Friday, November 30, 2012

Spain's 1978, post Civil War settlement was not really designed for bad times. And these are terrible times. They must be; the government's just announced that it won't be increasing pensions in line with inflation next year. Just a 1% increase against 3% inflation. Doesn't sound a lot but it is if you're close to the bread line. It won't, of course, much affect the legions of Spanish politicians and businessmen who can afford to go and visit their cash in Andorra, Liechtenstein and/or Andorra.

The '78 system of Autonomous Communities (effectively regions) is creaking and groaning, as Madrid tries to impose economies on regional governments who've got used to spending big, particularly on themselves and their friends. Yesterday's appeal to the Constitutional Court was by Exremadura and Galicia about the planned suspension/ abolition of subsidies for renewable energy projects. Mainly solar, I guess. Today's resort to the Court is by The Basque Country, which says it will ignore Madrid's diktat that they don't give civil servants their month's bonus at Xmas. This is no way to run a country.

One of the problems, of course, is that some Regions have a better deal with Madrid than others. The Basque Country enjoys the greatest devolution – with its own Tax Office, for example – and Cataluña comes next. Not that you'd know from the regualr wingeing from there. There are inevitably regional jealousies even in the best of times but, as I've said, these are decidedly not the best of times. Building permits this year look like being around 50,000, compared with nearly 900,000 in 2006. The 'motor' of the economy has been taken off the road.

So, Whither Cataluña? The party - ERC – which came second in Sunday's elections, and which holds the key to the way forward, has said – with great specificity – that it wants a referendum on independence to take place on September 11, 2013. Which is earlier that that proposed for Scotland, I believe. But these are just opening shots in what will be a long skirmish, both within Cataluña and between Barcelona and Madrid. Just what the uninspiring Sr Rajoy wants as he tries to reform Spain while keeping the Brussels and IMF Mandarins happy. Not forgetting Mrs Merkel. Still, things could be worse; he could be the President of Israel.

Which reminds me – I think I have a solution to the Middle East problem. We should build on the “Two state” idea and divide the whole region into as many states as it takes to keep sane people isolated from the religious nuts on both sides. Jerusalem would belong to everyone. Can't think why this obvious solution hasn't been implemented.

Talking of wars . . . Here's a day-warming story from the last global conflagration: In 1942, a British pilot and his navigator flew a Bristol Beaufighter plane at window height down the Champs Élysée, dropped a French Tricolour on the Arc de Triomphe, then strafed the Gestapo headquarters. Impressive as this is, it would've been even more uplifting if someone hadn't got the timing wrong and they'd been able to attack their original target of the daily parade of Nazi troops. But the Gestapo HQ was certainly a morale-boosting fallback.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Someone in the Spanish government has been daft enough to officially predict how house prices will move over the next five years. According to him, they'll continue to fall for the next two years and then remain flat for two more years before starting to rise in 2017. So, no need to rush out and buy your castle in Spain. But, if you must, try to remember that you have the whip hand. And that the more an agent smiles, the more lies he or she is peddling.

Be particularly careful if the property you want is close to the sea.The Madrid government has trumpeted a willingness to relax the rule about not building within 500 metres of the sea – which appeals (guess why) to the local councils - but some regional governments have intimated they'll ignore this and maintain the restriction.
Again, don't rely on the selling agent if there's any doubt at all. Fleecing red-faced foreigners is a sport in some parts of Spain.

That old Constitutional Court nonsense again. The regional governments of Estremadura and Galicia have filed a complaint there about Madrid's decision to impose a moratorium on subsidies for renewable energy enterprises. The gravamen of the claim is that the Bill was rushed through parliament. I'm just surprised to hear that anything gets rushed in Spain.

Intriguingly, US Treasury officials have lashed out at Germany and other northern states. They'd told Congress that internal balances within the eurozone are disrupting the global trade structure, with almost nothing being done by north Europeans states to curb their huge surpluses. The US report said Germany’s current account surplus is running at 6.3% of GDP, and Holland is even worse at 9.5%. “Yet the countries still cleave to fiscal austerity policies that constrict internal demand.” Nice to know that the feckless southern states aren't the only ones at fault.

I saw some Spanish TV last night, for the fist time in a long time. Nothing much had changed. A serious discussion program contained the two features I've always disliked:-
  1. Everyone ends up talking/shouting at the same time,
  2. Part (all?) of the audience sits behind the participants, looking at the back of their heads. And smirking if they see themselves on the monitor. Weird.
I recall an attempt years ago to stop the first of these:- Each speaker was given a microphone that retracted into the desk when their time was up. The experiment was short-lived – probably because it meant the speaker started to shout louder and louder to compensate for the disappearing mike.

It's been alleged for years that socks go missing in washing machines. I, for one, believe this to be true but I knew a German once who said it never happened with Miele or Bosch machines. Anyway, I now have the same problem with CDs and DVDs. By which I don't mean I put them in my cheapo Electrolux; I mean I have several empty cases and no idea where the contents might be.

Finally . . . The Economist has produced a lengthy overview of the state of the Spanish State. I don't know why I have to pay to read it but you can get it free on the internet a few days later but, anyway, here it is. It was written before Sunday's Catalan elections but remains a good and valid read.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I attended a performance of Bizet's Carmen in Pontevedra last night. And a very pleasant evening it was - starting at 8.45 (15 minutes late) and finishing at midnight (40 minutes late). God knows what time the Vigo school kids who appeared in one act got home. And how much sleep they got before school today. Incidentally, they received more applause than almost anyone else and were the only performers mentioned in a brief article on the opera in today's Diario de Pontevedra. As well as being featured in an accompanying foto. So what's that all about? And will we have a proper review in tomorrow's paper? One that might actually help NovaGalicia bank sell seats for Verdi's Nabucco in January. I'm betting not.

Given that the opera is set in Sevilla and features quite a lot of dancing, I was a tad concerned the largely East European cast would expose themselves to ridicule in front of a Spanish audience. Fortunately, though, there were four elegant and svelte ballerinas from a Spanish school and the pretty woman in the Carmen role was adequate in this department.

As ever, I was armed with my small (bird-watching) binoculars. I don't actually go watching – so am not a 'twitcher' – but I do use these bins on the birds in my garden. Anyway, it was good to be able to see the performers close up. Against that, it wasn't so welcome seeing just how poor were the long, black wigs worn by many of the female performers.

Last comment on last night – There was, of course, a request at the start that phones be switched of and that people refrain from filming the performance. Most of us managed to do the latter – especially those of us with dumb-phones – but several inconsiderate bastards didn't, creating a distraction to the rest of us. But I suppose this happens elsewhere too.

I advised my friends on Facebook that I planned to do another camino to Santiago next spring and sought indications of prima facie interest. It would be wrong to say the response was overwhelming but I wasn't expecting just a single response. So, as a glutton for punishment, I'm now throwing this open to the readership of this blog. My email is should any of you be interested in going on the circulation list.

I'm always compiling lists of one sort or another and I'm capable of turning these into a matrix in the wink of an eye. Which is why my daughters call me Matrix Man. Inter alia. Anyway, my latest list – which will be a work in progress – is entitled The Golden Rules to Living in Spain. And here's the few I jotted down today, in no particular order or importance:-
  • Never believe any signal made by any other driver. It can only lead to tears.
  • If you don't like any particular aspect of Spanish life, don't rail against it and don't try to change it: simply manage (i. e. reduce) your expectations.
  • When dealing with the bureaucracy, take at least three copies of every document they've asked for. Plus three of every other remotely relevant document you've got. The bureaucrats are trained to send you home for a document which they've not yet mentioned.
  • If a Spanish woman touches you on the arm or even the thigh as she's talking to you, don't read this in Anglo terms: It usually means nothing at all and it's a good idea to take this on board and so cool yourself down.
  • If you want to get anything done with someone Spanish, create a 'personal connection' in whatever way you can and try to progress things face to face.
  • Accept that there's a different concept of time here. Put some effort into finding out what it is. And live with it.
  • Carry reading matter everywhere you go. And/or music, if you prefer. You are surely going to need it/them.
More anon.

Finally . . . Yesterday's question: Mussels a la marinera – This means 'Mussels in a seafood sauce.' But, if you don't speak English and look up marinera in the dictionary, one of the answers will be 'A sort of blouse worn by seamen in Brittany.' From this it's just one small step to 'Mussels to the seaman's blouse'. Sorry to those who already knew this.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I mentioned to my friend Jon I'd been surprised – when buying toothpaste – to see that Carrefour was selling sex toys. “That's nothing” he said. “Just round the corner from here there are three vending machines and one of them sells nothing else.” What is this country coming to? As it were.

Incidentally, Carrefour's sex toys are sold under the Durex brand. In the UK this is associated with condoms but in Australia, as I recall, it's a brand of sellotape. Indeed, durex may now be the generic name for the stuff down there. Though not in the USA, where it's scotch tape, I think.

I am a big fan of Brittany Ferries, having used them at least twenty times without finding anything to complain about. Which is quite something. So I was intrigued to learn today that the enterprise was initiated by Breton farmers, in 1972, to provide access to the British market. Making the UK easier to reach than Paris! All very appropriate, really, as Brittany was settled by Brits – hence the name – way back before the end of the Roman period. Which is why the Breton language is similar to Cornish and Welsh. Not that Bretons will be able to find many speakers of the former to chat with.

Speaking of Brittany . . . I may have asked this before but can anyone say why one of the items on a particularly amusing menu here in Galicia was Mussels to the seaman's blouse?

Walking behind a young Spanish woman the other day, I was struck by the fact she looked at her reflection in every shop window we passed. If there was a wall and no glass, she didn't bother to turn her head. I wonder if all Spanish women do this. More research is clearly required.

When all the dust had settled in Cataluña, the pro-independence parties had garnered 48% of the vote, against 45% for the parties against it. So, no clear mandate for change. Raising the spectre of a No vote when push eventually comes to shove.

They haven't yet gone so far as the bar owners of Ferrol, but it's fascinating to see their counterparts here in Pontevedra building up their street furniture to make things comfortable for their smoking clients during the winter. Key, of course, is one or more flaming heaters. I'm quite sure some of this expansion across pavements is illegal but no one seems to care about that. Live and let live – a fundamental principle of Spanish life.

Finally . . . I have a friend on Facebook whom I've not actually met. Ex-wife of a friend I have met. She sent me a request to play a game called Bubble Safari. As this was of no interest, I ignored it. But the request was repeated. And repeated. And repeated. So I did what one needs to do to stop it coming into my newsfeed(?) and thought that was that. But, no. Up in the right hand corner of my page, I'm told I've now had 24 requests to play this game. I feel like I'm being stalked. By a bloody computer!

Lastly, lastly . . . For those who live in southern Galicia or northern Galicia, here are the numbers of an Englishman, Pierre Cornlouer, (honest) who will deliver to your door all those British or American foods you're missing. Well, most of them.
Landline: (00 34) 986 683 506
Mobile: (00 34) 667 543 717

Happy eating!.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Well, yesterday's regional elections in Cataluña brought us some surprising results. President Arturo Mas, who's promoted them as a vote on secession from Spain, received a kick in both cojones. His party not only failed to get an absolute majority but, worse, lost a fifth of its seats in the process. On top of that, the pretty-far-left ERC party doubled its seats and knocked the national PSOE socialist party out of second place. Perhaps the most surprising element was the anti-secession, right-of-centre PP party marginally increasing its representation in parliament. In other countries, one might expect to see Sr Mas handing in his resignation after such a debacle. Here in Spain . . . possibly not. Though he probably won't be there in a year's time.

All that said, there's certainly a majority in the Catalan parliament in favour of a referendum on independence from Spain. So I guess we can assume it's coming some time in the next year or three. Unless – as with the Scottish Nats – the conclusion is reached it's going to be lost. Meanwhile, here's fellow blogger Graham's rather more in-depth analysis of yesterday's developments than mine.

Incidentally, reporting on these elections France24 spoke of the 'compromise of the independence parties.' This is an all-too-common mis-translation of the Spanish word compromiso. Which really means 'commitment'.

Which reminds me . . . The normally-amusing voiceover on Come Dine with Me keeps referring to chorizo as choritso, rather than choreetho. It's getting to me. I'm starting to shout at the TV.

Tamara Rojo is the Artistic Director of the English National Ballet. She's Spanish and there are some beautiful fotos of her on the web. This is one of them and the question that springs to my mind is – How on earth does she do it? Just looking at it brings tears to my eyes.

I went to an exhibition of Picasso sketches tonight, in a building associated with the now-extinct savings bank Caixa Galicia. We used to have two savings banks in Galicia but now we have none, as they were fused and then converted into a real bank, NovaGalicia. One of the functions of the savings banks – alongside lending or just giving money to favoured politicos and businessmen - was to stage cultural events such as this one. My guess is we'll now see fewer and fewer of these. Especially as the European Commission has demanded serious layoffs in NovaGalicia, as part of the deal to transfer billions of euros to Spanish banks. Pretty inevitable but still unwelcome.

Finally . . . It's generally felt that the first football team in Spain was formed in Huelva but there are two Galician coastal towns which dispute this claim to fame. I knew that Villagarcia believed that – thanks to games against the British Navy – they'd got there first but today I read in El País that the honour may well belong to Vigo, thanks to the British laying communication cables from there in 1873. Followed by the Germans. Which made the city a pretty interesting place between 1937 and 1945.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

In a book entitled “In the Footsteps of George Borrow”, Guy Arnold relates a scene in a small-town bar in northern Spain, where the owner fails to understand his repeated requests for tea until Arnold bangs his hand in rage upon the counter. Whereupon the woman's son tells her what he wants. Arnold insists that the woman's obtuseness was deliberate as all of them were pronouncing the Spanish word (te) in exactly the same way. Well, I'm sure Arnold is sincere but I'd bet my life on him being wrong. And the reason is that I know from an early experience with the word Tui, that, if you pronounce an initial T in the quiet way it's done in English, the Spanish simply can't hear it. They will hazard a guess at P or F or even pronounce the word without any initial letter at all. So that Tui becomes ui. The Spanish initial T has to be almost spat out. If you watch, say, a news reporter closely, you'll see how far forward the lips are pushed and how the neck muscles strain. I'm sure there's a technical term for this. Something labial, I suspect.

One of the towns Arnold visits is Villaviciosa, scene of a famous regal mis-landing. Whenever I see the name of this place, I think of one of the songs of the Liverpool folk group, The Spinners. There's a big prize for the first reader to come up with it. Not too difficult.

Spain is scrapping its only aircraft carrier. The work was expected to go to the Cádiz shipyards but it's actually heading for Ferrol, which I visited a few weeks ago. The main – and simple – reason for this appears to be that Ferrol is in Galicia and that's where President Rajoy is from. And there's a lot of support there for his right-of-centre PP party. In the town where Franco was born.

My overnight guest told me this morning she'd been disturbed by Toni and a child shouting at each other at 1am this morning. I had to tell her that Toni is away at sea and that what she'd experienced (as I had) was Toni junior(17) bawling out his young brother(8). Each of whom has 'inherited' a predilection for shouting in place of talking. Still, it could be worse; they could have formed a rock group.

At least one Spanish industry has benefited from the extraordinary 50%+ unemployment rate for young people. Up on the north coast coast, the numbers of surfers have rocketed up. Another industry showing high growth is that of car and house robberies, particularly along the coasts where there's a high percentage of second (i. e. unoccupied) properties.

Talking of property, Brits remain the leading foreign buyers but the second position has now been taken from the French by the Russians. Which explains all the menus in Cyrillic I saw up in the North East a month of so ago.

It's reported that the top speed on Spain's autopistas may rise from 120 to 140kph. The rationale seems to be that this will make the highways more appealing and so both the state and the toll companies will get more income. Safety? Not a consideration, apparently. There would be uproar in the UK. Probably the USA too.

Saudi Arabia: Which century would it be in if it weren't for oil? Saudi husbands will now be advised by text if their wives are trying to leave the country. Even if they're doing this together.

Finally . . . Watching the international rugby yesterday, I noticed – you could hardly miss it – a huge advertisement for Dove Skincare for Men in the centre of the field. Utterly impossible to imagine 30 years ago. Maybe even 20. You have to hand it to the marketing men. And to the susceptibility and gullibility of all others. Well, most of them.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, my lovely neighbour, Ester, told me that she was worried about levels of radon in their basement. Essentially because her husband had set up an office there. So she was going to arrange for tests to be done and analysed by a lab in Santiago. Today she came with the results. Or, rather, she didn't, as her husband wouldn't let her see them. What she could say was that there certainly was radon there and she suggested I carry out tests as well. So I looked on the internet and told her that the question of whether they needed to arrange for the installation of a suction/ventilation system depended on the actual levels in her basement. I suggested she get the data from her husband. But, to be honest, she didn't look less less worried when she left than when she arrived. Possibly because she declined a cup of tea.

To cheer her up, I suggested she and her husband join me and some friends for dinner in town tonight. She said all depended on whether we would be dining early or late. I said these were relative terms in Spain and asked her to be specific. 'Early' would be 9pm, she replied, and 'Late' would be 10pm.

The Spanish government has introduced a measure that limits cash transactions to 2,500 euros. In a letter to one of the papers this week, the writer mocked this development, saying the national sport was getting round rules such as these. Or any rules, for that matter. She quoted the Spanish aphorism:- Hecha la lei, hecha la trampa. Or Come the law, come the loophole. One suspects she's not wrong.

I see the French government opposes the British attempts to reduce the EU budget because this would damage its ability to power-hose money at French farmers. Inevitably, the French President wraps up his views in the cloak of 'solidarity'. As I've said a few times, this usually translates as 'Give us some more of your money'. Or, at worst, 'Let us keep what we've already got.' Of course, the British do the latter as well but I've never heard a British politician use the weasel word 'solidarity'.

Talking of Britain, I read about this consequence of the non-education of kids in grammar and punctuation - Complaints are on the increase about the standard of English in schools. Shaky grammar, erratic spelling, misplaced apostrophes, absent commas, ranDom Capital Letters – and those are just the reports written by teachers. Now a school in Ipswich is tackling the problem. Northgate High School has advertised for a proof reader whose responsibilities will include correcting “spelling, poor or missing punctuation, incorrect capitalisation” and improving “poor grammar”. The part-time worker will have to “check and amend the electronic [teacher] reports to ensure that they are well-written and complete before being released to parents”. You couldn't make it up.

Finally . . . I see the Colón(Columbus) Museum in Poio is hosting an exhibition of 'evidence' that he was born here. I wonder if this means I'll now be able to get into the place. Or will I still have to find another 9 people to form a 'group'.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A few questions, observations and speculations:-
  • Nothing moves more slowly or more noisily than a group of Spanish matrons. For whom the collective term might well be a 'hubbub'.
  • There's a bit of London called the Elephant and Castle. Turns out this name is a corruption of the Infanta of Castile. Which harks back to an Anglo-Spanish wedding of the 16th century.
  • It's always a joy to watch Indian fans appreciating their team playing good cricket. Even if it is against England.
  • Britain, it seems, has won the Davis Cup 9 times. When, for God's sake? The USA has won it 32 times, Australia 28 and Spain 5.
  • As shops in the centre of Pontevedra close, more and more fancy sweet(candy) shops open up. Just how many can the town sustain? I guess the answer depends on whether they're really there just to sell sweets.
  • Cameras have long had a red-eye elimination feature. I wonder how long it'll be before they offer the same thing for a red face. If they don't already.
  • The pigeons of Veggie Square are worse than ever now that the weather's turned cool. In the absence of both idiots who feed them and customers to pester, they're hungry and bolder than ever. And a bloody nuisance if you're the only person there. I'm thinking of an electric cow prod now.
  • Changing Pontevedra: The town's three tanatorios (funeral parlours) have agreed on the construction of a crematorium. This appears to be big news. So presumably there's been some controversy.
  • I mentioned denuncias yesterday. Today I read that the guy who got jailed for the failed military coup d'etat of 1981 has initiated one against the president of Cataluña. For his 'sedition' in promoting secession from Spain. Crazy as the proverbial barrel.
  • Up in Malpica they spent 1.1m euros on a pool and spa facility but it's closed after only a month. Its operating costs were 360k a year - six times more than budgeted. You have to wonder who did the budgeting. The ballet dancer who was on the board of NovaCaixaGalicia?
  • Finally . . . The 27 members of the EU failed to reach agreement on the budget for the next seven years. The attempt of course – over only two days – was pure folly. 27 leaders, all needing to go back home with a 'victory'. No wonder the EU Commissions hate democracy: it's so untidy and slow.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The EU has a summit over the next few days, though I'm not sure whether its focus is Greece's need for more money or agreement of the EU budget for the next seven years. One participant is quoted as saying - “A political agreement is within reach and I think it is our duty as finance ministers to get it. Everyone has to accept that they will have to go beyond their red lines.” So, what exactly is the point of red lines, then? I ask again – Does anyone really understand what's going on?

The latest revelation from the Pope is that Jesus wasn't born in year zero but 'several years before'. Which has apparently been known by a few academics for a while now. But we all knew Christ wasn't really born on a date of a pagan mid-winter festival, didn't we? That said, whatever next? The Da Vinci code is true?

Talking of the Pope . . . I couldn't help but notice his red shoes in a foto in the paper. It crossed my mind there'd be nobody else in the world sporting these. How wrong I was. Walking home across the bridge, I crossed with a guy wearing a very similar pair. Perhaps a papal nuncio in mufti. Coming back from a casa relax in Poio. Where we revel in three of these.

Changing Spain 1: A night club owner who made life unbearable for people nearby has been jailed for several years. The odd thing about the trial was that it took place a long time after the action was initiated and the club closed down. You might think that the tardiness of justice here would militate against the taking of legal action but, in fact, there seems to be – here in Pontevedra at least – a tendency to make a denuncia at the drop of a hat. I've even had to make one myself, when Toni called the police after I'd seen someone in my garden.

Changing Spain 2: One of the things that most surprised me when I came to Spain was the number of branches of every bank in town. Plus the number of employees sitting at desks in the banks, waiting to attend customers dropping in without an appointment. It seemed a very expensive way to do business and I only got to understand it better when I came to know just how face-to-face the Spanish prefer to do things. Well, the crisis has inevitably led to economies and there've been several closures in town. At the national level, Spanish banks have closed 5,000 branches since 2007, or 12% of the total. Despite this, Spain still has more branches than any other country in Europe. Her total of almost 40,000 compares with 11,600 in the UK. Plenty of scope for further changes, I guess.

Best ever put down? In a BBC comedy last night – the wonderful Getting On – a lady doctor met one of her male colleagues in the corridor. As they talked she said:- “Do you know that you have a habit of touching women on the arm when you talk to them?” To which he replied:- “I've always been interested in cougars”. Which brought the immediate response:- “Yes, well I've always liked ferrets but . . .” I was laughing too much to hear the end of the sentence.

En passant, nobody Spanish would think it odd for people to touch each other on the arm as they talked. For the rest of us, it takes some getting used to.

Finally . . . A beautiful song, performed by beautiful people. For a very worthwhile charity.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Next Sunday, the Catalans hold elections for their regional parliament. Their President, Sr Mas, has done his level best to turn these into a referendum on secession from Spain and independence - in so far as any state in the EU can claim to be independent these days. Anyway, Sr Mas has been accused, along with many other senior business and politicians, of having undeclared millions in Swiss banks. Can I be the only one to wonder how long the Spanish government has held back this information, until such a time as it would have maximum value for them? Or is it just one huge coincidence? As we wait for an answer to these questions, Sr Mas has defended himself against the flak by accusing the police of fabricating the evidence against him. Which rather smacks of desperation, I feel.

The Spanish government is keen to see sales of at least some of the countless empty properties on the nation's books. So it's come up with the idea of giving fast-track residence to folk who invest more than 160,000 (why not 150,000?) in a property. This is considerably less that what's being asked by the Portuguese, Hungarian and Irish governments and there's inevitably concern that residency and intra-EU travel rights are being offered on the cheap to Chinese and Russian buyers. Who probably haven't read much in their media of Spanish property frauds and abuses. Let's hope they get good lawyers, even (especially) when the agents tell them the notary will protect everyone. As if.

The Spanish like acronyms. Or at least they seem to. These are the ones that caught my eye as I flicked through El Mundo this morning. How many do you know?:- GAL 11-M CiU CDC UDEF ICV PP PSC PSOE IU CHA PNV ETA UEM FMI CEOE HP COI LSD TT ESA ESA EE-UU E-USOC UPM UPyD ISS TV RTVE UBS UMP OMM VIH I+D

My daughter has confirmed that the second packet of medicines duly arrived but that the first never made it. So, the sad situation is that the decision not to register (certificar) a parcel is simply an invitation to theft. It's impossible to know whether this takes place in the UK or Spain but my own guess would be in the country of origin.

There's a report out on the finances of the AC's, or regions. Need I say that this unveils extensive fraud, facilitated by the failure to audit their spending. One of the favourite tricks – which probably has a name in Spanish – was to avoid certain control processes by breaking up contracts into smaller elements so that no threshold was reached. Utterly predictable but not stopped. I can recall the same trick from my time in Iran in the 70s. Perhaps they should put me in charge.

Finally . . . The Pope is the latest author to offer three books in a series. Though his, of course, won't be anything like Fifty Shades of Grey. It's reported today that his first instalment includes his ruminations on the birth of Jesus. The ox and the ass, he admits, can't be taken as real but the rest of the story can. The Holy Ghost did – I'm trying to avoid the word inseminate here – arrange for Mary to give birth even though she was still a virgin. OK, this assurance is good to have but I'm rather confused about Mary's virginity and the timing of the Holy Ghost's involvement. Presumably it was after she married Joseph but before the marriage could be consummated. But it was surely consummated at some time, meaning Mary ceased to be a virgin. Especially if Jesus had a sibling or two, as some say he did. Or is it Catholic doctrine – I really should know – that they had a celibate marriage? This is all so confusing. I'm so glad I'm not the Pope and don't have wrestle with these issues for a living. There may be others happy about this as well.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

First the clampdown on the taking fotos of the police and now the creation of a new police force of 380 men to 'support the anti-riot police'. Señor Rajoy must be getting worried. Perhaps he realises that no one – not even he – believes his assurance that the worst is over and that hereonin things can only get better.

I'm a fan of regional British accents, while being at one with 99% of the population in not liking the Brummie variant. And I'm relaxed about the BBC using 'regional' announcers. But I draw the line at folk on the BBC's 'yoof' channel (BBC3) pronouncing 'three' as 'free'. With concomitant monstrosities elsewhere. Shakespeare, by the way, probably had something of a Brummie accent. Thank God it doesn't come across on the page! We might never have heard of him otherwise.

So scientists have used stem cells to alleviate canine paralysis. If things carry on at this rate, Lourdes, Fatima and Knock will be out of business within 50 years. 25, even.

The relevant EU Commissioner has told the Spanish government to quit spending so much of the funds he send its way on construction projects and to start spending them on measures which will increase employment. I suppose it's cynical to see more scope for kickbacks with the former than the latter. Scurrilous, even.

On my visits to the USA, I've occasionally recoiled at the sudden sight of a department store gun counter, displaying everything from small hand guns to Uzi machine guns. Something similar happened when I chanced today on a shop in town I'd never seen before. It specialises in knives, machetes and Japanese swords. This would be unthinkable in the UK, where – thanks to the combination of knife crime in parts of London and a 'we must do something' attitude – it's now hard to buy so much as a nail file. By the way, I may have exaggerated about the Uzi. But not by much.

My younger daughter has a keen sense of humour. Of which I am a frequent target. She's just sent me a birthday card with the picture of a bearded old man on the front. He's looking pensive and seems to be manacled to his chair. Underneath is written – Stripped of his youth, his energy and his money, Dad quietly reflected on the blessings of having children. As if!

Something else which caught my funny bone this week was Private Eye's cartoon about the EU. They have one in every issue and they're headed EU-phemisms. This one has a bureaucrat reading a headline saying “Auditors refuse to sign off on EU accounts again." His response to this is - “We are maintaining EU traditions of fiscal responsibility.” Which Private Eye translates as “We've had dodgy accounts for 18 years.”

There were reports yesterday of Britain being the country in the world with the most 'soft power'. No one knows what this really means, of course, but it can't be bad. One possible aspect is the use of the national flag – the 'union jack' – on a vast array of accessories. I saw it yesterday on a pair of riding boots, of all things.

Safety and Risk in Spain: 1. There's a store in town which has had a massive amount of scaffolding erected around it. No one yet know why but that's by the by. Today I saw a couple of guys on it fixing large clamps to it and passing heavy tools between them. Ten metres directly below them a couple of women were chatting away. 2. Yesterday in La Coruña a 70 year old woman was killed on a zebra crossing. This was the 30th such death in Galicia this year.

Finally . . . I mentioned a couple of weeks ago it wasn't very elegant to rick your back while trying to get your wallet out of your pocket at a toll booth. I like to think this is not true of doing it again when you're chasing a moth around the room.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Things you might not know about Portugal, from Martin Page's The First Global Village:-
  1. São Francisco (St Francis) died in December 1552, aged forty-six. His body, apparently embalmed by Chinese techniques unknown to Europeans, who attributed its preservation to a divine miracle, was eventually taken to Goa to be publicly exhibited in St Paul's Cathedral. His physical remains did not lie in peace. Within two years, as an act of piety, Donna Isabel de Caron bit off one of his toes.
  2. The most fiery Indian dish is vindaloo, from Goa. The term is a contraction from the Portuguese for “garlic wine”. [Apocryphal?]
I had an unusually successful morning in town today. I went out to do five things and managed to do them all. Possibly for the first time since I came to live here. All that said, my last task was to post birthday cards to my daughters and this took twenty-five minutes. This was because one of the three desks open closed as my number came up; another was occupied by a woman relating her life story to the clerk; and the third by a woman who'd clearly asked the Post Office to take on something of amazing technical complexity. Ironically, I read later today of the “great truth that George Orwell once enunciated, that every life viewed from within is a succession of small defeats.” Ain't that the truth.

The British government is seeking to get the increase in the EU budget for the next five years kept to a low level. They won't succeed, of course, and ever larger sums will continue to go to French farmers under the totally discredited Common Agricultural Policy. Meanwhile, it's good to know that the European parliament plans to spend 9.4m euros on a new museum on, of all things, the European parliament. Sensitive folk, aren't they.

It struck me today that the word 'news' is comprised of the compass quarters – N, S, E and W. Which may or may not be of interest.

Talking of news . . . Can it really be true that Paris Hilton is opening a shop in Mecca? Or that Galicia has a Federation of Party and Disco Managers?

And talking of discos . . . I wrote years ago that the police were noticeably absent when drunken kids poured out of these at 6 in the morning, rendering the roads decidedly dangerous for anyone else driving at that time. As was the case when a hit-and-run driver mowed down and killed a young woman along the coast at 6.15 on Sunday morning.

Aardman Productions may not have much to worry about but the Spanish animation industry has put together a film called O Apóstolo (The Apostle), set in Galicia. As for the plot . . . “The story revolves around an ex-con who arrives in a deserted town looking for hidden treasure, but what he finds are dead oldies looking for souls to trade with the reaper himself.” The clip is quite enticing.

And talking of clips . . . Here's the divine Peggy Lee singing the existential song “Is that all there is?” And here's the only fractionally less divine Bette Middler with her version. The song will leave you happy or miserable, depending on your take on life.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

I heard in a BBC podcast last year that there's a (new) city in China full of nothing but factories churning out copies of western Old Masters. Each artist specialising in one of the latter and producing a conveyor belt of indistinguishable replicas. There was no suggestion these were being passed off as originals – at least not to the first buyers – but one has to wonder. Anyway, the thought occurred to me today – Is anyone engaged on replicating any of Damian Hirst's stuff? I imagine not.

One of the signs of the times? El País on Sundays used to give us an eight-page supplement on Galicia. This is now down to just 2 pages in the centre of the paper. No supplement at all.

A microcosm? In the space of a couple of years or so, the two Galician savings banks Nova Caixa and Caixa Galicia begat Novacaixagalicia, which begat Caixa Novagalicia, which begat Novagalicia Banco. Along the way a handful of directors paid themselves millions as one entity faded and another rose from the ashes. Which action they're now chatting about with the judicial authorities. No doubt it was all signed off by a separate director who – non-accidentally – hadn't the faintest notion of what he or she was doing. Being a ballet dancer or something equally estranged from the world of businessmen. And of crooks.

From time to time I talk about what I see as a somewhat lax attitude towards safety here in Spain. I was reminded of this when reading that for a Halloween disco in Madrid the emergency exits had been barricaded – preventing escape – and that the maximum capacity of the venue had been well exceeded. When there was a stampede caused by an imbecile letting off a flare, four young women died and one was seriously injured. But this may not, in fact, have been a case of a negligent approach towards safety; it's possible that the people running the event deliberately barricaded the exits so as to stop non-paying customers getting in. If so, it was beyond reckless and must surely be punished severely.

When I wrote about Lisbon last week, my intention had been to refer to George Borrow's masterpiece, The Bible in Spain. But I could find no mention either of St George's church or its tomb of Henry Fielding in the book. However, my knowledgable Dutch friend, Peter, insisted they were there in the very first chapter. And so they are. Sort of:- With all its ruin and desolation, Lisbon is unquestionably the most remarkable city in the Peninsula, and, perhaps, in the south of Europe. It is not my intention to enter into minute details concerning it; I shall content myself with remarking that it is quite as much deserving the attention of the artist as even Rome itself. . . . There is no monument of man’s labour and skill, pertaining either to ancient or modern Rome, for whatever purpose designed, which can rival the water-works of Lisbon; I mean the stupendous aqueduct whose principal arches cross the valley to the north-east of Lisbon, and which discharges its little runnel of cool and delicious water into the rocky cistern within that beautiful edifice called the Mother of the Waters, from whence all Lisbon is supplied. Let travellers devote one entire morning to inspecting the Arcos and the Mai das agoas, after which they may repair to the English church and cemetery, Père-la-Chaise in miniature, where, if they be of England, they may well be excused if they kiss the cold tomb, as I did, of the author of “Amelia,” the most singular genius which their island ever produced, whose works it has long been the fashion to abuse in public and to read in secret.

Entrance to St. George's church

'Pere-la-Chaise in miniature'

Henry Fielding's tomb. Or at least a pointer to it.

Still on the subject of Lisbon, it seems I was in serious error in suggesting that the Pastéis de Belém contain apple. They don't. They're made essentially of egg yolks, to a still-secret recipe. Sorry about that.

Finally . . . I see that Spain's big film star – Penelope Cruz – is the featured model in the 2013 Campari calendar. Neither of them really need any publicity from me but here it is. You have to say La Pen looks pretty good. But natural?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

I hadn't known that – in the same way as the small Spanish fleet was destroyed along with the French fleet at Trafalgar in 1805 – the smaller Portuguese fleet went down with the Spanish armada in 1588. Largely thanks to bad weather, of course.

Which is a nice segue into advice that BBC Radio 4 has recently being broadcasting a program called The Invention of Spain. This can't be downloaded, it seems, but you can listen to the three episodes here. Here's a taster - Catalonia, Castille, Galicia and the Basques . . . it's been said that many of Spain's problems come from the pretence that she is one country. By the way, the beautifully spoken woman from the LSE is from Galicia

I was amused to see the usual depiction of a plutocrat in a Spanish paper this week. A stovepipe hat; a fat gut; a large cigar; and a stuffed briefcase. But there were two differences from the standard caricature of a rapacious businessman or banker. Firstly, there was no dollar sign on the briefcase, and, secondly, the guy is wearing sunglasses. Which, I believe, is to signify he's a homegrown rogue.

You may have seen this week the seven men who run China. Personally, I don't hold out much hope for the guy who broke the ranks of red and sported a blue tie.

One of the most disturbing things about the saga of pitiless evictions under Spain's draconian law is that previous attempts to ameliorate it were quashed both by the previous socialist (PSOE) government and by the current conservative (PP) government. In the interests of bankers, one assumes. Good to have friends in high places. And a populace which expects little of its leaders and politicians.

Talking about governmental failure – One of the reasons why the Spanish property market is flat is that many Brits have been fed a constant diet of abuses in Andalucia, the worst of which left the Priors living in a garage next to the rubble which had been their house. Even the EU was brought in to pressurise the Spanish government, resulting in the Auken Report on the abuses and defects of the Spanish property market. This was sent the Spanish authorities at the beginning of 2009. Almost four years on, no response has been made. It's hard to believe they take it seriously. Or accord it a high priority.

Finally, here's an article on Galicia's up and coming godello white grape. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

I was rather pleased last night when a chap told me he remembered meeting me four years ago. But less so when he said I'd given a talk on Liverpool at the School of Languages in Pontevedra. For I can't recall a thing about it. Maybe In time . . .

The New York Times has published a fascinating list of Spaniards who have large sums in foreign banks that haven't (yet) been declared to the Tax Office. This included the family which owns the Santander Bank and a handful of past and present first rank politicians. It will be interesting to see how many of them, if any, end up in the courts.

Apropos (smaller) tax offenders, the government say it will offer an amnesty to those property-holders who haven't inscribed their possessions in the town registries, so as to avoid paying the annual municipal tax or IBI. The government says the amnesty won't be available to illegal properties as they are not entitled to be inscribed. Which is bit of a laugh as many illegal places have been inscribed over the years.

And talking of cases getting to court . . . The Diario de Pontevedra today reported on the case of a family which attacked and beat up a couple of policemen who were trying to arrest one of its members. This all took place in June 2009, so it's taken over three years to get to the court. The family, by the way, is said to come from the barrio of O Vao. Which is local code for 'gypsies'.

Another resident of O Vao was this week chased along the coast road at 3 in the morning by five – yes, five – police cars before outwitting them in O Vao and getting away. Doubtless they'll catch up with him another time, when he's visiting his Mum.

Back to the speed and efficiency of the courts – More than one person has asked why poor people who've defaulted on their mortgages can be processed and evicted within weeks, when it takes years – if not decades – to deal with crooks the size of Fabra and Gil. Excellent question. On this, more information has dripped out on the scheme to stop the eviction of exceptionally disadvantage families. One report has it that no action will be taken (for 2 years at least) against families who have an income of 19,170 euros or less. Another has it that the amount is 19,230. God knows how these numbers were reached but it's interesting to note they lie 30 euros either side of the sensible number of 19,200.

A week or ago, President Rajoy said his government was hoping to decrease income tax rates in 2014. This week, the Economy minister said this definitely won't happen. So it goes. We can presumably now expect someone else to come forward to say they're going up next year. Joined-up government – the sort of thing we saw at a much later stage of the last (PSOE) government.

El País's cartoonist – El Roto – has at last produced one I can understand. It's a worker demanding to know But what sort of economic order is it that produces social disorder?

Which reminds me, one of the placards at this week's street demonstrations in Vigo was Din que chove pero mexan por nós”. Which I'm pretty sure means, in Galego, “They say it's raining but they're pissing on us,”

Finally . . . I have at last been given the opportunity to use my Chip and Pin card. At Mercadona. The guy on the checkout told me he didn't need my ID because of the chip. And then failed to get it to work. But at least he didn't ask to see my ID before giving me the slip to sign.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

One of the background reasons for the general strikes which hit several European countries yesterday is that booms and busts don't display anything like a nice symmetry. Those who gain most while things are rising are never those who lose most when they're plummeting. Especially when the winners include the heavily populated ranks of crooks we hear so much about in Spain. And who enjoy whatever it is that Andorra has to offer the discerning visitor.

Thinking about it, most people in yesterday's strike demonstration in Pontevedra were talking rather than chanting. Which is rather appropriate, given they were mostly members of the chattering classes. So no violence here. Contrast Madrid – where I've just read that a woman has lost the sight of one eye, having been hit on by, presumably, a police baton. Is it any wonder that the Spanish government wants to make it a criminal offence to photograph the police? They surely can't get this through, can they? Perhaps the EU should take a stance on this and warn them off. As if.

The oasis of quiet I visit in Pontevedra used to be called Café Moderno. This was back when it belonged to one of the components – Caixa Galicia - of our new bank, Novagalicia. The odd feature about the place was that it kept banking hours, closing at 2pm. Its name has now been changed to Café Tortini but the horario remains the same. It's hard not to believe this is for the benefit of the staff rather than the customers who get (gently) turfed out at 2.

Talking of good cafés, there's a famous one in Belém in Portugal, west of Lisbon. This specialises in a cream and apple pastry (pastel) that has them queuing down the street for front-of-shop sales, while an endless series of small, linked cafés behind serve thousands of Pastéis de Belém a day for consumption with your tea or coffee. A very pleasant experience. Especially in the company of the lovely Lucy of Lisbon. Seen here towering above me at Sunday's cocktail party at the British Embasssy in Lisbon. Because I didn't have my lifts in. Or heels on.

We have a new tapas bar in town – or, rather, a gastrotapas bar, as it labels itself. I was drinking with friends there last week when a waiter brought a plate of something that looked like battered squid rings. But it wasn't; it was something I've spent 12 years studiously avoiding – pig's ear. Which, believe me, has an unwelcome, spit-outable texture. I was telling the lovely Ester about this yesterday and she confessed to loving the stuff. So I'm off her. She's not even Galician, for God's sake!

Spanglish: 'Pudding' has been taken into Spanish - to mean, well, pudding. But in the form of pudín. Or, in the new bar I've just mentioned puding. Though I suppose this could have been a typo.

A quick test – Who are the fathers of these kids? Isiditro, Jacobito and Ramonito?

Finally, and inevitably, here's the YouTube video of a wonder goal that you may never see another example in your life, no matter how young you are.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

There was a general strike in Spain today, as well as in a few other European countries. Pontevedra's main square and streets off it were crowded midday with well-heeled protesters in their branded winter wear. But this is what you'd expect of a city dominated by civil servants. It was all a bit of a nuisance for me, as I had to forge a way through them to my regular watering hole. And then a few of them got quite vociferous as they marched through Veggie Square later on. I believe things were rather more confrontational down in Madrid. Giving the riot police another opportunity to overreact. All in all, though, I have serious doubts that the manifestations will have any impact at all on government policies. Meanwhile, I smiled to hear that shopkeepers in town switched off all the lights when their procession of protesters got near their premises.

Talking of which, there's been a bit more information on what the banks will do for mortgage defaulters. Or not. There's to be a two year moratorium and whatever it amounts to, it won't be retrospective. Does this mean it will only apply to someone who takes out a mortgage after yesterday but defaults within the next two years? I guess we'll know in time. Meanwhile here's more on the situation. It comes as no great surprise to find that Spanish law conflicts with European law. It'd be a true surprise if it was brought into line. But here's hoping.

Talking about Spanish law . . . There's been controversy for years about houses built – some of them pretty recently – within the 'fringe' of land between the sea and a 50 metre mark. Or 100m. Or 500m. All of them have been cited, as I recall. Essentially, a lot of properties are technically illegal and should be demolished. But a solution has now been found; the 'fringe' will be reduced to ensure that no properties are illegal. Presumably, then, to around 10m. Pure genius.

Just in case you feel I'd taking on a rather negative tone, here's a fascinating report which is upbeat about Spain and her future and which takes on and explodes several myths.

Meanwhile, in the real quotidian world, it's suggested that only 49% of Spanish women aged between 30 and 45 want to have children. But what if their husbands do?

I fell foul of the tyranny of the pharmacies again today. Having lost, broken or run over all the reading glasses I brought from the UK, I had no choice but to resort to a pharmacy and pay four times what I'd have paid in England. Swings and roundabouts, I guess. And at least the lenses are Asphericas. Whatever that means.

But it's not all bad news; the lovely Ester told me this afternoon that Toni had been suddenly called to the Middle East when I was in Portugal. And that he'll be gone for 4 months. Now to find out how well-schooled his kids have been in the Shouting Game.

Finally . . . Looking at the Lonely Hearts ads in a local paper today, I noted that several ended with the phrase Abstenerse otras intenciones. Anyone able to translate that for me?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Spain has a written Constitution. And, of course, a Constitutional Court. Which seems to be kept busy by an endless series of disputes between Madrid and one of more of the 'Autonomous Communities' (or Regions). One of the latest is whether or not Cataluña can charge its citizens a euro for the filling of a prescription. This may seem petty to some foreign observers but not in Spain. Especially because of the identity of the antagonists. I wonder if this happens in the USA or Germany. France, even.

Today's El País had a leader on the departure of George Entwistle from the BBC. Their main point was that, whatever had gone on at the BBC and whatever the propriety of his pay-off, he'd had the decency to resign and this was not something one sees much of in Spain. Shame they spelt his name Entswistle. Twice.

I think I may have mentioned that the Spanish way of dealing with mortgage arrears is little short of scandalous. Public anger has been building up at the number of cases of people ruthlessly evicted from their homes by banks which then refuse to offset the value of the repossessed property against the outstanding loan. Indeed, they add to the latter by way of massive legal and court fees. Driving some people to suicide. The government and the opposition appear to be ready to agree a 'pact' around what should be the process and the timetable. But the banks – better late than never – have now announced that – 'for humanitarian reasons' - they won't take immediate action against people who are in 'an extreme situation'. It's a start. But not much of a one.

Heard an interesting interview with Tomara Rojo this evening. She's the Spanish ballet dancer who's now Artistic Director and Principal Dancer of the English National Ballet. Her father used to fall asleep during her performances. Which annoyed her, apparently. Some daughters!

Some Bits and Bobs:

Beggars and panhandlers in Pontevedra: There's clearly more of them than ever – gypsies; Rumanians; bagmen; bagpipe players; pipe players; middle-class men with placards, etc. Can they all be genuinely in need? Can any of them? What criteria to use?

Estate cars: There aren't as many of these here in Spain as in Portugal and I now wonder whether there isn't a financial reason. For in Portugal you pay less tax, I'm told, if you put a 'dog guard' behind the front seats and put the rear seats down. Thus qualifying as a van for taxation purposes. Rather like blacking out the rear windows in the UK. Perhaps in Portugal you get even more of a discount if the 'dogs' area' is even bigger than normal. There has to be a reason for the ubiquitousness of the estate model. Which I think is called a shooting brake in the USA. Or maybe station waggon.

Birthday cards: I have daughter birthdays coming up but the choice here is poor. Not a Spanish thing.

General strike: We have one tomorrow morning, I believe. There was an election-type van going round today inviting us all to participate. I wonder what the turnout will be. Which seems like the wrong word really. Turnoff, more accurately.

Menús del Día: The cost of these seems to be falling, in these desperate times. After the 3.99 price I saw in Lisbon, there was a 5.95 lunch on offer in Pontevedra today, the lowest I've ever seen. Gone, for now, are the days of the 12.50 special. As have some of the places offering them.

Portugal's economic growth: Mrs Merkel has told the Portuguese that sticking to the austerity last will bring 'growth and investment'. As if she has any bloody idea!

Gaelic football teams: There are seven of these in Galicia, apparently. Just an excuse to drink Guinness?

Finally . . . Click here for the description of how the Spanish economy works, by someone who knows whereof he talks.