Sunday, October 31, 2010

Scorpions in Paradise

The other day, we squirted bug-spray under the desk in the office in case there were any fleas or spiders about and this morning I found a dead baby scorpion. Which leaves the question: Where's Mama?
In the campo, we have our fair share of scorpions, which scuttle under the doors into the house and, in a sense, either get you or get got by you in an unending war between them and us. If they get you first, they are very painful indeed, although they leave no discernable wound. It will hurt like fury - like a burn with bits of broken glass under the skin, in powerful throbs through the limb - for up to eight hours. There's not much you can do with the pain, which comes from a neurotoxin - a poison which attacks the nerves. There's a time of pain and then, it slowly goes away. It leaves no after-effects at all, unlike a spider or centipede bite which may cause the wound to fester. The worry is, of course, that baby scorpions, twenty or fifty of them, cruise around after birth on the back of Mama scorpion, until they are old enough to wander off... and be found by me under the desk in our office.
Today, I'm keeping my shoes on.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Garden

I’ve never had much interest in gardening. My mother planted ours and would spend her time pruning, seeding and planting. She would want special earth and would buy flower pots from far-away Albox (this, long before the first British home-buyer ever appeared there). My father planted a large number of trees in the field behind and above the house and would water them with big plastic bottles filled at the fountain and lugged up there in his little Renault.
The property, to begin with, was fed water from a tank and a pump, filled by the water-truck from Turre. Much later, we got mains water from a company called Servamosa and, when that company became a part of the current water supplier called Galasa, all of the 10,000 public shares of Servamosa, shares that each family or business held in our pueblo, worth 500 euros or so each (we had nine), were – whoops! – lost in the best Spanish tradition.
Never mind, we had water, and for many years a gardener, Cristóbal, who squirted everything with enthusiasm, explaining that ‘of course the flowers fall off when you spray them, they’re flowers’. Cristóbal fancied himself as being the wise old Son of the Soil and would laugh as my mother lost her temper with him, ‘But Señora, how can you know? This is Spain!’
He had another problem, being partial to watching the women as they lounged around the swimming pool. One time, a scantily clad house-guest marched up to my father to complain that the gardener had been peeking at her while she was having a shower. My dad threw her out, claiming that it was much easier to get another house-guest than it was to find another gardener.
But that was then. My parents both died and, after I married, I took over the estate.
In fact, as far as gardening was concerned, the estate pretty much looked after itself. Between the rare rain that falls here and the even rarer moments of me watering with an increasingly leaky hose, the garden was obliged to make its own way. The smaller stuff died out and the stronger plants survived and spread.
Twenty agreeable years passed and the garden was by this time violently overgrown and, in the opinion of one of the larger pepper trees, in need of a miracle.
In the summer of 2009, a brush-fire raced across the entire municipality, pushed along by a high wind. The garden got its miracle all right, and I was left with a sad mixture of charred firewood, soot, dead trees, charcoal and smoking stumps. We lost several out-buildings and some neighbours lost their homes and the cars. The Spanish authorities reacted magnificently – by doing absolutely nothing at all.
But that’s why we love it here. They only remember you when they want something.
The garden needed lots of work and, now matured (and in need of daily exercise), I took to clearing the place up. A year later, it goes on, with me sawing down dead branches or trees, planting, pruning and watering the survivors.
Oddly enough, that pepper tree was right, it does look a lot better now.

Friday, October 15, 2010


When does the run to Christmas start? In America it comes after Hallow'een, which apparently is the second biggest commercial earner in the year. The 'trick or treat' festival, now beginning to arrive in Spain, thanks to the Corte Inglés and other forward looking merchants (like Klaus on the playa), brings some rather odd behaviour and is currently the target of the Catholic Church, which prefers the night before November 1st to be used to honour the dead. But Christmas is already beginning its run, with tables of delicious 'turrones' in the supermarkets. The basic 'turrón', a sticky nougat from Alicante, has now morphed into a hundred different bars of nut, cream, marzipan, dried fruit, chocolate, cherries glacé, rice-paper and booze which are meant to last, presumably, until nearer the end of December to be consumed along with the frightful 'polverones', dusty sweets of flour, anís and sugar, which make up the first onslaught of Christmas glee.
I've just treated myself to an entire bar of chocolate-covered marzipan with bitter orange lumps - well, I didn't get a holiday this year - and am now seeing stars.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On Charity and Solidarity

It’s probably different in the big cities, but here in the sticks, it’s quite rare for a ‘son of the village’, who has done well with his life, to put something back. I know there are exceptions, like the man from Bédar who made a fortune in Barcelona and sent funds to build a small park in his pueblo, or the man from Aguas en Medio (a tiny hamlet in Mojácar) who sent money from the Pacific island of Guam to build a church locally. There are some few unsung heroes who help the disabled centre in Vera – Asprodalba – or other beneficial ends, but it is not common. Those who have struggled up from poverty are probably more concerned with staying as far away from that condition as they can, rather than risking the wrath of Lady Luck by sharing a tiny proportion of their money with anyone else.
I suppose, when it comes to ‘caritas’ – charity – everyone suspects, with some degree of certitude on their side, that most donations in Spain are promptly stolen. It is clearly a cut-throat business and commissions on subsidies are usual. There is, in fact, a small industry in matching hand-outs with charity organisations, for which the agents take a standard 20%. There are cases, mainly in the days of the Felipe Gonzalez government, of large charities being in the news for all the wrong reasons – from the director of one of Spain’s biggest charities selling off an entire city block which happened to be on the books, and pocketing the lot, to an improbable accident in a lift shaft (at the headquarters of a very wealthy blind association). Then, nearer to home, there was the case of the Sahara children due to come and stay in Lubrín one year, only the accountant took off with all the money. Another example: an Almerian charity that places the disabled in low-paid jobs, and charges them 20% (it seems to be the ideal figure), for life!
The Britons, who live here in their tens of thousands, are in contrast, generous with charity, although almost all of it goes to animals. There is no ex-pat newspaper without its page of free adverts for shelters and pet charities, its associations of feral cat sterilizers and articles on dogs in extremis. Yet we find nothing about the old, lonely and penniless members of their society, fallen on bad times or living under the threat of a hard-eyed banker or lender, or a calculating ‘healer’ or ‘companion’. Is there a human equivalent to the PAWS shop, where queues of people bring second-hand clothing, books and unwanted treasures to be sold off and converted (one imagines) into dog food? Perhaps the implicit ‘thank you’ is easier to read in an animal’s eyes.
So, one might want to keep charity a little closer to home (if I’m not quoting someone out of context). The Mormons know about this, they ‘tithe’ themselves 10% and happily give it to the poor.
Here in our pueblo, where a serious amount of money has come into the hands of a few families, who keep it, apparently, under the bed, there is almost no suggestion of returning a bit to the village that made them rich. There are no theatres or parks, or gardens. There are not even any park-benches with a small brass acknowledgement of the munificence of some Elder. Several families, poor as mice a generation ago, now control fortunes of fifty million Euros each. One woman, known for short-changing her customers (she still has a small shop), claims rents of 75,000 euros a month. Her ambition can only be to make it up to 100,000 a month.
In April, three of our local people shared 65 million euros in the Eurolotto. They promptly abandoned our town and are now, presumably, living in the Bahamas and complaining to the new-found servants that they can’t get a decent paella there. How many park benches, children’s parks, churches or theatres have they managed between them for their home-town? None. The nearest thing you will find to charity in our pueblo is the swollen number of workers at the town hall. Some are professionals but many others are merely there to provide them with a wage. How generous. However, when its election time, they will not be forgotten.
Our town is like a tired old whore – everyone wants to take something from her, but no one wants to buy her flowers.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Beggars Can't be Boozers

Times are hard. We have a beggar installed outside each of our supermarkets these days. Each one of them appears to have his patch and of course, he'll have a dog. Except for the old Romanian woman at the Co-op who looks like she just ate hers. I've seen little old ladies come out of a shop with a piece of meat saved for the hound (and a scowl for its master). It's hard being a beggar - especially with the new hard-to-climb-into dustbins we now have serving our community. So, to be a beggar, the first thing you will need is a friendly looking dog; and the second thing is a good stomach.
And remember, most of us are just a paycheck away...

Money doesn’t take you far,
A shop, a store, a mart, a bar,

So looking for the cheapest link
I chose a shop to buy a drink

My pocket full I entered in.
To buy a jug of Spanish gin

I picked a brand I didn’t know
It cost the lot, I turned to go

My bottle in a plastic sack
I toddled out, my mind turned black.

I left that market in a fog
And saw a beggar with his dog

The man was holding out a cup
I tipped my jug and filled it up

Can I share it, asked the mooch.
Of course you can’t – it’s for the pooch.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Entertainer Online

The Entertainer Online is eight years old. Mostly true, it's full of news from Mojácar ('a real nice place to bring your children up') and the rest of Spain, with comment, snark and politics. There's also the best collection of non-commercial links about Spain (blogs, forums, news, politics, food and so on). You should check it daily.
The webpage comes out of 'The Entertainer', a weekly free newspaper that started in 1985 and ran until it was taken over in an interesting way I'm not, legally, allowed to write about. Here in Spain, that's nothing new.