Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Spanish press regularly berates the USA for not having signed up to Kyoto, even though emissions have fallen very slight there since the treaty was signed. In contrast, Spain is one of a group of EU countries which, as one commentator has put it, are emitting as if Kyoto doesn't exist. The others, by the way, are Italy, Portugal and Ireland

Talking of failed promises - we are in the final stages of elections in Catalunia. Given the participants are nearly all demagogic ‘nationalists’, this has not been an edifying spectacle. But the most interesting aspect is that the brave group fighting for the retention of the Spanish language in the region may well win a seat or two. Vamos a ver.

During October, nil work was again carried out on the [illegal?] building site in front of my house. In contrast, the Portuguese workers on the other side laboured mightily throughout the month, even during the 3 weeks of heavy rain. This may well turn out to be the shortest construction project in the history of Spain.

Finally, a little vignette which [I believe] clearly demonstrates what I recently wrote about Spanish manners. The action takes place at a car park pay machine where there are 3 of us – me, a man and a woman - waiting on a guy who is more interested in his mobile phone conversation than in mastering the machine. As he finally finishes, the man steps forward, only for the woman [who I now realise is his wife] to say ‘Darling, I think this gentleman was before us.’ Thinking I am a foreigner who doesn’t speak Spanish - a reasonable conclusion in Santiago - he replies ‘It doesn’t matter. There’s only one of me’. The woman casts a slightly embarrassed look at me and I say I really don't mind. The husband finishes and, now that I am on his radar screen, apologises profusely to me.

Monday, October 30, 2006

To my not-very-great surprise, Galicians turn out to be the biggest eaters of beef and pork in Spain and the lowest consumers of fruit and vegetables. They also use the most oil in cooking. And rank top when it comes to chocolate and sugar. It’s a surprise any of them get past 60.

I’m a bit busy with visitors at the moment and so finding it hard to read the press that gives me so many of the things I write about. But, with perfect timing, along comes a reader to give me the sort of praise that cheers me up no end. So, instead of just letting it appear as a comment that few might read, I thought I’d let everyone enjoy it. So here it is:-
You’re an asshole
Fucking Galicians
Fucking you and your mother
Bastard

So, probably not the book critic from The Guardian.

Still scraping the barrel, here’s my short monthly list of the most entertaining search terms that brought readers to this blog in October:-
deaf princess leonor
animal brothels
lady accepts chip in Spain
spain hymen [From a searcher in Turkey]

John Dalton was an English chemist and physicist, famous for his research into colour blindness . I mention this because tonight I discovered that the Spanish for this condition is daltonismo. And ‘colour blind’ is daltónico.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

I drove today through areas outside Pontevedra devastated by the fires in August. After 3 weeks of solid rain and 3 days of hot sun, I guess it wasn’t surprising the charred ground was already covered by young ferns. What did throw me, though, was a thick, vine-like growth covering the trunks of those eucalyptus trees whose upper foliage had not been destroyed. On close inspection, this turned out to be neither vines nor creeper but numerous leaves sprouting straight out of the trunk. Leaf growth on eucalyptus is usually sparse even on branches so I guess this is testament to the famous recovery properties of this remarkable but unwelcome foreign invader. On the plus side, the trees are so close together, the aggregation of the green mantles on each of the trunks will make the forests pretty vivid places before long.

Galicia Facts

The Voz de Galicia reported today that house prices up near Ourense have tripled in the last 5 years because of the demand from Brits in search of the new Tuscany.

The reduction in fatal car accidents since the introduction of a points-based licence in June is forecast to bring us reduced insurance premiums. But since Galicia’s reduction has been less than elsewhere, my guess is it will still be more expensive here.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

After being bit hit by dreadful fires in August, some of Galicia’s coastal towns have now been devastated by floods caused by October’s unprecedented rainfall. And by the local government’s failure to protect them against the predictable tragedy of tons of ashes and mud being washed down on to the beaches and the shellfish breeding areas.

The Spanish like to see themselves as non-racist. But, as someone once commented, it’s easy to be tolerant when you’ve nothing to tolerate. Immigrant numbers have been rising quickly in recent years and, for the first time, concern about immigration has now replaced unemployment as the number one worry for the populace. In third position is housing, with terrorism falling to fourth. It’s ironic, then, that the Spanish government has said it will suspend the current peace process if ETA is proved to be behind a raid in south France which netted hundreds of small arms.

I recently alluded to the Health and Safety Gestapo in the UK. So I was naturally amused to read that residents of one town there plan to forego the annual burning of Guy Fawkes on November 5’s Bonfire Night and immolate an effigy of an H&S executive instead.

For non-Brits – Guy Fawkes was hung, drawn and quartered in 1605 for attempting to blow up the British parliament. Some think this would be far too lenient for H&S executives.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The minks recently released by animal rights people up near La Coruña have begun to terrorise both farm animals and their owners. So far, their victims are said to include one dog and fifty chickens. I wonder how the activists feel about the death of innocent bystanders.

‘Doggy bags’ are not a Spanish custom but I was told today of a growing trend to let you take your unfinished wine bottle home. This seems eminently sensible for all parties. You avoid the risk of exceeding the now-enforced alcohol limits and the restaurant gets to sell you a full bottle of wine instead of a couple of glasses.

The end of October brings with it the feast of All Saints. This is the day on which Spaniards clean up and bedeck with flowers the graves of their departed loved ones. Both the roads around them and the cemeteries themselves are jam-packed with people for much of November 1. Ostensibly, they’re there to pay their respects. But, talking about his yesterday with a friend, it emerged that this was essentially a social occasion. You get to meet up with and chat to friends and family. I really shouldn’t have been surprised.

Walking through town yesterday, I was passed by a car whose driver was holding a phone to her ear with her left hand and a piece of paper she was reading from in her right hand. And they say the Spanish suffer from low productivity!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Whenever I’ve lost my ADSL line, I’ve used the cyber café which is en route to my regular café/bar. This is run by a man who’s hitherto always been very affable. But yesterday, when I asked him why the amount he charged me was always higher than that on the screen, his attitude changed considerably. If I understood his rapid-fire, South American accent, his response was that we weren’t talking about much money and he didn’t have any idea why there should be a difference. I think I do. It happens all over the world, of course, when you can’t see what’s being shown on the screen or cash register. I first fell victim to it as a young man passing through Amsterdam airport. The chap in the left luggage office – I later read – was notorious for placing a piece of cardboard over the customer’s view of the cost he rang up on the till and charging you an extra Guilder. That, too, wasn’t much money. But it must certainly have mounted up.

The Spanish president, Mr Zapatero, has proposed a triple-element bi-partisan approach to the problems currently dominating the media here – achieving a permanent ceasefire with ETA, controlling illegal immigration, and dealing with the vast and wide-spread corruption arising from the construction ‘bum’ of the last decade. However, the opposition leader has rejected this, possibly because he wants to be free to claim skulduggery always soars here when the socialists get back into power. Of course, to him it doesn’t matter if this is true or not, so long as it’s credible to the populace. Which – thanks to the last socialist administration – it certainly is.

I read a review yesterday of a book which compares the origins and growth of the Spanish and British empires. I was intrigued by one of the points apparently made – viz. that the British colonies benefited from the export of democratic values, whereas the Spanish colonies suffered from the export of caudillismo [‘autocratic government’] that they’ve not yet been able to shake off. I was also interested in the comment that the Spanish empire had scored higher than its British equivalent in the area of humane treatment promoted by the Catholic Church. Hmmm. If I understand this, it’s because the British took their time to get round to such measures as the abolition of slavery. I suppose it’s true the Spanish didn’t enslave the Aztecs or the Incas. But, then, it’s hard to get a corpse to make your dinner.

There are some new statues in the car park of the nearby School for Granite Carvers. If it ever stops raining, I’ll take some photos and post them.

Galicia Facts

Talking of the weather, here’s a few statistics about the current rainfall. The first figure is the annual average for each city over the last 30 years, in cubic metres. The second is the amount of water which fell in the first 3 weeks of this month:-
Pontevedra 1778/902 = 51%
Ourense 794/415 = 52%
Santiago 1862/545 = 29%
Lugo 958/421 = 44%

And, yes, this was posted at 6.39 in the morning . . .

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I lost my ADSL line late Sunday, possibly as a result of the storms which hit the Galician coast this weekend. So, here is the blog I couldn’t post on Monday night:-

Monday 23 Oct. 2006

In common with much of continental Europe, Spain doesn’t make it easy or quick to set up and run your own business. It’s certainly not possible to be up an running as a sole trader or even with a limited company in 24 hours, as you can be in the UK. And, once you’ve started, you’re hit with requirements such as an obligation to pay 2-300 euros a month social security payments even if you’re not selling a bean. And to make tax returns quarterly instead of annually. This, at least, is the law but in Spain things are never this simple. Pragmatism rules and most would-be entrepreneurs naturally chose to operate in a grey world, where they don’t formally establish themselves and so don’t comply with these requirements. Or not until they’re making money, at least. But the really Spanish aspect of all this is that the authorities are well aware of this – as they are with the main tax dodges involved in buying a house – but turn a blind eye. In fact, when my daughter inquired at the local tax office about setting up in business, she was effectively advised to start out like this and come back when she was in profit. This pragmatic way of doing things is not, of course, unique to the laws around business taxes. I suppose the Spanish might be prepared to call it taking the Nelsonian approach if he hadn’t destroyed their entire fleet at Trafalgar.

A shop called Rocio in Pontevedra advertises its wares as ‘Underwear and Babies’. Perfect for Madonna, then.

And here is yesterday’s post . . .

Tuesday, 24 October 2006

When you’ve been in a culture long enough, things finally start to come together. And apparent contradictions suddenly seem compatible. Like Giles Tremlett [‘Ghosts of Spain’], I’ve often wondered how spoilt, self-centred children can turn into such admirably unaggressive adolescents. And how adults who appear, at times to be so ‘independent’ [i. e. selfish] can, at other times, be among the most polite people imaginable. My latest theory is that the spoilt kids certainly acquire manners [possibly by osmosis] but never recover from the fact they’re never taught to actually think of others before themselves. What adults end up with is what I call ‘passive politeness’. In effect, if they’re not aware of your existence [and they naturally don’t have good antennae], they can come across as very rude. But, if you do register on their radar screen, they immediately transmogrify into exceptionally polite people. And because they can do this, they’re very affronted by the suggestion they’re ill-mannered [mal educado]. In fact, this seems to be one of the stronger insults in Spain. Though not as bad as being called a billy goat. Anyway, this – as I say – is my current theory and you’re welcome to pull it apart. Politely, I hope. Right or wrong, I do know the best way to ensure you’re treated civilly in Spain is to force your way into someone’s consciousness. Telling them they are obstructing your view, or standing on your foot, for example. No people on earth apologises more profusely than the Spanish once their innate politeness is activated. Not a country for shrinking violets, then.

It never rains but it pours. The coast of Galicia has been hit by severe storms this week and several places are now under inches of the mud that has flowed down from the mountains, unimpeded by the trees that served this purpose before they were destroyed by August’s dreadful fires. An autumn best forgotten, then. Mind you, not everything is down to cruel Nature. Illegal house- building is said to have provided the water with new escape routes to the sea.


Galicia Facts

There are said to be between 15 and 18,000 illegal immigrants here. But this represents only 2.5% of the population, against 8.5% for Spain as a whole and 16% in the Balearic Islands.

Following the introduction of an anti-smoking law last January, sales have generally fallen throughout Spain this year. This reflects a cessation of smoking in workplaces far more than any reduction in bars, cafés or restaurants. Here in Galicia, though, sales have risen by more than 4%. But this is attributed to border-hopping Portuguese, taking advantage of the fact it’s cheaper to kill yourself here than back home.

And today’s

With 6 days still to go, it’s already the wettest, most miserable October in 30 years.

I am still without my ADSL connection. And will have to wait at least 20 minutes on a premium line to talk to anyone about this, followed by 5 minutes proving that I am who I say I am.

What more do you need to know??

Sunday, October 22, 2006

When the day dawned at 8.45 this morning, nothing happened; it stayed as black as night. The reason, of course, is that the Atlantic had decided to drop on us again. I wonder if this happens in last year’s version of ‘the new Tuscany'. Or in ‘old Tuscany’ itself.

No politician loses his grip on reality quicker than a nationalist demagogue. The latest madness to come out of Catalunia is a proposal that immigrants should earn full social security entitlements on the basis of points gained for various personal developments. Figuring prominently would be the need to learn Catalan. But nul points for Spanish, of course.

In the UK, the pursuit of a risk-free society has led to the madness of a Health and Safety Gestapo. Happily, Spain is nowhere near this state of affairs. But one does occasionally regret a certain lack of seriousness. Having bought some hedge-cutters yesterday, I then reduced the shop assistant to a state of utter consternation by asking where the safety glasses might be.

Galicia Facts

The average height of the Galician male is now 1.74 metres, the same as for Spain as a whole. This compares with1.68/1.69 in 1975 and 1.62/1.63 in 1920. For Americans and Brits of my generation, these are roughly 5’9”, 5’7” and 5’5”.

According to a local newspaper, ‘Galicia and Wales [Pais de Gales] have more in common than their name, their culture, their cuisine and their ‘idiosyncrasies’. Hence the establishment of a Centre of Galician Studies in Bangor, North Wales. This will 'make available courses on Galician language, contemporary narrative and politics for students of Hispanic Studies. It will also promote the Galician language and culture through a series of joint projects with the Department of Welsh Studies at the University. In particular, the Centre will launch a Writers in Residence Scheme for new Galician writers, who will be invited to stay in the region and participate in seminars, workshops and round tables with local academics, students, translators and writers'. What they won’t be doing, of course, is looking for any similarities between the Welsh and Galician languages, as they are non-existent.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

If you’re British, feeling very chipper and in need of something to bring you down a bit, get hold of a copy of “The Great Deception” and open it anywhere. This fascinating book catalogues the disasters which have hit the UK since it entered the EU and contrasts this with what’s happened elsewhere. In France and Spain, for example. If you’re a fisherman or farmer, you’ll be particularly depressed at what you read. Not that you will have been feeling too good in the first place. Any page will do but p. 416 would be hard to beat.

In the last 6 months, I’ve been involved in what’s called here a calvario in an attempt to get compensation from a certain low-cost airline for a cancelled flight. They finally agreed to pay this but then, guess what, wrote to tell me my last letter didn’t include the receipts mentioned in it. Brilliant! How can I hope to succeed against such blatant chicanery? But I will make one last heave.

Here’s a few items from the English version of a local menu. Cheap laughs but, hey, it’s Saturday . . .
Knives
Squid in ring
Varied chart
Normal salad
Quick shave with clams
Pig meat itched with sauce
Nipple with quince
Custard of homemade egg

Friday, October 20, 2006

Two interesting reports in today’s papers. Firstly, property prices in the last year rose [very slightly] below 10% for the first time in many years. Secondly, a developer somewhere in the south garnered a profit of 75 million euros in just 2 years, after his friend in the town planning office reclassified some land out in the wilds. I wonder if the latter will be facing any sort of prosecution, like the two politicians reported today to have deposited huge sums in an Andorran bank.

Actually, prices in Galicia rose 14%, which was in the country’s top three. Possibly down to lots of Brits buying up [decreasingly] cheap ruins in the hills. Time to close down my web page perhaps. Except it’s now just a drip in the ocean of coverage Galicia is getting in the British media at the moment. I actually had an article-writer ask me if I agreed it was the ‘new Tuscany’. Needless to say, he had no plans to visit the place before lauding its charms.

I discovered yesterday I had a fifth email account, with my domain provider. They wrote to say it was causing problems as it was overflowing with thousands of emails I hadn’t deleted. Needless to say, these all turned out to be SPAM. Most of them offered web services but here’s a couple I can still hardly believe. The first one is surely a joke. Yes?

Welcome everyone, it's us again, now we extended our offerings, here is a list:
1. Heroin, in liquid and crystal form.
2. Fake currencies, such as Euros and US dollars, prices would match competition.
3. Also, as always, we offer widest range of child pornography and exclusive Lolita
galleries, to keep out clients busy.
Everyone is welcome, be it in States or any other place worldwide
ATTENTION. Clearance offer. Buy 30 grams of heroin, get 5 free. Prepay your batch of rockets (air-to-air) and recieve a portable rocket-launcher for free.

Need to host child porn, illegal content, Spam advert site? Try www. . . you will be able to host anything you desire. You can get fresh stolen dumps here: . . . Our site will be usefull for the those who want to wash their money also :) (If you don't want to pay taxes or you need to buy something illegal like weapons or drugs).

Thursday, October 19, 2006

We’ve had so much rain in the last 2 week it’s as if the weather gods have decided to dump on us all the stuff we didn’t get in the first 9 months of the year. Naturally, the itinerant umbrella sellers have been out in force on the streets of Pontevedra. But the funny thing is, whereas these have hitherto always been gypsies, now they’re all Senegalese. I can’t imagine the former have given up this street trade and moved upmarket, so wonder whether they’ve contracted it out.

Which reminds me – I often see some of the beggars I mentioned the other day crossing the bridge towards my locality. I’m told this is because the gypsy encampment down below my house harbours one of Spain’s biggest drug supermarkets. Which is nice to know. And I thought this was a select area, even if one of the larger houses does belong to the owner of a couple of brothels in Vilagarcía. Live and let live. This is Spain and none of us are fascists these days.

Case in point – The left wing party in the current Catalunia elections has distributed condoms bearing the legend ‘Screw the Right”. Of course, this is on the packaging, not the item itself. I guess.

The number of people learning Spanish in Europe includes 453,000 students in Germany, 302,000 in Italy and 102,000 in the UK. But the champion – and way out in front – is France, with 2.1 million. I have a theory about this but would welcome the thoughts of others as to why this should be.

Quote of the Day

Ministers appear whimsically to be shifting from the multi-cultural society towards an integrated one. They are whistling in the dark if they think that will play well with the followers of Islam in our midst. Muslims are rooted in their faith and it governs the way they live. It is the only faith on Earth that persuades its followers to seek political power and impose a law — sharia — which shapes everyone's style of life. . . I say all this not in hostility to Muslims but because, unless we get a clearer understanding of their religion, we shall find peaceful co-existence with the moderate majority (which is crucial) ever harder to attain. . . .Jack Straw's brush with Islam over veils was only a tiny illustration of the gulf between us. We have come to regard blasphemy as a symbol of free speech; Islam treats offensive words about the Prophet or the Koran as a serious offence. It is vain to say: "Well, if they come here, they must conform with British society and its easy ways." Muslims will not do that. Their religion forbids it. . . What is never going to work is telling followers of Islam here: "You must conform to our ways!"
W F Deedes

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Animal rights activists released 15,000 mink up near La Coruña this week. As these were bred in captivity [the mink, not the activists], most of them are doomed to die of starvation. It seems an odd way to protect animals. By the way, the Spanish word for mink is ‘visón’. Given that ‘v’ is pronounced as ‘b’, I was initially rather confused by a headline which I thought read that 15,000 bison were stomping across La Coruña province.

A couple more ‘linguisms’ – 1. The Spanish for ‘Christian name’ [unusable nowadays, of course] is nombre de pila. This is because a pila is a font. 2. Someone was reported yesterday to have assaulted a woman coming out of un afterhours. This is defined in my dictionary as an ‘after-hour club’. I have no idea what this is but assume it is yet another euphemism for brothel. As if they were needed in a country where no shame apparently attaches to their blatant existence and use.

One of Spain’s largest narcos [drug dealer] has just been released on bail of only 12,000 euros. Which must make sense to someone, I guess. He is Galician, by the way. Like designing/making women’s clothes [Zara], this is one area where we excel.

Galicia Facts

In 2005, Galicia’s economy grew at a slightly lower rate than Spain’s but per capita income rose. This is because the population reduced yet again, with 25,000 more people leaving the land. No wonder there are cheap houses for Brits to buy up in the hills. But not as cheap as they were last year.

Two out of three of the people toiling in Galicia’s fields are women. Who can blame them for wanting to give up this unequal burden and to flee to the cities?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

El Mundo is boasting that - thanks to its non-stop campaigning – 67% of Spaniards don’t trust the findings of the commission of investigation into the Madrid bombings of 2004. I’m sure they’re right and that, without this campaign, the figure would have been as low as 66%. Or even 65.

Here I go being positive again but I had a not-unpleasant chat with my mobile phone provider today. They seemed at pains to ensure I knew the consequences of me changing my tariff to bring the cost of my calls to my daughter in Madrid down from the stratosphere. And they were very courteous. Of course, I had to give all my personal details at least twice - my ID number alone not being enough - but this is par for the course and I am almost inured to this now. Plus I employ a pet parrot for this part of the conversation. And to be positive yet again – I have a sneaking suspicion I’m being better treated on zebra crossings these days. Perhaps the city’s drivers have all heard of the crazy Englishman who challenges them to stop by walking in front of their cars in a bad impersonation of an arrogant and fearless matador.

Here in Pontevedra we have several distinct types of beggar. The lowest class comprises the emaciated drug addicts, constantly in search of funds for ‘a sandwich’. After them come the Romanian women who populate the traffic lights and approach every car, with a success rate of about one in a hundred, I guess. Then there are the gypsy harridans selling charms and who are only too eager to curse me for refusing their entreaties and asking them, in effect, to go away. Above these are a couple of reasonably dressed middle-aged men, one of whom goes about his business by thrusting his face into yours before whispering his demands into your nostrils. At the top of this unimpressive pile are the better-than-reasonably-dressed middle-aged men who either stand in the middle of the pavement offering you packets of tissues or, even more pathetically, sit on a doorstep gazing fixedly into the ground in an attitude of total despair. These always have a little bit of folded cardboard in front of them, telling you they have no job nor recourse to assistance. They look so respectable I’m invariably tempted to ask why on earth they have sunk to these depths. And why they – alone in Spain – have no family to help them. Or no rights to assistance from the state. But I never do.

I forgot to say yesterday I get 30 SPAM messages a day to each of 3 addresses. Or 90 a day in total. It might be more; I never check the fourth address.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Spanish are famous for their capacity to either ignore or break rules. And the bare truth is this attitude is catching. After 6 years here, there’s a small raft of things I now do that I would never have thought of doing in the UK. Last night, for example, I did my usual trick of turning round over a solid white line in the middle of the [admittedly quiet] road. Ironically, the penalty for doing this has recently increased so the motivation for ignoring the law must stem from knowledge this is acceptable practice to the populace, rather than from a reduced fear of the consequences if caught. This is doubtless reprehensible behaviour on my part but, then, this is how societies operate. And anyone who doesn’t use personal contacts to get things done in the bureaucracy is an idiot. Not to mention getting parking fines reversed. Where I failed miserably, even though the alleged offence was outside my own house. By my bloody daughter.

Possibly about 30 years too late, the Spanish police have set up a specialist unit to tackle corruption in the construction sector in Madrid, Málaga and Murcia. Maybe it will be called ‘The M Team’. Anyway, this, rather than global warming, may well be the reason why property developers from these infamous places have recently decided to pile into the Galician coast. If things follow their normal trajectory, it will be quite a while until we have a similar capacity to tackle irregularities. It usually takes about 20 years for us to get what they enjoy in Madrid and the south - the AVE high speed train being a good case in point. So, I guess we can look forward to more Russian ‘visitors’.

I can’t believe it’s not possible for servers to automatically delete all messages headed “Your portal to all sexual enhancers” or “Every med to make your girl happy”. After all, I’ve been receiving at least 3 copies a day of each of these for months now. I’m now getting at least 30 SPAM messages a day and only Google seems to be able to filter them out with anything close to 100% accuracy. Mind you, one or two raise a smile. Last week I got one from someone called something like Michael Greene who claimed a Manchester address and an [inaccurate] Manchester phone number but just happened to have a Hong Kong email address. Oh, and several messages from the brother of ex President Aristide of Haiti. Enough, already.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Years ago, it used to said there was not much of a market for antidepressants in the countries of southern Europe. Things may well have changed but I doubt levels have yet reached those of northern Europe or the USA. I mention this after reading the following paragraph today - Learning to keep our attention in the present moment allows us to live at peak efficiency and without the distraction of negative thinking. The present moment in where we find happiness and inner peace. Herein, perhaps, lies the reason for lower levels of depression here. As I’ve said more than once, the Spanish specialise in living in the ‘here and now’. What matters is today and tomorrow can take care of itself. Planning is, literally it now seems, for sad idiots. But I’m not sure about the ‘peak efficiency’ bit, unless it’s an existential reflection.

Here’s another of those affable but useless ‘customer relations’ chats one has here:-
I don’t think the blocking function works on this mobile phone.
What do you mean?
Well, the keys still work when it’s on.
Yes but you have a lid on your phone so you don’t need to deactivate the keys. In fact, you can’t; the block is to stop people inserting another SIM card if your phone is stolen.
OK but the camera key is on the side and, if there’s no way to block it, it’s going to keep taking pictures in my pocket.
Yes, I know. I had the same problem when I had that model. It took lots of photos of my handbag. It’s a bloody nuisance, isn’t it? . . .

And here’s a new Spanish word I’ve just struggled a few seconds with – deuvedé. Or DVD to you and me.

I don’t now how your Friday 13th went but mine started with the complete collapse of my Firefox browser and the need to spend an hour re-establishing all my Favourites and shortcuts. Wonderful.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Whenever I’m asked why I prefer to live in Spain rather than the UK, my reply is that, apart from the obvious factor of the weather, it’s because society here is as sane as the UK was when I was a kid. Perhaps even more so. I was reminded of this when reading this about the return of David Hockney to live in Yorkshire:- He had returned, though, to a changed country. One, as he saw it, in the grip of a nightmarish tyranny. Everywhere he looked, the do-gooders, the nanny-staters, the health-and-safety fascists, had their thumbs pressed on the nation's windpipe. The very notion of personal freedom was, to these people, an affront; any whisper of dissent intolerable. He had seen this kind of creeping death of liberty in California and wanted to warn us of its consequences.

OK, the Spanish can take the concept of personal freedom a bit too far at times. But given the choice . . .

Today I visited a unique place which just happens to be only 5 miles or so from my house, up in the hills. It’s a centre - run by a couple of psychologists - which doubles as a donkey sanctuary and venue for animal-assisted therapy. Here’s their web site for those who are not only interested in what they’re doing but might be willing to make a small annual donation - www.andreaasociacion.com
They get no financial assistance from anyone so are dependant on acts of charity, no matter how small. Don’t be put off by the bad English on their site; I’m in the process of improving this. I like to think.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The EU has again ordered the Valencian government to repeal its law giving local councils the right to steal properties from their owners and hand them over to corrupt developers. What are the chances that the response will be the same as last time - a new law with a different name but much the same content and effect? And where is the Spanish government in all this?

It seems the advice Mr Zapatero is getting from Mr Blair is not confined to the issue of how to deal with a terrorist ceasefire. Yesterday he demonstrated skills in the black art of media manipulation by breaking convention and shoving the king out of the limelight so he could give an ‘impromptu’ press conference.

At almost any time of the Spanish day – but especially during the evening paseo – you can enjoy the sight of mothers and daughters walking side by side. Or even arm in arm. In other cultures, daughters would rather have their eyes burned out with red hot pokers than be seen with their mothers. I suspect one reason for this difference is that young women here don’t display their rebelliousness by dressing in clothes outrageously different from their mothers’. In fact, Spanish mothers and daughters [at least here in Pontevedra] tend to share the uniform of tight top and even-closer-fitting jeans. Though there’s usually more bare midriff in one case. Sometimes the right one.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I knew I was probably wasting my time but yesterday at the dentist’s I asked if I could book a check-up for a year’s time. He smiled indulgently and said their diary didn’t stretch that far. My guess is I’d have got the same answer for six, three and possibly even just one month ahead. This is an ad hoc society. Which is not all bad; I got yesterday’s appointment at a day’s notice.

Up in the hills yesterday, I picked up a notice at the local council’s offices entitled “Assistance programs for farms attacked by wolves”. I hadn’t realised they got this close. Other than the estate agents, of course. Interestingly, the brochure bears the logo of both the Galician government and of the EU. But not of the Spanish government.

When I woke this morning the silence was so devastating I feared an asteroid had hit the earth. But it only meant it was a public holiday. No screeching traffic, no clanging cranes, no pulsating pile-drivers, no barking dogs and, best of all, no banging, bawling and blubbering next door as they get ready for work and school at 7.30. And then I realised my nice-but-noisy neighbour – Tony the Bawler – was scheduled to depart for several weeks on his oil tanker today. Life can be good at times.

Finally, a couple of quotes of possible interest to those who, like me, felt the England football team’s performances couldn’t get any worse than last summer’s . . .

England's players may have thought their premature World Cup exit this summer was the lowest they could go, but that was before last night when they crashed down a few more levels with a performance of incoherence that was crowned by absurdity.

The abandonment of 3-5-2 had the effect of another door clanging shut on the England illusions that have become not so much contentious as pathetic. After the evidence of bankruptcy - moral and technical - against Macedonia at the weekend, the possibility that a system of play discarded by all the recognised powers of the game might somehow magically restore poise and conviction was always remote. But in practice, as the Croats surged into the game almost at will, it became something more than a long-shot tactical lunge. It became an escape from the reality of England's plight, and one conducted at a stuttering snail's pace.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I may have given the impression all construction sites here move at the pace of a snail. Or a dead snail, in the case of the one at the front of my house. Well, this is not exactly true. On the site behind my house, work has been continuous for months now and four houses are rising at a cracking pace. I couldn’t help noticing, though, that the cars of the workers all bear Portuguese plates. Which is a tad ironic, as there is a belief abroad here that life across the nearby border moves even more sedately than it does here.

One thing that is done extremely quickly – and well – in Pontevedra is the fitting out of shops. Maybe this is because the companies involved benefit from a continuous carousel of ownership. Or at least merchandise. I’ve heard various theories for this, the most interesting being that the numerous clothes boutiques and shoe shops are essentially money-laundering outlets for drug traffickers. Fanciful, I’m sure.

I had a dental appointment today. All very cutting-edge, quick and impressive. But I always find it a little worrying that, when giving an X-ray, both the dentist and his assistant flee the room when the machine is on. Do they know something I don’t?

Further enquiries about the name Peregrina suggest it’s largely confined to mothers and aunts. Not of this generation, then. Except for the lovely young lady who brought it to my distracted attention when delivering the plumber’s extortionate bill.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

One of the great joys of Spain is that one very rarely, if ever, comes face-to-face with the sort of surly – even feral – gangs of teenagers which roam the British landscape. Given how outrageously pampered kids are here, this lack of aggrieved self-centredness is something of a surprise. Indeed, I am at one with Giles Tremlett when he says [in ‘Ghosts of Spain’] “There is a central enigma to the way Spaniards bring up their children, which I have never been able to solve. How is it that the spoilt, rude under-10s later turn into such polite, agreeable self-confident teenagers? The surly adolescent is a relatively rare sight in Spain. Teenagers may grumble about their parents but they do not go for full-out generational hatred. Teenage rebellion, in fact, seems non-existent. Spanish teenagers, when polled, have no trouble pointing out that family is the most important thing in their lives.”

A procession in New York this week to honour the country’s Hispanic community was led by the traditional ‘Moors and Christians’ who parade annually through Spanish towns to mark the Re-conquest of Spain from her Islamic invaders. Except the Moors stayed at home, making it a very one-sided [but inoffensive] affair. And here in Valencia they’ve decided to show some sensitivity too. Even if this only amounts to going without the annual event which centres on blowing the head of the Prophet to smithereens.

Galicia Facts

A friend who has monitored the local weather for many decades tells me that La Coruña has both much less rain and much less sun than Pontevedra. The explanation, I guess, is that they have a lot more cloudy [and windy] days. And/or a lot more drizzle, compared with the mini-tropical storms we occasionally get. If you’re interested in knowing more about the Galician weather, you should go to my web page, www.colindavies.net

Up near Gondomar they’re excavating what they think is the site of the oldest settlement yet found here, dating from 5,000 years ago.

According to BeautifulPeople.net Galicia is the Spanish region with the highest percentage of people who think physical beauty compensates for the lack of intelligence. And 65% of Galicians have sex on their first date. Most of them in the forest behind my house, I suspect.

Beautiful People, by the way, is a ‘meeting point for beautiful people who share the same lifestyle’. Am I being unfair to see this as quintessentially Spanish? Possibly, as it originated in Denmark.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Spanish friend told me today that, when she visited her boyfriend in the UK and they went away with another couple for the weekend, she’d been shocked to find everyone took to reading after breakfast. For the Spanish, she added, the only correct form of behaviour in the presence of others is to talk. As if I needed telling.

Then this evening someone asked me why the Spanish are such inveterate conspiracy thinkers. Maybe, I ventured, it’s because where conversation is mandatory it gives you something better than the weather to talk about.

Galicia Facts

The Galicians are renowned for their superstitions. Two I’ve heard about this week are the throwing of stones over the church roof [to ward off evil witches, apparently] and the taking part in a procession whilst lying in a coffin, to expiate your sins. The former naturally results in more injuries to the participants than the latter, as there are no rules as to which side of the church you should throw your stones from. And if there were, no one would obey them.

Beats boring reading, I suppose.

And possibly even talking.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Following the French example, the Spanish government is considering a tax on both the dubbing of foreign [i. e. English] language films and also on the entrance ticket for these. With luck, then, the Law of Unintended Consequences will mean this results in the showing of more films with subtitles.

As it addresses its growing immigration problem, Spain is lucky enough to be able to weigh up the pros and cons of both the struggling British and French models. As regards the former, food for thought is provided by this statistic from a recent survey – 81 per cent of British Muslims consider themselves Muslim first and British second. This is a higher proportion than in Jordan, Egypt and Turkey and is only exceeded by Pakistan.

Another surprising statistic from the UK - 25% of Brits would prefer to be French. This is said to reflect the popularity of such people as Thierry Henry of Arsenal. Even if so, I suspect the vast majority of this 10 million[?] Brits would prefer to be French but white.

I came across a new Spanish forename today - Peregrina. Or 'Pilgrim'. On reflection, there is the English masculine form 'Peregrine'. Though I can't recall ever hearing a feminine version of this.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Saturday Spanish Humour Special

Two clothes designers are sharing complaints about their wayward sons. . .
Mine is terrible. He chases the models all the time.
Mine is worse.
Why? What does he do?
He chases the models all the time.
How is that worse than mine?
I design men’s clothes.


A woman needs animals all over the house . . .
- A mink in the wardrobe
- A jaguar in the garage
- A tiger in the bed
- And an ass to pay for all of these.


Quote from the President of the Galician Cosmetic Surgeons Association
“Above all, cosmetic surgery is a medical event, not a business of two for the price of one”.

Friday, October 06, 2006

I see the French football authorities have demanded a replay of the World Cup final, on the grounds that the sending-off of Zidane was illegal because the 4th official hadn’t seen the incident with his own eyes but only on the large screen in the ground. I assume they must be living on another planet from the rest of us. Though this is not a new accusation against the French, of course. But, if it does happen, will Zidane come out of retirement – yet again?

Spanish regionalism: I referred the other day to the rather emotional reaction to the acquisition of a major local company by a Madrid-based operation. Here’s a translation of an article in today’s Voz de Galicia which enshrines the prevailing attitude. This seems to be that it’s more important who owns the company than whether it’s going to expand and create both more employment and local wealth . . .

Fear of becoming a colony

Worrying. This is the description merited by what is happening to Galicia’s great companies. While other European regions fear the loss of production centres to the east, Galicia is suffering from a unique phenomenon - the exhaustion of an heroic generation that - together with other factors – is resulting either in the sale of what are called the jewels in the crown or their assault by the new Midas’s of cement. After the humiliating loss of Fenosa and the surprising bid for Fadesa, now it is Conservas Calvo which is looking for a buyer.

The Calvo case is the drop which causes the jar of regional depression to overflow. It is a conservation company which filled us with pride as we watched it grow, conquer markets, dominate powerful brands, buy factories in Italy, set up operations in Brazil, Venezuela or El Salvador. That’s why its going on the block has been greeted as a disappointment. In private conversations, you hear things like “We’ll be left with nothing”. In the public analyses, the question is being asked of what will happen to the country’s business fabric. If this continues, we’ll shortly be asking whether Galicia will become merely a place of production, exploited - like colonies – by powerful external agents who respect employment but carry off all the profits.

That’s why the phenomenon is worrying. But also because of the circumstances which accompany it. From a human point of view, perhaps it confirms the principle that the great creators of family concerns never find a second generation with the same capacity for sacrifice to carry on the business. From the political point of view, the Galician government is unlucky; all of this coincides with a cabinet of left-wingers, which has announced a great conservative offensive. And one more detail: the booming of supranational capitalism and its penetration into the more defenceless territories is provoking a reaction from the people who are damaged and subjugated. Globalisation is being met by a reaction of its own making.

How to resolve matters? Of course, it’s no use crying. Neither can we force a family to disregard a selling opportunity. I believe this is the time to construct a Galician enterprise movement, as was tried in the Fenosa case, in order to show that Galicia has more than excellent primary produce. But who will lead this? Who will bring it all together? This is the challenge. Either this leadership will be provided by the Xunta, the banking or saving bank communities or its large investors or Galicia could be drowned in an unprecedented historic pessimism. And the same thing could happen to other regions in Spain.

As I read this, I couldn’t help wondering whether the investment of Calvo in Italy, Venezuela, Brazil, etc. didn’t amount to ‘carrying off’ the profits from Galicia. And whether the family spent all their earnings in, say, Santiago in preference to, say, Madrid and Monte Carlo.

It’s always dangerous penning adverts in a language in which you’re not totally fluent. One of the spams with which I’m currently being bombarded arrives under the heading ‘Now I can ejaculate hardly.’ I won’t be enquiring further.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

There are 254,000 Brits in Spain and we’re only outnumbered as foreigners by the 333,000 Rumanians. If things go according to plan, we’ll all be allowed to vote in next year’s local elections. But, for some reason or other, the Spanish government seems far more concerned about the Rumanians [and 82,000 Bulgarians] than about us Brits. Has none of the Cabinet ever visited the Costa del Sol?

Things change slowly in Spain. Thirty years ago, French was a far more popular foreign language choice than English but things are rather different now. Yesterday, for example, I read that the School of Languages here in Pontevedra has about 1200 students of English but only 300 of French. Nonetheless, in the multi-language letter I got today about registration for next year’s elections, pride of place was given to French. Insulted? Moi!

I alluded yesterday to the corruption that pervades local politics here. Then there is the more-universal pork barrel politics. The Minister of Culture in one region recently decided to remove 500,000 euros from the budget for a theatre in one town and reallocate to the one in which she was born. Again, it’s impressive the press no longer lets this sort of thing go unnoticed, even if most Spanish still regard it as not worth worrying about.

Up in Catalunia there’s a brave group of people, willing to face the wrath of their fellow Catalans. These are the members of Ciutadans, which is dedicated to ensuring that the rights of Spanish [‘Castellano’] speakers are not just theoretically preserved but actually protected. I take my sombrero off to them.

Which reminds me, I think Lenox’s comment of my Kingdom of Danelaw blog merits wider publication. So here it is :-

I could run all of your newspapers, magazines, freebies, web-pages, radios, television channels, satellite channels, the local TV channel and other media activities.
I could re-write history and record it in the nation’s school books – which I could print: new ones each year, of course.
I would present your ideas, excesses, absurdities, mistakes and vulgarities in the best possible light
I would be sure to minimise any endeavours from the opposition to your government in my media empire.
I would open a foundation with prizes and honours to specially chosen ‘friends’ of The Party.
While I am unfortunately far too old to learn your amusing national patois, I shall nevertheless attempt to ridicule through my media empire anyone who doesn’t use it exclusively in all public events.
You, in return, would give me most of your ‘institutional advertising’ even when not appropriate. All new radio and television licences would be first offered to my organisation.
You would make representation to The Pope and other heads of state or captains of industry to complain, loudly, regularly and bitterly about any of my surviving competitors.

Galicia Facts

Municipal taxes [the IBI] are lower in Galicia than almost anywhere else in Spain

Tourist nights were up this year but per capita spend was down. More cheap Brits, I imagine.

Prices for new flats in Galician cities range from 1250 euros per square metre in Ferrol to 1816 in Vigo and La Coruña. The average for Galicia is 1627, against 3788 in Madrid.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

One gets rather used to reports of financial skulduggery on the part of Spanish politicians but a couple of ‘above average’ items caught my eye today. Firstly, the chap in charge of Planning for the city of Madrid resigned immediately after El Pais told him of plans to expose how he and a few friends had niftily converted an investment of 87,000 euros into 4.3 million. Secondly, the president of the Andalucia region turned up two hours late for a censure debate around the amount of money flowing to his family businesses. One has ambivalent reactions to all this. On the one hand, there is shock that so much of it still goes on. But, on the other, one is impressed that so many people are prosecuted. Overall, I guess things are heading in the right direction.

It’s reported 28% of the population of Portugal would support fusion of their state with Spain so as to form a single Iberian unit. I find this extremely hard to believe but, if it really is true, it possibly means more people are trying to get into Spain than out. All depends on the percentage of Basques and Catalans who are of a secessionist stamp.

The Ana Obregón program I mentioned the other day has been scrapped after only 3 episodes. Viewing figures were disastrously low. In response to this, La Obregón pouted that she had been ‘seeking quality, rather than viewer numbers’. Pretty ironic, then, that she was a million miles from achieving either.

Ya.com are doing their level best to replace Telefonica as number one hate figure in this household. I received a text message this evening saying they’re ‘proceeding with the despatch’ of my replacement router. So, if I’m lucky, I will get it in 2 weeks instead of the 2 or 3 days promised. Plus I’ve just discovered they’re not only charging me even more than Telefonica for calls to mobile phones but that they make it impossible for me to find out their tariff. Is it any wonder that complaints about telecom companies dwarf all others to the Spanish ombudsman?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I’ve mentioned that El Mundo has been waging a campaign to prove the government is manipulating the enquiry into the Madrid bombings of March 2004 in order to hide any ETA link. This has descended into something of a slanging match between the country’s two great newspapers – El Mundo and El Pais – with each of them referring to the other as ‘a newspaper’. The arguments are arcane and [for me, at least] hard to follow. The latest spat concerns a document about boric acid which may or may not have been changed for political reasons. There was a short enquiry into this by Spain’s celebrity judge, Baltasar Garzón, but he is now being investigated himself for over-harsh treatment of the police lab technicians involved. I suspect I’m not the only person in Spain very confused by it all. But it certainly sells papers. Or El Mundo, at least. My friend Fernando in Ferrol has asked me not to allow the fact that the police make mistakes to give the impression something more serious is going on. I suspect he meant these are so common as to be meaningless in themselves and I was reminded of his request when I saw a cartoon in today’s El Mundo. This showed two men sitting on a park bench reading the papers. One of them is saying to the other “11-M, police technicians, experts, judges . . . If there were a Nobel Prize for bodging, we’d carry it off every year.”

Having watched someone in my regular bar/café pick up and flick through my Prospect magazine, it struck me – possibly not for the first time – that it’s a Spanish trait to act first and then - if there’s any indication any offence has been caused – to apologise later. In this case, there was neither offence nor apology, just a pleasant chat about the guy’s inability to understand a word of English. Which raised the question of why he picked it up in the first place.

It was, of course, a false dawn. I’m again receiving 10 spam messages overnight and another 20 or more during the day. I don’t suppose this is abnormal. Which reminds me – it’s now Day 11 of my wait for the new modem that would be with me ‘in 2 or 3 days’. It’s just a suspicion but I doubt that my monthly charge will reflect this downtime. It was a smart decision to invest in a back-up modem a week ago.

Giles Trimlett claims the only thing that hasn’t changed almost beyond recognition in Spain in the last 30 years is the Spanish male. Things, he says, are still very unequal between the sexes, especially in the home. But I’m pleased to say that, in one area at least, there is complete equality. Both female and male whores are given the same chance to advertise their services in the small ads at the back of the newspapers. Small? ’20 x 10’ . . . Or ‘8 x 4’, if you prefer.
The local police fear the finding of a cache of materials just across the border in Portugal suggests a possible resurgence of terrorist activity on the part of the Galician counterpart of ETA. These people go by the catchy title of Exército Guerricheiro do Povo Galego Ceive. Or EGPGC, for short. I hope they don’t take it amiss when I say this is the first I’ve heard of this brave band of class warriors. Or even when I say their objective of independence from Spain must be even further beyond the horizon than ETA’s.

I read today that by 2050 Spain will have the oldest population in Europe. So this must be a harbinger of things to come – In Lugo recently, a 75 year old man knocked down and killed a 90 year old woman. On a zebra crossing, naturally.

Which reminds me – the pass rate for the driving theory test in Pontevedra recently registered an impressive rise from 50 to 70%. This, though, was not because the students got better at it. It stemmed from the removal of ‘the tricky questions’. I imagine these included ‘Where should you not park?’; ‘Should you stop for pedestrians on crossings?’; and ‘In which lane should you go round a roundabout?’

Sunday, October 01, 2006

As predicted, the amount ‘voted’ to the Catholic church by Spanish taxpayers will rise from 144m euros this year to 150m next year. But this is a mere fraction of the total of 5 billion euros which the state hands over. This includes 3.2 billion to ‘private centres of ecclesiastical ownership’ and 517m for the salaries of all teachers of religion [i. e. Catholicism] in Spain. As I’ve said, this reflects the still significant role of the Church in the provision of education, health services and care for the aged. So, very understandable. But still rather bizarre in a western, secular democracy.

Today I received a text message telling me someone wanted to send me a photo and instructing me to send a message to a particular number. It’s sad that human ingenuity can be wasted on scams like this. But depressing to think they only happen because people are gullible enough to fall for them.

Is the first day of October the dawning of a new era? I ask this because, for the first time in what seems like an eternity, I opened my email this morning to find I had no spam at all. Not even Any med for your girl to be happy or We cure all diseases. Or is the explanation the more prosaic one that the ever-deteriorating service from Terra has finally given up the ghost?

Quotes of the Weekend

At least we stab each other in the front now.
Labour Party member at last week’s wake for Tony Blair.

Debt wrecks lives. Not so long ago, the ordinary British family was wary of borrowing and regarded thrift as admirable. That changed, spurred on by the consumerism that was rampant in the 1980s. Then all restraint vanished so that now Britain accounts for a staggering third of all unsecured debt in western Europe. This, however, is one area in which New Labour has been surprisingly non-interventionist. Despite lecturing us on the amount of fruit and vegetables we should consume, it has ignored one of the most pernicious diseases to attack families. During its nine years in power it has watched while individuals have run up debt on an heroic scale.
Columnist in today’s Sunday Telegraph, a fading institution, if ever there was one.

Finally, my apologies to David and Lenox for failing to acknowledge their witty comments to my Kingdom of Danelaw blog. To my shame, I’ve only just re-visited it and seen them. Both are herewith appointed to their sinecures. Though not by me, of course. Lenox has also been given a title and will henceforth be known as El Conde de Prisa Danelawensa.

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