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End of the party?

May 27, 2010 – 11:54 am

If my posts at the beginning of the year tended to be about the weather (more specifically, the endless rain), lately they are dwelling on the state of the economy, and the government’s handling of it, namely the public sector pay cuts. It’s unavoidable – sorry. The crisis is affecting everyone, especially those who are en paro, funcionarios (5% pay cut) and health service personnel (9% pay cut), saving 37 million euros this year.. Also, state pensions are being frozen. Basically, every household in Andalucia will be affected in some way by now. I was horrified to learn the other day of the basic wages earned by a surgeon in a large city hospital. And now they’re going to be earning even less. Nearly 10% is a huge whack of one’s monthly income. One friend said she’d do better financially being on the dole than on her (public service) wage – no child care to fork out for, and she’d get more time with her kids. As it is, as an IT teacher, she earns 1.50 an hour, after childcare. It’s not good, is it, folks?

Something that interests me, is what sort of businesses are affected less/more than others by the economic situation? Construction, obviously (though the building site near my house, which has been abandoned for the last two years, is now a hive of activity), and services have both taken a clobbering. Retail has also been hard hit – the centre of Seville, and other towns and cities around Andalucia, are full of boarded-up premises. Shopping centres have many empty units.

Two businesses that I know personally which haven’t been affected, or not nearly as badly as others, are a beauty salon and a car valet service. We can’t allow our faces, bodies or wheels to look anything less than perfect, it seems, even if our finances are a mess. Can’t pay the mortgage? Then tighten your belt a bit more. Hairy legs, moustache or fuzzy bikini line? Unacceptable. Unthinkable. Let the professional lady with the laser do her stuff. Dusty or muddy car? That won’t do, it has to gleam like new, or what will the neighbours say? Bars always seem to do OK too – people drink less, perhaps, but they still drink. Noone will give up their daily coffees or cervezas, that’s for damn sure.

Less fortunate is the Feria of Aznalcollar, a town north of Seville on the Via de la Plata, which has been cancelled. The same happened last year with other towns such as Palomares de Rio, saving an estimated 60,000 euros, which was already a 50% cut on previous years, due to reductions in spending on orchestras and fireworks.

It’s very sad, as these events have great economic, social and cultural signifiance for each community in Andalucia, with their casetas, rebujito and colourful flamenco dresses. While it makes sense financially, it’s a real shame to take the alegria away from these towns, for whom the feria, along with the romeria and other religious festivals, whether local or national, is often the high point of the year. It’s part of their identity, the life of the place, its very alma. The event where people can let their hair down, forget their troubles and dance the night away. Although obviously if it comes to a choice between that and fixing a road or carrying out essential repairs to a school or health centre, it’s a no-brainer.

So there we have it – some ferias are smaller, and some just aren’t. Now the word is that general strikes (huelgas – you’ll be hearing that word a lot, so you’d better get used to it) are looming, in protest against the government’s “economic package”. I suppose things will get worse before they get better.

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