Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Night Stalker

We were in the feed shop, to buy some provisions – a bag of seed and some chicken pienso. The talk had turned to the local issue of the jineta, a large and nasty predator that creeps around at night, breaking in to the bird pens and creating carnage. A genet cat, apparently, although nobody has seen it. The farmers say ‘the ugly face of the killer genet’, although in truth it’s rather a nice looking creature.
Aziz invited us to come into the back. Aziz is a Moroccan graduate in international law, now working in Spain tossing hay and feeding the chickens. I went with Alicia. ‘There’s where he got in’, said Aziz showing us a modest looking tear in the bottom of the fence, ‘he killed sixteen pullets. He bites off their heads and sucks the blood’. We shivered. We had had problems with this thing as well. ‘Look, I’ve left a snare for him’. We looked (as did two very worried looking chicks lurking uncomfortably on the far side of the trap).
Back in the store, an old man was buying some pellets. ‘They only do what they are meant to do, it’s not their fault’, he said. ‘Are you a farmer?’ asked Alicia. ‘No, I’m a hunter’, replied the old man, adding ‘they are God’s creation: creatures of Allah (he nodded at Aziz helpfully). Alicia became annoyed, ‘it killed my pet rabbit and a cockerel the other night’, she said indignantly.
We had found the tracks – heavier and larger than a cat. We had also found the corpses. Now the other birds – a mixture of ducks, chickens and peacocks – were all locked in a horsebox, which, judging by the sounds coming from the other side of the door, they didn’t care for.
I had put something on Facebook. Don’t kill it, said the British. Kill it, said the farmers. It’s a rare species said the ecologists. They were brought here by the Moors, said a historian. Catch it and send it to the zoo, said a girl. It’s a viverrid said a pedant. I’ll wring its bloody neck myself, said Alicia.
An old news-story found on Google tells of the successful and humane trapping of a genet which had killed any number of poultry in Asturias. The unrepentant animal was taken off in its cage to somewhere quiet in the countryside and was freed. Ecologists, don’t you love them?
Tonight, we wonder what’s happening in the neighbourhood. There’s a monster loose.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Vera Demonstration with Helen and Len Prior

The demonstration in favour of Leonard and Helen Prior took place today in Vera (Almería). The Priors, unwillingly known as 'the most famous ex-pats in Spain', had their house demolished in front of them by the Junta de Andalucía in a surprise attack a little over eight years ago, in January 2008. Their house wasn't on a floodplain, or on the beach, or in an area of surprising beauty, or in front of a planned motorway. It's just a quiet backwater outside Vera, where, since the demolition, a number of houses have been built. The perpetrators, hoping to teach the Vera Council a lesson (it was run by a minor party, the Partido Andalucista) and hoping that the foreign owners of a holiday home would return to the UK, were thwarted in  their plan. The same mayor still runs the same town, and the Priors remain as well, living in their old garage, now converted into a bedroom.
That's Gerardo Vásquez in the picture (left) - he's the British lawyer who has managed to get the Spanish Government to change the law on 'illegal houses' - now, there can be no demolition without a full refund to any 'buyer in good faith'.
Too late for the Priors, unfortunately.
The picture also shows Helen Prior (centre) and her husband Leonard (on the right). Len  is holding two photographs: a before and after of their home. Helen says: 'Pictures speak a thousand words. This was our retirement dream. And this is our living nightmare'.

Some of the supporters from the AUAN and the eastern Málaga group SOHA are in this picture. Some local politicians (and even a deputy from the Junta de Andalucía) were present. The other speakers were Maura Hillen (AUAN), Me (a nice picture below), Philip Smalley (SOHA), the Mayor of Vera Féliz López. and Gerardo Vásquez, who rolled the presentation up with words of support from other organisations, including the AUN, the AMA and the AGADE (Valencia, Cantabria and Galicia, respectively).

My theme was not to merely support the Priors, who in eight years had moved nowhere, resolved nothing. One must think of the other people, I said, those half a million home-owners who are in a similar situation across Andalucía and beyond. Houses without papers, worth nothing. Homes without water or electricity, with elderly residents, who can't afford to leave. Who must subsist in poor or inhuman circumstances.
But, let's forget them too. The tragedy is wider still. The people of Almería - a province with 30% unemployment - have lost untold riches in foreign investment, in jobs. All thanks to this one case known to readers and TV viewers across Europe: the case of Helen and Len Prior, who lost their home in a barbaric attack in January 2008.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Butterflies in Nijar

There's nothing as sublime in life as being surrounded by butterflies. Red ones, some a beautiful shade of green, large Mexican turquoise butterflies, orange fritillaries from the Orient.
A modest zoo in Nijar (Almería) holds these and many others inside a reserve, a large greenhouse with a garden, a pond, flowers, some benches, soft piped music and a wonder of butterflies.
The butterflies dart about, except for the big Mexican fellows – they’re called Blue Morphos, who seem to flap so slowly as they spin through the air, they could be swimming. It was wondrously relaxing. I felt like a character from Alice, perched on a mushroom and (figuratively) wearing a felt hat and smoking a hookah.
On hand were three women to explain the story of the Mariposario de Nijar. They speak Spanish, French and English. They look after their charges, providing bowls of sugar-water and a soft spray to keep the atmosphere moist. One of the women is an 'educator', who looks after the young children who visit, keeping them both out of trouble and armed with paper and crayons. Another does brief tours around the greenhouse, here showing a butterfly laying eggs, there showing a couple mating. Outside, in the gift shop, a Frenchwoman showed me some charming butterfly-themed pottery. I would have asked them more about the butterfly zoo, but I was too enchanted, and instead asked to borrow a crayon.
The Mariposario is just outside Nijar, on the spur off the motorway. Open every day. The entrance fee is 8.50€ and down.  They say in their leaflet: 'The butterfly is like Happiness. If you seek it, it will remain beyond your reach; but if you sit quietly and wait, it will come and settle on your shoulder'. Nice. Go visit!

Monday, May 09, 2016

How Many Brits? Ask a Statistician!

Two stories recently about Spain come from Time magazine and The Telegraph. The first provides a ‘conservative estimate’ putting the British in Spain close to 850,000 souls, while the second tells us of ‘an estimated 761,000 Britons living in Spain’.

Who makes these estimates we hear so much about?

What about The Courier, a local newspaper from the Costa Blanca? They say the Britons on the padrón (registered in the town halls) across the province of Alicante have fallen from an impressive 131,000 of them back in 2013, to just 14,000 now.

The population figures used by the Spanish (and no one else) come from the National Institute of Statistics, the INE. According to them, there are 263,029 Britons living in Spain. No arguments, please, that’s the number.

This painfully exact number comes from information provided by the town halls, as coming from their register, the padrón. It used to be a useful guide, for Spaniards, as, if they left one municipality for another, there would be an automatic adjustment in the register, but this is no longer the case today, as many Spaniards have found work abroad, but continue to be registered as local. For foreigners, the padrón is even less exact, and now the rules state that we must re-register every five years, as Europeans, or two years, as simple foreigners.

But what is a ‘resident’ – someone who lives here full time, or partly, or has two homes, or has been away for some time but remains on the padrón for whatever reason? The exact number becomes more and more suspect. And what of those who don’t register, afraid that they will somehow be put onto some other list, perhaps to do with the tax-people? The town halls like to inflate their population register, as it means more licences, more services, more funds. Again, more flubbing.

Furthermore, with the new tax law, the dreadful Modelo 720, where one is expected to declare one’s worldwide holdings – how many foreigners have simply thrown in the towel and left Spain for a more welcoming country like Portugal, or have returned in disgust to their country of origin? Then again, why own a property in Spain if you can no longer let it without enormous inconvenience?

So how many Britons (or Germans, or Dutchmen) live in Spain? The padrón is not the answer; perhaps a better way would be to check the contracts with the electric companies. But that is not the way of the Statisticians.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

The Spanish Animal

Spanish society is becoming wound up in another battle – this time it’s not about employment, honest politicians, nationalism, sexual equality or vice – but rather for the status of animals. It is centred on the bulls, naturally enough, since Spain is one of only a few countries in the world where you will still find la tauromachía practiced, but also increasingly around the ethical treatment of other creatures.
For example, should feral cats be neutered?  They infest certain barrios and towns, particularly in tourist areas where they are fed by well-meaning residents. The law in Catalonia says that they can’t be poisoned as they are considered ‘companion animals’, so the choices are a costly neutering program (the one that gets away will have numerous kittens) or simply doing nothing, in the hope that they’ll move away (they won’t). The rest of Spain appears to leave the problem and solution to the local municipality.
Abandoned dogs are not left in colonias as the cats are, but are rather taken to shelters where they may meet their end in 72 hours, although some regions have banned euthanasia and the animals are presumably kept there, perhaps forever. There are some 110,000 dogs abandoned each year in Spain, and we have all seen the touching adverts of the forsaken dog on the road saying ‘I would never leave you’.
Other animals seem to be under the protection of Seprona (a unit of the Guardia Civil) and some species will be considered ‘invasive’ (the raccoon for example) and will be trapped and destroyed.
And so, the bulls. There is the traditional corrida loved or hated (or ignored) by Spaniards –illegal now in a few parts of Spain (probably for political rather than ethical reasons) and then there’s the much less formal bull-baiting, known in Catalonian as ‘correbou’. This is some form of bull running – usually a local festival of questionable taste. A recent story much in the news this week has two protestors filming at an event being violently set upon by some supporters. Were the protestors – known as antitaurinos – justified in provoking the supporters or not? – the Reader must decide for him or herself. Another more famous antitaurino, the Dutchman Peter Jannsen, who sometimes jumps into a bullring during a faena, is putting the participants in danger (as if there wasn’t enough already in the bullring). So, are the animal-rights people guilty of sometimes choosing an animal’s life over a human’s? Perhaps so.  Another question to consider: Should an ‘anti’ have the right, either moral or indeed legal, to interrupt a lawful activity paid for by a crowd of enthusiasts?
There’s even an animal-rights political party in Spain called PACMA (Wiki), which, if a little light on general policy, is firm on anything to do with animals. It naturally wants bullfighting banned. It pulled 220,000 votes in the General Elections in December.
So, are animals to be eaten, worked and kept as pets, as seems to be the traditional role for them, or should they be treated as Beings trapped within a ball of fur, but with human feelings and rights?
The last word goes to a bullfighter called José Antonio Morante de la Puebla, who, faced with an antitaurino protest in Ronda last year, said ‘I’m a bullfighter, not a murderer’.