My time in Tarifa recently has given me insights into the beautiful port town’s underbelly; the world which lies beneath the surface, highlighting the softer edges of an almost subsistent community which is turmoil with its grandiose notions of expansion and profit.
The Mayor of Tarifa, Juan Andres Gil, is a man who has managed to hold his position of power for many years, enjoying four terms in office with four different political parties. Talk amongst the locals is of corruption yet their attitude is one of, “What can we do?”
I have seen that in myself too; that slice of hypocrisy that goes with the “I can live with it” philosophy.
The mayor walks the streets calling for less tourism and more jobs, citing the building of the Valdevaqueros Hotel and Housing Complex as the saviour of the local economy because it will create jobs and bring more money to the town. It would seem that Snr. Juan Andres Gil, the man who recently said, “To hell with ecologists,” is deluded.
There are already thousands of houses for sale in Spain at a time when the country is deep in recession and 40% of the population – by official, registered figures – is unemployed. Who knows what the unofficial figures are? Juan Andres Gil also fails to recognise the importance tourism has on Spain’s economy. Do tourists not spend their money in local supermarkets, restaurants and hotels? Without them he would truly know the meaning of desperation.
And yet a stroll through the white building town with its Moroccan influence, colourful tiles, lanterns and shops tells a different story. We stopped at a beautifully bright and colourful grocery store; swathes of orange, red, green and yellow adorning racks about its exterior, the wide selection of fruit a visual feast as much as a culinary one.
I prefer to support these local shops who pride themselves on supplying locally grown produce with humility and a personal touch that the bigger supermarkets cannot deliver. The other advantage is environmental, their food coming straight from the fields to the shelves and not thousands of miles by boat and lorry, costing thousands of hidden euros/pounds/dollars in fuel; stuff which is swallowed up by government subsidies. (You see a pattern here? Localise and have more money for other things).
The old man in the shop talked to us, always smiling and happy to be helping. He offered us fruit to taste; sweet Apricots that dissolved on the tongue and juicy deep red cherries, sweet and sour all at once. Those kind of moments live long in the memory and heart; a simple act of kindness that makes life so much more enjoyable. We bought plenty of fruit from him and I was humbled by his generosity.
A similar experience occurred further down the street at José’s apartment block; his wonderfully crafted quad covered in recycled tiles in a myriad of tasteful colours, lovely hand painted pictures hanging in pride of place. He invited us in to see his work, a humble and warming collection of hand-built furniture, decorated plant pots and paintings. He quietly tends the quad and is happy to invite wanderers into his stunning little world, eager to show them his quiet, hidden corner of Tarifa.
Those are the memories of Tarifa I choose to carry. There is something magical about the place that is hard to identify; a feeling that underneath the rowdy political struggles and proposed expansion of the town there is a secret world where creativity flourishes and humility and humanity reign.
Simple acts of kindness leave an indelible mark on the soul and those moments go a long way to strengthening our relationships with other people in a world which is increasingly more in need of healing.
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