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Home / Don's Travels / Reflections on Spain / February, 2012

Reflections on Spain

A Generous Spirit

I just read an article in the paper this morning that illustrates the deep roots of the Spanish culture, which has enabled them both to endure and to enjoy the turns of life. Their fortitude comes from a deep sense of family and community, which seems to be absorbed into the core of their being.

Just in my lifetime, the Spanish family has experienced a ruinous civil war followed by years of famine. Then they enjoyed a fabulous social rebirth to become the European leader in the arts, sports and cuisine. Yet now Spaniards are facing a severe economic crisis with nearly half of the young Spaniards under 25 without a job. But the feeling in the streets is neither violent nor depressed. There are remnants of indignados standing in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, who are chatting with passers-by. They are understandably indignant, but they are not antisocial.

Because they are resilient, sustained by their family and their neighbors, Spaniards are prepared to enjoy good fortune as well. I want to share with you a vignette that illustrates the depth of their healthy community feeling -- in good times as well as hard times.

El Gordo is the gigantic national lottery, which consumes much of Spain’s attention during the winter months, as people dream of acquiring an immense, life-changing amount of money. What is unusual about the Spanish lottery however, is that it is designed so that there are several winners, not just one winner-take-all, which is the usual American structure of any kind of a contest. In 2012, El Gordo had 138 winners for the top prize: the identical winning number was printed many times! In addition, it is structured so that if you are low on cash you can buy portions of one ticket -- it becomes sort of a communal ticket, which you share with your neighbors.

It is the custom of the people in this tiny village in the Pyrennes to buy their tickets from a woman who deposits the small profit from the sales in a fund to buy decorations for the town feria. This year the lottery lady canvassed the town as she always does, making sure that everyone had the opportunity to participate. It was a little more of a difficult sell this year because each ticket costs $26 and this year the region was experiencing a severe drought in addition to the national economic crisis.

One older woman really wanted to buy a ticket, as she has customarily done each year, but she was extremely short of cash. She asked the lottery lady to set a ticket aside for her, and promised to bring the money later when she could. On the edge of town lived a Greek filmmaker, who for whatever reason, perhaps he was overlooked, did not participate in the lottery at all.

As you might imagine, the weeks leading up to the drawing were filled with anticipation. The bounty is so huge that people fantasize that all their problems will be solved. The 2012 drawing was almost that true, since an amazing $950 million -- all the first prize tickets -- were rained down in this tiny anonymous village of dirt farmers and unemployed construction workers.

How did it turn out for the lady who was not able to raise enough money to buy the ticket she had reserved? As you might imagine, she felt a little sheepish and actually sent over her young son to see whether the ticket had been reserved for her, despite her inability to pay for it in time. The neighbor-lady in charge of the lottery welcomed the little boy and said, "Of course your mother has her share of the lottery. I saved the ticket for her anyway."

The man on the edge of the town who did not get to purchase a ticket took the turn of events philosophically. He said that a neighbor called him up right after the news came out over the television and offered him a fair price for some spare property he had been trying to sell. So he felt he had gained from the lottery as well. Soon after he accepted his neighbor’s offer he got another phone call in which he was offered a higher price. But he took the first lower offer, being true to his word. He wouldn't do otherwise he said, "After all, we live in this town together."

One farmer sitting in the town’s only café was quoted as saying: "This money means that now we can breathe. And the best part is that it isn’t just me. Everybody won." It is this age old interconnectedness which sustains the Spanish family and the Spanish nation. On this level, individual good fortune is trumped by a feeling of brotherhood. They are their brother’s keeper.

Su amigo,

Don

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COMMENTS

"Un millon de gracias. Your article is truly moving, especially since it is true of most of Spain if not all of it. It brought tears to my eyes because of the memories it brought to mind of when I was a young man living in a small village of mostly farmers in the province of Almeria. The village is Albanchez."
Antonio Navarro Jr (Liria), Covington, VA

"Thanks for your affirmation of the story, Antonio. I see you are living in Covington, Virginia. My wife and I have given to support to a Boys Home there. Let me know when you come to Williamsburg. It would be a great pleasure to meet you. Don"

"What a wonderful story, Don, and so like the Spanish. We always feel warmly welcomed everywhere in the country, and go back as often as possible."
BC, Williamsburg, VA

"That is how I have felt since the first time I stepped ashore as a sailor in 1965. I feel renewed each time I return. Don"

"Writing as a Spaniard, it is amusing to read how wonderful we are. Yet Spain has the worst drivers in Europe, and a high rate of domestic violence relative to the rest of Western Europe, including murders of women by their partners. And while the attitude of villagers all enjoying the largesse of the lottery gives credit to them; on the other hand, just try sorting out where village property lines begin and end: rather than register property with the locality, all is arranged by private understanding, in the hope of avoiding the property tax; most Spaniards fearing the taxman more than the confusion their decisions visit on their heirs. There are many wonderful things about Spain, and it's good for La Tienda to promote this image of Spain, but let's not get carried away. "
Marta Varela, New York, NY

"I know we all have our shortcomings, but I would rather celebrate the times when people do good rather than dwelling on their failings. In the traditional Spanish household the child enters the world feeling cherished and is part of a supportive family. That is a wonderful thing -- and something we can all learn from. "

"How WONDERFUL for all the townspeople!!!! Shows a great sense of caring and sharing!!!!"
Kathy, Winter Haven, FL USA

"Yes. I love the saying: Life is short, And we do not have much time To gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. So be swift to love, And make haste to be kind. "

"Don, We truly enjoyed your article on the Spanish family and the Lotto winner village. My husband and I were born in Cuba, from Spanish roots, moved to Williamsburg about 6 years ago. By the way, love your Tortas de Aceite and other goodies; any chance for La Tienda to stock Caprichos de Santiago? These are egg and almond cookies, very light and delicious. Elena & Demetrio Perez Williamsburg, VA"
Elena Perez, Williamsburg, VA

"Thanks for the note. Next time you are in the store, please introduce yourself. I would like to meet you. I have passed on your request concerning the cookies to our friends in Spain to see if there are good quality ones which are readily available. Out of curiosity I look forward to trying some when I get to Santiago de Compostela next month."

"The story makes me proud once more of my ancestry."
Dave Avila, Southbury, CT, USA

"The Spanish culture is a very fine one -- of course not perfect, but I think the way children are cared for and surrounded by love is exemplary."

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Reflexiones en Español

Read in English
Un Espíritu Generoso

Acabo de leer esta mañana un artículo en el periódico sobre las profundas raíces de la cultura española que han permitido a este pueblo disfrutar tanto como soportar los avatares de su historia. Su fortaleza proviene de un hondo sentido de la familia y del grupo que parece instilado en lo más profundo de su ser.

Tan solo a lo largo de una generación, la familia española ha experimentado una ruinosa guerra civil seguida de años de hambruna. Más tarde disfrutaron de un fabuloso renacimiento social que les convirtió en líderes en el mundo del arte, los deportes y la cocina a nivel europeo. Sin embargo en el momento actual los españoles se enfrentan a una severa crisis económica con la mitad de la población juvenil por debajo de los 25 años en el desempleo. Pero el sentimiento en la calle no es ni de violencia ni de depresión. Quedan aún algunos indignados acampando en La Puerta del Sol de Madrid que entablan conversación con los viandantes. Están comprensiblemente indignados, pero no están en contra de la sociedad.

Por su constancia, apoyados por su familia y sus vecinos, los españoles están preparados para gozar la buena fortuna de la misma manera. Deseo compartir con Uds. una pequeña historia que ilustra la profundidad de su sano sentido de grupo, tanto en los buenos como en los malos momentos.

El Gordo es la gigantesca lotería nacional que atrae gran parte de la atención pública en España durante los meses de invierno. En esos meses la gente sueña con la posibilidad de ganar una inmensa cantidad de dinero que cambiaría sus vidas. Lo que distingue a la Lotería Nacional sin embargo es que está diseñada para que haya múltiples ganadores, no uno solo que se lleve todo el premio, como la estructura típica de cualquier concurso americano. En 2012 El Gordo premió a 138 ganadores del Primer Premio; ¡un idéntico número ganador se imprime en múltiples boletos! Además, La Lotería está concebida de manera que si se anda escaso de efectivo se pueda comprar participaciones de un billete; se convierte en un billete comunal, compartido con los demás.

Es costumbre de los habitantes de un pequeño pueblo de los Pirineos comprar los boletos a una señora que invierte la escasa ganancia de sus ventas en un fondo para la adquisición de decoraciones para la fiesta del pueblo. Este pasado año la señora hizo un sondeo por el pueblo, como ya venía haciendo en otras ocasiones, para asegurarse de que todos tendrían la posibilidad de participar. Esta vez la venta fue algo más difícil puesto que cada décimo cuesta 26$ y la región estaba atravesando una severa sequía a parte de sufrir una crisis económica de ámbito nacional.

Una señora de edad, que quería participar comprando su participación como todos los años, carecía del dinero para hacerlo. Le pidió a la lotera que le apartara un décimo y le prometió pagarle en cuanto pudiera. A la salida del pueblo vivía un director de cine griego, a quien por alguna razón no se le tuvo en cuenta y no participó con ellos en el sorteo.

Como se podrán imaginar, la expectación las semanas anteriores al sorteo era grande. El premio es tan extraordinario que la gente sueña con que resolvería todos sus problemas. En este año, 2012, su sueño se materializó, puesto que el pequeño y desconocido pueblo de labradores y trabajadores de la construcción en el desempleo fue agraciado con $950 millones, el Primer Premio íntegro.

¿Qué ocurrió con la señora que no tenía suficiente dinero para pagar su participación en el número que había reservado? Como pueden imaginarse, se sintió algo acobardada y mandó en su lugar a su hijo para ver si le seguían apartando su décimo a pesar de la imposibilidad de abonarlo a tiempo. Su vecina la lotera recibió al muchacho y le dijo: "Por supuesto que contamos con la participación de tu madre. Se la tengo reservada de todos modos."

El director de cine griego que no llegó a comprar su décimo se lo tomó con filosofía. Contó que un vecino le llamó justo después de que el premio fuera anunciado en televisión para hacerle una buena oferta por un terreno que estaba intentando vender. Así sintió que él también había salido ganando con el sorteo. Algo más tarde, tras aceptar la oferta, recibió una segunda llamada en la que le ofrecieron una mayor cantidad de dinero, pero mantuvo su palabra y se quedó con la primera oferta. De otra manera no lo habría hecho, cuenta. "Después de todo, vivimos en el pueblo todos juntos."

Un labrador sentado en el único bar del pueblo comentó. "Este dinero significa que ahora podremos tomarnos un respiro. Y lo mejor es que no soy sólo yo. Todos hemos ganado." Es esta conexión entre la gente la que sostiene a la familia española y a la nación. De esta forma, la buena fortuna de un individuo se convierte en algo más grande, en compenetración con los otros. Son guardianes de sus hermanos.

Su amigo,

Don

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