Monday, March 13, 2023

Under Plastic

I live in an area surrounded by greenhouses.

Plastic ones.

In Almería, and perhaps only counting those invernaderos which cover the dry earth from El Ejido and Dalías east towards Almería City and La Cañada, there are said to be 36,000 hectares of crops growing under plastic. There are more west towards Adra, with the provincial frontier with a small bit of coastal Granada, and on the northern side of Almería; more still around the curiously-named town of Campohermoso (plastic farms are most certainly not hermosos - that's to say: beautiful) located in the campo de Níjar and, back on the coast, as close as they can manage to install them around the attractive natural park of the Cabo de Gata.

An article in the Spanish press calls Almería 'the Orchard of Europe'. It may be thinking more of the olive trees out towards Tabernas and Sorbas, or maybe the lemon tree I've got planted in my garden (you can see it from the street), but our main contribution to the supermarkets of Europe (and even those of the UK when Almería isn't heavily snowed in - at least according to the Daily Express), are the plastic farms, where we grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and melons (and, er, marijuana too). 

The number of hectares under plastic in the province hasn't changed in twenty years, which seems unlikely, since new ones are always going up, but there you go. 

View from somewhere above El Ejido taken last week

The plastic farms are raised on land which is pretty infertile: blasted by the sun and bone-dry. Back in 1960 (lots of photos here), someone figured out that covering the plot with plastic and bringing in the water - generally from underground aquifers, would encourage the plants to grow faster and stronger. It gets very hot inside the invernaderos, and frankly a bit hard to breathe on the days that one sprays with weed-killer or pesticide, but the profits are good, and the workers don't seem to have anything much to say about the conditions. 

This is because most of them are either 'undocumented' or registered as migrant workers. Many live in wretched conditions (El Walili, a long-term bidonville in Nijar, was abruptly torched and bulldozed flat recently. It had some 500 residents who were obliged to scatter). Around 98% of the workers in these farms are foreigners says the local union, a number somewhere between forty and fifty thousand, and of course they don't have many rights, and certainly not The Vote (needless to say, the racist Vox party does well in the agricultural sector). A further 30,000 (generally Spanish or at least European), work in the packaging plants or as truckers hauling the produce north. 

An article in Público runs details about the labour inspections in the invernaderos and the difficulties of the inspectors in finding who, where and what. According to this, in the last five years, some 11,000 workers have been found to be improperly employed, and the inspectors have handed down around fourteen million euros in fines. Agrodiario on the other hand says that the field-workers are all legal and well paid.

The plastic eventually perishes, and is either lovingly collected and sent to a proper recycling plant, or more likely, discarded in one way or another. An article on Google claims that around 80% of all used plastic ends up either as landfill or simply junked, and another 12% is burned (often in 'accidental' fires). An article at Wiki claims that around 30,000 tons of plastic waste is produced annually. On the bright side, a study by the University of Almería claims that the giant immensity of the plastic actually reduces global warmth - at least locally - by reflecting the sun's heat back into space. 

One of the smaller support industries belongs to the bee-breeders. They produce small hives of a few dozen bumble-bees which are then installed within the plastic farms and employed to fertilize the plants. I sometimes find a stray one coming to inspect my lemon tree (they sting like the very devil).

Almería was always a poor and forgotten part of Spain. Now, with its gigantic industry of plastic farms, producing in 2022 a massive 2,787 million euros in sales, it's certainly odd that Vícar and Níjar are the two poorest municipalities in the entire country.


Thursday, March 02, 2023

Gentlemen, Gentlemen.

While Spain has made leaps and bounds in almost every sphere, public lavatories still need some way to go. We may no longer be in the field of the early travel guide which recommended in the brief section under 'Conveniences' to 'where possible, best start your own', but there are still a few problems that need ironing out.

Being a fastidious and modern country, ruled by all sorts of obscure interests - often of a commercial leaning - we must now expect wheelchair-accessible toilets, even if the building in question has a stairway to get to it. Perhaps, you see, you broke your leg after you gained the bar.

 Probably tripped over the step.

Some lavvies don't have a seat, for a reason which I shall shortly be examining, and customers, certain customers, may no doubt be obliged to fastidiously hover over the pan. Which is hard on the thigh muscles. At least these thrones will flush in an orderly way as a rule.

Many years ago, my mother pulled the chain of a local dunny and the whole tank fell off the wall and on to her head. The rest of us standing around the bar were left speechless as she returned, drenched, from the servicio. I believe I learned several words I hadn't come across until then. 

Worse still, there are those latrines that don't rinse, and haven't for some time. The lever has disappeared, or maybe it rusted. You probably won't find them in your local bar, but if you find yourself caught short in the wrong neighbourhood, you'll see that, O Lordy, they exist.

One horrid sort of privy is the old-fashioned squatter, which is a kind of perforated porcelain base with two raised bits for your feet, pointing either one way or indeed the other according to the nature of one's purpose.

On the bright side, the days of being invited to put the used paper in a handy nearby basket have more or less passed.

Pissoirs, those elegant against the wall systems, are odd. They are often fixed to the wall in an elevated position, too high for the shorter gentleman. Oddly, in the USA, this tendency is reversed, with the urinal apparently installed for those of a smaller stature. Our local hotel favours these plumbing fixtures in a basement setting, which is fine, only the automatic light tends to go out after a brief time, which can be annoying if one is day-dreaming.

New Spanish bogs have lower and close-to-the-porcelain tanks, so a collapsing reservoir rarely happens anymore, even if the flow in the modern variant is somewhat reduced. They have a small and large flush to save water. Which may explain why customers sometimes feel that their brief visit to the WC is rather second-hand.

Indeed, I once stayed in a very smart hotel in Melilla and, on removing the wrapper on the crapper and lifting the lid, found a large turd in the bowl.

They had a chocolate on the pillow, too.

Talking of low tanks, many modern privies have a pan so close to the flusher than the seat won't stay vertical for the discerning gentlemen. It's hard and unnatural to try and hold the seat up while taking a whizz, so the usual thing is to not bother, and merely piss all over the commode, seat included. Using one foot to hold it up doesn't work either unless you have a good sense of balance and, besides, are seriously well-endowed.

'Yes, I've finished, go ahead' you mutter to the next person as you make your escape.

Maybe as many as a quarter of all public johns have this unfortunate design-flaw, at least around where I live.

One small step better, other thrones have a seat which appears to be steady when lifted to the vertical, but will suddenly fall from the position with a mighty crash. If that doesn't make you jerk mid-stream, nothing will.

It's all because the tank is to close to the khazi, for goodness sake. I can't imagine who designs these things, the potty company or the installers.

It's as if the Nation's fontaneros all sit down to pee - or maybe they have a secret code of humour... 

But Hush!, the Secretary has just informed the President of the Worshipful Guild of Plumbers that he may rise at his convenience and deliver his speech to the congegration. Apart for his tendency to tell fart jokes, one can be sure how he will begin:

'Ladies and Gents...'


(A re-write from a piece of mine from May 2015)