Got the latest of many rejections today. It’s only actually rejection #15 for the novel. Perhaps I should try harder. Or count as rejections the 200 times there was no reply. The only interested party is very quiet of late, no contract or anything, but the book was supposed to be next up for an innovatory publishing venture. We’ll see how it pans out. Like I say, very quiet. So I keep sending out submissions to agents, agencies, publishers and people who know people. It’s a different book, it has potential, people (not related to me even) say they think it would sell. It’s probably too late though; traditional publishing is probably dead. Kindle has put the fire out, as it were. So, any e-publishers out there, want to work together on getting a great book in front of the public?
Well I never got near the Estanco. Or the café. At the crossroads to Fuengirola, there was the finish line for something, a massive crowd waiting, blocking the road.
Proteccion Civil were out in force, all through the town, as I found out when I went to the ex-bullfighter’s Estanco on Gerald Brenan.
So I came home and Google.es-ed it. Couldn’t find it anywhere.
Life in the Guiri’s Bubble.
Some routine things, some not so routine.
Routine: I buy the papers most Sunday mornings. There’s a café catty-cornered across from the Estanco; a combination tobacconist, newsagent, and off-licence. Both stand guard at the new road down to the coast, or at least the bit of tatty town-council maintained road that leads to it.Most weeks I have a coffee in the café. I don’t read the papers. That gets saved for when I get home. I look at the people passing by since I usually sit outside, unless it’s raining of course.
The people who arrive first are generally of the older generation. They all buy cigarettes with their copy of Sur or El Pais or El Mundo. These are the people who huddle in the doorway when it rains. The café’s sun-canopy isn’t up to the flash-flood downpours which deliver most of Southern Spain’s rain. I know it’s going to rain if I see the owner of the café winding in the toldo. Let’s hope he doesn’t do that today. The next people to arrive are generally guiris like me. Lots of them need the coffee for a hangover. I don’t usually, and I don’t today: but… sometimes I shouldn’t have driven, I think. They will sit outside, even in January. I do too, but I’ll be wearing a coat. If these fellow foreigners see the yellow ball, they won’t, no they won’t, wear a coat. Even if the temperature is 4 degrees C. The last to arrive will be younger Spaniards, meeting up before going to grandparents, parents or some family event somewhere. Possibly a communion lunch at a different time of year. Now, in November, maybe harvesting things at Grandma’s country property. I finish my coffee and go home to read the papers.
Not so routine: today I am attending the birthday party of a friend’s daughter. She is 6, also invited are 16 compañeros de clase, classmates. I am in charge of the party games. My pathetic Spanish will be attempting to explain the rules of Pass the Parcel. I expect it will be noisy. Luckily, another friend has suggested that I make them play ‘Sleeping Logs’. This involves lying on the floor pretending to be asleep, when the music stops. I like the sound of that.
I feel a little less at home here today. There is an undercurrent. The kind that seethes in countries where there are a lot of immigrants and an economy that is in the toilet. That probably sounds like the UK to you, but I live in Spain. In Andalucia, in fact, not far from the Costa Del Sol. The word Guiri stops being a joke, and the word Ghetto is bandied about quite vigorously. And the undercurrent means it doesn’t matter if you can defend yourself in Spanish, someone will answer you in Alhaurino or Coino and you’re defending cannons with a pea-shooter. I imagine people recently arrived from Kerala will feel the same in Consett, Kilmarnock or Kiddiminster.
My students are of varying ages and nationalities. Some Argentines tell me they feel alien here too. I guess they do, but not like I do. I didn’t feel like this, not when I first came. Perhaps it’s just a cloud across the sun. It’s not as if I’ve got a home to go to.
i) Home: Town
North Road, Thomson Street, fish-and-chips, rain:
Firth Moor and Redhall, money down the drain
Pease St, Penn St, Victorian-terraced crime;
South Park, graffiti’d, bandstand falling down.
Greenbank, the hospital, the benefit flats
Behind the doors of Albert Road
The secrets women keep:
Families on the margins
Dogshit in the street.
Skipping ropes are gone now, a car park’s on the green,
the shops are on the bypass, the church is multiscreen.
The Dun Cow and White Horse, boarded up and closed
and every week a sushi bar: Emperor’s new clothes.
Twenty buses on every route where no-one wants to go;
and the town is surely dying:
homeless in the doorways;
moondogs on a string.
ii)Home: Thoughts from Abroad
If you were born in a piece of pink,
that country’s changed its name
and you’ve got a British Passport,
but can’t say where you’re from.
Toddling through the Rhineland
and teenaged East of Suez;
you’re troubled in a boarding school,
somewhere must be home.
Later you get restless
for something you can’t name.
So you dig out your old suitcase
and take the shilling too,
another uniform outpost
– there’s nothing else for you.
iii) Home: Not Dry
‘And where do you come from?’
‘That’s really, really complicated.’
I wish I knew is left unstated.
And yes, the stranger takes it wrong:
‘English, Scottish, Irish, what?’
I’d like to say I’m a Hottentot.
‘You know, it’s just been so-o long…’
I take a slug; it’s Spanish beer,
then just tell him, ‘I’m local here.’
It’s a beautiful day. It was beautiful before the sun came up over the horizon. Hereabouts, Phaeton has to drag the sun’s chariot above the mountain skyline. So in the early morning, the moon has the sky to his lonesome. The moon, full of water and himself, dropped like a stone this morning. I took five minutes to watch it sink in the sky. Makes you feel small when you stand still and watch it move so quickly. As quick as time itself. Or as slow. Because time is relative, didn’t someone say? Some mornings I feel he is a relative, Old Father Time perhaps.
It will still be a beautiful day when I take my stroll to the Venta this afternoon. For talk about nothing and nostalgia. Or I’ll say nothing, still ‘L’Étranger’. The Square Peg, the Oddball. We’ll see. Perhaps the condensation on my glass of San Miguel will seem like diamonds and the conversation pearls.
Today is a day sent from wherever all the good things come from. Crisp as Ryvita: the big yellow ball is high in the cerulean blue. Wisps of clouds do anything but scud, they are as languid as a 30’s lavender luvvy. It’s not hot, its cool. The tourists are still in shorts, the locals are in anoraks, overcoats and scarves. Guiris fall somewhere between the two. The quality of light is the kind which brought daubers of all standards here to Andalucia. The province’s name itself is a call to the light to ‘Come!’ Such things don’t seem too fanciful today. I feel like I could see for Townshend’s miles, or at least drive without glasses.
Only last Thursday the rain was coming down in cataracts. No coincidence that the slab grey of the sky made me feel like I had them. Is it just vitamin D? Sunshine and Chocolate and I’m set for anything, it feels like. Sunshine and Chocolate and some good music. One thing it’s good to know, it will stop raining sometime. Sometimes I forget that. Days like today and you fool yourself into thinking it’ll never rain again. Neither is a healthy attitude, though. Yin and Yang, dark and light , man and woman, sunshine and rain. The symbol is a visual truth, if you want to be all metaphysical. It’s an idea as beautiful as a chinese rose, and it makes me as happy as a sunny day.
What’s in a name? Quite a lot I suppose. Especially if it’s a name for your business. There are fewer punning and bad- joke-English-named businesses in the town now. More than anything, this has brought home the “Economic Situation” to me. Some brave locals take over a failed Brit café from time to time. But the indigenous population has no more brass in pocket than the Guiris, so it doesn’t always work.
A few months ago the Teatro Antonio Gala opened in the Recinto Ferial, (the site of the fairground, it’s pretty much in the town centre), I have never seen a single advertisement for a show. There have been three, a contact on the council has told me. The theatre is the last vestige of a heavy investment programme in the Recinto. About four years ago, 3 English guys invested in a large corner location, itself catty corners from the proposed theatre site. The other investments and projects never came. Inevitably, the Brits called the place the Corner Caff. The thing is, Recinto -on its own- actually means enclosure. So the main drag actually completely passes it by, unless it’s fair week, of course.
The Corner Caff, predictably, limped along for about 18 months. Then it was an Indian Restaurant for about a year, before the “local” – as they call commercial premises here – was split in two. The Indian restaurant is still going, although it feels less like dining in an aircraft hangar nowadays. The corner of the building itself lay empty for a year. Now it’s a cafe again. Spanish owned and run, in fact.
It seems to do OK. It’s called ‘Callate y Come’.
It means ‘Shut up and Eat.’
Fast forward to now. The New Improved Venta Miralmonte has been open for a whole year. Pepe has spent a great deal of money on a place that he is leasing. I hope he sees some return on that. One would suppose so, when he sells on the lease, but who knows, here in Andalucia? In the past year everything has had a new coat of paint. Some of the older English clientele have been lucky to escape the whitewash themselves. Inside, things have changed a great deal. It’s quite safe to look into the kitchen now.
It’s so much better and I have no right at all to complain, but… I miss seeing local builders on their way home on Friday afternoons. I miss the risk of eating food from the dangerous kitchen. I miss ‘el toque Andaluz’: the sullen grunt of welcome, if the Landlord has had a bad night; the litany of things that are not on the menu today and, yes, even the glorious rudeness of Coino waitresses.
There’s none of that now and, perhaps, that’s why some people I know refer to the Venta as ‘an English Ghetto’. Slowly but surely, the number of Spanish customers has diminished and I find that sad.
Pepe is a great guy. Always has a word, even for a customer as unprofitable as I doubtless am. The real problem is that the only Spanish I speak now is to Pepe himself and very occasionally to Monica his daughter. Monica is the real boss, although the glue holding the business together is Rita, her mother. Before I would speak a couple of hours of Spanish a week, now it’s about 10 minutes if I’m lucky. If it wasn’t for Intercambio my Spanish would be back to 2006 in no time. I’m still ashamed of it now, but I can get by, defend myself as they say in Spanish. Those two expressions for the same thing tell you something about the difference in culture, don’t they?
The other thing, the worst thing, is the Venta is no longer a source of the bizarre anecdotes that it used to be. One day I’ll just have to make something up.
One good thing is that view. That will never go.
Written some time in 2008
Rumour control is sadly lacking on the Urbanizacion Montevista. Andres’ wife has been ill. As Lori, the scary looking waitress, put it: her liver is pulverised. She said it in, well, Andalucian. Or more correctly in C___o, a sub-dialect of the province’s patois. She does know two words in English and one of them, of course, is ‘off’. Lori is from the town west of the Urbanizacion, the one where not speaking English is a badge of honour. I don’t have many clients in C____. Personally, I like this attitude, and not just because I’m lazy.
No, think about it. How much, I don’t know, Polish do the locals speak in Boston, Lincs? And you can bet Cletus from Sagbutt, Arkansas doesn’t speak anything but ‘Merican.
So, the rumours. Andres has confided to me, over a red wine or two , that he’s on his toes after the summer. I haven’t told anyone this, but everyone of course knows. This kind of thing moves osmotically through a community like Montevista. Naturally enough, this simple fact – or piece of hearsay – is not enough grist to the rumour mill. I have tallied 10 conversations like the following, since Andres told me:
‘Umm.. Heard anything?’ See, starts innocently enough. I reply:
‘About what?’ Delaying tactic this: often accompanied by a swig of San Miguel.
‘Come on, Andres?’
‘What about him? Not on holiday again soon, is he? Where is it this time, Bangkok?’
At this point Alf, Fred, Jose or Astrid leans forward and adopts a hushed tone, even though we’re outside on the terrace and Andres is shaking his booty inside to the very loud strains of Malaga FM playing Alvin Stardust’s Red Dress.
‘Andres, he’s leaving, Inma was ill.’ they say, as if it were a state secret and a Franquista informant was smoking in the doorway.
‘Oh that.’ Then I get up and go to the bar to order a drink or drinks, depending on which of Alf, Fred, Jose or Astrid it is.
Whoever is still there when I get back, whether in expectation of the drink or more secret information I’m not sure.
‘Cheers,’ I say. If I play the inscrutable one long enough, whoever it is will say something ridiculous.
‘The Mayor of A_______ has bought the freehold with black money!’
‘That blonde bloke, from the rock band – Status something or other – is putting a manager in.’
It’s true that the Mayor of A_______ is under investigation for corruption, but the main witness is in hiding in Brazil and, anyway, a corruption charge is part of the election process, almost. The blond bloke is not R_____ P______ by the way. He looks a bit like him if you’re sixty odd years old, too vain to wear glasses and wouldn’t remember the name of the band he was in. But it’s not him. I mean, Puerto Banus is half-an-hour away, come on! He is somewhat less likely to meet the beautiful people in A__________ or C_____________, and certainly won’t in the Venta, hey?
I have a confession to make: whatever they come out with, I always try to top it.
So, listen out for RACE FM’s local newsround-up;
‘Dalai Lama to build retreat in rural Spain,’
‘Jordan to run bar in Andalucia’
or ‘BBC to try again with Eldorado.’
You heard it here first.