Wednesday, June 30, 2004

With Spain out of the European Cup, it’s hardly surprising that attention has reverted to the local Pontevedra team. Especially as last weekend they were playing the decider for promotion into the Second Division. I watched the first half but – out of boredom - switched off at half-time. This was a shame as Pontevedra scored three goals in the second half and it was something [or would have been] to see both crowd and players become delirious with joy once victory and promotion were in the bag. Unfortunately, this happened three minutes before the end of the game, when the ref. blew for a foul. Anyway, I did get to see the antics that centred on the much-delayed capture of a purple-painted rabbit that was released onto the pitch during the first half. Sadly, though, I missed a reprise with a large, flightless bird that was pursued around the pitch during the second half. The local paper said this had been a cockerel but, on the TV, it looked more like a pheasant to me. And so it turned out to have been. Never trust the press.

The Pontevedra team is sponsored by a local wood-processing factory, whose acronym features in large letters on their shirts. But they have a different sponsor on their shorts and socks. The logo of this company appears to be series of three sharp mountain peaks and this is imprinted on the players’ backsides. Surrealistically, the desperate-for-cash local TV station spends a good deal of time focusing on the players’ rear ends but, as yet, I have been unable to figure out what the company does. Manufactures haemorrhoid cream perhaps.

I have reported previously that the literal translation of Pontevedra’s tourism theme for this year is ‘Pontevedra – A Round City’. I speculated that this cryptic phrase meant ‘rounded’ in the sense that it had many things to offer. And this has now been confirmed by the Director of Tourism, who helpfully added that, when seen from the air, Pontevedra is a round conurbation. And that a football is round and Pontevedra have just won promotion. I am left wondering whose mother, sister, daughter and/or aunt she is.

Monday, June 28, 2004

What a difference a day makes. If you try to get into Pontevedra at 1pm on a sunny Saturday, you have to drive across the frustrated path of belligerent millions who are striving to get out, en route to the beaches that dot our magnificent ria. Or fjord, to you. But at exactly the same time on a sunny Sunday, you are the only person on the road. This is because Sunday midday is family lunch time. Nobody but pathetic loners goes to the beach at this time. Or anywhere else, for that matter. It is a great time for everything in Spain.

Talking of driving, I was again almost hit broadsides today by a car that was attempting to overtake me as I was making a left turn I had been indicating for 10 to 20 seconds. If I understood correctly, the response to my expressed irritation was that, as we were going round a bend, how could the driver be expected to know that there was a left turn round the corner and that my signal was, therefore, trustworthy.

My friend, Andrew, and I swap these ‘road stories’ with great relish. Which is just as well, as all females of my acquaintance detest them and make exaggerated gestures of boredom whenever I start to relate them. Needless to say, I ignore them.

Talking of Andrew… he has just told me that the door on their underground garage has been modified today so that it will, as it should, close automatically behind them. Trouble is, it will no longer respond to the remote controls on entering so one has to get out and open the door manually. And then get back to your car in time to drive in and stop the door from descending onto its roof. The guy is coming back mañana to fix it.

Visits to Galicia rose 22 per cent in the first five months of this year. I put this down to the lure of my web page [colindavies.net] and not, as some cynics would, to the fact that it is customary, in Holy Years such as this, to double the time off from Purgatory that is one’s reward for doing the pilgrimage to Santiago.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Sipping albariño wine with my daughter and friends in one of the town squares at 2.15 this morning – quite early by Spanish Friday night standards – we were accosted by the world’s worst accordion player and his young apprentice. I have never been so pleased [or quick] to part with every piece of loose change in my pockets, despite the fear that he might think we wanted to finance an encore.

There is a permanent gypsy camp in the woods on my side of the river and I regularly see family groups on their way into and out of town. One woman – with 2 small children in tow – is always pushing a serious wheelbarrow back home, laden with whatever they have found around town. This morning, though, she was pushing it into town - full of vegetables, fruit and shellfish whose provenance smelled rather doubtful. It was hard to believe anyone would buy any of the stuff, especially the mussels. But, just in case, I will eat at home tonight.

We had a lot of fires in the mountain forests last week, when the temperatures and the winds were both high. Most of these, it was reported, had been started deliberately. And at night, when the water-laden helicopters can’t reach them. It was disturbing to read today that the main suspects are ecologists who resent the replacement of oaks and chestnuts by fast-growing pines and eucalyptus. Easy to sympathise with their views but not their protest methods.

Watching the tense late stages of the England match on Thursday evening, my elder daughter and I shared the irreligious hope that my younger [and rather more Catholic] daughter was praying sufficiently hard for victory. If so, she was convincingly out-prayed by Louis Figo. Today’s El Mundo reports that he responded to his substitution by nipping straight along to the ground’s shrine to the Virgin of Fatima to put in a few impassioned pleas for a Portuguese victory. Down on the Catholic farm, it seems, some animals are more equal than others.

Final word on that bloody match….. Very near the end, I suggested that a free kick on the edge of the Portuguese penalty area demanded a ‘Johnny Wilkinson moment’ from David Beckham. It did come, of course. But only when he took the first penalty.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Well, the Spanish football coach has decided that he is not as popular as he thought and tendered his resignation, just as he was about to be lynched.

But the England coach looks safe, despite a defeat brought about - a few of us think - by misguided strategy and tactics. The English fans clearly don’t feel as humiliated as the Spanish. But neither group can possibly feel as bad as the Germans, whose coach fell on his sword rather more quickly than his Spanish counterpart, after their defeat by the Czech Republic’s B team. I would have liked to give you the Spanish word for schadenfreude but there is nothing in my dictionary. Interesting that the Germans invented the concept.

Talking of words, I believe I have invented groinding. This is The grinding of [normally female] groins, a staple of Spanish TV. So, one of this year’s contenders for the brainless-summer-beach-hit features a young woman doing her stuff in front of 3 Masai warriors leaping up and down. Not surprisingly, their timing shows a complete disregard for the ‘music’. And who can blame them?

Thursday, June 24, 2004

The much vilified Spanish football coach has said that he is staying on as he ‘has the support of the football world’. If the [somewhat adverse] opinion polls published today are anything to go by, this would seem to mean merely the President of the Football Association, the man who appointed him. And who extended his contract for two years before the European Cup competition. Since both gentlemen are Basques, this has given the regionally-obsessed Spanish plenty of scope for conspiracy theories. And fury.

Talking of polls, one published yesterday in El Mundo again demonstrated the depth of anti-American feeling in Spain. 75% of Spaniards distrust the US government in its fight against international terrorism. This contrasts with 25% in the USA itself, 41% in the UK and 61% in France. Even Morocco and Pakistan – Muslim countries, of course – come below Spain. Needless to say, the dreadful Madrid bombings of last March are a major factor behind the Spanish attitude. Rightly or wrongly, most Spaniards don’t believe they would not have happened but for the Iraq war.

I was nearly hit on a zebra crossing again today. Mind you, the damage would probably have been slight as the car was moving very slowly. I felt more amused than threatened, at the sight of the driver with his left arm dangling down outside the car and his right arm contorted round his head so that he could scratch his left ear. No wonder he was too preoccupied to see me.

Piso Relax in Vigo has taken off the gloves – doubling the size of its box ad and adding the strap line – ‘Number 1 in Luxury, Selection and Distinction’. Plus it has both Miss Brazil and Miss Argentina on its staff, it would seem. And air conditioning throughout. Can I hold out?

‘Die Hard’ – ‘Glass Jungle’
‘Rumble in the Bronx’ – ‘Hard to Kill’

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Here in Spain summer starts today. And so, after weeks and weeks of sun, it is raining. And the temperature has dropped 10 degrees from its high of 32. I might just as well be in the UK. Well, not really; it’s only 17 there.

At least the rain is appropriate for the gloom that has settled on the country after Spain’s early elimination from the European Cup. [A soccer tournament, for my American reader]. Yesterday’s papers were vicious in their condemnation of a team that was, once again, only a bridesmaid. ‘A Hell of Cowards’ read one headline. Others were less complimentary.

Yet another WordWatch Special
Whenever they want to invent mock Spanish, Anglo-Saxons add the letter ‘O’ to English words. Occasionally it works. Dogo, would you believe, is a bull mastiff. In similar [but more topical] vein, un chute is a shot at goal in football. The verb is chutar. Or shoot, to you and me.

Talking of funny games – who won at the recent EU summit? According to the UK’s Daily Telegraph, Tony Blair gave way in a number of his ‘red line’ areas. Whereas El Mundo here tagged him the big winner as he went home with everything. A game of two halves, it would seem. Or different stadiums, even.

There seems to be a growing craze up here in Galicia for customising [or tuning] your car. Given that this is usually done by what would in the UK be called yokels, mere words could not do justice to the results. So I have decided to snap as many of these as I can – along with their proud owners [known as morulos here] – and post them on my web page. More anon.

Who would have thought it – a domestic constitutional court has declared illegal the new government’s flagship statute addressing the growing problem of violence against women. This, we have been frequently told, is the first of its kind in Europe, possibly the world. Except that it doesn’t address the issue of violence against old folks, children and even men. So it is offensive to some higher principle of equality. Or possibly the European Declaration of Human Rights. Or Wrongs. How the wheel turns.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

A writer in today’s Sunday Telegraph compares the ‘high-trust, civic and law-governed’ foundation of North Europe with the ‘amoral familialism’ of the South. Hmmm….

Flicking through yesterday’s Faro de Vigo in pursuit of the sports pages, my eye was caught by something unmissable on the small ads page. Not only has La C. de E. [‘The Queen of Vigo. Favoured by the Elite’] upped the size of its box ad but it is facing serious competition from Piso Relax [‘Number one in Vigo, where quality makes the difference’]. In addition to a perplexing range of in-house services, both of these offer home and hotel visits. But neither mentions forests. On the other hand, La C. de E. is promoting its new ‘Boat and Limousine’ services. So it can only be a matter of time. Thank-God this is a Catholic country. Who knows what would go on otherwise.

WordWatch Special
Exhibitionismo: I read yesterday that a local resident had been imprisoned for this and immediately feared for my own liberty. So I was sort of relieved to find that it can mean ‘indecent exposure’ in Spain and not just something favoured by a significant percentage of the British population. I thought initially that this might be the first known example of a Spanish expression being shorter than the English. But, if you count the syllables, you will find that the score is 7-6 in favour of Spain.

As I was reading this paper I noticed a puffed-up, strutting male pigeon bully a female bird away from a crust of bread on the floor near my table. As he manoeuvred her away from the morsel, a sparrow flew in and took it. So much for that little bit of exhibitionism.

You may have missed the pictures of the beheaded American hostage, showing his detached head lying on his back. We didn’t, of course.

Friday, June 18, 2004

I have a low opinion of Spanish TV. For those interested in seeing them, my views are set out in detail in ‘Initial Observations on Spain’ on my web page [colindavies.net]. They haven’t changed since I wrote them two years ago. So I was amused to see a dismissive description of Spanish TV in the 2004 edition of the Rough Guide to Spain. I was particularly taken with the suggestion that much of Spanish TV is merely ‘televised radio’. This is a reference to the many shows which involve a panel of up to 10 people who talk [more usually shout] all at the same time. These luminaries face the camera but have their backs to an audience which sits in serried ranks behind them. However, it has occurred to me that these are, in fact, essentially visual programmes in that the radio would not require the participants [of every age] to have plunging necklines and mini-skirts. Nor, on radio, would one get the full value of the facial gestures and gesticulations that are a necessary concomitant to the ‘discussions’. And the occasional fights make much better TV than radio. By the way, I have been told recently that there is a very large mirror behind the camera, allowing both the panel and the audience behind them to see the faces of the ‘celebrity’ participants.

I have discovered that my local council included a direct debit form in the glossy brochure about the upcoming fiesta activities. That’s how seriously they take these things. No such option is available for the annual household taxes. Thank God everything is in Galician and I can’t understand it.

WordWatch Special
Wellness: My medical insurance company has launched a new offering – USP Wellness. To no great surprise, this centres on cosmetic surgery. Wellness is a translation of the Spanish word bienestar and so it seems that the company felt that ‘wellbeing’, ‘welfare’ and ‘comfort’ were simply not trendy enough. Call for a new word. Or perhaps the resurrection of an obsolete one.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Another car in the forest this morning, this time occupied [as far as I could tell out of the corner of my eye] by two young men. One of these seemed to have a layer of tin foil on his lap. Useful in the smoking of heroin, I’m told. Then again it might have been the wrapping for his sandwiches. Judging from the quantity of discarded foil, quite a lot of sandwich-eating must be taking place in the forest. At all hours of the day and night.

On my long drive to France and back, I came to realise just how relaxing it is to travel within the speed limit on Spain’s wonderful motorways. For a start, you hardly ever have to risk any overtaking, as you rarely catch up with anything ahead of you. Secondly, you don’t need to worry about the traffic police who are lying in wait for the drivers that regularly rocket past you. And, finally, your fuel consumption figures are a good deal better than they would be if you took the Spanish approach and regarded the speed limit as a guideline which doesn’t apply to you.

By the way, such is the pace of motorway construction in Spain, whenever you go on a long trip you inevitably come across at least one new motorway that wasn’t there the last time you passed that way. This adds more than passing interest as all major roads in Spain have two or three numbers [don’t ask] and the opening of a new road or a new stretch provides an opportunity to change one or more of these. Such fun.

In Valladolid on the way back, I came up against the new and the old Spains within seconds of each other. Outside the cathedral, a traffic warden was using a digital camera to snap cars that might be about to exceed their limited stay. Still pondering this, I found myself frustrated in my attempts to get into the cathedral that should have opened 30 minutes earlier. Happily, though, the door was ajar when I walked back a short while later. After I had checked out the Duke of Wellington’s fine quarters in what is now one of the university buildings.

This talk of the trip to France reminds me that the very first thing that caught me eye as I crossed the border high in the Pyrenees was a man urinating against a large rock at the side of the road. I wondered whether he was a Frenchman relieved to be home or an aggrieved Spaniard saying his final farewells.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

As I recall, the last time I received a Council Tax bill in the UK it came with pages and pages of incomprehensible detail about where the inflation-busting annual amounts were going. All printed on high quality paper and so a very far cry from the cheap, single page I received the first time I ever paid a Rates bill. Here in Spain they just send you the bill. And charge you 20 percent more if you are late paying it. On the other hand, today I received a very glossy brochure from my local council, giving me immense detail of the events taking place during the imminent fiesta fortnight. I can’t help feeling this says quite a lot about the respective cultures.

Of a morning I walk my dog, Ryan, through the forest behind my house, taking a small track off the main one. In the past three days this has been blocked – at 11 in the morning - by a car occupied [I believe] by a young couple. Since – for obvious reasons - I don’t look at them, I can’t say whether it is the same occupants every day. But I’m beginning to suspect that it is the same enterprising young woman each time. We are used to the forest being used, at least at night, by lovers desperate to find alternatives to their family flats but this matutinal activity is a new development. And not entirely welcome. Perhaps those small ads at the back of the local news papers will now add ‘Forest visits’ to the list of acceptable venues. I must check.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Swimming against the rip tide of global commercialism, the new socialist government has announced that it plans to reduce the number of Sundays and holidays on which large shops are allowed to open. This is currently 12 and they are proposing a major reduction to 8. Not much customer orientation in evidence here and it will be interesting to see how things go. In case you don’t know, all shops except newsagents and pastry makers shut midday Saturday and open again on Monday. Nothing is open Sunday afternoon/evening.

Talking of legislation, there are now British levels of rancour and chaos in the Spanish education world, resulting from the new government’s decision to suspend a keynote reform of the last administration. This was called the Law of Quality and it was designed to improve university education. But it also strengthened the position of religious instruction in the curriculum and the rather more secular new government takes exception to this. The uncertainty that now surrounds this subject has been exacerbated by the refusal of at least one Autonomous Community [Madrid] to take any notice of the suspension of the law. A complete mare’s nest, then. Stuff the kids.

And still on politics, the ever-opportunist government of Catalunia has upped its demands for recognition of its separate status from the ‘Kingdom of Spain’. Its long shopping list includes recognition of Catalan as a EU language and, by analogy with Scotland, a separate football team for all international competitions. And there are rumours that Catalunia will emphasise its separateness by announcing - on behalf of Barcelona - a rival bid to Valencia’s for the Americas Cup venue. In the European elections of last week, several of the ‘nationalist’ parties got together to form a block that would press for greater local autonomy from Brussels. In Spain, though, ‘nationalist’ doesn’t mean ‘national’ but ‘regional’. In other words, they don’t just want greater autonomy for the Spanish state but for their own regions. Can this be what the EU founding fathers really intended? Of course, the demands of the Catalunian government are still only a pale shadow of those of its opposite number in the Basque country. Put briefly, this simply want absolutely nothing to do with Spain. One frequently wonders where all will this end.

Final political note – the government has announced that it will no longer be giving widowers’ pensions to those husbands convicted of killing their wives. This seems eminently sensible but one is left wondering how it could ever have happened in the first place.

Special WordWatch: I cited filibusterismo just before I went off to France. I’ve since discovered that this is derived from the English ‘freebooter’ and so originally meant ‘pirate’ in Spanish. By pure coincidence, I saw in France a very similar word – filibustier – in an article on Francis Drake, clearly also meaning ‘pirate’. So…. here we have a word [freebooter] which was corrupted into both Spanish and French as filibuster/filibustier and which then returned to English in its revised form meaning what it does today. As least that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it. I trust you are all as fascinated as I am by these linguistic gymnastics.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

I am about to drive to the south of France for a few days. Ryan, my border collie, has insisted on coming with me. He has reminded me that this was one of the main reasons I bought a hatchback last year. At the English Speaking Society last night, I was advised that I am not allowed to have him in the car itself and must have a net between me and him if he is in the boot. So, it is OK in Spain to put your child on the dashboard but you can’t put your dog in the boot. We all agreed that the most nets you were likely to see in a lifetime was around one or two.

Still on the subject of driving, I have decided to stop signalling at roundabouts. This clearly confuses other drivers as, when I signal that I am turning left, it incites them to rush in front of me. It has been explained to me that this is because they assume that I am going right round the roundabout and, therefore, the same way as them. So they accelerate to get ahead of me. Better to leave them guessing as to where I might actually end up as this forces them to hesitate. Stop even. The most astonishing thing about this advice is that it works.

I shall experiment on French roundabouts later this week