Despite the heat, I slept sweetly, and after breakfast, made my way, camera in hand, to 'el Portico' on foot, tracing the route Michael took by car when we came into town together yesterday, along the sea front to take some photos. Over the past decade, and particularly when living through Cardiff city centre redevelopment, I've learned to decode my environment through the camera lens, asking what I want to tell people about this place, with whatever I can show and tell succintly.
Vinaròs has had a huge amount of recent investment in infrastructure and enhancement of the public realm, all along the sea front from the dried up Rio Cervol, the effective town/suburban boundary to the main port and beyond. There's a distinctively modern unity in design which covers all the street furnishings, and large areas of promenade that can be closed off, as they are now, to use for fun fairs open air concerts and street sports events. I was told that the beautiful, well managed sandy beaches are a modern creation with imported sand covering the natural pebbles. Well, it looks good, and no doubt the sand suppliers are pleased with themselves.
Adjacent to the north end of the promenade is around a quarter of square kilometre of empty land, fenced in waiting to be developed, affected doubtless by the recession, as elsewhere. The section closest to buildings, adjacent to the main road into the centre has two giant tents on it temporarily, for fiesta time, but everywhere else is covered, pleasantly enough, with yellow coarse grass, awaiting the return of bulldozers and pile drivers.
Fiesta here is very much a local event, signalling the beginning of the holiday season, but the crowds have yet to arrive, as school terms aren't yet ended, to permit the annual mass migration of Spaniards, let alone foreign birds of passage, to the seaside. How will this be affected by the current financial crisis is yet to be seen.
There were fewer than usual visitors to this morning's drop in session at 'The Portico', which I attended, and fewer people around town generally. The reason was not apparent until someone remarked that they'd seen fishing boats leaving port, laden with passengers. It's a local custom at fiesta time for fishermen to take local people out for a trip along the coast - one of those 'must do' things, no doubt.
A young man passed by with a cool box full of fresh small fish for sale. For five Euros, he wanted to sell me the remains of what he had, but it seemed more than I could deal with. I said I only needed half a kilo, but I got a good kilo of fish in a plastic bag, and twice as much again remained in his box. When I asked him 'Quanto es?', he shook his head and said 'Nada' - he had spotted my clerical gear and was feeling generous to the padre. Now I know what Buddhist monks must feel like.
I took the fish home, and cooked half of the smallest ones for lunch. They were too small to be whitebait, and may have been baby sardines. They would have been better if I'd gutted, topped and tailed them first. So then I set about preparing the lot for future feasts. I picked five big sardines out of the bag, another meal, and among the small fry there were also four baby mackerel, their stomachs turgid with small fry - the bigger fish prey upon the smaller ones from the very start.
EC fishing laws stipulate undersized fish must be thrown back, not brought to market, although this defies common sense, as netting may kill them anyway. It was meant to be a means to fend off stock depletion, but it hasn't worked. Banning fine nets when fishermen have invested in them heavily is a recipe for revolt. Other more sensible, enforceable conservation methods have to be developed. The portion of catch not brought to market, it seems, comes to shore and is sold cheaply to informal street traders. It's not a marketable product for a busy householder, since preparation for cooking is long and fiddly, as I discovered. For some poor people, little fish make the difference between eating and not eating, or a little extra cash on top of social benefits, if there are any.