Ojén –More than Bitter Sweet

Juan, Mum’s neighbour and Gene Wilder look-alike with the bright blue eyes, lamented the election of a Basque politician at the beginning of May 2011. I had some sympathy. How do we assimilate extremist politics without it being at the expense of the moderate voter?

“Spain is finished. We may as well move to America” Juan stated in a resigned way. I drew parallels with Northern Ireland but Juan bounced back again: “You are Great Britain. You’ll be O.K. Our royalty is finished.”

Not being aux fait with Spanish politics, I only got the gist. One thing’s for sure : the Spanish are a passionate bunch alright.

In all the years I’ve been visiting Spain, this was the first time it had coincided with elections of any kind. Marbella is normally a play ground for the rich but this time, I noticed an increase in Graffiti : “ Immigration – NO!” The people here, like in most EU countries, have suffered greatly with the property slump, the rise and rise of India and China. In any recession, extremist political parties enjoy a parasitic popularity, preying on the down right insecure. Hot topic here was the talk of Portugal needing further financial assistance.

It’s upon this background that I find myself once again visiting the quintessential white village Ojén.

Just 30 minutes’ drive from Marbella on newly surfaced, curling roads, Ojén (whose name is apparently derived from the Arabic for bitter or rough),  has remained relatively unspoilt. Situated on the Almadán Stream and close to the Rio Real Valley, historically, the town was attractive for its minerals: talc, nickel, iron and lead. It was also famous at one time for its Aniseed liqueur Aguardiente.

Ojén’s weekly market compares favourably with Marbella’s sprawling Monday effort if picturesque is what you want. It features the most beautiful fruit and veg, the biggest tomatoes I have ever seen and there is less emphasis on cheap clothes. But that’s not to say there aren’t any because this market serves a small community which would be cut off were it not for modern transport. The fresh water pours relentlessly out of the fountain and locals drop by with a bottle to fill.

Here, Andalusians catch up with their mates and place a bet and as with many town squares, their activities are overseen by a church. Offerings are left outside.

Swallows nest beneath the shelter of balconies, making globe like structures from their spittle and mud. Pausing at the entrance to feed their young, then darting off again, whistling through the air, they’re so fast, almost impossible to capture. I feel exhilarated trying to do so and all this happening above the bustle of the market place. A short visit to the local shop is in order. (It’s owned by a friend of my mum’s.)

A delicious honey covered traditional Spanish pastry accompanied by the obligatory café con leché doesn’t go amiss before we head back to the urban sprawl of town.

Stopping at the viewpoint to take in the approach to Ojén is sort of a ritual as is taking in the view of the massive dam on the Rio Real: for once, no cranes spoiling the view. Perhaps the recession is a cloud with a silver lining. At least developing new villas seems to have stopped for the time being. Perhaps the unstoppable really is stoppable.

Maybe development isn’t always a good thing. Yes, it creates jobs but at what cost? That’s all well and good coming from a tourist that visits once a year but what future is there for the next generation of Andalusians? I wonder.

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