Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 13.2.18

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.

  • The estimable Guy Hedgecoe says that Spanish politics is a weird, many-mirrored place at the moment. This is in an article on Sr Rivera and his surging Ciudadanos party, reproduced below. Rivera, explains GH, is the classic Spanish up-his-own-arse cuñado, or brother-in-law. I didn't know but This character holds a prominent, yet unenviable, position in Spanish society. For reasons, see the article.
  • Here's news of another of those (questionable?) lists which places Spain way down the rankings of the richest, healthiest and happiest countries around the globe. But at least it beat Portugal! The winner, of course, was New Zealand, followed by a slew of Scandi countries. And Switzerland, Canada and The Netherlands. The USA, at 17, is sliding down the list. Meaning that Fart clearly has a lot to do to make it great again.
  • A propos? . . . I touched on overweight participants in the Carnaval procession the other day. And now I read that: Half of Spanish children aged 6 to 9 are overweight and nearly one in five are clinically obese. I wonder if Malta still has the number one slot for this in Europe.
  • If I gave you these basic monthly state pensions (in euros gross) and relevant countries, do you think you could rank them pretty correctly? I rather doubt it.   
- Amounts: 552; 878; 895; 978; 1074; 1376
- Countries (not in the correct order): Galicia; Spain: France; The UK; Germany; Belgium
Spain comes out well but, to say the least, the UK doesn't. But there is a rider about the latter's paltry basic pension - it is usually augmented by a compulsory private pension. And perhaps by one of more of the other benefits thrown at people like my mother. The correct order: The UK; Germany; Galicia(!); Belgium; Spain(!!); France
  • Anyway, here – by coincidence – is something on the British pension.
  • My thanks to reader Perry for this report on the station at Canfranc. I now realise I passed through the place years ago when driving from Lourdes to Pamplona. Ignorant of its magnificent asset.
  • The Local has issued a couple more lists but I decline to publicise what, this time, I'm sure are repeats.
The EU
  • Addressing the unilateral sanction powers Brussels has given itself over the UK during the Brexit Transition period, Lord Digby has spluttered: The sheer bullying hypocrisy of it! So many EU members cheat on the rules and are allowed to. Over the years it’s become a national sport in France and Italy. He has a point. Especially since the UK has always been slavish – via 'gold plating' – in implementing EU directives and laws
The UK
  • Reports Richard North of EUReferendum: Rose Monday, the day before Shrove Tuesday, is an important day in the Catholic German Rhineland district, where a series of carnivals are held, now famous for their political satire. Traditionally, the usual rules of polite society are thrown out of the window and in Düsseldorf – as elsewhere – that tradition has been maintained in the form of a crude parody of Mrs May's attempts to manage the Brexit process.  The burghers have sponsored a gruesome float with a papier-mâché sculpture depicting the prime minister having just given birth to a three-eyed monster called Brexit. As political comment, this is not very far from the mark, the misbegotten attempts from Mrs May's government so far representing something so grotesque that only its mother could love it.
  • Something that really does need to be shouted – frequently – from the rooftops: You can be liberal-minded, internationalist and global and support Brexit. You don’t have to have a Faragist view of the world to be a Brexit supporter.
Cultural Mattersi
  • What!!?? Teens and young adults are ditching Mark Zuckerberg’s social network as popularity among the over-55s surges, says The Guardian here.
  • Galicia has hundreds of small municipalities. In more than half of them, pensioners now outnumber the young, defined as 18-35 I guess.
  • Ourense province - shortly to be joined by Lugo province - are/will be the only 2 provinces in Spain where those on the dole outnumber those in work.
  • I've always hated the rank commercialism and phony romanticism of Valentine's Day, agreeing with the view that: The whole thing is a gigantic ruse, a marketing trick hatched from the devious minds of Hallmark to shift cards in the early 20th century. So you'd expect me to endorse the second article below.
Today's Cartoon

As I was saying . . .


The brother-in-law: Guy Hedgecoe

The brother-in-law, or cuñado, holds a prominent, yet unenviable, position in Spanish society, transcending the realms of the family tree to become something more than just a relative. He’s a symbol, a social phenomenon, a state of mind.

The exact characteristics of the archetypal cuñado are up for debate, but they tend to be negative. He is an extroverted, matey, slightly boorish, know-it-all who greets you effusively but doesn’t really listen to what you have to say. On the contrary, he loudly broadcasts his own opinions, often political, over Christmas dinner.

“For the brother-in-law, everything is communism, everything is Venezuela, everything is Eta,” Lorena G. Maldonado, of El Español newspaper, has written. “In his holiday photo album he’s pretending to hold up the Tower of Pisa, he’s first in line when there’s a conga at a wedding, he stirs the Sunday paella and smiles as he says: ‘I’m Spanish, what do you want me to beat you at?’ He saw the property bubble coming a long way off, he was there, he already knew, he told you so…”

For many (Maldonado included), Spain’s highest-profile cuñado is Albert Rivera. That’s in great part because in 2016, Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, in one of those finely calculated moves that he specialises in, cast the leader of Ciudadanos as such during a parliamentary debate. The slightly comic accusation was based on Iglesias’s claim that Rivera’s ideology derived from the same family as the right-wing Popular Party (PP). But there was also a hint of the more personal use of the term – the smug paella-stirrer – which has since stuck to Rivera like rice to a pan.

In some ways he does indeed fit the cuñado stereotype, if only in terms of aesthetics and style. There is the clean-cut-but-casual attire, the bumptious self-confidence, the apparent knowledge about any subject and ready response to every problem, which can both impress and grate. But even his critics now have to take Spain’s most popular national party leader seriously.

In recent months, Ciudadanos has been riding high in voter intention polls, even proving to be the most popular party in Spain, according to Metroscopia. Rivera, meanwhile, is regarded less and less as a mere opposition upstart who bangs on about corruption and Catalonia and more and more as a potential prime minister.

But while that possibility becomes increasingly feasible, the place Ciudadanos occupies on the political spectrum has remained somewhat fuzzy.

The brother-in-law, Maldonado explains, with a large dose of irony, “is neither on the left or the right; instead he’s straight up, salt-of-the-earth, genuine.” What Maldonado means is: that’s how he presents himself, although after a few glasses of La Rioja he’ll start on about communism and Eta.
Rivera, meanwhile, in a very cuñado-esque bit of rhetoric, told The Economist recently: “We have to move away from the old left-right axis” Not so long ago, his party was describing itself as “centre-left”, its business-friendliness offset by mostly liberal social policies. But almost exactly a year ago, Ciudadanos redefined its ideology, removing “social democracy” from its statutes, leaving a definition of it as “constitutionalist, liberal, democratic and progressive”, which does little to clarify the issue (after all, who would suggest that being “unconstitutional, illiberal, undemocratic and regressive” was a good idea?). A dig into the archives further muddies matters, with Rivera flip-flopping on gay marriage, opposing abortion as a right, showing an ambivalent take on historical memory, announcing a refusal to support Rajoy as head of a new government in 2015, forming a putative governing pact with the Socialists in 2016, then supporting a new PP government (with Rajoy at its head) a few months later.

Confused? Understandably so. But then again, Spanish politics is a weird, many-mirrored place at the moment and similar charges of inconsistency could also be levelled at the Socialists or the Catalan secessionists.

But recent events in Catalonia, where Rivera’s party has been hogging the unionist limelight, have, finally, appeared to nail it down as a party of the right. With Rajoy’s PP still mired in a smorgasboard of corruption scandals and having failed to solve the territorial crisis, Ciudadanos has benefitted, winning the Catalan election under the candidacy of Inés Arrimadas and cheerfully surfing the wave of Spanish neo-nationalism. To put it crassly, the Catalan crisis has been kind to Ciudadanos.

Conspiracy-prone supporters of independence regularly claim Ciudadanos are right-wing extremists and rabid independentistas tend to portray them as fascist, a term that has lost its currency in this age of the easy insult and which really isn’t relevant in this debate. (One thuggish wag painted “Neo-fachas” on the doorstep of the party in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat recently; one twitter user accused me of receiving funding from Ciudadanos the other day for suggesting in an article that the party was moving away from the PP on the historical memory issue).

But no, they are not the crypto-Francoist, goose-stepping loonies their enemies desperately try to portray them as.

Yet it does seem that Ciudadanos finds itself in a rum, rather disturbing, position – let’s call it Rivera’s Conundrum.

Created as a nationwide force in 2014 with the promise of introducing a centrist, transition-style statesmanship to Spain’s tribal politics, in Catalonia the party has become precisely the opposite, doing as much as any other to rattle the cage of tribalism. The more polarised the territorial crisis has become, the more Ciudadanos has hoovered up anti-independence votes. And it has heartily contributed to that polarisation, positioning itself as yin to Carles Puigdemont’s exiled yang, with the PP often a hapless bystander.

One of my favourite cartoons of recent months was a picture of Rivera marching along, bashing a drum marked “Article 155” – the clause in the constitution allowing Madrid to implement direct rule. His insistence throughout much of last year that this drastic measure be introduced often left Rajoy looking timid and, dare I say it, moderate, in comparison.

Ciudadanos’s approach to this issue was on display recently in Madrid during a BBC World Questions debate, panelled by representatives of Ciudadanos, the PP, the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and journalist Ana Romero. The most belligerent voice in the room was not that of the PP’s Francisco Martínez or ERC’s Alfred Bosch. It was Begoña Villacis, of Ciudadanos, whose insistence on attacking the Catalan independence movement at every turn – even, bizarrely, when the debate had moved on to Gibraltar – which gave the event a slightly sour aftertaste.

And there are signs that, in its determination to keep stealing voters from the PP, Ciudadanos’s hard-line playing to the gallery is seeping out of Catalonia, into its national politics (see its attempts to remove the Basque government’s historic right to controlling its own taxes, or its U-turn on the issue of life imprisonment).

So where does this leave Spain’s best-known brother-in-law? After years of shifting around, and with the corridors of power apparently beckoning, it’s time he made clear where exactly on the political right he and his party stand as a government-in-waiting.

Worryingly, Rivera’s Conundrum dictates that if he shows any willingness to step back, to make concessions – to stop banging the drum – he’ll lose votes. Given that Puigdemont’s Conundrum dictates similar terms for the ousted Catalan president, don’t expect to see much bridge-building any time soon.

Author:  Guy Hedgecoe is a freelance print and broadcast journalist who has been based in Madrid since 2003. Guy has covered Spain for the BBC, The Irish Times, Politico, Associated Press and Deutsche Welle and previously he was editor-in-chief of El País newspaper's English edition and founding editor of Spanish news website Iberosphere. Before living in Spain he worked as a journalist in Ecuador.

2.   8 reasons why Valentine's Day isn't the only day that needs to be renamed Couple Stress Day Shane Watson.

Brace yourselves: tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Because, honestly, when does it ever end well? Either you’re single and made to feel like the fat girl with no wings at the Victoria’s Secret show after-party. Or you’re loved-up, but not quite as loved-up as you had thought the day before.

Or, you’re happily settled, couldn’t give a monkey’s, only now it’s one of those days in the calendar that automatically causes stress in the relationship.

You can’t win. If you don’t recognise it, fine… but a funny card wouldn’t have killed him. If you do, it’s inevitably a let down. Even the Polish builder knows you are allergic to lilies.

This is the nature of a Couple Stress Day (CSD): no matter how you play it, no good will come of it. All you can do is recognise them and try and get through, reasonably unscathed.

CSDs include, in no particular order:

Your wedding day. Where to start? Where is He, for one thing? Whenever you look up, there I shall be… not really. Nowhere to be seen. Allegedly, he is opening prosecco somewhere. Or is he perhaps watching the World Cup quarter final on someone’s phone.

The day you go on holiday. Because He has not completed the Ryanair online check-in procedure correctly, and here we are, once again, paying about four penalties and cramming backpacks into suitcases.

The day you come back from holiday. (When He was the last one out of the house.) And you find: the heating is on. The downstairs loo window ajar. There’s a week’s worth of newspapers wedged against the front door, and the rash vests that he ordered, two days too late, are there, in a parcel, on the doormat.

The first day of the dirty weekend. Lovely little hotel. Lovely little restaurant. Lovely little bedroom. Ahhh. But then you start to feel a bit Camilla Parker Bowles in your new top, hot and tired and increasingly like a tethered goat, yet at the same time not quite enough like one. He has found the remote and is transfixed by a Channel 5 Bee Gees documentary.

The trip to Ikea. You’re together walking the aisles, checking the numbers, but really you are alone. As non-verbal signals go, His are a crystal-clear chorus of “Don’t Ask Me!” “Don’t Care!” “Up to You!” (“Up to You” is often somewhere at the bottom of a CSD).

The once-in-a-while big supermarket shop. The one where you give him 1/7 of the shopping list and 25 minutes later, he is still in the wine aisle and adamant that they don’t “do” tea lights. YES THEY DO. You are in a Sainsbury’s the size of the Isle of Man! They have fridge-freezers and patio heaters and six kinds of banana. They definitely do have bloody tea lights. But that’s not all. Now you have to check what’s in his trolley, item by item, because the jam will be from the diabetics range. The bulbs will be screw, not bayonet. The cheese may have apricots in it.

The wasted Bank Holiday. Because everyone else twigged that it could be easily converted into a week’s holiday in Portugal, or they organised a long weekend with their six closest friends packed with life-affirming events. So, the Bank Holiday Monday, when you will end up watching catch-up TV, is a textbook CSD.

The hospital admission day. He has fallen off a ladder, or his bike, or broken his ankle playing football. So far, so CSD. Every partner of every male who has been incapacitated in this way is livid, raging, because we know that basic safety precautions were willfully ignored, and now we have to do EVERY thing, including looking after them. (Meanwhile, they think they’ve been wounded in manly action like Tom Cruise.) We hold it together in front of the emergency services, but once the cubicle curtains are drawn…

Roll on Valentine’s Day.


Sierra said...

Think your UK pension figures are out-of-date. The new State Pension for 2017/18 is £159.55 per week = £22.79 per day x 365 = £8,319 per annum = £693.28 per month - which even at today's Brexit-decimated exchange rate = €781.12 per month. It rises in April to £164.35 in 2018/19.


Scrooge said...

UK pensions are currently going through some changes and this makes quoting pension figures somewhat complicated. Sierra's figures are correct; but they apply to the "New" pension. Someone reaching pension age before April 6th 2016 ( which must be the majority of pensioners currently in receipt of the pension) get a maximum of £122.30 per week; unless they have "additional" elements such as serps et al (Don't ask). Comparison tables can therefore be something less than precise but they will give a reasonably accurate picture.

Colin Davies said...

Yes, indeed. My numbers came from the Voz de Galicia, which probably knows even less than i do about UK pensios but the overall picture is probably accurate, with Galicia and Spain being higher than one/I would expect.

Alfred B. Mittington said...

Very nice articles. But may I point out that the ONE THING YOU DO NOT DO to a Paella is stir the rice??

See point 8 in my - incomparable - blog post on creating a true Paella Valenciana: