A gated community for the rich in Spain? No thanks
Give me a busy egalitarian community over a gilded cage any day
Last year, heading north, we disembarked in Madrid, where there were protests in the streets. I stood on the lid of a bin in Puerta del Sol to watch. I look at the pictures in the newspapers, try to unpick the language on the radio. I don’t need a translator to understand that, no less than home, this is a country cowed by economic uncertainty.
Ghostly industrial zones
This year, on the way to the mountains, we took a bus from Valencia to the naval port of Cartagena, driving along the spine of Benidorm and Alicante and the Costa Cálida, where the wounded coastline seems bound together by a vast strip of inflatable lilos. Along the back roads, beyond the reach of the hotels and apartment blocks, there are ghostly industrial zones, great warehouses with Chinese lettering above the doors, full of plastic flip-flops and rubber rings.
There is trade going on, a handful of white vans in almost empty parking lots. There are sheaves of concrete factories along the route, baked yards holding mountains of powdery bricks, silent cement mixers bleaching under the sun. There are few people. The bus winds down to the coast, through small towns with big names, where men in grey vests glower outside dark bars.
There is uncertainty in the air, especially in the cities, a pulsing disquiet, but for now the tourists continue to eat their potato chips and dance on the waves, and life goes on. Ireland has a lot in common with Spain, I think: a big religion, memories of civil war, old men with bent knees and tall sticks standing at crossroads. This summer we have even shared sunshine.
One evening in the mountain village there was an outdoor film screening in the grounds of an old mill, rows of hard-backed chairs lined up to face the big screen. The film started at about 11, admission was free (as was the popcorn), and a robust glass of Rioja cost next to nothing.
Calm babies sat on welcoming knees, watched the screen, watched each other, sucked dimpled fingers. The film was Life of Pi. It was in Spanish, but tigers are tigers in any language. I watched families stroll home under the yellow moon, and thought that life in this busy egalitarian community is richer than any to be found in a gated golden cage.