Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Sign of the Times

We have walked all the way down the Paseo Ingeniero Mira and have now arrived at the junction with the Avenida Europa, just before the beach. Across the junction, there is a small bar with a narrow, very short street that leads to the beach itself. Four years ago, at the end of August, 2006, I took the above photo of this location.

Little has changed since then, except for the sign that can be seen in the centre of the photograph.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that the sign had been removed: the donkey had disappeared; the mule was missing; in a word, dear reader, the 'orse 'ad 'opped it!

Whether this was an official action, or the work of vandals, or even that of an over-zealous traffic-sign-collector, I am unable to say, but gone it was.

To be honest, I suspect that the disappearance is the work of officialdom: someone decided that there really was no more need for a sign prohibiting the entry of horse-drawn (or donkey-drawn, or mule-drawn) carts of the tumbril variety.

Anyway, the sign has gone, as, indeed, have such vehicles. We have been living here for four-and-a-half years now and have never seen a horse-drawn (or other quadruped-led) vehicle in anything but a festive environment, or as a means of enjoyment (a jingly-jangly horse-and-trap-like-affair occasionally passes the house of a Sunday), so perhaps there really is no need for such a sign any more.

Still, the loss of the sign is indicative of another part of old Spain that is disappearing, for better or for worse.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 10

The tenth and final panel of tiles on the Paseo Ingeniero Mira is very special, as it shows an ancient activity that, although still carried out today, is likely to disappear in a few years.

Desde la Edad Media la comercialización de los productos pesqueros de Guardamar se canalizaba hacia los pueblos del interior. Sin embargo, es costumbre privativa de este pueblo marinero, la venta directa por las calles, con el pescado vivo saltando en las "zarandas," así como la subasta del preciado y afamado langostino en una pequeña lonja local.


Since the Middle Ages, the commercialization of fishing products from Guardamar has been carried out in villages further inland, However, the sale of fresh, often still live fish, in the streets of the village has remained an activity exclusive to Guardamar, where "zarandas" are used to transport the fish through the streets on handcarts. (A zaranda or saranda is a circular net structure, peculiar to this activity.) Guardamar also boasts an auction of its much-appreciated and renowned locally-caught large prawns in a small local fish-market.

One of the three remaining street-sellers is depicted in the illustration. She is using Roman scales to weigh her wares, which is exactly the way the fish is still sold in the streets of Guardamar. And it's not just tiddlers that are sold, as you might suppose from the illustration; the saranda's are often filled with dorada (a type of bream), barracuda, mackerel, octopus, squid, hake… though just what the duvet-like thing over the barrow is, I don't know, as normally one sees the saranda filled with wet fish, lying on the barrow. Read more about the fish-sellers of Guardamar in this earlier blog entry.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 9

Panel number nine is, to my eyes, the least successful of the ten, with a strange perspective and a poorer relationship between text and illustration. Fishing is again the subject of this panel.

Desde tiempo inmemorial la pesca ha sido un recurso alimentario de suma importancia para las gentes de Guardamar. El entorno ecológico determinó los procedimientos de pesca: la pesqueras del rio, la pesquera de anguiles [SIC] en las antiguas albuferas y las pesqueras de la mar. La diversidad de especies permitió el desarrollo de muy diferentes útiles, artes y aparejos.


From time immemorial, fish has been a source of nourishment of prime importance for the peoples of Guardamar. The ecological surroundings determined the origins of the fish: catching fish in the rivers; fishing for eels in the lagoons; fishing in the open sea. The different kinds of fish have led to the development of very different methods of fishing, and types of tools for the job.

Unfortunately, only one type of fishing seems to be represented in the illustration: coastal fishing with nets. The frontmost person is shown carrying a basket of fish, presumably just bought from the fishermen further back, who are holding a net that appears to be still full of fish. Other empty nets are seen lying on the beach and draped over a small fishing-boat.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 8

The eighth panel of tiles that we come across during our walk down the Paseo Ingeniero Mira takes us back to the early history of Guardamar. For a relatively small and unknown town, Guardamar has a long and rich history, well worth delving into more deeply than is the wont of the modern-day tourist, whose interests seem to be only in ephemera and alcohol (known colloquially as "a good time," it would seem). Little do these beer-bellied, tattooed specimens of northern culture realize that Guardamar has an extremely interesting Archaeological museum, and several archaeological digs that can be viewed by the public. And as for the Dama de Guardamar, why they've not even heard of the Dama de Elche, so what hope is there?

Guardamar del segura [SIC] hunde sus raíces en el mar, el escenario por el cual llegaron gentes del mar procedentes de las mas variadas culturas del Mediterráneo. Desde el siglo VIII a.C. los navegantes fenicios, los griegos, cartagineses, los romanos y los árabes; hombres de mar de la más antigua tradición del Mediterráneo: pescadores, comerciantes o piratas, según fuera la ocasión.


The roots of Guardamar del Segura reach into the sea, across which peoples arrived from very different Mediterranean cultures: Phoenician navigators already reached Guardamar in the 8th century B.C., followed by Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans and Arabs. Also the seamen of the Mediterranean: fishermen, merchants, and pirates, according to the season.

I am sure that the fishing vessel that can be seen in the background also has a special name in these parts, but I have yet to come across it. Interestingly, it is shown with sails partly raised, yet seems to be at anchor. Perhaps this is an attempt to depict the balmy weather we often experience in this area.The panel shows two donkeys, loaded with amphoras, presumably filled with either water or wine. Two men and a woman lead the donkeys, with one of the men actually riding the first donkey in what seems to be a most uncomfortable position. In the background, several triangular-masted vessels can be observed in the Mediterranean, perhaps coming from North Africa.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 7

Tile panel number seven again shows an activity related to fishing. This time we see two women and a man on the beach, repairing some nets. The art of fishing has its own language and many of the words in the text that accompanies this drawing are not to be found in dictionaries (not even that of the Real Academia Español), at least not in this context, so translation is difficult, especially as I know zilch about fishing.

Desde los útiles más simples, como el volantín, el curricán, o el rayo, etc., hasta las más complejas artes de red, como el tresmall, la moruna o las actuales artes de cerco, estas técnicas de pesca, en los últimos decenios han experimentado cierta tendencia progresiva, tecnificandose y diversificándose considerablemente, aunque sin perder su carácter artesanal.


From the simplest implements, such as the multi-hooked line, the troll line and the "rayo" to the most complex use of nets, such as the "tresmall" (here the artist has used the Valencian word; in Castillian, it is called "tresmallo"), a fixed trap made up of three nets, the "moruna", a net specially designed for the capture of shrimp and prawn in coastal regions, and the currently used ringnets, fishing techniques have advanced considerably in the past decades, becoming much more technical and varied, whilst still retaining a certain artesanal aspect.

I am sure that the fishing vessel that can be seen in the background also has a special name in these parts, but I have yet to come across it. Interestingly, it is shown with sails partly raised, yet seems to be at anchor. Perhaps this is an attempt to depict the balmy weather we often experience in this area.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 6

Tile panel number six in our walk down the Paseo Ingeniero Mira represents a change of theme, leaving behind Ingeniero Mira and focussing more on the people of Guardamar and their activities, especially those related to fishing…

Una linea de playa de mar abierto, sin apenas condiciones naturales de abrigo, ha limitado el crecimiento de la actividad pesquera en Guardamar. Antes de la construcción del actual puerto deportivo y pesquero, la actividad pesquera de la flota local se ha desarrollado en los antiguos embarcaderos del río. En otras ocasiones, las embarcaciones se varaban en la playa con la ayuda de un "trompo" ó [SIC] cabrestante.

A long open beach, with hardly any natural shelter has limited the growth of the fishing industry in Guardamar. Prior to the construction of the current yachting and fishing harbor, the fishing activities of the local fleet developed around the old landing stages of the river. In other instances, the fishing vessels were brought onto the beach with the help of a "trompo" or winch.

The panel shows just a "trompo" being operated by three individuals, two of whom are women. Women have played a major roll in the fishing industry of Guardamar and continue to do so in an activity that is unique to the town and which we shall encounter further down the Paseo.

We can still see the mosaic benches on either side of the panel, but these are now small, with space only for two or three people. In the upper section, the benches occupied the whole of the space between the panels.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: a pause

After having walked past five of the large tiled panels, we come to a small square at the entrance to the Parque Alfonso XIII. The square forms a separation between the upper section of the Paseo and the lower.

The five panels in the upper section are dedicated to the work of Ingeniero Francisco Mira y Botella, without whom Guardamar would probably no longer exist.

It is appropriate that the "person" we see sitting on the central bench of this little square is none other than Engineer Mira himself, complete with suit and tie, hat and umbrella (sadly damaged by vandals, so that the handle is missing), and even his newspaper, which is lying on the bench next to him. If this beautiful statue is life-size, then Mira was a small man, as She Who Must Be Obeyed demonstrates by being audacious enough to sit next to him (and she a married woman!).

It is perhaps interesting during this pause to note some figures regarding the panels of tiles. Each tile measures 15 by 15 cm.; more than 200 tiles are used in each panel. The panels are 2m 40cm wide and 1m 60cm high, though with an arched top, reaching a maximum height of 2m 20cm. The distance between the panels of the first section is approximately 33 mteres and between those of the lower section 65 metres (though the distance from panel 5 to panel 6 is greater, because of the square at which we are currently located). The whole Paseo is approximately 500 metres long.

The five panels in the lower section relate to the social and cultural history of Guardamar, especially its close ties to fishing and these we shall be visiting next.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 5

Tile panel number five in our walk down the Paseo Ingeniero Mira shows the great man himself, calmly reading his newspaper while sitting in the now fully planted dunes. His umbrella and hat are at his side, though I suspect his umbrella acted more as a parasol, given the weather we enjoy in Guardamar del Segura.

(Caption to drawing)Don Francisco Mira y Botella - Ingeniero de Montes

(Main text) Se ha evitado que el pueblo de Guardamar, de 3.000 habitantes, desaparezía [SIC] sepultado por las arenas y sean destruidas muchas casas de campo y los mejores terrenos de su fértil huerta.
También he de expresar mi gratitud al pueblo de Guardamar… Principalmente a los obreros que, conscientes de la importancia de la labor que realizaban, han trabajado con fé [SIC] y entusiasmo, satisfechos de salvar a su pueblo de una muerte, segura, por el avance arrollador de las arenas.

(Caption to drawing) Mr. Francisco Mira y Botella, Forestry Engineer.

(Main text) Guardamar, a town of 3,000 inhabitants, has been saved from disappearing by being buried under the sand, with the associated destruction of many houses and the best fields of its fertile irrigated area.
I must also express my gratitude to the people of Guardamar, and especially to the workers, who, aware of the importance of the work they were carrying out, have worked with conviction and enthusiasm, content in saving their village from certain death, brought on by the overwhelming advance of the sands.

The text is largely Mira's own. The year shown at the top of the panel, 1929, is that in which Mira published an album of photos, together with a brief review of his work in Guardamar. By that time the main work had long been completed, but even today the struggle against the sand continues in Guardamar, using the principles developed by and learnt from Mira. The nursery (vivero) he set up to grow plants to be used in the replanting process still functions and can be visited. In addition to saving the village from being covered by sand, Mira's work also ensured the continuation of the small fishing fleet of Guardamar, as the management of the sand allowed continued access to the sea.

The original photograph of Engineer Mira y Botella, on which the tile panel is based, was taken in 1926.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 4

We have now arrived at the fourth large panel of tiles on the Paseo Ingeniero Mira. Fortunately, this one does not have a waste-paper basket to spoil it, though the mosaic benches that flank it are in need of some urgent repair, with many of their ceramic tesserae missing—see especially the bench to the right of the photo.

(Caption to drawing) Fiesta del Arbol celebrada en el centro del arenal. Niños con su Maestro, plantando pinos de maceta.

(Main text) Desde la primera década del siglo XX se celebra en Guardamar del Segura le "fiesta del árbol", una de las más antiguas y tradicionales que se celebran en España. Con este acto se pretendía desarrollar en los niños el cariño al árbol y que tomaran conciencia del beneficio que proporcionaba la fijación de las dunas móviles que amenazaban con enterrar al pueblo mediante la repoblación que hoy vemos y que es el orgullo de nuestro pueblo.

(Caption to drawing) Day of the Tree, celebrated in the middle of the dunes. Children with their teacher, planting pot-grown pines.

(Main text) Ever since the first decade of the twentieth century, the Day of the Tree has been celebrated in Guardamar del Segura, one of the oldest and most traditional of such days celebrated in the whole of Spain. In this way, it was hoped to instill in the children a love for trees and to help them understand the benefits of keeping the moving dunes under control, preventing them from covering the village by means of replanting, which we now see as the pride of our town.

The original photograph by Engineer Mira y Botella was taken in 1901, so it is clear that his work had already made a strong impression on the local population. Nowadays, everyone is aware of (well, should be aware of) the environment and the need for conservation, but I suspect that Mira was quite a bit ahead of his time when he was able to stir up such enthusiasm as is evident in this and other photos. And what a pity his insight into the need to fix moving sands was not heeded elsewhere, with such blindness eventually resulting in tragedies such as that of Aberfan.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 3

Continuing our walk down the Paseo Ingeniero Mira, we come to the third large panel of tiles. (Unfortunately, the panels are often accompanied by a wastepaper basket, which is fine if people make use of it, but is not conducive to a pleasing photograph.)

(Caption to drawing) Brigada de obreros plantando lineas de barrón a vida, para impedir el movimiento de las arena por el vento.

(Main text) Para defender la superficie contra la acción de los vientos se han empleados distintas sistemas de protección, consistentes en el empleo de ramaje tendido, ramaje hincado, matas de barón junco y brozas, esparcidas en la superficie; plantaciones de barón a tresbolillo, en lineas paralelas o en lineas cruzadas; con vallas de cañizos, y también con ramaje formando cuadros, esparciendo en ellos hojas secas.

(Caption to drawing) Team of workers planting lines of living marram grass, in order to prevent the wind from blowing the sand.

(Main text) Various means of protection were used to defend the land against the action of the wind. These consisted of fences made of branches, branches driven into the ground, clumps of marram grass, reeds, and dried vegetation spread over the surface; areas of marram grass, planted in triangles, in parallel lines and in rectangles; with fences of reed matting and also of branches, forming squares, with dried leaves spread between them.

Although taken quite early in the morning (very early by my standards…), shadows can be clearly seen on this and other photos in the series. The Paseo is lined with numerous large Eucalyptus trees as well as smaller palms, Mediterranean pines and other plants, offering a very pleasant, shaded walkway.

The original photograph by Engineer Mira y Botella, on which this tableau is based,shows a much larger group of workers.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 2

The second panel shows the erection of one of the barriers that Botella designed to prevent the sand from creeping any further. As we shall see later, this was just one aspect of Botella's cunning plan.

(Caption to drawing) Elevación del tablestacado para la formación de la duna litoral, después de enterrarse por las arenas que arroja el mar en la playa.

(Main text) Dos son los objetivos perseguidos con estos trabajos primero, detener en la playa toda la arena que arroja el mar; segundo, fijar toda la extensión cubierta de arenas para evitar que sigan invadiendo el pueblo y los cultivos agrícolas, y convertir, al propio tiempo, en productiva la estéril zona de arenales.

(Caption to drawing) Positioning the wooden picket to form the coastal dunes, after having been buried by the sand brought from the sea to the beach.

(Main text) These works have two main aims: first, to keep the sand that is brought in by the sea on the beach; second, to maintain in place the parts already covered by sand, so as to prevent further invasion of the village and the agricultural areas and, given time, to convert the sterile sandy zones to productive regions.

That many of the panels are based on photos taken by Engineer Mira y Botella himself is evident when one views this photograph, which Botella took soon after the start of the undertaking, probably in 1902.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 1

This is the first main panel encountered as one walks down the Paseo. Each of these large panels consists of more than 200 tiles and all panels are signed "Lario" together with a monogram, apparently made up of an L and an R, and the number 1.600.

(Caption to drawing) Parte Norte del pueblo antes de la repoblación, con las arenas que tienen invadida una calle.

(Main text) Se hallan estas arenas voladoras en la desenbocadura [SIC] del río Segura, en la provincia de Alicante, ocupando a lo largo de la costa del Mediterráneo de norte a sur, una faja de 1500 m. de longitud, con anchos que varían, según los sitios, desde 200 a 1300 metros.

(Caption to drawing) Northern part of the village, before the replanting, showing the sand that has invaded a street.

(Main text) These wind-blown sands are found in the mouth of the river Segura, in the province of Alicante, forming a 1500 metres long fringe that occupies the the coast from north to south, with widths ranging from 200 to 1300 metres.

By 1896, as the panel shows, sand dunes were approaching dangerously close to Guardamar, even taking over some streets. Four years later, on 12 July, 1900, the plan to fight the approaching sand, developed by Engineer Don Francisco Mira i Botella was initiated, with what would turn out to be amazing success, from both a humanitarian and an ecological point of view.

Many of the panels relate directly to the work of Mira i Botella and their pictorial representations are based on his own photographs. For more of the fascinating and evocative photos of Mira i Botella, see the book, Repoblación de las Dunas de Guardamar del Segura: Memoria y Fotografías, available from the tourist office on the main square of Guardamar.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira

The Paseo Ingeniero Mira (Engineer Mira Avenue) is a pleasant avenue stretching from close to the main town square of Guardamar down to the beach, passing between two parks: the formal Parque Reina Sofia and the informal and much larger Parque Alfonso XIII.

The Paseo is named after the engineer who was responsible for developing and implementing the idea of using vegetation as a way to hold back the advancing sands, which were threatening to inundate Guardamar at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries.

Apart from offering a shady walk, access to two parks and a direct link between the centre of the town and the beach, the Paseo also provides the visitor with a series of beautifully tiled panels. I suspect that most of the plebs who wander by are too dim to take any notice of these panels, but for those of you interested in rather more than sand and beer, I thought it might be a good idea to offer a photo and a translation of each panel. Hopefully, your visit to Guardamar will be richer for this and perhaps it will also help you better understand some of the culture history of the town.

The photo above is looking down the Paseo, from very close to the beginning (a kiosk prevents a decent photo from being taken at the very beginning, I'm sorry to say). The main elements of the Paseo can be identified: on each side is a green area, with the Parque Reina Sofia to the right and the Parque Alfonso XIII to the left; a parking area and the road is also to the right; in the centre of the image, the broad walkway, the actual Paseo, can be seen with, on its left side the mosaic benches and the panels about which we will soon learn more. Only four of the panels are visible in the photo (if you look hard enough), but there are ten in all, plus one smaller introductory panel, shown here.

This introductory panel consists of 70 tiles and reads,

Este pueblo viene luchando por su existencia desde su fundación; En un principio contra los ataques de los conquistadores; Más tarde contra los terremotos (Gran seísmo de día 21 de Marzo de 1829 a las 6 de la tarde), Y, actualmente contra la invasión de las arenas.

D. Francisco Mira y Botella. Ingeniero de Montes. 1906.

which I translate as
The people of this town have fought for its existence ever since its foundation, first against invading conquerors, later against earthquakes (the great quake of 21 March, 1829, at six o'clock in the afternoon), and now against the invasion of sand.

D. Francisco Mira y Botella. Forestry Engineer. 1906.

In coming entries, I shall look at each of the ten large panels in turn, as they are encountered walking down the Paseo towards the beach.

(Note that Google Maps does not indicate the Paseo itself, but marks the parallel road with two names (one in Castellano, the other Valenciano): Calle del Ingeniero Mira and Carrer del Enginyer Mira. Take your pick.)

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Christmas is coming…

We went out to do some Christmas shopping yesterday. That wasn't the reason we went out, but that's how things turned out. Mind you, we did some ordinary shopping, too. You know the sort of things, meat, vegetables, fruit, dairy products, and so on. Everything that's needed for a healthy diet in the eyes of She Who Must Be Obeyed: not a piece of chocolate to be seen, not a caramel, or a cream tart, although I did manage to sneak in a slab of turrón de Alicante (a sort of block of nougat), so life won't be all gloom and doom.

Anyway, we made a great effort to support the local economy, too, given that it's Christmas. Elise bought a nice watch and I am now the proud owner of a new digital camera.

I have used Olympus cameras since about 1974, when I bought my first Olympus Pen. It was the Pen FT model, a second-hand one, which I bought it in a small camera shop in Oudenaarde. The Pen was a beautifully designed halfkleinbeeld (half frame?) SLR camera, but unlike other SLRs of the time, it was not bulky or heavy, it was simply beautiful; Marilyn would have called it Elegant.). It also had the advantage of taking twice as many photos on a given roll of film. Sadly, my beloved Pen was stolen when we were on holiday in the south of France. I hope that the person who stole it realised what they had and took great care of it, or at least sold it on to someone else who did so.

Anyway, I stayed with Olympus, then buying an OM1 SLR camera, which became the basis of an ever-growing collection of lenses and other attributes. Eventually, I needed a large aluminium case in which to carry everything and it finally all became too heavy for me. I sold everything some ten years ago, after first having bought an early Olympus digital camera. After a few years, I wanted rather more than that relatively simple camera could offer, so I found an Olympus Camedia C-750 Ultra Zoom, which has served me well for the past 6 years.

A couple of years ago, however, Olympus announced a digital version of the Pen design and things started itching. "Shall I or shan't I?" has been a question often pondered over: the first Pen EP1 had its teething troubles, the EP2 is considerably better, but out of my price range, but now the lower cost EPL1 answers my requirements and offers the advantages of the Pen system.

The circle has closed: I started with a Pen and now I have ended up with a Pen once more.

I hope it lives up to its predecessor.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Half a Century

It's that time of the year again and already the Christmas cards have started to arrive. Surely it was Easter only last week?

Anyway, one of the very first cards received this year was from one Dennis Lingard, a fellow I've not seen for over forty years. He was still living in Blackheath at the time and had a decent collection of Monkeys records.

Dennis's card included a letter, in which he reminded me that it was fifty years ago this year in September that we started our time together at Woolverstone Hall. Dennis and I were in the same year and class and both spent seven years at the school, from 1960 until 1967, when we left to make our separate ways in the world. If I recall correctly, Dennis became head boy of Hanson's House, while I was head boy of Corner's. Exactly what happened to Dennis after leaving Woolverstone, I do not know, but from the few contacts we have had, and these have only been in the past few years, mostly brief exchanges at Christmastime, he works in the same branch as I was involved in, software development.

It had completely passed my notice that we started at Woolverstone fifty years ago—that's half a century, in other words, and that seems like an awfully long time. Einstein had it right, didn't he? Time really is relative. When I was small, there were at least five years, perhaps more, between each Christmas and the same was true for birthdays. Now there's merely a few months and if it goes on like that, I'll soon be celebrating next Christmas before this one.

To get back to Dennis and his letter, it's amazing that so many of us Woolverstonians still think so much about the place. It must have had a significant influence on us, more so than a "normal" school has on an "ordinary" pupil, I feel. Woolverstone was a magnificently successful experiment in Socialist-driven education, scuppered by the greed of Conservative horse-blinkered politicians, who couldn't see the benefit of subsidizing the education of some relatively gifted pupils as an investment for the future. (That sort of thinking sounds conspicuously like the Conservative's attitude to University subsidies nowadays and if I were a student, I'd be out on the streets protesting, too, and I'd burn my Liberal party membership card, if I still had one).

See that, off course again, so back to Dennis. He wrote that a number of Old Boys from the 1960 intake paid a visit to the school in October and enjoyed a pleasant reunion. I bet they didn't run a cross-country as part of the celebrations!

Another Woolverstone reunion, on a much smaller, but more poignant scale, will take place in Australia in January—see my previous post.