Friday, September 30, 2005

Costa del Sol, Spain

Here I am getting a tan in the land of the Moors, the flamenco dancers and the cockney villain fugitives. Still mooching and hoping unethically that the Avian Flu will drop a few quid off a flight to Jakarta.

The beaches of the Costa attract tourists in their millions each year. Its attraction are numerous and varied so, of course, I headed off inland. Specifically to the town of Ronda, a fortressy type place that seemed to serve as a sort of St Tropez for the Moors, judging by the amount of little palaces around the place. Like a lot of Spanish towns these remnants of an Arabic culture mingle with very large Christian statements of conquest such as massive churches or cathedrals. The Spaniards knew they had reconquered the real estate in a far better state than they left it and wisely kept a lot of it. However, they did feel the need to ensure everyone knew who had won. It's hard to fault them as the Reconquista lasted for the best part of 500 hundred years (with the odd decade off).

Ronda is quite a nice place if you don't have vertigo. An even better place if you bring along someone with vertigo and happen to be slightly cruel. I have used my stay there to try and develop Mediterranean drinking habits. I failed. My hosts managed to drink on after I had crawled into bed and yet still managed to get up in the morning and go and earn a living. Meanwhile, I took several hours to coffee up before taking the best part of a day to do a 8 page website.

Ronda holds Spain's oldest bullfighting ring. I was intending to do my cultural piece on bullfighting but apparently there aren't any at the moment so I couldn't go and see one for myself. I don't want to go because of some innate bloodlust, but because I don't get it. The way of life in Southern Spain is in a way the most civilized on the planet and the corrida seems at odds with that. The bulk of it I understand, even approve of. I like the idea of annoying a very large and dangerous animal and dodging it when it has a go. It smacks of something cooked up by drunk blokes and therefore is probably good fun. Add the funny clothing and you have a recipe for what would make a great stag do. What I don't get is the killing bit at the end. It's not as if the bull is going to call his mates and jump you on the way home because you showed him up. It seems somewhat gratuitous to kill it.

Since I couldn't get to see one and catch the vibe of the crowd and the spirit of the thing I will have to keep my prejudices on the type of person who enjoys these events. Namely, that there is something slightly wrong with them.

Ronda is a nice town to get lost in and so I have more of a feeling than specific descriptions of the place. The old town is still intact and hasn't gone overboard as a tourist trap. The new town is also a pleasant place to relax in though less coherent. I distinctly remember a statue of what is meant to be Hercules and a couple of lions. It might have alluded to old legends about the place but what sprang to my mind after seeing the mullet and the loincloth was Tarzan. Beyond that the town has a great vibe to it. Apparently loads of artists thought the same and so the place has become of interest to the beret and sandal crowd.

Next I moved on to the small village of Salares in the hills next to the coast. I must point out at this stage that my movements are not really a result of some great talent to see alternative sides to tourist destinations but a testimony to the my good fortune of knowing a fantastic couple, N and P, who live in Ronda and also have restored a house in Salares (by restoration I don't mean fitting a new kitchen and buying the right terracotta, I mean transforming the ruins of a Roman watchtower and a wine depot into a very comfy house).

Anyway, my Salares trip was for me the sort of boho visit to the rurals that are made by urbanites to maintain some delusion that their woes are due to the complexities of modern life instead of admitting that they are whingers. This started it off to plan as I crossed the Roman bridge and set to work clearing some brush in N and P's garden plot. It wasn't really work as I am still childish enough to find pleasure in breaking things, even dead branches. So there I was, the visible foreigner, sweating in the sun, doing manual work with a scenic backdrop that would make a good postcard. Most bucolic. I felt that I should either be writing the defining novel of my generation or hiding away from some dark and fascinating past. I was, of course, enjoying myself.

My plan after my little foray into the world of real work was to go and join the festivities in the village. It was a party weekend where the villagers celebrated their culture and Moorish past. I pompously visualised myself, sipping wine and watching the simple pleasures of simple folk (tests of strengths, beauty contests, the torture of some barnyard animal etc..). The locals, however, refused to cooperate and went highbrow. The party kicked off with a lecture on relativity by a professor of Malaga University that I probably wouldn't have grasped even if my Spanish went beyond the “get me a beer, I'll have the ham, don't punch me ” level. They capped off the evening with a concert of Arab music. So much for the primitive mores of mountain folk.

The middle of the day was more in synch with my preconceptions as I signed up, along with my dad, to a slinging competition. The local goat herds use their slings to direct their animals. If the goats move in a direction he doesn't want them to go, he whizzes off a stone to crack against some rocks. The goats then move in the opposite direction. Having seen the speed of these things I agree with the goats. I am also less impressed with the biblical David. Goliath was a fool to go up against that type of weapon. The goatherds are quite good at this and rightly so. If they screw up the goats go wandering god knows where or worse could end up like Goliath. The locals have a great recipe for goat though, so maybe there is some leeway as far as training accidents go.

The local champ sent one of his missiles into the target (a metal barrel set up on the slope on the opposite side of the road) on his first go and then withdrew. It took the rest of us a dozen tries and one girlie shifting of the target closer to us to finally get two other winners. Like most of the competitors I managed to get the hillside but not much more. I wasn't even bad enough to merit recognition unlike my father who caused great mirth and managed to hit someone standing behind him. All in all a great afternoon.

All these events were interspersed with the most common pastime of these parts; drinking. It was in one of these scenes that appeared the local legend; Frasquito. When you see a half drunk septuagenarian astride a mule, serenading a woman half his age when her partner is present, you know the fun is going to start in earnest. Even his mule was a reflection of the character of the man. At first glance it looked as it was kitted out with wonderful traditional gear. A brightly coloured woolen saddle with tassels and a leather bridle with inlaid images. However at close look you realise that the images are not religious icons or images of long-withered Andalusian beauties of his past, but cut-outs from cheap porn mags of the seventies. The man has style.

It would be easy to picture the man as a figure of derision but it would also be foolish. For all the comedy his presence adds to a shindig, one must remember that he is exactly the way most people would like to be when they grow old. Despite the fact that he has nearly half of century over me and is sozzled most of the time, I am acutely aware that he could outdrink me, out-party me and walk me into the ground if I was stupid enough to challlenge him in any of these fields. In his late seventies he is fitter and more active than I and most people my age who don't wear khaki for a living. He reputedly took a couple of very serious hill walkers, with all their space age gear, up a mountain equipped with a pair of sandals and a jerkin of wine; all this after a night on the lash. They ended up knackered, he went on to party. A true hero.

For some reason he didn't win the slinging contest. I suspect he didn't want to. When some of us novices were faffing about with the things on the terrace of the local cafe, he promptly demonstrated his effectiveness by wanging a stone a few inches too low from the bulb of the street lamp he was aiming for. Maybe he only truly shines when some mischief is possible.

That's pretty much it for Spain unless I can do either see a corrida or witness a botellon. Botellon is Spanish for “loafing around the streets drinking alcohol”. It has merged into some sort of phenomenon that has caused some stir with the Spanish government. From what has been described to me it is a far cry from the degeneracy of British high streets but it might be worth a look.

So unless I update the Spain page my next entry should be from Indonesia.

Hasta Luego



Blogger Pater said...

For the record (a vain hope as the story is to good) I did not actually hit anyone behind me. The stone went more or less straight up and was caught by one of the local experts, to derisive cheers from the local teenage girls. NB most of the local Davids also failed to hit the drum.

Monday, October 03, 2005 10:59:00 PM  

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