It is almost three years to the day since I decided to reinvent my life and myself in Almeria city. Suffering from empty nest syndrome, mid-life crisis, jobless and in need of a boost, what I had in mind was a cute little flat in an old-fashioned square in the city.
What fate had in store for me was something different though, and I ended up taking a chance on La Chanca, the city’s rundown gypsy and Moroccan quarter.
Most people thought I was taking more of a risk than a chance, but the gamble paid off, because here I am, still alive, and still enjoying the charms of Almeria’s most historic and authentic neighbourhood.
So what’s new in La Chanca? Surprisingly little, despite all the changes the world has seen in the past couple of years.
The ancient Alcazaba castle still dominates the view, presiding over the city like an old-fashioned spouse, for better or worse. It’s seen a few plagues come and go, a few presidents fall, and a few countries fall from grace (don’t mention Brexit).
The market down the road is still thriving, with plenty of colourful nightwear, both on sale and modelled by the locals in the streets, which now of course post lockdown is perfectly legitimate even in the best circl, pyjamas (rebranded as comfort clothes) being the new daywear!
I’m not actually a big fan of markets ever since I bought about four tomatoes that cost me 12 euros! Not in the La Chanca market, in the Almeria central market, after it was revamped and tarted up for tourism. I was so traumatised that I’ve stuck to supermarkets ever since, but last week I did manage to overcome my fears, and actually shopped quite well in the local market. I still didn’t buy any tomatoes though!
I’ve got used to the stares now when I enter the local bar for breakfast, and on my own street I am recognised as a regular resident. I still have no idea what goes on though. There’s been a couple more police visitations, and the ‘Vamos a matar la policia’ (kill the police) graffiti still adorns the broken-down wall at the end of the street. I use it as a landmark now instead of the still-absent street sign when giving people directions. Nothing like making new visitors feel comfortable.
Not that I have had many visitors recently, due to the pandemic. I actually spent the proper lockdown last year out of the city, safely tucked away in the wilds of Bedar with Jeanne and her clan. It was a very peaceful few months, but I was glad to return to La Chanca and the working life.
I was admitted to Almeria law society last autumn, and from then on it was a race to the finish line in terms of submitting residency applications for British nationals prior to the Brexit deadline. Things are quietening down a bit now on that front, although there is still a certain amount of fallout.
Almeria city seems as busy as ever, the bars are bustling and the pavements full of people. They do take the Covid precautions seriously however, and there is evidence of the economic downturn in the closed shops and higher prices in the restaurants.
I returned to the tapas trail a few weeks ago with a small group of girlfriends, all of whom were thrilled to be out on the town again!
Right now La Chanca life is actually quite a peaceful life, as the horrendously loud music doesn’t seem to blast out as much as it used to. I think that was the single factor that would have driven me out of the area, as it was so invasive. The music hasn’t disappeared altogether but it’s at a much more manageable level (famous last words!)
And talking about music, local singer Sensi Falán, whom I featured in one of my previous blogs, has started up her own cultural centre in El Tintero, formerly her family’s restaurant and where I first met her off stage as it were.
I went to the inaugural concert on the rooftop terrace a couple of weeks ago, and it was great to be enjoying live music in the heart of La Chanca. You can find out about events there by following Espacio cultural El Tintero on Facebook.
So, my La Chanca life goes on, and perhaps I am as surprised as anyone – but it’s a nice surprise and certainly keeps life interesting.