Archive for June, 2011

The Fachas are coming – look busy!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on June 14, 2011 by cockroach1

I went for a chinese meal with the Incredible Ponce on Saturday night. We were marooned at a center table in the silent restaurant, waited on by ghostly chinese who materialised, grinning, to misinterpret our orders. Bright, fake mother-of-pearl was embedded in the glossy table-top. On the wall, a back-lit picture of a waterfall had a lazy barber’s pole turning behind the image of the falls, simulating running water. On the bar a red and white ceramic cat gave us a fascist salute or a worker’s clenched fist, depending on how you took it.

‘If there’s one word the Sudokus use, which I can’t stand, it’s ‘ahorita.’ The Ponce informed me, while shovelling tallerines (noodles) into his mouth. The words came out heavily accented, a more open ‘a’ and an ‘i’ sound, a lingering over syllables where there shouldn’t be, ‘non’ instead of ‘no’, the ending ‘atta’ where it should be ‘ado’. He glanced pointedly at two South American men who were pulling out the chairs around a table near us.

‘Why don’t they just say ‘ahora’? They already speak Spanish, so why not just speak Spanish?’

‘It’s just the way they talk, I suppose.’

He must have been in a good mood because he only berated the waiter on a couple of occasions,

‘- the lemon sauce separate please, yes, salsa aparte, no sauce on the chicken, thank you, could I have soy sauce, please? Er… would you mind not bringing everything at once? It just gets cold, you see – yeah, gets cold, cold…. I’m trying to eat my rollo de primavera as a starter, first course… not yet. I don’t want it sitting on the table just getting cold.’

Over his lemon chicken no lemon sauce, I said on the side, please, no salsa on the chicken, just fried chicken, he became a little morose, until a fit of gloom descended over the table.

‘You know,’ he confided in me, his black eyes staring at me across the table, pupils dilated as usual like bullet holes,’I left Italy to get away from the Right Wing. The PP will be in next year, then who knows what will happen? Fachas everywhere.´ He spread his palms out before him, over the embossed table-top, as if it were self-explanatory.

´Some punk kid came up to me at a club the other night, and he said – you’re best off not staying here in Spain, it’s full of fascists. Ha! I told him – listen kid, we invented them, Italy invented fascismo, ok? I think we’re heading for a world war anyway. Then we’ll all be screwed, nobody will survive a nuclear war, not when nutty, crazy countries like Pakistan and Iran have nukes. We’ve all had it, then. It frightens me.´

He said this last, with a furtive glance left and right around the semi-deserted restraurant, widening his eyes for effect. This meant- hey, I’m serious, I really am scared.

‘It used to scare me too, but my generation have been three decades now with the nuclear threat, and it hasn’t happened yet. Didn’t we order another dish?’ I glanced round, searching the place for a silent, smiling ghost; there were none. From the bar, dumb, its mouth curved into a red-tongued grin, the lucky communist/fascist cat saluted us.

The Ponce is not the only one who’s frightened. A couple of days ago Mohamed the baker said pretty much the same thing. He looked diminished, his eyes were hollower than normal, his narrow shoulders sagged beneath their white baker’s apron. He said he was working hard and carried on hoping the country would crawl out of this crisis in another year or so.

´Here we all are, surviving, at least, eh?´ I replied, sick of trotting that platitude out on an almost daily basis. ´Like cockroaches.´I added.  He nodded and bit his lip. I smiled encouragingly at him over the arab sweets and croissants, biscocho and calzone, baklava and tea biscuits. I like Mohamed. He looks like a little fawn or a satyr, his tufts of blond hair sticking up, and his pale yellow eyes. There is no way Mohamed looks Moroccan. But he is. He let out a long breath and turned away from the bread ovens.

‘I dunno´,’ he said, ‘I don’t like the way things are going. It worries me a bit… look at the elections- the Socialists are going to be out next year, aren’t they? The PP’ll get in and Spain will head off back to the Right, like most of Europe, and I don’t like that. ‘

´No… me neither.’

´Then policy starts to change, everyone starts blaming everything on the immigrants, we’re an easy target,  they’ll cut all the ayudas (state help) and then…. we’ll see.’

I wondered which government handouts he was getting – seeing as I am getting sweet f.a. But I agreed with him, and with the sentiment expressed.

‘It seems to be cyclical, doesn’t it? Swing to the left, swing to the right, boom, bust…. this sort of shit happens every time, in modern European history, that there’s a major economic crisis.´

‘Yes, but…’ Mohamed lowered his head and fiddled with a basket of rolls on the counter, ‘the Right in Spain are really crazy, you know what I mean?’

I did, and I nodded, smiling ruefully. A flash of memory: of fur-coated matrons marching across Sol in their court shoes, clutching expensive handbags as they gave the fascist salute in unison.

´They scare me. They’re not like the Right in the rest of Europe, they’re…. you know….’

I knew. The lethal little man with the moustache, he wasn’t an isolated incident. People brought him to power, he didn’t just vapourize out of the ether and into Spanish society. Is Mohamed right to be scared? Are we heading for race riots? Spaniards torching cashpoints and cars, going crazy and smashing up language schools and English VO (version original/non-dubbed) cinemas? Seems unlikely, although smashing up Moroccan bakeries, Bangladeshi grocers’, hallal butchers, all those conspicuous chinese corner shops?…. beating up the occasional ‘puto imigrante’ who’s stolen your job, one you’d never get up at 4.30 in the morning to do anyway for a salary of under 1,000 euros a month…… wiping elderly arses for a living, flipping burgers, lowering a chip pan into hot fat, babysitting, cooking, sweeping, scrubbing, serving….but what the Hell, they’re here to take our jobs and they’re always first in line at the doctors’ or every time there’s a State handout going, pushing into the queue before the Spanish….. I shrugged and turned to go.

´Let’s just wait and see, eh? See what happens.’ I’m tired of saying that as well. I left him surrounded by warm, comforting bread, mounds of cakes, pastries and sweets. From the back of the shop, and the bread ovens, a faint smell of something left a little too long inside, a slight, black smell of burning.


Telefonica: Compartida, la vida es más (Life is more when you share it)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on June 7, 2011 by cockroach1

I was sent to cover a class at the new Telefonica premises yesterday: set in a vast, featureless Hinterland in the North of Madrid, where the wind howls across the plains in winter, with no hills or other buildings to protect you. ‘Distrito C’: the name says it all, you might as well be sent to Siberia. The complex itself is made of glass and right-angles, gravel ‘flower’beds, water-features that look like outlet pipes, the ‘gardens’ interspersed with shivering saplings and mean little pathways as precise as a computer mother-board. I used to do a class there last winter which, thankfully, was dropped from my timetable before I worked myself up to killing myself. It takes over an hour to get there, and you emerge from the metro mouth at ten to eight in the morning into this forsaken place as cold and dark as death, surrounded on all sides by faceless, glass buildings. The first morning I upset myself so much I wandered the ‘gardens’ in the dark and the icy cold, weeping silently at the thought of a year of mornings like this, clutching my briefcase to me, and hoping it was too dark for the security cameras to pick me out. The style is fairly typical of modern, corporate Madrid; there are other business parks like this, as clinically clean as a scrubbed surgery, which make you feel like a person pencilled into an architect’s drawing.

I was bitching about the place to a private student, an architect, and he coughed politely, grinned, and informed me,

‘Actually, a friend of mine did that project.’

‘Really?’ I had already gone too far, so no pretending I liked the place now.

‘Sp why is it so Goddamn ugly and soul-less, then?’

‘Sometimes that’s what the client demands. They want something flashy and showy. They need to show clients they’ve spent a lot of money.’

‘And the glass everywhere? I mean, what happens in Summer? Don’t you fry? How do those buildings stay cool when they’re made entirely of glass?’

Here I was given a very interesting explanation of how ‘smart’ buildings work, and can be angled cleverly against the sun, illustrated with the use of his glass of water, a coaster, and the table lamp.

The place certainly looked less desolate in spring, there were actual flowers growing now, a hint of colour here and there, and the saplings were increasing in stature, but I’d still hardly say it was an aesthetic delight. I passed a bench by the side of one of the paths, and remembered how last year at Christmas-time there had been a life-size stuffed Santa slumped here clutching a mobile phone, a creepy sight in the dark at ten to eight in the morning. I made my way to the class feeling a little cautious about the possible topics of conversation: that morning on the news Telefonica had confirmed they are getting rid of 25% of their workforce over the next couple of years, amounting to 8,500 members of staff. But the students were evidently not among those affected, as this topic of conversation was not brought up. I did, however, discover that the King’s son-in-law is on the board of directors, and the private company’s profits finance his lavish life-style in the States, and his numerous children’s private education, in return for him turning up to the occasional meeting and photo opportunity.  So the company has the money to reward its demanding shareholders as usual, and to build extravangant new office buildings miles away from the center of town, uprooting a workforce who now learn their jobs are probably about to be axed.

To add insult to injury I discover today from another teacher that the English teacher’s pathetic ‘indefinido’ contract (which put simply, means you are employed for an indefinite period, which is normally ten months of the year, then are cast aside for two months in the summer with no salary, to be re-employed again as the academic year starts) is a mutation of a contract designed by Telefonica for telecommunications projects of an indeterminate length. These contracts, of course, suit the language companies very well, saving them a lot of money in tax, social security, and of course, that great inconvenience- salaries, but leave us to fend for ourselves, either taking summer intensive work, claiming dole if you have lived here long enough and have paid into the system, or presumably learning to juggle.

And they wonder why Sol is crammed full of ‘indignados’.

From the mouths of babes

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on June 2, 2011 by cockroach1

Are Spanish kids more street-smart than their English counterparts? Do they mature faster? (in social terms, I’m not talking about overgrown forty-year old babies still living at home with Mum and Dad. A Spanish woman once told me that they are shorter in stature, as, due to the heat, they burst into puberty earlier, like hot-house flowers, before they have time to grow. I haven’t checked this particular fact out medically but it seems unfounded.) At a friend’s one-year old’s birthday party there was another little boy, about the same age, who was handed over to the husband’s best mate. He hugged the child, jiggled it up and down on his knee, and told him, man to man,

‘Botellon, porro y Fulana, that’s all you need to know, kid. Remember, your uncle Paco told you first, botellon, porro y fulana.’ (‘Street party, spliff and slapper). In the UK he would probably have found himself at the bottom of a rugby scrum of angry women. In Spain everyone chortled and a couple of girls tutted wrily.

From a good thirty years ago when staying at Nerja, near Malaga as a child, I vividly remember a scene in a local bar. An extended family were passing round a small baby which they were teaching to smoke cigarettes. Every time its wrinkled, Chruchillian features puckered and turned purple, they would fall about laughing and order another round of drinks. So maybe they do start them young here.

Or maybe they’re just precocious by nature. I remember an ex student who was married to a woman from Cadiz, a city  he explained, whose locals are boisterous, with a particular character. He recounted that after his wedding, held in a church in the centre of Cadiz, the photos were very amusing because in the background of each shot there are various characters hurling rice at the bride and groom with the enthusiasm of kids involved in a playground snowball fight.

‘Who’s that?’

‘Don’t know.’

‘And this one? The one lobbing a fistful of rice down the bride’s cleavage?’

‘I have no idea. You mean they’re not from your side of the family?’

They were, it turned out, gleeful passers-by caught up in the festivities, who had taken it upon themselves to roll up their sleeves and join in.

As another example of their particular character he told me about his neice, who was about four years old. One day she came home from school and when her parents asked her how her day was, and what she had learnt, she told them happily,

‘Our teacher told us a great story about a little girl called Caperucita Roja’ (Little Red Riding Hood).

‘Oh really, darling? And what does the little girl do?’

‘She goes in the woods looking for flowers, and to go and see her granny, and she meets a big, bad wolf.’

‘I see, and what happens at the end of the story?’

Here the little girl put her hands on her hips and told them indignantly,

‘Pues, el hijoputa del lobo se comio a la abuela!’

(Well, the fucking bastard wolf went and ate the granny!)