Early adjustments to a new and challenging world

In this third part of a series, Ric Polansky recalls his first impressions of living and doing business in Mojacar in the late 60s and early 70s.

IN 1969, Mojacar and my new environment indeed had become a confusing place.

It was full of people that didn’t resemble what I thought Spaniards should be.

They veiled their faces, believed in witches, and seemed to take great pride in not working.

The American work ethic was engrained in me. Keep busy. Be doing something all the time.

But in Europe I noted there wasn’t the same headlong rush into any activity.

Work, as was finally explained to me here, was something you did as a favour to help someone for a short period of time until you could run into someone else you probably hadn’t seen for at least an hour.

So you quit and left to have a cold beer with them. It was a means to an end.

It took up time and gave you something to do, if you needed to be busy.

Decorum was maintained; few worked for any reason. Everyone that lived in the area, both foreign and local Spanish, took great pride in not working.

They were never in a hurry to go anywhere or do anything.

Why, even wearing a watch was considered an extravagance. One would no more wear such jewellery than amble about carrying a sextant.

But we had a job to do and work to be done.

Our modus operandi was to develop the beach by having the client design his own house. He always sketched a damn square.

When we built it, the client returned to mark on the walls of the enclosed structure the doors and windows.

Tradesmen were not of any particular guild or apprentice.

You had to take them on their word if they actually knew which end of a hammer to hold. No one could read plans or anything else for that matter.

Constant vigilance was the order of the day.

And if you needed to leave, all worked stopped until you returned. If there was a rush, and the final adjustments had to be done at the last moment, you were lost.

I once had to have the electrical switches and plugs put in a house before the client arrived the next day.

The electrician shrugged his shoulders and announced he would work late and it would be done by the morning.

I went around and saw them all in place and could not stop thanking him.

When the client appeared the next day, flicked the switch, and nothing happened, the switch was pried off the wall to discover no wires running through the entire house!

Every switch and plug had been put up cosmetically as if God would make them work. (My mind still has not allowed me to understand that type of work ethic).

I still don’t understand and it remains a problem to this day for all of Spain.

During this ‘crisis’, we have been building a few pools, garages, and retention walls. Some contractors are under-cutting others by doing botch-jobs.

He is easy to find as he’s sitting in the popular bars all day.

Months later, inevitably I get the call to repair the poorly built job which I promptly refuse — as errors of that magnitude can never be repaired.

Worse yet, the cheated client has but an inefficient court system to resolve his grievance.

If he does let it run its legal course which will be appealed over decades the resolution isn’t firm on anything.

The matter is never resolved as then the culprit claims he has no money to pay.

He’s had 10 years to get everything out of his name and into his wife’s or cousin’s.

You can’t touch his new Ferrari.

If he has any dignity he might pack his bags and drive to the next village down the road.

There he’ll start up again by announcing how all “other builders” are cheap and over charge: but he can find you a good deal.

Ah, those old days.

Can you imagine that some of the tiny studio apartments we built in La Gaviota and originally sold for 400 pounds sterling have notched as much as €120,000?

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