Friday, June 30, 2006

500 Spaniards were arrested in the last 18 months for distribution of child pornography. There is no [tabloid-driven] mania in Spain about paedophiles so I’ve often wondered whether the statistics here are any lower than in the UK. Anyone know?

The idea of customer service is still taking its time to catch on in Spain. An ad I saw yesterday for a wine club is not exceptional in allowing you only to join via a phone line which just happens to be a premium charge number.

The Spanish Tourist Board’s current campaign in the UK is based on the theme ‘Smile! You are in Spain’. Then there are subsets, such as ‘Smile! You are in Galicia’. This one features a multinational group of happy cyclists, resting on the grass below Lugo’s well-preserved Roman walls. In truth, the only reason they can be smiling is that they’ve managed to survive the dangerously traffic-ridden road which encircles the old quarter and which is about 30cm out of the image of bucolic splendour.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The good news is that deaths on the road in Spain were 341 down last year over 2004. The not-so-good news is that the reduction so far this year is only another 49. But, as two thirds of mortalities occur in the second half of the year, there’s plenty of scope for increasing the reduction. Especially as harsher penalties come into force in a couple of days’ time.

And staying positive – the government certainly seems to mean business in its not-before-time crackdown on the cesspit of corruption that is/was Marbella. Another 30 people have been arrested this week in the second phase of the operation. The first phase saw several local dignitaries arrested and charged. I suspect it will be many years before anyone actually cops a prison sentence but it’s good start.

Which is more than I can say for my ADSL line. I finally ordered broadband two weeks ago and – after receiving a couple of long emails and a 23 page contract – I got the modem yesterday. After two hours trying to get it to work tonight, the supplier told me they thought I needed to get all the phone wiring in the house replaced. I told them to think again and call me back tomorrow. What joy.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

There was an advertisement for a DVD game on the radio today and the proposition was that it would make a good end-of-school-year present for your child. Just what Spanish kids need – yet another reason to be showered with gifts.

Meanwhile, on UK TV last night there was an ad featuring a young man who looked like he’d been dragged through a wind-tunnel a number of times. The tag line was that the hay stack on his head was down to “Surf Hair” – ‘For that messed-up look’. Truly has life become insane in the West. Which reminds me – I wonder whether the genius who came up with three-quarter length trousers for men with a draw-string round the calf ever believed anyone would actually wear his creation. Vastly smarter than me, if he did.

As ever, the reports on last night’s Spain-France match in the Spanish papers were honest and incisive. The general view was that Spain had dominated possession but not the play. And that they deserved to go out, if only for failing to record a single shot on France’s goal. To my surprise, there was little comment about Henry’s theatricals.

In June’s Prospect magazine, the editor wrote that the UK is technically not a nation but a state formed out of the amalgamation of four countries some 250 years ago. Spain’s version of this happened almost 300 years earlier but, as we know only too well, arguments still rage about the status/description of her component parts. I even think I heard on a Galician channel today that the local nationalist party is demanding Galicia’s new constitution refer to the region as not only a nation but also an ex-kingdom. In contrast, a writer in one of the local papers yesterday asked what on earth was wrong with the word everyone used in everyday life – ‘country’. Perhaps he’s on to something; if all the 17 autonomous communities were now re-termed countries [just like Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland] all this endless prattle would stop and people could devote their time and energy to something really serious. Like the future, for example.

My neighbour’s three Catalan grandchildren arrived today - for the whole of July. The noise they make in the garden drowns out the granite-drilling machine at the front of the house. So it’s not all bad news.

Time for a trip.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Well, the theory here was that the Spanish referee gave that appalling gift penalty to Italy last night so that the Italian referee would return the favour tonight. And so he did, showing that all conspiracy theories can’t be wrong. But Spain failed to capitalise on it and Thierry Henry went for an Oscar. Worse still, he got it. Losing most of the shine from himself in the process. All very disappointing. But, despite that, I hope France play well against Brazil on Saturday. And get beaten 5-0.

At this rate, I’m going to end up supporting the English journeymen.

And that’s it for tonight. Nothing else of importance happened today. Except I was woken early this morning by the triple whammy of Tony bawling next door, a machine drilling granite outside my front door and a helicopter taking part in a huge drugs raid in the nearby gypsy camp. Have I mentioned that Spain is a noisy place?

Monday, June 26, 2006

It’s an ill wind that blows absolutely no good. . . Spanish insurance companies have begun to offer protection against loss of your licence once the tougher legal provisions come into effect next week. Who said the Spanish don’t show a real nose for commerce?

I’m not sure I believe this but I’ve read the Galician government is going to change the law so as to allow one to make a non-specific testamentary bequest along the lines of ‘I leave everything to whichever of my children has taken care of me in my dotage’. This, of course, is to force your offspring [especially in culture where children are endlessly indulged and financed] to do their duty. But I’m not sure it would be allowed under Anglo-Saxon law. In the UK – and, I imagine, in the USA - you’re allowed to leave every thing to your hamster. Under Spanish law, in contrast, you can’t cut your spouse and/or your kids out of your will.

Galicia has suffered the largest drop in student numbers over the last year. And the region has the smallest percentage of foreign students among its university population. I wonder if this is part of the price paid for forcing people to learn Gallego so that they can complete a course. Just a thought.

The World Cup

The English performance against Ecuador got the Spanish press it deserved:-

A tedious and anodyne display . . . Without rhythm and utterly lacking in football skills . . . England have continued to progress in the competition without showing any sign of why they’re considered one of the teams likely to succeed . . . Following the script of their manager, Lampard, Gerrard, Cole and Beckham have forgotten about creativity and mired themselves in mediocrity . . . The only good news is that Rooney showed signs of why he’s considered a quality player.

Thank-God I didn’t watch the match. Except that I did.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A reader has asked why I’m against greater devolution in Spain and why I believe the UK model is superior. Well, the short answer to this is that I’m not and I don’t. So I’m sorry if this is the impression given. In short, my view is that in a democracy it must be right to respond to local/regional demands for greater devolution of power. But, that said, I’m not convinced that what is actually going on is will be good for Spain in the long run.

Both Lenin and Trotsky [and Bismarck, I think] are credited with the aphorism that ‘Politics is concentrated economics’. Actually, they all stole it from Clausewitz. I quote it here because I think the issue of devolution is ultimately an economic and not a social, cultural or political one. As I say, I have no real idea as to whether current developments in Spain are for the best but what concerns me are 1. the actual/potential divisiveness to which it lends itself, and 2. the opportunity cost of it all.

To go back to the UK for a moment – there, with full Scottish devolution, the Labour party did what some observers think Zapatero is now doing in Spain; it made a major constitutional change for purely political reasons. In short, this was to entrench their position in Scotland and, thus, to give themselves a long-term political advantage in the UK as a whole. Reading the following comments only this morning, it’s easy to take the view that all this was very short-sighted and that it’s going to backfire on them. . . Devolution has created a serious constitutional problem for the UK. Like so many intractable problems, it has caught most politicians unawares, but it has been ticking away like an unexploded bomb for years. . . .The Scottish Parliament has become a byword for profligacy, incompetence and cronyism. The cumulative additional costs of devolution now exceed an astounding £1 billion. Few would claim it has added that much value.. . . .At present Scotland gets almost £5 for every £4 per head spent in England on public services. The Scottish Parliament has chosen to spend some of this extra money on providing universal free care for the elderly and on avoiding up-front university tuition fees. England enjoys no such benefits. English students pay higher [university] fees than their Scottish colleagues. Elderly people south of the Border have to pay for nursing care which is free in Scotland, and in some cases have been forced to sell the family home to do so. Is it any wonder that discontent and resentment are being generated? . . .Of the Scottish workforce, 23 per cent is employed in the public sector. Growth is sluggish and far too few new businesses are being created. Compare that with Ireland's tiger economy, where tax cuts have liberated enterprise and led to economic expansion and prosperity.

So, no I don’t think the UK is a good model at all. And it is this very divisiveness which I think is a risk for Spain now. Politics in Spain seems to me to have always been rather more ‘tribal’ than elsewhere and I doubt that the game of constitutional leap-frog which is now under way is going to lessen this. Indeed, some observers suggest that what Zapatero has done is to rip the lid off the post-Franco consensus that allowed Spain to make so much progress over the last 20 years or so. In other words, the old rifts in Spanish society are opening up again. I don’t think one has to be a ‘fascist’ or catastrophist to share these concerns.

As for immediate economic effects - an enormous amount of political time, energy and creativity is going into these constitutional issues. Given the underlying problems currently being masked by Spain’s construction and credit-driven boom, it’s arguable that these could be better devoted to other things. In short, it may be legitimate – and even inevitable – to respond to demands for greater regional autonomy but this surely incurs a significant opportunity cost. In the longer run, the country as a whole may pay a high price for this, even though Catalunia may get to keep more of its own money.

Finally, as for the process being ‘mature’, I must admit I have some difficulty seeing the current strained relationship between the government and the opposition in this light. Though this, of course, also reflects deep differences of view over how to deal with the ETA terrorist threat.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Second post of the day….

I’ve said several times that one of Spain’s big pluses is that it doesn’t have the equivalent of the scabrous UK tabloid press. But what the media here does have is a sort of insensitivity which I suspect even The Sun in the UK would eschew. On the front page of one of Spain’s heavies today, there’s a picture of a blood-soaked woman dying in one of Madrid’s central squares, having been stabbed several times in broad daylight. Inside the paper there are more pictures and an article in which the paper expresses its anger at attempts made to stop their photographer getting his pictures. If this isn’t enough for you, on another page there’s a photo of the bullet-holed corpse of a Swedish journalist in Afghanistan. I very much doubt these pictures are shown for sensationalist, circulation-oriented reasons. Which makes it all the more odd, to me at least, that they’re not regarded as offensive. Ironically, I think it was the same paper which opined that pictures of blackened lungs on cigarette packets was taking things too far as it might upset people.

On a lighter note, Spanish wine growers say they’re not at all happy with EU proposals to pay them to uproot their vines. This policy is, of course, a reflection of the fact there’s too much expensive French wine lying around and the producers there would rather be paid for doing nothing than lower their prices. Spanish growers, though, would prefer to maintain their strategy of improving both productivity and the quality of their wines for sale at competitive world prices. But this is a nonsensically over-commercial idea for Brussels.

By the way, when talking about common sense among Spanish wine-growers, I’d have to make an exception for Galicia’s Albariño wines. These can be truly excellent but they're undeniably overpriced by world standards. I doubt there’s a bottle available under10 quid in the UK. But I’d be happy to be proved wrong. If you’re writing to confute me, don’t forget to tell me the name of the wine and the bodega. For the dastardly Portuguese also produce it but at much lower prices.

Tougher new penalties for traffic offences come into force next week. Certain stupidities – e. g. driving at 90kph in a 50kph zone – will carry a mandatory jail sentence. This has naturally led to speculation that 10 to 20% of Spain’s population will be languishing in prison by the end of the year. I certainly hope this includes the imbecile who crashed doing 130 on one such road in Pontevedra a few nights ago.

In answer to Chris’s question about the provenance of my statistics and their reliability – I get them from the media and I invariably believe everything I read there. Especially when the numbers are given to two impressive decimal points. How can they be wrong?

Gallego/Castrapo/Castellano

If this subject doesn’t interest you, you can check out now…

Jesus has written – from Angola I think - to say the Portuguese make a better fist of understanding Spanish than vice versa. I think this may be because, orally, Portuguese really is a tough language to get your head around, even if you speak one of the other Iberian languages.

As for Gallego, I thought I’d throw myself into these turbulent waters and try, once again, to sum up my developing knowledge. My perception is no one here speaks what the author of the article I cited would regard as true Galician, or ‘Galeg’ as he called it. Everyone speaks some sort of Castrapo, which is Gallego mixed with Castellano. There are several forms of Gallego, ranging from that proposed by the Galician Academy to the very varied ‘popular’ Gallegos of the 4 provinces and numerous villages of the region. The closest to Portuguese is a form of Gallego which has been artificially modified – in its pronunciation and spelling - to ‘take it back to its roots’. This is an approach favoured by what I think are called ‘Integrationalists’ here and I assume this strengthens their claims not only that Portuguese and Gallego are virtually the same language but that the former descended from the latter. It’s quite easy for a speaker of any form of Gallego [or even Spanish] to read a Portuguese newspaper. But understanding the spoken language is an entirely different challenge. My own experience is it’s slightly easier to do this with Brazilian Portuguese but still very tough. The assertion that Gallego speakers and Portuguese speakers can easily understand each other is rot. The languages started to move away from each other hundreds of years ago and, orally at least, are now very different. But it’s certainly true that, if you are a speaker of Gallego, you will find it easier to acquire Portuguese than, say, someone from Madrid.

So, having probably upset quite a few Galicians already today, I think I’ll stay away from the subject of the region’s Celtic origins and culture. And, anyway, what does it matter if people want to believe they’re more Celtic than, say, the Asturians and the Cantabrians? Not to mention the northern Portuguese, who used to be part of the Kingdom of Galicia. Back when they spoke the same language.
Interim photo post. A normal one will be along later . . .

My nice-but-noisy neighbour, Tony, has given me the good news that they've been noisily excavating a 10 x 3 metre tranche out of the solid granite opposite my house in order to replace it with a concrete retaining wall.

In other words, this…















Will soon look like this….
















With this being the interim phase…















By the way 1 - Walking along the street to take these pictures, I was reminded that the only creatures on earth noisier than Spanish people are Spanish dogs.

By the way 2 – The trees in the first picture are there because of a protest against their removal by an architect neighbour. Tony tells me the builders have promised to remove them gently and replant them somewhere else. We agreed this would probably be one of the large rubbish containers round the corner.

Friday, June 23, 2006

It sometimes seems to me that one of the consequences of Spain’s decentralised government is that the regions act like state-lets who see themselves in competition both with each other and with Madrid. I guess the regional parliaments have to justify their jobs but a good deal of muscle-flexing seems to go on in what is often a confrontational manner. The Galician government has just taken this attitude a step further and said it wants electricity companies to compensate the region for damage done to its rivers, valleys and mountains. Turning on its head the normal policy of offering incentives to potential investors, it has told one of the existing operators that it’s planning to impose a special tax. Unsurpris- ingly, the company has replied that, if so, it will take its capital somewhere else.

After several months with towels around their heads, the leaders of Galicia’s Socialist-Nationalist coalition have announced they’ve agreed on the content of the draft new Constitution for the region. Unlike in Catalunia, this needs a 75% vote in the parliament before it passes to Madrid, meaning it won’t go through without the support of the opposition PP party. The latter had 43% of the vote in last year’s elections so holds a pretty strong hand. So, several more months of talks ahead, I guess. And then the really exciting battle with the central government.

I asked a knowledgeable Galician friend about the claim in the site I quoted the other day that ‘real Galician’ could be understood by Portuguese speakers. He said this was the same as saying Middle English could be understood by German speakers. Or, to put it as succinctly as he did, “It’s rubbish”. He had similar views on the view that Galicia was a Celtic nation.

If you’re about to fly to Vigo with Air France, Air Berlin or any of the other airlines that go there, you might like to know Iberia refuses to land there when the weather merits use of the automatic landing system. Two years after its introduction, they say they still have doubts about it and will continue to divert flights to Santiago or La Coruña if there is fog. Not exactly a trivial concern, I would have thought. And one that should have been resolved quite some time ago.

Vigo’s secondary schools have complained the recent university entrance exam in Maths was too hard, explaining why 54% of the students failed it. The following was quoted as a question which foxed even some of the brighter minds. They didn’t give the answer but I think it’s obvious. So either I’ve got things very wrong or the students had an off-day. Perhaps it’s a trick question:- In a college, half of the students are studying in the first cycle and two thirds of those studying in the second cycle are men. If there are 140 pupils doing the second ESO cycle, how many ESO students are there? Anyone want to hazard an answer?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

You have to hand it to ETA. When it comes to cheek, they can even outdo the IRA. A day after 13 of their members were arrested for extortion, they issued a statement demanding the Spanish government moves from words to action and insisting no legislation, judicial orders or constitutional changes be allowed to stand in the way of the implementation of the will of the Basque people. By which, of course, they mean the minority who support their ends. The government has said there’ll be no political price paid for peace.

Some Galician facts:-

- Fewer people [63%] claim to routinely speak Galician these days. This is doubtless a reflection of the depopulation of the villages of inland Galicia.

- Galicia is being increasingly urbanised. Between 1987 and 2000, urban development grew 20%

- Between 2006 and 2013, Galicia will receive 3.4m euros from EU funds, a drop of 7% over the previous 7 year period

- Although 63% of the population say they speak Galician regularly, only a small minority have anything other than Spanish on their tombstones. The local Nationalist party [the BNG] fears this will give the wrong impression to future archaeologists and say something must be done about it. I’m not sure what.

And some random Spanish facts:-

- 96% of Spaniards live in 50% of the country. Meaning, of course, a mere 4% live in the other half.

- A major US finance company says there are now nearly 150,000 millionaires in Spain. The Spanish tax office admits to only 30,000. But then the latter doesn’t take stock of overseas holdings and routinely undervalues domestic real estate.

- In 2005, Spain considered 5,254 claims for asylum and rejected 96% of them. I would guess, firstly, this is a much higher refusal rate than in the UK, and, secondly, that those denied asylum were not allowed to stay in Spain, legally or illegally. By the way, by far the highest number of claims [29%] came from Colombians.


Up in Catalunia, the government says it will ban bullfighting, which is very much a minority activity up there anyway. I almost said ‘sport’ but this is a major faux pas in Spain, where its aficionados consider it an art form. Albeit a rather sanguinary one.

I watched the wonderful Japan-Brazil match in the No Smoking bar tonight. The four card-players again sat in front of me but the necking couple were, fortunately, behind me. This time the distraction was one of those manic Hispanic commentators who force me to switch off the radio when I’m travelling of a Sunday evening. Basically, he doesn’t use one word where ten will do and sounds very much like how I imagine a gibbering gibbon would. I fancy I’ve even seen complaints about him in the Spanish press. Which shows just how bad he must be.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

This is an extra blog for today. If you’re not interested in football, skip it and go to the earlier posting . . .

Here’s a few comments from the Spanish press after England’s two-sided performance last night. Not to mention their two even-worse earlier performances:-

Robinson [the goalkeeper] has good reflexes and sometimes stops the impossible shots. The trouble is, he can’t deal with the possibles.

The members of the England team play as if they’d just met yesterday

It is a badly composed team. The coach fields too many specialists and seems to have little knowledge of his players

England certainly have dynamite but don’t use it.

The team lacks a goalkeeper; the midfield is undefined, some players are operating out of their normal positions and the coach just hasn’t got things right. A disjointed team.

I couldn’t agree more. And for this abject failure to forge a great team from some of the best players we’ve ever had Eriksson has been paid 6 million euros a year! No wonder the manager of the Swedish team described this as obscene. Thank God he couldn’t keep it in his trousers and will be departing the scene 4 years before the end of his contract. Too late for this competition, though.

I certainly won’t be watching against Ecuador; it would be too painful to see us go out against such opposition. If England win, I’ll review my position – at least for the first half of the next match – as it’s conceivable we could play well against Argentina or Holland but still go out with honour. Meanwhile, I’m just grateful my real team is Spain. And that my piano teacher is Argentinean.
The Economist magazine thinks the Spanish government and its people should be proud of the peaceful way greater powers have been devolved to Catalunia ‘in accordance with the wishes of the people’. Daniel Hannan takes a rather different view, in this week’s Spectator magazine, suggesting Catalunia has effectively declared itself a sovereign entity in loose association with the Spanish state. But, then, Hannan is a politician and lives in Madrid. So perhaps he has a better feel for the issues. And a deeper understanding of what is actually going on in Catalunia these days. I wonder if the Economist would be so relaxed if Cornwall and Brittany both demanded the same semi-independent status as ‘Celtic nations’ who deserved to rule themselves. I suspect not.

Meanwhile, not far away in the Basque Country a baker’s dozen of ETA members has been arrested in connection with extortion of a ‘Revolution Tax’ from local businesspeople. ETA may be involved in a peace process and ‘committed’ to seeing it through to a permanent ceasefire but, as with the IRA, their criminal activities haven’t ceased. And, showing just how much he’s learned from the guide book given to him by Gerry Adams, the leader of the political arm of the terrorist organisation condemned the arrests as an ‘attack upon the peace process’ and demanded all ‘acts of aggression’ must cease. Needless to say, he is also seeking the internationalisation of the process, in the hope this will foster the image of the Basque Country as Spain’s Ireland. This, of course, is also the objective of the Galician ‘nationalists’. Hence – among other nonsenses - the specious stress on Galicia’s Celtic-ness.

Further away – in the UK – the English seem to be finally waking up to the fact that, although they heavily subsidise their Scottish neighbours, they are not allowed any say at all in the running of Scotland. In sharp contrast, Scottish members of the British parliament not only vote on English matters but actually keep Tony Blair in power, despite his unpopularity in England. Something has got to give and it will be interesting to see how this issue [the so-called ‘West Lothian problem’] is resolved over the next few years. Meanwhile – as I’ve said before – it’s rather as if the Spanish state gave Catalunia total control over its ‘domestic’ affairs, then heavily subsidised the Catalunians and, on top of this, allowed ambitious Catalans to run the entire Spanish government.

In Spain, the 21st June is not ‘midsummer’ [as it is in the UK] but just the beginning of the season. As of today, dress rules change and we are allowed, for example, to wear shorts in the street. For, no matter how hot it is in May, this is rather frowned on in that month. More seriously, it’s also the day when many businesses [including the banks] shift to summer hours. This usually means they open at 8 and close at 2. Actually, some businesses did this as of yesterday, as I found when I polled up at 7.30pm yesterday at the offices of the gestor who is handling the tax submission that was due in today. Its not just the Spanish who leave things until the last moment. If you live here, you will too. It’s very catching.

Worst of all, the change to summer hours means they started drilling the granite outside my front gate at 7.45 in the morning. But more of this tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I regularly wonder whether, if you manufactured road signs, it’d be useful to have a relative in the Town Hall. This question flitted across my mind again today, when I caught sight of several recent additions to the street furniture of a nearby town. As you can see, these are not exactly of the common or garden variety and were possibly more expensive than was absolutely necessary . . .













The Latin phrase in flagrente delictu is used in English to mean ‘red-handed’. In French, I’m told, it’s en flagrent delit, which is a pretty straight translation. But the Spanish equivalent is in fragranti. I wonder why. Latin ‘L’s often become ‘R’s in both Galician and Portuguese [as in praya and praza] but, as far as I know, this isn’t the case in Spanish. Perhaps it’s adopted Italian.

Another depressing performance from the England football team tonight. I don’t know when they play Ecuador but I’m pretty sure I’ll have something more enjoyable to do. I’m arranging for someone to come round and stick red hot needles in me.

Talking of the World Cup, after watching Portugal the other night, I was left wondering - not for the first time – whether ‘Figo’ is Portuguese for ‘Fall down’. Shame to see such a wonderful player sunk so low. And so frequently.

The small ads for prostitutes and brothels at the back of the local papers are increasingly explicit, something I wouldn’t have thought possible a year or two ago. Today’s gem was a picture of an ‘Ex Miss Brazil’ who had the phrase ‘Final Days’ written along her naked thigh. As if she were in a sale. Or, like a pop diva, on tour. A perfect woman for not-so-Catholic Spain – A Madonna-like whore.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Well, the people of Catalunia finally voted on their new Constitution yesterday. Or, rather, just under 50% of them did. Of these, 75% approved it, meaning it passes into law with the endorsement of around 37% of the electorate. This, of course, allows everyone involved to claim some sort of victory - even the far-left party who regarded the proposals as insufficiently generous to Catalunia and so recommended abstention. The rest of us are just glad the long-running saga is finally over. Though we now have to endure similar polemical processes in several other regions, all of which are vying with each other to see what creative phrase they can come up with containing something akin to ‘nation’. I suppose it keeps the politicians busy. And the ‘nationalists’ happy. More or less. But I’m not convinced it’s good for Spain.

Another weekend, another cavalcade of road deaths. Or, to put in the words of a local paper today, “History repeats itself every weekend and the nightlife again leaves in its wake a river of blood on Galicia’s highways”. Among the corpses this time were 3 young people who drove through their own village at double the permitted speed of 50kph and hit a telegraph pole not far from their own homes. I find it hard to believe the police can’t do something to at least reduce this toll, if only parking cars outside the discos from which the kids stagger in the early hours of the morning. But, in this live-and-let-live culture, they seem to think this would be socially unacceptable. Perhaps things will change after the introduction of harsher penalties in July.

It’s not as if Galicia can afford to lose anyone on the roads. Last year it suffered a net 8,000 loss in its population, the highest in Spain. It would have been worse but for the 15,000 immigrants who compensated for the 20,000 people who left the region.

In a bookshop today, I was struck by an array of textbooks for every subject in which one can take the so-called ‘Oposiciones’. These are, essentially, exams you have to take for any lifetime job with the local government, including teaching. Every one of the text books was specially published by the Galician Xunta and I guess much the same happens in each of Spain’s other 16 regions, or Autonomous Communities. The cover of each book contained the insignia of the Xunta and the large acronym MAD. I have no idea what it stands for but it seemed rather appropriate to me.

A reader has suggested the incident I cited yesterday supports the use of ID cards but I beg to differ. The only reason the police knew the cards were fake was because the guy was dumb enough to have 26 of them in his possession at the same time. So the cards had obviously been:- 1. Not too difficult to obtain, and 2. Useful in the perpetration of previous crimes in which the falseness of his card was not detected. The fact he was caught this time was pure luck on the part of the police and had nothing to do with the effectiveness or otherwise of ID cards. If he’d had only one card on him, he would not have been arrested and could have continued his life of crime, despite the fact it was false.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Our local police this week impounded a car because the plates looked wrong. When the owner returned to reclaim it, they arrested him for some offence or other and then discovered he had 26 separate ID cards but no prints on the end of his fingers. So he was shipped off to the local jail, even though no one knows who he really is. Doesn’t do much for one’s faith in ID cards, does it?

Last night I watched the USA v. Italy match in Pontevedra’s only No Smoking bar. I had only one table in my line of vision and, although this was occupied by 4 young card players who cast ne’er a glance at the large screen, this was not too much of a distraction and I managed to enjoy the game. These young men were there again tonight but this time I had a second table in my line of vision and around this sat a young couple who preferred playing tongue-tag to watching the football. This was harder to take and so I left at half time. That’s the trouble with bloody non-smokers - they can’t be relied on to take an interest in things that really matter. Whoever would have thought I’d miss a crowd of raucous chain-smokers?

Galician Regionalism/Nationalism

Researching the word ‘Castrapo’ yesterday, I came across a site which goes into some depth on the Galician language. This is www.umoncton.ca/soeler/galiza_pol.htm and it’s an interesting read, so long as you can get past the sort of accusation we’ve become familiar with in the last few weeks - Spain is still an imperial power; the nation of Galicia has been repressed and colonised for 400 years; Spain is still a dictatorship and the PP party is a fascist organisation; the Galicians are held hostage by the Spanish; assisted by useful idiots who speak bastardised Gallego [Castrapo], Spain is bent on destroying the ancient culture and language of Galicia; etc., etc. Two of the most noteworthy claims are that, set against the restoration of the independence of Galiza, ‘Economics are not important,’; and ‘Galiza has had a rich Celtic tradition for over 2,000 years’. I suspect the electorate would find the first contention hard to stomach and I really wonder about the accuracy of the latter. A little later in my research I came across a Celtic site which contained the following snippet - In the 1960s Galicia’s bid to join the Celtic League was rejected on the grounds it lacked a Celtic language. Today the most visible assertion of Celtic culture in Galicia is in the field of music, notably through the Galician Bagpipe, or Gaita Galega. There are some, I have to say, who suggest the whole Celtic thing was re-invented in the 19 century to give more weight to the incipient Galician nationalist movement. There certainly was, of course, a Celtic culture in Spain but it wasn’t confined to Galicia and there appears to be little trace of Celtic-origin words in any of the Iberian languages. Just as in English there are only twelve, I believe. No staying power, obviously.

By the way, if you do go to this page, I think when the author writes ‘piggy English’ he/she means ‘pidgin English’.

Finally, if by any chance I have any French readers, I’d just like to remind them today is the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. I wouldn’t actually have known this but there was an article about it in that excellent rag, La Voz de Galicia.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Proof of Spain’s increasing wealth has come from a survey of per capita GDP among the 25 EU nations. Actually, 24 as the UK was not included. With the average set at 100, the range is from 248 [Luxembourg] to 50 [Latvia]. Germany and France are both at 110 and Italy at 103. Spain is at 99. In each of the latter two cases, I’m left wondering whether this includes the large ‘submerged’ economies as well as those above the water line.

A current ad for a Spanish travel agency has the strap line “The only thing small we have is the price’. This runs along the top of a large picture of part of a man’s or woman’s body. The former centres on a large bicep and the latter on – well, you don’t really need me to tell you, do you? This is Spain.

In Santa Cruz de Tenerife yesterday, the traffic police stopped a motor bike with 3 riders, all in regulation helmets. The middle one turned out to be a goat and the fore and aft humans were duly arrested. They took this calmly but the goat is reported to be seeking clarification of whether the mooted extension of human rights to primates will stretch to selected quadrupeds.

One of our local papers reports today the recent university entrance exam in the subject of Gallego threw up some horrific errors. But, then, where there is an Academy changing accepted practice every year, this is hardly surprising. No, what really interested me was the comment that people had written not just in Gallego and Spanish but also in ‘Castrapo’. This turns out to be Gallego bastardised by Spanish and is, naturally, disdained by all true sons of Galiza, especially those with ambitions of independence. I now wonder whether there are any Castrapo nationalists that I can gratuitously offend. If so, they may offer a higher standard of insult to what I’ve been used to recently. At least, if they were partly in Spanish, I’d have a better chance of understanding them.

Plagiarised Quote of the Week.

Massenet's work ‘Thaïs’ inspired, at its 1894 Paris première, the best shout from the gallery in the history of opera. The story: a monk refuses a courtesan's advances; she converts to Christianity; by that time, he has renounced it. He advances to seduce her. Refusing him, she dies as the curtain falls. The gallery cry? "Quick. While she's still warm!”.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Warning - A very positive comment coming up . . . I asked the most important man on the building site outside my front gate – the chap in the baseball cap with the Stop and Go signs - whether they really were going to chip noisily away until all the granite escarpment was gone. He said they were only widening the road by a couple of metres and that the new houses would be built on what’s left of the granite. I can’t wait for the pile-driving prior to the sinking of the foundations but at least my estimate of the lead time for construction has now reduced from 4/5 years to merely 2/3.

During this period, the houses will be bought and sold ‘off plan’ at least once, by property speculators. In fact, I read only yesterday 9% of homes in Spain are empty because they’ve been bought purely as an investment. This, of course, is because the EU’s low rate of interest is out of kilter with Spain’s inflation and so property is about the only honest way to get a real return on your money. But it does nothing to help Spain’s already difficult rental market. And the resulting ‘bum construcción’ has taken the prices of houses/flats increasingly out of the reach of first time buyers. Luckily for them, parents in Spain are used to subsidising their kids until they’re in their 30s. Or even their 40s.

Just in case you didn’t understand the Spanish phrase in the last paragraph, here’s a clue – It’s reported today that the high levels of immigration into Spain have caused a ‘baby bum’. In 2005, Spain had a fertility rate of 1.34, up from 1.33 in the previous year. This doesn’t sound like a major difference but it meant 11,025 more babies, largely thanks to the labours of Ecuadorian and Moroccan women, it seems. Despite this, Spain still falls below the EU average of 1.5 and is well beaten by Ireland (1.99), France (1.90), Finland (1.80) and Sweden (1.75).

Thursday, June 15, 2006

What a joy to see Spain playing such superb football last night. And reminding Sven Eriksson of the secrets of the game – playing people in their right positions, keeping possession, going forward, and stopping your goalkeeper hoofing the ball up to the single flimsy lighthouse which constitutes your entire attack. Spain is going through a golden period with individual sports stars such as Nadal and Alonso at the moment but what the country really needs - to counter its centrifugal pull - is a successful team, composed of players from all over the country. So, all strength to their elbows, even if it means beating England in the final. As of now, of course, this is the remotest of prospects.

The ETA terrorist organisation has announced that, although it is naturally committed to taking the peace process through to its end, it doesn’t see this happening until France recognises the Basque homeland and participates in the process. France has naturally said it’s got nothing to do with them. So the words ‘hell’, ‘freeze’ and ‘over’ spring to mind.

I said yesterday Spain is a saner place than the UK. What I definitely didn’t say was it’s safer. How could I? For, as these photos show, I’m currently living not so much near a building site as on it. Only 3 metres from my front gate, they’re dismantling a long granite escarpment which – over at least the next 2 years – will be replaced by a total of 18 houses. The dust and noise levels are intolerable for 8 hours a day but - consistent, with Spanish standards of consideration of others - we’ve been offered no apology for this disruption to our lives. Nor even an explanation of what’s going on. And the sole concession to safety is the helmet-less chap in the T-shirt waving cars past the active pile-drivers, bulldozers and trucks. But I suppose it could be worse; they could be dynamiting the granite. As it is, I expect the lamppost to be adorning my front garden very soon.

If you feel it’s unimaginable dynamite would feature in a residential area, think again. Two weeks ago – on the other side of my house – it was used on another site, shaking my windows and almost knocking to the ground three men repairing my neighbours’ roof. I couldn’t tell whether their shouts were in Spanish or Gallego but I doubt they were complimentary. Needless to say, the roof repairers were not in a safety harness of any sort.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

I regularly say life in Spain is more sane that in the UK. This thought struck me again today when I read that the British government is giving expectant fathers a booklet full of advice such as ‘Don’t have an affair while your partner is pregnant’. Actually, this seems rather sexist to me. Why doesn’t the government issue a booklet to all women below, say, 80 asking them to refrain from sleeping with men whose partner is pregnant?

Here’s a surprise – the Catalan government has said that, when it gets new powers under its controversially revised Statute, it’ll have to employ more civil servants, Spain’s most cosseted employees. Jobs for the boys, I guess. I don’t suppose they’ll need to be qualified in Spanish.

Another surprise – the Spanish Automobile Association is going to the courts for a ruling that the imminent points-based licence system conflicts with EU regulations. So does much of Spanish life but this usually doesn’t make any difference.

There was an hilarious film on TV this morning. Shot in 1960 in the Naval Academy in Galicia, it purported to show how wonderful life in the armed forces could be. And how easy it was to pick up beautiful [blonde!] girls in Pontevedra if you were dressed in a naval uniform. I couldn’t watch much but the highlight was surely a duet on a train from what must have been Spain’s answer to the Everly Brothers – El Dynamic Duo. Franco must have loved it. But possibly not his wife.

I moaned a few days ago about the hassle involved in getting a declaration that I pay taxes here in Spain. All the tax office has to do is stamp a box in a form provided [in Spanish] by the UK authorities, certifying that someone with my name, address and identity/fiscal number pays taxes in Spain. Last week this looked like taking 3 visits to the tax office and the copying of several documents that add nothing to the proof already on their files that I’ve paid taxes for 5 years. But, no. On my visit today, I was asked to provide yet another document – a certificate proving I am registered at the town hall. So at least 4 visits will be needed in the end. What next? A copy of a [non-existent] ‘Family Book’? A full size portrait in oils?? And this is when I’m trying to ensure I pay future taxes in Spain, rather than in the UK. Imagine what they’d require if I was trying to avoid taxes here. Exactly the same, I imagine.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Today’s papers carried reports of attacks yesterday on the president of the PP party by ‘young Catalan extremists’. Needless to say, they branded him a ‘fascist’ before roughing him up a bit. In the UK, where the only fascists have been a 1930s joke, this pejorative term carries no weight at all. I imagine much the same is true of the USA. But here in Spain, against the backcloth of a relatively recent fascist dictatorship, it’s naturally a heavyweight insult. Or, rather, it would be if it weren’t used by those on the left of the political spectrum for any shade of opinion even slightly to the right of them. In such a way is language devalued. Basically, it’s now a word used by juveniles to describe anyone who disagrees with them in any way. Especially ‘nationalists’, it would seem. So, fortunately, it won’t be long before it carries no weight here either.

To my surprise, there’s at least one statue of Franco still standing in Spain – in the military academy in Zaragoza. Not before time, the Minister of Defence has announced he’s pursuing its removal. On reflection, I suppose those opposing this really would be fascists.

From 2007, Spain will lose its number one position at the EU trough to Poland but, notwithstanding its recent economic growth and apparent widespread wealth, it will remain in the second position until at least 2013. That other poor country, Italy, is at no. 3 and Germany ranks no. 5. And it’s not pennies we’re talking about. It must make sense to someone.

One of the national papers today carried an article on prostitution in Germany during the World Cup. It headlined this with a quote from a Swedish Minister to the effect that the Swedes regard the buying of sex as a form of assault on women. I fear we might have to wait a while for this view to become common currency here.

Monday, June 12, 2006

This is the month of the university entrance exams in Spain – the Selectividad. With the exception of Navarra, numbers of university students have fallen throughout the country in recent years. The post popular subjects remain Law, Business Studies and Psychology and I’m assured the first of these is attractive not merely because of the surprisingly low average required for a Law course but because it’s considered a useful degree for a wide spread of careers. Particularly that of funcionario, or civil servant. Which is just as well as there’s nothing like the work available in Anglo Saxon countries for lawyers here. This, I stress, ranks as a very positive comment about Spain.

The student applicants may well be fewer but their grasp of technology is, of course, greater than ever; this year they’re being searched for phones which can carry copies of documents which might just prove useful to them over the next few hours.

On a wider front, although crime statistics are usually contentious, it’s nonetheless good news to read that delinquency in Spain has fallen 3% in the last year and that robbery with violence is down 13%. Tony Blair has possibly claimed something similar about UK crime rates but I get the impression no one believes a thing he says these days.

For some reason, the English football team is referred to here as Los pross, as in this example - La preocupante baja de Rooney había mutado la ilusión y esperanza de los ingleses de cara a este Mundial en una sensación de pesimismo y derrotismo que realmente no se correspondían con el potencial de los pross. Google has been no help to me in establishing the origin of this nickname so, if anyone knows, I’d appreciate the explanation. Incidentally, after the game against Paraguay, this sympathetic Spanish comment now looks rather misplaced.

Finally, my thanks to Neno for his kind comments. I always greatly appreciate comments from Galicians who take little or no offence at my jottings. I do hope it’s not just the morriña working in my favour.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

There was a huge protest in Madrid today against the government’s policy in respect of ETA and its ‘permanent ceasefire’. This points up one major difference between the terrorist problems of the UK and Spain. In the latter, the relatives of the victims actually live around the country, not in some province across the water which few on the mainland really care about. Perhaps if an ETA equivalent operated in one of Spain’s African enclaves things would be different but, as it is, the Spanish government is going to face this problematic constituency for some time. Whipped up, of course, by the ‘fascists’ of the PP party.

Which reminds me - The displaced Basque, Aleksu, tells us he and his ilk believe in a modern Europe without borders. This appears to be ETA-speak for an independent region/state which encompasses the current Basque Country, Navarre and part of southern France. So, not so much ‘no borders’ as ‘different borders’. Dream on, my antipodean friend.

The first study done since the anti-smoking law of January this year shows that the level of air-borne nicotine has decreased only 10% in bars where there’s now an adjacent [but not closed-off] no-smoking area and has actually risen by 21% in pubs and discos where there isn’t. There’s speculation the latter development is a reflection of defiance among the young. How depressing.

I’ve said a few times Spain’s economic trends would in the past have merited a devaluation of its currency. An article in one of today’s national papers addressed the question of whether things were now so critical Spain should leave the Euro. Needless to say, the answer was that it shouldn’t but some way really needed to be found to address the problems of high inflation, low productivity and a rapidly deteriorating trade balance. Unfortunately, no one has ever come up with one. So, roll on Armageddon.

England’s truly dismal performance again Paraguay last night got the lacerating treatment it fully deserved in the Spanish press today. Can there really be anyone left in England who believes they can win the World Cup? And is Seven Eriksson taking his revenge cold?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Well, our friend The Galician Gadfly seems to have got one thing right, viz. that modern Spaniards are very keen to demonstrate their progressive credentials. This thought struck me after reading today that ‘Under a law proposed by members of the ruling Socialist government, Spain would become the first country in the world to give chimpanzees, gorillas, orang-utans and other great apes some of the fundamental rights granted to human beings’. Needless to say, this has not been met with universal acclaim. At least not among human apes. No one really knows what the gorillas etc. think about it.

The Bank of Spain has expressed concern about the growth in personal credit. On daytime TV here – as in the UK – most of the advertising now relates to easy loans. In an article on this, I read there are actually 400 consumer protection companies in Spain – which came as something of a [pleasant] surprise. The oldest and biggest still goes under the name of The Housewives Association, which shows perhaps just how far feminism hasn’t gone in Spain.

To the reader who asked for my defence to the accusation of constant negativity about Spain, I offer the first two paragraphs of my blog of 2nd Feb. this year. And my thanks for the nice comments about my writing.

Even more thanks go to Alex for supporting my approach. At times like this I’m reminded of the Hungarian writer, George Mikes, whose 1946 book ‘How to be an Alien’ was welcomed by the British, despite being a trenchant criticism of their entire culture. And became a best seller.

I agree wholeheartedly the Spanish are a hospitable, warm people who know how to enjoy the simple things of life. This makes them fabulous companions for an evening out. As I’ve said before, probably the best in the world. But these qualities alone do not make for good neighbours, friends, students, employees, civil servants, citizens, etc., etc. So why do I live here? Because – with all its faults – Spanish society is decidedly more sane than any of today’s Anglo-Saxon societies. And, at my time of life, I can easily enjoy the positive aspects of life here and live with the faults, even if I do rant on about them. Would that it made me as rich as it did George Mikes!

Finally . . . Aleksu. What can I say? This is a man who believes he can intuit my views on Israel from nil mentions of the place in 3 years of writing. And who thinks that, if I say the same thing or ask the same question as someone else, I become that person. By this logic, if I say ‘God bless you’, I am the Pope. And I suppose becoming a vegetarian would make me Hitler. To state the blindingly obvious, Aleksu, what the professor was talking about was differing philosophical notions/definitions of ‘nationhood’. He was saying, I suppose, it would be more convincing if the Basques made their case on the basis of modern concepts. Here, for example, is a discredited notion of nationhood – ‘Sabino Arana, like many Europeans of his time, believed that the essence of a country was defined by its blood’. As did Hitler, of course. But not that other ‘mass murderer’, Winston Churchill. As far as I know.

Finally, finally – just in case there’s any doubt, the women who offered me the characteristics of Spanish men I quoted yesterday were all Spanish. Not disenchanted British ladies.

Friday, June 09, 2006

I give a conversation class once a week to a group of English teachers from one of the town’s main colleges. This is so enjoyable, I really should pay them. Last week, when the only male member of the group was absent, I asked the four women to define the positive and negative characteristics of Spanish men. On the plus side, they felt their male compatriots were friendly, outgoing, easy to talk to and relatively good with their kids - though the ladies baulked at my suggestion that Spanish men were well-mannered and chivalrous. On the downside, Spanish men were labelled [good humouredly] macho, sexist, jealous, possessive, undomesticated and immaturely prone to run away from problems. Thanks to the insights provided by the Galician Gadfly, I’m now half-convinced this stereotypical image all us foreigners have of Spanish men was deliberately fostered by Franco. Though God knows why. With one daughter living in Madrid and another thinking of moving there, I’d be relieved to be told it’s not true of the ‘real Spain’.

Incidentally, I thought it was interesting that all the positive male traits could be attributed to women as well. In fact, I suspect they’re the first things that spring to mind when foreigners want to describe Spaniards in general. In a nutshell, Spanish men and women are alike when it comes to their positives and differ only when it comes to their negatives. Not that I have yet discovered any negatives about Spanish women. Except for the snotty Pontevedra pijas who regularly walk across my path as they exit the town’s numerous boutiques as if they owned the pavements.

A Spanish professor of politics has said the concept of ‘nation’ favoured by Spain’s separatists is a mixture of medieval and 18th century notions. Or in his words – ‘The idea of nation held by the separatists is at one and the same time both medieval and yet based on a future which is utopian’. What this means, of course, is they look fondly backwards and forwards at the same time, without taking much stock of the present and its actualities. That should go down well with my favourite Catalan, Basque and Galician correspondents.

Which reminds me – the Galician Gadfly has sent us what he says will be his last message. What a shame. The more he wrote, the more I laughed. And, just like Alexsu, he’s arrogant enough to think I take his imbecilic and histrionic views seriously and am angered by them. Or would want to stop the rest of the world enjoying them. Priceless. The shame is they both speak excellent English and could be using it in a much more productive way. But then Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin slaughtered thousands of Russia’s intelligentsia, after they’d murdered millions of peasants, of course. So things could be worse. Anyway, Goodnight Gadfly. And good luck for when you leave your parents’ house and have your first taste of non-theoretical independence. Final word of advice – follow your nose and stick to the small circle of people who read the proceedings of the III International. You’ll be a much happier camper.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

I’m not sure why but the Spanish public radio and TV company [RTVE] has proposed to the unions a deal under which 4,000 of its employees will be allowed to retire at 52 on 87% of their salary. Not only that, they’ll be allowed to take another job without this affecting their pension. Nice work if you can get it. It’s taxpayers’ money, of course, so painlessly spent but I personally think it would be better invested in fixing my teletext service, which hasn’t worked properly for several months now.

Down in Pontevedra’s main square, there’s a delightful exhibition of the colours and smells of Andalucia. This features mock trading stalls, houses and a whole range of spices for one to smell. Galicians, however, are notoriously conservative when it comes to food so I wasn’t too surprised to read comments in the book about the exhibition being nice but bad-smelling. Or to find myself behind people assuring their partners ‘Of course, I don’t really like all this foreign muck’. All very reminiscent of my own mother when I first tried to cook curries in her kitchen and she told me she’d never be able to use her pans again. Needless to say, Asian restaurants are thin on the ground in Galicia, especially if you discount the Hispanicised Chinese places.

It’s not only in Catalunia that Spanish is losing out to the local ‘co-official’ language. Here in Galicia – or in this part at least – nothing comes out of local government in anything but Gallego. This contrasts with only a few years ago when documents were in both languages. Nationalists tend to put economic considerations way down their list so I don’t suppose they care but I know this promotion of Gallego is off-putting for money-bringing British families who consider moving here with young children. Simply put, they don’t want their kids to have to learn two foreign languages, one of which is of no use to them outside Galicia. Would it really kill the local authorities to issue documents in both languages? Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a legal obligation to do so.

Happily for me, the Andalucia exhibition mentioned above is travelling around the country so all the information is in Spanish. However, the glossy leaflet handed to you at the door is only in Gallego. And, in my view, utterly redundant since everyone can read the placards in Spanish. But it’s so easy to spend other peoples’ money. Especially on a ‘good cause’. Or when you want to ‘make a statement’.

Footnote 1: The Catalan government says it's been traduced; it insists it hasn't diluted the anti-smoking law and that owners of large bars have deliberately misinterpreted its comments. So it's not true that only bad news comes out of that region/Autonomous Community/national reality/real nationality/nation.

Footnote 2: My thanks to the Galician Gadfly, Duardón de Albaredo [or whatever his real name is]. Firstly, for revealing more of his mindset and, secondly, for opening my eyes. Although I’m pushing 60 and have worked in some of the most complex parts of the world, I never realised how naïve I was. It turns out that the slogan ‘Spain is different’ was not the simple and effective marketing ploy I thought it was – aimed at tourists - but a coded message from Franco directed at the governments of other countries, telling them to let him keep on raping and pillaging Galicia into the 70s and beyond. Assisted, no doubt, by his fascist heirs in the PP party.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

El Pais is a left-of-centre newspaper so it was a little surprising to see it today praising the British government for not intervening in the purchase of BAA by a Spanish consortium. This contrasted, they said, this with the ‘economic patriotism’ of Spain and other countries around utility companies. Mind you, I can’t recall where El Pais stood a few weeks ago on the issue of the purchase of a Spanish energy company by a German giant. Quite possibly on the same ground.

Save only for the Greeks and the Portuguese, the Spanish are said to be the European nation least interested in politics. But the most active at demonstrating in the street. This rather put me in mind of a comment written by Gerald Brenan in the 1930s – ‘It is a characteristic of Spaniards to be satisfied with gestures and with petty acts of defiance and courage and to neglect the real heart of the matter.’ Perhaps he was right, if a little harsh.

Not all appears to be well in the world of bullfighting. I see little but critical headlines these days and this opening sentence caught my eye today- ‘Fraud, deceit, betrayal of all those who’ve paid to attend and a ragman’s knife[sic] in the very heart of the fiesta of the bulls.’ And then the writer went on to become quite critical.

It wouldn’t be a show without Punch. Gerry Adams was in Bilbao again yesterday, giving advice to ETA’s political arm, Batasuna. Representatives of the latter may or may not be about to meet with the Spanish government, despite it being illegal. My guess is Mr Adams’ advice was ‘Hold out for everything you want and don’t be too scrupulous about fulfilling your side of any bargain.’

THE TOWER OF BABEL

Circumstances change principles. When the Spanish government had the EU Constitution printed in Valencian, the Catalan government objected and insisted this wasn’t necessary, as they were the same language. Today we read it has banned the use in Catalunian schools of something written in Valencian, as only Catalan is allowed for education purposes. Or something like that.

SPANISH/GALICIAN POLITICS AND CULTURE

Duardón has written from Albaredo [near Lugo] to say:-

1. Many people just cannot accept that Spain is a multinational state. There are 4 nations. Even Spain admits this in the Spanish constitution.

Well, this reluctance may arise because, according to Wikipedia at least, “The Spanish Constitution, although affirming the sovereignty of the Spanish Nation, recognises historical nationalities.” And to most people, ‘historical nationalities’ is simply not the same as ‘nations’. Or to quote Wikipedia again –“The Spanish Constitution of 1978 … recognizes historic entities (‘nationalities’, a carefully chosen word in order to avoid ‘nations’) and regions, inside the unity of the Spanish nation.” All that said, I doubt that anyone outside Spain really cares abut these word games. If you want to believe there is one supra-nation and four nations, no one is going to stop you. And this is because it doesn’t really matter to anyone except you.

2. The image I and others have of Spain is a Francoist invention and that it’s our problem, not Spain’s.

Hmm. I wonder if he’s read any books written by foreign authors long before Franco announced - via fellow Gallego Sr. Fraga - that Spain was ‘different’. He could, perhaps, start with Galicia vista por un inglés, which is available in Gallego and written in the 1920s. Then there’s The Bible in Spain, written in the 1830s. Or The Spanish Labyrinth, written in the 1930’s by an Englishman [Gerard Brenan] who detested the Fascists but who – as you know if you’ve got this far - made remarks about Spanish traits rather similar to those one hears today.

3. Spain is recovering its soul.

I presume he means after its semi-destruction by the Fascists. I don’t really know what he’s saying here but I’m all for the erasure of the last traces of Fascism. Unless this means re-establishing kingdoms not seen for several hundred years.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

In England there’s no regional layer of government such as there is in Spain and Germany, for example. There’s the central government and then the 45 counties, which probably equate to the provinces within Spain’s regions [‘Autonomous Communities’]. It’s arguable this means less democracy and more centralisation in England compared with Spain. On the other hand, England seems to be free of the ‘politicking’ that goes on endlessly in Spain, with each regional government trying to leapfrog the last one at the central trough. I guess this helps to justify their existence but I wonder how they manage things in Germany.

The Catalan government has become the latest to weaken the anti-smoking legislation introduced nationally in January. As in Madrid, Valencia and La Rioja, large bars will not, after all, be obliged to close off the space provided for smokers but will be allowed to get away with a much smaller investment in ‘improved ventilation’. I hold out less and less hope that my favourite bar/café will be no-smoking by the deadline of 1st September. I suppose this counts as greater democracy.

This week we’ve been told that Channel 1 has the youngest viewers, Channel 5 the oldest and Channel 2 the richest. Frankly – having seen the programs – I’m surprised they have any viewers at all. At 11.30 tonight, for example, we have one of those documentaries which are the staple of serious TV in Spain – An examination of the important societal role played by female breasts. But at least it’s not another analysis of the problem of prostitution.

In a countrywide survey, Pontevedra emerges as the Galician city with the highest quality of life, though it ranks only 24th out of 54 nationally. Somewhat to my surprise, the elegant city of La Coruña achieves only a national ranking of 50. Maybe they’re very inbred up there.

REGIONAL/NATIONAL POLITICS: CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER

Aragón has become the latest region to demand that it be given the status of ‘national community’. And its own tax office.

The Vice President of the Galician Institute for Analysis and Documentation[?] has suggested that the region’s new Statute should incorporate a provision giving Galicia the right to act independently of the Spanish state in foreign affairs and, for example, sign agreements with countries where Portuguese is spoken. In this way, he says, Macao could act as Galicia’s gateway to China. And I suppose Brittany could be the gateway to France for Cornwall. And Cornwall could be the gateway to Wales for Brittany. Endless possibilities.


Finally, to the anonymous Spanish reader who says he/she doesn’t have the characteristics I ‘blithely’ attribute to his/her compatriots – Which characteristics specifically? When I know this, I will be happy to respond. Or to put it as he/she [characteristically?] did – Amplification, please.

Finally, finally ... I've just discovered Google thinks my blog has the characteristics of a 'spam-blog'. This means I now have to verify a wiggly word before I can post my comments. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. They say they'll have someone review my case and let me know. I do hope this includes a fulsome apology. What on earth are their criteria? I'm hoping it's a recognition that hits have reached almost 25,000. But I suspect it's because I mentioned 'erectile dysfunction' a couple of days ago. Oops. Done it again.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The night train is, for me at least, a wonderful way to get to and from Madrid. It may take 10 hours but for most of these I’m asleep and the early part of the trip from Pontevedra takes you right along the edge of one of the prettiest bays in the world. So much better than all the hassle and inconvenience of flying. Ironically, when I got off the train this morning I read in one of the local papers that Galicia is the worst served region in Spain as regards railways. And things are not scheduled to get much better for several years.

Talking of Galicia, I wonder whether the nationalists would be prepared to take a leaf out of Prince’s book and call it The Region That Used To Be Called The Kingdom Of Galicia. Perhaps Trubecalkog in the English acronym. And something like Lareqsollekedegal in Spanish/Gallego. I imagine not.

An editorial in Mundo yesterday on the subject of the negotiations with ETA opined that “Peace won’t be possible until the murderers seek forgiveness from the victims and time is allowed to heal the scars of the wounds. We are still a long way from this.” Maybe but there is, as the British government knows, another way to peace and this is to give the terrorists more or less everything they want. A sort of peace, anyway.

The Catalan government’s language policy took another step forward last week, when it was announced that Spanish in schools is to be reduced to the same level of importance as that other useful but not essential foreign tongue, English. As they well know, the current government lacks the will and the clout to do much about this strategy of creeping secession. Even though it contravenes the Constitution. More work for the lawyers, I suppose.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Save for the problem of gangs of pickpockets, it's usually a joy to travel on Madrid's ultramodern underground, or Metro. For one thing, there's very little advertising. Though this does rather deprive us of pictures of beautiful young people in their underwear. A fair price to pay, some would doubtless argue.

Another impressive feature of Madrid is its zoo, though these are not, of course, to everyone's taste. This lies in the middle of the Casa del Campo, a park during the day but a huge open-air brothel at night. But not only then; even at 4 in the afternoon a handful of prostitutes ply their trade on the main avenues, blithely ignored by picnickers, joggers, hikers and most of the cars. Very Spanish, as Time Out puts it. Which reminds me, while waiting for my younger daughter to finish some shopping on Gran Via, I went into a little church in one of the nearby squares. Hard to avoid noticing were the 4 prostitutes leaning on the wall on either side of the entrance. At 11.30 of a Saturday morning. Madonnas and whores again, I guess. Very Spanish.

Taking a cup of coffee with my elder daughter this morning, we were surrounded by guests at a First Holy Communion. One of these was a young woman in Goth attire. This included a mini-skirt (black naturally) that didn't quite reach the lace tops of her stockings. The latter, being white, appeared to be her only concession to the occasion. A nice touch, we thought. And very Spanish.

They certainly like their singing divas here. One of the most famous has recently passed away and words such as 'Goddess' have been liberally sprayed around the media. According to one newspaper, her funeral cortege would not have shamed one of the traditional (and highly 'colourful') religious processions of Easter Week. I guess she's warbling for the saints now. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Catholic Church now faced demands for this status to be visited on her.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

In its keenness [desperation?] to ensure a true ETA ceasefire, the government has leaned on the judiciary to go easy on the terrorist group’s political arm, Batasuna, and has even set up a meeting with this [illegal] organisation so that it can ‘stare into their eyes’. This has not only produced apoplexy on the part of the right-of-centre opposition party but has also led one of its own socialist deputies in the EU parliament to voice harsh criticism of the strategy. Interesting times.

I was astonished to read earlier this week that the Senegalese government had agreed to repatriation of the boat people who’d arrived in the Canaries. But I was rather less surprised to read that the first planeload of these unfortunate souls had been denied landing rights and turned back. It turns out Spain’s ’economic aid’ to Senegal needs to be increased. The least surprising event of the week.

Flicking through the report of one of this week’s bullfights in Madrid, I came across the word ‘disorejado’. This means ‘dis-eared’ and I wonder whether this is the time it’s been coined in English. I fear, though, that that old fraud Hemingway beat me to it.

Talking of words - Here are 3 I wouldn’t have ever expected to see together – Fiat Panda Monster. This is a 4x4 version, of course.

As of now, I’m not at all clear which Spanish TV channels will be showing the imminent World Cup. And I’m not convinced anyone else is either. My impression is things won’t be clarified until we have a court verdict on a case being brought by some established channels against two new channels recently set up by the government and allegedly owned by some of their major financial supporters. Worrying times.

Finally, to the reader who said he/she’d like to read my archives – these are now available. But only temporarily. . . .

Friday, June 02, 2006

There's a sign in a cafe near my daughter's flat which reads "You are allowed to smoke in here and may things be as God wants them to be." Obviously, then, He's a smoker.

Spain ranks only second to Italy in Europe for per capita use of energy. Apart from the possibility of airconditioning, I can't understand why this should be. Anyone got any ideas?

On the issue of English translations again - I went to the Pontevedra museum a while ago and offered to provide English labels for the exhibits, free of charge. The response was underwhelming, to say the least. I was told they'd get in touch with me when the new building opened in a couple of years' time. We'll see. Of course, one problem here is that there's not much of a tradition of community service and offers of free help are often treated with supicion. Especially if they're going to deprive someone of work. Or a budget.

Spanish readers must sometimes wonder why I rail so much against the bureacracy here. Well, here's one good example. I need a statement from the Spanish Inland Revenue that I pay tax here. This simply requires confirmation that the person with my name, address and fiscal number is a tax payer in Spain. In the UK, this would mean you sending a letter and waiting for the statement to be sent to you by mail. Here, it involves at least 3 time-wasting trips to the tax office and the copying of several documents which add absolutely nothing to the existing knowledge of the tax office that I've made 8 declarations and pay spanish taxes. Needless to say, one of these is my residence card. But not content with this, they've also sought a copy of my application for the card. Bloody good job I kept it. But, then, one throws away documents at one's peril in Spain. In this paper-obsessed culture, you never know when you will need one or a hundred copies of it.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Near my daughter's flat in Madrid there's an engaging looking florists. One of the things they specialise in is large vases of orchids, sometimes more than two feet [60cm] tall. I know this as I often see young men on scooters or mopeds balancing a vase on one knee while they negotiate one-handedly through the crowded, narrow streets of Malasaña. The other hand, of course, is holding the vase. So they're not completely crazy.

The UK has the dubious honour of ranking first in Europe when it comes to the incidence of crime. Spain is way down the list, with a rate which is only half that of Britain. And in Galicia, it's only a fraction over a quarter of the UK rate. However, we do have the occasional gang of Rumanians which tries hard to improve our rankings, usually by breaking down the doors of flats and clearing them of their contents.

Yet another of thos sex surveys, this time about the performance of Spanish men. Apparently they rank highly in terms of average time per session. At 22.5 minutes, they come second only to Mexicans, who manage 23. To no one's great surprise, they also rank [I almost wrote 'score'] highly as regards infidelity, defined as 'one night'. And they also do well when it comes to trying new postures. But they're only 15th for number of times per week [3] and are way down the list at giving their partner an orgasm every time. Only 37% achieve this, against 62% with Italians and 58% with Hungarians. One wonders, then, what Spanish men are doing for twenty two and a half minutes.

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