19 03 2012
Tranquility Base, Espagna
"Es tranquil" erupted our host, Francesco. "Es muy tranquil". (or words that sounded a lot like that. My facility with Spanish is tragic despite four months of erratic hit and miss efforts to learn a noun or conjugate a verb or two.)
Through the kindness of strangers we were dinner guests that night of Conchi and Francesco, a cultured, compassionate and successful Spanish couple whom we met through the Budget Committee's morning exercise exertions.
Over our third or fourth bottle of wine from Francesco's excellent cellar Francesco sought to explain the key difference between our two societies, North American and Spanish. Spain was tranquil he was proposing.
It happens that the BC and I agree with Francesco's observation, so much so that we now refer to the waters in which we sail (those bordered by Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece) as the "Sea of Tranquillity". Meredith has become Tranquility Base.
Here come the bunnies: Spain was given its name, "Espagnol", by invading Carthaginians who named it "the Land of Rabbits".
Spain is our favourite country outside of Canada and it holds us captivated. If only it weren't so darn hot. Seems to us Canada and Spain could do with some serious sharing of business and social practices. We both have much to offer the other.
In the house of successful families like Conchi and Francesco, cooling pool in the front yard, tasteful local art adorning its three floors and expansive balconies, it is easy to see Spain as a country without focus on or even awareness of its problems. The tranquillity with which the Spanish deal with their problems can deceive the innocent into believing that Spain is trouble free. As was observed by one boater friend "The children never cry in Spain. Eveyone is so happy".
That kind of comment is redolent of the "nseeing bunnies of Richard Adams Watership Down. Remember the society of bunnies kept by a farmer. Every day food and shelter were provided and life was good. It was just that every now and then a bunny would disappear. Not wishing to upset their cozy little world the domesticated bunnies handled the disappearances by banning the memory of the disappeared bunny. Eveyone just pretended the bunny never existed and so no one had anything to worry about.
Not all the children are happy in the Land of Rabbits.
Francesco was a builder and a developer. Until that is the Spanish market for real estate collapsed. And no the Americans did not suffer a similar crash. We have seen communities affected by both nations' market "corrections" and as bad as things got in the US they are far worse here.
Francesco changed careers. Now he manages the family greenhouses. In his spare time he manages the construction of a hospital in Africa. It was beyond my skills in Spanish to determine if this were a business proposition or just charitable concern. It could have been either and there was no boasting of it by Francesco. In fact Francesco did not mention the hospital or his work at all. He just dealt with the troubles. Tranquilly I suppose but effectively.
Spain's government institutions are failing its people and families like our friends have an incredible job to do to prevent a major collapse of their society. With only 32.5 million people Spain and 20% unemployment Spain has 1 million undocumented workers, mainly Moroccans, working for under the table wages in terrible conditions. Such a situation can only exist with government knowledge. There is estimated to be €500 billion to €700 billion in bad debts that have not been declared as such by the banks which have underwritten them. When the loans finally are removed from the banks' balance sheets there will be a banking collapse like never seen before. Again the government has to know and collude in this situation. Caritas, a Catholic charity, estimates that as much of 50% of the population around Almeria lives below the poverty line.
Hamstrung by a government controlled by wealthy citizens families like Conchi and Francesco have an incredible job ahead of them. There are thousands of citizens passionate about their country and growing increasingly active in demanding reform.
Just now they have suffered some setbacks. A reforming Madrillano judge, Balthazar Garzon, famous in Canada for obtaining the extradition for trial of Agusto Pinochet has just been removed from the bench. His crime was to order wire taps of members of the Falangists and other right wing political parties and some construction company executives so he could determine whether bribes were being paid. The government had him disbarred for his audacity. With overwhelming vocal support from the Spanish people he has fought back and obtained reversals of two of the convictions and is appealing the third.
Go Garzon. He has friends in low places (common people not crooks) and they are becoming active in the reform of their country.
My money is on the Spanish. It would be so nice if my second favourite country dealt more effectively with the challenges of tyranny and political self service than my country of birth.