Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 22.6.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • This is a UK TV program on Spectacular Spain which you can get via MY5 TV Catchup, I believe. Worth it. If you can get past the presenter's coquetishness.
  • In a place called Cardona, up near Barcelona, there's a salt mountain, which also looks worth seeing.
  • Speaking of Cataluña, the tussle with Madrid goes on, ahead of the (illegal) referendum on independence set for October 1. Witness: Spain's constitutional court on Wednesday forbade the pro-separatist region of Catalonia from promoting its interests abroad through a foreign policy "secretariat." Madrid wants to rein in the wealthy northeastern region's unilateral drive for independence from the rest of Spain and the court judgment found that only Spanish diplomacy has the right to engage in "foreign affairs". So, how is it going to be stopped?
  • An interesting realisation this morning, born of enquiring about this development in my neighbours' garden:-
The Spanish for market garden/allotment is huerta. And for orchard it's huerto. Handy.
  • A bit more on Modelo 720 that I mentioned yesterday, following a check to see if there was any news on it:- A recently written page says that, as yet, there don't appear to have been any humungus fines (minimum of €1,500) for late submission. Wrong, mate, I can assure you. More depressing still was the comment that, even though the EU Court of Justice might 'eventually' conclude the fines really are as illegal as first pronounced, there's no chance of the Spanish tax office ever paying back the money illegitimately taken from taxpayers. It's not just the crooks who are dishonest here. There are also what the Spanish call thieves in white gloves.
  • Reader Sierra has followed up my comment about the commercialisation of Spain's 33[sic!] caminos to Santiago de Compostela with the report that he was given a sachet of sugar on an autovia advertising El Primitivo, the hardest but prettiest of the lot. Note: By the time you read this, there might well be 34 of them. 
I see that both BA and Iberia rank poorly in the latest list of world airline awards. They come in at 40 and 42 respectively, though BA has fallen from 26 last year, while Iberia has risen from 52. The fact that EasyJet is between them at 41 tells you a lot. Both BA and Iberia belong to the same group IAG, which also owns the Barcelona-based low-cost airline, Vueling. This ranks even lower, at 88. In 2006, BA ranked No. 1 . . .  Not really a success story, then. Big might not be beautiful. En passant, one of the airlines which rose most was Ryanair, presumably for having told us they'd stopped hating their passengers and would now refrain from treating them like pigs in transit to a slaughterhouse.

After the horrendous fires down in Portugal, the finger has been pointed at the eucalyptus forests which, as here in Galicia, take up huge chunks of the countryside. Back in 2006, when we had terrible fires here, I described how these ugly trees both contribute to fires and out-survive the native trees after the blazes. They really should be banned but won't be. Here's one comment I wrote at that time:- Something which certainly is a local plague are our eucalyptus trees. These, of course, aren't native(autóctono) and have been introduced as a cash crop. They're prejudicial to the local oaks, pines and chestnut trees, especially after a fire. Of which we have rather a lot. Not before time, the Galician government has proposed making it illegal to have these dreadful trees within 50 metres of a residence. Let's hope it goes through. At the end of this post is something I quoted back then on these antipodean monsters. 

Finally . . . I was amused to learn - who wouldn't be? - that 7% of (North) Americans think that chocolate is made with milk from brown cows. Of course, the figure might well be higher elsewhere. The research is yet to be done.

Today's cartoon:-

One of my all-time favourites . . . 


Here’s the translation of an article from yesterday’s Voz de Galicia. It is by Javier Montalvo who is, I believe, Professor of The Environment at the University of Vigo. It brings together several of the threads of the last few weeks and it also helps to explain why the reader who wrote today saw little evidence of devastation in the Lugo, Santiago, La Coruña triangle:-

The Fires are not the Problem

The wave of fires is exactly that, a cyclical and irregular phenomenon, just like waves, although its geographic and seasonal location varies. In the Rias Baixas the probability of fires and burnt wooded areas is ten times greater than in parts of Lugo province with a lower incidence. The arsonists are not the main cause of the annual burning of such an important surface area of Galicia. If all the Tuaregs in the Saharan desert were arsonists, the desert still couldn’t burn; there’s hardly any combustible material there, i. e. a vegetal biomass [leaves and woody material from trees and other plants, plus dead fallen leaves], dry branches and other vegetal residue on the soil. The amount of such combustible material is an important factor, although its quality and distribution are also relevant.

In the middle of the last century, the fires in Galicia were not a problem of today’s catastrophic dimensions. In 1940 the General Plan for Reafforestation was put into effect throughout the state. Since then, Galicia has seen the reafforestation of more than a million hectares, equivalent to more than a third of its surface area. The traditional and diversified use of the mountains [basically pastoral and agricultural]was replaced by a use which was uniform and industrial – wood cultivated for board makers, cellulose manufacturers and saw mills. The mountains were filled with millions of cubic metres of highly inflammable combustible material capable of rapid combustion and propagation. This has been particularly true on the ridges of the western coastlines of the Pontevedra and La Coruña provinces, where there is the greatest production of biomass. A million cubic metres of eucalyptus are left on the mountains every year [in part because in the last 10 years it has depreciated 40%].

The high quantity of combustible material is one of the structural causes of the fires; the pyromaniacs or other immediate causes merely light the match. The abandonment of the mountains contributes to this dangerous scenario but to consider it the only factor is simplistic. The fires also affect those mountains which benefit from planning and management, for example in Amoedo and Domaio.

The cultivated areas of foreign species [eucalyptus and pine] have a higher probability of burning than the Atlantic forests and the areas with deciduous native trees. 25 years ago, the area given over to eucalyptus was already burning 40 times more and the pines 10 times more than the oak or chestnut respectively. Pine and eucalyptus are pyrophorus species. That’s to say, more inflammable because of their resin, their bark and their volatile oily content. They favour fires because their populations persist and they extend their territory after the fires. The extensive areas repopulated by single species facilitate propagation of the fires. Additionally, the higher the trees the greater the speed and spread of the fires via their crowns. For this reason the mountains of Pontevedra and La Coruña are more predisposed to burn, where the fires spread through extensive areas of eucalyptus such as the mountains of Morrazo and those of Cerdedo and another four neighbouring townships in which 8,000 contiguous hectares burned.

What is the solution for ridding ourselves of the fires? Eliminate eucalyptus, convert pine woods into areas mixed with deciduous trees and break up those extensive areas with a propensity to burn by surrounding them with vegetation more resistant to fire. These are the strategic options on which to base a sustainable policy for Galicia.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 21.6.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

Note: If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • Last week saw the 40th anniversary of the birth of modern democracy in Spain. El País celebrated this with a 94[sic] page supplement. I wonder if anyone read all of it. Or any of it, in fact.
  • The Spanish tax office - the Hacienda - is now going after the Portuguese football manager, José Mourinho. It's good to see them seeking belated taxes from big names. But my impression is that, strangely, all these appear to be foreign - Messi, Ronaldo and now Mourinho.
  • Reading the book on English manners I cited yesterday, I began to wonder what the hidden rules of behaviour are in the Spanish culture. Assuming - in this country of very different regions - that such a monolith exists. I might start to write something. Suggestions very welcome.
  • The ECB has demanded that Spain investigates the capital flight from Banco Popular prior to its demise. Can't see this happening, myself. Spain's government is adept at ignoring rules and instructions it doesn't like. And at stretching out the appeal process until people in Brussels fall off their perches. Spanish criminals and their lawyers likewise.
Spain's right wing PP government is adept at stirring up passions around Gibraltar. Especially when it needs to distract attention from, say, its atrocious record on corruption. That last one was to say it would kibosh a Brexit deal, if it didn't get joint sovereignty over The Rock. So, I wonder what this development signifies.

As for said Brexit . . . Yesterday seems to have been the (much expected) first humiliation for the British negotiators. Hardly surprising, since they'd been sent into the room naked. See this site today and yesterday for the caustic comments of Richard North - a Brexiteer who, as I've noted, has long despaired of any intelligence among the British government and the 'serious' media. Like me, he might well believe that Brexit should be abandoned, if things continue as they are now.

Here's a foto of Pontevedra's Sunday flea market, or rastrillo. It seems the (unlicensed) gypsies have once again been banished but I confidently expect a return appearance. Quite soon.

And here's one looking in the opposite direction. To show you the dreadful new museum building at the end of the street. Truly a blot on the old quarter. But designed, of course, by a famous Galician architect.

I've noted that the number of camino 'pilgrims' passing through Pontevedra has rocketed upwards in the last few years. And that the forecast is for a doubling of last year's total within 5 years. Here's some data on this.

 I have to say that - when I did the first camino with a group of old friends in 2010 - there didn't seem to be that many more pilgrims than in earlier or later years. The numbers rose that year because it was a 'Holy Year', when the Vatican - on behalf of the Catholic god - dishes out more indulgences than usual. But at least it doesn't sell them any more.

Among the reasons for the increase on the Camino Portugúes are:-
  • Folk are finding the Camino Francés far too crowded these days
  • It's very pretty and not too difficult
  • The Portuguese and the Galicians are very welcoming people, and
  • A new variant of this essentially commercial enterprise is invented every couple of years. Always 'authentic' of course.
Finally . . . And still on things religious . . . While writing this, I've been half-watching an exposé of this 'enterprising' French priest, who became rich through fraud. Including perhaps the world's first phony begging advert: Poor parish priest needs cash to say Masses. You have to take your biretta off to him.

Today's cartoon:-

Also about misplaced faith . . . .

Open Sesame!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 20.6.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

Note: If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • Spain's driving examiners have gone on strike. This is great news for me as the test centre is close to my home and so every day I have to run a gauntlet of badly instructed learners getting close enough to town to park and walk in.
  • Here's more evidence of the gap between Spain's macro and micro economies.
  • It's good to know I'm not the only one highly irritated by the Spanish tax authorities (Modelo 720) and, in my case, the Revenue department of the Guardia Civil (motoring fines). The Real Madrid football star, Ronaldo, says he's leaving Spain because of the claim he's avoided millions in tax. Nice to have the option.
  • As regards said Modelo 720 . . . . This is tempting fate I know, but things seem to have gone quiet since the EU declared the fines under it illegal as being disproportionate. I don't see any evidence, though, of the Hacienda  paying back what they've already collected. Perhaps they've suspended things pending resolution of the case, in about 10 years' time. If you're a foreigner resident in Spain unaware of this 2012 tax measure, I recommend you talk to a gestor or asesor about it asap. Assuming he/she is on the ball.
  • Here's more on the reconciliation I've cited between Spain's parties of the Left - the PSOE and Podemos. Stranger things have happened. They might even get the centrist party, Ciudadanos, to join them in ousting the PP government. Now, that would be something. Meanwhile, I'm stupified by the universal condemnation of the PSOE leader by newspapers generally regarded as being of the Left. In the UK, the leader of the Left is mercilessly attacked by the media of the Right. Here, the dirty work is done by the Left's own media. He must have upset some important vested interests.

A few years ago, some friends lent me their copy of a brilliant book called Watching the English, by Kate Fox. I'm now reading the recent revision-cum-update and am again finding it hilarious. If you want to get an insight into The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour - many of them truly ridiculous - I highly recommend it. If you're partnered with one of us, it might just save your relationship . . .  In her intro, she cites the famously dubious anthropological study of Margaret Mead. But new to me was that of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas who "wrote a book entitled The Harmless People, about a tribe who turned out to have a homicide rate higher than that of New York or Detroit." But there's nowt wrong with Ms Fox's study. Ruthlessly accurate on the English. About whom a certain Dutchman - in 1931 - wrote a book entitled The English: Are they Human? Answering this himself, he declared that the world was inhabited by 2 species: Mankind and the English. How we laughed!

Here in Galicia, there's still a lot of moaning going on about the demise of the region's only bank, Banco Popular. I have to admit to finding Spain's localism hard to take at times. It's impossible to imagine, say, the residents of the county of Cheshire feeling bad about the takeover of the Cheshire Building Society by the Nationwide Building society. They're rather more interested in efficiency than in local - often corrupt - ownership and management. Besides, as I've said, Banco Popular's ownership wasn't remotely local.

Finally . . .  On the way to the house I used to own in the hills, they put an extra layer of metal at the bottom of the crash barriers on certain bends. This was to stop motorbike riders and their passengers being decapitated when they slid under the barrier after losing control. It seems that not all of our winding secondary roads have been so equipped. Certainly not the one between Cuntis and Moaña:-

A cartoon would be inappropriate today, I feel.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 19.6.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

Note: If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • For the second time in a year or so, a Spanish bullfighter has been gored to death. See here for details. Some folk deny that these men (and the occasional woman) are brave but I beg to differ. Without disagreeing with the contention that the fiesta nacional is cruel.
  • Yesterday was the Catholic feast of Corpus Cristi. I should have remembered why the procession and the flowers but had to rely on a friend for an explanation. It was, she confided to me, one of the 3 days of the year when 'there was more light than there ever is from the sun':- Corpus Cristi; the Assumption; and one I've already forgotten. (Maria? Sierra? Diego?). I used to participate, as an altar boy, in these ceremonies but they leave me cold these days. I can't imagine the poverty-loving Jesus endorsing the pomp that goes with them.

But I enjoy the bagpipes and the national costumes, even if they are an 18th century invention.

Here's a bit more on the developments on the left wing of Spanish politics.

Don Quijones writes on the German elections here, explaining how candidates there strive to outdo each other with disingenuous criticisms of the EU. As he puts it: These days it’s easy to tell when general elections are approaching in Germany: members of the ruling government begin bewailing, in perfect unison, the ECB’s ultra-loose monetary policy. By attacking ECB policy they can make it seem they take voters’ concerns about low interest rates seriously, while knowing perfectly well that the things they say have very little effect on what the ECB actually does. In brief, says, DQ: The ECB’s binge-buying of sovereign and corporate bonds has spawned a mass culture of financial dependence across Europe. And there's always the same outcome: At first, it’s deny, deny, deny. Then taxpayers get to bail out the bondholders. I guess it makes sense to someone.

At the end of this post, there's an article by my favourite gadfly - Christopher Booker - on high-rise flat-blocks such as the one in London which immolated more than 50 residents last week. Europeans who happily live in such blocks might well disagree with him.

Back to religion . . .  For many centuries in the Middle Ages, Popes excommunicated and then incommunicated temporal rulers on a whim. But the practice died out a while ago and even Hitler didn't merit it, though this might be because he'd dumped Catholicism before he started slaughtering people. Yesterday, though, I read that the current Pope is thinking about inflicting this punishment on (convicted) mafia members. What the hell took him so long? Or any of his predecessors.

And still on religion . . . Unless you're a Mormon, this video should amuse you.

Here's a genuine conundrum . . .  I pass a spot each day where 3 roads arrive at the same roundabout:-

I guess priority goes to the driver who arrives first but what if 2 or 3 of us arrive at exactly the same time, as happened yesterday? What does the Spanish equivalent of the Highway Code have to say about this?

Finally . . . So, one of the ubiquitous British duo, Ant and Dec, has revealed he's got drink and ('prescription') drug problems. We have his name. But does anyone really know which of the irritating bastards it is??

Today's cartoon:-

On a Christian theme . . . 


Grenfell Tower stands as a chilling tombstone to a megalomaniac dream: Christopher Booker

It was certainly an ominous coincidence that 1974, the year Grenfell Tower was opened was also the year that Hollywood released what was arguably the most famous “disaster movie” ever made, The Towering Inferno. On Wednesday, as we woke up to the horror of what was happening, I received an email that added another curious detail to this awful story.

It was from the man who back in the Seventies sold to the local council the original cladding for Grenfell Tower. As he explained, it consisted of Glasal panels in which were sealed white asbestos cement, so tightly compressed that no fibres could escape.

“It was totally safe,” he told me, “and would certainly have stopped the spread of any external fire; unlike this new cladding, which contains combustible plastics which can spread a fire up a building so fast that in some countries it has already caused whole buildings to go up, and in others it has been banned.”

A much more immediately relevant point, however, on which the forthcoming inquiry will certainly have to focus, is what might be called the “European” dimension to this tragedy. So far wholly missed has been the fact that making construction regulations, including those relating to fire risk, is an exclusive “competence” of the EU. Britain has no right to make its own, without Brussels permission.

Furthermore in 2014 the Department of Energy and Climate Change issued its National Energy Efficiency Action Plan, setting out how it planned to meet its EU targets for reducing “carbon emissions” (and also those set under our own Climate Change Act).

In particular, it emphasised the need to comply with EU directive 2012/27 on “energy efficiency”. This explained that the top priority was to improve the insulation of buildings, responsible for 40 per cent of all emissions. Local authorities were thus made aware of the section on renovating older buildings.

When Kensington and Chelsea council chose the new cladding for Grenfell Tower it would, therefore, have known that top of the list was the need for “thermal efficiency”. On this score, plastics such as polyurethane, polyethaline or polyisocyarunate rated most highly, despite their fire risk. There was even financing available under the government’s Green Deal scheme.

I long ago took a personal interest in the estate on which Grenfell stands, when I spent much of the Seventies investigating the disaster that had been inflicted on so many cities by the Sixties mania for massive “comprehensive redevelopment schemes” and giant council tower blocks.

When I began in 1972 with a book called Goodbye London: An Illustrated Guide to Threatened Buildings, listing all the demolition schemes then planned across London, it opened with a page of pictures showing the vast area of pleasant, human-scale 19th century streets in north-west Kensington shortly to be demolished for the estate that would include Grenfell Tower.

By 1979, I had been commissioned by the BBC to make a two-hour television film, City of Towers, which for the first time told the whole story of how the destruction of our cities had been inspired by the megalomaniac dream in the Twenties of the Swiss architect Le Corbusier; and how this led 40 years later to those vast dehumanised council estates, dominated by tower blocks like Grenfell, half of which have since been demolished.

The way our politicians, national and local, were taken in by this maniacal vision was yet another perfect case-study in the deluding power of groupthink. As so often, a beguiling dream had led in reality to a nightmare reality. Grenfell Tower stands today as the most chilling tombstone yet to that mad dream.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 18.6.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

Note: If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • As a Madrid resident of 10 years standing, my elder daughter is good with excessive heat. She's down in Trujillo this weekend, attending a wedding. Last night she told me that all the Spanish guests there are complaining of the heat. Possibly, she explained, because they all live in London.
  • I might finally have discovered why the marks for Spain's national university entrance exam (the Selectividad) are now out of 14 and not just 10 as before. I'm told you can increase your mark by taking extra subjects.
  • On this, the marks demanded in Galicia are possibly much the same as elsewhere in Spain and the same probably applies to the demand and supply situation. Here, the university of Santiago offers only 360 places for Medicine but has had 2,883 applicants. One wonders how many of these will get the high average mark required for this course. This is a ratio of 1:8. That for Vet Med is also high, at around 1:6. For Nursing it's 1:3 but for Law, it's only 1:2.4. They don't seem to have a course for Notaries but, if they did, I'd bet the ratio would be in the region of 1:5,000.
  • It seems to be impossible in Spain to hold any sort of event - even for young children - without deafening music. This is particularly true of any sort of race. Worst of all, the loud (always modern) 'music' is inevitably accompanied by a thumping bass element which shakes the very ground you're on. But few people seem to notice. Perhaps Spaniards go deaf quite young. It wouldn't surprise me. And it might help to explain why all (simultaneous) conversations are shouted.
  • The 4 tax offices I visited last week all prominently displayed a notice saying it was not a place of gender (i. e. male) violence. Are we to take it that all offices - say of banks - not doing this do actually countenance this?
In an interesting development, the left-of-centre PSOE and Podemos parties appear to be shuffling towards some sort of coalition - possibly involving the centrist Ciudadanos party - aimed at defeating the PP party. Though I doubt the far left wing of Podemos is happy with this belated reconciliation.

Despite numerous promises to the contrary, the Bank of Spain now admits that Spanish taxpayers will get back only a small percentage of the billions hosed at the inefficient and corrupt banks that the government saved, in one way or another. See here on this. And here's the take of the cartoonist of the Voz De Galicia:-
         BANK RESCUE                                  TAXPAYER 
Wait for the pun . . . . This shows the taxpayer being fleased . . . . I thank you.

Dear God! Facebook is now targetting me with details of motorhome and caravan groups. How on earth do they arrive at their algorithm? And can they we trusted to weed out posts from terrorist groups and pedophiles?

Finally . . . I saw a TV ad this morning for a pain-relief gel which is up to 3 times more effective than a non-medicated gel. Given that the latter wouldn't give you any relief at all, I imagine that this must be right. So it beats me why they don't claim that it's, say, a million times more effective. Or perhaps applying a non-medicated gel has some placebo effect.

Today's cartoon:-

Say what you like about Jehovah Witnesses - they're like lightning on burst water mains!

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