Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 17.8.17

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

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

My usual Thursday morning thanks to Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas for some inspiration.

Life in Spain:-
  • Spain's top ranking university in a recent Chinese survey - Barcelona's Universidad Pompeu Fabra - came in at only position 239. Our local paper - the Voz de Galicia - boasted (if that's the right word) that the University of Santiago was included in the 300-400 band. Not much to shout about. In contrast, Spain's business schools are very highly rated.
  • Here's our old friend, The Local, with a list of 10 things you mustn't do when dining in Spain.
  • And, if you're a guiri who speaks Spanish and plans to enjoy tapas dishes here, here's how to detect favoured tricks/faults of the trade.
  • Here's a bit more from El País, in English, on the problems Santiago de Compestela has with its ever-increasing number of tight-fisted pilgrims/tourists
  • Spain's fishing fleet ranks number 3 in Europe, after Greece and Italy. The UK comes in at number 7 but this is only one place above that of Galicia's. Most of which operates out of nearby Vigo, I believe. This puts Galicia's fleet ahead of those of Holland, Germany and Ireland, inter alia.
It's tough inventing reasons for Spain's raison d'etre - annual fiestas. Our local town of Cuntis (stop sniggering) has come up with a beauty - a straw-bale rolling competition. For which you have to don cowboy gear and wellies, it seems. Or at least wellies:-

If you're surprised at the following statistic, you haven't been paying attention to my moans in this blog . . . In absolute terms of the number of motoring fines, Pontevedra province ranks 3rd behind those of Madrid and Valencia: 179,400, 95,900 and 72,800, respectively. But I suspect our province would leap to the top of the per capita rankings. I'm proud to be included. Regularly.

Mind you, our local police claim there are at least 800 drivers on our roads who've had their licences suspended. Not all of whom will be gypsies. I guess.

I've confessed that Pontevedra's ever-changing retail scene confuses me. In a part of the city centre where I haven't shopped for a while, I noticed there was a new burger restaurant and that the Chinese bazar I'd intended to visit was now a large sporting goods store. Down in Veggie Square, one of the shops that regularly closes and re-opens as something else is now an ice-cream place. I imagine it'll shut down at the end of summer. Further up the street towards my regular watering hole, the city's millionth knick-knack shop has just opened. Perhaps for the tourist trade. I've become pretty good at predicting which shops won't survive - my latest guess being the spice shop in the street down towards the market. Which will be a shame as it's useful for me and is staffed by a nice young lady who wants to practice her English.

Galicia's brilliant artist, Alfonso Castelao, was not exactly an admirer of Spain's ruling classes of the start of the 20th century. He once said, I think, that there was no such thing as a thin priest. Certainly, all of the latter in his wonderful pictures seem to be on the fat side. As here, for example:-

I was reminded of this when I was this foto of the king and queen - the very opposite of fat - with leaders of the Spanish Protestant community:-

Finally . . .  My understanding that un huerto is an orchard and una huerta is a vegetable patch or allotment. Right or wrong, I need a Spanish reader to tell me whether it's really possible I saw the latter as a masculine forename in a novel set in the 1930s and beyond.

Today's cartoon:-

Of course, it'll be more effective once we get some ants.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 16.8.17

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

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

Life in Spain:-
  • Here's El País on Spain's bizarre horario, or daily timetable. Nice chart. Apologies if I posted this when it came out last year. It does endorse my contention that you need to take a couple of hours off Spanish events to arrive at the time they'd be taking place in other countries. Which I did last night when we had our second set of fireworks in less than a week. At midnight . . .
  • Here's another El Pais article – A pretty positive take on Spain from an American woman who had her eyes opened as to what the country has to offer.
  • And here's The Guardian on a lovely train option I used when doing the North Coastal Camino last year. To get beyond the outskirts of Oviedo. I wish I could get someone to sponsor my trips.
  • Back to El País for a comment on the parlous state of Spain's real, micro economy. What's really galling to read is that, as the tourist sector soars higher and higher, salary rates are reducing for the already overworked and underpaid workers who provide the usually excellent service in cafés, bars, restaurants and hotels. Profiteering on grand scale.
  • I sometimes wonder whether any businessperson in Spain is honest. Here's El País (in Spanish) on one of the most corrupt of the country's magnates . . . mining 'king' and outright crook – Victorino Alonso
  • I don't have this query about Spain's politicians, of course. We know that all of these are on the take.

Over in Germany, the constitutional court has said it sees “significant reasons” to believe the European Central Bank had overstepped its mandate with its €2.3 trillion bond-buying scheme. So, it has referred the case to the European Court of Justice. Which will take its time and hand down a verdict after the scheme been stopped, as planned, early next year. I guess it makes sense to someone. Don Quijones is on holiday in Mexico with his wife so, sadly, we can't get his caustic comments on this typical EU development.

Even before his astonishingly revelatory press conference yesterday, I was wondering how Donald Trump could have more clearly demonstrated the utter insincerity of his written-for-him Monday statement on Charlottesville. Perhaps by laughing during and after it. Or giving a big wink towards his supporters when he'd finished. As it happens, he gave us all the evidence of this yesterday. I see things have finally reached the point where Republican rats are starting to leave the sinking ship. How much longer can he last? More importantly, what further damage can this batty, blustering, bullying buffoon do to the US and the world before he's gone?

Here in Galicia:-
  • On tourism, I forgot yesterday to quote the foreigner who'd said that visiting the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela was now as bad as visiting the Vatican.
  • Back to the corporate dishonesty issue . . . Not just one but 4 local companies are being prosecuted for taking thousands of excess passengers to the glorious but numbers-limited Atlantic Islands off our coast. In just 2 days.
  • The Ribeira Sacra is another magnificent – but inland – Galician feature. And now you can see it from a hot air balloon. Or un aerostato as they're called here. Click here for info.

Finally . . .  As I was leaving my house last evening, my neighbour, Toni, told me that there's an upcoming fiesta in Vilagarcia, on our be-coved coast. "Is it a fiesta de cocaina", I asked.

Today's Cartoon:-

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 15.8.17

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

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

Life in Spain:-
  • Here's an interesting follow-up to one of Spain's many bull-running events. Unusual in a not-very-litigious society. An augury?
  • The latest Gallup poll endorses the view that Spain's macro economic recovery is not trickling down to the lower levels of society. A couple of quotes:- 1. The country's poorest residents may be hardest hit by austerity measures, and 2. The growing differences between low-income and high-income Spaniards are a troubling reflection of the rising inequality.
  • A while ago, the newish centre-party, Ciudadanos, entered into a pact with the minority PP administration, to allow the latter to govern. It has now admitted that only c. 20% of this has been implemented so far. I wonder what they expected.
  • Talking of the PP party, its leading (low wattage) light is President Rajoy - the only member of the party who knows nothing about its endemic corruption. He's not known for achieving much and is famous for saying even less. Despite (because of?) this, he's reported to be planning to try for a 3rd term in office. They say that voters in a democracy get the government they deserve. But do the Spanish really merit the unimpressive Sr Rajoy?
The Spanish Language:- My latest discoveries:-
  • Tener patente de corso: To have a licence to do what you want. Lit: To be a  privateer. Corso = corsair.
  • Un piscinazo: 'A dive', as in Louis Suarez in the Real Madrid penalty area. Lit: 'Big swimming pool'.
  • Tener muchas migas: To be full of interest/substance.
  • Gastroteca: A pretentious place serving food. Like a wine-serving vinoteca. Sometimes the same place.
  • Gastrorestaurante: Ditto
Galicia News:
  • The Galician Xunta has distanced itself from comments that there's too many tourists now. Indeed, they want more and have plans to bring them here. And not only from the rest of Spain.
  • In Santiago de Compostela, meanwhile - as I know full well - things have got so bad that you'll have to wait at least 45 minutes to get into the cathedral, through the single door that's now kept open. Nonetheless, the complaint about tourists in that city is not that there's too many of them but that they don't spend enough once they get there. Cheap pilgrim bastards!
  • Our farmers are up in arms against the Hacienda, the Tax Office. For a while now, it's been using drones to find unregistered rural buildings or extensions which should have been declared so that the municipal tax (the IBI) could be levied on them. And now it's demanding documentary evidence farmers are entitled to the cash they get from Brussels. Mainly for leaving their land uncultivated, I think. In theory, at least.
  • Another day in hilly Galicia, another less-than-young farmer dead under an upturned tractor.
  • Pontevedra's Saturday night bullfight didn't merit a full report in Sunday's El Pais. There was just a brief account in a side column, along with reports on 2 corridas in France(!) and one in Gijón on the north coast.
  • The Saturday post-corrida-all-night binge for kids of 12 and upwards resulted in only 4 cases of alcoholic poisoning. And no violence. By the way, if you're female, there seems to be a strict rule for attendance at this - the younger you are, the more you should dress like a prostitute. One wonders if they leave the house like this, bottle of kalimocho in hand.
  • A motorcyclist was recently stopped for doing 150km in a 60km zone. Because it had got wet and he wanted to dry it out, he said. Which was possibly true.
This is the charming garden of the Pontevedra Parador, where I go for a coffee of a Sunday morning. Or, rather, where I go to be ignored by the staff. Who, I guess, recognise that I am not staying there. Or just don't like me. They are civil servants, of course, as the hotel chain is government run:-

Out of their own mouths . . . Pastor Franklin Graham: Shame on the politicians who are trying to push blame on President Trump for what happened in Charlottesville. That’s absurd. Satan is behind it all. He wants division, he wants unrest, he wants violence and hatred.  Pastor Graham clearly knows what he's talking about when it comes to the absurd.

Finally . . .  Talking of the absurd . . . This foto jumped out of The Times at me this morning. And it wasn't because of the breasts:-

This, would you believe, is a stomach vacuuming - A contortion achieved by emptying your lungs and pulling your abdomen in under your ribcage and holding the inhalation for 20 to 60 seconds. Its aimed at giving you a 'flat middle and six-pack' with minimal effort. More extreme versions, nicknamed “alien yoga” involve contracting and releasing your stomach muscles in a bizarre rolling movement. I'll probably be giving it a miss.  

Monday, August 14, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 14.8.17

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

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

Life in Spain:-
  • Tourism - long important to Spain - now represents a higher percentage of GDP than the 'booming' construction ever did before its sudden collapse in 2008. It has different pluses and minuses, of course, and Don Quijones addresses them here, while pointing out the likelihood of mid-term reversals.
  • Tomorrow, Tuesday, is a public holiday in Spain. Something to do with the Virgin Mary, I think. So today, Monday, is one of the country's famous puentes, or 'bridges'. When many folk take the day off. Or call in sick. Not a time to be on the roads, says El Tráfico, who warn us the jams will make it a nightmare under a hot sun.
  • A survey tells us that clothes and booze are still relatively cheap in Spain but that telecommunications are a lot more expensive than elsewhere in Europe. As if we didn't know. And, in the case of my barrio, utterly inadequate for 15 of the 17 years I've been here.
Here in Galicia, property sales have begun to boom again, despite the fact that our cities boast many empty flats. One interesting aspect is that more than 50% of sales are now in cash. One wonders why.

As I've mentioned, this weekend saw the start of our annual fiesta in Pontevedra city. It's called Semana Grande, or the Big Week. Possibly because this 'week' runs from the 11th to the 21st of the month. And involves at least 2 spectacular firework display. At midnight, of course.

I'm more convinced that ever there's a Beggars' Bus which goes from town to town here in the Rías Baixas of Galicia. Or it might just be that our fiesta has drawn in the 2 or 3 new ones who've appeared in the last few days. Effectively, they're as itinerant as all the craftspeople who go from one place to another for the now-obligatory Medieval Fair every town offers during the summer. 

Here's a piece of doggerel which this development reminded me of yesterday:-
Hark! Hark! The dogs do bark.
The beggars are come to town.
Some in rags and some in tags,
And some in hand-me-downs

My friends Anthea and Phil told me last night that the last line in their neck of the northern English woods is:- And some in velvet gowns.

And here's a foto of one of the panhandling newcomers. Rather younger than most, I thought. Well, the first time she appeared, I did:-

By the way, I've probably committed an offence by not pixellating her face. But I don't know how to do it.

Which reminds me . . . Those charged under Spain's Citizen Security law - known colloquially as the Gag Law - numbered 3,391 over the last 18 months here in Galicia. The majority of these were for drug-related offences but just over 1,000 miscreants were charged with 'disobedience' or 'resisting authority'. Incidentally, with only 6% of Spain's population, Galicia managed to garner 17% of the national total of these offences. I'm guessing this is connected with our status as the leading gateway for Colombia's cocaine exports. Some of which don't leave the region.

Talking of offences . . . here's a foto that could well get me arrested in the UK, not a smile from the teachers accompanying this snake of kids linked by a rope:-

Finally . . .  I mentioned Hygge yesterday: Here's Private Eye on this topic recently:- "There is no direct translation of the Swedish word Lagom, but on the available evidence we may take it to mean 'lifestyle publishing fad' . . . Alert readers will have noticed that it is a bit like Hygge, the Danish concept of cosiness that singed a thousand bedside tables with unattended tea-lights. Like Hygge or, indeed Ikigai or Simplicité - two other recent publishing wheezes - Lagom is supposed to evoke an entire culture that is assuredly much better than yours. . . . It's all so painfully smugge."

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 13.8.17

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

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

Life in Spain:-
  • I've complained that August here in Galicia - until a couple of days ago - wasn't living up to its reputation for heat. But at least things weren't quite as bad as elsewhere in Spain. Click here for an astonishing report of recent below-freezing temperatures.
  • Good to see this review of British comedians Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan's trip to Spain. I'm neither an insecure nor a middle-aged male but I still expect to enjoy it hugely.
  • Here's a run through of Spain's most beautiful national parks.
  • And, for Spanish speakers, here's a review of the ultra-right in Spain. More accurately of its virtual non-existence.
  • I love the Spanish affection (obsession?) with having fun. But I'm not so keen on their apparent belief that it's not possible to enjoy oneself without an astonishingly high volume of noise. Which they think is normal, of course - most of them never having seen the Portuguese, for example, having fun. I'm stimulated to write this by the experience of having my eardrums assaulted by the 'firecrackers' suddenly set off only a few metres from my watering hole yesterday midday. To mark, I believe, the official start of our 2-week fiesta. Not to mention the insistent bass boom from a kiddies' attraction in the nearby main square.
  • Correction: Most of you will have realised that the English village of Morpeth I mentioned yesterday was really Morebath. I went back to the book to find evidence of the richness of 16th century English fiesta life centred on saints' days. And discovered that the village's favourite saint of was St Sidwell, whose Wiki page is here. I'm betting that - highly populated as it is - she doesn't figure in the Spanish pantheon. Yet. 

Here's The Guardian on the North Korean imbroglio. Specifically on the treatment by the US's wonderful late-night comedians.

The EU: In the article at the end of this post, an Estonian MP and law professor - Prof Igor Gräzin takes an even more negative/pessimistic view on this 'declining empire' than I do. Interesting stuff. For some of us, anyway.

US Nutter Anne Graham Lotz: While no one can know for sure if judgment is coming on America, it does seem that God is signaling us about something. Time will tell what that something is. Armageddon perhaps, if we leave things to Donald Trump.

Finally . . . There's been a recent fashion in the UK for a Scandinavian outlook on life called Hygge. British columnist and polemicist Rod Liddle says this is a Danish word to describe the feeling of cosiness and contentment you experience just before you decide to commit suicide.

Today's Cartoon:-

Here's the cartoonist of the Voz de Galicia, comparing President Rajoy's concern for Catalan matters (and turismofobia) with his lack of interest in what concerns (almost) everyone else in Spain:-


Out of ideas and desperate to suppress dissent, the EU's days are numbered: Igor Gräzin

More interesting than when history repeats itself are the trends that do not. Consider the lot of two particular struggling empires. Rome’s collapse was preceded by intellectual degradation. Russia’s, on the contrary, saw it reach one of her intellectual peaks just before the tragedies of her fall.

Remember the likes of Yesenin, “Vekhi“, Rachmaninoff, and Malevich. Given the accompanying cultural masterpiece of the European Union is the Eurovision Song Contest, we might well ask whether the EU (or rather, the European Commission) will collapse in gradual fits or in a single blast.

Intellectually, politically, economically and legally, the process will be challenging. The natural and democratic tendency of EU member states to loosen their EU ties is resisted by its professional nomenclature – and particularly the staff of the European Commission, whose livelihoods are solely dependent upon its existence. Thus even referenda on “exits“ might be effectively out of the question: the Commission has more than enough inertial power to prevent civic movements manifesting themselves or making themselves heard.

Like other declining empires, the EU finds itself suppressing internal opposition. What is notable is the combination of the nature of the dissent, and the environment in which it operates. The EU is driven to relabel its democracy to justify its rearguard fight.

All progressive changes in the EU - whether Brexit, the two emergences of the True Finns, the development of various “pirate-movements“, the strengthening of sovereign identity in Hungary, the Czech Republic and so forth - have taken place in a relatively undramatic ways and through the routine course of civic democracy. So there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the further decay will continue the same way.

The raison d’être of the EU made sense some half-a-century ago, but does not exist anymore. Keeping the peace on the Continent failed in Ukraine, Georgia, the Balkans, Trans-Caucasus; and massive terrorism is a war de facto. With the strictly egoistic interests of individual countries in play, accompanied by a certain set of historical accidents, the Commission is no longer fit for purpose.   

Take for starters the existence of the Single Currency. Sitting outside the definition of economist Robert Mundell’s “optimum area", it makes the fragile status of the broad European economy, and specifically its uncompetitiveness, worse. The discriminatory application of Maastricht criteria serves the minority of the EU, and contributes towards “unfair business practices“ (after all: many EU members’ statistical authorities simply lie).

Meanwhile the system itself discriminates against corrective free speech. Political correctness, and the EU generically labelling critical democratic forces as “extremist“, “far Right“ (or “far Left“), both lead to self-alienation through their nomenclature. Ministers who meanwhile stand up for sovereign rights and democratic concerns against the centre are subject to abuse and attack.

Finally, the ideological constraints on the use of police forces (a wariness to act against truly extremist circles at the risk of being labelled “racist,“ or the refusal to prosecute illegal economic migrants as simply illegals) has become an additional risk element.

All these intellectual and ideological factors, set against the new social media foundations underpinning civic society, bring out the lack of charismatic leaders in this phase of change. The EU represents a mentality of mediocracy that has fed institutional idleness.
As there are no leaders in the EU there are no followers either. EU leaders do not lead but merely participate. And so it remains to us - the ordinary people - to wait and watch how a once-challenging idea will fade away. There is no need for us bystanders to be excited, but just to live our normal non-European daily lives.

Against this intellectual void comes the prospect of online cooperation. The socio-political development of Europe will be determined via new media by self-created and self-established civic movements. The future, then, does not belong to the political parties but to the chat-rooms.
The task is not to create and lead this development - it happens by itself! - but to participate and promote the libertarian values within.

Brexit is then not a special case, but just an event in the EU’s decline. We previously saw the "Arab Spring", and one day we will look back at the "Autumn of Europe".

Prof Igor Gräzin is an Estonian MP, law professor and commentator who was also a Member of the last Supreme Soviet of the USSR

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