Skip to main content

IKEA Pilgrims

Writing in the local paper. Local issues with a global take. I never translate literally and the editor trims at will to make it fit. Here's my version, then theirs.

Once upon a time, long before the giant Shanghai Bazaars arrived with their low-cost, low-quality plasticy imitation rags, legend has it that Cacereños would drive down across the border to Elvas to buy towels and then take advantage of the trip to have a cheap bite to eat there in Portugal. Times have changed and people don’t seem to need as many towels as they used to, though more than a few locals still nip across the border for lunch. That’s not to say that Cacereños no longer jump in the car for a bit of shopping tourism. Trips to the DYI meccas in Sevilla and Madrid still constitute Saturday pilgrimages for those who enjoying puzzling over the multilingual instructions needed to put together their furniture. Now, a new addition to Saturday drives down EX-100 has appeared. A giant Leroy Merlin now draws us south for a hammer or two before nipping over to take a stroll among Portuguese shoppers in the El Faro mega mall. But if you stop and think for a minute, what drives other Extremeños to come to Caceres? Sure, it’s hard to find a day when you don’t hear Portuguese in the old town but how often do our regional neighbours bother to come to us for a visit? Other than bringing the odd family visitor to risk twisting an ankle in the potholed streets of our crumbling UNESCO jewel, what brings people to our city? For those in nearby villages, it’s to give birth, see a specialist, get a paper stamped or take part in the springtime migration of plastic bags and tetrabrics for the WOMAD festival. But what more? For many, one of the great faults of Caceres is the lack of an El Corte Ingles department store. But nearby Badajoz already has one and the chance of IKEA opening here in seems about as likely as the high-speed AVE train reaching Caceres before little green men from Mars visit and make land travel irrelevant. If we don’t want the mock obituaries of Caceres found on the empty shop windows in Pintores Street to come true, it’s going to take some creative thinking beyond fluffy towels and cheap screwdrivers to lure visitors beyond the Almohad walls.


Popular posts from this blog

The 10 Best Places to Swim...?

I read a post the other day listing the 10 best places to swim around the world. Reading through them I realized that I hadn't been to even one of them!

Poor me, but then I thought, wait...I've swum in some lovely places.

Let's narrow them down to 3 in no particular order.

Ginnie Springs, High Springs, Northern Florida

If northern Florida wasn't interesting enough in its own time travel way, these springs are perfect. It's a surreal place to swim among the Spanish moss while the alligators patrol out in the warmer river that the springs flow into (the big toothy grins don't like the cooler water).

Bir Ali, Yemen

Yemen never makes it onto the glossy Caribbean style travel brochures, but the emerald green of the Arabian Sea is a mighty match for hurricane alley. Just outside the town of Bir Ali you can camp on a deserted white sandy beach that seems to extend all the way down to Aden. Behind you the sands of the beach meet and mingle with those of the desert on the vol…

Thou Shalt All Think the Same

Writing in the local paper. Local Issues with a global take. I never translate literally and the editor trims at will to make it fit. Here's my version, then theirs.

One of the first things that drew me to Spain back in the nineties was a feeling that people generally minded their own business. Sure, they might comment, criticize or even ridicule those who wore socks with sandals, ate in the street or simply did things differently, but at least they let them do it. While the hyper-entrenched norms of society exerted an enormous pressure on people to fit in, non-conformists were mostly looked down upon, but not necessarily punished. If someone wanted to transform a lovely nineteenth century house in their village into a three story apartment monstrosity, well, if the law somehow let them do it, it was their choice to do so. The homogeneity of streets and entire Spanish villages have suffered enormously due to this, but if that’s the look the owner wants, well? Taste is after all a …

The Statue of Liberated Woman

Last night's Minaret exhibit was not only a chance to share some photos that I've taken on my travels but an opportunity to retrieve and relive some dusty memories that had been lying forgotten in my 1.0 memory chip mind.

During the evening, a few astute visitors were quick to notice an early Soviet-era statue that features prominently in one of the photographs, thus refreshing my memory in regards to one of my favourite emblems in Baku, Azerbaijan.

While living in the city, my wife and I lived just off Nizami square/Metro stop in the infamous 'Beysh Barmak'. Baku's first 5-story building (thus the name) that was stodgily yet sturdily built during the years of Russian rule. The window panes hadn't been changed since the 5 year plans, allowing the winter wind free access to the flat, but it was a handy address that every taxi driver knew...especially given the fact that I speak no Azeri or Russian, no matter how much vodka I drank.

At the time we lived there (2004-…