Friday, 10 April 2015

Tourist Information Cock-Up

A few weeks ago, some readers may recall, I posted about my eternal search for the Benalmadense cultural guide for the first three months of the year, in an article entitled "Where's the Culture in Benalmádena". I did eventually obtain one. Well, despite posting a link to the town hall's website it appears no lessons have been learned.

Today is the tenth day of the three month period which should be covered by the latest guide. But you are not going to believe it: they have not yet even been printed. Nor does anybody know when they will be printed, let alone distributed. The Oficina de la cultura were not exactly helpful: officious and unfriendly. They have one - yes ONE - sheet with this week’s events printed upon it. Yet again, this has not been distributed to the tourist information points. Once again, copies are not available to tourists nor locals. Has no-one heard of photocopiers? It is an absolute shambles and the Consejería de turismo (I could not find an email or web-page specifically relating to the tourism department - if you do, let me know!) should be ashamed of his/her department’s failure to get their act together.

[Image description: close-up exterior shot of the referenced tourist information office, bearing a sign which reads, "PUNTO DE INFORMACION TURISTICA"(sic)]

To make matters worse, the little tourist information office (constructed in the style of the Castillo Bil-Bil, and situated on the eponymous beach), which I frequent, has had its opening-hours cut. In the period running into high season, surely someone needs their bumps feeling! Yes indeed, if I wish to walk a further three kilometres, I can reach another office with longer hours. Well, thank you so much for being unhelpful! Tourists, I am certain, love to wander in a vain search for information!

Benalmádena is my second home, I winter here for my health and I have been visiting for thirteen years. If tourists cannot readily obtain information, they will form a poor impression of a place I have always found to be friendly and helpful. I worry that failures like this can so easily and so quickly irredeemably effect the municipality’s reputation, especially when there are so many other choices available to the modern traveller.

One wonders whether the politico in charge is some kind of fifth columnist determined to undermine the municipio's good name or simply just not up to the job?

[Image description: wide shot of tourist information office]

*

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

No good deed goes unpunished


"No good deed goes unpunished"
[English Proverb]


[Image description: statue of Christ paraded through Arroyo de la Miel]


Easter is a time when many ponder death, due to Christ's crucifixion. This Lenten period, Death unfortunately visited my family.

A few weeks ago my Grandmother died. It was not an unexpected event, for she had been sent to a nursing home for palliative care. Nonetheless, I still found the news a terrible shock. Her funeral was held a week last Friday. Saturday gone was the last day I shed a wee tear. On Sunday I woke up and felt my old self again: upbeat, optimistic and happy. After a month it seems that the time for mourning and crying is over. For all things there is a season as per the author of Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 so well wrote æons ago -

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.
       ……

Well, the funeral service was lovely: the minister had us crying, laughing, smiling, recalling Grandma. And I managed to say my own personal goodbye - somewhat histrionic; but thankfully the vast majority of mourners had exited.

I also succeeded in avoiding the evil clutches of my Mater; partially by  my companion permitting me to be rude and avoid crossing her path.

What is awful is that two of Gran's children did not attend (though one is actually recovering from a very serious op, which is fair enough; the other due to a family dispute!), nor two of her grandchildren (my two siblings), and none of her great-grandchildren (although two thirds are not children any more). This is given that my assistant made it from Basle and I from Málaga; but others could not make it across England…

I know my family is highly dysfunctional; but where was/is the respect for someone who gave so much, and so much love? All the good my Grandma did and at the very end she was disrespected, unappreciated and unloved by so many family members.

*

The next day I was mortified to discover my third Grandma (complicated story!) died last year; neither my Pater, my Mater, my uncle nor my aunt bothered to apprise me - how wicked, in my opinion! Felt like I had had a punch to the stomach… I did say my family is dysfunctional! At the time I was both upset and then really angry. I knew I had to let my emotions return to some kind of equilibrium before contacting the family. As I said above, on Sunday I thought myself to have achieved same; so I wrote to my family.


Dear [uncle], [aunt], [cousin] & [cousin],
After the funeral of my Grandma X, I received an added shock of discovering that Gran Y had died last year. I do not know when exactly, as no-one apprised me. Had I known at the time I of course would have made an attempt to pay my respects. As it is, I now take this opportunity to express my sympathies to you all.
Despite multiple attempts at contacting Gran, she never reciprocated. The last time I spoke to her I refused to reveal a matter involving another member of the family, in order to protect them. As they say, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Nonetheless, I never stopped loving and missing Gran and keeping her in my prayers.
I hope she is at peace now; perhaps, who knows, even with Grandad.
Yours,
I certainly do not anticipate receiving a response. I suppose one really is not required.

*

When my sister met her current husband, I loaned them some money interest-free in order that they could afford a mortgage and purchase the house with which they had fallen in love. When my first nephew was born, I took him out every Saturday. And when his brother was born, I alternated with my parents; so that my sister and brother-in-law could have time for themselves. But a little before my eldest nephew's fifth birthday, my sister fell out with me and never let me again see my nephews. She later fell out with her father-in-law, my Pater, and so on…

In September last year, now my eldest nephew has attained majority, I contacted him via facebook. Over the next six months we occasionally exchanged messages. In February I sent the following:


Hi Z,
I have been In Andalusia nigh on a month now. Settled into my apartment and cleaned it. And cleaned it again. Finally feel it's my (temporary) home. I am in Spain until mid May for health reasons - I come out every winter. I have this apartment till the end of April. After that I shall travel through Spain, heading North to Santander to catch the ferry back to England.
I do not know your position, whether in education or employment: however, if you wish to come out here for a few days, there is a spare bedroom. I'll feed and water you and can meet you at the airport. You'd just have to pay for your flights, etc.
If not possible this year, then something to perhaps bear in mind for future years.
Right-ho: time to eat my cake and finish my glass of wine…
 Your Uncle Colin %)

The lad's response was to block me with no explanation. I have no idea what the issue is: but it is certainly downright bad manners to fail to respond to an invitation whether positively or negatively.

*

These are just three examples from my own family where a good deed has ended up causing me more trouble. I suppose the point about the extract from Ecclesiastes is that there is a time for everything. Alas, we mortals can never know the right time to take action or to refrain from doing so. Even if we are not punished by some anthropomorphic god, we punish ourselves. But really, all we can do is make the best decision we can at any given moment with the information we have at the time. Hindsight might assist us in making better decisions in the future - but not always or even consistently. My advice - which of course no-one will heed - is do your best always and then you never have to beat yourself up over the repercussions.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Jolene: A Queer Perspective

This morning my Facebook feed contained a song link with this comment from Simon, an old friend of mine:

"A classic C&W song slowed down 25%. You might almost call it "The Revenge Of The Altos"... It's soulful, it's thoughtful, and for me it cuts through the sickly syrup of a modern Christmas. Enjoy."

Original deleted: here's a similar version - https://youtu.be/CMrfM711vXI

I responded:

"Simon, thank you so much for sharing this. I love the Dolly original. Slowing down the track, alters her voice to a more manly version which totally shatters the sexual dynamic of the tale; a fresh take on the eternal triangle"
Both my parents were into Country & Western music across the spectrum; although I do not recall either being particular fans of Dolly, with the exception of "Love is Like a Butterfly". Somehow or other, presumably from some show or other I heard "Jolene" and even as a boy was struck by the singer's terrifying  potential loss. No-one wants to lose someone they love.


This masculine-sounding rendering had me pondering whether any men had actually produced a version of Dolly Parton's "Jolene".


Regrettably, I am of an age where I am no longer musically literate nor up-to-date with much of popular culture, so all the versions I shall post below are by musicians, of whom I personally have never heard. In other words, I have not selected these versions for any ulterior motive. They are the takes that took me for some reason or other.

To whittle down the numerous versions of "Jolene" to the few listed here, I had to wade through some dire productions, dreadful line-dancing videos and shocking karaokes.

This first cover has an emotional delivery and a guitar-playing that had Simon filled with lust - not that kind:

"*converts self into electron stream, sneaks onto YouTube and Tunes. His. Damn. Guitar.* "



The White Stripes were a Detroit husband & wife duo. As far as I know, Jim White is straight. Nonetheless, he conveys the universality of the sentiment contained within Dolly Parton's lyric: the fear of losing a loved one to another suitor.


The lead in this next clip is a woman, but the duet is with a hirsute, bearded bloke, with the addition of three other menfolk, so I have included it within my remit. I have to admit the bands name, The Little Willies, also had something to do with me selecting it!


Can just imagine being in a night-club, sipping a whisky sour & enjoying this live. Ahhh, daydreams…

In contrast the next example is from an all-male quartet. This version makes me feel all eighties and brooding teenage angsty again - those were the days! Here goes, seat-belts on for Sisters of Mercy from 1983.



https://youtu.be/AdUHxFKCQBs

Men singing this track switches the sexual dynamic from purely heterosexual to queer,  depending on the character: (bisexual or) homosexual - singer; bisexual - man; or, heterosexual (or bisexual) - Jolene. In 1983, at the height of the AIDS panic, this sensibility would have been subversive.

Similarly, in current homophobic Poland, the song sung solo by a young man on a music television programme (program), Mam Talent III, can be perceived as a public declaration of homosexual love and a potentially seditious act. Here Piotr Lisiecki sings live and at a galloping pace:



Original video now deleted; but a similar version can be found here: https://youtu.be/7XF-oS9Dak4?list=PL1D802CC2B00383E1

Piotr eventually went on to produce an album which contained by far the most intimate version I have come across: it's almost unsettling, as if one is overhearing a private discussion. Well worth a listen!



This next one definitely had me laughing. West Coast meets hill-billy with a punk twist - ha, ha, ha! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Me first and the gimme gimmes singing "Jolene":



https://youtu.be/fBoTwOTKw0I?list=LLLwW4URJ5QNeofCbyooBTKg

And whilst talking of laughter, every time I watch this clip or the actual episode from American Dad, Steve's expression cracks me up! Go Roger!


On to another TV version. I am not impressed with the final Samuel Larsen version that made the GLEE album; on the other hand this audition is perfectly well executed, if a tad soulless perhaps?


Certainly Samuel's androgynous appearance, in clothing, hair and his epicene features adds a gender-bending hue.

It really seems that "Jolene" is now a worldwide staple of talent shows whether in Poland or in the USA (and later in this post even the UK). The following had me horripilating: the power, the gusto, the emotion of Dolly and re-interpreted as his own. Cody Belew performed this for The Voice in the States. Fabbo!


And yet again never heard of this guy: this final male version by Matt Cardle (apparently of X-Factor fame) had me sobbing and rapidly soggying tissues. Really powerful version. What a voice & totally live!


Matt "is known for his falsetto and being able to reach notes typically unusual for a male singer" according to Wikipedia. A voice that takes us full circle from Dolly with her delightful, slowed-down manly voice to Matt with his awesome, womanly voice.

Of course, this blog-post would be incomplete without the original Dolly version. However, here it is with a twist…


The clever juxtapositioning of Sherlock characters, Watson (singer), Holmes (man) and Moriarty (Jolene) with Dolly's version along with some very judicious editing of shots from season 2 finale The Reichenbach Fall are perfectly combined to create a purely queer melodrama.

It is quite clear that the song has resonance across the musical spectrum from rock to lullaby amongst both professional and amateur singers. A testament to Dolly Parton's word-smithing.


****

I have had to update as of 28th March 2015 as so many links had broken or videos had been deleted. Any problems with the links in future, do let me know and I can then try to rectify. Cheers, "Jolene" lovers! %)

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Maracas 3: Reseña de la comida (español)

Esta es la tercera parte de mi tríptico sobre el café-bar Maracas en Playa Bil-Bil: aquí se revisan las ofertas de comida. La primera parte consiste en un homenaje fotográfico y una viñeta humorística. La segunda parte es un himno a todos los camareros de todas partes a través del retrato de mi camarero habitual.

He estado frecuentando Maracas durante trece años - ¡aye, cómo pasa el tiempo! Tengo muchos, muchos recuerdos felices, incluyendo las comidas que he comido aquí. ¡Soy un entusiasta después de todo! He traído a todos mis amigos (que me han visitado en Benalmádena) para probar los placeres simples del sol, la arena y el susurro tranquilo del mar en la comodidad de una de las sillas de ratán de Maracas, mientras se toman una bebida fría y, a menudo disfrutan de un aperitivo o aún un plato completo.

Como he estado visitando Maracas durante tantos años, es poco probable en este artículo hable mal de la comida; todo lo contrario, por el precio y la calidad, comer aquí es lo recomendado. Por supuesto, no estamos hablando de la alta cocina. Sin embargo, después de haber comido en varios de los restaurantes frente al mar en la Playa Santa Ana (muy popular entre los turistas), en los que me he sentido completamente defraudado por caro, y, desde mi perspectiva de conocer mejor, la cocina de mala calidad. A modo de ejemplo, el año pasado pagué € 6 sólo por una ensalada verde de lechuga picada y rodajas de pepino. Una barbaridad en mi opinión. Sé que las empresas tienen que ganarse la vida: Maracas, por lo tanto, debe servir como un modelo. El año pasado “Maracas”, la ensalada de la casa, llevaba lechuga verde, maíz dulce, tomate, cebolla, espárrago blanco, huevo duro y atún y tenía un muy buen precio de € 7. Lo dice todo, ¿no es así? Por supuesto, con la inflación, etc., los precios tienen que subir de vez en cuando. A principios de este mes, los precios efectivamente suben. Así que la ensalada de la casa (junto con otros) ahora cuesta € 8. Y cualquiera que piense que la ensalada no puede saciar a uno, debo señalar que las ensaladas se sirven en tazones grandes y con una cestita de pan fresco.

Para aquellos que sólo quieren un bocadillo rápido, te recomiendo el sándwich mixto, jamón cocido, queso en rodajas y pan tostado con mantequilla. Al precio de € 3 esto no se ha encarecido. Con una copa de vino tinto frío (si no has probado esto, es bastante refrescante - ¡incluso los franceses lo hacen!) El costo total es de € 5. Uno no puede quejarse en eso.

Si el comensal está especialmente hambriento, el campero es tu opción; pero mejor que pedir para compartir.

Debido a los aumentos de precios, los menús se han encarecido. El chef en Maracas ha aprovechado la ocasión para añadir nuevos platos. Siempre dispuesto a probar algo nuevo, he optado por la ensalada pasta tricolor. La fotografía de abajo da una impresión de la taza, pero no bastante como para mostrar el plato en su plenitud. Como puede verse, una copa de vino rosado frío acompañó a la comida.

[Descripción de la imagen: ensalada pasta tricolor en la mesa]

Comenzando a las siete en punto, tacos finamente picados de un jamón ligeramente ahumado, despiertan el paladar. A las doce, las aceitunas negras jugosas, fuertes y picantes, con sabor de té fuerte; felizmente desafian al jamón. No soy fan de las aceitunas negras; pero si pudiera obtener un suministro de estos, las consumiría de buen grado. A las tres en punto, dados cremosos (tanto en sabor y textura), siempre tan levemente salado, de queso fresco con la espiga de queso de cabra. También había una dulzura en el queso, que contrastaba magníficamente con la salinidad de las aceitunas. A las cinco, el maíz dulce brilla perfecto. Tan jugoso que, aunque no fue a la barbacoa, tenía el mismo dulzor y sabor concentrados y intensos. En el centro del reloj están las piezas de pollo con la aparición de queso amarillo-blanco desmenuzado o pan blanco rallado. Increíblemente jugoso y con sabor a pollo real (¿cuánto pollo se ha encontrado que es completamente sin sabor, después de todo?). Y detrás de la cara del reloj, la pasta, cocida y servida al dente. Los colores del verde (sabio) y rojo (melocotón) que recuerda a tonos sepia. Una paleta impresionante para el paladar.

Existe una variedad de aderezos para ensaladas, incluyendo: rosa; francesa; cesa; yogur; yo he optado por la salsa de albahaca. Incluso en los llamados "buenos" restaurantes la ensalada puede estar aderezada excesivamente; esta salsa sin embargo tenía un toque muy ligero y por lo tanto conjugaba perfectamente con todos los otros ingredientes.

Mis únicas críticas negativas del plato son respecto a la pasta: la textura era un poco almidonada; y, no sé apreciaban los sabores del tomate o la albahaca en sus respectivas pastas. Esto puede ser por llevar cocida y después haber sido refrigerada; pero en un clima caliente, esto es más bien una necesidad. No obstante, sobre todo, la ensalada es un éxito definitivo y se pide de nuevo. ¡Disfruta!

[Descripción de la imagen: sándwich club de playa en la mesa]

No puedo terminar mi opinión sin hacer referencia a mi plato favorito de Maracas (ver imagen superior), su sandwich club, que consiste en ensalada, jamón, queso, huevo, pollo y tocino. A € 7 representa una comida abundante para uno. Y es ¡¡¡ de-li-cioso !!! %P



Monday, 23 March 2015

Maracas 3: Food Review (inglés)

This is part three of my triptych on Maracas café-bar on Playa Bil-Bil: here I review the food offerings. Part one consists of a photographic homage and a humorous vignette. Part two is a paean to all waiters everywhere by way of portraying my regular.

I have been frequenting Maracas for thirteen years now - my, how time flies! I have many, many happy memories, including of the meals I have eaten here. I am a foodie after all! I have brought all my friends (who visit me in Benalmádena) to sample the simple joys of sun, sand and the calming susurrus of the sea in the comfort of one of Maracas’ rattan lounge-chairs, whilst sipping on a cooling beverage and, more often than not, indulging in a snack or even full meal.

As I have been visiting Maracas for so many years, I am unlikely in this article to be castigating the food; quite the opposite, for the price and quality, eating here is to be recommended. Of course, we are not talking haute cuisine. However, having eaten at several of the sea-front restaurants on the popular Playa Santa Ana, I have felt completely short-changed by expensive, and, from my perspective of knowing better, poor quality cuisine. As an example, last year I paid €6 just for a green salad of some roughly chopped lettuce and sliced cucumber. Pretty outrageous in my opinion. I know businesses have to make a living: Maracas, therefore, should serve as an exemplar. Last year Maracas’ house salad of green lettuce, sweetcorn, tomato, onion, white asparagus, boiled egg and tuna was priced at €7. It says it all, does it not? Of course, with inflation etc., prices have to go up from time to time. At the beginning of this month, prices did indeed rise. So the house salad (along with their others) now costs €8. And anyone thinking, salad will not sate one, I ought to point out that the salads are served in large bowls and come with a small basket of fresh bread.

For those just wanting a quick snack, I recommend the sandwich mixto, boiled ham, sliced cheese on buttered and toasted bread. At €3 this has not become more expensive. With a glass of chilled red wine (if you have not tried this, it is quite refreshing - even the French do it!) the total cost is €5. One cannot complain at that!

If the diner is especially hungry, the campero is for you; but better to order it to share. That is, after all, the Spanish way.

Due to the price increases, the menus have been reprinted. The chef at Maracas has taken the opportunity to add new dishes. Always willing to sample something new, I opted for the ensalada pasta tricolor (tricolour pasta salad - bet you worked that one out for yourself!). The photograph below gives an impression of the bowl, but does not quite show the full 3-D mound of comestibles. As can be seen, a glass of rosé (copa de rosado frío) accompanied the repast.

[Image description: ensalada pasta tricolor in situ at table]

Commencing at seven o’clock, finely diced cubes of a lightly smoked, firm ham (a tastier version of luncheon meat!) awoke the palate. At twelve, roughly sliced, juicy, tangy, with a strong-tea-taste black olives quite happily challenged the ham. I am no fan of black olives; but if I could obtain a ready supply of these, I would be a convert. At three o’clock dice-sized cubes of firm, creamy (both in taste and texture), ever so slightly salted “queso fresco” cheese with the tang of goats cheese. There was also a sweetness to the cheese, which contrasted superbly against the saltiness of the olives. At five o’clock sweetcorn shone forth all its brilliant, perfect yellowness. It was so very juicy and, although it was not barbecued it had that selfsame concentrated, intense sweetness and flavour. In the clock’s centre were chicken pieces - morsels really - with the appearance of crumbled white-yellow cheese or white-bread breadcrumbs. Incredibly moist and with actual chicken flavour (how much chicken does one encounter that is completely flavourless, after all?). And behind the clock-face, the pasta, cooked and served al dente so did not collapse or go all soggy. Colours of green (sage) and red (peach) reminiscent of sepia tones. A stunning palette for the palate.

There is a choice of salad dressings, including: rosa/marie rose; francesa/French; cesa/cæsar; yogur/yoghourt; I opted for salsa de albahaca/basil sauce. Even in so-called ‘good’ restaurants salad can be over-dressed; this salsa however had a very light touch and thus perfectly pulled together all the other ingredients.

My only negative criticisms of the dish are in respect to the pasta: the texture was slightly too starchy; and, there were no discernible flavours of tomato or basil in their respective pastas. This may be accounted for by it having been chilled; but in a hot climate, this is rather a necessity. Nonetheless, over all, the salad is a definite success and I shall be ordering it again. It is also suitable for sharing - the Spanish way is for everyone to just tuck in. Enjoy!

[Image description: sandwich beach club in situ at table]


I could not end my review without referencing my favourite Maracas plate (see image above), their sandwich beach club, consisting of salad, ham, cheese, egg, chicken and bacon. At €7 it represents a filling meal for one. And it is de-lic-ious!!! %P


[¡Una versión española hará pronto!]