Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas and Doña Manolita

AOG, Madrid

Christmas is coming and Spain is in full swing. From my office window in Gran Via, I see the shops with their lights blinking, the people to-ing and fro-ing getting gifts for loved ones and making strolling a bit of a hazard.

As in the UK, I see here and there homeless people who no one seems to care about. No time for them.

On Gran Via, at number 31 since 1931, there stands one of Spain’s institutions: Doña Manolita’s, a lottery vending shop famous for having been the source of many of the winning tickets for Spain’s Christmas lottery, the largest on Earth. The other being the shop known as La Bruixa d'Or, or the Golden Witch, located, mysteriously, in the town of Sort (which means luck in Catalan), in Catalonia. People from all over Spain travel to Sort to buy a lottery ticket.

These places mystify the Spanish imagination. Here is a country where everyone wants to be wealthier than what they are. I suppose like everywhere else, only here, it seems to be more institutionalised than in other places.

From my window, I can see the long lines of hopeful buyers which stretch around the corner. Dozens of people who want to buy a lottery ticket.

Aside from the people in line, there are musicians who make the long wait a bit more agreeable. Aside from them, there are also a few homeless people and beggars who most people seem to ignore. It is odd watching people from all walks of life, wearing anything from sporty clothing to fur coats, all lining up to increase their wealth, and ignoring their fellow human beings begging.

Having said this, I don’t want to accuse anyone of having a hard heart. It is perhaps that in Spain, scams are all too frequent, and most Spanish people see only people who are trying to scam them, and not a social necessity. It is also true than, in Spain, people expect their Government to deal with things like beggars on the street, and that it, somehow, has nothing to do with them.

It is also true that many people in Spain give generously to charities and NGOs.

Nonetheless, I see these people lining up in the cold Madrid mountain air, hoping they win a few thousand euros this Christmas, and wonder why they appear to ignore the beggars. The homeless.