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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Crevillente on a Sunny Saturday

When I looked outside my bathroom window yesterday morning, there seemed to be snow on the mountains in the distance. Not surprising, since we had had two days of very cold and damp weather. But Saturday morning itself was bright and sunny, so we hopped in the car and drove toward the mountains to investigate.

But we never actually got to the mountains. Instead, we veered off to the town of Crevillente, 26 kilometers up the AP-7 highway from our neighborhood of Montebello. Whenever we drive home from our nearest city, Torrevieja, we drive west on the Crevillente road (or Crevillent, as it is properly named in the Valenciano dialect). But we had never been to the town for which our main highway is named, and today seemed like a good time to do so.

Crevillente paseo viewed from the mercado de abastos
We easily found the center of town and even a parking place on the main paseo, from where we walked up the hill toward what we thought was the church. It wasn't a church, we discovered when we got there, but instead the mercado de abastos, an indoor market, and a very well-equipped one. We walked through the stalls of fruit and vegetables, meats, fish, olives, cheeses, and bread and exchanged pleasantries with two of the women vendors. They directed us farther up the hill and to the right, to the church and town hall. Then we found a papeleria and bought some watercolor supplies, and the clerk there directed us to a large municipal park. Somewhere along the line we stopped, of course, for a cafe con leche and split a tostada con atun y tomate, in a small bar that would have been smoky before the no-smoking ban was put into effect this month, but which was a joy now.

It was a glorious Saturday morning in Crevillente. The weather was warm--though I was in a sweater instead of a coat, I really didn't need the long sleeves--at least when I was in the sun. Everyone was out walking, buying, having a drink and a bit of food in the smoke-free bars, or practicing choral music, as we heard from a room at the top of the mercado building. On the way back to the car a couple hours later, we passed a beautiful fern tree. Its leaves looked like the ferns that I used to see along the backroads in New Hampshire, but this was a tall tree, and it was the delicate yellow-green of a promising spring. I know we will have cold weather again, and I will need long sleeves and a jacket, but then I will remember this spring-like January day in Crevillente.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Smoke-free bars in Spain?

This Sunday morning, I am not in Spain, and therefore I cannot see whether the new law banning smoking in all enclosed public places--including bars, cafes, and restaurants--is having the sudden transformational effect that has been hoped for by some and lamented by others.

A 2006 law regulating smoking in public spaces was disappointingly ineffective in regards to cafeterias, bars, and restaurants. Larger establishments were permitted to create smoking areas within the otherwise smoke-free premises. Though they were supposed to have separate ventilation systems and be positioned so as not to require patrons to pass through the smoky area when entering and leaving, I have seen some clumsily constructed structures that failed miserably in containing the abundant smoke generated by the faithful. Worse, establishments of less than 100  square meters of public space were permitted to exempt themselves from the no-smoking policy, as long as the management posted a sign at the entrance saying that smoking was permitted. For five years now, almost every little bar that I have entered has posted a "Se permite fumar" sign on the front door.

The new law took effect on Sunday, January 2 so as not to suddenly interrupt anyone's Nochevieja revelries as they celebrated the new year and downed their good-luck grapes. My own New Year's Eve day was spent in already smoke-free airports and planes, but I got the first inclination of a change when I checked in to a hotel next to the airport the night before my early-morning flight. For the first time in Spain I was asked voluntarily by the desk attendant if I wanted a smokeless room (thirty percent of hotel rooms may be reserved for smokers).

Toward the end of 2010 I read in the newspaper that bars and restaurants were investing in outdoor heating devices to enable the use of terrace and sidewalk sitting in even the colder months of the year. I remember now my surprise that the back terrace area of Bistro Alex, the restaurant within walking distance of my house, had been transformed into a pleasantly warm dining area with awnings and multiple heaters when I was there a couple weeks ago. I wonder if movable awnings--whether down or up--mean that an area is not "enclosed" and therefore may be exempt from the smoking ban. Most of all, I look forward to returning to the always-crowded  Carrefour cafeteria where we frequently enjoy a cup of coffee after making our purchases, but usually have trouble finding a clear table. I had noticed not too long ago that there was double the amount of seating space, with better views, farther beyond where we usually sit. It was, however, a glassed-in area for smoking. By the time I get back to Spain, that room should be cleaned and opened and a more pleasant space to recuperate from shopping.

The unusual thing I have noticed in all my reading about the tough new anti-smoking law in Spain  is that no one is attacking people who smoke, or denying their right to do so. The focus is on making more pleasant and healthy areas for everyone when they are eating and drinking, two activities that are major social occasions in Spain. Smoking is still permitted on the streets, in open air (except around playgrounds, schools, and hospitals), and in private areas in Spain. And I expect to see even more sidewalk restaurants and bars than there already are.