Monday, June 30, 2008

So, Spain finally did it and won the European cup. And deservedly - if nail-bitingly - so. Easily the best team in the tournament. Needless to say, today will be an ‘unofficial holiday’. Re-watching the highlights on British TV, I had to smile at the exuberant comment that it didn’t matter now whether one was Castilian, Basque or Catalan; all were rejoicing in the nation’s victory. My elder daughter had earlier called me from San Sebastian in the Basque Country to tell me the bar she was in was as quiet as the grave. The other amusing thing was reading English reports posing the question of what the national team could learn from Spain’s approach to the game. Under a bloody Italian manager renowned for his defensive mindset!?

As I’ve said before, Spanish reports of football matches seem to me to be superior to those in British papers. One reason, I guess, is that a lot of stuff gets written, so the chances of some it being great are higher. Anyway, I like this summary from El País’s Ernesto Valverde:- You can be a simple champion or a worthy champion, even a brilliant champion or a dubious champion. What is more difficult is to be universally regarded as a champion, both within and without your own country. Spain is this sort of unanimous champion, only infrequently recognised by the football world. The team’s play has been the best, the most lucid, and the most brilliant - above all, at key moments – that’s to say from the quarter finals on, when the demands and the pressure are at their greatest. Suffice to say that Spain won her last three matches without conceding a single goal and always attacking. This gives you a good idea of the side’s brilliance, highlighted ultimately in a great final, against a Germany which, come what may, is always to be feared in important matches. And I also enjoyed this ad from the beer company, Cruzcampo:-

They said we were small,

But we defeated giants.

That our anthem lacked words,

But we have written history in letters of gold.

That we would choke in the quarter-finals,

And not make it to the final.

But, if the past was black,

We have stained it red.

As some readers will have twigged, it was always unlikely that I would deliver on my promise to post Spain’s Negatives today. Inappropriate in the festive atmosphere of today and ungallant, if Spain had lost. Wednesday?

I guess we all find it easy to understand why English is not called Londonese. Or Sussexese. Or, indeed, anything other than English. I say this because a writer in El País today made the point that it’s wrong for the Spanish to call their language Castellano and not Español. Apart from being technically incorrect, it makes it easier for ‘nationalists’ on Spain’s periphery to disassociate themselves from a language associated with another part of the country, as opposed to one associated with Spain as a whole. Fair point, I think.

The UK insanity of police checks on anyone and everyone who has anything to do with kids is even greater than I thought. It turns out that “the Criminal Records Bureau check is not transferable, requiring some people who volunteer for a wide range of activities to have two, three or even more. One man has had to have five separate checks - one for being a teacher at a secondary school, another for teaching voluntarily at a primary school, a third so that he can run a Cub Scout pack, yet another because he sings in a church choir and a fifth because he is the voluntary licensee of the church club”. Why would anyone bother to volunteer for anything now? Except paedophiles who don’t yet have a criminal record. Perhaps the whole scheme is actually a fiendishly clever way to catch these. And maybe pigs really can fly.

Galicia Facts

Of all Spain’s provincial capitals, Pontevedra is now said to have the cheapest new flats, going for an average of €1,484 per square metre. Followed by Badajoz, at 1,527, and Lugo [another Galician city], at 1,547. This has possibly got something to do with all the huge flat blocks which have been constructed in the last three years here. And which have yet to come on stream. So prices may be lower than this next year.

I popped into the HQ of the Rias Baixas tourist board to see if they had any new leaflets or brochures for this summer. I came out with 64 of these, weighing 3.5 kilos. Or 7.7 pounds. They were a delight to carry the mile back to my car in the 30 degree midday heat. But I’m ready for just about any question now.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Here’s a shock . . . The Spanish tax authorities – having investigated deals involving 500 euros notes – have advised that the prototypical fraudster is a male businessperson involved in the construction industry along the east coast or in Madrid or Barcelona. So Marbella gets a clean bill of health?

Well, it’s the big match tonight and the consensus appears to be that Spain is a vastly superior team who will lose out to the traditional German qualities of dogged persistence and good luck. Not that these have always been enough in spheres other than football. Personally, it’s a huge pleasure to be totally committed to a side without having the nerves that go with it being one’s national team. Perhaps things will change when I’ve taken out Spanish nationality.

I realise this doesn’t relate directly to my topic of the moment – the bloody wind turbines disfiguring the hills – but this comment did put me in mind of them – The rush towards an Ill-considered biofuels market is a depressing reminder that the vicissitudes of climate science are nothing compared to its bungled economics.

As I dropped off to sleep last night at 12.45, all was quiet. But I was awoken some time later by the noise of festivities somewhere down the hill. Possibly a wedding in the private Casino club. Which must have actually got going after 2am. Spain. Fun. Noise. Solipsism. Why do I bother to even mention them?

Galicia Facts

I owe an apology to the Xunta VP, Sr Quintana. He actually used Spanish when exhorting local companies to greater internationalism. Mind you, he was addressing a congress of Galician and South American companies. So - with the possible exception of those from Portuguese-speaking Brazil- if he’d spoken in Gallego, not many participants would have fully understood him. Which rather proves my point, I feel.

In the 70s, parts of the British county of Cheshire were combined with the city of Liverpool, to form the new metropolitan authority of Merseyside. Some folk in snobby Cheshire have yet to recover from this setback, though they did manage to achieve a postcode which denies the connection to the Scouse city. I mention this because the Xunta has announced plans to bring the mutually-despising cities of Pontevedra and Vigo together to form the new Metrópoli das Rías Baixas. Or the Metropolitan authority of the Lower Estuaries. This could be fun. For those with a close knowledge of Galicia, this new entity will run south from Pontevedra to encompass not only Vigo on the Atlantic coast but also Salvaterra on the banks of the Miño. But not, for some reason, the border town of Tui.

Bob Dylan performed in Vigo this week. Apparently he got rather annoyed at the ‘many people’ who arrived late. Didn’t they give the poor chap a cultural briefing before he came?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

By some strange coincidence, the Ministresses for Equality in both Britain and Spain are making headline news at the same time. The former – Harriet Harman - has announced a controversial law which introduces ‘gender audits’ into businesses operating in the UK. Which rather suggests the predicted ‘post bureaucratic age’ is still some way off. The latter - Bibiana Aído – has made yet another gaffe, this time about Muslim women and their veils being in conflict with the rights of women. For this, she was unceremoniously stamped on by the never-off-the-front-page Vice President, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega Sanz. The Spanish Government, she avows, respects the tradition of the Islamic veil as it doesn’t infringe any Spanish laws. Earlier in the week, Ms Aído had come under fire for suggesting there should be libraries confined to books written only by women. She really does seem bent on proving that being of only 31 añitos and having had responsibility for flamenco dancing down in Andalucia are not really an adequate preparation for a post in the Spanish cabinet. This show could run. And at least it’s a distraction from the plethora of dreadful economic statistics.

I wonder whether Spain’s peseta wouldn’t have been devalued by now if it weren’t a member of the Euro club. Does the country really benefit from a bank rate in excess of 5%? And a currency which has risen 15% against that of its main tourism customers in the UK and stayed at par with the currency of those in Germany? Is the Spanish government really free to implement the measures demanded by its critics? As I really don’t know the answers to these questions, I invite more qualified readers to express their views on them.

The Basque government is now very close to holding its planned referendum on, shall we say, looser ties with the Spanish state. The government of the latter [as well, as yet, the former] will be asking the Constitutional Court for a view as to whether this a legal or illegal development. I don’t know about you but I’d be prepared to bet my house it’s the latter. Not that this will change anything at all in the near term. Another show that will run and run.

Talking of houses - In Spain each municipality has an office which deals specifically with your ‘immovable’ property, called the Catastro. Visiting mine this week, I was pleasantly surprised to find it had a direct line I could call with future queries. That this was a premium rate number surprised me rather less. After all, there’s hardly a service provider in the country which doesn’t think this is appropriate treatment for its actual or potential customers.

Last word on the EU and its Treaty which is not really a Constitution – A couple of days ago, an editorial in El Pais opined it’s now an absolute – if not existential – priority that the Reflection Group finds an answer to the question of how to increase popular support for the process of integration. And yesterday the paper’s columnist, Carlos Mendo, suggested the Irish ‘No’ heralded the triumph of democracy over bureaucracy. Blimey. Things may be changing quicker than I suggested only yesterday. Perhaps the parallels drawn between the EU Commission and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe are striking home.

Galicia Facts

It’s reported there are ten applications for each of the licences for huge new wind farms in our region/nation. One wonders why. Is there a massive Green imperative here? Or can it be a highly attractive financial proposition?

Every summer brings a new crop of professional beggars to Pontevedra, to swell the ranks of the all-weather, more-amateur veterans of the town. Yesterday I was accosted by a well-dressed young man sporting a man-bag and a large gut and asking for the price of a sandwich. I told him he’d clearly had too many of these already and suggested he push off. Or words to this effect.

I’ve received an offer of 600 dollars for 600,000 words of my blog in Gallego. I’d be happy to pass this on to anyone willing to translate same. But I warn you that my efforts so far this year amount to a mere 102,000 words. Or 167 pages of text. I work the offer out to be 0.08 centimos a word. So it really would be a labour of love. Any takers? It would surely look great on the CV of any aspiring Nationalist politician.

Friday, June 27, 2008

What a wonderful performance last night from Spain in the European Cup. I can do no better than quote Henry Winter - Echoing the three-goal margin with which they defeated Russia as Euro 2008 opened, Spain last night glided to the tournament's climax with some memorable second-half moves. Their football was of an elevated class that England can only dream of, the ball caressed at speed between friendly feet, the touch as instant as the vision was inspired. Russia were simply outplayed again. Only 2 more years of residence and I’ll be able to change my nationality.

Meanwhile, my good mood allows me to cite this ad featuring Torres and the other team in Liverpool, for which I’m indebted to reader David.

Since this is a day for good news, I’m delaying the posting of my list of Spain’s Negatives. Probably until Monday. Those who read or re-read the list of Positives [see yesterday’s post] will recall my point that Spain is a far more sane place than the UK. I’m reminded of this yet again when reading that a quarter of Britain’s adults will need to get official proof they’re not paedophiles. And that I’d quite possibly be arrested now for taking the picture I’ve got in my album of my two naked daughters in the bath, aged 1 and 5. For a more qualified comment on this madness, click here.

Having been born in South America, the Conservative Euro-MP, Daniel Hannan, is a lover of all things Hispanic. Currently travelling in Castile, he makes this comment about attitudes here to the EU - There is a little more Euro-sentimentalism in Spain than in Britain; but not much. As in Ireland, Spaniards knew that Brussels was a handy source of funds and, being a polite people, they didn't wish to seem ungrateful. But, again as in Ireland, the money is drying up, and it is far from clear that a new referendum would replicate the big "Yes" vote of three years ago. Take away the economics, and there is remarkably little European feeling. Regular readers will know I’ve suggested from time to time that attitudes here will change as soon as Spaniards start subsidising roads in, say, Bulgaria. But I still think Hannan’s being a tad over-optimistic about the speed with which this will happen. Conventional thinking on beneficent Europe runs wide and deep here. The only hope is that the veil of ‘solidarity’ behind which talk of Europe takes place in all the Spanish media will be ripped apart to reveal the same self-interested attitudes towards this subject that dominate the domestic political scene.

Hannan says the Spanish are a ‘a polite people’. Well, yes they certainly are. Or can be. Noble even, as I regularly say. But their directness also gives them the capacity to appear to be terribly rude at times. At least to over-polite Brits. For example, when the phone rang yesterday morning, I picked it up to hear the bald, barked question Quien es? [Who are you?]. And I recognised the voice of the friend I’d just tried to call. Not for him the ultra British politeness of “I’m sorry to bother you but I’ve just seen that I missed a call from you and wondered who you might be.” Then, later in the day, I got a second – even ‘ruder’ – call, which went . . .




By some incredible coincidence, this call was from the wife of the friend who’d rung in the morning. But I decided not to call her back and tell her it was me she’d put the phone down on. Which diplomacy I know she’d regard as ridiculously British. Probably.

Galicia Facts

A gentleman in our region/nation was issued this week with an ID card that expires in 9,999. These things happen with computers, of course. As the Vigo chap accused of travelling at 750kph knows only too well.

As for things that happen on Galicia’s roads, click here for a telling photo. My initial thought was this had happened at 6.30am but it turns out to have been at 6.30pm. I just love the all-too-common phrase - Por causas que aún se desconocen, el vehículo siniestrado se salió de la vía tras atravesar el carril del sentido contrario.

Finally, I see the Nationalist VP of the Galician Xunta has urged local firms to “bet on greater internationalism”. Coming from a man whose primary aim appears to be to suppress the world’s second most international language in favour of Gallego, I must say I find this a bit rich. And talking of betting, I’ll wager he didn’t make his exhortation in either Spanish or English. Both ever so slightly more international than Gallego.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Depressing statistics on Spain’s economy are now tumbling so fast from the ether, it’s time to stop citing any of them. It’s rather like dancing on a tomb. The worst thing is that everyone – even the Pollyanna government which recklessly [and successfully] chucked bribes at the electorate only three months ago – now agrees that 2009 will be even worse. The other thing everyone except the same government agrees on is that it’s making a very poor fist of dealing with the crisis it now owns up to. So, we wait and hope. And around 20% of us may well be praying to a Catholic god.

As for the Opposition . . . Well, its leader – Sr Rajoy – now goes under the name Lazarus. Having been written off after his second electoral defeat as a weak and charisma-less dupe of ex President Aznar, he has now confounded his critics and been re-elected as the man to take the PP into the next general election in 2012. Perhaps. The shenanigans of the party – involving competing regional ‘barons’ and the disaffected Presidenta of the Madrid community – are much too complex for me to get a handle on. Even if I wanted to. But I suspect the fat lady has yet to sing in this opera. There will be regional elections here in Galicia next year – Rajoy’s own birthplace – and, if he doesn’t lead a triumphant PP back to power, the knives will surely be unsheathed again. No wonder he’s talking about coalitions with the small nationalist parties around this Nation of Nations. Better crank up my Gallego lessons.

As I gaze across the hills above Pontevedra, I can now count at least 30 gigantic wind turbines strutting across the horizon. I am decidedly against these things on aesthetic rounds and dubious about both the claims made for them and the way they’re financed by politicians in search of Green credentials. Even the incorrupt ones. So you’d expect me to cite quotations like this - I’ve spoken before of "the great wind scam" and how its only beneficiaries are the developers, who now make nearly twice as much money from the derisory amount of electricity their turbines produce as the companies that provide 99 per cent of the UK’s power by conventional means. I guess the truth will be out one day. And I accept it may not justify my suspicions.

I can’t recall the name of the President of Czechoslovakia and I have to Czech the spelling of his country’s name as I type it but he may become very popular in this house. In an interview here yesterday he was quoted as saying, inter alia:-

- To ignore the Irish No vote would be a disaster for the EU

- Europeanism is like Esperanto – an artificial language

- Radical ecologism is a danger to both liberty and prosperity.

I fear for the safety of a man of such uncommon common sense in Brussels. Here in Spain, I think we were expected to regard these highlighted comments of his as the spoutings of a madman. Which at least 99% of readers probably did. There’s still a lot of Faith around in this country.

In October last year, I posted my list of Spain’s Positives and promised I’d follow up with Spain’s Negatives very soon. But, for some reason or other, I didn’t. Possibly my innate concern not to upset anyone . . . Anyway, I now undertake to do this tomorrow. Or possibly the next day. So, don’t forget to tune in for them. Meanwhile, you can see or reprise the positives here in the archive. Though you’ll have to scroll down to the 16th.

Until tomorrow, I’ll leave you with just the one negative of the parents of a four-year-old who let her activate her squeaky dog toy during the entire first half of last night’s match between Germany and unlucky Turkey in the bar I watched it in. What is it about the Spanish and noise? And kids. But at least the place was no-smoking. Itself a minor miracle. And, of course, a huge positive.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It was not all bad news on the economy from the President this week. Spanish per capita income passed that of Italy in 2007 and is now 107% of the EU average. This puts it after France, Germany and the UK – on 111, 113 and 116 respectively. But this was before the construction bubble went pop. And how things will be after Spain’s gone backwards for a while is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, if you want an amusing take on today’s Italy, here it is.

Back in Spain, here’s a sign of the times. A $540k house that you can now snap up for a mere €430k. Possibly less, as my guess is the owner bought it off plan and can now clearly not afford the mortgage which financed his speculative venture . . .

Incidentally, at the bottom of the photo you can see the meter box set in the wall. This is how it’s normally done. But, with the two houses closest to completion on this ugly development, the boxes are merely glued to the top of the wall. Whether this is a real chapuza [bodge] or just a temporary measure will become clear in due course.

Meanwhile, here’s a more colourful sign of the times . . .

The other good news this week is that Spain matched Ireland in reducing road deaths by 7% last year. In Europe as a whole there was hardly any improvement.

The papers yesterday were full of the President’s warnings about the economic crisis and his request that everyone considers swapping rampant consumption for a bit of belt-tightened austerity. On the facing page in one paper was a huge ad for a trip to tomorrow’s game between Spain and Russia in Switzerland. The flight and the entrance ticket would set you back a mere €845. Or €1245 if you want to go non-cattle class. Plus €6 management fee in each case. Which doesn’t fall within my definition of austerity but it takes all sorts. Viewing figures in Catalunia and the Basque country for Spain’s match on Sunday against Italy suggest there won’t be many takers from these regions/nations.

This week saw the introduction of a special tax in Spain – on anything that can be considered to be related to digital music. This arises because Spain is the best/worst country in Europe for infringing industrial property rights by illegally downloading films and music. So, rather than implement the law, the government prefers to punish those of us who haven’t the faintest idea of how to do this by increasing the price of CDs, DVDs, MP4s and, would you believe, printers. In theory, the revenue will be passed on to composers and the like. And I suppose some of it might be.

Galicia Facts

A driver in Vigo last week received notification of a fine imposed for clocking 750kph in one of Vigo’s mains shopping streets. Or 470mph. One regularly hears of reckless driving in the city but this must take the biscuit.

Our region/nation had the lowest population growth in 2007, at only 0.3%. And this occurred disproportionately along the coast. In Lugo province, there was actually a small decrease. Despite all the Brits buying stone/slate houses up there. It’s a shame most of them won’t breed.

If you like men in uniform, Pontevedra’s the place for you to be this week. The city is hosting the 2nd International Europolyb Competition. Which you’ll have guessed involves strapping policemen and fire-fighters engaging in various energetic pursuits. The name could actually be worse – Europolybom, for example. Anyway, it’s good to know that, at this sports event, “No unsporting behaviour will be tolerated either during, before or after the Games”. For how many years, I wonder.

Finally, a new development for me today. Both I and Ryan were almost mown down on the zebra crossing a few metres from my house in a quiet street. At least the driver had the decency to brake, stall and shout an apology through his window. I just gave him a nasty stare. But nothing like the one he got from Ryan.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The latest potty pronouncement from the Bank of Spain is that companies should show ‘moderation’ as regards salaries and dividends. Do the directors really believe that commerce in Spain acts differently from elsewhere and that there’s someone out there who will actually take any notice of this plea just because it comes from the BoE?

For his part, President Zapatero appears to lack confidence that public sector managers, at least, can be relied on to show moderation as he’s announced there’s to be a freeze on salaries for its top managers. Admitting this year’s economic growth rate will be ‘below 2%’, he also advised that jobs in the public sector will be reduced by 30% this year. But that was yesterday morning and, by evening, he’d confirmed he’d got his numbers the wrong way round and that the cutback would be 70%. Which hardly inspires confidence that he’s on top of the challenges faced by the economy.

I believe we’re currently enjoying Equality Week. Flanked by the very young [and not-yet-much-admired] Ministress for Equality, the ever-visible VP, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega Sanz, assured us yesterday that imminent new legislation will bring an immediate end to all forms of discrimination against women here. The said Ministress has been lying rather low after kicking up a storm in which she said the words fistro, finstro and jarl were all Anglicisms which had been happily introduced into Spanish. But none of these mean anything at all to me and none of them is in the Royal Academy’s dictionary. The only definition for jarl I’ve come up with is Old Norse: a Scandinavian noble ranking immediately below the king. Which is probably not what she had in mind. Fistro/Finstro may or may not be a term of abuse invented by a Spanish comedian and bearing no relation whatsoever to an English word. So . . . Help!

And talking of Spanglish – A young Spanish friend visiting her family here told me last night she’s now employed – in Finland – ‘testeando software”. To my surprise, both ‘testear’ and ‘el software’ are to be found in the Collins dictionary. Purists may say these are not really examples of Spanglish but [I think] Anglicisms which are now true Spanish words. Maybe, but that’s not really the point.

And talking of Spanish – El Mundo reports that 16 intellectuals have come up with what they call a manifesto for a common language. They want parliament to guarantee the teaching of Castellano [= Spanish] across all the regions of Spain. Could there be a more eloquent testament to the fact that this is now a lost cause?

Two interesting observations arising from the final pages of Paul Preston’s ‘El Caudillo’:-
1. Tony Blair’s Third Way was preceded in the 1950s by Spain’s Third Force. Which was something mid-way between the Left[!] of the Falange Movement and the Right of Catholic ‘conservatives’. Well, everything’s relative.
2. Manuel Fraga’s decision to go hunting the weekend the Prestige oil tanker broke up off the Galician coast in 2002, was in keeping with Franco’s strategy of dealing with Spain’s 1950s crises by disappearing on extensive fishing or shooting trips.

By the way - The other council that has implemented anti-corruption measures is that of Sevilla. Since this city's in Andalucia, one's left wondering whether this is some sort of clever smokescreen!

Finally, I’ve been asked for my comments on the Spain-Italy match . . Unexciting. Great result. Worrying lack of sharpness upfront. Concern re Russia on Thursday night. Meanwhile, though, Spain is awash with relief that a curse/jinx that’s at least 88 years old has finally been lifted. Personally, I was amused to read that numerous ‘Sub-Saharans’ has used an anticipated distraction on the part of border patrols to attempt a mass crossing into the North Africa ‘enclave’ of Melilla during the penalty shoot-out. Though it’s not really funny, of course.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Someone asked me the recently whether the mullet hairstyle was making a comeback but I can’t recall whether they meant in Spain or the UK. Anyway, here’s a photo [no. 7] of ex President Aznar which suggests it might be the former. The interesting thing is that Aznar is, I think, an ex tax inspector and not renowned for his rakish ways. Perhaps he has a girlfriend. Or is trying to redeem his youth. Or both.

I touched on British humour the other day. For some reason, I was reminded today of the words on the gravestone of one of its greatest exponents – Spike Milligan. “I told you I was ill!”. Ironically, Milligan was Irish.

Which reminds me of a comment from a real Brit, Lord Salisbury – “The four cruellest yet sweetest words in the English language are ‘I told you so’”.

Galicia Facts

Forecasters say that the increase in summer heat in Spain this year will be felt less here than elsewhere.

Meanwhile, though, the good folk who run the council of ‘the Marbella of Galicia' [Sanxenxo/ Sanjenjo] have announced that the municipality’s budget is 30% down on last year’s. I don’t suppose they’ll be boasting this year of any connection with Marbella. Even less with its neighbour, Estepona.

Is anyone else having difficulties posting to Blogger? Perhaps because of Firefix 3.0.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Auto de Fe: I got a bit ahead of myself yesterday in implying the St Juan celebrations would be last night, 21st June. They’ll actually be on Monday, 23rd. I suspect my subconscious felt events starting close to midnight and going on into the small hours would be moved to the nearest Saturday, so as to avoid people losing a lot of sleep before a working day. You’d think, after 8 years here, I’d know better. I also got my Johns and James’s mixed up; Santiago is the latter, of course. And, while I’m apologising, I should say my French partner insists they never use the expression chacun à son goût . If true, this seems very thoughtless and perverse of them. No wonder hardly anyone wants to learn their poverty-stricken language these days. For what it’s worth, I’m told that what the French actually say is chacun ses goûts or à chacun ses goûts or even à chacun son goût . You’d think that, as they have three options, one of them would be right.

Years ago, I used to record the percentages of drivers wearing safety belts as I walked into town of a morning. This would be an even more boring exercise now as my impression is almost everyone obeys the law and puts them on. Or at least in the front seats. In the back, things are somewhat different. Take the case I saw yesterday of a young couple in a large car containing them, their chica and a baby. The former were in the front – belted up - and the latter were in the back – unprotected. Worse, the baby was on the chica’s lap and being held forward between the front seats. Perfect positioning for being torpedoed through the windscreen. So, were the parents really convinced about the risky/safety argument? Or merely afraid of being fined? If the latter, do they really not know that the law applies to back seats as well as front ones? And that it specifically obliges them to strap a baby into a special seat? My market research of a single Spanish friend last night concluded that back-seat-belting-up had not yet forced itself into Spanish consciousness in any way at all. Hence the dissonance.

El Pais yesterday carried an article eulogising British humour. Its overview was that “English humour - with its quality, it sadism, its acrobatic capacity to triumph in any place – has not aged”. No, I don’t know that this means either but the paper singled out Little Britain and The Office for praise. Such a shame, then, that they illustrated the article with a still from the American version of the latter. Coincidentally, I read in today’s British papers that, if you’re really desperate, you can take a tour of Britain’s Comedy Towns. Apparently some non-Brits already do. Strange folk, foreigners.

And finally, still on the humour theme – The residents of the nearby coastal pueblo of Raxó – or some of them anyway – are demanding that their bendy road be called something other than Rabo do Porco. Or Pigtail Street. Must have all had a sense of humour by-pass. In contrast, I’ve never heard of any complaints from the residents of the nearby villages of Pozo Negro [Cesspit], Picaraña [Spiderbite], Parderubias [Couple-of-blondes], Esclavitude, [Slavery] and, my favourite, Gatomorto [Deadcat].

And a humour PS which I can’t resist – If you click here and scroll to picture no. 5, you’ll see that the last remaining political relic from the Franco era – the 85-year-old Manuel Fraga – is still in control of all his faculties. Mas o menos. As is La Espe.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Demonstrating how culturally far apart the two countries are, today is Midsummer’s Day in Britain but the first day of summer in Spain. It’s also the feast-day of St. John/San Juan/Santiago. It’s the custom in these parts, as it might be elsewhere, to grill sardines around 11.30pm and then, at midnight, to leap over a blazing fire. It’s also the custom for the price of sardines to at least double.

Extending the fish theme . . . The list of market prices in today’s paper is headed by turbot at, €13-28 a kilo, and sole, at 19-24. I was looking for my favourite fish – mackerel – but this is so disregarded by the hake-adoring Galicians that it doesn’t even figure. Usually it goes for around €2 a kilo. Which is only a third of what sardines were selling for yesterday. Chacun à son goût. Whatever that is in Spanish. Logically, of course, it should include gusto but it might not. No doubt someone will kindly tell me.

At the end of 2007, there were 5.2m foreigners in a Spain of 46m souls. Or 11.3%. And they’ve provided 90% of the recent growth. The region with the lowest proportion of foreigners is Galicia, at only 3.4%. Or 95,000 in a population of 2.8m. Nationwide, the largest group is the Romanians [729k], followed by the Moroccans [645k], the Ecuadorians [420k] and the Brits [352]. As I’ve said before, many of the Romanians appear to be overweight and taking it in turns to beg on the streets of Pontevedra. Which might be a slight exaggeration.

Down in Vegetables Square last night, I had the pleasure of watching and listening to some Galician folk-dancing and bagpipe-playing. It turned out these were part of the celebration of an award which Pontevedra had either received from the Galician Xunta’s Culture Department or awarded to itself - for nine years of urban improvements under our two-term mayor. All the leaflets were, naturally, only in Gallego but, happily, no one can stop you listening in whatever language you want. And I suspect the exclamation Bravo! Is the same in both Spanish and Gallego – Brrrabo! Actually, while I might disagree with the language policy of the Nationalist mayor, I’m a huge fan of what he’s done for the city aesthetically. Except for some of the aluminium benches and waste bins to be found in one part of it. Which, somehow, didn’t make it into the photo section of the main leaflet.

Finally – These are the six stage of life as defined by Confucius, heard this morning in a podcast of this year’s BBC Reith Lecture. I’m pleased to say that – through a nice mix of success and failure - I think I got to the last one 25 years ahead of K'ung Fu Tzu. Which I can heartily [if patronisingly] recommend:-
At fifteen I set my heart on learning
At thirty I found my balance through the rites
At forty I was free from doubts about myself
At fifty I understood what heaven intended me to do
At sixty I was attuned to what I heard
At seventy I followed with my heart what my heart desired without overstepping the limits.

Friday, June 20, 2008

It seems that complaints about the activities of the mayor of Estepona and his twenty-odd colleagues were first aired at least a couple of years ago. And that they could act the way they did because the Andalucian Junta had not implemented anti-corruption laws framed by Madrid. I can’t say that I understand this fully but over at South of Watford, Graeme has a post which might help. The question I’m left with is whether the smorgasbord of criminal activities in which they were involved is a microcosm of Spain as a whole. El Pais has expressed a feeling of shame that, this time round, the folk with their hands – and feet – in so many tills were socialists but my impression is the general Spanish reaction is a Gallic shrug, at most. Unfair?

El Pais is also upset at the Socialist PSOE administration for supporting the extension of the EU week to a possible 65 hours and for voting in favour of locking up illegal immigrants for 18 months. Assuming they’ve been caught, of course. But given Spain’s problems, it’s hard to see the government not going along with these initiatives. As least in the case of illegal immigrants.

Over at the other main party – the PP – the besieged President, Sr Rajoy, has announced that his deputy will be a lady from Castile y La Mancha. As it’s de rigueur in Spain these days to make very public gestures in the direction of miembras of the fairer sex, I’d like to do my bit by announcing that my next wife will be a woman. Although I’m free to chose anything I like in modern Spain, of course.

There was a mild, silent demonstration in the EU parliament this week in favour of respecting the Irish vote on the Lisbon treaty. El Mundo – a right-of-centre paper – gave us a photo of this and labelled it “A demonstration from far-right members”. In fact, it was “cross-party and multi-national, with Euro-MPs from 14 countries and five out of the eight political groups taking part. Neither Le Pen nor any of the far-right parties was involved.” What is the world coming to when the Fascist label is so easily applied?

I may have stumbled upon the real reason for the deterioration in my daily tapas offerings. The café-bar I patronise used to get these from a sister restaurant around the corner. But this has closed and been converted into – what else? – yet another bank. Just like the ex-cake shop opposite the Post Office. So it was interesting to read yesterday that the Bank of Spain is recommending to the industry that it considers reducing the huge number of branches it has around the country. This seems to me to display a surprising ignorance of the fact this is the main business strategy for banks here. Followed by the offering of cheap towels, pans or china crockery so that you'll rush to open an account there. Followed by the coup de grace policy known technically as Screwing the Captive Customer.

The Bank of Spain has also pronounced that Spain’s generous pensions policy is unsustainable, especially as regards the much-coveted jobs of civil servants. This, of course, has been pretty obvious for some time to anyone who can count.

July is not far in the distance and this is Chemicals and Catalans month for me. Any time now, my neighbour will chuck several kilos of chlorine into a pool in her garden which is a violent, putrid green for eleven months of the year. So that it can be pristine for the three kids from Barcelona who – rain permitting - will spend the whole of July screaming from it. It’s the highlight of my year. But I do wish The Baldie would send me some choice Catalan sentences to lob from my study window from time to time.

On a less curmudgeonly note, I was charmed today by a young waitress who dallied at the side of my table not, as I first thought, to ask me to cough up immediately for my coffee – a huge insult where an honour system operates – but to enquire about Paul Preston and the book of his on Franco I’m finally nearing the end of. Quite made my day. Week even. So I gave her a full list of Preston’s works on Spain. In return for the lunch he invited me to a couple of weeks ago. Did I mention this?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

With the property market virtually frozen as far ahead as one can reasonably see, there’ll surely come a day when the left-of-centre press isn’t highlighting a case of corruption by some PP councillors or the right-of-centre press isn’t doing likewise in respect of some PSOE equivalents. However, today the news is that the mayor of Estepona and 24 of his council colleagues have been arrested for a variety of offences, all of which have a familiar ring. This chap, it seems, is already famous for having fulminated against financial skulduggery in the property field. Que cara!

I’m regularly told that Spain’s best brains go into the banking sphere; that it’s a very profitable industry; and that it’s made a number of successful foreign acquisitions. None of this necessarily means, of course, that it provides a level of customer service in Spain that is available elsewhere. All of which is a shameless lead into . . . Transferring cash: Chapter 2

You’ll recall that Bank A didn’t make a requested internet transfer a week ago but on Monday guaranteed to have the sum in my account at Bank B for yesterday morning. Checking at a nearby ATM at 9, I wasn’t too surprised to find no evidence of it. But, happily, a later check down in the entrance of Bank B confirmed it was now in my account. As I was getting this information, a clerk at one of the desks called me over to say she’d been about to ring me to tell me about the arrival of my cash. So . . .
Fine. I’d like a bank cheque drawn for X euros in time for a meeting I have at 12.
Oh, we can’t do that.
Why ever not?
Because it has no value until tomorrow.
This is ridiculous. It’s in the account now.
Yes, but it has no value until tomorrow.
Well, can you please ask someone senior to show some flexibility.
[Later] No, we can’t give you a cheque today unless we lend you the amount you want. But you’d have to pay interest on that.
I don’t believe this. You’re denying me interest on the money that’s in my account because it ‘has no value’ and offering to lend me an equivalent amount in respect of which you will add insult to injury by charging me for it. I’ll see you tomorrow.

As this pleasant little chat was ending, a loud pinging came from the ATM machine, which is the only one I’ve ever used which doesn’t give a noisy reminder to take your card out. At least not, it seems, until 5 minutes after your transaction. As I raced to get the card, the machine duly ate it and the cashier breezily told me I’d have to come back the following morning to get it. This made me feel a lot better.

I’ve no idea which bank is at fault here and I didn’t bother to ask. There’s a commonplace Spanish word – mentira - which covers the entire range from innocent mis-statement to bare-faced lie on a Hitlerian scale. And this is what I’d surely get from both of them. So, I cancelled the meeting and braved the wrath of the chap who’d been due to get the money. There then occurred another truly Spanish moment. Under enquiry, he confessed he hadn’t yet got all his papers in order, meaning that the meeting would have aborted even if the money had been available. But at least, when this was pointed out to him, he had the good grace to come down off the ceiling.

And that’s the joy of life in Spain – When you get up in the morning, you don’t know whether you’ll be operating in the 19th, the 20th or the 21st century. So, patience and flexibility are at a premium. I have a lot of the latter but not much of the former. So, in truth, at least half of me should not be living here.

Speaking to a lawyer friend later about this, she cited the tax office as the most efficient operation in Spain. Her evidence was that its web page was the quickest in the country and they repaid you excess tax immediately you asked for it. Both observations are true but I felt I had to point out that an outfit which overcharges 80% of its customers and so denies them up to 12 months’ interest on their money can be admired for only one thing – efficient extortion. Far more impressive would be getting your monthly tax payments right. Maybe in the 22nd century. When Spain’s best business brains could well be working on how to get and keep customers by offering them excellent service. For this to happen, though, the Spanish will have to stop fatalistically telling themselves and each other “They’re all the same. There’s no point in moving to someone else”. And to start complaining the way they do if their food or drink is even fractionally inadequate.

Meanwhile . . Another day, another lost dollar.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Our Minister for the Economy and Taxes has called on Spaniards [and the rest of us, presumably] to show solidarity and to tighten our belts. Solidarity within Spain? Is the man mad? Doesn’t he read the papers? We’re all totally in favour of solidarity between us and taxpayers in northern Europe but solidarity between ever-jealous Spanish ‘nations’, regions, cities, towns, villages, parishes, barrios . . . ? Just look at the Catalans, fighting harder than ever to keep every duro raised in taxes there so that none of their hard-earned cash flows south via Madrid to featherbed idle Andalucians. Stuff solidarity. And tighten your own bloody belt, Sr Solbes.

Meanwhile, the Bank of Spain says it now thinks Spain grew in an unbalanced way because of the real estate bubble. Presumably it’s been hibernating until quite recently, when the heat generated by an economic implosion woke it up.

If you want to enjoy life in Spain – essentially an excellent idea – you’ll have to become inured to levels of bureaucracy quite possibly higher than you’re used to. And to learn to carry reading matter wherever you go. I got a note in my mailbox yesterday asking me to collect a registered letter from the Environment Department of the Galician Xunta. Down at the post office, this was a six step process:-

1. Hand in the slip

2. Produce my official identification and have it returned to me

3. Fill in my name, my ID no. and the date on a pink form

4. Hand back the pink form and get back the slip left in my box

5. Fill in my name, ID no. and date on this as well and hand it back.

6. Receive the letter

The utter pointlessness of steps 3 to 5 was evidenced by the fact that what I wrote wasn’t checked in any way. Indeed, it couldn’t have been as I’d already been given back my ID. So it would be perfectly possible [I can assure you] for me to have written total nonsense on both the pink form and the original slip. One wonders what is done with these afterwards. And how many Scandinavian forests are razed to feed this queue-creating, time-wasting, job-justifying madness.

After Ben Curtis of Notes from Spain kindly cited my comments about the Spanish duty of consideration for others [or the lack of it], hits to my blog virtually doubled yesterday. One reader said he couldn’t disagree more because Spaniards were far better than, say, the Brits at things like saying Hello when they enter a lift or bon appetit when they walk past your table in a restaurant. Well, yes, I certainly agree this does happen but regular readers will know that part of my thesis is that Spaniards generally have poor social antennae but, paradoxically, become extremely polite when you force yourself onto their radar. This happens most easily in confined spaces, as they can’t miss you. But you’re certainly not on their radar as they prepare to walk out of the front door of their apartment block, for example. Or to move rapidly to the left or right to enter the supermarket they’ve just decided to patronise. But, as someone else commented, if they do hit you, you will get the profusest of apologies. Usually. I did write up my thesis on this subject a while back but never posted it. Maybe I should dig it out. Or, alternatively, just lie low for a while.

After its success in interfering in the car parking and mobile phone markets so as to increase my bills in both cases, the EU commission is now threatening further action that will, it’s said, result in us having to pay to receive mobile phone calls. Way to go, Brussels. I can’t wait for your latest attempt to force markets to operate how you think they should. A little more belt-tightening will surely do me good. As a Puritan Brit in a land of hedonistic Latinos.

Finally, my thanks to The Baldie for the latest bit of Spanglish to come my way – un jatrik. Think football. Or soccer, if you must.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Listening to Radio Clasica this morning, two questions came to mind:-

1. Do German-speakers honour the Spanish language by pronouncing, say, Zaragoza as tharagotha? If so, this is not generally reciprocated here when it comes to, say, Mozart. Or, indeed, any other foreign name. In any language. All are Hispanicised.

2. Does Radio Clasica ever check its listener numbers just after they start the regular morning session of utterly dire, modern tripe? I suspect not. Perhaps they just don’t care.

To my astonishment, I read in ABC yesterday a column which came close to being eurosceptic. It was, at least, headed The End of Europe and it did suggest the original dream was unsustainable beyond a limited number of like-minded, visionary members because it flew in the face of reality. Rather like communism, then. Anyway, Spanish readers with a better grasp of the nuances will correct me, if I’ve misread it. It certainly contrasted with an earlier article in this same [right-of-centre] paper which ended with the traditional Continental view that the solution to the problem created by the ungrateful, confused Irish would have to be political and not juridical. In other words, it doesn’t matter that the letter of the law is that one member failing to ratify the Treaty/Constitution kills it stone dead; it must be implemented. Which is the sort of stance previously taken by the likes of Stalin and Hitler, I suspect. Though the latter at least came to power legitimately before he started dispensing with the niceties of the law. Unlike, say, Franco. You’d think the Continentals would be more aware of these parallels than the Brits, whose last the-law-is-what-I-say-it-is dictator was 400 years ago. But apparently not. Mark my words, it will all end in tears.

Still on the subject of confusion – Those predicting serious global warming now say this will first cause something akin to the last Little Ice Age. Which presumably satisfactorily explains why temperatures are currently falling. Time for a new overcoat before the prices rise. And time to invent a form of heating that doesn’t involve fossil fuels. Individual nuclear power stations? Designed by Iranian scientists?

When it comes to the thorny issue of bullfighting, my traditional stance is that that it’s bloody cruel but you can’t argue with the bravery of the men who risk their lives. Right now, the darling of the corridas is one José Tomás, who appears to be not so much courageous as perhaps reckless and foolhardy. Suicidal even. On Monday in Madrid, he was awarded three ears but got himself gored at least three times in the process. He certainly stands closer to the bull than anyone else I’ve seen and seems to kill the beasts more cleanly than many others. But when it comes to his artistic merit, I haven’t a clue. Perhaps he deserves the adulation for this and perhaps he doesn’t. But he’s certainly a riveting spectacle and you can see him performing here, before he duly gets himself killed. As he surely will.

Talking of young men getting themselves killed, we had this weekend a variation on the theme of a drunken young man in a fast car running into a tree at 5am of a Sunday morning. This one drove into the sea in Portonovo, along the coast. But the difference was lost on his mother. And I bet there still won’t be any police cars outside the Sanxenxo discos next weekend.

The Minister for Industry has said that the quicker the economy falls, the quicker will be its recovery. He’s also said Spain must make the most of the moment to modernise and gain competitiveness and productivity, so it will emerge from the crisis much stronger. The time to do this was surely during the fat cow years of the last decade. But the PP and PSOE governments had other priorities, obviously. And the PSOE now has no relevant policies, apparently. Being too immersed in non-crisis management, I guess.

I made four calls to one of my banks yesterday. I only intended to make one but that’s the way of things here. The first two were abortive because the system of providing identification - involving residence card letters and numbers in my case - had changed since the last time I rang. The third call was long and frustrating because the woman talked in perhaps the most rapid Spanish I’ve ever experienced, plus the line was very bad. It ended, as is not uncommon here, with her just putting the phone down. The fourth went something like this . . . . .

I’m enquiring about a transfer I made 5 days ago which hasn’t arrived in my other bank.

[Eventually] Well, it’s above the limit for internet transfers.

OK but why wasn’t that indicated when I requested it?

It must have been.

No, it wasn’t. The only advice I got was that the transfer would be made the next day.

Well, we can do it now and it will take 2 days. By the way, have you considered the X Fund?

No and I’m more interested right now in knowing what the rate on my account is and whether it’s risen in line with the Euribor of the last year.

We can offer you alternative funds.

That’s not what I asked. Has the rate risen at all during this period?

No, we haven’t raised it. Would you like to invest in the other fund?


It would be petty and vindictive of me to give the name of the bank. So here it is – ING. But, really, I blame myself re the interest rate. The rule here is caveat emptor and you must expect any service to operate more in favour of the supplier than you. I should have been more vigilant. Spanish companies just love to rely on customer inertia, though this is true of banks in particular all over the world, I guess.

As I’m talking about the economy, here’s one view of the future – “Even if there’d been no housing starts in 2007 (almost a record year in fact), it would take the market between 5 and 7 years to absorb the property glut”. Sometime during this period it will be time to buy again.

Hey ho.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Regular readers will know that one of my tropes – I’ve long wanted an excuse to get this fashionable word into my blog – is that, at the macro level, the Spanish are amongst the loveliest people on the planet but, at the micro level, they can come across as astonishingly rude. They’ll also know my explanation for this paradox is that the Spanish owe no duty of consideration to strangers but a huge duty towards anyone with a personal connection. I was reminded of this listening to a Notes from Spain podcast in which Ben and Marina were talking about the smoking that goes on here where people are eating. Marina’s most pertinent comment was that – putting aside the possibility he was just one of the world’s rude people - the guy who was breathing his fumes over their tapas would certainly have asked permission to smoke if he’d been there among a group of friends. But not of them, as strangers. For anyone new to this challenge, I confirm my advice that you establish the essential personal connection by simply asking annoying people to stop doing whatever’s irritating you. At which point you’ll almost certainly find that no one apologises for the sin of inconsideration quite like the individualistic Spanish. C’est la vie. Así son las cosas.

Now that I’ve finally done trope, I wonder how I can get narrative into a post. Oh . . .

As I know well both from reading and talking to my daughter, the teaching profession in the UK has seen saner times. If you’re a teacher in Spain and want to peer into your unsavoury future, click here. If you’re not a teacher but just want another glimpse of the madness of modern Britain, you may still be interested in reading it. And, as a bonus, you can click here for an article by the superb Simon Jenkins on what the Age of the Bureaucrat has meant for education in the UK. How my daughter sticks it out, I cannot comprehend.

If you’re a fan of YouTube’s offerings, you might like to know that much of its content now comprises phoney stuff that is really a sneaky way to get advertising messages to you. Not least of all by the same politicians who are asking for your trust. As someone has written:- The fight for the [US] Democratic nomination was largely conducted on the internet, where rooms full of clever young graduates laboured to produce apparently spontaneous expressions of support for their candidate which they could release, virus-like, into the public domain. Then, of course, there’s the recent Wii Fit hoax.

Talking of politicians and trust – the Conservative MEP, Daniel Hannan, predicts that ‘Two years from now, we will have 99 per cent of the EU Constitution. But there won’t be any more of the planned referendums. The people have forfeited their leaders' confidence’. And he provides me with this Quote of the Week from Bertolt Brecht:- Wouldn't it be easier to dissolve the people and elect another in their place? Which is a Teutonic echo of the Anglo comment I quoted on Saturday - The people have given their opinion. The bastards.

Finally, some more Tapas Trivia – For those who’ve kindly asked about my daily struggle to eat the way I used to before we were hit by the crisis the government says is an illusion:-

1. There are no seats outside my regular café-bar. But there is [thank God] a large no-smoking area inside, including the bar counter,

2. I don’t chose garlic dishes from a menu; the items all come free with my wine, and

3. I’d eat meat done in garlic every day, if only they’d offer it in place of all the healthy vegetable stuff they’re now dumping on me. Fish and shellfish would also be welcome.

As I say, life is tough sometimes.

The Anglo Galician Association – open to all who speak English – now has a Forum on the web. If you have a query about Galicia, why not register and post it. BTW – There’s a big cash prize for whoever is the 30th person to register. Honest.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A couple of years ago, President Zapatero announced he was regularising the situation of around 800,000 immigrants who were living here illegally. This caused a bit of a storm among his EU colleagues, as he’d somehow neglected to tell them he was planning it. The French, in particular, were concerned about the consequences for them. Anyway, today we read that the Spanish government has offered these same people a lump sum to give up their residence rights and return to their country of origin. With a promise not to come back for at least 3 years. I keep on saying just how pragmatic the Spanish are but I wonder if I’m right in believing it’s impossible to imagine such a policy being quietly received in the UK? Or even France. Regardless of how sensible it might be.

It’s fascinating to read the comments of the EU establishment to the effect that it’s undemocratic for the Irish who represent 1% of the population to stop the creation of the real European government desired by everyone else. For a start, it’s at least unknown and, at most, probably untrue that everyone else in Europe wants the Treaty. Which is why they’re not being asked. Or asked again, in the case of the French and the Dutch, who’ve already given their negative verdict. Secondly, small groups of people buggering up your plans is exactly what happens in a true democracy, though there’s clearly no place for this in a cosy club of right-thinking, elitist politicians and bureaucrats determined to sustain their game plan and increase their power base come what may. And they wonder why the biggest problem in every advanced nation today is the lack of trust felt by the people in their politicians,

Down at a more micro level – The Pontevedra council has announced it’s taking action against the 10+ companies who’ve not only erected 200 illegal billboards around the town but ignored demands they be taken down. Does this sort of Wild West, cavalier commerce also take place in other developed countries, I wonder.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

So – France, Holland and Ireland . . . What can they have in common? If you live in a cave or outside Europe, here’s a helpful quote from this morning’s left-of-centre Guardian:-Everything suggested that Europe's leaders were urgently conferring on a scheme to steamroller their [Lisbon Treaty] blueprint through despite the Irish rejection, a course likely to trigger protest from Eurosceptics and deepen Europe's democratic legitimacy problems. Will they succeed? Of course they will. This is not exactly a bottom-up, democratically- driven exercise. And too many elitist politicians and comfortable bureaucrats have too much at stake to give up merely because most of those voters given a chance to speak have rebelled against it. Though not in Spain, it should be said. As I recall, a small percentage of the populace here turned out to give what was hailed as a ‘resounding Yes’. For very logical reasons. Just like those of the ‘ungrateful’ Irish. Bloody messy, democracy. Or, as one British politician is alleged to have said some years ago, “The people have given their opinion. The bastards.”

Near term – as The Guardian puts it - The long campaign to forge a new dispensation for the European Union descended into panic and uncertainty yesterday when Ireland turned its back on its 26 EU partners and voted down the Lisbon Treaty. EU leaders in Brussels and governments across the union, particularly Germany and France, were stunned by the Irish verdict, which amounted to a huge vote of no confidence in the way the EU is run. But, as I say, this won’t last long. Forces will re-group and re-conquer the heights. Though not those of the moral variety, of course. Meanwhile, for anyone that interested, here’s The Guardian’s editorial comment on the ‘disaster’. It’s all about trust. Or, rather, the absence of it.

Talking of the Dutch, they’re reported to have the shortest working week in Europe, at 31 hours or so. Paradoxically, I believe they also have a large percentage of their workforce receiving benefits for stress and depression. So, how come anything functions there? Are the poor buggers who do all the work super-productive? Like their football team.

Galicia Facts

Meetings of the Galician parliament are being impeded by interruptions from PP party members [and memberesses] demanding that their Nationalist colleagues stop defying the Galician Royal Academy’s decree that Galiza is not an acceptable alternative for Galicia. What fun. This show could run.

Talking of the Xunta, my impression is it must have passed a law making it illegal for any woman over 35 in Pontevedra to wear anything other than a ballooning white smock over [of course] a pair of jeans. Which is a tad odd, as this garment might well look good on women under this age. Perhaps the memberesses were away from their desks when the votes were counted.

Finally - So as not to disappoint them, I’d like to express appreciation to the visiting Brit friends who yesterday gave me a chance to find out – after a long walk - not only what Pontevedra’s car pound looks like but also that it’s moved to the other side of town. In truth, it’s not in any circumstances a good idea to park your car on the pavement. But the invitation to have it towed is that much greater when it’s an SUV called – I suspect – the Mitsubishi Monster. Thanks, guys.

Friday, June 13, 2008

“It’s hard” says the UK’s Financial Times “to bid farewell to an era, particularly when it has been as dynamic and prosperous as the one drawing to a close in Spain. . . The intensity of the adjustment has been breathtaking”. If you want more of this depressing stuff, click here. It’s good to know, though, that the country has at least one positive thinker. Sr. Federico Prades, who’s an adviser to the Association of Spanish Banks, says the slowdown was not only inevitable and predictable but also desirable. And he enumerates several reasons for optimism in the medium and longer term. Which is a bit of a relief. Let’s hope this isn’t just a Panglossian stand to justify his salary.

Talking of salary justification - It’s been a while since I’ve cited one of those bizarre translations into Spanish of an English-language film. So, step up Duel, Steven Spielberg’s early [and unforgettable] thriller which centred on a car driver harassed by a huge Mack truck with an anonymous driver. I’m sure there’s a single Spanish word which would do the trick just as well as Duel but, no, what it’s actually called here is El Diablo en Ruedas. Or The Devil on Wheels. Nice but why?

On more or less the same theme - It hasn’t been a good week for Spain’s newish Minister for Equality, the rather attractive Bibiana Aído. First, she introduced a controversial help-line for aggressive males who feel in need of advice on alternatives to killing their partners. Secondly, she addressed parliament using the expression “Miembros y Miembras” despite the fact – rightly or wrongly – the latter is not in the Spanish dictionary. And, thirdly, she’s said something about gay parents being entitled to both maternity and paternity and the need to decide which one is the mother and which the father. One correspondent here has said it reminds her of the old feminist comment that we’d know there was true equality between the sexes when the government contained an equal number of female and male incompetents. Good but rather unsisterly. Mind you, Aído didn’t exactly help her case by stumbling and laughing over Miembros y Miembras, suggesting she hadn’t even read her maiden speech in advance of delivering it. Personally, I think she may be a genius. Albeit in the wrong job.

Another Minister in trouble – this time the one for the Environment and Rural Affairs – has said she’s not going to the French route of providing illegal subsidies to farmers, fishermen, truck-drivers, etc. Why on earth not? France has been doing it with impunity for at least 40 years.

No sooner do I suggest that blue is the unlucky colour for the European Championships than bloody Croatia puts Germany to the sword. Which is why I’m not a sports commentator, of course.

To end on the same depressing note I began with – The Finance Minister admits that the inflation rate has risen yet again – to 4.6% - and that his promised fall had been delayed until ‘the end of the year’. Which year? one is tempted to ask. This happened on the same day I noticed that my bank appears to be indulging in a practice which died out years ago in the UK – maintaining the interest rate on deposits at the same level as when you opened the account, while offering a higher rate to new depositors. Meaning that my 3% looks ever sicker against the rising inflation rate. Still, you have to keep smiling. Or phone a help-line.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What power. One little bleat from me and the truncheon-wielding Spanish riot police decided to wade into the illegal pickets blocking the county’s main arteries. Which is not exactly what I had in mind.

I see Pontevedra fashions have reached Argentina, where the President was recently photographed with a Palestina around her neck. En passant, she was referred to as Cristina Fernández but didn’t she used to be Cristina Kirchner before she followed her husband into the job? Here, for example.

Writing about Italian gypsies, a Spanish commentator refers to su carácter irreductible. So there you have the hierarchy:-
Common or garden Spanish individualismo
El individualismo de los calés, and
El carácter irreductible.
You have been warned.

This morning I visited some friends who have a photography business about 12km along the coast road from Pontevedra. According to Telefonica, this is a ‘rural’ area and so the maximum ADSL they can give them is 0.5 megabytes. This is half of what I get nearer the town. But the price to them – at €40 a month – is double what I pay. Or four times as much per byte. Asked whether this atrocious service really would be improving in July – as promised by Telefonica - the engineer said he rather thought not. Thus endorsing the scepticism of 96% of Voz de Galicia readers I cited recently. But hardly a shock to any Telefonica customer, of course.

Talking of prices – I guess David Villa’s hat-trick performance for Spain the other night has at least doubled the tag on his head. How wonderful it would be if Everton could use their Rooney millions to snap him up. Then we’d have two Spanish demi-gods playing in Liverpool.

That said, the unlucky colour this year appears to be blue. As sported by France and Italy. And Everton.

Over the years, I’ve had the great pleasure of reading the English used by Indian newspapers. For one thing, it is crystally clear and, for another, it uses lovely words such as ‘cad’ which have passed out of British usage. On a BBC podcast this morning, I heard this referred to wonderfully as ‘The Empire Writes Back.’

Finally - You’ll all be wanting to know what my deteriorating daily tapas menu is now looking like. So:-
Monday: Lentils with a smidgeon of jamón
Tuesday: Tuna-potato salad
Wednesday: Garlic chicken legs
Thursday: Garlic mushrooms
Friday: Garlic ribs
Saturday: Tortilla
Sunday: Closed
Being a carnivore, I might just start taking my copa elsewhere except on Wednesdays and Fridays. Especially as the sun has finally arrived and other places have tables outside. And chairs.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

If you got hold of a well-educated, liberally-minded Martian and plonked him or her down in Spain he or she might be hard pushed to believe that only 40 years ago the police could do what they liked with complete impunity, whereas now they seem reluctant to do much – if anything – about violent pickets who are effectively holding the country to ransom until they get subsidies from the taxpayers denied to anyone else struggling with the rise of fuel prices. But, of course, the police take their tone from the government of the day. And present-day Spanish governments seem to have an excess fear of being taken for anything like the one of 40 years ago. Which is a shame. And an invitation to anarchy.

Talking about money - Over the past two decades, Spain has received many billions of euros from the EU. And – despite the country’s obvious wealth - will continue to do so for several years yet. So it’s not too surprising it'd be difficult to find a single Spaniard who doesn’t love the EU. But I’ve occasionally wondered out loud how things will be when Spanish taxpayers start paying for roads in, say, Albania. So, I was naturally interested to read this comment from an Irish commentator in the context of on his country’s referendum tomorrow on the Lisbon Treaty-that-isn’t-really-the-Constitution-
it-so-closely-resembles:- For a long time, Ireland was the EU's little pet. Being poor and small and charming, we were showered with money and encouragement. We responded by being model Europeans and, to be fair, used the money to better ourselves. Now, the attention has all shifted eastwards and Ireland's new wealth means it is about to become a net contributor to the EU budget, rather than a big beneficiary. Although no one in Ireland says so publicly, EU solidarity looks a little different when the Irish taxpayer is building roads in Estonia than it did when the German taxpayer was building roads in Co Mayo. Quite. Mind you, I don’t suppose there’ll ever be a change of heart among those folk in the Basque Country, Cataluña and Galicia who see the EU as the quickest route out from under Spain’s jackboot. Though ‘frying pan’ and ‘fire’ are the words which occur to me.

Talking of Europe and Spain, how wonderful to see such a good performance last night from the national team against the hapless Ruskis. Thank God England aren’t in the competition, relieving me of any prospect of conflicting loyalties.

Galicia Facts

The Xunta has announced a road building plan for the next 12 years that will mean expenditure of [at least!] €6 billion over that period. I imagine some of this – possibly most – will come, via Brussels and Madrid, from German and even Irish taxpayers. I have to say roads here seem exceptionally good in comparison with the UK so I’m a little puzzled as to why it’s all so necessary. In particular, I’m nonplussed at plans to make the north-south N550 parallel to the A9 of ‘a similar standard’ to that motorway. The latter is almost empty as it is, reflecting the high tolls, but there won’t be any point to it at all if this part of the plan is implemented. I guess I’m missing something. Wonder what it can be.

There’s currently a lot of talk of topographical confusion here, arising from differing Spanish and Galician spellings of places in the region. Most prominently of Galicia/Galiza/ Galiz/Galixa itself. Which, as regular readers will know, is not merely a region but a country, a national reality or even a nation. You’d think politicians facing a recession would have better things to think about but that’s life when the Nationalist tail wags the Socialist dog. As it happens, I am topographically confused myself this morning. Reading of the road plans just mentioned, I saw a place labelled Quitiris, of which I was unaware. So I wonder whether this is the new official spelling of Guitiriz, up near Lugo. My computer travel-planning program doesn’t recognise the name and a Google search throws up no answers. Or even any clues. So it’s over to my clued-up Nationalist readers on this one.

By the way 1: If you are driving to Guitiriz/Quitiris, you can go via the camino/camiño and stop for a vino/viño along the way. It all adds to the gaiety of life. Not to mention the complexity.

By the way 2: Things could be worse. The Xunta could be composed of the Socialist Party and the Luso-galaicos[?] who think everything here should be spoken and written exactly as they are in Portugal. I think even the normal Nationalists regard these folk as nutters. But it takes one. And it’s all a question of degree. There’s another nice article in the Voz de Galicia today, but only for those of a non-Nationalist bent. My friend Roberto Blanco Valdés ends by concluding the Xunta would be better called the Separada. Which made me smile anyway. Mostly because I could understand a pun in Castellano/Castelano and/or Gallego/Galego.

Forgive the repetition. That’s life in whatever name you prefer.