Saturday, February 28, 2009

No sooner have I written that a coffee in Pontevedra costs a minimum of 90 cents than I find I can get a coffee, two pastries and a thimbleful of fresh orange juice at a place near the town hall for 85. And, this morning, I paid only 80 on the terrace of a café along the coast. Perhaps prices are actually falling.

Thanks, it’s said, to excessive regulation, the number of VoiceIP users in Spain is extremely low compared with those of other European countries. A mere 375,000 against 10.8 million in France, for example. I’m not sure this can be lain at Telefónica’s door but it still seems an appropriate point at which to report that, despite the recession, their profits rose handsomely last year. Who knows, perhaps one day they’ll be able to invest in the provision of lines in rural areas of Spain. Not to mention decent ADSL at reasonable prices. But I’m not holding my breath.

And speaking of that wonderful company, Trevor at Kalebeul passes on a tip on how to deal with the nuisance 1485 calls I mentioned a couple of weeks ago.

Today there can be no campaigning ahead of our regional elections tomorrow as it’s a compulsory ‘day of reflection’. So, I bring you a picture of the PSOE poster showing the PP presidential candidate as the ventriloquist’s doll of the octogenarian ex-President, Manual Fraga.

In Ourense a couple of days ago, some clever wags managed – overnight – to replace these faces with those of the socialist candidate as the doll and the nationalist candidate as the ventriloquist. Which is an echo, of course, of my comment about the nationalist tail wagging the socialist dog for the last four years. And which we might get a lot more of over the next four. But, as I’ve said, this time round no PSOE voter can possibly be under the illusion that this won’t happen should the coalition stay in power.

And here’s the promised pictures of the parrot Ravachol, sporting a top hat that you might just be able to make out.
And here’s an example of the irreverent sort of thing that takes place in these early Lenten celebrations.

And, finally, here’s the scene late last night outside the BurgerKing place that opened a week or so ago in the old quarter of Pontevedra. At best, this is merely the one-off result of Ravachol revels. At worst, it’s progress.

Friday, February 27, 2009

This is a day for quoting from the blogs of net colleagues . . . .

- Trevor at Kalebeul cites an interesting irony about Galicia's three competing mini-airports.

- Charles Butler at Ibex Salad provides a piece that will interest Banco Santander watchers.

- And, finally, Graeme at South of Watford gives us some fascinating practical advice on booking trains in Spain via the internet.

For those still interested in it, here’s a bit more on Act 6 of the National Comic Opera

Over in the UK, feather-nesting continues among the Great British Bureaucracy. For the nth year running – and in the teeth of a recession-cum-depression, when the major concern is now deflation - municipal taxes are to rise at many times the level of underlying inflation. As I keep on asking, when are taxpayers going to revolt against this? Perhaps it could all start in Boston. The one in Lincolnshire, of course.

If you’ve been flying over Galicia this week and smelt burning fish, the reason is that this is the time of year – the end of the first week in Lent – when mock funeral processions are held and various large effigies immolated at the end of corteges which involve a great deal of wailing and much cross-dressing. In most towns along this coast, the stuffed creature is an unimaginative sardine. But, here in Pontevedra, it’s a gaudy parrot called Ravachol. This year, of course, he will be dressed as a banker. Pictures tomorrow, maybe.

It’s been a long time coming but today is the last day of campaigning in our regional elections. In retrospective, it might have bit more interesting if my taxpayer status had given me a vote. But I rather doubt it. Anyway, we should have the results early next week, unless it all hinges on the overseas votes that will take a week or two to verify and count. And possibly recount. On a more positive note, I can now look forward to the European elections later this year, in which I do have a vote. And in which - I’ve just discovered - I can stand as a candidate. In fact, I’m now contemplating joining the EU racket, as President of the Galician Gravytrain Party. Anyone know how to translate this into Spanish and, more profitably, Gallego?

But . . . I may be too late. The experts who’ve argued that the economics of realpolitik make an EU implosion impossible seem to be breaking ranks. Just my bloody luck. Hopefully, though, Herr Pohl is just putting the frighteners on the likes of Greece and Ireland. Though old Ambrose doesn’t, of course, think so. Can he possibly be right after all? And, if so, what on earth will it mean for us here in Spain?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

So, here are details of Acts 5 and 6 of the National Comic Opera. We will presumably get Act 7 if and when the case is transferred not to the Madrid and Valencian regional courts, as first expected, but to Spain’s Supreme Court. This is because people with parliamentary privilege are now said to be implicated. It’s hard to know who’s winning. Though the PP certainly seems to be losing.

But on to more important matters . . . I’m always impressed by the football match commentaries of the national newspapers, such as those for last night’s dour duel between Real Madrid and the other team from Liverpool. Those on the TV are, however, quite a different matter. Someone once said that much of Spanish TV is really radio with pictures. I suspect they were thinking of the ‘discussion’ programs when 6 to 10 people sit in a horseshoe and shout at each other, simultaneously. But nowhere is this description more true than for a football match. Invariably the commentary is a pause-less, mechanical, blow-by-blow description of absolutely everything you can see with your own eyes on the screen. Which might just make sense if you were blind but, for some reason, preferred to sit in front of a TV instead of a radio. Needless to say, this leaves no time or opportunity for analysis. In fact, I’m surprised it even allows time for the drawing of breath.

Spain’s anti-smoking law was introduced in January 2006 and was roundly criticised at the time as being less than onerous. Looking at these statistics, one can see why. It’s certainly true that it’s still hard to avoid cigarette smoke here, whether you’re eating or merely drinking. Though, personally, I was lucky enough to be a patron of a café-bar large enough to compel segregation of smokers and non-smokers. Eventually.

I mentioned the other day that there’s a certain ambiguity and flexibility around rules here in Spain. Of course, this isn’t all bad. I managed, without too much difficulty, to get some antibiotics for my still-suffering dog today, after the pharmacist and I had briefly – and jocularly - discussed the formal requirement of a prescription. I’d gone direct to the pharmacy as I didn’t want to be relieved of my other arm and leg in order to get said prescription from the vet. If this 3 euro box of antibiotics does the trick, it will mean I only over-paid 162 euros for the useless treatment they initially gave him a month ago.

Talking of spending – I was going to write last week that my own observation was that recessionary pressures were keeping the price of a normal coffee down to one euro ["Un eurolito"]. Or little more than what it rocketed to when the currency was introduced in 2002. But that was before I was charged 1.40 in one of Pontevedra’s little squares last weekend. A survey since then reveals that prices now range from 0.90 at the bar of a common-or-garden café to 1.40 on the terraces of the town’s more pijo options. Which may or may not be good value compared with other cities in Spain.

But back to politics and the promised statesman-like pix of the two other candidates for the position of President of the Galician Xunta. As it happens, both of them use the word 'forza’.

1. The incumbent, Sr. Touriño of the socialist PSOE party


2. Sr. Quintana, of the nationalist BNG party.

Sr Quintana was yesterday shown enjoying the hospitality of a major businessman who did well out of the recent tender for wind turbine contracts presided over by the BNG. His reaction was to dismiss the publication of this photo as “An attack on Galicia”. Which suggests that four years in power as the coalition partner of the PSOE may just have left him prey to the occasional delusion of grandeur. An occupational hazard for politicians, of course. Especially for those with only 19 or 20% of the popular vote.

I leave you with a picture of what I, at first, thought was a banner for a candidate of Russian extraction but, when I thought about it, wasn't . . .

If you're stumped, imagine driving under it and then looking backwards.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

So, Act 4 of Spain’s national Comic opera has begun. Assailed by accusations of corruption but flushed with the success of the scalp of the Justice Minister, the Opposition Partido Popular announced yesterday they'd today officially accuse the prosecuting judge of perversion of the course of justice, if he didn’t remove himself from the case. And they may well have done so by the time you read this. This will run and run. To a full house.

And talking of madness, I don’t always agree with the writer and commentator, Will Self, but on the issue of the ghoulish media circus around the wedding and death of the ‘celebrity’ Jane Goody in the UK, I plead as guilty as him to the charge of being a hard-hearted cynic. You can read his trenchant views here.

Back in the little pool of Pontevedra, there were cars a-plenty without tickets in the little square today. But no sightings of any traffic cops. On the other hand, the old quarter of Pontevedra featured a feral pack of young Rumanian women with their clipboards and their monosyllabic demands for donations to some fictitious charity for the deaf and dumb. So, what on earth is the link between these? Well, it was a public holiday in Pontevedra today and the police had clearly taken time off from both persecuting motorists and arresting crooks. My initial thought was that crime must rise here on days like this but then I realised that Spanish criminals probably enjoy a good fiesta too. Though not their more industrious Rumanian colleagues, it would seem.

Which reminds me . . . At the head of the list of foreign nationals resident in Galicia I posted the other day were the Portuguese. At 19,000 as I recall. But, looking at the building site outside my house this morning, it dawned on me that the survey was probably done a year or more ago, when Galicia was full of construction workers from our southern neighbour. The real figure might be much lower now. Possibly around 19.

The Voz de Galicia this week gave this verdict on the campaign for the regional elections taking place next Sunday:- What we have is an empty campaign, devoid of ideas, devoid of proposals worth the name, devoid of debates but full of haphazard meetings. Which is like going to the bullring knowing that the bull’s horns have been trimmed. I wouldn’t disagree but, then, I don’t read all the guff so am probably not overly qualified to give an opinion. What I can do, however, is give you a picture of the poster for the PP candidate for President, looking as statesmanlike as he can. The other two will follow tomorrow. In line with my theory about the hankering for strong leaders, I can add that the theme next to the picture of the PSOE candidate – and current President – is:- Give him more power.

I give you Sr. Feijoo, of the Partido Popular . . .

Incidentally, consistent with my ad hominem theme, the PP is attacking the incumbent President for being responsible for Galicia’s economic plight. I suspect this is a mistake, given that most people here probably believe he’s been powerless to stop something caused by the dastardly Americans and not palliated by the bastards in Madrid.

At the same time, the BNG nationalist party is attacking the incumbent President – the head of their PSOE coalition partner - for being “A mouthpiece of the [fascist] PP party”. I suspect on the issue of which co-official language is to have de facto hegemony.

Said incumbent President seems to be too nice to make personal attacks on either of the two other candidates. Which rather suggests he’s not fit for office and shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Finally, I leave you with the odd results of two on-line polls carried out this week by local papers:-

Do you think the Oscars process is impartial?
NO - 67% YES – 33%

Do you think Penelope Cruz is Spain’s best actress?
YES – 10% NO – 90%

I’d be interested in any rationale for either or both of these.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Well, the Spanish national comic opera has entered its 3rd Act, with the resignation of the Minister of Justice. Some say this is because of his general incompetence but others see it as a success for the Opposition’s strategy of attacking the judge for his lack of objectivity in respect of corruption charges against businessmen close to the party. Then there was the – apparently fatal - issue of the minister’s illegal hunting a weekend or two ago, which even his own party found hard to defend. It’ll be interesting to see whether, with voting less than a week away, all this impacts on the government’s narrow lead in both the Basque and Galician regional elections.

Just when I admit there’s a growing possibility the EU will get its crisis-response act together, our friend Ambrose Evans-Pritchard weighs in with two articles [here and here] which claim there’s mutiny in the air. But I guess there’s a chance this will actually increase the odds in favour of a solution/compromise acceptable to all 27 states. Or at least to those in the eurozone.

Incidentally, the error-riddled version of the first of these articles available at 7am UK time suggests that, if the DT really is paying Australians to proof-read copy, they’re wasting their money.

As for Spain’s crisis and how it happened, here’s a translation of a major El País analysis, courtesy of Edward Harrison, via Charles Butler at Ibex Salad. Charles himself has one or two pertinent observations. As for mine, if I crawled through my posts of the past few years, I suspect I could find something very similar to this apt observation from El País -The Spanish economic miracle was a mirage. Except that I – and others, of course - was saying this before it evaporated. It’s because it was so bloody obvious that I find it astonishing the current government has got clean away with doing nothing to take the heat out of it and failing to address Spain’s underlying structural problems. At least over in the UK, Gordon Brown stands no chance of leading his party to victory in next year’s general elections. And, meanwhile, he faces another wipe-out in the European elections. Which is exactly how things should be. But perhaps the situation here will start to turn next Sunday.

Which is a good enough lead into the Galician elections. On these, I’ve [again?] noticed how ad hominem everything is. The 'positive' party ads and hoardings portray the leaders as men of stature. And the negative ones seem merely to seek to undermine the standing of the alternative candidates for the position of King Rat. So, for example, the leader of the PP is featured as a ventriloquist’s doll on the knee of the octogenarian ex President, Manuel Fraga. Does all this, I wonder, play to some residual Spanish [Galician?] need, deep in their psyche, to believe in strong men. Caudillos, even. Probably not.

Well, I returned to the scene of my parking offence today and what did I find but two motorcycle cops putting tickets on the cars of three more victims. When I asked one of them where the sign was, he pointed to two of them outside the square, though admittedly just before you enter it. When I asked him if these were new, he said they’d been up for two years. I didn’t ask whether he and his colleague were now on commission. Anyway, here are the signs. If you only speak Spanish, you won’t know that agas is Gallego for solo. Obviously.

After taking these pix and writing the above paragraph, I read in a local paper that there’s a police campaign against illegal parking running until early March. After which I guess we can all return to normal. This ambiguity about rules and the general arbitrariness of life here does rather remind me of both the Middle and Far East. Which is not to say the Spanish aren’t lovely people and that Spain isn’t a great place to live. Just different. Swing and roundabouts.

Monday, February 23, 2009

I have to own up to a growing belief that the extent of the global financial mess means that the EU will eventually get its act together, convert itself into a debt union and issue EU bonds - thus emerging stronger into the sunny uplands of the post recession/depression era. But it will be hard pounding, as this article about the ‘bickering in Berlin’ shows. Thank God for the hard-working Germans. And wasn’t it a German leader, Bismarck, who said that politics is concentrated economics? Well, No, as it happens. It turns out to have been Lenin. Where are the wise communists when you need them? Ironically, to help sort out the mess of pottage they bequeathed to Eastern Europe.

Thank God, too, that La Cruz finally got Anglo approbation in the form of her Oscar for best supporting actress in Vicky Christina Barcelona. I couldn’t have taken another bout of aggrieved Spanish angst. Of course, it isn’t called Vicky Christina Barcelona in Spain. The Christina gets Hispanicised into Cristina. Just as Princess Anne last week became Princesa Ana. And Prince Charles is always Principe Carlos. This is a very Spanish thing. I don’t recall ever seeing King Juan Carlos being called John Charles in the Anglosphere. Possibly because this would be to confuse him with a famous footballer of a previous generation. Here in Spain, though, places and and people foreign are rarely pronounced as they are in their home countries. As in Bordeos [Bordeaux], and Nueva York [New York], for example.

Given how things are here [see next para], it’s hard not to make more than the occasional references to both corruption and financial skulduggery in Spain. But here’s an article from an eminent British lawyer on how lax things have been in the UK in the banking/financial sphere and what needs to be done now. To protect whatever money Brits have not donated to banker welfare funds.

On the northern side of Santiago de Compostela, there’s something that might or might end up as a hugely expensive white elephant. It was begun in the era of Galicia baron, Manuel Fraga, and it’s called The City of Culture. Needless to say, there are accusations of corruption in the licensing and tendering processes. Anyway, here’s a hymn of praise to the place, possibly penned by the architect. I particularly like the bit about it being scheduled for completion in 2012.

The Galician elections drone on, with little prospect of change in the voting patterns. 38 seats are needed for an absolute majority and the conservative PP party looks like getting 36 this time round, against 37 four years ago.The latest poll shows the socialist PSOE party gaining one seat [to 26], despite its poor central handling of the economic crisis. And the nationalist BNG party is currently slated to lose one seat, ending up with 13. The only interesting thing to say is that, with a week or so to go, the PSOE and BNG coalition partners have decided to take off the gloves and have a go at each other. Their assumption must be that their joint grip on power is safe and they can only take seats from each other, rather than handing a winning two seats to the PP. But vamos a ver.

Here’s The Economist’s take on the imminent elections here and in the Basque Country. The Comments from Spanish readers offer interesting insights on the perennial issue of whether the PP party is more corrupt than the PSOE. Or vice versa.

Well, I was going to post more pix of the Pontevedra Carnaval procession but I’m rather out of sorts with the city of Pontevedra today. This is because I’ve lost another round in the ongoing War Against The Raising of Replacement Revenue by Trickery. Returning to my car at 2.15 – in a place where I’ve parked it hundreds of times in 8 years – I found a ticket on the windscreen saying I’d committed a 'grave' offence against a ‘vertical sign’ which I’ve yet to find. Not against any white or yellow lines, of course, as there certainly aren’t any of these. And the irony is I only drove to town because of a leg injury which ruled out my normal walk from across the river. I guess I should've been suspicious there were so many spaces available in the little square. The neighbours – and any earlier victims – clearly already knew the score. As I do now. What schysters they are. Though not in Madoff's class as yet.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I’m getting a little tired of having my sentiments stolen by paid journalists. An editorial in El País today points out it’s one thing to use the excuse of ‘cultural heritage’ to stave of excess bureaucratic interference in Spain’s risk-ridden fiestas but quite another to use it to justify the chucking of goats off the top of towers. I suppose, though, it’s quite possible this thought occurred to the writer independently . . . Incidentally, the article mentioned the ‘aquatic sport’ of strangling live geese. Which is a new one on me.

Another thing which caught my eye in today’s El País was a long letter which essentially said that no country which had joined the wonderful EU should be allowed to criticise whatever came down from the decision makers. And this from someone who saw the institution as a welcome advance on the despotism of the Franco era. Que ironía. Or not, in this correspondent’s case.

Last week my younger daughter and one of her friends enjoyed four days here and spent each of them on the beach, relaxing in the sun we’d not seen for at least three weeks. When I mention this to Spanish friends, they virtually scream in astonishment that anyone could go to the beach in February, regardless of the temperature. This, though, is not a real surprise. After you’ve lived here a while, you appreciate that – while the Spanish can demonstrate an irritating individualismo – they’re really not very individualistic all. In fact, they can demonstrate something of a herd instinct. Which can, of course, be used to one’s advantage. For example, in these parts at least, it’s not done to go to the beach except between the 15th of July and the 31st of August. And then never between 2.30 and 5.30. So, chose accordingly and you can have a mile-long beach to yourself.

And while I’m pontificating about the natives . . . The Spanish like to see themselves as non-racist. One can differ with this take but it’s true they don’t mean to be insulting when they indulge in casual racism. Such as this remark from one of the Galician pensioners furious about being tricked into listening to a political address instead of getting the trip to Portugal he’d paid for – “They conned us like we were [stupid] Chinese.”

More seriously, the evidence continues to rise that, as the recession bites, the massive immigration of the last five years – leading to a 10% population increase – is beginning to generate high levels of racist antipathy. Sadly, I guess we could soon find out whether the Spanish belief that they’re not really racist is well-founded or not.

Switching on the TV this morning for news from the UK, I found that both the BBC and Sky were leading with the story of the dying 'celebrity' who’s being paid a fortune both to get married and to die in front of the cameras. In contrast, I read this afternoon, that on the evening of the first post-war elections in Britain, your radio choice was between a political commentary and the Benjamin Britten opera, Peter Grimes. Times certainly change.

Back to Spain . . . Come the end of the hunting season, come the abandonment of unwanted hounds. Here in Galicia, there were more than a hundred in the Lugo province alone. Something of a ritual, I guess. As is the recent announcement from the Galician Supreme Court that a huge block of flats in the centre of Vigo must be demolished as being illegal. This happens every two or three years and has been going on for twenty years now. And it will probably continue for another twenty, as various legal niceties are discussed in one forum or another. All very Jarndyce v. Jarndyce.

But to end on a positive note . . . The beginning of Lent brings us the Galician celebration of Entroido and, of course, the sort of processions associated with Mardi Gras in Rio. For the first time in years, I went down to have at look at Pontevedra’s last evening. It was huge fun and a tribute to the creativity and industry of a great many people. There’ll be more tomorrow but here’s a snap of one of the winners.

As you’ll all recall, Jules Verne had the Nautilus sail into one of the bays near Vigo, in search of the gold and silver bullion long-rumoured to lie on its muddy bottom. However, I bet he never had Captain Nemo indulge in the Spanish custom of parking his craft on a zebra crossing.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I wrote yesterday of Spanish national and regional comic operas but the British equivalent seems to be what someone has called “The frenzy of briefing and counter-briefing over the Labour leadership that threatens to turn the Government into a laughing stock.” The same commentator added that “Barely a day goes by without fresh evidence of ambitious Cabinet members positioning themselves with all the subtlety of a sackful of ferrets”. And that, against the backdrop of the recession-cum-depression, “The self-important posturing of a ragtag cast of political featherweights looks preposterous. The country deserves better.” As does Spain, of course.

In case you want more on this theme, here’s an article, from the estimable Matthew Parris.

Incidentally, our local incident took on national character yesterday, after it was picked up by all the media and featured as an example of just how backward we still are out here in the sticks. Which has not gone down well with Galicia’s sophisticated intelligentsia. Who is understandably miffed.

Back at the national level, El País today has another article on prostitution, this time on the theme of how it's dealt with around Europe. "Spain" it says “neither regulates the industry nor prosecutes the clients”. Instead - in keeping with the national philosophy of live and let live – “It merely tolerates it”. And all the abuses which go with it, of course. Though the Ministress of Equality says her priority is to curb the mafia who control the country's disproportionately large industry. Quite how this is to be done, I’m not sure. One doesn't get the impression anyone is trying very hard.

Talking of Spanish laxity, I feel a little less supportive of the Spanish attitude towards fireworks today, having read of an 11 year old girl losing two of her fingers yesterday. But I don’t suppose this will change anything.

There’s widespread agreement – well, at least between me and [ex?]reader Moscow – that the EU will emerge from this crisis either much stronger or much weaker. Here’s the view of someone who thinks it will be the former. Never let it be said I am unwilling to listen.

The number of minority languages spoken in European countries is truly astonishing. Poland seems to lead the field, with 14. Followed by Hungary (13), The Czech Republic (12) and Italy (11). Even France has 6, though poor Germany trails with only 3. The UK has 4 but one of these is Cornish, which I thought had died out a couple of decades ago. Here in Spain, Galician [Gallego] is one of Spain’s minority tongues but I imagine the Galician Nationalist Party was disappointed to hear it's been taken off the endangered list. It’s not good for a nationalist party to have a bit of its victimhood removed.

Speaking of Galicia . . . There are now around 1,500 Brits registered as resident here. Which is fewer than both the Chinese and the French. And considerably fewer than the Rumanians. Who surely can’t all be employed as beggars. Anyway, here’s the latest count, in rounded thousands:-
Portuguese – 17
Brazilians – 11
Colombians – 8
Argentineans – 6
Rumanians – 5
Uruguayans – 5
Moroccans – 4
Venezuelans – 4
Rep. Dominica – 3
Cubans – 2
French – 2
Chinese - 2

Finally, I thought I’d share this gem, from a BBC News broadcast. “The family of Mr X would like to point out that he is a convicted murderer and not a convicted sex offender, as we reported earlier today. We would like to apologise for any embarrassment caused.”

Friday, February 20, 2009

The topic of young people having sex has featured in both the UK and the Spanish news this week. In Britain it was the tabloid-led tale of a 15 year old girl and the three potential fathers of her baby aged between 13 and 16. Here in Spain, there have been demands to raise the age of consent from its current 13 to something nearer the European norm. If you think 13 is young, bear in mind it’s even lower in the Vatican City. There seems to be something of a Catholic factor at play here. Though I guess the rate of teenage pregnancy in both places is a lot lower than in Protestant Britain.

Although Spain's economy is in a truly dire state, we currently have a comic opera being played out on the national stage that is both a joy and a boon to the media. The characters include:-
- A crusading prosecutor of left-wing sympathies who’s both loved and loathed within the socialist government. And who is said to be vain and ambitious.
- An opposition party which he’s trying to bring to book for wide-ranging corruption in and around Madrid [and possibly Valencia]. And which was already severely distracted by an internal power struggle.
- A Minister of Justice who went hunting with the prosecutor and other pals last weekend, in a region for which he lacked a licence, and for which he now faces a conviction and a fine of up to 4,000 euros,
- A leader of a regional government from the same party as the Justice Minister who is driving the latter’s prosecution for illegal hunting, and
- A leader of the opposition party under the cosh who appears to be lost at sea, without a rudder.

I believe it was in the latter days of the Roman empire that the politicians hit on distracting the populace with circuses that were ever bloodier. In modern Spain, it seems, the politicians favour distracting themselves. Though we do have a ring-side seat.

Out in the sticks of Galicia, we’ve had our own little comic opera to enjoy. Yesterday a group of pensioners paid 15 euros each for a trip down into Portugal involving lunch. Imagine, firstly, their surprise when the coach disgorged them at a restaurant quite a bit short of the border and, secondly, their astonishment when they then received a 30 minute harangue from the leader of the Galician Nationalist Party as to why they should vote for him in the imminent elections. Fittingly, the episode was dismissed by the Voz de Galicia as “Low grade caciquismo”.

Taking my daughter and her friend to a distant beach yesterday, I decided to take the Vía Rápida route through the hills, in preference to the coast road. Since I last used this, it’s been converted from a two-lane death-trap to a four lane motorway, with a concrete divide down the middle. However, the old speed limit of 100kph has been retained and there are now two short 80kph stretches, round curves that are pretty gentle by Galician standards. One wonders why this is. At least, one does until one notices the radar cameras on the bends, one of which I might well have fallen foul of, despite watching my speed intensely. I was annoyed about this today, until I happily recalled it had been my UK-resident daughter who’d been driving the car . . .

Talking of revenue-raising scams, here’s an article from the Galician press about the Tax Office demanding supplementary payments from anyone who’s bought property in the last year. The specious basis of this are the valuations done by the banks for mortgage purposes. As everyone – including the Tax Office – knows full well, these have been laughingly higher than the market value of the property, never mind the [lower] valued declared in the notarised documents. Clever but nasty. And no one is laughing now.

The EU is tightening up regulations around fireworks. But not here, as Spain will opt out of the directive on the grounds that it conflicts with time-honoured traditions and threatens her cultural heritage. As would a directive against throwing various animals off church roofs, I guess. Or sticking firebrands into the flanks of terrified bulls. But I digress. The complaint has been aired here that people in northern climes just don’t understand Mediterranean folk. Which is true but it works the other way round as well. And he who pays the piper normally calls the tune. Though not in this case, obviously. Anyway, when it comes to fireworks at least, my sympathies are with the Spanish. Despite the still vibrant memory of a night of terror in Elche all of 38 years ago.

Finally, my comment yesterday about PP party fears of losing the Galician elections because of easy-to-forge postal votes from South America has been endorsed by a report today that a family in Argentina has received a card for an old member who died four years ago and whose death they’d reported several times to the Xunta. It’s bad enough being beaten by a whisker. But by a whiskered ghost?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Spain is a famously easy-going society and this has certainly been the case over the years of the property-driven boom here. But things change and, as the FT says, the strains are starting to show. There are news reports today of violent protests down south against the import of North African fruit and vegetables. After a relaxation of EU rules which looks, on the face of it, to be a bit of bad timing. Rather more worrying, perhaps, is the report that 67% of young Spaniards think there are too many immigrants here. By which they don’t – presumably – mean people like me.

Over in the UK, protests take a milder form. It’s reported that caravan holidays at home have overtaken beaches in Spain as the country’s most favoured holiday. Another blow to the long-suffering Spaniards.

But I don’t suppose many Brits will be going by train to their caravan site. A survey there has confirmed what we’ve long suspected, viz. that rail travel in the UK – like several other things - is outrageously more expensive than anywhere else in Europe. So it’s not just Spanish companies that screw their captive customers.

Here’s a photo of the statue of St James in Santiago cathedral . . .

As you can see, he’s laying into the Moorish invaders with his lance and his horse’s hooves. I heard talk a while back of them removing the statue so as not to offend Muslim visitors. Of which I doubt there are very many. But it was still there on Tuesday this week. However, you can’t now see the poor, downtrodden Moors as the lower half of the statue is obscured by a large trough of tall flowers. A nice Spanish compromise. Whatever else it is.

And here’s news of a piece of modern art to which I’ve taken an immediate liking. Not, I admit, something I could say very often And nice that it was done by a Spanish artist.

Here in Galicia, the conservative PP party failed to get an absolute majority at our last elections by a mere 9,000 votes and so had to hand over power to a socialist-nationalist coalition. Much the same is likely to happen this time, with the ‘most popular’ party again consigned to the opposition benches. Some would say this is less democratic than the first-past-the-post British system but others would argue the exact opposite. One thing that can be said this time round is that no one voting for the PSOE socialist party can be in any doubt that it won’t get an absolute majority and so will again have to govern in conjunction with the nationalist BNG party. For the PP losers, the most galling aspect of this might well be that the determining factor will be the votes of 30,000 people who live overseas – mostly in Argentina – and so are unaffected by the outcome of their preferences. Which is why our leaders have spent so much of the last few weeks in Buenos Aires. It’s a rum world.

Finally, an experiment that can be completely ignored . . .

Galicia: País Vasco: Cataluña: Galicia: País Vasco: Cataluña: Galicia: País Vasco: Cataluña: Galicia: País Vasco: Cataluña:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Here’s a cautionary tale for any married woman in Spain thinking of carrying on an adulterous relationship during the marriage. And for anyone contemplating an appeal against a court decision

I’m not sure British law has the – somewhat broad – concept of ‘moral damage’. Quite the opposite, I suspect – with morality playing absolutely no part at in divorce settlement decisions. That said, by pure coincidence today’s British press reports this case of a man claiming compensation for having paid for the upbringing of his wife’s child by her lover. However, this case seems to be financially, not morally, based. And doesn't look to have a high chance of success.

Talking of the UK . . . Here’s an article from the February edition of Prospect which provides a fascinating insight into what’s happened to British society over the last 50 years. Plus some interesting proposals for going forward after the recession-cum-depression and for sweeping away “the rotten post-war settlement of British politics.” Well worth a read. Especially by those of us who’ve become so depressed by developments there.

There are not many people buying property in Spain these days but those who do will almost certainly experience the national genius for screwing as much as possible from captive customers. For the Tax Office [Hacienda] has hit on the ruse of demanding more tax than that paid by purchasers, on the grounds that the ‘real’ [i. e. taxable] value of the purchase is higher than that declared to the notary. I imagine this is going to happen even if the price declared is the one that’s actually been paid and even if market prices continue to fall for another two years. It’s an all-too-obvious way to partially compensate for the loss of the 7% [Yes, 7%!] taken on all property transactions during the boom years. And which was an ever-so-handy means of financing regional and local expenditure.

Fifteen days into the [official] Elections campaign, the Galician Nationalist Party [the BNG] has, quite logically, drawn the nationalist card out of the pack. It’s promised the region’s sports men and women that it will campaign for Galicia to be represented in its own right in international events. Incidentally, the BNG was one of the few parties to recommend a No to the EU in the Spanish referendum, on the basis that it wasn’t socialist enough. I’d guess Brussels is even more out-of-favour now that a Committee of the European parliament has said that, where there are co-official languages, people should be able to educate their kids in the language they want. This, of course, is anathema to nationalists in Galicia, Cataluña and the Basque Country, as they fear freedom of choice would lead to the atrophy of the local language. Though this is not how they put things, of course. They’re just trying to ‘normalise’ things by eliminating the hegemony of Spanish. Which is understandable, if you’re a nationalist.

Finally, my heart went out today to the, presumably, female reader who arrived at my blog having typed this cri-de-coeur into her search engine – Do Spanish men call all women 'guapa' [beautiful]? I didn't check the citations.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I should add to yesterday’s comment about Spanish TV noise levels that, if I switch from BBC Radio 3 to Classic FM, things get louder. At least during the ads.

Well, Banco Santander may well be as sound as it’s regularly claimed here but it’s tough luck if you invested in its property fund and now want to redeem your shares. The bank says it isn’t able to pay you right now but definitely might be able to do so in a couple of years time. There’s more on this development - and on the whole Spanish banking industry - here. Plus the writer’s view on whether European finance ministers will get their act together and save the EU. In a nutshell, he’s not as optimistic as he was – “As for the eurozone, I always argued in the past that a break-up is in effect impossible. I am no longer so sure.”

It’s been said that Spain is a ‘low trust’ society. So I guess not many of us here were terribly surprised to read that the EU officials who’ve looked into the recent share-out by the Galician Nationalist Party [the BNG] of wind turbine concessions say they believe the Department of Industry knew there were irregularities in the process. But, hey, there’s an election coming up and the BNG has had a taste of power over the last four years.

On this, it’s clear that the troubled opposition party, the PP, is still making no inroads into the territory of the governing Socialist-Nationalist coalition here, despite the country’s growing economic mess. In fact, the latest polls show the BNG getting an extra seat in the regional parliament, while the PP loses two.

Which reminds me . . . I read yesterday that the BNG candidate for Pontevedra City lives just down the road from me, in what’s considered Pontevedra’s pijo [snob] barrio. This rather surprised me, given that the BNG is left of its PSOE socialist partner. But it does perhaps explain why we have the spanking new kids’ park in our neighbourhood, a short drive or bike ride from the two permanent gypsy encampments half a kilometre or so away. I’m only guessing here but I bet the BNG candidate doesn’t live in one of the houses opposite or next to the facility.

These Galicians can be so backward at times. 65% of Voz de Galicia readers who bothered to vote agreed that the age of consent for sexual intercourse should be raised. Don’t they realise it’s the apogee of a developed civilisation to have 12 year olds breeding the taxpayers – or possibly the welfare beneficiaries – of the future? On the other hand, while the Galicians may be unsophisticated, they’re not stupid. 56% of them don’t believe that the financial budgets of the three campaigning parties are realistic. Which doesn’t, though, say a lot for the other 44%.

Finally, here’s an excellent reason to visit Galicia. The one in Spain, I mean. Not the one in Poland. Write to me on, if you want a nice place to stay in . . .

Finally, finally – I was going to ask whether anyone knew which organisation is behind the 1482 number which is plaguing me with unsolicited calls to my mobile? But a Google search has confirmed my suspicion it’s Movistar, a division of that wonderful company, Telefónica. Isn’t anyone there aware that I’d rather put a red-hot poker in my eye than give them any business?

Monday, February 16, 2009

When I turn on the TV of a morning to get the BBC’s classical music channel via my satellite, I always get a Spanish terrestrial channel first, then the Skye menu, then the right channel. There's an appreciable change in the volume as I go, despite the TV setting being the same for all of them. If you live in Spain, you won’t have much difficulty in guessing in which direction the sound volume travels. It all rather endorses the theory that the Spanish get used to high levels of noise from the time they’re in the cradle. I dread to think what a kindergarten sounds like. Or even a crèche.

One of the tropes of the economic crisis is that few, if any, of the numerous commentators saw it coming. Well, should the entire global banking system eventually implode, at least no one will be able to make this accusation again. For Britain’s Daily Telegraph has a professional Jeremiah in its financial columnist, Ambrose Evan-Pritchard. And here he is, rather frighteningly, on the problem of worthless debts in East Europe and the threat these pose not just to the EU but to the whole world. If you like your Monday mornings to be light, you might want to leave this until later in the week.

Several press reports such as this one suggest that hard times are again leading to the rise of anti-Semitism around the world. This may be predictable but it’s also profoundly depressing. In the context of Islamic attitudes towards Jews, Janet Daley comments here on the British government decision to bar a controversial Dutch politician from airing his views on Islam in the UK.

I wrote yesterday that no one should be surprised at a 13 year old British boy becoming a father. Today we learn that two other whippersnappers are challenging his right to this honour, at least in respect of the almost-as-big-as-him baby he was pictured swaddling last week. It seems his 15 year old girlfriend may have been quite a friendly lass. Or possibly just someone smart enough to cover her bets. Anyone still surprised? Incidentally, the names of some of the female performers in this media circus are interestingly different – Chantelle, Maisie and – hard-to-beat - Barbie-Jayne. As I think someone once said, if all this makes me sound rather elitist, that’s because I am.

Killing time while waiting for my daughter’s delayed flight into Santiago this afternoon, I decided to check on flight options for friends thinking of coming at the end of the month. At the Iberia desk, they reminded me there are Clickair flights into Santiago, whereas Iberia now flies into La Coruña. “But it’s not Iberia” said the guy at the desk. “Yes, but it’s a subsidiary company” said I. “Well, no but it’s part of the same group” he replied. Your guess is as good as mine as to what the real difference is. And why it’s so important for Iberia employees to draw this distinction.

Here’s more on the links between Galicia and Ireland, from The Irish Times. Interestingly, it says there’s no evidence of Celtic genes in Ireland. Can this be right?

Finally, courtesy of a BBC podcast, I learned en route to the airport that Afghans began to play cricket a mere ten years ago; that last year they won two international competitions; and that they’re now in with a shot of qualifying for the next World Cup. Which is just about the most heartening news I’ve heard in weeks. Possibly the only heartening news.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Czech President is, to say the least, a tad annoyed by his French counterpart. For M. Sarkozy’s latest protectionist initiative is to throw cash at the French car industry, on condition it doesn’t lay off workers at home but in, say, the Czech Republic. As someone has written, if Sarko doesn’t grasp why this is wrong, then he doesn’t understand what the EU is all about. More likely, of course, is that he doesn’t care. And why should he? For more than 40 years, the French have made brilliant use of their EU creation to their national advantage. They’re hardly likely to stop now that the going is tough. It’s not going to worry them one iota that Brussels says it will investigate whether the aid for the car industry is legal. Cue Gallic shrug.

The Spanish media has given a lot of attention to the 13 year-old British kid who’s sired a child with his 15 year old girlfriend. The author of this article asks why anyone should be surprised. Well, some of us aren’t. I recall being told at least 20 years ago that the startlingly high number of young mothers on a nearby council estate was linked to free housing and a wide range of child benefits, including the gift of the best pram on the market.

Going further back, in 1974 the Conservative politician Keith Joseph caused outrage when he said that, if something wasn’t done, the country’s hardworking intelligent folk would be out-bred by its feckless thickies. Of course, he didn’t put it quite like that but, nonetheless, he was engulfed by a tide of protest and nothing was ever done to reduce teenage pregnancies. Quite the contrary. Click here if you want to see a bit – 3rd paragraph down - of what he actually said. Or here if you want to see it all. The bit I paraphrased above is on page 11.

My thanks to readers who commented on yesterday’s blog about anti-Semitism in Spain. Time is tight tonight so I will respond tomorrow. Meanwhile, my partner has told me the word Judas is used in France as well as Spain for the spy-hole in a front door. And a quick Google search suggests it’s used in English as well. As in “judas hole - a peephole, as in an entrance door or the door of a prison cell.” I can't immediately see why. Was Judas notorious for spying? Perhaps from behind a curtain in some version of The Last Supper.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Reader Ana has kindly responded to my query about the Spanish genetic make-up by citing a recent American Journal of Human genetics study which found that “20% of Spanish and Portuguese men have Sephardic Jewish ancestry and 11% have DNA which reflects Moorish ancestors”. These are treacherous waters so I’ll just quote this sentence from a Wikipedia article which refers to this study:– “The Sephardic result is in contradiction to or not replicated in all the body of genetic studies done in Iberia and conflicts with mainstream historiography.”

Coincidentally, I’ve been meaning to refer to this El País article on Spanish attitudes towards Israel, which opens with this paragraph:- It’s five centuries since the Jews were expelled from Spain but, at times, it seems there still circulates in Spain the ghost of the Jews, not in Gerona’s streets or in Toledo’s synagogues, but in the soul of some Spaniards in whom there persists – buried and shameful – the ancient anti-Semitic prejudice.

Even more coincidentally, in his book "The Disinherited", Henry Kamen makes the point that, in 2006, there were only 20,000 Jews in Spain. Which compares with 4.7 million in Israel, 5.6 million in the USA and 600,000 in next-door France.

I think I’ll just leave it at that for today. And wait for the flak from the troll who trawls the web by the hour to see whether any imbecile is having the temerity to say or imply that anyone in Spain has Arab blood.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A year or two back, I cited the findings of a geneticist who said that Britain’s first settlers after the last ice age had come from the eastern Mediterranean, via northern Spain. I think I suggested this meant that the infamous English pirate and coastal raider, Francis Drake - who is decidedly unpopular in these parts – was really just one of the local lads on the take. Anyway, I’ve now read Bryan Sykes’ fascinating book on the British and Irish genetic make-up – “The Blood of the Isles” – and can confirm this is now the accepted view. Most intriguingly, it lends support to Irish and Galician myths about raiders from here invading Ireland. Though it doesn’t prove these, of course. Possibly they just felt the rain reminded them of home and decided to settle.

However, the main finding of the research is that, although the Celtic language disappeared almost entirely from England, it’s not true to say the invading Angles and Saxons wiped the genetic slate clean. The English, it seems, are just as Celtic as their neighbours in Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Of course, it’s a bit late now for them to jump on the bandwagon and take advantage of the highly marketable Celtic ‘brand’ but it might be one way out of the recession/depression.

Talking of myths, it’s astonishing – or perhaps not – how similar these are in different countries. So we have a 12th century English king conveniently finding the bones of the mythical King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, just as he needs to establish his royal lineage. And we have some 10th century Galician Archbishop conveniently finding the bones of St James [Santiago], just as a rallying point against the invading Moors is called for. But the most fascinating coincidence is between the city of Pontevedra and the nation of Britain. Both, it seems, were mythically founded by someone wandering west after the end of the Trojan Wars - Pontevedra by Teucro, the half-brother of Ajax; and Britain, by Brutus, the grandson of Aeneas. And, just as we still have the stone post to which the boat which brought the body of St James from the Holy Land was moored, so we still have the first stone which Brutus put his foot on as he landed on ‘British’ soil. And the altar in the centre of what would become London to which he gave thanks to the goddess Diana. Who’d have thought it.

Anyway, what I’d like to know is whether there’s been any research done on the make-up of the Spanish so that we can establish whether the Galicians – as many of them love to believe - are more Celtic than anyone else in Iberia. My view is that this is nonsense – albeit harmless – but it would be good to know whether I’m right or wrong. If we don’t have this data and it's not in sight, is it too outrageous to conclude this is because few in Spain want confirmation that nearly everyone here has Moorish genes . . . ?

Back in real life . . . If you're an electricity user here in Spain, you might like to visit this site to see how the companies routinely defraud you. Or this one, to check whether your December and January bills were accurate, using the simulator provided.

Re-visiting Santiago yesterday – to check out a new Indian restaurant – I was able to re-visit the scene of my first speeding ticket of last year, almost exactly twelve months ago to the day. And, yes, it was as I had recalled – a four lane highway with no speed restriction signs. Meaning that you’re expected to conclude the limit is 80 or even 100. Not the 50 it actually is. It should be renamed Avenida de Los Ingresos.

Finally, what to say about Wednesday’s England v. Spain football match? Well, firstly, that Spain were clearly far superior. Secondly, that you can’t hope to win if you’re guilty of what one commentator called ‘profligacy in possession’. Or, less poetically, giving the bloody ball away. And, finally, thank God there was no racial abuse.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I’ve been wanting for a while to relate an old joke which seems to me to encapsulate the debt-packaging nonsense which got us into our current financial mess. So here it is, stripped of its original ethnicity . . .
H: Hey, S. I’m very disappointed about all those cans of baked beans you sold me last month.
S: Why is that, H?
H: Well, I was a bit peckish last night and so I opened one. But the beans were off. So I opened another one and it was off too. In fact, they all were.
S: H, my son. I disappoint you! In truth, you really disappoint me!
H: Why’s that, S?
S: Well, H, because those beans weren’t for opening and eating. They were just for buying and selling. Buying and selling.

I like to think the Romantic Economist would approve of this perspective.

The Voz de Galicia has asked its readers whether they think the government’s lax attitude to the management of Spain’s football clubs encourages corruption. The response was pretty decisive, with a mere 5% of readers saying No.

Talking of corruption . . . The crusading judge, Baltasar Garzón, now has 30-40 people under investigation, most – if not all – linked to the opposition PP party. Apart from politicians, the group includes businessmen, property developers, lawyers and constructors. The scandal - and the PP’s reaction to it - raises a number of important questions but, for me, the biggest is – Is there anyone in the country who is the slightest bit surprised at it? Followed by – Are there more than ten people in the country who really care enough to change their vote in response? But it’s good media fodder. And it’s impressive some miscreants were collared.

On the subject of elections, the first opinion poll amongst my fellow Galicia residents suggests the said PP party will see its share of the vote drop from 45 to 43%, while the socialist PSOE will rise from 32 to 33% and the Nationalist party will stay at their traditional 19%. ‘Others’ [the UpD?] will rise from 2 to 4%. The net result would be the PP losing 2 seats, with the PSOE and BNG gaining one each and staying in power as a coalition. I’m not sure how the BNG can increase its seats on the basis of the same voting percentage but there we are. And it’s still early days.

Talking of local politics and referring back to last week’s demonstration in favour of linguistic freedom here in Galicia, there’s naturally been widespread disgust at the antics of the young ‘independistas’ who showered the attendees with bottles and stones. But, as I’m now a fully-fledged conspiracy theorist, it occurred to me that this reaction is just what the PP party would have wanted. So, is it possible, their agents provocateurs initiated the hooliganism? It’s impossible to say but I was amused that members of the Commission for Language Normalisation characterised the demonstration as “A march of hate”. These, of course, are the very people responsible for initiating Galicia’s “language wars” but who claim there’s no such thing. Only persecution and victimisation.

Finally . . . Much to my relief, Monday’s gales of up to 150kph didn’t actually blow out my boiler. This, I reckon, is because they came from the south west. In contrast, it takes only the slightest of breezes from the north to snuff out the flames - when, of course, the temperatures are at their lowest. You’d think that, in 8 years, the manufacturer’s agents could have come up with at least an hypothesis, if not actually a solution. But sadly not. Though someone has suggested one of those revolving metal cowls on top of the chimney might do the trick. Or possibly cause the flames to go out even more quickly.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

As I’ve recently endorsed doubts on the ability of economists to accurately predict – on the basis of mathematical models - how national and trans-national economies will behave, I thought I’d now cite a chap called Richard Bronk. He’s just published a book called "The Romantic Economist" and this is its blurb - Since economies are dynamic processes driven by creativity, social norms and emotions as well as rational calculation, why do economists largely study them using static equilibrium models and narrow rationalistic assumptions? Economic activity is as much a function of imagination and social sentiments as of the rational optimisation of given preferences and goods. Richard Bronk argues that economists can best model and explain these creative and social aspects of markets by using new structuring assumptions and metaphors derived from the poetry and philosophy of the Romantics. By bridging the divide between literature and science, and between Romanticism and narrow forms of Rationalism, economists can access grounding assumptions, models, and research methods suitable for comprehending the creativity and social dimensions of economic activity. This is a guide to how economists and other social scientists can broaden their analytical repertoire to encompass the vital role of sentiments, language, and imagination. You can read more here. It may, of course, be complete nonsense. But I bet it’s a lot more fun to read than any other book on this dismal [non]science.

Talking of a trans-national economy . . . This writer – from the Ambrose Evans-Pritchard School of EU studies – claims to drag more of Brussels’ skeletons out of their cupboards. As well as giving us the latest Chapter in M. Sarkozy’s Napoleonic narrative. His cryptic question is - Is the EU cracking up?

More domestically, one of Spain’s leading companies in the field warns us that house prices will fall another 20% this year and predicts that the hangover of unsold properties could reach 1.5 million by the end of the year. As mentioned a few times, this is because the lead time on construction is so long here, new properties are still being put on the market at a faster rate than they’re being sold. And this will go on for a while yet. And it seems only yesterday that a leading constructor was telling us prices wouldn’t fall further because he’d rather give his stock to the banks than knock down the prices on them. Not that this isn’t also happening, of course. To the benefit of lucky[?] bank employees.

Meanwhile, one of the biggest developers to go bust has upped its November forecast of losses for last January to September from 230 million euros to a mere 2.3 billion euros. They obviously used the same calculator as all of the country’s electric companies did when estimating January consumption.

Well, I lodged a complaint about at the Consumo office this morning and what a pleasant experience this was. Although the guy at the desk was in a quasi-military, commissionaire’s uniform, he was extremely charming and helpful. This, in itself, is not uncommon here, in response to me smiling and speaking in my accented Spanish. We foreigners are still pretty exotic up here in Galicia. But, when he didn’t ask to see my ID or tell me I’d have to come back with a missing document and then politely declined a copy of my passport and/or residence card, you could’ve knocked me down with the proverbial feather. When I later related all this to my partner, she rightly pointed out that, if you’re not treated well at an office for consumer complaints, you might as well shoot yourself. Or at least emigrate.

Finally, an amusing insight into local politics from Lenox at Spanish Shilling . . .

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Referring to claims of widespread corruption in PP party councils last week, I didn’t muddy the waters by airing my query as to how long it would be before the party’s leaders started claiming it was all a government set-up ahead of elections in the Basque and Galician regions. About 48 hours turned out to be the answer. In Spain, this is pushing at an open door. But what is really horrifying is that I find it at least plausible. So, I’m clearly well on my way to becoming a fully-fledged Spanish conspiracy theorist. Or perhaps just a plague-on-both-houses-ist.

Conspiracy thinking is one thing but I’ve now read the first example of pre-conspiracy thinking I can recall. Ahead of a football match between Spain and England this week, the Spanish Football Federation has advised the players to keep silent on the subject of xenophobia [and racism?] as any comments will only give the British ammunition with which to weaken the Spanish case for hosting the World Cup in 2018, in preference to the UK. So far, I haven’t seen any suggestion that this might be advisable because this [these] are abhorrent in its [their] own right.

Well, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard may not be Britain’s most admired financial commentator but at least he’s consistent. In this article this morning he told us EU finance ministers were planning to ambush the German government today into accepting the debt union Berlin regards as an anathema. I guess he’ll tell us the outcome tomorrow.

Four of Britain’s best known – and now most reviled – bankers were grilled live on TV by a parliamentary commission in London this morning. As they’d had serious coaching, it wasn’t very surprising they made a decent fist of defending themselves against claims of both cupidity and stupidity. But, then, bankers are traditionally good at holding their own . . .

The city of Pontevedra is blessed with a philharmonic society. A couple of years back I tried to join it but there was no web page and the address cited on its publicity material turned out to be a dead-end. Things are now much better. There’s a decent web page and you can apply to join on line. Or, rather, you can if you either have two surnames or are prepared to make one up. Otherwise it won’t let you proceed. So, I’m now officially Lord Davies. All of this is a prelude to a report that I attended one of the society’s concerts last night and was impressed at how much more civil things were than down at the Caixa Galicia film show for riff-raff a week or so ago. The piano recital started bang on time and no one was allowed in after it had begun. Plus we were instructed to turn off our mobile phones. But . . . Of the 42 people attending, 34 of them - 81% - aggregated on the left side of aisle, leaving a mere 8 odd folk on the right. So, not entirely un-Spanish.

As I’ve mentioned, Pontevedra also now has a bike-hire scheme. I noticed a couple of days ago that the ranks were empty at night. So I assumed they’re routinely removed for nocturnal safe-keeping. It did occur to me they might all have been stolen but I rejected this out of hand. Now I’m wondering, as I’ve just read that the world’s premier bike-rental scheme in Paris suffers inordinately high rates of theft and vandalism. And I know there are some French people living in Ponters.

Finally, it looks as if my ex internet provider,, is about to take me to court over a debt of 39 euros. In the past two months they’ve sent me bills, reminders, debt collection letters and now a final demand from their lawyers. What they haven’t done is provide me with an explanation of this bill, despite an email back in December promising to do this. Such is life as a Spanish customer. So, on my lawyer’s advice, I’m off to the Consumo tomorrow morning to lodge a complaint against and to seek an arbitration that should surely never happen. If that doesn’t work and I get hit for 39 euros plus expenses, I shall be shifting my mobile phone from Orange to Vodafone - on the grounds that both Orange and belong to France Telecom, whereas Vodafone is British. That should hurt the Gallic bastards. And give me something British to moan about.

Monday, February 09, 2009

El País this weekend had a feature on Kate Winslet, who’s seen here as the major Oscars rival to Spain’s big star, Penélope Cruz. For some reason, this was accompanied by three pictures of KW showing her bare breasts. Quite why, I wouldn’t know. But I couldn’t help noticing that Britain’s Daily Telegraph didn’t reciprocate in its article about La Cruz. I’ve never actually seen any of the latter's films. Perhaps she always keeps her clothes on.

On the global economic front, the news just gets gloomier and gloomier. On Europe, this what the openly eurosceptic commentator, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, says about the current situation – “The European Central Bank's refusal to follow the lead of the US, Japan, Britain, Canada, Switzerland and Sweden in slashing rates shows how destructive Europe's monetary union has become. . . . ‘We're dealing with truly appalling data, the likes of which have never been seen before in post-War Europe,’ said Julian Callow, Europe economist at Barclays Capital. . . . Spain's unemployment has jumped to 3.3m – or 14.4% – and will hit 19% next year, on Brussels data. The labour minister said yesterday that Spain's economy could not 'tolerate' immigrants any longer after suffering 'hurricane devastation'. You can see where this is going. . . The ECB's obduracy has nothing to do with economics. It fears zero rates as a vampire fears daylight, because that brings the purchase of eurozone bonds ever closer into play. Any such action would usher in an EMU 'debt union' by the back door, leaving Germany's taxpayers on the hook for Club Med liabilities. This is Europe's taboo.” So . . . interesting times. And frightening. Possibly very frightening if you’re German.

Down at street level, the Galician Xunta issued an early warning about today’s storm, advising that all schools would be closed as a precaution. As ever nowadays, this was only in Gallego, despite there being two co-official languages. But at least I was able to learn that the Galician for ‘orange’ is laranxa, compared with naranja in Spanish and norange in medieval English. I wonder what 'larynge' is.* Incidentally, here’s news of one group of folk who are unhappy with this avoidance of Spanish for official communications. Among other things. This is the first incident of this nature I can recall. But I doubt it’ll be the last, as we head – slowly but surely – down the Cataluña path. By the way, the reportage seems confused to me.

I’ve said a couple of times that the number of newspapers available here in Galicia is extraordinary, with a population of under 3 million apparently supporting 12 or 13 daily journals. And now I see there’s yet another one – A Peneira. This is described as “A Galician journal of general information” and appears to focus on the most southerly zones of the region. Some say most of these papers couldn’t survive without direct or indirect subsidies from self-interested regional and municipal politicians but I’ve no idea whether this is true or not. Though it’s certainly plausible. I wonder whether there’s money in an English-Gallego periodical. For me and, of course, several of my relatives. What fun we could have writing in almost-English.

Finally, it’s apparently all the fault of the Spanish government that our electricity bills in January were outrageously high. Or so say the electricity providers. I guess it’s because the government didn’t provide them with accurate calculators to allow them to get estimated consumption within 50% of what any fool could tell them it would be.

*Well, it’s laringe in Spanish and, according to this, the same in Gallego.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

I occasionally talk of corruption. Of drug smuggling. Of Politicians. And, last but not least, of Galicia’s airports. But it’s rare I can get them all in one short sentence. But here we go – The police here have broken up a gang of criminals which has been using diplomatic flights to import cocaine into Spain via Vigo airport.

I recently admitted I may have been wrong to be sceptical about the strength of Spanish banks. But this article suggests I might have been a tad premature. As does this one. Time will tell.

It’s not exactly a secret that the concept of time here in Spain can be slightly different from elsewhere. And that one possibly needs more patience here than one is normally called on to display in more frenetic Anglo Saxon cultures. Frankly, I’m not convinced I’m much better at this than when I left the UK to live in Tehran 35 years ago. Otherwise, why would I have pointlessly abandoned my two tins of dog food at the supermarket check-out yesterday simply because I’d had to wait ten minutes while the woman in front of me and the cashier dealt first with her ten items and then her form-filling request to have them delivered to her nearby flat. Perhaps I'll have completely adjusted after another eight years.

Reading of the chaos in the UK because of the shortage of salt to throw on the iced-up roads, I was taken back to a visit I made to Cheshire’s salt mines around 1989. Outside the entrance to the pits, there were tonnes of a dirty substance that turned out to be rock salt, which goes black when sprayed with acid to give it a hard cap to protect it from the rain. As opposed to the pink colour it had in its original state down these particular mines. Anyway, it was there – I was told - because ICI couldn’t sell it, as winters were no longer as cold and as icy as they’d been in my childhood. Unless the pits later closed down, these salt mountains must have become a lot higher in the last 20 years but it seems this still wasn’t enough. And so the country closed down.

Talking of the weather . . . I thought I’d give you a shot of the Atlantic Blanket I refer to from time to time. The view from my window normally takes in the river Lerez, the entire city of Pontevedra and the mountains behind it, festooned in wind turbines. Today, it was restricted to the house 50 metres below mine. But, believe me, this is not quite as bad as it gets. Sometimes I can’t even see the palm tree for drizzle-filled cloud. Or clizzle, as I once called it.

As for tomorrow’s weather, we’re warned that we’ll be having our third major storm in about two weeks, with gusts of up to 140kph. And just when I’d managed to get my central heating boiler to stay on for two days in a row. Hey ho.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

It never rains but it pours. At least for the right-of-centre PP party. Ahead of regional elections in both the Basque Country and Galicia, it’s recently become embroiled in a vote-sapping scandal around who’s spying on whom within its divided Madrid organisation. And now the crusading leftist judge, Baltazar Garzón, has announced he’ll be prosecuting a number of leading people connected with the party for the usual package of fraud, embezzlement, etc., etc. And, as if that wasn’t enough, the PP party leader in Galicia has today announced he’ll be letting go of his leading candidate for the city of Ourense as he apparently failed to tell the tax authorities about 250,000 euros commission paid offshore to him by a Portuguese company a couple of years ago. You couldn't make it up.

My net colleague Graeme of South of Watford (But A Lot West of the Centre), once told me – I think – that, while both main parties have more than a few members convicted of corruption in office, the laurels go to the town halls controlled by the PP party. Maybe so but I’d have to say it’s a hard task deciding where the bias lies just from reading the endless news reports. But I can say that one or two of the men fingered by Garzón look as if they came straight out of Hollywood casting for Spanish empresarios – tanned face, big cigar, huge sunglasses and long greased-down locks. Perhaps they were only play-acting.

Talking of skullduggery . . . The consulting group GFK estimates the total number of films illegally downloaded in Spain last year at 350 million. Along with 2 billion songs and 50 million videogames. No doubt we’ll be hearing some tut-tutting from government spokespersons quite soon. But, then, they do have more important things to worry about right now.

Here in Galicia, it's reported that the guy responsible for Environmental Affairs in the city of Ourense has between 60 and 70 people on his payroll from a town of only 3,500 souls. So, guess where he comes from. As it happens, he's from the Nationalist party. But then 'nationalist' usually means 'regionalist' in Spain. If not actually 'localist'. Which won't help as the country struggles to get to grips with and survive the recession-cum-depression. And I can't help noticing it doesn't stop the media going on at length about the narrow xenophobia being demonstrated in Britain and France. The words 'mote' and 'eye' spring to mind.

Driving back from town tonight, I flashed the driver in front who’d neglected to put his lights on. But I should have known it would have no effect. This doesn’t seem to be an established signal here in Spain. Incidentally, it’s not that uncommon here to see cars being driven without lights on. At night, I mean. I wonder whether it happens elsewhere. Or whether switching on the lights is just one of those things that take second place here to a good chat.

Finally . . . For the etymologically curious, something I discovered today:- Bellwether: Derived from the Middle English bellewether and refers to the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a castrated ram (a wether) leading its flock of sheep. The movements of the flock could be perceived by hearing the bell before the flock was in sight.

Friday, February 06, 2009

A bit more from Kamen’s book The Disinherited . . . Referring to the writer Ramiro de Maeztu (1874-1936) Kamen says he “contended quite simply that Spain had civilised both America and the world. This was its legacy and Spain had to return to it. Maeztu referred to ‘the great achievements of the Reconquest, the Counter-Reformation and the civilisation of America.’” I wouldn’t feel this merited quoting but for the fact that Kamen maintains that “These three peaks remain, even today, firmly fixed in the historical perception of many Spaniards, who would not give a second thought to the possibility they might be ideological fictions.” Surely not.

Which reminds me – I read an article the other day in which the author said both Spain and Britain needed to achieve a more accurate understanding of what happened on the high seas in 1588. In the UK, he said, it had been common until recently to teach that the defeat of the Invincible Armada was down to divine providence. Well, not in my schools it wasn’t. But, on reflection, maybe this is because they were Catholic . . .

Talking of awful storms . . . To say the least, this winter has been damp in this part of Spain, reminding me of my first few months here, when it rained almost every day from October 2000 to end May 2001. So I wasn’t surprised to read that someone has determined that some atmospheric factor or other now causes waves of winter storms every eight or nine years. This has the acronym NAO - for North Atlantic Oscillation – and I guess it's a close relative of Global Warming. But the theory certainly fits our facts. Which it would do if its proponent had worked backwards, of course. Maybe I’ll hold off booking long winter holidays in Africa in 2017 and 2018. Meanwhile, if you work backwards for 8 or 9 years, do you get to 1588, I wonder.

I’m not entirely clear why but we attended a documentary on Senegal down at the Caixa Galicia cultural centre last night. It would be an exaggeration to say this was well attended – of that the technology was fully functional – but it did at least provide a test of my Gallego. For the intro, the subtitles and the answers to queries from the floor were entirely in this language. Which rather contrasted with said questions, as every single one of these – and the rejoinders to the answers – were in Spanish. Given that the questioners were French, Mexican and Senegalese, one can debate whether this was polite or not, but my point is that I doubt it would have happened ten years ago. When there was rather more ‘linguistic harmony’ than there is now. I suspect that, back then, the chap who gave the presentation would have felt it to be good manners to answer in Spanish to those who spoke in Spanish, even if he’d made his introductory remarks in Gallego. But, Así son las cosas hoy día. Or, if you prefer, Así son as cousas, hoxe día. I think.

For some weeks now, the Pontevedra town council has been operating an impressive bike-hire facility in the town. When I took a look at the system on the first day it wasn’t yet working but it was today. Needing a smile and knowing that, however much the budget was, the council wouldn’t have lashed out 50 euros to get a native speaker to check things, I clicked on the English button. To be told - “Bring the card over to the reader placed under the monitor”. Raising the question – at least for us pedants - “And then what?”

Finally, I should advise that, thanks to the sterling efforts of some hero called Xosé Calvo, Google now offer an automatic translation service between English and Gallego. I wonder what this post would look like if passed through it. Or even brought over to it.

Maybe one day Google will get round to including my blog in their Alerts for Galicia. Perhaps I should run it through the translation service to increase the chances.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The in-house financial commentator of The Times alleges it’s economists who are to blame for the global wasteland we all now inhabit. Though not himself and his journalistic ilk, of course, but the academic sort. Nonetheless, his article is worth a read. If only for its chutzpah. And because, a trifle late, he questions the orthodoxy [global or merely Anglo-Saxon?] of the last few years. Albeit using a quote from Keynes which I think I’ve used myself in the last six months.

As for the subject of Economics, he opines that “There seem to be only two options. Either it has to be abandoned as an academic discipline to become a mere appendage of the collection and analysis of statistics. Or it must undergo an intellectual revolution.” [Ex?]Reader Moscow has assured me recently that the logic of economics means that Spain can’t leave the Euro. And he’s probably right. But I suppose that, if it does happen, it will be another nail in the coffin of economics as a real science. And a vote in favour of behavioural psychology.

If you were depressed reading the overview of the Spanish economy yesterday, then stay away from the same chap’s analysis of what is happening to cash flow here, with consequences for the national and regional governments. Who may, it seems, soon find themselves unable to pay the salaries of those comfortable jobs to which most Spaniards aspire. Words are decidedly un-minced. Or, as the Spanish say, there are no hairs on the writer’s tongue - “The debate which is going on in Spain about the current crisis” he says “is still light years away from the country's rapidly evolving reality”. Oh dear.

If you want a Spanish view on the frightening conjunction of dis-Government and dis-Opposition here, try this. Inevitably, one thinks of Nero and fiddles. But, then, one is always conscious of fiddles in Spain. The papers are full of them.

Thanks to a BBC podcast, I now know that the number 150 is significant for a number of reasons. One of these is that it is about the maximum number of friends and acquaintances we all maintain. Even though Facebook and the like give us the potential to increase this total significantly. Given how affable and sociable the Spanish are, I’m naturally wondering whether the national average here exceeds 150. More interestingly, I wonder whether the mix between friends and acquaintances would be markedly different here from Anglo cultures, with a greater bias towards acquaintances.

I mention from time to time that Galicia’s three small airports compete ferociously with each other, to the obvious advantage of Portugal’s larger international facility in nearby Oporto. To rub this in, the latter has just placed a huge advertising hoarding at the entrance/exit to Vigo airport, to remind travellers of its advantages. Coincidentally, this week saw an announcement that the smallest of the three Galician options – La Coruña – is to expand its facilities. Which, sure as eggs is eggs, will soon be followed by similar decisions in the case of both Vigo and Santiago. If this hasn’t already happened.

The Galician trade unions are protesting that the BNG Nationalist Party has given employment to at least 30 people who are either on its voting lists or are leading supporters of the party. Since this will shock absolutely no one, the question arises as to why they’ve decided to blow this particular whistle. Especially as both groups are on the left of the political divide. Perhaps the unions feel more at home with the not-so-left PSOE part. Who don’t, of course, go in for cronyism.

Finally, I’d just like to day that Everton beat the other team in Liverpool last night. And, fortunately for my TV screen, I wasn’t watching when ITV went to ads in the last couple of minutes of extra time and Everton scored the decisive goal of a dour game. But at least they apologised. Which possibly wouldn’t happen here on Galician TV, which now shows ads across the bottom of the screen throughout the game. Nor on national TV, I suspect. Where the whole of half-time is given over to ads instead of commentary and discussion.