Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fascism v Democracy; Corruption; Bang goes a Caixa; Pontevedra; & Postmodernism.

In its backlong rush toward fascism, the PP government has announced plans to introduce a raft of fines for showing "disrespect towards Spain". Worse, these are to be handed out not by the courts, after some form of trial, but by the police and the Civil Guard. Now we really do need a revolution. Or a campaign of mass insults. Flash disrespects.

Meanwhile, over in the UK , the electors in one parliamentary constituency have voted to oust their MP. This is a democratic development which would beyond belief in Spain, where the voters have no say in either the appointment or dismissal of their representatives, who are party nominees at the top of a list of same.

It's at times like this I can understand Spanish friends who hold a fanatical view that the UK is a vastly superior place to Spain. Whereas I think it's the other way round. But am weakening.

You don't have to wait too long in modern Spain for the next corruption bus to come along. Indeed, they often come in threes or more. The latest local case involves the imputation of the mayoress and planning officer of Sanxenxo. This has often been called "the Marbella of Galicia" but I suspect it wasn't the notorious corruption of the latter people had in mind. Though they might do know.

Nationally, the big new-ish case is that of the huge UGT Union, which has been making free with invoices so as to get its pockets on EU subventions. I wonder whether folk in Brussels ever realised just how little resistance Spanish money handlers have. And how sticky their palms are.

I went to a concert in town last night, though I almost didn't. Fooled by the foto of the orchestra, I went to the wrong venue and only got to the right one with a minute to go. As I arrived at the table where I could get a ticket, I was greeted by name by the President of the Pontevedra Philharmonic Society, whom I don't know. I was impressed by this but later thought it wouldn't be too difficult to remember the name of the only foreigner in the Society, especially as he bears one very familiar to lovers of classical music. The evening, by the way, was held under the joint aegis of the Society and the Social arm of the NovoCaixaGalicia Bank. This was a first such collaboration and it was a great success. But it was also a sign of the times, since it's certain that the Bank has had reduce its spend on social causes.

Incidentally, this is the bank that's being sold by the government to either a Spanish or a foreign bidder. More likely the former now, as onerous (EU illegal?) conditions have been imposed on foreign suitors.

I missed this page from the items on Pontevedra I posted this morning. Scroll down if you want to see these.

I said in the earlier post that I had a very busy morning. This included the English class I give to two young ladies. Finding myself behind time, I had to rush my coffee, miss out one or two normal activities (Family Guy, for example) and hasten across the bridge into town. I arrived 10 minutes late, just as the first young lady was arriving. The second polled up 30 minutes later. All of which questions my use of the word "late".

Finally . . . If you ever find yourself wondering what Postmodernism is, you should stop. For now the question is What was Postmodernism? Here's an article with the answer.
As I have a busy morning and midday, here's an interim post:

Google on Pontevedra.

And a decent little video of the little prazas/plazas down in the old quarter.

And the statue of our local hero, Christopher Columbus, which is being repaired so as to replace his hand. And so preclude me making my feeble joke about single-handed journeys across the Atlantic.

Normal service later today.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Tough pronunciation; Thanksgivukah; More Gib laughs; Spain is different; More houses; & Caganers galore.

Driving into town yesterday I heard a Spanish broadcaster struggling with that old Anglo challenge of 2 consonants not separated by a vowel. So, Ridley Scott became Ridely Scott. Half an hour later I told a lady in a Chinese Bazaar that I wanted a termómetro rodondo. "Ah," she said,"un termómeto lodondo." The challenges of pronouncing other languages. Thank God it's so easy with Spanish - except, I guess, for the double R. But nothing to match the strange sounds I had to achieve with Farsi all those years ago.

I realise this may be tempting Alfie Mittington to slap me down again but I read that what's happening today won't occur for almost 80,000 years: It's the coincidence between Thanksgiving and the first full day of Chanukah. Or Thanksgivukah, as some are inevitably calling it. Possibly. Last time I looked, Chanukah coincided with Xmas, so it must be a moveable feast. Perhaps Americans will be treating themselves to 2 big turkey meals this November.

Madrid has moved on from yesterday's position on the British diplomatic bag and said that Yes, it's true, a bag was opened and it was, indeed, a diplomatic bag but this was done by a junior officer, who was stopped by a senior officer when he realised what was happening. And when all the Gib governor's letters had been read.You have to laugh.

There are times when Spain marches to the beat of a different drum from the rest of the world. One of these is in respect of surnames. Spaniards have 2 of these (causing endless problems for us uni-named guiris); husbands and wives have different surnames from each other; and their children have different surnames from each parent. Secondly, Spanish kids (and politicians) are marked out of 10, not 100. Then there's the measurement of blood pressure (tensión). As far as I know, the rest of the world uses the convention of, e. g., 125/85. But in Spain this is always 12/8. Which is paradoxical since in other areas - most obviously national surveys - the Spanish tend to take things to the ludicrous extent of 2 decimal points, which I've always suspected of being an attempt to give specious accuracy to the numbers. The other paradox is that the people taking my pressure and telling me it's 13/9 are all using machines which give the results as, say, 131/92. Two riders to all this: - 1. When I say 'Spain', I probably mean the entire Hispanosphere; 2.When I say 'Spain', I could mean only Galicia, as this article suggests the 125/85 convention is also standard in Spain. Then again, see this:- Popularmente, con cierta frecuencia, se expresan los valores de tensión arterial en centímetros de mercurio (en lugar de milímetros de mercurio). Es decir, en cifras 10 veces por debajo de lo habitual. En ese contexto, no es infrecuente oír decir a médicos o pacientes que la tensión arterial de un sujeto normal es de 12-8 o 12/8.   So, pick the meat out of that.

Here's a few more new-ish houses near me which I forgot to include in my recent compilation. Only 2 of the 8 are occupied, which is about par for the course. 

I calculate there are around 40 empty houses in this barrio de pijos in which places used to be snapped up within minutes of going on the market. If that doesn't tell you something about today's Spain, I don't know what will. Will they be quickly sold when the market eventually picks up? Probably but who knows?

Finally . . . a few examples of the bizarre model defecators that go into Spanish Xmas cribs. I'm sure the Pope was as highly amused as Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. I'd have preferred her sister, Pippa.

What was I saying about a different drum?

P. S. A Jewish friend in the USA has told me it's only about 70 years until the next coincidence of Chanukah and Thanksgiving. Sad but true - You can't trust anything you read in a newspaper.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Spanish legal system; Bloody Gib yet again; Castellón capers; and Women

The Spanish legal system 1: Three men convicted of (accurately) chucking cream pies at a regional politician have been given 2-year jail sentences - rather less that the 6-9 years demanded by the prosecution but still tough. The offence is reported to be the one I asked about the other day "attacking authority". In modern Spain it seems, you'll pay a lot more for this than, say, embezzling millions of taxpayers' money. Whatever happened to the Transition from dictatorship to democracy? Is it not yet complete?

The Spanish legal system 2: I mentioned denuncias the other day. A prominent one has just been through the courts, in which a woman accused her piano-playing neighbour of destroying her tranquility and mental health by practising 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Sometimes into the hours when the community rules forbade noise. Again, the prosecution demanded a lengthy jail sentence of 7 years but the judge turfed out the complaint, saying - in echo of my question about weak/frivolous cases - that this one should never have got so far, that the jail demands were out of all proportion and that he could find no evidence of a link between the piano-playing and the psychological complaints of the neighbour. In brief, the court said the allegations were "absolutely devoid of a basis." Which rather endorses the questions of why the proceedings were ever started and who was in a position to stop them.

The latest UK-Spain Gibraltar spat is over the opening of a British diplomatic bag at the border. The British government claims to be furious (but probably isn't) and the Spanish response has been a classic:- The was no offence because:-
1. The bag wasn't properly marked.
2. Even if it had been, it was OK to open it (to search for cigarettes) because it was only from the Governor of Gibraltar to the UK government and he doesn't constitute a diplomatic mission.
3. Therefore, technically it wasn't a diplomatic bag as far as Spain is concerned, regardless of what the UK thinks.
This brilliant argument is on a par with that given whenever Spanish crowds make monkey chants at black players in visiting English teams - "They were noises of encouragement and so technically weren't monkey chants. And, anyway, no one intended to upset anyone. So they couldn't have been." The British response to this nonsense was:- "We disagree with the Spanish position and we are puzzled and saddened that Spain should now question whether the bags were diplomatic when they have been treated by the Spanish authorities as such for many years". That old British mistake vis-a-vis Spain - expecting logic and consistency. These count for nothing when you have a neo-fascist right wing to appease. So, onwards and upwards to the next cavalier and pathetic Spanish flea-bite. And subsequent denial.

Sr Fabra - the PP politician who's just been convicted of defrauding the Tax Office of €500,000 - has resigned from the party but not from 2 senior jobs in the Castellón municipality. He doesn't appear to see any incongruence between his conviction and keeping these positions. So, it'll be interesting to see whether he's pushed out.

I took my watch to a jewellers yesterday, to ask them to fix the bracelet. When I returned, they asked me for the grand total of 2 euros. And my ID. This left me with 2 questions:- 1. Wouldn't it have been better to charge me either nothing or something sensible like 5 or 10 euros?, and 2. Am I now going to be reported to the Tax Office for possessing an Omega watch, bought when I was 19, after months of saving from my income?

Finally . . . Years ago, I read a book by a (female) feminist whose message to her readers was "Yes, ladies, you can indeed have everything - a wonderful husband, a great career and well-balanced kids. But not all at the same time." I thought of this when reading an Alison Pearson article on Nigella Lawson, the discredited 'Domestic Goddess' who is/was "the most admired and envied woman of my generation." Another victim, perhaps, of those who gave women understandable but unrealistic goals. And I say this as the father of two women who were brought up to believe they're as capable as any man. Which they certainly are. With hormones.

I will now stand back.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Kids with phones; Fabra; Mileuristas; Milionaires; Chester-le-Pretty; Hordes racing; and Punctuation.

Another of those claims that may not be true but which are nonetheless unsurprising: Spain has the worst phone addiction in the EU. And 38% of tots under 2 have the use of a smartphone. Presumably to play games on as their cheap parents won't buy them an iPad Mini.

My Dutch friend, Peter, tells me that, whatever happens, Fabra de Castellón won't be going to gaol. This is because he's over 70 and Spain doesn't commit old folk to prison. But I wonder if this would apply in the case of a mass murderer. Incidentally, the court didn't convict Fabra for bribery and influence-selling, even though there had been huge cash payments into his account both by himself and his wife and he couldn't/wouldn't account for this. As they say in Private Eye - Something wrong, surely. Are the Spanish courts simply institutionally unable to deal with the eye-watering levels of corruption revealed over the last 4 or 5 years?

At the other end of the income scale - When I came here 13 years ago, one word I had to get my head round was mileurista. There's no single word in English but it means someone who's earning only €1,000 a month, gross. Since then the number hasn't changed, despite Spain's high inflation of the boom years driving down its purchasing power. Worse, from what I read now, it seems that €1,000 has been driven down to 800 or even less. And that €1,000 is now regarded not as rock bottom but as a pretty decent salary. This can surely only be if you're still living (free) with your parents or if everyone in the house is on this salary. Which won't, of course, be the case when you've just been evicted by the bank for not paying a mortgage you can no longer afford.

Meanwhile, the governing classes have fared rather better, with MP's salaries rising, senior managers giving themselves a 7% increase last year and all sorts of tricks being played by bankers to increase their salaries and pensions before they retire or are made redundant. I wonder what the Spanish is for "We're all in this together", as David Cameron asininely claimed a year or two back.

But, anyway . . . Chester is a north western English city I know well. It's a pretty place, at least in the old centre but, even so, I was surprised to read that Americans had voted it the 5th prettiest city in the world, ahead of Rome, Paris and - would you believe - Venice. The cities in front of Chester were Dubrovnik, Innsbruck, Bergen and, the winner, Riga. Not having been to any of these, I can't comment, beyond saying I'm sure they're all fine places. More here.

Yesterday I mentioned the inclusion of "Seville Guard" in the Daily Telegraph, instead of "Civil Guard". Today's howler, in the article on Chester, was this gem: "The town’s racecourse is Britain’s oldest sporting venue in continual use. The first hordes race took place . . ." This was presumably when England was simultaneously invaded by the Huns and Goths, all eager to get to Chester first.

Finally . . . I learned years ago, when employing youngsters, that punctuation was a dying art in the UK. It's hardly taught at all now, which explains why almost no one understands the proper use of 'it's' and 'its'. God knows we all make accidental slips from time to time but is it really so hard to remember that 'it's' only ever means 'it is' and is not a possessive pronoun? I guess I should now define 'possessive' and 'pronoun' for most of the current generation (assuming any of them are reading this) but there's a limit.

Finally, finally: A bit more from Betrand Russell's autobiography, written when he was in his 70s:-

1894: Engagement

Although I was deeply in love, I felt no conscious desire for any physical relations. Indeed, I felt that my love had been desecrated when one night I had a sexual dream, in which it took a less ethereal form. Gradually, however, nature took charge of this matter.

Letter to Alys: If thee hears from Edith Thomas, thee will send me her letter, won't thee?

I remember my mother-in-law explaining that she had been taught to consider the Lord's Prayer "gay". At first this remark caused bewilderment, but she explained that everything done by non-Quakers but not by Quakers was called "gay" and this included the use of all fixed formulas, since prayer ought to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Lord's Prayer, being a fixed formula, was therefore "gay".

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Daft denuncias; Shitty Spanish; Spanish shrinkage; Covetous Catholics; Spanish smokers; & Dead birds.

If you take offence at a neighbour's activity here in Spain, you can take him/her to court via a denuncia. My impression is the concept of a frivolous action doesn't exist here. And that, although you have to go through them, the police don't act as any sort of gatekeeper, able and willing to say something like "Don't you think this is a bit trivial for the courts?" Or "We don't get involved in 'domestics'". And so anything goes. Or seems to. For yesterday I was told of a case of a woman who made a denuncia against her husband for spending too much time with his ex-wife when visiting their kids. The obvious questions are - Can any of this really be true? And, if so, does this help to explain why Spanish courts are overwhelmed and why justice is so slow here?

As I've said, there's a lot of rude words and phrases (palabrotas) in Spanish. Perhaps one of the more versatile is Cago en . . . Or I shit on . . . Basically, the object can be modified to cause maximum irritation to your listener. I shit on your mother, or I shit on the Pope, as the case may be. And then there's the blasphemous I shit on God. As I say, very versatile. And possibly shocking, if you're not Spanish. The Catalans, by the way, appear to have something of an obsession with defecation. Their Xmas cribs are adorned by various squatting celebrities, one of which this year will be Gareth Bale, the footballer who went from Tottenham to Madrid at possibly a record price.

Interesting to note that, if current trends continue, then Spain could:
1. have a declining population by 2017, and
2. overtake Italy as the EU's second largest exporter of food and drink by 2020.
Yes, Spain's birth rate is expected to fall below its death rate in 2017 and by 2023 the population is forecast to have fallen by 6% to 44.1m. MInd you, it rose by 10% during the boom years, which came to an end in 2007/8.

There was a column in yesterday's El País bemoaning the fact that Spain had hardly moved on from the 70s in respect of the still-powerful Catholic Church. Also in the paper was a report on a legal spat between a leading Archbishop and an association which had inherited some valuable tapestries. The association wanted to sell them and to use the ample proceeds to help the needy. The cleric wanted them to adorn a cathedral in Madrid. Is it any wonder that the vast majority of Spaniards are antipathetic to the Church? And what is the new riches-averse Pope going to do about this emblematic struggle? Or indeed about the obscene wealth already in the hands of his prelates. Not to mention the Vatican itself. A second Reformation, but this time top-down?

Carlos Fabra, the man responsible for Castellón's (non)airport has been sentenced to 4 years in gaol for money laundering/tax evasion. However, he was found innocent of influence peddling and bribery. Now comes the appeal. And then quite possibly a pardon. Will he ever languish in gaol? I suspect not. My bet is the sentence will be reduced to 2 years on appeal, meaning he'll never have to serve it. Ya veremos.

Since it fitted with my own sad observations, I wasn't surprised to read that young Spanish women smoke more than their male counterparts. Or indeed than anyone in Spain. Or all of the EU and OECD countries for that matter. As if that weren't bad enough, Spain has the highest percentage of 15+ smokers in the entire world. That, of course, is the Spanish circle of Hell - a small room where all the women and many of the men are smoking their lungs out and everyone is - between drags - shouting at each other simultaneously, by way of conversation. That's why I always carry a cyanide pill. Por si acaso.

Finally . . . The redstart in my garden the other day was on its way to Africa for the winter but is unlikely to make it. Millions of the feathered voyagers are brought down by Spanish hunters every autumn. The rest of the year they presumably enjoy themselves by shooting fish in barrels.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Prestige oil lawsuit; A bad press; Protest v. Revolution; UK cities; Homophones; and Odd birds.

Having recovered from their shock, several national and international parties are appealing in the Spanish Supreme Court against the long-coming verdict that absolutely no one was guilty of anything in the Prestige oil tanker disaster that devastated our coast 11 years ago. These include the Spanish government, the French government and the Galician government. One wonders, firstly, why there isn't a class action and, secondly, whether they're going against the same parties or against new parties such as the insurers of the ship and the company which chartered it. I believe its the former, meaning the captain, his chief engineer and a Spanish maritime official. One also wonders whether this will take another 11 years.

It's been known for a while that even serious UK newspapers are reducing costs by farming out their sub-editing challenges to low paid people in, say, Australia. Perhaps this is what happened with a Daily Telegraph article on recent developments in Gibraltar. In which Spain's Guardia Civil is referred to as the 'Guardia Seville'. That said, the article is quite sensible in its thrust: Tensions have been growing for some months between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar. Both in terms of rhetoric and physical incursions into Gibraltar's territorial waters, the Spanish seem to be intent on provoking some sort of crisis.This is extraordinary behaviour for a democratic European state in the twenty first century and more akin to that of a Fascist dictatorship or banana republic. More here.

According to news reports, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in 55 of Spain's largest provincial cities and many of its towns last Saturday to protest against austerity measures (including cuts in education, healthcare, social welfare, unemployment pay and pensions) and against increased taxes and the recently-introduced legislation that includes six-figure fines for unauthorised demonstrations or for photographing police. While all of this is valid, one feels it won't be anywhere near enough to cause the (Brussels-whipped) government to change tack. And so one despairs not so much of the Spain's government but of its people. Who really need to take a leaf out of the book of their trans-Pyrannean neighbours. They really do know how to be revolting.

In an article in El País on the British Isles, the accompanying map included only 4 cities - none in Ireland, none in Northern Ireland, none in Wales, 2 in Scotland (Edinburgh and Glasgow) and 2 in England (London and Liverpool). No Manchester, no Birmingham, no Bristol and no Newcastle, for example. And I thought, Yes, that's about right.

There are homophones in English, of course, but one of the more confusing in Spanish is móbil, which means 1. Moveable, 2. Mobile(cell) phone, and 3. Motive. And one or two other things as well, such as a mobile above a baby's bed. Leading to the question of how you'd write a sentence about a baby's motive for playing with a toy phone in a mobile above it's head.[P. S. Don't write in: I've just discovered we're talking homographs here, not homophones.]

Finally . . . I saw an unusual solitary bird in my garden yesterday and eventually identified it as a black redstart, which seemed to be a bit of a contradiction in terms. Anyway, I saw this article on the net, containing text in both English and Dutch. The latter was totally incomprehensible - despite the Dutch (Fresian) origins of English - but I saw the word insecten and decided it was the plural of insect, just as 'children' is the plural of 'child'. Actually, this is a double plural, as it goes 'child', 'child-er' and 'child-er-en.' English plus German plus Dutch.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Spanish TV; Spanish discourse; Spanish doublespeak; Percebes; & The risks of Divination.

Taking my midday tiffin in a place I don't often frequent, I had the chance to view a TV program I'd never seen before. It was a glitzy show which seemed to include 2 or 3 cross-dressers whom I eventually decided were actually very butch women. And there was someone who very much looked - to my astonishment - as if he'd blacked up. All in all, it was a dreadful affair and it reminded me of the fact that the biggest TV celebrity in Spain is one Belén Estéban, a woman who's famous because she used to date a bullfighter. And because she now adorns daytime TV. This seems to be because she's even less appealing after her cosmetic surgery than before and because she's aggressive and controversial, so guaranteed to give viewers what they love to watch - a 6-party slanging match. It's a weird world.

Spanish discourse: I was walking past the pet shop in the mall at 2.30 yesterday when a father and his 6 year old daughter arrived to find the place closed. "Shit! Fuck!", expostulated the father, before knocking on the window to get the owner to open up. In like vein, one of the 2 young women I chat with on Saturday mornings said "Fuck" 3 times within the first 5 minutes of the first session. By the way, both young ladies cried off yesterday's session, for one reason and another. Par for the course here. After a while, good intentions give way to good excuses.

Another fine example of doublespeak from President Rajoy - The draconian new measures being brought in under the aegis of public security, he says, will not threaten personal freedom but guarantee it. Oy vey! Can anyone be surprised that elements of the new laws have been likened to Franco era legislation, by the judges no less.

Which reminds me . . . I've touched on the Spanish judicial system a few times in the last few weeks. So I wasn't too surprised to read that 65% of Spaniards have 'no faith whatsoever' in it. And that 75% think justice here is too slow and expensive, especially as one of the government's stealth taxes has been a rise in court fees.

Here's a BBC article on one of my bêtes noires, the Galician percebe, or goose barnacle. Something which - as I never tire of saying - only used to be given to animals until relatively recently.

Finally . . . I mentioned the local fortune-teller Maestro Sisse last week. I thought of him when reading this comment from Montaigne's essay on cannibals:- He also prophesies to them events to come: but let him look to't; for if he fail in his divination, he is cut into a thousand pieces, if he be caught, and condemned for a false prophet: for that reason, if any of them has been mistaken, he is no more heard of. Divination is a gift of God, and therefore to abuse it ought to be punishable. Amongst the Scythians, where their diviners failed in the promised effect, they were laid, bound hand and foot, upon carts and drawn by oxen, on which they were burned to death.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Crisis cuts; PP black dealings; Trial by media; Deadly drugs; Spanish pragmatism; and Bird brains.

Sorry, I was wrong yesterday when I said President Rajoy had said there'd be no more cuts next year. What he actually said was that the cuts wouldn't be as severe as those made in the last 2 years. Which must have come as a relief to all.

As for these cuts . . . I don't have a full understanding but there seems to have a been a wide range of reductions in benefits - something perhaps totally unthinkable in France. Or even the UK. These have included a cut in payments to the disabled (in those regions where these were actually implemented), in healthcare provision and in assistance for poor kids in the payment of school meals and text books. Reports of harsh evictions regularly appear in the papers and each time they do one wonders how many bankers, politicians and senior businessmen have been turfed out of their homes. Or even forced to 'downsize'. As I've said, there are countrywide protests against the cuts this weekend but I can't be alone in believing these will have no effect whatsoever. What's really needed is a revolution.

Meanwhile - to no one's great surprise, I'm sure - the judge in the trial of the ex Treasurer of the ruling PP party has said there's evidence the party used illegal donations to pay the architect of its HQ renovation in black. This is despite the insistence that all the accusations are "Lies, lies and more lies". Being of the right, the PP sadly can't avail itself of the the other standard Spanish defence: "You're a fascist to say that."

The murder trial in Santiago: A journalist on our Voz de Galicia has insisted that the parents of the child aren't yet on trial and expressed the fear that "we have ahead of us a long parallel trial by media.” Given that we've had this for months already, this is a pretty safe bet. The question is - What is anyone going to do about it? My guess is nothing.

At dinner with friends last night, there was discussion of the drug smuggling along our coast and the devastation it caused when the drugs leaked into the local community when kids were paid partly in heroin for help in bringing shipments ashore. Particularly affecting was the story of the all-conquering Vilanova 1982 football team, who all got involved in this, leading to the early deaths of 7 of them.

On a happier Galician note, here's a TurGalicia video issued in the USA

I regularly say the Spanish are a very pragmatic people. Another example occurred in a shop yesterday, when I was third in the queue and the person whom the owner was dealing with went off to look at something on the shelves. In Britain, I doubt whether the woman in front of me would've said anything but would've waited for the owner to ask what she wanted. Not here. The woman seized the opportunity to tell him what she wanted and he started to (efficiently) deal with 2 customers at the same time. Mind you, this can be taken to extremes, when someone comes from the back of a long queue and asks a shop assistant a question while you're talking to him/her. Possibly annoying but still pragmatic and, from the point of view of the enquirer, efficient.

Finally . . . While I detest the pigeons that crowd round my table and attempt to steal peanuts, I take a far more benevolent view of the sparrows who sit at the edge of the table and wait for me to give them something. Best of all, just before they take half a peanut, they each give a squeak, as if of gratitude. Here's one of them. 

By the by, we've had a new development this week. Magpies, while aggressive and even murderous, are normally cautious birds. But a young one has taken to competing with the pigeons and it seems a lot smarter than them. Though this shouldn't come as a surprise, given that a pigeon will keep coming even when I'm smacking it with the menu each time it gets within reach. Bird-brained, I guess. Or bloody hungry.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Justice?; The EU; Cuts; Anti-liberty laws: Latin; Bad English; Silly stamps; & The cavorting colonel.

The judge in the case of the Santiago parents accused of killing their adopted daughter has lifted the reporting restrictions. There was apparently a gagging order in place but you could have fooled me. Especially as the Public Prosecutor complained last week that all the leaks of the last few months - not to mention the TV exposure - would cause serious harm. Given the ineffectualness of the gag, I guess the judge felt Why bother? The mob rules.

Now that its realities are a little clearer, the EU seems to be losing aspirant applicants hand over fist. The applications of Norway and Iceland are apparently on ice. Turkey has switched off and now the Ukraine has stunned the EU Commissariat by aborting its near-completed process and said it'll be looking again at a closer relationship with Russia and her satellites. All of which should, of course, mean some some redundancies in Brussels but won't.

There will be protests throughout Spain this weekend about the cuts made by the government in the last year or two. Bang on cue, President Rajoy has announced there won't be any more next year and there might well be a reduction in income tax. Trouble is, no one believes him. Possibly not even his wife. Rajoy looks so unhappily impotent these days, I've come to wonder whether he isn¡t merely a frontman for the right-wing powers who are currently running the country.

Talking to a Spanish friend about the draconian new laws about to be introduced in the doublespeak name of Citizen Security, I was told that Spanish law incorporates the concept of respect for authority, of which these new crimes are a logical extension. I don't know whether this is true of not but I can say that some of them are inconceivable in other countries. Taking a snap of a policemen, for example. But, anyway, here's a good review of the legislation and the fines attached to the new or expanded offences. The question is - Are we going to see serious demonstrations against these anti-freedom laws? Perhaps even some serious rioting, a la Francaise.

Talking of liberty . . . I see that Latin is going to be a compulsory subject in secondary schools, stealing time from far more relevant subjects. Why, for God's sake. True, I studied Latin until I was 18, but only because it was then compulsory for taking a Law degree. I hated it and very much resented that it cost me English literature as an A level subject. Who or what lies behind this nonsense? Opus Dei??

Is it just a coincidence that the army says it's cleansing itself of 'radical personnel'. Meaning those whose views are the wrong side of the line of "ideological, religious or criminal'. Is the institution preparing to repel rebels? Por si acaso.

English as she is writ: Two things annoyed me in one of the UK's leading papers this morning:-
1. Down in Oz, it was reported that "England was bowled out in 52.4 overs." and
2. A woman teacher "has been struck off for having sex with a 16-year-old pupil."
Since when were teachers 'struck off', like errant doctors and dentists? Can it really be true that papers these days are mostly written by 16 year old unpaid interns, copying and pasting agency reports? It's beginning to look like it.

I sent birthday cards to both of my daughters yesterday - November is an expensive month - and I noticed that the 75 cent stamp bears the legend I need Spain. I guess this is meant to strike home with overseas recipients but I wonder if it really does. Still, it must make sense to someone.

Finally . . . This is a certain Colonel Gaston Palewski, a Frenchman who's been described as "looking like a unpeeled potato and having breath that could stop traffic." He also seems to have had a Hitler-style nostril-to-lip-moustache.

Despite these apparent handicaps, he was in his day a notorious womaniser. One of his numerous conquests was the writer and socialite Nancy Mitford.

And women still don't understand why we poor men can't figure them out.

Finally, finally . . . Am I the only person on the planet not remotely interested in Dr Who and the BBC's self-congratulatory 50th anniversary overkill?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Catholic slaughter; Spanish incredulity; Weddings and the Taxman; Driving risks; & Gib again.

Yesterday, I mentioned nasty schisms and splinterings within religions - Catholic/Eastern Church/ Protestantism and Sunni/Shia, for example. By chance, I read last night of the 12th/13th century Cathars who upset the then Pope with their differing (but still Christian) views and who were then slaughtered in the southern French town of Béziers by Crusaders sent by said Pope in 1209. Up to 20,000 are said to have perished in the siege, including a number of non-Cathars living in the town. When asked how his avenging angels could distinguish between Cathars and true Catholics, the local Bishop is reported to have said: "Kill the bloody lot. God will recognise his own." More on this rather unChristian episode here.

Here's a surprise - 95% of Spaniards don't believe the Public Prosecutor when he bangs on about there being no case to be answered by the princess who's married to the guy currently being tried for malversion of public funds into their shared bank accounts. But does this mean that she'll face trial at some time? I rather doubt it. The Establishment has closed ranks. And petty magistrates have no power against this.

And another non-surprise - Despite the government constantly telling us that the corner has been turned (but not about the EU demanding further austerity next year), 88% of Spanirds say they haven't noticed signs of improvement. And 75% of them don't believe Spain is beginning to emerge from La Crisis.

I've been to a couple of Spanish weddings but until I spoke to a local friend about them yesterday, I didn't know I was supposed to contribute money at them. Indeed, in today's Business over Tapas, Lenox advises that I should have purchased a bit of the brides' garters. But, anyway, I mention this because Lenox also tells us that the Spanish Tax Office wants in on the plentiful cash spent at weddings, christenings, first communions, community parties and the like. So inspectors have been instructed to attend. With warrants?

To me, this is a good example of how life in Spain has become rather more officious than it was when I came here a dozen years ago. In this time I've seen many measures introduced which seemed to be designed more to wring money out of people than for any other reason. For example, the range of motoring offences is now so vast and the police so vigilant that, as someone has said, the only way to avoid regular fines is to stay off the roads. This supersedes my long-standing advice to drive everywhere outside the towns at at 50kph. In the latter case, you might, for example, put one wheel on a white line when a police car is stationed at the side of the road. Or there's a camera. Actually, things are now so bad that there was a report from the South last week of a couple of traffic cops fabricating a series of offences in order to get 100 euros from a driver. One of these was that he'd made a phone call while driving. Which was dropped when the phone's record was shown. Just before said phone was knocked from his hand. I don't know if it was relevant that the driver was a (soft touch) Brit, who just happened to speak Spanish.

Which reminds me . . . several times in the last week the Guardia Civíl had had a road block at the roundabout halfway down the hill. But only for traffic coming up the hill. And they've always been around 7.30pm, a strange time to be checking for drunk drivers. The roundabout is situated just before the road splits to pass both of our permanent gypsy encampments and herein may lie a clue. I will ask as and when I'm stopped, prior to which I will have to rip out my earpieces, as having them in is one of the petty offences I mentioned. Even if I'm listening to a BBC podcast at less than a quarter of the decibels of a single Spanish passenger.

Finally . . . Bloody Gibraltar: Spain's Foreign minister, Motormouth Margallo, has said that the ship which entered Gib waters last week was acting under EU orders to survey the sea floor and he has told the Spanish public that Spain "always follows the law". Putting aside the latter dubious claim, I guess we're expected to believe that the EU also ordered the massive rise in incursions into Gib waters since this right-wing PP government took over from the PSOE government that was making progress in seeking a tripartite solution to this old problem. This show will surely run and run, as right wingers tend not to believe in compromise. Or retreat.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Narky Buddhists; Godly confusion; Gib again; Spanish justice; Blasphemy; Spanish youth; and Bertie Russell

I was surprised to learn yesterday that some Buddhists justify violence. But I wasn't surprised to hear they do this on the basis of an alternative reading of their scriptures. This, after all, is the bane of all modern religions - differing interpretations of the Word of God, leading to schisms and splinterings a-plenty. Not to mention appalling intra-faith violence. And extra-faith slaughter. You wonder why God didn't give us one unambiguous text. Or at least some explanatory notes. Perhaps He delegated the task and has since walked around Heaven muttering "If You want a job done well, You have to bloodywell do it Yourself". That said, being omniscient, you'd have thought He saw it all coming. Perhaps, as I've said before, He's a bit of a cosmic jokester.

The answer to the question of whether the Spanish media would report equally on both EU decisions on Gibraltar would appear to be No. They're ignoring the clean bill of financial health given to The Rock. What we do have is another incident n Gibraltar waters apparently deliberately provoked by Spain. I'm guessing this will be widely reported in today's media. Meanwhile, the Great Rocky Words War has been escalated by the irritated (and rather lippy) Gibraltar chief minister, who's warned that Spanish ships may be mistaken for terrorists and sunk. Now, that surely would be a news item. You do wonder whether the Spanish government isn't trying to provoke a serious incident. Though possibly one short of several drownings.

The Spanish Judicial System: Chapter 3: Spain's National Court has authorised the arrest of an ex Chinese President and 4 of his officials, over genocide in Tibet 20 years ago. If anyone understands why Spanish courts are taking this responsibility to themselves, I'd be grateful for an insight.

Talking of offences committable in Spain . . . An imminent new Citizen Security statute sets out potentially heavy penalties for unauthorised protests and for insulting or threatening the police, inter alia. One wonders whose word will be taken in the case of the latter. And whether the police will be issued with helmet cameras(sic), as they now are in the UK, where police are no longer believed the way they were aeons ago. More details on this here, care of David Jackson.

And still on offences - I learned yesterday that blasphemy only ceased to be a crime in England in 2008. And that, when it was on the statute book, only the Anglican God could be blasphemed, not the Quaker nor the Catholic God, for example. The last time the state initiated a case was in 1922, when the accused had compared God to a clown. He was sentenced to hard labour. Thank God, as it were, that times change. Especially as I've just realised that I compared God to a comedian above. I wonder what the Spanish take on blasphemy is.

Another sad sign of the times: Spain's reputation for taking the learning of English seriously is said to be improving rapidly. But no wonder - many (if not most) young people see their job prospects as being far better outside the country than within it. Forcing some to think about leaving home before they're 35. Even if it means cleaning hotel rooms in London. Or waiting on table in a tapas bar in Leicester. Is there a tapas bar in Leicester, Britain's curry capital?

Finally . . . Some extracts from the strange autobiography of Bertrand Russell. Tomorrow -1894.

1893: Trinity College, Cambridge

I began to find there were serious forces of evil. When the Junior Dean, a clergyman, who raped his little daughter and became paralysed with syphilis, had to be got rid of in consequence, the Master went out his way to state at College Meetings that those of us who did not attend chapel regularly had no idea how excellent this worthy's servant had been.By this time, I had quite ceased to be the shy prig that I was when I first went to Cambridge.

It was May Week, and I was shocked to read in the paper that during this week people's thoughts were not devoted to work. But by my fourth year I had become gay and flippant.

When I argued with Keynes, I felt I took my life in his hands and I seldom emerged without feeling something of a fool. I was sometimes inclined to feel that so much cleverness must be incompatible with depth, but I do not think this feeling was justified.

The profound conviction that the Treaty of Versailles spelt disaster so roused the earnest moralist in him that he forgot to be clever - without, however, ceasing to be.

The number of sons and daughters [of the Strachey family] was almost beyond computation, and all the children were to to my unpractised eyes exactly alike except in the somewhat superficial point that some were male and some were female.

Finally, finally . . . More fotos:-

Elegant arches.

Elegant metalwork.

The metal struts artwork outside the new museum.

The slabbed side of the new museum. The strips are lit at night, destroying my cityscape. The local prison looks better.

An elegant building, which just happens to be the main building of the old museum.

Woman and chickens, outside the market. Lovely. But is it art?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Liar, liar; EU justice; Spanish justice; Galician corruption; and Art or not Art?

The word mentiroso is chucked around an awful lot here in Spain. Some dictionaries say it means merely 'liar' but others add 'erroneous' or 'mistaken', making the range of meanings enormous. So I thought I'd see what Spanish words are used for 'fibber' and these are cuentisto (tale-teller), cuentero (ditto), embustero (liar), trapacero (cheat), mentiroso (see above) and mentirosillo/mentirosito (little liar). So, as you can see, this is not an area of exact science in Spain. As you'd expect. Incidentally, I just checked to see if the female form of mentiroso means 'whore/slut' and was pleasantly surprised to find it only means 'liar'. A small victory for womanhood there, I feel.

EU justice has been pretty even-handed this week. A couple of days ago came the verdict that Spain's controls at the border with Gibraltar were not, per se, illegal, although perhaps a little OTT. Yesterday, came the confirmation that The Rock complies with all EU laws and regulations on banking and finance. This was a blow to Spain, which has relentlessly portrayed the place as a den of thieves - pretty damn rich coming from Spanish politicians - running an illegal tax haven for money-laundering drug smugglers. Unlike Galicia. But, anyway, I wonder if the Spanish media will give equal prominence to these announcements from Brussels.

Talking of justice . . . I said only recently that I found the Spanish system endlessly confusing. And now comes another illustration of why. A senior politician who's been accused of corruption - is there any other? - was due to testify on Sunday - yes, Sunday - in the court which is trying the King's son-in-law and, quite possibly, his daughter - for corruption but he failed to turn up and no one knows where he is. Has he done a runner or his he just being picaresco?

And talking of corruption . . . We have a big case here in Galicia - Caso Pókemon - and this has spawned 3 smaller cases - Caso Campeón, Caso Carioca and Caso Bebé. Or possibly vice versa, I'm not sure. But, then, I'm never sure of anything in Spain. It's one of the (many) joys of living here. It keeps the mind as exercised as if you were doing several crosswords a day. Or learning 3 languages at the same time. Unless you just stick your head in the sand and stop wondering. Which would be understandable. Forgiveable even.

But to give Spain its due, ever since the EU introduced an international arrest system 10 years or so ago, there's been a constant stream of British criminals leaving their Spanish refuge for retirement at the pleasure of Her Majesty. It should have happened earlier, of course, but better late than never. The latest unwilling traveller has been a 75 year old paedophile, whose photograph - like those of dates you meet on the web, I guess - is at least 15 years old. Or, literally, out of date. Sorry.

I now know that times are really, really bad. I walked past a phone shop yesterday in which there were no queues of customers. In fact, there were no customers. Just the staff behind the counter. It was a Vodafone outlet but I'm not sure this is relevant.

Finally . . . As I took a vinito in Pontevedra's old quarter last night, I was struck by how much pleasure I was getting from the architecture all around me - the gracious curves of the arches, the beauty of the wrought-iron balconies and the symmetry of the elegantly proportioned stone buildings. And I wondered whether my own personal test of art wasn't the question of whether, consciously or subconsciously, I found something uplifting. Did it bring a smile of admiration to my face? And then I walked past the slabs of granite and glass which comprise our new museum and confirmed that Yes, this really was my test. 

In between, I went into our only baroque church and confirmed that an atheist - or at least this one - can still see art in religious artefacts. If only because the skill of human craftsmen always uplifts me. 

Though not the metal-strut sculpture outside the museum. Where there is neither craft nor art. Though some will disagree. Especially in an age when 'Art' is officially defined as "Whatever someone claiming to be an artist says it is'.

Nice to reflect on the symmetry of this post - both starting and ending with a definition. But is is art?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hard Times; EU affection; Miss Gardner; and Life & Death

These are tough times here in deflationary Spain, as they are elsewhere of course. Unless you're a director, it seems. For, whereas salaries of middle managers and workers here have fallen 3% and 0.5% respectively in the last year, those of directors have risen 7%. So we're not all in it together, as Cameron's phrase goes.

Exports still rising, factory production up again, inflation down again - There are a number of things that the Spanish government can point to as proof that its medicine is working. And, believe me, it does. But no one seems to be listening or believing, especially when they read that the astronomic 27% unemployment rate won't be falling for several years yet. So, the positive indicators are far from being translated into a feelgood factor.

Talking of attitudes towards institutions . . .

Trust and Mistrust of the EU
The EU average - 30% and 60%
Cyprus - 13% and 83%
Greece - 19% and 80%
Spain - 17% and 75%
UK - 20% and 68%
So, perspectives are worse here in Spain than in the UK, which is quite a turnaround from, say, 5 years ago, when the money was still flowing in and there wasn't a team of bureaucrats in Brussels telling the Spanish government to rethink its latest budget and to impose even more austerity. In the name, one assumes, of 'convergence'. As for the bigger boys:-
France - 34% and 57%
Germany - 29% and 61%
Looking at these numbers, you do wonder how they got the average to what it is. I guess it's because the Eastern European states are more bullish about what the EU will do for them. Bulgaria's numbers, for example, are 54% and 28%. Possibly because they see an EU-inspired solution to their gypsy problems. Exportation.

It's just possible that mistrustful attitudes to the EU reflect knowledge that the auditors refused to sign off on the accounts for the 19th year in a row. Possibly because of the allegation that €7bn was lost on "fraudulent, illegal or ineligible spending projects". The bigger the bureaucracy and the bigger the budget, the greater the corruption, of course. And, with 28 countries to manage, the EU deals in some pretty large numbers and some pretty complex processes. So, what did anyone expect?

Listening to a podcast on the American actress, Ava Gardner, I was amused (and surprised) to hear she'd acquired - via a relationship with Hemingway - a taste for a drink called Sol y Sombra. This is a mixture of brandy and absinthe and is not for the faint-of-heart. Or, rather, this was the mix back then. Now the absinthe seems to have been replaced by anise. Unless I misheard. Incidentally, a few years ago I met a chap in London who claimed to have been the window cleaner to Miss Gardner when she lived (and died) in that city. He had some interesting tales to tell. As would anyone who came into contact with her, it seems. She even tried a spot of bullfighting once while tipsy and paid a heavy price for it in the form of a broken cheekbone.

Finally . . . As I was doing a spot of cooking last night, I dwelt for a moment on the fact that I was healthy and content with my life. A second later I trod on a wet patch in front of the fridge and my foot went from under me. Happily, I didn't fall and, say, break a hip or hit my head on the tiled wall. But the irony of the development hit me and I inevitably reflected on the oft-repeated sentiment that we're always just a second away from injury or death. Meaning, for me at least, that we owe it to ourselves to enjoy this life to the max, just in case there ain't a second one.

Postscript: I got up this morning to find that that my Humax digital recorder is again on the blink and that my internet speed is so low I can't even test it. So I'm a little less content than I was last night.