Saturday, September 29, 2012

When I got back from dinner in Irún on Wednesday night my genial host collared me for a rather one-sided conversation on the merits of learning English. Specifically, on the correct pronunciation of the words table, walk and rain. I did my very best to be civil – or as civil as anyone can be when assailed by a malodorous mixture of oral garlic and armpit odour. But I eventually tore myself away amidst copious smiles, slept well and, in the morning, left as quickly as I could so as to avoid experiencing the additional layer of nocturnal noisomeness.

Walking into the centre of Irún, I passed a Chinese 'bazaar' and was surprised to find the smell coming out of the entrance was exacty the same as that of the Chinese shops in Pontevedra. Mothballs?

A conversation with my lovely neighbour, Ester, as we drive into and out of town, to pick up her teenage daughter, prior to going back down to town to attend the dinner at the English Speaking Society. We're on our way back from town and are on the roundabout at the bottom of the hill, looking to go straight on:-
Ester: You have to be really careful here because some cars go straight across the front of you without stopping. In fact, my friend was hit here by someone recently.
Me: But, Ester, you're not signalling that you're going straight on, up the hill. In fact, you haven't signalled once since we left home.
Ester: That's true. Come to think of it, I never signal. I must have picked up the habit here in Galicia as I always used to signal in Madrid.
Me: I imagine so.

Something a little unusual occurred yesterday afternoon. A praying mantis alighted on the leg of our host, Steve. Unsure whether it was male or female, we waited on the arrival of a would-be partner, and the post-coital consequences. But this was not to be, as the insect tired of our field research and flew off.

Finally . . . It doesn't get much better than this - Four laughter-sodden days with (very) old friends in a magnificent house in Provence. With superb food and great wines thrown in. Leaving me with strong urge to recommend to any young folk reading this that they invest heavily in the creation and maintenance of a few good friendships that will later be worth more than gold. Lecture over.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Having driven nine hours today, to south east France, I can confirm an observation of earlier trips – viz. that the nationalistic French buy few cars of foreign manufacture. Which is why I don't buy anything French. If enough of us do this, they'll soon realise how short-sighted their attitude is. What goes round, comes round. As they say.

The other thing I confirmed is that, after you've gone off the autopista for a break or whatever, it's not wise to rejoin it in the wrong direction. Blood pressure is the first thing to go.

And that, dear reader is all I have to over tonight.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Well, I'm in Irún tonight. That wasn't the plan. But only because I didn't really have a plan, thinking I might drive a couple of hours into France, rather than stop here on the border.

But it was a good decision as I was pretty whacked, having added an hour to my trip from Pontevedra by taking a short cut I'd never used before. And won't be using again. I've passed Irún many times, normally at around 120kph, and had never seen anything of this Basque border town.

Anyway, I drove towards the centre of town but was forced down a side street by the cop putting up a Road Closed sign and, miraculously, found a parking space almost immediately. What I didn't notice – there being none of these in Pontevedra - was that
it was a Pay Zone. So, blissfully unaware, I sauntered off to do a bit of shopping and to take a glass of wine in a nearby bar. This wasn't the smartest bar I've ever been in and the beaker of (allegedly) Rioja wine I was given was surely the roughest I've ever experienced. Almost two hours later, my throat is still sore. It cost 90 cents – less than half of what it normally is – and my guess is that the bottle it came from cost less than this.

Walking back to the car, it struck me, firstly, that there was Residents Only parking in the streets I was passing through and, secondly, that I'd earlier asked for directions from a traffic warden. So, it was quite a surprise – and a huge relief – that there was no ticket on my windscreen.

Then it was off to a Pensión just along from my parked car. Having rung the bell of a flat on the floor below the pension – I thought it was a light – I made my way into the place and got myself a room for the night. Foolishly, I asked mein host – dressed in a vest and shorts – if he could recommend a restaurant and he spent the next fifteen minutes doing exactly that. For about ten places. Which I pretended to mark on the street map he'd given me.

Someone told me years ago that Basques have a different physical appearance from other Iberians. In particular a square head. As a result, I'm unable to stop myself staring at everyone who comes into my purview, to check this out. Thank God it's getting dark.

Well, it's getting on for 9 and so the restaurants will be opening soon. You never know, I might stumble upon one of those recommended by the Pensión owner.

I'll sign off with the news that a police chief has been arrested in connection with the Vendex case and that someone has pointed the investigating magistrate in the direction of regular payments to politicians in the provincial government.

Oh, and there appears to have been a riot in Madrid Monday night. Or, putting this another way, the riot police fired rubber bullets at people protesting about the budgetary cuts. Have the Spanish finally decided to revolt? One could hardly blame them, given what they're reading in their papers every day about politicians and businessmen lining their pockets. Something which they've traditionally shrugged their shoulders at. But which may now be rather less acceptable. I guess it's even possible that an entire political class may end up in gaol. Depending on how corrupt - if at all - the judiciary is.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Did you now there's an Exit Clause in the Lisbon Treaty? And that one country has actually left the EU? Bet you didn't. Anyway, it's Greenland, which departed the then EEC in 1985 but maintains links into the EU via Denmark.

More disclosures from the murky world of politics in the Ourense area. The guy who was in charge of building permits and land (re)designation in the delightful Miño-Sil region has admitted receiving 3,500 euros a month in brown envelopes.. From Vendex is my bet. That's a nice 42,000 a year, undeclared and untaxed. I wonder if he's one of 'more than a thousand' people in Galicia who own more that 50 immovables. Or 'properties' to you and me.

Down in the old quarter there's a square that used to be called Plaza de Abastos. But the locals now call it Plaza de Gatos. Or 'The Square of Cats'. This is because there's an abandoned and fenced-off archaeological dig which is awash with cats, fed by the neighbours. The same is true of other sites, both in the old quarter and elsewhere. The result this year was a plague of fleas in a primary school nearby when it opened after the summers holiday. A notice was sent out begging people to stop feeding the felines but not all have taken heed of this. Even in Spain, some people regard animals more highly than humans. They may have a point with adults. But children?

Talking of children . . . There's a particularly gruesome case proceeding through the Spanish courts at the moment. This is of a father accused of killing his two kids and then burning their bodies in a large garden bonfire. The reason why we've read so much about is that the first expert to analyse the bones declared them to be of dogs. For which she was later sacked, a rare event in Spain. At least if you're a banker of any sort. Or, of course, a politician.

I think I've read that tourism did well this year along the southern and eastern coasts. And that property purchases by foreigners have increased over recent years. In both cases propelled by Brits, for the most part. Up here, though, where we have few foreign tourists, hotel occupation, nights stayed and spend per day, all reflected how the crisis is hitting Spaniards. In a nutshell, we had the worst August in years. Which will have hit everyone very hard, as this is the big month of the year. Hence the phrase Hacer el agosto. Meaning 'To coin it'.

Talking of the crisis – An enterprising Pontevedra cobbler has decided to improve his takings by selling off all the footwear unclaimed by customers. I do think, though, that he could have tried selling them at a market price, rather than the price of repair he's going for. You can always go down but you can never go up.

But there is good news. There's to be a Galician version of Twitter. Using @tweet-en-galego takes you to a translation service, I read. Not knowing how to do this, I googled it and came up with this. Which looks like the real McCoy. 

Which reminds me . . . I came across another of those H/F examples this morning. The Spanish for 'owl' is buha but the Galician is bufa. This time, though, the Latin word – strig – bears no relation to the Gallego word. Incidentally, I once found a young owl and gave it free use of the house. It repaid me by attacking my elder daughter whenever it saw her, trying to pull out her curly hair. Sadly, we were unaware that you have to mix meat with stuff from the vacuum cleaner so that it can cough up 'owl pellets'. Otherwise, it seems, they die from their own stomach juices.

I had an appointment with the doctor this afternoon. As with the national habit of speciously reporting numbers to two decimal points so as to feign accuracy, I was down to see him at 15.06. I'm not sure why but the doctor calls out 3 names at once. Maybe we're expected to fight to be the first through his door.

Finally . . . A 'subsaharian' has tried to get into one of Spain's north African enclaves (not colonies!) by covering himself with a cloth and disguising himself as the passenger seat. With a friend sitting in his lap.

Finally, finally . . . I hit the road for France tomorrow morning. I'm sure I'll be able to draft a post in my head but whether I'll be able to commit it to my laptop depends on what sort of place I get to rest my head in. If not, it'll be Thursday.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Today they celebrated the feast of the Our Lady of Mercy on this side of the river. Meaning the supermarket and petrol station down by the bridge were closed. Which I discovered after parking and going up in the lift. The local paper talked of a day of festivities. If so, they must have got drenched. In the nearby town of Porriño yesterday, Jesus of the Agony never even got out of his starting blocks because of the gusty wind and heavy rain.

Which reminds me . . . You'll recall we had a Festival of Tripe in our barrio not so long ago. And, just in case you don't know what this looks like, here it is as served to me as a tapa on Sunday.

And here's what it looks like hidden behind a handy Tapas menu.

I went with the patatas alternative. Meaning crisps/potato chips.

The worst consequence of the rain would be the destruction of the wine crop, as harvesting is now under way. Last year a number of bodega owners were fined for over-producing (not a concept well-known in a free market) but this looks rather unlikely this year.

The Spanish word Joder means 'To fuck'. Or just 'Fuck!' But, Like coño, it seems to have a great deal less taboo value here than in Anglo-Saxon societies. My lovely neighbour, Ester, sent a text message to her 17 year-old daughter yesterday and got in response the one-word message Joder! Which she found amusing. As I did too, of course.

I tend to go on about noise. Especially that from Toni next door. So I was delighted to have this support from a recent leader in El País:- "We are Noise: The law is not enough to tackle a problem rooted in our culture and exacerbated by the prohibition of smoking in bars.” On the same subject, The Xenophobe's Guide to the Spanish puts it this way:- Shouting indoors as well as out in the open must be endured [tell me about it!] as the Spanish voice box was originally built along the lines of a quadrophonic sound system.”

The company implicated in bribing the Mayor of Ourense is called Vendex. It's been supplying services to 28 cities throughout Spain and the police say they're currently dealing only with the tip of an iceberg. I would't mind betting there are 28 icebergs for them to investigate. There must be some worried mayors around the country.

Which reminds me . . . A word which crops up a lot in reports of arrests and charges is prevaricación. This usually means 'corrupt practice' but, in the case of a judge, would mean 'perversion of the course of justice'.

Are there any other countries in the world where the school kids stop for breakfast? This has only come to my attention because parents are reported to be sending their offspring off in the morning with 'packed breakfasts', rather than pay the increased prices charged by the schools for feeding them. I'm guessing they all go home for (lunch), which will, in fact, be the main meal of the day.

Finally . . . I was fascinated to see that one of Argentina's football club is called Newell's Old Boys. Shame, though, that the players have N.O.B across their breast badges.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cuestionable Chips; Regional Reductions; Galician Grotesque: Competitive Catch-up; Abysmal Approbations; Egregious Excuses; Permanent Parking; and the Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy from Company C.

I've got a couple of Chip and Pin cards issued by my bank here in Pontevedra. In theory, I should be using these as I do in the UK – just inserting the card, tapping in the PIN number and taking the card back. This, however, is not how things work here. After a short survey of ten outlets, I can say that:-
  1. 0% asked me to input the PIN number.
  2. In 90% of the cases I was asked for proof of identity. Only the toll booths on the autopistas didn't.
  3. The same 90% asked me to put my signature in a little box.
So, will Chip and Pin ever arrive here, precluding the ubiquitous practice of demanding proof of identity, however small the purchase, and then a signature? I do wonder.

Government Cost Savings
How about fusing some of the regions ('Autonomous Communities'). 
Asturias and Galicia? 
La Rioja with one of its neighbours? 
Cantabria with Castile y León?

Would you buy this (rather ugly) house for a million euros?

No? Quite right; no one here has in the more than five years it's been on sale. Presumably the vendors are the sort of stupid and stubborn Galicians who over-price their property and then refuse to reduce it when no offers come in. Just possibly it might have sold for 500k at the peak of the phoney property boom in 2007 but now it's just a “toxic asset”. Which may well be owned by a bank.

A couple of lists, reported in recent weeks (and just found in my notebook):-

The Index of Competitiveness
  1. Switzerland
  2. Singapore
  3. Finland
  4. Sweden
  5. Holland
  6. Germany
  7. USA
  8. UK
  9. Hong Kong
  10. Japan
   21. France

   29. China

   36. Spain. Same position as last year.

So, lots of room for improvement.

Approval Ratings for Spain's Institutions
Doctors – 93%
Scientists – 90%
State school teachers – 88%

Then we plummet right down to:-
Judges – 44%
Courts – 36%
The Constitutional Court – 29%
The Supreme Court – 27%
Parliament – 16%
Banks 11%
Political Parties - 9%

This is a sorry picture and it's interesting that political parties are even less well thought of than banks. But, then, we do have an endless diet of corruption stories in the media.

Which reminds me - The mayor of the small town near Ourense arrested last week for various offences has come come up with a novel defence - “Yes, I did receive moneys but they weren't for me. They were for someone else.” I wonder if this person (his wife?) will be serving his gaol sentence for him.

Finally . . . This is the van of an enterprising student attending the School of Fine Arts in town. 

During his first year, he parked it – for free - in the street and saved himself the cost of renting a room. And he's now done it again this year. Though rather closer to the entrance, saving himself 30 or 40 metres walk of a morning, midday and evening.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Kar Kissing Konsequence; Daughter Debris; Aspirant Afghans; Lurking Lusitanian Lawmen; Evermore Expensive Energy; A Saxon Surprise; Spanglish, Manglish; Sherlock on Selluloid; Great Galician Grape; and the Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B.

One of Spain's favourite sports is Kar Kissing, which takes place on any and every street in the country every day. So it was never going to be long before a corner of my new car got scratched. Just seven days, in fact. Bastards.

My elder daughter is leaving Madrid for a year and is renting out her flat. I've just taken delivery of the stuff she doesn't want to leave in it. Which was valuable, as it answered two long-standing questions:- Where the Hell are my walking shoes? and How come I've got DVDs 2 and 3 of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but not the first? Now I just need to find out who lent me all three of them.

I first heard the heart-warming tale of war-torn Afghans trying to form a cricket team a year or so before the last World Cup. I then had the pleasure of watching a documentary of their progress – including a victory! - in that tournament. Now they're playing in the Twenty20 competition in Sri Lanka. There's hope for that benighted country yet!

Incidentally, there's a nice comparison between prices being charged in Colombo – 14 pence a day – and those being charged during the last Test match in England. A mere 25 pounds a day. Which is a factor of 179:1, of course.

News arrives from Portugal that – in search of easy revenue – the police have been ordered to fleece foreigners for offences which range from serious to beyond trivial. Mis-parking in a supermarket car-park, for example. This didn't matter when it was confined to the Algarve but things have moved north and this means that those of us travelling with Spanish plates are now going to be targeted. Which makes an upcoming trip to Lisbon rather less enticing. More here for those affected.

We've been told by several people now that our electricity bills are going to rise this autumn.Possibly in two or three ways. One thing's for sure, there won't be any explanatory note in our envelopes and the bills themselves will remain indecipherable. That's the way of things here, even if (theoretically at least) there's more competition than there was ten years ago.

So, the Anglo Saxons took their name from Saxony, yes? Well, no. The Saxon bit relates to the invaders' killing knife – the Seax/Sax. It was only much later that these were melted down and turned, first, into ploughshares and then, later, into musical instruments.

Talking of words . . . Another not-so-new bit of Spanglish – Un tuit. If this means nothing to you, think about it. In the context of messages.

Here's a review of the film about Sherlock Holme's time in Madrid.

Finally . . . I go on about Galicia's excellent but unknown wines but here's another favourable article, this time on the region's best reds. Enjoy.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Rajoy's Rigeurs; Catalan Capers; Sivil Servant Setbacks; Indigent Immigrants; More Mayoral Money Matters; Octogenarian Offcuts; Prosperous Petting?; Becoming Bretoña; Autumn Auguries; and the Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B.

Poor Sr Rajoy, the Spanish President. Above him the EU threatens to implode and below him Spain threatens to explode. And in both cases he's very much part of the problem as well as the potential solution. The only good news is that the IMF's Cristine Lagarde has said that Spain may need only 40bn of the 100bn euros set aside for Spanish banks. But even this has its negative side; Rajoy, it's reported, was hoping to ignore the rules and siphon off some of this easy cash into the State's coffers. Meanwhile, despite urging from Spain's Big Beasts that he act in the interests of the country and get on with it, he's holding off going down on both knees to the IMF for fear this humiliation will affect the outcome of October's regional elections. Stretching credulity, he's even said it's possible Spain won't need a bailout. And that pigs will be seen in the Madrid sky any time now.

Within Spain a real row is brewing up between Madrid and Barcelona. The regional government there has turned very 'nationalist' and is demanding the concession to Cataluña of the same fiscal rights already enjoyed by the Basques. I guess this would mean the loss of significant cash to the centre and so it's not very surprising that Rajoy is refusing to play ball. In fact, he's declined to even discuss the Catalan proposals, leading Barcelona to announce they'll view their October elections as a referendum on secession. Such fun.

In the UK, it's hard to imagine civil servants having private medical insurance as part of their terms and conditions of employment. But, here in Spain, where private healthcare isn't a political issue, it's taken for granted. However, from next year, the government's budget for this will reduce 22%, meaning the loss of some benefits. Given how comfortable the lives of Spain's funcionarios have been, I doubt there'll be much sympathy from anyone other than their dependants.

Another group which has already suffered a partial or even compete loss of healthcare cover are 'immigrants'. Not the likes of me, of course, but those among the 4 million who came here to provide cheap labour during Spain's phoney boom. And who are now surplus to requirement. In the worst cases, some of these will have defaulted on their easily-acquired mortgages and are now being pursued by whoever owns the debt, without any credit being given for the property they've been thrown out of. Scandalous.

Corruption: The Mayor of Ourense has been arrested for alleged influence peddling. He's also accused of 'increasing his assets' and money laundering. Another mayor, of a smaller town in Galicia, has also been arrested and there's a suggestion that the police learnt of their activities when pursuing the case of the mayor of Lugo and the Carioca brothel. Somebody squealed, it seems - showing you can't trust anybody.

Nice to see that the 82 year old woman who turned the Ecce Homo Christ into an orang-utang in the Borgia church, has now recovered from the shock of all the attention and is demanding a cut of the money generated from the inquisitive throng. And why not?

One of the latest retail developments in Pontevedra is the opening of a large pet shop, down by the river. Next to a bridal shop. Not a lot of passing traffic – except of would-be brides – so it'll be interesting to see if it prospers or not. After all, the town is not short of pet shops. Though this one does have some cachet; it's just down from the bull-ring. Which seems a tad ironic to me.

You'll be aware that Brittany takes its name from (west) British setters who fled the advancing German hordes. But you may not know that something similar took place in Spain, up in the north west, here in Galicia. The 6th century settlement was called Bretoña and you can read more about it here. Strange to relate, there's a village of this name just north of Pontevedra, on the road to Santiago. But there's no suggestion of settling Brits in this case.

Finally . . . The first hints of autumn? Last evening I was closely spectated by a robin as I mowed the lawn. And this morning I awoke to a light version of the Atlantic Blanket.

PS. The article on Bretoña is by Peter Robbins. Coincidence? I think not.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Excruciating Excuses; Muslims and Maturity; Pharmacy Phun; Questionable Qui Quality; Flatly Frustrated; Amusing Musings; and the Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B.

It seems to be the Spanish equivalent of “I was just obeying orders”. We heard it a few times from bank directors and now we've heard it from the director of the institution employing the nun charged with stealing newborn babies from their mothers - “I didn't know what I was signing. I just signed everything put in front of me.” Pathetic, really.

Muslim fury around the world – Here's David Aaronovitch of The Times making the same point as I did a few days ago, only much more elegantly:- Of course Muslims are not the only people whose leaders harness and exploit the reactionary emotional power of grievance. But the idea of “global Muslim anger” relies on the seductive trick of placing yourself always in the position of the done-to and not the doing, even when you run a quarter of the countries on the planet. It’s not global anger. It’s global adolescence. As I said, I fear it'll be many decades before maturity is reached. With decidedly serious implications for the interim.

Following up my trip to the doctor, I went to the pharmacy today to get the medicines. As I'd feared, we soon ran into a problem. The computer said some detail or other was lacking. One of the pharmacists then spent 20 minutes waiting on a help-line, before determining – in 30 seconds - what needed to be done. And so I got my medicines, at just under 6 euros. Compared with 130 euros the last time I got them, via a private prescription. But there was a residual problem; the doctor hadn't indicated the quantity of tablets, so they could only give me one box. For one item, this meant only 10 days supply. So back I'll have to go to the surgery tomorrow to waste more time of everyone involved. Especially me. So thank God for iPods and BBC podcasts.

I did try to make an appointment on line this afternoon and I'm sure it can be done. But not by me, as – not yet having a card - I lack some of the numbers required.

Talking of wasting time . . . I paid my 7th visit to the car-dealer's yesterday evening, to pick up all the permits I need for opening my car door, driving it on the road and getting out of the car again later. You might think my driving licence covered all this but, No, I have to get permits from El Tráfico. This stuff could have been mailed to me but this isn't how things are done in this face-to-face society. So . . .
Hi. Here are your papers. Everything aright with the car?
Yes, everything's fine. Except for the nice key ring you gave me.
Why, what happened to that?
It fell apart on the hall table.
Oh, no!. But you're not the first person to tell me that. They're poor quality. I'll get you another one.
No, no. Don't bother. I'm sure I can fix it.
Yes, you just have to use a bit of glue.
No problem. But it does create a bad impression
Yes, you're right.

No prizes for guessing in which context I've recently seen a new bit of Spanglish – Un toples.

One of the problems of buying and developing property in Spain is that there are four levels of government who can take a view on things – the municipal, the provincial, the regional and the national. For example on how close to the sea one can build. A developer in Pontevedra has just (re)learned this the hard way. Having got local permissions, be bought one of the very few riverside sites not yet occupied by a 7-storey block of flats and set about demolishing the old salt factory there as a prelude to constructing yet another flat block. Doubtless he felt assured that this had been going on not just for 5 years but for 20. Unhappily for him, though, the regional Xunta has decided it's time to protect the area around the basilica of Santa Maria, so that “buildings in the old quarter can have a view of the river”. Since about 95% of them don't, the words 'horse', 'stable' and 'bolted' spring to mind. To add insult to injury, the Xunta has not only vetoed the building of flats but ordered the developer to re-build the salt factory he'd demolished on what must now be a pretty valueless plot of land. I almost feel sorry for him.

Finally . . . I mentioned George Borrow's Lavengro the other night. The book is not, it has to be said, a barrel of laughs but I found this sentence rather amusing. Not that he meant it to be, I suspect:- Once more I fell into meditation; my mind wandered from one thing to the other – musing now on the structure of the Roman[y] tongue – now on the rise and fall of Persian power - now on the powers vested in recorders at quarter sessions. Wonderful notion that one can suddenly start musing on the rise and fall of the Persian empire.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Queer Questions; Provisional Patronage; Petition Postponed; EUstalgia; Brain Boundaries; Statistical Sleights-of-hand; Spanish Assessment; and the Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B.

I went for a blood test today and was attended by the guy who's been jabbing me for 12 years now, usually for my annual check-up. Anyway, he greeted me like a long lost brother, dealt as expeditiously as ever with the blood-sucking then, as I got up to go said:-
David.That's not a very common name in Britain, is it?
Yes, I think it's quite common.
You mean among the Jews?
No, I mean among everyone.
It means God or Son of God in Jewish, doesn't it?
Err . . I really don't know. I thought that was Jehova. I'll ask my Jewish sister.
Yes, it does. And so does [indistinct]
OK. I'll ask her about that too.
Your results will be available today.
Thanks. Until next time!
Until next time, my friend.

Watching Pontevedra FC play last Sunday, I noted that their sponsor is the the provincial government. Or, putting it another way, the local taxpayers. One wonders how long this can continue in these increasingly straitened times.

The Spanish president – Sr Rajoy – continues to play Hide the Bailout, not wanting to be humiliated by taking his begging bowl to the ECB before October elections in his home region of Galicia. This strategy has the added advantage of obscuring the fact he'll have to make bigger cuts than those already announced. On the last score, however, he seems to have been upstaged by Brussells, which has publicly confirmed that harsher measures will be demanded. And supervised by a trio of mandarins who'll be taking over the economic management of the country. Which is not that joining the EU was supposed to be about. It was done so as to achieve an endless flow of 'solidarity'. Meaning, of course, someone else's money.

When you look back, every member of the EU was perfectly happy when they were getting what they wanted, simultaneously. Germany, for example, was getting lots of nice exports and profits on banking deals. And Spain was getting lots of bunce, cheap money and real estate profits. It was only after it was all exposed to be a house of cards erected on shifting sands that people began to whinge. And to make harsh demands on others. But 'twas ever thus, I guess.

I listened, with astonishment, today to a chap who, thanks to Asperger's, is an autistic savant. Because, he said, of 'different connections' in his brain he'd been able to publicly recite the number Pi to more than 22,500 decimal places, over more than 5 hours. And to learn Icelandic in a week. I wonder if one day we'll be able to walk into a clinic and choose from a menu of brain re-connections. Meanwhile, one can only admire the potential of the human brain. Even if it does have to be mal-wired to achieve it.

Talking of numbers . . . A week or two back, I saw the eminent feminist, Naomi Wolf, make what I suspected were extraordinary claims about rape in Sweden. This, of course, in support of Julian Assange. Both the incidence of rape and the conviction rate for rape were, she stressed, the highest in Europe. Needless to say, in reality these reflect different definitions of rape and different police treatments of accusations of rape. So, the claims were as valid as the 'true' facts that Canada and Australia have the highest kidnapping rates in the world. A shameful abuse of statistics by an intelligent woman. Blinded by her belief that no information should be private and Assange is a hero for publishing the stuff he did.

Finally . . . A quote from The Xenophobe's Guide to the Spanish, by Drew Launay

Overall, the Spanish react to and judge the individual, not the horde, and what matters is whether or not people are amusing.

This, of course, is in keeping with their view that the highest purpose in life is to have fun.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Bullfighting Bravado; The Silent Sorority; Horrors at Home; Espe Exits; Noche Nostalgia; Carnaby Conundrum; and The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B.

Spain's bullfighting industry is not in good shape. Corridas are now banned in Cataluña and elsewhere and recession-hit ticket sales are way down on earlier years. Worst, the numbers who profess an interest in the activity (never called a sport) are declining with each passing year. All in all, then, who can blame aficionados for getting excited about the return of the corridas to the TV and, now, by a stellar performance from Spain's leading proponent of the 'art', José Tomás? At the weekend, José catapulted himself into the pantheon of the greats by taking on all six bulls and despatching them so successfully that he earned eleven ears and a tail. If you know nowt about bullfighting, let me tell you that this is truly exceptional, reducing observers and critics alike to tears and stretching to the limit the ability of the latter to coin appropriate superlatives. I say Tomás despatched all six bulls but one of them, in fact, was pardoned for his 'nobility' and courage and was allowed to leave the ring to, one hopes, a nice bit of studding. All-in-all, it may have been a once-in-a-lifetime event and you can read more about it, in English, here. The irony is it took place in France, at Nîmes. Lucky Frogs, some would say. Barbarians, others.

The 19th century author of The Bible in Spain – George Borrow – also wrote a couple of semi-autobiographical novels. The first was entitled Lavengro and the sequel Romany Rye. In the former he writes of visiting a pub called The Silent Woman, which is an unusual name for a pub. But not unique, as there appear to be several of them in the UK and at least one in the USA. The sign for each of them appears to be a woman carrying her head in her hands.

Late this afternoon, the young lad from next door told me his Mum needed me to come urgently. And so I went, to find Ester in quite a panic about something called a libélula in the house. I didn't know what this was but, from the description, I had the impression it was some sort aggressive insect some 6 inches, or 10cm, in length. With Ester and the kids hovering in the hallway, I ventured into the lounge, pulled back the curtain and discovered a 3 inch dragon fly. Which I caught in a tissue and released, on Ester's instruction, at the far end of the garden. To show her gratitude she went shopping with me and, having paid for her own stuff, used her Large Family discount card, to bring down my bill as well. The checkout girl didn't turn a hair but I can't see this happening in the UK.

The feisty woman who's been the Presidenta of the Madrid region for a number of years has announced her surprise retirement from politics. A number of commentators have suggested the PP Party will be losing its most liberal member. Since some regard her as being to the right of Genghis Khan, this came as a surprise to me. And then I recalled that the PP politician charged with reviewing the abortion laws is a member of the extreme right Opus Dei group of the Catholic Church. And we were back to relativities again.

I saw a reference today to a Saturday night show I used to watch when I first came to Spain – Noche de Fiesta. Or 'Party Night'. This was remarkable for two things or perhaps 3, technically. The two hostesses were astonishingly pretty, both having been Miss Spain. And the show ran from 11.30 to 2.30am. Giving you an idea why peak viewing time in Spain falls after midnight. Or it used to; perhaps things have changed now.

Finally . . . This foto shows just how unreliable at predicting retail trends I am. The shop opened 3 or 4 years ago and is not in what you'd call a busy street. So I inevitably forecast it wouldn't last through the recession. But it has so far, despite no visual evidence of customer afluencia, as they say here. So, maybe there are other reasons for keeping it open than turning a retail profit. And I can be forgiven my error.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Bye-Bye Books ; Jiggery-Pokery; The P Palabra; Epiphenomenonal Excess ; Saluting Tooting; Feminist Fallacies; Prescriptive Paper-full Processes; Hairy Hyperbole; and the Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B.

One of the sadder retail closures of the town is that of the bookshop in the street down the side of the Alameda. Why? Because this is the second time it's closed in a year. The first was when it occupied a prime site in one of Pontevedra's main pedestrian streets. After that it moved to the Alameda site, which I thought at the time was crazy. The reason is that, unlike most Alamedas in Spain, ours doesn't see much pedestrian traffic. But I'm still sorry to see my prediction of closure come true.

On QI the other night, the host informed us that the word 'jigger' has 28 distinct meanings in English. The one I'm most familiar is the Scouse use of it to mean an entry or back passage to a house. And I certainly wasn't aware it means both 'penis' and 'vagina'. Depending on whom you're talking to, perhaps. Or where you are in the country.

Which reminds me . . . The other word I was able to make out during yesterday's football match was polla, or 'prick'. The relevant chant seemed to coincide with arrival of the touch judge at our end of the ground.

Someone sent me today an email including the word 'epiphenomenon'. Then, this afternoon, I heard it in a BBC podcast. Ignoring the question of whether or not I understand what it means - I don't – I wonder what the odds of this happening are.

A lovely Spanish vignette – As I was driving home across the bridge yesterday, the driver of the car in front tooted at the four young women walking towards town. Instantaneously – and without lifting their eyes from the phones they were reading - each of them raised an arm and waved it at someone none of them knew. Showing appreciation for something which would be taken rather differently in other countries.

Which reminds me . . . I heard an interesting dialogue between two clever woman on feminism today. When I was the young father of two girls, I vehemently believed that women were effectively the same as – and every bit as competent – as men. I no longer believe this and this podcast will go some way to explaining why I don't.

I wanted to get a prescription(script) today from the doctor I've been allocated down at my local Health Centre. This being my first time and me being ignorant of the process, I decided to take 10 minutes out to go there, rather than try to do anything on the phone. As before, the staff were very helpful and I was given an appointment for Wednesday, two days from now. But when I told the receptionist I wanted just to renew a prescription, she changed it to 3.15 this afternoon. I was writing this on my palm when she told me to take a piece of paper from the little printer on the counter. Ah, the Spanish love of paper! When I then asked if I could make future appointments by phone, there was a enough hesitation before she said Yes to leave me with some doubt. But, anyway, I asked if the right phone number was the one on the piece of paper, but she said not and wrote a new one on it. This process seems anything but efficient to me – at least compared with the ease and speed one can get repeat prescriptions in the UK without having to make an appointment with the doctor - but they seemed happy enough with it. Efficiency is not a god in Spain. Where one often feels a process has been designed – or just evolved? – to maximise the involvement of people, the production of paper and the longest possible duration. All of which have a natural bias in favour of error.

Postscript: My afternoon trip to get a prescription was successful. More than successful in fact, as I got four prescriptions – one for each product. The doctor filled in each of these by hand – inserting my name and social security number four times - and then signed and stamped each one of them. Watching him, I felt this would drive me mad if I were him. But perhaps it's because I'm new to the system. We will see!

Finally . . . Finding that my elder daughter had left behind her styling gel, I decided to use it to try to tame my over-long locks. Specifically, to comb the hair on the side of my head back rather than down. I only mention this because the effect has been startling. At least eight ladies have kindly volunteered how much they like the new style. And my – now even lovelier – neighbour, Ester, has said it takes years off me. Strangest of all, I'm being greeted by women whom I don't recognise from Adam. As I have been just now, prompting this paragraph. I wonder if it's because my gelled-down hair is now very much more Spanish than the Boris-esque unruly mop I normally sport. Not that anyone could ever take me for Spanish.

Apologies for the self-indulgence.

Football Fun; Blaming the Bulls; Matchless Moments; Serious Shopping; A Venal Virgin; An Aimless Airport Ad ; Fatal Farming; The Lovely Letizia; NiNi Numbers; (H)iberian Holmes.

I went this evening with my friend-in-fish, Jon, to see Pontevedra FC play a team from Vilalbés. To say the least, there weren't many of us. Maybe 10% of the total capacity of 12,000. And what we saw provided a possible reason, with Pontevedra going down 0-1.
But I did enjoy myself trying to figure out the words of the chants from the local fans. Sad to say, though, the only ones I could make out were Pontevedra, Arriba(Go!), Puta (Whore) and Hijo de Puta (Son of a whore). One small aspect of the ground intrigued me and raised the question of how they could design a clock and scoreboard which couldn't fit the name of the team. Or, in this case, teams. The home side was given as PONTEVED and the away team as VILALBÉ. I was reminded of that piece of advice you used to see on office walls:–

Talking about fun . . . In early August, I mentioned the bullfight peñas which every year turn the old quarter into a drunken bacchanalia on the four nights the corridas are held. Well, someone is very unhappy about these, fingering them as the main reason why Pontevedra hotel occupation in July and August was down on predictions. Frankly, I'm not sure this is a true bill.

Changing Spain 1: People are increasingly unhappy that the Primera Liga matches are not known for very far ahead. And nor are the times of those matches which are. They look with envy at the list of matches and times for the Premier League games issued before the start of the British season. Maybe next year.

Changing Spain 2: There is talk of shops being allowed to open for an extra hour a day. The astonishing thing (if you're not Spanish) it's suggested this will be at 10 to 11 at night. Not between 2 and 3, or 3 and 4. I guess this is because the shops know how hard it would be to get people to give up some of their three-hour 'midday' break to do their shopping. So best to tack it on to the end of the day.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a fiesta in a small village not far from here – Amil de Los Dos Milagros, I think. Anyway, the highlight of this was the pinning of money to a statue of the Virgin. Which seemed to me to be a lot taller than usual, thus maximising the space for the pinning of notes to. Or is this too cynical?

Can it really be true? There's an infamous airport at Castellón – built when times were better – which has no commercial flights at all. Nor any prospects of any. Nonetheless, five million euros a year is being spent on advertising the place.

Judging from the number of septuagenarians and octogenarians crushed by their tractors in Galicia, farming must be a long and hard life here. There seems to be one a week.

The lovely Princess Letizia was 40 over this weekend and the papers carried a great foto of her. It got me wondering whether, if she'd been snapped topless on holiday, the Spanish papers would have carried the pix. I'm guessing not.

Some comparative data on NiNis- Young people between 15 and 29 who are neither in work nor studying:-
OECD average – 16%
Norway, Holland, Luxembourg – 7%
Germany – 12%
UK, USA – 16%
Turkey, Israel, Mexico, and Spain - 24%

Finally . . . A Spanish film company has launched Holmes, Watson, Madrid Days. The only thing I know about it right now is that the Spanish Sherlock smokes cigarettes, not a pipe.