Wednesday, May 31, 2006

American scientists have found ways of using rabbit cells to solve the problem of erectile dysfunction. Anyone acquainted with Spanish slang will regard this as only too appropriate.

I regularly complain that the Spanish live in a little bubble which reduces their sensitivity to others. I briefly left my bar stool today to get a newspaper, leaving on the counter not just a full cup of coffee but also my pad, my cap and several sheets of paper. None of this stopped a woman sitting on the stool. But she was, of course, thoroughly apologetic when I reclaimed it. They invariably are.

A reader has commented on the poor quality of English in Galician brochures and suggested there's a business opportunity here. I'm afraid not. After several abortive attempts to help organisations for free, I've come to accept the view of my Spanish friends that what happens is the local organisation gets a budget for translations by qualified people and then spends it employing relatives who may have studied English at school but who have certainly never spoken it.


The president of the Galician Xunta has said it's a shame most of the Lugo council has been arrested for corruption as this gives the impression everyone is up to it. Surely no one would be so simplistic as to rush to this conclusion. With the possible exception of Everyman and his wife.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The new 1 item on the national news yesterday morning was the health of a famous female singer. The number 2 item was the death of 4,000 people in the Indonesian earthquake. Hmm. Spain doesn’t, thank God, have a tabloid press but this is getting close.

Immigration has taken a long time to become a major political issue in Spain but – doubtless reflecting concern at the waves of boat people now coming into the Canaries - a survey this week reported that 69% of Spaniards think there are too many immigrants in the country. By this they mean South Americans, Africans and criminal East Europeans, of course. Not us wonderful Brits.

Renting property has long been difficult in Spain and now we learn that measures introduced by the last government aimed at increasing volume and reducing prices has had the opposite effect. Truly, there is no problem so bad that government interference can’t make it worse. Especially in a country where rules exist to be bent. And subsidies are to be sought whether or not you really meet the criteria.

Walking down to town this morning, the thought struck me – I wonder how many of the Galician nationalists who wrote to upbraid me still live at home. Quite a few I suspect. Quite ironic really. I mean, one accepts teenagers will have extreme views but perhaps there should be a law that no one who is over 20 and still living at home should be allowed to say anything about regional/national independence until he/she has demonstrated a capacity to achieve it for themselves. Not much to ask, I wouldn’t have thought. And so on to . . .


Very many thanks to Xose for his considered and interesting response. I was beginning to despair of anything adult and intelligent. Yes, I agree that Brits and Americans should learn more languages and can say so on the basis [are you reading deadbeat? Sorry, feelbeat?] that Gallego will be my eighth. In British secondary schools, at least, it’s compulsory to learn a second language – an international one, that is, and not another British one. But what then happens is that no one around the world wants to speak anything other than English with you. So it’s very hard to gain any practice. This, for me, is actually one of the [many] attractions of Galicia. Almost no one here tries to speak English, allegedly because of a characteristic Galician fear of exposing/embarrassing yourself.

I suggested yesterday the constituent bits of the BNG might not all agree with each other. Today I read that Divergent internal sensitivities[!] of leftists and progressives within the BNG have opted for a change of direction in the nationalist organisation. They intend to bring to the autumn conference a new political strategy, to be driven by a new top team. Lummy! Looks like sparks.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Having recently upset a lot of people in Catalunia, Galicia and X, I thought I’d go the whole hog today and annoy everyone in the entire country [or, if you like, in all the countries that make up Spain] by quoting something said last week by the Spanish writer, Juan Eslava Galán – The Spanish all share a combination of faults – arrogance, lust, gluttony and envy. Can’t imagine he’s too popular this week. And, of course, I don’t agree with him.

In the province of Pontevedra, there’s a small town called Cans, pronounced more or less as it’s written. Every year, during the week of the Cannes film festival, they hold a competing event. It doesn’t quite attract the same calibre of star – possibly because it’s billed as an agrofiesta - but I think it’s wholly admirable. And I loved the comment from the organiser yesterday that, as the temperature was over 40 here this week, he was going to write to ask his counterpart in Cannes to move the week back in the year. By the way, cans means dogs in Galician.

After the events of the last few days, I can’t say I was too surprised to see a report today from the Galician Institute of statistics which said only 3% of Galicians speak English fluently. This compares with over 90% in Sweden, Norway and Holland. More than 65% of the population here admitted they don’t know a single word of the language. Of course, nobody’s obliging them to but it does say something about the region’s ability to communicate with the rest of the world.

Those with no interest in the following subject can log off now ….


Well, none of my Galician readers has rushed to answer my questions of yesterday. Just one pleasant but hard-to-understand message referring me to Wikipedia entries on Galicia. This, of course, is an encyclopaedia written by contributors and it will hardly surprise anyone to hear that 1. the version in Galician refers to Galicia as a ‘nation’, whereas 2. the version in English doesn’t. So, not much progress there. While we [or I at least] wait for more information, here’s what Wikipedia says [in English] about the leading Galician nationalist party:-

The Bloque Nacionalista Galego, is a minority nationalist political organisation, founded in 1982. Ideologically, the BNG defends the Galician language and the autonomy of the Parliament of Galicia. Structurally, the BNG consists of independents and federated political parties and constitutes a permanent electoral coalition. At one time, the BNG supported the independence of Galicia as a long-term goal, but after absorbing the regionalist Unidade Galega in 1990, it moved to a policy opposing Galician independence and supporting autonomy within Spain.

It was the second largest political group in the Galician Parliament after the 2001 elections, slightly ahead of the Spanish Socialist Party but in the 2005 elections it lost 4 seats and slipped to third place. It lost its one Euro-MP in the European Elections of 2004. Although the vast majority of its members are so-called 'independents', the BNG does recognise a number of other groups within it:
Unión do Povo Galego: (The Galician People's Union), a communist party
Esquerda Nacionalista: (Nationalist Left), a social-democratic party
Unidade Galega: (Galician Unity), a social-democratic party
Colectivo Socialista: (Socialist Collective), a socialist party
Inzar: formed through the merger of the Galician branches of the Maoist Communist Movement (Movimiento Comunista) and the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist League (Liga Comunista Revolucionaria)
Partido Nacionalista Galego-Partido Galesguista: (Galician Nationalist Party- Galeguist Party), a liberal democratic party

A somewhat eclectic group whose members possibly don't all agree with each other, never mind with me.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

In today’s papers there’s an ad for some sort of dental product with the [English] brand name ‘All on Four’. I can’t for the life of me figure out why but I guess it’s a lot better than ‘On all Fours’.

Well, putting everything else aside, it’s certainly good for the hits to my blog to mention Galicia, Catalunia and X. Over a hundred on each of the last 2 days, when there’s normally a weekend dip to 40 or 50. So, I thought I would return the interest of my Galician readers and invite them to give us a primer on nationalist politics here in Galicia/Galiza. As most of those who write to me clearly think I’m pig ignorant on the subject, there will surely be no shortage of takers. Especially as I am suggesting they write in English, Spanish or Gallego/Galego. If the latter, I will translate for the benefit of those readers who are interested in the replies. Here’s a few questions to get us going:-

1. Apart from the BNG, what other nationalist parties are there here?

2. What percentage of the vote did each get in last year’s elections in the CA?

3. In each case, was this an increase or decrease on the previous elections?

4. What are the main policy differences – if any – between these parties on the issues of:-

a. Independence from Spain

b. Greater autonomy but as part of ‘plural Spain’

c. The description of Galicia/Galiza as a país, nación, nacionalidad, etc.

d. The Statute of Autonomy which is currently being negotiated with Madrid.

e. The importance of Gallego in public, e. g.
- co-official or only official language?
- percentage of each to be used in schools and universities?

5. The formation of a Galician football team to play in at least the European Cup and possibly the World Cup [If any of them actually have a policy on this]

In the rest of Spain, the Gallegos have a reputation of being ‘close’ and unwilling to answer questions, except with another question. I do hope this turns out not to be the case here. Pero, vamos a ver.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Final Saturday post....

Below is the Spanish translation of what I wrote earlier about reading my blog. If you want a good example of why I have written this, here’s a comment just received from a Galician reader. I am [very] impressed that he/she is prepared to write in English but, with this level of capability, how on earth can he/she hope to understand what I say? Hence the misdirected knee-jerk reaction.

It continues to drink and it leaves of speaking of our country. Thank you.

Para leer correctamente mi blog, se necesitan varias calificaciones. Desafortunadamente, no todos mis lectores españoles las tienen todas. Particularmente las almas sensibles que están al acecho de comentarios sobre Cataluña, Galicia o el Pais Vasco. Seguramente hay gente española que tiene todos los requisitos y me alegran mucho sus comentarios. Concretamente, agradezco mucho los de Fernando de Ferrol que a menudo no está de acuerdo conmigo pero que lo hace desde una base racional. Creo que él – así como otros – entiende que yo meramente hago observaciones y que intento hacerlo graciosamente. No esgrimo que sean completamente ciertas. De todas maneras, esos son los requisitos. No lo siento si suenan arrogantes:-
1. Un nivel alto de inglés
2. Generalmente, sentido del humor
3. Concretamente, un sentido muy desarrollado de la ironía
4. Una comprensión adulta de las realidades globales, y
5. La capacidad de evitar complacerse en las irrelevancias históricas mientras uno se contempla el ombligo

Si no tienes todas las calificaciones y si no puedes dejar de leer mi blog, por favor deja de escribir comentarios por lo menos. Sino, solo vas a enfadarte y nos vas a hacer gracia cuando tiras tus juguetes fuera del cochecito.
Third post of the day…

My thanks to the anonymous Galician reader who wrote [after my response to ‘feelbeat’] to make some reasoned comments. I don’t happen to be convinced by all of them but this is not the point. My basic view of Galicia is exactly the same as I wrote about X a few days ago – Good luck to those with ‘nationalist’ aspirations, provided only they accept current realities and do things democratically. Of course, if they want the rest of the world to accept that Galicia is a completely different legal entity from Spain, they probably have a long wait ahead of them - whether it’s called a pais, a nación, a nacionalidad or a realidad nacional. If they just want to feel different, then that’s available to them now. Just as it is to Asturias, Cantabria, etc., etc. What is impossible to accept is that simply being different means they’re not Spanish. Prussians and Bavarians are both German. Parisians and Corsicans are both French. And Ceutans and Melillans are as Spanish as Madrileños. Or so people never tire of telling me.
Second post of the day…

Oh dear. If you’ve bothered to read it, you’ll know that ‘feelbeat’ [a Gallego in London] has wasted a lot on energy on the premise that I am Scottish. Perhaps if he could read English as well as he thinks he does, this could have been avoided. I was going to post this tomorrow but his silly tirade has provoked me into adding it today. I will post it in Spanish later today:-

There are several important qualifications for reading my blog correctly. Not all Spanish commentators, I’m afraid, have these. Especially those sensitive souls who track comments on Galicia, Catalunia and X. There certainly are Spanish readers who have all the requirements and I’m very grateful for their contributions. Specifically, I appreciate the comments of Fernando in Ferrol, who often disagrees with me but does so on a rational basis. I believe he – like others – understands that I merely make observations and that I try to do so amusingly. I don’t pretend that they are all accurate. Anyway, here are the requirements. I make no apology if they sound arrogant:-
1. A high level of English
2. A sense of humour in general
3. A well developed sense of irony in particular
4. A mature grasp of political realities around the world, and
5. The ability to avoid indulging in historical irrelevancies whilst contemplating your navel.

If you don’t have all of these, please at least stop writing, if not reading as well. You’ll just end up irritating yourself and amusing us when you throw your toys out of the pram.

I can’t be bothered to respond to feelbeat other than to say that, if he thinks Galician ternera is the best meat in the world, then he’s never eaten anything else. It is, indeed, very tender but almost tasteless. I leave it to someone who really is Scottish to respond to the rest of his diatribe. I’m off for my siesta. And, if you're going to write again, feelbeat, please tell us what DOCUMENTATION is meant to mean. On second thoughts, don't bother.
It seems that Ana Obregon is even more reconstructed than I thought; Spanish friends tell me she’s in her 50s and not her 40s. Almost Spain’s answer to Cher, then.

My blog of yesterday was picked up by another of those trackers, this time one aimed at comments on Galicia. It’s called but so far I’ve not been able to find out what chuza means. Anyway, I’m referred to as ‘Scottish’, which is a quarter right. As would be Welsh, Irish and English. Take your pick. A four-fold non-nationalist. Or a ‘Brit’ as we have been called for about 200 years. I wonder how long it will be before everyone in Spain can be both local and national. Or national and supranational, as some of them would prefer. But it doesn’t matter how they see themselves, just so long as they stop being so narrow-mindedly provincial.

I had thought the Cornish language was dead but I now read there are 4-500 people who speak it fluently. Cornish is a Celtic language and a close relation of both Welsh and Breton, with links into Gaelic [both varieties] and Manx. Welsh, Breton and Cornish form the sub-group of Byrothnic languages. So I guess the language purists would see a case for restoring the nation of Byrothnia[?]. Meanwhile, though, the 4-500 speakers of Cornish are to benefit from the spending of 600,000 pounds so as to 'increase the use of the language in public life'. Which can’t be bad. I wonder if there is anyone left in Italy speaking Etruscan and who feels so miffed at Latin superseding it they can establish a case for a subvention. And I also wonder if this blog will now be picked up by Cornish and/or Etruscan trackers. God help me!

The other question which has crossed my mind this morning is – How many of Spain’s problems stem from the fact that people here tend to stay where they are born and so form a stronger-than- elsewhere attachment to their ‘patria chica’? Gerard Brenan had a few things to say about this in his famous book ‘The Spanish Labyrinth’. I must re-read it.

I knew it would be misinterpreted . . . I don’t wear either a tanga or ‘normal panties’; It was my experience with Galician women I was talking about yesterday. But I will be wearing a tanga in my next photo, even if you can’t actually see it. Honest.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The EU has removed the restriction on the export to Europe of British beef. So the French will have removed their [illegal] ban on its importation, won’t they? As if.

I need to expand a comment I made the other day about independence and money. Here in Spain, the two regions which are the most independence-driven are also the richest. One is Catalunia and the other one - for reasons clear to some of you - I’m not going to name. Galicia, on the other hand, is poor and the ‘nationalist’ movement here is weak. They couldn’t afford to go it alone and they know it. The others could and would be better off, if they did, as they would no longer subsidise the rest of Spain. There’s a parallel here between Scotland and Galicia. Although Scotland is a country and Galicia ‘only’ an Autonomous Region, the latter [I believe] actually has more devolved power than the former. But the Scots, being as canny as they are reputed to be, have never sought full independence and have settled – though only quite recently - for ‘devolution’. The reason for this is twofold - and very simple. 1. The Scots are subsidised enormously by the English, and 2. For hundreds of years, able Scots have fled south to occupy a disproportionate number of top positions in every walk of British life. In fact, you only have to look at the cabinet of Tony Blair [a Scot with an English accent] to realise how powerful the Scottish mafia really is. So, why bother with independence when you can take someone else’s money for the relatives back home and run the whole of the UK at the same time? Catalunia and X often quote Scotland as an example of what they want to be. One is forced to ask just how much they understand about things outside their own onion patch. And the question arising is – would the ‘nationalist’ movements of Catalunia and X really be so strong if either they were poor or if they had in the past had the sense to follow the Scottish model that they now claim to want to follow? Of course, with full independence would come your own national football team but not many of us think this alone is worth killing for. Though I can’t vouch for my NZ friend.

Ana Obregon is a 40-something reconstructed blonde who is a staple of Spanish TV sit-coms. She tells us today she’ll soon be starring in a new show which will be ‘different, daring, original and unique in Spain’. It will centre on the lives of 6 or 7 women and – apart from at least 12 prominent breasts – will surely have a large quotient of flying pigs.

You’ll all be dying to know that 75% of Galician women between the ages of 36 and 45 wear a tanga when they’re feeling daring. And more than 80% revert to normal panties when they’re feeling a bit down. This is more or less in line with my experience.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Slamming is the name given here to the practice of fraudulently signing you up for a phone service that you never asked for and then challenging you to prove that you didn’t. To my pleasant surprise, it’s about to become illegal. This should put a stop to it.

An even more unpleasant practice is robbing your house at knife or gun point. There has been a spate of this along the eastern coast, attributed to a gang of ruthless Romanians. The government’s reaction has been to announce the formation of a new force to counter organised crime. Let’s hope it’s more organised than the criminals. Not to mention the rest of the police.

Two Argentinean gentleman have produced a dictionary of Spanish insults, containing 3,000 entries. I could have done with this yesterday. I wonder if there’ll be a version in one or both of the languages of the more northern part of the country. This could prove even more useful.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I haven’t had a chance to glean inspiration from the Spanish media today so am reduced to the following bagatelle, for which I apologise in advance. . .

In his own blog, our Antipodean friend Aleksu honours me with the title of Stupid Basque-Phobe of the Week. Needless to say, while I may well be stupid, I am not a Basque-phobe. But I certainly am an Aleksu-phobe. For him, of course, these are one and the same thing. What is really fascinating is that he reproduces there his own comments to my blog on the grounds that I will surely delete them. What? - and deprive my readers of so much entertainment! Anyway, for those with the interest and the patience, here’s definitely my last comment on him. If you want to read more of his views on me and [his selective quoting of mine] you’ll have to go to his blog. But this is not something to undertake lightly; as you will know by now, this man is a bigot’s bigot and a zealot’s zealot. . .

Well, our displaced Basque friend has written again to tell us he equates Churchill with Hitler, that England planted colonies within Scotland and Wales [where exactly?] and that Northern Ireland was settled by the English, when it was actually settled mostly by Protestant Scots. Worse, he volunteers that he tracks blogs for any reference to the Basque situation so that he can then spew his bile on the hapless writers. Despite his bizarre perspective and his woeful grasp of history other than [I suppose] of the Basque Country, he categorises the rest of us as idiots and vitriolically condemns our lack of understanding of his cause. Most incredible of all, he actually seems to believe he’s going to influence our thinking via his ranting. Zer ausarkeria! Ah, well. Definitely the last mention of this misguided soul. And I now have to form a plan to ensure that my blog never again graces the computer screen in his little New Zealand eyrie. Meanwhile, Aleksu, if you want to post more of your cant, feel completely free. If you believe nothing else I write, believe this - It’s priceless and I wouldn’t have the heart to delete it. Though I imagine this does happen to you quite a lot.

Strange – I’ve just had an email from Gerry Adams, thanking me for allowing my blog to be used in a way which has resulted in him acquiring the reputation of being a reasonable human being. It’s beyond me.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

When you look at [ultra]modern Spain, it’s hard to believe that only 40 years ago it was considered to be part of the developing world. Yet the truth is the country paid a very high price for the stultification of the Franco years, when it was effectively closed even to the rest of Europe, never mind the world. One of the lingering consequences of this is that certain concepts have yet to take root in the minds of the Spanish people. These include:-

High reward equals high risk: To be sure, there are plenty of other people elsewhere who haven’t yet got the connection; but the recent stamp fraud here suggests there’s a higher degree of gullibility here than in other countries at a similar stage of economic development.

There is a quantitative difference between high probability plus low consequence - on the one hand - and low probability plus high consequence, on the other: This lack of perception – which may well explain the Spanish attitude towards risk - was well in evidence this week when I saw a woman driving with one hand on the mobile phone at her ear and the other on top of the gear stick, while her kids bounced around in the back seat.

When an agent works for one party and tries to work for the opposing party, there is a conflict of interest: It’s an major irony that in Spain – where fraud may well be statistically more prevalent than elsewhere in Europe – agents will tell you they can be trusted when they are being paid by the party to whom you are ‘opposed’. It’s an even greater irony that they actually believe what they are saying and expect you to. And then get offended when you tell them that, whilst this may very well be true, you are not going to go forward on this basis.

The Basque Country ….. In response to the nice post from Katie A., I would say that I wish the Basque people well with whatever aspirations they have, merely provided they accept current realities and do things democratically. I certainly can’t pretend to have anything like a full understanding of the situation there but sometimes wonder if, like the Scots, they would be less interested in full independence if someone else were subsidising them and not the other way round.

As for Alexsu . . . well, my friends in MI5 and the CIA tell me he’s a 37 year old, unmarried member of the Basque Diaspora, having been raised in Mexico and educated in Peoria, USA. He has a blog in which, while telling the rest of us we are too stupid to understand the complexities of the Basque situation in Spain and France, he presumes to draw conclusions about developments in that so-much-easier-to-understand place, the Balkans. If it weren’t so pathetic, it would be funny. Ya está. It’s too easy and it’s not going to change his hermetically-sealed mind.

PS. Hits to my blog have been a record 190 so far today. Perhaps I should keep on upsetting Basques. Whilst I am still alive….

Monday, May 22, 2006

A total of 19 companies have been accused of raking off 10 million euros via false invoices to a failed theme park venture near Valencia. And here in Galicia several members of the Lugo city council have been charged with taking 10% kickbacks on all public works. The distressing thing is that so much of this goes on here. The encouraging thing is that at least some of the perpetrators get caught and punished.

Down along the coast they’re testing out houses made from balls of straw that have allegedly been a success in even wetter Ireland. Unfortunately, yesterday’s prototypes were blown down in some unseasonal winds but another attempt is to be made shortly. Let’s hope they don’t get a visit from the wolf which has been killing sheep up in the hills. Otherwise it’ll be on to sticks.

For those who’ve missed his post, Alexsu has written – in almost perfect English, I must say – to accuse me of being an ignorant, lying, Francoist with a poor grasp of history who clings to his British colonialist past. An interesting combination. Sadly, the only additional thing I know about him is that he doesn’t live in the USA, though he still hasn’t told me where he does live. He also suggests I have a library of Francoist books, that my readers are drones [especially my compatriot Lenox, I guess] and that I clearly hate the Basques. Well, the truth is I only know one Basque well and regard him highly. But, if Alexsu were truly representative of the Basque people, it would hardly be surprising if I had a poor opinion of them. Given his mindset, we can only be grateful that ETA don’t have suicide bombers in their ranks as he’d surely be a prime candidate. Hitler, too, thought that everyone who disagreed with him was an imbecile. Needless, to say, Aleksu hasn’t answered my question about parts of Euskadi being allowed to secede. So we’re left wondering whether he’d just shoot anyone who dared even raise the issue. Is there any hope that Aleksu will now do himself a favour and stop reading my blog? Actually, I hope not. I’d really miss his brand of reasoned rhetoric. It takes me back to the fervent, blind communism of my 16 year old stepson.

Finally, a weekend quote to restore sanity…..
Eurovision makes one long for war - New Zealand humorist, Joe Bennett

Sunday, May 21, 2006

It’s now emerged the government knew about the stamp investment fraud six months before the story broke. During this period, 40,000 people invested a further 600m euros. In the USA and UK, lawyers would now be fighting to take out a class action against the government itself but I can’t see that happening here. Sometimes it doesn’t seem so bad living in a litigious society where the Rule of Law really operates.

Illegal immigration is naturally a major item in this weekend’s press. Apart from the tide of souls from West Africa, it seems that, as a result of France [naturally] ploughing its own furrow and tightening its regulations, more sin papeles are now flooding southwards across the Pyrenees than northwards. So Spain feels caught in a pincer and resents the lack of sympathy from Brussels. In the UK, one of the main union leaders has called for an amnesty for all illegal immigrants, on the grounds they’re needed for all the menial tasks in the economy that the natives won’t undertake. How much more true this must be of a booming Spanish economy in which nationals don’t even want to wait at table, never mind sweep streets and clean toilets.

Spanish domestic wine consumption has fallen significantly in recent years whilst production has just reached an all time high, stimulated by almost a billion euros of EU subventions. Prices – at least among the cheaper table wines – have naturally reflected these trends. So time for the government to step in and demand even more money for the beleaguered but short-sighted growers and producers. I suppose it makes sense to someone.

An interesting article in El Mundo today points out that Spain’s notoriously long, split working day is a significant contributor to poor productivity, sleep deprivation and the highest work-related mortality in Europe. More surprisingly, the article debunks the myth that it’s the result of high temperatures; the other ‘Mediterranean’ countries of France, Portugal and Italy don’t follow this pattern. Moreover, it was only introduced into Spain 70 years ago, when people had to work two jobs to make ends meet in the aftermath of the Civil War. It might take longer than this to get rid of it, though.

Nice to see the people of Europe have realised the Eurovision Song Contest is beyond parody. And thank God for Andorra and their 12 face-saving points. Terry Wogan suggested the Spanish gave up on this insane contest years ago but I fancy not.

Finally, friki appears to be the Spanglish for what would be called a nerd or a techie in the UK. Not a bad word for Eurovision song contestants either.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Today is the day for some ‘house-cleaning’, in response to recent posts:-

1. I’m not American, as far as I am aware.

2. The wine I’m drinking in my picture is white and I don’t think Reservas and Gran Reservas come in this colour. But my friend Andrew will put us right on this, if necessary.

3. No, I didn’t move to Banco Santander. But I often amuse myself by wondering whether it’s the Abbey National or the Banco Santander which is now reeling under the impact of culture shock. And whether Spanish practices are being introduced into Britain or British practices into Spain. I suspect neither.

4. I do have a Galician ladyfriend, Jesus. And her impact on my mood is invariably positive. Usually.

5. I think the following comment was meant to be a compliment [especially as it came with love] but I’m not entirely sure ….. “I doubt if any of the important decisions you have made have ever been hampered by friends or relatives”. Anyway, I plead Not Guilty. But if you are a miffed friend or relative, please cite chapter and verse. Ex wives don’t count.

To get more serious….

6. Alexsu has confirmed his long-standing [and deeply-felt] view on the constitution of the Basque country, though he’s not yet answered my question as to whether he lives there or [as I suspect] in the USA he purports to despise. Incidentally, I don’t want to lose a reader but my impression is that Alexsu’s concept of nationality is so strong he would have been with Hitler on the question of the Sudetenland Germans. But perhaps I do him a disservice. Doubtless he will let me know. If you are going to respond, Alexsu, please also tell me why we shouldn’t return to the 11th century Kingdom of Leon, the 6th century Visigoth Iberian kingdom or the even earlier Roman empire. I suppose it would be because the Basques weren’t any more independent under any of these than they are now as a ‘Castilian colony’.

7. To the anonymous reader who says everyone in Navarra walks and talks like a Basque so must be a Basque, I can only say I didn’t see much evidence of this when I visited Vitoria [Gasteiz] and Pamplona [Iruña ], especially the former. And would attending a Basque festival really make me a Basque? Finally, would the Basque nationalists accord to parts of Euskadi the same right to opt out that they demand of Spain? I suspect not but would be happy to be disabused of any misconception.

Well, this is not the post I intended but other thoughts can wait until tomorrow.

My sincerest thanks once again to all those who wrote. Even Alexsu. He brightens my day. Though I’m not sure this is what he intends.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Firstly – and briefly – very many thanks to all those who were kind enough to write to me. Happily, no one told me stopping my blog was the right thing to do. So I will plough on, refreshed by my break. Though I still plan to start another blog, portraying the highs, the lows and the very lows of doing a little bit of business here.

Secondly, snapshots of the last week. . .

The Canary Islands were engulfed by the largest wave yet of illegal immigrants from down the west coast of Africa. Or at least by the lucky ones who survived the journey. The opposition party naturally alleges this is all a result of the government giving resident status to hundreds of thousands of ‘sinpapeles’ [paperless people] last year. And whose to say they’re wrong? The said government has, naturally, insisted this is a European and not just a Spanish problem and demanded assistance. On this, they are surely right; if you give the illegal immigrants residence and they immediately head north across the Pyrenees, you have certainly made this a Europe problem. But you may not command much sympathy in London, Paris and Berlin.

My Italian friend, Francesco, told me he was having great difficulty getting staff for his new restaurant. When, against the backcloth of high unemployment among the young, I checked with Spanish friends as to why this should be so, there was a consensus on the main reason – young people simply don’t want to work. And don’t need to work so long as they can pretend to study and live free at home until they marry in their 30s. The next day there were reports in the media about Spain’s young people demanding that the government do something about high property prices so they could have a proper home. To add weight to this, they’d called a street protest for the next day. Naturally this was a complete failure as the lazy buggers couldn’t be bothered to turn up. Even this was too much like hard work, I guess. Still, at least they’re not as yobbish as their British counterparts. Though someone has written this is primarily because they can’t afford to alienate their parents.

In a country not exactly unfamiliar with large-scale consumer frauds, there came news this week of perhaps the biggest yet. This was the pyramid selling of shares in over-valued stamps. Many hundreds of thousands of punters appear to have been cheated out of their savings by the usual combination of lies, on the one hand, and naïve greed, on the other. These schemes will always flourish where lots of ‘black cash’ is swilling around looking for a white home but one interesting aspect of this scam is that it had long been declared dubious not just in one or two more regulated Anglo Saxon economies but also in next-door Portugal. The Spanish media indulged in a tsunami of complaint, criticism and accusation of all and sundry but seemed to miss the point that they’d previously not noticed this.

The other bit of really bad news was that ETA finally came out of the long grass and said, in effect, that territorial expansion of the Basque Country certainly was a precondition of their ‘permanent’ ceasefire. A familiar fraud, this one.

To lighten our hearts, there was another of those surveys about the sex life of the Spanish. This one reported that 81% of them plan their sexual activity, with 61% even setting aside a particular day of the week. I regard this as being more inaccurate than any of the previous surveys; I’ve never met a Spaniard who even knew how to spell ‘plan’, never mind do it. And all this sexual pre-thinking hardly fits well with the Spanish view of themselves as the world’s most spontaneous people. Obviously rubbish.

15km from Pontevedra, a wolf was found to have torn out the throats of 5 sheep, making 17 in total. Possibly a director of the stamp investment business, on the run and living off the land. After all, in a bout of stable-door-bolting, four of his colleagues had been summarily jailed as soon as news of the scam broke.

Petrol here in Galicia reached €1.12 a litre, against the Spanish average of around one euro. In a poor part of Spain where there is plenty of apparent competition, the word that springs to mind is cartel. But, characteristically, no one feels anything can be done about it. There are frauds and frauds, apparently. Which reminds me, I was surprised that my latest Telefonica bill didn’t contain yet another increase in the fixed cost of a line. Things are looking up. Maybe this is because the EU Commission recently came out with the not-very-astonishing news that ‘there is no effective competition in Spain’s telecoms industry’. They went on to suggest French and Italian-style government measures to remedy the situation. Dream on, chaps. Don’t suppose we’ll be seeing any Telefonica directors jailed in the foreseeable future.

Finally – and on a positive note - Spain’s current sporting pre-eminence was confirmed by victories in Formula 1 motor racing, tennis, motor cycling and then – with Barca’s victory over Arse – football. Happy times. Unless you’ve invested in some ‘high value’ stamps, of course.

Quotes of the Week

Pedestrians are guilty of the sin of over-optimism
Some police officer responsible for traffic. Good to know it’s our fault and not the drivers’

It is said that many Spanish citizens, perfectly entitled to official ID cards, prefer to buy forgeries because they are just as good as the real thing - and much cheaper.
UK commentator on the planned ID cards. Well, maybe. But as the cost is very low, I suspect the real reason is to give yourself a false tax identity so that your transactions will be misreported.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

It seems the only thing the English and Spanish reports of the Arsenal v. Barcelona match agree on is that the referee deserved his exclusion from the panel for the imminent World Cup. Both felt he'd made bad decisions. So good job the result was right - at least on the play of the last 72 minutes. Though things might well have been different if he'd allowed the first goal and kept the Arsenal keeper on the pitch. This would certainly have made for a better game.

On to less important things tomorrow.....

Friday, May 12, 2006

Dear Reader,

I’m taking a week out to decide whether to continue with this blog or to start another one.

I’ve been making observations on Galician/Spanish life for almost 3 years now but feel I’ve reached the point where I’ve run out of insights and started repeating myself. Worse, I fear I’ve begun to sink into shallow, diary-like observations of my daily life - the mundane fare of blogland. In fact, suspect I reached this point some time ago, with the result that this blog has lost interest not just for me but also for the people I’d like to reach.

So I’ll depart temporarily for a think about things with the observation that you really should click on the link to Stalking Time for the Moonboys on the right and read Chapter 4 of my daughter’s novel. I think it’s great but just hope she stays away from sex scenes….

She says she’ll be posting a new chapter every Friday from now on. I hope so.

Hasta la semana que viene….

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

In contrast to troubled France, the situation here is that very few young people are employed on anything other than short term contracts. And these can usually be terminated easily. The government and the unions have reportedly reached an agreement which will result in an obligation to give a ‘permanent’ contract to anyone who’s been working for 2 years in the same job. So, watch out for a lot of sackings around the 23 month point.

My impression from casual observation is that seat belt compliance has risen significantly here in the last couple of years. Though I’m only talking about the front seats. Not many people are yet taking seriously the legal obligation to use them in the back seat too. Even for kids. We obviously need more stories – with gory pictures, of course – of children being catapulted through windscreens.

Streepers is what the Spanish call strippers. In the past couple of days my blog has been hit by people looking for streepers for women and reality shows for streepers. Perhaps it’s a TV executive doing some research fir a new prime-time program.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Commenting on the prosecution of two policemen for illegally arresting members of the opposition party, a spokeswoman has said that, if this had happened in the UK, Tony Blair would surely have resigned. Obviously not a keen observer of the UK political scene, then. As of right now, the only sure way of getting rid of him would seem to be assassination. And who’s to say Gordon Brown – or one of the other myriad dour Scots who dominate the British political panorama – isn’t pondering this desperate strategy. Step forward Lady Macbeth.

Spain now has 25,000 Euro millionaires and it’s forecast that by 2008 Spaniards will have the same per capita income as Germans. This should, of course, mean a reduction in subventions from North European taxpayers. But I wouldn’t bet on it. It's considered the peak of achievement in Spain to live at somebody else's expense.

It’ll be tough deciding on the prize driving incident of the week. It’s only Tuesday and already Andrew has faced a car coming round the corner on 2 wheels and I’ve narrowly avoided hitting a van which pulled straight out in front of me at a T-junction. So I think I’ll just abandon the idea as it seems to be tempting fate. I’d like to live until at least Saturday.

Not that it’s safe to stay out of a car, with fourteen people being hit on Zebra crossings in Vigo last month. But a new high [low?] was reached at 11.30 on Sunday morning when a driver who was 4 times over the drink limit stopped and beat up a pedestrian who’d remonstrated with him for nearly knocking him over on a crossing. One fears it will take more than the imminent points-based licence system to effect major changes in standards. A few executions, perhaps.

Monday, May 08, 2006

According to the Diario de Pontevedra, there are 400 prostitutes in the city, 320 of whom are from Latin America. The newspaper placed this report on its front page, just below a picture of 3 priests officiating at Mass in nearby Marín. An encapsulation of modern Spain, it struck me.

Still on matters Catholic - Galician families spend an average of €3000 on a child’s First Holy Communion, usually obtained on credit. The cash, that is, not the child. And this is in the second poorest region in Spain. God only knows what it must be in Madrid and Barcelona. But I trust it makes Him happy.

After 5 years of hassle, I finally closed my account with the BBVA bank today. The junior ‘adviser’ with whom I dealt treated me with great courtesy, perhaps because she was new. She asked me if I had any complaints about commissions and if I wanted to see my ‘personal adviser’. When I replied there were always problems with the bank’s frequent and extortionate commissions but added that I didn’t want to see the gentleman in question, she said I must be very angry. And added that she was sorry to have met me in such circumstances. The teller at the counter, on the other hand, treated me with a disdain bordering on contempt as he handed me my final balance. Presumably because I’d committed the mortal sin of closing an account. Water off a duck’s back now. I departed with a lighter tread. And a very final Adios.

A Europe-wide survey shows reveals the Spanish to be amongst the least ‘Community minded’ citizens of the EU. Well, no one worries about a golden goose until it dies, do they? Least of all the BBVA.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The BBC finding that Britons are much richer but less happy than they were in the 1950s has been well reported in Spain. I suspect this is because it accords with the Spanish view that there’s more to life than money. Though there can't be much doubt Spaniards would regard themselves as both much richer and much happier than 50 years ago. Except, of course, for the Falangist dinosaurs, who pine for the return of Francoist times.

One Spaniard who is very unhappy despite being extremely rich is Baroness Thyssen. She is the widow of the German industrialist who brought his spectacular art collection to Madrid, where it now forms part of the Golden Triangle of galleries in the city centre. The good Baroness is decidedly upset by the plans of the municipality to cut down 700 trees as part of a plan to improve the traffic flow near her eponymous gallery. She hasn’t yet carried out her threat to chain herself to one of the trees but did play a star role in yesterday’s demonstration against the impending aboricides. My bet is on a compromise.

My friend Elena is Spanish but raised in France. Like many of us foreigners, she occasionally finds the Spanish attitude to noise hard to bear. Never more so than when she is asleep and her neighbours decide to start a raucous game of darts on their terrace at 3am and then continue until 4. Even harder to accept is a response to a plea for quiet that suggests it’s you who’s odd for even thinking of sleeping on a Saturday night.

Friday, May 05, 2006

No sooner do I write there’s no political will in Spain to tackle the appallingly open sore of prostitution than the Catalan government announces it’s going to regulate the ‘trade’. Among its proposals are that mega-brothels will be banned, cooperatives of maximally 12 rooms will be encouraged, and the ladies working there will be limited to 8 hours a day and treated as self-employed. The latter will mean them paying the €200+ obligatory social security payment each month. No wonder the Catalans are seen as being canny with money.

Right on cue, a report suggests about 25% of Spanish men between 18 and 49 visit brothels. Galicia is in the top three, at 30%. Of course, this is an artificial age limit; if it were raised, the percentage would surely significantly increase.

I used my newly-arrived TV-B-Gone to switch off the two TVs in my regular café today. As expected, during the hour I was there reading the papers, no one even noticed. Not even the staff. One of the reasons was that it didn’t actually produce anything like a silence. There was a HiFi on as well as the TVs.

I’ve decided to institute a Saturday section about the worst driving incident of the week. As he does more driving than me, I expect most citations to come - like this one – from my friend Andrew. Driving to his bodega, he was passed by a car from one of our numerous driving schools. As ever, it contained the instructor and 3 or 4 pupils. In a 60kph area, it overtook him at 100 and then undertook a truck. Aptly, the school was named ‘Grand Prix’.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

It’s not just me who drones on about prostitution in Spain; a columnist on a local paper wrote a critical article today which included the following comments:- Spanish highways are plagued with little red lights which billow up like spores on the edges of her towns . . The highways and their evil little lights indicate places out of control, free trade areas of modern slavery, where women are forced to sell the only things they have – their dignity and their bodies. The writer naturally called for something to be done but, sadly, there’s no evidence of a political will to tackle this blight.

Having not had a satisfactory response to its queries, the EU Commission is taking legal action against Spain for the measures taken to prevent the takeover of a local energy company by the German giant, EON. The Commission has written to say things will get much worse if the Spanish government doesn’t send it a statement of its case. Fat chance; no one answers letters in Spain. Perhaps if all the Commission members came down to Madrid for a cup of coffee, things could be sorted out. Face-to-face. Mano a mano. Bull and matador.

In Somalia yesterday, there was an execution under Muslim Sharia law. This featured the son of a murdered man stabbing to death his killer, who was blindfolded and tied to a pole. I know this because Spanish newspapers naturally brought us the pictures, in colour even.

The parents of the kids at the school next to the new roundabout I featured the other day have now decided to disrupt the traffic in their protest against what they see as increased danger, both from moving cars and from stationary bollards. My own suspicion is what really riles them is they can no longer illegally park their cars on the chevrons in the middle of the junction. There’s now a garden where these used to be.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

In the patchwork quilt of Spanish regions, Navarra has the distinction of being the only Comunidad Foral. This adjective has no English equivalent but indicates a place has specific privileges [or fueros] granted long ago. Much, if not all, of the region is regarded by Basque nationalists as part of the true Basque Country and there is currently considerable concern here that ETA is making its much heralded ceasefire conditional upon some degree of amalgamation. It’s hard to imagine this happening, even under a government which so far has found it difficult to say no to many nationalist demands, but who can really say?

Meanwhile, back on the terra firma of tar macadam, the traffic mortalities over the holiday weekend were far worse than predicted. Depending on which number you use, they were either 25 or 40% up on last year. The good news is that the 4 months total is down on 2005. Though not in Galicia, alas.

We’ve been blessed with wonderful weather for the last 10 days or so but things are forecast to change tomorrow. Let’s hope we’re not in for another bout of ADD. Elsewhere this may well stand for Attention Deficit Order. But here it means Atlantic Dumping Day, when the ocean wreaks some sort of revenge on us.

Go to the link on the right for Chapter 3 of Stalking Time for the Moonboys. Which comes highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

There are now 6 Spanish regions demanding to be called ‘nationalities’ – Catalunia, the Balearic Islands, Andalucia, Aragon, Valencia and, of course, Galicia. Surveying the scene in Iraq, the editor of Prospect magazine recently commented that “85 years after the British first tried to create one, Iraq still lacks the basis of a European nation state.” I wonder what he’d make of Spain, more than 500 years after Ferdinand and Isabella’s ‘unification’. Cue for some nationalist or other to write to me with the true but irrelevant claim that his bit of Spain had its own king long before Los Reyes Catolicos happened along.

I recently praised the Pontevedra town council for the beauty of its new roundabouts but now for a brickbat. After 9 months of slow work, they’ve just inaugurated a large new feature that appears to be an attempt to prove you actually can displease all the people all the time. The nearby residents are up in arms because they’ve lost their trees; parents are protesting about greater danger to the kids of an adjacent school; bus drivers are moaning because they can’t navigate the roundabout without going up on the pavement; and car drivers are complaining it’s impossible to tell which direction they’re allowed to drive out once they’re on the bloody thing. And they’re not too happy it’s easy to scrape the side of your car against the granite bollards when trying to find an exit. All in all, something of a mess. Though, as you can see, the aesthetics are not bad.

A local newspaper is running a competition to find the most beautiful word in Galician. For my exiled Gallego readers, the leaning contenders are:- vagalume; bolboreton; bréteman ; morriña [of course]; saudade; and lóstrego. More details on:-

Monday, May 01, 2006

I nipped into Portugal today, to get one of the roast dishes [duck, kid and wild boar] that aren’t on offer in Galicia, even across the river in Tui. The bonus was fellow-diners who chatted quietly and children who didn’t run round the restaurant screaming. And nobody was smoking! Certainly didn’t need a Big Gob-B-Silent or Smoker-B-Vaporised gadget there. Quite a different experience altogether. Clearly a very dull people

Here’s an ad for an irresistible place in London:-
A truly wonderful and very well proportioned single parking space, offering a sought-after location with a very hard base, superior tarmac-mix and easy access onto and off the space surrounding it. The space comprises approximately 60% asphalt, 20% concrete and 20% local stone, providing a high quality and very hard layer to park your car. ₤80,000 [€116,000]

Quote of the Holiday

For the first time in history, women in developed societies can take up any occupation or career they please. This has brought enormous benefits. But it has also had some less positive consequences – the death of sisterhood, a decline in female altruism and growing disincentives to bear children.
Prospect Magazine, April 2006