Having mingled outside the ‘guiri’ (foreigner) comfort zone over the years, my social observations in La Alpujarra remind me of a chapter in the book, ‘Ghosts of Spain’, by author and Guardian journalist, Giles Tremlett. The chapter in question is entitled “men and children first”.
Harking back to the Titanic disaster of 1912, Joseph Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line, left women and children stranded on the sinking ship, while he commandeered a lifeboat for himself. Ismay subsequently lived as a recluse, as his his lily-livered behaviour was considered a public disgrace.
In rural Spain, Ismay might have been eagerly followed on to the lifeboat by his male cohorts, shouting ‘reassuring’ comments to the women that they would be “back soon”. Amongst the generations of my age and older (I’m 49), it is commonplace to leave women and children behind – physically or metaphorically – while men do as they damn well please. The timeframe can span hours or decades!
In the social mores of La Alpujarra, a “men’s club” culture prevails. I’ve affectionately named this demographic and its behaviour “Club Hombre”. Various people have approached me and asked, “what is Club Hombre”? So, let me explain…
Club Hombre isn’t – as one female friend suggested – a noun alluding to a particular individual of my acquaintance. Rather, it’s a proper noun for a collection of men, of macho disposition, who spend most of their time with male friends, engaging in manly pursuits. Hence, a man can be “a member of Club Hombre”, as if it were a paid-up social club. It can also be used as an adjective, as in “that behaviour is very Club Hombre” – perhaps if they bang their fists on the bar to request another whiskey, or congregate in the ‘campo’ (countryside) eating ‘choto’ (baby goat).
Not all men are Club Hombre members, but all Club Hombre members are men. It can be tricky to identify a member simply by their appearance, which usually involves macho-looking clothes. For example, camoflague is in, while pink garments or tropical/flamingo prints are out. There are, however, several other distingusing factors.
Typically, members of Club Hombre like to do each other favours. No favour is too grand! It’s fine to help a male friend tend to a hundred goats, without pay, even if the herd is riddled with several thousand fleas. “No pasa nada” if the fleas make your previously comfy sofa their new home!
However, if a woman – sometimes referred to as “la hembra” (a female animal) – asks for a small favour, such as “can you fix the broken shower rail” or “might you collect me from the bar later”, this elicits a different reaction. It is “una molestia” (disturbance), and an unacceptable distraction from activities such as watching TV programmes about bulls and horsemanship. The Club Hombre member might then stride around muttering “me cago en dios” (look it up for yourself) before stomping off to roll a cigarette.
Another feature of Club Hombre is its distinctive social gatherings. In the great tradition of the Hellfire Club, Rotary Club or Freemasons, secret society must be maintained. The problem is that Club Hombre thinks its meetings are clandestine, and that “las hembras” don’t realise the men are getting drunk together at someone’s ‘cortijo’ (rural house).
Sometimes, the “hembras” will try to track down Club Hombre by mobile phone. At this point, the male member will slur that he is “working”, while his friends clank drinks glasses and snigger in the background. The men will then turn off their phones.
Although she might be discouraged from attending these ‘hidden’ gatherings, or is actively uninvited, “la hembra” is the ideal designated driver for town fiestas and dinner parties that end at 3am. While waiting for the men to finish talking about animal husbandry, there might be some dirty plates to wash. Anything to make time pass while the second bottle of whiskey is comsumed.
Club Hombre members who are unmarried, separated or divorced (can we imagine why?), invariably love their mothers and will live happily in the matriarchal home forever. Remember that ‘Casa Mama’ is a place to treat with respect. Here, you must avoid causing “molestias”, such as knocking over ornaments or not finishing your dinner. Meanwhile, Mother is expected to wash her 50-year-old son’s underpants and socks, no matter how disgusting they are. Turning on the washing machine is not a task that any self-respecting Club Hombre member wants to understand.
The Club Hombre culture is widespread but it doesn’t encompass all males. Some men do share the daily household tasks – even the ones we all hate, such ironing clothes and putting on duvet covers. Some might do it secretly. If you are especially lucky, you’ll meet healthy and strapping males who are into mountain biking and ‘senderisimo’ (hiking). But don’t hold your breath…
More on Club Hombre will be coming in future, by popular demand…