Friday, February 29, 2008

I’m more confused than ever by the Spanish legal system. Readers may recall the case of a man who last year dragged his 14 year-old son down the Pamplona streets, not far ahead of the running bulls. Well, now he’s been found not guilty of endangering his progeny on the grounds - it’s reported – that the boy was not actually harmed. Surely there’s a mistake somewhere. Perhaps in the reporting.

I had held off commenting on this but as it’s now a major media issue, I’ll record that on Tuesday Spain had its worst ever ‘gender violence’ day, when four women were murdered by their partners. So now ‘machismo criminal’ is a major election issue, even though the main protagonists had effectively ignored it until Wednesday. And they’re still making no references at all to ‘machismo normal’. But I guess this would be a guaranteed vote-loser. The reason why I hadn’t mentioned this violence before was that I’m not sure the problem here really is worse than elsewhere, though it certainly is increasing. Secondly my impression was the government was taking steps to reduce it. However, women’s organisations in Spain have taken the opportunity of the [unwanted] limelight to claim many courts here are declining to implement the measures introduced last year. If they are, let’s hope this now stops.

El País tells us the Spanish think they’re far more polite behind the wheel than they actually are. The paper says 25% rate themselves courteous, whereas only 8% really are. God knows how they get the data. Personally I find both of them less than credible. But in different directions.

But I must take this opportunity to refer to not just one but two examples of politeness down in Pontevedra yesterday. The first was when a driver raised his hand in apology when he didn’t stop at the zebra crossing. In fact, he had a decent excuse as his sightline was blocked by a van illegally parked on the roundabout. A not uncommon occurrence. The second episode was when a woman turned to enter a bank within a couple of centimetres of my face. Realising what she’d done, she apologised as profusely as only Spaniards can. But, truth to tell, I had actually walked into her at this point and so she’d perforce become aware of my existence on her radar. This, as I often say, is the secret with the Spanish, who are lovely people but who have little by way of antennae. The real problems – and irritation – come with those who are clearly oblivious of one’s existence. Whether behind a wheel or on the pavement/sidewalk.

Back in the UK, an ex Labour Minister writes - When the Government opened up our labour market to Eastern Europe in 2004 an avalanche of workers came to this country and were successful in finding work. Currently 85 per cent of new jobs are filled by newcomers. This figure is so devastating that the government has been forced to rethink its position on welfare reform. There’s been a similar avalanche into Spain, with a similar take-up of ‘menial’ jobs. So one wonder whether anyone here is thinking through the social and welfare implications. Needless to say, as in the UK for 30 plus years, anyone who even hints at problems is usually characterised as a right-wing extremist. Let’s hope Spain takes less time to arrive at sensible debate than it took in Britain. But it would, of course, be naïve to expect this in the run-up to a general election.

The article from which the above quote is taken identified one core UK problem which, with a bit of luck, may never arrive in Spain . . . The growing problem is of very young single parents who have never worked and who are likely to have children by different fathers. Overwhelmingly these young single mothers come from school girls who fail, and are dismally failed, by their school.

Finally - What a wonderful thing it must be to be shareholder of Telefonica without having to suffer the travails of being a customer – “Telefónica has announced a 43% increase in profits for 2007”. Echoes of British Telecom 15 or 20 years ago. And the US Bell company around 50 years ago, at a guess.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The good news is that 2007 was a record year for Spanish wine exports, which increased by almost 7%. And sales were ‘particularly healthy’ in Britain. Keep it up, chaps. Or Keep throwing it down, if you prefer.

Less positive is the latest reduction by the Spanish government of its economic forecast for this year and a further admission – as if we needed it – that the post-property boom crash-landing isn’t going to be as gentle as they assured us it would be months ago. Thank God it’s all the fault of the Americans. Otherwise the government might have to answer questions about why it let the artificial boom rage away during the entire term of its office and failed to anticipate its ending. As it is, it’s reported that “Second house prices look to be well on their way to crashing and burning in Spain; there are reports that real estate prices are down 30% in Spain's Mediterranean beach towns, and it's still hard to find buyers.” I’m not sure things are quite this bad here in Galicia. Especially among the sellers of rural property who don’t read press reports and who are renowned for being stubborn. My suspicion is that, if you want an abandoned ruin in a village in the hills, it won’t cost any less than last year. Possibly more. So, shame about the appreciation of the euro.

Referring back to Monday night’s big debate, El País suggests neither speaker was “rigorous in his use of statistics”. And here’s me saying the blunt Spanish don’t bother with subtlety. Or with what they regard as ‘British hypocrisy’. El País also carried an article yesterday which headlined the fact that “Little is being said during the campaign about the slowness of the justice system, poor consumer orientation and other problems which make daily life difficult. Neither 500 trees nor 400 euros will solve these problems. Nor do we know what sectors will take the place of construction and tourism, which are no longer buoyant.” Quite.

The Spanish love a good argument. So it seems entirely consistent that the Supreme Court should accuse the Constitutional Court of breaking . . . err, the Constitution. This is over the Alberto cousins, whom – you may recall – were let off a measly 3 year sentence for a €24m fraud by the said CC. In a nutshell, the SC has accused the CC of invading its responsibilities. And not for the first time, it seems. I am now more confused than ever about the Spanish judicial system. Especially as these two courts appear to be the only bits of it not on strike at the moment. For better pay and conditions. Anyway, the morals of this tale are:- 1. It’s good to have friends at court, and 2. You should make sure it’s the right court. At least if you want to indulge in a bit of jiggery-pokery in Spain. Which, apparently, quite a lot of people do.

As we all know, the British press is insufferable. A couple of weeks ago, it hounded out of office a Conservative MP who’d been abusing his expenses. More recently it’s been going after the Speaker of Parliament for being, inter alia, a bit cavalier with his air miles. And now The Times has had the effrontery to highlight the fact that Members of the European Parliament refuse to justify some or all of their vast expenses. “MEPs are all for transparency in EU institutions”, it thunders, “but they refuse even to render internal accounts for the bulk of the expenses they claim, let alone to disclose that information to the public. These expenses account for more than a fifth of the Parliament's budget, €277.2 million a year. The total comes to €353,121 a head. This may or may not be a reasonable sum; it may be spent as advertised, or MEPs may be stuffing their pockets. There, is, outrageously, no way to find out.” This all comes a week or two after the British press highlighted the fact a EU committee had voted to keep secret an internal report into the fiddling of expenses. Says The Times “It chose, instead, to virulently attack the auditor who wrote it and the MEP who had the gall to reveal its existence”. This is the problem with the British press; blinded by its Euro-scepticism, it simply has no idea how things are done. What we need more of - as we progress towards the EU dream - is the attitude displayed by an [unnamed] Spanish MEP who insisted “Passing information to the press is a misuse of information.” As The Times said, “Spoken like a true MEP”.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Today’s pledge/bribe from the government – They will subsidise a day-care centre for children under three in any workplace where at least 6 people request one. Stand by for an explosion in the crèche industry.

In the TV debate the other night, each of the combatants called the other a liar on more than one occasion. This would be unimaginable in the UK – where subtlety would be used – but is par for the course here in blunt and direct-speaking Spain.

I asked the other day whether other countries have as many kamikaze drivers as Spain, meaning people who drive down the wrong side of major roads. But, from this headline, it seems we now have something even worse to worry about - Fernando Alonso going backwards at Montmeló.

Talking about the country’s politicians, a British columnist writes:- The idea that being corrupt, self-serving and sly are qualifications for public life exerts an ever-tougher grip on the national consciousness. Looked at from Brussels, though, this must rank as a good thing – evidence of the much-desired ‘convergence’ between the UK and the EU. My impression is there’s less need for convergence between politicians in Brussels and those in Spain. Especially the local variety.

You can buy Rioja wine in Spain’s supermarkets for as little as €2 a bottle. So I wasn’t too surprised to read that most of what’s on the shelves is rubbish. More worrying was the comment you need to pay at least €10 for a decent Rioja. Or $14/₤7.50. Maybe I’m now out of touch but this would seem to be at a level regarded as high even in the UK, where the tax component of the price is huge. But it’s true I’ve only ever felt Rioja started to taste appreciably better at around €14 a bottle here. Though, at the very least, still very palatable at 6 or 8.

Spanish TV has discounted 110,000 ‘irregular’ votes for one of the candidates for the country’s Eurovision entrant. As a result, the 70 year old Andalucian flamenco singer fell from 1st to 36th place. This is a shame for a number of reasons, one of which is that I can’t now make play with his name of El Gato. As in El Jato or El Ghato. Missed opportunity. Which reminds me . . .

Quote of the day

Bloggers are people who like the look of their own voice.

Galicia Facts

The additional driving risk I cited at the top of this blog won’t concern us too much here in Galicia, where local habits continue to give us the highest insurance premiums in the country. Apparently it’s all the fault of the bendy roads, the rain and the fact that towns are dispersed. If all these were put right, our drivers would be the best in the world. Even when not exactly sober. So, though God can’t move mountains, perhaps the Galician Nationalist party can when it gets us independence. Or even when it achieves its current aim of becoming the power broker in Madrid. As a first step, presumably.

My next-door neighbour, Tony, works on oil-tankers. So, he’s at home day and night for 6 noise-filled weeks and then away for the next 6. I will be in the UK for 3 weeks later in the year and I’ve just realised that these will coincide with one of his much-enjoyed absences. What an appalling waste. But for the timing of my mother’s birthday, I’d change my plans. What a dutiful son.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Last night saw a televised debate between the President and the Leader of the Opposition. For a right-of-centre view, try John Chappell over at Iberian Notes. And for a counter perspective, Graeme at South of Watford. John has an almost blow-by-blow account on his blog and concludes that, although Rajoy won on points, he really needed a knockout blow to overtake the governing PSOE party in the polls. Graeme agrees about the absence of a killer blow from either set of fists but finally goes, as expected, with Zapatero. But, to my surprise, he doesn't work a mention of his bête-noire, Espe Aguirre, into his comment. Sorry, bloggers' in-joke. But more on this theme below.

The latest pledge/bribe from the PSOE is that it’ll subsidise the mortgages of those who want to extend the term rather than pay increased monthly payments. Of course, this will only be available to families in financial difficulties. But as this could well include some pretty profligate people, some rather undeserving folk could now have their extravagances subsidised by other taxpayers. Just as in the UK. So another small step towards debilitating welfare dependency in Spain. You'd think they’d learn.

In yesterday’s El Mundo, you had to plough [plow] through 26 pages of election stuff before you got to any news. With El País unavailable, I had to resort to ABC, which managed two more. Happily, the Voz de Galicia got it down to a mere eleven.

Finally on politics - Could there ever be an emptier headline than “Raul Castro is elected President of Cuba”

In an article yesterday on the [then] imminent debate, it was said that Rajoy was not getting in any sparring prior to the top-of-the-bill bout. I was tempted to see this as the latest bit of Spanglish but the absence of a definite or indefinite article left me wondering whether it wasn’t just a ‘clever’ interpolation of an English word. In other words, sparring is not in the same category as un liftin [= un lifting = facelift] or un futin [un footing = jogging]. Or even – dare I say – un spinning [= un spinning = a group gym exercise on bicycles]. But there will be other views, I suspect.

I was rather impressed to hear both Sky News and the BBC had declined to show pictures of the horrendous injury to the Arsenal footballer player Eduardo over the weekend. No such squeamishness and over-sensitivity here; it was hard to avoid photos of it in the Sports sections of yesterday’s press. And, to be fair, I think the UK press also ran photos alongside their articles.

Galicia Facts

Homes e Mulleres, I give you Jujel. This is a Galician version of Google, though possibly not authorised. I would have expected Xuxel but, as I understand it, there’s an in-joke at play here. In parts of Galicia the letter G is pronounced like the Spanish J. So gato [cat] becomes jato. By which I mean khato when it comes to an approximation of the guttural pronunciation. And so, the Jujel folk also render Galicia as Jalisia. Which is a double joke as it bows not only in the direction of the above practice [geada] but also in that of the other habit of pronouncing the letter C as an S [seseo]. Those not utterly confused or bored by this will be interested to know the description of Jujel I read contained the funny phrases:- Ghughel para os amighos and E ademais funsiona. Which must have had them laughing in the aisles in, say, Gondomil. Though I doubt that the Royal Academy of the Galician Language is much amused. Anyway, I’m sure that, if you want to search on anything to do with Galicia/ Galithia/Galizia/Galiz/Galisia/Ghalisia/Jalicia/Jalisia, then Jujel/ Xuxel/Ghughel/Jughel/Ghujel is the search engine for you. Good luck. I’ll now just sit back and wait for the abuse from Galician Nationalists keen to tell me I know nothing about the region/land/ country/national reality/nation or its language. Bring it on, chaps.

Domestically, I was summoned to my gate last night by a sad-looking no-longer-nice-but-still-noisy Tony, who was wafting a piece of paper as if it concerned both of us. In fact, it was a water bill, showing consumption of 80 cubic metres up to mid December. As mine was 10, I could see why he might be unhappy. He was sure he had a leak somewhere and took me on a tour of his garden and the community gardens below, where there certainly was evidence of a problem directly below his house. I then made Tony’s day worse by pointing out two months had passed since the reading and he might like to find out what the leak had cost him since then. You can imagine his reaction when we calculated that his use had gone up from an already staggering 80 cubic metres in the previous quarter to just under 300 in the current period. So far. He looked rather despondent as I slid quietly away. And I almost felt sorry for him.

Monday, February 25, 2008

It’s good to see the Spanish tax authorities taking further measures against the money laundering and evasion for which the country has something of a reputation. The latest development is a demand made to 12 law firms for details of their clients and their transactions. The firms have apparently been chosen on the basis of location and areas of involvement. I wonder what that means. This is against the backcloth of the feud between Germany and Lichtenstein over the details of German depositors in the latter’s banks. In which, incidentally, four federal deputies are said to be implicated.

Elsewhere, more than 4,500 of the country’s estate agents are being investigated over deals where there was a large difference between the buying and the selling prices. Again, one wonders why.

It’s been suggested that one of the reasons why the President, Sr. Zapatero, and the Leader of the Opposition, Sr. Rajoy, are competing so fiercely – and unrealistically - to promise vast expenditure on the teaching of and in English is that neither of them can speak what is nearly always called the language of Shakespeare here. And they are conscious it puts them at a disadvantage in international meetings. Seems plausible.

I’m used to seeing odd sights in the forest behind my house but on Saturday I witnessed a new one. Two white vans raced onto the earth track and then proceeded to do handbrake turns and the like. Of course, white vans all over the world are renowned for being driven on the edge of their capability – usually in one’s rear-view mirror – but I suppose it’s possible these had been tuned up and I was seeing a practice session for a new global event - The World White Van Forest Rally. Maybe both Hamilton and Alonso will graduate to it in their retirement. If either of them survives.

Here’s a surprise - As you glide along the supermarket aisle past the smartly packaged Fairtrade coffee and guiltily slip the cheaper arabica into your trolley instead, you may ask yourself how much good your overpriced purchase of the Fairtrade stuff would have done anyway. Well, now you know. Today's report from the Adam Smith Institute will probably confirm your suspicion: Fairtrade labelling is largely a marketing ploy, which makes clever use of the almost infinite capacity for guilt harboured by the residents of wealthy countries over the condition of those in poorer ones, even though that condition is, in no rational sense, their fault. It transpires that a very small number of farmers are getting a subsidised fixed price for their produce under Fairtrade franchises and that this is at the expense of most other farmers in their regions, who are actually worse off as a result. But even more serious, the Fairtrade operation helps to keep poor countries and undeveloped economies exactly that - poor and undeveloped.

I don’t normally do this but there are a couple of article references in Saturday’s blog which those readers only arriving today might like to see. So, scroll on down.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

There is in the Spanish character a strain - almost certainly confined to males – which induces dogmatic – and aggressive - argumentation even when it’s clear to all that a contention has been proved wrong. In the worst cases, this continues even when the protagonist knows he’s wrong. I guess it’s all to do with loss of face. I first saw this in my teenage stepson, who’d been brought up in Spain, but I’ve seen it many times since. And I write this as someone who doesn’t like to lose an argument himself. But there comes a point when gracious defeat is the only respectable route. In theory, if not in Spanish practice.

Talking of difficult folk . . . I heard this wonderful injunction – aimed at teenagers – on a BBC podcast yesterday:- Fed up with being ordered around by your parents? Why not get a job, leave home and pay for everything yourself? Do it NOW, while you still know everything.

Britain is said to be suffering a net brain drain. If you want one columnist’s view on why this is happening, click here. In my case, my elder daughter lives in Madrid but my younger daughter prefers to stay in Leeds. However, as she works a 12-hour, paper-hounded day as a teacher and had her car stolen for the third time last night, I suspect it won’t be long before her brain emigrates as well.

It’s been snowing in Athens and in Crete. And even in Saudi Arabia. The British gadfly, Christopher Booker writes that, though it may be too early to draw conclusions as to what this says about changing climate patterns, the fact remains that such drastic cooling hardly accords with classic global warming theory. . . It accords better with the predictions of that growing body of scientists who argue that climate change is caused less by CO2 emissions than by magnetic activity on the Sun. His contention is that, given the vast amounts of money projected to deal with the CO2 challenge, perhaps it would be better to be a bit more sure of things. On this, he quotes the Yale Professor William Nordhaus’s estimate of 34 trillion [€23 trillion] for the measures proposed by Al Gore. I think he has a point. But doubt that many will listen to a heretic.

By the way, if you go to this article, you can also read about an illustrative example of dual standards in the EU parliament.

Galicia Facts

The Pontevedra town council has introduced a new law aimed at stopping the binge drinking in the old quarter every Thursday and Friday night. Perhaps because of differences of view within the governing Socialist-Nationalist coalition, the measure is loosely drawn and no one appears to know what it really means. The only thing we can be sure of is that the option of moving the entire ‘event’ to an empty space on the edge of the new town has been rejected. The new law does provide, at the insistence of the Socialists, for the fining of parents of convicted minors. But it will be interesting to see whether much of this is done. My guess is not a lot.

Spain has had coast-protecting laws on its statute books for almost twenty years. And there's been a raft of new laws tightening the restrictions over the last four or five years. At least, that was my impression. But now I read there are to be 1,153 properties built within 100 metres of the beach in Sanxenxo - The Marbella of Galicia, as I wrote yesterday. Quite how this is possible I don’t know. Perhaps it has something to do with the way local and regional governments – as with the anti-smoking laws – can stick one or two fingers up to Madrid. A local politician was quoted as saying yesterday the new laws had ‘arrived too late for Sanxenxo’ but I’ve no idea what this means. That said, many laws in Spain seem to fit into this box.

Finally, the Vice President, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, has assured us the widespread view she’s a lesbian married to a female sports journalist is false. This may be good news for the rest of Spain but, for those of us terrified by her, it’s awful. I can’t imagine what forms my nightmares will take now.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I see Spain’s Attorney General has joined me in expressing disquiet at the quashing of the [remarkably short] gaol sentence given to the Albertos. So, what next?

It’s not terribly difficult here to buy prescription drugs without the bother of a bit of paper from your doctor. Most pharmacies will give you, say, antibiotics, thyroid drugs and even antidepressants with no questions asked. I’m decidedly ambivalent about this. Even allowing for the claim that Spanish pharmacists are more clued up than in other countries, it seems to be an intrinsically dangerous practice. And I guess, if the legal system were more efficient, it would eventually stop, under the weight of negligence claims. Or criminal prosecutions. That said, I’m pretty pleased right now to be able to get my antihistamines so easily. As is so often the case, I’m glad I don’t have to take the decisions.

It’s regularly reported that anti-American attitudes are more prevalent here in Spain than elsewhere in Europe. Including France. In this month’s edition of Prospect magazine, Michael Lind demolishes what he calls the ‘three ubiquitous myths about America that make the country seem weaker and more chaotic than it is.” If interested, you can read the article here. For my Spanish reader[s], here’s an appetite whetter – “Among second-generation Hispanics, roughly half speak no Spanish at all.”

The same edition contains details of a claim that the French government was responsible for the 1994 assassination of the Rwandan President that led directly and swiftly to civil war and the death of hundreds of thousands of, mainly, Tutsis. Allegedly, this was because of a fear the country was about to leave the Franco-sphere and join the Anglo-sphere, dealing a hard blow to France’s influence in Africa. If this was the objective, it consummately failed for this, indeed, has come to pass. It’s all pretty remarkable and you can read the full article here. I can’t help observing that France and Britain were then – and still are – fellow members of the emerging EU superstate. I thought things were bad here in Spain but it’s hard to see the governments in either Madrid, Cataluña or the Basque country going to these lengths to protect their interests.

The Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso is reported to have said about Spanish drivers that they aren’t any different from any others but “We have the problem that we like to party.” Now, Alonso is certainly a superb driver himself but I haven’t the faintest idea what this comment means. Partying at the wheel? Surely not. Views welcome.

Galicia Facts

Talking of driving in Spain, the police tell us there are 14 places here where illegal road races take place. And their problem is that the participants are pretty good at monitoring the movements of the officers sent to deal with them. I guess, then, we’ll have nearer 20 by this time next year. But it’s not all failure; the police did manage to stop and arrest the guy doing 140kph [88mph] through the centre of Vigo at 8pm last Saturday night.

The Galician Xunta eventually stepped in to knock together the heads of the warring Pontevedra and Poio mayors in the affair of the displaced gypsies. The latter will now be removed from the turbulent Pontevedra district and found flats elsewhere. This has had the predictable effect of increasing the preventative demonstrations in other areas where the residents feel under threat of unwelcome new neighbours. Meanwhile, the residents near the camp in Poio where the original demolitions took place have complained to the courts that new illegal shacks have already been built where the previous ones were knocked down. This could run and run.

Reportedly, we have more than a thousand tourism establishments operating illegally here in Galicia. Given the bureaucracy that surrounds every entrepreneurial initiative here, my sympathy is with the businesses. I wouldn’t be surprised if the hotels needed a licence to change the colour of their towels.

Five thousand people demonstrated against coastal despoliation in Santiago last weekend. Their banners read “Galicia is not for sale”. Let’s hope not. Sanxenxo is already The Marbella of Galicia. And that’s surely bad enough.

Friday, February 22, 2008

There is a bizarre belief amongst Spaniards – even those who speak fluent English – that as a people they’re poor - indeed, genetically programmed to be so - at learning other languages. When you probe this, you’re told one main reason is that Spanish only has 5 vowel sounds, making the learning of a ‘richer’ language difficult. I regard this as pure self-serving baloney and an excuse for laziness but I’m prepared to be shot down in flames by anyone who can adduce hard evidence to the contrary. The challenge is to demonstrate why Spanish adults can’t master sounds at the disposal of every 3 year child born in Britain, the USA, Australia, etc., etc.

Earlier this year the government announced it was going to subsidise the rent of ‘young people’ by around €200 a month. A good pre-election move but the trouble is the regional governments are being more meticulous than Madrid wants in checking on entitlement. So the Minister of Housing has now written to the banks suggesting they ignore the niceties and just pay out anyway, on the government’s say-so. Feathers all over the dovecot, with the banks describing the development as ‘outrageous’. Which is understandable. God help us if Spanish banks ever get involved in illegal or even improper transactions.

The Spanish Tax Office [the Hacienda] says the black economy in Spain now amounts to 23% of GDP. After much thought, it’s concluded that most of the deals involving €500 notes – with which Spain is particularly blessed – are very probably fraudulent. So it’s now investigating 120,000 operations carried out with these between 2003 and 20005. It will be interesting to see what transpires.

I have to admit I’m mystified by judicial penalties in Spain. Gaol sentences can range up to 80,000 years or more for multiple murders but, on the other hand, an awful lot of fraudsters seem to get off with a slap on the wrist. The latest national case is that of the ‘Alberto’ cousins who diddled others of €24 million way back in 1988. After 20 years, the case has finally wound its way to the highest court and a gaol sentence of around 3 years has been annulled. Doubtless the legal logic is impeccable and the two guys can now get on with their service-in-the-community or whatever. And spending what’s left of the loot.

Meanwhile – up near Ourense, here in Galicia – a few families have been convicted of buying ‘protected’ properties at a discount merely as investments, having no intention of moving into them. They didn’t even purchase them for buy-to-rent purposes, as this would have involved a bit of hassle. I say ‘a few families’ but, of the houses in the development in question, a total of 33 were bought dishonestly. And probably sold dishonestly as well but that’s mere speculation on my part. Anyway, the official fine imposable for this offence ranges from 3,000 to 60,000 and they were hit with 3,014. Which they probably made in the first six months of illegitimate ownership. So that should act as a real disincentive for future potential transgressors. No?

A little postscript to my comment on the parking of cars on hills of the other day, in the form of a brief and statistically insignificant chat with a Spanish friend:-
What advice are you given as a learner here about parking on hills?
Really? So, what do you do when you park on a slope?
Are you sure? What about the hand-brake?
Oh, yes. I put that on.
And the gears?
Oh, yes. I put the car in first gear.
Well, that might be appropriate, depending on which way you’re facing. And what about the steering wheel.
Well, you’re supposed to turn it but I never do.

Random Quotes

I'd rather talk about other people than myself - Gossip or, as we gossips like to say, character analysis.
Elizabeth Hardwick

Blogging is best suited to instant reaction; thus it has an edge [over journalism] when it comes to disseminating gossip and news.
William Skidelsky in the Feb. edition of Prospect magazine

Finally – and speechlessly – I leave you with this report from post-Franco-just-about-anything-goes Spain . . . . El Mundo has revealed that a female prison officer working at the jail in Palma had a bit of a shock last Friday. She bumped into a prisoner leaving the women’s toilets and doing up his fly. She suspected something untoward had occurred and, on entry, found another prison officer inside. On questioning the prisoner, he confessed the officer had just practiced oral sex on him and claimed she had persuaded him to enter the toilets. If this is proved true, the prison officer will have committed the crime of sexual aggression and abuse of authority. This has a 15 year prison sentence in Spain. Which, of course, is infinity times greater than that for the peccadillo of defrauding others of €24m.

A rum country. But nice to live in. With lovely people. Except those who nick umbrellas.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

One of the regular criticisms made of foreign language teaching in Spain is that there’s far too much emphasis on grammar and too little on verbal skills. Imagine, then, how disappointing it is to read that, back in the UK, the oral test is to be removed from the GCSE examinations kids take at 16. This is said to because it's too ‘stressful’ for them. Poor little things.

This reminds me – It’s not 20,000 native English speakers that the next Zap government will be bringing from the USA, Ireland and the UK but 120,000. The mind boggles at the ambitiousness of the challenge. I hope they all like low salaries and noisy kids.

It’s reported that Spanish university students fail – for one reason or another – to attend 40% of their lectures. Nonetheless some of them manage to graduate. And a University of Santiago survey tells us that, five years later, ‘Technical’ graduates are earning an average of €21,600 a year, but ‘Social’ subject graduates only 14,400. This puts Spanish graduates some way down the European list, even when salaries are adjusted for purchasing power. Germany ranks first, the UK fifth and Spain, at twelfth, falls between Estonia and the Czech Republic. Asked various questions about what they would do if they had their time over again, 0.3% of Dutch graduates and 3.6% of German graduates said they wouldn’t bother going to university. But the highest percentage, by far, was Spain’s at 8.6%. Looking at the financial rewards, perhaps this is understandable.

I don’t know whether things are much different in other countries but Spain seems to suffer from an inordinately high number of kamikaze drivers – people who drive down the wrong side of the road. Sometimes deliberately but usually unwittingly. In 2007, 24 people were killed as a result of this. But this year we’ve already had 12 incidents and 6 deaths. Or one a week, roughly. Half of these were at night, meaning that six drivers took the wrong road in daylight. I can’t help wondering whether they belong to the same fraternity of drivers who forget to put on their lights at night and who also seem to comprise a significant percentage. At least here in Pontevedra. These are far more dangerous, I guess, than idiots like me who leave their lights on after leaving an underground parking.

On page 23 of El Mundo yesterday, there was a report on the arrest of some women bringing cocaine into Spain in the form of black plastic mouldings in their bags. On the facing page there was an offer from the paper of some luggage which looked remarkably similar. This could be an even bigger scandal than the regular ads in their Sunday edition for the many dangerous slimming products of the fraudulent company down in Andalucia!

Another rainy day, another lost umbrella. This time it was one I carelessly left hanging on the bar in my regular café/bar. As I’ve been taken to task for implying – when citing my regular umbrella losses – that the Spanish are a lot of thieving bastards, I should stress this was not technically a theft; more of a not-handing-in. That said, I certainly wouldn’t want to give the impression all Spaniards are thieving not-giver-inners. Just some of those who go to the same places as me. Only joking.

But yesterday ended well. Noisy-Tony-next-door told me that – after 4 years of it – they won’t be doing any more of the marble-tile-cutting in the front garden which suffocated my wisteria with dust a while back. “So you can now safely buy another one”, he added. With all my own money, it seems.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Let’s get the bad news out of the way – The latest negative comments on Spain’s economy have come from the UN. Specifically, it criticises housing policy - highlighting the revenue link between local councils and real estate developments. With now the highest number of empty properties in Europe, the country – it says – now faces a slowdown that will be greater than elsewhere. However, some praise is given for the [belated] efforts to promote the rental market.

To be more positive – The Central Bank here says it’s acted sagely over the last six months or so and that, as a result, Spain’s banks are not as exposed to the consequences of the USA sub-prime debacle as those elsewhere. However, the opposition PP party takes the view there are things under the carpet which we’ll only get to hear about after the March elections. So, not long to wait.

Meanwhile, over in the UK and thanks, of course, to the country’s egregious tabloid media, Britons now appear to live in a greater state of fear than at any time in our history. Times are relatively peaceful, infant mortality is negligible, most people have too much to eat, yet people all over the country seem to wake up every day to a heightened sense of dread. My question is - If it only cost a few thousand pounds to assassinate Mrs Bhutto, wouldn’t it take only a couple of hundred to get rid of Rupert Murdoch? Any takers? There’s a big discount for the whole bloody family.

Before I walk into Pontevedra every morning, I park my car in a side street on my side of the bridge. Since this is on a slope, I put the car in the right gear, apply the hand brake and turn the wheels so as to ensure, if all else fails, it can only run into the kerb. It struck me yesterday that, although this only takes a second or two, it would probably strike most Spaniards as preposterously anally retentive. So I checked on all the cars parked on inclines on my way into and out of town. Of 137, only 5 had their wheels askew. Since one of these was the wrong way, let’s say 4 out of 137, or 3%. I’ve no idea whether Spaniards are taught to turn their wheels but, if so, this seems to be conclusive evidence they comprehensively ignore the advice. Possibly because of a pragmatic view that where there’s only a small percentage risk, life is too short to bother with even a few seconds of preventative effort. All of these would add up to a serious inroad into fun time. Of course, I could always try to argue that the nature of the consequence [destruction of your car, death of a pedestrian, etc.] is as important as the percentages but I imagine I’d get very short shrift on this. Hence the leaning lampposts near my house.

The other survey I’ve been working on is that of legal/illegal parking. But I think I’ll give this up as there seems to be nowhere in Pontevedra where parking is not practised – white lines on the road, yellow lines on the road and/or kerb, chevrons, hospital urgency bays, bus stops, zebra crossings. You name it, it’s a parking space. I guess the attitude was summed up by a friend who told me on Friday evening she’d been lucky enough to find a space right in front of the town hall. “But” I said “there are yellow chevrons there and there’s no sign saying the restriction is limited to working hours.” “It’s implicit.” she replied. She should know; she’s a lawyer.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

President Zapatero must be on Viagra Plus, as his magic wand gets bigger by the day. Now we’ve been assured he’ll ensure all Spanish kids can converse and do business in English within 10 years. This, it seems, will require the hiring of 20,000 native speakers from the UK and the USA for the state schools. And thousands of Spanish teachers will be sent to the UK and Ireland for courses. I hope they end up more intelligible than the woman I rented a room from once in the south of Ireland and who - I finally worked out - also gave lessons in English. But not English as we know it, Jim.

Talking of odd English – A TV program entitled Pressing catch is causing some controversy here because of its alleged malign influence on kids. My suspicion is it’s something to do with that joke sport, professional wrestling. But, really, I have no idea what pressing catch can mean. As with el spinning. Which, I was told this week, is now available under water.

If you live in Britain and sleep for just under 8 hours between 11.12pm and 6.53am, you are aligned with the statistical average. Here, the numbers are 6 hours between 1.30am and 7.30am. And that’s just the kids. Or those next door to me, at least.

On Monday evenings I chat for an hour or so with five teachers of English. As all of them are female, I replicated yesterday the survey suggesting 70% of Spanish women are happy with their bodies. The figure from my [secret] ballot was even higher, at 100%. We then discussed the article and they commented it was paradoxical that Spanish women were happy with what they had but spent far more time and money on themselves than their British counterparts to ensure they looked good. They didn’t respond to my goad that Spanish women probably didn’t worry about getting bigger as they aged since they knew all Spanish men really wanted to marry their mothers.

If you’ve read the article, you’ll know that the [Spanish] author points to ‘benign narcissism’ as the bedrock of the confidence and self-esteem with which every Spanish child grows up and which provides a defence against teenage female angst. On balance – and having seen it at play in other cultures - I agree this is a good thing but I can’t help wondering whether it isn’t also the foundation of the individualismo I go on about. Or self-centredness, to be explicit. Oh, alright - a total lack of consideration for others who aren’t a friend or family member.

Talking of which, I should stress that every Spaniard to whom I’ve related the episode of Tony and my [ex]bougainvillea has been suitably horrified at his ‘bad education’. Which means his upbringing in Spain. It’s his mother’s fault, then.

Reading an indictment of the British economy yesterday, I was slightly troubled by this comment - The UK current account deficit reached 5.7% of GDP in the third quarter of last year. This is approaching banana republic status and is worse than any other major country in the world, except Spain. It seems we’re going down the tube together, though it’s possible Spain will get some protection from being member of the Euro zone. Or at least that’s what I thought until I read:- The EMU is a dysfunctional monetary union, where the Latin and Germanic halves are moving further apart and so are the spreads on sovereign bonds. The gloss will come off Euroland in due course. Thank God I don’t understand what ‘the spread on sovereign bonds’ is or I’d be quite worried.

Cross cultural perceptions: My cleaning lady is known for her capacity to chat. At a decibel level way above what’s normal in my house. As she was leaving at 8.30 last night, the Portuguese workers from the nearby building site were getting into their cars, after their 12 hour day. “My God!” said Teresa, “The Portuguese certainly can talk!”. I, on the other hand, was struck dumb.

Quote of the Week

Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the obedience of fools.

This is attributed to a first world war British fighter pilot but I strongly suspect he had a Spanish mother.

Monday, February 18, 2008

To begin the week on an indisputably positive note . . . Two of the joys of Spain are its absence of a tabloid press and the fact that no one ever looks at you askance here if you ask for a glass - or even a jug - of tap water. And I don’t just mean in my house. On the former, here’s an article on how the Spanish press dealt with a recent case of a missing child. On the latter, perhaps it’s suffice to say that I heard last week it takes seven litres of water and one of oil to make a litre of bottled water. In these energy conscious times, perhaps we can start to look towards the end of this madness. Or crowning achievement of marketing, if you prefer. Incidentally, the article cited mentions how bizarre the Spanish find British reserve. Strange people.

To be ever so slightly negative, judging by the contents of the green rubbish container in our street, some of my neighbours are having difficulty distinguishing between table scraps and paper. Either that or they can’t be bothered to walk the extra 20 metres to put cardboard cartons and the like in the blue container. But I suppose it’s possible they’re colour blind.

Kosovo comes into being today, though not as a truly independent state. For, as I’ve pointed out a couple of times already, the trouble is that the Eurocrats and diplomats who negotiated Kosovan independence distrust the nation state. The whole process of European integration is founded on the notion that national loyalties are arbitrary, synthetic and ultimately discreditable. If the EU conceded the principle that Serbs and Albanians should be allowed to go their separate ways, based on ethnographic frontiers, it would be striking at the assumptions that underpin its own existence.

Galicia Facts

Up in the hills, it seems depopulation is taking place even faster than the ageing of the populace. There are now said to be 1,261 villages with no one in them and a further 712 with only a single inhabitant. Who presumably cannot breed, whatever his or her age is. So, does anyone want to buy an entire village? Or maybe just a hamlet.

Down in Vegetables Square in Pontevedra yesterday, the new benches installed by the town council might just as well not have existed. One side of them had been colonised by the stallholders as shelving and the other as seating by the cafés who’ve gradually restored their tables to within inches of the new furniture. So things were exactly as they should be, with Spanish pragmatism triumphing once again. Screaming kids nowhere to be seen among us bon vivants enjoying the warm winter sun. Only the bloody pigeon vermin that some are daft enough to feed. Oh, and the gypsy witch who curses me every Sunday for not handing over any pasta. You’d think by now she’d have realised her spells are not having much effect. And her fortune telling is obviously a bit suspect as well.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

I’ve often said Spanish women bear themselves far more proudly than their British counterparts. Indeed, I’ve encouraged both my daughters to emulate them in this respect. So I was interested in this article by a woman [with a Spanish name] who explains why – despite equally pernicious media pressures – 70% of females here are happy with their bodies, against a mere 2% in the UK. But, as I don’t know whether she’s right or wrong, I will have to do some research on your behalf. I’m not convinced the women of Pontevedra eschew skinniness as much as the article suggests. But perhaps the city is an exception to the general rule.

Global warming: Confused? How could you not be? - “Satellite data confirm the northern hemisphere (except for western Europe) has been enduring its coldest winter for decades, with snow cover at its greatest extent since 1966. January's global temperatures were lower than their entire 20th-century average. Antarctic summer ice was at its highest January level ever recorded, 30 per cent above normal. Amid the continuing absence of sunspot activity, many thoughtful climate scientists now believe the Earth may be entering a period of marked cooling, similar to that which in the 1970s prompted fears of a ‘new ice age’. The "warmists" are already trying to explain that this recent drop in global temperatures is only "masking the underlying warming trend".

Galicia Facts

In a shipyard I can see from my window [well, almost], the largest sailboat in the world is about to be constructed. The Factoría Naval de Marín has started building the Hussar, which will have a length of 136m and cost €65 million. I hope to be able to watch its progress. And even post a few photos.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of pix of lampposts within 100 metres of my house. Personally, I regard them as dangerous but I suspect I have a different perspective on risk from my more laid-back neighbours. So it will be interesting to see how long it is before anything is done about them. Or before they fall down.

And here are photos of large granite rocks which were disgorged in the forest this week. Across the track and side-track, in fact. As I reported this to a couple of passing Guardia Civil officers yesterday, I should add that - in the event I suddenly disappear - the names of the truck companies are on my mobile phone. On the other hand, it might be significant the policemen didn’t take my name and address. Or even my identity number . . . So, it’s good I met a dog-walking neighbour when taking these snaps just now and we have agreed to make a formal joint denuncia at the police station tomorrow. Now, if both of us disappear . . .

Saturday, February 16, 2008

El Pais has asked the same questions I posed the other day – Where on earth are the details of government and opposition policies on key subjects? And are we to be subjected to nothing but ludicrous bribes even when the election campaign officially[!] begins? I think we know the answers. But imagine what the situation would be like if Spain actually had a populist tabloid press. On the other hand, could it possibly be worse?

An angry Russia has asked if Kosovo can be independent, then why not, say, Cataluña, the Basque country and Galicia. Of course, the right-of-centre Spanish press can distinguish these cases with ease. Or at least with a form of logic. As for me – having been educated in Law and having lived in six cultures, I’ve long known there’s no such thing as absolute logic. Or, to put it another way, there are at least a thousand logics. On nationalism, my view is it’s impossible to stop it within a democratic framework and there will always come a point when reality has to be recognised. Maybe we are close to this in the case of the Basque Country and Cataluña but not so with either Galicia or Scotland, where there is nothing like a majority for independence.

Talking of Scotland – The latest announcement from her First Minister gives a perfect example of how nationalists depressingly and divisively define themselves by whom they oppose and constantly seek to stoke fires by shrouding themselves in the mantle of victim - Alex Salmond called yesterday for £150 million worth of Lottery funding that was lost because of the London Olympics to be returned to Scotland. Of course, there’s no suggestion he’ll share with the rest of Britain any profits accruing from the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.

Three men have been arrested for raping a 17 year old woman in a park in Elche. I guess this is the same place I spent several uncomfortable hours one fiesta night in 1971, trying to avoid local youths who thought it terribly amusing to hurl lighted firecrackers at the school party I was with. Which, naturally, largely comprised terrified young women. This was after I’d been told off in the cathedral for getting too close to my future wife during the performance of some religious re-enactment in – as a I recall – a boxing ring. Those were the days.

Finally – The latest on-line poll of Voz de Galicia readers:-
Do you think people who illegally download songs and films should be barred [à la the UK] from using the internet?
Yes: 9%
No: 91%

A moral lot, the readers of La Voz. Or the Immoral Majority?

Friday, February 15, 2008

President Zapatero has again waved his magic wand and assured us his next administration will create 1.2 million jobs for women and ensure that women all have equal pay with men before he quits the political stage. By the end of February, I expect he’ll have guaranteed to stop global warming in at least Spain within the next four years. Thank God he’s not falling into the trap of being over ambitious.

Meanwhile, I wonder what his policy is to deal with such trivia as the very low levels of the country’s reservoirs after four years of drought. Does his government plan to curb Spanish profligacy? I guess we’ll never know. Or not until after March at least.

Spanish-English confusion: Reports about criminals in Spain sometimes say someone has been given the ‘third grade’ in prison. This appears to means relatively soft treatment and it’s usually granted to the country’s legions of practitioners of financial skulduggery. In English, of course, the ‘third degree’ means torture. Quite a difference.

Spanish-Spanish confusion: There’s been a ship lying on a sand bank south of Gibraltar for months now. Recently it broke up, resulting in blobs of oil on a Spanish beach. Some blamed the British government for ignoring the risk and others fingered their Spanish counterpart. Friends of the Earth said a plague on both houses. Anxious to ensure the Brits copped ultimate culpability, Spain’s Environment Minister claimed the ship had sunk in Gibraltar waters. What a mistake! As this effectively extended British territory out into the Med, the Spanish Foreign Minister immediately corrected her and insisted it had gone down in Spanish waters. No doubt some lawyers will clear it all up in due course. Though not on the beach.

You couldn’t make it up – In a village down in Málaga province, Brits and Germans who were cheated by estate agents, lawyers and town hall officials and, as a result, now live in illegal houses facing demolition have been told they can legitimate their properties by paying a ‘voluntary tax’ of between €6,000 and 12,000. Doesn’t anyone in Spain worry about the country’s international reputation? And is it any wonder that property sales in the south are now reported to be close to nil?

The Madrid-Barcelona high speed train [the AVE] is about to start up. True, this is 6 or 8 years late but, for Brits without anything resembling Spain’s impressive network and, worse, still suffering from the rail mess New Labour promised to sort out 11 years ago, this is not something to be critical of. To say the least.

Finally - My death-defying zebra crossing experiences possibly reached their apogee yesterday. In slow-moving traffic, a car stopped right on the crossing, blocking my way. When I registered mild protest via a facial expression, the driver went into aggressive hysterics at the wheel. And after I’d finally crossed behind him, he opened the window and shouted something about me needing to wait for him to do whatever he liked. Admittedly by this time I’d hit the back of his car with a rolled up magazine but I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a heart attack further down the road. In fact, I hope he had a heart attack further down the road. Vindictive? Moi?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The pre-election Dutch auction is now in full swing. God only knows what goodies we’ll have been promised by the first week of March. With each passing day the un-costed ante is upped as if there were no tomorrow and no bills to pay. Which has led me to conclude there can’t be a better time to indulge in this nonsense than when the economy is deteriorating. For tax revenue is bound to fall and give you a perfect excuse not to fulfil your vainglorious promises. Assuming anyone was daft enough to believe them in the first place, of course. Personally, I’m wondering when the parties will get round to their policies on, say, education, health and economic reform. Meanwhile, the PP party continues to give ammunition to the governing PSOE party in its campaign to stick a fascista label on it. After announcements on immigration, terrorism and the Spanish language, we’ve now had one on the need to do more about criminals aged 12 upwards. I guess it might work, if there’s a large Daily Mail vote lying dormant in Spain.

On the subject of women taking over from men in Spanish politics, it seems that - despite measures taken by the current government to change things - the ratio of men to women senior candidates in this election is exactly the same as last time round - 3:1.

Which reminds me – Can any Galician reader tell me what the controversy is around the Caravana de Mujeres I keep seeing references to? Nothing to do with the elections, I guess.

What are the odds? First a headline from El Mundo and then one from the Voz de Galicia, on the same day:-
“Tits are important but they upset feminists”.
“Dolly Parton says her breasts are killing her”.

As you can see from this photo, I have a large bougainvillea at the back of my house. Its roots straddle the fence between me and next door, though most of the vegetation grows on my side.

As the picture shows, it has two distinct parts - the bush as the bottom and the branches I’ve trained up the wall to my bedrooms. Or it did have until yesterday, when Nice-but-Noisy Tony next door decided to do away with the entire bush. Which he did - without first discussing things with me - when I was taking my afternoon nap. So, there you are - two Spanish cultural aspects in one throw – the siesta and individualismo. Or the inability to conceive that someone else has a view. Or even some rights. We discussed it this morning and, as I expected, my neighbour was astonished I was not well pleased and assured me it was all for the best. Even if I’ve been left with a view of the ugly toilet-style new houses across the road. There is, of course, little I can do apart from clearing up the insult-to-injury debris on my side of the fence. But my neighbour shall henceforth be known here merely as Noisy Tony.

Galicia Facts

Per capita GDP has risen here over the last 3 years and now stands at 84% of the EU average. This puts the region in the same box as Cornwall in England, West Wales and the Highlands of Scotland. But with better weather. Of course, if this increased wealth is concentrated in our more notorious industries, not all of us will be feeling a significant improvement.

Down in Pontevedra, the excellent news is that two derelict, eyesore cafés in prime locations in the city are finally being refurbished by new owners. As I’ve reported before, these have been empty for years because of family feuds that are all too common is land-obsessed Galicia, where properties tend to be sub-divided on each succeeding inheritance.

The other good news is that initial membership of the Anglo Galician Association has soared. This is open to anyone who speaks English and who has any connection at all with Galicia. It would welcome people who can give talks on Galician culture. And classes in Gallego. So where are all you Nationalists? Or even mere Galeguistas? Come on - write to angalass@gmail.com

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The readers of the Voz de Galicia were asked whether, in voting in the upcoming elections, they’d pay more attention to the exhortations of the Catholic archbishops [Don’t vote for the Socialist pagans] than to those of the Clintonesqe array of artists assembled by the government [Vote for our lovely friend Mr Zapatero and his colleagues]. Those who could be bothered to vote on-line registered 45% in favour of the prelates but 55% in favour of the luvvies. This is astonishing. In how many other countries would there be such respect for the views of religious luminaries?

I often commend the serious Spanish press for its refusal to dumb down and sensationalise to anything like the extent of its British brethren. But, truth to tell, ahead of elections the papers are not so much heavy as suffocating - possibly because they’re effectively mouthpieces for the various parties. The result is pages after page of political pap and a shortage of real news. So, until mid March, this blog will feature even more trivia than usual. Especially as I have a self-imposed ban on commenting on the worsening economic picture. This, for example, prevents me from reporting that the government’s forecast for 2008 growth has reduced yet again, to just below 3%. Which is still high, of course.

So . . .

Virtually every afternoon I get a call from some telemarketer or other asking if they can talk to the ‘woman of the house’. I’ve tried a variety of responses over the years but may now have hit on the best – She just died this morning. Which tends to bring the patter to a quick halt.

If the question What on earth is the point of salad? Appeals to you, try this. There’s even a tenuous [and tendentious] Spanish connection . . . Salad leaves drenched in chlorine, imported from the hideous poly-tunnel cities of southern Spain, where migrant African workers survive virtually enslaved . .

Galicia Facts

Galicians are very proud of their primary produce – their fish, shellfish, meat and vegetables. Frankly, this is a lot more justifiable than their belief Galician cuisine is one of the great wonders of the world. [A common Spanish regional attitude, I’m told]. For me, our local cooking is bland and low in sauces. So I was pleased to see in my local supermarket an array of cooked meats that had been ‘spiced up’ in one way or another. And - clearly lacking any local appeal - they were being sold off at 50 centimos each. I put this down to the culinary conservatism of the populace and bought 5 or 6 packs. But, having now eaten all of them, I tend towards the alternative explanation that everyone but me knew they’d all taste exactly the same as your basic pre-packed York ham. Que decepción. Or, in Gallego, Que decepción. I think.

Across the river in Pontevedra, the BNG gypsy imbroglio gets worse. You’ll recall that the Nationalist mayors of Poio and Pontevedra are at each other’s necks over the issue of re-housing families displaced when some illegal houses were knocked down after years of non-action. Well, it now appears the attempts to place them in an outlying district of Pontevedra were carried out by the regional government – the Xunta – without the courtesy of informing the mayor beforehand. The regional government is a coalition of Socialists and Nationalists but the minister responsible for this issue is a Nationalist. Nice to know they all talk to each other. Or perhaps ‘shout at’ would be a better phrase. Perhaps it’s just as well there are no local or regional elections in March.

Gallego corner: Reader Jorge, who is a Cuban living in California, tells me that back on the island of his birth the word paragüero means bad driver. Why am I not surprised? I hope they don’t have a lot of roundabouts [circles] there.

I see the PP party has billboards along the side of our roads featuring its leader telling us he has As Ideas Claras. His name is spelt Rajoy. Which is a tad ironic, firstly, as Gallego has no letter Y and converts the J into X and, secondly, he is from Pontevedra. So here his name would be Raxoi. I feel like complaining but don’t know whether he’d prefer my letter to be in Spanish or Gallego. Probably both, as our local councils used to do. But not any more. I’ll leave you to guess which option they now prefer.

Finally - An update on how the voting is going among Spanish friends on the issue of how long it will be before Spain has una presidenta. The 4-year progression matches the electoral process:-
4 years – 6
8 years – 3
12 years – 6
16 years – 2
20 years – 1
Total 18

There should be 19 responses but the head barman’s answer was that Hell should freeze over first as the only thing worse than the current machista society would be one dominated by women. In taking this view, he is apparently influenced by the fact he’s working his cojones off just so his first wife can take half his salary to finance a life of leisure. Or that, at least, was my conclusion from his ten-minute dissertation.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Elections: The governing PSOE party has labelled the PP opposition xenophobic, machista, homophobic and non-inclusive. One wonders why they didn’t just come straight out and call them fascist bastards. The government has also now admitted the economic situation is worse than they predicted and that it’s just possible they might bear a smidgeon of responsibility for this. But, even so, if times really do get worse, we can rely on them, as caring socialists, to give us far more protection from the cold winds than we could ever get from the uncaring fascist bastards. Brilliant.

Meanwhile, in another shock report, we’ve been told the electorate quite likes the sound of all the bribes being offered to them. Even if they don’t really believe they’ll get them.

Society: There’s an odd thing about Spain in that, while there’s said to be a culture of insult here, there’s a certain type of humorously cutting remark which will never get a laugh. Or even a smile. It’s taken me a while to work this out but how I think it works is like this . . . You can say anything you like – and however angrily you like – directly to someone. But you mustn’t make a derogatory remark behind someone’s back. Fair enough, you will say; this is never acceptable. Except it is in Liverpool, where it will be understood that you’re not serious but just extemporising a one-liner. Take for example, my experience of Saturday, when I had to wait 5 or 10 minutes for my antihistamines while an old chap told first the pharmacist and then me a convoluted story about the regime for his medicine. His concern was he might not wake up after 6 hours to take his early morning pill. And what particularly worried him was there was no one in the house to rouse him. After being reassured several times by both the pharmacist and me, he finally went on his way. As he left, I turned to the pharmacist and would have said “I can see why he lives alone” but something told me I’d get an icy response. This is essentially because, in this straight-talking society, she would have believed I meant it and was being cruel. Mind you, the same thing could well happen anywhere in the south of Britain. Even if there’s not a less straight-talking society on earth. We’re just not understood, us northerners. Here, there, or anywhere. I wonder if there’s a benefit we can claim, from Madrid, London or Brussels.

Economy: Despite the impressive growth of the intervening seven years, salaries for new graduates have fallen since 2000, especially for women. Can anyone explain this? Just too many of them?

Pontevedra: I mentioned the other week that new benches has been introduced into the square which holds the Sunday flea market [el rastrillo] and which had more or less been taken over by the tables and chairs of all the cafés and bars down the side of the square. I feared for the effect on the vibrant life of the place. But I shouldn’t have worried, for the tables and chairs have progressively moved back towards the centre until they’re now virtually on top of the [semi-redundant] benches. This is almost certainly illegal but, hey, what are rules for if not to be ignored?

Gallego Corner: By chance, yesterday I came across a reference to Barallete. This is a private slang [argot] - said to have arisen in the 12th century – used by the knife-sharpeners and umbrella makers (afiadores and paragüeiros) of the Galician province of Ourense so as to keep local practice secret. It was based on Galician as spoken there but its users substituted everyday words with invented ones of no linguistic connection. So, for example, xilento was the Barellete word for "hunger". And here are two versions of the sentence “We had to work even if it rained or even if there was mud because money was needed and God does not provide it free”.
Barallete: Habia que chusar anque oretee ou axa barruxo porque facía falta zurro que Sanqueico nono da de balde.
Standard spoken Gallego: Había que traballar aínda que chova ou haxa barro porque facía falta diñeiro, que Deus non o dá de balde.

By the way, If you check the word paragüero in the Collins dictionary, you’ll be told the two meanings are:- 1. umbrella stand, and 2. a person from Ourense. This alleged calumny amuses and irritates my Galician friends in about equal measure. Unless they’re from Ourense. In which case they are infuriated.

I also came across a blog from an English-speaking Galician who has as much difficulty as I do in accepting that the regional and local governments should be free to impose Gallego over Spanish against the wishes of the people. I hope he survives. As he says, "Languages belong to the people, not to the political parties."

Note re comments: I’ve been told comments to this blog are being rejected, which has never been my intention. Checking the settings, I’ve seen there’s now a requirement people have a Google account. As I’ve no recollection of imposing this, I wonder whether it’s been introduced by Google themselves. Anyway, the only restriction now is on anonymous comments. If anyone still has problems – even in sending insults – please tell me on thoughts.from.galicia@gmail.com

Monday, February 11, 2008

One of the joys of Spain is that outrageous swearing is common at all levels of society. And on all conceivable occasions. The equivalents of both the Anglo F and C words are common currency. Perhaps too common. I had occasion to have a drip put in my arm on Saturday. The first clue that something was not going quite right was the lovely young doctor spitting out Joder! [Fuck!] as she fiddled with the tube. The other clue was a second tube, in my other arm. I contented myself with the thought I was on steroids for the first time in my life and that I would presumably emerge with larger muscles. They could hardly be smaller.

I've been trying for decades now to persuade my daughters and houseguests that there’s no need to put a litre of water in a kettle when you want to boil enough for 250cl cup of tea or coffee. No success at all. But now I read this is the biggest offence committed by householders careless of their carbon footprint. So, there we have it – It’s now a sin against the precepts of the Church of Latter Day Global Warming. Vindicated at last. Perhaps I will even lose the label of Tight Old Bastard. Which is almost certainly something worse when translated into the Spanish vernacular.

The latest El Pais elections poll reveals that the PSOE lead has fallen from 3.4% to 2.9%. This is, of course, utterly meaningless but the paper still managed to fill up a page with analysis of it.

Galicia Facts

I never know quite how many police forces operate all at the same time in Pontevedra. Certainly three, I think. But possibly five. Or even six. For the gypsies in the mixed gitano/payo district I mentioned yesterday have set up a vigilante patrol to ensure their unwanted brethren are not molested by the existing residents. Just what the place needs. I wonder if solidarity will remain firm if the fears of drug dealing [trapicheo] prove justified. You can read all about it in yesterday’s Diario de Pontevedra, where it was the main news item.

It struck me later that my item on smokers yesterday should perhaps have gone to my How to Treat Strangers blog. Ah well. So, sorry if it bored anyone.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A reader has written to offer a house valued at €300,000 for only 100,000. This is because it’s close to a gypsy camp. As the writer is anonymous, I don’t know if he/she is Spanish but I guess the purpose of the exercise is to prove that, as no one will seize the opportunity, we are all no different from the Spanish - racists at heart. In fact, what the writer has done – unwittingly I suspect – is to clearly display the difficulty many [most?] Spaniards have in differentiating between an understandable aversion to anti-social behaviour and an unacceptable antipathy to people based merely on the colour of their skin. As I’ve said, the real risk here is that it will take a few race riots in Barcelona or Madrid to force them to review this stance and to accept that the rest of the world is never going to sympathise with the Spanish view that there’s no harm in insults of any stamp, provided only that the insultor didn’t really mean to upset the insultee, whatever words were used. Or because the Spanish just love to dress up as negros and don’t mean to suggest all black people are monkeys. None of this would matter if Spain were a self-sufficient island for which the views of others in the world didn’t matter. But it isn’t. All that said, it’s for the Spaniards to decide where they go on this. No one else. And they’re right that no one can dictate to them. I doubt that anyone really wants to but, unfortunately, this is how things are seen here. And riled Spaniards tend to be obstreperous Spaniards.

Talking of gypsies – My local council of Poio knew what it was doing when it dragged its feet for years over the demolition of several illegal houses in a camp not far from me. For they knew they’d have real difficulties re-housing the occupants. I’ve touched on this a couple of times but the latest developments are:- 1. The tenants of a council flat block 200 metres from me are refusing to pay their rent because a gypsy family has been moved in. And 2: The mayor of Pontevedra has cut off the water from a flat block on his patch into which the mayor of Poio had moved several displaced families. In this case, the irony is that the barrio is famous for being a harmonious mix of gitanos [gypsies] and payos [non-gypsies]. But the former are the good ones who work as traders and send their kids to school. The displaced gypsies are all seen – with some justification - as drug dealers. There’s actually a bigger irony in that both mayors are from the Galician Nationalist Party, which sees itself as more socialist than the PSOE party of the left. But both have a lot of concerned middle class voters to worry about. Of course, this problem would never have arisen if the Poio council had not turned a blind eye to the establishment of a camp and the construction of more than 20 illegal houses but perhaps this was always too much to ask. Seems very short-sighted now.

If you’re coming to live in Spain, you need to know there’s little recognition here that smoking is injurious to non-smokers. Or, to put this another way, the right of a non-smoker not to be injured is at best equal to the right of a smoker to do whatever he or she likes. I write this because I had lunch with three Spanish friends on Friday, all in their 30’s and all heavy smokers. The restaurant was booked from the car and a smoking table requested. Although they all knew I’m a non-smoker, into no-one’s head did the thought enter that my view was worth consideration. Of course, if I’d been less stupidly British and more devil-take-the-hindmost Spanish, I’d have upset them by insisting we ate away from the swirling fumes that gave my jacket the stench of nicotine. But I chickened out and so have no one to blame but myself. It’s their society and I choose to live here.

In the UK, the head of the Church of England has suggested bits of the Islamic Sharia law be incorporated into the British judicial system. For a good response to this astonishingly unhelpful [to everybody] notion, see here. As someone as commented, the proposal may well be mad but at least the making of it has ensured it will never happen.

Nearer home in Portugal, it’s reported the police are about to admit they have no evidence against the McCanns and that their agudo label will soon be removed. This should put an end to the preposterous theories by which we’ve been assailed for the last year but I don’t suppose it will. For many in Portugal and here in Spain – and not a few in the UK - they will always be guilty because ‘She didn’t cry enough’.

What a world.

End of Sunday sermon.