Archive | September 2011

Unfair Competition

Unfair competition is getting me depressed.

Lately people want me to lower my prices to about 6€ an hour. I don’t know about you but I’m sure in the States you wouldn’t pay ANYONE 6€ an hour for ANYTHING. Not your cleaning lady, not your babysitter. Not anyone. 6€ an hour is not even minimum wage, not even here in Spain.

However those of us who work in the black market – and I do admit that I work in the black market, but I do so because no one is offering jobs in this depressed and poverty-stricken city where local unemployment is at over 36%, and if we don’t work on the black market, then we don’t work, and if we don’t work we don’t pay our bills, our rent or feed our families – as I was saying those of us who work in the black market can’t really complain, protest or report anyone anywhere. We just have to take it or leave it.

Or move out to a more prosperous region. If we can afford it, that is.

If I don’t agree to charge 6€ an hour, there are 10 more people in line waiting for my work. And some of them are even willing to work for free.

As I said, unfair competition.

Blank Wall in blue

A blank wall, because this is what you get when you hire someone for free. Because in life you DO get what you pay for. Well, blank walls are good on your home, perhaps............

They are willing to work for free because they are loafing around in their parents’ homes where they are more than adequately fed, clothed and warmed by the heater (well air conditioner, more precisely, especially in the hot summers that we enjoy here). So all they want is to earn a little pocket money so that they can go out for a drink on Friday evenings, or spend the whole night in a disco. Let’s face it, a drink and a night of dancing on the town cost a lot of money!

However their drinking and dancing all night is depriving my children of their daily bread.

We just spent a whole weekend where I couldn’t even buy a loaf of bread for my kids to eat the whole weekend long. No bread, no potatoes, not even a brik of milk. I was cleaning the bathroom with toilet paper because we couldn’t afford a roll of kitchen paper towels. (All right I admit I’m not the pickiest house-cleaner around, I’m sure others have a whole stash of every brand name of everything. Me, just bleach and some paper towels – when I can afford them, that is.)

And the reason for this is because of negotiations the whole week long with potential new clients. Clients who want me to lower my prices because there are 10 other eager workers waiting in line willing to work for free.

Yes, for free.

So, it doesn’t matter that these free-wage workers are teenagers with no experience, who haven’t even completed their high school studies and therefore their knowledge would be more or less at a par with that of their students, who are also high school kids.

It doesn’t matter that it’s even possible that these “teachers” know even less than their students.

It doesn’t matter, because they’re free!

So what is the point, you might ask, of people working for free anyways?

Well, you get work experience, so essential in a city where unemployment is at 36% and the rate for people who have never worked before shoots up to a whopping 50%!!

(Although I believe that the rate for us foreigners and ex-pats would probably be somewhere closer to 100%, but who cares about foreigners anyways? I mean, if you don’t like it, just pack your bags and go home!)

You get references. And references are very important in a culture where who-you-know counts more than your curriculum vitae.

And if you work for free, you can always harbour the hopes that your clients will like you so much that next year, when you decide to begin charging for your services – you will, of course, still charge a very low, modicum price, however, say 3€ an hour maybe? – your clients will be willing to pay you in order to retain your services, because they were very pleased with you.

All right, so why should I charge for my services when others are doing my job for free? (Other than, of course, that I need the money to live on and to feed my kids.)

Well, I’m a native English speaker. So no matter how you look at it, I will inevitably speak English better than any Spanish high school student who has only studied English for 2 years, like their own pupils. The only difference being that these free-wage teachers have probably gotten an “A” at school in English class whereas their pupils probably failed English.

I have many years of experience teaching English, so I can identify people’s difficulties and weak points and give them solutions, to help them solve their problems. I can also teach any kind of student, from children to elderly people.

However, who cares about that? People don’t want English classes for their preschool kids or for their elderly parents. They don’t need the services of a native speaker. They just want the bare minimum so that their lazy teenager, who wasn’t paying any attention in his classes at school and hates English and will never, ever use it in his lifetime, can pass his exams.

Besides which, what have they got to lose? After all, it’s free, right?

And at the very worst, the only thing that could happen is that their free English teacher is very, very bad, the lazy teenager flunks again and they would only have lost one school year.

So then they can start all over again next year. After all, there are more free English teachers out there. Maybe the next one in line will turn out to be better than his predecessor.

Or maybe they might just start considering the possibility of hiring a paid teacher next time round.

But that won’t happen till next year.

Or until the economy gets better and the crisis goes away.


Childhood Friends

Childhood friends are the sweetest, most devoted friendships that there are. Those relationships that you pick up with other kids your age, while both of you are still young and single and childless. During that time of life there are no romantic or sentimental partners to take you away from each other, no children to occupy all of your time. You don’t have a job or a demanding boss, so your flexible hours let you and your best buddy spend all your time together, inseparable. You can go shopping, to the cinema or just hang out.

Remember when you used to just “hang out” with your friends, on the street, in the malls, by the boardwalk maybe? What happened to those times? What happened to those friends?

Optical Illusion Vase-FaceMost of my childhood friends now live thousands of kilometres away from me. I don’t know what some of them are up to now. Others share anecdotes and letters through Facebook or e-mail. But we don’t see each anymore, of course, and we don’t hang out together, obviously.

One of my best friends got married to an Australian and moved to the other side of the world.

Another wonderful mate who was inseparable from me also got married. Her new hubby had a dramatically different lifestyle from the one my friend and I were used to. She changed her way of living for him, and now we never see each other anymore. Something about me being too “hippie” for her very formal and reputation-conscious hubby……….

The friends I make now just aren’t the same. Burdened with the onerous task of earning money to support a family, weighted down by drudging work schedules, pressured by sentimental partners to devote more time to them and adapt their activities to the preferences of these partners. The friends you make once past a certain period in your life just don’t have the same devotion and availability. The days when they “hang out” anywhere, with anyone who isn’t a romantic interest, a child or a boss have long passed and washed away down the drain.

I wonder if any of the people “my age” remember what it was like to just “hang out”? To just be around with a friend who wasn’t a child, the mother of a child or a romantic interest? Maybe they’ve just gotten bored with that.

Hot Muggy September Nights

Tonight was just one of those lovely hot muggy late summer nights here on Spain’s sunny southern Costa del Sol. At midnight we were still enjoying temps of around 30ºC. (that’s 90ºF. guys). So we went out for a midnight stroll by the sea, stopped for some frozen yogurt (it was definitely NOT frozen!) and kids spent a whole hour dashing about the park. How kids can run for one hour non-stop and still be fresh as roses is one of life’s grand mysteries.
Red Roses

We returned home along the seaside promenade. Beach restaurants offering typical fried fish and wood-baked sardines on a stick – a Malaga specialty – at discount prices now that it’s September. But there was no one about to take advantage of this bargain. It was Sunday night, girls and guys gotta go to work, kids have school. So no late nights anymore. Not even when it’s hot and muggy and lazy.

We watched a pussy cat playing with its dinner, a poor little freaked-out, death-pale lizard. A glowing cruise ship or ferryboat took off for Africa on the other side of the darkness. And that was it.

So this is my life, fellas. No bells or whistles. No Indiana Jones exploits on a daily basis. Just a pleasant walk in the “cool” night breeze and school runs in the early morning.

Beach Bucket

Subways Around the World

Well I was sitting around thinking about what sorts of things I like to read about in a blog. And I thought, well, in a blog, I like to read about places that people go to visit, things that they see there, who do they meet, what do they eat or drink. I like to read about restaurants that they go to and who they go with, what they talk about and what they eat.

I like blog posts about walks in the country, and what it was like to walk through the countryside. What the people saw and did there. Not great, dramatic, Indiana Jones type strolls through the world. Just little observations.

I was telling a friend that I like to read blog posts that say things like: well we went for a holiday in NYC and we found the subways really crowded. People in the subways in NYC are very strange because no one looks at anyone. The lights go off all the time but no one gets anxious, it’s normal over there. (I say this, of course, because I live in a place where it’s not normal for the lights to go off all the time on the subways, here if the lights go off, there’s an emergency!)

Or on the other hand, I might like to read: in Barcelona the subways are really neat, you can watch TV while you are waiting for the train so you don’t get bored, because there are televisions on the platform. There is also a sign that counts down the seconds till the next train is supposed to arrive.

So then I thought I’d make a blog post about subways around the world. Maybe it’s not the most transcendental, thought-provoking, wisdom-infused sort of topic that could occur to me. But, well, if someone else were to write a post about subways in places I had never been to, I know I would be interested in reading about it.

And it’s always nice to blog about things you would like to read about in other blogs. I think.

Well, so, let’s begin with NYC then. As I said, in NYC people never look at each other. In the subways I mean. And people tend to edge away from creepy looking fellows. The subways are very noisy – or at least they were when I was there, many years ago. There were also trains that drove straight through the station with a deafening zzzzzzzziiiiiiiiiiing!!! without stopping, if I recall. No wonder people found it easy to commit suicide there.

Once again I say that because it contrasted with the subways I was used to. So let’s talk about the subways I was used to.

Until I went to New York City I had only ever seen subways in Montreal. Subways (called metros) in Montreal are really neat. They “sing” when they take off. They are (or were) sky blue in colour, very distinctive from other trains that I’ve seen. And they looked very clean and new too.

Well, I’ve already mentioned subways in Barcelona. The ones in Madrid, on the other hand, are quite a nightmare. The reason is because of their ex-cru-ci-a-ting slooow-neeess! I used to live by a line where the train always seemed to sit about half an hour on the track without moving – and I didn’t live anywhere near the end of the line, either. It wasn’t near the centre of the city or on a very popular route, but then again, shouldn’t they make all the lines equally efficient?

If you have the time and can get over this little hassle, however, I do recommend that you drop by the Goya metro station. There you can see, all along the walls, engravings by Spain’s famous anti-war painter and artist, Francisco de Goya.

Well I guess by now you might be waiting to hear about more populous metropoles. Who cares about metros in Montreal or Barcelona anyways, right, you might be thinking. It’s not like lots of people go to Montreal or Barcelona anyways.

All right. So, how about Paris? Romantic ads in a romantic Romance language decorating all the walls. World-famous names like L’Arc de Triomphe or Champs-Élysées for every station. I remember being quite dazzled by the metro there, because it was the first time I had seen TV screens and flashing signs in a subway station. Since then I’ve discovered a few more, however (such as Barcelona for example), so they no longer dazzle me. How quickly we get accustomed to things, I do say!

The London tube is a real labyrinth. It takes forever to get anywhere on it, and you have to go up and down lots of stairs (fortunately they’re mechanical stairs) all the time in order to change lines. Many train lines also pass through the same set of tracks, so you have to be looking out all the time to make sure you read where each train is going before you board it, or you will not end up at your desired destination.

I remember encountering the first and only wooden mechanical stairs I have ever seen in London tube stations. I believe (but wouldn’t know because it has been ages since I last passed through this fascinating city) that they’ve since been changed for the more normal, conventional metallic escalators due to fire hazards.

In London the people are always rushing around. They are looking at the floor, or at their briefcases or their watches. It’s a different sort of apathy from what you could encounter in NYC, however. In New York City people were hostile, distrustful. Almost paranoid you could say. They deliberately hardened their hearts in order to ride a train in New York, and they watched their own backs.

In London, however, people weren’t hard, or hiding beneath a tough armour. They were just simply distracted, worried. They always looked like they were afraid they were going to arrive late for something.

Although I suppose if you have to depend on the subway, in any city, it’s almost inevitable that you will arrive late much of the time.

Now, Rome is another story altogether. It’s very difficult to get anywhere on the subway in Rome, because the system avoids much of the centre of the city. Too many valuable archaeological sites there. So it’s nice, because it’s always nice to be able to count on some sort of transportation that isn’t dependent on the fickleness of street-level traffic patterns. But it may take you a long time to get where you want to go if you have to by-pass the centre all the time. And chances are good that there may be no metro at all in the vicinity of where you want to go.

People on the metro in Rome are very nice, though. They don’t look all stressed-out like in London, nor do they look like they think you’re going to murder them all the time like they do in New York.

Mexico City, Mexico D.F., is one of the world’s greatest cities. It is so vast and extensive, even an airplane takes quite some time to cover over this territory. As you can imagine, its metro system is also humongous. However, in one of the stations (I don’t remember the name, sorry) they have a bewitching display of aboriginal Toltec art, vast and powerful stone heads. If you are in the area and can find out where it is exactly, I do recommend that you check it out. And if you go there, I’d love to hear about it, so leave me a comment, please! Which station is it in?

Oh, I guess I’ll finish with something a bit more original: Vancouver’s very own Skytrain. The Skytrain is really neat. It’s new, clean, silent and efficient. You never have to wait a long time for a train and these vehicles sure do move fast. I believe they cover a good number of Vancouver neighbourhoods and even go out to several suburban areas like Surrey. Unlike subways, this system moves around above the ground like an elevated train.

People in Vancouver are friendly, perhaps even a little bit naïve, compared to the tough dudes you’ll find in more established urban areas. So you might see that the people who ride with you on the Skytrain will probably act, in general, quite nice and polite.

Of course I can’t end without a little note about our very own Malaga subway. Well, it’s under construction! So not much to say about that. However we have high hopes for it – once it finally opens in about 50 years’ time.

The Barcelona That Tourists, Well, Some Tourists DO See: Barcelona II

All right, so, as promised, here at long last comes Barcelona II.

We left off Part I with this intriguing photo:

What intriguing photo, you’re probably asking. That’s just a short, stubby palm tree sitting in some super dirty, icky, muddy water.

Yes, but…… Where?

In Barcelona, of course!

In this lovely park, the Ciutadella, where we went for a ride in a little rowboat.

Ciutadella Barcelona

Our expert oarsman, ie. my best friend’s almost teenage son, kept pushing our little boat into the palm bushes, which were sticking out of the water in the middle of the lake.

Here you can see a panoramic view of the lake with its myriad pretty little palm bushes all sticking up out of the murky waters.

Ciutadella Barcelona

Note how low these bushes hang out over the water. Now imagine spending the greater part of your visit to this park ducking around underneath these bushes, in your little rowboat that your friend’s almost teenage son persists in pushing out underneath these bushes.

I said in the previous post that Barcelona had more famous monument look-alikes to boast about. I don’t think it will be necessary to label what famous monument this is supposed to resemble:

L'Arc de Triomf

To its credit, this catalan city has nationalized this version by dubbing it with a local, non-francophone name: L’Arc de Triomf.

It’s a great place for kids to play, and to ride your bike, rollerskates or skateboard around. A lot safer than its Gallic version, I do admit. A friendly, family-oriented open area in the heart of downtown.

Well, occasionally it is nice to get away from the typical tourist haunts and strike out to virgin lands. This is an example of what Barcelona can look like outside of Barcelona.

Rubi Barcelona

No, here it isn’t raining, even though it looks like the deluge I described in the previous post, Barcelona I but never succeeded in capturing in all its drama.

Sabadell Waterfall

This is just a waterfall – from underneath.

Now moving on to more familiar, touristic haunts. Here is a vestige of The Mysterious Barcelona.

Pont del Bisbe Barcelona

Everyone takes photos of this beautiful and mysterious covered bridge in the Barri Gòtic. Nonetheless there is nothing ancient about it, in spite of its appearance and architecture, since it was built at the beginning of the twentieth century (in 1929, actually, so I guess still sort of the beginning). It was named for a bishop, el Pont del Bisbe, as a tribute to him even though said bishop was only assassinated during the Spanish Civil War, after the bridge was already constructed.

People in Spain are always saying that Christopher Columbus POINTS, and of course he is always pointing towards America. This is why he points:

Colon Barcelona

Although in reality he is actually pointing towards Italy and not out over the Atlantic.

I wonder if he is indicating the way to Genova, out of nostalgia perhaps.

Whenever I see these lovely waterfront homes by the port, I always wonder what it must be like to live in one of them. Must be luxurious to snuggle snoozily into your eiderdowns as you gaze out through your bedroom window at the famous marina, and at the envious tourists staring awe-struck up at you as they fantasize about your idyllic life.

Barcelona Waterfront

Finally we mustn’t forget that immensely privileged chalet in the country where some of my friends now live.

Garden Barcelona

It isn’t their own home, however. But what a marvel, to be able to actually rent such a quaint and tranquil little dig in the middle of the forest.

Sure beats living in a 50 m.² (500 sq.ft.) 1-bedroom-with-a-walk-in-closet in da inna big city!

Of course, no visit to Barcelona would be complete without an exhaustive up-and-down along its busiest pedestrian thoroughfare, the famous Ramblas.

Ramblas Barcelona


Barcelona Smiling Lobster

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Photographs From a Typical Day


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