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Thursday December 18, 2008

Miguel the Toro

Something I haven’t been aware of in the UK before but which is alive and well in Mallorca, is the parking pitch phenomenon. Driving into Palma on a busy day when parking is near impossible in any of the underground car parks or on the street, we head for the small plaça by Es Baluard museum in the hope that Miguel the toro will be there. Miguel who? You may well ask.

Our toro is a parking pitcher, one of those guys who at times, infuriatingly, flag us down as we negotiate heavy traffic along the city’s narrow streets in the hope of finding a parking place. The sun sizzles overhead as horns blast and Mediterranean tempers run high in this real life version of the dodgems. When we first arrived in Mallorca, the Scotsman would curse when one of these sozzled pariahs would roll up in front of us demanding money for finding a parking slot which we’d already found for ourselves. Sometimes the parking pitcher would grow abusive if we didn’t hand over a handful of centimos and we vowed to avoid them at all costs. Then one day as we mournfully circled Es Baluard’s plaça without a seeming hope of finding somewhere to leave the car, Miguel hopped out from behind a tree like a little goblin and beckoned us over.
‘Listen, Señor, that Renault Clio driver will be back in a minute. I know his timetable. Wait here.’
Too weary to argue, we did as he instructed, wondering if this was some tourist scam. About 60 seconds later, a burly Mallorcan jumped into the Clio. Miguel waved us over, rebuking other hopefuls who’d circled like a pool of sharks around the slot. Being horribly late for a meeting, we were hugely indebted to our brand new chum.

When we got to know Miguel better, he confided that he was known by his regulars as Miguel the toro because he protected the cars in his zone like a proud bull. I observed his little rotund form slyly. He didn’t quite have the stature of a defiant toro but he certainly seemed to have the heart of a bull. So, for two years now we have only parked on Miguel’s pitch. He may at times have more than the odd snifter so his coherence is slightly questionable but he guards out car like a rotweiller or rather a small bull, and treats the Scotsman like his best friend. Even when we lag behind other vehicles in the parking race, Miguel fends them all off with an impatient wave of the hand when he sees us coming. Then he will stand stubbornly in the only available parking space until we reach him. One day as we strolled back through the plaça, we saw some teenagers fiddling with the aerials of parked cars, but within a few seconds, little Miguel was upon them, shaking his fist. After giving them a severe ticking off, he perched like a protective mother hen on a bench next to our Mini Cooper. Sometimes when we return laden with supermarket bags, Miguel rushes over to help us and then we sit in the sunshine discussing Spanish politics and often his previous life. He has told us that he once owned a successful retail business, but that his marriage went sour and his life fell apart. Deeply depressed, he drifted from job to job. Then one day he had an epiphany, realising that what he enjoyed most was chatting to people and sitting in the sun so he decided to find himself a vacant parking pitch. Most of us give Miguel about 50 centimos a shot which, given the number of clients he receives each day, isn’t such a bad wage.

Now when Expat friends complain about the parking pitchers we tell them cooingly about Miguel the toro and they smile indulgently, no doubt thinking the Mallorcan sun has finally addled our brains.

This Christmas, the Scotsman bought Miguel cigars and was given a Barcelona football strip in return. He doesn’t support Barcelona but that didn’t matter. The Scotsman was deeply touched and our friendship with Miguel the toro continues happily to this day.

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