Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Beach Bars of Cadiz

The ecologists are coming…’ – it sounds like something out of an Alan Arkin film about the Cold War. ‘Egermency, egermency, please to leave the beaches’ shouts the Russian submariner in his bad English.
But what could be upsetting the good people of Chipiona, in Cadiz?
Well, the evil and insane boogers from ‘Costas’ ( a shadowy organisation similar to SMERSH, dedicated, in this case, to the downfall of Spain’s tourist industry and The Way of Life as We Know It), has ordered the demolition of a famous land-mark on the Playa de las Tres Piedras on the Atlantic resort of Chipiona. The Bar Eduardo, a chiringuito, a structure built on the playa where you can get a cold San Miguel and a bowl of pescaito – fried fish – is to be knocked down, for our convenience, after being there minding its own business since 1967. The owner, we read in the socialist pro-government newspaper El País, is philosophic: ‘Well, we are a historical part of Chipiona, but the laws are there for us to obey’, he says. Poor deluded Eddie – who makes these laws up? Gods or humans? In his case, since the Dirección General de Costas has swung this 1988 law about any structure on the beach being illegal into overdrive, the chiringuito must be moved 100 metres inland. Eduardo is re-building, and his new bar, gushes the article, will cost him 127,000 euros which the 66 year old must borrow from the bank. Well, there goes the retirement in Miami, mate.
Costas is contenting itself this year with scouring out any structure on the Cadiz coast, but the rest of Andalucía should tremble, Malaga, Granada and Almería are next.
So concerned are both President for Life Chaves and his doomed-to-lose-every-election rival Javier Arenas, that both have spoken out in favour of a little comprehension from the zealots. ‘Our chiringuitos’, says Chaves, 'as long as they maintain the proper standards of excellence’ (cue hoards of inspectors and paperwork), ‘are a traditional attraction to our beaches'. Javier Arenas added his voice against 'this intolerable crusade' against our beach bars which are 'part of the identity' of our coasts.
But no one fucks with Costas…

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Two Tribes

One of our local opposition parties, led by Diego García, has sent out a note to the effect that the town hall of Mojácar in general and the mayoress in particular don’t like the Europeans much. According to Diego (who presumably does), ‘She has shown on more than one occasion a particular hostility towards this important part of the community' (Costa Almeria News). In fact, it’s fair to say that none of the town halls of Mojácar since democracy began with the passing of Franco in 1975 have particularly liked the ingleses. You know, this isn’t the cultural capital of Spain. I don’t suppose they particularly dislike us either. We just are.
Diego says that a lot of young Europeans are leaving and – presumably – going back to England or wherever they come from (I know, Spaniards are Europeans too – please don’t try and complicate things), but this is not because of the lack of interest shown us by the local authorities. Now, the national ones, they obviously don’t like us – either trying to knock down or confiscate our homes, or take away our residence cards (that’s my new 21st century European ID documents in the photograph that I'm meant to carry at all times - including the rare occasions I'm allowed to vote - as recommended by Pérez Rubalcaba, the Minister of the Interior).

But locally… weeell. So, we keep the place alive. We’re like animated piggy-banks. After forty years of living pretty much exclusively from funds brought in from outside, by rich retired people who buy a house and bring in their monthly pension or other income, who buy a car locally, buy washing machines, stay in the nation’s Parador hotels, create jobs for gardeners and maids: who eat out, drink out and shop, who keep those small towns of the province from switching out the last light and so on, still our local ‘hosts’ don’t seem, in Diego’s words, ‘to like us much’.
In Mojácar, where there are more Britons (leave alone Europeans or foreigners) than Mojaqueros, we still don’t have anyone in the town hall who can speak English or (gasp!) is English – born here or not. We aren’t invited to the romerias or the ski-trips to Andorra. We don’t have any say in what’s going on. Government funding or our tax money is squandered, misspent or, at best, pretty poorly managed.
There are no streets or buildings named after us. We are like the Visigoths. If we all disappeared tomorrow, then there would be no proof of our having been here at all after all the gardens had died from lack of watering. Well, everyone would be broke again, of course, but not much else to show.
So, are we leaving in droves as Diego suggests? Not particularly. The pound has fallen from one euro fifty to about one euro five, so our pensions are down and perhaps we save by not going out to the restaurants and bars (where these days, the alcohol cops are waiting for us anyway). It could be, with business down (the Spaniards – perhaps understandably – don’t go to English restaurants if they can avoid it), some of us must downsize, sell up or leave. Then again, some of us are really old and maybe lonely and, who knows, perhaps some family members in Britain want us back.
But, new people arrive. Especially those that don’t watch the British TV and the ‘Homes from Hell’ franchise. In exchange for bringing our dosh and being left more-or-less in peace, or being ignored if you prefer, we would be able to live pretty well here – if it wasn’t for the power-crazed regional and national politicians who want to knock down our homes, confiscate, expropriate, tax, fine, arrest or otherwise vex the foreigners for reasons only known to themselves.
They aren’t helping our mayoress and her town hall much, now are they?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Caravaca de la Cruz

Nothing much to do today here in Paradise – so Mrs Rambeau and I took the car and went for a drive to the town of Caravaca in the next-door province of Murcia.
The route is easy enough – take the autovía from here as far as Lorca, the town with the castle and those amazing Easter parades, and then, just past the tunnel, turn off towards Caravaca de la Cruz, a medieval town some sixty kilometres north towards the rolling hills of the interior.
The road out of Lorca took us through some nice looking countryside, empty and slightly green with fresh shoots of grass or purple with swathes of wild flowers (it’s springtime). The almond trees are in furious blossom at the moment and they bring their rose-pink or white flowers to the scenic passage. There are a couple of small villages on the way, including one with the improbable name of La Paca. It’s a one-street town with a supermarket, a bank or two and a stop-light. The speed limit is rather optimistically put at 30kms. It’s a quiet and enjoyable drive. Old half-tumbled-down farm houses appear sporadically across the valleys and the road passes at one point between a nunnery and a chapel, at another time past a large cortijada, an old and apparently disused farm with barracks for several dozen workers. Some of the buildings we see have been left to their fortune, while others have been bought by Britons, anxious as always to shake the mud off their boots and turn their back on the country of their birth.
Apparently, between Cehegín, Calasparra and Caravaca, an unknown part of Spain by any standards, there are in all about 4,000 Brits living there, bringing with them some useful additional income to the area: particularly to the chemists.
Caravaca starts as another large and ugly southern Spanish town. The scenery turns from dust and the odd tree to an avenue between four and five storey apartments in an instant. The Spanish are partial to apartments, preferring them to the old, cold and leaky farmhouses that the Northern Europeans gratefully buy off them for a song. The avenue is ugly, with contradictory lanes and lights which, after a few forgivable detours, eventually took us to the approaches for the small original town of Caravaca de la Cruz, famous not only for its churches, chapels, hermitages and nunneries, but for its Cruz – its double-sided cross located since the XIII Century in the ‘Santuario de la Santísima y Vera Cruz’ and for its fame as one of the seven pilgrimage centres of the world because the Cruz in the Sanctuary contains a sliver of the ‘lignum crucis’, a piece from the Lord’s Cross itself.
We drove through an arch into a small square. Beyond this, with the walls pressing in on both sides of the car, we continued through to a place where some limited parking was available. Here the town had narrowed to a single street crossing a narrow bridge with water flowing slowly below. Houses and no doubt more churches began again after the crossing.

Walking around the medieval streets, we saw a few shops open – selling souvenirs, the ‘double cross’ and so on, a cake shop, a vegetable and flower shop and a place that gloomily attempted to sell out-of-date fashions - and a lot more shops which were boarded up. Through the windows upstairs, as often as not you could see the sky. We ducked into the tourist office (the man looked surprised and pleased to see someone) and later into the beautiful Church of El Salvador. In this old and almost forgotten part of Caravaca, far away from the hurly burley down below in the ‘new town’, there are at least ten other churches. They don’t pack them in anymore though.
Caravaca is also blessed with a seemingly endless number of museums (where, it appeared, no one also goes) all housed in old palaces. There is a magnificent collection of ancient musical instruments in one (so says the tourist guide), a collection of miniatures in another, an archaeological museum in a third and a strange and presumably temporary art exhibition of paintings and metal monsters in yet another. Besides these attractions, there is the 'Caballeros del Vino' tradition (the horse races through the streets, the Moors and Christians festival and the brightly coloured costumes all in evidence during the May fiesta) which, inevitably, spends the rest of the year in yet another museum, this one appropriately called ‘El Museo de la Fiesta’.
The people, the few who scampered past us about their business, are all remarkably short. Medievaly so, methought. Methinks.
We went back down towards the newer part of town to meet some people who were trying to sell us a house.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Voice of Mojácar

Here's a picture of Mojácar (Almería) taken from below. On the other side, the pueblo overlooks the sea. Fantastic. Do yourself a favour - click on the picture!
There is a new trade association called 'The Voice of Mojacar' which argues that the town hall fails to promote our area and this is why business is down, tourism is quiet and property sales are in the doldrums. The association can't understand why more people don't come here to visit or to live.
Frankly, neither can I.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Regional Elections

They are voting today up in the north of Spain: in Galicia in the north west and in the País Vasco, the Basque Country, just south and to the west of the Pyrenees. Both places are important bits of Spain - two of the seventeen autonomous regions that make up this country, or, if you prefer, then they are future independent states lying adjacent to the rest of España. One day perhaps with foreign ministries and their own languages. One can hardly wait. Actually, the area best known for its independence and funny language is Catalonia, which already has a few embassies and consulates scatttered around. I think there's one in Andorra.
The two areas are voting today for their autonomies, their regional governments. For these, anyone can vote, down to a third (or apparently even fourth) generation of emmigrant. This includes a fantastic number of Galicians living in South America. In Argentina (where a Spaniard is apparently called 'un gallego') there are 121,219 people with the right to vote in Galicia! In fact, almost 13% of the Galician vote comes from those who not only don't live there, but in many cases those who have never been there, and sus padres tampoco!
I can imagine being allowed to vote in England, where my grandfather came from. So did my father, in point of fact and, come to think of it, so did I. I left when I was thirteen. However, if I don't live there, own stuff there, have any relationship with the UK, besides being blessed with a passport, then why should I either want to or even have the right to vote for Mr Brown or Mr Whasseecalled?
But, it is clear that if I lived in Galicia as a European, then naturally I should have that right, which of course I don't (wouldn't). It goes down to the whole idea of democracy. You should be able to share in the decisions of your community. Not one your grandfather left seventy years ago.
Of course, the Europeans in Galicia and the Basque Country would feel a bit foolish showing up to vote. There are all the local people queuing up with their ID cards ready to cast their ballot, and (thanks to Minister Rubalcaba's latest fiddling with the foreigners) We'd see a few startled Brits standing around holding their passports and the snappy looking unfoldable green A4 which bears the fateful admonition 'Aviso: Documento no válido para acreditar la identidad ni la nacionalidad del portador' (trans: 'This document is stupid and useless'). Pretty soon, if these politics continue, we'll all be wearing a pink triangle with a G (for 'guiri', means white foreigner) sewn to our jackets.
So, the elections will be announced later tonight, unless the huge number of postal votes need to be counted; but they won't reflect the truth of the situation in those two regions.
Furthermore, and much more important, is the added problem in the Basque Country about the number of 'illegal parties'. These are the parties promoted by the ETA terrorists who want independence. Not like the PNV, which apparently wants legal independence, but the harder kind where everyone can vote, but only for secession. So, any party which doesn't condemn terrorism has been illegalised. Taking, apparently, about ten per cent off the top of the vote.
Maybe Spain needs to re-evaluate all this. Let them vote and allow certain areas to leave the Mother Country. Or better still, if we foreigners could only vote in the autonomous (and national) elections, bearing in mind how much we all like Spain, and how poorly equipped we are to learn another (regional) language, then we'd surely vote to help you señores stay integrated and united.