Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Fifth Column

An article called ‘España no funciona’ at Infolibre here looks at why Spain has always been so divided (a massive weakness evident today during the current crisis).  It says in part ‘…The forty years of democracy after the Franco dictatorship have failed to dismantle the power of the negative Spain – that of the young gentlemen, the cardboard-generals and the retrograde cardinals. Rouco Varela (the fundamentalist Spanish bishop) has more media presence than that of Father Ángel (wiki) and thousands of other exemplary priests and nuns. We have failed to cultivate the value of honesty. Journalists, too…’. An example is the ‘Revolution of the Rich’ or ‘Los Cayetanos’ in the smartest barrio of Madrid. We read at ‘What’s happening with the revolution of the rich has nothing to do with the ravages of the pandemic, or the devastation of the economy, or the temporary lack of freedom; what is happening is a manifestation, however freaky, of the struggle of the gentlemen to hold on to power’. A more cynic version comes from Meneame here: ‘What has already been coined as the "Núñez de Balboa Movement" consists of a group of people who live in the most expensive neighbourhood in this country and who have never come out to demonstrate until they have had their vacations in Bali or Formentera cancelled and their right to a great job without having to study for it removed. Dozens of Cayetanos are demonstrating without keeping the required social distance, endangering their lives and that of their families, and inevitably that of the health workers who will soon have to care for them…’. As economist Marta Flich says in a video at El Huff Post here, ‘the virus has no ideological preference’. Then there’s the sad video-clip here of a woman rooting through a dustbin as the flag-wearing militants pass by ignoring her. These right-wing protestors have been given a ‘secret manual of disobedience’ from goodness-knows-where which tells them to film with their telephones anyone who looks like ‘a Government secret policeman within their ranks’ and advises them to not carry their DNI (ID cards). The story ‘Spain’s 1% revolt against continued coronavirus lockdown’ has been made available to American readers at The Huff Post (US) here.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Mojácar, City of Witches

An essay from Miguel Ángel Urralde, from Almería Hoy here (2015)

The old fellow called el Tío Frasquito El Campechano swore that he saw them swooping down from El Picacho (where the radio masts are above the pueblo), every evening, at nightfall, and fly over the church tower with their brooms. His wife rebuked him saying that he was confusing witches with swifts or maybe the bats that, at those hours, went out to hunt mosquitoes. She herself knew more than one witch, but she certainly didn’t believe they were capable of flying on a broom. In the bars and taverns of Mojácar the people sang:
More than four hundred witches left Mojácar,
They went walking to Andujar,
Along the way they gave birth
To an army of scoundrels.
According to Don Ginés Carrillo, a post-war Mojaquero doctor and the influence behind the city's amateur theatre El Aquelarre (which means ‘the witches coven’), this romance has spread by word of mouth since time immemorial in Mojácar. There are those who say that the content of the verse is dedicated to the large group of Mojacar and Turre Moors who, having been expelled from the area in the early 16th century, marched through Andujar on their way north to La Mancha. The Christian settlers of the time, when they 'acquired' the lands and animals of the Moors, held their consciences calmer by calling them witches, because in addition, many of the Moorish women knew the healing properties of native herbs and plants, and this left the Christian women looking bad before their husbands when they needed some folk medicine on a sprained ankle or swollen knee.
Over time, as needs must, the Mojaquera women learned about the herbs and memorized the spells, and since many did not marry or perhaps they soon became widows, they had time to learn to recite healing prayers and to know secrets about love affairs that they could secretly sell for a fee.
Don Ginés, who as a doctor had free entry to all the houses of the town and who also loved the secrets of spiritualism, knew many witches in the town and therefore, as he owned the theatre which was located in front of the church, he called it El Aquelarre, that is to say, 'The Coven'. Now Don Ginés, not knowing any Basque, few people did in those days, could not know that in that language aker means goat and larre means countryside, so he actually called his theatre something like "the gathering of bastards where the yokels live".
But then again, perhaps he knew exactly what he wanted to say, because on some issues D. Ginés played his cards close to his chest and the local people, although it might be difficult to imagine, were even more uneducated than they are today. We will never be able to know for sure if his effort to highlight the presence of witches in the town was due to the unfair competition that they gave him as a doctor or to the trust in their powers that the town held for them.
The post-war Mojaquera witches were not socially frowned upon, and they came to help in childbirth, as well as to cure a disease or a simple syndrome, such as frigidity, the ache from a sprain, anaemia or the evil eye or whatever. They were specialists in curing boils, the shingles and easing bad moods, and above all they had developed psychological knowledge and sagacity. If their prayers did not always heal, there is also no record that they ever did any wrong to the sick. The lack of culture made them necessary and poverty made them numerous. They always took care to heal in the name of God and imploring the saints, just in case.
The most famous of the Mojaquera witches, who maintained a loyal clientèle until the arrival of tourism, was Tía Rosa La Cachocha. She was the one that was most recognized in the making of pichirichis.
The pichirichis were powders that she would prepare, to be taken, dissolved in liquid, by a specific male, chosen beforehand by an unattached woman and, following the spell, he would become 'hooked' on her. In short, a marriage potion.  
Many young Mojaquero men were understandably concerned about Aunty Cachocha's potions for years, and they were warned that they should not consume any type of drinks in the houses where a young woman lived. Of course, there were always those who suspected that one didn’t need a witch’s help to hook up, and when there was enough evidence of this, about the time the foreigners began to arrive, trade in the powders plummeted. Thereafter, the brooms that were used for flying were no longer in demand and the broom factory in Turre closed.
The old Tío Frasquito El Campechano would continue to look out at night towards the El Picacho convinced that if he did not see the witches fly over the hill, it was simply because there were too many new houses that spoiled the view.
I knew a few of the stories from my early years in Mojácar. The fuente, the hippies would say, was (is) located on the conjunction of two ley lines, which of course meant powerful juju.  Certainly there were several curanderos, faith healers, but they were quite common in rural Spain. Some would charge a coin (black) and some would do it for free (white). I remember the story of a young Dutch woman who was one day accosted by an old Mojaquera sternly dressed in black. 'You're pregnant' said the old woman. 'No I'm not', said the Dutch lady sadly, 'I'm barren'.
The old lady in black was right though. 
Comer to think of it, that's maybe why Carlos Almendros called his book 'Mojácar, Rincón de Embrujo' - Corner of Enchantment.  

The Eminent Author

I was clearing out the shelves of the house the other day, not getting very far as there are a large number of books occupying a considerable number of shelves, and the piles of volumes I keep on the floor or in boxes hardly needed adding to.
My parents had brought out half a ton of books with them when they left the UK for Mojácar in 1966. We had built on these modest beginnings enthusiastically ever since - usually by incorporating a visit to the nearest second hand bookshop as the crow flies, fortuitously located in Torremolinos: a nine hour journey in the late sixties which certainly merited a few drinks once we got there.
There has never been much in the way of English book-stalls in Spain, there simply isn't the market. An old librería in our local city had a modest shelf of English books, imported, as I remember, by 'Atheneum'.  The usual treasures: Part II of 'Don Quixote', 'Amsterdam on Five Guilder a Day' and the notorious 'English as She is Spoke'. Fine books all. These days, the second-hand shelves at the charity shops (at the miracle price of six for a euro) or the English chap at the market with his crates of thrillers keep me in yarns.
As a young'un, I had operated a library of sorts, which entailed the other English-speaking residents of Mojácar coming by the house for a gin and a gossip with my parents and to pass through to my corner of paperbacks to stock up on a clutch of Ian Fleming or Desmond Bagley novels. Nothing too taxing, which is why today I remain a voracious reader of thrillers, sci-fi, mysteries and what my old schoolmaster would have described as assorted escapist tripe.
Among the dusty harvest of my top shelf, before I had to go and lie down, I found a couple of travel diaries of mine: indeed I've got them here.
The first was an early trip to South Africa, beginning on February 4th 1975 when I sailed from Barcelona on the MV Europa. Several of our books at home were from H Rider Haggard ('Allan Quartermain' and 'King Solomon's Mines' etc) and our old place in Norfolk had once belonged to him before he took off for his adventures and sold the property to my great grandparents. In short, at 21, I also wanted to go and hunt elephant and meet a Zulu.
The diary, looking at it now, is in disappointingly tiny fading lines of prose. I wonder now about how I did with the pachyderm. I think there's a photo-album somewhere.
The second is a rather easier to read journal from 1979 through 1980, which took me from Spain to the USA and later to the Dominican Republic - a jolly place full of whores. Ah, Memories.
I had been briefly in print in a collection at the tender age of fourteen, the sensation of my circle of friends (Dobberman, Jackson and Mosely Jr) and was even a founder member of the International Society of Poets. Good, huh?  To join, you simply set them a poem and a postal order for £10.
Much later in Mojácar, I found myself at 34 to be in the newspaper business, writing 'stories' (never has the euphemism for 'news' been better applied) for 'The Entertainer', a weekly free-sheet which lasted under my stewardship for fourteen years. I also wrote sketches and articles in Spanish in 'Entertainer en Español', a monthly which ran for five or six years.  Later, too, I edited various other titles, some in Spanish and wrote for a few more. A number of the pieces are here in 'Spanish Shilling', while others can be mined by the patient researcher on the 'Wayback Machine' (a useful site which saves the stuff which others would rather see lost, heh). I also have material published on a six-pack of blogs.
Why don't you write a book, they ask me. Well, a few of them do.
A handful of my friends have done just that. The normal print run for a local amateur author is recommended to not exceed 1,000 copies, and even then, there'll be four or five hundred left in boxes in the garage to be quietly thrown out several years later. The people who make a fortune off of authors expect more than one slim volume, and they want someone with a name, or the opportunity of making one.
At my level, a book which would be for sale in the local PAWS shop and a few other outlets, or free to anyone i knew with an upcoming birthday, would mean I would be full circle back to sending a postal order for the 2020 equivalent of £10 (per copy) to the local printer.

The mash-up comes from The Penguin Classics Cover Generator here.

Friday, May 01, 2020

The New Arrival

A nice picture of the latest arrival at Albero, a beautiful filly called Dante. Here with her mother Ana and her adoring auntie Loli. For pictures from Albero Centro Ecuestre, the riding-centre in La Cañada (Almería), follow their photo-blog here.