Friday, May 31, 2013

Are we mad?

Are we mad? We've got elected governments in Spain, Portugal and France, for example, taking orders from an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels on how much more pain to inflict on their long-suffering citizens. And being threatened with sanctions, if they don't. The national governments can, of course, be voted out of power by their electorates and almost certainly will be at the next general elections. So they worry about voter reactions and drag their feet. The Brussels bureaucrats don't face any electorate - or, indeed, anyone but themselves in the mirror - and appear to be utterly unconcerned with, say, what's happening in a country with over 50% youth unemployment. The Project, it seems, demands convergence at any cost. And the perceived answer to this? More and more economic government from Brussels until we reach the point where all tax and spend decisions are taken there and homogeneity is first forced and then enforced by Europe's new dictator, the EU Commission.

Was this predictable? Yes, of course it was. For example, by all who warned a one-size-fits-all currency would be a disaster for weaker economies. Christopher Booker, for one. Can anything stop it? Well, Germany leaving the EU and revaluing its currency would be a good start. But that ain't going to happen. Meanwhile, politicians and bureaucrats together claim that the euro crisis is well over and everything is heading in the right direction. It isn't. As The Economist says this week, they're fooling themselves, if no one else, and "sleepwalking through an economic wasteland". And the reason for inactivity is a lack of will to do even the things already agreed to be vital, such as a true banking union. Which is comforting.

Will things get any better quickly? I rather doubt it. Is it any wonder that "Across Europe voters have grown resentful of both their own politicians and the EU". But will there be revolts? I rather doubt that too. So, it's a recipe for the wilfully blind leading the wilfully docile.

Has anything like this ever happened in history before? Possibly in Germany during the Weimar Republic and then under the National Socialists. And look where that got us. As for the immediate future, as The Economist puts it- Europe will be under a shadow for years to come. The cost will be measured in disillusion, blighted communities and wasted lives. Unlike Japan, though, the euro zone is not cohesive. For as long as stagnation and recession tear at democracy, the euro zone risks a fatal popular rejection. If the sleepwalkers care about their currency and their people, they need to wake up. My guess is they will sleep on. Cushioned by their obscene salaries and expense accounts. See here for the full article.

Back in the prosaic, humdrum diurnal struggle, I tried today to get a new Terra email address, following their decision to cancel all existing addresses. This should have been a doddle but, in fact, there were problems at every single stage of the process. Never more so than when I was asked to give the country I was in. The options list would only give me ten countries, all beginning with A. Which is how I came to be a resident of Antarctica. Don't believe me? Well, see here:-
Felicitaciones. Tu usuario fue creado con:
nombre completo: Colin Davies
sexo: Masculino
usuario: colin

FIFA have announced that Gibraltar is to have full international status, though it's not clear if they'll ever play against Spain or the Balkan state which voted against this. Meanwhile, here in Spain, the development has led to a lunatic knee-jerk response from those of the far right for whom this is the beginning of the end of the civilised world. The same people who can, at the drop of a hat, give you pages and pages of reasons why Ceuta and Melilla are not Spanish colonies but 'enclaves' and an integral part of Spain. And who visit Franco's grave on every anniversary of his belated death. Nutters all.

The most popular names for dogs in Spain are Luna (Beauty), Linda, Laika, Rocky, Toby; Chispa (Spark), Kira, Lola, Canela(Cinnamon!) and Chiqui(Cheeky, of course). And the most popular breed is said to be 'mongrel'. Not here in snobby Pontevedra it ain't, amigo. All of which reminds me that when I first came to Spain, speaking almost no Spanish, I formed the view that most dogs here were called Ben. Because their owners kept calling 'Ben here!' Or Ven aquí! in Spanish. For 'Come here!'. Quite a natural assumption, I think. However stupid it now appears.

Finally . . . WTF does The Times ask me every couple of days or so to 'register', when I am already paying to escape their paywall? Can't their software distinguish between a paying customer and someone who's only allowed just 10 free reads? It seems not. Maybe Google should talk to them.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I first encountered the Baha'i religion when I was 18 and the father of an Indian pupil of mine in the Seychelles tried to interest me in it. I met it again 7 years later, when I was in Iran. It's an offshoot of the Shi'a branch of Islam and not popular with Muslims, who regard the core Baha'i belief that Baha'u'llah was a later prophet than Mohammed as outrageous heresy. As a result, Baha'is were for some time treated as apostates and executed for their beliefs. Indeed, this may still be happening in Iran. At 18, Baha'ism struck me as a religion which attempted to cover all be bases by taking the best bits of existing religions and synthesising a universal faith out of them. Rather like Esperanto with languages. Baha'ism promotes equality between men and women, which makes it all the stranger that the latter aren't allowed to become members of the rule-making Universal House of Justice. Nonetheless, there are female Baha'is who will rationalise this away and say it's perfectly OK. Just as Muslim women do with the veil and various other apparent examples of female subservience. But that's the strength of religions - they compel you into cognitive dissonance.

As computers have got progressively smaller and smartphones bigger, we appear to have reached the point where the hardware of choice is one of the latter. Except for we touch-typists who'll never use anything without a decent-sized keyboard. Which makes a netbook the absolute minimum. But the risk is that history - or technology - will leave us behind and we'll have to learn to finger-type on touch-sensitive screens. God forbid. Apple are now saying they've got 'game-changers' in the pipeline and one can only shudder at what these might be. Meanwhile, the good news is that you can now get an i-pad for as little as 50 dollars, in the States at least. Hard to believe that one of Apple's innovations will beat this.

Talking technology - 54% of Spaniards were found to have broken up with someone they'd been dating for less than three months by using WhatsApp. 12% had opted for a phone conversation to end the relationship and a cowardly 3% confessed to simply ending communication. Only 23% broke up in person. Who said romance was dead?

I went to get my blood pressure done today. The nurse and I found we lived in the same barrio of Poio but when she learned I lived up the hill, whereas she lived at the bottom, she remarked with a smile that I was up among the khetset. Which I finally figured out was the jet-set. "But there are some nice people up there", she added. Which was consoling.

Finally . . . As we entered Santiago last Saturday afternoon, one of us was in need of a pee, or a drink. Or both. So we stopped in the San Lázaro barrio of the city, and sat down outside a bar next to a conference centre. After going inside to order, I told my 4 lady companions there was a large table of lovely young women there, all of whom had smiled at me. I said there were only two possibilities - that they'd mistaken me for George Clooney or there was a convention of prostitutes taking place nearby. Sadly, they all went for the whore option. Earlier, I'd told the ladies I'd been involved in a documentary about the shipwrecking of a British ship along the Galician coast in the 19th century, in which I'd played the part of the captain. "Who? Captain Birdseye?", they chorused. Which left me a tad deflated.
Imagine Tony Blair had popped up a year or two into Gordon Brown's tenure as Prime Minister and roundly criticised him and his policies. Well, this is more or less what's recently happened here in Spain, with ex-president Aznar taking to the airwaves to lambast his successor, President Rajoy. As if this weren't bad enough, Aznar has also indicated his willingness to return to politics and to take up the poisoned chalice of leadership. Naturally, he's not doing this out of misplaced egotism or because he's 'against anyone' but because he's 'with the Spanish people'. In other words, because he likes to kick a man when he's down. Somewhere last week I read or heard that power physically changes the brain chemistry and predisposes one - thanks to increased testosterone - to acts of alarming self-interest. This looks like a case in point, with Aznar insisting he'll do 'what his responsibilities, his conscience, his party and his country want him to do'. As far as he's concerned, this means seizing the reins from President Rajoy and steering Spain back to the sunny uplands of dynamic growth. Dream on, Sr Aznar. While meanwhile creating chaos in the party which you led into electoral defeat in 2004.

One of the odder - and more disturbing - sights of the pilgrimage destination of Santiago is two young and one old women kneeling with heads bent and arms out holding a placard detailing their plight. For no reason I could easily defend, I suspect all these beggars are Romanian. Possibly of the same family. Anyway, my impression is they remain motionless in one of the busy thoroughfares for the entire day. Incredible. And and almost medieval.

Which reminds me . . . As you enter Santiago at the end of the French Way, you walk between the cathedral and the magnificent university buildings and then through a short tunnel into the huge Obradoiro square in front of the cathedral's main entrance. As you pass through this, your ears are inescapably assailed by a deafening combo of loud drums and Galician gaita. Which is why I call the place The Valley of Death by Bagpipes.

And talking of things religious . . . I see Pope Francis has been called on to perform a few exorcisms early in his career. Well, I guess it's logical; if you believe in the supreme Good, you've also got to believe in the supreme Evil. Who'll want to crop up from time to time, to remind people he's still there, unvanquished.

I also see that the Catholic Church is considering canonising a young girl who was cured of an 'incurable' condition after her father had gone to a convent and prayed for her recovery with the nuns therein. So, what are we to think? That all the numerous prayed-for kids that didn't recover after copious prayers went to Hell?

I wish I could tell you where we are with the issue of whether Princess Cristina will be in the dock alongside her husband, accused of one financial crime or another. But the problem is every few days one judge reverses the opinion of another on the matter. Or sometimes his/her own previous decision. As of now, I think she's heading for the dock but who knows about next week? While we wait on events, see here and here.

A new bit of Spanglish? Reports on the events in Woolwich have thrown up the word cúter, which turns out to mean both a Stanley knife and a 'cutter/sloop'.

Finally . . . For those who want to see more of Galicia from their armchair, here's a site which offers virtual tours of various cities (including Pontevedra) and of the several Caminos de Santiago which enter Galicia from all points of the compass. HT to my Ferrol friend Richard for this.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

70% of Spanish parents don't want Religion (i. e. Catholicism) included as a subject which counts towards students' university entrance mark. This is more than one would have expected, especially when María and José (Joseph) remain the most popular forenames in the country. But the current administration is pretty right-of-centre and beholden to the RC Church. So the electorate can probably go hang. But it'll all be reversed when the the Socialist PSOE returns to power.

Talking of the Faith . . . Some late-night TV viewing last week taught me that you can now buy an electronic rosary that gives you John Paul II, telling his beads along with you. Whether this makes your prayers more acceptable to God, I wouldn't know. But I do know that fleecing the faithful remains as popular as ever, as the gadget will set you back 50 euros.

Talking of late-night TV . . . Somewhere along The Way, I was (re?)introduced to the pleasures of the Nova channel. This seems to specialise in South American soap operas (culebrones) which are so bad they're rivetingly good. Especially as they feature some of the world's most beautiful women. They can't act for toffee, but who cares?

The last stage of last week's camino approaches and goes round Santiago airport. In the 3 hours it took us to navigate this bit, we saw a mere 2 planes. Though, in fact, I suspect it was really only one, arriving and leaving 30 minutes later. So I wasn't too surprised to read yesterday that, whereas the single airport of Oporto down in North Portugal offers 63 destination and had 6.1m passengers in 2012, the three Galician airports only muster 27 destinations between them and had a mere 3.9m passengers last year. So, what are they doing about it? Well, they're thinking of having just one director for all three airports. Should it ever happen, it'd be a start on rationalisation, I guess.

Finally . . . I walked 66 miles last week but gained weight. It could be muscle replacing fat, I suppose, but I fear it's more likely to be the wine that my companions felt compelled to pour me during each lunch and dinner. Thank God I breakfasted alone.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Final fotos. Normal service will resume tomorrow . . . .

As I was walking down to Santiago railway station this evening

I passed through a barrio which struck me as probably the one to live in some years ago.

And then someone decided to build these opposite . . .

Talk about 60s brutal!

Anyway, a Spanish friend has asked me whether I don't think it's strange that there was no blood flowing from the corpse of the English soldier hacked to death in Woolwich. And none on the clothes of the killer talking to the woman who approached him. Or that the latter conversation took place. Or that the police took quite some time to get to the scene. In other words, don't I share the Spanish suspicion that the whole thing was a set-up, designed to help the case for new repressive security measures?


Oh, yes. The French incident was also a set-up, apparently. For the same reasons.

I suppose stranger things have happened. Time will tell.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Santiago at last!

More fotos. Captions later:-

Harem 1

Harem 2. Obviously better than mine.

Friday, May 24, 2013

In Pedrouzo tonight. Final stage tomorrow. A few more fotos. One of them not taken by me:-

Healthy chix,

Vacas gordas.

An English pub garden.

And some of its contents.

A pilgrim surprised at his siesta.

The haunted forest?

The famous praying sheep of Arzúa.

Perhaps this one.

A tourist information centre. Like most of them - closed.

Spot the new dish.
Walked 28km (15m) today. Very tired. Some random fotos of beautiful Galicia:-