Correspondence from Spain

by Sally Sorte –– Spain

Summer tan just starting to fade, I headed to Almuñecar in southern Spain for the weekend. With coconut huts, palm trees, Mediterranean Sea, el sol, and yes, topless tanners, it was a popular destination even after the seasonal Madrileños returned to the city for work.

The beach in front of our hotel lacked sand, so everything was sold on the rocks. South African vendors walked from lounge chair to beach umbrella singing out, “Ho-la, ho-la!” trying to sell bootlegged CDs and DVDs, fake Loui Vuitton wallets, fake Gucci sunglasses, and other black market items.

I was almost tempted to buy a counterfeit purse because it was so aesthetically do-able, but my West Coast ethics held me back. Apparently, though, counterfeit is too legit to quit. Last year the World Customs Organization estimated the counterfeiting business to be worth $500 billion, or seven percent of world trade. Other estimates are as high as 10 percent.

Even if you are someone who refuses to fake it, how much of the music on your iPod did you actually pay for? The Internet breeds stolen property like lemmings, with over 90 million illegal music files out there and no population-controlling cliff in sight. Doesn’t it suck that the music we steal is the music we like? Such disrespect, Aretha’d make you leave the (network) key. I know, it’s just a number in a computer; so is your bank account.

Faking it isn’t restricted to the pharmaceutical drugs in your junkmail or Rolexxx or Hermes Birkin handbags in “Sex and the City”; industrial parts are counterfeited as well. It’s estimated that there is at least one “suspect unapproved part” in every airplane. The Federal Aviation Administration blamed 174 air accidents on counterfeit parts between May 1973 and April 1996. While I can handle brand image torro caca, counterfeit engines and tail assemblies are obscene. If I have to forego safety testing I at least want airlines to start serving food again.

The counterfeit industry goes way back. In 27 B.C., the wine stopper of an Italian wine merchant was faked in order to dupe Romans into drinking cheap French wine. The fake wine stopper’s only difference was that the writing on it was illegible. Of course, after a few bottles of wine, what isn’t?

Nowadays the counterfeit industry fosters corruption, undermines legitimate manufacturers, skews economic development, and increases child labor and crime. All of this is very difficult to combat due to globalized intermediaries, overlapping authorities, and gaps between public and private sectors.

Italy and France have taken a hard-line stance on the counterfeit issue. In Italy you can be slapped with a fine of over $12,000 if the plainclothes police catch you purchasing a fake. Venice even started an ad campaign called “BAD BAG” to warn bargain-hunting tourists. France increased their fines for wearing or buying fakes to triple the retail price of the real thing and confiscated 5.6 million counterfeit articles last year.

Of course, until China, which is home to two-thirds of counterfeit production, does more than make weak public pronouncements in lieu of hosting the 2008 Olympics, nothing will change very much. 10 pecent of the medicines in your cabinet will be fake, as well as 33 percent of your CDs. Even so, try to connect your purchases with the child labor and inset corruption that it took to produce them.

So when the vendors came by my lounge chair on the beach I let them “Ho-la” right on by. Then I went over to watch the man fashioning a “que guay” castle with intricate turrets and flying buttresses out of sand driven over from another beach. The castle was a date-able height and that night he lit it up with candles, scratching “más mañana” into the sand. Authenticity; I tossed a few euros into his bucket.

: From abroad.

: In case you Sparknoted “The Odyssey” and want to read more, check out Tim Phillips’ “Knockoff.”