Thursday, November 22, 2018

Notes from Hilversum, Holland: 22.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters Dutch
  • As I've said, bicycles are everywhere in this (very flat) land. Too many of the bllody things, say some. Bike parks - both those above-ground and those below it - are permanently full to capacity, it's alleged. I don't know about that but I am sure I'd have the greatest difficulty in finding my bike in, say, the immense bike-park outside Amsterdam station. Maybe that's really why the parking facilities are full – thousands of riders can't find their bikes and have effectively abandoned them there. Possibly 2 or 3 of them.
  • That said, I'm told that bike theft is a major problem here. If so, this would clearly alleviate the problem of abandoned bikes to at least some extent.
  • Anyway, for some good advice on cycling in Dutch cities, see the article below, entitled: The curious Dutch obsession with cycling – and the unspoken rules.
Matters Spanish/Galician
  • Spain seems determined to capitalise on the Brexit negotiations, with the new left-of-centre government making noises about Scotland that the previous right-of-centre (Cataluña-sensitive) government would never have made. See here and here. I doubt that either London or Brussels sees this as helpful, ahead a of key meeting on Sunday next.
  • The ever-inventive Gwyneth Paltrow thinks you might deserve a whole Galician village as an Xmas present. It is really true that rich foreigners will be attratcted to a life in 'medieval times that Galicia never left behind'? Well, maybe if they can helicopter in and out. And pay someone to deal with the local bureaucrats. Not to mention the (allegedly 'happy-to-have-you') locals.
EU Headaches

Bigger things than Brexit to worry about . . . ?
  • Greece: Greece’s financial crisis has come back to the boil as Athens draws up emergency plans to stabilize the banking system, raising concerns that the country may ultimately need a fourth EU rescue to escape its depression trap. Global risk aversion and contagion from Italy’s parallel banking drama has lifted a lid on the festering legacy of bad debts, and exposed the implausible methods employed by Greek regulators and the EU-led troika to camouflage the problem.
  • Italy: Brussels is expected to launch its excessive deficit procedure against Italy for violation of the debt ceiling rules of the Fiscal Compact, doubling down on a fateful clash with the insurgent Lega-Five Star government in Rome. This could lead to fines against a net contributor to the EU budget, an unenforceable sanction that risks a combustible political showdown.
  • Its Future: Extracts from this interesting article, from a Brit Remainer:-
- The EU has clearly become too insensitive, too brittle, to survive for ever.
- There can be no doubt that Europe at present is growing more fragmented, separating into its multifarious identities rather than cohering into a single European one.
- A likely scenario has Europe changing and dividing, as its economic space has to adjust to the changing politics, economies and cultures of its nations.
- History suggests an EU that could evolve into a new Holy Roman Empire: a confederation of states, some big, some small, some little more than cities, like Monaco, San Remo and Lichtenstein. 

Finally . . .
  • Amazon is a much admired operator, but not by everyone. As this article shows.
© [David] Colin Davies


The curious Dutch obsession with cycling – and the unspoken rules: Rodney Bolt, Amsterdam resident

The bicycle is central to the Dutch psyche. People hop onto two wheels at a tender age and keep going until (almost literally) they drop. Hipsters, grannies, toddlers and CEOs all trundle determinedly through towns and swoop around the countryside. In a land of 17 million inhabitants, there are 23 million bicycles. In Amsterdam nearly half of all journeys to work are made by bike. This is a world you disrupt at your peril. Here’s how to get by relatively unscathed.

The traditional Amsterdam bicycle is a heavy black affair, more Miss Marple than Tour de France, with back-pedal brakes and no gears. In lieu of a basket up front, many come equipped with a sturdy plastic milk crate, which doubles as a pedestrian-parting bull-bar. The frame seems made of cast iron, and the rest made up of parts of an astonishing variety of vintages. Hipster taste is leading to the appearance of sleeker machines, yet the average Amsterdam bicycle would in many countries be considered a wreck.

A bicycle may be built for one, but Amsterdammers consider this a bothersome and unnecessary restriction. Parents fit little seats – one to the crossbar and one to the back carrier – to transport their offspring, and build up sturdy calves pedalling along with one child on the front, one on the back, and panniers stuffed with shopping. To others, the cycle becomes an extension of body rather than a distinct means of transport. They behave as they would if they were walking: lovers cycle hand-in-hand, dogs are taken ‘walkies’ galloping alongside, and if it rains people pop up an umbrella with one hand and cycle on regardless.

Sounds chaotic? Not so. It all functions with relative ease. Far-sighted legislation in the 1970s has provided a network of cycle paths around the city, and out across the countryside. Cyclists even have their own traffic lights (granted, not always obeyed). Whereas in cities like London a war seems to rage between cyclists and motorists, in Amsterdam most motorists are cyclists too, so come with a mite more tolerance. The real battle is with tourists.

In recent years, hotels, hire firms and tour companies have taken to renting out bicycles to all-comers. Once, renting a bike in Amsterdam was the provenance of the intrepid few, keen on an authentic local experience; nowadays anyone who-can-just-about or who had-a-fairy-cycle-once is joining a wobbling veering flock that blocks cycle paths, breaks rules and wreaks havoc. It is making Amsterdammers livid.

A bicycle is by far the most sensible, environmentally sound and enjoyable way of getting about the city, so it seems unfair to deny visitors the experience – so here are some pointers to help ensure you don’t get screamed at, sworn at, or run down.

1. Cycle paths operate like roads: don’t dawdle along in the middle. Keep to one side (the right) to allow those work or errand-bound Amsterdammers to overtake – and don’t cycle up the wrong way.
2. It’s a dreamy city, but don’t be a ‘diagonalist’: drifting almost imperceptibly from one side of the cycle path to the other, frustrating attempts to get past you or predict what you’re about to do.
3. It may be ages since you’ve been on a bike, but don’t forget the highway-code basics. Observe red lights. Don’t ride two abreast (when Amsterdammers do, they employ an internal radar and pull over when someone approaches from behind, or gives their bell a polite ting). Hand signals wouldn’t go amiss, either, especially if you’re turning left across a cycle path.
4. Be aware if you’re a bit of a wobbler that those about you have been cycling almost since they could walk, and won’t be expecting sudden changes of trajectory.
5. Amsterdam cyclists operate according to a subtle system of give-and-take when two cycles approach a point from different directions, slowing down or speeding up according to an instinctive understanding of who might have got there first, to allow each other stress-free passage. Barging ahead claiming right-of-way, or suddenly stopping with a “He’s coming straight at me!” can cause mayhem. 
6. There’s so much to see... but most other cyclists are not sight-seeing. Don’t stop on a bicycle path to take a photo, clump together with friends to admire a building, or cluster on a corner to chat about what to do next.
7. Keep that phone in your pocket. Taking videos of your friends up ahead, or selfies while cycling (it happens!) can be selfie-cide. Pull over (off the cycle lane) if you need to check a map.
8. Watch out for moped drivers – they’re currently allowed on cycle paths (despite attempts to change the legislation); many speed and can be a menace. If you think this is madness, you’ll find that for once Amsterdam cyclists are on your side.

Fiets ze!  (Happy cycling!)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thoughts from Haarlem, The Netherlands: 21.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters Dutch
  • Here's something about the Dutch, clearly written by a Dutch person:-

  • It reminded me that, last year in Haarlem, I was nearly hit by a scooter as - innocently/foolishly - I crossed a cycle path without looking far enough left and right. So, I was pleased to hear last night that, since October, these have been banned from cycle paths. But this wasn't totally true. Only if they have a blue number plate and have promised not to go faster than 25kph. Still fast enough to kill the unwitting, of course. And to mean you can still observe scooterists slaloming along the paths in and out of the slower cyclists.
  • Speaking of the paths . . . Such is the priority for cyclists here, the ratio of cycle path to footpath is often 2:1 but can even reach 150-200:1. Don't believe me? See here:-
  • Indeed, it sometimes looks as if there's no dedicated space for pedestrians at all. Though this was taken in a pedestrianised zone, albeit with quite a few cars in it.

 TBH, I think the bikes are expected to confine themselves to the road in this part of the city.
  • And talking of cyclists . . . They're a hardy breed here. Many riders are without headgear in a temperature of 5 degrees – with a sharp wind – and quite a few even eschew gloves.
  • Perhaps it's because they start young at being exposed to the winter elements here. A woman walking towards me had a very young baby in a sling on her chest. Well-wrapped up from the neck down but with its head totally uncovered. Compare this with the insistence of our maid in tropical Jakarta on putting a woollen hat on the bonce of our younger daughter for all of the first 6 months of her life. Admittedly most of the time under air-conditioning.
  • I heard my first All I want for Christmas is You yesterday afternoon. Here in a café in Haarlem. Far too bloody soon.
Matters Spanish
  • Spain seems determined to screw up Mrs May's slim chance of getting her deal accepted by the EU, never mind by her compatriots. Click here on this. I'd just give up if I were her.
  • More on the rise of the far-right Vox party, here and here. I would call them 'fascists' but this is a meaningless label in Spain. Whether you're on the right or the left there, it just means: “You are a prime shit and I violently disagree with your views”. Couple of extracts:-
  1. The event at Vistalegre marks a turning point in Spanish politics: the rise of a new far right, in a country once considered an exception to the global fascist menace. . . . A shift aligned to other global phenomena, and yet one which also has some unmistakably Spanish characteristics.
  2. Will Spain be able to take advantage of both Brexit and Mr. Salvini’s Italy to move into a leadership position in the European Union? Could Madrid offer Europe a vision for an even better future?
  • All of us are clueless but some - the far-right Brexit extremists - are more clueless than others.
  • A propos:-

  • Reader Perry picks up on the Spanish word Pasota from María (see the Comments section here) and cites an article with 30 more foreign word with no English equivalent. I wondered about antier, for anteayer but the Real Academia de la Lengua Española says that antier is la forma coloquial de anteayer, es decir es exactamente lo mismo, pero en un contexto muchísimo más informal. En passant,  desvelar also means to reveal, disclose, uncover. As well as 'to do one's best'.
Finally . . .
© [David] Colin Davies

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Thoughts from Haarlem, The Netherlands: 20.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters German and Dutch
  • Yesterday, I drove from Hamburg to Haarlem in Holland, a not-unpleasant 5.5 hour trip. The temperature here is currently 4 degrees, compared with around 15 in Hamburg yesterday. But it will rise here to as high as 5 by midday. To be fair, I just checked and found the temperatures for both now and later back in Hamburg are 1 degree less. In Pontevedra, it's wet but warmer, at 13 degrees.
  • Immediately you enter The Netherlands, you're conscious of 2 differences with Germany. Firstly, there are far fewer large Audis, BMWs and Mercedes around you. And, secondly, there's no one flashing past you at what seems like speeds of up to 200kph. I imagine the Dutch are as rich as the Germans – if not more so on average – but perhaps they don't go in for ostentatious displays of wealth. Or breaking the daytime speed limit of 120/130kph.
  • The Netherlands is/are as flat and as prettily green as everyone says it/they is/are. And neat and orderly and well organised. As I reached the outskirts of Amsterdam and the sun began to set - bringing on twinkling lights all around - I had the odd feeling I was in one of the magnificent models in Hamburg's Miniatura Wonderland. A tad surreal, then. But the traffic jams between Amsterdam and Haarlem rapidly brought me back to reality.
  • My Anglo-German host in Hamburg defied my request and read yesterday's post before I left. He was (or seemed) amused but claimed I'd taken his comment 'out of context'. Hmm.
Matters Spanish
  • As if Mrs May didn't have enough problems back home, and just when you thought everything was cut and dried as regards the EU demands, Spain is the first of the 27 to throw a large spanner into the works. Over the 'settled issue' of Gibraltar, of course. See here and here.
  • As it happens, I saw a sign to Utrecht as I drove from Hamburg to Haarlem yesterday and naturally thought of the 1713 treaty under which The Rock was ceded by Spain to Britain. To the annoyance of most Spaniards – or at least of those who don't benefit from Gibraltar's thriving economy – this is still in force. As is Spain's centuries-old occupation of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa. But this is an entirely different kettle of fish, apparently.
  • This article purports to tell us which are the most and least happy Spanish regions to live in. The winner is Navarra and the loser is . . . . Galicia . But I have my doubts about the accuracy of the 'research' and the statistical validity of the conclusions. Anyway, everything's relative. One man's meat . . etc.
The EU/Brexit
  • Spain, it seems, is not the only country unhappy with the 'final' withdrawal deal. Several other members - the usual culprits - are lining up to claim that what is seen as unacceptable by most Brits is far too lenient towards the UK. So, what happens next? WTF knows.
  • That said, I see one Times correspondent  this morning has endorsed my guess that the UK is inching towards a second referendum and the withdrawal of the exit notice. Though Richard North pooh-poohs this notion. Maybe he isn't always as right as I've thought him to be . . .
Finally . . .
  • Whenever I'm on my travels, an ad appears on my laptop saying: These incredible gadgets have almost sold out in [the country in which I currently find myself]. I wonder if the statement is universally true. Or even in just the UK, Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands. Possibly not.
© [David] Colin Davies 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Germany: 19.1.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters German
  • My host – who is half English/half German - went to Cologne at the weekend, for a family get-together. This morning he commented that it was all very enjoyable, even though they'd all demonstrated 'German humour'. I have to confess that discussion with him didn't shed an awful lot of light on this (potentially fascinating) observation. Essentially, he said, while they did laugh a lot, they didn't initiate much. But, as he's a determined 'initiator', I feel his comment might be a tad unfair to his relatives.
Matters Spanish
  • More news about this government's revision of their predecessors' crazy policy on solar energy.
  • And here's some corporate news from DQ that might interest one or two readers.
  • A funny feminist form of anti-Francoist protest.
The EU/Brexit
  • As expected: Europe’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has raised the prospect of the UK remaining under EU control until the end of 2022, by extending the Brexit transition for 2 years from the current end 2020.
  • En passant, the British government prefers to call this 2-4 years time-frame, the ' implementation period', not the 'transition period'. Possibly wishful labelling. 
  • Neither term will be relevant if the British parliament – as is very likely - rejects the deal currently on the table and nothing is done to stop the UK crashing out of the EU next March.
  • I'm still betting on a second referendum, rather than the Conservative government simply announcing they'll go along with majority sentiment and withdraw the exit, or a general election bringing in an equally conflicted Labour party. Whose leader laughingly suggested yesterday he could negotiate a better deal than Mrs May. A man whose never negoatiated anything in his life.
  • Here's a nice article on a book entitled “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power. Great empire, little minds is the catchy headline – a comment of Edmund Burke's. About the British.
© [David] Colin Davies 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Germany: 18.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters Spanish
  • I wonder if I will ever get to try any of this.
  • I see Atlantis has finally been found, again.
  • Among some old papers, I found a blow-by-blow account of a World Cup football match between Spain and South Korea, watched in a Pontevedra bar. In 2002. Some of the things I noted:-
- Constant noise. Do Spaniards know how to stop talking?
- It's as if we were in the crowd at the match. Every good decision is applauded.
- Every move instantly analysed.
- Humour constant.
- Penalties looming. Hearts in mouth every time Korea comes forward.
- Terror now of last minute Korean goal. Even Spanish throw-ins are applauded.
- Extra time. Golden goal. Tangible, palpable tension. Cursing and swearing reach new heights.
- Second goal disallowed. Replays. Utter disbelief. Furore.
- Agitation refuses to die.
- Crowd now turning a little nasty. Every mistake by Spain now triggers an outpouring of Latin scorn.
- The air is purple with swear words I know and probably several more.
- Nil-nil final score. Penalty shoot-out
- Korea win the shoot-out and – unexpectedly and utterly undeservedly – go into the semi-finals while Spain goes into mourning.
- In eerie silence and with immense finality, the bar empties in less that 2 seconds.
At least the final comment answers the question posed in the first.

The EU
  • So long as the political elites in France and Germany aimed at a Bundesrepublik Europa, Brexit was both inevitable and necessary. Now that we are leaving, however, European integration has ground to a halt. With the election of populist governments, it may even be going into reverse. So, why leave now, one might ask, especially on the terms on offer.
  • Some pertinent overviews:-
- The only thing that is now absolutely certain about Brexit is that what we voted for in the referendum was not the utter chaos we are looking at today.
- Of course it would be better to remain in the EU than to accept this appalling “deal” – which is not in fact a deal but merely a precondition for a possible one. 

- The Withdrawal Agreement is not a “start”, as Mrs May keeps saying. It’s the end. [of Brexit].
- This is the place at which we were always meant to arrive: the destination determined from the outset by the select group of people who decide these things. 
- The choice of “this deal or no deal” is a complete red herring. The Remainers will stop banging on about a second referendum – which is a non-starter – and demand instead an extension of Article 50. This is a request that Brussels should happily accept.

  • Nice article on Fart and authoritarianism here.
  • Here's a list of words that the author says don't exist and are untranslatable. But then goes on to translate them . . .
© [David] Colin Davies 

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