Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Latin lovers; New Spanish words; Poverty oriented Popes; Seville streets; & Begging, Seville-style

In one poll at least, Spanish lovers have been voted the best in the world, while Englishmen (and Germans) were among the last. I sent the article to a few female Spanish friends of mine and one responded that this was possibly because English women expected rather more of their men than their Spanish counterparts. For the latter, she said, an increase from 2 to 4 minutes would be like a miracle. Actually, she didn't say that; I added it for effect. Though I'm pretty sure it's true . . .

A new Spanish word for me - Chacha. Not a dance but a 'maid' or 'nanny'.

Of the new words which have entered Spanish over the last year, the 'winner' is said to be escrache. Coming, I think, from South America, this is a demonstration outside the home or workplace of a public figure, e. g. a right-wing politician. The irony, of course, is that these stand to be banned under the new Law of Public Security, something dusted down from the Franco era and re-introduced so as to make 'people' safer. And we all know who 'the people' really are.

Other candidates for Word of the Year were autofoto (a selfie) and expapa (an ex-Pope).

Which reminds me . . . The latest Pope is said to be concerned about the poor, while living amidst the untold wealth of the Vatican. (That must be the very poor as, compared with his life, we're all poor.) So why doesn't he, for example, sell the 500 oil paintings that adorn the Seville cathedral and distribute the proceeds to the badly off? Best of all, by sending the wealth back to South America. It' be a start. And rather more convincing than anything the Vatican PR machine has yet come up with to counter the Church's somewhat tarnished image. "Our new Pope doesn't wear silk shoes", for example.

In the unlikely event you've arrived at this blog because you're researching the net before visiting Sevilla, here's a bit of advice: If you're going to walk around Sevilla's old quarter, you certainly need a good map. Or the ability and inclination to regularly seek directions in Spanish and understand them in gutteral Andaluz. Maps the size of those in, say, The Rough Guide, simply don't hack it - even the blown up bits - and some of the maps from the various the tourist offices aren't brilliant either. The best map we found was given to us by our hotel and it named even the little alleys. But it's not clear who issued it. Perhaps the Turístico Bus Company. It has a biggish sketch of the AVE train station in, of all places, Avenida de Kansas City.

Finally . . . It wouldn't be Spain if there wasn't a lot of begging in Sevilla, most obviously outside each of the extraordinary number of churches . But panhandling from a wheelchair was new to me. A toofa*: the pusher and the sitter.

* Two for the price of one.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Portly priests; Being incensed; Odd English; Sevilla' women; & Muntered meaning.

With half an hour to kill before meeting my daughters last night, I thought I'd make a final attempt to make a quick tour of Sevilla's famed cathedral. But no sooner had I entered than I was hustled out by a waddling priest whose girth suggested he'd suffered less than others during the recent 'thin cows' time. It reminded me of the old Spanish saying - "If you want to be happy for life, become a priest." The Chinese, of course, say - "Get yourself a garden". But I don't think Confucianism has priests. Even thin ones.

So, I went across the road to have glass of Rioja. The café I first chose had a prominent No Smoking sign was but was, ironically, engulfed in fumes from the incense seller's stall just outside. Having had enough of this as an (unmolested!) altar-boy, I repaired to another place.

Going round the Palacio de Pilatos, I was surprised that the guy doing the English guide hadn't been taught how to get his mouth round Mudéjar. And that his female companion had clearly never seen the word oligarchy before and also had a bizarre view of how media is pronounced. What made this particularly hard to understand is that, apart from these words, they both had immaculate BBC accents. And the script was perfect but for its use of 'ignore' in the following sentence:- "We ignore [meaning 'don't know] where the original palace was built." In my experience, only a few Dutchmen still use this archaic construction.

There are street performers and street performers and regular readers will know of my disdain for some of those who afflict us in Pontevedra. But last night I had the pleasure of listening to a violinist and cellist perform Bruch's violin concerto in the barrio of Triana, albeit in competition with some flamenco clapping down the road.

Sevilla is a beautiful city and I will return soon to do it more justice. No firm conclusion is yet possible but I remain unconvinced that its women are the prettiest in Spain. As for the oranges . . . well, I don't like marmalade.

Finally . . . . I do now have a definition for both 'muntered' and 'muntering'.

Muntered means: Inebriated, intoxicated or otherwise chemically inconvenienced. Often associated with the consumption of Ecstasy/MDMA, moreso in combination with other intoxicants.

And Muntering means something you probably don't want to know. So only read on if you're of a very strong disposition:- A sexual act involving a corpse. One puts one's penis in the mouth of a corpse while a friend stamps on its stomach so that the entrails rise up and massage your phallus. Quite how these words are connected, I can only speculate. Both of them are way beyond any experience of mine. I'm pleased to say.

Finally, finally . . . A letter in yesterday's El País on the subject of the retrogressive revision of the abortion law:

I write with a deep sense of outrage at the announcement of the new law to regulate abortion. Not only because of the real problems this future law may pose for thousands of women but because once again the Catholic Church in this country is trying to impose its moral rules on all Spaniards, this time courtesy of the once "centrist" Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón.

The new law is based on an argument that the constitutional rights of a fetus are equivalent to those of a child, which implies that the life of the fetus should be protected as much as that of child, above the the mother's right to decide. While it's hard for me think of a fetus of a few weeks as a human being with constitutional rights (that's why I believe in a law based on science and not morals), this could be a valid argument. But it's clearly false. I argue that what is behind this law is the imposition of Catholic moral standards, under which is sex is considered a sin if it is not for reproductive purposes.

Under Gallardón's law, one of the cases in which the mother may decide to terminate the pregnancy is if it is the result of rape. But have we not equated the rights of the fetus with a child ? Does this mean that a child which is the product of a rape has no right to life? Obviously, not. The reason that a raped woman is allowed to abort is because, unlike others, she has not committed "the sin of fornication" but has been the victim of a rape. That's to say she's not "at fault " and so is granted the "grace" of being able to decide about her pregnancy.

Mr. Gallardón and fellow defenders of Catholic morals, I deeply respect your moral standards. Don't have abortions; don't fornicate. But please, leave the rest of us alone.

Ramón Fernández Sestelo. Ponteareas, Pontevedra.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Nil corruption; Spanish honesty; Being rammed; & Not to mention muntered.

Corruption is the second greatest concern of the Spanish, after unemployment. President Mariano Rajoy managed to give a press conference this week - the first (and last) of the year unencumbered by restrictions - without even mentioning it. Even the right-of-centre El Mundo found this rather odd. What Rajoy did do was apply negative labels to the last 2 years but a positive label to 2014. I wouldn't be surprised if few of his listeners believed him. Of course, the reason corruption was left as the elephant in the room is that Rajoy's party is mired in allegations of it, at both national and regional level. But so is the PSOE opposition party, so they were possibly quite pleased there was no searchlight shone into murky corners. Or even promises made of future committees of investigation. Only Greeks and Italians are corrupt in our world. Oh, and the Turks.

Relatedly . . . I've sometimes wondered why anyone would want to go into politics. And then I was reminded last night that you merely have to keep your job for 7 years in Spain before you're entitled to a full pension. And you can vote to increase it in line with inflation while your'e simultaneously reducing pensions for the poorest in the country. And failing to provide the cash for the disability benefits you promised before getting back into power. If ever there was a self-serving profession, it's politics. As well as banking, of course.

Another lovely Spanish vignette . . . Having, as usual, had my pen stolen by my younger daughter, I went to the hotel shop to buy a replacement. The first problem arose when my statement that I needed a pen was interpreted by the woman as a request to borrow hers. This cleared up, she got one from a box and then tried to establish its price by doing various things on the computer and with bar codes. After several iterations, she told me it was 2 euros. I thought this a tad expensive for a basic pen but was anxious to get out of the shop before death overtook me. So I paid and left. Half an hour later, as I was reading a newspaper in the lobby, she came over to me and asked me to come back to the shop at 6, when it re-opened. "I overcharged you a euro," She explained. "And I need to give it you back". I was so pleasantly surprised, I forgot to ask her why she couldn't just give it me immediately.

Finally . . . A new English usage for me: rammed. As in "The place was rammed". It's short for 'rammed full'. So, 'full'. 

And a new English word - muntered. No idea what it means. But here's someone's definition of munter - 'An unattractive person, especially a woman'.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Abortion law; Duck dogs; Mencia wine; & Funny sauces.

There've been protests in France and elsewhere against the Spanish government's plans to take the law on abortion back to what it was before the 1980s. Some (female) members of the PP governing party have even had the temerity to express doubts about it in public. But the Minister responsible for the Bill has characterised it as "The most progressive that the government has brought in". And as "One of the most advanced in the EU". One wonders what world he lives in. Presumably that of Opus Dei, the right-wing Catholic group.

Walking into the city centre yesterday, my younger daughter and I happened upon a young man with a border collie puppy. Naturally, my daughter couldn't resist befriending it and chatting to the young man. "No, he said, he didn't know of any others in Seville. And he'd got his from Estremadura. From a duck. Or that's what I thought he said. Until I realised 'pa'tor' was his Andalucian pronunciation of 'pastor'.

I've been plugging (and glugging) Galicia's unheralded Mencia red wine for years. The world - or at least some Andalucians - finally seems to have caught up with me, as you can read here. And if you want a decent bottle of this fruity wine, try Guimaro, which the Wine Society sells at 10-11 quid. Not bad, considering its Spanish price of c. 9 euros. Incidentally, Mencia was once thought to be related to the Cabernet Franc grape but DNA testing has disproved this and deemed it identical to Portugual's Jaen. Whatever, The Wine Society has pronounced it 'fashionable'. Which is a fair reward for all my efforts. More on the wine here.

Seville has a reputation for offering the best tapas dishes in Spain and, so far, our experience has endorsed this. For one thing, it's wonderful to be eating in a place which doesn't, like Galicia, regard sauces as an insult to the meat. Unless they're made with bloody paprika.

Talking of sauces . . . Do you know what Iberian Chop Sauce might be? Neither did I before I checked with the Spanish version of the menu and found it was Carrillera. Which the dictionary gives as 'the jaw'. So, no wiser really. Fortunately, the internet throws up 'Slowly braised beef cheek'. So now you know.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Corrupt politicos; God or the Devil?; Street names; Time in Spain; Camels??; & Pretty women.

I see some Turkish politicians have resigned after being accused of corruption. This is a novel concept in Spain but it might be worth a try.

I also see God did something unusual on his birthday, destroying a Galician monastery with a bolt of lightning that set fire to the place. Or perhaps it was the Devil playing a joke and showing us he's still around as a force to be reckoned with.

Seville's old town is a maze of narrow streets. Naming them all has been a challenge for the municipal authorities. And so, after running through all the obvious ones, they've come with names like 'The Great Power of Jesus St.' and 'The Love of God St'. And there's one that's called simply 'Calle de Aguas' (Waters St) but, this being Andalucia, the 's' is dropped and the sign just says 'Agua'.

Living in Spain, you have to get used to things happening at least 2 hours later than they would in other countries. Take 'midday', for example, which takes place between 2 and 3pm here. And 'morning', which (logically) stretches until the same time. Anyway, I mention this because, at 11.20 last night, the people in the flat above us started to move their furniture around. I say 'move' but 'drag across the tiled floor' would be more accurate. They finally finished the task somewhere around 1am.

Returning home on Christmas Day night, my daughters and I noticed a poster about Camels in Alameda de Hércules. And then we smelled them, in a nearby pen. Peering through the tarpaulin curtains, we clocked 6 adults and a calf. Chatting to a tall turbanned Tuareg, we learnt they'd been brought over from the Sahara to give rides to kids between Xmas and The Kings (6 Jan). Truth be told, though, they're single-humped dromedaries, not camels. And one of them gets characteristically ratty when the seats are attached, displaying some pretty dreadful dentures.

My elder daughter tells me Seville is reputed to be home to the prettiest women in Spain. Maybe, but I think the ladies of Pontevedra could give them a run for their money. I've seen nothing to convince me yet. And I'm looking hard.

Which reminds me . . . Lord Byron described Seville as "A pleasant city, famous for oranges and women". The Rough Guide is rather dismissive of this "19th century chauvinism". So I wonder what they'd make of my comments.

But anyway, here's something on the same theme to end this post with. OK, you purists, 'with which to end this post'.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Café choices; Embarrassing your kids; The irrelevant King; & New words.

Having braved 25 minutes of driving wind and rain yesterday midday and then deposited my younger daughter at Sevilla cathedral, I looked around for the nearest café in which to meet my delayed, atheist elder daughter. Happily, I alighted on El Horno de la Benaventura before my gaze came to rest on a Starbucks across the road. Who but a tourist would patronise that? Mind you, I suspect the American-induced bonhomie of their staff would be an improvement on the tourist-ruined manners of the staff of El Horno. Plus no wi-fi. So, no tip.

After a coffee with my elder daughter, I repaired to the entrance of the cathedral to wait for my younger daughter. As she exited, I held out my hand and feigned beggardom. She was not amused and asked whether there was any depth to which I wouldn't sink to try to embarrass her. I said I rather thought not. At least I didn't crouch and make monkey noises as I used to when they were small and disobedient. For new parents - the only effective tool you have against kids is their fear of being embarrassed in front of their friends. Or anyone, really.

Well, the Spanish King's Xmas discourse may or may not have struck the right notes and redeemed his reputation a tad but only about a tenth of the population watched it, even though it was on all channels except the Catalan one which went on strike for its duration. I think his end is in sight. As it were.

El País tells us today that 32 words - some of them English, of course - entered Spanish discourse this year, including twerking. And here they all are.

Two other words new to me are sprint/esprint (both pronounced the same way) and sprintar/esprintar (ditto). But they may have been in the dictionary for years.

Finally on words . . . I may have invented one last night. Noting that all 3 of us had Macs and that each of my daughters had iPhones, I remarked on the amount of applemongery in the room. A quick search suggested it wasn't yet in the Googlesphere. But it is now and you have my permission to use it freely.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The King's Speech; Royal Follies; Crazy Christmas; Failed Follies; and Orphan honesty.

In his Christmas address to the Spanish nation, the (rather tarnished) King contrasted corruption with the hardship of many families here. Which must be a first. I was reminded of this pithy comment from Occupy Wall St. on the last decade of boom and bust - Socialism doesn't mean taking wealth from those who work hard and giving it to those who don't. You're thinking of capitalism. More on the King's Speech here.

Talking of the King . . . It was reported recently that 96% of the populace regard his total inviolability from prosecution as a medieval relic which shames Spain. This may be because the King is said to have pulled as many strings as he could to help the business of his son-in-law (and daughter) now accused of embezzlement of large quantities of public funds. So it's a tad ironic for him to expatiate on corruption in his Xmas address.

I'm obliged to The Local for another of their lists, this time of amazing things you didn't know about Christmas here in Spain. One of these is that - per Pope Ben 16 - the three wise men came from Andalucia. Thus denuding the place of its entire intelligentsia. Just jesting.

With a hat tip to Lenox, here's another list - of those of Spain's boom-years grand follies that didn't get off the ground. A testament to man's ingenuity and his capacity to dream. Not to mention his greed.

Finally . . . If you read the list of amazing things about the Spanish Xmas, you'll know that orphans have chanted the winning numbers of the Xmas lottery since 1771 - "Probably because, as orphans, they were less prone to cheating". Can anyone explain this? Less susceptible to parental pressure, perhaps.

A happy Xmas to all.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Street names; Fun with numbers; And with bank transfers; & Lovely Spaniards.

The Malaga hotel I stayed in last night was is Calle Moby Dick. I wonder whether there's another one anywhere else in the world.

More fun with my (expired) residence card: In the hotel in Aranjuez the guy at reception queried it and, misunderstanding him, I said it didn't matter it had expired as my number was still the same. He replied that the problem wasn't that it was no longer valid - which was of no concern to him - but that he needed to know when it had been issued. So I guessed at a date and he entered this in the hotel computer. Here in Malaga, the girl at reception entered the date of expiry as the date of emission. Which all rather questions - yet again - why all this paperwork is being generated.

And talking of fun with numbers . . . I tried last night to make a transfer from one of my bank accounts to the other but was told - 5 times - that the password was wrong. So I then tried to change my password and to re-instate the one I thought it had been. But I was told that I couldn't have a new one that was the same as the old one. In other words, that the password had been correct all along. So I added a letter at each end. And was told the same thing. So I added another letter at each end and was finally told it was OK and I could make the transfer. Each of these attempts, by the way, involved using a code sent to my phone. Taking up half an hour of my time. I guess it makes sense to someone.

Finally . . . a lovely Spanish vignette. My elder daughter and I went down to the hotel restaurant this morning and asked if we could just have a coffee and not the the 13 euro breakfast. 'Of course you can', we were told. I left before my daughter but this is the conversation she had when leaving:-
How much is it for 2 coffees?
You are invited [They're free]
Oh. Are you sure?
Señorita, we are in Spain!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Aranjuez; The Fat One; Spanish proximity; & The Times on abortion

En route to the south coast, I stopped overnight in Aranjuez, the "Versailles of Spain". It seemed a pretty and pleasant place as I arrived in the gloaming of yesterday but I was glad of my sat nav to guide me through the warren of one-way streets, all of them as straight as a dye. Problems arose, though, when I ventured out to take a drink and then to eat. Bars were very few and far between and those that were open were all unwelcomingly empty. Similarly the restaurants. I decided to give a miss to the one with Curry House over one door and Kebab House over the other and ended up in a Chinese place. Perhaps things are better in the summer.

If you were a Martian and had landed in Spain just in time to see the TV News at 8, 8.30 and 9 this morning, you could be forgiven for thinking nothing happened yesterday except the huge lottery (The Fat One) which disgorged billions in prizes around the country. Though very little in poor old Galicia, it seems. As a sign of the (desperate) times, the government will be taking 20% of your winnings over 200,000 this year. Well, why not? You won't feel it.

When I went down to breakfast, there were 2 couples there. Being Spanish, and in obedience to the Spanish Law of Aglommeration, they were sitting at adjacent tables rather three tables away from each other, as British couples would have done. And, of course, they were unconcerned that their conversations were overheard by the rest of us. And quite possibly in the street.

The last time Spanish domestic policies merited a leader in The Times was possibly during the 1930s but I leave you this morning with this long commentary on the changes in the abortion law here. I don't imagine for a second that President Rajoy will be taking any notice of them. After all, 81% of Spaniards are said to be against the change and he clearly doesn't give a toss about them:

Abuse of Power

Spain’s proposed restrictions on abortion will damage women’s health and family life

Edmund Burke argued that “very plausible schemes, with very pleasing commencements, have often shameful and lamentable conclusions”. The conservative Government of Mariano Rajoy in Spain is giving a modern twist to this maxim by stringently tightening the country’s abortion laws. It proposed a bill last week that removes a woman’s right to early termination of pregnancy. It would allow abortion only in cases of rape or when the mother’s health is endangered.

The scheme is plausible to only a small minority. It breaches a principle of democratic politics by supplanting individual citizens’ private judgments with state fiat. It will erode pluralism, restrict liberty, retard the position of women in Spanish society, damage family life and inflict psychological and physical harm on women in sometimes desperate circumstances. It is a bad law that will have predictably lamentable consequences.

Legislation for legal and safe abortions is standard in most of Europe. It dates principally from the 1960s (as in Britain) or a bit later. With its relatively recent transition from dictatorship to stable and well-governed constitutional democracy in 1978, Spain was slightly later than other EU countries in adopting this type of provision.

There were no abortion laws in Spain (excepting a brief period in Catalonia during the civil war from 1936-39) until 1985. Legislation passed in that year allowed abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape, up to 22 weeks in cases of foetal malformation, or in cases where the mother’s mental or physical health was at risk in carrying a pregnancy to term.

Though it was in many ways undistinguished, the Socialist Government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Mr Rajoy’s predecessor, nonetheless accomplished a few valuable social reforms. One was to pass, in 2010, an extension of the existing law on abortion. This recent liberalisation allows abortion on request up to 14 weeks, and up to 22 weeks where the mother’s health is at risk or the foetus shows signs of serious deformity.

The proposals by Mr Rajoy’s Government reverse this legislation. Though the Government protests that no woman will be prosecuted for having an abortion, that defence is weak. Doctors will be open to prosecution and will face up to three years’ imprisonment if they perform abortions considered illegal. They will thus be wary of performing abortions at all.

This legislation will not reduce the number of abortions performed on Spanish women. It will force abortion overseas, for those who can afford it, and underground, in dangerous and insanitary conditions, for those who cannot.

Some people hold strong ethical objections to the termination of pregnancy (including the Catholic Church, which has supported the Spanish Government on this issue). It is a minority view, however. Opinion polls show that most Spanish voters favour the law as it is. Even if this were not the case, the bill would remain iniquitous.

To bring the criminal law into an issue of women’s health and conscientious reflection is an abuse of government power. A constitutional society does not intrude into areas of personal judgment that most citizens consider fall within the authority of the family. Social engineering is the practice of autocratic governments. Spain’s friends and allies in Europe should prevail on Mr Rajoy to think again.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Corruption again; Abortion law regression; Language traps; Spanglish; & Tyre warning.

Corruption: The train chugs on: This week the police have searched the HQ of the governing PP party. And a searchlight has been shone of the astonishing things that took place in the Caja Madrid bank during the Aznar presidency. Including government pressure on bank executives, job placement for cronies and inappropriate loans. As I recall, the Chief Executive of the time - Señor Blesa - had been put in the job not because he knew anything about banking (he didn't) but because he was a mate of Aznar. As if that weren't enough, he's now been accused of various acts of financial skulduggery and of serial sexual harassment. The investigative judge has courageously said that in any other country he'd be in jail. A typically Spanish saga, in other words.

It's not often that a democratic country goes into reverse on its social policies but this is exactly what's happening in respect of abortion in Spain right now. Essentially, the government is reversing the initiatives of the last administration and taking the law back to the 80s. Or even, some claim, to the Franco era. According to one survey, 81% of the population are against this. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, isn't and it's still a part of the Establishment. Even if it doesn't play a part in the lives of most of the people who live here. More info here.

Language 1: There are 2 forms of the verb 'To be' in Spanish: Estar and Ser. And it makes a difference which you use. Sometimes a big one. Ser molesto is 'To be annoying'. Estar molesto is 'To be annoyed'. Or the other way round. I think this is also true of aburrido - 'bored' and 'boring'. Confusing or what?

Language 2: Latest bit of Spanglish: Leguis, Legins, Leggins: For 'leggings'.

The compulsive disorder nightmare - A foto of the leaning tower of Pisa in a frame on the wall. Think about it. If you straighten the tower, the frame is skewed. And if you straighten the frame . . .

Finally . . . I've mentioned this before but, should you buy or hire a car in Spain, you might want to check the tyres. For they're always over-inflated. Possibly significantly so. Ahead of driving south tomorrow, I've just discovered that mine are 33% higher than they should be, after a service in September.

Finally, finally . . . I decided to open my water bill before departing for the South. Big mistake. It showed usage of 387m3, against a norm of around 15. And a bill for €650. There was a leaflet with the statement telling me how the water company is improving its service. I couldn't find anything about their computer alerting you to the fact that your daily consumption is 26 times more than usual. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The tragedy of unemployment; Ugly utility bills; Galician ex-banking; Señor Who?; & A driving test.

The Spanish government would have us all believe corners have been turned, tunnels have ended and new days have dawned but the majority of the populace have quite some difficulty believing this. This video, for example, highlights the unhappy situation of three Madrid families bighted by the curse of unemployment. They become involved in a protest movement and one wonders again how long it will be before these turn into something more violent.

With the immaculacy of timing for which governments are renowned, it was announced this week that the price of electricity in Spain will rise by 11% early next. This is despite the government promising this wouldn't happen and after increases in the last few years cumulatively greater than anywhere else in the world. That said, the increase may not happen. Or, more likely, it may well happen but at a lower percentage. The government has been so shocked by the (predictable) reaction that it's said it'll review things. And the Competition authorities have said they're looking at the government buying process because of indications of funny business. The system is that the government has an auction of suppliers every few months. And, whadyknow, the prices of the bidders all rise in the wholesale market just before each auction. Which may be just a coincidence, of course.

The only Galician bank of note, NovoCaixaGalcia (NCG), has been sold to a Venezuelan bank half its size. The Spanish government had used €10 billion of EU funds to keep the bank afloat and managed to sell it for a whopping €1 billion. If I've got my sums right, that's a loss of €9 billion. But, hell, it's somebody else's money, the cheapest of the lot. The new owners have, of course, ducked the question of redundancies "Not worth talking about" and said the bank will remain "Galician". As if. Near term, of course, we will have to get used to the 5th logo change in the same number of years.

The Spanish President, Mariano Rajoy, is so dull he makes John Major look like Joseph in his coat of many colours. Unsurprisingly, when he attended an EU conference this week the security guards failed to recognise him and asked to see his badge. Yet another blow to Brand Spain.

Finally . . . Maybe there is a God, after all. Ahead of a long road trip tomorrow, I dropped my MP3 USB cable in the road last night, where it was run over by a car. But, with the help of a pen-knife, I managed to fix the connector and load up on podcasts. But I really will believe there's a God if I can manage to get to the south coast without being fined for wearing an earpiece while driving. Or for anything else, for that matter. Taking my hand off the steering wheel to change gear, example. Or taking my eyes off the road to look in the rear-view mirror. Hey, ho.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Catalunian independence; Effects of La Crisis; More Movistar madness; Bloody Biggs; & Bars p.s.m.

If you're a little weary of Alex Salmond's fairy-telling designed to induce the Scots to vote for independence next year, then be happy you don't have to listen to President Mas of Cataluña, who's at least thrice worse. His latest oratorical flourishes have enlisted the anti-slavery and suffragette movements in his cause of freeing Cataluña from the shackles of evil Spain. Thank God that, given the record of his own administration, he's not in a position to label Spain 'corrupt' as well as evil.

In one way at least La Crisis and increased competition seem to be working effectively. Around the main square in the old quarter, the café-bars have woken up to the fact that there's not only more competition but also fewer clients. In one of these - famous for its high prices, nil by way of tapas and brusque service - there's been a massive turn-round in respect of all of these. And in another, which I patronise, the owner yesterday presented me with the gift of an umbrella. He probably had to wait for the 5 weeks of sun to end before giving me this but better late than never. OK, it sports the name Café Savoy and I'll be an advertising vehicle for the winter but what the hell.

I spent another half hour last night trying to get hold of my Movistar (Telefónica) bill on line, and eventually succeeding. In the process I discovered the company operates different email addresses, different ID documents and different passwords for my mobile and fixed lines. Ironically, the package I'm signed up for is called Fusion. Needless to say, I also discovered that I pay for things I didn't sign up for, such as '3-way', whatever that is. On to the next hurdle.

You may have heard that Ronnie Bigs died this week. He of The Great Train Robbery. He was a two-bit crook who ruined several lives but has been treated by the BBC as if he were some sort of folk hero. And both El País and El Mundo today carried long obituaries on him. Enough is enough, for God's sake. It simply isn't credible he was among the most important people to shuffle off this mortal coil this week. Though I suppose he does jive with the Spanish fascination for picaresque rogues.

Finally . . . I'll be spending my Xmas and NY with my daughters in the south, primarily in Sevilla. Boning up on the place, I read that "No other European city has so many bars per inhabitant." I suspect Pontevedra's old quarter could give it a good run for its money. At the very least. There's scarcely a ground floor there that isn't a disco-bar. Which is probably why few people actually live in it.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Spain & the EU; Failing institutions; Mansions in Spain; Odd English words; & Naughty Spanish words.

Years ago I forecast here that the Spaniards would one day exit their passionate love affair with the EU. This was at a time when there was nary a negative comment in the media. That said, it wasn't risky to make the prediction as it was bound to happen, with or without La Crisis, which merely accelerated it. Here's an article from The Local confirming the development.

I dunno. First the Spanish King, now the EU. It'll be the Legislature and the Executive falling out of favour next. And then where will be? Right here, as a matter of fact. Whither España? At least they knew what to do at times like this in the 19th century.

It might just be the time to start thinking about that castle in Spain again. Prices are still 8% down on last year but last quarter saw the first increase for quite a while. Albeit only 0.7%. If you are thinking of buying, then you should take on board this excellent advice from the British government. And if you need an honest, property-specialist lawyer, write to me on colin@terra.com It's not me, by the way. I'm neither of these things.

I've just finished a book about the two major British naval mutinies of the last decade of the 18th century. I'm not sure why. But now that I have, here's a list of all the words which the (American) author used which were new to me. Or not entirely new but very unusual. As it's a book about sailors and ships, I imagine some of them relate to the sea.

Recognised by my spellcheck, if not by me

top hamper
to close-haul
hanger (as a weapon)
a scottish shingle (as a person)
a junker (as in 'band of junkers')
a tartan (type of boat)
crimp (as a noun, but not in today's sense)
to buss
crank (as an adjective)
to tattle
a Jonathan (American usage suggests someone from New England)
to gam
to duke out
to ring the welkin
to rive (pp. rove)
to pike
to twit(t)
to shot(t)
souse (as a noun)
to kedge off
to gyve
to plash
to slat(t)
to tell off (meaning to put in position)
shoal (as an adjective)
sally port

Not recognised by my spellcheck

to unreeve
to tweetle
abrawl (as an adjective)
beserk (as an adjective. See below)

I did look one or two of these up, e. g. brummagem - Dated: cheap, showy or counterfeit. Yes, I've had a couple of dates like that.

As I say, the author was American and so some of these (old English?) terms may still mean something in the USA. Where there may also be the expression 'to dry one's hands of something', as opposed to 'to wash one's hands of something.' But, anyway, the above list would be a handy reference for a game of Dictionary.

The fact that he was writing in 1964 probably explains his liberal use of queer and queerly to mean something quite different from today.

Reading about England in the late 18th century was an odd experience, as it kept reminding me of modern Spain. For example, this resolution from a petition: That no good to the country can arise from a change in administration, unless their successors pledge themselves to sort out the corruptions of the State, and to restore to the people their due weight in the Legislature.

And I enjoyed this paragraph on the differing approaches of the French and British navies:- The frugal French went to the limit of delicacy; they aimed their cannons to bring down British top hamper, not to smash up stout hulls that would be costly to repair [after capture]. The British, more of a beserker folk [??], aimed only for the hulls, which accounted for the almost unbelievable disparity in casualties. It was not uncommon in fierce engagements between matched ordnance for ten Frenchmen to fall for one Englishman.

Finally . . . and still on the subject of words and phrases, here's The Local's list of the top ten 'naughty' expressions in Spanish. They really are common. In every sense of the word. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Galician (pseudo) Celticism; The rocky royal family; A mad priest; Funny foreigners; Missable Spanish things; & A weird wanderer.

It's a rare article on Galicia that doesn't start with the nonsense that it's essentially a more Celtic place than anywhere else in Spain. It isn't. It just clings to the 18th century Romantic trappings of Celticism that serve to justify the typical regional claim that "Spain is different. But we are differenter". I will happily revise this heretical view if someone proves to me that the national costumes and the gaita (bagpipe) were much in evidence in, say, the 15th century. Happily, there are the occasional articles which don't mention Celticism and, hallelujah, here's one from the Wall St Journal. By the way, this is not to deny for a second that there were Celts in Galicia; just to reject the claim that Galicia was unique in this respect or more Celtic than, say, next door Asturias.

The Royal Family again: A Spanish friend has insisted for months that the marriage of the Princes, as they're known here, was in deep trouble and that the lovely Letizia was ploughing/plowing a solitary furrow in the night clubs of Madrid. I hadn't really believed this but here's an article which suggests it's true and that the Prince has gone as far as to initiate divorce proceedings. It's in Spanish but I've attached a (terrible) Google translation at the end of this post, tarted up a bit by me.

Maybe Trevor of Kalebeul can answer this but does Google make more of a mess with Spanish than with, say, French? If so, two reasons have to be the frequent absence of personal pronouns in Spanish and the use of su to mean his, hers or their. Here's one wonderful Google rendition into English, talking about the Princess - who has spent a collaborator Mountaineer.

A few decent YouTube videos:
- HT to David Jackson: A mad priest amuses his parishioners. Or not.

- An ad (in Spanish) which mocks foreigner lifestyles and lauds the Spanish easy-going, fun-oriented alternative.

- A list of the 22 things Spaniards (and some of us foreigners) would miss if they went to live elsewhere. I think it's pretty accurate.

Finally . . . Walking onto the bridge into town yesterday, I met a dusky chap dressed in a flamboyant outfit of a bright green and yellow, gaudily patterned short-sleeved shirt with matching knee length shorts. And a brown trilby hat. OK, it was probably only 12 degrees but it all seemed doubly inappropriate. And then I saw him again as I was walking in town (after wasting 15 minutes waiting to be served in the ironmongers). And then again in the main square as I was enjoying my midday tiffin. He seemed to be striding around town, regardless of the stares. One wonders why. Perhaps a visiting theatrical troupe. Shame my camera is bust.

King paralyses the divorce of the Prince of Asturias

Although the battle between Juan Carlos I and his son Philip continues.

The heir to save his marriage and get access to the Throne.

The truth is that Letizia Ortiz has changed his attitude from Buenos Aires showdown with Moncloa.

And the King makes it clear he does not think to abdicate. When he recovers, he will return to the foreground.

Let's start with the latter. HM the King of Spain has paralysed the process - long and abstruse - for a divorce between Crown Prince Felipe de Borbon and his wife Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano

We said yesterday that the King had ordered their legal advisers to prepare the divorce between HRH Prince Felipe and his wife Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano. And so it was. And the worst is that this tragedy would not have become substantial if the King had not been subjected to a double operation in the Chiron Clinic.

Thereafter there was a struggle between father and son, which even, the sources said, His Majesty considered the possibility of a change in succession. The conflict peaked ' splendidly ' when Don Felipe attended the IberoAmerica summit without a role, for the King, unable to travel due to illness, was present via a video in which he made the Spanish proposals and in which he didn't mention his heir who was there.

But Philip has fortunately managed to save his marriage. This has had to see the change in attitude of Dona Letizia, who has turned from a wild creature into a collaborator. The turning point was Buenos Aires, the same day that Madrid lost the organization of the Olympic Games in 2020, and at the height of her journey through rebellion, Letizia came to have a fight with President of the Government, Mariano Rajoy, about when they should return to Spain and about using the presidential plane to bring back the Prince of Asturias.

From then, Letizia changed her attitude. Fewer private outings and institutional collaboration in the role expected of her as future Queen of Spain. Even joint activities with Her Majesty the Queen and the Infanta Elena, now in the limelight for having reached 50. SAR Elena de Borbón is still one of the alternatives for the succession, in fact, has never ceased to be.

This change by Letizia, who has returned to smile, still has not got her integration into her future duties as queen consort to 100%, but it has served to calm tempers. The future Queen, whom the Spanish liberals consider their trump card on the throne, even as consort, is expected to be final.

In other words, sources confirm to Zarzuela Hispanidad that for the time being, divorce has stalled, although relations between the King and his son are not the same as of old.

And yes, the King thinks not to abdicate. Just thinks to recover from his hip injury and return to the forefront of public life, to recover his bad image (the bad image of Dona Letizia has not spread to the whole of Spain).

Good news : a marriage is not broken and the country's problems are not increased by a royal divorce, which is always a failure. But remember, the King has no intention of abdicating.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Corruption trials; 'Clean Hands' v. the Princess; The Royal plight; Traffic taxes; Havana; & More Spanglish.

Given the extent of corruption here in Spain, I've often pondered the conundrum that so many important people - including members of the royal family - are brought before the courts. One answer, it seems, is that it's the younger generation of judges who are doing this, not the generation tainted with attitudes closer to those of the Franco era than those of modern, democratic Spain. All strength to their elbows.

Talking of court cases . . . The organisation which seems to be making most recourse to Spain's infamous denuncia system is a far-right group, Manos Limpias (Clean Hands). It was these who initiated actions against the celebrated left-wing judge, Báltazar Garzón. And who have now done so in respect of one of the King's daughters, after the state had displayed a singular lack of appetite for doing so. Strange bedfellows (benchfellows?). And I, for one, don't understand the logic. Unless they are far-right republicans. The Tea Party of Spain?

Talking of the royal family . . . A French TV channel recently aired a pretty damning exposé of their current plight, under the title of The Twilight of a King. You can view it here with either French or Spanish subtitles. Though you may have to fiddle a bit with icons to get the latter on their own, as opposed to superimposed over the French subtitles. One of the key points emerging is that, under the post-war Constitution, the King is above the law and able to do just what the hell he likes. Which he has and does. So, no Rule of Law in 21st century Spain. Another point emerging - from fotos never seen in Spain - is that the lovely Letizia really is anorexically skinny.

Down with the plebs at street level . . . It had to happen. Reports are now emerging of the Spanish traffic police fining people for such things as talking to their passengers or having a drink. It's just possible that their financial incentive scheme has something to do with this. As one of my Spanish friends has said - "You just have to regard the fines as part of your tax burden". So, nowt to do with being dangerous behind the wheel.

My connection with Spain goes back further than I thought. Close to the town in the UK where I used to live was a village called Havannah. This, I discover, was created back in 1763 to mark the capture of Havana from Spain the previous year. For some reason, we didn't keep it but gave it back to Spain at the end of that particular war. Unlike Gibraltar, of course. Incidentally, for some reason or other, the Spanish garrison in Havana included the Edinburgh Dragoons. Perhaps they, too, had a financial incentive scheme.

Finally . . . Thanks to watching videos yesterday, I learned the following have entered the Spanish languages:-
- Un gag: Meaning 'gag', 'joke'. With the un-Spanish plural of gags, instead of gages.
- Fashion: Meaning 'fashionable'. As in Estás muy fashion. You're very 'fashionable'.

I suspect both of these have been around for a while but that you won't find either of them in the dictionary of the Royal Academy.