Thursday, May 10, 2007

Community Service

This week saw the celebration in the building where I live of the annual meeting of that very Spanish institution, the Comunidad de Propietarios. This was the meeting of all the owners of apartments in the building to discuss anything that needs doing to the building, examine the accounts, bitch about anyone who didn't turn up (especially if they owe money to the Comunidad), complain about the tenants in the rented flats and maintain 5 separate but simultaneous conversations/arguments. The presidency of the comunidad goes by strict rotation, when we moved into our apartment we found out that we were presidents for that year because it was the turn of the people we had bought from. It's not a big building and it's amazing how quickly our turn comes around again. My first ever meeting was true culture shock, I never knew that a communal rubbish bin could provoke such lengthy and strong discussion; it came up again at this weeks meeting, there are some items which are permanently on the agenda. Given the time it takes to sort things out between 8-10 people I can't imagine what it must be like in bigger buildings.

I usually play the role of the quiet foreigner in the corner in these meetings, it's a part I do quite well and I reckon that if at least one person doesn't talk very much then there is a slight possibility of the meeting being just a tiny bit shorter. My building is probably quite typical of many in the central area of Madrid, you have a dwindling number of residents who have lived there for much of their lives, a growing number of owners who live elsewhere and rent out their property, a couple of apartments whose owners have died and where ownership is still unclear, and some relative newcomers like myself. The result is a Comunidad that doesn't really want to spend much money on the upkeep of the building, those who don't live there and some who do just want to pay the minimum necessary to keep everything ticking over. It could be worse, at least we have decided to raise the monthly contributions to prevent what littlle reserves we have from dwindling away.The only real investment made during my time in the building was a new door for the front entrance, I can tell we bought a decent quality product as it more or less survived a recent and fairly determined attempt to kick it in at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

If you have not seen the excellent film La Comunidad, directed by Alex de la Iglesia, then I recommend it. Things are not really as bad as portrayed in the film, but I can't help thinking that behind the wild, comic exaggeration there is probably a small grain of truth.

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