This week I’m reviewing the exhibition, The Legacy of Our Mariners: Benidorm and the Merchant Navy, now in its last few days. (Open daily until 15 November in the Museo Boca del Calvari, Calle Tomas Ortuño, Benidorm.)
A few years ago, while researching the development of tourism in Benidorm for Geography teaching, I first began to read about the relationship between the town’s naval connections and the growth of the hotel trade. Retired seafarers invested their savings in the 1920s and 1930s in the first Benidorm hotels (the Hotel Bilbaino, the Marconi, etc.)
Paco Amillo, the local historian, has done very valuable work on these connections, both on his Benidorm history blog and in a series of published accounts, the latest of which was released last week (see below). Now this exhibition attempts to explain Benidorm’s maritime past, but it does so in a disjointed way, missing many opportunities to inform a wider audience about the rich social and cultural history of this town which is the most valuable story here, in my view.
From my own studies as a Geography teacher working near Benidorm, it was clear that the early development and remarkable success of the place as a tourist resort was – in large part – due to its maritime connections and outward-looking tradition. For example, the Benidorm sea captains on the transatlantic routes in the 19th and early 20th centuries brought back information and products from the USA and South America. A visitor from Madrid once remarked that the pharmacy in Benidorm was better stocked than any in the capital city. The reason was the latest products had been brought back from New York or Buenos Aires by maritime officers working those routes: see Francisco Amillo Alegre, La Segunda República y la Guerra Civil en Benidorm, (1931-1939.)
As I have documented on my Geography teaching blog, it was this direct connection with the wider world that made Benidorm an early runner in the competition for visitors as sea bathing became popular in the mid-19th century, then tourism developed in a more organised way in the 20th century.
The key families of Benidorm, the Orts, the Zaragozas, the Fusters etc., were educated and cultured people who were also skilled in commerce. Not surprising therefore, these were the people who saw the opportunities for opening Benidorm to visitors: first the veraneantes (“summer visitors”) and then “tourists” as that word became common currency in the 20th century. The academic connections of some individuals in these families are also impressive. When outsiders talk of a “sleepy fishing village” that became an overnight package holiday success, they are so far from the reality of a much richer history.
The audio-visuals in the exhibition are presented in Spanish (and some static wall panels also have information in Valenciano) which indicates the exhibition is aimed at local people. This is a lost opportunity for an exhibition mounted in the centre of town in the tourism capital of the Costa Blanca. To fail to reach out to a wider audience – an international audience – seems like a contradiction when the audio-visual commentary talks about the people of Benidorm as an “outward looking people”.
As with previous exhibitions in this space, the intention seems to be limited to creating a sense of pride for local people in their own history, which is a laudable aim but quite unambitious in a town that reaches out to welcome vast numbers of international tourists. In the end, the exhibition offers a series of maritime mementos without much interpretation of the rich social and cultural history which is the more interesting connection here.
The sail-repairing tools, ship’s furniture, a manually operated foghorn, captain’s sea chests, etc. are interesting memorabilia. The audio-visual presents mainly a series of portraits of sea captains, engineers and telegraphists but without any commentary about their place in the life and culture of Benidorm (and – notably – without mentioning the transatlantic shipping officers who founded the Bilbaino and the Marconi hotels in the 1920s and 1930s!)
The closest that the exhibition comes to a social record of the town is in a few photographs of the small boat-building industry that existed on the seafront. We are shown a boat being built in 1940 – with some remarkably young craftsmen – and an earlier photograph of a sizeable vessel under construction in the early 1900s.
This exhibition is a missed opportunity to provide a window into the social and cultural history of Benidorm, and I hope that in future the exhibitions mounted in the museum will recognize that an international audience is available: right outside the door. It is fine for those of us who live here and speak Castellano, but the interpretation could be easily made available to a wider international audience, for visitors to Benidorm, and the organisers of exhibitions here might consider this in future, with labelling of exhibits in English.
Olives: stage 3
Continuing my story of the olive crop, I have now reached the point where the olives from my trees are still in salt water in buckets, with the salt water changed every 12 hours. They are nearly ready to be put in jars. I have purchased a set of re-sealable jars in three sizes.
To give the olives flavour, the jars will contain garlic and herbs. What better way to gather rosemary and thyme than to take Rubí donkey walking up the valley? Here are photos from yesterday, gathering herbs with donkey.
Who says they are not “working” donkeys… ? 🙂