Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Puppies For Sale

It’s a two-hour drive from home to puppy heaven, and I’m not too sure about the directions. My wife has the paper with some vague notes I’d got off the phone, but, hey! We’re here nonetheless. Press the buzzer! Open the gates! Conchi will be with us in a moment. She’s taking pictures of a clutch of baby cockers.
She welcomes us in, together with a pack of chattering briards. Hi, make yourself at home, I shan’t be long.
We bee-lined for the nursery.
The crèche was warm, damp and knee-deep in puppies. Well, it would have been if Conchi had opened up all the cages. In one, eight puppies were with their mother, a terrier. In others, the young ’uns were by themselves as their mothers were taking the waters outside. In a box on the floor, more puppies mewled and grunted as a matronly basset hound looked on fondly.
Conchi bustles in. she smiles and drops to the box where our puppies are. On your knees! On the floor!
I was assailed by a generous selection of juniors all either wagging anything that occurred to them, or if younger still, shyly mouthing an outstretched finger.
It’s such a delight to spend some time with puppies. This time, without guilt or remorse. These little chaps have cards, tattoos and pedigrees. I’m not going to argue the advantages here of a breed puppy over a tattered inmate from the pound. It takes all sorts. They all need loving.
A kitten watched gravely as I handled a puppy. Turn it over and see if it trusts you, someone said, so I did.
Outside, more young dogs in caged runs, with still others running free. A couple of Chihuahuas politely asked if they might nibble on something small as some doves landed on the roof of the nearby bungalow and cooed at the bedlam below. Out came the finger again.
We are sat in a comfortable office in a house with wooden floors and open windows just outside Elche, the town famous for its stone carving of a mysterious queen or goddess from ancient times. But this is canine country. Conchi Valenti, the owner of DaSilva, is a licenced breeder of a selection of different breeds of dogs. She grooms and kennels her extended family and sundry guests and she somehow still finds time to go on the show circuit. Everything is clean and ordered. She has help from her parents and a friend, as long as they follow her notes. She was off that very afternoon to the Azores in search of another silver cup for the collection on a sideboard in her office. Pictures of past champions are pinned to the wall and the phone buzzes regularly with questions, orders and advice from her extended listing of customers and acquaintances. The clatter and yelps of her wards echo through the window.
We are here to buy a puppy. We’ve chosen two (one of which…) and we’ve paid a deposit. We’ll be back when the litter is six weeks old.
(The New Entertainer July 2006)
... ...
Now, four years later, we found ourselves in the area and so we dropped by to visit with Conchi. Things are the same as before, except the sideboard of trophies that was in her office has become an entire wall.

DaSilva. Elche, Alicante. Phone 96 545 35 36. Conchi speaks Spanish and German.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Future Imperfect

It’s a well-known fact that Mojácar in 1960 was in such a state, with only 600 inhabitants, that there was a plan to incorporate the ‘town’ into the municipality of Carboneras. The pueblo was moribund, with anyone remaining considering joining family that had long before fled to France, Catalonia, Germany or even the USA, Algeria, Morocco and Argentina in search of a better life. Franco famously didn’t like Almería and there was no government help for the area. Mojácar itself, was a crumbled down village with no road access until the late fifties: no agriculture, industry, tourism or art. In fact, the first hotel was opened in 1962, a seven room establishment built over the town’s only bar, the Hotel Indalo. We stayed there for several months in 1966.
The town was ‘discovered’ by a few intellectuals (as the Spanish offhandedly called them) in the early sixties and a small group of artists moved in. Good light, inspirational countryside and cheap prices. The town was grateful. Some monies were wired back to the pueblo from overseas. Otherwise, there was nothing. The mayor during the sixties, Jacinto, together with a few ‘forasteros’ (outsiders), began the process of bringing Mojácar back from the brink. He gave away houses to those who would rehabilitate them, promoted Mojácar and its symbol, the Indalo, and, after forcing his subjects to whitewash the brown weather-beaten town, won for the community a prize in 1964 as a ‘Pueblo Blanco’. People slowly came to live in Mojácar and the town grew and prospered. Crass tour-operator politics slowed down Mojácar’s growing reputation internationally as a bohemian destination and the pueblo was forced to squeeze its way forward under the mismanagement of a series of greedy and self-centred mayors. Parts of the town were demolished without reason and an ‘Artisan Centre’ was built with government funds (Mojácar has no artisans). New and odder public buildings have been erected since for political or profit-driven motives. Some of them finally get opened; others merely rot in the sun.
The town still lives from money that comes in from outside. There is still no locally born artists or producers. Only building or service industries stimulated by the ‘forasteros’ and their purses. Mojácar has grown from the 600 inhabitants of fifty years ago to around 10,000 today and there are many summer-homes, huts, noddy houses and garrets built for profit which add to the burden on the shoddy infrastructure during the short summer season. The town sells Chinese-made nick-nacks in endless souvenir shops and the beach caters to outsiders and their money. The mojaqueros have become wealthy. They keep their money safe for the future.
Mojácar’s luck was not that outsiders would want to import so much money, or buy so many homes, or come to live there in large and yet respectful numbers, or even that they would allow the local people to continue to mismanage their town through the ayuntamiento, the town hall. The luck was that it was able to expand so precipitously, long before the introduction of the autonomous government of Andalucía, whose venal politicians based in the capital city, Seville, would make huge efforts to stop any other eastern Almería town from following Mojácar’s example. Thus those interior towns, again without any future, without industry, agriculture or tourism (they are not located on a Mediterranean beach, but rather in the dusty hot foothills of the Sierra María or the Filabres) are unable to turn to the obvious source of building retirement homes and creating local wealth and life for themselves. The Junta de Andalucía not only says ‘no’, but has cynically and disastrously called for the demolition of 12,000 foreign-owned homes in a dozen pueblos. Mojácar has not been forgotten by these thugs however, as the junta’s planners are determined to build a useless, pointless and absurd artificial city of 70,000 inhabitants (no one can even guess where these people will come from) between Mojácar and the surrounding pueblos to the north. The ‘Llano Central’ is like our Artesan Centre from years back. There’s a profit motive perhaps, but there’s no logic beyond greed. Perhaps a strong local government could still turn the tide into a better direction, but the forasteros, who now run to about 75% of the population, sadly aren't interested.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Remembrance Service in Mojácar

Old soldiers and their families met together today to honour their comrades at the British Legion Remembrance Service at the St Pascal Baylon Chapel in the tiny hamlet of Agua de en Medio (Mojácar). Father Hugh Broad of the Anglican Chaplaincy in Costa Almería & Cálida officiated at the dedication of the Mojácar BR.3485 Standard. Angel Medina, the vice mayor of Mojácar (3rd from right) represented the ayuntamiento on this solemn day.
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old; age shall not weary them, nor the years condem. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.
Picture: James Tudor-Pole

Monday, November 08, 2010

Papal Visit to Spain

The Pope was in Spain this past weekend, with the first day in Santiago de Compostela and the second in Barcelona. The Pope's theme was a bit more religion would be nice in this (so very) laical country. Not as many people turned out to see His Holiness as was expected, so it's a very great pleasure to have this picture of Zapatero sharing the stage.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Llano Central. No, They've Not Forgotten!

There are only two surviving Spanish language free papers in the area, the always excellent Actualidad Almanzora and another one, that mirrors the PSOE’s positions, called the Nuevo Levante. You can find this second one in town halls.
Here’s more or less what it says in its October edition about our future, as seen by the socialist brothers from Seville and their pet project for this area, the imaginatively called Llano Central (Central Flatlands).
This project, surprisingly enough still going strong, and despite the enormous damage done to our province and its reputation abroad by the Junta de Andalucía’s planners, is to build an artificial city, the forth largest in the province, with 35,000 homes and fifty hotels, all in an area of fifty square kilometres located between Mojácar, Turre, Bédar, Los Gallardos, Antas, Vera and Garrucha. This area, currently a flat plain which has never been settled, from the Neolithic age forward, is to drain off all building licences from the aforementioned towns to allow this exotic new city to be built. Who will live there? Certainly not the vast number of wealthy retirees from Northern Europe who, as things stand, wouldn’t touch Almería with a bargepole. Spaniards? Why ever for. But wait, the answer is coming.
The project has 3,680 million euros of, ah, public money to be spent on this dearly needed city in the sticks. Building it will require 95,000 workers, of which around 2000 are already here as locally unemployed. The rest would have to come in from outside and, as I see it; stay here in their new apartments in the Llano Central which they will be building.
And then they can open a Rumanian embassy across the road.
A city without museums, noble buildings, parks, beachfront (it’s several kilometres inland), but with fifty hotels! a city under the orders of seven town halls, but without one of its own. So wait a minute, who on earth is oing to want to holiday in such a place, where the sound of drills and the view of cranes and cement lorries would be the main entertainment?
Where would the sewage go? Ah, right. Don't answer that.
So why build it? I think that the ugly word ‘profit’ must figure in here somewhere. The worthless land – fifty million square metres – of the Llano Central will have substantially gone up in price. You bought some at the right time I hope? Then there will be certain juicy contracts. Another reason is that the high-speed-train which will whizz through the city four times a day, stopping in a station to be built on the edge of the local market town of Vera (and slowing down the Almería – Murcia schedule) will need the justification of a steady stream of people disembarking, like something out of the Klondike Gold Rush.
The combined population of our seven towns above is about 25,000 people – and we want to bring in another 70,000. At least the family-run town halls will be watered down a bit in a generation.
The Nuevo Levante is enthusiastic. ‘This will become the motor for tourism in the Levante in the years to come. As the beaches are cleaned up (the Ley de Costas has 200 metres from the sea for public land and 500 metres for hotels), we are compensated by the Llano Central’.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

How Little Boy Kitty Lost his Meow

Here's a story written by Barbara.

We had bought our old cortijo some time ago. It was very cheap, perhaps because the superstitious local Spanish thought that it was haunted. Somebody had been shot against a wall during the French occupation. It is a large and gloomy house with small windows and has a good sized garden which we both enjoy working in.
One day, something fell out of a tree straight into my husband’s arms. When I asked him what it was, he took a look and said 'a little boy kitty' and that is how he got his name. Little Boy Kitty was no normal kitten, he was completely black and tiny with the softest fur you have ever felt and he knew from that very second that he fell from the tree that my husband and this house were his. He wandered around with all of the big dogs and other animals without a care in the world. He knew this was going to be home. As Little Boy Kitty began to grow he also began to speak, or meow, about and to everything and everyone he could find. He became particularly verbal at meal times especially if you were late, according to him. He would weave in and out between your feet, tripping you up and meow to the point that you felt like throwing him out of the door. When I say that he was no normal kitty, I mean it, he never just curled up in a ball and went to sleep or did any of the other things cats normally do; no, he had to stretch out on your chest with his arms wrapped around you like a big hug and he always put his chin right under yours and looked at you with these adorable eyes so you didn’t dare move him. There he would stay until you had to go to sleep, and that is when we finally started to put him out of the bedroom at night, so we could roll over and get some sleep ourselves. As he grew he became more and more verbal. When you would come home he would have to tell you all about his day and who had been mean to him and what bird he had tried to catch, all before you could get the groceries into the house. If we would go away for a few days, when we came home, it was hours of telling us everything that had happened. After a few years it really became quite annoying, his insisting on breakfast while you were in the middle of fixing it. He just never shut-up. Then one day he just lost his meow. He would open his mouth but no noise came out. He was waiting for me at the door as usual and was weaving in and out of my feet waiting for breakfast but there was no noise. I checked his throat and him but there was no meow. It was gone. We looked everywhere but it was nowhere to be found. It had been about a week and still no meow. One day when I went upstairs I saw, sitting next to me on the bed a huge, and I mean huge, bull gecko, one of our house-lizards that usually live behind the paintings. I didn’t want him to sit with me so I told him to shoo, very politely. He was so fat that he couldn’t hold on to the walls or ceiling anymore, without falling, splat onto the floor again, so he had to stay on the floor or bed. He had no intention of moving from his comfortable position on my bed so I became a little more insistent, when all of the sudden he just looked up at me in a deliberate way and said MEOW. WHAT A SHOCK! I came running down stairs to tell my husband. So we finally found where Little Boy Kitty’s meow went to and to this day Little Boy Kitty still gives us hugs and is still trying to tell us about his day, but he is completely silent and fortunately I haven’t seen that big bull gecko again and I hope I never do.