Costa del Sol News - 18th June 2010

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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The hoe is mightier than the pen - but doesn't pay as well

Driving Over Lemons author Chris Stewart talks at rural film festival

By Oliver McIntyre

"I'D RATHER die with a hoe in my hand than a pen," said Chris Stewart, ex-Genesis drummer and famous writer of true tales about his farming life in the Alpujarras region of Granada, during his appearance last week at Álora's international rural film festival. 

Mr Stewart was a guest speaker at the fourth annual edition of the festival, which ended on Saturday.  He spoke of his passion for the farming life, though recognising that were it not for his income from books such as Driving Over Lemons, A Parrot in the Pepper Tree, and The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society, he and his wife would not have been able to make a living solely "from the land." 

He also admitted - at least half-jokingly - that it is in fact now his wife Ana who works the farm while he spends his days in the house writing, "which is easier."  All kidding aside, Mr Stewart emphasised his respect and love for the "honest" labour of working the land.  He told festival-goers that the common image of agricultural workers as somehow simple or untalented could not be further from reality.  "The truth is these are people with extraordinary abilities," he said.

Mr Stewart left his native England more than two decades ago to pursue a country life in the Alpujarras, an adventure that he has chronicled with humour and insight in his popular books, which have sold more than a million copies in the UK alone.  He and his wife Ana brought up their daughter Chlöe on their now famous family farm, El Velero, outside of Órgiva. 

MÁlaga appeals to expats to support 2016 culture bid

Winning would mean economic and social benefits for the city and province

By Suzan Davenport

MÁLAGA is seeking support from foreign residents in its bid to be selected as European Capital of Culture for 2016.

Javier Ferrer, director of the Fundación Málaga Ciudad Cultura, organiser of the city's bid, gave a talk on the project to local foreign media members at the Costa Press Club's monthly meeting in La Cala de Mijas on Thursday.

He stressed the importance of citizen participation and appealed for a pledge of support and involvement from the expat population on the coast, saying, "We know that the judging panel, who will decide which city is Capital of Culture, will look closely at residents' participation and enthusiasm for the bid. This includes international residents. It is important that international residents in Málaga province see it as their bid as well, where they can make a difference.

"One of the unique characteristics of Málaga, which will help us stand out from the other 14 Spanish candidacies, is the strength of the international population and the many resident groups. We are a non-profit organisation and would like to ask you for your help."

Sr Ferrer explained that winning the bid would mean huge economic and social benefits to residents in both Málaga city and the province.

Fight for a police station goes to Congress

Benalmádena is currently served by the National Police comisaria in Torremolinos

By Oliver McIntyre

BENALMÁDENA'S long battle to get its own National Police station will soon be heard in Parliament after socialist MPs last week tabled a motion calling for the issue to be addressed in a congressional Interior Commission session.

Land for the station - a 3,300-square-metre plot in Arroyo de la Miel valued at nearly 2.9 million euros - was ceded by the town hall in January 2008. But no action followed, and late last year the project hit a major setback when officials in Madrid announced that no work would begin until at least 2012.

"Benalmádena, with a population of nearly 60,000, which doubles in the high season, needs its own National Police station," said socialist MP Ángel Heredia, who announced his party's congressional motion last week along with fellow MP Daniel Pérez and Javier Carnero, the town's former mayor and current opposition PSOE councillor.

Benalmádena is currently served by the Torremolinos National Police station.

Sr Heredia said he was confident that taking the case to Congress will help jumpstart the creation of the Benalmádena station, which would be manned by some 250 officers. He said the motion to have the issue debated in Parliament has been accepted, and its call for the government to start moving forward with the project "will be approved without any doubt whatsoever."


Infoca firefighting plan boosted due to heightened danger after heavy winter rains

By Oliver McIntyre

A HEIGHTENED summer fire risk due to this winter's heavy rains has sparked a funding boost for the Junta de Andalucía's Plan Infoca wildfire readiness programme for Málaga province.The heavy and late rains have meant a proliferation of vegetation, creating conditions that experts say make this the highest fire-risk summer since at least 2004.

The Plan Infoca budget for the province has been increased by more than 20 per cent, to 22.5 million euros, according to Junta officials who presented the plan last week.  Some 13.5 million euros of that total has been spent on prevention work carried out over recent months on 225,000 hectares of public and privately owned land.

From now until October 15 Infoca will have 600 firefighters at the ready to tackle blazes by land as well as by aircraft.  New additions to the programme this year include a new mobile command centre, renewed communications systems, and a self-pumping fire engine that sprays a fire retardant rather than plain water, much like some firefighting aircraft.  The province has 19 fire watchtowers as well as an automatic fire-detection system. The main forest firefighting stations are in Ronda and Colmenar, with a reinforcement station in Cártama. 

This year's plan also includes the pioneering pilot scheme for the use of firebreak ‘curtains' invented by researchers at the Junta de Andalucía's Environmental Management Service.  Their efficacy is to be tested in the Pinos de Ahaurín zone of Alhaurín de la Torre.

Andalucía-wide Plan Infoca has 117 firefighting vehicles, eight mobile meteorology units and 38 aircraft including 12 planes and 26 helicopters.

As in previous years, the Junta has issued a summertime ban on barbecues, the burning of agricultural waste and the use of motor vehicles in forested areas. The annual ban runs from June 1 to October 15. 

New Barcelona train service ends Trenhotel era

Passengers can leave Málaga at 8.20 and be in Barcelona in time for lunch

By Dave Jamieson

A SECOND daily, high-speed, direct rail service between Málaga and Barcelona began operating on Sunday.

Renfe says the AVE services have now replaced the overnight sleeper trains between the two cities.

The new service departs from Málaga's María Zambrano station every morning at 8.20am, arriving in Barcelona Sants station five hours 45 minutes later at 2.05pm. It complements the existing 4.50pm departure which arrives at 10.30pm. Trains call at Antequera, Puente Genil, Córdoba, Ciudad Real, Zaragoza, Lleida and Camp de Tarragona, plus Ciudad Real which is a new stop on this route.

Return services leave Barcelona at 10.20am and 3.50pm, and the four services can carry up to 1,344 passengers every day.

However, the new service spells the end for the Trenhotel, the overnight sleeper service between Málaga and Barcelona, which took 11 hours 25 minutes to cover the same distance. It made its final run on Sunday, leaving Málaga at 8pm and arriving in time for breakfast in Barcelona. Renfe said the decision was taken to withdraw the sleeper service because of its falling passenger numbers and an increasing demand for the AVE service.

It said 42.6 per cent fewer people used the sleeper last year compared with 2008, while in the first four months of this year the AVE service showed a 23 per cent increase in use, compared with 2009.

The direct high-speed service between the cities was introduced in January 2009 after a by-pass was constructed south of Madrid which negated the need for passengers to change in the capital's Atocha station.

Bar owner shot dead for defending customer

Irishman Wilson Bennett tried to resuscitate the victim but nothing could be done to save his life

By Oliver McIntyre

A TORREMOLINOS bar owner was shot to death by one of his regular customers last week after defending a young woman the man was hassling.

According to witness reports, the incident occurred at around 1pm on Thursday after the owner of the Cafetería Bar Hermanos Velasco II, located on Calle Salvador Allende near the Hotel Sol Aloha Puerto, told the inebriated customer to "leave the girl alone." The man walked out and went to his home just up the street, then returned to the bar with a pistol and fired one shot at the victim's head. The 55-year-old bar owner, Juan Velasco, died with a gunshot wound affecting his neck and head.

An Irishman who lives in the zone and works at Smugglers Bar a few doors down heard the shots and screams and ran to the scene of the shooting. "The workers were hysterical - I went behind the bar and started performing CPR," said Wilson Bennett, 30, from Belfast. Though it was clear the victim was dead, he continued to administer CPR for 15 to 20 minutes until the ambulance arrived, he said.

Police responded to the scene and, after obtaining a court order, raided the home of the alleged shooter, located around 500 metres away from the bar on Avenida de España. He was not at home, but hours later officers tracked him down and arrested him at a house in the province of Córdoba.

Spain has Europe's second-cheapest petrol

British Post Office survey helps drives plan motoring holidays

By Dave Jamieson

SPAIN is still one of the cheapest places in Europe to buy petrol, despite substantial price rises in recent months.  The country came second only to Luxembourg in an annual survey just published by the British Post Office.

The data, intended to help UK drivers planning motoring holidays this summer, compared the pump prices of 95-octane unleaded and diesel at filling stations in 14 European countries.  The annual report says that fuel prices have risen steeply across Europe this year, by up to 25 per cent for unleaded petrol and as much as 34 per cent for diesel.  It shows that the price of unleaded 95 in Spain has risen by 16 pence (20 cents), or 17.4 per cent a litre, since the same survey last year, while diesel is up 13 pence (16 cents), or 15 per cent.

The data shows that the cost of unleaded 95 needed to travel 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometres) here is £163.26 (197.21 euros) compared with £184.09 in the UK, while Norway is priciest at £224.44. Only Luxembourg's £162.84 undercuts Spain. 

Spain is also second cheapest for diesel at £152.19, compared with Luxembourg's £138.53.  The UK's figure is £186.21 and Norway is again the most expensive at £204.46.  Diesel costs less than unleaded petrol in all the countries surveyed, except for the UK and Switzerland.

British conductor leads line-up for Nerja Caves

The Costa's greatest ‘underground' music and dance festival set for next month

By Dave Jamieson

THE RTVE Symphony Orchestra, under its British conductor, and the National Theatre Ballet of Prague head the list of performers appearing at this year's festival of music and dance in Nerja's famous caves.  The programme for the five-day event, which opens on Tuesday, July 13, was announced on Monday.

The conductor Adrian Leaper has been the principal conductor and artistic director of the Radio Televisión Española Symphony Orchestra since 2001.  On July 16, he will direct works by Delius, Mozart and Mendelssohn, and will be joined on stage on by the Jaén guitarist Vicente Coves for a performance of Rodrigo's famous Concierto de Aranjuez.

The Czech Republic dance group will make two appearances during the festival, on July 15 and 17, performing excerpts from classic ballets including Romeo and Juliet, Don Quixote and The Sleeping Beauty. 

The opening night will be given over to the singing of Estrella Morente, from the famous Granada family of flamenco artists.  Her performance will be complemented the following evening by the tangos of Julio Bocca, regarded by many as one of the most important ballet dancers of the late 20th century and as Argentina's greatest dancer of all time.

This will be the 52nd annual festival to be held in the Nerja Caves and this year the event has a budget of 290,000 euros.  The president of the Caves Foundation, Ángel Ramírez, said that the 2010 programme would "restore the tradition of high level of quality," associated with the event.