Saturday, February 28, 2015

Nation states; Astrology; Cagar; Theft potential; Coño; Idiot driver; & Dentists.

The British philosopher Roger Scruton makes the interesting point that, although the founders of the EU believed nationalism bred by the nation state had caused WWII, this is very wrong. The cause of the war, he says, was German nationalism and peace was restored by the patriotism of Britain and other states. In contrast, this was indeed born of the nation state. No prizes for guessing if he supports this institution.

There's a British MP who sits on 2 House of Commons committees related to science and health. Which is odd as he thinks that a greater use of astrology would save GPs a lot of time and reduce the costs of the national health service. "Astrology" he asserts "is a useful diagnostic tool enabling us to see strengths and weaknesses via the birth chart". As for those of us who reject this tosh, his response is: "People who oppose what I say are usually bullies who have never studied astrology." "Sure" he adds "astrology may not be capable of passing double-blind tests but it's based on thousands of years of observation". His name is David Tredinnick and he presumably believes the predictions he reads in the Daily Mail et al. There is, as yet, no requirement that British MPs should have an IQ above 50. And, believe it or believe it not, Mr Tredinnick chairs one of the 2 committees. So, what does this say about his fellow members who put him there? Are they having a laugh?

Another Spanish vignette . . . As I was walking along a street in town yesterday, a man came out of a bar in front of me. Another chap, coming towards us, recognised him and exclaimed "Buenos días, hombre!" His friend replied: "Buenos días, amigo. Me cago en díos!" Now, this means 'I shit on god' and I doubt he literally meant it. My guess is it's one of the rich lexicon of Spanish expressions using the verb cagar - 'I shit in your milk'; 'I shit on the woman who gave you birth'; 'I shit on the Host', for example - which the Spanish use to indicate either positive or negative emotions. Indicated by the context and the vehemence with which the phrases are uttered.

When I went for my ECG yesterday morning the nurse took me to a doctor's office, did what she had to do and departed, to give the results to the doctor. I was left alone to put my clothes back on and then leave. I couldn't help notice that there was a lot of stuff in the room that I could have knocked off. Unexpectedly, the nurse returned and told me we had to go to another office as the doctor preferred the machine in that one. So we went through the routine again and she once again went off to the doctor, having got exactly the same result. This time, I noticed that the stuff I could have walked out with included the doctor's laptop. I couldn't imagine this happening in the UK.

After the ECG, I went for my blood tests. I've been doing this annually for quite a while now and the guy who draws blood - so brilliantly you don't feel it - has become very friendly. This time I was able to give him some information on land for sale near my house, where he wants to live. During the lively conversation around details, he twice called me coño. Now, the English equivalent of this also starts with C and has an equal number of letters. I told him he should never use this in English and he was, of course, surprised as it's a term of endearment here. I told him what it meant in English and he protested that coño didn't mean 'vagina' but 'the front bits'. 'Oh, that's alright, then' I said. But I think the sarcasm was lost on him. 

Is there anything more unimpressive than an idiot who justifies his imbecility on a legal technicality? As I approached a roundabout this morning, I saw that the traffic coming from the left was moving only slowly through it because of an accident there but that my way through was open. As I moved to do so, I was blocked by a driver determined not to give me the 2-3 seconds it would take and which wouldn't affect his progress. And he was pointing at a yield sign which, if I'd obeyed, would have kept me there all day. He was, of course, driving a white van.

Finally . . . Here's rather large foto gallery of dental surgeries in the centre of Pontevedra. The first is the traditional 'brass plate' type, where the surgery is on one of the upper floors and is advertised via a hoarding at 1st floor level. And the other 5 are the new glass-fronted, ground-floor types, located in the main shopping streets. Clearly, some investors see this as a good business model.

Friday, February 27, 2015

News?; Sleep & death; Hospitals & doctors; Personal space; Science; & Lazy cheetahs

What passes for important news these days - whatever is trending on social media, however banal. Mild mob rule. What 19th century philosophers and politicians feared about universal suffrage.

Researchers say they've discovered a correlation between low life expectancy and both less and (worse) more than 7 hours a day. I wonder what this means for those of us who take our sleep in 2 bites, one at night and the other as a mid-afternoon siesta. I've always felt this meant the equivalent of an extra hour's sleep. Should I now move from 6 plus 1 = 8 to 5 plus 1 = 7? Decisions, decisions. They're costing me sleep.

I've been going to the same hospital for 14years now. Each time I go, they ask for my ID and my insurer card. Then they enter the details of both in the computer. Then they shoot off to the photocopier to copy the documents. If it can't recognise me by now, it must a crap computer. Two things struck me when going through this ritual this morning:- l. that none of this happens when I go to the doctor or hospital in the UK, and 2. no one here seems to object or see it as, to say the least, duplication. I guess it's symptomatic of the bureaucratic mindset for which Spain is renowned. And the hospital is a private, commercial concern where you'd think they'd be concerned about time wasting. To knock this on the head . . . I had both an ECG and blood tests this morning, meaning two desks. You know what happened.

I went to see my doctor last night for my annual check-up. After 5 or 10 minutes, they told me he wasn't there. He'd had an accident and broken his elbow. If I wanted, I could go across the road and see a Dr Calvo, who had his clinic in the hospital. Now, calvo means 'bald, in Spanish and, guess what, he didn't have much hair. But, anyway, he was very friendly - if not fawning - and I wondered if this was because I knew exactly what I wanted and gave him the results of my last check-up to peruse. He didn't have to turn to the hospital's (crap) computer in search of my details.

Walking into town across the bridge this morning, I saw 2 examples of Spanish characteristics I've frequently cited: A rather large woman and her young daughter approached a narrow defile cbetween a lamppost and a wall on the other side of the pavement(sidewalk). What you might call a rock and a hard place. A young man was approaching from the other direction. Neither of them stopped to let the other through and they both ducked their shoulders - slightly touching - as they went through the gap. Immediately after, the young man - possibly disorientated - bumped into another woman who was following the couple and then apologised profusely. No one seemed to think any of this was unusual. And neither did I.

Two interesting quotes on science this week:-
1. (From a scientist): Science is the only discipline which admits its own fallibility. In fact, it welcomes criticism.
2. (From a theist): If science is so right, why does it keep changing? 

Finally . . . In 1937, an enterprising owner of a greyhound track brought 12 cheetahs to London to race against the dogs. The cats were slow to start but always easily overtook the dogs. However, it didn't take long for the cheetahs to realise they were chasing an electric rabbit and, being true felines, simply refused to take part in any more races. What a shame. I'd love to have seen it. At least once.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Parliamentary games; The state of Spain; Spanglish; Spain's catch-up; & Bloody selfish parking.

You'd think they'd learn. Yesterday the woman deputising as President of the Spanish parliament was filmed playing Candy Crush on her computer, just behind the speaker during the debate on the President's State of the Nation speech. Or so it was said at the time. It was later suggested the game was actually a similar one related to the film Frozen. The lady herself insisted she'd been reading the newspapers. Well, she would, wouldn't she.

During his - pre-election - State of the Nation address, President Rajoy naturally painted his picture in exceptionally rosy - not to say phantasmagorical - tones. As usual, he claimed Spain was growing faster than any other economy in Europe. In fact, there are 10 better. But, as Adolf said, if you're going to tell a lie, tell a big one. People closer to the ground say his description of a Spanish populace now feeling the benefit of his austerity polities bears little relation to reality. This is from one sceptical commentary: Family income, which comes mainly from work, incomes or rentals; from bank deposits, interest payments, property speculation and state aid, is still falling. Wages have fallen: extra payments, overtime and the number of employees per family has also declined. Furthermore, the money that went into households such as unemployment benefits, aid to dependants and so on has also been trimmed. The owners of premises or homes that were paid rents have had to lower them – those who still charge their tenants anything, or who don't have empty shops or apartments. Bank deposits have gone from receiving a tiny interest to now paying account maintenance costs. On the other hand, costs continue to climb: taxes (both indirect and direct); official fines of all kinds (especially from the traffic police); gasoline (although there is now a brief and watered-down respite on the prices), electricity, water . . . The balance of the family budget gives rise, in the majority of cases, to red numbers. HT to Lenox of Business over Tapas for this. It helps to explains why shops and cafés are still closing, even in this city made prosperous on the back of civil servant salaries.

Spanglish. The latest:-Un outsider, as in: La agencia no es para nada un outsider: es un shop[!] de buen tamaño. And: El campeón del mundo, un especialista y un outsider. The pronunciation? - oat-seeder?? I also saw El ranking this morning but I suspect it's pretty well established now. At least its not an -ing invention, unlike un footing, un liftingun parking, etc.

Spain is less and less different.
1. Zebra crossings here don't have anything like the Belisha beacons that adorn those of the UK. Indeed, until last night, I hadn't seen a decently sized and visible sign for motorists. But now I have and I guess we will see more and more of them.

2. Speed bumps first appeared in Pontevedra about 5 years ago and they were of a reasonable height and incline. Now, there's scarcely a street without its fair share. And the height of them has soared, along with the angle of the incline. Some of them are higher than the adjacent kerb, at 6 inches or 15cm. And several of them can only be negotiated at a speed of around 10kph, if you want to prevent the front of your car hitting the road on the way down. And the improved road accident statistics? Conspicuous by their absence.

Cricket: The shocks continue. 1. Afghanistan has a cricket team; 2. It qualified for the World Cup; 3. It yesterday beat Scotland. There was much joy - and not a few tears - among the players. BUT: that's not all. . . The United Arab Emirates (UAE) also has a team in the competition. I assume its women's team plays in burkas. White, of course.

Finally . . . Walking to the station yesterday morning, I saw a good example of the irritatingly selfish parking that effectively eliminates spaces for others - when drivers leave 1-3 metres between their car and the next one. On the way back, I filmed it, though by this time there were only 2 cars, rather than the original 3.

Then, late last night, I snapped this example. What you can't see is that the blue car is also more than 2 metres away from the car in front of it. I can't possibly identify the couple to whom these cars belong but I can say they prevented someone from parking anywhere near his house. And that he wasn't well pleased.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Nazis; Translation; Bread again; Sweet FA; Justice; Valenciano travails; & Cricket teams.

There's always someone, isn't there? A PP councillor in the Basque Country has been pictured at a Carnaval celebration wearing an SS outfit. What mystifies me is who makes and who sells these things? Is it racist to say my guess is one of the many Chinese bazares around the country?

Ahead of a Camino later this year, I was doing some translating last night. I used the quick method of starting with a 'dirty' Google machine translation. For one thing there were a lot of place names and it was useful not to have to type all these out. There were, of course, the normal Google nonsenses and its inability to distinguish between personal pronouns. Or even guess at them. But what really annoyed me was the translation of kilometre into mile, especially as I didn't clock it for a while. I mean, where's the logic to this? Some idiot must have programmed the machine to do this, as if they were the same distance.

My friend and fellow-blogger, Anthea, has endorsed my comment about the importance of bread here in Spain by telling me that the Spanish equivalent of 'as good as gold' is 'as good as bread'. Does this lie behind the view of Gerald Brenan and others that the Spanish are not a very commercial people? Or not those outside the Basque Country and Cataluña, at least. "In general" said Brenan, "one may say that the principal cause of Spanish separatism has been the industrial and commercial apathy of the Castilians". Could this possibly still be true, a hundred years on? Well, not of my newsagent anyway.

Talking about phrases . . . There can't be many Brits who don't use the expression 'Sweet Fanny Adams' or 'Sweet FA', believing them to be euphemisms for 'Sweet Fuck All'. But, fact, the polite version came first, around 1870. It refers to an 8 year old girl, Fanny Adams, who was cut into small pieces by her murderer. And British sailors took to calling their canned rations of mutton - about which they were suspicious - 'Fanny Adams'. Thence to 'Sweet Fanny Adams' and 'Sweet FA'. Strange but true. And, for the gruesome, here's a picture of the little girl. Albeit in an uncut state. From the good people at 'Find a Grave'.

Justice there and here. In the UK, thoughts are being given to allowing cases involving less than 25,000 pounds (€32,000) to be dealt with on line, using an arbitration system pioneered by eBay. Here in Spain, a number of senior judges - including one on the Supreme Court - are being investigated for taking payment as consultants to a company looking at the judicial system in Madrid. This may or may not turn out to be illegal.

Talking of trials . . . An ex-mayor of Valencia is being tried for corruption in Valencia and is coming in for a lot of flak. But this is not because of her alleged crimes; it's because she's not making a very good fist of speaking in Valenciano in the dock. Such are the priorities down there. A Valenciano-English dictionary, I'm told, is roughly one word different from a Catalan-English dictionary but I'm not sure this would be accepted by all Valencians. That old regional jealousy again.

Finally . . . I was astonished the other day to see that an Irish cricket team had beaten the English. In fact, I was astonished there was an Irish team. But this morning I read that the latter is to come up today against a team from the United Arab Emirates! I can't help wondering whether it'll be Gibraltar next. To the fury of Motormouth Margallo, the Spanish Foreign Minister. Who never misses an opportunity to make a fascist fool of himself. I call him 'fascist', by the way, because that's what you do in Spain when you don't like someone. Even if they're a socialist or a communist. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

La Crisis; Rajoy's award; Bread; Be happy; Iglesias & Galicia; Que aproveche; Cremations; & A mug.

The Spanish president, Sr Rajoy, keeps on telling us that Spain is well over the worst and is soaring towards the bright uplands, the envy of Europe. But I'm not so sure. It seems I can't turn round in Pontevedra without finding another shop or café closed. Even healthfood places. One curious feature is that, in the centre, every closing shop seems to be immediately replaced by a flashy new high-street dental surgery. I confirmed this with my own dentist last week, who told me the number of practitioners here had more than doubled in recent years. Since all these are financed by private payments or health insurance schemes, it does rather suggest that some people are still doing OK. But ain't that always the way?

A propos this claim of Rajoy's, I saw a nice cartoon in a local paper yesterday: He is pictured saying there's light at the end of the tunnel and then receiving an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. Lovely.

I'm very aware of the Spanish need for bread. If you invite Spanish friends round for, say, a curry, they get twitchy if there's no bread on the table. Even if they're never going to eat it. So I wan't too surprised to see yesterday that the word bollo (bread roll) can mean 'gorgeous' or 'fit'. English, of course, uses 'crusty', though not with the same meaning. Or affection.

If you're looking to be happy - and who isn't - here are definitions of this state from 40 famous authors. After reading them, you'll be halfway there.

Enrique Iglesias has a new song out, inevitably promoted via a video featuring him and a host of scantily-dressed women. It's of particular interest to us up here in Galicia as the Xunta paid him €300,000 to use the video to promote the region. This he does for all of 40-50 seconds at the start, leaving many Galicians feeling they got poor value for their taxes. Anyway, here it is. And here's a parody. By the way - 35 seconds into the real one you can see (briefly) our humungus white elephant - the City of Culture outside Santiago. Which was an even bigger waste of money. By a long, long way.

As I was tucking into my Sunday lunch in a regular bar, a friend came up to me, smartphone in hand. "Seize!" he said. And when I looked nonplussed, he said it again. It turned out he'd put the phrase Que aproveche into his translation app and, instead of giving him 'Bon Appetit!', the phone had offered 'Seize'. This being one of the several translations of the verb aprovechar. As in Carpe diem, Seize the day. At least, that's my guess.

I suppose it's logical but, apart from the sardine, the chicken and the parrot, the other creature to be immolated along this coast at the end of the first week of lent is the mussel. This might be the case in Vigo, which you can't approach without seeing the mussel rafts (bateas) which adorn (and take advantage of) the plankton-rich waters of the harbour and, particularly, of the Rande straits. 

Finally . . . In the last few weeks, I've been buying the Sunday edition of the Voz de Galica so I could avail myself of their offer of mugs displaying Galician traits. The kiosk lady has been absolutely charming, recognising me each Sunday - I must look like a guiri - and selling me extra mugs that I'd asked about the first Sunday. I really only wanted 2 for my daughters but now I've got 12. So, does anyone want a Galician mug? Altogether too bloody charming!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Galician justice; Spanish labour; Spanish surnames; Correct handles; Marketing; Stripping; Junking; Chessing; & Burning

Here in Galicia, the regional government (the Xunta) is reducing the resources of the judge who's presiding over our largest corruption case. Again, one wonders why. And the phrase 'cat-skimming' leaps to mind. Not to mention the word 'blatant'.

I read a while ago that, before El Crisis, labour costs here in Spain where 50% more than in the USA. I never cited this as it sounded untrue. But yesterday I read that "In Spain, unit labour costs have come down from their absurdly inflated highs in 2007, when Spanish workers were effectively being paid three times as much as Germans per unit of output." My guess is that this speaks far more of low productivity than of high wages per se.

As most readers will know, the Spanish have 2 surnames - one from each parent. Simplification, it isn't, especially as it means kids will have different surnames from each of their parents. But, anyway, it happens that you can inherit the same name from each parent, as in Bill Smith Smith. It also happens that you inherit a double-barrelled name from one of your parents - as in Bill Addington-Smith Smith. Or two different double barrelled names - as in Bill Addington-Smith Brown-Smith. And it even happens that you inherit the same double barrelled name from each parent - as in Bill Addington-Smith Addington-Smith. Don't believe it? My neighbour's name is Jacobo García-Durán García-Durán. In practice he only uses one of the names, albeit twice. So he goes by the abbreviation of Jacobo Durán Durán. Yes, Duran Duran . . . I kid you not. What's in an accent?

You'll know that we don't call actresses 'actresses' any more; everyone's an 'actor'. And I see this morning that Joan Rivers wasn't a comedienne but a comedian. Even as an avowed feminist, I can't say I really understand this change. Presumably it's a function of political correctness. Which is not all wrong.

Talking of words . . . Reading a 19th century English novel last week, I noted that 'marketing' was used instead of 'shopping'. I've heard 'marketing' used frequently in the USA but this usage seems to have completely died out in the last 100 years in the UK. Very few there would know what an American visitor meant, if (s)he were to say: "Let's go do the marketing".

Still on words . . . The most common translation of 'striptease' in Spain is streptease. This is something else I don't understand, especially as (most of) the English pronunciation is retained (estrepteez). But at least it's not as bad as turning 'pub' into paf. For which no one has ever been able to give me an explanaton.

Down at Pontevedra's Sunday flea market yesterday, more than 50% of the wares were being sold from blankets on the ground and fitted the description 'jipsy junk'. Numbers were down on normal but this could have been because of the rain. If this floor-level growth continues, the normal traders will surely jack it in and the market will die. Of course, it's never been a real antique market but it's been a lot better than a junkyard. It'll be a shame to see it go and I'll miss my Sunday stroll around the tables. And the very occasional purchase of something which a seaman has brought home from the Far East.

For my friend Phil, here's an old joke I saw yesterday: Never play chess with a pigeon; it knocks over the pieces, craps on the board and struts around claiming it's won.

Finally . . . Despite the rain, the phoney funeral cortege and the real immolation of Ravachol took place last night. I missed the former and arrived late for the latter. Just in time to see the parrot's body disappearing and his head awaiting the flames . . . 

By the way . . .  I've (re)discovered that here in my barrio of Poio, it's not the usual sardine which is burned but a chicken. This is probably a play on the word pollo (chicken), which is pronounced, these days, the same way as Poio. Which is why I tell people I live in Chickenland. To their obvious consternation.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Ukraine; Greece; Picasso; Cholis; Speed limits; The Primera Liga; Carnaval; & Singing nuns.

The Ukraine: There are some who believe that the primary cause of this dangerous mess is the naive expansionist strategy of the EU. Click here for the views of one such commentator.

Greece: Madrid has taken a very strong line, supporting Germany's stance that there should be no debt relief and that the austerity strategy should be continued. This is not, of course, because the Spanish government really means this, though it just might. It's because - faced with the threat of a boost to the electoral chances of the new left-wing Podemos party - it's desperate to avoid any suggestion of success on the part of the left-wing Syriza government in Athens. It's even taken to publicising how much debt relief would cost each Spaniard. This, of course, is nothing compared to the amount per capital shelled out to incompetent/illegal banks.

Did you know that Picasso spent 3 years at an art school in La Coruña, between the years of 10 and 13? This, of course, is when he was painting in the normal mode of the day. But still displaying a precocious talent. If you're anywhere near the city near term, you might like to pop in and see an exhibition of his work there, covering not just his Coruña years but many thereafter. It's "the first to focus on the initial and intense artistic activity of the Andalusian adolescent."

I heard the word choli for the first time yesterday, in respect of British women. This turns out to be a woman who usually sports make-up which could be described as excessive, with a lot of colour, exaggeratedly painted lips, as with her nails, usually painted in vividly, in somewhat naff colours. She usually wears a track-suit, unzipped to show a lot of cleavage. She has a number of piercings - in the tongue and the lips, ears, eyebrows and wherever she thinks they look good, assuming there's any space left for them. When they go out to party, things get even worse, if at all possible, as they squeeze into the shortest, tightest dress possible, which they consider the height of elegance and good taste. Another observer added that cholis wear a lot of gold, Adidas trainers, have very long hair and eyes heavily outlined in black. So, if you're a British woman, you'll be pleased to know this is how at least some Spanish men see you. Blame the chavettes who go on cheap Spanish holidays and do outlandish things in Ibiza bars. Not to mention the British TV programs about British trash.

Apart from promising they'll tell us in advance where the mobile radars are, El Trafico says it's revising upwards the trigger point for their machines. This is after they (secretly) revised them downwards last year. As of now, the margin will be around 9% for speeds above 100kph. Below this, the margin will be 9km. For 20, 30, 40, 50 and 90 limits, this is 45%, 30%, 23%, 18%, and 10%. [Alfie: Please check these numbers.] I guess it makes sense to someone.

In his Sunday column in El País last Sunday, John Carlin sought to explain why overseas buyers are willing to pay 5 times as much for Premier League matches than for Primera Liga matches, even though the football is better in the latter. He felt it was because, with its full grounds and vociferous crowds, the English league was a much better spectacle than the Spanish league, with its half-empty grounds and placid crowds. Maybe, but it got me wondering. Are the Spanish crowds less impressive because of the Spanish aversion to 'association'. Or, putting it the normal way, the much observed Spanish 'individualism'. Just a thought.

Well, the rain held off yesterday and the Carnaval procession finally took place. Rio it wasn't but lots of people had put a great deal of effort into their floats and their costumes There seemed to be something of a Chinese flavour to the latter, possibly reflecting the stuff on sale in our several bazars. One new development, earlier in the week, was the chucking of eggs and flour by the youngsters of the town - usually at each other but occasionally at buildings and shop fronts. And much of what was thrown landed on the pavements. The residents and shopkeepers of the old quarter were not pleased but the council declined to do anything as the Carnaval was a time for the young people to enjoy themselves 'creatively'.

Finally . . . Here's just one of the fotos I took this week - of a group of men displaying the irreverent attitude to the Church which is a key feature of Carnaval.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Greece; Islam; Good News; Ponters problems; Las Fallas; & Dawn.

So the EU and Greece have (as expected) drawn back from the brink and reached a last-minute agreement. Possibly. If so, let's hope it lasts longer than the last EU deal - with Russia over the Ukraine. 

Stepping back from the detail for a minute . . . Could anyone have predicted this Greek crisis 20 years ago? Or 13 years ago, when the euro was introduced? Or only 5 years ago, when the EU was having its own existential crisis? Probably not. But, then again, there were those 20 years ago - in Britain and elsewhere - who warned that a one-currency-fits-all policy would prove unworkable, as it was a political not an economic project. More accurately an experiment. And one that ignored the differing natures of the various national economies. And then there's the fact that absolutely everyone now agrees that Greece lied about its stats and that everyone else knew this at the time. So, the country should never have been allowed to join the eurozone. All of which means the current debacle was possibly rather more predictable than we might think.

I was wondering yesterday whether some supreme authority in Islam (Sunni and/or Shiite) might do the world a bit of good by excommunicating Islamic terrorists such as those of ISIL, as it seems to be called this week. I suspected there might be a problem arising from the fact that neither sector of Islam appears to have a Pope-like figure of universal authority. And so it turns out to be. Here's the disappointing Wiki entry on this: "Excommunication does not exist in Islam. The nearest approximation is takfir, a declaration that an individual or group is kafir, a non-believer. This does not prevent an individual from taking part in any Islamic rite or ritual, and since the matter of whether a person is kafir is rather subjective, a declaration of takfir is generally considered null and void if the target refutes it or if the Islamic community in which he or she lives refuses to accept it. . . . Takfir is a highly contentious issue in Islam, primarily because there is no universally accepted authority in Islamic law. Indeed, according to classical commentators, the reverse seems to hold true, in that Muhammad reportedly equated the act of declaring someone a kafir itself to blasphemy if the accused individual maintained that he was a Muslim". So that door seems firmly shut.

Twenty years ago a well-known British journalist suggested that news programs should report good news as well as the traditional bad news. For this he was pilloried - and almost crucified - by his (cynical?) colleagues. The public, they said, is only interested in disasters and good news is no news. And we serve the public. Well, in the intervening years, attempts have been made (e. g. here and here) to provide news which which will give us a warm glow rather than a cold fear of imminent armageddon. And even The Huffington Post now has a Good News section. Perhaps it's all a reaction to the depressing impact of the ubiquitous 24 hour rolling-news channels. The 7th circle of Hell. Whatever the stimulus, it has to be a positive development.

The judge investigating the ex-Treasurer of the governing PP Party around illegal party financing and black payments to several key members of the Spanish government has lost come key files. Which should delay things rather. And possibly take us past the deadline for trying the (alleged) offences. Not that the Spanish courts seem to need above-normal reasons for slowing things down. But what a pleasant surprise this must have been for Sr Rajoy and his colleagues.

Pontevedra's procession of Carnaval floats was postponed for a second time yesterday - because of rain, of course - and might just take place tonight. And the immolation of Ravachol has been moved to tomorrow night. However good these events turn out to be, they'll be as naught compared to the Valencian Fallas of March. My friend David has sent me this video of the staggering celebrations, when (he says) the ground quakes beneath your feet. It's in English, by the way, but the translations sounds pretty literal to me. 

Finally . . . And then it dawned on me . . . I am a camera:-

Friday, February 20, 2015

Doulas; Judges and Politicos; Beery Vanesa; Pelaje; Sexting; Ponters station; & Our bins.

This is hard to believe but there's a group of women in Spain - called doulas - who - despite a lack of  qualifications - provide fee-based services to pregnant women. Needless to say, the country's nurses and midwives (matronas) are not too happy with this and are seeking to have them banned. They've even accused the doulas of promoting 'cannibalistic practices', i. e. encouraging the mothers to eat their own 'nutricious' placenta.

In Spain's dark world of its corporate-political-judicial nexus (la casta) there's a (very) occasional flash of light. Here's a report on one of these, opening with:- Bankers never go to jail. This is one of the unwritten new laws to which most of us have grown wearily accustomed in this new post-crisis reality. Also begrudgingly taken for granted is the fact that a banker’s fortune will never be seized or confiscated by the authorities; in today’s new Gilded Age a banker’s gains, whether ill-gotten or not, are his or hers until death do them part. However, nobody seems to have told any of this to Fernando Andreu.

The other thing that regularly astonishes us foreign observers is that politicians indicted for corruption refuse to leave their posts, as is happening down in Andalucia at the moment. Such chutzpah. And then there are those who are voted back into office while still in prison . . . .

Being more positive . . . Who'd have thought it? The Master Brewer at London's most central micro-brewery is a Spanish lady, called Vanesa de Blas Montoya. More here.

Today's Phrases
The Spanish for fur or animal coat is pelaje. It figures in these expressions:-
  • De todo pelaje: Of every kind
  • De distintas pelajes: Of different kinds
  • Tenía muy mal pelaje: He looked very suspicious
  • No me gusta nada el pelaje de esa gente: I don't like the look of them at all
  • Y otros de ese pelaje: And others of that ilk.

I have 2 wonderful daughters. Here's why I'm relieved they're not teenagers in the UK. Especially as I have no idea how I'd deal with the challenge.

Down at Pontevedra station, they're making their latest attempt to stop drivers parking where they shouldn't - zebra turds. Something I've not seen anywhere else. 

These may turn out to be more effective than the chevrons you can see below them but the only thing guaranteed is that, if you've dropped off someone with heavy luggage and want to then go into el parking, you have to exit the station concourse, negotiate a nearby roundabout, return to the station and then make a sharp right before stopping at the ticket dispenser. Unless you're 6 foot 3, you'll then find you can't reach the button and have to unclip you seat belt, open your door and lean out. Progress.

Finally . . .  The power of the pen. No sooner do I feature here the parlous state of our contenadores, than we're presented with an additional bin for plastics. Now we await one for our 'organics'. The green one.

Footnote: Yes, the second mention of 'sex' did also send the readership stats soaring. As this one might.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Ukraine; Racism?; Estate agents; Justice for some; Pamplona pomp; Chess 4 all; Happy Spanish; & Wallball.

You have to laugh. Or cry. Having failed to comply with last week's Minsk 2 Agreement, the Russians are now complaining that the Ukrainian President is ignoring it by calling for UN peace-keeping forces aimed at stopping the continuing fighting by Russia-aided rebel troops. I'm indebted to the Russian RT News channel for this information. Well, part of it.

There was an appalling incident earlier this week in Manchester at 5 in the morning. A drunken couple insulted two Spanish men and forced them off a bus. The female of the foul pair managed to contribute to this while holding a bag of chips in her left hand. The incident was shameful but was it, as the headlines suggested, 'racist'? Are the Spanish a discrete race? Or are we now conditioned to seeing all aggression as racism in one form or another?

It's always hard to feel sorry for them but Spain's estate agents were looking for a bumper 2015 and have now been knocked back by the rouble's decline. The Russian line in their budgets has had to be reduced or even eliminated. But there's still the ever-faithful British to rely one. It seems nothing can put them off, even reports of demolished houses and new tax measures aimed at forcing them to declare their assets back home. But we will see. Some town halls down south are reporting major reductions in the number of foreigners on their books and this might yet turn out to be an indication of growing disillusionment with Spain.

A thief who stole a valuable old book from Santiago cathedral - along with a million or two euros - has been sentenced to 10 years in clink. This is an unimaginable sentence for a politician who's pocketed hundreds of times more than this. Or even for a drug dealer. Does the Spanish justice system act on the same basis as the Tax Office - go for the easy ones? Grab the low-hanging fruit? It certainly looks like it.

Talking of corruption . . . The list of Spain's ludicrously expensive white elephants - ours is the City of Culture on the edge of Santiago - has now been augmented by Pamplona's spanking new sports facility. I can't say I understand why, but it seems this €58m construction will never be used. At least, not for the purpose for which it was planned. Perhaps it'll become an elephant house. It is, by the way, "a giant white cube, covered in 933 smaller illuminating cubes." And it will cost around €250k a year to maintain. And to keep a few people in pointless jobs. As with the redundant airport at Castellón.

Another mystery . . . As I understand it, it's illegal to warn another driver about a mobile radar patrol you've just passed. But now El Trafico have announced they're going to warn us themselves, as - pause for a laugh - they're not in the business of generating revenue.

But some positive news . . . Responding to the recommendation of some international body, the Spanish government is making chess compulsory in schools. The rationale is that this will improve both the mathematical and the linguistic skills of the pupils, who currently don't do terribly well in international tests.

More positive news . . . In an international assessment of which words in various languages sound most positive or 'happy', Spanish took the top slot. But some questions were raised about the result by the fact that Portuguese came in at no. 2.

Finally . . . There's something called Wallball played in Spain. I wondered whether this was similar to Fives or the Eton wall game but Wiki says it's a type of schoolyard game similar to butts up, aces-kings-queens, American handball and Chinese handball. Whatever these are. But, anyway, there's a European wallball championship and the sport appears to involve either 2 or 4 players, like squash. There's also a World Championship, scheduled for Calgary in September this year.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Spanish facts; Spanish expressions; Spanish coffee; Saudi women; & Readers.

Some Odd Spanish Facts:
  • Murcia accounts for more than 25% of drug hauls in Spain, which is disproportionate to its size. The head of the special Drugs and Organised Crime unit there has recently been sent to prison. so, one can only imagine what the percentage would have been if he hadn't been in charge.
  • Down near Toledo a couple of guys were recently nabbed doing a bit of bullfighting by moonlight - holding their own little corrida without the owner's permission. And risking the health of some very expensive animals. Not to say their own.

Some Spanish Expressions

1. Featuring the word leche (milk):
Estar de mala leche: To be in a bloody awful mood.
Tener mala leche: To be a complete bastard.
Esto es la leche!: This is the absolute limit!
Correr/trabajar a toda leche: To run/work like hell.
Estar con/Tener las leche en los labios: To be wet behind the ears.

2. Featuring the word uva (grape):
Estar de mala uva: To be in a bad mood.
Tener muy mala uva: To be a nasty piece of work.
Estar hecho una uva: To be as drunk as a lord.
Entrar por las uvas: To take the plunge.
Ir de uvas a peras: To change the subject for no reason.
De uvas a peras: Once in a blue moon.

I had a couple of visitors from Portugal yesterday, one of whom is a coffee entrepreneur. He surprised me with the comment that, though you might be able to get 42 different types of coffee here, the coffee supplied to the cafés and bars is of poor quality. This, he said, was not only the opinion of the Portuguese but also of the (even more expert) Italians. Since I never drink my coffee as café solo (or even cortado), this has clearly passed me by. Nor have I ever had any torrefacto, which is just as well as this, he says, is banned in Portugal for being injurious to health. Anyway, I've just done a bit of research and the first thing that came up was this article of a place in my daughter's street in Madrid which she loves. The owner explains why they don't serve torrefacto. I was a bit disturbed to find that, though I never buy this and never ask for it, most places in Spain serve a mixture of this and natural coffee in all their drinks. Hmm.

As you know, in Saudi Arabia women aren't allowed to drive, despite having been permitted to ride camels. Here's a video of a chap who thinks he has the (priceless) solution to this and to the risk of rape by their male drivers. And of the wonerful reaction of his (female) TV interviewer.

Finally . . . Readership of my blog yesterday was almost double the norm. I'd like to think this was because of the fotos of Ravachol but I fear it was really because it featured the word 'sex'. Logically, this would mean that today's gets the same readership but history suggests this won't happen. Beats me.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Nice earner; Spanish colour; Empty houses; Court comments; Shopping problems; Mr Brand; & Ravachol.

Throughout the ages, wise parental advice has been "Go where the money is". The ex-king's (German) mistress - 'Princess' Corinna - certainly seems to have taken it to heart. Reportedly, she arrived in Spain 10 years ago without much wealth and is now worth some €30m, having successfully helped to broker such deals as the AVE high-speed train for Saudi Arabia. Nice work if you can get. Which she can't, now that the king has no position or power. I almost feel sorry for her.

The Spanish language is rich in figurative expressions. I plan to bring them to your attention, as I meet them: One I read this weekend was: Te voy a poner mirando para/pa Cuenca. ('I'm going to put you looking at Cuenca'). For some reason, I thought this was a phrase appropriate for a couple in bed who'd had a row and one had moved to the other side of the bed and looked the other way. But a little research suggests (plausibly?) it stems from a phrase used by Felipe 1 of Castille to his wife, Juana The Mad, whenever he was about to take a courtesan up an observatory he'd had built. As it were. Nowadays, it seems to mean either '"We're going to have sex" or "We're going to have sex in a particular way/position". Spanish readers may be able to help us here . . .

In the UK, there's a severe housing shortage, helping to explain the almost constant rise in prices. Here in Spain, things are rather different. Nationwide, 14% of properties are said to lie empty but things can be much worse in the regions. Here in Galicia it's 19%, with Pontevedra province at 17%. My guess is that Pontevedra city is worse than this, given the number of flat blocks that were built in the boom. Or just started then and finished after the promotors, if not the constructors, had gone bust.

The true statement of the week, from someone at a court in Vigo: It's ugly and saddening when your own sister wants to set fire to you.

In another local court last week, the prosecution revealed the 'coded' language used by drug traffickers on the phone: For example: I want 500m of highest quality linen to make a tent. I wonder what that could have meant.

A couple of odd experiences down at the Carrefour supermarket last night. Firstly, I told the checkout girl - after a couple of seconds thinking about it - that she'd given me change for 20 euros when I'd only given her 15. "No" she said, "Look, it says on your receipt that you gave me 20". I felt unable to counter this specious logic and accepted my €5 bonus. Secondly, leaving the carpark (el parking) for the first time, I couldn't get my ticket to go into the machine. I tried several times, with 4 or 5 cars backing up behind me. Some of these were less patient than others. Then I noticed that the barrier was up and I realised the machine was different from any other I'd used and only read the ticket. I felt rather silly, of course, and almost went back to apologise to the driver at whom I'd levelled some choice Anglo Saxon.

Yesterday a friend offered to lend me a copy of Russell Brand's Revolution. I read a few pages and then turned to the Acknowledgements. There were at least 20 people who'd helped Mr Brand in one way or another, leaving me to wonder just what sort of inane dross he'd have been capable of without with their assistance and enforced discipline.

On a happier note . . . Sometimes you just have to give wider exposure to something ingenious.

Finally . . . . Here's Ravachol the parrot being introduced to everyone last night, prior to his immolation on Saturday night.

And here he is wearing a shirt that seems to be a protest against plans to build a crematorium on the edge of the old quarter, down by the river.

And here's a lovely little lady called Ana, who happily agreed to me taking her foto. Needless to say, perhaps, this sort of costume is never usually seen in this part of Spain, being more normal down in Sevilla. Where they wouldn't need the cardigan.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Beards; EU diplomat; King's kid; Judge Alaya; Jail exits; Testar; & Carnaval.

In all of British politics, there's scarcely a beard in sight. And none among members of the Government. In Spain, there are beards everywhere in politics. And even pigtails. My guess is it's something to do with the absence of a Reformation in Spain.

Well, there is an EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, after all. It's just that you've never heard of her. She's one Federica Mogherini of Italy. She may or may not have been present at the recent negotiations with Putin over Eastern Ukraine. But she is a lot better looking than the last (British) occupant of the post. Which is to say nothing, of course.

The Supreme Court decided a few weeks ago that there was not enough evidence to allow a paternity suit against the ex-king to proceed to a DNA test. So now the alleged daughter has appealed against this decision. And the king has appealed against her appeal. Or something like that. I'm willing to bet there's no chance the king will give a sample of anything. Presumably, he feels happy with what he gave (probably) 40 years ago. Final court decision in 3 weeks' time.

Talking of the Spanish courts . . . There's a judge called Mercedes Alaya. She's presiding, doggedly, over one of Spain's largest corruption trials. I admire her for at least 2 reasons: Firstly, as an an attractive and elegant women, she gets cameras thrust in her face every morning when she arrives at court. And yet she's never shown the slightest emotion, negative or positive. Secondly, for the 4th time, she's refusing to comply with the unwritten (and highly questionable) rule that a judge should suspend a 'politically sensitive' trial ahead of elections. A brave woman. But, anyway, here's a foto or five.

I've found a scrap of paper on which I've written this quotation. Don't know who, don't know when, but it's clearly a comment on the seeming incapacity of Spain's politico-judicial system to punish corrupt administrators: "A prisoner in jail feels a push towards the exit in direct proportion to his political, social and economic weight." Sorry if I've quoted it before.

I came across the verb testar yesterday, clearly meaning 'to test'. But the real meaning of this verb is 'to write a will'. Its arrival is clearly related to the use of test instead of prueba, ensayo, etc.. The Royal Academy is not at all happy about this English incursion when Spanish is perfectly adequate for any related meaning and one can sympathise with its august members. All they can do is a good imitation of Canute. BTW: there's also the alternative of testear for testar. Which at least takes it away from English a tad.

Finally . . . .Carnaval: Pontevedra's big parade of floats on Saturday was rained off and postponed until Friday next. The immolation of our parrot, Ravachol will take place on Saturday night. In truth, our our offerings are mediocre compared with those of elsewhere in Spain. Here's an idea of what you can see elsewhere, from ThinkSpain.

But even these pale against what's on show in Las Palmas, when 12 beauties vie for the title of Queen of the Carnaval.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Islamic splits; Similar gatherings; Hearing problems; Words; Cricket crowds; & Galician gin.

I listened yesterday to a Sunni guy who'd fled Pakistan for England because he and his Shiite wife had received death threats from their co-religionists. Co-sectists, to be more accurate. I fear it'll be more than a century before these God-fearing people can live peacefully together. Let alone with Christians.

Which reminds me . . . I saw 2 fotos of large gatherings this week. One was of people attending a conference in Saudi Arabia and the other was in the Vatican. In each case, there wasn't a woman in sight. This was a tad ironic as the Jeddah conference was on the very subject of these strange creatures. And it's quite possible they were on the agenda of the Vatican meeting as well. Another similarity was that everyone in both conferences was wearing strange headwear and clothes which were longer and more flowing than those normally associated with modern men. A third similarity was that all the attendees believed their decisions were guided, if not dictated, by God. Whether they shared the same prescriptive and judgmental God is open to debate. Whatever, they all looked distinctly last century. At the very least.

Because I was losing sound in the noisy stretches of my walks into and out of town, I bought some new earphones last week. The nice lady in the shop assured me that a pair with ear-cushions - technically headphones - were for both external and external use but, when I got home, my daughter laughed at me and said I looked ridiculous. I didn't bother to enquire why but the next day I told her I'd been pleased to see a chap come into the bar wearing a similar pair of headphones. "Was he a hipster?" she asked. "Yes", I replied." "There you go", she said. "Now you know why you look ridiculous".

New words. Sort of. The word paliza means 'a beating' but it's also used to mean someone who's a pain in the neck, e. g. who talks too much. So too is brasa, which literally means 'live coal'. Someone who overheats your brain. Possibly these idiomatic uses are more necessary in Spain than elsewhere.

Superfluous words: 'To manage on an ongoing basis' = 'To manage'. Ditto 'To manage going forward'. 

American readers might find it a tad hard to believe but there'll be a billion people watching a Cricket World Cup match between Pakistan and India today. And bloody excited about it they will be.

Finally . . . Get ready, topers, for NORDÉS Atlantic Galicia Gin. The small company that makes this fine drink - distilled from our famous albariño wine - has been bought by the Spanish company Osborne, which plans to launch it in 40 countries. Osborne is a company grown on the back of sherries, brandies and Port wine and, needless to say, was originally British. It's famous in Spain for the Osborne bull - the huge 'billboard' that adorns hilltops here.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Tyrants; The 7 Samurai; Corruption X-ray; Galician nosh; Ponters' Gypsies; & Murillo's art.

Notice what these dictators have in common?:-
  • Kim Jong Un 175cm/ 5ft 9
  • Pol Pot 175cm/ 5ft 9
  • Hitler 173cm/ 5ft 8
  • Putin 170cm/ 5ft 7
  • Mussolini 169cm/ 5ft 6½
  • Ceausescu 168/ 5ft 6
  • Napoleon 168cm/ 5ft 6
  • Stalin 165cm/ 5ft 5
  • Franco 163cm/ 5ft 4
  • Could it be they were compensating for something?
I wouldn't want to give the impression it's compulsory to be 'vertically challenged' to be a tyrant. There are, in fact, a few dictators who are/were tall:
  • Mao Tse Dung - 180cm/5ft 11
  • Mugabe 185cm/ 6ft 1
  • Idi Amin 193/ 6ft 4
It's Mugabe who surprises me; I always thought he was rather short. Perhaps it's all relative. 

Glancing at the reviews on IMDb of The Seven Samurai - my favourite film - I noted there were at least 50 pages of people rating it 9 or 10. So I jumped to the last page (57) to see if anyone had ever disliked this. And I found this: In my life, I have had the extreme misfortune to see some of the worst movies ever captured on film. I'm talking extreme bad, plot holes, no character development, nothing. Terrible movies which make you want to slowly pull your eyeballs out and tear your hair out of your head. None of them - NONE OF THEM - are nearly as terrible as this terrible piece of crap. THIS IS THE WORST MOVIE OF ALL TIME!!! Whoever directed this abomination should be ashamed of himself and his family should hide in shame for the rest of their existence. My first thought was this person would feel pretty stupid if he, too, saw there were hundreds of people giving it top marks. And then I realised he wouldn't. 

HT to my fellow blogger Lenox, of Business Over Tapas, who writes: "There are over 1,900 public figures accused in different cases of political corruption across Spain. A video called Radiografía de la Corrupción over at Irispress explains how Spain has come to this." Perhaps the most disturbing fact is the huge gap between the number of people convicted and those seriously punished. As opposed to being slapped on the wrist by being banned from office for a brief period. 

Phrases come and some phrases go. I wonder whether the currently popular "kick on" will make the grade. Or just fade away. My guess is the latter. 

When it comes to eating, Gallegos are decidedly conservative. But I might just have stumbled across the first Galician culinary invention in a long time - Mussel paté. Now, if I could just get them to make mackerel paté. Or even just eat mackerel and put it on a menu or two! Trouble is, they don't rate it at all. Meaning, though, that it's dirt cheap down in the fish market. 

Well, a couple of demolitions did take place in the gypsy encampment down the hill this week. And this happened, the papers say, without the usual game of cat-and-mouse. This was because the council offered the owners accommodation elsewhere, which might prove a good model for the other 40 illegal houses on the site. It has to be said, though, that there's a history of adverse reaction by folk already living in the blocks of flats to which gypsies are relocated. And allegations that taps, copper wires, floorboards, etc. have been stripped from the new homes. Which may or may not be true. 

Finally . . . This is a beautiful painting by the 17th century Spanish artist Murillo. It's of 2 Gallegas, so merits an appearance here for more than one reason.