Lunes…y seguimos vivos

Vamos, que tal y como van las cosas últimamente, pensé que de nuevo la imagen de España iba a recibir otro palo, uno más de los muchos que llevan en la cuenta en estos meses.  Mientras tanto, los bares siguen llenos.  Es verdad que vi un reportaje el otro día sobre un par de restaurantes de renombre, de buen yantar, de buen cobrar, que han cerrado sus puertas por culpa de la crisis.  Claro está es cuando fallan los restaurantes en España, mal va la cosa.  Me ha dado pena, de verdad, pero también hay que tener en cuenta que son lugares de élite, y más que una muestra de cómo están los tiempos para todos, revela la noticia que ya no estamos para grandes lujos.  Es normal que no queramos pagar 80 euros por cabeza.  Seguro que no se les ha ocurrido bajar los precios durante una temporada.  Eso nunca.  Pues nada, a tomar por saco.  Se les acabaron las ideas.

       En la cumbre del G8, evento al que España se queda siempre fuera de lugar.  Mi pobre España, hace pocos años ostentando ser la Octava Potencia Económica del mundo, bajo la amenaza de un rescate.  Eso es…lo inimaginable.

      Y lo es todavía.  Por alguna razón, la prensa internacional no para de hacer llover sobre este país un mensaje de desesperación, cuando el resto del país explica que no están bien, pero tamboco.  Eso sí que es desesperante.

Excerpt from a New Book 4 (draft)

The Greenwich Historical Society, the only true official authority on the 370 years that comprise this town’s past, is a serious, disciplined and scholarly organization.  Of that I have no doubt.  And yet, it stretches the very limits of conceivability when I notice that it devotes a scant five paragraphs on its website to the history of this town.  That’s right, just five paragraphs (approximately 450 words) on a community whose origins go back nearly to the dawn of northern European colonization in North America.  Five paragraphs, of which one is devoted to giving a general overview of Greenwich as it is now.  So, that makes it four.

       There is something to be said for brevity, I will admit, the old adage “less is more” certainly holds true in many circles, but this was inexcusable; especially when I found out in the Greenwich Time that $150,000 of the town’s annual budget went to this association.  Yes, indeed, I do believe they could make the effort to come up with something slightly more substantial on their website.  I have a volume on Spanish History called “An Introduction to the History of Spain” and this abridged version is 1060 pages long.  I fret to think where I would have to go if I wanted to research the subject more thoroughly.  The same is not required of the Greenwich Historical Society, but I feel something more in depth than 450 words is in order.

       People who go to these pages don’t normally do so in search of a video game; I can assure you we can handle more.

      I had been nosing around there because I hoped to do a little research homework before stopping over to see the place myself. It had been so long since the last time I was there that I could hardly recall where it was, which, now that you ask, is in the Bush-Holley House, probably the town’s most historic building.  Fitting.  I was also trying to find out if the name of the place had anything to do with the Bush family, since they have been associated with this town for several generations.  George senior went to school here, and his father, Senator Prescott Bush, not only lived inGreenwich, he was buried here.  But I could find no connection between the two, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything.  Anyway, after further investigating from different sources, this is what I did find:

         The first sections of the Bush-Holley House were built around 1730 making it one of the oldest standing structures in town.  In the 1870s it opened as a boarding house and by the 1890s, the scenic land around Cos Cob harbor served as a perfect backdrop for a handful of impressionist artists and painters who would form one of Connecticut’s first art colonies, known rather uninspiringly as the Cos Cob Art Colony.  Founded in 1889 by the artist John Henry Twachtman, this school of creative individuals was formed by some ofAmerica’s finest impressionist painters who would spend extended stays at the Holley Boarding House and let their artistic juices flow freely.  They even started the local Greenwich Art Society for which my mother would volunteer for several years.

     I had hoped to get to the Bush-Holley House earlier during my trip, but the holidays are a time when making progress of any kind is a near impossibility, so I kept putting off the visit until the final few days finally came upon us, which is an extremely questionable strategy, because I tend to do that with a lot of plans and before I know it, I have dozens of to-do lists which slowly turn into undoable lists.

      But that was only part of the problem.  The museum’s thrifty timetable didn’t help either.  Apparently in the wintertime, according to the website, the place was only open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday, because, I’m surmising here, no one wants to go early in the week.   I knew stopping by at this point in the game, just 48 hours before take-off, would further strain the tension of the closing days of vacation crunch, but there was little I could do to avoid this.  We were, as they say, running out of time.  To keep time issues to a minimum, I chose early Wednesday as the moment to go for it and see what was there.

       As it turned out, the information on the website was erroneous. Had this come from a different source, I might have been a touch perplexed, but somehow that was not my impression.  I should have guessed as much as we went up the wooden steps of the porch to knock on the door and sensed the place was deserted.  A young woman, who reminded me of someone I knew when I was growing up but couldn’t exactly remember who, politely informed us that the Bush-Holley House only served the public on the weekends during the winter.  If that didn’t give you an idea of the numbers of tourists we were talking about, I can’t say what would.

       “But the webpage says you would be open…” I stammered.  I really don’t know why I brought up this inane point; after all, if she said it was closed, well then it must have been closed; it wasn’t like she was going to turn around and announce,  “Well, if that what the website says, then by all means, we’re just gonna have to let you in.”  Maybe it was my sense of indignation that what was stated on the internet did not correspond to reality and that the truth was somehow in need of being brought to their attention…or some kind of bullshit like that.  Objectively, I could completely understand, but it all came as a great disappointment all the same.  Maybe I could sneak in a visit early Friday.

       I turned around and looked out from the porch and I thought for a second about the art colony.  Here on this very spot, painters moved by the impressionist movement that was upending artistic convention in Europe passed their time immortalizing this gentleConnecticutharbor.   Those idyllic views that once inspired so many imaginative minds over a century before had been substantially altered since then. Interstate 95 and the infamousMianusRiverBridgewhich spans the marina forever obliterated the beauty that once graced this area.

      This is part of progress, I know, and I accept it…but it hurts.

      So with great forlornness, I led my family back to the car where we warmed our bodies in the interior and pulled out of the parking lot substantially defeated by disillusionment.  But the effects were only short term.  There was plenty to do that day so not all was lost, and I for one was not going to let the extremely limited opening hours of the Bush-Holley House douse my drive to take in a little culture for that day.

      We got back on the Post Road, passed the Greenwich High Schooland drove up Putnam Hill.   At this point, I spotted the gray rock on the right hand side where the Put supposedly launched his heroic retreat.  Screw it, I said to myself.  This time I was not going to hold back.  I was not going to give in to family pressure.  I was not going to go by that goddamn stone monument again without taking a closer look, because, this being the epicenter of the town’s most heart-pounding seconds in history, the least I could do is find out how the event was honored and maybe in passing relive those exhilarating seconds of the past.

     I pulled in Old Church Road and decided to park the car, a magnificent plan until I realized that there was no where to leave the car.  That’s just what happens here in town.  I really can’t say it’s something peculiar to Greenwich; much ofConnecticutsuffers from this disease.  As a good American-law-fearing citizen, I was wary of leaving it just anywhere so as not to stir any suspicion in the local authorities.  People who park their cars where they shouldn’t, are often suspect to just about anything.

      You have to work hard to get into a law-enforcer’s mind to understand their train of thought.  As a result, there was always the latent possibility that the minute you get out Johnny Law was going to roar up and ask you what the nature of your business was, like “What in Sam’s Hill you doing here, boy?”

      “Just going to read what it says on the monument over there.”

       “Why?  What’s it to you?”

       “Just out of curiosity.”

        “Got a permit?”

        “Uh, didn’t know I needed one.  I was born and raised here.”

       “Don’t matter.  Even Greenwich residents have to have one.  Like the beaches.  That’s historical praperdy thar and we don’t want no vaindals marring the good name of Genral Israyel Putn’m, here?  Maybe you’re a terrorist.”  To be honest, I don’t really envision theGreenwichpolice talking like, especially with that spanking new Beverly Hills Cop like station they have just off the Avenue, but it is fun to pretend.

       I got out, pulled up my belt and asked who wanted to come.  My daughters were entrenched in some kind of bickering that prevented them from wanting to join; no one found any amusement in going to a small stone monument on the side of the road, so I let them have it their way and made the brief journey on my own to the corner of the street and over the grassy terrain to where the granite block, at least it looked like granite, stood.  There I started to read the inscription:

         This marks the spot where on February 26, 1779, General Israel Putnam, cut off from his soldiers and pursued by the British cavalry, galloped down this rocky steep and escaped, daring to lead where not one of many hundred foes dared to follow.

         Daughters of the American Revolution, 1900

        Now, presented that way, we are certainly treated to a version that warrants a scene in a movie script.  But after transcribing onto my notepad what was engraved on the slab in front of me, one thought came to mind: the local delegation of the daughters of the American Revolution clearly had a thing for this man.  You almost sensed he was their spiritual leader.

What to do when there is no water in your home: leave

Boy, I will never look at fireworks in the same way, I tell you. Americaneeds to take note of this. Americaneeds to learn. Spainmay be falling apart in the eyes of the world, its banks may need rescuing, its economy may need jumpstarting, its reputation may need revamping, but the celebrating must go on.

Everyone knows about the 4th of July and the fireworks display that has gained worldwide fame over the years.  I have a friend fromSpain who is sad because she is returning toSpain next Independence Day and she will be missing the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air, and all of that.

        Why should she care? Spainhas got what it takes.  Few people realize just how dear the union between celebrations and gunpowder is in this country.  A visit toValenciain mid March would immediately help people to understand, but even outside the east coast ofSpain, the country is one big potential tinderbox.  The other night, when water was scant in my building, I lunged out the door and meddled among the trees to the manmade lake in the middle of the Retiro Park, where four or five pieces of classical music, where four and five pieces of music, would set the stage for the fireworks as they illuminated the early summer night of Madrid in the summer in the summer of early night Madrid.

        The first boom, the first warning came at 10:20.  Ten minutes before the show began.  The next one thundered five minutes after that.  Then the final one broke the sky and made way for the onslaught of lighted colors and sonic pounding.  The whole night was momentarily shooed away.  The show was magnificent.  It was relentless.  None of that one-by-one rocket display which bores you to death, the poof sound of the projectile soaring into the dying day darkness and the sudden appearance of a blossoming light.  Here the firing was continuous and the bursting electrifying and humbling.

        In fifteen minutes it was done…maybe the strained Spanish budget did not allow for more, but the time was well-spent, like a professional class on motivation.

Madrid Water

Madrid’s water supply has increased over the past month, and that is great news for the summer, great news for the people who live through its summer.  When it’s not there, life turns unbearably uncomfortable.  Just the other day, the water got cut off in our building, the night, at night, at eight o’clock at night, night, the night before a holiday and the plumber had other plans.  It is incredible how rudimentary life becomes without running water in a matter of hours.

      Its loss reminds us of the delicate existence of civilization.

Tidbits About Madrid: San Isidro

Hold on to your seats, it’s the Fiestas of San Isidro, one of the least exciting Spanish fiestas in the country, and yes, it’s the capital of the country that organizes them every year.  Oh, when people have dinero I guess the program becomes a little more attractive, but it’s all very relative.

   Isidro is the patron saint of Madrid in big part because he was born, lived and died year nearly a thousand years ago in this city.  His beginnings were humble, and he spent much of his life as a laborer in the fields owned by a wealthy landowner.  He would eventually become bailiff.  But Isidro would not be canonized for his plowing skills but rather for his deeply devotion, humility and humanity towards the poor.  He was married to a woman name María, known as María of the Head, because her head is toted around the town whenever there is a drought, as if that would steer the atmospheric conditions in the direction of greater rainfall, but after their son was miraculously saved after falling in well (I’ve already talked about this one, so you can go find it), the couple decided to practice sexual abstinence.  As proof that they had no faith in their own will power, despite all that praying, they decided to move into separate homes.

       Practically nothing is done to honor María, except that she often honors us with a day off, Isidro does get his fair shar of festivities, albeit somewhat cheesy ones.  The traditional fiestas zones are the Plaza Mayor, the Vistillas near the Viaducto, and the Pradera of San Isidro, in lower Carabanchel where I used to live.  There’s some lively actvity, the music is fairly unchallenged in its modesty, and the food and drink are over-priced, as a rule.  But if you want to have a look around, go ahead.  I just may do the same.

          San Isidro most definitely stands out for its bullfighting fair, the most important one in the taurine calendar.  For about four straight weeks, bulls are slaughtered on a daily basis.  Ususally the best bullfighters in the world descend upon this ring and give it a go in front of the world’s toughest bullfighting crowd.  But this year, with just about everyone cutting back on their budgets, the line-up is pretty lame.

       Speaing fo the economy, low budgets and lameness, the famous indignados are out and about threaening to take hold of the Puerta del Sol, just as they did a year ago when they go international attention for occupying the center of the city for several weeks.  Wall Street owes its idea to them.  It was all quite peaceful and the protesters had many valid points.  They were also a model of organization and democratic decision-making, doing their best to be as respectful of the district as possible.  Now, the local government was tolerant of it the first time around, but you could rest assured they weren’t going to allow a repeat this year, which is why there were a million police officers there yesterday to ensure no one would be camping out again.

     But it doesn’t make the economy any better…and it didn’t give anyone jobs.  We’ll be needing a miracle from Saint Isidro for that to happen.  And if worse comes to worse, we can always crank out Maria’s head and parade around with that.  Yeah, that should help.

Excerpt from new book 3 (Draft)

Leaving the Bubble

Oh, well.  Fun and games with numbers.  Finally it was time to get them to the train station and Bridget had us leave approximately ten minutes before the train arrived, and announced as she started the car, “Just have to stop by Dunkin’ Donuts for a coffee beforehand.”

      “The train is about to arrive and we’re still two miles away.  I think I can hear that whistle blowing.”

      But she wasn’t listening to me.  I was being a Eurofag, as some say, and had no understanding of how a New York commuter runs under this pressure.  She was right, but that didn’t make us any closer to the station.  She crabbed as she told me to relax.  My sister possessed her own reality distortion field.  We could be at the counter paying while the train was pulling out and actually pull into the station minutes later before it even arrived.  I don’t know how she did it, but we did it…coffee and all.

      The rest of the day I spent hauling my butt up to Durham, Connecticut to pick up the car we would be using for the next couple of weeks. I went up with my nephew Kevin, who had to kindness and patience to plow through I-95 rough Sunday traffic, which was exacerbated by the fact it was the end of the Christmas holiday weekend.  The minute we hit the highway, it stopped.  Then it was stop and go for the next60 milespractically.  I had taken along the entire case of the Beatles digitally remastered albums, 13 albums in all, so I think we were covered in that department.  I guess I was supposed to act as an older and sager uncle cunningly trying to get his thoughts out about his life and filling his head with all the wisdom, but instead it came out more like this:

       “So, do you have any fucking idea what you want to do with your life?”

       “Uh… no, not really.”

       “I know how it is.  Well, you’ve still got time.  Now, listen to John’s lyrics on this song, they’re awesome.”

      Once you coast inland from the coast, you realize you are in a decidedly different part of the state all together.  If not in a different state all together. Durham is hardly 21 miles from then center of urban New Haven, but you might as well be in upstateVermont.  It was rural.  Rural big time.  Rolling roads, acres of farmland and woods, barns with roofs falling in.  The downtown itself boasted a splendid green with all the major houses and local important buildings literally separated from each other in classic New England fashion.  It was delightful and spooky at the same time, a sentiment which may have been compounded by the fact I had just passed an awesomely and deliciously frightening cemetery on the way in.  It was set on a hill so steep I couldn’t imagine how in God’s name they could stick bodies in there.

      We weren’t in Durham for long, just enough to meet Janet and Bill, the parents of a good friend of ours who had the generosity to lend us their wheels.  We had been in touch for quite some time but never had formally met.  They are sweet and wonderful people, the kind that make you feel at home from minute one.  They were thinking about making a little dinner and they were being joined by a friend of hers.  Just as I walked in the kitchen, Janet said, “Martha (to be honest I can’t recall her name), do you know who this is?  It’s Brian Murdock!”  I wish someone at the time had a camera to fully capture the stupefied look on my face, because I had been in that town for little more than ten minutes and I was being introduced to perfect strangers as if they were supposed to know me, and, as I feared even more, I was supposed to know them.  That wouldn’t have been the first time, but in Durham?

     “You were in his house!”

       This was beginning to freak me out because now I really didn’t know what was going on.   I knew there was something spooky about that town.  “Oh, yes!  How do you do?”

       She extended her hand and expected a nice warm shake, which I guess I fulfilled though don’t know exactly why or how.

       Janet hadn’t finished.  “And you slept in his bed!”

       Well, of all things.  “That’s enough!  What is going on here?”

       It naturally turned out that they had been in my house.  I knew Janet had, I just couldn’t remember the part about the friend.  It kind of happens that way when your home is a kind of inn.  I like it that way.  I grew up with my house being that way, why would I want it any other way.  Just the thing that so many people had passed through these doors that long ago I lost count, and when you do that, heck, you’re bound to bump into someone in a place like Durham who says “Hey, thanks for the digs.”

         We took their advice and followed their directions back on to the Merritt.  We ended up on I-91, the turnoff must have been at some unforeseen road a few miles back.  Before we knew it we were just north ofNew Havenin a neighborhood Greenwich kids dread to find themselves in.  Empty parking lots, half-abandoned warehouses, gas stations encased in robbery-proof bunkers, parts of old American cars strewn along the sides of the street.  Dad and good old Brunswick School for boys never prepped me for this.  I have lived in some pretty skanky places, and slept in some nameless holes, acted like a bum and mingled in hostile atmospheres; but there are still times when my goddamn upbringing told me once again… “boy…you just don’t belong here, so get out!”

         And out we went.  Calmly but without a pause.  And we pulled on to the highway to the junction with I-95.  It was backed up like hell the way it always is, but this time, worse still because of the day and time at hand.  People were leaving every place and going back to every place and there was no way out of it.  I had lost touch with Kevin.  He had lost touch with me.  We would meet back home at some time.  I put the Beatles’ White Album on and took the trip in stride.

El 2 de Mayo – Fiesta y un Fallo

Pues lo que os decía…para participar en algo realmente madrileño en un día sumamente madrileño, y me di cuenta enseguida de que la última cosa que hacen los madrileños en ese día tan madrileño es ir a los toros.  Aunque fuera una corrida goyesca.  Ya sé que la Feria de San Isidro está a la vuelta de la esquina y que el tiempo había estado revoltoso y que el Madrid se jugaba la Liga esa noche y todo aquello, pero, vamos, pasé por el túnel y ¡Dios!, como si hubieran cancelado la corrida.  “¿Ha habido una amenaza de bomba o qué?  Porque si no, no me lo explico.”

        No había prácticamente nadie en nuestra sección.  Nadie en ninguna sección.  Si alguna vez habéis visto la escena del coliseo en la película “La Vida de Brian”, eso te ayudará a hacerte una idea.  Y si no, pues nada, calculo que estaba entre un 20-25% ocupado, y de ese porcentaje, la mitad era extranjeros condenados a huir de la grada de de unos momentos horrorizados por sangrienta escena.  Pero para entonces, a la Empresa le daba igual porque ya estaba pagada la entrada y nadie les iba a reclamar la devolución de su dinero por estafa, por timo, por decepción.

        Pero ¿En qué les están decepcionando?  Han prometido una muerte a un animal mediante el uso de lanzas, banderillas y espadas, y por Dios, los muy profesionales no lo iban a dejar a medias.  ¿Acaso decido ir a una ejecución por hoguera solo porque me gusta el olor de chimenea como en los pueblos?

        Pero para mí, la culpa sobre todo la tiene el tipo que fijó los precios.  ¿Qué si eran elevados?  Vamos.  Indecentes.  Que sirva de reflexión, aunque lo dudo porque por mucha crisis que haya, esto no es como los super donde te ponen ofertas de gel de baño a precio de coste.  No te limpia, pero sales de la ducha sintiéndote un poco más rico o un poco menos pobre, como prefieras.

        Con un combinado en la mano, nos sentamos sin que nadie nos impidiera el libre movimiento sin tener claro qué era lo que nos esperaba.

Excerpt from a New Book 2 (draft)

A wealth of numbers

While waiting for the gang to head into the city I continued with my newly acquired morning routine.  I walked down to the local deli again and bought the real Sunday Greenwich time to snoop around and see what was up there for today.  The year was coming to an end so the news level was at a minimum as the papers spent most of their time review these twelve months.  The Greenwich Time had a small section on the best pictures of 2009, an exhibit which did little justice to the creative capacity of this town.  Maybe that was all they had around to fill up pages 3 and 4.  Of all the snapshots, the one that caught my eye showed two elderly people, Eugene and Rusty Moye, who formed the first biracial couple in Cos Cob (probably Greenwich, added the caption, along with the rest of the world) when they married in 1951.

     Say, now that was something!  1951.  15 years before Martin Luther King’s I had a dream speech, this enclave of white power was already opening its doors up to a certain degree of tolerance.  It may not have been a first in the world, like Johnson’s electric house, but certainly a rarity in most parts of theUnited States at that time.  It still is.   Really.   We may have elected a black man to be president, but we can’t seem to screw.  So much so, that you barely see a biracial couple in this town some sixty years later.  Heck, you can black person.  There are fewer than a 1,000 Africab-American residents in this town.  That constitutes just 1.6% of the population compared to 10% statewide and 13.6% on a national level.  So, integration may have jumped to an early start in this town, but it didn’t go very far from there.  More than a statement about town attitudes, but it seems to me more like an anomaly.

     Oh, say what they will, and vote for whom they will vote, racism has hardly been an issue because there has hardly been another race in the town to bring it up.  I cannot say what the current statutes say at places like the numerous country clubs in town, but I imagine there exists a de facto rule, and a highly non-representative ratio of whites to blacks.  In the picture, Eugene and Rusty Moye look like a couple still very much in love.   She gazes at him lovingly, as he looks ahead with smiling eyes.

     Page 8 featured a list of requests sent by local people, many of whom lived in this town and were in want of some very, very basic needs.   Many were single mothers, widows, teenagers who were struggling to get by.  That’s right, even in upscale Greenwich.  To a foreigner, which to me is anyone who comes from beyond the Fairfield County border, this may come as a big surprise, but not to someone who grew up here and understands that not every part of the town is that fancy, and for all my poking and nudging at the Greenwich Time, the newspaper has always been fairly adept at presenting both sides.  Today was just another example.

     Greenwich is a wealthy town, there is no doubt about that.  And there are millions across the country who associate it solely with this enormous affluence, but there are residents here who really go through rough times.  There are working class neighborhoods, lower income families and even housing projects.  4% of the local population lives beneath the poverty line.  4% of 60,000 comes to about 2,500 people, which is no trifle figure, and 2.5 % somehow make it by with an income of 50% below the poverty line.  Just what explains that number and how it should be interpreted is beyond me, but I do recall as a teenager taking boxed Thanksgiving meals to several low-income housing apartments.  It was awkward for me as a junior in high school used to playing golf on the fairways of the Greenwich Country Club, but it was especially awkward for them.  Most wouldn’t even show their faces and would ask us live the food at the door.  I wasn’t sure if I felt like a saint or an idiot.

     Are they representative of Greenwich?  I would like to say they are, and I would rather say they weren’t, if that means anything, and if it meant saying thank God no one in town goes hungry, but it may well be that they do symbolize a part of the town which so many people choose to overlook.  Just because the town is home to estates costing over $50 million doesn’t mean the other half doesn’t exist, albeit a minority.

      Just exactly what was Greenwich’s wealth anyway?  How rich is it?  People, in general, need to measure themselves up to something.  It’s constant.  They need lists and lists to prove where they are in life and this is no exception.  In fact, in America particularly, people indulge in assessing each other through money and personal assets. Greenwich is often casually regarded as the “richest town in the country”.  But is it really the wealthiest community in the nation?

      Well, by some indicators, it isn’t.  Not by a long shot.   One statistic known as the “highest-income place based on per capita income” places Greenwichat a humbling 55th in a list of the Top-100 richest communities with at least 1000 households.  This register is considered the best and supposedly most reliable because it eliminates very small communities which can distort reality.  There is a list of the most affluent places of a thousand people or more, in other words, including much smaller towns, and that tells a very different story.   There are tiny hamlets around the nation with 5 residents and a median income of 200,000.  Greenwich is also listed there, but due to the stiff competition, it slides back to 79th.

     I guess I should have accepted this as the kind of good news that would finally silence all those people who bad-mouthed the community without knowing the facts.  Now everyday people fromGreenwichcould finally be freed of such an unhealthy stigma.  It didn’t even make the top 50, for the love of God, so lay off and let the residents of this ordinary town go about learning how to be just ordinary.  Right?

     Well, unfortunately that wasn’t what I thought.  Suddenly I discovered I was reacting in the exact opposite way.  Part of the premise for this book was that I would have a chance to analyze the most prosperous community inAmerica, for better or for worse.  If it turned out the dozens of other towns actually out-asseted it, what was I to do?  Plus, it just didn’t match up.

      “What the fuck are they talking about?  What do they mean this isn’t the richest own in the country?  That can’t be right.”

     I plowed on in search of just the right data which would back up my hypothesis, as any lame researcher would do, and wasn’t going to give up until I found it.   No one was going to debunk that assertion by playing around with a few wimpy statistics.

     My efforts paid off.  You see, a closer look at the those lists showed that Greenwich was far larger than any of the other municipalities – it’s a veritable metropolis in comparison – suggesting that not only was there a lot of wealth there, but also it was on a massive scale.

      Consider the list of the towns with 1000+ population.  Greenwich’s populace is, according to the statistic, 61,171.  The next largest town is Westport, Connecticut with 25,749 people and third place goes to Lake Forest, Illinois with 20,059.  Of the 100 towns, 67 have less the 10% of Greenwich’s population.  Similar results come up when you analyze the second list which pits communities of 1000+ households.   Here Greenwich (55th) weighs in at 23,230 households, while the next closest is none other than Beverly Hills with 15,035, and places a lame 99th!!   83 towns register 5,000 households or less.

     What happens when we stand the town up with the big boys, say 50,000+ residents? Not so surprisingly it leads the pack, and by quite some margin.  There are other lists which include median income households, where its place fluctuates, but one thing is clear, considering its size, Greenwich remains a very wealthy town and, to a certain degree, maintains a position of prestige that elevates it to realms which quite possibly reality says it shouldn’t be.

Los Gabachos y el Dos de Mayo

Para referirse a los franceses de manera despectiva, muchos españoles los llaman “gabachos”.  Curiosamente, en México, otra palabra para los estadounidenses, además de la famosa “gringos”, es “gabachos”.  Deduzco que esa un término que se utilizan para hablar de cualquier vecino del norte que te cae mal.  Históricamente hablando, hay que decir que los dos países tienen sus motivos por sentirse molestos, ya que tanto los norteamericanos como los franceses han hecho su parte en entrar en los otros países sin invitación del pueblo.

        Hace dos cientos y pico años, los madrileños valientemente se enfrentaron a las tropas galas con un mensaje claro hacia Napoleón que decía no pensaban aceptar la presencia de los invasores.  Era una lucha cruenta y dura y condenada a fracasar…pero no en vano, ya que incitó a que otras personas por toda España hicieran lo mismo.  La Guerra de Independencia había comenzado.

        Es por eso que celebramos el 2 de mayo como el Día de la Comunidad de Madrid, un festivo estratégicamente colindante con la fiesta anterior, el Día del Trabajador.  A eso, los profesores, siendo los caraduras que los que trabajan en otros sectores dicen que somos (tanta rabia os da, haberos hecho profes), añadimos el lunes 30 de abril y ¡hala!, tenemos un puente magnífico.

        Era un buen día para asistir un acontecimiento tan castizo como los toros.  ¿Quién iba a decir que casi nadie en esta ciudad pensaba lo mismo?

        Luego os explico.

May Day

Today is Labor Day in Spain.  With over 5 million people unemployed and the economy in shambles, there isn’t much laboring to celebrate, I’m afraid to say, and not many celebrants laboring.  For those 5 million plus job-seekers, it’s frustratingly like any other day.

        International attention isn’t helping either.  Every time I see the word “Spain” in a headline, it’s usually followed by some doom and gloom message that spooks away half the world’s investors.  Standard and Poor downgraded the sovereign debt, the March unemployment rate rose to a record 24.4%, that’s up from 7.9% in April of 2007.  Needless to say, the country slipped back into a recession recently, if it really ever got out of it in the first place.

        So, a quarter of workforce is inactive?  Shouldn’t there be a revolution right around the corner?  Well, believe it or not, it’s not quite what you would expect it to be.  On Sunday, protests were held around the country, in some 80 cities in all (I didn’t know Spain had eighty cities) the apparent number of demonstrators totaled some 1 million.  At least that is what they say.  I ran into the one in Segovia which, from my eyewitness perspective, must have had about 2,000 peaceful but disgruntled participants.  This time they zeroed in on the administration’s vow to cut back on healthcare and education in what I figure to be an apparent attempt by the government to make future generations of Spaniards sicker and stupider.

        The group slowly proceeded up the Calle Real to the Plaza Mayor where it was absorbed by a group of Galician folklore dancers and musicians putting on a show.  It was all very surreal, I can assure you.

        The Spanish economy situation is one which baffles the resident here.  The permanent one and the newcomer alike.  People from abroad arrive expecting the nation to be brimming with social unrest.  Yet most stroll around the center, see all the shops open and the bars and restaurants filled and say, “Jeeze, who would have guessed this country was about to collapse?  I was expecting turmoil and hordes of barefoot Oliver Twists.”

        And this is the thing: is Spain really as bad off as everyone says?  The numbers say so, they certainly do.  And I know some people  who are feeling its pinch.  But something doesn’t quite add up.   I was Dublin in June of 2010, about six months before the bailout came, and the downtown of the capital was in a ruinous state.  There were “To Let” signs all over the place.  You could just tell things were looking bleak.  The Irish themselves were very proud of how they had progressed after their first big economic boom in their, let’s be honest here, entire history, and there was no doubt that they had come a long way.

      But I said, “Yeah, walk outside and take a look around.  Everything is closed down.”  They stared at me dumbfounded.  What was I talking about?

       They were all about to slam into a big wall and they didn’t see it coming, that was what I was talking about.  When I heard about the bailout a few months later, I wasn’t surprised at all.

            But what about the Spanish?  From the way things sound, the scenario should be the same, if not worse.  And yet, you walk around different neighborhoods and see that, while times could be better, the country seems far from an imminent cataclysm.  Have I become just as blind as the Irish I spoke to two years ago or are things truly different?  Is Spain truly different?

       Just where this crisis is and what it looks like, I wish I could tell you off the top of my head.  I wish I knew, but I am at a loss.

       By the way, on that trip to Segovia I took the pricier AVE bullet train and there wasn’t a free seat available.  The streets of th city were jammed with tourists and the restaurant we ate at (while not exorbitant, certainly a step above the average) was packed at three in the afternoon.  Something is up.

      I will have to investigate.