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Wednesday September 19, 2012

Why Spaniards are singing for their supper

In our local port dark waves caressed the shore while under a balmy, star splashed sky I listened to the old crooner on the promenade and waited patiently for the inevitable: the moment when a hat would be passed round and we, together with our fellow diners, would be politely asked to cough up a few centimos.

At one time I might have found the constant round of entertainers in Soller port somewhat tiresome. We’re not passing tourists: we live here, for heaven’s sake and the intrusion can become boring. Now though I immediately reach for my purse because most of those begging on the streets are Spain’s dispossessed. The ones who in the current recession literally have nothing to lose- including their dignity.

Entertainers are now thick on the ground in a zone where once there were none. The innovation isn’t some cheery council-led scheme but has arisen through a genuine need to earn a crust, in some cases, literally. Old men sing and play battered harmonicas, others the guitar or recorder. Young, grave faced men and women do magic tricks or sell little toys to passers-by. One restaurateur told me that he no longer had the heart to turn them away, often explaining to dining holidaymakers that their small contribution could make a huge difference to the day to day lives of the reluctant minstrels.

Recently, I handed over some euros to an elderly man singing by the beach and asked him how he was coping in the current climate. He told me that he and his wife could no longer pay the rent on their flat and that both their adult children were without work. All of them, including grandchildren, were using whatever skill they had to supplement a small government handout. Although a trained mechanic in his salad days, he told me that he’d also learnt to play the piano and guitar, and now made about 15 euros per day from busking.

Last week I found myself filling sacks of bric-a-brac, discarded clothes and shoes to contribute to the Red Cross market that has been set up by local volunteers in Soller town to help those Majorcan families most affected by the economic downturn. At our local Eroski supermarket, trolleys have been positioned by the tills encouraging shoppers to leave basic food stuffs within for those without.

It’s easy to walk on by when one sees a beggar or a performer singing for his supper. I can’t do that anymore. Let’s face it, we’re the lucky ones. But for the vagaries of fate, anyone of us could be out on the pavement crooning for a crust.

This blog first appeared in Telegraph Expat

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