Saturday, August 27, 2022

A Well-kept Secret

We return once again to ‘The most beautiful towns in Spain’. Some of these towns are special, but one must be in no doubt, the attention-grabbing label has been firmly stuck on the postcard by the local tourist authority.

They will be glad to see you, hope you have time to take a photo or two (post it on Instagram, because any publicity is good publicity), and then for Goodness Sake, why not stroll around and spend some money?

Friends, our souvenir shops don’t run on air!

The problem for the discerning tourist, who reads about these ‘best kept secret’ destinations, or sees the carefully angled photographs put out to attract his attention (Google will do the rest), is that thousands of other equally choosy people will have seen the same promotion. By the time you get there, it’s full to the gunnels of people all ready to get in the way of your photo.

You have seen the massed crowds at Machu Picchu (and that ain’t even easy to get to), the hordes of visitors in Venice, the wall-to-wall trippers in Barcelona, the apologetic oriental mob in Ronda, the gaggle of Brits in Mojácar and the multicultural throng visiting the Alhambra.

There’s nothing less relaxing than appreciating the magnificence of the mosque in Cordoba as the thousand raised camera-phones and their owners noisily and irreverantly recording the scene.

Personally, I think we have left it too late.

In the past, I have sometimes laughed at the restored fortress in some dingy town, where ‘over fifty people visited daily’ during the summer months. The rusted sign indicating the walls of a mosque in some Alpujarra village (the roof fell in over 400 years ago) or the iron cowboy erected near a bar where ‘Clint Eastwood once tried the garlic mushrooms’ (they were good, too).

But now I have changed my mind, and I shall diligently search for these treasures, content in knowing that the press of souvenir shop-keepers, tourist councillors coach attendants or travel-article hacks will be light to non-existent.

The food will be good (it always is in Spain), the tinto de verano will be cheaper and the bar-owners will close up and be in bed by midnight.

See, they never made a list of ‘the Ugliest Villages in Spain’, because – well, that’s a properly well-kept secret.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

We've Got the Horses Ready

Back home and drinking one of those beers from the Aguila people that you have to turn for a moment upside-down. Gassy. Urppph. 

Alicia and me had been to Velefique this morning, a small village of 300 souls up in the hills beyond Tabernas (you remember - where they shot all the spaghetti cowboy films). The village is due to have its three-day-long fiesta starting on Monday, a Moors and Christians effort, and we were to supply the four horses and skilled and costumed riders. Not me, no, I'll be either in the bar, if it's open, or the chiringuito: the temporary tin-bar in the square next to what looks like a pop-group platform. Oh yes, it'll be noisy.

The councillor in charge of fiestas is called Ramón. He showed us where we could keep the horses, where the water was and so on (Alicia will sleep up there Monday and Tuesday). I complemented him on his pueblo, which apparently can trace its history back to the Romans.

They've already started on the decorations

So noisy indeed was the fiesta last week in next-door Senés, where we had brought our four intrepid riders and horses for another Moors and Christians hoopla, that the bar-owner and wife had upped stakes and closed for the season (only two days this time - the village is even smaller). No one likes to overwork, I agree, but closing up for the fiesta? The only place that served drinks in Senés during the thrash was the estanco, the cigarette shop who luckily has a side-line in beer. 

Well, and the chiringuito as well - probably the same crew, I shall have to have a look at them. Their old-bit-of-pig sandwich was delicious. 

Fiestas (or ferias) in Spain often overlap the single day saint's celebration (Almería, which kicks up its heels from the 19th carries on until the 27th, inclusive. Well, since the last day is a Saturday, we might manage a merrie and boozy luncheon on the Sunday, down at the playa, why not?).

But first, Velefique. I was reminded of a pretty village inland from Mojácar called Bédar, when my dad had bought three houses in 1966 for ten thousand pesetas (sixty euros). I opened a bar there for a few months sometime in the mid-seventies before deciding that hard work was not for me. I called it El Aguila, the eagle (there was a brand of smokes called El Aguila in those days, plus of course the beer. Marketing, I figured). Fifty years later, and Bédar is now a British colony where people complain about the dog-poop and have tea-parties. 

I'll check to see how much a house costs in Velefique during the fiesta next week. 

Assuming the bar remains open.

Saturday, August 06, 2022

The Send-off

I was at the Tanatorio waiting as the old friends gathered. The air-con was on (just as well, it was killer hot outside) and, as Andalucía always favours naked walls and plenty of marble, the echoes and reverberations of the various conversations were such, that even with my hearing-aids turned to Yowza!, I still couldn’t make out what anybody was saying.

Something about The Departed, I supposed, as I looked solemn and said ‘uhh’ now and again.

Eventually, we were called to the chapel (similarly accoutred, but with a wooden cross for decoration and this time, with the seats all facing the same way). We tottered in and filled up the room from the back rows first. I was seated at the front – I was going to say something apparently.

The boom-box was switched on, the coffin was brought in, someone sniffled and the show began.

The son was the first up. No one knew him, he’d flown out from Manchester. He had brought some notes which included some jocularities as one does: the time my father did this, the time he said that. We laughed dutifully (although I still couldn’t make out a word).

I was third out of five. No notes and I took my glasses off (there was someone in the audience who owed me some money from a long time ago and I didn’t want to see him).

The dead friend had run the local bar for many years, and then finally retired a couple of decades ago. Like many in the bar-world, he’d enjoyed a drink or two.

I remembered one hot evening when he had reached into the bottle cooler for a beer, found the temperature evidently to his liking, and fell asleep there, his head and shoulders slumped over the white wine.

Many of his customers are of course resting in the same cemetery which is now his new address. When the gates close each night, if you listen closely, you may hear a ghostly champagne bottle as it pops.

My point, as they played something from Frank Sinatra and we survivors staggered out into the hot afternoon’s heat, wondering who would be next, is this:

God, how old we’ve all gotten!