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MADRID - Smile, shrug, carry on. Bueno.
A cold March morning in Getafe, a district of red-brick housing blocks strung with washing lines in southern Madrid. I'm here to witness the eviction of an insolvent homeowner -- a front-line victim of Spain's recession. It's a familiar and depressing task. But as I walk up to Paco's front door, through a small crowd of his friends and neighbours, the unexpected happens.
Paco steps out into the street, but he's not your model evictee. He's smiling. Laughing. He's waving a ladle. Dipping it into a tub of hot chocolate, filling cups and handing them round.
The eviction's off. Paco's lost his home but won a few months' grace from the bank, sparing him eviction while the town hall finds him a council flat. The protest has turned into a street party. An elderly neighbour leans through her ground-floor window, congratulating Paco. "I'll put some coffee on," she calls. "Do you need any cups?"
In my six months since arriving in Spain I've become used to snooping around outside soup kitchens, job centres and the homes of the soon-to-be evicted, covering the effects of an economic crisis now in its fourth year. Nothing quite eases the tightening in a reporter's stomach when he must approach and interrogate people in painful situations. But in Spain they have ways of taking the edge off it.
In this case, the way is churros -- a deep-fried Spanish breakfast pastry -- and hot chocolate.
Paco smiles, without suspicion, understanding instantly why I am there. He hands me a cup. His friends in the crowd drink a toast with chocolate, dunk their churros and stand around munching like a big happy family. It's this family -- many of them members of the informal campaign group known as May 15 -- who helped persuade the bank to settle Paco's debt and spare him from being thrown out for the time being.
"You've got to write that it's all thanks to these guys," he tells me. "They accompanied me to meetings with the bank and the town hall. The bank must have realised what it was faced with and it came to an agreement."
With millions of people out of work or earning just a few hundred euros a month, living with their parents and stringing together informal jobs, there is anger in Spain, for sure. I've heard curses yelled at the bailiffs and the roars of hundreds of teachers, nurses and firemen cramming the streets in protest.
So where's all the rage?
But so often the anger and the pain is shielded by a shrug, a shy smile and a "Bueno" -- a word of subtle understatement, of mild but unsurprised disappointment, roughly translatable as "Ah, well...." One in four Spanish workers is unemployed, and one in two of those under 25 -- more than double the euro zone average and several points higher than Greece.
So where's all the rage? I ask myself. What does it take to stop Spaniards partying? When are they going to get bolshy? When will they start setting fire to stuff like in London? Or strike en masse and put the government on the spot, like in France?
Some bins were burned in Barcelona in March, but that was considered a marginal incident at a mainly peaceful demo. A general strike took place just before, but it seemed to have come too late to rein in a conservative government with the wind of a big election victory still in its sails.
Stalking the streets of a village in Andalucia, an unemployment black zone, I find few of the outward signs of decline I expected: no vandalism, no stories of petty crime, no drunks rolling on the pavement outside the local bar.
"Family support is the key to this social peace," says the town's mayor, Alfonso Caravaca. "Parents are squeezing themselves like lemons to help their children. Retired parents are supporting their children and their grandchildren."
I stand on a street corner with a colleague, worrying about how to find unemployed people to interview in a village where all the disillusioned young men, apparently, stay sensibly at home with their parents. A man pulls up in his car, his three mates riding as passengers, and rolls down the window. Reporter? Yes, we're unemployed, all of us. Four years now, says the driver, Manuel, in his thirties. Want to hear all about it?
Here we go, I think. This is what I'm after. I start imagining what trouble Manuel and his mates get up to, hanging around all day with no jobs to go to.
But the reality is more wholesome, and puts me to shame.
"Come to the gym across town tonight," Manuel says. "We'll be playing five-a-side football."
Sure enough, Manuel is there at seven o'clock. He slams several goals into the net before stopping, sweating, for an interview. He's got nothing to gain from talking to us. All he has is indoor football, a cheap pastime for a man of 32 living with his parents, who share with him and his brother their 400-euro monthly welfare cheque.
He gives great quotes, but there's something resigned about the delivery. "I've got no future," he says, and shrugs.
"Yes, we're unemployed.... Want to hear all about it?"
As I left for Spain last summer, the international press were running front page headlines on the massive "Indignados" protests that filled the Puerta del Sol in Madrid for weeks. Friends asked how I thought things would develop and how the police would handle the mass protests if they continued. It would be nothing like Egypt or Libya, would it? It's a western democracy after all. But 40 years ago, Spain was under a dictatorship too.
That's the line many young protestors take: "Dictatorship!", they yell, referring to the financial system and the leaders who are forcing more and more spending cuts on them. The catchy slogans get trapped in my head: "They call it democracy, but it's not. Oh-hey, oh-hey, oh-hey; oh-hey, oh-hey, oh-hey. They call it democracy, but it's not."
The police stand calmly by. But occasionally the mask slips.
In Valencia last month, students described to me being chased through the streets by riot cops at a demonstration in which several young people and police were reported hurt.
The shock was fresh, though the trouble was over by the time I dashed off the train. The protests that followed were strangely cultured. The students marched in their thousands, brandishing books. "These are our weapons!" they yelled. In the evening a brass band took to the street by the station, playing a mournful slow march. Middle-aged protestors chanted a few slogans, then stood calmly listening.
The parents of people like this -- and of Paco and Manuel, and Caravaca the mayor -- grew up with a different kind of austerity, in Franco's Spain, on the political and economic fringes of Europe. Perhaps that's where they learned to live with little, to dig in with their families and carry on.
But as the jobless queues mount, even these famous happy families are showing the strain. There are estimated to be more than 1.5 million families in Spain in which every single eligible member is unemployed.
In Madrid Tomas Rodriguez, a balding 32-year-old with flaking skin on his face, shrugs and smiles when I approach him at the soup kitchen run by nuns where he goes for lunch each day. "My parents are retired but they say I can only go back and live with them if I contribute," said Tomas, who lost his job after working for 14 years stacking supermarket shelves.
"I've sent letters everywhere. There's no work," he adds with a shrug. "That's the way things are going. Bueno."
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