Monday, September 30, 2013

Italy; Spanish law; Corruption: Gib and the Canaries; Street names; And new Graffiti.

Well, you look at Italy, where a 77 year old gigolo has just brought down the government singlehandedly and, like Groucho Marx, you're forced to ask whether you want to be a member of a club which has Italy as a member. Not to mention Bulgaria, Rumania, Serbia et al.

It'll be a long time yet before I fully understand the Spanish judicial system. It seems that anyone is allowed to say just about anything they like - "I think my daughter-in-law did it" - in respect of the recent murder of an 11 year old Galician girl. Indeed, the investigating judge appeared on yesterday's news programs, answering questions about the case. Unimaginable in the Anglo system.

Speaking of Spanish law . . . I mentioned the Public Prosecutor yesterday, raising a question about his/her real role. Bang in cue, said Fiscal has told the inquiring judge in the biggest corruption case of the moment - and that's saying a lot - to stop investigating illegal corporate donations to the PP governing party as this would be "inútil, impertinente y perjudicial." Or 'useless, impertinent and prejudicial'. I suspect there's a better translation than this, possibly from a Spanish reader who's a lawyer.

You mustn't run away with the idea that corruption here is confined to politicians and businessmen. Down in Andalucia the UGT union is accused of obtaining millions from both the regional and national governments by inflating invoices for reimbursement of their costs. Well, it is a game for any number of players. Where the rewards are high.

Has he no shame? The Spanish President, Sr Rajoy, stands in front of the UN and demands that Britain re-establish the dialogue on Gibraltar that his own government terminated a few months ago. Well, I guess he wouldn't be a politician if he couldn't do this sort of thing. Personally, I wouldn't like to be the person having to re-start talks with Motormouth Margallo, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I'd feel very tempted to lean over the table and deck him.

Which reminds men . . . I'm not sure how true this is but, if it is, it'll be a major embarrassment to Spain - The Canary Islands government is reported to have applied to the UN for 'decolonisation' from Spain. It says that the islands are treated more like a colony than an autonomous region and they are fed up with sending €4-5bn to Madrid every year, even though 45-50% of their residents live below the poverty line. Something to keep an eye on.

Back here in Pontevedra, most streets in our old quarter have a previous name. For example Rúa Sarmiento used to be called Rúa de los Jesuitos, before the latter were booted out of Spain in the late 18th century. One of the more interesting name pairings is this one:-

So, a street now named in honour of F de Paula Cousiño was once called Fried Fish Street. Bit of a change.

Finally . . . Some graffiti new to me:-

The accompanying text says: "Ubicuo relapso. Six in the morning". Your guess is as good as mine.

And this is another one beyond my understanding:-

Finally, this one has the handsomely-written text: One thing you should know is that I have a friend who lives there. I know he wont refuse to put some color to my troubles and call 'em the crawler blues. A snatch of a song?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Holy corpses; Funny statue; Gib yet again; Punishing politicos; Defending politicos; and Bloody generals.

The mummified corpse of Santa Minia wasn't the only thing of interest in Brión on Friday night. In the centre of a copse of oak trees there, we happened upon this statue of Adam and Eve. Quite what is going on is anyone's guess as there's no explanatory plaque. To me, Eve seems to be kissing Adam's left knee. Quite why, I have no idea.

If you haven't yet seen it, here's a video of a Spanish secondary school's enactment of a Spanish invasion of Gibraltar and the slaughter of its residents. I was disgusted. It's so bloody amateurish. I don't believe in violence but I feel the drama teacher should be shot.

Talking of Gib . . . It seem's that the canny Spanish police ran down the border checks just before the EU inspectors arrived and then immediately reinstituted them as soon as they'd gone. The Gib government said this was pointless as they had plenty of video evidence of what had been going on. Asked for their opinions this morning, several drivers waiting to cross the border were considerably less sanguine.

All of which reminds me . . . At the UN this week Spain's Motormouth Margallo was pictured shaking hands with Britain's Motormouth Blair. Mo comment necessary.

Spain is currently revising is Criminal Code. One change is to be more severe penalties for corrupt politicians. The cynical Spanish response to this appears to be that it'll make no difference at all - no one can remember a politician who hasn't been pardoned after a short stay in the Soto del Real holiday camp north of Madrid. Maybe they all have something on each other.

Talking of corrupt politicians . . . One of ours here in Galicia is the ex-president of the Ourense province. The good news is that he's to be investigated by the current president. The bad news is that the latter is his son. Democratically elected, of course.

At a national level, it seems the Public Prosecutor(El Procurador Fiscal) has turned into the Public Defender. In a number of corruption investigations - including that of the King's daughter - he's demanded and then commanded that the investigating judges back off the prosecution of prominent people. It is, of course, a political appointment and, as I've said before, there seems to be little fear on the part of the Spanish government that the populace will revolt against its scandalous behaviour. They may complain; they may make a lot of noise; but they won't actually do anything. This supine behaviour, say some, reflects fear born of the fact that the Civil War remains very much in living memory. That said, there was a major demonstration against the King yesterday in Madrid.

Finally . . . You may not be familiar with the name Juan Yagüe. He was Francoist General who earned himself the nickname of The Butcher of Badajoz. Astonishingly, there's still a street in Madrid named after him. Even more depressing, there are still streets and squares around Spain - though not in Madrid apparently - named after the even more bloodthirsty General Queipo de Llano. What can one say?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Strange saints; The Pope v. wealth; And Gays; 'Clubs'; Nuns; Naked men; and Beggars

To the outskirts of Santiago last night, to dine with friends and to visit a church displaying the 'miraculously un-decomposed' body of Santa Minia, who was new to me. Like Lenin and Stalin, she lies in state - in the church of Brión - and it wouldn't be the Catholic church if it couldn't take financial advantage of this. So there's a naturally a collection box next to the casket and items on sale as you exit the church. As there is with every tourist attraction these days.

Talking of the Catholic church . . . I see the Pope has pronounced against the worship of wealth. Has he walked round the Vatican, I wonder. Or popped into the Museum or (worse) the Treasury of any church in Spain or Portugal? There's a lot of worshipped wealth on display there. If Francis goes on like this, he may find himself becoming the second Papal retiree in a few years. With the blessing of the Curia.

But it's not all good news from the Vatican this week; His Holiness has exiled a young priest who was making sacrilegiously positive remarks about those of his brethren with homosexual tendencies. Of whom there are more than just a few in Rome, it's said. Indeed, so many that if they were all similarly exiled, the place would grind to a halt. If that's the right phrase.

Talking of driving to Santiago . . . If time isn't of the essence, I normally take the old highway, rather than the expensive autopista. One of the pluses of this option is that I can check if there are any new brothels(Clubs) to add to those that were there the last time I went this way. Or whether any have closed because of La Crisis. As has one of the 3 or 4 in my barrio of Poio. I can never remember its name but it's either Working Girls or Factory Girls. Either way, pretty self-explanatory.

Observation around Pontevedra is forcing me to change my belief that any woman in Spain shorter than 5 feet(152cm) is forced to become a nun. This was born of the experience of only ever seeing nuns below this height. But 2 things have forced reconsideration: 1. You just don't see many nuns these days, and 2. What you do see is many more women below 5 feet who are not nuns. QED.

One belief that remains firm, though, is that it's compulsory in Spain to put the word corazón(heart) in the lyrics of every song you write. Even if it's a Rock number.

The King of Spain is in hospital for another operation, revitalising the debate about whether or not he shouldn't abdicate in favour of his rather-more-popular son. Husband to the lovely Letizia. Anyway, when the Queen was visiting him, a naked man ran round the place shouting "No to the CIA's secret crimes". We probably won't get to hear it but I'd love to know his explanation for this mode of protest. Especially if he's one of the surgeons there.

Well, after 7 or 8 weeks of sun, the weather broke on Thursday, when it began to rain. And, thanks to the Atlantic Blanket, it hasn't stopped since. An augury of our wetter-than-Manchester winter. Hey ho. Good for the garden, as the Brits always say. Not to mention the ducks.

Finally . . . A conversation with one of the pipe-playing, tune-slaying beggars of the town:-
Could you give me 50 cents?
No. I regularly see you buying drugs in O Vao. I'm not going to give you money for drugs.
But I only buy hashish. And I'd never use your money for that. I'd use it to buy a sandwich.
Yea, right. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Gib and the Falklands - a political fiasco; Euro-Vegas; The Spanish economy; and Bad books.

Just when you thought Spain's Motormouth Margallo had had his blow-hole stitched up, along comes his meeting with Argentina's demagogic Presidenta and a press statement from the latter saying Spain and Argentina had signed an anti-British agreement aimed at getting the UN to order the handover of the Falklands/Malvinas and Gibraltar/Gibraltar. Cue panic in Madrid, where the non-existence of such an agreement and the importance of Anglo-Spanish relations were quickly stressed. Separately, Sr Rajoy told the UN that Gibraltar was the only colony left in Europe. He couldn't say 'the world', of course, as Spain skates on (very) thin ice as regards its (violently acquired) 'non-colonies' in North Africa.

Talking of Argentina, I'm not sure how this works but someone there has just issued warrants for the arrest of 4 Spaniards, accused of torture during the Franco era. In the unlikely event any of these octogenarians leaves Spain, he'll be arrested on an international warrant. I would have thought Argentina had enough to worry about in respect of its own repression, now and then, not to involve itself in Spanish affairs. Other than by nationalising Repsol and other Spanish assets, I mean. Strange bedfellows.

Topically, UN experts are currently visiting Spin to determine what happened to thousands of people who just ‘disappeared’ in the Franco-era. As in Argentina a few decades later.

The promoters of the vast, multi-billion Euro-Vegas project ("260,000 jobs. Honest!") have won a partial victory in their deal-breaking demand that smoking be allowed there. It won't be permitted where the croupiers work but it will be where dual-addiction punters play the machines. Perhaps a percentage of profits from these will go to cancer research.

The Spanish economy: A selection of recent headlines:-
  • Bad loans held by Spain's banks reached a record high in July - a sign of persistent fragility in the bailed-out financial sector.
  • Spain's trade deficit plunged by a further 54% in July as the country rode a boom in exports.
  • Spain's trade balance in March saw its first surplus since 1971, mainly due to a sharp fall in imports because of falling domestic demand.
  • Cast as the sick man of the eurozone a year ago, Spain seems to be luring back investors despite lingering threats to its recovery.
  • International accounting giant PWC is predicting Spain's growth will outstrip that of both Germany and France from 2015 to 2019.
  • Spanish president Mariano Rajoy tells The Wall Street Journal “Spain is out of recession, but not out of the financial crisis. A bailout in 2014 is unlikely".
  • Spain's two-year recession appears to be drawing to a close, the country's central bank has said, predicting an end to the downturn in the third quarter of 2013.
  • Spain will stick to its path of austerity in 2014 with pensioners and public workers losing out despite a slowly improving economy.
So, pick the meat out of that. Possibly none of it is terribly positive to a family in which all members are unemployed.

Finally, I learned yesterday that, if you decide to persist with a badly written book, you can eventually reach a point where enjoyment of the unenjoyment justifies your going on, albeit post haste, to the very end. Still, I wouldn't recommend it as a use of your time. In comparison to, say, sticking red-hot needles in your arms.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gib; Learning English; Portuguese Pontevedra; Strange decisions; Fado; and Good Wife Rules.

Well, the EU investigators have arrived, just as the heat is anyway dissipating from the Gibraltar summer set-to. The Spanish president, Sr Rajoy, has demanded they conclude the place should lose whatever fiscal status it currently has, even if this does mean the loss of up to 10,000 Spanish jobs. I think I'm right in saying this is one item which the visitors long ago stressed is outside their remit. But, hey, why miss a good grandstanding opportunity when it's there for the taking?

Learning English is pretty damn easy,if you're an Anglo-Saxon child, but not so easy if this advantage is denied to you. Here's The Local's list of the top 10 things Spaniards struggle with. For some readers, this may be the first time they've met 'phrasal verbs'(No.5), even though they're the bane of every foreign student's life. This being so, imagine their reaction when you tell them you've never heard of what they're complaining about.

One of my favourite buildings in Pontevedra is the Palacete de los Mendoza

It's had various owners over the past 100 years but now serves as the - rarely frequented - HQ of the Rías Baixas Tourist Board. It's built in the Portuguese style, as are all these fine buildings on the north side of Pontevedra.

I learned only this week that there's a second film shot in Pontevedra, this one in the early 80s. It was the rather more successful Los Gozos y Las Sombras and it featured the Palacete as the home of the main characters.

Ten years or so ago, I sent a personal letter to the Director of the said Rías Baixas Tourist Board, offering to translate all their promotional material for nowt. I never even had the courtesy of a reply. But, anyway, here's how their English material turned out, absent my help. Craply, in a word. Presumably, though, it came with the stamp of approval of whichever of the Director's relatives produced it. For a large fee.

Passing through a street I regularly use yesterday, I saw there were none of the 10-15 cars usually parked in it. Then I noticed the new yellow markings and a Load/Unload Only sign. As the only 2 businesses within 100 metres are a kindergarten and a hairdressers, I was left wondering who would be doing the loading and unloading. More precisely, in whose financial interest was this bizarre (but not unprecedented) decision made? Perhaps all will become clear in due course.

In a BBC podcast on Portugal, the reporter referred to Fado as 'a sort of Iberian Blues'. More like an Iberian version of moaning, in my humble opinion. I put the mistake down to the reporter not being old enough to know what Blues is. And/or a cloth ear.

Finally . . . HT to my Ferrol friend Richard for this guide to the 11(10?) rules a (Spanish) wife must obey to be a good spouse. First issued in 1953, it'll astonish, amuse and enrage in equal proportions. Especially the one about not complaining if your husband has stayed out all night. At the brothel, presumably. I'm guessing it all had Franco's full approval, if not his wife's. I'm reminded of Mohammed's wife being told in the Quran to knock off her complaining about her husband's concubines. By the way, the Spanish for spouse (esposa in the feminine) also means 'handcuffs'. Now you know why.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Islam; The niqab; BBC standards; Syria; Good News; Brothels; and Film clips.

I've read the Koran a couple of times and each time have concluded there's enough material there for both a good religion and a bad one. Watching the Kenyan siege and listening to commentaries on the internecine sectarian violence in Syria, the question again arose of how much the adherents of peaceful Islam are doing to suppress the adherents of murderous Islam. The answer would appear to be Not enough. Perhaps things will improve once oil is not important to us and the Middle East can be left to tear itself apart.

Meanwhile, the BBC this morning reported the results of a recent London poll which showed significantly increased anti-Muslim attitudes among young people in London. The Muslim woman given a chance by the BBC to comment on this not only did this poorly but also insisted on wearing a niqab for the interview, even though she admitted she didn't in her job. She insisted that the majority of Muslims are peace-loving (doubtless true), and she blamed the media for not stressing the 'extreme Islamist' nature of the Somali terrorists, for example. What she didn't do was answer the question of whether her choice to wear the niqab both got in the way of communication and (unsaid) risked increasing anti-Muslim attitudes.

Talking of the BBC . . . You know the game is up when whoever writes the News copy has the announcer says 'amount of times' instead of 'number of times'. I give up.

And talking of Syria . . . Here's a thought-provoking video.

Good news from Spain:-
1. August tourist numbers were 7% up on last year and were the highest since records started in 1995. This possibly reflects that both Egypt and Turkey saw lower numbers because of civil unrest. Cataluña was the biggest beneficiary of this upsurge.
2. The Spanish government is increasing penalties for maltreatment of animals. Ditto for those sexually abusing minors.
Bullfighting, of course, doesn't fall into the category of cruelty to animals. Nor even slowly lancing a bull to death, apparently. I wonder if this is enshrined in statutes. Perhaps as a blanket exemption for Fiestas.

They say that no one in the UK is ever more than 70 miles away from the sea. Likewise, in Spain, you're never more than 7km from a brothel. I exaggerate, of course, but not by much. Clubs are a regular part of the landscape here. Years ago, Spanish friends of mine claimed they only went there for a drink but I was sceptical. Now comes some evidence suggesting I might have been too harsh on them. A recent survey in Madrid reveals that, while a quarter of young men admit they've visited a brothel, the main reason for doing so was "morbid fascination and curiosity", rather than a desire to use the services of a prostitute. Most interestingly, 5% of young women admitted to visiting a Club.

Finally . . . I recently posted a clip of Sara Montiel's 1969 film Esa Mujer, set  in Pontevedra. For fans, here's a couple more. One set along the coast between Bayona and Vigo, where the wind howls incessantly. Topically, the huge rock face you can see behind the convent (really a monastery) is the one against which the illegal 4-star hotel I mentioned recently is built. And one where she seen harvesting percebes (goose barnacles). Sort of, as this is usually done in more dangerous circumstances out at sea.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Gib sense; Veils; The Spanish timetable and clock; Pretty actresses; Construction; and Cakes.

With the onset of autumn, there really has been an outbreak of common sense on the thorny issue of Gibraltar. HT to reader Ferrolano for this article in his local paper. It's hard to disagree with much of what the writer says but it's noticeable that he fails to point out that the fishing resented by the Gibraltarians has been taking place where even Spanish maps designate it illegal. Whoever really owns these waters is a separate issue.

There continue to be commentaries in the British press on the wearing of a niqab or burqa, including this article by a British Asian woman who wore a niqab for a day, in order to experience treatment at the hands of non-Muslims. As ever, the comments were at least as interesting as the article itself and I particularly liked this one from reader Dave Jones: "You don't exist if you wear a niqab. Basically you are telling the world that you are some bloke's property, that you are pathetic and are a doormat. 
I think what's needed is for the niqab to be adopted by the gay community: a load of mincing drag queens in niqabs in Maida Vale and Saudi Kensington would completely bring it into disrepute."

As mentioned, a Spanish parliamentary commission is looking at the case for altering the country's crazy horario. It'll come as no surprise to hear that that, despite working longer hours than other Europeans, the Spanish achieve lower productivity. Good luck to the politicos in this. I may be being unduly pessimistic here but I can't see the Spanish being eager to change. At least not quickly and brutally. Perhaps piecemeal. Assuming that's feasible.

And talking of the clock . . . What's also being examined is the case for Spain moving to GMT, alongside its northern and southern neighbours, Britain and Portugal. Or should I say 'moving back', as Spain used to be on GMT before that all-round bad bugger, Sr Franco, thought it'd be a good idea to shift it to Central European Time, as he was fonder of Germany than Britain. More on all this here.

The latest list from The Local is of Spain's Top Ten most beautiful actresses. Which is worth a cursory glance. I'm ashamed to say I don't know most of them. Though I have already posted, I think, this clip of Sara Montiel strutting her stuff in Pontevedra's old quarter. And not getting her umbrella wet despite the (noisy) downpour.

Walking in the northern outskirts of the Pontevedra recently, I discovered there still are construction cranes operating in the city, albeit on building 'social properties', funded I guess by taxpayers and not private companies.

I say 'operating' but neither of these cranes were at work when I walked by the flat block being raised. In fact, no one seemed to be working there.

Further towards town, I was surprised to come upon a new outlet of a popular cakeshop-cum-cafe chain, Acuña. I was, though, less surprised to see, 5 yards away, that one of my regular wi-fi cafés had closed.

Finally . . . For one reason and another, I seem to have developed strong procrastinatory tendencies. But I am resolute. As of tomorrow, this will stop.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Royal divorce?; Veils; Mega projects; Language utility; Celtic salsa; and Salt mines.

Rumour has it that the lovely Princess Letizia will soon be back on the marriage - or at least the boyfriend - market. Allegedly, things between her and the Crown Prince are less than hunky-dory and the Palace is planning for a divorce. Just what they need following the fall in royal family popularity caused primarily by the romantic shenanigans of the king.

The Public Prosecutor has told the investigating judge to lay off the 5 Adif directors being examined in respect of the Santiago rail crash. His rationale is that the offence of imprudencia(recklessness?) can only be levelled at "juridical persons"(companies?) and not at "physical/natural persons". Is it conspiracy thinking to see government interference with due process here?

During a discussion on British TV yesterday, one of the participants - a muslim - pointed out that neither the burka nor the niqab were demanded by the Quran and, indeed, were banned for the haj pilgrimage and for prayer sessions. So, for him at least, they shouldn't be allowed in public places either. I have to admit to severe discomfort at seeing them - e. g. at my doctor's surgery in the UK - and to viewing them as both a denial of the self and as an accusation of others. And I'm not at all persuaded by the statements of some women that they enjoy wearing them. Especially if they also have gloves on.

There are 2 huge leisure projects planned for Spain and both of them have a sword hanging over them. Barcelona World, it seems, is threatened by the aspiration for Catalan independence and Madrid's Eurovegas may fall foul of the government's refusal to make a specific exemption to its anti-smoking laws so as to allow the infernal practice in restaurants, bars and gambling dens there. My own guess is that Madrid will give way on this and that the project will be launched in due course. Unless it is stopped for some other reason, such as not having a planning licence.

I have a reader - presumably Galician - who clearly thinks it wrong of me not to learn Gallego. Especially as the language is a beautiful one which goes back 1,000 years and is the forerunner of Portuguese. Well, yes, but the value of a language lies not in its age or its beauty but in its utility. And Galego has little of this, even in my part of Galicia, where the language most in use is Castellano, or Spanish. The most useful language in the world - English - might well be less beautiful than Galego and is certainly less ancient but it's of vastly more utility. Which is why so many Spaniards (and Galegos) are striving to learn it. And I'm not striving to learn Galego.

If you've ever listened to Irish or Scottish (i. e. Gaelic) music and thought 'Hey, this would be improved by the addition of elements of Hispanic salsa", then this is the group for you. I happened upon it when I lingered on the BBC Alba station last night while zapping. And here's a bit more about them.

Finally . . . Years ago, I had the pleasure of descending a considerable number of feet to get to Cheshire's salt mines. Where there were vast chambers carved by almost-as-vast machines extracting the mineral. The wheels of these seemed as large as houses and it was astonishing to learn they'd had to be brought down in pieces and then assembled in the mine. Equally hard to believe was the comment that, if they broke down, they were simply abandoned as it would involve too much work and cost to disassemble them and take them back up. One such dead machine was pointed out to us, killed - we were told - by someone trying to drive it in first gear and reverse at the same time. It was interesting to contemplate what some future archeologist, many centuries from now, would conclude on finding the monster down there. My most abiding memory, though, is of our guide inviting us to take a piece of the (pink) rock salt but warning us to stay clear of the glistening pieces. "That's where they've been pissed on" he explained. I leave you with a short video of the place.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Gib again; Health cards; Adif; Piracy;Honesty; the NCG; The weather; Illegal hotel; and A cartoon.

Spain's taxman says he's investigating Gibraltar's chief minister and some of his colleagues, all of whom own property in Spain. Well, I guess it's easier than inquiring into the affairs of, say, those Spanish provincial governors who've become unaccountably wealthy. Not to mention the Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues, accused of receiving payments financed by illegal corporate donations.

Every foreigner living in Spain will know that health cards are only valid in the region which issued them. But change is imminent; we are to get a card which will be valid throughout Spain. Though not just yet. It's promised for 2018 but what's really worrying is that it was first promised more than 10 years ago. So, nothing to get too excited about just yet.

Adif, the railtrack company implicated in the recent rail crash in Santiago, have again insisted it wan't they who controlled the signalling there. They've also protested that more arraignments of their employees by the investigating judge will damage their corporate image. Which seems far more important to them than getting to the truth. But I don't suppose that's unique to them.

Piracy of just about everything is big in Spain. Possibly bigger than anywhere else in Europe. But the government has announced it'll be bringing in a law to combat it. To say the least, it'll be interesting to see how effective this is, in a country where getting films, albums, games, etc. for free is regarded as the inalienable right of every citizen.

Talking of honesty . . . There's an unclaimed lottery ticket lying around somewhere in Spain worth €4.7m. So far, 39 people have suddenly realised it's theirs and made a claim. Needless to say, at least 38 of these are fraudsters. But, hey, why not? Making a claim is a no brainer, unless the unlucky ones will face prosecution. Meanwhile, the lottery organisers say that, like President Clinton's willy, the lottery ticket has a feature that can only be known by those who've seen it. Well, maybe. It clearly hasn't put off many phoney claimants.

We used to have 2 large savings banks (cajas/caixas) here in Galicia but now we only have one, Novacaixagalicia, after they were forced to merge. This became the NCG Banco and was then bailed out by the government bank, the FROB, and now it will go on the block, with foreign banks ranking as acceptable buyers. And in this case 'foreign' doesn't only mean outside Galicia. Our bank may well end up in the hands of real foreigners. Possibly even Anglo Saxons. Sic transit gloria mundi.

The sun is rising gloriously as I write this and we're promised a temperature today in the late 20s. I wouldn't normally mention this but it's about the 53rd day in a row we've awoken to such lovely weather. Quite unprecedented, I believe. I've long felt September was the best month to visit Pontevedra but anyone who came this year has been remarkably lucky. Of course, the lawns look terrible and some shrubs have died but Gaia giveth and Gaia taketh away.

Language: I do wish News reporters wouldn't use the word 'claim' when talking about responsibility for terrorist atrocities. 'Admit' would seem to be a far more appropriate term.

An update on the illegal luxury hotel along our coast between Bayona and Vigo: Galicia's Constitutional Court as ordered its demolition. Interestingly, although it was built without a licence, public funds were invested in it.

Finally . . . Here's a Private Eye cartoon I wanted to post yesterday but couldn't get my act together:-

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Spanish clock; Museums: Veils; The EU; Beggars; and Blood sucking.

According to her lines of longtitude, all of Spain - with the possible exception of Cataluña - should be on the same clock as Portugal below her and Britain above her. I've always thought this would never change but a government committee has been set up to consider the benefits of switching to GMT. One disbenefit - for us up here in Galicia - is that we'd lose a good part of our light summer evenings.

My visitors went to the Pontevedra museum yesterday, the exhibits of which have now almost all been transferred to their new (and ugly) home of glass and granite slabs. All of said exhibits, they later told me, are labelled only in Gallego. I was reminded of a visit I made 10 years ago to the museum management, when I offered to translate all the labels from Gallego into English. "We don't have enough space even to put them in both Gallego and Spanish", I was told. "But we will when the new museum is open in 3 years time and we'll contact you then." But they didn't come back to me. Just like all the other places for whom I offered to do free translations.

Over in the UK, there's been a lot of attention given in the last few days to the question of whether women should be allowed to wear the niqab or burka in certain situations. Press stories are all accompanied by a picture of the same veiled woman with beautifully seductive eyes, leading me to conclude it might not be a bad thing after all.

Not so long ago, you'd never hear or see a word against the EU in Spain. For one reason and another, it was a decidedly popular institution and to criticise it was to commit heresy. My, how things have changed. Only 49% of Spaniards now think the EU has been postive for Spain's economy, well down on earlier findings. Similarly, only 59% are still in favour of the EU, against nigh on 100% 5 or 6 years ago. What chance a referendum at the  same time as Britain's in 2015?

We have a new musician-cum-beggar in town. A young, well dressed young lady, playing nothing more complicated than a recorder but giving us a tolerable rendition of Ode to Joy, the EU anthem. One hopes this isn't the start of a long descent into drugs. If so, I'm bound to see her again, on my side of the river, heading for the drug dealer's corner of the O Vao industrial park.

Talking of which . . . Last night, while watching the evening paseo in Pontevedra's main square, we were assailed by one of the scruffy, pipe-tooting beggars of the town. Declining to give him anything, I told him I'd seen him in the O Vao barrio and wasn't disposed to giving him money to spend on drugs. "No," he said, "I only go there to get hashish. But I wouldn't spend your money on that. I'd only spend it on a sandwich". Which I didn't find remotely persuasive, of course.

Talking of the paseo . . . If you sit at the same observation post for long enough, you're bound to see people pass you twice, coming and going. Last night we noted a young lass in an elegant purple dress and with a flower in her hair, who passed us not once, not twice, not thrice but four times in the space of 30 or 40 minutes. We assumed she wanted to be seen but weren't quite sure by whom. It's possible she wasn't being noticed - except by us - because she was the only young woman not in extrememly short shorts.

Finally . . Another person we saw crossing the main square last night was Draculín, or 'Little Dracua'. This is a remarkably elegant chap who lives on my side of the river and whom I regularly see walking into and out of town. Complete always with cane and, in winter, with cape. He's an artist who goes by the name of Vladimir Dragosán/Wladimir Dragossán but this isn't his real name, of course. Which is Rafael Pintos. He plays on the belief that he's a blood-drinking vampire and can be seen here singing (sort of) in a local cemetery. We've only spoken once, when a young Portuguese female admirer asked me to give him her email address. If you haven't seen enough of him, here's another Facebook page he seems to have.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Phobias; Fakes; Obama posturing; Spanish eating; Adif's trials; and Bull banning.

Thanks to a typo yesterday, I turned the fear of owls into the fear of mobs. Oclophobia and ochlophobia, respectively. Anyway, while checking this out, I came across the following avian phobic additions. I confess I'm not sure they're all genuine:-
Ornithophobia - Fear of birds
Alektorophobia - Fear of roosters or poultry.
Pavophobia - Fear of peacocks
And my favourite . . .
Anatidaephobia - The fear you're being watched by a duck.

Which reminds me . . . Fake merchandise is nothing new - especially in Portuguese markets and on the internet - but I was rather surprised to learn there were 20 Apple shops in China which, unbeknown to the employees, were entirely phoney, right down to the staff T-shirts. Closer to home, one of my my visitors has told me that Amazon declined to do anything about a company which was selling fake quality perfumes through their site. Caveat emptor, then.

In a fascinating insight into the workings of the White House, a Danish TV company has shown President Obama praising 3 Scandinavian countries for 'punching above its weight' when meeting their respective prime ministers. I seem to recall him uttering the same flattering but meaningless phrase when meeting David Cameron. So much for the UK-US 'special relationship'.

Yesterday brought proof of what I've long suspected - that, even in tough times (vacas flocas), the Spanish are reluctant to cut back on eating well. An outfit call Euro Monitor Inernational has measured the total spent in 100 countries on food at home, dining out, alcohol and tobacco. Spain's 2012 average was €5,160 per person, comprising €2,483 on food at home, €2,148 on restaurant meals and €529 on tobacco and alcohol. This put Spain in an impressive 9th position, with the top 3 spots going to Switzerland, Norway and Australia.

The railtrack company, Adif, implicated in the Santuago crash of a month ago are crying foul and resisting the efforts of the investigating judge to bring several employees (and their files) before him. And they're also denying they had anything to do with the decision not to install the best available security system as the site of the crash. Finally, they're claiming that the (tight) bend can be taken at 140kph, assuming the driver is in control of the train. But not at the 199kph the train was doing just before the crash, when the driver was dealing with a call from the ticket inspector. Adif appear to be trying to get the government in the dock with them, attributing the safety decision to the Minister of Development, but one wonders whether they'll succeed. Meanwhile, it's all nowt to do with them.

Reading Bill Bryson's "A Brief History of Everything" I was amused to come across an American chap called Edward Drinker Cope. Almost as odd was his rival's name of Othniel Charles Marsh.

Finally . . . Here are 3 letters from yesterday's El País on the subject of the bull-lancing 'fiesta' I mentioned yesterday. The Google translations are dire but I don't have time to tart them up. You will surely catch the drift:

What we have to bear in Tordesillas. I would as a tordesillano, animal lover movements perform a strong reflection on how to express their aspirations. The anything goes cannot be an option and, therefore, enough, by many media, to forgive his actions.

I understand they come to manifest. I'm used to constant insult you. In fact , sometimes it's funny, though, of course, do not think me or let my friends and neighbours about sadists and murderers, like it or not the tournament because, despite what is sold in the media communication, in Tordesillas there are people who disagree with the tournament. The difference is that it shows respect. But the last performance has no forgiveness, no logic no ... drop tables with tips to stop the horsemen, besides being dangerous because many people can be injured, is shot to its own objectives, such as defending the rights of animals, as horses may have run great danger , unless you think that the end justifies the means. - Juan Francisco Rodríguez Gómez. Tordesillas, Valladolid.

At this time I suffer to see how is repeated year after year, this exercise of cruelty, which is spearing a bull to death, that perverse enjoyment of pain, represented today by the Tordesillas inhumane Lancers, degrading spectacle brutalizes medieval all somehow involved in it .

They talk about tradition. What is its origin? The first reference appears in 1534, in the Book of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament of St. James of Tordesillas . Those were different times. Public life was governed by the Inquisition.

Fortunately, society evolved and the Holy Office was abolished by the Cortes of Cadiz in 1812. However, it seems that this Castilian town has not evolved, but remains in medieval backwardness, calling "fiesta", " a tourist good " or "tradition." Pablo Iglesias be ashamed of the socialist mayor who promotes it, comparing it to a theatrical performance. Also guilty is the Popular Party, which governs the Community and could ban it. Both should use public money in taxes to create jobs.

I hope this country, famous for fiestas which involve animal abuse, legislate against, without exception, as an offence under the Criminal Code. - Julia Leal de la Rosa. Pozuelo de Alarcón, Madrid.

For many years the struggles of gladiators in the circus were a tradition in imperial Rome. Bread and circuses, wrestling, blood and death to the delight of the people. How much time had to pass before such atrocities were abolished? Would we accept today? I believe not. By long tradition that could be invoked as a party disgusts accept that which represents the suffering and death of a human being by another. 

We accept, however, smoothed versions of gladiatorial combat and fiesta traditions in which suffering and death fall on all kinds of animals. Traditions are not sacred and should no longer be untouchable, because there are traditions that are true aberrations to which a society with minimal sensitivity should give up. A day will come when we find it incomprehensible that coexist in the same time both as little technical progress and moral progress and that a mobile phone generation could relay to friends the show which is a beautiful animal dripping with blood and dying speared by a mob of gladiators version light amid the excitement of the people. - Enrique Díez Chamber. Segovia.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Banks; Owls; Airports; Fatal driving; Bureaucracy; and Bull baiting;

There was a time - and it feels like only yesterday - when Pontevedra's bank branches seemed as numerous as its beggars, with all of the big names - and some of the smaller ones - competing to open a (people heavy) place on every street. My, how things things have changed. Those banks that have survived - usually by merging - are now closing branches and laying off staff at an almost equal pace. Or simply 'letting go' of half their employees. The latter has been Citibank's strategy so far but my own guess is this, too, will close ere long.

In contrast, more and more owls are appearing in the city's cafés. But, when you see pigeons gaily pecking below them, you do wonder whether this stampede to buy one doesn't owe more to thoughtless imitation - or perhaps desperation - than to research. Anyway, I shall spare you another foto, in the interests of the ochlophobes such as Alfie Mittington among you. Incidentally, my spell check gave me homophobes as a replacement for ochlophobes.

While Galicia's 3 small international airports compete for declining passenger numbers, Oporto's has seen a record number of flights and passengers over the summer. There's a lesson in this somewhere but no one in Galicia seems to be able to find it.

Talking of tourism . . . The devil, as ever, is in the details. Numbers of visitors may be up but the per capita spend is down. For our 3 airports the bad news is that very few people arrived here by plane in July and August, preferring cars, buses, bikes or even, in the case of pilgrims en route to Santiago, their feet.

Galicia seems to suffer an alarming number of people - nearly always men - who die beneath their overturned tractors. I'm guessing this is because it's a hilly region and these men are often working on slopes. What accounts for the high number of people who drive off the quays into the sea, I don't know. Likewise the appreciable number of drivers who don't seem to realise it's dark.

I read yesterday that, while evolution continues, the pace is so slow we won't see any impact on we humans during our lifetime. I'm not so sure; I don't think it'll be long before Spain's budding bureaucrats are born with a stapler in their hands.

Which reminds me . . . My visitors went yesterday to a supermarket in town. Meeting up, they asked me why they'd been asked to both give their PIN and to sign a copy of the credit card chit. What on earth was I supposed to say? No bloody idea?

The latest bit of Spanglish: Our mayor - talking of the suspension of the works aimed at covering up an archeological site with sand - has assured us that these are now en standby. Or suspended, I guess.

There's an annual bull fiesta down near Tordesillas which consists of releasing a bull in the town, driving it across a bridge into the countryside and then repeatedly stabbing/lancing it to death. I doubt even aficionados of the corridas find much to admire in this and it really should be stopped. This year, the event was disrupted by numerous protesters, whom the local mayor accused of 'endangering life'. But not the bull's, of course. As it happened, the only person seriously injured was a journalist who got too close with his camera and was gored in the thigh.

Finally . . . I frequently see people wearing T-shirts with odd English on the front of them. But yesterday's took the biscuit - a young lady with the large word SICK across her chest. But I cheered up when I later saw another young lady wearing a pullover whose entire front was the Union Jack.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Drugs; Doctors; Mad mayors; Families; Misplaced marketing; Fish-eaters; Moaning robins; and Morning music

I read in a newspaper based down south that "Four Canadians have been arrested in the port city of Pontevedra in Galicia, a region with a reputation for being the gateway for Colombian cocaine into Europe." In fact, Pontevedra was last a port city way back in the 17th century. But the rest of the sentence is OK. Apparently, three bikers were waiting here in Pontevedra for the 4th member of the gang, arriving by yacht. And their two vans contained half a tonne of cocaine. My guess is they'd failed to involve the local trafficking community - everything is a 'community' these days - and the police were tipped off. Anyway, here's the Voz de Galicia on the subject.

Well, I went for my appointment with the doctor yesterday. This, as some may recall, was a replacement for that of 2 weeks ago which couldn't happen because he'd gone off on holiday. On the advice of the receptionist, I'd made an appointment for his 2nd day back from said holiday - since this would be less busy than the first. And I got to the medical centre 10 minutes in advance of my 16.02(sic) slot. And there I waited until 17.35, or more than an hour and a half. When I finally got to see him, the doctor took a copy of the February analysis details I'd already given him in April and entered them - again? - in the computer. After which he told me everything was fine and I should keep taking the pills. Fortunately, unlike everyone else in the crowded waiting room, I'd taken something to read. So it wasn't a complete waste of time. But, then, neither was it very efficient.

A mayor of some municipality in Madrid has been caught out making homophobic remarks on Twitter. He's issued the classic all-purpose Spanish apology, which makes it sound like just a case of excess sensitivity and offers no evidence he's aware of what he's done or thinks it's wrong - "I apologise if I offended people's sensibilities."

I've mentioned that my neighbour, the lovely Ester, gets discounts at various places because she has a familia numerosa, which is 3 kids or more. One of Spain's smaller parties, the UpyD, has now proposed extending this largesse to single parent families with just 2 kids. Which is going to make me feel even more excluded. I wonder if they'd check whether my two daughters still live with me.

Sometimes it's hard to believe that companies do any research at all before they promote their products. There were 2 fliers in my mailbox yesterday. One was for central heating oil, delivered at the very moment natural gas pipes are being (noisily) installed in the street. The other was for an estate agent(realtor), telling me that Galicia is a wonderful place and encouraging me to visit it.

A new word to me - Pescatarian: Someone whose diet includes seafood but no meat. I'm not sure I can see the logic of this but everyone to his own, I guess. Anyway, they'd be pretty much at home in any of the tapas bars or restaurants of Galicia.

Our superb weather continues, with today being the 48th day in a row the sun has risen in a clear sky over the eastern hills. But autumn and winter can't be far way and the first harbinger of them appeared in my garden this morning - a robin. I'm no expert in birdsong but I'm pretty sure its melody was plaintive, as it asked why on earth the temperature was so much higher than normal.

Finally . . . It's my custom to play a CD when I'm shaving, showering and dressing. On Sundays I bow in the direction of religion by putting on Mozart's Great Mass in C minor. But last weekend I decided to ring a change and play his Requiem. However, I couldn't put my hand on it and so I went with the Mass. Fifteen minutes later I switched on my car radio to hear . . . yes, you've guessed it, Chopin's Preludes. No, it was Mozart's Requiem. Quite a coincidence, I thought. As was the fact BBC Radio 3 started playing Vivaldi's Gloria as I was typing this. I suppose.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Happy places; The Spanish economy; Spanish TV; Pontevedra diggings; and Escudos.

The latest survey of happiness (however that's defined) reveals that the top ten countries are the usual subjects, with Scandinavia ranking as high as ever:-
1. Denmark
2. Norway
3. Switzerland
4. Holland
5. Sweden
6. Canada
7. Finland
8. Austria
9. Iceland
10. Australia.
For no good reason, I was surprised at the inclusion of Holland, where I thought there were stresses and strains similar to those in the UK. If I have a Dutch reader, perhaps he/she could set me straight.

As for Spanish felicity, the Minister for the Economy has cheered us all up with his insistence that Spain is no longer a problem for the EU or the world. She will, he says, finally emerge this quarter from her 2-4 year recession and the end-year budget deficit target of 6.5% of GDP will easily be achieved. Of course, the 2012 forecast for this deficit was lower than 6.5%, as I recall, but one mustn't carp. Unemployment will also be lower by the year end and will continue to fall, albeit slowly, throughout next year. But, at 26.7%,the number will still be very high and the minister admits that, although the recession will be over, La Crisis won't be. As for economic growth, this will be around minus 1.3% this year, following last year's fall of 1.6%, but 2014 will see growth of 0.5%. Well, let's hope so but what normally happens now is that the IMF and/or the EU come out with numbers that are not quite as optimistic as those of the Spanish government. So, you pays your money and takes your choice.

Anyone who's seen the institutionalised slanging matches on Spanish TV won't have been surprised at the recent study which concluded that 86% of programs for kids were unsuitable for them - because of "explicit sex, dirty language and the denigration of women". Which reminds me . . . It seems I was wrong to say the peak viewing time here is 12.30am; it's now said to be only 10.30pm. However, the majority of programs starting at this time don't end until 12.30 or later. The TV channels say this reflects Spanish working hours but they agree it's crazy and insist they'd be happy to bring things forward. But no one wants to be first to do it and risk losing viewers. Institutionalised inertia, then.

There's been an unusual development down in Pontevedra; they've happened upon a Roman grave inside the city walls; this is unprecedented (and confusing) because the Romans always buried their dead - Whoever buried the living? - outside the walls. Elsewhere, they've almost finished covering a significant Roman and medieval site with sand. This is sad victim of La Crisis, as the city can no longer afford to finish the excavation, never mind turn it into the planned museum. The end result is a permanent disruption to the traffic flow, which was said to be essential 3-4 years ago to allow for the creation of said museum. Now just a chimera.

Finally . . . I'm doing a survey of all the escudos (coats-of-arms) on the facades of houses once owned by the comfortable bourgeoisie of Pontevedra. Of which this is just one fine example. More anon. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Books; Words; Stranglish; and Good luck.

For reasons as yet unclear (as the newspapers here say whenever there's a car crash), all school books here are revised every year, forcing parents to lay out very considerable sums every September for new text books. This, of course, is a struggle for some, especially when things are as tight as they now are. Some say that the (large) profits garnered from this annual feeding frenzy is all that keeps publishers and bookshops in business but I wouldn't know. Perhaps Alfie Mittington does. He usually has an opinion on this sort of thing.

Idly reading menus and other things over the last day or two, I've quickly come up with the following list of Spanish and Galician words which differ by only one letter or an accent. I'm sure there are many more:
Persoa Persona Person
Traballo Trabajo Work
Das Dos Two
Pé Pied Foot
Galego Gallego Galician
Cana Caña Rod
Pixama Pijama Pyjama
Polo Pollo Chicken
Ternreira Ternera Veal
Cordeiro Cordero Lamb
Prancha Plancha Iron
Praza Plaza Square

Flicking through the list, one's forced to ask Why bother? but this is unfair to Gallego as it's not just a dialect but a recognised language. Albeit without an army or navy. So unlikely to spread. Cue nasty messages from Galician nationalists without a sense of humour.

Talking of menus . . . We enjoyed one last night which translated Melón as 'Tripe', Cañas fritas as 'Fried Rods' and Filloas (pancakes) as 'Thin flour pies'.

Worse/better, here's a section of a hotel web page, brought to my attention by my friends Anthea and Phil, who - through chess connections - have got themselves a 3 day junket in a 5 star place along the coast:-
The enthusiasm that transmit the rooms has a lot to do with the naturalness of the decor of fine materials used freely but without fanfare. On the other side of the curtain, quietly linger the long ocean sunsets. The sun's rays illuminate with gentle tones the landscapes of Oia coast and the spirit of sensitive viewers that live the experience from a hotel specifically designed for them.
Superior Double Room: The largest rooms of the hotel combines the luxury of space with sea views from one of the most spectacular views of the environment.
Lounge Room: A stay accommodation ideal for families or for various business activities.
Standard Room Sea View: Stay comfortable and dynamic, which prevails in the decor and atmosphere the passion for the Atlantic Ocean.
Standard room with Mountain View: Cozy rooms contemplating the flora and fauna of the mountains of the region.

This hotel, by the way, was built illegally and is alleged to be owned by a drug baron. I can't comment on this but I can say that, from recollection, the 'Mountain View' starts with a rock face about one metre from your window.

Finally . . . Yesterday was a very good day for me. Firstly, in the weekly flea market in Veggie Square, I happened upon a framed print of the picture at the top right of this blog. And bought it for what I was prepared to pay for it. Secondly, for the first time in over ten years, I was approached by readers of my blog. So, let's hear it for the charming Pat and Jane Henry. Who made my day.

By the way, I've failed to find out who painted the picture so would welcome any info on it.