It being a beautiful day today, I decided to motor 20km to Caldas de Reís (Kings’Springs) to make some hotel bookings for the camino I’m doing with friends in June. And a typically Spanish experience it turned out to be. The preferred place was closed for the winter. As was the back-up. And also the Tourist Information office. But I did have a nice chat about Caldas with the town librarian – once she’d returned from lunch to re-start work at 5pm. And I was able to caste my eye over the town’s lovely church. And also to inspect the (proper) pilgrims’ refuge a few kilometres south of the town. Or at least the outside, as this too was closed. So not a complete waste of three hours. As it happens, we won’t be availing ourselves of the refuge’s communal facilities this time round but I might one day. And it looked very clean from the road.
Driving back, I was amused to hear a chap on the radio calling in to say it was no surprise to him the UK was coming out of recession. The British were slaves. First cousins to the Chinese. Worked long hours for low wages. And the old-age pension was only a scandalously low 300 euros a month . . . Well, I believe he was woefully wrong about the minimum pension, at least, but why let facts stand in the way of a good rant? I usually don’t.
Actually, there’s naturally concern here that Spain’s is the only major economy still in recession. And forecast to stay there until at least the end of 2010. The IMF has upped their growth forecasts for everyone else, it seems, but not for Spain. Rather depressing really.
Which reminds me that one of the regularly-cited structural problems in this economy is the two-tier labour market - comprising one segment on well-paid, ‘permanent’ contracts which are hard to terminate, and another segment on low-paid, temporary contracts which are, well, rather impermanent. During Spain’s phoney boom, the proportion of the latter increased significantly, possibly reflecting the fact most of the labour was provided by the millions of immigrants who came here after 2000, just after me. And guess which workers have been laid off since the ridiculous property bubble burst? In contrast, I heard today that the proportion of short-term contracts in the UK has been reducing over the last decade. No doubt some economist could tell us whether this is a good thing or a bad thing for the prospects of long-term British growth, now that the economy has – just about – emerged from the recession. Or is it all rather subordinate to the impact of a basement-price pound?
I wrote yesterday of the problems Madrid has with recalcitrant regional governments. But Spanish localism – and the tradition of powerful political barons – is such that much the same thing happens at a regional level Even within the same party. So it is that the Presidenta of the Madrid community, as I said yesterday, acts rather like a law unto herself and is even suspected of conspiring against the President of her own PP party. As if this weren’t enough for him, said gentleman has just decided to (try to) take firm action against one of the Galician urban barons who finds it difficult to toe the line of the Xunta run by the party of which he’s a leading light. The Spanish term for the membership of a political party is, I think, la militancia. Which strikes me as particularly apt. In the same (or reverse?) way it seems only right that the Spanish word discusión is best translated as ‘argument’. Or ‘shouting match’, even. It’s a robust business, politics in Spain. Venezuela’s Chavez would do well here.
Finally . . . I was amused to read today that in the port of O Grove along our coast – where my two ex-stepsons were born – the police have decided to shelve the investigation into the disappearance of 12 kilos of cocaine from their own lock-up. “It would be impossible to determine the author of the crime”, they claim. And I’m sure they’re right. And possibly not very wise. This is a town, by the way, where a few years ago the mayor was returned to power while serving a jail sentence for drug smuggling. He’d done a lot for the place, it was felt. Even if he was a bit of a rogue. But, Vaya!, there's the tradition of la picaresca to maintain!