Cafetería in Palma

The Life of the City

Palma depends on the good will and hard work of the thousands of people who live there.

                                                                             28 May, 2018

Good morning,

When I used to drive into Palma to start my day’s work, I would see a man setting out the tables and chairs on the pavement outside his restaurant in a wide and busy street called the Avenidas.  Each day I had to wait at the same red light there. I don’t know why but that light was never green when I reached it. Some traffic lights are like that. Anyway at this red light I always looked over to watch the barman as he worked.  It was a pleasant wait.  The man swung the chairs into place quickly and efficiently but without hurrying.  Each movement was effective and wasted no energy. He had a day’s work in front of him and he was pacing himself.  He had a look of calm enthusiasm for the task in hand and for the business of the day ahead. As he calmly set out his chairs, he was much happier than all those who were asleep in bed, snoring through their morning.

Seeing this man, I shared his feeling for the new day. I too felt the privilege of going to work and of being part of the life of the city. My job was to teach English to as many people as I could. That was what I did.  I was a small cog in the wheel of city life but even the smallest of cogs matters.

Part of the horror of being unemployed is having no income at the end of the month, but it is also the loss of that sense of contributing to the buzz and hum of the life around you.

This is also what makes it so hard for some people to accept retirement.  For the retired, every day is the weekend.  This sounds a permanent blessing but permanent blessings are sometimes hard to live with.  There is no feeling of expectant content when Friday evening arrives.  All days are Friday. Every evening is Friday evening. All too often pensioners are no longer a moving part of city life.  They become its furniture. They are the invisible spectators.

They can remedy this of course.  They can be busy in many ways and have the luxury of deciding how to share their time and who to help and when.

On TV here in Mallorca whenever there is a report on the retired, with some statistic about pensions or the health of the elderly, the pictures that go with the report always show a group of four elderly men playing dominoes in a bar. Why not show some old people doing voluntary work? Many do.  Or show a man in his seventies collecting his grandchildren from school or taking up oil painting or learning German in evening classes? Why always the dominoes?

I once had a nightmare in which I saw a city in which there was no life on a Monday morning. It was a horrific vision. Not a soul was in the streets. Every shop was shut and every office was closed. There must have been a monstrous coincidence by which every single worker had overslept. Quite simply everyone had forgotten to go to work.  It was frightening to walk along the Avenidas which was void of life.  My barman was not setting out his chairs. Nothing was happening.  No one was having a quick coffee in a bar before rushing off to the office.  There were no friends to greet as you passed in the street.  ‘I must run. You see, I’m going to the dentist.’ The dentist would be closed anyway.  Banks were closed, insurance offices were closed, petrol stations were closed. Nothing was happening.

How we take for granted the bustle of a Monday morning or the happy rush of Friday evening!  We should appreciate the bar with its door wide open, the newspaper, written, printed and distributed and there waiting to be enjoyed, and the cinema ready and wanting to show us a film.  We are lucky to be part of the rhythm of the city.

So, here’s to the nameless man in the restaurant setting out his chairs!  Here’s to all who move the city forward day by day! Here’s to all pensioners who are not playing dominoes in a bar! Here’s to everyone of whatever age who helps to keep things ticking over normally.   Here’s to you all!

PS   I wrote this letter in May 2018. I now see that those were the good old days. We were happy and we did not know it. Life was innocent of Covid – 19.  The nightmare I had in 2018 became reality in the lockdown in the spring of 2020.