We drove on to the town of Elche today, informed by our Spain guidebook as being renowned for Palm Trees and Shoes. An interesting combination that the guidebook failed to go into, and one that after visiting the town I’m none the wiser on. Maybe there is no connection.
There were certainly some palm trees, almost the only tree at all in the town were palm trees, except for those in the deep river channel that runs straight through the centre, which had a more usual variety of trees to give a pleasant park feel. One thing I’m still struggling with is the orientation, or should I say arrangement, of Spanish towns. They seem to lack the obvious ‘bit in the middle’ of English or French towns, although both of the latter are of different nature, Spanish towns just seem to lack any form of obvious centre around which other things are arranged. Castles or Churches are no great indication of where might lie any commerce. There is commerce about, but it seems strangely stretched out and impossible to get a sense of which way one should go to get the best of it (i.e. cafes, retail therapy, humanity). According to the guide, there were meant to be lots of outlet type shoe shops, which might have been the case, but despite much exercising of our own shoe leather, there were not an unusual number of shoe shops to be found, and the ones that we did find contained rather drab and uninspiring footwear that demonstrated no extraordinary talent for the production said item.
Now there is another form of commerce that is rather more easily found – prostitution. (Please note we have not been getting any retail therapy in that department!). I don’t mean just in Elche, but its something that has been apparent since crossing the border. Quite frequently you see ‘women of a certain age and status’ (and by that I don’t mean young and/or attractive) standing by the side of the road. The first couple I thought may have been selling oranges or lemons, but it quickly became obvious they were selling ‘pairs’ (sic) or ‘peaches’. You don’t see them in towns (at least I’ve not noticed) but along the main roads leading into or out. Most are just standing around, some enterprising ones with uncomfortable footwear have thought to bring along a plastic garden chair on which to take the weight off (some more than others), and some have obviously been reading some inspiring entrepreneurial self-help book and are working on the ‘up-selling of the merchandise’ with slightly more provocative sales techniques. I’ll assume that this is an abstract comment on the state of the Spanish economy and its latest austerity measures.
Which brings me back to the palm trees. As we returned to our campsite this evening, walking back through the park areas made amongst the palm trees, there were men with dogs that were of the small and cute variety (and no, ‘dogs’ is not a euphemism for something, I’m referring to actual pooches), and some men with boyish, good looks but no dogs, all acting a little furtively if you ask me. I’m not aware that the style of their shoes had any advantage amongst the palm trees, except maybe for a quick getaway. I wonder if that is the origin of the expression ‘to grease ones palms’?