Monday, May 30, 2011

I was going to write that the PSOE's leader election process has much in common with FIFA's. In both cases there'll be the formality of a coronation of the only candidate (left) standing. But, in fact, there's a difference between Spanish and FIFA politics. With the latter, leading lights can be suspended for alleged corruption. With the former, corruption is ignored in favour of returning candidates - some actually in gaol - who must have ruled with an eye to Bacon's dictum that "Money is like muck; no good lest it be spread".

Taking my occasional peek at the small ads at the back of a local paper yesterday, I saw one which featured the word belludo. But I can't tell you what noun this adjective was qualifying. I thought it had something to do with beauty but ultimately decided it was either a Gallego word or the mis-spelling of velludo. Or 'hairy'. Getting the V and B wrong is not uncommon here, as they're pronounced the same. So, I live in either Boa Vista or Voa Bista. And the gypsies below me live in O Vao or O Bao.

I mentioned last night that one of the advantages of football (soccer, if you insist) is that it can be played by people of any height. Overwhelming evidence in support of this contention comes from the statistic that the average height of Barça players is five foot seven. 

Still on football, here's the estimable Charlie Brooker, with his take on the obscene salaries that are paid these days. And other things.

Spanish consumer orientation . . .When you click on UK newspapers, you get their front page. When you click on either El Pais or El Mundo, you get irritating bloody ads. That said, I do have to pay to get past the paywall of The Times. Which I judge to worth it because of the quality of their columnists. I doubt that I'd pay to read either the Daily Telegraph or The Guardian.

Finally . . .  My apologies for missing out both a foto and a word in my paragraph on wind turbines last night. All is now as it should be. Or should have been.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I caught the very tail end of a film this afternoon called "The Long Boats". The BBC synopsis suggested it was about the golden bells of St James. So I, naturally, wondered whether it was about the taking of the cathedral bells from Santiago to the Great Mosque in Córdoba in 997. Reputedly on the back of Christian slaves, driven south by their Moorish conquerors. But, no. Although Moors did figure in the film, it was really about some mythical bells which had hung near the Pillars of Hercules. It says here. So, a bit of a disappointment. But I was impressed that the bells could fall down a jagged rockface into the sea and still be unscratched when they arrived somewhere along the North African coast.

I did enjoy this rather marvellous little feature which was sent to me, I think, by reader Ferrolano. It tells you all you need to  know about Spain's phoney boom. As I write this, I shake my head in wonder that there were readers who disagreed with me, a few years back, that the boom would end in a huge bust and that property prices would inevitably fall.

But, anyway, here's a bit more about Barcelona's scintillating dismemberment of Manchester United last night:- "With due sensitivity to the raw emotions of the United fans, this was a victory for football. Messi’s brilliance, his constant scheming and fine goal, will prove to all youth-team coaches that small is beautiful, that clubs do not need a supply of six-foot athletes. Messi, ably assisted by Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, showed the world how the game should be played: elegantly, inventively, relentlessly. Messi is the ultimate role model for football: as humble as he is nimble. He is a reminder of the importance of a professional dedicating himself to his craft."

And just a bit more:- "For 24 hours, the world got its game back. And Barcelona, without a scintilla of doubt the team of the moment, eclipsed Manchester United with a 3-1 victory that left no room for equivocation. More important than victory was the message that, when left to players, this most global game can still be what many dream it to be."

Being only five foot eight myself - the same height as George Best, I noticed when I once bumped into him on a flight to Manchester - I have always loved the fact that football/soccer could be played by people of any size. Something which I seem to recall reading recommended it to American soccer mums, who were a tad worried about their little ones playing the roughhouse game known as American football.

On Sundays, as I head for Vegetables Square, I always pass a bearded tramp-cum-bagman who stands in a corner of the main square, jangling change in his left hand. But today the close weather seems to have got the better of him.

Either that or change-jangling is a lot more strenuous that I would've thought.

Here's an article on what happens when "An artificial market is created by a political whim. . . Swathes of British countryside are being sacrificed to save the Chinese from having to close even one coal-burning power station." Much the same is happening here, of course. With the added element of corruption.

Finally . . . Here's a sketch of me, done by my very old friend David. My daughters say it catches the essence of me. Whatever that means . . .

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Congratulations to Barca on another stunning performance tonight.

Or, as The Times columnist put it: Barcelona did not just win the European Cup final at Wembley this evening. They illuminated it, with Lionel Messi and his team producing a performance of such majesty and such wonder that their claims to legend and immortality were lent considerable weight. This was a masterclass, embellished not only by Messi but by Xavi Hernandez, their captain on the night, and by an all-round performance that strengthened Barcelona’s claims to being the greatest team of all time. That will always remain open to debate, but this is without question a truly great team.

Perhaps the only other thing to say is that there were quite a few (non Catalan) Spaniards who were hoping for a Manchester United victory.

Oh, and how stupid it is, and always has been, for the United goalkeeper to kick the ball (aimlessly?) upfield, virtually guaranteeing that Barca got possession, from which to mount yet another attack. Wonder what the statistics are. Especially on whether the second half saw less of this madness.

Friday, May 27, 2011

As I predicted, the fight for the PSOE crown is getting less and less democratic by the day. The young female contender (and only opponent to the Crown Prince, Rubalcaba) has now un-declared herself. Just as well, I feel, as her candidacy was ridiculous. And so would have wasted time the party doesn't seem to think it has, as the 'barons' push very publicly for the rapid abdication of President Zapatero and the coronation of Rubalcaba. Not what Graeme over at South of Watford would ever have wanted. Or expected, I suspect.

In Spain there is always a 'day of reflection' just before any elections. Perhaps someone should have advised the PSOE party to have a week or two of reflection
after the recent elections. As it is, we're being given an unedifying display of a microcosm of Spanish politics - tribal and baronial. But I did predict it would be fun and here's IberoSphere to confirm this.

Down at the regional level, it's good to know we can hold our own in
the corruption stakes. I was beginning to think our politicos weren't trying hard enough.


If you're familiar with Iberian architectural idioms, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this little church/chapel was in Portugal.

In fact, it's down at the bottom of my hill, near where I park my car before I walk across the bridge into town. It shows the influence of our near neighbour and linguistic sister. As does the General Hospital in the centre of town. . .

This foto is notable in two respects:- The building on the left is said to be the oldest in Pontevedra (11th century) and the only one which bears evidence of Moorish influence. The building on the right is the first bar/restaurant to close in the old quarter, after a long period during which a new bar-cum-disco opened every other week. This might yet prove to be a trend. I shall ask my daughter and her friend to do some market research next week, when they go de copas.

It's not all closures downtown. 

Firstly, I saw two new kiosks there today - Compro Or and Mr Gold. A real sign of the times, like all the post-us-your-old-gold ads on British TV. Presumably no-one would trust the mail here. So it all has to be face-to-face. As ever in Spain.

Secondly, there is this big sign in the corner of the main square, where I've regularly snapped the eyesore which was the deteriorating Savoy Café. 

The restored place is promised for spring but I hae me doots. Technically, they have until 21 June, which is when the Spanish regard spring as ending and summer beginning. But we will see.

I've been trying to snap this gypsy-mobile for quite some time. As it's been souped up - at least superficially - it's known as un tuning here.

Finally . . . A cartoon that made me LOL . . .

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Omar Khayyam is the author of one of my favourite poetic works, the Rubaiyat. As my Persian is - to say the least - rather rusty, these days, I have to make do with Edward Fitzgerald's (rather creatively free) translation. But, as this is magnificent, this doesn't rank as much of a problem. What I didn't know until today is that Omar - who was a polymath - is responsible for the X used in algebra. Or, as it says here, "To represent the unknown in his treatise on algebra, Khayyam used the Arabic term shay, which means 'thing'. This word - spelt xay in Spanish scientific works - was gradually replaced by its first letter, X, which became the universal symbol for the unknown." So now you know as well.

I occasionally take a look at how people arrive at this blog. The most frequent search uses the words throwing, donkey and church tower. But last night someone got my blog when they searched for big cocks in Galicia. Intrigued, I clicked on the URL. And was then disappointed to find the results were nowhere near as agricultural as I'd expected.

Productivity again . . . This morning I went to a quiet wi-fi cafe to make a couple of calls and to check whether they really had a space dedicated to smokers (see below). After 20 minutes, the waiter still hadn't brought my coffee, so I left for a place with prettier waitresses. There I ordered my coffee and then discovered - not by any means for the first time - that the wi-fi wasn't working. All attempts to get them to fix it failed, so I quickly downed my coffee and left for Vegetables Square. Where the wi-fi was working but where, as ever, it switched itself off every half an hour or so. So, again, a lot of wasted effort. But I'm inured to this as I've taken my own advice and learned to manage my expectations. If I didn't have the entire day at my disposal, I might just be rather more irritated. But, as our basic existential challenge is to fill the time between birth and death, the malfunctioning of things can sometimes be useful. Especially when the sun is shining.

My friend and fellow blogger, Anthea, yesterday advised that there's a web page which tells you which places in your town have a smoking facility. Finding this odd, I checked at one of the (many) cited Pontevedra cafés this morning and decided that all this means is that they have chairs outside in the street. Or perhaps a terrace. There's absolutely no question of a smoking area indoors.

To my disbelief, the weather woman(person?) on Sky yesterday  said "If it's rain you want, you're going to be disappointed." Presumably she was addressing gardeners. Or idiots.

I have long been a customer of First Direct bank, mainly because they're superbly efficient and always charming. The one time in 15 years they made an error, they immediately gave me 20 quid as compensation. Anyway, I called them this morning and the lady (Lee) greeted me in Spanish. Having done what I needed to do, we chatted a bit and she told me she'd learnt her Spanish in Mexico and that one night she'd been taken to a crowded pub. There she was asked if she liked Mexico, to which she replied "Si. Soy muy facil". Instead, of course, of "Soy muy feliz". My, how they laughed. Just before they gang-banged her.

No, I made that bit up, of course. But it does remind me that one of the placards I saw at the camp last night said - We are the future. So why do they screw us up the backside. Or words to that effect.

But the really good news today is that Tony was noiseless this morning. Actually, that's not quite true. He certainly didn't shout at his kids between 8 and 8.45. But, at 7.45, I could certainly hear him through our shared (bedroom) wall. But I think this was just him 'talking' to his wife.

The really bad news is that, according to the OECD, Spain won't return to the pre-Crisis employment levels until 2026. Or for 15 long years. Certainly not añitos.

Finally . . . I've given up Danish bacon in retaliation for them banning Marmite. Not that I've ever eaten the stuff or have the faintest idea what it tastes like. Probably dreadful. But sometimes one just has to rebel in whatever way one can. I'm thinking of calling this the 26-M Movement.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Well, it didn't take long for the governing PSOE socialist party to initiate an internecine - and highly public - battle for the leadership of a party which can't possibly win the general elections next year. Forty-eight hours, to be exact. Following a bizarre initiative on Monday from an ex regional governor who wasn't thought to be in the running, the leading candidate yesterday delivered a coup de main against both the current President and his main - female, young and Catalan(!) - opposition. Fun to watch, especially as, if I were at the top of the party, I'd be doing my utmost to avoid being forced to put my hands round the poisoned chalice. But two things seem clear; firstly, there ain't going to be a democratic process involving all party members; and, secondly, this show will run and run. True socialists must be close to depression.

Arriving at my usual morning café, I heard a motor-cyclist shout at the woman he'd just nearly hit on a zebra crossing - "You should look!". Then he shouted this a second time but this might just have been code for a face-saving apology. I am not yet privy to all the nuances of Spanish culture. And won't be for at least another thirty years.

I take my morning coffee in a place near a secondary college. At 11, this is taken over by teachers having the sort of long break my teacher daughter in the UK can only dream of. Today they were joined by a couple of 16-17 year old female pupils, dressed as if for the beach. I suspect the male teachers must have problems knowing where to look. Or at least the hetero ones. Perhaps they wear eye-patches.

I can't believe it's taken me more than two weeks to go to my favourite tapas bar for my favourite tapas dish - zamburiñas en/al ajillo. Most of you won't have any idea what this is but, if you ever make it to this beautiful city and its gem of an old quarter, contact me and I might be willing to reveal both what zamburiñas are and where the bar is.

I touched on Spanish productivity the other day. As I don't toil for my pennies, I can't really comment on Spanish working practices. Though I do have a couple of Anglo friends who've been known to spit blood on this subject. What I can say is that, when I shop in Liverpool or Leeds, I always get what I went out for. But, if I leave the house here with a list of 6 things to get, I'll be very happy if I come home with 3 of them. I can't explain why this happens; it just does. Meaning quite a lot of time wasted. Oh, and my (British) handyman didn't come this morning because the shop hadn't got the metal plate for my gate he'd been promised for today.

Talking of local customs . . . I was awoken at 8 this morning by Nice-but-Noisy Tony at his bellowing best. I responded by putting on Radio Gold (hits of the last 40 years) at a volume which would have disturbed any other neighbour. Or at least caused him/her to ask whether there was any reason for my unusual behaviour. But experience shows that indirectas are useless with Tony. So, this afternoon, I grasped the nettle and, for the first time in 6 or 7 years, bluntly asked him not to shout so much in the mornings. I tied this request to the visit of two young women, whom I said would be out all night and would want to sleep in. And I suggested he take a British approach and just belt his sons, if they didn't get out of bed quickly enough. I must say he seemed lost for words, almost as if he were mulling over this suggestion. But we will see.

Finally . . . The encampment of Los Indignados in Pontevedera. At lunchtime, there were 13 small tents, a large canopy, 5 dogs and about 10 people milling around. Most of the latter were young women.

At 7.45 this evening, there weren't an awful lot more people, even though an event was scheduled for 8.

This is Pontevedra's Alameda, originally the orchard of the convent attached to a nearby church. It comes into its own in August, when the city has its main fiesta and the place is covered in stalls and a fairground. Then again in September for the Feria Franca, the medieval weekend. This picture is taken from one end and the encampment is just about discernible at the other, taking up - I would think - about 3% of the total space available. So, on the half-full principle, plenty of scope for growth.

The encampment proper, with a heated discussion taking place on the right.

A side view.

The kiddies' section.

A view from the other end of the Alameda.

The Musical section.

One of the notice-boards. I was intrigued to see that another one was listing what the campers wanted by way of writing materials and food. Plus "Teachers of Tai Chi and Gym". Perhaps boredom is setting in.

But what a great place for all the city's scruffy travellers and their dogs to spend their unproductive moments. Most of the day and night, in other words. Who knows, there may  even be a Grass Section, obviating the need to walk across the bridge to the more established gypsy encampment below my house.

The Main Event, at 8.30. Maybe a hundred people. Less than heart-warming, I fear.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Final words on the elections. . . One of the more significant developments was the success of the (new) Bildu party in the Basque Country. To the Far Right - and even the Not-so-Far-Right - these are nothing less than ETA terrorists masquerading as democrats. To the rest of us, they are hopefully a sign that ETA recognises it's been defeated and that the way forward is democratic and non-violent. Anyway, Bildu gained 25% of the vote, only five percentage points less than the well-established Basque National Party. And it took control of San Sebastian, ousting the socialist PSOE party from the region's second-largest city.

Here's a considered overview on Sunday's results from Guy Hedgecoe of IberoSphere. And here's Guy talking about the Indignants' version of revolution.

Moving away from elections and revolutions, I'm having difficulty keeping Samuel Johnson out of this blog. Here's a paragraph I ran across today  . . . On this very day, in 1763, a chance encounter took place which changed the face of literature. In Davies’s Bookshop in Russell Street, Covent Garden, the 22-year-old James Boswell was introduced to the 53‑year-old Samuel Johnson. Boswell recorded the meeting in his journal. Knowing Johnson’s “mortal antipathy” to Scots, he begged Davies not to tell Johnson that he was one, but Davies ignored him and revealed “Bozzy’s” origin; so Boswell said: “Indeed I come from Scotland, but I cannot help it.” To which Johnson replied: “That, I find, is what a very great many of your countrymen cannot help.” You can see more/Moore here.

Which reminds me . . . Having Irish as well as Welsh and Scottish blood, I was naturally pleased to see that the Queen's visit to Ireland had finally sealed some of the ancient (and not so ancient) wounds that had bedevilled relations between Britain and its Irish neighbour. Quite an achievement.

Walking into town today, I noticed two more closed shops - one dedicated to wardrobes and one offering computer and phone services to South America. I don't hold out much hope for the place on the other side of the road specialising in, of all things, doors. And in which I've never seen a customer.

Talking about towns . . . Here's Lenox of The Spanish Shilling on what greed can do to a place.

Finally . . . A couple of quotes:-

H G Wells's last words - "Go away! I'm alright"

Historian, Niall Ferguson: "The best thing about our networked world is that it greatly increases the chances that natural leaders will emerge, whatever the disadvantages of their birth. What else is Twitter but a Darwinian process for sorting the human race very efficiently into leaders and followers?"

Monday, May 23, 2011

Well, if it's proof you need that the Spanish are not too concerned about the honesty of their politicians, look no further than the results of the Valencia region elections yesterday. Despite facing a number of corruption charges, the PP leader there was returned to power, with an increased share of the vote.

Nationally, the ruling PSOE socialist party got an even bigger thrashing than that universally predicted. In fact, they might end up controlling only 2 or 3 of Spain's 17 autonomous communities. Or 'regions' as we used to call them. One of these is their traditional fiefdom of Andalucia, where strange things happen. 

So, the decision-averse President Zapatero is paying a high price - with more to come next year at the general elections - for, first, denying there was a recession coming and, then, for averring that Spain would ride it better than most countries. Plus various other stupidities along the way. Not surprisingly, the knives are now out for him in his own party, aimed at ensuring one of his deputies is in place sooner rather than later. Either that or an earlier-than-necessary general election with someone new at the helm, after Zap has thrown himself overboard. Or been made to walk the plank. Here's Graeme of South of Watford and Charles of IBEX Salad on the elections.

Locally, a quick summary is that generally the conservative PP advanced and the socialist PSOE retreated but gained seats in Vigo, so remaining in power there. The Galician Nationalist Block (the BNG), lost votes and seats everywhere except Pontevedra city, where they gained 4 seats. Don't ask me why. Maybe it's because all the civil servants are happy with their new HQ, the new roads, the new roundabouts, the new bridge and, most of all, the successful expansion of the pedestrianised old quarter into contiguous streets. Essentially, it would be hard to deny that the BNG mayor has made the city a better place in the last decade. And no one cares if a percentage of the spend has been kicked back. To whomsoever. 

Talking of the city . . . the encampments of The Indignants will remain in place for a while in A Coruña, Santiago, Vigo and Ourense. But not here in Pontevedra, it seems. In fact, Sunday morning saw no sign of ours, whatever this means. Perhaps our young folk are too comfortable spongeing off their parents. That said, I think I saw some evidence this evening of an encampment being set up in the Alameda. Unusually for Spain, this is not in the centre of town and is little used, even for the evening paseo.

In Segovia a mere 10 people have camped out, underneath the arches of its famous aqueduct. Cue song.

On Saturday, there was a cartoon in one of the papers which featured the standard Spanish capitalist character - a fat male wearing a suit and a stovepipe hat, and chomping on a large cigar. But we knew he was Spanish - and not the usual American - because he wasn't carrying a sack with a dollar sign on it.

Talking about cartoons, how about this for a coincidence. Yesterday I quoted Samuel Johnson and today I saw this cartoon in one of the backlog of Private Eyes I'm working my way through:-

We've all been there.

Finally . . . I had my windscreen replaced today and both my insurance company and the glass company were pretty efficient, with all communications coming to me in Almost-English. Including directions to the workshop. Of itself, this wouldn't make them right, of course. And they weren't.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The passive revolt of 'indignant' Spanish youth includes corrupt politicians as one of its prime targets. Talking to friends over Friday dinner, I was assured that no politician here would ever resign for anything. Whether the offence related to sex or money. So, I wonder what the young would make of the media campaign in the UK against a (bound-to-resign) cabinet member who's committed the pecadillo of asking his wife to take some of the points he earned for speeding. Would they go so far as to demand his head on a plate? Or would they draw the line further along the corruption spectrum? Or have they never thought about things in this (not-so-deep) depth?

Incidentally, my Spanish friends seemed a tad stumped by my question of what would happen to the leader of the next government (Pontevedran Sr Rajoy of the PP party), if it was proved that he really is as homosexual as he is 'known' to be in these parts. Whilst not qualifying as corruption (except in the perverse religious sense), this might well prove fatal, it seems. So I guess we can expect a whispering campaign at the very least.

Anyway, here's the official(?) list of the demands being made by the Indignants, kindly provided by reader Diego. It's such a mixture of the sensible and the loony that I'm compelled to use one of my favourite (but ever so slightly modified) quotations, Samuel Johnson's dyspeptic view of the work of John Donne:- "The most heterogeneous elements are yoked together by (non)violence". See the end of this post for the whole quote.

It's standard practice in Spain to Hispanicise any foreign name. So, last night on the radio Osborne became Oz-bor-nay. Though in this case there's the added factor that it's also a Spanish surname, at least around Jerez ('sherry'). But, strangely, a few seconds later, Shakespeare's name was pronounced correctly and not Shack-ess-pay-a-ray. This is a singular honour and one not even accorded to Mozart.

Well, Deportivo La Coruña needed just a draw at home against Valencia last night. But they lost 2-0, with the second goal coming in the 6th minute of extra time, as they strove for the equaliser. So, they join Pontevedra FC in going down. It's a long, long way from winning the Primera Liga around ten years ago.

Which sort of reminds me . . . I'm still not inured to hearing the word coño shouted between friends in the street here. It means the same as an English four-letter word also beginning with C but carries no taboo here. You have to resort to 'old goat' (cabrón) to get an equivalent reaction here. Right on cue, Nice-but-Noisy Tony this afternoon hailed me as Coño in the front garden. When I told him this was a very bad word in English, my neighbour on  the other side - the lovely Ester - commented that it was in Spain too. Which came as a surprise to me. You'd never guess.

I mentioned a week or two ago that we always get new panhandlers in Pontevedra during the spring and early summer. This year there seems to be an abundance of skinny, dreadlocked, dog-dragging 'musicians', who appear to operate on the principle we'd all be happy to pay them to piss off and inflict their pipes on someone else. As sure as night follows day, I see them wandering back from the gypsy encampment on my side of the river. In the middle of the road and as high as a kite in one case last night. My thought was that he'd probably be hit by one of the cyclists (i. e. all of them) who never have a light on, no matter how dark it is. Or fall down one of the drains, he was so thin. Presumably, grass is a higher priority than food.

It's a Spanish custom to change the title of Anglo films for no apparent reason. Last night I watched "It's Complicated", which has become "No es tan Facil" - It's not so Simple.  Why? By the way, was anyone else as irritated by Meryl Streep as I was in this film? Waste of a talent. And as for Steve Martin. What the hell was he doing playing a love-struck architect.

If you've read the mini-post below this one and need to know more about this scam, click here. Essentially, you have to call your phone company and have them block the number. You won't get your money back on messages already sent to you. At least not from Orange. From whom I shall soon be moving.

That quote in full:- "The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions; their learning instructs, and their subtlety surprises; but the reader commonly thinks his improvement dearly bought and, though he sometimes admires, is seldom pleased."

Finally . . .  I may have mentioned that my faithful old dog, Ryan, passed away during my absence, whilst in the kind care of my friend, Dwight. In his posthumous honour (Ryan's, not Dwight's), here's a poem about him which my younger daughter, Hannah, wrote about ten years ago. If it can't be read, I'll type it up for a future post . . .

A Government-initiated Scam??

This is a one-off. Last night's post is below. Tonight's post will be along later.

I'm finding this hard to believe but it seems that by merely accessing the Trafico site and then getting their advice as to whether I have any unpaid fines, I have been automatically subscribed to some bloody premium rate SMS service.

More importantly, does anyone know how to unsubscribe?

The relevant web sites appear to be:-

1. www.multas.todalainfo.org

2. Various (linked?) chat sites, all containing this paragraph . .

El simple acceso a la página web y/o la mera utilización de los servicios ofrecidos através de la misma atribuye la condición de Usuario e implica la aceptaciónplena y sin reservas, de las condiciones incluidas en el presente aviso legal

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The passive 'demonstrations' taking place in cities throughout Spain have now received so much international attention - and some emulation - that I don't think I need cite any more reports/articles. I'm in complete sympathy with their stated essence but, at the risk of sounding trite, I wonder how 'heated discussions' can have arisen amongst people of the same ilk and aspiration. Perhaps they've been debating whether to use piano wire instead of common or garden cord when they string up the bankers, the developers and the politicians.

One or two observers have sounded a sceptical/skeptical note. This, for example, is the overview of Charles Butler of IBEX Salad:- "Their platform, rather than being the break with the past that it touts itself to be, is little more than a recycling of the utopian, lowest common denominator and subsidized lunch for everyone theme teleported directly from 1968 - with revealing token bits of modern detritus such as the insistence that the law prohibiting free downloads of copyrighted entertainment be rescinded."

The Madrid government has naturally rejected out of hand the German suggestion that the Spanish work a bit harder, if they want help with their economy. In line with what I wrote the other day, Sr. Zapatero has stressed that the Spanish work, on average, 20% more hours than the Germans. Though he did admit productivity was an issue. And how.

Down at a local level, it isn't all closures in Pontevedra city. Apart from the health food shop I mentioned the other day, there's a brand new opticals shop in the very centre of town, possibly the 45th. we're blessed with. Perhaps it's a reflection of the ageing of the legions of funccionarios who people the place. Then, of course, we have another Chinese bazaar opening every couple of weeks. Floated on the back of a five-year tax holiday, it's said.

I've yet to see a Spanish or Gallego review of "The Way". But here's one from the IMDB, replete with positive contributions from folks who've seen and enjoyed it.

Finally . . . Back to the demonstrations, here's a snap of Pontevedra's at 10 last night. In truth, it smelled more of a social than a political event. But maybe this was because the relevant law was clear on only one thing - they could't be active in suppport of any party.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Walking around Pontevedra this morning, I was again struck by the number of boarded-up shops in prime locations. I thought of posting some fotos but decided they'd be boring. Some slightly less boring fotos can be found at the end of this.

Herehere and here is more information on the (illegal) demonstrations which are taking place in Madrid and other cities around the country today and tomorrow, prior to the elections on Sunday. As the (left-of-centre) Guardian says:- "They're being described not in political but emotional terms. They're the indignados, 'The angry ones'. Angry at the banks, at the labour market, at the main political parties and most of all at the politicians, who they feel don't represent them. What they actually want is less clear. They may not change Spanish politics forever, but they have succeeded in something difficult enough: in putting all politicians to shame at least for a few days."

And here is the Wall St. Journal spilling the beans on the 'secret' debt which is held by the Spanish autonomous regions. This may the answer to the question I've been pondering for some time as to how Pontevedra's council can go on spending as if there'd never been a downturn.

One can of, course, disfavour the French approach to the the private lives of the great-but-not-so-good without being an admirer of the Anglo tabloid press. Something which neither France nor Spain yet have. I have long believed - and written here - that the pact between Blair and Murdoch resulted in what was effectively mob rule in the UK. This sentiment is echoed by the always-excellent Simon Jenkins in this (tendentious?) Guardian article today. As he says "None of this adds light to British politics, but it is not meant to do so. It is meant to show the lords and masters that, in the last analysis, the mob is sovereign."

I mentioned the other day the obscene salaries paid to footballers in the UK. Here's one commentator's take on this:- "For £46 you could fly from London to Lisbon and back. Or buy the complete box set of Curb Your Enthusiasm and a couple of cans of suds. Or kit yourself out with some Gaël Givet-approved lingerie. Or, if you're so inclined, sit in one of the cheap seats at this weekend's meaningless tussle between Premier League slackers West Ham and Sunderland – but surely you'd have to be desperate to do that. And that's what most clubs think you are, which is why, though the country's economy heads further south, they continue to invite you to pay silly sums (excluding booking fee) so they can pay even sillier sums to players, making everyone except the players poorer and the mood around the country more grouchy."

If you don't know what Curb Your Enthusiasm is, make it your business to find out. You are really missing something.

Finally . . .  The fotos I cited at the top:-

1. The handsome brick drive up to the new houses behind mine

2. The contenadores that used to be conveniently opposite my house (by the lamppost in the above foto) but which have been moved down the road.

3. A superior contenador which can be opened with the foot and which, self-evidently, we don't have yet. Nor are our bins moored to a metal frame. Which means they'll again go on roll-about when we next have a strong wind. In the worst case, they'll hurtle down the hill, which starts about 30 metres away.

Postscript: Here's a good overview on the street protests from Graeme over at South of Watford.

Returning to the subject of corruption, I totally endorse this sentiment of Graeme's - "The grotesque sight the other night of PP leader Mariano Rajoy singing the praises of Valencia's Francisco Camps reinforced the feelings of many about the need for change." As I recall, Rajoy seemed to go so far as to suggest that being voted back into power would exculpate Camps. Which is an interesting new jurisprudential doctrine.

I almost forgot . . . The Galician Nationalist Party (the BNG) has claimed that it represents Real Democracy Now. Perhaps they'll get more than 15% of the vote this time, then.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The centre of Madrid - Sol Square - is occupied by around 5,000 young people who are protesting about something. But I'm not sure what. I passed a few dozen young people in the centre of Pontevedra last night who were presumably protesting in sympathy. It all seemed very Spanish as the principal activity was sitting in a circle and chatting. I'm hoping some reader will be able to tell me whether these folk are what the press calls "the idignants" or the people demanding Real Democracy Now!. Or both. Fellow blogger Trever ApSimon has said they're communists but the media refers to them as anarchists. And there is a difference. At least, there was in 1936.

I've just come to this wi-fi café from my doctor's surgery. I wouldn't normally mention this but I wanted to allude to something else that struck me as very Spanish. There were 20 to 30 people waiting there, for various doctors, but the only one reading a book was me. Indeed, the only person reading anything was me - if we discount the woman who made a desultory flick through a leaflet on the table. And this is despite the fact everyone here knows they ain't going to see a doctor at the time of the appointment they've got. Especially when ten of you have been given the same appointment time.

El Mundo reports that the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has said that any German help to Spain, if needed, will be conditional on the Spanish working harder. This, I suspect, is a reference to the ridiculously early - by German standards - retirement age in Spain. Ignoring productivity, the Spanish would be very hard pushed to work longer hours than they do. Which are also ridiculous. And probably would be even without the 2 to 3 hour break in the middle of the day.

But back to adultery. If the figures are to be believed, the French en masse are not much more adventurous than the European average. Globally, 20% of adults have had an extramarital affair. Britain comes in (sorry) at 14%. And the most promiscuous males in Europe are from  - wait for it - Turkey. Unsurprisingly, infidelity increases in the "midlife zone", by which time most couples are bored to tears with each other's company. It's said.

But we have to go back to the topical French. These, some survey has found, are "tolerant of - indeed comfortable with - extramarital affairs to a degree unknown in other countries". Or maybe they just say they are as they regard this as the height of sophistication. Or - as someone French has written - "There may be more understanding in France of human frailty. Before we are judged too harshly for that, let it also be said that relations between the sexes are seen as one of life’s civilised pleasures. But one thing must be firmly stated: libertinage is one thing, criminal behaviour quite another. There is no tolerance of that. But maybe those days are over. In any case, the French do stand out in two respects. First, a public figure - say a politician - is not held accountable for his or her private behaviour, unless it makes them vulnerable to blackmail or somehow affects their ability to do the job. Faithfulness to one’s partner isn’t expected to be an item on the political agenda. Deceit in sexual matters may be seen as a moral flaw but certainly not as a sign that it will lead to lies on questions of policy. In other words, the great need not, necessarily, be good. There is also a strong sense that privacy ought to be protected by law and respected by the media, and that this protection is in the interest of all parties. The families of politicians are better off when private stories do not spill out; they are not hounded into taking action in the face of misbehaviour — they do so if, when, and how they please. As for the media itself, well, the gutter press is not flourishing in France, yet." But the internet is, as we read yesterday. And it's far more powerful than any gutter press. And more immune to legal action. France's halcyon days are well and truly over.

In France, it seems, you get into far more trouble for having your hand in a till than up someone's skirt. In Spain, I suspect neither of these would cause you too many problems. Especially if you're the head of the Andalucian or Valencian government. But I'm happy to be corrected on this, as it would be nice to think there's some integrity somewhere.

Finally . . . Nowt. I've lost my notepad. And I can't wing it any more.

Hang on . . . I've just found an obituary to the eurozone.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

So, what has changed in and around Pontevedra in the four months I was away? 
- Well, the first thing to say is that the new bridge over the river hasn't been finished. In fact, it looks as if work has (again) been suspended. 
- On the other hand, there are several new roundabouts (circles) either finished or in progress - providing local drivers with more opportunities to demonstrate confusion. Or, worse, to obey the strange Spanish law that dictates that, wherever they're turning off, all cars use the outer lane, unless they're the one in a thousand doing a U-turn. 
- Inevitably, there are even more shops with their fronts papered or boarded up, especially in the galerías. But the impact of the downturn hit home tonight when I saw a Vodafone outlet in this state. Who'd have thought it would come to that?
- Finally, work seems to have progressed a little on the AVE high speed train. But nothing to suggest we'll be getting it to Madrid before 2018. A mere six years late,

Meanwhile, If you're trying to sell a Spanish property, the March data was not good news. Lowest sales in 5 years. 

More [British] quotes on the DSK case:- 
- The French species of hypocrisy is simply different from ours: politicians are expected to stray, pretending to the public that they do not, while those in the know titter lasciviously in private. Not surprisingly, French politicians have come to believe that they can behave like priapic goats and get away with it. The British may be too prudish about sexual behaviour, but the Strauss-Kahn scandal shows that French fascination with political seducers may be at least equally misguided. If he is convicted, it will demonstrate once again the fatal link between power and sex that has destroyed so many politicians in the past. But it will also represent an indictment of a macho, secretive French political culture that regards philandering as merely part of a long French tradition: Liberté, Egalité, Infidélité.
- France has been thrown into the same soul-searching about sex and power [as Britain]. It is tearing itself apart about how to deal with the story, which has sparked a debate on the sexism and snobbery of French politics. The Paris elite has been forced to confront the issue of the sexual behaviour, and at worst the alleged sex crimes, of its whole ruling class. At stake is a wider question of the behaviour of men in power, and what the French political class could or could not get away with in its treatment of women.
- Electronic rumour outpaces all the means which potentates, censors and editors have always been able to use to control what people know, or should be allowed to know. Its quickness on the draw beats any official sheriff; its verdicts require no courts and ignore all pleas. So powerful is this new force, indeed, that it has penetrated even the long immunity of French politicians from the juicy revelations which the British like for breakfast. 
As for the French populace at large, an astonishing 57% of them are reported to believe that DSK is the victim of a set-up. And they pride themselves on their rationality! The rest of us are just happy to presume his innocence. Excepting the US tabloids, of course.

BTW - I wouldn't be at all surprised if the situation in Brussels was even worse than it is in Paris. After all, they're even more worldly-wise and sophisticated there, aren't they.

Which reminds me . . .  Very occasionally I take a look at the EU News channel. Its entire smell is of a government controlled channel like those I've seen in the Third World. So it is that they can put an item about the EU President (forget his name) visiting China ahead of the news of a mass grave in Syria. Oh, I think the President is from Belgium, a country which hasn't managed to put a government together for quite a while now.

You may not be aware that the common Spanish response to complaints by foreigners about their houses being bulldozed is that the latter were crooks buying a cheap house and flouting the law. Well, here from Lenox is a nice riposte to this smokescreening baloney. 

Which reminds me . . . It's reported that 30% of Spanish directors think that backhanders and bribes are OK, compared to an EU average of 19%. And 'most' of them admit that corruption is common in business her. A good chunk of them (43%) thought that corruption had actually increased during the boom years. Which is sad.

Finally . . . . A Request. Does anyone get the full page - including a section headed 'Pontevedra' - when they go to my Galicia page? I ask this because I don't and I'm wondering whether this is a Mac/Safari thing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The DSK affair: After watching a good bit of France24, I've been pondering why the French feel such a sense of shame over this. Is it because they maintain the Mediterranean (Arabic?) concept of honour, so one dishonourable member besmirches all the family? Or is it because DSK is such an exemplar (negatively as well as positively) of the French political class that they realise their entire way of doing things is under the unsympathetic global microscope? Or both, perhaps. Of course, they're also angry at the US treatment of DSK (the perp walk especially) and see the Anglo accusatorial legal approach as less sophisticated and humane than their own judge-driven way of doing things. And of covering such things up. None of it will help France's view of itself, given how they've lost control of the EU in the last decade or so and their language has to take second or even third place to the bastard tongue of English. On this, did you know that France was the only country to refuse to give its Eurovision results in English? Understandable but rather pathetic and petty really. To use a word stolen from French . . . Or possibly two.

French Culture: From a Times columnist . . . "I am intrigued to learn that the traditional cinq à sept, the two-hour window when the whole of France comes to a standstill to pursue the national sport of adultery, has recently migrated to deux à quatre instead. This shift represents one of the few French concessions to the hectic pace of modern life. It used to be you could knock off work shortly before five in order to knock off another chap’s wife shortly afterwards, then home for tea with your own wife, who had, of course, been busy entertaining another woman’s husband in the meantime. Longer working hours, however, mean that the late afternoon adultery slot has had to be moved to earlier in the day. The knock-on effect of that has been the truncation of the traditionally long lazy Gallic lunch. To summarise, the typical French working day has now shifted from the pattern of “work — five-course lunch — work — adultery — home” to the more streamlined model “work — three-course lunch — adultery — back to work — then home”. Thus does today’s cut-throat globalised economy erode sacred national rituals."

Another ten conspiracy theories: Click here.

Spanish consumer service - I called Línea Directa yesterday to ask a couple of things. And to complain that two letters of last year about the write-off value of my car hadn't been answered. The matter-of-fact response was that they didn't have this data, as if this excused bad manners. No hint of an apology or a recognition that this wasn't the right way to treat a (long-standing) customer. In contrast, I got a letter from my water company last week suggesting I check for a leak, as my consumption in the last quarter was three times what it usually is. With a corresponding bill. You could've knocked me down with a feather at this example of helpful service. Though perhaps it might have been better (and quicker) if they'd phoned me. Which reminds me, the Línea Directa call was naturally a premium rate number. But, then, almost everything is these days here in Spain. Rare is the company which offers its customers a freephone number. Once you're a (tied-in) customer, the treatment of you invariably changes. That said, Orange keep offering me a discount for the next year if I tie myself up for another 12 or 24 months. As if.

The Spanish property market: See here and here, for statistics that may or may not be totally accurate.

The revolting Spanish: See here for a report on recent cross-party demonstrations in Spain's major cities.

The disinclination to use native speakers: See here for the latest superb example of this antediluvian (antediluviano) attitude.

Blatant obscenity: The football player who scored Manchester City's winning goal last Saturday is reportedly paid 220,000 pounds a week. Or 11.4 million pounds a year. Who does he think he is - a bloody banker?

Word of the Day: Apisonadora - Steamroller

Unkind and Kind Neighbours: I see someone broke one of my tail-lights during my absence. And then sealed the cracks with sellotape. I suspect Nice-but Noisy-Tony but he insists, with a logic that escapes me, that it can't have been him because my car was facing the wrong way.

Finally . . . Own Trumpet blowing: I've waited a long time to say this . . . . Google Reader has now reached 130 kind folk who read my blog. Whether these are different from the 65 who are Followers (dread word), I haven't the faintest. But I hope not.