Thursday, May 31, 2007

Many of the regions, provinces and municipal councils involved in the recent elections have until 16 June to sort themselves out into governing administrations. This is because no party gained enough votes for overall control. Until mid June – and because politics famously makes for strange bedfellows - it would probably be unwise to draw any final conclusions. So, here goes . . . Despite the fact that the right-of-centre ‘won’ by getting the highest percentage of the national vote, in many places power will shift to coalition government comprising the left-of-centre PSOE party and one of Spain’s several nationalist or far-left parties. So, something for everyone. Especially if you believe coalition government is more democratic than rule by a party which got less than 50% of the total electorate’s vote. The only place where victory was resounding was Madrid, where the PP strengthened its hold on both the city and the autonomous community. Elsewhere, there remains a lot of uncertainty, most particularly in Navarra perhaps.

The saga of the treasure-seeking ship, The Odyssey, gets ever more confusing. Spain is now going to court in the USA to force its owners to reveal where exactly they’ve found the bullion thought to be worth around 360 million euros. And what nationality the galleon was. The basic unknowns are whether this was British or Spanish and whether it was found in British, Spanish or international waters. But there’s a nice rub . . . . If it was the British ship The Merchant Royal [and not The Sussex], this was ‘in the service of Spain’ when it went down. Doubtless Johnny Depp will star in the future film of this imbroglio, with numerous flashbacks to gore-laden sea battles. And Keira Knightley will play one of the ropes.

My teacher daughter in the UK will be pleased to hear today she’s now allowed to search pupils for knives herself, rather than having to call the police. What a relief.

Galicia Facts & Perspectives

I’ve a feeling I’ve reported this before but all pregnant women in Galicia will shortly be given a maternity pack of materials designed to help them talk to their babies in Gallego. It will include a CD of lullabies in the language.

The most common names for Galician babies at the moment are Lucía, Paula and Daniel. Fortunately, these are spelt the same way in Spanish, avoiding a betrayal of Galician culture. Other common names are Brais, Iago, Alexandre, Uxía, Iria e Antía but – as the maternity pack makes clear - some of these are more acceptable to the Xunta’s Ministry of Language Normalisation than others.

Finally, a short list of odd searches which ended up at my blog in May. Apart from the [unintelligible to me] last one, these appear to share a theme:-
Spanish female naked news presenter
bare breasted newscasters
websites of black female prostitutes in Spain
spanish Autopista sex stops
touch programing night club owners surnames in japan

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

It looks like there are going to be coalition administrations in 8 of Galicia’s 15 cities. These represent 37% of the population but a whopping 80% of the region’s GDP. As the pacts will all be between the socialist PSOE and the even-more-left-of-centre Galician Nationalist Block [the BNG], some of us will fear for economic development.

I mentioned yesterday the BNG had been both the big loser and the big winner. However, reports for Galicia as a whole suggest its share of the total vote was either fractionally down or marginally up on 2003 and that it gained some seats. As the table I saw yesterday showed a loss of 28% of its seats in the 8 major cities, this can only mean it gained support in the countryside. It was certainly very hard hit in Pontevedra, where the mayor is said to have taken a day or two to get over the shock. That’s the trouble with elections - the bloody ungrateful voters.

For those really, really interested, here is how the percentage share of the Galician vote has gone since 1987:-

The PP: 38 in ’87, peaked at 48 in ’95 and now 40, as against 41 in 2003.

The PSOE: 27 in ’87, peaked at 32 in ’91 and now 29, as against 27 in 2003.

The BNG: 5 in ’87, peaked at 19 in ’99 and stayed at this in both 2003 and this time round.

So the PP has fallen, the PSOE has risen and the BNG has stood still. Though not in Pontevedra city, of course, where it was hammered. I’m still waiting for one of my nationalist/Nationalist commentators to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse. I’m sure it can be done. Even without labelling the city’s residents actual or proto-fascists.

Personally, I would say neither this year’s results nor the trend displays ringing endorsement of BNG policies such as the promotion of Gallego at the expense of – rather than alongside – Spanish. But there is surely room for differences of opinion

To change the subject - Here in Spain, the percentage of the population gaining a university degree has risen from 19 a few years ago to 26 now. At the same time, the lifetime salary premium to be expected from having this qualification has fallen significantly. It’s now 60%, compared with 80 in France, 85 in the EU as a whole and 140 in the UK. The Spanish job market is said to be ‘saturated’ with graduates, so one wonders what the impact would be of the UK’s Labour government achieving its goal of 50% of young people attending university. Although not quite a university as we used to know it, Jim.

Continuing the British theme, a TV food channel says these are the native foods with the biggest impact on worldwide cuisine:-

1. Worcester sauce
2. Cheddar cheese
3. Yorkshire pudding
4. Clotted cream
5. Black pudding.
6. English Mustard
7. Scones
8. Salad cream
9. Mint sauce
10. Jellied eels

Opinions, as they say, will be divided on the merits of these items. And on what this says about British cuisine. Personally, I can just about imagine a meal which involves all ten. In fact, I think my mother used to make it every Sunday evening, along with a salad comprising two sad salad leaves and a slice of tomato. Is it any wonder I emigrated as soon as I could?

Readers are invited to nominate Spanish equivalents. Paella? Tortilla? Gazpacho? Aioli? [Or is that Italian?]. Tapas, of course. But, then, this is perhaps more a style of eating than a particular dish. Over to you. I’m sure I’ve missed a few obvious ones.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My friend Andrew had less of a pleasant and efficient time than me at his polling station on Sunday. Despite flourishing both a census card and his ID, he was told he didn’t exist so couldn’t vote. He had to traipse across town to two separate offices to get a certificate of his entitlement. Faced with this, the small army behind the desk, decided to huddle and revisit the electoral rolls, where they finally found him under Foreigners: EU Community Citizens. A computer might have been quicker. Provided they didn’t take the usual step of entering his second forename as his surname when beginning the search.

Standing back from the detail, it looks as if, in terms of voting percentages and council seats, the big loser in the Galicia municipal elections was the Galician Nationalist Party [the BNG]. And in terms of increased power, the winner appears to be . . . the Galician Nationalist Party. This is simply because the socialist PSOE party gained seats in places where it can now form a coalition administration with the ‘rejected’ BNG to replace or keep out the majority-voted PP party. Depending on where you’re standing, this is clearly undemocratic or manifestly in tune with the will of the people. Or just more evidence of Spain’s increasingly fissiparous nature.

More locally, I read this morning that the strengthened PSOE may well demand that Pontevedra’s BNG mayor hand over the reins to the socialist leader. And even closer to home in Poio, there are rumours the PSOE will not back the BNG mayor for another term. Exciting times. At least for those of us living in Chickenland.

I had a curry dinner last night for some teacher friends and my daughters. As everyone is fluent in both English and Spanish, it was a an evening of non-stop vibrant conversation. Even more so when in Spanish than when in English, if this is possible. Or perhaps my Spanish guests just spoke even louder in their own language. Anyway, the real fun started after dinner, when they took advantage of my piano and the guitar. Is there anyone in Spain who can’t play the latter? And is it true there’s no one more industrious than a Spaniard when it comes to doing something he/she enjoys? Learning to play an instrument, for example. Or just talking. The only sad aspect of the evening is that we apparently didn’t make enough noise to annoy Bawling Tony, who’s back from the sea for 6 long weeks.

I posted a compilation on Racism in Spain recently. Apropos, here’s a very valid comment from Ben at Notes from Spain on the subject. This has inspired me, if that’s the word, to dedicate my latest 3 year compilation to IMMIGRATION. Though the main reason may be that I know this won’t take me too long and I’m a little fragile this morning . . .


A high court in Andalucia yesterday pronounced that the owner of a brothel was obliged to include his employees in the social security system and, thus, pay taxes on their income. The judges made an analogy with illegal immigrant labourers and so the inference to be drawn is that brothel owners have this obligation even though prostitution itself is against the law. Three of the twelve judges went out on a limb and said they had misgivings about the brothel owner being able to dictate working hours [and practices?] to female employees. I wonder whether he will be similarly liable for accidents at work, whatever these might include. Pregnancy, for example. The mind boggles…

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

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

Spain has a big problem with illegal Moroccan immigrants arriving on the south coast in rafts, many of them dead. But it surprised me to learn today that these comprise only 10% of ilegales from that country. The rest arrive with French visas. So, it’s not only the UK which receives refugees posted on, as it were, from France. Sometimes you just have to admire the French for their total lack of principle.

Tension appears to be growing between the Autonomous Communities [regions] and Madrid over who pays for the cost of educating ‘foreigners’ who come to live in Spain. This seemed to me a strange thing for them to be fighting about until I realised that ‘foreign’ is a code word for ‘immigrant’, which is itself a code word for ‘North African’.


The latest census figures reveal a Spanish population of around 44 million and a “foreigners” component of 8%, or 3.5 million. The biggest group of these is the Moroccans [usually referred to by the codeword ‘immigrants’], followed by Ecuadorians, Romanians, Colombians and Brits [at 225,000]. The fastest rate of growth is amongst the Rumanians. I wouldn’t have thought there were that many windscreens to wash or cigarette lighters to sell at traffic lights.

My daughter in Madrid is now into her fourth month of getting herself registered at the town hall so she can secure the state health cover we failed to get here in Pontevedra. Having read that 600,000 illegal immigrants are being allowed to register under an amnesty which ends very soon, I suggested to Faye it might be quicker if she got herself down to Andalucia and sat on a beach until she was arrested.

Spain’s proximity to Africa means it’s a favoured target for illegal immigrants. These arrive by raft and boat on the south and east coasts in their thousands, many of them already dead. As if this weren’t enough of a problem, Spain also has 2 enclaves [decidedly not ‘colonies’ like Gibraltar] in Africa. Over the past 2 nights around 500 Africans have stormed the security fences around one of these in an attempt to get over them using makeshift ladders. Given that some of them succeeded, I guess the prospect is of more of these desperate sallies.

Another 600 Africans rushed the fences around one of the Spanish enclaves last night and 300 of them managed to get onto Spanish soil. My understanding is Spain can’t now send them back directly but must either absorb them or go through due process, hampered by the fact the illegal immigrants never have any papers revealing their country of origin. Spain has again appealed to the EU to throw money at the problem. And, right on cue, a Moroccan politician has said what Africa needs is a ‘real Marshall Plan’.

The Moroccan government continues to find simple solutions to the problem of thousands of sub-Saharan Africans using its territory as a launching pad into Spain’s enclaves. Three days ago they started cutting down the forests near the fences and two days ago they took twelve hundred poor souls into the desert near the Algerian border and dumped them there. Following international protests, they’ve retrieved them, pending further strokes of genius.

The Moroccan government continues to earn brickbats for its treatment of the illegal immigrants who launched themselves – unsuccessfully – at the Spanish fences around Melilla and Ceuta in North Africa. Having dumped more than a thousand of them in the middle of the desert near Algeria, they’ve now responded to the storm of protests by driving them in a convoy to the other end of the country, near the Western Sahara.

The President – Mr Zapatero – could probably do with some domestic favour right now. For recent surveys suggest the Spanish public is increasingly critical of him for perceived weakness in the face of illegal immigrants, an unfriendly Moroccan government and the Catalans who are trying to weaken their relationship with the state. Calls are naturally being made for a change in the law so as to allow illegal immigrants to be sent straight back. Given that the Spanish government is almost certainly barred from taking unilateral action, it may not be long now before the Spanish find there’s more to being in the EU than an endless flow of grants and subsidies from north to south.

The EU Justice Commissioner has warned there are 40,000 people in Algeria and Morocco waiting to launch themselves at the fences around Ceuta and Melilla. Perhaps they’ve heard today’s report that half of the 900,000 jobs created in Spain last year went to ‘foreigners’. Or that Mr Zapatero last year gave residence rights to over 700,000 illegal immigrants, a step that was immediately criticised by the German government as an open invitation for more of the same.

There was a picture in yesterday’s press of French and Spanish politicians smiling broadly after agreeing they’ll seek a change in EU laws on illegal immigration. Below the surface things are not so chummy. France is furious that many of the French-speaking African illegals recently given the right to stay in Spain have already crossed the Pyrenees. I suspect the real purpose of the meeting was to stop Mr ‘Bambi’ Zapatero continuing with his nice-guy, soft-touch policies.

Today Mr Zapatero tried to persuade his EU colleagues that the borders between its African enclaves and Morocco are really those of Europe and not just Spain. I suspect he had a hard time. The argument that these aren’t really colonies but part of Spain possibly played less well at the summit than it does in Spain. But you can’t blame him for trying; the number of illegal immigrants coming into Spain exceeds those entering Germany, France and the UK put together. Only Italy comes close.

Well, Mr Zapatero came away from the summit with a commitment to double the budget for immigration measures. More likely ‘anti-immigration’ measures, I suspect. Mr Blair, meanwhile, came away with less than nothing. Or, to put it how the UK Daily Telegraph did this morning in a headline which probably didn’t appear in French papers - ‘Chirac wrecks summit’. In fact, not content with this, the French president promised to do the same at the November budget meeting, if anyone threatens the sacred cow of the ruinously expensive Common Agricultural Policy. On this, he can surely rely on the support of Spain, the second largest beneficiary after France. I wonder how long it will be before Mr Blair accepts there’s no Third Way in Europe, just naked national interest.

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

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

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


When asked what aspect of life worried them most at the end of 2005, 49% of the great Spanish public answered Unemployment. Second came Immigration, with 29%, followed by ETA terrorism. Only 3% felt very concerned by increasing regionalism/nationalism and a mere 2% plumped for the revision of the constitutional arrangements between Madrid and all the regions. Which all rather puts us fevered scribes in our place, doesn’t it.

For several years now, illegal immigrants have been arriving on Spain’s coasts in their thousands each year. Many of them don’t make it alive. Recently the numbers have risen significantly, particularly in respect of Mauritanian refugees trying to land in the Canary Islands. In fact, things have got so bad Galicia has even agreed to take a share of those who make it. The poor souls may find the weather a bit of a shock, though it was 29 in one city in today, the highest temperature in Spain.

According to the latest OECD factbook, the UK is not 'flooded' by immigrants. Greece, Canada and Spain top the list. Spain's ratio is 4 times greater, though I suspect there are definition differences since returning émigrés are regarded as immigrants there.

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.

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.

Immigration has taken a long time to become a major political concern 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.

It’s reported today that the high levels of immigration into Spain have caused a ‘baby bum’. In 2005, Spain had a fertility rate of 1.34, up from 1.33 in the previous year. This doesn’t sound like a major difference but it meant 11,025 more babies, largely thanks to the labours of Ecuadorian and Moroccan women, it seems. Despite this, Spain still falls below the EU average of 1.5 and is well beaten by Ireland (1.99), France (1.90), Finland (1.80) and Sweden (1.75).

Last year Galicia suffered a net 8,000 loss in its population, the highest in Spain. It would have been worse but for the 15,000 immigrants who compensated for the 20,000 people who left the region.

In the latest survey of what concerns the Spanish populace, Terrorism has fallen to 5th place. Ranked 1 to 4 are Unemployment, Immigration, Security and Housing. In an interesting contrast with the UK, Health and Education come in at only 10 and 13 respectively. And, despite the regular diet of media reports, Corruption only manages 17th. But I guess this is logical. If there were great popular antipathy to it, there would be less of it.

Given the regular reports of raftfulls of illegal immigrants arriving in the Canary Islands, I suppose it was to be expected the issue of immigration would now be knocking on the door of first place in the list of things that concern the Spanish public. Unemployment remains the prime concern but possibly not for much longer.

Galicia’s population grew fractionally to 2.8m at the start of 2006. All of the increase of 2,000 [and a bit more] was due to immigration. Despite this, Galicia remains at the bottom of the relevant Spanish table, with only 2.6% of its population comprising foreigners.

Asked for help by a Spanish government struggling with waves of illegal immigrants, the EU

has said it has neither additional money nor resources to allocate. One can’t help wondering whether this rebuff reflects lingering irritation at Spain’s unilateral move last year to regulate the presence of hundreds of thousands of ‘paperless’ residents who can now move northwards to other EU members countries. Or maybe it's because Spain already gets 80% of the relevant budget.

Coincidentally, a report today suggests that Spain’s high level of economic growth over the last decade owes a great deal to the influx of immigrants. In fact, it goes so far as to say the numbers would have been negative without this boost. In retrospect, perhaps it’s only fair they were allowed them to stay.

And still on this subject - as you would expect, illegal immigrants use a thousand pretexts to justify entry into Spanish territory. But none as surreal, say the police, as a group of Algerians who landed from a raft in one of the north African enclaves and claimed they were British citizens who’d left their papers in their hotel. In Gibraltar, presumably.

I see the suspicion I voiced a few days ago has now been confirmed – “Today the European Commission finally turned round and said Spain should take some of the blame for the surge in illegal African migration to the Canary Islands. The EU justice commissioner, Franco Frattini, said – in a nutshell – that the Socialist government helped cause this crisis, with its amnesty last year for hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants. Spain granted this without first controlling black-market labour or consulting EU leaders. This enraged countries like Germany, who suspected that many of the regularized migrants would soon be turning up in their country, thanks to the border-less Schengen zone. It also seemed likely to be what immigration officials call a “pull factor” for fresh migrants.” . . . ‘Chickens’ and ‘roosting’ are the words that spring to mind, I guess.

As it addresses its growing immigration problem, Spain is lucky enough to be able to weigh up the pros and cons of both the struggling British and French models. As regards the former, food for thought is provided by this statistic from a recent survey – 81 per cent of British Muslims consider themselves Muslim first and British second. This is a higher proportion than in Jordan, Egypt and Turkey and is only exceeded by Pakistan.

There are said to be between 15 and 18,000 illegal immigrants here in Galicia. But this represents only 2.5% of the population, against 8.5% for Spain as a whole and 16% in the Balearic Islands.

The Spanish president, Mr Zapatero, has proposed a triple-element bi-partisan approach to the problems currently dominating the media here – achieving a permanent ceasefire with ETA, controlling illegal immigration, and dealing with the vast and wide-spread corruption arising from the construction ‘bum’ of the last decade. However, the opposition leader has rejected this, possibly because he wants to be free to claim skulduggery always soars here when the socialists get back into power. Of course, to him it doesn’t matter if this is true or not, so long as it’s credible to the populace. Which – thanks to the last socialist administration – it certainly is.

The Spanish like to see themselves as non-racist. But, as someone once commented, it’s easy to be tolerant when you’ve nothing to tolerate. Immigrant numbers have been rising quickly in recent years and, for the first time, concern about immigration has now replaced unemployment as the number one worry for the populace. In third position is housing, with terrorism falling to fourth. It’s ironic, then, that the Spanish government has said it will suspend the current peace process if ETA is proved to be behind a raid in south France which netted hundreds of small arms.

Monday, May 28, 2007

My voting experience yesterday was like the vast majority of personal interactions in Spain – very enjoyable, involving much smiling and even a bit of a chat. There were inevitable similarities with voting in a UK election but the differences were very Spanish – lots of people, reams of paper and a need to prove you are who you claim to be. There were actually 5 people behind the desk:-
Person A: Received my ID card and loudly called out my name.
Person B: Repeated my name with great deliberation. And then said I must be on the Foreigners list.
Person C: Checked my name was on the electoral roll and put a tick against it.
Person D: Handwrote my name and ID number – in capitals - on a foolscap sheet.
Person E: Sat at the end of the desk, monitoring [I guess] the other four people.
In short, people and paper intensive but quick and pleasant.

As for the results . . . Well, in my township of Poio the right-of-centre PP party gained the highest percentage of votes but the vote-losing Galician Nationalist Block [BNG] will retain the mayoralty, thanks to a coalition with the socialist PSOE party. Over the river in Pontevedra, it’s exactly the same situation, with the BNG suffering the heavy loss of 3 of its 10 seats, 2 to the PP and 1 to the PSOE. This fall in popularity of the BNG is not exactly what one of my nationalist readers confidently predicted a while back. Nonetheless, the BNG mayor will now have a third term of 4 years. Which may or may not go down well with the 72% of the Pontevedra populace who didn’t vote for his party. He says he’s ‘taken note’ of his set-back. But whether this means he’ll address the city’s traffic/transport problem is anyone’s guess. Nor is it clear what, if anything, it will mean for the BNG policy of promoting Gallego at the expense of Spanish. Perhaps – in a spirit of compromise - we will again get circulars [and Turismo/Fiesta brochures] in both languages. One can but hope.

By the way, I suspect most – if not all Spanish – readers will find it hard to believe that in the UK one doesn’t have to prove one’s identity, merely to show the card posted to your house. Proving your identity is so ingrained in Spanish society, it’s seen as merely routine and not as an imposition. Or, worse, as indicative of a police state. Truth to tell, I’m now so inured to showing my ID for even the tiniest credit card purchase, I no longer react the way I used to. And I suspect that 10 years from now – or possibly even 5 – this will be true in the UK as well.

To end on a lighter note – My daughter, Faye, tells me there was a large clock in Madrid counting down the days towards the date – in pre-election April – when a metro extension was due to open. When it reached zero and completion was still at least a couple of months off, it promptly disappeared. Unpunished, the PP strengthened its grip on the city. As I’ve said several times, I love the pragmatism of the Spanish.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The government-supporting El Pais has lauded the economic achievements of President Zapatero and said there looks like being a ‘soft landing’ after the end of the construction boom. On the other hand, the OECD has reduced its growth forecast for next year from 3.5% to 2.5%, compared with around 3.7% this year. This is a mighty reduction but it’s certainly not a recession. So maybe there will be less pain that I forecast recently. The Cava will have to be on me.

I’ve written several times about rampant corruption in the construction sector here. And I mentioned yesterday that the international perception of corruption in Spain had recently increased. I don’t suppose things will be helped by the news that the head of the tax authority in the border town of Irún has been sentenced to 5 years in jail for diverting state funds into his bank account. Presumably he ignored the routine official warnings from his bank that strange things were happening in one or more accounts held with them.

There was a survey in one of the local papers yesterday about what most concerns the residents of Galicia’s cities. No single issue garnered anything like the 47% for Traffic and Public Transport which this proportion of Pontevedra folk put at the top of their list. The situation appears to be that all 3 major parties agree on the importance of this problem but each has a different solution. And each accuses the other two of blocking consensus. So, as we have a socialist-nationalist coalition, nothing gets done. Anglo-Saxons believe proportional representation and coalition politics tend towards indecision and weakness. And this would appear to be a case in point. Until one party has absolute control, things presumably won’t get much better. And there’s no sign of that happening this time round.

That said, I’m off to cast my – possibly useless – vote. I won’t, of course, be using the non-existent public transport system to get to the polling station.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Reflecting its growing wealth, Spain has both the highest first-home and second-home ownership in Europe. If you thought this would make for a vibrant rental market, you’d be very wrong. Spaniards don’t buy to rent and, in fact, outside the major cities and the coasts, there’s precious little property on the market. A recent Construction special in the Diario de Pontevedra put this down to the fact that the law re bills run up by tenants and the inadequacies of the judicial system together make renting out a fraught and potentially profitless prospect for property owners. So the places stay empty for most, if not all, of the year. There’s been talk by various regional governments of disincentives such as extra taxes but the writer of the article was surely right in suggesting a better way to go would be a change in the laws plus improvements in the judicial system, such as a special court for landlord-tenant cases. But I don’t suppose anyone is holding their breath.

Today is our Day of Reflection ahead of tomorrow’s regional and local elections. El Pais yesterday began a leader with these words:- Although savage urban development and corruption in the construction sector have been regularly mentioned, what’s certain is they haven’t really been the subject of the debate they merit.

How true. And the result, the paper notes elsewhere, is that the international ‘perception’ is that Spain is now more corrupt than before. Spain, it seems, has slipped down to no. 23 on the Clean Country list, alongside places like Chile, Barbados and [yes] Japan. For reference, Iceland is no. 1 and the UK, the USA and France are, respectively 11, 17 and 18. Bottom, at 37, was Cyprus. But there’s better news for Spain when it comes to the question of whether citizens have to pay bribes to get things done. Here, it ranks alongside the UK, the USA and France. Which confirm my own impression that corruption here is very localised. With the emphasis on ‘local’ and ‘construction’. My suspicion is that, to many here, this seems like a victimless crime, not worth worrying too much about. Especially as it will reduce naturally with the death of the property boom.

The American company which owns the treasure-hunting ship, The Odyssey, has admitted the bullion it flew last weekend from Gibraltar may well be from a Spanish ship. However, it claims 90% of the value will still be theirs, presumably because the wreck was in international waters. This is a complex area of the law but I guess they’re invoking the ancient British statute of Ye Finders, Ye Keepers. Closer to home, a British ship prospecting near one of the islands off Vigo is now regularly having its collar felt. Perhaps by the same police who do such a great job of checking re illegal fishing from the port.

Friday, May 25, 2007

My fellow blogger, Trevor ap Simon, writes that El Pais has refused to show an ad for the Catalunian pro-Spanish party, Ciutadans, in its regional edition there. If you click here, the intro will give you the Catalunia-is-Spain flavour of the ad. I’ve been wondering about a non-Spanish parallel and have decided this wouldn’t be The Guardian rejecting an ad from the British National Party. Or Le Monde doing the same to an ad from Le Pen’s equally right-wing party. After all, papers must be free to decline to promote what they consider extreme views. Then I thought of a paper in Nazi Germany refusing to run an ad from the German Jewish Party saying something like “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”. Possibly an inexact analogy too. But closer. You can decide. I merely pose the question whether the Ciutadans stance could be considered extreme anywhere other than in Catalunia. Serbia, perhaps.

Back to the mundane issue of noise and the question of whether Britain is turning into Spain. I’ve now read that 3 million families there are affected by noisy neighbours and the majority are too frightened to report them to police. An increase of 31%, it’s said, over the last 5 years, with 1 in 10 homeowners now suffering from the problem. The most common complaints are loud music [read TV here], raised voices and barking dogs. And the worst places [oh, dear] were Liverpool, Bradford, Leeds, London and Edinburgh. Well, I’ve never thought about going back there anyway. If, as it seems, I’ve got to endure noise, I prefer it with a Latin flavour.

One of the perennial features of Spanish newspapers is the ‘tombstone’ announcements of recent deaths of loved ones. In the Diario de Pontevedra, these usually come just before the 3 or 4 pages of small but explicit ads for male and female prostitutes and local brothels. A nice juxtapositioning, you might think. Anyway, it intrigued me to read that many people here die ‘Christianly’. This turns out to mean after receiving the Last Rights. Everyone else, I guess, dies with the risk of going straight to Hell. On the other hand, with heaven as your goal, I suspect you don’t need to have lived ‘Christianly’, so long as you manage to pop off in this mode. It’s all in the timing.

Today is the last day for [official] campaigning around Sunday’s elections. And for this relief, much thanks. Here’s a piece from yesterday’s Voz de Galicia which reflects the sentiments I’ve displayed more than once. This is a quick and rather literal translation and, as it’s only 10am, I haven’t had a chance to talk to Spanish friends about the meaning of some obscure phrases and metaphors. Nonetheless, if you’re interested enough to read it, you’ll surely get the point . .

Fed up, exhausted, sated, bored, and so on through all the 60 meanings which the entire set of dictionaries of synonyms offer us from the great richness of Spanish tongues. All of us citizens are worn out after the tedious election campaign. Worn out to the very limit of exhaustion.

We are the survivors of the reality show which besieged this old island full of slogans as empty as they are repetitious relics of previous campaigns. The messages get mixed up in a couple of brain cells which still seem willing to be surprised. And the torture – the pile driver of the primaries – is transformed into the blind obstinacy of a primary school lecture.

The day of reflection [Saturday] could do with being transformed into a couple of weeks of recuperation so as to get over withdrawal symptoms after all the picturesque promises; the impossible – if not utopian – projects; the mafia network of the corrupting and perverse construction industry and its consequences; the ‘Yes but you’re worse than us’; the constant what’sinitforme; the lies mingled with half truths; and the economic raft navigating around failure, council by council, to find a secure harbour.

Jacuzzis for everyone, golf courses in the garden, hospitals for pets, paradise in Dreamland – all announced at rallies along with electoral promises which convert the AVE* into a witch train travelling between industrial estates and business parks between adjacent townships – these are all part of everything on offer during this couple of weeks, leaving us gorged, knackered, assaulted by an avalanche of hard-to-achieve promises

Discussion of themes which seriously concern us has been avoided - the contamination of the countryside with fences which mark off plots made of recycled bedsprings; municipal finance in the new version of coffee for everyone; the scepticism of the very young who continue to see their future far from the village where they were born.

The old and useless formula has again been used, camouflaged as post-Photoshop banners hung on lampposts. Pass them and look at them. Pass them and vote even though it might be in Italian style, holding your nose. And when we recover we must find ways to reflect so as to revive our dreams through offers that rejuvenate, through leaders who are closer to us and less arrogant, through more professional managers who take a business-like approach to public administration and who will provide benefits for citizens as part of a satisfactory account of results which obliges us to appreciate the difference between exhaustion and annoyance.

May you vote well.

* High speed train

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Spanish government has produced plausible evidence that the American ship, The Odyssey, was treasure hunting in the Med and not in the Atlantic, off south west Britain. At the same time, the British Embassy in Madrid has said the wreck being emptied/looted was not a British galleon which went down near Gibraltar in 1694. Not surprisingly, Spain has asked for data about a flight which left Gibraltar at the weekend, allegedly full of bullion. Anti-Americanism in Spain was already the highest in Europe before this incident so can hardly be expected to fall now.

As Spanish TV is pretty dire, it would be unwise to expect its devotees to number amongst the country’s intelligentsia. I say this because viewers of one of the main channels yesterday gave us a list of the Greatest Spaniards in History which suggested, to say the least, a short memory span. Top of the list was the current king but also included, at no. 4, was his wife, who is actually Greek. And, at no. 7, his son. For what it’s worth, here’s the Top Ten:-

1. King Juan Carlos
2. Miguel de Cervantes
3. Christopher Columbus [thought by most to have been Italian]
4. Queen Sofia
5. Centrist ex President [1976-81], Adolfo Suarez
6. Nobel Prize winner, Ramón y Cajal
7. Crown Prince Felipe
8. Pablo Picasso
9. Saint Teresa [!]
10. Socialist ex President [1982-96], Felipe González

I was surprised to read this morning that Britain is the only major European country not to have separate charges for refuse collection. But I wasn’t exactly astonished to read that microchips in wheelie bins presage a change. Here, I’m billed on my water bills both for the collection and for the treatment of rubbish. As is the way here, the latter charge was introduced a few years back without any explanation. As are the annual price increases which hit us early every year. But what is really noticeable about my water/rubbish bills is that 93% of the charges are fixed. Which is a great way to maximise your profits and to force low users to subsidise the profligate. There is, of course, no competition.

Talking about lack of surprise – It came as something less than a shock to read that, 18 months after the introduction of a ‘draconian’ anti-smoking law, 85% of Spain’s bars and hotels are not fully complying with it. And that sanctions have been low to nil throughout the country.

Even more depressing to read was the report that the government is considering increasing penalties for driving offences because the points-based licence system introduced last year hasn’t had the effect it first looked like having. Actually, we were spared even this false dawn up here in Galicia, in line with the majority prediction that it wouldn’t change things much on our roads.

And to round off this bad news day – Spain is now said to have the highest divorce rate in Europe - 3.16 for every thousand inhabitants. 2006’s total of 141,817 was 51% up on 2005. But, as the top 3 regions are the Canaries, the Balearics and Catalunia, this could well be down to fractious Brits falling out with each other!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I’m being deluged with glossy elections material. The nationalist [BNG] party has published a 24 page booklet extolling its successes of the past 4 years. And the PP party has provided me with 1. a denunciation of all the BNG’s unfilled promises, and 2. a brochure containing a mere 30 commitments of their own for the next 4 years. The BNG, of course, writes only in Gallego but the PP sticks to the old-fashioned mix of Spanish and Gallego. With only 4 days to go, the socialist PSOE party has yet to show its hand on this sensitive subject. To me, at least.

I was intrigued to read yesterday that the Deputy Mayor of a small Spanish town of 3,000 souls had been gifted property by 13 of these good people. Although he’d then sold all the plots and realised significant gains, none of the deals had gone through the local notary or been inscribed in the land registry. I wonder if this is connected with the fact this avoids any reports to the tax authorities. Relatedly, El Pais reviewed the current political campaigns a couple of days ago and noted that a debate on the issue of an all-party strategy to deal with town hall corruption had been conspicuous by its absence.

The Spanish [Galician, even] clothing company, Zara, has had to apologise in Israel for mixing linen and cotton in one of its suits. This, apparently, is a sin to Orthodox Jews. Oy ve! This is even crazier than the ban on using the same pans and crockery for milk and meat. Decidedly more un-orthodox than orthodox to me.

Still on a religious note – As part of a long-standing aim to reduce state financing of the Catholic Church, Spanish tax payers can elect to send it a small percentage of their money by ticking a box on their annual declarations. This choice is taken most in Navarra [51%] and least in Barcelona [24%]. Who are, strangely, close neighbours. Well, pretty close.

After more than 2 years, I’ve finally reached the 940th and final page of Cervantes’ magnificent novel, Don Quixote. And this was the English version. Unimpressive but rather better than the 5 years I forecast back in January 2005. I don’t think I’d go quite so far as Samuel Johnson, who said it was the only book he’d read which he’d liked to have been even longer, but I can certainly recommend it, especially in the new Edith Grossman translation. However, I’d counsel against my initial strategy of trying to knock off a few chapters in bed. For me, at least, this was a great sleep inducer. But, sadly, this would now be true of even the Kama Sutra. Whatever that is.

Prompted by a recent comment from my friendly correspondent, Xoan-Carlos, I’ve decided to devote my latest 3-year compilation to a subject which much exercises some minds here in Galicia – CELTICNESS. I should stress I have no problem with Galicians striving to prove they're more Celtic than anyone else in Spain, even though I don't accept this. It harms no one and adds to the gaiety of life here. As one used to be able to say:-


You may have missed the media reports but the Celtic Nautical Games are being held along our coast this week. Participants include Wales, Ireland, Galicia, Brittany, North Portugal and those international maritime giants, Cornwall and the Isle of Man. In addition, invitations have been extended to honorary Celts from Cantabria, the Basque country and the Canary Islands. The big event, apparently, is Painting Your Face Red And Swimming Away from Italians Pretending to be Murderous Invading Romans.


I’ve recently mentioned some of the local beliefs. Another is that Pontevedra [like the nearby city of Tui] was founded by Greeks. A book I’m reading about early civilisations suggests the latter got to the north east of Spain but says nothing about them reaching the north west. But I don’t suppose this will kill the belief. Not that this would make much difference; the emphasis here is on continuity with the [earlier] Celts than with those effete Johnny-come-latelies from the Eastern Med.

Prompted by my reference to the Galician beliefs that they’re Celts and that Ireland was settled by Galician colonists, an Irish reader has sent me a fascinating treatise which suggests that even the Irish are not Celts. Instead, they’re descendents of various Near East peoples who, around 3,000 years ago, sailed out of the Med and up the west coast of Africa. The theory goes that they used the Iberian peninsula as a stopping off point, long before any land-bound Celts got there. On reading this, my first thought was I’d write to the local papers exploding the Celtic myths. My second thought was that my residence permit comes up for renewal quite soon. Anyway, it so happened I was today finishing A Brief History of the Human Race by Michael Cook. Looking up ‘Ireland’, I did find a reference to Ogham, a ‘folk script that the early Irish somehow derived from the writing systems of the Mediterranean world’. But a Google search suggests this really is a Celtic relic, from around 1500BC.

A group of people along the coast are trying to de-Americanise Halloween and return it to its Celtic, pagan roots. They claim its proper name is Samaín and it was an end-of-summer festival appropriated by the Christians. If this keeps the TrickorTreaters away from my front door, I’m all for it.


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[?].

Researching the word ‘Castrapo’ yesterday, I came across a site which goes into some depth on the Galician language. This is and it’s an interesting read, so long as you can get past the sort of accusation we’ve become familiar with in the last few weeks - Spain is still an imperial power; the nation of has been repressed and colonised for 400 years; Spain is still a dictatorship and the PP party is a fascist organisation; the Galicians are held hostage by the Spanish; assisted by useful idiots who speak bastardised Gallego [Castrapo], Spain is bent on destroying the ancient culture and language of Galicia; etc., etc. Two of the most noteworthy claims are that, set against the restoration of the independence of Galiza, ‘Economics are not important,’; and ‘Galiza has had a rich Celtic tradition for over 2,000 years’. I suspect the electorate would find the first contention hard to stomach and I really wonder about the accuracy of the latter. A little later in my research I came across a Celtic site which contained the following snippet - In the 1960s Galicia’s bid to join the Celtic League was rejected on the grounds it lacked a Celtic language. Today the most visible assertion of Celtic culture in Galicia is in the field of music, notably through the Galician Bagpipe, or Gaita Galega. There are some, I have to say, who suggest the whole Celtic thing was re-invented in the 19 century to give more weight to the incipient Galician nationalist movement. There certainly was, of course, a Celtic culture in Spain but it wasn’t confined to Galicia and there appears to be little trace of Celtic-origin words in any of the Iberian languages. Just as in English there are only twelve, I believe. No staying power, obviously.

In the Basque Country a baker’s dozen of ETA members has been arrested in connection with extortion of a ‘Revolution Tax’ from local businesspeople. ETA may be involved in a peace process and ‘committed’ to seeing it through to a permanent ceasefire but, as with the IRA, their criminal activities haven’t ceased. And, showing just how much he’s learned from the guide book given to him by Gerry Adams, the leader of the political arm of the terrorist organisation condemned the arrests as an ‘attack upon the peace process’ and demanded all ‘acts of aggression’ must cease. Needless to say, he is also seeking the internationalisation of the process, in the hope this will foster the image of the Basque Country as Spain’s Ireland. This, of course, is also the objective of the Galician ‘nationalists’. Hence the stress on Galicia’s Celticness.

Having probably upset quite a few Galicians already today, I think I’ll stay away from the subject of the region’s Celtic origins and culture. And, anyway, what does it matter if people want to believe they’re more Celtic than, say, the Asturians and the Cantabrians? Not to mention the northern Portuguese, who used to be part of the Kingdom of Galicia. Back when they spoke the same language.

In its latest flight of fancy, the Galician nationalist party [the BNG] has demanded the Preamble to the region’s new constitution contains 5 or 6 references to Galicia as a nation. Its senior partner in local government – the socialist party – seems content to refer to the region as ‘The nation of Breogan’. He was a mythical Celtic king and so all this is even worse than the English wanting a constitution defining England as ‘The nation of Boudicca’. At least she actually lived in the place. And I suppose the Scots would want a reference to Robert the Bruce. And the Welsh to Llewellyn. . . Laughable. Or it would be if the politicians didn’t have things far more serious to deal with. Such as the fact Galicia is ageing far more quickly [and expensively] than anywhere else in Spain while her relative economic position is deteriorating. Fiddling while Rome burns.

Galicians are probably not real Celts. But they would like to be. Many, thanks to some self-interested tinkering with history by 19th century Galician romantics, are fully convinced they are. Whatever the truth of the Celtic origins – and they don’t shout out at you in the physical aspects of Galicians or in their language – people like them.

These are confusing times for us Brits. Alerted by Arturo up in La Coruña, I read a newspaper article this morning which suggested the English are not really Anglo-Saxon but as Celtic as the Irish, Welsh and Scottish and that we’re all descended from roving fishermen from the northern Spanish coast. This, of course, would make Francis Drake – hated by the Spanish as a pirate – one of their own. Then, this afternoon, I read a rather more scholarly article in the October edition of Prospect magazine which said our Iberian ancestors came very much earlier than the Celts and were, in fact, from the Basque Country. The writer of the article - Stephen Oppenheimer – sums up his gene-based research thus – “Everything you know about British and Irish ancestry is wrong. Our ancestors were Basques, not Celts. The [later] Celts were not wiped out by the Anglo-Saxons. In fact, neither had much influence on the genetic stock of these islands.” And he ends his article with the following earth-shattering paragraph – “So, based on the overall genetic perspective of the British, it seems that Celts, Belgians, Angles, Jutes, Saxons, Vikings and Normans were all immigrant minorities compared with the Basques pioneers who first ventured into the empty, chilly lands so recently vacated by the great ice sheets.” What he doesn’t do, though, is explain why on earth they would want to stay in the God-forsaken place.

Referring back to the article on the British genetic make up, another major point made by the writer was that the Celts who reached the British Isles came not from central Europe but from France. This was after migration from Anatolia along the north coast of the Mediterranean and into Spain and France. He also refutes the view there was a strong Celtic culture in England when the Romans arrived. It’s much more likely, he says, the country had already been colonised by various Germanic tribes from northern Europe, particularly the Belgae. Bloody ‘ell. Now we’re not just Basque but Belgian as well!

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.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

After noting yesterday the use of prescription drugs was higher in Galicia than nearly everywhere else in Spain, I then read the top 3 places for ‘risk to health from alcohol’ were our provinces of Ourense [20%], Lugo [19%] and Pontevedra [18%]. At the bottom of the list were Almeria, Segovia and Las Palmas, at 5, 5 and 3% respectively. No wonder our car insurance premiums are higher than elsewhere. But the question left on every Gallego’s lips must be - Why is the province of La Coruña letting the side down and preventing a clean sweep of the awards?

El Pais poses a daily question for its readers to debate. The one addressed yesterday was ‘Has Spain lost the custom of saying Please and Thank-you?’ I found this confusing as I’m often [politely] laughed at for my [Ancient] British habit of saying these on every conceivable occasion. I’d rather assumed it had never been a feature of Spanish culture. Anyway, 100% of correspondents naturally bemoaned what they saw as a deterioration in manners. As for me, I’ve given up holding doors open for people simply because there’s hardly ever a thank-you. Which is a double shame.

When the first FA Cup Final was played at Wembley, the 100,000 crowd was controlled by a single policeman on a white horse. Last Saturday, there were “hundreds of CCTV cameras” and “thousands of policemen’ inside and outside the ground. And tomorrow there’ll be 8,000 police on duty in Athens for the European Cup. What a commentary on modern society. And how sad no one seems to entertain the thought this is merely a temporary state of affairs, from which we will eventually recover.

Talking of commentaries, Spanish reports of the devastatingly poor match at the new Wembley were impressively diplomatic, not to say downright kind. El Pais majored on the new ground rather than on the match, which it described as emocional. My dictionary defines this as merely ‘emotional’ but I suspect it’s one of those Spanish words which can cover a multitude of sins.

Our local election is hotting up. Someone has put a flier in my mailbox showing a photo of a local gypsy home featuring, amongst other things, a plasma TV. The accompanying text says the mayor does nothing about the illegal gypsy shacks because the votes of their non-tax-paying occupants keep him in power. If so, this must be one of those rare cases in politics in which a lack of payment is linked to tenure of office.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Mercifully, the regional and local elections in parts of Spain take place next weekend. So, there’s only one more chance, I earnestly hope, for the Sunday papers to devote upwards of 40 pages to them. I’ve often said I’m an admirer of Spain’s serious press but this is surely too much for anyone. Recovering from battle fatigue last night, the only thing I could remember was that the right-of-centre PP party stands to lose control of Navarra to a coalition of the left-of-centre PSOE and a [new?] nationalist party. As of now, I don’t know whether the latter is merely regionalist or full on Nationalist. For the distinction, see the Nationalism link.

Here in Pontevedra, the voters have long placed the city’s perennial traffic problems top of their list of concerns. Standing for his third term – i. e. after 8 years in charge – the nationalist [BNG] mayor has said it’s got nowt to do with him. It is, he insists, all the fault of his PSOE coalition partner and the PP opposition. Apparently, they combine central and local forces to bar his way to the achievement of nirvana. Very astute.

My friend, Elena, tells me that, up in her parents’ village, people are attributing a plague of snakes to the chemical/pharmaceutical industry. Their objective, it’s claimed, is to sell more preventative/ curative products. Well, either they’re succeeding or it isn’t really necessary; a recent survey found per capita consumption of medicines in Galicia to be the second highest in the country.

A more interesting conspiracy theory doing the rounds today is that the massive bullion hoard found by an American company comes not from a British galleon which sank south west of Cornwall but from another ship which went down in Spanish waters. In which case, everything would belong to Spain. The company says the government has made a number of false assumptions in order to arrive at a wrong conclusion. Which, of course, will only serve to strengthen suspicions.

I may have given the impression in the past that noise and ‘localism’ were particularly Spanish things. Perhaps no longer. I’ve read this morning, firstly, that more than a million Brits have been forced to move home because of intolerable noise from neighbours and, secondly, that the Direct Democracy movement in the UK wants to ‘fan the embers of localism so as to "shift power from Brussels to Westminster, from Whitehall to local councils and from the state to the citizen"’. So, as global warming proceeds, the UK may well be turning into Spain. And Spain, I assume, will be turning into Africa. To which, incidentally, many arrogant French think it already belongs.

The possibility that Britain is becoming an ever noisier place is, in fact, endorsed by hits to my blog. A fair number of these have put something like getting revenge on noisy neighbours in their search engine. But always in English, never Spanish. I'm not sure anyone Spanish would recognise the concept of 'noisy neighbour'. And revenge would surely be ignoble.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Some wag once described Spanish TV as ‘radio with pictures’. Nowhere is this more true than with football commentaries. Here, a love of words means there’s not a second of silence and no action is left undescribed, even if it’s perfectly obvious to anyone who isn’t blind. So we get an endless stream of ‘A passes the ball to B. Who kicks it to C. Who clears it upfield to D’, etc, etc. OK, this is just about legitimate if you want to be constantly reminded of the name of each and every player. But these are often omitted, as in ‘The ball goes out of play and is thrown back in’. Exhausting, until you’ve reached the point – normally about the age of 4 if you’re born here – when your ears have grown filters.

In immediate response to the demand of El Pais that something be done to ‘stop local loyalties transcending the importance of the music[!] those in charge of the Eurovision Song Contest say they’re looking at having both a West Europe and an East Europe semi-final. Maybe I’m slow but I can’t quite see how this would stop all the East European countries voting only for the finalists emerging from their semi. Mind you, things could be worse; if Catalunia were a nation and gave 12 points to, say, the Ukraine, then El Pais really would have something to moan about. For now, though, it’s enough to repeat the quote I cited last year at this time - “Eurovision makes one long for war”.

A UK survey found that, while 89% of British women love to receive compliments, 67% feel very uncomfortable if it comes from anybody other than their partner. The Spanish percentages are 110 and 1, respectively. When praised by strangers, British women respond with, at best, a glacial stare or, at worst, a cutting remark. Spanish women smile. Unsurprisingly, then, British women are starved of compliments, whereas Spanish women do quite well. The underlying reason, of course, is that the latter don’t assume a compliment is a prelude to a sexual proposition. Any more than it is when they touch you on the arm as they talk to you. Sadly.

I felt very jealous of the 90,000 spectators at the FA Cup Final from Wembley yesterday. As the stadium is brand spanking new, at least they had the prospect of watching both paint dry and grass grow somewhere nearby. If nothing else, the direness of the game proved the impotence of prayer. There must have been many millions around the world praying there wouldn’t be extra time. And possibly even more during the first 45 minutes praying there wouldn’t even be a second half. But at least God finally woke up and saved us from the final misery of a penalty saga of 10 misses.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

So many cases of financial skulduggery are reported in the Spanish press one occasionally succumbs from fraud fatigue. And then comes along an instance which re-awakens one’s sensitivities. For some time now, we’ve been reading of an investigation of two companies which defrauded hundreds of thousands of punters who bought into grossly overvalued stamps. But yesterday the inquiry judge removed from the case the Association of Bank Users on the grounds it had fraudulently taken 1.2m euros in fees from the companies. Is nothing safe here?

All of this is against the background of the two major political parties miraculously arriving at the same election slogan – ‘Your Town Halls are More Crooked than Ours’. This is doubtless true but it would have made a lot more sense at any time during the 10 year property boom and not just as it’s ending. Or perhaps, with opportunities rapidly diminishing, that’s why it’s safe to say it now. Or am I being too cynical?

In Spain, citizens have 4 layers of government above them – national, ‘regional’, provincial and local. In a recent survey, a large majority of Galicians felt at least one of these was superfluous. One wonders why. Perhaps it’s down to reading stories about local mayors increasing their net worth fourfold during office. And getting tax rebates in the process.

As I recently surveyed a series of maps of Western Europe since the departure of the Romans, what became crystally clear is that, if there’s one region in Western Europe with a claim to nation status vastly superior to any of Spain’s, it’s Brittany. This was invaded by Celts from Britain in the 5th century, never formed part of the later Merovingian and Carolingian kingdoms and was only incorporated into France in the 16th century. Needless to say, Brittany has both ‘cultural’ and ‘political’ nationalists. But, like their Galician counterparts, neither of these seem to have much appetite for bombs. As the Wikipedia contributor nicely puts it – ‘As always in the realm of human affairs, the population of a given area or nation will embrace a wide range of opinions, with many holding views somewhere in the middle’. In France, the Breton Nationalist Party is classified as ‘regionalist’ as it demands only more autonomy and not independence. As I’ve said before, this logic would apply to our Galician Nationalist Party [the BNG]. But I doubt they’d accept the ‘regionalist’ label as it would imply Galicia isn’t, at best, a nation or, at worst, an ‘historical nationality’. What fun one can play with words. Especially when you have nothing better to do.

The second thing Brittany has which Galician Nationalists would love to share is a Celtic language. Plus its status as one of the “6 Celtic nations”. Here, these just remain dreams. Not that they do anyone any harm, of course. To the contrary, they contribute significantly to Galicia’s cultural heritage. And to the tourist industry, bringing us a wonderful Celtic Festival every summer in Ortigueira.

En passant, as you will all know, Brittany used to be known in English as Little Britain to distinguish it from Great Britain. And the London street called Little Britain was the location of the embassy of the Duchy of Brittany.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A prominent British theatre director has said cinema producers are even bigger liars than politicians seeking election. As I wearily flick through the 10-20 pages of electoral coverage in every paper I open, I wonder whether this can possibly be true. A party in Andalucia has gone so far as to promise free Viagra for inmates of the region’s jails. Presumably they’ve already got conjugal rights. If not, they could soon be using anything to hand to chip away at the walls.

A drug-taking anaesthetist who infected 275 of his patients with Hepatitis C has been jailed for 1,933 years and ordered to pay compensation of 20m euros. But it seems he’s likely to serve only 20 and the local government might have to cough up the money. Odd.

More and more data is leaking into the public domain about the financial affairs of the popular songstress/diva and her politician partner accused of money-laundering down in Andalucia. As ever, one wonders how they could have kept 10 million euros in 36 accounts without anyone noticing or caring. But it’s pretty clear they thought they were above the law – an opinion which, until recently, was evidently justified. What’s also obvious is that she’s getting a wave of public sympathy for the ‘harassment’ she’s suffering. Which says a lot.

In the same case, the mastermind of the operation under investigation has explained some of his wealth as a consequence of his extraordinary luck in various lotteries. He has, it seems, been blessed with 80 wins during his lifetime. 50 of these during the last 15 years. No wonder he gathered a lot of hangers-on around him. Presumably the tax authorities – if they ever spoke to him – found his explanation not just enviable but also perfectly acceptable. You and I should have such two-pronged luck.

More home-grown resistance to Spain’s infamously high noise levels. Or Pontevedra’s at least. A group of residents in our old quarter has formed a society which is planning to sue the bar owners and the ‘negligent’ council, whom they hold responsible for their inability to get any sleep every Friday and Saturday night of the year. And every night of the week during the summer months. Who can blame them? Especially as the old quarter has become one vast bar-cum-nightclub since it was closed to traffic 7 years ago.

I can’t recall a single criticism of the EU in over 6 years here in Spain. On the contrary, it’s regularly lauded as a source and protector of ‘cohesion’ and ‘equality’. Translated, these mean ‘We’ve had oodles of cash over 20 years; we’re getting lots more over the next 7 years; and we want it to keep coming after that’. Not surprisingly, then, there’s concern here that President Sarkozy has changes in mind that threaten ‘cohesion’ and ‘equality’ in France’s favour. Dread thought. No country should be allowed to act merely in it own interests. Or at least not unless it’s under the umbrella of the magic words.

I came across a new English word today – the superciliati. I suspect the membership might include me.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

In our nation/autonomous community/region, today is Galician Literature Day. So a public holiday. Everyone here will spend it reading poems or novels in Galego. Or perhaps, as the sun is shining, sunbathing at the beach.

Of course, as tomorrow is Friday, this will effectively be a holiday as well. Even for those who turn up for work. And, come to think of it, Wedneday seemed pretty relaxed too.

I’ve mentioned a few times it takes a long time to build a house in Spain. As an example - opposite my place, twelve months of intermittent pile-driving and earth movement have produced a great deal of noise, a vast amount of dust, a granite wall of impugned legality and these lovely signs, just erected. . .

As for the houses themselves, this is what they currently look like. . .

So I guess it’ll be at least another year before they’re ready for occupation. Quite possibly two. Three even.

The majority of Galician dairy farmers exceeded their EU milk quotas last year but Brussels says they won’t be fined as their colleagues in the rest of Spain under-produced. So Spain, as a whole, was within its limits. This seems to me to introduce a new legal concept – a crime that’s only a crime when enough others have committed it. But, then again, the offence of conspiracy needs at least two people. Its’ not enough to convince yourself you and your pals should blow up the Houses of Parliament, for example.

That’s it for today. As I can’t take the sun, I’m off to read Fran Alonso’s Males de Cabeza. Honest. But before I do, it is perhaps the day when I should admit I prefer the softer X’s of Gallego to the harsh J’s of Spanish. Sanshensho to Sankhenkho, for example. A few more years here and I’ll be not just a Galicianist or a mere nationalist but a fully-fledged Nationalist. Provided they give me a key job.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A second man has been arrested driving a motorised wheelchair on a motorway in Spain. I wonder whether there are plans here to make this an Olympic sport.

This is the week of big bullfights in Madrid, where they’re celebrating the feast of their patron, St. Isidro. In El Mundo on Monday there was a cartoon which featured a bull dressed in a tutu pirouetting in front of an exasperated matador. His laconic comment is ‘I appreciate you want to get some artistry into your performance but the audience also demands a degree of violence’. This, of course, is a [sarcastic?] reference to the Spanish insistence that the activity is not a sport but a cultural event.

There is a way to get excellent customer attention in Spain. This is to visit the service provider, interrupt whatever he or she’s doing and demand it then and there. Face to face. To Anglos, Germans and even the French, this is time-consuming, rude and inefficient. But to the Spanish it’s a cultural norm which, on the plus side, is invariably effective. At the other end of the scale there’s the sort of service meted out to some friends who commissioned a house survey. First they had to pay in advance and to fax documentary proof of a bank transfer before anything would happen. Then, when the report was ready, the company both refused to incur the ‘expense’ of mailing it to the UK or to deliver it to their lawyers here in Spain. What they demanded was a faxed instruction in Spanish, accompanied by a faxed copy of their passports to prove who they were before even the latter could happen. Of course, if my friends had made a special trip from the UK to visit the company’s offices, it would have been handed over immediately, with a huge smile. But with no apology for the trouble and cost incurred. After all, that’s how things are usually done.

The Spanish economy reached a new growth high of 4% in the first quarter of this year, when the budget surplus was 1.8% of GDP and export share ‘held up reasonably well’. As someone who’s bet on the economy turning down over the next 12-18 months, I’ve begun to wonder about the wisdom of this wager. Specifically, I’m asking myself whether – even if there’s a collapse in the construction sector – the upsurge in the German and, perhaps, French economies will come to the rescue. Short term, though, here are a few comments from a UK article which sound rather ominous:-

Spain is exposed to a possible banking crisis if the property market swings from boom to bust. Total reserves have now fallen by two thirds from €41.5bn in early 2002. It appears the Banco de España has been draining the reserves to help finance the current account deficit, which has ballooned to 9.5pc of GDP, reaching €8.6bn in January alone."The current account is completely out of control," said Alberto Mattelan, an economist at Inverseguros in Madrid. "We have the worst deficit in our history and worse than any other country in the western world. It has not yet become a 'street concern', but I can assure you it is of great concern to us economists. This will turn bad over the next 18 months"

"Where this gets serious is if there is a property collapse in Spain and the banks get into trouble," said Prof Tim Congdon, an expert on monetary policy.According to Morgan Stanley, construction accounts for 18% of GDP, even higher than the 15% peak reached in Germany after reunification - a boom-bust saga that left German banks prostrate for years.

Spain's private sector has amassed $600bn in foreign debts. Corporate borrowing is 100% of GDP. The overall stock of mortgages has increased six-fold in a decade. Household debt has reached 120% of disposable income.

If you think all this is gloomy enough, you’d better not read a report called ‘The End is Nigh’ from Lombard Street Research. This says Madrid is now making matters worse with a new law to hit property speculators. According to the author, “ All this screams of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. House price growth has clearly peaked and is decelerating quickly. Speculators appear to have got out already, sensing the dangers that lie ahead. The government cannot devalue its way out of trouble, so it will have to deflate. Pain seems to be on Spain's doorstep."

Oh dear.