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[This short essay was written in December 1996, in the village of Chite in the hills south of Granada where we

lived for seven months. I shopped it around to several Canadian newspapers, which were (unsurprisingly) not
interested in printing a critique of their own bondage to advertisers. The piece has not previously been
published.]

[Index: media criticism]


[Date: December 1996]

Orange Groves and Drrradio Clsica:


Home Thoughts from Andalusia

Michael Keefer

Even in December the white adobe houses of this mountain village are washed in
a strong Mediterranean sunlight.
Most of the young adults have gone off to join the twentieth century in cities like
Motril or Granada, leaving the middle-aged to herd goats or lead their mules every
morning down to the orange and olive orchards that surround the village, and the old men
to display their leisure in public by clustering in the hottest corner of the square to gossip
and grumble together.
The women are invisible, except for occasional sorties, until late afternoon. Then
they emerge to dominate the paseo, strolling through the village in twos and threes, while
the men retreat to Carmen's bar or the Noche Azul: the Blueor let's get poeticthe
Azure Night.
There one or another may raise his voice in the quavering lamentations of the
flamenco cante jondo, or deep song. I have heard this same wonderful music from the
throat of an elderly neighbour as she sat husking almonds by her open front door.
All very exotic, no? Especially if we add the high sierras brooding over an arid
landscape, and the many traces, from the Alhambra in Granada to the irrigation system
that gives this village its orchards, of a once-glorious Islamic culture.
But this corner of Andalusia, scarcely touched as yet by the mass tourism that has

spoiled the Costa del Sol, is no more typical of contemporary Spain than the fishing
villages of Nova Scotia or the Pacific northwest are of Canada.
The thought tips me into comparisons of this foreignness with the land I know
best, and more particularly with the Ontario heartland that is my home.
By the measure of GNP, for what that's worth, Spain has for some years had more
right than Canada to sit at the table of the G7 industrialized nations. But Spain's economic
spurt since it emerged from the long darkness of the Franco dictatorship has come at a
cost.
Traffic congestion in Barcelona or Granada is only slightly less nightmarish than
well, than Toronto's. And Spanish political leaders seem nearly as benighted on
environmental issues aswell, as Mike Harris and his environment minister, if there's
still such a post in the Ontario cabinet.
Let's turn to newspapers. In Canada, some 60 percent of all dailies are now owned
by Conrad Black, under whose guidance they are becoming ever more completely
vehicles for the sale of a tranquillized readership to the papers' commercial advertisers.
Try by comparison Ideal, the main regional daily of Andalusia. A typical midweek
issue contains 56 pages, tabloid format. Almost three-quarters of the copy in front of me
(41 and two-thirds pages) is devoted to news stories, for the most part written by
Granada-based journalists rather than wire copy, and to editorial comment. Classified ads
and small announcements by municipal or regional governments take up ten percent of
the remainder, leaving some eight and three-quarters pages for commercial advertising
about 15.6 percent of the total space.
Compare these ratios with those of any of the papers in Conrad Black's Canadian
stable: it's an instructive way of spending fifteen minutes. You'll see at once why Mr.
Black's wallet is so fat and why, despite the physical bulk of his papers, their news and
editorial content seems so thin.
El Pas, the principal national newspaper, has a ratio of news and editorial content
to advertising similar to that of Ideal. In a typical Saturday issue of El Pas, you'll also
find eleven or twelve full pages of book reviews, and a further ten pages of commentary
on music, theatre, art, television and popular culture. Though I retain a perverse fondness
for English Canada's national newspaper, the Toronto Globe and Mail, I have to admit
that it doesn't come off very well in any comparison with El Pas.
Turn on the radio, then. (When I'm not listening to my small collection of cante

jondo tapesmostly singers of the 1930s who rejoiced in names like Nio Gloria, Nio
Isidro, and Pericon de CadizI have the radio going by my writing desk.) On the FM
band there are two, count 'em, public networks with national and regional programming.
One is devoted to news and public affairs; the other, Drrradio Clsica (I'm spelling it as I
hear it), offers a rich blend of classical music, baroque to contemporary, and of folk music
from around the world.
I think by comparison of CBC Radio, which thanks to Jean Chrtien's broken
election promises is firing hundreds of technicians, programmers, and announcers.
But my neighbour is singing again. I turn off my radio and listen to her voice
rising from the other side of the narrow street. It is an old song, of a young man taken
from his girl and his orange grove to fight against Napoleon's army and stain the soil of a
distant hilltop with his heart's blood.
My neighbour does not read El Pas or Ideal; nor does she listen to Radio Clsica
or the news. Apart from what the TV soaps have taught her, I suspect that she knows as
little of the world outside this pueblo as I know of Mars. Yet if the news media of our
countries have any say in the matter, her grandchildren in Andalusia have a better chance
of growing up into well-informed citizens than my childrenor yoursdo in Canada.