Monday, July 31, 2006

The Water Carrier

Man, it’s hot! Apart from a strong wind in the afternoon, the air is flat, slightly steamy, and hot. No doubt the rest of Spain is hotter, since we are just a few hundred metres above sea level and only a few kilometres inland, but it’s bad enough. The weatherman yesterday told us that the hot weather we’ve been enjoying for the past two weeks is likely – to get hotter.
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

Sippin' with The Pope

One of my favourite drinks in Spain is an iced milky drink called horchata. It tastes sweetly of nut. The drink is originally from Valencia and it is made from sugar, water, cinnamon and tiger nuts. Since no one knows what a tiger nut is, we might as well stick with the Spanish name, chufa.
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

The Phone Cut

The phone had been out for a few days, but the internet was working. It may not last, but that’s actually an ideal state to be in. The children can’t whack up the phone bill, you can still receive calls and you can surf on the web – or indeed write rude and regular things about the carpetbaggers on your very own website.
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

A Sporting Update

I was raised on the fine novels of H. Rider Haggard with his heroes like Alan Quartermain and The Elephant Hunter. Here we see an example of such an intrepid person as he pursues the common sparrow, a regular invader of our birdcage.The sparrows somehow get in, and make themselves at home. The regular tenants, the lovebirds, aren’t too taken by this invasion of gatecrashers. Step forward – the Great White Sparrow Hunter.

Note: no sparrows were hurt in the making of this photograph

Concert in Cartagena

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

Oldies but Goodies

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