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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  1. Loved reading that. My auntie first came to Mojacar in the late 60's or early 70's on a package holiday. She described the village as you did with hardly anything on the costa at all