Saturday, March 23, 2013


A recent article from Rafael Yus Ramos in El Observador talks about that Mecca for tourism – the Costa del Sol. But, he says, it's not a tourist destination so much as a place where foreign people live. What the Spanish authorities, lost for a better description of the vast numbers of us extranjeros, and both unwilling and incapable to treasure our input and value to the community, describe weakly as 'residential tourism' before quickly turning to other topics and ignoring us. 
We should almost feel flattered that they have decided to tax our properties elsewhere in the dreadful Asset Tax (for which they have no reason). Here's Rafael:
'...When you drive down the N-340 road which runs along the entire coastline of the Costa del Sol, what catches the eye are not hotels, but the huge number of homes built, many of them forming large residential communities on the outskirts of the original towns, with slightly odd workmanship on the homes. But, who lives there? They are just people who reside on the Costa del Sol: not native people that work there, but rather elderly Europeans, people who were seeking this place for its quietness, the gentle climate and the good health services available...'
Rafael prefers to describe his foreigners, not as residential tourists, but rather as immigrants.
So, he asks, 'are these residents 'tourists' in the genuine sense of the word? The product under offer, a house, is it a 'tourist product'? Finally, is this the best solution for the local economy?'
But there are few observers like Rafael, and the foreign residents (and the comparatively massive amount of money they brought with them) are mixed in and forgotten as a small and unimportant part of Spain's love affair with tourism.
My question – how much does Spain spend on promoting tourism? And how much does it spend on looking for foreigners to become residents by buying into the country? Has it ever dawned on anyone that a resident, here for 365 days, who has bought a house, a car, a washing machine and is keeping the local businesses open during the winter months - is worth rather more than a visitor who is here for five days and may as well choose Portugal next year.
Another article out last week on the subject of the foreign residents, comes from Valencia's Levante. This one is titled 'The Foreign Residents don't want to integrate' and deals with the Marina Alta, where foreign residents apparently practice 'auto-segregation'. - 'The difference lies in making a living. "Labour migrants" reach the Marina Alta impelled by necessity, while the "residential immigrants" arrive with their life already arranged. The first strive to integrate. But the second stay as tourists and "barely seek any relationship or services from the host society"'... 66% of the citizens of the municipality of Teulada-Moraira are foreigners, says the article sententiously.
There is a point which is being lost: when you sell a car, a tee-shirt, a souvenir or a plate of food, the buyer leaves with it and takes it somewhere else (if only in his stomach). But sell someone a house next door, and, hey presto, you have a new neighbour. Sell five hundred nearby houses to five hundred British families, then you can not be unduly surprised when the neighbourhood suddenly starts to change from a quiet Spanish area smelling gently of anchoas to a ghetto of sunburned Britons marching around wearing shorts, sandals and socks. And lastly, my friend from the Levante newspaper, remember this: We are all Europeans now.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Party Contributions

Following revelations of the Luis Bárcenas accounts which appeared in part in El País a few weeks ago, the Partido Popular has come in for a bit of friendly ribbing. Suggestions of 'brown envelope' money passing hands and, somewhere behind it all, some irregular party contributions from major businessmen involved in construction, makes it all sound a bit like we are living in New Jersey. No doubt we shall all settle down when the two investigating judges (currently and inexplicably at loggerheads) are able to show that it was all just a big misunderstanding.

Friday, March 08, 2013

The Spanish Bomb

The ABC newspaper ran an interesting story on Sunday about Spain's atomic bomb program. This was following an obsession of Francisco Franco to build a bomba and, perhaps, toss it at somebody. One of the reasons that Franco wanted the bomb, says José Lesta, who has just written a book called 'Claves ocultas del poder mundial', was to join the select club of the veto-wielding powers in the United Nations. Furthermore, having this technology at hand would have made Spain, and Franco, a geo-strategic power in Europe. Lastly, says the author, the availability of an atomic bomb would have given Franco enormous clout over his eternal enemy Morocco, especially since, in the Spanish Sahara, he had a perfect location for atomic tests.
By order of the Caudillo himself, in 1951, a select group of scientists and military leaders under General Juan Vigón opened a secret project, now known as the 'Junta de Energía Nuclear', whose job was to provide the country with a nuclear arsenal. Soon, following Vigón's death in 1955, an even more obsessive commander took over the project, Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco (better known as Franco's chosen successor, until he was assassinated by ETA in 1973). The Americans unconsciously participated by donating money towards Spain's nuclear energy program and with their help, Franco and Carrero Blanco opened in Madrid the 'Centro Nacional de Energía Nuclear Juan Vigón'.
Spain had all the ingredients to make a bomb, and it had the science. All it needed was one final explosive key element, plutonium. The French were willing to help, and a joint Franco/Spanish project, at Vandellós I was opened: Spain's first nuclear power station was a reality. The USA was not a supporter of this development and asked both France and Spain to sign a nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which De Gaulle and Franco both declined to do. 
In the 1960s, Spain had the technology, the scientists and the wherewithal to make a bomb. She could produce around 200 kilos of military-grade plutonium. Spain is Europe's second largest producer of uranium and, with the accidental loss of four USAF nuclear bombs in Palomares, Almería in January 1966, the final ingredient fell into Spanish hands - the trigger device. 
The Americans were once again unhappy with developments, and Henry Kissinger flew over to Spain to meet with General Franco, the future king Juan Carlos de Borbón, and, in a long and acrimonious discussion,  with Carrero Blanco. It was the 19th December1973. 
What was said has never been disclosed, but, less than 24 hours later, Carrero Blanco was dead, blown up  and across the roofs of Madrid in his armour-plated Dodge. With the Admiral's passing, and the evidence of American disapproval, the project for Spain's atomic bomb languished. 
Eventually, Felipe Gonzalez signed the non-proliferation treaty in 1987 and Spain's dream of an atomic bomb was at an end. 

OK, the bit about the CIA blowing up Carrero Blanco seems rather unlikely... 

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Juan Guirado Remembered

I live in a town in southern Spain, famous for its stark white cubist beauty. Famous, that is, among artists. The town is Mojácar, ruthlessly clasping the final hill in a fall from the high Spanish mountains behind, overlooking a bland and unexceptional beach. The town has narrow streets, far too narrow for modern transport, just wide enough for a donkey and its load. The colours are harsh and primary under the strong sun: blue, white and brown. At night, before the terrible sulphur lights were installed to smash the mystery and romance of the darkness, the shades and shadows from the moonlight and the odd light-bulb would cloak the town in an ambiguous romance. No wonder that many outsiders came, their senses alert for poetry, story, magic and mystery. And so on a corner or a roof, an artist finds his angle, his view or his inspiration and pulls out his crayons or his brushes.
Mojácar has changed since the artists arrived... and ultimately left again. Romantic arches, old buildings and emblematic corners have been torn down in favour of ugly shops, souvenir stalls and neon-lit pizza houses. The old fountain was pointlessly remodelled twenty years ago, a small number of indifferently built homes were recently razed, and a small, expensive and ultimately useless underground car-park covered by a granite plaza were built in their stead. High and greedy rents keep away the dilettantes. Mojácar, like her artists, has suffered.
Juan Guirado was never just another artist, even among the tradition of those who were inspired by Mojácar – this cubist Moorish town that has always been so unappreciated by the local population. Like the town itself, he was unique
My first memory of Juan takes place in a nearby village, when the artist, myself and a young local journalist were, for some reason, standing around near some seminal event – the opening of a new and relentlessly modern looking plaza, I think. A local politician came over and said hello. He took my hand and then reached hold of my elderly companion. Juan's mouth dropped open in apparent shock and he ran to a nearby spigot to wash his hands in a pantomime of horror. Well, we laughed. Juan Guirado didn't like politicians, bankers, priests or lawyers, or 'catetos' – village thick-heads. He would arch his fingers into a grasping and ugly pose, peel back his lips, and show us how they were chasing after your vote, your money or your soul. Some of his paintings would show this same bunch of predators, looming and squirming under his palette.
We called him 'El Maestro'. He had a rich and rewarding life. Not a wealthy one, but a busy one. The type of life that looks like it must have been a lot of fun to have led. He had spent several years in Australia, painting (of course) and working odd jobs in the 'bush'. He had forgotten most of his English, but had a few phrases that would sometimes pop out of his mouth, invective in a heavy Australian accent. The Maestro was a man who painted a lot, or drew pictures, always with some story or message hidden within the lines. This became evident in a series of cartoons that appeared in El Indálico, a local monthly newspaper, where a cartoon of two vultures evidently feeding over the flesh of Mojácar would enter into Faustian dialogue.
Juan drank too much: brandies, beer and wine, and didn't look after himself very well. He smoked Ducados, holding the cigarette between his thumb and his first finger like soldiers do. He didn't drive and travelled by bus or sometimes transported by a friend.
In his studio – I knew two of them, the first in Mojácar the next in Vera – there would be piles of paintings. Piles. The current one would be on an easel and a home-made frame was at hand to put on top for effect. He sometimes did portraits – strong and forceful pictures. Following another passion of his, he painted bullfighters in their suits of lights. There were landscapes, harsh views of Mediterranean ramblas or orchards. But, above all, there were his special views of chaos, produced in a singular and fascinating technique, scraping the colour into the canvas. Magnificent.
Mojácar has been the home to many artists, although they have sold few paintings there. The Indalo, the stick-man that birthed a group of artists called Los indalianos in the 1950s, artists that kicked the town into the attention of the European bohemians, attracting investors, painters and a patina of culture while making it in passing the richest per-capita town in Andalucía, is now a provincial logo for cucumbers.
For el Maestro, that was a terrible thing to see.