Friday, March 18, 2016

Cut and Paste: The Entertainer

A friend was cleaning out some apartment on the beach and, among other old Entertainer memorabilia, found this lying around. The date is February 5th, 1987.
The Entertainer was the first local newspaper in English (preceded only by the Talismán - a monthly magazine started by Vic Nicolas). It was printed variously at La Voz de Almería and La Crónica from its inception in 1985. The earliest copies were taken, each page in its folder, to the girls at the printers who would type everything out again into a ticker-tape device for printing on an old and dreadful King-Press. Mistakes were easy and often - since who can type out pages of stuff in a foreign language? Later we were able to make our own pages on a light-box in our office in Mojácar with the technique of cut and paste - as in this picture here. The completed page would be photographed on a giant camera called a Repro-master and the negatives, retouched (again on the light-box) would be taken to the printers. Later still, we acquired a Macintosh and were able to do desktop publishing, retiring both the camera and the light-box  - a large glassed table with tracing paper and some light bulbs behind for a strong yet defused light to work on. You can see what a page looked like before it was filmed and touched up.
Not many copies of the 720 weeks of The Entertainer survive. I was visiting the hemeroteca (the library) of the Diputación in Almería earlier this week (a place full of fascinating archives, including Almería's first ever newspaper, from 1823). The librarian gave me a list of missing numbers of both The Entertainer and its sister publication Entertainer en Español. I told him that when the paper passed from my control, the back issues were tossed into the trash. Anyhow, if anyone has any old editions, please let me know.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Papers, Por Favor

Many of us 'old-timers' here in Spain had a residence card (a very useful document - similar to a Spanish id card). These were taken away along with our 'residencia' in around 2009 and, in substitution, we were given a letter from the police (i.e. the Ministry of the Interior) to carry around at all times with our passport as proof of identity. Silly and impractical. The letter itself states that 'as an EU citizen, the bearer has the right of abode in Spain'. However, in the calamitous event of a Brexit, we would no longer be 'EU Citizens', and therefore the letter would no longer be valid. Non-EU citizens can be 'resident' in Spain, and no doubt we could try to obtain a new 'residencia'. This could be easy, or hard, depending on the Ministry of the Interior, which would be influenced by two considerations.
1, which party or coalition will eventually take control of Parliament in Madrid and
2, how will London treat its no-longer-EU migrants and students.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Fall of Mojácar

The Fall of Granada: King Boabdil gives the keys of the City to Isabel and Fernando

If we explained to a Briton, for instance, the full story which is merrily celebrated as the Moors and Christians festival in June, which is based loosely on something more than a Christian army clutching a bottle of rum making its way up to the Town Square, then there might be a few surprised looks.
Muslim and Christian Spain spent a few centuries in wars between each other, but it wasn't necessarily Moors against Christians, because in those times, Moors fought against Moors, Christians and Muslims united against Moors and vice versa - because these weren't wars of religion but rather of political struggles in which all were fighting to conquer new territories and to increase their power.
The 'Catholic Kings' - Isabel and Fernando - were set on conquering new lands from the Moors, and looking to take the main prize: the city of Granada. To do this, they planned to take the coastal land in order that the Nazari kingdom of Granada could not be helped by the Muslim armies from the various states of North Africa and thus to edge ever closer to the city of the Alhambra Palace.
And so let us put ourselves in the historical moment of the last years of Muslim era in Mojácar, or Moxacar as it was known then. Things were developing well; In 1486, the Catholic Kings had occupied the lower plains of Granada: Loja, Illora, Moclín, Montefrío and Colomera. The following year, they took Vélez Málaga and Málaga itself.
The Christian forces turned their attention in 1488 to the province of Almeria, with attacks from the border area with Murcia - principally from the frontier town of Puerto Lumbreras. The following towns, with the dates not always certain, would fall to the Christians: Vera and Cabrera were taken on June 6th, 1488, then a few days later - between the 10th and 13th June according to sources, Mojacar, Cantoria and Huércal; between 10th and 20th June, Vélez Rubio and Vélez Blanco both fell to the superior forces; while Nijar [Nixar] and Huéscar [Huisca] were collected a few days later. With these achievements the maritime border was closed, which prevented possible aid from Africa. The following year, 1489, the unstoppable armies were still moving towards Granada, having subdued a large number of towns, which in geographical order from east to west were: Baza (December 4th 1488),  Serón [Soreo] (December 18th, 1489), Purchena, Gor, and finally Almería [al-Miraya] which surrendered on December 23rd, 1489.

The Christian troops were based at their headquarters installed in the Real de Antas, ('Real' means 'Royal') and on June 10, 1488, leaders, headmen and alcaides from the whole region flocked to surrender to the Catholic Kings, yet the commander of Moxacar was not among them. This alerted the Christians since Mojácar's strategic situation together with its considerable number of inhabitants was one of the significant towns of the region. the Catholic Kings sent, as a measure of prudence, an embassy led by Captain Garcilaso to Moxacar with an invitation to surrender. Today, there's a memorial cut into marble at the Mojácar fountain to recall the visit.
On June 12th 1488, the town of Mojácar with its forces surrendered and in exchange Isabel and Fernando granted the town the title of Ciudad - city. It is recorded that the Moors were immediately expelled from Mojácar. They were allowed to go to Africa or to settle in the hills behind Turre: in Teresa and Cabrera, where they founded 'Mudéjar' communities. Mojácar was repopulated with a hundred Christian families from the kingdom of Murcia. These people - principally from Lorca - are the ancestors of most of today's Mojaqueros. The coexistence between the Christians of Mojácar and the Muslims of Turre, Teresa and Cabrera was not easy. The loyalty of this colony was shown in the 'War of Las Alpujarras', when Aben Humeya attempted to re-establish once again Arab power in Spain. After the defeat of the Moriscos came the final expulsion of the Moors - although we do not know if some of them were baptized and remained in the area as converts.
In 1530 Emperor Charles V received such support for the house of Hapsburg from Mojácar that the city was awarded the coat of arms of a two-headed eagle. Later, Philip II added the slogan: La muy noble y muy leal ciudad de Mojácar, llave y amparo del Reino de Granada: 'The very noble and loyal city of Mojácar, key and guardian of the Kingdom of Granada'.
The story has it that the interview for the surrender of Mojácar was held at the Fuente, between Captain Garcilaso for the Christians and the Muslim leader Alavez who was asked for the surrender of the town.
According to legend, this is his reply:
    I'm as Spanish as you, my people have over seven hundred years of living in Spain and now you tell us to leave. I never raised arms against the Christians; I think we should be treated like brothers, not like enemies and we should be allowed to continue to work our land. But know this: before I surrender like a coward, I will die like a Spaniard.
True or not - with this agreement Mojácar left behind forever her Muslim past, although the Christians did not take long to break their word to respect the property, culture and customs of the conquered and this soon led to the War of the Alpujarras, but that is another story .......

 This article is a translation of a piece called La Toma de Mojácar por los Cristianos written for QHM by Eduardo Sánchez Cervantes.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Córdoba Riders

Córdoba is a splendid city. I went there in a bus with a group of friends this past weekend to visit the old riding school, the Caballerizas Reales de Córdoba, built apparently in 1570. Most of our crew from Almería were students from the Albero Centro Ecuestre anxious for their special lesson at the hands of the expert instructors at the school. Following a long morning on horseback (heels down, back straight etc), we were treated to an exhibition in their indoor ring.
Me? I was just along there for the ride.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

The Saga of the Hotel Algarrobico

Driving over the coastal mountains from the Almerian tourist-trap of Mojácar south (or is it west?) to Carboneras is a delight. You pass through the hamlet of Sopalmo, which sits in tiny splendour over a sandy track that leads drowsily down to the sea, a mile away. Here is one of only two places in Spain where you can find a chameleon.  Cristobal has a small restaurant there and will fill you up for ten euros as the kids go exploring with their butterfly nets.
We are at the edge of the gigantic – and generally rather empty – Natural Park of Nija/Cabo de Gata.
But before the large municipality of Nijar, increasingly covered with plastic farms, we must pass through Carboneras, the ugly fishing town made famous by the Algarrobico hotel.
The curving road passes the scraped hill of the ‘Moors Blood’, a colourful slab of striated rock where a battle may have taken place half a millennium ago, and zigzags towards the highest part of the route towards Carboneras, with crags on one side and alarming drops on the other: a road straight out of The Italian Job – or perhaps the perfect final scene for Thelma and Louise. At the top, there’s a small parking area, liberally decorated with graffiti, where you can see for miles. Camera-phones record an empty dry mountain, a rugged coast, that clean blue sea and – off to the southwest  – the back of a monstrous hotel, several miles away and far below.
The only plant-life in this – and most – of the Parque Natural is scrub: no doubt of huge environmental value to our friends the ecologists, but, dress it how you will, it’s just scrub none the less.
The ecologists are simple city folk. They live through subsidies, European funds and obscure publications. They are like the Caliban of Shakespeare: rude destructive fellows, who flow from their apartments in the suburbs out to deal harshly with the countryside, subsidised by the gullible politicians from far-off Seville. In Almería, the ecologists must ignore the 350 square kilometres of plastic farms, which do huge damage to the environment but bring in much wealth. They will spend their time – and what European funds they can attract – on such foolishness as ripping up a small plantation of agave outside the city: a plantation that has been there for almost a century. The plants, they say, are invasive. So too, they say, are the prickly pear cactus (brought to Spain by the conquistadores) – as the entire south east of Spain is plagued by an unstoppable cactus-fly. The local tortoise must be protected, they insist (again with European backing) so the harmless creatures are collected and sent to prison camps in the high sierras, where they solemnly die of the ‘flu.
A French businessman told me twenty years ago: ‘in the next century, the two growth industries will be tourism and ecology’.
In a small and ugly town in Almería, ten years later, the two forces finally declared war.
As the car breasts the final hill on the route to Carboneras, the rear of the ghastly hotel becomes visible again: surrounded by land prepared by the builder for shops, restaurants and an urbanisation of 250 villas (land, incidentally, which does not fall within the new frontier of the Natural Park, and is thus still theoretically viable). These days, sightseers come to see the hotel. Aghast, they take pictures: perhaps they’ll stay for lunch in the town. Nearby is the small villa where Peter O’Toole stayed when filming part of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, and just past the Algarrobico on the other side is the dry river bed where the Arab horsemen attacked Aqaba in that furious cinematographic gallop.
Carboneras is a reasonably well-off, if unusually ugly fishing town. It has three ports – commercial, marina and industrial – some nice beaches, good fish restaurants, a huge power station responsible for producing 25% of all the CO2 that is clogging up the air in Andalucía, a vast and inoperable sports stadium, and an unemployment rate of only 20% (compare Almería province at around 25%).
Opening the Algarrobico and finishing off the surrounding satellite urbanisation would have brought many jobs to the town, but as a smirking Greenpeace spokesperson said after the latest judgement, ‘they can always help work on the demolition’.
The reality is that, after ten years of rotting in the sun, open to the elements, to the vandals and the ecologists, the twenty story hotel would be almost impossible to finish. Its time had come. But, what about the costs involved in demolition – money that could have been better spent? The politicians speak blithely of returning the several hundred metres of empty rocky scree back to how it was – but how impossible is that? And, is it even worth the effort?
The justification for the demolition comes from a rule that you can’t build in a national park, even though the hotel was not in a national park when work began; indeed the promoters bought the land in 1999 off the Junta de Andalucía itself (through a public company called Soprea) as urbanisable. The boundaries were subsequently moved as the PP in Madrid changed the coastal building limits. In 2006, the project which had the blessing of then President of Andalucía Manuel Chaves, fell foul of the Minister for the Environment Cristina Narbona from the Zapatero Government, who ordered work stopped when the hotel was 90% complete: it was being built on public land.
Almería is a large province of 8,000 square kilometres, of which 3,100sqkms are protected – about 35% of the entire province. We are talking here of perhaps one hectare. Couldn’t Almería afford to lose a tiny fraction of its empty, unvisited and largely pointless parkland to help create some jobs?
A recent interview with the President of the Superior Court of Justice in Andalucía says that ‘judges sometimes contradict themselves – we are human and can also get things wrong’. A spokesperson for ‘Salvemos Mojacar’ (an extremist ecological organisation) does not suffer from the same doubts: ‘it must be demolished and the promoter should not be reimbursed by as much as one penny’ (they seek 70 million).
So, as sometimes happens in Spain: the building can never be completed, and it can never be entirely demolished. Jobs are lost in an area of high unemployment, and a rotting and monstrous hulk of a building will perhaps be turned one day, after at least a decade of uselessness, into a mountain of rubble.
Perhaps the rabbits, its future residents, will be pleased.

Article appeared in The Olive Press edition 234 March 2nd 2016

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Foreign Representation in Spain

Back in 1994, Felipe Gonzalez decreed that some of the foreigners in Spain – the EU residents plus the Norwegians – would be able to vote in both local and European elections. His Minister for the Presidency was the appalling Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba (he of the doomed European Residence Cards), who evidently worried that we Europeans would vote in a conservative way in the local elections. Thus, we were allowed in 1995 to vote only in the European elections, which of course had no impact. It wasn’t until 1999 that we were first able to vote in the elecciones municipales.
Where, of course, and no doubt much to Rubalcaba’s surprise, most of us didn’t bother.

In that local election in 1999, following a small change to the Spanish Constitution, we Europeans were even able to run for office. Few of us put down our names for this honour.
Sixteen years later, there are still very few extranjeros in local government, even with a handful of extra countries with bi-lateral voters agreements with Spain – perhaps for lack of will on the part of the immigrants themselves and perhaps, too, because the local Spanish would find it problematic to give us their vote. Still, there are a few in various town halls across Spain, which must be a healthy development.
An interesting part of the recent plan by the PSOE/Ciudadanos coalition is to give all foreign residents the right to vote (and stand for office) in local elections, and better still, we would all be automatically inscribed on the election roster. The coalition probably won’t make it into Government, but the idea is now on the table.  A further notice to gather in the foreigners comes from a European study called Pathways to Power which bills itself as ‘The Political Representation of Citizens of Immigrant Origin in Seven European Democracies’. It seems that, in Spain, we have even less foreign immigrants in our governing bodies than is found in other European countries.  El País in English carries the story and says that Spain comes out bottom of the list for integration in the analysis of European parliaments. Again, the subject is now in the open. Why is this important? Without representation, a citizen has no voice. Without full integration, a city is divided.