Saturday, April 29, 2006

The View in late April

Further to remarks made the other day, here is the village of Mojacar taken from somewhere below. Apart from the crane which currently dominates the scene, the notorious multi-storey car parking has been initially approved to go in front and below the bit there in the middle (an old multi-storey car park now doing duty as a tourist office and a cookery school). The town may well improve as a result of this service, if designed with some respect towards the surroundings. Time will tell.
The problem at the moment is that the Junta de Andalucía is most unlikely to approve this parking building (700 cars, offices, shops and the inevitable hotel) until the PGOU, the General Plan, is approved. Posted by Picasa

Friday, April 21, 2006

Our Pueblo - Love it (or Trash it)

The pueblo of Mojácar is a symbol; it’s the reason that many of us came to live here. The playas are very ordinary, the surrounding towns are, generally, rather grim and the services are decidedly second-rate. But, no matter, the pueblo is a metaphor for our freedom of life-style, our courage to leave wherever-we-came-from and our galloping Bohemianism.

It’s a pretty village, with narrow streets and amazing views. Over the years, it has maintained its number of inhabitants – at around 300 – while the buildings have been converted into tee-shirt emporia, humorous ash-tray shops, bars (there are over fifty) or building sites. One such site, in the Plaza Nueva, has got around the two storey limit by ignoring it. Its ground floor alone is two stories high (higher than the Jamon Jamon building to its left) then there are two additional stories. Against the law? Fuck the law. Against good taste and aesthetics? Faggot talk! Against your own town’s interests? Screw you, it’s our town to do as we please.

The ayuntamiento has hired some chap to come along and, I suppose, beautify the pueblo. So far, this means knocking out the old square below the church (la Plaza de Parterre) in favour of some marble folderol with lots of Indalitos (too late, another mayor, Bartolo, flogged off the Indalo to the provincial government in 1987). Another job is to turn the rock garden next to the hideous ice-cream shop (now a late-nite bar) on the left as you reach the Plaza Nueva, into a rubble garden approached by a staircase made from chapa, from pressed pig-iron. Neat!

Mojacar pueblo is no stranger to philistinism. The Plaza Nueva used to have two arches off it, leading into the ‘medina’ or narrow back-streets. Pretty. They were knocked out by a Frenchman in around 1974 who built the horrible three storey nick-nack shop now called Angela’s. The beautiful theatre was knocked down in the mid-eighties to build some tee shirt emporia (the residents of the pueblo buy them by the kilo). The Fuente and the Castillo were both thoroughly trashed in the mid eighties as well. The Arco de Luciana was knocked down in 1997 and the next mayor actually got into office on the promise to rebuild it. Which he didn’t.

With almost no parking as another deterrent, together with the noise from the fifty bars, the ambitious illumination, the piss smelling streets, the graffiti and the lack of shops (another tee-shirt, Señor?), few people live in the village and many of those who live in the surroundings, while being fond of Mojácar pueblo, find justification easily enough for not visiting.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Sitting out Easter from my terrace

Easter is the time when the heavy drums are brought out from dusty store-rooms, tra-boom... tra-boom…, together with the figures of pale-looking Christs taken from their normal roosts behind the church altars. Christ suffering dreadfully on the cross, now equally fraught on the shoulders of the Carpenter’s sons. Perhaps la virgen follows behind, a large painted figure on a wooden plinth, with a purple mantle and, currently, a slightly bilious expression. She is carried, creaking gently, by six or eight devotees. Tra-boom… tra-boom…

The cadres of the faithful will be dressed in their sinister hoods and gowns as the whole procession lurches, stops and starts down the streets and through the crowds. The onlookers genuflect, perhaps for the first time in a twelvemonth and they pinch out their cigarettes as the figures pass.

In our pueblo, there’s not many people in the crowd and, tourist office excepted, not much enthusiasm from the participants either. Easter may be the main fiesta in the religious calendar, but it’s just an excuse for a few days on the costa and in the disco-pubs for most of the population. Some fifteen million people have left the cities for a few days off work, a chance for a ligue or a borrachera: an affair or a piss-up. Perhaps the faithful have gone to Sevilla; here they’ve come for the party.

The beach is full of visitors (no self-respecting local will go near the water until September) and the street that fronts Mojácar playa is nose-to-tail crammed with cars. I once ran an Easter picture on the front page of the paper. It was a pen and ink drawing by an artist called Ampudia in dramatic black slash. A picture of three crosses on a hill standing at slight angles to each other. Below, girls are sunbathing.

The bars, the restaurants and most of the souvenir shops are open on Easter Friday, even if the estate agents, mechanics and supermarkets have closed for the day. Certainly the gas station, with lead-free now at 1.16€, is doing wonderful business. You can pick up a box of chocolates, a bottle of whisky, some french letters or, of course, a sex-video while you are there. For some reason, they don’t sell cigarettes any more. It’s probably a moral thing.

As the sun sets over the pueblo, a brass band stutters enthusiastically through a mixture of Souza, pasodobles and sacred music as the volume in Mojácar’s six hundred bars swells and roars. The children in their flamenco suits gallop through the crowds, shrieking. There’ll be some thunder-flashes let off later. One way or another, we’ll stay up until dawn.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Apparently there's a speeding ticket waiting for me at home. I can't imagine why, since the car won't get over a hundred klix unless there's a high wind coming from behind.
The DGT, the traffic agency, has been accused of placing speed-cameras in easy, straight and non- dangerous bits of the nation's highways as 'recaudatorias' or cash generators. They are sometimes hidden on those rather useless panels with soviet-style messages ('don't drink and drive') which are beginning to decorate the motorways.
So, with petrol going up, parking prices through the roof, speeding tickets clattering through the post-box and nitwits scratching messages in your paintwork, it's easier these days to take the train. Murcia to Madrid is about four hours. You can read your book or wander about in a train, and although they won't let you smoke or open a window, you can a least sip on a beer in the calaboose.
I shall be taking one later today in the loose direction of home. First I must buy a book.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Entertainer. A couple of bits

Twenty One
We were sat around the pool drinking wine or beer. The band was setting up in the corner. One of the rockers, known as The Fat Man, held out a copy of his new newspaper, The Entertainer. A Spanish journalist friend looked it over with surprise. 'You've got the adverts at the top of the page', he said, 'they're meant to go at the bottom!'
Mike (as he understandably prefered) said that he had wanted to start a radio, but the police chief had explained to him (through my wife who was interpreting) that the 'Ley de Fraga' stated that foreigners weren't allowed to own a radio station. How about a newspaper instead?
The first edition was a scissor, kitchen table and shorthand affair, put into final form at the printers in Almería. It was to be a weekly, it needed funding. It was April 4th 1985.

A few people were going to make a fortune out of it (if not the one who put a fortune into it).

Twenty one years later, the name survives in various not always wholesome forms.

*The rest of this article has been removed to comply with a court injunction

A Small Trip in Time

El Oasys Parque temático del Desierto de Tabernas

I’ve got this new car. I say ‘new’ in the sense that I have recently acquired it rather than ‘brand new’ as with heated seats, airbags and a television on the dashboard. It’s a huge old white Mercedes diesel that takes several minutes to get up to speed, a bit like a boat. I imagine howling down a speaking tube to the engineers down below ‘full speed ahead – there’s a straight bit coming!’…
The other day I steered it to Mini Hollywood past Tabernas to see the recent additions to the zoo there.
The zoo is a generous 25 hectares of cages, runs and paddocks which backs onto the Mini Hollywood cowboy town, knees-up can can show and hangman’s rope. All coming highly recommended by this reporter.
We (there were three of us in my party) were met at the gate by the company biologist. I entertained him with my plans to seed the surrounding hills with wallabies to encourage tourism. You should try saying ‘wallaby’ in Spanish, by the way. He seemed a little out of his depth as I droned on about the empty space and lack of biodiversity. ‘But there’s over eighty autochthonous species in the park,’ he argued. Boring ones, I pointed out.
We passed through the gates and allowed an eager photographer to take my likeness in a cowboy hat and pistola (picture ready at exit) and carried on through the intriguing looking cowboy film-set cum Clint Eastwood memorial park, past a very surprised looking ornamental Indian wedged in a window and into the zoological garden, called the Oasys.
We had been invited to see the improvements on the reptile house, which is a large single-storey building with snakes, lizards, terrapins and crocs in large and well-decorated tanks (with no smells), good lighting, interesting displays and surprisingly frisky inmates. The hall appears to be the work of Dr Herman Schleich, a herpetologist, explorer and writer. He has spent many years in such odd places as Cabo Verde and Nepal and now lives in Tabernas, no doubt with a pet chameleon clinging to his shoulder when at home. He has done a fine job of the display.
We moved on to larger things, including a superb and dramatic stadium full of tigers. A guide holding a crib-sheet followed us around: she confessed to me that she preferred cats to snakes. We continued past marmosets, parrots, porcupines, prairie dogs, past the bar-restaurant, past the macaws, duck, pheasant, lynx and panther to another new enclosure, where the bears live.
The park is massive and the backdrop to the whole thing is, of course, the Tabernas desert. The whole effect is most dramatic.
Waiting beside the bear-pens and the deep valley below them was a train-wagon waiting to take us slowly off to the larger animals, including two lumbering hippos, a clutch of camels (of both persuasions), some wolves and a variety of deer who looked, on the whole, pleased to be behind a different fence. They have secretary birds and buffalo. Giraffe and wildebeest.
As we chugged slowly past, the clouds came to a rare decision and it began to rain, which is always an agreeable yet novel phenomenon in the desert. The hippos looked faintly pleased and the giraffe tutted and went inside.
We continued on foot back towards the spiritual centre of the zoo (I think I had already mentioned the bar?) and helped ourselves to some refreshments. A magnificent male peacock watched from a nearby wall.
From here, we repaired to the snake-shed for another look (via the bat-cave and a room devoted to animals tracks). I noticed on this second visit that there was a model head of a Tyrannosaurus Rex (I’m generally quite observant that way) and a collection of fossilised lizards, crocodile and froggy toys, African and Asian denizens of the forest and desert floor rendered in wood, and several books on show from the pen of Dr Schleich.
The rain had stopped and we had been in the park for several hours. A bit wet but thoroughly satisfied. It was time to leave. The way out of the zoo takes you past a huge and little-visited cactus garden with perhaps as many as two hundred and fifty varieties collected from all over the warmer bits of the world. Some are in flower now, producing blooms which are rarely seen.

El Fraile
From here, you are in the alley behind the cowboy town of El Fraile, which you will suffer a strong sense of déjà vu. As far as I know, and the museum of posters and projectors will back me up here, if it wasn’t shot in Tabernas, it wasn’t a spaghetti western. The museum, we’ve crossed the main plaza by now (without getting shot at by some loitering desperadoes) is crammed with posters of The Greats. I shall mention my own favourites here (sorry, Clint): Anthony Steffen, Giuliano Gemma, Lee Van Cleef, Bud Spenser and Terence Hill. Marvellous, and, with the exception of Van Cleef, all Italians. Music from the greatest Italian composer of them all, Ennio Morricone, echoes from gigantic speakers disguised in the roof; that dramatic piece with the single chord - just as it did in a Fistful of Dollars: dum di di dum di… dum di di dum. People are outside in the plaza, gathering…

And then the Hero, upon being given a four-barrelled shotgun in The Stranger Returns, quips, "Old man, there'll be hell raised in the village tonight,"

El Oasys is just to the west of Tabernas. Coming from Vera, take the motorway towards Almería and turn off towards Sorbas. Taberenas is the next town (the old N430 to Almería) and the park, still remembered as ‘Mini Hollywood’, is on the right, a few kilometres past Tabernas.