Saturday, September 30, 2006

Bearing Witness

I was reminded once again this week how useless the judicial system is here. I had witnessed a fight about eighteen months ago and had been interviewed by the police. On Thursday I had to go to the juzgado in Almería - the courthouse - to tell the judge 'yep' and 'indeedy' when asked if I was me and was this 'ere statement true.
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

A Small Protest

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.


There’s a fly, just one, that lives in the bedroom. He’s there on and off during the day, particularly at siesta-time. He will land on your arm and pace up and down, performing those essential fly-moves that are designed, apparently, with the sole purpose of pissing you off. I make what to a fly is a laughably slow swipe at him. He effortlessly dodges by hand.
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

¿Donde está Benji?

This one appears in El Indálico (September 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


Here we are with a fine opportunity to write about Spain.
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
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.