Sunday, December 31, 2006

I have some German guests for a week. This morning they complained my neighbours had kept them awake by partying until 5am. What could I say? Welcome to Spain and buy some earplugs for the next party tonight?

For December, the most interesting citations which brought readers to this blog were: Vitasexual and northcliffe megalomaniac

Galicia Facts

The regional government has spent 2 million euros on a new representative office in the embassy quarter of Brussels. I wonder whether the German Landers all have these. I’m pretty sure the British counties don’t. Unsurprisingly, the Xunta foresees a 50% increase in the number of staff at the Fundación Galicia-Europa.

Until the November rains and floods, Galicia had one of the driest years on record, confirming [it’s said] the phenomenon of regional warming. Over the last 30 years, the average temperature has increased by 1.4 degrees. The future, we’re told, holds the prospect of more ‘adverse phenomena”. You have been warned.

As of yesterday, deaths on the road had decreased by 8% here in Galicia. This is very welcome but I suspect it’s not as good as the national achievement and I can’t see the premium we pay for car insurance coming down much.

Galicia’s ‘dispersed’ population is 4 times the national average. A bit more specifically, the percentage of Galicians who live in villages of less than 10 house is 17, against 4 for Spain as a whole. This is said to contribute to several of the problems which have hit the region recently – fires, floods, fly-tipping and interruption in the water supply for example.

Finally, the regional TV channel tells us that ‘Tradition dictates New Year’s Eve be given over to musical galas and humour’. If I were a TV watcher, nothing could depress me more.

And on that sour note, I wish you all a 2007 which you both survive and, on balance, enjoy. What more could you hope for?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

As I often do, I took my dog into a bar today, where the owner made a bit of a fuss of him. Why do I mention this trivial occurrence? Well, because it’s one of several simple pleasures I used to enjoy years ago in the UK but which are now proscribed there for some reason or other. And it’s just one of the reasons why I regularly assert Spanish society is more sane than Britain’s. But it won’t last, of course. The current Minister of Health here shows signs of being an aspiring health fascist and she surely won’t be the last. It’s one of life’s great ironies that it’s always socialists who display this sort of tendency. All part of the ‘We know what’s best for [ignorant] individuals’ syndrome.

But just to redress the balance a bit – it’s a tad worrying to read that not only do you not need to be qualified or registered to be an estate agent in Spain but the same holds true for financial advisers. So it’s a good job there’s a high level of probity here. . .

Talking of insanity, if I were [like my younger daughter] a teacher in the UK, I’d be terrified by this announcement – “Under proposals to encourage greater public involvement in schools, parents could be given direct email and text message contact with their children’s teachers.” As we all know, the ‘paperless’ society has resulted in a deluge of pointless electronic messaging. Since my daughter already has trouble keeping up with the dozens of daily emails from her superiors and peers, I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to know she might soon have to handle nonsense from parents as well. This is surely a far more horrific prospect than having to produce your annual plan in the local co-official language.

It was reported in the media today that terrorism had moved back up to 3rd place in the list of things which worry the Spanish. Bang on time – and very much as expected – ETA today ended its latest ‘permanent ceasefire’ with a car bomb outside the new terminal at Madrid airport. So I fear we’ll see more of bloody Gerry Adams here in 2007, lecturing us on the need to respect everyone, no matter what they think, say or do. I can’t even manage respect for him.

Friday, December 29, 2006

A Portuguese trawler had been impounded in the nearby port of Marín, accused of illegal fishing. I have to confess I needed to read this story twice to ensure I hadn’t got it the wrong way round. After all, we’re only 25 kilometres from Vigo, widely regarded as Europe’s capital of illegal fishing. And in Spain.

Talking of Portugal, a reader has asked why it is the adjacent Iberian cultures are so vastly different. I honestly don’t know. The Spanish usually put it down to British influence, which is a sort of back-handed insult to both countries since, to them, the Portuguese are ineffably dull. All I can say is that, whereas I ultimately chose Spain over Portugal as a place in which to spend the last quarter of my life, I very much enjoy visiting a country where people do seem to be aware of others, where my eardrums are not at constant risk of destruction and where I can dine without the accompaniment of unruly children. I exaggerate, of course.

A Spanish reader claims it can’t be true someone was given the answer ‘No fucking idea’ in a branch of the Corte Inglés department store. He may be right so I’m checking the source and will report back, hopefully with name and number. Meanwhile, though, it’s surely significant that, true or not, Brits with experience of this chain store have no difficulty believing the claim. This is not a reputation any shop would want in the Anglo Saxon world, unlike the ludicrously expensive London restaurants which pride themselves on insulting the clients stupid enough to dine there. I can only assume the place trades successfully on its snob value. As in “Oh, yes. I got this Burberry coat/scarf/tie/belt in El Corte Inglés”. But I have to admit I patronise the supermarket of its Vigo store; it’s the only place I can get the spices I need for Asian cooking.

Galicia Facts

The regional government [the Xunta] has decreed all teachers in Galicia must present their plan for 2007 in Gallego or risk suspension. I know quite a lot of teachers here and they are all, without exception, against this development, even those who speak Gallego at home. And the measure will not have popular support in the region as a whole. But this is what happens when you bring a nationalist [i. e. regionalist] party into a coalition in order to consolidate power. The reality is they have no other policies beyond language extension. And they have to be bought off somehow.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Yes, I am unlucky when it comes to noise, even in the UK. Retiring to bed at 10pm last night prior to getting up at 3.30 for my flight, I was kept awake by the people above my parents’ flat who’d decided to do a bit of late-night furniture moving. On wooden floors. Maybe they’re of Spanish descent. For Spanish readers, I should point out 10pm is considered late night in the UK and not early evening. In Portugal, of course, it’s the middle of the night.

Within a few minutes of me writing that I’d seen no rain in the UK in 12 days, the heavens opened. Whereas the sun was shining brightly when I landed back in Santiago. It doesn't do to provoke the weather gods.

One of the great displeasures of my UK trip was reading my parents’ Daily Mail every day. Well, I say ‘reading’ but ‘scanning’ would be more accurate. This is one of the dreadful British tabloid newspapers but by no means the worst of the bunch. As with all its brethren, it prospers greatly on the back of sensationalism. But the Daily Mail’s version of this is to seek not just to frighten but to terrify its numerous readers on a daily basis. I meant to list a few examples of its headlines but never got round to it. Suffice now to say that, I’d been told just before I left Spain that the Daily Mail was forecasting 3 huge storms during my time in the UK, one of which would coincide with my return flight. In the event there was hardly a breeze during the entire period. OK, one more. How did the paper report the massive sales of iPods over Christmas? – “Ipod is gadget most likely to be stolen, say insurers”. You get the picture. Needless to say, my ageing mother lives in a state of perpetual terror. For those still interested in this paragraph, here’s a bit more about this report, plus another of the same genre:- “It was one of the most sought-after gifts this Christmas. But if you were lucky enough to be one of the estimated 15 million tearing wrapping paper off a prized iPod, be warned. The electrical gadget is more likely to be stolen or destroyed than any other piece of equipment in your home. Insurance experts said they received more claims for iPods than any other item, including mobile phones, digital cameras and laptops.”
“Thousands of computers given as Christmas presents are creating a computer virus time-bomb, experts have warned. They say the new PCs could contract a virus within minutes of being connected to the internet”.

Within a minute of getting into my car in Santiago, I had to illegally cross a solid white line because someone had double-parked on a main road. And in the café I stopped at for a coffee I couldn’t hear myself think for the TV in the corner showing one of the daytime shows featuring big-breasted blonde bimbos bawling at each other. But it’s great to be home.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

In 12 days in the UK there are two familiar Galician sights I haven’t seen at all here - rain and builders’ cranes. In fact, visiting Alderley Edge last week, I was astonished at how little both the rural and urban topography had changed in the 6 years since I was last there. In contrast, in Pontevedra the cityscape would change during 6 minutes taking your coffee. Not that anyone would rush a coffee in 6 minutes in Spain. Sadly, in many cases this involves the replacement of a fine old building by another anodyne block of flats. Click here.

Over Christmas, I had the pleasure of watching the final of the BBC’s ballroom dancing competition, in which celebrities were partnered by professionals. It was a real joy but I couldn’t stop thinking about the Spanish version, which is at least twice as long and which features vastly more talking and showing-boating by celebrities ranging from buxom young women to geriatric divas who’d be happier performing on a Zimmer frame. Not to mention lengthy advertising segments. Not quite the same thing.

A couple of years ago, the Blair government banned foxhunting in Britain. But a number of loopholes quickly became apparent in the badly drafted legislation. As a result, the numbers participating have actually increased, quite possibly because the police feel they have higher priorities than fruitlessly chasing foxhunters around the countryside. En passant, it was depressing to see this headline in a quality UK newspaper this morning - “Police using video cameras have been monitering England's hunts.” OK, staff numbers may be down over this holiday period but, for crying out loud, even Word’s Spell Check rejects ‘monitering’.

After nine years of petitioning and several court cases, Uefa has finally accepted the Gibraltar Football Association as a provisional member. A decision will be taken on whether to admit it as a full member at Uefa's congress next month. But the outcome is all too predictable. The English football authorities have offered no support to this bid and Spain - conscious of a bad precedent for its would-be breakaway ‘nations’ - can be guaranteed to trample it underfoot.

Galicia Facts

Galicia has 3 international airports - in La Coruña, Santiago and Vigo. As you would expect in Spain, they compete with each other ferociously, with rampant disregard for the interests of the region, never mind the nation. As a result, they all lose out to the much-more-rapidly-developing nearby airport of Oporto in north Portugal. Of these 3 Galician airports, Santiago’s is best served by international flights as it hosts both Easyjet and Ryanair. Domestically, La Coruña gets the points, following Iberia’s recent decision in a fit of pique to punish Santiago for dealing with these low cost competitors. But now we read that Iberia’s own cheap operation - Clickair - is to begin international flights to Galicia from 2007. Or ‘in the worst case’ from 2008. And these will use Vigo. I guess it all makes sense to someone.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that Ryanair will start flying between Santiago and Nottingham from, I think, February 2007.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

I mentioned the other day an expensive shellfish called the percebe, or ‘goose barnacle’ in English. To me at least, this looks repulsive and tastes no better than salinated rubber. Despite this, it sells at a prodigious price to those who feel it has echoes of the brave men who risk their lives scraping it off the wave-tossed, oxygenated rocks it colonises. Last Christmas it sold for 230 euros a kilo - or 70 quid a pound - but this year you can snap it up for a mere 350. Or a staggering 106 quid a pound. It takes all sorts.

A reader has reminded me that the El Corte Inglés department store [the only one in Spain?] is a major exception to the rule that Spanish service is rarely very poor. In truth, I don’t know a Brit who doesn’t spit at least foam [occasionally blood] at the desultory treatment you get in its outlets, always delivered with a supercilious arrogance on the part of the sales people. One friend, asking in the booze department about a particular liqueur, was told ‘Ni puta idea’. Roughly ‘No fucking idea’. But, for me, the biggest beef is that there are never any signs anywhere telling you which floor you need to go to. Except when you get there, having had to ask someone each time. This contrasts with, say John Lewis in Liverpool, where there are directories posted at every conceivable point around the store. I heard rumours last year that someone was planning a website dedicated to moans about El Corte Inglés but I don’t know whether this came to pass.

To be more positive, I’ve regularly said how much more sane Spain is than the ‘more progressive’ Anglo-Saxon cultures. To make the point, I leave you with this report from a UK newspaper:- A five-year-old American schoolboy who pinched the bottom of a female classmate has been disciplined for sexual harassment. The boy's father said he was unable to explain to his son why he was in trouble. "He knows nothing about sex". A spokesman for Washington County public schools, said : "It's important to understand a child may not realise what he or she is doing may be sexual harassment but, if it fits under the definition, then it is. Any time a student touches another student inappropriately, it could be sexual harassment," she said. The case comes weeks after a four-year-old in Texas who hugged a teaching assistant was suspended for "inappropriately touching" her.

A very merry Christmas to all my readers, of whatever creed and colour. But not to the Board of El Corte Inglés , of course.

Friday, December 22, 2006

I’ve frequently mentioned just how important the personal factor is in Spain. In fact, it’s hard to achieve much without it. I’ve also said customer orientation here is not yet what it is elsewhere. So it’s both surprising and unsurprising the government should announce a law obliging companies to offer Customer Service phone lines manned by real people and not by ‘robots’, as the report calls them. Of course, it’s one thing to introduce a law and another to effectively police it.

I’ve very rarely suffered from bad service in Spanish shops. But, then again, it doesn’t often rise above what you might call neutral. It’s civil but neither very good nor very bad. This contrasts with the eternal pleasure of dealing with shopkeepers on Merseyside, where humour is more or less essential to the transaction. Well, for most of them.

The latest example of the Spanish penchant for conspiracy thinking is the belief - based on analysis of the royal family’s Christmas card - that the establishment is hiding the fact the 2 year old Princess Leonor has only one foot. Pull the other one.

The police in Tarragona this week arrested a driver for doing 170kph [110mph] on an autopista. They were then a tad surprised to find the car was being driven by a 14 year old girl. It’s good to see the old macho ways receding against the onslaught of female equality.

Galicia Facts

Galicians are reputed to be amongst the most superstitious people in Spain. So it should come as no surprise lottery ticket sales this year were twice the normal level in those towns badly hit by fire and/or floods between August and December. Being as religious as they are superstitious, they obviously believe in a just and compassionate God. So I guess they’re blaming it on their own sinful ways now that the booty hasn’t poured down from the heavens. As the Voz de Galicia put it - “A mere 15 million euros comes to Galicia”. This, they say, is only 10% of the value of ticket sales in the region. So much for justice and compassion. Ninety per cent of Galician money down the celestial drain.

Talking about things pouring down from the sky - In line with the comments I made recently about British weather, I’ve been in the UK for a week now but have not had to use an umbrella. In fact, I’ve seen very little, if any, rain. And none is forecast for the coming week. It’s not often you can go two weeks in a Galician winter without needing protection from the elements. On the other hand, it is 13 degrees in Pontevedra, against 4 or 5 here. Swings and roundabouts, I guess

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Paying in a cheque in a Liverpool branch of my bank today, I found that the ground floor offered me little but machines, while the tellers were closeted away in a small room upstairs. This could hardly contrast more with Spanish banks, which still invest in people in order to give the personal and face-to-face element demanded by Spanish customers. The problem is that humans are not only more expensive than machines but also more prone to error. This is a double whammy but I doubt Spanish bank clients would want it any other way. It will be interesting to see whether Banco Santander re-introduce it into the Abbey National, though I’m not holding my breath.

The 22nd [or twenty-twoth] of December brings us Spain’s humungous national lottery. A survey published today suggests more than 60% of the population would prefer the prizes to be quoted in pesetas, rather than euros. Presumably it’s easier to get your head round billions than mere millions. The good news is this preference is shown by only 40% of young people, against 80% for senior citizens.

Galicia Facts

The recent rains about which I complained so much caused severe damage to several of the region’s best shellfish beds. Thanks to the gluttonous custom here of eating four huge meals of seafood within a singe week, it’s customary for the prices of these products to quadruple around now. But this year one variety of hard-to-get clam is said to be selling for a record 123 euros a kilo. Or 40 quid a pound.

One of the reasons prices soar into the stratosphere is that Galicians touchingly believe their local produce is vastly superior to anything that can be imported from, say, Thailand, Brazil or Cornwall. So they pay way over the odds for the stuff which isn’t shipped to Madrid. It’s hard to credit that only 50 years or so ago shellfish was disdained by everyone here but the poorest of the poor, in a very disadvantaged region. Especially the repulsive and now ruinously expensive percebes, or ‘goose barnacles’. But, of course, they are an aphrodisiac. Honest.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Barcelona’s last bullring has closed because of insufficient takings to fund the high costs of putting on a corrida. In truth, this reflects a nation-wide fall in interest in the spectacle. The percentage of the Spanish population said to be supportive has fallen from 55% to only 27% over the last 35 years.

Shopping today on the Wirral side of the Mersey, I concluded that, whereas dark-skinned women in Spain favour blonde hair, pale-skinned women here have a penchant for jet-black locks. Often drawn back tight from the face. On balance, I’d have to say, the Spanish women have it. By a long way.

And talking of the allegedly weaker sex, for the first time in history, married women in the UK are said to be outnumbered by singletons. According to the Office for National Statistics, there are now more single, divorced and widowed women than wives. I’ve yet to decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. And whether or not it’s too late for me.

Galicia Facts

Back home in Galicia, there’ve been more serious structural problems on one of our wonderful new roads. This time it’s a case of regular rock falls. Which is more than a tad worrying. The College of Engineers of Galician Highways [sic] has called for a meeting to debate the subject. I guess this would be a good start, provided the words are followed by actions and not just political mud-slinging. Meanwhile, any drive in Galicia would be best undertaken with two people in the car - one to look out for potholes and the other to keep an eye on the adjacent rock slope. A propos of nothing, the Spanish for the latter is talud. Which is not too far from ataúd. Or ‘coffin‘.

500 Galician homes tap into the earth for ‘geothermal energy’. I wonder if it’s the radon gas in all the granite that does the trick.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Shopping in Liverpool today, I noticed there are almost as many blonde women there as in Pontevedra. And their faces are just as tanned. Well, orange to be more accurate.

The British media is dominated today by the arrest of two suspects in the case of the murdered 5 prostitutes. There have been numerous articles in the press but these heartfelt comments caught my attention today, for what they said about how British society has changed:- It used to be taboo to go with a prostitute. Something to be done furtively. Something that brought shame if you were found out. But now it’s something to do on a stag night or a night out with the boys. It's considered a bit of a laugh to go to a lap-dancing club or a brothel and pay for sex. It's disgraceful this has been allowed to happen. This is basically society saying it's okay to exploit women in the 21st century. The statistics quoted were well down on those I’ve seen for Spain, both as regards the number of prostitutes in the country and the percentage of British men who resort to them. But the gap is clearly closing, as southern European attitudes take hold in the UK. I wonder how they view this in Brussels, given the importance placed there on ‘convergence’. They certainly must look askance from Stockholm, where it’s now a criminal offence for a man to rent a woman’s body. Too much to hope for Spain, I fear. And for the UK too, it now seems.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Given the antics of the other sex, it’s ironic that the first motorcyclist to be banned from driving under Spain’s recently tightened traffic laws is a young woman from Ciudad Real. Impressively, she managed to lose all the points on her licence in one fell swoop by ‘ignoring officers’ signals, failing to stop at a junction and not wearing a helmet’. I suspect a sex change.

The Voz de Galicia today reported that, since Gallego became ‘co-official’ with Spanish in Brussels, only 3 letters in this language had been received there. One of these, it couldn’t refrain from adding, was a letter it had sent a month ago and to which there hadn’t yet been an answer. Nice to know I’m not the only person in Spain who suffers from this problem.

Tonight, hits to this blog reached 40,000. So, I’d like to thank all the readers who’ve made this possible. Or at least those still with us. I particularly want to express my appreciation to people who take the trouble to post compliments. I don’t usually publish these as this strikes me as rather naff.

Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed I no longer offer the Compendium of earlier Thoughts from Galicia. This is because of the volume of demand. So, I’d like to finish by also thanking those of you who requested this. Both of you.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

93% of Galicians are reported to believe that the assets of all politicians should be public knowledge. The remainder, one assumes, are the politicians.

On Friday night, Santiago was awash with young people heading for the train and bus stations and towing small suitcases behind them. These were students going home for their weekend pamper and taking their dirty washing with them. Here, universities are not quite the mad dash for independence they are in Anglo-Saxon cultures. There is, of course, a reciprocal migration each Sunday evening.

The female politician I mentioned the other day was buried in a coffin draped in 3 flags - the Spanish, the Basque and the European. This says a lot about modern Spain, where one section of the population is pulling in the direction of greater local autonomy and another is pulling towards national submergence within a European superstate. Poor old traditional Spain is stuck in the middle of these possibly compatible forces. Currently, that is. Where it will be in the future is anyone’s guess.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Spanish supreme court yesterday quashed the conviction of a driver who’d been prosecuted for being almost 5 times over the alcohol limit. Hard as it is to believe, the grounds were that the police had failed to determine whether this actually impaired his driving capability. The relevant minister says changes under an imminent new law will close this loophole. Not before time, one would have thought.

I’ve been known to mention that Spain is a noisy place but I wonder whether I’m just unlucky. I know it’s too much to expect people to quieten down here before one in the morning but, in a Santiago hotel room last night, I was jolted out my sleep at 2am by a man repeatedly breaking wind in the adjacent bathroom. I was then kept awake while - midst occasional hawking and spitting - he took a shower for the next 25 minutes. Possibly he’d just got back from the Dirtiest Man in Spain competition.

I’ve also said the Spanish talk a lot but one forgets just how easy - and pleasurable - it is to chat inconsequentially to people here, where even young women will respond with grace to an uninvited contribution from an ageing stranger. Which is more than can be said for a couple of frosty young ladies in the Immigration queue at Liverpool airport today. But they were Finnish. And presumably prone to the North European view that all men over 30 are latent rapists.

I wonder if plastic explosives can be made to look like wax earplugs. Why? Because the latter don’t figure amongst the objects you’re forbidden to take in your hand luggage when flying. At least, not from Spain. The UK test will come in a couple of weeks’ time.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

It’s generally felt the Spanish don’t read newspapers. This is because they don’t buy that many per head. But they do, of course, read them in the cafés and bars, assuming it’s possible to read while you’re having a conversation with one to four people at the same time. So I was a bit confused by the daily ‘audience’ figure of 663,000 for the Voz de Galicia I quoted yesterday. A quick internet search today threw up the ‘circulation’ figure of 107,446 per day in 2004. So your guess is as good as mine.

The death was announced today of a woman who was Spain’s Minister of Agriculture in the late 90s when a massive flax fraud implicated several of her underlings. She was subsequently booted upstairs to the EU Commission, where she gained a reputation for being rather anti-British. I wonder if either of these aspects will be mentioned in her obituaries but rather doubt it. I think I’m right in saying, firstly, that the fraud led to a huge fine and, secondly, that Spain – a la France - is refusing to pay it. The most interesting aspect of the case, as I recall, was that the Spanish factories claiming to produce huge quantities of [worthless] flax were suddenly all destroyed in an astonishing outbreak of fires. Assuming they ever existed. Nobody had checked.

Belgians are not generally renowned for their humour but on Wednesday the state TV channel had a spoof report about Flanders declaring independence and the royal family fleeing into exile. Seeing this as only too plausible, the populace was immediately – albeit only briefly - thrown into panic. Given the activities of our three ‘nationalist’ regions, I imagine the Spanish public would accord a similar degree of credence to such an announcement here too. Especially in view of the widespread belief in conspiracy theories.

On the BBC's website yesterday, you could click on to a reconstruction of the Paris crash in which Princess Diana died. As someone has said, “The ghoulishness of such an invitation is foul and the tabloidisation of the BBC whenever the name of Diana is mentioned is a sign of the debasement of our culture”.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Its a tribute to Spain and its culture that foreigners who take up residence here feel there’s more than enough compensation for the frequent hassle in getting things done expeditiously. For example, my daughter in Madrid was telling me tonight how she’d had to go to 4 shops before getting the phone card she wanted. In 3 of them she got the standard unhelpful response of ‘No’, without any suggestion of ordering one or indication as to where she might find one. But I do wonder – she being young enough to enjoy the nightlife and me being old enough to have acres of time – is there a ‘middle’ group of foreigners who don’t view the net balance as positive? The poor buggers who work all day and look after kids all evening, for example. Though this would probably rule out most of the men.

I’ve written too much about both corruption and the Spanish economy recently but, nonetheless, here’s a couple of comments from UK commentators on the current French pressure on the European Central Bank:- "The ECB faces an impossible task because there is no such thing as Euroland: there are groups of countries going different ways. Germany has clawed back competitiveness by squeezing its economy but Italy, France, Spain and others have been enjoying property booms. Boom goes bust." “The fundamental problem is that the economies of the ‘Germanic’ members have diverged so far from those of the ‘Latin’ bloc that the single interest rate set by the European Central Bank (ECB) is becoming a huge political liability”.

When a singer mimes to a record on TV – possibly called ‘lip-synching’ these days - this is known as El playback in Spanish. And Le playback in French. So ‘playback’ must be of Latin origin. Who’d have guessed it?

Galicia Facts

Astonishingly, there are at least 16 [sixteen!] national and local daily newspapers on the stands here. The leader of the pack is the Voz de Galicia, which had an ‘audience’ of 663,000 a day between February and November this year. This is more than twice as much as the next paper and gives it a national ranking of 6th.

By the way, a Spanish friend of mind searching for ‘twenty-second’ today came up with ‘twenty-twoth’. Which I prefer.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A great deal is being made here of the passing of Pinochet in Chile. It’s odd the way the Spanish work themselves up into a lather about distant criminals but seem so indulgent towards those of the home-grown variety. It’s almost as if the corrupt bankers, builders, drug dealers and lowlife who run the prostitution trade are seen as loveable rogues. Or perhaps it’s more a reflection of resignation born of perceived impotence. You can talk and even shout but you can’t achieve much by way of change.

A topical case in point is a mayor near here who happens to be a very rich constructor and who’s just been accused of reclassifying marshland and walking away with millions in profit. He’s said he’s going to stand for mayor of the larger Pontevedra municipality and I, for one, wouldn’t bet against his chances. After all, the mayor of O Grove was once re-elected when he was in jail.

I see French politicians are beginning to complain that the one-size-fits-all Euro was a huge mistake and that nations should again be free to control their own economies, in particular their bank rate. If the end result is a range of Euro rates, it might be best to start selling the ones with Spanish symbols on them, since devaluation would be inescapable.

I’ve mentioned before that some Spanish forenames are distinctly odd. Like Peregrina and Dolores [Pilgrim and Sorrows] for example. But now I’m told that a few years ago it became common in Spain to call your daughters Provident or Colgate, after toothpaste products advertised on TV. I’m very sceptical so can anyone confirm this? I suspect it’s part of an old joke that ends with someone saying, “Oh, yes. Then your daughter, Maria, must be named after a biscuit”.

Monday, December 11, 2006

El Mundo this weekend published a list of the 100 richest people in Spain. Most of them, it stresses, have become wealthy only in the last 25 years. Coincidentally since Spain joined the EU. The list is headed by the founder of the Zara clothing empire but the next nine places are taken by property constructors. Given the infamous dishonesty of this sector, one is forced to ask [as, to its credit, El Mundo does] what on earth this says about Spain. Not just about the country’s morals but also about the underlying strength of its productive economy. Or, to quote, El Mundo, “It is all a reflection of a vigorous Spanish economy which has not yet moved on from crisis to find a place where its foundations are solid.”

According to my Spanish friends, one or two of the people on the list are reputed to be illiterate. But maybe this is just one of those myths that do the rounds. Or perhaps they’re extrapolating from local circumstances.

There was a letter to one of the national papers the other day, complaining that the Chinese don’t stick to the shop-opening laws. I don’t know why but it always amuses me to hear Spaniards criticising other people for not obeying rules. And my biggest thrill comes at road junctions or roundabouts when someone blows their horn at my bad driving, acquired in quick-or-dead Teheran.

Galicia Facts

We are blessed with many fiestas in this region. Most of these merit the label ‘gastronomic’. But the range is wide and some might not regard tripe, pigs’ ears, bean stew or even black bread as a delicacy. I’m reminded of someone who wrote to the Spectator magazine a couple of years ago, bemoaning the fact you couldn’t get offal and lights any more in the UK, except in one or two expensive restaurants. I suggested he came here for his dinners.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Between 2007 and 2013, Spain will receive 19.5 billion euros in EU subventions. This is 24% of the total, for a country which has a booming economy and which seems far from poor. Some senior Brussels functionary has appealed for more control of where all this money actually goes. Which might cause a few problems.

The most recent comment I’ve read on the nationalists’ proposal to move the Galician clock back an hour was the surprising suggestion this was not enough. Much better, the local wag said, to go back 2,000 years and get hold of a few Romans who could build a highway that wouldn’t collapse after only a decade or so.

The day after I noted the Poio council thinks there are no Brits here, I received a letter from them asking me to confirm the data on an enclosed census form. Interestingly, the letter is in Gallego but the form is in Spanish. Though on it my street name is in the Gallego version. No wonder I’m schizophrenic.

Finally 1: As you can see, I’ve discovered it’s easy to change the style of my blog with Google’s Beta Blogger. Sorry about that.

Finally 2: Now that I’m podcasting as it there’s no tomorrow, I’ll just mention notesfromspain.com, where you can download Spanish conversation sessions. There are probably others around but I love Marina’s voice.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Minister for road traffic safety says there’ll soon be tougher measures against motorists who persistently offend. Well, let’s hope so. It’s a constant puzzle to me that the law here seems incapable of [or averse to] dealing with these. The latest case is of a drunk who terrified people in Pontevedra’s pedestrianised area this week. He’d previously had his licence withdrawn four times for driving above the limit but was still behind the wheel. Sort of.

Prospects for the peace process aimed at ending the ETA terrorist threat continue to deteriorate. The latest news from the latter is they’re stepping up their struggle against the French state. On top of this, they’ve made new demands of the Spanish government, including the cessation of arrests. These hardly sound like the death rumblings of a defeated organisation. So, all in all, it’s hard to be optimistic.

I was interested to read these comments in a UK paper – “Britain is getting both noisier and increasingly angry about noise. Last year, complaints about noisy neighbours rose by more than a third: the commonest were about loud music, relentlessly barking dogs, and people who habitually bang doors and undertake DIY at unsociable hours. . . In the past, Britons tended to value privacy above all else: an Englishman's home was his castle and, beyond the metaphorical moat of the front doorstep, he didn't wish the neighbours to know his business. But the national character has become more extroverted and the importance of privacy has been persistently downgraded. Many people don't care much who overhears their private conversations.” If any of the folk affected by this new plague are thinking of emigrating, my advice would be to cross Spain off their list. This is a great place to live but the Spanish are born shouting and they don’t let up. As for the dogs . . .

Friday, December 08, 2006

The government has announced more measures to deal with corruption. However, I suspect most Spaniards won’t believe it’s really serious until it acts to stop the evasion practices which pervade the property market. But, then, this is the last thing voters want as there’s scarcely anyone in the country who doesn’t benefit from them. And this includes tax inspectors and, doubtless, judges. Perhaps the government’s first step should be to reduce the massive 6-7% tax on sales which provokes such understandable evasion. But this has been such a wonderful source of easy income during the extended property boom it’s hard to see anything happening soon. Plus the priority targets must surely be the drug traffickers, mafia gangs and money launderers which give Spain such a bad name. Not to mention the country’s numerous corrupt mayors, currently riding so high on the hog.

The proposal from the Galician nationalist party [the BNG] to change the clock has certainly garnered them many column inches in both the local and national press. But it’s been greeted with almost universal derision even here in Galicia, where they have nothing like the support of their brethren in Catalunia and the Basque Country.

Galicia Facts

My township of Poio – across the river from Pontevedra – has announced that the number of foreigners here has risen enormously in the last year. It’s issued a list of all the 25 nationalities represented, in descending order of numbers. This is a real rag bag which starts with Argentineans and Brazilians, includes Croatians and Ethiopians and ends with bloody New Zealanders. What it doesn’t do is cite any Brits. Which is rather insulting, given all my efforts on behalf of Galicia. Perhaps I should ask for all my taxes back as I don’t officially exist.

It didn’t rain in Pontevedra today. We had hailstorms instead.


NOTICE: I’ve compiled my blog for 2003-4 into a compendium under various obvious headings. Anyone who’d like a [free] copy should write to me at colindavies@terra.es, putting Compendium as the subject.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

An editorial in today’s right-of-centre El Mundo attacked the government’s decision to imprison the two policemen who leaked ‘secret information’ to it about the illegal sale of explosives. Understandably, they referred to this as a ‘regression from democracy”. The left-of-centre El Pais, on the other hand, published an editorial which suggested the key issue was the pathetic attempts of its competitor to discredit the government’s enquiry into the Madrid bombings of March 2004.

Given the constant media attention, it’s not surprising 59% of Spaniards think their government’s attempts to fight corruption are, at the very least, ineffective. Indeed, 10% of the population thinks the government actually promotes it. But, then, this is a nation of conspiracy thinkers. On the other hand, 18% are said to believe the government’s efforts are ‘very effective’. But I wonder if most of these are civil servants.

Munching my daily fibre intake this morning, I had the opportunity to witness a classic bit of what the Spanish call ‘tellyrubbish’. One of the queens of daytime TV introduced a ‘debate’ about the growing tension between celebrities and journalists. Flanked by 14 of these facing the cameras in a semi-circle, she solemnly pronounced each participant would have just one minute to present his/her views. There immediately followed a short but fierce argument, at the end of which the hostess announced 5 minutes of adverts. Compelling viewing. At least for those with the IQ of a slug. I didn’t wait for the inevitable bun fight once the attempts at discipline went up in smoke.

I see water has been discovered on Mars. Probably a run-off from Galicia.

Galicia Facts

Our local Pontevedra football team is under offer from a group of Galician émigrés who ‘have business interests in Mexico’. I wonder if these are the same people I recently cited as the Galicians who made a fortune in the prostitution trade there. If so, it’s a few steps down from being bought by a Sheikh from Dubai. Or even a Russian ‘industrialist’.

More and more brown bears are appearing in Galicia’s forests. These, it seems, have strayed from Asturias, possibly looking for a place to swim.


NOTICE: I’ve compiled my blog for 2003-4 into a compendium under various obvious headings. Anyone who’d like a [free] copy should write to me at colindavies@terra.es, putting Compendium as the subject.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Several policemen in Madrid have been tried for selling explosives. Some of them have been sent to prison but some not. The former include a couple who spilled the beans about the operation. They were found guilty of something like ‘revealing secret information against the public interest’. Which sounds to me rather like a charge left over from the Franco era.

The Valencian government is to use aerial photography to locate illegal housing developments. I can’t believe the task is so challenging down there. With so many mayors being arrested, it occurred to me today we could have a national media campaign featuring the sort of photos one sees in hotels and stores of ‘Employee of the week”. We could a mug shot of the Greediest Mayor of the Week. Or – given the numbers – of the day, even

Interviewed in one of our local papers, a lady who likes her cigarettes said “This ban on smoking is not fair. I’m not going to pay 100 euros to eat a meal where I’m not allowed to be comfortable.” Stuff the comfort of others, then. But I’m sure her ‘individualistic’ attitude is not representative of smokers in general.

Galicia Facts

No sooner do I quote the article about Galicia being like a piece of Gruyere cheese than events overtake us. I wrote last week about subsidence in a major new highway leading to a Keystone Cops incident but now we learn the road is to be closed for ‘5 months’ while the risk of further subsidence is addressed. The underground drainage pipes, it seems, are not made of the specified concrete but of metal. Astonishingly, this deteriorates when in contact with water.

In the interests of balance, I should report it stopped raining for a while today. And the sun even made a pathetic attempt to peer through the clouds. But the thick grey blanket is forecast to return tonight.


NOTICE: I’ve compiled my blog for 2003-4 into a compendium under various obvious headings. Anyone who’d like a [free] copy should write to me at colindavies@terra.es, putting Compendium as the subject.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Second post of the day.

Last year, 4,000 Africans arrived in the Canary Islands in kayaks or the like. This year’s total is heading for 30,000. These are brought by Senegalese fishermen, who justify their activities on the basis that huge EU trawlers have destroyed their fishing grounds and thus robbed them of a living. Ironic, isn’t it?

An Irish purveyor of a cream liquor [no, not that one] faced a couple of options for its Christmas billboard theme here in Galicia. The basic English version was ‘Your little moment’. The Spanish translation was ‘Tu momentito’. And the Galician, ‘O teu momentiño’. What they came up with was ‘Your momentiño’. And thus took the first step towards the invention of Galenglish. Or perhaps Galish.

Displaying a grasp of reality that you’d expect, the Galician Nationalist Party [the BNG] has proposed Galicia moves to the same time as the Canary Islands and Portugal. In terms solely of longitude, this makes excellent sense. But, as a political policy, it doesn’t have a prayer. For one thing, with only one exception the whole of Spain really should be on the same time as the UK. But since this exception is Catalunia, Madrid is never going to permit any tinkering with time zones.

En passant, because Spain is on the ‘wrong’ clock, Spanish mornings are darker and the evenings lighter than they should be. And, as Galicia is on the western fringe, this effect is exacerbated here. At the moment, for example, it doesn’t get light until well after 8.30 in the morning. The compensation, of course, is long light evenings throughout the summer.

There was a rather hard hitting editorial in the Voz de Galicia on Monday, touching on some of the themes that crop in this blog. There’s a translation below. But, first …..

NOTICE: I’ve compiled my blog for 2003-4 into a compendium under various obvious headings. Anyone who’d like a [free] copy should write to me at colindavies@terra.es, putting Compendium as the subject.

Here's the editorial . .

GALICIA AND GRUYERE CHEESE

The highway in 0 Salnes was carried away as if it had been drawn in the sand by a child. Subventions to RENFE serve only to maintain third world trains which circulate empty. The dam in Umia couldn’t even prevent a single flood. Vigo and other cities pour their untreated waste into the sea. Santiago’s City of Culture lacks cultural projects. Excess urban developments extend over water courses and marshes which will need millions in investment in the coming years, like someone burying money. As for the grand projects which the PP party gifted us – high speed trains to Medina, Bilbao and Oporto; the Cantabrian autovia; an autovia between Ourense and Lugo; the widening of the highways to Ribeira and O Grove; a second autovia between Vigo and Pontevedra; super ports and airports; plus a thousand other miracles – none of these happened in the 16 years in which it governed and all of them – what a coincidence! – were going to be realised in their 5th term.

Pérez Touriño is right when he says Galicia is like a Gruyère cheese. And it will be even more so unless, instead of just analysing the state of the public works, we also look at the financing of the universities, the health system, the collapse of agriculture, the level of access to new technologies, care of the aged and other things of this sort, which all co-exist with a population which has the lowest salaries and pensions in Spain and which is ageing in gigantic strides.

For sure, the apology of the last government can’t last for ever. And it’s also true the coalition government hasn’t had the courage and the wit to make a public audit of the Fraga era so as to clarify the waste of EU funds. For this reason, two tasks are outstanding. The first – which is the responsibility of the Xunta – is to say what hasn’t been said, to sort out what hasn’t been sorted out, and to sink money as if there were no tomorrow in correcting old disasters and into making the country, as soon as possible, like an Arzuan cheese. The second – which falls to the citizens – is an obligation on our part to learn what constitutes good government, to distinguish good management from clientilism, to avoid confusing works with their plaques and not to entrust tomorrow to political paternalism.

The third world reputation which we’re gaining throughout Spain has something of the truth about it and much that is deserved. And perhaps the time has arrived to look again at what we analysts have said about the mania for governing from the car or from the parliamentary bench - on the basis of cheap shafts of genius - and to rip up the pages of the newspaper. For the cost of that age of (German) gold has mortgaged our future.
This is an early, extra post. The real one will be along later. . . . Meanwhile, don’t be confused and miss yesterday’s.

Galicians are always telling me the weather here is just like the UK’s. Well, no it bloodywell isn’t. Ireland’s maybe but not Britain’s. There, most people have at least Ireland and possibly Wales as well as a buffer to soak up the stuff that comes from the Atlantic. Here there’s zilch and we are the ocean’s first port of European call.

In the UK, ‘sunshine and showers’ is an adequate forecast for most days of the year, pointing to a massive variability. In fact, you can have all four seasons in a single day. Here, on the other hand, the weather ‘sets in’ for days or even weeks on end. This is great when you’re talking about sun but less than welcome when it comes to rain. And, as we effectively live in the middle of the Atlantic, there’s a lot of this stuff. Especially in winter. In fact, during our ‘wet season’, we get three times as much rain as Manchester in the UK. I often wonder how this goes down with Brits who’ve blithely discounted or even ignored the comments on my Galicia web page and bought isolated properties up in the mountains. The ones who haven't killed themselves, I mean.

What has prompted this little diatribe is that – after a 4 weeks of sun – we’re now well into a third week of non-stop rain plummeting from Galicia’s traditional winter blanket of thick, low, grey cloud. And I’ve just been drenched getting some petrol for the car.

On the weather theme, it struck me the other day most forecasts here are remarkably accurate. But then I realised how easy it actually is. If the wind is coming from the west, it will rain. If it’s coming from anywhere else, it won’t and the sun will shine. Or, even more simply – If it’s coming from the left, rain. If it’s not, sun.

So now you know. If you’ve taken the trouble to google ‘galicia weather’.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Yesterday’s blog mysteriously failed to get posted until late today. So you may want to backtrack. He says presumptuously.

The government is trying to ginger up the property rental market by taxing the many second properties left empty. It was reported today that none of the 52 municipalities in the Pontevedra province had got round to implementing this. Said one spokesperson “It’s difficult to know when a property really is unoccupied.” Especially, I suppose, when the owners spend all of July or August there. Or even an occasional weekend.

Yet another little banking story . . . I took a cheque for 35 euros to Citibank today. The cashier was thrown into complete confusion by the fact it was drawn on a French bank and sent me to talk to one of the personal advisers who litter Spanish banks. There, among much harrumphing, I was told it would cost me at least 20 euros to cash it. I’d expected some charge but nothing like this so promptly departed, cheque in hand. I guess Spanish banks will enter the 21st century one day but doubt I’ll be around to see it. They have to get to the 20th first.

The latest announcement from RENFE is that they’ll be charging you 3-4% above the listed price for a train ticket if you buy it at the counter. On one hand, this puts the internet premium of 2.75% in context but, on the other, I’m left wondering when you will actually be able to pay the listed price. Via advance booking? But not over the net, presumably.

Galicia Facts

Attempts are to be made by a consortium of local producers to make Galicia a centre of excellence in bio-foods. Which can’t be bad. Unless you think these are a commercial scam. In which case, you’ll be interested in this comment from a UK columnist:- Producers are making a fortune from our gullibility. Claims made about bottled water include that it comes straight from a fresh Alpine, or Pennine, or Dolomite spring, yet about 40 per cent of it began life as tap water from a municipal supply; and that it promotes cellular regeneration and detoxification of the body, though no scientific test has ever proved this. The claims for omega-3 fish oils are even more awesome: they fight heart disease, mood swings, and boost IQ. Scientific evidence for these startling claims is mixed, but, as Dr Ben Goldacre has exposed in his invaluable Bad Science blog, the media have megaphoned the glowing results of "studies" that neither had a control group nor followed proper research methods.

NOTICE: I’ve compiled my blog for 2003-4 into a compendium under various obvious headings. Anyone who’d like a [free] copy should write to me at colindavies@terra.es, putting Compendium as the subject.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Anti-ETA activity in the south of France has been stepped up in recent months, apparently since the terrorist organisation foolishly decided to try to include France in its negotiations with the Spanish state. This is consistent self-interested behaviour on the part of Spain’s neighbour. For decades, little was done from Paris to stop France’s Basque provinces affording a safe haven to ETA. And this only stopped once this became an untenable position after the Twin Towers and Madrid bombings had given terrorism a bad name even in France. But it’s an ill wind that blows no good and the latest arrests are surely welcome. Especially at a time when the ‘peace process’ seems mired in mud and fears are growing that ETA has used the breathing space to revitalise itself.

The opposition’s relentless criticism of its ‘softness’ towards ETA had led the Spanish government to issue a video of comments made by the PP party when it negotiated a similar ceasefire in the late 90s. This follows a similar video issued by the PP about the growth of violent crime in the country. Both of these productions have gone straight onto the internet, raising all sorts of questions. Like, “Isn’t this all rather juvenile?”

Not a bad day, today. Although it rained, I didn’t have my [back-up] umbrella stolen.

Finally, an interesting comment on Mel Gibson's latest film, Apocalypto - Human sacrifice. Ritual dismemberment of human bodies. Priestly rituals in which men's hearts are plucked from their bodies. . . It's set in the ancient, pre-conquest Mayan civilisation of Mexico – which extended to Nicaragua and Honduras – with dialogue in the original Yucatec. The violence may be sadistic but the religion of the ancient Mexicans did indeed involve ritual butchery. And cannibalism. It's all a useful corrective to contemporary prejudices about Spanish colonialism. Bad as the conquest was, the native civilisation it replaced and Christianised was – certainly in respect of its barbarous religion – very much worse

Saturday, December 02, 2006

We Anglo Saxons tend to think Spanish families are not only closer but happier than ours. So it was a bit surprising to hear this week that Christmas is the busiest time of the year for the police when it comes to sorting out what are called ‘domestics’ in the UK. And some of my friends have confirmed they’re bored rigid by the lunches they have to attend every Sunday at their mother or mother-in-law’s place. Especially the latter. Things are clearly not as serene as they look.

RENFE is the company which runs Spain’s trains. It does a good job but I’ve occasionally wondered about its grasp of the principles of internet business. I reported a while back that, if you bought a ticket on the web, you nonetheless had to go to a station to get it, after proving your identity. Now they’ve announced they’ll soon be charging you an extra 2.75% for buying a ticket via the net. But monopolies can do this sort of thing, of course.

Spain’s largest cosmetic surgery company is to go into the business of building luxury yachts. Which seems very appropriate to me as it’s all about superstructure.

Talking of transport . . . One of the reasons I left the UK was the parlous state of the transport system there. So the following comments in a UK newspaper touched a chord:- Ten years ago, Labour came to power with great intentions. They promised change and an integrated transport policy. Nine years and eight major transport strategy documents later, things are getting worse not better.. . Britain has ground to a standstill, with traffic queues stretching and train fares soaring.

This is disturbing but I’ll try to avoid schadenfreude next time I’m driving down an EU-funded empty motorway to Madrid or wherever.

Friday, December 01, 2006

It turns out that, when the Moroccan king decided last year to punish Spain for its expulsion of Moroccan soldiers from a disputed island off the North Africa coast, another EU country stepped immediately [but secretly] into the commercial breech. This week, we learn that the same EU country is standing by to take over the business lost if the Saudi government fulfils its threat to penalise the UK for pursuing the question of local bribes. And who might this EU ‘partner’ be? Well, it begins with ‘F’. And it’s the country which bleats loudest about the need for a ‘Community attitude’ when other members threaten its interests.

Something else which won’t have surprised many to hear was the report that the volume of spam had risen even higher into the stratosphere. Allegedly, one day last week it comprised 91% of all email traffic in the USA. Spain, it turns out, is rising in the ranks of the countries distributing spam, essentially because people here don’t prevent their computers being used as ‘zombies’. As a result, Telefonica has become the world’s biggest ‘provider’ of spam. Yet another reason to love them.

Which reminds me, Telefonica may not be willing to give you a line if you live in the Spanish countryside but they are interested in buying a Hong Kong company so they can supply Chinese peasants.

Tonight I had my umbrella lifted from the rack in my regular café-bar. This is the second time in 12 months but I found my Spanish friends at dinner less than sympathetic. Amid stifled laughter at my naivety, they told me stealing umbrellas – or at least swapping yours for a better one – was a local sport. Less than impressed at this latest example of Spanish civic irresponsibility, I quoted a piece of doggerel I’d learned years ago:-
The rain it falls upon the just
And also on the unjust fella
But mainly on the just because
The unjust steals the just’s umbrella.

They said they hoped this made me feel better.

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