Wednesday, November 30, 2005

We’re regularly told by the media here that Spanish state education is amongst the poorest in Europe. Not surprisingly, therefore, every administration attempts a major reform. Each of these goes under the heading of an acronym and the latest is the LOE. This was introduced recently as a Bill by the socialist government and vigorously attacked by the opposition as a measure which weakens the rights of both parents and the Catholic Church. Further, they insist it will worsen, not ameliorate, the so-called ‘Scholastic failure’ of having the highest number of A level/baccalaureate drop-outs in the EU. As ever, in this not-quite-federal state, an already contentious subject is further complicated by regional and language factors. This being the nature of the beast, several, if not all, regional governments would like more say over local education. These naturally include those where the obligatory number of hours to be spent on the national curriculum is reduced because pupils there are obliged to take lessons in the local language as well as Spanish. Who’d be the Spanish President? Or even the Minister for Education.

And talking of language issues, Spain is naturally annoyed that Spanish is treated by Brussels as only an ‘official language’, of lower status than English, German and French, the ‘working languages’ of the EU. Now Brussels has fanned the linguistic flames by announcing the number of Spanish interpreters will be reduced by a third. Can this possibly be connected with Spain’s success in having Catalan, Basque and Gallego treated as official languages, on a par with Spanish? Swings and roundabouts, perhaps. ‘Chickens’ and ‘roost’ spring to mind. In a nice touch, Spain’s Minister of Industry yesterday stressed in the European parliament that Spanish is the language of over 300m people. But he did so whilst speaking in Catalan.

Another Galician fishing boat has been arrested. This time by the Irish, for illegal trawling for hake. Can we now expect to see one EU country threatening to take another to the International Court at the Hague? Hake, by the way, is considered the king of fish in Spain and, truth to tell, untold tons of illegal young hake [cariocas in Galicia] are sold in tapas bars throughout the country. Strangely, across the Pyrenees, they regard it as rather tasteless. But that’s fish fashions for you.

I went to my bank today to pick up the gift of the weather gauge. What I was given was a bloody umbrella, costing about a tenth of the price. Or perhaps a twentieth, if they bought a job lot from the gypsies selling them in town at 5 euros for two last week. Needless to say, even to get this trinket I was obliged to sign a receipt and give them my identity number. A few days ago, for some reason I decided not to record my opinion that banks here treat prospective customers as suckers and actual customers as idiots. I wonder why.

Only in Galicia?: A local association of telephone tarot card readers is taking legal action against their boss, accusing her of pressuring them to sign a new work agreement by using black magic and voodoo. I wonder why they never saw it coming.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I’ve said a few times that Spain seems to me to be living on borrowed time and beyond its means. A bank of Spain report today rather confirms this and says, in effect, that once interest rates rise and EU transfers fall, Spain is going to be in for a rough ride. One main reason, they say, is that productivity is very low compared with international competitors, hence the record trade deficit. Separately, a leader in El Mundo today suggested it was more than time to put an end to the good-times practice of allowing people to take early retirement. Needless to say, this is widespread in the government and in the grossly inefficient and high-priced [oligarchic?] banking sphere.

Safety is not a god in Spain. This has both positive and negative aspects. For example, unlike in the UK, there is nothing like the Health and Safety Gestapo here. On the other hand, it is occasionally shocking to encounter such thing as the unlocked fuse box for all the community’s electricity on the wall outside my house. Or to read of the 11 year old stopped for riding a scooter his friend has customised by fitting a hidden hi-fi system in a false tank. Plus neon lights that light up in time with the music.

Pontevedra’s police yesterday began their campaign of ‘admonishing’ jaywalkers and pointing them towards nearby zebra crossings. And this morning I was again almost mowed down on one of these. I predict an increase in the mortality rate, further proof of the view that the result of all major reforms is the exact opposite of that intended. I just hope I live long enough to gloat at the accuracy of my prediction.

English and Spanish naturally share many words of Latin origin. Some of them mean much the same but there are also the notorious ‘false friends’. In between, there are words which have come to have a different nuance in English, largely because there are Old English, Scandinavian, etc. equivalents for the Spanish word. ‘Obsequio’ merely means ‘gift’ in Spanish but in English 'obsequy' has come to mean a funeral rite. So I was a bit nonplussed to get a letter from my bank today asking me to pop along and pick up the ‘obsequio’ due to me for filling in a questionnaire. On-the-ball readers will have guessed this is the temperature/humidity gauge that was supposed to be in the bank by October 15. But what’s 6 weeks between friends?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Of a Sunday night at this time of year, it’s impossible to get anything on Spanish radio other than continuous pop music or football commentaries. The latter are delivered with varying degrees of Latin emotion but the best/worst is a gravel-throated chap who, at times, sounds rather like a chicken in the latter stages of strangulation. Even more bizarrely, he and his colleagues regularly break off from their commentary to parrot [or even sing!] the praises of some product or other. At times like this, I’m just amazed at what the live-and-let-live Spanish will tolerate.

You might think the bickering 25 members of the EU have enough on their plate without getting involved in even larger negotiations. But, no, they’ve all been meeting along with 10 other countries in a Mediterranean Summit in Barcelona. I suppose, if the Catalunian government had had their way, this would have been 11. Anyway, they were there to discuss the challenges of immigration and terrorism and they finally decided they were all against the latter. Or they would be, if they could only agree on a definition. You can tell just how a big a failure the event was from the conviction with which Mr Blair insisted it had been a huge success. I wonder if that man would now recognise reality if it jumped up and hit him in the face with a wet kipper.

An article in one of the local papers today was headlined Those Cursed Roundabouts and its theme was the high number of accidents on these new-fangled things. It ended with the peroration – Something must be done! I think I can safely say I speak for both Andrew and myself in suggesting that a good first step would be to teach all the driving instructors how to approach and exit them. Their pupils might just then stand a better chance of learning how to negotiate them. Then they could move on to the examiners, who currently seem to pass people who have absolutely no idea what to do when confronted with one.

Inspired by the Preface to Samuel Smiles’ book ‘Self Help’, I’ve started a new blog entitled ‘The Society for the Dissemination of Useful Information’. Anyone and everyone should now feel free to philanthropically and altruistically post there whatever they feel might be useful to others. Then, with luck, I’ll be able to philanthropically and altruistically sell the blog for several million euros in a couple of years’ time.

But, before then, is anyone able to tell me where socks go when they disappear from the washing machine?

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Can I be the only person in the world who thinks the attention paid by the tabloidised British media to George Best’s last days was out of all proportion to what he contributed to the world? He was, after all, a fool who ultimately drank himself to death. But perhaps this is enough to give him iconic status in a country plagued with binge drinking among its youth. Here is Spain, El Mundo had a beautifully written obituary which said all that needed to be said and still maintained a sense of perspective.

I did once bump into George Best at London airport, when we were both waiting for the same flight to Manchester. Not only were we born in the same year, but we were of similar height and weight. This allowed me to convince myself that, if I hadn’t had to play rugby at school, I’d have been a top flight footballer. So perhaps he wasn’t all bad, even in his final years.

UNESCO has ruled that the ‘Galician-Portuguese oral tradition’ doesn’t rank as a ‘Masterpiece of world verbal and intangible heritage’. Neither does Andalucian music and flamenco dancing. But they did give the nod to the Festa da Patum de Berga, in Catalunia. This must be very gratifying for the Catalunians and pretty disappointing for the Galicians, Portuguese and Andalucians but I can’t help wondering how many lives are much affected by the decisions.

A UK milling company has been instructed by a court to install heating in its outside loading area as a Health and Safety inspector felt the lack of it contravened EU regulations. This was despite the fact the company’s offices were all heated to the required levels. It's very hard to imagine this happening in Spain. And not because it's warmer here.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Basque terrorist group, ETA, may or may not be on its last legs. But it’s still holding out against demands it abandons its weapons and enters the democratic process. However, its latest wheeze is a proposal that the EU intervenes and initiates discussion of the future of the Basque regions of both Spain and France, along with nearby Catalunia. Presumably the hope is that new, independent entities emerge from this process. I rather doubt this is what the founding fathers of the European Community had in mind. Naturally, Brussels has said it’s having none of it. As, indeed, has Catalunia. I guess the latter have enough problems of their own these days without being tarred with the ETA brand image. I haven’t read anything about the French response but it’s not hard to imagine.

Only in Spain?: A local prostitute is suing a client for the 10 euros she says he agreed to pay before forcing her to perform what’s called here ‘Frances sin’ [you’re own your own] and departing without paying. She then chased him through the local streets until they ended up [a nice touch] in the doorway of the town’s courts. Here they were both arrested.

Only in Spain?2: The town hall in Palma, Mallorca has issued a sex guide for teenagers. One section addresses the problems of young men who are worried about the size of their manhoods [menhood?]. They are advised, firstly, to “Do what porn stars do and shave off your pubic hair as this makes your member look bigger” and, secondly, to “Avoid gaining weight as your penis doesn’t follow suit and so looks proportionately smaller’. This is the sort of thing I could have done with 30 years ago!

A Norwegian court has imposed a bail bond of 1.5m euros on one of the ships caught illegally fishing in their waters. Spain says it doesn’t dispute the alleged offence but insists that the trial must take place here. If the Norwegians don’t release the two boats, then the Spanish government will take the Norwegian government to the International Court at The Hague. And you thought Lewis Carroll was dead.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Friday, November 25, 2005

Well, I guess the first thing I have to do is apologise for describing Hugo Chavez as a dictator yesterday. After doing a bit of googling, I’m aware there’s a view around that he’s a dictator in the making but, nonetheless, perhaps demagogue would have been a better word.

The British media thought the new German Chancellor yesterday frightened Mr Blair by re-affirming the Franco-German axis. The Spanish press thought she tipped the wink to Mr B by referring to the relationship with France as only a ‘friendship’. Can they both be right? Or wrong, even?

The young men and women of Spain may not be able to match their British counterparts for binge drinking and its concomitant violence but, when it comes to snorting cocaine, they can hold their heads up high. Though possibly not their nostrils. For, depressingly, Spain ranks number one and the UK number 2 in the European league table.

Matters Catalunian: Earlier this week – in the face of a continuing boycott outside the region - the CEO of a cava company stressed the product is as Spanish as it is Catalunian. For this, he was roundly criticised by the President of the local government. Perhaps he’ll be arrested for treason next. And at yesterday’s meeting of the International Ice Hockey Federation, Catalunia’s request for nation status was voted down. They did get the support of Albania and one or two obscure African states but this was possibly not unconnected with the fact the Catalunian federation had paid for the delegates’ plane tickets.

I read today the Muslim faith suffered its Sunni/Shiite schism quite soon after Mohammed died. This was essentially because, although specifically permitted several wives and concubines, the prophet didn’t manage to leave a male heir. Not for the first time, this left me wondering about God’s capacity for forward planning.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Visiting Portugal today, I noted that there, as in Spain, all the kids in TV adverts are blonde and blue-eyed, even if the mother is rather less fair. I guess the latter is meant to be someone with whom Iberian women can identify, while the kids resonate with their dreams.

It’s also very noticeable that all Portuguese commentators [and indeed quiz show contestants] correctly pronounce Anglo names, places and song titles. In contrast, in Spain these are often unintelligible. John Wayne, for example, goes by the wonderful moniker of ‘Khon By-knee’. But I suppose that, if you don’t actually know what his voice sounds like, it doesn’t matter a toss what you call him. I stress that I’m being descriptive here, not prescriptive. Spaniards are entitled to speak how they like. But I suspect the difference arises from the fact that it’s actually possible to go through 7 years of English lessons in school here without speaking a word of the language. As I’ve said a few times, the emphasis is on written grammar. Indeed, until recently, it was even possible to teach English without being able to hold a minimal conversation in it.

Spain has decided to ignore US protests and sell armaments to the Venezuelan dictator, Chavez. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, playing the popular anti-American card, says the only relevant factor is Spain’s economic interest. Funny, but when Tony Blair defends the cheque británico for, one assumes, similar reasons, the same minister accuses him of selfishly ignoring EU solidarity. But then circumstances always change principles. At least if you’re a politician they do.

I see hits to my blog are way down today. Can this be because all the exiled Gallegos in the USA are at home today because of Thanksgiving and so aren’t using their office computer? This is the hope I’m clinging to, anyway.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I mentioned yesterday that conversations can go on a bit here. I later realised the locals avoid this risk by muttering ‘See you later’ [Hasta luego] or even ‘Goodbye’ [Adiós] as they approach each other on the street. Perhaps they aren’t so amiable and chatty, after all.

Anywhere in the world it can be a trial having the builders in. But my impression is that here they’re much more likely to be out than in. Driving down the hill this morning, I noticed the Opus Dei house is finally nearing completion, a mere 6 years after the ground was cleared. And its two new neighbours continue to progress in fits and starts, suggesting it will take between one and two years for them to be completed. It contrasts sharply with a chap on one of those house improvement programs on British TV who’d bought a plot and was planning to construct – within 3 months – not just one but two detached houses. But maybe he was exceptional and it usually takes 6.

Our local garden centres are not yet the cornucopias of live produce and artefacts that their UK cousins are. When I bought some seeds this morning and asked for a tray to grow them in, I was told I’d need to go to an agricultural shop for these. At times this sort of thing can be frustrating but then I recall the absence of rampant commercialism is one of the things that makes life in Spain more sane. At least our TV ads are not yet exclusively about bloody Christmas.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Spanish government has demanded the immediate release of the two Galician fishing boats impounded by the Norwegians. They insist only the Spanish courts have jurisdiction over the alleged offences and that, if the they’re found guilty, there will be severe fines. Which is doubtless true but, old sceptic as I am, I wouldn’t bet much on this coming to pass.

One of the problems – admittedly not a big one – of living in a society where people are amiable and love to talk is that conversations can go on for rather longer than you’d want. I asked the head waiter in my regular café this morning about the implications of the imminent anti-smoking law. Twenty minutes later – and with him giving his considered view for at least the third time – I was more than keen for him to turn his attentions to another customer. If he'd gone on much longer, I'd have taken up smoking.

As I’ve said, the issue of the British EU rebate is never presented on the Continent in its full light and the picture invariably painted is that of the EU financing Britain, rather than the other way round. That said, truth is of little value when all your 24 colleagues are against you and not averse to whipping up their electorates with partial and self-serving propaganda. So it will be very interesting to see if Mr Blair can get himself out of the corner into which Mrs Thatcher and Mr Brown have painted him.

And talking of the EU, evidence has now emerged that the initial view taken by the Commission of the proposed utilities takeover in Spain was that it had international ramifications and couldn’t be left to the Spanish government to adjudicate. So maybe Mr Zapatero did do a deal with the President of the Commission when he came to Spain last week to ‘take his son to see the Real Madrid-Barcelona game’.

For anyone wondering what happened to the illegal artificial hill with the JCB perched on top of it – here’s the current state of play. As you can see, the problem of preventing the houses from falling off the cliff has now been tackled rather more seriously….

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Monday, November 21, 2005

On my daily walk into town I used to pass a pet shop. Now I pass two. But the new one is rather more up-market than the old one. Or ‘alto-standing’, as they say here. It’s clearly aimed at those residents of Pontevedra who’ve completely taken leave of their senses. Not only have they bought a dog which is only fractionally larger [and less attractive] than a rat but now they want to dress it in a pullover or overcoat. And buy it food that has ‘Royal’ in the brand name. Sadly, there must be enough of them around to make the shop a going concern. What a shame they don’t sell hunting rifles next door.

Two Galician trawlers have been arrested by the Norwegians for fishing for a protected species, Greenland halibut. The Spanish government has said they were in international waters but, given the quantities of illegal fish available in tapas bars throughout Spain, my guess is no one in Spain actually believes this. Especially in view of the clip on the news, showing tons of fish being quickly jettisoned from one of the miscreant boats.

One of the joys of the English language is its capacity to generate new words. Some, of course, are more appealing than others. I can’t say I’m taken with Sky News’s attempt to turn ‘recap’ into a transitive verb, as in ‘We’ll recap you now”. Even worse than ‘Appointment-to-view television’.

Manchester United may feel they have their problems but these are nothing compared with those of Real Madrid. On Saturday, the world’s most expensive team of over-the-hill galacticos was trounced 3-0 at home by their arch [Catalan] rival, Barcelona. Actually, it’s sad to see a player as great as Zidane struggling to compete with the best. Should have gone at the end of last season, along with a few others.

It’s 30 years since Franco died. Astonishingly, around a thousand Falangeists of all ages went on to the streets of Madrid at the weekend to mourn his passing. The good news is that more than 30 million people didn’t.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Pontevedra council has decided to do something about the high number of pedestrians injured or killed by cars on the town’s roads. They’re going to penalise pedestrians who indulge in inappropriate ambulatory behaviour. I wonder if this applies to people who are hit on zebra crossings. A fair number of drivers give the impression of believing that venturing onto these classifies as inappropriate behaviour.

There’ve been several strident calls recently for a high-speed train link to be installed between Vigo in Galicia and Oporto in North Portugal before the 12th of Never. Meanwhile, back on earth, the Portuguese government has just taken the decision to withdraw one of the two trains which currently provide a service on this route. Even though these move only fractionally faster than walking pace, this will surely be missed. Not everyone has a car and can barrel down the under-utilised autopista which connects these two cities.

I’m obliged to my friend Andrew for the sight of a local driving school which rejoices in the name of ‘Chaos’.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Galician was spoken for the first time this week in an EU meeting in Brussels, thus supplying work for around 30 to 40 interpreters who’d otherwise be unemployed. Along with the many others who translate Catalan and Basque into both Spanish and Galician. I suppose it makes sense to someone. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the Spanish government doesn’t pick up the bill.

On this subject, a reader has challenged me to confirm that Galician is really just a dialect of Spanish. The honest answer to this is that, while it sometimes seems to me that this might be the case, I really don’t know and [as I live here!] I wouldn’t like to make a definitive statement in that direction. As I understand it, Galician, Portuguese and Asturian are all descended from the language which held sway over the west of Iberia after the Romans went home. So it’s surely arguable they’re sister languages and not dialects of Spanish, which is the main descendant of the Latin language of the Eastern half of Spain. Some [the Portuguese] maintain Galician is merely a dialect of Portuguese, not Spanish. And some [the Galicians] maintain that Portuguese is a descendant of the Galician that was originally spoken on both sides of the river Miño. Frankly – as in all language wars - it’s safer to be pragmatic about all this and to proffer a view consistent with the place in which you’re standing.

The Catalan bank caught giving interest holidays to two local political parties says it’s not at all unusual for banks to give preferential treatment to entities which work for the public good or social causes. This, of course, would cover an awful lot of organisations who would, if they sought it, surely be denied such largesse. Me, for example. So the bank’s contention has rightly been dismissed as specious nonsense.

The opposition party has accused the President of having a secret meeting with the head of the EU Commission so as to agree Spain will soften its grant demands in the imminent budgetary bun fight. The quid pro quo, it’s claimed, is a decision by Brussels to stay out of a Spanish takeover battle in the utilities area. Strangely, this also involves a Catalan organisation. I suspect there’s not a lot of hard evidence for this accusation but one can hardly blame the Spanish for being major conspiracy thinkers when they’re constantly hearing of such deals as that mentioned in the previous paragraph. Especially when the government seems to be in hock to the Catalan coalition whose support was critical for them in the last elections.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Friday, November 18, 2005

As some readers may know from my web page, I have a border collie, Ryan. As with all the breed, he is smart but [as he ages] a little intemperate. He could be me. Anyway, watching a news item this morning about a border collie winning a dance competition in Germany, he was infuriated to hear the winner wasn’t considered a pedigree dog. He wants to write a letter to the TV channel but I’ve refused to take him down to the notary public to have his paw print attested. If my experience this week around a divorce form is anything to go by, this could take months.

And talking of Spanish bureaucracy, I again gave the postman an erroneous ID number this morning. I wonder when they’ll be coming to cart me off to prison.

Yesterday I went to see an exhibition on the Titanic. Huge mistake. It consisted of little more than large photographs, mock-ups and sundry replica items. I could’ve learned more in 5 minutes in a local library. In keeping with the low standards of today, the idea was that – after the inevitable ‘photo opportunity’ – you spent 2[!] hours walking around while the various items were slowly described to you on a headset. In the event, I saw everything twice in less than 30 minutes. It was billed as the most successful exhibition in the entire history of the world. Since, by Spanish standards, it was far from cheap, I assume this means in terms of separating you from the contents of your wallet.

Two more ‘kamikaze’ drivers were arrested this week in Galicia. Both were driving the wrong way down the autopista and both, of course, were over the drink limit. Six times over in one case. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured, though in one case several cars were written off before the imbecile was brought to a stop. By himself, of course.

The EU commission has upped the growth rate forecast for Spain for this year but warned that the economy is displaying some worrying signs, such as a poor trade balance, increasingly high domestic debt levels and no improvement in the country’s low productivity. I thought of the latter this week when one of my teacher colleagues returned from a trip to the UK and commented on just how hard teachers have to work there. But then, from what I’ve gleaned from teachers themselves, the profession must count as the cushiest number available in a country where hard work is decidedly not seen as something which dignifies.

In a nice example of ‘localism’, the Diario de Pontevedra today ran an article headlined ‘Most public works contracts in the Community go to foreigners’. By this was meant companies from other parts of Spain, of course.

I read that normality has returned at last to France, with only 100 cars being burned last night. Or about the nocturnal average, it’s said. Some normality!

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Questions are being asked in parliament about the decision of a major Catalan bank to waive interest payments due on a large loan made to one of the local political parties. This may be unfair but I rather get the impression that such secret ‘sweetheart’ deals between banks and large commercial or political organisations are not exactly rare in Spain.

I dropped into the new ‘Irish Bar’ at the entrance to our local shopping mall today. Apart from coffee, this serves a wide array of German, Belgian and Scandinavian bottled beers. Its claim to Irishness appears to lie in the Guinness sign that swings in the breeze outside. I dread to think what Dublin’s tapas bars are like.

If, like me, you’ve lain awake wondering what on earth ‘art photography’ is, then you’ll appreciate this comment I stumbled across today - ‘Art photographers manipulate the photograph’s promise of reality so as to expose the way the photographic image is as constructed as a painting’.

Below is a photo of a local roundabout in its 4th phase of its [lengthy] construction. I suspect I will be returning to this subject before the year is out but, meanwhile, here are the phases todate:-
1. Dig a huge hole
2. Fill it in and build a roundabout on top of the hole
3. Remember that you have something to do under one side of the road so close it off and dig it up.
4. Deconstruct one side of the roundabout you’ve just built so the traffic can flow in 2 directions on the other side of the road.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The government has announced they’re going to introduce new technologies which will eliminate the need for people to photocopy their identity card and certificate of local registration whenever they want to do anything. They say it will save 10 million pieces of paper a year. This is very good news. So why am I filled with apprehension? I guess it’s because – as in the post office – I suspect electronic and paper-based systems will run side-by-side. And things will take even more time.

The Pontevedra police recently decided to clamp down on the unlicensed traders in our twice-monthly street market. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have mentioned this to the police just across the river in Poio. So guess where the illegal stalls now appear. That old Spanish pragmatism again.

I see the Sky News team has had the brilliant idea of converting itself from a group of staid news readers into a troupe of 5th rate chat show hosts and guests. My already-low tolerance threshold has now reduced to around a minute before I want to put a foot through the screen. Just like watching Spanish TV.

After all this levity, a touch of gravitas. There is a Europe-wide consensus that the EU finances Britain, something which is very far from the truth. This results from the regular prominence given by the French to the British rebate – or El cheque britannico, in Spanish. For my Spanish readers [and others] who share this view, here are a few facts to chew on…
- The ruinously expensive Common Agricultural Policy was negotiated between France and Germany in the 60s. Because the CAP would be particularly bad for the British, they were kept out of the negotiations by the French. The latter, of course, ended up as the main beneficiaries of the CAP.
- When the French veto was eventually lifted in the 70s and Britain was allowed to join the EU, they took a gamble on the genuineness of a French promise they’d be compensated for the CAP via regional funds. The gamble was lost and the funds never materialised.
- So, in the 80s Margaret Thatcher negotiated the annual rebate in place of this failed French promise.
- In 2002, France [Chirac] and Germany [Schroeder] agreed to maintain CAP spending levels until 2013. They did this without consulting any of their ‘partners’ in the EU.
- Over the 30 years since Britain joined the EU, it has paid [despite the rebate] a net €64bn. This is more than twice as much as France.
- In the middle of this year, in an attempt to recover from the disastrous French referendum on the EU Constitution, Chirac again raised the smokescreen of the British rebate. But he was outsmarted by Blair [not a man I usually admire], who expressed a willingness to negotiate the rebate provided something was done about the CAP and its disastrous consequences for everyone except France and [more recently] Spain, Portugal and Greece.
But all this is history. What we now face is a pitched budgetary battle between the northern European countries, fed up of subsidising their ‘partners’, and the southern and eastern members who benefit from the CAP. In this context, France is far more southern than northern. The decisive contribution will come from Germany, whose new government will surely prove less willing to prop up a France that looks increasingly like a country which is imploding after years of high living at the expense of other countries. Or maybe they will want to subsidise France, fearing the spread of revolution from their decaying neighbour.

Whatever, the EU budget for 2007-2113 must be concluded by mid 2006. So, it’s handbags at dawn, ladies.

Meanwhile, the EU Audit Commission yesterday declined to approve the EU’s annual accounts. For the 11th year in a row. You couldn’t make it up, could you?

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

In 1979, the Spanish government and the Catholic Church signed a Concordat, under which payments from the former to the latter would run down in two three-year phases. The end result would be a self-financing Church by 1986. In the event, the first three-year phase lasted nine years and the second – twenty-six years later - has yet to end. Every year, millions of Spaniards tick a box on their tax return, under the illusion it makes a difference to what the Church receives. It doesn’t; the amount is fixed, though annually increased by inflation. But now the government has fired a shot – actually a fusillade – across the bows of the Church by announcing that the law will be enforced.

Maybe it will. Or perhaps – like the law about not building within a certain distance of the sea – it will remain a dead letter. Or ‘wet paper’, as they say here. On this issue, there are regular statements that demolition of illegal buildings is imminent but, in practice, this seems to be a rare occurrence.

Interestingly, the two European countries with the most extended family structures [Italy and Spain] have the lowest birth rates. This augurs badly for the future; after, all if you don’t have a family, who’s going to look after you in your old age? The respective governments must be terrified at the certainty of being called on to care for its rapidly increasing senior citizens. In Spain, at least, my impression is that they’ve hardly started to think about it.

A professor in Pontevedra’s School of Fine Arts has bemoaned the fact that ‘Performance art is almost non-existent here.’ Now that I think of it, this is one of the main reasons I enjoy living here.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Monday, November 14, 2005

The average salary increase in Spain over the last 12 months is 2.9%. As inflation is at least 3.5%, this tells you all you need to know about unemployment levels in an economy that is, nonetheless, one of the fastest growing in the EU.

The members of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language have been busy deciding on the correct spellings of words imported from other languages. Here are a few samples of old and new versions…
Un piercing/Un Pirsin
Un casting/Un castin [An audition]
For those who haven’t read about this in previous blogs, one of the fascinating aspects of modern Spanish is the use of an English gerund to make a noun which doesn’t actually exist in English. Here’s a few more that I’m guessing have been revised in the same way as those above:-
Un parking/Un parkin [A car park]
Un lifting/Un liftin [A face-lift]
Un listening/Un lístenin [A dictation]
Un mobbing/Un mobin [Sexual harassment]

The news from the BolboOceanRace isn’t too good. Within hours of them leaving Vigo on Saturday, a tremendous storm damaged four, if not five, of the six boats, driving most of them into Portuguese ports for repairs. Shades of the hurricane after Trafalgar, though none of them has actually sunk so far, unlike nearly all the captured French and Spanish galleons. Perhaps we won’t see an upsurge in maritime tourism after all.

When I was a child, the office opposite my school bus-stop belonged to a Commissioner for Oaths. This was a rare animal in the UK then and I suspect it still is. And a poor relative to the lawyer. My impression is the situation is reversed in Spain. Here, the equivalent of a Commissioner for Oaths is the Notary Public and these seem to be far more important than lawyers. I suspect this says something about the paperwork involved in even simple transactions in Spain. And the need to get your signature regularly attested.

Here’s a surprise – Telefonica’s profits soared in September. Possibly something to do with all those silently retracted discounts.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

You may have missed it – even in the Sports reports – but yesterday was a big day for the city of Vigo, here in Galicia. For the first time in its history, the Volvo Ocean Race [or the ‘BolboOceanRace’ as it’s called by Spanish commentators] started from a non-British port. The event seemed to go off spectacularly well, which will hopefully give the desired boost to maritime activities along Spain’s magnificent NW coast. We can surely look forward now to a lot more people messing about in boats. I’m even contemplating it myself, though with an outboard motor, rather than a sail. And on a docile river, rather than the unpredictable sea.

You don’t have to be here very long to discover that, even though the teaching of English is considered a priority, very few people can actually speak it. One major reason is that, astonishingly, there’s no oral component in any school exams. Or even in the A level equivalents. Instead, there’s an unhealthy emphasis on English grammar. In this, I understand, Galicia is no different from any region in Spain other than Catalunia. Another factor is the dubbing of all foreign language films into Spanish, which contrasts with the situation in nearby Portugal, where subtitles are used both in the cinemas and on TV. So kids there get to listen to English every day and, consequently, are much more ready to try speaking it. But it’s not all bad news. Not before time, the regional government is considering adding a dictation test [called in Spain ‘un listening’] to the exam which determines which university course you can do. I guess from ‘un listening’ it’s not too big a step to ‘un speaking’, especially among people who must rank among the most accomplished speakers in the world.

In one of the numerous ads for loan companies on Sky TV, the sign-off line is ‘Subject to conditions and acceptance’. It reminded me of the airway bill for my dog being shipped from Tehran to the UK many years ago – ‘British Airways accepts no liability for mortality caused by death’.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Saturday, November 12, 2005

You have to hand it to these Nigerians – the wife of the President is not yet cold in her [reduced-size] coffin but already her ‘Financial Adviser’ is offering me millions for helping him deal with the funds she squirrelled away before her ill-fated appointment with the Spanish cosmetic surgery clinic.

In a survey of ‘safe driving’ in 13 EU countries, Spain came 12th. But there’s no place for smugness; the UK came 11th. Mind you, Portugal came in the top 3 and, if you’ve ever driven there, you’ll know this is a nonsense as an indication of your likelihood of surviving on the country’s roads. Some clue to the structure of the survey came from a comment in El Pais that the UK – despite the lowest accident rates in the EU – had suffered because it’s not compulsory there to carry 2 triangles. Nor a full set of light bulbs and a luminous jacket, I guess.

There’s a protest march in Madrid tomorrow against the government’s plans to revise education so as, inter alia, to further reduce the importance of religion [i. e. Catholicism] in the curriculum. Although the march will be attended by a number of high-ranking clerics, the church has said the march is ’Nothing to do with us, guv.’ The problem the government has is that a significant amount of education is still provided by Church-linked schools in Spain. For which it is given vast sums of taxpayers’ money. So, my bet is on the government.

Quote of the Day

The worst imaginable world would be one in which the leading expert in each field had total control over it.
Friedrich Hayek, in ‘The Road to Serfdom’

Why have the French institutionalised the idea that you can buy your way out of trouble with higher taxes and more regulations? Because they've let the best minds take control of politics. The results have been what they always are once you let the best minds take control: disaster.
P. J. O’ Rourke

Friday, November 11, 2005

Picture a crowded street where none of the pedestrians cedes space to any other. This is Any Street, Spain. Now imagine the same scene when it’s raining and everyone has an umbrella. Anarchy. Finally, take this a stage further and visualise the effects of the pedestrians walking in and out of scaffolding on the pavement. Actually, this is misleading and unfair. As I’ve said before, although Spaniards are not usually awfully aware of the existence of others, when they’re forced to be so, they transmogrify into the politest people on earth. There’s nothing like a combination of umbrellas and scaffolding for achieving this. I feel the latter should be a compulsory street feature.

It struck me today there are similarities between the way English and Galician have developed, specifically a gap between the spoken and the formal language. The big difference, though, is that with English the fluid, flexible language of the people prevailed over that [Latin/French] of the establishment. In other words, it was bottom-up. With Galician, however, it’s the establishment in the form of the Royal Academy which is trying [and failing, of course] to impose the language from above. I suppose it keeps them in work - even if much of this seems to consist of the low intellectual challenge of devising new spellings to differentiate Galician from Spanish. This is not, I stress, to suggest Galician [and an extensive, long-established literary tradition] doesn’t exist. It’s just a jaundiced comment on the function of language Academies. I rather get the impression most Galicians would sympathise with my view.

The tales of banking inefficiency just go on and on. I ordered a credit card from my new bank. This involved several duplicate conversations and not one but two faxes of a copy of my identity card. And they still managed to get my surname wrong. So now I’ve been asked to repeat the whole process, meaning yet another fax. Why on earth did I bother when I have 2 UK credit cards? I guess it seemed a good idea at the time. The same bank has written to confirm they’ve given me a telephone banking PIN when, in fact, they couldn’t as ‘The machine isn’t working at the moment.’

Emblematic? On TV yesterday were pictures from the scene of the construction accident near Malaga, where 6 workers were killed. The coffins were being moved to the funeral home. One of the bearers was on his mobile phone.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Although there may not be much evidence for the Galician belief that Ireland was colonised from here, there does seem to be some that post-Roman Brits came the other way. The town of Bretoña, south east of Mondoñedo, for example, is said to be the site of an ancient British settlement. To quote . . . “Links between the peoples of NW Iberia and the British Isles were much closer in prehistoric and historic times than has been the case since the 16th century. The old legend of the Irish originating in Spain was simply part of a much broader pattern of movement of peoples along the Atlantic edge of Europe.” Perhaps, then, Columbus was actually of Anglo-Galician descent. See this site for more details – http://www.peterrobins.co.uk/camino/British_Galicia.html

Despite the Madrid bombings, here in Spain the police can only hold a suspected terrorist for 3 days without charge, against the existing 14 days in the UK and the extension to 28 days agreed yesterday. Not surprisingly, therefore, Blair’s failed demand for 90 days is seen here as more appropriate to a South American dictatorship. How the wheel turns.

The death of 6 construction workers when a viaduct collapsed in the south of Spain has sadly endorsed the country’s position as the worst of the EU-15 for work-related accidents. The league table for these shows the usual north-south pattern on such issues but with some anomalies. Luxembourg, Germany and Austria rank higher than one would expect. Can this be, I wonder, because each has a high percentage of ‘guest workers’? Just a thought.

The more comments I get from the Spanish readers who are good enough to write to me, the more I sense a tendency here to hark back to an earlier ‘golden age’, either of the country as a whole [the 16th century] or, moreso, of its constituent kingdoms. For the life of me, I can’t see this is much different – in principle - from Bin Laden demanding the restoration of Al-Andalus, as the predecessor of [nearly] all of these kingdoms. And perhaps there’s some Visigoth out there who, using the same logic, thinks we should return to the last time Iberia was united, after the Romans went home. A new seat at the UN, perhaps. Visigolandia. Adios both Spain and Portugal. I wonder how much this anti-history nostalgia is unique to Spain, reflecting the long-reported [and admirable] national characteristic of a deep love for one’s patria chica.

Telefonica’s latest wheeze . . . In this month’s bill we’re no longer given discounts on provincial and national calls. They didn’t amount to much per bill but, multiplied by millions, their cancellation must represent a massive amount of pure profit. Of course, we’ve not been advised of this change. How much time now before the ‘call identity’ line has a number in place of the current zero? Oh to be rid of these ‘robbers in white gloves’.

The UK makers of toilet paper [‘hygienic paper’ in Spain] seem to be competing to see who can get the cleverest [or at least cutest] mention of ‘bum’ or ‘bottom’ into their ads. ‘Love your bum’ being one of these. I fear we can’t be very far away from ‘Arse-wipingly good!’

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A reader has said he looks forward to both Scotland and Catalunia having a seat at the United Nations. Well, maybe it’s because I have a MacDonald for a grandmother, but, while I can see a case for Scotland being independent again, I can’t see why Catalunia has any greater claim than, say, Yorkshire. Or the Isle of Man, for that matter. Can I really look forward to ending my days as the Foreign Minister for the nation of Merseyside? Actually, the Scotland/Catalunia comparison does point up the anomaly that I’ve recently discussed with Spanish friends, viz. that, whilst Scotland and Wales are [to my mind] real nations, they have less autonomy than the Spanish Communities/regions. But this does rather endorse the point that you don’t have to be a member of the United Nations to have control over your affairs.

On this same issue, Jesus has taken me to task [ I think] for equating Spain’s Communities with British counties. Some of them, he stresses, have different languages and features. Maybe so. But this doesn’t make them countries or nations, as the terms are universally used. Are the Swiss cantons to be countries along the French, German, Italian divide? Is the UK county of Cornwall to be a country because they used to speak a Gaelic language [Cornish] totally unrelated to English? Ditto the Isle of Man because they still do [Manx]. Is Brittany in France to be a country because it was settled [hence the name] from Britain and they still speak Breton there? Is Quebec to be a country because the people are ‘different’ from the Anglo Canadians and speak French? Is Texas to be a country because of its Mexican history? Will California become a country when the majority speak Spanish? And so on and so on. My point in raising these questions is not to prove I’m right and Jesus [or anyone else] is wrong but to show how difficult it is to prove a place is a country on the basis of historical and current ‘differences’. What Basque, Catalunian and Galician nationalists seem to gloss over is that Scotland and Wales were independent countries/nations for hundreds of years before they became part of the UK. More to the point, they still are. A quick glance at any atlas will show you this. In the UK, the historical origins and differences are dealt with via honorific titles. So, Wales is a Principality as well as a country and Prince Charles’ title is The Prince of Wales. Similarly, Cornwall is a Duchy [Guess who’s the Duke]. Here in Spain, the heir to the throne is The Prince of Asturias, his wife is the Princess and their new baby, I guess, is the Princesita. It seems to keep the Asturians happy. Maybe there’s a lesson here. Sure as eggs is eggs, giving every place which wants it the name and status of nation isn’t going to solve any underlying problems. Not unless you think the world would be improved by having 3,000 nations participating in an everlasting committee in New York.

To be more positive – or at least less controversial – I drove to Vigo today in glorious sunshine. In this weather, this short trip along the bays and the ria must be one of the prettiest in the world. Of course, it’s a different matter when the Atlantic decides to rise up and drop in on us, especially crossing the Rande suspension bridge. But I can live with that. From time to time.

Finally, given my regular criticisms of Spanish driving, I must record the first incidence [as far as I can recall] of a considerate driver behind me slowing down because he realised a truck coming down a slip road was about to force me into his lane. And, yes, it was a male driver. Probably Fernando Alonso. He doesn’t need to prove what a great driver he is.

By the way, this blog is early tonight as I'm going out to celebrate being 29 for the 30th time.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The BBC’s highly successful celebrity ballroom dancing program has been emulated all over the world. I guess it was too much to expect the Spanish version to do without the divas who dominate the TV here and whose rickety bodies are several decades older than their faces. The upshot last night was perhaps the world’s slowest ever quick-step. Excruciating. But a lovely – if rather rigid – smile.

Tony is back from the sea and the noise levels next door have naturally escalated. Today I talked to the neighbour on the other side about this, in the hope of finding a Spanish solution to a very Spanish problem. He confessed he and his wife found Tony’s young boys even noisier but, nonetheless, my initiative fell on stony ground. The farthest he would go was a suggestion that Tony shouted all the time because he worked on tankers where the ambient noise levels must be high. A very Spanish response. Looks like I’m stuck with the turning-up-the-music solution, even when I’m trying to sleep at 7.15 in the morning.

In the art world of today, they say that art is whatever anyone says it is. And an artist anyone who says he/she’s an artist. It’s very similar in Spain with the words ‘country’ and ‘nation’. After the Basque Country and Catalunia, it looks like it’s Galicia’s turn now. There appears to be a widespread unwillingness here to view Spain’s regions as comparable to States in the USA, Landers in Germany, Departments in France or Counties in the UK. If they have one, the preferred comparison is with Scotland. Which is a view which seems to me to ignore some rather salient factors. Of course, all this is perfectly logical in a country where the words patria [homeland] and pais [country] are used to describe the region where you come from. And where people and companies from other regions are routinely labelled ‘foreign’.

We’re being inundated with pictures of the recently born princess. She looks exactly like any other new-born but the media consensus is that she’s stunningly beautiful. I suppose she’ll spend the rest of her life being called ‘guapissima’. A guaranteed candidate, then, for whatever wonders of cosmetic surgery are around in 30 years’ time.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Monday, November 07, 2005

The ‘modernising’ socialist Spanish government is holding a conference for the presidents of all the country’s 17 regions [‘autonomous communities’]. The agenda includes the financing of the communities, amplification of the powers of their governments and [yes!] their participation in the EU. At the same time, the central government is presiding over a debate on the construction of the Senate. So, if you are a community president, these are exciting times - which possibly explains why one of them had a heart attack last night. But one can’t help wondering whether the lid has been taken off Pandora’s box. Will the Spanish government really have any rationale for its existence once its power has been lost to Brussels on one hand and to the regions on the other? Or will it be the first country in the world to have both a constitutional monarchy and a constitutional executive?

The dreadful events in France are being followed here with possibly even more interest than elsewhere. One reason for this is that economic migrants from Spain 30-40 years ago tended to end up in the appalling Paris ghettos. So there’s more knowledge here of the situation than in other countries. Plus, Spain has its own large inflow of African immigrants and so is asking itself whether riots could happen here. Possibly not, as Spain’s immigration problem is of much more recent origin and so the problem doesn’t exist of 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants who are disaffected citizens. Or at least not yet.

Finally, a bank story with a smile – I wanted to make an emergency transfer today to my daughter in Madrid but had given instructions on Friday for my spare funds to go on short term deposit. Happily, the bank had indulged in their normal sloth and hadn’t carried out my instruction on either Friday or Saturday. So the money was still in my current account and I could make the transfer early this morning. I had feared Sod’s Law would operate to complicate matters but even this universal law seems to have no force in Spain.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Commenting on the Telefonica takeover of the UK phone company O2, a Spanish friend has suggested their money might be better spent on providing lines requested by [potential] customers living as close as 10 km to major cities in Spain. Fat chance. Not sexy enough.

From comments made by readers and friends, there appear to be several forms of the Galician language in operation:-
1. Literary Galician. Unintelligible to most
2. Academic Galician. Also largely indecipherable. May be very similar to 1. The preserve of the Royal Academy
3. Popular Galician. Understood by virtually everyone in the region and spoken by a significant percentage, albeit with major differences between provinces. And between the coast and the mountains.
4. TV Galician. This is a mixture of all these and is spoken by ambitious young people who didn’t start to speak the language until their 20s and so have a vocabulary and a [‘Castillano’] accent that amuse the real speakers.

If you're bored with my endless bank stories, you might want to o’erleap this paragraph …. On my last trip to the bank, when I learned of the poor return on my 3-year investment, I asked for a breakdown of the calculation so I could check why it was much less than I’d expected from good stock market growth. The reaction suggested I’d sought access to a state secret. In the end, I was given a photocopy of half a page and told I shouldn’t reveal I’d got it. It turned out to be simply a statement of the method of calculation but gave me no idea at all of the numbers for interest rate changes and stock market growth. In fact, the same data was in the contract I signed 3 years ago. This gives a pretty good idea of how Spanish banks treat their customers. When I first went into business 30 years or so ago, it was called ‘mushroom management’. Probably still is.

I read today that 50% of the sub-Saharans that get to Spain are bent on passing through to countries in which their language is spoken. The prime target is France. This must be very welcome news to President Chirac and his government, as they face the 11th consecutive night of rioting by disadvantaged young Frenchmen of African descent. No wonder they’re upset about President Zapatero’s policy of legalising the presence of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in Spain.

It’s funny how the fight for EU funds can change perspective. Galician politicians think its unforgivable of the British to want to cling to the rule that gives them a rebate, whilst loudly demanding that the rules be changed to ensure continuance of subventions to Spain. They accuse Mr Blair of destroying the cohesion of the EU but seem to have no qualms about endorsing changes in the relationship between Madrid and the regions which might just destroy domestic cohesion. Strange business, politics.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Friday, November 04, 2005

Another two visits to banks yesterday and two more today. So a few more surreal experiences, witness the following short conversations. As ever, everything was very jovial and first-name-personal, as if we’d known each other all our lives. Of course, since so few Spaniards move away from their place of birth, this is usually the case:-

Bank no. 1
Me: Hola, Manuel. Have you got the temperature/humidity gauge the bank is giving away to its customers this month?
Manuel: Well, no. Maybe at the end of the month. You see, demand was much higher than expected. We’ve had at least 20 people come in.
Me: And how many gauges did you get to give out?
Manuel: Well, just 1, actually. But it’s the same all over the country.

Bank no. 2
Me: Javier, before we talk about my deposits, I’d like to ask why the bank made this unauthorised payment to an insurance company.
Javier: Well, they knew your account number so you must have signed a direct debit form
Me: No, I haven’t.
Javier: Do you want us to get the money back?
Me: No. I’d like to know how this could happen
Javier: Would you like us to get the money back?
Me: ……….

Me: Anyway, Javier. I’m very disappointed at the return on this 3 year deposit.
Javier: Why? It’s 4.5%.
Me: No, it isn’t. It’s under 3
Javier: Oh, yes. But still better than today’s rate of 1.6.
Me: Maybe but inflation is 3.5%.
Javier: No, that’s just the government’s figure. The real rate is much higher.
Me: ………

In both cases, the distinguishing features [as ever] were:- 1. an absence of any sort of apology or expression of regret, and 2. an un-stated suggestion that one must expect these things to happen and just be happy they can be corrected via a trip to the bank and a friendly chat. No need to get all Anglo-Saxon about things.

As it happened, today I got a letter from my UK bank in response to a complaint about an error around a transfer. The apologies were profuse and they added a 30 quid token of regret. I was also given the name of the writer’s boss, in case I wasn’t happy with the response. It’s a different universe. Hence my insistence Banco Santander and Telefonica are in for a culture shock after their purchases of Abbey National and O2, respectively.

Interesting messages from Fonso and Portorosa after my mention of Galician yesterday. I hadn’t realised there was such a gap between spoken and formal, written Gallego. Although I did know that even spoken Gallego differs between places within Galicia. Of course, problems [and stupidities] always arise when some appointed body tried to regulate a living language. And the situation is even worse when the process is politicised. The French do this for defensive purposes [against the encroachment of English], whereas the Catalans, the Basques and even the Galician Xunta do it in pursuance of nationalist goals. Anglo Saxons probably don’t realise how lucky they are not to have one or more language academies. But at least, when there’s no dictatorship, the rules can be ignored with total impunity.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Spanish press says the British government has tabled proposals for the imminent EU budget summit that don’t even mention contentious issues such as the British rebate, 'the Spanish problem’ or Chirac’s threat to veto any change whatsoever to the CAP. But, then, Mr Blair possibly has other things on his mind at the moment. Like his survival, for one thing. ‘The Spanish problem’, by the way, is the call to rescind an earlier agreement that their grants/subventions would start reducing from 2006.

Conversation in a newsagent's this morning:-
Me: The book with the Voz de Galicia today, is it in Spanish or Galician? I can’t tell because it has a cellophane wrapper around it.
Shopkeeper: It’s in Galician.
Me: Are you sure, as the title [Galicia vista por un inglés] seems to be Spanish?
Shopkeeper: That’s because it’s the same in both languages.
Me: But isn’t the Gallego for Galicia ‘Galiza’?
Shopkeeper: Good God, no. Only the nationalists use that word. You’ll have to learn Gallego.
Me: Give me a break. It’s tough enough learning Spanish right now.
Other customer: Yes, and even we locals don’t understand half of ‘Academic’ Gallego.

I took this to be a reference to the Royal Academy for the Galician language. The members of this august establishment would seem to talk to each other in a tongue which is much of a mystery to the rest of the populace. From time to time they emerge from their ivory tower to issue edicts [such as “‘Gracias’ will henceforth be ‘Grazas’”] which are then ignored by all and sundry. It’s like Latin professors conversing with each other - except, in place of a dead language, they have one which is at least partially stillborn.

By the way, I bought the paper and the book. And it did turn out to be in Galician. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier to read than to understand aurally.

I came across a small wooden box during my walk with my dog in the woods this morning. It was in two pieces and the lid was lying nearby. On this was a metal plate bearing the name and the legend ‘Fall. 21.5.03’. If I’m right and ‘Fall.’ is short for Fallecido [or ‘deceased'], then the box must have contained someone’s ashes. I do stumble on some odd things [and people] in the forest but this was a first. And hopefully a last.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Spain revels in gastronomic symbols for its many feast days. For All Souls, this takes the form of small pastries in the form of bones. I suppose it could be worse. Little coffins perhaps. The feast is also a Big Flowers Day, as graves are visited and adorned throughout the country. Though not as much as they used to be. Spain’s florists are expecting yesterday’s sales to have continued the decline of the last few years, reflecting the ‘change in the customs of young people and in the character of this feast day’. Rather sad, really.

The results of a topical survey suggest 72% of Spaniards believe in God and an afterlife. But since 80% of the population claim to be Catholic, there must be an awful lot of idiosyncratic Catholics in the country. My guess is they don’t go to confession too often. And there are clearly some who think God moves in mysterious ways; within a couple of hours yesterday, several thousand Christmas lottery tickets were bought with the number 311005, the day of the royal birth. Unless you are American. If it comes up, I will certainly be born again.

The Great Spanish Paper Chase: I mentioned that I’m having to underwrite my daughter’s mortgage as – being 28 – she’s still considered dependent in Spain. The sackload of paper provided last week inevitably wasn’t enough and so I had to make another 2 bank visits today and provide another 15 pages of data. If you’re coming to live here, don’t say you haven’t been warned.

In Spain, un kamikaze is a driver who goes down the wrong side of a motorway/freeway. They are not exactly rare. The latest I’ve read about caused havoc in the outskirts of Madrid in the early hours of yesterday. Fittingly, it was a Pratna white van.

The Spanish state comprises 17 Autonomous Communities. One or two of these - possibly more – would like to be called ‘nations’ and this is causing a few problems for the central government. The simple solution would be to label all the communities ‘nations’ and change Spain’s name to The United Nations of Spain. But as United Nations is already taken, this isn’t an option. But what’s wrong with The United Communities of Spain? And since there’s no one else with a similar title, this could be shortened - as with the United States and the United Kingdom – to the United Communities. Which would be The UC in English and Los CCUU in Spanish. Problem solved. You heard it here first.

Quote of the Day

The German coalition government is like a loaded dynamite cartridge with a lighted match at each end.
[Take me to your] Leader in today’s El Pais.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Naturally, there were acres of newsprint devoted to the royal birth today. One major issue is the perceived need to change the Constitution so the new princess isn’t shoved down the succession line by a future brother. The consensus seems to be that there’ll be a referendum on this – and other changes – in 2008. So, plenty of time for the lawyers to get the drafting right so as to ensure one of the palace dogs doesn’t inherit the throne.

In a demonstration of the puerilism that nationalism can so quickly descend into, the Catalan President sent a congratulatory message which spelled the princess’s name in the Catalan way. This contrasts with his insistence that his own surname is spelled according to local norms.

So, the UK mobile phone company, O2, has agreed to sell itself to my Spanish bugbear, Telefonica. Will this mean rapacious pricing in the UK and Germany or greater consumer orientation in Spain? Given the hefty debt incurred to finance the purchase, my bet is on the former. One thing is certain – there’s going to be a massive culture shock for both companies. All in all, I’m not too surprised Telefonica’s shares immediately fell 3%. And I won’t exactly be astonished to find my own line-rental cost rising for about the 15th time in 5 years.

Quote of the Day

Speed, which is a virtue, engenders a vice, which is haste.
Gregorio Marañón. Spanish writer, being ironic, I guess

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net