Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Well, the institution of the siesta may well be dying here in Spain but in France the government wants to introduce it. Presumably it’s not content with having the shortest working week in the world, a stuttering economy and falling productivity levels. If they still existed, I’d sell Francs now.

In one of their excellent Spanish podcasts, the fine people from Notes from Spain talk about the merits of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Hmm. . . I’m perfectly prepared to accept this is a seminal, groundbreaking work, showing great creativity and ingenuity but, my God, is it long. I’m currently on p. 409 of 940 and it’s taken me 2 years to get here. As this implies, it’s not always a hard-to-put-down book. Especially as I read it in bed. But the worst news – as I approach the end of Part One – is that the second part is even longer but allegedly ‘not as good’ as the first. I wonder if I’ll ever find out whether this is true or not. Meanwhile, I’ve probably annoyed even those Spanish readers not yet upset by my views on Galician nationalism.

The state statistics organisation reports that in 2005 suicides in Spain marginally outnumbered road deaths – 3,381 against 3,332. This is rather surprising but a quick search suggests the UK rate of 8.56 per 100,000 gives a total of around 5,200. This is certainly far higher than the total of c. 3,500 deaths on UK roads. Which is not very surprising.

Still on statistics - we’re told the federal states of Germany, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland and the USA have an average percentage pattern of central-regional-local government of 55, 27 and 18. For Spain, the numbers are 51, 36, and 13 and some say this is too much government at the regional level and not enough at the local level. Possibly but it’s often said the more local the government, the greater the corruption. And we probably have enough of this right now. Maybe things can be left until after the end of the construction bum.

These were the strangest routes to this blog during January . . .
Blindfolded and tied up women - This was on p. 91 of 100, so clearly an assiduous enquirer.
False Friends and Reckless Guesses - From a reader [the reader?] in Latvia.
animals sex women cow bull Portugal – Presumably from a Brit on the Algarve

Galicia Facts

The Xunta has announced state secondary school pupils will soon have to select a second obligatory foreign language. They don’t have a choice about the first – English – but French is expected to massively outperform German, Russian, Chinese, etc. when it comes to the second choice. This means Galician kids will leave school speaking 4 languages – Gallego, Spanish [‘Castellano’], English and, probably, French. Very impressive but quite a burden and one wonders what will have to give to accommodate it. Probably not Religion just yet, though the current [‘anti-clerical’] government has taken strides in this direction.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Spain now has over 3m foreigners living legally here. The Brits, at 170k, come in at 5th, beaten by the Moroccans, the Ecuadorians, the Colombians and [surprisingly] the Rumanians. After us Brits come the Chinese, the Italians, the Peruvians, the Argentineans and the Germans. The average age is 34, which must surely be dragged upwards by the British south coast contingent. Not to mention me.

The Spanish authorities have expressed concern that in-car sat nav facilities are dangerous. Well, who’d have thought that something you keep looking at and fiddling with would distract you from driving?

I’ve often wondered what Spanish drivers are thinking when they park their cars illegally and then switch on their hazard lights. After all, in daylight you can’t miss a car that’s obstructing your progress and at night simple side lights would be enough. Yesterday I concluded it’s a religious act. In effect, it’s a Confiteor; I confess I know I’m breaking the law and being a bloody nuisance to the rest of you. But whether there’s any element of mea culpa in this I’m not so sure. I suspect most of these ‘individualistic’ drivers don’t give a damn about the inconvenience caused to others. They just want to salve their conscience. I wonder whether it happens in non-Catholic, non confessional cultures.

Galicia Facts

Galicia’s cost of living is 88% of the EU average and, more usefully, only higher than those of Andalucia and Murcia within Spain. When it comes to cities, Catalunia scoops the pool, with Barcelona and Girona in the first and second slots. Surprisingly, Madrid comes in at only no. 7.

Finally, Galician nationalism: Switch off now if this is of no interest to you . . . Carlos - presumably not the very civil and patient Xoan Carlos - has written to accuse me [inter alia] of drawing false conclusions about Galician nationalism from an over-narrow circle of friends. He insists that a ‘nationalistic feeling’ permeates Galician society. Well, he may be right. But it all hinges on what you mean by ‘nationalist’. After my recent dialogue with Xoan Carlos, I concluded he was using ‘nation’ to mean no more than a community of like-minded souls who saw themselves as different from other ‘shared culture’ groups. On this basis, I had no difficulty accepting Galicia was a nation but suggested even Yorkshire would qualify for this status. As would my own stomping ground of Merseyside. And even Greater Manchester. After all – despite being only 30 miles apart – they certainly see themselves as being very different and can scarcely understand each other’s dialect. So, if Carlos means most Galicians have a love of their culture and see themselves as different from people in other parts of Spain – including even next door Asturias – then I’m sure he’s right. But I’ve seen no evidence at all in 6 years that anyone here is striving for Galicia to be a nation in the normally accepted meaning of this word. I’d even go so far as to say that those who feel strongest about this live – like our New Zealand Basque friend – outside Galicia/Spain. But maybe there’s a pragmatic solution to this problem. In the UK, we use the word ‘country’ in the same way it’s used for the ‘Basque Country’. As in 'the West Country', for example. Perhaps Galicia should start calling itself ‘the Galician Country’ and everyone would be happy and able to concentrate on the economic challenges which Carlos and I agree are of paramount importance. By the way, Carlos, you must know that ‘Spanish’ is used for the language of Spain in English, not ‘Castilian’. To use the latter suggests you’re coming at this issue primarily from a negative and adversarial perspective. Rather like all those who bang on about Galicia being a colonial victim of Castilian imperialism. It leaves me wondering how the people of Normandy [who, after all, successfully invaded England a mere millennium ago] feel about the French imperialist bastards suppressing their nation. Or the poor people of Languedoc, who were forced to accept the imperium of Languedoui. I guess they’ve got over it and moved on.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The following sentence – from a local paper on the subject of our bare-breasted heroine – contains not just one but four examples of Spanglish. This may well be a record. . . Algunos vecinos sugieren que se debe aprovechar el sexapil de Ana Maria Ríos y el bum mediático de su estriptis en ‘Interviú’ para promocionar turísticamente la villa.

Taxes on Spanish property transactions – 7% in Galicia, for example – are very high. And inheritance tax is more punitive than in many countries. So it’s hardly surprising the Spanish routinely indulge in avoidance schemes, primarily involving either under-declaration or no declaration at all. Notwithstanding this, the national and local governments have been sharing the windfall of massive, easy tax income from the property boom [bum] of the last decade or more. Indeed, as Biopolitical has pointed out in a recent post, the authorities get as much as 80% of their revenue from land-related activities. You don’t have to be Einstein to realise there’s going to be something of a problem when the bubble finally bursts and elevated services then have to be funded by debt or, more likely, seriously increased levels of local and national taxation. I can’t wait.

The Vatican has announced marriages can now be annulled where the "overbearing influence of a mother or father means that the psychological autonomy needed for marriage was lacking". For all those Spanish women who marry men in their 30s who’ve never left their mothers’ apron strings, this must amount to a compelling reason for re-discovering their Catholicism.

Penelope Cruz is, I think, the first Spanish woman to be nominated for an Oscar. This is great news but I wonder whether it’s sufficient reason for the entire Spanish media to treat La Cruz as if she’d just journeyed to Mars and back, inventing a cure for Alzheimer’s along the way. I, for, one am getting a little tired of her face. Though she’s a lot better looking than Jane Goody. And possibly even Shilpa Shetty. Whoever they are.

Galicia Facts

In 2006, Galicia was visited by 3.6m tourists. This was 2% up on the previous year but amounted to only 4% of the total for the country a whole. But their spending was well above the average. Or, as today’s Voz de Galicia puts it - ‘Not many but high quality’. Of course, Ryanair, Easyjet and the British package tour industry could soon change all this. At which time this blog will become “Thoughts from Rwanda”.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A householder in Lérida who awoke to find four armed men tying up his son shot at two of them, killing one. In at least one Anglo-Saxon culture [the USA] he’d be regarded as a hero but in another [the UK] he’d be arrested for murder and imprisoned unless he could prove he was on the very edge of death when he resorted to ‘disproportionate violence’. It will be interesting to see how he’s treated here in Spain. Assuming we ever hear any more of him.

There’s a major spat taking place between the UK government and the Catholic Church because the latter wants exemption from the law obliging adoption agencies to give children to gay couples. There’s only one certainty about this fight - the kids will be the losers and the lawyers the winners. As someone has said, it’s a perfect example of a clash between classic liberalism [different views to be respected] and modern, centre-left liberalism [everyone must conform to our view of what’s right]. I fancy things would be approached rather more pragmatically in Spain, leaving the kids the winners. This, of course, is the professed aim of each side in the UK. But they can’t both be right.

Another big issue in the UK at the moment is how to restore the sense of Britishness which successive governments – especially the current one - have set about destroying. Here’s a view [from a Sunday Telegraph columnist] that will certainly chime with most Spaniards, regardless of whether it’s right or wrong:- There’s no doubt the concept of Britishness is in trouble. It speaks, too often, of football hooligans, Big Brother, and tattooed drunks terrorising cheapo beach resorts. We sense our standards of behaviour have slipped, that we have lost the essence of our civility. And we hide away - those of us who can - from the ugly society we’ve created. Those who can't hide from everything settle for hiding from each other. And the consequence is a nation at risk of becoming as fractured as it was when the Romans were here.

Galicia Facts

Our local, bare-breasted heroine – Ana Maria Ríos – has now published a book about her 8 days in a Mexican jail for alleged arms smuggling. She was lucky enough, it seems, to have a famous journalist by her side when she chose to converse on the subject. Anyway, the book was published in Gallego last week but the Spanish version is out this week. English speakers may have to wait a while.

Unemployment in Galicia is at a 25 year low. Not quite as good as the national achievement of a 28 year low but still very good news.

The Galician nationalist party [the BNG] appears to be getting very big for its boots. It has blamed the attitude of the socialist party in Madrid for ‘frustrating political change’ here in Galicia. And it has publicly ordered the President of the local government to ‘calm down’. I guess this means it isn’t getting everything it wants. And I fear it will take its revenge via more petty measures aimed at ousting ‘Castellano’ in favour of Galician in our daily lives.

One of the several brothels on the road between Pontevedra and Vigo has had its annual police raid. Astonishingly, this resulted in the arrest of 6 illegal immigrants. As ever, the proprietor had no idea of their status and was simply renting them rooms in which to entertain their numerous friends. So I guess we won’t be seeing him in court. Or any of his clients.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Eh? The Public Prosecutor is seeking to fine an actor for ‘insults against Spain’. It considers he committed this crime when ‘referring to the unity of Spain in scatological* terms’. Is this another law left over from the Franco era, I ask myself.

* Obscenity, especially words referring to excrement

Local elections are due in 4 months. Cynics say this accounts for the fierce competition between El Pais [‘mouthpiece of the left-wing PSOE’] and El Mundo [‘mouthpiece of the right-wing PP’] to establish which party has the most corrupt mayors. Given the number of these throughout the country, it’s a hell of a challenge and I couldn’t begin to say who’s winning. But I will venture the opinion the campaigns won’t change anyone’s political affiliations.

Talking of these [excellent] national papers, what a coincidence that yesterday both of them announced the ‘totally exclusive’ availability of videos of Primera League football matches. At least they can agree on something.

Galicia Facts

On the theme of the week, we’re told Galicia has the second-highest rate of unoccupied properties of all the Spanish regions.

And on the theme of imminent local elections, the Voz de Galicia [also excellent] has pointed out it’s around this time we get forecasts from the party in power of the availability of the high speed train [the AVE] which later turn out to have been ridiculously optimistic. It adds this project is currently moving at the speed of a snail and the earliest Vigo residents will be able to go direct to Madrid will be 2013. The original forecast was 2006, I believe.

From the start of the next school year, pupils at our schools will all be taught English from the age of 6, as opposed to 8 at the moment. This is impressive but one wonders where all the extra teachers will come from. As of now, the relevant ministry says, only 3% of Galicians are fluent in a language which ‘sounds like Chinese’ to 65% of them. I wonder where these 90,000 linguists are hiding. Perhaps they’re all teachers of English overstating their capabilities.

Saturday Humour Corner

A Galician friend has a father, Benito, who’s none too bright and prone to throwing out amusing questions and reflections. So, here are the first of what I hope will be many Sayings of Benito:-

- [Watching the funeral of Carlo Ponti] That Sophia Loren. Is she Italian?

- Sea-lions and kangaroos – they look very similar, don’t they?


Finally, a sign of the times - Air passengers watching the film The Queen this week were surprised by the number of expletives bleeped out. This, it turned out, was because a censor had obliterated the word "God" each time it occurred. Even in the phrase, "God bless you, Ma'am."

Footnote: This is today's post, much earlier than usual. Yesterday's was also posted earlier than usual and you might want to check you haven't missed it.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Customer service . . . First, the good news. The Corte Inglés store I went to in Madrid last weekend not only had announcements in both Spanish and English but also directories on every floor, telling you where things could be bought. I wonder when this revolutionary concept will arrive in Vigo. Less positively – I tried in Pontevedra today to get an Ordnance-Survey-type map of the Lugo area. To put things in context, this is 140km from here. The assistant grimaced when I mentioned Lugo. And then again when I asked if I could order the right map. But she did give me a reference I could use after I’d driven there and found a place stocking the maps. Not by any means for the first time, I was left with the impression Pontevedra and any town beyond, say 25km, are in different galaxies. This most frequently happens when you ask your bank if they can liaise with a branch more than walking distance away. Localism.

Showing what you can do when you own the only phone line and have friends in high places, Telefonica have again increased their rental charges. This brings the 6 year increase to 87%, or 11% a year. This is somewhat higher than even the real inflation rate. And pure profit since it’s unrelated to consumption. The good news is that, apart from these exorbitant rental charges, I now shove my phone payments into the coffers of other companies. Or not, in the case of the miracle operator, Skype. These are not unconnected events.

Still on the theme of customer rip-off, Spanish banks are reported to have raised their credit card fees by 19% last year, or 6 times the inflation rate. The average charge is now 27 euros a year. As it’s possible [even here] to get a card free, I can’t help wondering whether this isn’t a reflection of the customer inertia banks throughout the world have long relied on. Then, of course, there’s the Spanish ‘personal factor’ which means it’s an insult to move your business away from someone you’ve known all your life. However much you’re being fleeced.

You would be forgiven for thinking that UN sanctions against North Korea are now in place. In fact, they’re not. For two months, Spain has been vetoing them because it doesn’t like the fact the UK has nominated someone from Gibraltar as one of the invigilators. You can understand how wars start when two close partners in the same political union can’t progress an issue as key as this. Mind you, on the face of it, I think in this case it’s up to Spain to prove it isn’t being more stubborn and stupid than the British government.

A while ago, a reader asked if I’d noticed all the thousands of cranes around Spain had an old desk as a counterweight. Well, I had and I wanted to post a photo of the one at the back of my house. But I’ve been thwarted by the fact that there’s been no bloody desk in sight since then. There still isn’t. So here’s a photo of what they’ve got at the moment. I think it’s part of a fork-lift truck but alternative guesses are welcome:-



Thursday, January 25, 2007

The total of empty houses throughout Spain turns out to be around 3 million, against 230,000 here in Galicia. Because of the non-existence of a rental market, desperate people are inevitably resorting to squatting. El Pais says this is understandable but must be stopped and it calls for something better than the ‘lamentable’ coordination between the regions and Madrid on the issue of high demand and nil supply. And it stresses that renters must be given the protection of a law which stops them being taken to the cleaners by unscrupulous tenants. Meanwhile, some local governments – ours for example – have said they will eschew taxing owners of empty flats a la Catalunia and will, instead, force local councils to build more cheap, protected buildings. Strangely, the prices of these have a habit of rising faster than the uncontrolled buildings. Presumably the Law of Unintended Consequences.

The Spanish President, Mr Zapatero, boasted a week or two ago that his government would be responsible for the country’s per capita GDP being higher than Germany’s by 2010. Strange, then, that Spain will be receiving massive EU grants until at least 2013 and, if I’m any judge, for some time beyond. But I guess begging at Brussels is a safer strategy than imposing higher taxes on voters whose income has soared and then redistributing it. However illogical. To say things like this, of course, is to commit the sin of ignoring ‘European solidarity’. What this term actually means depends on where you are standing.

When I was young, I used to tease my smoker friends by claiming they couldn’t chuck the habit because nicotine destroyed exactly that part of the brain which would enable them to do so. It now seems I was half right. Scientists claim they’ve discovered a region deep in the brain, the insula, which is intimately involved in smoking addiction. If this is damaged, they say, the body's urge to light up is erased. Time to invest in companies making keyhole surgery tools.

Galicia Facts

Galician temperatures have risen on average by 1.46 degrees in the last 24 years. The range is from 1.18 in La Coruña to 1.81 in Lugo, up in the mountains. Ourense – a place of massive seasonal extremes – comes in second highest at 1.55.

I mentioned the other day that, because of a shortage of prey and carrion, wolves were venturing ever closer to our villages. Now come tales of wild boars grubbing in the nearby forests and press reports of packs of feral crows killing lambs on farms up in the hills. I guess it’s possible all these reflect the impact of the August fires on the flora and fauna of the hinterland. Any views from Biopolitical?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Cervantes Institute in Madrid currently has a small exhibition of reports from various non-Spanish Civil War correspondents. These include evocative pieces from Hemingway, Orwell and Jay Allen, who was in Badajoz during the appalling slaughter of 4,000 Republicans there. Well worth a visit. If only to discover that the UK’s Daily Mail was even more of a scaremonger then than it is now. For one thing, it could never bring itself to describe the [legitimate] government forces as anything but ‘The Reds’. Hardly a model of objective reportage but maybe this was thin on the ground then.

Spain is currently riveted by an outbreak of racially-driven gang warfare between Spanish and Ecuadorian youths in a suburb of Madrid. Despite their attitude towards the large gypsy element here, the Spanish like to believe they’re not racist. Often, though, the assertions you hear sound awfully like those of the UK’s infamous Jane Goody, who has denied she’s a racist even though she makes statements most would regard as blatantly such. They usually include something along the lines of ‘I can’t be racist because I didn’t mean my comments to upset anyone’. The inference is that it’s all the fault of the offended party who, perhaps, can’t take a joke. The classic recent case was of the national football team trainer, who couldn’t understand why black Arsenal players were upset at his calling them niggers. Anyway, the riots will do little to reduce the growing public concern here that there’s too much immigration. And they may well bring the latent racism to the surface and prove to the Spanish government that it’s not just France and Britain who have serious integration and assimilation problems.

To be more positive, I am constantly impressed by how the young people of Spain show respect towards the elderly. Some, I suppose, would say I have a vested interest in this.

Galicia Facts

Anyone who’s tried to rent property in Galicia knows that – despite the fact there are 230,000 empty properties here – it’s virtually impossible to find anywhere except in the holiday months of July and August. When you have to pay through the nose. My impression is this situation is paralleled throughout Spain and the governments of the Basque County and Catalunia have now decided to address it by taxing vacant properties. The minister of housing in the Galician Xunta – as in other regions – has said they won’t be following this ‘punitive’ example but will be incentivising owners. Am I alone in shivering at the thought of a government interfering in the housing market? Or in fearing that any rules will be skilfully manipulated for the benefit of a few?

Anyone who want to get a [lucrative] pharmacy here in Galicia would do well to master Gallego. In the points-based system used to maintain this long-standing guild, you get 10 points for knowing Gallego but only 2 for having a doctorate in pharmacy.

Footnote: For anyone wanting to read Orwell’s essays, here’s a useful reference:-

http://orwell.ru/library/essays/wiw/

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

My daughter in Madrid held a small dinner party on Saturday night and we got to thinking why this pleasant institution is not a feature of Spanish life. We wondered whether it was because it involved at least one person doing a lot of work. Or whether it conflicted with the Spanish need to move from place to place when they’re enjoying themselves. But we ultimately decided it was because it’s hard for young people to entertain friends at home when they live with their parents until they get married and move out. And so the habit never develops.

My daughter introduced me to a cyber café where you buy a 5 euro card and then replenish it when this runs out. My first pleasant surprise was being told I had over 6 euros of credit. My second was being advised, after an hour of use, that I still had 5.93. The next time I used the card, this had risen to 6.50. And it was only fractionally less after another hour. For a small fee, I’m prepared to tell Madrid residents where this charitable organisation is located.

Perhaps because local elections are coming up, the opposition party is making a big thing about the on/off, legal/illegal construction of the granite-block retaining wall opposite my house. At 10m, their estimate of its height is even greater than my 6m and they claim this is blatantly illegal. As well as dangerous. As the photo below shows, the response appears to have been a pragmatic compromise based on a drastic tapering of the wall down from its peak of 6 or 10m to a low of 1m. Possibly this was intended all along but the fact that the unfinished low end used to be 2m suggests otherwise.


Perhaps a Spanish reader can tell me whether throwaway lines [‘dichos de paso’?] are well understood here. My impression is they aren’t.

Galicia Facts

Winter has finally arrived and the morning temperature has fallen from 12 to 2 degrees. But, as yet, there’s no snow on the distant mountain tops. My binoculars reveal only more titanic wind turbines, the ugly march of which cynics attribute more to the availability of EU corporate grants than to their supremacy over, say, private solar heating.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Up near the French border in Aragón, there’s a small and beautiful little village called Fago. It numbers 35 citizens and is famous because its mayor was murdered a week or two ago. The police say that, such was the acrimonious nature of relations between the inhabitants, any one of them could have committed the dastardly deed. According to El Mundo, the village provides a portrait of a rural Spain that’s fast disappearing but which still survives in thousands of villages of less than 100 people. Beneath the pastoral beauty of these, it adds, life is lived on the basis of ancestral hatreds that divide the community into warring factions. As you travel on Spain’s ultra-modern highways or in its equally modern trains and coaches between its booming cities, you could be forgiven for not knowing this.

Per capita income in Ireland has now passed not only that of the UK but also of the USA. There are said to be several factors behind this – not least EU subventions – but investment by American companies is certainly significant. I can’t help wondering if the latter would have happened if the Irish government hadn’t abandoned decades ago its strategy of favouring Gaelic over English. These days, most official documents are published in both languages but it’s glaringly obvious that English is the favoured language of the population, despite being the tongue of Ireland’s not-much-loved colonial oppressors. Here in Galicia, things were similar when I arrived 6 years ago; everything was in both Gallego and Spanish. Now, though, it’s hard to find anything official or semi-official [fliers and brochures for bank-sponsored events, for example] which is in anything but Gallego. I get the impression things are similar up in Catalunia and possibly have been for even longer. This is a natural consequence of ‘nationalist’ aspirations but I, again, question whether it’s sensible for the economic future of these regions that would be nations. Specifically, I’m not much impressed by the argument here that fluent Gallego speakers have access to the world’s Portuguese-speaking economies. Brazil, for example. And . . .

In the arcane world of constitutional theory, there’s a difference between ‘federal’ and ‘confederal’ entities. The latter seems to mean a union of two or more states. The USA is federal. As is Germany. Both the UK and the EU might qualify as confederal states, although perhaps more de facto than de jure. As for Spain, it’s possible it currently ranks as a de facto federal state but could become a de jure confederal state, if and when one or more regions achieves its aims of independence. Confusing, isn’t it? But interesting, of course.

Galicia Facts

Galicia’s 3 airports, now handle 4 million passengers a year, 11% up on last year. La Coruña showed the highest growth but this was probably because Iberia – in a fit of pique - switched its domestic flights from Santiago, after Ryanair started flying there.

Presumably because of fears about declining population, the Xunta has announced plans to permit the grandchildren of emigrant Gallegos to be become Spanish without any residence obligation, provided one of their parents has kept Spanish nationality. Putting this another way, it’ll no longer be necessary for one of their parents to have been born in Spain. At least, I think that’s what’s been announced.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Thanks to the technical wonders of my MP3, I can now download BBC Radio 4 podcasts. Mind you, it’s not all fun. Last week there was a sobering discussion between experts on the various catastrophic threats currently facing the planet. And in a program on the ageing process, it was said some scientists believe the first person who will live to be a thousand is already alive. On balance, I think I’m glad it’s not me. Probably a majority view.

Over the next few weeks, events and decisions will determine whether Kosovo will become independent of Serbia. For obvious reasons, Spain is one of the EU members which oppose this. In yesterday’s El Mundo, there was a useful map of Europe showing the location of more than 20 independence movements, some ‘hot’ and some ‘tepid’. Among the latter are said to be Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the UK, Brittany and Corsica in France, Bavaria in Germany and Padania in Italy. I have to admit it was news to me Northern Ireland was seeking independence but I suppose this is a reference to the IRA activities there. And I wasn’t aware of any such activity in Bavaria. Worse, I’ve never even heard of Padania, which apparently comprises the northern third [the rich bit] of Italy. It can only end in tears. Or an EU super-state within which the old national boundaries have disappeared. Perhaps the first person to live to be a thousand will witness this. Meanwhile, the three independence movements in Spain – in the Basque Country, Catalunia and Galicia – are all ranked as tepid. Which won’t come as much consolation if you’re blown to pieces by an ETA bomb.

I had a coffee in the Café Comercio in Plaza de Bilbao here in Madrid this morning. Both the place itself and its waiters have certainly seen better days and the coffee was double the normal price. But there was no TV, no radio, no screaming kids, no bawling grandmothers and no cigarette smoke. I’d have willingly paid fives times the normal price.

Competition – Name the country most likely to have a reality TV show in which 6 or 8 not-particularly-ugly contestants compete to be the one to get free plastic surgery.

Galicia Facts

The awful fires of August have brought one strange consequence in their wake. There is now not enough prey or even carrion in the forests for the wolves which roam there. So they’re venturing closer and closer to human habitation and increasingly helping themselves to farm animals. It’s estimated there are 68 packs of wolves in the mountains, numbering between 420 and 625 animals in total. Something else for Brits buying houses up near Lugo and Ourense to think about.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

I wrote the other day that the problem with nationalists is not they’re naïve or idealistic but that they’re divisive. As someone with Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English blood in equal parts, I’m very much in sympathy with the sentiments expressed in this extract from an article in a UK paper:-
As with parts of my wardrobe, my taste in national identity appears to be out of fashion. I am British and feel privileged to be so. When asked by hotel receptionists to complete a check-in form, I write with relish: Country – United Kingdom; Nationality – British. I never put: English. That, in my view, would be a nod to those who hope to break up the Union – a prospect I deplore. In trivial matters, such as sport, I am, of course, very English. When England play Scotland, I want us to win. But Englishness does not define me. I belong to Britain. Being part of a broader and deeper culture is a source of pride. I enjoy the successes of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. When they're not playing England, I always cheer for them. According to some polls, however, fewer and fewer UK citizens feel this way. A resurgence of Scottish nationalism has sparked a backlash in England. The Union is under attack on both sides of the border – and this is no phoney war.
As if to prove the point about divisiveness, the Catalan government has described Spain's "System of Solidarity" as excessive. In other words, they want to keep more of their money. So it has proposed changes which would effectively mean all the regions maintaining their current position relative to both each other and the state as a whole. But I guess that, if you don't want to belong to the latter in the first place, you're not going to lose much sleep over this. Especially if you are top of the pile.

Galicia Facts

The Galician company which recently decided to site a major new investment in Portugal has now announced it's scrapping two other projects planned for Galicia. They blame the local government but the Xunta has, naturally, denied responsibility. At least now that the negotiations around our new Constitution have been shelved indefinitely, they will have a lot more time to consider developments like this. Preferably before they happen and not after.

The Xunta has recently stressed to the EU's purse-masters that Galicia's per capita growth is not all it seems. So the grants should keep coming. Apart from reflecting an artificial construction boom, this growth is an artefact of demographic trends. In other words, the region is losing its population. Some would consider this a good reason for reconsidering 'Galicianisation' policies which serve to keep away the fresh blood and money needed. Perhaps after the next election, when either the Socialist Party gets enough votes to govern alone or the PP party is returned to power.

Friday, January 19, 2007

According to my daughter in Madrid, the city has been hit by a plague of politeness. Even shop assistants in El Corte Ingles appear to have succumbed to the bug, she tells me. This, of course, is excellent news. Unless it moves on to a phase where everyone insists that you have a nice day. With or without a scowl.

In one of those developments which leave Anglo-Saxons slack-jawed in amazement, the Ministry of Justice has told two Colombian women they can't be given Spanish nationality unless they change their names from Darling and Beliza. These apparently don't comply with the relevant law. Amongst other things, this demands that people have forenames that are indicative of their gender.

Talking of astonishment, it seems the entire world is agog at the fact that if you take a group of ill-educated, badly brought-up, foul-mouthed British scum and lock them into a house together, they will act like . . . well . . . ill-educated, badly brought up, foul-mouthed scum. As if this was anything new. I guess you could manage it anywhere in the world but in the UK it just happens to pass for TV entertainment these days. Oh, world.

Galicia Facts

The President of the local government [the Xunta] has postponed sine die the discussions around our new Constitution. This is because the right wing PP party has rejected the BNG party's proposed formula for the preamble, which runs . . . The Galician sentiment which unites us as a people and the parliament which represents us as a citizenry define Galicia as a nation. The Xunta President has blamed the lack of progress on the ETA-driven stand-off between the major parties at the national level. Since the BNG represents less than 20% of the electorate and actually lost votes and seats at the last election, the question which springs to my lips is - What Galician sentiment exactly?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Second post of the day . . .

Well, it didn’t take long for the public to confirm my perception that the opposition leader’s “Grovel or Die!” strategy during Monday’s parliamentary debate on ETA terrorism had been OTT. The right-wing paper El Mundo today reported that far more people thought President Zapatero had won it than Mr Rajoy. A sympathy vote perhaps, as 70% thought Mr R had been the more aggressive. Actually, it all endorses my impression that, whilst the Spanish love to argue, shout and even insult, they’re uncomfortable with what they see as personal attacks. Where the line lies, I couldn’t really tell you. But I can say an aggressive Scouse humour doesn’t always go down well. But, then, it doesn’t in London either.

Talking of polls, there’s a lot of them at the moment around Scotland and the UK union. Perhaps the wisest comment on these has been that they’re being mis-read. It’s not that the English really want the Union broken up via Scottish independence; it’s that they’re fed up of listening to Scottish moans and demands whilst being subsidised by English taxpayers and whilst the British government is largely in the hands of expat Scots. In Spanish terms, it’s as if the rest of Spain was subsidising belligerant Catalunia and the Spanish President and three-quarters of his cabinet were Catalan. If it takes a separate English parliament to bring an end to this situation, then this is what will happen. Probably as a modified form of Westminster. Eventually. Meanwhile, interesting times.

At the risk of generating more angry messages from Galicians [or Galegos] around the world, I venture to say the trouble with nationalistic movements is not that they’re naively idealistic but that they’re depressingly divisive. And – as the Scots would find if they really did leave the British Union – usually self-damaging. But this is not to deny anyone their right to say things as daft as ‘Economics don’t matter. What’s really important is that everyone speaks perfect Galiz’. As defined by the writer, of course.
First post of the day. And on a subject which may not interest all – or even many – readers. Normal post later. . .

I’ve received a comment from someone [living in the USA, I guess] who tells me it’s nonsensical for me to reject the notion of Galicia as a nation. Well, I was anyway going to post this translation of a column in today’s Voz de Galicia but it now seems even more relevant. It lends some support to my response that Galicia will only be a nation if and when people out in the real world treat it as such. Until then, the simple fact is that – whatever historical, cultural, linguistic reasons the ‘nationalists’ adduce – it isn’t. Of course, I don’t expect these zealots to accept either my view or those of the writer below. But then, it isn’t they who need to be convinced for things to change; it’s the rest of the world. I fear they are rather up against it . . .

For Galicia to define itself as a nation would have the same juridical value as if it called itself an Atlantic bonsai or country of the Celts – none. The reason is very simple - a definition is only juridically significant when normative consequences flow from it. And, however much we twist around the subject, the term nation applied to Galicia would have no effect in the world of law. Galicia wouldn’t have its own constitutional position, nor would it be able to claim different rights, nor demand different treatment from either the Spanish state or foreign states.

This position, these rights and this treatment depend entirely on what the Constitution establishes on the matter. Therefore, the rumpus over the juridical value of the term nation is a swindle with which the parties are trying to steal from us the real debate deriving from the use of such a term – the debate over the political advisability of using an identifying definition which the immense majority of Galicians don’t share.

For this, and nothing else, is the question. Defining Galicia as nation may be juridically irrelevant but it has undeniable political significance. Its acceptance - via whatever formula and in whatever place in the Constitution [as an article or just in the Preamble] – would be for the defenders of Galician independence a stirrup with which they could, sooner or later, climb onto the horse of a demand for sovereignty. So it is perfectly coherent for those – the BNG – who have always demanded Galician independence to now defend the term nation and to make it the life or death of our new Constitution.

For the parties which have never accepted this minority claim it is as coherent as it is inexplicable to do so now. This is, of course, the case of the PP party which now says it’s willing to agree on a symbolic formula. To see what the result of their ingenious ambiguity would be, they only have to look to Catalunia, where it is now taken as read that this community is defined in its Constitution as a nation.

As regards the Socialist Party, the President must explain why he, who has never spoken of Galicia as a nation, has now had a Damascene conversion. And why, moreover, he believes, he has the right to impose his conversion to the concept of a pluri-national state both on a party which has never accompanied him on this journey and on voters who have expressly refused to define Galicia on the basis of a term which only serves to force down the throats of the immense majority of the region’s voters [78%] something demanded by only the noisy minority [19%] which voted for the BNG.

ROBERTO L. BLANCO VALDÉS

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Even the right wing press seems to think the recent parliamentary debate on ETA’s terrorism was a wasted opportunity. The blame for this goes to the leader of the opposition, for not displaying the slightest interest in any form of bi-partisan approach which isn’t preceded by total humiliation of the government. I suppose that, if focus group research [assuming there is any in Spain] reveals public anger at this, we will see a softening of the approach. Meanwhile, it’s felt ETA must be delighted at the political infighting around what to do next. In fact, this was much in evidence prior to the recent marches in Madrid and elsewhere, when all and sundry bickered and haggled publicly for days over what should go on the all-party banner.

The Spanish are not big internet buyers. The consensus is that [apart from a preference for doing everything face-to-face] this reflects not Luddism or even mere conservatism but a fear of being cheated. When you bear in mind the perception of fraudulent practices on the part of major companies such as Telefonica, this is hardly an irrational standpoint. And I guess this lack of trust was in evidence on a small scale last night, when the garage which replaced the sparkplugs in my car assured me the old ones were in a plastic bag in the boot.

The Spanish are famous for being very attached to their place of birth. I guess this reflects the fact most of them don’t move away from it. One of the consequences of this ‘localism’ is that short distances loom very large in the Spanish mind. I was reminded of this when I read that the family of Ana María Ríos had dismissed out of hand the criticisms of the people of Arcade, where she has her hairdressing salon. “We don’t care a jot,” they said, “as we’re not from Arcade but from A Canicouvo.” This turns out to be all of 5km or 3 miles away!

I now get 100 spam emails a day [36,500 a year!] to my Terra address. So I wasn’t surprised to read Spain is now one of the largest sources of this nuisance. This is because it’s not as common as it should be to install a firewall to stop your computer being used as a ‘zombie’ which regularly spreads spams to everyone in your address book.

Galicia Facts

The leader of the local government has said he’ll soon be proposing the draft of Galicia’s new Constitution which, in the Preamble, will use the word ‘nation’ but not go so far as to call Galicia one. As ever, I wonder at the fact that dancing on a pinhead appeals more to the local politicians than solving the region’s real problems. But I may be in a minority.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Spanish president, Mr Zapatero, appeared in parliament yesterday to defend his policy of talking to ETA terrorists. Ignoring opposition demands that he apologise for his mistakes and return to a bipartisan hard line, he did at least say he was sorry for being optimistic on the day before ETA exploded its bomb at Madrid airport, killing two Ecuadorians. If he expected magnanimity for this rare act of political chest-beating, he’ll have been sorely disappointed. The opposition’s line continues to be that Zapatero is a naïve idiot who has put the future of Spain at grave risk. Not to mention his own political career.

Tomorrow is the 300th anniversary of the Union of the English and Scottish nations. In keeping with British tradition, celebrations will be – to say the least - low key. Ahead of the day, there’ve been several polls on the current attitude of the English and Scottish populaces. These suggest growing support in both countries for Scottish independence and so the May elections for the Scottish parliament will surely be pored over meticulously. From a Spanish perspective – unless you live in the Basque Country, Catalunia or even Galicia – the break up of the British union would be an alarming precedent.

Generally speaking, I’m an admirer of the Spanish refusal to create temples to the great god of Safety but I do occasionally wonder whether there shouldn’t be a bit of a move in that direction. Today I watched as a couple of men and a crane levered massive blocks of granite onto the top of a wall already 6 metres [18 feet] high. Not only were neither of the men wearing anything as sissy as a hard hat but the work was taking place directly above cars and pedestrians passing below. So I wasn’t too surprised to see a chunk of granite fall down into the road. I guess it’s easy to understand why the Spanish death-at-work rate is one of the highest in Europe. A macho thing?

A couple in Italy has been arrested for killing their next door neighbours because of excessive noise. If this were to catch on in Spain, the population would be decimated within a decade. At least, around here it would.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Second post of the day.

There were impressively large marches against ETA terrorism in 6 Spanish cities yesterday, including two in the Basque Country itself. I’m not aware that there were any against what our Basque friend Aleksu regards as the terrorists of the PP party. But possibly they’re a regular event in New Zealand, where he lives.

My friend Andrew has told me of yet another Telefonica scam but his story was as nothing compared with the saga related to me today by my piano teacher, Alex. He bought a card for his laptop giving access to the net via the 3G mobile phone they gave him. Except it didn’t work out like that as there’s very poor 3G coverage in Pontevedra. But his real problems began when he tried to cancel the contract. After the inevitable pillar-to-posting, he finally got to talk to the Cancellations Department. Their first tack was to tell him there’d be a penalty payment of 125 euros. When Alex pointed out he was cancelling within the statutory ‘cooling off’ period, they suggested he stay with them and they wouldn’t charge him for 6 months. To the response that this would be pointless as he couldn’t get decent internet access, they assured him they’d ‘soon’ introduce the service Alex thought he’d signed up for. When he persisted, they said he’d have to go to one of their retail outlets to complete the process. There, there was one final stroke of genius from Telefonica – instead of the 3G service, they’d give him 3.5G card without extra charge. At least they would when they had one in stock. They seemed surprised when Alex pointed out that, if he couldn’t get 3G, then it was very unlikely he’d get something better. And that, by the time he got a card to try out, he’d be outside the period for terminating the contract without penalty. I doubt there’s a Telefonica customer in Spain who’d be surprised at this evidence of the contempt with which they treat their customers. I do hope they’re riding for a fall as great as BT’s when they finally lost their monopoly in the UK. They will surely deserve it. Sadly, I fear it’s still some way off and Telefonica shares will continue to reflect the huge profitability of their captive-consumer practices.

Galicia Facts

This is an agricultural region and foxes are not regarded here as harmless, fluffy creatures equivalent to guinea pigs. I mention this because the ‘national’ fox-hunting championships were held yesterday. This involved little, if any, horse-riding and resulted in a better-than-expected total of 37 animals being shot and proudly displayed in the local papers. There were no reports of anti-hunt protestors or the like. And the hunters were allowed to take their rifles home. A different world.

Our local heroine, Ana María Ríos [see my blog of 12.1.07] has begun to appear on the daytime TV gossip programs. And I’ve opened a book on how long it will be before she’s walking out with a bullfighter.
First post of the day.

Here's the photo of the wall mentioned in last night's post.

You may be able to make out human heads at the top left and in the middle. These will give you some idea of the scale, if the lamppost hasn't already done so.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A group of apostates in Spain is fighting a legal battle with the Catholic Church to get their baptism records annulled. This has highlighted the fact the organisation is continuing to lose its faithful. Despite this, the government agreed last year to a large increase in the money it passes to the church, albeit prior to a change which might actually achieve the 30 year-old objective of a cessation of state financing. During this period, most Spaniards have believed the amount going to the church is determined by a box which they can tick on their annual tax submission. But this has been, up to now, a complete sham and the government has simply increased its previous subventions by the rate of inflation. The claim is that this will now begin to happen and that, if the ever-more irreligious Spanish public decides not to tick the box, then the amounts of taxpayers' cash being handed over will automatically reduce. Maybe. Meanwhile, this year – as one paper put it - the church will receive 34 cents for every person in Spain, ‘whether they are a believer, an atheist, a baby or a geriatric, employed or unemployed, a Catholic, a Jew, a Protestant, a Muslim or a Buddhist.’

The on-off [illegal/legal] construction project at the front of my house is currently on again. At least as far as the granite retaining wall is concerned. This is now taking on the configuration and dimensions of a medieval castle. I would have said it’s taking just as long to erect but I suspect the proximity of an Arab horde or two added a sense of urgency to real castles which is clearly lacking in this case. I had hoped to post a picture of the wall but Blogger's system appears not to work. Perhaps later.

I’m still catching a mouse a day in my garage. I am releasing them from the humane trap at ever increasing distances from my house [Madrid next week] but still they come. Either there are hundreds of them there – as evidenced by the droppings – or I have single mouse with incredible homing instincts. To check, I shall now start marking them/it with spray-paint.

Finally, our Basque zealot, Aleksu, has responded – sort of – to my suggestion that he comment on the recent ETA killings in Madrid. Disdaining to defend or at least rationalise these, he merely says the only terrorists in Spain are Franco’s heirs in the PP party and that Winston Churchill was a ‘genocidal maniac’. He then accuses me of lacking a backbone because I choose to moderate the comments of people even dafter than him. My response to this is that, on balance, I’d prefer to be spineless than brainless but I’m not sure he has the capacity to exercise this choice. Despite this, I happily undertake to post everything he cares to write as its amusement value is priceless. If you like black humour.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Two little local vignettes tonight. I have no idea how representative they are of Spain as a whole, or even of Galicia. . . .

In Galicia, land is important enough to fight and feud over. And occasionally even to kill for. Given the history of land devolution here, there are an awful lot of plots, many of them small to tiny. And they tend to be physically marked off with anything to hand – granite blocks, painted sticks, bits of rag, plastic buckets, etc. But, whatever their size, they’re subject to taxes and no one likes paying these. Certainly not at the extortionate rates applied by the Spanish government to property transactions. So it’s common for owners here to understate the size of their properties in any official documents. By and large, this situation is not problematic until a plot is sold and things have to be ‘regularised’. But in a village nearby, a large area of multi-owned land is being compulsorily purchased for the expansion of an industrial estate and everyone has been offered an initial 10 euros a square metre. In the blink of an eye it’s become critical to stop understating your plot and to overstate it as much as you can - possibly having got up in the middle of the night to move whatever your neighbour had marked his land off with. Yesterday, all the owners, their lawyer and a surveyor descended on the place for an exercise in official measurement. The result was an angry riot in which the surveyor and the lawyer had to be separated before they resorted to fisticuffs. I've written to Alejandro Amenábar to suggest the whole thing be filmed under the title Terra Adentro. I’m thinking of a more violent version of The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain. Or something like that.

Just outside Pontevedra, there’s a donkey sanctuary which doubles as an animal-assisted therapy centre, primarily for mentally or physically handicapped children. It’s called ANDREA and is situated at the top of a large, forested hill, where there is a ‘nucleus’ of 6 or 8 houses. ANDREA was about to receive its first grant from the local government to assist with minor expansion but the neighbours protested at the enlargement of what they called a ‘zoo’. And the money has been withheld until they move to another place. Meanwhile, on the other side of the river and up in the hills behind Pontevedra, a brothel has opened in a small village where one of my friends lives. It’s said to be owned by someone who’s currently in prison and has brought with it everything you’d expect of a brothel. But no one has complained. Or, if they have, they’ve been roundly ignored.

Back on this side of the river, I don’t know what objections ANDREA’s neighbours have to the sanctuary-cum-therapy centre. Having been there several times, I know there’s no smell and I doubt the donkeys make much noise. Almost certainly not as much as the local dogs. Possibly they’re upset at the sight of the handicapped kids arriving and leaving. And perhaps ANDREA would have been well-advised to call it a Donkey ‘Club’ and festoon the place with pink neon lights.

I suppose this sort of thing happens everywhere.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Until recently, the little town of Arcade – 15km along the coast from Pontevedra – was famous only for its oysters. But a few months ago a young Arcadian hairdresser [Ana María Ríos] was arrested in Cancun, Mexico, accused of drug smuggling. Her case became a cause celebre here in Spain and she was eventually released and returned to Arcade in glory. She then fell out of the media until last week, when she re-appeared, topless, on the cover of the magazine Interviu, which specialises is this sort of thing. Another media storm followed, especially here in conservative Galicia. One could be forgiven for forgetting that, come summer, there will be dozens of young Spanish women on our beaches displaying at least as much as Ana. Her crime appears to be getting 90,000 euros for it. Her truck-driver husband - Ana was arrested during their honeymoon – has dismissed local critics as idiots. The general view is that, now his wife is a ‘celebrity’, it won’t be long before he’s the one being dismissed. Probably in favour of one of the bullfighters who seem to favour vacuous blondes. Not that Ana is blonde. But she soon will be.

I moaned recently that, unlike the major newspapers, I didn’t have a proof-reader. But now I’m wondering whether I’m alone, at least in the case of the UK’s Daily Telegraph. Its on-line edition now comes complete with basic spelling and punctuation errors and tonight’s included these marvels:-
- Mr Dimas said that Gu(with umlaut)nter Verheugen, (ck) the German Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry . . .
- The Russian magnate, Mr Prok-horov . . .

Galicia Facts

January 6 – the Epiphany - is a big day in little Bueu, just along the coast from Pontevedra. For this is the location of the only church in Spain dedicated to the Three Kings. Or Wise Men in the Anglo world. In fact, the only other in Europe is said to the cathedral in Cologne. Though Wikipedia claims it’s dedicated to ‘Saints Peter and Mary’.

This reference to Wikipedia allows me to introduce a word new to me. This is the term for web sites such as this one which rely on contributions from the public and it’s crowdsourcing.

And, talking of new words, I stumbled across this bit of Spanglish in an article on the photos of Ana from Arcade – photoshopizado. I assume the verb is photoshopizar. Though possibly fotoshopizar in Gallego.

And finally on words – I see Doris Lessing has written a new novel in which men evolve from a women-only society. The men are know as squirts, against clefts for women. One wonders why.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A nice comment on the recent ETA announcement in one of the major papers today - Spain must be the only country in the world in which the delusions of a terrorist group are publicly analysed in the same minute detail as a philosophical treatise.

In a survey of Spanish cultural attitudes, 33% said they thought bullfighting should be banned and 46% opined that the bulls should not be killed. At least not in the ring. 61% felt that illegal immigration led to higher levels of delinquency but I don’t think they were asked whether global warming kept them awake at night. Not close enough to home, I suspect.

An American contender in the current Lisbon-Dakar road race [whatever happened to Paris?] was found bewildered outside the bus station in central Sevilla on Tuesday. I knew some sat-nav programs were unreliable but this surely takes the biscuit. I have this vision of confused local residents trying to board a filthy Hummer Monster as it drives round in circles.

Galicia Facts

The favoured money-laundering routes for Galicia’s drug barons are said to be construction, vineyards and hotels. Which should surprise no one. I mean, what else is there? Banks? El Banco de los Narcotraficos??

25% of our rural ‘nucleos’ have less than 10 inhabitants. And in 39 councils of the Lugo and Ourense provinces more than 40% of the residents are over 65. I wonder how the tide of Brits buying ruined houses up there will impact on these statistics over the coming years. They could well be the salvation of inland Galicia. But I doubt whether it’ll do much for the spread of Gallego.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The ETA terrorist group has finally admitted responsibility for the Madrid airport bombings. However, they say they haven’t broken their ceasefire because they didn’t intend to kill anyone and, anyway, the fault lies with the Spanish government for putting obstacles in the way of the democratic process. I had thought Gerry Adams was advising ETA on the quiet but I now wonder. Even this master of sophistry never came up with anything like this disingenuous bilge. Of course, you have to have lost touch with reality to some extent to be a terrorist in a democracy but does ETA really think this will persuade anyone of the legitimacy of its cause? Perhaps our resident Basque, Aleksu, could tell us. Though he’s keeping an understandably low profile at the moment.

Talking of nonsense - I spoke last night to a group of teachers who are being compelled to submit their annual plan in Gallego, so being deprived of their right to do this in either of the region’s co-official languages. They’re all Gallego speakers and none of them is best pleased about this. But they’re all resigned to it and will simply use a translation program [http://sli.uvigo.es/tradutor] to take the pain out of what they see as an idiotic, politics-driven development. I’ve just used this to translate a quotation in today’s Voz de Galicia from a famous Galician writer - España é un país onde a xente está sempre de volto sen ter ido a ningures. It came back as España es un país donde la gente está siempre de vuelto sin haber ido la ningures. Which is fine except for the last 2 words. So now I’m left wondering whether the Voz de Galicia can’t spell ‘none’ in Gallego or whether it’s one of those words that are spelled in several ways in this language. I think this calls for help from my friend Lord Henry Wotton. Come in, Sir Henry. Or even Antonio.

The good news is that Spanish teachers, as elsewhere in the world, tend to be left of centre and the consensus was that the current socialist government would lose the next election if it didn’t soon start curbing the excesses of its coalition partner, the Galician Nationalist Party.

To put all of this in context, it’s been announced this week that a major Galician company is to make a significant investment in Portugal after the local government rejected it - not just once but four times - because a new fish farm wasn’t compatible with ecological considerations. So 140m euros of investment and 350 much-needed jobs have literally gone south. It’s hard to believe a local party can find an investment of this sort less important than having dolls that talk Gallego and a new Constitution containing a word resembling ‘nation’ but this is certainly the impression one gets. What’s really worrying is that, if they get further separated from reality, I guess there’s a risk they’ll end up as terrorists.

The linguistic theme continues to the end of this blog. . .

1. I’ve learned that the words ‘vermillion’ and “vermello/bermello/ vermelho/bermejo” all come down to us from the Latin word for ‘worms’. The reason is that the red colour was originally manufactured by crushing the little blighters. And then there is vermicelli, or ‘little worms’. And probably lots more.

2. The Galician winners of the January lottery came from a district in Ferrol called Inferniño. Or ‘Little Hell’ in Gallego. I put this into the translating program mentioned above and got the same spelling in Spanish. I venture to say, though, this means something like ‘hell-child’ in this case. But what do I know? Where are Lord Henry and Antonio when you need them?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Regular readers will know I’m no fan of Spanish banks, seeing them as inefficient and expensive in equal degrees. So I wasn’t too surprised to hear that merely operating a current account and a credit card costs between 152 and 305 euros a year, or an average of 229. Nor did it come as a shock to read that this has risen by 52 euros in only two years, despite a so-called ‘commissions war’. And that further increases are now in the pipeline. An oligopoly? Or merely the consequence of the very immediate, personal and face-to-face service demanded by Spanish customers?

The new French rolling news channel had a feature recently on the top 5 concerns of people in France, Germany, Britain and the USA. There were some interesting differences but Global Warming was high on each list. I may be sticking my neck out here but I suspect this subject has yet to penetrate Spanish consciousness to anything like the same extent. I certainly can’t recall seeing it on the regularly published list of what does worry Spaniards. The most recent of these has, naturally, seen Terrorism climb back to its traditional place.

I’d like to add a comment to those posted yesterday about US TV comedy programs – Among the best of these is Curbing your Enthusiasm but my pleasure at watching this is diminished by the knowledge that my two daughters think the ageing curmudgeon featured in it is really me.

And talking of me, I’m going to have to replace the new photo in my profile. I’ve been told it makes me look a lot older than the previous one and that I’m a dead ringer for the British art critic, Brian Sewell. Much as I enjoy his scathing opinions of modern art, the guy is at least 10 years older than me!

Finally on the subject of TV – The original compere of the British quiz show, Mastermind – Magnus Magnusson - has passed away. This has allowed the press to print things such as these 2 lists:-

1. The 5 Strangest Subjects permitted:-

- The Sex Pistols and Punk Rock
- Famous British Poisoners
- Burial Grounds of London
- Theropod Dinosaurs
- Anorexia Nervosa

And

2. The 5 Strangest Subjects Rejected

- Orthopaedic Bone Cement in Total Hip Replacement
- Routes to Anywhere in Mainland Britain from Letchworth by Road
- Farm Wagons and Carts of England and Wales
- Sweet Peas
- Life and Times of the author and broadcaster Magnus Magnusson

But, for me, the program will always be associated with the subject allegedly chosen by the ex Middle East hostage, Reverend Terry Waite – Lebanese radiators 1976 to 1978.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

It would be hard to exaggerate the sense of disappointment [and anger] in Spain at ETA’s unilateral ending of its ‘permanent’ ceasefire. What has to be remembered is that we’re talking here about a terrorist organisation operating on the mainland, as it were. Not in a distant, overseas ‘province’ which the rest of the nation would happily be shot of. As it happens, I took a look today at the blog of the Basque fanatic, Aleksu, who diverted us all with his views several months ago. You may recall these arose from his opinion of me as ‘the stupid American Basque-phobe of the week’. Well, this is how he commented on press reports that the Spanish government had refused to confirm a meeting with ETA, some nine months after a ceasefire ‘revived hopes of ending four decades of violence’ – “More like five centuries of violent oppression, genocide and the clear attempt to wipe out Europe's oldest culture.” If he’s still sitting in his room in New Zealand zealously tracking all references to the Basque Country on his computer, I’d be interested to hear whether he feels murdering two South Americans is a useful step forward in ETA’s strategy of ending this clearly intolerable situation. I say ‘intolerable’ but I suppose this rather depends on whether you live there or not.

Spanish TV folk are thrilled that a successful comedy here – ‘Betty the Ugly’ - is being reproduced in the USA. I haven’t seen any local episodes but I was looking forward to seeing the English-language version. At least, I was until I read this in a UK newspaper - Having read everywhere it was going to be funny, I settled down to watch the American sitcom Ugly Betty. The only thing funny about it was that Betty wasn't actually ugly. The programme-makers had obviously and rightly calculated that if they gave her acne, or made her morbidly obese, or afflicted her with a disfiguring birth condition, they would give offence to one or other of the groups representing people so afflicted. So they made her slightly plump and gave her braces and a whacky fashion sense. Result: a moral parable of extraordinary asininity, and a comedy without a single laugh. In truth, Betty isn’t particularly ugly in the original version either. But, then, she doesn’t need to be. For, in Spain, any woman who isn’t thin, blonde and big-breasted cannot be beautiful [guapa]. And is, therefore, automatically ugly.

Galicia Facts

At last some good luck for Galicia. Residents of the town of Ferrol have won 34 million euros in the January national lottery, El Niño. The other welcome news is that the police have broken up a drug-smuggling ring which included a notorious baron from Vilagarcia, a suspiciously rich town along the coast from Pontevedra. So, 2007 has got off to a good start. Which is just as well, as 64% of Galicians are reported to believe 2006 was a bad year for the region.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Today, a Spanish humour special. I’ve been given the following document on the subject of machismo in the Spanish language, something I’ve touched on in the past. I leave it to you to answer the question - Is this a genuine list of examples or is it piss-taking on the part of the very Spanish males who revel in it . . .

MACHISMO IN THE SPANISH LANGUAGE

The Association of Hispanic-American Women has complained that, according to them, Spanish is fundamentally machisto. Let’s have a look at a few examples:-

AMBITIOUS
Masculine form: With fixed aims. ‘Not backwards in coming forward’
Feminine form: Self-interested. ‘Bloodsucker’.

DARING
M: Bold. Courageous.
F: Rude. Badly brought up.

ADVENTURESOME
M: Bold. Original and risk-taking.
F: Easy. Frivolous.

CALLEJERO: A street map
CALLEREJA: A streetwalker. A whore

WHATEVER
M: Whomsoever. A so-and-so.
F: A whore

GOD: The creator of the universe whose divinity passed to his son through the male line
GODDESS: A mythological creation of obsolete, forgotten and superstitious cultures

HERO: An idol
HEROIN: A drug which kills

MAN OF THE WORLD: A man of great experience and broad view
WOMAN OF THE WORLD: A whore

PUBLIC MAN: A prominent person. A civil servant.
PUBLIC WOMAN: A low life. A whore.

HOMBREZUELO: A man of insignificance
MUJERZUELA: A whore

MACHISTO: A man who is macho and tough
MACHISTA: A dyke. A lesbian

HERITAGE: A combination of goods
MARRIAGE: A combination of evils

DOG
M: Man’s best friend
F: A whore

PUTO: A womaniser. A Binger.
PUTA: A whore

QUICK
M: Intelligent. Open-minded.
F: A whore

REGALADO: Past participle of the verb to ‘To give a present’
REGALADA: A whore

UNMARRIED
M: Popular. Intelligent. Able
F: Timid. Slow. ‘Prickly customer’.

FATHER IN LAW: Father of your spouse.
MOTHER IN LAW: Witch. Busybody.

BULL: An animal of class and breeding. Strong and noble.
COW: Fat and podgy. As ugly as a manatee.

FOX
M: Swordsman [Zorro]. Skilful. Audacious.
F: Yet another Whore.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Bang on cue, the Galician Nationalist Party [the BNG] has made two proposals which it clearly thinks are critically relevant to the challenges faced by the region. Firstly, it wants the local government to do something to ensure all ‘barbarically Hispanicised’ forenames and surnames are returned to their pure Galician form. Secondly, it wants kids’ toys to be ‘Galicianised’. Specifically, they’re unhappy about dolls that speak Spanish and not Gallego. You couldn’t make it up. The leader of the PP party [Mr Feijoo-who-should-be-Mr-Feixoo -or-Feixo] has rightly said there are surely more important things to be thinking about. But not for language fascists, of course. I wonder how long it will be before they ask for the return to a genuine Galician currency last used in the 11th century and bearing the head of, say, the mythical king Breogan. Meanwhile, the BNG says it’s not pushing for obligatory name reform; all it wants is a campaign from the government aimed at motivating people to act of their own free will. Maybe but who would rule out ‘erroneous’ applications for government jobs ending up in the bin?

The Minister of health recently published an article critical of bullfighting. The writer, Albert Boadella, has responded with a piece headed ‘Contradictions in the alleged defence of animals’. It includes the assertion that ‘Bullfighting is the last great art of the Western world, having miraculously survived all forms of political correctness’. Possibly but it would be nice if its supporters could admit it’s undeniably cruel before setting out the ‘artistic’ merits which mitigate this. Or perhaps this would be to put a first step on a very slippy slope.

Through my visitors this week, I learned that films are all dubbed in Germany as well as in Spain. Hearing Robert de Niro speaking in English for the first time, one of them exclaimed this was nothing like his real voice. Apparently, in Germany all famous actors have a doppelganger who accompanies them throughout their careers. Or at least until one of them pops his/her clogs. Here in Spain, though, my impression is that females of all ages and sexual inclinations are dubbed by just one – or possibly two – Spanish women in their 40s. On the other hand, there may be as many as 4 or 5 male dubbers covering the whole of the world’s non-Spanish output.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

There are conflicting numbers in the press but all of them endorse my fear that the reduction in road deaths in Galicia – very welcome as it is – was at the tail end of the national list. In Spain as a whole, they fell by around 10% but here in Galicia the number was nearer 6%, with ‘mortal accidents’ falling by only 2%. Let’s hope for better luck this year. Meanwhile, El Pais has rightly pointed out Spain’s 2006 total of 3,019 is still shocking.

There was a comment yesterday about my poor grasp of Galician. The writer’s main achievement was to demonstrate the confusion that exists among the language’s protagonists. The harsh truth is that the only thing they agree on is that, despite its international irrelevance, Galician should be favoured over Spanish. This they dismiss as ‘Castellano’ and a feature of Castilian imperialism. After that, they can’t even agree on what to call their language. Nor on the word for ‘thanks’. Most amusingly, I’ve seen at least 3 words for a word that crops up a lot in Galician news reports – rain. From memory, these are chova, chovia and chuvia. And possibly chuva. Given the widespread confusion between ‘v’ and ‘b’, it wouldn’t surprise me if there were also choba, chobia, chubia and chuba. At the most ‘purist’ extreme, there is even a group – called ‘reintegrationists’ – who demand that Galego/Galiza/Galiz have its spelling harmonised with that of its sister language, Portuguese. Imagine what life would be like if these nutters got into power. It’s bad enough having to contend with the rag-bag of Trotskyites, Marxists, Socialists and ‘interpendistas’ who form the Galician Nationalist Party, the BNG. The good news is they lost votes at the last election. The bad news is that the socialist party – as in Catalunia – needed to bring them into a coalition in order to take over the government. But that’s Continental politics for you. So, roll on the next elections.

Isn’t capitalism a wonderful thing? You can already buy a plastic doll of Saddam Hussein with a noose around its neck. Though I fear the sartorial details are not exactly right. I wonder if you can buy dolls of Galician nationalists to stick pins into. Or maybe I could make more money selling them a likeness of me. I could give it three different names, to make them even happier.

Galicia Facts

Over the last 20 years, Galicia’s economy has grown steadily but has reduced as a percentage of the national total. The region has similarly lost weight [as the report puts in] when it comes to population. Doubtless the interpendistas would see secession from the Spanish imperial state as the answer to this. With Galician becoming an equal language to English, French and German in Brussels.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

First Catalunia and now Scotland. There’s a new political party being formed there to defend the Union between Scotland and England, currently under threat from the Scottish Nationalist Party. The leader of the new entity – talking about the effects of devolution of power to the Scottish parliament – has commented - "Two-thirds of 14-year-olds fail national reading standards and half fail writing standards. One in four Scots work for the public sector. A crime is committed every 78 seconds. We have the highest infant mortality in the western world. A £20 billion subsidy from England keeps us afloat. We anticipated excellence. We have been offered only ineptitude." Given the opportunity, this is surely the direction in which our local ‘nationalist’ party [the BNG] would take us, with the added objective of ensuring no Galician kid spoke good Spanish.

Talking of language - I got lost in town yesterday trying to find a street called Cruz Roja, or Red Cross St. I was sure I knew where it was but the sign said Cruz Bermella. Asking in a shop, I learned this was Galician for Cruz Roja. And I got to wondering why ‘bermella’ was similar to ‘bermeja’, which I‘d come across down in Andalucia, meaning red. And then it struck me that the link must be the Latin root of the word ‘vermillion’ in English. Anyone got a better theory?

A 14 year old English boy has sailed across the Atlantic single-handedly, which is an astonishing feat. Commenting on it, one writer put her finger on the insanity in British society to which I occasionally allude - Michael is one of the lucky ones. Our risk-averse society denies so many children even the most benign of challenges. Activity holidays, camping trips, even school trips, are being phased out because of health and safety concerns. And parents - cheered on by no-win, no-fee lawyers - seek financial redress for the slightest mishaps to their offspring.

Galicia Facts

The interior of Galicia is continuing to lose its population. Clearly, not enough Brits are buying ruined houses up in the hills of Lugo and Ourense.


Finally - It seems that, no matter how much proof-reading one does of one’s own stuff, it’s never enough. Things always slip through. So, my apologies to those readers who got ‘Jack and Oliver’ in yesterday’s blog, when it should have been ‘Jack and Olivia’.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Well, yes the German Lander do have Representative Offices in Brussels. So it’s the UK which is the odd man out in this case. Of course, the British government did recently try to introduce regional government but this was roundly rejected by the voters in the would-be ‘North East Region’ test case. Strangely, they saw it leading to more politicians and higher taxes. Both of which they felt they could do without.

The first week of January brings a reminder of how bureaucratic and at least quasi-monopolistic Spain can be. For we’re overwhelmed by price increases for all sorts of products and services, including stamps, road tolls, gas, electricity and phone calls. But at least they’re all in line with what’s said to be the inflation rate. Over in the UK, the train companies have announced hikes well in excess of this. According to one consumer watchdog, this makes UK train travel three times what it is in France, Germany and Spain. Remarkably, a single-station trip on the London underground now costs 6 euros, compared with little more than just €1 in Madrid. Where the service is vastly superior.

A year after the introduction of Spain’s anti-smoking law, El Pais has surveyed those bars [the vast majority] which still allow it. I doubt anyone will be surprised at the finding that very few of them have the obligatory ventilation. Nor at the observation that hardly any bars operate the ‘remote control’ system which stops under-age adolescents accessing the cigarette machines in the corner. Rules are made to be ignored here, whether they come from the quasi-federal state of Spain or the quasi-superstate of the EU.

And still on health – I see overweight people now have a new excuse to go along with genetic disposition for their predicament. It all depends, we’re told, on whether you have the right kind of bacteria in your stomach. I assume they’ll be able to buy this soon, possibly in a yoghurt containing the equivalent of 4 spoonfuls of sugar.

Galicia Facts

The most popular names for kids in the UK in 2006 were Jack and Olivia. Here in the city of Pontevedra they were Hugo and Sara. I thought these were both clothing companies but, anyway, they were followed by Pablo, David and Miguel and by Candela, Carla, Marta and Uxía. Not a single little girl was named after Princess Leonor. But this may be because her mother is the Princess of Asturias and this, to Galicians, is on another planet.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Anticipating numerous ‘individualistic’ guests in my neighbours’ houses for New Year’s Eve dinner, I erected a simple barrier in front of my garage in what I feared would be a vain attempt to secure a parking space on our return from dinner in town. To my surprise – nay, astonishment – it was respected. But I now wait to see whether my neighbours will react badly to this provocative Anglo behaviour.

My German guests have pronounced they couldn’t contemplate living next to my neighbour, nice-but-noisy Tony. I suspect it’s this sort of effete attitude which cost them the last war. I, however, shall soldier on - raising my hi-fi to ever higher levels, as required. And keeping the ear plugs in at night.

A couple of days ago, there were reports in the UK press of widespread EU dissatisfaction with the euro. One of our local newspapers – the Voz de Galicia – has now weighed in with a report which confirms what everyone already knew, viz. that the prices of some everyday products soared into the stratosphere and that inflation for basics has been twice as high as the official figure. Worst of all, the components of Galicia’s traditional stew dish – the cocido – have risen by 300% since the euro’s debut. But, says the paper, it’s not all bad news. Firstly, this daylight robbery was concentrated in the first three years and the growth in prices has since levelled off. Secondly, products such as shower gel, nappies [diapers] and toilet paper are actually cheaper now than in 2000. Shame you can’t eat them. Though I have heard it asked by ignorant foreigners whether cocido doesn’t contain similar items.

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