The hearts that stay with us

Although the annual Valentine's bombardment is over, there are still hearts around us on the Costa del Sol, throughout the year

ALEKK M. SAANDERS

On Monday, the world celebrated love and affection and red hearts could be seen all over the place. Heart-shaped candies, heart-shaped cards and even heart-shaped hamburgers were on sale everywhere on Valentine's Day. Although the annual heart bombardment is over, there are still hearts around us on the Costa del Sol, during the whole year. They refer mostly not to romantic love, but to love in its different interpretations.

Images of red hearts pop up daily in most industrial zones of local cities and towns as well as alongside some busy roads or even in the quiet solitude of an olive tree plantation. Illuminated mansions known as "clubs de alterne" use multi-coloured neon heart displays to attract men who are ready to pay for love, or rather for "socialising", how "alterne" can actually be translated.

There are at least a thousand such heart-logo embellished establishments in the country. Serving fast love is carried out most definitely without love, but with the sad life stories of women. Most of them came to Spain with other plans and hopes, but became involved in the profession as their original dreams got shattered and their plans broken.

Symbols of broken red hearts are also seen in prominent places in towns and villages of Malaga province. Special traffic-style signs on streets and squares are part of a campaign that started in Malaga province, about four years ago, against violence against women.

The campaign aimed to make it clear to the local population that, just as driving in the wrong direction is not allowed, any abuse of women is also prohibited. The hearts with a crack and jagged centre have become a popular place for selfies, thus an efficient way to spread the message: no to machismo that breeds violence and abuse against women.

It might seem strange but in this social problem there is love, albeit obsessive and overwhelming. Lots of women suffer because their husbands are jealous. It is thought that jealousy can be a sign of feeling deeply in love with a partner.

For example, a woman from Eastern Europe (let's call her Katia) living in Mijas, still believes that there is a brutality to love. She says that there is even an expression of love in a man as a form of tender savagery.

Her position, "If he hits you it means he loves you", creates permanent misunderstanding with her Spanish and Danish female neighbours who are totally against any violence - with love, for love or because of love.

Thankfully, Spain is advancing in raising awareness that the problem exists. So these broken-heart signs are more than welcome in our daily lives.