Europe '96: Ronda

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Ronda, a city in Andalucía, is a visual treat. The town is split in half by a gorge, spanned by two medieval low bridges and a very dramatic 18th century high bridge; there are quite a few fine palaces open as museums; the surrounding countryside is wonderful and great for hiking. However, I was reminded of the old joke about the garden of Eden: that God couldn't bring himself actually to destroy a place this beautiful, so he moved it to western Europe and put the French there to make it a living hell. Substitute the rondeños for the French.

While inevitably there were some nice people, and even one very pleasant hangout (Bar Bulevar), the evenings in the town are dominated by the least pleasant batch of (mostly very young) people I've ever met. The Rough Guide refers to the nasty reputation of the Spanish Africa Legion stationed there, but as far as I could tell they are far from the worst behaved people in this city (although they may help set a fascist/macho/militaristic tone).

It seems to be a local requirement to blast your stereo/radio/TV at maximum volume (turning up the bass even farther if it has a separate control and opening the windows even on a genuinely chilly night) or to gun your engine as you drive at dangerous speds down winding streets, not excluding heading the wrong way down a one-way.

I saw two teenagers take a soccer ball away from two 8-year-olds who were playing with it in a public square. They didn't give it back for over half an hour. Adults who obviously knew all concerned seemed to think it was very funny.

There seem to be enough loud, stupid drunks to fill two beach resorts and a fraternity house. I saw some teens destroying cacti in the botanical garden: they must not have been able to find any small mammals to torture. (Maybe it makes sense that this city figures so prominently in the history of bullfighting!) And more than once I saw a young man treat a woman in a manner to which she was clearly not consenting, ranging from an uninvited grab in a public square to a guy bending his girlfriend backwards over a stone parapet with a sheer hundred foot drop behind it, then trying to kiss her while she struggled. Fucking charming.

To all of this I will add that you can't buy a newspaper in the middle of town till 9:30am, but there are over a dozen places open at that hour selling lottery tickets.

An interesting example (in the negative) of the value to a town in having a college or university: all the bright young people leave. This place must have been very different when it was Rainer M. Rilke's favorite town in Spain. They've returned the favor by naming an hostal, a bar, and a driving school after him.

But it is gorgeous. I just made a bad plan by giving it four days instead of the one or two which would have left me seeing the town but not meeting the people.

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Originally written: 1996

Last modified: 1 March 2021

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