Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 14.12.17

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.

Cataluña
  • You might think it's obvious but Sr P admits that one can't invested as the Catalan president if one is holed up in Brussels. So he might risk a return. And end up in gaol.
  • A French politician claims that the Catalan mess is allowing Islamic terrorism to breed, as attention is diverted from it by the political shenanigans. Probably right.
  • Here's the latest Guardian article on the subject, stressing the challenge faced by the secessionists in Barcelona's 'beltway', where the residents are mainly from other parts of Spain.
Spain
  • Whereas water – in a country which doesn't get a lot of it – is cheap in Spain, the same can't be said for other utilities. Electricity, for example, is said to be the third most expensive in Europe. Much higher than in both France and Germany. As with Telecoms, one wonders why. 
  • The investigation which began in 2010 into truly massive corruption on the part of 2 ex-presidents of Andalucia and 20 henchfolk has finally morphed into a trial, 6 years later. A figure of €855 million is cited as the money defrauded from the EU. I think.
  • Reader Las Revenants has raised the subject of torrefacto coffee here in Spain and cited this blog. Actually, I've addressed this in the past. Here, for those interested.
  • Here's Don Quijones with more worries about the Spanish banking system. It's far from fixed, he claims.
The Spanish Language
  • I forgot to say yesterday that the most common phrases using the concept of educación are buen educado and mal educado, meaning 'well behaved' and 'badly behaved'. Polite and impolite. Of course, each culture has different attitudes to these things and yesterday I experienced 3 actions which would be considered impolite in Britain but which aren't here. Mere gnat bites, of course.
The English Language
  • I occasionally tell non-native speakers of English that we don't go in for the construction: If I would have known that. . . . Rather, we use the simpler: If I'd known that . . . . And then along comes President Fart with his post-defeat comment on the Alabama election: I wish we would’ve gotten the seat. Clearly, some things he says are totally unacceptable. Doubly so in this case . . . 
Galicia
  • I entered into dialogue with the organisers of the Vigo exhibition we couldn't find on storm-tossed Sunday evening last. They admitted that the entrance was along the quay-front being deluged by huge waves, confessed that the location was not well known even to locals and stressed that signs had now been put up showing the way to the entrance – a mere 12 days after it opened. But they also had the grace to apologise and express the wish I'd have another go at attending it. Which I might.
Finally
  • I think this is the guy – Dani Red - I heard yesterday slaughtering The Beatles 'A Day in the Life', inter alia. Here he is doing much the same to David Bowie's 'Starman'. And, just in case you can't get enough of him, here's his web page. 
Today's Cartoon

 An Xmas card from Prospect magazine . . .

The letter says: Dear Santa, I have been SO good this year. Nobody has been better than me, believe me . . .

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 13.12.17

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.

Cataluña
  • This is an example of the Spanish media's (alleged by me) obsession with Cataluña. It's about the undoubted corruption there. But one is compelled to wonder how interested El País has been over the years in the ruling PP's vast corruption
Spain
  • Here's the latest places to join the Lonely Planet's list of Spain's beautiful villages. I have to say I've been to Mondoñedo and it didn't strike me as beautiful. But the camera never lies, does it?
  • And here's the details of Spain's richest people, who seem to own even more of the country's assets than rich Americans do of theirs.
The UK
  • I've suggested that the British public might be weary of the numerous Xmas charity TV appeals. Some evidence of this is the report that charitable contributions rose only 2% in the last year. In contrast, the profits of the company running the national lottery rose by 122%.
Germany
  • Here's a contentious view of Germans I read last night, given in 1945 by Ernst Robert Curtius, a German literary scholar, philologist and Romance language literary critic: The trouble with Germans is that they have no experience of political freedom. Right up to the last century they were ruled by ridiculous little princelings; then the came under the influence of Prussian militarists. They have never freed themselves from servile attitudes of mind. The German people must learn the significance of political freedom. You English cut off the head of a king several hundred years ago. The basis of your freedom is that revolt against a tyrant exists as a possibility in your minds. The Germans have never risen against a tyrant. They always submit. I rather doubt that today's Germans are so subservient either to 'Muti' Merkel or President Juncker. But it's an interesting question. And it might well point to one reason why many Brits are so averse to the EU project/empire.
The USA
  • More amusing bits from the diaries of the English poet, Stephen Spender, during his time in the USA in 1953:-
- The papers are terrifying: obsessed with whether it would be a good thing to attack the Chinese mainland, calling the communist bluff, etc.
- Baudelaire wrote in 1850 of the horror of the world being Americanised
- This morning on the radio I heard a discussion about the kind of government Christ would establish on earth. It sounded extraordinarily like the current American administration. It would be righteous, democratic but all-conquering. It would control all the administrative offices of government, and would be directed by human agents who would resist evil, all of which was on the increase all the time. Christ would remain invisible, like agents of the FBI.
- I pointed out that all the so-called facts [in the record of an interview with him] were all wrong. The editor said this did not matter. All they wanted was FACTS, right or wrong.
  • Here's an article on President Fart's impact on some folk. It suggests he's suffering from several personality disorders and might well have arrived at 'decompensation'. Well, it this wasn't the case before his sensational setback in Alabama last night, the chances of this happening must be soaring now. A shaft of light on the horizon.
Spanish
  • One of the biggests 'false friends' when learning Spanish is educación. Which means not 'education' but 'upbringing' in Castellano. And the same is true of the Portuguese educação. This might explain José Mourinho's odd claim that the post-match fracas in Manchester on Sunday was caused by the teams' 'diversity in education'.
Nutters Corner
  • Ex-Hindu and now evangelist Sadhu Sundar Selvaraj: In August 2016 my spirit was called up to heaven and I appeared at the council of the prophets and Abraham was seated there as the chairman of the council. I stood on the right side of Abraham. I saw the spirit of Donald Trump appear there and Abraham looked at me and he said: ‘It has been decided in heaven that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States of America.’
  • Ray Moore, the Republican loser in Alabama: When the vote is this close it’s not over. God is always in control. Forgive us for disagreeing, Ray. But he does seem to have smitten you.
Galicia
  • Needless to say, my insurance company did not send someone to check my claim 'within 24-48 hours'. In fact, it took more than a week. And when he arrived as 8pm last night, the assesor claimed the delay was due to the volume of claims arising from Sunday's storm. Nothing was said about last week's 2 public holidays and the 'bridge' which allowed some workers to take 3 days off.
Finally
  • The worst thing you can hear on a rolling news station: Let us hear your thoughts. . .
  • I don't know the difference between a regular white coffee, a latte and a flat white. All I know is that it's bloody hard to get the first of these in the UK. This seems to be because huge profits are made on the latter two options. Especially the flat white, which costs no more to make than the 'old-fashioned' latte but which sells at a premium to it. This is alleged by some pseud bugger to be because it has 'perceived value' arising from the fact it allows you to 'buy into a lifestyle.' Coffee, this chap tells us, is going through its 'Third Wave'. Under which this simple drink is being elevated to the status of an 'artisan food product'. I realise there are bigger things wrong with the world but capitialism transforming itself into relentless, unstoppable, rip-off commericalism is high on my list. Thank god things remain relatively sane in Spain. At least as regards coffee.
Today's Cartoon

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 12.12.17

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.

Cataluña
  • I might be wrong but I rather get the impression that the Spanish media is revelling in things that are going wrong in Cataluña. Perhaps merely because there's a lot of coverage of the upcoming elections there.
  • Here's one current story.
  • On the elections . . . I wondered the other day if the support for Ciudadanos was rising simply because the spokeswoman for the party is glamourous. Well, I clocked this foto yesterday, which might answer my query:-


Spain
  • While the population of Spain is decreasing, the country’s food and beverage production is ramping up. The obvious implication is that exports must increase. To help streamline that transformation, the government seeks to increase marketing avenues as well as international contacts for producers. More on this here.
  • As per a long-standing tradition, Iberia pilots will be going on strike over the Xmas period. Or maybe they won't.
  • The music in my watering hole is usually good, supplied from the USA via the internet. But yesterday it was numerous Spanish cover versions of songs by the Beatles and other stars of the 60s. And it made for pretty horrible listening, I have to admit. Worst of all? Probably Jerry Lee Lewis's Jambalaya. Witness this. And, even worse, this.
The UK and Brexit
  • Whatever the UK media thinks, there was no doubt here in Spain about the outcome of last week's theatre: Britain Gives In was a typical headline
The USA
  • America is not a 'cause' in the same way as socialism. It is just America by itself, with the American way of life and opposition to un-American ways, and tremendous waste, and broadcasting and press and a movie industry – not to mention 2 political parties – which advertise a brand of materialism which is an insult to people not directly involved in American ideas and interests. There are few Americans who realise what agony it is to be asked to choose between loss of liberty and possessing liberty at the American price, which is that of having the standards and standard of living that are American. Probably Americans are right to see the great virtues that match the weaknesses of their system. But not to see how America does not speak for the rest of the world at present – in fact it could only do so by hearing the voice of the word – that of its poorest populations – is a fatality which affects even America itself. Perhaps this is an exaggeration. There was the Marshall Plan and there is private American generosity, and there are many good Americans. But all this does not make up for the great weakness that America judges others by her values, her interests, which prevents her from either understanding or being understood by the rest of the world. A pretty accurate description of Trump's America, you might think. So, it's interesting to note it was written in 1948, almost 70 years ago. Are things much better now?
Spanish and English
  • I'm occasionally told by Spaniards who don't speak much English that their native language has more nuances (matices) than mine. This might well be one of those national Spanish beliefs about themselves. Like their alleged poor ability to learn foreign languages. Anyway . . . Rightly or wrongly, I take this to mean that understanding Spanish words which have several meanings depends on the context. In contrast, English usually relies on different words with slightly varying meanings, all of them stolen from other languages. Hence the rather larger English vocabulary.
Galicia
  • Something from El País here on our drought, in English.  It doesn't help that – despite earlier scares - 30% of water is still being lost during the supply process. The situation was slightly alleviated by the storm on Sunday which deposited many thousands of litres of water on the region - much of it on me in Vigo . . .
  • The number of those participating in the local flag-kissing I mentioned the other day was double last year's. I'm guessing a consequence of the Catalan developments.
Pontevedra
  • I'm used to regular changes in the nature of shops in the little street of the bar I patronise. But this is the oddest arrival yet - a pet-washing facility:-



I wonder how long it will last.

Finally
  • It saddens me to report that these were the winners in a humour competition just held in the UK:-
  1. Why was Theresa May sacked as nativity manager? She couldn't run a stable government.
  2. Why don't Southern Rail train guards share advent calendars? They want to open the doors themselves.
  3. What's the difference between Ryanair and Santa? Santa flies at least once a year.
The consolation is that this was a competition in respect of 'jokes' for Christmas crackers. So, the bar was rather low.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 11.12.17

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.

Cataluña

Spain
  • Madrid is more than a tad miffed that, while Portugal is (belatedly?) gaining in influence in Brussels, Spain is thought to be losing hers.
  • Last week's Constitution Day here in Galicia saw the ceremony of swearing allegiance to Spain by kissing the national flag. I wonder if this happened elsewhere in the country. I guess so. Very discomforting for Brits, who 'don't go in for that sort of thing.”

The EU, the UK and Brexit
  • Richard North here: With excruciating slowness, the media is gradually getting the message – the "bad Friday" agreement is a crock – a phony deal.  Another commentator: By the end of next week, we can see Mrs May's famous "breakthrough" being ripped apart. What fun.
  • Here's Don Quijones again on the subject of cash. It could be argued, he avers, that any legislation aimed at disrupting criminal financial networks is a welcome move, but that would ignore the fact that many forms of modern-day tax evasion, avoidance and money laundering are conducted without cash through shell corporations located across multiple jurisdictions, including [Juncker's] Luxembourg. But the EU’s anti-cash measures are not aimed at the giant corporations and well-heeled individuals and families, including those who exploit loopholes to stash their wealth far from the prying eyes of European tax authorities. No, the measures are aimed at average Joes and Janes, and the main objective is to further dampen their ability or willingness to use or carry cash. You have been warned. Again.

True Brits
  • The writer of the piece at the end of this posts plumps – admittedly tentatively - for this as a defining trait: We are a nation with high emotional intelligence. We have a keen awareness of the feelings of others. Against this, another columnist this morning complains that: We have become a nation of inconsiderate noise oiks. . . Sensibilities have been let to slide. This is hardly surprising in a world in which the subjective is prized, and the very concepts of restraint, deferred gratification, and moral rectitude have become unfashionable. . . [These] are telling examples of a society whose grasp on civility and the value of public decorum and manners seems increasingly in peril. As we plunge ever further into the anarchic alternative reality of our own private internet worlds, the idea that our actions affect living, breathing other people is becoming ever more remote. Perhaps both are right but things are going in the wrong direction. Towards a noisier, less considerate-of-others culture?? Hmm.

The UK
  • Can this really be true: Ten-year-old children are being asked by the Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust whether they are "comfortable in their gender" in official health surveys being completed in schools, it has emerged. The form asks: "Do you feel the same inside as the gender you were born with? (feeling male or female)". Youngsters are also asked to tick a box to confirm their true gender, with options including "boy", "girl" and "other". 

Galicia
  • Yesterday I went to see an exhibition of Da Vinci stuff in nearby Vigo. Or, rather, I didn't. Despite asking five(!) locals, my companions and I never actually found it. We did eventually happen on the building where it was thought the exhibition should be but it was closed. Perhaps because of the storm which had drenched us as we walked at least a kilometre along the seafront in search of the exhibition. And then back again to the car. My friends – both native Pontevedrans – felt this was a typical Galician mess. Which might he a tad harsh.
  • Which reminds me . . . It now takes 3 hours longer to go direct from Vigo to Barcelona (14 hours!) than to go south to Madrid and then north from there to the Catalan capital. My guess is that the arrival of the high-speed train to Madrid will only increase this difference. It says everything you need to know about travelling west-east. Or anywhere from Galicia.

Finally
  • I don't regard all ads as naff. Here and here are couple of good ones, the first from the 90s and the second from today's TV, at minute 3.43.

Today's Cartoon

Here's a seat!
THE ARTICLE

Sensitivity to others is Britishness at its best. Matthew Syed

I have often pondered how to define that elusive notion of Britishness. What is distinctive about our character and mindset? Here’s a tentative (and positive) suggestion for at least a part of the answer: we are a nation with high emotional intelligence. We have a keen awareness of the feelings of others.

We conduct our conversations in public at a reasonable pitch so as not to disturb those around us. We are fastidious about punctuality, fearful of keeping others waiting. We are self-deprecating, conscious that trumpeting ourselves might make others feel small. We queue assiduously, aware that jumping the line would be to value our time above others. And that wouldn’t do, at all.

People often talk about the British sense of fair play, but my sense is that this is just one aspect of our emotional intelligence. I also wonder if the early adoption of the rule of law was a consequence of this tendency, or perhaps a cause of it. This is not to suggest that our culture is perfect, or that this attribute is anything like universal. It is merely to suggest a general tendency in our character and social norms.


Comedians such as John Cleese have satirised this trait. There is a wonderful episode of Fawlty Towers in which the guests keep shtum about the appalling service out of fear of offending the feelings of the hotel staff. Yet while we can take it too far, my sense is that sensitivity to others is a source of vast (if underestimated) national strength. It would be a tragedy if we ever lost it.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 10.12.17

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.

Cataluña
  • Sr P says the only 'plan' he has is to remain president of the Catalan government. From a safe distance, of course. 
  • A Guardian columnist casts a jaundiced eye over over both national and regional media here. Taster: You can see the clapped-out legacy of this approach in Catalonia now.  The state-owned news from Madrid isn’t trusted. Still worse, the Catalan channels, richly funded by the local parliament and putting nationalist devotees in charge, has created a roseate picture of independence that simply doesn’t fit the facts. 
Spain
  • Madrid would like a longer Brexit transitional period than that currently on the table. This might well happen, but not really merely because Spain wants it. 
  • Meanwhile, thanks in (small?) part to pessimism re said Brexit, applications for Spanish citizenship are reported to be up by 33%. I'm still holding off, if only because I could choose between this and the Irish variety.
  • We're all increasingly worried about plastic. And, yet, here in Spain it's the devil's own job stopping shopkeepers giving you totally unncessary plastic bags. One for a small packet of paracetamol yesterday.
The EU, UK and Brexit
  • Here's a couple of extracts from the pertinent article at the end of this post:- What an absurd pantomime that was. By last Monday the only possible conclusion seemed to be that this whole thing was a misbegotten waste of time. Even convinced as I was that Leave had been the right answer, I wondered whether I could carry on supporting this shambolic endeavour.  . . .  But the melodrama and grandstanding of the past weeks between the UK and Brussels will pale in comparison to the spectacle of the poor Mediterranean countries within the eurozone struggling to protect their interests against the dominance of richer northern ones, and the former Warsaw Pact countries resisting the French push toward greater centralised control.  . . Brexit will look like a warm-up act for the real European drama that is to come. . . .  In the end, all those Brexit disagreements may come to look like so much posturing and prancing when the internal EU discord erupts.
Galicia
  • The forecast storm - the first in Spain to be given a (female) name - has duly arrived. And the palm tree ouitside my window is bent double. And we're all loving the rain . . . Honest.
Finally

Witless British TV ads
- Thorntons toffee: Pass the love on
- ASDA supermarket: Best Christmas ever
- M&S store: Spend it well
- Dysons: Give a gift that means more
- VIPoo[sic] air freshener:  The gift that keeps on giving
- Turkish airlines: Lighten your world
- Nissan car: Creating families

Today's Cartoon

 Stong and stable government . . . 


THE ARTICLE

After a week of preposterous grandstanding and melodrama, now the Brexit fun really begins: Janey Daley, The Daily Telegraph

At last we are ready for trade negotiations – which is the EU’s nightmare, as its own divisons are opened up revealed

What an absurd pantomime that was. By last Monday – which now seems about a century ago – the only possible conclusion seemed to be that this whole thing was a misbegotten waste of time. Even convinced as I was – and as around half of the stalwart British population still appeared to be – that Leave had been the right answer, I wondered whether I could carry on supporting this shambolic endeavour.

And then, miraculously, came the deliverance which anyone remaining lucid must have known was inevitable. It has always been clear that there was a perfectly credible solution to the Irish border problem: a combination of modern technology and old-fashioned common sense could deal with what is, in trade terms, a quite small matter.

But no, the EU had arbitrarily chosen to put this issue to the top of the list of Things That Must Be Settled Before Real Negotiations Can Begin. And to reinforce this sudden elevation of the Irish border to make-or-break status, it promoted the inexperienced Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to world stardom. Well, you know the rest.

We don’t need to retrace the steps of what looked like a tragedy until it turned out to be a farce. 

Suffice to say that the head of the pantomime horse was occupied by our old friends on the European Commission and the rear end was filled by Mr Varadkar, who must have been thrilled by his personal visitation from Donald Tusk to announce that Ireland would have a unilateral veto over Brexit terms. This was, it has to be said, quite a wickedly irresponsible thing to do because it threatened to open a breach in a terrible, bitter dispute which has only recently – and tenuously – healed.

Mercifully, somebody pulled the strings that needed to be pulled in time so we have a solution to the Irish border question which will, I am willing to bet, hold up indefinitely. Oddly enough, on that long Thursday night, we also seem to have settled a couple of other outstanding difficulties.

The final exit bill for the UK will be, according to reliable sources, £35-39 billion, which is higher than Theresa May’s initial offer of £20 billion but far below the figure of £100 billion (with an indefinite commitment to future instalments) that had occasionally been bandied about in the more excitable quarters of Brussels. What is more, everybody now accepts that EU citizens in the UK will continue to have the same rights as they had before, as will UK citizens in EU countries. You don’t say.

Have any of these outcomes ever been in genuine doubt by realists on all sides? If not, what was all that hysteria in aid of last week? Of course, it was partly the fault of the UK government, which seemed to have been peculiarly obtuse in its dealings with the sensitivities in Ulster, but it also seemed to fit too well with the Brussels game of ritual mortification which must be visited upon Britain. As I may have said before, this is not a negotiation, it is a hostage crisis, in which payment (in both cash and abnegation) must be agreed before the terms of release can even be discussed.

But something had clearly gone badly wrong. Watching Jean-Claude Juncker’s face and listening to his uncharacteristically gentle diplomatic words as he delivered his statement at the press conference of doom on Monday, it was clear that he was genuinely alarmed. This was not going according to plan. Ireland had gone from being one more mischievous trick on the British to an actual obstacle with possibly tragic consequences. In short, the EU had dangerously overplayed its hand.

Mr Juncker and Mr Varadkar fairly tripped over one another in their eagerness to pull back from the brink. So, in the dead of night, rabbits leapt out of hats, the intractable became manageable and the deal was done. We had now, it was solemnly intoned, made “sufficient progress” to be allowed to enter the proper negotiations over future trade relations which should have been going on simultaneously with that peculiar trio of pre-conditions ordained by the EU.

Never mind. We are back in the real world now, which might seem like a relief to us but is the EU’s nightmare – which is why they have been so busy staving it off. Because when the truly problematic matters of trade have to be dealt with, serious divisions within the European Union will be flushed into the open.

That’s when the fun really starts. The melodrama and grandstanding of the past weeks between the UK and Brussels will pale in comparison to the spectacle of the poor Mediterranean countries within the eurozone struggling to protect their interests against the dominance of richer northern ones, and the former Warsaw Pact countries resisting the French push toward greater centralised control. Just wait. Brexit will look like a warm-up act for the real European drama that is to come.

Germany, which as yet has no government, has provided a splendid trailer for the upcoming feature. Last Wednesday, Martin Schulz, head of the SPD, whom Angela Merkel is fervently hoping will join her in a viable coalition, announced his proposal for a new EU treaty creating a true United States of Europe to include unified (and centrally controlled) fiscal and defence policy. Any member state which could not accept this would be forced to leave the union.

(In fact this would happen automatically, since any new treaty must be ratified by all member states, most of which would be obliged to hold referendums for the purpose. Failing to ratify would trigger immediate withdrawal from the EU.)

Fiscal and military union would mean that there would be little point in voting for a national government ever again, since tax and spending policies and the defence strategy are the chief grounds for deciding which party one supports.

Mrs Merkel has, for the moment, rejected Mr Schulz’s suggestion. But in France, Emmanuel Macron is promoting more monolithic centralisation too, if in rather less crass terms. In the end, all those Brexit disagreements may come to look like so much posturing and prancing when the internal EU discord erupts.

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