Sunday, August 31, 2008

¿Qué pasa?

What on earth is happening to Spain? We've seen the cruel demolition of a British-owned house in Vera by the authorities back in January (the man who ordered the demolition, the 'delegado provincial' , since promoted, has just signed the go-ahead for the POTALA for the same area of eastern Almería – the Junta de Andalucía’s insane plan to build 35,000 homes in the boonies!). We've seen the institutionally approved land-grab - which despite European-wide criticism - continues to this day. We read of town-halls taking Europeans arbitrarily off the padrón (especially before elections). We 'residents' have had our 'tarjetas de residencia’ removed in favour of some meaningless and worthless piece of paper to be carried around together with our passport and a NIE identification (so much for the la union europea) and now those non-residents who have bank accounts here can discover that they have had them 'frozen' in a kind of grotesque 'cash-grab' to do with tax matters! How do you pay the utilities when your bank arbitrarily freezes your account? By the way, according to my bank, all you need to do if you live in foreign parts is toddle along to your nearest Spanish consulate every two years...
Don't they want us anymore...?
But now, as September swings round and the politicians and bureaucrats go back to work, things may be changing. From the European Court we hear that Spain is being sued for the flagrant and cynical land-grabbing in Valencia (a pisser this, as Madrid is PSOE and Valencia is its biggest PP thorn). Meanwhile from the European press the message remains loud and clear… don’t buy in Spain. While I don’t particularly share the British media’s view of Spain, or indeed its reasons for attacking this country where we have chosen to live, it is at least encouraging that the sometime mistreatment of the Northern Europeans who are, let’s be clear here, pumping money into Spain, is worth the occasional banging of a saucepan with a stick.
The politicians may be responding… perhaps even with some gesture towards the foreign community. Luís Caparros, he of the Vera demolition, now says (according to the Spanish press, this is) that he is willing to consider legalizing all illegal homes except those built in the nation’s ramblas (I have to say here – can you imagine some local mayor absently fingering his brown-paper envelope while watching as an urbanization takes shape in his town’s dry river-bed?). The provincial press also assures their readers that Caparros is in contact with ‘the foreigners’ and will meet with them/us. Hands up anyone who’s had a call from this man. But, of course, it’s only the beginning of the month and many things could still happen.
One thing that will happen, as the Britons living in Almería start to harden in their opposition to this general mistreatment, is more confrontation. We know of several truculent groups of property owners that are ready to ‘join battle’, such as the AUN and AULAN, but another group, the Cantoria Residents Association (there’s 23 ‘illegal’ homes in Cantoria with final demolition orders on them), has called for a peaceful demonstration. Join them in front of the old railway station in Cantoria (next town inland after Albox) at 12 noon on September 18th.
Well fine, you don’t live in Cantoria and your house isn’t under threat.
Are you sure about that?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Burn Baby, Burn

A festive scene taken during the Mojácar fiesta. The hideous building on fire is the 'Angelas' (was 'Sondras') a nick-nack shop now owned by the senator and ex-mayor Bartolome Flores (of Huerta Nueva fame in Los Gallardos). By dint of hard work, this socialist leader owns quite a lot of other real-estate locally. We do hope that when he comes to replace this treasure he finds an architect with a bit more vision than the previous one.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Summer's Almost Gone

Summer ends - or begins, depending on if you are a tourist or a resident - with the passing of August and the final convulsion of the Mojácar fiesta.
The fiesta itself is pretty bad, with 'jousting' for the dubious prize of a maiden's honour at the 'fuente' as the main event, together with a ferocious number of fireworks blasted off at all hours and a couple of second rate pop groups. All up in the village.
It seems that - when it comes to entertainment paid for by us residents - the sum total is splashed on those who live at 'la fuente' or those who live up at the top of the hill in the old and noble pueblo of Mojácar.
The proportion of those who live in this municipality but not in those two aforementioned areas, being around 90%.
Should we ask for some events to be held on the playa? Should there be a separate fiesta for the beach-residents? A kind of four day long bacchanalia with free paella and an overdressed pop group from Almería? How about a beauty contest open to all the girls who live in Mojácar, not just those whose grandparents still run the place with an iron fist and a friendly judge.
In fact, I think a 'Foreigners Day' could be a jolly occasion. Something like fifty per cent of Mojácar is British (!) and counting the rest of us put together our numbers must reach around 70% of non-locally born residents, it would be nice to open the place up a bit. Many towns on the Costa del Sol and the Costa Blanca have a 'Día de los Extranjeros' without any local person feeling slighted. These fiestas are fun events, with music, culture and competitions from all over the world. Not just for those few people who have become rich from the forasteros without giving much back in return.
August will soon be over, the visitors from Madrid and Valencia all safely back in their cities and as the last firework final fizzles into silence (round about 4.00am next Saturday night), we can consider that the summer has just begun.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

'The Future is Mine', I'm pretty sure he said in his own language

I was reading some rubbish in the comments section of a Spanish webpage called Meneame (Stir Me Up) at which collects stuff from the Internet of note to its editors and brings it to the attention of its readers, which apparently include a generous sprinkling of those small-minded nationalists and thin-skinned patriots who are eternally worried that Spain might lose face in some august journal printed elsewhere in the world.
And why not, every service and inclination is available on the Internet, from the Screwsden's pornography site Contactsonline dot es to Why I Hate the President dot nit. I mean net.
The particular rubbish alluded to started with an article about nationalisms and regional languages and quickly descended into what turds we, the Brits are. Drunk, useless, ignorant, monolingual and the rest of it. Well, the literally hundreds of comments on this fascinating topic were written – I have to say (contentiously) – by under-educated trolls and bored teenagers who need to get out more. I make no more apologies for them.
But Gibraltar came up. Anything to do with a discussion about the English always ends up with some pathetic attack against Gibraltar ('The English’ as they are known here rather than ‘The British’, since it is abundantly clear that the rest of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are obviously all under the Jackboot of Westminster).
‘Gibraltar is a colony and should be Spanish’.
Sounds good to me. Let me walk you though what would happen.

1 Gibraltar becomes part of Spain. English is by necessity added to Spanish, Galego, Euskara, Valenciano, and Català as another official language of the Spanish State.
2 Gibraltar sues for independence from Spain, supported by the Basques, the Galicians, the Catalonians, the Mallorcans, (some of) the Valencians, the people from Cartagena in Murcia and the Olivencians. And, of course, by the British.
3 Gibraltar, currently a bi-lingual society, decides to remove castellano from its school curriculum.
4 Manuel Chaves, the Robert Mugabe of Europe, decides that Andalucía must become an independent state and he crowns himself emperor. The andaluces are forced to learn ninth century Arabic.
5 Those of us who wish to remain living in Spain will eventually be obliged to move to one of the only two areas which will never (ever) reject their true loyalty to the King and the orange and yellow flag. Ceuta and Melilla.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


There are several subjects that can always guarantee to generate letters (without which, by the way, you can’t seriously call your publication a ‘newspaper’ or a ‘magazine’). Bullfighting is probably the most obvious one. An article about the beauty or the passion of the corrida will inevitably attract correspondence from those who consider it a barbarity. And why not, perhaps they’re right. Even though Fernando the Bull is in fact rather less intelligent that Rupert the Rat (according to a veterinarian friend), it probably isn’t right to torture dumb animals. Personally, I don’t care much. The corrida has tradition, bravery and catharsis to counterbalance the touchy-feely arguments against it and is, at any rate, a better way to pass the time than watching football (Queue… letters…).
Another ‘red rag to the bull’, or easy provocation to the readers, is to write about minority languages. Catalan, Welsh, Galician and whatever it is that they speak on the Scilly Isles. Apparently, it’s not that the nationalists want their people to learn whatever obscure tongue was preferred by the natives in the ninth century; it’s that they want them to use it exclusively, with the rather obvious problems for the next generations carefully buried under a rock.
Peter Gooch, one of the writers at The New Entertainer, ‘does’ politics. He and I agreed from the beginning to ‘go over the top’ so as to generate remarks in the street along the lines of ‘I do like that Peter Gooch’s articles, he’s very sound!’ and letters of condemnation or approbation from the public. In politics, you can always displease half the people all the time.
Now and again, people come up to me and comment about the newspaper, usually when I'm reading somebody else's. Well, I say, why don’t you write me a letter?
There is, of course, one section of society who doesn’t read letters in the English-language press, and this is the Spanish authorities. Don’t feel that a quick letter from ‘Disgusted of Arboleas’ about the municipal pig-farm is going to make any difference. You have to take the next step. Write a petition… Demonstrate!
Letters of course show that there is a relation with the readers, a feedback. In my opinion, the letter writer should have the last word. An article has said its piece: bullfights, says Ric, are fun. The letter back begs to differ, perhaps. So fine, allow the public their say. Mrs Ed take notice.
There’s a magazine I know that, while set in Spain, deals pretty exclusively with articles about nail extensions and highlights in your hair. The editor claims to want letters. Sorry, can’t type with these nails…
Another local mag has two editors with a regular editorial along the lines of:
Cor ain’t it hot. Well, this is another great issue with a great article from Ben about cooking spinach on page nine and a super new competition for the kids on page fifteen. Till next time, have a smashing read. Yours, Bertha and Robin.’
They don’t get any letters either.
People don’t write much? How about the forums. There are a clutch of them in our area with endless subjects tossed here and there by literally thousands of members. It’s taking letter-writing to a brand-new age.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Divided They Fall

We were talking about how a community can divide against itself when under threat. Sticking together is not always the answer, it seems, with some residents taking the opinion that ‘something must be done’ while others go with the ‘don’t rock the boat’ approach. Sometimes, but of course not always, members of the second group are themselves part of the initial problem – perhaps they work for the builders or promoters. Perhaps they feel ‘we should respect our Spanish hosts to our own detriment’ or perhaps they are just foolish. Take Albox as an example. There, massive illegal urbanizations exist under threat of demolition. The homes were built on non-urban land with the complicity of previous town halls and sold to Northern Europeans. The regional authority could – but probably won’t – knock those houses down, as they did in the singular case of the Priors in Vera (January this year) and even refuse to pay any meaningful compensation. There is a continued sense of worry locally which is far from the anticipated delights of peaceful retirement that had been cherished by the thousands of home-owners.
An association called the AUAN which exists to defend the rights of property owners is based in Albox and has had some success in, at least, publicizing the situation, and has even had a visit from some Euro MPs from Brussels on a fact-finding tour.
However, the opponents to this group have a blog-site called The Albox Blog at which provides the most remarkable (if completely unfounded) attacks on the AUAN and its leader Bob Preston. The blog, claiming to be ‘distilling all the juicy gossip’, rarely veers from its criticism against the AUAN’s leader. A quote from today: ‘…although we note from the AUAN website that the AUAN ‘is open to both UK nationals and Spanish alike’ precluding one would assume Irish and other nationalities. We thought we had seen an end to this sort of racialism and bigotry. Sadly, ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs’, would still appear an acceptable adage within the lower strata of the ex-Pat community’.
The ‘comments’ from the Irish readers that follow this remarkable bit of idiocy beggar belief.
Today I was at a meeting to do with an urbanization in Los Gallardos. The problems there are apparently containable. Smells, sewage overflow, dirt, lack of care and broken promises – all easily fixable by the town hall if it was sufficiently pushed towards doing something. Perhaps the residents there can join together, or perhaps they can’t (or won’t). It was certainly clear that without a unified voice nothing much will change on their urbanization. The Spanish authorities know that there is strength in numbers.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

English as She is Wrote

I've written before about how the Spanish would rather get it wrong, or check with somebody's cousin's son (who once spent a week-end in Cornwall), or use 'Babelfish', anything... rather than ask some Briton if they've got the translation, sense or spelling right. Most of us would be willing to help as long as it's not more than a paragraph or two; and there's a million Britons living in Spain (many of whom can read and write), plus a good half million Americans, Irish, Australians and other native English speakers, plus a good ten million trippers from Anglophone countries during the summer thrash, so don't tell me it's very hard to find someone to help, as often as not, for the price of a beer.
This venerable sign has been hanging in thousands of Almería's businesses for at least thirty years (there's an older version in our office, with the previous six digits telephone number). It comes from the Almería tourist and services department. You are meant to display it by law so you can hand out your 'complaining sheets' as necessary.
You see, what happens is, when foreigners read something purportedly in their language, with contextual and spelling mistakes, they often react by not taking you seriously. They think 'yes, they want our money, but, y'know, they don't really give a rat's arse for us...'.
Now, I'm sure that the tourist and services department doesn't want us to think that. Do they.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Bédar (revisited)

It's got a bit smart up there, a bit chi-chi. Here's a picture of the town hall square. The old bar on the left, Paco's, has been closed for years and no longer exists. His dad used to speak a bit of English, I think he'd been working in Baltimore in the forties. To the right, the man on the ladder is putting up a sign (or fixing a light) over the old panadería which had a pressed metal souvenir from America inside as decoration - with Bobby and JFK and Martin Luther King.
Notice how the street has been improved.
But the main change in this picture is of course the ayuntamiento itself. It now occupies all the square to the left (with glass doors, already) and, yes, you are right: that is a digital illuminated sign which informs those that can read of forthcoming attractions.
Bédar, incidentally, is second in Spain in towns over 1000 inhabitants with foreigners, according to some article I read (and forgot) recently.