A Sense of Place

As everyone who saw the horrifying pictures of that raging torrent of water in Funchal - people being saved from the water by helping hands, and cars left crushed by the force of the onslaught – will know, Mother Nature has been showing her more aggressive side of late. Apparently the poor 42 souls who lost their lives in Madeira, including one Briton, were killed in their cars when the water swept down the mountains. They didn’t stand a chance. This extreme weather is ‘exceptional’ for the island, and ‘very unusual for this time year’, when Madeira is normally warm and sunny, an ideal holiday destination. It makes the recent floods near Jerez , namely in El Portal where the river Guadalete burst its banks yet again, swelled by overflow from the reservoirs, and where some inhabitants have retreated to the first floor of their houses, look tame by comparison. Unemployed people will be helping affected residents to clean up the mess. In Madeira, they’re using diggers. Living so close to the Portuguese border (well, by vague Andalucian standards, anyway, where half an hour and 30 minutes aren’t the same), I was horrified to see the scenes of devastation in Madeira, even if it is thousands of miles away in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It will probably sound in no way logical if I say that, were such a scene to occur (and let’s hope it never does) in the north of Spain, for example, it would seem another world away. Let me explain. Before I arrived in Seville , I was told that a) it was very beautiful, b) its inhabitants were very proud and thought it was the best place in the world, and that c), a logical continuation of b), they weren’t that bothered about going anywhere else and were quite content to stay in their beloved Sevilla. Being a cynical old(ish) hack, I took this with a pinch of salt. But when I arrived, I realized how true it was. Many Sevillanos proudly tell me they don’t have a passport, and they’ve never been abroad (which includes Portugal, 100km away). Some rarely leave the province, let alone Andalucia itself. The rest of Spain is foreign, irrelevant. What a load of boring old stay-at-homes, I thought. And yet here I am, six-odd years later, and do I give a monkey’s what goes on in the rest of Spain? Well, in Andalucia, yes, because it’s where I live. But in Castilla la Mancha? Not really, no. Galicia? Nope. Catalonia? They’re banning bullfighting and Feran Adria’s closing his restaurant. Other than that… I have become as inward-looking as the rest of them. (My husband, who is from Camas , a town just outside Sevilla, and has lived abroad and loves travelling, says he is ´Sevillano first, Andalucian second and Spanish third.’ I think that says it all.) With a choice between regional (Andalucian) news or national (Spanish), I go for Canal Sur every time. I can’t imagine being glued to Look East, the equivalent in England, with its train derailments and council overspending. Gypsy families being evicted and beaches washed away is just so much more interesting and colourful (as well as sad, obviously). Yes, I know trains are derailed here too, and as for councils… best not to go there. I suppose it’s because it’s all still new and there’s so much to learn that I find it so endlessly fascinating. Living in a place also gives you some feeling of ownership over it. You care about what happens to it, and if you don’t agree with plans for it, you feel angry and personally affronted. So when I read last week about new proposals of limiting visits to Seville city centre by motorists to 45 minutes, with a 90 euro fine for breaching this, I was shocked. But my horror turned to chuckles of amusement when I read that they also want to divide the city into four zones (NE, NW, SE and SW), and that the time limit also applies to residents of each area driving into the others. To me, the words ‘recipe’, ‘disaster’, ‘political’ and ‘suicide’ spring to mind. I am all for keeping noisy, smelly cars away from those historic buildings, but give me somewhere to leave the damn thing please! Whether it’s in the city, or at a metro station. And, while we’re on the subject how about sorting out the public transport system first? Finishing the metro perhaps? So I noted with great interest and no small amount of journalistic pleasure, the battle that commenced in the local press yesterday. The president of the CES (Confederacion de Empresarios de Sevilla) likened the new plans to ‘occupied Berlin, divided into areas controlled by the Germans, Russians and English.’ ‘Listen, this is Seville,’ he went on. ‘This sort of control is not right in a free society.’ From the other camp, the City Council’s delegado de Movilidad defended the 45-minute time limit – ‘15 minutes to arrive, 15 minutes to do your errand, and 15 minutes to leave.’ The examples of such errands included dropping off a child and visiting a family member. For 15 minutes? Wouldn’t that be an insult? But my favourite part was when the esteemed delegado suggested that pedestrianisation, another hot potato in local politics and public opinion, was not to blame for so many small businesses shutting down in the areas now closed to traffic. ‘They need to offer more attractive goods,’ he declared. ´They can’t just stick with the same stuff they’ve always sold, which people don’t want any more.’ Wow. Note to traditional store owners: noone wants your stock these days. So get rid of it. Then you’ll survive the recession, get lots of new customers (on foot, of course) and we’ll all live happily ever after. Hmm. If I feel outraged, I wonder how the residents of those four zones feel, and those who need to go into the city (which has been dubbed by the Ayuntamiento, `City of the People’) regularly, for 48 or 52 minutes? Sevillanos have a stronger feeling of ownership over their city than any other I’ve ever lived in. They will not take this lying down. I’m on tenterhooks to see what´s going to happen. For the drama, as much as the potential inconvenience. The gloves are off. I never thought I'd say it, but I just love local politics. I’m watching this story with bated breath.
Blog published on 22 February 2010