A Day in the Life of a Writer in Spain

Spain Series: II

I figure after a two-week writers’ retreat in southern Spain, I can talk about a day in the life of a writer in Spain!

After the fortnight in the Alpujarra region, I spent a week in Madrid to catch up on work and attend some writers’ groups (watch out for this in the upcoming third post of this series). I stayed at a friend’s in the suburb of Nueva España, apparently an upmarket area of the capital.

Quiet in Madrid

29 June 2019. It’s quiet in Madrid when I leave the apartment building just before 9 this morning.

a day in the life of a writer in Spain cafe in madrid spain with coffee cup and glasses
A day in the life of a writer in Spain: Coffee and journalling in a Madrid cafe

And cool.

It’s unusual for Madrid to be quiet. Guess because it’s Saturday morning. Too early for one of the cafes that I’ve adopted as a favourite in the week I’ve been here. They open at 10, I discover. Instead, I go to my second-favourite for a morning coffee and croissant.

There’s a unique aspect to the Spanish lifestyle that I’d always put down to the culture: as a nation, and generally speaking, Spanish people go to bed later and get up later than their European counterparts.

Today, after digging to find the real reason, I’m disabused of the notion that it’s cultural.

Solar Time and Clock Time in Mainland Spain

When I lived in Spain way back in the 1970s and again in the early 1980s, I was intrigued when told that in mainland Spain, the time is permanently one hour ahead of mean solar time, and in summer with daylight saving time it is a further hour ahead.

The mismatch between solar time and Spain’s clock time means that it doesn’t get dark here in summertime until 10.30 or 10.45 pm. Even sunset isn’t until nearly 10! A disincentive for going to bed early because when you do, you feel you’re missing out on life.

How the Mismatch Came About

On this visit, I looked into how the time mismatch came about. Whereas I’d always enjoyed what I saw as a unique aspect of Spanish life, what I discovered was disturbing, as it has its origins in Francoist Spain – i.e. during the 41-year-long dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Franco died in 1975. I was living in Spain in the early 1970s and got a pretty good feel for what it was like living under a dictatorship. That, of course, was nothing compared to the early years when dissidents were murdered by extremists (a notable victim was the poet Federico Garcia Lorca of Granada), and hundreds of Spanish intellectuals, artists and dissenters sought exile abroad in order to live.

Back to the reason for that mismatch in time. In 1940, during WWII, Franco changed the time zone to Central European Time to be in line with German time, as did several other western European countries. Although it was considered to be a temporary wartime decision, it became permanent.

There have been discussions around returning Spain’s clock time to its original time zone, with arguments that it would boost productivity, avoid downtime during the working day and boost the declining birth rate. But it hasn’t happened, yet.

Having lived the Spanish lifestyle, it’s difficult for me to imagine Spanish people going to bed earlier.

It’s not all Fiestas and Siestas

a day in the life of a writer in Spain. spanish women traditional dress
A day in the life of a writer in Spain: Dressed for fiestas … but Spain isn’t only about fiestas, or siestas

Many believe it would be a positive change for Spain to turn back the clock, in a manner of speaking. A 2013 Spanish national commission reveals that with the anomalous schedule caused by the mismatch between solar time and clock time, Spanish people are deprived of almost one hour’s sleep compared to the European average, that is, they sleep one hour less than their neighbours. They also work longer hours than their European counterparts, on average 11-hour days, from 9 am to 8 pm.

These facts give pause to anyone who’s ever thought that Spanish people are all about partying and taking siestas. They work longer hours and sleep less than most of their European neighbours.

The Weather

Isn’t the weather always a grand topic of conversation?

I mentioned it was cool this morning, and it was a blessed relief. For the past two days, we’ve experienced 38°C heat in the afternoons, caused by hot winds driven from northern Africa. While June can be hot here, this, too, is anomalous, as the hottest months are normally July and August.

Two days ago, on Thursday, the Saharan heatwave caught me by surprise. I’d been in air-conditioning all day, and left the café where I’d been working to buy supplies for dinner. Cool and collected, I opened the café door and stepped into the street, to be assaulted by a smothering, airless heat that seemed to wrap itself around me. I didn’t run, but neither did I linger, seeking refuge in the Supercor supermarket and then returning straight home with my dinner ingredients.

I swear, that supermarket has a magic revolving door, or a parallel universe. I can’t figure it out. Whenever I go there, I enter one door, take the escalator downstairs to the fruit and veg department, take the escalator back up to pay, and mysteriously, exit by a different door in the street parallel to the one I entered.

If you’re ever visiting Madrid, let me know. I’ll give you the address and you can tell me if the same happens to you. Is it another anomaly?

Acknowledgements

The Guardian, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/22/spaniards-sleep-time-zone-spain. Accessed 29 June 2019.

Wikipedia, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_in_Spain. Accessed 29 June 2019.


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