Friday, August 31, 2012

I went to a funeral tonight, the second since I came here to live. Strangely enough – given how many churches and chapels there are in Pontevedra – it was in the same church. Perhaps it specialises. My friend Jon and I were not sure of the dress code, so put on decent trousers and jackets, though no tie. But we needn't have bothered as the tone was pretty informal. Including shorts in the case of one guy. And jeans in the case of several others. But, anyway, how odd seem the words, gestures and rituals of a faith which no longer has sway over you. Not to say amusing, even. And there was far too much stress on the future in paradise rather than on the achievements of the deceased. So, I took to wondering how a humanist funeral would deal with the need for music and comforting words while eschewing the role of a church or religion. Essentially, I'd like my own funeral to be a celebration of nothing more or less that whatever I've given to people who've known me. Which might make it pretty short.

A little Spanish vignette this evening . . . I was walking to the church at 6.15 when I saw a little girl of about five offering something to a chap about thirty metres in front of me. He declined to take it and walked on. When I reached her, I noticed she was outside a florists and assumed she was handing out some sort of flier. But, no, after I'd taken it from her, I realised it was a guide to the local fiestas and cultural events of the next week. As I walked on myself, I wondered whether I should've given her something for it. But, anyway, walking back to my car just before 10, the little girl was standing in the doorway of the florists. So, I smiled and she smiled back. And then a gust of wind blew off my Panama hat and we both laughed. I picked it up and waved it at her, at which she smiled again. I went on to cross the bridge, feeling rather warm inside.

After yesterday's negative shock of a fine for wearing ear-phones, today I got a positive shock in the mail; less than a week after my making an application here in Pontevedra, the Vigo office of the Social Security has sent me confirmation of my right to use the national health service. Some cynic has suggested they'd do it quickly as they can send the bills on to the British Government, probably at a profit. Who knows? More importantly, will it work when I present myself at the pharmacy with a prescription? More anon.

Talking about the motoring fine . . . I read the ticket today and saw that my names had been entered as:- Surnames: David Colin. Forename: Davies. Which is probably the daftest combination I've yet been given. I wonder if I can appeal on the basis that no such person exists.

A second Spanish vignette today . . . I was talking to the salesman at the Honda showroom today when a couple came in - a man in his forties and a woman of indeterminate age who'd possibly just won a competition for the world's shortest skirt. The salesman continued talking to me for ten minutes or more, by which time the couple had sat down. Then he suddenly asked me if he could deal with them, as he only needed to give them a piece of paper. This he duly did, leaving me wondering why on earth he hadn't done so when they first came in.

It's official – It's been the wettest summer in the UK for a hundred years. Actually, it hasn't been a great one here in the Rias Baixas. But the next two weeks are forecast to be superb. This rather endorses my view that September is the best month to come here – great weather but no tourists. But please keep this to yourselves and tell no one.

Finally . . . Here's someone complaining about high noise levels in the UK. He should live here!

Well, this may not be a very coherent post. I've just been stopped by a local cop and issued with a 200 euro fine for having auriculares (ear-phones) in my ear even though I wasn't listening to anything. A hundred euros for each bloody ear! This is considered a 'serious offence' in Spain, possibly on a par with using a mobile phone – a not uncommon sight. So, I'm free to have four Spaniards in my car all shouting at the same time. Or the radio on full blast. Or a sound system like those favoured by young gypsy blades which shake the foundations of buildings they pass. But I can't have a silent bit of plastic in my ear! I guess it makes sense to someone. The question is – Do I appeal?

But, anyway . . . I popped into the Telefónica shop today – my eighth visit – just to tell them my internet was functioning, though not at the speed promised. I was welcomed like the prodigal son on account of the fact they had papers for me to sign. A perfect example of the Spanish preference for face-to-face dealings. They had both my phone number and home address but preferred to wait on the off-chance I'd walk by and come in. Which I did, of course.

I was talking the other day about how the Spanish are confused by foreigners' names, as they don't conform to the hyper-complicated local pattern. Another example cropped up yesterday, when I read a review of the Santiago performance of that famous Welshman, 'Sir Jones'.

A few months back, I cited the Dacia Duster, as a strangely named car. Well, step forward now the Dacia Lodgy. Does this, I wonder, mean something in Rumanian (the nationality of the maker) or is it just another stupid name from a department which clearly has no idea what it's doing? Incidentally, if you merge Dacia and Lodgy, you get Dodgy.

I was looking today for the Spanish equivalent of 'siblings', suspecting there wasn't one. But one site gave me un hermanoahermana, which I couldn't corroborate. Anyone seen it used?

It's interesting to see Spain's Barons at each other's throats. As well as locking horns with the Baroness of Germany and the EU (Merkel), the Baron of Spain (Rajoy) is tussling with the Baron of Cataluña (Más) over a bail-out requested by the latter, 'no strings attached'. And the Baron of Galicia (Feijoo) is having a go at said Baron of Cataluña for "doing the begging while we're doing the paying”. Which, if true, is rather ironic as Galicia is a poor region and Cataluña a very wealthy one. And now the (socialist) Baron of Andalucia is gearing up to follow his Murcian and Valencian oppos to seek from Baron Rajoy the money no one else will lend him. Such fun.

Well, it wouldn't be the tail end of summer if we didn't have a picture of Ana Obregón in the papers. Ms Obregón is one of those Spanish blondes in her very, very late forties and famous for being famous. She disappears in the early summer, presumably to have her latest round of plastic surgery.

The minister of Education appears to have swiftly solved the problem caused him by the Supreme Court's pronouncement that the state can't subsidise single-sex schools. He will simply re-designate the latter something different so they don't fall within the compass of the verdict. Cute. And black will be white, when it suits him.

Changing Spain: The Pontevedra council has said it'll be banning skating, biking and ball-playing on the Alameda and I assume, the pedestrian area alongside it. So, more bikes and skates in the other pedestrianised areas of the town, I guess.

Finally . . . For only the second time in twelve years, I today told the waitress that my glass of wine was awful. As before, it was changed swiftly and without any hassle whatsoever. I'm not sure things would be the same in the UK. It's one of the little cultural differences which add up to quite a lot. At least if you drink wine.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

As every foreigner living in Spain (every Hispanic country?) knows, the Spanish not only have a different approach to surnames than anyone else in the world but are also blissfully unaware they're the ones marching to the beat of a different drum. Essentially, everyone in Spain has at least two surnames – not those of either parent and maybe not even those of their siblings. So, when you or I show up with our single surname, confusion reigns. If you're lucky, you'll have two forenames and one of these will be re-classified as a second (or first) surname. But as different organisations chose different forenames for this purpose, it can all lead to fun and games, especially when a computer is involved. So it was, down at a car dealers the other night, when the salesman was entering my details and I told him I had only one surname. “Well”, he said, “we'd better do everything by hand as the program won't operate unless I fill in that box.” So, of course, we entered a forename to get over this hurdle.
What all this means is that I can be called by any of my three names – David, Colin or Davies – with me never knowing whether they're using what they think is a forename or a surname. You just get used to it.

I read a travel article today where the author said the standard description of Galicia as wet and windy (or something like that) was 'increasingly untrue'. Myself, I simply regard it as untrue and I wonder what this statement means. Either it's true or untrue. Or the writer thinks global warning is having a discernible but gradual effect on the region for the better. I also have difficulty with the label 'remote'. You can fly, drive or train here in as little as an hour from Madrid. Which doesn't seem remote to me. Perhaps it's code for 'backward'.

This is how you prepare the foundations of a house in Galicia. Where there's quite a lot of granite.

And here, if it works, is short reel giving you a taste of the noise I had 8 hours a day for a couple of years when they were building the (illegal and as yet unoccupied) houses behind mine. Nice, eh?

Talking of houses . . . one of the features of the Spanish property market is that no one ever gives an exclusive contract to an estate agent/realtor. Which means places get festooned with boards. Here's one example at the low end of the scale. Given the number of properties now on the market, sign-making must be one of the few growing businesses in the country.

Finally . . . The Tour of Spain came back to town today, causing a lot more disruption than yesterday. By 10.30 this morning my road was closed at the bottom of the hill, meaning I had a far longer than usual walk into town. This despite the fact the first cyclist wasn't due until 14.05. Anyway, here are three pretty pointless pix of competitors.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I think I can safely say that bike racing is a sport better watched on the TV than at the side of the road. The only things the latter promises are a better appreciation of speed and a greater chance you'll be hit by a bike as its rider misjudges a corner. Oh, and an occasional pile-up on a roundabout. Or that's what I thought as I waited in a prime position today for the Tour of Spain riders to come across the bridge from Pontevedra to take the roundabout at the bottom of the hill. But, once dozens - yes, dozens - of police vans and motorbikes had come across the bridge and round the roundabout, they taped off the route and confined it to the 'wrong' side of the circle. Which made it much less likely the cyclists would go round it at an angle of 45 degrees. Sure enough, no one fell off and the whole thing was something of a damp squibb. I may not attend tomorrow's time trial proceedings. Incidentally, this is a plan of their route today.

As you'll have noticed, one or two of the climbs are shown as vertical, or as near as damn it. But I have my doubts.

And here, for what they're worth, are a few fotos of the roundabout and the cyclists. By the way, the police left it so late to close off the roads to normal traffic that I had a vision of the peloton meeting a truck driver head on in the middle of the bridge. But, sadly, this didn't happen either.

Police bikes gathering at the roundabout.

The two leaders, who were eventually overtaken by the peloton.

The chasing peloton.

I've checked my IBI demand and it's 16% up on last year. Or four or five times the inflation rate. As ever, there's not a single word accompanying the demand, itemising where the money goes, or explaining why the increase is necessary. Compare this with the mountain of information provided by a British council. OK, no one reads it but the point is it's there if you want to. I wouldn't have a clue where the Pontevedra or Poio councils spend their revenue/loans. And nor would anyone else.

In addition to the IBI bill I got for my house in Poio/Pontevedra, I also got one for the house in the hills I sold last November. This is not mine to pay, so I'll have to gird myself once again for another battle with Spanish bureaucracy. Thank God my printer is also a photocopier.

Back to the bike race – Watching the final few kilometres in a café, it was good to see the helicopter views of Galicia's coastline and it beautiful beaches. Let's hope it's done something for next summer's tourist receipts.

Hey, ho. On to the weekend's Medieval Fair!

Monday, August 27, 2012

I received my IBI(Council/Municipal) tax notice today. As forecast in yesterday's press, this has shot up to 500 euros a year, as the councils take the easy route to raising tax revenues. Many families across Spain are said to taking a leaf out of the Catholic Church's book and converting part of their house into a chapel. Like the Church, they then cease to be liable for the tax. Worth investigating, I guess.

Talking about economies, I fancy some families are saving on water, or even soap, this year. I don't recall a summer when body odour was such a regular feature of the streets. Though not quite as regular as the bloody accordionists.

Another thing I'm trying to stop my chica doing is folding my underpants into neat little squares. There can be no rationale for this other than having too much time on one's hands. Which is not the case in my house. I need the toilets done!

Reverting to the subject of easy languages – Both of my vistors who guessed correctly that English was the easiest language to learn had been teachers of this fine tongue. And both made the point that English was very easy in some ways, as well as being very forgiving to those speaking it not so well. That's as maybe but I take my hat off to anyone who masters phrasal verbs. These, by the way, were something I'd never heard of until I came to Spain. Much to the barely-concealed astonishment of my Spanish colleagues.

Sometimes you just can't take religion seriously. As when I read that:- The leader of an Amish splinter sect will stand trial today over allegations that he forced his followers to beat each other with paddles, made them sleep in chicken coops, had sex with married women to “cleanse them of the Devil”, and — most heinously — dispatched hit squads to cut off his enemies’ hair. I just love the idea that cutting of someone's beard is worse than knocking off his wife. And quite possibly his daughter(s).

Noise, noise, noise! Taking a quick drink (of water) in a café-bar this evening, I was driven to the outside tables by the cacophony being generated by the standard Spanish show of 3 to 4 women screaming insults at each other. Only to find that the sound was being piped to a loudspeaker above my head.

To be more positive . . . Stimulated by my citation of a bit of verse in Gallego, a reader has kindly nominated this site, where four Galician emigration ballads are translated into English.

Finally . . . Documentary proof of how efficient the Spanish get when it comes to having fun. Here's a two-page guide to the events of next week-end – the Feira Franca. Or Medieval Fair. 

And we've also been given leaflets on the Tour d'Espagne, which hits us tomorrow and the day after. Not quite sure why we get it twice on our streets. One of which has had to be re-tarmaced for the occasion. But, hey, I'll be cheering on Chris Froome for all I'm worth. Shame we've no Union Jack to wave.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

So, Ecuador's hapless president, Sr Correa, has wandered back onto the treacherous sands of rape definition. According to him, there can't be any rape if you get into bed with someone. The inference is that once a woman has done this, a man is entitled to do whatever he likes, whenever he likes, however he likes and wherever he likes. We wait now for clarification as to whether it makes any difference if the woman is naked or fully dressed. And, if so, at what point things change. And if the woman has her underclothes beneath her outer clothes or vice versa. These niceties might stump sharp lawyers but I imagine President Correa will have an instant answer to them all. Along the lines that a man has his needs and must be allowed to satisfy them. If you give him the slightest indication you might just oblige him, no sex crime can possibly be committed after that point. Even if the man misread your signals. Or ignored such preconditions as a condom. Or front entry only. Sadly, his antediluvian attitude is likely to find much sympathy in the Hispanic world. Maybe even here in the Iberian peninsula. Over in the UK, there's always George Galloway, who also dismisses the notion that Assange might have done something illegal. According to George, to force yourself on a woman in your bed and to have your way in any way you want it is not illegal or even immoral; it's just 'bad sexual etiquette'. As introducing a dog to the mix would be,I guess. Or perhaps there's a line and I just can't see it.

Anyway, talking of malfeasance . . . Here's the Intro to a Private Eye special on money laundering via British banks:- Britain's role as money-laundering of the world should have ended with the clampdown after 9/11. But as US investigators expose rampant abuses at the overseas outposts of the HSBC, Britain's biggest bank, Private Eye can reveal that the trade in dirty money is as vibrant as ever. Criminal prosecutions tracked by The Eye show how, via city banks,and offshore tax-havens, London is the centre of a web of embezzlement that steals from the world's poorest while our bankers, regulators and government look the other way. One can only hope that an end is put to this quite soon. Even if it means one's bank charges must go up.

Back in Spain, the Spanish Supreme Court has pronounced that single-sex schools aren't eligible for state subventions. The Minister of Education has said he'll be ignoring this. Which raises a question or two. Is the Supreme Court not supreme, for example? Or is there no rue of law when it comes to education? I think we should be told.

OK, it's not as funny as the fresco story – and maybe it isn't funny at all – but I did almost smile at the report that, down in Valencia, a thief had been electrocuted when trying to steal copper wiring. Perhaps I was thinking of all the bother I'd had earlier this year when a blackguard stole the copper from rail-side cables and so shut down the Leeds-Liverpool train. I can remember wishing he'd been frizzled in the process.

Apparently you'll soon be able to get an app to tell you how many Twitter followers are genuine and how many fake. I'm pretty sure my unique follower is, well, unique. And genuine.

Word of the Day: Rocambolesco – Incredible. Fantastic.

Changing Spain: Town and city councils are stepping up their war against noise pollution, especially in areas where there are lots of bars and nightclubs, some opting for acoustic limiters for open-air events, others installing soundproofing in road surfaces.This can only be good news. Especially if you live in Pontevedra's old quarter.
Finally . . . I was tremendously impressed - not to say surprised - when I heard an Italian academic use the phrase 'fewer social services' instead of the now ubiquitous 'less social services'. Though her accent wasn't great.

Oh, by the way . . . A baja consular is a certificate you get from, say, the British consul, affirming you're leaving the UK. It seems to be most necessary when you're bringing a car into Spain. So you can avoid paying a steep duty on it

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Said a friend of the Borja lady (Cecilia) who botched the restoration of the church's Ecce Homo fresco – “She's better at landscapes.” A sentiment with which there can be no arguing. Media attention continues and the mayor has had to put security round the fresco, as people queue to have their foto taken next to it. Back in Madrid, a few of Spain's cultural elite have called for it to be left as it is, since Cecilia has “turned a stuffy academic piece into an icon of our time”. In doing so she has “dared to take a step that even Picasso never took by adapting a classic by intervening directly onto the canvas and converting one work of art into another”. A second voice says that “the painting now represents 'an act of love' and 'intelligence' that reflects the contemporary social and political environment, intelligently combining the primitive expressionism of Goya with figures such as Ensor, Munch, Modigliani and the German expressionist movement, the Die Brücke group”. So, there you have it – A modern classic. So modern, it makes me laugh just to glimpse it. Here, incidentally, is a brilliant graphic which shows how the fresco has changed as you move your cursor over it, left and right. Scroll down the page.

Talking of culture . . . As always happens here, a change of government late last year meant an immediate ousting of the board of the public TV service, TVE. In a not-very-surprising development, the new management has decided to allow bullfighting back onto the box. Which will be welcomed by an industry suffering from a fall in ticket sales and the effective banning of the fiesta nacional in both Barcelona and San Sebastian.

I was intrigued by an article on the hardest and easiest languages to learn. I would have guessed at Arabic, Chinese, Korean and Japanese being among the hardest – but why not Farsi? - though I found the easiest language to be rather more tendentious, especially as English took the palm, followed by Spanish and Italian, if I recall correctly. Hungarian was in the top five hard tongues, though not Finnish, of the same Magyar group. Anyone interested in knowing why should click here.

Listening to a BBC podcast on the Italian family and how much strain it's being put under by the return home of unemployed kids, I was reminded of the Spanish scene. Specifically of an announcement made this week by the government that they are, effectively, going to 'means test' the monthly payment of 400 euros given to the unemployed when their dole finishes. Anyone who's then living with a family whose monthly income is more than 480 euros per capita won't be get the payment. I assume the family's income will be gauged via their income tax declarations. So any family not submitting or merely diluting these won't be hit, I guess. Moral hazard anyone?

In the UK, people on the street with collection boxes are called chuggers (Deriv: charity muggers)Here in Pontevedra, the only people more annoying are the bloody accordion players, one of whom came into the restaurant we were in last night. And almost got a plate of smoked salmon on his head.

Finally . . . Still more culture. Here's a bit of verse in Gallego, put out by the Xunta of Galicia. If you're a Portuguese – or even Spanish - speaker, you should be able to translate. As for me, I think I get it but am not totally sure of Coida do teu. With your help?

O porvir de Galicia fiase agora.
Porque a nosa paisaxe, as nosas casas,
as nosas rúas e negocios
son o reflexo do noso futuro.
Coida do teu. Dálle valor.

Paisaxe Galicia, unha tarefa de todos.
It was in the Spanish media a day or two before it hit the UK and you'll surely all know about it by now. I'm talking about the fresco of a thoughtful Christ which was restored by an 83 year old woman in the village of Borja, near Zaragoza. I say 'restored' but it was actually destroyed, in a way that left Christ looking more like an orangutang than God made man. I can't see it without laughing and will keep it on the computer to cheer me up when I'm low. If you haven't had the pleasure, click here.

Prospect magazine recently asked 30-plus notables what they thought were the Best and the Worst features of British society. Five of these cited humour as one of the former, along the following lines:-
  • The good old British sense of humour, not appearing to take anything too seriously (while actually doing so).
  • The thread of humour that runs through nearly every exchange and conversation. It's not the quality of our humour that is notable but the quantity. We use humour to protect us from that ultimate foreign sin, earnestness.
  • The central role of the joke in all public activities.
  • Our sense of humour: gentle but always present, like the rain - what I miss most whenever I am abroad.

I'd go along with this, as I do so miss the humour that's an inescapable part of life in the UK. In the north of England, at least. According to Drew Launay in "The Xenophobe's Guide to the Spanish" – The Spanish love the English sense of humour, and their ability to laugh at themselves without losing face. They appreciate sarcasm, though seldom practise it. Which is nice to know.

My younger daughter has a mania about light. I should say about electric lights, which she switches on whether the sun is shining or the rain is raining. This is bad enough in her own place but annoying in mine. So I'm resolved to get her a head-lamp, with a powerful light shining forth from above her face, illuminating her personal world. A miner's lamp would do the job, I guess.

And now something not too damning about Spanish bureaucracy:- Since I came to Spain 12 years ago, the state has denied me access to the health service and obliged me to take out private medical insurance. But, now I'm in my very late 40s, I'm entitled to join the Spanish health service and today I set out to achieve this. Having got the necessary documents from the British government (easy, peasy), I went to my local town hall to get one of the two demanded by its Spanish counterpart. My official certificate of Residencia was rejected, as having no foto of me. But I'd wisely brought my passport along and this did the trick. The next stop was at the Pontevedra Social Services office, to find out where the INSS office was located. Once there, things got a little tougher. Again, my certificate of Residencia was declared insufficient proof of my existence and, again, my passport came to the rescue. But then I was asked for my baja consular, something which meant nothing to me and which hadn't cropped up in my pre-reading. So I told the young woman they didn't exist in the UK and that, as far as I knew, one wasn't necessary. So, off she went to talk to somebody else and came back to tell me all the papers would be sent to the Vigo INSS and they'd contact me. I asked whether she could give me a temporary Tarjeta de Afiliación, but she just repeated that I'd hear from Vigo. All in all, quite successful. Now, I can but wait for the wheels to turn.

Which reminds me, one of my Economists is now two weeks late and the other is a week late. Will these – and others – all arrive at the same time, in September? Very probably, yes.

Finally . . . There were some ads down the side of a web page yesterday which purported to be – in English – about people in Pontevedra. For example, a mother of 53 who, “to the annoyance of doctors”, had discovered a new facial treatment. Needless to say, she had nothing to do with the city. Or Spain, for that matter. The latest example of 'clever' computers, I guess – tailoring ads for the gullible.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Almost the first thing my younger daughter said to me this morning was “Dad! How many times do we have to tell you red is not your colour?”. Can you imagine a son saying this to his father? Well, I certainly can't.

But, anyway, the good news for Spain this summer is that tourist numbers to the end of July are 3% up on last year, particularly as regards North Americans. The leading 'provider' countries were Britain(1.8m), France(1.3m) and Germany(1.2m), all up on last year. In contrast, numbers from Ireland, Holland and Belgium all fell. Of the regions, Cataluña saw the biggest increase. Galicia hasn't been mentioned so far.

My 'article' on corruption in Spain is still a work-in-progress but I thought I'd cite a BBC podcast on Spain which touches on it, via a reference to 'venal bungling' on the part of politicians here. This reminded me of one of my interim conclusions, viz. that few are the politicians and businessmen in Spain who can resist any chance they get to line their pockets fraudulently. During the boom times – with Spain awash with (mostly German) money, the opportunities were simply far more frequent and larger than ever before. Those that seized them are the ones whom the recession-cum-depression is not affecting much, if at all. Lucky bastards, you might say. With an emphasis on 'bastards'.

Relatedly, here's an article (HT to Dwight) on the culture of Galicia's savings banks (cajas/caixas). I've no reason to suppose things were much different elsewhere in Spain. I laughed out loud at Sr Gayosa's statement that he never took any decisions. One of the thing's he's accused of is hiding his pension of 689,000 euros a year from his Board. But, after 40 years as the chief executive, what can you expect? Barons are barons, and they always have been in Spain. Both in business and in politics, where the 19th century term cacique is still used. A probable exception is the guy who founded and still runs Inditex, the parent company of the phenomenally successful Zara. And maybe Sr Botín at the top of Banco Santander. But the jury is still out there.

No sooner does our big Fiesta fortnight end than work begins on the Medieval Fair(Feira Franca) of the first weekend in September. As I regularly say, the Spaniards are never more efficient than when they're preparing to have fun. So – with ten days to go - the old walls and gates of the city are already being set up in wood and canvas, impressively painted. Witness, the preparations near the town hall this morning:-

In Spain, easier academic subjects are referred to as marias. Don't know why; perhaps someone can oblige with a theory. I thought of this when reading that the UK government had decided to reverse the initiative of the previous government in making various easy subjects (theoretically) equivalent to standard subjects. The former include – are you ready for this? - Make-Up, Holistic Therapies, Horse Care, Cake Decorating, Pastry Craft, Interior Design, Floristry, Call Centre Skills, Salon Reception, Soft Furnishings and Sugar Confection. Of course, one isn't arguing against vocational subjects, merely against the politically-driven desire to equate them with more rigorous subjects so as to make schools look better.

Talking about looking better . . . I wonder if any other city in Spain has as many pencil-thin, be-skinny-jeaned women in their 40s and 50s wandering around on 4 to 6-inch heels as Pontevedra does. Usually puffing the appetite-suppressing cigarette that helps to keep them so terribly thin. As regular readers may recall, this leads to the phenomenon of the 16/40 - a woman who looks 16 from behind but 40 from the front. Not to mention the 16/50s and even the 16/60s who spice up our pedestrian life.

Finally . . . Here's a sight one sees at most fiestas in Spain – a stall selling knives, cleavers, machetes, axes and the like. 

I think I'm right in saying this would be impossible in the UK, where you have to make an application to the police to buy so much as a pen-knife. Thanks to the knee-jerk 'something must be done' merchants and, of course, the scabrous tabloid press.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

You couldn't make it up – A chap who stole a stack of chilli peppers in a UK supermarket stuffed them into his mouth to conceal them. Seems he was unaware Scotch Bonnet peppers are among the hottest in the world. And that it's not a good idea to swallow them. The clarinet down his trousers was the least of his problems at the hospital.

In Spain, virtually all middle class families have a chica, or maid. Most of these work at least a few hours a day and some eight. As does the chica of my lovely neighbour, Ester. The latter – the maid, not Ester - also does a little work for me and clearly finds it difficult to understand my instruction not do the ironing or make the beds. This week, I told her to leave the unmade beds of my daughters as they'd been brought up to do this themselves. But she clearly found this impossible to obey. Against orders, she also changed Ian's bedsheets on the day before he was leaving. It's a cultural thing, I guess. Naturally, Spanish families find it hard to believe how different things are in the UK and elsewhere.

The circus centring on Julian Assange is producing some fine male statements. Figuring large among these are the comments of President Correa of Ecuador. The acts of which Assange is accused in Sweden – non-consensual, unprotected sex - he's described as things which wouldn't be a crime in South America. Which is not altogether surprising, given the number of immigrants from there who are prosecuted in Spain for acts of violence against their wives.

My internal battle over purchase of a Kindle continues. And now this comment has further muddied the waters. Part of my holiday planning has been to load up my Kindle: so slick and lightweight. But I am recently back from the Edinburgh Book Festival, and I have to declare that as a user of both hardback and e-books, I prefer the older format. A book is so much friendlier to handle. You can more easily mark pages, add notes, turn back and check the plot. Of course a Kindle is great for holidays: it saves so much space. I'd be more persuaded by these thoughts if I didn't take all my holidays in Spain, and in a car which will take as many books as I like.

Having cited it the other day, I sat and watched this afternoon – The Pride and the Passion. A slowish film and an odd experience if you know Spain. The English captain(Cary Grant) meets the Spanish leader(a bewigged Frank Sinatra!) in what is now the most expensive hotel in Europe, having strode across the large square in front of Santiago cathedral. Nearing their target of Ávila, the Spanish forces and their huge cannon take refuge in the church of small 'village', actually the huge Escorial near Madrid. And this having just marched, as Holy Week penitents, under the arches of Seville's Roman aqueduct. Some village!

Finally . . . I have a favourite joke. Well, I have several. But the one I mean has the odd quality of appealing to few of the people to whom I tell it. Anyway, here it is:-
Napoleon and his tired army are approaching Moscow in 1812.
At the top of a hill overlooking the city, Napoleon stops, shouts 'Halt' and sits motionless, contemplating the horizon.
Way behind him, one of his men leaves the line and rides slowly up to the front. He comes to a halt just behind the contemplative Napoleon.
Hearing him arrive, Napoleon turns round and barks “What the hell do you want?”.
The soldier looks a little confused and replies “You called me”.
I said 'Halt'”, says the little Corsican.
Oh, sorry”, says the soldier, “I thought you said 'Walt'.”

See what I mean? Any votes?
Interesting letter in August's edition of Prospect magazine. Referring to a comment in the July issue about 12 people being killed in encounters with sharks over the previous year, the writer pointed out that, in the same period, one million sharks had been killed in encounters with humans. Which was thought-provoking.

Somewhere in today's UK press, someone suggested that, thanks to the Olympics, the Brits are now the new Irish. So, what do I see this afternoon? The lovely teenage daughter of my lovely neighbour, Ester, wearing a Union Jack T-shirt.

Talking of the Irish . . . At the time of the British application to join the Common Market (as the EU was called back then), the British Prime Minister, Ted Heath, was so determined to secure British entry, he cravenly accepted that English would not be an official language. It was only because the Irish Prime Minister insisted on this that it happened.

The Spanish Consumer ministry has investigated the buyers of gold and has determined – to no one's great surprise, I guess – that almost 90% of them show 'irregularities' in their transactions. And that 60% have faulty scales. So, what now? Probably nothing, I fear.

With so many more beggars (and bloody accordion players!) around this year, it's even more important than ever to have a competitive edge. So I was impressed to see this morning the mendicant outside a Froiz supermarket was holding out a scallop shell – the symbol of St James – as a begging bowl. I assume it was to establish his local credentials in the face of the competition from the numerous 'foreigners' muscling in on his patch.

I don't think there's any law in Spain about not parking adjacent to a zebra crossing. In fact, I'm sure there isn't, as the object usually blocking drivers' sight lines is a rubbish container belonging to the local council. So, when I read of the death of a child on a crossing in Lugo this week, I naturally took to wondering whether the driver hadn't been able to see it until it was a quarter way across the road. No real excuse, of course, but possibly a mitigating factor.

The mayor of Pontecaldelas has admitted that the number of locals taking part in the re-enactment of the battle of Pontesampaio this year was down on previous years. And that the same was true of spectators. If this continued, he warned, it might have to be scrapped. So, just in case this happens, here are my fotos of Sunday's proceedings:-

Ian, examining the (wooden) Canon de Pau. Reduced size, of course. Though I doubt the original was as large as the one in the Sinatra, Grant, Loren film "The Pride and the Passion".

Pre-battle fraternisation.

Battle instructions to the First Battalion Wooden Pitchforks.

The battalion on the march to perdition.

The youngest combatant, ready for action. Shortly before being deafened for life.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

There's a touch of irony in the fact I'm about to mention the milk of human kindness. For one, I don't like milk. And, for two, I don't think I'm particularly kind. But be that as it may, the recent Olympics seems to have shown us once again that humans can be nice to each other from time to time. But on a particular scale and in a certain time and place. Outside these parameters, the M of H K is somewhat diluted, if not entirely absent.

The next irony is that, although I'm not a Catholic, nor even a Christian, the two occasions on which I've felt bathed with the M of H K were both in the Lourdes shrine in France. And, indeed, during the same ceremony – the nighttime candle-lit procession at the centre of the grotto. It didn't do anything to affect my disinclination to believe in miracles, but I'd defy anyone not to experience a sensation of goodness and charity at this gathering. Trouble is, immediately outside the precincts of the shrine you enter the rather different world of trinket and holy water commerce. There couldn't be a greater contrast.

Talking about location . . . Island living can make people, well, insular, I guess. Rather unaware of what's going on in other places. And equally unaware of how they're seen by others. I suspect peninsulas can suffer/benefit from the same phenomenon. Just a thought.

Query: If you cost and timeline a project and then add an Inefficiency Factor, are you being efficient? I guess so.

The Chinese buffet restaurant down by the train station is called Euphoria. As this has no Chinese (or food) connotations whatsoever, my guess is they wanted to give a European frisson to their name and then stuck a pin in the relevant section of the dictionary.

Finally . . . Interesting to note that, during World War Two, Russian and German forces agreed to a brief armistice so they could fight off hungry wolves. That done, they returned to slaying each other with gay abandon. No M of H K, you see.

Monday, August 20, 2012

As in many (most?) Spanish cities, Pontevedra's bus and train stations are close to each other, not in the centre, but on the edge of town. During the building boom – now receding from the memory of most – several huge blocks of flats were erected close to the stations. And, because they're a uniform dull grey, I took to referring to the barrio as 'East Europe'. The rationale hasn't diminished with their completion, as the majority of both the flats and the shops below them are unoccupied. OK, it's not as depressing as the flats I saw when entering East Berlin in the 90s, but it's at least dispiriting. Walking past them today, I noted that only 5 of the 16 shops below one block were in business – a bank, an estate agent(realtor), a furniture shop, a florists and a café. And I can't help feeling this says something about Spanish society. Anyway, I fully expect the furniture shop to have closed the next time I pass this way. Who on earth is buying their stuff these days? No wonder they're advertising huge discounts in their window. I will report!

Talking of estate agents – The one I sold my campo house through has closed. Probably because it wasn't ideally situated, in the train station complex. In contrast there's at least one new estate agent in town. But quite possibly three or more. Perhaps they're occupying properties on their books, in an arrangement that helps both parties. It's very hard to believe that the property market justifies the opening of any new offices but maybe the industry is full of folk who are not only liars but also optimists, taking the long view. Or perhaps they're taken in by their own hype. I guess we'll never know.

If you're thinking of travelling in Ethiopia, you should be aware that using Skype there carries a 15 year jail sentence. On the other hand, if you end up in a Brazilian jail, you will be glad to know that the government there is planning to reduce prisoners' sentences by 4 days for every book they read

On a wider scale, around the world it's reckoned that black markets account for 22.7% of GDP. This is well within the range normally cited for Spain of 20 to 30%. Whatever it really is, I guess we can expect it to rise once the VAT(IVA) sales tax rises – in some cases hugely – in early September.

Up to Pontecaldelas today, to see a re-enactment of a famous 1809 battle, when Galician forces, with a little British naval help, inflicted a humiliating defeat on the French forces under Marshal Ney. I was a little confused, as my understanding was that the battle took place, not in the hills near said Pontecaldelas, but down along the coast, near Pontesampaio. My doubts increased when I saw that the re-enactment would feature a wooden canon - a well-known aspect of the mythology around the Pontesampaio battle. The conclusion was pretty obvious – Pontecaldelas had hijacked the memory as an excuse for a fiesta. But, anyway, it was a very enjoyable event. Well, once we'd got past the six (yes, six!) 'national' anthems. The noise of rifle and canon fire was truly deafening and I was amused to hear Spanish parents telling their frightened and weeping infants that this was Spain and they'd better get used to these levels of noise. Assuming they didn't lose their hearing on this occasion. What impressed me most was that both armies were equal opportunity slayers, with women making up a significant proportion of both forces.

Finally . . . It's not too hard finding an unflattering foto of Cristina Kirchner, the Presidenta of Argentina. And, because she's taken to being nasty to Britain in as many ways as she can, here's the latest.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

It's not a good year in the tourist business. Hotel occupancy in Galicia rose in the second half of July, to 75% – way down on the 90% of last year. Barely enough to break even, I suspect.

At the macro level, both unemployment and levels of bad debt are now worse than in 1993, the pits of the last depression. As to what's being done to rescue the situation, we don't know as it's August.

Here in Spain, supermarkets can't sell OTC drugs such as aspirin or paracetamol. There are shops called parapharmacies where you might expect to get them. But you'd be disappointed. These don't appear to sell much besides sun creams. No, you have to go to a fully-fledged pharmacy, where the prices will be a shock to you if you live in a country where's there's no equivalent monopoly. As they were for my younger daughter today, when she paid more than five euros for 10 soluble aspirin tablets. But at least they melt on the tongue and taste of Coca Cola.

Two bits of good news today:-
  1. Dame Judy Dench is an Everton fan. Not sure why. Don't think she's Scouse. And,
  2. At last I've found someone who shares my hatred of the modern pronunciation of the word hospital and similar words (More on this anon). He was one of the guys featuring on a DVD of Grumpy Old Men. I forget which one.
And another interesting new Spanish word – Piltrafa: Scrap, Wreck of Piece of Junk.

And a useful phrase – Cosa de . . . . , As in the following conversation, down at the Hyundai dealer:-
I'd like to see the Coupe model, please?
We don't sell that.
Why not?
[Shrug] No sé. Cosa de Hyundai,

Finally . . . An important question – Is the Vega Sicilia wine really more expensive in Spain than it is in the USA? I was going to use the word 'cheaper' but it'd be rather inappropriate for this caldo. Anyway, is there a reader in the States who can give me the local price?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Last night, Ian and I watched what some believe to be the worst film ever made. It's called Jaws The Revenge and thus gets off to a bad start, as it should be titled Jaws: The Revenge. Or something similar. Actually, it really should be called Jaws 4, because that's what it is. But, anyway, it's truly dreadful and is best watched with a printout of the review which lists the many inanities and cock-ups as they occur. Including a shark which can follow one individual right down the east coast of the USA at the speed of a Formula 1 racing car. Into waters far too warm for it. But I'll leave it at that.

As everyone knows, astrology was once regarded by the very best brains as a valid field of study. Some people still take this view, allowing unscrupulous charlatans to coin it by playing on their gullibility. But, anyway, at the turn of the 13th century, there was in England a bright philosopher-cum-astrologer called Michael Scot. Using the stars, he determined that he would die of a small stone falling on his head. So, irrationally if he believed his own prediction, he took to wearing an iron skullcap beneath his hood. But just once, when entering a church, he took it off so as to avoid offending the faithful. Whereupon a small stone fell on his naked head and cut his scalp. Michael picked up the stone and found it to be exactly the weight he'd predicted. Now certain of his death, he put his affairs in order, took to his bed and duly passed away. Surely the best ever example of the power of negative thinking.

It must be August. In the UK, I used to get The Economist on Friday, the official day of publication. Here it's usually the following Monday. This week, here we are at Friday and it's yet to arrive.

There've been a few arrests here in Galicia this week of Mexican and Colombian drug dealers, over here to pursue growth in the cocaine market. Plus their local confederates. One of the latter turns out to be the police chief of the town of Corcubión, who was known locally, it emerges, to have become the proud possessor of a number of shops, bars, flats and even – rumour had it – a hotel. All in the last ten years. But none of this, it would seem, came to the ears of his superiors. So, imagine their surprise when he was caught in the net.

The world of Restored Historical Memory meets the world of commerce. A family is demanding 1,500 euros to allow the authorities to enter their land and dig where they think is a grave of republicans shot in the civil war. Nice.

One of the daftest things about Galicia is that – for a population of 3m - it has not one but three airports – in La Coruña, Santiago and Vigo. Or 'coffee for all', as it's called in Spain. This is a dire situation in the best of times – when none of them can effectively compete with the vast new airport in Oporto in North Portugal – but in the worst of times it's little short of ludicrous. Needless to say, they are losing passengers in the thousands, one reason being that Ryanair tossed its toys out of the pram when the airport wouldn't play ball with them. On Ryanair's term's, of course. Oporto, though, has no such problem. Which is why so many of us end up going down there.

In Combarro on Wednesday night, Ian and I joined the procession from the church of San Roque (St. Roch) to wherever it was going. We were possibly the first foreigners to do this and felt good about all the fotos being taken of us. But we did have a bit of the problem with the various statues and finally came to the following conclusions:-

This is San Roque. I think.

This is St James(Santiago), without whom it wouldn't be a show in Galicia,

This is San Sebastian, but I've no idea how he got in on the act.

And this is the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

We didn't start the procession with her but met her on the main road and processed back to the church with her. Or we would've done if Ian and I hadn't taken a short cut to get to the front of the procession and completely missed them in the narrow, winding side streets.

Finally . . . Courtesy of my friend Dwight, if you want to know how the EU and the eurozone work, click here. Basically, so long as it's in Germany's interest for it to survive, it will. As to its true origins, try Christopher Booker's The Great Deception.