Thursday, September 08, 2011

So, Manuel Fraga - the long-time president of the Galician Xunta and the last surviving relic of Franco's regime - is finally retiring from politics at 89. He'll be remembered for a lot of things, I guess, but especially the huge vanity project, A Cidade da Cultura (The City of Culture), on the south eastern edge of Santiago. And here in Pontevedra for a suspension bridge which - because of its many cables - is known as Fraga's Braces.

I've written before about women nicknamed 17/60s, because they look 17 from behind but sixty from the front. My daughter told me today of another Spanish term for women still slim in their fifties and sixties - gambas. Or 'prawns'. Of which you throw away the head, of course.

Here's my fellow blogger Trevor The Baldie (@ Kalebeul) nicely following up on the piece on tourism from Lenox I cited the other day.

The excellent Times columnist, Matthew Parris,today addressed an issue which has long bothered me - How exactly does one use shower gel? Not perhaps an issue of worldwide importance but possibly a problem more common than you'd think. Personally, I hate it and can see no advantage at all over common-or-garden soap.

Talking of difficulties . . . The free wi-fi down in Veggie Square appears to have given up the ghost. It hasn't been available since Sunday last. Perhaps it was only a summer thing,

Does anyone know the Spanish for To hawk, as in 'hawking and spitting'? I believe that resoplar and bufar mean to snort and carraspear means to clear one's throat but I'm having difficulty finding the word for To hawk. And I would like to have it to hand.

Finally, the last time I saw this chap (back in Cheshire) he was a clever young kid. Now he's a clever young man, writing an entertaining blog from Russia that I recommend you take a look at. Reader Moscow might like to comment as well on the accuracy of his observations.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Sitting here under the sun in a pristine Veggie Square in Ponters at midday, it's hard to believe that at 9 last night I was in the same spot feeling like one of a can of very inebriated (and largely female but non-violent) sardines. And that at 10 those who'd just sat down for dinner in one of the many a-tabled streets and squares were drenched by sheeting rain. And that the same waiters and waitresses serving me now were working until the very early hours of this morning. Truly do the Spanish know how to party hard and the South Americans who serve them know how to work hard.

But it's not all good news. The sun may be shining, the squid may be as good as ever, the albariño wine just as palatable - but the bloody free wi-fi isn't working. Life can be such a bitch.

Anyway, in their desperation to prove they're as non-Spanish as the Catalans, many Galicians work as hard as South Americans at proving they're more Celtic than anyone else in Iberia. Including the Asturians only next door. They do this by 'reviving' (or inventing) various Celtic traditions. Such as a marriage which lasts for only one year and is renewable (or not) at twelve month intervals thereafter. So it is that the town of Cadeira in NW Galicia has had, for all of three years now, an annual festival devoted to this practice. Of which you can read more here.

Talking about festivals . . . Walking with me around a very crowded Ponters old quarter last night, my elder daughter made a couple of perspicacious comments:-

- "It seems most people are in costume, especially the women. I guess it gives them a chance to wear boddiced, bosom-baring dresses". 


- "The city's well-endowed ladies seem to be taking full good advantage of the fiesta."

I told her I hadn't noticed but, now that she'd pointed this out to me and after some research, I felt compelled to fully (and happily) agree. Sadly, as we left before the rain started falling, I was deprived me of a second, more pointed, research opportunity.

As for tourism on a national scale, here's an interesting post from my fellow-blogger Lenox.

And here's another article on Spanish white wines, in which you can read more about the Galician Godello variation.

Finally . . . I thought I'd pass on the good news that I made a whole 93 cents from Google Adsense in August.

Finally, finally . . . I hate to be a party-pooper but I sincerely hope the following is a bit a Galician blarney and not remotely true . . . Even within Spain, where Asturian bean stew will satisfy the hungriest belly, Valencia is credited with creating paella and a Mediterranean diet is the staple of a dozen provinces, Galician cooking is generally esteemed as the best of all. And above all, this means seafood and shellfish. One such delicacy is the gooseneck barnacle (el percebe). I must say that, in ten years, I've never heard this nonsense from anyone but a Galician. Which is what you'd expect in the nation of a thousand patrias chicas. Where one's grandmother always makes the best tortilla in the world. Bar none.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

My daughter's friend nearly missed her train to Madrid early this morning. This was because there was no indication we needed platform 2 and so we spent five minutes trying to find her carriage on platform 1, where the night train from Madrid was parked. The woman at the ticket counter appeared astonished I needed to ask her where the 8.45 train was.

But, anyway, driving back home at this early hour, I did a double take at the surreal sight of a blind woman walking along the pavement wielding a white cane and dressed entirely in medieval garb. And then I remembered we have the big Feira Franca fiesta today. Passing the Alameda, I was impressed to see dozens of folk working on setting up their tables/stalls at the equivalent of 6.45am in other countries.

Talking of travel problems . . . I might have already said that Vigo airport's parking arrangements could well be the most user-unfriendly in the world. Firstly, if you go where you used to go to drop off/pick up someone, you end up against a sign that says Taxis and Car Hire Returns Only. And have to turn back. Secondly if you try to get to the terminal via the multi-level car park and take what looks like an access road up to the dropping-off point, you eventually end up back where you started on the main road. Thirdly, if you do it the only way possible and go via the car park itself, you have to climb at least three floors before you get to the airport level. Then, when you've had half an hour or more to get over the irritation all this causes, you have to face the obstacle course of getting out of the car park. The first problem is that the only pay machines are located on the top floor, round the corner from the entrance and the lifts. Where you can't see them. If you assume there's one on the floor where your car is, you have to return to the top floor to pay. Using the world's slowest lifts. When you've returned to your car, you find that the sign for the Exit (Salida/Saida) is so positioned you can't see it until you've gone past it. Then, after you've returned to the spot where you have to turn left up the ramp, there isn't enough space for even a standard size car to do this in one go. Finally, there's only one lane for the Exit, not the normal two or three. But that's not all . . . The piece de resistance is that there are not one but two barriers to go through and, for God knows what reason, you have to wait between the two barriers before the second one lifts. There's a sign telling you to stop, wait and not crash through the second barrier but, naturally, this is only in Gallego and unintelligible English (Place Here). The upshot of this last night was a long queue of cars waiting to get out. And this despite the fact the utter inanity of the system was being demonstrated by a guy at the first barrier taking your (possibly unpaid) ticket and hurrying you through both (raised) barriers. A system override, in other words. Without this, I suspect we'd have been there until dawn, waiting to have fun with the barriers. Whoever designed this facility should be hung, drawn and quartered. Or, better, made to drive round the car park for the rest of eternity, vainlessly trying to get out. Meanwhile, I shall coin the phrase airport rage. You heard it here first. Possibly.

Here's a picture of the infernal pipe-player and his streamer-twirling accomplice. 

They're heading down into town, at 11.30, for their morning/midday labours. My guess was they'd spent the night at the gypsy encampment below my house. But they might merely have been there for supplies of something or other. Perhaps charcoal for a barbecue. Or meat for the two dogs that were scampering after them, out of picture. By the way, have you noticed it's the girl who's carrying all their stuff? Possibly because it's mostly her accoutrements. Nice to see equality in the world of panhandling. 

And here's a picture of something you don't see every day, even in Galicia - a couple of oxen and an old woman in medieval costume and sunglasses. 

Her job was apparently to hold the female ox and tap it every few minutes on the nose with the stick in her left hand. Affectionately, of course.

And here's a slogan my daughters and I saw on a wall as we walked to my car. And with which we were all in agreement, while expecting it to be some time in arriving.

Finally . . . Here are said daughters and me, having just polished off a hearty churrasco before taking the younger one to the airport.

Postscript correction: I can now tell you there's no way to arrive at the Pick up/Drop off point at Vigo airport by climbing up through the car park floors. The only way is to ignore the sign that says Taxis and Car Hire Returns Only and then blague your way out of trouble, if you get stopped. "But it used to be this way, the last time I came here last year". The cop will know you're lying but will admire your chutzpah and let you off. But don't mention my name . . .

Friday, September 02, 2011

If you're a foreigner resident in Spain and have become so during the last four years, the fiddly bit of paper that proves this is now obsolete. And you have to get a new one, re-paying the (increased) fee. A pure revenue exercise? A new tax on foreigners? Who knows? I won't be bothering to do this. I use my old (long-expired) laminated residence card to prove my identity when using my credit card. And, if I'm ever stopped by the police - which will now happen tomorrow, of course - I will show them my (not expired) Spanish driving licence. Or my library card. As a bit of a joke . . .

Incidentally, what I love about the Certificate of Residence is that it gives the (alleged) names of both of my parents. Why?

Spanish banks have a reputation - at least in this house - for providing a relatively poor (though paper-heavy) service while extracting the maximum amount of money from their locked-in clients. The average annual fee for having a current account is now around 200 euros, though I'm not sure this yet reflects the 35% increase being talked about as an easy way for the banks to compensate for their piss-poor business strategies over the last five to ten years. The other thing they're famous for is continuing to chase mortgagors once they've defaulted and handed title of the property to the bank. Or pursuing their parents, if the borrowers were under 35 and had to get their loan underwritten by these. I don't know whether this happens in other European countries but I'm pretty sure it's rare in Anglo-Saxon economies. As is charging for a current account, of course. Anyway, the number of "underwater" properties whose owners are said to have negative equity is now estimated at 250,000, following price falls of at least 20% over the last two years.

As predicted, unemployment figures rose at the end of August. But there's always a question mark over these. Click here for an explanation as to why.

Driving in Spain. News that will not surprise many of us . . . A government survey shows that 60% of Spanish motorists in Spain hog the outside lane even when not overtaking. More here.

Which reminds me - Another Galician kamikaze driver was stopped yesterday, after he'd driven 30km the wrong way down the A52 autovia. After explaining - rather unnecessarily, I'd have thought - that he'd taken a wrong turn, and after testing negative for alcohol, he was allowed to go on his way.

Brits remain the main foreign group visiting Spain but their average spend Jan-July was 6% down on last year. In contrast, that of the Scandinavians, the French and the Germans was up. And, for reasons unknown, Dutch visitors were 27% up in July. Perhaps they came to see the country whose team outplayed theirs in the World Cup last summer. And was kicked to perdition in the process. Expiation?

Finally . . . I was pleased to see Google's Blogger had changed the name for those who access this blog as Followers. They're now known as Members and this gives me the opportunity to welcome to Fernando L., Vanessa V. and Filip M., who joined this last week.

All of which reminds me that Blogger now has a new Dashboard format, via which they give me a stack of statistics on readership. From this I (happily) see that yesterday I had far more Page Views than suggested by either of the counters over on the right. Which has to be a good development. Though I've no idea how accurate.

I also want to thank the kind reader who became the 140th person to access my blog via Google Reader. Though it took them 2 or 3 days to recognise his arrival. Someone told me . . .

Apologies for my self-indulgence.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

I went shopping this morning. As ever, it was pretty much a failure. Like each of the three I'd previously tried, the ironmongers didn't stock microwave fuses. But (when asked) thought an electrical shop at the other end of town might. Like the previous specialist electrical shop I'd tried, this didn't either. But (when asked) thought that a place on the north side of town might. Which I will try another day.

The one good aspect of shopping in Spain is that they're incredible at wrapping stuff. But this can reach farcical levels, as when they wrap a single screw in brown paper and then sellotape the little parcel. And it's not so appealing when you're in a bit of a hurry and, as this morning, the guy at the counter is attempting to wrap a piece of kitchen furniture in brown paper for the women in front of you. And inevitably taking an age.

So, Richard Branson's Caribbean palace was destroyed during an electrical storm. Surprising he couldn't afford to put a lightning conductor on the roof. Or anywhere, for that matter.

The Tour de España came to Pontevedra today, where all hotels are now fully booked. This is in sharp contrast with July, it seems, when occupation was down around 50%. As our tourists are "92%" Spanish, this says something about La Crisis. Parts of Spain which depend on foreign visitors have done rather better, I believe. And August is reported to have been good, with 77% occupation along this coast. Good, but still not great, in view of the fixed costs. Variable costs are, of course, kept down by only employing cheap and servile South Americans.

Actually, it was fun watching the cyclists race over a bridge across the river while also viewing the same event on the TV. Though not exactly at the same time, of course. And it was me watching the race on the TV, not the cyclists.

It had to happen . . . Such has been the explosion in (EU-funded) roads and motorways in Spain over the last ten years, one of the easiest ways to save money, going forward, is to cut the road maintenance program. And, sure enough, this is what's just been announced for Galicia. I wonder how long it'll be before driving long distances here ceases to be an old-fashioned pleasure, because the roads are both high quality and relatively empty.

I've often expressed admiration for the obituaries in Spain's national papers. This week we've had one dedicated to a Mississippi Delta Bluesman, David Edwards. Shame they cited his nickname as Honeboy, rather than what it was - Honeyboy. You can hear his music on Spotify, by the way. Lovely guitar. Voice not bad either.

I mentioned ADSL prices yesterday and today I noted that BT is now promoting its services in Spain. Naturally, they've adopted the Spanish practice of luring you in with a a price which is reasonable (relatively speaking) but then shoots up after six months. I say 'reasonable', but it isn't really, against the prices being offered by Telefónica as of this week. Some quick rethinking will have to be done in the BT marketing department.

As I was writing some of this post this morning, I had to move from my preferred table as four of the six young women on the one behind me were smoking. This prompted some quick research on the internet, which confirmed my suspicion that deaths from lung cancer among women are rocketing up in Spain, as in France. In both countries cigarettes are primarily seen as appetite suppressors. So the more the merrier. Until later. Click here if you want more detail about the claim that "the female lung cancer epidemic is likely to expand in southern Europe from the current rate of 5/100,000 in Spain to approach 20/100,000 within the next 2-3 decades. Horrifying.

The Pontevedra character, Draculín, now seems to be patronising the same lunchtime bar as me. And so it was today I could snap him wearing something I've never even seen in England, despite living four years in London - a bloody bowler hat!

And here's a picture of the latest block of - totally empty - flats to be finished in Pontevedra. What's the betting on how long it'll be before they're all taken? 10 years? Twenty?

Finally . . . A complaint. Some genius at M&S has decided it'd be a good idea to save money (I guess) by getting rid of labels on mens' jockey shorts (slips - sleeps - in Spanish) and replacing them by print on the inside of the garment. The core problem with this is that the 'label' fades with washing. The additional problem, if you need glasses, is that a point is reached when you can't see the print at all and so proceed to put your shorts on back-to-front. Which is annoying. I shall have to consider taking my annual business elsewhere.