Thursday, October 19, 2017

 

Bédar, Revisited

A friend wanted me to take him up to Bédar to eat a leg of lamb at the Miramar. Now that's a reasonable ambition to have on a warm autumn day, so we went. Yesterday, the views were perfect following the rains on Wednesday. The sky was full of fluffy clouds and the countryside gleamed in the clean light.
We arrived in the village, parked, and found the Miramar was shut - they were on holiday said the sign.
Let's walk around, said Andrew.
I wasn't keen.
My dad had bought a house in Bédar - well three houses - for the 1966 equivalent of £60. The story goes that dad wasn't absolutely sure if he'd just had a remarkably expensive meal at Pedro's or whether he was the new owner of three connecting ruins in the Calle Virgen, up above the church.
The houses had electric, two stories each, and around seventeen rooms between them. For some reason, my dad put them in my name.
Some time later, I was living there, now in my mid twenties. Bédar by about 1975 was still a wreck, but could boast a few more foreigners. In my establishment - the three houses had been clumsily knocked into one - there lived me and my girl, a Chinese guy and his girlfriend (man, could he cook!), a German friend with a guitar, and a copious supply of pot.
Not much happened that year. We listened to Dollar Brand, Randy Newman and, when the mood took him, Mick on the guitar. On the large terrace, Fritz the painter was finishing his masterpieces, usually with guffaws and large hits of brandy and spliffs.
The views from there: with the rest of Bédar falling gently below, Mojácar shimmering in the distance, the dried-out countryside and the mountains tumbling down towards the Blue Mediterranean. Pedro's remained open if we felt social.
Not bad for a season.
But life goes on. I eventually fixed the house - briefly as a bar (El Aguila, beer with tapa: ten pesetas) and later made a proper conversion, slimming the property into twelve rooms, with a roof terrace and a picture window upstairs.
The town hall went electric and put one of its innumerable new orange sodium lights on the wall just outside the same window, making the move towards heavy curtains and suburbia inevitable.
I left the house to my girl, moved away, started a newspaper and, fifteen years later, after mortgaging my house in Mojácar for a vast sum to pay old printing bills, I sold the newspaper to some agressive employees. They never paid me (it's a long story) and I was forced to sell the Bédar property to satisfy the bank. I gave my girl some money to finish off her own ruin in the hills, and life limped onwards.
Meanwhile, I was married and my beautiful wife was ill. We had no money then - it was 2002 - and we spent that Christmas in a hospital in Madrid where an operation went wrong, disfiguring her for life.
I never went back to Bédar.
So, yesterday, here I am. Back in the village. I recognise a few of the bedarenses. I get some hugs and some saludos. 'Napia', they say, 'how's it going?'.
We walk past my old house, now sold, fixed up and resold. A woman peers at us from over the fancy new upper balcony.  She's probably British - there are now a lot of Brits in Bédar.
Despite myself, the village looks very pretty. The home-owners seem proud of their properties and everything is sparkling white, with plenty of decorative plants. The streets have been fixed at some point, now tiled rather than lumpy flagstones. Apart from an ugly electric sign outside the town hall and a truly awful marble statue of a miner in the upper square, the place looks great. If I had have come for the first time and had some money...
Bédar compares well with Mojácar. The later has suffered greatly at the hands of the local population, which has taken the village and turned it into an obscene Disneyville, loaded with souvenir shops waiting, like spiders, for the tourists to come. Mojácar was demolished and raped. Bédar - which has no knick-knack shops, no underground parking and no large ruined hotels to complement the view - is now the better place.
But, I'm not going back there again.



Wednesday, October 04, 2017

 

Litter-buggery



Spain has an enviable system of describing distances. Rather than kilometres, they use time. Or they may use rest-stops, cigarettes smoked, or even brothels (depending on your route, Mojácar to Almería is a six-brothel voyage). For short peregrinations, I use dustbins.
I walk the dog each day past four green 'contenadores'. These large bins, together with smaller empty waste-baskets with an inverted bin-liner bobbing out of them, are liberally distributed along my route, and indeed all over Mojácar. People often like to leave their rubbish near the giant receptacles, perhaps to stop it from feeling lonely. Sometimes, they even put it inside the bins (where, in wealthier neighbourhoods, the beggars climb it afterwards and throw everything out again).
Unlike some northern nations, Spain has never held a poor opinion towards rubbish, and it is traditionally thrown on the floor, or out of windows or the open doors. I wonder sometimes if that was why they invented windows - an easy place to discard unwanted trash.
Sometimes, as we are lighting a cigarette or searching for the next brothel in the car, we must swerve violently as a surprise missile is hurled from the vehicle in front.
Along the side of the road, we find glass, trash, rubbish, human and dog faeces, dead things, empty wine bottles (do drivers savour the last drop of the vino before jettisoning the bottle?), old bits of clothing and sundry french letter packets. Clumps of old copies of the Weenie...
There is no Spanish version of 'Keep Britain Tidy', even though those contenadores are emptied daily (rather than twice a month as, apparently, in the UK).
I don't want to be seen to be a bore. But the countryside is a mess.
With the exception of rampant litter-buggery, I love Spain.

 

The Essence of Spain



An essay from a student in Málaga called Laura Moreno de Lara:

‘No, honey, you're not a Spaniard. To be Spanish is not to wave the flag, nor to scream like a bore phrases of hatred that I hope you do not feel. Nor is it to put a wristband on your wrist, or sing Cara al Sol (the fascist anthem). The concept of being Spanish is something totally different, or at least should be, because at this point, I do not know what else to tell you.
As a Spaniard, I’ll tell you what for me it is to be Spanish:
To be Spanish is to burn when Doñana burns or to tremble when the City of Lorca trembled; it is to sit and listen to folk stories in Galicia and to believe them; or to go to Valencia and not feel rage to read a poster in Valencian, but rather that you are pleased with yourself to be able to understand it. To be Spanish is to think that the Canaries are as good as the Caribbean.
To feel Spanish is to suffer for not having lived la movida madrileña; it’s to fall in love with the sea when hearing Mediterraneo by Serrat; it’s to ask while drunk if your Catalan friend would teach you to dance sardanas, to want to go to Albacete to check if their feria is better than the one in Málaga and to be surprised to see just how beautiful Ceuta is.
For me to be Spanish is to be proud that in Andalucía we have beach, desert and snow; to feel almost as if it were my doing that a Alicantino is so close to winning a Nobel, to ask an Asturian to teach me to pour cider properly and to die of love seeing the beaches of the Basque Country in ‘Game of Thrones’.
You know how Spanish it is to drink a beer in the early afternoon: the Galician orujo, the siesta, the calimotxo, the paella, the tarta de Santiago, grandmother’s croquettes and the tortilla de patatas. It is the desire to show you the best of your city to the one who comes from outside and that you ask him about his; it is to make friends with a Basque and ask him to teach you how to count up to ten in euskera, just in case you return for 2 or 3 more pintxos; it is to be proud of being the leader of the world in transplants, of being part of the land of a thousand cultures and of being from the country of good cheer.
There is nothing more Spanish that having the hairs on your neck stand on end with a saeta or with a copla bien cantá (well-sung flamenco verse); seeing the sunset on the beaches of Cádiz; to discover almost without wanting to some fresh paradisical cove in Mallorca; to walk the Camino de Santiago in September cursing the cold or learning in Salamanca or Segovia that you do not have to be big to be beautiful.
So, I think, my love, miarma, honey, darling, my child ... that is to be Spanish, the rest of it is politics. But if you want to insist on your view of politics, I also want to say that you are wrong: because being Spanish is not wishing to break the face of anyone, but to suffer the unemployment situation of your neighbour or those terrible scenes of eviction that you have seen on the TV. Being Spanish is not opposing the YES or NO supporters of an entire autonomous community, but rather it is to be angry when they treat us like arseholes with each new case of corruption. To be a good Spaniard is to wish that in your country there is no more poverty, no more ignorance, no patients being attended in hospital corridors and, Goddammit, to want to stay here to work and contribute everything that, for so long, you have learned.
That is to be Spanish, or at least, I hope so’.  Laura Moreno de Lara (The original is here).

Friday, September 29, 2017

 

Bucket and Spade Tourism

If you were wondering why the Mojácar authorities behave the way they do, then maybe La Voz de Almería has the answer here:
'The Spanish Federation of Large Families today presents the Municipal Council of Mojácar with the Seal of Family Tourism for "the excellence of its equipment and services, which meet the expectations derived from the family trip" which makes it the first Andalusian municipality to have the certificate.
Mojácar is a municipality that has already defined a tourism strategy for development and specialization in family tourism through programs and activities focused on tourism with children highlighting the wide variety of cultural activities and nature oriented family leisure activities promoted by the Municipality of Mojácar...'.
Mojácar's business model is about filling the hotels (including those wonderful all-inclusive ones) and sending customers hotfoot to the souvenir shops.
You see, residents don't stay in hotels, or of course buy souvenirs...

Thursday, September 14, 2017

 

Rewriting History

A group called the Hermandad Provincial de Caballeros Legionarios, the provincial brotherhood of the Gentlemen of the Legión Española - the crack Spanish force with their barracks in Viator outside Almería - has an exhibition going on at the Patio de Luces in the Diputación de Almería building in the provincial capital.
Not many people will be queuing up to see it perhaps, although it is said to be a pretty good exhibition of photographs and pictures of the Spanish Legion.
Turns out though, there's a problem. the revisionist parties in the City Hall don't like the people who founded the Legion in 1920, some 16 years before the Civil War. One of the two involved in creating the legion was General José Millán-Astray, who was as mad as a hatter. Millán-Astrey once lost his arm in a battle in the Rif. It was blown clean off his elbow. He is said to have picked it up and hurled it at the enemy. No doubt impressed, they gave up. What a guy, eh? The socialists and those further to the left are trying to have the truculent general erased from the history books (without, we hope, offending the Legion). They are removing his street signs and the odd statue glaring at the passers by under the customary load of pigeon-shit.
The man in the photo isn't Millan-Astray though -  it's a man the lefties hate even more even though the picture comes from long before he left his mark. This is a young General Franco.
As the empty rhetoric continues, here's the Brotherhood's take: 'The exhibition at the Patio de Luces attempts to show some brushstrokes on the history of the Legión and the photo to which the PSOE alludes does not include the figure of Francisco Franco in his years as the Caudillo, but as one of the figures of the founders of this glorious body, many years before'. Izquierda Unida meanwhile says 'We want to formally complain regarding the presence of well-known fascists presiding over an exhibition dedicated to the Legión and installed in the Diputación de Almería'. So silly.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

 

Local Voting after Brexit



While British ambassador Simon Manley has been trying to put out the fires of health insurance, pensions and the falling pound (see his latest address to the Britons in Spain here), no one wants to talk about the British residents in Spain and their voting rights in the Spanish local elections of May 2019. Will they be able to vote then? Will they be able to put forward candidates? Without the British, will the Town Halls concern themselves over the remaining foreign residents? Will Spain and the UK make a special bilateral agreement on local elections (allowing Spaniards to vote in the UK and Brits to vote here)? Is anybody talking about this? Is anybody listening?
I was approached today by someone who wants to look forward to the next local elections. What could I tell him? We may have the vote, or maybe not. For our town, where the population is roughly split between the local Spaniards and the foreigners, these concerns are huge. Our mayoress would likely win the next elections anyway - she has formidable advantages -  but would she have a token foreigner on her voting list? Would she spend energy on those concerns that the foreigners might have? Would our British opposition leader (born in the UK, been in Spain since she was three) be able to run her party? Yes, she could take Spanish nationality, but what about her voters?
Spain has an agreement with EU countries that expatriate EU citizens can vote and be voted for in local (and presumably European) elections. The European elections, by the way, couldn't be more useless here as candidates, operating on the same list system, represent their country filtered through their party. You either vote for a conservative Spanish nationalist or a socialist one. Neither of them could care less about foreign residents' rights.
Spain also has bilateral agreements with a number of other nations. These include, I think, New Zealand and the Turks and Caicos Islands. In these cases, the suffrage is merely active. You can vote (yes, both of those Kiwis, I mean you!), but, you can't run for office. Can we expect to be given a sop along those lines?
I can't see the British allowing the Spanish residents over there the right to stand in any elections if the Brexit gave them an opt-out, so would doubt that we would retain those rights here.
Either way, it is beginning to get close to the time when new parties are formed, new alliances, new candidates and new proposals. With Brexit, we may be facing the loss of even more of our rights as foreigners in Spain.
Simon Manley touched on this concern in a note issued on Tuesday September 12th: '...On the right to stand and vote in local elections, the UK wants to protect existing rights of UK/EU citizens to vote and/or stand in local elections in their host state. However agreement has not been reached on this point...'.
Well, when are the next local elections in the various EU states and what would happen to existing foreign councillors when the Brexit finally bites? We need some information and, of course, some proper representation.

Friday, August 25, 2017

 

Portugal, the Other Iberian Country



Portugal has changed from my particular idea of the place. This could be because I have an old black and white guidebook from 1957, and, let’s face it, nothing stays the same forever.
By Spanish standards, it’s still a bit gloomy, a bit quiet and the Portuguese still read the news pages rather than the sports pages, but that large piece of the country that the Spanish weather forecasters solemnly leave blank has quietly turned itself into a modern European state.
We had been in Mérida – a very hot part of Spain during the summer months. Mérida is a city where, if you kick over a rock or even a stubborn weed you’ll likely find some remains from the Roman times. The town is quite beautiful (even if it stands somewhere behind Córdoba and Granada) and it’s a fine place to visit, especially if forty degree weather doesn’t bother you unduly.
In the best tradition of Spain, you are never far from a bar in the city of Mérida – the name comes from the Latin Augusta Ēmerita – or a decent restaurant. Or, as we have seen, a Roman ruin, many of which are used today for theatre, concerts or scenic backdrops to one’s holiday snaps. The region itself is attractive and covered with storks’ nests. These comical birds like to find an interesting looking building, preferably a highly-prized monument, to build their giant nest of sticks on top of with an insouciant ‘well, what?’ attitude. It all helps keep us in our place, I think.
Mérida is, of course, at sixty kilometres, not far from Elvas, the Portuguese town leaping with castles, palaces, churches and a fine aqueduct. It took no time at all to reach since the formalities of crossing a frontier from one Schengen country to another involve nothing more than turning to your companion and saying ‘Cor, looks like we’re going to need that phrasebook soon’.
We spent our first night in Portugal in a hotel outside Elvas. We had decided the route and the various hotels with Booking.com – which apart from a very odd place near Seville had served us well. The Elvas place had a fine restaurant where we discovered that the Portuguese have a trick. They leave various plates on your table of cheese, ham, fish paste and olives before you’ve settled down and looked at the menu, and then they charge you heavily for them afterwards. Later on in a Lisbon restaurant, we said to the waiter ‘all of this stuff – fuera!’ The Portuguese couple at the next table looked vaguely impressed. ‘Yeah’, they said, ‘you can take ours away too’. 
The food in Portugal is great; the wine – especially the vinho verde – is excellent. Chicken, by the way, is called frango. Easy to remember, I told my Spanish girlfriend after a glass or two, just think of Francisco Frango.
The coffee is served black in tiny cups.
Our particular trip took us from there to a coastal city called Aveiro which is notable for its canals; its handsome three and four story tiled buildings and a beautiful old palace which makes a fine cup of tea in a china pot. My partner had her first ever cup of Earl Grey.
We had brought our swimming things with us on the tour, but the weather was cool: sweaters in the evening. ‘You won’t want to swim here’, we were told, ‘the ocean is far too cold’.
After a daily return north to Oporto on the local train (150 kms total at seven euros per passenger), to meet a friend, to marvel at the dramatic beauty of the city and to buy a bottle of port (my article on Oporto here), we left Aveiro for Lisbon.
The roads are pretty good, with the motorways usually run by concessionaries who charge a toll, either with an operator, or with slightly annoying cameras. We pay the first willingly enough, but ruefully ignore the second. Perhaps the president of the company will send us a bill here in Spain for the one euro fifty we owe, but I doubt I shall pay it.
I’ll let you know if I’m wrong about this.
The normal country roads are more or less fine, although the Portuguese sometimes add large metal posts to where a simple white line of paint would serve nicely. Driving through the country, the best thing for me – we live in the desert of Almería – was the greenery. As we had had some trouble with the GPS – Movistar doesn’t make it easy when you switch to another country – we got a bit lost at one point, and found ourselves driving through the burned forest which claimed over sixty lives recently. It’s a large and most depressing stretch of country. The Portuguese have been blamed for planting eucalyptus in the countryside, and the fires are consequentially dangerous and immediate. We saw several reported on their TV news channels.
Lisbon is a tremendous place. High buildings and narrow streets cover the seven hills. Small yellow trams; tuc tuc three-wheelers with a sofa nailed to the back; tiny electric two-seater Renaults; some Segways, some motorcycles with sidecars and a few expensive looking battery-run BMWs make up most of the traffic. The city is full of tourists. Everyone speaks English, and French and anything else – except of course Spanish. Spanish? Forget it. It doesn’t exist.
We spent three contented days in the Portuguese capital – where the history of their abandoned colonies in Africa and Asia, plus their success story of Brazil – means that you see people of all colours and, unlike anywhere else I know, perfectly integrated.  Portugal has a lot going for it.
We spent our last day in a small town called Castro Verde, where we felt like the first tourists ever. The place was peaceful and grimly bucolic: the food in the local restaurant was terrific.
And so back across the border to Spain, with our booty of fridge magnets, tee shirts and decorated mugs. Our first stop was in a giant motorway cafe near Antequera. The noise of a hundred and fifty gleeful diners was welcome – and ear-splitting. ‘We’re home at last’ my partner shouted happily to me as she stirred her café con leche.


Versions of this article have appeared in The Olive Press and as an opinion piece in Business over Tapas


Thursday, August 10, 2017

 

More Bad News for the Priors

It's a well-known story, how almost ten years ago, Len and Helen Prior watched as a bulldozer operated by the provincial representative of the Junta de Andalucía knocked down their house in a quiet area outside the town of Vera (Almería). There weren't any particular plans for the location, it wasn't on a motorway, or a landing strip or a sewage station or a beach or a rare plantation or in a beauty spot or on a flood plain. It's just a quiet area behind Vera. There are a few other houses there, and ten years later, they are still all there, just as they were then.
So what was the point?
It certainly had an effect: untold millions of euros never made it to Almería, which then, in 2008, had an unemployment rate in the mid thirties - about the highest unemployment of anywhere in the whole of Europe. The Junta de Andalucía, which is so anal that it knows to the exact head how many sheep there are in the territory (seriously, they're all microchipped), airily suggested at the time that there were some 300,000 illegal properties stretched across Andalucía - all built while someone, everyone, was looking the other way... at least until the cheques cleared.
Ten years later, there are still a few court cases - even a few mayors or planners being sent down (always from other parties than the PSOE, of course). As for the home-owners, who often had an illegal house with no water or electricity, well, they could usually go and whistle Dixie.
A lawyer called Gerardo Vásquez, an association called the AUAN, the international press and a number of other concerned people put some dents in this astonishing situation, and the Junta de Andalucía's legislators eventually came up with a new Spanish word to describe these homes: 'alegal' which means neither legal nor illegal. Illegalish, perhaps. So much the better. A climb down indeed. In a recent case, the mayor of another non-socialist Almería town went to jail... but the houses were allowed to stand. Empty, vandalised and useless, but justice tempered with mercy was seen to prevail.
The Priors, almost ten years later, are still living in the ruins of their home. This of course is very contrary of them, since they should have long since slipped away back to the UK to be forgotten.
They live in the garage (unbelievably, it was on a separate deed and thus escaped the demolition), plus some sheds they've built, and surrounded by their garden and their swimming pool which also escaped the attack.
Vera Town Hall was declared the guilty party (it was run by the Partido Andalucista at the time of the events described) but the Priors never received compensation.
Now, as the authorities continue to ignore this atrocious attack on Len and Helen's civil rights, we hear that the Town Hall is now claiming some 24,843€ in legal costs against them.
Len says he'll go to jail before he pays. 




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