The writing on the wall

Two weeks ago, I spotted this lament, dripping with fury, scrawled on a wall in central Madrid: “Life is simpler than all this crap.” Throughout the city graffiti supply a running commentary of Spain’s torment.

By Jonathan Blitzer (ECONOMY)

Published: Sun 24 Jun 2012, 10:15 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 3:42 PM

Spaniards have not only been living under a protracted recession. Every day for months they’ve had to weather apocalyptic forecasts on the radio and television, online and in print — headlines soaked in the financial jargon of market appraisals made in foreign cities.

Amid all the talk of risk premiums, bank recapitalisation and other wearying abstractions of the sovereign debt crisis, the hurt rains down daily. One in every four Spaniards is without work. The government has cut deeply into health and education services. And now an EU-fashioned bank bailout might fall to Spanish taxpayers.

Last year, back when the Socialists were still in power, with the public smarting from wooden rhetoric about impending austerity, one facade in downtown Madrid trumpeted resolve in upright capital green letters: “While the media outlets keep lying, the walls will keep speaking.”

What have they been saying since then? Labour reforms announced in February left a trail of “Labour Unions, Traitors” and “Partido Popular, Fascists.” Months later these dark pronouncements were faded but still visible throughout the Huertas neighbourhood, which is known here as the barrio de las letras, or literary quarter, for the quotes of golden-age poets engraved on its streets.

After education cuts, I saw, “Public Education, By All For All” written in a cramped hand off of Calle Alcala, a wide picturesque avenue in central Madrid. For weeks on end, swarms of demonstrating educators wore evergreen T-shirts emblazoned with the same cri de coeur.

In April, a municipal cleaning crew I approached on Calle Leon, also in the heart of Madrid, while they were scraping off flyers, told me they were mostly removing images of the region’s governor dressed as a nurse. The Community of Madrid had recently announced additional cuts in health services.

The nationalisation of Bankia last month spilled deep into the hard-scrabble neighbourhood of Lavapies. For weeks afterward, one bank branch was splashed with “Free Money Now,” a play on the protest movement that emerged last May called Real Democracy Now. “Guilty as Charged!” also appeared next to an ATM for Caja Madrid bank on the leafy, bar-lined Calle de Argumosa.

The walls keep speaking, all right.

But their tone has changed, says Adriana Herreros, a Spanish journalist who’s been documenting the city’s graffiti. Soon after the indignados’ protests first started last May, you’d see blithe sloganeering, like “Closed for Revolution, Please Enjoy the Inconvenience” or “The worst thing would be going to back to ‘normal.’ ”

Lately, glumness has reigned. “Writings have gotten more abstract, conceptual, and generic,” Herreros explains. “They increasingly reflect malaise against the system.” She showed me a photograph of graffiti she encountered near Puerta del Sol, the city’s central hub and a flashpoint for public rallies and assemblies: “Liberty does not mean choosing the colour of your car.”

Last May, when attracting attention seemed to promise opportunity, “The World Is Watching Us” was something of a rallying cry: You could see it written in loopy block-letters on homemade signs and sprayed ecstatically along public walls. A year later, on the very day of the announcement of a once-unthinkable EU bailout — which has since done nothing to tamp down Spain’s borrowing costs — I glimpsed a reprise of the slogan written across the facade of an El Corte Ingles Department Store. The world is still watching, nervously.

© The International Herald Tribune

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