Saturday, January 31, 2015

Charlies; Podemos; 'Desleal'; Corruption; Mindfulness; FIFA; Bird prodding; & Waste.

A wonderful cartoon on the front of the latest edition of Private Eye: It's a foto of all the politicos who attended the Paris rally in honour of Charlie Hebdo. They're carrying a banner which reads: Je suis charlatan. Or Nous sommes tous charlatans. Can't find it right now.

Spain's new left-of-centre political party - Podemos - is currently ahead in the polls. This is despite - or because of - not having any policies, only 'proposals' that will be refined. Meanwhile, the established parties are doing their utmost to tar Podemos with the same corruption brush with which they've been besmirched. That's Spanish politics for you. 'Whatever we're guilty of, you're worse'. Y tú más! What thick black files they must have on each others. And on their own people, of course.

The Spanish phrase for 'unfair competition' is competición desleal, usually alleged when some guild is being dragged out of the Middle Ages. But this week I've read of administración desleal, which seems to be a crime. And must mean more than disagreeing with your boss. Though some would say that many Spanish bosses certainly would like to see this as a crime. And probably your doctor as well. But, anyway, my research suggests desleal here means 'abusive' or 'fraudulent'.

Talking of corruption . . . The president of the Galician government has said there'll be 50 new measures under 3 new laws. I can't help wondering whether all the abuses to date weren't already criminal under one or other pre-existing law. The problem has not been a shortage of laws but the complete lack of political will - at regional and national level - to do anything about the corruption. Until such time as it began to concern the voters. Which might or might not turn out to be now. We'll find out later this year, at the elections.

As I've mentioned, one of my challenges of the last 14 years has been to answer the question: "So, what do you do here?". As I've said, I've recently taken to saying I'm training to become a dilettante. But I've hit on a good alternative - viz. I've been practising mindfulness since I came to Spain. As you may know, this is A state of active, open attention on the present. Or The intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one's attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment. And it's taken over from crude cognitive behaviour as the latest wonder response to (some) depressions. But, anyway, for me it just means doing what I enjoy doing every day. A privileged position, I admit. But 'mindfulness' sounds a lot better than 'self-indulgence'.

So, there was a challenge to Mr Blatter after all. Luis Figo threw his hat into the FIFA ring only minutes from the deadline. And garnered nil support. So, onwards and upwards for Sepp. What an organisation. Is it too much to hope that fans will stay away from Qatar? And will it make any difference if they do?

I was at first pleased to read that, in next door Marín, they'll be spending €13,000 on the control of pigeons and seagulls. And then I realised where these pests would flee to if the measures are successful. Time to resurrect my plans for a salt-gun. Or even an electric bird prod. So, far, though, I've only been able to find prods for cows, and wielding a 90cm stick in Veggie Square might just get me noticed by the imbeciles who feed the blasted birds. And who might get desleal.

Finally . . . Although Spain's efforts at sorting waste seem impressive - we have 4 different bins - less effort seems to go into reducing the quantity of waste. I bought a greetings card yesterday. It came wrapped in cellophane. But, before I could stop her, the shop assistant had further wrapped it in paper, sealed it with sellotape and put it in a small plastic bag. Everything gets wrapped like this in Spain. A box of tablets in the pharmacy, a single screw in the ironmongers and 6 eggs in a plastic box, for example. Much the same wasteful attitude is displayed towards water. Which might be forgivable in the Green Third of Spain but not south of that. This cannot go on. Where is Spain's Green Party?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Royal bastards; Colour v Coloured v Black; Wine; Research on Spain; Time; & Gib.

Here's a bit of a surprise - Spain's famously philandering ex king has agreed to supply DNA for the paternity suit of a 45-year-old Belgian woman. After years of refusing to do so, one wonders why. Especially as he still refuses to do this for a parallel suit from a young man. Does he want a replacement daughter for the one on trial for corruption and effectively ejected from the royal family?

Reading that the British actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, had caused a furore in the USA by using the adjective “coloured” instead of the currently acceptable phrase "person of colour". I was reminded it struck me a couple of days ago that I wouldn't know how to describe, if I needed to, the chap who bought my UK house. As one commentator said - "It seems that, in modern America, you can shoot a black teenager dead with impunity, but God help you if you say “coloured” instead of the approved “people of colour". Possibly in the UK too. Things, to say the least, are easier here in Spain. Where negro and negrito are your basic choices.

Wine: Research into its effects on our health continue to provide fodder for British newspapers. One this weeks says one glass a day helps to prevent heart attacks but another says this contributes to strokes. This is confusing but the conclusion is clear; stop reading articles on wine and Keep On Supping.

Talking of research . . .
  • It's said that a third of young Spaniards believe it's "acceptable or inevitable" they'll control their partners. This includes dictating when they carry out daily activities, preventing them from seeing family and friends and saying what they can and can't do. 33% of young people are also said to think it's fair to dictate whether or not their partner can go out to work or study. Hmm. BTW, this case may be different but young people in Spain are normally defined as 18-35. I think.
  • The best public transport in Spain is in Bilbao, Gijón and Sevilla. The worst is in (nearby) Vigo and Mercia. [But at least Vigo has an airport, even if you can't get to it by public transport from Pontevedra.]
  • Foreigners find Spanish trains inexpensive, clean, comfortable and punctual. But in short supply. [As you'll find if you try to get from some major cities to others.]

Well, I finally got my laptop back, though not - as promised - in the morning; I had to go back yesterday evening. And it worked. Even better - the under-key lighting had been restored. Of course, I didn't moan about the waste of my time and even promised to order a new battery through the shop. Which I just might.

Which reminds me . . . Someone has said - I think it was me about 10 years ago - that one of the defining features of the Spanish is their attitude to time. My 6 visits to the computer shop prompted me to reflect that I don't think I've ever heard anyone here ever apologise for wasting my time because of inefficiency. It just seems to be assumed one's got an inexhaustible supply of it. Or at least 30 hours a day.

Finally . . . Spain's new far-left party,Podemos, (think Greece's Syriza) has said it'll work to improve relations with Gibraltar if it comes to power in this year’s general or regional elections. Because of this, it will certainly get my vote. Or it would if the Spanish government gave me the vote in return for my taxes. Isn't it obliged to under EU law?

P. S. Just seen this ad on the TV. Someone has posted it as "Terrible" and "Simply ridiculous". I beg to differ. Very funny. Assuming you get the reference. As you certainly would if you read Private Eye.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

It's only conversation . . . .

Another of those Spanish Conversations

Day 1: Trip to the computer shop

Hola. What's happening with my new keyboard? It's almost 2 months now.

Hola. I called you a couple of times but you never answered.
Around Christmas.
Was it my mobile or my home phone?
Your mobile.
I didn't receive any lost calls from you. Have you got the right number?
[We check] Yes.
OK, let me check my phone, as I never delete anything. . . .  No. There's no record of any calls from you. Call it now to see if it connects.
[He does and my phone rings]

It's all very strange but here's my laptop. When can you do it?
Today. Best if you come back this evening, after 5.



It's not ready yet. Can you come back in an hour?
No, I'll come back tomorrow morning, first thing.

Day 2



It's not ready yet. It's much more complicated than I expected. There are tiny screws for each letter. Dozens of them. I was up until 2am last night [12 midnight in countries with a sane horario] but I couldn't finish it.
So, will it be finished today?
Oh, yes.
Well, I'll come back this evening.

All of which explains why I'm sitting here in Pontevedra's only remaining - and pretty deserted - cyber café, using a rather dirty keyboard - albeit one that doesn't stick - and feeding a meter.

And wondering whether I'll ever get my laptop back. Or, if I do, whether it'll work. And what the hell I'll do if it doesn't.

And to think I went to a local shop as I didn't want to have to go to Vigo to the Apple shop and hand over my laptop for an indefinite period. If, indeed, there still is an Apple shop in Vigo. Someone has told me there isn't.

I am not a happy camper.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Greece and the EU; Queen Sofía; A corrupt President?; Death notices, here and there; Cervantes bones?; & In house crooks.

Somebody pointed out yesterday that a major objective of the creation of the EU was the prevention of the rise to power of extreme governments. Developments in Greece are a bit of an irony, then.

EU rules: Greece is seeking to bend these but you have to big for this to be allowed. Say, Germany or France and the the 3% deficit limit. France has recently asked to be given more time to comply with this particular rule, not for the first time. And, of course, this'll be given. It always has been. Might is right, as Hegel is reputed to have said in his bath. Or was that Archimedes? Or Marat?

Click here if you want to see details of the Greek imbroglio, from Our Ambrose.

I commented to a Spanish friend yesterday it was odd the Greeks hated the EU - or at least the Troika - but still wanted to stay in the EU. "But, of course", she said. "They want the money to keep flowing in the other direction. Just like us Spaniards." Ah, yes, I thought. That old 'solidarity'. You pay for us but we owe you nothing.

The Times columnist Matthew Parris tells us that Queen Sofía of Spain, fed up with the king's pretty open and humiliating philandering, took to living in London - in Claridges - for most of the final decade of her husband’s reign. And that, for one reason and another, the British press totally ignored this. Not much was made of it here either. And even less was made of the fact that the king's girlfriend lived in a house on the royal estate in Madrid. Parris adds that Sofía - Greek by birth - could regularly be seen shopping in the King’s Road, often with her children, to whom she spoke English, preferring it to Spanish. Perhaps her husband - with whom by now she was scarcely on speaking terms - had put her off Castellano. Understandably.

The Bárcenas corruption case: It's one word against another. The guy who may be about to be lengthily jailed for illegal party funding insists both the PP party and the President, Sr Rajoy, knew all about it from the start and that the latter certainly did receive the illegal top-up payments detailed in the documents held by the Public Prosecutor. Mr Rajoy says he didn't. And that proof lies in the fact that neither he nor any other member of the PP party has been arrested. Quite a quandary, then. Who to believe?

In the UK, when someone dies, it's the custom to put a small announcement in the Births, Marriages and Deaths section of the local paper. Known vulgarly as the Hatch, Match and Despatch columns. Here in Spain, on the other hand, you get (I guess if you're important enough) a black-rimmed esquela (obituary) in the local, regional or national paper(s). The paper I looked at yesterday had 4 pages of these at 10 a page. But I guess you can get them even bigger. Is this practice - which smells of nobility or aristocracy - dying out, I wonder. No pun intended. Possibly not, if reports are true that the gap between rich in poor in Spain is now the widest in Europe.

Roll over Richard III (3), who never wrote a thing. Archeologists think they've found the coffin and remains of Cervantes. He of Don Quixote fame. This won't be at all bad for tourism, of course - currently coming to the rescue of the Spanish economy.

Finally . . . The guy who bought my UK house from me has been jailed in the US for trying to defraud a major computer company. Which is doubly odd as a previous owner of the house had also been jailed - albeit in the UK - for defrauding investors. Something in the water, perhaps. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bedfellows; FIFA farce; Google ads; Motoring fines; Knife laws; Airports; Entroido; & Bloody dangerous phones.

Politics, they say, makes for strange bedfellows. Look no further than Greece, where a far-left party has allied with a far-right party to form a coalition that can take on Germany. Sorry, Brussels. I fear the odds are a tad stacked.

Talking of rogues . . . I see that joke of a tyrant, Sepp Blatter, has called on Uefa to be “respectful” of his wish to stay FIFA president for a fifth term. Is it too much to hope that the organisation has enough self-respect to oppose him? I fear so.

I've recently questioned Facebook's efficiency when it comes to tailored advertising. And now I'm wondering about Google. I've recently made hotel bookings in 3 cities, ahead of a 4th camino in May. For some reason, some computer thinks it's clever to keep on advertising these same 3 hotels to me. I guess it makes sense to someone.

I've indicated the lengths Spain's traffic police are prepared to go to earn their commissions and raise tax revenues but this report takes the biscuit - a couple were fined for speeding in a car being carried by a pick-up truck. As I can testify, the police have up to a year to notify you of a fine and aren't obliged to provide any evidence beyond their claim you did what you're accused of. Though, to be fair, in my case they did supply (after 9 months) a foto of the back of my car that could have been taken anywhere.

Talking of laws . . . Though I'm sure it's illegal to carry them, machetes have twice figured in the British news in the last week. I thought of them when looking at the array of weapons on display at the flea-market in Ponters on Sunday - including bayonets, daggers and Japanese swords. But this is nothing compared with what you can buy in Toledo's shops. Broadswords and battle axes, for example. In the UK, I believe, it's now impossible to buy anything more than a penknife. Though you can still get large kitchen knives. Albeit only in kitchenware shops. And, that said, this government note suggests it's illegal to carry your knife home.

Galicia's 3 puny 'international' airports finally saw a bit of growth last year, though mainly in the north coast facility in La Coruña. Which makes no sense at all. But this tripartite growth was dwarfed by that of Oporto in North Portugal, which is a serious facility that's grown from about the same traffic numbers as those of its neighbours in 2005 to almost double them now. All this reflects Spanish regional and local politics and economics - 'coffee for all' - at their worst. And we don't yet have the high speed AVE to hoover up Madrid passengers. Will sense ever be seen? Not if La Coruña keeps expanding, it won't. Going there is akin to using one of Spain's ghost airports. At least Santiago seems half-busy. By the way, Galicia has the same population as Greater Manchester, around 2.8m. Which city only has one (profitable) airport. Possibly still owned, ironically, by a Spanish company.

Andalucia is famous for month-long festivities which kick off in April. Here in Galicia, this week saw the start of Entroido, a 4-week preparation for Lent. And one good example of us having fun is the flour-pelting fiesta of Domingo Fareleiro in Xinxo de Lima, up in the hills, near the border with Portugal. Another fiesta will be A Limia's "Women's Night", when Spanish men yet again display their predilection for dragging up. Click here for pix of Entroido, as it happens up in the hills, though not down here on the coast.

Finally . . . "What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?" - Sit in any restaurant and you’ll see that one half of a couple can’t even nip to the toilet without the other feverishly reaching for their phone to check Twitter or Facebook. The notion of simply waiting until they come back is palpably last century. Which is why you see people pass entire cross-country train journeys without looking out of the window. 

And: "Warning: smartphones make you stressed, stupid and less creative." Which is why I don't have one. I can achieve all those without an expensive phone. I think it's the Rioja.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Greece; The euro; Little Soraya; Easy benefits; Yellow sourgrass; & Evil Facebook?

Brave New Europe? A big boost for Podemos, Spain's equivalent to Sryiza? Maybe but we're certainly living through that old Chinese curse - Interesting times. Quote: "EU officials are confident that after reforms in southern Europe and Ireland, new financial defences and a programme of cash creation by the European Central Bank announced last week, the single currency will not be brought down". Pure bluster??

Quote: "Across southern Europe the young are being forced to pay the price for the idealism and arrogance of a European elite that launched the single currency and ignored all warnings about its inadvisability. . . . Last week's explosive intervention was hailed as evidence that the powers-that-be are finally getting their act together to solve a crisis that is now moving into its sixth year, but I wonder. It looked more like the desperate act of men who know that they, and the rest of us, will be very fortunate indeed if a disaster is averted.". More here.

But back to Spain . . . A face frequently seen in Spanish politics is that of Vice President Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría. One major reason is that she's the spokesperson for the PP party/government and so usually stands in for the unimpressive President Rajoy. Especially if there's a tough question to answer. But, anyway, as she's quite young (43), I took a look at her CV, to see what life experience qualified her for this very senior position. Well, she graduated in law at 23 and then worked as a State Lawyer and Associate Professor of Law for 6 years. In 2000 she began her political career, under Rajoy, and in the interim 14 years has risen to the commanding heights. Figuratively speaking that is; she appears to be only about 5 feet tall. So, not much experience out in the real world. But is this any worse than David Cameron, who only ever worked as a PR executive?

President Rajoy, by the way, must be doing proverbials in his pants this morning. As well as the leader of the Opposition, of course. A 'government of national unity' anyone?

Keeping a lid on benefit payments is a key challenge for Western European governments and perhaps even the USA, where there's no real welfare state. One example of what they're up against is the attitude of a British women who's currently bearing her 12th child. After her husband's regular philandering - now there's a chap who can't keep it in his trousers! - and his recent departure from the nest, she's now a single mother. And she receives nearly 40,000 pounds a year from the state. Asked why she'd had so many children, she replied: "It's the Government's fault I've got so many kids. It's easy to claim benefits. I've always wanted a big family and being a mum is the best feeling in the world. We didn't rush into the decision to have more children lightly but we knew we'd be able to afford it." The point, of course, is that they couldn't afford it. The British taxpayers could, spread over 20 million of them. I first experienced the corrosive effect of welfare when I heard my rich (and wonderful) aunt say she was going to claim a benefit she didn't need because she'd paid her National Insurance contributions and was entitled to it. And who doesn't think this way in the Age of Entitlement? The challenge is to eradicate it without hitting the genuinely needy? Which dosn't seem to be the case with the British government's cap on total benefits per annum.

Reader Dulcinea has advised that my yellow weed/flower is known as sourgrass in California and kindly provided this link. Strangely, neither the cuttings in my house nor the flowers in the garden have opened. So I can't check the petals. But, anyway, it can be quite invasive. And even fatal in large quantities. Despite which, it's used in some cuisines for flavouring. Rather than as a poison, of course.

Finally . . . Despite changing my Facebook profile to something ridiculous, I've yet to see any ads for taxidermy courses or zoophilia pages. Perhaps the company isn't as evil - or as efficient - as it's said to be.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Church & State; Whither Spain? Ex presidents; Cartoons & Vignettes; All Furred Up.

The Spanish king is handing over to the Pope the responsibility for appointing bishops. Not before time. Anything which promotes the separation of Church and State has to be a good thing, even if 200 years late.

The headline to an article in El País yesterday: In Spain, we don't know whether the paths we are taking are leading to Copenhagen or Caracas.

And a lovely comment: Ex-presidents are like Chinese vases. Every house has to have one but no one knows where to put it. This reflects the fact that we're now in full pre-election mode and both the conservative and socialist ex-presidents have jumped onto the stage. At this point, it looks like more trouble is being created for the PP party by Sr Aznar, who's asking the current president, Sr Rajoy, where the hell the party is going and whether it really wants to win the elections. Helpful. Meanwhile the (newish) leader of the socialists is said - like Ed Miliband - to be fighting off attempts to dump him.

And good cartoon . . . This one relates to a long-running PP party corruption scandal, in which the ex-Treasurer has been released from prison on bail, pending his (eventual) trial. He's pictured flying out of his cell and 2 onlookers are commenting on this (convenient) event:
Look. He's flying as free as a bird.
Yes, provided he doesn't sing.

Two little Spanish vignettes in town yesterday. The first occurred in a supermarket, when a woman insisted I go ahead of her with my one item, even though she only had about 10 herself and I was happy to wait. The second was in a pharmacy, where one of the ladies there is always remarkably brown in summer and still pretty tanned in winter. I'd previously thought about mentioning this but had thought better of it. But this time I did and she responded with laughter and a bit of a chat. I can imagine the first of these events taking place in the UK and elsewhere but not the second. If I made a similar comment to a girl young enough to be my daughter in Liverpool, I'd fear having my eyeballs lasered by a withering look. Or even arrest for harassment. Or am I being paranoid? On second thoughts, Liverpool is possibly the only city in Britain where I could get away with it.

Going back into town for dinner, I passed a woman wearing what looked like a short gabardine mac, from which were dangling 8 fox tails. It was impossible to say whether they were real or faux but there's no aversion to fur here in Pontevedra. In fact, we're approaching the season when they're worn even if the temperature is 20 degrees. Needs must. See here for something I wrote years ago on this.

When I was depressed in 2011, I suffered a number of delusions, some of them minor and some of them not. One of the former was that the cords of my blinds were filthy and that I'd never be able to sell my house because of this. Not that I was planning to do so but delusions admit of no logic. Anyway, I thought of this yesterday when I read about cleaning cords with a mixture of bleach and water. And since mine are still dirty, I'm going to give it a go.

Finally . . . Reader Paideleo has kindly advised that my yellow flowers are vinagrillos and that they taste, logically, of vinegar when you suck the stems. I'll let you know. If I can find a gullible child. Perhaps I'll just sniff them.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Fascist laws; A fascist state; LATs; Easy Chaucer; Beggars in Springfield and Ponters; & January flowers

Spain's criminal code is being revised by a right-of-centre government which seems to fear - perhaps rightly - an imminent popular uprising. The reforms are supported by no other party, so stuff consensus. Amnesty International has condemned them as as "a serious setback", which they surely are. But will they were rolled back if a socialist government gets back in? As for our new wonderparty, Podemos, I think we can assume the answer to this is Yes, if later this year it gets the support indicated by the current polls. Which probably isn't very likely.

Talking of right wing tyranny . . . Funny to see the (very) late King of Saudi Arabia being lauded by David Cameron as 'a man of peace'. Could this be the same man who ran a country viciously vying for regional supremacy with Iran and financing the Sunnis in Syria in the process? Not to mention the egregious Sunni ISIS, or whatever they're called this week. We'll be praising his human rights record soon.

I've long thought that the best cohabitation arrangement would be side-by-side cottages, connected by a shared door, with a bolt on each side. A couple of friends did buy two side-by-side Cheshire cottages but chickened out and knocked out the connecting wall, and its invaluable door. But, anyway, the world is now catching up. I hear that 'living-apart-together arrangements' (LAT) are the coming thing. It's not a guarantee of success, of course, and next-door-neighbours, Ms Bonham Carter and Mr Burton, have allegedly since split up. See here and here.

If you can't hack Chaucer in the original 14th century English and don't want to read him in modern English that loses the metre and the rhyme, this is the guy for you. He's very helpfully put a lot of The Canterbury Tales into a form that merely updates the spelling. Terrific stuff and he deserves a medal. Even if he is American.

In a Simpsons episode I saw this morning, Homer is told there are only 6 types of beggar:- bad musician; mixed up (army) vet.; cripple; fake cripple; religious zealot; and crazy guy. His friend has obviously never been to Pontevedra. Or any other Spanish city for that matter.

Finally . . . Discounting the bits of my bougainvillea which have never died, this is the first flower of the year in my garden. Except, I think it's probably a weed. But . . . As a weed is simply defined as "A flower growing in the wrong place/garden", I have the power to decide that, in my garden, this weed is a welcome January flower. It will very soon be joined by the also-yellow mimosa blooms.

And I've named it "yellowbell", for pretty obvious reasons.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The EU & QE; Spanish hours; Moving to Spain; Bureaucracy; & Irreligious cartoons.

A momentous day for the EU; the technocrats, bankers and bureaucrats who run 'the project' and who've been experimenting with a single currency for more than a decade finally got round to hosing money at the southern European states that have been mired in recession/depression for 5 years or more. Of course, none of these people will ever be held responsible for the increased misery caused by their delay of at least 3 years. And now the question is whether Europe's effective rulers - Germany - will accept this defeat lying down. As Our Ambrose has noted: This Latin revolt violates the sacred contract of EMU: that Germany gave up the D-Mark and bequeathed the Bundesbank's legacy to the ECB on the one condition that Germany would never be out-voted on monetary issues of critical importance. And the germans are not the only angry party; Holland, too, is making nasty noises. So, will they stay in the club? Our Ambrose - who supports the ECB measure, feels Mr Draghi may have saved Italy from a debt-deflation trap in the nick of time. He may have gained another year or two for Southern Europe to recover before radical populist parties sweep the stale elites from the political scene. But in doing so he risks losing Germany. Vamos a ver. Will the Germans take it lying down? Probably.

I've taken to wearing my first plastic wrist-band - a yellow one. Or I will when I find one. But this is not just because the lovely Queen Letitia does so; it's because the band is a plea for sensible working hours in Spain. This may take another 20 years or more but it has to come. You can't really know how ridiculous Spain's horario is until you live and, more so, work here. So, I commend to you the efforts of the Association for the Rationalisation of the Spanish Timetable, the good folk responsible for the yellow wrist-bands. Being far too individualistic and proud - not to say bloody argumentative - the Spanish don't go in much for associations but this is clearly one which merits existence and success. Which might be more assured, if you could find out how to buy one of their bands.

Talking of living in Spain . . . Here's the latest useful list from The Local - Moving to Spain; a Guide for Beginners.

And here's one piece of advice from me for all visitors and newcomers:- Spanish pastries will always entice and will always disappoint. Especially if you've lived in France. I'm still trying to find a meringue that isn't all goo in the middle.

One obstacle not really mentioned in The Local's list for tyros is Spain's infamous bureaucracy. Or Los funcionarios. An outfit called Legally Yours says of them, quite accurately: Like most civil services, Spain’s bureaucracy wants to bring order to the world and everything in it. But while in other places they seek to do this simply with laws and regulations, Spain adds a wild card to the mix: it gives public servants discretionary powers whenever possible. More here.

Finally . . . There are other anti-religious cartoons which are milder, more even-handed and a damn sight funnier than those of Charlie Hebdo. One such is Jesus and Mo, which even Christians have been known to enjoy. Nine years ago it mentioned Charlie Hebdo and you can see the cartoon here. If you don't want to be offended, don't look.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Spanish property; Spanish concrete; Spanish wealth; Spanish 'terrorists'; A&E; Nando's; & A great routine.

British buyers are expected to flood back to the Spanish property market this year, including many folk now free to access their pension pots and to splurge the proceeds in Spain. Let's hope fewer of them leave their brains at the airport this time round. And that all of them realise an agent's smile is inversely proportional to his honesty. As with his antipathy to the use of a lawyer. But 'horses' and 'water' are words which spring to mind.

Talking of property . . . HT to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for the citation of a Guardian article on Spain's coastline then and now. Aptly entitled Costa de Concrete. The paper refers to the Med coastline but, last time I looked, neither Cantabria nor the Basque Country were washed by the same waters as Benidorm, Marbella, etc.

An Oxfam survey tells us that Spain is the 2nd most unequal society in the world, which surprised me for one. Presumably this takes into account the overseas bank accounts of politicians, administrators and drug dealers, but even so . . . Anyway, here's a cartoon I've slightly adapted to make it even more relevant to spain:

Another HT to Lenox for this astonishing bit of news: The definition of 'terrorismo' has been broadened by the Spanish Government to include crimes associated with abortion, damage to the foetus, genetic manipulation, acts against 'public order' or against the 'social harmony' or the creation of a grave sentiment of public insecurity or fear – which includes violent labour disputes and 'escratches' (mini-demonstrations usually outside a politician’s private residence). One wonders if some of the extreme members of a very right-wing government don't dream of a return to Francoism at night.

I've talked about over-stretched A&E departments in both the UK and Spain (Urgencias/Urxencias) in the last week. Here's a cartoon from a local paper which manages to combine this theme with that of the state of the economy:-

You'll have noticed that tha the catoonist names his work A Tira - the word I featured last week. Meaning 'The Strip', of course.

Another comment which surprised me this week is that Nandos, apart from being a chicken restaurant, is also one of the most successful cults in Britain, one that makes the 17th-century Ranters and Diggers appear rank amateurs. A chicken-based cult? Do they have to hitch its trousers halfway up a bird's leg at the initiation ceremony and make it stand on one foot? I bet they'd deny this.

Finally . . . Here and here are how music videos used to be before disrobing and/or sticking your tongue out became more important than your dancing and singing skills. Rita Hayworth, partnering Fred Astaire, was clearly brilliant but I felt for her. The routine is complex and Fred was a notorious perfectionist. Imagine the rehearsals! All the more reason to admire not just her technique but also her smile. Rita, by the way, destroyed her career through booze and 'being difficult' but she looked back on her films with Fred as the 'only jewels in my life'. And the only ones she could view without laughing. I think I would have liked her.

And, together, they would surely have walked Strictly!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Spanish property; Employment prospects; Bank news; More fines; A deliverate mistake? The Galician premium; & A sad song.

In so far as anyone really knows, the collapse in Spain's property prices is all but over, says the FMI. They add that "The economic crisis, combined with over-building leading to excess supply caused the market to crash much more violently in Spain and the Republic of Ireland than anywhere else, bringing with it a sharper decline in employment and bringing the construction industry to a complete standstill."

But not to worry: The Prime Minister - in full pre-election mode - has personally guaranteed that he'll create not 800k (his last promise) but 1 million jobs by the end of 2015. Not that it will matter to him; he'll either have retired or be back in power by then and we won't be able to do anything about the emptiness of his cheap words. I'm betting he'll be up to 1.5m by the time of the elections.

Good bank news 1: Employees of CaixaGalcia (as was) are being prosecuted for making an 89 year old woman take out an €8,000 loan so that she could buy some useless preference shares. Still, they probably didn't know, for sure, at the time that they were virtually worthless.

Good bank news 2: Several expats down south have managed, eventually, to get a court to award them compensation from a defaulting bank and the (bankrupt) developer who failed to build properties they'd paid deposits on. I suspect this is unprecedented and may just signal the small shoots of an appreciation in Spain of how much damage has been done to the country by her cowboy developers, town hall officials, lawyers and builders. Meanwhile, after 5 years for more, the Priors still live in their garage, waiting for compensation for the demolition of their house - victims of a power struggle between the local and regional administrations and courts. Not to mention the other usual suspects.

In order to further increase its revenue - sorry, to improve the safety of drivers and pedestrians - Spain's Traffic Ministry (El Tráfico) has come up with a raft of proposals which even the Council of State regards as daft. The measures include:- lowering most of the country's speed limits (by half in some cases); fining pedestrians for being drunk or for running; and fining cyclists who ride too fast in pedestrian areas. As you'd expect, I have no problem with the last of these and I reject the Council's suggestion that it's unworkable because bikes don't have speedometers. As you know, I'd simply shoot anyone riding at above walking speed. But we'll have to wait to see what emerges from this nonsense.

On our local TV channel (or one of them, at least) there's to be programme called Land Rober. Off the bat, I can't tell whether this is a spelling error born of the same pronunciation in Spanish of V and B, or whether it's an example of Galician retranca - everyone thinks we're dullards; so let's pretend we are. And laugh at them laughing at us.

Which reminds me . . . Flights to Galicia from Madrid are the most expensive to Spain's periphery. Our tolls, our motor insurance premiums and our petrol/gas are similarly expensive. Maybe we are treated as dullards who won't revolt. Which is not a laughing matter.

Finally . . . I was reminded by a BBC podcast that, in my primary school, we used to sing, inter alia, a couple of what were then called Negro spirituals. I don't know what one is allowed to call them these days. Anyway, one was Cotton Fields and another was Poor Old Joe. Except it wasn't - we sang it as Poor Black Joe. You can find both versions on youtube. Paul Robeson sings Poor Old Joe and here and here (better?) are older versions of Poor Black Joe. It must be one of the saddest songs ever. And I've just seen it featured in The Sound of Bloody Music. Which is a shame.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Spanish stats; Smarmy pols; Phoney pols; Vocab; & Ponters shops.

For reasons given below, I don't plan to spend much time in the house this morning. So this might be a short post. . .

And rather than go into them in detail, here and here are articles on Spanish stats, absolute and relative. Enjoy. I might just come back to them. Meanwhile . . . Do they justify the view that Spain is no longer as 'different' as it was and is catching up fast? And . . . If so, is this really a good thing?

One thing I've noticed about all Spanish politicians accused of corruption or even on trial for it - they never look nervous or worried when they appear on TV to deny everything. Innocence? Good TV training? Or just a justifiable confidence that, whatever happens, they'll soon be able to spend whatever they've stashed in Andorra, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein or Switzerland?

I think I've mentioned I wasn't too taken by the gathering of opportunist politicians in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo murders, especially as some of them presided over repressive regimes, Or, even worse, Saudi Arabia. I'm even less impressed now that I've read they weren't in the main procession but, 'for security reasons, in a side street, surrounded by minions. But what should one expect?

Spanish vocab: The word for 'compost' in my dictionary is abono orgánico. But this seems to have been displaced by the English word. Perhaps simply because it's shorter. But, if this is true, much of Spanish is destined to disappear.

Shops continue to close in Pontevedra, sometimes to be matched by the opening of another one not far away supplying the same stuff. Often, though, they're replaced - in the centre at least - by snazzy new dental surgeries or 'health centres'. How many of these can the city support? And does this really matter, if you're just washing cash?

Finally . . . 


1. It's better. Says Alfie Mittington

2. My noise problem next door reached its apogee yesterday, when the guy who's been working there for months, drilled and hammered from 3 until 7.30pm, depriving me of my siesta. And he started up again at 9 this morning, the equivalent of 7am in Spain. If this continues, I might be driven to extreme lengths. So, if this blog suddenly stops, I'll most likely be behind bars. Or 'between bars' (entre rejas) as they say in Spanish.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

Spanish justice; Spanish spelling & pronunciation: Messi; Science v. Religion; Newspapers & Mugs; & Toutes to France.

It's not unusual in Spain for the Public Prosecutor to call for sentences which look pretty ludicrous - hundreds and, occasionally, thousands of years. There must be reason but, for me, this just remains one of the secrets of the Spanish justice system. I mention it now because the accused in the long-running Gurtel corruption case are facing jail sentences of up to 109 years and 10 months. Presumably they have a calculator in the Prosecutor's office which works to the standard Spanish 3 places of decimals. But, vamos a ver. Will any of them actually go to prison? And, if so, will any of these stay there for more than a few months, waiting for one of the (very) numerous pardons dished out by a cabinet full of their mates?

Talking of Spanish justice . . . I understand that today will see the continuation in Santiago de Compostela of the electrician who not only stole the 14th(?) century Codex from the cathedral but also, over the years, pocketed more than €2m from the funds kept in a wardrobe there. Perhaps the trial is all done and dusted and all that remains is the (bizarre?) sentencing. At least this would explain why the news channels last night showed video evidence of him entering the inner sanctum and pocketing wads of cash. Or perhaps it's because it's not a jury trial and the public can see whatever is released by the prosecutors. So that it can be shown, in the Spanish custom, 2 or 3 times in the same news item. Or even more, as when years ago a rally car hit a spectator and was catapulted high into the sky. Oh, and killed.

In modern Spanish, the double L has ceased to sound like a combination of L and Y and has simply become Y. This can lead to mistakes in writing. So, last night, I saw the phrase "Tu tienes todo mi apoyo"(You have all my support) written as "Tu tienes todo mi a pollo" (You have all my chicken". Need I add that I live in the barrio of Poio. Or Chickenland, as I call it. It's a good jon the Spanish for 'support' is apoyo and not apoya. As then it would have been the even more unfortunate: "You have you all my cock".

Also last night, I watched the incomparable Lionel Messi score yet another hat-trick (un triplete). One of these was a cheeky lift over the goalkeeper (una vaselina) from what looked like just inches in front of the latter. Is there any footballer alive who can make you smile as much as La Pulga (The Flea)?

Still on yesterday . . . I watched a debate on BBC on whether science undermines religion. The first speaker was insistent - midst incredulous laughter from biblical scholars - that he'd found the exact mountain on which Moses had descended with the tablets. Evidence included a bit of cloth of the Ark of the Covenant's cover. This was impressive. But not as much as his claim that he had an answer to the question of what on earth Jesus was doing between his birth and his 30th year. Being educated by a Jewish sect, the Essenes, he assured us. Not everyone found this credible.

Here's a headline you don't see every day, from today's Daily Telegraph: Top economist questioned by police over claims he attacked prostitute after smoking crack with her. Perhaps he gave her all his support/chicken/cock

Talking of newspapers . . . I got my Voz de Galicia mug yesterday and here it is:-

I'm going back today to see if the kind kiosk-owner has any left over she can sell me. DEPENDE means IT DEPENDS. All Galicians and most Spaniards will get the joke. And you?

Finally . . . Now that the northern coast A8 motorway has been finished, the Voz de Galicia has calculated it will take 5 hours 40 minutes to get from Galicia to the French border. If you take this route rather than the alternative via Burgos, they say, it will save you all of 2 minutes. Which raises one or 2 questions. Especially if you're driving to France.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Life in Spain; Torres revival; Nice quote; Hospitals; Nelson & me; & Galician humour.

Life in Spain:
  • The Couldn't Make It Up Department. No comment necessary.
  • Beastly developments: Ditto.
  • The other day was Saint Anton’s Day. He's the patron saint of animals and, all over Spain, a wide range of pets will have been taken to the local church to be blessed. But in at least one village, it was also the day when single women went to church to throw rocks at a statue of the saint, so as to bring their dreams to fruition. Unless they involve getting married to animals, of course. Success only comes if you hit St Anton in the crotch - naturally - but you're not allowed to stay there all day playing cock-a-ball. You only have 3 tries. Talking of throws . . . 
  • Following up on Tirar and Tirada, Tira means 'a strip' or 'a strap'. But, then again: 
      • me gustó la tira - I really loved it
      • la tira de - loads of
      • hace la tira que - it's ages since 
You have to give it to the Spanish footballer, Torres. After a good career at Liverpool, his time at Chelsea wasn't exactly stellar. So off he went to Inter Milan. But now he's back with his old club, Atlético Madrid and in his first match he scored both their goals. Against Real Madrid. In the Bernabou. Since this knocked Real out of the Kings Cup, things couldn't have got much better for Atlético.

Best recent quote: Roger Moore, when asked if he kept in touch with Tony Curtis. “Not since he died, ” he replied.

Our local papers are full of the news that A&E departments in all our hospitals (Urgencias/Urxencias) are colapsados, or totally overwhelmed. Nothing to do with an increase in either accidents or emergencies, of course, but with the traditional Spanish practice of using the hsopital instead of a GP during a flu epidemic. All of which is a nice lead-in to this comment on the UK's NHS problems.

Finally . . . Did you know that Nelson suffered terrible seasickness every time he went to sea? So, that's something he and I share. Well, apart from the withered arm, the depressions and the glass eye.

Finally, finally . . . If you buy a copy of the Voz de Galicia today, you can get for a euro a mug bearing the legend: Os Galegos Somos Retranquieros. If you're in Pontevedra, please wait until I've got my 2 or 3.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Eurovision; The AVE; Aforados; Pres. probs.; Envelope probs.; Sp. words; A Rapas das bestas.

I was pleased to read yesterday that Spain's Eurovision entrant has been chosen, not sure how. She (Edurne) is an ex-participant on a talent show, a pop star and the wife of a footballer. I haven't heard of her, of course, but this isn't her fault. And it doesn't mean she won't win, and send the country into delirium.

Here's surprise - Because of a new process, the Madrid-Galicia AVE high speed train won't, after all, be completed by the last promised date, 2018. The earliest will now be 2020 and the 'latest' 2022. This is getting to be beyond both a joke and my most cynical forecast of 10 years ago. But who cares, it's only the poor Gallegos who'll be last to get this service. And they have no clout. Don't even want to secede.

Another non-surprise: The government has parked its plans to do something about the thousands of Spanish bureaucrats and politicians with immunity from prosecution (Aforados). Which must have seemed like a good idea to the dictator, Franco. But seems hard to do anything about in these more democratic times.

But at least the EU President is to be investigated for possible financial crimes when he was running Luxembourg. Anyone want to guess on the outcome? Mind you, there might not be any EU to preside over by the time the investigation is wrapped up. In a whitewash cloth.

There was no one begging on the steps of the Post Office yesterday afternoon. But, inside, I had a bit of a problem with a letter I wanted stamp for:-
Great Britain, please.
[The lady takes out a flexible rule and measures the envelope]
It's only 12cm.
It needs to be at least 14.
But why?
That's the regulation. Have you got a bigger envelope?
Yes, back at my house.
The lady stares at me, voicelessly.
[With as much sarcasm as I can muster] Thanks.

The good news is that the machine from the lobby that took 8 steps to tell you either it had no stamps or it couldn't give you any change has gone. I wonder why.

Spanish words: Stumped again. Thanks to something written by my friend Dwight last night, I now know that fusilar doesn't just mean 'to shoot' or 'to execute by firing squad' but also 'to plagiarise'. Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps they used to shoot plagiarisers.

Finally . . . Galicia has a number of summer events that involve rounding up wild horses, corralling them, separating out the foals, wrestling the mares to the ground and rapidly shearing their manes and tales. The stallions aren't tackled in this way, understandably. The Gallego name for all this is A rapa das bestas. Only one of them is a tourist event, bigger every year and held near A Estrada. More info and pix here. At some events there's a bit of horse trading and you can buy yourself a foal. Or watch some locals strutting on their pure-bred arab mounts. Worth considering for your bucket list. Along with the Grand Mosque in Córdoba, as it used to be called.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Spanish words; Hemingway bon mots; Guirilandia; The EU v.. Germany; Papal beliefs; Nigeria?; & Our weather.

Spanish word extensions: I'm sure it happens in other languages, English included, but I like the way the main noun/verb is used to make others: So parto (birth) becomes partera for midwife. And primero becomes primerizo for 'first-timer', 'novice', or 'beginner'. Or primeriza, if we're talking about a pregnancy.

Which reminds me . . . When Hemingway was staying in Madrid's Hotel Florida during the Spanish Civil War, there would be a daily cavalcade of ladies of the night, friends of the foreign correspondents et al. These he termed 'whores de combat'. Nice. But one wonders whether it was really his, as he wasn't beyond a bit of verbal theft. Inter alia.

There's a blog I'm sure I've mentioned before - Guirilandia. This is written by a Spaniard who lives in London(London, UK). (S)he, justifiably, garners a lot of readers, most of them Spanish I guess. Yesterday's was on British humour(humor) and on how much English you need to get it at different levels. As ever, (s)he was spot on with his/her (sympathetic) observations. Best of all, (s)he included 3 great clips as his examples. Click here to see these.

The first rule of bureaucracy is Expand your empire. Should this fail, the second rule is At least keep what you've got. Everyone in the EU power nexus is a bureaucrat, as no one voted for any of them, except fellow bureaucrats, and they're all hell-bent on expansion. The the judges of the European Court are no exception. This week they've predictably handed down a political judgement which backs the European Central Bank but is injurious to German interests. Our Ambrose - actually a supporter of an EU done properly - has commented thus:-
  • This opinion is a vaulting assertion of EU primacy. If the Karlsruhe accepts this, the implication is that Germany will no longer be a fully self-governing sovereign state.
  • The European Court has this time departed a long way from the rule of the law, even by its own elastic standards.
  • It gives the ECB almost unfettered discretion, adding for good measure that the courts should refrain from meddling in monetary policy. Not only is this an attempt to tie the hands of the Verfassungsgericht when the inevitable case against QE is filed, it is also enthrones the ECB over a monetary dictatorship answerable to nobody.
And best of all . . .
  • This is the Investiture Contest of our times, echoing the 11th century clash between the German emperor Henry IV and the imperial papacy of Gregory VII over supremacy in Europe.
More of this great stuff here.

Talking of Popes . . . The current incumbent - thank God a pale reflection of Gregory VII - says religious beliefs shouldn't be mocked. Clearly, he must think other beliefs can be mocked. So, what, for him, makes religious beliefs separate? Well, they're held by people who'll be angry and react if you mock them. So, nothing intrinsic about them, then. They're just held by potential psychopaths. Did he really know what he was saying??

Which reminds me . . . While all that politically expedient grandstanding was going on in Paris, no one was saying very much - and doing even less - about the 2,000 recent deaths in Nigeria at the hand of ISIS's even uglier twin brother, Boko Haram. Not many feel-good votes in that, I guess.

Finally . . . Galicia's traditional winter weather duly arrived yesterday, with winds and rain - only 6 weeks late. Then, at 6 this morning, there was the unusual combination of a sleep-disturbing burst of hailstones followed immediately by a simultaneous flash of lightening and a single clap of thunder. Global Warming??

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Regal setbacks; Jewish fears; Pegida in Spain; Funny names; Charlie Hebdo; Tirada; & Spanish superstitions.

It's been a bad week for the Spanish royal family when it comes to legal processes. One court has allowed a paternity suit against the ex-king to go ahead and the judge in the trial of Princess Cristina has rejected her appeal against the suit. Thus irritating - yet again - the Public Prosecutor responsible for Corruption. If you see what I mean. The latter has accused said judge of 'excesses' and of being intent on putting the princess on the stand despite a lack of evidence against her. With my legal friends like that . .

It's an irony that while thousands of French Jews are crossing to the UK to escape rising prejudice back home, British Jews are feeling more uncomfortable than they have for a long while. Everything's relative, I guess.

Which reminds me . . . A Spanish branch of the German anti-immigration/Islamist group - Pegida - has opened up and started to twitter. This has surprised those of us who'd felt you couldn't get more right wing than the extremists of the PP Party, normally associated with the Catholic 'fascist' entity Opus Dei. But, then, this development has thrown up the fact that there's also a (Francoist) Falange group. It takes all sorts.

A friend yesterday told me she's flying later this year on an airline called cheapOair. A Norwegian outfit, apparently. Which has some very good - or very bad - marketing advisers.

Talking of names . . . Do you remember the old Paris-Dakar Rally? Well, it's now called just the Dakar Rally. And takes place in . . . South America. As to why, your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps they improved all the roads in Africa.

Charlie Hebdo: Now that the grandstanding is over, here and here are articles which have impressed me this week. One by a Muslim and one not.

Spanish words: There are some of these which constantly bring me to halt, essentially because they have a lot of everyday meanings and I have to try and figure out - from the context, of course - which one is relevant. One such is tirada, from the verb tirar: to throw. It can mean:-
a throw
a print run
a reprint
a circulation of
an offprint (tirada aparte)
an edition
a distance
a stretch
dirt cheap
a series
in one go (de una tirada)
a string
a boring speech (Lat. Am)
a hint (S. Am.)
a dirty trick (Caribb.)

Not that English is easy, of course.

Finally . . . The Local has this time come up with a list of 10 Spanish Superstitions you might not know (I didn't) and preambled them thus: Did you know that Tuesday the 13th is considered unlucky in Spain, and not Friday the 13th? That's because Tuesday is said to be dominated by Ares, the Greek god of war, who gives his name to Martes, or Tuesday, in Spanish. There is an even old proverb that explains the superstition: "On Tuesday, don’t get married, embark on a journey, or move away'. Click here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How Spain got here; Recent developments; A Galician snip; & A couple of fotos.

At the macro level, this is a very good overview of how Spain has arrived where she is.

At the micro level, here are a few recent developments:-
  • In 2014, Spaniards were again the most generous people in Europe when it came to donating body organs. They're naturally proud of this and see it as evidence of their belief in solidarity. The Spanish number is 36 per million, compared with 19 for the EU and 26, 25 and 15 for the US, France and Germany, respectively.
  • The Spanish government is considering raising the age of consent here from 13(!) to 15(!), so as to catch more child abusers. Why it's not to be a minimum of 16 is anyone's guess. By the by, the only state in Europe with a lower age of consent has been the Vatican, with 12. But last year it was announced that this was going to be raised to 18. It might well have been by now.
  • Spain has been behind the ball as regards maltreatment of animals but things are changing. The Penal Code will now include more animals and will treat offenders more harshly. Let's hope it gets to grips with the bastards who hang greyhounds they've no longer any use for them.
  • Last year, Andalucian police hit drivers with fines totalling €508m. No. 2 and 3 in the table were Castilla y León and, of course, Galicia, with 73m and 61m, respectively.
  • According to the latest poll, if an election were held today, the left-wing, anti-austerity, anti-corruption, anti-casta party, Podemos, would walk it. This despite being only a year old. The governing PP party would come third, after the socialist PSOE party. As someone has written:- The results show once again the fragile state of Spain's two-party system, with the scandal-hit major parties polling less than 50 percent between them.
  • Buyers of used cars can now check the correct mileage on the web page of El Tráfico. I can't because it doesn't recognise me or my licence number. Not, by any means, the first time in Spain I've been told I don't exist.
  • As predicted, shops which have previously had (low) fixed rents have begun to close as landlords have taken advantage of the new law allowing them to increase rents to market levels. An instantaneous observation is that the shops hit hardest are those selling 'odd' things such as wigs and religious relics.

Galicia: If you've got 75 quid a month to spare, you might like to rent an old stone house in the hamlet of Xesta, only 40km from Pontevedra and all its delights. Nearer than this is the town of A Lama, for all your daily needs. What isn't mentioned in this article is the huge prison outside the town.

Finally . . . 

A foggy dawn

A funny,wispy dawn