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Friday, June 22, 2007

Lock Down

Spanish people have a thing about doors, big heavy things capable of withstanding a siege. You first notice this in the historic sections of Spanish cities. It seems that most of Spain was built with some sort of defensive purpose in mind—even a lot of churches were built with security as a major concern. There are forts, castles, towers, and walls all over the country, giving testimony to a past rife with wars, invasions, and raids. The Visigoths threw out the Vandals, the Moors defeated the Visigoths, the Moors were finally expelled by the Christians and through all of this violence, people needed good, solid doors. I mean, a door’s primary function is to keep people (and armies) out; if this wasn’t the case then castles wouldn’t even have doors, would they. They might have screen doors to keep the bugs out in the summer but not the heavy, steel reinforced entries found not only in castles but in modest Spanish farm homes. On the Iberian peninsula, people are serious about their doors.

Spain hasn’t been invaded in a long time, unless you count the throngs of Scandanavian tourists who show up at the beaches each summer or the present invasion of New Zealanders here for the America’s Cup, yet Spaniards insist on having tremendously sturdy doors. The door to my apartment has five hinges each measuring about eight inches. The deadbolt locks in at the bottom, middle, and top, each one with three bolts. The lock takes four key turns and pushes the bolts out more than an inch into the frame. It is steel reinforced all around. You could use one of those battering rams that they use on cop shows in the USA as a door knocker here. If someone on the inside doesn’t want you to get in, you aren’t coming in through the front door. Try a window.

This door fetish is part vestigial security concern formed by their bellicose past and part paranoia fueled by current myth and hyperbole. People here seem to have an almost irrational fear of thieves. This became apparent when I first bought my bicycle. I would guess that I have been warned about bike thieves at least 25 times; almost any time that bicycles are mentioned someone will comment on the rash of bike thefts plaguing the city. I was so freaked out at first that I would lock my bike when I left it on my balcony—and I live on the fifth floor! What was I afraid of? Ninja gypsies? People often chain their bikes with two, three, and even four different locks. Why not just booby-trap your parked bike with plastic explosives or build a moat around it?

I have heard so many horror stories about theft in Spain that the skill and audacity of thieves has taken on a mythical aspect. Thieves will cut out the bottom of your purse/ backpack/ gym bag/ pocket to steal your valuables. Thieves will pounce on your unattended bicycle like a pack of hyenas the moment you turn your back. Make sure you fully lock the door every time you leave the apartment. Pickpockets are everywhere. You think to yourself that it can’t all be true and then one day as you are walking through a crowded market, and just like that, you realize that someone has stolen your boxer shorts. Why didn’t you listen? You can bet that after the underwear-napping you, too, will be all about security.

I’m not suggesting that theft isn’t a problem but I hardly think that it warrants such eternal vigilance. Not only have I not been the victim of theft but I have had people go to extremes to return my property, like the time a guy ran me down because I didn’t take my money out of the ATM. I often leave my bike unlocked when I am able to keep and eye on it, just kind of fishing for bicycle thieves. I haven't even had a nibble so far.

Travel guides for Spain almost always include warnings about theft. It’s like travelers all come from some idyllic wonderland where no one steals anything. It’s like people need to be warned that they need to use common sense. Why don’t they warn you to look both ways before crossing the street while you are on vacation? Remember, running with scissors can be dangerous in Spain! As for the Spanish and their doors, I think that they firmly believe sooner of later the invaders will return, whether they be pagan Vandals, Islamic Moors, or hoards of sun burned British retirees . Make sure the door is locked before going to bed.

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