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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Markets and Pashminas

The last thing we need in this area is another Sunday outdoor market. We already have two.We can walk to the Zoco market (a redundancy, since "zoco" means outdoor market in Arabic, I am told) but we rarely do so, because if we went by foot, we would be too tired to walk around all the stalls to do our shopping and looking. We can also drive on Sunday mornings to the "Lemon-tree" market, so-called because it's down the road to Guardamar known locally as the "lemon tree road," due to all the lemon orchards along the way. But last night while reading the Euro Weekly News before bed, I found out that there is indeed a new open-air market in the area--just a little farther down the "lemon tree road" behind the huge Procomobel home furnishings store on the N-332 running north of Torrevieja.

So off we went this morning to explore the new market, because, well, because it is there. We were on the lookout for pashmina scarves to buy as small gifts for our upcoming trip to Denmark. We didn't find them at this new Moncayo Mercadillo. But we did enjoy a walk in the sun, running into a friend from the kitchen store, buying some grapes and carrots, and then a leisurely caña and tortilla while being serenaded by a Mexican mariachi band.

We left in time to catch the tail end of the Zoco market. It's really late in the season to find pashminas, I thought. There's much more interest in selling bathing suits now than in soft neckscarves. But I had seen a lady wearing one just last week; it still can be quite cool in the evening and a pashmina is the exact right thing to have with you if you are out after dark. We each started at opposite ends of the rows of stalls, promising to buy pashminas if we saw any--you can never have too many pashminas.

We met 45 minutes later at the English book store. One of us arrived with four pashminas, purchased as remnants at two different stalls, plus some salted almonds, plus bananas and plums for our weekday lunches. The other arrived with a new caulking gun and a used DVD for evening entertainment.

I'm sure you can guess which of us found the pashminas.

Austerity Measures

I've been hearing from U.S. colleagues about various measures taken by their employers to cope with the economic crisis. Everyone seems to have more work to do and less time to do it. Sometimes that is because colleagues have been laid off, or vacancies not filled. But more than one I know has chosen across-the-board furloughs of limited duration--designating previously paid holidays as unpaid holidays this year, or mandating five or more days of unpaid time to be taken during the current fiscal year. Such decisions have the effect of spreading the financial hardship around so that it hits everyone, and generally equally, or at least proportionally to their salary.

In an effort to avoid becoming "the next Greece," Spain announced austerity measures last week that sound drastic by any standard. Beginning in June, all civil service workers will take a salary cut, the total amount to be 5% of current expenditures. The plan is being implemented on a progressive scale, however. Lower-salaried workers (those earning up to 1200 euros per month) will take a 2.6 percent cut; higher-salaried workers will lose up to 8 percent. Non-civil service government workers stand to be cut by 15 percent. Even president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who gets 5,000 euros a month (a bit less than $100,000 per year, by the way), will now only get 4,200.

Reportedly the reduced salaries will hit 2.8 million Spaniards, but those are not the only people affected by the measures. Pensioners payments, here-to-fore adjusted annually for inflation, have been frozen (though the lower value of the euro has been having a favorable effect on some us who bring money in from outside the euro zone). And unemployment in Spain continues at the astonishing rate of 20.5 percent.

An early snap poll on a news site showed positive results for the government economic measures: 100% approval. Results coming in later weakened support, and I've watched the figures slip to 86% in favor and now to 83%. It will be interesting to see what happens on June 2, also, when a general strike has been called by two trade unions for the public sector.

But in spite of how cost-cutting measures are affecting you, to me it still seems good to have a job.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday in Madrid

This Sunday in Spain I am still enjoying the memory of last Sunday in Madrid. I took the Renfe (national) train to Madrid last Sunday noon to meet a friend who was arriving from Morocco and had to spend a night before continuing on to the US. Riding the train was a treat for someone who is more used to air travel--twice as much room for my feet as on an airplane, free earphones and audio-visual entertainment, and a cafe/bar car that you can walk to and actually congregate in for as long as you want--the food is not great, but the coffee is fine. No paying for the toilet yet, either.

I did have a little trouble getting on to the Metro in Madrid once I arrived. I couldn't get the ticket machine to accept my coins, and eventually I found out that it was because I was trying to buy a Metro (city subway) ticket at the Renfe Cercanías (regional transport) machine. Of course, on Sunday afternoon, there was no human being working anywhere in sight in an official capacity. Thank goodness a young Spanish woman pointed out the reason for my problem, and after that, I had no trouble buying tickets and finding my way to the hotel, and then out to Barrajas airport, Terminal 4, to meet the plane. With luggage, we took a taxi back to the hotel, and then, past 8:30 PM and still sun shining, we set out on foot to explore the area around us on Gran Via, one of the main streets through Madrid, which incidentally is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

I must confess. In several posts I have reported that stores are generally not open on Sunday in Spain--exceptions are made in the summer in tourist areas and in December for Christmas. Well, Madrid is the big time, and stores all along the Gran Via were open--all the Spanish department stores and specialty shops, everything--and our concierge assured me that yes, they were open every Sunday, but only until 9:00 PM. So we did not take advantage of this opportunity, but instead followed the music we heard down a narrow street on the side of the hotel, back toward a church, where we found a medieval market in process. It was enchanting to walk through the open-air stalls, sampling cheese and sausages, examining the handicrafts, and even buying a couple paper star-shaped lanterns. All the stall tenders were dressed in middle-ages costume, and we saw the period band playing at one point.

But we got hungry, so for one of the few times in my life, I followed the Spanish tradition of eating late in the evening. We were directed by our sweet English-speaking concierge to a restaurant down the street, where we climbed up to the first floor and got a window table so we could observe the life on the street--vibrant at that hour, even though it had gotten a little cold when the sun went down. We ordered a bottle of wine (well, we ordered two glasses, but they brought a bottle) and a Valencian paella, and settled in for a long chat. Soon, at about 10:30 PM, activity commenced nearby as several tables were pushed together to accommodate a crowd of 10 Spaniards, men and women, who were having some sort of celebration or get-together. They ordered first and second courses, but we finished our dinner while they were still eating their main course, so we have no idea how long they sat there or how much they ate. We left at 11:30, pleasantly full, and went back to our hotel for a good night's sleep.

Monday morning started later than I am accustomed to: we got up at 8:30 and had the hotel breakfast buffet, sitting there with a hot breakfast, cold cuts, and fruit for almost two hours. Strangely, somehow we managed to sit in between a Danish-speaking table and a Hebrew-speaking table--each of us could understand one of those languages. Then we walked out in the city again, down a pedestrian street to the regional government building, where we saw a memorial to the victims and helpers in the March 2004 subway bombings. More walking and window shopping, and then back to the hotel, where my friend got a bus to the airport, and I hiked off to the Metro and then to the Renfe station for my four-hour train trip to Alicante. Home again on Monday evening in time to check email and begin the work week just a trifle late on Tuesday.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fiesta de las Naciones

It's the first Sunday in May, and stores are open in Spain. That's because yesterday, May 1, was a secular holiday (Labor Day) and stores were closed on a Saturday. Apparently no one wanted to shut down commercial activity for two weekend days running. Now on Sunday I had a big choice of activities for the day. In addition to going shopping, I could have gone to one of the two regular Sunday outdoor markets, or I could have gone to the neighboring town, Rojales, to its first Fiesta de las Naciones, starting at 10:00 this morning. According to the Euro Weekly News, Rojales is the second municipality in Spain with the greatest number of foreign residents. Presumably Madrid, or perhaps Barcelona, is the only municipality with more.

Associations, clubs, companies, and other organizations combined to provide plates of food and drinks typical of their home country, which all visitors had the opportunity to sample, with the financial gains benefiting the Caritas charity of Rojales. In addition to food and drink, exhibitions and children's games were scheduled. The councilor for tourism stated in advance that "this important celebration of coexistence...aims to integrate [foreign residents] regardless of nationality, encouraging them to share, learn from and enjoy the diverse traditions, cultures and customs."

But I missed the Fiesta de las Naciones because I was already committed to a mini festival of nations. I played for the Danes in a mixed doubled pétanque tournament this Sunday morning. This is the first year that a Danish team has participated in what is otherwise an all-British league. It was my first time playing in competition, too, and though we didn't do as well as I had hoped, we didn't disgrace ourselves, either. Won one and lost two, with close scores on the two. Our two other Danish mixed doubles had mixed results, as well, though the team with a Spaniard who has lived in Denmark for many years won two and lost only one. But I had another success. I got a compliment for the excellent English I speak...

The tournament festivities included a grilled chicken luncheon, and then, since we didn't need to stay for the afternoon playoffs, my Dane and I adjourned to the hipermercado Carrefour, to do our bit to support the stores-open-on-Sunday movement. I couldn't eat a thing now, but perhaps after siesta I'll get hungry enough to run over to the Rojales Fiesta de las Naciones to see whether they have anything enticing left in their foodstalls. Regardless, any Spanish fiesta includes a fireworks display, so I surely expect to see fireworks from my window tonight.