Friday, September 30, 2005

It seems there were not just 2 but 5 deaths when, a couple of nights ago, 500 Africans stormed the fences around one of Spain’s North African enclaves. And reports say the deadly stampede followed shots from Moroccan police and that the 2 bodies on the Spanish side of the fence had bullet holes in them. Spain is reported to have appealed to the EU for help but Brussels has said there’s nothing they can do. So the army has been sent in to patrol the border. It beats Iraq, I suppose.

This is the time of year for harvesting the ferns and cutting down the eucalyptus trees in the tiny patches of land which Galicians notoriously own on the hillsides around us. Unfortunately, the industrious perpetrators don’t seem to be aware of Spanish cultural norms and stereotypes and have been switching on their strimmers and chain-saws at 8 in the morning. This is the equivalent of 6am in other countries and even early-risers like me are prone to be woken rudely from our slumbers.

I’ve noted before the Spanish are very informal unless they are extremely formal. This applies to clothes in particular, where ‘smart casual’ is nearly always the order of the day. But it still comes as something of a shock to see a [lady] government minister turning up for a TV interview in her jeans. But, then, this garment – being flattering and provocative – is the most essential part of almost every Spanish woman’s wardrobe.

And on this theme, I’ve also said before that the only serious TV programmes here go out around 9am in the morning, the equivalent of 7am by my rule of thumb. This is when most channels show a panel discussion on matters of the day, e.g. how long will it be before Catalunia sails off into the sunset. All of these are hosted by an attractive woman but you can tell the programmes are serious because these are in their thirties, not their twenties. And they all wear elegant blouses. I’ve noticed, though, these have at least one button more undone than would be the case on UK TV, with inevitable results. Perhaps this is necessary for the microphone to function properly. Then again, perhaps not.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Sadly, we didn’t have to wait long for my prediction of yesterday to come true. Last night more than 500 Africans besieged Spain’s other enclave in Northern Africa, leaving 2 dead and up to 40 injured. The suspicion is things are being orchestrated by Morocco, which claims both territories, and with whom Spain has a number of ‘issues’.

Ironically, as thousands of Africans are trying to break into Spain, Catalunia is hell bent on breaking out. Yesterday, after much wrangling, the local political parties agreed the draft of a new Statute determining the region’s relationship with the Spanish state. Amongst a number of ‘provocations’ are provisions averring Catalunia is a nation and everyone there has not just a right but also an obligation to speak Catalunian. So, the region is now on full collision course with the government. Perhaps, then, it’s appropriate the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on the Constitution is called Guerra. Or ‘War’.

And of course there’s another bit of Iberia [apart from Portugal, that is] which is currently out of Spain and is determined to stay out – Gibraltar. At times, things must look very confusing from Madrid. Especially as Spain is the most fervent supporter of a European superstate that seems to be falling apart faster than Spain itself. Who’d be a politician?

The Spanish economy continues to surge ahead, growing by over 3% at the moment. But below the surface there are worrying trends. The current account deficit is growing at an alarming rate and Spain has just been downgraded from 23rd to 29th position in the list of competitive economies, behind countries like Estonia, Chile and Malaysia. Spanish interest rates are far too low in the context of its economic challenges but, of course, as a member of Euroland, there’s nothing the government can do about this. Perhaps we will eventually see the United States of Spain as a member of the United States of Europe.

I would have said the attitude to time [‘What’s that?’] and Spaniards’ aversion to dealing other than face-to-face were major impediments to international competitiveness but I can’t right now as I’ve just had a new satellite box delivered less than 2 days after I ordered it by internet from a UK company. My magazines, on the other hand, take over a week. Though it’s true I don’t pay 23 quid each for these to be couriered to me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Having lived in 6 cultures, I long ago gave up looking for logic and consistency in social norms. Some of them, of course, are simply ridiculous. Like the British [English?] convention of eating peas off the back of your fork. This comment is prompted by the advice I was given today that it’s rude in Spain to take a piece of bread from the central basket and then eat it without breaking it into smaller pieces. God knows why. I wonder whether it has something to do with the symbolically peaceful nature of ‘breaking bread’ with someone. Or perhaps it has a religious origin.

Talking of Spanish norms, TV directors here are in perpetual quest for pictures of blood or gore. So it was too much to expect that they would not bring us the stained handkerchief used to prove the virginity of the bride at a recent big gypsy wedding in Andalucia. The other stroke of luck they’ve had this year is the high number of gorings during the summer’s bullfights. Not a lot of blood in fact – at least not of the human variety – but plenty of exciting action to reprise. And reprise.

Spain’s proximity to Africa means it’s a favoured target for illegal immigrants. These arrive by raft and boat on the south and east coasts in their thousands, many of them already dead. As if this weren’t enough of a problem, Spain also has 2 enclaves [decidedly not ‘colonies’ like Gibraltar] in Africa. Over the past 2 nights around 500 Africans have stormed the security fences around one of these in an attempt to get over them using makeshift ladders. Given that some of them succeeded, I guess the prospect is of more of these desperate sallies.

Sentences have been passed down on a group of Muslims accused of plotting the Madrid bomb atrocity last year. The prosecutor asked for a total of 233,000 years, including 74,337 for the ringleader. In the event, the judges handed down 127 and 27, respectively. I’m not sure the massive reductions engendered much sense of relief in the guy who got 27 years.

A Nigerian email scam with a difference tonight – it purports to come from Kenya. And begins ‘Dearly Beloved in Christ’. More of this anon.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Competition between our 5 local daily newspapers is tough and I’ve queried before how they can all survive. A favourite strategy is offering free or heavily discounted books but things have now taken an odd turn; one of the papers hopes to lure new readers tomorrow by giving away a rattan tray. What next, I wonder. Will they, like the banks, start to offer entire sets of porcelain?

A British journalist had a bad night in Pontevedra last week. Not having taken any advice, he appears to have booked himself into a cheap hostel in a run-down alley in the old quarter famous for its noisy nightlife. Specifically, a couple of drug addicts appear to have woken him at 4am with their shouting, crying and fighting. From this he concluded that ‘The young of provincial Pontevedra don’t need Kate Moss and Pete Doherty as role models.’ God knows I take a few liberties with the truth in this blog but I rather feel this is stretching things somewhat. And who tries to sleep in the old quarter of Pontevedra at 4am?

One of the features of Spanish towns – at least in this part of the country – is shops selling a vast variety of cheap household items. These used to be called ‘Todo Cien’, or ‘Everything at a 100 pesetas’. In the past few years, for obvious reasons, they’ve all morphed into ‘Todo Un €uro’ outlets. Since the Euro is about 167 pesetas, you can see what it’s done for the cost of living. Anyway, the Chinese have muscled into this business and the town is now bristling with ‘bazaars’ whose owners seem to have a very un-Spanish aversion to leisure. I get the impression they are not very popular. With their competitors, I mean.

Another type of outlet springing up like weeds is the health food shop. This is a tad ironic, given the difficulty of finding vegetables on a Spanish menu. If the current rate of growth continues, there won’t be any other sort of food shop left and those of us who don’t patronise them will be compelled to starve to death.

Which reminds me – I saw 4 foreigners coming towards me this morning, eating as they walked. Or ‘grazing’ as I think it’s called in the Anglo Saxon world. It struck me that I never see any Spanish people doing this. So I guess it’s considered ignoble. They must get a shock when they travel in the UK and the USA, though it surely helps to explain the size of many of the locals they see. But hopefully not bump into.

Monday, September 26, 2005

September’s weather has been spectacular this year. This has led to some confusion among the local beauties. Many have stayed in summer togs but a fair number have opted for autumnal jackets, calf-length jeans and stiletto-heeled boots. Appealing but hardly appropriate. But, then, come the sunny days of mid-winter, their mothers, aunts and grandmothers will be strutting the town centre in even less sensible mink coats.

The chap who writes the blog in which I came across ‘Vaya yo!’ notes many traits of the Spanish I’ve touched on in mine. Specifically, he confirms they can seem both terribly rude and extremely helpful. The key, he suggests, is whether the interaction is ‘personalised’ in any way. So, you might find that someone who’s refused to cede any space on the pavement and bumped into you will then go out of his way to help you if you ask him for directions. Another way of looking at this is whether you are – or can force your way into - his orbit. For Spaniards are not instinctively aware of others. They lack social antennae, you might say. A perfect example occurred yesterday when I went to pay for my lunch at the bar. While waiting, I was reading the newspaper lying on the counter, a little to my left. Suddenly, the guy next to me stopped reading another paper, looked directly at me and threw it on top of the one I was clearly reading. Years ago this would have annoyed me intensely but now I know that not only did he not intend to upset me but that, if I’d said anything to him, he’d certainly have apologised profusely and possibly even offered to buy me a drink.

I made the mistake of checking this evening whether Everton had beaten lowly Wigan at the weekend. They hadn’t, losing 1-0 at home. So now it’s 8 defeats out of 9. And with a match against Dinamo Bucharest this week, it will surely soon be 9 out of 10. I wonder if, now we’re out of both the Champions’ League and the UEFA Cup, it’s too late to concentrate on winning the Premiership.
The picture of my elder daughter, Faye, has been finished. You can see it here….

http://panworldportraits.blogspot.com/

Sunday, September 25, 2005

In the large main hall of my bank, there are 5 or 6 assistants sitting down the left hand side. Quite distinct from the common or garden tellers at the far end, they deal with customers’ problems on a first-come-first-served basis. Down the other side are 4 or 5 cubicles, in which sit more senior personnel, to whom you may be referred. Or to whom you can go direct, if you’ve been told you can. Here sits my personal adviser. I know he’s my personal adviser because he wrote to me and gave me his card containing his postal and email addresses. Quite why he gave me these when he never answers my written queries is beyond me. In short, ‘personal’ really does mean personal. Or, more correctly, ‘in person’. Or face-to-face. It means that, if I waste my time making a trip into town and waiting for my adviser to be free, he will waste his time in chewing the fat with me and ruffling through his papers before eventually giving me information he could easily [and more efficiently] have emailed me. But this is not the Spanish way. I suspect he feels it’s all very rude and Anglo-Saxon to do things via correspondence. Which is why he, rudely, opts to ignore mine.

So, Fernando Alonso duly assured himself today of the Formula 1 championship. There was little else on the radio as I was driving home tonight and, when the race was over, we were treated to the Asturian ‘national’ anthem played on bagpipes. Asturias is next to Galicia and I go there from time to time, if only to try to see the lovely Leticia’s sister. But I’ll now be steering well clear of the place until driving there returns to normal levels of lunacy.

Asturias is not unique in having a national anthem. All of Spain’s regions [or ‘Autonomous Communities’] have one, as well as their own flag. Some give the Spanish flag equal prominence and some [e.g. Catalunia] just burn it. The ‘localism’ I’ve mentioned twice recently demands that greater loyalty be afforded to the regional standard than to the national flag, whether intact or in burnt tatters. To an Englishman [unless he’s from Yorkshire, perhaps] the idea of a county anthem or flag is just too preposterous for words but it’s possible the American States do more than just issue number plates with odd slogans on them.

Talking of slogans, in a blog I happened upon this evening, I read that the Spanish saying which encapsulates their infamous egocentricity is ‘Viva yo!’. This certainly sounds plausible, though I’ve never heard it myself in 5 years. Anyway, there’s a prize for the best English translation of this which doesn’t contain 2 words beginning with F and Y. Or F and ‘e, Lee.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

A pleasant surprise this morning – a comment from a Liverpool supporter. I had no idea any of them could write. But, to be honest, he only said what I’d decided not to add to my dismissal of British football yesterday, viz. that when your team has lost 7 of its last 8 games you’re entitled to be a tad disillusioned. And then there’s the recent woeful performances of the England team. Which rather makes my point because – unlike both Liverpool and Everton – it comprises only national players. Liverpool, of course, is essentially a Spanish team. So I do rejoice in its successes. These days at least.

The Portuguese economy is struggling and VAT rates have recently risen there. This has the poorer inhabitants crossing the border in search of cheaper petrol in Tui and the richer to buy luxury cars in Vigo. Strangely enough, Spanish doctors are going in the opposite direction, which is a problem for the Galician Xunta. It’s bad enough when Madrid is trying to steal your talent without the lowly Portuguese getting in on the act.

It must be a shock for the Spanish when they first hear, say, a Chinese accent. For, in films shown here both in cinemas and on TV, every single voice is dubbed by one of the same 5 or 6 people [I refuse to say ‘actors’] who provide the voices for everybody of any age and provenance in every film. I feel the Spanish should stir themselves and riot against this. It must violate some race law somewhere. As well as annoying the hell out of me, if you haven't noticed.

Oh, and by the way, if I’d had been a lifelong supporter of Liverpool, they’d have been in the Second Division when I was a tot. Which Everton never have.

Friday, September 23, 2005

A British soccer player – Jonathan Woodgate – joined Real Madrid 18 months ago and, thanks to an injury, has been on the sidelines ever since. He played his first match last night and belatedly repaid his enormous fee by scoring an own goal in the 2nd minute and being sent off in the 66th. This, I fancy, says everything you need to know about the current state of British football.

The men who did the work in my kitchen left a pile of rubble on the floor. I’ve seen this happen before in the less-developed countries of the Middle and Far East, where the maid is expected to clear up. Spain is not a less-developed country, of course, but the mess was not left for me to deal with. Here, every middle class family seems able to afford at least a cleaner – but often an all purpose cleaner/maid/cook - who comes every day. Sadly, I don’t.

Well, the first week of secondary school has passed and I haven’t heard from my inherited pupil about her intentions. I assume she’s not returning and I’m not going to be advised. Truth to tell, this is all too common in Spain, where such courtesies can be in short supply. All a reflection of the famous individualism and spontaneity, I guess.

Kate Moss actually made El Mundo today, albeit in a short [and picture-less] paragraph on page 61. Seems about right to me.

During my 5 minute fibre-intake this morning, I watched another discussion on one of the gossip programmes. As ever, there were 7 participants sitting in a semicircle but as 6 of these were talking/shouting at the same time, I couldn’t make out the topic. The audience, sitting behind the ‘celebrities’ and facing the cameras, had the air of stupefied zombies. So I guess they were no wiser than me.

I fell in with a group of Irish pipers yesterday, as you do, and was explaining the rules for crossing zebra crossings in the event you want to stay alive. This morning I read that an 86 year old was killed on one in Vigo yesterday. Sometimes it’s sad to be right. But not if you’re a father of clever daughters.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

I touched on Spain’s ‘localism’ the other day – the habit of viewing everything from the perspective of, at worst, your birthplace or, at best, your province. A good example is the claim made today in one of the local papers that the Madrid universities, by offering large grants to outstanding students, are stealing Galicia’s brainpower. No importance, it seems, is attached to the creation of world class centres of learning. Rather like Cheshire or Cornwall complaining that its best students all go off to Oxford or Cambridge.

The UK’s Daily Telegraph continues on its slide down to tabloid status. On its front page today it solicited readers’ views on whether Kate Moss had been treated fairly or not. I guess she’ll be appearing on their page 3 next. Or would be if her chest didn’t resemble an ironing board.

This week’s good news is that the top dogs in the Spanish branch of the Bulgarian mafia have been arrested. The bad news is that the tiger mosquito has reached Catalunia and is wending west in our direction. I know from living in the Far East that these are ferocious little beasts. On balance, I think I’d rather live with the Bulgarian mafia.

Medical advances raise acute ethical issues, especially in Catholic countries perhaps. Someone in Catalunia has suggested a couple only be allowed to chose the sex of their third child. In a county where the fertility rate is 1.16, this looks to me like a pretty safe proposition.

Finally, I should perhaps clarify it’s only my web site on Galicia [colindavies.net] I’m contemplating scrapping, lest it attract any more bloody foreigners here. Not this blog.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The safety measures demanded by the gas company are now in place. But yesterday I discovered they’ve not been demanded of my neighbours, apparently because they didn’t get an inspection visit in March. So, it seems the best strategy for dealing with troublesome but non-persistent bureaucrats is the one I use for begging gypsies – just pretend to be out.

Given that one of Spain’s greatest joys is its uncrowded motorways, I was astonished to read today the country has the lowest ‘spare’ road capacity in Western Europe and faces gridlock within 10 years unless there’s massively increased investment in tarmac. My guess is this is either a reference to roads other than motorways or a bargaining ploy for more EU funds.

It’s good to see foreign tourists to Spain were up 6% in the year to end August but, after another trip to Santiago yesterday, I’m beginning to wonder about scrapping my web site on Galicia and Pontevedra. We foreigners still have an exotic flavour here in Pontevedra and are treated accordingly. 50km north in Santiago we’re just sheep.

As a case in point, I was given double tapas and double wine today simply because the barman had given me Rioja slightly inferior to the one I’d requested. Actually it was quadruple tapas, as my portions are routinely double. Very noble, the Spanish. Unless you’re one of thousands of tourists.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I read in a UK newspaper today that ‘Women designers have sounded the death knell for thongs and mottled midriffs’. I wonder if this is connected with the onset of cooler weather.

A new email scam today – Warner Bros’ casting agency advised me I’d been given a part in some performance related to a Harry Potter book. I just have to send all my personal details, etc. As with the Nigerian messages, the grasp of English syntax is unimpressive.

Talking of strange English, I saw an ad today for a new Lexus car with the headline “Top of Mind”. Does anyone have any idea what this means?

Similarly, can anyone English or Spanish acquaint me with the difference between ‘a nation’ and ‘a nationality’? According to the Spanish government, Catalunia can only be the latter as the former is reserved for the Spanish state.

Another clash today between my concept of speed/efficiency and Spain’s. In a supermarket in Vigo, I joined the 10 items or less queue and then waited 5 minutes while the woman ahead of me went through the laborious form-filling process required for home-delivery of her 5 items. My daughters frequently tell me I should follow my own advice, accept the rough along with the smooth of life in Spain and refrain from complaining. But where would this blog be without the occasional gratuitous bitch?

Monday, September 19, 2005

The email scams from Nigeria continue to flood in. The latest I’ve received [from the ‘Nigerian Investigation Department. Motto: Security Watch’] purports to warn me against all the ‘hoodlums’ and ‘touts’ who are trying to get hold of the $35m dollars which is held in my name in the Wema Bank of Nigeria. Naturally, they’d be only too pleased to release this to me provided that…..

The good news about my neighbour, nice-but-noisy Tony, is that he’s gone back to sea for 6 weeks, compared with the normal 4. The bad news is that, when he returns, he’ll have 6 weeks ashore. My daughters and I have decided Tony is at least slightly touched. And one recent guest has declined to stay again in my house because of his bawling and shouting at all times of the day and night. I really will have to find a Spanish solution to this problem.

Talking of guests, I’ve had two Irishmen with me for the past 5 days. Both of these have what the Spanish call el don the palabra, or the gift of the gab. So stories flow endlessly. The odd thing is that these always contain the full name of each and every person involved in whatever event is being recounted, as against ‘A chap I knew in Cork’. Tackling them on this yesterday, they agreed their communities are so small and inter-related, it’s wise to cite names early on so as to give your listener the chance to reveal he or she’s related to someone who’s about to be lampooned. I must check whether similar considerations apply in Spain’s small towns and villages.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Just when you need a bit of Spanish inefficiency, it’s nowhere to be seen. In March I was told by the gas company I no longer met the safety regulations and needed some work doing in my garage and kitchen, with a deadline of 6 months. So I asked a local company to do this but, as you’ll have guessed, am still waiting for them to get round to it. The bloody gas company, on the other hand, have now sent me notice that I’m in breach of my obligations and will be reported to the Galician government if I don’t send them a certificate within 15 days. Mind you, it’s not all hyper-efficiency. The letter giving me this deadline was dated 6 September and arrived on the 17th, leaving me just 4 days in which to comply. This is a common feature in Spain, where no one writes or reads [impersonal] written communications with any seriousness. Except me.

Secondary school kids go back this week. As with their younger brethren, the rolls are down, by 3% in this case. Later this week, I may or may not be told that the pupil I inherited from my elder daughter is returning for another round of private English lessons. But I’m not holding my breath.

I see a new item [‘Details of Chosen Destination’] has appeared on my phone bills from Telefonica, the company we all love to hate. At present, this service [whatever it is] is said to be gratis but I think we all know what’s happening here. We’re being softened up for the introduction of charges for a service we’ve long had for nothing. And I very much doubt that we’ll receive any letter advising us of this.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

20% of Galician drivers are reported to have said they completely ignore road signs when driving in places they’re familiar with. And 30% of Galician drivers believe there should be more road signs. One assumes – though without great conviction – that these are different people.

Someone in the town hall must have a relative who manufactures speed bumps. They are appearing like a rash on the city’s skin. Made of rubber and bolted into the tarmac, they stop a few inches before the kerb, leaving an inviting gap at either end. From personal observation, my guess is 90% of the town’s drivers try to get at least 2 wheels into this gulley each time they go over a bump. Of course, if it only covers half of the road, they keep all 4 wheels off by slaloming past it. Sometimes even when there’s a car [e.g. mine] coming the other way.

Astonishingly, Galicia’s medical specialists are reported to have the highest salaries in Spain. Even more surprising is that Catalunia’s have the lowest. But the list of supplementary productivity payments [whatever they are] reverses this order. Can this really mean Galicia’s specialists are the richest but laziest in the country? I must ask around.

And finally, yet another comment on prostitution, upon which there was an interesting comment posted yesterday. Up in Lalín, the police chief and a town councillor have been arrested for involvement in this activity. This leaves me more confused than ever as to the legality or otherwise of this ancient profession. I’m advised that prostitution itself [as in the UK] is legal, so I’m left wondering whether these local dignitaries [or undignified locals] weren’t involved in the crime of bringing in illegal immigrants. Doubtless I’ll soon be made wiser and sadder by the Galician press.

Friday, September 16, 2005

I’m very fond of Spanish hardware stores. Or ironmongers as I think they used to be called in the UK. They are appealingly old-fashioned and will, for example, sell you one screw if that’s all you want. But there’s another side to this charm. Six weeks ago I tried to get an item I’d seen in the window of one particular store. Come back at the end of August, they said, as supplies would be disrupted by the annual 3 week fiesta. So I duly returned this week, to be told it still wasn’t in stock and I should pop in every week until it was. If there was any suggestion they’d order it for me, I missed it. My conclusion was that, if one shop doesn’t have what you want, then your best option is to time-consumingly try all the others in town as any promise of availability is worthless. Perhaps this is because the shopkeeper doesn’t trust the shopper to return so won’t risk being caught with an item. All very self-perpetuating, of course.

In my blog of 11 September I asked whether we’d soon see football matches sponsored by one of Spain’s ubiquitous brothels. Well, not quite but last weekend a match involving Deportiva La Coruña was disrupted when 4 or 5 young women stripped off their tops to reveal naked torsos on which, bizarrely, had been painted shirts in the colours of the team. And on their backs? Why an ad for a local brothel! Needless to say - because of the bare breasts - Spanish TV gave the incident maximum publicity.

By the way, I’ve been accused [‘tellingly’] of returning rather frequently to the issue of prostitution in Spain. Absolutely true, but can I really be blamed, against this backcloth? Perhaps I wouldn’t if I patronised them.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Today I did around 100 kilometres on a local motorway. Having decide to drive at a fuel-conserving 100kph, I thought it’d be a good idea to count the number of vehicles I had to overtake at this sedate speed. This turned out to be a handful of trucks labouring up hills and, would you believe, a funeral cortege. The latter was a twofold surprise. Firstly, I’d never seen one on a motorway before and, secondly, I would have predicted that even a fully-loaded hearse would exceed the speed limit in Spain.

Possibly an even bigger surprise was seeing 2 pilgrims on the hard shoulder of the motorway, en route to Santiago. Although the signs don’t specifically ban pilgrims, I feel sure they fall under the heading of pedestrians. Especially those not wearing the luminous jackets we drivers are now obliged to wear when we exit our cars. They’ll certainly need God’s blessing to survive the trek.

In what I suspect is a first for Spain, a major gas company has made a hostile takeover bid for an electric company. To my surprise, the Minister for Health also turns out to be the secret Minister for Consumers and she’s said their interests must not be damaged. Financial commentators appear to think this is the only thing about the affair that’s guaranteed. The added political dimension is that the attacker is Catalan and the victim isn’t. Perhaps this is why the Spanish government is talking about putting the problem in the EU’s court.

Which reminds me, Aragon is the latest region [or ‘Autonomous Community’] to demand that its ‘historical rights’ be included in a new statute of cohabitation with the Spanish state. At this rate, by the time the Gibraltarians are ready to join Spain, there won’t be much of it left.

Image of the Week

The growing power of the mass media enabled many of the evils of the age. Northcliffe emerges as a terrible megalomaniac who died raving on a rooftop, having tried to phone his newsdesk with the story that God was a homosexual.

Reviewer of a book on the first half of the 20th century.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Looking at a picture of a group of local young women last night, it struck me that the photo could have been taken any time over the last few decades. For, in truth, young Spanish women have looked pretty much the same throughout this period – long dark hair, figure-hugging top and tight, flared trousers or jeans. To be sure, sometimes there’s been a little more midriff and/or underwear on display than at others but essentially it’s the same outfit. In 5 years, I can’t recall seeing a single young woman in Pontevedra wearing anything like a shapeless, unflattering pair of baggy trousers. Nor many older women, for that matter. And some of the latter would certainly have benefited from a degree of bagginess.

As if to prove the point, there was a rather statuesque young lady walking into town on the other side of the bridge from me this morning. Dressed in a tiny black top and tight white trousers and sashaying for all she was worth, she was literally bringing the traffic to a halt as drivers sought to get not just a direct view but also a reflection in their rear-view mirrors. I, meanwhile, showed my disdain for this provocative behaviour by studiously ignoring her.

Two more surveys on Spanish life today. The first revealed that almost 60% of Spanish parents believe in inflicting corporal punishment on their kids to make them behave. This is possibly an even higher number than in the UK. The difference, though, is that it seems to me that the average Spanish kid wouldn’t recognise castigation if it jumped up and hit it in the face, so to speak. Spanish parents give the impression of believing that, if they ignore bad behaviour, it will go away. If not, they resort to ineffectual shouting at or above the already-high ambient noise level.

The second survey suggested Spain is at the bottom of the list of developed countries for success in the baccalaureate, which kids take at 18, I think. This may be a reflection of the fact that Spain’s per capita spending on education is also among the very lowest. Or it may be another indication of the truth of the suggestion that here 20% of people work at least as hard as anyone else on the planet, while the other 80% [of whatever age and occupation] concentrate on having a good time.

Well, if this blog doesn’t garner me some angry posts, I guess nothing will….

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

When I went to post a UK-bound letter today, the shopkeeper pasted only a 28 cent stamp on it, and not the correct one of 53 cents. When I pointed this out, she opted not to add a 25 cent stamp alongside it but pasted one of 53 cents on top of it instead. I couldn’t tell whether this was a good example of we-care-nothing-for-trifles Spanish nobilidad or just plain stupidity. And I didn’t feel I could ask. Being ignoble myself, I neglected to offer to pay for the redundant stamp.

The Spanish economy continues to grow at over 3% a year, in sharp contrast to Germany, France and elsewhere. However, a good part of this is said to be attributable to rapidly increasing business on the part of more than 500[sic] mafia groups operating around the country. The trendsetters are said to be the Bulgarians, Rumanians and Poles. So Spain’s entry into the EU hasn’t been one of unalloyed benefit, then.

On today’s morning gossip show, the item under discussion during my breakfast was ‘Who really is Sofia Mazagatos’s boyfriend?’. And this was being discussed with all the seriousness and intensity you’d expect from the respective protagonists of Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Albeit simultaneously and at the tops of their voices. Ms Mazagatos, it seems, is one of numerous women in Spain who are a celebrity simply because they won the Miss Spain contest several aeons ago. Her surname, by the way, means ‘Cat-smasher’. Some of us dog-lovers would kill for a name like that.

Which reminds me - we have a village near here called Gatomorto, or Dead Cat in Gallego. I wonder if it got its name from a failed attempt to bring in a cheaper version of bullfighting. Must ask.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Spanish have long been known to favour their place of birth [or patria chica] over all else. Second comes the region and finally – often some way behind – is the Spanish state. This localism can be amusing – e.g. when the local papers refer to Spanish banks based outside Galicia as ‘foreign’ – but it can be irritating as well. For instance, it’s not enough to know that the person whose phone number you want lives somewhere in the province of Pontevedra. Or even ‘not far from the city of Pontevedra’. For residents in the province are not listed simply in a single alphabetical order but in alphabetical subsets according to the town, village or hamlet they live in. And there are hundreds of these. So, if you don’t know exactly where they live, you can’t find their number. Unless I am missing something.

Talking of localism, I see the Catalunian politicians pushing for ever more independence now refer to Catalunia as a pais [country], a nación [nation] and a patria [homeland]. And have even suggested it has all the attributes of an Estado [state]. So poverty of ambition doesn’t seem to be their biggest problem.

Of course, it’s all very ironic that the Spanish are at the same time both ardent lovers of their patria chica as well as the most positive people in Europe about the EU superstate. But, as I’ve said, this will all change when the goose stops laying golden eggs in the Spanish coop.

Most primary schools in Spain reopened today, after the long summer holidays. Here in Pontevedra, the rolls are 2% down on last year, despite the influx of ‘immigrants’ [a euphemism for North Africans]. One positive consequence is that serious TV programmes have returned to the 9-10am slot, replacing the pan-channel cartoon shows and sweet adverts of the summer. No one is allowed to be serious during a Spanish summer. And it’s frowned on during much of the rest of the year as well.

An anaesthetist has been arraigned for deliberately infecting 276 patients with Hepatitis C. The state prosecutor – clearly no slouch – has asked for 2,214 years in jail and payment of an indemnity of a mere 28.9m euros. As I don’t suppose anything like this will be given, it’s all rather redolent of shopping in the Tehran bazaar. Which is a strange image for a judicial system.

I see England beat Australia at cricket to regain the Ashes. It would have been nice to watch the matches – especially today’s – on Satellite TV. But no one has breathed life into my decoder yet. Such are the perils that befall one when one recklessly strays far from one’s patria chica.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

In Catalunia, they celebrated their national day today, with calls from leading politicians for a return to the glory days of the ‘country’ and with the traditional burning of the Spanish flag by extremists. A new Statute of cohabitation is currently being negotiated between the central government and the ruling coalition of the ‘autonomous region’ but one wonders whether this will satisfy local demand. And, if not, where it will all end.

Meanwhile, back in Galician politics, the chastened PP party has said there’ll be developments in January 2006 around the belated succession to Manuel Fraga. So, plenty of time for more internal strife before then.

Deportivo La Coruña, one of the Galician football teams, played Atletico Madrid this weekend. The latter team appear to be sponsored by European Gigolo, whoever that is. I guess we can expect to see the names of local brothels appearing on players’ shirts soon.

So, young Alonso moved one step nearer to the Formula 1 championship today. And we all moved closer to the day when every Spanish male proudly and respectfully adds 20 or 30 kph to his normal driving speed. What joy awaits us.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Thanks to a vampire-worshipping young Portuguese lady, I finally got to talk to one of Pontevedra’s real characters today. This is Rafael Pintos, better known locally as Draculín, or Little Dracula. Sr. Pintos and I pass each other most days as he is walking into town and I am walking out. Or vice versa. He is exceptionally well-dressed. Nearly always with a cane and, in winter, often swathed in a red-lined cape. If you’re interested, there’s more information on his persona and life-style on the web, of course.

Talking of web enquiries, Google directed the following searches to my blog site today:-
Brussels Brothels
Armoured Audi A8
Sinking German art no. 3 of Camarinas

This has added to my suspicion that Google is no longer the organisation it once was. I have an avowedly non-commercial web site on Galicia [colindavies.net] and this used to figure very high on relevant searches. Now it comes way after pages of some very odd commercial sites. Does anyone have a view on what’s going on?

Of course, whenever bloody Faria Alam is mentioned in the UK press, I get the usual batch of sad men looking for nude pictures. This entry will naturally ensure that I get even more!

My younger daughter, Hannah, started at teacher training college in the UK this week. Her registration is being delayed because she hasn’t yet received clearance from the Criminal Records Bureau, despite several months of waiting. I wonder what the odds are on a 23 year old female being a paedophile. Tabloid-generated madness.

I was amused to read the British captain who brought the news of Trafalgar back to London in record time had to lay out £46.96 of his own money, equivalent to half a year's pay. After delivering the letter, he retired to compose another equally important document - his expenses. What a hero.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Well, once again this blog has brought an immediate response from the Spanish government. After my comments yesterday about the lack of consumer protection, they announced today they’re bringing forward a bill which addresses the charging abuses popular with phone companies and parking operators.

Talking of abuses, there was an interesting meeting reported in yesterday’s local papers. This was between the grape growers and the wine producers, who agreed they’d fly in the face of commercial reality and maintain grape prices at a Euro a kilo despite another bumper harvest and massive oversupply. Mind you, they also decided to set up a special team to monitor the market and try to stop buyers and sellers ignoring this Canute-like arrangement. Tellingly, in the framework of an agreement in which the interests of consumers were flagrantly ignored, any would-be deviation from the set price was termed ‘an abuse’! I believe I’m right in saying that, in the USA and the UK, not only the agreement but also the very meeting at which it was reached would be illegal as being contrary to the interests of consumers. But not in Old Europe, of course. Where, on Mr Chirac’s insistence, quotas are placed on Chinese bra imports to make life more comfy for inefficient French manufacturers.

My daughter in Madrid has passed on the comment of an Australian friend on Spanish TV – They seem to think a pause is indicative of weakness.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A TV theme tonight….

A year or more or so ago, I scoffed at the practice of the local TV station of putting adverts on the screen during football matches. They started with brief banner ads along the bottom of the screen when the ball went dead but then moved on to showing half-screen ads even during play. Well, there’s no stopping a truly bad but profitable idea, especially in a country where it is a common marketing tactic to see how far you can go in displaying contempt for your customers before they scream. And so one of the main TV channels last night gave us the World Cup game replete with not just ads but also endless trailers for their next programme. As with the local station, we were blessed with ads even when the ball was in play. But the technique which allowed this was almost impressive. Traditionally, it’s been a problem during games here that the score was not shown in the corner during the game but - God knows why - only came up on the screen every 15 minutes exactly. But last night we were given it every few minutes - but with an ad attached every time. As if this wasn’t enough, box ads were appended to a host of statistics which flashed up on the screen with monotonous regularity. Some of these [e.g. ‘Shots on Goal’] were reasonably relevant but other [‘Kicks into the penalty area’] were clearly specious and merely shown as a hook on which to hang an infuriating ad. Indeed, by the end of the game I was expecting to be advised how many blades of grass had been trodden on by the respective teams. If not by each and every bloody player in turn. It’s at times like this that you realise just how weak consumer movements are in Spain and how much something like an Ombudsman is needed.

And so on to this morning’s viewing. With my satellite decoder out of commission, I forced myself to watch one of the morning’s gossip programmes while I ate my cereal. The format here is that 5 or 6 females and gay males sit in a semi-circle [with the audience behind them!] and discuss the love life of one celebrity or another. Of course, in Spain ‘discuss’ means talk or shout simultaneously. The celebrities range from the richest [and ugliest] woman in Spain to the latest squeeze of one of the famous bullfighters. This morning’s victims were one such bullfighter and his current wife, who may or may not be having difficulties. And the hot topic was the fact that he’d chosen to spend some of a recent night in the van in which his travelling team sleep. The highlight of the programme was a sequence shown above the following caption – ‘The first televised pictures of Francisco Rivera taking a pee’. This was repeated 3 times before I’d finished my cereal and switched off.

The word used by the serious press here to describe this sort of TV is ‘telebasura’, or ‘tellyrubbish’. Unfortunately, there’s very little else on offer. But, if this is the price the country pays to keep out a Murdoch-type tabloid press, then it is surely worth paying. No one is forced to watch it and the high quality press remains safe from the tabloidisation which has destroyed the great UK newspapers.

On a lighter note, I went out to one of Galicia’s beautiful off-coast islands today. And came across the famous hiding sheep of Ons …..

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The passing of August is always a little sad, especially as my house goes from crowded to empty in one fell swoop. But, in one respect at least, I’m always glad to see the back of it. For in August I’m lucky if I get my magazines with only a week or two’s delay. Or at all. My suspicion is the Post Office accords letters what passes for priority treatment in this under-staffed holiday month.

The incidence of cocaine-taking was today reported to be higher in Spain than anywhere else in Europe – 20% more than in the UK and almost 10 times that of France. It’s even twice as much as in drug-ridden Holland. Incidentally, the verb ‘to snort’ in Spanish is esnifar. Wonderful. And in French? Snifer!

A columnist has suggested that the poverty and deprivation of the people of New Orleans prove the USA social model is inferior to that of Europe. I assume he’s totally ignorant of the conditions in which people live in Paris’s notorious periphery.

In tonight’s World Cup match between Spain and Serbia-and-Montenegro, the latter were represented in the score panel as SCG. I wonder why. Actually, there were even odder aspects to the televising of this match but I will leave these until tomorrow.

The new Galician Xunta has announced it will pay for the books of primary school kids for the first time. If what I noted the other day really is true, this will surely make it a little easier for local revellers to push the September boat out.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Spain is a place where rules are generally regarded as breakable and where safety is accorded a lower importance than elsewhere. These sentiments can and do overlap, with predictable consequences for such intrinsically hazardous activities as driving or working in the construction industry. Much the same can be said of leisure pursuits. The hunting season began at the weekend and there was the usual crop of fatalities that accompanies the early days of the chase. Most of these occur when the foliage is being beaten to flush out deer and wild boar. And then, I guess, they remember it’s not smart to do this in a circle.

Unemployment is high in Spain nationally and even more so here in Galicia. To say the least, it’s a buyer’s market, where there’s little pressure on employers to empathise with employees. So I guess it wasn’t too surprising that, when a friend of mine was interviewed for a senior secretarial job yesterday, the recruitment agents were unable to give her any details at all of the position. With some justification, she came away feeling the sole purpose was to assess whether she was pretty enough.

In the UK, private education is, as I recall, about 10% of the total. Here in Spain it’s well in excess of 30%. And yet there’s little, if any, of the controversy that surrounds the subject in Britain. Perhaps this points up the difference between pragmatic Christian Democrat socialism and doctrinaire Labour socialism. Another case in point is the provision of healthcare, where it’s taken for granted here that the system will be a judicious mix of public and private provision. How little one misses the inanities of British politics!

Those of you in favour of identity cards in Britain, be warned. Today I had to write out my details three times. Firstly, when filling in a questionnaire for my bank; secondly when applying for a discount card from a supermarket, and finally when seeking a weekly debit arrangement from the same shop. One can see the case for this in the last of these but as for the others – and many more – I'm a loss to see why my identity number was critical, along with my name, address, etc. I guess it’s the Everest Syndrome. ‘Because it’s there’.

Monday, September 05, 2005

It’s official – most local drivers have no idea how to negotiate a roundabout. The Diario de Pontevedra today majored on this claim and added a diagram which helpfully showed that, if you are turning left, you should be in the left hand lane. Whereas, if you are going straight on or turning right, you should go into the right hand lane. The flaw in all this is it requires you to stop talking and start thinking before you arrive at the obstacle. Actually, the real problem is said to be there were no roundabouts in the town until 5 years ago, so no one learned how to deal with them. Now there is a new one every week and the traffic police say they’re ‘more dangerous’ than other alternatives. Well, they would be, wouldn’t they, if you and your co-drivers couldn’t make sense of them?

Talking of local papers, my elder daughter’s [Spanish] boyfriend told me that he’s amused when they read out headlines from the national and regional press on TV of a morning. The Galician ones, he insisted, tend to be rather ‘provincial’, along the lines of ‘World’s biggest crayfish netted off Finisterra’. This may be a bit of an exaggeration but it's true today’s Correo Gallego declined to go with news from New Orleans and trumpeted that 1 in 5 Galicians had managed to give up smoking.

Given what assaults one in the media, it’s sometimes hard to remember that Spain is still a Catholic country. But today, driving back from Vigo, I happened upon Radio Maria. This appears to be a new channel dedicated to playing 2 or 3 hymns on a continuous loop, interspersed with a plea for donations which will you result in you being blessed. The words ‘shoestring’ and ‘low tech’ sprang to mind but who knows what production miracles lie just around the corner?

I forgot to say yesterday that the low point on the long drive back to Galicia was stopping at a petrol station where a couple were taking a cigarette break next to one of the pumps. I didn’t tarry.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The other thing about shower heads in the ceiling is that, if you get the temperature right with the hand set and then switch the flow, you will first be deluged with ice-cold water and then promptly scorched. No wonder they fell out of favour.

Driving out of Madrid this morning, it took a mere 5 or 7 minutes to get from the city centre to the motorway for Galicia on the western outskirts. Likewise, it was comparatively easy getting into Madrid last Wednesday evening. I wonder how many great capital cities you could say this about. Something of a contrast, though, with this evening, when the mass return from August holidays caused the usual huge jams. On a point of detail, it was interesting to see this morning, when driving through road works, that a significant percentage of drivers clearly thought there was a 1 before the 80 on the temporary speed limit signs.

On the debit side, I was hit yesterday evening by one of the gangs of pickpockets for which Madrid and Barcelona are now notorious. Happily, either I’m not easily distracted by coppers being dropped at my feet or this was a particularly inept group. Either way, I felt the hand going into my back pocket and was able to thwart the theft of my library card and driving licence.

Approaching Galicia from the plains of Castile, it was depressing to see a shroud of smoke over the mountains. Most of the fires seemed to be exhausted but there were two new ones raging just north of Xinzo de Lima. Happily, rains have arrived in the northern half of Spain this evening and are forecast to persist for 3 days.

Friday, September 02, 2005

I may have happened upon the reason for the lingering affection for hand-held shower heads in Spain. In my daughter’s flat in Madrid, the [pretty ancient] shower has both a fixed head and a hand-held attachment. The former, though, is attached to the ceiling and not the wall, meaning that you can’t avoid drenching your head if you use it. One can see why the alternative would often be favoured and how the gradual disappearance of the fixed head would leave behind just the hand attachment. OK, anybody got a better theory?

I may also have discovered why 92% of Spaniards say they aren’t depressed about coming back to work at the end of the August holiday month. According to a Madrid taxi driver last night, September is the party month par excellence in Spain. This is despite the fact no one has much money left after their long vacation. I guess the philosophy is, if you have to push the boat out to get to the end of the month, you might as well shove it as far as it will go. Very Spanish.

In the copy of the Voz de Galicia I brought with me to Madrid, I see they’re now giving us photos of male whores in the small ads. Though the word ‘small’ may well be inappropriate in this context. What next? Pictures of pretty spaniels? Or well-dressed, full-size plastic dolls, perhaps.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The first line of a Daily Telegraph article today on the New Orleans disaster was “After Katrina: Fire, Pestilence and War?”. The second line was a huge advertisement for a Fantasy Football game. What a commercial world.

During the drive down to Madrid yesterday, we had ample opportunity to see the dreadful effects of the numerous fires in Galicia over this summer. The landscape around Verin was particularly badly devastated. Strangely, though, we didn’t seen any evidence of property destruction. On this subject, I should point out the article I cited recently failed to mention the worst reason for initiating a conflagration – because you enjoy watching it. One such pyromaniac was arrested in Ourense yesterday. I guess it’s too much to expect that he be burnt at the stake.

Having written in April that French driving seemed to be much improved, I feel I have the right now to say the worst example yesterday of stupidly aggressive, up-your-exhaust pipe driving came from a car with French plates. This doesn’t mean the driver was French, of course, but I think I’m entitled to my suspicions. I often wonder whether the French really appreciate just how the rest of the world sees them. A friend of Faye’s staying with us recently said she dealt regularly with 26 subsidiaries of her London employer and only ever had difficulties with the French company. This might have come as a surprise if I hadn’t heard something similar on numerous occasions in 30 years of business.

It’s been pointed out I’m still getting the forename of the Galician president wrong. This is not quite correct – he’s the EX-president. As such, he no longer merits accuracy. Anyway, he’s forever mis-addressing me. And, like everyone else in Spain, declining to answer my letters. Piqued? Moi?

As for Mariano Rajoy, well he’s from Pontevedra and me and his other mates always call him Marion when he drops in to see us. It’s a bit of an in-joke.

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