Monday, May 31, 2010

Where is Pamplona?

Over the last few years I have sometimes had reason to visit Pamplona (or ‘Iruña’ as it is in Euskera). Signs in Spanish to this city going through the Basque Country are non-existent (for reasons one can only imagine). But I now know the way (essentially – head for France and turn right – or, if you get really lost – ask a gendarme).
Pamplona, by the way, is considered by the heavier members of the Basque independents as being the capital of Euskadi even though it’s in Navarra - a province (and one-stop autonomy) that stands on its own. Euskera is the second official language (anecdotal note).
I was in Pamplona in a cyber-café, full of young Turks bashing away at the keys, passing the time by writing a letter to The Diario de Navarra – a rather staid and boring daily from the Correo group.
‘Does anyone here know how to say ‘where’ in Basque?’ I asked. No, they didn’t. ‘Guys, I’m writing a funny letter to the Diario. I got lost in Vitoria and asked someone how to get to Pamplona – so, I need to say ‘¿donde está Iruña?’ to make my point. Now, I’m not a linguist, but I can say ‘donde’ in Italian, German, French, Greek, Portugee, Spanish and English. So, since you lot (there was about twenty people in the shop), since you lot, I say, are in a bi-fuckin’-lingual province, how do you say ‘donde’ in Basque?’.
Somebody took pity on me – ‘In Navarra, no one speaks Euskera outside of the mountains’, I was told.
Can you imagine such a conversation going on in Catalonia?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lunchtime Blues

There’s something queer about the food these days. You go to a restaurant to eat and half of the menu is designed for some kind of wedding feast. It’s all got fancy-dancy for some reason. Perhaps the Michelin Man is seated at table number seven. What’s wrong with ‘sat’?
In the good ol’ days, food was food. No cream doodah then, no fennel sauces or roasted swedes. Simple stuff. A salad was lettuce, sliced onions and tomatoes with a heavy and oily aliño; now it’s got enough different kind of vegetables rattling around the plate to make a rabbit blanch. The main course used to be a plate of what one hoped were mutton chops (or were they perhaps goat?) or slices of pork (known collectively in our area by the foreign contingent as ‘crotchmeat’) or perhaps a plate of chicken knuckles with chips.
How to prepare chicken knuckles. Take one chicken, have at it with an axe, then drop result into a sartén with plenty of oil and garlic. Fry to taste. Riquísimo.
All the best crotcheramas (as we called them) could manage this simple fare, and with a bottle of really quite nasty wine, the whole thing, plus pan, came to around sixty Pesetas a head. Now, what’s wrong with that?
There was no menu and no price list. If you didn’t know what you wanted, or couldn’t understand the waiter, you wandered into the kitchen and pointed.
In those days, if we wanted a decent roast, we’d have to drive to the nearest butcher. He was a blood-spattered German trading six hours down the coast in the Calle San Miguel, Torremolinos’ high street. We’d fill up the plastic freezer box, spend the night on the piss, and head home with a headache the following day.
The twenty or so who made up the foreign community in the village in those days would be waiting for us on our doorstep when we returned. One of them was a retired air vice-marshal with a plummy accent called ‘Tabs’. My parents had left the door ajar one particular evening and had gone round the corner to the first and only foreign bar for a nip while the roast roasted. Tabs, on his way up the hill for a pink gin, smelt the rich smell of the roast waftin’ on the evening air and stopped by the house to invite himself to dinner. He went in and found no one around, so he checked inside the oven – as one does - to have a look at his potential dinner. Satisfied, he carried on to the pub for a large one and to obtain an invitation from my mother, in which he was successful.
Now our oven was one of those old Butano three burner ones with a lid and a slight wobble. When the hungry party returned an hour later to check on the roast’s progress my mother found that Tab’s tour of inspection had, by briefly opening the oven door, put out the gas. Tabs later recalled that ‘no one from the lower ranks had ever talked to him like that before’.
The milk in those days was undrinkable. It came in two litre glass bottles with a thin neck. There was a slightly blue cast to it due to the fact that the manufacturer had substituted the cream for pork grease and added formaldehyde to keep it stable. This baby could sit in the sun all day. Tea, if we could get it, came in teabags brought out from England loose in people’s luggage, wrapped around the socks. Eggs and chips were the standby at home, and cocido in the restaurant in the square. Tabs would insist on the plates being warmed, without much success from the kitchen-wallah, so he would usually place his plate under his shirt for a few minutes to do the job. ‘Under trying circumstances’, he would say, ‘one must keep up appearances’.
Another dish of the time remains to this day a favourite of mine, although it is now extremely hard to find. You see, it’s too cheap. This is ‘Huevos a la Flamenca’, a small earthen dish with ham or some kind of donkey-sausage served with peas, peppers and a fried egg. The whole, cooked in tomato paste. I happened across one the other day outside Granada: delicious!
Food, back in those days, was scarce and no one was going to mess around with sauces. Actually, come to think of it, it may have been because you couldn’t get cream. Eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, salchichón, chicken and pork was about your lot. The local grocers, known in a gesture of Spanglish relations as ‘The Foodings’ had a few tins on the shelves plus ‘Spanish’ bread, truly awful chocolate, some rather nasty looking sardines and a rack of wine in returnable bottles (two Pesetas back). They’ve still got the chocolate. Credit was extended to favoured customers; a dried lima bean went into your jar for each five peseta 'duro' owed. This system was eventually overturned – literally – by an escaped chicken that broke into the store one night. Reportedly, it ate most of the evidence.
Tapas, even more than today, were the solution. You used to get a bloody good tapa in Andalucía with your quinto or your tinto. A piece of magra, lean pork, with some chips and bread. Two fried cordoñíz eggs on toast. A ham, cheese and alioli cherigan. A small plate of whitebait... a fat chunk of tortilla de guisantes... home made potato crisps (when was the last time?)... a few of those would set you up nicely.
So these days it’s all la-di-dah. The menu’s in English (and Spanish, and French, and Italian, and German...), the food is all poncy, the wine list is exhaustive (and exorbitant), the postres all come from those fine people at Frigo and, worst of all, You Can’t Get Huevos A La Flamenca.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Rare Marble Bath

This hand-carved marble bath comes from the old balneario behind Cuevas. It'll be around a hundred years old. We've had it in our garden in Mojácar as a planter for the past forty years and we wondered if you would like it in yours.
It's 6'3" long, by 2'5" wide by about 1'10" high. So, about 1.90ms long.
Priced to go: 2000€ (Going once... going twice...).

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Naked and Proud

Recently, a gentleman decided to walk from Land’s End to John O’ Groats, a journey of around a thousand miles. It’s a pleasant enough route, I once did it on a bicycle. The news, of course, isn’t the peregrination of this fellow per se, so much as in the way he was dressed. Or rather, wasn’t. The first time I read about him, in a copy of an unsuccessful magazine called ‘News from Home’, I thought it said that he was a ‘naturalist’ and that he was one of those bearded people who wanders about clutching binoculars and wittering on about the sexual habits of rabbits (which I suspect are pretty straightforward) and followed by a patient, philosophical and faceless cameraman whose main job is to not get noticed, leap-frog in front of our hero, and watch for his shadow in the action shots. However on examining the photograph, and re-reading the piece, I found that the ambler was a rucksack-toting ‘naturist’, or one of those people who enjoys wandering about nude in public.
I once got to know another example of this tendency in Mexico. This chap, mad as a rat, enjoyed diving in the warm Pacific waters in search of lunch. He also favoured relative nudity. He would wear an oxygen tank, a mask, a wheezer, a vest full of handy pockets, a waterproof watch (good to five hundred metres), a weight belt, fins and a large knife strapped to his right leg. Practically the only part of his body visible to the onlooker was his knob.
And here we find the difference between nudists and what are apparently known in Spain as ‘textiles’. A nudist is not interested in ‘going as he was born’, but to leave uncovered the parts which are normally covered.
You can say that someone wearing underpants is dressed, whereas someone who is covered everywhere except for his genitalia is either a pervert or a ‘naturist’. I wouldn’t want to mix the two concepts; perhaps the difference is in the presence or otherwise of a mackintosh.
The consideration of the nude body, away from the sexual angle, offends nobody. In fact, the reverse. Michelangelo’s David is one of the most sublime examples of art in the world. There is no championship of the sexual organs: he’s just young, brave and inspirational. The same effect would not have been reached by the sculptor if he’d chosen a fat old gentleman with a pot.
If you want sex, there’s the incoherent Britney Spears for example. I’m sure that she would be delightful in the nude, but wearing just a pair of white cotton panties would even be preferable, as any girl knows.
Goodness knows, there is nothing wrong with wandering around naked in your own house or in other private places knowing that you are not going to be seen by unknown people. Nudity bothers no one in a controlled environment. But here’s the rub about naturism: the entire group (they insist on wandering about in gangs) knows that they are a herd of people highly conscious of the fact that they disturb the majority of society – not in small part due to the evidence of their small parts. Sadly, few of them look like David or Britney, and rather incline us to think of a brisk session on an ironing board. It’s in your face, but it’s not esthetic.
‘Ah, but we don’t look’, they say.
Yeah, yeah.
Naturists say that ‘clothes don’t make the person’ and that they can liberate themselves from the mundane competition of appearance. Unless they’ve forgotten to take off their Cartier or Rolex, it’s true that they can successfully manage to hide their position in society. Like anyone cares.
But, everything in its place, as the saying goes. During the eleven and a half months of the warm season, the shops and banks are filled with half-dressed Englishmen, in socks and y-fronts, standing patiently in queues or pushing trolleys full of beers, whisky and digestive biscuits. I’m usually obliged to pretend that I’m Swedish or from Iceland. That overweight fellow over there sweating into the lettuces isn’t one of ours, and, no Señora, I don’t even speak his language. Actually, he probably feels overdressed, why, just last week he streaked – or at least waddled – across a football game.
But that’s my own particular Calvary. I don’t happen to live in a nudist colony and I certainly can’t imagine, as the joke goes, where they keep their money.
For practical reasons, when the weather is hot, I’ll grant that you have to remove some clothing (with the local social limits in mind), but, when it gets cold, I reach for a sweater. No worries. But them?
They eat.
A few years ago, my accountant invited me for lunch at a naturist restaurant on the beach. Despite recommendations to the contrary from the specialized magazines on the subject, I didn’t feel entirely comfortable in the beach-bar, clothed and surrounded by naked Germans tucking into their paella and chips. I hadn’t the least desire to take off my apparel. Apart, that is, for my shirt which I had inadvertently stained with tomato sauce. Everybody was staring at me as if I was the nutter. We were sat – or in some cases fastened – to metal chairs. Yes, there were a couple of girls at other tables who weren’t bad, but we were eating, for chrissake (the moment when I first managed to raise my eyes and see them was, coincidentally, the moment I had the accident with the tomato sauce). Two hundred people staring at me like I’m peculiar and I don’t think it was down to the cigarette handily wedged behind my right ear. Then, during the pudding, a man from the next table suddenly rose to his feet in an evident state of excitability. Jaysus, gimme a light...
I changed my accountant the following day for an Argentinean one. A dressed one. I believe he even wore a tie. Perfecto.
Unfortunately, he soon stole everything I owned, including my clothes.
Which explains why I go around this way. It’s not because I like it, see, it’s because I have to.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Mojácar Protest

The protest against the mayoress' plan for a small underground carpark next to the church duly occured this morning in Mojácar. A carpark for forty cars, by the way and to state the obvious, doesn't cost half as much as one for eighty, since half of an underground carpark is ramps and passageways and turn-arounds and support posts. They aren't cheap. The answer to the Mojácar village parking is (and has always been) a huge great extension of the village on the side by the Pavana. The bigger the better. Make it look like the village (i.e. employ a proper architect) and put in shops and a hotel and whatever seems appropriate... but put in a lot of parking spaces.
Anyhow, todays protest was a slight rag-bag of groups, the ACEM, the PSOE, a couple of opposition politicians (Gabriel Flores, Diego García (the Gasolinero), Pedro Morales and Albert Schröter - in fact - almost all the opposition councillors), the Mojácar se Mueve group, the Plataforma Mojácar Peatonal (I seem to be wearing one of their stickers), the Mojácar Positiva (the 'let's swamp us in tourists' group) and some non-aligned protestors.
Unlike the last time we had a public protest about town hall plans when only foreigners demonstrated and got beaten up by the local mojaqueros for their presumption (Bartolo's rape of the Fuente back in 1986), there was on this occasion a mixture of around 200 local foreigners, Spaniards and mojaqueros. I think there might have been more if the protest was advertised a bit better (not a word in the Weenie and friends) and if it had of been on a Saturday and perhaps a bit later in the day...
The municipal police apparently took photos... so there goes my building licence!!
The crowd marched through the Plaza Nueva, up the M30 (as the street past the church will one day be renamed) and away up to the Town Hall's department of Urbanismo (which started out as a school, later, under Rosmari's direction, became a market, and is now our Palace of Urban Planning). From there, with various people whistling and Liberio honking a conch-shell, the crowd continued towards the ayuntamiento where various slogans were chanted, including 'Rosmari, aprende: el pueblo no se vende'. A vocal group under the PSOE banner tried to promote their agenda with 'Rosmarí, dimite' etc...
Finally, someone read out a speech which made a pretty good point: Mojácar is a pueblo de bohemios, he said, and he who forgets his past loses his identity. Our heritage is a cultural concept and not a political one.
Well, let's see what happens next.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Demonstration in Mojácar

Mojácar se Mueve, a citizens group in Mojácar, has called for a demonstration next Friday 14th May from 9.30am against the town hall’s plans for the Plaza de Arbellán, next to the church in the pueblo.
The first stage is to knock down the Loro Azul and the 'schoolmaster's building', currently used as a public lavatory. The Loro Azul fellow has already taken residence in the nearby Budú Bar (which, four mayors back, used to have a little tunnel next to it, the historic Arco de Luciana).
The second stage is to dig in the rock an underground parking space for forty cars - at an estimated 50,000 euros per car. These spaces will be (or are envisaged to be) for residents only – although paid, at least in part, with public money.
In stage three, a new town hall will be built facing you as you come up the street past the church, with another building, for an oficina de turismo, slightly to the left and a small square taking up the remaining bit (on the left). In short, the pueblo should be pedestrian (as far as possible) and the narrow street past the church should not become a two-way traffic artery. Furthermore, digging this underground carpark (the smaller they are, the more expensive 'per car') in solid rock will keep the barrio in acute discomfort for a year and may weaken the church itself. Madness!
Finally, the thought of a town hall being built anywhere near where 90% of the mojaqueros live - i.e. on the playa - is not considered as making any sense.
This plan is - apparently - still in an early stage and with enough protest can be stopped.
The money for this project – around six million euros - is to come from public land sold in Macenas a few years back. Don’t we have any better ideas than this?

Mojácar se Mueve: MANIFESTACION, el próximo 14 de mayo, viernes, a las 9 y media de la mañana, se convoca a todo aquel que este en contra del PARKING SUBTERRANEO de la iglesia para que nos manifestemos de manera pacifica, y así hacer notar a nuestros gobernantes que no estamos de acuerdo, y que no se puede hacer lo que se les venga en gana, sin contar con el pueblo.

Saturday, May 01, 2010


Delfos, an art gallery and bar, is on the road between Mojacar and Turre. It's open every evening from 9.00pm. Mariano, who has a great knowledge about Spanish modern art, will show you around or just pour you a drink as you take it easy. No tapas, no one selling roses and no accordion players.
Mojácar, it is said, is blessed with an enormous number of bars. Most of them being the usual stainless steel dives where a lack of imagination, a reptilian smell of stale sweat and the pounding thump from the music system make the gentle art of conversation as lost as a five cent brandy. The Delfos is an exception to this, with a phenomenal decoration from the last twenty or thirty years of Spanish art peppered with a few foreign masters (that's a Fritz horse in the middle of my picture). It's a different way of looking at life - over a whisky.
The locale is huge, with odd rooms and outside terraces filled with objets, sculptures and paintings. It was designed - and more or less built - by Manuel Coronado (one of Spain's best known modern artists) about twenty years ago. The Mojácar town hall as usual, confronted by the chance to improve its image with an injection of culture and some famous artists, fell over itself to do nothing.
It's not perhaps the kind of place to go drinking, but it's the place you take people to when you want to show off your town. Look, you say, have you ever seen a place like this?