Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Cats (B)

When we first arrived in Las Pinedas my beloved late wife Fay and I spent much time trying to imagine explanations for the two 10-litre containers of bottled water which to this day still stand on the front step of our immediate next-door neighbour’s house. We have could think of no credible explanations. The two bottles stood there, defying the mind. What were they there for? Finally Fay determined to ask our neighbour Maria-Carmen during that moment of truth every morning, when the ladies go out in their kaftans and dressing-gowns to buy bread from the gossipy bread-lady who seems to arrive a little later every morning, such is her appetite for conversation as she drives the fresh bread around. After Fay had ordered a large integral (a baguette made of whole-wheat flour) and my neighbour with more mouths to feed had bought the necessary five loaves and seven dulces (sweet powdery cakes), the question was finally put. The answer? The big bottles were put there to deter the local cats from peeing on the front step. This is a big issue in Southern Spain, where in the great heats of high summer the villagers like to sit out on their own front steps at night, enjoying the cooler evening air before trooping off to bed sometime after mid-night. Of course in those circumstances you wouldn’t want a cat to have got there before you. But what part do the water bottles play in cat-prevention? Aha! You see it is widely believed in this part of Spain that cats are frightened by their own reflections. (This belief .may have its origins in the superstitious connection of cats with witches – who certainly did some strange things with mirrors!). So along comes the cat, bent on a crafty micturation, eyeing up your door-step beadily to that end, when to its horror it catches sight of another, identical cat stalking towards it from inside a 10-litre water-bottle! Obviously it hurries off and pees on someone else’s less well-protected door-step. As President Bush once said: ‘Mission accomplished!’.


Cruising down the E5-A4 autovia from Cordoba and passing La Carlota on your left, you are unlikely to notice the modest rooftop sign ‘CLUB’ unless you are passing by night, when ‘CLUB’ is lit up in a modestly immodest glow of red neon. Driving up the E5-A4 from Seville and passing La Carlota on your right whether by night or day, your eye cannot fail to be attracted by the brazen display of ‘S’CANDALO’ with its three floors of discreetly shuttered windows, the thatched Hawaiian fun-lounge in its garden, and opening directly into the garden, a large lorry park, brightly lit and with security camera surveillance, where a row of immense trucks is usually to be seen, in waiting for their drivers’ obligatory period of rest to end and the drivers themselves to return manfully refreshed to their cabs and resume their pleasantly interrupted journey. S’CANDALO is certainly the more colourful of the two bordellos, one at each end of town, which constitute La Carlota’s main claim to cultural fame. Recently S’CANDALO acquired a 4WD Toyota Landcruiser, with the number soixante-neuf prominently displayed in white upon a pink heart, and a snorkel of the kind used by military vehicles for fording rivers – suggesting the possibility of new revenue-streams from under-water sex. The S’CANDALO group is nothing if not entrepreneurial. One recent summer they put up a large hoarding beside the autovia approaching Malaga (where they also have an operation). The slogan, purloined from L’Oreal, read: S’CANDALO, porque tu le merece!’ – ‘because you are worth it!’. Despite strict EU rules against motorway advertising it was not taken down for quite a while.

S’CANDALO’s status in La Carlota was much enhanced when the fuel giant BP, in a joint venture with El Corte Ingles (Spain’s ultra-respectable equivalent to the UK’s John Lewis), opened a large garage plus lorry-washing facility immediately beside the brothel. The lorry-park, too, is part of the BP garage complex. The act of the driver washing his lorry before abandoning it in the lorry park conveys a faintly confessional nuance, albeit that the sin for which absolution would most probably be required is more likely to come after the lorry-washing than before.

The apostrophe in the name S’CANDALO, incidentally, is a concession to the local demotic. Speakers of authentic Andaluz do not pronounce the letter ‘s’. Mas o menos (‘more or less’) becomes Ma o Meno. Nicholas becomes Nicholä. And S’CANDALO becomes ‘CANDALO, pronounced with a slight click of the throat on the initial letter ‘c’.

The more downbeat CLUB by contrast stands between a builders’ merchants and a transformer park. But the car-park always has cars in it. The cars are lined up under the sun-shelters sideways-on so that their numbers cannot be read if their owners’ loved ones happen to be driving by. What CLUB lacks in bzazz, it nowadays makes up in metaphysical aspiration. A shining new Tanatorio – the much more imposing Spanish word for crematorium – literally a deathatorium – has opened up immediately across the old main road from CLUB. Now it is possible to ‘die’ metaphorically many times in CLUB before dying finally one more time on the way, as it were, to the Tanatorium.

Overshadowing all these wonders, however, is La Carlota’s Luna Club, with its modest strapline ‘solo parejas’ – only partners – identified simply by small doorway into a large warehouse on La Carlota’s main industrial estate. The Luna Cub was recently described on television as Europe’s biggest wife-swapping club – though one wonders how the producers could be certain.

Everyone in England knows that wife-swapping happens mainly in Essex, that the invariably male drivers of cars throw their keys in a bowl, that the ladies pull the keys out of the bowl and go off to spend the night with the owner of the car, waking up the next morning in Chelmsford, Chingford, Clacton or – less believably – in Frinton-on-Sea. But now imagine pulling the car-keys out of the bowl in La Carlota and waking up the next morning in Frankfurt, Lake Balaton or Lodz (which rather disarmingly if you happen to wake up there, is pronounced Woodzh). Obviously this could not work in geographical terms. The rather depressing reality revealed by the TV programme is that the punters enter two by two like the animals in the ark – one is reminded that Noah also decreed ‘solo parejas’ - pay their money at the door and each receive a mask. After that I guess a kind of low-light speed-dating goes on until everyone is exchanging body-fluids with someone they have probably never met before, but who also, beneath the mask might be their husband or wife revitalised by disassociation…and on that basis the evening can be pronounced a success.

That said, I confess the night-life of La Carlota is a total mystery to me. At the far end of the Poligono – the curious Spanish word for a business park – are three immense and shiny discotheques. By 9pm, which is the latest I have ever been through the area on my way back from late evening lengths in the municipal swimming pool – they haven’t even turned their outside lights on. There is a second Spain which only starts to function when the rest of Europe has gone to bed. The Spanish love the madrugada, the small hours of the night. The air is cool. It is a good time to enjoy. It is a good time to be naughty. Late-night naughtiness is the ultimate Spanish Vice. It has certainly contributed to the Spanish financial crisis, along with an overhang of more that 1 million unoccupied and unwanted dwellings, most of them flats bought off-plan with a view to easy profit. Punitively expensive employment laws, which boost the black economy and destroy government revenues, are another aspect of the Spanish economy. It is difficult to believe that Spain will not be colonised by China in the next generation or so. The Chinese are unsmiling, they have no duende and do no bull-fighting, but they are prepared to work so much harder than the Spaniards. Chinese shops have arrived on the Spanish high streets already


1/. Dying, as in the joyful ‘I die! I die!’ was a much-used Restoration Comedy metaphor for sexual climax. I once tried to explain this to my Spanish teacher, without total success.