Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The modern world...and Spain...Part 1

AOG, Madrid

When I began coming to Spain regularly in 2005, I remember that the press were slightly miffed at accusations made by an American writer concerning their country’s place in the First World. I cannot remember her name, but I recall she found the state of Spain’s basic services a bit, well, basic.

She even went to say that Spain was a bit of a Third World country in many ways. The Spanish do not like to hear this. Nobody does, unless they are the ones insulting their country.

This week they got a good chance to do so.

A fire in one of Barcelona’s power plants made sure that the city of Barcelona, Spain’s second largest city, and one of the largest urban areas in the Mediterranean, was without power for about 60 hours. Not all of it, and not for 60 hours straight, but the power blackout lasted that long.

Around 350.000 people were affected by the power shortage altogether. And the whole city was a mess.

70% of the stoplights were out, so policemen went on traffic duty. However, there were not enough of them to go around. The, the citizens of Barcelona went on a public protest using pots and pans, emulating Argentina's "cacerolada" protests not too long ago. This is August, and Spain is very hot in August. They all had a point.

Then, the trains that connect Barcelona with its suburbs and adjoining towns, also broke down partially. In a famous case, people were stuck in a train for over 2 hours without air conditioning until the Fire Department allowed them out and they walked to the nearest station.

And then it happened again, and on the same day that the Minister responsible for the country’s infrastructures visited Barcelona with some money under her arm and the usual promises Governments in a pickle tend to dish out when in need.

Then Summer happened

August is sacred in Spain. The entire country lulls to a halt and goes on vacation. Some by plane, some by train, some by boat, and some by car. And in the first week of August, the traffic outside Barcelona was so heavy - creating a 70 kilometer tail back- that the Generalitat, Catalonia’s regional government, was “forced” (here I have to chuckle a bit) to close the toll gate and let the people through.

There has been an ongoing argument between the local and the national government concerning all sorts of infrastructure problems in the region. The Minister, not one to take the blame, said that the chaos in the railways was due to the high speed train link with Madrid being built in and outside the city.

About a month ago Spain’s Prime Minister promised Madrid and Barcelona would be connected by Christmas day, 2007. Originally the date was sometime in 2008.

Never mind that this high speed link is about 10 years late in coming. But, of course, next Spring, Spain will hold a general election. The first since the Socialists came to power 3 days after a terrorist attack by Al Qaeda which many say put them there. And Catalonia, like Andalucia, is a Socialist stronghold. Has been since democracy returned to Spain in 1978. These days, the opposition are calling for the head of Señora Magdalena Álvarez, the Minister in question.

Don't get me started on the Internet

Did the American writer have a point? I think in some ways, yes. She did. Aside from these infrastructure problems, Spain also ranks very low on Internet speed.

Acording to iTWire, Japan, (not the US) is the number one country in the world; it has an average broadband download time of 61 megabits per second. South Korea is second with 45.6 megabits per second. Sweden is third at 18, France, fourth at 17, and Canada fifth at 7 megabits per second. In Spain, at home, I have 2 Mgs. And not all the time, only some of the time. And that is considered fast.

In the North, the Asturian Government is installing an internet speed of 100 Mgs. But only in Asturias. The rest of the country will have to wait. It will be operative by September. However, Asturias is not the country’s most connected area. So it’s a bit like saying everyone in Bandera, Texas, is connected to the Internet. And the rest of Texas? Oh, that’s a different issue. And Bandera only has 3 cowboys who own a PC. Semi ditto for Asturias.

Nowhere is perfect

However, Spain is not alone in this fight with the modern world. I have just left the UK, where, if you read the press on any random day, things are worse off than in Spain. Trains that don't run because of (one of my favorites) "leaves on the tracks", or that are constantly delayed, London tube being outdated, as well as very expensive (one stop in zone one is almost 8 euros- or about $9 USD), Heathrow being a total mess, etcetera etcetera...

When I came to live in Spain, I was told that it was best not to leave appliances and televisions /laptops, on if I was not in the house. A power surge might damage them. Everyone in Spain has a story to tell concerning power surges and the death of a beloved television, or a microwave.

I know eventually Spain will join the rest of First World Europe and install an Internet speed like Korea’s. Or better. It is just that, for some reason, Europeans are always so reluctant to embrace modernity. In that respect, Spain is very First World. It is also refreshing that they complain about things. All the time. Much like the French, only in Spain, they have more of a point. I tend to think French unions are designed to give everyone a week or two off extra every year because of a strike.

In the meantime, the Spanish laugh it off and complain moderately at how their country lags behind a bit, but is catching up.


Andréa said...

Are you Daniel, who lived in Brazil?

Goriaïnoff said...

Sorry no. I'm Tony who lived in London.