Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Out With the Old

Mojácar was founded over seven thousand years ago as a Copper Age community. The exact site was around the foot of the hill known to us today as ‘Old Mojácar’. According to Juan Grima, a local historian who recently gave a talk on the history of the town at the ‘Castillo’, Mojácar changed its site over the aeons from the original location, to up the Sierra Cabrera (protection from pirates) and later to an area above La Paratá, then back to the ‘Old Mojácar’ mount where it was first named, by the Romans, as ‘Mons Sacra’. Later on the name and the location changed, to where it presently lies, with Mons Sacra moving via the Arab ‘Muxacra’ to the current version Mojácar. History, you might say, is embedded in every rock, every stone.
Actually, not so much as one would like. While the old ‘Sacred Mountain’ has never been properly excavated, most of the remains from prehistoric times, when uncovered, have been destroyed as fast as possible. The archaeologists, if alerted from Granada University, can take an agonizingly long time to perform a dig and so, my friends, it’s better to brush the dirt back over it with a large bulldozer.
In more modern times, there are equally few remains of the Moorish town which was sacked by the Christian forces in 1488 or, for that matter, of the town that followed. The sixteenth century castle, described as ‘inmutable’ or ‘unknockdownable’ in a 1928 Spanish encyclopaedia, had disappeared entirely by the late nineteen fifties. Other buildings were purposely dismantled by their owners to sell off the doors, rejas, wood beams and so on, before their departure in search of work and a better future during the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century. Mojácar was a place of ruins by 1960.
As we know, tourism brought it back from the brink: residential tourism to begin with, later followed by what the mayoress unfortunately described enthusiastically on television last month as ‘cheap, cheap, cheap hotels’.

This is a photo from around 1950 taken from somewhere below the Castillo. In the foreground on the right you can see the 'Ermita' and, across the Plaza Nueva, Mojácar's first bar - later to become the Indalo Hotel (and then a bar again...). The large blank white wall in the centre of the picture is the side of the old theatre (entrance opposite the church out of picture on the left). the other large building, centre left, was known as the Casa del Cura.

However, the race to make money often means destroying the old to replace it with a modern tee-shirt shop or perhaps a humourous ashtray emporium. In Mojacar, the old Arco de Luciana was demolished about ten years ago (in actual fact, it was just a tunnel under a bedroom next to La Sartén where generations of customers emptied their bladders). We still use this destruction for political reasons. More importantly, the town’s fountain was ‘remodelled’ back in 1987 to general indignation; the ‘Castillo’ was turned into a bunker around the same time (and several thousand-year-old graves were quickly cemented over); the Plaza Parterre, a dull empty square behind the church, was re-vamped by the last town hall (using every form of architecture known to science in its outing); the Plaza Nueva was systematically knocked down in favour of un-typical architecture over the years since 1968; the beautiful theatre went in around 1975 in exchange for some serious tee-shirteries; and of the six ‘ermitas’ - small churches that were built in the fervent times of the seventeenth century – apart from one which is now incorporated into a private house – the final surviving one is, as I write, falling down in the main square.
The Ermita is in private hands and has no protection on it whatsoever. It will be gone by Christmas, I imagine, and the site will soon be taken by another bar, or a tattoo parlour or a pottery shop.

*The Mojácar town hall said on Wednesday October 31st that the owner has been told to repair the building by Christmas. One waits for events.

The Ermita today, October 31st. The façade has already fallen.

There is little remaining of Mojácar’s origins, beyond the narrow streets and the harsh sunlight. The ‘Moorish Gate’ down below the ‘El Torreón’, built in fact in the seventeen hundreds, also has no protection. It could be knocked down by the owner today if he wanted.
The Palacio de Chamberí on the beach is now remembered as an uneasy frontage to a large box-like hotel, while three arrestingly hideous versions of it languish nearby as apartment blocks. Then there is the grove of trees cut down by our ‘ecologist’ mayor three years ago. Other recent improvements include the giant electric pylons marching across the riverbed and the famous view from the Mojácar mirador. From the same viewpoint we can also observe the smudge of grimy smog from the giant power station in nearby Carboneras that hovers over the sea every afternoon: a cloud that, of course, hovers equally over the town. Then there is the neon, the noddy-homes, the scruffy and unnecessary beach-furnishings and the potholes.
Juan Grima, noting the destruction and the disinterest, said that the town church will be a supermarket in twenty years.
Curiously, as the town is killed, there is no concern: only complacency.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Regarding Change and New Inventions

I read somewhere that children like ‘change’ – both the pocket variety and the new, the latest films or computer games and so on. Let’s see – young adults are happy enough to put up with change, since they are still able to deal with new things as they come along. Old people hate change. It’s almost always for the worse and it’s hard to change one’s habits and routines.
Take the new money they have in Britain. Apparently the ‘shilling’ has gone! Dreadful!
Change is usually gradual and, in the world of business, it is better so. The car I bought twenty years ago does – or did – everything the new ones do. It took me places. The new ones might have rear-view cameras and wing mirrors that fold into the car when it stops, but my old car still did what cars are meant to do. Take you places. So, why change? Well, they conk out after a while and a new, or at least ‘less old’ car becomes advisable. But a petulant old buffer like myself might say ‘why do I have to pay for all these stick-ons, like ‘black boxes’ and ‘satellite navigators’ when all I want is a car that takes me places and I know the way to Garrucha anyway?’
But – wait until someone invents cars that run on water…
There are a few industries that have, nevertheless, fallen to obsolescence overnight. You can toss all your old cameras, even the Leicas and the Nikons, because the new cameras of today run without film. These new digital cameras upload their pictures (fifty or a hundred equivalent to ‘one spool’) to a computer where they can be cut, cropped, improved, lightened, highlighted, straightened and reshaped. Take that Fuji!
In fact, the film companies flew into a wall. Agfa went bust last year and poor old Kodak have just announced that they won’t be sponsoring the upcoming Chinese Olympics – the first Olympics since 1896 (the first games of the Modern age) that they haven’t supported.
It must be the very devil if you are in the film business. Demand has gone through the floorboards.
How about those poor sods from Polaroid? They made those wonky cameras that produced an instant picture on a slab of smelly plastic. What was it – eight pictures to a pack? Pictures that faded in the family photo-album. That’s had it. I can take a hundred on my nifty digital camera.
The one that fits in my pocket.
Luckily for them, Polaroid made another product. Sunglasses. Ray-ban may have pretty much taken the pole position, but at least, we still use sunglasses and until they invent some kind of indochromic eye drop, we shall probably continue to do so.
Dear Mum, I’ve just bought these totally groovy Polaroid sunglasses. They make me look like Tom Cruise. Sort of. Oh, by the way, Bertha left with the twins and the ceiling in the bathroom has fallen in. But not to worry. Now I see everything in a completely different light.
So, that’s the bell for photographic chemicals, film and the Brownie. Now, even Hasselblad has gone digital and you can buy their latest machine for just 40,000 euros. It has 39 mega pixels which means you can read a prescription bottle’s instructions if somebody were to hold one up in the air in Barcelona.
Even through the smog.
I’m less sure about mobile phones (I had an unbreakable rubber one – which I eventually caught on the edge of the fridge). My new one rang me up the other day while I was on a rare holiday, to tell me that I was in another country. First of all – how on earth did it know? Secondly, well duh! And thirdly, they are watching us…
Another business that doesn’t look good is the Travel Agency. I buy my tickets on the Internet. I get cheap ones for when I want and how I want. Right there at home. Print ‘em up on the printer. In fact, in a couple of years, proper tickets won’t even exist. So, who needs a travel agency?
Now, even the Oldies have room for hope. A decent camera plus an easy-to-get ticket for a trip. All we need now is to find a destination. You know, just for a change.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


A few days away from home, with the only Spanish contact - a book by Juan Madrid that I had bought at the airport in his names-sake city and a CD by Muchachito Bombo Infierno with which I intended to deafen a few foreigners.
Madrid (the city) had been, as always, good fun. Besides being taken to an expensive restaurant by my daughter who lives in the centre of our capital city, a restaurant that specialises in Peruvian food and is located in the middle of Chueca, the gay district (help! I think the waiter likes me), I also managed to fit in a visit to the FNAC shop in Callao (books in English plus a vast selection of music) and a side-visit to a woolly sock shop.
You see, together with my wife, I was off to Luxembourg.
Normally a trip like this, you want to have an idea in your head of where the country – or, apparently, ‘duchy’ – lies on the map. But who cared about that? It would fall to the pilot to find the place – we’d just sit in the back, as usual by the lavatories.

Luxembourg, pop 450,000 of which 42% are, apparently, foreigners.
I remember reading a few years back that there were so many foreigners in Luxembourg that they might, if allowed to vote, cause the Wrong Sort to get in. So the foreigners in Luxembourg, exceptionally, were promptly disenfranchised by European law.
It’s lucky that there are so few of us here in Spain – or, at least, so few of us who want to vote occasionally…

The weather was warm and sunny during our six-day visit, so the thermal socks that I had carefully brought were given to the maid at the hotel in the small town where we stayed. She said they were too big for her but that she’d send them home to Nigeria.
We were there for a wedding and a christening so we didn’t feel too lonely, with around 150 friends to help us through the 48-hour jag that the youth of today equate with celebrating. Oddly, I didn’t have much of a headache after I woke up the following day upside down in a ditch. It must have been the quality wines, champagnes, deathly Belgian beers and glasses of cognacs that we guzzled, together with the food.
I know one is meant to write nice things about food in Spain, but, hey, this was proper French/German/Belgiun/Lux food – a darn site better.
Food in Luxembourg is taken seriously. I sat in some restaurants that insisted on five courses before they’d let you go. All of them heavily soaked in cream and brandy sauces. Luxembourg is also remarkable for the size of its portions – rather like America. ‘Super-size me’ being no joke here. On one occasion, with the idea of getting out of the place on my own two feet, I ordered sole for the main course. Sole meunière: sloshed in butter. It didn’t work though - they brought me four of them, plus a side order of chips. This after I’d already consumed a bucket of soup. There were a few Chinese restaurants (‘all you can eat’ places) in town but, while I was working on my third sole, I noticed a party of Orientals come in and sit down at a nearby table. They must have been hungry: they went for the à la carte steaks.
Another tremendous meal – this time rather better – was a steak in sauce plus veg and mash, all cooked and served on a roof-tile, one of those curvy Spanish ones, called a ‘tuile’ in French. There was a metal holder on the table to balance it on. Good though. To get to that particular restaurant, located somewhere in the countryside, you had to pass through the Snug, shouting ‘bonjour’ as a sullen crowd of extras from ‘Straw Dogs’ looked you over.
A fly accompanied us throughout the entire visit. Wherever we went, there was just this one fly, casting about between the serried ranks of forks that threaten every diner or rubbing its front legs in glee on the breadsticks. Our friends, after some discussion, agreed that it must have come with us from Spain, although I christened it Zizi la Mouche. I think I finally lost it at the airport.
To battle the flab, our hotel had an exercise bicycle nailed to the floor upstairs, but I never saw anyone give it a spin.
Those mobile phones are clever. Mine called me up in the taxi and said ‘Welcome to Luxembourg’. Late the first night, a gent rang claiming to be an employee of Sevillana and asking for a modest sum. Oddly, his number was blocked so I couldn’t ring him back. From the police station.

The hotel was comfortable and – despite having to deal with three national languages, which is not bad for a country half the size of Almería – the owners were able to entertain me in English. The town, a small tourist dorp on the eastern border with Germany just over the bridge, is occasionally flooded by the rising waters of the modest looking River Sauer which generally flows quietly enough some ten metres below. When it does flood, around every ten years, there is a brief photo call and then everyone goes out in their Wellington boots and has a huge lunch to forget their woes. We walked across the bridge into Germany, stayed just a fraction under a minute, and then ambled back into Lux. The Germans, for their part, drive regularly over the Sauer into Lux to take advantage of the cheaper petrol there. There are daily traffic jams of German visitors looking to fill their tanks (no pun intended – a German joke is no laughing matter, etc).
Cigarettes are obviously less bad for you than they are in Spain as they are freely sold in practically every shop. The best idea we found in the shops – the supermarkets and so on (loaded with everything those supermarkets: everything!) – was the plastic bags. They won’t give you one, you buy one for three cents, or you bring your own. Fewer plastic bags means less trash on the sides of the roads. Actually, apart from a pair of thermal socks, I didn’t see any trash on the sides of the roads.
There are few if any real-estate offices there. My wife inexplicably goes looking for one every time we stray much further from home than Turre. Perhaps people don’t buy and sell property much in Luxembourg, perhaps it's the thought of having to move all those forks to a fresh kitchen chest, or maybe they prefer to use the pages of the local ‘Der Welt’ (printed in Luxembourgish – a language) to advertise.

The town where we stayed was founded by an Irish monk called St Willibrord who happened to be in the area sometime in 698 looking for a decent lunch, preferably served on a roof-tile. There are now some 5,000 people living there, with much of the town given over to pedestrian streets together with a large square, a monastery, a basilica and a school. Plus, of course, restaurants, tea rooms and cake shops. The mayor, who helped at the wedding, and who always wears a sash so you can recognise him, has another novel way of standing out in a crowd. Whenever he leaves the town hall, a group of gaily-costumed brass blowing musicians accompany him. I saw the lot of them several times making their way grandly down the main street, the mayor looking harassed and the band tootling merrily. ‘Boys, I’m just going out for some cigarettes and maybe a pear brandy, so you don’t… oh, very well then’ dit di diddly de dee..

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (or Groussherzogtum Lëtzebuerg if you prefer) is ruled amiably by Grand-Duke Henri, who amongst his other duties, will become the godfather of your seventh child, if you get that far. The duchy (I’ve just looked this up) is exactly 999 square miles or a rather boring number of square kilometres. Much of it, when not dedicated to banks or restaurants, is in fact countryside. The rolling hills, bright green fields (aahhh!) the cows and the dark forests were all very beautiful as I roared past them comfortably ensconced in the passenger seat of several expensive cars.

Next year, I thought San Marino might be nice…