Spain through the looking glass

Posts Tagged ‘Spain

Another silly love song

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A few years ago, the downtowns of even Spain’s most humble cities, towns and villages were about as close to urban nirvana as you can get. Wheelchair-friendly pavements gleamed and glistened under bright southern skies. Traffic lights winked comfortingly at the intersections of streets without traffic and municipals gardens were a dazzling display of magnolias and oleanders.

Polished park benches, pretty pergolas, and manicured roundabouts: you could barely move without tripping over an EU-sponsored fountain or footbridge.


Then Spain’s construction-driven gold rush ended. And the arrival of the crisis was like an earthquake with millions of tiny aftershocks; these are still rattling the country’s foundations five years later.

Spain’s town halls were no more immune to this seismic shifting than anyone else. More used to spending cash than saving it, they began hunting around for ways to cut corners. And one of the casualties was street cleaning.

But the problem with cutting your maintenance budget is that the results are hard to hide. Bins fill up and then overflow, spilling out trails of half-crushed beer cans and used lottery tickets. Litter is driven along by the wind and then collects in forgotten corners. Parks and gardens dry out and became parched as lonesome drunks.

This dirt is an outward manifestation of the crisis and particularly dispiriting, given Spain is a country where cleanliness is a point of both domestic and civic pride. Letting your streets fall into disrepair is as unthinkable as donning last season’s clothes because you can no longer afford to replace them.

Madrid has not been immune this general decline in upkeep. If you look beyond the lacy frills of the Plaza Mayor or the velvet swagger of the city’s swanky Salamanca neighbourhood, you’ll see the rents in the fabric: the buckled footpaths, a shabby plot of overgrown grass fronting a ramshackle palace, a pair of overfull recycling containers.

Indeed, if you believe the country’s biggest newspaper, Madrid has become dirty, unloved and unlovable. This is, apparently, a city without a story, without an image, and without that single Eifel-tower style monument that would make it a world-class city. To make matters worse, Madrid’s nightlife is moribund, the streets are filthy and there is a lack of a general direction or plan.

The newspaper’s attack – or perhaps wake-up call is the better way to put it? – didn’t come out of nowhere. Just weeks ago, Madrid lost its bid to host the 2020 Olympics. It was the Spanish capital’s third time of trying, and before the vote many people honestly seemed to believe that the world owed Spain something, that all the years of hardship would be rewarded with the spinning of the Karmic wheel. Winning the Olympics would be some kind of international redemption. It would mark a glorious new chapter for Spain.

Instead we were treated to the astonishing – and perhaps never to be seen again – sight of thousands of Spaniards reduced to complete silence as they learned Tokyo, not Madrid, would be the lucky hosts.

Perhaps this was a case of straws breaking camel’s backs. Maybe until that moment, the judgement on Madrid was still out. Now, though, it seems you can say whatever you like about the Spanish capital.


This Madrid bashing is all very unusual – for me at least, as it’s the first time I’ve come across it in Spain. This is not Australia where people tend to despise Sydney and Sydneysiders with joyful abandon. This is not England with its bitter resentment of the black hole that is London, or even Italy where the residents of every town in the land pretty much hate the residents of every other town in the land. By contrast, Spaniards seem, for the most part, to have a sort of grudging affection for this scruffy redbrick city on the plains.

This Madrid bashing is strange, too, because the more time I spend here the more I like this big-city -writ-small with its museums, and shady parks and grubby unpretentious bars. I love its tangle of neighbourhoods that live – happily it seems – without a plan or a direction.

I’m sure, too, that Madrid has seen better days and far worse days and will cycle through both again.  But what I also know is Madrid will never again be this Madrid where I spent my first autumn and rejoiced at its constantly changing skies, or at the just-glimpsed view of the mountains on the city’s fringes, or simply enjoyed that delicious moment leaving home each morning in October when the air was a little too cool to be entirely comfortable but ‘cold’ was just a word.



Written by georgemills25

October 19, 2013 at 15:17

Spain’s top Spotify songs for 2012

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The most popular Spotify song in Spain this year was the trans-Tasman effort (look on a map!) Somebody That I Used To Know.

Written by Australia’s Goyte and featuring New Zealand singer Kimbra, the alt-pop track has also received a staggering 350 million plus hits on YouTube. Somebody That I Used To Know was also 2012’s most requested Spotify track worldwide, says the online music provider.

Um…like, go, Aussies and Kiwis!

In case you’re interested here is the complete list of Spotify’s 10 top in Spain for 2012. But be warned: some of them are dangerously catchy (or if you’d just prefer to her some REALLY great Spanish music click here or here or here).

1.Gotye featuring Kimbra – ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’
2.José De Rico – ‘Rayos De Sol’
3.Cali Y El Dandee – ‘Yo te esperaré’
4.Adele – ‘Someone Like You ’
5.Carly Rae Jepsen – ‘Call Me Maybe’
6.Adele – ‘Rolling In The Deep’
7.David Guetta featuring Sia – ‘Titanium’
8.LMFAO – ‘Sexy And I Know It’
9.Michel Teló – ‘Ai Se Eu Te Pego’
10.Pitbull featuring Chris Brown – ‘International Love’

And if you have somehow not heard this, here’s your chance to join the third of a billion people who followed this link:

Written by georgemills25

December 1, 2012 at 08:16

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Spain’s population set to decline

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Aging, shrinking and leaving: that’s the grim prognosis for Spain’s population in the coming decades.

Spain’s population is set to fall this year for the first time since at least 1971 in what could be a harbinger of things to come.

If current trends play out, Spain’s total population will slim down by 2.5 per cent from the current 46 million to just 45 million in a decade’s time and that number will only be around 41.5 million, or a full 10 per cent lower, by 2052.

That’s according to the ‘Short-term population projections’ report released yesterday by Spain’s national stats office, the INE.

Emigration, an aging population, a falling birth rate and fewer women of childbearing age are all causes for this likely fall in total numbers in the country, the report says.

The stats bureau predicts 20 per cent fewer babies will be born in the country in 2021 than in the last twelve months. They also predict that the next 40 years will see just 14.6 million babies born in Spain; that’s 25 per cent less than the figure for the last 40 years.

Meanwhile, Spaniards will live longer with life expectancy hitting 86.9 years for men and 90.7 years for women by 2052. By the middle of this century, 7.2 million Spaniards, or a huge 37 per cent of the population will be older than 64.

Most worrying, if things continue as they are, Spain’s dependency rate will hit a staggering 58 per cent. This means for every 10 people working in Spain, there could be nearly 6 ‘inactive’ people (people younger than 16 or older than 64).

Migration isn’t going to help much either. Just under 377,000 foreigners arrived in Spain last year but that has to be set against the almost 560,000 people who packed up their bags and left. That’s a tick under 10 per cent higher than the numbers for those who walked out the door in 2011.

The INE predicts that mass migration into Spain will continue; the country is set to welcome nearly 5 million migrants in the next decade. Over 1.2 million of these will arrive from within the European Union while South America (901,300 immigrants to Spain from 2012 to 2021) and Africa (630,575) will also play an important role in this trend.

But despite this influx of new residents, very few parts of Spain look set to experience population growth in the coming decade. The only exceptions to the rule are the southern provinces of Andalusia and Murcia, the two Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta in Africa and the Balearic and Canary Islands.

Written by georgemills25

November 20, 2012 at 10:52

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Power struggle

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At around 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon, or about mid-way through Spain’s latest general strike, I started receiving internet links to photos of the nation’s streetlights burning brightly in the middle of the day.

Among all the other images I was seeing of edgy police, excited demonstrators and hirsute union bosses, these pictures (click and scroll down) were seriously puzzling. Had a band of surrealists infiltrated the nation’s media outlets? Or were the Policía Nacional trialling some new technology designed to temporarily blind all those pesky protestors?

The truth – when, after much joining of dots, I finally pegged – was nearly as bizarre.

You see, it’s all to do with how people decide who has ‘won’ a general strike in Spain (and yes, there does have to be a winner – the strike is, after all, basically a referendum on government policy minus the ballot boxes). Anyway, beyond the usual hoo-ha about how many people actually chose to down tools – the unionists say 76.7% while the employers are claiming it’s 12% – there are four key performance indicators both sides use to assess the results of this strike. First, there is the question of how well the unions manage to paralyse the country’s public transport networks. Next, everybody weighs up the syndicates’ success in shutting down large retailers. After that, they look at how many of the country’s highly-politicised teachers walk off the job. And lastly, people try and gauge how effective the trade unions have been in stymieing the nation’s industrial output.

So what does any of this have to do with the mysterious street lamps? Well it’s connected to the industrial output indicator because one of the clearest ways to demonstrate a drop in industrial production is to measure electricity use.

In other words, the less power is being used, the less stuff is being made and the more successful the general strike has been. Or so the theory goes (of course it’s far more complicated than that but such public relations wars are not won with details anyway).

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that commentators spent a lot of time yesterday talking about how many kilowatts were coming off the nation’s grid. All over the Internet, you could find the nifty graphics provided by Spain’s national power company Red Eléctrica de España showing the difference between anticipated and actual consumption.

Early in the afternoon – and then again later in the day – Spain’s (totally anti-strike) Interior Ministry, published a statement showing that power usage had dropped only 12.7 per cent from normal levels during this latest stop-work. This was against 15.18 per cent during the last general strike in March and 15.9 per cent for the 24-hour strike of 2010.

The ministry said this was evidence that popular support for such strikes was falling.

A short while later, the Secretary General of Spain’s General Workers Union Cándido Méndez, appeared on Spain’s public broadcaster RTVE La 1 explaining that you couldn’t compare power use between this strike and the previous strikes. He argued that, in percentage terms at least, the drop in output was largest this time around because many more people were unemployed now.

Which brings me back – finally – to the puzzle of those weird streetlight photos. And perhaps some of you have already cottoned on to what was happening. But for those of you that are still scratching your heads, here’s the reason. All those images were being posted by people who wanted to show that government-friendly councils nationwide had deliberately flicked on all their power switches to artificially massage (read ‘lift’) power output figures and make it look as if less people were striking than was actually the case.

If we were anywhere in this world, I might dismiss this as the talk of a bunch of Photoshop-happy conspiracy theorists. Unfortunately, this being Spain, I fear people might be on to something.

Written by georgemills25

November 15, 2012 at 09:35

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Reading between the lines

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Today is National Library Day in Spain but the country’s readers have little cause for celebration.

The budget for Spain’s network of 52 national libraries has been slashed by 20 per cent over the last two years and anecdotal evidence suggests the picture for the country’s more than 5,000 municipal libraries is even grimmer.

A week ago, leading Spanish newspaper El Pais reported on the dire financial situation of the library of Guadalajara, a town of some 85,000 people about an hour’s drive from Madrid. To all intents and purposes, Guadalajara’s library is a resounding success story. Frequented by 40 per cent of the local population, it boasts over 30,000 users. The institution doesn’t just loan out books; it has positioned itself as a centre of cultural activity by running reading clubs, staging concerts and hosting art exhibitions. But the money has dried up.

Back in 2007, before the crisis hit, this thriving library had €150,000 to splash on new material. This year, the figure is down to €46,000. In 2013, the library’s administrators are expecting nothing. That’s right. Not one euro.

Fortunately for Guadalajara, its citizens are helping pick up the tab. Readers are currently forking out for subscriptions to 62 publications and a number of library card holders have donated their entire book collections to help keep the shelves interesting.

But the outlook for most of Spain’s libraries is not as positive. The latest figures from Spain’s culture ministry show that 56 institutions saw their doors close for good in 2010. In 2006 and 2007, by contrast, a total of 170 libraries were born.

One of the institutions that closed last year was in the conservative southern city of Granada. Towards the end of 2011, a group of concerned residents in the neighbourhood of Zaidín staged a long protest to draw attention to the plight of their local lending library. After a 3-month standoff, they suffered the indignity of being forcefully removed by local police.

Footage of the event shows protesters cheerfully singing on the library steps on a cold winter morning. At one point, a large red truck pulls up and the drivers emerge to strip the small municipal library of its treasures. Several members of the Policía Local have also turned up for good measure. These officers proceed to politely explain their actions to the gathered protesters and then begin to carry away the irate locals one at a time.

The actions of the police were – procedurally speaking at least – beyond reproach, but the frustration of the aggrieved locals is indicative of the way that many people in Spain are beginning to see such cuts as unnecessarily punitive.

There is, too, something particularly dispiriting about reductions in spending on culture. As the Spanish novelist Javier Marías pointed out in a recent post to his weekly blog, the more difficult everyday life becomes, the greater our need for escape.

In a staunch defence of his industry, Marías pointed out that what people call “culture” – whether movies or books or music – contributes 4 per cent to Spain’s GDP and provides jobs to some 600,000 people. More importantly, though, the novelist stressed the loss to the imaginative realm that is resulting from the Spanish government’s penchant for budget cuts.

Marías finishes by quoting Isak Dinesen who once said: “All pain becomes bearable if it is transformed into a story.” Unfortunately, the story of Spain’s crisis is far from over.

Written by georgemills25

October 24, 2012 at 12:16