In the eighties, a bumper-sticker plastered on the back of a number of vehicles in the USA’s most intriguing state would read ‘Welcome to California, Now Go Home’. Behind the wheel of the old rust-bucket bought from a dealer in Detroit (where else?), I felt a bit of an interloper driving around The Golden State with my travellers cheques, my snappy British accent and my half-empty jar of Ovaltine.
Tourism may not have been such a Big Thing in California, despite the popular song from Supertramp (here ya go) and the steady arrival of farmers from the Dust Belt looking for a decent job; but, at 12% of GDP (here), it’s certainly a Big Thing in Spain. Last year, around twice as many foreign tourists visited this country as there are Spaniards living here. And, if that was not enough – two people in lederhosen, or perhaps sticky ‘Gibraltar is British’ tee-shirts – for every Spaniard, you can add the huge numbers of displaced Spaniards themselves – everyone has a right to a vacación – flocking to the same destinations.
Those resorts will have put up the flags, organised a fiesta and will be ready for the onslaught. Shops full of glitter, bars with cold beer and restaurants with fresh fish. The late night joints will be buzzing and the cops will be on every corner, nervously fingering their books of fines. A loud midnight buzz of people, fun, parties, botellones, noise, fire-crackers, sirens, arguments, screams, music, songs and the burble and bang from those irritating Harley Davidsons... The following morning, there’s the rubbish to clean up.
Money is made, vast amounts of money for the shop-keepers, the apartment owners, the barkeeps, the municipality itself – but that’s no consolation for the normal folk, those who live there year round, working in ordinary jobs or retired, who must somehow get through their day: past the jams, the queues, the noise and the dust.
The town fiesta: costumes and spectacle, paid with our taxes, is so full of visitors, that there’s no parking, no room, no welcome for the locals, who with resignation, decide to stay home. ‘We’ll go next year’ they say.
The apartment block: with half of the flats rented out, a two-bed apartment with twelve people staying there, filling the pool for a late-night dip, uprooting the flower bed and being sick in the lift.
So now we have a new word: la turismofobia. And we read the headlines, particularly about Barcelona and Madrid, Granada and Palma, where the cities are taken over by the tourist hoards. This is a fabulous country and there are few better places to live; but on the car, there’s a new sticker. It reads: ‘Welcome to Spain. Now Go Home’.