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.