The lurch and fall of the Almería coast

Excerpts from Juan Goytisolo and Ramón Fernández Palmeral, with an epitaph from George Orwell.

Lenox has been reminiscing about drinking in Mojácar in the late 1960s, until

As the last members of the Mojácar Jets downed their drinks and raised their voices in song, while the municipal cop looked through the door and Pedro went ‘Shhh!’, an age slowly and drunkenly made its way to its final bow.

I confess that I know the Almería coast only from reading pre-1950s books (theme: brutal lack of opportunity), and post-1950s journalism (theme: brutal excess of same). Juan Goytisolo balances self-consciously on the line in his excellent (if rather predictably & miserably Orwellian) hitchalogue, Campos de Níjar (1954), looking both back and, in the following excerpt, forward:

–Where are you going?
Out of the car window sticks the head of a lean, middle-aged man with dry features. He is wearing a dark green suit, a striped shirt, a black tie.
–Wherever you’re going.
–This road leads to los Escullos, on the seashore. Do you know it?
–Then get in. We’ll talk about the price later.
The man at the steering wheel opens the door and invites me to sit in the back with the other. We start.
–Not from round here?
–The area is very picturesque. You’ll see. Last year I showed it to some French people I met at Venta Eritaña and they went home full of enthusiasm.
The driver spies on me in the mirror. He is a redhead, freckled, with wide eyebrows and dark, bulging eyes. He doesn’t say a word throughout the trip.
–If there was a good road the tourists would come like flies. This coast is better than Malaga and life is much easier than there. For three thousand pesetas can you buy a fishing cottage. People are emigrating and selling up for nothing.
Whitish soils without end, naked and smooth. Sun-drunk the cicadas buzz. The surface of the wadi is stony, and the car lurches forward.
–In less than ten years I have bought an entire village. I’ll show you. It’s after los Escullos.

–¿Adónde va usted?
Por la ventanilla del coche asoma la cabeza un hombre de mediana edad, enjuto, de rasgos secos. Viste traje de color verde oscuro, camisa listada, corbata negra.
–Adónde ustedes vayan.
–Este camino lleva a Escuyos, al borde del mar. ¿Lo conoce usted?
–No, señor.
–Entonces suba. Ya ajustaremos el precio luego.
El que maneja el volante abre la puertecilla y me invita a sentar atrás, con el otro. Arrancamos.
–La región es muy pintoresca. Ya verá. El año pasado se la enseñé a unos franceses que conocí en la Venta Eritaña y volvieron entusiasmados.
El chófer me espía por el retrovisor. Es pelirrojo, pecoso, de cejas anchas y ojos saltones, oscuros. Durante todo el viaje no dice palabra.
–Si hubiese una buena carretera los turistas vendrían como moscas. Este litoral es mejor que el de Málaga y la vida mucho más fácil que allí. Por tres mil pesetas se puede usted comprar una casita de pescadores. La gente emigra y vende por nada.
Los alberos se suceden desnudos y lisos. Las cigarras zumban borrachas de sol. El suelo de la rambla es pedregoso y el automóvil avanza dando tumbos.
–Yo, en menos de diez años, he adquirido un pueblo entero. Ya se lo enseñaré a usted. Está después de Escuyos.

The village acquired by Don Ambrosio is la Isleta del Moro Arráez, in which, when Ramón Fernández Palmeral got to know it, I think in the 1980s,

uncle Antonio had just built an eight-room hotel and bar with a summer terrace, he had a vegetable garden near the little caves up behind which he watered with water which Pedro’s son-in-law brought in a tanker. Antonio died and left the business to his enterprising son, also called Antonio. There were other bars like La Ola and La Marina with a big terrace. There was a school and a church, but no doctor or chemist or shops. Now it’s a new apartment complex and it has lost its charm, its poetry, its isolation from the world.

Here’s what it looks like today:

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And here’s Orwell (On a Ruined Farm near the His Master’s Voice Gramophone Factory, found @ Michael Gilleland), who expresses rather better than Goytisolo why I’ll probably remain a virtual nostalgic miseryguts and read about, rather than visit, los Huevos del Moro and the Almería coast, particularly now the transitional era of buccaneer decadence described by Lenox has more or less come to a close:

As I stand at the lichened gate
With warring worlds on either hand—
To left the black and budless trees,
The empty sties, the barns that stand

Like tumbling skeletons—and to right
The factory-towers, white and clear
Like distant, glittering cities seen
From a ship’s rail—as I stand here,

I feel, and with a sharper pang,
My mortal sickness; how I give
My heart to weak and stuffless ghosts,
And with the living cannot live.

The acid smoke has soured the fields,
And browned the few and windworn flowers;
But there, where steel and concrete soar
In dizzy, geometric towers—

There, where the tapering cranes sweep round,
And great wheels turn, and trains roar by
Like strong, low-headed brutes of steel—
There is my world, my home; yet why

So alien still? For I can neither
Dwell in that world, nor turn again
To scythe and spade, but only loiter
Among the trees the smoke has slain.

Yet when the trees were young, men still
Could choose their path—the wingèd soul,
Not cursed with double doubts, could fly,
Arrow-like to a foreseen goal;

And they who planned those soaring towers,
They too have set their spirit free;
To them their glittering world can bring
Faith, and accepted destiny;

But none to me as I stand here
Between two countries, both-ways torn,
And moveless still, like Buridan’s donkey
Between the water and the corn.

Recent developments aside, I can’t help feeling it’s a shame Goytisolo didn’t visit Mojácar a few years later. From the picture Lenox paints, it sounds as if it might have done him some good.

There, and I didn’t once mention the PSOE or Algarrobico.

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  1. But Trev, the plásticos of El Egido are World Heritage a its purest. Worth the trip.

  2. For anyone who doesn’t know what Mr T Pot is on about, El Ejido is where they like to keep things white: from the sky, where all you can see are market gardening installations, and on the ground, where I believe it leads Spain in the number of attacks on North and sub-Saharan African workers. This is as close as you really need to get:

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  3. You may be a broad-minded geezer, but I’m not going to change corporate strategy on the off chance I’ll be able to convert half a dozen Rubber Man’s Club rejects to plastic.

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