The worst thing that could happen to a person born in Jaen (home of the largest olive orchards in the world) is to be allergic to olive pollen. And this is the case of Joaquin Hidalgo, who was born in the capital of this province 44 years ago.
Although he was not a country boy, in Jaen everything smells of olives, therefore, every year, before his school report came out his parents decided to send him to his aunt’s house in Almeria. So, many of his childhood and teenage memories are linked to this province.
Joaquín is a friendly man, a good conversationalist and, as he himself says, with a calm demeaner, but very highly-strung on the inside. He is addicted to the radio, which he always has to have on in the background.
Our meeting takes place along the Cañada Real de la Costa, between Aguadulce and Roquetas, near the sea shore and under the heady July sunlight, along the paths that he used as a child and a teenager with his friends and which, now, he occasionally uses for brisk walking.
After the interview, we went for lunch and there I found out that if one day he disappears, he would be found in Aranda de Duero, a town of which he even knows the names of its streets.
Has this landscape changed much since you were sent to Almeria as a child?
The truth is that it is well preserved, in a sustainable way. Of course, these fences, the walkways or the viewing point were not here when I was a child and I came with my friends with our rucksacks to spend the day here. What is exactly the same is the old Guardia Civil headquarters, which was a reference point for us in our trips because there were no mobile phones back then.
I suppose you obviously like the sea.
I like it, but to be honest I prefer the mountains, and in Almeria we have both things only a few kilometres apart. It must be my genes showing through. Since my son was stung by a jellyfish and had to spend several days in hospital, leaving him an impressive scar on his forearm, we take it all with moderation.
Where do you feel you are from?
I feel 100% from Roquetas, because home is where the heart is and I have spent more of my life in Almeria than in Jaen.
When did you move to Almeria and why?
We didn’t have any close relatives in Jaen and we had family in Almeria. It was just a question of family.
I suppose that your allergy problems ended here. Or are you greedy and want them all for yourself?
I think that I’ve overcome them by constantly going into the greenhouses, where there is a very high concentration of plants and pollen. By now I’ve become immune to this type of allergy, but I am still allergic to penicillin, to cat and dog epithelium….
Where and what did you study?
The start of my university studies coincided with the family moving to Almeria. So I studied Agricultural Engineering, specialising in the Agrifood Industry. I wanted to be a doctor, but my mother, who was a nurse, cured me of that idea. At that time, doctors were very badly paid and had to do lots of different unrelated jobs, so I also didn’t do exactly what I should have had to do because I am an agronomist, but in the agrifood branch.
But you are still studying.
Yes, I still study on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings, so the weekends fly by. They aren’t weekends as such, because on Saturday I do the work I didn’t do on Friday afternoon. It is voluntary and I have to say that I love it.
And what are you studying?
I am doing a Master in International Agribusiness at ISAM, the Agro business school that we have in Almeria. Many changes are occurring and I think that all training should be ongoing.
I know that you are a radio fanatic.
I could live without television, but I am always glued to the radio. I am an avid listener of Julia Otero in all her facets and I think that Alsina is one of the most neutral opinion formers around. I listen to the radio all the time and everywhere. I always have it on in the background; when I am making supper for my children, when I am writing… except when they are broadcasting football, which I don’t like.
Always the same station?
Now it is, but I had a period of rebellion and I moved over to Ser, with Iñaki Gabilondo, who I think is a top rate journalist.
I’ve been told that if you disappear, to look for you in Aranda de Duero. This seems very unusual…
But true. It is a town I am really passionate about. I like everything about it: its people, its food, its landscape and above all, its wines.
Where does this enthusiasm come from in someone from Almeria?
It comes from my youth. When we finished university, we were a very close-knit group of friends and one of the couples in the group went to work in Aranda de Duero. Our relationship was so close that for many years we continued going on trips, eating out, visiting wine cellars, etc.
Which wine is your favourite, apart from this Arzuaga that we have on the table?
I think that the Denomination of Origin Ribera del Duero has some delicious wines. I am very fond of one from a wine cellar called Prado Rey, which is also the wine we had at my wedding.
Do you belong to the group that believes that a red wine must always be accompanied by meat and white wine by fish?
I am very flexible in all aspects, including this one. There are red wines that are very fresh that I would eat with fish. Most days I have at least five minutes of me-time: when I get home, I sit on the sofa calmly and I drink my glass of wine.
Do you have time to do any sport?
At the moment no and this is beginning to show. Now my life is taken up by three preferences: time for my family, time for studying, and time at work.
By the way, where will spend your summer holidays?
I think we will do what most Spaniards are doing, staying nearby. My wife, who works in the healthcare field, is very aware of what is happening and she is not prepared to let us take any risks.