By Chris Chaplow
I met Don Lorenzo (aka Lawrence Bohme, English writer and former resident of Montefrio, a hilltop village in Granada province) on the Internet. That does not sound remarkable, but actually it was, taking into account that we're talking about way back in 1993.
My online experimentation had started a year earlier, with a 1200 baud modem card to connect my Amstrad 8026 desktop computer to a telephone line. A breakthrough was to communicate with my friend Maurice Bernsen up on the hill near Casares by terminal mode (using computers). Not quite life-changing, but I still remember to this day the excitement and hight fives that Sunday afternoon just from doing something similar to sending text messages. The next step was a US Robotics external 14,400 modem and the purchase of bulletin board software to showcase our Andalucia Slide Library photographs. Except for a few professional newspaper picture desks with large Apple Mackintosh computers, the rest of the computer world was still in DOS or Windows 3.1, and photos on a computer screen were still a rarity in those days.
The next logical step was to connect to the internet, which we did via a CompuServe account and a dial connection to a node in Madrid that CompuServe did not own and so levied a hefty surcharge. This, combined with then-expensive inter-provincial phone call, meant our internet adventures were largely limited to brief forays. We composed emails offline, and only went online to send and receive them.
Looking for information was challenging. In another Sunday afternoon session, we found and downloaded a Russian font for Maurice's computer, so that his new Russian girlfriend could type letters.
I preferred the orderly world of CompuServe to the Internet, where finding files using FTP, Gopher, Veronica, and alt.rec mailing lists was haphazard. The World Wide Web was, at that time, just a place where you could check a few thousand websites worldwide, with almost nothing about Spain. CompuServe, meanwhile, did have a Spanish forum, moderated by Enrique Pareja. I wrote about this strange new medium, the Internet, in the local media, and talked it up on local TV. Louise Cook invited me onto her show on Mijas 340 - and was amused by a book I brought along called Internet for Dummies.
The sheer efficiency of email communication over the fax drove me on, almost as an ambassador for the Internet, whilst at work in offices all over, fax paper was being consumed by the roll.
This radical new means of communication had not escaped the notice of Mark Little, the late editor of Lookout Magazine. He was interested in the concept of how it might change the world of foreign residents, living far from their original 'home'. Imagine a world where the cost of a communication message was not proportional to the distance it had to travel, a world where we have a virtual address that moves around with us. That was email, and when my wife Michelle added it to her stationery, Copywrite marketing agency in Marbella asked her what it was.
So Mark Little asked Janet Mendel to write an article about foreign residents in Andalucia on the Internet and asked my wife to be one of the featured residents and to illustrate the article with photographic portraits. Together with Janet, we set about finding people and came up with Patricia Broom, an American real estate agent in Fuengirola, and English writer Laurence Bohme, whose nom de plume was Don Lorenzo, in Montefrio, a hilltown in Granada.
I remember the three of us driving up to find Lorenzo's home, Cortijo de los Siete Olivos, which was down a long unmade track - when we finally arrived, Don Lorenzo and his daughter Nina welcomed us to a home-made lunch on the terrace. We admired the scenery and the telegraph poles and the tranquility. He showed us his Heath Robinson-style set-up of a computer, and power inverter fed by a 12-volt supply from old car batteries, in turn fed from solar panels, and if needed a small diesel generator. From this remarkable setting, important translated UN documents came and went.
Happily, I have stayed in touch with Don Lorenzo over the years - he moved from the Cortijo to a little casita near the castle in Montefrio, where he renovated some more ruined houses and turned them into holiday homes rented by his website donlorenzo.com Tourists came from far and wide, not just to stay in a remarkable location, but learn about the culture of the village and its gypsy quarter.
Andalucia.com's first employee was Mike Cartwright, himself half-Brazilian, and he and Lorenzo enjoyed chatting about website design in Portuguese.
By the millennium, the novelty of finding a casita to rent in Montefrio on the Internet had worn off, and I think Don Lorenzo grew tired of being the wise host. It was time to move on.
Don Lorenzo has since written a series of ebooks on Amazon, forming his autobiography and filling in the gap between the early 1960s and late 1980s periods in Montefrio. However the post-Montefrio period is yet to be documented, and I have resisted the temptation to write a spoiler here.
When I re-read the seven accounts of life of Montefrio, I still chuckle to this day. They were first published in an newspaper called The Entertainer (now Euroweekly News) and I thank Don Lorenzo for giving me permission to republish them here on Andalucia.com. I am pleased that this era has been recorded so that new visitors who discover Montefrio can learn of the bygone days, when there was only one 'ingle' (Englishman, said with an Andalu' accent) in the village.
Don Lorenzo's author page on Amazon