Tuesday, August 31, 2004

It’s not often that you come across the same quotation within a couple of days. So, even though it has nothing to do with Spain, here it is:-

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. Or what’s a heaven for?

On a note which is both more prosaic and Spanish, I had one of my regular run-ins with a car on a zebra crossing tonight. What made this one special was that it was a police car. Parked half on the crossing and half off, the driver waved me on with an air of irritation which suggested it was entirely my fault. Naturally.

Here’s a capillary conundrum, with a big prize for the first person with the right answer – What is it that the Spanish have a genius for doing within a hair’s breadth and always without turning a hair? Post your suggestions below, please.

It is frequently said that the Spanish are not racist but that they detest gypsies. To be honest, it’s easy to understand this. As I was crossing the bridge today, a mother with a wheelbarrow full of detritus collected from the town’s rubbish bins was encouraging her two young kids to toss large chunks of it into the river below. Saying anything on these occasions risks later retaliation, my Spanish friends insist. But I could not stay quiet and so remonstrated with the mother. However, in what I like to think was sagacious and judicious compromise, I made my comments in English.

In truth, the Spanish probably would be more racist if the immigrants already here were spread more widely throughout the country. On the other hand, the almost-daily reports of drowned Africans who didn’t make it alive it to the Spanish coast surely provoke at least a degree of compassion.

There was a comment in the Sunday Telegraph that self-imposed silence on matters Islamic meant that little would be reported in the UK on the hanging of a 15 year old girl in Iran. So it was good to see that this was fully covered in El Mundo on Monday.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

One of the best features of Spain is that there is little, if anything, of the compensation culture that is said to bleed so much out of Anglo-Saxon societies. Its absence must help to keep costs and, thus, prices down. Of course, one reason for its non-existence is that it demands an efficient legal system and possibly more lawyers than is objectively justifiable. The absence of these here may not bother most of us most of the time but I guess it is hard felt by those with a real grievance.

Intriguing to watch the handover process at the closing ceremony of the Olympic games, especially the playing of the Greek and Chinese national anthems. The former, we were told, was called ‘Hymn to Liberty’. However, the title of the Chinese anthem was not given, possibly because it’s called something like ‘Hymn to Something Less Than Liberty’.

It’s been instructive watching the games on Spanish TV. As in every other country, the focus is on those sports in which nationals are taking part. And, at the end of each event, prominence is given to these in preference to the winners. So, for example, at the end of the women’s 1500m final the camera quickly moved from Kelly Holmes to the Spanish girl who had come in 10th. Kelly’s historic achievement of winning two gold medals played fifth fiddle to the Spanish runner’s account of why the race had not quite gone according to her plan. But then, as I say, this goes on everywhere.

Back to the closing ceremony – perhaps if most of the athletes had really been on drugs we might have seen more of them responding to the strenuous musical attempts of the Greek organisers to get them cavorting in the central arena. According to the BBC announcer, more dancing was going on in the commentary boxes than out in the middle.

This was the weekend of the great return from summer vacations and the town was gloriously empty when I went down for lunch. In fact, the only stupid prat with a camera was me. Perhaps it was my tourist disguise that motivated the waiter to give me change from a 10 Euro note and not from the 20 Euro note I had actually given him. I decided to take this up with him but not the [diversionary?] fact that he had failed to charge me for my glass of wine. In other circumstances, I would have of course.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

The Vigo council has astonished us by announcing that a survey shows that the widespread double and triple parking in the city increases travel times by 60 per cent. Who’d have thought it?

Talking of surveys, the latest raft of speciously accurate, local statistics show that 42.62 per cent of Galicians speak only Galician at home, against merely 19.75 per cent who speak only Castilian Spanish. The rest – to two decimal points, of course – speak a mixture.

The Spanish government has said that it may issue papers to a large chunk of illegal immigrants, allowing them to work as domestic servants. This points up one of the fascinating aspects of Spanish society – viz. that, although per capita income is not high up the EU list, most people here employ a cleaner or maid, even when here is only one salary coming into the house. Perhaps things will change if the illegals become legit, start paying tax and price themselves out of business.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The 82 year old President of the Galician government, Manuel Fraga, has said he will stand again in 2005. This would be his 5th election and he would be 86 at the end of any new term. His candidature has been supported by the President of the opposition [PP] party. Naturally, the national press has had a field day at the expense of this last remaining relic of the Franco era. While the ruling Socialist party is rubbing its hands in glee at the opportunity to position the PP as the party of the past. And the Galicians wonder why the rest of Spain looks askance at them!


Un freakie – an oddball, I guess

Unas superwomans - superwomen

Talking of words, it is a feature of Spanish that certain terms for men have an equivalent for women which put the latter in a rather poor light.

So, for example, we have golfo and golfa, the former meaning lout, layabout or rascal and the latter tart, whore or slut. Take your pick.

My daughter tells me there is a long list of these male/female non-equivalents. So, more anon when I have tracked it down.

Monday, August 23, 2004

There has been quite a brouhaha here about half the new cabinet posing in the Spanish edition of Vogue. The female half, of course. Some felt that this was all rather demeaning and damaging to the image of a [socialist] government which has positioned itself as pro-women and anti-machista. I was rather more interested in the short headline in Spanish which managed to incorporate not only fashion but also new-look.

I saw a reference today to Freud’s definition of the pleasure and reality principles. Essentially, children need to move from the latter to the former if they are to mature. So what does this say about a society which is entirely devoted, it often seems, to the pursuit of fun, or pleasure? Stay tuned.

Under instructions from my elder [recovering] daughter, I went into a travel agent today to pick up some tickets for her. Each of them had 7 [yes, 7] carbon copies, 6 of which were retained by the agent. I made a half-hearted attempt to find out where these would end up but got the Spanish equivalent of the Gallic shrug.

Acting under further instructions from said daughter, I am now vacating the computer – my computer – so that she can work on her novel. Thank-God one of us is not wasting his/her time. So, that’s it, folks.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

The Basque terrorist group, ETA, yesterday exploded some small bombs along the Galician coast. There were several strange or ironic aspects to this. Firstly, it is usually foreign tourism which is targeted and there ain’t a lot of this in Sanxenxo and Bayona. Secondly, Galician tourism has already been amply devastated by the worst August rains in living memory and so the bombs were really a waste of time and money. Finally, having had 19 days of cloud and rain out of 21, it was going to take a lot more that what ETA came up with to keep people out of the sun when it finally arrived yesterday. The beaches were crowded again within 15 minutes of the explosions.

My friend Manoel tells me that the Galician Academy of Letters [or whatever it is called] has announced that the Galician word for thank-you is now officially gracas and not the Castellano gracias. Manoel has added that he has never heard this word in his life, except on recent TV bulletins from Galician TV. As I’ve noted before, this seemingly artificial language-creation by a bunch of crusty academics does little for the credentials of what is said to be a living language and not just a dialect. Especially when their aim seems to be merely to differentiate words by the addition or – as in this case - extraction of a vowel sound.

There is humour all around, it seems. The emergency department of our major hospital has a lubricant gel on its shelves called Sulky. I know this because I found myself staring at it at 5.30am this morning, having taken my elder daughter there with a severe bout of gastroenteritis. The first and last time I will make clam chowder, I suspect. Anyway, we were out by 9am and into the bureaucracy of avoiding a hefty bill. I don’t know about more ‘internationalised’ parts of Spain but the E111 process is something of a lottery up here. Last time I had to take a daughter to the emergency department we were given a long prescription and told [correctly] that we would have to pay the full cost of the medicines at the pharmacy. This time we were told that the doctor couldn’t even prescribe any medicines under the E111 scheme. Neither of these is true - at least, not according to the information given out by HMG - but it is pointless arguing. Likewise, it is ‘nice’ theory that, if you are charged 100 per cent for prescribed medicines, you can go to the department of Social Security in town and claim back 60 per cent. From experience, I can tell you that what you will get is a blank stare. I can’t help wondering what happens with the infamous NHS tourists to the UK, including the Spanish component. Especially the Spanish component.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

It’s always intriguing how cultures [all of them] can be wildly inconsistent. In Spain, for example, it’s perfectly OK to be a bit economical with the truth, buy illegal CDs or unlawfully download films from the internet. But you can’t wrap up the piece of cake they give you with your cup of coffee and take it home. This is ‘ignoble’. Or, worse, ‘the action of a gypsy’. Being both Anglo-Saxon and greedy, my younger daughter ignores this proscription.

Talking of gypsies, I read that in the UK they are adopting a new strategy – buying up large plots of land and then illegally installing drains, roads and houses, defying the local authorities to do anything about it. This is common practice in Spain and helps to explain why even the rule-shy Spanish are rabidly anti-gypsy.

Olympic gloom around a low medal tally is not confined to the UK [‘Well, we are almost on page 2 now’]. Spain has so far only managed a single medal. The national despondency has been the perfect accompaniment to the rain that has fallen on the northern half of Spain for 18 of the 19 days so far this month. But this afternoon the barometer has risen and the sun has forced its way through the clouds. This could be the start of something big. Summer, for example.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

My friend and fellow-blogger Manoel [theremon.blogspot.com] has taken me to task for suggesting that Spanish TV Olympics coverage is dominated by beach volleyball. He says that this is only on for the first half hour each day. Fair enough. But, as I said to him, if anyone Spanish is reading our stuff, I imagine he stands a far greater chance of being lynched than I do.

The local police have announced the arrest of a 57 year-old man who is alleged to be the pyromaniac responsible for around 50 of the forest fires of earlier this year. One problem is catching such people, say the police, is the reluctance of villagers to give information about something they don’t regard as much of a crime. I suppose that, if a fire devoured their house and a couple of kids, they might take a different view. Though perhaps not, if it were only a spouse.

Un vip [pronounced ‘bip’] – A celebrity. Or VIP.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

My friend Manoel tells me that the Greek accent is very similar to the Spanish. This is not the only thing they have in common, it seems. Although most events in Athens are being contested in empty stadiums, beach volleyball has proved a sell-out. Likewise, coverage of this event continues to dominate Spanish TV coverage of the Olympics.

Both El Mundo and El Pais had obituaries of Bernard Levin last week. It’s hard to imagine even the heavy British newspapers being remotely familiar with his Spanish media equivalents, let alone according one of them the honour of an elegy.

Pulling no punches, an article in El Mundo on Sunday labelled Lord [‘Marbles’] Elgin “The Despoiler of Athens – Scottish, Count and Thief” and then went on to repeat Byron’s view of him as ‘A cold man – hard and deeply imbecilic”. Am I being cynical to wonder whether this article hasn’t been stimulated by the Greek government, at a time when Athens is on every front and back page? The opposing view, of course, is that Elgin bought the marbles perfectly legally from the Turkish rulers of Greece and saved them from almost certain destruction. Which is not to say they shouldn’t go back to Athens but puts Lord Elgin in somewhat better light.

It’s reported today that food, drink and cigarettes are still cheaper here than anywhere else in Euroland. Very appropriate for a country in which so much emphasis is placed on having fun, especially out of the house. When you are not watching beach volleyball, of course.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

I’ve been known to comment that the Spanish adore paper. Or the generation of it, to be more exact. I have just completed [I hope!] the purchase of a train ticket for my daughter, from Madrid to Pontevedra. This involved 2 trips to the local station - 4 days apart - and at the very least an hour of my time. But the most notable feature of the exercise – as so often – was the production of excess paperwork. This included the original tickets [and copies], a receipt for the extra costs paid, a special form for my daughter’s details [including identification numbers, of course] and, finally, photocopies of all of these for faxing this morning to Madrid. I have to say that all the people involved were very pleasant to me and the station facilities are exemplary – clean and ultra-modern. They do all the ticket production via monitors and computers, for example. So why on earth, one wonders, don’t they have an electronic system for the purchase of third party tickets at other stations? I have said before that one rarely sees evidence of a deep-seated drive to make things more efficient in Spain. In fact, the introduction of machines sometimes seems to reduce it. But in a country of high unemployment and job insecurity, perhaps the prevailing pressures are in the opposite direction from increased productivity.

By the way, during my first visit to the station four days ago – when discussion of the ticket challenge at times involved me and all three of the ticket clerks - I asked whether I couldn’t do things via the internet. ‘Difficult’, was the short but forceful reply. Having, in the interim, seen the letter from the RENFE director [blog of 12 Aug.], I can now understand why.

In a local newspaper, the women of Galicia have been categorised as follows:-
La Coruña: The most fashionable
Vigo: The most modern [No, I don’t know the difference, either. Perhaps it means they wear shapeless trousers and trainers]
Ferrol: The most beautiful, because there is a large naval base there
Pontevedra: Not mentioned. One lady friend has suggested ‘The biggest snobs’

The first few hours of watching the Olympics have been predictable in two respects:- 1. Ads were frequently shown during the opening ceremony, and 2. the most featured ‘sport’ so far has been beach volleyball. This, of course, involves young women in bikinis but with the added advantage that it involves hand signals behind the lower back. This affords plenty of legitimate opportunities for the rear groin shot so favoured by Spanish TV directors.

I felt rather sorry for the citizens of those countries who had waited up to 2 hours to see their athletes in the opening parade, only to be offered a Nike ad in lieu.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

A wonderful example today of two major aspects of Spanish life:- 1. The regular need to prove who you are, and 2. The lack of consumer orientation shown by even major companies. A director of the national rail company [RENFE] has said that, Yes it is true that to buy tickets over the internet you must first go to a station to present your credit card and prove your identity; and No, RENFE doesn’t see why just because other companies don’t demand this that they should refrain from doing so. According to the director, this practice accords with international norms and, on top of that, is vital for the financial protection of the customer. I think we can be pretty sure that it’s neither of these. It is far more likely to be for the protection of RENFE, just as it’s for the benefit of the supermarkets that you must prove who you are for a credit card purchase of even a single toilet roll. Avoidance of business risk still ranks way above provision of a satisfactory service.

The really amusing thing about the comment from the RENFE director [in a letter to a major newspaper] is that he clearly thinks he is enhancing the company's reputation by rationalising its restrictive practices in this way.

Well, this is the 12th day of August and up here in Galicia we have hardly seen the sun since the start of the month. In fact, more rain has fallen in the last 3 days than in the whole of June and July combined. And the big annual fiesta has been a complete washout. So, if you are reading this somewhere in Galicia because of anything I said on my web site, then I apologise. But it is not really my fault. Apparently – along with the UK and France – western and northern Spain are being hit by the tail end of some tropical storm which has wandered east from the Caribbean. As you will know, these are given human names and I think this one is called ‘Bastard’. Or it is in this house, anyway.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

I mentioned the word ‘bum’ [see blog of 9 Aug] to some Spanish friends last night and was told that it should be spelt ‘boom’, as in English. Apparently, the Spanish Academy has not yet ruled that ‘bum’ is acceptable, even though it correctly denotes the Spanish pronunciation. I had to admit to some amusement at the thought of a roomful of academic crusties wrestling with this problem. Canute-like, striving to stem the tide of linguistic change, refusing to accept that it is the one area where the people can be said to have true sovereignty. It put me in mind of the recent failed attempt by the equivalent German body to simplify German spelling. ‘Nein, danker’, said the people. ‘We like things the dumpkof way they are’. So doubtless the Spanish bummers will win out over the boomers.

Here’s a nice wrinkle of Spanish traffic law – if you get stopped for not wearing your seat belt, you will be fined 90 Euros. If you see the police patrol looming up, pull over and put on your belt but are observed doing this by the patrol, you will be fined 180 Euros. Now, if they were to apply this logic to the drivers who slow down for a speed trap indicated on the map which the police have been obliged to publish and then speed up again….. I guess they could abolish income tax, for a start.

Which reminds me…. I have been advised that the traffic police are not obliged to put a copy of a parking ticket on your car ‘in case, for example, it rains or blows away’. They can just send you a notice of fine three months later and defy you to do anything other than pay up. Seems just a tad open to abuse to me. I am considering the International Court of Justice in the Hague but can’t seem to find their number in the Pontevedra phone book.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The Spectator magazine has a spoof Agony Aunt column. At least I think it’s a spoof. The latest edition includes this question:-

Q. This coming weekend I had planned to go and stay with some friends at their home in France. Subsequently I received a considerably better invitation, to stay with mutual friends. I don’t need to be told that chucking one invitation for another is not on, but I do need your advice as to how I can extricate myself from the first invitation in favour of the second with as much discretion and ingenuity as possible.

The first sentence of the answer reads:-

A. The social order will collapse altogether if people start chucking in favour of ‘better’ invitations.

But if this were true, Spain would have no social order. And this can’t be right, can it? Surely not.

I have learned that one has to be careful with the word ‘Católico’ in Spain. It doesn’t just mean 1. Catholic, or 2. universal. It also means something like ‘responsible’ or ‘balanced’. At least it does to people over 40, say. So when I told Spanish friends that my younger daughter was ‘now very Catholic`, I got some quizzical looks - as if I were telling them that she was a reformed prostitute. To get across the proper meaning, I have to use ´religiosa´, which may sound a bit too strong to you and me but which does the trick.

When I walk my dog in the forest each morning, I often meet an old chap who has taken it upon himself to water the young oak saplings that the local council nobly planted three years ago. The funny thing is that, if I greet him in Castellano, he answers me in Gallego. But, if I greet him in Gallego, he answers me in Castellano. I suppose Manoel would say that he is a typically perverse Galician. But, even if he is, he’s doing a wonderful job with the saplings. Incidentally, these have hardly grown at all in three years. At least not above ground. Whereas the ubiquitous eucalyptus and mimosa trees have rocketed skywards in the same period. No wonder the local wood processing companies have done for many of the oak forests of Galicia. It’s just as well that there’s unlikely to be a call for another Armada. Can’t see the eucalyptus trees being up to the job.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Something is quite definitely going on. Apart from the unprecedented [preliminary] booking of the town’s elite for parking offences a couple of nights ago, I have seen the police swarming all over town today, booking everything in sight. And, to cap it all, I have this morning received notice of a second offence. This refers to an event of three[!] months ago when I am alleged, on a spot 14km out of town, to have ‘parked in such away as to prevent the best use of the remaining space’. Given that I have railed more times than I ought to have done about this widespread, inconsiderate Spanish practice, this would be more than ironic, if it were true. But how can we possibly know? I never received any sort of ticket at the time and, anyway, the offence is so widely defined that anyone and everyone would be guilty of it at any and every time. A more blatant example of revenue gathering I have yet to see. I suppose someone has to pay for the ever-improving fiesta fireworks but I shall take myself down to the police station tomorrow and at least demand sight of the copy of the parking ticket that should have been issued to me 3 months ago. If it exists, I shall take it from there, with minimal expectation of equity. It’s at times like this that one has to remind oneself of the numerous good things about life in Spain and tell oneself that the balance is overwhelmingly positive. If only one would listen!

The town newspaper has printed the results of its survey on the quality of this year’s fiesta. 44 per cent say the events are very good and an equal percentage say they are very poor. Manoel has pointed out that, since these cancel each other out, they together reflect the notorious Galician habit of evasively declining to give a view on anything. Except on how one has parked, of course.

Gogó – Dancer
Ye-yé – Groovy, trendy [Think of the 60s]
Flash – In-a-glance, as in Pontevedra Flash = Pontevedra at-a-glance
Bum – Boom, as in Bum inmobiliario = Construction boom

Sunday, August 08, 2004

My elder daughter is writing a novel set in Thailand. She was doing some research recently and came across the following comment:- ‘Sanuk’, the Thai for ‘fun’, is paramount in the Thais' way of life. The Thais think that for something to be worthwhile it must be sanuk. If it's not sanuk, it will very quickly become boring to them. Thais can frequently be seen laughing and enjoying themselves in whatever they are doing. If the enjoyment wanes, the activity will probably stop. Hmm.

Which reminds me - The national Traffic Police are reported to be unhappy that they are being pressurised by the politicians to test more drivers and issue more fines for drunken driving. Ignoble, I suppose. Meanwhile, closer to home the local traffic police have taken up the call for more fines with abandon, though admittedly only for bad parking. Last night we saw them towing and booking all the BMWs, Mercedes and Audis parked on the pavement in the streets around the big private club on this side of the river. It was the night of the debutantes’ ball - a big occasion in the town - and this police action is, I suspect, totally without precedent. There must be a chance that some of the car owners are not friends of the Chief of Police and so will have to cough up. This makes me feel better about the low chances of success of our appeal against our own parking fine of a couple of months ago. It shouldn’t but it does.

I read the report – in the Culture section, of course – of the first bullfight on Friday night here in Pontevedra. The markings used range from ‘A Silence’ all the way up to ‘Two ears and the Tail’ - taking in An Ovation, One Ear, and Two Ears along the way. As each bullfighter takes on two bulls, he can, for example, score One Ear and one Ovation. Or any combination of the above. Provided, of course, that he survives both bulls. Imagine being reminded in the national press that you had scored ‘A Silence and A Silence’. You might just want to go out and throw yourself on a couple of passing horns. Though I don’t suppose you give the fee back. You can always blame ‘ignoble’ bulls.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

This being the first Saturday in August, it is the big fiesta day in Pontevedra – Feast of the Virgin Pilgrim – and the start of 3 or 4 weeks of non-stop partying in town.

This year we have a real, grown-up corrida - with the three bullfights taking place on consecutive evenings, not over a week or so as they have in the past. The first was last night and, as ever, it was the signal for the town’s youth to get comprehensively drunk. For the most part, this is done under the auspices of the numerous peñas - or ‘cliques’ – which get together to support the bullfights. Or, these days, to oppose them. Not so long ago it was the custom for peña members to spill the occasional drop of wine on the shirt of a member of an opposing group. Then it was wine-filled water pistols. And now it is water machine-guns. In one of the town’s squares at 11pm last night I witnessed something that was little short of a bacchanal. Rarely – if ever – have I seen so many young people so drunk. And so wet. But here’s the funny thing – not the slightest hint of aggression. An eerie experience for an Englishman used to dodging pugnacious drunks back in the UK. And – even more impressive - by midday today, the square had been restored to its normal pristine condition. Bottle-less, rubbish-less and vomit-less.

The local paper provided a huge supplement on the Fiesta today. Two things in particular caught my attention. The first was an article from the President of the Brotherhood of the Virgin Pilgrim, calling on us to bear in mind the religious element of the festivities. And the second was an article on the people of Porto Santo – on the outskirts of town – who insist that Christopher Columbus was born there. Two groups of people living in cloud-cuckoo-land perhaps. The nice headline on the Columbus article was “It’s hard to prove the great explorer was born in Genoa”. Or Manchester, I imagine. But not Porto Santo, apparently.

For anyone interested in knowing more about the fiesta, there is a new section [The August Fiesta] in my guide to Pontevedra that you can access from my web page – colindavies.net

We have a young Spanish friend, a very intelligent young lady who is a qualified lawyer and who is taking a Business Studies degree at a major university. She called me at 12.30 last night for my daughter’s mobile phone number, saying that she had lost it. Since this is the 5th time this has happened, it would be tempting to ask how someone so intelligent could be so doo-lally. But then, as I now know from Manoel, she doesn’t actually mean that she has lost the number and she doesn’t believe that I will think that she has. It’s just words and the Spanish love them.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

First things first - I forgot to post the blog I wrote last night. So, I have just added it, under yesterday's date.

Back in 'real time' - The Gibraltar row rumbles on, with the new President showing more and more signs of the populism than brought him to power in May. And less and less of the statesmanship that is required. I have yet to see any Spanish commentator – and there have been numerous articles in the national and local press over the past few days – show the slightest awareness of the UK government’s real position and of the problems it has in disposing of Gibraltar. Nor does anyone Spanish ever pose – let alone answer – the question of why the people of Gibraltar should be keen to join Spain when they can see two key regions – Catalunia and the Basque country – doing their utmost to break away from it. I mean, if the UK government is prepared to give away Northern Ireland, can anyone seriously believe that it wants to keep hold of Gibraltar. I think I will write to El Mundo.

Today I saw my first 3 year old in a car. And it was strapped in too. Interestingly, it was in a marulo [chav] car. Which reminds me, try http://www.chavscum.com/ for a good, elitist laugh. I see them have beaten me to the punch with a section on chav/marulo cars.

Initial T-shirt findings:-

Mango Adiction [sic]

Affect AND Effect


Rip. Show. Chaos.

Does Your Mother Know?

One of the problems with this survey is that my ‘distance’ vision is not quite what it was and my gaze is having to linger for a potentially arrestable length of time. So I may bring it to an early end. On the other hand, we are in Spain, where women effectively demand to be looked at. I’ll have to sleep on this.

I’m rather bored with film ‘translations’ so here is the last one:-

Gone with the Wind -> What the Wind Took Away

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

There was a surprisingly constructive article about Gibraltar in El Mundo today, though I was confused by the author’s description of Sir/St. Thomas More [author, of course, of Utopia] as an ‘English moor’. In other words, an English Arab. There is clearly some confusion here. Either I am not understanding some subtlety in the article or the writer is way off beam.

Meanwhile, back on earth, it has been announced that the police have been persuaded by Spain’s motoring associations to publish the exact locations of all radar traps. The police have accepted, we are told, that they should not be seen as a revenue-oriented organisation and that it is in the interests of safety that drivers know where the traps are. This is such a ludicrous argument that credulity is stretched beyond at least my breaking point. I suspect that the decision has far more to do with Spanish concepts of ‘nobility’ and equity. When it comes to maintaining their freedom to enjoy themselves ‘individualistically’, the Spanish can display a belief in fair play way beyond even that of the British. You may recall the earlier example of the press believing it wasn’t appropriate to show really terrifying pictures on cigarette packets. Mangled bits of the victims of suicide bombers on the front page, yes. Severely damaged lungs on fag packets, ‘inappropriate’.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Isabel The Catholic – the Spanish queen who sent, she thought, Columbus The Wayward to India in 1492 - is being touted at the Vatican for sainthood. Or at least beatification. Despite my Catholic upbringing, I’m no longer clear on the distinction. Anyway, the process is not proceeding smoothly and, according to one Spanish priest, this is because it is being blocked by a Jewish lobby led by the Archbishop of Paris. The latter is ‘of Jewish origin’ and it may well be this that it preventing him from seeing that Isabel’s expulsion of the Jews and forcible conversion of those who remained was not due to any anti-Semitism but ‘simply to a desire to achieve cohesion of her kingdom’. Indeed, stresses the priest, some of her best advisers – and even her confessor – were Jews. The same cleric dismisses the troublesome Inquisition as just a feature of its age which processed numbers well below those elsewhere in Europe. Although he is confident of new developments in the next few years, one can’t help feeling that, in this ecumenical age, he is up against it.

There was a nice article on the Gibraltar issue on one of the local papers today, with a UK-tabloid-style ‘8 Things You Need to Know about Gibraltar’. I was most interested in Q8: “Is there any difference between Gibraltar and [the Spanish North African enclaves of] Ceuta and Melilla?” Answer: “Yes, there is. Ceuta and Melilla were never Moroccan. Ceuta has been Spanish since 1415 and Melilla since 1497. However, Morocco cites the doctrine of geographic unity and the contiguousness of states, which disfavours the permanence of the enclaves as city states.” So, that’s alright then. What used to be ours is ours and what used to be – at least as far as we are concerned - nobody’s remains ours. Stuff Morocco.

By the way, today’s Daily Telegraph rather points up the accuracy of a point I made recently, viz. that British governments would love to get shut of Gibraltar. It turns out that the Heath [Conservative] government of 1973 believed that one of the advantages of joining Europe would be that this eternal problem could be quietly solved. It seems they underestimated the unholy alliance of the pesky Gibraltarians and the British tabloid press.

My T-shirt slogan survey is not proceeding well, at least as regards the number of bizarre English phrases recorded. Worse, my survey of 3 year olds loose in a car has been nothing short of a disaster. In over a week, I haven’t seen a single instance. This is not, I must stress, because all 3 year olds – in accordance with the new law - are now well strapped into special seats; it is because I haven’t seen a single 3 year old in a car during this period. It is as if all the parents, warned of police checks, have decided to leave their toddlers with the grandparents while they head off for the beach. As and although the heat is on, as it were.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Given the nature of Spanish ‘individualism’, one is afforded several opportunities each day to utter some sarcastic comment along the lines of ‘After you!’. The problem, though, is that, in order for a polite phrase to bear the weight of heavy sarcasm, it must first exist. And in Spain such phrases are conspicuous by their absence. One is forced, if one can be bothered, to resort to a curt insult such as ‘Cabrón!’. It’s a further irony that, although this can be satisfyingly infuriating to your target, it means only he-goat in English. Or, indeed, in any language.

And while I’m moaning – Manoel style – about Spanish character deficiencies, I should add that few of them share the British [and Portuguese] love of gardening. I already knew this but Manoel commented on it last night, as I was watering the latest additions to my garden brought home by him and my tree-mad, elder daughter. My instinctive explanation for this is that the Spanish prefer their pleasures - their much-vaunted ‘fun’ - to come without much more exertion than the raising of the elbow and/or the moving of the lips. But not necessarily in that order.

This, in turn, got me wondering about – and expatiating on – the fact that the traffic police here appear to be very ready to book people for things which fall outside a wide concept of ‘fun’ but fight shy of penalising people for stupidities which fall within it. The former include such innocuous things as not having two triangles, a spare set of bulbs and/or a luminous jacket in your car. And the long list of the latter includes such genuinely dangerous things as driving stupidly fast, driving while drunk, driving with kids in your lap, driving while talking on your mobile phone, riding a motor scooter with the silencer silenced, etc., etc. OK, the last one isn’t really very dangerous but it’s bloody annoying. If you are Spanish and this paragraph irritates you, feel free to post a comment with your own explanation for this bizarre dichotomy.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Well, it’s nice to see El Mundo agreeing with me about the government’s rather hysterical response to the celebrations in Gibraltar. As the editorial writer concludes, all the high-blown nonsense makes one nostalgic for the days of No Comment.

The magazine section of El Mundo today is largely devoted to an extensive survey of sex in Spain. Perhaps the most astonishing finding is that young Spanish woman clearly don’t get much payback on their significant investment in making themselves perhaps the sexiest females on the planet. What on earth does this tell us about Spanish society? And is it time for me to flesh out my youthful dreams of a one-man company called Hyr-A-Syr? No, they can’t be that desperate, can they? Plus they smoke.

As of 9pm, I have yet to hear from my Spanish friend about dinner tonight. Perhaps his cousin’s plane crashed on landing from Mexico and he has got tied up in the funeral arrangements that follow close on the heels of death in Spain. Failing that, it very much looks like it’s now Manoel 2: Colin 0. Or to put this in Spanish – Colin 2: Manoel 0.