A quiet, booming little town
Now that I've got you up here, at the base of the Torre del Rayo on the peak overlooking the sea, I can show you the tops of the whole town of Carboneras. That's it, down below us to the east, where the shining blue sea ripples up into the double-curved beach. "La Puntica"("The Litte Point") is that narrow point of the beach that juts out to divide the near curve from the further one. About 5,000 people live year-round in that cluster of white buildings, denser near the water and especially crowded in a section just inland from the "puntica." (People hereabouts use "-ico" and "-ica" a lot for their diminutives. Supposedly it's an Aragonese speech habit, not general in Andalucía, that came here when Fernando of Aragón settled the area with people from his home kingdom right after the Reconquista.)

Actually, you've probably already seen this town, or certainly the surrounding countryside. It figures prominently in the movie "Lawrence of Arabia" -- turn the other way, to the beach just west of where we're standing, that's Algarrobico, where the movie producers built a cardboard version of Aqaba, and Peter O'Toole and Alec Guiness and, especially, Anthony Quinn made themselves popular with the locals, who got themselves dressed up as Arabs and climbed onto camels to make good money as extras. Sergio Leone, John Lennon and lots of other moviemakers used this terrain for background.

The movie business has moved on, though it's fondly remembered. Nowadays the big activity is building second homes (or vacation rent-share apartments) for people from other parts of Spain, and France and Germany and -- especially in nearby Mojácar -- England. That's why you see that cloud of dust rising just beyond the ridge to our east. Big machines are excavating these ancient hills, each apartment complex competing with the others for the best view on the hills around the little village. I should introduce you to some of the players. But first, let's get down to that beach I was telling you about, where there will be some welcome shade. (Luby: I know you've been worried about how we managed in the record heat. Fortunately, it was a few degrees cooler near the water than elsewhere in southern Spain. We left on August 1, just ahead of another rise in temperatures, but it was hot even by the beach -- up to 36º C. on some days. Further inland, it got to 40º, which is 104º F. Phew! You really appreciate shade at those times.)

John Lennon in Carboneras
More movie scenes you may remember
Scenes from the Parque Natural Cabo de Gata
Coat of Arms in Carboneras town hall (el ayuntamiento) and
beach scene also in stained glass in the ayuntamiento
the road to Mojácar and Garrucha, east of Carboneras; the bay of Carboneras is at the top of the photo.


A thousand words
"Did you take any pictures?" asks my long-time friend Daniel Del Solar, who has blossomed as a photographer. (I linked to some of his shots a few blogs ago.) He wanted not just to hear about Spain, but to see it.

Well, no. With an explanation -- maybe not a good one, but here it is. After I lost my last camera (it was a nifty, pocket-size Japanese number I'd picked up in Tokyo, and I don't know what happened to it), I deliberately renounced photography. Stupid, you'll say, for someone who travels and reports. However it did make a kind of sense. I had decided that since words were my medium, I had to discipline myself to describe the scenes without depending on the camera. There are times when a thousand words are worth far more than a picture.

Also, Susana, my constant companion, usually had her camera, and my photography wasn't exactly brilliant, and I'd rather be a first-rate writer than a third-rate snapshooter. Anyway, I've worked my way through that phase, and now I think that as soon as I can afford one, I need to get a camera again, and take the trouble to learn how to take better and more memorable pictures. Meanwhile, I'm going to try to do what I set out to do: make you see some of what I saw and heard and felt, through words. We'll start with a pan shot:

It's hot, dry, dusty on the southeast coast of Spain, but the blue Mediterranean glistens just a few meters away from where we're standing. It's about 5 p.m., so the heat has let up enough so that we can consider hitting the beach, but first I want to take you up this hill. There, see that tower up there on the peak? That earth-colored cylinder sticking up jauntily on the edge of the bluff, looking out over the bay? There's a piece knocked out of its top, maybe that's why people call it the "Torre del Rayo," tower of the lightning bolt -- it must have been hit in one of the very infrequent, but very violent thunderstorms in this dry land. I can tell you things about that tower -- how it was originally built by the Moorish rulers some time in the 11th century, one of many they erected as lookouts against marauding Christians or rival Muslim raiders. But more on that later. We drive up a narrow highway winding up the hill -- fortunately, there's not a lot of traffic, because, here, wait, a sharp right, and we're at the back of the high bluff with the tower. It's a dirt road, or rather the dirt barely covers the rough stone. I have to drive slowly, gently, because these ruts are enormous. The trail -- to call it a road is perhaps too generous -- branches out here, that one to the left will take us to another beach, I'll show you later, it's great for snorkeling, and it's one of the few beaches with a some welcome shade in the afternoon, after the sun passes the peak of the bluff.

Instead we take this climbing branch of the trail. Maybe we'd better just leave the car here, and soldier on on foot. Have you got good sturdy shoes? Or sandals with tough treads? Good. Don't drink all the water yet, it's got to last us. That? Those thick stout leaves, like aloe vera? They call it "pita" here, it's what Mexicans call maguey, imported from Mexico long ago and now spread all over arid plains of southern Spain. There's not a lot of plant life here. Nopales, also imported from Mexico, manage to grow. Anything else needs a lot of irrigation.

OK, here we are. I know you're tired. It's been a steep climb. And up close, this tower isn't much to look at. It was probably always like this, solid about two thirds of its height, like almost all these look out towers. There's just a little open space on top, like a crow's next, for a sentinel or two. When the Christians finally took this area, they couldn't keep sentinels in the tower, because they kept getting kidnapped by Berber and Arab raiders from Africa. It's only a little ways away, a short sail from here to Tunis or Algiers. There's no stairway up to the top of the tower now -- we would have had to bring our own ladder. But that's all right. We're high enough. The sea stretches out to the northeast. Whitecaps now, you can feel the levante. That should mean an easterly, but actually the wind comes out from the north-northeast. They say the levante drives people crazy. When there's a strong poniente, the wind blowing from the opposite direction, it drives cold water into the bay, and jellyfish. Now look southwest, down on the town. There's Carboneras.
Key to success
The website promo for the Banff Writers Conference tells me, "The key to success is NETWORKING, MARKETING, AND PROMOTING." Gee, and all along I thought it was WRITING. Guess I've been wasting my time. 

BTW, speaking of writing, Chapter 2 of my novel about Christians and Muslims fighting for old Constantinople is now up at the Copperfield Review. Click on "Fiction" and check out "The Palace Garden." You get to see the author in drag; I impersonate a not-quite 15-year old princess. Any of you who are now or at one time have been 15-year old princesses (I know you're out there), please let me know if I've got it right.


"So why don't you write something?"
"¿Por qué no escribís algo?" my friend César Chelala asked me last night. I had been raging about the absurd and dangerous contradictions of Bush's "anti-terror" policies.

For César, "escribir algo" -- write something -- means to produce a 750-word op-ed article on some important current event. He's written hundreds of them (you've probably seen his by-line) for dailies from Stockholm to Japan. Maybe I will. For now, and to get my thoughts together, I interrupt the pleasant little Spanish travelogue for a burst of indignation. Here goes:

In the name of combatting terror, Bush & Co. are doing everything possible to stimulate more terror. Prior to Gulf War II, Iraq presented no threat to the United States; today, thanks to the U.S. invasion, Americans are being killed by Iraqis every day. The "weapons of mass destruction" Bush described, poison gas stocks and that famous nuclear bomb that Iraq supposedly could launch in 45 minutes, couldn't have reached the U.S. even if they had actually existed. Now not only are our soldiers in constant danger, but so are the young Poles, Australians, Spaniards and others whose governments have obligingly sent them to save this disastrous occupation.

What is terror? In Donald Rumsfeld's phrase, it is "shock and awe." That is literally correct. My dictionary defines terror as "intense, overpowering fear," but "shock and awe" conveys the idea even better. That's what Rumsfeld promised to deliver to the Iraqis, and he did. And it's still going on. Just the other day, an American general boasted of his cleverness in kidnapping a woman and her children, to force her husband to turn himself in to the U.S. military authorities. When the Argentine generals did that 25 years ago, we -- and even they -- called it the "dirty war." Now they are at last being prosecuted for their terror campaign. And the people around Bush know that the same thing could happen to our military officers if an international court of justice ever got to them. So of course Bush has done everything he could to destroy the new international court, or at the very least to make it ineffective against crimes against humanity committed under the Stars and Stripes.

Bush's security program is making us all less secure. Not only is he giving more people more reason to hate Americans and especially the U.S. government, he and Ashcroft and Rumsfeld and the rest of them are trying to close off all those legal channels by which people could object -- by imposing press censorship, withholding evidence against accused "terrorists," denying the validity of international law, so the only option left is violence. This is just what one might expect from a cabal that had so little respect for this country's laws and traditions that they forced themselves into power after losing an election.

In Spain, I had long conversations with a Frenchwoman who describes herself as "of the Right" and who greatly admires the U.S. and George Bush. For me, that is an enormous contradiction. If you love this country, and its traditions of democracy and liberty, you will want to do everything possible to free it from the grasp of the G.O.P., the party of Greed, Oil and Privilege.

Now back to our regular programming.