Lomos del cantal-Patxi.doc
DÉJÀ VU— BUT, BETTER!
Ric Polansky ©
Not often does one have the opportunity to live their life again. But it’s happened. I’ve returned to the very place where I started working in Spain some forty plus years ago-- right at the bottom of the steps of the La Gaviota complex.
You see, these premises today were once called the Lomos del Cantal offices but today it is a bar. A damn good one too. Back then it had a mercantile attitude of hopefully bringing in tourists to Mojacar and creating a good place for them to live. That novel idea was so obvious ridiculous that I was applauded with wild and rude gestures and taunting laughter on those rare occasions that I visited “the village”. There was only one Mojacar then, “the village” and everything else was a joke—or so those that lived there thought.
For those of us taking on the challenge of modernizing the area and bringing in tourists “the village” was evil and full of people of the same ilk. Retired generals, air commanders and unusual and eccentric personages. Almost all their officious wives and mistresses dressed to impress the locales and flashed their money buying drinks for all the town to keep them acquiescent and under control.
Today I am sipping beer inside what has been most recently renamed BAR DE LA RODUNDA- futbol Y tapas: PATXI (Bar at the round-about—football and tapas—Patxi’s place). I am near the beach with the very blue and daunting Mediterraneo just across the road. But, here I sit sipping a cold one and starring out the window at the same time. Who says that man cannot multi-task? Gulp. When I swallow again it reminds me of the inane saying, “it’s déjà-vu all over again”. But it is. And the psychic force that insists that I reminisce take control of my thoughts. Where the dart board is was Manolo Vargas’s desk. He wrote up the accounts in a beautiful hand written scroll. Calligraphy at it’s artistic best. He was handsome. Proud to be a gypsy and fond at any possible excuse to break into song during his shift. Any phrase, question or listened to side comment might just contain that inevitable “catch word” that would send Manolo into throngs of song. He knew words and had a tune for almost every word ever uttered in the Spanish language. Even when people came up the stairs, walked into our office he would not stop singing and attend to them. No, Manolo insisted on finishing his song first. I thought it damn rude of him, us being a public service sales company. So, I questioned him about it one day. He just smiled that big wonderful grin full of glistening white teeth. “I was in song before they arrived, they should be polite enough for me to finish”. That logic still pervades Spanish decorum. Manolo just flashed those pearlies and won the argument forever.
On the south wall where the picture is sat Diego the head accountant. A very small weasely man always shaking your hand, pumping it like an old fashioned well’s water handle, smiling, bowing, acquiescing as if he was speaking to royalty. He was just too much of a butt kisser to not think he was up to something criminal. If you were outside the room and just walked back in he appeared to be typing or accounting doubly hard, as if you had just caught him dozing or doing something obvious that he shouldn’t have been. I always got the feeling that he really was trying to pick your pocket, steal your watch or whatever else he could snatch while pretending to be your most intimate best and sincere.
It took us some three years before we found that he’d been cooking the books and writing himself checks having negotiated discounts with all the stock supplies from the cement man to the seller of building blocks. Hell, Diego had an entire pension fund set up, there isn’t anyone that ever talked to any of us and provided our company with the slightest service that Diego hadn’t put the “bite” on them for a percentage of the action. He got back handers on any and every deal that any of us ever did. If you wanted to do business with any of our family (newly arrived guri’s ) it had to go thru Diego and he got his commission on all that we bought. He’d drive even in to Almeria and announce himself to some store where one might have purchased a television set or a special chair. He then would talk them into paying him “his cut”. Deal with Diego or run the risk that you would never do any business with a foreigner again unless you paid him. Oh, and historical rumour has told me that he claimed not just for our family but anyone else coming from Mojacar and making purchases outside our area.
Diego never ever would have been caught but for a sheer accident of fate that put us in the same “girlie bar” in Almeria one night. If you’ve read Hispanofile Gerald Brenan’s SOUTH FROM GRANADA you will have learned that our capital city was home to more “sportin’ girls” than any other town along the entire Mediterranean. Whoops, better not tell you too much. You’ll want the book I’m pecking away at.
Stage right. I’m back at Patxi’s sitting in front of the big window and staring out over the sea. Wow, it was the strangest damn scenery in the entire world, myself having grown up some 2000 miles from the nearest ocean. How the colour “blue” could have so many variations. Day after day I continued to squeeze a peek at the wonderment of the sea with the glistening sun gyrating just on top. I just couldn’t get enough of it. And, just when the setting took on the slightest quiet or harmony then one of those clown figures riding on a beat-up motor bike whined by. The scene would indeed be comical but for the fact of each of them was carrying a machine gun strapped over their shoulder and wearing those damn silly hats. Initially I felt sorry for the para-military being forced to wear those hats.
But their reputation cautioned you to not mess with them, not to even think of taunting them. In my early days everybody had bad stories to tell about them. Both Diego and Manolo warned us daily that the “greenies” were cruel. (And remember Franco was still alive and this place was a proper text book dictatorship). They marched about in couples.
Heavy boots, cloak around them and that peculiar hat. A type of “tricornio” with a flat back to suggest they would fight with their backs against the wall but never surrender) When they entered a bar you either turned down the TV or they shut off the music. Just the opposite from today where one has to shout to be heard above the music or TV.
And the only thing deemed “cautious” at Patxi’s is his famous “medicine” called a cartucho” (cartridge) that he awards each patron when they pay their bill. Brewed from his own special secret recipe (Patxi’s drink is so popular it is becoming well known throughout Spain). Some of the more brave come in just for this special drink.
Patxi’s place gets more crowded each day. The drinks are very inexpensive and the place has “crack” (what’s happening). Catering to both Spanish and English.
Just outside and occupying the entire white marbled terrace is the outside dining of Jose’s La Gaviota. Jose has had the Gaviota for almost 30 years and while other places have come and gone he keeps expanding his terrace and catering some very good cooking. He has a menu with wide variety and is also willing to prepare something special for you be it meat or shellfish. Soon Jose will be doing a “menu of the day” for 9.50 Euros.
Jose has probably the best selection of Whisky’s in any bar in Andalucia, a tipple he enjoys. He also has very good and select wines. A stroll through his restaurant has lots of old photos and relics. As Jose’s fluent in English and has lived there for many years take the time to converse about your drink with him.
He’s always open to offers and you might find something new that you’ve never tried before. He surprises me each time I drop by. Besides being an excellent restaurant he now makes unusual pizzas. The thin and crusty type, full of cheese and flavour. Well worth the visit and costing under 7 Euros.
Lots of the more inexpensive dining places don’t have select wines. So, if you’re looking for that unique place to dine out with all the accompaniments-- La Gaviota’s the place.
Or just pop in and squat a peace in the sun at the summer beach bar outside.
These new memories and tastes are by far better than yester-year. Please pop in and enjoy. Deja-vu but better!
After working some four years in the premises that now is Patxi’s bar and another six out of my house I got the chance to buy an office back in La Gaviota complex which is now where the JOLLY LEMON is located. From that location I worked for almost 12 years. Breakfasting, lunching and usually eating dinner with Jose in the La Gaviota.
Now, I am back in the offices frequently enjoying Chris’ fantastic mid day brunches. Delectable sausages, gravy, mashed spuds and veggies all for under a fiver which also includes a soup of the day or a large salad. Of course the special tapas like the garlic bread are all round winners with the clients but Chris always has plenty of other equally good tapas to choose from.
The secretive palatable power of these scrumptious delicacies are from the equally mysterious Katie Connolly who wishes not to discuss her wonderful menus nor allow me to take her picture. I guess she is saying it the old way, “let my food selection and preparation do the talking by taste and flavour”. Other special dishes include minted lamb and vegetable wrap, Cajun roasted salmon, tomato, herbs and cream OR spaghetti with bacon, prawns, smoked salmon OR roast beef and friend onion club sandwich, Cajun roasted potatoes, coleslaw and salad. I am taken back with the caring foresight that goes into each day’s planning. The menu changing almost daily.
The background noise is filled up with those great oldie tunes that one can tap their toes to or even recognize the lyrics.
Assistant Pauline hovers about rushing to and fro with frothing pints or brimming glasses of wine. Pretty Kelly always with a smile and a laugh the atmosphere is convivial and family.
Sounds like everyone’s favourite “local”. Well, it is. On Thursday’s and Friday’s Katie really goes to town with special 4-5 course meals (all for under 15 Euros), but you usually have to book early. It has become very popular and rightfully so. The next time you eat out and pay about 50 Euros plus per head you’ll wish you were back with Katie in the LEMON.
If I pop in for a quick pint I like sitting outside on the south facing terrace. So if you come in from the main entrance steps PAST Patxi’s on the left you can go through to the back terraces. Chris has kindly put up a few of my old pictures of Mojacar for you to look at. I’ve met so many new people while I blow the froth off and grin into the sun. No one is in a hurry, (other than Pauline and Kelly) time slows down like the old days and you can sit and chat enjoying the sun.
Another nice effort Chris has made is creating a nice flower garden from nothing. Birds tweet and pop from flower to cactus; some will even visit your table for crumbs or chips. At the Jolly Lemon one has a perfect mixture of “Amistad” all getting on with each other—birds included.
Lately Chris has been inviting a real English cheese man to ply his wares.
He has it all and cheese tasting day is not to be missed. Lots of free samples of unusual tastes. I stocked up on stilton and Port. Chris has promised he would allow me to announce it in the paper next time. I found the values pretty decent considering the man had to drive some four hours to satisfy our needs and hunger. And port at 8 Euros a bottle pleased me too.
The place is called the Jolly lemon or the Lemon Branch but any way you name it still means total and absolute contentment