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

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’.

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