Archive for September, 2012

Neither flash or dance

September 29, 2012

I spotted a tweet this morning that said that a Flamenco flashmob dancing would take place in Valencia’s Plaza del Virgen at 11.30, which I assumed to be a.m. and not p.m. As far as I was aware, these are supposed to be spontaneous and unpublicised, at least as far as the public is concerned, although, like the opera one that was held in the Mercado Central a few months ago, they take a pretty lot of organising by the flashers and mobbers. But as the tweet came from the hubby of a professional Flamenco dancer and teacher, I assumed he would be in the know, and was simply offering a word to the wise, tipping the wink, as it were. Which supported the old English saying, ‘assume made an ass out of u and me’ – although it makes a lot more sense when said aloud.

So off I went in plenty of time to weigh up the lay of the land and try to find a good spot for a bit of Flamenco flashing. I saw a couple of Valencia’s finest Policia Local wandering around, and under the assumption (there we go again) that even if it the flashing was meant to be a surprise, the organisers would have let on to the police that there was something going on. But they hadn’t, so when the police chappie took out his list of events to happen in the Plaza on that fine morning it didn’t include a load of Flamencoists clapping their hands and stomping their feet. In fact, all that was on his list for this a.m. was that someone was supposed to be erecting a haima at eleven for a presentation for the city of Elche, but as it was well gone the time by then, and there was no sign of a big Arab tent, it looked as though that might be something else that might not be happening.

By 11.15 the Plaza was virtually empty, other than the criss-crossing of guided tour groups from some cruise ships berthed a couple of miles away, passing like trains at Crewe Central Station, careful not to bump into a tour from the competition.

At 11.25 even the tour groups had gone, and I had the feeling that the flashers would be Flamencoing all to themselves, apart from a group of six, dressed-to-the-nines, having a quick drag while waiting for a wedding party, and a small group of people feeding the pigeons.

Eleven-thirty came and went with nothing to show for it, but this being Spain I naturally assumed that it would start late, so I gave it a few minutes. Eleven-thirty-five came and went with not a trace of a clap, and I was hoping that someone from the tour group who were at that moment sauntering from Calle de los Caramelos would suddenly give us a twirl, or that the pretty, blond police lady might throw off her cap, let down her golden locks, and give us a bit of heel clacking. Nada.

Eleven-forty came, and I went, reflecting on the fact that the very reason I’d left Jerez de la Frontera after only five months of residence was that I couldn’t stand the bloody Flamenco caterwauling I was subjected to day-in-day-out, so why the hell had I come looking for it!

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.


Therapist, heal thyself

September 27, 2012

A couple of days ago I was out for another gallivant on my bike around Valencia. (In an interview with El Mundo newspaper last year I embarrassingly referred to it as my ‘Rocinante’, but there you go, we all make an arse of ourselves sometimes.) I was lost in the streets at the northern end of the city when I saw a shop front with the words Crash Therapy plastered across the roll-down shutter. It being Saturday afternoon, when in most other countries everywhere is open, and this being Spain, where even shop owners think they deserve Saturday afternoons off, the place was closed. Ahh…nice to know the world financial crisis isn’t hurting everyone.

Anyway…Crash Therapy. I couldn’t help wonder what it is. Is it therapy from when you’ve had a shunt in the motor? Or maybe it’s one of those catch-alls that means a crash course in therapy, a sticking plaster for all that ails you? Hmmmmm….

Over my decades I’ve experienced a number of therapies – in a purely journalistic way, you understand. I’m no nutter, it was all a matter of research so that I could pass on my experiences to those who actually were nutters, or those with ‘emotional difficulties’ as I should probably more correctly say, to avoid discriminating against the poor souls who need a shoulder to sob on and the (occasional) weirdos who bamboozled them and charge large rolls of the folding stuff for the pleasure of doing so – theirs not the suffering nutter’s.

One of the weirdest – and, frankly, the stupidest – therapies I came across was laughter therapy, a therapy so devoid of any natural humour that it is as much akin to a jolly good giggle as gouging out eyeballs is to giving you better night vision. We were encouraged to try the Lion Laughter, where you stick your tongue out and hold your hands like claws , No Money Laughter, which I should be pretty good at but as far as I’m concerned is no laughing matter at all, and, my favourite, Stick Your Arse in the Air and Feel Like a Total Twat Because That’s What You Look Like Laughter, and no, you won’t find a video about it, but it would sum up the whole friggin stupidity of Laughter Therapy.

The nearest I came to any short of crash in a therapy wasn’t so much a ‘crash’ as a bit of a thump. Gestalt Therapy is, according to Edwin Nevis “a conceptual and methodological base from which helping professionals can craft their practice”. No idea who he is, but he must be clever because I don’t understand a bloody word he said. Anyway, as far as my (thankfully very brief) experience of Gestalt went, the therapist leading the group sat a volunteer who was feeling intense anger at a family member in a chair facing another chair, on which a cushion sat. The cushion represented the person the volunteer was angry at, and they were directed to vent their anger at the poor, harmless piece of stuffing. As they were encouraged to let their emotions flow the anger poured out, along with a lot of spittle, even to the point of grabbing the cushion and punching it. We were told that this was to allow us to bring up past hurts and get them out without doing any actual physical damage to ourselves or our anger recipients so that we could face them and calmly say what we felt to ease our pain. This may have been the intention, but by the time we finished there were a few of those who had had a good pillow shouting experience bobbing about on their toes like a prize fighter at the beginning of a championship bout, ready to go out and give someone a bloody good smack. From moderately peaceful they had gone to raging bulls, and, as has often been my experience with therapies, were let out on the world with this new life experience without being prepared properly and without any support, unless, of course, they wanted to shell out the readies for a proper – and probably very long – course of treatment.

But I’ve wandered off Crash Therapy.

When I checked online I found a place used more for a ‘fun and feisty’ way of letting off steam than dealing with the lost inner child. It took me back to my youthful days in Manchester at the Kosmos Restaurant in Fallowfield where, if you booked a birthday celebration, you could indulge in the ancient Greek wedding tradition of smashing plates. (It’s also said that the tradition comes from when two lovers had to part. They would break a plate in half so they could match them together when they met years later. Have you ever tried to break a plate in half? It shatters into a dozen pieces – a bit like most of my relationships, come to think of it.)

You are stuck in a soundproof room, dressed in a boiler suit and safety visor and given the free rein of various destructive instruments such as hammers and baseball bats to give some whelly to twenty-five everyday items, including computers, printers, bottles and crockery, to the accompaniment of whatever music gets you in the smashable mood. The basic fee is €20, but for another tenner you get thirty-five pieces of destructables. (Although, frankly, the girl in the video doesn’t seem to handle bottles too well.) When all lies in ruins around you, you rest in a Zen room for post-smash chill-out, and you get a DVD of your smashing time as a souvenir. What a welcome break from the daily sanitised grind, and I’ll be back their toot sweet to relive my Manchester youth.

As far as I’m concerned, therapies and therapists are worth every dig they get, but oh! I do wish I could have come up with this, the best ever piss-take of therapists I’ve ever come across.

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.

It pays to have a guru on your side

September 6, 2012


I’ve often felt as if I was spitting in the wind as far as writing about the corrupt state of the Valencian government and the so-called ‘grand events’ and ‘iconic architecture’ of the city is concerned, at least in the English language. It’s well known about and often discussed among expats, but mostly any of the nicely nasty stuff is only reported in the Spanish press, and not always in any depth.

Yesterday was party time as far as I was concerned, when I joined a group on the ‘Ruta del Despilfarro’, the Route of Waste, which wasn’t a wander around landfills and rubbish tips, but a tour organised by Xarxa Urbana a collective of ‘street journalists’ (a title new to me) who show the fiscal and corrupt black holes of the city, from rampant over-costs of the emblematic buildings to the ‘disappeared’ EU money that was supposed to wipe out the use of portacabins as classrooms, or even complete schools. What we saw was the tip of the iceberg, but even what we did see justifies their comment that “the Valencian region is a byword for corruption in Spain”.

Plenty of us have known this and agreed with Xarxa Urbana long before we even heard of them but the ‘spitting in the wind’ was getting nowhere with the the hard-faced ne’er-do-wells of either the Town Hall, under the vice like grip of Mayores Rita Barberá (who makes Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher look like a purring little pussy cat), and the Generalitat, the regional government headed by Alberto Fabra, who’s probably wishing that Francisco Camps, his predecessor, hadn’t sold his soul for a couple of handmade suits, a minor part of the Caso Gürtel, the biggest nationwide corruption case since the death of Franco, and had had to resign before he ended up in court. (He won the case by a margin of one vote, which prompted the reaction of, “Yeah…and what did you expect!” from almost everyone except the sycophants of the Partido Popular, who both Lovely Rita and Camps represent.)

Xarxa Urbana have run these trips before, and are getting international coverage, but what must have been a painful poke in the eye for the Town Hall was that this time the jolly little outing was being covered by the BBC and, in the words of ABC an ulta-rightwing daily rag, in ‘the presence of Paul Mason, one of the stars of the BBC and guru of British economic information’, who just happens to be Economics Editor for Newsnight, in Spain recording for a special about our beleaguered country to be broadcast in Ocotober.

ABC’s headline ‘Colectivos vecinales cobran por desprestigiar a la Comunidad ante la BBC’ showed their disgust that the group were charging attendees four euros to ‘discredit’ the Valencian region in front of the BBC, but with every one of it’s fifty-five seats full, no-one appeared to be reticent about their reasons for being there – to learn more about the squandering of our money by the cowboys and cowgirls in charge of our city and regional governance. And many of those on the tour had their own stories to tell of political double-dealing and flim-flam.

As well as taking in the City of Arts and Sciences, and other ‘black holes’, the tour visited the port, re-christened Puerto Americas Cup in honour of the prestigious sailing event the city hosted in 2007. Now here’s a bag full of worms. As part of the contract to hold the race, Valencia Town Hall rebuilt the berths, put in a new access canal, built all the workshops and offices needed by the competitors – multi-millions of euros or our money, the total of which still hasn’t been full added up on Rita’s abacus – and then gave the whole lot, kit-and-caboodle to Alinghi the then current champions and hosts of the event. That’s right, not loaned, not rented – gave! They eventually got it back via the courts, but have since done nothing at all with it, despite it being right alongside Malvarosa, the most popular beach in Valencia.

The highlight for me was when we arrived at the port and the BBC crew began filming. A jobs-worth watchman came over and told us that no filming was allowed as it was private property owned by the ‘Consorcio’, and we’d have to leave. By this I can only assume he meant the Consorcio Valencia 2007, a private company set up for the America’s Cup under the administration of the Spanish government, regional government and the City of Valencia, in other words, a company run by taxpayers representatives with money paid from public funds. So, logically speaking, we were being thrown off our own land by someone whose wages we paid.

No-one moved, so dogsbody whistled up the heavier brigade, who arrived in his fancy lettered 4×4 (nothing more than showing off as Valencia is totally flat), a shiny leather belt with military-style gismos hanging from it, (although fortunately, no gun) and wrap-around shades.  We were duly unimpressed, which didn’t sit well with him. When he asked one of the associates of Xarxa Urbana for his identification he was informed that as he wasn’t the police he had no rights to ask for anything.

One thing you don’t do, though, is come the heavy in front of a camera crew, and it was pretty obvious  by the size of the camera and the pole mic hanging over Paul Mason’s head that this was no home movie in the making. As the semi-heavy continued playing the big boy I heard Mason say to camera, “Well, as you can see, the police have arrived to move us on.”

“Now that,” I thought, “is one clip that won’t end up on the cutting room floor!”

 I suspect there is going to be a lot more where this came from.

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.