Friday, March 27, 2020

Coronavirus: What the Horses Don't Know.

It must be a hard time for those who are currently trapped in a small apartment. A couple of rooms, and someone always on the family computer playing games. The cat ('I told you, we should have got a dog') scratches itself fitfully waiting for what turns out to be the last tin of Whiskas. The beer ran out two days ago. Perhaps there's a minuscule terrace to escape from the mother-in-law, but those poor souls are going crazy under house arrest.
The government said two weeks, then two weeks more. They'll likely have to add another few weeks after that.
How can people survive like this?
Apparently, one third of the entire planet is in lockdown. Every day, famous people - politicians, actors, princes and clowns - are reported to have caught the plague. Probably they will survive. Not for them the gigantic gymnasiums full of beds and harassed nurses, forced to wash their face-masks as there aren't any spare. An ice-rink serving as a morgue. Tearful doctors on Facebook videos. Old people in a residence run by the nuns found dead by the army. No one allowed to attend a funeral for a final farewell.
The government spent years cutting back on health costs, closing down units, research departments and staff. It's all creaking at the edges. It's worse in Italy, and now getting that way all over. In America, a teen is turned away from a Los Angeles hospital and dies miserably a few hours later. Like 27,500,000 of his fellow citizens, he didn't have health insurance.
It's serious. Some people are asking to see how far the limits are, whether they can walk to the second-nearest supermarket, or if they can go there every day. Maybe just a teensy-weensy drinks party with the neighbours. Perhaps if I go outside at night down to the beach and keep well away from others...
Many people have to go out. They still have a job. I feel for them.
There's a page which reports the daily stats for Spain, other countries and for the whole world. Today's stats (Friday 27th March) for Spain are 64,059 cases reported (are all cases reported? Probably not). So far, there have been 4,934 deaths, including today the 48-year-old head of the GAR (Spain's answer to the SWAT). So, evidently it is not just unfit elderly people who are at risk.
I'm lucky. I live in a house in the campo with stables and horses that need feeding. While the business is closed (it's a riding school) and there's no money coming in, and horse-feed is expensive, we were stockpiling before the crisis. Yes, while you've been hoarding toilet paper, we've been hoarding straw.
In our case, we are three. Me, my wife who is the expert on horses but is in a wheelchair, and her large strapping son who is 21 and gets to muck out the stalls. This means, in my case, around four hours a day lugging bales of this and sacks of that, plus watering all the 34 horses under our care - of which 33 of them are extremely dangerous (one of them trod on my foot yesterday) and the 34th is a week-old foal (but with a certain look in her eye...). Without lots of exercise, rather like those poor folk cooped up in a small apartment, horses get aggressive and bouncy. And me, I'm getting long in the tooth.
There's no one else to help because, you know, lockdown.
So, we don't go out, or at least we haven't so far. The chickens provide us with eggs and the bread-lady delivers (for how much longer?) two loaves every day. We have our own olive oil from last winter's crop and we have tomatoes and papaya. It could be worse.
The TV is on, and we watch as the Government makes a hash of things. We wonder if the other lot, the opposition, would have made a bigger cock-up; but with luck, we shall never know.
Try and get through this. Perhaps we will become better people following this terrible time.
Stay safe.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The great Polansky

‘Hello Lenox. Listen, I’ve just heard that poor old Ric is dead’. It’s Pedro del Puntazo on the line. We talk a little as we remember Polansky, a giant among the Mojácar foreigners.
Ric Polansky came to the pueblo from Mason City, Iowa, in the late 1960s. His brother Paul had invited him over. Paul worked with a businessman from Madrid called Manolo de Ayo in a lonely place called Lomos del Cantal on the then undeveloped coast of Mojácar. It is funny how times change. In those days, few people were interested in living so far away from town – and on the playa too. You could pick up land then for a peseta per square meter. Paul was a very blond, tall and attractive man whose job was to look for buyers for the houses that Manolo Ayo had just built and charm them into buying a place. Ric joined the company and shortly afterwards, he and his brother took over the business.
It is remembered as the ‘golden era’ of Mojácar, at least by those who lived it. Years later Paul left the area and went to live first in London, then in the USA and now as a writer and poet, he commutes between Serbia and Italy. Ric on the other hand never wanted to leave Mojácar and he remained focused on the construction business which he (and Paul) had now expanded to the Cortijo Grande in Turre. Years later, with the rise of the Mojaquera families and the extraordinary opportunities and demand in the construction business, Ric complained: "I go to the town hall with a project and I have to wait a year, while other folk get theirs rubber-stamped right away." His business faltered and he discovered that he was obliged to deal with one bank-manager after another, sometimes escorting one out the back door as another waited at the front. He told me that he had to juggle mortgages on his properties, to use some as guarantees to lift the loads off of others. Tricky times, he would tell me.
I knew Ric from the beginning, when, as they say, he had all his hair. He was an active person: he played tennis and golf and he travelled a lot, especially to Peru, where he explored with the best of them, looking for ancient cities and other relics from the Incas. He would tell great tales about his adventures. I remember one where he was caught in a gold mine hundreds of miles from nowhere together with some thoroughly dangerous people and Ric with a broken leg.
In Spain his great passion was bullfighting. He knew many matadors and was well known to local aficionados. He never missed the bullfights in Almería, and with his marked resemblance to Hemingway, chubby, bearded, clutching a wine-skin and wearing a red beret, his presence was highly considered and appreciated in the ring. One day, invited by Canal Sur TV to a recording, he came face to face with the famous Granada bullfighter El Fandi. "You do very well, but you have to get closer to the bull," he said in front of the cameras to the shocked champion. His Spanish was not of the best, but for some reason, everyone always understood him perfectly.
Sometimes he would invite me to go and have a curry lunch. Curry, as some Spaniards may not know, is an Indian culinary invention very popular with the British, and the spicier the better. Its great value is that you have to drink large glasses of beer to alleviate the burning in the throat. There are a considerable number of Indian restaurants in Mojácar and Turre, aimed strictly for the palates of the Saxons. Ric in later years could not drive due to health reasons, but who still liked to have a pint or three, would call me (he would bellow down the phone, 'Say Lenox, fancy a curry?') so I would pick him up from his house - a huge mansion located in privileged heights on the Mojácar road towards Carboneras - to go eat. Well eat and drink. Ric, by now very fat and in need of two sticks to help prop him up, hardly fit in the car and he resolutely refused to wear a seat belt. It is a wonder to me how I always managed to complete my run and return home without a fine after a titanic meal of beer-dipped curry. Over those meals, and the brandies that followed, we spent happy times as Ric always had something outrageous to tell. He wrote up his adventures in many articles which appeared in the local press, both in English and Spanish. The reader never knew what he was going to read, but he knew he was going to laugh.
The last time I was at his house, there was a team from Antena3 TV recording a piece about the Mojácar hippies in the sixties.  Ric, who had never smoked a joint in his life and in those days tended anyway to look like a Coca-Cola swilling Mormon, and I, who was fifteen years old by 1970 when the period in question had come to an end, were perhaps not the most appropriate people to deal with the subject, but we took advantage of our imagination and we gave the reporters what they wanted, that is, orgies, cannabis parties, alcohol ... and whatever else we could invent.
Ric had three children. Jobi, the second, died young a few years ago. He also had two adorable twin grandchildren from his first-born, Luke. He liked to show his prized photos of the little brothers running around Alaska, where they live. His youngest son, Micah, who works in New York, is a passionate marathon runner. And of course, there is Ric's wife, Karen, who for many years has led the direction of Paws, the animal protector in Mojácar.
Ric was one of the greatest of all the peculiar people who arrived in the pueblo in the early days, where everything still needed to be done. He was very visible and boisterous, quite impossible to ignore when present. Latterly he had been in poor health and he preferred not to be seen by his friends. But every day, on Facebook, he gave us a sign that he was still alive.
With the coronavirus we will not be able to go to his funeral. So I must look forward to the day when we can raise a memorial to the Great Ric Polansky. My friend Ric.

Traducido del original en Almería Hoy aquí

Monday, March 16, 2020

Charles Baxter

Charles Baxter had been living in Mojácar since around the time we arrived, in 1966. He had a house in the valley near ours (that's our place in the picture, at the foot of Old Mojácar). He was the doyen of society in Mojácar, being both an obscure American TV actor and gay.
From his valley home, he moved to the pueblo, buying and fixing what would one day become La Muralla restaurant. That's where this picture was taken. Later on he sold the house and moved into and looked after the Castillo, a large house on the top of the village owned by a wealthy American family.
Charles had a 'companion' called Antonio who was a nice young chap from Cádiz. Antonio always managed to look slightly embarrassed, but was mothered by the horde of willing foreign matrons who circled around Charles.
Each year on July 4th, Charles would hold a champagne party in the Castillo where we were all invited (generally speaking, us foreigners that is) to attend, wearing red, white and blue. My dad didn't like him much and took pains to let Charles know, although he would graciously pretend to not notice.
When my dad died from cancer, fortuitously two days before Charles' annual party in 1986, Charles said in his speech (delivered as always from a terrace above his adoring crowd), 'Well, that was typical of Bill, not only trying to trash my party once again, but on this occasion succeeding'.
Barbara Napier, Jan, Charles and Paco Marullo
Poor Charles. When the foreigners demonstrated in 1988 against the ludicrous re-modelling of 'Mayor Bartolo's fountain', Charles was the ringleader of a group of placard-carrying Brits. The Mojaqueros fell on them in the main square (saying afterwards 'we are against the fuente too, but it's no business of the foreigners to complain'). Charles was briefly arrested by the police, until Silvio Narizzano, another gay film-character, gave the mayor a bunch of flowers and a kiss in front of the indignant crowd (much to the mayor's horror, no doubt).  Shortly after this, as the forasteros and the local people broke forever their full integration and concord, a peculiar (and improbable) story emerged of Charles assaulting his gardener.
Joy Angliss with Charles
Charles Baxter disappeared from Mojácar shortly afterwards...
He is reported to have died in Fort Lauderdale in 1998. 

Friday, March 13, 2020

Apocalypse Now

My first end-of-the world experience was a novel read at the tender age of twelve: John Wyndham's 'Day of the Triffids'. You may remember it - three-legged plants which could up-root themselves and stumble aggressively across the landscape. They were equipped with enormous whip-like stings and the world (except for our plucky hero) had all gone blind.
They made a very bad film of it in 1963 and, apparently, various versions came along later. An early Mojácar resident called Daniel Aubrey was said to have been involved in the original film as a co-writer.
The story, like so many others in a similar vein, has a hero (which we must always identify with) and lots of dead folk, either simply dead, or clambering out of their graves and away after you, occasionally muttering to themselves their sickly menu: 'brains'.
There are many other tales of general doom like a cataclysmic asteroid crash, or a mega-volcano or an alien attack from the Planet Clunk. We've read them often enough, or seen them at the movies. Now, we have an Andromeda Strain story; only, this time it's for real. No heroes in this one unfortunately, and any of us could be dead in a few weeks.
I'm sixty six, and egotistic enough to suffer from mild solipsism - the philosophy that the world revolves around me. That's why fiction is so attractive, because it feeds on this selfish trait that we all have. Me, myself and I. So, an elderly fellow like myself, who has had a wonderful life full of rich experience, must now convert myself into the hero from I am Legend (but without the zombies) as I munch on old bits of rice and cackle over my last roll of lavatory paper. Perhaps I'll have a gun and a dog (I certainly do in the fantasy version).
It started a couple of weeks ago. Until then, it was just another scare lurking at the back of the news like Ebola or Sars or the chances of the lunatic Vox party winning the elections here in Spain. Then, with a dozen infections in the country, it was clear that things were going to get difficult. As I've suggested above: difficult, yes, but exciting too. Maybe we shall have some high-old adventures, in the best deserted castle beset by demons tradition, and since I'm 66, maybe it's time to check out anyway while cheerfully singing '...if the cocaine don't get you, the morphine must...'.
A week later, and the cases in Spain had risen to several hundred, while the news today is of many thousands of people infected. I was in the supermarket this morning, buying vodka, and there was no meat, no lavatory paper and queues of people at the till, their carts loaded with dried beans and other disgusting things. A few of them were wearing masks, whether as a fashion-statement, or perhaps to keep themselves from touching their faces. All very exciting.
A few towns and barrios have been isolated in Catalonia and a number of public figures have declared themselves infected. Schools have been closed down and the mad president of the USA has banned flights from Europe (but not, oddly, from the UK, where the equally insane leader Boris talks of tens of thousands of 'loved-ones' pencilled in for the high-jump).
We have horses here that need feeding and watering, plus the usual chores of domestic life to respond to (less food-shopping) like posting a birthday card and getting the car inspected. Life goes on, until, of course, it doesn't.
Just the one question for now: which comes first - the end of the crisis, or the end of the rice?