New year, new life, new blog. Such a cliche, I know.
But it’s true. It’s the new year, I’m about to leave my safe middle class life as a respectable British expat living in southern Spain, mother of two, with a large country house with obligatory dogs, cat and reputation to uphold, to run away with the gypsies. And I’m going to write about it.
Well that’s not entirely accurate. I’m not sure the gypsies would have me – yet.
“My mother said, I never should, play with the gypsies in the wood“
English children’s rhyme
But I am moving to what is known as the gypsy district in Almeria, a place called La Chanca where the poverty and rubbish-strewn streets are a far cry from my comfortable existence in the mountains of Cariatiz, a small village just outside the picturesque town of Sorbas.
Almeria is my nearest city, on the Andalucian coast between Malaga and Alicante. It is relatively unheard of compared to those bastions of British holiday-making and expat life, but is an attractive traditional seaside resort, with a Moorish castle said to be second only to Granada’s Alhambra.
It is in the shadow of this ancient monument, the Alcazaba, that I will be living over the next year, the only English woman in a community of gypsies and Moroccans, an immigrant among immigrants, on the margins of the city and of Almerian society, where any self-respecting ‘Almeriense’ wouldn’t dream of setting foot.
Most Spaniards I have told have held up their hands in horror, with cautionary tales of drug dealing, unspecified crime in general and a suspicion of ‘gitanos’ and ‘Moros’ embedded deep in their veins, borne out of a history of conflict.
So what is a nice English girl (ok mature woman pushing 50) doing in a place like that?
Well, they say change is borne out of necessity and it’s partly that.
Already divorced, in the past year I have lost my job and my teenage children have moved to the UK for sixth form.
Seven years of working as a reporter for the Costa Almeria News ended after the paper became unprofitable and closed down, and my children grew out of village life and the Spanish education system and went to join their father in middle England.
So what was I to do? Rattle around in my empty house with only the pets for company and the beautiful but silent hills to look out on?
I am a terrible countryside dweller, all my resolutions of daily hikes, housekeeping and gardening fall by the wayside in favour of, well of virtually anything really, but especially coffee (beer, wine, whatever’s on offer) with friends, shopping, concerts, making music, reading, writing and Netflix. I know nothing about plants, I don’t even bother to pick my own olives anymore, my oranges fall to the ground uneaten and the weeds grow everywhere. Sacrilege, I know. I’m so lucky to live in this paradisaical place and I don’t appreciate it, and the guilt is eating me up!
So, after 11 years, it’s time for a change.
And until I make my fortune (by means as yet unknown) I can’t afford a second home or even the rent on a box-like flat in a so-called respectable part of town.
Whereas in cheap La Chanca I will have a spacious house with an amazing view over parkland to the castle and down to the sea.
And who wants to be respectable anyway? I’ve been there, done that and now it’s time for an adventure.
For the next year I’m going to be living the La Chanca Life, exploring the city of Almeria from the inside out – or should that be the outside in?
This blog will document my day to day life as part of that unique community, my investigations into its roots and my wanderings around town, the best sites, attractions, events and of course, the best bars.
At the same time it will explore my inner wanderings, what it’s like to be alone for the first time in my entire life, and how it feels to be un-labelled as a lawyer (a past life), wife, mother, journalist. What is my place? Am I just as dispossessed as the migrants who will be my neighbours? Is that what attracts me to La Chanca?
At the end of the year I will see where this journey has led me – will I find my dream job, spiritual home or new purpose in life? Or will I be desperate to get back to the quiet country life and return to my comfort zone?
So please join me on my adventure, follow me now as I embark on the La Chanca Life, and feel free to send me your own experiences, comments, thoughts and recommendations.