(This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, September 2016.)
People trust each other where I live. I’m not talking about the kind of confidence where no one needs to lock their doors. I mean that where I live you don’t see that look of suspicion in the eyes of a stranger that you consistently do in England, for example.
There seems to be a basic belief that the men and women next to you are not out to cheat you or somehow do you wrong. And this is despite acts of terrorism, theft and selfish outlooks on daily display, in addition to a mainstream media that feeds on reporting crime. Of course this unstated faith is regularly abused. Maybe routinely so. Yet it continues.
We used to live on the outskirts of Vilafranca del Penedès, a medium sized town of about 40,000 people in the agricultural interior of Catalonia. Behind our apartment building there are large grapevine plantations and paths running through them. Every day people walk there, jog, or take their dogs for exercise.
But there are no fences. It would be easy and cheap to put fences around these fields but nobody has felt this to be necessary. Thousands of euros of vineyards lie apparently unattended for short periods of time and these vines are of course unguarded.
If this was in, say Israel or near an English town would it be the same? My guess is no.
There are also no fences in the little village we have chosen to live in since moving a handful of kilometres away from Vilafranca. The grape is still the dominant feature in the landscape and our house looks onto fields of vines: verdant green in summer and bare brown after October. I find it impossible to walk through these fields with their soothing geometrical lines and not feel better than I did before.
Maybe this is partly why the farmers I talk to seem to be a contented bunch. Despite absurdly low prices for their quality produce it’s apparent that they enjoy what they do. I know several who voluntarily work into a very ripe old age, tending to the simplicity of cultivating plants in what the French call an industry of pleasure. Give a man a job that is he is satisfied with and he is halfway to being happy.
Recently though, the basic confidence that the average European has in those around him or her is sadly being tested and is also being shaken. Terrorism by fanatics, extremists and the ultra-marginalised is mainly responsible for this but so far Spain and Catalonia have resisted seeing right wing political parties as a possible answer to the various forms of random slaughter that have continued across the continent (and for that matter, much of the world.) I suspect however, that all those healthy fields of green and red grapes will stay unaffected and untouched by the sadistic joy of small-minded egotists intent on mass-murder.