Thursday, October 31, 2013

Rajoy the Bore; Simple money laundering; Dentists: Enchufes; A thrilled young lady; Wine; and Jesus.

My friend Dwight tells me that Sr Rajoy isn't, in fact, a notary: he's a tax inspector as well as a property registrar. Even more boring, then. Another friend assures me he's the least intelligent of a family of 4 (or 5) children and has reminded me that success in the government's oposición civil service type exams is ofter 'granted as a gift'. So is not a mark of intelligence.

And now a HT to Lenox (of Business over Tapas) for info on another - startlingly simple - way of washing your black money:- You ask for a loan and return it in cash.

As I type this, I'm sitting next to a table of 4 senior Spaniards who are comparing themselves with the ingleses, by whom they mean Brits. Sadly, thanks to a mixture of concentration on writing and distance, I can't quite make out what it's all about. But it reminds me that I took a friend to a dentist for a bit of emergency attention last night. With impeccable manners and a lovely smile, she told me all British dentists were useless and that Spanish dentists were the best in the world. I had expected the latter but not the former. I explained, to her obvious astonishment, that this might be because, unlike here, basic dentistry in the UK was free and that dentists made little money on it. Economies were essential, fripperies not.

I gained this appointment at less than an hour's notice. The reason? The dentist is the mother of the two young ladies to whom I give a conversation class when they're home from university. In other words, an enchufe, or plug-in. My impression was the clinic had ground to a halt while she attended to my friend, causing the waiting room to overflow. But I suspect Spanish patients are used to this queue-jumping. And to waiting.

I was momentarily non-plussed this morning at the number of people walking around with bouquets of flowers in their arms. And then I recalled that Nov. 1 is the day when Spanish families visit and bedeck the graves of their loved ones. Having first cleaned them yesterday or the day before.

I had another unusual experience in Veggie Square yesterday. As I sat at a table outside my regular bar, I noticed a young woman who looked astonishingly like an actress in a UK comedy series. Wouldn't it be a good idea, I thought, to take a foto and and send
it to the actress, telling her she had a Spanish doppelgänger. So, trying not to be too obvious, I took a few snaps, hindered by the fact my camera was acting up. As they got up to go, one of the young men in the party very politely asked me if I was planning to put the fotos on the internet. A bit taken aback, I blushed, said not and explained my reasons for taking the fotos. In a word, the young lady was flattered and delighted at being snapped and at the idea she resembled a pretty actress. Smiles all rounds. Especially when I gave her the details from which she could see who and what I was talking about. In truth, I can't see this happening in the UK, where I'd be at risk of being threatened by the males and sued by the female. Spain is different. Thank God.

It's a truism that - apart from the closed shops and the beggars - there are few easily identified signs of La Crisis on the streets of Spanish cities. So it's good to see The Local giving us a list of ten reasons why this is so. En passant, I wonder what The Local does when they can only think of 9 good entries for a new list.

Here's an article on one of our Albariño wines and here's one on Galicia's best red wine, from the Mencia grape.

Talking of wine . . . Here's a little dissertation on the ethnicity of the world's most famous wine-maker, Jesus of Nazareth. Courtesy of my Jewish sister. Not the very Catholic one. I imagine they were equally amused But that's Jesus for you - an equal opportunities Saviour. Even Muslims quite like him.


There are three good arguments that Jesus was Black:
1.He called everyone "brother"
2.He liked Gospel
3.He didn't get a fair trial

But there are three equally good arguments that Jesus was Jewish:
1.He went into His Father's business
2.He lived at home until he was 33
3.He was sure his Mother was a virgin and she was sure He was God

There are three equally good arguments that Jesus was Italian:
1. He talked with his hands
2. He had wine with his meals   
3. He used olive oil

There are three equally good arguments that Jesus was a Californian:
1. He never cut His hair
2. He walked around barefoot all the time
3. He started a new religion

There are three equally good arguments that Jesus was an American Indian:
1. He was at peace with nature
2. He ate a lot of fish
3. He talked about the Great Spirit  

There are three equally good arguments that Jesus was Irish:
1. He never got married..
2. He was always telling stories.
3. He loved green pastures.

But the most compelling evidence of all is the three proofs that Jesus was a Woman:
1. He fed a crowd at a moment's notice when there was virtually no food
2. He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just didn't get it
3. And even when he was dead, he had to get up because there was still work to do

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Doing biz in Spain; Compulsory Religion? Corruption 1 and 2; The Property market; Honda; and Ship sex.

Every year there's an World Bank survey on doing business around the world. Spain never does particularly well in these. In the latest exercise, for example, it ranks 142 out of 189 countries on the criterion of 'Ease of setting up a business'. This is even though the number of days this takes has fallen from 28 to 23 days. This is below, would you believe, Kazakhstan and Rwanda. Overall, Spain has fallen to 52nd place as regards Doing Business, a disappointing 8 places lower than last year's survey. All of which rather endorses my frequent refrain that, though I love living in Spain, I couldn't be in business here. I had enough frustration in Iran and Indonesia to last me a lifetime.

I mentioned yesterday the Catholic Church's success in getting the 'conservative' PP government to reverse some of the policies implemented by the previous 'socialist' PSOE administration. Flushed with success, the Church is now demanding that Religion should not only be a full Bachillerato subject but compulsory as well. It's a racing certainty that the majority of Spain's population would be against this - as it would take time from vastly more important subjects - so it'll be interesting to see how the government responds. I suspect there's be some foot-dragging.

Corruption 1: You'll recall that one of the King's daughters has not yet joined her husband in the dock around the diversion of public funds into a sham company (Aizoon), en route to their bank accounts. In part this is thanks to the efforts of the Public Prosecutor (a government appointee) to stop the investigating judge arraigning her. But now comes another example of skulduggery and the question of her guilt and prosecution has again raised its head. It seems she was party to a contract of office rental, both as owner and tenant. This ruse artificially lowered the earnings of Aizoon, reducing its tax bills. Strangely, it's the right-of-centre El Mundo which has revealed this stuff. Does the Establishment now feel her time is up?

Corruption 2: The mayor of the small town of Barbadás here in Galicia is having his day in court, responding to the question of how he managed to pay €650,000 in cash to a single developer for 8 flats. His explanation for this will be of interest, as will that of why his company and the developer's shared an office down in Portugal.

Talking of properties - the national overhang is now said to number at least 800,000. Sales are still taking place but the impact of these is reduced by the fact that new properties are still coming onto the market 5 years after the boom peaked. This is because, as with those behind my house, it can take more than 5 years to build properties here. Though the average may be around 2 years, at a guess. Anyway, the government is now said to be considering the option of demolishing properties, as in the USA and Ireland. But will they finish them first?

The majority of the Spanish Cabinet members graduated as lawyers. The interesting thing about this is that, whereas lawyers rank high in Anglo Saxon cultures, they fall below notaries and even property registrars here in Spain. Indeed, they rank below most other occupations, as evidenced by the low marks in the Selectividad exam demanded for entry into law faculties. Sr Rajoy is both a notary and a property registrar. This possibly explains why he's so boring but also suggests he's quite bright. As for his cabinet colleagues . . . probably not. But they do have good connections.

I moaned about the poor service of Honda's local agent the other day. This morning came some sort of explanation from Honda; the company is no longer their agent. Honda have been kind enough to give me the details of their agents in other Galician cities, the nearest of which, Vigo, is around 30km from here and so is a fat lot of use to me. I guess the only questions now are whether the ex-agent is still a going concern and whether they will still competently service my car. Isn't life a bitch? And arbitrary. In some countries more than others.

Finally . . . Life is also full of surprises; It turns out the young Moldovan friend of the captain of the ill-fated Concordia was his sleeping partner after all. Who'd have guessed it?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Bankia; The economy; 2014 budget cuts; Backwards government; Rat runs; and Music.

Well, bang on cue, Spain's Bankía has reported its recent results. Formed by the fusion of  a host of smaller, under-performing entities, this bank had to be rescued via €18bn from the EU and managed to lose €2.6bn(yes, billion) in the 3rd quarter last year. However, by following the strategies outlined yesterday, it's managed to make a 'small' profit of €161m this time round. Its total loss for last year was €19.2bn. It's hard to say what it'll finally achieve this year as the P/L is distorted by an extraordinary profit of €979m on the sale of its share in the insurance company, Mapfre. But it's clearly doing better. Thanks to taxpayers and long-suffering customers.

Moving to the macro level - The mood music from both Madrid and Brussels continues to be that Spain has turned the corner and growth is imminent. Let's hope so but, so far, there's little real evidence of this. Especially if you're unemployed and your 2 years of benefit have run out.

Times have, of course, been austere for a while now and cuts have been made in various government services. But it was surprising - shocking even - to read that the biggest cuts to 2014 expenditure will be in healthcare, at 36%. This compares with just a 5% cut in total government expenditure. The Ministry of Industry, on the other hand, will see expenditure increase by 32%. I guess it makes sense to someone.

The ruling PP party, like all modern parties, is a broad church. Being right-of-centre in Spain, this means it must accommodate not only the Catholic Church but also the uber-Catholic organisation Opus Dei. And so it is that some of the reforms of the last PSOE 'socialist' government are being rolled back, most obviously in the highly emotional area of abortion. It was always inevitable that the Church would seek to (re)strengthen its hold on education and to see Religion given what it sees as its rightful place in the curriculum. And so it is that the government has, firstly, abolished the ('atheistic/communist') subject of Citizenship and Human rights from school syllabuses and, secondly, has restored Religion to full academic status. Having said that the PP party is a broad church, one does wonder whether, in fact it has any members who are centrist. Or even just-right-of-centrist. If so, they appear to be voice-less.

I've mentioned that we have major roadworks on our side of the river and that the town planners are trying to divert traffic over a new bridge and away from them. The day before they started a spokesman said the works were scheduled for 2 months but admitted there'd be problems. Sure enough, Day 1 was pretty chaotic because - in this rainy part of Green Spain - no one thought that leaving the painting of signs until the last moment would risk not having them ready in time. The second problem was even bigger; during Days 1 and 2 there were plenty of police from different forces on hand to stop drivers using an objective-busting rat run up through my barrio. But they gave up on Day 3 and now this is the equivalent of an autopista. And the new bridge remains as unused as ever. Which is fine by me, as it's my own personal rat run. The best laid schemes of mice and men . . .

This is a must-see video of someone's worst nightmare. As Maria João Pires prepares to play a Mozart piano concerto with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, she hears the orchestra start playing a different concerto. She panics a little but then, encouraged by a conductor who can hardly stop the music and let her get off, she calls on her phenomenal memory and ability to play the concerto she was totally unprepared for. What a work of art is (wo)man.

Talking about music . . . This is someone's idea of the best violin concerto. I googled this because my impression was that most, if not all, violin concertos were in a minor key. It turns out that 70% of these are. But the first 3 positions are taken by works in a major key. Actually all in D major. Does anyone know why the minor keys predominate?
1. Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
2. Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
3. Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
4. Saint Saëns Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, Op. 61
5. Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 64
6. Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26
7. Wieniawski Violin Concerto No. 1 in F# minor, Op. 14
8. Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47
9. Dvorak Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53
10. Wieniawski Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 22

Monday, October 28, 2013

Spanish politics; Demolition damage; The Banks; and Ferguson v. Beckham.

Spain's President Rajoy has labelled the recent decision of the EU Court of Human Rights in respect of ETA prisoners as "Wrong and unjust". However, his government will respect it, he says - unlike the many thousands of people who turned out to protest against it in Madrid at the weekend. Thanks to our Spy in Congress, we know that this demonstration was so vigorous that the few politicians who attended it were in fear of their lives. Though we wouldn't know this from the TV reports, he/she says, as these were 'self censored'.

The Local has reported that, despite the anger felt by many, there's no sign of the growth of far-right-wing parties here in Spain. I can't help wondering if this is because their natural constituents are easily accommodated within the existing right-of-centre PP party. Especially if they're members of Opus Dei.

Spain's image continues to be damaged by reports in the British press - pre-eminently The Times - about house demolitions down in Andalucía. As the paper said of one couple yesterday:- "They could be forgiven for thinking they had invested their savings in a cowboy country". Yes, well. The astonishing reaction of one spokesman was as defiant as it was stupid:- “The demolition does not damage the image of Andalucía. It would be more damaging to question the legal authority of a court,” he said. Before falling off his chair laughing. Or was that the audience?

Incidentally, according to Eurostat, Andalucía is now the poorest region in Europe. Worse than Rumania or Albania. And it's a leading candidate for the highest unemployment in the EU. So, terrorising existing and potential property buyers is just what it needs. Roll on another BBC exposé.

Spain may or may not have just emerged from a 2-4 year recession but her main banks (Santander and CaixaBank) are certainly doing well, both having just announced a major rise in profits. So, how are things in the banking community at large? Well, it's certainly a lot smaller than it was back when President Zapatero risibly told us it was stronger than any other country's. Against the 50 lenders then, there are now only 12. Some of them have gone bust, some of them have been merged into one dubious entity (Bankía) and some of them have been taken over by larger fish. And most of them have got shut of bad assets into Spain's 'toxic' bank, Sareb, which has become, in the process, Spain's largest estate agent(realtor).

Inevitably, the survivors of this hurricane are shutting all the branches that were feverishly opened back in the glory days, when you just needed to set up a few tellers and a couple of front-of-house 'advisers' to make a profit. As you'd expect in a severe recession after a phoney property boom, they're still lumbered with bad debts. They're not lending to either people or businesses(the credit crunch), they've increased all their charges(usually stealthily) and they're giving pitiful rates of interest to faithful customers. So, it's an industry that's gone from everything for anyone to nothing for all, despite billions in taxpayer money to sustain it. But, anyway, I guess this hatch-battened approach helps to account for the recent profit-increase reports. Could any other industry get away with this?

Here in Galicia, we used to have 2 large caixas, one based in Vigo and the other in La Coruña. First they were merged into one caixa and then this became a real bank, which had to be rescued by the government. As this is still non-viable, it's on the block and, as I've reported, we now wait to see whether it'll be taken over by a domestic foreigner(Cataluña's Caixa) or by a real foreigner.

So much for incompetence, how about corruption? Well, I'm looking into it . . .

Finally . . . Two of my favourite football writers have laid into Sir Alex Ferguson this weekend, after the publication of his 2nd autobiography. Here's John Carlin's in yesterday's El País and below is Simon Barnes' column from yesterdays Times. I can't just cite it because of the paywall. Some of you, at least, will enjoy it.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s new autobiography is out this week, and it’s certainly made its splash. He writes with contempt of an awful lot of people, among them David Beckham, concluding with the worst sin of all: “David thought he was bigger than Alex Ferguson.
There is no doubt about that in my mind.”

Perhaps he did, but if so he was right. Beckham is bigger than Ferguson in very many ways. Here are just ten of them.

1 Beckham is a player:
Football is about players. Sport could do without anyone except athletes. All coaches, all managers, all administrators, no matter how eminent, are by definition secondary — that is to say, smaller than the people who do the actual sport. At the Olympic Games last year we celebrated Jessica Ennis, Laura Trott and Mo Farah ahead of Toni Minichiello, Dave Brailsford and Alberto Salazar. At Wimbledon this year we celebrated Andy Murray ahead of Ivan Lendl. It’s never the coach out there throwing punches.

In the same way, people used to talk about Sir Peter Hall’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; actually, it’s Shakespeare’s. Directors are subordinate to playwrights, just as publishers are subordinate to poets. Who matters more, T..S. Eliot or Faber & Faber? Doers are always bigger than talkers.

2 Beckham brought joy to the nation:
His goal against Greece in 2001, the one that secured a 2-2 draw and meant England had qualified for the World Cup finals of the next year, was one of the great sporting moments in terms of its emotional impact on England. It had all the sweet, crazy drama that football can supply, the swing from failure to glory inside a single second. The people who bring us that kind of almost ludicrous joy are very rare and you can’t do it from the dugout.

3 Beckham is much richer than Ferguson:
And that just might have something to do with Ferguson’s continuing resentment. The Sunday Times Sports Rich List this year puts Ferguson’s fortune at £34.million, Beckham’s at £165.million. The difference would have been far more marked when Ferguson and Beckham fell out in 2003. Beckham’s phenomenal commercial success was — and remains — an affront to many in football. It can be hard to boss a man who can buy you out without really noticing.

4 Beckham never cost Manchester United £500 million:
It was Ferguson’s desire to make a financial killing that led to the Rock Of Gibraltar affair. His feud with John Magnier and J..P. McManus over the ownership of the racehorse with that name prompted these men to sell their shares in Manchester United to the Glazers, and that changed the club. The Glazers’ strategy was to borrow money for the purchase and then get the club to pay the interest. The cost of this has been estimated at half a billion.

Beckham’s contribution to United is all on the plus-side of the ledger: £24.5 million for his transfer to Real Madrid and incalculable sums in worldwide sales of shirts and other bric-a-brac. The Glazers are among the few people to whom Ferguson has been consistently and publicly loyal.

5 Beckham has never indulged in public feuds:
A series of mean-spirited, life-denying feuds have defined Ferguson’s career. It’s not enough for him to be right; someone else must be wrong and must be punished. His pathetic seven-year sulk with the BBC made him and his club look as small as homunculi. Ferguson has also feuded with Jaap Stam, Arsène Wenger, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Kevin Keegan, Gordon Strachan, the Premier League, Rafael Benítez, referees and journalists without number, and on and on.

Beckham is another of Ferguson’s feudees, and that feud is pretty well entirely one-sided. Even now, Beckham prefers to hold back.

6 Beckham does contrition:
Ferguson has never admitted a fault in his life. That is the core of his method. Hilariously he castigates Roy Keane for his refusal to back down. Beckham is alleged to have had a bit of an extramarital slip-up when alone during his days in Spain, the result of a rare strategic error from Victoria. His response in the aftermath was to shave off his hair — Beckham uses the language of haircuts to communicate with his public — and go remorsefully back to his family. It was a grand and unambiguous public mea culpa. Not a concept with which Ferguson has ever been familiar.

7 Beckham is loyal:
Ferguson’s delight in trashing people with whom he has achieved great things is ugly and demeaning. Such behaviour makes a man a moral pygmy.
Keane, for a time, was the on-pitch leader of Manchester United; he carried Ferguson’s will into the thick of the action. I was at Old Trafford when the force of Keane’s will toppled the Arsenal Invincibles in the autumn of 2004 on an afternoon of shattering intensity.

Such a partnership requires a certain amount of acknowledgment, not to say gratitude. Beckham has never shown similar disloyalty to colleagues and former colleagues.

8 Beckham does self-mockery:
Beckham, along with Victoria, agreed to be “interviewed” by Ali G for Comic Relief in 2001. Both were teased to a quite shocking degree. “And is you little boy speaking whole sentences yet? And what about Brooklyn?” They both giggled helplessly throughout. Then, a promotional video for the London Olympics bid featured Beckham scratching his head in bewildered fashion over a crossword. Beckham is a good sport. I don’t think I need to labour the implicit comparison here.

9 You can always count on Beckham:
If you want a good deed done for the nation, Beckham is always ready to stand up and do it. He played a huge role in winning the right to stage the Olympic Games for London. He was there in Singapore in a double act with Tony Blair — each man of equal value — to support the bid and clinch the vote. He was there in Beijing kicking footballs at the Olympic Closing Ceremony. Four years later he carried the torch along the river and delivered it to the Opening Ceremony of the London Games. Beckham is always up for it. Ferguson, who has lived and made his fortune in England, makes antediluvian jests about becoming England manager to drag them
down below Scotland.

10 Beckham has made football a nicer place:
Football is traditionally a parodic macho world, homocentric and homophobic. Beckham rejected this oppressive orthodoxy. His femininity was celebrated by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. He became a gay icon. He likes the company of women and has no problems with successful and powerful women; au contraire. He has broadened football’s moral horizons. Ferguson just doesn’t get this.

Ferguson has been a phenomenally successful manager and his achievements are part of football history. Any great manager can make a great team. Ferguson has made many, one after another, a remarkable achievement by any standards save the very highest. (What? Only two Champions Leagues?)

When you write an autobiography at the end of a long career, you leave a record of your achievement and also a summing-up of your moral legacy.

Ferguson has done that all right. The Beckham issue is at the heart of it. Ferguson has made quite clear who is the bigger man.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Customer service; Chip and not PIN; Gibraltar; Musical memories; Google's reach; and a Silverfish plague.

I do hope you remembered that Europe's clocks went back an hour at 2am this morning. Spain's, of course, may be going back another hour anytime soon.

When I bought a Honda car last year, I did hope - even believed - that the customer service would be above average. But I'm afraid to say it ain't. I asked for 2 things at my first service:- 1. A replacement wing mirror, after some fool (me) had cracked it, and 2. An estimate for painting all the little scratches incurred over 12 months. More than a month later, I'm still waiting. I can't see this happening in Japan.

Talking of the car and service . . . I filled up with petrol(gas) last night and was rather taken aback when the guy took my card and asked me if I knew my PIN. But then he brought me down to earth when he said the machine didn't work and asked me, as ever, to show my ID and to sign a chit. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

Gibraltar: Those of us who thought the border nonsense would stop once the summer was over have been proved wrong. Instead, the Spanish government - having noted that the number of people on bikes had shot up - now includes pedestrians and cyclists in their infamous searches. Spain has had 300 years to get used to a couple of facts 1. It doesn't own Gibraltar, and 2. Hardly anyone living there wants them to. You'd think this would be enough to lead to some real politique and some sensible discussion about relieving the UK of a sovereinty it doesn't want but, sadly, this seems beyond Spanish politicians, of whatever stamp. Click here for a Spanish view (in Castellano) on how Madrid's stupidity is affecting the local economy. Essentially - as with the suppliers of sand, stone and aggregates - it's the nearby Spanish communities that are suffering. Perhaps this wouldn't be so bad if Madrid's policies were productive but they clearly aren't. Simply put, the Spanish have a government they don't deserve. Though they did vote them in.

Mind you, it has to be said the politicians are operating in a culture which is less ethical than others. Click here for a case of large-scale exam cheating up here in Galicia. It would be interesting to initiate a debate on the definition of cheating as between, say, Sweden, and Spain. I'm pretty sure the latter's would be narrower.

One of the upsides of ageing is that now and again you're reminded me of an artist and his/her songs that you haven't heard for ages. And then back flood the voice, the melodies, and even the words. If you're really lucky, back too come associations in time. This happened to me this morning when Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood mentioned a tribute concert to Jimmy Reed. Sadly, the association I have is the loss of all my blues collection when some bastard in (I have to say it) Liverpool smashed the window of my Morris Minor GT and took it from the back seat. Where I'd been foolish enough to leave it.

Spooky, isn't it? Yesterday I searched for details of a hotel near Oporto airport for my visitors and this morning I see there's an ad for the place on my blog. I wonder if there's anything about me that Google hasn't got on file?

I'm undergoing a minor invasion of silverfish. Every time I enter my bathroom one seems to race from somewhere or other. Usually to death, as they eat the glue in my books. Inter alia.

Finally . . . if you think Spain is a low-tax country, this article is for you.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Noisy TVs; Station blight; Sr Fabra; Washing black money; Gibraltar fun; Ponters Haggling; and Becorz yur mine.

Yesterday, I had a coffee in a 'sports' café. This designation seems to mean 6 TVs in a relatively small place, each tuned to a different sport. Midday yesterday, though, only 3 of them were on but, when I switched off the one above my head with my TV-be-Gone, I hit the motherlode and all of them went off at the same time. All the efforts of the waitress with her zapper and me with my secret weapon came to naught. I felt a tad bad that she then had to call out the técnico but all's fair in the endless war against Spanish noise. And I was the only person in the place.

Talking of virtually empty locations . . . I walked through Pontevedra station this morning. Apart from the one offering junk jewellery, all the shops are closed. As is the multiplex cinema which used to give life to the complex. True, there's a Games place and a Chinese buffet restaurant but, at 2pm, there wasn't a soul in either of these. Devastation. No wonder the car park was empty.

You may recall earlier mentions of Sr Fabra, the man who's won the national lottery 7 times and who was responsible for, inter alia, the less-than-useless airport at Castellón which is adorned with a statue of said Sr Fabra outside it but which has never been blessed with any planes or passengers. Well, Sr. F has enlightened us all about this: "You just don't get it" he's reported to have said - "This is an airport for people, not planes". In other words, it's a tourist attraction. Well, I'll go to the foot of our stairs, as my grandmother used to say.

As of now, Sr Fabra is in court for the nth time. He's never been successfully prosecuted to date - maybe he has friends or knows where the bodies are - and his arrogant and disdainful attitude to the judge this time suggests he's pretty confident of getting off the hook yet again. A sort of poor man's Berlusconi, I guess. Without the sex. As far as we know. Would he take his sunglasses off for this, I wonder?

Until this week, I had wondered how the lottery-money-laundering scam worked. It's pretty obvious really. Someone with money to clean gives you a premium on the prize of your winning ticket and then claims the prize. So, the first thing you do if you win is not tell your friends and relatives (who will all want some) but call someone whose name begins with, say, F and ask him to buy it from you at 150% of what you've won. Maybe offshore. Then you keep schtum. And visit Andorra several times a year. Or perhaps Gibraltar, if Spanish allegations are true.

Talking of Gib, you'll recall that the Spanish government stopped the export of Spanish sand and stones to the Rock. Naturally, Britain's oldest ally Portugal was only too pleased to step into the breach and supply the stuff by boat. So, the only losers? The Spanish companies who've lost the profit on this business. Well done, Madrid. By the way, I can't say I was surprised to read this week that the Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister - Sr Motormouth Margallo - hadn't had any experience of diplomacy before he took on the job. Two years later, he still hasn't. IMHO.

Dining with friends in Veggie Square yesterday, we were approached by an African lady with the usual junk jewellery but also one of those table-mats-that-turn-into-a-fruit-bowl things. I'd already bought one at €10, so I was rather knocked back by her opening bid of €35. When I told he I'd already got one for 10, she reduced the price to €32. So I politely suggested she peddle her wares elsewhere, whereupon the price plummeted to €12. I bought it (for my daughter) at this price, on the belief it was bigger than the one I had. But it isn't. Hey ho. Mustn't grumble.

Finally . . . Cambridge University has been researching how Spanish students get on learning English. Among their findings is that they spell the word because in 27 different ways. Almost as many as my Oxford graduate daughter, who was off primary school the day they did spelling. More here. On the Cambridge research, I mean.

PS: If you're an affronted friend of my daughter's (I know she doesn't read my blog herself), this is because she included me as an unsympathetic character in one of her novels. Or she didn't.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Corruption 1 & 2; Public anger; Roman non-remains; Non-shops; Nicknames; and Family fun.

Corruption 1: Well, we now have a full house. The sole Spanish Cabinet member not yet accused of corruption has lost this distinction and stands accused of financial skulduggery involving each of his two wives. I assume this is in series and not in parallel.

Corruption 2 :The princess said to have blatantly benefitted from the sham company set up by her husband to channel taxpayer funds into their account(s), is now reported to have used her company credit card to buy rather expensive furniture and fittings. As things seem to change regularly, I'm not sure what legal status the princess currently has but it seems she hasn't yet been arestada, acusada or imputada. Possibly because the Public Prosecutor keeps telling the investigating judge to lay off her.

En passant . . . I've just noticed that said minister - who has the Education portfolio - glories in a surname, Wert, which comprises 4 consecutive letters on my keyboard. Any others? In any language? (Except proto-Sanskrit, Trevor).

The Spanish public, it seems, is so fed up of the staggering levels of corruption at local, provincial, regional and national levels that it's switched off to both politics and politicians. Approbation levels for the latter are at an all-time low and only a minority of the populace say they'd bother to vote if there were an election today. If this passive disapprobation and inertia is all the crooks have to fear, there can't be much chance of them going straight and cleaning up the House. The only thing likely to reduce the quantum of funds swindled will be the continued collapse of opportunities brought about by La Crisis. After all, governments will always raise and spend money and, where there are sticky hands, some of it will always be lost to 'seepage'. Especially in a culture where it's seen to be normal. At a non-staggering level anyway.

A while back I mentioned an archeological site down near one of our bridges, on the Portuguese Way(camino) to Santiago. And I said that, not only had excavation been stopped for lack-of-cash but it was being filled in with sand and then seeded with grass. Well, now comes the coup de grace - they've installed a kiddies' playground on top of the grass. Though I guess this is welcome if you live in the nearby flats and need to distract your little rugrats. Or, more likely, your grandkids. Foto tomorrow.

Talking of fotos . . . Here's one of the shop which replaced a well-frequented café and which is widely seen as providing a laundry, rather than a retail, service. I intend to check from time to time whether anything is moving from the rails. Or at least from those visible through an open door. If I stop writing, you'll know I've upset someone.

Yesterday I came across the diminutive female name Charo and was told it was from Rosario. Like me, you'll be wondering at the logic of this. And here's the (one?) answer:- No se trata de un diminutivo (sería más bien Rosarito) sino de un hipocorístico. Esto es la versión infantil y familiar de "Rosario". Los niños que rompen a hablar manejan unas pocas sílabas y se atienen a las palabras de una o dos sílabas. De ahí Charo (Rosario). Yes, well.

Finally . . . I wrote years ago that there was a serious downside to being told by someone Spanish that you are now like a member of the family - it means you can be tapped for dosh. Well, it's happened again - different family - and I hope this time it doesn't take 2 years to retrieve the principal.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Spanish politicos; Hounds: Bullfighting; Swearing in Gallego; A tax on the sun; and exPres. Zap.

After an extensive survey, I can now list the offences for which Spanish politicians would be prepared to resign, if pushed:-
1. Murder of an infant.
2. Err . . . that's it.

It's hunting season in Galicia now, at least for some poor creatures such as rabbits. Looking at a foto of huntsmen and their dogs yesterday, I was struck - not for the first time - how unlike traditional British or French hounds they are. In truth, they look rather more like small mongrels or even diminutive lurchers. Which doesn't mean they don't do a great job, of course. If they didn't, like useless greyhounds, they'd be strung up from trees.

Talking of animals being hounded to death . . . Here's David Jackson's overview of a new book on Spain's Fiesta Nacional. It's just possible that the death-knell is being rung for this activity. As The Local writes:- "Spain's powerful bullfighting fraternity may have finally met its match: former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson has joined forces with animal rights campaigners who want Spanish politicians to pull the plug on government subsidies for this 'cruel pastime'". More here.

And talking of dogs . . . I came across this Gallego canine name yesterday - Rober. And then I thought of O Bao/O Vao and realised what it would be in English.

Then there's the word rePUGnant. Which says it all.

Talking to a Spanish neighbour/friend (not Ester or Amparo) last night I learnt that Spaniards use the phrase jurar en arameo ('to swear in Arameic') to mean using bad language. It would be good to know the origin of this. Alfie? I also learnt that the swearing that takes place in Gallego is even more colourful than in Spanish. I couldn't possibly repeat here the example I was given. Suffice to say it includes the word cona. Google will tell you what this means.

In a move which the rest of the world rightly sees as mad, the Spanish government has recently reversed its policy of subsiding individuals' investments in solar panels in favour of one of a tax on people who aren't troubling the national electricity grid. As far as I can make out, the logic is that, if you were using the grid, you would have to pay for the infrastructure you're accessing. Now that you're not using the grid and the infrastructure, you need to pay a special tax to compensate the government for you not doing so. Whoever thought this up must have a lot more such schemes in their twisted brain. For example, people who don't use a car should be made to pay a special Non-car tax because they cross the roads that the cars use. Etc. etc.

Talking of madness . . . Spain's last president, Sr Zapatero, has confided that he thinks his big mistake was not to admit La Crisis had arrived. Others will have alternatives, such as his statement that Spanish banks were the strongest in the world and didn't indulge in Anglo-Saxon sins such as prime mortgages. Or his boast that Spain would overtake Germany in per capita income by 2012. Or, to get local, that the AVE high-train would arrive in Galicia before 2020. Or even 2015.

A knowledgable friend has confirmed what I already thought - that my Chinese emperor and mate are cast in resin. But I still like them and, knowing this, won't cry as much when my cleaner eventually breaks one, or even both, of them. But I will tell her they were ivory and seek due compensation.

Finally . . . A couple more fotos:-

A car with 4 wheels on the pavement, blocking the zebra crossing. And drivers' vision at the roundabout:

The ever-more-numerous steel poles which are intended to stop this sort of thing:-

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Brussels v. Madrid on terrorists; More on Pugs; Hitler's tash again; Galician wines; and Great goals.

Brits are well versed - in the context of Islamic extremists - on the differences of views between their own courts and those of the EU. And now Spain has woken up to this shocking reality. More than a hundred and fifty jailed ETA terrorists are likely to be released following an EU Court of Human Rights ruling that the way their sentences were extended is illegal under EU law. The first terrorist has been released and more will follow soon. Meanwhile, the entire country is understandably in shock. More here, in English. Welcome to a Higher Power, Madrid.

One wonders now whether there will be a slew of ETA members - and others - suing the Spanish government for compensation. I guess so. A good time to be a lawyer. As if there were ever any bad times.

I read up a bit more on Pugs yesterday. They were brought to Europe from China by the dastardly Dutch and William and Mary brought them to the UK in 1688. They reached their peak in 2004, when - would you believe - Double D Cinoblu's Masterpiece was adjudged Best in Show at the 2004 World Dog Show. This despite it having - inter alia - a tail which grows the wrong way and which couldn't scare off a fly to save its life. Which the dog wouldn't try anyway as its priority is to try to breathe by panting. So, if you want to see a pack of flies laughing, just follow a Pug around for a few minutes. Among famous people to own one are Jonathan Ross, Hugh Laurie, Ted Danson and (of course) the Duchess of Windsor. Perhaps the finest thing ever written about Pugs was a 2007 piece in The Onion, which pulls no punches about the breed's deficiencies. Well worth a read. Unless you like Pugs. And I've just stumbled across this foto gallery of prime examples of the breed.

By the way . . . Did you notice the semi-deliberate mistake of yesterday? There is no such English phrase (well, there wasn't) - 'Pug ugly'. It's 'plug ugly'. Don't ask me why. Ni puta idea.

I was chastened yesterday to find that I wasn't the first person, by any means, to suspect Hitler's moustache was composed of extended nasal hair. Devastating. But life goes on.

Galician wine: Here's a nice article on the stuff grown on the steep slopes of the Ribeira Sacra/Ribera Sagrada area, up near Ourense. It claims that white Godello and Albariño grapes flourish up there but my belief is it's only the red Mencia grape that clings to the hillsides there. Still, the pictures are impressive. Expert comment welcome.

Often with stupendous goals in football(soccer), you suspect they're a combination of massive skill (hitting a volley) and a chunk of luck(the parabola of the ball). But, whatever, they're wonderful to watch and here's another couple.

Finally . . . An old friend has sent me this Bismark quote on Spain: I am firmly convinced that Spain is the strongest country of the world. Century after century trying to destroy herself and still no success. Is this any less true now than it was in the 19th century? Please write on only one side of the paper.

Finally, finally . . . Welcome Mrs Beltran as Member 101 to this blog. I'd love to do this personally but, as I've said, Google makes this impossible for me. Oh, by the way, hits have plummeted to pre-existing levels since I identified as being responsible for a false upsurge. DON'T go to the site; it serves nefarious purposes, including communicating viruses, they say.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hitler's tash; Pug dogs; Tipping in Spain; Trial by media; and Debit cards, UK and Spain.

Adolf Hitler's moustache was, of course, so ridiculous only Teutons could ever have found him anything other than laughable. But, watching a colour film of him last night, I noticed the hair extended right up into his nose. And then it struck me there was another possibility - the reason his moustache was so narrow was that it wasn't a moustache at all. It was all nasal hair that he'd allowed to grow down to his top lip. Check it out here. You'll see that both the height and the width are suspicious. I do hope I'm the first to realise this but Barcelona's bald organ-grinder is sure to tell me if not. Either him or Alfie Mittington. Meanwhile, I've checked Ian Kershaw's 1080p tome on Hitler and there's nothing there - at least in the Index - about his moustache.

I was astonished to hear that the Pug is Britain's 6th most favourite dog. For there's good reason for the English expression 'Pug ugly'. My own view is that it's hard to tell one end of a Pug from the other. So, I was surprised to hear that the breed had been around for 3,000 years. Significantly, though, during all this time, it's been bred to do nothing more than sit on a lap. So, not only ugly but also useless. No wonder we say up North that there's nowt as queer as folk. Especially those who put clothes on Pugs. Yes, they really do exist.

When I was at university, a friend received a letter from his local council telling him his grant for the forthcoming year was just one pound. The letter went on to ask if he wanted this as a single payment or in 3 termly instalments of 33p. I was reminded of this when reading this morning that Spain's second most important politico had mailed to a heavily indebted town a cheque for one cent. This was subsequently explained away as a 'technical adjustment'. As you'd expect, the town remains stunned at the development.

Tipping in Spain: A week or two ago, I read - probably in one of The Local's lists - that foreigners visiting or living here should learn to tip at Spanish levels. This struck me as bizarre since, at least in this part of the country, the Spanish are poor tippers. They sometimes leave insulting amounts ('All my loose change") and rarely go above 5%, compared with 10-15% in the UK and up to 25% in the USA. But perhaps things are different down south. Though I suspect not.

Just in case you think I was joking when I said you'd be mad to buy a house in southern Spain, here's another reason why I wasn't.

I've mentioned the case of the adopted girl (Asunta) whose parents have been arrested and charged with her murder. I understand they'll be tried by jury. In which case it's hard to understand how one can read articles like this one in El Pais, entitled "Was Asunta killed by her mother". Will there be any jury member who won't have made up his/her mind before the trial actually begins? Almost certainly against parents who are being tried by media.

Finally . . . I nearly wept when I received a letter from my UK bank enclosing a card with which I can pay for items totalling 20 pounds or less without my PIN. I just insert the card, take it out and leave. Without having to prove my identity, provide my signature and confirm my maternal grandmother's maiden name. I suspect it'll be a century before this simple system arrives here, where no company is prepared to take even the smallest risk and where everyone is inured to bureaucracy and excess paper. But I hope I'm wrong and that it's already arrived in, say, Bilbao or Barcelona. Vigo, even.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Coffee in Spain; Scientologists; Flea market tales; and Free sex?;

I read some years ago - possibly in Giles Tremlett's Ghosts of Spain again - that there are more than 40 ways to order coffee in Spain and that you'll rarely get served a bad cup here. I thought of this when reading the grading system on the back of a pack of ground coffee last night:-
1. Smooth and aromatic. Mid morning.
2. Fruity and balanced. Any time.
3. Medium. Evening/nighttime.
4. Taste and body. After dinner.
5. Strong, with character. Breakfast.
On reflection, it may have been in in John Hooper's The New Spaniards, another excellent read and a must for anyone who's decided to live her.

When I typed "Are Scientologists Christians" in the google box yesterday, these fellow questions came up automatically:-
Are Scientologists gay
Are Scientologists retarded
Are Scientologists dangerous
Are Scientologists evil
Are Scientologists racist
Are Scientologists stupid
Which tells you something about an organisation which the French government has just decided is not religious but fraudulent. That said, it's perfectly possible for an organisation to be both, of course. Though I doubt it's possible for an organisation to be gay.

Going back to my initial inquiry, this is how Wikipedia answers it: In Scientology, Jesus is classified as below the level of Operating Thetan and described by L. Ron Hubbard as being a "shade above" the condition of "Clear". According to R. Philip Roberts in The Apologetics Study Bible, "Scientology's upper-level materials tout the concept of Jesus as God as being a fiction that ought to be removed by "auditing". So, No; Scientology is not a branch of Christianity. But it does allow you to stay a member - and go on contributing - even if you believe Jesus was God. Nice people.

Well, the threatened rain never came yesterday and I arrived in town just in time to see the last 5 marathon runners making their leisurely way towards the finish. I guessed they were the tail-end as there was an ambulance crawling a couple of metres behind them. Then, having picked up some cash, I headed for the flea market to do battle with the stall holder who last week had had a nice small bronze on display, the price of which I'd researched on the net and via friends. But he wasn't there. My disappointment was tempered by the sight of a couple of small statuettes of a Chinese emperor and his wife, probably picked up on his travels by a recently deceased Galician sailor.

Having got the asking price, I walked away to have a glass of wine and read the paper, intending to return as they were packing up. I was a little dazed because the seller had volunteered they were made of resin, not ivory - a display of integrity which rather threw me. Anyway, I returned at closing time and asked what his best price was. He repeated the earlier price and when I asked him to reduce it, he said absolutely not. For one reason or another, €50 euros was the least he'd accept. "How about 45?" I asked. "OK," he said. I'm now wondering if they really are resin. They certainly look like ivory and it may just be that, these days, it's better to pretend that ivory is resin, rather than the other way round. It's an odd world, after all. And there's nowt as strange as folk.

Because hits to this blog continue to be far higher than normal, I tried to find out last night whether they're genuine or not. I won't bore you with the details - especially as I don't understand them - but it seems that machines can generate traffic for evil purposes. Anyway, I noted that one person - surely real - had arrived using the search terms sex spain free. Is there really someone out there who thinks there's a woman in Spain advertising her body for nothing? In English. If so, does he know something we don't know? Or is he just a desperate plonker offering himself?

Finally . . . Last night I watched a DVD of the '95 film 'Casino' at a friend's house. When I got home, it was showing on one of my TV channels. I'm no mathematician but the odds against this must be high.

P. S. Sorry about the poor quality of the foto. I've dropped my camera one too many times.

P. P. S. I've opened a book on which of the statuettes my cleaner breaks first. And then denies she knows anything about it.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Corruption; Profanity; Brothel; Roads & Bridges; and Marathon Rain.

I wrote of the Spanish political system yesterday and now, bang on cue, comes an article which tells us that 13 of Spain's 14-member Cabinet have been accused of corruption, fraud, nepotism or grave negligence. And that - surprise, surprise - none of them has resigned. The author is a a well-placed but anonymous blogger whose Un Espia en el Congreso only started up early this year but already has garnered more than 2m visitors. You can read the article, in Spanish, here. Google or some other machine might give you a half-decent translation. And if that doesn't sate your appetite for details of high-level corruption in Spain, click here for a list of Spanish blogs which specialise on the subject. Incidentally, in some form of divine joke, the only member of the Spanish Cabinet who's not accused of skulduggery - the Minister of Education - is the least popular with the public. Which tells you something.

Generally speaking, there's a lot more profanity in Spanish discourse than in English conversation. And, as someone wrote the other day, it comes from the mouths of everyone, from grandmothers down to the kids on the street. So it was with some surprise that last night I saw "as useless as tits on a bull" translated as "tan útil como un peine para un calvo" - as useless as a comb for a bald man. An opportunity missed, I feel.

If the subject of Spanish swearing interests you, at the end of this post there's a letter allegedly sent by a British manager to the company's Spanish employees, instructing them to stop the endless badmouthing towards foreigners. For one reason and another, I doubt it's genuine but it's certainly amusing. It contains many of the standard expressions and insults, for which you may need a good dictionary. Or a Spanish friend. HT to my Ferrol friend, Richard, for this.

More news of the brothel (La Perla) in the village of Esclavitud (Slavery), where the owner is accused of buying a 15 year Romanian girl previously forced into prostitution - The owner is said to have sunk to these depths of depravity because of falling profits. A 15 year old pulls in a lot more clients than a rag-bag of 40 year olds and the place was facing closure thanks to La Crisis and the fact that road and rail construction on either side of it had left it an island that customers found hard to locate. Indeed, the brothel owner had installed a large map at the side of the road to make access clearer to potential customers - probably illegally. You couldn't make it up. Anyway, I predict that the place is closed, the owner is given a suspended jail sentence and that it opens up again in a year or two, under a new name. And the owner loses no friends.

We have a relatively new bridge and its purpose was to direct traffic away from one of the old bridges and in the direction of a new road over the mountain that hardly anyone used. In this way, congestion would be eased at the end of the old bridge, especially during the summer months when everyone was heading for the beaches. It was a good plan but it didn't work. Drivers remained stubbornly attached to the less sensible of the 2 options to coastal destinations. So, now we're being told that - because of works related to the supply of water - roads are being closed and there will be no other option than the new bridge and the new road. If this, as I suspect, is a stratagem, then it's a good one and I sort of wish them luck. The only thing wrong with it is that I'm one of the very few drivers who currently use the new bridge and I'm loath to lose my status and afeared of dealing with more drivers at the roundabouts at each end of it.

Our local corruption case centres on the Board of a large fish-packing company. They're accused of fiddling the accounts for one reason and another. But the latest accusation concerns the auditors they had for years, BDO, who are accused of complicity in the falsification of the books. You've certainly got a problem when an international firm of guardians indulges in criminality. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, as they say. And answer came there none.

Finally . . . We have a half-marathon in Pontevedra today. As with all of our sporting events, the weather gods are having fun at our expense and are threatening to drop half of the Atlantic on us. As of now, the sun is peeking through thick clouds but this surely can't last. God help the traders on the Sunday flea market. Oh, and the runners, of course.


Por lo visto, en el extranjero - especialmente en el Reino Unido - creen que los españoles tenemos un lenguaje, digamos . . . rudo.

Una multinacional británica no está satisfecha con el lenguaje que utilizan algunos de sus empleados aquí in Spain. Se han enterado de la frecuencia de los tacos en las conversaciones de la empresa y esto les ha llevado a emprender una cruzada de limpieza lingüística.
Para ello, Mr. Adamson, que es el responsable del Área de Comunicación Interna, ha enviado "a la plantilla española" un decálogo en contra del uso del lenguaje impropio. 

Dice así: 

FROM: Group Offices London 

TO: All Spanish Staff 

SUBJECT: Improper Language Usage 

It's been brought to our attention by several officials visiting our headquarters that the Spanish staff commonly uses offensive language. Such behaviour, in addition to violating our group's policy, is highly unprofessional and offensive to both visitors and the staff itself.

Therefore it is requested to our Spanish staff to adhere immediately to the following rules: 

1. Foreign colleagues or visitors should not be referred to as "ese guiri de mierda". 

2. Words like "coño", "hostia", and other such expressions will not be used for emphasis, no matter how heated the discussion is. 

3. You will not say "la ha cagao" when someone makes a mistake, or "la está cagando" if you see somebody being reprimanded, or "¡qué cagada!" when a major mistake has been made. All direct or derived forms of the verb "cagar" are inappropriate in our environment. 

4. No Project Manager, Section Supervisor or Head of Administration Chief, will be referred to, under any circumstances, as "el hijo de la gran puta", or "el muy cabrón" or even "el comemierda". 

5. Lack of determination will not be referred as to "falta de huevos" or "mariconería" nor will persons with a lack of initiative be ever referred to as "capullo" or "acojonado".

6. Unusual and/or creative ideas shall not be referred to as "pajas mentales" in particular when they stem from your manager. 

7. You will not say "cómo me jode" if a person is persistent, or "está jodido" or "se lo van a follar" if a colleague is going through a difficult situation. Furthermore, when matters become complicated the words "qué jodienda" should not be used. 

8. When asking someone to leave you alone, you must not say "vete a tomar por culo", nor should you ever substitute the most educated "may I help you?" with "¿que coño quieres ahora?" 

9. If things get tough, an acceptable expression such as we are going through a difficult time should be used rather than "esto esta jodido" or "nos van a follar a todos". Additionally, if you make a mistake, just say so and do not say "que putada" or any expressions composed with the root "puta". 

10. No salary increase shall ever be referred to as "subida de mierda". 

11. Last, but not least, after reading this note please do not say "me voy a limpiar el culo con ella" or "me la paso por el forro de los cojones". 

Just keep it clean and odorless and dispose of it properly. 

B. regards 

J.W. Adamson