Saturday, 30 January 2010

The Good Old Days. Servants

Back in the days when I lived in Win Well’s house, taking care of all of his animals, I also took care of my mother’s Moroccan maid, Fatty. Fatty, or Fatima, was very large in all ways. She worked for my parents and lived with us which worked out very well. She would dance and sing and taught my daughters Arabic and how to yell like Moroccan women do. All in all, she was great fun and a wonderful cook. My parents were pleased not to have her around all the time. She almost never went out and was planning on spending just one year in Spain to earn money for her daughter’s wedding, which I gather is a very big deal over there. Her daughter was twelve but I learned that it was very important to impress your guests and have a lot of them. I didn’t leave her to baby-sit, one because she didn’t work for me and two she wasn’t very good at it. The memories we have of watching her dance with this enormous body wobbling from side to side still makes me laugh out loud. One day I asked her what she was saving her money for. What was so important that she would leave her family for a year, work in Spain, to return with the wedding gifts? She then produced two huge suitcases from under the bed and opened them. They we full of candy. Not fancy chocolates or marzipan but plain old chewing gum and gummy worms etc. She then explained that these things were not available in Morocco and would complete her daughter’s wedding and make it an event that would be talked about for years. She never spent a penny on herself. All her money went into sweets.
One day I left her with the children for ten minutes while I rushed to Cristobal’s market, in the arch, to buy a few things. When I returned the neighbors were gathering outside my door. As I pushed my way through the crowd, I found Jessica lying in the bed downstairs and Fatty rubbing olive oil on her shoulder. On asking what had happened, it turned out she had tripped down the last few steps and started screaming. Fatty didn’t want the neighbors to think she was hurting her so did everything to shut her up. The olive oil was something she had seen someone do on the beach in Morocco and felt it must make you feel better. So she was slathering Jessica in it. Fatty hadn’t ever had any schooling and came from a very poor part of town so it was all she could think of. I took Jessica to Don Diego, our only doctor and he said that her clavicle was broken and would have to go to the hospital to get it set. We set off for the hospital leaving a hysterical Fatty behind to explain to the neighbors that it was an accident not child abuse. Jessica was extremely composed and calm, by this time, and not at all frightened by the hospital or the doctors. It wasn’t until we came outside that she broke down into floods of tears. The cast was a figure eight around her shoulders leaving her arms hanging behind her. That is when she discovered that she couldn’t suck her thumb. Instant hysteria, by the time we got home the cast was broken enough that she could get her thumb in her mouth. Later that year Fatty left with her suitcases full of candy to prepare for her daughter’s wedding.

Everyone has a gardener
Most of us had bought dry arid land with no greenery and no water. We wanted to start sprucing the places up so they looked like home. Huge concrete water-tanks went in for the water truck to fill once a week and the planting began. A lot of us had the same gardener. He had never really seen a garden before but he did know about digging ditches and watering which were very important. He was also what they call a viejo verde or dirty old man. He would work anywhere just to get a glimpse of someone in the shower or down by the pool, that is, once we got a pool. There are many funny stories about our gardener and I will try to describe a few of them here. We had a house-guest once staying in the guest house next to us. It was an American girl and ever since she took up residence our gardener was nowhere to be found. He spent his whole day flooding the property around the window of the bathroom of the guest house just to get a glimpse of the girl taking a shower. When the indignant guest duly complained to my father-in-aw, he threw her out. She was so shocked, but my father-in–law said it was a lot easier getting a new house guest than a new gardener.
I planted two hundred tulips and when they came up I carefully explained how he had to water them from the ground and not to just squirt the flowers. After fully understanding me he preceded to take a fire hose to all the blossoms and the tulips were instantly gone. As a professional gardener he then explained to me that tulips only last one day. To his defence, my father pointed out that everywhere he worked they did only last one day so he was right in a strange way. He would spend hours watering our plastic grass around the pool just to listen to the latest gossip and watch the girls in their bikinis. He used to lurk behind trees and bushes, until Jeannie set a trap for him. She knew he had been watching her sunbath in the nude, so one day she took a pellet gun with her to the pool and when she saw him peaking around a bush she yelled bloody murder and rushed stark naked towards him waving the gun around her head. He had to run all the way down the street with a naked Jeannie chasing after him, making as much noise as she could so that the neighbors would come out to see him running away. Our gardener was also a closet drinker and hid a bottle of booze in a tree where it still sits twenty-five years later, long after his death and even after the ravages of the fire. He used to hang his lunch from a tree every morning until one day one of our whippets smelled the chorizo, and being great jumpers, he jumped up and stole the treat. The gardener was perplexed as to where his lunch had gone but on the second day he saw the culprit steal it right out of the tree. The following day he was waiting and as the dog jumped for the lunch the gardener cut his back leg off with a shovel. We rushed the dog to the vet where after hours of surgery, pieces of the leg were replaced. We had to lock him in a small bathroom during his recovery, so he didn’t move much, and he was taking enough tranquilizers to put an elephant down. After months, he did recover and was able to use his leg; it was just unsightly to look at. Soon after, the old chap reached an estimated 65 years of age and we gratefully gave him a gold pocket watch, thanked him for his service and tossed him off the property. He had no idea about the deal with a pocket watch; I guess that is a modern way for a company to say good-bye to an employee. I must say we have not missed him.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Two of the most embarrassing translating jobs I have ever had.

One was taking Fritz to the hospital because he wasn’t well and it wasn’t one of his normal not-feeling-wells. When we arrived at emergency I was allowed to stay with him to translate. Once it was our turn, the doctor started to ask questions which I translated from one language into another. The doctor then asked how long Fritz had been living in Spain and when he said over forty years, she just about fainted and then gave him a real ear-full for not even trying to learn Spanish in the country he decided to make his home. When asked about what medication he took, he asked if that include illegal substances. Another face of shock, from the doctor. When I had to list the drugs he had been taking, she stood there breathless and said just the amphetamines alone could be causing his problem not to mention the rest. I carefully translated his explanation, about being an artist, and needing them for inspiration. She would hear none of his crap. After about half an hour of debate, they agreed that he could take Catovit, a vitamin supplement for geriatrics with a bit of a boost. Mainly used by students for studying. A few years later, after paying absolutely no heed to her advice, there really was something wrong with him. He had a blockage somewhere and it needed to be removed. While waiting in the hall amongst the dead and dying the doctor explained that since he had to pay for it anyway he should go somewhere where they weren’t so busy. That is what we did. Once in the hospital, his room began to fill up with paintings and rugs and the smell of ‘medicinal’ marijuana could be smelled from the elevator and along the hallway leading you straight to Fritz’s room. They were very tolerant in those days.

Another time I was translating for the friend of a new neighbour, who had been a mayor in England and he wanted to go and be presented to our current local mayor, the alcalde. I had no idea how pompous someone could be and was truly embarrassed to translate what he was saying, without toning it down a bit. He was there to explain how to run the place, where the mayor was going wrong and how he would do it should they change places. He stated that he would always be available for advice. This is a very short version of a long and embarrassing conversation because since I was the one talking to the mayor it seemed like it was me that was saying these things. I made it clear that I did not even know this man and was just asked to come along to help and was very sorry. The English ex-mayor never even offered me a cup of coffee. In fact, it’s remarkable how often I’ve translated or helped some gormless Brit and not been paid or even offered a cup of coffee. My husband only a few weeks ago went and helped a wealthy neighbour buy a new car in Vera, which took most of the morning. They then had a beer to celebrate and my husband had to fork out for the round. Like me, he has helped lots of people, from lawyers to protests, hospital visits to translating at the police station. Not many of them were like Fritz, who was always fun to be with and, with luck; you might sometimes earn a painting off of him.
The old days have gone. On Lenox’ webpage, now going on since 2002, he’s never been given any contribution whatsoever.
I have a licence as a translator, which I was given in the old days to help Señor Robles, the Almería police chief, with his problems with the ‘foreigners’. Which I did willingly. Then started the weeks in the hospitals and the court houses and the lawyers and so on which were no problem because I was doing it for friends and we all helped each other in those days. On one translating job to do with lawyers I have spent over fourteen years and on other medical trips over six years. Nowadays, you will find little badly-written signs in the medical centre or hospital. Call so-and-so who will charge accordingly.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Agua Va

Mojácar 1960

When we first moved to Mojácar it was a small quiet village with a few foreigners living amongst the locals. From the village down to the beach and for miles along the coast it was just virgin. When Pussycat built her big mansion across from a ruin down on the beach no one could understand why she had built so far away and so isolated. It was a beautiful estate across from what would one day become Tito’s. Her house no longer exists because it has been knocked down in favor of hundreds of pokey and hideous apartments on all sides. Pussycat was one of the great characters back in those days as were most of the foreigners. She would always drive up to the plaza in her pink car in some outlandish costume to join the other foreigners for mail time. She was a blowzy looking Frenchwoman with a ‘leetle’ accent and was well-known, among her more reputable activities, as an artist. Mail time consisted of sitting all morning at the Bar Indalo, run by a very young Antonio, drink, chat and wait for the mail man, who was illiterate so everyone had to collect their own mail. Everyone knew everyone’s business because there were few phones and all social life happened in the bars. The telephone operator, Isabel, worked out of a little room with a good view of everyone’s comings and goings. So if I would call my parents she could tell me they weren’t at home that they were in the Saloon or at the doctors and would I like my call placed there. My parents phone number was 23 and it was about the last phone in Mojácar.
In those days, during the time of Franco, Mojácar was a very safe place. Everyone left their keys in the car in the plaza, yes we all could park in the plaza, and there was plenty of room. Our houses were unlocked and we left our Butano gas bottles out in the street so when the Butano man came by he would just swap the empties for full ones and at some time during the year bump into you in the village and say you owe so much and we would pay whatever he said. He was never worried about getting paid and we never had to worry about being home when he came by, which was at very irregular times.
The women kept the village and their houses very clean; they even mopped the street outside their house. If you were walking along the street one of the most common things you would hear was ‘Agua va’ which meant, RUN, that the lady was just about to throw a pail of water out of the upstairs window. It could have been worse. It was the women’s job to white wash the house every year, the traditional garb for this task was a bathrobe and slippers. As a matter of fact to this day a bathrobe is usually worn by the women instead of a coat, seeing as a coat is not needed most of the year because of the beautiful climate.
Most of the foreigners were artists or people just looking for a quite life. One of these artists was an American called Bob who made artistic belt buckles mainly worn by rock stars and famous people. As a result an article appeared in Playboy all about the beauties of the magical little white village in the south of Spain and it was a definite must-see on your travel itinerary. Not able to buy Playboy here, we were sent a copy in the mail, by a friend in L.A. who had seen it and thought we would be interested. That was the beginning of the end for this quiet little haven we had all found and fallen in love with. The real end started when Horizon moved in with cheap package tours from England. The story goes that the agent for the company, Evie Steinhauser, who later moved here to live, was scouting for a hotel destination. She met Heather, my mother-in law (who I was never destined to know) in a bar who told her, in the most direct Anglo-Saxon language, what she thought of Horizon Holidays, trippers and the entire tourist industry in general. Evie recalled later that she had pretty much written Mojácar off, and only decided on the resort to spite Heather. During those fantastic years the Guardia Civil were very easy going on the drunken behavior displayed by the majority and they were very happy to stop by your house at any hour and would expect a brandy or at least a glass of wine and some tapas. Don Diego the doctor was an expert at setting ankles and wrists which were the most common accidents because of the large consumption of alcohol and the streets were very steep and windy, made of cobblestone. He would famously smoke a cigarette as he stooped over you, while standing on a box (he was very short), brushing the ash impatiently from the wound. Everyone helped everyone. One night my father-in-law, after a round of the bars, climbed into his car only to find that his steering wheel had been stolen. The Guardia, as always, were drinking in the plaza, so my father-in-law yelled to them to come help because someone had stolen his steering wheel. The Guardia gently helped him from the back seats of the car and put him in the front where •surprise• the steering wheel had appeared. They then told him to drive home safely.
Those were the days.

Of All the Characters

The above painting was commissioned by Jeannie. It is a Star Wars bar scene of some of the original characters here in Mojácar, painted by Jean Marc Faure. The painting depicts what life was like here in the old days. Cheap booze, cheap tobacco, lots of sunshine and friends in every bar. From left to right the characters are in real life; Til, Charles Baxter, Mamabel, Russ Hope, The Barbie Dolls June and Joy, Paul Beckett, Greta, Peter Honey, Gordon and Kipper the Dog from behind the bar in the Sartén, Bill, Jeannie, Julia Hope, Fritz the Artist, Teresa and Libby. We shall meet them all again later.
Kipper the Dog now lies in peace in our garden – along with various other pets, and, oddly, Emilio’s mother-in-law.
If you ran a business you opened and shut as you saw fit, all your friends made their daily rounds, stopping at each bar. Any business or important communication took place in the bars. Most of these people didn’t have to work and led a very comfortable social life in this beautiful white village above the sea. There were lots more characters around in those days these just happen to be the ones captured in this painting.
Fritz was larger than life and definitely the greatest character to ever live in Mojácar. He was an extremely talented artist but would almost never sign his work. There was a good reason for this. Since he lived the life of a bohemian he would live off of his work by hanging a painting in a bar or restaurant and then eat and drink there for free, then one day he would take the painting off the wall stating that it hadn’t been finished and move it to a new bar or restaurant. This way he could eat or drink to his heart’s content. Everyone loved and cared for Fritz and if you were really lucky he would give you a painting to thank you for something you had done for him. He always wanted to go down in the Guinness book of world records as the person who took more poisonous substances without dying. It would take an entire book to tell the antics of Fritz so I will leave it for another time but there is a documentary about his life on the web here So take a look for yourself.

Right of Way

When I was lucky enough to move to Mojácar the locals found me a bit amusing because of my collection of animals and because I liked to ride bareback. Horses were for men in those days and you had to dress the part and dance down the street so all your friends could admire you, and there was I at the end of the line bareback and in shorts but they let me join in. I started learning Spanish and collecting animals thanks to Juan Sanchez, the miller in Turre. He found me so amusing that every time I went to buy animal food we would sit for hours and talk and he would always give me a rabbit or bird or even one day a sheep. I went to the Horse fair in Albox with a group of Gypsies who were there to make sure I was not ripped off and help choose a donkey. Everyone followed me around as I was a foreigner and a woman. I ignored them as I picked up feet and opened mouths to see the condition of the animals. Where is your man they all kept asking, this is a man’s job. I ended up with Honda the Mule and Started Mojácar’s first Donkey Taxi. I hooked her up to an old two wheel cart and took friends up and down the beach. The Guardia Civil were very kind and told me that I had right of way over the cars so not to worry about traffic, not that there was much. I was also told that I could park anywhere because by law ‘bestia’ (animals) had the right of way. I had a license plate No. 1 painted by Win Wells because the town hall didn’t have the equipment and I was the only animal taxi. On my way home once I stopped at the Chinaman’s house for a cup of tea and tied Honda to the rejas when suddenly the Guardia appeared. It seems an English-woman, new to town, called to denounce me for tying my mule in the street. She was soon put straight by the Guardia and that I had every right in the world. One day the mayor called me into his office to ask how my taxi business was going and I complained about a few pot holes bigger than my cart, he laughed and asked me if I would consider stopping the taxi and come work for him because by now there were a fair number of foreigners and they needed a translator. Since I made almost no money with my taxi I jumped at the offer. That is how Mojácar lost its one and only animal-taxi.

The start and end of an era

In a daze I drove to the Focus on the beach to tell my friend Tish, another American horsy person, that I had just bought a horse on an installment plan, well actually two horses; because she came with a foal. We had all wanted horses but never had the money or stable to put them. I was in such a state of shock as I realized what I had done. I figured that by paying them off in a few payments it would give me time to get a stable and paddock ready. It all turned out great because I talked the mayor into buying a horse and in exchange for me caring for his horse he would build the stables. That was how I got Oli and Casi. Soon after, Tish got a horse, and so did a lot of other people. You could gallop to your heart’s content, go everywhere and sometimes we would have group rides and go en-masse to a restaurant. Once a group of us rode through Sierra Cabrera, into the dry river bed, to Cortijo Suesa in Alfaix, when half way there, a white Shetland pony jumped out of nowhere and started chasing us. With all of our horses going wild he came after me and my horse. All I could do was hang on and hope for the best. We ran down a dirt track and jumped a barrier, only stopping when we ran out of ground which happened to be in El Listonero. After collecting our wits we turned around and the pony followed us back to his house. It was the nastiest pony I have ever come across and he gave all of our horses a run for their money, kicking and biting them all. Another time about thirty of us met at Delfos and rode to Cerro Alto in Vera, while waiting for everyone to arrive, my horse Casi started getting really agitated and I thought I would have to leave the group and take her home because I couldn’t control her. When I dismounted to lead her home I noticed red ants all over her legs, it seems that while we were waiting at Delfos she was standing in a nest of red ants and that is why she became so uncontrollable, once that situation was solved I continued with the group where we turned our horses out in the paddock and had paella. We had a cross-country jumping fun day for Didi’s birthday, with two sets of jumps at each place. One really low, for those that had never jumped, and a high one for those that liked jumping. In this picture you see Juanico on Nata going over the larger jump. He had never jumped in his life and wanted to take the low course but because Nata had already run the course three or four times she went for the big ones, much to Juanico’s surprise and later pride. The other picture is of Michel on Capitan, definitely the most elegant horse and rider to participate. We all used to ride in the Moors and Christians Parade every year. In the beginning there was no competition it was just fun for all the Moors and Christians would get together and make costumes for the horses, drink and laugh and then all ride up to the village together.
As more and more horses started to participate, it lost some of that friendly atmosphere. It was all great fun but as tourism increased our riding space started to disappear and people started trading their horses in for four-wheel-drive cars. The day of the horse was drawing to a close. Some of us used to have courses at our houses with different professionals. In one course I wanted to learn how to long-rein so Tina and I took off at the crack of dawn in the dark and freezing cold, over the hill to Tish’s. Wondering what the hell we were doing because neither Tina nor I were professionals we just thought it would be fun and we might learn something. Our horses were not nearly at the level of the other horses participating but as I said we were in it for the fun. Tina went first on Cisco and had her class leaving Casi alone in the paddock out of view, where she hurt her leg and was unable to participate so I had to use Cisco for my long reigning class. Tish has it all on tape but you have never seen anything so funny as this pony took us for all we had. We were completely out of control and
Cisco had complete control and was making jackasses out of us. The next time I took my old mare Mora to baby-sit Casi so she wouldn’t be left alone and hurt herself, but for some reason I ended up having to use Mora, I think because Casi had just had a class with Michael and was too tired. As Joanna took this old bomb-proof mare she just ambled along until Joanna hit her leg with the whip to wake her up. At that point she assumed perfect body movement and went straight into a beautiful Spanish paso. We all stood in amazement as this old mare looked like something in a parade. It turned out that she had been trained in the old Spanish style and I just didn’t know any of her aides. Joanna turned to the others with their splendid horse and said “that is what I mean, that is impulsion”. I left that course feeling very proud even though I didn’t really get to ride. Now everything is paved, the town hall never thought to leave any dirt wilderness trails for hikers and riders so you now are confined to your own property, which in my case I have plenty, or you ride on the road. It was a sad end of a fun era.

RUMORS: The Horse’s Mouth

There is nothing Mojácar likes more than a good rumor. My mother told me when I moved here to meet people yourself and make up your own mind about them because you will here tons of rumors about everyone. One day I was told that Tish from the Focus was off to have a naughty weekend with the man from El Cid. The rumor had been going around all week then I ruined everyone’s fun by pointing out that the man from El Cid was Tish’s husband and they owned both bars. The Focus was the place where everyone went for breakfast and most of the rest of the day. I used to stop by for a coffee on my way to work. Charlie Braun would be there as usual playing the one-armed bandit, at which, to my dismay, he won every day making more than I made at a whole day’s work. Charlie was a German who had played the stunt skiing in an early James Bond film before retiring, penniless, to Mojácar in about 1969. Another funny rumor was about Jeannie having herpes. Since she got around quite a bit the rumor spread like wild fire. It all became clear at an art exhibition at the Delfos where Jean Marc was displaying some sculptures. Apparently he had told someone (with a fruity French accent) that he had Jeannie’s hair-piece for one of his sculptures and that is how Jeannie got herpes. So the old saying applies double here in Mojácar. Don’t believe it unless you hear it from the horse’s mouth.

Movies and Mojácar

Most of the people in Mojácar have been in one film or a commercial because Almería is where they come to shoot Spaghetti Westerns and commercials they even made Lawrence of Arabia here and they come to Mojácar for extras. Just about everyone I know was in the Coca-Cola commercial. We had to be at the football field at 5am to take a bus to the Tabernas desert were we were dressed in our appropriate costumes and then would sit for hours waiting for our scene to be filmed. They kept hitting us with bags of dirt to make us look dirty and then told us to look frightened when the fighting broke out. We didn’t have to pretend it was really scary with flaming arrows flying past you and guns going off. We made what seemed like a lot of money but in reality is was a pittance but the hours were so long and it was a short period of time that we all had a blast. Bill, Charlie Braun and Fritz decided they didn’t like taking the bus so they slept in their car at the film location which meant a night of boozing and three drunken actors to deal with in the morning. Another neighbor, a Dane called Paul Becket, was a skinny artist with a RAF handlebar moustache. He kept telling the film director how things should be filmed with that complete lack of knowledge that so many of those who live in Mojácar are proud to possess. After a couple of hours of this, the director ejected him from the film-set, telling Paul he would never work again in ‘pictures’. Paul went and sulked under a handy rock until it was time to take the bus home. At the end of the filming they inspected all of our hands because they were looking for a hand to hold a freezing cold coke for the final shot and they were horrified that none of us had nice nails. After what we had been through how on earth did they think one of us would have a manicure? Like all the rest of these stories we had a lot of fun in those days before the tourism boom. Everyone got along with everyone. They still make films here but they don’t need us old timers any more they have just a collect few in their dossier that they use each time. In these pictures you see me and Tish and Pam in the Coca-Cola commercial. A short version of it is on the web thanks to Joby Polanski.

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