I'm in Spain with Rosa, visiting her family in Santiago de Compostela as we do every winter during Christmas and New Years. It's a beautiful city, and it's been a relief to find that over the past several years everything's seemed pretty normal. In theory, the economic crisis in Spain began in 2008 as part of the global financial crisis that we in the U.S. went through as well. But walking through the streets of Santiago, it wasn't obvious that we were inside a country deep in an economic crisis. Sure, a few stores had closed, but stores often go out of business in my neighborhood of Manhattan as well. In dinner conversation with Rosa's parents, with her brother and sister-in-law, the topic of the crisis came up, but in an abstract sense.
This is the first visit where it doesn't feel abstract anymore. Something's changed. The number of stores that have closed since our visit this past summer is striking. I imagine that if you and I were business owners, say owners of a cafe', and business began to drop off, we'd try to hold on, cut down on expenses, perhaps let an employee go, dip into our savings. For several years after the crisis began, most of the businesses held on. Now, four years later, many have let go, closed up.
Yesterday, as we were walking down Rosa's family's street, coming home from shopping, we bumped into Alejandro, a friend of Rosa's and her brother. I'd come to know him over the years. He is what the Spanish call a bonachón, a good-natured, easy-going guy. Yesterday, for the first time, he seemed different. I could feel his nervousness and anxiety. He'd lost his job six months ago. In addition to receiving no salary, he was receiving no unemployment compensation because, for some reason, his employer neglected to fill out the paper work officially 'releasing him' from his employment. There are some proceedings going on to straighten things out. He's hopeful, but he's nervous.
Don't get me wrong. As an American visiting Spain, I'm always struck by
beauty of the medieval architecture and the landscape, the delicious cafe' con leche, the gentleness of
the culture, the uplifting feeling of being in a city where people walk from one store to another, rather than take their car everywhere as they do in the U.S. Even in crisis, a city in Spain feels more more vibrant, more lively, than your average American city.
something has changed, and now you can feel it. Spain is falling, and it continues to fall.