Friday, December 07, 2012

So, Who Were the Girls?

Here's a picture from a thread on Facebook called Mojácar Golden Years - my Dad, me and two friends, taken in The Indalo bar in Mojácar Pueblo back in around the mid-seventies. The Indalo wasn't the prettiest bar in the world, but it served the main square and, as we can see, had an inside for those cold coffee mornings.
Of course, they knocked it down eventually and made some crap souvenir shops instead.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Russians Are Coming

The cliché of all bona fide estate agents, 'the green shoots of recovery', is beginning to resound again along the costas as properties are being snapped up by foreigners. Paying usually in cash, the buyers have been doing their homework on the Internet and they are buying cheap discounted apartments by the hundreds. An estate agent in Benhavís (near Marbella) says that sales have increased in the past year by a satisfying 220%, precisely because 'prices have fallen by up to 70% from 2006 levels'.
This time, it's the Russians who are buying. To not put too fine a point on it, the Spanish Hacienda is hardly bothered by where the cash comes from, as long as it's coming. One or two bed-roomed apartments in the resort towns and estates of the Spanish coast are in demand, usually those going for under 100,000€ .
Other nationalities too. The British are still shy, having seen too many 'Paradise Lost' TV shows and read too many articles about Len and Helen Prior, now cresting their fifth anniversary in Vera among the ruins of their home. But the Belgians, the Germans and the Scandinavians are all waking up to the perennial offer of good weather and cheap real estate that Spain is once again able to offer.
These homes being sold by the agents are doing the major banks little good however. The typical toxic promotions now held by the new 'Spanish Bad Bank', the Sareb, were built as apartment blocks in and around the country's major cities. The Spanish, thanks to the extreme crisis, can not afford to buy them, while the foreigners simply don't want them. Barrios on the edge of a bus line in Madrid or Seville will never be the haunts of Europeans or Russians, who would be as out of their depth in an all-Spanish environment as if they moved to Glasgow.
Other foreigners are putting up their hands for apartments as well; but this time, they like the City. In Alicante, for example, Algerians are snapping up second homes. It's just a twelve hour ferry to Oran. A notary in Alicante is on record as saying that some 25% of all house registrations under his pen have come from Algerians, while a local agency called Tecnocasa claims that well over half of its sales since July have gone to Algerians.
However, it's the Russians who are buying the most. According to Masa International, Spain is seen in Moscow as the fashionable place to have a holiday home: in fact, there are now 250 agencies in that city who specialise in Spanish sales. While the Spanish have never quite understood why foreigners like 'to stick together', crafting Spanish towns and resorts as far as possible into mono-cultural conurbations, like the Germans with Mallorca or the British with their Fuengirola or Mojácar, it's clear that the Russians prefer the Costa Dorada. The agency Europa Dom in Tarragona claims that 75% of all their sales are to Russian buyers.
All of this said, with green shoots in the newspapers and Russian language menus in the restaurants, the vast majority of homes bought in Spain this year are far removed from the Coast and have been acquired by Spaniards.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Bethune: Canadian Hero

'He gave all he could, all he had, to the betterment of the people of the world'.
 The Canadian doctor Henry Norman Bethune, acknowledged in a leading article in La Voz de Almería (Nov 4th) called 'El canadiense que salvó vidas durante la huida desde Málaga a Almería en 1937' - The Canadian who saved lives during the retreat from Málaga to Almería in 1937.
Norman Bethune is best known for 'his service in war time medical units during the Spanish Civil War and with the Communist Eighth Route Army (Ba Lu Jun) during the Second Sino-Japanese War. He developed the first mobile blood-transfusion service in Spain in 1936. A Communist, he wrote that wars were motivated by profits, not principles' (Wiki)
'After the capture of Malaga by the military rebels, terrified by the news and the speeches that General Queipo broadcast from Radio Sevilla; on February 7, 1937 a large convoy consisting of about eighty or a hundred thousand people flee in the only way possible: towards the capital of Almería. Consisting mostly of the wounded, women, children and the elderly, the panicked column is pursued by Moorish and Italian troops and bombed without mercy by German aircraft. From the sea, the fascist navy zeroed in like as if were target practice. The walking column was slaughtered without the smallest glimpse of humanity' (Historian Milagros Soler).
The Doctor from the International Brigades, who had developed a new kind of live-saving mobile blood-transfusion unit, was a popular and useful addition to the Republicans, and he is remembered in particular for helping to succour many people along the 350kms track between the two cities.
'We had spent an hour in Almeria', he writes in a book recently released in Spanish called 'Las Heridas, 'long enough to obtain a bite of hard-to-find food. The small seaport had been bombed by air and blocked from the sea. One could feel the hunger in the streets. A kid took us to a bar, but it was completely saturated with soldiers, all eating the same mixture of thick smoky sludge. When we left again, the streets were full of people. The news about the fall of Málaga was spreading'. 
Together with a photographer, Hazen Sise, Bethune set out in his truck towards Málaga. Before he had gone very far, he began to encounter refugees.  'In place of what should have been the road, I could see twenty miles of human beings gathered as one. It was all thick with refugees, thousands and thousands, tight, falling against each other... It wasn't a defeat, it was a collapse'.
The Doctor emptied his truck of medical material and told his friend to drive as many people as he could - forty children and two women in the first load - to Almería 'and to stop for no one'. For four day and nights, Sise transported as many refugees as he could as Bethune tirelessly treated the wounded on the side of the road. 
Almería itself, with no wheeled transport left to help, was being bombarded by Franco's forces. 'Finally the attack passed', Bethune says in his book, 'but the dying and the dead remained'.

One of his most well-known poems was published in the 1937 July issue of a Canadian magazine:
And the same pallid moon tonight,
Which rides so quietly, clear and high,
The mirror of our pale and troubled gaze
Raised to a cool Canadian sky.
Above the shattered Spanish troops
Last night rose low and wild and red,
Reflecting back from her illumined shield
The blood bespattered faces of the dead.
To that pale disc we raise our clenched fists,
And to those nameless dead our vows renew,
“Comrades, who fought for freedom and the future world,
Who died for us, we will remember you.”

 On February 7, 2006, the city of Málaga opened the Walk of Canadians in his memory. This avenue pays tribute to the solidarity action of Dr. Norman Bethune and his colleagues who helped the population of Málaga during the Civil War. During the ceremony, a commemorative plaque was unveiled with the inscription: "Walk of Canadians - In memory of aid from the people of Canada at the hands of Norman Bethune, provided to the refugees of Málaga in February 1937". The ceremony also conducted a planting of an olive tree and a maple tree representative of Spain and Canada, symbols of friendship between the two peoples. (Wiki)
An hour-long film of his life is here .

Story by Amber Napier

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Quiet Life

Well, here's the dog. Morning gallop. A bowl of rice and cookies works wonders. Nothing to worry about.
No one is going out at the moment, the hotels are closing for the season, the bars are empty and many of the shops have thrown in the towel after the rents went up. We are all living a simple life these days (apart from a close relative who owes me money but instead appears to have bought himself a fancy new truck). No doubt the economy is in safe and capable hands and everything will be fine and dandy again in a few years from now (ahem!); but meanwhile, the only thing to do is to follow the dog's lead.
And make a run for it.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Bédar Looking Good

Bédar looked good today, with the sun shining warm rather than hot. A few people were out, wandering the streets, buying bread in the panadería or drinking a coffee in the bars (now for some reason all located up at the beginning of the village). The recent rains seemed to have been a blessing rather than a curse, and the scorched hills are re-sprouting, just five weeks after the fires.
I think that perhaps a small quiet town without hotels or beaches or campsites has a lot to recommend itself.

Friday, September 28, 2012

River of Waters

The Río de Aguas today, living up to its name for once. In fact, the rain has been so heavy in the hills above Mojácar, the river is in flood and...look! Its good kayaking weather!
The bottom photo was sent by a friend who lives in Pueblo Laguna, a place that always gets it when it rains. See all the cars! In fact, back along the coast to Mojácar, the beach is covered with so much driftwood and mess from the riverbed that any chance of cleaning it will take some major work. When it rains it pours.
The last picture, taken with a phone, is downtown Pueblo Laguna, where the houses are currently 'very cheap'. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Small Plague in the Garden

There used to be a nice Canadian show on the television about the delightful critters that live quietly in the garden. A slow and friendly voice helped us as we wandered around a giant Canadian garden looking under leaves and behind rocks. Pleasant-looking bees worked feverishly to please the cameraman as the plant-life went through its various routines: flowers, seeds and pods. Small rodents galloped aimlessly about in the undergrowth as some muted music accompanied the friendly talk. Oh! to live near a Canadian garden and to follow the dragon-flies.
Here in Mojácar, we use a Californian gardening book. It has most of our flowers and shrubs, but it is understandably light on the subject of the local fauna that flitter from bush to bush, or in the case of our latest guests, from root to root.
These are the shrews. They dig tunnels through the brick-hard dirt which features as the garden-bed in our establishment, tossing up occasional piles of earth and moving in a direct and uncompromising way towards the new hedgling I've put in (a small but one-day mighty hedge to remove the view currently offered to us by our neighbour). These shrews: topillos or musarañas, (nobody seems to know) have only been around since the Mojácar fire of three summers past. They feast on rootlets: fresh, juicy, crisp, tasty rootlets. I may not have a green finger, or is it a thumb, but even I know these fellows need to go.
To the shop on the beach, which offers me rat poison (now, that can't be right), and so on to the Ramblizo in Antas. Readers may know this store, which has everything for hunters, riders, pet-owners, prospective pet-owners, gardeners and I haven't even made it to the upstairs yet, where there are kitchen goods, televisions, fly-traps and screwdrivers. It's a sort of Farmers' Dream (with a little Something for the Housewife). Anyhow, they gave me a Jumbo-sized box of what turned out to be rat poison again. Stick a bit down the tunnel and stand back. Hmmn.
My father was known in Norfolk by his neighbours as The Eichmann of Moles. When a molehill appeared on the lawn (it was a fifty acre lawn and, as I remember, it needed a lot of mowing), my dad would stick a metal trap down the centre of the mound, with appalling results. But there were other equally grisly ways of dispatching a mole. It appears that moles are hemophiliacs and therefore, a bit of broken glass on the floor of their run will cause them to bleed to death. There are gases which can be pumped down their highways, and a horizontally placed British milk-bottle will allow them in, don't you see, but not out.
So this afternoon, I was watering and fending off the mosquitoes (I don't think they will be spraying for these pests, since the tourists aren't here and us: we've already voted). But then, I found my latest plant, filched only last week from a public seed-bed, was surrounded by a pile of earth. In went a small stub of rat-poison. Take that, you little swine. 

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Plug Ugly

There's an old bath up at the stables that does for a drinking basin for the horses. It started out as an old, empty and rusted out tub with the plug 'ole missing, but a trip to the ferretería on the beach soon fixed that. For a couple of euros, half an hour's work and a skinned knuckle, plus some cementing and a bit more work, the old bath had became a handy trough. Another trip down to the ferret to get a longer piece of hose (it was either that or move the bath somewhere nearer the tap) and all was well. The bath filled up, didn't leak, and the horses got their drink.
As it happens, one of the nags is a playful brute and one day, it pulled the plug out of the bath and emptied it. This means, apart from the mess, that there is no water until someone comes by and fixes the problem. It turned out to be me and, casting about for the bung, I found a half chewed bit of hard rubber tossed under some straw, chewed and perforated too.
Back to the hardware store. Can I have another plug... this size please. The plug was flattened and hard to measure. Take a 48 and a 54 said the lady, one of them will fit.
As it happened, neither did. One was too big, the other too small. The smaller one is now in our bathroom at home, having taken over from an old and manky bung we've had for thirty years. The new one, with a shiny metal back to it, has rusted already.
So, back to the shop. Look señora, you sold me the unit, so you must have a plug that fits. No comprendo, she answered. When in doubt with angry foreigners.
So, to another shop. This one is the ferretería from Hell. It's a giant and wildly overstocked place where shoppers get lost. You can sometimes hear their pathetic shrieks late at night as you drive quickly past. The quality of the merchandise is highly suspect, boxes with bits missing, old stuff made in countries that no longer exist, wooden hammers that break on the first whack... and I don't like going there without a piece of string and a guide-book.
Their plugs are down in the eighth aisle, turn left, second aisle, right and right again. I eventually discover, a little later that morning, that they don't have anything except 48s and 54s either.
I went back to the first shop. Sell me another unit please, I said, with a spare plug.
We've run out of units, she answered with a certain satisfaction, I think you bought the last one.
So, to the next door town of Turre and its ferretería
The story about the horse, tee hee, and could I buy a unit with a spare bung, por favor.
Yes I could.

Monday, September 03, 2012

A Spoonful of Sugar

The government of Mariano Rajoy is hoping to have been seen to be quick and eager to reassure Brussels that Spain may be wounded and in pain, but that the cure is already underway.
The ordinary rate of IVA has gone up to 21% (following a rise last year by the PSOE of 16% to 18%), school-books have gone up in price with a massive tax increase (just in time for the school year), higher prices on public utilities have been allowed (including the electric company, Endesa, making its prices the highest in Europe) and even the poor funcionarios, Spain’s three million strong public servants, have had to wave goodbye to their Christmas bonus. The Minister of Justice is tightening the abortion rules to strict church limits and many file-sharing sites (video pirates if you prefer) are being closed down. Around 160 bank-sponsored evictions are being carried out each day.  The poor have not been forgotten, with the special 400 euros handout introduced by the socialists being returned for a further six months, although under strict new conditions.
A recent survey asked if Rajoy should spend more attention on solving the unemployment crisis – also the highest in Europe, with some provinces standing (or rather ‘sitting down’) at 35% - and less on trying to fix the prime rate and appease the bankers in Brussels.
Perhaps, indeed, with all the vinegar, Rajoy should be considering a small bonus to his subjects, a sop to the masses, a bit of good news to treasure during this dark autumn and winter to come.
There was a hint of raising the speed limit on the motorways – but instead, they lowered it on the byways, increased the police presence everywhere and, in a move designed to send the tourist market reeling, the new head of Tráfico has recently said that she wants to see ‘zero alcohol’ on the highway code as soon as possible.
So far, the best the PP thinkers have come up with has been a putsch on the public television and radio of any newscasters and interviewers thought to be meddlesome. The good news is - they’ve put bullfighting back on.
Some opposition politicians and intellectuals are talking of insurrection (as far as they can – a new law has been passed making encouragement to violent protest, even on Facebook, a crime punishable by two years).
The answer to this, according to Cayo Lara, the General Secretary of the Izquierda Unida (the Far Left alliance) could be to imprison a banker. ‘Spain’, he says, ‘needs to have the image of a banker behind bars’ he told Europe Press, adding that ‘the banking fraternity doesn’t need to walk on a bed of roses and that those responsible for ruining many thousands of people and contributing to a blood-bath of public resources should be held to account’.
The Government however refuses to hold an enquiry in Parliament on the origins of the current crisis and, apparently and despite alarming accounts of massive public fraud, no banker appears to be at risk of losing their liberty.
On September 25th, a protest called ‘Occupy the Parliament’ will be held in Madrid. It will be a test of how far the public is prepared to show their impatience with the current crisis.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bédar Fire

A brush fire broke out near Bédar on Saturday around midday, threatening the village and burning at least 400 hectares of mountain growth. The fire reached the edge of the village, which nestles in the sierras above Turre and Mojácar, and then headed westwards towards some smaller settlements. The town was evacuated on Saturday night by police order, and many people were obliged to sleep in the sports pavilion in next door Los Gallardos. The fire, one of three that appeared around the same time (two smaller fires in nearby Vera and Antas) appears to have been intentional. No word of damaged property as yet, but the fire, by noon on Sunday, was still active in the higher hills.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Vera Yes or Vera No?

A masterful piece of promotion from the Vera 'Oficina de Gestión Turística' to promote their fair city and supported (which must mean 'approved') by the Consejalías de Turismo, Deportes, Juventud and Cultura. The leaflet has maps, information, pictures and small children jumping up and down. But we are confused by the title page.
Does it say 'Verano' (summer) or 'Vera no'?

By Amber Napier

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Square with a Round Hole

I went to the presentation of the new square in Mojácar village next to the church, held a few days ago. The square is the final version of two previous plazas - the Arbellón and Frontón - which, after last year's demolition and this year's digging, might now profitably be called 'Plaza Rosmari's Baby' or perhaps, in honour of the fabled mojaquera who lost her arch a few mayors back, the 'Plaza de Luciana'.
The presentation was offered by the mayoress, with her crew of councillors standing in an orderly line behind her, to a small gathering of the Faithful. Opposition councillors were not sent an invitation and neither were various local media, including the Actualidad Almanzora who note in their write-up in the latest edition that: 'Como siempre, la versión del equipo de gobiereno no es posible reflejarla porque mantiene un boicot informativo absoluto hacía este medio, que nos priva incluso de recibir las notas de prensa municipales.' They say that they have an absolute boycott against them from the Mojácar authorities.
The underground car-park, to hold the famous 37 or 38 cars (depending on who's telling the story), won't be opened for, ah, business until next year. You know, paperwork... however, the large granite expanse above is now ready to admire, or put café tables on in an artful and refreshing manner. One has to think of the tourists. Nearby, a small wash breathes across a granite-chip wall, a fountain. Next to this is one of Rosmari's heavy plastic signs: 'On this date, Rosmari Cano opened the new plaza...'. There are quite a few of these scattered about the municipality, in a town where mayors are usually forgotten as quickly as is considered decent.
The mayorial presentation to the small group of supporters was accompanied by a video which showed in slow motion a film of the protests from last year. The opposition parties got their medicine in the speech as well. Afterwards, a tapa and a drink were offered to those present, numbering around eighty. As to the parking (in what we were told is now a pedestrianised village), how much would a single parking place cost, to defray the public outlay? Around 50,000 euros a pop. Are there any takers?
My first thought about this remarkable architectural onslaught arrived after I noticed the lift which towers politely over the proceedings. A splendid elevator that takes you from the plaza, whoosh, down to the underground car-park below. I imagined the maid Luciana, yearning for her Moorish prince, rather than throwing herself off the cliff to her death, could have just opened the metal door and pressed -01. Instead of the sad ending known to generations of Romantics, she would have descended safely and would now be living ever after with her prince. Who probably would have left her and opened a chiringuito instead.
But, that's foreigners for you.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Another Almerian Road-Show

Almería's promoters are worried about the high number of homes on their books and have decided, crisis or no crisis, that it is time to get the gosh-darned Government involved in selling those homes to foreigners.
Thus, together with the national Asociación de Promotores y Constructores de España, they want the gummint to organise a 'macro road show' in foreign parts. There are, we are told by La Voz de Almería, some 25,000 viviendas for sale in this province alone.
Now, news flash for the promoters, bankers and politicians: foreigners don't buy homes or apartments in the big cities. There are no Brits living in Almería DF, Dalías or El Ejido - they would like to live in the smaller towns, villages and pedaneos in the hinterlands or on the coast. Of course, having seen the TV programs  and read the newspaper articles in the British, German and Norwegian media about how the Junta de Andalucía likes to wait until a foreigner has bought his house before declaring the structure illegal and worthless as an investment (there are over 250,000 such properties in Andalucía, mainly owned by European foreigners who stupidly thought that Spain lived by the 'rule of law'), sales are decidedly sloppy. Yes, Andalucía is an excellent place to retire to, and the move is a definite win/win for all concerned, with the new residents pumping in foreign funds twelve months a year, creating jobs, repopulating dying villages and improving their surroundings; but there is a firm and powerful rejection from the environmentalist lobby - that group of city-folk who presume to know about the countryside and are as impervious to criticism as was the Spanish inquisition in its day.
The reasons offered by La Voz for the drop in sales of these 'second homes' - and presumably echoed by the building community - include 'la crisis', tax relief and encouragements which have now been removed by the Partido Popular, the rise in IVA (well done those politicians!) and the staggering 35% unemployment in Almería - all of which are small beer compared with the summary illegalisation of most foreign-owned property across the region.
In brief, Andalucía has its post-dated 'illegal homes', Murcia its valueless bank guarantees on unfinished off-plan sites and Valencia, when the times are good, its Land Grab. Don't buy in Spain.
There are many foreigners, Europeans who should have certain rights as agreed at Maastricht, yet treated as extranjeros by the Spanish authorities (I must show you my residence card one day), who would like to live in Spain. It should be the European equivalent to Florida - wealthy and comfortable. Some foreigners, attracted by Spain's vibrant and fascinating culture, would disappear into Madrid, Granada and Seville; but we are concerned here with the majority - who want sun, peace and to drink a cool glass of wine as they sit in their garden and watch the sunset.
'We must regain our judicial reputation abroad', says José Manuel Galindo, the director of the Almerian promoters and builders association with a blindness little short of breathtaking. He's got 25,000 empty homes in Almería alone - and a hell of a lot of unpaid and anxious brick-layers, carpenters, marble-workers, electricians, plumbers, painters and gardeners to look out for. Plus any number of realtors, agents, lawyers, bankers and municipal tax collectors hoping that he can pull a rabbit out of his sombrero. But he can't, because the foreign media doesn't want its readers and viewers hightailing off to Spain, and as far as the media is loyal to its consumers (rather than its customers), it doesn't like to see people being stung.
If he could get the Junta de Andalucía's department of viviendas y obras públicas to pay compensation to Helen and Len Prior for having their house in Vera summarily demolished in January 2008 (they have lived amongst the ruins ever since), then maybe that might send a signal to the Northern Europeans.
Until then... there's always Cyprus.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Pass the Spawns

The Almería inland town of Turre has so many Britons living there that it is often known locally as 'Inglaturre'. This large number of Brits, many who don't speak Spanish, has helped to assure the ascendency across Andalucía of the traductora de Google, a handy-dandy computer program which puts anything in Spanish into a rough approximation of English, known fiercely in political circles in next door Mojácar as the 'Dump in your Soup School of Translation'.
The quandary until the traductora came along was how to get English-speaking clients without actually having to buy them a beer or (gasp!) pay them to put something of yours into their language, or at least to correct the version as supplied to you written on the back of an envelope by Cousin Bertín, who was once in Oxford for almost three weeks.
In Andalucía, Billboards, menus, signs, booklets and even the Guardia Civil's complaint forms are all full of mistakes in the English version.
A thing that we Britons laugh at (unless we're professional translators, in which case it rather pisses us off).

Friday, August 03, 2012

Postal Vote Square

It's not quite finished, but here are the latest pictures of Rosmari's underground car-park up behind the narrow streets of the Moorish town of Mojácar. The typical flat roofs and white paint which have long distinguished Mojácar have been dropped here in front of La Sartén for a flat area to apparently become a childrens' play-park. At two million euros. So, no extra tables and chairs for the Loro Azul and La Sartén. The strange box to the right in the top picture is - of all things - a lift. This takes you down (if you are one of the 37 car-owners) to the underground park below.
The second picture, taken from the Loro Azul's upstairs terrace, shows the decorations (before the childrens' swings and the graffiti go in). Over there to the left is Liberio's carpentry shop and apartment, which he doesn't seem to want to repair. He could open a bar there...
The Plaza doesn't seem to have a name yet. Maybe the 'Plaza Voto por Correos' (Postal Vote Square) might fit nicely.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Reap what You Sow

In the Levante Almeriense, tourism is much on people’s minds. On the one side, towns and villages are wondering how to increase the number of visitors to their locations, bringing in some extra dosh which will sit and stay in the shops and hostelries run, so often, by those who have a hand in the town’s fortunes and politics. Once you’ve seen the Alhambra, they say, why not come and see the ruins of a 12th century Moorish cottage, unfortunately overgrown by nettles and a sheep-dip? Money is spent and a photograph of their Worthies is taken, which then appears in the local paper. Something has been done and locally, rural tourism has gone up by 200% - from seven people last year to jolly nearly fourteen this. They could try and look for people to move to their villages, buy a house and bring in regular transfers; but the Junta de Andalucía appears to discourage this.
Some of our less attractive towns, Vera and Turre for example, have stretched local credulity by seeking a popular vote on the seven wonders of their respective communities. The only wonder is being why their bother. Other, more attractive towns like Bédar, Lubrín and Sorbas have no hotels at all and spend nothing on promotion. They make their money with the foreign residents, who spend twelve months a year in their homes, satisfied and peaceful.
In Mojácar, Sin City as it was called, when ‘sin’ meant ‘pecado’ rather than ‘without’, times have changed. Thanks to historical anomalies, the town has more beach-bars than anywhere in Spain. But a beach-bar shouldn’t be much more than a temporary bar on the beach, selling cold beers and some hot sardines cooked over a wooden fire. Salt, lemon and San Miguel. Over the years, ours have taken roots. They are finished in concrete, wood and stainless steel, and – far from being temporary structures – have, (for all I know) wine cellars below ground. They are certainly there all winter. Shut of course.
So, in Mojácar, there is the all-year resident trade, which creates jobs and keeps the shops, bars and supermarkets turning over in the winter months, and then there’s the summer onslaught. The local tourist board spends nothing on the first group, but heavily on the second. Unfortunately, the promotion is poorly handled and we are now beginning to worry (for different reasons, of course) that the wrong sort is being encouraged to visit the resort.
The Town Hall has ordered bars to close an hour earlier this year – two o’clock instead of three – so the main group of visitors, the kids, are obliged to find other fun at that hour. They go and party in their hotels or apartments they’ve rented for a song (‘550€ a week, one bed apartment, sleeps four’) causing sleepless nights for the residents. That way too, they won’t get caught drinking and driving by one of the dozens of aggressive police controls that swarm about our streets and roundabouts.
We want bucket and spade tourism say the chamber of commerce, who of course actually just want the receipts.
Following this change in attitude, the large block of 114 empty and unsold flats on Mojácar Playa that recently became a holiday centre run by the French group Pierre et Vacances has now run into some difficulty after the mayoress of Mojácar has told the company to ease off on renting their apartments to kids that just wanna have fun and to look instead for families who would be quieter and more responsible (eating in Mojácar's restaurants rather than sat on the sand drinking a kalimocho, or pissing against a wall, or being noisy late at night, or breaking plants and trees...).
The young 'uns are certainly enjoying Mojácar during these summer months. Trolley-fulls of beer and hootch are wheeled out of the supermarkets and into the apartments. So, if the
Pierre people don't pull up their socks, Rosmari Cano will - in the words of the Voz de Almería - close 'em down.
The thing is - when you chose cheap and cheerful tourism, you get cheap and cheerful tourists.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Turre's Main Square

A Sunday view from Turre's Tiananmen Square, which, despite its generous size, only has legal parking spaces for about six cars and a bicycle. What is it about parking and our local planners? By the time the shop owners have arrived, there's never any room left for the punters' cars. So, not much business. This may explain why the 'Calle de las Tiendas', which disappears off to the left, is headed by that fine looking yet inexplicably unfinished building in the centre of the picture. The building, proof if needed that architects are a thing of the past, has a particularly wonky look to it because the narrow lane passing it goes off at an angle.
It will no doubt remain like this for a while to come.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Speed Limits

The Interior Minister and the DGT have been working on new ways to cheer Spanish drivers and - as they wait to see if their French counterparts are strung up by incensed Gallic chauffeurs after that country's motorists were obliged since yesterday to carry a breathalyser kit in their sandwich-box at all times - they have for the moment contented themselves with dropping the speed limit on ordinary roads to ninety. To make it more fun, the signs are sometimes obscured and hard to find.
Now whether this speed sign on the way to Bédar reads ninety or thirty three and a third can only be discovered by driving there yourself.
Go on, it's a pretty little village, with no hotels or playa, and just the one cop.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dumping on the Customer: Oh Yeah!

Harping on the same subject once again - that the pueblo Spanish don't appear to want to check their traductora de Google with a native-speaker (of which Mojácar is strongly blessed) - we find that a popular beer company is paying for a promotional exercise involving fourteen local (local) restaurants with a translation to die for.
And somehow, it'll all be our fault.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Driven to Dink

This thing about spending good cash on making an advert, a billboard, a leaflet or a campaign and not checking the spelling with one of the English-speaking people in our town (being in the majority, we aren't that hard to find), is enough to drive somebody to dink!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Five Destinations in The Almerian Countryside

Seeking adventure, we decided on Friday to visit five 'off the beaten track' places that were advertised in the 'Mojácar and area special' that appeared in the latest Olive Press, the main English free newspaper for Andalucía.
The first was the Oro del Desierto, an olive oil manufacturer and bottler, which also holds a beautifully appointed shop/restaurant on the Tabernas end of the N340 Sorbas/Tabernas road, just past and opposite the now sadly depleted Venta del Compadre. Here we met the owner Rafael Alonso (speaks good English) who showed us around his empire and explained about the difference of the four different kinds of olives he grows on his plantation in the hills behind Sorbas. We bought a couple of bottles of olive oil for our breakfast table (on toasted Spanish bread, dribbled onto crushed tomato followed by a sprinkle of salt) and admired his menu. The restaurant, Los Albardinales, is open for lunches and, by reservation, for dinners - closed Thursdays.
Following our visit, we headed back a short distance towards Sorbas and turned off on a minor road towards Lucainena de las Torres, a pretty, white and forgotten village in the low hills behind Nijar. Here, our destination was the Venta del Museo, a well-known (in a secretive sort of way) German-run restaurant and hostal. Beautifully and imaginatively decorated, this restaurant was run for many years by HansPeter Wohler who famously had a unique wine cellar. I asked the new manager Stefan what had happened to the collection. All gone, he said sadly. Lunch here is a treat, so don't be shy.
The third place on our list was a small 'hippy' retreat, a type of rural hostal, called El Saltador and run by Claudia Scholler. From Lucainena, head towards Nijar but turn off to the left after a couple of kilometres towards Polopos. Claudia has regular exhibitions and flamenco concerts in this out-of-the-way spot - a small exhibition of the late American master Fritz Mooney paintings is currently running there. Claudia was just serving lunch to her guests so we talked for just a few minutes and promised to return. She sent us on towards Polopos on what turned out to be a stunning trip through a fantasy of mountains, gorges, ruins and desert, along a narrow road converted from a single-gauge miners' railroad. If somebody came the other way, we'd still be there today.
After arriving safely in Polopos, a one-donkey village, the road dipped along a river-bed and eventually and obligingly deposited us on the roundabout behind the Venta del Pobre petrol station and restaurant.
We crossed the motorway and headed down into the national park towards Agua Amarga, breaking off that road to head west to Fernán Pérez and on towards Cabo de Gata. Lunchtime loomed and I wanted to stop at the La Gallineta restaurant in Pozo de los Frailes (Tel 950 380 501). This is a small village just a couple of kilometres short of San José and La Gallineta, owned by Pedro from Alicante and his English-speaking son, was going to serve me dentón, a kind of deep-sea fish (apparently called 'dentex' in English) which was (as our Danish neighbour Paul Becket used to sometimes say) 'fan-flaming-tastic'.
Our fifth and final stop - it sounds like a treasure hunt - was another rural hostal, this time the Cortijo la Tenada which is located behind the miniscule village of Los Albaricoques. This small retreat is run by Umberto and is as quiet as it gets.
'Quiet' is not a word to describe the inappropriately named Campo Hermoso, where the national park suddenly switches into intense plastic farming and where the visible population appears to be a massive number of North and Central Africans peddling around on bicycles. We were lost for the first time that day, driving through endless passageways between abandoned plastic greenhouses. Finally, we found the motorway... and accelerated towards home.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mojácar is Noisy Fun for The Moors and Christians

This is the scene from an upstairs window overlooking the new and not yet named square by the Church in Mojácar. The famous underground car-park. Top left: a bar and stage. Top right: a bar and stage. Lower right: a bar and stage. These correspond to three of the seven kabilas that are crammed into Mojácar over the weekend, which, together with the main act in the Plaza Nueva, strolling musicians, the musketeers (trabuqueros), the powder-monkey with his fireworks and thunderflashes plus a number of music and disco bars, are all contributing gaily to make the town decidedly noisy at present.
The only scientific way to stop noise leakage from a competitor, is to turn your own speakers up. Loud.
There are buses running all night and there's a superb procession on Sunday afternoon with over a thousand brightly dressed participants, together with yet more musicians. Bring suntan oil and cameras. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Whistle-Blowers

Rajoy at the football match in Poland, waving his arms in excitement as so-and-so scores a goal. Spain draws with Italy, one one. People complaining that Rajoy should be back in Madrid, since Spain has just got its new line of credit for 100 billion euros. But there he is, with the Principe.
God, I hate football.
Here, as every four years, louts drive around with flags sticking out from the windows of their cars, Spanish flags and an occasional English one. People firing off rockets when somebody scores a goal, honking their horns, the newspapers full of the football, which is as ephemeral as yesterday's weather forecast. 
So Rajoy, ungainly in his box in Warsaw, or Gdansk, jumping about as if he were a fan. Spain might be a second-rater in politics, finance and influence - but she's first rate in sports.
Meanwhile, back on the coast, a couple of our grimmer local red-top English-language newspapers have produced cut-out-n-keep centre-page spreads on the European football championships. All we need is a couple of thumbtacks and a spare bit of space in the den next to Britney and the Spice Girls.

Monday, May 28, 2012


It was a day for paperwork. We may not like it much, but several million funcionarios must rely on us wandering in, from time to time, with satchels full of papers which they can then declare to be incomplete or, better still, en situación irregular. Oh, yes. Talk dirty.
So, to Almería. I had two things to do and an entire morning to do them in. The trip from our town is an hour and a bit, plus half an hour driving around Almería itself in ever decreasing circles to get to the first point of call, the immigration office, located whimsically enough in the Calle Marruecos. According to a paper with necessary instructions I had received from them, I was to give them a copy of my passport and silly green police A4 paper (issued by the very same office last year), plus photocopies of the above. It took about an hour, first queuing for a number, followed by me in conversation with a nice gentleman from Nigeria who wanted to sell me a Rottweiler, before I was finally called to the desk of a surly young man wearing a tee-shirt and ear-rings. I think he was angry that he hadn't got the day off like his companions at most of the other desks appeared to have done. We began. Turned out, I needed a photocopy of the list of instructions as well. I hadn't seen that one coming. Well, we got there finally, after he had waited for me to walk down the street in search of a shop with a photocopier and return with the vital document, adding it to my modest pile of papers.
I'll let you know, he said.
Then by taxi, because I had forgotten where the place was, assuming they hadn't moved it in the past year or two, on to Trafico.
There, I meant to put an old car in baja. This was to save me a massive 173.67 euros per annum being my town's circulation tax. Last week I had gone up to the town hall to see Nemesio about whipping the car in question off the town computer. I had the tax paper for this year, stamped as paid. No, won't work any longer: nowadays you have to go to Trafico, he'd said.
So, I'm in the taxi. Lots of people are putting their old cars en baja, said the driver. With the crisis, you have to cut any costs you can.
At the trafico building, I am allowed in to the room and, after taking the number from a machine, am invited to sit. Luckily, there was an interesting show on a screen in front of both me and a half dozen gleeful gentlemen in djellabahs featuring a properly dressed young woman driving a car, filling up with gas and checking her tire pressure, changing gears and daring my new friends to have anything to say about it.
My number came up.
Hello, I would like to put this car in baja, I said. She pushes papers across the desk: fill out this form, this other form, pay eight euros over there and then come back tomorrow. But I'm looking at the form. It wants the car's numberplate, which seems fair enough, and its date of registration, which doesn't. Hey, I said, I don't know the car's birthday, I hardly know my wife's birthday... and, anyway, what's this about coming back in tomorrow? I've just driven here from across the province.
Well, she answers, the linea to Madrid is down, so I can't do anything today.
So there we left it, with a final score of maybe one out of two. We'll see. Don Quijote would have understood. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

I've Got a Fast Dog

It's always difficult to get a decent photo of a Briard - this picture isn't photoshopped or, besides boosting the colour a bit, retouched in any way. Anyhow, this is what our dog looks like while enjoying his early-morning constitutional.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Té con Limón

A bazaar called Té con Limón in Madrid has closed after fifteen years of business, but not before posting the following text, as a large sign, outside its doors:

     Closing Down Sale Through Desperation
     We want to thank all those who have helped us arrive at this decision:
     Thanks to corrupt politicians.
     Thanks to Spanish bipartisanship.

     Thanks to the autonomies, provincial councils, town halls, etc
     Thanks to our former leaders now enjoying their fat annuities.
     Thanks to the Employers Confederation for destroying jobs
     Thanks to the unions for doing nothing.
     Thanks for raising our taxes
     Thanks for cutting our citizens' rights.
     Thanks to politicians for their salaries, allowances and privileges.
     Thanks for injecting public money into the banks.
     Thanks for forgetting about the self-employed and small-business owners.
     Thanks to Greece for showing us what's in store.
     Thank you for allowing parasitic economic models.
     Thanks for forcing our kids to emigrate from the country.
     Thanks to all of the powerful elite to make us feel more free and for leaving us without a bean!.

Apparently, the sign proved to be something of a success and visitors to the 900m2 store 'increased by a huge amount', said the owner sadly, before he had to close the doors for ever. 
Story here

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Can't buy, Can't rent...

The Gnomo Feliz in Vera, Following the Bank Eviction May 2012
The Destruction of the Priors' Home in Vera, January 2008

Almería unemployment stands at 35 per cent,
lots of the lawyers and the politicians here are bent,
you can't buy a house here, neither can you rent;
...and they really couldn't tell you where the money went...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Business is Bad

In Turre, the pueblo just inland from Mojácar, a town of about 50% British presence, signs of the crisis are apparent. It's hard to keep afloat in Inglaturre.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Immigrants and Ex-pats

There are two types of foreigner living in Spain long-term: those who came to work and those who came to live. They are - specific exceptions aside - the immigrants and the self-styled ex-pats. To me, an immigrant moves to a new country to improve his lifestyle – and that of his family – and to seek his fortune. No doubt he will work hard, learn (as best he can) the language and be proud of his children becoming 'nationals'. He will not seek to be a 'second class citizen' (even if the local people treat him as one). An ex-pat on the other hand seems to want to stay as he is, only displaced into another culture. Perhaps learn a bit but always talk about and contrast things with 'home'. He may look down upon the locals by condescension to them – while loudly treating them not as his equals, but his betters ('after all, it's their country', ‘we’re guests here’…etc).
Perhaps there're other types - 'colonials' (who seek to exploit their neighbours before disappearing back 'home'), 'emigrés' (comfortable with themselves, but never going back), business executives (in matching shorts, jacket and tie), snowbirds, guiris, ingleses (regardless of where they come from), whenwees, hippies, bums and bikers... and then there are those who fully embrace the Spanish way of life, find a Spanish lover and disappear smartly into the woodwork.
Let’s call them all ‘Europeans’, with honourable additions from the USA, Australia and so on, and a blurry qualification for the Eastern Europeans, who might be more comfortable as inmigrantes.
Sometimes I think of the Europeans living in Spain as a group of people a million and a half strong. That’s more than the entire population of the cities of Málaga, Córdoba, Almería and Alicante combined. Yet, beyond (apparently) all being readers of a white-bread weekly free newspaper, there’s no cohesion, no unity and no identity. Not apparently a group after all. Our few famous companions are known for things they did before they moved here – whether robbing the Glasgow train in 1966, acting in a few movies, being a gun-runner or a bank manager, a pop star or a racer – yet no one has raised our game while being a fully-fledged resident in Spain beyond a few who seem to have found a calling by ripping off their fellow Britons. I can think of a few luminaries that might buck this statement, rather like proving the rule: Michael Robinson (sports commentator), Henry Kamen (historian), Jon Clarke (newspaperman), Len and Helen Prior (unwilling political victims), Maurice Boland (radio presenter), Chris Stewart (writer) or Chuck Svoboda (property rights agitator), but we really need a top-notch champion I think, someone with whom we can identify and, vicariously be proud of  – Guirilandia’s version of Arnie or that footballer with the underwear adverts and the tattoos.
Until we do, we shall remain as a faintly embarrassing blip on Spain’s history, which, like the Visigoths, will leave no trace when we pass. Our main energy here seems to be spent on saving abandoned dogs or messily feeding wild cats. We neither seek nor are invited to participate, to join in. If it wasn’t for the money that we pump through the local Caja de Ahorros, we’d be rounded up and told to scarper. Frankly, the authorities don’t care a fig for us – we have now even lost our residency and ID cards. When necessary or commercially interesting, notices or billboards will as likely be in Ingrish as in English (since 1970, across Almería: ‘this establishement has complaint forms if the customer does so request it’) and we are being written out of local history. See the latest edition of Mojácar’s bi-lingual tourist magazine for example which, in 84 pages, manages to make no mention of us whatsoever. In Mojácar, we eat nothing but ajo colorado and pelotas.
Despite being millions in numbers, past and present, scattered mainly in meaty lumps along the coast or in the islands, we currently have no streets, barrios, buildings or memorials to honour us beyond the Calle Doctor Fleming (Alexander Fleming discovered the use of penicillin, but never visited Spain) and the Calle O’Donnell (Leopoldo O’Donnell, a Spanish general with an Irish name) both in Madrid, and then a few brandy companies in Jerez with historic British names from Spanish families. Well, there’s always Gibraltar.
Sometimes Spain allows a foreigner to take instant nationality – for ‘sporting’ reasons, perhaps – we remember the German skier Johann Mühlegg who skied as a Spaniard in the 2002 Winter Olympics… until he was busted for ‘doping’. Yes, well, perhaps the less said on both sides about him the better…
Our town was dying in the mid sixties. It was a small yet pretty Almerian burg called Mojácar with no surviving agriculture. It was poorly communicated and in as much rubble as new build. There was one bar in the village and three restaurants on the beach, yet a Parador hotel had just opened and the Town Hall was gamely giving away property to anyone prepared to invest in it. At that time, there were only a few hundred people living here and there is no doubt that the artists, bohemians, poets, settlers and visionaries who moved here because they loved the place all managed to turn around the local fortunes. Today, with more británicos than mojaqueros, and with the entire local economy springing from foreign pensions, capital and original outlay, the municipality has successfully managed to avoid any and all reference to the forasteros – the settlers. Our money yes, by all means - but not our partnership. On both sides, a lack of will to integrate leads to a divided and unequal union, with the foreigners feeling like battered wives. If you sell enough houses to ingleses, you should profitably start to blend. Yet, the local story of two long-time bar-owners, Ramón and Gordon, bears retelling:
‘Gordon’, says Ramón, ‘you’ve not been in my bar for a couple of weeks for your morning brandy, are you all right?’ ‘Ramón’, says Gordon, ‘you’ve not been in my bar ever’.
Here in Mojácar - a town with today about 40% local, 10% Spanish and the rest a mixture of Brits, Romanians, Ecuadorians and Chinese (I know, with a sprinkling of another fifty nationalities) - it's hard to lump all the foreigners together as either one thing or another. Some are here to live and spend their money, others here to make money and go away again and others... probably waiting for instructions from Beijing.
The answer is for both sides – locals and settlers – to integrate, the one into the other. Mojácar is hardly 'Spain'.
After all, they sell us houses. We become residents. Then, we - and they - begin to learn about the other. We, because Spain is a fascinating place where we have chosen to live, and they, because they sold us a home, allowing us into their community. Changing their community.
One day perhaps, the local people will be as proud of Mojácar as we are.
Foreigners, at least those I’ve identified as Europeans, or non-Spanish Europeans if you prefer, although non-local Spaniards have similar problems to our own, live in ghettoes – so goes the Spanish reasoning. Perhaps the old saw about the Spaniards who went to work in Germany in the 1950s and sent their money home applies in people’s minds to the guiris. If Ramón goes to their bars or restaurants, he won’t be understood, he won’t get a menu in Spanish, and any money they take from Ramón and his mates will be sent to England with the next post. Well, guilty of the first two, but not the third: it all stays here.
Spain has a number of large capital cities, vibrant with money, offices, departments, companies, cathedrals and power. On the other hand, our town, and all our towns, are small and unimportant places. The capital city for the ingleses is probably Marbella, with Estepona, Fuengirola, Mijas, Mojácar, Albox, Torrevieja, Altea, Jávea, Calpe, Denia and Ibiza rounding out the foreigners’ main ports-of-call. These towns between them don’t have much in the way of presence, with small-time leaders, miserable budgets and oft-ignorant councils, but they are what we have. 
In Spain, there are an estimated 5,640,000 foreigners. With open borders with France and Portugal, tourists staying over, undocumented boat-people, the majority of ex-pats refusing to get on the local padrón and so on, the authorities can only guess at a figure, but that’s the one they like. There is another kind of foreigner that the same authorities inexplicably like a lot more, and that’s the turista. They may not leave much money here individually, but, last year, 56.7 million tourists, including 13.6 million Britons, spent at least one night in Spain. Apparently.
The problem is, of course, that foreign residents don’t particularly spend time or money in Spanish resort hotels and it’s the managers of those establishments who are the considered experts on tourism in Spain. One resident spends in twelve months a lot more than one tourist manages in 4.2 days, or whatever the current average visit is. Let us suggest a chubby monthly allowance or pension spent on clothes, restaurants, petrol, travel, a maid and an electricity bill. There’ll be a house and a car bought from foreign funds as well. Compare this with a tourist who has paid for his holiday in some agency in London and who… if he doesn’t enjoy himself… will choose Portugal next year.
Unlike ‘Residential Tourism’, as the Spanish authorities gamely label our community, a sector on which nothing is spent, beyond (according to bar-room politicians) something massive on the health service, proper ‘Tourism’ is worth a ministry and a huge billionaire budget. Last year’s figures for tourism show 622 million euros spent in 2011 by the Government, plus a similarly massive amount from the autonomies and local authorities.
Answer this - how much does your town hall spend on the foreign residents, and who is the local councillor in charge of us?
We are told we need to integrate, what we need is do is to participate.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Andalucía to Form a 'Progressive' Government

While the finer details remain unclear, the PSOE and the IU have agreed to form a government 'of maximum stability' for Andalucía for the next four years after a key vote by 6,000 IU party members agreed last Tuesday to support the plan. Reacting to the news, 'a radical government is very bad for Andalucía' said the leader of the party with the most seats, Javier Arenas, leader of the Andalucian PP, who agrees with José Bono (the Socialist ex President of Congress) that the PSOE should have pacted instead with the PP.
Such a pact between the PSOE and the PP was always going to be unlikely. The remaining alternatives would have been a minority government of the PP or the support by the IU of the PSOE candidature for president of the autonomy but without entering into a coalition. The IU coordinator Diego Valderas has supported a full partnership, while the thorn-in-the-side Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, mayor of Marinaleda and now Andalucian parliamentarian, is strongly against any alliance which, he says, would spell the end of IU – ‘We must emphasize our anti-capitalist character and not climb into the sinking ship of the PSOE’.
Thus, with the support of the IU, the candidature of José Antonio Griñán as president of the Junta de Andalucía in the presidential debates on the May 2nd and 3rd new parliamentary session, followed by the investiture is now assured. In deliberations leading up to this situation, the PSOE had agreed to the ‘minimum conditions’ of the IU (the ‘Izquierda Unida Los Verdes-Convocatoria por Andalucía’ to give it its full name - a loose coalition of far-left groups dominated by the Partido Comunista de España). These are the departure of those civil servants in the Junta de Andalucía connected to the estimated 700 million euro ERE fraud (the Ex-Councillor for Employment was jailed without bail on Monday for his part in the scandal); the creation of a ‘public bank for Andalucía’ to manage seed money for small and medium businesses; the prohibition of evictions by foreclosures of the banks (a petition will need to be sent to the Central Government in Madrid, which has the power to implement or otherwise this); a basic income for all Andalucian families and the offer of four months of public scat-work for the unemployed. Furthermore, agreements have been reached to increase taxes, introduce fresh wealth taxes, inheritance and gift taxes, and to implement an environmental and tax-fraud watch.
So, it remains merely to see which departments of the new government will come under the IU. My guess - they'll take the department of the environment (watch out foreign home-owners with ‘illegal’ dwellings) and some other major department. 

Later (From The Entertainer Online):  The cake - or is it a pie? - has now been carved up between the IU and the PSOE in the new Andalucian Government. The junior partner Izquierda Unida to take control of public works and housing (watch out 'illegal property' owners) and - of all things - tourism. Diego Valderas (IU) will become the vice-president of José Antonio Griñán's Junta de Andalucía.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ten Years Ago

My picture is a copy of the very first issue of a newspaper. Actually, it's the first issue of the newspaper with a New Name, which appeared exactly ten years ago this week. Oddly, the previous name of the same newspaper is visible on the lower right side of the upper front page. The numeration and one euro price were both quickly dropped, and the new weekly took on the issue-number of its previous incarnation. Ten Years Ago.

Several Days Later: Oddly enough, no mention of the Tenth Anniversary in the pages of the Euro Weekly.  I wonder why?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Dog Days in Albox

Today's Voz de Almería has an article in it about some British women. As often happens, it makes them look, and by extension all of us, slightly foolish. The ladies come from Albox and appear to have managed to miss most of life's attractions in Spain (which, it goes without saying, explains why they ended up in Albox). Their thing - is about dogs. Abandoned, raddled, mangy and hungry.
I imagine the Spanish must wonder about these Brits who have come to live here. They appear to show no interest in getting to know the culture and the language, travel, history, the food and the drink (beyond cerveza and wine in a carton), the politics and the social life of the Spaniards, their family and their education. Not for them the traditions, handicrafts, misas,
matanzas and toreo. The only thing that appears to interest these funny new neighbours (so must think the Spanish) is their extraordinary hang-up on charity... and not even on human charities: the nuns, the poor, the disabled and the weak. Just the dogs and cats.
The thing about animals is simple: you can talk to them in English. They won't mind.
There was a time a few years back when the entire corporation of a town hall in Alicante was arrested for the usual fraud so common in those small towns with too many builders, rural land and eager clients, and just one councilor escaped, making him suddenly the acting mayor. This worthy was an Englishman (cynically stuck on the lista to make up the numbers and get a few extra votes for the party in question from the extranjeros). His department in the ayuntamiento was 'doggies and moggies' and he spoke not a word of Spanish. On hearing the thrust of the eight-hundred page report, the Judge, once someone had slapped him hard on the back a few times finally managing to dislodge a lump of tostada con tomate from his tubes, ordered the arrested to be sent back to their town hall. 'ASAfuckingP', added the beak, thus breaking a judicial tradition that has lasted centuries in
The local dog charity in Mojácar, whose job is essentially to look after Spanish abandoned dogs, reportedly spent 145,000 euros last year - which all came in contribution from the extranjeros. Mostly items sold in a charity-store for a euro or two. Not only the dogs and cats benefited from this British largesse, the owner of the shop got a bloody good rent as well. The local mayoress has now ceded a new shop for the charity. No doubt for charitable reasons.
What is it about the local dogs here that ignites our cold British passion? Poisoned, garroted, abandoned, tortured and starved?
So the ladies in Albox. One of them, who gets the headline, has thirty three dogs in her home. Just imagine that for a moment. The report begins by huffily pointing out that the British 'if they don't respect animals more than we Spanish do, at least approach them in a different and more organised way'. Whatever that means. Well, we don't string them up in the campo with just a sausage roll full of poison for company.
Then we learn that the lady in question must leave for
England for an operation and may be delayed or perhaps not return. Cue the 33 dogs. Someone apparently wants to buy the house (cleaned and dog-free) and the dogs could all be sent to Holland with the money, where they will all live in the lap of canine luxury - no doubt comfortably near to a cosmetic factory. But that's just me talking. Don't the Dutch have their own strays... why would they want so many Spanish ones? And why do they prefer those little ratonero dogs with pop-eyes?
The problem is, of course, simple: 'the Spanish don't castrate their dogs', says the second lady to the journalist.
Through an interpreter.
'The Spanish neighbours give us their spare puppies', say the ladies indignantly, 'or abandon them on our step and scarper, or else they just toss them into the garbage'.
The article ends with a plea from the by-now converted hack not to buy a dog, but to adopt one.
Of course, and here's a thought: if they can't sell them, the breeders can always throw their spare puppies into the skip.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Alliance of Civilizations

Spain has long maintained a relationship with Arab countries, through its proximity to North Africa, its many centuries under ‘Moorish’ dominion and, more recently, Franco’s reliance on Moroccan forces during the early years of the Spanish Civil War. Saddam Hussein’s shotgun, famously fired in provocation against the West from his terrace just before the first Gulf War, was given to him by Franco during Saddam’s state visit to Spain in 1974 (along with a medal, the Gran Cruz de la Real Orden de Isabel la Católica). Saddam replied by presenting Spain with two full tankers during the oil crisis of the same year. This cosiness with the Arab world stumbled with José María Aznar’s very visible alliance with Bush and Blair following the summit meeting in the Azores in 2003.

Following on from the changes in Spain’s relations with Arab countries, socialist leader José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero proposed the Alliance of Civilizations at the 59th General Assembly of the United Nations in 2005. It was co-sponsored by the Turks. The initiative sought to galvanize international action against extremism through the forging of international, intercultural and inter-religious dialogue and cooperation with an emphasis on defusing tensions between the Western and Islamic worlds. By July of that year, the Spanish government had approved a million euros spending money to the new agency, earmarked another twenty million for a headquarters in Barcelona and, above all, Zapatero’s initiative was playing well to the galleries back home in Spain. Spain had taken a shot at becoming the moral leader of the world, although it was sadly obvious that Zapatero was punching outside of his class.

One can almost imagine a flying saucer landing in a field somewhere. ‘Take me to the chairman of the Alliance of Civilizations’ says a small green individual holding a ray gun.

The historian Henry Kaman was one of the critics of the Alliance. In 2004 he wrote: ‘Presumably the intention is not to export the decadent western cultural concepts such as democracy, women's rights, freedom of expression and freedom of religion or sexual tolerance. If Zapatero does not intend to delve into these issues, does he then seek to further develop concepts such as dictatorship, control of the press and the denial of sexual freedoms?’.

By the end of 2006, a report from the ‘high level group’ chosen by the United Nations to outline recommendations and practical solutions on how the Western and Islamic societies could solve mutual misconceptions and misunderstandings was issued. According to the report, ‘politics, not religion, is at the heart of growing Muslim-Western divide’.

In 2011, Spain’s contribution to the Alliance was down to 800,000 euros and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Gonzalo de Benito, notes that this year’s payout will be even smaller ‘since there is no alternative’ but ‘will still be a significant amount’.

A Spanish right wing outlet called Periodista Digital recently stated: ‘It appears that the personal adventure in which Zapatero obsessively immersed himself will now disappear after many millions wasted, much time lost and countless absurd and senseless projects that went nowhere and which no one will remember’.

One gets the feeling that Spain may enjoy the reflected glory of being the originator of such a fine plan, yet now finds that there are other more important fish to fry.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Animo in Almería

Equinotherapy or ‘equine facilitated therapy’ is used in Northern European countries as ‘riding for the disabled’.

More properly, riding for the disabled is a way by which the gait of a horse can be incorporated to help a rider who has little or no control of their lower limbs. This could come through an accident, or a congenital condition. Many people, disabled in some way, have found that they can improve their life through either some therapeutic program with a horse, which could be anything from being placed on the back of an animal, surrounded by side-walkers, a leader and a number of medical experts – to just learning to ride for its own pleasure. A young girl with polio famously once learnt to ride and she went on to win the Silver at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952 in Dressage proving that people with disabilities can participate in sports – this long before the introduction of the Paralympics in 1960.

Long-term local resident Barbara Napier worked as a young woman in California with disabled children and, betimes, enjoyed her hobby of horseback riding. The two disciplines were always going to come together. She was a board member, for a number of years, on the Federation of Riding for the disabled International (now re-named as the HETI) and represented Spain.

On Sundays, Barbara and I drive to a stable outside the city of Almería. There, we join a group of friends – including a riding instructress, a physiotherapist and a psychologist – and work with some special needs children. This is true hippotherapy, with a growing number of disabled children attending each week: children with cerebral palsy, autism, genetic disorders, some hemiplegics and quadriplegics. Barbara and her friends and volunteers have recently resuscitated ‘Animo’, Spain’s first animal assisted therapy charity, started by Barbara in 1986 (and based then in Mojácar) until her health made it impossible to continue some ten years ago.

Barbara has almost completed a book about her experiences over the past ten years, it’s called ‘Riding For My Life’ and it details how a regular course on horseback (with and under expert tutelage) can save one’s life by slowing down or reversing sickness or extreme cures like chemotherapy.

Animo is a nationally registered charity and Barbara’s personal webpage can be found at