More About My Entry Into Spanish Politics

It looks like being a busy time over the next four weeks. Yesterday was photoshoot day. Group and individual photographs for the manifesto document. Last Tuesday evening I spent a couple of hours at a meeting for foreign residents to hear their concerns and to provide thought for finalising the manifesto. Tomorrow morning I have a meeting to thrash out more of the detail and then on Tuesday evening I’m due to join the team at a meeting to listen to local business people, Spanish and foreign. Other meetings are held with different groups, those involved in sporting activities in the village, women, older people. We also need to sell the new team, though that must await the start of the campaigning period on 8th May. That’s already in my diary for the public presentation of the team to the voters. Javier, the alcalde for the past twenty years has passed the reins to Paco, a well-known and much respected man around the village: by day he is a carpenter, and he is also Hermano Mayor of the Cofradía. I can best describe that as President of the Brotherhoods, best known for their Holy Week processions as penitents, but busy with other works around the village as well. The only consejala standing for reelection is María José who has done sterling work over the past four years to build visitor numbers and boost our tourism industry. Otherwise it’s new blood all the way, apart from Kevin Wright, not a councillor himself but loved and valued around the village for his work through the Town Hall’s Department for Foreign Residents. As I said last time I referred to the elections, I am down at the bottom of the list so don’t expect to be one of those elected. So why stand? I said a few words about that at the meeting with foreign residents. First of all, I consider it an honour to be invited to join the team at all. Over and above that though, I have known the village since the autumn of 1983, first on holiday visits, then for a six month ‘test drive’ and for the last seven years as a resident. So I have seen the changes and can put the Partido Andalucista contribution into context. And it is a huge contribution. In 1983 while we were here there was a celebration to mark the presentation of an title that Frigiliana had been awarded the year before, when it was declared the prettiest village in Spain, amazing for a population of just around 2,000 people. The award was largely the result of the previous alcalde, Antonio Navas Acosta. With a keen interest in the history of the region, he was instrumental in the decision that the cobbled streets, which were in a parlous state, should be replaced not with concrete, but with relaid cobbles, and that these moreover should incorporate traditional Arab patterns picked out in a contrasting colour of cobble. He also had twelve ceramic tile panels mounted on walls around the historic quarter of the village, telling the story of the Battle of Frigiliana. So with the renovations and the award the stage was set to develop a valuable tourism resource. Except it didn’t happen. The elections of 1983 brought a change of political control and an alcalde actively opposed to the idea of tourism. He refused to allow coach parties to come up to the village. That was the continuing state of affairs until Partido Andalucista took control in the 1995 elections: twelve years of opportunity wasted. Back in 1983 it was still less than ten years since the death of Franco. The transition to democracy was even more recent, and this was a totally different village. Andalucía was traditionally a land of day labourers: some days you had work, some days you didn’t. It reminds me in that sense of dock workers in Britain in the forties and fifties - standing in all weathers outside the dock gates in the hope of being picked from the crowd to go inside and do some paid work. Hand to mouth. So just about every family had their plot of land where they could grow vegetables of various kinds, keep a pig and a few chickens, and so put food on the table. Almost every family also had one or more mules, the multipurpose farming animals that made all this possible. Housing was cramped, dark and damp. Life was better than it had been in the thirties and forties, but still had a lot of improving to do. Apart from the reconstruction at La Molineta (then a totally separate hamlet), and an upmarket development of villas at nearby Cortijo de San Rafael on the road down to the coast, there were virtually no foreigners living in the village and the great majorityof those came and went on holiday visits. The new village was still very sparsely developed with lots of open space. The cemetery was on the edge of the campo. Restaurant Orihuela marked the beginning of the village as you came up from Nerja. At the far end of the village, once you came to the junction of Calle Real and Calle San Teresa de Ávila, there was nothing more apart from the Ecce Homo chapel, and Cobos bar. Oh, and an irrigation channel where the women would still gather to do their laundry by hand in the cold water. Leaving the village there was a dirt road leading out into the campo to the family plots and eventually to the neighbouring village of Torrox. The ridges on the far side of the valley had no water supply and so were mainly uninhabited. That was recognised by the incoming PA administration and plans were soon drawn up to improve the daily life of the villagers. Tourism was on the up and up, and so was the building industry as hotels and apartment blocks were needed to cope with the growing demand for accommodation. Locally, Nerja was part of this growth and starting to offer job opportunities in construction and hospitality. As tourist numbers increased in Nerja, people increasingly came looking for holiday homes to buy in Frigiliana. This in turn speeded up the new building in the newer part of the village, as people were able to move out of their substandard homes - which were immediately renovated by the foreigners, providing work in the village - and into decent properties. Progressively from 1995, the road to Torrox was widened, the worst bends straightened and the whole road properly surfaced. This allowed development of housing out into the campo, and as the infrastructure crept along, first one ridge and then another became accessible and homes were foreign buyers start to spring up. A ring road was built bypassing the new village and solving the problem of roads not equipped for two way traffic. A programme of urban development was put in place, with a clear objective; no massive urbanisations, no high rise, everything to conform to a size and style which was in harmony with what already existed. Against the trend of Spanish villages declining and dying, Frigiliana was able to grow and until the global recession of 2007 was able to provide employment for its young people, as well as a whole range of leisure opportunities, a multisports centre and gymnasium, a municipal swimming pool and all weather football ground and a padel court and several others. All of this has happened since PA came to power in 1995, and to my mind, that is no coincidence. That is why I was only too happy to accept the invitation to be part of this year’s team, and give something back to the community that welcomes us and so many other foreigners to live in their village.


Spoilt For Choice (cont.)

If you prefer something British then your requirements will be well met at Splash, alongside the swimming pool on Calle Carlos Cano, at Fandangos, beyond Calle Chorruelo or at Balcon de Frigiliana at the bottom of Avenida Andalucía just before the roundabout at the entrance to the village. A restaurant pretty much in a category of its own is El Boquetillo on Calle San Sebastian, very close to the centre of the village. Andy the chef is from Scotland. He is a keen fan of street food and the two combine in one of his starters, haggis fritters. But the menu offers wraps, nachos, quesadillas, noodles, Thai curries, and imaginative salads. He is often called away to cater for big tours (this year's include X Factor, The Vamps and AC/DC) but his handpicked and personally trained staff know what he wants so well, that you will not know from the food or the service whether Andy is in the kitchen or not; they maintain the standard he has set. It also has the benefit of being unbelievably reasonably priced. In fact, we eat there every week unless we are away from the village. For something a bit more special and if you are prepared to lash out a few more euros you have a choice of four restaurants, all up in the Barribarto, the original Arab part of the village. The Garden Restaurant leans towards North African and Middle Estern flavours. As the name implies it is set in gardens with really good views across the village. Go up the stepped street, Calle Hernando el Darro until you come to an arch on the righthand side. Take this tune and continue up the hill. The Garden is on the right. If you carry on up to the top, you come to El Mirador, probably our favourite celebration destination. Rafa and his wife Rose Mary are from Uruguay and their menu is international in character and outstanding in quality. If, on the other hand, you ignore the archway and instead go straight ahead from Hernando el Darro up Calle Armagura, then you will quickly arrive at one of the newer restaurants, Oshun Gastronomy Lounge which specialises in Asian fusion, with a strong emphasis on fish and seafood. Like the previous two, it offers spectacular views from the terraces. The fourth restaurant is on again up Armagura until you reach Calle Alta. Turn left and almost immediately on your left is Adarve, a fitting name as in Arabic it refer to the walkway that runs along the top of a town's defensive walls which were once here. Primarily top quality Spanish with a with a wider, Mediterranean flavour. Anybody needing a celebration while in Frigiliana could do no better than one of these four restaurants. I have neglected to mention restaurants serving typically Andalusian or Spanish food. Despite the impression I may have given so far, they account for the great majority of the choices open to you. It is virtually impossible to get a bad meal or bad service. I shall just mention a handful that I particularly like, but try anywhere without anxiety. The oldest restaurant in the same family is El Tangay on Avenida de Andalucía. This is where you will find absolutely authentic traditional dishes of the Axarquía, the area surrounding Frigiliana. I love their soup with cabbage, chickpeas, jamon, chicken, chorizo and sometimes black pudding. It's your typical big pan always on the stove type of soup. Up the hill, heading back towards the centre of the village is Las Chinas, not, as you might wrongly assume from the name, a Chinese restaurant but traditional Spanish. In the centre of the village, much loved by coach parties is the terrace of Virtudes. If we're late back from the airport this is one of the restaurants that can usually be relied upon to be still serving. The Plaza de la Iglesia, opposite the church offers Taberna del Sacristan, with tables out on the plaza, a great atmosphere. Then heading down Calle Chorruelo you have a choice of two, La Bodeguilla or La Alegría del Barrio. Actually, La Bodeguilla itself offers a choice of two. In addition to the restaurant on Chorruelo, in the evenings when the weather is appropriate the original La Bodeguilla is open in a tiny, tucked away square just alongside the church. Is it any wonder I love living here!


Spoilt For Choice

We ate at a local restaurant on Saturday evening and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, though it was not the type of menu you would expect in a small village in southern Spain. But then we have plenty of places to choose from, forty seven bars and restaurants in total. What that means is that the visitor new to Frigiliana has a difficult choice. If you were here for a fortnight and were extravagant enough to eat lunch and dinner at a different place every day, you would still have to leave nineteen unexplored, which I guess is a very good reason for coming back to finish the job.
So, can I help you to narrow down your choices? I'll try. First, how do you want to eat? Spanish, British, ethnic or cosmopolitan.
To take the easiest group first, Sal y Pimienta on the Plaza de las Tres Culturas is a Polish restaurant serving authentic Polish food in generous quantities and at very reasonable prices. We mainly eat there during the winter as our aging stomachs find the food on the heavy side for the warmer weather. Two doors away, a German couple run an excellent pizzeria with an enormous range of pizzas to choose from. Apart from the classics the pizzas are named for local people. Everything is freshly baked, and again, prices are very reasonable. Next, on Calle San Sebastián, the main road through the modern part of the village, you will find an Indian restaurant. We haven't eaten there, but friends who have have offered mixed opinions, so you will have to judge for yourselves. Finally in this category is Al Fuente, on Calle Real, the main street through the historic village.
I'll return to this topic next time.


Local Elections

On Sunday 24th May Frigiliana goes to the polls. Four years have passed since the present administration took office so it's time to vote again. The system here is quite different to what happens in the UK. Firstly, on Friday 8th May all the councillors leave office, although there is nothing to stop them from seeking re-election, and matters are dealt with instead by the officials until the new council has been elected. So potentially we lack the continuity that is given to British local government by the tradition of annual elections with one third of councillors leaving each year. Having said that, there has been great continuity here in Frigiliana as the Partido Andalucista has held power for five terms, this latest in coalition with the two Partido Popular councillors elected in 2011. The second difference is that you don't vote for individual candidates, but for the person who is put forward by each party for the post of Alcalde, or mayor. In consultation with the party this candidate then selects a team who will join him or her in power if the party is successful. So when you go into the polling booth you vote for a party, not individuals. The result is then determined on a proportional basis. Each party polling above a threshold level is allocated seats according to the percentage of votes cast for the party. We have eleven seats to be filled, and so to govern alone a party needs a minimum of six seats. In 2011 neither Partido Andalucista nor PSOE, the socialist party managed this. PA won four seats, PSOE five and Partido Popular, the conservative equivalent, took the two remaining seats. PA was able to continue in power by forming a coalition with PP, something which gave rise to great indignation within the ranks of PSOE whose members and supporters took the view that they had won and had a moral right to take over. Sadly for them a moral right carries no weight in the calculations and PSOE and PP were so far apart in policy terms that there was no way they could have found enough common ground to form a coalition. My own sympathies lie with Partido Andalucista. I have known the village now for over thirty years and so I have witnessed its regeneration under PA control. So I accepted an invitation to be considered for their list, and following a meeting yesterday evening where I signed my life away and put my signature to an acceptance form, I am now a candidate in the election. Having said that, I shall not get overexcited. As I said, there are eleven seats to be allocated across three parties. I come in at number 12 on the PA list (a suplente or reserve). Even so I can make my contribution by taking the campaign to the foreign residents.


A Difficult Decision

Over twenty years ago I was diagnosed as having Type 2 Diabetes. I had gone to my GP on one of those "It's probably nothing, but...." visits. The outcome was diagnosis of diabetes which for the first six years I managed to keep under good control by diet alone. Then the blood sugar levels started to creep up and it was time to start on medication, so for well over fifteen years I have been taking a tablet each day, whilst still being strict about my diet and so everything has been fine. Just lately though, I have noticed what appears to be a change. Nothing dramatic, but in the end you have to take notice. My original symptom all those years ago was that I had the feeling that there was something between my bare feet and the floor which dulled the sense of contact. I expressed it as like having a sticking plaster on the underside of my two big toes. It turned out that this was nerve damage caused by gloopy blood not being able to get through the very small blood vessels. There didn't seem to be any change for the worse in that, so I gave it no more thought. However, a few months ago I started to mislocate the pedals occasionally when driving. I put it down to loose sandals, changed to a different pair for driving and everything seemed fine. Except that lately it has happened on a few occasions. Depressing the clutch pedal, I catch the edge of the brake pedal. Or going for the brake I hit the accelerator at the same time. On none of these occasions has there been any danger, but it has startled and alarmed my wife. I am aware that I have to move my feet consciously to where I know the appropriate pedals are, rather as you have to when learning to drive, instead of simply doing things automatically. The errors occur when I have to do something more quickly. Clearly, my level of sensitivity has deteriorated, and equally clearly that could be dangerous. So, I have taken a deep breath, admitted that there are times when we have to do what we would prefer not to. I have handed my car keys over to Mary. She will now be our driver. I'm still getting used to sitting in the passenger seat, and to accepting that her driving style is different to mine, but more competent than I can now be.It wasn't easy, but I know I've done the right thing.