News From Montefrío

The first newspaper for an Andalucian town

On May 26 I am launching the first newspaper ever published in the town of Montefrio, where I have been the only foreign resident for the past 10 years (and virtually the only foreign visitor for the past 36 years). Edition 1 is composed of 6 pages, printed on my word processor in 3 columns, and photocopied here in the town in 1,000 copies, distributed directly to the homes.

The name of the paper is an emblematic one for Montefrio, and has political significance too: El Rayo, the lightning bolt, refers to the bolt which damaged the roof of our ancient church, standing on top of the great crag overlooking the town, in 1767, and which miraculously killed none of the people gathered there to pray, on that last Sunday in the month of May. Ever since, that day is celebrated with a solemn procession through the streets of the town, known as El Dia del Rayo.

However, the holiday also coincides, every four years, with the day of the municipal elections throughout Spain. Last year a group of Independents managed at last to rid Montefrio of the corrupt and iron-handed Socialist mayor, Antonio Garcia Larios, who had virtually ruled the town as a dictator for 12 years, creating an oligarchy of privileged "pals" and holding back every form of progress for this economically and culturally deprived rural community. Montefrio lies in the hills between Granada and Cordoba and is considered to be one of the most backward and isolated towns in southern Spain.

As the town's only foreigner, I felt freer than most to speak my mind, and have the communication skills and equipment to do it on a public level, so 2 years ago I began to write my "Cartas al Pueblo", The Letters to the Village (note that in Spanish, "pueblo" means both village and "the people"). These were illustrated with satirical cartoons of the Mayor Larios, in which I showed him as a sagging dairy cow with his "pals" or "enchufados" clustered around his udders, sucking away the municipal treasure for their own benefit. Larios went out on the Town Hall balcony before the election and swore he'd "throw the 'ingles' (me) out of the town", but 2 weeks later he was defeated, by a narrow margin of 93 votes (total number of voters is less than 3,000); he was subsequently dumped by his own party and has now retired from political life. The villagers generally feel that my letters were decisive in bringing him down - some love me for it, and others, naturally, hate me...

The new Mayor, Antonio Aviles, has charged me with launching a sustainable tourism project for the town, which, although famous for its beauty, has until now received scant benefits from this sector. Over the past years I have acquired several peasant cottages, caves, etc. and fitted them out with modcoms for holiday rental to travellers "who want to discover Spain as it used to be", many of whom come from the Internet. Last year we received the record number of +- 100 overnighting tourists, each staying about 1 week in our town, and leaving a total of some $50,000 in Montefrio. Not much compared to Marbella, but for us it's history. I am constantly stressing, in the town, the need to aim at quality, sustainable tourism which blends in with the community rather than degrading its culture and social patterns. If we continue to receive visitors of the quality of last year, I see no reason why this should not occur.

However, even now that The Cow is dead (as the villagers chuckle), his old cronies are still around, and have recently managed to get back some political power. Since the election was won by a majority of votes (93) but both the Indpendents and the Socialists have the same number of seats (the council is made up of 13, with 5 for the Independents, 5 for the Socialists, and 3 for the conservative party, PP), it was difficult to govern, and an alliance has been formed which effectively brings back some of Larios' worst henchmen. Many of us in the town feel that this was a serious political error, and this has been reflected in El Rayo.

Ever since I began campaigning against The Cow, I have been saying that Montefrio needs its own newspaper, to replace the hearsay and gossip which has always been our only form of communication. With a population of 8,000 (5,000 in the town and 3,000 in the countryside), this might not seem very unrealistic, but it turns a major page in the history of this highly traditional town where The Law of Silence reigns - sort of a Sicily without machine guns...

I chose May 26, the last Sunday of May, to launch the paper for greater dramatic effect. The paper is largely written, and entirely financed, by me, but with a number of interviews with key figures, two of whom are among the most educated and respected men in town. If sponsors and collaborators step forth, El Rayo will go on to become a real town newspaper in which, ideally, I would be editor and guardian angel...

If you can read Spanish and would like a copy of El Rayo, write to me and I'll see how I can get one to you. I would also appreciate advice, encouragement and any sort of intelligent feedback.

Lawrence ("Lorenzo") Bohme
Author, artist and conference interpreter
Cortijo de los Siete Olivos -
Las Casas de Lorenzo
Montefrio, Granada Province

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