Friday, July 24, 2009

Searching for the real Spain

July 24: Last night tapas at the Meson de las Flores - Bacalau Frito, Tortilla Patata, Gambas al Ajillo washed down with cerveza - 16.30 euros. After a stroll by the ramparts we have a large copa of ice cream at about 10:30 before retiring. Breakfast at Cafe Azahara, 4.50 euros each for coffee, juice and croissant or tostada.
We walk across the Roman Bridge over the Guadalquivir river, where we see many egrets. We circle back into town across a newer bridge, reaching the church and cloister of San Francisco. We are off the beaten track where there are no tourists, in the elegant plazas with mission-style churches and local cafes. I remove one Coca-Cola bottle cap, one pack of Winston cigarettes [empty] and one plastic cup outside the church and place them in a litter bin. Symbolic of modern Spain?
Here there is 17% unemployment, the highest in Europe. The country has little industry and depends on agriculture and tourism. Travelling by car we see widespread evidence of crop failure, particularly acres of sunflowers scorched dark brown in the sun. There are signs of building and renovation in Cordoba, much of it EU funded. Like in Portugal, with their lavish empty roads, there are also signs that the money is not always wisely spent; being for political reasons rather than economic ones. Spain is stuck in the euro straightjacket, unable to devalue to compete. As a tourist I quickly discover that this is not the cheap destination once beloved of the Brits. Having said that the Hotel Conquistador is very good value at 161 euros for three nights.
We reach the Plaza de la Corredera with its high-sided buildings and pungent fish market. We are thrilled by the back streets of Cordoba. After a coffee stop we stroll through a less prosperous district with empty shops and graffiti. Not everybody is contented with the macho bullfighting culture, as a grisly poster advertises a "Manifestation Antitaurina." We see the hammer and sickle on posters and painted on walls. The spectre of Marx lingers in Spain still.
We visit the Cordoba Archeological Museum, free to those with an EU passport [one way of bribing the peons]. There is an exquisite collection of Roman artifacts so I pocket the insult. We lunch once more at the Bodega-Taberna RafaƩ and head for a siesta. I stay awake just long enough to see Mark Cavendish win Stage 19 of the Tour de France on TV.

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