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Begoña M. Rueda: The Spanish hospital laundry worker who keeps winning poetry prizes | Culture

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The hospital laundry room is where patients’ pajamas, staff uniforms, surgeons’ gowns, blankets, sheets stained with blood, sweat, vomit and all the fluids secreted by sick bodies and fresh corpses end up. “You never get to know anything about the people who have worn the garments; whether they are living or dead. It could have been a loved one,” says Begoña M. Rueda, 29, who is from Jaén in Spain’s southern region of Andalusia. “It gives you a lot of food for thought, especially the children’s clothes.”

The world looks different seen through the prism of industrial washers and dryers and carts of dirty sheets and clothes. The shrouds that wrap the bodies of the deceased are the only items that are discarded. Meanwhile, just beyond the walls of the laundry room, the cosmic drama of existence takes place: people are born while others die, some get sicker while others are cured; there is both laughter and tears and much poetry to be found here.

Rueda washes and irons at Punta de Europa hospital in the port city of Algeciras, a place that has inspired her collection of poems Servicio de lavandería (or Laundry Service), which earned her this year’s Hiperión prize and a book deal with the publishing house that sponsors the award. In 2019, financial concerns prompted Rueda to put her degree in Hispanic Studies in Jaén on hold and find a job further south, leaving behind her partner, family and friends. Since then she has been watching the ships enter the vast port of Algeciras in full view of Gibraltar, and writing about aspects of her job at the hospital.

Writing poetry is a job that takes time and effort. Ideally it would be well paid, so that I could go back to studying for my degree

Begoña M. Rueda

“It has always seemed to me that poetry has to make the working class visible,” she says. “And, as far as I know, there are no books of poetry about this line of work.” The typical image of people doing laundry in literature is a riverbank setting, with women hanging white sheets that billow in the wind. But Rueda’s experience is, of course, quite different. “There are few who applaud/ the work of the woman who sweeps and scrubs the hospital/ or the work of those of us who wash the clothes of the infected/ with our bare hands.”

Rueda began writing her book in 2019, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but when the virus struck it became an integral part of her poetry, as she believes that a poet has to be a child of their time. Poignantly, she recounts the early fears of an unknown threat, the lack of resources in the early stages of the pandemic, the collapse of the healthcare system, the minutes of silence for deceased colleagues. “As well as masks they give us gloves / I will no longer be aware of the sheets / that come still warm / into my hands.”

Since 2016, Rueda has been nothing if not prolific, publishing seven books as a result of winning awards with all seven. In the first, Princess Leia, she focused on a science fiction theme based on Star Wars, and won the Antonio Colinas Youth Poetry Prize. In 2019, in Reincarnation, she wrote about a woman who is reincarnated at different times in history, earning the Complutense University of Madrid’s First Poetry Prize. And with Error 404, she won the prestigious Burgos City Poetry Prize.

Some of her writing is conceptual and follows a narrative, while other collections have no specific theme. “I try to look for variety and versatility,” she says. “It’s true that the writer is always writing the same book, but you have to try to do it in different ways.”

Despite her awards and publications, Rueda has noticed that the world of poetry is, to an extent, class-ridden. “There are people who have told me they feel disappointed: they don’t understand why I am doing this kind of work considering ‘how smart you are’ and ‘how well you write’,” she says. In her collection, she mentions the doctors who don’t even say hello as they pass the laundry workers, and the managers who fail to take the laundry workers’ health seriously.

Poetry requires work, but it is undervalued and, above all, unpaid, so Rueda has had to take many different jobs to support herself, such as waiting tables and making pizzas in home delivery franchises. “I’ve seen conditions that were slavery, pure and simple, with salaries that were not enough to live on,” she says. “Writing poetry is a job that takes time and effort. Ideally it would be well paid, so that I could go back to studying for my degree.”

During the summer, the day-time temperature inside the laundry room with all the machines running can be inhuman, so this season Rueda has chosen to work the night shift when the darkness brings with it reflections on death and the dying. In one of her poems, she explains how some dying patients comb their hair, shave and soak in cologne shortly before their time comes, “as if dying/ consisted only in taking another of many walks/ on Sunday mornings.”

English version by Heather Galloway.

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Macron presses Biden for ‘clarifications’ over submarine snub

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Macron was left furious by Australia’s decision last week to ditch a 2016 deal to buy diesel submarines from France in favour of nuclear-powered ones from the United States and Britain.

After a cabinet meeting, government spokesman Gabriel Attal made clear French anger had not abated with an unusually frank statement of Macron’s expectations from the scheduled conversation with 78-year-old Biden.

The exchange would be an opportunity to “clarify both the way in which this announcement was made and the way for an American re-engagement in its relationship with an ally,” Attal said.

Paris was particularly outraged that Australia negotiated with Washington and London in secret, which French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian denounced as “treachery” and a “stab in the back”.

French officials were notified about the loss of the contract just hours before Biden unveiled the new AUKUS security and defence partnership between the three English-speaking countries.

READ ALSO OPINION: France’s Australian submarine row shows that Macron was right about NATO

Macron was expecting “clarifications about the American decision to keep a European ally outside of fundamental talks about cooperation in the Indo-Pacific,” Attal added, without giving the schedule time for the exchange.

“We expect our allies to acknowledge that the exchanges and consultations that should have taken place did not, and that this poses a question about confidence, which all of us need to draw conclusions about now.”

Showdown

The submarine row has plunged Franco-US ties into what some analysts view as the most acute crisis since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which Paris opposed.

After four years of tumultuous relations with ex-president Donald Trump, the spat has also dashed hopes of a complete reset under Biden, who took office in January aiming to rebuild frazzled ties with Europe.

As the row drags on, observers and some of France’s European partners are wondering how and when the French leader will call an end to the face-off, which is playing out just seven months ahead of presidential elections.

British Prime Minister Johnson said it was “time for some of our dearest friends around the world to ‘prenez un grip’ (get a grip)” in comments in Washington that mixed French and English.

“‘Donnez-moi un break’ because this is fundamentally a great step forward for global security,” he told Sky News.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, whose country is staunchly pro-American, defended Biden as “very loyal” and warned against turning “challenges which will always exist between allies into something they should not be.”

Conditions

Attal said that France and the US needed to begin a process “to create the conditions for confidence to be restored”.

As well as an acknowledgement of French interests in the Pacific region, the process should include “full recognition by our American allies of the need to boost European sovereignty as well as the importance of the growing commitment by the Europeans to their own defence and security.”

This latter point is a source of tension between Biden and Macron, who has pushed hard during his four-and-a-half years in office for Europeans to invest more in defence and pool resources in order to increase their joint military capabilities.

The US, and some EU members including Denmark and Baltic countries, see this as a potential challenge to NATO, the US-led transatlantic military alliance that has been the cornerstone of European defence since World War II.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly argued against the idea of France withdrawing from NATO command structures, which some politicians in France have suggested in the wake of the submarines snub.

“Is it worth slamming the door on NATO? I don’t think so,” she said, while adding that “political dialogue is non-existent in NATO.”

Australia’s decision to order nuclear-powered submarines was driven by concern about China’s commercial and military assertiveness in the Pacific region, where Biden is seeking to build an alliance of democratic states to help contain Beijing.



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Paschal Donohoe plans bank levy extension but lower haul

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Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe will continue the Irish banking levy beyond its scheduled conclusion date at the end of this year, but plans to lower the targeted annual haul from the current €150 million as overseas lenders Ulster Bank and KBC Bank Ireland retreat from the market, according to sources.

Reducing the industry overall levy target will avoid the remaining three banks facing higher levy bills at a time when the Government is seeking to lower its stakes in the bailed-out lenders.

AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB paid a combined €93 million levy in each of the last two years, according to their latest annual reports. A decision on the new targeted yield, currently linked to deposit interest retention tax (DIRT) collected by banks on customers’ savings, will be announced at the unveiling of Budget 2022 on October 12th.

Originally introduced in 2014 by then minister for finance Michael Noonan for three years to ensure banks made a “contribution” to a recovering economy after the sector’s multibillion-euro taxpayer bailout, the annual banking levy has since been extended to the end of 2021.

A further extension of the levy has largely been expected by the banks and industry analysts, as the sector has been able to use multibillion euro losses racked up during the financial crisis to reduce their tax bills. A spokesman for the Department of Finance declined to comment on the future status of the banking levy as planning for Budget 2022 continues.

AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB (PTSB) alone have utilised almost €500 million of tax losses against their corporation tax bills between 2017 and 2019, according to Department of Finance figures.

Sources said that the Government will be keen not to land a levy increase on the three lenders at a time when it is currently selling down its stake in Bank of Ireland and plotting a course for the reduction of its positions in AIB and PTSB in time.

The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), which holds the Bank of Ireland stake on behalf of the Minister for Finance, sold 2 percentage points of holding in the market between July and August, reducing its interest to just below 12 per cent.

Meanwhile, it has been reported in recent days that the UK government is planning to lower an 8 per cent surcharge that it has applied to bank profits since the start of 2016. It comes as the general UK corporation tax is set to rise from 19 per cent to 25 per cent in 2023.

“The optics of reducing the surcharge might still be bad politically, but it would signal the partial rehabilitation for the nation’s banking sector,” said Eamonn Hughes, an analyst with Goodbody Stockbrokers, in a note to clients on Tuesday, adding that he continues to factor in a retention of the Irish banking levy in his financial estimates for banks over the medium term.

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‘Covid light’: How to get Switzerland’s data-safe Covid certificate

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One of the major concerns surrounding Switzerland’s Covid certificate, as with other Covid passports, has been privacy. 

In order to respond to these concerns, Switzerland in summer launched the ‘Covid light’ certificate. 

Unlike the Covid certificate itself, which displays which vaccine they had, the date on which they were vaccinated, whether they have recovered from the virus or whether they tested negative, the Covid light certificate simply shows whether or not a person’s credentials are valid. 

As noted directly by the government “the certificate light does not contain any health data; it merely shows that the holder has a valid COVID certificate.”

More information about the certificate itself can be found at the following link. 

UPDATE: What is Switzerland’s data-safe ‘light’ Covid certificate?

Importantly, the Covid light certificate only works in Switzerland, i.e. it cannot be used for travel purposes or in other countries. 

What exactly is the certificate light and is it in digital form? 

The ‘certificate light’ might sound like a separate document from the main Covid certificate, but in reality is effectively a data-safe function of the app itself. 

This function can be switched on, from which point the certificate only provides minimal data, including your name, date of birth, electronic signature and whether the certificate is valid or not. 

While this is done in the app, it can also be printed out. 

How do I get the certificate light?

If you go into your Covid certificate app, you can see there is an option to get a ‘certificate light’ if you tap on the certificate itself. 

Once the certificate is activated, it will be valid for 48 hours. After that 48 hour period, it must be activated again. 

UPDATED: A step-by-step guide to getting the Swiss Covid certificate

If you need to show your actual Covid certificate after you have activated certificate light (for instance for travel), you will need to deactivate it. 

The certificate light can be activated and deactivated again and again at no cost. 

The following diagram, produced by the Swiss government, shows how the certificate can be activated and deactivated (albeit in relatively shabby resolution). 

Switzerland’s Covid light certificate. Image: FOPH.



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