Sunday, May 11, 2003

May Day Holiday

I'm off for a long weekend in the country today, so blogging could be a bit slow - mind you looking at the stats this morning it looks like I'm not the only one. It's strange, I don't think it's often commented on, but everyone running a blog or site must know one of the world's best guarded secrets: most surfing takes place at work. The weekend numbers and visit patterns are always down and different. In fact things normally start to tail off on Friday afternoons.........Oh yeah, I got it, all that surfing makes us so open, so modern, we have to be an extra asset for any company clever enough to employ us, right.

I'm going down to an obscure part of Valencia, to stay in the village where my wife's parents came from. Very Spanish this, the family and the village (cada burro en su pueblo!). Apart from the contact with nature, they do have geat oranges, and we always bring back olive oil, which is again one of the great secrets of Spanish life. My wife's parents hail from an obscure Sierra, lost in the mountains with no running water and no electricity (sometimes this serves as my retreat in summer), but everybody who didn't emmigrate in the 50's moved down to the nearest village years ago. These days my visits have an unusual twist since a zone which once saw massive emmigration has now become home for a new wave of immigrants. This time from Eastern Europe, from Bulgaria. This is unusual in a European context, since most migration is urban (more like an earlier generation of Mexicans who went to work in the fields of California. god, this takes me back to Pete Seeger and Arloe Guthrie, I do feel old). It is also unusual since the Eastern European immigrants who are arriving in Spain are relatively well educated: teachers, dentists, lab technicians, translators, and a lot more besides. Nowadays they spent their lives in the world of agriculture. You all know what garlic is, right. Well have you ever thought how they extract the heads. Well in an economy where the Harrod-Balassa-Samuelson effect was working as predicted you would probably do this with a machine. But I am in Spain, and with the wages paid to the newcomes it's perfectly feasible (in the black economy of course, but then a big part of the Spanish boom is based on this) to have a university graduate sitting at a bench cutting them out manually. I don't know if you can imagine this, but after 10 hours of engaging in this activity they emerge covered in a white dust from head to foot. And get this, the best part is that the garlic isn't even local. It comes in in a big truck from another Spanish region, gets processed, and then leaves in another one, heading probably for the big market here in Barcelona, and then into my kitchen. This is economics at work, all you need is a space and some very cheap, very desparate labour. It may be sound economics, but it isn't very attractive.

What has attracted my attention in all this is the way the migration concentrates. The village has 5,000 inhabitants, and of these 1,000 are immigrants, of which 975 (approx) are Bulgarians, and all of this in the last 3 years. And now they are 'spilling over' into every other village in sight. It feels like Bulgaria is emptying itself out into the Spanish province of Valencia. Now those of you who know something about network theory will see where I'm going here. This concentration is unusual in such a small community, but is representative enough of a broader phenomenon. So how does this 'small world' work. This has attracted my attention, and I have put together a small group at the university to try and do some research into the topic. At the moment we're still looking for funding, but I'm confident we can do something. So, those of you who know that my respect for Cavalli Sforza stems, in part, from his ability to get out of the office when needed, won't be surprised to learn that I'm revelling in the thought of playing accidental anthropologist in the summer.

Meantime I do also plan to have a good break, I may have a very healthy respect for American economic institutions, but I am a European at heart. And we Europeans do, as is notorious, place a very high value on our leisure time........... Talking of which, Valencia is also famous for it's Paellas, and this afternoon they're preparing a monster one: yum, yum!

No comments: