Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Donkey Baseball

Back in the mid eighties and nineties, we used to have an odd sounding sporting event in Mojácar called burro béisbol - or in English, donkey baseball. The venue was down in the valley, either near the cemetery or on the land under the Old Mojácar mountain.
The rules were unclear.
In theory, you had to be sat on  a donkey to run the three bases (baseball is like rounders) and the fielders were only allowed to move or throw from the back of a donkey. As for the twelve stout-hearted donkeys themselves, mostly they just wanted to go home. Or bite someone.
This caused a lot more merriment than the game itself, which was just as well,  because they always made me the umpire.
The American naval base at Morón, outside Cádiz, would send us the balls, gloves and bats, and one year they sent a team of marines, who, while not much good with donkeys, at least had a grounding in the rules of baseball.
One of them married our eldest daughter.
My wife Barbara organised the whole thing, of course. She had seen the sport in California and thought it would work here. The beer money went to Animo, our charity. The Red Cross would send an ambulance for the skinned fingers and other small accidents. The mayor would come along, and the owners of the donkeys would be present, each discussing the mischievousness of his particular burro.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

EU Rights for Immigrants and Ex-pats

There are a few groups around that are supporting the rights of the British ex-pats in Spain and the Spaniards in the UK. Not many, but a few. The problem being that we foreigners, whether British here or Spanish there - (or German or French...) - have no voice in the political process. We are often referred to as 'hostages' these days.
What will happen - work-permits, visas, convertible accounts? The loss of health insurance and the vote in local elections? Perhaps deportation?
We managed before the EU, and Spain was a great place to live. Small comfort if things get really bad.
But we don't know, do we? Indeed not. It's a bit like those Britons in the Almanzora Valley who may... or may not... get their house legalised one day. Or maybe demolished.
This is the blog from EuroCitizens (based in Madrid) here and their Facebook page here.
Our local Europats: Representation in Spain page is here and Facebook page here.
Consider - if we don't care, do you think that the politicians will care for us?

Monday, 20 February 2017

The Hotel Algarrobico: Unresolved

Unsurprisingly, the ghastly hotel outside Carboneras, halted just before competition a decade ago by the starry-eyed ecologists (Motto: 'no jobs, please: we're serious'), remains as an unattractive hulk, just like it did when the tree-huggers struck in 2005, twelve years ago. The Hotel Algarrobico was almost completed at the time of the order to cease work, but it was, itself, part of a larger project - to include shops, bars, restaurants and apartments within the complex. The hills behind and around the hotel were cut and shaped as part of the early work on the site, long before the twenty stories hotel, with 411 rooms, was almost ready to open.
Why did the ecologists wait so long?
Well, the hotel at the time, was legal. It had all the paperwork in line, since, when the plans were approved, the land was not inside the rather extensive 'Parque Natural Cabo de Gata-Níjar' natural park.
But now, it is. Sigh.
The only plant-life in this – and most – of the Parque Natural is scrub: no doubt of huge environmental value to our friends the ecologists but, dress it how you will, it’s scrub none the less.
Whether the hotel, its urbanisation, shops, restaurants and bars would have bought jobs to the good people of Carboneras is, of course, immaterial; and, much more so to the government in far-off Seville. Perhaps, with the fall in tourism following the 2008 'crisis', the hotel should never have been built anyway since- but, what am I saying? Spain's tourist industry in 2016 was over 74 million people. Most of them looking for the beach, the sun and a fish dinner. QED: Carboneras.
To demolish the hotel and repair the surrounds, removing any trace of the project and leaving an attractive spread of 500 metres of scrub, indeed matching the scrub to the left and the right, is impossible. Not expensive, or very expensive... it's impossible.
Then again, with so much of the province of Almería in the public domain (around 3,100 hectares are protected: that's 35% of the entire province) - does a couple of extra hectares really make any difference? Are we so short of scrub in Almería that we need to conserve every straggly bush?
The weak idea of the ecologists to hire the good people of Carboneras to take the hotel down piece-meal and load all the rubble into the back of a few trucks; to lovingly carve the rock itself back into natural lines, and to then tiptoe away and study basket-weaving or help uproot all the agave plants thereabouts (don't ask), is frankly ludicrous.
To spend enormous amounts of public money to attain this - money that could be spent on a hospital or a residence for the elderly (hey - maybe in the Hotel Algarrobico itself), plus the money that would need to be paid to Azata del Sol, who - we remember - started the project when it was legal and approved, is madness. The politician who rubber-stamps such a haemorrhage of funds would soon find himself without much of a career to enjoy. Probably wouldn't even get a position on the board in the electric company either (there's one of the most dirty power stations in Spain in Carboneras, remember).
So, we read this week of a group called Salvemos Mojácar (it's really little more than one fellow, called Jaime del Val) which insists that the demolition starts right away - and that the town hall of Carboneras organises the job.
The hotel could have helped tourism here and provided jobs. It's ugly as sin, but it's even uglier as a hulk. After gently rotting for the past decade, they certainly can't fix it now - short of starting from scratch. So, will they ever demolish it?
Sure... one day.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Some Links I Like

Business over Tapas on Facebook 
Europats on Facebook 
Fritz Mooney art:
Colin Davies blog:
David Jackson blog:
Leftbanker blog:
Standing in a Spanish Doorway blog:
Anything but Paella blog:
Ian and Spain food blog:
A Novel Spain:
Piccavey blog:
The Good, the Bad and the Spanish blog:
Meridianos Spanish video blog:
Aeropuerto de Almería blog:
Guirilandia - Spaniards in the UK:
La Opinión de Almería:
Spain's daily newspapers:

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The Instituto Cervantes and Those Co-official Languages

14 February: The Instituto Cervantes, Spain’s cultural agency abroad, ‘ the institution created by Spain in 1991 to promote, teach Spanish and spread the culture of Spain and Spanish-speaking countries. The headquarters of the institution is now in Madrid, although it began in Alcalá de Henares: the hometown of the writer Miguel de Cervantes...’. In fact, some branches of the Instituto Cervantes offer courses in all of Spain’s official languages –  castellano, catalán, galego and euzkera – to foreign students out of its total of seventy five offices worldwide. The first to offer these languages to students was the Dublin office (then known as the Instituto Cultural Español) here back in 1975. Curiously, it is almost impossible to study regional languages in other parts of Spain, whether in language institutes or universities. In November 2015, José Antonio Sierra at La Opinión de Málaga asked this very question – ‘why can’t we take classes of Catalán?’ Now, two years later, things are beginning to change, and the schools themselves are asking whether there is enough demand. Perhaps a better understanding of the different languages and cultures shared by Spain would contribute to easing regional tensions.
Just this week, the PSOE has proposed a new (and perhaps a trifle silly) law to push for translators of the co-official languages in Spain in all public departments and for citizens to be able to ask for Officialdom to deal with them in any of the aforementioned languages. 
To return to our subject, the Instituto Cervantes is worth visiting if one is nearby, as no one enthuses more about his subject – here Spain – than an expert – and where better to find one than in a cultural centre?  Each office holds a useful library and offers meetings, congresses, film, concerts, exhibitions and other entertainments, although its main thrust has always been to promote the Spanish language. Unfortunately, two years ago this week, the local Gibraltar branch was abruptly closed by the previous Minister for Foreign Affairs, José Manuel García Margallo, since ‘everyone except the apes speak Spanish in Gibraltar’. Of course, if Gibraltar were to become Spanish territory, then English would no doubt become another co-official language of Spain (heh!)...

Back Issue

9 February: A large number of Spanish municipalities are moribund... dying. According to an article here, there are 4,955 pueblos in Spain (out of 8,125) with less than 1,000 inhabitants. Worse still, 1,286 pueblos don’t even make it to a hundred. This is primarily because there isn’t much to do in these places, and the young ’uns move away for adventure and employment. Perhaps the authorities could re-populate them with refugees, or wealthy Northerners, but, you know. Fuck it.
In Almería, the picture is the same. Of the 103 municipios in this province, a full 51 of them are under the 1,000 mark, with the smallest, Benitaglia, having just 71 citizens in the census of 2014 followed by Alcudia de Monteagud with 140 . In 1950, there were around 362,000 Almerians. Now there are 704,000 – over double: but they/we live in the bigger municipalities, in Almería, Roquetas, El Ejido, Vícar, Adra and Huercal Overa.  8 February. Remember the enthusiasm for the Unión Mojaquera 10 - the political party run by Diego the Gas Station in the last local elections? All those pithy remarks on Facebook? Following the results, Diego and his Nº 2 promptly resigned from politics, leaving Lucas Mayo, third on the list, as the presumptive group leader and, together with 'La Peque' (who never appears at any plenary session), in charge of an uncertain program. Lucas has now quit the defunct party and is now an Independent ('concejal no adscrito'). We wish him well. 

3 February. The fellow from the Department of the Environment had the grace to agree with me after I told him how useless his bit of paper was. ‘But... it’s a job’, he said (Andalucía is a bit short of jobs – even pointless ones). I’d been to see him at the Mojácar police station, queued up, waited an hour gossiping with some impatient farmers, all to get a burning permit – good for a month. Permission from the Regional Government, in short, to be allowed to ring up the fire-station and tell them you intended to burn some garden rubbish. Of course and by the way, an address won’t do – it has to be the ‘catastral’ details.  But that was last winter. I later called the bomberos in Turre, told them I was ready to go, that I had my piece of paper... and they said fine. Go, why don’t you.  This winter, well, things were evidently getting too easy: never a popular situation in Andalucía. Yesterday, I took the lift up to the pueblo, went to the police station to find out when Chumley was coming. No sign on the wall, and the cop-shop firmly shut. Coffee-break, or perhaps out solving crimes. Today, I tried again. The lift.., walk again to the new policía local – a converted bar in the back of the village, as the old cuartel has been demolished – and found two police there. You have to go down to the Centro de Artesania at the Fuente, he’s there now, I think, said one helpfully. Back to the lift, down to the car park, drive round to the Centro de Artesanía (the sign outside says something else, but that’s what it’s called).  Anyone know if..? I asked in the café. He sits at that table, says the girl, but I don’t know if he’s coming today. I think he is, says a Spanish woman, the cops say he’s coming. Shouldn’t there be a sign, I ask, fruitlessly looking at the wall. There’s one outside, apparently, but it’s for January. We have a coffee and I read a magazine (never go anywhere that has to do with Officialdom here without reading material). Well, fuck it, the Spanish woman and I agree an hour later, as we leave, our bit of paper unsigned, our task unresolved, our morning wasted.   

2 February (Editorial at Business over Tapas):  ‘The Government aligns with the EU against President Trump but refuses to make any statements against the American leader. Rajoy and his ministers try to reject all of Trump's most contentious decisions but without drawing too much attention or by leading the European opposition to Trump’. Headline at El País. Spain’s foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, is having to tread particularly warily as the new foreign policy of the USA is causing both surprise and concern worldwide; ‘of course we must worry’, he admits... the unwillingness of Spanish officials to criticise Trump too loudly is also covered in a story at The Olive Press, which says ‘The Spanish government has refused to condemn Donald Trump’s ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. A PP spokesperson said it wanted to avoid ‘shouting and being too strident’ in its relations with the new US president... However, as The Local notes, this reticence is not always being observed: ‘The mayor of Madrid has compared President Donald Trump to Hitler over his travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries and suspension of the arrival of Syrian refugees...’. We must accept that Donald Trump and his politics are going to continue to surprise the rest of the world for the next four years, and we also suspect that the new American president will not gladly allow insults or criticism of his policies from abroad. But provocation towards Hispanics there certainly is – beyond the current slight aimed towards Mexico. As the Eye on Spain reminds us, ‘the White House website's page, Twitter account (now returned) and Facebook site in Spanish disappeared within two days of Republican leader Donald Trump being sworn in as president, despite the USA having more Spanish speakers in residence than the entire population of Spain...’. Not, of course to say that all the Media in Spain is keeping their entirely opinion to themselves, as, for example, here at Nueva Tribuna with their report: ‘Ten days that shamed the World – Trump degrades the American Democracy’.   Interesting times then.  

 31 January 2017. As I figure out this new machine from the GoDaddy people, I must ask for patience. The old webpage crashed and burned (probably too many Russian hackers fiddling with it). Fifteen years of rubbish lost. 
Mojácar enters a new year and continues to promote (and apparently prefer) tourism over residents.  The Tourist Department has been busy, with a heavy presence both in FITUR (Madrid) and later in a cycling festival in Belgium called Vélofollies where much sausage and beer was no doubt consumed as the bonny lycra-lads booked passage for both themselves and their metal steeds. 
Meanwhile, we understand that many projects to spruce up our town are afoot, including - of course - the new viewpoint in the town square, absent following a successful demolition of the building underneath, an old car park built by an earlier mayor - no doubt with some substandard materials he had acquired locally. The new viewpoint will be ready along with the building underneath it by Easter (they say). 
Other projects include the extension of the 'ring road' - that secret route we boozers take to access either the beach or the village when the coppers are about and also the apparent extension of the beach promenade, largely taking the beach bars away in favour of a more healthy resort. 
News also appears to confirm the General Plan, a project to set in stone - more or less - our future growth for the next eight years, or until another 'plan' is generated. 

3 January 2017. A cringing article in La Voz de Almería is titled: 'Mojácar - Goodbye to the Beach Bars'. It's about how our Dearly Belovèd is extending the beach promenade, with its walkway, bicycle path, gardens (jobs for the townsfolk), sea-wall, steps, showers and sundry other attractions which would no doubt put Butlins to shame.
To do this, the pathway must cut between the beach bars and the sea, when there's room, or straight through them when there isn't. Coupled to this, the beach promenade would be built higher than the current beach bars, relieving them not only of their direct access and their sun-beds, but of their view. The new beach kiosks would be rather small and lacklustre affairs with little room for more than a bar and a barstool.
But Mojácar's technocrats decided years ago that they wanted a cheap n cheerful resort, designed around small apartments, featureless all-inclusive hotels, ajo colorao, fireworks, ribbon races and slightly embarrassing souvenir shops (just wait until the Chinese tourists get here, taking back home their newly acquired 'Made in China' treasures).
The beach is to become a bourgeois sea and sand resort, with little charm and less character. The village to be a sort of Disneyville. Somebody will be making money for a spell, and then later blaming the foreigners when the tourism begins to die...
The article in La Voz says that Mojácar wants 'family tourism'. Good luck with that.
Meanwhile, the Mirador in the Plaza Nueva has been demolished and work continues to turn it into a giant town hall building (with astonishing views). The new viewpoint, when completed, will be 50cms higher than the old one, and will feature on one side of it the housing for an elevator. We only hope there is enough room for the four cafés that currently claim space there.