Thursday, August 31, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia 31.8.17

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

As I have an awful lot to do this morning after having my wallet stolen, this will be one of the shortest of my posts . . . 

Travel News

I have mentioned the rigours of modern travel . . . 
  • If you arrive at Tribunal metro station in Madrid with only €1.80 in change and a €20 note, none of the 4 Metro employees standing around chatting will be able to sell you a ticket costing €1.90. All they can do is confirm that: 1. There is no longer a ticket office: 2. That the only way to get a ticket is from a machine, and 3. That this will give you back €18.10 in coins.
  • If you stop, en route from Madrid to Galicia at the Mesón La Mota - in La Mota de Marqués - and if you decide to try a new-to-you dish of lamb stew (asadurilla de lechazo), be warned that they probably won't have it. A visit to their web page suggests this is a permanent situation, as it's not on their menu there.
  • My recommendation to friends visiting Madrid for a camino with me in September: Keep your bank cards, cash and ID card/passport all separate, if you can. And have a list of numbers to call. Pretty obvious, really. But how many of us do it? Finally . . . If you have a Spanish bank, Start tearing your hair out.
Life in Spain

  • Here's a list from The Local of the most common Spanish profanities. I think I've used them all in the past few days, especially when dealing with my Spanish bank.
  • My daughter in Madrid insists that you see a lot more folk reading on the metro these days. Well, yes. It's true that nearly everyone was reading yesterday. Phones, of course. Only I and a guy around my age were actually reading a book.
Today's cartoon

From The Times . . . Just to annoy my Oz friend, Ian:-

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 30 August 2017

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Tour Notes
  • Assuming my car hasn't been stolen or broken into, I'm heading back to Pontevedra today. Where I'll start the odyssey of obtaining at least 7 new bits of plastic. The first task on my agenda is, therefore, to make 10 copies of every single piece of paper that I think might just be relevant to my challenge. And I will hope and pray I don't have to get any of them notarised.
  • Walking towards my daughter's office to get the keys to her flat, I decided to re-visit the Sorolla museum I was passing. This time I got better treatment at the ticket desk and was (eventually) allowed in free of charge, even though I was seeking only a discount. Made me feel a bit better.
  • It was unusually cool in Madrid yesterday, for which I was grateful. The entire country, it seems, has been experiencing the thunder storms which kept me awake in Buitrago de Lozoya on Sunday night. See here for more info on this. The Deep South may have escaped the rains so far but can expect the thunder and lightning in a day or two, they say.
Life in Spain
  • Cataluña. Below this post is a comment from Matthew Bennett on the disgraceful exhibition of the region's nationalists during the recent visit of the king, to participate in commemoration of those killed in the recent terrorist attacks in Cataluña. In recent months, the leader of the Scottish nationalists has been trying to convince us that their brand of nationalism is different from the nasty sort demonstrated by all other nationalists. In truth, they're always the same - They define themselves against their enemies, being obsessed by them
  • The traditional concept of customer service in the Spanish banking industry was to have a number of desks in the bank at which you could poll up any time and have a face-to-face chat. If you were really important, you could go to a higher class of desk. This was good for the customer but obviously expensive and it had to go, especially after La Crisis. These days, the concept of customer service is a combination of machine recordings, phone numbers and, if you're lucky, a human being who, naturally, speaks in rapid Spanish. So, virtually from one extreme to the other. Much cheaper for the banks, I'm sure, but not yet a patch on phone-banking in the UK, which I've been extremely happy with for at least 25 years. However, I'm sure things here in Spain will improve over time. And I might even live to see it.

In the USA, the Whitehouse spokesperson - the ineffable Kellyanne Conway - has come up with her funniest one-liner yet: Donald Trump‘s most notable characteristic is his humility. Just imagine what he'd be like without that!

Up in Galicia, warmer than usual weather this summer has brought forward grape-harvesting by as much as 4 weeks, making it the earliest for at least 30 years. More on this here.

Finally . . . A favourite Sorolla painting:-


The dangerous separatist indecency: Matthew Bennett

I can't believe it, really. It really does not fit in my head that the Catalan separatists who appeared in that strategic location behind Rajoy and the King on Saturday afternoon could not shut up and put away their flags for an hour. Not for the dead. Nor against terrorism. Not with the world watching and with all the tourists who had died or who the killers had left wounded. 

Where was the decency? Where is the respectful memory of our fragile and common earthly existence, threatened by vile Jihadists? Why did they decide to ruin it for the tens of thousands of people - most, I suppose, Catalans - who had come to march without flags?

From 6 to 7 in the afternoon, on Saturday, nothing was going to be fixed; Madrid would not invade La Diagonal with tanks, nor would Puigdemont declare unilateral independence in the face of the King. Sixty minutes was everything. Silence, applause, candles, photos for covers, sad faces, a sense of common commitment, shared humanity, and home, or the beach bar. There was no need. And from eight o'clock, we could continue fighting all that you want. Like before. If you didn't like "Spanish", then how about "European" or "Democrat" or "human being".

But no. It had to be [the Catalan flag], and conspiratorial banners, and whistles and shouts and booing and rage. What a show. Because the King was coming and he had to be educated. And that was more important than the victims and their loved ones. They valued the odious protest against the Spanish above any shared value or sentiment. They acted, and reacted, in that sense, in accordance with their true beliefs and values. To what they want. Selfishly.

Given this indecency the independistas and this lack of shared values, even for those killed after a terrorist attack, I think that Spain and the Government of Rajoy have a more obvious problem than they had 10 days ago. The country, it seems, has changed a lot since the attacks of 11-M when there were, if I remember correctly, demonstrations of pain in all major cities, including Barcelona. Without flags.

So far, my main complaint on the issue of Catalan independence was something eminently practical: a lack of eggs, of course. Years and years and years of rhetoric and debate and neo-language, and media manipulation, framing concepts and distorting the law, and "cunning" politicians, but did not advance beyond the local Parliament, TV3 and the annual romería. Yes, utopian plans to tale control of the Ebro delta Ebro or the power grid or military bases, or powerful interviews with suggestive statements in the international media. But it was all about talking for the sake of talking, mostly. But, at the end of the day, they knew that the Spanish state existed and that it was very real. They would not bite that hook.

Well, at the level of vital evidence, at the level of external events that compel a reaction, of those which leave no time for further training or contemplation, the Islamic State has arrived before the Spanish State. 16 dead, 100 wounded, terror and violence in the streets of the Catalan capital and a beautiful coastal town. And how has it been seen by the separatists? As fantastic, it seems. Reading and hearing their statements, they are already prepared, they see themselves as already capable, they have already acted as would have done the independent Catalan republic that they have in their heads. Puigdemont has already admitted to the Financial Times and to El Nacional that it has bought 6,000 voting urns somewhere, but he is obviously not going to give details. Why? Because Maza warned in July that, if so, funds for this had been improperly spent.

On Sunday, the day after the alleged "unitary" march by the victims, VilaWeb's editorial was titled "No tenim por de res". They have already misrepresented the phrase directed towards the terrorists "I have no fear" (actually a lie), turning this into: "We are not afraid of anything", neither of the Islamic State nor of the Spanish State. Look at the nuance, the subtle twist between one concept and another. And all in 10 days.

If previously everything was rhetoric, now there has been something, an event in the real world, and they have acted in line with their parochial interests. Above consideration of the dead. They have taken advantage of a terrorist attack to reinforce the separatist position ahead of the new referendum because it proves, according to thems, that they are already prepared and that they are not afraid of anything. How will the government of Rajoy react? How does he intend to defend Catalan Spaniards who are not secessionists? What is the solution to this problem?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 29.8.17

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Tour notes
  • This might be an iron rule of travelling throughout Spain and staying in places which claim to offer wifi – If you're in a decent hotel in a town or city, this claim is likely to be true. If you're staying out in a village, it's not. Especially if it's a small hotel or hostal. Indeed, things out in the countryside might be so bad that you can't even get 3 or 4G.
  • In Buitrago de Lozoya, not one of 4 cafés I tried had wifi. Indeed, such were the reactions to my enquiry, I concluded it was an unfamiliar concept there. Plus you don't even get a biscuit with your coffee in the café where I sheltered from the thunderstorm. 
  •  But the medieval walls of the place are something to see.

  • In Segovia, cheek by jowl with the famous acquaduct, you'll find Burger King and MacDonalds conveniently side by side.

  • The old synagogue in the Jewish quarter of Segovia - where else? - is now a Catholic church. Next to it is a convent where - as so often in Spain - the nuns sell various pastries. One of these is called Hearts of St Teresa:-

Another pastry is called coquitos. Or 'small coqs'. Which doesn't sound quite right for nuns.
  • Wifi reception is also weak in the Escorial environs, even in cafés which charge you €2 for a coffee.
  • Driving tip - If you're going to the Escorial from the autopista from Segovia, the signs will eventually peter out and you will realise they are now pointing back to where you've come from. You need to have turned right where it says Monasterio, and then kept going uphill through at least one roundabout where there are no signs at all.
Life in Spain

  • My calvario with my Spanish bank over my stolen cards continued yesterday, but at least I learned – when finding out where I had to send the copy of the police report to – that 'hyphen' in Spanish is guion. Which is also the word for 'script'.
  • At the Escorial this morning, the officious woman at the ticket counter denied me a discount because I couldn't prove that I was British and that I was several years older than the relevant age. I told her she was the only person in Spain who thought I looked younger than I am. I didn't mention that the last person to guess put it at 8 effing years above what it is!
  • In the Escorial, one's ticket is checked at least 4 times. I assume this is to catch those people who have helicoptered into one of the courtyards to escape the €10 entrance fee.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 28.8.17

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Tour Notes

Yesterday I 'did' 3 of Pastrana's offerings:-
  • The Convent of Carmen, and its Museum of St Teresa of Avila
  • The Ducal Palace
  • The Collegiate Church.
The first of these ain't worth visiting unless you're truly Catholic AND a big fan of paintings of St Teresa of Ávila, always portrayed with arms outstretched and enraptured face turned up to the heavens. She had regular visions, it's said. For which she'd be locked up today, of course. Anyway, the 'museum' is really nothing but a gallery of such stuff, which really palls after the first two. At the latest. Very boring for this lapsed Catholic. Or, I imagine, for anyone with a sense of the aesthetic. But only €2.

The Ducal Palace - also only €2 - is stupendous, having been relatively recently restored by its now-owners, the University of Alcala de Henares. And the woman giving the tour did a great job of sounding enthusiastic about something she must discoursed on many times. The place has certainly changed since it was featured in H V Morton's 1957 book, A Stranger in Spain.

The Collegiate Chapel tour – given yesterday by a garrulous bishop – was also religiously tedious/tediously religious until we finally go to the reason for handing over €10 each – the astonishing (Portuguese!) tapestries depicting the siege of Tangiers city back in the 15th century. But thereafter it was back to the boredom of the Treasury and the coffins of dignitaries below the altar of the church. So, like the curate's egg, good in parts. And the exit door back through the church was locked, blocking my escape from the tedium! Here's a few bits of the 4 huge tapestries, all of which are in sparkling condition after more 500 years. Each square metre took a year, said our guide, and each of the tapestries is 11m x 4m. So I'm guessing more than one (Flemish) weaver was involved.

The Portuguese King:-

The king's standard. I think Morton described this as akin to an umbrella, surrounded by tears for the recently departed wife of the king:

Some priests involved in the victory celebrations. The face of the chap centre-left must surely have been of a real person:-

The only woman portrayed, presumably the wife of the surrendering head honcho of the defeated Moors:-

En passant, the large house on the site of the synagogue in the old Jewish quarter was once owned by a lady with the title Doña de la Cerda. The Lady of the Pig. Cerda turns out to be common local surname. One can only guess why.

his morning – the delights of Buitrago de Lozoya . . . .

Life in Spain:-

Banking Treatment Here and There: After my wallet was stolen on Friday night, my UK bank – First Direct - could not have been easier to deal with, nor more helpful early Saturday morning. They tried hard to find a way to get cash to me but fell foul of my previously reported lack of ID acceptable in Spain. They also said new cards would be sent to me immediately. In contrast, my dealings with my Spanish bank were a calvario, and it took me 9 hours to get my credit and debit cards cancelled. This was essentially because of a misleading recorded message which ended with the statement that the bank's customer service people only worked 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. I was eventually advised by my 'personal adviser' to ignore the initial instructions and to wait for later advice on what to do in the event of stolen cards. Problems also arose because my VISA debit card was only 'national' and not 'international'. Which was news to me. The final straw – so far – was to be told that I need to send a copy of the police report - quite possibly by certified post – to the bank, or it would charge me €15 for new cards. The difference in customer service attitudes could not be more stark. But anyway . . .

Here's a foto of the door into the bar where I'd like to take a coffee right now, at 8.30. But no one is yet up and about in this rural place outside Buitrago. And the door is locked. Or, rather, it's secured by a piece of string tied to a chair inside the bar.

The gate from the garden in which I'm sitting - among the detritus of last night's dinners - is also locked. So, in the event of a fire, no one could get out of the place without scaling the spear-tipped railings on either side of the gate. Hmm.

My thanks to all those who've expressed sympathy for the loss of my wallet and for the bureaucratic nightmare I have ahead of me. And, of course, to Alfie Mittington for displaying his uncanny knack of seeing typos that my brain has missed in editing my drafts. What on earth would I do without him and his bizarre sense of humour.

But now I hear noises from the bar. So, it's time to go.

P: S. Wifi problem in the hotel prevented publication of this post at 8.30 and beyond. And the café which provided refuge from a heavy downpour in Buitrago didn't have wifi. Nor even a newspaper. . . The rigours of modern travel.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 27.8.17

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Note: Yesterday's post was published very belatedly at 6 this morning. If you scroll down and read it, you'll realise why I was a tad distracted yesterday.

Tour Notes

Today finds me – walletless - in Pastrana, an utterly charming little town in the hills north east of Madrid. I'm staying in the excellent Hotel Mayno, conveniently situated on th edge of the town, directly below what was the Muslim quarter, constructed after the expulsion of the Moors, when an enterprising local noble brought 200 Morisco families here from the Alpujarras to work the land. La dueña of the hotel is a fount of knowledge on the town and gave us a slide show of the Palacio Ducal over breakfast. And answered my several interjected questions very politely

As I have a full schedule for today, here's just a few items:-

Here and here and thoughtful articles on the Barcelona terrorist attack, referencing the politically inspired lack of cooperation between Cataluña and Madrid. 

And here is a even more thoughtful article on the same theme. As the author says:- Changes in immigration policy should be adopted urgently; the labyrinthine system of national, regional, and local police corps must be rethought and simplified, and the counterterror units centralized. But above all, the authorities should start talking sensibly to our citizens, beginning with a clear definition of the enemy. People were chanting in the streets of Barcelona the day after the attacks, “We are not afraid.” But not being afraid of dying is not what is needed. What is needed is courage and valor to confront terrorism and terrorists. Spain is not there yet because Spain still believes it is different.

And here is a yet more serious article on the Catalan independence issue and its implications not only for Spain but for the entire EU. I was surprised – but pleased - to read in it this sentence about Brexit: The vote by Britain to withdraw from the EU was put down to racism, but ,while anti-immigrant sentiment did play a role in the Brexit, that argument is a vast oversimplification of what happened. I couldn't agree more.

Finally . . . A good-news story from Galicia

One of the fotos of Pastrana from the web here:-

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 26.8.17

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

This post, dear reader, was penned early afternoon of Saturday 26th August, sitting opposite Cervantes' house in Alcala de Henares. For one reason and another, I neglected to post it once I'd found a wifi connection. So I've posted it early on the morning of the 27th, albeit with yesterday's date.

Well, I've spent most of the morning in the comisaría of the policia local – which I eventually found in a street not recognised by Google - reporting the inconvenient disappearance of my wallet between 21.10 last night and 7.30 this morning Presumably picked from my pocket at Madrid airport when I was picking up a friend there last night.

It was an experience, of course, replete with the need to talk to several people, to provide every conceivable detail of myself and the wallet, and to receive and sign several pieces of paper. One of which details my 'rights as a victim'. But at least the policewoman in the Denuncia department was an an amiable anglophile and very chatty. So it wasn't time completely wasted. And it was amusing to find that the police have on file the names of my mother and (dead) father.

But now I have find a way to get some cash when I am without ID which is sufficient in Spain. My car documents with my name all over them are not enough for, say, Western Union, to whom my UK bank is perfectly willing to make an immediate transfer. That's the problem when a country has an ID card system. No one is then prepared to take the slightest risk of you being someone else – even when you pay a motoring fine – and common sense is turfed out of the window.

I had to resort to my UK bank because the bank I use in Spain doesn't man (or woman) its customer service at the weekend. The machine told me.

The police, by the way, were not impressed to hear than my wallet contains a residence card which expired in 2011. Not sure why I gave them that detail.

And that, dear reader, is as much as I feel like writing this morning. My notes can wait for another day. But, meanwhile, a couple of apposite fotos:- 

P. S. I should add that my Madrid-resident daughter came through with the cash I needed and also gave me her bank card and PIN. I was honest enough to tell her I wasn't sure I'd have done the latter for her. But i might now . . . 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 25.8.17

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

I am driving south today and setting off quite early. So this will be a brief post . .

Life in Spain:-
  • HT to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for this article (in Spanish) on the 300 tricks played by the goverment and industry to rip off the Spanish public. Very high prices for energy and telecoms services, for example. I haven't read it yet but assume it includes the standard ploy of charging very high fixed costs even when actual usage is very low. Something long gone in countries where consumer protection is a lot stronger than here. And government-industry collusion far weaker.
  • Spanish companies sometimes don't seem terribly afraid of court action. I say this because the 4 companies taking excess passengers to our Atlantic Islands have ignored both police actions and judgments against them and are flagrantly persisting in overbooking and overloading their boats. 'Having their August', as they say here. Incidentally, local hoteliers are displeased that the adverse publicity is causing lots of room cancellations.
  • Good to read that the British yacht which has won the last Tall Ships Race for the first time in 31 years - the Royalist - was designed and built in Spain. In nearby Asturias, in fact. At Astilleros Gondan in Figueras.

More from the USA on my favourites Galician wine, godello. Apologies if it's the same as the last one I posted . . . 

Finally . . . As I'm short on time, here's a list of fatuous advertising slogans I've compiled over recent months:-
Nuffield Health – Specialists in you.
Listerine – Bring out the bold
Peugeot SUV – Imported from the dust
Tampon manufacturer - Experience amazing
Dog chewy thing – Because he only gets one set of teeth for his entire adult life. (On this logic, we should all be chewing them). – booking dot com, Yeah!
VW – We make the future work
Lawyers – Your case is our cause. (Our profit more like)
Subway – Keep discovering
Nicotine patch - Do something incredible
Toothpaste – Brush like a pro
Tampon manufacturer - Power over periods
Coca Cola – Taste the feeling.
Supermarket – Morrison's makes it

One wonders how much money is lavished on the 'creatives' who come up with these. And what on earth the rejected slogans are like . . . 

And here's a foto of a large slug, the latest to be attracted from the garden to the cat food in the porch. Result of the dry weather?

Today's cartoon:

Just remember, my boy - we're all equal in the eyes of the Lord . . .  though I can't understand  why.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 24.8.17

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

My usual Thursday morning thanks to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for some of these items. Though obviously not the first ones!

Life in Spain:-
  • Don't let anyone try to convince you that fines are not being imposed by the Tax Office (the Hacienda) under the infamous 2012 Modelo 720 statute on overseas assets which the EU has pronounced illegal. I am still wrestling with them over a fine imposed in 2016 in respect of 2012. Yesterday, I received a letter claiming they'd sent me a letter in March this year advising of another €375 fine for that year, despite my already having paid 2 amounts last year. I have no evidence of receipt of this. So will I will today waste more time delivering a letter of protest to the local office. Without much confidence they will revise anything. Worse, they will then threaten me with an 'overcharge', if I don't pay the amount demanded by 5 September. If they reply at all, that is.  
  • By the way, the payment document attached to the letter is dated exactly a month earlier, on 23 July. As happened also last year. One is forced to conclude the Hacienda sends out demands - justified or not - during the month they know virtually everyone is on holiday. Thus maximising the chances you'll miss the deadline date.
  • Is it any wonder that it's reported that thousands of Brits have sold up and left the south of Spain, rather than be caught by this stupidly vicious law, aimed essentially at defrauding locals? 
  • La Ser reports that, in the 3 years since the end of La Crisis, the cost of buying property has risen 7 times faster than wages. Or 14% against only 2%. 
  • The relatives of Franco are reported to own a vast array of properties, via dozens of front companies. Here in Galicia, there's a tussle going on over one particular palace and grounds which our Xunta wants to be open to the public. Said Franco relatives have effectively - and arrogantly - told the regional government to f***k off and leave them alone with their ill-gotten gains.

Here's Don Quijones on hardening attitudes on Brexit in the UK. I seem to have missed this a week ago, before DQ went on holiday . . .  The situation remains that no one yet has any real idea of how the negotiations will turn out. One gets the impression that both sides - but particularly the British - are making the expected concessions.

As you leave Vigo on the old N550 road I mentioned on Wednesday, you pass this eyesore on the city outskirts. You can also see it from the AP9 running parallel to the N550 at this point. It's been there for at least the 17 years I've been going to Vigo and it - and other similar examples - surely help to give the Galicia region its fame for feismo - ugliness. One wonders why nothing is done about it.

Finally . . . I saw an interesting TV program on Romanians in the UK yesterday. But was surprised to see that it had been filmed in cooperation with the Romainian Cultural InstituteAnti-Brexiteers, presumably.

Today's cartoon


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 23.8.17

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • Shopping in a Carrefour hypermarket recently and standing at the head of the checkout queue, I was invited by a cashier to come to her desk before a number came up. Confused, I waited until the screen told me to go to another desk. Where I found myself behind a woman with a lot of items and a determination to argue about discounts she felt she was entitled to. After more than 5 minutes of this, I went to the desk of the first cashier, who smiled at me in recognition. I asked if she really had 'summoned' me and admitted I'd been confused. She laughed and said: "Well, people don't obey the system. They just go to whatever desk they think will be the next one free". I really should have known.
  • Talking of supermarkets . . .  I guess there's a certain logic to this bit of parking in my local Mercadona:-
  • My neighbours' teenage son had a birthday party in their garden last night. I knew, of course, because thumping techno(?) music disturbed me until midnight. When 7 youths went to sleep on the rear lawn. Or didn't. They woke me at 5.30, 6.45 and 7.15 with their non-stop, simultaneous, loud chat. And only stopped when my neighbour got up and made their breakfast. How I wish I could play very loud opera wherever each of them is sleeping it off today.
  • Returning from Vigo yesterday, I had 2 unattractive options:- 1. The exorbitant AP9 toll road, or the N550 which takes you through the city streets and subjects you to the slalom created by the dozens (yes, dozens) of double-parked cars which turn 3 lanes into just one and forces you to weave in and out. I took the latter and wasn't entirely convinced I'd done the right thing.
The US rapper B.o.B. posted this tweet in the context of Sunday's eclipse: A lot of people are turned off by the phrase 'flat earth'. But there's no way you can see all the evidence and not know . . . Grow up. It takes all sorts.

But he's got some competition for the Cretin of the Week prize: Here's Donald Trump's 'spiritual adviser', Paula White-Cain, commenting on the man: Whether people like him or not, he’s been raised up by God because God says that He raises up and places all people in places of authority. It is God that raises up a king, it is God that sets one down and so when you fight against the plan of God, you’re fighting against the hand of God.  Good to know. Somehow, I doubt she took the same view of President Obama.

And then there's the man himself: We’re going to have our wall. The American people voted for immigration control!, he shouted at a rally yesterday. Well, Mr President, as you lost the popular vote they clearly didn't. But I guess this is a ('false') fact lost on you. In truth, the turnout was a low 55% and Trump got 46% of this (against Clinton's 48%) – or 25% of the population. Not much of a mandate, some would say. Even if it's composed of those who can scream loudest.

Incidentally . . . one British political commentated has noted this morning that: Populist parties and administrations tend to collapse in chaos, as happened to Ukip and as is happening to the Trump administration. The claim to be the single voice of the people leads one populist to turn upon another. It often makes a comic spectacle. Well, up to a point. And we are certainly about to see Mr Bannon turn on Mr Trump. And that could be very amusing indeed.

I've mentioned the rapidly increasing number of camino 'pilgrims' passing through Pontevedra on the Portuguese Way and its recent variants. Some numbers:-
2007: 8,000
2013: 30,000
2017: 60,000 This is the revised estimate. The original was only 50,000.
2021: 100,000(est.)
See what I mean about the profit opportunity? Anyone got any joint-venture ideas?

Finally . . . Reader Sierra has kindly provided these on Bretoña's tourism aspirations:-
  • The comment that: The fact that the Bishop of Britonia lives in Poland (and retired two years ago) is probably not helpful!
  • Its map coordinates - 43 ° 20 '14.0 "N - 7 ° 19' 00.9" W, and
I do hope they appreciate our help in their endeavour . . . .

Today's cartoon:-

Another of my all-time favourites . . .

This is the life, eh?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 22.8.17

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • This is an informative article on the Islamist terrorists in Spain.
  • It was to be expected - but is still sad - that Cataluña's most fervent nationalists would make political capital out of the recent tragedy in Barcelona. The president there is reported to have gone so far as to distinguish, between 'Catalan' and 'Spanish' victims. But the cretin won't last long after the failed October referendum deprives him of any reason to stay in power.
Up in the north of Galicia, the town of Mondoñedo has decided to make itself a tourist target. I wish them luck but wonder if they'll be doing anything in respect of the nearby 6th century settlement of 'British' monks. In a place called - for obvious reasons - Bretoña (Eng. Britonia). When I went up to look for it a few years ago there was zilch trace of it. 

Last week's police action against owners of the boats taking folk to the Atlantic Islands appears to have had no effect. Which is why, I guess, the police on Sunday prevented 4 from unloading when they arrived and stopped another 4 from leaving Vigo. More than 2,000 ticket-payers were left without their planned trip. And unamused.

Since at least 2007, Galicia's exports have gone primarily to France, Portugal and Italy. The USA was 4th in 2007 but is now 10th , replaced by the UK, up from 6th. Germany, too, is up – from 7th to 5th. As is the Netherlands, from 8th to 6th. Belgium, Morocco and Mexico make up the top 10. The last-mentioned for the first time. Which is the stimulus behind the press report. A new market!

A Galician shellfish new to me - the peneira. Also known as La oreja del mar, the sea-ear. I wonder if it tastes better than the dreadful percebe.

I've confessed regularly to my confusion about Pontevedra's retail trade and wondered how much of it is related to the need for money-laundering outlets for local drug-smuggling activities. I mention this again because the shop below has, in the last 3 years been a sweet/candy shop and an expensive jeweller's. The latter closed down after only a year but the place has now re-opened - as a jeweller's:-

Finally  . . . .  Some trivia:-
  1. I wrote to a hotel in the south I'm staying at next week to ask if the room had AC. They replied that it didn't but the nights were cool. In contrast, sent me this message:- We're happy to let you know that the property has confirmed they can arrange this for you. There will be no extra charge for this request. I guess they'll be opening a window.
  2. I'm in Vigo this morning to have my car serviced. This is a large and – in contrast to Pontevedra – a very commercial city. But to say that it's bustling at 8.30 in the morning – or even 9 – would be something of an understatement.
  3. I bought a Rover car not long after I came to Spain. The Pontevedra agent closed down after a year or two. Then, 3 years ago, I bought a Honda. The agent closed down after only a month this time. Hence the nuisance of a trip to Vigo.
  4. A conversation with one of our numerous beggars yesterday; Him: You never give me anything. Me: Precisely. So why do you keep on asking me?
  5. This is a foto of Ladies Who Take a Tiffin at the bar next to mine. They are all, I estimate, in their 60s and seem to be trying to outdo each other as regards their outfits. And I'd guess that each of them spends a prince's ransom at the hairdresser's each week. I believe they're called locally PTVs - Pontevedresas por toda la vida. Which is not a compiment.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 21.8.17

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • The New York Times comments on the fight against Islamist terror in Spain here. Some pertinent points:-
  1. Spain has not seen the emergence of hard-line, anti-Muslim political movements as elsewhere in Europe.
  2. Around 200 Spanish residents are believed to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the fighting there - a fraction of the hundreds who have gone from countries like Britain and France.
  3. But Spain cannot escape its symbolic attraction for Islamists that is rooted deep in its history.
  4. Like so many intelligence agencies in Europe, the Spanish are overwhelmed by the volume of potential terrorism plots they are trying to monitor, “They’re totally swamped with leads,” said a terrorist expert. “There is no way they can cover all their current open cases.” 
  • I was interested to read of the La Ruta Búlgara last week. This is one route favoured by Bulgarian drug traffickers bringing cocaine through Spain into Europe. Guess where they land it. And occasionally get arrested. Or at least their local associates do.
  • I recently posted a definition of fashion. I was reminded of it last week when reading that First Communion medals are now the thing for young women to sport in Spain. Either as pendants, brooches or earrings.
Over in the USA, a creationist called Ken Ham has built a (not terribly successful) full-size replica of the Ark and filled it with all the animals Moses and his family took into it. Including dinosaurs, of course. But, reading about the Dutch this last few days, I discovered that they beat him to this. It's in Dordrecht, by the North Sea coast. By the way, the English author of the book I'm reading wrote this sentence:- They paused just long enough for one of them to pronounce the place 'erg fucking cool' (very f**cking cool). Beats me.

Here in Galicia, the Tax Office (the Hacienda) continues to find new ways of generating revenue. Or, putting it another way, stopping widespread tax evasion. Their latest targets are illegal traders of tobbaco. Who may or may not be supplying the government-owned kiosks which sell tobbaco products here. And Stamps. Los estancos

Still on the Hacienda . . .  They've advised us that one of the tricks of the evasion trade is to declare a property a ruin and thus reduce or eliminate municipal taxes on it. Other oversights include not informing them of extensions to your house or of the installation of a pool in your garden. But now they have drones . . .

Very good news . . .  There's a to be a second bilarda pitch here in Galicia. If you're not familiar with this game/sport, this site will be of help to you.

Finally . . . In October 2013, I wrote something about Spanish brothels. Today, the page of that date was hit by a computer offering readers a choice of 6 brothels in Bangalore. With the emphasis on Bang, I guess. In case you miss the first list, the machine presents it twice more. So, just in case anyone is visiting the place and has unsatisfied needs:-
Independent Bangalore Escorts
Bangalore Escorts Service
Bangalore Escorts Agency
Escorts Service in Bangalore
Escorts in Bangalore
Bangalore Escorts

Today's Cartoon:-

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 20.8.17

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • Here's an article - via Eye on Spain - about the heating up on the South of Spain. Ten years ago it was forecast that around now Galicia would be as hot as Andalucia and that the latter would be the new North Africa. Well, not yet.
  • In the last few days, readers Eamon and Maria have posted informative and amusing Comments on energy bills and prices. Essentially no one has the faintest idea how the bills are arrived at, but Maria is pleasantly surprised that something has happened to bring her monthly bill down. Of course, she doesn't expect to get any previous overpayments returned to her. Or even explained. Wise woman.
The Japanese are said to have become much taller via the consumption of more red meat. I mention this because I read yesterday that the Dutch are the tallest people in at least Europe because land reclamation led to high-quality grass, expanded dairy farming and a much increased consumption of milk and cheese. I guess it could be true.

As tourism and terrorism increasingly grow hand-in-hand, here's the list of last year's most-visited cities. You might want to consider avoiding them in future.
1. Bangkok
2. London
3. Paris
4. Dubai
5. New York
6. Singapore
7. Kuala Lumpur
8. Istanbul
9. Tokyo
10. Seoul
11. Hong Kong
12. Barcelona
13. Amsterdam
14. Milan
15. Taipei
16. Rome
17. Osaka
18. Vienna
19. Shanghai
20. Prague

Nutter Bryan Fischer: On the upcoming eclipse: The sun will be perfectly blotted out, by the ruler of the night, plunging all of America in its path into virtual total darkness. This is a metaphor, or a sign, of the work of the Prince of Darkness in obscuring the light of God’s truth. Satan, and those who unwittingly serve as his accomplices by resisting the public acknowledgement of God and seeking to repress the expression of Christian faith in our land, are bringing on us a dark night of the national soul. A Trump supporter, of course.

Here's another sponsored article on Galicia, from The Guardian. Seems like a nice place, though I don't know any of the recommended hotels and restaurants. Except the Parador in Pontevedra. The last foto in the article is this one, showing the entrance and the garden terrace where I'm regularly ignored. Not that I let that get to me:-

The roundabout at the start of A Barca bridge into town featured twice in our local news this week. Firstly, some joker (called a gamberro: 'vandal/hooligan/lout' by the Diaro de Pontevedra) placed a sign at the start of it saying it was closed. Which, in true Spanish fashion, I ignored. Secondly, someone was finally hit and killed on one of the 2 zebra crossings which have often featured in this blog. Essentially each time I was almost hit. Occasionally twice by the same driver doing a U-turn at the roundabout. It had to happen.

Finally . . . Another bike-rider observation:-
  • When you come up behind a group of Spaniards walking in the dedicated bike lane, there's no way of knowing in which sideways direction they'll move when the eventually become aware of your presence. It pays to wait.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 19.8.17

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • One of the negatives of Spanish life is the non-availability of wines from elsewhere in the world. Something which I guess is a feature of both France and Italy also. Compare the vast range in any British supermarket or wine store. Things can be even worse at the regional level. I went to a vinoteca here in Pontevedra yesterday to try to get a bottle of chardonnay from La Rioja I'd read about. There was nothing but Galician wines there
  • Another negative - for foreigners at least - is the level of noise here. The 'acoustic pollution' for which Spain is famous. I was reminded of this when reading last week of the complaints of (Spanish!) neighbours of our local Casino (private club) after the annual Debutantes' Ball last Saturday. The - inevitably far-too-loud - music only stopped at 8am on Sunday morning. And the complaints came not just from people in my barrio on this side of the river but also from inhabitants of Pontevedra city across the river. Needless to say, the complaints were ignored. As they will be next year.
  • In Spain's latest census, 68% of people declared themselves Catholic, against only 17% for 'practising Catholic'. And this was defined as attending Mass at least once a month. Back in my Catholic days this would have meant you'd committed a 'mortal sin' on each of the other 3 Sundays. And were destined for hell. Things have certainly changed.
Talking of religion . . . Spain and Islamist terrorism: There's a very pertinent article at the end of this post, from a guy who seems to know what he's talking about.

The USA: Someone has written: It is hard to escape a feeling that many Republicans are starting to regret the Faustian pact which they struck with Trump to capture the White House and strengthen their grip on Congress. Can there ever have been a more predictable development? Even in the unpredictable world of politics.

The English: I've just finished re-reading Kate Fox's marvellous analysis of the ludicrous unwritten rules which govern English life - Watching the English. I will now ruin it for you by posting here the diagram she presents in her final chapter:-

Ms Fox's final step is to review the theories of why the English are like they are. But gives up, saying that no one really knows. So I won't hazard a guess. I was tempted to disagree with her claim (page 549) that the English dis-ease is treatable but not eradicable. I was convinced that, after living 25 years outside England, I'd shed many English traits. For example, discomfort with eye contact and the tactility of foreigners. But, in the end, I had to admit to myself that, even if I don't follow all the rules, I still instinctively react with internal horror if someone breaks one of them. In other words, it's not just a disease but also a curse!

Galicia:- A couple of recent articles from the New York Times and The Wine Magazine:-
Finally . . . I've been riding my bike the final mile into town for a week now. My observations include:-
  1. Spanish pedestrians don't object to cyclists in pedestrian areas. (Already known).
  2. Spanish pedestrians don't have much (if anything) by way of peripheral vision. (Already known).
  3. Spanish pedestrians will happily move out of your way once they finally become aware you are behind them.
  4. Astonishingly, some Spanish pedestrians will apologise for blocking your (sedate) progress.
  5. If you try to get up a steep slope and don't make it for the final few centimetres and come to a dead halt, the bike will be not be stable and will fall over. With you on it.
  6. Spanish pedestrians make excellent Samaritans, should you and your bike fall over. (Already known)

Enough of blaming the West. The terror will continue until Muslims reject the need for a caliphate   

Ed Husain: Senior fellow at Civitas, Institute for the Study of Civil Society, London; and a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, Washington

What did Spain do wrong? Why did Muslim radicals attack so many innocents? Those are the questions being asked across the West following Barcelona.

Many will resort to the self-flagellation of “change our foreign policy” or “we are to blame because of colonialism”. I wish it were so simple. I know the mindset of militant Muslims seeking to kill disbelievers in the name of a caliphate, because I called for the creation of such a caliphate for five years of my life. I recognise the ideology, theology and strategy behind the violence. There is no appeasing the fanatics.

Consider the facts on Spain: on March 11 2004, al-Qaeda terrorists killed 192 and injured 2,000 on trains in Madrid. Spain had 1,300 troops in Iraq at the time (America had 135,000 and Britain 8,700). Three days after the bombing, José Maria Aznar lost the general election to a Left-wing party committed to ending Spain’s involvement in Iraq. On April 18 2004, the new prime minister ordered the withdrawal of Spain’s troops. Scarred by the Madrid bombing, fearful of reprisals after the terrorist attacks in France, in November 2015 the Spanish government refused to join a global coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil). So what did Spain do wrong?

We are asking the wrong questions. Spain’s foreign policy shows that we cannot stop terrorism by changing our behaviour. In the mind of the Muslim extremists, Spain is not Spain, but al Andalus, part of a Muslim empire that lasted in Spain for 700 years.

Today’s Spain is considered to be “occupied land” that must be liberated. The last Muslim ruler of Granada, Boabdil, who negotiated a peaceful end to his emirate in 1492, made a terrible mistake, argue the extremists. Spain must return to their version of Islam, for in that literalist reading of religious scripture, the world is divided into two realms: Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb, the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. And once a land is controlled by Dar al-Islam it must forever belong to that sphere. Terrorism is merely a tactic to support the aims of the caliphate.

In February this year, Isil warned that it would target Spain’s beaches and increase its propaganda material in Spanish. But Spain is not the only target. India was also part of their interpretation of Dar al-Islam because it was under the Moghuls until 1857 and must therefore return to the domain of the caliphate. Israel must be destroyed as the caliph must reclaim Jerusalem. Turkey’s Muslim reformer, Kemal Ataturk, ended the caliphate in 1924 and a secular Turkey must return to the fold. Charles Martel of France defeated the Umayyad caliph’s soldiers in the Battle of Tours in 732, and Austria held out against the Ottomans in the Battle of Vienna in 1683. Time and again, Isil refers to the West as “crusaders” and targets the Pope and Rome as eternal enemies of Islam.

They are prisoners of history, and this selective narrative of the past fuels their chosen grievances of the present. For them, the West is to blame for every dictator and injustice in the Middle East. They talk of the Sykes Picot agreement of 1916 as if it were yesterday. The dictatorships, tyrants and lack of prosperity in the Arab world fan the flames of anger. The prisons of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Algeria are full of Salafi jihadists who wished to overthrow their governments and create societies based on rule of hardline sharia. Between dictatorial tyranny and religious theocracy, where is the freedom for ordinary Arabs to reform their countries?

In addition, we have radicalised networks of extremist Muslim organisations reinforcing the worst elements of victimhood. They operate on the internet, but also in our universities, communities and prisons. Like the communists of the last century, they rail against capitalism, injustice, the West and dictators, and talk about the racism faced by French Muslims, or the Islamophobia encountered by British Muslims, while offering an ideological panacea: Muslims are weak and can only be strengthened by creating a powerful caliphate.

To strengthen Muslim identity against the West, they seek to divide and rule. They abuse religion to amplify differences, rather than unite based on common belief in one God, goodness, and faith.

The attack in Barcelona and the calls by Isil to attack beaches weren’t random: they hate the freedom of women to dress in bikinis. They attacked the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in May because they despise men and women dancing freely to music. They attacked Charlie Hebdo because they refuse to allow for blasphemy. They target synagogues and kosher grocery stores across Europe because, like their neo-Nazi counterparts, they hate Jews.

But when I visit Turkey, I see Muslim women in bikinis on the beach beside women in headscarves. In Tunisia, Sheikh Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the conservative Ennahda party, talks about the mosques being open, and also the bars and the beaches. In Morocco, I see Jewish communities honoured.

We have to be honest. Across the West we now have 30 million Muslims who are Westerners. There is no war against Islam. The freedom of Muslims to worship and live proves that the old, imperial paradigms of Isil’s Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Islam are outdated. Most Muslims are quietly thriving in business, politics, media, sports, and more. In Britain, Mishal Husain’s voice wakes us up on the Today programme. Nadiya Hussain of The Great British Bake Off prepares cake for the Queen. Mo Farah reinstates British sporting pride. The list goes on. But there is a dark, sinister movement growing, too.

Ten years ago, when I wrote my book The Islamist and warned against this ideology on the rise in our midst, many in the Muslim community dismissed me as an alarmist. Today, an actual caliphate exists and its soldiers are wreaking havoc.

Enough of blaming the West. Isil has attacked 30 different countries, and the vast majority of its victims in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere are Muslims. Isil and other extremists thrive on the justification that it is religiously obligatory to create a caliphate. Jihadists commit mass murder in the pursuit of, or defence of, this belief in a caliphate.

For too long we have been responding to their terror tactics, rather than uprooting their strategic objective. I learned through my own studies and long conversations with religious authorities that a caliphate is not a religious obligation. We can be perfectly Muslim without aiming to subjugate others to a theocracy.

Muslims must reject the idea that we need a caliphate. Unless we discard the drive for a Muslim super-state, many more will be killed in pursuit of it. Muslim organisations, governments, websites, political parties, religious leaders and educational institutions must roundly, unreservedly accept that we no longer need a caliphate. Remove that objective and the violence to justify it falls away. The West must take sides, too, in this battle of ideas among Muslims.