My second day in Barcelona was spent in the neighborhoods. It was hot, so taking frequent breaks at cafes provided lots of opportunities to speak with the locals. (It's amazing what a heat index of 95+ will do to one's thirst.)

Some observations:

The German Foreign Ministry and the German Ambassador to Spain have lots of work to do with the Spanish. I heard many times about how the Germans are "meddling" in Spanish affairs, that the Germans lack compassion, that the Germans needed to be bailed out recently and no one behaved towards them the way that the Germans are now treating Spain. Their words.

2. Roger Arnold asked me to inquire about the state of real estate in Barcelona. I was told by lots of people that now is a great time to buy an apartment or a house if one can get a mortgage. And there's the rub–that seems to be a challenging activity to successfully complete. After hearing about how hard it is to sell residential properties, I started counting "For rent" signs (it's the only Spanish I've learned so far this trip). In two blocks I counted eight signs. Many for for condos, as I didn't see any free-standing houses (I'm sure they are out there, just not easy to get to from the tourist perspective). My take from this is that real estate is hurting. How badly is it hurting? I don't think my stay here is going to help much, though a few folks suggested that the spiral down in prices isn't showing any signs of stopping. And then there were the comments that the Germans are making things hard in Spain so that housing prices fall and the Germans can buy it all on the cheap. Their words. Maybe it's the beer or wine talking.

There seem to be a lot of people unemployed, especially among those under 30 years. That's just an impression, though. Two early twenty-somethings told me about their friends; one suggested that a quarter of his friends are out of work, the other was more like one in five. Not good numbers. Of course, these are hardly scientific samples.

4. Commercial real estate: As I walked closer to downtown, the number of shuttered businesses increased. I don't know though that this observation means anything, insofar as there may simply be an increase in the density of such businesses as one gets closer to downtown.

Consumer discretionary income: I don't know what's happened in the way of consumer discretionary income in Spain. What I observe from conversations with some of the folks in the restaurants and tapas bars in the Born section of town is that whereas a few years ago, the restaurants in this section (which usually cater to the locals rather than tourists) were full to overflowing during the week. Now, there's always at least one empty table, and for many of the restaurants, more than that–presumably suggestive of softness in their business. "People don't have money to spend on these things" I was told by two maitre d's. On the upside, the restaurants are still full on Friday and Saturday nights.

All in all, thus far, Barcelona seems to be having its challenges economically. No one provided much sense of any impending change in its fortunes. It's hard not to wonder if Spain is now in the summer, 2008 phase of the US financial implosion.





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