Move over Austin, there’s a new weird kid in town
Jaén. No, not Jane. “Hayen”, and if you can cough up that “h” like a furball, all the better (you’ll be needing it later).
I’ve often not chosen great places to live, rather, I’ve had great places thrust upon me.
Saving some money to live in Paris, I found myself in London’s Homerton during the “fried chicken years”. First impressions weren’t good. The only shop open after 9pm was “Senoritas”, whose services I was unlikely to require. But over the subsequent four years, and during the early days of it’s gentrification, Homerton was an edgy and exciting place to live.
And throughout my time in Paris, I felt like I’d ditched my quirky, funny boyfriend for a superficially superior specimen, but longed for the weird goings-on at the canals and in the basements of Stoke Newington.*
I came to Spain to learn Spanish and live in Seville. And I did, for four months.
I found some quirky cafes (Thank you Alameda), some tourist strongholds and a picturesque river walk but when I started to look for permanent work, I cast my net wide, knowing this postcard city and I weren’t a match.
I wasn’t keen to come to Jaén, but soon-to-be-beggars certainly can’t be choosers, and I passed up some poorly paid work in the charming Cadiz to come to a town which advertises it’s self as “an interior paradise”. Someone should tell 1) the Jaen tourist board: “ONLY ONE HOUR FROM GRANADA”, they scream, and 2) the Jaén wikipedia entry, which features a large roundabout as it’s main image. I was reassured by my at the time Pamplonian flatmate “It can’t be that bad” she said, “it’s got a Corte Inglés”.
But she makes a striking impression, arriving from the west, with white houses lapping on the steep hills of Jabalcuz (“Habalcooth”, again go for it with that furball).
Architecturally, she’s underwhelming. Four weeks prior to the famously commemorated bombing of Guernica, Jaén suffered similar, devastating losses during a bombing raid as part of the Spanish Civil War. Narrow arabic streets provided a high concentration of deaths and casualties, and many of the old parts of the town were lost.
There’s not much said, on the internet or otherwise about small town architecture post war and during the Franco era. With good reason: the preferred style was ugly, or should that be cheap.
But Jaen got’s something about it.
And it’s ok with that.
*There was an excellent Tuesday evening life drawing group in a Stokey basement. Great tunes. I hope it’s still there!