Saturday, 27 February 2010

Hey, ho, the wind and the rain...

Well, we had a small tregua or truce yesterday with the weather gods. The wind abated somewhat and we had a kind of cloudy-bright day with occasional moments of blue sky and sunshine. Today however, the wind and rain are back with a vengeance. You can tell it must be serious because the chess association has cancelled all matches in the area this weekend because of the bad weather. Cangas and Moaña across the water keep disappearing in a cloud of rain. There are actually proper waves in the estuary. And the tree in the gardens around our flats is leaning dangerously!!!

As I walked back from the supermarket towards the end of this morning in one of the few parts of the day when the rain slackened off to a bit of drizzle, I noticed that the bench at the top of the local park was empty. This park bench is the place where a group of local drunks congregate on a daily basis at around midday. I can quite understand their not being there today. I wouldn’t want to sit on the back of a park bench in the rain either. I did wonder, however, where they were. Where do you go in the inclement weather to share your cartons of cheap wine?

Last year I remember seeing that another bunch who hang around Puerta del Sol had managed to ensconce themselves in the doorway of a bank. Heaven help anyone who wanted to use the ATM in that doorway!! And then there is the entrance to a shop, closed now for a good while, at the end of García Barbón, which appears to become the home of a down and out. When he’s not at home you can see his mattress, his chair, a bundle of bedding and various other belongings, arranged quite neatly waiting for him to return.

It got me thinking about the whole problem of homelessness and begging here and in other countries. Since we have been here in Vigo we have noticed an increase in the numbers of beggars on the streets. There are the regular buskers on Príncipe who almost don’t count as beggars but are rather part of the street furniture. There’s my old friend ¡Nadie Da! Who appears with less regularity than he used to at the end of Príncipe, on his knees, holding his hands up humbly and explaining in his sing-song whine that he is hungry and nobody gives (nadie da). And then there are the parking beggars who you see all over Spain, “helping” people park their cars, pointing out spaces, guiding drivers in, even indicating where the ticket machine is so you can avoid getting a fine and then expecting to be paid for the service. And most people give in to the blackmail. Would you want to come back and find something had happened to your car? You never know!

But where there has been a decided increase is in the number of older men, looking more down on their luck than down and out, sitting outside the supermarkets with a notice saying that they are out of work, without resources and would appreciate a little help, if you can spare it.

Just recently I read an article about La Farola, the Spanish “equivalent” of The Big Issue. I say “equivalent” in inverted commas because whereas you see The Big Issue being sold all over the North West of England (maybe over the whole of England) you rarely see anyone selling La Farola here.

Now, some time in the late 1990s I found a very positive article about La Farola which I used with my A-Level Spanish classes on the topic of homelessness. It talked about how a certain Georges Mathis had started up a street newspaper in France called Le Réverbère (the lamp-post) which had been very successful in helping the homeless who sold it on the streets regain a little financial independence and dignity. He was visiting Barcelona, it seemed, to help set up a similar enterprise called La Farola (also meaning the lamp-post). I even bought a copy of it, in Malaga I think it was.

The more recent article talked about the reappearance of La Farola on the streets of Madrid. It had disappeared some years ago after accusations of swindling and tax dodging. Apparently back in 1996 the magazine sold some 3,500,000 copies throughout Spain. Mathis sold them to the street vendors for 50 pesetas and they sold them on for 200 pesetas, making a profit of 150 pesetas. Not a huge profit for the vendors, perhaps, but the company was making something like 175 million pesetas a year, just over a million euros. None of this income was declared and in the end Mathis had to fold up the operation.

Now it seems to have reappeared but the descriptions of the paper are not very complimentary: se trata de una publicación humilde y extraña: 24 páginas que mezclan artículos de autores extranjeros -no siempre bien traducidos-, publicidades de productos milagrosos, editoriales de difícil comprensión y portadas de creatividad cuestionable – it’s a humble and strange publication: 24 pages which mix articles by foreign writers – not always well translated – with adverts for miraculous products, hard-to-understand editorials and headlines of questionable creativity. The street vendors seem to be mostly Nigerians and those interviewed claim not sell many; they use it as a kind of visual aid to help with their begging. This bears out what I have seen recently as well: a beggar with a copy of La Farola in a plastic wallet, asking for money but making no attempt to sell his only copy of the paper.

It seems rather a pity that the usually cheerful, sometimes cocky, as a rule apparently fairly independent sellers of The Big Issue are reduced here to just another version of the standard street beggar.

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