Monday, May 31, 2004

The product being advertised to the tune of Land of Hope and Glory turns out to be a biscuit. I guess the ‘link’ is the [British?] king who is addressing a family on its merits.

There was a report last week on the number of students applying to Spanish universities, the marks they have to achieve in the national selection exams and the cost of the various courses available. It was no surprise to read that Medicine tops all the lists, except that Physiotherapy can be even more expensive to study. More surprising was the fact that Law is not a particularly popular subject and demands the lowest marks of all for a place. What was really perplexing, to me at least, was that both Nursing and Physiotherapy were just below Medicine in all the lists. Clearly, there must be some very clever nurses and physiotherapists in Spain. Talking to my Spanish friends about why these subjects should have this status we covered a range of reasons that might be considered quite universal but finally came to the Spanish factor. Not for the first time, it was impressed on me that it is quite acceptable here for you to aim for something below your true capability if this guarantees you a life easier than the one you would have in the more elevated career. As they say here, ‘One should work to live, not live to work’. Of course, it helps if you can reside at home and be completely subsidised by your parents until you get married in your 30s.

Another survey told us what a quick glance into any bar would, i. e. that, in the 20-40 age group, there are now more women smoking than men. It’s apparently considered sophisticated to kill yourself, whilst impregnating your hair and clothes with the noxious odour of nicotine. Call me old-fashioned, but I can think of better ways to show how independent you are than becoming totally dependent.

Meanwhile, another local 19 year old died on the motorway this weekend when his car – ‘for reasons as yet undetermined’ – crashed into the central barrier on a curve. Needless to say, neither he nor either of his two seriously injured passengers were wearing seat belts.

And on a lighter note…..


Romperécords – Record breaker
Clúster – Group, especially of companies
Clan – Group, of criminals
Nightology – Your guess is as good as mine; it appears in an ad
Filibusterismo – Filibustering.

Friday, May 28, 2004

This blog would appear to exert far more influence than I ever could have imagined. No sooner do I advise you that domestic violence is referred to here as gender violence, than the Royal Academy of Letters rushes into print to say that this is not acceptable and must be replaced by either ‘domestic violence’ or ‘sex-based violence’. The latter seems a tad ambiguous to me. One thinks of the actress with the big lips. Or ‘trout pout’, it seems. Lesley something.

Pondering [yet again] on the aggression and stupidity of Spanish drivers on motorways, it struck me that their eagerness to court danger and death probably reflected the wannabe bullfighter in them. A little later, it occurred to me that this couldn’t possibly be an original thought. Shortly after this, I realised it wasn’t accurate either; years ago I regularly saw far more stupid and dangerous driving in Iran. And I don’t recall seeing any bullfighting there. Back to the drawing board.

Has there ever been a soccer match with worse statistics than the UEFA final of Wednesday night between Oporto and Monaco? First half: A solitary shot at goal. Score 1-0, to Oporto. Second half: A total of 2 more shots at goal by Oporto. Final score 3-0. The cost of season tickets to Chelsea must be plummeting, if the Oporto coach really is on his way there.

There is an ad showing on Spanish TV which has ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ as the backing music. Next time I see it, I will be less slack-jawed and will seek to understand what on earth the connection might be with the product or service being offered.

‘Wonderland’ – ‘Broken Dreams’

Thursday, May 27, 2004

In case you missed it, the Bulgarian tight-rope walker famous for not using a safety net sadly paid the price in a Minnesota circus ring recently, when one of her silk ribbons snapped. This information comes courtesy of an obituary in El Mundo today. Quite why she rated one of the two daily spots, I cannot guess. Unless it is because she had along the way changed her name from Dessi Kehayova to Dessi España.

Domestic violence - or gender violence as it is called here – is a major media theme. So I was not very surprised to receive this week a glossy brochure from my town council advising me how I can tell if my husband or boyfriend is guilty of it. One of the abuses listed is preventing you from getting your mail. It struck me that, if this is the case, you are unlikely to get your hands on the brochure advising you of this fact. Someone in the distribution centre must have realised that my copy was going to a single male and helpfully handwrote ‘And family’ after my typewritten surname. Strange but, I suppose, more acceptable than ‘And potential abusee’.

It has seemed to me for a while that indicating by drivers has been reducing from its already low base. At a roundabout today I realised why; it is impossible to operate the indicator stalk with your left hand when it is permanently holding a mobile phone to your ear. If ever an invention was designed for a people who enjoy talking, have a high tolerance of risk and hate obeying rules, it must be this one.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Well, it’s three days since the wedding and the media’s post-match analysis continues. Yesterday’s El Mundo treated us to the results of a wide-ranging survey which included such categories as Most Elegant Lady [Noor of Jordan], Most Sexy Lady [Rania of Jordan] and Most Tacky Lady [M.L.N]. The previous day, the paper had devoted the first 24 pages of its Sunday edition to the wedding and, in addition, provided a special supplement for those whose threshold of boredom is sky high. To give it full credit, El Pais devoted very little space to the event yesterday, as befits a more left-of-centre organ.

More serious concerns voiced by El Mundo yesterday centred on the degree of insult afforded by ‘friendly republican neighbours’ such as France and Italy by not sending their heads of state. Though Mrs Chirac apparently made it. Britain, it seems, did well by sending Prince Charles and allowing him to attend the dinner on the eve of the wedding. And by keeping Camilla at home.

Somewhere in between was the concern that the happy couple did not seem particularly blissful and that the balcony kiss was sufficiently lukewarm to suggest that the whole thing was a put-up affair and not a real love match at all.

The endless TV reprises featured one lovely vignette. There were four or five very young pages and bridesmaids in attendance and, as at all large Spanish gatherings, they were allowed to do whatever they liked while any adults who actually paid them any attention looked on with an indulgent smile. So it was that the cameras captured one of the pages kicking hell out of at least one of his diminutive colleagues. I was pleased to see that the readers of El Mundo voted this the Highlight of the proceedings. All is not lost.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Well, the lovely Letitia married her prince today, though the rain in Spain certainly did fall on her parade, just as she emerged from the palace to walk to the church. In the end, she went the hundred yards courtesy of Messrs. Rolls and Royce. I needed to be out of the house when the morning’s proceedings were televised [on 3, if not 4, of the 5 channels] and my VCR naturally failed to function. But I was able to listen to the commentary on the car radio and so didn’t miss such gems as, ”Well, we now have a priest to tell us about the religious aspects of this ceremony. Tell us, Father, what is happening on the altar now?” “Well, they are waiting for the bride and groom to arrive.” Then there were the endless expressions of regret about the Madrid rain, which went down rather well up here in abnormally-sunny Galicia.

I needn’t have wondered about missing the pictures because the same 3 [or 4] channels spent the entire afternoon and evening doing what Spanish TV does best – having six or eight people sitting in a semi-circle analyse every conceivable aspect of the day. Much of this I cannot take but I did enjoy this comment before switching off - “The Infanta Elena does look absolutely beautiful but she needs to be more careful about how she walks.” Nothing too trivial for these ‘programmes of the heart’. Heartless, more likely.

You might like to brew some tea while the ads are on – For anyone reading this because they are thinking of buying property in Spain, there is a new section on my web site – colindavies.net

Having mentioned surly funcionarios last time, I should report that my daughter was given a ticket yesterday for parking her car on a pavement opposite my house that is never used. The reason it is never used is that it is completely blocked by not just one but three huge rubbish skips placed there by the same local council whose police issued the fine. And these fine men, you will recall, are led by a chap who has a habit of crashing into the back of other cars whilst under the influence. We are not confident of a successful appeal.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Every now and then, in this country that moves at a slightly slower pace than elsewhere, something happens with such speed and efficiency that one is left slack-jawed in amazement. Having decided this week to have a medical check-up, I presented myself at the local hospital and within 5 minutes was being examined by a remarkably informal doctor. Blood tests were taken the next morning – again very efficiently and affably – and the results were ready for discussion that evening. Admittedly, this was a private hospital – it being obligatory for me to have medical insurance in order to get Spanish residence – but I can’t imagine BUPA being so quick about things. Plus I got a clean bill of health. Which leaves me hoping that they really were as efficient as they were rapid!

It is, incidentally, one of the many joys of Spain that people who attend to you are rarely officious and never surly. Outside the ranks of government funcionarios, I mean. These, of course, are the same the world over.

In the Spectator this week, a contributor to the section on Modern Luxuries complains that it’s hard to get the likes of pig’s spleen and chicken necks these days. He should come to Galicia. Here they are laid out – prepackaged – on the supermarket shelves. The locals favour them because they are not long off being poor. Here the equivalent of Sunday roast is a stew which contains [along with a token vegetable] parts of animals I have never even heard of, never mind eaten. Popular as these dishes are, I guess it would amuse the Galicians to know that they are comprised of luxuries. They reserve this label for the goose barnacles [percebes] that often prove fatal to collect and which I saw on sale in a Santiago restaurant last week for 120 euros a kilo. Personally, I find them as repulsive as gizzards and tripe. But, then, I have always been a fussy eater. Needless to say, they are reputed to have aphrodisiacal qualities.

The Prince of Asturias – heir to the Spanish throne – gets married on Saturday, to a rather lovely ex-TV presenter. I wouldn’t know this except that 3 of the 5 national channels appear to be giving round-the-clock information about the event and the happy couple. You can easily imagine, I suspect, the barrel-scraping that this compels.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Foreign films are virtually always dubbed in Spain, by an industry which became large and very proficient during Franco’s time. In addition, they usually have their titles changed, sometimes to something similar but often to something which to bears little relation to the original. Just a few examples from this last week:-
The Wedding Planner became The Wedding Plans
Almost Heroes became Heroes by Accident
High Crimes became [somehow] The Whole Truth, and
Not Another Teen Movie became Not Another Stupid American Film…….

I give a conversation class to a small group of teachers of English. One topic I tried last week was the critical attitude struck by many in the UK towards Mrs Beckham for her failure to keep her husband in harness. Rather to my surprise, no one seemed much interested in arguing the toss one way or the other. It was later explained to me that no one in Spain is surprised at Mr Beckham’s reported activities, since this is how men were. Nor at suggestions that Mrs Beckham was stupid for giving him the opportunity to play around, as this was self evident. What really surprised people here was that a woman would want to tell the world about sleeping with a man and get a million Euros for doing so. How quaint this all seems by British ‘standards’.

Which reminds me, a character in a book I am reading written in 1767 bemoans the fact that newspaper publishers in London [Grub Street] can cynically raise the circulation of their rags by printing scurrilous stories and defying their victims to sue for defamation. He also points out that ‘no nation drinks as hoggishly as the English’. So not much change in nearly 250 years then.

Friday, May 14, 2004

I read in El Mundo today that someone in Barcelona who had been given a 2 year jail sentence for knocking out his friend’s teeth had had his sentence reduced on appeal, on the grounds that the victim’s mouth had been in a rotten state prior to the assault. It reminded me of a case in Jakarta where a Brit who had fled the scene after knocking down a pedestrian [this being standard advice from the embassy] had his sentence commuted because the injured party had actually been dead, so there was nothing the driver could have done for him. It must all make sense to someone.

It seems that the Spanish secret service tapped the phones of the Madrid bombers for months prior to the massacre last March. Sadly, though, they didn’t have any Arabic speakers to translate the tapes. This, too, must have made sense to someone at the time. With hindsight, it looks like an exercise in lunatic futility.

There were 50cm of hailstones in Sevilla one day this week. Up here in rainy Galicia, we have had constant sun and record highs. So, global warming for us and global freezing for them. A cosmic joke.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Picking up on the theme of illegal [and obstructionist] parking, I have belatedly realised that there is one law in Spain that is obeyed even more than the law of supply and demand. This is that - rather like water finding its own level - every road in Spain will always reduce itself to either one lane, if it’s one-way, or two lanes, if it’s two-way. Regardless of the road’s width, every other lane will be taken up by parked cars. If one is lucky, the traffic will flow reasonably smoothly down the residual lane. Until, of course, someone wants to park. Or, more often, to chat with a friend. Or, in Andrew’s experience the other day, to reverse against the flow. The only thing which can free the road is the appearance of the dreaded grua, the crane which drags the occasional offending car to the pound. When this happens, cars, vans and trucks alike scatter like cherry blossom in a gale. Only to return a few minutes later, of course. Would that we were so lucky with cherry blossom.

One thing I still find hard to take in Spain is the acceptance of pictures that are far gorier than in any other country in which I have lived. And I’m not talking here about pictures of bulls with glistening flanks. More the compulsory shots of pools of blood [or even bits of brain] resulting from ETA murders or road accidents. Today we had TV pictures of the murder of a US hostage by hooded Islamic terrorists. To be sure, we didn’t see the actual decapitation but we did see the knife drawn, the head thrown back and the blade applied to the throat. And then we were treated - over this frozen scene - to the screams of the victim mingled with cries from the perpetrators of Allah Akbar! Who knows what we’ll get tonight during the peak hour news bulletins.

On a lighter note, I was taken today by a lady from an estate agent’s office to see a house in the hills. Not only did she not know where the house was, she couldn’t even find the village. Armed with a good map, I finally got us there. Fortunately, the passing village idiot knew which house was for sale. It wasn’t the one the lady had pointed out to me.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

I may well have talked before about Spanish parking. More accurately the total lack of consideration for others with which much of it is executed. Because of this, driving through Spanish towns is more akin to trying to slalom down a packed mountainside than anything else. There is a wide street in Pontevedra of five lanes. I say five but it is really only three as two of them are permanently occupied by cars which are legally parked. On top of this, another two are invariably blocked by cars which are illegally double-parked. This, of course, leaves just one lane for all the traffic, rush-hour or otherwise. My friend, Andrew, told me this week that as he - and all the other drivers - were trying to funnel into the single lane left to them, they were met (in a manner of speaking) by a car reversing in the other direction. It would be sexist of me to mention the gender of the driver so I won’t. Needless to say, since he/she wasn’t committing the heinous crime of hesitating at a traffic light, no one was showing any irritation whatsoever with this lunacy. Except possibly Andrew.

The street in question is Avenida de Colón, or Columbus Avenue in English. Very appropriately named, it seems to me, after someone who had no idea where he was going and no idea where he was when he finally got there. I wonder if he found other galleons double-parked in the bay when he arrived. Or reversing out, even.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Well, I am back from the UK and have regained control of my computer from the bloody Sasser worm, which hit me on Saturday, before anyone apparently knew much about it. Ruined my weekend. Be warned – it doesn’t come via the email and, if you don’t have a firewall, you need the MSN security update to keep it out.

A quintessential Spanish scenario – I went today to meet a local businessman, having made the appointment for 10.30 when we met yesterday. Or ‘first thing’ as he called it. I had naturally taken a book to read so, when he polled up at 11.05, his first comment was not ‘Sorry’ or some such namby-pamby offering but ‘Ah, I see you are taking advantage of the situation’. Then we went for a coffee without further comment.

The new socialist government has hit the ground running. Or stumbling some would say. For those with long memories, they appear to be part of the George Brown school of public relations – First open your mouth and then put your foot in it. Last week they laid into the previous administration for their failure to prevent the Madrid bombings of a month ago. And yesterday, they caused widespread consternation with a suggestion that all preachers – not just rabid Islamic ones – would be vetted in advance for contentious content of their public addresses. In a still largely [if nominally] Catholic country, this did not go down well.

Ah, the dangers of idiom. As we sat in a plane at Lisbon airport last week, the pilot advised us that Portugalia [an excellent airline, by the way] were sorry for the fact that we were not yet disembarking. The problem, he said, was that we had landed a few minutes early, the company’s new agent had not yet arrived and so we were waiting for them to remove the finger…… After a second of two of studied silence, the Brits aboard broke naturally broke out in raucous laughter.