There was a time in Spain’s Costa del Sol when you could see French actress Brigitte Bardot having a drink in a restaurant with a donkey by her side. You might spot John Lennon and The Beatles manager Brian Epstein at a café, or find notorious art forger Elmyr de Hory heading to the beach with a hamper. You could see Scottish actor Sean Connery in a public cinema watching one of his James Bond movies, French director Jean Cocteau making ceramics, or English crime bosses the Kray twins pulling out a gun at the slightest provocation.
With the southern Spanish city of Marbella starting to grow and the literary circle of British writer and hispanist Gerald Brenan and American poet Gamel Woolsey bringing life to the Malageñan town of Churriana, the municipality of Torremolinos became the epicenter of the golden years of the Costa del Sol – all at a time when the area was just a handful of villages with white-painted houses. Visitors from across the world traveled there to enjoy themselves away from prying eyes. They hung out at the beach, but also in watering holes such as Pedro’s Bar, The Blue Note and Betty’s Bar. The British owner of the latter, Betty Pope, remembers entertaining Frank Sinatra while his wife Ava Gardner was seen with bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguín.
The list of celebrities who visited the Costa del Sol in the second half of the last century seems endless, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. As many as 150 famous figures are named in the new book Excéntricos en la Costa de Sol (or, Eccentrics on the Costa del Sol), written by José Luis Cabrera and Carlos G. Pranger, with illustrations by Cintia Gutiérrez. The work, recently published in Spanish by La Térmica Cultural Center publishing house in Málaga, brings together real-life stories that are stranger than fiction. It is filled with anecdotes, surprising friendships and prints that offer a glimpse into this corner of freedom in Spain while the country was in the grip of the Franco dictatorship.
Torremolinos was the stage of an epoch that was a “vaudeville, a party that seemed to have no end and no beginning,” the authors write in the book, which took two years to complete.
The volume covers the stories of the famous visitors, but also includes historical details, such as the sale of contraceptives in a pharmacy in Torremolinos, where the streets smelled of hashish from the hippies and beatniks, who would mix with local women in mourning and the families of fishermen. At the time, however, alcohol – not hashish – was the drug of choice. Novelist and playwright William P. McGivern wrote that in this paradise “servants and liquor” were amazingly cheap.
Several writers from the influential group of poets known as the Generation of ‘27, as well as Spanish artist Salvador Dalí and muse Gala Éluard, who was reportedly the first woman to sunbathe topless in the Costa del Sol, also flocked to this corner of Spain before the Spanish Civil War. They stayed in the Santa Clara Hotel, which was bought by wealthy British heir George Langworthy.
But Torremolinos really took off in 1958, following the end of the Spanish protectorate of Morocco, when the inhabitants of the former Tangier International Zone decided to cross to the other side of the Mediterranean. The 1960 earthquake in the Moroccan city of Agadir pushed many others to do the same. Through word of mouth, Torremolinos ended up bringing together the paths of an eccentric group of people at a moment when the idea of rampant development along the Malagueñan coast was nothing but a bad dream.
“We used to sit at a café in Torremolinos looking at all the guys and I would ask him, ‘Do you like this one? What about that one?’,” John Lennon recounts of his experience visiting the town in 1963 with Brian Epstein. Epstein would return two years later to visit the famous flamenco tavern La Bodega Andaluz, where he saw legendary dancer Carrete perform. At the beginning of the 1970s, the first English pub opened up in Málaga: Shelagh’s Bar. Another popular joint was the Fat Black Pussy Cat, owned by singer John Mitchell, who was once seen entering a bank on the back of his horse, and Pedro’s Bar, where Henri Charrière, the author of Papillon, used to have an aperitif alongside the pet of the bar: a parrot named Captain Morgan. War veteran Dave Black also used to go to the Three Barrels Bar with a parrot on his shoulder. He would order a beer for himself and a rum and coke for the bird.
Gerald Brenan had already been in Churriana for more than two decades, after buying a house in the area from the Heredia family in 1943. Today this district in Málaga is a residential area next to the airport, but back then, it was a lush meadow that was one of the most important literary hubs in the world. Brenan and his wife, Gamel Woolsey, invited several generations of writers to their home. These guests would also visit La Cónsula, a house bought by US couple Bill and Annie Davies. Literary critic Cyril Connolly, polymath Bertrand Russell, actor Laurence Olivier, director Orson Welles, actress Vivien Leigh, painter Lars Pranger and poet Lynda Nicholson were just some of the notable figures to pass through its doors. Writer Ernest Hemingway even celebrated his 60th birthday in the house. But Brenan was not overly impressed by Hemingway, describing him in his memoirs as “a kind of sea captain with a white beard who only talks about bullfighting.”
In his final years in Málaga, Brenan opened his home to youngsters from the beatnik generation who arrived in droves to Torremolinos. Those were also the days of gangsters Reginald and Ronald Kray, popularly known as the Kray Twins, who were celebrities of the London crime underworld in the 1970s. This was when hustler Donald Munson would come to town in his Ford Taurus with a Greek license plate and a bullet hole in the windshield; when New York photographer and filmmaker Ira Cohen would visit, and sex symbol Bob Reed would give swimming lessons. Those were the days when Torremolinos received visits from a diverse range of personalities: from LSD guru Timothy Leary and writer Thomas Bernhard to glam pioneer Arthur Brown and Hollywood stars Judy Garland and Kirk Douglas.
It was also a golden age for Marbella. This was the era that gave birth to the Marbella Club Hotel – which continues to drive tourism in the city to this day – and the residential estate La Virginia, which remains an oasis among the concrete jungle. La Virginia was designed by architects Donald Gray and Juan Manuel Figueras and was home to a colorful array of residents including the dukes of Windsor, Formula 1 driver James Hunt and Vic Grubby, who filmed advertisements in the mansions and, when finished with work, took advantage of the space to record porn movies. Spanish writer Ana de Pombo stirred the city’s social life at her tea salon La Maroma, which featured panels made by Jean Cocteau. Welsh actor Stanley Baker even bought a house in Marbella after appearing in the film The Guns of Navarone. Meanwhile, Northern Irish soccer player George Best was partying and drinking carajillo – a type of alcoholic coffee – with retired Spaniards to the dismay of his team Manchester United. No eccentric personality escaped the influence of the Costa del Sol.
English version by Melissa Kitson.
European Commission recommends travel ban on southern Africa amid fears over new Covid variant
The EU is expected to announce an immediate travel ban to southern Africa because of the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant.
The B.1.1.529 variant, which is more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant and could evade vaccines, has been discovered in South Africa’s most populous province Gauteng.
The EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen tweeted: “The @EU_Commission will propose, in close coordination with Member States, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529.”
The future of this year’s United Rugby Championship (URC) could be in jeopardy as it has four South African teams in it.
Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer, Michael McBride, said the emergence of the new variant was “undoubtedly a matter of concern”.
Recent arrivals to Northern Ireland from the six countries on the UK list will be contacted by the Public Health Agency (PHA) and asked to self-isolate and take a PCR test, which will be prioritised for genomic sequencing.
Further assessments will be made concerning other countries with strong travel links to South Africa, the North’s Department of Health said.
Dr McBride said the introduction of travel restrictions was on a “precautionary basis, while we await further evidence on the spread of this variant in South Africa and understand more about it.”
The official Munster rugby Twitter account stated: “We all are safe & well in Pretoria. We are working with URC on the ongoing situation relating to Covid-19 & will provide an update once we know more #MunsterInSA.”
The Covid adviser for the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), Mary Favier has warned that if the new South African variant of the virus manages to “out run” Delta, then “we will have a problem”.
It was still unknown if vaccines would work against the new variant which was why so much attention was being paid to it, she told Newstalk Breakfast.
Dr Favier also welcomed plans to extend the vaccine programme to children aged 5-11. GPs knew the difference that vaccines could make, however, she pointed out that it would be a parental decision and GPs would be willing to discuss the issue with parents.
On RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland programme immunology expert, Professor Christine Loscher said she expected the World Health Organisation (WHO) to move the status of the new variant from one of interest to one of concern in the near future.
The new variant was of concern because of the number of mutations in the spike proteins and it was still unclear how this variant would respond to vaccines. It was a case of wait and see the impact, she said.
Within the coming weeks it would be known how good current vaccines were at neutralising antibodies in the variant, added Prof Loscher. But she pointed out that vaccine manufacturers have been able to “tweak” vaccines as the virus changed.
“That’s a positive thing to know, that they have the technology to vary the vaccine as variants arrive.”
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he is “deeply concerned” about the new Covid variant.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) will meet on Friday to to further assess the significance of this variant.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has not updated its travel advice to South Africa on its website. It no longer advises against non-essential travel.
Italy tightens Covid restrictions as some regions face return to ‘yellow’ zone
A government decree that comes into force from December 6th will require a ‘super green pass’ health certificate to access most venues and services across the country, in a bid to contain Italy’s rising infection rate and ensure Christmas celebrations can go ahead as planned.
The ‘super green pass’ can be obtained only by those who are vaccinated against or have recovered from Covid-19.
It supersedes the basic ‘green pass’, which was also available to those who had recently tested negative for the virus; though the basic green pass will still be valid for use on public transport and to access workplaces.
Speaking at a televised press conference on Monday evening, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the restrictions would mean a “normal” Christmas this year for those who are vaccinated, and would “give certainty to the tourist season”.
The announcement comes amid media reports that some Italian regions will be placed under increased restrictions starting next week.
People wearing a face mask do some window shopping on Piazza di Spagna in central Rome on December 13, 2020. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP
The northerneastern region of Friuli Venezia Giulia will be returned to the more restricted ‘yellow’ zone from Monday, after it met all of the Italian government’s criteria for tightened restrictions.
Italy operates under a four-tier colour coded system for coronavirus restrictions, with ‘white’ zone areas under the most relaxed rules, and ‘yellow’, ‘orange’ and ‘red’ zones under increasingly strict restrictions.
Since October, the entire country has been in the least-restricted white zone – but this week, Friuli Venezia Giulia’s hospital ward occupancy and Covid infection rates exceeded the limits put in place by the government last summer.
The region’s figures stood at 15 percent Covid patient ICU occupancy and 18 percent general hospital ward occupancy as of November 24th, according to data provided by Agenas, Italy’s National Agency for Health Services.
Under a law introduced by Italy’s government in July, any region above the threshold of 10 percent ICU and 15 percent general ward Covid patient occupancy and with a new weekly incident rate of 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants should automatically be placed in the yellow zone.
It’s thought that mass demonstrations held in the region’s capital of Trieste last month to protest the introduction of a Covid health certificate requirement for Italy’s workers are partly behind its deteriorating health situation.
A Santa Claus puppet wearing a face mask is displayed in the window of a food store at Rome’s Trevi fountain square on December 23, 2020. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP
According to Italian media, Friuli Venezia Giulia’s governor Massimiliano Fedriga has agreed to enforce the government’s ‘super green pass’ rules from Monday, allowing the region’s vaccinated population to bypass restrictions they would otherwise be subject to.
Currently, ‘yellow zone’ restrictions require an area’s inhabitants to wear a mask both outdoors and in indoor public spaces, and restaurants can seat a maximum of four diners to a table.
While those in a yellow zone will still be required to mask up outdoors, under the new rules, people who hold the ‘super green pass’ will be able to access “indoor catering”, shows (such as theatre performances), parties, nightclubs, sporting events, and “public ceremonies”, as normal.
Other parts of the country currently expected to join Friuli Venezia Giulia in the yellow zone within the next couple of weeks are the autonomous province of Bolzano, which had 10 percent ICU and 15 percent general ward Covid patient occupancy rates as of November 24th; as well as Marche, Liguria, Lazio, Calabria, which all have figures approaching the threshold.
Some of Italy’s larger cities are putting into place their own preemptive strategies to try to contain their infection rates.
On Thursday, Milan’s mayor Giuseppe Sala said he was preparing to sign a measure making facemasks mandatory outdoors across the city center from the coming weekend, reports news agency Ansa.
And in Venice, mayor Luigi Brugnaro has already signed an order requiring the use of masks at Christmas markets and other large outdoor gatherings in the city, reports Sky TG 24.
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