Monday, March 29, 2010

It's all a Blur

So what are the rules about blurring out faces in press photographs and TV news and documentaries? Are we protecting the innocent, or maybe the guilty? I’m confused. Is it the perpetuators, the criminals and the revolutionaries we shouldn’t see, or the police who catch them, or the innocent parties that happen to be in the picture? When ex-President Aznar flipped the bird the other day at some students who said he was a monster, we were treated in the Spanish press to Aznar, his raised second finger and the students, but not the surprised fellow with the computer-generated re-touch standing next to the truculent politician.
In England, they would have edited the offending digit.
When they remove the prisoners’ faces in those tedious documentaries about life behind bars in Alabama, I can’t help wondering (as I search for the TV control) why they don’t want us to see them. We might recognise them if we saw them again?
This would be a bad thing?
Sometimes – for our benefit and viewing pleasure – children’s faces will be blurred, if we are talking about children, or perhaps we see them modestly just from the waist down, or then again, the children just appear in the photograph, or video, because we were talking about something else. They are children, nothing more, except on news shows when they become victims or, just sometimes, future prisoners in Wandsworth. Conversely, why could we see Jon Venables as a child, but not as an adult?
Are we protecting them from these sex-lunatics we hear about, who will commit foul crimes upon themselves if left to contemplate this photo (but not that one)? So why are we occasionally covering or distorting their faces and why is it the other way round on the American shows? Or is it?
Lawyers, in a word. Don’t get me started.
It gets worse, the producers now blur out bits of the decoration they don’t like. The fellow’s tee-shirt on the Discovery Channel might have a brand-name written on it, or his cap, for Goodness sake (better not swear!). And what did that footballer just do? Heavens-to-Betsy! Blur it out!
This explains the fuss with Justin Timberlake revealing one of the boobies from that Jackson girl during the Super Bowl. We had already contemplated the horror before the producers could hit the Red Button. In fact, now they have the ‘one minute delay’.
And, as I think further, why do we suppress the sound of swearing in Anglo shows, with a LOUD BLEEP to make sure that the viewers will know that the censors and defenders of public morals are ever vigilant. Now they even put a blurry bit over the mouth so we can appreciate the censor’s zeal – unless you, the viewer, happens to be one of those rare people who can read lips closely enough to have the sound turned off (with the added advantage of not being pestered by those irritating BLEEPs), yet is somehow stirred to violence, wrath and the Old Testament by the prospect of a naughty word. If not, let me tell you all about subtitles.
Of course, beyond a previous agreement with the editor, I must abide by the Anglo rules of printing swear-words in my article with an absurd substitution of asterisks with just the first letter appearing before to give clever adults a guide as to what I might mean, yet confuse those children who look forward to my weekly output and would read them all in one go if only the adults ‘ud let them.
Those same kids are now expected to be in bed by 10.00pm as something called a ‘watershed’ is passed at this time. I am sure that they have watched enough ‘grown-ups’ telly’ long before they blossom into discovering the superior diversions of booze, sex and the other manifold attractions of young adulthood. In Spain, at least, the government control on our viewing is considerably more relaxed – and they don’t usually wait until 10.00pm before switching on ‘the better stuff’. In fact here, even some of the adverts are downright risqué. Unfortunately, the European parliament, again concerned about public decency, has recently managed to hold in check quite a bit of Spain and Italy’s more lusty output on the ‘little screen’, no doubt to keep those sweet little kids pure – those that bother to stay in and watch the box. Telly, come to think of it, is now no longer used at all by the eight to eighteen demographic, which prefers the endless attractions of the Internet where, despite the best efforts of Mrs Whitehouse’s continental successor, we can still pretty much find anything we want and, after a brave ruling from a Spanish judge recently, download anything we want as well (El Mundo 13 March) – at least here in España. Avatar, anyone?
Spain has nevertheless picked up a few ideas from the Anglos and will now blur things it doesn’t approve of. Policeman’s faces are often pixelated here and on occasion can sometimes be covered by a sinister looking black balaclava – particularly in the Basque Country – as if the local population would tear them apart if they only knew who it was that was marching their handcuffed second-cousins from their homes during a dawn raid.
So, as the blurry figures from the Sky TV – and, who knows, maybe YouTube – together with the silly expurgated BLEEPs, flicker and echo through the household, what about Hollywood? Have you ever seen a movie with a swear-word and a blurred mouth? No, you haven’t.
You won’t on Spanish TV either – here, they are not afraid of their language. All those expressive four (five and eight) letter words which pepper the idiom are given their full value, not hidden behind those silly asterisks. Honestly, the children don’t mind.
And, whether we can join the dots or not I don’t really know, but there is a lot less crime and disrespect here in Spain than you will find in Britain. Perhaps because the populace isn’t treated entirely like an idiot.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Two Winters

We enjoy two winters here in Almería, the proper one, which lasts for a few months and is usually passably survivable, and the tourist one, which lasts rather longer. The first is a spell of cold, some rain, even some snow. We will have a couple of biblical events to keep us cheerful – a major flooding perhaps or a cliff collapse. A road is blocked and a pipe freezes. The price of long-sleeved tee-shirts goes up slightly and word reaches us of the British cabin crew on strike.
I have spent most of our winter out in the garden cutting down trees and sawing up firewood for the evening’s entertainment, in front of the telly. The rest of Europe pretends that they are managing just fine, thank you, while well aware that we are doing a lot better down here. Perhaps, as some recent survey suggests, 44% of the people remaining in Britain will decide to take up their inclination to move ‘overseas’, and it could be that a few of those, attracted by our weather, will head in this direction, their cheque book and the phone number of a really good lawyer in their inside pocket.
But our physical winter, three months of so-so weather, followed by nine months of sun, is inverted when it comes to ‘the season’. Tourists flock to Almería – Christmas and Easter excepted – during the summer break which just runs from mid-June until mid-September, coinciding neatly with the opening periods of the wealthier discothèques, beach-bars and hotels. So the nine months in the figurative winter of empty beaches and delightful walks in the hills and the three months of the tourist-summer (horrible, far too hot – a perfect time to go and visit someone elsewhere), leave us in reality with six months of perfect warm weather and splendidly quiet and peaceful life without queues, noise and people in the supermarkets wearing nothing more than sunburns and swimming trunks and shouting at the check-out staff.
This perfect period, divided as it is by the summer high-season into two, has just started. Three months, less a few days over Easter, when the tourists are still wherever tourists come from, working in some niner to fiver and thundering twice daily through the hyperborean night in uncomfortable passenger trains dreaming of some far-off break abroad where they can raise some hell. Don’t you miss it?
As we consider our good fortune to live here, at least during the major part of the year outside that brief and savage summer onslaught, we go about our unspoken business of turning our adopted pueblos into true communities.
Meanwhile, the Spanish authorities, the politicians and the bankers, have all decided that tourism is the panacea to the country’s problems. Pack ‘em in tight and lock the doors. Sex, sea, sun and sangria. And then, keeping with that particular letter from the alphabet, they can sod off back home. The recipe has worked well enough in the past twenty years and so it has to keep on going. Benidorm is a veritable wonder. A few towns across the country have actually increased their volume in the last season – well, a couple of them anyway: Isla Cristina and a place in Catalonia have been mentioned. Mojácar has nevertheless been singled out for criticism recently as having ‘obsolescent and mature’ hotels – which means that it’s time to knock down and rebuild several of our steamier tripperdomes. Who knows? Perhaps just knock them down and be done with it. Mojácar in fact has some modern establishments and it also has the Parador, a hotel which actually attracts wealthy people who spend money.
Spending money, you see, is the whole point of tourism, but don’t tell the government accountants who are much more interested in numbers rather than results.
Not that the numbers are very promising either. Hotel occupancy was down 13% in 2009 over the previous year across Spain, according to Exeltur, a travel organisation.
In fact, tourism is a shaky premise anyway, as a cheaper or brighter or jollier new place elsewhere, in Cyprus or the Dominican Republic or Croatia or Murcia, can leave your resort dead in the water from one season to the next. Tourists, particularly the ones who ‘work hard for fifty weeks a year’ are not necessarily loyal to a particular destination. They want to let their hair down. Cheaply.
A report of typhus or man-eating jellyfish can empty out a resort in a jiffy. The brush-fire that desolated Mojácar last year and crippled part of the population was considered of little importance by the town hall. However, they were frightened of losing their tourists and actually obtained funds from the Andalucian government, not to rebuild, replant or repair, but to help promote their hotels. So tourism is accepted even at the local level to be a vital yet tricky beast.
The ministry of tourism, sports, business and dental floss is aware of this and is tossing obscene amounts of money at the job of promoting Andalucía, which involves the usual tactics and targets which have been used since Hannibal showed up with his elephants. There was a huge Andalucía pavilion at the Berlin Travel Show last week, and no doubt much business was made as exhibitors from one stand went and visited those from the one next door. Videos, key-rings, postcards, calendars, a couple of clog dancers, a small bowl of traditional food (who really eats garullos in real life?) and a hundred other timewasters were all rolled out. The real business, of course, offering hotels with hundreds of beds, or chains of hotels with thousands of beds, for a slightly cheaper price than the competition, is all done elsewhere and at a different time.
The ‘experts’ try and promote new ideas, forget the tired old sol y playa, they say (which accounts for 99% of all tourism – how many package-hotels are there in Albox?); how about gastronomic tourism? (Pass the garullos, they smell delicious.)
But it’s not really working, despite the businesses that cater to the tourist trade; the hotels, discos, nick-nack shops and all doing their level best to try and increase not only the number of visitors – which is bad enough for the all-year long residents – but the length of the season as well.
It is said that every foreign home-owner (who puts a fortune into the community while yearning for peace, beauty, safety and other noble improvements) started out as a tourist. But, despite the efforts of the tourist board to the contrary, the best tourists are those who come under their own steam and search out the places, restaurants and shops which appeal to them. It’s not much use to local business when five hundred people are having a micro-waved lunch in the hotel down the road.
But let’s not worry about this small cloud on our horizon, as we now have three months when the weather is perfect, the roads are empty and the barman still remembers our name.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Lowly Tee Shirt

I’m not by nature a flashy dresser – I’d have moved to Milano rather than Mojácar if I was – but early this morning I noticed that I needed to give the old shoes a bit of a shine. Well, right after I’d finished scraping the dog mess off them.
The shoes, a clean shirt and all the bits in-between, would be accompanying me a little later to see the bank manager about my overdraft. It seemed like a good investment to make and I certainly didn’t want to leave the wrong kind of deposit on the floor.
So, under the sink in the kitchen for the bottle of Old Mrs Smoker’s Patent shoe-liquid, a small brush and a rag. The brush, the small bottle of Mrs S and… a tee shirt. In fact, under that sink in the kitchen, in that hard to get to cupboard reserved for polish, squeezo and bug-spray, I found a whole nest of tee shirts.
Now, Mrs Rambeau likes to keep her memories in photo albums, and we have a camera for this. We also have a shelf packed full of volumes of nostalgia, baby pictures and people grinning whitely at the flash. Whereas I prefer to have my closest moments emblazoned across my chest and following this stored lovingly in my drawer. So I was surprised to see a pile of treasures, old memories, drunken sprees, exotic dancing women and other things that go up to make a gentleman’s life complete, images in cotton rather than film, all stacked under the sink.
‘Ah’, I mourned, as I pulled out the first one, covered in old silver polish and grime, with a few really quite small holes in it, ‘but this one comes from my trip to Mexico’. But worse was to come. My cycle-trip across Britain was next: Land’s End to John of Groats with the ‘Fentiman Flyers’. We had cycled all that way when I was about 34 and could still do that sort of thing, while eating, drinking and smoking along the entire route. It was my only trip I’d ever done in Britain (besides the regular train trip to school) and now, all that was left was the old tee-shirt, stained and unloved.
Others followed. A set that I’d printed up myself on the occasion of the first ever Moors and Christians in Mojácar, which like so many traditions around here, is not as old as one might think. I had printed 300, sold about four and the bulk of the remainder were there, under the blasted sink.
Tee shirts are a relatively new invention. They are simply under-vests with a message or picture on them. Plain white ones had become respectable with Marlon Brando and the decorated versions followed along in America in around 1965 and in Europe a few years later. Tee shirts are a way to make a statement which, unlike tattoos, is easily removable at the end of the evening. We have political tee shirts (vote for me), funny tee shirts (vote for them), protest tee shirts (don’t vote for them), nihilist tee shirts (don’t vote!), existential tee shirts (why vote?) and explanatory tee shirts (it’s their country, like. Know what I mean?).
Oh, and wet t-shirts (spelt the American way since they are inexplicably more popular in Miami than in Garrucha), which, on reflection, get my vote.
But before these all came along, and these garments were merely white and worn under a shirt, the hippies invented the tie-dye. You took a tee shirt and wrapped a few rubber bands or tied bits of string around chunks of it, maybe sealed a pinch in a plastic bag, all tightly knotted, and put the whole thing into a boiling pot of dye, available for three pesetas in all fine shops in Vera. Boil for a while, or until your mother came rushing into the kitchen, douse in cold salty water (was it? Or did the salt go into the first pot?), untie the bits of string and, hey presto. A mungy looking mess! Let your hair grow long, wear some Goulimine beads, sit cross-legged on the floor while picking out the best buds on the cardboard cover of a Santana album (try and do that on a CD), roll a doobie and hope that no one notices your tie-dyed tee shirt came out a bit wonky.
Well, that cultural phenomenon didn’t last long.
But the idea did. The lowly undergarment – less its cousin, the string-vest that only an Englishman could wear – was coming of age. It started to have colour and began to be worn alone. Well, when the weather permitted. It was only a matter of time before someone came up with catchy designs and words. Including endless copies of Che Guevara looking beatific; some very silly ones (‘I’m with stupid’ and ‘My parents went to Albox…’) and a lot, at least around here, in meaningless Spanglish (‘I lovve your drum’ and one I saw this morning: ‘Quiksilver’). I think my first proper as-we-understand-them-today tee shirt came from a beach-bar night-club called Trader John’s (better known afterwards as ‘the Congo’) a sort of down-market but lots of fun night spot you would never either find or would be allowed to operate these days (Spain having, in my opinion and as far as drinking is concerned, gone to the dogs). It helped make both the club and indeed Mojácar famous. So simple: a logo and the name of the joint. Now, alas, lost.
The next one, traces of which are still reposing, in shreds, under the sink, was another good old and well-loved number which said ‘Relieve Mafeking’. People would come up, you know, with a well-crafted tee shirt. Why I should treasure this one is probably best left to me and my confessor.
I’ve gone though loads of these simple yet decorative garments over the years; sometimes bought but usually acquired free, one way or the other. The latest, stolen I suspect, is a splendid effort. This one will never make its way into the rag-box. It’s an artist's inspiration of what must be Caribbean people dancing away with tom toms and so on, and the catchy phrase ‘Rasta Riddim’ gaily etched above the illustration. Below, it says ‘Peace, Love, Harmony’.
And below that, it adds somewhat obliquely, ‘Mojácar’.
Even the moths wouldn’t mess with this one.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Short Walk through Town

I was walking down the street of our local market town the other day, day-dreaming of the light chores that faced me as I fiddled absently with a shopping list in my jacket pocket, when a car suddenly hooted its horn behind me and practically gave me a heart attack. ‘¡Ehh Tío! What's the hurry?’ I shouted, annoyed.
It's not like there's any room on the pavement for me to walk which is why I understandably choose the street. The pavement is full of trees, cracks, holes, dust-bins, ONCE stands, chairs and tables, parked motorcycles, telegraph poles, partly dismantled telephone booths, low flying shop awnings (duck, or lose an eye), an old iron bench, a half-filled skip, prams and trolleys, visitors from the north (who evidently don't know the rules), shop signs, accordion players, traffic directions and postcard stands. Little old people will have taken a wooden chair out of their gloomy ground-floor home to turn it to face their front door, and will be sitting on it grimly ignoring the passers by. Many motorists have parked at least two wheels on the pavement, which can vary arbitrarily in width from several metres wide to the span of a hand. Some flagstones and cornerstones are missing. A dusty square hole suggests a departed tree.
A pavement in Andalucía is rather like the tile skirting in a room: it's there strictly for show.
So there I was, walking down the street, dodging the pedestrians, cars, motorbikes and ice-cream carts when this car honked behind me!
Not that I took any notice.
The cars are double-parked down the High Street, the Calle Mayor, some with their emergency lights on giving the impression that the drivers will soon return. A bus disgorges passengers from the middle of the street while the traffic waits with more or less patience behind. A motorbike evidently laden with the entire family takes to the pavement. Its exhaust pipe appears to be missing.
In front of the bank, work-men are inexplicably painting a new zebra crossing. They will just do half the street (protected by red cones) this morning and perhaps they will return tomorrow to do the rest. Perhaps not. There's a zebra crossing on the other street which was never finished, as if the diligent street-crossing pedestrian will be obliged to give up his object in mid-flow, or perhaps he'll pass obligingly across into another dimension. Like most of the people in the scene, I am only faintly interested in what the painted white stripes are for: a decoration...? a service...? Do children try just to walk on the stripes for good luck?
In Almería city, the town hall has painted them in attractive red and white bands. The opposition councillors are complaining: they should just be in white. Preferably a white that fades after a few weeks...
A family of gypsies is standing on the pavement now, just opposite a zebra crossing. Are they thinking of using it, or is it just a comfortable place to congregate? The traffic hesitates slightly in doubt. But no, it's just a variation of the companionable group standing on a street corner, chatting away agreeably while, inadvertently, breaking the flow. Who's in a hurry anyway?
Seduced by the white lines, a visitor lurches into the street. Streets are indeed for crossing, nobody disputes this, but the white lines are not there to make you forget to look at the oncoming traffic, or to forgo waving a rolled up newspaper at it. A car pulls to a halt as the visitor heads blindly across the street towards the souvenir shop: the car behind swerves and accelerates past the first one, narrowly missing the opportunity to make the ‘it happened here’ news-page of the provincial daily. The nearby municipal policeman, shocked into inaction, decides it is time to go and have a quiet nip in the English bar. Perhaps he won't have to pay.
I am sat by now at a nearby table under a spreading tree, trying to ignore a panhandling dog who somehow thinks I might share my tapa with him. ‘Bugger off’ I tell him, flapping my paper in his direction. ‘Shame’, tuts an oily Englishwoman sat at a sunny table nearby. The dog edges hopefully towards her. It growls at an approaching street vendor clutching several miracle spanner kits and a fishing rod. ‘Looky looky’, mumbles the itinerant merchant disconsolately at the Englishwoman as the dog edges him off. I leave a couple of euros next to my empty beer glass since I don’t want to go inside again. The owner won’t mind. He's a tiresome Atletí supporter who always has the sports TV on at full blast inside and knows that I don’t like football. Anyway, the Russian girl does the tables.
A wave of horns echoes down the street as the double-parked cars take their inevitable and regular toll. It’s strange how emergency lights are considered as a polite and respectful signal to stop the traffic-flow for a shorter or perhaps longer period. Sometimes, if the horns are insistent enough, the absent driver will erupt out of a shop at a sort of half-waddle-run, apologetic and shrugging helplessly. ‘I wouldn’t have stopped the entire street, you know’, his gesture indicates, ‘but I had to carry out this rather important little negotiation’. As the traffic lets out its collective clutch, it occurs to me that it's a perfect moment to amble across the plaza to the shady side and check out the blind man's lottery results. Money back or try again! A bicycle has been chained to the bench in front of the shoe-shop, slowing the pedestrian traffic down still further. I'm not too judgmental about this, seeing as the bike is mine. I release it from the bench and we slowly walk along the street together towards the port and the prospect of a fish lunch. I’ll do the shopping later. I'm not in any hurry.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Saints and Sinners

So, another public holiday has passed when everything, or at least, most things, were firmly shut. Shops and banks shut; boutiques and bars open. Of course, it wasn’t a public holiday, but since that particular celebration – in this case the ‘Día de Andalucía’ – fell on a Sunday, we got to take the next working day, the Monday, off. Spain has a considerable number of public holidays, saint’s days, patron saint days, town fiestas, long week-ends, six-week holidays (stipulated by law), extensive maternal and now paternal leave and other reasons to put the ‘shut’ sign up on the door, including a small bank I know in the sierras which shuts for fifteen minutes each morning around eleven when the entire staff (Diego) goes next door to the bar for a coffee and a fag.
I forgot once again, and missed seeing any announcement of the Día de Andalucía and its satellite, and got caught out as I do every year. It’s a bit like trying to meet someone important. Either they are not there, or you are not there, or the place where you were to meet was not there. We shall have to reschedule again.
Since we are known – us foreigners – as ‘los ingleses’, and as always my apologies to the lone Icelandic citizen who is reading this, I shall note here that England has a saint, a chap called George, who had some trouble with a dragon. George (or Jorge) is also the saint for Catalonia (where on his saint’s day, it is traditional to give a present to the loved one; red roses for women and books for men). Apart from putting on a blazer and buying the dragon a sherry, I don’t know what else they do in England.
This hard-working and patient blessèd one also finds time to stand in for Ethiopia (not a word to Leaky Lee), Greece, Germany, Portugal, Malta, and, as I learn from the trusty Internet, he is also the patron saint of skin-disease sufferers and syphilitics. Not bad for a chap generally considered to have never existed or if he did, to have kept his head down as far as possible.
The Arabs believe that St. George can restore mad people to their senses; and to say a person has been sent to St. George's, is equivalent to saying he has been sent to a lunatic asylum. I think there’s one in Huercal Overa.
The Saint George’s Cross, a red cross on a white flag, is much in evidence at England football matches and is also seen around here a fair bit, since it is also the flag for Almería, although with San Indalecio – the fellow who started up as Almería’s first bishop (and martyr in 721) and ended up as a cast iron wall-hanging - as the patron saint for the province (May 15th).
According to my calendar, a Catholic number with Jesus and the Bleeding Heart which the seed-shop kindly gave me a couple of months ago, George’s big day falls this year on a Friday; and April 23rd is a fiesta in León and Aragon, two communities both in the north of Spain, but, oddly, and despite the flag, it’s that rarest of days here in Almería – an absolutely normal working day.
Not celebrated by the ‘almerienses’, nor indeed by the ‘ingleses’.
Oh, I know that a couple of restaurants have a ‘do’, bangers and mash and a pint of ‘Old Villanous’, perhaps a quick chorus of ‘aaahm one of the ruins that Cromwell knocked abaht a bit’, but the heart isn’t really in it and it’s not a patch on the Robbie Burns deal back in January with haggis, whisky and the ever-mournful ‘Auld Lang Syne’.
In fact, we don’t really have our own day to celebrate. Other ‘tourist towns’ in Spain have a special ‘foreigners day’, like in Torremolinos, and Mijas and San Fulgencio and Calpe. Why are there none of these celebrated in Almería? I’m thinking a bit beyond just marmalade stalls and guess the weight of the vicar, we need a full breakfast here. A steam band, morris dancers and a proper sangría (as only we Brits know how to make it, nudge nudge). I think the Spanish and expat community would come together, especially after a couple of glasses of the killer cocktail (one of those few rare local things I like to think we have improved upon), as they do so harmoniously in those other towns mentioned above.
We need a little pride: some repletion. After all, it was a good idea coming here to live, wasn’t it? That’s right, let’s celebrate the fact!
As things stand, our towns in Eastern Almería go back to the beginning of time. We have had settlements of the Argar, the Icini, the Phoenicians, the Romans, Visigoths, Moors, Spaniards and now us. However, unless we want to end up like the Visigoths, forgotten two years after they left (or were killed - I’ve forgotten which), we expats need to leave our mark. In my town, Mojácar, despite being about 60% British, there is almost no evidence of our presence there. You won’t find a ‘Calle Inglés’ or ‘Avenida de Londres’ or perhaps even ‘La Casa de los Británicos’. Before you start on me, we do have a Calle Rumanía, Grecia, Italia, Dinamarca and Francia and, in the pueblo, an Avenida de Paris. I’m saying, what’s wrong with us lot? I’m not talking about ‘taking over’, but just ‘joining in’.
Well, that and ‘how many Greeks live here anyway?’
So perhaps it’s time to have a ‘Foreigners’ Day’. There are more foreigners than locals in a number of towns in Eastern Almería, and it would be nice to celebrate something together. I mean, it’s not like we muck in as a rule, or vote in the local elections or help to choose the ‘damas del honor’ in the town’s summer bash.
The Spanish are always in favour of a fiesta so the idea really isn’t all that foreign after all. In fact, I’ve been to a few foreign fêtes – in Cabrera and El Pinar – but what I’m talking about here is a full-blooded act of integration. A huge and merry street party going on until late. We’ll take the following day off as well. Bunting and fireworks! Our Spanish neighbours may not catch the point of singing all eighteen verses of ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’, or care for the taste of shepherds pie, but at least they should try it (trust me, they’ll love my killer sangría).
So let’s meet halfway across the street on this one, take the best part of our various cultures and turn it into something better.
By the way, the Patron Saint of Europe is Saint Benito (21st March); he founded the Benedictine Order, could mix a mean Brandy Alexander and is said to have invented the Scotch Egg.
Now you’re talking.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Vulgar Stories from Marbella

Removed by order of the court!

On Water and its Many Uses

A new piece of ice has detached itself from Antarctica - not the one on the right, but the one on the left. They are both a decent size, around the same as, apparently, Luxembourg - for those of you who can instantly picture such an expanse. Big, anyway. One should also remember, while contemplating a gin and tonic, that ice mostly floats below the surface, so there is a lot more under the water than above.
The other point to make is that they are both floating gamely north and, while they probably won't get through the Straits of Gibraltar, whether from size, inclination or melted remains, they will certainly help to raise the sea level by a bit.
Perhaps not enough to bring my property onto the 'front-line', but, together with the wettest winter on record, well - since I've been here at least - our small 'Corner of Enchantment' is getting decidedly soggy.
Mojácar is a beautiful and dramatic looking town, mostly built on hilltops and cliff-edges. The houses must have flat roofs for some obscure reason. This all means that they leak and, in many cases, will take off majestically down the hill when the earth or rock gives way after a good rainstorm.
We are now all currently clustering around the foot of the sierras, within spitting distance of the sea and waiting for a surprisingly belated power-cut, so a rise in the sea level could start to become a problem.
Forecast tomorrow: More rain.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Cultura Vultura

When we first moved to Mojácar, back before there was much going on there, we met a young Spanish fellow who was to become a great friend. We were on the beach at one of Mojácar’s two restaurants in those days, the Virgen del Mar, known of course as the Virgin. Which was an ironic description of the quality of the food, according to those with finer palates, as the bowls of stew of various and dubious quality which issued from the kitchen were, to put it kindly, ‘extremely experienced’.
My mother was moaning about a plate of goat which she had chosen under the impression that it was lamb when an elderly Danish woman, who looked like she wouldn’t hurt a fly but had in fact been extremely active in the French resistance, frightening Germans and French alike with her remarkable qualities and fearless rhetoric, tuned in upon my mother’s complaints and grabbed the chop from her, saying ‘of course it smells, it comes from between the legs’. Which, Best Beloved, is how the local name for inferior cuts from the butcher became known as ‘crotch meat’.
Anyhow, Erna the old Danish woman tossed the offending bit of fried goat at a dog which was snoozing nearby. At this, a young Spaniard who was sitting at the next table rather too closely to a pretty and evidently foreign blonde gave a dog a hearty kick. The blonde stood up, slapped him, and stalked off as our table erupted into laughter.
‘What did I do wrong?’ asked the young fellow, rubbing his cheek.
We explained to him about the foreigners.
The next time we were eating at the Virgin, a few days after our stomachs had settled satisfactorily, we chanced upon the same guy, who was once again talking to a pretty-looking girl, only this time he had a small dog on a leash.
We knew he would go far.
José María did. He was from Garrucha and was studying to be a journalist. By the time Franco died, in 1975, José María was the director of the provincial daily, La Voz de Almería. With the end of the dictatorship, various state-owned possessions were put out to auction, including La Voz, which was bought by members of the PSOE socialist party which had just been legalised by the government.
Our friend José María moved away to Madrid and worked in the Ministry of Culture and was part of the Spanish delegation at the funeral of Mao Tse Tung. His main job, however, was ringing up different ministries around the world and offering trade-offs.
‘Hello Boris, how are tricks? Look, what’ll you give us for Carlos Saura and his Flamenco troupe? The Bolshoi Ballet? OK… September? Yes… Fine, I’ll pencil you in’.
Which, in fact, is what I wanted to write about today.
You see, what happens is, the bloke in Almería eventually gets a call. ‘The who? Bolshoi what? Never heard of them!’
He turns to another of the civil servants, or ‘funcionarios’ are they are called: ‘Pepe, you ever heard of the Bolshoi Ballet, because the Ministry in Madrid are sending them here in October after they’ve done Córdoba’.
And so it happens. The wealth of culture that is wandering around the world, sent as often as not by different ministries (or embassies), is in the hands of people who as often as not couldn’t give a monkey’s. Our boy in Almería alerts the theatre, may put out an advert or two in La Voz (where else?) and his junior will put something on the webpage – in this case the - which is worth keeping an eye on.
But there isn’t much promotion. I’ve read about concerts the day after they were held, sometimes including a wry note in the report that ‘…despite the quality of the performance, the auditorium was surprisingly empty’.
Sometimes our English-language newspapers are sent the information (although not very often), or the editor might see it in the Spanish press. However, there’s not enough time to go through all the available outlets and try and wring a little news out of them. There are a few ‘que hacer’ (what’s on) magazines in the larger cities, like Madrid’s excellent ‘Guía de Ocio’, but here in the sticks, ah…
The provincial and local Spanish departments of culture are, I think, often rather anally retentive when it comes to putting out information. Sometimes the posters or invitations are printed, but not posted. There’ll be a huge pile of them in some office, still in their boxes.
I am nevertheless assured by the councillor for culture in Mojácar, Angel Medina (who has managed to increase the number of exhibitions and concerts in the town), that his department will soon be erecting three electric notice-boards (in Spanish and English both) to announce that municipality’s cultural attractions.
So, if you hear about a concert or an exhibition – the Almería webpage mentioned above of course only covers Almería City and not, for example, El Ejido or Vera, you will then have to acquire your tickets. Sometimes you can get them through another webpage called ‘tick tack tickets’ ( and other times, you can only get them from the box office, which can mean driving in to Almería twice.
On some occasions, associations, clubs or businesses block-buy tickets to events, and possibly one’s club would have a bus laid on for a special treat. I know that ‘My Friend Carlos’ is organising a bus to Murcia to see B. B. King in June and the English-speaking Club Taurino de Mojácar and the Dames in Spain, for example (I’ve seen them both in the past few days), variously have a number of events laid on in the coming months.
There are, of course, cultural attractions which are open year-round. The permanent modern-art museums of Antonio Manuel Campoy in the Cuevas del Almanzora castle, the Casa Ibañez in Olula del Río and the Pedro Gilabert museum of sculpture in Arboleas for example. Have you been yet?
While we plan our next trip to enjoy Beethoven, I must tell you the sad news that the old Virgen del Mar, home of the goat, is closed; and José María? He’s retired.