Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work


OK - so this one is going to go all over the place, but stay with me.  It'll be fun!  There's lots of pictures!

Where is Amy?  When you think about me and my daily life in Spain - an everyday occurrence I am sure! - you may imagine me here:
Sunny Plaza in Valencia, Spain

Or here:
Sunny beach in Spain.
Well, I'm not, so I thought I should go ahead and clear that up once and for all.  I am in Galicia, the Spanish province at the very NW corner of the peninsula.  The city in which I am living, Santiago de Compostela, is a medieval treasure with one of the country's most famous cathedrals.  But I am not living in the center near the Cathedral.  I am living off in a neighborhood of regular people - very Margaret Mead, but not so glamorous.

Jaime, who grew up in Santiago, came to Spain in August without me to find a place for us to live.  When he called to say he had found a great apartment on the edge of town, in Pontepedriña, I put up a protest.  "I want to live downtown near the Cathedral and the trendy shops!"  The phone went silent.  Later, I spoke to my sister about this disagreement with Jaime and, she, in her ever-astute younger sister wisdom, said that I should back off and let Jaime pick the apartment.  "It's his country, his town, his year - you need to let him pick."  As usual, she was right.  I backed off.

Turns out, Jaime was right, too.   Pontepedriña  is the bomb.

Pontepedriña lies, literally, on the "wrong" side of the tracks.  If this was Pretty in Pink, I'd be Andie's next door neighbor.  When Jaime was growing up, little children were warned never to cross under the bridge that led to  Pontepedriña .  Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!  So right there from the get go, we start to notice the impact of urban planning on the social geography of space - the train tracks, the dark underpass - this is the architecture that exists in cities all over the world creating the dead ends and dark corners that produce mischief.

Which brings me to the latest book on my reading list, "The Secret:  Love, Marriage and HIV."
Cover shot taken by one of the authors in Vietnam.
My former boss, Kim, told me about this book.  It's a keeper.  Actually, the type of book that I think needs to be read a couple of times to really get your head around all the different ideas and concepts.  The book shares findings from an anthropological study about extramarital sex in Mexico, Vietnam, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Uganda.  The study was funded by the National Institute of Health (your tax dollars at work!) to build more knowledge about and suggest interventions to address, "the troubling fact that for many women around the world, their greatest risk of contracting HIV comes from having sex with their husbands or long-term permanent partners" (p. 2).  Among other things, the authors seeks to move beyond discussion about extramarital sex that focus on individual characteristics or couple dynamics to study the social structures of society that encourage men to engage in extramarital sex and women to keep quiet about it.  There's a lot there and next time you're in town, we'll have a coffee and talk about it.  But here I want to focus on just one concept that the book explores in depth:  homosociality.

Homosociality is one of those made-up academic words that turns out to be super useful in describing that thing you have know about all along.  For those of you who are studying for the GREs, the dictionary defines the word as follows:: of, relating to, or involving social relationships between persons of the same sex and especially between men.

So, let's go back to  Pontepedriña .  (Stay with me now, I told you this was going to be fun!)

Now I am not an anthropologist but, as my friend Annie, who is an anthropologist, has pointed out, I like to play one on TV.  I was so inspired and intrigued by the ways in which the authors of "The Secret" dissected and inspected the communities and spaces in which they were living and studying, that I decided to do my own social inventory of  Pontepedriñ.

First, let's take a brief detour into the field of urban planning.  As described earlier,  Pontepedriñ was an overlooked corner of Santiago for a long time.  I am sure the people who lived here were perfectly happy about that.  However, in the last 10 years, developers built new apartment buildings on just about every possible piece of downtown property and so, ever eager to create more opportunities for people to enter into bad mortgages and sink the Euro, they gathered their courage and headed to the other side of the tracks.  Actually, they didn't do a completely bad job at it, which is encouraging.

Recent developments include an assisted living facility that includes services for people with Alzheimer's:

And a multi-sports center with indoor basketball and soccer fields which is nice since it rains here all the time:

And, the biggest new project of them all, the monstrosity of a building that we live in.  An apartment complex of six buildings, each with six floors, five apartments per floor.  You can do the math.  The effect of this complex, that backs up onto a busy road, is that of a castle wall.  I half expect to see crazed Orcs scaling the side of the building at night.  Where's my tub of hot oil?

But even all the shininess of these three big Ikea buildings cannot obscure the  Pontepedriña  that has been here all along.

When I took the photo of our building that you see above, I was standing in front of this house which, obviously, stands directly across the street.

Did you read this book when you were a kid?  Well, this is the real deal.

So there is a smattering of rural country cottages here and there, then a bunch of small apartment buildings from the turn of the century that need desperately to be restored.
This one is for sale, make an offer!
Mostly, however, the neighborhood housing stock is composed of apartments built in the 1950s and 1960s.  The style is what I would call the GI Housing of Spain.  No frills housing for all with simple square rooms and little natural light.  It may not be pretty, but it does the job.

There is one main drag that runs through  Pontepedriña .  

Note that this picture was taken during the day.  They don't call Galicia grey for nothing.
It has family-run shops and bars:
My fruit store of choice.

I love that "hamburgueseria" is a word.
The high school and community center are also on this road.  I wish I could pack up this community center and take it home with me:  classes for old, young and in-between.  Well used and appreciated.  This is the kind of building that builds community.
Community Center

High School.  Can you see the red & white soccer goals?
Running just behind the big road is a smaller, one block road that looks like this:  

From the first time I walked down this street, it has piqued my curiosity.  I don't know the name of this street, but lets call it "Calle Homosociality."  I counted no less than 6 bars on this block that seem to cater exclusively to men.  Here is a picture of one such locale:
No, this is not a jail, it's a bar.
Now, Calle Homosociality should not be confused with Calle Homosexuality.  This is not Cuneca.  While there are certainly gay people who live on this street and go to these bars (after all, they are everywhere!), this is not a place were you are going to see rainbow flags and divas in drag.  The street is mostly residential (think GI Housing of Spain) with some small offices/businesses and these mysterious all-male hang outs.  As you may be able to see in the photo above, the bars make little effort in the marketing department.  If they have a name, no one knows it.  There is a small TV and very basic tables.  A bunch of  chairs.  Sometimes a bar will be nearly full - standing room only - laughter and jeers spilling onto the sidewalk.  Most of the time, however, the bars are closer to empty.  Walking by, it seems as if you have happened upon a stranger's kitchen in the dead of night - a couple of people talking softly, looking out at the street.

If you have been to Spain then you know these places because they are everywhere.  What caught my attention about this street is that I had had never seen so many of them all together but I imagine that is because I tend to be in "el centro" with the tourists, where these spaces are less common.

In "The Secret," the authors describe the structures of opportunity that promote extramarital sex.  The availability of space and time are two of the key social structures that they found across sites.  Common in many of the case studies were homosocial spaces for men, where wives and "proper" women would never venture.  These sites create space for men to enact performances of masculinity, including discussion of their extramarital conquests.  These spaces are also places where girlfriends and mistresses can spend time with their married partners beyond the gaze of the wife and other family members.

Reading the book and thinking about these ideas encouraged me to observe the bars along Calle Homosociality in a new, academic light.  What exactly is being enacted here?  One critical point of difference between these sites and, for example, the tennis club in Nigeria, is that there really don't seem to be any women at all in these spaces.  Indeed, it isn't really clear to me how the sites in the book are conceptualized as homosocial when, in fact, there are women in these places most of the time.  Another difference is that the homosocial spaces in  Pontepedriña  seems to be segregated by class and age, which seems not to have been the case in the book's case studies.

I am afraid I can offer you no findings or conclusions here as to what the bars along Calle Homosociality really tell us about Spanish society and gender roles.  Although, I bet you can think of a couple of hypothesis on your own and if you want to do a review of the literature, surely there are a handful of PhD students out there somewhere who did their dissertation work on Spanish bars.  

In closing, I hope this odd blog has given you a taste for my neighborhood, some thoughts on extramarital sex, and the inspiration to walk around your neighborhood and notice the social geography.  Pretty, isn't it?