Friday, November 30, 2007

I mentioned the other day the Spanish economy is still motoring along at a good lick. But the news for individuals continues to be worrying. Property prices are at best static, mortgage payments are about to rise again and inflation has just taken another large kick upwards. So, more and more families are going to find it, as they say here, hard to get to the end of the month. But can things be as bad as this forecast for the UK? - “A conflation of rising borrowing costs, falling house prices and retrenchment by lenders is expected to propel personal bankruptcies, home repossessions and other debt-related pain to electorally intolerable levels. . . The Prime Minister is about to oversee a period of disastrous burn-outs. Families are more financially over-stretched than they were even in the late 1980s.” Indeed, the question arises - Can things really be this bad in the UK?

President Zapatero has learned it’s not only useful to have Spain’s various nationalist parties as your allies when it comes to general and regional elections but also that they can come in handy for a bit of divide-and-rule. He was able this week to deflect a Catalan-inspired vote of censure on his hapless Minister for Public Works by throwing some timely titbits in the direction of Navarra and Galicia. I don’t suppose the Catalans will give up; they have about a zillion bees in their bonnet and a massive sense of grievance that, being richer than other Spaniards, they pay more taxes into the distributive central coffers. Though not, it seems, as much as the Madrileños. Who are not revolting.

Talking of politics . . . The deputy PM, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, was again all over the papers yesterday. This time presiding over a meeting with TV company owners on the topical issue of tellyrubbish. For a picture, click here. I don’t know about you but she’d certainly frighten me into acquiescence.

El Mundo reported this week that 22% of university graduates don’t read a single book in a year. At first I thought this meant those actually studying, which would be truly amazing. Then I realised that, even if it means those who’ve already graduated, it’s pretty bad. But, then, reading isn’t a very popular pastime in Spain. It rather gets in the way of having fun.

And on the subject of education . . . The international organisation which ranked reading ability by country has now issued the Science results. These, too, are depressing for both Spain and the UK. Maybe I will have to entrust the education of my grandchildren – if I ever have any – to myself. Or perhaps to my border collie, Ryan.

Which reminds me . . . One or two readers have asked for more evidence of Ryan’s wisdom. Well, I’m not sure about that. After reading of events in the Sudan yesterday, he proposed his name be changed to Mohammad. Naturally, I rejected this out of hand. I have enough problems with hate mail from Galician and Basque Christians. The Catalans, though, disdainfully ignore me. Which is fine by me.

Finally - The end of November brought a couple of noteworthy searches to my blog. The first is a variation on the one I cited only a couple of days ago . . .
throwing a donkey off a church in Spain
And the second is both sui generis and so impressively precise I’m sorry I can’t oblige . . .
naked pictures of fat spanish women over 40 years old

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Not before time, the world of Spanish banking is to be shaken to the core as the Banco Popular says it will operate office hours based on the revolutionary concept of customer convenience. Its branches will be open from 8.30am to 8.30pm, Monday to Friday, and 10am to 8.30pm on Saturday. And they will even allow customers to pay their household bills at any time of the day! What next? Interest on your current account that yields more than the charges imposed? Free ATM/debit cards? I must go and lie down.

It’s a commonplace comment that the Spanish are very good at mouthing protest and complaint but not awfully productive at getting together to do something about whatever it is that’s annoying them. So it’s no great surprise to read that - if you believe what they say - the Spanish are the most likely EU citizens to participate in demonstrations. 18% of them claim they’ve been on the streets within the last 12 months, which is three times the EU average of 6%. And this includes France!

New evidence published today says that dogs, like us, our can form abstract concepts. Or at least the concept of ‘dog’. I gave the report to my border collie, Ryan, and he dismissed it as nonsense.

Talking about human capability – An international survey of reading skills says English primary school pupils have slipped from 3rd position in 2001 to, at best, 15th in 2006. Spain, it seems, fares even worse as she doesn’t figure in the top 20. Switching deftly from literacy to numeracy – it was depressing to see last night that a young actress on British TV was utterly incapable of deducting 20 from 47. Hard as I find this to believe in the cold light of this morning, one of the possibilities she ventured was “12”. But she knew her bra size – after the inevitable operation – was 34F. O tempo. O mores . . .

Finally – A comment from one of today’s UK papers on the political drama unfolding there . . . With every day the comedic capers of our governing party become more outlandish and less amusing. It is like watching the disintegration of the Major government on fast forward. The situation is so bad that the leader of the Liberal Democrats was yesterday able to reduce the House of Commons to helpless laughter by observing that Brown began by being portrayed as Stalin but now looks more like Mr Bean. Much, much more effective that simply calling him a liar. As the same writer says - Mockery that manages to filter its way through to voters is more corrosive than almost anything else in politics. When, I wonder, will Spanish politicians master this art?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

To counteract any suggestion this blog is too negative about the Spanish economy – particularly the construction sector - I’d like to stress that GDP growth this year, though down on forecast, will still be a very impressive 3.8% or more. Way up on the performance in other EU members. According to a column in Sunday’s El Mundo, the composition of this growth shows the underlying strength of the Spanish economy and its ability to withstand the current turbulence arising from criminally senseless mortgage lending in the USA. Briefly, the slowdown in consumer spending and reduced investment in construction are largely compensated for by growth in exports, investment in plant & machinery and continued strength in the tourism sector. Plus better growth in wages than at any time during the last 15 years. At least, I think that’s what the article says.

Readers arrive at this blog – currently around 150 a day – in a variety of ways. None are stranger that the bizarrely-worded searches via Google and the like that keep me amused. Yesterday, in fact, brought two of these. I apologise if the first offends . . .
Suck a donkey dick
throwing goats off church towers
The second is not exactly rare. And, strangely enough, I’d quoted it to Spanish friends on Monday, when stressing that the UK equivalent of Spaniards who think all Brits resemble the scum who vomit their way around Ibiza are the Brits who think all Spaniards love nothing more of a weekend than to chuck a screaming goat off a church tower. My friends were shocked and incredulous. At least about the image of themselves. Strangely, they didn’t seem to think the British stereotype was so outrageous.

Talking of national stereotypes - Thanks to TV and press reports of such things as the organised theft of luxury cars, fraudulent charity collecting and roving gangs of young pickpockets in Madrid, most Spaniards - if asked them what word they associate with Romanian - would probably respond Thief. Or perhaps Gypsy. Which is a little ironic as the number of Romanians in Spain has risen from 211,000 at the start of 2007 to 506,000 at the beginning of October. In fact, they may now outnumber even the Moroccans here. And this is despite a two-year moratorium on free entry under EU norms. So one wonders what will happen when the floodgates are fully open. And what the reaction will be. I just hope one or two of them are plumbers who mean it when they promise to come "sometime this week”.

And talking of rude words – El Pais featured an article a couple of days ago on the topical subject of telebasura. The headline read Tellyrubbish is devouring our kids. Family fights, infidelities and insults dominate the programs shown during the hours of juvenile viewing. The paper then gave an example of the sort of bad language that’s commonplace. So far, I haven’t found a Spanish friend to whom this makes any more sense than it does to me. Perhaps a clever reader could oblige - Tu eres mi cabrón, ¿Crees que voy a llamar a un putón sin dientes del puerto?" Click here for the full text.

In the USA, it’s illegal – I think – to overtake a parked school bus in any circumstances. Here in Spain, I’m sure it’s not only illegal but also stupid to cross a solid white line to overtake a bus parked on a blind bend. Particularly if you’re the second of two drivers doing this in quick succession. What I’m not sure about is why the road accident statistics in Spain aren’t even higher than they are.

Finally . . . Something to make the heart soar. And the face to break out in a smile - The missing section of a 17th century cabinet worth £1 million has been found outside the toilets of a pizza restaurant in Yorkshire. Click here for more.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I mentioned the other day our savings banks are big on cultural sponsorship. Attending a couple of exhibitions in the magnificent Pontevedra HQ of the Caixa Nova at the weekend, I was surprised – nay, astonished – to find the brochures and the wall plaques were all in both Gallego and Spanish. Which is not at all common these days. My suspicion is the banks are more wary of upsetting their incorrigible Spanish-speaking customers than, say, the Xunta or the Pontevedra town council.

On the subject of language . . . There was a demonstration in Oviedo at the weekend in favour of official status for Asturian, the ‘original’ tongue of our regional neighbours. One factor behind this movement is dissatisfaction on the part of civil servants there, who are effectively barred by language barriers from getting jobs in Galicia, Cataluña and the Basque Country but must compete with Spanish-speaking colleagues [i. e. everyone] from these regions/nations. Needless to say, there is both an official protest/lobbying body and an Academy of the Asturian Language. Plus a useful dictionary. From which I’ve learned that payares is Asturian for November. And for August. Which must be a tad confusing. I guess it will be the turn of Leonese next. Though there might not be much difference between this and Asturian. Not that the same situation vis-à-vis Catalan gets in the way of Valencian or Balearic ambitions. Did I ever mention that Spain is a fissiparous place? Has anyone calculated the odds on the Spanish state surviving the 21st century?

Sad to say, there are a couple of lists in which both Spain and the UK head the European field. These relate to the use of drugs among 15-24 year olds. Spain, I guess, can point to a rebound from the era of Francoist repression but I wonder what Britain’s excuse would be. The fruits of 60s permissiveness among the offspring of the me-me Baby Boomer generation?

The ABC newspaper yesterday had a front-page photo of the Deputy Prime Minister, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega dining with Cardinals in the Vatican. She looks very stern. But, then, she nearly always does, reminding me of a spinster headmistress. Or ‘indomitable old trout’, as they used to be called in England. Just what a nanny state needs, if this is the way Spain is to go.

Finally . . . After a review of the evidence, the Portuguese police are said to be ‘close to abandoning the theory that Kate and Gerry McCann were responsible for their daughter's disappearance’. I wonder if this will cause others to question their early comments and accusations but suspect not. If you think a mother must be capable of infanticide simply because she doesn’t cry in public, you’re hardly likely to be much influenced by evidence or expert opinion, are you.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The ‘old road’ between Pontevedra and Vigo, is reputed to have more than ten Clubs for men looking for a good time. Last week, the largest of these featured in the latest round of the popular Spanish game Let’s Raid the Brothel. Last time this happened, the owner claimed he’d been unaware the twelve illegal immigrants he’d let rooms to were practising prostitution. He’s obviously not a quick learner for the police found another eleven this time round. As so it goes on. All very amusing.

Ahead of the demolition of another six illegal houses in our local gypsy encampment, the owner of a coastal campsite site stepped in with an offer of temporary accommodation for the inhabitants, while the local council finds a better way to fulfil its obligation to re-house them. But within 24 hours they were asked to leave and have now been placed in various hotels along the coast. This will surely do nothing for the reputation of the gypsies. Nor to ease the widespread terror of having them as neighbours. Nor to evoke sympathy for the complaint from the gypsies’ leader that they’re suffering ‘unjust social exclusion’. And so it goes on. No wonder the council dragged its feet for years before complying with a court order to demolish the illegal houses.

According to a survey among Spanish people, 60% of Spanish people don’t trust the results of surveys among Spanish people. 35% of them think Spanish people don’t really say what they think and 25% of them think they don’t understand the subject. So, pick the meat out of that.

The Spanish tax office – which may or may not say what it thinks and understand the subject – says that only 25% of taxpayers ticked the box on their forms allowing a small percentage of their taxes to go to the Catholic Church. It will be interesting to see whether this rises after the current PR campaign.

Anarchy was very big in Spain at the start of the 20th century but there are only a few souls of this ilk these days. These are called antifascistas by some. And squatters by others. Though okupas is probably a more correct term for the latter.

Galicia Facts

The 15 Spanish municipalities with the oldest populations are all here in Galicia. In the uplands of the Lugo and Ourense provinces, to be exact. So, plenty of scope for incoming Brits looking for a bucolic idyll. Possibly at a reduced price right now.

Finally . . . If you’ve just bought a house in Galicia and are considering the central heating options, my advice would be to resist the blandishments of anyone offering an underfloor system. I’m sure they’re wonderful for, say, Norway’s permanently ice-cold winter but, in our variable-temperature season, they’re rather inappropriate. Pretty useless, in fact. Particularly if they’re driven by a boiler which dies every time the north wind rises above 5km an hour.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The wife of the judge who presided over the trial of those responsible for the Madrid train bombings of March 2004 has written a book about the process. The judge claims he didn’t know his journalist wife was doing this until towards the end of the trial, which rather stretches credulity. And she – in response to criticisms from all quarters – has basically said she’ll write whatever she bloodywell feels like writing. Personally, I rather agree with the view that ‘Of all the journalists in Spain, none had more reason not to write this book than her’. No doubt she will make herself a small fortune. Though her husband’s career may well have reached its high point. Too bad for him, then, that their marital assets arrangement is based on a separación de bienes. Unless, of course, they have a codicil specific to her masterpiece.

I guess it must say something about the size of the problem being addressed that both El Mundo and the Spanish Automobile Association feel that, if the new penalties for reckless driving really are imposed, the country will need a lot of new prisons. Neither of them say outright they think it’s OK to drive at 200kmph [125mph] but you rather get they impression they do. Provided, of course, no third party is injured or killed as a result of someone just having fun.

It’s hard to convey how bad Spanish TV is but, if you want a commentary in Spanish, try here. The heavy press frequently weighs in against what is always called telebasura [telly-rubbish] but everything has been brought into stark relief by the throat-cutting of a woman who was surprised on daytime TV last week by an ex-partner who proposed marriage but was summarily rejected. The production company has naturally said it bears no responsibility for the ensuing murder – by a guy with a record of violence – and that they see no reason to change their egregious practices. Is it too much to hope the public will revolt against this human degradation? Yes, of course it is. So it probably won’t be the last incident of this sort. Perhaps the next one will be live on our screens.

There’s a variety of reactions on the part of drivers who narrowly miss me on zebra crossings. At one end are those who clearly regard it as outrageous I’m in their way and, at the other, there are those who apologise. Between these are those who just look rather sheepish and those – the majority – who simply avert their gaze towards something in the opposite direction from me. So . . . I’ve decided that the local version of the Gallic Shrug is the Great Spanish Look-Away. And my impression is it’s the same in both Gallego and Castellano.

Finally, the Voz de Galicia tells us that 300 estate agents have gone out of business in the last few months in the region, reflecting a 50% drop in sales. There are apparently only 5,000 of these fine folk now, compared with a peak of 7,800 a couple of years ago. They’ll be back.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The new film about Elizabeth I has been panned in the UK for its distortion of English history. However, the British historian, Henry Kamen, says this is nothing compared with the liberties taken with Spanish history. These he listed in a long article in El Mundo or El Pais this week. My guess is the film will do nothing to reduce the widespread Spanish view of the British as arrogant. Or at least those of them not busy being uncivilised ooligans.

Casual swearing is even more common in Spain than in the UK. Both the F and C words appear regularly in conversation here and even on the TV. A nice example – My petite daughter of 30 this week went for an interview with a director of a company looking for an hour or two of English teaching a week. As she walked in, his comment was “Joder! Que joven.” Or “Fuck! You look young”.

I don’t suppose there were many viewers who realised that the chap who sang both national anthems at Wednesday’s ritual suicide of the English football team made a mistake with his Croat. Specifically – and much to the delight of the relevant section of the crowd – he mis-pronounced a key line and instead of "You know, my dear, how we love your mountains" he sang "My dear, my penis is a mountain". After this fine start, things just got better and better for the Croats. And their pride ended up as large as their penises.

Something similar once happened to a teacher in Iran. How can I make this simple? . . . 1. The Iranian way of saying ‘my’ is the suffix am, as in ketabam, or my book. 2. The famous Persian poet is Omar Khyam. 3. The Iranian for cojones is kay. 4. If you read some poetry to a class of 15 year old girls and then ask them ‘What do you think of Khyam?”, it pays to get the pronunciation right.

I’m on record as saying several times over the last 10 years that history would view the Blair/Brown government as one of the worst ever. Surveying the wreckage of the last few weeks, I’m feeling rather smug, on two grounds. Firstly, the claim is beginning to look irrefutable and, secondly, I don’t live in the UK anymore.

Finally, isn’t language fascinating? The Spanish verb acertar, which I’ve always thought meant To get right, turns out to also mean To guess. Which can be a tad confusing. All in the context, acierto. Anyway, here’s the source of my new knowledge:--

Dos ingleses se encuentran en un camino. Uno de ellos llevaba una bolsa al hombro.
- ¿Qué tienes en la bolsa? - dice el otro.
- Pollos - responde el primero.
- Si acierto cuántos llevas, ¿puedo quedarme con uno?
- Si aciertas, puedes quedarte con los dos.
- Bueno, pues... ¡Cinco!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Just to prove Spanish politicians are not always at each others’ throats screaming Liar, liar, you’re pants are on fire, the Senate has approved the new regional Constitution for Castilla y León. The only note of discord was abstentions by the PNV and BNG, which are, respectively, the Basque and Galician nationalist parties. I guess they had their reasons. Perhaps the new constitution doesn’t give independence to CyL. But where were the big-hitter Catalans when protest was needed?

Just what you don’t want to hear – In the same week as Spain toughens measures against those who drive at 60-80kph above the urban/motorway speed limits, the Road Safety Prosecutor has said there are more drivers on drugs than under the effects of alcohol. To deal with this, the police are developing a two-stage detection system. All strength to their test tubes.

It was reported yesterday that the country’s electrical grid had been on the point of collapse on Monday and that ‘The situation was saved by disconnecting some large companies for a time’. The Energy supremo blamed high demand at the start of the cold spell but added that two nuclear plants had been offline, while ‘renewable energy sources did not behave as expected’. But isn’t this their quintessential problem? Which reminds me . . . The Global Warming gadfly, Bjorn Lomborg, has recently written that he agrees that climate change is real and that it is caused by man but that ‘predictions of destruction on an epic scale don’t stack up.’ A better solution than inappropriate and expensive panic measures, he says, would be a ‘dramatic increase in spending on R&D into low-carbon energy production’, via national investment commitments. When you see oil-producers Iran and Venezuela cosying up to each other, you can’t help feeling this must be right. And the sooner the better.

Telefonica 1: Against the background of Spain’s appeal against the humongous fine imposed by the EU for abuse of a dominant ADSL position by this operator, the responsible EU Commissioner has said she’s ‘worried’ that Spain’s broadband is amongst the slowest but most expensive in the EU. She’s worried!

Telefonica 2: Another little scam? A friend has had a basic Telefonica line installed so she can get broadband from Orange. Coming to use it, she’s found she can only get access via one socket, in her bedroom. Friends have suggested this is because Telefonica have fitted the necessary splitter not where the line comes into the flat but only in the bedroom socket. Telefonica have said they’d be pleased to come back and rectify this, at a cost of 40 euros.

Galicia Facts

Spain as a whole is said to have fared badly in the 2008 Michelin Guide. Not a single new restaurant has gained three stars and a batch of places have lost their one-star status. However, up here in Galicia, two new restaurants have had this honour bestowed on them - Yayo Daporta, just down the road in Cambados, and Retiro da Costiña, in Santa Comba, La Coruña province. I wonder what their January price increases will be like.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

When it comes to meeting Kyoto emission targets, Sweden heads the European list. Apart from her, only France, Finland and the UK have shown any significant decrease. Bottom of the class is, I’m afraid, Spain. As this is put down to run-away economic growth, maybe the next few years will see a better performance as the economy decelerates. Meanwhile, perhaps the glass-house-dwelling leader writers of El Mundo and El Pais will stop pointing the finger at the evil empire of the USA.

Tickets are have gone on sale for the new high-speed link between Madrid and Málaga, due to be operative in December. As was the Madrid-Barcelona link, in fact, but ‘local experts’ are now predicting 5 months delay. I suspect there are quite a lot of experts on delay in Spain but, anyway, I find it odd that the link between Madrid and Barcelona has had a lower priority than that between the capital and the south coast. Maybe it’s connected with the national belief that the first line went south to Sevilla because that’s where the then president hailed from.

Galicia Facts

The banner headline of yesterday’s Correo Gallego was that Oporto airport is taking advantage of the fratricidal battle between Galicia’s three international airports for a population of less than three million people. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll have heard this here first. On November 1, to be exact - when I added that “Looking forward, I’d hazard a guess that petty localism will continue to get in the way of any change that would benefit the Galician economy”. It’s bad enough when localists pick fights with Madrid but, when they wage war on each other, it’s disastrous.

I see that, since my trip last week, my local supermarket has repainted the lines and chevrons outside the entrance an even brighter shade of yellow. If this was meant to deter the individualists who can’t be bothered to walk 3 to 5 metres from the car park, it appears to have been an abject failure.

Our long stretch of wonderful weather finally broke on Sunday, since when we have been enveloped in the Atlantic Blanket.

Finally, if you happen to be a Polish plumber looking to move west, you might like to know Pontevedra clearly needs you. If, on the other hand, you are a Rumanian beggar with similar thoughts, please note that the post is oversubscribed.

Stop-press Sports Note: After England’s abject performance last night, I’m happier than ever that my team, Spain, has gone through to the European Cup Finals.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

El Mundo yesterday angrily headlined the fact that school history textbooks were being ‘manipulated’ in those parts of Spain where you’d expect this to happen. By coincidence a Scottish columnist today congratulates the government in Edinburgh on its decision to include Scottish History in the national curriculum. This, he hopes, will mean an end to the propagation of what he calls the ‘Braveheart bilge’ that currently passes for history in Scotland. In a comment that would apply just as much to Spain as it does to Scotland, he adds that it’s entirely typical of the fraught nature of the nationality issue in Scotland in recent decades that something as seemingly normal as teaching schoolchildren their country's history has been caught up in politics.

Taking a wider perspective on nationalism . . . When I first moved to Spain in 2000 – doubtless influenced by an aversion to IRA and ETA terror tactics – I was instinctively opposed to the secession of any of its current regions. Seven years on, I’ve grown in my conviction that, provided the process is democratic, there’s a lot to be said for allowing the regions that see themselves as nations to go their own way. Early in November, El Pais carried a long and persuasive article that put the case for Spain being realistic and wise enough to accept that the only feasible choices now open to it are either a symmetrical federal state [USA? Germany?] or ‘national’ self-determination that would see Cataluña, the Basque Country and possibly even Galicia breaking away. You can read the original here and Google will give you an immediate – if rather rough and ready – translation. However, it would be nice if one of my totally bilingual readers could give us an accurate English version for something as important as this.

Meanwhile, back in the here and now of today’s Spain, parlous economic news continues to rain down on us. After the recent massive hike in the inflation rate comes a threat from the farmers that meat prices will rise at least 10% in January. As this is the month when everybody – especially the government and its monopolies - raises prices and since it follows a December in which much will have been spent on presents and five family feasts in little more than a week, my guess is it wouldn’t be very wise to open any sort of shop in early 2008.

For local governments, the really bad news, of course, is just how much their income will fall now that the Golden Goose of highly-taxed property deals has stopped laying. The big question is whether spending will fall in line with the sort of reductions - 4.9 billion euros in 2009 according to Standard & Poors - that are being forecast. Personally, I’d be quite happy to see an end to the public works which have made Pontevedra one large roadworks site for the last seven years. But I fear politicians may well be reluctant to curtail expenditure that has its benefits.

A touching scene on the streets of Pontevedra yesterday – a stone mason gently trying to take a bit of granite out of his colleague’s eye. But, as they’d both been chipping away at the façade of Citibank without wearing protective goggles, my sympathy was rather short-lived. There is too much of this [macho?] refusal to take sensible safety measures in Spain. Which might well account for her poor record on work-related accidents.

Finally – Another 14 people have been arrested in the great Madrid town hall bribes-for-business-licences case. And it’s reported that the brains behind this is a guy whose line of work is selling business premises. What genius! Via others, you manipulate and control the market for the very things you’re selling. Rather like Charles Saatchi with the works of modern artists. Only not quite as legal and admirable. Or at least admired. Saatchi’s huge profits, that is. Not the so-called works of art.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Spanish government recently announced major new benefits for the disabled. One wonders how much analysis they’ve done of the UK scene, where it’s said that the incapacity benefit has been “abused and misappropriated to the point of travesty”. So much so, in fact, that it’s now acknowledged by all to be a racket. Indeed, data obtained under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act confirms that “an absurdly high number of claimants are receiving benefit for conditions such as obesity and vaguely defined ‘stress’”. Could this happen here? I expect so. But at least it will have the same beneficial effect of reducing the unemployment numbers, once people latch on to the possibilities of a lifetime benefit without strings. Or am I being too cynical about human behaviour?

Galicia’s saving banks [the Caixas] are traditionally involved in sponsorship of cultural events, possibly because they’re obliged to be. In fact, each of our two biggest Caixas has an impressive cultural centre in the heart of Pontevedra, dedicated to exhibitions and to regular events. Trying to book on line for one of these yesterday – with ‘trying’ being the operative word – I discovered at least one of these banks indulges in another Spanish tradition, charging you more for doing things on line than by phone. Can this be because they can’t or won’t make the overhead savings that would motivate them to offer you a net discount? Or is it just profiteering by not-for-profit organisations?

Up in the hills behind Pontevedra, a group of people belonging to a sect called Gnosis Samael aun Weor are having problems with the local council over six container-homes they’ve installed on land they bought a while back. A spokesperson insisted that the Barcelona dealer who’d sold them the containers had assured them they wouldn’t need planning permission to set them up as houses. Well, posibly not in Cataluña. And maybe not even here, in theory. I suspect the group will have to call on all its divine connections to get this solved. Including their celestial bankers.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been referred to – not unwelcomingly – as ‘Spain’s most prolific blogger’ and ‘the doyen of bloggers in Spain’. Yesterday, though, fellow blogger John in Barcelona labelled me ‘Old Reliable’. I’m sure he meant this kindly but, on balance, I prefer ‘prolific’ and ‘doyen’. Even if some of the insults hurled at me in Spanish and Gallego have been more entertaining.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Up in the hills above Madrid this weekend, a small multi-age group held what will probably be the last public act of homage to Franco in Spain, commemorating the 32nd anniversary of his death. Under the new Law of Historical Memory such displays will shortly be banned. I wonder if it’s illegal to worship the Devil in Spain. I guess it is. But it will be rather ironic if it isn’t.

Early in 2005, I commented that ‘Building a house in Spain is a long and frustrating process’. I added, though, that work was proceeding apace on a couple of new houses being built near me and that they might just be finished in under the two years I guessed was the Spanish average. In April 2006, I went so far as to estimate that one might be ready for occupation in three months and the other in six. Nineteen months on, neither of them has yet been completed. And I rather doubt this will be achieved before the looming third anniversary of the start of construction. While this is not good news for the buyers, it does rather inspire me with confidence I will win my bet on the earliest date anyone moves into the houses being built on the other side of me. Right now, the Portuguese labourers are, as usual, working flat out but I have grounds for believing things will rapidly decelerate once the shells are finished and the emphasis shifts to work which calls for coordination of various sets of craftsmen. But vamos a ver.

I’ve long been using Google Reader to give me quick access to all the sites I read of a morning, but I discovered by chance this weekend two more Google facilities:-

Google Alert: These are email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your choice of query or topic. I’ve selected Galicia and await my first weekly batch. Click here, if interested.

Googlism: Using this, you’ll be able to find out what Google.com thinks of you, your friends or anything. Interestingly, it appears to think I am a famous British criminal.

Anyway, here – shorn of references to Poland and to a bank in Argentina - is what Googlism says Galicia is:-
a top seafood exporter
a leading region in agriculture
often misunderstood
tucked away in the north
an area comprising grass and granite that has a rugged coastline
always surprising
a viable alternative to the big cities and more well
the shearing of the beasts
a nationality of almost 30 . .
the greenest region of the country
a region located in the northwest corner of spain
undergoing political and economical development
an ideal location for lovers of nature
closely linked to the sea and its cities
time for dark green pimientos de padrón
often called españa verde or green spain
of little importance
probably one of the most beautiful autonomous regions of Spain
located in northwest spain and covers 2,957,509 ha.
cultivated with as much loving care as the grape vine
such a varied small country that ranges from the high mountains to the quiet beaches of . .
the latest to be added to golden bough’s ever growing celtic repertoire
classified as region objective number 1 by the european union
the place
a world in itself
the centre of autonomous government and a site for many professional associations and organisations which makes santiago a city
a small country in the north west of spain which has its own language
a very mountainous region with large tracts of heathland broken by gorges and fast . . .
not spain
the spanish autonomous region with the highest production of cow's milk
one of the 17 autonomous communities that make up the spanish state
considered in spain as "the country of a thousand rivers" despite the fact that their natural quality is very poor due mainly to agricultural practices and septic tank/leach fields which cause nitrate . . .
inviolable and is made up of 75 delegates that go to represent the four provinces of the autonomous community

As for poor Pontevedra, the response is - Sorry, Google doesn't know enough about Pontevedra yet.

I hope you have better luck.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The judge in the case of the cartoon alleged to have been overly disrespectful of the Spanish royal family pronounced that it had ‘crossed the thin line that separates satire from insult’ and so was illegal. The man has the wisdom of Solomon. Or at least he must think he has.

As if they didn’t have enough to worry about, our local estate agents are now facing a bombing campaign. The primary candidates for the latest incident are reported to be a small – and unknown to me - revolutionary group of Galician nationalists. These are followed by the usual local suspects of ‘people settling accounts’. In difficult times, though, there’s surely room for a suspicion of an insurance job. Albeit drastically executed.

Spanish politics: I see my vote for the next Socialist president - Deputy Prime Minister, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega – has now been given the additional challenge of ‘supervising foreign policy’. Which must have gone down well with the Minister responsible. In other circumstances, this would have afforded the lady even more chances for photo-ops but, given the existing one-a-day frequency, this will surely be impossible. At least in El Pais. My guess is that she alone is responsible for Spain overtaking Britain in the top ten list of countries where there’s some degree of male-female equality. A development which may have raised a few eyebrows. Especially female ones.

I see the Catalan government plans to impose a special tax on plastic bags, a turn of events with which I am decidedly sympathetic. Opening the box of a new phone I bought yesterday, I found each and every one of its contents to be encased in its own bag, including the bloody instructions. Something has to be done to stop this nonsense. But at least they’d put the Spanish and Portuguese leaflets in the same bag. And for such small mercies . .

A British columnists asks this morning “Where on the planet can't you get a Starbucks decaf latte these days?”. Well, here in Pontevedra, for a start. Thank God.

Which reminds me . . . I passed a police car parked in the old quarter last night with its engine running. Nothing too strange about that, of course, but there was no one in it. Resisting the temptation to move it round the corner, I commented to my colleague it must be because of things like this that the municipal police here are dismissed as clowns or country bumpkins. Unlike, I should stress, the fine officers of the Guardia Civil, who come very quickly and in droves if you tell them someone is in your garden.

Finally – Could there be a better example of Google search specificity than this?:-
Large photos of beautiful women scantily dressed
I suspect he wasn’t disappointed. Other than by ending up at my blog.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Random Saturday thoughts:-

Is there anything the world needs less than the Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez talking to Iran about swapping uranium for nuclear know-how?

When you go to the police station and make a report about would-be burglars in your garden and you provide your identity card, what possible value is added to the process by answering the classically Spanish question “And what are the names of your father and your mother?”?

Someone has said it’s now easier and cheaper to get a divorce in Spain than to negotiate the termination of a contract with Telefonica. But wasn’t this just as true before the new law came into effect? Even if it did take ten times longer to get a divorce before.

Can anyone get more than a blank page when they try to get information on the lowest price petrol stations in Spain when they click this government site?

Does anyone really know why milk prices here have risen by 24% this year or why Spanish farmers get more for their milk than any others in the EU?

Has any country missed its Kyoto emissions targets by more than Spain?

Does that country also have a press which is constantly criticising the USA for its energy consumption?

Who believes the BBVA bank when it says house prices in Spain will fall by 1.9% in 2009 and that the slow down in real estate will only have a limited effect on the Spanish economy?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Over the years of observation and consideration, certain conclusions become rather inescapable. One of these is that the Spanish establishment is not altogether serious about preventing the exploitation of [mostly] foreign women. Down on the main street in my township of Poio, next to a bar called Anfield, there’s a ‘club’ with the unambiguous name of Factory Girls. Just in case you’re remarkably stupid, there’s a large and helpful picture of what you can expect to find inside. Over the years, en route to its current name, this has been called The Playboy Club and then Xanadu. These cosmetic changes have, I suspect, been impelled by occasional police raids and court cases. Notwithstanding these, I rather doubt that Factory Girls, any more than the Xanadu in its time, is operating under new management.

Another ineluctable conclusion is that it can take some time here for the national/regional authorities to deal with corruption that is an open secret in the community, if not the entire country. Down on the south coast the current - almost unimaginable - case of the prosecution of the entire Marbella council has come only after decades of blatant malfeasance by the mayor, Jesús Gil, and his numerous henchmen. And now, this week, we have the arrest of 16 civil servants in the Madrid town hall who have, it’s said, been openly taking licence bribes of up to 20,000 euros for years. So why these delays? Priorities? Ranking on a To-Do list? The need for someone to retire before action can be taken? Bad luck? . . . Theories welcome.

More mundanely . . . A sharp contrast in local service levels yesterday. Following another man-in-the-garden incident last night, a neighbour called the Guardia Civil. Within minutes, there were at least 2 cars and 6 men in the street. Against that, earlier in the evening, I’d been called by a shop asking me if I still wanted a quotation for the repair of some hi-fi equipment I’d left with them in June 2006. A mere 17 months ago. But they did have the decency to apologise. By the way, such a rapid and plentiful police response is, I suspect, the stuff of dreams in the UK these days. Pretty impressive. And all remarkably friendly and un-officious. Though, now that I think of it, they did rather laugh at my suggestion that a dropped cigarette might have useful prints on it.

Driving through Portugal last week, I couldn’t avoid the observation there was a certain shoddiness about the towns I passed through. Crossing the border between Bragança and Zamora, the difference in the road quality on the two sides was so great I even entertained the suspicion the Spanish were taking the piss out of their neighbours. As I drove on via excellent roads and motorways, I asked myself why Spain was clearly getting so much more EU money than poorer Portugal. Perhaps, I concluded, the answer lies in the principle of ‘matching’ operated by Brussels. In other words, they will only give you a grant equal to the amount you’re prepared to invest yourselves. So, if you can’t afford the latter, you don’t get the subvention. Or the improved road. Any better theories? Or facts, even?

Finally, and of my own free will, I’d like to highlight the new link from this blog to Notes from Madrid. Which is excellent. Especially the stuff from the fruit of my loins, Faye Davies.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I raised yesterday the question of the ‘Norwegian’ Orkney Islands seceding from a newly independent Scotland. Gauging the Spanish/Gallego ratio on the streets of Pontevedra yesterday, I got to wondering how the government of a newly independent Galicia would deal with a demand from the Spanish-speaking coast that it break away from the Gallego-speaking hinterland. But this is a purely hypothetical question, of course. It couldn’t possibly happen. There must be a limit to territorial salami slicing. Yes?

The Spanish economy is growing by ‘only’ 3.8% at the moment and, of course, the forecasts for next year are rather lower. For me, the most worrying aspect is that Spain’s annual productivity improvement continues to be marginal, and from a low base. One wonders how the country will fare when the artificial boom of the last 10 years is well and truly over. On the latter, there are daily reports about how bad things are getting but I will lay off reporting any of these for a while.

As someone who tries hard to minimise the number of plastic bags I’m given, I read with interest of London’s decision to stop supermarkets giving them out. I can’t see this happening here, if only because we’d have nothing to use for our nightly deposits in the central rubbish containers. Unless, of course, we're forced to buy them from a specialist supplier. Perhaps the local council. Hmm. Maybe it will happen here quite soon. Especially if I buy a factory and propose a deal to the mayor.

I’ve long wondered whether my border collie’s intelligence isn't too high for my own good and now I have the proof. Confronted by two men at my front gate the night before last, Ryan barked furiously at them – it’s obligatory under Spanish law – but stopped as soon as they unbolted it and entered the garden. I assume his canine reasoning was that, if they came through the gate, they were welcome guests. Except they weren’t and they promptly ran off when I challenged them from a window as they headed for the back of the house. So, a lucky break for me that I was home but Ryan is now in the dog house and awaits re-training, when I can find the right course. Which will be tough as his Castellano is poor. And his Gallego even worse.

It was rumoured yesterday morning that there might be a trickle of rain before the moon came up. But there wasn’t and today has dawned as sunny as any of the previous 77. What a contrast – so far at least – with my first winter in Galicia, when it rained virtually every day from November 2000 to June 2001. But I guess there’s still time to catch up.

Dining in a Mexican restaurant last night, I was surprised to hear a mariachi version of that famous London tune, Roll out the Barrel. I was even more confused when my Paris-raised companion insisted it was a French tune. A quick search on Wikipedia revealed it’s actually a polka, written by the Czech musician Jaromír Vejvoda in 1927. There’s even a Nazi version. That’s enough culture.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The geopolitical theme of our peace-ridden times is surely nationalism. And the tide does seem to be turning in favour of those seeking to break up existing nation states or political unions. Provided things are done democratically, I see no wrong in this but it does raise rather intriguing questions of where it will all end. Will the Orkneys, for example, claim that some Norwegian link gives them a right to secede from a newly independent Scotland? As for the here-and-now, this is an article from a [right-of-centre] UK commentator who believes - as many now do - that the British union is already moribund. For a close-to-home analogy, imagine that a Spanish government full of Galician politicians was giving a subsidy of 10 billion euros a year to a Galicia run by Galician Nationalists demanding independence. Is it is so inconceivable that the rest of Spain would say Adios? Now? Within 10 years?

Talking of national and supranational politics . . . Yesterday, for the thirteenth consecutive year, the European Court of Auditors refused to approve the EU budget. If this happened to a government department, it would be front page news. If it happened to a private corporation, directors would be facing prison terms. But, because it's Brussels, we flex our shoulders in a shrug so disdainful as to be almost Gallic. Yup, the EU is corrupt. Et alors? How long can this go on, one wonders?

To my surprise, a significant minority of Spaniards – 40% - are reported to think the King was wrong to tell President Chaves of Venezuela to shut his gob. Even more of them – 76% - say it was wrong for the Spanish courts to fine two cartoonists 3,000 euros each for portraying the Crown Prince and his wife copulating in the doggy position. Well, 76% of Voz de Galicia readers who bothered to vote on line. I like to think they represent the country as a whole. Possibly even some right-wing fascists. This, by the way, is a tautologous phrase in Spain, where everyone even the slightest bit right of centre is routinely called a fascist. Though not all are given this honour by President Chaves.

Spain is now said to have more cars per capita than France – 501 per 1000 – but to lag behind Germany at 565 and Italy at 596. Spain, though, may well have the fastest drivers. Which reminds me . . . Last year here, a total of 344 people were prosecuted for driving the wrong way down motorways, resulting in 158 accidents and 35 deaths. The peak periods for this kamikaze behaviour were the summer and winter fiesta periods. Along with the early hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings, these are certainly the best times to stay off Spanish roads.

Finally, a new way of cooking lamb that I enjoyed in Toro, after my not-pigs'-ear soup . . .

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Spanish king was not the only person to speak out of turn last week. A gynaecologist up in Cataluña - trying to treat a tense patient - suggested she return after she’d been introduced to [by?] an aubergine and was more relaxed. He was subsequently convicted of abusing his position of ‘technical dominance’ and of using a phrase that was ‘offensive and degrading’. And fined 200 euros. The lady in question told the press it had got in the way of her having sex with her partner but I was left unsure what exactly she meant by this.

In another strange court case in Cataluña, joint custody was denied to a father on the grounds he had a limp. This, the judge felt, would prevent his caring for his two small kids, even though he was an international paralympic swimmer. The husband, not the judge.

During my trip to Toro and Tordesillas last week, someone somewhere said it was customary in the 16th century to depict the Virgin Mary with a small object in her right hand. A lemon, for example. So the lapsed Catholic in me wonders if somewhere in Spain there is a statue of her holding an aubergine.

Two announcements from Telefonica in the last few days. Firstly, their profits for January to September this year were 51% higher than last year. Secondly, they’re increasing some call set-up costs by 25%. I wonder if there’s a connection. And when we will have reasonably priced broadband anywhere in Spain.

For reasons which may or may not be connected with a relaxation in the law, the number of fatalities among motorcyclists in Spain has shot up by 33% this year. The motorcyclists themselves are up in arms against the crash barriers at the side of the roads, which they say act as guillotines in the event of an accident. But this can hardly be the primary cause for such an increase. Perhaps it’s the illegal racing.

Violence flared again during last weekend’s botellón in Pontevedra, when a young man was gashed with a broken bottle in the old quarter. This left a satisfyingly large blood stain with which the local press could indulge the strange Spanish affection for pictures of gore. Any more of this and I’ll no longer be able to differentiate between the drinking habits of British and Spanish youth.

Finally, here’s a sentence which has surely never been penned in the entire history of the world and will probably never be written again – Between 1st September and 31st October, southern Galicia had less rain than anywhere else in Spain.

Monday, November 12, 2007

So, good news for nationalists everywhere - Belgium looks ever closer to breaking up. That said, Wallonia might not last long as a separate entity, as 54% of the French are reported to favour its annexation. Flanders, on the other hand, could well remain independent. Or form a confederation with the Dutch. A British politician points out, firstly, that The countries which do best, these days, are small, agile ones, and, secondly, that Among nations, as among individuals, it is those who are made dependent on grants which suffer most. One inevitably wonders whether Cataluña, the Basque Country and Galicia would fare differently against these criteria. And I suspect the perception of fit amongst the populace would largely determine the outcome of any referendum on independence. As in Scotland, perhaps, where only 25% are currently said to favour this.

There are statues and paintings of a wide array of Blessed Virgins in Spain. One of the oddest must be the picture of the Virgin of the Fly in the sacristy of Toro’s main church. If you go to see this, be sure to take a look at the fabulous ivory and tortoiseshell carving in the same place. Astonishing workmanship.

It was in this church that I witnessed another example of what I always refer to as Spanish individualismo. Or easy disregard for rules. The church’s most famous feature is a marvellous 13th century, Romanesque portico on which everyone seems – to me at least – to be smiling. You get to it through a door on which there’s a large sign forbidding photography. Despite this, a guy in his 60s had to be loudly reminded of this as he was about to snap the portico. “Just a little one?”, he unsuccessfully pleaded. And then spent the next five minutes moaning to his wife about pointless authoritarian attitudes.

In a related sort of way – I was amused to see the Spanish king telling the insufferable Venezuelan president, Chaves, to shut up during last week’s Iberian-South American Summit. My guess was that, far from being scandalised at this shocking breach of protocol, most Spanish people would be full of praise for his action. And so it seems. El Mundo had an editorial yesterday headed ‘The king puts Chaves in his place.’ Which does seem to be the majority view. By a long chalk.

It was reported last week that the feared result of a new Italian law would be the departure of hundreds of Rumanian gypsies in the direction of Spain. This comes at a time when our local press is warning us of the re-appearance on our streets of ‘deaf-and-dumb’ Rumanians collecting for a fictitious charity. Things could be worse; from the Costa del Sol comes a report that “gangs of Kosovans, Albanians and Romanians have targeted the chalets of Britons and other foreigners, wrongly believing them all to be rich.” This risk, it’s said, will rise as unemployment grows as the result of the recession in the construction industry. Which, by the way, is now being described as ‘faster and less gentle’ than predicted. What a surprise.

Galicia Facts

The bees in the north of our region are of the European variety, whereas down south they’re African. However, I can vouch for the fact they all buzz in Gallego.

A supermarket chain, Gadis, has made a bit of a stir with an ad whose strap line is Let’s live like Galicians. As it’s rather self-mocking, I guess it comes under the heading of Galician retranca humour. But I’m sure someone will let me know, if I’m wrong. You can see it here, complete with helpful but hilarious English subtitles.

Finally, click here for an alternative view of Norman Mailer, who was naturally lionised in the anti-American Spanish media. Never having read any of his books, I wouldn’t know where the truth lies.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

My short trip down into Portugal and across to Castile was a spur-of-the moment decision, so not as well planned as would normally be the case. But, fifteen minutes down the road towards the border, it struck me I probably had intended to bring with me the small suitcase I’d packed the night before . . .

Stimulated by Michael Jacobs, my destination – after stopping for a wonderful lunch of fresh mackerel by a Portuguese lake – was the classically Castilian, hilltop town of Toro. This could be the quietest place in Spain – possibly because it’s not far from Portugal! – and, for the first time in seven years, I managed to sleep without earplugs. But, sadly, I didn’t bump into the mad woman who wandered round Jacobs’ hostel with an omelette on her head when he first visited Toro in the late 60s. Nor the barber who moaned to him when he returned in the early 90s that a small town of only 7,000 souls had 13 banks. Things could have been worse; in the 14th century, the place had over 40 churches.

I did, though, find that I could feast on Galician octopus. In fact, it was the major item on the board outside the first restaurant I checked out for my birthday dinner. Fortunately, they also had traditional Castilian dishes, though I wasn’t sure what the floppy stuff in the sopa castellana was and feared it was pig’s ear left over from another Galician dish. Thankfully, I’ve since discovered it was just stale bread.

Should you be thinking of going to Toro yourself, be aware it’s bitingly cold even in early November and that, according to one of the tour guides, there’s a month during which the sun is never seen and the icicles never melt because of the 24-hour fog. My guess is this is in winter. Apparently this sort of weather contributed to the fact that the nuns in the unheated convent once had an average lifespan of only 25. I imagine they were quite pleased to pass away. And not much stiffer after they had.

Contrary to the published timetable, none of Toro’s three main churches were open. As the last on my list was next to the Tourist Office, I was able to have the following classic conversation:-

Good morning.

Good morning. Can you tell me when the churches in this brochure are open?


No, they’re not.

Yes, they are.

No, they’re not. I’ve just tried to get into them and they’re all locked.

Are you sure you tried the right door?

Yes, I tried all of them.

The brochure you’ve got is for the period until the end of September. This is the current one.

Are the opening times different, then?

No .. . . I’m going to call the woman in charge.

Maribel. I have some very angry people here saying the churches are closed . . .

I’m not very angry. Just perplexed.

I know but I have to say something like that. Anyway, she’s got a bit of a cold and had popped out to have a coffee. They’ll be open very shortly.

Many thanks.

In the end, I tried the churches again after visiting the Monastery of the Holy Spirit and found only one of them open. But it was a wonderful example of Mudéjar architecture and well worth the return trip. That said, my memories of it were later almost obliterated by the sensational Convent/Monastery of Santa Clara in Tordesillas. This was built in the 14th century on the site of an earlier palace which combined Arab and Christian design. The whole place is a gem but the Mudéjar ceiling of the church must rank as one of the most beautiful things ever created. Simply stunning. Thank God for religion. Both Christian and Muslim. Sometimes and in some ways, at least.

Driving up the A6 towards Galicia, I noticed a couple of Castilian fields full of solar panels. As they were facing the setting sun, I wondered whether – like sunflowers - they rotated during the day to follow it across the sky. I decided that they did and that these places were effectively sun-panel plantations. Twenty minutes later, I tuned into a Notes from Spain podcast in which Ben and Marina discussed the huertas solares [sun-panel market gardens] that are springing up across Spain. Isn’t life funny, sometimes? Sunny, even. As I first typed . . .

Finally . . . The brochure of my hotel in Toro comes in Spanish, English and French. Respectively, it says guests will be attended to by a young team of professionals, a young and professional team, and a team of professional young people. I’m still trying to figure out the nuances. If any.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Tales of power-mad and/or randy priests are a staple of Galician village life but you don’t expect to see them covered in the local press. Recently, however, we’ve been treated to the saga of a 75 year old priest in the border town of Tui who became a little upset when his Brazilian housekeeper was told her visa had expired. So he nipped down to the town hall and, in effect, registered her as his common law wife so she could stay in Spain. However, his bishop has taken this rather amiss and instructed him to rectify matters. And to attend confession, perhaps. You can read about it here.

Talking of humour, I see that a new magazine specialising in the Galician dark humour of retranca has just hit our newsstands. The first issue seems to be dedicated to the ugliness of much of the construction in Galicia, a well-deserved target. You can read about it here, in an article which says publication of the magazine proves Galicians can laugh at themselves. It rather depends, of course, on who’s doing the joking.

In the UK, where it’s now permitted to criticise ‘multiculturalism’, it seems things have gone even further and one is now allowed to discuss immigration and its impact on British culture. However, you must do this under the rubric of ‘population growth’, rather than ‘immigration’. Since the latter always appears high on the list of things that concern the Spanish the most, I suspect this bit of political correctness has yet to reach Spain.

En passant, this doesn’t seem like a good time to try to get anywhere by train in Cataluña. Responding to recent criticism of her apparent ineptitude, the Minister for Public Works insisted she wouldn’t resign as ‘Only cowards run away’. This, of course, is on a par with the view of the besieged head of London’s police, who said that he must stay on ‘to sort things out’. By the logic of these under-achievers, the worse you perform, the more you need to stay in your [undeserved] job. How convenient.

Talking about Cataluña, there was a nice comment yesterday from my fellow blogger, Trevor, who lives there . . . Apparently if you go to the Barcelona real estate trade fair and say you want to buy a parking space, they’ll throw in a free flat. If you can get a mortgage. (Of course the sector is not in collapse. That only happens in other countries.)

And still on this theme, it’s reported that A slowdown in the real estate sector may be to blame for the decision of a large developer in the Toledo region, known popularly as ‘El Pocero’ [Mr Drains?], to sell three of his private jets, keeping just his largest one. Tough times, obviously.

On my walk into town everyday, I pass Pontevedra’s Fine Arts School. The young women who attend this are just about the only ones in town who don’t dress in exactly the same uniform as their mothers – a pair of tight jeans and whatever top is currently the rage. Not exactly London at the peak of the punk period – or even now – but different nonetheless. And probably the only bit of teenage rebelliousness one comes across. If you discount getting blind drunk in the Friday and Saturday night botellones.

Anyway, I’m off on a short trip down into Portugal and Castile. I may or may not find a cyber café. So, until I return, my best wishes to anyone who shares my birthday today.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Armed with my list of Galician authors and their books, I pootled along to the Pontevedra library to see if they had any English translations. Somewhat to my surprise, they didn’t. But then I realised the English section was understandably dedicated to classics for Eng. Lit. students. Until, that is, I saw the copy of Don Quijote. Checking with the librarian, I confirmed that the library, despite having a translation of this Castellano masterpiece on its shelves, offers no translations of works in Gallego. Time, then, for me to have a word with the city’s mayor. As he’s a Nationalist and normally speaks only in Gallego, I expect a sympathetic ear.

After the library, I polled along to one of our remaining bookshops to continue with the challenge. As with the others, the organisation of the books there seems chaotic to me. Plus there are no signs whatsoever to help you concentrate your search. Just like the Corte Inglés in Vigo, albeit on a smaller scale. So, not being a genius or a long-serving employee but being short of time, I left the task for another day. When I will simply ask one of the rather under-active assistants. My suspicion is the place survives on the sale of school textbooks.

I’ve touched on our local drug trade quite a lot recently but, in my defence, it has featured rather frequently in the local press. The latest sad development is the first arrival on our coast of ‘black cocaine’. This apparently lacks a smell that can be picked up by sniffer dogs. It’s sort of impressive to see the manufacturers investing in R&D but I imagine they can easily afford it.

Mad Britain: Good to read that West Yorkshire’s most senior policeman has complained that ‘the insane cult of health and safety’ is stifling common sense in the UK. Next step?

At the other end of the spectrum, the police here in Galicia are trying to infiltrate the gangs of morons who hold illegal car and bike races on public roads. From my experience, all they need to do is park any Sunday along the ‘old’ road from Pontevedra to Ourense and wait for the bikers to flash past. Though catching them night be a bit tougher. Unless they string a net across the road. Or a wire at head height.

Finally, El Mundo yesterday carried an article by Giscard d’Estaing in which – not for the first time – he said that the EU’s Lisbon Treaty was the same as the Constitution rejected by the Dutch and French, only with the order of things changed. So either he or the British Prime Minister is a fool or a liar. Or both, I suppose. In both cases.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

When an organisation with 2,000 years of success decides to launch a PR campaign, you know it’s got a few problems. The Catholic Church here is Spain is about to remind us what it is and what it does. Mind you, the reason is purely financial; it wants a larger number of Spanish taxpayers to tick the box on their annual return which determines how much the Church gets from the state. Spaniards [and foreigners!] have been doing this for 30 years now but next year is the first time this will actually mean anything. In a nutshell, the state has decided to stop giving the Church an annual lump sum simply increased by the inflation rate and to let the [increasingly irreligious] populace decide how much the subvention is to be. Not before time.

Up in Belgium, the record for being ungoverned has now been broken and it’s said the continued absence of a Prime Minister is beginning to cause concern. For one thing, if the political crisis isn’t resolved by December 13, there’ll be no one available to sign the EU’s shining new Lisbon Treaty. Somehow, though, I’m sure the EU Commission will find a way to plough on regardless of such a nicety. It always does.

Having bought several products festooned with Fair Trade tags or labels in the UK last month, I wondered how long it would take for this to be commonplace here in Spain. I still don’t know the answer to this but, walking through a galería last night, I noticed workmen fitting out a place called Tienda de comercio justo, or Fair Trade Shop. I’ll be interested to see how successful it is. Incidentally, shop-fitting seems to be one of the things done very efficiently in Spain. But they certainly do get enough practice at it, at least here in Pontevedra. Cynical Spanish friends insist it’s got something to do with the laundering of drug profits but I’ve no idea whether this is true or not.

The Professor of Irish History at Oxford University has just published a book entitled “Luck and the Irish”, which deals with the 20 year success of “the Celtic Tiger’. Talking on the BBC last week, he addressed the question of how much Ireland owed this growth to membership of the EU. He said opinion was decided on the impact of the massive subventions but stressed that the low EU interest rates had been instrumental in attracting vitally important US investment. “However”, he added, “the greatest stroke of luck the Irish have had is that ‘800 years of suppression’ has left them with the English language”. Food for thought, perhaps, for those Galicians who see Celtic Ireland as their model for an independent Celtic Galicia in which everyone is obliged to have Gallego as their first language. The Irish Nationalists did, of course, try this with Gaelic when they came to power but abandoned it quite early on. The Professor, by the way, is Irish, not English. George Santayana, of course, was neither but he knew a thing or two about history. And, ironically, he was born in Spain.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Just as the ten year building boom is ending – along with its bonanza of 7% tax on each sale – the Galician Xunta has decided it’s a good time to set up an agency to stop what’s called here ‘savage urbanisation’ and to prevent further despoliation of the coast. Maybe they were too busy on other things before now. Reviewing planning permits perhaps.

Readers who know I have a bet on will understand why I cite this quotation from a Spanish news source - There is more evidence of the slowdown in the Spanish real estate market, with data published this morning showing that the price of retail housing has fallen in ten regions of the country for the fourth consecutive month.

At a local level, I’ve decided to take an Anglo-Saxon approach to one particular real estate issue. Talking to a couple of my neighbours in the street yesterday about the fear in the air that our local displaced gypsies will set up camp elsewhere, I told them I’d decided to sell my house to one of said gypsy families at a price way above the market rate but that, if they and other neighbours wanted to meet it, I’d be happy to sell to them. I got the impression from their nervous laughter they thought I was joking.

Galicia Facts

Only 2% of fathers here take any of the paternity leave to which they’re entitled.

In 2006, Galician companies invested three times as much outside the region as foreign companies invested here - 5.6bn euros, against 1.7bn. This time, ‘foreign’ really does seem to mean from outside Spain and not just from Cataluña, Andalucia, etc. as the major investee countries were France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Brazil and Portugal.

Finally, some culture . . . If you click here, you’ll find [on my Galicia web page] a rough-and-ready list of the Spanish authors cited by Michael Jacobs in his [sort of] literary odyssey around Spain in the early 90s.

For those with most interest in Galicia, here’s the relevant extract. The dates are only indicative of the period:-
Ramón Valle Inclán, 1920s. Bohemian Lights and Divine Words
Rosalía de Castro, 1870s. Galician Ballads, Follas Novas, and By the Banks of the Sar
Emilia Pardo Bazán, 1870s. La Tribuna
Pérez Lungín, 1920s. The House of Troy
Alvaro Cunqueiro, modern. The Traveller in Galicia
Camilo José Cela, 1950s. The Hive, Divine Words, Journey to the Alcarria, and Pascual Duarte

I’m afraid I can’t say right now which of these are available in English. More anon.