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Showing posts with label Algorfa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Algorfa. Show all posts

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Working on Hope

There was a country-wide general strike in Spain on Wednesday. The pictures from Madrid, where it turned violent, were terrible. Down here on the Costa Blanca, we were hardly disturbed. School buses were not running and schools themselves were on skeleton crews, according to the two women (from different towns) in my book group who are mothers of school-aged children; they still managed to make it to book group that morning. I didn't notice any other disruption throughout the day as I drove by the usual commercial centers on the way to and from afternoon petanca. Our house cleaners came as usual and the results of their work were clearly evident upon our return.

Being a long way from industry, we have been removed from much of the economic turmoil caused by la crisis. Disruptions have stepped up recently, though. When we returned from a two-week vacation and went to fill a routine prescription, we found the pharmacy closed on a weekday morning. The pharmacists have not been paid by the regional comunidad--in our case, Valencia--for the prescription medicine they used to hand out free upon presentation of a personal health card and the doctor's RX. When you pick up a prescription, the pharmacists cut out a square of code from the package, plug some numbers into the computer, and presumably the data gets collected  and each quarter, the pharmacy is reimbursed by the comunidad. It seems those bills have not been paid now for a couple quarters, and the pharmacists have given up hope of prompt reimbursement. During the summer, new reforms went into effect that made most retirees pay 10% of the price of a prescription. That is not a problem for us, and I am glad to see that the pharmacies get at least a few timely euros. Now, a couple weeks into this particular crisis, I have learned that most pharmacies are open two days a week, and when one of our local drugstores is closed, the other is usually open. When at the regional medical center on Friday this week, I noticed a paper taped near the window of the reception area that listed six or seven pharmacies that were open. Presumably this list is changed often.

We have already had discussions with a physiotherapist, a nurse, and a doctor about the 15% cut in salary they have taken. I don't think that includes the Christmas bonus (equivalent to one month's income) that they were told in July would not be forthcoming this year. They are still working the same number of hours, just for less money. I am beginning to understand that this cut must include all public workers. Health and education, services for the handicapped--and jobless benefits, ironically--have been hard hit as Spain's conservative government makes promises to get out of its economic troubles. The European Union is apparently satisfied with the president's measures, and I hope it will be disposed to help pick up the burden of the long-term effects of such stringent budget cuts.

Budget cuts are one thing--just not paying people is another. I was shocked to hear this week about a town engineer who works as a contract employee two days a week--he has worked all year but not been paid since June. He hopes to receive the money owed him by the end of the year. And for months now there has been a light construction crew building a stone wall, landscaping, and generally creating a park at the entrance to our neighborhood, near an old train station that has been restored but never yet opened to the public. We knew it was a sort of make-work situation and speculated that the money was coming in some way from Brussels, because the area has been designated an "environmental project." Like any construction crew that I have ever seen--probably true the world over--many of the times you pass the work area, half the workers are standing around, apparently doing nothing. Now I can't say that I blame them, for now I have learned that, though they have worked for months, they have only the promise of pay at the end of the year, or the end of the job, or the end of the crisis. They have come to work for months without any paycheck.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ten Reasons to Study Spanish

It is October and that means the start of the activities season again in Spain.  I cannot imagine not planning my life around Spanish courses. A language school in San Miguel--not the one I go to, but a good semi-intensive program for beginners--promoted itself and language study by giving ten good reasons to learn Spanish in a late-summer edition of one of the free English-language weeklies. I have changed the order to agree with my own priorities. Here they are (with my comments):

1. It is common courtesy to at least attempt to learn the language of the country you are living in. Would you be able to pass the Spanish equivalent of a "Life in the UK" test (yes, this is a British newspaper) about culture, laws, and language? (Does the USA have an equivalent "Life in the USA" test, I wonder?)

2. Learning Spanish helps you keep up with Spanish culture--including the latest news and current events in Spanish-speaking countries. (I have started watching Spanish TV for a half hour each morning while on the stationary bike. Good exercise for the mind and body, though both go slower than I would like.)

3. Learning Spanish is fun. You will be able to enjoy books, films, music, and even dining out more. And you will increase your social network. (Communicating with the other students in my group class--Russian, Belgian and British this year--provides at least half the value of this hour per week; and my private class with a different teacher has morphed into a book discussion group in Spanish.)

4. If you can speak Spanish, you can help yourself and others in emergency situations, like with the police, hospitals, and civil servants, and save on interpreter costs. (I am still uncomfortable at the doctor's and in bureaucratic offices, but, for better or for worse, I have a live-in interpreter.)

5. When learning a foreign language, you learn a lot about your own language as well--how it is constructed and how grammar works--as well as deepening your understanding and increasing vocabulary. (True, and can anything be better for a writer and editor?)

6. Learning Spanish increases your critical thinking skills because you train your brain to naturally interpret English words into Spanish. (My current discovery of the connections among languages is the Danish word garderobe (closet), the Spanish guardar ropa (to hang clothing) and the English wardrobe.)

7. Learning a second language reduces your chances of developing medical issues that affect the brain in later life. People who speak two languages are less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer's disease. (Since it's too late for me to invest in long-term care insurance, this is my next best bet.)

8. Over 320 million people in the world speak Spanish, and the number of Spanish speakers is growing at a faster rate than the number of English-speakers. Being bilingual in English and Spanish means that you will be able to be understood "all over the world." (Well, in many parts of it, anyway. And I am now able to send Spanish emails back and forth to my niece in Argentina.)

9. If you own a business in Spain, speaking Spanish makes administrative life easier and doubles your client base. (Fortunately I don't own a business in Spain, but it pleases me that I see more and more businesses where the proprietors and servers (Spanish and foreigners) are able to communicate at least on the surface with a mixed clientele.)

10. Being bilingual makes you more marketable when searching for a job in Spain. (I am not seeking jobs in Spain, but it pleases me that every once in awhile I am able to help others in my network when they have need of an information professional "on the ground" in Spain.)

My fall schedule has changed. The weekly Spanish class subsidized by the ayuntamiento of Algorfa is not being held on Friday morning at 9:30 this year. It has moved to Monday morning at 11:15. A much better hour, if not day. I wasn't even able to go to the organizational meeting on Monday because it conflicted with my other Spanish class, my private book reading session, at 11:00 on Monday. Fortunately I have now been able to get that class re-scheduled to later in the week, so I can still benefit from two all-Spanish sessions each week. As an English woman said to me soon after I arrived in Spain, "Learning Spanish is my new lifelong hobby."

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Virgen del Carmen

Tomorrow is the festival of the Virgen del Carmen. It's a holiday that is celebrated in many communities along the Costa Blanca, and we were made aware of that last night, or rather early this morning.

There were no signs of celebrating when I went to bed early last night, at 9:30, to read in peace. But just as I was thinking of turning the light off and getting some sleep a little before midnight, the fireworks started. And then the music started. At first I thought the music was from one or both the bars in Montebello, just a regular Saturday night party, though we don't usually hear signs of nightlife in our house five short blocks from the commercial area. 

But the noise went on longer than those bars are open. It was still going on at 2:00, and at 3:00 and even at 3:30. That's the last time I looked at my clock before I thankfully finally fell asleep. When I woke up this Sunday morning at 8:00, it was to blessed sounds of silence.

We still didn't know exactly which town the loud music had come from, but we were pretty sure it had come from a municipal fiesta rather than a private party. Every town has a fiesta during the summer, and we had seen signs in Benijofar this past week that its fiesta was coming up. But this morning after we made our usual Sunday purchases of frutos secos and vegetables from the Zoco market, we drove along the roads of La Finca golf resort to our small town of Algorfa, thinking to enjoy a cup of coffee in the refreshing coolness of the morning breeze.

Assembling for the Virgen del Carmen Parade in Algorfa. ©2012 Johannes Bjorner.
Our timing could not have been better. As I made my way through the narrow streets of the town, I suddenly came across signs of a procession. People--old and young--garbed in traditional costumes and carrying flowers, were assembling in the streets. We parked quickly, got out of the car, and followed the parade.

Flowers from all. ©2012 Johannes Bjorner.
We didn't have long to wait. It was a small parade, but festive. First came the musicians (two of them) and then townspeople, some--especially the children--decked out in red, black and white, and bouquets of flowers everywhere. I had read this week that IVA, the value-added tax, is going up on flowers, but that didn't stop the florists this morning from doing a bang-up business.

Algorfa, like other communities, was celebrating the Virgen del Carmen festival. But the Virgen del Carmen happens to be the patron saint of Algorfa, so the celebration here is especially festive. First the parade this morning, with musicians and children carrying flowers to the church. We followed the parade down two blocks, then it turned toward the plaza, and crossed the plaza to the church.

These musicians led the parade.
The musicians stopped outside the church and people proceeded inside to lay the bouquets in front of the statue of the Virgin, I imagine. Another parade, with carriages and a local queen and princess, will take place this evening, and tomorrow at 9:00 PM the statue of the Virgin del Carmen will be brought out of the church and carried through the streets of Algorfa in a solemn procession.

Perhaps her first Virgen del Carmen festival.
We did not go into the church, but we joined lots of other people refreshing themselves at a cafe bar in weather that by now had begun to turn hot. There were lots of townspeople on the church steps, and we heard the sounds of the organ playing various hymns. It wasn't just foreigners who skipped out of the mass, though. Lots of children who had laid their flowers and shown off their finery were now playing in the plaza while their parents chatted with friends and family. We sat for awhile and enjoyed their enjoyment, and then walked and wheeled back through the streets to find where we had parked the car in haste when we first saw the signs of this celebration parade.
Playing hide-and-seek in the plaza outside the church. ©2012 Johannes Bjorner.