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Showing posts with label Almería. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Almería. Show all posts

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Seeing Roquetas: The Same and Not the Same

View from our room at the Sabinal Hotel, Roquetas de Mar
The time we spent in Roquetas was delightful. It had been almost five years since we had been there, and we were prepared for some things to be the same, some to be different. That morning I had quickly reserved a room at a hotel whose name we knew, and whose main-floor public bathroom I had used before, as the hotel was between one of the Spanish language schools I had attended and the bus stop. But it was the first time we had stayed there, and it was in a different part of town--the "urba," or urbanization, or tourist area--than where we had lived before. So we really had the experience of being tourists in a town that we knew well enough that we didn't need a map but that we had some idea of where services, like the local Mercadona grocery store, were. We took advantage of the Mercadona the first night, buying cold drinks and then picking up comida para llevar, a takeaway pizza, on the way back to the hotel.

We also met up with some friends and acquaintances from the past. Mari Carmen, who cleaned for us then and was always a good friend and connection to Spanish life; now she is just a wonderful connection to Spanish life in general and a good barometer of what has changed and what has not. We were surprised at how clean and well-maintained almost everything we saw in Roquetas was. We did not see empty, half-finished buildings as relics of the financial crisis the way we do in the Torrevieja area. We did notice that many businesses had changed names, and Mari Carmen said that often a new place opened up and then closed two months later, but at least here it seems as though someone is able to invest in a new dream right away. We drifted around town to the bookstore and former art workshop, past the language school, to a new secondary school, by our old condo, down to the kiosk where we always bought the newspaper. We rekindled a lot of old memories, mostly pleasant.

And we took the local bus to Almería city the way we used to, because we didn't have a car when we lived in Roquetas, and walked up and down the Rambla, looking for the statue of John Lennon, who composed "Strawberry Fields Forever" in Almería. We ambled around the old city, where many of the old narrow streets have been converted into pedestrian areas. Almería, being a big city and the capital of the province, and not focused on tourism as Roquetas is, was not as spic-and-span clean and well maintained as Roquetas, but it still is a nice, comfortable city. Our favorite cafetería, Santa Rita's, on the Rambla, had disappeared from view, but its venue had metamorphosed into the Chester Café, a tapas bar "with an American theme." We each had a nice tapa ("shrimp in gabardine" (breaded) for me, and a mini-hamburguesa for Johannes. I spent more time than I normally would in the bathroom, reading the wallpaper that consisted of enlarged front pages of U.S. newspapers from the 1920s and '30s that all seemed to feature sea disasters of some kind. At one end of the restaurant proper were portraits of famous American musicians, all apparently black, and a facsimile placard from some unidentified music hall in some unidentified year, but you could get admission to a concert of Ray Charles for five dollars.

We returned to Roquetas and picked up our car, that we had parked at the big shopping center, the Gran Plaza, but not before we took a quick stroll through the Plaza, which had been new when we lived there. Here was where we saw the stark signs of the recession. Almost a third of the stores were boarded up, some announcing impending new tenants, many not. I guess the high rent at the fancy shopping center is enough to deter many dreams of starting a new business.

I did my part in improving the mall economy, however, when I saw the Desigual store, my newest favorite brand. "Desigual" means, literally, "unequal" or "uneven," even "changeable."  By extension, for this Barcelona designer, it has come to mean "unique."  I had bought a unique handbag for a colleague at a different Desigual outlet several months ago, and on my last trip back to the U.S. I had been unable to resist buying a blouse at the Desigual shop in the Alicante airport. Now here was a Desigual in Roquetas, once my home, and it had not been there before. Nor had I ever seen a Desigual with a 50% discount sale going on, so I got an early birthday present and now have a desigual dress.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Alcazaba in Almería

The Alcazaba in Almería rises high over the city and cannot be missed when approaching Almería from the west, which is the direction from which you drive when coming from Roquetas. We've been to the Alcazaba a few times before and found it to be a pleasant and ever-changing experience. The grounds of this ancient fortress and castle, dating from the 10th century, are well-maintained, with the terracing, water pools, gardens, and patios common to Moorish dwellings. Now that spring seems to be arriving in southern Spain, I was hoping to see some colorful flowers, different from the ones I had seen on previous trips in high summer and mid-winter.

Every time I had previously visited the Alcazaba there were several workmen present doing restoration work, and some areas were off-limits for visits. The only workmen I saw this time were gardeners who were busy pruning the various green plantings--bougainvillea and lavender hedges provided most of the color at this time, but I know that later there will be lots of roses. I hope the current economic crisis has not halted restoration of the Alcazaba, which has gathered much support from the European Union (EU citizens receive free admission, but no one checks passports).

It's impossible to walk the entire grounds in one visit. This time I saw a complete restoration of a Moorish home, with central patio and surrounding salon, bedrooms, and cooking area, all furnished with typical mattresses, tapestries, pots and ceramics, with detailed signage, though only in Spanish. One larger room is always devoted to a contemporary art exhibit, and though I've not yet attended, there are occasional musical concerts within the grounds.

As with most historical sites in Spain, no single civilization can lay exclusive claim to the Alcazaba. Though the structure currently standing was built in the 10th century by the Moors and exhibits mostly an Arab face, the Romans got there first, specifically the Carthaginians. Roman baths were being re-excavated the last time I was there, and last Friday the area had been cleaned up but is still waiting for some interpretation. The Christians laid claim to the area briefly during the 12 century and again later at the end of the 15th century, Los Reyes Católicos, Ferdinand and Isabella, expanded the fortress to defend their faith against the Moors. This visit I made it over to the far side of the monument, where the high stone walls have the usual round holes carved out to let cannon balls through, in case predators attempt to approach. They make good peep-holes these days through which one can view the lovely Almería harbor. But the cross on the top of the cannon hole serves as a good means of reminding modern visitors that it is not the Muslims alone who have waged holy wars.

The Princess of Canton, Ohio

We started out last Friday morning to visit the Alcazaba in Almería city but needed a cup of coffee to strengthen us for the steep walk. At 10:30 AM, folks were streaming in to a dark cafetería on Calle Real near the corner of Calle Infanta, so we joined the crowd, even though we had to wait a couple minutes for a table. There was plenty to look at while we waited. For no apparent reason, the walls were covered with ancient barnboard and pictures of old advertisements from the United States of the nineteenth century.

We found a place at a narrow wooden table that looked as though it once had been a wooden sewing machine base; on the end was a metal plate advertising Sears, Roebuck & Company. But what took my attention while we sipped our café con leche and shared a media tostada con atún y tomáte was the huge poster, composed of five broad barnboard planks, depicting "The Princess of Canton, Ohio."

On a separate poster I read that the Princess Plow Company was the successor to the Gibbs & Ball Plow Company and laid claim to being "Queen of the Turf" and "Pride of the Farm." But there was competition: An adjoining wall showed a much smaller announcement from Plano, Illinois, boasting that "We have captured the Gold Medal at the World's Industrial Exposition. Simplicity of construction. Small number of working parts....Good materials." I could not find the name of the Gold Medal manufacturer, and there was no mention of date or location of the World's Industrial Exposition.

Back at my desk this Sunday in Spain, I've determined that the World's Industrial Exposition was likely that held in New Orleans in 1884-85. The Miami University Libraries have put photos of some Victorian Trade Cards of the Princess Plow Co., up on flickr, and there are others available on eBay. And an Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements & Antiques, by Charles H. Wendel (2004), lists two Princess plows: one from the Carnegie Plow & Mfg Co., of Carnegie, PA in 1905, the other from the Princess Plow Co. of Canton, OH in 1892.

Perhaps the Princess Plow Co. improved on the Gold Medal winner at the World's Industrial Exposition. In any case, I know more about 19th-century farm equipment manufacturers, and Canton, Ohio, now than I did before stopping for a cup of coffee last Friday morning.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Roquetas de Mar

Very careful readers of this blog may have noticed a subtle change in subtitle. I started writing Sundays in Spain when we were living temporarily on Spain's Costa Blanca, near Torrevieja, in Alicante province on the east coast. We have recently moved back to the original place we started living in Spain more than five years ago, Roquetas de Mar. We have a large apartment in Roquetas that we have decided to sell, but like most real estate worldwide these days, it's not moving at lightning speed. Until such time as we sell and return to the Costa Blanca, we decided to settle once again in Roquetas, which is not at all a bad place to be.

Roquetas de Mar is located in the province of Almería, which in turn is a part of the comunidad of Andalucía, that broad region at the south of Spain that extends almost all the way from its eastern to its western border. The capital city of Almería is also named Almería and is a short twenty-minute drive by car or local bus from Roquetas center. Roquetas itself has about 80,000 inhabitants, spread among the villages of Aguadulce, El Parador, Roquetas old town, and the Roquetas urbanization (resort). It sits just next to the desert of Tabernas and in the midst of thousands of invernaderos, plastic greenhouses, which give three growing seasons for the agricultural industry that, with tourism, supports the area's economy.

I've written previously about the underground tunnels below Almería, and you will no doubt hear more about Almería, Roquetas, and Andalucía, in the weeks ahead.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Los refugios de Almería

Literally translated, the refugios are refuges. What the refugios are to the city of Almeria are a permanent reminder not to forget the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Deep (about 30 feet) below the surface of the main streets of this provincial capital city is a huge bomb shelter, tunnels stretching out in a continuous complex network linking the undersides of noteworthy landmarks up above. Constructed with pick and shovel, meter by meter, between February 1937 and the spring of 1938, the shelters eventually extended to four and a half kilometers (three miles). They were planned to protect 34,144 people at a time. The remainder of Almería's 50,000 inhabitants had to find shelter in the iron mines and caves surrounding the city.

Although Almería was not directly involved in fighting, it endured 52 bombings against military, strategic, and civil objectives during the three-year period of the war. How much time did people spend in these subterranean shelters? I did not hear an answer to that during our 1 1/2 hour tour walking through the tunnels, but we saw a kitchen, several branch tunnels with dirt floors for use as toilets, and an emergency room for women who went into labor prematurely due to the fright and stress of bombing. The tunnels themselves are wide enough to walk through two-abreast, with a rudimentary bench lining one or both sides of the walkway. People could enter the tunnels from sixty-seven access points at various points of the city--most newspaper kiosks had access, as did the hospital and the Cervantes theater.

Half a million people (500,000) died in Spain during its three-year civil war. Personally I feel the impact of the Vietnam War, which stretched over many more years and resulted in an appalling 50,000 deaths to Americans only. We are in the process of watching Ken Burns' epic Civil War drama on Danish TV and recently saw the Battle of Gettysburg: 50,000 dead in three days. I have also visited the small but powerful Resistance Museum in Copenhagen, which records the lives of people living for five years with oppressors. Each of these, as all wars, has its own horrors. But I am just beginning to understand the impact of what it must have been like to be in Spain in the late 1930s, in a civil war fought country-wide in villages and cities more than in the open country, with people having hard-to-know allegiances to Republicans or Nationalists, a war that attracted international attention, volunteers (especially from real socialists), and bombings from Franco allies.

The Return, by Victoria Hislop, portrays one episode of the Civil War in Almería, and more about the war in other parts of the country.