic mixture of all-seed ('mijo') and sunflower seed ('pipa') with the odd bit of bread or celery thrown in. They are happy to nest (if they have a small-entrance box) and will put bits of appropriate nesting material - such as spikes from the ferns and palms - which they carry tucked into their back or tail feathers. I put in clumps of palm leaves occasionally which they happily take to pieces. A friend built what could only be described as council-boxes... about forty of them in two rows hung on the wall.
The weather is right for them here. A birdie expert from the UK drops by our house on his annual visit to Mojacar in the summer and invariably marvels how they breed so well. He says that he has to put little heaters into their nesting boxes back home...
Saturday, May 13, 2006
These events are usually fun as I get to see some of the 'old timers' who I knew in the 'sixties, 'seventies and so on. One chap came up and said '¿me conoces?' and it was the British Honorary Council from Almería from those far off times, Gaspar Cuenca. A pleasure to see him and to remember some of the old stories. Gaspar partnered up with 'Cheap Pete' and opened an antique shop in Almería in the mid seventies until Pete ('Pedro Barato' - he built El Palacio in Mojácar) dropped dead after winning a Royal Flush in a poker game.
I gave Beatrice Beckett, the widow from Paul and owner of the art gallery, a cartoon of her drawn by Win Wells in 1982. That's Win and Silvio (Narizzano')s house, the Moño Alto, in the middle of the picture.
It's always fun meeting the art set at these functions. Sometimes they even look at the pictures...
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Not bad. In the old days, we just had chicken knuckles, lamb lumps, crotch-meat and sardines. All that at fifty cents a head with a bottle of wine thrown in for good measure.
Sometimes even a full one.
I was thinking that there is space here, however, for a really good off-world diner. Besides Dibbler’s rat-on-a-stick and the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, it’s a hard fact that the world is remarkably thin on decent alien eateries.
I imagine being served something colourful (tastes like chicken) by a waiter with an over-indulgence of fingers. Perhaps a decanter of (tastes like wine) darfle-grog. Pictures of the Planet Clunk would decorate the walls while squirty-music played. Perhaps my friends would come and throw bits of clump at each other.
So, it’s just a suggestion, but it could play well to the gallery, don’t you think?
Good Lord no. I haven’t had a drink all day.
Not even a darfle-grog.