Essays - Apocalypse in Puerto Lope

Apocalypse in Puerto Lope

by Lawrence Boheme

Without wishing to criticise the Spanish government, which would be ungrateful since, after all, it has allowed me to live and work in the world’s most pleasant country for both of these activities, I feel that the readers might be interested in reading a blow-by-blow description of a rather extraordinary run-in with our justice system. Spanish law and order is not essentially unjust, just rather heavy-handed. I would paraphrase the expression "using a cannonball to kill a butterfly" as "using a helicopter to fine a fool", the fool, in this case, being me.

It’s true that, that morning two weeks ago, I was in a particularly foolish frame of mind - thinking about a lovely lady who is very far away in the flesh but, thanks to our e-mail link, very close in thoughts and words. I was driving home from Granada to my farm in the hills above Montefrio, with three foam mattresses tied to my car rack - two for a new holiday cottage which I am restoring, soon to become another of the Casas de Lorenzo, and the third for the little pied-à-terre I was planning to rent for myself in the old Moorish quarter of Granada, so that I and the lovely lady can spend weekends there whenever the fancy strikes us - once she gets back from her seemingly interminable exile, that is.

The sun was shining as my car glided up the beautiful new highway which rises from the plain of Granada into the montes occidentales, as they are called. I noticed a helicopter flying back and forth a mile or so ahead, but didn’t pay much attention to it - except to recall my own recent flight in such a machine, as interpreter for the European Commissioner for Regional Policy and Cohesion, during a spectacular tour of Andalucia in which she inspected, from the air, the projects which our regional government has carried out with the Cohesion Funds for which she is responsible. But I’ll describe that fascinating and much more financially positive experience at a later date.

The only other vehicle on the road, that morning, was an old Land Rover heavily laden with olive saplings, which crawled up the long slope at a speed of about 40 kilometres per hour. The white line on that stretch is unbroken, possibly because cars coming downhill in the other lane often move at high speeds. But there were no other cars and I had excellent visibility so... I nipped around the Land Rover, which had thoughtfully moved to the far right so that I could do so without crossing the white line by more than, say, a metre.

Half a minute later, as I approached the roadside town of Puerto Lope, which is where one turns off for Montefrio, I noticed that the helicopter was heading towards me. I thought it must have something to do with the small group of people looking up at it, standing near two land vehicles parked among the olive trees. The cars were marked Junta de Andalucía, the name of our regional government, so I thought it must be some official exercise which they were rehearsing. Indeed it was, but I didn’t realise that it was my misfortune to be the guinea pig they needed to make it a success.

By the time I entered the village, the helicopter was right overhead and I could hear a voice rasping out of it from a loudspeaker, like some avenging deity, repeating "... a la derecha, a la derecha" - pull over to the right. I began to get worried, wondering if it might be for me. Could they have seen me passing the farmer’s jeep? By this time all the people in the village had come out of their doors, on either side of the road, to see what the helicopter was doing - the noise of the motor and the blades was enormous, not to mention the blaring loudspeaker, like a film about the Vietnam War. Then the helicopter placed itself dead in front of me, at a height of about 100 feet, and turned deliberately sideways so that I could read the word TRAFICO written on its fuselage.

Not having a bazooka on me to blast it to bits like a Viet Cong guerrilla, and being basically a law-fearing, although not always technically law-abiding, resident of Spain, I came to a stop, just outside the town. The helicopter alighted on a nearby field and a Civil Guardsman stepped out, fine booklet in hand. I walked up to meet him wearing a suitably concerned expression and explained that I had not realised that "it was for me", asking what the problem could be. Informed that I had crossed a "linea blanca contínua", I confessed that it was true, but emphatically pleaded that the Land Rover was obstructing the normal flow of traffic and that I had passed it in conditions of total safety.

The Civil Guardsman was soft-spoken and very cordial. He promised that this attenuating circumstance would be stated on my form, but that I had to pay the standard fine anyway. Total damage: 15,000 pesetas, with a discount of 3,000 if I paid in 2 weeks. He was so nice about it that I felt it would have been rude not to thank him when we parted, so I awkwardly muttered "Gracias". He looked back at me sympathetically - being as gentlemanly as he is, he must get thanked several times a day for giving people fines, often for misdemeanours which he is perfectly aware are insignificant when compared to all the real abuses which go unpunished.

But another blow awaited me, to complete the ruin of my morning reveries. When I turned back to my car, I saw that one of the foam mattresses, the one in the middle, was gone. I had told the man from the store who helped me tie them that the plastic they were wrapped in was slippery and could cause them to be blown loose by the wind, but he assured me that this would not happen. Well, somewhere between Granada and Puerto Lope - over 30 kilometres of road - it did, but in my current mood I was not up to going back to look for it. The loss of the mattress brought my total deficit to a neat 20,000 pesetas, which I bitterly chalked up to experience - as if, at my age, I haven’t had enough of that! - and pressed on to Montefrio.

When I got to the cottage I am restoring, I angrily told my young workman Alberto what had happened. Alberto thinks highly of me, especially because I am the only builder in town who would dream of hiring a gypsy, let alone give one a position of responsibility, but he probably thinks I am loco perdío, just like all the rest of them. "Lorenzo", he laughed, "things like that only happen to you!". And when I fired off an e-mail to tell the lovely lady about my misadventure, hoping for a little pity, her sarcastic reply, an hour or two later - like me, she spends most her time near the computer - used exactly the same words.

Alberto can say what he wants, but I felt that Miss A.P. should be punished for her cheek, so I typed back informing her that when she comes back to grace my little flat in the Albaicin with her fair presence, she’s going to have to sleep on the same lumpy old mattress that was there when I rented it, because I have no intention of buying a second new one.

Her answer, several more hours later and written in one of the several languages which we share, I forget which, was that as long as it was with me, she wouldn’t mind sleeping on a mat spread over the cold tiles of the floor. So my day ended, just before midnight, as sweetly as it had begun.