Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Little Town That Isn't Much of Anything


Historically, the not very picturesque town of La Línea de la Concepción (LLC), which is connected to Gib by the slimmest of umbilical cords (the eastern isthmus of the Bay of Gibraltar) has had its fair share of shit to deal with.

Almost 40 years ago, during his "siege" of the British colony, a particular Spanish dictator - whom I will call The Particularly Rotten Spanish dictator - closed the border between LLC and Gib which had the unarguably immediate effect of ruining the town. In the blink of an eye. Jobs, most of which were on the other end of the 1.6 kilometre-long isthmus, were unaccessible and consequently, one third of the population vanished overnight.

In 1975, the Particularly Rotten Spanish dictator finally died and was buried in a tomb built by a convict labour force of 20,000 Republican prisoners. Half a dozen years later (mas o menos), the border was reopened and the daily comings and goings across the land spit resumed. Linenses (those from LLC) still cross over to buy cheap cigarettes and to fill up their tanks - but now the flow has reversed and Gibraltarians are making the trek to the mainland to find significantly cheaper housing, a lower cost of living and churro stands. Why are there no churro stands in Gib? Oh! - and to play an awful lot of golf. Perhaps that should have been number one.

The transplanting of Gibraltarians has had a rather ugly trickle down effect in LLC. Real estate prices have gone through the roof and many locals cannot afford to buy or rent apartments in their own town. The building boom which has violated the Costa del Sol has spread its noxious tentacles along the coast of La Costa de la Luz, leaving construction cranes and unaffordable and/or unfinished villas and housing estates in its wake. Prices are going up up up.

LLC is a fishing village whose population is now swelling but for whom there are few jobs. Some work along the rather ugly industrialized strip on the Bay of Algeciras; others have returned to the smuggling trade of many of their forebears: smuggling. Now the drug of choice is nicotine and LLC provides warehousing for cheap cigarettes coming out of Gib. The town is suffering from an economic schizophrenia: on the same street you can find luxury homes being slapped up and low-cost subsidized housing whose residents walk the streets and take the bus wearing slippers and housecoats. And hopefully presumably, pajamas underneath. Can't wait for the new villa owners to buy up and move in. That shouldn't be too tense.

Linenses are already feeling resentful. Little wonder.

The Powers That Be in the City Council are in a quandary. LLC needs money, investment, and visitors who spend money in-town. The problem is that no one wants to come to LLC - they want to go to Gib. And there is a logical reason for this: there is nothing to do or see in LLC; in fact, LLC is pretty much a parking lot for Gib. This is not so much LLC's fault - clearly the blame lies at the mouldering feet of The Particularly Rotten Spanish dictator who devastated the town with a misguided whim and the flourish of a pen.

So this past winter, the Powers That Be in the city council orde
red that a garden/park be built - a Leafy Little Thing complete with statuary and a fountain and a peacock. Work began before I arrived in January and was finished just last month. Señor Gato Gringo and I have investigated this Leafy Little Thing and have put great thought into whether this Leafy Little Thing will help put LLC on the touristic map. Our thoughts ran in the direction of definitely probably not. Why?

The Statuary: generic almost to the point of unrecognizable Greek gods and goddesses? Please.
I have a Classics degree and I can't even recognize who these statues are supposed to be. The Goddess of Ambiguity? The statues of the three flamenco dancers, the Gibraltar day-worker, and that of flamenco legend Camarón de la Isla we've seen around town tell us you can do much much better. Work on that. Better yet, just move those ones into the Leafy Little Thing. The God of Who-The-Hell-Am-I won't care.

The fountain: the fountain's prancing fluids - which spurt out of the mouths
of two ceramic dolphins - only seem to prance on weekends. A non-prancing-fluid fountain is depressing. Turn the damn tap on.

The Indian Blue peacock: an excellent idea that, but perhaps two peacocks should have been acquired
for the Leafy Little Thing rather than one. Better yet, a peahen. If the peacock and peahen get busy, and the resultant gazillion peafowl begin to overrun LLC, a petting pea-zoo would be a huge tourist draw. Who in their right mind would prefer (illegally) feeding thieving self-gratifying Macaque apes when they can pet a peafowl? Did I mention that the Resident Peacock seems a trifle lonely?

Now, Señor G.G. and I would like to offer a few words of advice to The Powers That Be in the City Council. If you want to make LLC a destination point rather than a parking lot for Gib, try
developing the waterfront. Especially developed ones.
People like waterfronts. And putting up real estate kiosks along the esplanade doesn't count as developed. And open more churro stands. You can never have too many churro stands.

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