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Sunday, April 28, 2013

April Showers

The trumpet flower plant, a week ago, before the rains.
© Johannes Bjorner 2013
I woke this Sunday in Spain to the pitter-patter of rain on the rooftop. It was the fourth consecutive day of rain. I don't remember any other time here in which it has rained so long.

Not that it has rained continuously throughout the four days, but it has rained every single one of them, and the feeling and experience of rain has permeated the days. It started late Wednesday, as we were in the midst of our third and final game of petanca, nearing 7:00 in the  evening. The wind was strong and the clouds were darkening. It rained that night, but nevertheless I got up the next morning and put in a load of laundry, because I had managed to stain both my white pirate pants and my favorite white pullover (100% cotton, made in Denmark but purchased years ago at Garnet Hill in Franconia, New Hampshire) with tomato sauce the night before when I was making dinner. By the time the washing machine was done, the clouds were spewing forth with water again.

Friday morning promptly at 5:00 I was awakened with a horrendous clap of thunder, pouring rain, and noisy winds, but it cleared enough by 10:30 that we were able to sit outdoors comfortably in Los Montesinos for the Fourth Friday coffee hour of the tiny American community that we go to each month. By afternoon we had had more rain, more sun, and then more rain, so that Friday afternoon petanca was cancelled. Saturday morning was also gray and wet. By now I had rescued the whitened laundry that I had hung on the outside line and which had experienced at least two extra rinses, and brought it inside to dry. Then, of course, it cleared again and we took advantage of the day to run out to Quesada to buy some birthday cards, wrapping paper, and have a cup of coffee at the Halfway House. It rained much of the afternoon, but I didn't feel bad about that, because I have a big writing project that I wanted to work on, and if you have to be inside on a weekend day, it might as well be raining. This morning I still had words to write, so I didn't object too much when I heard the rain on the rooftop, though it did mean that I wouldn't go to the outdoor market and purchase the week's supply of fruits, vegetables, and frutos secos. Very often, when the weather is gray in the morning, it clears up by 4:00 in the afternoon, so I just planned to work until the sun came out and then we could go out and enjoy what probably would be a brief respite from our cabin fever.

Sure enough, at 3:51 I noticed that the sun was pouring in my office window. It didn't take much longer before we were out the door--but where to? Stores and shopping malls are not open on Sundays, the outdoor market had long since closed, we did not want a late Sunday dinner in a restaurant. So we drove to Los Montesinos, ten minutes or so away, and found that the metal tables and chairs were sitting out front of El Tambalache bar just as you enter town. I thought it was still too cold to sit at a sidewalk table, so we went inside and enjoyed the ambiance of a neighborhood bar on Sunday afternoon. Five or six men were talking noisily at the bar among themselves and the two men who were standing outside at the pass-through window. A soccer game was on the TV, playing silently because separate audio was playing first English, then Spanish pop music. We ordered a vino tinto and tinto de verano (pushing the summer season a little, I thought) and also picked up a small bag of Lay's Artesanas potato chips, fried in 100% olive oil. Today's regional newspaper was lying on the bar, and as we drank we read the news, a nice savings because, although we often buy a newspaper, we never do on Sunday because it costs so much more that day. A front page story told us that 40 liters of hail had fallen per meter during a 15-minute period the day before in Alicante. Also we read that the waiting time for operations from the  public health system has doubled in the last year, due to reductions in staff of medical personnel. The  day's cartoon showed a man asking his doctor whether he would come out [alive, presumably] from his operation. The doctor responded tartly: You´ll be lucky to come into the operation!

We were back home in no more than an hour and it still hasn't started raining again yet, but the newspaper said that the "unsettled" weather would continue in the area until Tuesday. Not a good sign for us, as we leave at 7:00 in the morning to take some friends to the train station in Alicante on their way to embark on a cruise. They, at least, will manage to get out of the rain for awhile. Cruise ships have big indoors.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Spring Garden

Goldie coming out to enjoy the spring sun and to survey her domain from the front step. 
© Johannes Bjorner 2013

A Walk on the Beach

Finally it's spring. Really spring. That delightful season in Spain when it's not too cold and it's not too hot.

Of course, to preserve that delicate balance, you need to change clothing at least three times a day. Today I am putting away my winter clothes and getting out my summer garb. I'm hoping this doesn't put the jinx on the weather, as it usually does when we say "This is the last time we'll need the fire" while we watch TV at night. We haven't had a fire for several evenings now, and I am just about ready to plant the white silk flowers that I bought for that purpose in the black square of the fireplace grate for the summer, but I haven't done it yet, because we may just need that fire again some time.

How many times I need to change clothes each day depends on when I get up. I need long pants and long sleeves for the morning and evening,and even during the day if I am inside the house at my desk or in the kitchen, but after wearing long pants to play petanca in the afternoon a couple times this week, and being too hot, I decided that I really needed to retrieve my 3/4 length pants. Yesterday I cut down on the number of wardrobe changes by staying in bed reading until 11:00 AM. That meant I could put on the one pair of pirate pants that I had kept out of storage for the transition season for the afternoon. I also donned a sleeveless laced tank top, one I had purchased years ago at an arts and craft fair somewhere in New England, which has a matching long-sleeved men's shirt with lacy cut-outs and applique--perfect if there are breezes or too much sun. I was a little cold as I sat at the computer in my office in early afternoon, but I was perfectly dressed when we ventured out mid-afternoon for a drive to the Mediterranean, only ten or fifteen minutes away by car.

Photo credit Johannes Bjorner
We parked at La Mata, a neighborhood in the north of Torrevieja, and got out to walk to the beach. There is a boardwalk that stretches along the Mediterranean for several kilometers, and we walked south toward the city. We had been on a stretch of the boardwalk before, but it was a couple years ago. We passed small cafés and chiringuitos as we followed the boardwalk around sand dunes and beach greenery with the magenta middagsblomster and another blue wildflower that I had not seen elsewhere. It was a perfect spring Saturday afternoon. There were several people sunning themselves in swimsuits or just reading in a beach chair. We saw a sailboat. Other people were walking or biking along the boardwalk. We heard lots of Spanish voices, some German, and a very few English. We stopped for a cup of café con leche, and then walked on, and then we turned back and stopped for a caña and tapa, and we watched some real experts playing petanca before we got back to the car at 5:30 or so.

There had been a breeze along the coast, but I was fine in my sleeveless top as long as we stayed in the sun, which was not difficult. When I got home, however, I disappeared upstairs immediately and changed into the slacks and long-sleeved cotton-knit shirt that were still hanging on the side of the dirty clothes basket from the previous evening. After our traditional Saturday evening smørrebrød we settled down for an unusually good Saturday evening of television. Once in awhile I glanced at the empty black hole under the mantel, but we did not light a fire. I did pull a wool blanket over me as we moved into the second hour of the evening's program, however.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Poverty in Spain

The CoastRider, in an especially informative issue dated April 2, put some statistics about poverty in Spain to the faces of distress that we have begun seeing even in our area along the Costa Blanca. The research came from the FOESSA Foundation, the Fomento de Estudios Sociales y de Sociología Aplicada, which was founded in 1965 to provide "the most objective and continuous research possible on the social situation and changes in Spain," according to my reading of its mission statement. I downloaded its 2013 report and looked through it, but because I find economics tough going in any language, I rely mostly on The CoastRider's interpretation:
  • 10 million people in Spain--21% of the population--are living in "relative poverty." Relative poverty is defined as having an annual income less than 60% of the national income. A family unit of two adults and two children living in relative poverty live on less than 15,330 euros (about US $20,000).
  • There are now 3 million people living in Spain under "extreme poverty." That is 6.4% of the population. Extreme poverty is defined as having an annual income of 30% or less of the national average, or 3,650 euros (about US $4,750).
  • A total of 38% of one-parent families are living below the poverty line--11.7% in extreme poverty.
  • The percent of households with everyone out of work has grown from 2.5% before the crisis to 10.6% at the end of 2012. That is more than 1.8 million people.
Elsewhere in the issue, the Bank of Spain says that the jobless rate could reach 27% by the end of 2013 and that not until 2014 is "the pace of job destruction ... expected to moderate substantially ... and ... job creation ... begin."

The visible signs of the economic crisis have moved beyond half-finished building projects, empty holiday units, reduced hours of service in medical and government offices, and shuttered or ever-changing cafés, restaurants, and shops. We don't know a lot of Spanish people, but I know two women whose husbands have not worked for two years. One is young enough that he can at least use the time to care for their infant daughter while the mother works; the other is old enough that he will probably never have another job in his lifetime. Another young family is working hard to remain in Spain; she is running the business that had supported them here for several years, but he has had to return to another European Union country for work and is now able to join his family only once a month. We know a retail shop owner who owes two suppliers 15,000 euros and doesn't have it, and is being taken to court--as if that is supposed to produce money from somewhere. We know a middle-aged divorced woman who worked for less than ten years before she lost her job and whose public unemployment benefits have now run out after two years; her former husband had already stopped all financial help. While in Madrid a few weeks ago, we saw numerous street beggars, whom we had rarely seen in the city before. And even down here on the costa, the street musicians who greet you with a cheerful song as you approach the grocery store and always thank you for your change when you come out are singing a little less brightly now and smiling only rarely.

Petanca Tournament

This past Sunday in Spain I did not write here, as I was otherwise occupied--for much longer than I had planned--in the Danish Friends Club's annual mixed doubles petanca tournament. It had been ages since we had played with the full club, as the day for social petanca has changed to one for which we have another arrangement. So we were glad to go out on a Sunday morning and see people who we have not seen for awhile, and play a game or two of petanca.

Wearing the Bronze
Photo courtesy of Danske Venners Klub Torrevieja 2013

It was much more festive than I had anticipated. When we arrived at the early hour of 9:00 AM I was put to work by the crew that had clearly been there for an hour already. My task was to spread the liver paté that someone else had made onto tiny melba toasts. So much for that contribution. By the time I was finished the others had arrived and we were having coffee and liver paté before the schedules for the first round of games between 38 teams were posted. Three teams were to play two games each in that first round. Then there was to be a second round of playoffs before the quarterfinals and the semifinals. But I wasn't really concerned with those. I was just wondering whether there would be time after we were knocked out of competition to sample a hot dog before we scooted off to the Sunday market that closes at about 2:00 PM.

There wasn't. We played and played and played again. And again. And one more time, I think, though I have lost track by now. We made it through to the quarterfinals and the semifinals, ending with a big surprise--the Bronze Medal for third place.

But the best part of it all was that it was a gorgeous sunny spring day. My neck is also bronze from the sun.