Archive for August, 2012

Flowing red under the hot summer sun

August 29, 2012

The narrow streets run deep red in the blistering mid-day sun as twenty five thousand sweat-soaked, semi-naked combatants fight hand-to-hand, or hurl their missiles into the surging rosé stained crowd.

From the first gun, battlers from Argentina, Italy, Japan, Germany and all points of the globe will join with those from the four corners of Spain in sixty minutes worth frantic warfare, which will result in no more serious injury than the occasional bruised ego. 

It’s not blood that flows, it’s the sodden pulp of tomatoes – 140 tons of them. In a country that has more weird fiestas than America has ‘howdy-doody’ theme parks, Buñol’s Tomatina must be one of the weirdest.

At least the town doesn’t try to claim that the slinging of over-ripe fruit has any deeply hidden religious significance, but is the result, as one of the many stories of its origin goes, of an early form of karaoke. 

In the nineteen forties a resident of the town was wandering across the square in front of the town hall on market day singing – badly –  ‘Amada Mio’ from the Rita Hayworth film, ‘Gilda’, using a funnel as a megaphone. Shoppers and stall-holders alike objected to his raucous rendition and began to pelt him with fruit, and as some of it missed the intended target and hit other promenaders, a salad battle soon filled the square.

The following year a local civic dignitary was in the wrong place at the wrong time and found himself the centre of unwanted attention as youths gathered in the square (this time with their own tomatoes) to celebrate what was already becoming known as ‘the day of the tomato’.

Through bannings, prison sentences, public uprisings and even a parade for the ‘funeral of the tomato’, when a giant fruit was paraded through the town as a demonstration against yet another clampdown on their bizarre celebration, the people of Buñol fought to keep their annual mush fest.

On the dot of eleven on the last Wednesday in August, a single shot gives the signal for the group of men roped to the insides of enormous wagons full of ripe tomatoes to heave their rapidly decaying cargoes onto the eager crowd cramming the Plaza del Pueblo, the main square of Buñol. 

The orgy of squashing and slinging begins as an avalanche of tomatoes are gathered up and hurled around the square. For an hour the crowd, dressed in the robes of bhuddist monks, wearing huge Mexican sombreros, luminous waistcoats, and any other outrageous outfit it deems suitable for the occasion, slithers in the bright red slush, until on the last chime of twelve a second shot is fired and the exhausted throwers sink wearily into the puree.

They don’t get long to settle though, before a swarm of town hall staff, volunteers and neighbours swoop down on them with hose-pipes, buckets and brooms. While the worn out revellers drag themselves to the showers in the Municipal swimming pool, the Plaza del Pueblo is scrubbed spotless in less than an hour. Picture a strip of tomato burnt onto edge of a pizza, and then imagine what a hundred and forty tons of the stuff would do if left to dry in the scorching August sun.

 

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, Spain Uncovered. Articles and books can also be found at Digital Paparazzi.

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Mangling the language

August 28, 2012

 

One of the banes of a journalist’s life is that there is always someone willing to prove you wrong. Usually I don’t enter into the debate, accepting that everyone has a right to their say even if it’s contrary to mine. It’s not their fault that they are wrong. But I made an exception to the rule a short while ago when someone sent an email to a local magazine I’d written an article for about Spanglish. Contrary to what you might think, this is being recognised as a genuine developing linguistic form, and the article was a serious attempt to explain the current situation, backed up by research and reasoned argument stolen from elsewhere. But there is always one dickhead, isn’t there, and in this case he’s called Northill.

The basis of Mr Northill’s letter is that my article was uninformed and contrived, being that it did not deal with the hybrid ‘language’ used by the ex-patriot community on the Costa Blanca, something he quite correctly describes as ‘a bastardised conglomeration’ – unfortunately about the only point we agree on. If Mr Northill had read my article in a less deprecating manner he would have noticed that, virtually from the beginning, I say that the Spanglish currently in use in the US is forming the basis on what may or may not become an accepted language in the dim and distant future, just as Yiddish is an amalgamation of a number of north European languages and dialects but eventually became recognised as a language in its own right. In fact, there are a mere thimbleful of languages that aren’t and conglomeration of something else.

The article never refers to the manglings of Spanish used by many European residents in Spain and was never intended to. If it helps them get by, all well and good, but I don’t think it can be equated with the content of my article, which was trying to explain the gestation of a possible new language and not the chomping of the linguistically inept.

I’m sorry my research did not satisfy his rigid criteria. Unfortunately I don’t have such a person as his good old barman friend from Todmorden, currently being ‘mine host’ in Calpe, as a font of idiomatic study who he quoted as saying “Quiero un fat lippio?’ when threatening an overly boisterous customer, and translated it into ‘Would you like a smack in the mouth?’ I’m sure even Mr Northill has enough knowledge of the Spanish language to know that ‘Quiero’ refers to the person speaking so his friend was actually asking for a smack in the mouth! Correct me by all means Mr Northill, but please make sure your own examples aren’t rubbish before you do so.  Sadly, while researching my article all I had access to was a Professor of Spanish at Amherst College in America who is an authority on Spanglish, and a journalist colleague, Alex Johnson, one-time editor of the Madrid-based magazine The Broadsheet who, before he unfortunately had to return to England, wrote widely and wonderfully on all things Spanish. Incidentally, I also referred to the work of one of Spain’s most noted Hispanicists, Tom Burns, as part of my research. Unfortunately it would seem that the combined knowledge of these three gentlemen is as nothing to Mr Northill’s pal from Todmorden. I will inform said professor immediately that his attempts to codify and classify Spanglish are mere gobbledygook and, to quote Mr Northill’s rather sad and unnecessarily insulting comment, ‘a load of old cobblers”. I am sure the professor will desist his labours forthwith.

I have no wish to enter into a debate with Mr Northill or a diatribe against him. I bow to his vastly greater knowledge of the idiomatic mumblings of the foreign residents on the Costa Blanca. But that is not Spanglish, Mr Northill, especially the rather crude examples you give. That is the corruption of an elegant language to cater to an individual’s linguistic inabilities. A far different kettle of palabras.

But Mr Northill’s comments did make me think of something that hadn’t crossed my mind for years, something, for want of a better phrase, I called Aggreviated English.

My first experience of ‘Aggreviated English’ came from our local fruit and veg delivery man, but before I tell you about his particular form of ‘aggreviation’, let me explain just what the term means. It’s not simply an abbreviation of the language, nor is it just an aggravation; it’s a combination of both, an abbreviation which aggravates – hence ‘aggreviation’. It’s probably a lot simpler to give an example than enter into a linguistic discourse.

When I was a boy living on a council estate just outside Newcastle-on-Tyne, Jimmy Ball delivered the fruit and veg on an old cart pulled by a tired old dobbin called Trudi. Jimmy could be heard approaching because of his call, starting as low growl in the throat but ending with a high pitched bellow – ‘Hurookinapperyetomarays’. It never occurred to anyone to ask what he was actually saying, we just recognised it as Jimmy’s call and went to fetch the canvas bag we kept the vegetables in. I probably wouldn’t know even now had I not seen Jimmy sitting over a pint in the local pub, a few years after he retired, by which time I’d acquired enough teenage confidence to ask him what he’d been shouting all those years. He seemed genuinely surprised that I should ask.

By then my ear was becoming attuned to the simpler forms of aggreviation; the rag-and-bone man’s ‘Raaagbo’, starting loud and dropping rapidly, ending on an abrupt ‘o’; the newspaper vendor for the Evening Chronicle who had a strange hiccuping sound in the middle of his ‘Roooonico-o’, but Jimmy’s was much more prolonged and intriguing. The phrase he’d been spouting as he travelled around our streets for almost three decades, totally unaware that no-one understood a word of what he was saying, was ‘Cooking apples, ripe tomatoes’. Not the most earth shattering of pronouncements, but I was glad to have found out at last.

As a further example of this new discovery in lexicography, where does the ‘H’ go when Essex man drops it? I can tell you. It packs its bag and heads North up the A1 to be welcomed with open arms by the Geordie Pub Singer, where it joins forces with ‘A’, as in ‘hat’, to add a whole new set of sounds to the muzakal repertoire. Frank Sinatra’s classic ‘My Way’ now begins ‘Hen nowa, hthe time is neara, hits time to face the final curtayna.’ A further aggreviation is added if the singer is a devotee of the late Nat King Cole. Nat was renowned for stretching the vowels in his songs, so that ‘Blue Moon’ became ‘Bluuue Moooon’; perfectly acceptable when he sang, and in keeping with the tune, but when the GPS tries to Cole it he has neither the vocal dexterity of the ‘King’ or the breath control. Sinatra’s classic now becomes ‘Hen nowaaaaaaaa, hthe time is nearaaaaaaa, hits time to face the final curtaynaaaaaaaaaa.’ with a wavering warble in the final ‘aaa’s’ as he runs out of breath. (There is a Southern version of this syndrome where the ‘h’ and the ‘a’ are replaced by ‘hu’ pronounced as the ‘u’ in ‘gut’. Thus – ‘Hutake me to the moonu, an let me play humong the starzu.’)

These days there are dictionaries available for every form of terminology, so why not an Aggreviations–English Dictionary. For example, ‘Knava, k’nava, please may I have……..’,  it could include regional variations ‘Divnaa, div’naa, (Northeast), I don’t know.’, ‘Issmecompuo, Iss’me’compu’o (Manchester), it is my computer.’ It could lead to a whole new world of understanding. Or, more likely, it would lead to a whole new world of aggression when we realised exactly what it was someone had said to us. As a working class character in a television play once said, after suffering a diatribe from a haughty upper class bit of totty, ‘Sorry darlin’ I didn’t understand the insult.’ Perhaps it’s better that way.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, Derek Workman, and Spain Uncovered. Articles and books can also be found at Digital Paparazzi.

Moving the goalposts

August 26, 2012

(Translation below)

A couple of weeks ago in The Scratch Olympics I wrote about how sad it was that the Valencian city council was closing or blocking access to sports fields and areas of disused land that people were using for relaxation, while the multi-million-euro white elephants the Town Hall had built in a promotional frenzy now lay dead and deteriorating.

One of the groups I’d spoken about in The Scratch Olympics was a gathering of Latinos who used a disused section of road as a volleyball court. In their parsimonious wisdom the council had placed enormous concrete blocks across the road, effectively blocking access and moving on the people who had used the patch of waste land as a weekend sports ground. But you can’t keep folks down, and on my regular bike ride around the city this evening I saw a great example of simply ‘moving the goalposts’.

Within a ball’s throw of the City of Arts and Sciences, the flagship of Valencian architecture and tourism, now known by the acronym CACSA but more honestly labelled by its former abbreviation of CAC  is the huerto, the market gardens that used to supply much of the city’s vegetables, but are now used more for private consumption. There were also a number of small factories at one time, now not much more than the odd half demolished wall and patch of rubble-strewn wasteland.

A modest stroll from CAC is a tarmacked area that would probably at one time have done service as a car park for a small factory. This isn’t particularly difficult to divine, given that it still as the ghost of white lines marking car parking bays, and half-a-dozen larger yellow-lined ones to accommodate lorries. Of the building there is nothing, other than a dog-leg length of wall about two metres high and fifteen long. The shorter right-hand wall would seem to have done service as a kitchen in a past incarnation because a three-metre length has at one time been covered in white ceramic tiles, most of which are either missing now or heavily graffitied. Sticking out from this wall is a waist-high section about half-a-metre deep, also tiled, so we can assume it was a work surface of some description.

At around eight-thirty this evening, with a (thankfully) cool breeze wafting the patches of weeds surrounding the car park, I watched a fast and furious game of four-a-side volleyball, the two teams differentiated by the way that uniform-less teams have done for generations – one team played stripped to the waist while the other kept their T-shirts on. Whereas there had only been room for one net on the disused road, here there were two, both with courts carefully outlined. Along one section of the wall was the breeze-block and plank bleachers, probably brought from the last spot, and on it sat a mixed group of males and females and all sorts of ages, barracking and cheering their respective teams.

On the kitchen worktop, four ladies in pinnies hustled between two two-ring Calor gas burners with great pans of something steaming away, and a plank-topped trestle table where the ingredients were being prepared. An old chest freezer, its rusted top covered with a length of plastic table cloth, tied around with string to keep it in place, made grace as a table, and an assortment of leprositic old chairs and empty plastic crates made up the seating. Three ten-litre cool boxes made a perfectly acceptable bar.

A dumpy lady from the ‘kitchen’ waddled over to the referee with a packet held in her hands, a paper cone with a fork sticking out. She handed the fork to the ref and he took a stab at the cone’s contents, sampled it and handed the fork to a compadre at his side, who did the same. Whatever it was obviously passed muster because the cook waddled back to the kitchen with a smile.

The game kept on, even as the evening started to fade, and I wandered off on my bike wearing a smile, happy in the knowledge that someone had given the finger to Rita Barberá and her misery-guts cronies at the Town Hall, and had simply got on with enjoying themselves in these trying times. And I suspect that if the gaping hole in the fence that allows them access is wired up they’ll simply move on somewhere else…and somewhere else….and somewhere else.

(Translation: No, not prohibiting someone from peeing on your spaghetti, Mexican Spanish for ‘Prohibited, walking on the grass,’ a sign put up to stop some kids playing volleyball, so they blocked the street and played there.)

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, Derek Workman, and Spain Uncovered. Articles and books can also be found at Digital Paparazzi.

Reach out to me

August 25, 2012

One of the greatest joys of the English language is that it is in constant state of flux. It always has been and, hopefully, always will be, at least so long as we don’t have an English equivalent of the Académie Française or the Real Academia Española, who wiggle their fingers around in the linguistic pot, trying to scoop out anything that might offend their dear-heart sensibilities as regards the purity of their language.

I can’t say I’m overwhelmed by texting shorthand such as ‘c u 4 t’, although I suspect that anyone who uses shortcuts on a regular basis is never likely to want to meet for tea, me or anyone else. (If you want to know just how complex this lingo can be, have a look at http://www.netlingo.com/acronyms.php/) It gets worse when they come to you in a language you don’t understand. I received one that signed off with ‘B7’ – a total blank as far as I was concerned until a Valenciano-speaking friend explained that beset is Valenciano for the Spanish word beso, a kiss, the number seven in Spainish is siete, therefore B7=beset=kiss. Not much of a shortcut if I had to get it explained to me.

So no, I don’t have anything particularly against text shorthand just so long as no-one uses it with me. What does bug me, though, is the way that our language is being changed by using totally false intimacy throughout the internet, which, far from actually creating any form of friendliness or confidence is succeeding in doing nothing but really getting my back up.

A couple of days ago I had to write to bitly.com, the file-shorting website, because I wasn’t able to paste the urls I needed to shorten into the box provide. I explained what my problem was and had an email back from a young lady who shall remain nameless, asking a series of question so that she could help me resolve the problem. I answered them in as much detail as I could. When she replied she did so with an introduction that I’ve been getting for a while now on emails from ‘across the pond’, which I dearly wish they would keep there. Below is my reply.

Hi.

Nothing has changed. You just told me to do exactly what I said I’d been doing in my first email but without success. The link won’t paste. I’ll use the keyboard or another file shortening system.

One question though. Why do so Americans now reply to an email by saying, “Thanks for reaching out,” whether I’ve simply sent an email or made an enquiry. I haven’t ‘reached out’, I’ve simply sent an email or made an enquiry. It’s almost as if I’ve put out a begging bowl asking for alms. What on earth is wrong with simply saying, “Thanks for your email”, which is perfectly friendly and doesn’t treat the recipient as if they are lesser in some way because they have to ‘reach out’ for help? It’s another case of false intimacy, like calling people who answer online questions, ‘Happiness Engineers’. Happiness has nothing to do with it, they are simply people trained to answer questions and help resolve problems, perfectly acceptable and important, but they do not provide happiness, they simply set themselves up for ridicule.

Sadly, ‘reaching out’ didn’t do me a lot of good because, as I said above, and despite sending all the information you asked for, you just told me to do exactly what I said I’d been doing when I ‘reached out’ in my first email, but without success.

Regards,

Derek

The ‘Happiness Engineer’ is in relation to an enquiry I sent to WordPress about a problem I had. To be fair, the answer I received did resolve the problem, but it was the ending that got me. The charming lady who helped me signed herself off as a ‘Happiness Engineer’, a term that I find particularly nauseating, (see above). This was my email to her, and her reply.

Thank you, I’ve done that.

 Whoever thought of the title Happiness Engineer? Don’t you feel embarrassed by it? It’s one of these awful examples of having to say something different when it really isn’t necessary. It’s like someone saying ‘Thank you for reaching out to me,’ when you sent them an email. I didn’t reach out to them, I sent them an email. It’s as if I held up a begging bowl. What’s wrong with good old ‘Technician’ and ‘Thank you for your email’?

You’re welcome, Derek, and no I’m not embarrassed at all.  I don’t know who thought of the name.  But as cheesy as it might sound, it means more to me than just “tech.”  Most people here have non-standard job titles.  It’s just a part of the culture — and if you ever meet an Automattician in person, you’ll see the titles fit.  You might check out a local WordCamp to see what I mean.  (http://central.wordcamp.org/ )

A couple of points here. The company who set up WordPress, and offer a whole lot of other software, is called Automattic, and it would seem that anyone who works for it is called an Automattician. I don’t remember anyone ever being called a Woolworthician, or a Marks and Spenserician, or, coming even more up to date, a Googleician, (although if they cotton on to Automattic it might not be far off). I suppose it could be a play on ‘mathematician’, but if it is I’d rather they played with something else.

I had a look at the site  suggested, and was reminded of nothing more than the happy-clappy, save your soul, be the bestest person you can be sort of events I went to a few times years ago, when you could say I was more open minded – although I’d say I was more brainwashed and easily influenced. You could see that the attendees were just the sort of people who would love being called ‘Happiness Engineers’ and be every so glad you ‘reached out to them’, and I’ll be forever grateful for the wonderful work they do to make life easier for me, digitally speaking, even if I do find their language more Klingon than comprehensible.

But please, stop destroying my beautiful language with your inane attempts at being my pal. I’m not asking you to use the language of Shakespeare because, to be quite frank, I don’t understand him and I think it’s vastly over-rated. But answer my emails without assuming I’m ‘reaching out’ to you, and realise that by calling yourself a Happiness Engineer you are more likely to be taken for a red-nosed clown than for someone intelligent who might be able to help me resolve a problem.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, Derek Workman, and Spain Uncovered. Articles and books can also be found at Digital Paparazzi.

A real load of old CAC

August 11, 2012

In the noncommital, typically prevaricating politician’s way, Alberto Fabra, President of the Valencian Community, said that while they haven’t had any concrete offers to buy the City of Arts and Sciences, they will consider serious proposals. You would think that a city as drowning in debt as Valencia is would snatch the hand off anyone even slightly interested in taking control of a  skeletal white elephant that has been haemorrhaging money since the day it was conceived.

There is no doubt that the City of Arts and Sciences is a stunning complex, a series of futuristic buildings, gardens and large pools, but as a science museum it is about as much use as a plastic baking tin, full of tedious and tatty exhibitions that occasionally inform but rarely enthral. (Known by the acronym CACSA these days, it was originally referred to by the more simple CAC, which adequately describes the museum, given that it is a load of shit.) I was asked to write an article about the best places in Valencia about six years ago and tried to get a quote about CAC from a friend in the tourist office. She wouldn’t give me one, and neither would anyone else there because they were all embarrassed about the appalling exhibitions that were the norm, and were receiving increasing volumes of complaints on a daily basis – and nothing has changed.

To be fair, they got one thing right, the catering for private events is some of the best in the city, and until the recent collapse of the economy was about the only thing they made money on. A few years ago I was invited to the launch of Mike Oldfield’s 97th version of Tubular Bells, a major digital release that took you to cartoon worlds where you could navigate your way at the touch of a button, all the while accompanied by the tingly-jangly of digitalised metal tubes. Hundreds of the great and good of the music industry, and, this being Valencia, their brothers, sisters, boyfriends and girlfriends out for a free meal, gathered in the IMAX cinema in the Hemisferic. Seven minutes into the show the modem supplied by the museum feeding the complex mixing desk where Oldfield reigned shut down, and despite the composer’s fuming and blaspheming wouldn’t kick off again. I didn’t care, as far as I was concerned it was a load of CAC anyway.

If the museum was gutted and simply used as a party space (a couple of years ago they gave permission for weddings to be held there) it would be of no great loss to the city, and at least Valencia would still have the emblematic structure that it punts worldwide to show what a funky, hip, now sort of place it is … yay, bro, and all that. But what has been increasingly getting up the nostrils of both locals and opposition politicians alike is the vast losses that we residents are funding, not to mention the catastrophic over-costs that the Town Hall and the regional government and have been playing down for years.

Inevitably, trying to unearth a true cost for the project, which includes the Hemisferic, Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe, l’Umbracle, the, Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, and latterly, the Agora and Pont de l’Assut de l’Or bridge, is a bit of a lucky dip, and sources vary, but it is said that the final cost, by the time the Agora is finally, if ever, finished, will be 1,300million euros – thirty times Santiago Calatrava’s original bid.

Okay, I can accept that some of the increase has gone on new projects that Calatrava only had vague ideas about when he first put his designs forward, (and despite public acclaim, he was only one of the designers, the other being Félix Candela from Madrid – it’s like people thinking Raymond Loewy designed the Coca Cola bottle; he didn’t, and despite never actually saying he did himself he never denied it either, and people believed the myth for years). However, in 2008, Jose Luis Villanuevo, Director General of Projects for the Town Hall, claimed that the overpayments were because the architects – without actually mentioning Calatrava by name – had to make modifications to the project. Some modifications! And there’s been a certain reticence until lately to admit that the original agreement gave that nice Sr. Calatrava the right to charge a percentage of the finished costs. He’s already been bunged 94 million euros – more than twice his original bid for the whole project, fees, building and all. How much will his final bill be?

Rumour has it that those long stairways at either end of the science museum were one of those ‘modifications’ because dear old Cally forgot to include fire escapes and slapped them on only after being forced to do so by the fire authorities

Sadly, Calatrava has become a bit of a one-trick pony – and a dangerous one at that. His design for the l’Assut de l’Or bridge that links both sides of the riverbed between the Oceanogràfic and the Agora, has such a severe rake that you can’t see any traffic on the opposite side and whether the traffic lights are on red or green. There has already been one death attributed to this shortcoming. Murcia city council has just had to fork out 60,000 euros to lay a non-slip surface on the Calatrava-designed bridge between the barrios of Vistabella and Infante Juan Manuel, because of the number of people falling on their arses when it rains. Bilbao had to do the same with the Zubi Zuri bridge, also designed by Valencia’s favourite son.

Favourite son of Valencia Santiago Calatrava may be, but he makes sure the city of his birth and the one that has handed him enormous quantities of greenbacks over the years doesn’t see a centimo in return from him. His official residence is in Switzerland therefore denying the Spanish government of millions of euros in IVA, and it might be nice if he handed back the two million he trousered from the farce of the Auditorio in Castellon, where he was granted the contract by Francisco Camps, the disgraced ex-president of the region – without any public competition, and which was canceled before a design was put on paper. And as if the lake of dinero the Town Hall lets him swim in wasn’t enough, they even gave him a ‘thank you’ of a historic building on Plaza de la Virgen in the city centre. They got a poke in the eye when a local newspaper reported that during the building’s restoration some metal beams with the Town Hall’s stamp were found covered over alongside the architect’s new home. And despite protestations and denials all round, there were enough eyebrows raised over the idea that as if it wasn’t enough for the snout to be firmly in the trough it looked as though peelings were being gathered directly from the kitchen as well.

Here’s your chance to have your own private museum, IMAX cinema, water-park and enormous empty shell in the shape of a Grecian helmet – but you will need to be able to throw about 50million euros a year down the toilet if you do. And why not; that’s what the Valencian government’s been doing for years while claiming the place to be one of the world’s greatest tourist venues.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, Derek Workman, and Spain Uncovered. Articles and books can also be found at Digital Paparazzi.

The Scratch Olympics

August 5, 2012


While the Olympics is going great guns in London, doing its best to justify the price tag that has  blossomed like one of the spectacular fireworks at its opening ceremony from an original estimate of £2.4bn to anywhere between £13bn and £24bn, depending on who you believe, I came up with an idea as to how Valencia could host the Scratch Olympics to bring it back to international sporting prominence without having to divvy out the vast, toilet-flushing quantity of readies that it lavished on its two major white elephants, the Americas Cup and Formula 1. Unfortunately, when I went to review some of the sports arenas I had in mind to stage the events in I found that our Mayoress, Rita Barberá, she of the calm disposition and well considered word, and her cronies had pre-empted me.

We’d have no problem with cycling events because the Town Hall is very proud, and down-right boastful, of its 130 kilometres of cycle lanes. It was while I was tootling around on a stretch near the Municipal Cemetery a few months ago that the seed of the Scratch Olympics was planted.

A three-lane in either direction dual-carriageway has been built along the southern side of the city, needing a series of new intersections with traffic lights. At one of these new intersections a bend in the road has been cut off and a set of traffic lights put in place. Alongside the now defunct section of road was a patch of open scrub land, and an enterprising group of Latinos, mainly Cubans with a smattering of Bolivians, and Ecuadorians, had created a couple of improvised volleyball courts. One end of a length of plastic netting had been strung from a pole hammered into the ground in the scrub land, and the net stretched across the road and anchored to a chain link fence on the other side. They’d even gone to the lengths of marking the outline of the courts with white paint.

On weekend afternoons groups and families of all ages, women included, picked three-a-side teams to wage volleyball war, although that might just have been their spirited way of playing, but it looked pretty ferocious to me. Sweat poured off short brown bodies, most of which were decorated with a tattoo of some description, and dribbled down the waistband of gaudy baggy shorts. Families sat on a rag-bag of plastic chairs under brightly striped beach umbrellas eating spicy tortillas, while teams waiting for their turn sat on bleachers made from a plank supported by a pile of breeze blocks at each end. A few entrepreneurial souls surreptitiously sold beers from a cool box hidden under a blanket.

In contrast to the three-a-side teams of the Latinos, fifty meters along the road on a patch of dirt surrounded by chest high weeds, a group of Indian men played their version of volleyball, and with teams of up to nine-a-side you wonder how everyone got to hit the ball. Shorts and T-shirts, vests and traditional dhoti, tracksuits, jeans – a wardrobe as varied as their gastronomy and culture. Aficionados squatted on their haunches or sat cross-legged on torn-off pieces of cardboard shouting out advice to the players, just as they would in any Hindustani village. On the other side of the cycle track a group of men lounged on the lawned area below shady palms watching their friends steaming in the sun. Where much of the Latino game, with teams one-third the size of the Indian’s, seemed to be based on simply getting the ball over the net, the Indian’s play a much more team-oriented game, aware of their team mates and using each in his position.

Watching the Latino game reminded me of a time a few years ago when I went to a very basic neighbourhood sports ground in Cabañal, the historic section of the port area that lovely Rita has been trying to drive into the ground for her own political ends by dumping all the problem families in the city and allowing it to fester as the drug dealing centre of Valencia. A working-class and ex-fisherman’s enclave, it still had a sense of community, despite the Town Hall’s machinations, and the sports ground was a focal point for grans and granddads to come and watch the kids thrash around a football pitch made of sand, alongside the bigger boys of the Sunday leagues being much more serious, as if they were taking on Barca at Mestalla, Valencia City’s home ground. At the beginning of the afternoon the sand pitches were carefully marked out, but by half-time there was barely a white line recognisable, which made the ref’s job a bit uneasy.

As I was sinking a one euro bathtub of Spanish brandy at the small caff I saw four dumpy Cuban ladies come into the ground pulling behind them their trollies full of the weekly shop. One of them lifted a basketball off the top of her Mercadona bags and they walked over to one of the three volleyball nets, leaving their trollies in a neat row just outside the marked court. For twenty minutes they knocked the ball between them and then returned to their shopping, packed the ball away, and sauntered off home.

I went back last year and discovered a barren plot, the café, groundsman’s office and toilets demolished and the goalposts pulled over. All that was recognisable from the boisterous community sports ground I’d visited earlier were the faded white lines of the volleyball court. Alongside the wasteland was a super-dooper new sports pavilion, fully equipped and functional, but which had been closed within a few months of it opening because there weren’t the funds to run it. Rita and her bare-faced cronies kidded no-one that this had been anything other than a ruse to clear the original sports ground to make way for a road extension she’s been trying to ram through the courts for the last couple of decades, and has been making the lives of Cabañal’s residents hell, despite having lost her case all the way up to the European courts.

While I was down in Cabañal I took a ride to Valencia’s biggest white elephant, the port built for the America’s Cup, which has spent the last four years slowly becoming a semi-wasteland. I watched three young lads of about twelve jumping off the pier into the canal that once saw the pride of the world’s racing fleet sailing up it, but now sees nothing more than the joy-riding catamaran that takes giddy party-goers for a wiz around the bay. The kids were having a great time, so at least we had the spot for the Scratch Olympic diving. At least they were, until two officious jobs-worth’s drove up, one on a motorbike and another in a van, and gave them a stern bollocking, both of them writing the youngsters names down in their notebooks, before watching as the poor kids gathered up their clothes and wandered shame-faced away from the water. Job well done, chaps.

Not deterred by the past, though, I took a ride to the volleyball courts beside the municipal cemetery. The road section had been blocked off with heavy concrete bollards to stop access, and the piece of totally barren and unkempt land had been fenced off at the only reasonably open area, where I’d watched the Indian’s having a great time a few months ago.

So perhaps I should scratch the idea of the Scratch Olympics. We’ve got a world-class velodrome where nary a bike rides, an America’s Cup standard port which hasn’t seen a boat in four years and a Formula 1 race circuit that drivers hate and has been run at a loss since the day it was built and won’t even see any more cars racing because the race has been cancelled for the foreseeable future, because of the bankrupt state of the city, no doubt exacerbated by the 21 million euros they hand over to Bernie Ecclestone each year for the pleasure of letting him run his vastly loss-making enterprise in this fair city. But sadder still, all those free open patches of land or basic cheap-and-cheerful neighbourhood playing fields and sports grounds are now either derelict or off limits for anyone who simply wants a knock-about with their pals.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, Derek Workman, and Spain Uncovered. Articles and books can also be found at Digital Paparazzi.