Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Cataluña; Bull running/dying; More odd names; Satnav tales & roundabouts; Ilarious; & The tanga battle.

I've mentioned that things are hotting up in respect of elections in Cataluña in September, which the government there is using as proxy for a referendum on independence. As noted, Madrid has suddenly found evidence of more fiscal fraud there at the highest level. Something, of course, unknown in the rest of Spain. Anyway, here's an FT article on the Catalan 'surge for independence'. The article cites this nice summary of an El País commentator on the fundamental paradox: “Catalonia does not have the strength to break with Spain. And Spain does not have the strength to put an end to the Catalan challenge”

Sad to relate, the number of people(idiots?) killed by bulls let loose in Spanish streets this summer has now jumped from 10 to 12. Though some newspapers say it's 'only' 11.

HT to my friend Dwight for 2 more odd female names here in Spain, though these are less and less heard, as the population gets younger and younger:-
Maria de la O*
Angustias - Anxieties
And someone else has given me: Exuberancia - Exuberance, of course. And Lacrimosa. But this may well be a name for a pet, rather than a child.

*This lady/Virgin is the patron saint of Pontevedra. I have been told what the O is all about but have forgotten.

On Sunday, the Diario de Pontevedra had another report - with foto - of a car that had straddled itself on steps into our main square. As in the January case, the driver had followed the instructions of his satnav/GPS. As we all know, these are generally wonderful but sometimes useless. Dangerous even. But not as perilous as Spanish roundabouts when drivers obey the crazy rules about what lane you should be in if you're not going straight on. Foreigners: - If you're in the inside lane, ALWAYS check what's happening on your right as you move to do so. Don't be surprised if a car - usually showing no signal - cuts across you to go off at a later turn. Or even - illegally - to make a U-turn. Truth to tell, 'cuts across you" would be lucky. More often it'll be "hits you broadsides".

Last night, one of the waiters in my regular tapas place was talking about something I thought he'd found funny. But it turned out to be his new (Italian) girlfriend - Ilaria. From the Latin Ilarium. Showing how good I am at this challenge, I estimated her age at 25 but she is 20 years beyond that. Naturally, she was more than pleased.

Finally . . . I saw a reference to the Battle of Tanga. And all sorts of images came into my mind, as per Wordsworth's famous lines:-
When oft upon my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood
There drift upon my inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude
Some pictures that are very rude.

I understand Will spent many hours among the daffodils, pondering whether the last word shouldn't be 'lewd'. And then finally plumped for caution. It being the 19th century, you can understand.

For the facts about the battle, see here.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Spain's economy; Franco; Tipping in Spain; Maxing out on kids; La Ultramar; UK trip; & Typos.

Is Spain at the head (cabeza) of the eurozone's economic progress league or is it at the tail (cola)? As El País says, it depends on how you look at things and which criteria you use. Spain manages to achieve both. But that's Economics for you. Guess what the government says.

Chilling . . . Franco continued to sign execution warrants - "without blinking" - until he died. In fact, the repulsive dictator spent his last month or so in agony, believing that this was God's will. It was the only decent thing he ever did.

One thing I tell my visitors is not to over-tip. Here in Spain, 5% is usually enough and 10% is really generous. If you tip Anglo style, you're ruining things for the locals. The latter may go up to 5% but often it's just whatever loose change they have in their pockets and haven't yet given to the multifarious beggars. Like the people in the next table to me, who've left 50c on a @16 drinks session. Or 3%. Of course, this doesn't apply in the tourist ghettoes of the south, where waiting staff have got used to much more.

If you were asked how many kids you think a woman could give birth to during her lifetime, you'd probably come up with 15, which is the average guess. In fact, thanks to multiple births, a Russian woman holds the record of 69. The male record is 867, some Moroccan emperor. Against that, we're all said to be descended from Ghengis Khan. Or was it Tamerlane(Timur)?

This, finally, is my review of La Ultramar restaurant in Tiffintown. They took a while to approve it. Interestingly, if you tot up the Excellent and VG reviews, it's 41. And the Average-Terrible: 34. Pick the eat out of that. I suspect the positive reviewers are more influenced by the single Michelin star than by the eating experience but perhaps I'm too cynical.

For my up-coming trip to the UK, I'm giving the car-sharing operation, BlaBla, a go but am not too optimistic, especially as my dates and route(!) aren't yet clear. Or even my mode of transport. But we're very spontaneous here in Spain. We need to be; we don't like planning or committing.

Finally . . . . Other words I always mis-type:
Girls - Grils
Interesting - Intersting
Birth - Brith


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Spanish-English Words; Gib again; Celts; A local shooting; Nice nickname; & A major event.

I recently cited 10 (or 11) Spanish words that English might usefully add to its lexicon. As we ponder this, Spanish proceeds apace to add English words to its own vocabulary. 'Packaging' - would you believe - is one I saw yesterday. In a letter to El País last week, a reader listed the following as being both current and unnecessary. I felt for her:
On fire

The Gibraltar government has accused the the Spanish Foreign Minister - Motormouth Margallo - of not using diplomatic language. This is rather like complaining that fire is hot. It's the nature of the beast. Gibraltar is also unhappy with the mayor of the adjacent Spanish town again referring to drug smuggling via The Rock. Which - given Spain's massive imports of cocaine - does seem a tad fork-tongued. Or at least ironic.

I'm a great admirer of Caitlin Moran, even if she does write for the evil Murdoch's Times. And this was before I found out yesterday that, like me, she has more Celtic blood/genes than anyone here in Galicia plus a Liverpool connection. My grandparents came from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England. Hers - via that city, of course - from Ireland. Anyway, at the end of this post is a fine article she's written on migration into the UK. And on Celts.

The ex-drummer of a pop group has been shot dead here in Pontevedra province by the Guardia Civil. Not unusually, their account of how it came about is very different from that of his relatives and neighbours. But the truth will surely win out.

This may well be another challenge for Facebook . . . There's a UK newspaper editor whose staff refer to him as "a cunt in cunt's clothing." About which he's probably very proud. Being a cunt. Note for Spanish readers: This insult means absolutely nothing in Spain, where it's a term of endearment used even for kids. But in the Anglo world (especially the USA) it's even worse than cabrón. This, of course, is 'billy-goat' in English and, in a nice symmetry, is totally anodyne in our world.

Finally . . . There was a Second Coming in Tiffintown early yesterday, as these fotos show. I've informed my Catholic sister. My Jewish sister isn't interested:-


Why I’m migrant-friendly

As a Celt – and I don’t want to make you Anglo-Saxons feel bad – we were here first.

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams sketches, with loving detail, one of the minor characters – Mr Prosser, a council worker charged with knocking down Arthur Dent’s house. 

Although Mr Prosser is a classic jobsworth – “fat, forty and shabby” – the unusual thing about him is his ancestry. He is a direct male-line descendant of Genghis Khan, King of the Mongols.

As a consequence, when stressed, Mr Prosser is apt to have visions of houses being consumed by fire and his enemies “running screaming from the blazing ruins, with at least three hefty spears in [their] back”. Mr Prosser, Adams says, “was often bothered by visions like these, and they made him feel very nervous”.

I’ve been thinking about Mr Prosser a lot recently, as the migrant crisis rolls on, and we see the language that’s being used around it. Over the years, one of the most useful rules of thumb I’ve found is that when people talk about other people, they are apt to reveal an enormous amount about themselves.

This is particularly pertinent when talking about people we dislike or fear – when we discuss their presumed motives. When the language gets heated, we talk a little quicker, and the words tend to come not from our minds – measured things, latterly learnt; the correct things; the formal things – but from our bones, instead. From centuries down.

And, so, to migrants. The language used around the crises at Calais and in the Mediterranean has been telling: “Swarms”. “Floods”. “Invasions”. “Economic migrants”. “Endangering our national identity”.

The people using these terms are, fairly consistently, white British – that is to say, of Anglo-Saxon or Norman descent. Perhaps it’s because I am of Celtic descent, but the terms they use to describe migrants isn’t language I would ever use. Partly because my grandparents were migrants – from County Mayo to Liverpool, at the turn of the century – so, you know. I’m migrant-friendly, along with – as a general rule of thumb – my other migrant-descended friends, ie, Jews, Greeks, Sikhs and, in one case, a proud, possibly-too-embedded-in-ancestry.com Huguenot.

But it’s also because, as a Celt – and I don’t want to make you Anglo-Saxons and Normans feel bad – we were here first. Celts were the ones who lived in England before the swarms of Anglo-Saxons and Normans came over – some invading, some as economic migrants – and disrupted our way of life, flooding our towns and endangering our national identity, to the point where we only lived on in areas so wet and remote (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall) the Anglo-Saxons and Normans couldn’t be bothered to deal with the travel, and mildew, and left us alone to be pale and ginger.

Yes, this all happened centuries ago. But I do wonder if, like Mr Prosser, these things are embedded somewhere, deep in the psyches of Anglo-Saxon and Norman Britons. 

When I drive through villages in Suffolk and Surrey – householders tending roses, before strolling to the pub – I wonder if, underneath all this, there is a buried tribal memory of their ancestors coming to claim Surrey and Suffolk. The battles and invasions, the conquering and the taking of a whole country.

It would be weird if there weren’t. We are, after all, taught our history. We all have a sense, somewhere inside us, of how we got to where we are today. And here it comes out in our language, when we see others, across the sea, staring at our country – although these people, ironically, do not wish to invade, or subsume, us. They want to be part of our culture. They want to open a corner shop, or be heart surgeons. They are coming here not to kill us, but so they themselves don’t die. 

And yet, in our language, we ascribe to them the behaviours of our forefathers. Well, yours. Mine were busy heading west, in order to get rained on, then be oppressed.

“Swarms”. That was the biggest one for me. Our prime minister, David Cameron, referring to the migrants as “swarms”. Of course, it’s just one word, and he might have regretted it. But to see someone from a background of immense privilege talking about these traumatised families as “swarming” seemed both a brutal and inadvertently revealing word. 

For I could talk about white public schoolboys “swarming” – cherry-picking jobs in the media, the City, Parliament and business, at the expense of women and the working classes. The figures are there: 48 per cent of Tory MPs privately educated, against 7 per cent of the population; Britain 56th in the world rankings for its proportion of female MPs. Etc. Etc. 

But I would not use the word “swarm”, because then I would be revealing something – that I am a chippy, Celtic, working-class woman – about myself. 

That’s the thing about talking about other people. You end up talking, really, about your darkest self. You are the migrant. You are the swarm. 

Caitlin Moran.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cataluña cash; The national motto; Useful Spanish words?; Train security; Beggars; A nice song; & La Ultramar.

Accusations of political corruption hit the Spanish media headlines yesterday, a short while before the government there holds an election that's really a proxy for independence. A coincidence? I rather doubt it. More likely the Dirty Tricks Department in Madrid has taken a break from Gibraltar and moved to something far more important - calling the kettle black.

Yesterday I saw a T-shirt bearing the Spanish national motto - albeit in English:-
Fuck rules

Talking of Castellano . . . Is there really a Top Ten of Spanish words that English lacks? Well, The Local thinks so. They're:-
You can see what these 10 words mean here. All 11 of them. After which, you might wonder whether Spanish has anything like the word 'barrel-scraping'. Or even 'counting'.

How long before the selfie craze grinds to a halt? Yesterday I saw a couple walking backwards and wielding a stick to take pictures of a friend walking forwards scattering pigeons. Now, if she'd been machine-gunning them, I could have seen the point of this selfie. Which wasn't really a selfie,of course. Just 2 friends taking a video of you. Like they had a camera of their own.

I've wondered(worried?) for years about security on trains. So, last month I was pleased to see that, down at Tiffintown and Vigo stations, they'd introduced X-ray machines and changed access to the platforms so you had to go past them. Less encouraging was the shut-down of the machines the following day. And the fact that you could, anyway, by-pass the changed access and the machines by waiting for someone to exit through the old door and walking through it as they did. I wonder if the event in Paris will lead to a re-think of the re-think.

Beggarly Notes: 1. A newish addition to our catalogue - a woman in her 50s(?) and reasonably well turned out - last night hassled me while licking an ice-cream cone. She could hardly get her words out. I had no such difficulty; 2. The sweaty-shirted bag-man who stands all day in one quarter of our main square can sometimes be seen in another part of town, sitting on a bench and reading a paper he's fished out of a rubbish bin. He was there last night, with 10-15 variably-sized plastic bags of stuff. And reading a mobile phone catalogue. Good times or very bad times, then.

Finally . . . My daughter, Faye, left for Madrid yesterday afternoon. Which was saddening. Then again, three troublesome episodes of my life ended cleanly and happily. As the estimable (but dead) John Denver sang:- Some days are diamonds; some days are stones. And some days are both, of course

Finally, finally. . . . This is Tiffintown's newish, fashionable restaurant, in the environs of our not-so-newish but still ugly Edificio 6(Building 6) of our museum. I will definitely write my review on Tripadvisor later today. Now, in fact.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Angry Bulls; Angry tomatoes; Spanish queues; Product uses; Poor Old/Black Joe again; & A naughty picture?

Letting angry bulls loose to run through your village's streets is not the only daft 'fiesta' celebrated in Spain. Down in the town of Buñol, they have for 70 years now dedicated one day of the year to throwing tons of tomatoes at each other. This year Google tried to film the event from one of its cars and had it vandalised for their sins. Click here, here and here for more on this. If you can bear it.

Talking of the bulls . . . It's reported that 245,000 people from Santiago de Compostela have signed a petition against bullfights. Ironically, Santiago doesn't have any.

Queueing in Spain? Yes, it happens. But it can take odd forms. Here's an article on one of these. Which I've never seen, by the way. Nor my Madrid-based daughter.

Are there technicians' products which you find useful for non-technical challenges? For example:
  • Electricians' white insulating tape: For dealing with the problem of fraying Apple cables - a quality which seems to be built into them.
  • Black electrician's tape: For covering up scratches on my (black) car.
  • Wood glue: For fixing splits in the straw(?) of my panama hat. This goes on white but turns transparent. But may not survive a rain shower.
  • Two-sided adhesive tape: ??????? Didn't work with the Apple cables. Got very dirty and came off easily.
Filling the washing machine last night, I found myself singing the old spiritual Poor Black Joe, as it was called when I learnt it at primary school. I loved the song 'back in the day' but I don't recall shedding a tear then. Perhaps because I wasn't so much closer to crossing over. Anyway, here are the Paul Robeson and Jerry Lee Lewis versions of Poor/Old Black Joe. The plus of the latter is that it makes me tap my feet, as opposed to wiping away the tear drops.

Finally . . . Here's a painting which my elder daughter, Faye, thinks could be of her. In fact, it was done in the early 20th century by the Galician hero, Castelao, whom I mentioned not long ago. In the UK these days he'd probably be arrested if he ever put it on display. Or even if his cleaner saw it in the attic. Or on his computer.

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