Trees and the buildings tower over the streets. “Canovas del Castillio” Plaza is alive with cars, bicycles, patient bus-riders and brave streetwalkers. The statue reads “Iniciador de Las Reformas Urbanas De Valencia en el Siglo XIX.” It’s a grand statue but somehow not the focal point in the morning commute. The organic emotion of the lively greenery set this square apart from the dozens of winding blocks. The abundance of noisy cars set this square apart as a main road.
The cars continue to wiz by–they only stop ever so often for the timid pedestrian. Most are brave and don’t require the direction of the crosswalks. Their movement in the streets resemble a dance: with intent, yet not rushed. A woman in pink waits for the bus with her hand on her hip, but does not pace across the bus stop. A man on a bike decides to stroll by the statue on his way to work. The people here absorb their city.
Welcome to Valencia– I am spending the next month here on a narrative journalism program. Expect to see stories, photos, even video from my stay here.
In the seven days that I’ve been in Valencia, I’ve noticed that the streets reveal stark socioeconomic distinctions.
In the streets full of bars, restaurants and cafes, workers already setting up tables, chairs and serving the loyal early-morning customers. This scenario is the case for most of “Calle de Altea.” As you cross the parallel street, the atmosphere shifts. Men don custom-tailored suits and women assert high heels as they jet out of their houses, glancing at their watches before starting the five-minute walk to their high-paying job. Delivery vehicles wiz by to the next drop off destination and buses power through the morning congestion, attempting to maintain their schedules.
It’s a different picture in the afternoon. Shops reopen after the mid-day siesta and people flock the streets for a good tapas and “cerveza” before dinner. Here, you clearly see the divide between the haves and have-nots. The haves strut the “calles,” window shopping as they relax after a day’s work. The have-nots in the old city don’t relax; they walk the streets beckoning for sympathy, some spare change, a leftover sandwich and maybe a smile. They don’t linger, they don’t demand—yet they are considered the stain of the city. When the haves and have-nots interact—the seldom moments when the have-nots are graced with a glance from the haves. Change sometimes drops in a cup or hat, the have-not is thankful to survive another day. The have’s action is sometimes a power move, rather than an act of kindness—but how can the two be separated?
Many homeless men and women in Valencia sit near the steps of the cathedrals. Maybe they feel safer in the front steps of a holy place, or maybe the people will be more generous after a spiritual experience such as visiting the church.
Either way their stories are unknown. Blank slates with a single identifier—poor. Few seek to understand their circumstances, most perhaps don’t even care.
I have not seen a beggar or homeless person in the streets of the new city. Even at night, the flooded river turned park “Jardin de Turia” is crawling with joggers, bikers, skaters, couples and children. But no homeless or beggars.
I am left with a million lingering questions: Why are the majority of homeless/beggars in the old city? How can a culture be accustomed to purely ignoring a population? Why is someone seeking assistance a second-class citizen?
Every morning, the waitresses, drivers, cleaners wake up and walk to their work. Every morning, the government workers, bank tellers and CEOs wake up and go to work. The two rarely encounter each other and are often marginalized not only by profession, but by their non-native status. The separations are apparent, but close interaction can potentially alter this circumstance.