My Vote Counts

May is the month of local government elections here in Spain (22nd) and in the UK (5th). In the UK the day also brings elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, possibly Stormont (I’m not sure), but most important in many ways, a referendum on the voting system. Although I have long wanted to see a change in the UK voting system, I shall not be able to vote for it in the referendum. My vote is here in Spain. And here in Spain, my vote counts equally with every other vote cast.

In Spain a system of proportional representation is used so that seats are allocated on the basis of the percentage of votes cast in favour of each party. Each party assembles a closed list of candidates in order of precedence determined by the party, and a line is drawn, as it were, at the percentage obtained; those above the line are deemed to have been elected, and those below, not. If you want to know more, you can find a full account at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_Spain.

I say that my vote is here in Spain, but that extends only to local elections and elections to the European Parliament. As a foreigner, I have no vote in the national elections, which seems entirely reasonable to me.

In England, on the other hand, I had a vote at every level. Sadly, for the whole of that time my vote was of no practical use at all. My allegiance was initially to the Liberals and subsequently to the Liberal Democrats. I lived first in a rock-solid Labour constituency (Salford West), then in an unassailably Conservative constituency (Kensington and Chelsea). In the other constituencies where I later had my vote, all were either safe seats or Labour/Conservative marginals. Not only that, but the voting system - simply electing the candidate who polled more votes than any other single candidate - led to a situation where a Liberal Democrat candidate had to secure four votes for each one won by his/her rivals in order to win a seat; that’s a statistical reality, based on the total national vote for each party.

If I wanted my vote to ‘count’ in some way, the only solution was to ignore my party allegiance and instead vote for the candidate I least objected to in the (usually vain) hope that this would ensure that the candidate I most objected to would not be elected.

That, in a nutshell, is why if I had a vote in the UK referendum, I would vote for a switch to the alternative vote system. If introduced it would mean that in future, someone in my position could vote according to their party allegiance, and then use the order of preference to indicate the least up to the most objectionable alternative candidate. It’s interesting, but not surprising to see that the greatest opposition comes from past and present members of parliament who see the imminent disappearance of ‘safe’ seats. Then again, as the saying goes, would you expect a turkey to vote for Christmas?


Topsy Turvy

Easter is just about as late as it can be this year, which must have been a great encouragement to all those people in Britain who fancied the idea of a week or two in the sun over the holiday period, and booked flights down to the Costa del Sol. But things have been turned on their head so far as climate is concerned. They could have found all the warm sun and blue skies that they desire right back there on their own doorsteps in the UK. Here, by contrast, the temperatures plummeted last weekend, the clouds came rolling in borne by stiff breezes, and the rain started falling. Today, Good Friday, we are promised several hours of rain and a daytime high of 14 or 15 degrees. Which is now worse than the rest of the week so far, nor any worse than what is promised for tomorrow and Sunday.

Matters are just as depressing for the local population. As I described last time, this is a week of elaborate religious processions wending their way around the streets of cities, towns and villages; not this year. Yesterday for instance, of the seven cofradias who should have been processing through Málaga, only one was able to leave its home base. On the one hand the costumes, robes and vestments of penitents and statues would be badly damaged by the rain; on the other, the underfoot conditions would make it too dangerous to attempt to carry the tronos through the streets. I’m not sure how many processions have had to be cancelled in total this week, nor how many will fall victim to the weather today and on Sunday, but the toll is likely to be very high indeed. In fact, I just looked out of the window and the rain has set in again.

I could say that this is not typical weather for late April, but I seem to have been calling different periods of weather ‘not typical’ quite frequently. Is climate change serving up new typical patterns, or a future defined by unpredictable weather patterns? I don’t know; I suppose we will have to wait and see.


The Big Week Draws Near

Once again we are on the brink of the big fiesta of the Spanish year, Semana Santa (Holy Week). Officially, the week begins this coming Sunday, Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) and ends with Domingo de la Resurección (Easter Sunday), although in many places, the observances will begin on Friday of this week, Viernes de Dolores. This is especially the case in any town or city whose Patron Virgin is Our Lady Of The Sorrows. Interestingly, although Nuestra Señora de los Dolores is the Patron Virgin, the day is not marked by any ceremonies.
Although Semana Santa is important throughout Spain and the Spanish-speaking world, the manner of its observance differs from one part of Spain to another. The most ostentatious manifestations with the greatest religiosity, are to be encountered in the southern part of Spain, Andalucia above all, but also the comunidades of Murcia, Valencia and Extremadura, and in a much more restrained manner in Madrid and Barcelona.
I find this variation interesting in the light of my recent reading of the history of Spain. It seems that the greatest fervour is to be found in those parts (Al-Andalus) where it was most important to display your Christian credentials following the defeat of the Nasrid kingdon of Granada by Ferdinand and Isabella (Los Reyes Católicos) in 1492. The Moriscos were often in literal fear for their lives were it to be suspected that they had not after all jettisoned their Islamic faith completely; likewise the Jews, and Toledo is another city with spectacular celebrations.
Within Andalucia, two cities stand out, Sevilla and Málaga. The other provincial capitals all make much of Semana Santa, but nothing quite equals these two. Sevilla boasts 57 cofradías or brotherhoods, each one associated with a different manifestation of Christ or of the Virgin Mary, and each cofradía taking to the streets in massive, tortoise-slow processions, accompanying the pasos or tronos, heavy with flowers and candles, on which the statue of the object of their veneration is carried, frequent rest stops being needed along the way. At one or more of these stops a saeta is likely to be sung, especially to a statue of Mary. This is a mournful, flamenco lament, sung a capello in the harsh nasal tones of the cantaor or cantaora. In the muffled silence and the dark, this sound piercing the night air will raise the hairs on the back of your neck; I guarantee it.
The two main cofradías of Sevilla, both of which go in procession on the night of Viernes Santo, are Jesus del Gran Poder, which has more than two thousand members and La Virgen de la Macarena. The crowds lining the streets for these two processions are truly enormous, and treat La Macarena with the greatest respect. As a Spanish colleague of my wife’s once explained to her, “When La Macarena goes by even the atheists put their cigarettes out.”
Málaga has around 60 cofradías, who likewise take to the streets at their allotted time throughout the week, wending their way from their home base to the cathedral and back, an excursion that takes several hours. An individual paso (as they are called in Málaga) can weigh in excess of 5,000kg and requires up to 250 people to transport it. The hermanos (brothers) belong to one of two categories, the nazareños (who wear the penitent’s garb of black or purple robes and capirotes , the spiked, whole-head masks that conceals their identity from others, who follow behind the paso), and the costaleros (literally, sackmen) who physically carry the paso, and who derive some limited relief from the pain and discomfort of the task by placing a thick pillow on the shoulder that bears the wooden beam. Apparently, until the middle of the last century the costaleros were all drawn from the ranks of the dockers in the port of Málaga.
The big difference between Sevilla and Málaga is that whilst Sevilla communicates an air of deep religious feeling, the malagueños can never quite put aside their party mood, and so Málaga processions are marked by high degree of alegría, at least among the onlookers.


Don't Believe Everything You Read Online!

Around this time last year, a friend told me that there were some very well-priced, cantilever parasols on sale at Ikea, so I, too, bought one. We didn’t get a huge amount of use out of it last summer, partly because we spent less time up on our roof terrace during the day than we had anticipated, but mainly because the the roof is high enough to catch whatever wind is about, and so it was often a bit too blowy to open it.
You can imagine, then, how I felt when said friend, visiting back in the autumn, wandered over to the parasol, looked at it for a moment, and than said, “You’ve got the same problem.” The ‘problem’ was that the frequent small movements of the closed parasol had abraded the cord that raises and lowers it, to the point were it had snapped. Checking the Ikea website, showed that, the season being over, the item was no longer listed, and so couldn’t be replaced! Suddenly, it seemed like a very expensive purchase, dividing the cost by the number of times we had used it.
I did what I have learned to do in such circumstances; I googled the sentence, ‘Cord on Ikea parasol has snapped’, and in no time at all found a raft of fellow sufferers. Also, though, I found someone with a solution; instructions on how to take the thing apart, fit a new cord (we opted for metal this time, not nylon), and reassemble it. Half an hour’s work at most, we were told, but a two person job at certain stages. So, whilst in England recently, John picked up the necessary 9 metres of cord and yesterday we set about repairing his. DIY is not my strong suit, which is why I was so happy to have John’s help (This actually translates accurately as watching John, handing him some things when asked, and holding other things when asked) as he is a DIY natural.
The job is now done, and so on Monday we will repeat the process for my parasol. Only this time we will be looking to trim a bit of time off the task. Half an hour at most? I think not! Close on two hours is what it took. On the other hand, we will now have fully-functioning parasols again.