Sunday, April 30, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 30.4.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.

Life in Spain:
  • Here's a report on the annual April fun down in Sevilla. Too late for you to catch it now.
  • And, if you live in Madrid, here's The Local's list of the 10 best day trips out of the city. I'd add Pastrana, though I've yet to go there.
  • The percentage of smokers in Spain is reported to have plummeted to, I think, 29% - against an EU percentage of 24% and a UK number of 19%. While agreeing that things have improved – especially indoors – I wonder whether this is really true. At least among young women. Ten of these sought a table in my regular bar last night and were persuaded to have a drink and wait a while. Having got their drinks, 5 of them promptly went outside to smoke. And this seems to me to be a pretty accurate picture of things in this group at least.
I mentioned yesterday the damage done by frost to the vines up near Monterrei in the Galician mountains. Here's a more positive comment on the wines from that region.

The worst fears of knowledgable Brexiteers such as Richard 'Flexit' North and Christopher Booker appear to be materialising, thanks to the (at least apparent) incompetence of the British government. See the first article from the latter at the end of this post. In these circumstances, it must surely be right to give the British electorate a chance to vote on the final deal. If, indeed, there ever is one.

Still on the subject of negotiating Brexit, see - after the Booker article - an interesting interview with Europe's enfant terrible - Yanis Varoufakis - on Mrs Thatcher's challenge. As for pro-Brexiteers, they might like to ponder on Ambrose Evans-Pritchard's last line: Any Briton reading his damning account with an open mind might conclude that British democracy is best kept at a very safe distance from an EU that has so badly lost its way. Which, to my mind, is rather more important than, say, your kid having rights to an EU bursary.

Finally . . . I said yesterday that my catching a chill had reminded me of reports of folk dying in earlier centuries of doing the same. Right on cue, I read these 2 sentences last night in the book – A Stranger in Spain – I cited yesterday:-
  • [After attending a rehearsal of his own Requiem Mass] Charles I retired thoughtfully to his little garden, where he caught a chill that developed into a fatal fever.
  • It was while engaged on such palace decoration work that Velázquez caught a fever which proved fateful.
Today's cartoon:-

Apology: I failed yesterday to either upload Jack's video of leghón musicians and dancers or find a video of them on the internet.


1. Our Brexit illusions are about to be shattered   Christopher Booker

For months I have been predicting here that, sooner or later, the day would come when some very uncomfortable realities would start to intrude on the bubble of make-believe in which our  Government has been heading with our negotiations to withdraw from the EU. Last Wednesday, before the EU’s leaders gathered this weekend to proclaim their united response to Britain’s demands, the loudest alarm bell yet was sounded by Angela Merkel in a speech to the German parliament.

The British, she said, have simply been “wasting time” living in a cloud of “illusions”. For a start, she made clear, they cannot hope to begin discussing trade before they agree to meet that so-called “divorce bill”. This, she said, is “irreversible”. As I was pointing out last summer, it was always going to be top of the EU’s agenda that we must pay our share in all those ongoing financial commitments up to 2020 and beyond which our government has already legally signed up to.

Mrs Merkel then won cheers from the Bundestag by reminding them that, by deciding to leave the single market and the European Economic Area (EEA), Britain is choosing to become automatically what the EU classifies as a “third country”. This means we cannot possibly hope to enjoy anything like the ease of trading with the EU that we have now.

As again some of us have long been warning, this means we are choosing to exclude ourselves from the system which gives us unrestricted access to easily our largest export market, and the source of 30 per cent of our food. Up will go border controls on all our frontiers with the EU (including that in Northern Ireland). The days when 12,000 trucks a day could cross freely from Dover to Calais, and much else, will be over.

There is no way that any one-off “trade deal” of the kind Theresa May and her colleagues are imagining could get round any of this, and the practical implications of this for Britain are horrendous. That is precisely why some of us have long tried to point out that the only conceivably sensible way for us to leave the EU, wholly desirable though that is, would be to have remained in the EEA and to join Norway in the European Free Trade Area (Efta).

It is terrifying how deliberately our politicians, led by the “Ultra-Brexiteers” around Theresa May, have refused to consider what this could have given us: continued trading as we have now; exemption from most of the rulings of the European Court of Justice; freedom to negotiate our own trade deals with the outside world; even a unilateral right under the EEA agreement to exercise, in our national interest, some selective control over immigration from the EU.

But all this, by failing to do the necessary homework, the Ultra-Brexiteers have shut their eyes to. They have not begun to grasp the realities of what would be needed to achieve a properly workable disengagement from that system of government we have been part of and ruled by for 44 years.

They will shortly be brought up against all those hard realities to which they have remained oblivious, in ways far more unpleasant than they can yet imagine. That is what Sir Ivan Rogers was hinting at when he spoke of “ill-informed and muddled thinking” at the top of government, before he resigned last December as our top man in Brussels. And it is what Mrs Merkel means when she says that British ministers have so far just been wasting time in chasing “illusions”.

But how many of our own politicians over the next few weeks of election campaigning will be pointing any of this out; any more than we will hear it from the BBC and the rest of the media? For reasons long predictable, we are heading for some very nasty shocks and real trouble. The Brexit dream stage is over. Merkel’s chilling words last week were only the start of the new phase we are now so blindly drifting into.

2. Yanis Varoufakis: 'My Brexit advice to Theresa May is to avoid negotiating at all costs'

Yanis Varoufakis, who dared to oppose the might of the EU, tells Ambrose Evans-Pritchard Britain must learn from Greece’s plight.

Theresa May might balk at taking advice from a radical Greek Leftist and motorcycling heart-throb of the European protest movement, but nobody knows better than Yanis Varoufakis what it means to take on the EU power structure.

The former finance minister of Greece bears the scars of battle. For five hair-raising months he waged guerrilla warfare against the debt-collection policies of the EU-IMF Troika, learning to judge the reflexes of an imperial apparatus where the locus of real influence is disguised and where there are, in the words of the European Commission chief, instruments of torture in the basement.

The Greek Spring was short, snuffed out in July 2015 when the European Central Bank cut off liquidity and forced the closure of the banks.

Prof Varoufakis wanted to retaliate by issuing a “parallel liquidity” and defaulting on ECB bonds. But with ATMs in Athens limited to withdrawals of €40 a day and running out of cash, premier Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party bowed to crushing pressure. They agreed to Carthaginian terms. Their spirit was broken.

There are lessons for Brexit in this sad saga. Prof Varoufakis, a specialist on economic “Game Theory”, says Britain must not let itself be captured by the EU’s negotiating net. If the UK succumbs to that fate, it will be beaten down by one humiliating defeat after another in a slow campaign of attrition. The EU will exploit Britain’s political divisions, playing off regions and parties against each other.

My advice to Theresa May is to avoid negotiation at all costs. If she doesn’t do that she will fall into the trap of Alexis Tsipras, and it will end in capitulation,” he told The Telegraph.

He was speaking on the publication of his memoir, Adults in the Room, a riveting account of his brush with a back-stabbing and treacherous EU system.

It is a regime that knowingly persisted in imposing ruinous policies on his country against economic science and logic. A benign union it is not.

The parallel with Brexit is the tactic of stalling negotiations. They will get you on the sequencing. First there is the price of divorce to sort out before they will talk about free trade in the future,” he said.

On cue, Chancellor Angela Merkel said this week that alimony must be settled before any start, and called on the UK to be more “constructive”. She warned that the British are deluding themselves if they think they can have their EU cake and eat it. Those who lived through the Greek drama find the words eerily familiar.

They will give you the EU run-around. You won’t always know exactly who to talk to and that is deliberate,” said Prof Varoufakis. When you make a moderate proposal they will react with blank stares and look at you as if you were reciting the Swedish National Anthem. It is their way of stonewalling,” he said.

Prof Varoufakis, steeped in Hellenic mythology, says they will resort to the “Penelope Ruse”, the delaying tactic of weaving each day before unravelling it again secretly at night. They will suddenly suspend talks claiming the need for more fact-checking,” he said. The EU counter-attack has already begun, prompted by Mrs May’s decision to call a snap election.

Brussels had assumed that the Tories would be vulnerable when Brexit talks come to a head in 2018, struggling to deal with internal brush fires on all sides. EU officials now realise it will not be so simple. The vote has thrown Brussels off its stride, and raised hackles.

What they are trying to do is to reduce any benefit that Theresa May will get out of the election and downplay her democratic mandate,” said Prof Varoufakis. The only way to avoid being caught in the spider’s web is to seize the initiative and take away their ability to create mischief, he said. He advises filing an immediate request to join the European Economic Area for a seven-year transition.
They could not refuse this. They wouldn’t have a leg to stand on,” he said. The EEA is the “Norwegian option” backed by Labour.

It safeguards trade and the City, and allows withdrawal from areas of EU activity. But it also breaches Mrs May’s red lines on free movement and the the European Court.

There lies the rub. What emerges from Adults in the Room is a eurozone regime where democratic accountability has broken down.

Real clout lies with a secretive “Eurogroup Working Group”, operating on the margins. It is under the iron control of Thomas Wieser, the most powerful man in Brussels. While this body ostensibly serves elected finance ministers, they might as well be wallpaper.

For almost all the meetings at which I was present the ministers received no substantial briefing on any of the topics,” he said. Their role was to “approve and legitimise” pre-cooked decisions.
To the extent that this Praetorian Guard reports to anybody, it is to German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble, and he is brutally candid about the character of monetary union. Elections cannot be allowed to change economic policy,” he said during a meeting on Greece. The others meekly assented. Behind the scenes, Berlin holds sway.

While Germany let the French politician Pierre Moscovici become EU finance commissioner for the sake of appearances, it stripped him of power and put him under the supervision of a Berlin factotum.
Even those countries that suffered an economic 'lost decade' from austerity overkill submit quietly to the German writ. 

Party affiliation makes no difference. The centre-Left parties shed crocodile tears over austerity but are themselves arch-enforcers for creditor interests when push comes to shove.

Social Democracy in Europe is finished, kaput, gone. It made a Faustian bargain with finance,” Prof Varoufakis told me bitterly. “When the crisis came in 2008 they transferred the losses from the bankers to the most vulnerable people.”

Prof Varoufakis is Europe’s enfant terrible. He infuriated the EU and his own Syriza comrades. He broke diplomatic etiquette. He played the press. The establishment called him a dangerous gambler. Yet on the economics of the Greek crisis and the eurozone slump, he was right.

A chorus of Nobel Prize winners agree with him. The “fiscal water-boarding” of Greece, with its medieval policies of blood-letting, was counter-productive even on its own cruel terms. The 26% contraction of the economy was so violent that it set off a downward spiral, causing the debt ratio to rocket. The Troika bail-outs forced a bankrupt Greek state to take on more loans in a squalid policy of “extend and pretend”.

Greece needed 50% debt relief at the onset of the crisis but this was deemed too dangerous because the eurozone – due to its own negligence – had no defences against contagion.

The IMF confesses the errors in a devastating mea culpa. The IMF admits its own “superficial and mechanistic” analysis. It was bewitched by the ideological allure of the euro, disregarding the technical warnings of its own staffers. In the end it immolated Greece in a “holding action” to save a dysfunctional monetary union. This was then covered up. Despite all that has happened, Prof Varoufakis remains an ardent enthusiast for the European project. How does he keep the faith?
I have been trained all my life to oppose the Greek government, because that is what you do as a Greek patriot. That does not mean I want to dissolve the Greek state. Would our countries be better off if we had “Brexits” everywhere and the EU disintegrated? I don’t think so,” he said.
Yet he also confided once that there is virtue in heroic failure.

Any Briton reading his damning account with an open mind might conclude that British democracy is best kept at a very safe distance from an EU that has so badly lost its way.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 29.4.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.

First off . . .  Jack has now kindly sent me the video of the leghón ensemble doing their stuff in Pontevedra last week. That said, I'm not convinced it's been uploaded properly. Despite several attempts:-

I've just started reading A Stranger in Spain, written back in 1955 by H V Morton. Arriving in Madrid, he notes the usual stuff - the noise, the smoking, the paseo, the elegant women, etc. - but adds that the late eating hours are not a long tradition in Spain. (Or, rather, it wasn't in 1955. It's 70 years older now, of course.) So, one wonders why the custom caught on. And when exactly. 

There was a program called Spectacular Spain on British TV last night, featuring an episode on Madrid. Somehow I managed to miss it, having confused myself about the right channel. But it's available here on Channel 5 catchup(My5). You need to be in the UK or to have a VPN to watch it.

Iberia doesn't really do soups. If you see sopa on a Portuguese menu, it at least means a form of vegetable soup. But in Spain - or Galicia at least - it means merely a thin liquid with some noodles in it. Unless its the caldo from the traditional cocido pig stew. I was tempted to conclude the concept of a range of real soups was unknown here but, truth to tell, I've had garlic-bread concoctions in Castilla and there's always the gazpacho of Andalucia. And this site suggests several more. Perhaps I've been a tad harsh, then.

Spanglish Corner: Reader Gardener has suggested a leghón is really a mattock but the latter seems to need an extra pick-like bit as well as the 90 degree spade, as seen here. Reader Paideleo (sceptically?) asks which English word might provide the base for a bit of Spanglish: Well, there's the leghorn chicken and a variety of hat. In the latter case, the word seems to derive from Livorno. You learn something every day . . .

Go Galicia again!

Talking of Galicia . . . Our president has asked why the responsible Spanish ministry has been quick to clamp down on the private renting of holiday homes but not on the high prices of petrol/gas. But, of course, he knows as well as the rest of us that the common element is the protection of existing corporate interests. Something which Madrid is particularly good at. For whatever reason.

Finally. . . Just a couple of fotos from camino of this last week:- This one gave me a smile when I came out of our Barcelos hotel after the sleep less night. Some imbecile had been daft enough to park his/her car in spaces reserved for police cars. Right in front of the - hardly invisible - police station:-

A friendly beast outside Vila do Conde:-

Consolatory views from the Casa do Campo B+B, in the wilds of Vitorino de Piães:-

Friday, April 28, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 28.4.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.

Final camino news item . . . Leaving Ponte de Lima early yesterday morning for Rubiães, we passed  alternately between moderately high and very low temperatures, depending on the degree of shade. The result, in my case, was a cold which had both my nostrils streaming by the end of the day. I was reminded of those cryptic comments about people in earlier centuries which ran something like: “So-and-so went out in freezing weather, caught a chill and died suddenly the next day”. But I am made of slightly hardier stuff and merely abandoned the last day of my camino, took a taxi to Valença from Rubiães and picked up my car there. And am now back home and in bed, swigging hot toddies and trying to sweat it out.

Monterrei is an up-and-coming wine-growing area in the mountains of Galicia, en route to Benevente and Madrid. I read this morning that most of its vines were destroyed by a sudden frost this week. Which is, of course, a lot worse than catching a cold.

It's an oft-stated truism that Spanish politics is tribal. As if we needed another reminder of this, one came along this week, when the Podemos party tried to introduce a motion of censure against the institutionally corrupt PP party, currently in power. None of the other parties supported it and the PP naturally dismissed it as mischief-making designed merely to discomfort the currently leaderless PSOE party, which is still – just about – the main opposition party. As if politics was a parlour game for kids. Whatever, it won't come to pass.

Which reminds me . . . There's good news on the corruption front. Click here for recent progress against this Spanish monster.

And here's some good news for residents of Spain who are worried about losing their rights post BrexitThe Vienna Convention states that if a person from one country resides in another for more than 5 years, then they are entitled to stay under the terms under which they moved there, even if the treaty in existence when they moved is amended or cancelled.

Yea! Go Galicia! Our city of Ourense is in the van as regards a geothermal heating system. Click here for more on this. Someone needs to tell the author that Galicia is a region, not a province of Spain. More correctly,  an 'Autonomous Community'. With 4 provinces.

Finally . . . Last week, I saw the word leghón and assumed it was Spanglish. But it turns out to be a sort of spade-cum-large-hoe.

And the reason it was in the news was that some folk dancers were going to be performing around town, accompanied by 'musicians' tapping on various sizes of these. I would've posted a video of this but my visitor, Jack, has yet to send it to me . . . With luck, this will shame him into doing so.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 27.4.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.

News from the Portuguese Camino: Very little today, in fact. A short walk of 12km from Barcelos to the very lovely town on Ponte de Lima. The only incident of note - in an otherwise uneventful day - was being sent for the keys of our hotel door to a café nearby which prefers to remain incognito. In other words, there was no indication anywhere on the front of the café as to its name. Which was a tad confusing.

But I did learn than Ponte de Lima technically qualifies as a city but prefers to remain a town, so that it can continue to claim that it's Portugal's 'oldest town'.

As for Spain . . . The regular themes:-

Corruption: Here's Don Quijones on the latest scandals. As he writes: President's Rajoy’s only response to the plethora of scandals affecting his party – Gürtel, Púnica, Lezo and more – is to travel abroad (he’s currently in Brazil), keep mum about domestic troubles, and offer speeches about the importance of maintaining economic growth and job creation in Spain.

One person who has so far escaped prosecution is the woman once dubbed Spain's Maggie Thatcher – Esperanza Aguirre, the ex Presidenta of the Madrid region. She's just tearfully resigned as head of the PP party in Madrid on the grounds that she was duped and ' betrayed' by her corrupt lieutenants. Suffice to say that not many people in Spain will believe that she has clean hands.

The Spanish Economy: The macro growth number that I regularly contrast with micro reality might not, it seems, be all that it's cracked up to be. A group of Spanish economists has written to the
Eurogroup President urging him to probe the Spanish national accounts, which they claim have been manipulated by Spain’s National Statistics Office.

Unemployment: Numbers – as long suspected – might not be that reliable here either. Especially down in very corrupt Andalucia. 

Spain's Banks: How safe are they really? Read DQ on this here.

Lunatic Prosecutions: Here's news of the latest one.

Beautiful Spain: A recent list from The Local which might well have appeared previously under another guise.

Galicia: An equine oddity.

Today's Cartoon: A rather vicious one from The Times, pointing up the hopeless performances of Britain's Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, at Prime Minister's Questions Time.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 26.4.17

If you read yesterday's post, you'll know that my camino colleague and I had a bad night in Barcelos, deprived of sleep by a fairground that operated at 11 on the dial until 1.15am and then at a lower volume until 5am.

Today things got considerably worse, culminating in a farce that reduced us to laughter out of a mixture of bemusement, desperation and a small helping of anger.

Things went well as regards the walking itself, though we were distracted by the presence of a café at one point and missed a turn, compelling us to walk half a kilometre in the wrong direction before concluding the yellow marker signs were not just few and far between but non-existent.

During the day, I'd received two messages – both in English – which encouraged me to think that we were heading for a nice accommodating place in Vitorino de Piães. The first was to ask whether they wanted us to arrange for the onward transport of our bags today and the other was to say that they had a lunch waiting for us yesterday. Despite the fact we wouldn't be arriving until 4 or 5.

We arrived in Vitorino de Piães around 4.15, left the camino and headed for the location of the B&B - A Casa do Campo as shown by Google Maps. We did this in the face of comments and advice from at least 5 kind locals, all of whom were, first, anxious to tell us we were going the wrong way for Santiago and, secondly, non-plussed when we told them we were heading for the Casa do Campo. Of which none of them had ever heard. But we plodded on, tired but sure we were doing the right thing. 

After walking around 900 metres we entered the cul-de-sac indicated by Google and found not a B&B but 2 locked and shuttered houses guarded by 3 large dogs on chains. 

I checked with both Google Maps and with the reservation from booking.com, only to be given the same - incorrect – information. I then accosted 2 passing ladies, who advised us to return to the church, where they thought the place might be. Though they'd never heard of it nor knew of the street it was said to be in. 

As we set off, I called the number on which messages had been sent to me and had a conversation in almost-English with what sounded like the son of the owners. This resulted in a promise that we'd be picked up from outside the church in ten minutes. I was left wondering who on earth had sent the 2 messages earlier in the day. Clearly not the owners of the B&B. Their son or booking.com's computer?? 

A car duly arrived, containing a family of 2 adults and 2 teenagers. They were clearly surprised there were 2 of us. As this was too many passengers for the car, the parents disappeared and left us to chat to the kids about the fact that Google and booking.com had both misdirected us. 

The car returned several minutes later, minus the wife. The husband, then drove us back towards the wrong cul-de-sac and up the next minor road, for several hundred metres. Finally, we arrived at an imposing gate, drove up a long drive and arrived at a large house, where the wife was waiting. 

Once inside the house, it didn't take us long to realise it was a self-catering place, devoid of any food whatsoever. And with an Aga-type thing in the kitchen on which we were clearly expected to cook our dinner, sans instructions. In fact - apart from bed linen and towels – the only things in the place were our bags, which - to our relief and very great surprise - had found their from our hotel in Barcelos. Oh, and a small TV on top of the (empty) fridge, offering - it turned out - 7 Portuguese channels. But no bath for our weary limbs. 

As we looked at each other in more-than-mild shock, the couple asked us what we wanted them to buy for us by way of food, both for last night and this morning. And then left us to ask ourselves what on earth was going on and why booking.com had not advised of the nature of the place. Or, indeed, on how to get to it correctly! And we wondered how previous guests – if indeed there had been any – had found their way to it 

An hour or so later, the 4 of them returned with a stack of food and drink. I took the opportunity to ask the son whether it was a new venture, and was less than surprised to hear it was and that they hadn't had any guests - foreignor otherwise - before us. Clear evidence of this was the newness of the toaster, the kitchen utensils, the plastic washing-up bowl and a few other things the family had brought back from their shopping trip to - I guessed – Ponte de Lima.

It has to be stressed that the couple were charm itself and said they'd bring us 'portable wifi' shortly. And that the wife would come by in the morning to hand over our bags to the transport company after we'd left. Meanwhile, they stressed that several items were gifts from them. 

As they drove away, we opened the bottle of red wine they'd brought and then settled down to cook cod, cabbage, carrots and potatoes. And, meanwhile, eat the pastries we'd been gifted. Well, one of us did. 

All's well that ends well, they say. Which was never truer than in this case. Our bemusement and mild anger at being guinea pigs had been converted into pleasure by the kindness and all round niceness of the family. 

Final note: The street – lane, rather – in which the house is actually situated was only a few hundred metres from where the 2 old dears had told me they had no idea where it was. This is not the first time I've experienced this with people who've lived in the same place all their lives. My impression is that new streets never become known to them. That said, the address of Casa do Campo is: Rua Fonte de Ferrão. One possible reason why no one in the tiny village had heard of it was that a double R in Portuguese is pronounced as Kh, and so nothing like the double R in Spanish I'm familiar with and was employing . . . .

At the insistence of my walking companion, here's a foto of the cooker/oven:-

Footnote to yesterday: When I checked out of our hotel in Barcelos, I told the receptionist that the least the hotel could do - in view of my lack of sleep – was not to charge me for the Kit Kat I'd had from the minibar. Happily, she readily agreed. But I will still send off my letters of complaint. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 25.4.17

Yesterday I walked 29km or 18 miles, which was rather more than I usually do on the first day of a camino. Any day, in fact. I arrived at our hotel in Barcelos with my walking companion at 17.05 having set out from Vilar do Conde on the Atlantic coast at 8.20.

This is the conversation that took place at the reception desk when we arrived there:

Boa Tarde
Boa Tarde. I have a reservation for 2 rooms tonight.
Name please?
No, we don't have anything. How did you reserve?
Through booking.com
What is the name of the second guest?
Ah, yes. We have 2 reservations in that name.
Strange, then, that they took the money from my debit card.
As you can see, there's a fairground right outside and it'll be noisy until late. We have only 1 room at the backside of the hotel. So, who wants that room?
How late?
Maybe up to 10pm.
I live in Spain. The noise is not that great and that's not late in Spain.
Well, maybe 11.
Still not late. I won't be going to sleep until after that. So, I'll take a room at the front.

But, truth to tell, the noise - and the vibration of the entire hotel it caused - didn't stop at 10. Or at 11. Or at 12. Or at 1am. It actually stopped at . . . Well I don't really know as - with foam plugs deep in my ear canal and a pillow on top of my head - I finally got to sleep sometime after 1.10.

All of which was very bad news for my colleague as, when we checked in, she had bravely plumped for a 'frontside' room as well. But later found, after she'd quickly changed her mind, that the only 'backside' room had just gone

By the way . . .  I did record the noise at 1.08 but it woefully failed to do justice to both the noise and the vibration caused by the relentless deep bass beat. Or whatever it's called.

But it wasn't a complete waste of an evening. I know now Portuguese hotel receptionists can lie as blatantly as those in Spain - and doubtless elsewhere - when it comes to things that might irritate guests. No wonder they took the money upfront. I rather doubt that my imminent complaint to Booking.com and a nasty review on Tripadvisor will achieve much but one must do one's bit for posterity.

A couple of photos . . .

This is taken in the shop in Pontevedra I mentioned last year as not being an official distributor for Swiss army knives. So, where did they get the display stand from? And is it genuine? More to the point - Are the knives?

Finally . . . This is a bar in our old quarter which might well be owned by a couple of grocers . . . .

Monday, April 24, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 24.4.17

I can't write a post this morning. So, here's:-
  1. Something I penned out of boredom on the train yesterday morning, and
  2. Something I wrote while my 2 friends visited a Port cave in Oporto yesterday midday.
Sunday morning in Valença, Portugal

8.00: Arrive at the train station and park, aiming to have a coffee and catch the 8.36 to Oporto. Nothing open. Neither a ticket office nor the café. No sign of any employees of CP, the national rail company. Two trains at Platform 1, both with their engines chugging away.

I wander down the platform and see some chap in civvies in what looks like a store room-cum-office. I ask him in Portuguese/Spanish/Gallego about the train to Oporto and where we can buy tickets. He points to one of the chugging trains but I'm not convinced, as I know ours is coming from Vigo and doesn't look as tatty as the 2 already in the station. I suspect that one of these is the 9.11 to Oporto, which takes about 2 days. I finally find a timetable which confirms departure of our train at 8.36 and then talk to the guy about the train coming from Spain. He agrees this is a different one and will be on Platform 2. I ask for and get the key to the toilets.

8.25: One of the chugging trains moves off in the direction of Spain, probably to go along the border to Mençao.

8.30: Our train arrives and we cross the tracks to get to it. There are bout 10 other passengers and none of us can get on the train because the doors won't open. Along comes a guy in a denim jacket and opens each door. I wonder about passengers who were planning to get off. But there aren't any.

8.42: We set off, 7 minutes late already. After 12 minutes in the station.

8.45: We buy our tickets. I hand over a €20 and get more than €9 back in coins.

8.53: We stop at Vila Nova de Ceveira, which is unscheduled. No one opens the doors.

9.01am: We stop at Caminha, at the mouth of the river Miño/Minho, the border with Spain. Also unscheduled. The doors open and one person gets on. He shakes hands with the guard and I conclude he's an employee of CP. So maybe a special stop just for him.

9.18: We stop on the outskirts of Viana de Castelo. A passenger on the other side stands up to get off and kindly tells me my wallet is on the floor.

9.21: We arrive at Viana do Costelo, now 13 minutes behind schedule.

9.23: We set off, now 14 minutes late.

9.26: We stop for no apparent reason. The train moves slowly backwards.

9.28: We set off again. Next stop is scheduled for 9.49 at Nine. I'm guessing 10.05.

9.36: Another unscheduled stop, possibly outside Darque station. No 3 or 4G, so no internet.

9.40: The train is now racing along at maybe 65kph (40mph). We might just be making up some time.

9.44: Another unscheduled stop, at Tamel. Another minute lost.

9.52: Yet another unscheduled stop, at Barcelos. The doors open and at least one passenger gets on.

I've noted that the there's only one track. This must complicate the scheduling challenge. And a quick look at the timetable suggests we're running not to the normal timetable for the Vigo-Oporto 'fast' train from Renfe but to that of the 7.56 semi-stopping train from Valença to Oporto on CP. Possibly because it's Sunday. From Barcelos to Nine is 11 minutes on this timetable, meaning we will Nine before the 10.05 I predicted. Still 15 minutes late. As there's no 3 or 4G, I can't warn the friend who's meeting us in Oporto at 10.30.

10.01: We arrive earlier than expected at Nine.

10.03: We depart, now a mere 13 minutes late. But, if I'm right about today's timetable, we've another 3 stops to make above and beyond the timetable we were supposed to be on. We are certainly not going to arrive at Campanha station by 10.18.

10.08: As feared, we stop at the first of the 3 stations, Farmalicão.

Jack tells me he has 4G through an operator called NOS. My phone tells me I'm with MEO, which used to be Telecom Portugal but I have no signal. Jack tells me to switch off and on and, possibly by coincidence, I now have a signal.

10.20: We arrive at Trofa. This is even slower than the 7.26 timetable, which has us down as taking only 9 minutes between these stations. Contrasting with the 12 we've just taken. Clearly a Sunday driver.

10.31: We arrive at Ermesinde. Only another 14 minutes to our destination, where we'll arrive 17 minutes later than expected. And, indeed, scheduled.

10.40: We finally arrive at Campanha station and head for the San Bento metro station, where our friend has been waiting since around 10.00.


Note: This curmudgeonly comment on Oporto might well be stimulated in part both by the above and by my having previously had to wrestle with 2 machines.

The first was a ticket machine on the Metro. These are so user-unfriendly that even Portuguese folk tend to take several minutes getting them to spew out tickets. Leading to long queues. The machine at Campanha station added injury to insult my making it difficult for me to put my coins in and then told me time had run out after I'd got the first one in. And then refused to give it back. Regular readers might recall my account last year of the guy who makes a living on the Metro by offering to help confused tourists and then asking them for the 80 cents he claims he lacks to buy his own ticket. Which rather says it all.

The second machine was the one giving access to a left-luggage locker at São Bento mainline station. The system there is so complicated – with instructions only in Portuguese – that there's a guy standing there all day explaining to local and tourists alike how to use it. Or at least there was when we were there. This gentleman kindly suggested we take a photo of the codes on the receipts issued by the machine as, if we should lose them, we'd never see our luggage ever again . . . 

Oporto is a truly lovely city which I've visited probably 10 times. But it has changed a lot since my first visit in the 1990s. In fact, it's an excellent example of the curse of tourism.

Even in April it's overflowing with tourists. As one emerges from the metro at São Bento of a Sunday morning, the first challenge you face is to negotiate the groups of people blocking the pavement while being lectured to by a guide.

Then, en route to the Port Caves in Gaia, there is the riverbank path that used to be derelict and dangerous but which is now stuffed with bars, cafés and restaurants. And, of course, people.

Above the bridge, the 'characterful' slope of slums has been transformed into something far less noteworthy. Which I suppose is a good thing.

Gaia itself is nothing like it was 15-20 years ago. It's essentially a riverside promenade and, apparently, a magnet for noisy motorbikers, who - the waitress tells me - congregate ther every Sunday in their dozens. Near the entrance to the cable car, should you want to know where to avoid.

As in all cities in which tourism is the real money spinner, service is now poor. Appalling even. I left 2 bars after the waiters had walked past my table twice without saying anything. Indeed, in the first one, the waiter declined to respond to my wishing him Bom día. At the third, I had to wave to attract the attention of the waitress, who was standing at the entrance, before she came to my table on the terrace at the roadside.

As I write, the only consolation is that I can hear myself think. Which would never be the case if I were in a Spanish city among so many people.

But, anyway, here's a nice foto of the city, taken from Gaia:-

And we did have an excellent lunch away from the hordes, up near São Francisco church.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 23.4.17

I'm off to Oporto early this morning, to start a week long camino on the Portuguese Way, up to the border with Spain. My young guest - Jack - has solved a problem for me by volunteering this summary of why he loves to come to Spain. Apart from the free accommodation that is. He used to come with my younger daughter, who was a teacher colleague a few years ago, but now has the chutzpah to come alone:-

Things I like about Spain
  1. Toilets in stations are free to access
  2. It's acceptable to drink wine at 11.30am and not be labelled a drunk
  3. Free tapas/pinxos with drinks
  4. The Guapas (Beautiful women)
  5. The cleanliness
  6. A little Spanish goes a long way
  7. Once you're introduced it's like you have a new friend for life
  8. Jamón in its many forms and qualities
  9. The Spanish love of the elderly and how many elderly people join their families in the evening
  10. How conversations in Spanish sound like arguments but can actually be quite polite in tone
  11. The colourful shirts
  12. "16-60s". (Faye Davies will know what I mean!)
  13. Late opening times
  14. How 10.30am is considered early morning
  15. The level of noise which is considered acceptable
  16. How people wear up to 3 layers of clothes even though it's 28 degrees
  17. How relaxed things are
  18. The scenic views
  19. The quality of wine (even a cheap one tastes good)
  20. Plans change; people get on with it.
Me: I don't have any problem with these, except perhaps no. 15. But it has to be said that Jack confided in me this afternoon that, although he loved to visit, he very much doubted he could work here. I sympathised.

Finally . . . Today's cartoon

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 22.4.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.

More on high-level corruption, I'm afraid. You'll notice that the state prosecutors are trying to stop the actions against the PP politicians. One wonders why. But it could be that they were appointed by the PP party.

And then there's the minor case of the mayor of a local Galician town who's being prosecuted for taking with him, when he left office 6 years ago, not just a few paper clips and pencils but 18 mobile phones.

And the King of the Orchestras here in Galicia who's being asked by the tax office to account for €46 million which they believe passed through his hands in cash but was not taxed. In other words, the vast proportion of his income derived from providing music for the concerts of our many, many fiestas. One wonders where the cash flowed to and why it wasn't noticed by the banks and the tax authorities, who work hand-in-hand to check deposits and transfers of over €2,000. In theory, at least.

Here's news of another of those bizarre suits started by someone in Spain who feels insulted. This time by the picture of a drunken Pope on a poster advertising a fiesta in La Coruña. The action was initiated by the Association of Widows of Lugo. Doubtless a fine group of women in other respects but very probably all good Catholic ladies who are easily affronted on behalf of their Church. A dying breed here in Spain. Thank God.

Yet another Galician octogenarian has died below his tractor, something which seems to happen at least once a month.

Here in Pontevedra there used to be 4 tourist offices, all competing with each other - Galicia as a whole; The Rias Baixas; Pontevedra Province; and Pontevedra city. After many years of this nonsensical localism, two of these have finally fused. Not so with our 3 uncompetitive 'international' airports, which continue to compete with each other via local grants and subsidies (i. e. bribes to the airlines) to the detriment of the region as a whole. Meanwhile, the facility in nearby Oporto in North Portugal continues to grow by cornering most of the international market. And, in the process, cheekily advertising itself as The airport for all Galicia.

So, it's impossible not to at least smile when reading of the Galician president publicly begging our friends in North Portugal to indulge only in 'fair competition' (competencia loyal) with our local businesses. As if. A not unreasonable response might be:- Cultivate your own garden. Anyway, right on cue comes this cartoon from Lenox of Business Over Tapas:-

Postmen protesting against unfair competition from Google

Finally . . . A Galician dish that tastes a lot better than it looks - Cuttlefish in its own ink:-

Todays' cartoon:- Apologies if it's a repeat. I lose track . . . .

Friday, April 21, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 21.4.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.

First the good news . . . .

  1. Here's how to emulate the Spanish so that you can reach 100.
  2. Here's how the Spanish energy companies are being dragged into the 21st century. (And then boasting of it with full-page ads in the local media).
And here's the bad news: The latest example of brazen corruption on a huge scale by a leading Spanish politician. As El País puts it: A recovering economy, a weak opposition and an unstable international scenario should all have provided a good opportunity for President Rajoy to present himself as a solid political reference point. Instead, a resurgence of corruption cases is ruining that opportunity. But no doubt things will improve for him after he's testified in the trial I mentioned yesterday . . . 

I'm doing a camino down in Portugal next week. Yesterday, one of the hotels I'm using sent me this helpful message: Good morning. Tankful for the reserve. Will do all that i an. Do you need anythin else? Dinner? Breakfast?Transport? Tank you. Still on the subject of bad English, I had occasion last night to visit the web page of a new "British School" in Vigo. Here's the heading from one of its sections:- Parent's School is in session. One hopes that the place is doing rather better than when this was first written. Or that they have sacked the teacher of English.

Nutter' Corner: There's a prize for the first reader to translate this paragraph into English. It's from the website of a US Catholic TV network and it relates, I think, to the danger to Catholics posed by the practice of yoga: Many Christians who are former practitioners of yoga argue that it is not possible to separate yoga from its religious origins, that the dangers of the occult remain, especially by efforts to manipulate internal forces in order to achieve a particular physical state. That, while natural causation is claimed, in fact achieving the result depends on the existence of the very forces which the non-Christian philosophy teaches. Separating the philosophy from the posture makes possible the posture’s Christian use, but removes any value of it over any other physical posture. On the other hand, retaining the posture and seeking its purpose necessarily adopts a non-Christian worldview, opening the individual to spiritual forces, as opposed to simply material ones, who are opposed to their salvation.

Talking about religion . . . If you're a theist and wonder how we atheists can manage to enjoy life without a 'sense of purpose', this video clip is for you.

Local News:-

  1. Reader Maria, I think, recently wrote about the history of olives here in Galicia. And I recalled that Vigo is known as the City of Olives. If you want to know why, there's a brief account at the end of this post. Well, two actually.
  2. I've been known to accuse Galicians of putting paprika (pimentón) in just about everything. Well, yesterday, my visitor Jack provided me with this evidence of a chocolate bar containing the stuff.

Finally . . . . 
  • Very Local News 1: Since I came here more than 16 years ago, I've regularly had to struggle to get up to my house past the inconsiderate parents who block the road by double and triple parking so their precious kids don't have to walk more than 20 metres. But, blow me, a local cop appeared on the scene this week and the parked cars stretched up and down the hill for several hundred metres. And then I read in the local paper that, not before time, the local council had decided to do something about this twice-daily nuisance outside all local schools. Well, the private ones anyway. All strength to their ordinances.
  • Very Local News 2: It seems that Renfe's web page has difficulty only with Pontevedra as the station of origin. If I mis-type the name and enter Pom, it automatically gives me Pombal and allows me to then enter Santiago as the destination. Weird.
Today's cartoon, on a topical issue:-

First t

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 20.4.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.

Starting off rather negatively - if you've glossed over the above quote  . . . . The Spanish cartoonist, Forges (Antonio Fraguas), has gone into print with a devastating attack on 'Spain's mediocrity'. You can read it in English at the end of this post. Sadly, it's all pretty accurate. In my humble estimation. My thanks to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for alerting me to this article this morning.

So . . . What is wrong with these 2 sentences, as least for speakers of British English?:-
  • Local paper: Three times canoeing world champion Óscar Graña has saved a woman from drowning in the river Lérez in Pontevedra (Galicia) – for the second time.
  • National UK paper: And even if the timeline fit, it would be difficult for MPs to select and coalesce around a single candidate in such a short space of time.

Talking of bad English . . .  I discovered last night that a Spanish site from which I'd been printing out info in respect of a September camino also had an English version. I was a bit miffed with myself for not noticing this until I'd finished but then I read this sentence about a church in Pontevedra and decided I'd unwittingly done the right thing: Latin plant and pointed style. So, not translated by a native speaker. As ever.

In a surprise move - and one totally resisted by the Spain's most senior legal officers - the President, Sr Rajoy, has been called to testify in the biggest corruption case currently going through the courts. See here on this. should be interesting. Or, more likely, not as he's likely to duck all the questions. As he has done for years.

The latest example of Spanglish: El overbooking.

Here's my final extracts from the second volume of Arturo Barea's The Forging of a Rebel. By this time he's living in the  Madrid of the mid 1920s:-
  • Sanchez came from a wealthy, middle-class family. His parents had given him a solid education; he had studied for a commercial career, at a time when such studies seemed a novel and preposterous thing to do in Spain.
  • [The comment of Barea's boss when Barea resisted the pressure on him to marry his daughter, responding to Barea's question about how his daughter felt about marrying him]. The girl does what I want her to do. And, anyway, women don't know which men they like or not, so long as they haven't been to bed with their first.
  • [The comments of his father-in-law about the state of the marriage with his daughter] I want to speak seriously with you. You've got a lot of modern ideas in your head and want to change the world. But now look here. A woman is either married, and in that case she has got to keep the house clean and feed the kids, or else she's a bitch and a street-walker. So don't set your mind on something different. The man must support his home and children, that's his business. And if you've got an itch to amuse yourself . . . well, you go and find a woman somewhere, amuse yourself without a scandal, and that's all there is to it. If you go on as you are, it will come to a bad end.
  • [Barea's response] All right. But I think only a fool would marry just to have a woman in his bed. What I want is that my wife should be my best friend, besides being my bedfellow.
  • [The father-in-law's reaction] Pooh, that's just romantic nonsense. Look, a man marries to have a home of his own and a woman to nurse him when he's ill and to look after his children. And everything else is just modern claptrap.
  • [Barea] But if one's wife differs only from other women only by the colour of her hair, the cut of her face, and the shape of her body, she becomes one among the many women who are attractive to the man, with the disadvantage of being close to hand day and night and having her attraction submitted to the relentless test of proximity without tenderness.
  • [Advice to Barea from an old male friend] The problem is complicated in detail but simple in its general outline. You see, in Spain boys and girls grow up in two separate water-tight compartments. The boy is told he mustn't go near the girls or play with them, and if he does it all the same, he's called a cissy. The girls are taught that boys are beastly and brutal, and a girl who likes playing with them is not a 'little woman' but a tomboy, which is considered something very bad. Later, the school teachers get busy teaching the boys that Woman is a vessel of impurity and teaching girls that Man is the incarnation of the Evil Spirit, created only for the perdition of women. So the boys form their masculine society, and when sex awakens, the young man goes to the brothel to learn about it and the young woman sits and waits until one of the men who come glutted from the brothels invites her to go to bed with him. Then some agree to do it through matrimony and others without it, and the first become so-called decent women and the others whores. How do you expect real, complete marriages to grow from that? And will you adapt yourself to your wife or do you rather think she should adapt herself to you.? But, apart from your case, they can't do it because the whole weight of the society of their own sex is against them.

Thank-God things have changed and all that is a thing of the past . . . 

Finally . . . . Yesterday's comment of my guest, Jack, about the poor range of products in the one grocer's he went into doesn't chime with my experience. I disassociate myself from it totally. And with Jack, in fact.

Today's cartoon:-


The Triumph of the Mediocre

"Those who know me know my beliefs and ideals. Beyond these, I think the time has come to be honest. It is, above all, necessary to undertake a deep and sincere exercise of self-criticism, taking seriousness as our motto.

We have to assume that our problems will be not be solved by changing from one party to another, via another battery of urgent measures, via a general strike, or by leaping into the street to protest against each other. Perhaps the time has come to accept that our crisis is more than economic, goes beyond these or those politicians, or the greed of the bankers, or the risk premium.

We have to recognise that Spain's main problem is not Greece, the euro or Mrs Merkel.

We have to admit that we have become a mediocre country and to try to correct this.

No country achieves such a condition overnight. Or in three or four years. It is the result of a chain tha starts in school and ends in the ruling class.

We have created a culture in which the mediocre students are the most popular in the school, the first to be promoted in the office, the most heard in the media and the only ones we vote for in our elections, no matter what they do - people whose political or professional careers we do not know fully know about - if indeed they have one – merely because they are ours.

We are so accustomed to our mediocrity that we have come to accept it as the natural state of things. The exceptions, almost always confined to sport, serve to deny the evidence.

- Mediocre is the country where its inhabitants spend an average of 134 minutes a day in front of a television that shows mainly garbage.

- Mediocre is the country which since the start of democracy has not produced a single president who spoke English or had even a minimal knowledge of international politics.

- Mediocre is the only country in the world that, in its rancid sectarianism, has managed to divide even the associations of victims of terrorism.

- Mediocre is the country which has reformed its educational system three times in three decades to end up with its students at the tail of the developed world.

- Mediocre is the country which has two universities among the 10 oldest in Europe but does not have a single university among the 150 best in the world and which forces its best researchers to exile themselves in order to survive.

Mediocre is the country which has a quarter of its population unemployed, but which finds more reason to be indignant when the puppeteers of a neighbouring country joke about its athletes.

- Mediocre is the country where the brilliance of another causes suspicion, where creativity is marginalised - when not stolen with impunity - and where independence is punished.

- Mediocre is the country in which public institutions are headed b politicians who, in 48% of cases, never exercised their respective professions but found in politics the most relevant way of life.

- Mediocre is the country that has made mediocrity the great national aspiration, pursued without any shame by those thousands of young people who seek to occupy the next place in the Big Brother contest, by politicians who insult each other without promoting ideas, by bosses who surround themselves with mediocrity to hide their own mediocrity and by students who ridicule the hard-working colleagues,

- Mediocre is the country that has allowed, encouraged and celebrated the triumph of the mediocre, cornering excellence until it is left with two options: to leave or to be engulfed by the unstoppable gray tide of mediocrity.

- Mediocre is the country, which denies the existence of its mediocrity in order to shamelessly boast of its national education, and which needs the motivation of sporting successes.