Sunday, March 26, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 26.3.17

There's an article from Don Quijones at the end of this post. It's essentially about Italy's economic woes but it refers to some aspects of the Spanish micro scene, as I am wont to call it. Worrying. Unless you're a well-paid pensioner. I've highlighted (highlit?) the Spanish references.

Changing Spain?: At least here in Pontevedra, something is finally being done to reduce the numerous frivolous claims that contribute to the infamously slow and inefficient institution which is the Spanish judicial system. Until recently, it cost you nothing to initiate a suit against, say, a neighbour and the result was inevitable - making a dununcia became a national pastime. But now there's a cost and the number of suits has plummeted.

Here in Galicia, I think we've reached the end of the series of burnt Lenten offerings in the local towns and villages. These have been staggered over the last 3 weeks and have included large effigies of a parrot (Pontevedra), a mackerel, a sardine, a frog, a mussel, and a cockerel. I guess this makes sense to someone. Just an excuse to have fun, really.

Spanish Language Corner: I think I've noted before that Spanish uses several verbs where English would simply use the relevant bit of the verb to be. Viz:-
Recently, I think I came across another one - Ir - 'to go'. As in Este año Ferrari va en serio. 'This year Ferrari is serious'. Unless it means something else, of course. Comments/additions welcome.

I read that Pontevedra has the highest ratio of pet dogs in Galicia. Most of them seem to be more a fashion statement than a mascota and - being pugs and French bulldogs - are remarkably ugly. Their owners should be taken out and shot. Or given over to a pack of hungry wild dogs. Just a thought.

There's a second article below, on the communiqué of the EU's 27 leaders. It makes interesting reading for those of us who think the institution is moribund.

The Republican healthcare debacle in the USA has, at least, provided some good belly laughs. First, there was Trump's claim -  preposterous even by his standards - that it was all the fault of the Democrats. Secondly, we've witnessed one the country's most prominent evangelists saying on Thursday that God would ensure Trump got the Act through the Senate. When, fact, he didn't even try to. One wonders whether Trump is really totally unaware of reality or just deluded. Either way, we have a new definition of 'trump' - A busted flush. How can he possibly survive for 4 years?

Today's cartoon:-


Italy at the Grim Edge of a Global Problem

This trend is not your friend.

Don Quijones

To be young, gifted, educated and Italian is no guarantee of financial security these days. As a new report by the Bruno Visentini Foundation shows, the average 20-year-old will have 18 years to wait before living independently — meaning, among other things, having a home, a steady income, and the ability to support a family. That’s almost twice as long as it took Italians who turned 20 in 2004.

A Worsening Trend

Eurostat statistics in October 2016 showed that less than a third of under-35s in Italy had left their parental home, a figure 20 percentage points higher than the European average. The trend is expected to worsen as the economy continues to struggle. Researchers said that for Italians who turn 20 in 2030, it will take an average of 28 years to be able to live independently. In other words, many of Italy’s children today won’t have “grown up” until they’re nearing their 50s.

That raises an obvious question: if Italy’s future generation of workers are expected to struggle to support themselves and their children until they’re well into their forties, how will they possibly be able to support the burgeoning ranks of baby boomers reaching retirement age (a staggeringly low 58 for men and 53 for women), let alone service the over €2 trillion of public debt the Italian government has accumulated (and which doesn’t include the untold billions it hopes to splash out on saving the banks)?

The trend could also have major implications for Italy’s huge stock of non-performing loans, which, unless resolved soon, threatens to overwhelm the country’s banking system. If most young Italians are not financially independent, who will buy the foreclosed homes and other properties that will flood the market once the soured loans and mortgages are finally removed from banks’ balance sheets?

As happened in Spain and other crisis-hit countries, global private equity funds will probably pick up much of the slack by buying up huge tranches of foreclosed or unoccupied properties, as well as occupied social housing units, at knock-down prices, but whether they’ll actually be able to rent the properties they buy or unload them at a profit is a whole other matter, what with most young Italians forced (or choosing) to stay at home with their parents.

At the Grim Edge of a Global Problem

Youth unemployment is a global problem that is already having a major impact on societies and their ability to finance their needs. Youth unemployment is a staggering 54% in Southern Africa. In Greece, it’s 46%, in Spain, 42%, in Italy, 40%, and Iran, 30%.

Averaged across OECD countries, 14.6% of all youth (some 40 million people) were so-called NEETs (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) in 2015. In Southern Europe the share was sharply higher, with between one-quarter and one-fifth of all young people out of work and not in education in Greece, Italy, and Spain.

In Italy the main reason why so few young Italians are financially independent is they can’t afford it. Of the 15 western European nations ranked in the 2016 Global 50 Remuneration Planning Report, Italy boasted the lowest average salary for full-time jobs aimed at recent graduates: €27,400 a year. That compares to €83,600 in top-placed Switzerland, €51,400 a year in second-ranked Denmark, and €45,800 a year in Germany and Norway.

Even in Spain, a country that has broken the 20% unemployment barrier three times in the last 30 years and which has been described by one Spanish economics professor as the “worst labor market on Earth,” recent graduates can expect to take home €3,000 more a year than their Italian counterparts.

The €1,000-a-month Dream

For unskilled workers, in Spain, Italy and Greece, the jobs reality is even bleaker. In Spain ten years ago, “mileurista” — a term to denote someone earning €1,000 a month — was coined to highlight the plight of young workers with low-paid jobs that could never dream of owning their own flat. Today, with a youth unemployment rate of over 40%, becoming a “milleurista” has become something to aspire to.

The alternative is the eternal internship carousel. In the complete absence of any kind of inspection regime, young workers are being shifted from one internship contract to another where they put in full-time shifts day after day in exchange for little more than their lunch money and bus fare home. Few of them will ever get hired full-time, and those that are, are invariably given a short-term contract that, once expired, is replaced by yet another.

Yet somehow Spain’s new generation of unemployed, underemployed, badly paid, or “ni-nis” (NEETs) will soon be expected to maintain over eight million pensioners, who are living longer than ever and are used to earning an average state pension of €906 a month, the second highest (as a percentage of final salary) in Europe after Greece. As Spanish economist Juan Torres López writes, the idea that Spain’s youngest workers will be able to support the country’s swelling ranks of pensioners is risible, especially with Spain’s government pilfering the Social Security fund for other purposes like there’s no tomorrow.

The same goes for Italy whose crisis, in many ways, has barely begun. As in Spain, many of the country’s most gifted young workers will continue to migrate to better performing economies such as Germany, Switzerland, and the UK. With the many programs offering study and work opportunities to young people abroad, such as Erasmus+, “the choice is not so much whether to leave, but whether to stay,” according to a report by Fondazione Migrantes.

For companies in Northern Europe, the mass exodus of young talent from the South means cheaper labor while the governments pick up the income tax. But for countries like Italy and Spain it represents a hemorrhage of talent and skill, much of which was developed with public funds, with no corresponding return. And in that manner, the fiscal health of economies in Europe’s South, already pushed to the limit, will continue to decline. 

The European Union's failure to be more pragmatic is its downfall – and poses the greatest risk for its future

Peter Foster. The Telegraph

Whatever your views on Brexit, there was no escaping the historic nature of the moment yesterday as, one by one, 27 European leaders trooped up to the rostrum to sign the Rome Declaration setting out a blueprint for the next decade of the European Union.

The absence of the British Prime Minister among the familiar crocodile of EU leaders suddenly brought home the real the consequence of last June’s vote – consequences that will become yet more real on Wednesday when Theresa May hands over formal notice of the UK’s intention to quit.

Remainers will have felt a sharp pang of loss at the sight of Britain absent from the top table of European politics; leavers an equal frisson of excitement at what Britain might achieve once liberated from the squabbles of a dysfunctional political union.

And squabbles have indeed been on display in recent weeks as Europe tried to agree on a 1,000-word text that ultimately represents the lowest common denominator of current EU ambition.

The leaders proclaimed a Union that was “undivided and indivisible”, but all the calls for unity belied the reality that on most of the fundamental issues – on immigration and the euro, on budgets and bailouts and indeed on the pace of future union itself – there is precious little agreement.

After a decade of austerity and upheaval in the Middle East, Europe finds itself gripped by a resurgence of nationalism and divided from east to west, from north to south in a manner that has forced Brussels to confront the limits of its ability to over-write the desires of the nation state.  

Poland and Hungary fume that Brussels should tell it how to run its democracy, while impoverished Greece demands the same social rights and dignities for its pensioners as those afforded by rich Germans and Dutch. France remains stubbornly unreformed; Italy wants more help, too.

The frescoes of feuding Roman families in Michelangelo's magnificent Palazzo dei Conservatori on Rome's Capitoline hill therefore provided the perfect setting for the signing of a bloodless document that was made grey with the language of diplomacy and lacked a bold prescription for the future.

Gone was any talk of an “ever closer union” and in its place was a tortuously constructed promise to work at “different paces and intensity where necessary, while moving in the same direction, as we have done in the past”. A sentence that makes one dizzy just reading it.

Britain should take no pleasure from any of this, even if there is a temptation to say that “we told you so”. Mrs May is correct to wish Europe well, even if we've had enough; it is the destination, after all, for nearly half of Britain’s exports, the place where a million Brits live and work and where countless more do business and take their holidays.

What Britain should hope for instead is a new realism in Europe – a deeper recognition that the project needs rethinking among much more flexible lines if it is to accommodate the new political realities thrown up by austerity and terror.

As a host of global challenges bring national identity back into focus, it is apparent that the disgruntlement with the EU is not a public relations problem, as many in Brussels seem to believe, but something much more fundamental and structural.

To restore public confidence, Europe needs to give up on some of its grander designs, return more power to nation states, accept national differences and focus on collaboration between capitals on issues such as trade, climate change, immigration, data-flows and border security where there is a clear mutual interest.

In the end, failure to take a more pragmatic approach – and that includes towards Britain’s request to be a good neighbour outside the EU after Brexit – is what presents the greatest risk to the European Union as it contemplates the decade to come.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 25.3.17

Yet another listicle from The Local. This time on Spain's most beautiful beaches. The one that is said to be La Toja . . isn't. It's the beach of La Lanzada, on the spit of land that leads to La Toja.

Stand by for a shock . . .  The Spanish government says that, although this year's GDP growth will be good, at 2.5%, the limit of 3% for the budget deficit won't be achieved. I think this will be the 12th year in a row that this critically important EU target will be missed. The Commission will then issue its normal note, declaring that Spain has been a naughty girl. Which says everything.

Spanish Language Corner: 
I saw the phrase puro y duro and assumed it meant 'pure and simple'. But I looked up the latter and found these:-
Puro y simple
Liso y llanamente
The suggestion was that puro y duro really meant 'downright', 'out-and-out', or 'straightforward. But I did finally see it cited as meaning 'pure and simple'. And felt vindicated. As so often in Spanish, context determines the nuance.

This might be only a Galician initiative but the latest tax wheeze is to impose an 'eco-levy' on growers of eucalyptus trees. Mind you, I'm in favour of this one. The trees are not only ugly but destructive because of their huge fire potential, puro y duro. We have a lot of forest fires here in Galicia.

Here in Pontevedra the beggars are a real curse. One day this week there were several new ones. I took to wondering whether they all come on the same bus.

“Who knew healthcare was so complex?”, asked President Trump a few weeks ago. Well, everyone except you, Donald. And now you know. Welcome to real politics. Hopefully you'll get fed up of them quite soon leave the field to someone sane.

By the way: These are the definitions of trump in British English:-
To play a card that beats somebody else’s card
To beat something that somebody says or does by saying or doing
To compulsively lie, use deception, or take fraudulent action.
To be obsessively obscene or compulsively repugnant.
Lacking self control.
A fake or a fraud
Of depreciating value.
A fart
Some of these might be new.

Today's cartoon:-

Finally . . .  For those with a deep, abiding interests in EU developments - the majority, I'm sure - here's an analysis of the latest communiqué from the national leaders:-

Revealed: The watered-down Rome treaty which shows the deep divisions within the EU - an annotated guide    Peter Foster, europe editor, Daily Telegraph.

Europe has attempted a show of unity with a watered-down Rome treaty as it tries to brush off the "elephant" of the looming Brexit process. 

"Europe is our common future," European Union leaders will declare in Rome on Saturday, in a grand statement of ambition they hope can hold the bloc together following the shock loss of major power Britain.

The declaration will be issued to mark the 60th anniversary of the EU founding treaty.

The latest draft seen by the Telegraph is 935 words long - far wordier than a 50th birthday text issued in Berlin a decade ago - and also less bold. 

Nearly 100 words have been added this week, notably to address concerns in ex-communist eastern members about a "multi-speed Europe" and to adjust a balance between calls for economic growth and social welfare guarantees.

Below are extracts from the text, with our annotations.

Greece has withheld formal approval of the draft, but diplomats do not expect changes in wording.

The Rome Declaration annotated

Strikethroughs (e.g. crossed out wording) indicate an earlier version of the text that has been amended in later drafts of the declaration

Paragraph 1
We, the representatives leaders of 27 Member States and the Institutions of the EU, take pride in the achievements of the European Union: the construction of European unity is a bold, far-sighted endeavour. Sixty years ago, recovering from the tragedy of two world wars, we decided to bond together and rebuild our continent from its ashes. We have built a unique Union with common institutions and strong values, a unique community of peace, freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law - a major economic power with unparalleled levels of social protection and welfare.

This is aimed to calm fears of Greece and other debtor EU states that Europe will give on its standards when it comes to enforcing austerity. The Greek prime minister has threatened not to sign the declaration if Brussels allows the IMF to demand more pension cuts and layoffs in order to support the next bailout. EU diplomats have complained of 'blackmail' from Athens.

Paragraph 4
We are determined to will make the EU stronger and more resilient, through even greater unity and solidarity amongst us and the respect of common rules. Unity is both a necessity and our free choice. Taken individually, we would be sidelined by global dynamics. Standing together is our best chance to influence them, and. to defend our common interests and values. We will act together whenever possible at different paces and intensity where necessary, while moving in the same direction, as we have done in the past, within - in line with the Treaties framework and leaving keeping the door open to those who join later. Our Union is undivided and indivisible.

This is watered down language after weeks in which some core EU states, including France, Belgium and Germany talked up the acceleration of a 'multi-speed' Europe. Poorer nations, particularly Poland, reacted furiously sensing that richer states were planning a process that would marginalise and weaken them.

Paragraph 5
In the ten years to come we want a Union that is safe and secure, prosperous, competitive and sustainable and socially responsible with an enhanced social dimension, and with the will and capacity of playing a key role in the global world and shaping globalisation. We want a Union where citizens have new opportunities for cultural, social development and economic growth. We want a Union which remains open to those European Countries that fully share respect our values and are committed to promoting them.

This could be read as a backhanded swipe at recalcitrant eastern EU states like Poland and Hungary who signed up to 'European values' at enlargement but now have increasingly authoritarian governments that have classed with Brussels over accepting migrant quotas and openly reject multi-culturalism.

Paragraphs 6-8
In these times of change, and aware of the concerns of our citizens, we commit to the Rome Agenda, and pledge to work towards:
1. A safe and secure Europe: a Union where all citizens feel safe and can move freely, where our external borders are secured and where with an efficient, responsible and sustainable migration policy, is managed effectively, humanely and [in respecting of international norms]; a Europe determined to fight terrorism and organised crime.
2. A prosperous and sustainable Europe: a Union which creates growth and jobs; a Union where a vast strong, connected and developing Single Market embracing technological transformation and where a stable and further strengthened single currency opens avenues for growth and cohesion, competitiveness, innovation and exchange, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises; a Union promoting sustained and sustainable growth, through investment, structural reforms and the completion of the working towards completing the Economic and Monetary Union; a Union where economies converge; a Union where energy is secure and affordable and the environment clean and safe.

The weakening of this language from "completion" of monetary Union to only "working towards" that goal reflects deep north-south divisions on the euro. Ideas like a European Monetary Fund and a common deposit insurance scheme for the eurozone are being blocked by Germany which does not want to be put on the hook for the debts of poorer southern states, at least not without serious structural reforms.

Paragraphs 9-10
3. A social Europe: a Union which, based on sustainable growth, promotes economic and social progress as well as cohesion and convergence, taking into account the diversity of national systems the variety of our social models and the key role of social partners while upholding the integrity of the internal market; a Union which promotes gender the equality between women and men and rights and equal opportunities for all; a Union which fights discrimination, social exclusion and poverty; a Union where young people receive the best education and training and can study and find jobs across the continent; a Union which preserves our cultural heritage and preserves promotes cultural diversity and promotes preserves our cultural heritage.
4. A stronger Europe on the global scene: a Union further developing existing building new partnerships, building new ones and promoting stability and prosperity in its immediate neighbourhood to the east and south, but also in the Middle east and across Africa and globally; a Union ready to take more responsibilities and to assist in creating a more competitive and integrated defence industry; a Union committed to strengthening its common security and defence, ensuring cooperation and complementarity and avoiding duplications with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, taking into account national circumstances and legal commitments; a Union engaged in the United Nations and protecting standing for a rates-based multilateral system, proud of its values and protective of its people, promoting free and fair trade and a positive global climate policy.

This represents a fractional strengthening of the language on Europe's ambitions for a common defence policy. Britain has been adamant that any EU defence plans must not duplicate Nato functions, but France, Germany and the European Commission would like to see more ambition from Europe. There are those who hope that Britain's departure will clear the way to moving close towards some form of functioning EU defence forces.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 24.3.17

More comments have come in about about Spain and Galicia in the first half of the 20th century. Eamon has told me that, when he first arrived in La Coruña, there were knife sharpeners(afiladores) in the streets during the day and watchmen(serenos) patrolling them during the night. And my friend Ian has advised that, in the towns and villages he visited in the late 50s, drinking water was only available from a pump in the main square. And that there was a guardia civil on every corner.

Reader Maria has commented on the aspects of poverty at the time of her grandmother here in Galicia. Going further back still – to the late 1830s – here's what George Borrow had to say about Galicia, when he first entered it, on horseback: The villages were mostly an assemblage of wretched cabins; the roofs were thatched, dank, and moist, and not infrequently covered with rank vegetation. There were dunghills before the doors, and no lack of pools and puddles. Immense swine were stalking about, intermingled with naked children. The interior of the cabins corresponded with their external appearance: they were filled with filth and misery.

When you look at today's Spain and marvel at such things as its ultra-modern road and high-speed rail network, you can be forgiven for forgetting that, back in the 60s, Spain was officially part of the Developing World. No wonder Spaniards love the EU, the source of massive largesse. Only relatively recently did Poland take over as the biggest beneficiary of this. Which is ironic as - in contrast to Spain - Poland is not showing much gratitude. In fact, it's threatening to replace the UK as the bad boy on the EU block. See the article at the end of this post on this.

By the way . . .There was the occasional knife sharpener on the streets of my street when I was a kid.

Back to modern Spain . . . Here, from The Local, is a list of the 'strange' things Spanish parents do with their kids:

And here's a scarcely believable account of a suit taken out by a teenager against his mother, for taking his mobile phone off him. He accused her of maltreatment.

Here's The Local's list of the Top Ten paradors in Spain. I featured No. 1 here a few months ago, of course.

As for the Spanish economy, here's something that reflects the macro-micro void I keep banging on about.

I read conflicting reports about the Spanish construction industry. Generally speaking, it's still in the doldrums. Pontevedra, for example, has only 10% of the number of active architects it had back in the boom. (As if we care). But, in Madrid, huge investment is going into office premises. Which Spain thinks is a major positive factor in her favour in the current Continental war to get bits of the London financial business post Brexit.

On the latter, Don Quijones reports that Frankfurt is the way-ahead favourite to bag the biz. See here on this.

Over in the USA, Trump's healthcare reforms - which will hit the poor - have been held up by Republican extremists who don't think it goes far enough. They insist the law must more accurately reflect the 'character' of the nation. Jeez. Some more people who deserve to be shot.

Finally . . . El País tells us that almost two people are processed every day for political corruption here in Spain. One wonders when – or, indeed, if – the Spanish public will eventually rebel against this in any serious way. Not while it continues to put the PP in power, of course. Which they might well have another chance to do quite soon. The government has had a couple of reverses in parliament and President Rajoy is threatening to go for a new and larger mandate. This doesn't concern me, of course. I might pay taxes but I have no vote. Revolutions have been incited by less.

Today's cartoon:-

Poles threaten to spoil EU’s birthday party

European leaders heading for Rome this weekend to shrug off Brexit gloom and celebrate the EU’s 60th birthday are ruining the party mood with bickering and finger pointing.

Heads of government minus Theresa May, will gather at the Campidoglio palace tomorrow to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957.

Smiles may seem forced, however, amid threats from Poland and Greece not to sign a joint declaration on the EU’s future. Beata Szydlo, the Polish prime minister, is upset by a reference to a multispeed Europe in the document. Brussels officials see it as giving members greater leeway as they integrate their economies, but Poland fears it will be left behind in a second division.

“It’s an incentive to create sub-groups, to exclude, to abandon joint decisions,” Ms Szydlo said.

Greece says it will sign the declaration only if it mentions protecting jobs — an issue seen as important because of demands from international lenders to make lay-offs easier. One diplomat warned that Greece would not get far by sabotaging the declaration. “We won’t be blackmailed by one member state which is linking one EU issue with a totally different one,” he said.

Southern states are already on a war footing after Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch eurogroup chief, accused them of wasting money on “drinks and women”. Luigi Di Maio, the probable prime ministerial candidate for the Italian Five Star Movement, which is leading the polls, said yesterday: “The euro made us poorer and we are now being humiliated too.”

Tensions will run high outside the signing ceremony tomorrow as police patrol a barricaded city centre and Predator drones fly overhead.

Riot police will be on hand as 30,000 demonstrators criss-cross Rome in numerous marches, including potentially violent hard-left and hard-right anti-EU protesters, and pro-Brussels marchers.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 23.3.17

My thanks to readers Eamon and Maria for adding details of Galician and Madrid aspects of the things I cited from Arturo's Barea's book yesterday. Check these out in yesterday's Comments. On a point of detail, the barquilleros used to sort of sell barquellos and these were not the filloas(pancakes) of Galicia but wafers of some sort. Here's an article on Madrid's last dealer in these.

And here's something on the trade of Barea's mother, who was a washerwoman down at the river Manzanares. They all lost their work when it was 'canalised'. Or channelled, I guess.

Am I being unfair about Spanish social norms? This is a foto of a group of 3 young women – and their 3 large plastic bags – blocking the pavement this morning. 

The thing to bear in mind is that not only is there a strip of grass to the side of the pavement but also a bench half a metre from the path as well. I've advanced a number of theories for this sort of thing over the years – lack of antennae; individualismo; poor consideration for others; pragmatism; a love of spontaneity; a failure to think ahead or, even a hatred of planning. But the truth is I still have no idea why this sort of thing happens more in Spain than in any of the other 5 countries I've lived in. And I should be inured to it by now. As, indeed, I must be as I didn't get remotely annoyed. If only because, when I got within half a metre of them, the women all shuffled a bit to the left, so that I had enough room to pass without having to step into the road. One must be grateful for small mercies.

Just after I passed these women I went into the A Barca mall to check on an upcoming event there. On the top floor, there are 10 locales – 1 (Chinese) restaurant, 2 bar/cafés and 7 shops. Every one of these except the Café Games has closed in the last 2 years or so. Of course, I've confessed to a total inability to understand the Pontevedra 'retail' scene – I passed a restaurant yesterday which is being fitted out for its 4th incarnation in 10 years – and am forced to include it probably does have more to do with money laundering than with any serious attempt to sell things.

Which reminds me . . . 

They say you're never far from a rat in Londom. Well, the same is true of addicts on this drug-financed western coast of Galicia. Apart from the incessant beggars, there's also a group of men - and the occasional women - who gather and argue in the old quarter. And sometimes shout at each other and then fight. I wouldn't mind but they do this under some soportales within a few metres of my table outside my regular bar. 

Something should be done about it . . . 

If you're trying to effect major change in society, it helps to go with the human grain. My ex stepson reminded me this week that I always told him this when arguing against his teenage love of communism. I had the same thought this morning when reading that the survival of the EU depends on rapid formation of a superstate. Have they not realised by now how concerned the various national populations – as opposed to their leaders - are at this prospect? Maybe over a 100 years, as one philosopher said last week, but surely not within the next 5 to 10 years. It's because of this that one can have no faith in the survival of 'the project'. If only they had gone slower. And not introduced the euro. And not seriously damaged several already weak economies in the process. And not allowed Germany to come to dominate Europe so quickly and comprehensively. But they did. And did. And did. And did. Meaning that their salaries and pensions are now at risk. Which is quite possibly all they really care about.

Finally . . . Our weather this year is bizarre. December and January were a great deal less wet than usual and we had a temperature of 28 degrees in Pontevedra last Friday. And ice on my car windscreen at 8.30 last night. I blame it on the boogy.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 22.3.17

I've just finished the first of 3 volumes comprising the autobiography of Arturo Barea, entitled The Forging of a Rebel. This first part is called The Forge and is a tremendous read. On the back cover it says Orwell described it as excellent and, when I got to the end of it, I saw that the British historian, Paul Preston, had written: There is no book in any language which more vividly recreates the years of poverty, political corruption and social violence which finally erupted into the Spanish Civil War. So, you won't be surprised to hear I'm awaiting delivery of the second volume. Meanwhile: Here's a few things about the Madrid of 1907-1914. It was a time when:-
  • Poverty in Madrid was at what are now considered Third World levels
  • Spanish employers were even more ruthless with employees than they are today
  • All mayors and priests were fat.
  • Parents believed they had a right to tell their children what they had to do with their lives.
  • Priests were either feared and obeyed or detested and ignored
  • Priests commonly had 'nieces' who lived with them. Wives, even.
  • People ate paciencias, which no one in my bar recognises but which is described by the Royal Academy as: Un bollo redondo y muy pequeño hecho con harina, huevo, almendra y azúcar y cocido en el horno.
  • The daily wage for new bank clerks - after a year of earning nothing while on probation - was less than 1 peseta. Or 25 pesetas a month.
  • Families were large
  • Merluza (hake) was as popular a fish as it is today.
  • Cocido (stew) was eaten every day by the poor, put on in the morning and left to stew all day.
  • The midday meal took place at 12 noon, not 3pm, at least in poor houses and in the villages
  • Monkey nuts and roasted chick peas were also as popular as they are today. Well, the latter anyway.
  • Night watchmen patrolled the streets, bawling the hour and the weather.
  • Poor farmers pulled the plough themselves
  • His uncle only shaved on Thursdays and Sundays - As priests do.
  • The cruelty to bulls in villages was beyond belief, if not description.
  • Poor, starving, terrified teenagers pretending to be toreros were regularly gored in the villages.
  • Barea's uncle belonged to a race of men which has almost disappeared; he was a craftsman [a blacksmith] and a gentleman.
  • Cobwebs were placed over cuts and grazes.
  • Poor relatives fought like cats - in front of the notary - over the estate of their not-so-dear departed.
  • Corrupt priests still sold indulgences and benedictions 'blessed by the Pope'. And double, triple or quadruple charged for the same Mass for the dead.
  • At picnics in the villages, sheep and rabbits were strung up in the trees and skinned.
  • Young boys from Galicia came to Madrid on foot with a tin box full of thin rolled wafers [filloas?] slung around their shoulders.
  • Corporal punishment was routinely dished out to kids, not only by parents and relatives but also by anyone in the street who took offence to their activities or words.
  • Park keepers beat kids with a stick if they transgressed
  • Carpenters, masons, tailors and the like barely earned enough to keep death from the door of their families
  • 'Hide and seek' was called 'I spy' in Spanish. 
  • Town councils and the Catholic Church fleeced you when you had to move a body from its temporary grave
  • What is the modern Lavapies barrio in Madrid was then called El Avapies. It contained within it the desperately poor 'quarter of the injuries'. Or El barrio de las injurias which looked like part of modern day Calcutta. Where naked gypsies squatted in the sun killing the lice which the swarthy fingers of their mother or sister plucked from their hair, one by one.
  • Priests told boys in their care: Playing with your parts is fornication. And Woman is sin. For the sake of Woman the human race fell from grace, and all the saints suffered the temptations of evil. In short: Woman is evil. Men who sleep with them go to Hell. It is a sin to come near a woman.
  • Village priests forbade the teachers to show children how to read and write.
  • The first question asked of a new employee - much like today - was: Who got you in here?
  • Two banks - Banco de Urquijo and Banco de Vizcaya - had made themselves masters of the Public Utilities of Madrid and of almost all the industries of Bilbao.
  • Banks sometimes forced their clerks to work from 7am until 1 in the next morning. Albeit probably with a short break for lunch and dinner. Certainly the lucky clerks had a coffee bought for them each night.
  • Notaries - as they still are - were God.
  • The Parque del Oeste was known as The English Park, at least by Barea. 
  • Men 'killed the worm' by drinking brandy or 'cheap spirits' with their first coffee of the day. As they still do in villages.
  • People went to the pictures (movies) at midnight, as they still do.
  • All male clerks were being replaced by very much cheaper young girls. As were the attendants in shops and department stores.
  • People with many years of low-paid service were summarily sacked if found to be a member of a trade union.
By the way, I recognise some of these from my own childhood - e. g. the corporal punishments - but not a lot.

The book is beautifully written and very well translated. A representative paragraph: The sunlight, speckled with flies, streamed through the small square window above my head. The room smelled of the village, the sun-dried grain in the corn-loft opposite, of furze burning in the kitchen, of clinging reek from the chicken coop and of dung in the stables, and of the mud walls of the house, baked by the sun and covered with whitewash.

Returning to the present day . . . When I went to get an up-to-date certificado de empadronamiento from the Poio town hall, the nonplussed lady clerk was incredulous that I didn't have an ID card, only a by-now tattered A4 sheet which confirms I am a resident and gives my NIE number. Lenox of Business over Tapas has advised that we Brits are in this unfortunate position because a couple of Brits compained a few years ago that we were above ID cards. The result is that most of us now have to carry our bloody passports around. Or at least a Spanish driving licence. They should be shot.

Don Quijones reports that: The Euro Group President, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, has managed to offend just about every Southern European nation with the following comment (in reference to recent EU bailouts), at a time when relations between Europe’s north and south are already strained: “You can’t just spend all your money on alcohol and women and then ask for help.” DQ adds thatIt’s fair to say that Dijsselbloem was not speaking literally, but he could have chosen a far better metaphor to illustrate his point — preferably one that doesn’t depict Southern Europeans as alcoholics and prostitutes.

Oddly enough, I also read yesterday that going to a brothel is now de riguer amongst Spain's 20 year old males.

Today's cartoon:-

Finally . . . An interesting article:-

Erdogan threatens a summer of chaos for the EU: Roger Boyes, The Times

The street-wise but pious kid from Istanbul’s harbour district is both a victim and a fighter. According to the film The Chief, the young Tayyip Erdogan was a frequent mosque-goer, protested when a referee refused to interrupt a football game for prayers and was chucked into jail for reciting a poem that goes: “the minarets are our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers”.

Across Europe’s Turkish communities, where the film is being shown this week, audiences may well be dabbing their eyes and declaring: “That’s our boy!” President Erdogan’s spin doctors certainly hope so. There are four million registered voters outside Turkey and the referendum on April 16 — over boosting the president’s powers to near-Putin levels — is looking as if it could be a near-run thing.

If he wins approval, the Turkish constitution will be changed, handing executive powers to the president. Mr Erdogan will be able to hire and fire ministers, rule by edict and curb parliament. In theory he will be able to rule until 2029, giving him the chance to enter the 1,100 rooms of his long-awaited new palace and inspect the silk wallpaper. That sounds like a further, decisive lurch towards autocratic rule, and it is. One of many concerns is that he will use his extended powers to declare all-out war on the Kurds, thus sprinkling kerosene on the Middle East bonfire.

Mr Erdogan’s supporters say he is creating a strong state and correcting the 1982 constitution. Drawn up at a time when the Turkish general staff thought itself better placed than any civilian government to define the country’s interests, the constitution gave a crucial role to a national security council half-filled by army officers. Mr Erdogan believed he had tamed the army — but then came last July’s botched coup.

The past few months have seen him unleash an extraordinary purge. Critical academics have been sacked, newspapers closed down, journalists jailed; it has become a society of snitches who denounce those with suspect loyalties. There is a hysterical undercurrent to today’s Turkey, a touch of King Lear about Mr Erdogan himself and a lick of black Dario Fo-style farce about the behaviour of his followers. A Turkish farmers’ association said it would respond to the recent Dutch deportation of one of Ankara’s cabinet ministers by expelling 40 Holstein Friesian cows. One farmer even chose to slaughter his Dutch cow in protest at the Hague’s supposed neo-Nazi high-handedness.

The Chief may be crude propaganda but it does at least recall why Mr Erdogan was once rated by the West: he was a moderniser, someone who wanted to redress the balance between Islam and Kemalist secularism. We were so sure that Mr Erdogan had got that balance right that we held up his brand of political Islam as being a desirable destination for the rebels of the Arab Spring.

That has vanished now and the big question is: who lost Turkey? People still ask the same question about Russia. When Vladimir Putin appeared in 1999-2000 it was all about engagement: getting him involved in the G8, signing him up for the Nato-Russia strategic council.

It seemed to be going that way with Turkey at the beginning. Turkey signed an association agreement with the EEC in 1963 and became a formal candidate for the EU in 1999. By the time Erdogan became prime minister in 2003 it seemed as if he was going to be the man to make it happen: he agreed to scrap the death penalty, to move towards an independent judiciary, to protect Kurdish rights.

And yet we never really wanted Turkey in the club. Turkey’s swelling population, its Muslim identity, its proximity to troublespots, made it a difficult proposition. Then came the terror attacks in Madrid and London. Centre-right parties discovered Europe’s Christian identity and failed to break the bad news to Mr Erdogan. Instead he was offered weasel words such as “privileged partnership”— by which point it was clear to the Turks that they were destined to remain, as they had always been for Europeans, The Other. The more dependent the EU becomes on Mr Erdogan to act as a holding pen for refugees, the more uncomfortable this Otherness becomes. Last week he was campaigning against the European Court of Justice ruling against the wearing of headscarves and religious symbols in the workplace. Christian Europe, he said, has “started a struggle between the cross and the crescent”. Mevlut Cavusoglu, his foreign minister, recently barred from the Netherlands, warned: “You have begun to collapse, Europe . . . holy wars will soon begin in Europe.”

It is the migrant deal with the EU that allows Mr Cavusoglu to declare: “Turkey is in command.” That flawed bargain, sealed in a moment of desperation, is about to fall apart. If he wins the referendum in April, the Turkish president will see himself at the pinnacle of his power. He will be tempted to take one of two options: to abandon the deal altogether and watch the EU struggle with 15,000 more refugees washing up every day, or to release migrants in controlled doses that end up crippling Greece and Bulgaria, piling pressure on Brussels to give Turks visa-free access to Europe.

The Mediterranean is getting calmer; drought and famine in Africa is driving people towards the sea and the German general election is approaching fast. Forget Russian cyberhacking, Mr Erdogan has in his hands the most disruptive weapon of all: the ability to demonstrate that European governments cannot control their borders. Prepare for a summer of chaos.

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