Monday, January 21, 2008

Beggars, artists and Romanians

AOG, Madrid

Last Sunday, I went to a friend's birthday dinner. My improv teacher's boyfriend was hosting a dinner in honor of his turning 30. At least I think that's how old he was turning!

We ate Gnocchi with 2 sauces, and then played a few table games, not without absenting ourselves (Paula, Ana her friend and I) to buy some cigarettes and gossip a bit. Innocent gossip.

When we returned, after scouring the streets of northern Madrid in search of an open bar with a working cigarette machine, we got back to a group of men desiring to play Karaoke on the X-Box.

And so we did.

Afterwards, we did that very Spanish of things, we talked. For hours.

At one point we were discussing Madrid's beggars. How some of these people are part and parcel of the city, and how they have certain areas where they work.

The conversation was odd and peppered with strange protagonists. Some I had knowledge of; others, I had never seen. I had heard of the gypsy thalidomide woman with deformed arms and legs who sits on cardboard and displays herself in all her glory, expecting society to take pity on her.

Then there is the American black musician who plays the saxophone on Callao square, off Madrid's Gran Vía, and right in front of the FNAC store (famous for music, books, DVDs and electronic equipment). As you walk past, he will ask you for money, regardless of whether he is playing a tune or not. He just asks as you walk past. Odd I think.

Then there was the lady beggar who got up from her spot, started to walk up the street, then, stopped, shook her hips slightly, let drop a huge turd, then just continued on her way.

Her, I'd never seen. But I have encountered the small army of Romanian gypsies who pretend to be deaf mutes and walk around with a printed sheet of paper and ask (or rather gesture) for your money. They pretend to belong to an NGO.

They I find a little reprehensible since genuine NGOs carry out the same exercise and have to meet people who have already been fooled once. They have even been on the news a couple of times. And yet, you can see them in central Madrid daily. Pretending to suffer from a disability. Not nice. Not fair. But then, neither is their life probably...

So we continued to trade stories all night long, moving from people with mental problems, to those who hold no sway over the public´s minds.

Today, I was traveling home from giving a class, and saw a young guy doing some juggling at a traffic light. He didn't seem to be doing all that well. Perhaps drivers are not too keen to support struggling artists.

Last night, two of my dinner partners were discussing their life in Madrid. What they do on their spare time, and how spare time is of the necessity. One of them, the lead singer in the band, mentioned how he payed for singing lessons once a week- 38 Euros per hour.

He mentioned in passing that he was going to stop working at the hotel chain where he's been working as accountant for 2 years, and how he was entitled to 8 month's unemployment benefit. "And now, with more free time, I can concentrate more on my singing", he declared.

"If you are in Madrid, you always have to be doing something to further your career. You can't spend your life working in a bar. If you are going to do that, stay in your home town", said Ana- working actress.

I admired them both. I am always glad to be in the presence of talented people.

Then today, I was brought back down to earth when I saw the juggler. I wonder how many lawyers, or teachers or pilots have to moonlight to make their dreams come true?
Why is it that only artists are expected to do other jobs and work twice as hard as anyone else to carry out their vocation?


bhamgrad said...

Interesting entry. I have noted the occassional homeless person lately. They never seem to be asking for anything....just always on there way somewhere. Under the Bush administration I am sure there has been an increase in the homeless! As for the young man who plans to take the "eight months of unemployment benefits due him", how rather bizarre! Did he actually work and accumulate this time? Or is this another one of those "fascinating" European social program. You know the ones I mean...where you aren't expected to do squat in order to get it! No wonder many of the EU countries have such high unemployment rates. What's the incentive to work....just so you can accumulate unemployment time so you won't HAVE to work!? Such mentality is totally alien to me! Though I am sure I will return to Europe someday to both work and live...I have come to believe that I will never be able to live there permenantly. This obvious abuse of the social net is very unappealing!

Goriaïnoff said...

No, unlike the UK, where you are entitled to government help (income support) regardless of previous employment, in Spain you are only given unemployment benefit if you have worked X amount of time. He had worked for 2 years, and is entitled to 8 months of 80% of his salary.

It is just a different way to see the world.

Sometimes people need a bit of help to get their lives going. It has nothing to do with doing squat or not or with an incentive to work. Although there is no European Dream per se, Europeans do believe in working to live, and not in living to work...unlike this other country we know of....

Most of these countries will also treat you medically for free, regardless of job or income...unlike this other country we know of....

No system is perfect, and it isn't only Europe which has high unemployment...or a recession. For all its wonders, the US is not doing exactly well these days...