Friday, August 12, 2011

Dangerous, Forbidden, Illegal

I watch the news, in part, to make some sense of the world but instead I become more bewildered.  On some level I don’t expect international news to make sense; war, natural disasters, and politics don’t.  But I do hope for coherence in the happenings closer to home and yet the local news is as full of nonsensical stories as the international and political.  Take a few stories from the local Catalan news of the last week:

To Fine or Not to Fine

Catalunya has many wonderful beaches, although to be honest, I don’t think the sand is as nice as the fine white stuff in California.  In fact, at many beaches the sand is imported!  (And since these sandy beaches aren’t natural, the sand washes away at the first big storm – usually once a year – obligating the local governments to spend good money buying more sand.  But that’s another story.)  However, the backdrops tend to be beautiful, often small cliffs and pine trees or small villages.  The water is bluish-green, and since it’s the Mediterranean, there are hardly any waves making a pitiful spectacle of the poor souls who try to surf those little ripples.

Nevertheless, danger lurks.  There might be riptides, boats, jellyfish, but the most likely danger comes from storms when all of a sudden there are waves and undertows.  To warn bathers of potential dangers and quality of the water, an assortment of flags are flown.  Blue marks the best conditions while red means do not enter.

A little further up the coast towards Barcelona, near Tarragona, there is a small municipality called Coma-Ruga where three bathers have died in the last three weeks – one each week.  All three entered the water where signs indicated it was prohibited to bathe.  At Coma-Ruga, much of the beach is safe, but there is a small section near the port that is dangerous and always off limits to bathers.

Unfortunately the people who died did not heed the warnings.  These are not the only deaths off the Catalan coast this summer, but it is unusual for so many to occur in one small place.  After the third death the city council held a meeting to discuss what to do about the problem.  In nearby Tarragona, someone imprudently bathing where there is a red flag can be fined 500 euros.  After all, when people go to bathe in unsafe waters, it also endangers the rescue people who have to go in after them.  The idea of a fine was discussed by the Coma-Ruga city council, but they decided against it.  The news report didn’t state why.  So it will continue, red flags, people will enter the water, accidents may happen, and rather than pay a fine of 500 euros, those who disobey may pay the ultimate fine.


What is definitely not permitted is selling on the street (or in flea markets) without a license.  There are a few poor souls who have been salvaging other people’s junk from trash cans and selling the items at flea markets for years in order to survive.  These are people who are down and out but who have done what they could to sustain themselves and not hurt anyone while doing so.

The City of Barcelona will not tolerate this kind of economic activity.  They have no license.  They are forbidden to sell and the police are out in force to ensure that they don’t get away with it.

Although I no longer live in Barcelona, I would prefer that the police devote themselves to other people: People who break laws that actually hurt or disturb others.  Like those who drink outside of bars, in the street, shouting and having a good time to the detriment of all those who live in the surrounding apartment buildings.  That was the main reason I moved out of Barcelona.  The laws were there to protect you, but no one enforced them.  Now they’re too busy persecuting penniless people who sell junk out of trash cans, and leave the noise-makers to carouse at will.

When I lived in Barcelona, I called the police once to complain about the noise.  I had to sign the complaint, even though what I was complaining about was illegal as the police could very well see (and hear) for themselves.  In fact, they had foot patrols, but noise infraction was apparently not one of the things they were charged with enforcing.

I signed once, but did I want to sign a second time and a third?  And probably a fourth and fifth, etc?  There are bars in Barcelona that have received hundreds of complaints and still function with no fine and no closure.  Some people don’t like it when you complain.  Your name and address go onto the form.  Revenge can happen.  You can have the law on your side and still lose.  No, I didn’t continue complaining.  I moved away.

Illegal Police Station

In Creixell, yet another small town on the southern Catalan coast, the city hall had a new police station built.  Unfortunately they ran short of money and never paid the final amount due to the builder.  No final payment, no signoff on the building permits.  No final signoff, no way to have the utility company hook them up.  So for the last few months, since it opened, the police station at Creixell has been hooked up to electricity by means of an electrical cable that runs from the station to the nearest street lamp.  No legal hookup, no electric bill!

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