Sunday, September 30, 2007

Well, the Galician weather Gods accepted my challenge and have draped us in the Atlantic Blanket for the last day of September. I guess it had to happen.

Talking of incessant rain - Over in Japan, Fernando Alonso told us before the race he and Hamilton might be ultra-competitive but were not kamikaze pilots. And then he promptly drove into a wall. It’ll be interesting to see if and how this becomes McLaren’s fault. In all fairness, I should say that, in a post-race interview, Alonso came across as more mature than he usually does. Perhaps Francis Bacon was right when he said “If miracles be the command over nature, they appear most in adversity.”

The good news today for Spain is that one of those internet surveys – albeit a voluntary one – confirms they’re right up there when it comes to having sex. Allegedly, 74% of folk here have intercourse once a week. In Europe, this is second only to Greece, where the number is 87%. This must be some compensation for the internet speed figures I noted yesterday, where Spain and Greece were at the bottom of the pile. Perhaps people here are so busy being nice to each other they don’t have time to worry about slow computers. As with me, of course.

The Spanish economy will grow by 4% this year but the relevant minister has warned that 2008 will see a figure below 3%. This is both impressive and worrying, at least for those who will lose out. In the here-and-now, property price falls are being reported for several of Spain’s major cities. In the case of Madrid, it’s the first time this has ever happened. So it must have come as a bit of shock for those who said it couldn’t. See here for details.

The biggest winners in the lottery that is the state budget for next year are Catalunia and Andalucia, who will receive investment increases of 21% and 25%, respectively. Some commentators have said this is no coincidence in an election year. Galicia’s increase will be 11%, which is below the national average of 14%. But the biggest loser appears to be Madrid, which is in the hands of the opposition PP party and which sees itself as a victim of punitive measures on the part of President Zapatero. Given that they’re getting no increase at all, this is understandable. Overall, though, the exercise does seem to endorse the dictum that you can displease all the people all the time. Especially in a country where every region jealously watches what is happening in all the others. And then demands the same as the best. Personally, it always amuses me that the principle of ‘solidarity’, which is frequently wheeled out here to justify Spain’s huge EU grants, is jettisoned when it comes to demanding pieces of the national cake. All politics are local, as they say.

You don’t need to live in Spain to know there are several regions around the world striving to achieve nation status. One of the oddest must surely be South Ossetia. This is currently part of Georgia but doesn’t want to be. Strangely, though, once it has thrown off the Georgian yoke, it aspires to being part of the Russian federation. Which must make sense to someone. Apart from President Putin, I mean.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

My apologies to anyone motivated by my weather reports to come to Galicia for this last weekend in September. The wind has finally changed direction and we are back with the unitary grey cloud. Not quite the Atlantic Blanket which surgically removes my view but bad enough. Rain is forecast for this evening

Internet users in Finland and Sweden benefit from average speeds of 21.8 and 18.2 megabits per second. France comes next, at 17.6. Down near the bottom is the UK, with only 2.6. Yet even this is better than Spain, which only manages 1.2. Only Greece is below this, at 1.0. Or me, at around 0.7. On a good day. It must have something to do with copper wire and fibre optics, I suspect.

Other bad news for Spain this week was the report it had moved the wrong way in the annual survey of corruption. But this can hardly be very surprising when you read things like the allegations that the man who did so well for the PP party in Pontevedra’s recent elections is a major shareholder in a property company which charged illegal over-prices on ‘protected’ properties in Vigo. A cartoon in El Pais put it rather succinctly – A teacher giving classes in Spanish to foreigners. On the board, the words “Urban development”, “Justice” and “Will it ever be possible?”

Oh, dear. Lewis Hamilton has pole position for tomorrow’s Formula 1 race. Hopefully Alonso can overcome this handicap and win not only this event but the other two that remain. In a country rather prone to conspiracy thinking, I dread to think what will happen if Alonso doesn’t get his third consecutive championship. Meanwhile, we’re being treated here to headlines such as “Fernando Alonso is happy at McLaren”. Yes, and I'm fluent not only in Galician but also in Asturian.

Well, it looks like the granite-cracking machine has finally moved on, after 20 months of non-stop cacophony. As this photo shows, they’ve now begun on foundations in the 2 metre hole dug out of solid granite. But this was only the second phase; they first had to level the entire granite escarpment. I’m sure you're all anxious to know this . . .

Friday, September 28, 2007

Yet another sunny day. This must surely rank as the best Galician September in recorded history. Although we did have a few drops of rain during Sunday night, they say.

Returning briefly to the issue of personal abuse in Spain, specifically to the conundrum of how the Spanish can be simultaneously both respectful/noble and rude towards each other. . . It’s a feature of Spanish society that most people never move far away from their place of birth and, therefore, from people they’ve known all their lives. I guess, then, it’s possible that – just as in Liverpool – the culture thrives on friends insulting each other. But, like everything else I write, this is just what it says on the label – a thought from Galicia. Incidentally, a Spanish friend told me last night of a highly popular program on Channel 5 here – Escenas de Matrimonio - which showcases rudeness between partners. So, essential viewing for those seriously interested in this subject. I dipped into it last night and can confirm it’s premised on exaggeration of reality.

I’d guess it’s not compulsory for town halls across the UK to fly the Union Jack. And I imagine that, if it were, there might just be a few problems in Scotland and Wales. Though probably not Northern Ireland. As for flying the flag in one’s own garden, I used to think this was actually illegal but this may not be true now. I mention all this only as background to a rumbling dispute here as to whether town halls across Spain – especially in her troublesome ‘nationalist’ regions – should be forced to obey the law obliging them to sport the Spanish flag on their poles. The government shows no sign of doing this and the right-wing opposition is trying to take political advantage of its stance, especially among those who fear it’s evidence of Spain’s slow break-up. On this, I’m sympathetic to President Zapatero. It would, I suppose, be better to scrap the law than see it being ignored but I doubt this is politically feasible either. Masterful inactivity selects itself.

Talking of nationalist regions – A reader has kindly provided the text of a speech by a management consultant which describes what he calls the Celtic Style of Management. If your Spanish is up to it, this makes for an entertaining read. I hadn’t known that amongst other things we should thank the Celts for is the invention of soap. I do know it’s an irony that the man who most exemplifies the approach described – the founder of Zara - was not born and raised in Celtic Galicia but in non-Celtic Castile. Which should make him a colonising imperialist to some Galician Nationalists.

Sky News yesterday gave us as a major item a report that David Beckham was returning to the UK because his father was ill. Could there be anything more indicative of its distorted values? Maybe Rupert Murdoch has shares in the company running the car parks at Heathrow airport.

To end on a positive note – whatever postures the respective national media have adopted, it’s been encouraging to see British letter writers criticising Lewis Hamilton and their Spanish counterparts having a go at Fernando Alonso. Perhaps it’s a sane world after all.

Then again, Google's Blogger is back to giving me instructions/advice in a mixture of German and English.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

In a recent podcast, Ben Curtis of Notes from Spain suggested the Spanish are more respectful towards each other than others are. I’d not only agree but I’d go further and say they can display a degree of nobility that’s higher than elsewhere. All that said, I also believe it’s a fair charge the Spanish can, at times, come across to foreigners as quite rude. Very specifically, I’ve noted there’s a level of personal abuse here that’s higher than in other cultures. I’m not just talking about the loonier comments to my blog but, say, the slanging matches that take place on TV, and the insult-swapping – You’re a bigger liar than me! – in the parliament. Over coffee with a Spanish friend this week – a very intelligent but shy man – I tentatively asked whether it was true personal abuse was a feature of Spanish society. To say the least, I was taken aback by his candour. ‘Absolutely’, he said, ‘Our language even has an imperative aspect which lends itself to this.’ His view – with which others will surely disagree – is that it’s all related to the oft-made observation that every Spaniard wants to be king and is happy to disregard any rules he finds personally inconvenient. It was all a reflection of personal pride and of a desire to exercise personal power. Few Spaniards, he insisted, put forward arguments with the objective of arriving at a mutually agreed compromise, or as a participant in a search for truth; they merely wish to impose their view on their opponent. Preferably by proving he is a fool in the process. The picareresca attitude [see my blog of 14 Sept.] was very much related to this element of the Spanish character. “So . . .” I asked “Would you say it’s all down to Spanish individualismo?” “Absolutely” he replied. And we moved on to other things. As I will now do and await the flak. But I will depart with an observation quoted in the Spain section of my Galicia page and of which I was reminded by this conversation. It comes from the 19th century Spanish writer and diplomat, Ángel Ganivet García - Every Spaniard's ideal is to carry a statutory letter with a single provision, brief but imperious: ‘This Spaniard is entitled to do whatever he feels like doing’.

Now, a warning for those thinking of following in the steps of, among others, Brian Sewell. . . A Spanish psychologist has identified a Santiago Way Syndrome which he says is similar to those going under the names of Stendhal, Jerusalem, the Wandering Jew and Ulysses. Whatever these are. He claims the condition strikes those who have a strong sense of mysticism, who suffer from fatigue after much walking and who’ve suffered previous mental health problems. The alleged symptoms are acute psychotic episodes, anguish and behaviour disorders upon completion of the walk. And possibly hallucinations along the way. The typical sufferer is male, 40 and Spanish. So, you might want to check out the guy lying next to you in the albergue before dropping off to sleep. If you can.

Finally - The least surprising headline in today’s Spanish press - Fernando Alonso could be leaving Mercedes McLaren at the end of the season.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The public have been loudly castigated in both the UK and Spain in the last week. The Brits – or some of them at least – have been accused of illogical and needless panic in their desperation to get their savings out of the seen-to-be-failing bank, Northern Rock. And the Spanish have had much the same charge laid against them for concluding now isn’t the time to invest in property. Or even move house. As ever, I guess it all depends on where you’re standing.

Actually, there’s a link between these developments – a Spanish entrepreneur is reported to be leading a group of investors interested in buying what’s now called Northern Wreck in the UK. I wonder if they’ll face any competition.

I mentioned the other day the two-faced approach of French and German energy companies when it comes to inward and outward acquisitions. Smack on cue, we read that the aggressive German company EON is seeking government help to prevent it's takeover by foreign operators. What’s the German for bare-faced cheek, I wonder. I don’t suppose it’s chutzpah.

More apposite news – 7 out of 10 the traffic fatalities this weekend were motorbike riders, all aged between 30 and 45. And yesterday, a rider in Barcelona hit a pedestrian and then ploughed into a bus queue, killing one person and seriously injuring several others. Roll on the new legislation.

Here in Galicia, the Galician Nationalist Party [the BNG] has finally said something with which I’m sympathetic. Action must be taken, it says, to stop companies forcing customers to use premium rate phone numbers. But, being left of the PSOE socialist party, the BNG naturally thinks the government should interfere in the market to make this illegal. This is where we part company, as I’d prefer to see Spain’s supine consumers take concerted action against companies who indulge in this blatant profiteering. Or perhaps a consumer watchdog. But is there one?

Still in Galicia, emotions are high around the decision of the Portuguese government to force the 3,000 Gallegos who cross the border every day to get to work to sport Portuguese number plates on their vehicles. Or face fines of 3-600 euros per day. The problem is this would mean a change of residence from Spain to Portugal, a complex and expensive business. However, the number of Gallegos heading south is dwarfed by that of the 12,000 Portuguese going in the opposite direction, e. g. to all the building sites near my house. So, plenty of scope for a revenue war between fellow members of the EU. Surely not.

This is the last reminder of the survey at the end of my blog of Saturday, 22 September. The interim results are:-

Crappy 16.67%

Shit 16.67%

Arrogant 16.67%

Informative 16.67%

Engaging 16.67%

Excellent 16.67%

The numerate among you will immediately recognise the meaning of these numbers. The rest will have to wait a little longer.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

An astonishing 2.7 million passengers arrived in Spain on low-cost airlines during August, 43% up on last year. For us here in Galicia, the real news is that it doesn’t look as if Ryanair will have any flight between Liverpool and Santiago from the end of this month.

The outgoing head of the International Monetary Fund, Rodrigo Rato has warned that the effects of the global financial crisis will hit the Spanish economy ‘in a real way’ next year. I guess President Zapatero’s comfort is that this will most likely happen after the March general elections. At the moment, the budgetary surplus from above-forecast growth means he can give money away like a man with no arms. And, boy, is he taking electoral advantage of this.

Which reminds me . . . The main reason behind the enormous queues for a new identity card is said to be a desire to get one in advance of a claim for the new disability benefit. Quite why a new card would be essential, I don’t know - especially as it’s reported that half of the applicants will only be given the old one. One major question arising is whether Spain will now see a UK-style fall in its unemployment numbers, paralleled by a massive increase in the total of chronic back-ache and depression sufferers. I suppose it all depends on which is easier and more profitable to obtain. Human nature being what it is.

I seem to recall reporting last year that someone here in Spain was clocked doing 265kph, or 166mph. If so, this has now been bested in the UK by an imbecile who was stopped for doing 275kph [172mph] on an A road, equivalent to Spain’s N roads. At least he was banned from driving for 3 years and jailed for 10 weeks. I suspect this would be viewed as harsh in Spain.

I don’t surf the internet enough to know whether it’s also true of other countries but my impression is the Spanish bit of cyberspace has a quite a few people who prefer personal abuse to reasoned argument. What I’m talking about is the sort of stuff that has just appeared as a comment to my post of 28 August. At the time, this engendered an interesting - if short and inconclusive – dialogue between 2 or 3 Spanish readers about their ethnic/racial origins. Someone [again I’m guessing it’s a male] has just posted a longish screed which rejects everything said, whilst labelling the previous contributors IGNORANT DICKHEADS, DUMBASSES, MONGRELIC ASSES, and BIG DICKHEADS. And yes, it is all in English and in capitals. Maybe this poisoning of the ether is a latter-day aspect of what Anglo-Saxons regard as the volatile Latin temperament. If so, we’ll probably see some more evidence of it now . . .

As it happens, since I wrote the last paragraph [and before I’ve posted this], the reader in question has returned to hurl some choice adjectives in my direction, including ignorant, uneducated and even racist. God knows when, where and how but I stand accused of suggesting all Spaniards are of Arab stock. Which he takes to be a massive insult, it seems. Interestingly, in the middle of his rant, he says his greatest concern is that I’m endorsing the stereotypical image of Spaniards. Ironically, I would have thought he was doing far more damage in this regard than I could ever achieve, even if I wanted to.

And talking of labels . . . There are some Gallego readers who mock my claim to be a Galicianist, by which I mean – as I have said several times - someone who supports the promotion of Galician culture and language but doesn’t believe the language should be forced on anyone or that Galicia currently is – or should be – a nation. The latter two stances I personally prefer to call nationalist and Nationalist. But it really doesn’t matter. What’s important is what you believe, what you say and what you do. Not what you call yourself. Adolf Hitler said he was a Socialist, for God’s sake. And Stalin was universally known as Uncle Joe. I wouldn’t have thought it was so hard to get your head around this, even if it is half-full of such exaggerated nonsense as a belief that Galicia is more Celtic than Asturias and is even entitled to be seen as the 7th Celtic nation. Or, like the gentleman who posted the above histrionic comments, that everyone in Europe is descended from Iberian/Galician Celts. By the way, he appears to have arrived at my blog by putting the spanish are not white into Google. Presumably looking for sites he could vent his spleen on. Nowt as queer as folk, eh?

Can you believe that Word’s spell check doesn’t recognise Adolf? Only Adolph.

Finally, I can’t wait until the end of the month before posting these routes to my blog this morning . . .

nationality average time to orgasm

are Americans descendants of the Scythians

Monday, September 24, 2007

Today sees the launch in Spain of a new national newspaper – Público. The editorial line, we’re told, will not only be left-of-centre but further left than the – admittedly rather centrist - El Pais, which does on occasions criticise the socialist government. For example on the young-persons-rent-assistance proposal which everyone except the responsible Minister believes will simply drive up the cost of flats for all. Anyway, since pretty rabid anti-Americanism is an outstanding feature of Spain as a whole, I wasn’t too surprised to read here of the TV campaign for the new daily. Really rather sad.

I mentioned yesterday that both the French and German governments are notoriously two-faced about international mergers of energy companies. The Spanish government’s approach to this is simply to raise ad hoc but effective obstacles which the EU later condemns as illegal. By which time it’s all too late, of course. This was done with the attempted purchase of Endesa by the German company EON and it’s now being done – see here – with the planned takeover of the same company by a coalition of Italian and Spanish companies. My bet is that the merger will take place in due course, whatever Brussels says. Playing fields are rarely level in Europe.

The Andalucian government has charged three design companies with the challenge of coming up with an 'architectural symbol' that would be synonymous with the Costa del Sol. Apparently there’s no truth in the rumour that the front-runner is a cess pit. As least among people who don’t live there.

I’m not optimistic about my car insurance premiums. To say the least, the trend in Galicia’s mortality statistics for this year is far from encouraging. A senior police officer charged with doing something about this has made the eminently clear statement that “We can’t just resign ourselves to so many deaths on the road.” When asked to point the finger, he added cryptically - “I would say the drivers are the most culpable factor but they are not the only one.” This appears to be a reference to badly maintained cars and roads that aren’t perfectly straight. Not a few Galician drivers give the impression of seeing the latter as their right, since they would, of course, make fast driving, tail-gating and aggressive overtaking perfectly safe.

For those who found yesterday that the Voz de Galicia had changed its headline by the time they got to it, here’s where you really can see the latest car-in-a-hole. The driver fled, presumably up the ladder conveniently placed against the wall. So he’s not yet one of Galicia’s road death statistics, though he clearly has a promising future.

Finally, another reminder about the survey mentioned at the end of the post of last Saturday. Which is either 23.9 or 9.23, depending on whether you live in the USA or in The Rest of The World. We can all be anti-American when we want to be. Arrogant bastards.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

When will this blasted sun end? My poor lawns are in agony. Meanwhile, down on the Costa del Sol they’ve had terrible rain storms and – depending on who you read – hailstones the size of golf or tennis balls. I blame it all on global warming.

Right on cue, the President of the Association of Realtors has predicted 30% of his members will close down within a year or so. There are apparently 60,000 of these fine organisations around Spain, a fourfold increase in 6 years. This phenomenal growth might have had something to do with the removal of the requirement – recently restored, I believe – that you had to get a licence to set up shop. Oh, and with greed, of course. The President accepts that property prices could well soften but a spokesperson from Galicia opined this wouldn’t happen here as the market is fuelled by people from Madrid and the south coast looking for a second home. And in the latter case escaping huge hailstones, I assume.

An ironic headline from the Voz de GaliciaThe Guardia Civil are tightening the net around fishermen who use explosives.

Galicia Facts

1. Pontevedra has lost its status as one of the top 10 provinces in Spain hit by motoring fines. These fell significantly last year and I now confidently await a reduction in my motor insurance premiums.

2. The average gross salary here is 16,600 a year. This is higher only than that of Estremadura and compares with more than 24,000 in Madrid.

3. The government has announced that the AVE high-speed train – if and when it finally arrives in Galicia – will cut the Madrid-Pontevedra journey time from 10-12 hours to 2 hours 34 minutes. This is about the same time it takes to get from Liverpool to London and is not at all bad for a trip of 600km, or 375 miles. I hope I live long enough to enjoy it. Though travelling at 145mph through a series of long tunnels might prove a little worrying.

4. Some long-time readers will remember the incident of the three vehicles - one of which was a police car - ignoring the road works signs and ending up in a huge hole in the middle of the road. Well, if you click here , you'll see evidence this is becoming a national/regional sport.

On a wider front, it seems the proposed EU energy policy is disfavoured by France and Germany. These, of course, are the two members who are, at the same time, most protective of their own companies and the most aggressive in buying up those of other member countries. So, what’s the betting the Brussels initiative won’t go very far?

Quote of the Year So Far

Obviously the situation was too complicated for us to sit down with actual members of the Taliban but we were led to believe that the effects of our conversations with the right people filtered through to them. Jude Law - Ambassador for Peace One Day.

This paragraph is for those readers who post comments in Gallego. Everyone else should skip it. . . . As I’m not fluent in this language, I prefer to spend my time doing other things than translating your comments. Especially as they are usually high on abuse and low on argument. You can keep sending them if you want; I can’t be bothered to set up a filter. But essentially you’ll just be showboating for yourself and your fellow galegofalantes. Nothing intrinsically wrong with this, of course, but if you’re trying to annoy or - God forbid - impress me, then I’m afraid you’re wasting your time. You’d stand some chance in Spanish and quite a good one in English. Until then, I for one won’t be reading your contributions. But, if it makes you feel better, keep sending them.

Finally, a reminder about the survey mentioned at the end of Saturday’s post.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Another sunny day here in southern Galicia. It’s good to be alive. Even if your internet connection is still not working. And the granite-cracking machine is still in business behind your house. Accompanied today by a chain saw for cutting up the trees it hacked down yesterday.

I took another route into town yesterday and passed a different seven estate agents – all without a single client. It was the same story with the five of the other day, which I passed on the way out of town. The only surprising aspect was that only one place had a sign on the window saying the business was moving. In Spain, this is usually code for closing down. I don’t suppose it will be the last.

As a result of peering through shop windows, I noticed a couple of other things new to me. Firstly – though this may be my imagination - there were more boarded-up premises than at any time in the last 7 years. Secondly, I clocked two or three places specialising in finance/credit I hadn’t noticed before, with names like Renticredi. I guess these are the high-street equivalent of the endless day-time TV ads for ‘easy’ finance, but offering the personal touch so much favoured by the Spanish. These were also empty but I suppose it’s possible cash-strapped families will soon be beating a path to their doors. Either that or they, too, will be closing in a hurry. Like the Dial-a-Cake place I never gave any chance to.

The Spanish government has introduced a subject labelled Citizenship into the school curriculum. This has not gone down well with the Catholic Church, which naturally sees itself as the guardian of the nation’s morals and ethics. Even if only a small and declining percentage of the population agrees with it. Intriguingly, there’s now a proposal to kill two birds with one stone and have this subject taught in English. Personally, I’d be more impressed by this if a seminar on the concept hadn’t been entitled ‘Education for the Citizenship”.

As it’s Saturday . . . . If you read the comments to this blog, you’ll know I have a contributor who specialises in writing to tell everyone how stupid I am and, by inference, how clever he is. [I don’t entertain the thought it’s a female]. Despite thinking my blog is ‘crappy’, this cove feels the need to read it every day and, on top of that, to send a daily dose of personal abuse – quite possibly not the only bit of this he goes in for. Even worse, he says he won’t stop as he can’t help himself. This is very sad as it betokens an empty life. So I’ve rejected the passing thought that I should, for the benefit of readers at least, filter out his asinine contributions, as it would surely be cruel to deprive someone so unfortunate of one of his few pleasures. Instead, I’d like to encourage him to continue to amuse me, and possibly some of you. Additionally, I’d even like to thank him for the following thought . . . How about a survey to find the single most common word people think adequately describes my blog? You can send your word anonymously and in any of these languages but, if I don’t know or can’t remember the word, I won’t bother look it up and it won’t count. So, for example, I would ignore the words caca and mierda as I don’t know what they mean:-
Farsi [Persian]

Vamos, chavales. Y chavalas, por supuesto.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Zapatero government has recently announced a raft of promises which are likely to cost the next administration dear. It’s no coincidence, of course, that there’s a general election next March. For this, Sr. Zapatero’s strategy appears to be to dress his government in caring, left-centrist colours while labelling the opposition party right-wing extremists. In Spain, of course, this is code for Francoist fascists. This approach is not far removed from that of Blair/Brown in the UK over the past few years and is pretty much inescapable when the parties are fighting over the same narrow central ground. In this, I suspect fortune favours the left-of-centre parties, as it’s much more credible to the populace at large that a leftist party has become an economically literate but caring centre party than it is for a rightist party. Witness David Cameron’s trials in the UK, both within and without his party. Here in Spain, the PSOE has certainly been helped in this challenge by the rather strident stances of the PP over the last four years. In a nutshell, it hasn’t actually been very hard to make the label of ‘right-wing extremists’ stick. And I suspect Zapatero’s PSOE party will edge it in March. Rather ironic to think they almost certainly wouldn’t now be in power and so able to retain it but for the Madrid bombs of 2004. Especially as Islamist attacks haven’t ceased.

As part of the revision of Catalunia’s Constitution, Madrid has agreed to up investment there by around 25%. As is traditional, this has immediately led to game of regional leap-frog. So far, 6 regions/’nations’ have demanded at least equal treatment. At a time of declining tax revenues, this may prove hard to achieve.

And still on politics . . . A couple of years ago, the Spanish government relaxed the laws on motor bike licences. After an utterly predictable increase in fatalities, they’ve now gone into reverse and tightened the regulations, at least for larger bikes. Not before time; here in Galicia, another 3 riders lost their lives on Tuesday alone.

It seems the vineyards of southern France are full of Andalucians working on the grape harvest, while the vineyards of southern Spain are replete with Rumanians and Bulgarians doing the same thing there but getting half the salary and living in much less salubrious quarters. The obvious questions are:- 1. Why would French employers pay twice as much as they need to? 2. Will it be long before the East Europeans twig they’re just as entitled to work in France as they are in Spain? And 3. What will become of the Spanish workers then? I would guess labouring in the construction industry is no longer a good alternative.

The sun continues to shine here in Galicia. In fact, today it’s the only place in Spain where it won’t be raining. Certainly a September to remember. Pontevedra’s old quarter has been an absolute joy. But don’t come next year: I know for a fact it’s gong to pour down. I blame it on global warming.

Finally, this is again coming to you from a cyber café. My internet provider – not Telefonica but Deutsche Telecom/Ya.com – has written to me saying they’re improving my service. This seems to mean cutting my connection, promising me a text message which has yet to arrive and offering me a special free number which is permanently engaged and a helpline which doesn’t work. Impressive, no? Infrastructure, infrastructure and infrastructure. Not quite what it should be.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Walking into town at 1 o’clock yesterday, I passed five estate agent offices. Only one of them had a client and I guess she may have been a friend popping in for a chat. Maybe everyone is using the internet these days, even in this verbal society. Or perhaps – like the static cranes on many of the building sites – this is a sign of the changing times. As is the fact that shops that close are no longer converted overnight into bank branches or yet another inmobiliaria.

In the mid 60s – after thirty years of stultification under Franco – Spain was considerably less developed than most of the rest of Europe. Now it’s the world’s 8th economy and a modern, vibrant country with the highest rate of growth in the EU. But development this rapid can never be even and the result is one sometimes feels one’s in the 22nd century and sometimes in the 19th. Occasionally at one and the same time. As an example, the Voz de Galicia has been running articles on the difficulties faced in getting your super-duper, most-modern-in-the-world identity card. For this it’s necessary to go to your local police station and get in the queue well before the 9 o’clock opening time, sometimes, the paper says, as early as 5am. The Voz labelled this a ‘Third World system’ and described the appointment system as ‘archaic’. One disenchanted observer – not me – felt it was paradoxical that the application and production processes for such a technological advance belonged to another era. OK, it was a Nationalist deputy who said this, asking - quite rightly - why things couldn’t be decentralised. Which is something I’ve asked many times about the Post Office.

If you want to know the price of the Kia Picanto in the UK, you go to the company’s web site and, after a couple of clicks and about 3 seconds, your get ‘From ₤5,995’. Try to do the same thing on Kia’s Spanish site and this proves both time-consuming and impossible. Unless I’m doing something wrong, the best you can achieve is to register your details and apply for information or get the location of your nearest dealer. So, the question arises – It is actually illegal in Spain for price data to be supplied on the internet or over the phone? Or is it a refection of a different approach to customer service? I ask this because of the experience related above and also because of the August 16 post to this blog. Perhaps some of my anonymous commentators could do something useful and answer this question for me. Preferably without the personal abuse. If that’s possible.

In a recent podcast, Ben Curtis of Notes from Spain reviewed changes in Madrid since his arrival 9 years ago. One point he makes is that the Spanish equivalent of youthful binge drinking – el botellón – has been effectively suppressed there. In contrast, here in Pontevedra it gets bigger by the week. And the participants younger. The authorities seem to lack the will to take harsh measures but are said to be considering trying to persuade the kids to take their Friday and Saturday raucous all-night revels somewhere else. The football stadium perhaps. Meanwhile, though, in one of the strangest municipal initiatives I can recall, they’re going to conduct a survey among the participants themselves on where they’d like to be moved on to. Let’s hope it’s distributed before they’re too drunk – or ill – to read and complete it.

Checking – as you do – links to my blog, I saw that a Spanish reader had suggested* my pedantic and controversial comments are aimed at maximising what he suspects is an already sizeable income via Google ads. I nearly wet myself laughing. In almost 5 months, my earnings have totalled 50 dollars, or 35 euros. This wouldn’t even get me one menú del día per month down in town. And Google don’t fork out until you get to 100 dollars. So, not exactly the big time and I could probably survive without it.

There may be room for discussion on this but the writer feels my obsessions are nationalism, corruption, bureaucracy, Spanish society and neighbours whom I regard as ignorant and bad mannered. I take objection only to the last cited. What I complain about is their inconsiderate noise and I go out of my way to stress that Tony is certainly loud but also ‘nice’ and that Amparo is not even noisy. Anyway, the Labels I use may give a semi-objective indication of my obsessions and the top 10 turn out to be:-

Galicia Facts + Galician weather 157

Spanish Culture 114

Nationalism + Galician Nationalism 73

Politics 55

British Society 46

The Spanish Economy 33

Driving 32

Noise 32

The EU 32

Corruption 27

Language and Galician Language 27

So, my greatest obsession appears to be . . . . Galicia. Followed by Spanish Culture and its Economy. And my rather negative views of British society/culture rank pretty high too. OK, possibly not totally balanced but perhaps not quite as bad as some readers think. Of course, the problem is you don’t get a fair perspective just by reading a few posts. Especially if you don’t have a sense of humour and/or have to use Google to translate them.

So, please keep reading everyone. I’ve got a fortune to make.

*Para los que leen inglés, os presento a Colin Davies, un inglés jubilado de Liverpool que ha montado un blog bastante polemico. Sospecho que el tio esta sacando pasta con los anuncios google, que dependen, creo, de la cantidad de 'trafico' que pasa por el blog.
Es un pedante, aunque escribe muy bien. Lanza dardos en todas las direcciones. Sus obsesiones son el nacionalismo, la corrupcion, la burocracia, la cultura española y unos vecinos a los que el considera ignorantes y mal educados. Todo dios entra allí cada dia a darle caña, tanto en inglés, español y galego. Debe de estar sacando una pasta increible, el mamón.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I’ve mentioned a few times that Spain’s property rental market is not as well developed as it could be, with hundreds of thousands of properties remaining empty. The main factor is usually said to be a legal system which provides inadequate recourse to lessors faced with defaulting lessees. There has been talk of addressing this - for example, by setting up special courts - but, with an election coming up, the government’s decided to take the easier route of subsidising the rent of ‘young people’. Here this usually means individuals up to the age of 35. My guess is this will do little to bring down the high cost of rentals. Perhaps quite the opposite.

The Spanish government has insisted the country doesn’t have the market for rubbish mortgages seen in the USA and the UK. I suspect this is true but, nonetheless, Spanish banks have taken a big hit on the stock market, possibly because they’ll be affected as much as any by the global credit squeeze. Needless to say, the country’s estate agents/realtors are now more worried than ever about the property market. But, given their killings of the last 10 years, I doubt there’ll be much sympathy for them. At least not among the general public. The government may yet prove to be more compassionate.

It’s reported that a court in Almería has acquitted a man charged with assaulting his partner and her 15 year old daughter because he was drunk at the time and didn’t know what he was doing. But, as this can’t possibly be true, my guess is it’s just a judicial joke.

The Spanish government has said it has failed to achieve its Kyoto commitment because of the country’s high economic growth. So that’s alright then. Personally, I don’t think it was a wise move to equate Spain with China in this context.

I’ve generally been very impressed by the changes made by Pontevedra’s [Nationalist] mayor to the city’s street furniture. Even though some of the stuff is pretty modernistic. Futuristic even. However, a few months ago we were treated to the installation of a number of untreated-metal benches and rubbish bins so bad that suspicions were inevitably raised they’d been designed by a relative. Witness . . .

However, the mayor has now apologised for these atrocities and promised there’ll be no more. Which is nice. And it would be even nicer if they could be removed.

Talking of fixed objects . . . The car below has been parked in the same spot so long it too could be considered part of the street furniture. In fact, as you can see, there’s a lawn growing beneath it. Not only that – in the time it’s been there, an entire litter of cats has been born and raised in the engine compartment. I guess it’s possible the owner has died but no one has gone to his/her house to check.

Finally, an apology: The Galician Nationalist Party only proposed a change of one hour in Galicia’s time. I reported this accurately last December so it was my memory playing tricks on me. Even though this change would be logical, the proposal was politically impractical and so went nowhere.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Many people in the UK feel it’s difficult now to differentiate between the Conservative party of Cameron and the New Labour party of Blair/Brown. A British columnist suggests “The dividing lines in politics are shifting: the old disagreements between Left and Right are disappearing; they are being replaced by new divides such as those between liberals and authoritarians, and between modernisers and reactionaries”. I wonder if this can also be said about things here in Spain.

Talking of the UK, here’s an article on the theme of the hysteria displayed by what the author calls ‘tabloid besotted’ parents on the question of their children’s safety.

I doubt that it’s generally realised around the world that only a minority of Spaniards are supporters of the country’s bullfighting tradition. There may well be even fewer now, after this week’s publication of a report claiming it only survives on subsidies from taxpayers’ money. Meanwhile, though, interest has possibly risen this summer because of a long streak of good luck for the bulls in the few minutes before they’re ignominiously dragged from the ring. Spectacular gorings appear to have been more frequent than usual. Especially for one poor guy.

There’s something wrong about the clock in Galicia. By this I mean it doesn’t have the time its geographical position merits. Which would be the same time as the UK directly north of it and Portugal directly south. However, understandable political reasons keep it on the same clock as the rest of Spain. The plus is that we get very long summer evenings. The minus is that light’s in short supply in the mornings, especially at this time of the year, just before the clocks go back. As someone who always rises around 7.30, it’s been a little depressing to see the sun rapidly disappear from the morning sky. So much so that I’m now getting up in pitch darkness, though there will be temporarily amelioration after next weekend’s change of the clock. As I understand it, the main reason for this rapid blackening of the dawn sky is that, when the day shortens in autumn and winter, this happens more in the morning than the evening, hitting us early-risers the worst. To get off this subject, the Galician Nationalist Party has actually proposed that Galicia be on a different time from the rest of Spain. Thought not just by the one hour that would put it on UK/Portugal time but by two hours. This really would make a difference to my mornings but I’ve no idea what their logic is on this.

I see Venice has ‘declared war on the hordes of pigeons that are soiling its piazzas and damaging monuments’. Throwing rice at newlyweds is to be banned and the mayor will try to stop hawkers in St Mark's Square selling pigeon food to tourists. On a smaller scale, the only thing which mars my Sunday lunch of squid and white wine down in Pontevedra’s old quarter is the persistence of the pigeons as they try to steal from the bowls of peanuts on the tables. Last Sunday I was astonished to see a woman nearby was actually hand-feeding these flying rats. I was reminded of my brother’s comment that it’s amazing what you see when you don’t have your rifle with you.

Another little bit of Spanglish - I was confused by the word flases but eventually tracked it down as the alternative for the English flashes. So you can have un flash or un flas.

Talking of words, I was confused by an American author’s use of the [unknown to me] word bollix to mean something like to destroy. But Wikipedia came to my rescue with:- To bollix: To throw into confusion; To botch or bungle. . . The word ‘bollocks’ is sometimes spelled as bollox or bollix, to make it appear less vulgar. Its meaning is "to bungle", as in "The project was going well but my boss bollixed it up." This is the sense in which the term is generally used in the USA, where the original meaning of "bollocks" is almost unknown. "Bollixed up" is sometimes considered an out-of-date expression that has largely been replaced by phrases such as "screwed up," as the latter term has gradually lost most of its previously vulgar connotation. If there really is an American reader out there unsure of the original – and still current in the UK – meaning of bollocks, post me a comment and I will oblige.

Monday, September 17, 2007

There’s a huge blanket of fog outside my window, the temperature is forecast to drop 10 degree or more today, and I’ve lost my internet connection. So, a big welcome to Monday.

Here in Spain, the female form comes at you 24/7/52. This morning, for example, the [excellent] lady who chairs the serious early morning discussion program on TVE1 is sporting a pretty decent décolletage. Often, though, she’s outdone by a columnist from one of the heavy papers who never smiles but often favours us with 2 or 3 inches [5-8cm] of cleavage. In this context, I have to say I was amused at the complaints about my recent tame photos taken at Pontevedra’s Medieval Fair. A few readers couldn’t resist accusing me of being a salacious sexagenarian. To be honest, I prefer the word ‘lucky’. It’s just one of the many things about Spain that keep me young. Given the importance of this, I couldn’t care less how I come across.

I’ve mentioned before that, contrary to a widespread view elsewhere, British parents are hyper-concerned about their kids and their wellbeing. This stems from fear generated by the execrable tabloid press and, to me, is objectively excessive. Anyway, today comes news that an Englishwoman has invented a GPS-based product that you can attach to your offspring so you know exactly where they are. Provided, of course, they don’t stick it on a passing dog.

I read that, in some countries, one is obliged to sort one’s plastic rubbish into several different types so it can be effectively recycled. I wonder, then, what happens to all the jumbled-up stuff I throw into the yellow container in our street. Is it sorted ‘downstream’? Is it dealt with by one super-efficient machine? Or is it all just chucked into a huge hole in the ground?

The other thing I’ve taken to wondering about is whether my rusty Farsi will come in handy when, as predicted now by the French Foreign Minister, we all go to war with Iran. Vamos a ver.

Meanwhile, though, there’s a Formula 1 championship to be won. So, let’s hope and pray this goes to Fernando Alonso so he can then negotiate a mutually profitable way out of his contract with McLaren. Anything else is not worth contemplating. We’ve surely all had enough of this year’s – non-plastic - rubbish. My apology to American readers who haven’t the faintest idea what I’m talking about. The lucky buggers.

Finally, a word on our local Galician sport of bird-watching. A columnist in today’s Voz de Galicia reviews the state of the development of the AVE high-speed train from Madrid, compares progress with the pre-election promises of the last several years and challenges the government to deny that the official forecast of completion by 2012 is out by at least two years, quite possibly three. On balance, I think this is probably a more important question than what happens to my plastic bottles.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I’ve touched on this before but isn’t it a bit worrying what Google seem to be able to do? I mean, I use the words ‘Dutch’ and ‘German’ when posting my blog and within a few seconds I’m getting confirmation that my post was successful and can be seen in a new window. Or, to be exact, Blog anzeigen (in einem neuen Fenster). Interestingly, the word for window in Dutch/German is similar to those in French and Gallego – fenêtre and fiestra. But not in Spanish – ventana. Nor Portuguese – janela. Who’d have thought it? Maybe they can’t understand each other perfectly.

Talking of languages, the excellent news is that the Xunta of Galicia is going to provide a site giving a Gallego-Spanish-English translation capability. Or at least a three-way dictionary. This will certainly help with my Gallego-only correspondence from the town hall.

And talking of Galicia, more specifically its weather . . . It’s now official that our September has been the sunniest and warmest in 30 years. But we’re all forecast to get some rain tomorrow, starting with the north coast.

And referring back to the beggars I mentioned the other day . . .

1. The note left on my table by a large Rumanian woman yesterday started “Soy extranjero con 2 niños y no tengo casa.” I decided it wasn’t worth it to pedantically change the adjective so that it agreed with her gender. Maybe she really does have bigger problems. And maybe the note is multi-use.

2. The Spanish woman who accosted me twice during the morning later passed me on the bridge into town, having just visited the drug ‘warehouse’ on the other side of the river. Her, I mean. Not me.

But, not for the first time, I wondered whether it wasn’t a better thing to finance drug-taking by giving alms than by encouraging the sort of low-level theft that’s common in the UK. At least you don’t fear for your car radio here.

Finally, the Spanish government has proudly announced the introduction of the most technically advanced ID card in the world. I noticed it will contain the names of one’s parents, which is a very Spanish thing and would, I suspect, be regarded with incredulity elsewhere. Here, you’re even obliged to name them in the preamble to your will. Along with the names of everyone you’ve been married to and divorced from.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Some Saturday queries:-

Does the behaviour of the Formula 1 drivers Alonso and de la Rosa fall within the definition of picaresca? I imagine not.

Ditto the falsification of medical certificates for the obtaining of driving and shotgun[!] licences by a group of Pontevedrans which included a teacher and a psychologist?

And the involvement of 5 members of the Vigo Guardia Civil [national police] in cigarette smuggling?

Have I been too generous in my praise of Spain’s heavy newspapers and in my insistence that there’s no tabloid press here? If not, why has El Pais today printed a ludicrous letter from someone who implies the ‘English’ [meaning speakers of English such as Brits, Americans, Australians, etc.] are pathetic, ignorant, arrogant, cold, unfeeling, whatever because some of them couldn’t converse with a group of Spanish, Portuguese and French who were looking for a lost child on a beach and who - we’re expected to believe - could all understand each other perfectly because their languages have the same roots. Just like the Germans and the Dutch, presumably.

Is it true most Spaniards think the only time the British take any interest in their children is when they're checking to see whether they’re cooked enough to eat?

Would many people be attending Mass in Spain if every priest here were removed – like one in next-door Asturias – for fathering a child and, thus, proving he was not ‘obeying the rule of celibacy’?

Are the Portuguese police who are quoted today as saying there’s no direct evidence that Madeleine McCann is dead the same ones who yesterday were saying she might be buried below a new road, or under the local church; or was killed in the adjacent room to her parents; or thrown in a weighted sack off a yacht belonging to a friend of the McCanns?

Friday, September 14, 2007

By pure coincidence, fellow observers of matters Spanish – Ben Curtis of Notes From Spain and Jonathan Holland of Puerta del Sol – both chose this week to comment on the issue of honesty/dishonesty in Spain. In a podcast, Ben quite rightly praised the amazing trust system which underlies payment in bars and cafés here, whereas Jonathan addressed the topic of widespread picaresca, which my dictionary defines as guile, chicanery and subterfuge. I make no observation on how these can co-exist in the same culture. Except to say it’s fascinating. And that, if picaresca is required to surmount Spain’s mind-numbingly stupid bureaucracy, then I’m all for it.

Everyone, I guess, will have a view on whether it’s right to judge the McCanns and, if so, whether intelligence and common sense suggest they are implicated in the disappearance and probable death of their daughter or not. I am not about to bore you with my views and nor am I calling for reader’s view on these issues. I raise the subject now only to report that El Pais yesterday came up with an article about the Portuguese and British governments being at daggers drawn because, says the respected paper, the latter has been involved ‘on the McCann’s side’ since the very first moments, possibly helping to ensure, it claims, that Sky News were advised of the child’s disappearance 30 minutes before the Portuguese police were informed. It’s not clear what evidence El Pais has for this remarkable [even fantastic] story and, so far, I’ve not seen it reproduced elsewhere. Perhaps later today. Meanwhile, the Portuguese media have proved my allegation they’re at least as bad as the British tabloids by publishing extracts from Kate McCann’s diary. One wonders how they can have got hold of it. As I’ve said, all very depressing, whether the McCanns are guilty or innocent. How thin is our patina of civilisation. Which is not a new thought, of course.

Lighter matters . . . Spanglish. I wrote a while ago that footing was an amusing but logical substitute for jogging, as the latter would be pronounced very gutturally in Spanish. What, then, are we to make of groggy, which was an adjective applied to the Russian football team after Owen’s second goal? Astonishingly, it’s in my dictionary as:-

Groggy/Grogui: Atontado, Impresionado.


Galicia Facts: Our health service – like those of Andalucía and the Balearic Islands - is rated ‘average’, by the Federation of Associations in Defence of Public Health. This is better than Valencia’s [‘worst in Spain’] and those of Murcia, Madrid and the Canaries, where it was ‘deficient’. I suspect ‘average’ is also better than the ‘acceptable’ of Extremadura, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, Cataluña and La Rioja. The ‘good’ regions were Aragón, Navarra, Cantabria, Asturias and the Basque Country. So now you know. Be careful where you eat those oysters. Or get private insurance.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

It’s a truism that the Spanish love to talk. Why not, so do I. And they are very, very good at it, one consequence being that people who’ve only just met can be chatting away like the oldest of friends within minutes - without any apparent complications arising from gender or age differences. All very impressive. And much missed on trips to the UK. Though things are much better in the USA, despite it being an Anglo culture.

A year or so a go, a British acquaintance was trying to buy a house up near Santiago. Despite having accepted his full-price offer, the seller then immediately became very obstructionist. When asked about this, the estate agent merely shrugged and said “When we’re odd, we Galicians are very, very odd.” I thought of this yesterday when a Spanish friend told me she’d indicated interest in a place built – illegally - in the hills outside Pontevedra, whereupon the seller had upped the price by 25%. Actually, this happened twice to me in 2000 and I never did get a satisfactory explanation from anyone. I concluded the attitude was ‘Well, if there’s one sucker out there, there must be more.’

Returning briefly to the subject of my nice-but-noisy neighbours, Tony and Amparo . . . As they have two boys aged 4 and 7, those of you unfamiliar with Spanish culture may well have asked why weren’t they concerned about them being woken up by a riotous revel lasting until 5am. The rest of us will smile at this ignorance of the fact they never went to bed in the first place. Spanish couples, although horrified at the idea that Brits could leave their kids alone while they go to dinner nearby, would be astonished at the suggestion that keeping them up all night might not be a good thing for young children. Nor would they balk at the idea of leaving them to play in the street, whereas British parents are now utterly paranoid about this. I stress I’m making no value judgements here nor implying [im]moral equivalence between any of these attitudes. I’m simply pointing up cultural differences. So I’d rather not receive comments to the effect that the reason Spanish parents leave their kids alone in the streets is that these aren’t overrun by paedophiles and teenage killers. Neither are those in the UK, even if parents fear they are.

And returning to the – connected - theme of tabloid media. Our local and national papers yesterday provided plenty of material that could be exploded out of all proportion in a Spanish Daily Star – a mob ‘trying to lynch’ the teenage killer of a member of another gang; bull torturing in Tordesillas; a doubling of immigrant kids in Spanish schools in 5 years; more wife-killing and drug-running arrests; and, of course, more slaughter on the roads. Hmm, maybe I’m missing a profit opportunity.

Finally, some Galicia Facts:-

For some unexplained reason, Galicia is the region with the highest number of self-employed individuals over the age of 55 but the lowest under 25.

The Spanish train operator RENFE has announced a new timetable adding 19 minutes to the daytime run to and from Madrid. The Voz de Galicia points out this means the journey will take as long as it did 30 years ago. Meanwhile, the start-up of the AVE high-speed train has probably been delayed further by the suspension of work following a fatal accident to one of the construction workers.

Begging fashions here appear to be on the change. We used to be assailed by large Rumanian women with laminated placards telling us they and their – equally plump – babies were close to starvation. But now we’re having little notelets left on our tables in bars and cafés, later picked up with one hand while the other is outstretched, palm upwards. I’m tempted to substitute the notes with one of my own, saying something like ‘You may not be aware of this but they’re looking for fruit pickers down in Andalucia’.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Musing on the depressing insights into humanity provided by the tragic McCann saga, it struck me that societies - the British, the Portuguese, the Spanish, whatever – are all basically composed of civilised and uncivilised elements. Over time, the proportions may change, of course. And I suspect many of my generation feel the civilised bit of the UK now forms less of the total than, say, 30 years ago. But this may not be right or fair. For, quite distinct from the reality is the perception. It seems to me that whether and by how much reality and perception part company depend largely on how visible and vocal the uncivilised element is. And this, in turn, hinges on the nature of a particular society’s media. Does it have a bad press and does it get a bad press? For Anglo-Saxon societies, the answers are Yes and Yes. And, indeed, the linkage may be such that, if you’ve got the former, you can’t avoid the latter. Once your media is tabloidised and infantilised, you have a bad press; you give yourself a bad press; and you get a bad press from others. After all, there’s a lot of foul material generated for the media of other countries to feed on. So, maybe French and Spanish societies, for example, are not really as superior as they seem to be. For neither of them has a real gutter press. Spain’s prensa rosa, for example, is a pale thing in comparison with Britain’s yellow press. And, if I’m anywhere near right about this, then the French and the Spanish should pray that Rupert Murdoch never gets round to buying even a singe one of their newspapers. If he does, perceptions may well change. Internally and externally.

Plummeting from the ethereal to the prosaic, I get the impression hurling personal abuse is a great Spanish tradition. Politicians, for example, are forever calling each other a liar. And I occasionally stumble onto web pages which seem to specialise in printing insults centred on the insultee’s origins within Spain. Indeed, I even saw a site last week devoted to insults in Gallego and concluded that, having found some new ones, the contributors couldn’t resist using them on each other. Possibly merely because a certain word was spelled differently in respective villages. Last night, I read about a bull-jabbing event in central Spain which had provoked this gem of an example from one Sr. Charo: I hope that the residents of Tordesillas suffer famine, flood, plagues, illnesses and death. I hope their newborn die and that their children are kidnapped, raped and murdered. I hope their old folk die in great pain. I hope their youth are beaten and abused and then I hope they go to hell. Brilliant. Why do I just get “You are a m*****f****r”? I feel very deprived. Perhaps it’s because I don’t come from another tribe native to Spain.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Spanish are regularly polled on – amongst other things – the performance of their politicians. Recently, the most effective member of the government was judged to be one of the Deputy Prime Ministers, a woman who revels in the name of María Teresa Fernández de la Vega. As she is very thin and remarkably wrinkly, I doubt this can be put down to sex appeal and my guess is it reflects the fact she’s in the media virtually every day. I’m not sure she has any real executive authority but she’s certainly very prominent. Yesterday, for example, it was announced Mr Zapatero had offered her the top of the PSOE Valencia list. I’m not clear what this means; perhaps that she’ll head the regional government if the PSOE wins the next election there. Of course, I may be very wrong on the reasons for her popularity but, if I’m not, what does this tell us about modern politics?

Another thing I’m not clear on is which government ministries have much sway over things taking place in the regions. Talking to a knowledgeable friend about the age and experience of the Minister of Housing, I learned that this is a weak ministry, with little effective control of how money is spent around the country. He said the Ministry of Health was another one, which was rather endorsed by an announcement yesterday that the Minister is lending her support to a dental scheme which will aim to make treatment more consistent across Spain.

To link these two paragraphs - María Teresa Fernández de la Vega was yesterday reported to be in favour of a controversial housing project in Andalucía which centres on guaranteeing housing for anyone there earning less than 37,200 euros a year. She said she thought economic firmness was compatible with social progress. Which is just the sort of central no-price-attached statement which goes down well with a concerned populace.

Still on politics . . . I found it hard to believe but, crossing the bridge from town yesterday afternoon, I noticed a flier for the Spanish Falange party stuck to one of the posts. In a democracy, I guess I shouldn’t have been taken aback to see evidence of a party associated with Franco and considered to be even further to the right than the opposition PP [“Heirs of Franco”] party is often accused of being. But there it was - telling us that to negotiate with ETA was traitorous and exhorting us to fight against betrayal of Spain by joining the FE de las JONS. There’s even a web site - www.falange.es. But, for the benefit of some readers, I should stress I cite it here as a source of amusement and not because I support their cause. Which is a tad ironic, as extremists of the Right are just as lacking in a sense of humour as those of the Left. En passant, the Falange party got 27,166 votes in the 2004 general elections. Which hardly seems worth bothering about.

Which reminds me – anonymous invective I’ve received from what I presume to be extremist Galician Nationalists has given me the idea of forming the MF Party in time for the 2012 elections. But will we live up to our billing? Will our manifesto go beyond recommending the legalisation of inter-generational relations? And will I be able to match the clever, incisive wit of BNG fanatics? Watch this space. At least one of these challenges should be easy to meet.

Finally, fellow blogger John Chapell in Barcelona says the racing driver Fernando Alonso is highly popular in Spain but considered a jerk elsewhere. I wouldn’t go quite this far. My suspicion is he’s widely seen outside Spain as a genius flawed by a tendency to whinge on the slightest pretext. Cue more invective.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What a patchwork quilt life can be. And you never know whether the bit you’re on will turn out to colourful and vibrant, or torn and ragged.

Yesterday morning, I drove up into the mountains to lunch with American friends in a tiny hamlet not far from Monforte. The day was as bright as any this summer, the roads both excellent and empty, and the scenery magnificently verdant. All in all, a joyous motoring experience. An excellent curry lunch was followed by a pleasant stroll through a bucolic place where summer sees the standing population exploding from 6 to 14, when one-time residents return for their vacation. Invited to a coffee by one such, we were then treated to over an hour of riveting tales of power abuse by the local priests of 40 years or so ago - all delivered by our gracious host in the clearest Spanish I’ve heard in 7 years. In retrospect, though, I shouldn’t have accepted the invitation to a strong café solo at 4 in the afternoon. Being sensitive to caffeine, my daughters and I have learned to avoid coffee after noon. But I felt I couldn’t be ungracious. And that’s why, I guess, I’m writing this at 5am.

Saturday night, though, was an altogether different experience. Regular readers will know my house shares a wall with a family which has a remarkably tenuous grasp on the concept of excess noise. In fact, the paterfamilias, Tony, feels the need to shout when others would merely talk. Sometimes to just himself. Or to a tree in his garden. Anyway, retiring to bed at 11.45, my reading was soon disturbed by the sounds of a birthday party just beginning. Things got worse as the communal singing began on the stroke of midnight, followed at 12.25 by the spine-grating sound of someone struggling with a saxophone reed for the first time in their life. I went cold at the thought that one of the kids had just been given this as a present. Abandoning plans to finish my novel, I doubled up on my usual wax ear plugs and finally got off to sleep. Only to be woken at various times between 1 and 4am by Tony in Full Bawl mode. My Spanish house guests were not so lucky and so had to sleep in until 10.45 to compensate for sleep deprivation. Sadly, this deprived me of the retaliatory option of playing Mozart’s Mass in C at full blast from 7.30. Not that this would have had any effect at all, I suspect.

Strange to relate, over at Notes from Spain, a normally placid and positive Ben Curtis was clearly so disturbed by a Sunday driving experience far removed from mine that he felt he had to go to town on the subject of the maniacs that one sees on Spanish roads. He thinks the police don’t take a strong enough line with these and I agree. The one blot on my day was being regularly confronted by motorbikes coming round mountain bends at 45 degrees and at speeds well in excess of anything sane. As I know this TT racing happens every Sunday, I’d be prepared to bet the local police do as well. But they clearly have other priorities.

On the way back from Monforte, I stopped off to meet a British couple – Chris and Margaret – who run a delightful casa rural 20km or so outside Pontevedra. Click here for more details, if you fancy a vacation or a weekend break. Or if you want to book the whole place for Christmas, New Year or a special occasion involving a cast of dozens.

Finally, I’ve posted all my Feira Franca [Medieval Fair] photos to my Galicia page. I trust readers will be less offended by these than by my attempt at humour yesterday.