a wandering woman writes

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The times they are a-changing

Funny how even a newcomer like me finds it easy to cling to Salamanca as I know her despite the fact that she is changing, daily.

I picked up a brochure titled "Foreign Transfers" in the bank yesterday. Under the headline "your family, much closer to you", I found this list of countries to which Banco Popular will be happy to cheaply transfer part of your paycheck: Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Phillipines, Morocco, Moldavia, Peru, Poland, Dominican Republic, Romania.

That sign of change brought a smile to this immigrant's great great grandaughter.

The next change thrilled me less. As I left the Plaza, I find myself traversing a thick forest of planted Salmantinos. They filled the plazuela outside the Plaza Mayor, eyes up, mouths open. I joined them, and we watched a very skilled construction worker tear done Salamanca's Gran Hotel, stone by stone. Condominiums will take its place; we'll hope the design is worthy of its prestigious position, smack dab in the center of old Salamanca, facing the Plaza Mayor.

As I passed the Plaza de los Bandos, workmen were putting the finishing touches on the newly rebuilt plaza surface. A controversial underground parking garage is planned for the Plaza de los Bandos, one of my favorites. Yesterday's reconstruction tells me the required archaeological investigation has been completed. If I owned even a shard of Roman pottery, I'd have buried it in Los Bandos weeks ago. I cling to the hope that someone with a better antiquities collection than mine came up with the same idea.

The last change is one I would have welcomed when I arrived three years ago, but now face with mixed feelings. After 70 years in business, El Corte Ingles, the Spanish department store of department stores, is coming to Salamanca. A friend from North Dakota taught me long ago that a Midwestern small town "arrives" with the opening of a Dairy Queen within its city limits; a Spanish city may well become a City once she boasts a Corte Ingles. Despite my love of El Cortes Ingles, which I'll chalk up to a Chicagoan's appreciation of a good old fashioned department store where you can buy everything and anything and enjoy good service while you're at it, the naysayers' warnings about the threat to the small businesses located close to the new superstore dampen my excitement at the thought of choices (an American's Holy Grail: choices!) in sheets, and towels and clothing and...

I'm tempted to wish Salamanca would freeze right where she is. I shop in the historic center of town, which I suspect will easily survive El Cortes Ingles. I cherish my weekly walk through town pulling my purple plaid carrito, with scheduled stops in the panadería, carnecería, fruteria, zapatería, ferretería, pescadería and often the central market. An expert for every purchase, and always a conversation.

My butcher gave me a short course on Spanish cuts of lamb at Christmas when I used "chuleta" for a cut he absolutely could not consider a "chop". My fruit man felt obliged to review every detail of the proper preparation of membrillo when I bought my quince in fall, despite the fact that I arrived at his stand clutching the handwritten recipe of a friend's very Spanish mother.

The small shops surrounding the new El Cortes Ingles, which will be located outside of the historic center of Salamanca, may not survive. I find that sad, as I find Carrefour a nightmare and most of the urbanizations surrounding Salamanca an eyesore.

Yet, I come from a place with superstores, suburban strip malls and all the conveniences of Carrefour, don't I?

As much as I'd love to keep Salamanca just as she is, I settle for hoping (we) her citizens pay attention and develop her well.

As I raced toward the door a neighbor was patiently holding for me yesterday afternoon, I earned a scolding. Hurrying is a disease, he told me.

"We are lucky to live in Salamanca, Erin, with the river flowing by and not a single thing we need to hurry about."

Wise neighbor.

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5 Comments:

  • I can't help but feel sad reading this. The big department stores will kill off the small local and family businesses. Wal-Mart has devastated small town America. However, the people had the choice to preserve their towns and businesses by not supporting Wal-Mart (and others) but they chose to go for the one stop shopping and lower prices. Now, I gather Cortes Ingles is not the equivalent devil that is Wal-Mart, but it's sad just the same...

    By Blogger Yarbz www.juggernuts.com, at 7:50 PM  

  • El Corte Inglés and new condos in Salamanca? There goes the neighborhood!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:05 AM  

  • You know it's not a Walmart thing to me, Yarbz...mostly because El Corte Ingles is a very expensive store. There's no undercutting and no monopolizing, merely more selection in town, at a higher price. Only a certain part of the Salamanca community will shop there. It may hurt the small stores close to the new El Corte Inglés, but I don't think it will impact the stores in the center. Carrefour didn't kill the butcher shops and bakeries and specialty shops and they really are Walmart....We'll see....

    Nah, anon, I think it will be okay, if done wisely on both counts (now the parking lot I find far more threatening....)

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 6:08 PM  

  • Holy cow.

    Where exactly are they going to put El Corte Ingles? The nice thing about the Carrefour (or not nice thing if you needed something from it) was that it was located far, faaaaaar away from the "action" of Salamanca. I can't imagine what an El Corte Ingles a few blocks from the Plaza would do...

    Now I'm just hoping I recognize the place when I someday return. Thanks for the city news. Your blog is how some of us stay in touch with the city we love. :o)

    By Blogger Joel, at 5:52 AM  

  • Hey Joel, thanks. Happy to be the conduit. ;) You know I am not sure where the site is an old barracks out toward Carrefour, but not quite that far. I think you'll recognize Salamanca, the centre anyway. We're surrounded by urbanizaciones now, though, that'll likely shock you...
    Yet lots of things here never change. :) Those you'll recognize.

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 5:26 PM  

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