Once a year, at the Hotel Algorfa, about 150 yards away from my home, a grand paella party is held. This event is free to all those living in the local urbanisations. Many groups of houses in Spain have a management committee with president, vice president and usually an outside company looking after the urbanisation’s finances and legal obligations, to manage things like maintenance, street lighting, rules for the community swimming pool and for the community in general, gardening. Because most of us in this group of urbanisations vote for the incumbent mayor, he sponsors the paella party as a ‘thank you’. I hope it is not a bribe. He has been good to the expatriate community. We have a pedestrian crossing at the main road where previously it was ’take your life in your hands’. The roads have all been recently re-surfaced (days before his re-election). And the path from our houses to the hotel, where our vice-president had a bad fall and a badly broken leg, has been properly paved. So the mayor gathers votes. The votes of many who would not usually vote for a Socialist mayor. The group of urbanisation presidents have a regular meeting with him, which has been most effective. Expats here outnumber locals. Which is why my Spanish is not coming along as quickly as I had hoped. Too many of us speak English and when you ask a question in Spanish in the market, it is quite usual to get an answer in English.
The hotel is interesting. It is where we gather for an evening drink. It is where we have our annual general meeting. The Tuesday night quiz is held there with its ‘don’t tell the police’ side games. (Play your cards right). Actually, the police do visit the hotel, most days, to take their coffee breaks (and an occasional meal) and they are very welcome visitors. Seeing their car with its bright blue light (always illuminated when on patrol) means that they are regularly patrolling our streets. We have very little trouble with burglars or other unwelcome visitors. The hotel is where the more rabid among British football supporters gather mid-week and at weekends to watch the matches. And it is where my acquaintance, Bernie, gets on his telephone to his betting shop friend in England to place his (several hundred pound) bets on matches or horses. The hotel, three star in local ratings, is unique in my experience. It is entirely run by a family of four Hungarians, who have lived in Spain for years and who are on very good terms with the police. The husband does the heavy work, and during restaurant hours, is the chef. There is a very acceptable goulash. His name - and this is no joke - is Atilla, as in Atilla the Hun, from Hungary. His wife does all the domestic things; cleaning and maintaining the bedrooms, serving at table and behind the bar. She, Katalina, does a lot of smiling and often looks quite stressed and tired. The two children, young grown ups, spend almost all of their waking hours supporting mother and father, being barmen/women, receptionists when required, maintenance assistants. It works for customers and clients but no one in the family appears to have much of another life. At busy times, there is a local girl who takes drinks to tables and returns the empties, but she is not allowed to dispense drinks or handle money.
Today, the place has been absolutely crowded. Any port of call to take advantage of a freebie. And it was free to all residents holding a ticket as long as the drinks kept flowing. We estimate that some 150 people took advantage of the paella. It was cooked outside in four huge paella dishes and although very basic, it tasted good. Perhaps because it was free. The entertainment was free, too. A local duo, frequent visitors on Saturday nights, ‘Bella Luna’, played, very loudly, and some, even some of the oldest of the oldie expats, danced. However, as it was Saturday, the big television screen was on. Raymond, the most rabid of the rabid football supporters, sat, back to everyone else, watching his beloved Manchester City defeat Aston Villa. When I first met Raymond, Leicester City were making themselves surprisingly famous by winning the Premier league title. Raymond was proud to wear his Leicester City Foxes supporter regalia. However, next season, Raymond's allegiances changed as Manchester City swept almost all before them. He despises my type of football supporting, my local team, ever since childhood, through thick and a great deal of thin. And he mocks me and my team for it. I prefer loyalty to switching to the most popular option.
Of course, this being the mayor’s event, he turned up with his main supporter, Enrico, who sells fibre optic technology locally, glad handing people. And I think people were genuinely glad to be gladhanded. He is young, good looking and as far as the expat community is concerned, effective. Oh! for effective politicians worldwide.