Thursday, June 17, 2010

a History of Mojácar

Mojácar comes from the Arab name ‘Muxacra’, which comes from the Roman name ‘Mons Sacra’. This ‘sacred mountain’ refers to a pyramid shaped hill which is just below the current site of the town. The hill, now known as ‘Old Mojácar’, has an Arab water deposit on its summit, innumerable ruins on its approaches, bronze age remnants about its feet and the dry river ‘Aguas’ to its rear. Whether it is in fact the old settlement of Mojácar is perhaps unlikely, as the current location is sited on the front of a range of mountains called the Sierra Filabres which extend way into the interior – a much more defensible site with available water and retreat routes. The town overlooks the Mediterranean at around 400 Metres above sea level and a kilometre inland – making for good defence from corsairs. Settlement here can be traced back to the beginning of history, and include Phoenicians, Greeks, Trojans and the Icini (the original ‘Beaker People’).
Mojácar was a fortified town in the Moorish era, and fell to the Christian Kings – Isabel and Ferdinand – in 1488. Everyone was promptly slaughtered. Or left in peace, if you believe the plaque located at the ‘Moorish fountain’ (built in 1930 with channelled water from a fountain behind the town). The town regained its strength during the following centuries, after being re-populated with Christians from nearby Lorca, and became the local capital during the following centuries. The town, according to a 1912 encyclopaedia, had a ‘castillo inmutable’, which means an un-knockdownable castle, and a population for the 1910 census of 6,000 souls. By 1960, the population has dwindled to 600, and consideration was underway to absorb Mojácar into the municipality of Carboneras. Worse still, somebody had knocked down the castle.
The Civil War had undoubtedly taken its toll, Mojácar being enthusiastically ‘Red’, and many had been obliged to take off for foreign climes after the Nationalist victory. The water table had also fallen after strip farming practices in the hills had removed all the vegetation. By the early sixties, there was some tomato plantations on the beach, and little else.
Mining in the Bédar hills had been re-introduced by the British in the late 19th century – mainly iron and copper – and some small industry had made its way seawards, with a rail-head in next door Garrucha, and heavy strip mining further along in Cuevas. A small community of Europeans had settled locally, and Garrucha – essentially the only way in or out, as there was no roads in to the area – became the foreigners’ capital. By 1930, there were even Dutch, German and British consuls in the port town.
Mojácar passed much of this by, although in 1915, a British citizen in Garrucha bought and piped much of Mojácar’s fresh water over to Garrucha, where he sold it to the townsfolk. Mojácar’s main claim to history during this period was the birth on December 5th 1901 of José Guirao Zamora to a local ‘loose woman’ in the small and nearby farming hamlet of Campamento. The father was a local gad-about and future solid citizen, sewing his wild oats. The child was taken to Chicago by the mother, and adopted by the Disney family. You’ll know him as Walt. Well, so the story goes. Another story, perhaps with more bases in fact, was the departure of Pascual Artero from Aguas Enmedio (another local hamlet) in the 1930s to the Pacific island of Guam, where he provisioned the American army during the Second World War and inherited the nickname of ‘The King of Guam’. Luis Siret, a Belgian archaeologist operating in the area during the twenties, is credited with ‘discovering’ the local totem – the Indalo – amongst prehistoric drawings in a cave in Vélez Blanco. The name comes from the first bishop of Alméria, Indalecio. The totem however – a stick figure holding a serpent over his head – can be traced back in Mojácar at least as far back as the sixteenth century, and it was known as the ‘hombrecillo mojaquero’. It’s probably a fertility goddess, but who knows.
In the early sixties, the provincial ‘Gobernador Civil’ promoted a local man, Jacinto Alarcón, to be mayor. Jacinto managed, with nothing short of genius, to turn the town’s fortunes around. A group of artists (including Canton Checa, Jose Luis Perceval and Rafael Lorente) had ‘discovered’ Mojácar – a brown cubist village in ruins as the 1954 ‘Sierra Maldita’ melodramatic film shows – and founded an art movement named after the Indalo, calling themselves the ‘Indalianos’. Jacinto encouraged their activities, and hit on the idea of giving away land or ruins to those who were prepared to come and repair or build. By the end of this project, around 1965, many well known characters and wealthy people had taken up the offer, including bullfighter Antonio Bienvenida, diplomat Sir Michael Adeane, actor Charles Baxter and concert pianist Enrique Arias. Soon, others followed, and with prices to laugh at, Mojácar had become a small but well-known bohemian colony by the end of the decade. Future property handouts to various soon-to-be senior socialist politicians, like Julio Feo, Jose Bobadilla and Alfonso Guerra (later vice president of Spain) helped the town’s fortunes.
The crash of two American nuclear armed planes over nearby Palomares in January 1966 brought Manuel Fraga Irribarne, the then tourist minister, to Mojácar, where Jacinto persuaded him to build a Parador hotel and to dub the (by this time painted) town with the ‘White City of the Year’ prize for 1966. A never heard of before or since award. Greed and poor planning by those who followed Jacinto brought the tour operator Horizon to the town, and poor quality hotels, cheap package tourists and get rich quick apartments soon helped Mojácar’s growth while trashing her international status.
Today, Mojácar has around 8,000 full time inhabitants, with perhaps another 15,000 summer visitors. The village remains attractive, with narrow ‘Moorish’ streets, stunning views and cubist architecture: while the beach has expanded into the main business of the community, and stretches as a solid line of hotels and apartment blocks from Garrucha to well past the Hotel Indalo, with new projects being built at Macenas. Some basic infrastructure is now going in, like a ring-road behind the beach urbanisations (well, one day) and some parking for the village. Desultory talk of a theatre (the old one was demolished in the ‘seventies), and a cinema (ditto) may bring culture back to the town. Meanwhile, an art museum and a public sports centre and swimming pool have been completed but remain tantalisingly unopened.
While poor politics (and indifference in civic affairs from the foreigners) has complicated Mojácar’s appeal, the beach, weather, location and social life remain attractive.
English is the most spoken language of Mojácar today, followed by ‘mojaquero’ (an impenetrable form of Spanish). The local school is about 50% foreign. Finding work as a foreigner is hard, much beyond house-cleaning and bar work, although many set up their own businesses. Spaniards don’t generally patronize foreign business, and rarely employ foreigners. It’s best to live here on income from abroad. There are many ex-pat clubs, theatre groups and associations here, and making friends is easy. There is not much inter-cultural strife, and the warm weather and easy going lifestyle soon soothe away any anxieties.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Lord of the Flies

The weather has been strange this year, with more rain falling here since Christmas than you could experience on a long Irish weekend. It’s either something fairly terminal to do with the global warming or, just possibly, a situation caused by my own foolishness. A few months ago I finally installed an automatic drip system in the garden. It’s rained off and on ever since.
Whatever the cause of all the rain, the result is the same: more mosquitoes than ever. The town hall claims that they have been out spraying with some miracle product but, as anyone could tell them, if it’s available, it won’t work. You might kill the odd fritillary, causing the Green Party to swell its ranks to unseasonable levels; thus propelling ever more eccentric rules through Brussels and bringing down the World As We Know It. The mosquitoes, though, are impervious.
Anyway, the last few days have been hot, too hot to mess about with spraying.
The mosquitoes approach, whine briefly about your head for entirely dramatic reasons, and then settle on an exposed bit of skin. Fifteen minutes of itching being quite enough to keep one awake – anticipating the next bite.
I use a plug-in device called Fogo which more or less keeps them down, apart of course from the gung-ho types that thunder determinedly through the window, without a word of advice, and manage a quick meal before the cloud of blue gas whacks them. How bad it may be for humans is a question for another day, although it’s rumoured to be made out of the same stuff that Saddam was meant to be hiding in his umbrella tips. The dog has certainly developed a nasty cough and now sleeps upside-down on the ceiling.
This aromatic insecticide doesn’t stop flies though. Nothing, during daylight hours, stops flies. They seem to take over duty from the mosquitoes while managing, somehow, to be even more irritating. The mosquito, dispensing vile and fatal disease with every bite, at least has a point to it. You can look on it fondly as a kind of tax for the thousands of benefits of living in southern Spain. A shot of blood in payment for the good life. The fly though, has no reason at all. It doesn’t eat any of your spare bits, unless you happen to be seriously considering death. It just likes to sit on you and brush its feet. Which – as it must know - is very irritating. There is never two of them brushing away on your nose, always just the one. If you manage to flatten it, which takes reactions on a level with Schumacher’s, then the next one will come along and do duty. Why not two today in exchange for none tomorrow?
The Chinese are well known for killing flies with their trusty Mao-swats. Ten flies a day or a spot of re-education, was, I understand, the rule for many years. It must have been fun: ‘I saw it first, Mrs Lo’. Fly-swats are immensely satisfying things, after all, except for the mess they leave: and the fact that, until October, it’s Too Bloody Hot to go whacking away at flies…
There was once a rather graphic campaign about cleanliness in restaurants, which went something like ‘…and the fly lands on the food and regurgitates a small dollop of its stomach full of digestive enzymes onto the meat to liquefy it. It stamps the vomit well into its food before sucking up the resulting cocktail back inside with its proboscis. Bliss! Then it's your turn…’.
So the only thing to do is to wish upon a star, or rub a bottle with a genie in it. Please Mr Fairy, make all the flies go away. I don’t care about those beautiful creatures that rely for their survival on flies, like swallows, trout, lizards, frogs and fly-swat salesmen, it’ll be worth their passing into history just to see the flies go.
You have to be a bit careful with genies, of course. I saw a fellow yesterday who had had a run-in with one. He had obviously asked for gold. He was wearing two ear-rings, a heavy necklace, bracelets, rings, all made from gold, plus a Rolex watch. He was standing in front of me in the supermarket, bare-chested and with a rather droopy looking family. Perhaps he was happy, although his wife was staying carefully just out of reach. She had a slightly glazed look of approaching panic about her.
Flies are the most wretched of creatures. They are the Volkswagens of the insect world, boring, ubiquitous and charmless. I recently found a giant moth on the terrace, about three inches long, black and brown and with a death’s head design on the top of its thorax. This particular strain is the largest moth in Europe. If you pick one up, it will let out a tiny scream. I showed it to the children who were all captivated apart from one lout who kept a respectable distance and said, ‘does it bite?’. A moth? It sucks nectar down its long hollow tongue while flying in front of a flower (it weighs too much to settle). A few years ago, there was a ‘plague’ of these giant moths in some town in the interior of Almería. The newspaper write-up on the event was entitled ‘The curse of the monster flies’.
Flies in ancient times materialised from thin air. They popped into existence, jus’likethat. The Lord of the Flies, Beelzebub, another name for the devil, was responsible for them.
So I am getting tired… but I must wait until dark… and the arrival of the mosquitoes, the night-children.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

A Few Friends

I’m sat in our office, a converted bedroom I suppose in our rather large house. It’s the kind of house that wanders slightly, one room decants indecently into another. Small windows and thick walls keep it cool. There was never any architect involved with this house, so the ceilings are a bit too high and no one can say for sure just how many bedrooms there are.
Which is why it was easy making this particular one into an office. There’s even a single bed in here in case I get lost and need a rest.
Only, the dog usually gets there first.
The walls of this room are heavily decorated by paintings, as is most of the rest of the house, even the kitchen, as artists have always been welcome here. Paintings are useful to cover the walls and add a mood to a room, but an old farmhouse in the campo has another secret reason for hanging posters, canvases and sundry other memorabilia on the heavy walls. This is to do with the small creatures that live behind the paintings, scampering sure-footedly from one to another or calling for a mate with a small series of amorous belches.
The local Spanish think that they are dangerous in some obscure way and have little time for them, but the ‘salamanquesas’ or geckoes are fine little fellows. They eat the flies and the mosquitoes. One has just galloped along the wall in front of me, ignoring the fact that it’s vertical, and has harvested a slightly surprised looking daddy-long-legs.
Sometimes they attract the attention of the cats, or one of the two duendes that live in the secret spaces between the walls of this house. The duendes are the ‘little folk’ that torment the innocent. We leave bits of bread and milk out for them and they generally leave us alone. When a gecko is faced with real danger, he will release muscles in his tail which will obligingly fall off and wriggle for a while, allowing – with luck – the more important bit of the creature to scamper back behind a handy landscape. So, some of our lizards have a missing tail, or are in the process of growing another one.
So, the geckoes and I help each other out. I attract the mosquitoes and they keep the duendes amused.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Red Palm Weevil

According to the ever-faithful Wikipedia, 'The red palm weevil, Rhynchophorus ferrugineus, is a species of beetle. It is relatively large, between two and five centimeters long, and a rusty red colour. Its larvae excavate holes up to a metre long in the trunk of palm trees, and can kill the host plant.'
This nasty beetle comes from Asia and has been working its way towards Mojácar since the eighties. Well, here's one that made it here this morning. It is about an inch long and was marching up our palm tree with a hungry glint in its eye. It flew off after having its picture taken, but it got a snoot-full of bug spray before the photo-shoot so its mischief should be at an end.