Tropical Storm Vince swamped the southwest coast of Spain, effectively ending the summer drought and flooding the streets of pueblos across Andalucia. It also kept the kids and me indoors.
Since moving to Spain in April I haven't had much time to watch television. Raising two young children and working took up most of my day. So with the rain streaking down the windows of our apartment in Barbate (a tiny port city on Spain's southwest coast), the kids occupied with their toys, and in the interests of SERIOUS JOURNALISM I sat on the couch for some quality time with the television.
First, there are three types of people where I live when it comes to watching television. There are those who shell out x amount of euros a month for satellite service. There are those who are blessed to live in a city large enough to get cable (Barbate is not one). And then there are the majority of those who have an antenna hook-up and get the standard nine or ten channels depending on which the way the wind is blowing. I am in the last group.
Of the nine channels I receive, Television Espa±ol 1 and La 2 are run by the national government; Antena 3, Tele5 and Canal Plus are privately owned; Canal Sur and Andalucia 2 are operated by the autonomous region of Andalucia; one channel is run by the city of Barbate and another is broadcast from across the strait in Morocco.
When the cartoons and news programs are over at 10 o'clock, I am battered by a heavy barrage of talk shows. While shows in the U.S. last an hour at maximum, shows in Spain run for two to three hours; not because of quality content but because of the 15-20 minute commercial blocks every 30 minutes. Regis and Kelly, this is not. All morning I watch exclusive reports on which ambiguous celebrities are sleeping together, replays of grainy green videos of Kate Moss doing cocaine, and "who cares" stories on the royal families of Europe. Spain's royal family is actually pretty normal and very boring compared to their United Kingdom cousins, but the Duchess of Alba and her clan seem to be favorite targets - I mean topics - of the corazon press.
Lunch time is reserved for light programming such as recasts of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and The Simpsons (dubbed in Spanish) and some children's shows. After the afternoon news we get into the heavy tabloid shows. The morning shows are cuddly kittens compared to these savage beasts. For two hours, has beens and never weres extend their 15 minutes of fame by arguing with "journalists" about the latest celebrity gossip and what's happening in the realm of reality television. In between shouting matches (I mean discussions) and commercials are quick "stories" with more grainy video shot from afar of what appears to be celebrities drinking it up in dark nightclubs and making out in the streets of Madrid, ambush interviews (usually done in an airport as the poor schmuck is trying desperately to find an exit) and spicy insinuations but nothing concrete.
After two hours I am exhausted, my system in shock. I suddenly become paranoid, wondering if someone is taping me in grainy green video. I drop the blinds, close the curtains and vow to stay away from airports until things cool down.
Fortunately, there is relief. The corazon press gives way to the telenovelas, shows originally shot in Mexico that are like American soap operas but on steroids and frequently involve cowboys and voluptuous women. They are also hugely popular here. My wife eats them up but I can't take more than five minutes of suspense-driven music, evil eye glares and crying protagonists. I want to take the time to play with the kids, but they're napping. So I sit and suffer the drama and pretty soon I am crying alongside my wife.
Two hours later the kids are up and the telenovelas are over. The rain also stopped and the sun is shining. It is time for a walk on the paseo maritimo with the family but I decline. I explain to my wife I am doing SERIOUS JOURNALISM. She gives me the evil eye.
From seven to nine it's more tabloid shows, but not as blood-boiling as the afternoon set. Instead of the glamorous and not-very-famous having alcohol-fuelled trysts and public feuds, it's who's getting married and who is having a baby (though not always in that order). It's bland and boring, but at 8 there's futb?l. I open a couple beers and watch Spain pound on San Marino, 6-0.
It's 10 o'clock. I missed the evening news and the nightly lottery drawing, but it's primetime in Spain. Friday and Saturday nights are more tabloids that are especially saucy and last for a full three hours, but the rest of the week is original programming. Few shows stand out and most the comedies seem to be written by the same guy. Reality TV is in recess so the networks come up with live music and dance specials that are bland and seem only to boost the invited celebrity's ego. I am not surprised to read in the paper that Made in Spain shows are usually trumped in the ratings by U.S. imports.
By midnight I am drained. My eyes are red and heavy. My butt is sore. The wife and kids have gone to bed. But it's late night and I am willing to sacrifice sleep.
Most of the channels have some sort of news documentary. They are all well done, insightful and incredibly boring for someone who has been watching TV for 16 hours. The Moroccan channel has the Sopranos, but it's dubbed in French and I realize three years of studying French were well spent when I couldn't understand anything more than "fou!" Antena 3 is my saviour. Andreu Buenafuente is Spain's version of Leno and Letterman, only twice as funny. For two hours I'm rolling with laughter and - amazingly - there's hardly any commercials.
At two the news hits again. Checking the newspaper I see infomercials blocked for the next four hours. Staying up any longer would be pointless.
Satisfied with my venture into SERIOUS JOURNALISM I went to bed, hoping I wouldn't be haunted by paparazzi dreams.