Sunday, August 03, 2008

Spain and Spaniards

The Iberian peninsula, that southwestern lump of Europe that is home to Spain and Portugal, is now off our "must do" list. It is also off our "do it again" list.
From Montserrat we passed by Barcelona without pause, since we had visited there last winter and had no desire to return. Continuing down the Mediterranean coast we had intended to visit Valencia and possibly another town or two in the area. The more we saw of the area, the less we liked our plan and Valencia itself loomed as a large, traffic choked metropolis with scarcely a redeeming feature.
The entire eastern coastline in fact, is being progressively chewed up and just bristles with row after row of unprepossessing high-rise apartments and holiday homes. Construction was rife in every direction and, of course, in the last month or so, this entire industry in Spain has suffered a ruinous collapse.
Spain, the second largest country in Europe (France being the biggest) is about 2/3rd the size of Texas, with a population about twice that of Texas. Communication difficulties abound with the official recognition of five or six sub-languages in addition to basic Spanish, among them Arogonese, Asturian, Basque, Catalan, Castilian, Extremaduran and Galician. These are used regionally, many so embedded that bi-lingual road signs are used which can be quite confusing as you might imagine. Spain is also the "Land of No Left Turns". Previously, in both France and Italy, we had noticed an odd aggressiveness on the part of native road users. Same pattern with drivers in Spain and Portugal. Here is a point of view on this strange affectation.
All four of these nations were once significant world powers and all have faded almost to obscurity over the last couple of centuries. Failed by their politicians and kings, all have lost their overseas possessions and, more telling yet, have lost just about every armed conflict they have embarked on during the same period. With such an emasculated national psyche, citizens seek a revival of their downtrodden machismo through fiery driving.
Whether it's excessive speed, blowing by STOP signs, anti-social parking or simply scaring the bejeezers out of pedestrians, flouting authority via aggressive driving has in turn, invoked an imaginative new bevy of traffic control mechanisms.
Left turns are now on the endangered list and are illegal on almost all highways in Spain. "New Jersey" left turns, a right exit ramp that turns sharply to form a cross street, are provided at formerly busy left turns. Continuing to the next roundabout,
executing a 180 degree turn and then driving back to complete the desired maneuver as a right turn is another common solution, complete with bi-lingual instructions. Many in-city roundabouts and intersections have also been "improved" into a form of rush-hour Russian Roulette in which nobody appears to understand the rules. More depressing yet are the draconian efforts to control speed in small towns. Miles of erstwhile broad, attractive streets suitable for two traffic lanes and a center turn lane have been restricted to two narrow tracks walled in by bollards and high curbs, just wide enough for commercial trucks and completely wasting the potential third lane. Speed along these tracks is further moderated by pedestrian crossings that are 9 inches or so higher than the rest of the road surface. Heidi has to negotiate these at 12 mph or less if her contents are to stay more or less in place.
With the pervasive liberal mindset that favors the progressive limiting of freedom until it is physically impossible to break the law, rather than simply enforcing existing laws, expect more of this silliness. Time to head for the hinterland.

1 comment:

Vicki and Don said...

Can you imagine driving our "big" rigs in some of this traffic, especially with the "no left turn" policy! Yikes! I don't think we would have lasted quite as long as you did there! :-)