Friday, September 18, 2009

Looking at the River but Thinking of the Sea

This one is about Spain in the early 80’s and our three children, Jessica, Amber and Daniel. We live in what was once one of the most beautiful places on earth, Mojácar. It is a Moorish village set on a mountain overlooking the sea with a river-bed running alongside and down the valley from other beautiful little villages that are scattered about in the mountains. An archeological and historical treasure-mine. Our house sits between the river and the village, on top of faint remains of an old Phoenician city. At the back of the house we have Old Mojácar, a tall, flat-topped mountain where they say Mojácar used to be thousands of years back and, on its lower slopes, there is also the site of a Roman cemetery. Roman pottery and Moorish coins and turquoise we easily found everywhere, even our wild-boar, Theodore, used to encounter pieces when rooting through the dirt and put them in his bath for us to find. A walk down the river or along the beach after a storm and you could come away with a jar full of turquoise.
Many of the villagers from these mountain villages had never actually been to the beach or set their big toe into the sea. It was enough for them to just see it from afar and wonder. They were all working people that lived off the land and there is no vacation from animals and crops. Even though the main mode of transport was the donkey and the trip by donkey only took a few hours - I made it many times myself - most of them never showed enough curiosity to make the effort.
One day, while on a trip to Granada which is the big city nearby, we passed many rivers until we came to one that threw the children into a frenzy of excitement. This river had water in it. You may not find that so wonderful but for our children it was the first time they had seen water in a river. Up until then, they knew that a river was for galloping your horse full speed for miles or learning to drive in Papa’s old Lada, for sheep and goats to graze or even for throwing escombro or rubble in English. The very idea that water came from the mountains in the river and went to the sea was unfathomable. The river wasn’t the only first for the day: in the city of Granada they saw for the first time stoplights, rode up and down escalators and elevators in huge shops full of all their dreams. They were so excited about the escalator that it never even occurred to them that you could actually buy some of these wonderful items. We left without having to spend anything. About ten years later Mojácar put a stoplight on the beach: it was never turned on and it wasn’t at an intersection but the school children would take a field trip down to look at it each year. After that Granada trip, we started taking the children on more excursions and exposing them to the real world. We still worried about Jessica when she later went to America because of things like walking on sidewalks, unheard of in Spain, or stopping at crosswalks again something never done in Spain, or talking to strangers, which is a must in Spain. She managed to handle all of these obstacles with ease so I guess the trips paid off in the end.
Once Spain gets a handle on some new thing they go crazy. First it was safety railings on the freeway with reflectors – we reckoned that the Governor’s brother had the company that made them - then came the roundabouts, which here include ‘through lanes’, abrupt turns, various signs hidden by bushes and pedestrian routes (inevitably ignored by the local transients) which are splashed through the whole ensemble. Lenox and I wanted to do a coffee-table book of Spanish roundabouts. The best one we saw – in Guadix – had seventeen ways around and through it but Mojácar is now proud to have some of the most unusual and useless roundabouts and traffic feeds imaginable. Then the road-designers introduced the sleeping policemen or speed bumps; after a trip to town you need new shocks on your car to deal with the stress of all the bumps. It is all in the learning process and in the interest in modernization and the search for tourist dollars.

No comments: