Monday, March 31, 2008

Some Time Spent in Pamplona

Pamplona is the capital city of Navarra, in the north of Spain. The province is also an autonomy. Navarra was once a larger area, stretching as far north as the Atlantic coast in the area which is now the Basque Country. This happy time was when Sancho el Fuerte ran things - from 1000 to 1036 AD, and on the back of this, the Basque nationalists consider that Navarra is not only part of the Greater Basque Country, along with three French provinces and the three current Basque provinces, but that Pamplona is the hereditary capital.
The top picture looking west is the view from my hotel, the 'Toq H'.
The southern part of city is rather tame, with wide avenidas and plenty of space and always a sight of the surrounding hills. Walking up Pio XII one will eventually get to a large park with an old fortress on it. This efectively divides the new town from the old - the area famous for its bull-runs, the San Fermines in July and the Hemingway bars.

The main square in the 'old town' is breath-taking with narrow streets branching out and a presence of Basque speakers. The famous café pictured here is the Iruña, which means 'Pamplona' is Euzkera (Basque).

I've spent a week so far, when not visiting the massive hospital complex to the south of the city, wandering around the streets and looking for a large black Basque beret ('txapela') in my size. Also looking for something to read in English, but there is little tourism outside the famous fiesta in a few months time and the book shelves are a bit empty so I have been reduced to thundering through 'War and Peace'.
The city has a system of special pedestrian traffic lights at some of the crossways which show a kind of 'count-down' to cross the street, which, at least for a country rube like me, seems sensible. You can huddle in a shop entrance out of the rain and wait for the timer to approach 'green'. On other zebra crossings, where there are no lights, often on roundabouts and in difficult corners, the cars actually stop as you attempt to cross - unless of course the motorist happens to be visiting from Almería. So far I've been safe.
The banks here offer 'ethical investment' which was all the rage in England about thirty years ago. It means that your money won't be invested in paying children in Cambodia tuppence an hour to make running shoes. I know - it never caught on in England either...
The city is full of Guinness bars, very fashionable. I asked for a Guinness in one, much to the barman's surprise. There's one 'English Bar' nearby where I'm staying called something ethnic (can't remember what), but it should be avoided as it is for fruits. Cor what a surprise I 'ad there! In the hospital café you wash down your beer with a 'vegetable sandwich' which usually has one leaf of lettuce, a suspicion of tomato and a huge plug of tuna mayonnaise. Very good too.
I found a Mexican restaurant last night and felt the better for it.
There's a large store down the road from here which sells all those things one forgets to take on an extended visit to foreign parts, like these rather nifty running shoes I've bought to help me get about. The streets are full of nuns and priests who all look benignly on as I canter past with my guidebook.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Blevins Franks - Independent Financial Adviser

Blackstone Franks - now known as Blevins Franks - started out its rise in Spain together with The Entertainer. This was in 1985. In those days, Mike Connolly the manager of the paper gave them a free page in all editions in the hope of raising more financial advertising. There would be an advert with some 'caution' or 'warning', together with an article - as often as not, written by Bill Blevins. How much advertising came from our paper running the Blackstone Franks loss-leader? Well, we started a monthly financial insert called 'Blue Chip' on the back of the various banks, money-lenders, IFAs and the occasional scoundrel that preyed on the Brits.
After about a dozen years, I managed to persuade Bill Blevins to pay 100 pounds a week for his presence - not so bad on a print-run in the early nineties of 40,000 copies.
I got to know Bill quite well and to a lesser degree his partner David Franks (who, when he came to Mojácar, would put on his shorts and singlet and go jogging).
But, they are bean-counters. Money men. They follow the dosh.
When the... (*edited by Court Order*)...
In all those years - despite me starting another smaller newspaper, despite various attempts to contact them and so on - I have never heard back from Blevins Franks.
I would imagine that this is for two reasons. Both to do with money.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Rocking Horse and Teddy Bear

There's a nice picture. The rocking horse was made about twenty years ago by a German called Mickel. All done beautifully, with wooden pegs holding it all together and leather stirrups and saddle. Truly a work of art. Mickel is a long-time resident of Mojácar and is known (just by us locals) as a master carpenter.

Now, the poor rocking horse has had twenty years of loving by a number of children. The other day I asked Mickel if he'd like to - ahem - repair him for me. He kindly said he would.

You'll find Mickel - as often as not - in the Truffy Bar (another place only known to locals).

The Bear in the photograph is 'just a friend'.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bloody Holidays

And now, for those of our viewers who still haven’t decided where to go for their Easter Break…’, began the newsreader on CNN+, the 24 hour news channel, ‘we shall offer some ideas about… blah blah…’.
So now it’s a ‘right’ I suppose. We shall all have hol-ee-days. Tens of millions of cars are reversed out of garages under the apartment blocks by inexperienced drivers and driven merrily off towards the mountains, the parks, the ski-slopes and the playas. A parade? Oh Good-ee, let’s go and have a look.
With the result that a huge number of out-of-town vehicles fill the car-parks and the streets-verges. Sometimes they’ll double-park. Streams of people mill about. The parade – if there is one – is filled with folk taking pictures with their telephones (who the Hell thought of that?). So many people clog up the small event that, understandably, the local people stay at home (either that, or they’ve driven over to some other pueblo to keep the ball rolling).
We have some sort of a fiesta and, bugger me, half of Spain descend upon us. We shall have to watch it on the TV!
The only people who are glad to see the visitors are, inevitably, the shopkeepers, the restaurants and the hoteliers. But the local trade keeps the restaurants going – if they are any good. Tourists aren’t going to worry about the quality (or, if they do, there are plenty more of ‘em!). We local people won’t be sleeping in the hotels or indeed buying rubbish from the knick-knack shops: ever.
So, we have our own fiestas, parades, concerts and exhibitions ruined by huge crowds. The town hall (i.e. – us!) pays for these events which we are obliged to miss and the hotels and shopkeepers continue to pander towards a tourist trade which does little or no good for the residents.
Or do you think Mojácar really needs eight hundred bars?
At the FITUR, the international tourism fair held in Madrid in late January, Mojácar once again had its own stand. It has always had this stand since the FITUR started 16 years ago. It could go in with the ‘Patronato de Turismo de Almería’, but no. The event costs around 60,000 euros and is used to, uh, get tourists. However, the business of ‘getting tourists’ is held outside the fair, in well-appointed offices. These are the tourists which fill the hotels which are scattered along part of the beach.
These tourists provide jobs (to Ecuadorian immigrants). These tourists spend money (uh – inside the hotel). The tourists will be back next year (you think?).
In fact, when the Town Hall suggested this year that the hotels should help pay for the FITUR stand, a whip-round was held by all the hotels, collecting the princely sum of 4,000 euros.
Our town, Mojácar, has a population of about 8,000 – according to the Town Hall’s list – the padrón (which half the British population is determined not to be inscribed on). The town receives funding, licences, permits and publicly-funded repairs more or less according to its official size. In our case, 8,000. In fact, during the summer months, when you can’t park, when you have to queue, when you can’t visit the village, or go to the post-office; when the late-night noise is incessant and where the supermarket runs out of basic necessities; when we rise to 30,000 people, including illegal campers, we are still considered to be just 8,000.
So we return to the main point. Why should we waste our tax money on promoting our pueblo so that, every time something happens, we find we are squeezed out of seeing it?

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Ragbag of Mags

In our small corner of enchantment there are more and more newspapers (or rather, ‘free sheets’) than you can shake a pair of nine euro farmacia spectacles at. Besides our own The New Entertainer, the eponymous Weenie, the Sol Times and Sol News, The Messenger, The Advertiser, the (sometimes) Talismán, The Satellite Monthly, the 89.8, the Focus, Lifestyle, The Post and the one euro ten cent Costa de Almería News... In these times of recession, when everyone must tighten their belt a notch or two, we welcome some brand new mags such as The Seaside Gazette and The Sentinella into the stable. And, blimey, here’s another one: the Community Times Mojacar! Here, move over a bit and we should all fit in...
Of course, it doesn’t stop there. There are the various Spanish titles including our own El Indálico... along with Actualidad Almanzora, The Noticias and a few others, plus of course various in-house property mags, outhouse property mags, sundry one-offs, imprints, oddities and commercial leaflets, pamphlets, flyers, posters, stickers, booklets, maps, planos and listings, together with a clutch of radios, endless web-pages, billboards and other material, all designed to ease the odd shilling out of the customer’s purse.
No wonder the accordionists left – they couldn’t stand the competition.
A hundred different commercial propositions to help get yourself known - plus the fellow with the airplane who flies up and down the beach towing a sheet with a message written on it behind him.
Don’t knock it - it works for Coca Cola!
Curiously, this plethora of material, with purple prose very much in evidence, once away from the pirated Internet material, is surprisingly coy on local affairs. There is some coverage of local news, either collected professionally as with the Costa de Almería News, or written up as, for example, in The Messenger, recalled as in The Advertiser or the Gazette, or randomly translated in toto (as in The Weenie). Some make no mention of the area at all, which makes one wonder how much fun they’re having…
One glossy mag is particularly disappointing: it could highlight this area with good photographs and timeless reportage (people don’t throw away glossies), but concentrates exclusively on lipstick and crow’s feet. Advertisers, meanwhile, place their promotions in the strangest places. I mean, fair’s fair: if they are watching SKY TV, then they already have a home. Right?
There are two mags that provide full listings of local businesses (Focus and 89.8) but not all local business. In the Focus (open in front of me), I find phone numbers for everything from bouncing castles to tattoo artists via radio stations (seven listed) but no mention, oddly, for mags and newspapers. It seems that solidarity is not in general supply in the world of publishing – in fact, this article excluded, you will rarely find mention of this particular cottage industry that is sweeping the English-speaking coast and hinterland of Almería. What is the reader to think?

The reader? These magazines aren’t for the reader!

The customer for all these endeavours, in broad strokes, is the local business, bar, shop, restaurant, builder, gardener, phone company, SKY provider, realtor, agent, second-hand car dealer, doctor, dentist and candlestick maker. He’s the one on the sharp end. Yes, of course advertising pays: but you can’t put your message in all the options available. In fact, how do you choose? By what’s popularly read or by who’s the first salesperson who catches you.
I sometimes wonder - does the owner quake slightly as the door-bell goes? Does a small drop of sweat dribble down his shoulder-blades as a nice looking girl holding a carpeta shimmers up to his desk? I mean - customers don’t smile that much! When the phone rings, is it the wife saying to come home for lunch, the bank manager who wants to talk about the mortgage or could it be someone in telesales sat in a smoky office in Albox who wants to flog a quarter-page next to some Tommy Cooper jokes for just half price?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Chicken Tights

Now, there’s a dish worth trying. A blogger writes about his visit to Cordoba where he was presented in his diner by a menu in Spanish and, um, English. We’ve all been there of course – not necessarily Cordoba, but in front of a mistranslation, misprint or spelling mistake. The Spanish, for reasons unknown, would much rather be laughed at than buy some foreigner a beer and say ‘look over this translation, would ya?’.
I’ve seen glossy magazines, even mags printed by the State or the Junta de Andalucía, with heavy amounts of cash spent on them: lovingly produced photographs, superb printing, massive distribution etc… and an English translation which will make snot shoot out of your nose. In Spain, if we are going to put something down in English for the thirty million English speaking tourists or the million foreign residents that live here year round, we like to use Cousin Bertín, who once spent a fortnight in Newcastle.
Bloggers, by the way, are people who ‘blog’, that is, who write about something of interest – at least to themselves – on the Internet. There are quite a few sites that are about Spain and are written by English-speaking residents. The best of them write every day, recounting the events that affect them locally, poking fun at the Spanish customs and habits or getting on to politics (I know some heavy left wingers and rabid right wingers, but no ‘centrist’ sites, because you can’t write a wishy-washy political column, now can you?). There are other sites that recall their writer’s trips around the country, while still others are just great fun to read. An American woman married to a Madrileño… another woman farming in the Alpujarras… a third wandering around Salamanca…
There are several local (Almería) ones and, if you are up to it, of course there is a wealth of blogs (or bitácoras) in Spanish. In all, the Spanish blogs - or blogs about Spain - are a kind of tolerated samizdat written by armchair revolutionaries.
Generally, you The Gentle Reader can ‘send a comment’ to add your ha’penny’orth to the discussion at hand. Indeed, if you like sending the odd pithy remark but can’t be bothered to write to your local newspaper or to start your own page on the Web, you can always subscribe to the various ‘forums’ that are home to any number of people who are interested in Spain. There are several local ones that touch on fraud, building licences, travel, tickets, bullfights, food and the nearest decent bodega. Again, they are worth regular visits as new topics can quickly take off with interesting submissions from Joe Public who, unlike the blogger, will probably use an alias.
I’ve put a list of 130 links on The Entertainer Online, itself a ‘blog’. You should spend some time wandering around them. There are some very good and knowledgeable writers out there…
Meanwhile - pass me another one of those chicken tights…

I should point out here that this article, like a lot of this site, will find its way into The New Entertainer - a monthly newspaper I produce in Almería. Those that read the above on the blogsite will, I hope, be patient.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

La Vieja

We have a local fiesta in late February called 'el Día de la Vieja Remolona'. It's kind of a jolly picnic in the countryside with a piñata full of sweeties (representing an old woman) which the children attack with sticks.

Here's a picture from Pepe Obradors of the aftermath.