Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The EU & Greece; The wages of sin; Islam; Spanish idiom; & Gossip.

The EU and Greece: What can one say? I'm certainly not going to repeat my long-held views that the EU will eventually collapse under the weight of its internal incongruities. And that it's always been a war-inspired political vision with little weight given to either democracy or, worse, real-world macroeconomics. So, leaving them aside, here and here are the coruscating views of two US economists. And, at the end of this post, there's an article from today's Times. Enough said.

You're not going to believe it but one of the highlights of living in an area rampant with drug smuggling is that, from time to time, the narcotraficos leave behind such unwanted baubles as helicopters or hyper-fast launches. I guess it reflects the profits to be made and it reminds me of the wine-makers in New Zealand who make so much dosh they can afford to hire choppers to hover over their vines in hot weather.

On British TV yesterday, the point was made that there's a Good Islam (the mainstream) and Bad Islam (Islamists such as ISIS). It reminded me I'd read the Koran - for the second time - about 10 years ago - and drawn this conclusion: The Koran is both inconsistent and ambiguous (even avowedly so at one point), so there is ample scope for GoodMuslims to come up with a tolerant, peace-loving religion and BadMuslims to come up with a hate-filled, violent, proselytising religion. Nice to find the rest of the commentariat catching up with me . . . .

Spanish: A new (to me) idiomatic phrase: Tener mono. Literally - 'To have monkey'. Means 'To crave'. As in Tiene mono de fama: 'He/she craves fame'.

Finally . . .In a lovely book about a year in the life of England's 14th century poet, Chaucer, author Paul Strohm gives the origin of the word 'gossip'. It derives, he says, from the phrase god-sib/god-sibling, or good friend. I see no reason to disbelieve him

The dream of closer union is melting away: Ed Conway. The Times.

The euro’s founders believed it would supplant the dollar as a reserve currency and knit Europe together. It has failed at both.

In more than a decade of reporting on the euro, I can’t recall anything like the scene in the press room of the European Council building on Saturday. One journalist was in tears; another was swearing down his phone; others just walked around in a daze. An EU official, her voice cracking with emotion, said her devastation was on the same scale as the euphoria she felt the day the Berlin Wall came down.

One can understand why: June 27 is now widely regarded as the day the euro died. Certainly, it was the moment Greece was cut loose and effectively expelled from the eurogroup, which became the first major European forum to meet intentionally without one of its members. This may indeed be the beginning of the end of the euro, but if Saturday marked the rupture, there is a case for saying the currency’s fate was set in stone five days earlier, on Monday last week.

For whatever happens to Greece in the coming weeks, the bigger question is what its travails imply for the rest of the eurozone. If the single currency is no longer irreversible, what is to stop speculators betting on a Spanish or Italian departure the next time there is a fiscal crisis? Granted, there was less contagion in European debt markets yesterday than some had feared: after a brief spike, Italian and Spanish bond yields — a barometer of sovereign debt stress — settled barely a fraction of a percentage point higher. Some suspect that the European Central Bank may be deploying calming countermeasures behind the scenes.

But such emergency measures will not ensure the euro’s long-term survival. If it has a future, it is as a fully functioning currency with a fiscal union, shared debt and a truly common market, with money and people able to move from country to country at will. And that is where last Monday comes in.

Though it was barely reported at the time, that was when Jean-Claude Juncker issued Brussels’ blueprint for the future of the euro. The subtitle of the five presidents’ report, as it was named (after the heads of the commission, the parliament, the council, the ECB and the eurogroup), was: “Completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union”.

In its 24 pages you’ll find many familiar buzzphrases (the euro is “like a house that was built over decades but only partially finished . . . It is now high time to reinforce its foundations”) and some bold-sounding plans, including a “euro area treasury”, a common banking deposit insurance scheme and a European fiscal watchdog similar to Britain’s Office for Budget Responsibility. Were you in any doubt that this is intended as the euro’s best bulwark against a Greek departure, look no further than the date it all comes into force: tomorrow, the day after Greece’s bailout is due to expire.

The problem is, it’s frankly not all that ambitious. Gone are the plans for mutualising the continent’s debt; gone is the idea of supranational bank deposit insurance; gone is the notion of treaty change to bring about a genuine two-speed European Union (much to David Cameron’s chagrin). As is often the case in Europe, the bold language is only a façade, masking squabbling and pusillanimity beneath the surface.

Like it or not, over the past three years (the last analogous report was written in 2012) Europe has become markedly less committed to deeper union. For further evidence, you need only recall the row over dinner at the European Council last Thursday, as leaders failed to agree a plan to resettle 40,000 asylum seekers from north Africa.

Tempting as it is to view this as the disintegration of the European dream, it is more likely just evidence of another phenomenon we see all over the world — a retreat from internationalism. The EU is not the only multilateral institution facing decay; consider the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation, to take just three. Yesterday, George Osborne signed the articles of agreement setting up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, China’s answer to the World Bank. It may well end up lending Greece money if it slides out of the euro.

The reality is that the euro was a dream borne out of a world that no longer exists. It was a response to the collapse of the postwar Bretton Woods system, a currency devised to challenge the dollar’s supremacy as the world’s reserve currency. It was designed to constrain Berlin’s dominance of the continent and to knit its warmongering nations closer together. Today the dollar remains the world’s reserve currency and, as recent years have shown, Berlin dominates Europe more than ever.

When the euro coins and notes were launched in 2002, Wim Duisenberg, then the ECB president, declared that it was “the first currency that has not only severed its link to gold but also its link to the nation-state”.

However, as the Greek crisis has shown, the euro has done anything but. All it did was to round up a ragtag bunch of nations — some fiscally sensible, some routinely inclined to deficits and devaluations — and strap them in the straitjacket of monetary union. Now, in its first major test, nation statehood has reasserted itself, in the form of Greece’s referendum.

Far more prescient than Duisenberg was another of the euro’s progenitors, the former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt. In late 2010 he predicted that within 20 years the euro’s membership would have been whittled down to a “hard core” of France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Unless this crisis forces the euro’s members to really embrace the fiscal union that they’ve been rabbiting on about for so long, one suspects he will be proved right.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sp. pop.; Barons & elections; Spanglish; Menu item; & My bougainvillea.

Spain's population fell for the 3rd year running in 2014. But only by 72,335. As of January this year, the population is now 46.4m, still way up on the 44m of the pre-Bum years.

In the UK, a Prime Minister may or may not have problems with 'Big Beasts' in his cabinet. Think Michael Heseltine, Ken Clarke and, of course, Gordon Brown. Here in Spain, it's the Regional Barons that the President has to worry about. They feature regularly in the media and it's reported that many of them are now pressuring for general elections before the end of the year. Presumably, they fear the new parties will be even stronger by then. Will the ever-cautious Sr Rajoy take a decision on this? Unlikely.

Spanglish: El off. As in: En el 'off' los actores se autoconvocan para llevar adelante una obra. Or Hablar en off. Off-stage, apparently. This appears to be the only time Spanish will eschew syllables - Take and English word or expression and shorten it. Impressive.

Which reminds me . . . Another restaurant in Pontevedra has translated its menu into English. With the usual results. Just one example from many: The Spanish Virutas de jamón (slices of jamón) is given as 'Shaving of Hum'. Not even 'cured Hum'.

Tomorrow, as you'll know, is 30 June, the deadline for submission of my 2014 tax return. The fine for being late is probably around a million euros, given how the Tax Office operates with the low hanging fruit it knows about. So, I started on my submission this weekend and hope to finish it today. Time being short, this is why I'm ending with a foto of the lovely bougainvillea at the back of my house. 

Incidentally, the Virginia creeper next to it has now reached the roof and yesterday entered my study through an open window. 3 or 4 years ago, I nearly uprooted it, fearing it was a weed. I wonder if I'll regret not doing so.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Govt. papers; House demolitions; Sp. idioms & words; & Neighbourly nonsense.

While others open up their confidential papers after 30-50 years, the Spanish government says it's not a priority to do this for stuff written during the civil war. The excuse is that, in these constrained times, it's not a priority and they don't have the resources. Which is plausible but possibly not the real reason for a right-of-centre party to hold back. Pending a change of heart under a different administration, Spanish historians will continue to have to do their research based on papers in other countries.

After years of back and forth between sensible and ridiculous decisions in courts at local, regional and national level, the Senate has now decided that folks whose homes face demolition will be compensated if they bought in good faith and were tricked by local estate agents, developers, builders, planning officers, lawyers and/or notaries. Perhaps someone has finally noticed how much attention this state of affairs was getting in the foreign media and decided to take a longer term view of things. Anyway, it's a good step and we now wait to see whether the garage-dwelling Priors - and others - actually get any cash.

A nice bit of idiomatic Spanish:-
Wife: Cariño, no puedo dormir.
Husband: Y te jodía que yo si?

'Darling, I can't sleep.'
'And it pissed you off that I could?' [Literally, "It fucked you that I could? But that's Spanish for you. Robust.]

And another idiom: Caer de pied'To fall on one's feet' . A very useful little word, de.

Talking of Spanish words . . . I noted magacín yesterday. This seems to be a modish subsitute for revista, the standard word for, of course, 'magazine'. No wonder purists get annoyed at such unnecessary Anglo intrusions. Of which there are many more. Though the Royal Academy claims this one is from the French magasin. Something rendered doubtful by the pronunciation.

Finally . . . My lovely neighbour, Esther, came round yesterday afternoon and insisted on tidying up my side of a hedge we share, stripping it of dead strands of a climbing plant/weed. I told her she was mad and she should leave it for me to do. She averred she simply felt the need to do it but it emerged she's having some sort of tea-party this afternoon, which probably explained the 2 people at work in her garden when I came home at 10.30 last night. I suspect this is the sort of thing you can easily arrange when you're Presidenta of a community. I'm now working on ways to embarrass her tonight.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Decisive Rajoy; Banking Spanish-style; Hateful Spain; & Scotland.

Indecisive President Rajoy apparently can't even decide to be indecisive. Three days after he announced he didn't intend to make any further changes to his cabinet, he's summarily replaced his most unpopular minister, the one with the Education, Sports and Culture portfolio. The question remaining is whether his number 2 - coincidentally also his fiancée - will now go as well. Just before their wedding.

My bank was recently taken over by another. This has meant a great deal of paper-shuffling, letter-receiving, form-filling, (expired) ID-producing, photocopying, signature-giving and, of course, confusion-generating. Not to mention an inability to follow my instructions. So, having visited my former bank 2 days ago, yesterday I visited my new bank, where (inescapable) face-to-face discussion with a charming young lady finally got things together. Though I still don't know which of my old cards will function next week. As I said last week, it's one thing being retired here and having the time to do all this and it's another being at work and trying to do it by phone.

By the way . . . If you're used to the sparse banks of the UK - where just about everything is done by phone or the internet - you'd be shocked to see the 12 desks that dot the lobby of my bank - to deal with customers who wander in off the street with no appointment. All part of the (expensive) personal service that many Spaniards still demand. Especially if they can't use the internet.

I cited, the other day, the views of the chap who said he hated Spain. I demurred with his perspectives but I forgot to mention that it was surely relevant he lived in one of those parts of Spain which have been ruined by tourism and an influx of criminals. Here in Galicia, we only get tourists in July and August and they're 95% Spanish, fleeing the heat elsewhere. They don't vomit in the streets and they pay the same (low) tips as we do. So, the lesson is clear: if you want to speak English and eat "Good English Food" at 6pm, there's a real risk you'll end up hating Spain. But, as I say here, it won't really be Spain. And I'd hate it as well.

Finally . . . If you've any interest in Scotland, here's an article discussing what the Nats have (or haven't) done there since they came to power.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Spanish media; Homes and the homeless; Economic growth; A considerate cleric; A Poio saint; & Pirate Drake

The Spanish press is reported to be the least believed in Europe. I wonder why this is. Maybe it's the obvious government control of the public TV channels. And the recognition that old habits die hard.

A shocking statistic - Spain is said to have nearly a third of all empty homes in Europe. And another one - The government says there are now 3.4 million empty homes in Spain. Apart from speculative building during the boom years, this reflects multitudinous evictions by banks who have rights and powers long taken from their counterparts in other countries. Spain, as they say, is different.

Meanwhile, the Bank of Spain says the economy will grow by 3.1% this year, making the rich even richer. Nonetheless, the Spanish are not yet revolting.

I was taken aback today when someone not only seemed to be aware we were going to bump into each other but actually took measures to avoid this. But, then, he was a priest and, so, possibly used to thinking of others.

It wasn't only Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón)who was born right here in Poio. It was also the 7th century birthplace of Santa Trahamunda. Sadly, information on her is only available in Spanish, here. Or here, if you read Gallego. Coming from Galicia, it's only natural she should be the patron saint of nostalgia (morriña). Legend has it she was taken from a convent on Tambo island by visiting Moors (on a day trip from Santiago) and imprisoned for 11 years after refusing to convert to Islam and to join a Granada harem. Finally fed up with this, she prayed for help in getting home to Poio and was taken back there on a palm branch handed to her by an angel. She planted this - the branch, not the angel - near our monastery, where it lasted several hundred years.

Incidentally, and finally, . . . Francis Drake (Draké) also visited the Isla de Tambo, in 1589, and - as he was wont to do - destroyed its church, irreligiously chucking a statue of the Virgin into the sea. Fortunately, it rose from there of its own accord and placed itself back on the altar. Around which the church was rebuilt. No, we certainly don't want for legends in Poio. Though some spoilsports say the statue was caught in the nets of fishermen.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Bulls; Bears; Puppies; Drugs: Hateful Spain; & Facebook.

24 steps forward and 24 backwards: 3 or 4 years ago, the Basque city of San Sebastian banned bullfighting but the new council says they'll be bringing it back. Elsewhere, though, new left-of-centre councils say they'll be taking measure to ban it or at least reduce the cash that goes to it. So, is this the beginning of the end of the institution? I very much doubt it. Come back in 50 years. Meanwhile, more on this here at The Telegraph.

More animals . . . Driving through the night in Galicia, a chap suddenly found a brown bear running along in front of his car. Naturally, he filmed it on his camera. For which he now should be fined, of course. For taking one hand off the wheel. Like the chap who was recently done for biting his nails. And some future victim who twiddles a radio knob. Or taps his satnav. Or eats a sandwich. Etc., etc.

Even more animals . . . The police have arrested a vet for trafficking drugs (liquid heroin) by 'implanting' them in puppies. The vet is Venezuelan but I won't tell you which region he lives in.

Which reminds me . . . When I mentioned to some recent visitors that part of Pontevedra's wealth came from the drug smuggling rife along our coast, they expressed some surprise. But, then, money-laundering isn't very visible and not many visitors get to see the multi-engined launches arriving in our numerous coves. 

Whether you love or hate a place is always a reflection of your personal net balance. You might not believe it but I'm very much at the Love end of the spectrum. But here's an essay from a chap at the Hate end. I recognise all he cites and there are more than a few grains of truth. That said, I wonder how much Spanish he speaks and I believe his view displays the significant difference between coming here to work and moving here to retire. HT to Lenox at Business Over Tapas for this.

Finally . . . Someone has opined that Facebook is "a ridiculous site, populated with cretinous, exhibitionist, superficial pretenders." As someone who uses it quite a lot, I'd say that's about right.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The N word; Fishy biz; Kiddy kamikazes; & Another loss, and some compensation.

Madness? On the BBC News yesterday there was reference to an Obama comment on race problems in the USA. His speech was shown on the screen, featuring the word 'nigger' but, when Obama was shown actually saying this, it was bleeped out. So, only the blind and the illiterate were saved from knowing he'd spoken the dread word. Perhaps it was the decision of a machine and not a person with a brain.

A Spanish company is alleged to have indulged in massive fraud in respect of the Antarctic toothfish. Which, would you believe, is marketed as Chilean Sea Bass. Well, if you can sell percebes, you can sell anything. There are no prizes for guessing which of Spain's regions the allegedly criminal family resides in. We're not just drug runners up here.

As if it wasn't bad enough having to dodge the bloody adult cyclists in Pontevedra's pedestrian areas, a company has opened on Plaza España, hiring out 'karts' of 1 to 6 seats to kids who can then race around the pavements with total disregard for everyone else. When I read yesterday that someone had neglected to return one of their karts, I wasn't exactly sympathetic. Even less so when I read they'd fallen for the "I've lost my ID" trick. Here's wishing them many more.

Finally . . . I realised yesterday I'd lost another item in my recent burglary - a silver thimble. You might think this was too trivial to worry about but this was special for 2 reasons. First, it used to be my grandfather's, and secondly it was several times larger than a normal thimble and contained the ironic legend: Just a thimble-full. Which was rather appropriate as he ran a pub in Birkenhead, near the entrance to the Mersey tunnel. Worst of all, it looked like this one priced at 325 quid. And I can't face another visit to the Guardia Civil to make a 4th amendment to my original denuncia. Especially as the insurance company is sure to quibble.

But I had a great noche de San Juan in Caldas de Reis last night, care of the group of Brit 'pilgrims' I met on Monday. Even if we did over-order the T-bone steaks.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Stupid tuits; Good Spanish; Village names; Pontevedra's old quarter; & Taylor who??

Writing in El País yesterday, the estimable John Carlin wrote about the severe penalty to be paid these days for injudicious tweets (tuits in Spanish). "The social networks" he says "can be a weapon of mass destruction for people's reputations." Thank God, then, that I never write anything false, wrong or stupid.

Incidentally, Carlin is bi-lingual in English and Spanish and his articles in the latter are always noticeably easier to read than those of his El País colleagues. This is surely because his sentences are structured on the basis of English syntax. See here if you want to check this out. Or check out this, for those who don't approve of split infinitives.

Here's another example of this contention - an article originally written in English and then translated into Spanish. It lacks what we might call the floweriness of the latter, again making it easier to read. Shorter sentences being one reason. 

We have one or two strange village names around here - my favourite being Gatomorto, or 'Deadcat' - but nothing as odd as Castrillo Matajudios - or Little Hill Kill the Jews - down in Burgos province. Perhaps not surprisingly, after a mere 400 years, they've decided to change their name to Castrillo Motajudios. More here.

I gave a group of Brit 'pilgrims' a tour of Pontevedra's gem of an old quarter yesterday. Given they'd been up at 4.30 to avoid the heat, it wasn't too surprising that 1 or 2 of them were almost out on their feet as we set out. And prone after we'd finished. I enjoy giving these spontaneous tours but am, as they say, conflicted. I want people to see the best of Pontevedra but I don't want its secrets too exposed, resulting in more tourists. It's one of the joys of the place that - unlike Santiago - we don't have droves of these.

Finally . . . Should I be ashamed - or at least embarrassed - that I've never heard a song by the artist - Taylor Swift - who's forced the mighty Apple to make a swift(!) climb-down over not paying royalties to performers? Whatever, I'm sure she's not remotely worried about it.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Rajoy's balls; The Spanish economy; Hi temps; Our flea market; & Italish(?)

My friend Dwight has pointed out that President Rajoy's lack of cojones when it comes to sacking people goes way back to his days as the president of the Pontevedra provincial government. Which rather questions his rise up the greasy pole.

Spain's economy will grow at around an impressive 3% this year, they say. But this macro achievement isn't yet trickling down to the person in the street. Least of all to the 24% of the working population which is still unemployed. The Guardian says that Spain is "still mired in a period of transition". Which sounds about right. More here.

The last few days have seen temperatures here in Pontevedra of 30-33 degrees, which is more than we Gallegos can happily stand. One result has been the widespread wearing of shorts de tiro alto and shorts vaqueros, or what we'd call 'short shorts' and 'denim shorts' in English. Another has been the virtual desertion of the city for the beach over the weekend.

I mentioned that traditional stallholders were losing out to both old and new (Romanian?) gypsies in our Sunday flea-market. This probably explains the notice I saw there today, advising that the following were prohibited from sale:-
  • Clothing
  • Footwear
  • Material
  • Lace and the like
  • Etc. . . . Plastic toys
  • Copies of perfume, cologne and the like
  • Any product which, for its origin or any other reason, is not permitted to be sold.

I wonder at whom this can be directed. Which reminds me . . . Every week, after the market has wrapped up, the nearby bins are raided for the utter rubbish which some traders have chucked away. The lowest of the low, I guess. Or the poorest of the poor. Perhaps this will soon stop, as things go back to how they were. If they ever do. For there was no indication that the notices had been posted by anyone other than the traditional traders. Which would explain why they were ignored today.

Finally . . . It's not only the French and Spanish Academies which are trying to halt the invasion of English. As this Times article shows, the Italians are also at it. 

Incidentally, A Greek politician on the British news this morning showed it's not only the Spanish and the French who find it impossible to distinguish between 'make' and 'do'. The culprit, of course, is Latin, where one verb did the work of two.

Italians resist an English invasion

They have long complained about the British taking over every inch of the Tuscan hillsides but Italians may have been distracted from attacks on another front.

Guardians of the Italian language, working to update and improve it since 1612, are convinced that the language of love faces its greatest ever danger.

As right-wing Italian politicians bemoan the arrival of Eritrean, Syrian and Nigerian migrants, the sober and suited experts of the Accademia della Crusca are more concerned about turning back the tide of English words destroying beautifully constructed sentences. Words like ‘management’ and ‘slot machine’, for example.

“The thing that really gets me is when Italians on Tripadvisor use the English word ‘location’ to refer to a place,” said Claudio Marazzini, the head of the academy. “My first reaction is to laugh, my second thought is to act.”

Mr Marazzini and the linguistic elite have decided enough is enough. They will tomorrow hold an emergency summit to halt an invasion they claim threatens the foundations of culture. “We will set up a quick-response commission to go after politicians, bureaucrats and journalists who bring English words into our language, so we can hand them Italian equivalents to use instead,” said Mr Marazzini. “It’s too late to do something about ‘car sharing’, but we need to find Italian words in a hurry for ‘quantitative easing’.”

Experts tracking newly arrived English words are now struggling to keep up, as Italians looking for saucy underwear head for “Il sexy shop”, mafia godfathers are called “il boss”, a football manager is “un mister”, talent shows are “i talent”, reality shows are “i reality”, a TV drama is “una fiction”, and people go online to “twittare”, while politicians gather in parliament for “question time”.

In a rearguard effort earlier this year, 70,000 Italians signed a petition demanding an end to the trend after the Italian navy chose the recruitment slogan “Be cool and join the navy” and the mayor of Rome launched a new motto, “Rome and you”, for the city. In Milan, the decision to promote the city’s Expo with the slogan ‘Very bello’ drew catcalls.

“The success of English is shocking,” wrote Gilda Rogato, an Italian academic. “When Julius Caesar landed in Britain around 2,000 years ago, English did not exist. When the Normans invaded, it became the dialect of uncouth servants, making way for French. Now it’s the language of the planet.”
Linguists single out Matteo Renzi, Italy’s prime minister, for helping the invasion after he named his labour legislation the “Jobs Act” and promoted his “Spending review”. His spoken English, however, leaves much to be desired, as shown in last week’s encounter with David Cameron, when he appeared to say “It’s a really, really, really pleasure.”

According to Gianluigi Beccaria, the linguist and author, Italians who struggle in English but drop English phrases into conversion display a mixture of “snobbery and provincialism”. “It’s considered fashionable, but the French and Spanish do it a lot less,” he said.

The phenomenon of English taking over the Italian language has also been noted by The Oldie, which this week carries an article from an amused English expatriate.

“Today a route that takes you past the Green Life Bio Concept Store, Lele’s barber’s shop, the farmer’s market, the Tech It Easy gift emporium, a bank offering personal finance, and a sexy shop offering sexy toys brings you not to Willesden High Street, as you might expect, but to the Colosseum,” the article remarked.

Renata Grieco, an English teacher in Rome, claimed it was a two-way street, blaming the English for perpetuating the problem with the constant use of Italian words in everyday sentences. “Why do trendy English people talk about having a gelato or a biscotto when they could just say ice cream and biscuits?” she said.

Experts say they are happy to accept English words when no Italian exists, particularly high technology and finance, where the Italian equivalent of “holding company” is the ungainly “financial company that controls more than one firm”. But English has also invaded the fashion industry — a bastion of Italian culture — so Italians go looking for a “look” that is “molto fashion” when they indulge in “lo shopping”.

The familiar words:-
Box — a garage for one car
Bomber — a football centre forward
Baby parking — a crèche
Ticket — a payment for medicine
Mobbing — workplace bullying
Smoking — a dinner jacket
Footing — jogging

The last 3 of these are shared with Spanish. But a Box here is where you wash your car. And a Ticket (tiké) is a receipt.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Cabinet changes; Those Funny Spanish; Galician pop.; Beggars; Columbus; & Waterloo.

Some weeks ago, President Rajoy sparked terror in the hearts of his cabinet by advising that, following poor election results, there'd be changes in early summer. These were announced this week and it turned out to be not so much The Night of the Long Knives as The Night of the Tiny Penknife. No one senior lost his/her post and the changes were, to say the least, minor. We probably should have expected this from the unimpressive, indecisive Rajoy. Who, unfortunately, fits the Galician stereotype held by other Spaniards.

Talking of which . . .

Those Funny Spanish: 8
  • They don't have a real MP, with local links. They vote for a party, which then parachutes in someone they don't know, to 'represent' them.
  • Not being terribly punctual themselves, they don't expect anyone else to display this virtue.
  • They swear like troupers and many of their swearwords are disrespectful - to say the least - to Catholic beliefs and symbols.
  • They have chicas to do almost everything around the house and can't understand why the British, for example, don't.
  • They love humour and are a very appreciative audience.
  • They can nearly all play the guitar brilliantly.
  • They have about a hundred words for 'whore'. The male equivalent of each of these normally means something similar to 'likeable rogue'.
  • They say "Yes, I will certainly come to your party" when they really mean "OK, unless I get a better offer between now and then."

Galicia lost 2,300 residents last year, when the outgoing 30,200 exceeded the incoming of 27,900. At this rate, I may be the only person here in 30 years' time.

Pontevedra's beggars are ever more numerous. One every 10 minutes, I calculated the other night. Apart from the 5-10 regulars, they seem to form a shifting population of down-at-heels, many of whom are skinny enough to be drug addicts. This has led me to wonder whether there isn't an agency - Beggars-R-Us? - which sends them from town to town in some sort of rotation. Incidentally, the least intrusive category of beggars is the well-dressed middle-aged man (and, occasionally, woman) who sits on a shop step, with a placard in front of him, saying nothing. I have seen members of this group in both Pontevedra and Vigo. Come to think of it, I was in Vigo on Friday night but I didn't see a single beggar meandering through either the outdoor tables or the teenage throng celebrating the last day of term. An illusion?

As you know, Christopher Columbus (Crístobal Colón) was born in my barrio of Poio, across the river from Pontevedra, where one of this ships (the Santa Maria) was built. And originally named La Gallega. His return to Poio was celebrated this week but, sadly, I again missed it and so have no fotos. Next year, I hope.

Finally . . . It's reported that many of the people attending the Battle of Waterloo 200 year anniversary commemoration are under the illusion that Napoleon won it. As perhaps he might if he hadn't had to leave the field for several hours because of a nasty bout of hemorrhoids. All that strutting about on a horse, I guess. Anyway, it seems the petty Brussels bureaucrats (is there any other sort?) have not been too kind to the folk commemorating the battle. The Duke of Wellington was stopped from walking up the battlefield monument and Napoleon had his car towed away. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Right wing rhetoric; Counsellor crime; T-Shirts; & Comical colons.

Yesterday I quoted some right-wing rhetoric from the troubled 1930s. Here's some from only yesterday, courtesy of the spokesman of the PP party in Congress: Podemos has nothing to do with social democracy. They're old-style communists, trained in Marxist-Leninism, with Venezuelan ideologues as their reference, and financed with Iranian money. I expect the evidence will be coming along soon.

A just-elected counsellor who stupidly put some tendentious jokes on the internet has been forced to resign. If only he'd merely plundered the city coffers, nothing would have happened. So he deserves to go, for poor judgement.

Recent T-shirt sightings:-
  • I'm not perfect
  • Follow your dreams
Finally . . . For one reason and another, I'm short of Spanish material today. So here - with a HT to my friend Jennie - is a list of patient comments made to doctors performing a colonoscopy on them. If you don't know what this is, you're very lucky. And probably pretty young. Your time will come:
  • 'Take it easy, Doc. You're boldly going where no man has gone before!' 
  • 'Did you find Amelia Earhart yet?' 
  • 'Can you hear me NOW?' 
  • 'Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?' 
  • 'You know, in Arkansas, we're now legally married.' 
  • 'Any sign of the trapped miners, Chief?' 
  • 'You put your left hand in, you take your left hand out....' 
  • 'Hey! Now I know how a Muppet feels!' 
  • 'If your hand doesn't fit, you must quit!' 
  • 'Hey Doc, let me know if you find my dignity.' 
  • 'You used to be an executive at Enron, didn't you?'
  • 'Could you write a note for my wife saying that my head is not up there?'
This list is shamelessly lifted from an article by Dave Barry in, of course, The Colonoscopy Journal. A favourite of mine. It arrives, of course, in a bum wrap.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Spanish history; & My Mac.

Writing in 1976, the historian Raymond Carr asked whether a new democratic Spain would "inherit the weakness of politics in Spain from the Second Republic [1931-36] through to the opposition to Franco, namely: the incapacity to cooperate; the penchant for factionalism". "Wherever three Spaniards are gathered together," said Carr, "two political parties are formed." Well, until recently, one might have been right to say that the PP-PSOE hegemony had seen an end to this but the recent eruption of new parties on both the Left and the Right might argue otherwise. Up here in Galicia, we have the example of the Galician Nationalist Bloc, which is a broad church of many constituent parts. Though fewer than before, after a split in 2012.

A few more points from Carr:
  • Spain lost her empire [to the USA in 1898], at the very time other powers were staking claims to colonies. This must surely have increased Spain's already immense sense of loss.
  • In 1896, Joaquín Costa declared that "Spain must no longer be ruled by those who ought to be behind bars, in lunatic asylums, or on a school bench." This remains an aspiration of Podemos, Ciudadanos and the other new parties.
  • The political thinking of Primo de Rivera [dictator: 1923-31] was primitive, personal and naive. Unpatriotic professional politicians had destroyed Spain; a patriotic amateur would restore her. Thank God there are no more amateurs in Spanish politics. Other than President Rajoy, of course.
  • Per Sr de Rivera: "Doctrines of individual rights are the arabesques of unemployed intellectuals." Have things changed?
  • In 1933, after 2 years of a left-wing government, the right-wing politician, Gil Robles told his supporters: "We must impose our will with all the force of our rightness, and with other forces, if this is insufficient. The cowardice of the Right has allowed those who come from the cesspools of iniquity to take control of the destinies of the Fatherland." They don't make speeches like this anymore.
Finally . . . I need a new battery for my Mac. Apple in Vigo quoted me €150. My local IT guy quoted me €67. When I asked if this included fitting it, he said he wouldn't charge me for this. I suspect Apple will stay in business longer. Sadly.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Spain's unions; Fine local dining; Reviews; Human evolution; & An encomium.

Spain has 2 large trade unions - UGT and CCOO. The ABC newspaper tells us they have around 10,000 people employed to do nothing more than union chores. This wouldn't matter if their salaries were paid by the unions but, in fact, they're financed by public funds. Nice work if you can get get. And probably guaranteed for life.

Britain's Financial Times given us a list of the 5 best family-run restaurants in Spain. A little to my surprise, this includes one in my barrio of Poio, across the river from Pontevedra. It is, of course, the sort of place where you get amuse-bouches between courses. And a huge bill. Someone has to pay for the promotion.

Sitting outside my favourite tapas bar/restaurant, I regularly see people stop and tap something into their smartphone. My guess is it's the name of the place and they're checking reviews on TripAdvisor or the like. Is this really the way to do it? If you can't get informed local advice, I guess it is. Meaning there's a premium on good reviews, written by the owners and friends.

Which reminds me . . . Sitting on the other side of the aisle from 2 young women on the train on Tuesday, and observing their silent smartphone activity during the entire 30 minute journey, I wondered whether a new primate was evolving - the 2-thumbed ape. No fingers, just 2 highly flexible and sensitive thumbs. And with no power of verbal communication.

Finally . . . Very nice to see this tribute to Steven Gerrard of Liverpool FC in one of the Spanish papers: A noble player in a world - that of the football elite - where there's less and less nobility.

Finally, finally . . . My internet download speed achieved its historic low of 0.2megas yesterday. Roll on cable.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The marriagable Mrs Preysler; Traffic fines; Jews and Muslims; RT TV; & Two vignettes.

Isabel Preysler is a staple of Spain't celebrity media, especially since she's had 3 (wealthy) husbands and is now being courted by a 4th. Apparently, "nothing but soap and water" has left her looking younger than her kids, as you can see here. Anyway, she's now walking out with a Nobel literature prize winner, Jorge Vargas Llosa. Unlike Isabel, Jorge looks his age of 79 but is said to be devastatingly handsome to women. All strength to his pen, then. I should write more.

I've written of the scope the traffic police have here to fine you for whatever they think - but never have to prove - is careless driving. Basically, if you don't keep both hands permanently on the wheel, you're liable to be booked. And this would include turning the radio knob, for instance. The latest example of this madness is a fine of €80 on a Salamancan driver for biting the nails on one hand. I guess the next one will be scratching your nose.

It had to happen . . . Following on the grant of citizenship to the descendants of Jews exiled in 1492, Muslims are now seeking from the Spanish government the same rights for those exiled from Al-Andalus from 1502 onwards. We really should have seen it coming.

You have to smile when Russia's RT TV channel goes big on Western governments spinning the news around the issue of Edward Snowden's security leaks. RT might well be right - see here - but its riding of a high horse is surely ironic. And a tad rich.

Finally . . . Two lovely vignettes today. As I was driving down the hill to town, the postman was coming up on his scooter. Seeing my car, he tooted to get me to stop and then came over to gave me a parcel. Which was very thoughtful. Later, when buying a train ticket, I had a delightful chat with the lady at the counter. We got off to a good start when I pointed out I was her second guiri* in a row. Then we chatted about the refusal of her computer to recognise my discount card. Finally, we established we both lived in the barrio of Poio. But neither she nor her colleague could say what the collective noun for us was. So I suggested Pollones. She replied with Pollitos (chicks) and dissolved into laughter. I added that we lived in Chickenland and her joy was unconfined. 

The parcel, by the way, was a ship in a bottle, kindly sent to me from La Coruña by my friend Eamon.

* Unflattering name for foreigners/tourists.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Bureaucracy; Remembering Cervantes; The Brits in Spain; Ponters' beggars; Hitler on Franco; & Facebook.

We resident foreigners often rail against Spanish bureaucracy but this Guardian article suggests we're lucky compared with the poor souls who have to get things done in Russia. I'll never criticise things here again. Honest.

The supposed bones of Spain's greatest writer - Miguel Cervantes - have been interred, with due ceremony, in a Madrid convent. The inscription on the monument includes a quotation from Cervantes’ final novel, Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda. Or, rather, it doesn't, as the final word has been spelt Segismunda. Although a tad embarrassing, it's no one's fault, apparently, and "the mistake can be easily remedied". Which is surely the right attitude.

I doubt any reader will be surprised to hear that the British have an image here born of football hooligans and, more recently, the revellers of Magaluf and similar lo-cost-hi-booze venues. Rod Liddle picked up on this theme in yesterday's Sunday Times: More than 5,000 British people were arrested for behaving like feral dogs on holiday last year, and the number of countries in which they were arrested grows by the year. It’s one of the many benefits of globalisation: our genitals get everywhere, they zip around, hither and thither, demanding to be photographed wherever they land. They crave recognition, our gonads. They want to be seen in exciting, happening places. . . What is it with us and this obsessive, infantile narcissism of flashing our privates all over the place? No sooner do people get a phone than the trousers are around the ankles and the snap posted on the internet. “Look! It’s my cock!” Can we regress any further? Is it because we no longer feel repressed? If so, let’s have a bit more repression, quickly. Maybe state repression, with electrodes. . . . We have been brought up with a liberal ideology that will not be gainsaid. Other countries have no right to be appalled by our nudity, our voracious sexual appetites or anything else we care to foist upon them, be it urinating in the street or vomiting in a bodega. Such monumental arrogance. You wonder why the rest of the world hates us? A bit OTT but he surely has a point.

The 2 beggars of Pontevedra I've known the longest have both come up in the world. The first is a hirsute bag-man who stands in exactly the same spot, day in day out, rattling coins in his left hand while he holds out the right. Until last week, he'd worn the same greasy black T-shirt for more than 15 years. But he's now got a bright orange one. The second longtime beggar is a woman who spends all day circulating the old quarter chattily panhandling for money at every table and in every bar. Over the years, the quality of her clothing has got better and better and I fully expect her one day to be sporting the same outfit as Queen Leticia. As of a few weeks ago, she's taken to dragging along with her a little dog, which presumably also lives on the proceeds of her begging. Happily, both of these old-timers recognise me as much as I recognise them and neither of them wastes time in asking me for contributions. Professionals, the pair of them.

I enjoyed this paragraph in Raymond Carr's The Spanish Tragedy: "For Hitler, Franco's Spain - with its priests, landowners and businessmen - was a disillusionment. He prophesied that Falangists and 'reds' might 'make a common cause to rid themselves of the clerico-monarchical scum that floated to the top.'" And I've always had Hitler down as a madman. 

Finally . . . Every time I try to put a blog post on Facebook, I get the message it can't be published as it contains something that someone finds offensive. This is hard to believe but I guess the culprit might be one of the foul-mouthed Spanish readers I've upset. Which would be ironic.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Golfing; Summerwear; Song titles, then & now; A legionnaire's lament; & Bloody birds.

Spain's new political map has emerged over the last few days, showing the regions and councils taken over by the new centre and left-of-centre parties. One of the minor consequences of this shift of power may be fewer (water-guzzling) golf courses in the country. In Madrid, the prestigious Casa de Campo course now faces an uncertain future, though a membership comprising Spain's (very) rich and powerful must represent a major barrier to closure and conversion into farmland.

I was musing yesterday on the range of female summer clothing on display down in Vegetables Square - from micro-skirts to Muslim hijabs - when I read that, down in Valencia, a group preparing for a religious procession had fined women for wearing skirts that were either too short or had slits up the side. Some men were also fined but only for taking selfies or waving to friends and relatives in the crowd. You just can't get good walkers these days.

Talking about modern times . . . They just don't create song titles like they used to. On this wonderful webpage, you can find this one for instance, sung by Jo Stafford in 1954: Make Love To Me! This was, of course, when this phrase meant far less than it does now.

And talking of music . . . While trawling through amusing videos about Franco - most particularly excerpts from his abominable film Raza - I came across a gruesome marching tune, said to be the anthem of the Spanish Legion. It goes under the catchy title of The Bridegroom of Death and runs, in English, as follows. You can sing along to the Spanish here:-

No one in the Regiment knew
Who was that legionnaire
So bold and so daring
Who came to join the Legion.
No one knew his story,
Yet the Legion knew
That a great pain gnawed
Like a wolf, at his heart.
Yet if anyone asked who he was
He would reply reluctantly and sternly:

I am a man whom fortune
Has struck with a ferocious claw;
I am death's bridegroom
Who is to be joined by a strong bond
To so faithful a sweetheart.

When the fire and fighting
Are at their fiercest,
Defending his Flag
The legionnaire advanced.
And without fear of the onslaught
Of the exalted enemy
He died bravely
And rescued the flag.
And as he soaked the burning ground with his blood,
The legionnaire murmured mournfully:


When his body was finally recovered
They found on his chest
A letter and a picture
Of a beautiful woman.
And that letter read:
"If one day God calls you,
Save a place for me
I will soon find you."
And in the last kiss that she sent him
She bid him a final goodbye.

Just to be by your side
My most faithful sweetheart,
I became death's bridegroom,
I am now bound to her by a strong bond
And her love was my standard.

Finally . . . They're finally working on at least culling the bloody predatory pigeons and seagulls in Pontevedra's main square. As someone who had his tapa snatched off his plate by a gull last night, I feel this hasn't come soon enough.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Spain & the EU; Fending off Putin; Buying wine; Albariño; Charges; & Bonaparte.

Given the squillions received from Brussels over the past 30 years, it's hardly surprising that 70% of Spaniards are supportive of the EU. Which number probably includes all those who, one way or another, have fiddled their way to EU largesse. But this percentage is down on earlier years and, these days, one can even read articles here about the faults of the Brussels regime. Not that anyone wants a Spexit.

Which reminds me . . . Mr Putin has been trying to peel EU members away from their sanctions strategy, starting with Greece but now targetting Italy too. Right now, of course, these states have freedom of choice but this can't be welcome to the Brussels technocrats, who must dream of, one day, taking all decisions of this order for all 28+ states. Even if there's still a democratic deficiency. For that's what 'closer and closer union' must mean. Along with a single army, in case things get out of hand.

But back to today's issues . . . Having read of some good white wines from around Spain, I set about trying to buy some from a supermarket or delicatessen in Pontevedra. As I feared, this was a waste of time; more than 90% of the stuff on the shelves was local. This parochialism is not, I have to say, confined to Galicia. All regions major on their local wines.

Still on wine . . .My observation is that prices haven't risen much in the last decade. In fact, many have reduced. None more so than those of Galicia's premier white wine, albariño. There was a time when you couldn't get this, even in supermarkets, for less than €8. Now, you can buy it there for between 2 and 3 euros a bottle. Though I wouldn't recommend it, unless it's for cooking purposes. 

As it happens, this year will see a record harvest of albariño grapes. This usually means a fall in the price the bodegas pay the cooperatives but it'll be interesting to see if retail prices fall. A €1 bottle of albariño?

Finally on wine . . . One of the bottles I saw in a deli - of another Galician white grape, godello - was labelled Vid Vicious. 'Vid' is Spanish for 'vine'. See the label here. Though not if you're easily offended. 

Not for the first time, a technician I called out this week (leaking boiler) solved a problem within a few minutes and then departed without charging me. It's impossible to imagine this happening in the UK, where a 'call-out' charge would be obligatory. I guess this is the British equivalent of the high fixed charges billed by Spanish utility companies. Though the latter are in a different league, of course. 'Rapacious' would be one word for their approach. 

Finally . . . Something to ponder over the weekend: France bought Corsica from Italy a year before Napoleon was born there. What if this hadn't happened? BTW: Boney is usually regarded as having been short, at 5ft 6inches, or 168cm. But this was the average height for men in France at the end of the 18th century. BTW 2: Josephine was, to say the least, a very flighty wife who had better things to do than respond to her husband's letters. Whereas Boney remained a lovesick swain. I think this explains a lot.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Making hay while the sun shines; La Guardia again; Corruption; Whither all the whores?; & Egotists

Back in 2010, an entrepreneurial Galician lady took advantage of a loophole in international law and registered with a local notary her ownership of the sun. Her aim was to charge us all for the energy received from the star. Incredibly, she was supported by the Spanish courts, though no one has yet been billed. More recently, she's been internet-selling solar plots to idiots at €1 a metre. But spoilsports eBay have now decided this isn't on and have frozen her account. A magistrates' court has pronounced them wrong to do so. With luck, then, this will go all the way to the Supreme Court(s), first in Galicia and then in Madrid. Followed by the making of a film. Cara al Sol? Or with words, if you want to sing along. (Not advisable in your local bar or paf).

My 4th visit to the Guardia Civil in connection with my burglary went well. Not only did the chap at the desk remember my name but we discovered a mutual acquaintance in the Guardia. The personal connection having been well and truly established, things were done quickly and cordially, ending with a friendly handshake. This may serve me well the next time I'm stopped for one of Spain's multitudinous traffic infractions. Meanwhile, I now have to deal again with the an insurance company intent on weaselling out of its obligations. Hey, ho.

On a wider front, the wages of sin continue to be paid: The king has stripped his big sister of her main title, in view of the upcoming trial for corruption of her and her husband. Which will probably make Xmas lunch this year even colder than last year's. And down in never-knowlingly-uncorrupt Andalucia, the police have arrested another stack of civil servants and politicians around the humungous fraud around phoney training companies that sucked billions from Brussels. And, finally, the prison gates have shut behind a Valencian politico who siphoned of €1.6m of charity money contributed for the relief of Third World poverty. I'm guessing it'll be waiting for him when he gets out in about 2 years' time and he may find it hard to prove he inherited from a father who was successful in business but just forgot to tell the tax office.

Every now and again we have a 'Prostitute Season' in Spain, when the media talks about the scandal of the country's disproportionate number of brothels and (mostly) foreign sex-workers. We're going through one now, with earnest discussion of the various alternatives for addressing the issue. But things will go quiet again soon and, as usual, nothing will be done. Apart from the occasional closure of a bordello that re-opens a week or two later, possibly with a new name. Now that I think about it, brothels seem to be the only establishments not to suffer closures as a result of La Crisis. (In case you're asking how I know - they're not exactly hidden, being high-street establishments.)

Finally . . . A nice quotation from Ambrose Bierce's Cynics' Word Book: "Egotist: A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me." More to follow.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Addictions; Funny names; Changing times; Cakes and ale.

In 2014 average Spanish consumption of alcohol fell to 113 litres a year. Or a measly 31cl a day. Cigarette consumption, on the other hand, rose to 2481 a year, or just under 7 a day. The 'profile' of a smoker is said to be a woman of 45 to 64. From what I see all around me, this should be a female aged 16-95. Other experiences may differ.

A separate headline: Spain leads Europe in the use of cocaine and cannabis. And I thought it was the Brits. Perhaps it is in the UK media.

Talking of the stronger sex . . . Not so long ago, I listed what I felt were rather odd female Spanish names. Well, here's a few strange male names garnered from a book about the 1920s and 30s: Indalecio; Horacio; Segismundo; and Niceto. I don't recall hearing or seeing any of these since I came to Spain. And here's another strange female name: Socorro. It means 'Help'.

And still on women . . . How can I put this? As I crossed the bridge into town yesterday, buffeted by a strong side wind, I was overtaken by a teenager(17?) in her school uniform. So short and loose was her skirt that it lost its battle with the wind at least 20 times. The funny thing was that this clearly didn't perturb the young lady one iota and she made no attempt to - what can one say? - preserve her dignity. Try as I might, I couldn't help wondering whether this would have happened even 10 years ago.

And talking of how society develops . . . When I first came to Pontevedra, you could park for free opposite the station, walk through the carpark and step over a low wall onto the platform, bypassing the building. First, they removed the free parking spaces. Then, they put up a tall metal fence in place of the low wall. Finally, they closed the main doors of the station onto the platform and compelled us to detour 50m so we could (sometimes) put our bags through an X-ray machine. An improvement? Nah. Unless you're employed as the (occasional) X-rayer. Incidentally, I recall the removal of free parking there as  the first step in a relentless program of reducing free parking on the city's streets. Presumably a revenue-related exercise at bottom. But, now they've turfed the gypsies out of their settlement near the station, perhaps the land will be available for free parking. As if. 

Finally . . . I read yesterday that a 175ml glass of wine contains around 160 calories, "the same amount as a slice of madeira cake". As I don't like madeira cake, I feel I can safely ignore this.