Thursday, October 30, 2014

Corruption yet again; Samaín; Alowín; Currybanger; Niche work; Unfinished viaduct; & Juhith Durham and the blues.

Inevitably, here's the Financial Times on corruption in Spain. And here's just one example of the depths to which Spanish politicians can sink - An ex councillor of the far-left IU party faked cancer for 5 years so as to get a permanent pension. Perhaps some of the medical staff were relatives.

On happier matters . . . The end of October still sees the celebration here in Galicia of Samaín, the Celtic festival of Samhain. Perhaps for not much longer, though, as Trick and Bloody Treaters are ever more common during 'Alowín'. It has to be said that the celebration of Samaín probably hasn't been taken place continuously since Celtic days; more likely it was resurrected during the rise of nationalism in the 18th century. As it did with other pagan festivals, the Catholic Church highjacked Samhain and made it All Saints. Or All Souls. I can never remember. The cited article will surely tell you, if it's important.

And here's an article from the Olive Press on how the Spanish go about celebrating Alowín.

As if this partying weren't enough, thanks to the town's rugby club, we have the Pontevedra Oktoberfest which starts tomorrow. I'm looking forward to enjoying the currywiener which I heard about only last week. This is the sausage successfully invented in the 1940s by a German city keen to gain a place in the pantheon of sausage producers there.

Incidentally, this is the time of year when one sees quite a few cars driving round with ladders sticking out of the window. These are being taken to the cemeteries for the cleaning of niches that can't be reached from the ground. Failing one of these, you can usually rent one from the church.

Talking of cars . . . I'll soon be driving to Santander, enjoying the fantastic views from a spectacular multi-billion euros viaduct across a valley or two. Or maybe not. Since this was opened a year or so ago, it's regularly been closed as a result of fogs rising from the river below. Sometime after an horrendous accident. Now I read that the solution is going to be a tunnel. By this I suppose they mean they'll enclose the autovía from above, rather than than dig a tunnel in the ground below. So, many more millions.

Pronunciation: I've long known that you have to spit out the T at the start of Spanish words. Otherwise they just don't hear it. But I clearly still don't do this well enough. When I asked a shopkeeper today if she had any Tic-Tacs, she said Yes and pointed me at the Kit-Kats.

Did You Know?: A quarrel, apart from being what you thought it was, is also the bolt used in a crossbow. The word derives from the French carré, or 'square', from the shape of their heads.

New Spanish Anglicism: You've heard of un lifting. Now meet un antiaging.

Finally . . . Listening today to the wonderful Judith Durham of The Seekers, I wondered if she'd ever sung the blues. Turns out she was originally a jazz and blues singer and that there's a CD of her early performances. Which I've ordered. MP3, what's that?

Which reminds me . . . I have a cartoon on my study wall in which a pianist is saying to the audience: "No, I really do have the Blues. I'm clinically depressed". Been there, done that.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bank tests; Corruption again; Poverty levels; Gypsies; Mr Putin; & Judicial humour.

The Spanish government has naturally crowed that all its banks passed the latest round of stress tests. Some commentators, though, say these were yet another farce. Essentially because the ECB ignored the risk of deflation beyond that already taking place ('internal devaluation') in southern Europe. Cynics say this is because the bank caused it.

The Spanish media has weighed into President Rajoy for the pathetic apology he made for Spain's rampant corruption on Monday. This article from the Voz de Galicia is a good example of the universal reaction. If you don't speak Spanish, have a laugh and see what Google Translate makes of it.

There's a report today that 1 in 4 Spaniards live in poverty. It echoes a report in the UK yesterday that 1 in 4 children there live in poverty. Do you sometimes wonder how 'poverty' is defined? I believe it's based on income as a percentage of average national income. So, as the latter rises, so does the poverty threshold. Today's poor are not yesterday's poor, in other words.

This is not to deny there's real poverty both in the UK and in Spain, especially here where the benefits net is pretty threadbare. That said, the only evidence I've seen of poverty here in Pontevedra are the permanent gypsy encampments down the hill from me.

Talking of gypsies . . . Their national association was pretty angry about the previous definition of 'gypsy' in the Royal Academy's dictionary as "Someone who scams or works through deceit'. So they were naturally delighted to see that, in the recent revision, this was changed to "A swindler (trapacero)".

The Russian TV channel, RT, tells us that Mr Putin is concerned about the 'dictatorship of the West'. Which is rather rich, coming from a guy who's invaded at least 3 countries in the last 10 years.

Finally . . . I couldn't resist quoting this comment from a UK columnist today: A magistrate friend with too cheeky a sense of humour has been cautioned for remarking to a defendant dressed in the full niqab as she took the witness stand: “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” I'd have given him a medal.

BTW - Did you know that 'to the utterance' means 'to the bitter end'? I didn't. Wonder why.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Catalan capers again; Presidential apologies; UK immigration; Funny fines; Words; & UK prices.

Just a day or two after President Rajoy admitted he probably couldn't stop an informal referendum on Catalan Independence in 2 weeks' time, he's now saying he hopes to stop it via the courts. He's asking the Council of State (an advisory body of Wise People) for its opinion. This is said to be a prelude to going back to the Constitutional Court. There's still no indication of what Madrid could do if the Catalans go ahead anyway. Invasion appears to be off the options list. But what remains on it, I wonder.

More significantly, the day after the arrest of 51 politicians for corruption, the President issued an apology to all Spaniards for putting such crooks in positions of responsibility. This is something he could have done long before this, of course, and probably won't butter any parsnips.

A truly significant announcement would have been that the PP and PSOE parties had reached a pact on how to deal with corruption. But this evaporated at the last moment and today the PSOE opposition published a long list of things they'd like to see attended to. Possibly.

The Mayoress of Calais, attending a parliamentary committee in London today, said the UK government could reduce illegal immigrants by ensuring the UK benefits system didn't make the place an eldorado. Rather as Mrs Merkel said some months ago - If you don't want people to come for the benefits, reduce the benefits. The catch is that these cuts would have to apply to Brits as well.

I mentioned daft fines imposed on Spanish drivers the other day. I've since read these include:-
1. Eating in the car while driving: 200 euros.
2. Drinking a soft drink, a bottle of water, or coffee. €200
3. Putting on makeup (even if stopped at a traffic light). Any such action that could be considered a distraction also entails a fine of € 200.
4. Driving without shoes. €200.
5. Going shirtless. €200.
6. Putting your elbow on the window frame. €80.
7. Putting a For Sale sign on your car. €200.
8. Loud music. €80.
9. Blowing your horn except to avoid an accident. €80 euros.
10. If the right hand lane is free and you're driving in any other. €200.
11. No ITV test certificate. €200.
12. Not advising El Trafico of a change of address. €80.
13. Expired driver's license. €200.
14. Jumping an amber light. €80.
15. Carrying a hoe in the trunk or anything which can be considered a weapon. €300. This also covers carrying a baseball bat or a club. A handmade catapult hanging on the mirror was sanctioned with a fine of €300 in 2010.
Essentially, a traffic cop can come up anything and fine you for it. Then there are concepts like "reckless driving" that are so general and vague that anything goes in their interpretation.

Word of the Week: Un test. This is the anglicism increasingly used in place of prueba. Its plural seems to be the incorrect tests. Possibly because it really should be testes. Which is already taken.

Word query: In Spain and in France, for example, the words for actor and actress are still used. In the UK, though, mosts actresses now seem to insist on 'actor'. I wonder why. Do they dislike the age-old connotations of 'actress'. Or is it a feminist thing? Is '-ess' disappearing from English?

Finally . . .When I last lived in the UK, the high prices of the supermarkets were beyond my comprehension. Some light has finally been shed on this here.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Corruption yet again; The economy; Phrase of the month; F & P; Female complaints; & Nostalgic nostalgia.

Vodafone has been finding out first-hand about corruption in Spain. Several executives of a company it bought, Ono, appear to have helped themselves to more than €60m in bonuses after the sale of a company whose accounts neglected to mention off-balance sheet transactions that jacked up the profits. Oddly, it seems Vodafone weren't advised of an ongoing Spanish investigation into these when they bought Ono.

President Rajoy spoke out on corruption at the weekend, stressing that cases were confined to only a few folk and that this didn't mean 46m Spaniards were corrupt. The fatuity of his comment was highlighted by the announcement today that more than 50 people around the country had been arrested on corruption charges. Plus the First Secretary of the PP governing party. There must be quite a few worried people around Spain right now. Or possibly visiting their money in Andorra and elsewhere.

Which reminds me . . . A prominent leader if the Asturian miners, accused of corruption, has said his just-revealed offshore fortune of €1.4m is an inheritance from his parents. One that he just forgot to mention to the tax authorities. This is the same implausible explanation proffered by the disgraced doyen of Catalan politics, Sr Pujol. I suspect this has now become the defence du jour. Meanwhile, Comrade Villa has been expelled from both his Union and the Socialist Party. Which might just be the very least they could do.

The Spanish economy:-
1. Between 2008 and 2012, around 700,000 Spaniards left the country to seek employment elsewhere. Followed by a further 547,890 people in 2013 including 79,306 more Spaniards. I assume the unemployment numbers are reduced accordingly.
2. There was a time - not long ago - when Spanish teachers enjoyed not only a relatively easy life but also the best salaries in Europe. Now, after 6 years of salary cuts, they're reduced to merely the former. And it's possibly no longer true that everyone wants to be a teacher.

Phrase of the month: Montar un pollo. 'To mount a cock(erel)'. This is translated as: To kick up a row with someone; To make an exaggerated fuss/scene; and To cause a scandal. Take your pick

In some languages the letters F and P are pronounced similarly. So in Persian telephone is telepon. And, reading a bit of Chaucer today, I saw that 'flat' used to be 'plat', as in French. But has since transmogrified. 

I really would hate to be a woman. For the latest invented complaint I'd have to worry about is a 'sensitive bladder'. Whatever that is. One that easily takes offence? Or just one that leaks.

Finally . . . Nostalgia - as the Galicians well know - can be a powerful emotion. And it's possibly most frequently provoked by songs. I was hit by a brief bout of it today when hearing a song that reminded me of leaving a girlfriend behind in the Seychelles when I was 19. But this was nothing compared to the truly debilitating nostalgia for the islands that regularly hit me when studying in London over the next year. Made worse by the fact it took me all that time to figure out what was going on.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Spain's economy; France 1; France 2; Newspapers; & Beggarly benefits.

I've been a tad confused by evidence of growth in the Spanish economy, given there's no evidence around me of things improving. To the contrary, shops continue to close even in the very centre of town. So I wasn't surprised to read this article on what lies behind the stats. And to see the suggestion it's all another "illusionary mini-bubble", with the jury still out on whether competitiveness has truly returned. But we will see. I hope so.

Talking of economies . . . A French chappy - Felix Marquardt - has had some harsh things to say (in both the Spanish and British press) about his country and its governments. For example: France has oscillated for 35 years now between powerless, irresponsible and incompetent governments without ever experiencing a truly reformist one. Three-and-a-half decades of cowardice and populism across the political spectrum have led to the country’s current democratic crisis and the ascent of the Front National. You can read him in full here.

Talking of the French - Britain's traditional enemies, of course - here's a little song written a few hundred years ago by the chap who put music to God Save the Queen. It demonstrates what most of us already knew - that binge drinking by Brits is not exactly a recent phenomenon:-


Ye true, honest Britons, who love your own land,
Whose sires were so brave, so victorious, so free,
Who always beat France when they took her in hand,
Come join, honest Britons, in chorus with me.

Let us sing our own treasures, old England's good cheer.
The profits and pleasures of stout British beer.
Your wine-tippling, dram-sipping fellows retreat,
But your beer-drinking Britons can never be beat.

The French, with their vineyards, are meagre and pale.
They drink of the squeezings of half-ripened fruit;
But we, who have hop-grounds to mellow our ale,
Are rosy and plump and have freedom to boot.

Should the French dare invade us, thus armed with our poles,
We'll bang their bare ribs, make their lantern-jaws ring,
For your beef-eating Britons are valiant souls
Who will shed their last drop for their country and king.

The Diario de Pontevedra has a little exhibition of its front pages right now, celebrating its 125 years of existence. The most obvious difference between then and now is fotos. Back in 1889 there were none. Whereas now there's nothing but fotos, with a couple of lines of print and page references. Plus ads. An improvement? Not for me. One other noticeable change is that clerics no longer appear on the front page. Nor dictators, of course. And an example of the sort of story we no longer see is the announcement, under Franco, that train tickets would have to be stamped - with the image of St James.

Finally . . . We've had a truly glorious week of unseasonably fine weather and today was no exception. It seems, though, to have brought out a new breed of beggars - men in their 60s. Is it all a racket or is Spain's benefits safety net so inadequate that these men are compelled to humiliate themselves? I suspect it's the latter. If you've no family to support you, you're deep in the doodoo. No Pension Credit for you. Possibly no pension at all if you've worked on the black all your life

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