El Estero

Spain is currently going through the same political process as Portugal did after the October elections. In both countries the incumbents won the elections, although in Spain it wasn’t a coalition, but the center-right Partido Popular.

The PP (pronounced Pepe rather than peepee), as it’s locally known, was Aznar’s party—famous for endorsing Baby Bush’s invasion of Iraq. It came back into power after a ‘shelf’ period of socialism, and navigated Spain through austerity in the style of Christopher Columbus, i.e. with no idea about duration, direction, or final destination.

All this was going through my head as I wandered the back streets of Seville, and drove deep into both the marshlands and industrial belt of Andalucia.

January is mud season along the banks of the Guadalquivir—the Wadi-al-Kabir, or great river, of the caliphate, and at the end of my roaming the car had taken on the tan hue of an offroad rally.

I missed the earlier exit off the A-49 and came at the Doñana National Park through Pilas and Manrique. The first town was particularly fun because in Portuguese the name means dicks—the drive through it included dealing with a byzantine one-way system, which the sleepy penile pueblo clearly doesn’t merit.

The circumnavigation of dicks thus provided ample opportunity for hilarity—but I suspect the town itself is a shadow of former industrial glory, and a victim of el paro, or ‘the stop’—that’s Castilian for unemployment.

January is bird season in the great wetlands of Southern Europe, and Doñana is the greatest of them all. Herons, cormorants, and flamingos are everywhere, feasting on the bounties of the delta.

Flamingos pick their way through the mudflats, sharing the road with mullet and sole.

Flamingos pick their way through the mudflats, sharing the road with mullet and sole.

There’s a huge area devoted to fish production—local species like sea bass and gilthead bream, eels and shrimp—and because the area is so similar to the natural delta habitat, the fish have some of the most sought-after qualities demanded by high-end consumers: they’re sustainable, wholesome, and delicious.

To get to this six-thousand acre paradise you have to drive through Isla Mayor, another small town that shows the effects of high unemployment. From there down to Sanlucar de Barrameda, the forward operating base of Columbus for his subsequent voyages, a burgeoning trade exists in hashish.

The rubber boats that do the run across the Strait of Gibraltar are often hidden in the esteros, or creeks, that spread like capillaries from the great river. Poor people will do what they need to put food on the table, and some months ago a Guardia Civil helicopter was prevented from arresting two crews from the gomas down in Sanlucar.

The two officers were stoned—not by the heady fumes from North Africa, but by a couple of dozen locals who hurled  piedras at the chopper and stood their ground, even while shots were fired into the air—the guards later explained that it was ‘Comanche’ country down there.

I had lunch at Isla Mayor round about the time most Norwegians eat supper—it was an experience described by the locals as gastronomia de las marismas, marshland gastronomy. That includes specialty dishes of shrimp and crabs, smoked fish, mullet, and of course duck—hunting the old quacker is a popular activity at this time of year.

The parking lot at Isla Mayor suggests the restaurant has seen many a convivial evening.

The parking lot at Isla Mayor suggests the restaurant has seen many a convivial evening.

Maybe it was my imagination, but some of the patrons had a distinctly ‘Soprano’ look about them—I heard the word Marruecos come up more than once.

One thing you can be sure of in Andalucia is that the people are a law unto themselves. Many here supported the freewheeling movement Podemos in the recent elections, and Spain is now trying to build an edifice of government featuring three left-wing parties—they looked west to Portugal and drank the Kool-Aid.

Seville, the city of Columbus, lives up to its usual madness—it’s quite easy to duck in from the streets at 2am on a rainy weeknight and find people of all ages making merry to the strains of Flamenco—not the tourist stuff, the one the locals go to, poor people looking for a shot of soul to ease their burden.

You look at the rough-cut faces, the small, stocky men, and you can see the vecinos from Moguer and Palos, from across the river in the poor neighborhood of Triana. These are the guys who sailed on the Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria.

Close your eyes as you listen to the plaintive cries, and you can hear the Moorish songs of Al-Andaluz.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

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