Friday, July 31, 2009

Another of those Anglo-Spanish moments today. Forgive the personal detail but it’s germane . . . On a whim, I decided this week to comb back my hair in the Spanish fashion, flat on my head, without a parting. At lunchtime today in my regular bar, one of the waitresses confided that ‘It makes you look more ugly’. When I protested it would have been better to say ‘less handsome’, she claimed that’s exactly what she’d meant. Too bloody late for that, of course.

And here’s another one – The Spanish media has picked up on David Cameron apologising for using the word ‘twat’ in some interview or other. One of the papers today explained this was a rude British alternative for ‘vagina’ but stressed it was nowhere near as strong as the Spanish word coño. Which is a little confusing. How can a word which one hears a hundred times a day be considered ‘strong’. Carallo!! It’s hardly taboo, coño.

Although Spain’s major banks have been downgraded by Moodys, they continue to turn in results that are good in all the circumstances. But, then, I’ve always wondered how difficult it is to make money when you charge your clients for everything except the air they breathe in your branches and - when things get tough - you simply raise all these fixed and variable charges by 30% without a word of explanation. And then summarily close down many of the branches you opened during the boom years.

Here’s a surprise – After decades of a Common Fisheries Policy, it turns out that most of the world’s illegal over-fishing takes place in EU waters. I have to admit I’d always thought most of the ships involved in this sailed from our nearby port of Vigo. But, in a recent article about Sarkozy’s battle with the fishermen of southern France, I read that the latter were the main culprits. But, hey, French or Spanish, they’ll all be off to Icelandic waters once that little country enters the EU. Problem solved.

I can’t say I have a good grasp of the Spanish legal system but I can say I was intrigued by two similar developments reported in today’s local press. In the first of these, it was announced that a massive illegal block of flats in Vigo condemned to demolition by some court a few years ago would not now be knocked down. And, closer to home in Pontevedra, another court has pronounced that the shacks built on top of the illegal houses demolished in the gypsy encampment last year are not illegal. As regards the former, I recalled talking to a Spanish friend about the original judgement and hearing him tell me, with an air of condescension, it would never happen. “Why not?”, I asked. “Because this is Spain and it never happens” he replied. Unless, of course, your name is Prior and you live down in Almería.

Finally . . . Here’s the page of the George Borrow Society, in English and in Spanish. And here’s a Spanish view of his book, written a few years after its publication, in both Spanish and English.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Walking into town this morning, I concluded I’d been wrong to worry the ugly public works around the Alameda wouldn’t be finished by the start of the big Fiesta next week. For all the heavy machinery has gone, meaning we can now all ignore the fences and the barriers and once again take a short cut across the place. Later, though, I read in a local paper that the works have only been suspended so that the stalls and the fairground can be installed. So, todo bien que termina bien.

Taking said shortcut, I couldn’t help but notice that the “deaf and dumb” Rumanian girls are back in town, soliciting for their phoney charity organisation. I used to wonder how they could remain free to harass us but that was until I read that Spanish law doesn’t think that anyone 14 or under can commit a crime. But I still snitched to a local cop.

I feel duty-bound to give you some of the nice things George Borrow said about our local cities . . . . Of my own he wrote that “Pontevedra, on the whole, is certainly entitled to the appellation of a beautiful town, some of its public edifices, especially the convents, being such as are nowhere to be found but in Spain and Italy. . . . The whole country in the neighbourhood of Pontevedra is inconceivably delicious.” And of Vigo, he says “Well may the people of Pontevedra envy the natives of Vigo their bay, with which, in many respects, none other in the world can compare.” Later on, though, he talks of Galicia’s ‘localism’ being worse than anywhere else in Spain and is shocked by the antipathy shown by the residents of Santiago towards those of La Coruña because the latter had just taken over the role as capital of the region/country. He’d probably feel much the same now, watching the fight between Pontevedra and Vigo for pre-eminence in the province of Pontevedra. Or the arguments that take place over how each of our three tiny international airports are to be enlarged.

Getting close to Asturias, George gets the benefit of this comment from his Madrileño servant, Antonio:-“ I have nothing to say against the Asturians . . . they are not thieves, neither at home nor abroad and, though we must have our wits about us in their country, I have heard we may travel from one end of it to the other without the slightest fear of being either robbed or mistreated. Which is not the case in Galicia, where we were always in danger of having our throats cut.” But this rather points up the comment I made yesterday, viz. that things have improved immeasurably here in Galicia. For now we are only beaten by Navarra and – of course – Asturias when it comes to low levels of crime.

There is an expression which GB mentions several times, as being reassuringly quoted to him on numerous occasions . . . . No tengas usted cuidado. I’m only familiar with the positive version of Ten cuidado and I’m wondering whether the former was an 18/19th century equivalent of No te preocupes. And while I’m seeking advice from (sane) Galicians, here are a few Gallego (I guess) words I’d like to know the meaning of. It has to be said that George is not always reliable when it comes to spellings, so you may need to think around the word a bit . . .
Estadéa/estadiño – some sort of celestial spirit.
Duyo – the Devil?
Broa – type of bread?

And still on translation . . . Here’s how one paper today described Lily Allen’s body, scarcely concealing its astonishment that she could be the new face of Chanel:- Menudo y robusto. I take this to mean 'Small and stocky' but am wondering whether there’s a more diplomatic way of translating the Spanish.

Finally, on George . . . Here`s a telling local ditty he quotes, presumably having translated it himself:-
May the Lord God preserve us from evil birds three,
From all friars and curates and sparrows that be
For the sparrows eat up all the corn that we sow.
The friars drink down all the wine that we grow
While the curates have all the fair dames at their nod.
From these three evil curses, preserve us Lord God

And finally, finally . . . One of the local papers has praised the organisers of the lamb roasting event I attended in Moraña on Sunday. It suggests, though, that next year they might provide a guide on cutting up a lamb carcase. Given how many people saw their dinner ending up on the floor. I have to say that neither of mine did.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

One departed swallow does not, as they say, make a winter but I’m wondering whether a tiny recent development is just a sign of the times or an indication that Spain is changing for the worse. Traditionally, it’s never been a problem in tapas bars – and even many restaurants – to get a glass – or even a jug - of plain tap water. But twice in the last couple of weeks this has been refused to visitors of mine. I must keep an eye on this. Though – as I take the W C Fields approach to water – I shall be dependent on the frequency of visitors for data. Or reader reports.

My Vigo friend, Phil, has lent me a 1930s edition of George Borrow’s The Bible in Spain and I’m now re-reading this. Naturally, I’ve started on the chapters that deal with Galicia and was intrigued today to read of his near-death experience on a bridge in a place between Lugo and Betanzos he calls Castellanos. A brief bit of research indicated this was probably Castellana and this was confirmed by this marvellous find on the net. If this whets your appetite, you can download either the whole book from the web or just the Galicia chapters from my Galicia page, here. Or just his dyspeptic view of Santiago, here.

I should perhaps add that, if you're a sensitive Gallego, you might want to give all this a miss. GB did not find either Galicia or the language to his liking. Though he does make the occasional positive remark. Albeit mostly about the scenery. Obviously, things have improved immensely in 180 years.

Finally . . . My latest electricity bill arrived today. It’s a gross over-estimate of my usage and all three elements have risen in price. Only the VAT rate stays the same but this can only be a matter of time. Needless to say, there was no explanation or expression of regret. God only knows what old George would have made of this, whingeing Brit that he was.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Is there nothing bad about red wine? I recently read that a glass or two a day will increase my life expectancy. And now this good news.

Here in Galicia, it hasn’t so far been one of our hotter summers. In fact, down here on the coast, I doubt it’s been above 30 more than once in two months. Which is fine with both me and most Gallegos, as we can’t take the heat of elsewhere in Spain. Not that this stops the locals complaining it’s not a great summer. It’s this aspect of the culture which convinces me more than anything else that not just Ireland but also England was colonised by Iberians sailing North West from here 15,000 years or so ago. Moaning about the eternally variable weather is in our genes.

I have some very good Spanish friends who regularly invite me to lunch with them. But, as with today, this invariably follows contact I’ve initiated with them. As I’ve said a dozen times, this is a reactive and spontaneous society and things tend to happen to you when - one way or another - you force yourself onto someone else’s radar. Which is why, if you’ve come here as a wilting violet, your best option is to go back home again. Or join an expat community and forget about Spain. Which, come to think about it, is what many people do. Essentially, I suppose, because they’re only here for the year-round sun. Which is why we don’t get a lot of them in Galicia . . . .

Years ago, when in business in the UK, I came to realise that civil servants love to invent a scheme, give it a label and then devise self-fulfilling criteria to prove its effectiveness. Even better if the they can come up with a nice acronym as well. I was reminded of all this when watching TV reports of the British government’s new scheme under which a 'Flu Friend' can go and collect your Tamiflu once it’s been established to the satisfaction of a dumb computer that you have swine flu. Particularly amusing was the Flu Friend Tamiflu Collection Point that wasn’t satisfied with being merely the Tamiflu Collection Point. Sometimes the acronyms are particularly apt. I’ve just read of the Fund Under the Control of the Keynesian Office of Financial Folly. Disappointed applicants say that, whatever this name lacks in catchiness, it more than makes up for with the accuracy of its acronym.

As these things happen, another acronym has occurred to me this evening – viz. Chippy and Demented Emigré. Or CADE. Which, fortuitously, can be combined with the one above. In any order you like.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Something I’ve noticed about the summer events I attend is that, if you sit on the edge of these, there’s a good chance you’ll see the same person several times during the evening. The other thing I’ve noticed is that it’s always a pretty woman. Odd that.

Anyway, the observant among you – when looking at yesterday’s foto of the band in the bar in Sta Lucía/Moraña – will have noticed that, despite the incredible noise being produced, there was still a TV blaring away in the background. As I wrote, it was a very ‘Spanish’ day.

Even the non-observant among you will have noticed I’ve moaned a lot about the three speeding fines I’ve picked up over the last year. And so will understand why I was interested in a report in our local press yesterday about an ex chief of the Vigo police being investigated for arranging the cancellation of a hundred euro fine handed out to one of our multi-millionaire local drug dealers. The latter obviously felt as aggrieved as I did at the abuse of the law. So, naturally, has my sympathy . . .

Talking of rules . . . Accustomed as I am to the relaxed Spanish approach to these, I rarely find myself shaking my head in wonder these days. Specifically, I’m no longer shocked to see mothers smoking as they lean over their babies’ buggies in the street. But I did find myself pursing my lips in reproof in my regular café-bar today, when two women ignored both the law and the sign on the door and took their toddlers into the dedicated smoking chamber. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so judgmental, today’s most heinous crime.

And still on rules . . . Am I wrong to think that Spain has a higher incidence than average of two particular motoring offences:- 1. Failing to put your lights on at night, and 2. Driving the wrong way down an autopista? The second, of course, is rather more fatal than the former. And is known as kamikaze driving here. Perhaps they’re just a Galician thing.

Finally . . . I leave you with the question posed by my Madrid-based daughter, as I drove along the coast road last weekend at the speed limit, with a huge queue of cars behind me:- “Dad, why on earth are you driving so slowly?”

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Well, I finally did today something I’ve been wanting to do for years - attend the annual spit-roast fiesta in the nearby town of Moraña. Actually, it’s real name is Santa Lucia de Moraña but, in classical Gallego fashion, it’s called Sta Lucia on some maps and Moraña on others. Anyway, I hadn’t been before because you have to get up a minimum party of twenty, pay in advance and then wait to see if your party’s been successful in a lottery for the limited number of tables. And I’ve never been able to find nineteen lovers of lamb slow-roasted over oak embers. Actually, I’ve never even tried as I don’t know nineteen people here I’d enjoy dining with . . .

But - solitary though I was - it was a great ‘Spanish’ day. Fairground, market stalls, Galician dance troupes, brass bands in the bars and a centrepiece of 30 metres of roasting lamb carcases. Plus I easily found a place serving its own - excellent - roast lamb at 10 euros a pop. In fact, it was so good I ordered a second helping. I had visions of later becoming famous as the mad guiri who ate two dinners at one go but the waitress responded as if it were an everyday occurrence. But I still tipped well. Partly because I’d also had three glasses of the undeservedly unknown/under-rated Galician red wine called Mencía. I like to help the struggling bodegas of Ourense and Lugo provinces whenever I can.

Of course it’s not true that I don’t know nineteen people here whom I’d enjoy eating with. Spanish lunches are fun occasions and nothing like an Anglo dinner party of six or eight earnest souls putting the world to rights. Fortunately for me, I enjoy both.

Anyway, here are the pix . . . including one of the Galician bread which is big in Madrid.

Note the protective footwear of this fire-tender. House slippers.

And here’s one explaining why knife crime in Spain is so much higher than in the UK. Not!

Finally . . . Here’s the (imminent) page of an organisation dedicated to the defence and promotion of Gallego, our local language. As I know only too well, this is a sensitive subject, on which the range of views is enormous. In fact, some of the people fighting for the cause feel it’s not helped much by the attitudes struck by some of their naïve colleagues-in-arms. Here, for example, is the page of a crank who feels he can prove that Gallego isn’t derived from Latin. Which rather conflicts with the stance of his brethren who feel one reason Gallego is superior to Spanish is that it remains closer to that dead language.

I fear it’s too much to hope that the previous paragraph – or possibly this one – won’t spur our reintegrista friend, Cade, into one of his adolescent rants from the Galician stronghold of Leicester.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

At the height of the Spanish boom, the construction sector was 10.9% of GDP. Two years on, there are now few of Spain’s ‘most common bird’ – the builders’ crane – on the horizon; there is around 18% unemployment; and the country’s economy is in deep doo-doo. And yet construction still represents 10.3% of GDP. In other words – as Mark Stucklin points out – Spain is still hooked on construction. More particularly, on public sector works such as the (pointless?) rebuilding of the wall around the Alameda in Pontevedra. As Mark stresses, this is all well and good – reducing unemployment in the building sector, for example – but it is not sustainable. Perhaps the millions being poured into helping the besieged tourist industry will have more lasting benefit.

Meanwhile, though, the government, the unions and business representatives have aborted their ‘Social Dialogue’ negotiations around changing the rules for hiring and firing staff. As you’d expect, this failure has been accompanied by recriminations and accusations from all sides. But, despite this, I suspect they’ll soon be back for another go. It will be extraordinarily significant if not.

Relatedly . . . A mere 5% of the 80,000 unemployed immigrants offered cash in lieu of dole money if they went back home have accepted it. A result which is said to have been ‘disappointing’. ‘Utterly predictable’ are the words which occur to me. And I think did, at the time the scheme was launched.

Finally . . .Today has been the feast day of St James, the patron saint of Galicia. The Brotherhood responsible for getting his statue ready for the celebrations in our capital, Santiago de Compostela, this year decided he could do without his sword, as well as the Moors beneath his feet he’s normally seen as slaying. They say there’s no evidence he actually killed any. Yes, well. There’s not much evidence his dead body found its way to Galicia from the Holy Land in an unmanned boat; or that his bones lie in the casket in the city’s Beyond-Baroque cathedral either. But this doesn’t seem to bother anyone very much. Perhaps these beliefs, though equally unfounded, are less politically unacceptable. Or profitable.

Which reminds me . . . You can get extra indulgences if you do the Camino in 2010. A once-in-every-four-years opportunity, I believe. Un Año Santo.

And there’s a special deal for Catholics on my house in the hills, just a short drive from Santiago. Honest. I may have lapsed but you can trust me.

Peace be with you.

Friday, July 24, 2009

I’ve said many times how impressed I am by the obit columns in Spain’s serious press. This week, I was astonished to see one of these dealing with the British actress Mollie Sugden, one of the engaging stars of the 70s sitcom, “Are you being served”. I was even more surprised to read that she and fellow star, John Inman, had become cult figures in the USA, thanks to HBO. It’s an odd world.

El País yesterday carried an excellent article on the stupidity of Spain’s far right on the issue of Gibraltar. Entitled “Three hundred years of futility”, this stressed the point regularly made here, viz. that the PP’s arguments over the rock apply equally well to Spain’s African possessions and that what’s sauce for the Gib goose is surely sauce for the Ceuta and Melilla ganders.

Over in the UK the “Consumer Watchdog” is fining the energy company EDF for ‘poor consumer service”. Bloody ‘ell. If this approach were adopted here, corporate Spain would face overnight bankruptcy.

Which reminds me . . . Nine years after I first started moaning about it, the government says it’s going to talk to water companies about reflecting actual usage in the bills. In theory, this should mean people living alone like me should see their bills reduce, as the fixed cost element falls. But, as the water companies will remain monopolies, I am less than optimistic.

Talking of profit margins . . . Here’s an article on the huge gap between what’s paid to risk-exposed British scallop fishermen and the prices paid for these in London’s restaurants. I imagine much the same is true of Galician shellfish. Perhaps most notably so in the case of percebes (goose barnacles), which are very dangerous to harvest and sell at ludicrous prices, especially at Christmas. The real irony in their case is that, fifty years ago, no one here would even feed them to animals. Having had the pleasure of tasting them, I can understand why. But, of course, they are an aphrodisiac. Like the equally repulsive oysters. How gullible is Man.

A Spanish audience is an amiable but not always the most attentive creature. At least on its fringes. Attending one of our Jazz in the Street events last night, I found myself wondering just why the many talkers had come to it. Possibly only because the music provided the loud backcloth they needed to their simultaneous chatting. Which is, of course, a function normally served by the 1 to 4 loud – and equally unwatched - TVs on the walls of the country’s bars and cafés.

Another question I found myself re-asking is why these events always begin at 10.30 and go on until well after midnight. After all, it’s not as if we ever suffer from nocturnal heat up here in Galicia. I concluded it’s because – as the evening traffic jams prove – many folk don’t get home for their evening meal until well after 9pm. Their kids having been looked after until then by the ever-helpful grandparents. Or - as with my next door neighbours – by the contemptuously disregarded household chica.

Finally . . . Quote of the week:

Pessimists and reactionaries make the best prophets because they are without illusions, because they can see behind as well as beyond contemporary viewpoints.

David Gilmour, in his biography of Rudyard Kipling – “The Long Recessional”.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I wrote a month or so ago that the longer one lives in a culture, the less unusual its norms come to seem, as an internal cogency reveals itself. This thought struck me again this morning as I was re-reading yesterday’s post to check for typos. Entertaining at home is not a big thing in Spain, where people very much prefer to eat out with their friends. This seems odd for such a sociable people but, of course, if you’re going to go to the trouble of making a dinner for eight and, say, three turn up, this can be rather irritating. As I can attest. Much easier to forget it about it and go to a restaurant. Plus it’s much less work per se. Always important in Spain, where it isn't always seen as dignifying.

The Sky weather-woman this morning advised that the UK would today see a “fair amount of showers, rattling their way through”. Forecasters are, of course, renowned for their inaccuracy and this was no exception. As you’ll all have appreciated, what she should have said is “a fair number of showers”. Anyway, tomorrow’s batch of showers will apparently be useful in keeping the pollen count low. Thank God.

And talking of the weather, here in Galicia the Atlantic Blanket departed overnight, allowing the sun to smile on us today. A sharp contrast to yesterday, when parts of Galicia were hit in one day with double their usual quotient of rain for the whole of July. I was, as you know, enjoying myself up in La Coruña but here in Pontevedra it must have been fun for the tourists weaving their way through all the road and pavement works between the cloudbursts. I wonder if they’ll be rushing back next year.

The population of Galicia now stands at 2.73 million souls, a mere 1.5% up on nine years ago. And each passing year sees a further drift away from the rural, upland provinces of Lugo and Ourense to the coastal provinces of Pontevedra and La Coruña. I suspect this can only lead to a continuing reduction in the percentage of Galicians who use Gallego as their ‘vehicular’ language, as they say here.

As in other parts of Spain, we have two official languages here – Castillano (Spanish) and Gallego (Galician). They have equal standing, though one could sometimes be forgiven for not knowing this when it comes to dealing with the regional government and local councils. In many public places, signs are in both languages but this occasionally lends a surreal aspect to life. Sitting on the train in the station at Villargarcía de Arousa yesterday evening, I noticed that every single one of the signs was exactly the same in both languages – Ascensor: Acceso vías; Paso inferior; and Información. That said, the sign for the station itself was only in Gallego (Vilagarcía), whereas that for the exit was only in Castillano (Salida, not Saída). As I say, I guess it must all make sense to someone.

Even odder was the fact that when the recorded messages on the train advised us we were about to arrive at our destination, the Gallego term A Coruña was used for both the Castillano and Gallego announcements. Which were, incidentally, both in the same Castillano accent which infuriates my Gallego-speaking friends. Or that’s how it seemed to me at least.

Finally . . . I referred yesterday to the Koran. I anyone wants my overview of this, it can be found here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ambrose The Optimist is back here with his fears for the economy of the Western world. He lists the “savage” measures recently taken by the Irish government but adds that “The deeper truth is that Britain, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, the US, and Japan are in varying states of fiscal ruin.” Good to know we are not alone.

Spain’s economy also ‘stars’ in the latest batch of unemployment data, with the claim that the country “has even lost touch with Greece and Portugal (its traditional allies in terms of bad figures) and has reached the lamentable state of the Balkan countries.” As if this weren’t bad enough . . . “Many believe that the country will be the last to emerge from the current downturn, with the EU forecasting unemployment in Spain next year at 20.5%”. So, shame a depreciating Peseta is off the cards. And no wonder the government seems more than willing to reduce employers’ social security contributions.

But, hey. It’s not all bad news. I had one of those great Spanish days today, when a lunch set up for three people grew first to five, then eight and finally to eleven or twelve. All very informal and enjoyable. And, though I can think of other countries in the world where this could happen, I’m not convinced any of them are in Europe. Of course, it can work the other way as well. You get commitments to lunch from twelve Spaniards and only three of them actually turn up. But you learn to take the rough with the smooth. Or emigrate.

Reader Richard in Korea has pointed me in the direction of some research which indicates that any second language you learn is ‘represented’ in a different area of your brain from that of your mother tongue. So maybe my Iranian teacher wasn’t as crazy as I thought when he told me years ago that my then wife was better at picking up Farsi than me because, as a woman, she naturally had more empty space in her brain than a man. Just in case anyone’s tempted to attribute this belief to Islam, I should add that I’ve read the Koran twice and can recall nothing about the respective sizes of male and female brains. Plenty of other stuff to raise the hackles but not this.

Finally . . . In Asia they got very excited today about a solar eclipse that lasted 6 minutes. Huh. Here in Galicia, the Atlantic Blanket paid us another unseasonal visit and blocked out the sun for at least 18 hours. So, nice to know that southern Spain is in the grip of another terrible heat wave. Couldn’t happen to nicer people.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Two separate gang rapes of 13 year old girls in southern Spain have highlighted the fact that Spanish law doesn’t regard those below 14 as capable of criminal acts. It would be astonishing if this didn't prompt calls for an immediate change in the law. And so it has. It was also inevitable that those on the right of the political spectrum would see these horrific events as a consequence of the anything-goes attitude prevalent in Spain since the end of the Franco dictatorship. In fact, one angry chap on the radio this morning suggested Spain had bred a generation of youths who were responding like Pavlov’s dogs to the sexual stimulations all around them. And, in an extreme example of Spanish public discourse, he accused his opponents of talking “shit, shit and shit”. Which might just have weakened his case a little. Anyway, I guess we can expect to see a lot more of this sort of ‘dialogue’ now. Plus earnest, soul-searching articles in all the newspapers.

Another irritation for those on the Right this week has been the visit of the Spanish Foreign Minister to Gibraltar, the first in more than 300 years. Given Spain’s claim to sovereignty over The Rock, it was inevitable the Opposition would claim that a trip there didn’t rank as a journey to foreign parts. Truth to tell, though, the improvement in relations with Britain over this perennial problem must rank as one of the real successes of the Zapatero administration.

Well, the recession must have well and truly arrived; I saw an Orange mobile phone outlet that had closed down this morning. Will they be like London buses and come along in droves now?

But amidst the gloom, there’s always time for a good human-interest story. This touching Anglo-Spanish example is headlined “A Happy Ending”. But, while I certainly wouldn’t want to wish the couple ill, since they’ve only just got married, I rather feel it’d be more accurate to label it “A Happy Beginning”. Well, what would you expect? We are all victims of our experience(s) . . .

Finally, my thanks to readers for comments on the Spanish word tirabuzones for ‘ringlets’. According to the dictionary of the Royal Academy – which does have its uses – it’s a corruption of the French phrase tire bouchons. Which means something like ‘stretched curls’, I suspect. So, nothing to do with mailboxes at all.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I’ve mentioned the brochure (belatedly) issued by the Pontevedra council on our summer events. As ever, this is in two parts and is written only in Gallego. Which all tourists, I assume, are expected to understand. One part relates to the events round the Fiesta of the Virgin of Pilgrimage (our patron saint) and the other relates to summer events in general. Here’s a picture of the guide as it is when it’s given to you.

And here how it looks when you’ve opened it out.

As you will see, one half is upside down from the other. But this, too, is traditional. Not so this year’s ‘star’ design of the whole thing. Which must have looked brilliant on the drawing board but, in fact, makes the bloody thing hard to open, as you catch your fingers on the points.

And talking of great decisions . . . I read today that the Galician government – the Xunta – sees the solution to having three small, uncompetitive international airports for a population of less than three million is not to rationalise them but to give each of them a specialisation. So, La Coruña’s will concentrate on people flying to and from Britain; Vigo’s will be the hub for flights to and from France; and Santiago will become ‘more international’. Meaning the Rest of the World, presumably. Now, this may be a stroke of genius or it may be a solution which only a committee of bureaucrats could come up with. My guess is it’s the latter and that the already-successful management of nearby Oporto airport in Portugal are rubbing their hands with glee. No wonder they have signs all over the place stressing that it’s the airport for all Galicians.

Two excellent bits of good news today:-

1. A young Galician lady from La Coruña was crowned Miss Spain yesterday. Albeit in Mexico, where the event took place;


2. I was not killed this morning by a 4 x 4 which raced round the roundabout at the bottom of the hill but screeched to a halt a metre away from me on the crossing. Mind you, it did belong to the Tráfico Department of the Guardia Civíl and, though I doubt anyone would have been prosecuted for running me down, it might have been a tad embarrassing for the council to explain why my blog had suddenly ceased. Well, maybe not.

Finally . . . My elder daughter Faye has very curly blonde hair, which naturally gets a lot of attention here. The Spanish word normally used for curls is rizos but the owner of one our favourite tapas bars said on Saturday night that she had tirabuzones. I think this word actually means ringlets, rather than curls, but what I’m actually interested in is its origin, as a buzón is usually a mailbox and tira means a strip of something. Anyone got any ideas?


Over in the Comments ‘section’, reader Cade and I are still having fun around the issue of subjugation of the Galicians by the Castilians. Though now without the personal insults that were his previous stock-in-trade.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Well, it’s been a gloriously sunny weekend here in southern Galicia and my daughter and her boyfriend have been up from Madrid, occupying my time. I haven’t read a newspaper or watched the news and my notepad is empty of jottings. But I did see both Lee Westwood and Tom Watson throw away the British Open on the last few holes. When they couldn’t Cink their putts.

So that’s all, folks. If you’re disappointed, try the Comments of the ineffable Cade over the last few posts. Priceless.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Although the letter H exists in Spanish, it’s always silent at the start of a word. But, of course, it has to be pronounced for foreign words. And when it is, it’s usually given the sound of the Spanish J. So it was that I was surprised to hear on the radio yesterday that the winner of the latest Tour de France race had been the terrifying-sounding Khaynreech Khessler. Or Heinrich Hessler, as he’s known back home in Germany.

I mentioned that one often finds fliers on one’s windscreen after parking in town. Or even outside one’s house. This week there was one for a course aimed at making you a Manipulador de alimentos. Or, according to my dictionary, a person who handles food. So, presumably a course on food hygiene. Rather than one aimed at giving you skills in making rude things out of carrots.

I read this week that there’s a mood of sackcloth and ashes in post-crisis Ireland. The Irish, it’s said, are angry with their government but, in a fit of collective guilt in respect of their overindulgence, blame themselves even more than they blame the politicians. I was tempted to attribute this to the instinctive guilt harboured by all Catholics but, when I asked myself whether the Spanish are showing the same sentiment, found it hard to conclude they are. Possibly more of a fatalistic “Well, it was too good to last and we probably didn’t deserve it. But, hey, it’s summer and Fiesta time. Let’s get on with the fun.”

And why not?
Although the letter H exists in Spanish, it’s always silent at the start of a word. But, of course, it has to be pronounced for foreign words. And when it is, it’s usually given the sound of the Spanish J. So it was that I was surprised to hear on the radio yesterday that the winner of the latest Tour de France had been the terrifying-sounding Khaynreech Khessler. Or Heinrich Hessler, as he’s known back home in Germany.

I mentioned that one often finds fliers on one’s windscreen after parking in town. Or even outside one’s house. This week there was one for a course aimed at making you a Manipulador de alimentos. Or, according to my dictionary, a person who handles food.So, presumably a course on food hygiene. Rather than one aimed at giving you skills in making rude things out of carrots.

I read this week that there’s a mood of sackcloth and ashes in post-crisis Ireland. The Irish, it’s said, are angry with their government but, in a fit of collective guilt in respect of their overindulgence, blame themselves even more than they blame the politicians. I was tempted to attribute this to the instinctive guilt harboured by all Catholics but, when I asked myself whether the Spanish are showing the same sentiment, found it hard to conclude they are. Possibly more of a fatalistic “Well, it was too good to last and we probably didn’t deserve it. But, hey, it’s summer and Fiesta time. Let’s get on with the fun.”

And why not?

Friday, July 17, 2009

It’s a feature of Spanish life that you get flyers on your windscreen if you park your car in town. More impressively, it’s another feature of Spanish society that the streets are not full of discarded flyers and other bits of paper. I believe this is because of the highly efficient daily street-cleaning schemes operated by most town councils.

Talking of parking . . . I have a new theory as to why there are never any places on the streets of Pontevedra. And a possible answer to my question of last week as to how on earth anyone finds a spot to park in near their house. This is that they don’t actually look for one. Rather, they head for the underground car-park which every block of flats has but, if they happen to see a space on the street, they opportunistically seize it. This, at least, is a logical explanation of why there are neither free spaces nor evidence of people driving round becoming increasingly distracted. But I’ve no idea whether it’s true or not.

And still on this theme . . . Another day, another square, another zebra crossing, another another inconsiderately parked car and another blocked bus . . .

In this case, the car driver didn’t appear when the bus-driver leant on his horn. Nor when the angry car drivers in the 100 metre tailback did the same. But this may have been because the offender had left his hazard lights on. So, technically his car wasn’t there. The bus eventually manoeuvred backwards and forwards until it get past the obstruction, with the driver – as usual – showing no sign of frustration or anger. My suspicion is that, given how many times a day this must happen to him, he knows any Anglo-type response would be life-shortening.

I listened this morning to a BBC podcast on the implications for societies – such as the UK’s – which are more unequal than others. An interesting finding was that, in the very equal Scandinavian societies, more than 60% of the people say they trust others. Down at the bottom of the table – at a mere 19% - was Portugal. Spain obviously comes somewhere in between but I wonder where. It is a pretty equal society but . . .

Talking of BBC podcasts . . . I heard one last week about the G8 conference, in which the reporter naturally spoke of Mr Berlusconi’s recent travails. Appropriately enough, his name was David Willey.

Finally . . . Another example of the Spanish antennae-manners dichotomy I regularly refer to. I picked up a leaflet on our imminent Jazz/Blues festival from a pile at the entrance to my midday bar. Having sat down, I put it with my other things on the bar and was surprised – well, not really – when the woman next to me picked it up. Suddenly realising that it might be mine, she asked me if it was. When I said yes but not to worry as there were many more, she went bright red, apologised profusely and refused to take it. As I say, I’m so used to this pattern now that I never get annoyed at the invasion of my space. Though coming back from the toilets and finding that someone has taken the newspaper on which I’ve left a glass of wine, a pen and a notepad can still irritate.

Postscript for reader Cade:
Keep sending you Bilious Thoughts from Leicester and I will keep deleting them. But, should you discard your abusive tone and write politely, I will be happy to leave them alone, however critical of me they are.
Up to you.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I have a Spanish friend who's had two English boyfriends and who, as a lawyer, has worked a good deal with British house buyers. As a result, she's pretty cross-cultural and, indeed, her Spanish friends are wont to call her La Britanica. Especially when she advises them their preconceptions are wrong. But I had to tell her on Sunday that she has as much chance of being truly British as I have of being truly Spanish. This was after she’d told me that another Brit’s accent was “worse than yours.” Nobody British, I told her, would ever say something as blunt as that but would opt for an alternative such as “not as good as yours”. If this is the hypocrisy that we Brits are regularly accused of, then I have to say I prefer it!.

And speaking of Spanishness . . . I was wrong last week to say that Tony had gone back to sea – the result of a mistake on my wall chart. Yes, I do track his movements. Anyway, he turned up at my gate this afternoon, asking for a favour. As the woman (“chica”) who looks after the kids is on holiday, the younger boy, Pablo, couldn’t be taken every day to the grandparents’ house so he could practice the piano. So, as I had a piano, they were wondering if he could use it. Well, I tried a few shafts of British humour designed to demonstrate I wasn’t totally enchanted with the thought of Pablo doing this every day for two months but, as these clearly went right over Tony’s head, I had little choice but to agree. And so they came at 5. And left at 5.05. Happily, a couple of scales with one hand seems to be young Pablo’s limit right now. And the other bit of good news is that Tony flies to Singapore tonight, to pick up his oil tanker. As it were. One door closes and another opens.

Pontevedra City now has a new tourist organisation and this is its HQ.

They say it will be functioning by September – when all the tourists have gone – but, as little is going on right now and nothing at all will happen in August, I find this a little hard to believe.

The rest of the city is equally ready for the summer tourist season, which began a couple of weeks ago. Here are a few fotos of the mess in front of the town hall and on the Alameda, where our Peregrina Fiesta events will take place in a couple of weeks. I will let you know how things go.

Which reminds me – I’ve now had a full look at the program for July and August and found that far more than two events had taken place before it hit the streets. But does anyone care? Or, as most of our tourists are Spanish, is it just assumed they’ll be unaffected by the lack of information and the mess in the streets? And only too happy to return for a second bite at the mouldy cherry.

To be more positive . . . We had a lovely exhibition of Galician musical instruments in the main square this week. I found the harps particularly attractive but this might just have been because the woman manning the stall was stunning. Frankly, I think she soon saw through my questions about design, wood used, strings material, etc. Or she would have done if I’d had the courage to ask them.

English Showers: The Sky woman went straight to the point this morning. “The showers will be heavy, slow-moving and thunderous. But also the least of our problems. Two to four inches of rain will fall on many places today.” What fun.

Finally, if you have any understanding of the Blair-Brown feud that has disfigured British politics over the last 12 years, this video of yesterday’s proceedings in the House of Commons may bring as many tears to your eyes as it did to mine. Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Over in the UK, they’ve just initiated a project called One & Other, under the aegis of the sculptor Antony Gormley. The idea is that, for a hundred days, members of the public will stand for an hour and do whatever they like on top of a large empty block of stone in one of the corners of Trafalgar Square in London. Different people will have different takes on this creative endeavour but I prefer to see it as artistry that was previously known as a plinth . . . Those interested can read more here, once they’ve recovered from a pun which mocks the age-old advice that “A pun should be a feather with which to tickle the intellect. Not a pistol let off at the ear.”

Well, the Spanish government has finally announced – a year late – a new model for financing the regions. Or “Autonomous Communities”. As befits a government mouthpiece, El Pais has little to say about it. But its opposite number for the PP Party, El Mundo, tears into it today - as a development that does nothing for national solidarity but a lot for the retention of support for the government in Cataluña and Andalucia. It will be a while before we know the devil in the detail but it does seem, that while everyone will end up with more money (query: from where?), the richer regions will do better than the poorer ones. One specific novelty is that Cataluña will be keeping all its tax revenue and paying nothing to the central coffers. Which looks like a perfect prelude to independence. No wonder they’re dancing in the street up there, albeit at the lugubrious pace of their sleep-inducing national dance, the Sardana.

Meanwhile, prospects for the Spanish economy continue to look poor and a Europe-wide survey tells us that - at 70% - Spain has the highest proportion of citizens who think the response of their government to the financial crisis has been inadequate. This is a good ten percentage points above the next nation and is consistent with last week’s report that most Spaniards think the President is making things up as he goes along. Which may actually amount to flattery.

The Galician Xunta has announced it will be relaxing the law preventing rural properties being re-classified as urbano and, thus, edificable. I’m a little confused by this as I’d rather got the impression the law was not proving much of a barrier to building developments. But maybe this is more true of other parts of Spain. Apart from, say, Gondomar near the border with Portugal. Where a major corruption case is proceeding through the courts.

Finally . . . The Sky weather girl told us this morning that the UK would be having ‘hefty` showers today. Getting rather carried away by her own eloquence, she later amended this to ‘hefty, possibly thunderous.’ Lucky Brits.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

One sometimes reads that one profession or other has the highest suicide rate in the country/world. Usually it’s dentists but what I can’t understand is why it isn’t weather forecasters on British TV. I mean, what can it be like, every single day of the year, having to tell at least half the population that rain is going to fall on them today? Incidentally, one of the main challenges for these people is to think up new ways to describe the arrival of the UK’s daily dose of showers. Having heard it this week on two different channels, the in-vogue expression of the moment seems to be “Showers will be bubbling up during the morning”. I guess it makes them more exotic. Like witches.

Readers with long memories may recall I once corrected the menu of a place along the coast here which, among other oddities, was offering “Mussels to the seaman’s blouse”. For Mejillones a la marinera. I was there again yesterday to find that, while most of the menu was now OK, they’d added the dish of “Gallega teat of fumbling with grelos”. This is simply Galician cheese – which comes in the shape of a breast – with turnip tops. And for the life of me, I can’t figure out where the fumbling element comes from. Perhaps some professional translator could help.

Talking of restaurants . . . I was in one on Sunday night where the two highly efficient waitresses spoke excellent English – still a rarity around here. They turned out to be Polish, leaving me wondering why foreign labour is needed when local employment rates are so high. Apart, perhaps, for a requirement to speak good English, my friends tell me that few young people here are prepared to give up their summers to hard work when they can live comfortably off their parents, doing (and paying) nothing. Which is understandable, I guess.

Here in Pontevedra, the guide for our July-August events finally emerged on Saturday. Needless to say, two of them had already taken place. So one wonders how well patronised these were.

I mentioned recently that I drive slowly down the road to the bridge into town as I have to pass two kids’ playgrounds frequented by youngsters from the nearby gypsy encampments. As if this wasn’t worrying enough, I also have to contend with five-year-olds racing their bikes down the middle of the road as they head home. Typical contrary gypsies. Why can’t they terrorise the pedestrians by using the pavements, like everybody else? [Note for American readers: Pavement is sidewalk in British English, not the road surface.]

Finally . . . In Pontevedra’s Vegetables Square – which actually has a (meat-serving) vegetarian restaurant in it – we used to have an “Indian” restaurant. Though it wasn’t very good, it did at least it had a soupcon of international flavour about it. But it didn’t last long and was converted last year into a Kebab house. This apparently found it hard competing with the other five Kebab houses that had sprung up almost overnight and now it’s become a tapas bar. Which is just what the city needed – another place offering exactly the same menu as the other 543 options in the old quarter. But I guess it’s profitable. So what do I know?

Monday, July 13, 2009

As I was leaving my regular bar at midday today, I got a call on my mobile. So I stopped to take it and instinctively moved to the left, to avoid blocking the doorway. As I did so, the sad realisation struck me that I am a pathetic victim of my own base culture and have no real hope of fully integrating into this society.

I was interested to read in a British magazine this week that “Conceptual art has collapsed under the weight of its own stupidity”. But I wasn’t too impressed to see that, according to the writer, a great example of what’s coming next is extra large photos of crushed butterflies. Which is a lot less stupid, it would seem.

I guess everyone by now has seen an example of the trousers (worn by the young of both sexes) that have the crutch at the knee, with baggy legs above and skin-tight legs below. Well, today I saw these taken to the logical extreme. The crutch at the ankles. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of witnessing these, it might take a feat of imagination to come up with a good mental picture.

Talking of fashion . . . El País today carried an article in which it was claimed that our friend Cristiano Ronaldo - because of the cultivation of his body and his penchant for tight clothes, chains and depilation - is a leading exponent of macarra chic. The word macarra was new to me and has, according to the writer, connotations of vulgarity, violence and hostility. My dictionary has lout; thug; vulgar, and flashy. So, a chav I guess. Which word, interestingly enough, may well have Romany links to chaval, the Spanish for boy or lad.

More seriously, El País yesterday carried the results of a survey of socio-political attitudes. I was amused to read that more than 60% of Spaniards think that both the President and the Leader of the Opposition make it up on the hoof. Or shoot from the hip. Or whatever other translation you prefer for improvisar sobre la marcha. Not that it calls for much thought to label your opponent a bare-faced liar.

Finally, I don’t say often enough that Spain is a great country which, if approached in the right way, can be rejuvenating. I certainly feel a lot younger than I would in the UK. But, in truth, I can’t hold a candle to the two queens of Spanish daytime TV. For, looking at their pictures in the press over the weekend, I realised they’re both now at least twenty years younger than when I came to live here almost nine years ago. Truly impressive.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Well, it was another bad day for the bull-runners in Pamplona this morning. Especially for the poor chap who was gored at least twice before he was dragged away under the boards by his feet. I wonder if the authorities will use their previous logic to say that, as no one was killed, things are safer than they were two days ago. Incidentally, one of the pre-run pictures was of a medic donning surgical gloves but I couldn’t help wondering how aseptic these would be after she was later seen scrambling over a fence to get to one of the injured.

It’s said that the French have a poor view of the Spanish. But, then, don’t they have a poor view of everyone? Anyway, I was reminded of this by a report on the France 24 TV channel that the Girona-Barcelona leg of the Tour de France was taking place in the south of Spain. Which displays a certain disregard for the facts, I feel.

My recent sorties into matters historical have thrown up contrasting profiles of Sir Francis Drake, here and here. The first is generally favourable and, for example, explains that he only embarked on his career of piracy after a spot of Spanish treachery. Of course. The second is less of a hagiography but, then, it is written by a foreigner.

For anyone whose appetite for knowledge of Brits in Galicia has been whetted by all this, here’s information on 6th century settlements in North West Spain.

Back to modern times . . . For those who are as confused as I am, here’s an Economist report on Spanish banks. There’s also an interesting article in the Business Section of today’s El País which concentrates on the regionally-organised and politically-managed savings banks.

Today’s El País also has a nice article on corruption in Spain over the last decade. Which is a nice link into the news that Tony Blair has lost the support of President Sarkozy for the future position of EU President, once the Irish have been drummed into line on the Lisbon Treaty. As a result, he’s no longer the favourite for this sinecure. This is now Felipe Gonzales – described as “Spain's charismatic socialist former prime minister, whose government collapsed in a sleaze scandal in 1996”. So, perfect for the job.

Finally . . . You may not have heard that 75,000 people filled Real Madrid’s stadium last week just to see Cristiano Ronaldo walk on the grass, smile and wave his hands. And another 5,000 were locked out. If you told me the suckers had paid for this privilege, I’d have to admit I’d believe you. And, sticking my neck out, I’d bet Ronaldo’s career in Spain won’t be successful. Like Figo before him, he’ll soon be spending as much time horizontal as vertical.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

As expected, the Pamplona authorities have said that the death of a young man yesterday will make no difference to their bull-running event. Using an excellent example of what I’ve long called the true-but-irrelevant school of logic, they’ve stressed that “If no one ran, there’d be no deaths”. This insouciant sentence alone would be worth millions to a negligence lawyer in the Anglo-Saxon world. And, in a reasoned editorial today, even El Mundo has pointed out it might be time to take some sensible measures, such as reducing the excessive number of what I called the other day “heroic idiots”.

But back to the detail – Before the start of each run, an arms-linked group of eight or nine policemen prevent the crowd from getting close to the pen the cows and bulls run from when the rocket goes up. I guess this is to allow the beasts to get up a good head of steam before they hit the throng. But, when the camera pans from the gates to the crowd, the cops are nowhere to be seen - either in the lane or on the other side of the fence. So, are they lifted out by helicopter? And do they have a more balanced view of the concept of safety than any of the other participants? Not to mention the organisers.

Ever the optimists, the Spanish government has said that the recession will end here in the first half of next year. Meanwhile, though, Spain’s is the only large economy for which the IMF’s forecasts this time round are even worse than the last lot for 2009 and 2010.

My historical search for info on Drake and Pontevedra threw up this Parador page. It’s a nice intro to the city. And an excellent example of the sort of English you get when you eschew using a native speaker and blow the budget on a relative or friend.

It was a bit of a Wild Life day for me today. First there was a dead rat on my front lawn this morning. Then there was a large green lizard and a two-metre snake on the forest track this afternoon. And now, this evening, I’ve just surprised a large mouse or small rat outside my back door. The lizard was chased off by my dog, Ryan. Which probably saved its life, as I suspect the snake was just about to wrap its dislocateable jaws around it.

Finally . . . A word of advice . . . Unless you love crowds, 6pm of a Saturday is not a good time to go shopping in a supermarket in Spain. At least not when several of the conurbation’s shops are closed because it’s the feast day of the patron saint of a part of it that used to be a separate village.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Well, things certainly took a different turn in Pamplona this morning. One of the six bulls did what it’s not supposed to do but what we all tune in to see – it stopped and turned on the crowd, killing one of the participants. This is the 15th death in the history of this event but it’s hard to see it leading to any pressure to change things. Health & Safety not being in Spain what they are in the USA, or even the UK. Not to mention the litigation and insurance backcloths. I might add that I didn’t actually see the bull-run this morning, as I still have no signal from the community TV and my portable set refused to give me a picture of the relevant channel. But, no matter. Given what happened, TV España naturally showed it a zillion times later in the morning.

Talking of rules and restrictions, there’s said to be a plethora of new ones on Spanish beaches this summer. As someone has said, the jury is out on whether this is a true societal change or merely a revenue exercise on the part of desperate and opportunistic municipal authorities.

I did get to Pontevedra’s archive this morning. I’m not sure what I was expecting but it certainly wasn’t that, after filling out the requisite forms, I’d be given a box containing original papers from the year 1589! Sadly, the yellow, dog-eared documents were covered in what appeared to be the scrawl of a 16th century spider and I couldn’t make much of anything. Though the words armada enemiga (enemy army/fleet) jumped out at me from one page. This reflects the fact that 1589 was the year Francis Drake attacked La Coruña and then sailed down the coast to destroy a monastery on the island of Tambo in the Pontevedra estuary. Coincidentally, this is the name of my street here in Poio. And the only bit of the sea visible from my house in the hills. There’s no evidence that Drake sailed further into the Ría and landed at Pontevedra itself. But the good burghers must have been terrified he would. It seems his parting shot was to chuck a statue of the Virgen of The Graces into the sea but you won’t be surprised to hear this was later miraculously rediscovered and restored. Drake seems to have had a thing about statues of virgins. Repressed sexuality, presumably.

Back to mundanity . . . . The Spanish Consumers’ Association reports that electricity prices have risen 23% in just a few years. Which is certainly likely to be true, though you’d never know it via communications from the supplier companies. Which number exactly nil. Monopolies are monopolies, whether they’re national (Spain) or ‘national’ (region). As it happens, I looked at my water/rubbish bill for the first half of the year today. There are 6 items on this and each of them rose between 2 and 13% in January, without any indication as to why. I should add that 95% of these charges – to me at least – are fixed. I could consume nothing and the bills would be much the same. What a cosy business.

Finally, I saw a wonderful example of the inconsiderate-parker’s art in town this morning. A woman left her car on a zebra crossing at the corner of a small square, meaning that the bus couldn’t make the turn. I managed to get my camera out before the horn of the bus brought the driver out of the café but didn’t realise it was set on video. So I only managed to get the car moving off. But you get the picture . . .

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Another boring bull-run in Pamplona this morning, with the toros not-so-very-bravos showing no inclination whatsoever to gore anyone. Not even the guy who got himself cornered on a 90 degree bend where death - or at least serious injury - seemed inevitable. But, no. Nothing. Nada. Not even a scratch. Even so, the TV station was so desperate for interesting footage, it gave us this clip over and over again. At least until I switched off. By which time my thoughts had wandered to the question of whether the same cows are used each year to lead the bulls from pen to bullring as fast as they can run through the ever-larger throng of heroic idiots. Or whether there are training days for new cows during the year. Hemingway would be proud of me, I’m sure.

All of this talk about the history of Pontevedra – and particularly the air of mystery which still hangs over General Homobod – motivated me to do something today I’ve been planning to do for years – pay a visit to the city’s archives. Except that I didn’t. I went down to the lovely new building next to the ugly new museum, to find this was the provincial archives. The municipal archives are still where they always were – up in Avenida de Crístobal Colón. Maybe tomorrow.

For years now, I’ve been telling visitors that the church of Santo Domingo next to the Alameda in Pontevedra had been reduced to ruins by Francis Drake when he sacked the city during one of his periodic visits. But this seems to be fanciful as there’s no evidence of this either on the web or on the placards outside the ruins. Actually, I'm not sure he actually ever hit Pontevedra itself. Rather, he seems to have concentrated on the Atlantic Islands off Vigo, plus the town of Bayona a little further south. And La Coruña further north. But there is a connection between Pontevedra and the infamous pirate/British hero. We have in one of our churches here the statue of Our Lady of Pastoriza (Shepherds?), which is said to have been damaged by Drake’s men during one of his raids on La Coruña and then brought here for safekeeping. Where it miraculously repaired itself. Anyway, more anon.

All of which reminds me . . . I got the English version of the city brochure from the Turismo today and was surprised to find no reference in it to ‘bloodthirsty incursions’ by English corsairs. Perhaps it will mirror the Spanish version when it’s revised.

I was enjoying a glass of wine and a tapas meal with two Spanish lady friends last night when my eyes began to itch rather badly They naturally asked me why and I said I suspected it was the smoke. They sympathised. And then each lit up another cigarette. I suppose their logic was that the place was so smoky their desisting would make no difference. But I’m only guessing here. And I’m sure they would have stopped if I’d asked them to.

Finally, a British columnist has taken issue with the government for its plans to reduce university fees for students who live at home during their course. The writer feels that, if this were universal, it would mean the end of the human race within a few generations. Her logic is that most middle-class teenagers have no understanding of the world and need to be kicked out of the house to learn to become mature and competent adults. But this can’t possibly be true. For, if it were, Spain simply wouldn’t function. Anyway, you can read more here.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

As I’ve said, for some years now I’ve tried to obey all speed limits when driving. Though I appreciate my record of three fines over the last 12 months might be seen as giving the lie to this. Anyway, I’m particularly careful when driving down the hill to park at the mall before walking across the bridge into town. This is because, firstly, there are children’s playgrounds on both sides of the road. And, secondly, because most of the kids using them come from the nearby gypsy settlements. Rumour has it that it’s not a good thing to even slightly damage one of these with your car. I say ‘rumour’ but we did have the report of a few years ago of an incident down south when a gypsy girl ran out a bar and across the road and was slightly injured by a passing car. The driver of which was then shot six times at close range by her father. Or rather five, as one shot went into the dashboard. Naturally, I try to keep this image in mind as I drive down.

The Ferpes shop I mentioned the other day turns out to specialise in lingerie. Another good reason why it was spelled the Gallego, and not the Castellano, way. En passant, I suspect ‘underwear’ is ropa interior in both languages.

Talking of shops . . . I walked past one this evening called Huevos Grandes, with the byline Dirt Shops. It specialises in motor-cycle gear. The literal translation of the Spanish is ‘Big Eggs’ but I imagine a Spanish reader could give us the real sense. And somebody might be able to explain the Dirt Shops bit.

On the subject of noise, I’ve been twice blessed this week. Not only has Tony gone away to sea but the Catalan kids who normally spend the entire month of July screaming in the pool next door appear to be giving us a miss this year. Which, I guess, is why the above-ground pool is currently being dismantled. There must be some way I can (noisily) celebrate all this. Especially as the change looks permanent.

Finally . . . I thought you might like to know that the budget for the new bus-stop down at the roundabout was 98,252 euros. But I’ve no idea what it actually cost. Secondly, after a brief hiatus, it has now resumed its previous role as a parking space. That said, we’re only in phase 2 of the transmutation, as so far the parking is only single file. It may be a few days before we get to doble and then – sure as big eggs are big eggs - triple fila. With all the chaos that causes on the roundabout.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

If you think I exaggerate about noise in Spain, read Lenox on the subject, here. In Galicia, 50,000 families are reported this week to be affected by excessive noise from nocturnal revellers. Against that, in the year since it came into force, only two people have been prosecuted under Pontevedra’s new law to ban binge drinking in the streets of the old quarter.

Likewise, if you feel I exaggerate about drug smuggling in Galicia, click here for an interesting development in the port I can see from my window.

It’s funny how coincidences arise. I mentioned recently that the USA is unpopular here for “essentially history-related reasons”. I was, of course, referring to the war of 1898 which resulted in Spain losing all of her remaining colonial possessions, including Cuba. Well, it turns out this disaster for Spain was something of a compensation for a bellicose American public which had been denied a confrontation with Britain around a border dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana. This had been averted – after much American anti-colonial sabre-rattling – by Britain conceding to the US demand for arbitration. Which took place in Paris and, ironically, found in 1899 in favour of the colonial power.

The running of the bulls began in Pamplona this morning. This is one of the few things I watch on Spanish TV. So, naturally, the satellite in our community is on the blink again. Watching on a portable TV this morning, I think I finally figured out why the course is always wet, causing the bulls to skid and crash at one corner in particular. It’s the consequence of the early-morning operation to clean up all the immense debris from the previous night’s revels.

Which reminds me . . . Our big fiesta month is said to be August but, in truth, things get rolling in July. As this happens every year, it would make sense to have the program of events out early this month. But it never is. When I asked the helpful young lady in the tourist kiosk yesterday when I could expect to see one, she thought maybe by the middle of the month. By which time some events will have taken place. This is not much of a problem for me as I come into town every day and can operate on the fly. But I have tenants in my house in the hills and, being foreign, they arrive with the ridiculous notion it’ll be possible to plan things in advance. Poor misguided fools.

Actually, I had a minor triumph at the tourist place. Having suggested the middle of the month for the bumper guide to events in July, August and September, she then apologised for not even being able to give me the standard monthly guide to normal events in July. “Don’t worry,” I replied. “I got one from a pile in the new museum last night, when visiting an art exhibition.” And then I knocked her down with a feather.

Finally . . . A comment on Wimbledon from a fine English journalist:-

“Every year, Wimbledon effortlessly exhibits everything that is pathetic, weird, embarrassing and unattractive in England and the English. And every year, with glib, blind vanity, England and the English assume they are exactly the reverse, an advertisement for all that is enviable and exceptional in the old place.”

No one can say I'm not even-handed.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Well, thanks to the research efforts of trusty readers and myself, we now know that, in 1719, a British raiding party descended first on Vigo and then on Pontevedra. It was under the command of Viscount Cobham, assisted by Vice-Admiral Mighells (“Micheles” in Spanish accounts). The party of 1,000 men which moved on to Pontevedra was led by General Wade but no mention is made in British sources of the elusive General Homobod. But there was a Brigadier-General Honeywood and so I’m naturally left wondering whether his name (like that of Mighells) has been transmuted over time. Incidentally, the British Army records have it that Wade et al ‘marched the 30 miles from Vigo to Pontevedra and caused the garrison there to flee in panic’. I know this to be a malicious calumny. It’s only 27km from here to Vigo. More info here, for those interested.

Briefly returning to the subject of closed shops . . . I was sad to see that one of my favouritely-named places – Don Bacalau (Mr Cod) – hadn’t survived. But I was less than surprised to see that the outlet in Vegetables Square selling nothing but soap had gone under. To be honest, I’d always been astonished it had opened in the first place.

Talking about Vegetables Square . . . At the flea market there on Sunday, I asked the price of a battered Castellano-Gallego dictionary, being prepared to go as far as a couple of euros. So when the guy asked me for 20, I could scarcely refrain from laughing before I put it back. Is the seller really unaware you can get one for nothing on line? In similar vein, my tenants told me later in the day they’d seen an old Cadillac bus at a garage near town, researched it on the net and identified the going price in the USA as around 2,000 dollars. So they called the owner and asked him what he was asking for it. “60,000 euros” was the reply. Presumably he knows something they don’t.

There continues to be talk of mergers between Spain’s troubled saving banks. Here in Galicia, there’s probably a strong case for merging our two biggies, Caixa Galicia and Caixa Nova. But, as a writer points out in today’s Voz de Galicia, standing in the way of any sensible outcome are the ‘Bonapartist’ attitudes of the respective directorates and the urban rivalries arising from their differently located HQs. Some head-knocking is surely required. If unlikely to happen, unless it’s made a serious precondition of a hand-out from Madrid.

Finally . . . I was right that the letter from the Xunta was about one of the three subjects I listed. But I was wrong to be so pessimistic, as it merely advised someone had objected to plans to clean up the forest and I could pop along to some office or other to see the details. And for this I – like all my neighbours – needed a registered letter?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

For essentially history-related reasons, the Spanish have long been the most anti-American nation in Europe. So it’s a shame not many of them will ever read this article, which destroys the myth that social/welfare services in the USA are inferior to those in Europe. Turns out that, in several cases, there’s more on offer there than there is here in (socialist) Spain. Who’d have thought it? By the way, Prospect is a left-of-centre magazine.

As in most Spanish cities, Pontevedra’s train and bus stations are on its outskirts, within a few yards of each other. Meaning a stiff walk or a taxi ride, if you want to get to or from the centre. But at least the former gives you a chance to clock the wide range of shops now boarded up en route – not to mention the ground-floor premises not yet bought or rented out in the massive blocks of new flats near the stations. Grocers, wine bars, estate agents, furniture stores and several others. But no mobile phone shops or hairdressers as yet. I guess things will have to get a lot worse for these to start shutting, despite their large numbers. And my impression is there are more kebab houses and health-food shops than ever. Unlikely as this seems.

It’s reported in the local press that Galician students of English score better than those in most other Spanish regions. Given how badly it’s spoken here, I have to assume this is in respect of mastery of the finer points of English grammar.

Which reminds me . . . I went back yesterday to the restaurant which – among other bloomers – gave ‘Prat in Garlic' for Gambas en ajillo. I checked out the printing of the translation I’d given them. And found it to be perfect. Except for the one Spanish word on it. Pimientos de Padrón was given as 'Peppers from Pardon'. As so often in life, you couldn’t make it up.

Finally . . . I have a registered letter from the Xunta to collect from the Post Office tomorrow morning. Will this be yet another speeding fine? Or the half-expected demand for more transfer tax on a speciously high transaction price for the house in the hills I bought a year ago? Or will it be just a notification that the undergrowth is going to be cleared from the land near our community? I fear one of the former but will know soon enough.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

One of the differences between Spanish (Castellano) and Galician (Gallego) is that many words which begin with H in the former begin with F in the latter. Since this is usually the way they were in Latin, this gives Galician – some say - a good claim to superiority. So we have horno/forno, hormiga/formiga, hormigón/formigón, hogar/fogar and so on. I thought of all this last night when I saw a shop called Ferpes. And realised it was a good thing the name was Galician. Probably.

In this year’s version of the brochure put out by TurGalicia on Pontevedra, the opening page tells us that this part of Spain has been a natural target for numerous people who ‘practised pillage’, including the Normans, the Danes, the French, the Portuguese and (“the most bloodthirsty”) English under “the pirate Drake and the general Homobod”. Which is nice. But, anyway, a Google search for said general Homobod threw up only this and this, being the same text from local tourist agencies. My thought this might be some Dutch corsair called Humboldt was not endorsed by a second search. So I’m offering a huge prize for the most plausible explanation for this Spanish libel.

Mention of this guide on Pontevedra reminds me it’s one of my monthly challenges to get to the Turismo after the guide to local events has been published but before it has flown from the shelves. As there’s really no way of knowing which day (relatively) early in a month this will be, the only sensible strategy is to go in every day, on the off chance. This month, though, we have the added element that, as in every year, the July guide will be combined with that of August, to cover the entire spectrum of our summer fiesta. The advice at the Turismo today was that I come back on the 8th or the 9th of July. With which I may or may not comply.

Finally, if you don’t yet know what the Spanish mean when they talk of a kamikaze driver, then read this.

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Irish band, U2, has been fined for making too much noise during their rehearsals in Madrid. This has to take the biscuit – foreigners being punished for being too noisy in Spain. I can die in peace now.

The oposiciones are the exams which legions of young Spanish hopefuls take to try and get one of the highly valued government jobs. From what I’ve seen, they’re as tough as they’re reputed to be. But they’re invigilated locally, not in Madrid. Which, I guess, is why one can read in the Galician section of El País . . . “The list of the successful aspirants is monopolised by the children and relatives of local mayors, of the head of the Ourense administration, of well-known lawyers and of judges,”

Another Spanish institution is the bridge, or el puente – the Friday or Monday which is added to the weekend if there’s a public holiday on Thursday or Tuesday. In a country dedicated to fun, these are important. So I gauge that the tone of this headline today was one of deep regret and disappointment – “The work and holidays timetable for 2010 will only permit two bridges.” Times are certainly tough.

I wrote recently about the expense being incurred at the far end of our community on new paving stones, while the wooden boards at our end are being left to rot. I speculated that the president of the community lived in that part of the development. And so it turns out to be. But, as of next year, my neighbour next-door-but one, Manolo, will assume this position. So I button-holed him today on the subject of getting the boards treated in his current capacity as vice-president. Pointing up my naivety, he said “No. We’ll wait until next year. And then I’ll have expensive metal walkways installed.”

Actually, this option was discussed at a three-hour community meeting I attended – without much Spanish – in November, 2000. The only decision arising from this was that we'd meet again within 20 days, to have another go at agreeing what to do. As it happens, the next meeting was some five years later. By which time, work had begun on installing the untreated wooden boards.

Finally, and self-interestedly . . . I read this week that Galicia is towards the bottom of the Spanish list as regards the provision of casas rurales, or rural getaways. Which is a tad ironic, given the magnificence of its countryside. And I’ve heard it said there’s also a shortage of eco- and gay-friendly places in Spain. To which all I can say is – If you’re looking for somewhere which fits one or all of these bills, click here. And then write to me on colindavies@terra.es if you want more info.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

I went to Vigo by train today and at least on the way back no one was sitting in my designated seat. On the outward journey, the alternative empty seat I chose naturally turned out to be the one allocated to the anally retentive pedant who’d been standing in the doorway of the carriage making a mobile phone call when I got on.

But anyway, the real reason for mentioning this is that, as we pulled into Vigo station and I casually glanced at the awning above the platform, I was flashed back to Alicante in the early hours of a summer morning in 1971. The brain being what it is, I also got the smells of Spain of 38 years ago. But, believe me, none of these can be found on Vigo station in 2009. Or anywhere else in Spain, I fancy. Indeed, I suspect that, if one could accurately describe this yesteryear mixture of cheap tobacco, body odour, garlic, cooking oil, drains and whatever else to a modern Spaniard, they simply wouldn’t believe you. Especially if you’re British and so come from a nation regarded as irremediably dirty by today’s Spaniards.

We all have our own way of dealing with the modern blight of telemarketing calls. I’ve said before that I usually claim I’ve just died, which is very effective. But, with more time on my hands, I sometimes try a bit of stuttering or pretend I’m deaf. But I won’t have to do any of this in future. In theory, at least. For I’ve registered at the new service of www.listarobinson.es and this will stop me being bothered by unsolicited phone calls and emails. Unless it results in more of these because some bastard has sold my numbers. Incidentally, I’ve no idea why it’s called a Robinson List. Perhaps someone could enlighten us.

If you’re going to apply (on line) for this service, be warned that you might have to enter the security code quite a few times (in my case at least 10) before the system deigns to accept it. I suspect it’s got something to do with upper and lower case letters. So keep clicking for a new code until it’s all or nearly all just numbers.

The main reason I go on and on about the 3 or 4 speeding fines I’ve received in the last year is that I’ve been genuinely trying to comply with the limits. Which is not something I could have said earlier in my life. So I feel very aggrieved to have been caught in carefully constructed traps. And now they’ve only gone and added insult to injury by giving an extra 2 points only to those ‘good’ drivers’ who’ve still got the 12 they were given two years ago. These, of course, are those drivers who never take their cars on the road. So didn’t even need their original allocation. I guess it makes sense to someone.

Finally . . . Now that our elections are well and truly over, the government has stopped pretending we’ll be able to get to Madrid on the AVE high-speed train by 2012. Now they say it’ll be 2015. But I’m still prepared to place a large bet on it being 2018, at the earliest. By which time Spanish stations will surely smell like heaven.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

It’s so rare to see a parking space in any of Pontevedra’s streets that I regularly wonder how folk ever find one. Is it all just a massive game of chance or are there actually ‘rules’ which make it easier for the cognoscenti to find a spot? Anyway, as I was walking into town at 11 this morning, I passed a car which was pulling away from the kerb and leaving a space free. This is so unprecedented that I felt like a character in a Bateman cartoon – The Man Who Saw A Parking Space In Pontevedra. Which, I guess, will mean nothing to most readers. Ah, well.

There are, it has to be said, certain areas of the city where there’s a lot of (free) parallel parking spaces and, if you drive round and round these for a while, you might strike lucky and coincide with someone leaving. The trouble with these areas is they’re patrolled by the worst of Pontevedra’s panhandlers – the less-than-lovely men and women who ‘guide’ you into a space and then hold out a hand for your contribution to their outgoings. Reputedly, these are essentially drug related and it’s arguable that it’s very pragmatic of the council to keep the petty crime rate down by allowing this to happen. Intellectually, I can easily understand this. But, emotionally, I find myself so irritated by being forced to pay for a free space that I cut off my nose to spite my face by resorting – on the very few occasions I drive into town – to one of the more expensive underground car parks. Which is marginally more attractive than being jailed for mowing down one of the beggars on the way into a space.

Talking of beggars . . . For a pretty rich country, Spain does seem to have a lot of them. Though, thankfully, we don’t get many of the “Look at my festering sore” variety these days. The market niche which seems to be getting crowded right now is that of the middle-aged, middle-class men who sit, silently, on a shop step with a small placard in front of them, saying something along the lines that they have no income but a family to feed. One of these I passed yesterday was using a ring binder, raising the question of whether he had a different page and different message for each day of the week. I really can’t decide whether any of them are genuine or not. So I give free rein to my cynicism and walk quickly past.

The number of boarded-up shops continues to rise in town. And I see today that even the snobby delicatessen in the centre has shut its doors. But it’s not all closures. A clothes shop on the edge of the main square has re-opened as a sweet and ice-cream shop, despite the fact there are several others within spitting distance. Must be a recession-proof business. Or have a long planning lead-time.

Finally . . . I see that President Berlusconi insists he’s never paid for sex. Well, neither have I. But I have been impoverished by two marriages. Does this count?

Incidentally, it’s just possible I’m more trustworthy on this score, than Il Presidente.