Funny and Not so Funny

On Tuesday two workers found themselves trapped in an apartment. They got out onto a terrace and after a time were able to flag down a policeman, screaming that they had been taken hostage. They had just finished some work for the owner of the apartment and had been paid 1300 euros. When the woman demanded they sign a receipt they refused. So she locked them in the apartment and left. And this illustrates a basic difference between American and Spanish homes that has always struck me: here door locks are of the dead bolt type and they don't have a release from inside. So if someone locks the door on their way out and you get left behind without the key you're stuck. This has always seemed to me a horrible safety hazard, but that's the way it is. Funny story. The woman was arrested for kidnapping but the workers had to return their fee. So everyone lost. Less funny is a story in El País about problems with the vandalization of public art in Spain. The story begins by pointing out that at a youth hostal in Amsterdam there is a sign requesting that public spaces be respected. It's only in Spanish! How sad. The article goes on to report of several cases of public art around Spain being destroyed almost as soon as it goes on display. Just last week I was showing a few of my students the beautiful bronze sculpture that pays homage to Rafael Pérez Estrada. As I got close to the statue I suddenly started to feel sick to my stomach, and also enraged. Graffiti all over it. I just wanted to cry. There is no doubt that the sense of shared civil responsibility is weak in most parts of Spain. Spaniards keep their homes spic and span, but not their public squares. And the problem is not that no one is cleaning up. Malaga has a veritable army of street cleaners. Which is why streets and squares here can be absolutely gorgeous in the morning and a look a little rough around the edges by mid afternoon. I'm reminded of Rosa Montero's fine article in the Sunday magazine a couple of weeks ago in which she reflects on the very basic importance of beauty in our lives. Beauty as a civilizing, "taming" energy. Not a new idea, but she expresses it well in her article. I don't think you can meaningfully live without rather regular exposure to beauty. In the photo, a sculpture in downtown Bilbao.

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