Saturday, January 31, 2015

Charlies; Podemos; 'Desleal'; Corruption; Mindfulness; FIFA; Bird prodding; & Waste.

A wonderful cartoon on the front of the latest edition of Private Eye: It's a foto of all the politicos who attended the Paris rally in honour of Charlie Hebdo. They're carrying a banner which reads: Je suis charlatan. Or Nous sommes tous charlatans. Can't find it right now.

Spain's new left-of-centre political party - Podemos - is currently ahead in the polls. This is despite - or because of - not having any policies, only 'proposals' that will be refined. Meanwhile, the established parties are doing their utmost to tar Podemos with the same corruption brush with which they've been besmirched. That's Spanish politics for you. 'Whatever we're guilty of, you're worse'. Y tú más! What thick black files they must have on each others. And on their own people, of course.

The Spanish phrase for 'unfair competition' is competición desleal, usually alleged when some guild is being dragged out of the Middle Ages. But this week I've read of administración desleal, which seems to be a crime. And must mean more than disagreeing with your boss. Though some would say that many Spanish bosses certainly would like to see this as a crime. And probably your doctor as well. But, anyway, my research suggests desleal here means 'abusive' or 'fraudulent'.

Talking of corruption . . . The president of the Galician government has said there'll be 50 new measures under 3 new laws. I can't help wondering whether all the abuses to date weren't already criminal under one or other pre-existing law. The problem has not been a shortage of laws but the complete lack of political will - at regional and national level - to do anything about the corruption. Until such time as it began to concern the voters. Which might or might not turn out to be now. We'll find out later this year, at the elections.

As I've mentioned, one of my challenges of the last 14 years has been to answer the question: "So, what do you do here?". As I've said, I've recently taken to saying I'm training to become a dilettante. But I've hit on a good alternative - viz. I've been practising mindfulness since I came to Spain. As you may know, this is A state of active, open attention on the present. Or The intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one's attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment. And it's taken over from crude cognitive behaviour as the latest wonder response to (some) depressions. But, anyway, for me it just means doing what I enjoy doing every day. A privileged position, I admit. But 'mindfulness' sounds a lot better than 'self-indulgence'.

So, there was a challenge to Mr Blatter after all. Luis Figo threw his hat into the FIFA ring only minutes from the deadline. And garnered nil support. So, onwards and upwards for Sepp. What an organisation. Is it too much to hope that fans will stay away from Qatar? And will it make any difference if they do?

I was at first pleased to read that, in next door Marín, they'll be spending €13,000 on the control of pigeons and seagulls. And then I realised where these pests would flee to if the measures are successful. Time to resurrect my plans for a salt-gun. Or even an electric bird prod. So, far, though, I've only been able to find prods for cows, and wielding a 90cm stick in Veggie Square might just get me noticed by the imbeciles who feed the blasted birds. And who might get desleal.

Finally . . . Although Spain's efforts at sorting waste seem impressive - we have 4 different bins - less effort seems to go into reducing the quantity of waste. I bought a greetings card yesterday. It came wrapped in cellophane. But, before I could stop her, the shop assistant had further wrapped it in paper, sealed it with sellotape and put it in a small plastic bag. Everything gets wrapped like this in Spain. A box of tablets in the pharmacy, a single screw in the ironmongers and 6 eggs in a plastic box, for example. Much the same wasteful attitude is displayed towards water. Which might be forgivable in the Green Third of Spain but not south of that. This cannot go on. Where is Spain's Green Party?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Royal bastards; Colour v Coloured v Black; Wine; Research on Spain; Time; & Gib.

Here's a bit of a surprise - Spain's famously philandering ex king has agreed to supply DNA for the paternity suit of a 45-year-old Belgian woman. After years of refusing to do so, one wonders why. Especially as he still refuses to do this for a parallel suit from a young man. Does he want a replacement daughter for the one on trial for corruption and effectively ejected from the royal family?

Reading that the British actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, had caused a furore in the USA by using the adjective “coloured” instead of the currently acceptable phrase "person of colour". I was reminded it struck me a couple of days ago that I wouldn't know how to describe, if I needed to, the chap who bought my UK house. As one commentator said - "It seems that, in modern America, you can shoot a black teenager dead with impunity, but God help you if you say “coloured” instead of the approved “people of colour". Possibly in the UK too. Things, to say the least, are easier here in Spain. Where negro and negrito are your basic choices.

Wine: Research into its effects on our health continue to provide fodder for British newspapers. One this weeks says one glass a day helps to prevent heart attacks but another says this contributes to strokes. This is confusing but the conclusion is clear; stop reading articles on wine and Keep On Supping.

Talking of research . . .
  • It's said that a third of young Spaniards believe it's "acceptable or inevitable" they'll control their partners. This includes dictating when they carry out daily activities, preventing them from seeing family and friends and saying what they can and can't do. 33% of young people are also said to think it's fair to dictate whether or not their partner can go out to work or study. Hmm. BTW, this case may be different but young people in Spain are normally defined as 18-35. I think.
  • The best public transport in Spain is in Bilbao, Gijón and Sevilla. The worst is in (nearby) Vigo and Mercia. [But at least Vigo has an airport, even if you can't get to it by public transport from Pontevedra.]
  • Foreigners find Spanish trains inexpensive, clean, comfortable and punctual. But in short supply. [As you'll find if you try to get from some major cities to others.]

Well, I finally got my laptop back, though not - as promised - in the morning; I had to go back yesterday evening. And it worked. Even better - the under-key lighting had been restored. Of course, I didn't moan about the waste of my time and even promised to order a new battery through the shop. Which I just might.

Which reminds me . . . Someone has said - I think it was me about 10 years ago - that one of the defining features of the Spanish is their attitude to time. My 6 visits to the computer shop prompted me to reflect that I don't think I've ever heard anyone here ever apologise for wasting my time because of inefficiency. It just seems to be assumed one's got an inexhaustible supply of it. Or at least 30 hours a day.

Finally . . . Spain's new far-left party,Podemos, (think Greece's Syriza) has said it'll work to improve relations with Gibraltar if it comes to power in this year’s general or regional elections. Because of this, it will certainly get my vote. Or it would if the Spanish government gave me the vote in return for my taxes. Isn't it obliged to under EU law?

P. S. Just seen this ad on the TV. Someone has posted it as "Terrible" and "Simply ridiculous". I beg to differ. Very funny. Assuming you get the reference. As you certainly would if you read Private Eye.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

It's only conversation . . . .

Another of those Spanish Conversations

Day 1: Trip to the computer shop

Hola. What's happening with my new keyboard? It's almost 2 months now.

Hola. I called you a couple of times but you never answered.
Around Christmas.
Was it my mobile or my home phone?
Your mobile.
I didn't receive any lost calls from you. Have you got the right number?
[We check] Yes.
OK, let me check my phone, as I never delete anything. . . .  No. There's no record of any calls from you. Call it now to see if it connects.
[He does and my phone rings]

It's all very strange but here's my laptop. When can you do it?
Today. Best if you come back this evening, after 5.



It's not ready yet. Can you come back in an hour?
No, I'll come back tomorrow morning, first thing.

Day 2



It's not ready yet. It's much more complicated than I expected. There are tiny screws for each letter. Dozens of them. I was up until 2am last night [12 midnight in countries with a sane horario] but I couldn't finish it.
So, will it be finished today?
Oh, yes.
Well, I'll come back this evening.

All of which explains why I'm sitting here in Pontevedra's only remaining - and pretty deserted - cyber café, using a rather dirty keyboard - albeit one that doesn't stick - and feeding a meter.

And wondering whether I'll ever get my laptop back. Or, if I do, whether it'll work. And what the hell I'll do if it doesn't.

And to think I went to a local shop as I didn't want to have to go to Vigo to the Apple shop and hand over my laptop for an indefinite period. If, indeed, there still is an Apple shop in Vigo. Someone has told me there isn't.

I am not a happy camper.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Greece and the EU; Queen Sofía; A corrupt President?; Death notices, here and there; Cervantes bones?; & In house crooks.

Somebody pointed out yesterday that a major objective of the creation of the EU was the prevention of the rise to power of extreme governments. Developments in Greece are a bit of an irony, then.

EU rules: Greece is seeking to bend these but you have to big for this to be allowed. Say, Germany or France and the the 3% deficit limit. France has recently asked to be given more time to comply with this particular rule, not for the first time. And, of course, this'll be given. It always has been. Might is right, as Hegel is reputed to have said in his bath. Or was that Archimedes? Or Marat?

Click here if you want to see details of the Greek imbroglio, from Our Ambrose.

I commented to a Spanish friend yesterday it was odd the Greeks hated the EU - or at least the Troika - but still wanted to stay in the EU. "But, of course", she said. "They want the money to keep flowing in the other direction. Just like us Spaniards." Ah, yes, I thought. That old 'solidarity'. You pay for us but we owe you nothing.

The Times columnist Matthew Parris tells us that Queen Sofía of Spain, fed up with the king's pretty open and humiliating philandering, took to living in London - in Claridges - for most of the final decade of her husband’s reign. And that, for one reason and another, the British press totally ignored this. Not much was made of it here either. And even less was made of the fact that the king's girlfriend lived in a house on the royal estate in Madrid. Parris adds that Sofía - Greek by birth - could regularly be seen shopping in the King’s Road, often with her children, to whom she spoke English, preferring it to Spanish. Perhaps her husband - with whom by now she was scarcely on speaking terms - had put her off Castellano. Understandably.

The Bárcenas corruption case: It's one word against another. The guy who may be about to be lengthily jailed for illegal party funding insists both the PP party and the President, Sr Rajoy, knew all about it from the start and that the latter certainly did receive the illegal top-up payments detailed in the documents held by the Public Prosecutor. Mr Rajoy says he didn't. And that proof lies in the fact that neither he nor any other member of the PP party has been arrested. Quite a quandary, then. Who to believe?

In the UK, when someone dies, it's the custom to put a small announcement in the Births, Marriages and Deaths section of the local paper. Known vulgarly as the Hatch, Match and Despatch columns. Here in Spain, on the other hand, you get (I guess if you're important enough) a black-rimmed esquela (obituary) in the local, regional or national paper(s). The paper I looked at yesterday had 4 pages of these at 10 a page. But I guess you can get them even bigger. Is this practice - which smells of nobility or aristocracy - dying out, I wonder. No pun intended. Possibly not, if reports are true that the gap between rich in poor in Spain is now the widest in Europe.

Roll over Richard III (3), who never wrote a thing. Archeologists think they've found the coffin and remains of Cervantes. He of Don Quixote fame. This won't be at all bad for tourism, of course - currently coming to the rescue of the Spanish economy.

Finally . . . The guy who bought my UK house from me has been jailed in the US for trying to defraud a major computer company. Which is doubly odd as a previous owner of the house had also been jailed - albeit in the UK - for defrauding investors. Something in the water, perhaps. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bedfellows; FIFA farce; Google ads; Motoring fines; Knife laws; Airports; Entroido; & Bloody dangerous phones.

Politics, they say, makes for strange bedfellows. Look no further than Greece, where a far-left party has allied with a far-right party to form a coalition that can take on Germany. Sorry, Brussels. I fear the odds are a tad stacked.

Talking of rogues . . . I see that joke of a tyrant, Sepp Blatter, has called on Uefa to be “respectful” of his wish to stay FIFA president for a fifth term. Is it too much to hope that the organisation has enough self-respect to oppose him? I fear so.

I've recently questioned Facebook's efficiency when it comes to tailored advertising. And now I'm wondering about Google. I've recently made hotel bookings in 3 cities, ahead of a 4th camino in May. For some reason, some computer thinks it's clever to keep on advertising these same 3 hotels to me. I guess it makes sense to someone.

I've indicated the lengths Spain's traffic police are prepared to go to earn their commissions and raise tax revenues but this report takes the biscuit - a couple were fined for speeding in a car being carried by a pick-up truck. As I can testify, the police have up to a year to notify you of a fine and aren't obliged to provide any evidence beyond their claim you did what you're accused of. Though, to be fair, in my case they did supply (after 9 months) a foto of the back of my car that could have been taken anywhere.

Talking of laws . . . Though I'm sure it's illegal to carry them, machetes have twice figured in the British news in the last week. I thought of them when looking at the array of weapons on display at the flea-market in Ponters on Sunday - including bayonets, daggers and Japanese swords. But this is nothing compared with what you can buy in Toledo's shops. Broadswords and battle axes, for example. In the UK, I believe, it's now impossible to buy anything more than a penknife. Though you can still get large kitchen knives. Albeit only in kitchenware shops. And, that said, this government note suggests it's illegal to carry your knife home.

Galicia's 3 puny 'international' airports finally saw a bit of growth last year, though mainly in the north coast facility in La Coruña. Which makes no sense at all. But this tripartite growth was dwarfed by that of Oporto in North Portugal, which is a serious facility that's grown from about the same traffic numbers as those of its neighbours in 2005 to almost double them now. All this reflects Spanish regional and local politics and economics - 'coffee for all' - at their worst. And we don't yet have the high speed AVE to hoover up Madrid passengers. Will sense ever be seen? Not if La Coruña keeps expanding, it won't. Going there is akin to using one of Spain's ghost airports. At least Santiago seems half-busy. By the way, Galicia has the same population as Greater Manchester, around 2.8m. Which city only has one (profitable) airport. Possibly still owned, ironically, by a Spanish company.

Andalucia is famous for month-long festivities which kick off in April. Here in Galicia, this week saw the start of Entroido, a 4-week preparation for Lent. And one good example of us having fun is the flour-pelting fiesta of Domingo Fareleiro in Xinxo de Lima, up in the hills, near the border with Portugal. Another fiesta will be A Limia's "Women's Night", when Spanish men yet again display their predilection for dragging up. Click here for pix of Entroido, as it happens up in the hills, though not down here on the coast.

Finally . . . "What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?" - Sit in any restaurant and you’ll see that one half of a couple can’t even nip to the toilet without the other feverishly reaching for their phone to check Twitter or Facebook. The notion of simply waiting until they come back is palpably last century. Which is why you see people pass entire cross-country train journeys without looking out of the window. 

And: "Warning: smartphones make you stressed, stupid and less creative." Which is why I don't have one. I can achieve all those without an expensive phone. I think it's the Rioja.

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