Monday, 25 January 2016

Ángel Tinoco - Franco yes! Oil, no!

Ángel Tinoco at his shop on Juan Bueno
 I thought my recent publications about the Civil War were a bit short on local detail, so I decided to pay a call to local historian Ángel Tinoco in his shop on Juan Bueno. Could he tell me anything about local events during the period in question, around 1936 to 1955?  

 Ángel loves to talk about Vejer and its history and folklore, but on this topic, his lips are sealed.

 ‘It’s a taboo subject’, he said, adding that as the years went by, there were fewer and fewer people left who would object to having their, or their families’ stories told, and that once the floodgates were opened, there would be much to talk about.

 Meanwhile, stories of the past are not the only, or even the main reason for visiting Ángel’s shop. A radio repair man by trade, he has a remarkable collection of old radios and other early machines and devices, neatly arranged in a small museum, one of Vejer’s less visible attractions but surely unique. 

A unique collection of radios from all over the world
Ángel is always pleased to show you around and answer questions, and even to sell you a fan, decorated plate or chandelier for your ceiling, as well as many other electrical objects. His shop is one of a dying breed, rooted in the days when few people travelled far and you could buy everything you wanted within a few streets of where you lived.

  His story begins in the 1920s, when his father, a cobbler, found that new, mechanised methods of shoe-making were taking over, reducing his clientéle and devastating his income.

 ‘It was a time of extreme poverty,’ Ángel explained, ‘and people were struggling just to find something to eat. Factory-made shoes were more affordable, and many people had to go without shoes altogether.’

  Ángel senior, however, was a resourceful man, and he had heard that electricity was the coming thing. He got hold of a book called ‘Electricity and its Uses’, and discovered that although mains electricity was not available in Vejer, many household items could be connected to large batteries, creating a huge saving for the householder in terms of energy and effort. The new activity helped to offset the losses he was making in the shoe trade, and the family were a little more comfortable as a result.

Electrical repars are still done in the shop
  Both Ángel and his brother were intrigued by this new technology and they subsequently trained as plumbers and electricians. The big breakthrough came in 1959, when mains electricity was installed in Vejer. Over the next decade, many young people left Spain to work overseas. The money they sent home made it possible for their families to invest in appliances like refrigerators, washing machines and televisions. 

  Ángel, meanwhile, devoted his energies to repairing these acquisitions, specialising in radios and TVs. Some, however, he could no nothing with. These were the appliances made overseas, At the time, Spain used a 110 volt current, while the rest of the world was on 120, and since conversion was not yet possible, a collection of surplus radios began to build up in his workshop, along with the occasional gramophone and sewing machine. It seemed a shame throw them away and as time went by, many of them became genuine curiosities, with an impressive international range. The nucleus of the museum began here. 

A mini juke box from China
  Meanwhile, the original cobbler’s shop was past its best. Over the years, it was rebuilt and extended, creating more living space upstairs, as well as a substantial workshop. Ángel Tinoco’s shop became the place to go for small electrical goods and repairs, and as the defunct radios threatened take over, he created his museum, unique in Vejer, and maybe unmatched anywhere.

 Though the Internet and the large electrical mega-stores now predominate, and faulty items are rarely repaired, Ángel’s shop is still trusted by older people and those in a hurry. His stock has diversified into a range of souvenirs and objects of interest, and above all, if you want information about the history of Vejer, Ángel is the man to ask. 

Historical telephones
  Although Ángel had little specific he was willing to divulge about the Civil War era, he did tell me one amusing tale from his childhood. In 1946, when Ángel was 7 years old, a demonstration, as he ironically termed it,  occurred in Vejer. It was a time of acute poverty, and many people were hungry. The only things that were not rationed, it was said, were ‘fish smoke and ginger’.

  Spanish hospitality was strained to its limits in this era, and children were warned that if they visited another house, though they might be offered food, they should always refuse it. Saying ‘yes’ might result in somebody’s going without their supper.

  Most in demand were coffee, bread, sugar and, most of all, oil. Jokes went around in whispers, comparing Franco’s Spain to a leaky old car spouting oil from every orifice, and making it clear that olive oil was the only exportable product Spain possessed. Not only that, but the proceeds were dedicated to providing luxury products for the ruling classes. Nobody cared about a little town like Vejer. 

Fidel Castro keeps company with Cary Grant
 At the time, Spain’s trade was blockaded by most of the world’s nations, in protest against Franco’s dictatorship. However, the blockade had little effect on the régime and though there were protests against the blockade, the people did not openly challenge Franco’s power.

 In those days, children liked to play out in the street when they could, but though they caused no damage, if they were spotted, the authorities made a point of chasing them home. One day, Ángel and four of his mates were playing on the steps at the bottom of Calle Nuestra Señora de las Olivas, where we now find the Café Central, when the Mayor, the Chief of the Falange and the Chief of Police came by.

Many and diverse items in Ángel Tinoco's shop
  ‘Children, don’t run away,’ they said, ‘come with us and repeat in a loud voice what we tell you.’
The children were puzzled, but felt important to be able to help the authorities. They set up the  chant as requested: ‘Franco yes, communism no!’, repeating it until it became almost like a song. The streets filled up, men, women and children, old and young, all shouting these words, not for political reasons but because it had been wrongly rumoured that anyone who joined in would get a supply of much-needed oil.

 The demonstration moved up the street to today’s Begines bar, in front of the church. The doors were closed, but Ángel was fairly sure he would find his uncle Antonio inside. And indeed, when he opened the door of the bar, it was full to the rafters with men, all chanting, not the anti-communist message the children had been told to spread, but the distinctly heretical ‘Franco yes! Oil, no!’

  Ángel Tinoco has a website, Historias de Vejer:

You can find his shop and museum on Calle Juan Bueno 26.


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The Civil War - the Maquis, resistors of tyranny.

The Sierras - a harsh sanctuary
  ‘Maquis’ is a term which describes the guerrilla fighters of the French resistance. During and after the Spanish Civil war, it was also applied to the fighters who opposed Franco’s fascist régime. Shadowy, elusive, known only by nicknames, these were the fighters who refused to accept Franquismo, and struggled on for years to defeat a totalitarian régime. Members of the Maquis practised both large and small-scale resistance, from cutting cables and blowing up bridges to armed conflict. 

  For many years, the guerilla campaign against Franco was a taboo subject. Anyone who showed an interest in the topic was likely to lose their job or even to be imprisoned as an enemy of the state. Open discussion of the subject only became possible after a democracy was established in 1978.

The Spanish press was forbidden to report the activities of the Maquis,
but the Communist papers were willing to defy the law.
  However, the existence of the Spanish Maquis was well-known. Officially described as ‘fugitives’,  or 'bandits', to the ordinary people of Spain, they were ‘the reds’ or ‘the mountain people’. They were ‘Zaragata’, ‘el Chanca', ‘el Titi', ‘el Quinto de Coín’, ‘Pandaretas’, ‘Tabardillo’, ‘el Coripeño’ and a thousand others, lovingly or angrily nicknamed.

The Guardia Civil kept a 'hit list' of wanted guerrillas.
  After the Civil War ended, the Maquis entered into folklore. Bandits, maquis and those scary harvesters of human flesh, the sacamantecas, were all lumped together in story and legend until Manuel Pérez Regordan of Arcos de la Frontera decided to bring the subject into the open. He began to ask questions in his local area, persuaded sometimes reluctant witnesses to share their memories and in 1987, finally published ‘El Maquis en la Provincia de Cadiz’, a record of the members of the Cádiz Maquis and their activities.

The Province of Cadiz was one of the centres of Maquis activity.
    Resistance to Franco’s Nationalist rebellion began as early as in 1936, when ‘The Army of the Reconquest’ challenged Nationalist occupation of towns in Galicia and León. In response, the Nationalists gave XIV Army Corps the responsibility for suppressing opposition. Many of the corps’ activities were focused on Andalucía, where a tradition of anarchism gave an edge to protest. Francisco Gómez ‘El Cerreño’ escaped captivity in 1936 and formed an organisation whose activities ranged across the whole of Andalucía until he was detained in 1949 and sent to France. Four guerrillas under the orders of ‘Tabarrito’ created mayhem in Granada until 1942, when they were killed in a confrontation with the Army.
The first generation of guerillas was composed mainly of fugitives from Franco’s justice. After the fall of Huelva on July 29th 1936, almost a thousand Republican soldiers remained in the area, gradually dispersing into the mountains, where they formed themselves into guerrilla groups. Gradually, the groups of outlaws became more organised, and by the nineteen forties, their efforts were directed towards overthrowing the régime. 

Women guerrillas ready for combat.
  The Province of Cadiz, particularly the Sierra de Cádiz, was an important centre of guerrilla activity. The first recorded guerrilla action taken in Cádiz Province occurred in January 1940, when ‘Majada de Hornillo’ and ‘Viña de Padilla’ attacked Jimena de la Frontera. An armed confrontation with the Guardia Civil took place later that year in Benaocaz.

  Despite publicly minimising the Maquis’ political impact, the government privately recognised them as guerrillas fighting against the régime, and pursued them without mercy. As the Maquis proliferated,  the government tried at first to suppress them by the use of military force. However, it soon became clear that such an elusive enemy could not be contained by conventional means, and the Guardia Civil, with its local knowledge and ruthless methods, was given the job of dealing with the guerillas. Much of what we know about the guerrilla resistance to Franco’s régime comes from records made by Roger Oliete Navarro, who rose to the rank of Lieutenant General of the Guardia Civil. 

The Guardia Civil's work was glamorised in art and literature.
Members of the Civil Guard on duty.
The word ‘Maquis’ entered the Spanish vocabulary in 1944, when an infiltration of Spanish Republican exiles was organised in Toulouse with the ultimate ambition of overthrowing Franco’s government. The forces, led by Colonel Vicente López Tovar, first established themselves at Foix in the Pyrenees, intending to gather support among the local people, prior to launching an attack. Around 10,000 people prepared themselves to confront the régime. The attack only lasted for ten days before being defeated by the combined forces of the Army, the Guardia Civil and the Carabinieri. Three hundred were taken prisoner and the remaining survivors dispersed in the mountains, from where they would continue to fight a guerilla campaign.

Waiting for action in the Sierra.
  Despite what the régime wanted people to think, resistance to Franco was not a matter of a few ‘fugitives’, but an organised movement with strong links and cohesion. Many guerrilla groups had a distinctly political orientation, reflecting the ideals which had informed Republicanism from the outset. In Ronda, the ‘Stalingrad Guerrilla Group’ was founded in 1943, not to be confused with the 25-strong ‘Antifascist Guerrilla Group’, founded in Seville in 1949. 

Franco's press were not allowed to report on the Maquis' political context
  The different factions of the left managed to resolve most of their differences in 1945, when the ‘National Union of Antifascist Guerrillas: Southern Section’ was formed, to be followed by the ‘Alliance of Democratic Forces’ in 1946, led by Bernabé López Calle, with a base in the Campo de Gibraltar. All these groups possessed written statutes and organisational structures. In 1945, the defeat of Fascism in Germany led many to believe that Fascism’s last hour had come. Guerilla activity halted for a while, but when nothing changed, the Maquis resumed their activities. 

La Cueva de los Maquis in Castellar was a favourite mountain refuge
  The town of Alcala de los Gazules was a local centre for the activities of the maquis. From its heights, Vejer and Medina Sidonia are clearly visible, as well as a large part of the Straits of Gibraltar. Other mountain villages saw concentrated guerrilla activity, including nearby Arcos de la Frontera, Medina Sidonia, Castellar, Jimena and Cortes. Several groups were organised from Jerez. The famous Arcos guerrilla leader, Miguel García Parra, was featured in a Carnival ‘comparsa’ in 1948:

‘The twenty second of September,
We will always remember
The pistoleros came
For Miguelito García.
They took him from his house
To steal his money
And his mates’ money too
To give to the priest.
Don Miguel said
‘If you want me to come
Ride with me to the farm
And seizing the moment,
Courageous and valiant
He ran from those thieves,
Those murdering villains.

  The coastal towns did not see as much guerrilla actions as those in the mountains, for obvious reasons, and what activity occurred was often recorded as simple crime, without any political context. However, there can be no doubt that Vejer was involved with resistance groups. In May 1941, one guerrilla, José Ramos Olivete ‘The Pirate of Vejer’, was caught with two other rebels while robbing a flour factory in Alcalá in1941, and subsequently executed at Jerez. Flour was in constant demand among the guerillas, and fighters would go to any lengths to obtain it. On18th May 1949, a Vejer shopkeeper, Demófilo Vitorique Merino, received an anonymous demand under threat, to deliver certain objects to the Maquis. He reported the matter to the civil guard who arrested Valentín López López, Francisco Aguayo Navarro and Luis Cardoso García.

  As I said at the beginning of this article, it was customary for the régime to minimise the activities of the Maquis, and to pass off their activities as simple crime. It was easy to do this, because most guerrillas engaged without scruple in robbery and even kidnapping to achieve their ends. One amusing story recounts how a child was kidnapped by a leader of the Maquis. The only response came from a local shop, which complained bitterly that its supplies of chocolate had been depleted. After he had been ransomed, despite repeated questioning, the boy refused to betray his abductors, who he said had treated him ‘very kindly’.

A woman mourns a guerrilla shot by the Guardia Civil
  The operations of the Maquis would have been impossible without the support of the ‘enlaces’, (links) the women and men who lived as normal citizens in the towns and villages and provided the guerrilla fighters with supplies and information. If caught, they were punished as severely as if they had taken part in the fighting, and although we cannot quantify their part in the struggle against Franco, for every guerrilla fighter, there were several more working secretly within the community. Many were women, the wives or sisters of the guerillas, but many men were also involved. About 20,000 people were executed for helping the Maquis, and so many people were placed in concentration camps and gaols that Franco’s Spain has been described as ‘one immense prison’.

Some of the most unexpected people acted as enlaces for the fighters.
 Despite their best efforts and an enormous amount of sacrifice, the Maquis never managed to defeat Franco. The forces ranged against them were well-armed and numerous, and they had no compunction about using torture and intimidation to weaken support in local communities. The Guardia Civil laid many towns to waste in order to root out ‘traitors’.By the mid 1950s, the American presence in Spain had kick-started the failing economy and a new generation had grown up which had never known life before Franco. The régime produced stability, albeit at the expense of freedom, and repression became the new normal. Many older people today look back with nostalgia on a time when ‘moral’ standards were enforced and conservative values upheld.

  Thousand of Maquis were killed during the period of resistance, and many others imprisoned. The lucky ones were able to escape, and many returned to Spain when the fuss had all died down. The real number of deaths will never be known. Too many were summarily executed and buried without honours. The deaths are recorded only in local legend.

A plaque commemorates guerrillas shot at the roadside and buried in an unmarked grave
As well as fighting in the Spain, the Spanish Maquis made a contribution to the efforts of the French Resistance during the second world war. Martha Gellhorn wrote in The Undefeated (1945):

"During the German occupation of France, the Spanish Maquis engineered more than four hundred railway sabotages, destroyed fifty-eight locomotives, dynamited thirty-five railway bridges, cut one hundred and fifty telephone lines, attacked twenty factories, destroying some factories totally, and sabotaged fifteen coal mines. They took several thousand German prisoners and - most miraculous considering their arms - they captured three tanks. In the south-west part of France where no Allied armies have ever fought, they liberated more than seventeen towns."

Two ex-Maquis reminisce, 1980s

Monday, 18 January 2016

Vejer and the start of the Spanish Civil War

The proclamation of the Republic on the Plaza de España, February 1936
   Since I’ve been writing about the history of Vejer, people have often asked me for information about what happened here in the Civil War (1936-1939). After Franco died, most Spanish people preferred to concentrate on building a new, democratic nation, and avoided dwelling on the past. In recent years, however, a new generation has insisted on knowing more about their grandparents' war.

The facts are fairly simple. On July 18th 1936, General Franco’s Nationalist followers instigated a rebellion again the elected Republican government. The cities of Cadiz and Seville declared their support for the Nationalist rebels. The government retained control of Málaga, Jaen and Almería. Control of the smaller towns east of Cadiz, including Vejer, was established over the following few days.

Bernabé Muñoz Brenes of Conil, one of the many who disappeared during the Civil War
  Writing in the early 1970s, with the Francoist régime still in place, though in its last throes, Antonio Morillo’s poetic history ‘Vejer de la Frontera y su comarca: aportaciones a su historia’ (1974) is magnificently informative about many aspects of local history. Morillo believed that ‘the knowledge of history is currently a desire awakened more in the visitor than in the resident’. He stated that ‘the history of Vejer  and its surroundings is a simple and straightforward story’, but bemoaned the loss of important records ‘owing to the ignorance and carelessness of past generations’.

   Morillo, who became Vejer’s Mayor and remained in office for many years, wrote an evocative description of the events surrounding Vejer’s subjection by Nationalist forces. What follows is a translation of his account:

  ‘In the first months of 1936, the situation was chaotic. The elections of February, with the triumph of the National Front, hardened opinions on both sides. Quarrels were threatened between the parties in the coalition. The atmosphere breathed menace. On April 14th, 40 people from Vejer and Barbate were imprisoned in Chiclana, though fortunately they were set free within a short space of time.

  ‘Passions began to overflow on 18th and 19th July, when the first alarming news was received of an invasion from Morocco. Groups of people armed with sticks and stones began to gather on the streets, breaking windows and terrifying the people trapped inside. Fear and distress prevailed as everyone braced themselves for worse violence. 

The hated Guardia Civil, a paramilitary police force which enforced Nationalist control
  ‘At dawn that Sunday, the first bell rang for Mass. As the sound died away, several men entered the church. As the priest began the service, they demanded to search the church for hidden weapons. Don Angel Caballero tried to persuade them at least to allow the mass to be concluded, but they did not consent and the church was closed.

  ‘The following night, the priests and the sacristan were imprisoned in the town jail, and a heated debate was held about which to burn - the church or the houses of the rich. The first was decided upon. That same night, the altars were sacked and defiled, the parochial archives thrown out onto the street, sacred statues flung onto the floor and images torn up in the street. A bonfire was lit to burn it all.

  ‘The church of Vejer was a sad sight, with its magnificent images and works of art destroyed, including many antique paintings like the priceless ‘Virgen de Gracia’, along with ornaments, gilding and all the books in the archive. Everything was lost in the flames. ‘It’s been a busy night’, as some commentators remarked, emerging sweating from the ransacked church.
Friend of the church assess the damage after a night of destruction.
  ‘It was a doleful picture, which, out of respect and shame, I will not dwell on in all its details. In telling this history, I prefer to take the position of a bystander, and not to allow opinion to cloud the facts. But it was a degrading spectacle and leaving ideology aside - religious ones included - works of art always deserve respect. They are not the property of any time or place and under no circumstances should they be destroyed. The same goes for the archives, an authentic amassing of history over centuries, destroyed for the sake of the resentments of a single moment in history.

Damage to the interior of the church
  ‘Once the burning was over, a meeting was held in the usual place, the patio San Francisco. The most enthusiastic participants wanted to continue with the looting, but Don García Pérez, the local head of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), managed to calm the crowd down, assuring them that they had achieved their objectives, and they returned to their houses. 

  ‘The following day, even the nuns joined in ringing the bells when, from the bell tower came the shout ‘¡the Moors, the Moors!’ Thanks to a telephone operator from Vejer, news of the conflagration in the church had reached Cádiz. 

  ‘A lorry had been sent immediately with twenty four Moroccans soldiers, which at the command of the lieutenant of the regulars, drove up the hill towards Los Remedios. However, anticipating their arrival, the extremists had felled a giant Eucalyptus tree across the road and the way was blocked. The soldiers turned around and ascended via San Miguel. They arrived in warlike mode, commencing their advance through the town with weapons at the ready for the least suspicion of resistance. They met with no more than a few isolated shots.

Falangist women collecting cigarettes for Nationalist rebel fighters
  ‘The rioters and incendiaries, who had apparently vanished into thin air, lurked around La Barca like souls awaiting the Devil. The ‘Moors’ continued to advance through the town, firing into every balcony and open window, most of which were protected by woollen blankets. Five people died, one of them shot through the keyhole by which she was observing the spectacle. Several people were wounded, but only one seriously, and these were brought to the building which is now the Hotel San Francisco on the Plazuela.

  ‘Meanwhile, the streets were patrolled and order was restored, Residents were asked to open their windows, and the call ‘¡Abrir, Abrir! was heard all over town. The priests were released from jail and did their best to calm the people.

  'The soldiers left at four in the afternoon the same day, having organised patrols of volunteers to mount guard at the most strategic points in the town, such as the belltower of the church, using the few weapons they had. Three days later, new rifles arrived, together with some old revolvers. José Mera remained in Vejer as head of the militia and Antonio Muñoz as head of the Falange.

  ‘Voluntary and novice guards continued to police Vejer, and as the tragedy faded, regular soldiers often made jokes at their expense. One day, while on watch, the regulars threw a cooking pot into the Plazuela, where the casino once was, and in a panic, the volunteers dispersed the crowd, believing it to be a bomb. 

  ‘A little later, the same volunteers were on guard when they heard voices crying for help. The chief of the guard, believing a severe military emergency to be at hand, mobilised his men, covering the square as far as the street Nuestra Señora de las Olivas. from where the cries came. Investigating a little further, however, they discovered that all the cries came from one window, and were the lament of a woman whose brother had just died. 

The Falange maintained authority with a powerful military presence
  ‘While the situation gave rise to some comical situations like these, some of the families of the town were overwhelmed by tragedy. Many of the former extremists had been jailed, filling the municipal prison to its limits. Some were shot in subsequent expeditions made by lorry between the outskirts of Chiclana, or along the highway to Medina. Every morning, prisoners' wives took coffee to the jail on Calle de la Fuente only to find that their menfolk had been shot and buried at dawn. They returned to their houses inconsolate and tearful, announcing to their neighbours the sad news. Many died in this way, whose only crime had been ignorance or the recklessness of youth.

  ‘The nationalist rebels continued their northward march, conquering territories as they went. The first Vejeriegos to be recruited to fight in the Nationalist campaign were enlisted into the ‘Lions of Benamaoma’ battalion in August 1936. On September 11th, an expedition left for Algeciras, encountering its first armed conflict at Manilva. The first Vejeriego to die in action on the Nationalist side was José Castrillón Shelly.'

  The Civil War was ‘won’ by the Nationalists in 1939, though many historians believe that Franco deliberately delayed the conquest of Madrid until he had the rest of the country under control. Franco did not need the support of the people. He believed he ruled 'by the will of God'. Over the next three years, many Spanish people would lose their lives in the conflict. However, Republican resistance did not end there, and until well into the 1950s, the ‘Maquis’ guerillas put up a spirited resistance, a topic which I will explore in my next post.

Local youth was indoctrinated with Nationalist ideology. Here seen drilling on the Corredera.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

The church, the muzak and the tourist dollar...

Vejer's church is the ultimate landmark
This blog doesn’t aim to be controversial, but something has been preying on my mind for a while, and maybe this is the place to voice my doubts. 
  Half way through last summer, feeling exhausted and in need of peace, I decided to pay a visit to Vejer’s beautiful church, La Iglesia del Divino Salvador. I can see the church from my roof terrace; its bells chime melodically through my day, marking the passing hours. I love the interior, and find something new there to enjoy every time I visit.

A calm interior

  But this time, something was wrong. Instead of the comfortable smell of old incense, my nostrils were assailed by the odour of fresh paint. My favourite painting, ‘The Martyrdom of San Sebastian’, was missing. Worst of all, through the air came the sound, not of psalms or plainsong, but of muzak, the kind of sickly, anonymous music we hate when we hear it in lifts or shopping arcades. Unexpectedly, I found myself weeping with disappointment. My refuge from the world had been cheapened.

The Martyrdom of San Sebastian
  I’m lucky enough to have a choice of refuges and half an hour’s reflection was enough to tell me that I’d been overdoing things and needed to take it easy. Still, some doubts persisted. Churches must be painted, of course, like other buildings, and my friend San Sebastian had probably been whisked out of harm’s way while the work continued. Yet I couldn’t help wondering why piped music had been allowed so inappropriately into a place of worship. Could it be something to do with that more modern religion, ‘El Turismo?’
  Vejer’s church has survived many centuries and seen far worse things than tourism. It’s very likely that there has been a place of worship in that spot for millennia, and some of its stones have no doubt seen service as temple and mosque before regrouping in the late 15th century into a new and specifically Christian edifice. Within its walls, there is evidence of Christian, Gothic and Arab art, and it is commonly believed that the first phase, in Mudéjar style, the Islamic-influenced architecture of medieval Spain, was constructed on the site of a former mosque. 

Image of the sun on the church ceiling
  The demolition of the mosque is a clear sign that the old Moorish culture was now thoroughly vanquished, and the new construction was probably inspired by the fall of Granada in 1492, the final phase in the Reconquista. A second phase, in Gothic style, was added in the seventeenth century and had hardly been completed when the tower was destroyed in the earthquake of 1773. 

Old pictures show the taller and more elegant church spire
The tower was subsequently rebuilt on a less ambitious scale, and though early images show the original as a more elegant structure than it is today, the replacement has proved durable. In 1936, the church was raided and desecrated by Republican protesters at the start of the Spanish Civil war. Compared with all this, a little muzak seems insignificant. 

Damage caused by Republican protestors
  And yet, as TS Eliot wrote, ‘This is how the world ends - not with a bang, but with a whimper.’ And now, suddenly, I’m wondering how far we can take the pursuit of the tourist euro before we begin to destroy the very thing that brought visitors here in the first place. When I first came to Vejer in 2001, I was enchanted by the purity of its white streets, the tranquillity of the summer afternoon, the sense that here was a community, complete in itself, calm beneath its ancient walls. It was manna to the soul.

Ancient attempts to deface Christian imagery

  I wasn’t the only person to think so, and over the years, I’ve watched as cafes and hotels have opened and visitors have continued to arrive, bringing their own kind of life and vitality. In the last few years, the streets have filled with cafe tables and a bustling, optimistic brightness has prevailed. I love Vejer in all the phases of its year, from the elegant silence of winter to the crowded excitement of the summer Feria. 
  Now, though, I’m beginning to notice some false notes. Not too many, but enough to produce a frisson of discomfort. A row of ugly cafe tables. Nasty purple ‘for sale’ signs which project into the street. Beach-style straw umbrellas in the Parque Los Remedios. Hints of a casino on La Corredera. And though the ‘pergolas’ along La Corredera are convenient for diners and restaurateurs, the old-fashioned parasols had more charm. Now, muzak in the church. And I wonder where it will end.

  The answer, of course, will always be that we have to attract visitors - the town needs the money. Even to say these words is to stifle all argument, and very few people ask about the real profit and loss of tourism. 
   In general, tourist income is classified as either ‘direct income’ or ‘leakage’. Leakage is the amount of money earned by tourism which does not remain in the town, and in some developing nations, as much as 90% may be lost, not merely to other areas, but to other countries. Tourism demands investment, and we have to balance what we spend with what we actually get in return.
  It means that a tourist who flies RyanAir (Ireland), hires a vehicle from Europcar (France) and stocks up at Carrefour (France) on the way to their holiday home rented via Airbnb (USA) from an owner in London (UK) doesn’t bring as much profit into Vejer as we might think. And leakage doesn’t stop there. Whenever a tourist consumes something that isn’t produced in the area, the imports required to meet their needs eat into the profits. That Bacardi (Bermuda) and Coke (USA) aren’t as profitable for Vejer as we might like, and even the ingredients for the ubiquitous Tinto de Verano usually come from elsewhere. Some local businesses work hard to counteract this effect; the Califa Group, for example, has its own market garden, but that’s not the norm.
  Least profitable of all are the groups which visit from the cruise ships in Gibraltar and Cadiz. Their expenditure is carefully managed by their tour operators, and we’re lucky if they buy so much as a cup of coffee in Vejer. They’re the classic ‘tomato tourists’, passing through, but contributing very little.

  Towns like Vejer benefit from tourism by charging tax on hotel rooms, which is spent in part on maintaining the infrastructure, severely tested by the influx of summer visitors, as well as providing facilities and opportunities for tourism. Andalucia has also promised legislation to raise taxes from self-catering accommodation in the near future, though this may be difficult to enforce.
  But most tourist money is made by businesses both large and small. Some companies own more than one business, while others are based outside Andalucia, contributing further to the leakage of revenues. For those who don’t have the opportunity to start and run a business, the benefits are not so easy to spot. While work is available through the summer, it’s heartbreaking to see the unemployment figures soar again in September, with no recovery in sight until the job vacancies begin to creep up again in April. 

The church is a significant part of the town's iconography
  Nevertheless, most potential entrepreneurs believe firmly in the powers of tourism, as much as a matter of blind faith as of economic planning, and those involved in rural development assure me that it’s almost impossible nowadays to persuade anybody to invest in anything outside the tourist industry.  This would be more understandable if tourism delivered all-round wellbeing, but as things stand, at 48%, Vejer has the sixth highest rate of unemployment in the whole of Spain. If the money’s coming in, it certainly isn’t going around.
  The rush for the tourist euro has already led to some unfortunate results locally. Though Vejer has some beautiful shops and now, two art galleries, it’s already difficult to buy anything useful in the old town. The Post Office has migrated to the new part and the library will soon follow. Our two small supermarkets have disappeared, one closed and one so beautified and poshified that I hardly dare enter it for fear of what the prices might be. The electrical goods once so usefully available in one local shop have given way to the tourist trinkets and summer dresses which now seem to be on sale in every other doorway. And, if the everyday shops all close, what’s it going to be like in winter, when the souvenir shops close their doors and the old town becomes a ghost town?

  It hasn’t happened yet, and maybe that day will never come. Spain’s native culture is remarkably vibrant, after all. None of this is intended as criticism of our local tourist industry, which has done so much to enliven Vejer. I’d love to see an extended tourist season, maybe with a high-prestige arts festival in Spring or Autumn. But every town needs a balanced economy, and with all eyes fixed firmly on tourism, it seems unlikely that we’ll get one. The new business centre, planned to open this year, may help, but only if some of its users can be weaned off the tourist habit and onto something which offers year-round employment.

Seasonal unemployment has become more exaggerated in recent years

  It all seems a long way from where I started, with the music in the church. But let’s be careful, too. Vejer’s selling point is its beauty, it’s dignity, its ancient heritage, and if these go, who’s going to struggle up the hill to find what’s already available in nearby Conil, and so much closer to the beach? Tourism, the biggest industry in the world, is a good servant, but a poor master. 

Hawaiian style beach umbrellas in the park

 I don’t forget that Vejer is not really my town. Most of its summer visitors are Spanish, and the Spanish presumably know what the Spanish want. But as Coco Chanel said, ‘elegance is refusal’. Let’s just be ready to refuse the ugly and the inappropriate. Nobody will blame us or keep away because we don’t have muzak in the church, a casino or Caribbean style beach umbrellas in the park. Nobody asked for them and most probably, nobody wants them. Or do they?