Sunday, May 20, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 20.5.18

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 pagehere.

  • More lack of compromise from the new Catalan president. It's as if he wants to actually raise emotions before his meeting with President Rajoy.
  • Good news for shoppers in Spain. Unless you don't like being trackable.
  • There's been a lot of coverage recently of the growing boldness and violence of the drug smugglers in Spain's south west corner. See here on this. And last night I read that our own drug clans are planning to up their involvement there. Apparently, our police are more effective at  busting narcotraficos than their colleagues down south. Or are less susceptible to bribery. Or both, of course.
Life in Spain
  • As far as I recall, King Juan Carlos was never known as John Charles in the UK. In contrast, here in Spain Prince Harry is Principe Henrique. Cultural differences.
  • The smoking habit is reported to be down to around 25% of the Spaniards. Must say I find that hard to believe. And wonder what it is among young women, many of whom aspire to appear sophisticated by destroying their lungs.
  • Suddenly, the news is all about Germany. I guess it's what happens when you achieve de facto power, even if you don't want it. Following on from the article I cited on the alleged fall of the German empire, there's been these items in the last day or so:-
  1. An article on stereotypical views of Germans around the world.
  2. Rather more seriously, here's an article on US threats of a trade war on Germany, if the latter continues with the implementation of an oil pipeline from Russia
  3. Finally, here's a paragraph from Duff Cooper's diary, written in Paris in 1944. It's rather shocking but has to be seen in the context of the time and circumstances: The Prefect of Police came, and we set out to visit some of the torture chambers which the Germans had made use of in Paris. It was a moving and terrible experience. We were shown things that only could be believed after being seen. My own hope is that the fullest publicity will be given to these horrors in order that the English and American people may never again make the mistake they have so often repeated of believing that the Germans are normal people and that the Nazis are any different from the ordinary Germans. 
  • I have to confess this reminded me of the sacking of Nicholas Ridley by Mrs Thatcher in 1990, after he'd rather unwisely written that the EU was all a German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe. As if that weren't outrageous enough, he then went on to say: It has to be thwarted. This rushed take-over by the Germans on the worst possible basis, with the French behaving like poodles to the Germans, is absolutely intolerable. I have to say that this might well now be the view of the Greeks, the East European states and, most recently, the new Italian government. And quite possibly some of the British Brexiteers.
The UK
  • Best wedding scene? The train-toting page-boy, with his gap-toothed mouth wide open in wonder as the trumpets greeted the bride-to-be at the door of the chapel. Priceless.
  • El playback – Lip synching.
  • Good to see Galicia's less-well-known wines getting an honourable mention in this article.
  • The Galician president is saddened that one of his closest friends has become a turncoat and left the PP party to join Ciudadanos. I'll bet he is. Things can only get worse for him and his party.
  • Apart from the beggars, the camino 'pilgrims' are once again thick on the streets of Pontevedra. Their average age and their income seem to me to be creeping up. I'd be surprised if some of them had walked all the way from Lisbon. Or even Oporto. Maybe Vañença/Tui on the border with Portugal. So that they can do the stipulated 100km+, if they want a Compostela as proof they're a real pilgrim. Of sorts.
Finally . . . 
  • As indicated above, I did my bit and watched that wedding, until she lifted her veil. I'm pleased to report I recognised very few of the alleged celebrities. But I did identify Mr and Mrs Beckham. Does the latter ever smile? And, dresswise, was she aware it was a wedding, not a funeral?

© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 20.5.18

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 19.5.18

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 pagehere.

  • El País has published a paean of praise to Spain and the Spanish from the British pianist James Rhodes. Click here for it in Spanish. Or see the (machine-translation) below. Being very happy living here, I agree with it as far as it goes. But it does represent only one side of a coin and is, therefore, more than a tad unbalanced. I doubt Vincent Werner would go along with all of it but it will certainly allow many Spaniards to preen themselves. And it will doubtless be much tweeted.
  • Incidentally . . . When I searched El País for this article under all the obvious words, all I got was No se han encontrado resultados. No idea why. Has it been withdrawn?
  • Remember that rugby match in which Spain claimed that they'd lost out on the world championship because of some Rumanian skulduggery? Well, it turns out that both Spain and Belgium – inter alia – were fielding illegitimate players and have now been disqualified. See the article below for details of this fiasco, and its bizarre consequences. You might have to read it twice if you really want to understand what's happened. 
Life in Spain
  • Come the warmer weather, come the bull-taunting events around Spain. Such as this one. It's hard to imagine they'll still be taking place in 50 years' time. 10??
  • Here's The Local with a list of 10 fascinating museums around Spain. As opposed to the 8 hidden museums in Madrid of March this year.
  • The largest of the Oasis class cruise ships can accommodate more than 6,000 passengers. Imagine the impact of 2 of these at once in the ports of, say, Cádiz or Malaga. Or even just one. Spring 2021 will see the launch of a 5th Oasis class ship and it will be even larger. As yet without a name, perhaps it should be called Excess. Though I can easily think of rather ruder names.
  • Yet another school massacre, this time in Houston, with 9 pupils and 1 teacher left dead. So routine, it didn't even make page 1 in the UK papers. Cue more pro-NRA nonsense from Fart, I fear. Bullet-proof school uniforms, perhaps. So far, all we've had is his usual twitter banalities: This has been going on too long in our country. Too many years. Too many decades now. He might well have added. But I've no real idea how to stop it and certainly won't do anything about the conditions which produce these maniacs, nor their access to firearms of prodigious capability.
  • The Washington Post reports that, so far, 2018 has been deadlier for students at US schools than Americans in the military. There have been 29 deaths in 16 incidents at schools and 13 deaths of service members in seven incidents. So, American kids would be safer joining the armed forces when they reach 11 than going on to high school.
The UK
  • Apparently there's nothing happening there today except a royal wedding.
  • That TSB/Santander IT problem . . . I'm not sure it's been solved but yesterday's news was that other banks are reporting up to an 8-fold increase in the number of customers joining them from TSB, as droves of customers abandon the bank after its IT meltdown.
  • A temperature of 31 degrees yesterday. Too high for us Gallegos.
  • The one-chord guitarist has given up one even that. Last night, he was sitting on the floor, smoking, with his guitar leant against the wall and a cap on the floor in front of him. Empty, of course.
Duff Cooper
  • After mentioning, back in the 1920s, that his then fiancée was fond of injecting herself with morphine, he writes of a 'new drug' which she and her socialite friends are now into. It's not named, so I guess it was cocaine. Though later on DC writes of friends who are opium smokers.
  • Later on, in the 1930s, when his now wife was acting in a play in the USA, DC satisfies his needs with 2 mistresses in parallel. But no one spoke about this in public, so no rules broken. Hard, nay impossible, to believe his wife didn't know about these affairs. She later told her son that she hadn't been much interested in sex and that all DC's women had been only flowers, while she had been the trunk around which they flourished.
  • In the 1940s, DC has to act an intermediary between Churchill and de Gaulle each of whom had an an enormous ego and could be very difficult. One gets the impression that, on balance, DC felt that De Gaulle was the more difficult of the two. Though French historians probably disagree.
Finally . . .
  • A travel tip I forgot to mention: Buy a universal plastic plug. Spanish hotels (even 4 star ones), seem to have a problem with the theft of the original sink and bath plugs. Or deliberately remove them.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 19.5.18


1. Debacle in European rugby sees Russia qualify for the World Cup

European Rugby has been left embarrassed after Romania, Spain and Belgium all fielded ineligible players in the Rugby Europe Championship. All three teams were deducted five competition points for each game that they had ineligible players on the field, regardless of the result. This meant that they each finished with negative points.

Georgia, which went through the competition undefeated, had already secured a place at next year’s Rugby World Cup. This meant that the next best team would gain direct qualification to the tournament, while third place would enter a playoff series with Samoa for a spot.

Romania, Spain and Belgium were the second, third and fourth ranked teams in the Championship. Their penalties meant that Russia, which only won two games in the tournament, moved into second place and claimed a spot in Japan. Germany, which finished last with no wins and zero competition points, took out third place and will play against Samoa.

This farce followed on from an earlier European rugby scandal in the game between Belgium and Spain. Romania was, at that point, in second place and needed Spain to win in order to guarantee them entry to the World Cup. The referee was a Romanian who allegedly penalised Belgium out of the game, effectively handing Spain the match.

World Rugby declined to intervene at this point, which infuriated the Belgians – and then Belgium discovered that Spain had used ineligible players in that match. They again tried to have the match overturned, and the International Rugby Board (IRB) decided to investigate. They found that Spain had indeed been fielding ineligible players throughout the tournament – but so had Belgium.

Romania was also caught up in the scandal, which meant that they lost their qualification spot and will miss the world cup for the first time ever. European rugby will be represented by Georgia and Russia along with the Six Nations teams, and Germany will enter for the first time if they can beat Samoa in a home and away playoff series (which they won’t).

2. The open letter from James Rhodes in El País.

"You may not believe me, but I'm not lying if I tell you that in Spain everything is better" 

I've never really understood the whole home thing. Okay, it's the place where you sleep and you're under cover, but other than that, the concept of home didn't make much sense to me. I guess I've spent half my life running away. Me or the disasters I've caused myself, as a rule. But nine months ago I stopped running. I settled in Madrid. I found a home. And I found out what it's like to have it.

It is one thing to know that Madrid that the Prado, the Thyssen and the Reina Sofía offer us. Escape at lunchtime to go to see the Guernica and then have a picnic at the Retiro, visit the Royal Palace and have a drink in the Plaza Mayor. But falling in love with the Cava Baja or the street of the Holy Spirit, which to you will seem most normal but which for me are full of magic, is another level.

Seeing people walking, so quiet (impossible in London), or waiting for the light to turn green (I've never seen it before). Count the number of couples that go hand in hand. Smile at the majesty of Serrano, where a jacket costs the same as a car. See an incredible play at El Pavón Teatro Kamikaze, chop up a few croquettes that can literally change your life at the Santerra restaurant, laugh at how good the croissants are at the Café Comercial, watch the professionals at Sálvame analyze Letizia's body language in front of an enthralled audience.

The differences between this country and the United Kingdom are countless. I am writing this sick, from bed, at two in the morning, after a three-day trip to the UK in which I caught the Brexit flu. When I arrived in Madrid, I called my health insurance. An hour later a doctor showed up at my house and prescribed antibiotics. Here I pay 35 euros a month for health insurance (it may seem like a luxury, but I need it for my past back operations). In London he paid 10 times more. And there the medical visits in your home cost about two hundred euros.

You may not believe me, but I'm not lying if I tell you that everything is better here. The trains, the subway, the taxi drivers, the very friendly strangers, the quiet rhythm of life, the amazing ability to insult each other (passing from mother to mother or from anyone's sexual activity, you resort to fish, asparagus and milk, an art worthy of Cervantes), the incredible language (you have fussy, scuffle, ñaca-ñaca, sob, left-handed or tiquismiquis, which could be my nickname). Your dictionary is the verbal equivalent of Chopin. I think it's guay de Paraguay the amount of heavy smokers here, telling all the doctors and moralistic assholes in Los Angeles to fuck off. The cordiality of living and letting live and the generosity are amazing. The Croquette of the Year Award. The respect that books, art, music inspire in you. The time you devote to family and rest. The things that matter.

Also impressive is the number of talented people called Javier (Bardem, Cámara, Calvo, Ambrossi, Manquillo, Del Pino, Marías, Perianes, Navarrete, among many others). Guess what I'm going to call my next child.

You invented the siesta, and yet you work more hours than almost any other country in Europe.

I have met strangers in the subway with whom I have ended up playing Beethoven, grandmothers who have made me toast and have told me about when they played the piano, psychiatric patients whose bravery has left me amazed, a boy who plays the piano much better than me at his age and whom I have been able to give some free lessons to. Even Slowly it sounds great in the subway at half past eight in the morning if it is touched by a smiling old man, and when I watch the other passengers I realize that it is a contagious smile. I have spent hours in the Carrefour de Peñalver overwhelmed by the colours, flavours, smells and freshness of everything (in London something like this is unthinkable), I have seen tomatoes the size of a football in the fruit shop on my street, I have received biscuits from some neighbours who, instead of complaining about the noise, ask me to play the piano a little more loudly. And I discovered natillas.

And I could go on for hours.

There's a lot of good stuff here, sometimes hidden. I have witnessed the extraordinary work done by organizations such as the Fundación Manantial, Save the Children, the Vicki Bernadet Foundation, Plan International and many others, large and small, capable of alleviating some of the pain in this world. And they don't ask for praise, prizes or acknowledgements.

Obviously, there are also problems. How could there not be? The frightening, offensive and inhumane laws that apply to sexual assaults (seen in the case of The Herd) that of course have to change. Drugs, destitution, human trafficking, abuse, cuts in health care, mental illness, economic problems. Corruption in power. Politicians (seriously: why don't we let Manuela Carmena, the super grandmother, take care of Spain for a few years and fix it?). The daily scourges and from time immemorial. However, all this has not made you insensitive, cold, unpleasant and closed as it has happened in so many countries, but it has made you open, it has brought to light a little bit of the purity and goodness that there is in the world, and, hell, how proud I am to be a tiny and lonely figure that wanders around this country amazed by its collective vitality.

This year, for work, I'm going to Ibiza, Sitges, Seville, Granada, the Costa Brava, Cuenca, Vigo, Vitoria, Zaragoza and many other incredible places. I've visited dozens of cities over the last two years. I am a foreigner, a guest, and as an Anglo-Saxon, I do not think I have the right to speak about politics, but what I can say is that in Barcelona, Gijón, Madrid, Santiago or Girona, everywhere, I have always found the same thing: affection, hospitality, smiles, generosity. There are also different gastronomies: the Valencian paella is the only real, obvious one, and the same goes for the churros in Madrid and the salmorejo in Andalusia. The best thing you can put in your mouth is in San Sebastian (well, maybe I'm messing around, so I'd better leave it alone). I have found different accents (Galicia, I'm sorry, but I don't understand a single word of what your inhabitants say, not even when I watch First Dates with subtitles; it's my fault, but they speak too fast), but behind every accent there was always a huge heart, dedication to work, hugs, tremendous hospitality.

I love this country. For me, it's at the top. Metaphorically and literally. Before, I never looked up; I walked with my eyes fixed on the sidewalk or my mobile phone. Here in Spain I look at everything with amazement. I look at you and your beauty blinds me. Now I'm looking up. Because I feel safe. And visible. And supported. And welcome back.

I was in London recently and I visited Billy, my psychiatrist. He told me that 10 years ago he doubted my survival. That even a year ago I wasn't quite sure, and rightly so. And that I've never looked as good as I do now. And you know what? I owe a lot to Spain.

Some will say that people treat me differently because of my relative success, the fact that I stay in nice hotels and dine in good restaurants. So let me finish with a memory.

A long time ago (too long), when I was very young, we spent our summers in Mallorca every year. In August we stayed for a couple of weeks in a shitty little apartment on the beach in Peguera. In my memory, that vacation is the safest, most perfect and incredible refuge of my childhood. It meant moving away from the war zone that was my life in London: violent, monochromatic, dominated by the rapes I suffered. For a brief period of time, when I was eight or nine years old, I was able to buy tobacco (a packet of Fortuna for a few pesetas), in the little shop on Pedro's beach. I was able to drink Rioja calentorro (thanks again, Pedro), contemplate the stars, swim in the sea, trick someone from time to time into inviting me to go water skiing, enjoy the sun. And, above all, enjoy the feeling of being safe, protected. 30 years later, you give me the same thing. And I can never express my gratitude to you for that.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 18.5.18

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 pagehere.

  • Possibly not the most auspicious start for the new Catalan president.
  • More here on opposition to Spain's macho culture.
  • And here's Don Quijones on the issue of the turn-round in the winds which have helped Spain grow impressively in the last few years. At the macro level, that is. DQ points out – as I have – that the good times have been [very] good to some, not so good to many others. Incidentally, I've referred many times to Spain's phony construction boom but I actually prefer his label of her madcap property boom. Which some suggest is about to happen again. Do people never learn? For example that bankers make huge slugs of money no matter which way a market moves. They just don't care. So need to be controlled. Trump, anyone?
Life in Spain
  • Here's The Local's advice on how to properly party in Spain. Might be useful for younger reasons, if any.
The EU
  • Some of us have long thought the EU would eventually collapse under the weight of its internal incongruities, born of different histories, religions, languages, ethnicities, moralities, cultures and economic and political fundamentals. It's not that the original stimulus - avoidance of war – was wrong. Nor that its 'liberal' societal and economic objectives were/are wrong. Rather, it's the speed – and, it has to be said, the duplicity and arrogance - with which it has been progressed. A case, then, of excessive rather than erroneous ambition. First Greece, then Brexit and now these Italian developments make this crystal clear.
  • The essential problem is that post-trauma Germany doesn't want to be in thrall to the rest of Europe (specially the (profligate) southern part of it), and the rest of Europe doesn't want to be dominated by Germany. As it increasingly is. As I say, Italian developments present this dilemma rather starkly. Below are 3 (overlapping) articles by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard on the subject. In the last of these, the language from both Germany and Italy is apocalyptic but I guess things won't come to this. 
  • En passant, it was inevitable that I'd agree with AEP's comment that the EU had lost the UK – maybe – through a mixture of inflexibility, misjudgement and strategic ineptitude. Of course, this is now being matched by the UK government in its negotiations with Brussels over Brexit.
  • Needless to say, I also agree with AEP's comment that: The volcanic developments in Italy doom Emmanuel Macron’s hopes of a "grand bargain" for the eurozone. It's really hard for me to believe that some folk were so optimistic a year ago as to think this had any chance of success in the foreseeable future.
  • And I also agree with his conclusion that: Intra-EMU politics are turning particularly toxic. The project will face an ordeal by fire when the economic cycle turns in earnest. Some of us have always felt this was inevitable.
Postscript, written after I drafted the above . . . Fascinatingly, this article in the NY Times today talks of the fall of the third German empire. The current one. As the writer puts it: The system is effectively imperial in many ways, with power brokers in Berlin and Brussels wielding not-exactly-democratic authority over a polyglot, multiethnic, multi-religious sprawl of semi-sovereign nation-states. And thinking about the European Union this way, as a Germanic empire as well as a liberal-cosmopolitan project, is a helpful way of understanding how it might ultimately fall. Been there, said that.

Finally . . . There's been a spate of articles on attempts in Amsterdam to deal with the modern plague of excess tourism. Reference has been made to the Disneyfication of the Dutch capital. Rather like my acid comment that visiting Granada and Córdoba these days was like going to DisneyWorld.

© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 18.5.18



Populist plans set Italy on a collision course with Brussels

Italian populists on the brink of forming a government remained defiant yesterday as markets trembled over leaked revelations that they plan to write off billions of euros of debt.

Italian stocks slid on the news and borrowing costs increased as financiers reacted to a policy document saying that the Five Star Movement and the anti-migrant League had considered procedures for leaving the euro and writing off €250 billion in debt.

The spread between Italian and German bonds widened sharply — showing a lack of confidence in Italian economic plans — despite the parties claiming that the document had been superseded since it was written on Monday and that they no longer wanted to leave the euro.

Matteo Salvini, the League leader, dismissed the turmoil as a “cynical board game of high finance”, and said in a Facebook video that he was determined to push on with plans for big tax cuts, earlier retirement and a wage for the jobless.

More than two months after inconclusive elections, the League and Five Star are locked in talks to form the first populist government in Europe, with Eurosceptism written into its programme. A year after Emmanuel Macron appeared to curb Europe’s populist surge by seeing off the challenge from Marine Le Pen to win the French presidency, a free spending Five Star-League government in Rome will alarm EU leaders traumatised by Brexit and concerned about nationalist governments in Poland and Hungary.

The document, published by the Huffington Post, also spelt out the Italian parties’ determination to overturn sanctions against Russia.

The draft contained plans for “procedures that allow member states to leave monetary union”, as well as the intention to ask the European Central Bank to cancel Italian government bonds worth €250 billion bought under the bank’s quantitative easing programme.

Claudio Borghi, the League’s economic spokesman, claimed yesterday that the party merely wanted the EU not to count the bonds when it calculates Italy’s debt, which stands at 130 per cent of GDP, second only to Greece.

Lorenzo Codogno, an analyst at LC Macro Advisors, said by merely considering pulling out of the euro the parties revealed “the true extent of their oddity, inexperience and off-track nature”.

The League’s plan to cut taxes has been priced at €80 billion, while Five Star says its wage for the jobless will cost €17 billion in the first year.

Mr Salvini shrugged off all criticism, reminding supporters that Silvio Berlusconi had resigned as prime minister in 2011 thanks in part to a widening spread in bond prices. Claiming that he would rather be a “barbarian than a slave” to Brussels, he said: “The more they insult us, the more they threaten us, the more desire I have to embark on this challenge.”

League officials have said that they are more Eurosceptic than Five Star, leading to tensions. However after Jyrki Katainen, European Commission vice-president for jobs and growth, warned against violating EU spending agreements this week, Five Star’s leader, Luigi Di Maio, condemned “Eurocrats that nobody elected”.

Beppe Grillo, the comedian who founded Five Star, also renewed his party’s calls for a referendum on leaving the euro, a plan that Mr Di Maio had dropped. Adding to the confusion, Mr Grillo told Newsweek on Monday that he also favoured two euro currencies, one for northern Europe and one for southern Europe.

Mr Salvini also attacked the EU commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, who called on Italy’s new government not to change its migration policies. “We heard some unelected commissioner say that Italy has to continue to do what it’s always done, or rather, pull its trousers down,” he said. Mr Salvini has promised to expel all 500,000 illegal migrants in Italy and to halve the funds Italy spends on migrant centres, using the cash to beef up expulsions.

He said that a final draft of the alliance’s policies would be ready by yesterday for submission to President Mattarella, who has the last word on forming a government.


Italy's insurgents enrage Germany and risk ECB payment freeze
The European Central Bank may be forced to sever credit lines to Italy in a drastic financial showdown if the country’s insurgent coalition tears up EU spending rules and subverts the treaty foundations of the euro.
Professor Clemens Fuest, head of Germany’s influential IFO Institute, said the EU authorities cannot stand idly by if the neo-anarchist Five Star Movement and anti-EU Lega nationalists press ahead with revolutionary policies and endanger the stability of monetary union.
Prof Fuest warned that the ECB would have to cut off Target2 credits to the Bank of Italy within the internal payments system, potentially bringing the crisis to a climactic head. “If they start to violate eurozone fiscal rules, the ECB will reluctantly have to act.  It will be like the Greek crisis. Italy will have to introduce capital controls and will be forced out of the euro,” he said.
It would be a massive blow but I think the euro would survive with France and Germany, and Spain still in there. It would be a different euro,” he said.
Boom beckons in Italy as post-austerity rebels slash taxes and spray money. 
Prepare for a roaring economic boom in Italy. Nothing works so marvelously in the short-run as radical tax cuts and a fiscal spree worth 2 or 3% of GDP.
Markets have great trouble pricing political surprises. They misread Brexit even though it should have been obvious that sterling devaluation was a form of macro-economic stimulus. They misread the election of Donald Trump even though he was promising a Keynesian blitz of New Deal infrastructure and rearmament. They are now misreading the economic logic of Italy's bizarre drama. 
Austerity is over. We are going to see some rock and roll at last in this stale eurozone. I am incredibly bullish,” purred one senior Italian banker in the City. He is quietly helping the twin-headed revolution in Rome. 
If you look closely, the anti-euro Lega nationalists in the new coalition are low-tax, supply-side Friedmanites, or an Italian variant of Pinochet’s Chicago boys in Chile if you prefer. What is unexpected is that the Five Star ‘Grillini’ seem to be going along with much of this, and many of them are in any case techno-utopian, libertarian anarchists. 
The stimulus packs an extra punch in a country that still has plenty of slack and a negative "output gap" of 0.7% (IMF estimate). The combined flat tax of 15% on incomes up to €80,000 (£70,000), and 20% for the rich, is a free marketeer’s dream.  It would be no great surprise if hard-nosed Anglo-Saxon hedge funds soon become the loudest cheerleaders of the Lega-Grillini adventure. 
The proposed "citizens income" of €780 a month for all is an injection of high-powered spending money directly into the veins of the retail economy, a bonanza for swaths of the depressed Mezzogiorno. Seen through this lens there is something not quite right about today’s wild sell-off of Italian bond and equities.
Investors are of course in shock. They thought Italy’s rebel twins had been tamed and that there would be no challenge to the European order or to fiscal probity. They awoke instead to read a leaked "contract for government" – albeit an old draft – that spoke of “cancelling” €250bn of Italian debt held by the European Central Bank and re-establishing “monetary sovereignty”. 
The text speaks of an Article 50-style clause offering a “shared and agreed exit path” for any state that wants to leave the euro. It rips up the EU Fiscal Compact. It calls for EU treaty change on the bail-out fund (ESM) and the Stability Pact, and for political control over the Bank of Italy. It demands a drastic reversal of the "Fornero" pension reform, lowering the retirement age again by several years. The "citizens income" has not been watered down into irrelevance as previously supposed. There is to be a concordat with Vladimir Putin. 
In other words, the Lega-Five Star comrades have not backed off on their original pledges after all. Five Star "guarantor" Beppe Grillo drove home the defiant message this week with fresh calls for a referendum on the single currency, and for splitting monetary union into northern and southern blocs.  “It might be a good idea to have two euros,” he told Newsweek. 
The coalition text is being reworked. The €250bn debt write-off is to become an accounting clause to eliminate the ECB’s €300bn holding of Italian bonds from the official debt-to-GDP tally. “It is modelled on the way the ONS treats bonds held by the Bank of England,” said Lega drafter, Claudio Borghi. Needless to say, the ECB cannot accept such a proposal. To do so would be to admit that QE was covert ‘monetary financing’ of states in violation of the Lisbon Treaty, as German critics alleged all along. It would set off an instant challenge in the German constitutional court.
The market reaction to the bombshell leak is incoherent and likely to prove fleeting. While the risk spread on 10-year Italian debt instantly ballooned 16 basis points to 151 there was no corresponding sell-off in the debt of Portugal, Spain, France, Slovenia, et al.  
Either Italy is suddenly a threat to the integrity of monetary union – in which case the entire project is in danger of unravelling – or it is not. There is no plausible scenario where Italy alone blows up while the rest of the eurozone sails calmly on. The country is too big. There is no plausible scenario where Italy alone blows up as the rest of the eurozone sails calmly on
Lorenzo Codogno,  former director-general of the Italian treasury and now at LC Macro Advisors, fears that the new government is now on “a Syriza-like trajectory within Europe” and heading for a disastrous showdown. “They risk losing market access. If bond spreads and bank spreads widen, Italy could face another credit crunch like 2011.”
The counter-argument is that Brussels cannot plausibly risk a confrontation with Italy. Any attempt to bully the Lega-Grillini rebels into retreat – let alone to crush them à la Grecque – risks setting off a disastrous chain of events. The coalition would retaliate by activating its plans for a "Minibot" parallel currency that subverts the monetary control of the ECB and would rapidly call into question the political viability of the euro.
Italy does not require a bail-out. It has a current account surplus of 2.8% of GDP and is a net contributor to the EU budget. The country is not remotely comparable to Greece.
Brussels has at last met its political match. Just as Brexit was the first referendum that the EU could not overturn (though hopes persist), Italy’s revolt is the first act of really serious defiance by a eurozone state that cannot be broken. It would be courting fate for the EU authorities to risk an existential battle with a big EU founder-state when it is already fighting brush-fires across half of Eastern Europe, and after having already lost Britain through inflexibility, misjudgement and strategic ineptitude. 
Brussels will have to put the best face on events and join the pretence that Lega-Grillini fiscal arithmetic mostly adds up. This charade can be achieved by creative use of "dynamic scoring" and penciling in a heroic fiscal multiplier. 
Some €15bn to €20bn can be plucked out of thin air from a fiscal amnesty (another one). A host of tricks and "agevolazioni" are at hand, along with a putative €200bn privatization fund which sounds impressive but will never come to much. Such a smokescreen would let the EU turn a blind eye.
A messy compromise along these lines would allow the Lega-Grillini duet to go ahead with turbo-charged deficit financing. Markets are likely to let them get away with it as long as the eurozone economy holds up and the global expansion rolls on.
In a benign world, the fiscal stimulus will (ostensibly) pay for itself through higher growth. Mr Borghi argues that the debt-to-GDP ratio might actually fall faster from a peak of 133pc through the magic of the denominator effect. It is not impossible.
I have long presumed that Italy would start running into trouble when the ECB switches off its bond purchases later his year and ceases to be a buyer-of-last-resort. The country must finance debt equal to 17pc of GDP in 2019, one of the highest ratios in the world. Chronic capital flight over recent years – showing up in the Target2 liabilities of the Italian central bank – suggests that few obvious buyers are waiting to step into the breach.
Yet I am not so sure any longer. It is possible to imagine a glorious Italian summer stretching deep into 2019 and even 2020 before the music stops. The problem will come in the next global downturn. 
Recession will quickly expose the deterioration in the underlying "cyclically adjusted" deficit. It will then be clear that the evisceration of the Fornero pension reform puts Italy’s long-term debt on an unsustainable and dangerous trajectory. 
Bond vigilantes – capricious as ever – will awaken suddenly. By then German political consent for monetary union will have been stretched to near breaking point. 
Enjoy the Prosecco for now.

Italy's insurgents enrage Germany and risk ECB payment freeze

The European Central Bank may be forced to sever credit lines to Italy in a drastic financial showdown if the country’s insurgent coalition tears up EU spending rules and subverts the treaty foundations of the euro.

Professor Clemens Fuest, head of Germany’s influential IFO Institute, said the EU authorities cannot stand idly by if the neo-anarchist Five Star Movement and anti-EU Lega nationalists press ahead with revolutionary policies and endanger the stability of monetary union.

Prof Fuest warned that the ECB would have to cut off Target2 credits to the Bank of Italy within the internal payments system, potentially bringing the crisis to a climactic head. “If they start to violate eurozone fiscal rules, the ECB will reluctantly have to act.  It will be like the Greek crisis. Italy will have to introduce capital controls and will be forced out of the euro,” he said.

It would be a massive blow but I think the euro would survive with France and Germany, and Spain still in there. It would be a different euro,” he said.

The German establishment has reacted with fury to a leaked plan by the Lega and the Five Star "Grillini" to overthrow the disciplinary architecture of the euro project, warning that it kills off any chance of German assent to shared debts or tentative fiscal union.

The bottom line is that they are issuing almost an ultimatum. They are saying that either there are fundamental changes to the eurozone, with fiscal transfers for Italy, or they will leave the euro,” he told The Daily Telegraph. Prof Fuest said the original draft text prepared by the two radical parties exposed their ideological reflexes and fatally damaged trust, even if the final text is being toned down. It has confirmed people’s worst fears and had a very bad impact in Germany. How can you have a shared deposit insurance (for banks) with a government like that in Italy? It is just unthinkable,” he said.They are threatening to undermine the Fiscal Compact and the Stability Pact and the entire institutional basis of monetary union.”

German economists have been stunned by radical demands for a cancellation of €250bn (£220bn) of Italian bonds held by the ECB. The clause has since been removed but the damage is done.

Italy’s policy is unmasked. They want others to finance their debt,” said Lars Feld, one of Germany’s "Five Wise Men" on the Council of Economic Experts. Why should there be any risk sharing in EMU if the new Italian government asks for a €250bn haircut? It is time to ring-fence against Italian risk,” he said on Twitter.

Whether the fall-out from "Italexit" really could be contained is an open question. Many think contagion would spin out of control. Furthermore, it is the express intention of some Lega-Grillini hardliners to force Germany to leave the euro by making it unworkable. They would retaliate by issuing a parallel currency within the eurozone and sending troops into the Bank of Italy if necessary. This vastly complicates the picture.

Italy’s Target2 debt within the ECB’s internal payments nexus has become a neuralgic subject. The liabilities topped €426bn in April – 26% of GDP – reflecting chronic capital outflows from the country. The worry is that they might spike to systemic levels in a crisis.

Willem Buiter, Citigroup’s chief economist and a former UK rate-setter, says weaker EMU central banks are little more than currency boards. They can go bankrupt and are not “credible counterparties”. He argues that the ECB may ultimately have to suspend funding lines to “irreparably insolvent” central banks in order to protect itself.

Hans-Werner Sinn, a celebrated economist at Munich University, said there is no mechanism for Germany to retrieve the vast sums that it has sunk into the eurozone, including the €923bn of Target2 credits owed to the Bundesbank. “We will never get the money back. It is already lost,” he said. Prof Sinn said the structure is equally unworkable for Europe’s North and South, leaving both in a state of smouldering resentment. “There is no possible solution to this. The catastrophe is happening. This is going to lead to the destruction of Europe, to say it bluntly. It will also bring AfD (Right-wing populists) to power in Germany,” he told The Daily Telegraph.

The Lega and Grillini were still arguing over the terms of the coalition deal on Thursday. There is no agreement yet on the choice of prime minister. Five Star intends to submit the coalition plan to an online vote. The deal may yet fall apart.

Italy’s constitution gives president Sergio Mattarella de facto power to impose the premier and the finance minister. He can order the government to stay within agreed EU treaties. But these are largely untested waters in the Italian post-War republic. If he pushes too hard, talks will collapse and lead to a fresh elections. Polls suggest that the insurgent parties would increase their votes. President Mattarella must pick his poison.

The volcanic developments in Italy doom Emmanuel Macron’s hopes of a "grand bargain" for the eurozone. The French leader had been gambling that Germany might accept some steps towards economic union, with a eurozone budget and finance minister, if France delivered on economic reform. It was already a hard sell. The Dutch-led "Hanseatic League" of Nordic states warned that they will not be dragged into "romantic” adventures, calling for strict budget rules. Each state must be responsible for its own debt. The Lega-Grillini démarche is the last straw.

Olaf Scholz, Germany's Social Democrat (SPD) finance minister, has warned that much of the Macron plan will never see the light of day. This week he rowed back further, suggesting that there will be no fiscal backstop for the Single Resolution Mechanism until deep into the 2020s. This eviscerates a key pillar of the EMU banking union.

It was wishful thinking to suppose that an SPD finance minister would deviate far from the "Ordoliberal" reign of Wolfgang Schauble. “Macron will not get anything from Germany. Scholz is exactly the same as Schauble,” said Heiner Flassbeck, the former German economic state secretary. The German view is that they are right all the time and the only way to run the eurozone is for everybody to be like them,” he said.

The resounding German "Nein" means the eurozone will remain unreformed and naked when the next global downturn arrives. Little has been done to avert a repetition of the “doom-loop”. Vulnerable banks and sovereign states can still drag each other down in a vicious spiral.

The situation is bleak. Almost a decade after the Lehman crisis, eurozone interest rates are still negative and quantitative easing has reached technical and political limits. The bloc is still in a Japanese "lowflation" trap. Debt levels are much higher. 

Now intra-EMU politics are turning particularly toxic. The project will face an ordeal by fire when the economic cycle turns in earnest.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 17.5.18

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 ever on a Thursday, I'm indebted to Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas for some of today's items.

  • Supporters of independence in Cataluña are reported to now comprise 48% of the population, up from 44% in February. So . . . well done, Madrid.
  • Spain has suffered another setback in its pursuit (persecution?) of Catalan politicians, with the Belgian rejection of the extradition request in respect of 3 of these. Cue Spanish rage about stupid foreigners who don't really understand the concept of justice.
  • An interesting development in Spain's gender war.
  • And an interesting El País article on what I've oft described as the (growing) gap between Spain's macro and micro economic growth.
  • Thanks to (until very recently) the freezing of pensions, Spain's senior citizens are amongst the most unhappy – and most vociferous – about this situation. Click here for the latest developments,
  • On that economic growth and its future, here's a quote from an El Mundo article cited by Lenox:- 'The tailwinds that had saved Spain are running out: expensive oil, less tourism and an end to free money’. The piece begins: ‘The former Minister of Economy, Luis de Guindos, always defended that Spain had been able to take advantage of the so-called tailwinds better than any other country. That low interest rates or the fall of oil "play into everyone's hands", but that the Spanish economy grew "almost twice as much as the euro zone". However, these constant references by Guindos - as well as by all the members of the Government - to the good economic management of Mariano Rajoy's Executive failed to hide the obvious: that external factors were key to Spain's beginning to emerge from the crisis. And so the exhaustion of those winds that is now taking place is just as dangerous as its arrival in the past was beneficial...’.
  • One wearies of reporting cases of corruption in Spain but here's an interesting example, in English. Note the support of the accused from the PP party/government.
Life in Spain
  • Here's a video explaining why jamón can be so expensive.
  • Yesterday, I was hassled by 6 beggars. More in one day than in 3 weeks in the south of Spain. I suspect it's a nuisance that our mayor and his colleagues don't want to do anything about. The funny thing is that, apart from the regulars, the supply is endlessly reinvigorated by new ones. Maybe it's because the San Francisco church hands out a free midday meal to anyone who turns up. Someone who works there tells me the numbers have soared. I'm reminded of Richard Townsend's 1786 comment that Spain would always have thousands of beggars so long as her countless convents and monasteries went on handing out food to the (feckless?) poor.
Duff Cooper
  • His diary gets a lot more interesting – and less replete with details of romantic engagements – once he becomes a minister and then a Secretary of State in the pre-WW2 British government. His notes on the 1938 and 1939 cabinet meetings are as fascinating as you'd expect. He was clearly very close to Winston Churchill, no appeaser and no fan of Neville Chamberlin and his negotiations with Hitler. On the former, DC writes this telling comment:- I believe that Hitler has cast a spell over Neville. After all Hitler’s achievement is not due to his intellectual attainments nor to his oratorical powers but to the extraordinary influence which he seems able to exercise over his fellow creatures. I believe that Neville is under that influence at the present time. ‘It all depends’ he said ‘on whether we can trust Hitler.’ ‘Trust him for what?’ I asked. ‘He has got everything he wants for the present and he has given no promises for the future.’ Neville also said that he had been told and he believed it that he had made a very favourable impression himself on Hitler and that he believed he might be able to exercise a useful influence over him. Blood curdling.
Finally . . .
  • Needless to say, Skype started working as soon as I wrote about it not working elsewhere.
  • And need I say that El Tráfico was quick to welcome me back to Pontevedra, with a letter informing me of a fine for driving at 90pkh in an 80 zone east of Malaga. This was on the A7, an autovía/motorway/highway. As I've said, it's almost impossible to keep track of the changes of speed limits on these, raising suspicions about their real purpose. But I'm pretty sure one of my (overseas resident) colleagues was driving my car that morning. . . . 
  • This is a recipe I found in my father's things, dating from 1941, when he was a 19 year old RAF pilot training American pilots in Alabama[sic]. I suspect it's for hooch/moonshine . . . .
1 lb wheat
1 lb large raisins
7 oz yeast
1 lb potatoes
4.5[?] sugar
I gallon of cold water
Put wheat into large vessel. Peel potatoes and grate into wheat. Add raisins (worked . . . . . . . . . .). Then add sugar and water, keeping a cupful back. Warm the cupful to blood heat and put yeast into bowl[?]. As to the other ingredients into vessel, cool and stir each morning for three weeks. Let it set again and then bottle. But down cork down tightly until finished fermenting.
Can anyone confirm my suspicion?

© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 17.5.18

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 16.5.18

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.

  • It's not good news that the new Catalan leader has been fingered as an anti-Spanish 'racist'. I wasn't aware that Spaniards comprised a race.
  • But it is good news that, though Sr Torra's appointment was expected to do nothing to improve bitter divisions between Madrid and the pro-independence block, the Spanish prime minister agreed last night to meet him for talks. Sr Rajoy must be seriously concerned by the latest polls. Not to mention the international reaction to his treatment of the Catalan issue. Needless to say, he has insisted that secession would be illegal and is a non-negotiable issue. Which was a given.
  • It's reported that German spooks have confirmed that some Russians interfered in the Catalan elections of last October. Not much of a surprise. Except perhaps to RT News.
Life in Spain
  • The Madrid Metro, Chapter 2: Here's what happened when I left Tribunal for Batán yesterday:-
- I note there are 4 machines and that the one on the far left clearly says it's for credit cards only.
- So I go to the 2nd machine, insert my card and then go through 4-5 steps so that I can put in my €1.50. Then I realise that there's no slot for coins . . .
- So I go to the 3rd machine, and again insert my card. It's rejected as being invalid.
- So, I to to the 4th machine and once again insert my card. This time it's accepted and I proceed again through the 4-5 steps and finally get my card loaded.
I have no idea if my experience is unusual. En passant, I had thought I could keep the card and use it next time I'm in Madrid but I was advised it expired on 15 May. Which was yesterday, of course. This suggests I have to buy another card at €2.50 next time I'm in Madrid. On second thoughts, perhaps it was only the ticket on the card which expired yesterday. So, I'll keep the card and check out its validity some time in the future.
  • Here's The Local's list of the best beaches in Spain, one of which is in Galicia. Though it would be wise to stay out of the caves if you visit it.
  • President Fart's initiative on Jerusalem has had its predicted consequence, with over 50 Palestinian deaths. I wonder if he sees this as a success so far. Almost certainly, would be my guess. After all,  “I like to shake things up”.
Duff Cooper
  • The interesting thing about the king of Spain's failed attempt to touch up and bonk his wife is that DC seems annoyed not at the act but, rather, at the lack of finesse with which it was done. Clearly a gent. Anyway, reader Perry has advised that one of DC's liaison's led to an illegitimate son. The latter has written a book in which he - astonishingly - describes his mother's affair with DC as almost a public service - an action of foreign policy in its noblest and most self-sacrificing form. See below for details. BTW . . . This was with a woman of 29 when he was 57. I haven't got to this (Paris) episode yet but I did read last night that – during his 50s – DC was finding it difficult to decide on which of his two 20 something nieces he 'loved' the most. To find out, he resorted to dining alone with each of them. No other details yet.
Finally . . . 
  1. I've not been able to log on to Skype for 2 days now. Anyone else in Spain having this problem?
  2. A friend of mine stayed in my house during my trip. For reasons best known to her, she brought her cleaner, despite the fact I'd paid mine to come in every week and complete a long list of tasks. My cleaner knows not to touch the files and folders in my study but my friend's cleaner didn't. Absolutely nothing is where it should be and I now have to waste at least an hour putting everything back to how it was. As if this weren't bad enough, Sky has changed the numbers for nearly all the channels that interest me. Really annoying. Life can be very tough at times.
  3. Thank-god for Spanish last-minuteness. On Sunday, I advertised a ride back to Galicia on Bla Bla Car on Tuesday, stressing that passengers could practice their English. Thus relieving me of boredom during a 6 hour drive. I secured 2 young, male passengers and set off at 11am from Batán. Both of them fell asleep within 5 minutes and stayed in the land of Nod for the entire trip. Though disappointed at their silence, I was impressed at their confidence in my driving. Though it's quite possible they'd both been awake all Monday night.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 16.5.18


Revealed: Duff Cooper's secret second sonBen Sheppard and Andrew Alderson

As a diplomat, author and minister, Duff Cooper's colourful reputation was hardly a secret.

For sixty years, however, the full extent of the scandal surrounding the legendary womaniser has remained unknown.

Until now, it had been thought that Cooper, a wartime minister in Churchill's cabinet, had only one child - a son from his 35-year marriage to Lady Diana Cooper, reputedly the most beautiful woman in Europe. But he also had an illegitimate son, conceived while he was the ambassador to Paris, it has been revealed.

The discovery was made by an author who was preparing a magazine profile of Susan Mary Alsop, the American socialite, author and close friend of President John F Kennedy.

Cooper's legitimate son is John Julius Norwich (the second Viscount Norwich), the distinguished author and broadcaster. He was 18 in 1947 when his father, then 57, began the affair with Alsop, who was 29. The child she bore the following year is Bill Patten Jnr, now a Unitarian minister in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The disclosure is made in next month's Vanity Fair, which devotes 16 pages to the life of Alsop, who died two years ago aged 86.

Susan Braudy, who wrote the article, says that Alsop discovered in the winter of 1947 that a five-month "stomach ailment" was a pregnancy. Her son did not discover the identity of his biological father until he was nearly 50.

Cooper, Churchill's minister of information during the Second World War, had a formidable sexual appetite, and his wife gave her tacit consent to the affair.

When Cooper - created Viscount Norwich in 1952 - died in 1954, his wife allowed Alsop to spend time alone beside his coffin.

Alsop, who was living in France with her husband after the war, met Cooper when his health was failing. Bill Patten Snr, like Lady Diana, was aware of the affair and it was Alsop who consoled Cooper when Ernest Bevin dismissed him as ambassador in late 1947.

Alsop stayed at his last party at the embassy until 5am and later wrote to Cooper than she would have given anything if "in return I could have the next five minutes sitting on your lap and be held tight, tight against your heart".

Bill Patten Snr died in 1960 and Alsop returned to America, where she made a platonic marriage to Joseph Alsop, a homosexual who had been her late husband's Harvard roommate.

They were a power-broking couple and she was a favourite dinner companion of President Kennedy, who found her witty, entertaining and flirty. Bill Patten Jnr and Alsop's legitimate daughter Anne, born in 1950, eventually had DNA tests which indicated only that they had different fathers. Afterwards, in 1996, Mr Patten Jnr met his "new" half brother, John Julius Norwich, now 76, at his west London home.

Prof John Charmley, Duff Cooper's official biographer, told the Sunday Telegraph that he believed Vanity Fair's revelation to be accurate. "While I was researching Duff's biography, Susan Mary told me that Duff was Bill Patten's father. Bill himself didn't know at the time, so I left it out of the book. Later, she told Bill and he rang me out of the blue. I confirmed to him that all the evidence points towards him being Duff's son."

Cooper had many vices. He was a hard drinker, a reckless gambler and an inveterate philanderer. He wrote of one conquest: "I rapidly had her which was very agreeable. I promised to dine with her again but I doubt if I do." Many of his early liaisons left his wife in tears but, as his health failed, she accepted them.

Mr Patten, 57, was unavailable for comment this weekend but his wife, Sydney, said he accepted that Cooper was his father. "It was a terrible shock at the time and he later told me that he felt he had lost his father Bill Patten a second time [the first being his death]. But he says he will always look upon Bill Patten as his father." Mr Patten will break his public silence over the scandal later this year when he publishes a book about his father (Bill Patten), his stepfather (Joe Alsop) and his real father (Duff Cooper).

In My Three Fathers, he says his mother's relations with Cooper were "almost a public service, an action of foreign policy in its noblest and most self-sacrificing form."

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Thoughts not from Galicia, Spain: 15.5.18

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.

Final Travel News
  • Correction: The price of the compulsory travel card on the Madrid metro is not 2€ but €2.50. 
  • I drive home today, with 2 Bla Bla companions who are going to Vigo and Pontevedra. It would be 3, if I didn't have a spare tyre on one of the back seats . . . .
  • Here's Madrid's (predictable) reaction to the belated election of a Catalan prsident.
  • And here's Tim Parfitt with a comprehensive review of the last week or so in Spain. As regards the most important event of this period, Spain did better than the UK in coming 23rd out of 26 in the Eurovision contest. The UK was 24th.
  • Are Spanish companies preparing for Brexit? Apparently not. One of the more interesting reasons given for this is that no one in the UK or Spain these days believes anything the respective – but not respected – governments say about the future.
  • Talking of the future . . . Ye gods! Someone is predicting that the Spanish property market will grow by at least 18% this year. I'll ponder on that as I gaze on the unfinished or empty blocks of flats on the outskirts of Madrid as I drive home today. Madrid, of course, is expected to beat the national average. I guess it makes sense to someone. Perhaps a ban on renting out flats will take some of the heat out of the capital's growth rate. If it ever happens.
  • Good news for some
  • Here's El País on yesterday's story of the changing fortunes of the political parties. And, one hopes, of Sr Rajoy.
The World
  • Here's Don Quijones on the gradual turning off of the tap of free money for US and EU banks. And its likely consequences.
  • It's hardly much of a secret but here's a new book on Fart's long-standing financial relationship with/dependence on Russian money. Does anyone really believe this won't eventually bring him down?
Duff Cooper
  • He wasn't the only philanderer around town, of course. Here's his account of an incident at a dance at a place called Pembroke's in 1920: Diana had an adventure with the King of Spain. He began his attack by trying to put a hand up her dress and when repulsed asked for an appointment making his intentions crudely clear. She warned him there would be nothing doing whereat he put back his pocket book in which he had been about to write her address. He left her saying that men always won in the end. I think he was drunk.

Finally . . . Coming down from the sublime . . . I recently removed the Word Verification demanded for comments to this blog. As a result, I've been annoyed every day since by anonymous spammers. So, I've removed the permission for anonymity. Though I hope the removal of Word Verification stands.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Thoughts not from Galicia, Spain: 14.5.18

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.

  • So good are Spain's roads these days that driving around much of southern Spain in the last 3 weeks has been a consistent pleasure. Apart from the ever-changing speed limits, that is.
  • On these, I've tried – as ever - to religiously obey the restrictions but won't, of course, be surprised to get notices of fines in my mail over the next month. Asi son las cosas. Just another tax. I have the cash ready for at least one . . . 
  • Sitting in Madrid's Retiro park last night as my daughter took part in a tango milonga, I was surprised to find my self cold, despite wearing both a pullover and a jacket. Not exactly what I expected in May. And I see that it's going to be raining for several days this week in Granada. Global warming?
  • Buying a ticket for a metro ride of 4 stops last night, I was surprised to see that this would set me back €4 euros, against the usual 2. The explanation seems to be that they've introduced a system under which you can't get a ticket without first buying a card that you then use  each time you buy future tickets. And this costs €2. Easy large-scale profit. I wonder if the London Oyster card comes at a price. A bit of research suggests not.
  • Whatever, here's info on the metro's Public Transport Card, in English. But this ain't what I was obliged to buy at a machine at Batán station yesterday. No registration process – with foto, NIE, etc. - was required. Just money.
  • And this is what my card looks like:-

It has no credit on it now but I can, I understand, load it with up to 10 rides. Compared with the card described at the above site, it's the same on the front but lacks my personal details on the back. My daughter tells me one is un bono and the other un abono but I remain totally confused. So that might be wrong.

  • The Catalans ares still struggling to elect a president in place of all those rejected by Madrid. The person most likely to be given this poisoned chalice – after another vote today - is one Quim Torra. His forename is an unfortunate one, at least for people of my age.
  • Brussels has finally said it will take a look at Catalan complaints about police brutality during the 'illegal' referendum last October. I doubt much will come of it.
  • The latest polls suggest 2 things: 1. The demise of Spain's 2-party convivencia of the last almost-40 years, and 2. The resignation of Sr Rajoy as leader of the right-wing PP party. For, both of the 2 large parties of Spain's young democracy – the PP and the left-wing PSOE - are being eclipsed by new parties – Ciudadanos of the not-quite-so-far-Right and Podemos of the pretty-far-Left. And 65% of PP voters are said to be unhappy with Rajoy and his treatment of the Catalan rebellion. But whether this is because they think he has been stupid or too soft, I don't know. I fear the latter.
  • Finally . . . Duff Cooper. As far as I can tell, he uses the word 'love' as follows:-
- 'To make love to'. Meaning; To flirt with and then proposition. He seems to do this daily, both to women he's known a while and to those he's just met. Assuming he thinks they're pretty. (On this, I''m not sure we'd share the same criteria.)
- 'To be very much in love with': Meaning; To be infatuated with for a while. A regular state for him. One which – as the lover of the chase more than the killing - he misses dreadfully when circumstances preclude it.
- 'To love X': Meaning; To enjoy the company of X, platonically or otherwise.
- 'To love my wife more than anyone else': Meaning: To want to stay with this woman forever as she knows about and largely ignores all my philandering. And also brings in the vast sums I spend on fine food, booze and gambling unsuccessfully. And finally . . .
- 'Ex-love': Meaning: A previous conquest he still occasionally bonks.
What you can't take away from him is that he mixes with all the great and the good of his time. Albeit largely because – initially at least - his wife is said to be the prettiest woman of the age, is an aristocratic 'socialite' and earns huge amounts from starring in silent movies that probably require much less acting than merely looking pretty. All that said, he was clearly a man of great intelligence and charm. Could write sonnets (for his 'loves', of course) at the drop of a hat. I wish I'd know how useful that would be years ago . . .

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Thoughts not from Galicia, Spain: 13.5.18

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.

  • Some tips:-
  1. Always take earplugs. There's always going to be some bastard in the next room who, for example, shouts on his phone at 5am. For half an hour.
  2. Be careful entering the old quarter of Baeza in your car. Cameras will note your number and, unless you're staying overnight, you'll get fined. And, as there are currently roadworks where you normally enter and (maybe) see the warning about this, you're forced to enter the old quarter elsewhere and so won't realise this is happening. Until you get notification of a fine in your mail.
  3. Keep you eye on the speed signs, especially on A and N roads. For reasons lost on me, the drive north of Cordoba towards Madrid saw these change at least 50 times, varying between 80 and 120kph. Sometimes for very short stretches. And then there are the 'temporary' restrictions where there are yellow lines down the side of the road. And occasionally road works which justify these.
  4. Be particularly careful on the outskirts of towns when you've arrived on a 4-lane highway. It's not always clear that the limit is as low as 50. Quite a revenue generator, I suspect. North Santiago is a good example of this.
  5. If, in a city, you're suddenly faced with a sign saying: "No entry for vehicles except cocheras", this literally means depot/shed/coach house but presumably nowadays just means garages(garajes).
  • Yesterday we lunched in the hotel we'd be staying in last night. We were the first people in the restaurant. Naturally they switched on the TV in the corner, to join the one beyond the screen in the adjacent bar/café. On a different channel.
  • Pondering on our experiences in the Alhambra in Granada and the Great Mosque in Cordoba, I concluded it won't be too long before you'll have to buy a timed-ticket in advance for the latter. And then forced to follow a line on the floor once you're allowed in. Mark my words. It's a very long way from the experience of Richard Ford, George Borrow(?), Washington Irving, et al. Though, admittedly, everything is in far better condition now.
  • As I've confessed, it irritates me that the Spanish state gives all sorts of financial benefits to my rich neighbours who have 3 or more kids, thus raising bills for me. So, I was never going to react to this report with equanimity and empathy. . . .
  • It's not only the Spanish police who can be rather sensitive. This report is in today's Times. With great pride, West Yorkshire police posted online details about their latest drugs bust. And there was a photograph, too, of the haul — a thimbleful of cannabis. Cue a certain amount of sarcasm from the general public. “Cartels are all goin fkn mental,” one poster commented. Another wondered if they’d manage to nail Pablo Escobar. The coppers were not amused and have threatened to arrest anyone saying horrible things about their brilliant bust. “Unfortunately we have had to ban a number of people from using this page today. I would like to remind everyone that this is a police page and whatever your thoughts on one of my officers seizing drugs in the community, being insulting, abusive or offensive can and will result in a prosecution under the Malicious Communications Act 1988.”
  • Finally . . . Duff Cooper. If you've read the blog I cited yesterday, you'll know that serial adultery was literally a game among the elite of Edwardian and Victorian Britain. So, he wasn't unique. But he was clearly a very serious player indeed and one who tended to ignore the very strict rules of the game. I knew some of this from studying pre-1960s divorce law and its bizarre consequences but I hadn't realised things went so far. As with Fart these days, the biggest crime back then was not doing something wrong but being caught at it and making it public.

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