Thursday, November 30, 2006

Reportedly, in this booming economy – the 8th largest in the world – 40% of homes can’t afford to take even one week’s holiday a year. I'm stumped by this but have finally put it down to the view that moving for a month or two to your second home along the coast doesn’t actually count as a holiday.

In a small village along our coast someone found a bottle thrown into the sea a few years ago in the Bahamas. It contained a 5 page letter in English, setting out the writer’s specification for the perfect woman and asking to be told if anyone knew of a lady fitting the bill. Again belying the national belief that Galicians are rather dense, one of the village males interviewed said ‘If I knew anyone as good as that, telling someone else would be the last bloody thing I’d do’.

Spain’s big annual lotteries are almost upon us and the news is that Galicia is being flooded with requests for tickets which end in the number 27. The logic behind this is that, after the fires of August and the floods of November, the region is due for some good luck in the form of a disproportionate share of the national lottery cakes. And Nov. 27th was the day on which the heaviest rains fell.

November turns out not to have been a great month for idiosyncratic searches that brought people to this blog. Here’s the best I can do:-

Pontevedra snobs
galicia croydon
suing your builder in Spain
if you tell a Galician

And, of course, our old favourite . . . animals brothels. Apparently submitted by a non-native speaker who thought his chances would be greater in English. I wonder why.

Galicia Facts

It’s official – The mini-submarine found in Vigo harbour a few months ago had been used for drug smuggling. A number of people around the country have now been arrested. We wait to see whether they are all midgets.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I suspect I’ll soon be able to paper at least one room with lists of local mayors who’ve been prosecuted for corruption in Spain. The funny thing is how so few of them seem to hide their wealth. The latest report features photos of a rather large house with a Porsche in the garage. Or perhaps this is just an impression gained because it’s the idiots who revel in their ill-gotten gains that get to feel a hand on their collar.

Spain’s local government may well be very corrupt but at least it’s cheap. In contrast, I see the UK’s average annual Council Tax has risen to 1,500 pounds, or around 2,200 euros. I’d guess few Brits feel consoled by the fact local government is rarely corrupt, merely self-interestedly bloated. And expensive. And who’s to say this isn’t a form of corruption?

I’ve taken yet another step into the cybersphere and signed up for Google Reader. Now I just have to figure out what it’s all about.

If you are one of those people who believe punctuation is rather overrated, take a look at this sentence from a UK quality paper. And ponder how you would feel if you were 1. Elle Macpherson, or 2. her libel lawyer:- Mulcaire admitted unlawfully intercepting voicemail messages left by a number of men including the publicist Max Clifford and supermodel Elle Macpherson. By the way, this is not a cue for whoever it is who, at times like this, writes to say my grammar, punctuation or spelling aren’t perfect either. For one thing, I don’t have proof readers.

Galicia Facts

The heavy rains of the last couple of weeks have brought terrible floods to towns on our coast. These are blamed, in part, on the deforestation caused by August’s devastating fires but the Voz de Galicia has also pointed the finger at what it calls ‘ferocious urban development’. Those mayors again.

One particular consequence of the floods is a gaping hole in the middle of one of our main roads. Into this, around midday on Wednesday, fell a maintenance van. The police were called and a car raced to the scene. And promptly launched itself into the hole. So the police erected barriers around it. Guess what happened then. . . . Go to this link for a picture of this scene from the Keystone Cops. And to the ‘Albumes’ link on this page for another shot of the hole [No. 15]. Plus several others, including the coffins floating around a funeral parlour.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I said the other day that, despite being officially one of the poorer EU countries, Spain’s second home ownership is the highest in Europe. Now we learn that Galicia – despite being Spain’s second poorest region – has a percentage of second home ownership above the national average. I guess it must all make sense to someone. Perhaps they’re all owned by Colombian drug barons and their employees.

I read that Galicia’s [and Spain’s] premier white wine - Albariño – is now to be developed for American tastes. I wonder what on earth this means. Oak chips in the stainless steel vats?

Shopping tonight amidst loud musak, it struck me a good deal of Spanish singing amounts to little more than impassioned shouting. I blame flamenco.

Articles about the UK/England giving Scotland the independence most Scots are said to want are all the rage in the British media at the moment. For those Basque, Catalan or Galician nationalists interested in these developments, here’s a good example.

I did finally buy a humane cage to catch mice and rats. Over the past few days, I’ve trapped and released into the forest 5 mice. Either there’re an awful lot of them in my garage or I’ve stumbled on a potential competitor for homing pigeons. And perhaps a whole new sport.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Admirably, the Spanish government is preparing laws aimed at reducing the scandalous levels of local government corruption that go hand-in-hand with a construction bum that looks like
never ending. And they are bringing in laws – perhaps a tad late – to protect the coastline from further depredation. Quick off the mark, the banks have reacted to a greater possibility of demolition of illegal buildings by placing more stringent requirements on loans to developers. That should do a lot to bring down the cost of new houses and flats.

And it seems the Spanish government also has the equally admirable intention of strengthening the law around the protection of animals. But, as someone reasonably asked in a recent letter to El Pais, what’s the point of doing this when bullfighting is still permitted?

Here in Pontevedra, today marked the start of a strike of the company which impounds illegally parked cars. So you can imagine what the town looked like tonight, with everyone making hay while the sun shone. Or would have been, if the bloody rain had let up for even a minute.

My thanks for the responses on the meaning of ‘disbogging’. A trawl of the OED suggests the following etymology – disbog = disbogue = disembogue = To come out of the mouth of a river. The Spanish equivalent is, of course, desembocar. Given the words it doesn’t recognise, I’m amazed to see Word’s spell check is aware of disembogue.

Finally, in case any deprived Brit resident in Spain is not yet aware of this, I just want to add that, thanks to a gift of an MP3, I‘ve now entered the wonderful world of BBC Radio 4 podcasts. Needless to say, Word doesn’t recognise podcasts. Perhaps it should be called disemboguing. Which it does!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Catholic Church in Spain has issued a controversial document to its priests, entitled Moral Stances on the Situation in Spain. This apparently pronounces on the issue of whether the unity of Spain is a ‘moral good’. Needless to say, it has upset people from both sides of the divide. I wasn’t surprised to read the document had been seen as controversial even within the Church and had been ‘born with some difficulty and only with the aid of forceps”.

It was good to read that a mayor had been imprisoned for 18 months for failing to respond to resident complaints about the appalling noise to which they were constantly subjected. True, this came from a porcelain factory and not from nocturnal revellers but it’s a start.

I was approached by a young lady in the street today, addressing a question to me. It took me a second or two to realise this was not yet another request for directions but a query about whether I have access to cable in my house. I’m used to getting regular telemarketing calls – most of them asking to speak to the ‘housewife of the house’ - but this sales tactic was a new one to me. Not the last time, I fear. It’ll be bloody timeshares next.

Reading an account of a 16th century voyage across the Bay of Mexico, I came across the word ‘disbogging’. Anyone got any ideas?

Galicia Facts

Galicia is rich in rock art petroglyphs. But not as rich as it was. Sadly, many of these were destroyed by the fires and floods of the last few months

A nice comment on the incessant rain of the last 10 days – A cartoon in one of our local papers today showed a salesman trying to interest a young man in a sports model . .
It goes from 0 to 100kph in 4 seconds.
Yes, but can it float?

Still on cars - Galicia, it turns out, is the Mecca of expensive customising, or ‘tuning’ as it’s called here. If you want to see some examples, go to my blog of 18 Nov. or to this link.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

I suppose the day will dawn when I eventually understand the Spanish economy but I fear it’s a long way off. This is a country which has been by far the largest beneficiary of EU munificence since the late 80s and will go on being in the top two for at least another seven years. This surely suggests the country is amongst the poorest in Europe. And yet every time I go down into town I see a new café/bar has opened and there’s at least one new branch of a bank being fitted out. OK, this may be accounted for by local wealth but it was reported again today that Spain has the highest per capita house ownership in the EU. One reason for this is the highest second-home ownership in Europe. Behind Spain in the list – for similar reasons – come Greece and Portugal. I’m left wondering whether the simple explanation for all this is the notoriously high levels of ‘black cash’ which are said to circulate in each of these countries. And which are presumably ignored for the sake of the statistics which justify the EU hand-outs. But, if so, why isn’t Italy higher in the list?

Galicia Facts

Talking of wealth, another of our regular surveys advised us today that only 2 of Galicia’s 315 townships have per capita income above the Spanish average. These are Beariz and Avion up in the hills, where they have their own little aerodrome. The article stressed the wealth was based on business success in Mexico on the part of emigrants from these villages. Though, interestingly, the writer could not bring him/herself to explain the business in question was prostitution.

Fifteen years or so go Brussels demanded the Spanish government crack down on the region’s age-old cigarette smuggling. The Law of Unintended Consequences resulted in the locals deciding that, if they were going to be harassed, they might as well make things more worthwhile for themselves. So they turned to cocaine and Galicia duly became Europe’s main point of entry for the stuff. In the process, infamous ‘clans’ were formed but I read today that these are now being displaced by Columbian barons. On balance, I suspect this is bad news.

Friday, November 24, 2006

It’s official – the peace process involving ETA is not going well. Fears are growing that the terrorist group has used the ceasefire for the traditional purpose of strengthening itself. Time for Plan B, perhaps.

My teacher friends tackled on the issue of their demotivation tend to put it down to the problem of dealing not just with unruly kids but also with parents who impose no discipline on their offspring and who refuse to accept they’re capable of any wrong. But there is another possible reason – Spain is the only OECD country in which teacher salaries have fallen in real terms over the last decade.

I’m reading an increasing number of articles saying – just a few months short of the 300th anniversary of the Union – that Scotland should be allowed to leave the UK and become a truly independent country. The funny thing is these are all written by aggrieved English commentators who feel Scotland, not England, should pay for the generous health and education policies implemented by the devolved government. Since Catalunia and the Basque Country contribute to Madrid’s coffers, this is an unlikely scenario as regards these regions at least. But I guess it’s possible to see the rest of Spain one day bidding a fond farewell to Galicia. Perhaps in about 300 years time. And depending on the freedom which the Xunta has under its new Constitution to introduce social policies superior to those elsewhere.

Well, the endless rain of the last week was today joined by storm-force winds. These made quite a challenge of crossing the bridge into town. But we pseudo-Celts are made of strong stuff and I battled through. The rain does, of course, have a few benefits. It replenishes the reservoirs; it nourishes the vegetation that gives Green Spain its name; and - closer to home - it preserves us from the awful dust billowing from the revitalised building site a few metres from my house. Giving us rivers of mud instead.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A friend of mine who is fluent in French, Spanish and English went for a job this week, dealing with British customers. Although the English ‘test’ was a cake-walk for her, she was surprised to hear that her [almost imperceptible] French accent might count against her as ‘The British are very odd and don’t like talking to people with accents’. Given that her midday break will be 2 hours and that in, summer, the office will close at 2pm British time, she was also amused to hear the British ‘have strange ideas about Spanish working practices’. Where do they get such notions? “O wad some Power the giftie gie us to see oursels as ithers see us.”

Work began again this morning on the building site behind my house so I assume that – as ever – all the little irregularities and illegalities have been sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction.

Talking of irregularities, the police in Badalona this week raided a flat in which there were 122 Rumanians crammed into a space of 60 square metres. Of these, 34 were said to be living in the ‘piso-patera’ or ‘boat-flat’. However, all but 16 of the 122 had valid visas, albeit for entry into the EU via Austria or Hungary.

Galicia Facts

In most Galician cities, around 60% of the population was born there. But this falls to ‘only’ 49% in La Coruña. And, yet, this is the city with the happiest residents. Can there be a connection? For one thing, it’s certainly regarded as the city with the highest level of cultural activity. They even have a Japanese restaurant, for goodness sake. Here in Pontevedra we used to have an excellent Korean restaurant but this was forced to close for lack of business, even though its main dish was the tempting Cod Korean Style. We also used to have an Indian restaurant but this deserved to close.

Not that you would know this from walking along any beach but it’s long been illegal to build within 50 metres of the sea. The Xunta has now announced that the new distance will be 500 metres. This is admirable but it might cause a few problems for those townships which currently fall 100% within this limit. We wait on events.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I spoke too soon about the absence of violence during the botellón. There were several stabbings up in Ourense during the weekend, albeit involving South American gangs, it’s reported.

It was International Road Mortality Day over the weekend. Several of our youths celebrated this in the traditional way – wrapping themselves around oncoming trees and smashing into passing walls. Who can be surprised that the number 1 concern for Galicians is ‘Traffic and Public Transport’? Though I’m not totally convinced this includes the slaughter on the highways in the early hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings. And I fear I’m getting boring on this subject.

So, on a lighter note . . . Another Groundhog Day moment today. My conversation with a very pleasant young lady in the ironmongers went as follows. Regular readers will remember a similar exchange the last time I visited this establishment to buy an ‘ecological’ cage. . .

Hola. I spoke to you a while back about a cage for catching rats and you said you’d order one for me.

Yes, we did. In fact, we got 4.
Oh good. Can I have one?
No, they all sold out. We’ve sold a lot of things for rats recently.
It must be the weather. But you asked me for my phone number when I ordered a cage.
Yes, but I forgot about calling you.
OK, I give up. I’ll take the one in the window that kills them.

Residents in Spain will recall their own similar experiences and, like me, will wonder why on earth we’re always asked for our phone numbers by Spanish shopkeepers. I suppose we should be grateful they don’t demand our ID details as well.

Galicia Facts

A reader of my Galicia web page yesterday asked me what advice I’d give about moving here. After contemplating the 5th day of continuous rain, I was tempted to say ‘Look somewhere else’. Well, today was the 6th day of the thick, grey blanket and a non-stop downpour, so suicide is beginning to look like an option. Thank God for the bright spot of the Thanksgiving Day dinner tonight at Pontevedra’s English Speaking Society. Assuming I survive the day.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

One way or another, I’ve come into contact with a number of teachers over the last 6 years. My impression is they have a life not too many steps short of cushy. For one thing, their conditions of employment as civil servants even include private medical insurance. So it came as something of a shock yesterday to read that an OECD report says Spanish teachers are the most demotivated in the developed world. Can this be because Nirvana is slowly evaporating as Spanish society ‘progresses’ in the general direction of ‘child-centred’ education?

Well, despite all the baloney, bravado, bluster and buffoonish calculations of space from the head waiter, I can report that part of my favourite café/bar has now been closed off by a glass partition, creating the no-smoking section we were told would never happen. I suspect the requisite ventilation system hasn’t yet been installed but, nonetheless, I’m both delighted and impressed by this new-found resolve to [almost] obey the law, albeit after a few months delay. This, of course, amounts to nothing in Spain. And, let’s be honest, who cares about smokers choking in their own toxic fumes? Only joking.

Only in Spain? 1 – A rather fat and ugly transvestite who is a regular participant in the abysmal TV gossip shows has been arrested for involvement in international prostitution. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy/gal.

Only in Spain? 2 – Residents of a village on the hills above Pontevedra have been delighted to see that a building they strove to save from the fires in August has been fitted out as a ‘club’ called ‘Tu y Yo’ [You and Me]. It must make all the effort seem so worthwhile.

Galicia Facts

Our several local political parties are currently spending time and energy which could perhaps be better devoted elsewhere to negotiating an acceptable-to-all description of the region for the final draft of our new Constitution. The front-runner is said to be ‘The nation of Breogán’. This is a reference to a mythical Celtic king who, rumour has it, sailed West and conquered Ireland in a couple of days or so. Showing that we are not as backward here as the rest of Spain thinks, a gentleman has written to a local paper to dismiss this as unacceptably sexist. Much better, he says, to add the name of a mythical heroine as well. And who could disagree; if you’re going to be daft, you might as well go the whole hog.

Monday, November 20, 2006

El botellón is the Spain-wide phenomenon of drinking in the streets on Friday and Saturday nights. It features large numbers of young people who gather in set places around 10 or 11 at night and then drink copious quantities of booze until the dawn breaks. Needless to say, this is not a noise, urine, rubbish or vomit-free activity. I’m assured there was none of this even 10 years ago and my own observations suggest not only has low-degree vandalism recently become a feature but also the lowest age of the participants has reduced over the last 5 years from 14 to 12. But this could just be me getting older. Anyway, there is concern things are getting out of hand and some councils are reported to be trying measures to curb the worst excesses. But I see no evidence in the media of any campaigns led by concerned parents, demanding the authorities put an end to [illegal] street drinking. Tackling my Spanish friends on this, the explanation most often given is again the fear amongst adults here of appearing to be in any way ‘authoritarian’. Or ‘Francoist’.

But Spain, of course, has some way to go before it reaches UK levels of teenage drunkenness and violence. To quote one British newspaper - The figures for British teenage alcohol addiction are terrible when compared with the rest of Europe. Hard drinking is still considered a form of heroism here, whereas, in the national psyches of France or Italy, it is more likely to appear as a form of weakness. The same could probably still be said of Spain’s young people but one wonders whether a shift change isn’t taking place.

Meanwhile, to end on a lighter note, here – for the benefit of non-Brit readers – are some current synonyms for the obsolete ‘drunk as a lord’:- bladdered, blootered, panelled, blotto, smashed, guttered, hammered and, of course pissed. Not all of these are recognised by Word.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Just in case you’re not clear on this, the government of Catalunia is now in the hands of the PSC ERC e ICU-EUiA. I think this is an EUiA longer than the last coalition. But who from outside the region/nation can be sure?

I get the impression the ‘peace process’ with ETA is not going particularly well. Apart from sporadic acts of violence, we have the ETA protagonists still insisting nothing can be achieved until the process is ‘internationalised’ by the inclusion of France. But, as this is only scheduled to happen just after Hell freezes over, it’s hard to be optimistic.

The Portuguese city of Oporto lies a mere 120 kilometres or so down the coast from Vigo. Currently, the train journey takes around three and a half hours but the president of the Xunta has assured us there’ll be a high speed train [AVE] in operation by 2013, reducing it to merely an hour. However, in the same address he explained why all previous deadlines for lines between Santiago and both Vigo and Ourense have been hopelessly missed. So I hope he’ll forgive us for a touch of scepticism. But I still live in hope I’ll be able to enjoy an AVE trip to see my daughter in Madrid before I pop my clogs. Through the mountains of Galicia, down to the plains of Castile, and up again onto the meseta, it will be a spectacular journey.

Today’s Faro de Vigo had a special section on the 2,000 blogs written from/about Galicia. From this I learned that the English contraction of ‘web log’ to ‘blog’ has now been extended in Spanglish to ‘blogillo’. I also learned that the writer is apparently unaware of my blog. Which was a bit miffing. Playing an ironic victim card, I put it down to Galician nationalism.

Elsewhere, I read today that, after you’ve been through all the security checks at the airport, you can buy all the ingredients you need for a bomb at the duty-free shop. Which says it all about the current panic measures, doesn’t it?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

It’s a rum business, this blogging. After three days of 100+ hits earlier this week, the total fell progressively to around 40 yesterday. So, in revenge, I’ve decided to eschew words and post only photos today.

Here’s a couple of shots of the latest marulo [chav] car around town. These are known as ‘tunings’ in Spain:-

And here’s a snap of me and my two recent visitors, with all of us looking as good as when we first met a mere 50 years ago . . .

Finally, here’s one of Ryan. Looking as sceptical as only he can . . .

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Costa del Sol has long been a byword for corruption but some of us hoped things had peaked under the brazenly dishonest mayor of Marbella, Jesus Gil, who died a couple of years ago. But no, this week’s media revelations point to mind-freezing levels of financial chicanery. The local council operated a tariff system for development approvals, ranging from around 200,000 euros for the head honcho down to 6,000 for the lowliest clerk. And the brains behind all this is said to have addressed a meeting of the council with the words “If we do this properly, you’ll each make 20 million euros”. The as-yet-unanswered question is whether Spain at large will change its attitude to this deep stain on the national character. Or will it go on treating it almost as an irrelevant joke?

In one respect at least, Spain is much closer to the UK than to its Latin neighbour across the Pyrenees. When it comes to obesity, the UK ranks no. 3 in Europe and Spain no. 8. France is way down at 18. Little old Malta is still at no. 1, with Greece at no. 2. One odd aspect is that in both the UK and France almost the same percentage of men and women achieve this status – 22% in the UK and 11% in France. But here is Spain the women are said to beat the men by some way – 18% against 13%. So something drastic must happen to all those young women who smoke and starve themselves into stick insect proportions in their early years.

So Segolene Royal will be the socialist candidate for the French presidency next year. An article in El Pais this week was entitled “Who will look after the children of Segolene Royal?”. Having flicked through this, I’m not convinced the tone was ironic, even though it was penned by a female professor of Modern History at Valencia university.

Galicia Facts

The Galician government [the Xunta] has set up its first embassy [or ‘delegation’] - in Buenos Aires. The next one will be in Brussels, apparently. Delusions of grandeur?

Galicia has about 8% of Spain’s population but, in a recent police campaign, provided 15% of those prosecuted for driving without using safety belts or putting their kids in child seats. No wonder our insurance is higher than elsewhere. My Galician friends feel this shows they’re even more individualist and anarchistic than other Spaniards. Maybe but I can’t help feeling it enhances their reputation for being rather dense.

Galicia does even better than the national average when it comes to size. 23% of the local population is said to be obese and 60% of adults overweight. Must be all the bloody cocido.

Property prices in Galicia rose by 19% over the last year, double the national average. Up in Ourense, the figure was 33%. Must be all those bloody Brits.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Here’s a sad little story that has every one of the elements I’ve touched on in the last couple of years when writing about young Galicians and cars . . .

At 6.40 last Sunday morning, two young men in their 20s left a disco and drove off homewards. Shortly after, the car veered from the road and hit a house, killing both of them. The speedometer shattered at 210kph [131mph] and neither of them had been wearing seatbelts. The driver was well known for his dangerous driving and had already written off three cars. In fact, he’d narrowly survived death only a year previously, in another serious accident. But, as the son of the local mayor, he had not been banned. The passenger was also “a member of a well-known Betanzos family”. Both of them lived with their parents and the driver almost certainly financed his fast car and his all-night drinking by paying nothing for his keep.

Needless to say, the Voz de Galicia has 8 pictures of the crash scene in its Monday edition.

The only positive aspect of all this is that no one was coming the other way when they left their side of the road on a bend and crossed the other before meeting their destiny against the wall of a house. Truth to tell, they will probably not be missed by everyone in the area. And even truer to tell, it probably won’t make the slightest difference to the mortality statistics there. Parents and grandparents will go on financing the deaths of their children, while offering prayers – before and after - to whoever is the Virgin of Road Accidents in the locality. And the police will still not station themselves outside the discos lest this be seen as ‘fascist’ behaviour in today’s ultra-liberal Spain.

What madness.

And, if but one Spanish soldier is killed in Afghanistan, the entire nation will be baying for their return.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I touched yesterday on municipal corruption. The latest celebrity case centres on a place called Ciempozuelos, on the outskirts of Madrid. Here, the ex-mayor has been found to have a mere 30 gold pens in a deposit box. Obviously getting ready to write his memoirs. Hopefully from a prison cell. Though I wouldn’t count on it.

Our local politicians, too, are doing their utmost to compete with their colleagues down on the more-advanced south and east coasts. In Nigran, the mayor and 5 council members have been charged with selling information that allowed the directors of Vigo’s Celta football club to reap a massive financial harvest when land was re-designated ‘edificable’.

Still in Vigo, a resident there is being prosecuted for throwing a gas cylinder off his balcony in the general direction of nocturnal revellers who, as is customary, were showing not the slightest concern for anyone’s need for sleep. His defence – which seems totally acceptable to me – is that, if he’d wanted to hurt anyone, he’d have waited until they were under his window. I hope he becomes a popular hero.

Here on the Galician coast, we seem to have finally reached the end of a month of gloriously sunny weather. This coincides with news that global warming will mean we’ll be getting the same amount of rain but over fewer days. All in all, I think we can be forgiven for a bit of ambivalence towards this phenomenon.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Down on the south coast, the impressive police operation against widespread corruption in the Marbella town hall continues to suck in local notables and/or their spouses. More generally, barely a day goes past now without some front-page exposé in the national press of one or more instances of flagrant dishonesty. Often, though, these reports come across as more of an exercise in point-scoring than an attempt to change public attitudes towards financial chicanery on the part of elected servants. So El Mundo can’t refrain from stressing the accused are members of the governing socialist party and El Pais feels obliged to highlight the fact they’re affiliated to the opposition conservative party. My sad suspicion is that the general reaction is a shrug of the shoulders and a curse on both houses.

Talking of fraud, up to 70,000 drivers in Madrid could face the loss of their licences after it was discovered 27 examiners had not been qualified to pass them. Which could explain a lot.

In Brussels this week, a senior member of the Galician ‘nationalist’ party [the BNG] said he was proud to be the first person to speak Gallego in an EU forum, adding this would surely enrich Europe. Given the cost of 24 simultaneous translations, ‘impoverish’ would have been a more accurate word. Possibly 25, given that the Spanish representative might have needed one as well.

There was a letter in El Pais today from a Norwegian couple. The gravamen of their complaint was that the service they’d had from Telefonica when trying to get a phone line was the worst they’d experienced in their lives. Hang on . . . saying this sort of thing is my job.

The Spanish equivalent of ‘off Broadway’ is the Spanglish ‘off Gran Via’. For the life of me, I can’t recall what the British equivalent is but doubtless someone will put me out of my misery.

Monday, November 13, 2006

I mentioned last week Spain had moved up the corruption rankings so it’s only fair I report now she’s also moved up the UN index of ‘developed’ nations. As with all such tables, this is headed by one of the Scandinavian countries – this time Norway. Spain comes in at no. 19 - one place behind the UK - and scores well on such things as life expectancy, access to education, health and a good quality of life. However, the average annual income is €19,500, against 31,000 for the EU as a whole. Perhaps this explains the apparent absurdity of Spain being the second largest beneficiary of EU funds, after Poland, over the next 7 years - having been at no. 1 for the last 15 or 20 years. I say ‘absurdity’ but, of course, one doesn’t see or hear many complaints about this on the ground here. As I’ve said before, this is consistent with the Spanish philosophy that the wisest thing you can do is to live at someone else’s expense.

My elder daughter lives in Malasaña in Madrid. This is a bustling bohemian barrio of streets so narrow they can hardly take a small car. Right now it’s awash with road-works and trenches offering access to the electricity cables. Not, then, a good place for huge, crane-bearing trucks. As one unfortunate driver discovered last Friday, when he managed to drop one of his front wheels into one of said trenches.

But it’s not just Malasaña which is bedevilled by road-works; much of the city is infested and nowhere more so that south west of the capital, where there’s a massive project devoted to improving the city’s inner ring road, the M-30. This has featured much in the news over the last week as it’s presented an impassable obstacle, would you believe, to a thousand sheep. These were being driven across the city in celebration of the right of shepherds to cross Spain on historic routes. Halted by the works, the [remarkably clean] sheep have been grazing in the city’s notorious Casa de Campo park, where they’ve been forced to mingle with the 4,000 prostitutes reputed to operate there every night. Though there’s been no suggestion they provided any competition to the saddest of the desperate nocturnal ramblers.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

November brings not only my birthday but also those of both my daughters. So I’ve just spent a few days in Madrid, Segovia and Valladolid airport celebrating same. During this short period of indolence on my part, hits to this blog were higher than average. Which I’m still pondering.

Anyway, the weather was glorious, the roads as empty as ever and the scenery as dramatic as it always is. I particularly recommend the CL601 between Segovia and Valladolid. On maps this is shown as inferior to both the A6 autopista and the parallel N601 but, in reality, it’s a dream. At least on a sunny weekend in early winter. Segovia, of course, is stunning. And I even had breakfast in a café that not only lacked a TV but also played quiet classical music. Possibly the only one in Spain.

The old quarter in Segovia has at least 10 churches but, at 9am on a Sunday morning, my Catholic daughter and I couldn’t locate one open, let alone serving Mass. In fact, we couldn’t even find anyone who knew where there might be a Mass imminent. The waitress in the café recoiled in a mixture of horror and amusement at the very suggestion she might know. And this is a country which still regards itself as Catholic. Anyway, I wasn’t too surprised to read in today’s papers that a third of religious teachers can’t find employment.

Another headline which grabbed my eye today – this time in one of our local papers – was to the effect that an association of quad-bike riders was showing solidarity with the environment by driving en masse out to the countryside to plant trees. I wonder in how many other countries quad bikes would be considered in any way ‘solidarios’ with the environment. I guess it’s on a par with the kindness of sparing a ‘brave’ bull the matador’s sword between the shoulder blades, but only after it’s been lanced and stabbed to exhaustion. Everything’s relative.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

In Catalunia, several key cabinet posts have been given to the left wing nationalist party, ERC. So, if the increase in votes for the not-in-government CiU party really did reflect a demand for less ‘nationalism’, this is the last thing the electorate is going to get. No wonder there are voices calling for the sort of second-round voting system that De Gaulle introduced in France decades ago to prevent the tyranny of small parties included in coalition administrations. Meanwhile, a very irritated CiU party has said it will withdraw support for the government in the Madrid Parliament. But I’ve no idea what this really means, beyond a demonstration of pique. En passant, if you want to rise in Catalunia, it’s best to have a forename beginning with ‘J’. Ten out of the thirteen cabinet ministers are called, Joan, Josep, Jorge, Jordi or José. And ‘Joan’ is a man’s name, by the way.

Spain has fallen down the rankings in the international Index of Transparency. It now occupies 23rd place. To out this another way, thanks to the construction boom and its inevitable sequelae, Spain has risen in the corruption rankings. The cleanest place to do business in the world is said to be Finland and the dirtiest, Haiti. Must be the climate.

There was a conference of feminist Muslim women in Barcelona this week. It denounced violence in the name of Islam and called for a ‘less macho’ reading of the Koran. Rightly or wrongly, I have a suspicion such a conference could never take place in ‘multicultural’ Britain. It would risk upsetting someone.

Galicia Facts

Galicia’s not great when it comes to international cuisine and I’m still looking for an Indian restaurant as good as the one down the Portuguese coast in Oporto. But at least we don’t see this sort of nonsense, advertising a restaurant in Majorca – The Ultimate in Indian cuisine with the true authentic taste from England. Curry and chips, presumably.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Well, the Catalan government to emerge from Barcelona’s smoke-filled rooms is exactly the same as that which ruled before the election – a tripartite of the left, leavened with a large dose of ‘nationalism’. None of the parties which gained votes is included in it, lending weight to the opposition’s critique that it’s a ’government of losers’. But this is the sort of thing that can happen when proportional representation is used to give greater democratic legitimacy to an election. And I guess it makes some sort of sense, at least on the surface.

I have yet to visit one but I’m certainly looking forward to greater acquaintance with Spain’s tanatorios. My dictionary defines these as ‘official buildings for funerals containing chapels of rest’. This surely doesn’t do justice to what a Spanish friend has described as something akin to a packed airport departure lounge for the dead. The best of them feature, I’m told, TV screens and a PA system to tell you which door your hearse is departing from, drink machines, plenty of seating, a café/bar and even a restaurant. The biggest place in Vigo is so well equipped it’s apparently favoured by the city’s night-lifers as el afterhours of choice. More than anything, though, they are the means by which the Spanish turn a funeral into what they endlessly crave – an opportunity for social interchange with relatives and close friends. A bit of a relief, perhaps, from the semi-silence of the preceding Requiem Mass.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The good news for Spain this week is that at least one of its 17 regions – Andalucia – is proving capable of revising its constitution on the basis of all-party support, both local and national. Here in Galicia, though, the attitude ahead of our own negotiation appears to be that nothing less than what was granted to Catalunia will be acceptable. But then we have a ‘nationalist’ party in the governing coalition, wagging the tail of the socialist dog.

Meanwhile, up in said Catalunia, the unedifying ‘dance’ of the local politicians continues, as they each manoeuvre for maximum political leverage in whatever form of coalition government emerges from the post-election miasma. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this but it seems the most-courted man in Barcelona today is the president of ERC, a left-wing, nationalist party. As he was considered something of a loose cannon in the last (tripartite) government, one is reminded once again of how politics ‘makes for strange bedfellows’.

Talking of dancing, I chanced again tonight on the Spanish version of the BBC’s Celebrity Come Dancing. As before, I was struck at just how much talking and showboating goes on, in contrast to the small amount of [rather poor quality] dancing. No wonder the show lasts for hours. One of the contestants in this series is the granddaughter of Franco, who years ago married into French nobility. Claiming that, through her well-paid antics, she has besmirched the family name[!], her son, the Duke of Anjou, has disowned her. You couldn’t make it up.

Galicia Facts

The residents of Ferrol and Ourense are the biggest consumers of water in the region, at 177 and 166 litres a day, respectively. The national average – in this dry country - is 171, compared with around 145 in the UK. The lowest consumers are the good people of Santiago, who only get through 100 litres a day.

It’s good to see the ‘farming’ of horses in the mountains of Galicia is on the increase. It’s less good to know most of these creatures are destined for the tables of restaurants in France and Italy. It seems their diet of gorse gives their meat the edge over grass eaters. The positive news is that, en route to the kitchen, the horses devour the undergrowth that is such a factor in the rapid spread of forest fires. Bring on the empty horses!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

After some help from murcian and a study of today’s papers, I’m a tad wiser on the Catalan political imbroglio. For one thing, I’ve taken on board that the local socialist party has a different acronym from the national party and that the president of the former probably favours one particular power-sharing deal viewed with horror by the centre. As for the next Catalan government, there are numerous alliance permutations arising from the [very Continental European] existence of several parties but I was rather intrigued by the suggestion of a columnist in our Voz de Galicia that the only option compatible with democracy is minority government by just one of these. Hardly a recipe for stability, I wouldn’t have thought.

I was asked by a Spanish friend last night whether it was true that the British who are piling into the area up near Ourense preferred to live away from their fellow countrymen and rather resented hearing the sound of another British voice in their local café or bar. He’d been astonished to read this in an account of the invasion in a local paper. When I said it was true, he shook his head in disbelief. Like all Spaniards, his instinctive reaction on hearing the voice of a compatriot anywhere in the world would be to rush up and start a long conversation.

The Spanish, of course, relish talking because it’s a key element of their love of life. Another reflection of the belief that we’re essentially here to have fun. Maybe this explains why Spain is at the bottom of the European list for book-reading. And getting worse, apparently. Only 53% of Spaniards over 14 read at least one book a month, which is ‘two points’ down on the last survey.

I had a visit today from the chap who’s going to increase the size of my satellite dish. He was very pleasant and efficient but, as is customary with all such technicians, arrived without some essential tool for the job. This time it was the little necessity of a ladder. Asking me if I had one, his excuse was that his company had given him a new car and he couldn’t fit one in the boot.

Friday, November 03, 2006

I have to confess I can’t make head nor tail of the Catalan elections. Only two things stick in my mind – 1. The turnout, at around 50%, was historically low, and 2. Three seats were won by the group [Ciutadans] which opposes the imposition of the Catalan language on all residents of the region/’nation’. Apart from that, it’s a fog of parties, presidents and endless acronyms. Is there a reader up there who can shed some light? Have the ‘nationalists’ really taken a pounding? If so, will it make the slightest bit of difference?

I have two old friends visiting at the moment. We’re all of the post-war generation and so don’t really need to be told to save energy by switching off lights and only boiling enough water for the tea or coffee being made. When we discussed shaving, it emerged we all resist the endless attempts to sell us multi-bladed razors and stick to the disposable variety. But I was a bit miffed to find that, whereas I can only get 2 weeks from a one-day razor, one of my friends gets up to two months. His technique is to shower first so as to soften his face hairs. You heard it here first, you eco-warriors.[I first typed ‘eco-worriers’, which may be more apt.]

Galicia Facts

76% of children between 10 and 14 in Pontevedra have a mobile phone.

Taking up Trevor’s brilliant suggestion, I've now set up the Galician branch of Ciutadans. Please send in your applications for positions of power. These will be dispensed in accordance with local norms. If this name means nothing to you, try this . . .

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Mr Miguel Ángel Medina González is something of a celebrity in Spain. He was the first person in the country to have his driving licence suspended after losing all 12 points on it since June. And yesterday he was caught at the wheel with alcohol levels at twice the legal limit. I guess it was to be expected from someone with his regard for the law that he said it would make no difference to him if the courts deducted another 14 points from his licence. It takes a lot to get sent to prison for driving offences in Spain but Señor Medina González finally managed it.

Spain is the cosmetic capital of Europe and its flagship is a company called Corporacíon Dermoestética. This has been running a press ad for some time now that seems to me to be a model of persuasive deception. Or deceptive persuasion. About 70% of the ad is taken up by four large photos overprinted with these comments. . .
1. ‘Beauty does not distinguish between races’. The photo is of a woman in a sari who looks remarkably Spanish.
2. ‘Nor sexes’. This time it is a handsome, bare-breasted, long-haired young man who may or may not be confused about his gender.
3. ‘Beauty does not recognise age’. Here we have a woman in her 30s whom I guess we are expected to believe is in her 40s.
4. ‘It is one part and it is all of you’. This tag provides the excuse to present a photo of a superb set of breasts and buttocks. Not to mention a flat stomach and a pair of cellulite-free thighs. All on the same woman, I should perhaps add. Sadly, we are not given her phone number.

It seems I don’t know my saints from my souls. I’m indebted to Eamon in La Coruña for pointing out that Nov.1 is All Saints Day and Nov. 2 is All Souls Day. On one of these in Mexico, I’m told, everyone repairs to the cemetery at midday to have lunch with their departed loved ones. I seem to recall something of this in Malcolm Lowry’s ‘Under the Volcano’.

Galicia Facts

Our donkey population has fallen from 25,000 in the mid 90s to only 6,000 today. If you want to know about an organisation dedicated to protecting them, here’s a recent press article . . .


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Today was All Souls Day and Spain’s cemeteries were full of people cleaning and decorating the graves of their dear departed. It’s the custom here to inter these in above-ground buildings that resemble small blocks of flats for the dead. And, like flats, these are rented. Each of them has a small chamber at the front, accessed by a glass door, where you can place flowers and a candle. And this is one day a year when social custom dictates that you do this. But some of the flats are 2 or 3 metres above the ground and so have to be accessed by stepladders. The church will happily provide these but, if you don’t want to hang around, it’s a good policy to bring your own, sticking out of the boot of your car. As a result, the crowded church carparks are a sight to see. And, all in all, October 31st is probably not the best time in the year to go shopping for flowers or a set of ladders.

The exit polls in the Catalan elections are sending out confusing signals. The big winner appears to be the CiU [Convergència i Unió] party. This is one of the three members of the governing tripartite and looks to have grown at the expense of its partners, the left-wing ERC party and, in particular, the socialist PSC party. However, the CiU is unlikely to have an overall majority so the tripartite government will continue, albeit headed by ‘a true Catalan’, rather than by someone born in a foreign country, Andalucia. But the big news of the night is the gain of seats by both the local Green party [the ICV-EuA] and what I called yesterday the brave group fighting for the retention of the Spanish language in the region, Ciutadans de Catalunya [C's]. Overall, the view of our leading paper up here in Galicia is that the Catalans have punished the recent excesses of the nationalists.

The final day of October brought a reader to my blog in search of an answer to the query Religion that forbids followers to be farmers. I do hope he/she was not disappointed.