Tuesday, July 31, 2007

At the end of today, Spain will close down for a month. This blog will be one of the few things functioning throughout August. So, if you live here, you’d be well advised not to get ill for the next 4 or 5 weeks. Things will pick up in September and then go back to idle mode for another month in early December. It can’t do much for productivity figures.

On Sunday, I spent a very pleasant six hours over lunch in the magnificently sylvan garden of a gorgeous stone house up in the hills. I doubt there are many people in the world who are more welcoming to a stranger than the Spanish. Provided, I guess, you have that all-important personal link with a member of the group.

But, just when I was thinking so positively about Spain, along came one of those incidents which drive me to the brink of violence. Sitting in my own garden, I received yet another promotional text from my bank. So I called them to say I didn’t want any more. “I’ll need your identity number” said the girl at the other end. “I don’t have it and why on earth do you need it?” I asked. “You know the number of this phone and I’ll give you the number of my mobile to correlate with it on your screen.” “I can’t do anything without your ID number”. “Do you really think some other foreigner is calling you to ask you to cancel texts to my mobile?” “I can’t do anything without your number”. Expletive and abrupt end of a conversation I knew I never should have started in the first place. I don’t know whether this obsession with one’s identity number is unique to Spain. French friends tell me it doesn’t happen there, even though they have an identity card system. Perhaps unfairly, I view it as a hangover from Spain’s long dictatorship under Franco. Time to let go of it, amigos.

Well, here in Galicia, July finally decided to get really summer-like in its last week and temperatures have been in the 30s for a few days now. Like most Gallegos, I prefer it a little less warm. But, mustn’t grumble. Especially as I had the pleasure of attending a string quartet concert in another lovely garden setting last night. I’d have enjoyed this even more if it had occurred to the mother in the front row that her daughter’s dancing and singing in front of the stage might just be interfering with the ability of the rest of us to concentrate on the music. The rough and the smooth of Spain.

Finally, July’s short list of odd arrival routes to this blog:-
spanish actress big lips
big breasted british tv presenter
british scum

Monday, July 30, 2007

Arrests of senior ETA members are taking place on a weekly basis at the moment. This suggests the government, as well as the terrorist organisation, was making sensible contingency plans during the failed ceasefire negotiations. Most encouraging are those made in France but I can never read about these without wondering why it took so long for a fellow-EU member to start helping in the fight. Anyway, the optimists believe ETA is now so weak it’s on its very last legs. Unlikely, but let’s hope so.

In its manifesto for the May elections which brought it to power, the Scottish Nationalist Party assured voters that "Independence means the Scottish Parliament having full control over Scottish affairs." Nice words, of course, but the sobering truth is that 84% of Scottish laws come neither from Edinburgh nor London, but from Brussels. Some control. Sooner or later someone is going to ask what is the point of having national parliaments in EU states. Especially in a multi-nation state such as Spain, where there are strong regional governments. Not to mention provincial and urban administrations below these in many cases. I guess this is why Nationalist parties are even more in favour of the EU than everyone else here. They’d prefer the Brussels yoke to that of the Castilian imperialists in Madrid. Sleepwalking to death, perhaps.

50% of road mortalities in Galicia are caused, we’re told, by a combination of speed and distraction arising from use of a satnav or phone. Well, there’s a surprise. I’m sure the news will have a telling effect on the dozens on people I see driving every day with a phone in one hand and the steering wheel in the other. Sometimes.

Finally – For anyone with an interest in Spain and the Spanish, there’s a new book which is a must-read. It’s called In the Garlic and it’s published by Santana. It is exactly what it says on the cover – “An informative, fun guide to Spain”, written by two ladies who between have over 50 years of residence here. I’d be willing to bet even Spaniards would find something revealing about themselves in it. Resisting the temptation to quote a few gems, I’ll just recommend you pop along to Amazon and order it. And, if you have scales on your eyes, prepare to shed them now.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

This is a post when I again put my foot heavily into the turbulent pond of linguistic matters . . .

Prompted by a comment from reader Xoan-Carlos, I asked at the kiosk in town whether most visitors to Pontevedra came from within or without Galicia. The young lady laughed and said ‘From outside of course!’. I thought of this when I read a letter in El Pais from a Madrid lady who’d written to say how much she’d enjoyed a visit here but queried why all tourist literature was only in Gallego, making things difficult for visitors. Quite.

And still on this thorny subject – A friend who lives in Wales writes to say the Gallego/Spanish language debate is mirrored there. “There are many Welsh-only schools”, she says, but “the resulting problem is pupils are at a huge disadvantage when they want to go onto English universities. Although they may be able to speak English, they can’t write it and they spell English words in a way which is incomprehensible to English speakers”. At the end of the day, it all depends on your ‘super-ordinate’ goal – Do you want to promote your language at all costs or are you willing to compromise and – in the interests of the kids [or valuable tourists, even] - achieve more pragmatic goals?

The Galician Xunta says it plans to bring more R&D experts here. A laudable aim, of course, but the report reminded me of another letter to El Pais or El Mundo last week, in which a young woman wrote to ask how Spain could hope to achieve similar goals when her English language qualifications from Cambridge University were not recognised here. If she were to come back here to work, she said, she’d have to get a [grammar-orientated] diploma from the School of Languages. After being taught by someone with less English than herself.

As I say, everything depends on your primary goal and your willingness to compromise it. And it seems to me that both Spain and Galicia have a lot more thinking to do on this. Whether the goal is ‘language normalisation’ or job protection.

To change the subject - Having fond reflections of being a Scout, I’m impressed at the numbers attending the centenary celebrations in the UK this year. However, because of a shortage of adult leaders, the waiting list to join the organisation has reached almost 30,000. “Perhaps the unpalatable truth”, says the Sunday Telegraph, “is that the young of today are little different. It's the adults of Britain who have changed”. I rather doubt it. I suspect it’s more likely they’re averse to getting approval from the police and then worrying about being lynched as a paedophile after a tabloid campaign has whipped up a mob baying for their blood.

The world’s population and its demand for food continue to increase rapidly. However, “Our effort to slow global warming by switching from fossil fuels to bio-fuels is taking large tracts of land out of food production”. There’s a looming conflict, if ever I saw one.

Another area where more reflection on compromise and balance is needed, perhaps.

End of Sunday lecture.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

It’s undoubtedly true the Spanish tend to look down on their Portuguese neighbours. So it must be galling for them to know that – after 10 years of effort on the part of their security forces – the country’s most wanted criminal was arrested in Portugal. And thanks to the keen observations of a lowly shepherd.

After 18 months – and 2 summers! – of horrendous levels of noise and dust, the efforts to carve a flat building site out of our nearby granite hillside may be nearing an end. The rock-busting machine appears to be working on the basement/garage of the last building. I still think it will be another 18-24 months before any of the houses are occupied but the initial stages will surely move rapidly. This is because they’re being done by a team of Portuguese who are ferried in each day by a minibus which arrives at 7.45am and leaves almost 12 hours later at 7.30pm. This means it must set off [from Valença, I guess] around 7am. Which is 6 in Portugal. So, God knows what time they get up. Anyway, the houses should be finished smack in the middle of whatever is the consequence of the ending of the property bum. A good place, then, for me and Biopolitical to decide who’s financing the cava. And to consume it.

An odd incident in my local Día supermarket yesterday evening. Picking out a floor cleaner, I couldn’t help but notice, next to me, a tightly-dressed woman of a certain age with what used to be called a well-turned ankle. I saw her again when she squeezed past my trolley – and me – at the checkout, as she left without buying anything. Finally, it was hard to avoid her as she leant in a Dolce Vita sort of way on the pavement railings above the parking area. The portly bald driver of a departing ancient Mercedes certainly found her provocative, as he tooted his horn at her in the juvenile way Spanish males do at attractive women. Being of an innocent disposition, it still took me 5 minutes to realise she might have been on the game. But at 5.50 and in cheapo Día? Perhaps she specialises in what she thinks is the rich foreign tourist trade. Or anyone with a pink face.

The perils of a Google translation. I saw yesterday that my comments on a school kid had been translated into Spanish as ‘the bored young of a goat sitting at his school desk’. In compensation, it was nice to see that my phrase The Atlantic blanket had been rendered - even more euphoniously - as La manta atlántica.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Spanish have been surveyed on their level of confidence in public institutions. With all the usual caveats, here’s how they voted - in declining levels of trust:-
The National Research Council
Ecological associations
Non-governmental organisations such as Greenpeace
Spanish companies
Spanish courts
The EU Commission
The United Nations
The Spanish government
Multinational companies
The Roman Catholic Church

And here’s the list of the of their level of trust in various ‘professionals’:-
The police
The military
State prosecutors
Business managers
Civil servants

And the subject in which the Spanish have least interest? Why, Politics. But at least it’s consistent with their opinion of their politicians.

Quite why Spanish companies would rate highly [and so much better than multinational companies] is a bit of a mystery to me. Haven’t they heard of Telefonica? And I’d be rather worried if I were a Spanish Cardinal.

Finally on this, it’s worrying to know the Spanish think more of their police than their judges.

I wrote the other day that The Spanish Dream is an un-taxing civil servant job in the place where you were born. The Galician Xunta now offers this prospect to even more people than before. It’s decided to open the ranks of D and E funcionarios to 16 year olds, as against 18 previously. The Voz de Galicia’s take on this was a before-and-after cartoon, showing an idle and bored kid first at his school desk and then at his office desk.

The EU governments are to debate the new Treaty-which-isn’t-a- Constitution between now and September, so that signatures can be applied in October. However, the only text available is in French and all the translations won’t be available until . . . . December. This is because “Normal EU rules stipulating that documents must at least be in German, French and English have been suspended”. Well, what would you expect? At least the English version is promised for August, though the British parliament will be on its summer recess by then. Probably all just an unfortunate coincidence.

I’ve put my name down for next year’s Tour de France. I expect to be pretty much last in the initial stages but, being clean of any type of drug, am confident I’ll be the only one left in the race by the end. Assuming it ever takes place again.

After 2 months of horse-trading, the Socialist and Nationalist parties are close to agreeing a municipal administration for the city of Pontevedra. I’m not sure the electorate thought they were voting for a suspension of urban management but, hey, it’s summer and the roadworks are never finished in time for the influx of tourists. As for Navarra, who knows.

Galician Weather Note: The Atlantic Blanket did disappear by late morning yesterday and we had another lovely day down here in the Rias Baixas. And today’s very promising. Book now to avoid disappointment.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

In honour, I guess, of Galicia’s National Day, the front page of yesterday’s Voz de Galicia was entirely in Gallego. And, inside, there was a favourable reference to that wonderful book, The Bible in Spain, written by George Borrow in 1840. If interested, you can see what he wrote about Galicia here on my web page. Or just his Protestant, dyspeptic view of the pilgrim city of Santiago here. Highly recommended.

Much of Barcelona has been in the grip of a massive blackout for 3 days now. The blame game began immediately, fuelled by the existence of several operators and, of course, by the ‘illegitimate’ involvement of the central government in Catalan affairs. How easy life becomes when you view everything through a Nationalist prism. Meanwhile, the rest of us are left wondering just how the collapse of a cable in a sub-station in the heart of Barcelona can really be blamed on ‘Spaniards’ in Madrid. Fellow blogger, John in Barcelona, rightly calls this sort of thing ‘Catalunacy’. He must be even less popular there than me.

To be more positive about Catalunia – In those barrios of Barcelona affected by the blackout, the police flooded the streets to prevent a crime wave. The result was that reports of crimes fell to nil. Food for thought there, perhaps. I wonder if hundreds of CCTV cameras would have had the same effect.

As if Spain didn’t have enough to worry about with the soft/hard ending of its property boom, Michel Houellebecq has added to economy concerns by saying Spain is effectively past it as a holiday destination for the young and rich. Sometime soon, he predicts, it will be turned into Geriactristan, populated by millions of retired Northern Europeans. God forbid. There are enough of those lippy bastards here already.

Yesterday was a holiday in Galicia and the sun shone brilliantly in a cloudless sky. Today is a working day and we again have our periodic Atlantic visitor, the thick grey blanket. For once, God got things the right way round. Tomorrow? Who knows. But it could be worse. We don’t this year have the heat and winds which fed last year’s terrifying fires. Nor the rains which have brought devastating floods to the UK. Just the bloody clouds. At least for the morning. The Voz de Galicia assures us they’ll all be gone by lunchtime.

Under my self-imposed rules, I can’t, of course, comment on Spain’s property market so I’ll just refer you to this BBC video, cited by reader Gavin yesterday. Interesting [equals worrying] to see just how much money the local and national governments were making from the bum. Though I think another reader had pointed this out previously. Possibly even my friend Biopolitical.

Of course, it would be a mistake to trust everything coming from the BBC these days.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

This is a big day in Galicia – the feast of our patron saint, Saint James. Or Santo Iago. Or Santiago. Or, down below my house in the barrio of O Burgo, Santiaguiño. So, some religiosity but a great deal more irreligious noise and fun, with bands playing until 2 or 3 in the morning in the middle of an already noisy fairground. Thank-God [or Santiaguiño] for my ear plugs. But at least I’ll enjoy the fireworks tonight, from my position way above them.

Talking of noise, Pontevedra’s annual Jazz Festival last night brought us a superb Rock Gospel group from the USA. This featured not one but two steel guitars and the output was so high I was astonished people could hear their mobile phones ringing. But less surprised they essayed conversations nonetheless. Spanish audiences are informal and fluid creatures.

A judge near Cadiz has withdrawn custody from a mother because she’s a lesbian. He turns out to be under investigation for previous controversial judgements and the Minister of Justice was quick to stress yesterday “The function of a judge is not to use sentencing to defend opinions which fall outside the principles of the Constitution.” Interestingly, one of the judge’s two surnames is Calamita.

Spanish universities
: Reader Pedro points out the Selectividad marks demanded reflect supply as well as demand. Law faculties, he says, are large so need to lower their mark to get enough bums for their seats. Another reader asks about Media Studies. Well, I believe this course is called Ciencias de Información and here’s a comment I’ve just read – For some time now this has been one of the most demanded courses. It’s considered very vocational, the evidence being the high number of students seeking places every year in Spain. Which has meant the mark required has continued to rise. The article goes on to talk about high marks being required for Journalism [7.5] and Audiovisual Communication [7.2], so there may be some overlap with what Media Studies has become in the UK. Informed comments welcome, as ever. Is there anywhere in Britain where you have to get excellent A Levels to take Media Studies?

The latest bad news on the property market is that prices are falling in several provincial capital cities, as well as along the south coast. Sunday’s El Mundo pronounced - The myth that property prices in Spain never fall has turned out to be exactly that, a myth. It goes on to describe the [doomsday] scenario of demand falling while supply continues to rise because of starts in 2006 and 2007. But . . . This is positively my last comment on this subject as I sit out the next 18 moths, waiting to see whether it’s me or Biopolitical who has to buy the Cava. Honest.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

To gain entry to university, Spanish kids have to take a regional/national test known as the Selectividad. The Spanish custom is to express performance as a number out of 10, usually to two decimal places. Then, each year, all the universities publish their cut-off marks for the courses on offer. As these naturally reflect demand, they give a fascinating insight into the perceived worth of various careers in Spain. Here’s the numbers just published for Galicia’s universities:-

Medicine 8.7

Dentistry 8.4

Audio-visual Communication 8.1

English Translation & Interpretation 7.9

Physiotherapy 7.9

Journalism 7.7

Law 7.4

Nursing 7.3

I’m always surprised how low Law is. In fact, for some [most?] universities in Spain it’s around 5.0. On the other hand, Physiotherapy’s mark can be even higher that that for Medicine. I can’t pretend to understand why. It may be that you classify as a civil servant and have a well-paid, un-taxing and comfortable career close to ‘home’. And then a luxurious retirement. This, in truth, is the Spanish equivalent of the American Dream.

Under the Kyoto treaty, Spain was required to keep its increase in CO2 emissions to 15% over 1990 levels. In practice, it’s been 52%. Not very impressive but I doubt it’ll mean the end of media jibes at the wasteful Americans.

Talking of profligacy, the EU commission says the Spanish are not paying enough for their water and that prices should rise 45% over the next 3 years. This may test the country’s affection for the European superstate. Or it may not.

Talking of the EU – After years of ignoring the very rules which it introduced to control the economies of Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain, France is now demanding an extension of its dispensation to cover the consequences of planned reforms to its national economy. Not only this – the wind in President Sarkozy’s sails is clearly enough to have emboldened him to call for political control over the independent European Central Bank - ironically run by a Frenchman. So France and Germany, some say, are on a collision course for the soul of the EU. Interesting times. Having recently diluted Europe’s commitment to free trade, can France now achieve even greater success in returning the EU to the discredited French dirigiste model? Meanwhile, Spain’s Foreign Secretary has become the latest in a long line of Continental heavyweights to state openly that the new Treaty is exactly the same as the old Constitution as regards content, if not form. At the same time, back in the UK the government is saying there’s no need for the referendum it promised on the latter as it doesn’t now exist. So calls for this are absurd. Someone is lying. I wonder who.

Talking about referendums on the Treaty-which-isn’t-a-Constitution, the Spanish Foreign Secretary said only Ireland was planning one as it’s required by their Constitution. Everywhere else, he insisted, ratification via a referendum would be out of tune with the ‘collective spirit’. What a useful concept for the political elite. No need for us to ask you your opinion; we already know it. Besides you might prove us wrong. Like those bloody awkward French and Dutch people last time round.

Writing about my air-miles, TAP tell me ‘The final mileage balance indicated in our previous letter reflects a result that does not correspond to reality”. I guess they mean it’s wrong.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Spanish court last week ordered the seizure of all copies of Spain’s satirical magazine, Jueves. This was because the front cover featured a rather scurrilous cartoon of the Prince and his bride, the lovely Leticia, in a compromising position. Needless to say, this immediately meant millions went onto the net to see it. But the really bizarre aspect of this is that the left-of-centre government has spent the last few days defending the courts against attacks on this Royalty-centred censorship from right-of-centre newspapers and political parties. Politics can be a funny game. Especially in Spain, perhaps.

You know the Spanish economy must really be booming when its citizens complain of being ripped off by timeshare companies. One couple who thought they were buying a luxury flat in a castle in Edinburgh found themselves in an unheated hovel on the outskirts of Glasgow. But some things haven’t changed. The crooked company is registered on the south coast of Spain.

The average gross annual salary of Galicians aged 18 to 35 is said to be 11,300 euros [7,500 pounds], compared with a national figure of 13,250 [8,825]. The cost of acquiring their own flat is now said to be in the region of 60% of this. No wonder most of them live at home until they’re married. But, then, they always did. My impression is the money thus released goes on cars - some of them quite powerful and/or spectacularly customised. I think there’s some pictures of these in the photo gallery on my Galicia page.

Talking of property prices, the recent news of falls was naturally analysed in the Sunday press. El Mundo reports that repossession cases in Madrid have risen 67% in the last year but that the construction industry is saying things are changing smoothly and there’s no reason to worry. Neither of which is very surprising.

One of the bigwigs of the Galician Nationalist Party [the BNG] will be heading up a new sub-group aimed at “stopping a new fall in support for Galician nationalism in the face of a threat the BNG will conform with ‘autonomismo’ and so fail to reach its peak of Galicia’s national and social emancipation.” He stressed this group would stop the BNG foreshortening its horizons and conforming with the opposite of what it is demanding. Specifically, he reminded us “The BNG only accepts autonomismo as an institutional politico-juridical framework for the project of institutional politics, and not of social politics”. The only bit of this mumbo-jumbo I think I understand is that autonomismo involves accepting Galicia can only ever be an autonomous region. But, as the BNG gave up demands for independence some years ago, the rest of it is completely lost on me. And probably would be if it were put more clearly. Perhaps a nationalist/Nationalist reader could help me out here. See p9 of Sunday’s Correo Gallego for the original text.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

As I reported months back, Spain is seeking to add words to its national anthem. In a nation of many nation-ettes, this will not be an easy task. Anyway, there’s to be a competition and, as one UK paper puts it this morning - The winner will have to perform a feat of lyrical genius to satisfy Spain’s myriad political, religious and nationalist factions. The result may well be a piece of politically correct doggerel that neither offends nor rouses. Meanwhile, it will be fun to watch. I expect the winner will be first sung on TV by a choir of beautiful young women wearing very little. Or I hope so, at least.

If you Google the phrase Anglo-Galician in English and Spanish, you get only 5 citations, 2 of which are my blog. If you opt for any language, this rockets up to 7, with the extra 2 being [I think] in Polish. As I’ve decided to form The Anglo-Galician Association, this suggests it faces little competition for members. As of now, all the key positions are held by you-know-who and the organisation’s Constitution [imperative in Spain] and its Statutes are blank sheets. Applications for membership – not to mention ideas as to what to do next – are hereby requested. By the way, the word ‘Anglo’ is certainly wide enough to encompass Americans and even, I suppose, Australians. All are welcome. Honest. Plus, of course, anyone from Galicia or its widespread diaspora. Watch out for news of the web page, which will have 3 co-official languages, of course.

The Association’s first cultural act is to highlight an interesting dissertation on life in 10th century Galicia by a Mr R A Fletcher and entitled Saint James's Catapult: The Life and Times of Diego Gelmírez of Santiago de Compostela. Among the things we seem to have lost since then are a thriving cider industry and a class of semi-slave known as criatios. These were people who occupied the lowest social rung on the ladder of the free. They were bound to the land in service to a lord. They could be sold, exchanged, or given away.

I’ve touched on Galicia’s weather a couple of times recently. The region’s hoteliers are again up-in-arms against the Madrid forecasters who plump for only a single symbol for Galicia, most usually the one which applies to the north coast. This, they say, ignores the fact of Galicia’s microclimates and tells would-be-vacationers it’s cloudy here when the sun is actually roasting people on Sanxenxo beach. Our friend Mr Fletcher has this to say on this subject - The mountain barrier between Galicia and the meseta sharply differentiates the climates of the two regions. On the meseta winters are long and harsh, summers fiercely hot; rainfall is slight; woodland is little more than scrub. The aspect of the country is monotonous. Galicia's climate is temperate, Atlantic. Winters are generally mild, summers agreeably warm; rain is frequent, usually in the form of light showers.

He then goes on to describe the consequences of our climate - Woodland is dense and lush. The countryside is easy on the eye, broken up and varied by outcrops of granite, rolling hills, an abundance of rivers and streams. The scale of things is somehow comforting, manageable, human. There is not the desolation of the meseta, induced by an awareness of that brown, baked land stretching unchanging for miles and miles in every direction.

So far, so good. But he then adds, perhaps a little gratuitously: - These differences have not been without their effect on the inhabitants. The Galicians are friendly and cheerful; the people of the meseta are dour, sullen and charmless.

For Galician readers fascinated by Celtic connections, Mr Fletcher confirms - British, possibly Breton, monks settled at Bretoña, near Mondoñedo, in the sixth century. Direct connections between western Spain and Ireland may have existed in the seventh. Certain of Isidore's works appear to have reached Irish centres of learning with remarkable speed, and it is possible that the monastic customs of Fructuosus of Braga owed something to Celtic usages.

Coming back to the 21st century, more specifically to the first quarter of 2007, the big news is that property prices actually fell in Madrid, Navarra, La Rioja and Murcia. Here in Galicia, they rose by just 2%. You can, of course, get more than this from a bank. The question now is whether this will engender the sort of panic that mirrors the rush to invest at the start of a property cycle. Is our landing going to be soft or hard? Vamos a ver. Only one thing is certain – the government will instruct us not to read anything significant into these developments. Which could well be counter-productive.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

You know you’re past it when the BBC uses a word – Milf – that you don’t understand. If you’re as ignorant as I was, a Google search adding the word ‘Ross’ will quickly enlighten you.

Talking of the media, I never thought I’d ever say this but I’ve finally abandoned Skye’s News-for-Imbeciles in favour of France 24 and their excellent English speakers. Given that Rupert Murdoch has cheapened and corrupted everything he’s ever touched, is there really no law anywhere in the world under which he and all his editors could be taken out and summarily shot? By the way, I call it ‘the SIDAM touch’ – the MIDAS touch in reverse.

The Galician Xunta has launched a new web portal – www.bygalicia.eu This is naturally in Gallego but there are Spanish and English versions. Its aim, I guess, is to promote investment in Galicia and I wish them well. The rationale for the name of the site is along the lines ‘It’s more important people think products are made by Galicia, rather than just in Galicia’. I guess they’ve had the consultants in. Perhaps the same ones who designed London’s 2012 Olympics logo. Sadly - but unsurprisingly - the English text of the site has not been done, or even vetted, by a native English speaker. Hard to believe they couldn't afford it.

As it’s Saturday, little bit of Spanglish – The English word ‘stripper’ usually [and regularly] appears in Spain as streeper but I recently saw it rendered as strepper. Which would certainly confuse me.

In the UK, the position that used to be called the Secretary for Education is now called the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. Could there be any more eloquent testimony to the onwards march of the Nanny state?

As someone who left the UK because I felt the place was not only insane but had also lost its soul, I naturally found this article on the attractions of Continental society persuasive. What the author says of Munich holds very true for Spanish cities as well. One wonders if Britain will ever recover.

Friday, July 20, 2007

It’s not only in Navarra that the politicians are finding it tough to from a government. Here in Pontevedra – as well as up in Lugo – discussions are still continuing on the challenge of how to compose the council so as to reflect the confusing wishes of the electorate. One local commentator opined yesterday it was perhaps time for the BNG [Nationalist] mayor to recognise his party got only 17% of the votes. Perhaps he’s still in shock at the success of the party which got the most votes and seats and yet is excluded from the negotiations around the formation of a Nationalist-Socialist coalition.

On a wider but related front, the leader of the PP opposition party has tabled an electoral reform which would deny government to any party getting less than 30% of the total votes. How you view this depends on which side of the line you’re standing. The left-of-centre El Pais accuses the PP of blowing apart a 30 year old post-Franco consensus, as if things were always cast in stone. The right-of-centre El Mundo agrees there’s a case for reforms aimed at depriving the nationalist parties of undue influence but seems to think this proposal might not be the right one. It points out each of the very different British, French and German systems is superior to Spain’s in this regard and calls for a debate. Which hardly seems revolutionary. Or likely.

Although I defended Galicia yesterday against the claim it’s always raining here, I’ve got to admit we’ve been at the tail end of the weather front which has so badly affected the UK and France this summer. While it hasn’t been a disaster, neither has it been what the region’s hoteliers and restaurateurs would have wanted. Especially in a country where people tend to leave their holiday location decisions until late in the day. Not surprisingly, then, anecdotal evidence suggests, in Pontevedra at least, there are fewer tourists than usual so far this summer. Which, to be honest, doesn’t exactly depress everyone.

As of September, children in Galician schools will have to learn a second foreign language in addition to compulsory English. This will be on top of having all other lessons half in Spanish and half in Gallego. There are some of us who feel all this can’t possibly be good for their ability to assimilate knowledge in a timetable that won’t be any longer than previous years. A columnist in yesterday’s Voz de Galicia put it thus . . . I’m shocked by the stupidity of the Xunta in imposing a second foreign language requirement. Here in Galicia, we won’t be teaching our kids badly in just one language, nor two, nor three but four. 90% of those affected by this measure will chose French, a language clearly in decline throughout the world. Those in the ministry responsible for this stroke of genius should remind themselves that only 3% of Spain’s graduates are fluent in English, against the figure of 39% for jobs in which it’s essential. The obvious solution would not be Galician kids having to tackle four languages. It would be enough for them to be taught in three. The ideal program to allow the pupils to acquire knowledge with which to take on the world would be 40% of classes in English, 10% in Gallego and 50% in Spanish. Fat chance. In Galician schools these days, there are higher priorities than education.

Oh dear. There is a Catalan ‘spectacular’ touring Spain and it’s called “Cómeme el coco, negro.” Roughly, this means “Worry me, nigger”. As if this weren’t bad enough, the ad in our local paper features the sort of jet-black face with white protruding lips which has long ceased to be acceptable elsewhere. It’s at times like this one sees just what 30 years of Franco isolation did for Spain. Or not.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Yesterday the local council issued a booklet giving us the details of all the summer Fiesta events. This is a helpful pointer to all the numerous attractions, though obviously not for those which took place during the first 2 weeks of July. As ever, the guide is now entirely in Gallego, which is fortunately easier to understand written than spoken. Even, I imagine, for visiting Basques and Catalans who decline to learn/speak Spanish. And, if not, well, they now know what it feels like.

On this, I was astonished to see this morning the official site of the Pontevedra football club is not only all in Spanish but also lacks a Gallego version. I can’t see this being allowed to continue, especially if they get any money from the town hall.

And still on football, reader David Carr has sent me a copy of an interview with Liverpool’s new signing, Fernando Torres. Young Fernando seems to be very happy about the prospect of playing in the UK and says he won’t even mind the bad weather as his live-in girlfriend comes from Galicia and “It’s always raining there”. Well, no it bloodywell isn’t. It understandably annoys Galicians that this misperception forms a large part of the negative image the rest of Spain has of the region. Especially those who live here in the south, where we have far fewer grey, drizzly days than the north of Galicia. Or ‘far less days’ as even the BBC says these days. Mind you, in the light of this morning’s news, this is clearly far from being the organisation it used to be in respect of more important things than its grasp of English grammar.

The administration of justice is generally reckoned to be quite slow in Spain, especially perhaps in the area of landlord-tenant disputes. I suspect the problem is not too few [‘too less’?] courts as I get the impression there are a lot of these here. However, one can perhaps be forgiven for thinking things would improve if the courts were devoted to something other than the endless constitutional disputes which take place between the various interested parties of this fissiparous state. Most obviously the regional and central governments. I can’t pretend to understand these but the latest I’ve seen is the Catalan government asking the Constitutional Tribunal [I think] to rule on whether the PP party has been inconsistent/frivolous in querying the legality of elements of the new Constitution for Catalunia which they allegedly found acceptable in the case of Andalucia. I suppose it all makes work for impoverished lawyers. Not that I have ever met one of these. To round this off, I think the Spanish government is giving thought to the creation of separate courts for landlord-tenant disputes. They’ve already done this for domestic violence episodes. Though, ironically, the incidence has continued to increase.

Finally, I saw that rare beast, a nun, yesterday. She was parking a car in the ambulance bay of a private hospital. Very Spanish but I trust she shows rather more compliance with celestial rules and regulations.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Today, a bit more on the Galician humour, retranca, which I wrote about on 14 July. This ‘dark, corrosive and macabre humour’ has also been described as ‘The deadpan statement of the obvious, the subtle irony of understatement’. Talking to Galician friends, they seem to struggle to define it, though agreeing that ambiguity lies at its core. My Argentinean piano teacher – whose parents are Gallegos – may have got closest to its essence when he told me retranca is quintessentially clannish or tribal. It centres, he said, on Galicians laughing between themselves at foreigners laughing at them. An example would be a Galician feigning, in front of his friends, even more ignorance or stupidity than a visitor from Madrid would attribute to him. Here, of course, one can see the defensiveness which I’ve said is at the heart of retranca. And it does point up the odd fact that the ‘victims’ of the humour are not expected to find it funny, only the Galician practitioners. If true, this would make it rather different from Liverpool’s aggressive - but perhaps equally defensive - humour. But I claim no great insight and would be interested to hear from Galician readers on this. If I still have any. By the way, yes it is normal for Galicians to regard folk from Madrid as ‘foreigners’. Or even people from next-door Asturias. Though perhaps not from the villages which the BNG feels should be part of Galicia.

I’ve given up on trying to understand where they are in forming a government in Navarra, following the May elections. All I know for sure is that they have until 18 August before they have to re-open the polls.

As for that other mystery - about treasure in the Med - the Spanish government has now released the American ship that was ‘escorted’ to Algeciras, as they found nothing on it to confirm suspicions Spanish bullion had been found close to home. So, on to the next chapter.

One wonders how much support Britain will get from the EU in its stance against the new Stalinism of Putin. Given that Germany recently blasted apart EU energy policy via its one-to-one gas deal with Russia, there can’t be much room for optimism.

Talking of Britain, that excellent chap, the EU MP Daniel Hannan, has a go today at Gordon Brown’s attempts to cloak himself in ‘Britishness’, primarily so the voters won’t see him as a nationalistic Scot. For everyone confused by us Brits, here’s a bit of what DH has to say on this score . . . Part of being British is that it would never occur to us to codify our beliefs, whether for the benefit of immigrants or anyone else. And if, for some reason, we did, we would come up with a series of attributes very different from Mr Brown's: we are morose, brave, law-abiding, diffident, drunk and belligerent; we have an unusually pronounced attachment to property and freedom; we bridle at injustice; we dislike bullying; we resent state interference. What is Mr Brown's list? "Fairness and tolerance." Well, yes: but these values would do just as well for Ecuador or Finland. In seeking to praise his country, he inadvertently depreciates it, making it sound just like anywhere else. . . . Ours are not always likeable traits. In peace time, they can make us prickly neighbours. But they equip us admirably to deal with terrorism. As Billy Bragg has put it: "If there is a single trait in our character that has historically set us apart from other nations, it is our determination to limit the authority of those who rule over us." For British values reside not in trite phrases, but in institutions: a sovereign Parliament, common law, autonomous universities, county councils, Army regiments. . . British values can be found, most of all, in the notion that freedom is our birthright, not something to be handed to us by human rights codes or government statutes. I hope this clears up a few things. And might help to explain some of my ‘nonsenses’.

Back to Galicia – Since 2000, 23,000 people have departed the interior of Lugo and Ourense provinces for the coast. It may take some time for incoming Brits to make up these numbers. Whether they and their strange attitudes are welcome or not.

A historian at the university of Santiago claims that Galicians suffered more than anyone else under Franco. “The Franquistas”, he adds “were particularly benign towards the Basques, especially the nationalists”. I have no idea whether this is true or not but am pretty sure there’s a contrary view somewhere in Spain. But I consider it all about as relevant today as whether Coventry or Liverpool were more devastated by Hitler’s bombers around the same time.

Finally, just in case you don’t know, the adagio from Beethoven’s 5th Piano concerto might just be the simplest, most beautiful piece of music yet written. You could do worse than download it to check it out.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Approaching the fire season, there are confusing signs from the authorities here. On the one hand, the forests are being patrolled by vigilant army groups and heat-sensitive-cameras have been installed which can ‘see’ a cigarette butt At 10km. on the other, the papers are full of pictures of places where work has not been done to ensure a safety zone by cutting down trees and clearing undergrowth. Fingers, therefore, need to remain crossed.

Madeleine Albright is quoted as saying that, to understand how the EU works, you have to be either a genius or French. Mr. Sarkozy may be both but gives the impression of either not knowing – or not caring about – how things are done ‘properly’. Allegedly, his impression of a dwarf on speed is starting to annoy his partners, as his foreign policy initiatives – such as the Mediterranean Union – clash head-on with EU policies. I blame it on global warming and predict it will end in tears. For everyone.

My Spanish-speaking neighbour is horrified at the prospect of her kids being taught in both Gallego and Spanish. She stressed she understands enough of the former to be able to deal with her Gallego-speaking patients but, on the other hand, could never write an essay in the subject. And she added that the policy of favouring Catalan in the Balearic Islands had increased ‘scholastic failure’ there. Now, a market research sample of one is, as they say in business circles, quite useless. This is true whether the sample is me, my neighbour or a Galician teacher. But I thought of my conversation with her when I read this tale in El Mundo on Sunday:- A young couple left the Spanish mainland to work in Mallorca. After a few months, it became clear their child, who’d achieved outstanding results back home, was failing all his exams. The reason was he couldn’t understand the Catalan in which the lessons were given. The father tried to discuss this with the teacher but the latter refused to speak in Spanish. So the parents decided to take the child outside the state system, only to find that the post-May six-party government, which includes a few nationalist parties, is changing the law in their regard come September next. The little wrinkle in this story is that the family hales from Galicia, where similar developments are taking place.

My own view is that, whenever politicians tinker with education in the furtherance of socio-political aims, there’s at least one generation of pupils which pays the price for this. Readers can [and will] disagree but, as I say, without the evidence which none of us yet has, no one can prove anything. And none of us is going to convince the other. In the end, each of us has to do what we think is right for our kids. Which is why so many of the world’s Socialists send theirs to private schools.

My other oft-stated view is that exaggerated nationalism is divisive and economically illiterate.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Living here in Spain, it’s a tad worrying to hear Al Queda considers El Andalus [Andalucia to you and me] to be an Islamic land which is just as much occupied by infidels as Iraq is. So, President Zapatero’s withdrawal of Spanish troops from the latter seems to have made no difference in this regard. What next, I wonder.

In the two months since May’s local elections, more than 90% of the mayors in Spain’s provincial capitals have raised their salaries. In fact, one of them was so blatantly greedy he was forced to resign in disgrace. Trenchant comment on this came yesterday in the form of a cartoon in El Mundo. This had David Beckham in LA declaiming to the crowd that he hadn’t come to the USA to make money. If he’d wanted to do this, he added, he would have stayed in Spain and become the mayor of a small village. Of course, this could also have been a comment of the widespread corruption wreaked by the property boom of the last ten years.

Last week appears to have been Posturing with the President of Portugal Week. First, the president of the Galician Nationalist Party [the BNG] was pictured meeting with this gentleman and trumpeting that, together, Galicia and Portugal had the chance to become a leading region in Europe. Then the president of the Catalan government announced that Catalunia and Portugal had reached agreement on the publication of various historical documents. Needless to say, the first of these would be called ‘1640’, which turns out to be “the year when both Portugal and Catalunia rose up against King Phillip IV”. Of Spain, if you hadn’t guessed. I wonder how welcome it is to the Portuguese leader to be dragged into Spanish nationalist politics as he struggles to end a recession back home.

The Spanish government is planning to introduce Citizenship into the curriculum of secondary schools. This has not gone down well with the Catholic Church, presumably because it will include the teaching of [humanist?] ethics. At the very least, the Church would like it to be relegated to the status of a non-core subject [called a maría here], which I suspect is where Religion now is. My guess is the State will win this one.

I can’t say I’m too surprised to read that Spanish TV is to bring us a soap opera called ‘Without tits, there’s no heaven’. This comes to us from Columbia, famous for . . . well, drugs, I suppose. So it’s understandable the theme is – “The tortuous road to learning about life of a young girl of 18, seduced – when not bewildered – by the luxurious and supposedly easy life provided by drug trafficking and organised crime”. I guess they’ll locate the Spanish version in the region with most connection with these elements of Columbian life. Now, where could this be?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

I’ve mentioned that Spain has an astonishingly high number of bank branches. Not only that – it also has the most cash-dispensing machines in Europe. Apparently, the ubiquitousness of these gives Spanish banks the highest employee productivity in the EU’s financial sector. Which shows just what you can do with statistics.

Spain also has the highest number of bars in Europe. These are doubtless full of folk who suddenly need more cash than they came out with and who are rarely disappointed in their search for a nearby ATM.

Like most people in Galicia, I’ve given up on forecasts of when the high speed train [AVE] will be speeding through this mountainous terrain. So I was amused to see a cartoon in the Voz de Galicia this week which contrasted the promised launch by 2010 of an all-Spanish satellite with the construction of the Madrid-Vigo AVE. President Zapatero is seen in two countdown boxes. For the rocket, he’s intoning “8, 7, 6 . . .”. But for the AVE train, it’s “175,348, 175,347. . .”

A new chapter has opened in the saga of the US treasure ships and the loot which Spain thinks it’s being robbed of. While one of the ships has been ‘escorted’ to a Spanish port and is being searched, the name of a new candidate galleon has emerged. This is the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes [Our Lady of Mercies], sunk by the dastardly English off the Algarve coast in 1804. Can we now expect Portugal to get in on the act?

The BBC says the debate on global warming is over, as the sun cannot now be regarded as the culprit. Here’s an article which suggests the statistics can be read in exactly the opposite way. I blame the confusion on global warming and false trails offered by carbon footprints.

Finally, some Sunday erudition. If you live in the USA, you may be aware that Twang is “The most flavorful and versatile concoction to ever come out of Texas!”. In the UK, it’s usually the sound made when you pluck a metal cord or, more esoterically, a musical group from Birmingham. But, in the 18th century, it was the slang term for ‘A prostitute’s associate whose job it was to pick a client’s pocket while he was having intercourse upright in a doorway’. Here in Pontevedra, these are called ‘Rumanians’. Only joking . . . Their stamping ground is Madrid.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

I mentioned the Pamplona bull-running yesterday but forgot to say Universal was, of course, killed on Thursday evening, along with the other 5 bulls. This made the score – Matadors 6 : Bulls 0. For completion, here are the results of the previous five days:-

6 : 0

6 : 0

6 : 0

6 : 0

6 : 0

As for the gorings, while I don’t normally agree with the gruesome photos favoured by the Spanish media, these from 20minutos might help someone take a smart decision about next summer. Especially no. 2, which featured large on the front cover of both El Mundo and El Pais yesterday. Question: Can the guy in the green top in no. 8 really be using his mobile phone? - “I’m on the floor. Might be home a bit late.”

I also mentioned yesterday the deep rifts that still exist in Spanish society, a situation which many feel is not helped by the current over-confrontational style of the right-of-centre PP party. But it was perhaps to members the left-of-centre parties that an El Pais letter writer was referring yesterday when he complained about politicians avoiding the word ‘Spain’ in their discourses, in preference for such anodyne formulae as ‘that country’ or ‘our country’.

The latest report on telecoms development in Europe sees Spain sinking a few places down to 20th position, overtaken by Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia and the Czech Republic. In the light of this, you might think the pre-eminent concern of the Spanish Telecoms Commission would be consumer service. But you’d be wrong. Presumably fortified by a huge dose of injured pride, this body has ‘declared war’ on the EU Commission and demanded that the Spanish government take it to court over the massive fine imposed on Telefonica for making it impossible for other [straw-men] providers to compete on price. To hell with the customers, then.

If you have a deep interest in Galicia, you’ll be interested in this site. If the link doesn’t take you directly to an article [in English] by Xoán Paredes, of the Geography Dept. of Cork University, click on the Acción Exterior link and then scroll down to The World seen from the corner; Galician globalisation. I have a little difficulty with Xoán's opening line that ‘This tiny country somewhere in Europe has shaped European identity throughout history’ but the article is well worth a read. Most fascinating for me was the description of the Galician humour known as retranca. This he defines as “A mix of scepticism, ambiguity and black humour, sometimes very acidic. When using it, one has to look ‘cool’ and very serious at the same time”. In the hands of a master such as Castelao, retranca can be a joy. Especially, I guess, to Brits big on irony and understatement. However, to anyone who knows anything about Galicia, retranca very obviously has its roots in poverty and repression. As Paredes says, it’s essentially defensive. And so it runs the risk of coming across as merely chippy sarcasm. A fine line, therefore. Not always successfully negotiated. Even by Galicians.

Finally, click here for an informed view of what ‘media liberalism’ has done for the UK over the last 50 to 60 years.

Friday, July 13, 2007

In the UK, Mr Brown says he’ll somehow increase the annual number of new houses from 200,000 to 250,000. Britain’s population is 60m, against 40m in Spain. Yet here the reported number for new properties for 2006 was a staggering 800,000. It’s doubtful that immigrants bought many of these, so this means an awful lot of foreigners still piling into the costas or, more likely, profit-hungry Spaniards buying second and third properties. Support for this conclusion came yesterday in a report that Spain’s “accumulated productive wealth” had grown 50% in 10 years, to 4.4bn euros. Of this, just over half is represented by ‘property’ and 39% by ‘construction’, which includes the country’s infrastructure. ‘Eggs’, ‘basket’ and ‘all’ are words which spring to mind.

Actually, although 800,000 properties were built last year, less than half were sold, meaning the excess of supply over demand increased significantly. Given the starts in 2005 and 2006, the same will surely happen this year and even in 2008. So watch out for some revaluation of Spain’s wealth.

The Conservative Euro-MP, Daniel Hannan, made some interesting observations on Spanish politics in his blog yesterday. Even if you're not inclined to read the whole thing, you might appreciate the cited comment of the Basque philosopher Miguel de Unamuno. Speaking before the civil war, he noted that “Spain is divided between the Anti-Exers, who favour Z, and the Anti-Zedders, who favour X”. Provocatively, Hannan says this still holds true. As I read – or ignore – the insults directed at me from some Spanish readers, it comforts me to know it’s not just me they don’t like. The probably can’t stand each other either. I was reminded of these deep divisions in Spanish society when reading yesterday of different attitudes towards the commemoration of the murder, 10 years ago this week, of a politician in the Basque town of Ermua.

Hannan touches on the bull-running in Pamplona. Yesterday, one of the condemned titans separated from the herd and justified his name of Universal by goring men from a wide range of nationalities. Steinbeck would surely have seen this is a cosmic joke. Which is not so say there’s anything funny about it.

Talking of names . . . Those most popular in Galicia last year were Pablo and Lucía. Nationwide, they were Alexandro and, again, Lucía. The former had to contend with Daniel and Marc but, for some reason, Lucía swept the board in 13 of the 17 regions. Down in Murcia, parents seem to be stuck in the 20th century, or possibly even the 19th, as they again plumped for María. We look to Murcian for an explanation of this. Or his wife, whose name we probably already know.

When they want to portray a greedy capitalist, Spanish cartoonists invariably show a fat, middle-aged man, smoking a cigar and sporting the sort of stovepipe hat not worn for at least a hundred years. This is a suspiciously American image, though possibly the addition of sunglasses is an attempt to Hispanicise it. Either way, it’s surely time for some innovation here, amigos. Perhaps a property developer. Or a middle-class family with three homes, two of which are kept empty when young people are desperate to rent.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Earlier this week, up near Ourense, a truck carrying 48 fighting bulls overturned, killing several of the poor beasts. The police tried to extricate the rest but ended up putting 18 of them down. But not before 4 had escaped. These were last seen running eastwards in the direction of Pamplona. Presumably they think life there is safer for them than here on Galicia’s roads. Or at least more fun.

To no great surprise, the EU Commission says only Italy is worse than Spain in failing to implement its directives. On the other hand, it’s my impression Spain leads the field in complaining about any risk to the ‘cohesion’ policies which still bring so much cash this way. I should stress I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to ignore EU laws. Just that, at the very least, it’s not terribly consistent in this case. Which won’t worry many Spaniards, of course.

Still on the EU, the massive fine imposed on Telefonica has created quite a stir here and I suspect the chances of it being paid are small. One point made is that, as the company’s actions were approved by Spain’s domestic watchdog, Telefonica must be blameless. Others have suggested this is exactly what happens when friends of industry are appointed to run government agencies. Cronyism? Here??

It’s almost a year since the appalling fires of last August here in Pontevedra. So I was pleased to see this nearby plot of land – as last year – has dutifully been cleared of the scrub that doubles as tinder . . .

On the other hand, its neighbour was not cleared either last summer nor this year and now looks like this . . .

I do hope that plastic lacks the magnifying properties of glass, as even the cleared plot was strewn with the water bottles left behind by the workers.

Finally, as one or two of you may be interested in the property market in Galicia, here’s a few extracts from a report in today’s Voz de Galicia:-

- The housing market is beginning to show indisputable signs of exhaustion.

- The region heads the national table as regards the halt in building.

- Sales of flats fell 12% in 2006 – or 16% for ‘used’ flats and 7% for new ones.

- In the 12 months to April 2007, sales fell 20%

- In the first quarter of this year, Galicia had the lowest number of per capita property transactions in the country - 3.29, against 13.9 in 2006.

Of course, this is possibly excellent news for all you Brits looking to buy your dream home here. You may find sellers more willing to negotiate prices than they were last year. On the other hand, Galicians are famous for stubbornly holding out for what they expect until their noses drop off their faces. So, Good luck.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

This week El Mundo boasted it had overtaken El Pais as the favoured reading of Spain’s company directors. This prompts the question – In how many other countries could a left-of-centre paper [El Pais] ever achieve this status in the business community?

Talking of the economy, are these the first signs of panic? Or just evidence of my wishful thinking in the face of having to pay for the Cava in 18 months’ time? The ex head of the Taxation ministry has said we shouldn’t criminalise the construction industry since it functions as – in that hackneyed phrase - the engine of the economy. And the Bank of Spain has advised the country’s banks to fortify themselves against the possibility of debt default among construction companies, if the post-boom landing is not as gentle as predicted. On this, some have said all depends on whether the property market surplus is exacerbated by new building starts this year. But, as it takes at least 2 years to build anything here, what surely matters is the starts in 2005 and 2006, when confidence was still sky high. To me, it seems inevitable the supply-demand mismatch will grow and prices will soften or even fall, leading to a crisis of confidence among builders, a finance squeeze and then the defaults which the BoE is so concerned about. But, as I say, I’m a tad biased. Vamos a ver.

Last week, Fernando Alonso was moaning it was hard to compete against a clone. This week, he’s crowing that his victory over Hamilton was all the sweeter for being achieved on his home turf in front of his fellow Brits. I guess it plays well here. Meanwhile, Spain’s numerous conspiracy thinkers have arrived at the conclusion McLaren only took on Alonso so that their protégé Hamilton could replicate his genius for race tactics. Which I suppose has the advantage of plausibility. Though not much.

At a less ethereal level, Galicia is reported to be short of 3,000 waiters/waitresses for this summer. I know this work is tough here and not well paid but, when unemployment is high, what on earth does this tell us? That unemployment benefit is too easy to get? Or perhaps that life at home as a more-or-less perpetual student is just too attractive?

At an even more mundane level – Sitting on my terrace last evening, I watched slack-jawed as a local gypsy drove his van on to the building site opposite my house and filled it with everything he could lay his hands on. His lack of concern at my presence only 30 metres away was almost tangible. So, shall I acquaint the police with the number of his van? Or shall I just take the local view that, when it comes to knowing where each other lives, he has the edge over me? Hmm. A tough call.

Finally, I leave you with this definition of YouTube I read this morning - A worldwide moron multiplex.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I see the EU wants to harmonise inheritance and gift taxes across Europe. Coincidentally, this has been a topic of debate in Spain for a while now. With 17 autonomous communities, we currently have [of course] 17 different regimes. Naturally, this leads to ‘irregularities’ and much avoidance/evasion. Sad to say, Galicia’s regime is one of the harshest. So we’ll be grateful for any degree of harmonisation we get, regardless of whether it comes from Santiago, Madrid or Brussels. [Over-governed? Us??]

Talking of pain for Galicia . . . as someone who’s paid out several arms and legs travelling between its cities, I wasn’t too surprised to read yesterday that this ‘poor’ region is subjected to road tolls to an extent only matched in the top 5 ‘rich’ regions. Specifically, 43% of our main roads involve payment, against only 9% in Andalucia and 0% in Estremadura. I think we should revolt. Especially as we pay the country’s highest insurance premiums for driving on these expensive highways.

Driving 1: I’ve arrived at a plausible theory for the correct signalling of the gypsy driver I cited yesterday. Allegedly, such niceties as a licence and car taxes are regarded as voluntary by the community. If so, it means the driver probably wasn’t subjected to the bizarre teaching of the local driving schools on how to negotiate roundabouts. However, this doesn’t account his courtesy at the zebra crossing. Probably just a nice chap.

Driving 2: I was impressed at another bit of courtesy at a zebra crossing yesterday. Seeing me waiting, a lady kindly beckoned me to traverse the crossing. Before reversing and parking her car on it.

Driving 3: Walking across the bridge into town yesterday, I saw a car had parked on the shoulder of the autopista that runs below it. A woman was sitting in the driving seat with a baby in her lap. Another woman got out of a rear door [the wrong one!] and moved to the passenger seat. I assumed she’d take over the baby. But, no. The first woman drove off, cradling the baby with her left arm, while steering with her right. Quite possibly she was breast feeding. I hoped she’d at least turn off for Pontevedra 500 yards up the motorway. But, no, she carried on towards Santiago at upwards of 100kph. I’m still not sure I didn't dream this.

Anyway, my thanks to Enrique for the citation of a better site on which to see videos of this week’s events in Pamplona. To those who missed it, here’s a news item posted as a comment yesterday:- Right in middle of the San Fermin fiestas and the week of running with the bulls, a group of women are demanding more equality in the event. They want to see a day when cows, instead of bulls, run through the streets, and have launched an initiative ‘Las vacas quieren correr’ [The cows want to run]. The women say that instead of the traditional ‘mozos’ [lads] who run with the bulls, they should the ones to run with the cows, claiming this is ‘pure logic’. They consider such an event will see fewer injuries than at present, in view of ‘the more pacific nature of the fairer sex, be it bovine or human’. As it happens, I was actually reading this report when the comment was posted. And I was thinking – 1. There’s not much feminism in Spain, and 2. If I were a male who wanted to discredit feminism, what better way to do it than make an announcement like this?

A question on the bull-running – Do they hose down the cobbles every morning so that some at least of the huge beasts will always fall over when they get to the Estafeta corner?

Reading an article on essay-writing novelists yesterday, I stumbled upon the views of the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa on nationalism. I reproduce them here for the usual reasons - to amuse some and irritate others. . . Llosa, it’s said, takes the view that nationalism is always a lie. And that, centring on ‘bovine complacencies’ and “populist idiocies”, it carries with it the risk of degeneration into something resembling a “sectarian cult”. Strong stuff.

It’s not often you read the word ‘bovine’ twice in 2 minutes, is it?