Monday, March 28, 2005

I’m departing early tomorrow for two weeks in the UK. From there, I shall attempt to cast my jaundiced eye over things Britannic [or at least English] and post regular blogs.

One of the things I will be checking is whether the men’s cosmetics industry there has reached the same advanced point as here, where we are now being assailed by ads for creams that will get shut of the wrinkles round our eyes. Is this the equality that women died for?

I have resisted posting any more examples of searches that have resulted in citations of my blog but I really can’t resist this one:- Good clean brothels in Spain. Twice.

Even less this one:- Tower of Babel seat of the whore of Strasbourg France. I guess that ‘France’ was added at the end so that there wouldn’t be any confusion with all the other seats of the whore of Strasbourg.

I leave you with the news that more and more statues of General Franco [and his horse] are disappearing in the dead of night from plazas around Spain.

Which nicely links into the third bizarre search of the last few months:- Franco’s view of domestic violence in Spain. I guess he was in favour, being responsible for much of it.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The President of the Malaga federation of businessmen has suggested that the recent police operation against money laundering there – and the arrest of several leading lawyers – is nothing but a smokescreen designed to distract attention from ‘the government’s political problems in Catalunia’. Perhaps this sort of announcement plays better in Andalucia than in Madrid. Or even here in Galicia.

The final procession of Easter Week tonight was, as one might expect, a sombre occasion. And one watched in eerie silence. Until, that is, a young girl screamed ‘Grandma! Grandma!’ at one of the participants and was immediately stifled by three relatives. Just one would have been enough for this to have been the first time I have ever seen a Spanish kid being told to be quiet. Clearly, there’s something to be said for religious fervour.

Talking of money, it seems that more than 25% of all Europe’s 500 Euro notes are circulating in Spain. This is odd as no company uses notes of this size for salary payments and the vast majority of Spaniards have never even seen a 500 Euro note. Perhaps they’re all down on the south coast.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Definitely the last word on the Miss Spain contest – Given that almost every one of the young women was an Identikit Hispanic beauty - of almost the same dark features, height and measurements - it was exceptionally hard to choose between them. However, before I went to bed, I decided that Miss Lleida did, in fact, stand out from the crowd. So it was a bit of a surprise to read the next day that she’d come second, behind a contestant whose only real distinction seemed to be that she was slightly below the average. The Spanish rumour mill, always working overtime, later theorised that this had been because the judges’ panel had included several ex-beauties whose TV careers depended on not being too threatened by newcomers. As if!

This is, of course, Holy Week and in Spain it is marked by religious processions throughout the country, some of them even more spectacular than the others. I won’t be thanked for saying this but they always put me in mind of the Islamic processions I’ve seen in the Middle East. Especially the penitential ones. One wonders why.

Here in Pontevedra there were mechanical problems on Tuesday with the carriage bearing the statue of The Blessed Virgin of Hope. In brief, its attempts to get out of the church into the street were, well, hopeless. Another divine practical joke, like this week’s rains.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

There’s a forest behind my house, where I walk my dog every morning. Apart from the growing of trees, this is used for a variety of human activities but mostly tipping, tupping and tapping. Of veins, rubbish and each other, though not necessarily in that order. In keeping with the pattern of land ownership throughout Galicia, small individual plots are marked off with whatever is handy – rocks, coloured sticks or upturned bottles on the end of poles. I occasionally see people taking wood from these plots but am never sure about the legality of it. Early this morning, I happened upon a couple of fairly advanced years who were chain-sawing a tall eucalyptus that was suspiciously close to the track. I wondered whether the wife had said, “ Looks like the temperatures are going to drop. Let’s nip up to the forest and get ourselves some wood for the fire”.

In recent months, the Spanish authorities have given the impression of taking traffic infractions rather more seriously than in the past. Last week’s announcement – just ahead of the long holiday week – was that there would be a total of 132 unmarked police cars patrolling the highways, on the look-out for those speeding, driving without belts, talking on their phones, etc.
Galicia’s share of these cars is 17. This compares with only 2 or 3 in nearby Asturias and Cantabria and is second only to Castile and Andalucia, which are very much larger. I haven’t seen any explanation for this but it certainly fits with the fact that insurance premiums here are higher than elsewhere. By the way, one of the unmarked cars was pictured in the press, complete with registration number.

I see that David Beckham has said that he’s contemplating leaving Real Madrid for the sake of his kids. Nothing to do, then, with the fact that the fans have begun to boo his appearances on the pitch.

Opening my car boot last night, I realised why we've had nothing but rain for 5 days. After 6 months of perpetual sun, I finally got round to buying a parasol the evening before the deluge began.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

I had an experience at the library today which nicely encapsulates the formal/informal, insane/sane dichotomy that underlies Spanish bureaucratic tendencies. I gave the assistant written details of two back editions of local newspapers I wanted and she handed me a form in which I had to write exactly the same data, plus the date. Having done this, I told her I couldn’t give my membership number as my card was at home. No problem, she said, and promptly got me the papers. I rather think that, back in the UK, they would have accepted my scrap of paper but declined to respond in the absence of my membership details. The other way round, in other words.

All of which reminds me, I did in fact invent an identity number the last time the postman demanded it. But I still got the letter. So, as I suspected, it’s all quite pointless. I suspect it’s rare in Spain for anyone to be commended for telling his or her boss that elements of the job are quite unnecessary. No wonder the Spanish government is concerned at the country’s low [and declining] productivity relative to the rest of Europe. Especially as the German economy continues to fall apart, raising fears that taxpayers there will eventually refuse to continue financing growth in the poorer EU members.

I forget yesterday to mention the worst aspect of the Miss Spain programme. Halfway through the announcement as to which young ladies would and wouldn’t go through to the second round, one of the judges leaped up to say that they’d got it all wrong. So, some of the girls who had been painstakingly and humiliatingly rejected were now re-instated and, worse, some of those who had gone through were now even more agonisingly rejected. Talk about Reality TV! The mistake was put down to a printer error. Of course. These pesky modern printers with a mind of their own!

WordWatch

Un momento de relax – A rest or break
Una casa de relax – A brothel
Un piso de relax – A [smaller] brothel
Un club - A brothel

Monday, March 21, 2005

In Spain, spring officially began around one o’clock yesterday afternoon. A little earlier in the day, we had the start of the first serious rains in nearly six months. This had the farmers and reservoir managers jumping for joy but put the mockers on the first of the town’s Holy Week processions. At times like this, one feels that God must be an atheist. Or at least a practical joker.

As some of you will know, yesterday was actually Palm Sunday. As I recall, when I was a kid, we were lucky if we could get our hands on a solitary, pathetic little palm strand. Here the very minimum is a three foot sheath of fronds, with which one strokes the passing statue. Other options are great swathes of laurel or olive foliage. No wonder, I later thought, that the day is called not Palm but Branch Sunday in Spanish.

Saturday and Sunday night TV gave us the annual Mister and Miss Spain competitions. These programmes epitomise the telly-rubbish [telebasura] which is regularly excoriated by the heavier newspapers - five minutes of programme followed by ten minutes of advertisements; sponsors’ announcements during the parades; regular commercial presentations by the glamorous ‘presenters’; phoney prizes from cosmetics companies along the way; endless fore and aft ‘crutch shots’ of at least the female hopefuls; and regular plugs along the bottom of the screen for the channel’s upcoming programmes. Plus, this year, the fashionably essential humiliation of the contestants not going forward to the next round. And all this spread over more than three hours, starting at 10pm and going on until way past 1 in the morning. All in all, it’s hard to see how the producers could achieve anything more insulting to the viewers. So, naturally, the programmes achieve huge ratings.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Gibraltar continues to feature in newspaper articles about corruption on the south coast. A well-known Anglo-Spanish journalist – Tom Burns Marañón – has expressed doubts that the place is as guilty as charged but added the rider that he doesn’t expect to convince any readers, as Spanish political correctness demands that The Rock is seen as a den of thieves. Given the daily headlines of malfeasance on the part of senior businessmen and politicians in Spain itself, this obsession with financial skulduggery in Gibraltar certainly can strike one as rather odd. I would guess that Switzerland is far more deserving of the accusations but this, of course, wouldn’t butter any electoral parsnips in Spain.

One of the local papers pointed out today that, whereas many other parts of Spain are connected to Madrid by high speed trains, getting there from La Coruña in Galicia still takes the almost 9 hours it took 25 years ago. I guess this says something about the relative importance of the still-rather-isolated North West. The article stressed that one can get to Madrid in less than half this time by car, assuming an average speed of 140kph. As mentioned yesterday, getting copped doing this speed will shortly lose you several points from your driving licence, something which the paper seemed to regard as quite irrelevant.

Quote of the Day

The Spanish south coast is a sunny place for shady people.

Noel Coward. So not much change there, then.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Well, I should have been taking part today in the outdoor filming of a docudrama about the sinking of British ship along the Galician coast. But, with exquisite timing, the director chose the first day of rain in almost 6 months. And the project sank, appropriately enough.

In the small hours of Wednesday morning, the government removed Madrid’s last equestrian statue of General Franco. Since then we’ve been treated to protests and moonlight vigils from ultra right-wingers. These have taken to giving the fascist salute to the empty pedestal and, now, to leaving flowers and notes at the scene. Rather like at the gates of Kensington Palace after the death of Princess Diana. I’m now racking by brain to figure what else Franco and Diana might have in common. Apart from being… well, dead. Meanwhile, though, I’ve noted that Spain’s fascists look rather less like NAZI skinheads than down-at-heel British aristocrats.

The politicians have been chipping away at the Bill introducing Spain’s points-based driving licence system. There is now a range of deductions for offences such as driving above the alcohol limit, exceeding 146kph, not wearing a safety belt and talking on a mobile phone. So far, though, I haven’t seen any reference to the penalty for doing all of these at the same time. By the way, 146kph is just above 90mph and comfortably exceeds the nominal limit of 120.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Spain, it seems, leads Europe in terms of metres of asphalt per capita. As I drive along the country’s wonderful, almost-empty highways, I will now think even more affectionately of those now-unhappy German taxpayers who’ve made this possible.

The various Catalan parties who make up the ruling coalition – and who've been at each others’ throats in the past week or so – have agreed that it would be better to stop just accusing each other of institutionalised corruption and do something about it. They’ve also agreed that rain would be a good thing.

Talking of corruption, it seems a little odd that, in the week we heard details of the huge money-laundering shenanigans in Marbella – the only three countries [out of forty nine] to decline to sign an international agreement on the subject were Monaco, Lichtenstein and, would you believe, Spain. I suppose it must make sense to someone.

Two more interesting social surveys this week. The first revealed - to my surprise at least – that Spanish youngsters are now the fattest in Europe after those of Malta. The second informed us that – in the space of a single generation – young Spanish women have reduced the average age of first sexual intercourse from 21 to 17. Needless to say, this too came as a surprise to me.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Fair enough, I’ve been asked by a reader to differentiate between ‘individualismo’ and ‘solipsism’. Well, on a philosophic plane, there’s a considerable overlap – as those truly interested can see from the definitions set out at the end of this blog. But, in truth, we’re talking here about something rather less ethereal than philosophies of life. What interests us more [I sincerely hope] are the practicalities of day-to-day Spanish life.

The Spanish Academy’s dictionary has four meanings for ‘individualismo’ and the relevant ones are ‘Egotism’ and ‘A propensity to act in accordance with one’s own will and not in concert with the group’. As the numerous references over the centuries attest, it’s hard to deny that this really is how the Spanish frequently come across to those from other cultures. Not to mention bloody rude and inconsiderate.

But the truth is that they are none of these. And – after a few seconds of misplaced pride at being thought of as different – most Spanish would be horrified, and not a little hurt, to know that this is how others see them. For the reality is that they are probably the most sociable, affable, spontaneous, generous and ‘noble’ people on earth. Provided always that you are within their orbit. And, apart from their relatives, no one is within any Spaniard’s orbit unless they are standing or sitting next to them. So, they make wonderful hosts and charming guests. And you can have a great time with strangers you’ve just met in a bar or on a plane. But, in this very oral and personal society, if you’re not there talking in the here-and-now, then you don’t really exist and no duties are owed to you. Even if you are a close friend. So it is, for example, that pupils will simply not turn up for [private] lessons, guests will not attend the dinners they promised to come to and any number of drivers will park their cars so as to cause maximum inconvenience to others.

In a nutshell, Spanish ‘individualism’ is a cultural or societal construct. It’s certainly not something they consciously decide to be, as part of a philosophy of life. For a start, the latter would involve thinking ahead and being consistent – two activities which most Spanish regard as inimical [if not fatal] to their much-prized spontaneity.

Accidental solipsists, then.


Dictionary Definitions

Solipsism: A philosophy which denies the possibility of any form of knowledge other than one’s own existence

Individualism: The doctrine that only individual things exist and that, therefore, classes or properties have no reality. Or … The doctrine that the self is the only knowable existence.


A Lighter Note

The need to consult a Spanish language dictionary took me today into the town’s library and reminded me of just how glorious libraries still are in Spain. Or in Pontevedra at least. The staff don’t act as if they’re in a night club, the shelves are full of books rather than CDs and videos, and the readers are deep in frighteningly silent study. I almost wept with nostalgia. As in many other areas, I’m all for the lack of progress.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

I’ve mentioned that there are a fair number of innocuous adjectives in Spanish for which the feminine version means slut or tart [blog of 6.10.04]. Here’s the latest discovery – fulano. The male version merely means ‘so and so’ or ‘guy’.

And talking of words, here’s the latest bit of Spanglish I’ve seen…. Frenesí – Frenzy. There’s some irony here, as the English word has come from Latin, via French. Which leaves me wondering why frenesía doesn’t exist in Spanish.

After spending a fortune over the years on piano lessons for my two daughters – and more recently on a piano itself – I’ve now started to take lessons. I haven’t actually touched the keys yet but I do finally know that the pedals are for. The middle one is called the celeste, which means heavenly or sky blue in Spanish. This rather confused me until internet research revealed that it’s because it drops a strip of something called celeste felt between the hammers and the chords.

And finally on words, I’ve realised that the perfect substitute for individualismo is ‘solipsistic’. It sounds so much less insulting. Mainly because most of us don’t know what the hell it means.

Moving from words to whole sentences .....

Quote of the Day

All man's unhappiness comes from a single thing - that he cannot sit still in a room.
Pascal

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Several prominent lawyers and public notaries have been arrested in Marbella, for laundering criminal money on an almost unimaginable scale. Given the saga of the infamous late mayor of the place, Jesus Gil, this development can hardly have come as much of a surprise to anyone. Nonetheless, one Spanish newspaper managed to make it all sound like the fault of Gibraltar for being a fiscal paradise which entices Spaniards into dishonesty.

On a smaller scale, the EU has said that it will do its own investigation into allegations of widespread corruption on the part of the previous Catalunian government. This has led some prominent politicians to label their whistle-blowing colleague irresponsible for bringing this out into the open just when Spain is negotiating retention of its munificent EU subsidies. What a thoughtless, unprincipled cad.

Spaniards take their football very seriously and the national newspapers run commentaries of a quality which puts their British counterparts to shame. Right now, they are laying into Real Madrid and showing no mercy whatsoever. The consensus is that last week’s defeat to Turin in the Champions’ League, followed by the weekend’s loss to a journeyman team in the Spanish League, mark the end of an era. One rather gets the impression that few of the writers would think it inappropriate for most of the Galacticos to be hung, drawn and quartered. If so, I guess we would then see their pictures on the front page, rather than in the Sports pages at the back.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Galicia had many wonderful ‘gastronomic’ festivals and this month it’s the turn of ‘caldo’. This is a stew made – it seems to me - from strange bits of the pig, pieces of salami, vegetables and large green leaves, possibly from a cabbage. It is, I believe, the traditional peasant dish of Galicia. If you’re raised here, it probably has strong childhood associations, just as Irish stew does for me. But then, having had the latter every bloody Saturday of my youth, I would find the idea of a Festival of Irish Stew a little hard to take seriously.

The front pages of yesterday’s local papers were dominated by accounts of the 30 years gaol sentences and 50,000 quid fines being demanded by the prosecutors of the three owners of a local brothel. The back pages of the same papers were full of explicit ads for numerous other brothels here and in Vigo. As far as I can make out, what you can’t do is bring girls in from, say, Brazil and force them to work off their passage. Whereas what you can do is open an establishment, give it a suggestive name and then rent rooms to women who, entirely of their own accord, get up to all sort of strange activities. And when you are raided insist that you had no idea what was going on. I find it all very odd. Especially in a nominally Catholic country. I wonder what the Moslem immigrants make of it.

Closer to home…. I’ve mentioned my cleaner’s capacity for breaking things. Tonight I made the mistake of being out when she came to clean. When I got back, it took me half an hour to find out why my computer wouldn’t come on. And then another fifteen minutes to determine why the keyboard wouldn’t function. I imagine she decided to clean under my desk.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Don’t you think it would be possible for some genius to invent a programme we could install to ensure that all those infuriating emails about lottery wins, Nigerian bank accounts, discounted software, free porn, cheap Cialis/Viagra, etc., etc. would be automatically stopped and routed to one or other of the senders of this stuff, so that their own accounts were deluged with growing volumes of this rubbish in perpetuity?

I had a very pleasant hour in the sun this morning, reading my paper in one of Pontevedra’s beautiful squares and partaking of my Sunday Albariño and battered squid. And then, later, I had another pleasant hour having a beer with friends in another of these squares. In between, though, I had to endure five kids running round me screaming as I tried to finish my research for this blog. And I do mean screaming, not just shouting. This is because the only reaction Spanish parents ever have to their noisy offspring is to raise their already-loud voices so that they can be heard above the din coming from their bloody kids. And, of course, from all their friends who are speaking simultaneously. And raising their own voices so that they too can be heard. So, a swings and roundabouts morning, I guess.

One article in today’s El Mundo was headed ‘What value are indicators on a car’. An excellent question. And one I have asked many times in Spain. Turns out that there is a correlation here between the size of cars and the use of indicators. In other words, it is a power thing. The more expensive your car, the less you feel the need to tell the plebs about your intentions. I don’t know if this is really true this but I can say that I have figured out why it is stupid to use your indicator on a roundabout. It’s because any signal [or combination of signals] you might give is always taken to mean that you are going straight on. Drivers coming the other way are thus invited to dash across your bows even if your signal is meant to show that you are actually going left.

The Spanglish I love best is not the single English words that don’t actually exist [un footing, un lifting, un parking, etc.] but the combination of Spanish and English words. Here’s a couple recently seen:-

En off – Off stage

La punta del iceberg – The tip of the iceberg

Saturday, March 12, 2005

I have a cleaner who comes for a couple of hours twice a week. She has two main responsibilities:- 1. vacuuming up my dog’s hairs, and 2. breaking things. Only the first of these is official. The funny thing is – she never tells me when she has, say, knocked the head off another chess piece or dropped the last wine glass. This morning, when throwing a bag of rubbish into the bin, I heard the sound of breaking china as it hit the bottom and immediately realised where my missing coffee mug was. I suppose I should deduct a token amount from her wages. Or at least say something to her. But my residual Britishness gets in the way. Plus her mother is very ill.

And talking of strange characters, my nice but noisy neighbour, Tony, was at my gate this afternoon, with a tie in his hand. He told me they were going to a wedding tonight and asked me to put a Windsor knot in the tie. I guess there’s not much call for these on oil tankers.

When I came here in the winter of 2000, it rained virtually every day from November to May. This year has been so dry that yesterday I was forced to do something that is probably unprecedented in Galicia - I put on a lawn sprinkler in March. I guess we'll be told it’s all down to global warming.

Friday, March 11, 2005

If you play football for, say, an English or Italian team, it’s your surname that goes on the team sheet. And also on the back of your shirt. If you play for a Spanish team, you seem to have a great deal of latitude as to what goes on each of these. And they are not always the same. So it was that the team sheet for Real Madrid last night included surnames [Beckham, Graveson], forenames [ Raúl, Ronaldo] and both of these [Roberto Carlos, Raúl Bravo]. And for the shirts on their backs the situation was similar, though not identical – Beckham, Raúl and R Carlos, for example. I don’t really know what this signifies, though it may say something about the anarchistic tendencies that form part of the Spanish character. And which find their most eloquent expression amongst the gypsies, whom – ironically - the Spanish detest.

You may recall that my daughter, Faye, gave up her attempt to get state health cover in Madrid and came back to Pontevedra so we could go through the process together and, incidentally, use whatever influence I might have locally. This was enough – after two days of office ping-pong – to get her an appointment with a doctor plus some blood tests but we never actually got her a health card. We were merely able to fill in all the forms and attach various photocopies. Since then – 5 or 6 weeks ago – we’ve been embroiled in correspondence with the local authority which first centred on me and now her mother, who lives in the UK. Suffice to say, we have given up on this channel and, refreshed, Faye will return to the lists in Madrid. This time round she is armed with an employer who might just be able to find his way through the labyrinth. I have retired, hurt, from the field.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Spain is renowned for being the noisiest country in Europe, if not the world. So it’s good the government has promised to do something about what it admits are abominably high levels of acoustic pollution. But we will see. It must be at least 30 years since it became illegal to tamper with scooter engines to make them even louder but no one does anything about the bloody things. Whatever, with noise in the news, it seems the right time to dedicate a blog to my neighbour, Tony.

I live in a town house, at the end of a row. So I share a wall with one set of neighbours. In this I have not been lucky. The previous husband was a heavy smoker and used to wake me any time between 5.30 and 8.30 with his fearsome morning cough. Actually, it was more like a death rattle at twenty second intervals. I tried every room in the house to get away from it but with no luck.

And now I have Tony, his wife and two young boys. To be fair, Tony is a lovely man and I’m happy to have him as a neighbour. But he does like to talk. If not to someone else then to himself, out loud. Or to the trees and flowers in the garden. Far worse, he has a penchant for shouting for no reason whatsoever. I don’t mean shouting at someone or something. Just shouting for the apparent sake of it. So, for example, when the phone rings Tony screams from wherever he is the house ‘I’ll get it!’. At least five times. And then there is his bawling at the kids, apparently in what is a twisted sense of fun, for there is no aggression about any of it. Needless to say, the two boys are beginning to respond in like manner and I am often treated to a father-son bawlfest that lasts ten minutes or more. Even Spanish visitors find this jaw-dropping.

The good news is that, when I am alone in the house, I can at least drown things with my music. But when my noise-sensitive, author daughter is home, I have to tolerate it as best I can.

The very good news is that Tony works on oil tankers and regularly sails to China for a couple of weeks or so. I guess he has a whale of a time on board ship. But I pity the whales.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

I see that the self-imposed restriction on showing gruesome pictures of the victims of the Madrid bombings, doesn’t apply to Chechen guerrillas. We had a nice close-up of the bullet-riddled corpse of their leader in all the papers today. No local sensitivities, I suppose.

What chance Damage to Catalunia? Buildings are collapsing in central Barcelona, local politicians are competing with ever-larger accusations of illegal commissions and now their football team has been booted out of the Champions’ Cup by Chelsea. I doubt, though, that the rest of Spain is too disappointed with all this. Quietly laughing, more likely.

The new President of the Episcopalian College has been elected and this made front-page news today in all the papers. And even the leader column in several. As I’ve said, it’s hard to imagine this being newsworthy in many other western countries. Only 20% of the population may still attend Mass here but the Church retains a powerful grip not only on them but also on their sinful brethren. The government has promised a constructive dialogue with the new incumbent about such horrors as gay marriages and a school curriculum without Religion as a key subject.

I’ve been asked to play the part of the Captain of a British ship in a docudrama being made by TV Galicia about an 1890 shipwreck on the local coast. The Spanish text was clearly written by somebody educated to modern British standards of punctuation so it took me some time to figure out what I was actually supposed to say, unhelped by such archaic niceties as commas and full stops. But this is done and filming is next week. I will tell you when they have sold it to the BBC.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

A driver in the Basque Country has challenged his speeding fine on the grounds that the Basque police don’t swear loyalty to the Spanish state and are, therefore, illegal. Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice.

Building a house in Spain is a long and frustrating process. This seems to be because coordination via project management is still only a concept here, rather than a reality. My guess for the average time it takes is 2 years but there’s one property down the hill from me which is now in its 5th year of construction. Close to it are two other plots where work recently began. One house is going up very quickly and the work – at least in this early stage - seems surprisingly continuous. On the adjacent site, though, things some time ago went into that state of complete suspension which seems to periodically hit all building projects in Spain. Maybe there’s a connection between the continuous work on one site and nothing on the other.

More fun with a Spanish web site tonight, this time one belonging to a bus company. On the home page they trumpet that they've improved it and, sure enough, there are nice new graphics of a coach wending its way from right to left. This, though, appears to have had the predictable effect of slowing things down – at least for those of us without ADSL. But I've no idea what accounts for the fact that I was continually told the 12th March 2005 was earlier that today’s date. I gave up in the end and tomorrow will go the old fashioned route of driving to the bus station. With luck, the office will be open.

Monday, March 07, 2005

In an article written in 1946, George Orwell exhorted his readers to fight against bad English. One of the things he railed against was ‘pretentious diction’. So I wonder what he’d have thought of the spokeswoman of a water authority who told us today that they’d faced the challenge of dewatering a canal? Or emptying it, as we used to day. Draining it, even. Need I tell you that Word’s Spellcheck recognises ‘dewatering’?

If you’re a regular reader, you won’t be too surprised to hear that almost 50% of Pontevedran pedestrians hit by cars are on zebra crossings at the time. But I must admit I was surprised; I thought the percentage would be much higher.

The first anniversary of the Madrid bombings is not far off and the newspaper publishers have announced that they will all refrain from putting ‘morbid images’ on their front pages. I wonder why; such sensitivity is conspicuous by its absence on virtually every other day of the year.

Quote of the Day

All political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable.
George Orwell, in the article cited above

Sunday, March 06, 2005

A victory against the Post Office’s stamp machine yesterday, albeit entirely pyrrhic. I entered the fray armed with a pocket-full of small coins, only to be confronted by an alleged willingness to give me whatever change was appropriate. Having decided to test the validity of this claim, I then had to walk away with even more trouser-stretching ballast than I’d arrived with.

Talking of time-wasting, Spanish productivity is forecast to grow by 0.9% this year, the lowest rate in Europe after Malta’s. Even so, this is 50% higher than the rate of the last two years. This must be profoundly worrying for the government. And it probably helps to explain why they’re fighting tooth and nail to keep Spain’s EU subsidies for as long as they can. This will probably make the problem even worse in the long run but which politician ever worried about the long term?

I may have hit upon the reason why the Spanish local press flourishes to an extent not true of the UK at least. The national papers here are undeniably heavy and carry little by way of ‘human interest’ stories, which are left to their local brethren. Happily these acquit their responsibility without stooping to tabloid levels of reportage. Long may this continue.

On this, I’m sad to say The Spectator hasn’t seen fit to print a letter from me about ‘politoids’ in the UK [blog of 24.2] but I see that their Political Editor has a column on this theme this week. Just a coincidence, I suppose.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

In the Byzantine world of Spanish national, regional and local politics, it’s often hard to know who’s trying to secede from whom. You’ll recall that one of the provinces in the Basque Country has said they'll leave it [and presumably stay with Spain] if the former succeeds with its ‘illegal’ secessionist plans. And now a tiny place on the Spanish French border – La Val d’Arán – has announced it’ll seek independence from Catalunia if the latter hives itself off from Spain. The inhabitants of this valley apparently look more favourably on Occitania than on Catalunia. No, I don’t where this is either but suspect it’s related to France’s Languedoc region.

One of Spain’s great joys are its cafés, where you can sit for as long as you like over a single drink. And even get at least one newspaper thrown in for free. That said, if you go at peak times, it’s a good idea to take some back-up reading. This is because it’s not considered rude in Spain to read while you talk and so take a lot longer than would otherwise be the case. Nor is it bad manners to ‘sit on’ a paper even though you’ve finished with it. In the latter case, custom demands that you simply go up and ask for it but my stupid British reticence gets in the way of this if the previous reader hasn’t eased the situation by shoving the journal to the side of the table.

The government has issued more information about the forthcoming ‘points-based’ system of driving licences. If I’ve got this right, drivers who don’t commit any offences over a 3 year period will gain points additional to the 12 we’re all going to start with. As yet, I don’t know whether this means that I would now have 126 points on my licence and could commit absolute mayhem for several years before running the risk of losing my licence. Doubtless someone will make things clear pretty soon.

Topical Quote of the Day

I’m with you for a free press. It’s the newspapers I can’t stand.
Tom Stoppard

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Spanish government has rejected the long term EU budget on the grounds that it’s unacceptable [to them at least] that Spain should become a net contributor to EU funds by 2013. Who said the Spanish are averse to forward planning? One wonders when they think it would be fair for the increasingly wealthy Spanish to stop being the biggest takers from the Brussels coffers and start giving something back.

Travelling on Spain’s wonderful highways and in the country’s comfortable, modern trains, you could be in no doubt that you were in the 21st century. But pop into a copistería and you might be forced to review your opinion. These are high-street shops with wall-to-wall photocopying machines that restlessly feed the ravenous appetite for paper of Spain’s infamous bureaucracy. Here you stand in line while those in front of you have the entire contents of bulging briefcases duplicated, at the cost of at least a small Scandinavian copse. And the astonishing thing is that a few years ago, they say, it was even worse. Back then, you also had to buy a different stamp for each document you were having done. At different offices. So there must be hope for further progress towards sanity. Though not today and not for me; tomorrow I have to photocopy at least 6 documents to attach to a simple request for a credit card. I’m convinced that there are people in Spain who spend their entire working lives telling applicants they haven’t attached the statutory minimum number of documents to their forms.

The phone scam mentioned yesterday appears to have been a family affair. And the take was in the region of €5 million. Which is an awful lot of gullible punters. But I don’t suppose we’ll be seeing in the dock the producers of the televised Tarot card readings, as these are surely as honest as the day is long.

The rainfall in the west of the Iberian peninsula this winter has been so low that the Portuguese have taken to firing chemically-loaded missiles into the centre of clouds. Beats having anything to do with Iraq, I suppose.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

One of our local newspapers has issued a list of the 125 most influential Galicians in the country. The most immediately notable aspects of this are the scarcity of women and the inclusion at no. 8 of a Cardinal. It’s easy to forget just how Catholic a country Spain still is. But here’s a list of female forenames as a reminder:-

Concepción - Conception
Mercedes - Mercies
Dolores - Pains
Dolores Pena - Pains Sorrow
Asunción - Assumption
Soledad - Loneliness
Paz - Peace
Belén - Bethlehem
Cruz - Cross
Pilar - Pillar
Amparo - Protection
Angustia - Anguish
Inmaculada - Immaculate
Socorro - Help
Milagros - Miracles
Luz - Light
Esperanza - Hope
Estrella - Star
Remedios - Remedies
Encarnación - Incarnation

Back down on earth, the executives of a TV company have been arrested for large-scale fraud. Their simple scam was to solicit premium-rate phone calls in search of a prize for the answer to a simple riddle. Operators were instructed to keep the callers on the line for a minimum of 35 minutes. The unanswered riddle is how this obviously-phoney programme managed to run, to my certain knowledge, for at least 5 years before anyone twigged.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

As John Hooper pointed out in The New Spaniards, although the Spanish don't regard themselves as racist, they certainly are. This is because they’re currently stuck in what we might call Phase 1 of Race Relations. This is when you believe that, just because you didn’t really mean to upset anyone, no words you used could possibly have caused annoyance. Phase 2 is when you accept that certain words are loaded and don’t use them. This is Spain’s next phase and it is anyone’s guess when it will be reached. At the moment, most everyone here still thinks like the Spanish national soccer coach who’s just been fined for insulting a black Arsenal player; he is furious at what others consider a paltry fine from the Spanish authorities, on the grounds that he is ‘certainly not a racist and never intended to hurt anyone’. Phase 3, of course, is when you use objectively innocuous words and someone decides that he or she is nonetheless upset and so you are guilty of a crime. The UK appears to have arrived at this point and one must hope that Spain never does. If I still lived in England, it could well have been an offence for me to have written this.

Spain is experiencing its 4th ‘wave of cold’ of this extraordinary winter. It’s quite something to see pictures of the Lions’ courtyard of the Alhambra in Grenada cloaked in snow. Actually, that’s probably not unusual. But snow in Valencia almost certainly is.

I never did receive a reply from the Director of the Rias Baixas Tourist Board to my letter offering my [free] services to his organisation. So I am composing a sarcastic sequel. But, in truth, one is wasting one’s time expecting a reply to letters in this predominantly oral society. The only way to be sure of any sort of response to your initiative is to send your letter Recorded Delivery. In this way, you at least get a receipt from the Post Office clerk. In my case, I didn’t even get this as I hand delivered my offer.

Quote of the Day

The world is divided into three sorts of people: those who can add up and those who can’t.
Some bloody wag.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

There’s understandable excitement here at this week’s Oscar for El Mar Adentro, in the foreign language film category. This is set in Galicia and some are beginning to talk of a new Galiwood. This seems just a tad premature to me but, right on cue, someone called me today and asked if I wanted to play a part in a film about an English shipwreck. I assumed he meant a boat, rather than, say, some alcoholic writer or other. Anyway, I agreed to meet tonight to discuss the proposition. Naturally, he called to postpone.

Reverting to George Borrow and The Bible in Spain, it struck me today that the one trait he never even mentions is the one most obvious to all newcomers to modern Spain – their individualismo. Perhaps this is because everyone in the world was rather more individualistic in the 1830s and so it wouldn’t have been remarkable in Spain at that time.

The Spanish economy grew by a healthy 2.7% last year but, for the first time in several years, failed to ‘converge’ towards the EU average. Specifically, per capita income and productivity fared badly. With reductions in EU subsidies getting closer by the minute, this must be rather worrying for the government. Though it’s not all bad news; a report today predicts that Spain’s per capita income will have overtaken that of Germany by 2011. Can this really be true?

The advertisements during the football matches televised by our local channel have reached such a level of intrusion that it’s now a moot point as to whether the ads are being shown during a football match or a football match is being shown during the ads.

Pontevedra’s market traders met with council representatives yesterday to sort out their long-standing differences about the bi-monthly street market. But the meeting had to be abandoned when a fist fight broke out. That’s individualismo for you.

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