Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I'm off to the UK in a few days' time, to attend a family funeral. This will take place two weeks after the death and it's been hard trying to explain this to Spanish friends. Here, the Requiem Mass and the internment – very occasionally a cremation – take place on the following day. I assume this is a custom reflecting the heat of Spanish summers but, as with so many things, the standard belief here is that things are done around the world exactly as they are in Spain. And there is deep disbelief when you explain they aren't.

One of these differences that I mention from time to time is that, whereas notaries and registrars are all-powerful here in Spain, they simply don't exist in Anglo-Saxon societies. In the latter lawyers have the sort of status accorded to notaries in Spain. Whereas here they don't have anything like the status and the power they have in the UK and the USA. For better or worse.

Talking of Spanish customs . . . One of these is to use the word guapa – meaning pretty, good-looking or attractive – with a frequency which is at odds with reality. This morning, for example, I heard it being used between members of a group of 70 year old ladies as they met for coffee. But, then, I did say the other day that hyperbole and flattery are very much a feature of Spanish society.

On a wider 'cultural' theme, courtesy of Lenox, here's the blog of a Brit who doesn't just dislike Spain but actively hates it. His post is, to some extent balanced by another contributor and there are Comments on both sides of the line. I, of course, am on the side of the angels - those who find that, on balance, Spain offers a better quality life than the UK. But there are some very basic rules, which I suspect our disenchanted friend hasn't mastered. For example: Learn the language. And get rid of your British inability to make eye contact and smile. It does wonders for customer service. And learn to manage your expectations and get comfortable with uncertainty and spontaneity. Oh, and talk a lot. End of lecturette.

I see the Pope has accused God of sleeping on the job. Personally, I wonder what the hell He was doing for the tens of billions of years of earth's existence before He decided to initiate life on it. If, indeed, He did.

I posted a video of Córdoba the other night. Here, from the same source, my Ferrol friend Richard, is another one, featuring the city's Roman heritage.

Phony, fraudulent foodstuffs: Now it's fish. Which should, by now, be no surprise to anyone.

Finally . . . Feeling off colour last night, I was hoping for a good night's sleep. But 7.30 brought an indication that bawling Toni was back from the sea. Either that or the voice of his 16 year old son has quite definitely broken.

Publisher's Note: This blog has a daily readership of around 250. Fewer at weekends and occasionally quite a lot more. But, at 426, yesterday broke all records by quite some distance. I have no idea why but wonder whether the blog was cited by someone else. So, if you are a new reader who arrived this way yesterday, I'd really appreciate confirmation of this, either in the Comments below or to this email address. Many thanks.
Way back in the mid 90s, three Spanish regions – Andalucia, Valencia and the Basque Country – were, shall we say, lax with hundreds of millions of euros provided by the EU. The legal process has finally reached an end with a judgment that, instead of being fined, the missing amounts will be deducted from future grants. Which is a nice way of Brussels avoiding the well-established challenge of getting its hands on fines which have been imposed.

Talking of frauds . . . The main cause of the horse-meat scare was the belief in Brussels that the EU was a real country and that it would, therefore, be discriminatory to apply real tests at internal borders. So, labels would do the job of providing security. The result, as we now know, was a huge fraud just waiting to be perpetrated. Which it duly was. But this invitation to fraud wasn't confined to horse-meat, which at least resembles beef. It's a fact of life that eggs laid in battery farms and eggs laid out on the range look exactly the same. And there's no test that can determine which is which. So, given that the price of one is double that of the other, it's not surprising that this invitation was accepted as well.

The ex-Treasurer of the governing PP party – the one with €38m in Swiss accounts and records of the party's illegal cash dealings – has initiated legal proceedings for unfair dismissal. I guess it's possible he has a good case. Spanish politics is another world. Unless you're looking from Italy, I guess.

Random fact: It wasn't Facebook who invented the verb 'to unfriend', but Thomas Fuller, in 1659. Yet despite it being around for 350 years, my spellcheck doesn't recognise it. 

Finally . . . Click here for an insight into the magnificent sights and sounds of Córdoba, including the cathedral which I recently accused of disfiguring the Grand Mosque in Cordoba.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Having traversed Spain twice in the last ten days, I can say with confidence that the two things you'll now see on the edge of any large Spanish town are 1. brothels('clubs') and 2. swathes of empty real estate. If you're lucky you'll also see a vast modernistic edifice, built to compete with the Guggenheim in Bilbao. And maybe a new but as-yet-used airport. Reader Sierra has kindly supplied some data on the latter.

The troublesome ex-Treasurer of the governing PP party now admits to having €38m in Swiss bank accounts, not the piffling 24m previously cited. Allegedly, these were the proceeds of art and real estate sales and stock market earnings. I wonder if he really expects anyone to believe him.

I have some difficulty with the concept of God – whoever's God – having a private chat with one of His/Her followers down here on earth. This comment stems from the Pope's assertion that he was personally given divine advice on whether or not he stayed in the Vatican job of God's Stand-In. If this is really possible, then you have to wonder why He/She didn't give some good counsel to the British Cardinal who's just resigned over allegations that he 'behaved inappropriately' towards four priests a few years ago. Like “Don't”, for example.

Talking of 'inappropriate behaviour', the German princess who's said the be the floozie of the King of Spain has given an interview to El Mundo, in which she protests her innocence in one thing and another. What she doesn't give us are the names of the surgeon and the photographer who together made her look 30 years younger than she is.

Finally . . . Some nice jazz stuff from Miles Davis, entitled Sketches of Spain. Enjoy.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Dropping my daughter off at Malaga airport yesterday, I caught sight of another of the trolley-guys who are said to live there. Someone had given him enough money for a Coke. I also noted a large banner suggesting that the British go home and stop trying to 'colonise' Iberia, the Spanish loss-making airline. This is because the company which owns both British Airways and Iberia, wants to reduce the notoriously high salaries of Iberia employees and also to lay some of them off. It struck me that no one here protested against Spanish colonisation of British companies when, for example, AENA took over several airport operations and Santander bought out at least three British banks. Spain is different, as they say. Anyway, you don't look for logic in protesters.

Whle driving north today, I listened to a Spanish woman at Swansea university talking about the way the British and the Spanish receive compliments. It came as no surprise to hear that the former are woeful at it but the latter pretty damn good, If only because dealing in compliments and superlatives is part of the Spanish way of life. But I did learn that Spanish men tend to go in for 'ironic upgrades'. For example, if you congratulate your (male) partner after a game of tennis, he's likely to respond with something like - “Yes, I'm brilliant, aren't I? Invincible.” I'll have to keep my ears open for that.

I'm in Talavera de la Reina for the night, 600km closer to Pontevedra. When I was checking in to my hotel, I had to ask about wi-fi and was then given a handwritten note of the network name and the password. It struck me as daft they choose to write these out each time. Especially when – as you'll have guessed – the network name was wrong. Fortunately, the password wasn't, saving me a trip down to Reception.

Does anyone know Laisa Rika? I ask because she's suggested I join a Google circle (no, I've no idea either) and I've never heard of her. Stranger still, neither has the internet. If you google her name, you get 4 citations, none of which have anything to do with her. Is is really possible to remain unknown in this day and age? Incidentally, 3 of the citations are of Which is probably a clue.

Finally . . . Are we edging towards serious social unrest here in Spain? - "At least 40 people have been arrested and 12 injured, including a child, during yesterday's massive protest which filled the streets of Madrid calling for an end to unemployment and funding cuts in healthcare, welfare and education. The demonstration went nationwide and around 80 towns and cities in Spain reportedly joined in". More here."

Saturday, February 23, 2013

I went to the Picasso Museum in Málaga today, to see whether his stuff had any more appeal for me than previously. Can't say it did really. The abiding sensation I had – possibly unfair – was that his portraits can't have taken all the long to knock off. I was surprised, then, that he didn't put the time as well as the date on them. On second thoughts, it seems sensible that he didn't advertise his productivity.

Back in Nerja, I had two motoring contretemps within 5 minutes this evening. The first was when an idiot came out of a side road onto a roundabout and I had to swerve to avoid him. The second when somebody drove up and stopped behind me when I was trying to reverse into a parking slot. The latter led to some verbals but I decided to let it pass when I noticed the other guy had about 27 separate pieces of gold on his person. And a somewhat swarthy complexion.

One of the items on the restaurant menu this evening - English version – was Hake to the Mare. The Spanish original was no help as this said Merluza a la Mare. And the waiter had no idea what it should be. Suggestions welcome. Meanwhile, I'll just note how topical it was to be offered a dish with a horse sauce.

How's this for irony . . . As she contemplates the suicide of herself and one of the most evil men in human history, Eva Braun writes to to her best friend that she can't understand how things have come to this pass but “at times like this, it's impossible to believe in God.” Well, not a Nazi God, at least.

Finally . . . Like Alfie, you may have noticed I dropped a zero off the jurors' IQ total yesterday. It should have been 1200, giving an average of 100, not 10. The funny thing about this is that, as I awoke this morning, my brain was telling me about the error. Spooky or what? Am I controlling my brain or is it controlling me?

Friday, February 22, 2013

So, Oscar Pistorius has been released on bail. As I understand it, this is because the judge feels there's a probabiity that he's innocent. And, I presume, that he won't flee the country. Which surprised me, as I agreed with the view that his account “has more holes in it that a colander”. Still, one mustn't prejudge.

Back in the UK, the trial of the (ex)wife of the British MP accused of taking the rap for his motoring offence has ended in farce, with the judge dismissing the jury for asking him dumb questions about how they should go about deciding on guilt or innocence. There'll now be a re-trial. Though I don't suppose they'll check whether the next 12 good men and true have a combined IQ of more than 120. That would be judgmental. The unconscionable sin of the 21st century.

The government is already squeezing 2% of GDP out of the budget this year, largely in the form of higher taxes. It is the most draconian belt-tightening since the Second World War. This is happening when construction is in free-fall and industry is shedding 30,000 jobs a month, pushing unemployment to a 15-year high. The longer it goes on, the greater the “hysteresis” effect of lasting damage to labour skills. “The situation is catastrophic. Austerity policies are not working because of the fiscal multiplier,” said the head of the Industrial Research Centre. “Regaining our monetary sovereignty is the only way to rebalance accounts and relaunch growth. Our leaders have to decide whether their priority is the stability of the eurozone or the sound economic health of the country.” Spain?? No, France, actually. In the same boat, it seems.

Corruption: It gets worse for the PP governing party. Now it transpires they've lied about the date on which they 'let go' the guy who's got them into so much trouble by compiling data on illegal payments and distributions. And possibly publishing it as well. President Rajoy now has even more questions to anwer, though I don't suppose he will. Not his style. Prepare for more bluster. And fatuous statements from his subordinates.

Córdoba's Grand Mosque is one of the buildings you must see before you pop your clogs. Sadly, the centre of it has been converted into a cathedral and the whole place is, therefore, managed by the Catholic Church. Nonetheless, the critical parts of the old mosque remain intact and could be used for Muslim prayer. Indeed, nine men have tried to pray there this week, resulting in a fight and their arrest. One would've thought this could be settled amicably, with Muslim prayer being allowed at specific times. In the spirit of ecumenecalism which was much vaunted not so long ago. But I am not optimistic. Common sense and religion are not natural bedfellows. To say the least.

I think I've mentioned the multiplicity of languages down here on the Cost del Sol. This morning I spent ten minutes trying to decide which nothern European tongue I was listening to before I realised the speaker was Scottish.

China is now the biggest ivory market on Earth. According to a recent survey, fewer than 33% of the population realise that elephants have to die to be relieved of their tusks: 70% think they grow back, like fingernails. Like tiger paws, I guess. Or bear spleens.

Finally . . . As the Russian armies advanced on Berlin, they took – and interrogated – thousands of German prisoners. One of these was recorded as saying, with a degree of bitterness, The only promise that Hitler ever kept was the one he made in 1933 – Vote me into power and in ten years time Germany will be unrecognisable.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Reader sp tells me that the 'pink hake' on Nerja menus is more likely to be 'pink cusk eel' than any variant of hake. And caught around Australia or Argentina. Truly is it a strange world.

Spain has been watching the annual State of the Nation debate in parliament. On corruption, the President's response to Opposition criticisms has been the traditional Spanish “Yeah but you're worse!” (Y tú más!). Specifically - “At least our party hasn't been condemned by the courts, unlike yours.” Grown up politics?

The Spanish government has decided to do something about excess levels of (corrupt) government – by tinkering with the lowest levels. More than 50,000 mayors and councillors are to lose their jobs and mayoral salaries will be abolished or severely reduced. Personally, I'd have thought the latter measure was guaranteed to increase corrupion, not reduce it. More importantly. The targets should be the regional and provincial empires, where the corruption really lies.

President Rajoy has said it wouldn't be right to change the harsh mortgage system here as this would affect current mortgages and, besides, Spain has the best mortgage set up in Europe. OK, I know that 'Hard cases make bad law' and all that but where does he get off claiming that a few evictions (not to mention the suicides) should not be allowed to force changes in the law? Is it possible he has banker friends?

The good news imparted by Sr Rajoy is that the deficit for 2012 looks like coming in at 7%. This is only good news, of course, if you completely ignore all the targets and forecasts that were tabled/ imposed/dreamt up during last year. On now to 3 or 4% this year. Maybe. But at least it's coming down. Which must make all the pain easier to bear.

Corruption: There seems to be an emerging consensus that Spaniards are angrier than they've even been about this is because they no longer take the view that “Well, we're all in it, aren't we, one way or another?”. Maybe it's the scale of things or, more likely, it's because the biggest fraudsters are the same people who are ruthlessly imposing austerity on the populace. So, it's not only a question of degree but also of fundamental equity. In the good times, of course, this doesn't apply. It's a free-for-all.

And one which many politicians and businessmen thought, thanks to the EU, would never end. Hence all the empty new roads and airports, like that in Castellón and this one in Murcia – Corvera. No doubt all the feasiblity plans were signed off by competent, independent accountants. Who, somehow, never got to play “What if?” on their computers.

Finally . . . Today I decided I'd been an Epicurean for at least the last 15 years, but probably much longer. Epicureanism must not be confused, as it ususally is, with hedonism, or even with the modern adjective Epicurean. Meaning, basically, someone who likes good food and his creature commforts. If you're intrigued, click here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Nerja is a nice enough place, at least in winter, but I could never live here. There are so many people on sticks or with walking difficulties that one is permanently reminded of decay. This is no one's fault, of course, but I can do without it, preferring to be rejuvenated by youth. At least to some extent.

There's a trio of cafés in the centre of old town, flanked by two bank branches. Strangely, these both belong to Banco Sabadell. One wonders why. And whether they're connected by a corridor behind the cafés.

The favourite fish down here seems to be rosada. I enjoyed a few plates of it before reading in an English menu that it's the (pink) hake that's so bloody ubiquitous in Galicia! Though I suspect it isn't.

I haven't watched the Pistorius circus with any great interest but I noted that his defence lawyer had today shredded the senior police officer during a bail hearing. So, perhaps Oscar does now have a leg to stand on.

I'm halfway through Antony Beevor's Berlín: La Caida. 1945. It has a cover picture of the city in ruins and it struck me today that it possibly wasn't the best thing to have on the table when surrounded by Germans. Still, they'd never catch me, even if they made good use of their sticks.

Just before the Russians advanced on Berlin in April 1945, the Philharmonic Orchestra gave its last performance there. One of the pieces was the signal for the musicians to leave the city with all due dispatch. On an overcrowded train the next day, there was a great deal of 'defeatist' moaning about the city's terrifying predicament. Until a much-decorated soldier gave everyone pause for thought with the comment that they had to win the war since, if the Russians only did a fraction of what German troops had done in Russia, there'd be no one left alive in the city.

Like being the birthplace of Columbus, the honour of having been the first place in Spain to have had a football team is much fought over. The claimants are Villagarcia(Galicia) 1873; Minas de Riotinto 1878: and Sevilla 1873. Each, of course, insists that the claims of others are fraudulent and at least one pseudo academic thesis had been written on this serious subject. In which the Villagarcia claim is dismissed as a fraud. Of course.

I talked about Santander's approach to its customers yesterday. Sometimes one can hardly believe the accounts of evictions here in Spain, especially against the backcloth of the suicides – three one day last week – which follow in their wake. The latest to be reported is that of an 85 year old woman, said be evicted after defaulting on only one month's payment. Though in this case execution of the sentence was prevented by her neighbours. The government has said it will be doing something. If so, I'm sure there several process models available from countries in which capitalism is less red in tooth and claw than it sometimes is here in Spain.

Finally . . . The company which organises the Miss Spain competition has gone into receivership. Things are now really serious. Let's hope this is the nadir from which Spain will begin to bounce back.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tonight I will strive to stay off Religion, Politics and Business.

When Banco Santander bought a British bank I wondered out loud here whether they'd display the standard Spanish approach to client service and, if so, how well they'd do. From time to time since then, I've read that Santander were consistently the leader of the pack when it came to complaints to the banking ombudsman. Against that, though, they seemed to be having some success in gaining new clients through aggressive and effective ad campaigns. Today, though, comes an article in The Times which is decidedly critical of Santander. Perhaps it's a riposte to the anti-British slogans being bandied about here by striking Iberia personnel, but I rather doubt this. Anyway, here's part of the article. Despite Rupert Murdoch's paywall, you may be able to read the whole thing here:- Ana Botín has emerged from the sordid scandals that have engulfed the UK’s banks with a reputation largely unscathed. Past and former bosses of the other big high street banks barely need to open their mouths to have the nation spluttering in anger. But Ms Botín, the 52-year-old head of Santander UK, has had an easy ride, brushing off more muted criticism with an unruffled ease. Her charm, though, is wearing thin. Surely, this is the worst bank in Britain in terms of customer service, and it seems odd that Ms Botín, part of the Spanish family dynasty that controls Santander, is not taking the rap. Letters and e-mails that have winged in to Times Money’s Troubleshooter column since she took the helm in December 2010 speak of a bank focused on sales targets, not service. A workplace where the pressure is to sell, sell, sell. A bank that fobs off and frustrates customers with genuine complaints. When it does own up to wrongdoing, it is the frontline staff who get roasted while those at the top are cushioned from blame. . . . This week we learnt that the bank is facing a fine after giving misleading investment advice. Five other banks and building societies were caught out in the regulator’s mystery shopping exercise, but it appears that only Santander’s advice was so bad that it now faces sanctions. . . . When challenged, Ms Botín says she wants to make “every single customer happy”. Sometimes this is translated into action: Santander has made moves to ensure its incentive scheme for staff is made more customer friendly. But her language too often suggests complacency at best, an arrogant disregard at worst. Which, in truth, is a comment that could be made of many Spanish politicians as well. Plus their businessmen friends.

Talking of which . . . This week Spain is witnessing its second largest company bankruptcy ever. Like the first, it's a property company – Reyal Urbis. Who can say with confidence there won't be more?

But it's not only politicians and businessmen who can get away with murder. A Catholic Cardinal who covered up child abuse cases in the USA is not only still in his job but will, he says, be taking a trip to Rome to vote in the imminent Papal ballot. I'm guessing his own odds will be long. And being white won't help.

Which reminds me . . . The man who's accused of stealing valuables and money from the Cathedral of Santiago over a period of 20 years has said he'll be describing the out-of-hours things that used to take place within its hallowed walls. Including the sex. Will the case proceed, I wonder?

Finally, but still with Spanish businessman . . . Javier Rigau, 51, is being sued by Gina Lollobrigida(85?) for fraud. She asserts he faked their marriage in an attempt to steal her €40m fortune after her death. Strangely, though, there seems to be evidence that she was complicit, even though the wedding took place in Barcelona, with a friend standing in for her.

Well, that wasn't too hard, was it?

Monday, February 18, 2013

María Dolores de Cospedal is the Vice-Secretary of the governing PP party and the President of the region of Castilla y La Mancha. A career politician, she's being touted by some as the next State President, after Sr Rajoy. First, though, she'll have to extricate herself from the corruption scandal over illegal payments to senior members of the party, including herself. And then she'll have to beat off Esperanza Aguirre, her one-time mentor and, more recently, a harsh critic of her management of the corruption issue. According to IberoSphere - “Cospedal is taking the classic PP approach to the affair: deny everything and sit tight. . . The Spanish Electorate has a very low opinion of its institutions, increasingly tending to see all politicians as self-serving. Cospedal’s hope now will be that the courts fail to find anything solid to accuse her or Rajoy of, and that between now and the general elections of 2015, no further scandals emerge within the PP.” More here.

Esperanza, of course, means 'Hope'. And I noticed it today in an odd, if not amusing, context. Nerja's funeral home is called La Esperanza. Which I suppose it is. A logically longer name might be The Funeral Home of Hope over as yet Untold Experience.

My new car has a camera which comes on when I'm reversing. It's useful but not infallible. Low walls seem to be out of its purview. As is the barrier in the Malaga airport that comes down behind you as you stop before the second barrier to insert your ticket. So, should you decide to reverse because you've forgotten to pay the fee, the result is predictable. Happily, the barrier is rather flimsy and attached by cords which come loose quite easily. But it makes an interesting noise as it breaks up into its constituent pieces. And bounces off your car.

Talking of the airport . . . As you approach it from the East, all the signs to it on the A7 are ruled through with double black lines. Which makes it something of a lottery as to whether you leave the autopista at anything like the right exit. No explanation is given and Google throws up no clues. For what it's worth, my suggestion is to come off at the Torremolinos exit and then follow the un-ruled-through signs, back towards Malaga.

Today I was asked the most flattering question possible in Andalucia - ¿Etá uteth epañol? “Are you Spanish”? And I learned – on behalf of my sister – that a very milky coffee here is una sombra and that a cup of milk which has had a few grains of coffee waved at it is una nube. As to why, you're on your own.

The oddest question I was asked today was - "Were you kidnapped when you were young?" This was the opening gambit of what turned out to be a tramp-cum-beggar who could say this not just in English but also in French and Spanish. A bit old to be an unemployed joven but too young to be a career beggar. I was surprised when the young Spanish lady at the next table answered his query as to whether there was anyone in the café who spoke French. And then spent 10 minutes talking to him in both Spanish and French. An odd listening experience.

Africa may well, as the French cruelly insist, begin at the Pyrenees but we have far fewer Africans up north than there. Scarcely a quarter hour passes without one being offered the ambulatory equivalent of a stall in any large Spanish market. With much the same range and variety of African goods. If they ever come round with shoes, I fear my sister will bankrupt myself. She studied under Imelda Marcos for 3 years. And 5 thousand shoes.

Finally . . . Click here for a program which reveals that Liz 2 is not Britain's real monarch. And then tracks down the real king and his family. As I've said before, this is not what we had in mind when we introduced DNA testing to the world in the mid 80s.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The other thing you don't get with your coffee/wine down here is newspapers. Neither domestic nor national. I guess the guild of newsagents has put paid to that. Maybe by accidentally burning down some transgressing café when protesting the loss of custom.

Intriguing to see that the horsemeat scandal isn't exactly a novelty in the UK.

More important is the surely correct perspective that, compared with the earth-shattering scandal of 1,2000 unnecessary patient deaths in a hospital in which no one has yet been sacked from his or her position, the horsement scandal is a mere trifle:- The subject which nobody wants to talk about is the National Health Service. It is just over a week since the publication of the Francis report into Stafford hospital, where some 1,200 patients died in appalling circumstances. Had any other institution been involved in a scandal on this scale, the consequences would have been momentous: sackings, arrests and prosecutions. Had it involved a private hospital, that hospital would have been closed down already, and those in charge publicly shamed and facing jail. . . . Not a single life has been lost, or even threatened [because of horsemeat in the food chain]. Indeed, so far as I can discover, no one has even fallen ill as a result. By comparison with the tragic and terrible events at Stafford hospital, the so-called horse flesh scandal does not register. It matters not a jot. It is beneath insignificant. . . Why has a story about what was effectively the manslaughter by the state of more than 1,000 people been ignored? . . What we have here, I believe, is a conspiracy of silence, just as we had a conspiracy of silence over phone hacking and over MPs’ expenses. None of the mainstream parties want to admit the blindingly obvious fact that there is something very wrong with the NHS, as Stafford demonstrates in the most tragic and horrifying way. Labour can’t or won’t admit this, because it founded the NHS and claims it as its own. Likewise the Lib Dems are bound into this consensus. The Tories fear it would be electoral suicide to do something serious about it. . . . Nigel Lawson famously remarked that the NHS is the nearest thing we have these days to a state religion. Nobody can criticise a state religion. It’s much easier, and far more agreeable, to pretend that horse meat is the big story. Psychologists would call the events of the last week “transference”. And if British politicians (of all parties) carry on changing the subject, the more certain it is that there will be fresh Staffords to come. [Peter Oborne: The Telegraph.]

Conversation with my sister this evening. I'll leave you to guess who's who:-
We'd better water all the plants, I think.
Which ones?
Well, all of them. I've just done the one by the door.
They're all plastic, you fool.

For those with the interest, the time and the energy, here's the latest take on the Spanish economy, from the man hailed by some and hated by others. But that's economists for you. I would copy and paste extracts for you but I can't face that in the middle of a Real Marid match.

And here's the The Economist's take on the messages imparted a couple of days ago by an optimistic but ever-taciturn President Rajoy. The core message is the same - Where once Spain's problems were acute, now they are chronic.

Finally . . . Heard on the radio yesterday: Invention is the relentless driver of capitalism. Or something similar. Seen on the TV today: An advert for a plug-in product - presumably a stupefactant – which will “stop your cats from being catty to each other'. Given the loss of bird-life in my garden, I'd want something stronger than that.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Catholic side of my family has reacted to the Pope's resignation as if Jesus had jacked in Christianity. The Jewish side hasn't. As an atheist, I'm not that bothered. Or interested even. One Pope is like another to me. Surrounded by scheming priests, bishops and cardinals. As it has been down through the centuries.

Down here in Nerja, it's not much like Spain. No biscuits with your coffee; ditto tapas with your wine; and too much noisy English conversation around me that I can't screen out as well as I routinely do with Spanish. All of which proves – once again - that the more tourism there is, the less you get for a money. Think Venice. For a truly dyspeptic view of the Costa del Sol, click here.

But it's certainly cosmopolitan. I've heard 3 or 4 languages I haven't recognised. Though I suppose they could all be Portuguese.

So, the collective term for bordellos? I can't deny the virtually-nil result for suggestions was a tad disappointing, with only Alfie Mittington and Perry having a go. My personal preference is a disgrace of brothels, by analogy with a pride of lions. So I won.

My sister's kitchen back home knows only two states:- 1. pristine, and 2. Stalingrad after the war. At the moment, she's going with the first of these. And so it is that the Battle of the Toaster has broken out. I use it and then, next time, find it's back in the cupboard. You know the rest. Perhaps we should call a truce and have it half-in and half-out of the cupboard. As if.

Spanish Corruption: I'm sated. Things are so bad my half-Spanish (ex)step-son told me today that Spain was now little more than a banana republic. Or it would be if it weren't a monarchy. For those wanting more on the subject, read the top 3 or 4 stories here.

With little else to do but sit in the shade, I've been able to make a start on Antony Beevor's Berlin. The Fall: 1945. Not for the first time, I've concluded it's easier reading an English book translated into Spanish that an original Spanish book. Maybe it's got something to do with shorter sentences. Or a less flowery style.

If you've ever wondered how democratic the EU is, this and this will be of interest

And, if you've a lingering interest in knowing where fault lies for the recent meat scandal, this will help.

And this may make you smile: A pack of wild dogs broke into Tesco's warehouse last night but by the time the police got there they'd (w)hoofed it.

And this is an update of the fate of the Priors, the unlucky British couple who were the only ones out of many thousands of candidates to have their house bulldozed by a local council. Which did wonders for foreign interest in investment in the Spanish property market.

And here, for Spanish speakers, is one of a new (but predicted) class of Spanish article, about how the EU dream is now a nightmare.

Finally . . . Is this not one of the best lyrics ever?:-

Every time I hear that march from Lohengrin,
I am always on the outside lookin' in.

Friday, February 15, 2013

I seem to recall that the previous time I visited Toledo, maybe 6 years ago, it presented itself as an ex-Visigoth capital, rather than as a primarily (ex)centre of Jewish culture. Anyway, there still is a museum in honour of the Germanic invaders. The first folk(volk?) to control the entire peninsula, I seem to recall. By the way, the appropriate term for Toledo's change of tack is probably chutzpah.

Another feature of the city – possibly a reflection of either the season or La Crisis – is the array of sad-looking shopkeepers, standing in doorways and scanning the horizon for the customers with whom you don't want to be fighting for space in the narrow streets during the high season. The other advantage of visiting Toledo outside summer is that menús del día are as low as 5 euros. Though I hate to think what you get for that. Especially as wine is included.

Impressively, Toledo has buses that run on natural gas. And an airport. Though no planes that I could discern. Castellón Dos?

Driving from Toledo to Malaga, you inevitably pass a 'club' called La Dulcinea. Quite soon after that you come upon another 2 or 3 'clubs'. Which prompted me to ask what the collective noun for brothels might be. I've come up with a few ideas – see tomorrow – but suggestions are welcome. There'll be a prize for the best, of course. Honest. Come on, Alfie. For those younger readers who've never been taught what a 'noun' is, it's “A word used as the name of a thing or person.” There you go. You're all set now.

And between Granada and Jaen you pass hillsides covered with properties that look as empty as those south west of Madrid. As someone has said, it's likely that some of these will never be sold.

Like every place in Spain, it seems, Nerja has its beggars. Of course, it's sometimes a tad difficult to tell them from the Brits. Some of whom clearly think it's OK to wear a back-to-front baseball cap despite their advanced age. Perhaps they're visiting Americans, the only people who could wrest the Worst Dressed accolade from the British.

Which reminds me . . . While looking for my sister in Malaga airport, I almost bumped into a guy who was clearly one of the 4 or 5 homeless/stateless men reported to live there. Like upmarket bagmen, as they have a trolley each. Quite eery. For a second, I felt I was in a movie.

This is the phone conversation I had with my sister at the airport:-
Hi. Have you arrived?
Yes, half an hour ago. Despite the fact you gave me the wrong time. I've just come back to the car to get my phone. Where are you?
In a café.
Where exactly? I've looked in them all.
It's outside, near the taxi rank.
Which floor are you on? Arrivals or Departures?
No idea. Hang on, I'll ask this man next to me to tell you.
            [Excuse me. Can you talk to my brother and tell him exactly where we are? He speaks Spanish]
Hola, etc. etc.
OK. I know where you are now. See you in 5 minutes. [Thinking: If the guy could understand her request in English, why does she think it's relevant I speak Spanish?]

Finally . . . When Jacob Epstein was making a bust of the craggy British politician, Ernest Bevin, he was asked how he went about this challenge. He replied: “I take a lump of marble and then I chip off everything that doesn't look like him”.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Note: Last night's post was published this morning. Scroll down for it.

How desperate must you be to raise the spectres of civil war or a military coup-d'etat in spain. Or, as the besieged VP of the PP Party put it this week: “If serious politics disappears, we'll have populism or the generals.” As opposed to democracy, I suppose. In which politicians are truly accountable to the electorate. And resign now and again.

The PP party has also proposed a Pacto de Estado (all-party agreement), “For the recovery and recuperation of politics as a guarantee of economic stability.” Herein lies the opportunism and the deceit. Everything is to be sacrificed – including integrity – to the holy grail of economic stability. The standard line of all dictators. Hitler, for example.

First Nerja observation: Is there any nation on earth worse dressed than the British?

There's only one thing absolutely certain about the EU meat scandal/crisis – the price of beef will rise, on one pretext or another. 'More border testing' is the obvious one, should the EU abandon its previous stance that this was discriminatory. Rumanian beef!? You must be joking!!

Conversation with my GP on Monday:-
I need one of my medications. It's run out.
That's not possible. It can't have.
Well it has. Several days ago.
Hmm. [Tap, tap, tap on the computer]. Here you are. [Gives me a schedule of medications, which I have yet to understand]
Is that it?

As you can probably tell, doctors are still close to God in Spain. You're not supposed to argue with or contradict them. I'd hate to think what would happen if you said you'd been researching your condition or medication on the internet.

Still on the health kick . . . I confirmed today that the Spanish national health service isn't, well, national. It's that old British anathema – a 'post code lottery'. When I gave the pharmacist my card, she looked at it in semi-disgust and asked me what I was. I said it was a Galician card.
I can't take that”
Surely it's a national system. Isn't it on your computer?
No. You'll have to go to the Health Centre and get a doctor to give you a prescription.
I can't be bothered. How much is it to buy?
Five euros.
OK. Give me [the 'Prescription Only' item]

This, of course, is all in line with Spain's traditional priorities, in ascending order of importance – village, town, comarca, province, region, nation. I used to think corruption was an exception, in that it didn't operate at a national level. But I appear to have been wrong on this score. Though we await confirmation.

Although bullfighting is a a minority sport/ theatrical event in Spain, the Spanish parliament has initiated a process which will probably see it being sanctified as a Cultural Good. The objective is to stop other regions copying the example of Cataluña in banning it.

Toledo: Chapter 2
  • Has an ex-synagogue – now an ex-church – dedicated to Santa María La Blanca. Or 'Holy Mary the White'. I suspect this is a reference to virginity, rather than anything racial.
  • And it also has an ex-mosque-ex-church dedicated to Santo Cristo, as I recall. Or 'The Holy Christ'.
  • Boasts several museums. The inevitable one being the Museum of Products of Castilla La Mancha. The most unusual is the Museum of Olive Oil. Though there's probably a Museum of Deadly Toledo Steel somewhere.

Finally . . . The Good News is that international voices are beginning to endorse the Draghi view that, as a result of stellar growth of exports, Spain will one day soon be 'the new Germany'. Let's hope so. Earnestly. If so, maybe all the deserts of empty flats I passed on the south west of Madrid could well be populated one day. 
This is yesterday's post. Couldn't publish it last night as I arrived very late in Nerja and there's no wi-fi in the flat. So . . .

Toledo: Chapter 1:
  • Appears to have re-positioned itself as a primarily Jewish city. Its USP is two synagogues and 5 or 6 Jewish festivals a year. I'm sure it wasn't like this when I was last here 4 or 5 years ago. As you'd expect of those dastardly Christians, what was once the Jewish quarter is dominated by a huge church. And one or both of the synagogues are located on a street called “The Spanish Catholic Monarchs·” Once upon a time, it didn't suit Toledo to boast of its Jewish connections. Before it depended on tourism. And before it realised that Jews can be quite wealthy. And free with their money.
  • Is a riot of glorious stonework(inside) and Mudéjar brickwork(outside). Though I suppose one could get blasé about the latter.
  • Boasts two magnificent synagogues and a Moorish mosque. All of these have been beautifully restored, losing most traces of their iniquitous conversion into Christian churches in the process. Not to mention their use as barracks or warehouses during the War of Independence. Fascinatingly, the synagogues have clear traces of Moorish/Mudéjar influence.
  • Has an Asian restaurant with Sake in its name. Despite which, it's run by Chinese. Fittingly, often called 'The Jews of Asia'. Unusually, they smile a lot. So maybe they're Korean. For the cognoscenti – and Trevor - Alas de Pollo is translated as Chicken Balls.
  • Seems to use different spellings from what I'm used to. Cuehro for Cuero and Lamo for Llamo. As in “Lamo la grua”. Possibly just mistakes.
  • Sports several shops selling objects made of Toledo steel. The usual stuff – penknives, carving knives, hunting knives, rapiers, machetes and broadswords. My favourite place had one of the latter inscribed “Robin of Loxley”(the first 'hoodie'). And another with a reference to 'Braveheart'. God knows how you'd get any of these into the UK, where carrying a nail-file is now a prison offence.
  • Honours El Greco with a charming museum-cum-art-gallery in a house where he might have once lived. But didn't. Possibly, though, he and his family had an apartment across the street. Which counts. As with all museums in Spain, there'll be someone to give you a ticket (even if it's free) and someone else a metre or so away to punch or rip it for you. When there's no one to deal with, they chat to each other. In one place, there were 6 to 8 of these milling around in the entrance. And it still took me 5 minutes to get in.
  • Is lacking beggars outside the churches. Possibly because it's too cold. Or, more likely, because tourists are thin in the ground this time of year.
  • Has its own newspaper - The Tribunal de Toledo – which yesterday gave 7 possible reason for the Pope's resignation, without mentioning paedophilia.
  • Holds a Good Friday immolation ceremony involving a giant sardine. I'd thought these were confined to the coast. Plus I don't see the Jewish connection with a sardine. A herring, yes, But a sardine? I don't think they've thought this through yet.
So, does Toledo rank with Córdoba as one of the must-see('bucket-list') places on earth. On balance, yes. I've been twice and will certainly go again.

As for Nerja . . . To many bloody foreigners pretending to be bit players in the comedy series Benidorm. But this is only what I expected. Though it's on a much grander scale than when I was last here 20 years ago. Progress.

I wonder how long it will be before I see some Brit in his 60s sporting camouflage cargo pants.
Normal service will be resumed soon.

Lot of driving yesterday and exhausted after lugging my sister's suitcase half a mile to the apartment. Which has no wifi.

Sitting in a café in the Balcón de Europa, trying to get over the prices.

Hasta pronto!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

No one really understands what’s going on in our economy. This was the headline of an article in a British newspaper today. I suspect the sentence has a far wider application.

One of my favourite cartoons has a bowing hotel manager saying to a guest: “Is my fawning obsequiousness to your satisfaction, sir?” For some reason, it was going through my head as I drove from Pontevedra to Toledo today, en route to the south coast. Strange to relate, if it hadn't been, it would've occurred to me after I'd been checked into my hotel by a pleasant but extremely attendant young lady.

Toledo is, of course, a magnificent city and looks almost too good to be true by moonlight, when it's empty of the tourists with which it's stuffed in the high season. I say 'moonlight' but it's really subdued electric light. My hotel is down below the old quarter and I pondered toiling up the winding road before taking the huge escalator opened in 2000. I wondered if they charged for this but there was no sign of this at the bottom. Whereupon it struck me the city could make a killing by only having pay booths at the top and then ransoming the people who refused to pay for coming up until they paid for both the up and the down journeys. This is just the sort of 'stealth tax' needed in these hard times and I feel I should be recompensed for the idea. Fat chance, I suppose.

Leaving my hotel, the first establishment I passed was a restaurant called “The Holy Puppy”. And the second was a Chinese place called “The Great Wall”, which struck me as quite witty in the Toledo context, though possibly unintentionally so. Would have been even better (or possibly crass) in Ávila. Or even Lugo.

The Pope: I guess everyone has seen by now the foto of Berlusconi being hailed as the new incumbent. Sometimes with a rude title. If not, you will soon. Stopping off for a coffee on the border of Galicia and Castilla, I noticed that the local paper had devoted of 9 of its 42 pages(21%) to the resignation. And tonight I saw that El País had managed 15 out of 64(23%). Plus an editorial. For God's sake, you'd think this was a Catholic country.

The King was loudly booed and jeered at a recent football match. Which is pretty unprecedented but indicative of the national mood. See here for more on the travails of the Spanish royal family. Which were increased today with the announcement that three of the King's 'distant cousins' were being investigated for some crime or other.

  • The President of Cataluña has said there's be less corruption there when the region is independent of Spain. As if. Greed will surely be at the same level and opportunities greater. Do the math, as our American cousins say.
  • The ex-President of the employers' association – who may well be in jail, as opposed to just being in the dock – is thought to have squirrelled money away in 10 countries, before announcing that his travel company was bankrupt. One wonders why.
  • The Vice-President of the Confederation of Business Owners (the CEOE) has been arraigned for paying his staff in black money. That's what counts as entrepreneurialism here in Spain.
  • I was wrong about the ex-husband of the Ministress of Health resigning; he was sacked “to protect the Ministress”. Or at least he was shoved onto his sword. One step backward. Or forward, in his case.

Finally . . . I received an email today from Jasmyne A. Barber, telling me that. “My wife and i donated $500,000 to you”. Call me an old sceptic but I doubt a lesbian couple would be showing such largesse to me.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Pope: Funny, you'd think God would've been able to ensure someone of greater longevity in the job. I hope the resignation didn't come as a surprise to him. Sorry, Him. The Pope, my the way, made his announcement in Latin . Which speaks of a certain unworldliness. So I wasn't too surprised to hear tonight he felt he was increasingly out of touch.

Talking of job departures . . . Someone has finally resigned in Spain. Not the President and not the Ministress of Health but the husband of the latter. Who, as a member of the PP party's administration, has been implicated in corruption for some time. It's a start.

While we're on the subject of corruption:-
  • The VP of the PP party has defended the President's salary increases as 'electoral bonuses'. In other words, his income rose 27% but his salary didn't. That's alright then. Now things don't look quite so bad.
  • President Rajoy is embattled. Indeed, he was before the latest crisis. He shouldn't survive, even if the presidency doesn't go to the scheming Esperanza Aguirre. But he may, if he continues to be supported by most of the party barons. Which can't be taken for granted.
  • Top level members of the PP government have pledged to publish their tax returns in the next few days to wipe out suspicions that they received backhanders in cash.” How, exactly?? Black money never mixes with white. Until laundered.
  • Spain will get 1bn from the EU to help youth unemployment. And 2bn is earmarked for Galicia. Sadly, no one will be very confident it'll all end up where it should.

All of which reminds me . . . To complete the image, I should've said that Sr Fabra de Castellón has black slicked-back hair. As it happens, the 'star' of the recent earth-shattering revelations about PP party skulduggery could also have come straight out of central casting as a crooked Spanish politician of the Franco era. Although he doesn't go as far as the 24/7 sun glasses. His speciality is a sort of enigmatic smile. As if he knows where all the bodies are. Hang on . . .

With the EU forbidding member countries from testing the meat coming into them, the horse-meat scandal was clearly a fraud waiting to happen. Indeed, it was totally predictable. Someone who should know has said that fraud is endemic in the industry and it'll be interesting to see how the Brussels bureaucrats deal with the reañ-world challenge of restoring faith. And beef.

I was sympathetic towards the writer of a letter to El País today. He reported on a flagrant police scam on leaving an autopista, when the speed limit was reduced from 70 to 40 within 20 metres and the machine was located right under the sign. I, too, have been the victim of one of these traps, which don't do much for respect for the police. Of course, I've also been done for listening to podcasts on my iPod Shuttle. Even though this is quieter than just one talking Spaniard in the car.

Finally . . . I'd never heard of The Mumfords until today. Probably more a comment on me than them. But I understand they're mocked in the UK (their own country) but almost revered in the USA as the saviours of folk music. I tried a few tracks on Spotify today and the question is – Do they ever sing? Or do they specialise in instrumental versions of songs we used to sing as kids”