Thursday, June 30, 2005

Our local council has installed speed bumps at the bottom of the hill, on a short stretch of windy road where – ironically – I’ve never seen any reckless driving. Stupidly dangerous parking, yes. But reckless driving, no. As is the norm here, the bumps at either end are only on one side of the road. This has the predictable consequence of inviting drivers to swerve to the other side to avoid braking. As both of the single obstacles are just before bends, I confidently predict an increase in the accident rate.

Latin-root words which are similar in English and Spanish but have different meanings are called here ‘false friends’. This is a prelude to a bit of advice for all those planning to spend time in any part of Spain where it might rain. ‘Moderado’ doesn’t mean ‘light’ but ‘at least heavy and quite possibly torrential’. ‘Moderado’ thus ranks as the only bit of Spanish understatement with which I’m familiar.

This blog continues to be hit by people looking for naked pictures of Faria Alam. It seems that British society has now degenerated to the point where a female only has to appear in the media for the assumption to be made that there must be nude photos available. No smoke without fire, I guess.

I mentioned fly-tipping the other day. If anyone is in need of a large amount of earth and 30 to 40 plastic flower pots, I can point them in the right direction.

I see the ‘Freedom Tower’ has been chosen to replace the Twin Towers in New York. I can’t help wondering whether the construction of this huge monument will take less than the 2 years it seems to demand for even a small house here.

Quote of the Day

The death of old-style socialism has left a huge gap in Labour's agenda and vexatious legislation is all they can think of to fill it.

Ferdinand Mount, commenting on the UK government’s identity card plans, inter alia.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

This is not well known but it was the Spanish fleet, not the French, which suffered most at the battle of Trafalgar. Despite this, yesterdays’ commemorative celebrations were well covered by the Spanish media and the tone was generally positive. But one writer felt that she needed to finish with this gratuitous little flourish - But the bitter aftertaste of the defeats of 200 years ago contrasts with the joy of the British, who always considered themselves better than their vulgar colleagues. And still do. I wonder who or what got under her skin.

Talking of Nelson, I was intrigued to see a British columnist had raised the question of whether he would have survived tabloid interest in his private life. As the answer is obviously No, this rather points up the malign influence these rags have had on British society. As if this was really necessary.

In terms of votes, the big losers in the Galician elections were the Nationalist party, which lost a significant number of seats. But, in a hung parliament, they have a share of power for the first time. And they’ve wasted no time in flexing their muscles. Within 24 hours of the final count, their leader demanded a tripling of the central budget for the region and the recognition that Galicia, ‘like Catalunia’, is a nation. One wonders how much of this the Socialists will take before deciding they’d be better off in a coalition with a post-Fraga PP party.

Cherie Blair was in Santiago de Compostela earlier this week. Not to open a shopping mall but to attend a cultural event. The local papers were delighted to report her astonishment at finding that Zara - that modern cultural icon - had originated in Galicia. Anyway, she just had time to shake Fraga’s hand before he departed the scene.

Every year, the Pontevedra council erects temporary tourism kiosks in a couple of the town’s squares. They did this on Monday. Yesterday the workmen returned to one of them and rotated it, so that the door and window now faced the street and not the brick wall the kiosk was up against.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Well, the slow and scrupulous scrutiny of the overseas votes didn’t change the provisional results and ‘Don Manuel’ Fraga has finally lost power here. For at least the next 5 years, Galicia will be ruled by a Socialist/Nationalist coalition while the PP party, now in unaccustomed opposition, tears itself to pieces to find the successor who should have been nominated years ago. Shades of the Tories in the UK.

In Madrid, the Socialist government trumpeted it was taking the politics out of TV and then promptly gave most of the new channels to a left-wing media magnate. The owners of the right-of-centre El Mundo say they’ll appeal to the Supreme Court about the shoddy treatment of its own digital candidate for more air space.

I guess there is a word for ‘bodger/botcher’ in most languages, though Word’s spell-check doesn’t recognise either of these, even in ‘British English’. The Spanish word is chapuzas and I last heard it on Sunday when the film director was talking about how much of it goes on in Spain. I guess this is why he seems genuinely astonished when I do anything as remarkable [to him] as turning up on time. Or remembering to bring my script with me. He must have a difficult life.

The Spanish are great fly-tippers. Possibly European champions. In fact, other than for love-making, they seem to think this is what forests exist for. On the walk I take every morning with my dog, I pass between 20 and 30 tyres and 2 or 3 old mattresses, plus an assortment of builders’ rubble. I did once see a rather splendid set of rattan chairs by the side of the track but, by the time I’d decided they’d look good in my garden, someone had already made off with them.

I’ve mentioned before how odd the obituaries are in Spain’s national dailies. Today we were told about John Sahag, who was a hairdresser to the stars, apparently. The headline above the column read ‘He did Demi Moore’s hair in Ghost’. A dubious claim to fame, I would have thought.

Finally, back to the elections. Many thousands of emigrant votes were discounted, for one reason or another. But the strangest development was the receipt of 3 postal votes from the Vatican, where there are only 2 registered voters. Corruption in the Vatican; that just about says it all.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Galician elections latest: The counting of the critical third-world votes got under way at 8am here in Pontevedra. And then promptly stopped, after a third-world type power cut. As of late evening we – and all the national TV crews – are still awaiting the final outcome.

I’ve decided to say ‘Don’t mind me’ every time someone crosses my path or forces me to stop when walking in town. Not many people speak English in Pontevedra but, at the rate at which this happens, everyone in town should be familiar with at least these 3 words within a year or two.

A group of Spanish scientists has apparently developed the first child seat with an integral air cushion. I suppose this makes sense as the beauty of it will be that you won’t have to do anything to activate it. Except crash, of course.

Spain, it seems, has more than 50 per cent of Europe’s forest fires. But the really worrying statistic is that most of these are deliberate. I guess a fire is seen as the quickest route to a ‘change of use’ licence.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Early yesterday evening, my film director friend called to say that the ‘making off’ scheduled for yesterday wasn’t now going to take place. As if I hadn’t guessed. Instead, we would meet today at 10am in Vigo. When I asked for the location, things went like this:-
In Café Bangkok, in Rosalía de Castro street.
Bangkok? The Asian capital?
No, Bangkok, the painter.
Bangkok the painter? Could you spell it, please
V-a-n-g-o-g-h
Oh, Van Gogh!
Yes, Bangkok.

I wrote yesterday of Vigo in the context of the Civil War. These days, of course, it’s the centre of the Whore Wars between The C de E and a place which appears to be called Night and Day. Each of these promotes itself – in increasingly graphic detail – in the back pages of several local dailies. As I wrote a while ago, in its half-page ad the C de E stresses that it’s conveniently located next to the railway station. So, when I dropped someone off there today, I naturally took the chance to cast an eye around for it. Surprisingly, there was no standard garish sign in pink neon lights. But my suspicions were duly aroused by a 3 storey building whose windows were all painted bright red. I suppose it could have been the Communist Party’s HQ.

Car insurance premiums in Galicia are the highest in Spain. This is said to reflect the high weekend accident rate. So it’s not just indulgent parents who are paying for young men to embed themselves in roadside fixtures in the early hours of Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

I read in a British paper that the Spanish government‘s latest bit of social engineering is an Act of Parliament to change the marriage vows so that men undertake to shoulder more of the house and child work. I’ve yet to see mention of this in the Spanish press but can’t help thinking that the Catholic Church must logically oppose it on the grounds that it will surely accelerate the reduction in the marriage rate. Possibly even more than gay unions.

In a Spanish newspaper I read today of a web site offering internet English courses. It goes by the wonderful name of Lerny English and their site is lerny.com. Here you can take a short test to determine your current level of ability. Strangely enough, I can’t achieve more than ‘competent speaker’ so am in need of one of the courses. Obviously the company can’t be fraudulent so my conclusion is that the simple test offered can’t really distinguish between fluent and competent speakers of English. If anyone gets above 5.8 on the test, could they please share their answers with us. Or me, at least.

A Spanish friend recently told me that shellfish – Galicia’s greatest claim to fame – was once the reserve of the poor. I was a tad incredulous about this but other friends have not only confirmed it but told me that even in times of famine during the Civil War the people of Vigo declined to eat it. Fish, on the other hand, was a different matter.

Strange events in a local village. A group of Rumanians tried to kidnap a gypsy girl of 8 when she went to get the family bread from a nearby service station. What, I wonder, would a gang of Rumanians have against a group of gypsies? Perhaps it was something to do with what the Spanish papers regularly term ‘a settling of accounts’. Incidentally, the young girl was going for the bread at just before 11pm, presumably for the evening meal.

Friday, June 24, 2005

It’s always impressive [as well as irritating] to see the art of queue-jumping demonstrated with panache. A woman in the Post Office this morning ignored the number system and simply presented herself at the counter. To show he knew what she was doing, the counter clerk pointedly asked what number she had; but when she just waived away this footling enquiry, he promptly went for her parcel. The Spanish love nothing more than a good, vociferous argument but I suspect actual confrontations rank as ‘ignoble’.

Things can be very local in Spain. Even public holidays. When I got to my local supermarket this morning, I found it closed as it’s the feast day of St Juan, the patron saint of the township on this side of the river. Happily, everything in Pontevedra was open as usual. It could have been worse; I believe Barcelona is closed down for 4 days. San Juan is obviously big in Catalunia.

The votes cast by emigrants in the Galician elections have yet to be finally counted. Meanwhile, numerous rumours and accusations are drifting on the ether. It may yet be that the outcome will be determined – doubtless amidst much controversy - by the application of the arcane d’Hont rules. Mr Fraga has confirmed that, whatever happens, he will stay on as leader of his party until he’s at least 87. God permitting. This must thrill his Madrid superiors.

One of our local parishes is petitioning for the replacement of their priest. The final straw appears to have been his starting a Nuptial Mass without the bride. And this from a man who’s [presumably] never lived with a woman. Imagine how impatient he’d be if he’d ever been married.

Quote of the day

Nothing in life matters very much and most things don't matter at all

Arthur Balfour, British Prime Minister and statesman of the late 19th century.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Spanish supreme Court has pronounced that, in custody cases, account must be taken of the views of children from the age of 5 upwards. Personally, I feel it should be illegal to listen to a child on any subject at all until he or she is at least 18. After that, they should be listened to but then comprehensively ignored.

Still on matters legal, the Public Prosecutor has upped his prison demands for 3 men accused of involvement in 9.11 from 62,000 to 74,000 years each, give or take a few months. As I’ve suggested before, this must make sense to someone but it certainly beats me.

The opposition PP party is trying desperately to distance itself from the expert they nominated for a parliamentary committee considering the proposed law on gay marriage and adoption. Although the PP opposes this law, they must have felt their expert had gone rather too far in suggesting he had, merely as an act of humanity, wasted 20,000 hours on trying to treat homosexuals for what he now considered an incurable illness.

The python is still loose in Ourense. And missing its daily chicken.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

There are suggestions of irregularities around the emigrant votes cast in the Galician elections in one or two South American countries. No great surprise there, I guess, but we still await the final count. Meanwhile, the tone of “Don Manuel’s” comments is reported to have become “less triumphalist”. It’s only taken 50 years.

Just picking up on yesterday’s dubbing theme …. Possibly even more irritating than the use of the same few voices in every film is the dubbing [by the same bloody voices!] of the actresses used in TV ads, even though they’re clearly speaking Spanish. The actresses are chosen, of course, for their beauty but I suppose the dubbers’ voices are preferred because they’re comfortably familiar. They could hardly be anything else! Strangest of all is the dubbing into Galician of every Spanish language film or soap opera on the local channel, even though there can hardly be anyone in Galicia who doesn’t understand Spanish. Not surprisingly, a local paper last week featured the burgeoning Galician dubbing industry. I suppose we can expect a lot more when the nationalists get one hand on the reins of power. Not the best time, perhaps, to propose a debate on whether Gallego is a real, discrete language or just a dialect of Spanish. Or, worse, Portuguese.

I wonder if English films are dubbed on Welsh TV.

I was hit 3 times today by fellow pedestrians lacking any peripheral awareness. These were:- a female pocket-battleship emerging from a shop doorway; the second of two nuns I’d had to slalom past; and a woman who walked across me so closely that my foot caught her heel. The first lady apologised. The nun said nothing but possibly uttered a silent prayer for forgiveness. And the last lady swore as if it were my fault. A pretty normal day, then.

It’s been sunny and very hot for several weeks now but officially summer only began yesterday. What this means – in this informal/formal country – is that we men can now wear shorts in town without being looked at askance for getting ahead of ourselves. Needless to say, this restriction doesn’t apply to women. Especially as what they wear here seems specifically designed to get them looked at. It certainly works with me.

Anyone planning a visit to Ourense should know that there’s a 50 kilo, 4 metre python on the loose up there. Probably quite hungry by now.

Stop press: The latest hit to this blog has come from someone looking for NAKED PICTURES OF FARIA ALAM. I don’t know why I bother.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Thanks to the censorship of the Franco era, Spain has an impressively efficient dubbing industry. So – in contrast to Portugal – we never get any films shown here with their original soundtrack and subtitles. This would be great for improving my Spanish if it weren’t for the fact I’m driven to distraction because the same 3 or 4 people dub every part in every film, from precocious teenager up to dribbling octogenarian. The weirdest thing about all this dubbing is that the Spanish naturally come to associate the dubbers’ voices with famous actors and then dismiss the real voices as disturbingly ‘inauthentic’ when they finally get to hear them.

One of the strange things about the Galician elections [as yet undecided] is that support for the socialist/nationalist coalition was weaker in the interior than along the coast. Given that the economy of the depopulating hinterland is markedly inferior, you might have thought people there would welcome the policies of a socialist government. The answer, I’m told, lies in the fact that the old-style political barons [los caciques] still hold sway up in the hills.

Conversation in a sports shop this evening:-
Have you got any badminton shuttlecocks?
Yes, here you go..
Ah, these are made of plastic. Do you have any others?
No, but, look, the base is made of cork.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Well, it seem that Fraga may yet cling on to power. Incredibly, it all depends on how the votes were cast amongst the 300,000 or so emigrants in South American entitled to participate in the Galician elections. And we won’t know for another 7 days. But, true to form, Fraga has said that, if he’s not going to be President, he’s still stay on as Leader of the Opposition. Enoch Powell once noted that all political careers end in failure. Clearly, though, Don manuel’s is going to be posthumous.

Statistics printed in yesterday’s El Pais back my thesis that the weakening of the institution of the family in Spain needs no help from homosexual couples bent[!] on achieving marital status. In the last 5 years, separations and divorces have leapt from 46 percent of marriages to 60, with a corresponding increase in the number of people living alone. Or ‘in sin’. So, if you can’t go for the faithful, you might as well go for the faithless, I suppose. After all, windmill tilting was invented here.

Featuring large in the pictures of Saturday’s march in favour of the family were archbishops, priests and nuns. I couldn’t help wondering how exactly their single-status life of celibacy contributes to the furtherance of the family. Other than via my father’s dreadful dictum, ‘Do as I say, not as I do’. An injunction which hasn’t improved with age. Unlike me.

At six tonight, I poured my usual copa of Rioja, connected to the internet and turned on the radio. You’ve guessed it – Bonnie bloody Tyler and Total Eclipse of the Heart.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Well, you’ll all be dying to know whether Mr Fraga will still be in power when he’s 87. It seems not. His PP party has lost their overall majority and will have to cede government to the Socialist/Nationalist coalition. At least until it breaks up. So, interesting times ahead.

Meanwhile, recriminations rumble on around the aborted EU summit. The Spanish media sees Tony Blair as the – possibly Pyrrhic – victor but also think it was clever of the Spanish President, Mr ‘Bambi’ Zapatero, to keep his powder dry so that he can join whichever camp eventually emerges victorious from what I’ve called the battle for the economic soul of the EU. Apart from the many examples of the mathematics of the madhouse, what fascinates me is the way nations distinguish between themselves and others. So, whereas Spain ‘justifiably’ held out for a delay in the rundown of its enormous grants, Britain and France succumbed to ‘destructive egoism’ in refusing to countenance increased contributions.

Perhaps the most depressing aspect is that, humiliated both by his own voters and Tony Blair, President Chirac will now spend the next 6 months undermining Britain’s stewardship of the EU asylum. I wonder what the French is for ‘pique’. Can anyone imagine a real political entity being run like this?

We went to a barbecue last night. We were due to eat at 9 or so but, as the Spanish couple didn’t arrive until 10.50, it was closer to 11.30 before we began. At 2am, the host and hostess retired to bed and left the guests to it. This was a first for me. Not that I noticed, as I was dozing on the settee at the time. Life can be very informal here.

A doctor friend tells me the lab testing services of the Pontevedra hospital were overwhelmed on Friday by concerned gentlemen from Vigo. This followed the death from ‘fever’ of a prostitute working there. Vigo, it should be said, has a much bigger hospital than Pontevedra but, for some reason, the men in question felt compelled to make a journey of 30 kilometres to check out their fears in our little facility. Perhaps there was a group discount.

Quote of the Week

I really believe the French and the Dutch did not vote No to the constitutional treaty.

Luxembourg's premier Jean-Claude Juncker, outgoing President of the EU.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Ahead of the big march in Madrid today, one of Spain’s leading Archbishops has suggested that the introduction of gay marriage is just the tip of the iceberg of the state’s assault on the Christian world. It’s all part, he revealed, of the government’s secret plan to destroy Christian civilisation and to eradicate the Catholic Church in Spain. The country’s most senior Archbishop has said the introduction of gay marriage will leave the family totally unprotected. I rather think that, if he took a look at Britain for example, he’d find there are factors far more threatening to the family than that of stable homosexual partnerships. Anyway, in the café copy of the paper in which I read this article, someone had scrawled below the Archbishop’s name ‘Hypocrite. What about the priests who opportune young boys?’. Or words to that effect.

‘Don Manuel’ Fraga’s final appeal to the Galician electorate was that they give him a final term in office in gratitude for everything he’d done for Galicia over the last decade or three. An editorial in El Mundo rightly commented that this was a pathetic argument in a modern democracy and added it was disgraceful that the Galician electorate had to chose between an 82 year-old of limited longevity and a socialist-nationalist coalition of unknown policies. We’ll soon know what fist they make of the challenge of choosing between the devil and the shallow red sea.

Interesting to see the Spanish papers didn’t blame just Britain for the acrimonious collapse of the EU budgetary summit. One paper also pointed the finger at Sweden, Finland and Holland; and another even added Spain to the list, on the grounds that the President has stood firm on his demand for a 4 year delay in the run-down of grants. The most eloquent comment, though, was in the form of a cartoon which showed Captain America knocking an enemy to the floor and Captain Europe punching himself in the face.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Only a couple of days to go to the Galician elections and ‘Don Manuel' Fraga was at it right up to the end. In an interview in one of the national dailies this morning, he compared himself with Churchill, said that he couldn’t bear the thought of retiring to be like an oyster and insisted that he ‘worked like a black’. It’s almost endearing. What will I do without him?

There’s a big march in Madrid tomorrow, in favour of the family. In other words against homosexual marriage. Heavies from the Catholic church have naturally featured large in the run-up. Given the importance attached to the sacrament of marriage, you’d have thought the archbishops would favour demands for it from the gay community. But I guess, if you believe that simply being homosexual is a sin, there’s a certain consistency in opposing everything to do with it. Meanwhile, and more locally, a flier has appeared on car windscreens in Pontevedra today. This basically says that the socialists and nationalists are out to destroy the institution of the family and is signed by ‘A group of concerned parents’ who are ‘not political’, just supportive of the PP party. Strange timing for an apolitical campaign. And one wonders where they got the finance from.

To anyone from a different culture, the Spanish daily timetable is a thing of wonder. Few Spaniards seem to retire to bed until the early hours of the morning. At weekends not at all. And it’s not unusual to see kids in restaurants at 11 or even 12 at night. I’ve often asked myself how on earth people manage to survive. Or even get up for work in the morning. But now comes a report on the sleep patterns of Spanish teenagers. Instead of the minimum requirement of 10 hours, they’re not getting much more than 8. And the recommendation from the report? Well, God forbid that Spanish parents should send their kids to bed earlier. Rather, the start of school should be delayed for a couple of hours! I suppose it would be a beginning.

By the way, given the Spanish belief that the primordinate aim of life is to have fun, it’s hardly surprising that the general Spanish attitude is that sleep is a waste of good talking, eating and drinking time.

All of which reminds me – Spaniards don’t go in for much home entertaining. My current educated guess is this is because they know their guests will always bring their kids along and these will be, shall we say, even less supervised than they are at home. And not even Spaniards are this indulgent to other people’s brats. Possibly, though, the real reason is that to entertain at home requires pre-planning and effort on the night and these, too, infringe on talking, eating and drinking time. Much better to go out and have someone else do the hard work.

Say what you like, there’s a certain consistency in all this.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Today is the last day of the Galician general election campaign, with voting taking place on Sunday. ‘Don Manuel’ Fraga appeared on national TV this morning and, when asked about his insulting remarks, gave the standard-missing-the-point-Spanish reply of ‘It was just a joke. No one should be upset as I didn’t intend to hurt them’. You may remember this stance from when the [equally unrepentant] Spanish soccer coach was tackled about racist remarks he’d made about Thierry Henri of Arsenal a month or so ago.

I don’t know what it’s like in other parts of Spain but here it’s hard to find a restaurant that doesn’t offer you desserts from a short list comprising whisky cake, ice cream, cheese cake, egg custard, yoghurt and, if you’re lucky, tinned fruit. It’s as if Franco issued a decree making these 6 items compulsory and no one’s bothered to repeal it. When the waiter goes into the dessert routine, I really don’t know whether to laugh or cry. But now and again there’s something different. Today we were up in the mountains - in a village of large, if tasteless, houses said to be financed by the prostitution trade in Mexico – and we were offered brioche. Naturally, we fell on it like famished vultures. And were pleasantly surprised.

There are apparently more than 500 sites which name this blog. Most appear to be directories of one sort or another but four which intrigue me are dedicated to Amway, Vacuum Cleaner Information, the Bargain Tire Guide and Private Jet Makers. Try as I might, I can’t figure out the connection with Spain or Galicia. But what the hell. I’m not proud.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Spanish pragmatism: One of the problems of being self-employed here is that you have no option but to pay 200 euros a month for social security taxes. Needless to say, most people in their first year or two of business can’t afford 2,400 euros a year and so don’t pay it and operate illegally. The risks of being penalised for default are minimised by the fact that everyone from whom you seek advice, including the tax authorities, will tell you this is the way to go about things.

The Tower of Babel: The EU has accepted Basque, Catalan-Valencian and Galician as co-official-but-non-juridical languages of Spain. What this seems to mean is that anyone can write to the EU in one of these and the Spanish government will pay to have the document converted into Castilian before it’s translated into the other official languages of the EU. The bill for this will be a mere 1.5m euros a year. Money well spent, obviously. I wonder if the French government takes the same attitude towards Breton, for example.

An ETA terrorist sentenced to 3,000 years in gaol for killing 25 people is being released after only 18. His good behaviour must have been exemplary.

I see Bonnie Tyler is making a tour of Spain. I guess this means that Total Eclipse of the Heart and It’s a Heartache will be played even more than the usual three times a day over the coming months. What joy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

By this time next week we’ll know whether Galicia has joined the Basque Country and Catalunia in having a coalition government composed of Socialists and Nationalists. To me, it’s surreal to watch these ‘nations’ [as they call themselves] fighting to weaken their links with the Spanish state while Spain is trying to submerge itself in a European superstate. Ironically the Basque, Catalan and Galician nationalists all favour this superstate - in the insane belief, I imagine, that they’ll have more control over their affairs as satrapies of Brussels than as ‘autonomous communities’ in Spain. Such is the power of dreams. Of course, it would all be very different if the EU weren’t the cash cow it’s been for Spain for 20 years. And when this eventually stops, it’ll be interesting to see how the traditionally rule-averse Spanish then view the Brussels regulations machine. As the French Foreign Minister might say, longer term it defies all logic.

A Spanish friend and I have been corresponding on the issue of the work/life balance. I’ve had no difficulty in agreeing that the Spanish model is superior to the Anglo-Saxon version but have made the point that things can’t go on forever when someone else is paying for your high quality of life. The genius of the French founders of the EU was to get others to subvent their country’s lifestyle. But the British have never been as willing as the guilt-ridden Germans to featherbed French farmers and this is what the current EU row is really all about. With the German economy now in serious trouble and with the current generation of Germans feeling rather less guilt than their parents/ grandparents, the days of the French boondoggle are surely numbered. No wonder Chirac is fighting such a tough rearguard action, especially as he’s desperate to create some goodwill in his own backyard, if only to stay in power and out of prison.

As for the Spanish boondoggle, well the government has taken advantage of the current crisis in the EU to reopen the issue of when Spain’s funds will begin to run down and to demand a delay of 4 years, from 2008 to 2012. Cancellation of the British rebate [or el cheque británico as it’s called here] would certainly help to finance this.

Enough of politics. I’ve touched from time to time on three characteristics of Spanish life – pragmatism, a concern to be noble [or at least not petty], and a lack of rampant commercialism. I’m reminded of these every day, when I park my car on the premises of a private club before walking across the bridge into Pontevedra. The club is little patronised during the day and I like to believe the management is well aware of what I and others are doing but take the view it’d be pointless and vindictive to stop us parking in spaces that aren't needed. I can’t imagine this happening in the UK, where at best I’d have to pay and at worst I’d come back from town to find my wheel clamped. Viva españa.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The Spanish President has asked the leader of the Opposition to try to beat some 'common sense' into the Galician President, Manuel Fraga. Fat chance. He may be 82 and a dinosaur from the Franco era but the people up in the hills of Galicia love him. They can’t get enough of the insults he sprays in all directions, especially when they’re in the local language. He’s been doing this for decades and, as one commentator noted today, the only thing new about his 2005 campaigning style is that he’s a lot quicker with the post-facto apologies than he used to be.

The UK Sunday Telegraph suggested yesterday that all the European media had fallen for President Chirac’s blatant [and successful] attempt to distract attention from the impact on the EU of the French No by making the British rebate the centrepiece of the imminent summit. This is rather unfair to Spain. Since the quality press here devotes far more space to serious issues than in Britain, they usually present both sides of a case. They have certainly reported the British view that, although the original logic for the rebate remains in place, there’s a case for reviewing it in the context of wider-ranging reform of the EU’s finances. I rather get the impression that no one here is in much doubt that this spat is a proxy for the real battle between France and Britain for the economic soul of the EU over the next decade or two.

Meanwhile, the French Foreign Minister has said that the British stance ‘defies logic’. This won’t come as a surprise to anyone with any experience of Gallic logic but I suppose she might be right, if by ‘French logic’ she means that the EU always has been and should remain a vehicle for subsidising a high quality of life in France via transfers from Germany, the UK and Holland. Under this version of logic, the UK has paid 2.5 times more than France into the EU coffers over the last 20 years and would have paid 7 times more without the annual rebate. One can see why it has a certain appeal for the French.

As for Spanish logic - this is that the UK rebate ‘costs’ them 700m euros a year. What this means is that they get 700m less than they believe they deserve, not that they actually pay 700m more into the central coffers. Or, indeed, anything. Different from French logic but just as appealing.

Very subjective, this logic thing.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Galician President, Mr Fraga, said on Friday that no-one could be more supportive of equality for women than him. In fairness, one would have to say this must be true as his daughter was a minister in the last government. Doubtless on merit.

Mr Fraga returned to the subject of women yesterday, when someone asked him why he thought there were so many Don’t Knows in the opinion polls. ‘Well’, he said, ‘People don’t always tell the truth. Like, for example, when you ask a woman how many men she’s slept with’. Needless to say, his response to the storm of criticism this provoked was that he’d been quoted out of context. I say ‘storm’ but, in truth, it was a very small one, the feminist movement being virtually non-existent in Spain.

Quote of the Day

Beethoven inaugurated a barbaric U-turn away from other-directed music to an inward-directed, narcissistic focus on the composer himself and his own tortured soul. This ghastly inversion led slowly but inevitably to the awful atonal music of Schönberg and Webern

Dylan Evans, senior lecturer in intelligent autonomous systems at the University of the West of England. And a man who should be very grateful he doesn’t have to listen to the Spanish Classical Music channel of an evening.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

A fish, they say, stinks from the head. When my local supermarket was a lowly Champion store it took its tone from a manageress who seemed to think rather more about herself and her appearance than about the customers. But at least she wore the store’s uniform. Now that the place is a Carrefour hypermarket, she’s become even more of a diva and has taken to strutting round in what, elsewhere, would be considered evening wear. You can imagine in which direction the service has gone.

One of the joys of Spain – at least outside the tourist-infested costas – is that tipping is rare. If they give anything at all, Spaniards leave their loose change, but rarely more than 5 per cent. Tipping more than this is thus an easy route to popularity. Not that I would take it, of course.

The opinion polls here in Galicia point to a hung parliament and perhaps the end of the reign of the octogenarian Don Manuel Fraga. Sophisticated observers in Madrid find it hard to credit the tenor of our provincial slanging match and suggest that the leaders of Fraga’s own party are horrified at what is going on in their name. But, constrained by the thought that the only thing worse than Fraga winning is Fraga losing, they keep their own counsel and pop up regularly to breathe life into the corpse. Thank God it will all be over in a week or so.

Friday, June 10, 2005

I bumped into my nice-but-noisy neighbours in town last night and stopped to chat. I took the chance to raise the subject of Amparo’s freestyle parking practices but this was not well received. So I quickly moved on to ask about the bathroom re-fit which has been going on for at least a month. Amparo said it needed to be finished very soon otherwise she and Tony would be getting divorced but he insisted it would all be worth the hassle. What I didn’t hear was anything along the lines of ‘Sorry about the dreadful noise’. Or even ‘Shame about the dust from the marble-cutting killing off your wisteria’. But one lives in hope.

The Galician election campaign is only a few days old but already the politicians have moved from badmouthing each other to insulting the intelligence of the voters. The socialist party have said they’ll provide a computer for every home in Galicia and give 5,000 euros to every child who wants to study English in the UK. And the nationalists have promised to arrange for surgeons to work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year until the hospital waiting lists are eradicated. Mr Fraga has simply said that to vote for anyone else would encourage nationalism and so bring terrorism to Galicia.

Talking of out-of-touch politicians, you have to hand it to President Chirac. There he is, the discredited [and possibly criminal] head of a faltering economy and one of the chief engineers of the destruction of the EU Stability Pact and yet he is calling on Tony Blair to make ‘a [financial] gesture of solidarity towards the European Union', while adamantly refusing himself to accept even a centime’s cut in the agricultural bonanza which flows to France under the egregious CAP. What panache!

It’s a rollercoaster this blog business. After I mentioned on Tuesday a daily average of 35 hits, the count shot up to 73 on Wednesday but then fell back to 28 yesterday and 30 today. Perhaps it was a mistake to invite the dross to depart.

I read that Michael Jackson owes 225m dollars. There must be an awful lot of people praying for an acquittal, regardless of guilt.

WordWatch
Un making off – The recording of the director and actors describing the making of a film.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Well, as some of you will have discovered, my memory wasn’t playing tricks on me. There’s no word for ‘truth’ in Indonesian. The concept simply doesn’t exist. Nor, I've just discovered, is there a word for ‘dishonest’. But, in a place where 6 of the 7 words for Yes mean No, I guess this should come as no surprise.

My thanks to the Spanish soccer team for endorsing the point I made about them 2 days ago by drawing 1-1 with lowly Bosnia last night.

Back at the hustings, Mr Fraga has dismissed concerns about his ability to survive another 5 years in office and assured us that he’s like a bull. I assume he meant more than in what he says. Shades, perhaps, of Mr five-times-a-night Blair on the eve of the recent UK general elections.

Which reminds me - ex President Clinton has visited the Spanish royal family and given his congratulations to the lovely Leticia on her pregnancy. So she got off lightly, then.

A married couple in southern Spain have both been jailed after an argument which started in bed ended with each of them causing grievous bodily harm to the other. One hopes they haven’t been put in the same cell.

Quotes of the Day

Britain’s biggest export is now, of course, bad taste.

Dr Theodore Dalrymple, a somewhat caustic commentator on life in Britain today

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

I wanted to write something about the Spanish concept of ‘nobility’ tonight so Googled the phrase. I got 2 citations, both of them blog entries by me. So, I seem to be ploughing a lonely furrow here. Or ‘plowing’, if you are American. Anyway, what I was tinkering with saying was that, just as the concept of ‘truth’ is subordinated to ‘harmony’ in the Far East, there is a similar process here when it comes to rules and ‘nobility. But I’ll have to come back to you on this when my rationale is less subjective.

Meanwhile, I’ll stick with individualismo. The granite carvers’ school behind my house has a huge car park, complete with strange granite sculptures that are featured in the Photo Gallery on my web page [colindavies.net]. At most, this is only ever 10 per cent full. So I was a little surprised this week to see several cars parked on the lawns, rather than on the tarmac. Then I realised there are shade-affording trees on the lawns. Stuff the grass, then. Actually, even though it’s 35 today, the evidence is that the practice has been stamped on.

The Galician opposition parties have decided to take a leaf out of President Fraga’s book of oratorical flourishes. The Socialists have said that Galicia is a hotbed of political barony and clientalism. While the Nationalists have - more colourfully - accused Mr Fraga of being the Godfather of corruption. Which probably amounts to the same thing. All the parties agree, however, that more should be done to minimise voting by emigrants in South America who aren’t really entitled to participate because they are, in fact, dead.

Just reverting to ‘truth’ v. ‘harmony’, if you go to this site and enter ‘truth’ in the box, the response may surprise you - www.freedict.com/onldict/ind.html. More on this tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

With the Galician elections now in their 3rd day, the geriatric President, Mr Fraga, has begun to demonstrate the eloquence that only 60 years in politics can bring. “The Socialists will pee on you and call it rain’, he pronounced yesterday. ‘They say the Plan for Galicia is crap but this is what they’ll have to eat when we deliver it’. And you and I may have thought oratory was dead in the age of the soundbite!

So young Mr Nadal of Spain has won the French Tennis Open Championship. And young Mr Alonso is walking away with the Formula 1 Championship. Great for Spain, of course, but I can’t help noticing these are both rather individualistic sports. In contrast, the Spanish soccer team are the great under-achievers of our age. One wonders why.

Has anyone else noticed how ironic it is that Messrs Chirac and Schroeder - the very men who tore up their own EU Stability Pact when it didn’t suit them – should now be telling the rest of Europe that rules count and the show must go on as if nothing had happened in France and Holland?

Hits to this blog are now running at about 35 a day. This is tremendously gratifying but I’m a tad concerned this must mean the readership is not quite as select as it used to be when I could only scrape 5 a day. More worrying still is my calculation that, if the present growth rate continues for 5 years, I will have 2.8 million readers. This is far too many so, if there is anyone reading this who is anything other than crème de la crème, could you please stop now.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Just in case this blog is being read by parents of the kids coming to Galicia shortly, I should point out that there has been a truce on the part of the ETA terrorists for a few years now.
My nice-but-noisy neighbour, Tony, brought me a bag of new potatoes last night and, in return, asked me to put a Windsor knot in his tie. He was due to attend the First Communion of his elder son, also called Tony of course. The extended family returned from the celebrations at 1.30 in the morning and then caroused until 3.30 as if there was no-one else on the planet, never mind on the other side of the wall. Roll on the next sea trip. Especially as Tony Junior appears to have caught the bawling habit. I wonder if this is what Tony Senior meant when he told me that, after the Communion ceremony, his son would be a man.

Still on local matters, there used to be a convention in our street that no-one parked in front of anyone else’s garage. This has been shattered by Tony’s [equally nice] wife, Amparo, who parks her car wherever she feels like it and at whatever distance and angle from the kerb that takes her fancy. So I wasn’t surprised last week, when I walked past the medical centre where she works as a doctor, to see she’d left her car across the car park exit, thus trapping about 15 other cars. A driver of one of these was sitting in his vehicle sounding his horn in the accepted way of summoning the perpetrator of parking offences. He got no response in the 5 minutes I waited, in vain, to crack a joke at Amparo’s expense.

One of the many ways in which Spain scores over the UK is that the streets are clean. There may be several factors at work here but one of them certainly is the rubbish bins at regular intervals, not to mention the large containers that are a feature of every Spanish street. This is despite the fact that the ETA terrorists have been bombing urban areas for more than 40 years. I guess no-one in Spain had the brilliant, something-must-be-done thought that, if all the rubbish bins were removed, the terrorists would throw up their hands and say ‘Oh dear. We can’t use the bins anymore so we’d better abandon our bombing campaign completely.’ Thank God for Spanish pragmatism. And an absence of litigious tendencies, I suspect.

I had a second Google hit today enquiring about ‘brothels in Wallasey’. Just what is going on in my childhood home? Maybe there’s a Spanish quarter there now.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

I’ve mentioned a few times the Spanish custom of giving English-language films a title for their dubbed version that bears absolutely no relationship to the original. Thank-God, though, they decided to leave alone the Monty Python show ‘Spamalot’. The mind boggles at what they might have come up with.

I learned last night that an octopus has 3 hearts. I guess they must be very small as, otherwise, we’d see them on every Galician tapas menu, along with the rest of the unappetising creature.

A reader has commented that my tale of the coquettish, Spanish temptress should bring a few more strange hits to my blog via the Google search engine. Possibly but I’m more interested right now in how I can get a Spanish temptress to throw herself at me. Or, rather, I would be if I didn’t already have a wonderful Spanish lady friend….

Another reader has introduced me to the Spanish dictum ‘Try to live off your parents until you can live off your children’. This is a joke, I think, but with more than a grain of truth in it. So you can imagine how willing the Spanish have been to seek grants from the EU structural funds and how hard they are going to fight to retain them. One angry view gaining ground here is that Spain will be financing the eastwards expansion of the EU by gradually losing these cash allocations. As it won’t actually be contributing a single centimo from its own national coffers, I suspect this is the reverse of my sister’s view that you can increase your cash by buying products with huge discounts.

A third piece of enlightenment came in today’s El Mundo, which provided a Sudoku on every page of its magazine section. For weeks I’ve been wondering what it was that Private Eye was lampooning. Now I know. Though I’m not sure I want to.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

My young English friend didn’t get things clarified last Thursday. After days of protesting her infatuation for him, the temptress called just before the meeting she’d demanded to say he should know she just wanted to be friends. He didn’t believe her. And he was wrong. So, he’s even more confused now. Ruminating on the implications, we’ve tentatively concluded that one reason for Spanish women playing these games is that their menfolk don’t look down on women who throw themselves at them. In fact, in a macho culture, they may well demand it.

A remarkable effect of the French and Dutch No decisions is that it’s suddenly fashionable, even in Spain, to make the sort of eurosceptical comments that have been dismissed for years as British nonsense. There can surely be no clearer sign that the EU superstate dream is effectively dead, though it may a while for the Euro-elite to fully grasp this. Meanwhile, one article in the Spanish press this week bemoaned the fact that none of the leaders of the larger members was fit to lead Europe out of this crisis. So, step forward Mr ‘Bambi’ Zapatero, it suggested. On second thoughts, this must be an even clearer sign that that the EU is moribund.

I had my first automated telesales message today. I was disappointed not to be able to reply that No they couldn’t talk to ‘Señor Colin’ as he had just died. Actually, someone pointed out to me recently that, if I take this approach next time the phone company calls me about an ADSL connection, they’ll probably cut off my line. Food for thought.

Quote of the Day
De Villepin has become prime minister [of France] just as the electorate has indicated its firm displeasure with the political elite, yet there is possibly no greater exponent of elitist government than this vainglorious strutter.

Anonymous Profile in a UK newspaper

Friday, June 03, 2005

Such is the low level of crime in general and street crime in particular here in Pontevedra, local newspaper reports can make amusing reading to the more world-weary of us. So it was with an account I read yesterday of a ‘tough’ night for the local police when they had to deal with a fight at 3am in the old quarter. In my old town of Congleton, the police would sell their mothers for such a night.

The media have announced that the Galician general election campaign has begun. This came as a surprise to me as I genuinely thought it had kicked off weeks ago. Surveys suggest that, for the first time in 20 years, the ruling conservative party [and its 82 year-old President] may be ousted by a coalition of socialist and nationalist parties. The said President, Mr Fraga, has warned Galicians not to vote for these as ‘they have ideas different from ours about Galicia, Spain, Europe and the world’. Silly me; I thought this was the whole point of opposition parties. As the last relic from the Franco era, I guess it’s hardly surprising that Mr Fraga doesn’t.

I cleaned my car outside the house yesterday and, as usual, got a couple of strange looks from my neighbours. For everyone here pays to clean their cars in what are called ‘boxes’ at the side of the road or attached to petrol stations. I wonder if this has something to do with the alleged distaste of the Spanish for manual work. Or being seen to engage in it, at least.

I’ve been arranging coach trips for a group of young Americans coming here this summer. When I called the lady in the coach company yesterday to finalise things, my opening line was “So, where are we?” “Vigo”, she replied. The perils of transliteration.

Finally, anyone interested can see the latest stage of the Artificial Hill in the Photo Gallery on the home page of my web site – colindavies.net

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Intriguing to see the early fallout from the French and Dutch referendums. The Spanish President and the leader of the opposition share the objective of maintaining the funds flow from Brussels but are poles apart as to strategy. The former has nailed his colours firmly to the mast of the Franco-German axis [unfortunate term] and demanded that the ratification process continues regardless. The latter, on the other hand, has said Old Europe’s day is done and Spain should ally with what is now being called the UK-Poland axis. Vamos a ver. Interesting times ahead. I just hope I don’t get caught with Spanish euros if and when the EU currency implodes into its constituent parts.

Meanwhile, the Dutch Prime Minister, bless him, has said that the big positives from the experience were the robust national debate and the high turnout. Not here, mate. In the country which is the greatest beneficiary from the EU’s coffers, the No camp abjectly failed to put in an appearance of any sort and precious few bothered to register a vote. No coincidence, I suppose, but it has all clearly gone to Mr Zapatero’s head and he has departed from Planet Reality. Why, even President Chirac has endorsed Tony Blair’s disingenuous call for a period of reflection. On how to stay in office and out of prison in his case, of course.

One of the great pluses of Spain is that small, family-owned shops abound and you can still go into a hardware store and buy 5 nuts and bolts for 25 centimos. Mind you, the non-monetary price is waiting half an hour for the 3 tradesmen in front of you to crawl towards completion of their orders. No wonder houses take years to get built here.

Finally, back to the EU – some astute commentator has said that the French have actually moved beyond the eurosceptic Brits and become euronihilistic. Who would have thought it? Well, me for a start. And the French chap who wrote a year or so ago that, once it dawned on the French they could no longer run the EU entirely for their own benefit, they would pick up their bat and leave the pitch.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I received a package of books today and two of them had the same Esfahan mosque on the front cover. OK, one is called ‘Islamic Art and Architecture’ and the other is titled ‘After the Jihad’ but the odds were still astronomical, I would guess. It’s obviously not just my favourite building. A truly stupendous edifice, whose dome changes from light blue to pink in the setting sun.

Actually, I received two packages, one in the morning and one in the evening. The morning postwoman said I could enter my identity number if I could remember it, so I didn’t. The evening postman insisted on a number, so I again fabricated one. Got this bureaucracy thing cracked now.

Stimulated by the events of Friday, I’ve been musing today about Spanish women. In this I was assisted by the fact it was another very hot day here in Pontevedra. I do hope I don’t live to regret saying this but it’s hard to imagine there are women elsewhere more feminine, more willing to chat, more responsive to even the mildest compliment and more tactile in their conversation. All of this would be hard enough for an Anglo-Saxon male to deal with if Spanish women dressed like Eskimos. But, of course, they don’t. Or not like the ones outside the igloo anyway. So it’s hardly surprising that my young English friend is very disconcerted by what has hit him since Friday. He has a rendezvous tomorrow with the lady in question and hopes to clarify a few things. I am not optimistic on his behalf. But we will see.

Search This Blog