In Benidorm there are melons

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Fiesta Melons

by Sylvia Plath

In Benidorm there are melons,
Whole donkey-carts full

Of innumerable melons,
Ovals and balls,

Bright green and thumpable
Laced over with stripes

Of turtle-dark green.
Chooose an egg-shape, a world-shape,

Bowl one homeward to taste
In the whitehot noon :

Cream-smooth honeydews,
Pink-pulped whoppers,

Bump-rinded cantaloupes
With orange cores.

Each wedge wears a studding
Of blanched seeds or black seeds

To strew like confetti
Under the feet of

This market of melon-eating
Fiesta-goers.

(1956)

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Sketch done by Sylvia Plath in Benidorm
and contemporary photo of the spot 1956

“Widow Magada’s house: pale, peach-brown stucco on the main Avenida running along the shore, facing the beach of reddish yellow sand, with all the gaily painted cabañas making amaze of bright blue wooden stills and small square patches of shadow. The continuous poise and splash of incoming waves mark a ragged white line of surf beyond with the morning sea blazes in the early sun, already high and hot at ten-thirty; the ocean is cerulean towards the horizon, vivid azure nearer shore, blue and sheened as peacock feathers. Out in the middle of the bay justs a rock island, slating up from the horizon line to form a sloped triangle of orange rock which takes the full glare of sun on its graigs in the morning and falls to purple shadow toward late afternoon.”  (1956)

I’m not quite sure what to make of Sylvia Plath. I had never really paid much attention to her work before, and I was never a great fan of Ted Hughes either; though forced to ‘study’ his poetry once. However, I’m interested in that period, 1956, when they were in Benidorm for six months, so I will go and visit the house where they stayed (59 Carrer Tomás Ortuño) later this week and take some photographs.

1956 is the year usually quoted for the general urbanisation plan (PGOU) but it is wrong: the year was 1955, I have been assured today by historian Francisco Amillo.

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Why Benidorm doesn’t need Guardian journalists

DSCN2927Benidorm has applied for status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The news was reported today in the Benidorm edition of Información alongside the ironically timed coincidental death of José Miguel Iribas, one of the most powerful voices for promoting the mass tourism model in the resort, who died of cancer aged 65: requiescat in pace.

 

Benidorm’s application for World Heritage site status will take from three to five years and will involve evaluation of the resort’s cultural contributions and its qualities as an example of a settlement that developed in a particularly unique planned high-rise urban scheme.  Its ecological and environmental contributions will be assessed as well as its place in history.

As a teacher in a local school, involved in continuous research into various aspects of Benidorm’s geography, history and culture, I can instantly see how Benidorm stands a very obvious chance of qualifying for World Heritage status. If you have read the history, and if you are aware of the local culture and the extraordinary connections in Mediterranean antiquity, the idea of Benidorm applying for World Heritage status is not very far fetched: it is simply a continuation of developmental ambitions begun with an outward international maritime world view going back centuries!

And yet the ignorant British flagship of modern sneering liberalism, The Guardian, had this to say in its dismissive superficial story about Benidorm’s application: “As it grew from a sleepy fishing village of 3,000 people in the 1960s to a destination of more than 300 skyscrapers…”  etc, etc, ad nauseum.

Wake up, Ashifa Kassam – the Guardian’s reporter in Madrid – because you just fell into the same trap that the C minus grade GCSE Geography students fall into in their Benidorm tourism case studies: “a sleepy fishing village suddinly beacame a tourism place beacuse of package tours beacuse my grandad said he went there in 1963 on a propelling plane.”  No, Ashifa Kassam, there was no sleepy fishing village: there was a town with long-standing international maritime connections, a vibrant political and cultural life, and an economy that ensured street lighting was installed in 1832, long before many parts of England.

And the Guardian then compounds its ignorance – its total ignorance – of Benidorm with another factually incorrect slur on the resort in an article about two French oceanography “researchers” who don’t seem to have done very much research at all.

“Take Benidorm, where in 1950 just 2,700 residents lived in a sleepy village,” writes the Guardian’s Stephen Starr. He is not much of a star, as he still thinks Benidorm was a sleepy village until it “saw its income fall in the 1950s with the closure of its tuna market. Locals turned to tourism.”

Well, no actually, Mr Starr. They turned to tourism in the mid-19th century, consolidated it in the 20s and 30s, then became involved in urban planning in the 1950s. See the stages properly developed, and don’t keep repeating the primitive C-grade Geography case study. We don’t read newspapers to be misinformed.  Here’s your homework, lad: some of the things you might have missed. There are many more.

https://geogblogcostablanca.wordpress.com/tourism-in-benidorm/1-1865-1925-exploration/

http://lamarinadahir.blogspot.com.es/2012/02/el-lliriet-de-thous-por-franca-galiana.html

Sylvia Plath, 1956 sketch of Benidorm

Sylvia Plath, 1956 sketch of Benidorm

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Back to the sources and an odd pastoral encounter

Last month I wrote about the Benidorm history morning organised by Benidorm town hall Today the history of Benidorm moved into the mountains and, not far from where I live in Finestrat, we began the long climb up the side of Puig Campana mountain in search of the ancient water sources of Benidorm.  These history tours are very well attended, exceptionally well organised, and demonstrate the residents’ appreciation for their own patrimony. As a geography teacher with an existing interest in the local water system, this was heaven!

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Start of the morning at the rendezvous point. A bus brought Benidorm residents up to the beginning of the track up the mountain. I pass this point every day on my way to work.

Finca Lliriet with Benidorm in the background

Finca Lliriet with Benidorm in the background

Between the 13th century, when the area was under Islamic rule, and the 1940s in the Franco period, this valley with its aquifers – fed by precipitation on Puig Campana -provided most of Benidorm’s water needs.  The Finca Lliriet is an ancient and feudal site going back to Islamic times and until the 19th century was still an important seat of political power. (The details of this were explained in the history morning but I have to research the main points as I did not really understand them on first hearing!) The main feature of the present run-down abandoned Finca Lliriet is the spring alongside the old ruined house: the Font de Lliriet.

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From this source, the water was channeled  down to Benidorm in aqueducts and via a reserve storage tank in the barranco Lliriet, the gully that leads down from the mountains onto the plain where Benidorm is situated.  But the Lliriet was only one source, and we had a long climb to find the second.

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As we climbed up higher we passed various water installations including a laundry point which clearly indicated a communal washing routine serving a small agricultural community – now lost in history – and early 20th century concrete installations for transferring the water from the aquifers to Benidorm.

However, the real high point of the trip – and literally a high point as we climbed up this morning in the hot sun – was the Font de Carrers.  This was the main source for Benidorm, which channels down into the same barranco Lliriet.

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The font de Carrers draws upon the limestone aquifers of Puig Campana and even after these past two years of drought (see Alicante drought on my geography blog) the spring is still giving a steady supply of pure water filtered through a vertical kilometre of Jurassic limestone from the prehistoric Tethys ocean.

The history of this water source goes back to the twelfth century under Islamic rule but the 20th century concrete tells a curious 20th century tale. In 1936 the UGT (Union General de Trabajadores) in Benidorm, which was a solidly socialist town throughout the Spanish Civil War, decided to guarantee the purity of the town’s water for the health of its citizens. They seized the rights to the source (which was on private land) and worked on the channel all the way to Benidorm.  They built a laundry point in Benidorm (later demolished after the civil war, to punish the local people for opposing the Franco forces).  Scratched into the concrete you can still see the impromptu inscription made by the UGT in 1936:

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It was the modern inheritors of the socialist tradition in Benidorm who organised this history trip today, and a good job they made of it.  The PSOE run Benidorm council.  I somehow forgot that (because we have the Partido Popular running Finestrat.) On the way down the mountain I was arranging with a councillor for the possibility of my students visiting Benidorm council to learn more about the development of tourism.

“We will have to see who is in power next year,” he said.

“Oh, yes,” I responded stupidly, “it might be the PSOE instead of you…”

This was a real slap head moment, but nothing like the really stupid slap head moment that followed.  I was introduced to an ancient citizen of Benidorm and told that he was a retired “pastor”.  After talking with him for several minutes about the problems of the Catholic Church in modern Spain, I noticed he was looking increasingly alarmed.  I thought for a moment he might be one of those ghastly Spanish liberal priests. But my mistake had been even worse than that.

“Why do you keep on about the Church?” he asked, rather desperately.

“I was told you were a retired pastor,” I said.

“Yes,” he replied. “I looked after my flock of sheep on the Sierra Helada until I retired.”

“Ah, look at that view of Benidorm from here!” I exclaimed, and made my retreat.

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I took Morris and his mother Rubí for a walk this afternoon and that went quite well. No misunderstandings or linguistic confusions. Life is so much simpler with donkeys.

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Just look at Morris’s ears, towering over the Jurassic limestone aquifers of Puig Campana. Not that Morris cares much about the sources: as long as his plastic water bucket is filled, he is happy.

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Wide angle donks

The following photos were taken today on the donkey field by Mark Edwards with a Go Pro Hero3+ black edition camera, a remarkably versatile camera not much bigger than a matchbox.  It would fit neatly onto Aitana’s Easter bonnet, but we didn’t try because Morris and Matilde were very keen to eat Aitana’sDCIM101GOPRO Easter bonnet…

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Animal abuse alert

This afternoon I went to see a donkey that I had visited before and to take him some carrots. He lives in what have always appeared to be very sad circumstances: enclosed in a cage of broken old bedsteads, alone and in a fairly confined space. He is always pleased to have some company as he is alone all day. His circumstances have always appeared poor but there did not seem to be sufficient grounds to make an official complaint. I have been advised against doing so, because I am quite close to the animal’s owners – just down the road – and my own animals might suffer a reprisal if it was known I have reported the owner.

Today I found the donkey in these circumstances. Its makeshift corrugated iron roof had collapsed into its confined pen, so the metal material was scraping on its back. It had no water apart from a plastic bucket with old stagnant water with scum on the surface. The floor had no straw and it was only able to lie down in a bed of its own manure. I am putting the photos here for inspection by the authorities I am contacting now: the police, the Donkey Sanctuary in UK for advice on procedure, and the Refugio de Burros in Madrid for advice on local action.

The location of the donkey will be provided in confidence to the authorities. Here are the photos.

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Update 9th April
I am surprised at the difficulty in getting appropriate information when you report an animal in such dire circumstances. I finally got some advice yesterday from Madrid, and the local police have been given the information about the animal. Looking at the situation today it is the same. The donkey has the corrugated metal roof collapsed on it and it is still locked in there. Nobody has yet acted on the situation. Appalling. Will try a different approach today.

Update 7 pm 9 April

I am pleased to say that some small action has now been effected. The local police have visited the owner of the donkey and he has been seen repairing the fallen roof and taking the corrugated metal out of the confined area in which the donkey lives. I would hope that the question of fresh drinking water for the donkey has also been addressed, as I told the police that this was just as important as the removal of the dangerous fallen roof.

I have to stand back from the situation, as I have gone through the official procedures and the substance of the animal abuse complaint I raised has now been addressed. I will continue to monitor the situation of this donkey and make sure that he is not put into such an alarming situation again.  I shall change my regular routes to travel that way at least once every couple of days.

In passing, I am very disappointed to record here (without mentioning any names) that I contacted some organisations and some prominent individuals who say they are concerned about animal welfare, and I raised my concern – with the photographic evidence – saying that I needed urgent advice and support.  I have still not heard from the main charity that receives massive individual donations to address exactly such issues as this one. Nobody got back to me at all.

Likewise some individuals who often put animal abuse issues on Facebook and other places have been online during the time I have been contacting them and received my request for help but ignored it.  I have removed them from my contacts list.  When action is needed, you need people who can do more than talk.

Once again, this matter has raised the need for safe refuges for mistreated animals, and I am still looking for support for a donkey sanctuary here in the long term. If anyone on the Costa Blanca who is interested in a long-term plan for such a project, please get in touch.  If anyone further afield is willing to suggest funding for such a project (again, in the long-term) please get in touch.  Such a project will only take off if a suitable team can be put together and funding/sponsorship is forthcoming.

The situation of this animal should be a clear sign that the need is there.  He should be taken into safe refuge rather than hoping a temporary fix will ensure his welfare.  At present there is no such obvious place to remove a donkey in dire need.

I am a one man operation, and I have far more work than I can really sustain, with four donkeys: I am also financing these four from my own pocket.  I cannot be a one man donkey sanctuary taking in abused animals too.  Please circulate this appeal to any you know who might support the future setting up of a local sanctuary Benidorm/Finestrat/Vilajoiosa.

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That Easter bonnet again

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Aitana’s Easter bonnet

Happy Easter everyone!  The project of the day is to get Aitana to Finestrat with a nice Easter bonnet.  She has worn hats before – summer hats, Christmas Santa hats, and even flashing antlers – and she seems to enjoy dressing up.  Or to put it less enthusiastically, she didn’t object quite so much as the other three donks.

The Chinese supermarket in Vilajoiosa provided a suitable straw hat for 1.50 Euros and some rather convincing fake flowers.  We can’t use real flowers because the hat will get quickly eaten by the donkey.  Here are the standard stages for the Easter donkey bonnet procedure:

The basic hat with holes cut out for donkey ears

The basic bonnet with holes cut out for donkey ears. A bottle of Estrella Galicia beer is an essential part of this stage, to summon up courage: the donkey may object to the trying on of the hat.

Testing the basic bonnet on Aitana before adding the flowers

Testing the basic bonnet on Aitana before adding the flowers

Adding an absurd quantity of (non-edible) fake flowers

Adding an absurd quantity of (non-edible) fake flowers

After half an hour's work and a bottle of Estrella Galicia beer, or three, there is obviously a temptation to try on the hat

After half an hour’s work and a bottle of Estrella Galicia beer, there is obviously a temptation to try on the bonnet

Success!  Aitana likes the bonnet. Doesn't she look stunning!

Success! Aitana likes the bonnet. Doesn’t she look stunning!

Now we are going to go and find the right view for the classic Easter bonnet donkey fashion shot

Now we are going to go up the hill to the view of Finestrat and Puig Campana for the classic Easter bonnet donkey fashion shot

Here is the shot: Puig Campana and Finestrat village in the background. Retweeted immediately by @FinestraTurismo but not yet booked for the cover of Vogue magazine. One day, Aitana, we must be patient.

Here is the shot: Puig Campana and Finestrat village in the background. Retweeted immediately by @FinestraTurismo but not yet booked for the cover of Vogue magazine. We’ll make you a cover girl one day, Aitana: just be patient.

Aitana showing off the Easter bonnet outside the Bar Cantonet, Easter Sunday evening. She attracted scores of admirers.

Aitana showing off the Easter bonnet outside the Bar Cantonet, Easter Sunday evening. She attracted scores of admirers.

Unfortunately, the mirror window at the town hall proved too much of a challenge.  Aitana suddenly saw a donkey wearing a weird hat and took fright.

Unfortunately, the mirror window at the town hall proved too much of a challenge. Aitana suddenly saw a donkey wearing a weird hat and took fright.

Rubí has been there before, so didn't get spooked by the mirror.  She just admired herself and wondered if it was Tuesday.

Rubí has been there before, so didn’t get spooked by the mirror. She just admired herself and wondered if it was Tuesday.

Update 8th April

For all the admirers of Aitana in her Easter bonnet, here is an earlier picture. I just found an old photo of Aitana as young foal in January 2012, being groomed by Alys.  (I notice it is still the same old green headcollar and lead rope too.)Aitana Jan 2012

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