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Byron Shire
March 8, 2021

There’s pain in Spain – but is it all in vain?

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Sim Michaels

I love Madrid. A string quartet has stopped me in my tracks on Calle de San Offre in the Cuenca district. I was on my way to a café but now I’m sitting on the flagstones; you can do that here, or at least you feel you can after dancing until dawn three nights in a row.

I’m not a gusher btw – I hated Barcelona, every Gaudi pirouetted-column and gothically twisted street of it. Madrid is real, full of real people doing real things. The last two days have seen militant clashes between protesters and police over the slashing of coal-industry subsidies. Miners walked up to 280km to Madrid, arrived Wednesday and started raising hell.

Protests give precise cultural insight. The crowds look dangerous, they have great marching songs, they start late and end later, they burn things. With running bulls and cured ham you’d have the whole country in a bottle, but that was Pamplona.

Fiesta de San Fermin is a week-long debauchery of wine-soaked clothes, trampled tourists, street dancing and sleeping where you fall. The bulls are a small part thereof – watching them run isn’t nearly as much fun as a €6 Euro ticket to see blunt-horned bullocks toss the brave around in la Plaza del Toros.

Back to the Madrid: so they’re cutting coal subsidies. Good. They should be. Especially in Spain, the world’s biggest wind-power producer. Radiating out along the highways, turbines lend the wheat fields a stark sci-fi beauty. Because of scale and technological advances, the cost of wind power has just slipped below the cost of coal (9.68c/kWh versus coal’s 9.96c/kWh).*

However, cutting subsidies to dinosaur industries is one thing and leaving workers in the lurch is another. The government has just secured a $112 billion bailout of Spanish banks, but with unemployment heading for 25 per cent nationwide, protesters argue that bankers are being favoured over workers. Most of Madrid is behind the protesters. I know this because a taxi driver told me.

Madrid embodies the phrase ‘the built environment’, a term I never understood in Australia, with our cities perched like an insect on the end of a stick. Located in the middle of a blindingly hot plain, it somehow makes you feel like you’re living in a forest, or a canyon.

I was recently in a canyon, on Spain’s northern border at the foot of the Pyrenees. Beneath the typically photogenic town of Rodellar (crumbling church, cobblestoned streets, stone houses with wooden shutters) a subterranean stream emerges, its ice-green waters winding past limestone cliffs, making it a canyoning, rock-climbing and skinny-dipping paradise.

Okay, it’s time for me to talk about wine and cheese like any good travel writer. It’s great. Happy now?


* Wikipedia quoting the US Department of Energy

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