Something’s amiss when a nice glass of Rioja in the middle of Madrid costs just €1.90. As Spain’s credit rating approached ‘junk’ status yesterday the country recorded a dramatic decline in house prices for the first quarter. The scale and impact of the problem is everywhere visible on the city’s streets. A rising homeless population crowds the main arteries of the capital from Atocha Station to the Gran Via, searching restaurants and plazas for the elusive euro. For anyone but the tourist, the price of sustenance is felt to be high.
The Englishman (the Spanish generally refer to anyone from the UK as such, though the tourist with sunburn and fannypack is more likely to be deemed a guiri) accepts that he’ll often get a bad press abroad. Fortunately, and quite rightly, there’s no hard feeling towards him today over the euro crisis. But opinions are strained in some quarters. Perhaps they were bound to be after Queen Sofia declined an invitation to attend the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations in anticipation of the Earl and Countess of Wessex’s scheduled visit to Gibraltar as part of their tour. With that tour now in full swing — an event Spain’s foreign minister has simply brushed off as ‘deeply unfortunate’ — old tensions are rearing their ugly head.
While for much of the time the Spanish (but not, on the whole, the Catalans) consider Gibraltar out of sight, out of mind, occasions such as this one have the habit of reviving the challenge to British jurisdiction of the island. For weeks prior to Prince Edward’s jolly holiday, disputes have sprung up over Spanish rights to fish the waters off Gibraltar. The arrival of the royals isn’t so much unfortunate, as ill-timed.
But perhaps that’s what Spain, inland cities like Madrid in particular, in fact need right now — a right royal distraction. The tour, Gibraltar, the weather, are on the lips of the hundreds of Madrilenos flocking to the free art galleries and parks, even on a weekday afternoon (further distraction seeking?); discussion of the debt and cries for the peseta can certainly be heard, but equally there’s a big, hopeless desire that that too could be out of sight, out of mind.