Sunday, 29 April 2012


There is something about the way that the rain is running off of the roof onto the tiles around my house. It reminds me of England. Of dank days in winter when the insistent rain overflowed from the blocked gutters and dropped onto the sodden ground below; splodging into the mud, soaking the ground around the fuschia so that it grew stronger every year with beautiful purple and pink bells. Days when you do not want the TV to rudely barge into the room but want to be cocooned by the words spiralling out of a book. When red wine is the only drink to have. When getting dressed isn’t required. When only a warm deep bath will do, none of this showering malarkey. Sinking down into the warm water, bubbles around your ears, watching the condensation race with the rain drops on either side of the window pane. Warm, content, quiet.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Guernica Remembered

26th April, 2012 is the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Guernica famously depicted by Pablo Picasso in his artwork of the same name. The German luftwaffe and Italian Aviazione Legionaria caused widespread destruction and many civilian deaths in support of the Fascist Nationalists during Spain's civil war. Guernica stood between the Nationalists and Bilbao though it had not, up to that point, seen any fighting. It was seen by the Republicans as an important area to defend, a key strategic point. There were battalions of the Basque army in the vicinty and it was a place of refuge for those fleeing the Nationalists.

The bombing raids took place in the afternoon of the 26th April 1937 and resulted in three-quarters of the town's buildings destroyed with the remainder suffering damage. It allowed the Nationalists to take over the city with little resistance in the following days. An eyewitness account, a foreign journalist Noel Monks writing for the "Daily Express"- he was one of the first on the scene - gives an idea of the destruction,
...The only things left standing were a church, a sacred Tree, symbol of the Basque people, and, just outside the town, a small munitions factory. There hadn't been a single anti-aircraft gun in the town. It had been mainly a fire raid.
...A sight that haunted me for weeks was the charred bodies of several women and children huddled together in what had been the cellar of a house. It had been a refugio.
 Monks, Eyewitness, 1955
Picasso was commissioned to create a mural for the Spanish Pavilion at the 1936 Paris Exposition before the Guernica bombing. When news reached him of the atrocity he painted what was probably his first overtly political painting. The bull and the horse, symbols of Spain (the bull also used as a symbol for Picasso's ego) are central, though Picasso never gave a full explanation of the symbology within it. Also 'hidden' in the painting are a skull, a sword and the merging of some of the elements. Picasso's 'Guernica' has become one of the most recognised and talked about piece of artwork, copies of it are dotted around Spain including my locla town of Torre del Mar where it decorates the promenade. 

Talked about it may be but lessons have not been learned as was demonstrated on both sides during WWII and in various conflicts throughout the world since. Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but many refuse to see and hear.
Picasso's 'Guernica' as a tiled mural in Torre del Mar, Andalucia

Thursday, 12 April 2012

One Act Drama

There are lots of things I love about Spain – culture, attitude, food, weather – and there is one thing I don’t. Bureaucracy. Spain is not so much swimming in it as slowly going under, occasionally managing a gasp of common sense. So it was with trepidation that I took my car for its ITV, the Spanish equivalent of the British M.O.T. – an annual roadworthiness test. I was doubly concerned as, unlike the British version where you dump your car to return an hour later only to be told it’s failed because you have air-fresheners hanging from your rear-view mirror, I would be an active participant in the drama.

Not much is said when, having parked in the ITV centre’s car park you queue to have your paperwork scrutininsed, pay the €42odd and return to your car to wait your turn. In fact you do not have a speaking part at all. You are, however, an integral part of the production. Without you it would be a one-man show, interesting to a certain degree but lacking in the spark that interaction brings. You are the lynchpin that drives the action.

I returned to my car to find my indicator light dangling by its cable, as if someone had exacted a cruel form of torture upon it, leaving it partly blinded. I pushed it back in and hoped that there it would remain, for the duration of the test at any rate. My number came up and I drove round to bay 4 to await direction.

A man appeared at my window. I gave him the paperwork. Then he stood in front of my idling car and gave me instructions.
Side light,
Head light,
Full beam.

Left indicator,
Right indicator,

Turn the wheel left,
Turn the wheel right,
Water and Wipers.

He moved to the rear of the car.

Left indicator,
Right indicator,
Warning lights,

Fog lights.

He opened and shut the doors. Fastened the seat belts and gave them a tug. I smiled, he smiled.

Drive forward.
With strength.

A puff of black came out of the exhaust. Emmissions, but how many?

Drive forward.
He walked alongside the car until I had to stop on what looked like some child’s buildings blocks strewn on the floor.

Get out.
I stood by the side, behind the yellow line, hands behind my back with fingers crossed as I watched the car roll forward and lurch back, praying that the light stayed in.

Get in.
I was walked forward to the moving plates. A walkie-talkie was thrust in my hands and the inspector disappeared down some stairs.

Hand brake off.
The car moved from side to side as the walkie-talkie crackled in my hand.
Hand brake on.
No brake.
Now I was confused. He reappeared.

Drive round.
[Uh-oh. Not good.] I looked at him, an eyebrow arched in question.
The arms, the drive arms.
[I’d just had it serviced it had better not be.] Two men examined the car as with,
Handbrake on
it swayed from side to side.

Park over there.

I parked. I waited. I left the car and hovered behind the yellow lines as paperwork was updated. And then, the dénouement: was a sticker about to be presented to me to place on my windshield?
Yes, yes it was!
I smiled and in my car took my curtain call, the wipers giving a final encore.

[The sidelight popped out on the motorway slip-road two minutes later. I rammed it back in and drove carefully to the garage to have it fixed.]


P.S. This has to be THE most straight-forward thing you can do in Spain other than buying a beer and tapa.