Search "Sundays in Spain"

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Foreign Aid

When I had to roll my very heavy Spain-bound suitcase from house to car in Cincinnati earlier this month, I was lucky that two of my sisters were there to help. They insisted that they do the deed, perhaps because they didn't want me to damage the threshold, which I had done under similar circumstances on a previous trip. And after they got the suitcase out, and closed the door so the cat would not escape, they were lucky that a maintenance man was within steps on the other side of the door--a very polite maintenance man, who offered to help and had the suitcase in the car in a jiffy.

"He spent a year in Spain when he was in the service," they reported to me after scooting back in and closing the door so the cat would not escape. "A year! It must have been at that U.S. military base I've heard of over in the western part of Spain," I said, though that pretty much summed up my total knowledge on the subject, and not wishing to expose my ignorance, we didn't even stop on our way out to chat with him. Anyway, it was hot.

So when I got back on Spanish soil and opened up one of the newspapers that had come in my absence, I was rather surprised that the first article that caught my eye on the inside cover was "Spain paid to host missile shield." It started out by saying that Spain and the U.S. are expected to formalize  a 200 million euro agreement allowing the U.S. to station four destroyers at the naval base in Rota, Cádiz. I've been to Cádiz, way over to the west on the relatively short Atlantic coast of Spain. I did not know about the base then, but according to one of those "needs improvement" articles in Wikipedia, this is the largest U.S. military community in Spain, with Navy and Marine Corps personnel, along with small Army and Air Force contingents.

Those who share my sentiments about the U.S. single-handedly erecting defenses outside its own borders will be glad to know this is a NATO effort. The destroyers will be equipped with "Aegis combat systems capable of intercepting ballistic missiles." Two ships, the Ross and the Donald Cook, are scheduled to arrive in 2014, to be joined by the Porter and the Carney in 2015. The 1,100 military personnel and their families who will arrive with the ships will be greeted warmly as long as they provide the expected boost to the local economy.

Common Sense

We were shocked this week to hear that an English charity is under attack by the Spanish tax authorities.  Paul Cunningham Nurses is a registered charity in Spain; it was founded years ago by Jennifer Cunningham in honor of her son, Paul, who died of cancer at an early age. Paul Cunningham Nurses (PCN) provides free nursing and care to terminally ill patients and their families. It gets much of its funding through sales in several shops of donated clothing, DVDs, and household articles. We have taken several cast-off items to the shops to donate, and we have also made many purchases. I particularly like to stop in before I take a little vacation to northern climates, because I can usually find a couple pieces of warmer clothing in good condition there, that I can't find in regular stores here in southern Spain.

We first heard of the Paul Cunningham problem from friends who had read it in one of the free weekly newspapers. When we went out the next morning to do errands, we looked, unsuccessfully, for the newspaper, and we also stopped in one of the PCN shops to ask about the situation. The attendant gave us some information about the problem, but not in detail, and I was a little hesitant to sign a petition in support of the charity with so little knowledge, but I did. Since then I have found two written articles which generally say the same thing, so I'm taking them as a fairly accurate statement of the facts.

A year ago, one of the PCN shops was approached by a Spanish official from Social Security (Seguridad Social), who asked the two volunteer workers to show her their national identification and Social Security papers. Social Security is the system in Spain that provides national healthcare: either your employer pays your social security premium, or you as an independent contractor/freelance worker pay your own (and it starts at a minimum of 320 euros per month, I have heard from various sources).

The volunteer shopkeepers, older English women, did not understand the detailed Spanish and contacted the PCN accountant, who explained, in Spanish, to the Social Security representative that PCN was a registered charity, as indicated by a G above the door of the shop, and that the "workers" were volunteers and thus should not pay Social Security. The officer, however, levied a fine of 6,000 euros and demanded that the charity present all relevant paperwork to an authority in Alicante city--and accused PCN of violating the human rights of the volunteers by not paying salaries.

In due time the charity's official papers were taken to Alicante, the papers were accepted, and the fine was withdrawn. However, another fine was levied: 10,000 euros--for obstructing an officer in the carrying out of her duty.

PCN appealed the new fine twice, then heard nothing until recently, when a registered letter arrived saying that if the 10,000 euro fine--plus 2,000 euros in interest--is not paid within 21 days, the bank account of the charity will be embargoed and money withdrawn to pay the fine and interest until it is paid in full.

PCN is continuing its appeals, to the European Court, it says, if necessary. For the time being, as far as I know, PCN shops are still open and accepting donations, people are still buying--and signing petitions, and nurses are still attending to end-of-life needs of any resident of Spain--not just English or foreigners--who asks for help.


When I first heard about this absurdity I thought, "It's because the Spanish system does not understand volunteer activities and charities." And it is true that the extraordinary system of grassroots fundraising by charity shops, lotteries and raffles, entertainment benefits, quiz and game nights, and all sorts of activities routinely offered by the British population here has no equal of which I am aware. But I have checked, and my English-Spanish dictionaries do show Spanish words on this topic. A charity organization is an institución benéfica or an organización benéfica. A charity shop is la tienda de una organización benéfica. A charity sale is una venta benéfica. A volunteer is un voluntario or una voluntaria, as in a volunteer army or to volunteer information. But the verb for volunteer is ofrecerse, to offer oneself, which does have the aura of self-sacrifice about it. And I didn't see anything at all about volunteer workers.

All of which does reinforce my feeling that the concepts of volunteering and charity are not something that Spaniards have in common with the Anglo world as I know it. But I do hope that common sense will prevail in this case, sooner rather than later.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Summer Again in Spain

Last Sunday I was packing up a very heavy suitcase--heavy enough so I had to pay extra at the airport check-in and too heavy for the TSA to want to fuss with it, I concluded later--and headed back to Spain. I arrived in Madrid Wednesday morning early, and after waiting a few hours there, I continued to Alicante, where I was picked up and delivered by car to the house. It was good to get back "home" and to my regular routines. The weather, I discovered, was not much different from the heat and humidity that I had left in Cincinnati and Chicago, although there is a notable absence of air-conditioning here.

Since then I have been doing the things that I always do to get back into life in Spain. One of the first, and the most fun, was to meet friends in my book group for a discussion of The Angel's Game, which I had finished on the long airplane ride between O'Hare and Barajas. I also cleaned out several science experiments from the refrigerator and in the last several days have gone to three of my favorite grocery stores to replenish the refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards. That meant, of course, that we had a café con leche and half of a tostada at the outdoor café in front of the Benijófar Consum, and when we went the next day to Ciudad Quesada on an errand, we had to have another café at the Halfway House, our usual haunt close to the post office.

I've also completely emptied--in record time--the large suitcase I brought with me, and have put the books, medicines. toiletries, clothing, and paperwork in their proper places, and actually dealt with some of the paperwork (and all of the laundry). I've caught up on some work that was pending, suffering the trauma of transferring files that are supposed to be compatible but aren't always, back to my regular computer. This morning we went to the Zoco outdoor market to buy almonds, prunes and raisins for breakfast, and whatever fruits and vegetables looked good for the coming week, or at least the coming days, because the heat now means that fresh produce doesn't keep as fresh as it does during the cooler months. Strawberry season has definitely gone by, so I was glad that I had had strawberries in Cincinnati,, and though raspberries and blueberries are available here at high prices for tiny portions, they don't taste as good as the ones I enjoyed while away. We sat this morning in a bit of shade with another café con leche and listened to the various languages around us and watched the people all dressed to withstand heat in various ways, while still enjoying their holiday or daily lives.

I am moving slowly and the days seem long because, well, they are. It always takes a few nights to adjust to six hours' time difference between Eastern U.S. time and Spanish time. It's even harder this year, because it's time for the Benijófar summer festival, and that means that just as I am ready to settle down to try to sleep through the night at 11:00 PM or so, the thumping music of a fiesta in action starts up, and it continues into the wee hours--until 7:00 this morning, according to Johannes, but I had finally dropped off to sleep some time after 3:30 and slept peacefully until 9:00.

Tomorrow I will see my Spanish teacher/book discussion partner and Tuesday I will go to play petanca, and by then I hope to be back in this time zone and back into the regular routine of summer, which often involves staying inside in air-conditioned comfort (not central, but effective and quiet on a room-by-room basis) and generally taking it easy and not moving too fast. We have a few weeks before leaving again for a summer vacation together, and I intend to enjoy them in a suitably leisurely fashion.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Angel's Game

This Sunday my body is not in Spain, but my mind is. I am catching up on reading The Angel's Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, the July title for my book club. I started it more than a week ago, on the plane from Madrid to Chicago, and I figured then that if I read 25 pages per day I would be able to finish it before the discussion day. It's a long book--500 pages--and that fact, plus the fact that we are discussing it in English, means that I am reading it in English. I beat my goal on the flight over, reading three days' worth. But then I laid it aside and didn't pick it up again until yesterday. As of Sunday mid-day I have made it to page 204.

Like Zafón's previous Shadow of the Wind, which I have also read, this book takes place in Barcelona. There is lots of description of the city, with so many street names named that I feel I should be reading it with a city map open next to the book.  Thanks to our mini-vacation in Barcelona last Christmas, I am familiar with more of the city landmarks than I was when I read Shadow of the Wind. The Angel's Game starts in December of 1917, and it was particularly interesting to read of David Martín's excursion to the building site of Sagrada Familia cathedral, then apparently a deserted building site, before more recent construction, which had been on-going in fits and starts since 1882, was begun anew and continued more regularly. He also spends time near the architect Antonio Gaudi's Park Güell,  which I visited for the first time last December, and I understand perfectly what the cab driver meant when he dropped David off late one night and asked if he was sure he wanted to be dropped off there.

I am not now making notes of all the addresses in The Angel's Game, but I am making a note to keep the book. I think on my next trip to Barcelona I'd like to take one of those historic tours that point out sites from Shadow of the Wind, and presumably now also, The Angel's Game. Or at least find the tower house in which our protagonist lives in the Borne district near the Rambla. To say nothing of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.