My social observations over several years in the rural Alpujarra bring to mind a chapter in the excellent book, ‘Ghosts of Spain’, by writer and Guardian journalist, Giles Tremlett. The chapter is “men and children first”.
Harking back to the Titanic disaster of 1912, Joseph Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line, allowed himself to be rescued ahead of his passengers. Allegedly, women and children were stranded on the sinking ship, while he commandeered a lifeboat for himself. Ismay subsequently lived as a recluse, thanks the public disgrace of his lily-livered behaviour.
In rural Spain, Ismay might have been willingly followed by a group of male cohorts. Amongst the middle and older generations here, it is the norm to leave women and children to their own devices, while men do as they please – sometimes for years or decades.
It is clear to see that, in the social mores of La Alpujarra, a “men’s club” culture prevails. I’ve affectionately named a whole demographic and its behaviour “Club Hombre”. People have approached me at parties and asked, “what is Club Hombre”? So, let me explain…
Club Hombre isn’t – as a female friend suggested – a noun alluding to a particular individual. 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”. Club Hombre 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 and coke, or congregate in a group 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 just by their appearance, which usually involves suitably macho-looking clothes: camoflague, “yes”; pink, floral prints and a tropical vibe, “no”. There are, however, several other distingusing factors.
Typically, members of Club Hombre like to do each other favours. No favour is too great! It’s fine to help a male friend tend a hundred farm animals, even if the herd is riddled with several thousand fleas. ‘No pasa nada’ if the fleas make your sofa their new home!
However, if a woman – sometimes referred to as “la hembra” (“the mare”) – asks for a small favour, such as “can you fix the broken shower rail” or “can you pick me up from the village bar”, this elicits a different reaction. It is “una molestia” (disturbance) and an unacceptable distraction from vital activities, such as watching programmes on Canal Sur about bulls or horsemanship. The Club Hombre member will 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 on someone’s ‘campo’ (land).
Sometimes, the “hembras” will try to track down Club Hombre members by mobile phone. At this point, the male in question will slur that he is “working”, while his friends clank glasses full of beer and snigger in the background. The men will then turn off their phones.
Although she might be discouraged from attending these supoosedly ‘hidden’ gatherings, or just not invited, “la hembra” is a handy designated driver for town fiestas and late-running dinner parties. While waiting for the men to finish talking about animals and discussing third parties (they are awful gossip-mongers!), there might be some discarded, dirty plates to wash. Anything to make time pass while they finish the second bottle of whiskey!
Club Hombre members who are unmarried, separated or divorced (who could possibly imagine why…?), invariably love their mothers and will live in the matriarchal home until, well… pretty much forever. However, ‘Casa Mama’ is a place to treat with respect. Here, you must avoid causing “molestias”, except that Mother is expected to wash her 50-year-old son’s underpants and socks, no matter how disgusting they have become after being worn for five days. Turning on the washing machine is a task that no self-respecting Club Hombre member professes to understand.
The Club Hombre culture is widespread but it doesn’t encompass everybody of the masculine gender. Some of the men here insist that they share household tasks, even ironing clothes and making beds. If you’re lucky, they might make your kids a packed school lunch! I suspect that some of men perform household tasks on the sly, but never tell their drinking buddies. Or they avoid the bar altogether. In this case, they are part of a slightly different culture that might encompass a few healthy pursuits, such as mountain biking or hiking. But don’t hold your breath… 😉
More on Club Hombre will be coming in future, by popular demand…