Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Uncivil Guard

In Spain there is a military-style police corps called La Guardia Civil. They are largely disliked for their association with the Franco regime of oppression and violence and for the fact that they only speak in Castilian Spanish regardless of the time they spend in any of the autonomous provinces which have their own language, such as Catalonia, or the Basque country. They are also renowned for their chuleria, their bullying and chest puffing aggressiveness. One arm of their organization is responsible for policing traffic and patrolling areas where there have been outbreaks of crime.
Oscar and I live about 6 kilometres away from the nearest town and the roads to our place are narrow, twisting country lanes. Because Oscar is a musician, he often comes home in the early hours of the morning and as a solitary male, is a prime target for being pulled over and questioned or searched by the Civil Guard. They usually wave a light at him, ask for his documentation, occasionally ask him to get out of the car and search through for drugs or stolen goods, which of course they never find because Oscar is always on his way home from a gig, not from buying heroin or burgling the neighbours. They are always in their marked cars, always in uniform and always reasonably civil, though certainly never polite.
Recently there have been rumours of people who dress up as Civil Guard officers, stop unsuspecting drivers in the middle of the night and, after making them get out of their car – sometimes at gunpoint, rob them of everything including the car. So it is not surprising that when Oscar came upon two unmarked cars stopped in the middle of one of these country lanes last night he was wary and more than a little apprehensive. A man waved him down, and thinking there may have been an accident he slowed to a stop. The man was young, maybe 22 or so and wearing a dark jacket and trousers with no visible insignias. He came to the window and asked Oscar for his DNI, the Spanish identity card. This in itself is unusual as the Civil Guard usually request your vehicle documents and driver’s license, so wary as he was, Oscar asked the man to identify himself. The man yanked his jacket open, pulling his V-neck sweater down to reveal a small plaque on his chest with a letter K followed by a few numbers. “Is this identification enough?” he demanded. Now, I am convinced that very few people would be able to recognize the authenticity of a Civil Guard plaque, and the man still hadn’t actually said that he was part of any police force, so Oscar replied that no, it wasn’t really and could he produce some other form of accreditation. At this, the man became very aggressive, pulled aside his right jacket flap to show his pistol in its holster and yelled “Is this enough accreditation for you?”. Oscar, in the middle of the night on a quiet country lane, with two unmarked cars and an aggressive young man flashing his gun at him replied “no, it isn’t”. Immediately the man yelled at him to get out of the car and Oscar, with every reason to be frightened, accelerated past him and drove off as fast as he could.
A few bends in the road, maybe a kilometre later, a glance into the rear vision mirror showed a car giving chase with a flashing blue light in on its dashboard. Ah, so they actually were police. Oscar pulled over immediately.
“Get out of the car! Show your hands!” guns pointed, voices raised. Oscar was frisked and the car rudimentarily searched. “Where are you going?”
“Home, I live here, I am on my way home from a concert”.
“No you’re, not. You are on your way to the police station. Get in the car”, guns still pointing.
The police station is about eight kilometres from where the Civil Guard made Oscar lock and leave the car. Once there, Oscar, in the language native to the region, tried to explain his reasons for having driven off, but was interrupted by the officer shouting “to me, you speak in Spanish”. He gave positive on the breathalyser, coming in at 0.03 (the legal limit is 0.025). This is unfortunate but must be accepted. What is not acceptable, apart from the shouting and gun-waving, is that he was then charged with having ignored an officer’s orders to stop, and with dangerous driving risking collision with a patrol car (I wonder how, when driving forwards, one can collide with a car which is most definitely behind). Nor is it acceptable that his phone was taken from him and when he protested, the officer virtually screamed that he was the one in charge here, he was the boss, then (cryptically) that first comes one and them comes two, and that if Oscar continued like that he was going to “win it”. Added to this, Oscar was not offered even a drink of water in the two hours that he was retained, nor was he offered any means of transport back to the car. He had to walk two kilometres to town, get a bike we happen to keep there and ride back to the car. In the dark, at five in the morning.
How very Civil.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

spring 2009

The peach trees are in glorious blossom and the weather, though windy is benign. I had to slow down the other day for a horse and cart on the road home. I'm glad. It's nice to take the foot of the accelerator from time to time.
We have kitchen shelves and some lamps in the house now, I must take some pictures. For now I leave you with the peach blossom and the cat in the box. Have you ever met a cat that didn't like a box?