My social observations in La Alpujarra bring to mind a chapter in the excellent book, ‘Ghosts of Spain’, by author and Guardian journalist, Giles Tremlett. The chapter is entitled “men and children first”.
Harking back to the Titanic disaster of 1912, Joseph Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line, ensured he was 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, as his his lily-livered behaviour was considered a public disgrace.
In rural Spain, Ismay might have been followed by a group of male friends. Amongst the middle-aged and older generations, it is ‘normal’ to leave women and children to their own devices, while men do as they please – spanning a timeframe from hours to decades.
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 one 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 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 just by their appearance, which usually involves suitably macho-looking clothes: camoflague is in, while pink garments with floral prints or a tropical vibe are a no-no. There are, however, several other distingusing factors.
Typically, members of Club Hombre like to do each other favours. No favour is too big! It’s fine to help a male friend tend to a hundred goats, 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” (“the mare”) – asks for a small favour, such as “can you fix the broken shower fitting” or “can you pick me up from the bar”, this elicits a different reaction. It is “una molestia” (disturbance) and an unacceptable distraction from vital activities, such as watching television programmes 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 at someone’s ‘cortijo’ (rural house).
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 at all, “la hembra” is a handy designated driver for town fiestas and dinner parties that terminate at 3am. While waiting for the men to finish talking about animals and gossiping about other people, there might be some dirty plates and pots to wash. Anything to make time pass while the men finish the second bottle of whiskey!
Club Hombre members who are unmarried, separated or divorced (can we imagine why…?), invariably love their mothers and might live in the matriarchal home until they are ready to draw their pensions. However, ‘Casa Mama’ is a place to treat with respect – no being obviously mullered, for example. 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 are after several days wear. Turning on the washing machine is a task that no self-respecting Club Hombre member says they understand.
The Club Hombre culture is widespread but it doesn’t encompass everybody of the masculine gender. Some of the men insist that they share household tasks, even ironing clothes and making beds! If you’re especially blessed, they might make your kids a packed lunch! It is possible that some of the 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 healthier pursuits than the whiskey, such as mountain biking or hiking. But don’t hold your breath… 😉
More on Club Hombre will be coming in future, by popular demand…