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Archives for Spain

Security Mom

May
23
2008

Spain’s defense minister recently gave birth to her first child.
Yup, you read that right. The prime minister naturally called to congratulate her and then politely informed her she was fired. Just kidding.
No, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who has made a point of pursuing gender equality in his government and legislative proposals, did know Carme Chacón was pregnant when he named the 37-year-old defense minister. She took up her post at the beginning of Zapatero’s second term, when she was seven months pregnant.
Naming a pregnant woman to head the most stereotypically male of departments drew notice, good and bad. Pictures of Chacón reviewing troops just after being named, or hauling herself and her belly to Afghanistan to visit Spanish troops there are an exercise in retraining the eye, whether you welcome that change or not. Chacón is Spain’s first female defense minister and first minister of any department to give birth, according to press reports. Female heads of state and government are less and less uncommon these days, but few countries have ever had a female defense minister.
Old-guard soldiers and other who objected to her naming included among their public complaints the fact that she hadn’t worked with military affairs before, and that the birth would take her off duty for a period. Spanish mothers get 16 weeks of paid maternity leave.
But reports after the birth have now neatly explained how she would cover. Zapatero named the interior minister to cover Chacón’s post while she’s out, the defense ministry’s second in command will take care of the bulk of matters, Chacón will likely split her leave with her husband and, the reports noted, she will most likely be back in cabinet meetings long before her official leave is over. Next question.
So here’s yet another picture of how to combine maternity with work. The more that pile up, that more all these firsts can eventually be seen as something normal. (Although it looks like we’ll be waiting a while yet for that big first.) While women may have certain legal protections for maternity in Spain, and other parts of Europe, employers can and do circumvent those laws, including by simply not hiring women they think may get pregnant, because of what they see as extra costs with pregnant employees. As many feminists will remind them though, men too have physical issues that take them away from work, but those can’t even be planned for. (How about not hiring guys likely to break something during weekend warrier sports?) Not to mention that children are simply a fact of life, and a necessary good for society that society has to assume some degree of support for – even more than, say, roads.
Workers are human beings, not just minds linked in to the Internet 24-7 (or at least not yet). Do we not need to sleep when we’re exhausted, eat when we’re hungry, see sunlight on a regular basis? – all activities that take away from work time. Having the model of the defense minister taking maternity in stride like this is useful for both women and men. The more options that are seen as normal and possible, the better, for anyone looking to balance work with any other aspects of their life that are important to them.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 3:42 PM | Permalink

A Mature Driver

May
16
2008

It’s official – at my young middle-aged years, I now drive like an old lady. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. And not that we’re stereotyping.
The thing is, you probably do too – drive like old folks that is. At least in the eyes of Spanish drivers. You see, I’m now working on getting a Spanish driver’s license. I was dreading it because I thought all the tests had to be done on cars with manual gearshifts, which are much more common than automatics here. I do not drive stick shifts. I have no interest in driving stick shifts. Stick shifts can take their sticks and…you get the idea.
But, the right driving school teacher finally shared the secret: There’s another license available, where you’re tested on a car with an automatic gearshift (i.e., normal). Your license restricts you to just driving automatics, but as you can probably tell, that doesn’t bother me. A few years ago, the law was changed so anyone could get this special license, not just people with a medical need. Great, says I, you don’t need to be disabled? Oh no, says the instructor, a lot of older people get it – not young people, they get a regular license – but the elderly who might have trouble with gears.
So, quite happy to aim for a senior citizen license (not its official name), or as I like to think of it, the American special, I plunged into reading that dense work of fiction (oh sure, double parking is illegal) that you might also have read in another form: the driver’s manual. A couple of moms at school noticed I was toting it around, and one was surprised that my U.S. license can’t be simply validated and exchanged directly for a Spanish one, as most European and some other countries’ licenses can be here.
Sure, laughed the other, it’s because you don’t need to do anything for a U.S. license. Compared with the hoops you have to go through for a license here, the written and driving tests of U.S. states are seen as…er…cinchy. Personally, I think they’re just differently focused. From the Spanish manual, what are the rules for the number, color and location of every single light on a truck, versus the important fact of knowing you´re driving a “two-ton death machine,” my favorite line leftover from high school driver’s ed.
Careful, the second mom said about the Spanish written test, they give you trick questions. Don’t worry, everybody has to take it more than once, said another mom, meaning the written and driving portions.
So now I’m wondering if I shouldn’t go to the driving test dressed up with a kind of babushka granny head scarf and some artful stage makeup (it wouldn’t take that much), and try to snag some extra points out of sympathy for the elderly.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 4:06 PM | Permalink

Calendar Moms

Apr
18
2008

What if you put it all out there – and nobody wanted it?
I mean, physical appearance is supposed to be every woman’s back-up schtick. It’s a classic made-for-TV (movie or reality show) scenario: physics Ph.D. candidate by day, stripper by night, just to make ends meet. Former rocket scientist turned professional escort, for the better work conditions. (Those are just the lighter examples of too many too real situations where women have different levels of control over exchanging their sexuality for funds.)
And as we’ve learned, to the beauty industry’s delight, there’s never a good excuse to “let yourself go.” Aging legs still need to be shaved, or waxed or whatever – when you’re showing them off, you just need a different attitude than a hot, young thing might, as the older British women who inspired the movie “Calendar Girls” and have to date made several millions for leukemia research showed.
Of course, “hot young thing in a bikini” is a sure hit. Recently Ryanair flight attendants made a 2008 calendar to sell, pulling in over 100 thousand dollars for charity. That’s thanks in part to publicity from a Spanish government women’s agency protesting the sexism of the calendar, according to a nyah-nyah statement from Ryanair. So I’m guessing the company’s next donation will be to a European version of N.O.W.
So it’s clear. Whether you look like you should be advertising for Victoria’s Secret or as one of Dove’s “Real Women” (and fine looking they are, and professionally made-up, lit and photographed; you want really real, check out my bathroom mirror in the morning), there’s only one thing for a gal to do if she wants cash for a good cause – strip down and start shooting.
Which is exactly what some middle-aged mommies (sorry, the phrase is inevitable) who wanted to raise money for a youth center in their tiny (population 400) rural village in Western Spain thought. They did try lotteries and raffles. But when that didn’t bring in enough, the mothers of all seven students in the village undressed, covered the naughty bits with tinsel or fur pelts, and made their own calendar.
It was an amateur venture – they took each other’s pictures since they didn’t have money for a professional photographer. Still, they hoped it would appeal enough to sell several thousand copies at 5 euros (almost $8) a calendar.
So is this a story with a happy ending? Was the calendar so popular that the latest trend for women all over Spain is to draw fake stretch marks on their bodies with eyeliner? Can we say that good humor and a good cause will let the eye see beyond low production values? Well, no, not yet. The net result: almost 9000 euros of debt to the printer (over $14,000) and the youth center is still a dream.
The calendar sold at first, but, you know, somehow they missed the Christmas sales rush, and well…Of course that was before the press attention to their plight, so maybe sales will pick up. The women came up with the idea for what the Associated Press called a “tongue in cheek” erotic calendar, as a light-hearted way to raise money. And they are goofy pictures, of attractive, normal women but who had no professional photography/media-savvy/airbrushing/posing advice (now that’s shocking!). Here you go, you can see for yourself, and decide whether you’d like it hanging on your fridge.
It’s an interesting message for the village’s children. We care enough about you to want you to have a center. What’s the best way to get money? Sell nudie pictures of mommy. But gee, nobody wanted them. (And is that the secret nightmare behind every letter Oprah receives from a bedraggled mom begging for a makeover, or what? You get it all together, and no one cares.) We’ll just hope they get a little drop-in family counseling area in the center if it’s ever built.
Maybe there were a few more options to try before resorting to the old standby of flesh for cash. What about cashing in on other stereotypes? There’s always a bake sale.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 1:18 PM | Permalink

Minivans Were Us

Feb
22
2008

It looks as if I’ve moved out of the U.S. just in time. That statement has nothing to do with politics. No, it’s much more serious – what shocks me is the declining popularity of minivans.
What does this mean? That my fellow tribesmen, the mommies, I mean Mommies (always capitalized, please), are giving up their identities? What’s next – no more Mom jeans? Letting the kids work it out for themselves at the playground? Blowing off PTA meetings?
I shake my head in sorrow, although not as much sorrow as I felt at giving up my own Mom machine, aka my beloved minivan, when we moved to Spain. But now, oh yes, I am trying to create my own piece of rolling American Momdom in our minivan here. This is despite that fact that we replaced the American (sort of) minivan that we had in California with a Spanish (sort of) minivan here. Which means, naturally, one big change – a lot fewer cupholders.
I can live with the cupholder lack (breathe deeply and repeat: just don’t think about it, just don’t think about it) but somehow the whole tribal identify thing doesn’t seem to work here. I just don’t get the same sense of fellow Momness among us minivan drivers.
Somehow, and maybe I’m being a bit too sensitive, but somehow I feel that when Spaniards see a minivan their first thought isn’t “Mom,” but rather “not a Mercedes.” Maybe I’m wrong.
But OK, if American Moms are deserting me, I can try to seek out my tribe here in Europe. So I keep an eye out for that Mom identity American Moms pull on like a stained t-shirt and elastic waist pants – half reluctantly, half relievedly, maybe another half with a sort of pride, and how about another half because it’s the first model at hand. (A Mom identify, besides increasing minivan sales, can also on the positive side be tapped for political efforts.) But somehow, I don’t see any other Moms with “sensible” haircuts who might want to commiserate about how they never have time to shower. I mean, I bring up the shower thing with other moms here and they sort of take a step back. I don’t know why.
So maybe Moms in hospitals here get a bagful of their own cute clothes back instead of a coupon for a free “Baby Can Be a Genius If Mom Works Hard Enough” class. (I’m betting this is true in France too.) But I know there’s gotta be some other connection among us Schooner of the Road skippers. Still, looking around, I do sometimes see driving Moms, or dads, or maybe even Dads…smoking. Or with kids…in the front seat.
The Mom code of conduct requires strapping those kids in the back seat until they’re 20. (The side benefit of this practice is that you can implicitly criticize lots of grandparents, who raised their kids (you and your partner) pre-car seats and just let them rattle around in the car. Safety and a family dig – who doesn’t love it?) And no smoking is allowed, but periodically bags of fast food picked up at a drive-in window should be tossed back at the little creatures, especially when they start to struggle at their restraints. That doesn’t work here so much; see above re: fewer cupholders, not to mention fewer drive-throughs.
California, for example, just enacted a law banning smoking in cars when there are kids in them. Spanish parents certainly worry about their kids’ safety, but they’re not quite as…um…militant, let’s say. There’s lots of safe driving practices campaigns from the government, but even with something like drinking and driving, you still have a certain percentage of Spaniards – including possibly a former prime minister who said he should be able to drink as he sees fit – who think it’s their right to drive back and forth from a big Sunday lunch washed downed with an appropriate amount of wine. Especially if Mom’s cooking.
My minivan here is fine, maybe not so beloved, but fine. But the Metro system – now that’s something to catch the eye.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 2:06 AM | Permalink

Trailing to a Finish

Jun
21
2007

It’s been four years since the last America’s Cup, the premier yachting race, was sailed; now, finally, the 32nd edition begins Saturday, so you can imagine the big question on many people’s minds in Valencia these days: Does anyone want to buy a used TV?
Obviously the two teams racing in the Cup, Swiss defender Alinghi and challenger Emirates Team New Zealand, have other things on their minds. But they’re the only two teams left from a field of 12. The hundreds of team members, many with their families, have been in Valencia training and racing on and off for a couple of years, but for most of them it’s all over, and in any case it will be soon.
Since the American winning streak was broken in Newport, R.I., in 1983, the Cup has been sailed in different sites every three to five years, and the sailing crowd, as I’ve learned, operates somewhat like the military, or employees of a big multinational, or the circus: they set up camp in one spot for a few years, train, bond, find good sushi, etc., then move on to the next assignment. For many, it’s now time to get the move arranged, and head back to their home base while they sort out their next gig. (Choosing the location of the next Cup is the winner’s privilege, so that’s still uncertain.)
And like the military, or the academic field, or the diplomatic corps or international business – or any of the other fields where moving around is a part of the job – you’ve got the unpleasant-sounding phenomenon of the trailing spouse (almost exclusively wives in this case).
That’s the spouse whose employment isn’t the trigger for the move, or in other words the spouse who’s often seen by the organization responsible for the move as both a handy person to take care of the move, the kids, the kids’ schools, etc., and as a potential trouble spot in the employee’s productivity. (Trailing spouse as a term shows up a lot related to academia because of how academic careers develop: a job change usually means a geographic change; and in two-academic families, universities will sometimes offer some kind of position to the trailing spouse to entice the star spouse.)
There’s lots of negative baggage attached to the term, just like “homemaker,” and there’s no need really to use it. But the concept behind it is there, implying leaders (good) versus followers (bad), career-focused (good) versus accommodating (bad), and all this rather than teamwork (supposedly ideal, but unrewarded directly). The simple fact of relocating geographically because of a spouse’s job though, doesn’t define what the untargeted spouse does in the new location, of course. It’s not all just worrying about the kids’ schools and finding a reliable mechanic – or if it is, well why not, households don’t run on their own. (Every First Lady’s been a trailing spouse, and think about all the different approaches they’ve had. Or there’s Scarlett Johansson’s budding writer learning about herself and Japan in the movie “Lost in Translation.”)
Valencia’s the first non-English speaking Cup site, so that was an extra challenge for non-Spanish speakers. Among the things partners did here, some were mainly home caretakers, others used their time to get online degrees, or build a business or work in other ways or volunteer.
One American woman took an impressively active approach. Libby Johnson McKee, a former Amazon executive, has taken care of family matters while her former Olympic sailor husband has competed in this and the last Cup. By which I mean, living temporarily in a foreign country and with a new baby on hand, she set up a consulting business during the last Cup in New Zealand.
This time around, she’s created what seems such an obvious accompaniment to the America’s Cup goings-on that it’s surprising it hasn’t been done for every Cup. Basically Libby created what has functioned as the America’s Cup semi-official charity, simultaneously helping the Cup crowd give something back to the local community, and doing so by channeling the time, energy and money of America’s Cup family members, at loose ends or not. The non-profit, Agua Limpia (clean water), aims to educate local kids and the community about how and why to have clean oceans. And she’s brought on board everyone from major corporate sponsors to me, a committed non-joiner who almost without realizing it was persuaded to ante up 20 euros for a membership (t-shirt and wristband included! OK!).
Meanwhile, a British actor and mom, who moved to Valencia for her husband’s business which has America’s Cup as well as other clients, wasn’t put off by the difficulties of finding work in a language she’s just learning. Instead, Samantha Holland turned to directing, mounting a show that’s doing well in Valencia and could go on to festivals and other venues.
Both women, and others in town, remind me that there might be other things to do than sit around debating whether a dubbed version of “Boston Legal” will be worth watching. And I’m pretty sure they’d both be unimpressed by the trailing spouse label. So it’s also good to remember, as someone’s grandma must have said, or maybe I’ll say it if I’m ever a grandma, that labels are for jelly jars.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 11:21 PM | Permalink

The Bagel Rolls On

Jun
15
2007

While I’ve been adjusting to life in Spain, Spain has kindly been adjusting to me. I refer of course to the bagel.
I’m not addicted but it’s nice to know if a bagel craving ever hits, there’s a way to vaguely satisfy it – because they’re here, they’re really here. There have been individual bagel restaurants in at least Madrid and Barcelona for several years, but the bagel’s now gone mainstream (ish) here since a Spanish fast-food sandwich chain recently added bagel sandwiches to its menu. That’s like McDonalds offering gazpacho (which it does here, by the way). OK, maybe it doesn’t make bagels mainstream yet, but it’s quite a step for a bread item that has to be explained on the chain’s website. The sandwiches have things like pesto sauce and pork loin, and the hot ones get a little soggy from the heating, but hey, bagels have taken odder paths in the States.
Bagels of course started out in Jewish communities in Europe (Poland? Vienna? Pick your story. I lean toward Poland just because variations on the Vienna origin story pop up for croissants and coffee, and can one town really be such a founding site of the coffee break?). In the U.S. they still have some of their Jewish background attached but they’re getting less and less ethnic all the time. And here at least, they’re very much just an American food, although bagels strike me as a small part of interrupted Jewish culture making its way back in parts of Europe. Several years ago on a brief visit to Bialystok, Poland – the namesake town of the bagel’s cousin, the bialy, and home to a once-thriving Jewish community – the first place we saw with the breads for sale was called something like New York Bagel.
The round, holey rolls are a better marker of menu globalization than hamburgers. It’s one of those token foods Americans look for when they live abroad. Sure, worldwide people will cite the hamburger when they think of American food, but to heck with that. What they mean is McDonalds, and burgers from McDonalds and its cohorts have become their own category of international food item. They’re not representative of U.S. cuisine, they’re supranational, like pizza.
No, if I’m claiming a burger as my national heritage, then I’m going to try to put my best foot forward. As an American here, people think I know something about hamburgers; I do, but only the one or two bits of knowledge I’ve vaguely managed to remember from newspaper food section “how to make a great hamburger” articles. So for our national culinary representative, I’ll get behind a hamburger that’s one of those home-made, outdoor grilled, handcrafted things. With or without fancy additions to the meat. It should come with a few condescending remarks about how to grill it, and then be served with the disclaimer that the ground beef you can buy abroad is different but will have to do.
But the bagel’s a lot simpler to send out as a standard bearer. Not to mention it’s the centerpiece of brunch, which is a contribution to food culture that ranks right up there with tapas or afternoon tea. Bagels are apparently big in Britain too, because a British friend here turned me on to a bagel source – a grocery story that caters to British expats and carries frozen bagels. So now I can try to do a proper brunch, a concept that needs to be clearly introduced when you spring it on guests in Spain, because it throws off a Spaniards’ whole Sunday meal schedule. It’s a commitment. It takes flexibility. But hey, that’s what adapting is about.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 2:22 PM | Permalink

Anchors Aweigh

Apr
18
2007

Billionaires, royals, actors and models, both the real and the nearly there, started flitting in and out of Valencia over the long holiday weekend here to celebrate this start (well, once the wind picks up) of racing to choose the challenger to the 32nd America’s Cup, the top-of-the-line yachting event that will continue on into July. You know where I was with all the glittery festivities going on: parked on the sofa, wiping noses and reading that page-turner “Old Hat, New Hat.”

Must be that darn Spanish mail – my invitations probably got lost. But that’s OK – it’s not like I have anything to wear anyway. And the billionaire/royal/actor etc. crowd seems to be doing fine without me. Plus, I’m not part of the gang Valencia would like to convince to visit, since I’m already here.

Spain in some ways is the Florida of Europe. Brits, Germans and other pale Northern peoples come here for their annual infusion of cheap sun and booze, and their numbers have only increased with the cheap intra-Europe flights that have been offered over the past few years. In fact, some of Britain’s traditional, coastal holiday spots are dying as they just can’t compete with the usually more reliable Spanish sun. But these tourists – many of them on cheap package tours – don’t drop a lot of Euros when they visit. So for many years Spain’s been trying to diversify its tourist base and what it has to offer visitors.

The America’s Cup is Valencia’s bid for a higher international profile. Like other cities, in Spain and elsewhere, it’s using the event as a catalyst for major spending to revamp the city and hopefully its image. Sometimes this works, as with Barcelona – now officially a Cool City of the World – after its ´92 Olympics. Sometimes this doesn’t, as with that same year’s Expo 92 in Seville.

Valencia has never had the tourism cachet of some of Spain’s other sites – certainly not the country’s two larger cities, Madrid and Barcelona, nor even smaller places like Toledo. It has its appeal, and the region’s beaches get more than their share of lobster people, but it simply hasn’t been seen as a site that’s as compelling as other places.

But now, tourism is up, the beautiful people showed up at least for the weekend, and Valencia and its America’s Cup renaissance are all over newspaper travel sections.

The formerly – what’s that architectural term? oh yeah – “scruffy” port area has been fancied up around where the America’s Cup team headquarters are, with restaurants and bars and a park and that general port scene where you can stroll around and even if you’re not a yachtsman, you can look like one.

So the key question is, will it stick? The port area might be modified, the next Cup go somewhere else, the beautiful people move on. But, besides the Cup, Valencia has Formula 1 racing, some new fancy-schmancy hotels and the new City of Arts and Sciences with attention-getting architecture and the largest aquarium in Europe and a performing arts center whose director is determined to make it a “world-class” site.

Work on the America’s Cup port area went on and on, but the important elements were in place early: Some terraces where you could have a snack and a drink while sitting outside and looking at the water were open for business even with the construction mess scattered next to them. I’m hoping the terraces at least stick around. That’s a nice option in any port town – and you don’t need an invitation to enjoy it.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 9:21 AM | Permalink

Hot and Cold Kitchens

Mar
28
2007

Renovating your house is a relatively pleasant way to drain your bank account. That’s relative to, say, taking out all your money and flushing it down the toilet. Then getting the toilet all clogged up and trying a plunger that doesn’t work and then having to call in a plumber who reports the destroyed money to the Treasury Department which then comes to investigate you for possible subversive activities, not to mention tax evasion, and so on and so forth. Relative to that, hey, go with that kitchen or bath do-over instead and spend three months thinking about faucet styles.
When we lived in California and I was thinking about redoing our own humble kitchen, maybe raising it from the level of dump to simply domestically challenged, I’d check out pictures of hot (as in hottie, not hot from cooking) kitchens for whatever tips could be scaled down. All the dream kitchens in magazines were roughly the size of a football field with yards and yards and yards of counter and a clear understanding that the only appliance getting any use was the tucked-away microwave to make popcorn for the home theater in the other wing of the house. Well, maybe some weekend recreational cooking takes place, but the main question is what kind of granite looks good with the chopstick set for the take-out Thai.
Yeah, there’s a lot of not-cooking going on in kitchens. Look how popular Trader Joe’s is, a grocery whose success is based on having a whole store full of food you assemble rather than cook. Or, as I like to think of it, Joe and his house brands are like Betty Crocker for the Ikea set. I am exaggerating of course; there are many people who do cook real stuff, and I think that’s great, especially if they’re inviting me to dinner.
Here in Spain we’ve been house-hunting and thinking about kitchens. One trend that’s been around for quite a while in U.S. kitchens is having them open to the living space, with maybe the family dining area and family room and whatever else all merging together with the kitchen. That open kitchen look is popular in Spanish magazines – they usually reference it as loft style – but the traditional look is what I still see in most homes here; the kitchen may be eat-in size but it’s still in a separate, closed room.
So almost universally when I mention to a Spaniard that I like open kitchens, I get one response. Gee, they say (actually the Spanish equivalent, whatever that is), I’d worry about the smells. The cooking smells, they mean. I can’t remember that concern ever coming up in all my kitchen conversations in the U.S. (Yeah, I know, I need a new topic to talk about.) Not that Spanish cooking is particularly stinky, although here they do cook more fish and do more deep frying than Americans. Nor do I think Spaniards are necessarily more sensitive to cooking smells in their homes, although they might be. And they do seem to have extractors that work equally well.
What I think the real difference is, is that people here still think of a kitchen as a place to actually cook. Shocking, I know.
That’s not quite the full story of course. Plenty of American cooks do think of their kitchens as a place for serious, regular cooking but also like to have them open, for entertaining or to keep an eagle eye on the kids trolling the Internet or whatever.
But you’ve got less restaurant going, less take-out and fast food, and more people here (and not just women) do still think of a kitchen as a place to go into regularly and come out with a meal to feed themselves and their families. One thing’s clear: I’ve got to wangle a few dinner invitations.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 12:31 AM | Permalink

Fitting In

Mar
21
2007

Congratulate me – I double-parked the other day. I don’t mean that it’s good that I broke the law; well, not exactly broke, more like bent it, well, not even bent, really. (And should this get to a court, this is all a joke of course.)
I had to run into a store for, I swear, not more than two minutes. And I could see the car the whole time. And Spanish cities’ rates of car ownership exceed the availability of parking spaces by a factor of 10 to the millionth power. So I did it, I double-parked.
Why is this good? Because only a foreigner like me would have even thought twice about double parking. Here it’s a reasonable solution to that skewed car-numbers to parking-spaces ratio. If you weren’t meant to double-park, why is there so much extra room on the street, right? So my double-parking means I’ve taken one more step to acclimatizing.
It’s nice to have those moments because we’ve just finished up the Fallas festival here, an almost month-long noisy nightmare that I don’t think I’ll ever get used to. The highlight is when these huge, papier-mâché statues costing hundreds of thousands of dollars get burned in the streets on the last night, but what really drives me nuts are the random firecrackers kids and the kid-like shoot off whenever they feel like it throughout the month.
During the main Fallas week, 20 cars and more than 100 big trash containers were set on fire. One truck full of fireworks exploded while parked in the middle of the city, injuring some 17 people and damaging several buildings. A bullfighter was gored in the ring. And I assume the standard dozens of minor and a few major injuries of burns and blown-off body parts were chalked up in the hospitals.
To me it seems simpler to just have someone in every neighborhood set his fingers on fire and be done with it, but then we Americans are always sacrificing traditional practices to the gods of efficiency, aren’t we?
Actually, what we Americans do worship is the god of safety, particularly when it comes to kid stuff. We like helmets and fences and warning labels and rules, and the more the better, and this, as you might gather, is not a universal position outside the U.S., nor inside for that matter. Personally, I think waterproof helmets for protection in the bathtub might be a bit much. And sizing a toddler tether that you use not to lose kids in the mall to teenager size probably is going too far too. (In fact, there’s a debate over at Brain, Child magazine about whether Americans do go too far with child safety obsessions.)
On kids and firecrackers though, some Valencians are way off the average safety opinion scale. But moderating some of these local extremes is what the European Union does, and recently, to meet E.U. regulations, Spain had passed a law limiting the kinds of firecrackers kids under 12 could handle. But Valencia’s city hall, not to mention Fallas traditionalists and the small-newsstand owners who make a nice little bundle every year selling this exploding junk, complained so much that they got the law put on hold until Europe really insists.
Naturally the first question Son the Elder got when he was back in school this morning after the Fallas break was whether he shot off any firecrackers. As the other kid asked about a long list of types of firecrackers, my deprived child could only offer a story about the truly gargantuan thing some idiot exploded right next to him and his brother and father when the kids went downtown this weekend with the husband.
In theory I lean more toward the relaxed side of safety ruling. In theory. So during the recent school carnival here, when a bunch of kids were playing in a playground with an open gate and without adult supervision, I didn’t go running to lock them in while screaming about bogeymen. I mean, not out loud. Maybe I should have? Anyway, that worked out okay. See, I can adapt to different mores. But next year, when I know I’m going to get asked by one or both of my kids whether they can shoot off a firecracker, do I keep making them the odd-men-out? Do I try to find noiseless, flameless, safety style sparklers? Or do I do the only thing a loving, self-sacrificing, American mom living abroad can do – and set my own fingers on fire?

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 5:19 PM | Permalink

A Real Fashion War

Mar
13
2007

There are some old-time traditions in my current hometown that I could happily live without. But boy, am I enjoying seeing some of that old-time feminism Spaniards are showing off these days.
Italian fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana, who push the edge with their advertising, fell completely over the side when they came up with this ad trying to glamorize gang rape to sell clothes. The Spanish government called them on it, and D&G pulled the ad, sniffing that Spain was “behind the times.” Except Spain’s actions apparently nudged home country Italy to complain too. And now the designers have pulled the ad all over.
Spain’s protest has that old-timey feel to it, because it seems U.S. feminists have mostly given up on this kind of concern. Kim Gandy, National Organization for Women (and there’s an old-timey organization) president, in a Newsweek article, says there were campaigns against ads in the ‘70s and ‘80s, some of which would look mild compared to the more outrageous ads these days. But nowadays ads mostly get a free pass. Newsweek’s interview with Gandy points out that the same D&G ad ran without controversy in Esquire in the U.S. Some of the current ads NOW has put on its web page about sexist ads, in fact, reek of the same kind of offensiveness as was around in the aura of disco and big shoulder pads and “Fly Me, I’m….” The site would be quaint and irrelevant, except these are ads that someone came up with…yesterday.
But Spanish feminism took off later than the U.S. movement, so Spanish feminists do still get offended at some of this stuff and take it seriously. Not that the country is generally near as prudish as the U.S. You can get your share of naked bodies and occasional softish-core porn on regular TV channels. Leading Spanish newspaper El País a few months ago had two naked women embracing on its Sunday magazine cover. Major, mainstream newspapers have their sex blogs and columnists (this one’s for over 18 and may show bare flesh). No one bats an eye. But there’s sex and fantasy and then there’s abuse, and protesters said the D&G ad crossed a line, encouraging violence against women.
Now, the plot thickens. D&G is boycotting Spain, pulling out all their advertising because they say their “creativity” is threatened and they’re facing “censorship.” And they’re encouraging other designers to do the same, including Armani, which is being eyed by Spain for an ad critics say sexualizes children – it’s the picture here on the right (with some background music) showing two little girls hugging, one in a bikini top, both in make-up.
No offense intended to the fine advertising professionals out there, but we’re talking about commerce, not art. Advertising can be well-done, artistic commerce, but it’s still intended to move the clothes. Art should be free to be, but for D&G to claim their creativity is repressed when they really mean they want to up their sales of tighty whities is hilarious.
As the Newsweek article points out, it’s all publicity for D&G. And I’m highly amused to live in a country being boycotted by a fashion company.
Spain, as you might remember, kicked off whatever movement exists against too-skinny models when the Madrid fashion shows set minimum weight measurements for models. So could this be the start of a real fashion war between Spain and the industry? What’s next, cutting off our supply of sequins? Or armies of tall models protected by oversized sunglasses marching through the center of Madrid trying to muster up the strength in their thin arms to lob their suitcase-sized, leather and metal-studded purses at pedestrians? Or, worst of all, trying to wrap us all up in colored foil like giant-sized, drugstore Easter basket, candy rejects? I better go shopping before it’s too late.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 10:27 PM | Permalink

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