Search "Sundays in Spain"

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Local Elections

Sunday, May 22 is election day in Spain. As in many European countries, elections are held on Sunday so it is easier for people to find time to vote. I had been looking forward to this day for almost six months, which is when I found out that, as a legal and registered (empadronada) resident of Spain, I was allowed to vote in the local elections. At the time we registered, we were told to check in January to make sure our names were on the voting rolls, just in case.

So in January we took a trip to the ayuntamiento to make sure we were listed. Well, the voting rolls were not up yet. Try next month. In February we tried again, but no lists. In March we asked again when the voting list would be up. "Probably in April," which was a month before the election, and conveniently after the deadline for registering.

At some point around then we gave up worrying about whether we were on the list, because we realized that we had inadvertently scheduled ourselves to be on vacation out of the country on election day. I didn't even dream of going through the rigmarole of pursuing an absentee ballot. I just opted out of the election.

But last week all the free foreign papers carried articles about how to vote on Sunday, and I'm sorry that I will be on a plane before the polls open at 9:00 AM. You go to your polling place (probably the closest school, but if not, check at the town hall and ask your way from there). Once inside, select the paper ballot of the party you wish to vote for. That's right, you don't vote for individuals; you vote one party line. Of course, variety in Spain comes with the number of parties; I have seen ads for four or five, though the two most powerful parties are the PP (Parti Popular) and the PSOE (the Socialists). Foreign residents are only allowed to vote in local elections, which are white ballots. Pink ballots are for the autonomous comunidad election, in which only Spanish nationals can vote.

Once you have selected the paper ballot of your chosen party (and you may have brought one with you that the party had dropped off at your house earlier), you must be very careful not to make any mark on it. No X's, no pen or pencil marks of any kind--if there is a mark, the ballot will be invalidated. You place the unmarked ballot in one of the white envelopes and proceed to an official table, where you present your identity documents: a picture ID, which may be a passport, driver's license, or national identity card (though newer national identity "cards" no longer have a picture on them--go figure).

Your name will be checked against the official voting register for that polling place, and if it is there, you may drop the envelope with the unmarked ballot in the transparent urn on the table. That's it. Polls are open until 8:00 PM.

Our local community has been run by the PP for the last many years, I am told. They did some door-to-door convassing this week and dropped a ballpoint pen and a fan off, together with a sixteen-page glossy brochure voicing their commitment in English to community betterment. We also got one of those pre-ballots in the mail, and on both Thursday and Friday nights a cavalcade of 15 cars, with honking horns and blaring loudspeakers, drove by, exhorting us to vote PP. Almost enough to turn you socialist, or green. It will be interesting to see, when we return from vacation, who has won the election in our small town, and whether much change occurs in municipal services.

In the meantime, on the national scale, young people have been protesting against the current national PSOE government, and perhaps government in general, in Madrid. Now demonstrations have spread to most major cities and captured the attention of news agencies worldwide. The demonstrators are primarily young, because, in a country where more than 20 percent of people are unemployed, but 43 percent of young people are unemployed, they obviously have the time. No doubt I will not need to return to Spain to find out the results of the broader comunidad elections, nor the progress of the demonstrations.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Earthquake in Lorca

Thursday morning this past week I was up early, and after my customary wake-up exercise of transcribing a few dishes for the New York Public Library's What's on the Menu? project, I went to read email. And that's how I found out that the previous afternoon, there had been two earthquakes just about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from us. I hadn't felt a thing.

The first terramoto--just a "tremor" of 4.4 on the Richter scale--came a little before 5:00 PM local time, but it was the second, at 6:45 PM, at 5.2 magnitude, that did the terrible damage. Lorca is an old city. Buildings and cars were destroyed, the church lost its bell tower, ten people were at first declared dead (since confirmed to eight), and hundreds were injured, some quite seriously. The population is about 100,000 and I read one report that said that one-third of Lorca's inhabitants spent the night outside their homes. Nearly 80% of the buildings in town are now said to be damaged in some way.

On Wednesday afternoon I was calmly working in my office, and then I got dressed for dinner and we departed to spend the evening with friends at a birthday celebration. That was festive and undisturbed with any mention of the nearby disaster, and lasted long enough so I went to bed when we returned home, without checking email or accessing news.

So at 6:00 the next morning, I was surprised to find three messages--all from the United States--inquiring about my whereabouts and whether we were affected. I had to go looking for the news. But the only way we have been affected is the strange feeling that this particular disaster was uncommonly close. During the time that we traveled frequently between Roquetas and our home here near Torrevieja, we drove by (not through) the city of Lorca often. It is sad to see the pictures of the devastation in the news.

Over the past days, more inquiries and expressions of concern have come in. Thank you for them; it is nice to be remembered. And we are lucky.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Europe Day

Today (May 9) is Europe Day, and we will celebrate this evening at the Concierto de Europa at the new Auditorio de la Diputación de Alicante (ADDA). Europe Day was established at the Milan Summit of European Union leaders in 1985 as a recognition of the Schuman Declaration of May 9, 1950. On that day, just five years after the end of World War II, Robert Schuman, the Foreign Minister of France, read a declaration asking France and its recent enemy, Germany, to pool their coal and steel production. "The solidarity in production thus established will make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible."

What started as a limited economic measure has grown over the last 60 years to much more, resulting in economic, political, and social cooperation among 27 countries. The European Union is not and will not become a "united states of Europe," and it suffers from complaints of "too much regulation from Brussels." But it nevertheless offers a framework for revitalization and growth for millions of people from the intercambios (exchanges) of its diverse member states. And that makes this young Europe an exciting place to live.