I’ve been absent from the blog for a few weeks for various reasons — lots of work, of course, but also a disinclination to write about fripperies, given the state of affairs here in Spain, and elsewhere. Things have been on a slow boil chez Rubi.

Saturday evening, I ran out at the last minute to pick up a few things I needed for Sunday lunch, and as I was whizzing down the street, a tiny, elderly woman reached out to me and said something very softly. I was focused on getting to the store before they closed, and so it took a few strides for it to sink in. She was begging.

“She could be my grandmother,” I thought. I stopped. I turned and went back. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I didn’t realize.”

“No, you were in a hurry. Please don’t apologize,” she replied.

I handed her a euro coin. “Do you live in the neighborhood?” I asked. It’s a nice neighborhood, near the university. I used to live there.

“Yes,” she said.

“And do you have enough to eat tonight?”

“Yes, thanks to people like you. May God repay you.”

I squeezed her hands gently and looked into her eyes. “Be well,” I whispered, and headed off to the store.

In Madrid, there are beggars in all the commercial districts. They are professionals, “pordioseros,” who have a patter that is nearly unintelligible because they say it over and over again. After a time, you don’t see or hear them. They’re part of the scenery. It’s cruel, but it happens.

But that woman on Saturday was standing on the corner of a quiet residential street. She was neatly dressed. She wasn’t a professional. Something had driven her out there at 9:00 at night — something close to desperation.

She’s not alone.

For those in Northern Europe and North America who are of the opinion that Spain is getting what it had coming to it because of real or imagined economic transgressions in the past, and that austerity is the way to atone, I hope you’ll reconsider. Nobody deserves to have to stand on the street and beg for their dinner.

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