Archive for PP

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.


Don’t drink. Think.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2011 by cockroach1


In most developed countries the general complaint is that ‘no-one has any respect for the old.’ However, one of my expat friends, after the umpteenth drubbing from a sharp-elbowed and knife–tongued old lady in the supermarket queue once remarked to me, ‘the trouble with Spain is that old people don’t have any respect for anyone else’, turning this neatly on its head. Today, after a landslide victory for the PP in the local elections, and the ‘Indignados’ in Puerta del Sol voting to stay on for another week, I have seen what looks like a symptom of this disregard for others from those advancing in years.

There is some debate here, over your morning coffee, mid-afternoon beer, evening copa, or the equivalent of the garden fence, about the Sol demonstrations, and whether they are legitimate political protest, or merely the excuse for one big ‘botellon’ (street party). To me, this attitude diminishes what the people there are trying to say, even if their message isn’t exactly clear, and it is an easy accusation rolled out any time you wish to discredit any crowd of young people.

‘Yeah, I’m sure it was quiet today,’ remarked my neighbour when we crossed paths yesterday in the doorway, I mentioned I had been up to Sol to take a look, and remarked how peaceful the demo seemed. ‘They’ve all got hangovers, haven’t they? I can’t take this lot seriously, they don’t even seem to know what they’re up in arms about. I’ve lived through real political protest, not this half-arsed communal piss-up. I’ve been watching it live on the internet and all they’re doing is getting off their heads. Spanish Spring, my arse.’

This wasn’t the impression I got when I visited. In fact, the first thing to strike me was a huge banner strung across one end of the plaza proclaiming ‘Esto NO es un botellon’ (This is NOT a street party). There were polite signs asking protesters not to drink and to take the campaign seriously, I read ‘No Beba, Piensa.’ (Don’t drink. Think.’, exhortations like ‘Lee mas’ (Read more) and even ‘Refuse alcohol, it just makes you a puppet of the system’. There were young men bashing pieces of corrugated iron together to make shelters or to cordon off ‘debate spaces’, there were sealed-off public toilets with apologetic notices not to use them ‘for the good of everyone…’, beds under tents with hand-written signs offering Reiki, and the occasional body laid out on them, receiving a massage. There was a banner hanging vertically from a building opposite, behind the ‘oso y madrono’ stating simply ‘Feminismo’. There was someone on a microphone and distant cheering, boys bearing brooms tidying up the litter, people from their teens up to their seventies mingling and exchanging ideas, and families strolling with push-chairs, taking a look. What I didn’t see were drunk people or anyone obviously off their head. Sure, there were the ubiquitous chinese hawkers flogging cans of beer and soft drinks, but certainly no botellon.

The lady who runs the cafeteria at one of our centres, and is a fellow Lavapies resident also remarked sourly, when I asked her what she thought about the protests:

‘Well, the only people there are layabouts who haven’t got a job to go to. They wouldn’t be able to camp out there all week if they had jobs to go to.’

When I pointed out that this was the point, wasn’t it, that young people didn’t have jobs, and this is one reason they were campaigning, she launched into the argument that,

“No, they haven’t got work, because Spain’s had such an influx of immigrants there aren’t any jobs left,’ missing the glaringly obvious point that she was saying this to an immigrant. I tentatively asked,

‘So… er, do you think young Spanish people would do the sort of jobs immigrants have come over here to do?’

‘Oh no, they’re a lazy bunch, the youth of today, they just want to sit about on their arses. None of them wants to do an honest day’s work.’ Then she asked me if it was fair that if someone had worked hard all their life, and happened to have an empty apartment, it was their choice to keep it locked and empty, wasn’t it? It wasn’t fair that these dread-locked hippies could come and smash the door down and squat in that apartment just because they had nowhere to live. She then finished her remarks with the rhetorical question,

‘But then, what do I know? I could be wrong, Soy del campo y soy paleta.’ (I’m just a hick from the countryside).

So it seems no-one is quite clear what the young people on ‘Plaza Solucion’ are trying to say. Still, I think it’s unfair to dismiss them all as pissheads and layabouts. Every big demo attracts its fair share of miscreants, hedonists and trouble-makers, and t’s unlikely that you can avoid a massive piss-up when there are 30,000 people on Sol on a Saturday night. As far as I’m concerned, I think it’s encouraging that young people are finally making their voice heard- after all, they have as much right to an opinion as the rest of us. The important thing is, they have an opinion. I choose to see it as evidence that Generacion ‘Ni-Ni (Neither/Nor Generation – those who neither work nor study) are finally getting off their backsides, out of Mummy and Daddy’s house, and mobilising on the streets. And not just to get hammered.

PP = Police Presence?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 22, 2011 by cockroach1

no, not after a protest, this is the bank on the square, on a normal day

This evening the results of the local elections will be out, a vote that may have been affected by the ‘Spanish Spring’ or not. There was something moving about the protests in Sol, the pacific, ‘democratic’ atmosphere, the hand-written signs, the calm, quiet groups of policemen standing and watching. I walked past a man in his fifties there this afternoon, selling clothes pegs for the vote.

‘Why the clothes pegs?’ someone asked him.

‘For your nose,’ he informed him, ‘because they all stink the same.’

The truth is, we are all a little sick of politicians, wherever we’re from. For days now the city has been festooned with their insincere, smiling faces. Esperanza Aguirre’s enlarged, doll-skull feautures flashed past me on the metro several times one day last week as I travelled to classes, with every station her image changing – here, graffiti’ed into a vampire with dripping fangs, there, grinning with those thin lips and cleverly made-up eyes, and here, rather worryingly, with a red marker pen inking in a bullet hole to her forehead. Preppy Gallardon with his greying eyebrows assures us that he ‘likes Madrid and likes you’, and other lesser-known faces, staring off into the middle-distance, sport the usual tag-lines about ‘pueblo (people), gente comun (‘man/woman on the street) and ‘del barrio’ (of your neighbourhood). I have always been wary of anything that claims to be ‘of the people’ or ‘for the people’ because if you have to label it so insistently it normally means the opposite, like a heavy-handed Chinese Communist Party moniker.

You claim to be ‘of the people’? Well, how about you come down to our level, walk the streets, and talk to some of us? Which is exactly what the Partido Popular tried to do in Lavapies a few days ago  (Popular Party, again – do you really have to call yourselves popular? It smacks of Facebook desperation to me). A classic case of electioneering gone wrong. The Partido Popular is the equivalent of the Tories, if you like, while the PSOE or Socialist Party is more or less Labour. So, a brave or stupid move on their part to campaign in Lavapies Square, even though a student assures me they won Lavapies by a small majority last time. It reminded me of the somewhat inappropriate placement of an advertising hoarding on the side of the bus-stop in the Square I spotted a while ago, one of those louche offerings with a teenage pouty face beside a huge Prada or Gucci bag, I forget which. I mean… come on! What were you thinking? Isn’t that a little insulting? Who exactly do you think is going to buy a hideously expensive designer handbag in Lavapies? Or are you just rubbing our faces in it?

So, it might have been a brave or idiotic move to set up a PP stall on the Square, in front of the theatre, and directly underneath the pair of trainers slung over the telephone wires, with ‘Paz’ painted on one sole and ‘Peace’ on the other. I was walking to the Square with the Ponce and another friend of his, the Broken Fairy, to go to lunch on Calle Argumosa. As we approached we heard a terrible din.

‘Is that a San Isidro fiesta?’

‘I don’t think it’s a party, that sounds like a demo….’

And what a demo. A heart-warming example of Pure Lavapies Spirit. On the stage stood an individual with a microphone, trying fruitlessly to talk, while a small crowd, no more than 100 people, stood in front of him bashing frying pans and wooden spoons together, shouting and generally causing a fracas, and then flipping him the bird simultaneously in a mock fascist salute. As usual, around the periphery another crowd of onlookers and gawpers gathered. And around them looking nervous and frisky, a swarm of police. I counted at least four vans.

‘What the-? The PP are campaigning here? Are they crazy?’

‘Come on, let’s go and have a look.’

Within two or three minutes the disruption moved organically in the direction we were going – towards Argumosa, and we found ourselves in the middle of the mass of yelling, hyped-up protesters and bewildered residents. Apparently the trouble had kicked off when the PP had shown the gall to bring a ‘token immigrant’ on to the stage to talk.

‘Fascistas Fuera… De Lavapies!’ (Fascists Out… Of Lavapies!’) the protesters chanted in unison, pointing and gesturing, with every minute gaining momentum. Suddenly a line of twenty riot police blocked the street, glancing left and right, blocking the Banco Santander on the corner and shifting to guard the innocent beer-drinkers at the tree-lined terrazas a few feet further up the street.

‘Excuse me-‘ the Ponce took my work briefcase from my hand, and approached a man built like a tower block in a helmet, poker-faced, holding steady with his shield. I began to feel a little infatuated, intoxicated by the energy and butch hilarity. Spain is many things, but it’s hardly ever dull. Sometimes all pretence at femininity can take a hike. It’s time for the boys to play. Here we go.

‘I’m trying to get to work…. Could you let us pass?’

It was hardly a convincing impression of a young-buck executive, coming from a pierced midget with insomniac eyes, that Charles Manson stare, and the complexion of a teenage vampire. He stood, nose at belt level, while Goliath stared straight ahead, scanning the crowd.

The policeman shook his head almost imperceptibly, refusing to make eye contact.

‘Racists!’ screamed a black woman with a shopping trolley parked against the wall, loaded with her possessions. ‘The Mayor threw me out onto the streets, it’s his fault. Fascists! Racists!’ She looked desperate; she had a tooth missing at the front of her mouth.

‘Racists!’ She barked out the word, her eyes unfocused, her head turning on its sinewy neck like a wolf howling.

‘Fascistas Fuera….. de Lavapies!’

The riot police fidgeted and stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the bank. A wall of tight-trousered, soft-faced boys in blue. I suppose they had a point, despite their heavy-handed approach. When trouble kicks off, the cashpoints are the first to get torched, then public bins, and if it’s serious, maybe cars. If it’s really serious, police cars. But it wasn’t going to kick off today. The residents of Lavapies had had their say. Within a few minutes the rabble disbanded, and something like calm descended on the barrio. Behind the riot police a body lay slumped in the doorway of the bank. Someone, possibly a journalist, possibly an enthusiastic citizen, took a photo of the line of riot police and the body in the doorway of the bank just behind them. I imagine it was a good photo.

One of the policemen nudged the body with his polished boot, then walked away, commenting to a colleague,

‘Esta borracho.’ (He’s drunk). No shit, Sherlock. Behind us in the square, hands pulled the PP tent to the ground and began dismantling it, as if toppling the statue of a deposed tyrant. Just another afternoon in the barrio. Job done. Welcome to Lavapies, and now kindly piss off. The people of the barrio, the gente comun, have spoken. They like Lavapies, they like Madrid, but they’re not too keen on you.