Friday, December 31, 2010

A Winter Visitor

My wife was making a lot of fuss the other day – some story about a snake in the house. She had seen it come through the back door and given it a wallop or two as it disappeared behind a bookcase. Nuts, I said, snakes don’t crawl about in the winter, they are cold-blooded animals.
She must have been seeing things. Women are always a bit peculiar about snakes and one has to humour them on these occasions. I took the bookcase apart – of course there was no nest of crazed serpents there plotting our downfall (although a few interesting books I hadn’t read for a while, plus a lot of dust).
Anyhow, yesterday afternoon, a snake came through the same door. I saw it and, having in the past watched all those shows made by the Australian naturalist Steve Whatwashisname, grabbed it by the tail and, as it hung there writhing energetically, I danced about shouting Snoike, what a beautiful Snoike.
It was a metre-long grass snake as far as I know, although and despite there not being any poisonous snakes around here, one never likes to be proved wrong – especially by some maddened viper.
Anyhow, I put him safely somewhere in the garden to cries coming from inside the house:
Now, can you have a proper look behind the goddamn bookcase?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Radio Costa 105.6FM

Hey, a new local radio station for Mojácar and the surrounding area:



No disk jockeys, waffle, filler, joke telephone calls, yatter, piffle and tripe. Just a giant play-list of good music (for English and Spanish-speaking listeners).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Say 'No' to Egg Nog

There's nothing quite like flopping into one's favourite armchair at the end of a hard day's work, kicking off one's shoes, switching on the telly for some mind-numbing shite and opening a nice bottle of honey rum. Or perhaps cinnamon brandy. What say we all have a round of coconut nasty?
You get my point. There is almost no barman in Spain who knows how to make a cocktail, so instead, they dream up these sweet and sticky mixtures in the forlorn hope that someone will not only buy a bottle of some yellowish and glutinous krème, but will return, fresh-faced and smiling a few days later, and buy another.
I asked our local hostelier, an Italian, to make me a gin martini. I should have known better. I got served a large glass of Martini (e Bianco) with a cherry in it molto bene. Then he stood around, with an intrigued expression on his face, to watch me drink it. Could I have a glass of gin to go? I said.
Spain does have a cocktail (un coktel) which is the Cuba Libre. It's rum and coke. Known for short as 'una cubata', it now means any hootch with a fizzy mix. Gin and tonic, vodka and orangeade or even whisky and cola (uurrrp!). I have even been asked (I briefly barred) for a creme de menthe and lemon Fanta.
This may be why the Spanish are not known for public drunkenness - a couple of those babies and you just want to crawl off and die.
So there is an untold number of varieties of booze on the shelves behind a bar. Most may be for decoration - I assume you don't drink much Green Chartreuse or Triple Sec or Licor de Amor (it's purple - I think that's all you need to know) - while some of them are merely cheap imitations of better brands. Which explains the 'unfillable' tops to the bottles: which often need a smack on the bottom when opened fresh. You really don't need a shot of sticky coffee cream on your cuff.
So we come to a new drink, launched today in Cadiz. It comes from a Granada destiller and is called Licor de Crema de Turrón, a sort of Nut-Nougat Cream Liqueur. The photograph in today's paper showed a table with various half-filled glasses of the drink, a few bottles and whatever promotional material seemed appropriate, and a small number of youthful looking entrepreneurs with that slightly wistful look that people get when they know that - somewhere - they may have overlooked some small but vital point to their business plan.
I should just add here that I am grateful to my friends who have gathered round at this festive season and have kindly brought me a Christmas bottle or two of 'good cheer'. So far (and there's still a few days to go) I've been given four bottles of scotch and two of brandy. No 'hierbas' (lemony aguardiente which will lift your head off) , no Calisay, melon liquor or, thank goodness (and fingers crossed) nut-nougat cream liqueur.
To which I raise my glass to the good taste of my friends, neighbours and readers.
Feliz Navidad.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Oldies but Goldies (a Rave from the Grave)

I saw that Captain Beefheart has died today. Don Van Vliet was a Frank Zappa collaborator and floated around in some of those peculiar albums in the mid sixties. He was pretty bonkers, but was remarked for being able to sing his way up and down four and a half octaves, a bit like Uma Sumac (What, you’ve never heard of Uma?). As Captain Beefheart, he made some records before turning to painting. He lived in the Mojave Desert for the rest of his life, spreading colours. I have one of his records – Mirror Man – and I’m listening to a cut on YouTube. (‘Tarot-Plane’). Bonkers.
Captain Beefheart was the inspiration for ‘The Head-bangers Show’ on Radio Indalo put out most evenings by Martin (or ‘Tino’): I think I’ll call him ‘a gentleman who had fallen by the wayside’. Heavy stuff and lots of vinyl, mix with some fine Moroccan hash and a roll-up. In those days you cut your terbacca and grass seeds or mixed your hash all on the cardboard cover of the record. Try that with an MP3.
I ran a Sunday afternoon show on the same radio, which was based in Mojácar in around 1988 to 1995 perhaps, and would bring up a load of albums and some cassettes, strategically wound to the right song, all in a large sack over my shoulder as I thundered up the Mojácar hill on my motorcycle with Arlo Guthrie sitting on the back. The regular crew would decamp, leaving the radio station at some considerable risk. The program was called ‘The Entertainer Show’ (for some reason) and had some good jingles, plus the occasional participation of Mike Connolly, another Mike, Ric (who did helicopter noises by bashing his chest while reading out fake traffic reports) and Brendon. Antonio, as well: a fan from Bédar who would bring a crate of beer for each show, plus a ham bocadillo for me, compliments of his mum. Sometimes I’d let him do dedications. Towards the end of each two hour show, it would get progressively harder remembering which side of the record to play, which lever to push and what on earth was going on.
The music would be – at the very least – a cracking mixture of oddities. None of that anodyne best-songs-ever crap which plugs up our ex-pat radios these days in turgid clichés. Horse with No Name, Life in the Fast Lane, Stairway to Heaven and Sugar Sugar. Spare me.
Old Cap’n Beefheart had the right idea.
And now he’s gone: will they let their hair down on Spectrum and play one of his tracks just this once?

L-R Mike Connolly, The old Entertainer Truck and me with a beard and a cigar.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Name Calling

Taxi drivers always have trouble in countries where they change the names of things. Prithee take me to such and such on the 'General Mola' became the day after Franco keeled over, please take me to the 'Principe de Vergara'. The General was an old mate of the Spanish führer's and no one can remember who on earth the Prince was. Somebody nice, no doubt.
Name changes in Spanish streets, public buildings and so on are indescribably popular, especially when there's something better to do. No doubt President Zapatero is working hard on this. Well, we know he is.
In Mojácar, the absurdly named 'Centro de Artesanía' has now become 'Centro de Usos Multiples' (I think. I have to admit I still use the old name). The improbably called 'Avenida de Horizon' (after a soon-to-fail British tour-operator, which almost managed to take the town with them) has gone. What the avenida was called before, I simply can't remember, but it's nowdays... no wait... it'll come to me in a minute...
We just call it 'The Road up to the Village'.
So, you say to your taxi-driver 'it's in the road after the old purple church' and hope that he will understand. In Madrid, they often affect not to. 'Take me to the Plaza Mayor', said my father years ago, when there weren't many foreigners in the Spanish capital. My father was very tall, red-headed and covered in freckles, so it was an easy jump to suppose that my dad was an extranjero. It therefore followed that, since the taxi driver didn't speak extranjero, there wouldn't be much point in listening. 'Plaza Mayor' repeated my father several times, while uncomfortably bent in the back and trying to catch the driver's eye in the mirror.
Eventually, as the driver was nudged left, right and straight-on by his increasingly indignant passenger, they arrived in the most famous square in Spain. The taxi driver, pleased with his service, turned to my dad and said 'Señor, we call this Plaza Mayor'.
So we manage as we must, with street names and even statues falling out of favour (there's a warehouse full of caudillos somewhere). Back in Mojácar, apart from a couple of large roughly-fashioned rocks cemented on top of each other and known at the time as 'Pepe's Erection' (now sadly demolished), the statuary has been spared. We have bronze Mojacar maidens picking stones out of their shoe in various key locations (I think the artist had a buy-one, get-one-free deal going) and another one, in brick and ceramic, on the highway at Los Gallardos (no, that one's gone, knocked down in Bartolome's reign). Then there are the Indalos, including the one overlooking the modest roundabout at the fuente, a stainless steel one-legged and priapic monster with a space helmet (a fine justification for the local belief that they came from somewhere special).
But, back to streets. In Mojácar, we have streets named after every nation in Europe: Calle de Rumanía, Calle de Portugal, Calle de Francia and so on. Every nation except Britain, or the UK or the Reino Unido or however the hell we call the old place these days. England I might have said. Now, despite about 40% of the entire population being sons of the accursed Albion, we don't deserve a street. Not even a little alleyway. Not even, just for a few short months, between presidents of the diputación or something.
There are also no streets honouring the foreigners who 'discovered' or 'brought back from the brink' the small and humble town of Mojácar. Well, there's one - Pete Pages (a short, fat and merry 'antique' dealer from Brooklyn) put up a sign in the narrow lane next to his shop about thirty years ago for 'Calle de Pedro Barato'. Cheap Pete street.
A lane, I should point out, far too narrow for taxis.
Otherwise, there's nothing around to remind us of the great characters who moved here from other countries in the years gone by - bringing life, soul, a strong thirst for cheap brandy and tolerably bulging wallets.
So we are enthused to hear of a new name change. This one is going to be for a square, the one in front of the town hall with the big tree in the middle. Come to think of it, I'm not certain it even has a name. 'Town Hall Square' or something. Anyhow, it will soon be baptized with the rather foreign sounding 'Plaza de Walt Disney'.
Luckily, Wally was really a mojaquero (well, prove that he wasn't), so we are not breaking too many rules, beyond the one about 'good taste' perhaps.
But please, spare us a statue of Mickey Mouse.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Puppies For Sale

It’s a two-hour drive from home to puppy heaven, and I’m not too sure about the directions. My wife has the paper with some vague notes I’d got off the phone, but, hey! We’re here nonetheless. Press the buzzer! Open the gates! Conchi will be with us in a moment. She’s taking pictures of a clutch of baby cockers.
She welcomes us in, together with a pack of chattering briards. Hi, make yourself at home, I shan’t be long.
We bee-lined for the nursery.
The crèche was warm, damp and knee-deep in puppies. Well, it would have been if Conchi had opened up all the cages. In one, eight puppies were with their mother, a terrier. In others, the young ’uns were by themselves as their mothers were taking the waters outside. In a box on the floor, more puppies mewled and grunted as a matronly basset hound looked on fondly.
Conchi bustles in. she smiles and drops to the box where our puppies are. On your knees! On the floor!
I was assailed by a generous selection of juniors all either wagging anything that occurred to them, or if younger still, shyly mouthing an outstretched finger.
It’s such a delight to spend some time with puppies. This time, without guilt or remorse. These little chaps have cards, tattoos and pedigrees. I’m not going to argue the advantages here of a breed puppy over a tattered inmate from the pound. It takes all sorts. They all need loving.
A kitten watched gravely as I handled a puppy. Turn it over and see if it trusts you, someone said, so I did.
Outside, more young dogs in caged runs, with still others running free. A couple of Chihuahuas politely asked if they might nibble on something small as some doves landed on the roof of the nearby bungalow and cooed at the bedlam below. Out came the finger again.
We are sat in a comfortable office in a house with wooden floors and open windows just outside Elche, the town famous for its stone carving of a mysterious queen or goddess from ancient times. But this is canine country. Conchi Valenti, the owner of DaSilva, is a licenced breeder of a selection of different breeds of dogs. She grooms and kennels her extended family and sundry guests and she somehow still finds time to go on the show circuit. Everything is clean and ordered. She has help from her parents and a friend, as long as they follow her notes. She was off that very afternoon to the Azores in search of another silver cup for the collection on a sideboard in her office. Pictures of past champions are pinned to the wall and the phone buzzes regularly with questions, orders and advice from her extended listing of customers and acquaintances. The clatter and yelps of her wards echo through the window.
We are here to buy a puppy. We’ve chosen two (one of which…) and we’ve paid a deposit. We’ll be back when the litter is six weeks old.
(The New Entertainer July 2006)
... ...
Now, four years later, we found ourselves in the area and so we dropped by to visit with Conchi. Things are the same as before, except the sideboard of trophies that was in her office has become an entire wall.

DaSilva. Elche, Alicante. Phone 96 545 35 36. Conchi speaks Spanish and German. http://www.perrosdasilva.com/

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Future Imperfect

It’s a well-known fact that Mojácar in 1960 was in such a state, with only 600 inhabitants, that there was a plan to incorporate the ‘town’ into the municipality of Carboneras. The pueblo was moribund, with anyone remaining considering joining family that had long before fled to France, Catalonia, Germany or even the USA, Algeria, Morocco and Argentina in search of a better life. Franco famously didn’t like Almería and there was no government help for the area. Mojácar itself, was a crumbled down village with no road access until the late fifties: no agriculture, industry, tourism or art. In fact, the first hotel was opened in 1962, a seven room establishment built over the town’s only bar, the Hotel Indalo. We stayed there for several months in 1966.
The town was ‘discovered’ by a few intellectuals (as the Spanish offhandedly called them) in the early sixties and a small group of artists moved in. Good light, inspirational countryside and cheap prices. The town was grateful. Some monies were wired back to the pueblo from overseas. Otherwise, there was nothing. The mayor during the sixties, Jacinto, together with a few ‘forasteros’ (outsiders), began the process of bringing Mojácar back from the brink. He gave away houses to those who would rehabilitate them, promoted Mojácar and its symbol, the Indalo, and, after forcing his subjects to whitewash the brown weather-beaten town, won for the community a prize in 1964 as a ‘Pueblo Blanco’. People slowly came to live in Mojácar and the town grew and prospered. Crass tour-operator politics slowed down Mojácar’s growing reputation internationally as a bohemian destination and the pueblo was forced to squeeze its way forward under the mismanagement of a series of greedy and self-centred mayors. Parts of the town were demolished without reason and an ‘Artisan Centre’ was built with government funds (Mojácar has no artisans). New and odder public buildings have been erected since for political or profit-driven motives. Some of them finally get opened; others merely rot in the sun.
The town still lives from money that comes in from outside. There is still no locally born artists or producers. Only building or service industries stimulated by the ‘forasteros’ and their purses. Mojácar has grown from the 600 inhabitants of fifty years ago to around 10,000 today and there are many summer-homes, huts, noddy houses and garrets built for profit which add to the burden on the shoddy infrastructure during the short summer season. The town sells Chinese-made nick-nacks in endless souvenir shops and the beach caters to outsiders and their money. The mojaqueros have become wealthy. They keep their money safe for the future.
Mojácar’s luck was not that outsiders would want to import so much money, or buy so many homes, or come to live there in large and yet respectful numbers, or even that they would allow the local people to continue to mismanage their town through the ayuntamiento, the town hall. The luck was that it was able to expand so precipitously, long before the introduction of the autonomous government of Andalucía, whose venal politicians based in the capital city, Seville, would make huge efforts to stop any other eastern Almería town from following Mojácar’s example. Thus those interior towns, again without any future, without industry, agriculture or tourism (they are not located on a Mediterranean beach, but rather in the dusty hot foothills of the Sierra María or the Filabres) are unable to turn to the obvious source of building retirement homes and creating local wealth and life for themselves. The Junta de Andalucía not only says ‘no’, but has cynically and disastrously called for the demolition of 12,000 foreign-owned homes in a dozen pueblos. Mojácar has not been forgotten by these thugs however, as the junta’s planners are determined to build a useless, pointless and absurd artificial city of 70,000 inhabitants (no one can even guess where these people will come from) between Mojácar and the surrounding pueblos to the north. The ‘Llano Central’ is like our Artesan Centre from years back. There’s a profit motive perhaps, but there’s no logic beyond greed. Perhaps a strong local government could still turn the tide into a better direction, but the forasteros, who now run to about 75% of the population, sadly aren't interested.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Remembrance Service in Mojácar

Old soldiers and their families met together today to honour their comrades at the British Legion Remembrance Service at the St Pascal Baylon Chapel in the tiny hamlet of Agua de en Medio (Mojácar). Father Hugh Broad of the Anglican Chaplaincy in Costa Almería & Cálida officiated at the dedication of the Mojácar BR.3485 Standard. Angel Medina, the vice mayor of Mojácar (3rd from right) represented the ayuntamiento on this solemn day.
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old; age shall not weary them, nor the years condem. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.
Picture: James Tudor-Pole

Monday, November 08, 2010

Papal Visit to Spain

The Pope was in Spain this past weekend, with the first day in Santiago de Compostela and the second in Barcelona. The Pope's theme was a bit more religion would be nice in this (so very) laical country. Not as many people turned out to see His Holiness as was expected, so it's a very great pleasure to have this picture of Zapatero sharing the stage.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Llano Central. No, They've Not Forgotten!

There are only two surviving Spanish language free papers in the area, the always excellent Actualidad Almanzora and another one, that mirrors the PSOE’s positions, called the Nuevo Levante. You can find this second one in town halls.
Here’s more or less what it says in its October edition about our future, as seen by the socialist brothers from Seville and their pet project for this area, the imaginatively called Llano Central (Central Flatlands).
This project, surprisingly enough still going strong, and despite the enormous damage done to our province and its reputation abroad by the Junta de Andalucía’s planners, is to build an artificial city, the forth largest in the province, with 35,000 homes and fifty hotels, all in an area of fifty square kilometres located between Mojácar, Turre, Bédar, Los Gallardos, Antas, Vera and Garrucha. This area, currently a flat plain which has never been settled, from the Neolithic age forward, is to drain off all building licences from the aforementioned towns to allow this exotic new city to be built. Who will live there? Certainly not the vast number of wealthy retirees from Northern Europe who, as things stand, wouldn’t touch Almería with a bargepole. Spaniards? Why ever for. But wait, the answer is coming.
The project has 3,680 million euros of, ah, public money to be spent on this dearly needed city in the sticks. Building it will require 95,000 workers, of which around 2000 are already here as locally unemployed. The rest would have to come in from outside and, as I see it; stay here in their new apartments in the Llano Central which they will be building.
And then they can open a Rumanian embassy across the road.
A city without museums, noble buildings, parks, beachfront (it’s several kilometres inland), but with fifty hotels! a city under the orders of seven town halls, but without one of its own. So wait a minute, who on earth is oing to want to holiday in such a place, where the sound of drills and the view of cranes and cement lorries would be the main entertainment?
Where would the sewage go? Ah, right. Don't answer that.
So why build it? I think that the ugly word ‘profit’ must figure in here somewhere. The worthless land – fifty million square metres – of the Llano Central will have substantially gone up in price. You bought some at the right time I hope? Then there will be certain juicy contracts. Another reason is that the high-speed-train which will whizz through the city four times a day, stopping in a station to be built on the edge of the local market town of Vera (and slowing down the Almería – Murcia schedule) will need the justification of a steady stream of people disembarking, like something out of the Klondike Gold Rush.
The combined population of our seven towns above is about 25,000 people – and we want to bring in another 70,000. At least the family-run town halls will be watered down a bit in a generation.
The Nuevo Levante is enthusiastic. ‘This will become the motor for tourism in the Levante in the years to come. As the beaches are cleaned up (the Ley de Costas has 200 metres from the sea for public land and 500 metres for hotels), we are compensated by the Llano Central’.
Yay.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

How Little Boy Kitty Lost his Meow

Here's a story written by Barbara.

We had bought our old cortijo some time ago. It was very cheap, perhaps because the superstitious local Spanish thought that it was haunted. Somebody had been shot against a wall during the French occupation. It is a large and gloomy house with small windows and has a good sized garden which we both enjoy working in.
One day, something fell out of a tree straight into my husband’s arms. When I asked him what it was, he took a look and said 'a little boy kitty' and that is how he got his name. Little Boy Kitty was no normal kitten, he was completely black and tiny with the softest fur you have ever felt and he knew from that very second that he fell from the tree that my husband and this house were his. He wandered around with all of the big dogs and other animals without a care in the world. He knew this was going to be home. As Little Boy Kitty began to grow he also began to speak, or meow, about and to everything and everyone he could find. He became particularly verbal at meal times especially if you were late, according to him. He would weave in and out between your feet, tripping you up and meow to the point that you felt like throwing him out of the door. When I say that he was no normal kitty, I mean it, he never just curled up in a ball and went to sleep or did any of the other things cats normally do; no, he had to stretch out on your chest with his arms wrapped around you like a big hug and he always put his chin right under yours and looked at you with these adorable eyes so you didn’t dare move him. There he would stay until you had to go to sleep, and that is when we finally started to put him out of the bedroom at night, so we could roll over and get some sleep ourselves. As he grew he became more and more verbal. When you would come home he would have to tell you all about his day and who had been mean to him and what bird he had tried to catch, all before you could get the groceries into the house. If we would go away for a few days, when we came home, it was hours of telling us everything that had happened. After a few years it really became quite annoying, his insisting on breakfast while you were in the middle of fixing it. He just never shut-up. Then one day he just lost his meow. He would open his mouth but no noise came out. He was waiting for me at the door as usual and was weaving in and out of my feet waiting for breakfast but there was no noise. I checked his throat and him but there was no meow. It was gone. We looked everywhere but it was nowhere to be found. It had been about a week and still no meow. One day when I went upstairs I saw, sitting next to me on the bed a huge, and I mean huge, bull gecko, one of our house-lizards that usually live behind the paintings. I didn’t want him to sit with me so I told him to shoo, very politely. He was so fat that he couldn’t hold on to the walls or ceiling anymore, without falling, splat onto the floor again, so he had to stay on the floor or bed. He had no intention of moving from his comfortable position on my bed so I became a little more insistent, when all of the sudden he just looked up at me in a deliberate way and said MEOW. WHAT A SHOCK! I came running down stairs to tell my husband. So we finally found where Little Boy Kitty’s meow went to and to this day Little Boy Kitty still gives us hugs and is still trying to tell us about his day, but he is completely silent and fortunately I haven’t seen that big bull gecko again and I hope I never do.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Scorpions in Paradise

The other day, we squirted bug-spray under the desk in the office in case there were any fleas or spiders about and this morning I found a dead baby scorpion. Which leaves the question: Where's Mama?
In the campo, we have our fair share of scorpions, which scuttle under the doors into the house and, in a sense, either get you or get got by you in an unending war between them and us. If they get you first, they are very painful indeed, although they leave no discernable wound. It will hurt like fury - like a burn with bits of broken glass under the skin, in powerful throbs through the limb - for up to eight hours. There's not much you can do with the pain, which comes from a neurotoxin - a poison which attacks the nerves. There's a time of pain and then, it slowly goes away. It leaves no after-effects at all, unlike a spider or centipede bite which may cause the wound to fester. The worry is, of course, that baby scorpions, twenty or fifty of them, cruise around after birth on the back of Mama scorpion, until they are old enough to wander off... and be found by me under the desk in our office.
Today, I'm keeping my shoes on.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Garden

I’ve never had much interest in gardening. My mother planted ours and would spend her time pruning, seeding and planting. She would want special earth and would buy flower pots from far-away Albox (this, long before the first British home-buyer ever appeared there). My father planted a large number of trees in the field behind and above the house and would water them with big plastic bottles filled at the fountain and lugged up there in his little Renault.
The property, to begin with, was fed water from a tank and a pump, filled by the water-truck from Turre. Much later, we got mains water from a company called Servamosa and, when that company became a part of the current water supplier called Galasa, all of the 10,000 public shares of Servamosa, shares that each family or business held in our pueblo, worth 500 euros or so each (we had nine), were – whoops! – lost in the best Spanish tradition.
Never mind, we had water, and for many years a gardener, Cristóbal, who squirted everything with enthusiasm, explaining that ‘of course the flowers fall off when you spray them, they’re flowers’. Cristóbal fancied himself as being the wise old Son of the Soil and would laugh as my mother lost her temper with him, ‘But Señora, how can you know? This is Spain!’
He had another problem, being partial to watching the women as they lounged around the swimming pool. One time, a scantily clad house-guest marched up to my father to complain that the gardener had been peeking at her while she was having a shower. My dad threw her out, claiming that it was much easier to get another house-guest than it was to find another gardener.
But that was then. My parents both died and, after I married, I took over the estate.
In fact, as far as gardening was concerned, the estate pretty much looked after itself. Between the rare rain that falls here and the even rarer moments of me watering with an increasingly leaky hose, the garden was obliged to make its own way. The smaller stuff died out and the stronger plants survived and spread.
Twenty agreeable years passed and the garden was by this time violently overgrown and, in the opinion of one of the larger pepper trees, in need of a miracle.
In the summer of 2009, a brush-fire raced across the entire municipality, pushed along by a high wind. The garden got its miracle all right, and I was left with a sad mixture of charred firewood, soot, dead trees, charcoal and smoking stumps. We lost several out-buildings and some neighbours lost their homes and the cars. The Spanish authorities reacted magnificently – by doing absolutely nothing at all.
But that’s why we love it here. They only remember you when they want something.
The garden needed lots of work and, now matured (and in need of daily exercise), I took to clearing the place up. A year later, it goes on, with me sawing down dead branches or trees, planting, pruning and watering the survivors.
Oddly enough, that pepper tree was right, it does look a lot better now.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Turrón

When does the run to Christmas start? In America it comes after Hallow'een, which apparently is the second biggest commercial earner in the year. The 'trick or treat' festival, now beginning to arrive in Spain, thanks to the Corte Inglés and other forward looking merchants (like Klaus on the playa), brings some rather odd behaviour and is currently the target of the Catholic Church, which prefers the night before November 1st to be used to honour the dead. But Christmas is already beginning its run, with tables of delicious 'turrones' in the supermarkets. The basic 'turrón', a sticky nougat from Alicante, has now morphed into a hundred different bars of nut, cream, marzipan, dried fruit, chocolate, cherries glacé, rice-paper and booze which are meant to last, presumably, until nearer the end of December to be consumed along with the frightful 'polverones', dusty sweets of flour, anís and sugar, which make up the first onslaught of Christmas glee.
I've just treated myself to an entire bar of chocolate-covered marzipan with bitter orange lumps - well, I didn't get a holiday this year - and am now seeing stars.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On Charity and Solidarity

It’s probably different in the big cities, but here in the sticks, it’s quite rare for a ‘son of the village’, who has done well with his life, to put something back. I know there are exceptions, like the man from Bédar who made a fortune in Barcelona and sent funds to build a small park in his pueblo, or the man from Aguas en Medio (a tiny hamlet in Mojácar) who sent money from the Pacific island of Guam to build a church locally. There are some few unsung heroes who help the disabled centre in Vera – Asprodalba – or other beneficial ends, but it is not common. Those who have struggled up from poverty are probably more concerned with staying as far away from that condition as they can, rather than risking the wrath of Lady Luck by sharing a tiny proportion of their money with anyone else.
I suppose, when it comes to ‘caritas’ – charity – everyone suspects, with some degree of certitude on their side, that most donations in Spain are promptly stolen. It is clearly a cut-throat business and commissions on subsidies are usual. There is, in fact, a small industry in matching hand-outs with charity organisations, for which the agents take a standard 20%. There are cases, mainly in the days of the Felipe Gonzalez government, of large charities being in the news for all the wrong reasons – from the director of one of Spain’s biggest charities selling off an entire city block which happened to be on the books, and pocketing the lot, to an improbable accident in a lift shaft (at the headquarters of a very wealthy blind association). Then, nearer to home, there was the case of the Sahara children due to come and stay in Lubrín one year, only the accountant took off with all the money. Another example: an Almerian charity that places the disabled in low-paid jobs, and charges them 20% (it seems to be the ideal figure), for life!
The Britons, who live here in their tens of thousands, are in contrast, generous with charity, although almost all of it goes to animals. There is no ex-pat newspaper without its page of free adverts for shelters and pet charities, its associations of feral cat sterilizers and articles on dogs in extremis. Yet we find nothing about the old, lonely and penniless members of their society, fallen on bad times or living under the threat of a hard-eyed banker or lender, or a calculating ‘healer’ or ‘companion’. Is there a human equivalent to the PAWS shop, where queues of people bring second-hand clothing, books and unwanted treasures to be sold off and converted (one imagines) into dog food? Perhaps the implicit ‘thank you’ is easier to read in an animal’s eyes.
So, one might want to keep charity a little closer to home (if I’m not quoting someone out of context). The Mormons know about this, they ‘tithe’ themselves 10% and happily give it to the poor.
Here in our pueblo, where a serious amount of money has come into the hands of a few families, who keep it, apparently, under the bed, there is almost no suggestion of returning a bit to the village that made them rich. There are no theatres or parks, or gardens. There are not even any park-benches with a small brass acknowledgement of the munificence of some Elder. Several families, poor as mice a generation ago, now control fortunes of fifty million Euros each. One woman, known for short-changing her customers (she still has a small shop), claims rents of 75,000 euros a month. Her ambition can only be to make it up to 100,000 a month.
In April, three of our local people shared 65 million euros in the Eurolotto. They promptly abandoned our town and are now, presumably, living in the Bahamas and complaining to the new-found servants that they can’t get a decent paella there. How many park benches, children’s parks, churches or theatres have they managed between them for their home-town? None. The nearest thing you will find to charity in our pueblo is the swollen number of workers at the town hall. Some are professionals but many others are merely there to provide them with a wage. How generous. However, when its election time, they will not be forgotten.
Our town is like a tired old whore – everyone wants to take something from her, but no one wants to buy her flowers.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Beggars Can't be Boozers

Times are hard. We have a beggar installed outside each of our supermarkets these days. Each one of them appears to have his patch and of course, he'll have a dog. Except for the old Romanian woman at the Co-op who looks like she just ate hers. I've seen little old ladies come out of a shop with a piece of meat saved for the hound (and a scowl for its master). It's hard being a beggar - especially with the new hard-to-climb-into dustbins we now have serving our community. So, to be a beggar, the first thing you will need is a friendly looking dog; and the second thing is a good stomach.
And remember, most of us are just a paycheck away...

Money doesn’t take you far,
A shop, a store, a mart, a bar,

So looking for the cheapest link
I chose a shop to buy a drink

My pocket full I entered in.
To buy a jug of Spanish gin

I picked a brand I didn’t know
It cost the lot, I turned to go

My bottle in a plastic sack
I toddled out, my mind turned black.

I left that market in a fog
And saw a beggar with his dog

The man was holding out a cup
I tipped my jug and filled it up

Can I share it, asked the mooch.
Of course you can’t – it’s for the pooch.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Entertainer Online

The Entertainer Online is eight years old. Mostly true, it's full of news from Mojácar ('a real nice place to bring your children up') and the rest of Spain, with comment, snark and politics. There's also the best collection of non-commercial links about Spain (blogs, forums, news, politics, food and so on). You should check it daily.
The webpage comes out of 'The Entertainer', a weekly free newspaper that started in 1985 and ran until it was taken over in an interesting way I'm not, legally, allowed to write about. Here in Spain, that's nothing new.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Chris Takes His Medecine

We were talking yesterday of some of the old times and I remembered this story about one of the many differences that exist between Spain and the UK; and while we should celebrate and encourage those differences - after all, Spain is a wonderful place to live and Britain isn't - this particular item may not be the finest example in Spain's quiver of attractions and curiosities.
I refer to the humble suppository.
Chris had long hair and a thin moustache. He favoured pink shirts and kept his things in an off-the-shoulder handbag. His girlfriend was a pretty looking Danish girl and was sat beside him on a train chugging slowly north towards Granada. They had arrived in Mojácar that summer of 1968 in a purple mini-moke, a type of low-slung jeep. Chris was a writer doing research on Carlos, a murderous ex-bodyguard of Trujillo, the assassinated dictator from the Dominican Republic, whose disgraced minder was now running a beach-bar in our quiet resort. According to my dad, Carlos made a good Cuba Libre and one should always try and forgive and forget.
Chris’ research, once he got around to it, involved a few talks over a glass of rum with Carlos about his ghastly experiences as a torturer, inquisitor and bodyguard and Carlos, a short black fellow with a nasty look to him, must have taken offence at one of Chris’ questions on one occasion.
Or perhaps he just had a hangover that day.
The jeep was found, smashed to pieces.
Chris and his girlfriend, Gitte, decided to take off to Granada for a week for some research and a release from the volatile Carlos. On the way to the train, Chris visited a farmacia to get something for a cold he’d picked up.
We are in the train again. It’s just left Linares where it had stopped for lunch. In those days, the conductor would go through the carriages asking what everyone wanted to eat and would then phone through to the station, where twenty seven portions of meat and fifteen of fish would be waiting, chips, salad and wine, together with a small plate of membrillo (a lump of quince jelly) for ‘afters’.
Back on the train, Chris sniffled again and remembered his package from the chemist. He opened it up and extracted a metal-foil wrapped bomb-shaped item. The carriage, drowsy from its lunch, watched with mild interest.
Chris had never seen a suppository before and, as he peeled the foil off the plug (principal ingredient: cocoa butter), he decided he couldn’t eat it so, after a moment’s thought, decided to ram it up his nose.
The carriage stirred in anticipation. ‘No’ said some old girl in black.
No?, thought Chris. Perhaps, since it’s a streamer, I should open another. He placed the second suppository, with its agreeable smell of cocoa butter, into his second nostril and sat back. The two suppositories dangled slightly from his nose and he had to hold them in place. His girlfriend tittered suddenly and the carriage, released, burst into laughter.
The man sat facing Chris lifted himself partway from his seat and made an explicit motion towards his backside. ‘Aquí’, here.
Chris, his face the colour of his shirt, excused himself and went to find the lavatory. He told us afterwards that he could see the tracks flashing by when he looked down the pan, and that there wasn’t really enough room to comfortably continue with the medicine.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Our Version of Local Politics

Years ago, some people from Murcia opened up a new bar on the beach. We got to know them – I think through their children knowing ours – and had a party there on one occasion. They didn’t do much business as a rule and the local people wouldn’t use the place. One day I asked Paco why he never had a sign outside the front door which would, it seemed obvious to me, help with the trade. ‘Oh’, he said, ‘the mayor told me that I could have a sign but only if I militated in his party’.
Should I make that clearer? In our small town some twenty years ago, if you wanted to get ahead, you joined the political party of your peers (although not, necessarily, your persuasion).
Have things changed in our Almerian pueblos? Well, sure, you can join the party you want, or none at all if it suits you, but answer me this – how will I know if you voted for me?
Politics is not a thing to take lightly. The future of your family can depend on how you vote. The local pretenders for positions on the council are generally there for reasons which have little to do with ideology and much to do with personal motives. They obtain power over their peers knowing that power is not just getting jobs or rewards for one’s friends, as much as sticking it to one’s enemies.
So the local people live in trepidation as deals are struck behind closed doors and, as often as not, governments fall with ‘transfugas’ (turncoats) crossing the floor with their pockets unexpectedly full. Our town has had four ‘mociones de censura’ (motions of censure) since the mid nineties. So who can you trust?
You vote for a list in Spain, the top few names get in, while the tail-end doesn’t. But one of the people near the top might be persuaded to change his allegiance. It’s just ‘politics’ of course.
There are a number of ways of attracting votes – since that’s the game we play. A five hundred euro bill is fairly persuasive, or a simple reminder that your rather useless cousin works in the town hall… at least, for the time being.
Our small town, with bitterly divided local power-seekers, united only in their worry of a non-captive ‘foreign vote’, pushed out thirteen parties in the last local election (a Spanish record) and looks like surpassing that number for the May 29th local elections for next year. Of course it is clear that an excess of strange little parties only favours the largest one, in our case, a party forced into a four-way coalition and, numbering among its voters, a better than 40% postal vote from, of all places, Argentina. It seems that the grandsons of our emigrants from the time of the Civil War still hold local citizenship.
Foreign voters are now divided into the newly enfranchised South Americans, the ones from Ecuador, Peru, Colombia etc who migrated here in search of a better life a few years back and now work for minimum wages in our hotels and kitchens – and will no doubt have a ‘boss’ to help them make up their minds politically; and the rather more complicated ‘European’ foreigners, who so easily could be a threat to the status quo, with their ideas of transparency, honour and civic pride, but luckily no one has had to take them seriously. Most don’t/won’t vote and those that do can be seduced into voting for a party ticket with some fellow called John or Bill way down the list where he acts as cannon-fodder, a useful shiny toy with no hope whatsoever of getting into the town hall.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Poubelle Lane

August is always the worst month in Mojácar, with the queues, the tourists, the controls, the not-very-clean seas, the heat, the morning-after mess and the endless fiestas, and yet, a mere day passes, and it’s September: the best month.
It’s now a bit cooler, the sea is warm and reasonably empty, you can park once again and the barmen and shop assistants are suddenly pleased to see you.
Oh, and there's room in the dustbins for a few dead soldiers, a dead canary (heatstroke, we think) and a Welsh milking stool with a leg missing.
There are a few things I wanted to write an illustrated piece about, but my splendid little Olympus camera has had an attack and I am either back to the old days of wrench and click, followed by a trip to the shop to get my film developed, or am in the market for a new digital doodah. Camera Vendors - please come by the house tomorrow and show me your wares.
I wanted, in particular, to take a picture of one of our splendid new dustbins. Curiously, they are different from the old ones and, as such, need a new type of truck to load and empty them. Somebody, somewhere has made a killing. But while these new dustbins which infest the several towns that make up the larger community aren’t as easy to access as the old ones (try putting a smelly bag of kitchen garbage through a flap which only opens a few inches), the new location of these ugly grey containers leaves something to be desired as well. Apparently, the old ones used to be loaded ‘end-on’ to the trucks, while these ones are emptied ‘side-on’, which of course explains the new fleet. But, with this new approach to the bins, they have been distributed in a way to make it easier for the dustmen rather than for the punters.
We now have one at the end of our road, where there are no houses. The effect is to turn our small area of paradise, our ‘Spangri-la’ if you will, into a bit of a dump.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Almería 'de Fiestas'

We went to the opening yesterday of this summer's Almería fair ('fiesta') which lasts the usual eight days. Give the Spanish their due, the bigger the town (or the town's coffers), the longer and jollier the Saint's Day becomes. A few years ago, Almería would run to ten days of party, concerts, fun fair and bullfights, but now with the recession ('¡ay!').
Yesterday's opening at what is known as the 'feria del mediodía' went on as these things do, for several hours with horsemen and carriages going up and down the main street of the fairground, while showing off, passing the day, drinking and being photographed by me and a few others. There was no particular focus, or formal parade, just people dressed to the eyeballs doing their piece. The gentlefolk and the gypsies were immediately identifiable with their different customs and characters. I went off and had a beer in one of the stalls while they got on with it - a beer and a tapa (Almería is famous for having the best and biggest tapas - a small plate of fingerfood - in Spain). The fairground fills up later on, after the bullfight in the bullring at the other end of the city. Yesterday, it was a special with rejoneadores, mounted bullfighters, which is a sight to see. One family we met at the horse event was carrying on to the bullfight (7.00pm) and then back for a late night thrash at the fair.
Did you see the lady riding side-saddle... and the work in Loli's horse's mane?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Chicken Lidl

I think there used to be a sort of super-chicken on the cartoons, he would roll up the feathers on his arms and say something like: 'I mean i'm gonna, I say, I mean I'm gonna knock you down'.
Anyhow, and since I can't afford a holiday this year and tell you about my adventures at the Zoo in Paris, here's a picture of our rather pugnacious chicken, which runs all the animals in the Yard (except my son's girlfriend's dog, which had gone for a walk when this picture was taken). The reason for her strength, a kind of fowl version of the Popeye legend, is because she eats dogfood.
The eggs are tasty, mind.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Warm Summer

There was an article in the paper a few days back about how seventeen countries across the world have reported the hottest July on record (well, we include the Solomon Islands, but you get my drift). Moscow is as hot as Madrid and chunks of the ice surrounding Greenland are breaking off the glaciers, floating away south with a few startled penguins on board and, presumably, melting. The sea has already risen a milimetre.
We shall be on the front-line of the playa one of these days if this keeps up.
It has been horribly hot this summer, although we have been spared any 'brush-fires'. The house has thick walls and small windows and has a terrace designed to catch any spare breath of wind. Even so, we have to sleep in front of a fan and I wrap a towel around my pillow to keep comfortable. It is worse inland, away from the coast (one town, Écija, reporting 48C the other day), which is why most people would like to live near the sea and why the 'Ley de Costas', Spain's mad coastal law, will be reviewed by the government this autumn.
Then... last night... it rained. The temperature fell a few degrees and a slight wind started up. I could hear a slight groan of pleasure from the garden as the first drops fell. Perhaps we'll make it though the summer after all.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Barbary Pirates

I am reading an old book about the Barbary Pirates that used to terrify the coastal villages of Southern Spain. Mojácar, for example, was built on a high hill a kilometre inland, with a good escape route up the mountains behind, in case of attack.
The pirates, following on from the traditions of Islam, together with a sense of outrage after the Fall of Granada, were based in various port cities along the ‘Coast of Barbary’ in North Africa, primarily Algiers, Tunis and Oran. They were a loose alliance of North African Moors and Turks from the Ottoman Empire and they preyed on European shipping and coastal towns, with their attacks stretching as far north as Ireland, England and even Iceland in search of slaves or ransom.
The corsarios lasted well into the early nineteenth century and Wikipedia notes – ‘Pirates destroyed thousands of French, Spanish, Italian and British ships, and long stretches of coast in Spain and Italy were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants, discouraging settlement until the 19th century. From the 16th to 19th century, pirates captured an estimated 800,000 to 1.25 million Europeans as slaves…’. Another fragment from the same source is interesting: The Americans fought two ‘Barbary Wars’ (1801 – 1805 and 1815) after ‘Payments in ransom and tribute to the Barbary states amounted to 20% of United States government annual expenditures in 1800’.
It gives a better idea of the importance of the old stone towers along our stretch of the coast to warn the local people of sightings of pirates.
The book, in old English print, refers to the treaties at the time between various European states and the Dey of Algiers (1719), with the latter saying ‘that the Barbary Corfairs, being born Pirates, and not able to fubfist by any other Means, it was the Chriftians Bufinefs to be always on their Guard, even in Time of Peace’. The book is called ‘A Voyage to Barbary for the Redemption of Captives’ and tells of how monies were collected by a French charity in 1720 to sail to Algiers to ransom as many Christians as they might. I have just read of how a French ship had been taken off the coast of Barcelona by Ottoman Turks the year before and towed towards Algiers only to be sunk in a storm off Morocco and how one ten-year-old French-girl was sorely treated by the local mountain-men before being ransomed to Algiers, to be ransomed in turn back to the French.
The French expedition eventually returned (in 1721) to Marseille with 62 'Slaves' bought from Algiers and a further 45 from Tunis.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Unbelievable But (Maybe) True

The narrow donkey track - the one that goes up to Tito's and a few other houses in Mojácar pueblo, has been widened to fit a car as seen in this picture. The culprits are the promoters (whose crane has blighted views of Mojácar for the past three years). The plan is to have cars driving up and down this narrow ramp into a parking for the apartments being built there - even though it's on 'relleno', rubble, and looks rather dangerous.
But, how can cars turn upon themselves in a narrow one-way street, the only access to Mojácar? Well, you build a roundabout in front of Zaida and have traffic going counter-current on that section of the road. Then, of course, those cars leaving the narrow ramp, unable to see the road below them to their right at all, will have to pray that no one is coming.
Of course, we'll also lose a few parking spaces along the way...
What does the mayoress and the town hall architect think of this?
It's wonderful. Good for one promoter at the expense of an entire community.
Now that's how we do things around here.
Later: I'm told that the promoter 'misunderstood' the permission and that the Calle San Sebastian will not be open to traffic and furthermore that the town hall has threatened to put a 'no entry' sign there. Well, time will tell...
(Note - I've added the word 'Maybe' to the headline)

Friday, July 23, 2010

This is Not Americaaa...

The following essays which have appeared on this blog have been ordered to be removed or amended by an injunction from the Vera Court!

Removed:
Vulgar Stories From Marbella - March 2010
The Cyber Squatter - September 2009
Title and essay - October 2008
Tits on Page Three - September 2008
Title and essay - February 2006

Edited:
Old Glories, December 2009, was edited to remove any offence to the judge.
Blevins Franks – Independent Financial Adviser - March 2008, was edited to remove any offence to the judge.
The title of an essay written in July 2007 has been changed to ‘A List of Surprising Websites’ and part of the content has been censored to comply with the order from the Vera Court.
Blimey - May 2006 has been edited to comply with the injunction from the Vera Court
The Entertainer, a Couple of Bits – April 2006, was edited to remove any offence to the judge.

Monday: my lawyer has appealed this ruling.


No 'comments' please, but you can write, suggest, ask, inform or advise me on this subject at my email lenoxnapier (at) gmail (dot) com.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Very Visible Complaint

I remember an Iveco truck that used to drive around here years back with a sign painted on the roof air-spoiler which said 'Este camion es una mierda'. This truck is a piece of crap. The sign must have worked as the truck eventually disappeared from the roads and the driver was duly seen with a new one. I hope he preferred it.
Perhaps the owner of this Peugeot has a similar idea. I saw the car parked in Almería on the weekend...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A New Friend

Hands up anyone who knows what that thing is picking lice out of my hair.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Property in Spain

There has been a certain amount of excitement among the Northern European settlers in Spain after the head-on critical attack on President Zapatero from a rogue MEP during the plenary meeting in Strasbourg to close Spain’s six month presidency of the European Union. The attack came from Marta Andreasen, an MEP for the Euro-sceptic UKIP (an odd party perhaps for Ms Andreasen, a British citizen who lives in Barcelona and who has a marked Argentine accent, but then the Über-Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan was born and raised in Peru and he doesn’t seem to think much of foreign politicians either). Andreasen compared Zapatero’s treatment of the mainly British owners of ‘illegal homes’ as approaching something dreamed up by President Mugabe, the Zimbabwean despot. There’s a video of her comments and Zapatero’s indignant answer here.
This comes after the new housing tsar for Andalucía, the ex IU mayoress for Cordoba Rosa Aguilar, said in a recent meeting in Cadiz that there are 300,000 illegal homes in Andalucía.
And God knows how many more in the rest of Spain.
There are in fact three different problems that home-owners, whether Spanish, European or foreigners must face, although oddly, most of the ‘victims’ of these problems turn out to be Britons. The three (essential) problems, misunderstood unfortunately by both Ms Andreasen and Mr Zapatero (if he cares) are ‘Land Grab’ (a popular concept where property is expropriated and the owner charged for urbanisation costs for his remaining stake, all for publicly sanctioned commercial reasons), ‘Illegal Homes’ (homes are planned, built, marketed and sold – almost always to Northern Europeans - and only then found to be illegal, thus leaving – apparently – hundreds of thousands of property owners in a extended state of doubt, stress and judicial uncertainty) and lastly the ‘Ley de Costas’, the Coastal Law which started out as a military order to allow clear fields of fire on the Nation’s coast and beaches. Now, while no one is clear on the rules (which vary from one municipality, owner, authority and situation, to the next), the Coastal Law can mean that no one can build within a certain, variable, distance from the water-line unless the rules are bent, ignored or, in some cases, satisfied with a fine. The 1988 version of this law will, apparently, be debated in the Spanish parliament this autumn, so maybe some sense will finally be made of it.
But let us return to Andalucía and the housing tsar Rosa Aguilar. Her predecessor, recently removed from his job after masterminding the demolition of one house in Vera, Almería, in 2008 – and causing a hullabaloo across the world (oddly enough, even in Zimbabwe during their elections) – had talked of homes being ‘ilegal’ and ‘legal’ and something very andaluz between these two extremes: ‘alegal’ – which would translate as something like ‘illegalish’. An elegant solution where everyone wanders off and talks about something else. Unfortunately, many of the illegal houses don’t have water or electric connections and, not being registered officially, the owners can’t pay property taxes or, of course, vote.
Rosa Aguilar thinks that the answer might lie in forcing the owners of these properties to pay urbanising costs which, at least in Chiclana where she made the remarks (a town with 15,000 illegal homes or more), costs per household would be in the region of 40,000 euros. Meanwhile, she has set up a Citizens Forum with a number of women’s groups (for some reason) to ‘establish a permanent dialogue between the Andalucian Department for Housing and Public Works and social groups’.

Later (June 20). The consejera Rosa Aguilar was in Albox today and met with members of AUAN and agreed to the association joining the 'Citizens Forum' from September.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Communication Breakdown

Our home is in sight of the Moviestar antenna on top of Mojácar’s hill, yet none of our mobile phones work inside the house. Some friend tells me that this is because we live in a Faraday Cage (which is stupid). Nevertheless, whatever the reason, and I’m thinking ghosts, coverage drops down to nothing once inside the house, which causes me all kinds of crackingly amusing little problems as the result of not knowing that someone has just rung, and consequently either missing a call or having to answer them back at a future and sometimes less useful time. The phone I have will, if I get the buttons pressed in the right order, allow me to hear a message but will not retain the number of the caller so, if I don’t write it down on the first instance, it’ll probably be lost. I need to wear glasses to read the little dial on my phone, which takes pictures, movies, emails, games and other obscure services and yet is designed for eagle-eyed boy scouts and won’t work in any meaningful way inside our house.
So, I go outside to dial. This sometimes doesn’t work either and a few people have complained about me walking down the street (of a very quiet unlit neighbourhood I might add) in my underwear while swearing at my mobile phone.
Also, I can climb onto the roof and this sometimes works and, of course, othertimes doesn’t. No, I’m not going to dress to phone – not until I buy one of those Ipods with the little camera in it.
So anyway, I have had three calls in the last couple of days. They were all received while both my useless phone and I were in residence and were therefore not answered. These calls, as the recorded messages leave me to believe, are from a friend who wants to meet me on Friday for dinner. Now, the last call included the information that the local house-phone where my friend is staying was down but that not to worry because the cell-phone number was such and such. That’s right. A ‘cell-phone’. I would have to call an American mobile number just to confirm a chicken n chip night out which was going to cost less than the phone-call itself. So, biting the bullet, I went outside with a pen and my glasses and punched in the one two three messages with the irritating voice (‘you have received a call today, at three thirty five and a half…’) to hear the message again and write down the number. But as usual, and I’ve climbed a tree for this, no coverage at all.
My webpage is bust today as well. I write a blog about Spain and have some interesting points about Zapatero’s summation of his six-month presidency of the European Union and the attack against him delivered by Marta Andreasen (see here) but the page is down. Perhaps Moviestar has bought my Russian server.
God, I hope not.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

A New Indalo for Mojácar

The Indalo is a straight-backed figure with open legs and extended arms holding a half-circle over his head. A totem that started out as a protective agent that kept any bad luck away. Perhaps the half-circle is a rainbow or some kind of umbrella that keeps off the tempest, the thunder and the odd lightning-bolt.
The Indalo has been connected with Mojácar since the dawn of time and is more properly called ‘el pequeño hombrecillo mojaquero’ or ‘the little Mojácar man’. A crude painting over a door or perhaps some stones artfully laid in the ground to create the figure, people used it as decoration and for good luck. It is true that there is a poor copy of the figurine scorched on the wall in an underground grotto together with other cave-man daubs in the mountain village of Vélez Blanco, but our noble totem is clearly older – perhaps a rendition of a visitor – an early tourist perhaps – from another land.
By the 1960’s, re-christened as ‘Indalo’ by a group of Almerian artists based in and inspired by the singular beauty of our pueblo, the figure was easily recognisable across Europe, both as light gold jewellery and as a heavier cast iron decoration, as the Mojácar Man. We had one of the latter type bolted to the grill on our car and another one stood on the chimney of the house – sorting out any bad-tempered demon that dared to come close.
In around 1988, the mayor of Mojácar allowed an advertising agency in Almería to exploit the Indalo for various ends, and a new and somehow more modern version, by now a hump-backed totem twisted by a withered leg – the sort of thing that the Spanish artist Miró would no doubt approve of – soon appeared as the image for the entire province. Mojácar was rewarded with a brand new logo by the agency, a sort of mountain squiggle with a sun above it. Most original in a country like Spain. It didn't last any longer than the next 'moción de censura' when the mayor and his pals were ousted in a 'palace revolution'.
So we returned to the Indalo, unwillingly sharing it with the other 102 municipalities in the province, together with the region's tourist board.
But now, a new version has arrived to complement our medieval town with its narrow streets and stark white houses clustered on a steep Moorish hill under the clean blue sky. The entrance to our town has been dignified with a new roundabout crowned with a fresh interpretation of our good-luck totem. A one-legged figure in a permanent state of semi-tumescence.
But, ignore that. Look at its head.
This one makes me think of visitors from the stars. Perhaps that’s what an Indalo really is, a space-suited figure from the Planet Clunk.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

a History of Mojácar

Mojácar comes from the Arab name ‘Muxacra’, which comes from the Roman name ‘Mons Sacra’. This ‘sacred mountain’ refers to a pyramid shaped hill which is just below the current site of the town. The hill, now known as ‘Old Mojácar’, has an Arab water deposit on its summit, innumerable ruins on its approaches, bronze age remnants about its feet and the dry river ‘Aguas’ to its rear. Whether it is in fact the old settlement of Mojácar is perhaps unlikely, as the current location is sited on the front of a range of mountains called the Sierra Filabres which extend way into the interior – a much more defensible site with available water and retreat routes. The town overlooks the Mediterranean at around 400 Metres above sea level and a kilometre inland – making for good defence from corsairs. Settlement here can be traced back to the beginning of history, and include Phoenicians, Greeks, Trojans and the Icini (the original ‘Beaker People’).
Mojácar was a fortified town in the Moorish era, and fell to the Christian Kings – Isabel and Ferdinand – in 1488. Everyone was promptly slaughtered. Or left in peace, if you believe the plaque located at the ‘Moorish fountain’ (built in 1930 with channelled water from a fountain behind the town). The town regained its strength during the following centuries, after being re-populated with Christians from nearby Lorca, and became the local capital during the following centuries. The town, according to a 1912 encyclopaedia, had a ‘castillo inmutable’, which means an un-knockdownable castle, and a population for the 1910 census of 6,000 souls. By 1960, the population has dwindled to 600, and consideration was underway to absorb Mojácar into the municipality of Carboneras. Worse still, somebody had knocked down the castle.
The Civil War had undoubtedly taken its toll, Mojácar being enthusiastically ‘Red’, and many had been obliged to take off for foreign climes after the Nationalist victory. The water table had also fallen after strip farming practices in the hills had removed all the vegetation. By the early sixties, there was some tomato plantations on the beach, and little else.
Mining in the Bédar hills had been re-introduced by the British in the late 19th century – mainly iron and copper – and some small industry had made its way seawards, with a rail-head in next door Garrucha, and heavy strip mining further along in Cuevas. A small community of Europeans had settled locally, and Garrucha – essentially the only way in or out, as there was no roads in to the area – became the foreigners’ capital. By 1930, there were even Dutch, German and British consuls in the port town.
Mojácar passed much of this by, although in 1915, a British citizen in Garrucha bought and piped much of Mojácar’s fresh water over to Garrucha, where he sold it to the townsfolk. Mojácar’s main claim to history during this period was the birth on December 5th 1901 of José Guirao Zamora to a local ‘loose woman’ in the small and nearby farming hamlet of Campamento. The father was a local gad-about and future solid citizen, sewing his wild oats. The child was taken to Chicago by the mother, and adopted by the Disney family. You’ll know him as Walt. Well, so the story goes. Another story, perhaps with more bases in fact, was the departure of Pascual Artero from Aguas Enmedio (another local hamlet) in the 1930s to the Pacific island of Guam, where he provisioned the American army during the Second World War and inherited the nickname of ‘The King of Guam’. Luis Siret, a Belgian archaeologist operating in the area during the twenties, is credited with ‘discovering’ the local totem – the Indalo – amongst prehistoric drawings in a cave in Vélez Blanco. The name comes from the first bishop of Alméria, Indalecio. The totem however – a stick figure holding a serpent over his head – can be traced back in Mojácar at least as far back as the sixteenth century, and it was known as the ‘hombrecillo mojaquero’. It’s probably a fertility goddess, but who knows.
In the early sixties, the provincial ‘Gobernador Civil’ promoted a local man, Jacinto Alarcón, to be mayor. Jacinto managed, with nothing short of genius, to turn the town’s fortunes around. A group of artists (including Canton Checa, Jose Luis Perceval and Rafael Lorente) had ‘discovered’ Mojácar – a brown cubist village in ruins as the 1954 ‘Sierra Maldita’ melodramatic film shows – and founded an art movement named after the Indalo, calling themselves the ‘Indalianos’. Jacinto encouraged their activities, and hit on the idea of giving away land or ruins to those who were prepared to come and repair or build. By the end of this project, around 1965, many well known characters and wealthy people had taken up the offer, including bullfighter Antonio Bienvenida, diplomat Sir Michael Adeane, actor Charles Baxter and concert pianist Enrique Arias. Soon, others followed, and with prices to laugh at, Mojácar had become a small but well-known bohemian colony by the end of the decade. Future property handouts to various soon-to-be senior socialist politicians, like Julio Feo, Jose Bobadilla and Alfonso Guerra (later vice president of Spain) helped the town’s fortunes.
The crash of two American nuclear armed planes over nearby Palomares in January 1966 brought Manuel Fraga Irribarne, the then tourist minister, to Mojácar, where Jacinto persuaded him to build a Parador hotel and to dub the (by this time painted) town with the ‘White City of the Year’ prize for 1966. A never heard of before or since award. Greed and poor planning by those who followed Jacinto brought the tour operator Horizon to the town, and poor quality hotels, cheap package tourists and get rich quick apartments soon helped Mojácar’s growth while trashing her international status.
Today, Mojácar has around 8,000 full time inhabitants, with perhaps another 15,000 summer visitors. The village remains attractive, with narrow ‘Moorish’ streets, stunning views and cubist architecture: while the beach has expanded into the main business of the community, and stretches as a solid line of hotels and apartment blocks from Garrucha to well past the Hotel Indalo, with new projects being built at Macenas. Some basic infrastructure is now going in, like a ring-road behind the beach urbanisations (well, one day) and some parking for the village. Desultory talk of a theatre (the old one was demolished in the ‘seventies), and a cinema (ditto) may bring culture back to the town. Meanwhile, an art museum and a public sports centre and swimming pool have been completed but remain tantalisingly unopened.
While poor politics (and indifference in civic affairs from the foreigners) has complicated Mojácar’s appeal, the beach, weather, location and social life remain attractive.
English is the most spoken language of Mojácar today, followed by ‘mojaquero’ (an impenetrable form of Spanish). The local school is about 50% foreign. Finding work as a foreigner is hard, much beyond house-cleaning and bar work, although many set up their own businesses. Spaniards don’t generally patronize foreign business, and rarely employ foreigners. It’s best to live here on income from abroad. There are many ex-pat clubs, theatre groups and associations here, and making friends is easy. There is not much inter-cultural strife, and the warm weather and easy going lifestyle soon soothe away any anxieties.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Lord of the Flies

The weather has been strange this year, with more rain falling here since Christmas than you could experience on a long Irish weekend. It’s either something fairly terminal to do with the global warming or, just possibly, a situation caused by my own foolishness. A few months ago I finally installed an automatic drip system in the garden. It’s rained off and on ever since.
Whatever the cause of all the rain, the result is the same: more mosquitoes than ever. The town hall claims that they have been out spraying with some miracle product but, as anyone could tell them, if it’s available, it won’t work. You might kill the odd fritillary, causing the Green Party to swell its ranks to unseasonable levels; thus propelling ever more eccentric rules through Brussels and bringing down the World As We Know It. The mosquitoes, though, are impervious.
Anyway, the last few days have been hot, too hot to mess about with spraying.
The mosquitoes approach, whine briefly about your head for entirely dramatic reasons, and then settle on an exposed bit of skin. Fifteen minutes of itching being quite enough to keep one awake – anticipating the next bite.
I use a plug-in device called Fogo which more or less keeps them down, apart of course from the gung-ho types that thunder determinedly through the window, without a word of advice, and manage a quick meal before the cloud of blue gas whacks them. How bad it may be for humans is a question for another day, although it’s rumoured to be made out of the same stuff that Saddam was meant to be hiding in his umbrella tips. The dog has certainly developed a nasty cough and now sleeps upside-down on the ceiling.
This aromatic insecticide doesn’t stop flies though. Nothing, during daylight hours, stops flies. They seem to take over duty from the mosquitoes while managing, somehow, to be even more irritating. The mosquito, dispensing vile and fatal disease with every bite, at least has a point to it. You can look on it fondly as a kind of tax for the thousands of benefits of living in southern Spain. A shot of blood in payment for the good life. The fly though, has no reason at all. It doesn’t eat any of your spare bits, unless you happen to be seriously considering death. It just likes to sit on you and brush its feet. Which – as it must know - is very irritating. There is never two of them brushing away on your nose, always just the one. If you manage to flatten it, which takes reactions on a level with Schumacher’s, then the next one will come along and do duty. Why not two today in exchange for none tomorrow?
The Chinese are well known for killing flies with their trusty Mao-swats. Ten flies a day or a spot of re-education, was, I understand, the rule for many years. It must have been fun: ‘I saw it first, Mrs Lo’. Fly-swats are immensely satisfying things, after all, except for the mess they leave: and the fact that, until October, it’s Too Bloody Hot to go whacking away at flies…
There was once a rather graphic campaign about cleanliness in restaurants, which went something like ‘…and the fly lands on the food and regurgitates a small dollop of its stomach full of digestive enzymes onto the meat to liquefy it. It stamps the vomit well into its food before sucking up the resulting cocktail back inside with its proboscis. Bliss! Then it's your turn…’.
So the only thing to do is to wish upon a star, or rub a bottle with a genie in it. Please Mr Fairy, make all the flies go away. I don’t care about those beautiful creatures that rely for their survival on flies, like swallows, trout, lizards, frogs and fly-swat salesmen, it’ll be worth their passing into history just to see the flies go.
You have to be a bit careful with genies, of course. I saw a fellow yesterday who had had a run-in with one. He had obviously asked for gold. He was wearing two ear-rings, a heavy necklace, bracelets, rings, all made from gold, plus a Rolex watch. He was standing in front of me in the supermarket, bare-chested and with a rather droopy looking family. Perhaps he was happy, although his wife was staying carefully just out of reach. She had a slightly glazed look of approaching panic about her.
Flies are the most wretched of creatures. They are the Volkswagens of the insect world, boring, ubiquitous and charmless. I recently found a giant moth on the terrace, about three inches long, black and brown and with a death’s head design on the top of its thorax. This particular strain is the largest moth in Europe. If you pick one up, it will let out a tiny scream. I showed it to the children who were all captivated apart from one lout who kept a respectable distance and said, ‘does it bite?’. A moth? It sucks nectar down its long hollow tongue while flying in front of a flower (it weighs too much to settle). A few years ago, there was a ‘plague’ of these giant moths in some town in the interior of Almería. The newspaper write-up on the event was entitled ‘The curse of the monster flies’.
Flies in ancient times materialised from thin air. They popped into existence, jus’likethat. The Lord of the Flies, Beelzebub, another name for the devil, was responsible for them.
So I am getting tired… but I must wait until dark… and the arrival of the mosquitoes, the night-children.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

A Few Friends

I’m sat in our office, a converted bedroom I suppose in our rather large house. It’s the kind of house that wanders slightly, one room decants indecently into another. Small windows and thick walls keep it cool. There was never any architect involved with this house, so the ceilings are a bit too high and no one can say for sure just how many bedrooms there are.
Which is why it was easy making this particular one into an office. There’s even a single bed in here in case I get lost and need a rest.
Only, the dog usually gets there first.
The walls of this room are heavily decorated by paintings, as is most of the rest of the house, even the kitchen, as artists have always been welcome here. Paintings are useful to cover the walls and add a mood to a room, but an old farmhouse in the campo has another secret reason for hanging posters, canvases and sundry other memorabilia on the heavy walls. This is to do with the small creatures that live behind the paintings, scampering sure-footedly from one to another or calling for a mate with a small series of amorous belches.
The local Spanish think that they are dangerous in some obscure way and have little time for them, but the ‘salamanquesas’ or geckoes are fine little fellows. They eat the flies and the mosquitoes. One has just galloped along the wall in front of me, ignoring the fact that it’s vertical, and has harvested a slightly surprised looking daddy-long-legs.
Sometimes they attract the attention of the cats, or one of the two duendes that live in the secret spaces between the walls of this house. The duendes are the ‘little folk’ that torment the innocent. We leave bits of bread and milk out for them and they generally leave us alone. When a gecko is faced with real danger, he will release muscles in his tail which will obligingly fall off and wriggle for a while, allowing – with luck – the more important bit of the creature to scamper back behind a handy landscape. So, some of our lizards have a missing tail, or are in the process of growing another one.
So, the geckoes and I help each other out. I attract the mosquitoes and they keep the duendes amused.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Red Palm Weevil

According to the ever-faithful Wikipedia, 'The red palm weevil, Rhynchophorus ferrugineus, is a species of beetle. It is relatively large, between two and five centimeters long, and a rusty red colour. Its larvae excavate holes up to a metre long in the trunk of palm trees, and can kill the host plant.'
This nasty beetle comes from Asia and has been working its way towards Mojácar since the eighties. Well, here's one that made it here this morning. It is about an inch long and was marching up our palm tree with a hungry glint in its eye. It flew off after having its picture taken, but it got a snoot-full of bug spray before the photo-shoot so its mischief should be at an end.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Where is Pamplona?

Over the last few years I have sometimes had reason to visit Pamplona (or ‘Iruña’ as it is in Euskera). Signs in Spanish to this city going through the Basque Country are non-existent (for reasons one can only imagine). But I now know the way (essentially – head for France and turn right – or, if you get really lost – ask a gendarme).
Pamplona, by the way, is considered by the heavier members of the Basque independents as being the capital of Euskadi even though it’s in Navarra - a province (and one-stop autonomy) that stands on its own. Euskera is the second official language (anecdotal note).
I was in Pamplona in a cyber-café, full of young Turks bashing away at the keys, passing the time by writing a letter to The Diario de Navarra – a rather staid and boring daily from the Correo group.
‘Does anyone here know how to say ‘where’ in Basque?’ I asked. No, they didn’t. ‘Guys, I’m writing a funny letter to the Diario. I got lost in Vitoria and asked someone how to get to Pamplona – so, I need to say ‘¿donde está Iruña?’ to make my point. Now, I’m not a linguist, but I can say ‘donde’ in Italian, German, French, Greek, Portugee, Spanish and English. So, since you lot (there was about twenty people in the shop), since you lot, I say, are in a bi-fuckin’-lingual province, how do you say ‘donde’ in Basque?’.
Somebody took pity on me – ‘In Navarra, no one speaks Euskera outside of the mountains’, I was told.
Can you imagine such a conversation going on in Catalonia?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lunchtime Blues

There’s something queer about the food these days. You go to a restaurant to eat and half of the menu is designed for some kind of wedding feast. It’s all got fancy-dancy for some reason. Perhaps the Michelin Man is seated at table number seven. What’s wrong with ‘sat’?
In the good ol’ days, food was food. No cream doodah then, no fennel sauces or roasted swedes. Simple stuff. A salad was lettuce, sliced onions and tomatoes with a heavy and oily aliño; now it’s got enough different kind of vegetables rattling around the plate to make a rabbit blanch. The main course used to be a plate of what one hoped were mutton chops (or were they perhaps goat?) or slices of pork (known collectively in our area by the foreign contingent as ‘crotchmeat’) or perhaps a plate of chicken knuckles with chips.
How to prepare chicken knuckles. Take one chicken, have at it with an axe, then drop result into a sartén with plenty of oil and garlic. Fry to taste. Riquísimo.
All the best crotcheramas (as we called them) could manage this simple fare, and with a bottle of really quite nasty wine, the whole thing, plus pan, came to around sixty Pesetas a head. Now, what’s wrong with that?
There was no menu and no price list. If you didn’t know what you wanted, or couldn’t understand the waiter, you wandered into the kitchen and pointed.
In those days, if we wanted a decent roast, we’d have to drive to the nearest butcher. He was a blood-spattered German trading six hours down the coast in the Calle San Miguel, Torremolinos’ high street. We’d fill up the plastic freezer box, spend the night on the piss, and head home with a headache the following day.
The twenty or so who made up the foreign community in the village in those days would be waiting for us on our doorstep when we returned. One of them was a retired air vice-marshal with a plummy accent called ‘Tabs’. My parents had left the door ajar one particular evening and had gone round the corner to the first and only foreign bar for a nip while the roast roasted. Tabs, on his way up the hill for a pink gin, smelt the rich smell of the roast waftin’ on the evening air and stopped by the house to invite himself to dinner. He went in and found no one around, so he checked inside the oven – as one does - to have a look at his potential dinner. Satisfied, he carried on to the pub for a large one and to obtain an invitation from my mother, in which he was successful.
Now our oven was one of those old Butano three burner ones with a lid and a slight wobble. When the hungry party returned an hour later to check on the roast’s progress my mother found that Tab’s tour of inspection had, by briefly opening the oven door, put out the gas. Tabs later recalled that ‘no one from the lower ranks had ever talked to him like that before’.
The milk in those days was undrinkable. It came in two litre glass bottles with a thin neck. There was a slightly blue cast to it due to the fact that the manufacturer had substituted the cream for pork grease and added formaldehyde to keep it stable. This baby could sit in the sun all day. Tea, if we could get it, came in teabags brought out from England loose in people’s luggage, wrapped around the socks. Eggs and chips were the standby at home, and cocido in the restaurant in the square. Tabs would insist on the plates being warmed, without much success from the kitchen-wallah, so he would usually place his plate under his shirt for a few minutes to do the job. ‘Under trying circumstances’, he would say, ‘one must keep up appearances’.
Another dish of the time remains to this day a favourite of mine, although it is now extremely hard to find. You see, it’s too cheap. This is ‘Huevos a la Flamenca’, a small earthen dish with ham or some kind of donkey-sausage served with peas, peppers and a fried egg. The whole, cooked in tomato paste. I happened across one the other day outside Granada: delicious!
Food, back in those days, was scarce and no one was going to mess around with sauces. Actually, come to think of it, it may have been because you couldn’t get cream. Eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, salchichón, chicken and pork was about your lot. The local grocers, known in a gesture of Spanglish relations as ‘The Foodings’ had a few tins on the shelves plus ‘Spanish’ bread, truly awful chocolate, some rather nasty looking sardines and a rack of wine in returnable bottles (two Pesetas back). They’ve still got the chocolate. Credit was extended to favoured customers; a dried lima bean went into your jar for each five peseta 'duro' owed. This system was eventually overturned – literally – by an escaped chicken that broke into the store one night. Reportedly, it ate most of the evidence.
Tapas, even more than today, were the solution. You used to get a bloody good tapa in Andalucía with your quinto or your tinto. A piece of magra, lean pork, with some chips and bread. Two fried cordoñíz eggs on toast. A ham, cheese and alioli cherigan. A small plate of whitebait... a fat chunk of tortilla de guisantes... home made potato crisps (when was the last time?)... a few of those would set you up nicely.
So these days it’s all la-di-dah. The menu’s in English (and Spanish, and French, and Italian, and German...), the food is all poncy, the wine list is exhaustive (and exorbitant), the postres all come from those fine people at Frigo and, worst of all, You Can’t Get Huevos A La Flamenca.