Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Street life - by Theo

Madrid, being a big city, naturally has street life in all shapes, sizes and styles, from buskers and beggars to hookers and hawkers. Some areas are particularly known for a certain type of street worker - Plaza Mayor for its human statues, the area around Opera for Chinese ladies selling fans, a street near Gran Via metro for its working girls and so on. Even our local high street, Jose del Hierro has its share of street life.

Firstly, there are the lottery sellers. One of the main lottery companies in Spain is Once, a charity set up to provide blind people with employment. Thanks to the Spanish love of the lottery, it is now a huge company and has expanded its remit to employing anyone with a disability. As a result, not only do we have a kiosk for a blind female lottery seller, but there are also two other regular sellers on our street - a woman in a wheelchair who hangs around the supermarket and a chap with a very dodgy knee (it bends inwards) who stations himself outside the Caja Madrid and always has a smile for Rosie.

They aren't the only people selling things on Jose del Hierro, though I suspect they are the only ones doing so legally. Two sisters station themselves outside the bakery every day with their buckets of flowers, while an older couple (who I assume are gypsies) are across the way selling knock-off make-up, clothes and occasionally extremely cheap melons. Nobody seems to mind, even though there are several clothes shops and fruiterias on the street that they are presumably undercutting.

Finally, there are the beggars. These come and go, but the most regular, rain or shine, 7 days a week, is the African guy. He's probably in his mid-twenties, I remember first seeing him when we came to view the flat prior to moving in, so he's been around at least 2 years, maybe more. He stations himself outside the supermarket, ostensibly selling La Farola (the streetlight), the Spanish equivalent of The Big Issue, though I've never seen anyone buy a copy, let alone read one, from him or any other "seller" around Madrid. Neither does he make any effort to sell one. Rather, he greets people and makes himself useful, holding a dog lead or some shopping bags while the owner shops, and accepting the odd piece of change people (including ourselves) give him. The boredom factor must be huge, despite all the people that pass the time of day with him, and I'm sure when he made the risky and dangerous crossing to Spain this wasn't what he envisaged doing. Yet judging by his perseverance and the preponderance of other Africans doing the same thing at supermarkets all over Madrid, it must be living, and a better one than they could hope for 'back home'. I can't help but think it's a terrible waste of humanity and yet further evidence that western immigration policies based on restricting both numbers and permission to work is failing and wrong-headed.

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