Sunday, October 31, 2010

This week, I’ve twice being asked to quote my ID number. The first time was when the postman brought a packet from the UK and the second was when I took a visitor to Pontevedra’s excellent  - if eclectic - museum. Now, I can almost understand why the Post Office would want me to prove who I am, but the museum? Incidentally, on neither occasion was I asked to show my ID card in order to prove the number correct. And, as I always make a point of misquoting it, this rather highlighted the pointlessness of the exercise. Still, it helps to keep someone occupied and so employed, I guess. Or is it just a simple case of mindless bureaucracy? Or the Everest Syndrome.

But on to larger matters . . . In case you weren’t aware of this from reading this blog, El País confirmed today that “Spain is the EU country where’s there’s the greatest incidence of paying for sex and where this is least hidden from view.”  Tolerance, the paper said, had normalised the social perception of commerce in sex. Interestingly, El País described the attitude of the Catholic Church here in terms I’ve long suspected were true as regards Spanish wives . . . “It believes that the use of prostitutes is less of a threat to the family than the taking of a lover”. Or the lesser of two evils, in effect. The paper rightly dismissed this as double morality. Incidentally, there are, naturally enough, many word for prostitute in Spanish but the article provided a new one to me – una ramera.

I read today that David Cameron's Big Society “is the devolution of power, or it is nothing”. In contrast, the New Labour state was “unitary, uniform, controlled and homogeneous”. The Big Society, the writer insisted, “should, by definition, be untidy, disaggregated and joyously cacophonous.” Well, off the top of my head, I can’t think of a better description of the Spanish system of government. And I’m not sure it would be everyone’s model of choice.

But, anyway, there was a good example of devolved power in today’s El País – Down in Andalucia, the regional government is considering alleviating its healthcare funding challenge by introducing patient co-payments in hospital - for better food, hairdressing and laundry and the like. As far as I’m aware, Andalucia is the first region to contemplate this. The other thought that struck me is that this approach would be impossible in the UK’s NHS, whether under Old Labour, New Labour or the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition. Some things are going to remain centralised and unitary, come Hell or high water.

A conversation between me and my younger daughter before she left yesterday:-
Dad, do you have a pair of tweezers I can borrow?
Yes. They’re in my wash-bag . . . Hmmm. It seems they’re not. I must have lost them.
Well, I’ve got a confession to make. Last time I was here, I borrowed them and took them back to the UK.
So, what you’re really asking me is whether I’ve replaced the tweezers you misappropriated?
I guess so.
Well, no. Though I might have done, if I’d ever been told they’d been filched. You can use the pair I keep in the garage to take ticks off the dog . . .

Flight options into and out of Galicia now being what they are(n’t), said daughter flew back to England from Valladolid, where she met up with her sister who’d travelled up from Madrid. The latter had chosen a superior hotel specifically because it was said to be in a quiet area of the city. So you can imaginer her surprise and annoyance when she was woken in the middle of the night by a religious procession which featured perorations via a megaphone. Presumably related to All Saints or All Souls. So little wonder that Faye said it was enough to raise the dead.

Finally . . . There is a certain ‘people’ odour which I associate with Galicia. This emanates from clothes on some of the people I bump into and I initially attributed it to (relative) poverty. Now, however, I suspect it comes from storing clothes over the winter or the summer in damp conditions. I mention this because I was surprised to detect in on myself when wearing a new pullover recently given to me. Does anyone else living in Galicia know what I mean and have any info to impart on this smell?

Friday, October 29, 2010

I mentioned the other day that the Spanish property market was one of several things I doubted I’d ever understand. So, I could hardly stop nodding in agreement with this opening sentence in Mark Stucklin’s latest post over at Spanish Property Insight – “Anyone keeping an eye on the Spanish property market could be forgiven for feeling a little confused right now.” Which is a relief.

Yesterday’s pupil no-how was by no means the first time I’d experienced this. When my elder daughter left Pontevedra for Madrid, I inherited a couple of her pupils. Sometimes they’d turn up and sometimes they wouldn’t. And, in the latter case, there’d never be a phone call on the day or any sort of apology or explanation the week later. So I was rather grateful when the classes stopped. Abruptly and without any explanation of course. When Spaniards protest they’re not as rude as they’re painted by foreigners, it’s this sort of mala educación that springs to my mind. Though I’m not at all sure this sort of thing is considered to be bad manners by the Spanish themselves. Just the cut and thrust of life perhaps. Contrary views welcome. Especially from Spaniards.

Interestingly, my friend Peter avers that, based on his experience, there’s often no real interest in having the kid's English improved. Just a desire to be able to boast to one’s friends that one’s rug-rat is being taught English not just privately but by a native speaker. As he says, I really should be able to make effortless money out of it, one way or another. 

Finally . . . I should just stress that the pupil never turned up at all. It was the mother who arrived 50 minutes after the appointed start time to tell me what had (or hadn’t) happened.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Yesterday afternoon I foolishly allowed myself to be inveigled by my new (pushy-mum?) neighbour into giving at least one of her three kids an hour of English conversation a week. And we agreed on 5pm today for the first lesson.

This morning an American visitor was asking me about the scope for teaching English in Pontevedra. I advised her it would be relatively easy to find a job in a private academy but that the money was not great. Teaching privately offered more but was bedevilled by the fact Spanish students are hopelessly unreliable.

At 5.50 tonight, my neighbour turned up to explain that her daughter had had a maths exam at school and that she herself had been at lunch with a friend and had forgotten about the class. But that she certainly wasn’t an airhead and that it would never, ever happen again.

You really couldn’t make it up.

And I’d happily bet my life on it happening again.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The word “fairness” is much in use in the UK right now, as deep cuts in public expenditure are initiated. Of course, “fairness”, means different things to different people, even in the same culture - as the dozens of articles and commentaries in the British press amply show. And then there are the different perspectives as between cultures. Back in the UK, one gets the impression that 60+ years of welfarism have moved things along a certain continuum. Or, in effect, changed the terms of debate. As most isms, do. Here in Spain, welfare is less advanced (if that’s the right word) and people, perforce, generally depend more on themselves and on their families, compared with the UK. Perhaps this explains why some, at least, of the things which obsess the Left in the UK seem to matter not a jot here. For example, all state school teachers here are civil servants. Like teachers everywhere in the world, they tend to be a left-of-centre lot. But no one thinks it strange they have private medical insurance. Similarly, it doesn’t seem to be a huge thing here in Spain that levels of healthcare spend differ from region to region. As does the quality of provision, of course. It’s accepted as a fact of life. Or, rather it is now, but one wonders whether it will be in, say, twenty years’ time, when state provision of welfare has inexorably increased.

By the way, while there may be a lower total of welfare provision here in Spain, certain elements of it are superior to those in the UK. Pensions, for example. Though this, too, is something that differs from region to region, without causing an outcry about a ‘post code lottery’. Ditto state education.

Despite believing that everything strange in a culture not your own will eventually prove to be logical and cogent, there are several things about Spanish society I wonder if I will ever fully understand. One of these is the property market. Specifically the rental sector along this coast. Another thing is the structure of the country’s police force. I say this because the eleven Lugo policemen I mentioned yesterday come from at least three forces, all operating in the same city. But, as I regularly say, it must make sense to someone. Otherwise it wouldn’t happen, would it?

As I type this, there’s (naturally) an (unwatched) TV showing a film in the corner of this bar. Without looking at it, I can tell – with 100% conviction – that it’s dubbed. This is because of the artificial tone of the actors – as if they’d all recorded their bits on different days and in different places. Or as if everything’s being delivered by male and female computers, with the latter doing every part from five to ninety-five. Does no one Spanish ever notice or object to this, I wonder.

So, Paul the octopus has passed away. Without forecasting his own demise, I suspect. And he got his own obituary in El Mundo today. Which is still more than can be said for poor Norman Wisdom.

Finally . . . . For those interested in Getting to Galicia by air and road:-
  1. Rubbing home the point I made the other day – that they have all the best cards – Ryanair have declined to attend today’s meeting of the Technical Committee of the Committee for Galician Air Routes. Instead, they’ve invited the Xunta to send a negotiating team – cap in hand, I guess – to Dublin. If the Xunta didn’t previously know what a hard bunch of bastards they were dealing with, they do now. If you treat your customers like muck, you’re hardly likely to give regional governments which don’t play ball better treatment. Amateurs against professionals, I fear. Even if the former weren’t divided among themselves, they’d be up against it. But it’s nice to see the Irish using the divide-and-rule strategy of their erstwhile perfidious colonial masters . . . .
  2. The Galician business community has appealed to Brussels in respect of the indescribable mess created by the Portuguese government’s mis-managed installation of booth-free tolls on all major roads into Oporto and its airport. Meanwhile, it’s still not clear how you can get hold of one of the expensive gadgets which will stop you being hit with a huge fine when you (inescapably) venture onto one of these. And it comes to something when the Spanish banks which thought they’d be able to sell the gadgets attribute the confusion and delay to “Portuguese bureaucracy”. But everything is relative, I guess.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Having predicted that a deal will ultimately be done, I wasn’t too surprised to read today that Ryanair has been invited to attend the next meeting of the Technical Sub-Committee of the Committee for Galician Air Routes. The latter I believe is the committee to end all committees; it has over thirty members (with representatives from each of Galicia’s three small airports) and all decisions have to be unanimous. Can you imagine the sort of business executive who thrives in Ryanair having fun at such a meeting? Anyway, don’t be surprised if Ryanair don’t actually stop all their flights from Galicia as of next January.

Nationally - and rather more importantly - the contenders appear to be gearing up for the race to take over the loser’s garland from President Zapatero after the 2012 general elections. Or possibly before. The front runner is the survivor from the last socialist administration, Sr Rubalcaba, and the long shot is the Minister of Defence, Carme Chacón. As someone wrote last week, this 39 year old has two things going for her – she’s female and she’s Catalan. On the other hand, he added, the two main strikes against her are that she’s female and she’s Catalan. Personally, I’d be astonished if she made it. But anyway, here’s The Economist’s take on things. In my book Sr Zap will go down as the guy who wasted a golden opportunity to deal with some of Spain’s structural problems, in favour of majoring on admirable but less important improvements to the country’s social fabric. Perhaps socialists always will.

One of said social measures was the anti-smoking law of January 2006, which I greeted with rapture until I realised it was and became, in the words of El Mundo, “One of the weakest and least respected [anti-smoking] laws in Europe.” Come next January, the pendulum will swing arguably too far in the other direction, when the toughest law in Europe will be introduced. Which seems an odd way to go about things but there we are. Spain is always different.

As for the leader of the Opposition, Sr Rajoy, he looks set to take over from Sr Zapatero in 2012, even though the reputations of both he and his PP party continue to sink. Hard as this may be to believe, Rajoy is reported to have sent a message of support to the mayor of Valladolid excoriated last week for his sexist remarks about a new female minister.

As for the even-more-important subject of Spain’s economic recovery, things continue to look bleak both for overall growth and for the astonishingly high unemployment rate of 20% plus. Meaning it’s unlikely Sr Zapatero (nor whoever his successor might be) will be able to go into the 2012 elections saying anything like “Yes, we make a helluva mess but we’ve cleared it up pretty well.”

As you’d expect, now that there are a lot fewer property deals for local politicians to facilitate and take advantage of, the public sector ‘corruption rate’ in Spain has stopped rising, after several years of growth. It remains at last year’s level of 6.1. However, Spain has fallen from 23rd to 30th position in the international table compiled by Transparency International. And with reports today of more corruption in one or more town halls, the PP party is clearly doing its best to push Spain further down the table. See here and/or here.

Talking of corruption, the Galician city of Lugo now appears to resemble Chicago at its worst. A total of eleven police officers from various forces have now been arraigned for involvement in a mafia operation encompassing people trafficking, money laundering, prostitution, drug and arms trafficking and the grilling of human babies for consumption at public orgies. Though the evidence for the last charge is slim.

Finally . . . Here’s an article on how expensive the internet is here in Spain. It reminded me of a comment I recently saw from a Spanish politician – “We now pay north European tax rates for south European services.” Which has the ring of truth about. As regards prices, as well as taxes. So thank God the pound is rising again. This week.

Monday, October 25, 2010

If I look at all the (English) books on my shelves, the titles on the spines are virtually all the same way round, running from the top to the bottom. And meaning you may have to tip your head to the right. Checking this out in the local library today, it was immediately clear that things are much more anarchic when it comes to Spanish books. And you may have to twist your head repeatedly in opposite directions. So, is this some sort of metaphor for life in Anglo and Hispanic cultures? I suspect so.

Health and Safety excess finally arrives in Spain  . . .  Ladies of the night working on the roadside outside a town in Cataluña have been ordered to wear fluorescent bibs, on pain of a 40 euro fine. But they probably charge more than that for taking them off.

And down south in Garrucha a couple of women have been arrested for spiking the drinks of elderly men they’d groomed via the internet and then robbing them blind. Presumably there’s no ‘club’ in Garrucha where they could do this in the more traditional way.

Finally . . . Although the Voz de Galicia fears that Vigo airport may soon be a phantom facility, 74% of its readers feel the Galician government was right not to subsidise low-cost airlines. Good to know the voters around here are as stupid as the votees. As they say, the people always get the government they deserve.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I’ve been trying to avoid referring to this but the pressure is too great. Plus I’ve got visitors from the UK and am pushed for time tonight . . . “An Ecuadorean has snoozed his way to win the title in Spain's first national siesta championship.” Siestas, I guess, were invented for folk too tired to take part in the fiestas.

More seriously, here’s news of a Spanish satirical magazine discovered by Guy Hedgecoe at Qorreo. As he says, “El Mundo Today is hilarious and a refreshing antidote to those who take Spanish news, media and culture too seriously”. I particularly like the report of the death of the kid who used to do Miró’s stuff.

Finally . . . Here’s an authoritative page for any of you who still doubt that Christopher Columbus (Crisóbal Colón) was born in my barrio of Poio, across the river from Pontevedra. More accurately, in the hamlet of Porto Santo. Where he first used to play with boats.

Finally, finally . . . I’m writing this in a wi-fi café next to a table of people talking in sign language. From the frenetic arm actions, I’m forced to the conclude that Spaniards shout even when they’re mute. Funny thing is, I'm so inured to actual noise, I've found the arm-waving more of a distraction . . .

Tailnote for new readers: The first nine chapters of my daughter’s novel can now be read and/or downloaded in pdf form, for easy reading. It’s a “Fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

No sooner do I make a point about the importance of fiestas in Spain than I find in my mailbox an 8 page leaflet from our local council entitled “Fiestas Special”. Its sole purpose seems to be to remind us what a great time we all had last summer as a result of the council’s “important and indispensable investment”. Of our money. Mind you, I notice that the paper isn’t glossy. So they can’t be accused of not making economies.

Which reminds me . . . When I first came to Pontevedra around twelve years ago, there was no fiesta in September. Now, though, we have the Feria Franca (or medieval fair), which started small but is now huge. Five years ago, we had no fiesta in October. But next week sees the city’s version of the Munich Oktoberfest. Can’t wait to see what we’ll be having in November within a year or two. Crisis? What crisis?

For the vast majority of time, you’d be forgiven for thinking ‘Old Spain’ had disappeared completely. But then along comes some pillock who makes a macho comment that takes us back several decades. This time it’s the mayor of somewhere down south who made a lewd comment about one of the new female cabinet ministers. I wasn’t quite sure what his words meant but the graphic gesture of the barman I asked left little room for doubt. I can’t say I was surprised to see the mayor is a member of the right-of-centre PP party but I was a little taken aback to read he’s a gynaecologist. Illogical as that might be. I dread to think what his bedside manner is like.

The leader of said PP party is the deeply uncharismatic Pontevedran, Mario Rajoy, who’s so bad he ranks as the main electoral asset of the beleaguered president, Sr Zapatero. That aside, he came up with a nice response to the surprise government reshuffle of this week. Or, rather, his scriptwriters did – “”They’ve changed the musicians but not the conductor nor the score.” If you’d like to know more about this development and its implications, click here for Guy Hedgecoe’s informed overview in Qorreo. Essentially, while moving rightwards with his policies, Sr Zapatero has moved leftwards with his ministerial personnel. This appears to be an attempt to lure back disenchanted socialist voters, who currently look like staying away from next year’s urns in their droves. As Guy says, decisive but perhaps a little too late.

Incidentally, all the new members of the government were sworn in before a copy of the Spanish Constitution, a Bible and a crucifix. Which seems a little anachronistic and excessive even by God-ridden US standards. I wonder how many of them really are practising Catholics. I do fancy, though, that I’ve read that this mode of swearing your allegiance is not compulsory and that there’s at least one alternative. But I can’t recall what it is. I don’t suppose it involves Mephistopheles. Even if it would be more appropriate for some of them.

Here in Galicia, our government’s budget for 2011 is around 11% down on this year’s. The level of spend will, therefore, be around that for 2006. There will be screams of pain, of course, but I don’t recall anyone complaining back then that this wasn’t nearly enough. And we all got by somehow. Possibly with smaller fiestas.

Finally . . . It’s been announced that there’ll be a competition to decide between the governments of Portugal and Galicia as to which has been more inept in handling the issue of road and air travel in their respective bailiwicks. This, of course, follows the Portuguese government’s “third world” implementation of a decision to put tolls on all major roads in the north of the country, and the Galician government’s failure to reach an agreement with Ryanair so as to keep it flying into and out of our region. For what it’s worth, I believe the Xunta will finally realise all the cards are in the airline’s hands right now and beg it to return to the table. By which time, of course, the price will have gone up. And the policy of having three small airports which can be played off against each other will have been shown to be as strategically stupid as I’ve long said it is. But we will see.

Tailnote for new readers: The first nine  chapters of my daughter’s novel can now be read and/or downloaded in pdf form, for easy reading. It’s a “Fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I finally got to see them laying stones is Plaza de España in front of the town hall today. This may because the work is now said to be finishing by 12th November. Contrary to my own impression that things have been slow and that completion is rather belated, today’s Diario de Pontevedra insists the work is proceeding a todo ritmo, or at full speed. But I’ve long since concluded the paper is a good news rag, financed once way or another by the local council. So I guess it’s no surprise we differ on this. More importantly, the council has announced that major summer events will now be held in this square, rather than in their usual venue, the town’s main square. So, I wonder if they’ll now change the name from Plaza España to Plaza Fiesta. After all, the two words often seem interchangeable here. Ironically, La Fiesta Nacional is usually taken to be the bullfight. Whereas I see La Fiesta Nacional as, well, La Fiesta.

And talking of words . . .  Here’s a bit of Spanglish I don’t recall quoting before – un making off. Which is, I think, the filming of a documentary about the filming of something else. As in Terry Gilliam’s Lost in La Mancha. By the way, if you’re the person I’ve lent this to, please write.

Just going back to the book I mentioned last week – The Cairo Trilogy – the other thing that astonished me about the beauty criteria of the place and the time (the 1920s to the 1940s) was the importance of eyebrows meeting in the middle. But at least there was no eulogy to plaited underarm hair.

Within 48 hours of finally paying for the internet order I had difficulty with on Wednesday, I received an email from DHL Spain telling me they had a package for me. But Google (Gmail) declined to send this to me as they feared it contained a virus. A quick check confirmed it had nothing to do with my order and was, indeed, an attempt to get a virus into my machine. So hats off to Google. But what a coincidence to receive this message so soon after the order. Or was it really a coincidence . . . .?

Here’s a surprising statistic that one doesn’t hear a lot about – the incidence of mad cow disease in Europe:-
  1. Ireland
  2. Spain
  3. England.
So . . . I wonder if France has banned imports of Spanish beef.

Finally . . . Here and here are references in (sort of) English to the book I mentioned yesterday which proves beyond a scintilla of a doubt for everyone who lives around here that Christopher Columbus came from a village in the parish of Poio. The author is said to be of Italian extraction. But Philippot???

Tailnote for new readers: The first nine chapters of my daughter’s novel can now be read and/or downloaded in pdf form, for easy reading. It’s a “Fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Spain’s tough new anti-smoking law went through the lower house of parliament yesterday and is now expected to pass the Senate and come into force on January 2. Much as I detest the habit, the libertarian in me regrets that smokers will soon have nowhere to indulge it apart from their own home. Perhaps we really will see some “smokers’ clubs” in which they’re free to do so. Served, of course, by staff who are smokers themselves and have no objection to working there.

I heard this morning that Ryanair were scrapping their flights into and out of Santiago de Compostela but assumed this was simply their normal winter practice. But, no, it seems they have indeed decided to stop all their flights, on the grounds the Xunta has not been cooperative enough with them. Meaning inadequate subsidies, I guess. So, that’s both EasyJet and Ryanair who’ve walked away from the table, leaving us bereft of low-cost airlines. Perhaps the Portuguese government got wind of all this before they decided to put tolls on all the roads down to Oporto airport from this month. If not, they’ve just had another gift from the Xunta. But who wants (foreign) tourists anyway?

Talking of travelling . . . I’m thinking of going down to Morocco for Christmas. If I do, I won’t be switching my mobile phone on. My elder daughter was there last month and has just received a bill from Orange for well over 200 euros. Much of this is for a host of very short calls to her number, generating a ‘roaming’ charge of 1.50 each, plus tax. As she didn’t recall receiving any of these, she took it up with Orange. As you’d expect if you’ve dealt with any phone company here, the answer was “We don’t mistakes. If it’s on the bill, it’s correct. Cough up.” To her question about whether these could be fraudulent calls – possibly from someone in Morocco with a vested interest in sharing the roaming charge – the answer was “Not as far as we’re concerned. Cough up.”  I’ve advised her to take the matter to El Consumo, of course.

But some good news for those of you coming to Pontevedra – The new museum I posted pictures of the other day finally has an opening day of 29 October. As it that weren’t enough, here in Poio November will see the opening of a museum dedicated to Cristobal Colón. This, of course, is Christopher Columbus and the museum will honour the fact the great man was actually born right here in Poio. Where his ship the Santa Maria (originally La Gallega) was built. Honest. If you don’t believe me, write to me and I’ll give you the name of a book (in Spanish) which proves it.

Finally  . . . Another correction. Turning Wayne Rooney’s 500,000 pounds a week into an annual salary yesterday, I used a factor of 12 to arrive at what I called an insane amount of 6 million pounds a year. It should, of course, have been a factor of 52, meaning a salary of 26 million pounds a year. Which is so far beyond insane I almost feel sorry for Mr Rooney, his wife and his kid(s).

Tailnote for new readers: The first eight chapters of my daughter’s novel can now be read and/or downloaded in pdf form, for easy reading. It’s a “Fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Interesting to see that a British MP is in trouble for an unlicensed extension to his villa down south. Doing things illegally is called a la Gallega here in Galicia and I imagine there’s a similar phrase in every region of Spain. I’ve more than once heard it said by local officials that problems won’t usually arise unless there’s a complaint from one of the neighbours. As, indeed, was the case with my neighbour, Pablo del Bosque. Calling on him the other week, I asked what had happened to the house in his grounds which his parents had lived in. Knocked down as illegal, he informed me - as a result of a complaint from an interfering busy-body who lives way down the hill and seems to make a hobby of this sort of thing.

I had trouble last night paying by credit card for an item I need from the UK but was pleasantly surprised to get an email this morning from the supplier saying they’d noted this and wondered if they could help. Somehow, I can’t imagine this happening if I had problems booking a train journey with RENFE. For example.

Following a government reshuffle, there are now new names on some of the cabinet deckchairs. Perhaps the most interesting is the promotion to Number Two of the man who many see as the leading candidate to replace the discredited Sr Zapatero ahead of the general elections in 2012, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba. Apart from not being very telegenic, the latter sports a beard. This alone would disqualify him from a career in politics in the UK, where face fluff is considered very suspect on a man. Even more so on a woman, of course.

Talking of the lack of telegenicity . . . The previous Number Two to President Zapatero was a woman of quite terrifying appearance, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega. She’s been summarily booted upstairs, I gather, and my suspicion is that most of the country eventually became as frightened of her as I always was.

Finally . . . A couple of corrections . . . Firstly, it’s 77 euros, not 70, that you now need to pay to get on any of the main roads in North Portugal, say if you land at Oporto and want to drive to Spain. And Wayne Rooney is seeking 200,000 pounds a week, not a mere 170,000, from Manchester United. Or, rather, this was last night’s rumour. Today’s is that Manchester City are prepared to pay him 500,000. Or six million pounds a year. Utter madness.

Tailnote for new readers: The first eight chapters of my daughter’s novel can now be read and/or downloaded in pdf form, for easy reading. It’s a “Fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I wonder why it is that 85% of those who bothered to vote in an El Mundo on-line survey felt that Spanish kids wouldn't go as far as their French counterparts and protest against the possibility of having a quality of life less good than that of their parents. Is it, perhaps, because they just can't imagine this happening? Or is it because they feel confident that, if they can't live off their parents or their inheritance, they can always find someone else? Or is it simply because most of them still live at home and their parents wouldn’t let them?

I’ve mentioned a few times that the airport down in Oporto benefits from the infighting between Galicia’s three small airports. But the latter have now been given a ray of hope. By the Portuguese government, of all people. The latter has just introduced tolls on all main roads down to the airport, ensuring that we’ll have to a pay a minimum of 70 euros even if we’re only going to make the journey once. This is because there’s no way to get there without buying a gadget that lets you through the booth-less tolls, plus a minimum of 50 euros credit for this. One can understand that they’re looking for new revenue from wherever they can get it down there but did they have to shoot themselves in both feet in the attempt? I won’t be surprised to see a change of policy quite soon.

Which reminds me . . . The Pontevedra town hall has just decided to arbitrarily re-draw the local maps and bring in numerous businesses in the nearby port of Marín. To whom they then sent 4 years worth of municipal tax demands. As you can imagine, this hasn’t gone down too well with our neighbouring council. The first of many such spats, I imagine.

Forgive yet another picture of the public works outside the town hall but I wanted to point out the piles of lovely bricks that are stacked there, alongside the work that's already been done. The quality of the latter looks terrific to me but the slow pace at which it's being done is astonishing. As with the building site behind my house, days pass without any sign of anyone doing anything. The inescapable conclusion is that several sites are being worked on at the same time, on the principle that you can displease all the people all the time.

If you’re interested in Galician literature but need it translated into English, try this - Breogán’s Lighthouse: An anthology of Galician literature. It contains more than 200 texts of mainly poetry and fiction, covering medieval literature, the so-called Dark Centuries and the 19th and 20th centuries.

Finally . . . The new museum showing the huge defensive ditch just inside Pontevedra’s walls is still not open but I managed to get these sneak pictures today. The first is from just inside the entry doors and the second from further in, near the ladder you can see in the first. When challenged, I asked when it would be open, to be told that they had no idea . . .

Tailnote for new readers: The first eight chapters of my daughter’s novel can now be read and/or downloaded in pdf form, for easy reading. It’s a “Fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The eternally optimistic Spanish president, Sr Zapatero, predicted over the weekend that, come the middle of  2012, the Spanish economy will be booming, the unemployment problem will have been solved and the PSOE socialist party which he heads will have won all the interim, local, regional and national elections. As if this weren’t enough, the Basque terrorist group, ETA, will have disbanded, the scar of prostitution will have been erased from the face of Spain, all politicians will have become honest and everyone above three in Spain will be speaking fluent English. To cap it all, pigs will have sprouted wings and will be filling the sky with happy grunts. OK, I’ve made some of this up. But you have to guess which, as none of it’s remotely credible. El Mundo called Zapatero’s address to the party faithful un cuento de la lechera, in reference to a milk maid who, while day-dreaming of a bright future, tripped over a stone, spilled her milk and ended up with nothing. Meanwhile, Zapatero just has egg on his face. But he should be well used to that by now.

Back in the real world, the Catalan Constitutional court (every region has one, I think) has told the Girona authorities that they can’t go on blocking the construction of Spain’s largest brothel in La Junquera, even if the owner has been arrested several times - but not convicted, I guess - for suspected people trafficking and living off prostitution. After all, he has his rights. And it’s a matter of pride, I guess, that Frenchmen flock across the border to Spain, whereas it all used to be the other way round.

Still in Cataluña . . . It’s reported that one of the fused savings banks (cajas) which received money from the central fund (the FROB) to assist with the merger process has used 490 million euros of this to buy Catalan government bonds. Which possibly isn’t what the fund was meant for. But a friend in need . . . There are favour banks as well as money banks in Spain.

Back to non-credible statements . . . Edward Hugh here takes a look at two recent reports on the Spanish housing market – the creature I said yesterday I’d never understand – and concludes that one of the reasons for discrepancies (not to mention suspended belief in the official view) is that the banks - Spain’s largest realtor – are moving the properties on their books ‘out of sight’. This is in response to pressure from the Bank of Spain but is presumably not what the BoS had in mind.

And back to President Zapatero . . . He’s now being kept in power by a pact with the Basque National Party (the PNV) which is actually out of power in the Basque Country. As Guy Hedgecoe at Qorreo points out here, this means President Zapatero is allied in Madrid with a party ousted by his own socialist colleagues in the Basque country. Guy calls this a “political spaghetti junction” – in reference to a famous UK road interchange – but my question is whether it could happen in any other country in the world. Even a truly federal one. Or is it a reflection of the uniqueness of Spain’s central/regional set up?

Finally . . . I attended a charming concert by a Canadian chamber orchestra tonight. Particularly enjoyable was a piece from a virtuoso flautist. Which I would have enjoyed even more if someone in the row in front of me hadn’t broken wind just as it was reaching its climax. Mind you, when the average age of the members of the Pontevedra Filharmonia is probably a good few years higher than mine, I guess you’ve got to expect this sort of thing. Incidentally, the orchestra gave us two ‘topical’ encores - Shostokovich’s ‘A Spanish Dance’ and Schuman’s “A Spanish Love Song’. Which you can certainly get away with in Galicia, but possibly not in Cataluña and the Basque Country. I do hope someone warns them before they get there.

Tailnote for new readers:  Exciting news. The first eight chapters of my daughter’s novel can now be read and/or downloaded in pdf form, for easy reading. It’s a “Fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

This post is coming to you courtesy of Everton’s win against Liverpool today. And I am back to being sympathetic to the plight of the latter. May they win at least half of the rest of their games this season.

A propos 1 . . . In El País today, the excellent John Carlin addresses the question of why anyone sane would want to buy an English Premier League team. As he says, anyone who invests their money this way would have more chance of getting it back if they chucked it into the sea. Carlin concludes that the new American owners of Liverpool will bleed money in a vainful and vainglorious attempt to achieve what no one else yet has. And that, like their (also American) predecessors, they’ll end up being detested and turfed out by the all-powerful fans. And he’s surely right.

A propos 2 . . . Up in Barcelona, the fans who comprise the ownership of the football club there have voted to take legal action against a recent president. They’re comparing him with the infamous Jesús Gil, recently mentioned in despatches here as the possible model for all the crooks and fraudsters in the South and East currently being taken through the Spanish courts. Although based in Marbella, Gil was the owner of the Atlético Madrid team and I doubt I could do justice to all his criminal activities, even if I knew what they were.

As if all this football-related nonsense wasn’t enough, we’ve also had claims today of members of the FIFA committee demanding huge bribes for their votes on where a future competition will be held. Not hard to believe really, given the sums of money swilling around the game. Which reminds me . . . Wayne Rooney is said to be threatening to leave Manchester United unless he’s paid 170,000 pounds a week. Yes, a week. Perhaps he’s got a pushy wife. Or needs a Formula 1 car for his garage.

Talking of undeserved income . . . I wouldn’t usually put the words ‘austerity’ and ‘Brussels’ in the same sentence but am forced to now that we know that, in contrast to almost every government you can think of, the Eurocrats there are seeking approval for an increase in spending for next year. And who’d bet against them getting it? The national governments – or some of them at least – are said to be unhappy but we will see.

Finally  . . . If there’s one aspect of Spanish life I suspect I’ll never understand it’s the property market. The latest figures suggest a major uplift over the same month last year but this has been dismissed by some as a mini-bubble, brought about by changes in the law on tax allowances from the end of this year. And on the fact the banks are flooding the market with properties at knock-down prices. But who really knows? Time will tell. As ever.

Tailnote for new readers:  Exciting news. The first eight chapters of my daughter’s novel can now be read and/or downloaded in pdf form, for easy reading. It’s a “Fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Spanish friend asked me last night if there was an English verb ‘to scapegoat’. My answer was that any noun in English could be turned into a verb. Especially if you were American. Sure enough, this morning I duly came across ‘To foreground’ and ‘To child-mind’. Point proven, I think. Of course, some of them work better than others.

And then this morning I came across the word ‘rube’ (as in “some unthinking rube looked up from his Gameboy”), which meant nothing to me. But, thanks to the internet, I now know this means something like yokel, hick, yahoo, hayseed, bumpkin or chawbacon. Happily, I now know what ‘chawbacon’ means as well. Quite an educative day.

So, Liverpool FC finally have new owners and a great weight has possibly been lifted from the shoulders of the management and players ahead of tomorrow’s game. But I rather hope not, as this is against Everton. Since this is the effectively the first relegation derby I can recall between the two teams, you can forget all that guff I wrote earlier this week about being sympathetic to Liverpool’s plight. May they collapse in further ignominy. Amidst scenes of delirious Goodison joy. If not, there may not be a post on Sunday night.

Which reminds me . . . There were some long-overdue words of wisdom on the English football scene in The Guardian earlier this week - English football has become an insatiable monster. And the truth is that we ought to face up to the fact but have shied away from doing so. The parallels with what was happening in the financial sector at the same time and for many of the same reasons are absolutely unmissable. . . . Get real about English football. It is a god that failed. Stop worshipping it. It is the reflection of the unbalanced, short-termist hedonism of the financial boom era. More here

Finally . . . Quote of the Year so far: Works of modern art, like financial derivatives, are fundamentally unintelligible products marketed in incomprehensible language. No wonder one’s crash was followed sharply by the other’s. – Edward Skidelsky.

Tailnote for new readers: Exciting news. The first eight chapters of my daughter’s novel can now be read and/or downloaded in pdf form, for easy reading. It’s a “Fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Interesting to read this in the context of the Chilean miners – “At least five wives have been forced to come face to face with mistresses whose existence was kept from them by their husband.  One miner has four women fighting over him in an effort to claim compensation offered to the families. Some of the men have children from numerous women.” Complicated times. Perhaps some of them will soon be looking for another bolt-hole.

Which reminds me . . . Reading Naguib Mahfouz’s masterpiece, The Cairo Trilogy, I’ve been surprised by three things about (Islamic) Cairo in the 1920s and 30s – the casual adultery, the hard drinking and the fact that obesity is women is seen as attractive. On the last of these, here’s a relevant sentence or two – “She seemed a massive chunk of flesh. . .  As plumpness was the key to her beauty, she took extraordinary care to maintain her weight.  . . Her sons’ thinness enraged her and she said, disapprovingly, “I’ve told you a thousand times to use chamomile to improve your appetites.” I guess things are different in Egypt these days. As least as regards standards of beauty.

Incidentally, I don’t, offhand, recall the purveyors of natural products promoting the fat-generating qualities of the chamomile plant. The kiss of death, I imagine.

I sometimes have the feeling that – despite still being more popular than the leader of the opposition – President Zapatero must rank as the lamest of ducks. Here’s Guy Hedgecoe of Qorreo addressing one of the consequences of this – significant doubts (and PSOE fears!) about whether he’ll stand for a third term in 2012.

I’m a bit late with this but I wasn’t over-surprised to see an advert for Christmas on British TV on the first day of October. In fact, I’d expected this in September, as is usually the case. What did rather take me back was the supermarket avoiding the mention of Christmas and referring only to “25 December”.

And talking of dates . . . It’s really looking quite possible we’ll have an anti-smoking law with (yellow?) teeth by early January. Though not by January 1, as this would interfere with New Year celebrations, it’s reported. It was amusing to read that “There is some doubt as what will constitute a ‘terrace’ in the legislation, when there is a ‘semi-closed’ space, with an understanding from the Government that a terrace on the Canary Islands is not the same as one in Galicia”. Not when it’s raining anyway.

Finally . . . No, there was no one working on the site behind my house today. And so I was more than usually interested to see it’s been decided there’ll be one less fiesta in the official calendar for next year. Hard times, obviously. But there’ll still be quite a few. Hard to share the view of some that this will impact positively on Spain's productivity.

Tailnote for new readers:  Exciting news. The first eight chapters of my daughter’s novel can now be read and/or downloaded in pdf form, for easy reading. It’s a “Fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

To start with a smile . . . Here’s a pertinent post from my fellow blogger, Trevor ap Simon, up in Barcelona.

What’s in a word? The British prime minister is, of course, David Cameron. In Spanish, his surname would be spelled with an accent on the first syllable, as Cámeron. But on the radio today, I heard him called Camarón. Which means ‘shrimp’. Or ‘prawn’, if you’re American.

Talking of words . . . The English ‘standing’ has been absorbed into Spanish as estanding. As in alto estanding, meaning ‘high status’ or something similar. Today I heard someone describe certain crimes as de alto estanding? Can this really be a general use?

Back to the cajas . . .  A year or so ago, the Spanish government established a fund (the FROB) to help the country’s savings banks re-structure themselves out of near-bankruptcy. This week it’s reported they’ve not exactly been using the money for this purpose. Who’d have thought it? But, anyway, this might help to explain why the predicted mergers in this troubled sector haven’t yet taken place.

You’ll all be asking whether they were working on the building site behind my house today. Or taking yet another day because Tuesday was Spain’s National Day. To be honest, I don’t know. I set off for lunch with my Dutch friend Peter at the early-for-Spain hour of 11.15 and only got back at 7.45. But the good news is that my plumber tells me he, at least, will be working tomorrow. Hopefully at my house.

So, Solomon Burke has passed on. He took part in our Jazz and Blues Festival four years ago, when his gigantic size meant he had to be hoisted into the armchair in the middle of the stage by a small crane. It was good to see a fulsome obituary in the Spanish press. But poor Norman Wisdom is still waiting for his.

Finally . . . I am really the only person in the world who’s not remotely interested in reading the profiles of all the Chilean miners and who’s not planning to attend a film of their experiences? More seriously, can anyone really feel confident they’ll be able to hand the “10 to 100 million pounds” said to be coming their way? For them, I fear, life has suddenly got much better and much worse simultaneously. Still I imagine they’re happier about this than being with Norm and Sol.

Tailnote for new readers:  Exciting news. The first eight chapters of my daughter’s novel can now be read and/or downloaded in pdf form, for easy reading. It’s a “Fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I’m not sure that any of the constituent nations of the UK have a National Day. England certainly doesn’t and there are few there who even know on which day the feast of her patron saint (St George) falls. I mention this because yesterday’s feast of the Virgin (also Our Lady) of the Pillar was Spain’s National Day. As well as being that of Madrid and the Guardia Civil, I think. The trouble with these days is that – other than in a totalitarian state – their management can be a bit tricky. So they can illuminate not only national unity but also national disunity. Especially in the Nation of Nations that is modern Spain. Accordingly, there was quite a bit of booing and jeering at yesterday’s parade in Madrid. And some scandal over remarks made by a Catalan politician about genocide. On top of that, there was a bit of international disunity as well, with Venezuela announcing at the last moment that her ambassador wouldn’t be attending and her flag wouldn’t be flown in the march past. While stressing that relations with Spain were as ‘good as they have ever been.” Or as bad, perhaps.

This sentence, from Guy Hedgecow at Qorreo, merits citation for a number of reasons, but mainly because it echoes my comment yesterday about corruption in Spain’s Deep South. And East. Or should that be The Wild West? - The tribly-hatted Del Nido may resemble the typical steward of a Spanish coastal club – his peers spend their spare time masterminding corruption rackets, fixing matches and, in the case of one second division club president, emptying a handgun into the door of a brothel to which he had been denied entry – but he nonetheless runs Sevilla with rare prudence.

By the way 1: I wonder if Guy’s predecessors used to be called Hedgerow, as my fingers keep typing?

By the way 2: Can anyone tell me where I can get a tribly hat?

Here’s another picture of the new café specialising in chocolate drinks, on the far edge of the public works in front of the town hall.

As you can see, there was no one working there today. As was the case on the building site behind my house, where they’ve already taken more than a month to erect what looks to me like a simple concrete wall, about 60cm (two feet) high. As predicted by my plumber, the ‘bridge’ of Monday and Tuesday appears to have been extended until at least the end of today.

The café, I realised today, is nowhere near the centre of either the old quarter or the new town centre and one could be forgiven for worrying about its survival chances. But this is to ignore the fact it’s strategically located between the city’s town hall and the offices of the provincial administration. Which is, perhaps, an even better location than that of the common-or-garden café at the side of former, which advertises its total reliance on the statutory coffee breaks of the civil servants by not opening at all at the weekends.

Finally . . . You’ll all be wondering who won between me and the rat. Well, my humane trap did snare a rat last week but I’d unfortunately forgotten to check it during a couple of days of heavy rain. Meaning I wasn’t able to release a happy rodent into the forest. But I do now know what a drowned rat looks like. And since then, I’ve managed to catch four mice at the bottom of the garden, all in one night. The first one in presumably shouted to the rest “It’s lovely here. Come on in!” Now to see if, like snails which you chuck over a neighbour’s fence, they have homing instincts!

Tailnote for new readers: Exciting news. The first eight chapters of my daughter’s novel can now be read and/or downloaded in pdf form, for easy reading. It’s a “Fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I mentioned a couple of years back that the leaflet they give you in Córdoba’s justly famous Grand Mosque seemed a little mean-spirited to me. As I recall, its main message was that it’s only thanks to the Catholic Church that this magnificent building is still standing today. Things, it seems, have now gone a little further, with the city’s Bishop demanding that all signs to it call it not a mosque but a cathedral. And that the same be done in all official documents and in all tourist materials. Putting aside petty-mindedness, the reason for this is that Fernando III almost destroyed the aesthetics of the place by plonking a cathedral in the middle of it after he’d taken Córdoba from the Moors in the 13th century. Not a wise move on the part of the Bishop, I wouldn’t have thought. And bound to come to nothing, I suspect. And hope.

So, do you have extrinsic or intrinsic values? Your answer will determine how you really respond to the issues of the day. For it seems we’re not quite as rational as we think we are. We respond according to our social identity. And this is forged by value systems classified as either extrinsic or intrinsic. In brief – “Extrinsic values concern status and self-advancement. People with a strong set of extrinsic values fixate on how others see them. They cherish financial success, image and fame. Intrinsic values concern relationships with friends, family and community, and self-acceptance. Those who have a strong set of intrinsic values are not dependent on praise or rewards from other people. They have beliefs that transcend their self-interest.” See here for more on this. And on its implications for your politics.

Yet more data has emerged on the levels of corruption down in Valencia, where the model appears to have been the regime of Jesús Gil in Marbella during the 90s - currently giving us the circus of a hundred or more officials and their advisers being prosecuted for the embezzlement of zillions of euros over the early years of this decade. I guess in both cities they thought they could get away with it as much as Gil had in his heyday. And which they may yet do in Valencia. Meanwhile, it was no great surprise to hear that the Pope’s imminent visit was being used a fund-raising exercise for the owners of Lichtenstein and Swiss bank accounts. And that the local TV station is implicated in the shenanigans. Cue shrug of the shoulders from the majority of Spaniards, it seems. But it’s good to know the state prosecution service take things rather more seriously. Though they must have a job on their hands keeping up with the miscreants.

I mentioned the Spanish banks and savings banks (cajas) yesterday. Bang on cue, it’s reported that the pressure brought to bear on them over the last year or so has not produced the necessary degree of reform and restructuring and so they’re going to have their arms twisted even further up their backs. Just the mañana syndrome, I guess.

Finally . . . I’ve discovered a new wrinkle in my satnav. When a street is called something like Ferdinand y Isabela, the English lady pronounces the ‘y’ as the letter Y and not as the Spanish for ‘and’, or ‘ee’. Which must be helpful if you don’t speak any Spanish and have to stop and ask the way. In theory this should never need be the case, of course. But she appears to have no knowledge of the right names of the streets around my house and I’m pretty sure this isn’t a unique instance.

Tailnote for new readers: Exciting news. The first seven chapters of my daughter’s novel can now be read and/or downloaded in pdf form, for easy reading. It’s a “Fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Tomorrow is the feast of Our Lady of the Pillar here in Spain. So, we have what the Spanish call a ‘bridge’. Meaning that, as tomorrow’s a holiday, nothing much happens today. Nor last Friday it would seem, as the plumber who’s about to work on my central heating told me on Thursday last there wouldn’t be much point ordering the necessary parts until at least next Wednesday. Meaning, in short, a lost week. It’s at times like this I wonder if the Spanish are really serious about exporting their way out of their current economic mess. I appreciate my plumbing doesn’t rank as an export challenge but I guess you know what I mean.

But what do I know? It’s reported that the IMF is forecasting the Spanish economy will grow faster than those of Germany, France and Italy after 2013. Given there are oceans to flow under bridges between now and then, perhaps we can be forgiven for being a tad sceptical on this. Though it’s true that it’s not President Zapatero again forecasting Spaniards will be richer than Germans by 2012.

Something else I’m asking myself today is whether there could a Spanish equivalent of the book I heard about this morning – “1,000 years of annoying the French.” While I ponder this issue, I’ll have to buy two copies of it – one for me and one for my last partner, who’s French. We parted amicably and remain friends and I’m sure she’d appreciate a copy. Especially as, after reading Kate Fox’s splendid book “Watching the English”, she decided she was more English than me. Which may not say much.

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that, whenever I go on a car trip in Spain, I happen upon a new road. Or at least a much improved one. As this has been going on for at least ten years, you’d think we’d have enough of them by now. But, in fact, in around Pontevedra there’ve long been plans for even more of the things – most obviously an outer ring road for the city and a third main road between here and Vigo. You’re forced to wonder whether they’re being constructed simply because the money is there and it has to pass through numerous hands. Or, rather, it was and used to do so. Inevitably, La crísis has led to some sail-trimming. I was reminded of this when reading this comment in the Voz de Galicia the other day – “This model – constructing things that no one has commissioned and without any research or any real need – better represents Galicia than our national anthem, the bagpipes or Santiago cathedral.” The writer went on to say that, but for the recession, we’d now be facing the prospect of a fourth small Galician airport, up near Ourense. Which surely can’t have made any economic sense at all. Except to the construction company and those on commission.

A few metres from the chocolate café I mentioned yesterday is the new (underground) museum centring on the huge defensive ditch accidentally discovered just inside the medieval walls of the old quarter a few years ago. Seeing this was finally open this morning, I entered in a spirit of excited enquiry, only to find the inner doors bearing the word Pechado. Which is Gallego for ‘Closed’. So, a big disappointment. But we’re getting there. I think.

Finally . . . Just down from the café there’s yet another new shop. This one’s called Otaku Center and seems to be a (franchised?) operation specialising in figures from Star Trek and Japanese comics. Just what we need. What with Christmas and The Three Kings coming up soon.

Tailnote for new readers: Exciting news. The first seven chapters of my daughter’s novel can now be read and/or downloaded in pdf form, for easy reading. It’s a “Fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

There’s an interesting table in the Business Section of El País today. It shows how many of the world’s leading banks have changed their CEO since 2007. The overall percentage is 67% but the country-by-country breakdown is:-
UK, Ireland, Greece, Holland, Switzerland and Belgium - 100%
USA – 69%
France – 67%
Germany – 57%
Italy – 56%
Spain – Nil.
Which presumably tells us something about Spain – or at least its banking sector – but I’m not sure what. I wonder if the figure would be different in the troubled savings banks sector. Other than for those that have been forced to merge, of course. Over to Charles Butler at IBEX Salad . . .

Thanks to a BBC podcast I’ve have had some of my perceptions – or at least my recollections – on the Spanish Armada revised. If I’ve ever known, I’d certainly forgotten that the fleet was defensively configured, as its main purpose was to ferry materials to an army somewhere in the Low Countries waiting to invade England in due course. It was also a surprise to hear that three-quarters of the ships got back to Spain, despite the various misfortunes that came their way. On this, it was amusing to hear that, after the first big storm hit them before they even got to the English Channel, some wag (probably a Gallego who boarded in La Coruña) asked whether it really could be true that God was on their side. Another interesting aspect was just how much the Armada’s plans were affected by the Pope’s ambivalence about the venture and the conditions he placed on it before he’d bestow his blessing. Finally, it was nice to hear that, in modern terms, Spain was then the superpower equivalent of the USA and England was comparable to, say, Poland. Things changed a bit shortly after that, though.

There was another nice article by John Carlin in El País today, on the travails of Liverpool FC. Click here, if interested. As an Evertonian, I’m not exactly losing sleep over the crisis at Anfield but I’m certainly concerned about it. I have no problem supporting Liverpool against any team other than Everton. Which is on a par, I suppose, with feeling very European, rather than British or English, when I’m in the USA. In fact, the further from ‘home’ I am, the less parochial I feel. Given their famous devotion to their patria chica, I wonder how many Spaniards this would be true of. Over to Moscow . . .

Finally . . . I mentioned that, recession notwithstanding, there were three new shops on my route into town. I thought one of these was a sweet shop but it turns out to be a café specialising in chocolate drinks. I’m beginning to wonder whether anyone in this town has lost his or her job because of the crisis. Which is probably a little unfair. Anyway, here’s a foto of the place.

If you look hard you can see reflected in the window the railings that surround the public works which have made life difficult around the town hall for the last two or three years. And which may finally be coming to and end. Belatedly, of course.

Finally, finally . . . I was going to show it but it won't reproduce . . . Can any Spanish reader tell what El Roto's Crucero cartoon in El País today is all about. I frequently don't get his/her cartoons but this one takes the biscuit for obscurity. For me at least. Graeme??

Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published seven chapters of a novel which is “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

At a concert I attended last night, my seat number was Row 5, B14. Obvious enough, you would have thought. But, in truth, I had some difficulty finding it. This is because Row 5 – and all the rest of them, I imagine – was numbered thus:-
17 15 13 11 9 7 5 3 1 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18
Now, there must be a reason for this configuration but I’m damned if I can think of it. I suspect it’s not so that – as in a British pantomime – the auditorium can be divided into halves so they can then compete with each other in a singing or shouting competition. So, anyone got a theory? Or inside knowledge even?

My apologies for the broken link to the Conguitos page last night. Here’s the right one. If you take a look at the fotos on this, you’ll see a couple of differences with the picture in last night’s post. The thick lips have disappeared from both the black and white kids. So, someone must have agreed they were offensive. The other notable change is the addition of a female child. So everything is now far more politically correct.

It’s commonly noted that Spain was not alone in having a property boom between, say, 2000 and 2007. This happened also in the USA, the UK and Ireland, for instance. But were these all of the same nature? Specifially, in any of these countries, are there people like me surrounded by developments in which 70 to 80% of the properties are unoccupied? Or, even after more than four years, not even finished? I imagine not. And that it’s been more a question of properties becoming significantly over-priced and then losing a good deal of their inflated value.

Which you’d think would have happened in Spain too, only more so - given that there are several years’ supply of new properties providing a huge ‘overhang’ in the market place. But apparently not. At least not if you believe the official figures. About which Mark Stucklin has this to say here:- “Spain’s official data for the housing market significantly understates the extent to which property prices have fallen. From what I can tell, prices have fallen more like 30%, though nobody really knows. . . . The Spanish government would be doing itself a big favour if it found a way to publish more reliable data. Doing so would avoid reports telling the world that Spanish property is still wildly over-valued when it might not be.”

Finally . . . It’s reported that the number of Spanish 18-35 year olds living with their parents is way above the EU average, at more than 35%. For the younger members of this cohort the number rises to 51%. And it’s even higher for males than females. Along with immigrants, Spain’s youngsters have borne a disproportionate share of the job lay-offs of the last couple of years or so. Presumably their ability to live with their parents helps to explain why a national unemployment rate of 20% has not yet led to rioting in the streets. Or even very much by way of protest. The young are effectively living off their own inheritances. Saving the government a good deal in the process, I imagine.

Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published seven chapters of a novel which is “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Minister of Education has had the courage to propose the end of the Spanish practice of dubbing all English films in Spanish, Catalan, Gallego or whatever. Well, Spanish at least. Which seems right for the times but will not, I suspect, happen in my lifetime. The industry is just too big and important.

Nice to see that Vargas Llosa has got the Nobel Peace Prize for literature. But is he Peruvian or Spanish? I ask this because El Mundo referred to him today as the 6th “español” to be given this honour. Perhaps they meant someone who writes in Spanish. Even if he isn’t Spanish, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was by the reaction here. El País had about ten pages on him today.

It’s not uncommon for foreign names to be Hispanised when reported in Spain. I cited Tomás El Moro a week or two ago (for Thomas More) and yesterday I saw Miguel Angel (for Michelangelo). So I’m left wondering, firstly, whether Lebrun would be changed into El Moreno and, secondly, who on earth Spike Jonze is. I saw his name today but suspect he really isn’t Spike Jones.

Sequel 1: Following my reference to the wearing of brand names, a lady friend has today given me a gift of a pullover with a prancing horse on the left breast. So, what do I do now? Unpick it from the back or wear the bloody thing only when I expect to see her. Or take up pipe-smoking until I’ve accidentally fallen asleep and set fire to it?

Sequel 2: In the Comments dialogue on negritos there’s been reference to a Spanish product called Conguitos. So, for the record, here’s their web page and here’s the label from what I think is their original product.

As you can see, some sort of balance has been achieved by having  chubby, thick-lipped white kid alongside the black one. My guess being they represent white and dark chocolate respectively.

Finally . . . . And only for those interested in the challenge of driving in Spain . . . I’ve mentioned more than once that the law here is that when a roundabout (circle) has two lanes, only drivers doing a U-turn can use the inner lane. All others – even if there are four or more exits – must funnel into the outer lane and use this until they turn off. This is productive of enough confusion, delay and risk when there are two lanes both as you approach the roundabout and leave it but what do you do when there’s only one lane for both the approach and the exit but two on the roundabout itself? If you’re going straight on or turning right, it’s logical enough that you move to the outer lane but do you really have to do this if you’re turning left? The answer appears to be Yes. So you again leave the inner lane for the one car in a thousand doing a U-turn. Raising the question of why the expense was ever incurred in putting two lanes on the roundabout. And confusing those who are waiting at one of the other junctions and expecting you to go straight on or turn right. Especially if you indicate right even though you’re turning left. Which appears to be obligatory.

Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published seven chapters of a novel which is “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here.