Tuesday, February 28, 2006

On the motorway between Lugo and La Coruña yesterday, a queue of 30 cars decided to wait behind a long articulated truck rather than risk trying to pass it. This was because the driver was 10 times over the alcohol limit and weaving across both lanes. Some of the motorists called the police so I can’t help wondering whether they were later prosecuted for use of their mobile phones. I imagine not.

I mentioned the other day the accusation of ‘liar’ is hurled about like confetti in Spain, even in parliament. But this seems positively polite compared with the following description of the opposition party from the Secretary of the party in power – ‘Disloyal, despicable, cowardly, immoral, deceitful and cynical.’ Apparently he doesn’t think very much of them opposing the government’s policy towards ETA terrorists.

And talking of insults, I arrived at another of my contentious theories today, viz. that, in a society in which so much stress is laid on having fun, one of the worst things you can call anyone is ‘killjoy’. The basis of my theory is that the Spanish are so tolerant of people around them generating levels of noise and cigarette smoke that would be considered utterly unacceptable elsewhere. Incidentally, the Spanish for killjoy [aguafiestas] is nicely composed of the words for water and partying. So, someone who rains on somebody else’s parade, I guess.

The Minister of Defence has said it would be a very good thing if half the generals in the armed forces and the national police were women. And I don’t think he was talking about just the Catering Corp. Sometimes one gets the impression Spain is trying a little too hard to shake of its macho reputation. But I don’t suppose the women object.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Not by any means for the first time this winter, I woke to a glorious blue sky and a bright yellow sun while the radio was telling me Galicia was one of the 12 regions facing severe weather today. In the event, the worst we experienced was merely the sight of snow on the caps of the more distant mountains. I love the Atlantic when it’s benign. But not, of course, when it’s depositing itself on us for days at a time.

The BBC’s successful ballroom dancing program has been emulated around the world. Here in Spain it’s called ‘Look who’s dancing’ and features – charitably speaking – a range of celebrity performers. Despite [because of?] this, it’s very successful. And since Spanish TV directors feel you can’t get too much of a good [more often, very bad] thing, as soon as one series finishes, the next begins. Or putting this another way, it’s on every week. The big difference between our version and the original is in the ratio of talking to dancing. But I will leave you to decide in which country the lips of ageing divas move a great deal more than their legs.

The ‘Y’ sound is quite common in Spanish, most notably in the modern pronunciation of the double ‘L’. So ‘pollo’ is ‘poyo’. So I wonder why the backing group in ‘Look who’s dancing’ tonight felt obliged to give us ‘Jew make me feel like a natural woman’. Jaw guess is as good as mine.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

This week, of course, sees the beginning of Lent. Up here in Galicia the Mardi Gras ceremonies are known as Entroido/Antroido. They started this weekend with a procession of floats and will end – on Good Friday - with the ceremonial burning of some sort of effigy. Along the Galician coast this normally takes the form of a sardine but here in Pontevedra - for reasons lost in the mists of time - we burn a parrot called Ravachol. This takes place at the end of a long funeral march on Friday evening which involves a good deal of irreligious dressing up and a fair amount of cross-dressing. I’m sure this says something about the Spanish character but I haven’t yet figured out what this is. Anyway, it’s not the night to chat up a black-veiled widow in fish-net tights and stiletto heels.

You can read an account of one of the processions by clicking on the Carnaval in Pontevedra link at the bottom of the home page of my web page on Galicia – colindavies.net

Ravachol, by the way, has just been permanently honoured by the erection of a monument in one of the town’s central squares. I will post a picture shortly.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Well, the Spanish government decided to go the whole hog to prevent the takeover of Endesa by the German utilities giant, Eon. Not only have they introduced measures to reduce the profitability of Spanish companies [to lessen their attraction] but, by Royal Decree, have changed the remit of the relevant monitoring body so as to give it the power to judge transnational mergers. The EU has pronounced this illegal and said ‘measures will be taken’ if Spain continues along the path towards the ‘protectionism of the 1930s’. But this is not a country where much notice is taken of laws which are personally inconvenient, so this threat is unlikely to butter many parsnips, even if Spain has been the greatest beneficiary todate of EU largesse. Unsurprisingly, the initial reply has been that what is sauce for the French and German goose is also sauce for the Spanish gander. It will be interesting to see whether the British government joins the throng and starts barring the acquisition of UK companies, freely permitted in the past. To ‘level the playing field’, of course.

Meanwhile, down at a more mundane level, the bank which took 4 months to supply me with a credit card has sent me my first statement. I’m not sure I believe this myself but accompanying it is a note saying they don’t have a copy of my identity card on file so could I please send one. If I do, this will be the FIFTH time this has been done. More seriously, I see they’ve chosen to charge only 4% of the total to my account and levy an interest rate of 25% on the balance. This is totally contrary to my instruction that they deduct the whole amount each month. After 5 years here, I now concur with all my Spanish friends that this sort of ‘error’ is dishonest. No wonder the banks are called ‘thieves in white gloves’ here. Which reminds me, BBVA charged me a ‘commission’ of more than 800 euros simply to transfer my savings to another bank. As I’ve said before, this would be illegal in countries where there is more consumer protection than here. Fortunately, my new bank gives me marginally more just for depositing it with them. Well, they have to, don’t they? What madness.

It seems to me Galician women tend to become very square after the age of 50. They then top off this look, literally, with a short-cropped hairstyle which resembles a German military helmet of the Second World War. So I think I’ll look elsewhere for my third wife. And, in the meantime, try to post a few photos that prove my point.

To end on a positive – the EU is taking legal action against Telefonica for abusing its position as monopoly supplier of ADSL connections. Couldn’t happen to a nicer company. If anything does.

Friday, February 24, 2006

I’ve no idea how things will end around the takeover of the Spanish utilities company, Endesa. My confusion stems mainly from the contradictory statements of the President, Mr Zapatero. First we were told markets are important but not as much as Spanish citizens. Then we were assured the government was determined to ensure Spain has a major international player [Endesa?] as big as the German predator, Eon. Now, he’s said the government will introduce measures to ensure Endesa is weakened in the Spanish market so that it is less attractive to potential purchasers. It will be interesting to see how all this pans out but I suspect the one thing certain it that, despite Brussels' instructions to the contrary, the Spanish government will move heaven and earth to stop a foreign takeover. After all, France has shown the way by ignoring EU laws and regulations in this area for years. And in others, of course. Only today I read it has declined to pay the fines imposed for its illegal bans on British beef. Plus ca change.

The relevant government department is demanding gaol sentences for drivers who exceed the speed limit by more than 60kph. Or 38mph. For example, doing 68mph in a 30mph zone. Or 113mph on an autopista. A columnist in one of our local papers today wrote that there would be only a thin line between many thousands of Spanish motorists and a spell behind bars. He added this contrasted with Germany, where you can drive at any speed you like on the autobahns. Naturally, though, he didn’t comment on any differences in driving behaviour. So I am left wondering whether Germans also like to drive within centimetres of your exhaust pipe with their headlights and indicator on.

I see the UK is experiencing a drought and water restrictions are already forecast for next summer. I’m a tad confused about this as, surely, global warming was supposed to give us warmer and wetter winters.

I took one of my periodic looks at the back 4 pages of the major local paper yesterday. Regular readers will know these comprise the little-left-to-the imagination ads for ‘alternative leisure’ activities. The C de E tells us it now has a new name [just ‘La Casita’], new management, new girls and a new ambience. Its feature du jour is ‘The Fiesta of the Hot Bikini’ but what really impresses me are the fine details such as ‘Right next to the station’, ‘Open Sundays’ and ‘Free parking for long-stay clients’.

My daughter in Madrid tells me of this sign in a bar there:- ‘You are allowed to smoke here and may God’s will determine the consequences.’ So, stuff your non-celestial neighbour.

And an anonymous reader has commented [in Spanish] that I am a ‘boozer and a sight’. I initially assumed this was a disaffected Spanish reader but now wonder whether it was a belated Valentine’s Day message from one of my ex-wives, both of whom are fluent in the language.
Long before 9.11 and then 11.3 and 7.7 the Spanish had 23.2. This was the date – in 1981 – when elements of the army staged a coup d’etat against democracy in the form of a socialist government. Happily for Spain – and Europe – the uprising was short-lived and the new king came out of the affair with great credit. Today was the 25th anniversary of the event but, reading the reports and watching the old news bulletins, it felt like something out of the 19th century. And such has been the progress since then, it’s virtually impossible to imagine something similar ever happening again.

Talking of progress, Spain’s economy continues to power ahead, at a growth rate of more than 3% per annum. But inflation is in excess of 4%, average salaries are falling and the percentage of new jobs on short contracts has risen from 18% in 2002 to 64% in 2005. So I guess it’s not terribly surprising there’s an underlying concern about the economy in general and unemployment in particular. But, come what may, at least the currency is secure. Unless the euro implodes, of course.

I think we know now why the Spanish team were only ‘moderately optimistic’ prior to the tripartite talks over matters Gibraltarian. It seems they’re not disposed to reaching agreement over the 3 issues tabled – airport access, pensions for Spanish citizens and more phone links with Spain – until they know the final form of the new constitution being negotiated between the UK and Gibraltar. In retrospect, one wonders why the meeting went ahead in the first place.

Walking down from Plaza Mayor in Madrid into Bordadoras Street last week, I happened upon what you might call a priests’ outfitters. Inside the shop could be glimpsed racks of gaudy chasubles and the like but what really fascinated me were the windows full of priestly paraphernalia such as tabernacles, chalices, crucifixes, triptychs, statues, rosary beads, wine goblets, etc. Why on earth, I wondered, did the shop need to display its wares like this? Surely it was a unique address known to all Spain’s priests and so didn’t need to strut its stuff like common or garden retailers. So imagine my surprise when, two doors down, I found myself gazing into the equally bizarre window of a competitor. I had visions of young priests flouncing from one to the other, in search of divine discounts. And I mused irreligiously on the possibility of one or both of them being a franchise. By the way, bordadoras translates as needlewomen. Which means, I guess, seamstresses, rather than female drug addicts. Perhaps they’ve been sewing things for priests there for some centuries.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I see Spain’s President was on the phone immediately to the German Chancellor to advise he didn’t support the proposed takeover of a Spanish utilities company by a German operator. I’d be prepared to take a large bet Tony Blair never called Mr Zapatero to say he didn’t support the Banco Santander purchase of the Abbey national last year. And I don’t suppose Mr Z called Mr B to tell him he’d throw a spanner in the works, if Mr B was against the acquisition. Capitalism works to different rules on the Continent, of course. Especially south of Paris.

We’ve been advised again the 500 euro note is remarkably popular in Spain, where 59% of the EU’s notes of this denomination are currently in circulation. Experts tell us this means the country’s black economy is in fine fettle. Though one doesn’t need to be Einstein to figure this out, especially as the housing market continues to boom.

Someone was run over yesterday on the zebra crossing near the roundabout where I’ve nearly been killed several times. I can’t say I was terribly surprised. More relieved it wasn’t me.

And talking of roundabouts, I’ve mentioned this one before. First they constructed a circle, then they deconstructed it and now they’ve reconstructed it again. Throughout this [long] process, I’ve wondered whether they were going to force two lanes of traffic on the town’s busy ring road to suddenly bend its way around this feature. And now it looks like they really are, despite the fact the artificial inset built into what was the verge is not as long as a truck. Again, it doesn’t take genius to work out trucks in the inside lane aren't going to weave left at this point and so will cut across the trajectory of cars in the right lane who have no choice but to do so. I will post a picture of the first crash, which can’t be long coming. My bet’s on the truck.

Our friend Francisco Umbral . . . Here’s part of Wikepedia’s section on him. Given its style, I have a strong suspicion it was contributed by himself:- He was one of the reporters who best was able to describe the countercultural movement known as La Movida, but his literary quality undoubtedly came from his creative fecundity, his linguistic sensibility and the extreme originality of his style, very careful and complex, creative in its syntax, very metaphorically developed and flexible, abundant in neologisms and intertextual allusions; in sum, of a demanding lyric and aesthetic quality. He practices a species of anti-bourgeois criticism of customs and manners, without renouncing a romantic ego, and, in the words of Novalis, has the intent of giving the dignity of the unknown to the everyday, impregnating it with a desolate tenderness. As a political reporter, Umbral is a highly trenchant writer. Having become a successful journalist and writer, he worked with Spain's most varied and influential magazines and newspapers.

You’ll be pleased to know my editor says that’s quite enough of bloody Umbral.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Under Spain’s attenuated anti-smoking legislation, small bars/cafés can choose to be Smoking or No-Smoking. As my elder daughter has pointed out, this is exactly the same situation as before the law came in. So, can anyone really be surprised nothing has changed except in the case of those very few bars serving predominantly young people, where business would be lost if they didn’t go No-Smoking? The real test of the law will come in September, at the end of the 8 months’ period of grace given to large bars/cafés to provide a No-Smoking area. I find it hard to be optimistic, especially in light of the manoeuvring going on in my favourite café to have itself treated as two small places rather than one large one. If they succeed, neither of the ‘two’ cafés will fall within the law. And I will move - regretfully - to the one place in town which has become No-Smoking. Next to a school, naturally.

Last year a Spanish bank bought the Abbey National in the UK. And this year the operator of Spain’s airports [including T4 in Madrid!] is said to be pursuing its British opposite number. These developments naturally go down well with the Spanish public. In contrast, a somewhat different [French?] view is taken of foreign firms which stalk Spanish companies. But not always. For some time now, there’s been concern about a major Catalan utilities company taking over a large Madrid-based supplier, to form a major Spanish operator. But today, the target has announced it’s in discussion with a German ‘white knight’. This seems to have been well received, suggesting perhaps that, in today’s Spain, Germans are less foreign than pesky and uppity Catalans. Or perhaps it’s just a question of the Spanish public realising what they would be in for, if a domestic company gained anything like a national monopoly of gas and electricity supply. The regional monopolies are bad enough. Actually, there already was a very Spanish aspect to this takeover saga – much of the public felt the socialist government’s over-indulgence towards the hostile takeover reflected its reliance on the coalition that forms the Catalan government. So, interesting times ahead. And lots of coded language, I guess. The first example has been along the lines ‘It may be Catalan but it’s not German.’ On second thoughts, there’s not much coded about this. Query: How do you play the ‘national’ card when there are so many ‘nations’ lying about?

Very a propos – a commentary in El Mundo today suggests that the unification of Spain normally attributed to Ferdinand and Isabella is a myth and that, given the numerous divisive events in the 500 years since then, how could Spain help being what it is today. Things could be worse, the author concludes. One wonder quite how, in the 21st century.

My water bill arrived today. The meter was actually read on 16 September last year and the invoice prepared on 12 January this year. But this isn’t why I mention it; they can be as slow as they like. No, it features because the company issuing the bill is the 4th different outfit since I came here 5 years ago. And, as with the others, no one has advised of the change. Mind you, nor have we been told why the rubbish-collection component has doubled in 5 years and the unit price of water quadrupled. But perhaps I missed something in the local press. Or a notice pinned on the parish church door. Or maybe none of the companies has ever heard of customer relations. Or – the truth – is a monopoly.

Monday, February 20, 2006

There were 44 deaths in the first 43 days of 2006 on the Galician roads. The latest incidence of the regular occurrence of a lone car hitting a magnetic tree was abnormal in a couple of ways. Firstly, the driver was a woman. Secondly, we didn’t get the standard ‘for reasons as yet undetermined’ comment about the cause of the accident. Here this was unreservedly attributed to the driver distracting herself by reaching for her phone. The police could draw this conclusion because there was a call registered at exactly the time of the crash. And because the dead woman’s hand was still insider her bag. Coincidentally, the government has today announced a massive hike in the penalty for using a phone when you are driving. Or any other electrical appliance. Vamos a ver.

Fractionally under a year ago, I mentioned houses in Spain are built very slowly but suggested two new places near me might buck this trend as things seemed to be proceeding at a pace. Twelve months on, neither of them is yet finished, though it’s true they both seem to be on the last lap, with plants and shrubs being placed around the gardens. As for the big place nearby belonging to the head honcho of Opus Dei in Pontevedra – well, this is now in its 6th year of construction but I expect to see it occupied any time now. So much money has been spent on the garden it looks as if it were established 30 years ago. We normally only expect this degree of extravagance from the local drug dealers but, naturally, I rule out even the remote possibility of this activity in the case of an Opus Dei bigwig.

There seems to be a consensus around two aspects of Iberia’s new T4 terminal at Madrid airport:- 1. It’s magnificent to look at, and 2. After 2 weeks, it’s not yet functional. As a result of the latter, many of Spain’s provincial airports were in chaos yesterday because of delayed or cancelled flights. Not that it’s always better to travel by coach. A group of senior citizens was yesterday held up for several hours outside Jaen after the police arrested both of the drivers for being drunk. But only after 3 terrifying hours of meandering along one of the main roads heading north. For Galicia, as it happens.

I give a conversational class to five teachers of English on a Monday evening. They are all very fluent and the session is always fun but we exceeded ourselves today when discussing changing attitudes in Spain towards sex before and during marriage. The high spot came when one of the group told us of being propositioned by a married man while she was attending a hen party for one of her friends. He, it turned out, was at a similar function for one of his friends. Or a ‘cock party’ as she quite logically called it.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Observations of my drive back from Madrid yesterday:-
- It’s remarkably easy to get out of the city, at least on a Saturday morning
- Most of the vehicles going past me at speeds somewhat above even the ‘unofficial limit’ of 140kph, were black or dark blue 4WD SUVs. I concluded all Galicia’s drug barons must have been for a night out in Madrid, treating themselves to the region’s best seafood that’s routinely shipped to the capital.
- It’s nearly always raining or snowing when you reach the mountainous passes between Castile and Galicia. No wonder the people up there seem so miserable when you stop for a coffee. They live in the middle of a bad-weather sandwich.
- If, in your search for somewhere to eat, you take the exit for Verin east, the first two buildings you come across on the edge of town are brothels
- Ditto, if you leave the A52 and take the ‘old road’ to Pontevedra. In this case, the building is painted pink, has a large silhouette of a naked, horizontal woman on its side and is called ‘Las Nimfas’. But I must admit I’m only guessing it’s a brothel.

Gibraltar, it seems, is back in the news, ahead of the next meeting of the forum established between the British and Spanish governments [who share the objective of Spanish sovereignty] and the prime minister of Gibraltar, who begs to differ. The British are extremely optimistic but the Spanish only ‘moderately’ so. The issues on which progress is expected include use of the airport by Spanish citizens; payment of pensions to Spaniards who have worked on the Rock; and increased availability of phone lines from Spain. You have to ask why two friendly countries who’ve been fellow members of the EU for more than 20 years are still having difficulty reaching agreement around such mundane matters. Perhaps if there'd been less vote-winning posturing from both sides things would now be much further on. Better late than never, I suppose.

A Spanish parliamentary committee has approved the use of embryos for the narrow purposes of curing a sibling. A Catholic archbishop has criticised this as being “A hostile takeover of mankind.” From God, presumably. So I hope he has good lawyers. Which seems unlikely.

I'm told Francisco Umbral is a novelist with a reputation for writing when he's drunk. Which explains a lot.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

There was an odd connection between the bizarre El Mundo article I quoted in full yesterday and the earlier article [also in El Mundo] about solving the problem of prostitution. The latter had a large cartoon in the middle of it, essentially composed of a woman’s legs with chains around them. But, in the bottom right-hand corner, there was a silhouette of a man. Not a man with a sombrero and a guitar, however, but a man in a suit wearing a bowler hat and leaning on a furled umbrella. Quite what the hackneyed stereotype of a English gentleman has got to do things is anyone’s guess.

For those with an interest in the original Spanish of the final paragraph of the celebrated article [by one Francisco Umbral], here it is. I’ll have no complaints if someone wants to improve on my Spanish. I’ve already checked ‘cerril’ with a bigger dictionary and found that, rather than ‘mountainous’, it means 1. ‘untamed/ unbroken’ or 2. ‘rough/uncouth’ or 3. ‘small-minded’. Take your pick. By the way, the writer’s surname [‘Umbral’] means ‘threshold’. Seems to me he’s way beyond it…

Inglaterra tiene pulgas porque Inglaterra es húmeda, isleña, y contra eso de pulgas no vemos otra cosa que darle carné familiar a cada pulga. La democracia no es una panoplia de familia ni un detergente contra las pulgas. La democracia es parecer de Irlanda si eres de Londres y a la inversa. Todo esto sería muy aplicable a la cerril España, donde cada uno quiere ser de su pueblo para tirar del campanario su propia cabra. Una cabra que jamás monologará como Molly Bloom porque las cabras dublinesas están todas en el rabaño de Joyce esperando a Virginia Wolf para hacer un poco de lesbianismo. Al Señor Blair lo que gustaría es ser europeo del continente, una cosa así como Zapatero.

In the square near my daughter’s flat in Madrid [Dos de mayo] there’s a statue dedicated to two Spanish military heroes. As you can see below, they’re attired as Greeks. This square is the centre of the Thursday/Friday botellón [binge drinking without the violence] of this part of Madrid. If you look closely at the photo, you’ll see some joker has replaced the original sword with a couple of inverted beer bottles. Which I have to admit I found both disgusting and rather amusing.

Friday, February 17, 2006

I mentioned yesterday a bizarre article in El Mundo, on the theme of identity cards in the UK. My quick translation of this is at the end of this post. If there is anyone who finds the second half of this less obscure than me, perhaps they could let me know what it’s all about.

There was a second article yesterday which rather amused me. The headline of this was “Speaking English ceases to be decisive in getting a job” and the drift was that Mandarin and Spanish have become more important than English. In the text of the article, though, what emerged was that a British Council study had shown that, now that it was taken for granted that each and every candidate needed an excellent level of English, some employers would regard an additional facility in Mandarin or Spanish as a decisive factor. And why not? But it hardly means that the study of English is reducing when every job applicant needs it. Rather more worrying for native English speakers was the finding they are less appealing as employees/teachers around the world because non-native speakers find it easier to understand other non-native speakers. And terrifying was the finding that, for this reason, some Asian companies are recruiting Belgians in preference to Brits and Americans.

My Spanish teacher friends didn’t think much of my theory that it’s the phonetic nature of Spanish [combined with a low level of importance give to oral English in the schools] that accounts for the widespread mis-pronunciation of Anglo names and film titles. They pointed out things are different in Spanish-speaking South America. The general view was that the culprit was the damage done to Spanish culture by 40 years of isolation under Franco.

Here’s the article mentioned yesterday and above……

“Mister Tony Blair has had his first political setback, on the issue of identity cards, which he has tried to implant in that democracy, believing it would make for more democracy, but the natives are rebelling and insisting that an Englishman can’t be two people.

As we well know, because we have suffered, the English are the most political people in the world and this politicisation has a characteristic trait – it is always correct. Now Mr Blair is experiencing the adventure of the identity card. He thought a democracy with a card would mean more democracy but it results in less. To us, it looks similar to Mr Zapatero´s idea of having more identity cards so as to increase democracy. All that is achieved is more bureaucracy.

Now there have been cases in London in which citizens have said that, in order to be themselves, it’s enough to be themselves. Merrily increasing the budget by any figure you like doesn’t give them any more identity and impoverishes what they have, which is a lot.

A man with a bowler hat, The Times, an umbrella and a club is a complete Englishman and there’s no need to weigh down his wallet with more paper as this will probably annoy him and turn him into an Irishman or some other evil. This Anglo-Saxon ‘me-ism’ isn’t a recent thing but stems from the Anglicisation of Ireland, which gave us Oscar Wilde, The Portrait of Dorian Gray, the poems of Dylan Thomas [sic] and dandyism.

Dandyism was an invention of the Louises, appropriated by Alfred Douglas and others of his gang in order to promote in England another type of Englishman – newer, more rebellious and more inclined. Inclined towards agitation, of course. The English began with the word ‘dandy’ – which sounded nice – and then filled it with content. A dandy is a man who doesn’t need an identity card to differentiate him from the bourgeoisie, from his seniors, from less fortunate people or from homosexuals. A genuine invention which is still with us and which allowed that people to avoid the humiliating need to lodge its soul and style in a foreign nationality.

As has been said, an Englishman cannot be two people. The best example of democracy is not the chap who moves around with a Book of the Family between his legs but the man who needs no more than himself and a mirror to confer identity, albeit one which has been eaten away by sin, that flea which bites even in your club where you are a legend of the racetrack.

England has fleas because England is a damp island and against fleas we see nothing but to give a family card to each flea. Democracy is not panoply of the family or a detergent against fleas. Democracy is to look Irish if you are from London and vice versa. All of this would be applicable to mountainous Spain, where everyone wants to be from his own village so as to throw his own goat from the bell tower. A goat which will never deliver a monologue like Molly Bloom because the Dublin goats are all in Joyce’s herd, waiting for Virginia Woolf so as to indulge in a little lesbianism. What Mr Blair would like is to be a Continental European, just like Zapatero."

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The word ‘dandy’ is a very rare bird these days. Which makes it all the more strange I came across it twice today. The first time was in a description of a 50s author whose ‘habitual get-up harked back to the sleek sartorial style of an 1890s dandy’. And the second was in a rather bizarre article on UK identity cards in today’s El Mundo. The writer of this apparently thinks ‘los dandis’ still stalk the streets of the UK, in the shape of gentlemen who wear bowler hats and carry furled umbrellas and a copy of the Times. This is not the first time I’ve come across commentaries on life in the UK written by people who’ve clearly never been there but I guess Spaniards are equally tired of reading about their [Andalucian] stereotype as well.

Well, maybe nothing much will happen for some time but at least a dialogue appears to have begun on the issue of prostitution in Spain. El Mundo today followed up the recent El Pais article and gave us a potted history of the trade here, emphasising once again the very high level of tolerance of something that was once an important source of state revenue. True, the article concluded it was a huge problem without obvious solutions but there has to be a first step and this might just have been it. Though I wouldn’t hold your breath.

My daughter and I signed her flat purchase and mortgage documents this morning. This took place in a dedicated ‘Signing Office’ [with 20 tables] next to the relevant bank and was a very Spanish affair. Everything was wonderfully informal, friendly and pleasant but immensely consumptive of time, paper and people. Counting the two young ladies who dealt with all the photocopying, there were 10 of us involved in the process. And, including the obligatory post-signing coffee, chat and well-wishing, the whole thing took well over 2 hours, ignoring travel. True as it is, I imagine it would be hard to find a Spaniard who would believe it’s all done by mail in the UK, albeit via the agency of lawyers. But perhaps things will change when Tony Blair’s finally brought in his identity cards, allowing people to demand that you prove you are who you say you are, in person

A wonderful moment on the metro this morning. Having forgotten to grab hold of a bar when we set off, I fell forward when the train suddenly jerked. The young lady next to me grabbed me by the wrist to stop me falling even more heavily of top of my daughter and then smiled beautifully when I thanked her. No wonder I love Madrid. Especially as no one has yet walked right in front of me as if I weren’t there.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Since I arrived here in Madrid yesterday afternoon, I felt I’d seen the same young woman at least 10 times. The explanation turns out to be that where my daughter lives is the Goth centre of Madrid and what I’ve been seeing is several girls with the same hairstyle, makeup and idea of dress sense. Very nonconformist.

And talking of young women, I wandered off Gran Via this afternoon, in the general direction of my daughter’s flat, to find myself coming face to face every 5 metres with ladies who seemed to have little else to do but lean against the wall. I must look very poor as I wasn’t propositioned once. More seriously on this theme, the Catalan government has become, I think, the first in Spain to announce they’re going to take action against the prostitution that shames Spain. According to El Pais earlier this week, Spain has, pro rata, double the number of prostitutes as Germany, with 95% of them being foreign women thought to have been tricked or forced into the activity. Something, said the paper, needs to be done about this. For what it’s worth, I suspect little will be achieved until Spanish women stop turning a blind eye to what visibly goes on all around them. As to why they do this, I wonder whether they regard an uncommitted dalliance as less of a risk to their marriage than an affair of the heart. Just a thought.

I visited an exhibition of Russian art from the 20s this evening. This was all a little depressing in its emphasis on socialist production goals and achievements. So, for light entertainment, I moved to an enchanting photographic exhibition at the Telefonica museum, featuring the work of Chema Madoz. I followed this up with a visit to the adjacent museum of telecommunications, which contained a fascinating display of early phone sets, including one made by Eriksson in 1895. None of this, however, made me feel any better disposed towards Telefonica, especially after one of the guards stopped me trying to get my emails via the computer on display.

Spanglish section

Fliparse – 1. To get stoned, 2. To go or be driven round the bend

And finally, the name of a chap who fitted some windows for my daughter:-

Dionisius Sandia Nogales – Dionysius Watermelon Walnut-tree

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Memories of the drive to Madrid today...

- Watching cars go past at 160kph in the mist and on a surface made greasy by the first rain in over 2 weeks

- Thinking that some of the drivers might actually turn out to have been driving as if there were no tomorrow

- Being almost fatally caught in a pincer movement by two trucks as I was moving from the A52 to the A6 near Benevente

- Being passed by a funeral car doing at least 160kph. Wondering whether the family of Fernando Alonso was now in the undertaking business. Or whether it was just one of that rare breed of car - the racing hearse

- Being overtaken by every single car, truck and bus as they all blithely ignored the 80kph limit in the extensive roadworks on the edge of Madrid

- Wondering whether there is any more boring job in the world than being an outrider for a very slow moving vehicle. Even the driver of the truck has a greater challenge than merely avoiding sleep

- Driving to within a kilometre or two of my daughter's city-centre flat at 120kph. In how many capital cities of the world can you do this?

- Remembering just how much I like Madrid

Monday, February 13, 2006

I’m indebted to my lovely friend, Marta, for this Spanish saying:- Bienaventurado el que cree en los pasos de cebra porque pronto verá a Dios. Or, Blessed be he who steps onto a zebra crossing, for he is about to meet God. I must be a very blessed chap. And if this blog ever stops suddenly, you’ll know why.

I’ve mentioned once or twice that Spain’s leading cosmetic surgery company goes in for ads which leave nothing to the imagination. To say the least, they are in-your- [rejuvenated]- face. Their latest offering is a large picture of a woman of impossible physical architecture, above whom is the line – You don’t need to have a pact with the Devil to restore your youth. I appreciate that women everywhere in today’s post-feminist age are under tremendous pressure to achieve and retain beauty but I can’t help feeling things are even more oppressive here than elsewhere. Which is why, I suppose, so many of them starve and/or smoke themselves into skinniness. And sun themselves into the features of a walnut. It rather makes me feel guilty about finding Spanish women so attractive. Not that any of them are doing it for me, of course.

The word mentira is defined in my dictionary as a ‘lie’ but I can’t help feeling it must have some less robust nuances as well. Such as ‘incorrect statement’. Or just ‘mistake’. This is because the word is bandied about so much – including between politicians at the highest level in the parliament – that I feel it just can’t be as strong as the my dictionary suggests. Against this, you have to say mentira piadosa [a pious/devout lie] for ‘white lie’. So maybe it really is as negative as it appears. Meaning the Spanish are not at all averse to calling each other blatant liars. Comments welcome.

Some great news from a survey in Galicia – only 13% of people here feel it’s important the region should be formally regarded as a ‘nation’. So, more common sense here than among the people who are said to be famous for it. Speaking of Catalans, I saw a UK news item which suggested they were now causing trouble in the UK. But it turned out to be about a rugby team [Les Catalans] from the south of France which had joined a UK league.

Off to Madrid early tomorrow morning, to sign the guarantee for my daughter’s mortgage. After all, she’s only 29. I wonder what document I’ve neglected to pack. And whether we will be able to blague our way through its absence.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A pretty normal week on the Galician roads – two men were arrested for driving the wrong way down the autopista and another for doing 260kph on the same road, albeit in the correct direction. This is a mere 163 miles per hour. So it’s a good job nothing was coming in the opposite direction. Or, indeed, just standing there.

The Motel Venus on the outskirts of Pontevedra is a pink building with a high wall around its car park. In the local paper today it’s advertising itself as the ideal place to celebrate St Valentine’s Day. My own suspicion is that, if anyone turned up with his wife or regular partner, this would be a first for the place. And he might well need to explain why it was so well equipped for a ‘romantic’ evening.

The local police had an unusual campaign this week, targeting people who break traffic laws. What was novel about it is was they didn’t make the traditional prior announcement, allowing people to, say, put their safety belts on for a few days. Or unglue their mobile phone from their ear. Not everyone is happy with this tricky way of doing things. For some, it’s just one more sign that Spain is going to the dogs.

On British TV last week, a prize was offered to whoever first answered correctly the question In which battle did the ship HMS Victory take part? Hastings, Waterloo or Trafalgar? Since two of these were on land, I think we can be forgiven for suspecting the real purpose of the exercise was not to test the intelligence of the viewers but to generate revenue from premium rate phone calls. Though I guess I may be overestimating the historical knowledge of the British public at large.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

I’m not sure I believe this but a Spanish friend told me last night the national team for the Winter Olympics have been waiting 4 days in Turin for their luggage, after it went astray at Madrid’s new airport terminal. The good news is that the building is apparently one of the architectural wonders of the age.

As if things weren’t already cloudy enough around the new anti-smoking law, the President of the government of the Madrid region has announced plans to soften the law there and to allow smoking in company cafeterias, on the terraces of bars and at weddings and [sic] Holy Communions. The minister of Health has threatened legal action, if the plans proceed. Needless to say, the antagonists are from different legal parties.

And talking of politics, it frequently seems to me to be a tougher art in Spain than most any other countries. For one thing, there are the nationalist/regionalist demands from at least 3 of the ‘autonomous communities’. Secondly [and not unrelatedly], there are coalitions on top of coalitions, on top of coalitions, on top of coalitions - at state, regional, provincial and town hall levels. And then there’s the Catholic Church. Frankly, it’s possibly a miracle anything happens at all. An example of a masterstroke in this world of Byzantine complexity is said to be the just-announced decision of President Zapatero to send the long-time mayor of La Coruña to Rome as ambassador to the Vatican. In one fell swoop, he has apparently pleased the Church [for sending a ‘reactionary’], the Socialist Party of Galicia [for promoting an illustrious member] and the Galician Nationalist Party [for getting rid of a thorn in their side.] Some days are diamonds. But not many, I guess.

To balance my negative comments upon Spain [where I chose to live] and the UK [where I don’t] here’s the view of a right-of-centre commentator on life there. It’s a tad dyspeptic but nonetheless probably a view shared my millions:- The public have come to despise the Labour Party. They hate its opportunism, its glibness, its dishonesty; but, above all, they hate its record of failure. Britain - even Scotland, where vast amounts of taxpayer-funded bribes have been paid in the past nine years - is no better than it was in 1997. Every serious survey shows quality of life has plummeted since then. Our hospitals are dirtier and less efficient and some waiting lists are longer. Our schools are turning out an ever-thicker brand of child at the age of 16 or 18. Our police are obsessed with being nice to groups that cause public danger rather than prosecuting them. Our public transport system is expensive and inadequate. Our welfare state rewards the feckless while penalising what the Victorians so aptly called "the deserving poor". Our Armed Forces are sent abroad to die for their country on the basis of a lie. Our once United Kingdom has been broken up without any great improvements being noticed as a result. And all this is paid for by swingeing taxation, which has to be penal because of the way it is used by Mr Brown to buy votes from public sector workers. Feel free to disagree. Or gloat.

Finally, here’s the short list for the annual competition held in the UK for the Oddest Book Title of the Year:-
• People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It
• Bullying and Sexual Harassment: A Practical Handbook
• Rhino Horn Stockpile Management: Minimum Standards and Best Practices from East and Southern Africa
• Ancient Starch Research
• Soil Nailing: Best Practice Guidance
• Nessus, Snort and Ethereal Powertools

And a new word I’ve just come across: Scofflaw - a contemptuous law violator

Friday, February 10, 2006

Well, under pressure from this blog, a couple of strides are finally being made towards greater consumer protection, at least in the communications area. The government has announced it will bring in a law compelling all phone companies to desist from practices such as fraudulently charging customers for services not provided or penalising them – via both costs and delays - for having the effrontery to want to move to a different supplier.

The government has also announced it will end its control of the prices of the major phone line supplier [and possibly Spain’s most disliked company], Telefonica. The theory is the market will then determine the actual prices below the maximum set by the government. Only time will tell whether the Law of Inverse Consequences will apply. Especially in areas [such as mine!] where there is no effective competition because cables have not yet been laid. In view of Telefonica’s long-standing practice of fleecing its captive customers, I am not exactly optimistic. Time once again to consider Skype and to contemplate entering Spain’s ADSL minefield.

And still on this consumer theme – my comments on the Corte Inglés seemed to resonate with quite a few people. My daughter in Madrid tells me she's hoping to write a Consumer column for the In Madrid expat magazine and had already planned to feature the store in her first article. I suggested she try to drum up signatures among Spain’s resident Brits [300,000?] on a petition for the removal of Inglés from the store’s name, as being damaging to our international reputation.

And talking of satisfaction, we had another of those reviews of Spanish sex life in our papers today. A staggering 68% of women say they are unhappy with things, especially [I suppose] the 36% who never experience an orgasm. These are preumably in relationships with the 27% of men who admit they normally ejaculate after a minute or so. As for the men, a mere 20% say they’re unhappy with their sex life. But then, quite apart from inequality in the home, and unlike their wives, they’re able to avail themselves of a vast take-in service industry aimed directly at them and to which their partners seem to turn a blind eye. Not to mention the Catholic Church.

But, finally, some good news …… After 5 months, I finally got my credit card from CitiBank. It’s not the one I was first offered back in October, which gave discounts on petrol, but what the hell. I’m not going to complain. Especially as today I had a reasonably productive chat [in English] with a CitiBank employee about unblocking the card and confirming the 4 PIN numbers I now have from them.

So, all’s well with the world. Until tomorrow.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

I made another trip today to the Corte Inglés department store in Vigo - to buy the complete works of Mozart for 99 euros. Not for the first time, I rather got the impression those employees who’ve achieved the monumentally difficult task of working as a shop assistant for twenty years take the view certain tasks are now below them. Serving customers, for example. Or maybe it’s just me and my less-than-rich appearance. The other possibility is it’s a mistake to arrive soon after they’ve opened at 10 because the assistants think it's unfair of you to be there before they’ve had their coffee at 11.

Sadly, the work-related accident rate in Galicia is running at its highest level for 10 years. I have visions of all those Brits who write to me about restoring old stone houses falling off their uncompleted roofs .

But there is some good news from Galicia today – the ladies of the region have apparently taken to belly dancing in a big way. By which I don’t mean the women of Galicia have big bellies. Though it helps, apparently.

Spanish is a very phonetic language. Possibly more so than any other. I wonder if this lies behind the inability to make a good fist of foreign names, be they French or English. If your foreign language education has concentrated, as it has traditionally done here, on written grammar rather than oral communication, you can be forgiven for never realising that other languages are not as phonetic as your own. Hence Maria Karé, for the woman who performed at the Grammy awards last night in LA.

I occasionally get telesales calls asking for the ama de casa. This translates as housewife or mistress of the house and I can’t help wondering whether companies would get away with this little bit of sexism in, say, the UK these days. Spain is making great strides in reducing macho attitudes but, nonetheless, I guess it’ll be a while before I get a call asking for either the amo or ama de casa. The concept of a Spanish house-husband is at least a generation away, I fear.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

President Putin of Russia is visiting Spain today and had breakfast with the King and Queen, or ‘The Kings’ as they are called in Spanish. I wonder if they chatted about the 34 Russian mafia groups reported this week to be operating here.

For the second time in 6 months, a man has died of a heart attack while being arrested or detained by the National Police [the Guardia Civil]. Not the same man, of course. The latest case involves a drunken Brit down on the south coast, where there are quite a lot of these. The police officers have been charged but some of the witnesses to the incident have immediately been stigmatised as ‘people with previous convictions for drug-related offences’. One wonders how the media have got to know this.

More details have emerged of Sunday’s chaos at the new Madrid airport terminal. The event, it seems, had actually been postponed a few times, possibly because the construction companies were working on several airports at the same time. But one positive aspect is the force with which the media – well the press, at least – have condemned this blow to Spain’s international image. It would be nice to know this will hit home.

During the first month of its operation, the new anti-smoking law led to more than 200 prosecutions, with Madrid leading the field on 70. At present, it’s difficult to know how these will proceed as none of the regional governments has yet fixed penalties for the various offences. Perhaps it’s going to be one of the new type of law described by President Zapatero in connection with the obligation to speak Catalan in Catalunia – ‘A law without a sanction for failure to observe it’. If this precedent is widely followed, it will at least make de jure much of what is already de facto in Spain. With parking offences, for example. At a single blow, Spain would immediately become a much more law-abiding country. Another example of the brilliant pragmatism with which the Spanish approach things in order to achieve a higher quality of life than anywhere else.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

One of those little noble acts today which are so Spanish – When I knocked over my beer, the waitress immediately brought me a fresh glass, as if it has been her fault. Free, of course.

The number of Muslims in Spain is around 800,000, or 1.8% of the population. This compares with 5 -10% in France, 3.7% in Germany and 2.5% in the UK. Most other countries in Europe are of the same order but, strangely, the Irish percentage is 0.1%. Perhaps it’s the rain. It can’t be the wearing of the green, as this, of course, is the Islamic colour. Maybe they have to take a tap-dancing test.

When I first came to Galicia, there was no shortage of locals to tell me society here was somewhat short of meritocratic. In fact, some felt it was still pretty feudal. As Pontevedra looked to me rather more 21st century that the town I’d come from in the UK, I was sceptical of this. But now I know rather better. And I’ve come to share the fatalistic attitude that stems from knowing that, if someone’s in a job because he/she’s related to someone else, there’s not much point complaining, as nothing is going to happen. This helps to explain why there’s a tendency here to do an awful lot of talking about things but to take little action.

I see the UK tabloid The Daily Express has dredged up the theory that Princess Diana was killed when a British agent on a motorbike blinded the driver of her car with a laser pistol. For what it’s worth, my own theory is she was strangled by Dodi Fayed when he discovered the CIA had replaced his photo in the locket around her neck with a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad. All the events subsequent to this have been a smokescreen on the part of Mohammad Fayed, designed to keep Harrods’ name in the news. And to sell copies of The Daily Express.

Things were much better at Madrid’s 4th terminal yesterday; only 30% of flights were delayed.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Last week I was going to advise how in Spain you could be almost killed by the same driver twice in less than a minute. But, under my new Minimise Negativity policy, I thought it best to spike the item. Well, it happened again today and so I’ve decided to suspend the new policy. It’s possible to face death twice in quick succession when you’re using the zebra crossings on parallel roads near a roundabout [circle] and an imbecile turns and goes back the way he came. A sort of macabre paso doble. Without the music. And the girl.

So, while I’m in this mood – The opening of Madrid’s terminal yesterday was a chaotic farce. 40% of flights were delayed or cancelled; the shuttle buses were conspicuous by their absence; hundreds of passengers missed their flights because they couldn’t check in; and the escalators didn’t work. The relevant minister said these were just little teething problems and offered a very Spanish solution – ‘Arrive earlier than you would normally’. Like a day or two, perhaps.

And ….. The government has said it will introduce tough measures to counter the various frauds being committed by all the ADSL operators. Apart from making false claims re prices, these specialise in sending you bills for a line you haven’t requested, usually after a call from a telemarketer. Contracting for phone lines is Spain is one for the few things you can do verbally and without copies of your identity card and parents’ birth certificates. If this isn’t an invitation to abuse in a country not famous for commercial integrity, God knows what is.

But to be more positive . . . Prospect Magazine also advises that, apart from reducing gas emissions in the last 5 years, the USA has made ‘astonishing progress’ over the last 30 years in reducing air pollutants, toxic emissions and sulphur dioxide and airborne lead levels. All this despite economic growth of 150%. A wicked place, the USA.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Madrid airport has opened its new 4th terminal. The final cost was five times over budget but I don’t suppose anyone was particularly surprised; this appears to be compulsory for major public works these days. Doubtless the architects responsible have moved on to bigger and better things. Though not as big as they will eventually turn out to be.

Another identikit death on the Galician roads yesterday. Male; 20; early hours of the morning; ‘bendy road’; no other car involved; ‘left the road for reasons as yet undetermined’. A writer in one of today’s local papers wrote a hard-hitting article on this theme, referring to the Galician roads as the 5th horseman of the Apocalypse. No need to send young men to die in Iraq. Send ‘em to Galicia. Must be easy being an actuary in this country.

The Iranian government has said all commercial contracts with countries responsible for insulting the prophet Mohammad will be unilaterally cancelled. In retaliation for this, I shall be eschewing their caviar and pistachios until the mullahs come to their senses. Shouldn’t take too long; they seem a fundamentally decent group of people.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

I see the northern Italian region of Alto Adigio has sought the ‘protection and tutelage’ of Austria. I wonder whether we can shortly expect to see a similar request from Catalunia in the direction of France. Or perhaps Andorra. And from Celtic Galicia towards Ireland. Though I guess it’s unlikely Gibraltar will ever seek the protection and tutelage of nearby Morocco, once the British government finally achieves its aim of getting shut of the troublesome place.

Negotiation of a new constitution for the autonomous community [i. e. region] of Valencia seems to have gone off relatively peacefully. Needless to say, though, there was a problem around the language of Valencian. This was resolved by referring to it as the ‘idioma Valenciano’. I’m not sure whether an idioma has any less status than a lengua so my Spanish readers might help out here. The unresolved issue around Valencian is that the [ever difficult] Catalans insist it’s not a distinct language at all; merely Catalan with a different label. But, in modern Spain, every region has to have its own tongue to champion in Madrid and Brussels. Stand by for the deification of Andaluz and its sub-variants. All of them quite unintelligible to the rest of Spain, never mind Europe.

Surprising Quote of the Week

The USA, which did not sign up to the Kyoto Treaty, has actually reduced its emissions since then. The EU, which did sign up, has increased them.

‘Prospect’, a left-of-centre British magazine.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The relevant health minister – disappointed that [at least] 90% of small bars and cafés still permit smoking – yesterday morning pronounced on TV that, if things were still the same by the end of the year, she would introduce compulsion. This caused outrage amongst the owners, who said they didn’t care if their customers smoked themselves to an early grave as long as they ran up bills en route. By the afternoon, a repentant minister had softened her line somewhat and was suggesting financial incentives would be introduced. This was rather more acceptable to the owners, who suddenly discovered they might just care what their customers did. Depending on the numbers.

Well - apart from a long wait because one of the two clerks was on her statutory coffee break - my application for an extension to my residence permit went very smoothly today. Even pleasantly. Ironically, the only problem was I presented too many photocopies, something I’d previously thought impossible in Spain. The next step, though, is unclear to all parties. This is because, as an EU citizen, I no longer actually need a residence card. However, the Pontevedra office hadn’t yet dealt with an application from someone in this position and so I am, in effect, a guinea pig. Why am I going through this process, if it’s unnecessary? Well, because it’s illegal not to carry identification in Spain and a small laminated card is a lot easier to tote than a passport. And cheaper to replace.

Misguided Film Title Section: On current release is a film about Johnny Cash, called ‘Walk the Line’. This, of course, was one of his big hits and, as I understand it, the theme of the song is a love so strong it causes him to walk/toe the line. Or to keep to the straight and narrow. In Spanish it’s called “En La Cuerda Floja’. Which means ‘on the tightrope’. I wonder what the reaction will be of those who think they’re going to see a circus epic.

I’ve been known to poke fun at the ludicrous modern statues which dot the outskirts of Pontevedra but, within the extensively pedestrianised town centre, there are some beautiful examples of urban statuary. Our most recent addition – financed, I suspect, by a savings bank rather than the council – is the group of local writers and musicians shown below. The other group pictured is self-explanatory and adorns a fountain in the centre of town. So hats off to someone.

Ditto for the Spanish press, which yesterday carried obits of Moira Shearer. Mother of Alan.

The savings bank forms the backdrop.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

My lovely Spanish friend, Marta, has torn a strip off me for being horribly nasty to Spanish people. So I guess it’s time to wheel out my usual defence to the criticism that I’m more negative than positive about Spain. Firstly, I admit there’s a bias but believe it’s unavoidable. I write about what interests and amuses me in the hope this is true for others. It’s a sad truism that people are far more interested in bad news than good news. So no one is going to hit my blog for regular paeans of praise to things Spanish; there are guide books for this. Secondly, I hope my love of Spain and Spanish people nonetheless shines through. If not, there are some items in the Spain section of my Galicia web page [colindavies.net] which should redress the balance. [Though not my early Observations, which are similarly based.] Finally, there are some huge positives about which I cannot write. For example, if I said I adore the way Spanish women are beautiful, sexy, coquettish and tactile, I would run the risk – on my annual trip to the UK – of being arrested by the British thought police for at least sexism and possibly [at my age] for paedophilia. So I don’t say this sort of thing. Though I do get quite close to it at times. Anyway, Marta is going to post her thoughts, so others can take up the subject with her as they wish.

In a similar vein, I’ve been having a dialogue with a Galician net friend in the USA who said that, whilst he could accept the Spanish were perhaps a tad work-shy and loud, he found it hard to believe they were really bad-mannered. I think what we have agreed is that, on a one-to-one basis, the Spanish can be the most wonderful and noble people on the planet. But this tremendous sociability/ affability/generosity/willingness-to-die-for-you quality contrasts starkly with the widespread lack of consideration for others on a day-to-day basis. It’s this which utterly confuses and, ultimately, upsets poor foreigners. It’s not unique to Spain but I would probably irritate a few more Spanish readers if I revealed where I’ve come across it before …….

Today I began the challenge of extending my residence permit. You’d think it might be possible for me to get a document – e. g. from one of my wonderful banks - certifying I’m the same person as last time round. But this is not the way bureaucracies in any country work, least of all in paper-mad Spain. So I have to provide all the same information as before. In duplicate. Plus a bit more. This includes details of my parents. As I’m pushing 60, this bit of nonsense at least has the effect of making me feel a lot younger. The one thing you know for certain in Spain is that, when you turn up with the application form and a kilo of photocopies, you’ll be told at least one document is wrong or missing. But, hey ho. Off to work we go.

Spain’s national airline, Iberia, have decided they can’t compete with Ryanair into Santiago and so have moved their daily London flight to La Coruña, on the far north coast of Galicia. This strikes me as a bizarre decision which can only alienate their existing customer base and drive travellers towards the rapidly growing airport in Oporto/Porto in north Portugal. The only explanation that occurs to me is that it’s the sort of face-saving gesture mentioned in the article I cited the other day about doing business in Spain.

And, just for Marta, here’s three bits of positive news – 1. Telefonica have been found guilty of defrauding the public in their call boxes, 2. A ‘commission war’ has broken out amongst Spanish banks. Not before time, of course. Especially when 2005 was a record year for profits for the likes of BBVA. And, 3. Spain was the largest beneficiary from EU funds again in 2005. So, more wonderful new roads for me to travel on relatively alone.

That’s quite enough positivity and negativity for today.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I happened today upon a web site offering advice on how to do business in the Spanish culture. I could sympathise/empathise with most of it but was struck by the lengths gone by the author to be diplomatic. I particularly appreciated this bit – Punctuality is expected of foreign visitors. However, you may sometimes find your Spanish counterparts arrive up to 30 minutes late. And this – It is best to arrange initial business meetings for mid-morning due to the relatively unusual structure of the Spanish working day. Presumably this means your counterparts probably won’t have returned from lunch when you are wanting to leave for dinner.

In a national survey this week, most regions in Spain showed 75% support for the imminent points-based driving licence and said they expected it to reduce mortality numbers. Here in Galicia, however, the statistics were reversed, with 70% of respondents being unsupportive, on the grounds it would achieve little or nothing. Other than the possibility somebody got a page upside down, I’m at a loss to explain this dichotomy. One thing’s for sure - it won’t do much for Galicia’s reputation for backwardness. Even if they are right.

Here’s something new – a positive banking story. I spent a lot of time on the phone yesterday with one of the banks I use and was singularly impressed with the way they went about things, particularly their willingness to cut corners to accelerate matters so that a deadline could be met. The sting in the tail, of course, is this was my British bank, First Direct, who have always given excellent service. Meanwhile, back here in Spain you may not be surprised to hear I've now been waiting 3 weeks for a response of any sort to a letter I wrote to the MD of the BBVA complaining about a 2 month delay in getting an answer to a query about an investment. And today CitiBank asked me to fax them a 4th copy of my Identity Card so they can send me the credit card I applied for on 8th October. You couldn’t make it up. So thank God they’re cheap. As if. It all reminds me of something an American R&D director once said to me, ‘They may not be efficient but at least they’re slow’.

And tomorrow I have to start the process for renewing my residence permit....