Δευτέρα, 2 Νοεμβρίου 2009

Benicassim-Castellon de La Planna-D’ares (as in rock’n’roll, tourism and scams)

I left Barcelona quite early in the morning, to catch my train to Benicassim, so that I could go to FIB, the famous festival which the crème de la crème of the British scene visits every year since the late nineties. And, as I was travelling there, I had the chance to see what the hell was happening to the Spanish Mediterranean Coast. My mother had visited the south of Spain at the time when Franco’s regime was coming to an end. She walked through picturesque small fishing villages, full of paved walkways with their interior being almost inaccessible by car. And she returned with stories full of them. Two years later, one of her friends went there. And she came back with the impression that my mom had had visited some parallel universe. Actually the picturesque villages had given way to big holiday resorts, and the paved streets to wide streets ready to receive thousands of cars. The tourist craze was sweeping Spain. And what I got to see was a whole set of carcasses or live buildings of tourist complexes effectively distorting the picture and destroying the coastal landscape. But, to the brighter side of all of it, some of them where in the process of being destroyed. It seems that Spain is in the process of completing a leap from mass tourism to more eco-friendly forms of holidaymaking, like agricultural tourism. But on the other hand, even though the style has changed, the mentality of some of the people that are in the tourist business has not changed. This is particular in the rooms-to-let outlets.

Benicassim during the festival was fully booked. Despite my efforts to find accommodation of some sort in the area, everything fell really short, since all outlets were full of British holidaymakers and festival- goers. And not having a tent at my disposal, I was ready to settle for anything, provided I could leave my things someplace. Finally, after searching through the net, I was able to book a room in D’Ares, a medieval village eighty kilometres away. An hours taxi ride and eighty euros later, I discovered not only that the village was in the middle of nowhere, but also that the bus service to the village was very irregular, and, not really helpful for any festival-goers. Fortunately, after some time of searching for some place to stay, the hotel’s Catalan bartender came to my rescue. Or, so I thought. He offered me to let me stay in his house, which was much closer to the site, at a reasonable price.

With all that in mind, I decided to take a peek around the village. The good thing about it is that it has not been touched by modern architecture. It is one of the best-preserved medieval villages in Southern Spain. As I was walking around, I did not fail to notice the Arab-influenced structures, the walls, the gate and of course the towers. The Arabic influence is highly visible around Spain, though the Muslims (like the Jews and the Protestants) where violently persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church after the end of the reign of the Arabs in the Iberian Peninsula. The only evidence of the existence of the Arabs in Spain to survive the purges by the Spanish Inquisition was their architecture. This architecture blends with the natural landscape of the mountains in the northern part of the autonomous community of Valencia.

In the morning, I graciously climbed aboard the Catalan’s Renault 19, to move onto his house. It was actually a small cottage, again in the middle of nowhere, and someplace where a non-local could get easily lost. But, bus services seemed punctual. And it was only about 15 minutes away from the festival site. Nevertheless, it took a lot of explaining to get directions to the area. And, furthermore, the place was dusty and…needed a lot of repairs. Upon leaving the place, the Catalan told me the price. 400 euros for 3 nights! Scam! I was really duped! But I needed the residence, and I agreed. Maybe if I had booked anything in advance, things would be better. So I headed for the festival. The first day was probably a really good introduction in the world of FIB. 5 Stages, and about 80 acts a day. I spent the afternoon and the whole of the night absorbing just about everything, with my satchel pelted with food, and my isothermal bottle full of alcohol. Dyonyssos, who were playing back to back with the local chamber music orchestra, really stole the show. Their singer was something like a young Nick Cave with the energy of Iggy Pop, while the whole stunt sounded like a head on collision between ELO and the Cramps. The Babyshambles were really a shambles, with Pete Daugherty being a real wreck. Even the cameo of FIB regular Shane McGowan in their set did not save the day. Manta Ray did a decent closing set, while Echo and the Bunnymen, and the Pixies where having fun onstage. Perhaps the treat of the day where the Strokes. They played a rocking set, in an art deco styled stage.

So, at around seven in the next morning, I jumped on the bus back to the cottage. But I jumped on the wrong one and ended up wandering the streets of Castellon, in an effort to find the bus back that would take me back to the cottage. Futile effort, since the route plan of the busses seemed incomprehensible. In the end I jumped on one of the local cabs, and after a few calls to the Catalan I managed to find my way to the cottage. There I decided that it was futile coming back and forth, so I decided to spend the next two days in the outdoors and return on the last one to grab my things. So I took out the small bag, packed a pair of trousers, a shirt, a towel, my shampoo, my sleeping bag and a few more useful things, took a wee nap and left for the festival grounds. Benicassim, and Castellon are basically areas depending on tourism. Not any kind of tourism. British tourists coming on travel vouchers from tour operators. That means working class people on full board holidays, who spend a great deal of their time drinking and looking for easy sex. Everybody around the area speaks English, a thing that is a little weird for Spain, but then again it is a change from speaking Spanish almost full-time.

As the beginning of the second day was coming close, I started moving again toward the festival grounds. This time I was better armed and I was ready to spend the next two days outdoors, in order to save myself from the trouble of searching for the cottage again. In day two Franz Ferdinand stormed the stage. They came, they saw, and in the end they conquered. Calla where perhaps the most boring and over hyped indie band ever to appear in a FIB bill, while Mojave 3 did everything they could after the storm called F F. The Kooks had a feel good vibe coming along with them during their set, but being stuck between the sets of Morrissey and FF, they could not withstand any comparison. Moz’s set was a little Spartan. A lot of his older work was out of list. But, on the other hand he had some good material to work with. In the end, Moz was a romantic interval before the rock’n’roll storm. I spent the night talking to some girls from the Basque region that had come for the festival. They were very keen on speaking in English, rather than Spanish. Same goes with a lot of their compatriots who speak English. They prefer speaking in English than in Spanish. Funny thing, same thing happens with Catalan people. But this is Spain, with its divisions. The Catalans feel that they are on the downside of the game, since they feel that even though they are the powerhouse of Spain’s economy, they don’t get the recognition for that, or some more autonomy. The Basques on the other hand are a different story. Basque nationalism rose as an answer to the persecution of the Basque people and their culture from Franco, and the crushing of their hopes for independence or a wide autonomy in the first years of democracy. This lead to a great deal of resentment towards the Spanish state and anything associated with it. The night ended with a bit of short-talk, and I left to find a quiet spot to get some sleep before daybreak.

I ended up with the option of the square outside the festival. It was crowded but, what the hell! After all everyone was asleep, or too tired to make any noise whatsoever. Hence the choice. We all woke up well after the break of dawn. I moved to the beach, just to catch some sleep there, and maybe take a bath later on because I was stinking like a bore. As I walked down the central avenue, I stumbled across the bodies of drunken tourists that had probably passed out on the night before. Ah! The joys of mass tourism and massive quantities of alcohol at a low price. A bad hangover, an empty wallet, and probably lying facedown on some non-descript street or alley. As I moved toward the beach the number of the bodies was becoming smaller and smaller. I lied down on the beach and felt the red-hot beams of the Spanish sun spread across my face. I slipped merrily in the arms of Morpheus. A few hours later I was brutally awakened by the screams of children speeding across the sand. Then I instantly dropped all my clothes, and got into my swimming trunks. It was about time I refreshed myself for a bit. I took a dive, and returned to continue sunbathing. In the afternoon, after an immensely expensive sandwich, I took a bath in the beach, and then moved back to the festival grounds for my last day of rock and roll. The night was really long. The Editors showed that they were probably overrated, while the early time of the day did not help Yann Tiersen in creating the needed atmosphere. In the afternoon Madness took the central stage, and they started the party, which went on until halfway into the Placebo show. Then they started to play their newer material and the crowd cooled down. But when Dave Gahan stepped into the stage, the crowd was on fire again. It was a glorious night for Depeche Mode, with Dave Gahan strolling across the stage with great ease, showing great charisma during the show. Deus where only a shadow of their good old self, and they made even “Suds and Soda” sound powerless. I left early in the morning for the cottage, slept 3-4 hours, and then continued on to the station at Castellon. I needed to board the Tarragona train, so that I would be in Aragon within the day, where I would stay for a couple of days before moving on to Galicia…

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