Saturday, March 31, 2007

My visitor last week asked whether Spain had anything like the yellow box system which allows the traffic to flow at junctions. I said it did but that it was honoured more in the breach than the observance. A few minutes later, we came upon just such a junction. The car stopped illegally in the middle of it belonged to the local police. Which said it all.

When it comes to the take-up of broadband, the gap between Spain and the rest of Europe continues to grow. The EU Commission attributes this to high prices here and reaches the conclusion that competition is simply not working in this area. Now, there’s a shock. Telefonica executives must be quaking in their boots.

If you’ve read all my post of 26 March, you’ll recall my description of the odd place in Pontevedra where they sell raisin wine. Well, this was closed down by the police on the 27th because of the sale of ‘stupefactants’. But it was open again yesterday when I walked past. Life goes on.

Here’s an amusing article in which several of the ‘greats’ of the last century are – quite rightly - knocked off their pedestals.

Galicia Facts

The word ‘Gallego’ normally means Galician. But in Spanish dictionaries it also bears the pejorative meanings of ‘stupid’ and even ‘stutterer’. Understandably, the Galician Academy of Language has asked the Royal Academy to remove these. But this is not the worst news. In Portuguese dictionaries, ‘Gallego’ is also said to mean common, coarse and/or weak. Hard to see how anything can be done about this, no matter how unfair it all is.

By the way, armed with its new tyre, my car passed its inspection yesterday and I managed to negotiate the process entirely in Gallego. I do hope Xoan and Xoan Carlos are impressed. If they’re still reading, I have a question for them – Is the Gallego word ‘balde’ [‘de balde’ = gratis] from the same root as the English ‘bald’?

And now for the latest 3-year compilation – on the mundane subjects of SHOPPING & CUSTOMER SERVICE

2003/4

Down at La Barca supermarket, customer service continues to be a concept that eludes the staff. I went there on Saturday morning at 11, to discover that this was, naturally enough, a busy period. As a result, there were no trolleys left outside the entrance in the mall. No problem, I thought, as we will soon be able to avail ourselves of the stack of trolleys that were being brought up from the underground car park (or ‘el parking’) as I came up the escalator. No such luck. These failed to arrive and the imperious advice we got from the diva at the desk was that there might be some trolleys outside in the street, if we cared to look. I didn’t. And neither, it seems, did the several stooped old crones in black who were staggering around the place burdened with at least two of the plastic basket alternatives to the trolleys. On the way out, I passed the line of trolleys abandoned at the top of the escalator at the end of the mall. The collection crew were out in the car park, with another line of trolleys, taking a cigarette break. Customers? What customers?


Talking of friends and cousins, a colleague of mine is buying a second-hand car. Or ‘previously used’, as I think they say in the States. Anyway, he surprised me by saying that he would rather pay extra and get it through a dealer than risk a private sale. I commented that people tended to take the opposite view in the UK, trusting a private seller more than a dealer, especially if there was a full service history. My colleague put me straight – firstly, service histories don’t exist here; secondly, no one would trust a private seller not to cheat; and, thirdly, he wasn’t talking about any old dealer. It would have to be one in his village known to his family. This would, in effect, minimise the chances that he was being cheated. The personal factor yet again. And whose to say it’s misguided?


My least favourite company – Telefonica – have once again demonstrated their flimsy grasp of the concept of customer service. At the back of the latest bill, there is a form saying that, unless you mail it back to them, they will sell your details to numerous suppliers. Pre-paid envelope attached? You must be joking. To the amusement of my sceptical Spanish friends, who say it won’t make the slightest difference, I have taken the trouble to find an envelope and mail my negative response back to them. After this, le deluge?


I visited an ironmongers – or ferretería – in the old quarter today. What a wonderful experience. Like Aladdin’s cave. Or a pharmacy in the Tehran bazaar. Row upon row of little boxes on the wall behind the counter, each containing a collection of screws, nails, blades, door handles or whatever. And they will sell you just a single screw, if this is all you want, and wrap it in brown paper. Not insist on you taking a set of 10 in pre-shrunk plastic wrapping which drives you mad. And all of this at a price which hardly seems economic. They won’t survive long term, of course, but there’s life in them for a while yet. Hopefully enough to see me out.

There are several of these little shops in Pontevedra – haberdasheries, seamstresses, picture framers and the like. I don’t know whether I love them just because they remind me of the way life used to be when I was a kid or because I think it is the way life should be. Probably both.


One of the things I love about Spain is that even companies who are aware that customer service is critical still get things wrong. But at least they try. Last week I called Telefonica to tell them that my phone set wasn’t working. They were very nice and asked me whether I preferred the engineer to call in the morning or the afternoon. I considered asking for definitions of these terms but let it go and just said the afternoon. Then yesterday morning they called to tell me that the engineer would arrive the following day [i. e. today] at 1pm. Now, by no stretch of the imagination is this ‘afternoon’ in Spain. The latter begins when you leave work, say 1.30 or 2, or possibly when you sit down to lunch, say 2.30 or even 3. But no matter; I was quite happy with 1pm the following day. So, imagine my surprise when the engineer turns up half an hour after the call telling me that he will be arriving the next day. Well, no surprise, really. Just satisfaction and amusement. And the engineer was a lovely man who took a great shine to my border collie, being the owner of two setters himself. We parted as great friends. And at least another engineer didn’t turn up today, morning or afternoon.


Things happen here from time to time for which there is no ready explanation. I noted a couple of weeks ago that Telefonica sneaked into their last phone bill a circular saying that, unless, I wrote to them asking them to desist, they would sell my details to all and sundry. Not only was there no pre-paid reply envelope included, there was no bloody envelope at all. But, anyway, I sent off a letter and today I received a personalised registered/certificated letter from them saying that they had got my request and would act on it. So, having annoyed me but saved themselves the cost of a reply envelope, they have now incurred the expense of a registered letter. I can only suppose that the[data protection?] law obliges them to do this, whereas only common sense dictates that they show some consumer orientation in the first place. No contest, even in Spain.


Swimming against the rip tide of global commercialism, the new socialist government has announced that it plans to reduce the number of Sundays and holidays on which large shops are allowed to open. This is currently 12 and they are proposing a major reduction to 8. Not much customer orientation in evidence here and it will be interesting to see how things go. In case you don’t know, all shops except newsagents and pastry makers shut midday Saturday and open again on Monday. Nothing is open Sunday afternoon/evening.


I took some oat flakes back to the health shop today because they were full of insects. The guy was very nice but gave me two excuses:- 1. The weather has been warm. Without this I guess one would have only eggs rather than live creatures, and 2. The oats were grown organically so no insecticides were used. Perhaps so but I think vegetarians need to know that their muesli might contain animal protein as a result. Be all that as it may, I got my money back and went elsewhere.


I love ironmongers shops in Spain. They are just like shops used to be. Some of them have their smaller wares arrayed in tall rows of wooden boxes behind the counter, rather like a Chinese pharmacy. And they will sell you just a single screw, if that is all you want. Mind you, you need plenty of time to shop there. Not only are they Dickensian in appearance but also in operation. They eschew computers [or even typewriters] and write down all your purchases in longhand – looking up each product reference as they go. If the person in front of you has had a shipping order, God help you.


A wonderful example today of two major aspects of Spanish life:- 1. The regular need to prove who you are, and 2. The lack of consumer orientation shown by even major companies. A director of the national rail company [RENFE] has said that, Yes it is true that to buy tickets over the internet you must first go to a station to present your credit card and prove your identity; and No, RENFE doesn’t see why just because other companies don’t demand this that they should refrain from doing so. According to the director, this practice accords with international norms and, on top of that, is vital for the financial protection of the customer. I think we can be pretty sure that it’s neither of these. It is far more likely to be for the protection of RENFE, just as it’s for the benefit of the supermarkets that you must prove who you are for a credit card purchase of even a single toilet roll. Avoidance of business risk still ranks way above provision of a satisfactory service.


Talking of the supermarket, this continues its slow but purposeful progress away from any known concept of customer service. So much so that I have formed the theory that they are trying to drive customers away in order to justify closure. Herewith, my latest fruitful conversation with an employee:-
There hasn’t been any fresh ginger recently
No
Will you have some today?
No.
Are you going to have some later this week?
No.
Are you ever again going to have any?
No.
Why not?
No one buys it.


One of the many things I appreciate about Spain is that consumerism is less advanced than elsewhere in the West. Mothers’ Day is not a big thing; Christmas actually arrives in December, not September; and as yet the country has not been conned into importing Halloween from the USA. Or Christmas cards even. But All Saints Day is a big thing here as it’s the occasion for visiting family graves, cleaning them and adorning them with blooms. Walking into the main square this morning, I found it had been converted into a gigantic flower stall. Perhaps it was late in the day but dahlias seemed to make up 99% of what was on offer. Or possibly they send the right message in the language of flowers.


I’ve mentioned a couple of times that Spanish web sites are less than consumer friendly, possibly being designed by a relative of the Chief Executive who's just failed his degree in IT. In the literature provided by my medical insurance company, it tells me I can get details of contracted doctors on their web page. After 15 minutes of trying to achieve this today, I gave up and called the [inevitably] premium rate phone line. Then I wrote them a letter asking exactly how I could access this info on their web page. Me and my mix of cynicism and optimism! If they reply, I will buy you all a drink.


I take back what I said recently about Christmas not arriving until December in Spain. I ventured into some shops today and found it had already arrived in all of them. Worse, the town idiot – clearly being ‘cared for in the community’ – has taken to wearing his Santa Claus hat.


After a few years’ experience now, I’ve concluded that most Spanish companies take the view that you’re important until you’ve been bribed to become a customer and then don’t care a fig how much they annoy you after that. The latest example of this is the difficulty faced in changing broadband providers. As with getting rid of your leased phone, you are presented with an obstacle course which will exhaust you both mentally and financially. In the worst case, you’re left without any service at all for 6 months. I don’t suppose Spain is the only country in the world where suppliers lock you in and then rely on sloth and inertia to keep you, however annoyed you are; but they’re assisted here by the fact that consumer advice bodies are, as yet, poorly developed. And newspapers don’t go in for such things as comparing the tariffs of all the mobile phone companies and warning you of the hidden – and possibly illegal – charges. By the time you’ve been hit with these, it’s a tad too late. I’m not, of course, suggesting that British or American companies are virtuous by nature; but in the never-ending battle between supplier and consumer, they do have fewer cards stacked in their favour.


I love the ironmonger shops in Pontevedra. Without exception, they are from an earlier age, especially in their layout. But they also operate at the pace of a bygone time. If this is any reflection of the speed at which their tradesmen customers carry out their own activities, can it be any wonder that houses here seem to take at least two years to be built? It is frustrating to wait 15 minutes just to be told that they don’t stock the drive belt for an imported vacuum cleaner but it’s my own fault for being too English. If I were Spanish, I would simply interrupt the laconic conversation and demand a quick answer to a quick question. And no one would mind a bit. One day.


At the post office today, I was denied entry just after 2pm by a security guard who insisted it was closed. I was even denied the opportunity to buy a stamp from the machine just inside the outer door. This sort of ‘jobsworth’ behaviour is rare in Spain and the guard at least had the decency to avert his gaze out of shame for his officiousness. Dear God, I hope this isn’t the first sign of as move towards efficiency.


2005

There’s a clever new machine in the entrance to the Post Office which dispenses stamps according to the weight of your letters. As you might expect, it isn’t designed for a customer pushed for time. You have to go through 8 steps to get your stamp and, more often than not, you are then told no change is available. Call me a man in too much of a hurry but I wouldn’t have thought it impossible to indicate this before you went through the process. Especially as there’s a temptation to repeat the 8 steps to check whether the bloody thing isn’t lying.


Here in Spain, many large companies still operate a commercial strategy which can best be summarised as - Get customers by whatever means you can; Make it hard for them to leave; And then abuse hell out of them. The worst offenders are the banks, the utility companies and, of course, the state telephone company, Telefonica. Thus it is that the government has had to introduce a specific law this week to force the latter to comply with its legal obligation to allow customers to depart quickly and without penal costs. In defence of these institutions, this is probably a decent strategy where customers think all operators are as bad as each other and so don’t have much incentive to move anyway. And where people can be persuaded, in return for a couple of cheap Portuguese towels, to open a deposit account paying only one per cent interest.


A fish, they say, stinks from the head. When my local supermarket was a lowly Champion store it took its tone from a manageress who seemed to think rather more about herself and her appearance than about the customers. But at least she wore the store’s uniform. Now that the place is a Carrefour hypermarket, she’s become even more of a diva and has taken to strutting round in what, elsewhere, would be considered evening wear. You can imagine in which direction the service has gone.


Generally speaking, levels of efficiency are not very high in Spain and levels of customer service [as distinct from friendliness] are low. However, a couple of organisations have recently raised their efficiency levels to new heights. Sadly, they’ve traded off levels of customer service. In the case of Telefonica, I’m now having money taken from my account several days before the bill is received for review. But the biscuit is taken by the company which now supplies my water and which doesn’t even bother with the nicety of a bill. If I had an ounce of confidence I’d ever get a response, I’d write letters of complaint. Instead, the traditional time-wasting trip to the local office and a face-to-face chat is clearly called for.


My local supermarket masquerading as a hypermarket has plumbed new depths of customer non-service. At the peak shopping hour this afternoon they had no baskets available. Not content with this, they’ve introduced a new bag policy…..
Me: Can I have large bags, please
Checkout girl: You have to go to the office for them now
Me: Why, for God’s sake?
Checkout girl: I don’t really know. I think it’s because they’re more expensive and they
don’t want customers to have them.


My guest discovered today there’s a chasm here between customer reception [usually excellent] and customer service [often woeful]. He was trying to get a return ticket on the train from Pontevedra to Madrid at the discounted price which is always given in Spain. The problem was his ticket for the first leg of the journey had been issued in the USA and lacked the ‘right code’. Neither the station clerks, the RENFE agent in town nor even RENFE’s customer service personnel were willing or able to do anything to override the computer’s inability to deal with this. After 2 hours and a lot of walking and talking, we conceded defeat.


A helpful ironmonger today directed me to a nearby electrician, where I found the shop is closed on Saturdays during the 3 summer months. Customers are clearly a lower priority than other calls on the owners’ time during this period. I wonder whether they’ve even noticed the new hypermarket just round the corner. Or perhaps they have and have given up the fight.


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


Another classic shopping experience today. Two weeks ago I ordered a basic blues book for piano. After a call telling me it was in, I trekked right through town today to pick it up. It turned out to be for the guitar. When I told them it was useless the reply was simply ‘No problem. We’ll just order another one’. No apology, of course, for wasting my time; this is what time is for in Spain. The fact Spaniards tolerate this sort of thing with equanimity might explain why a young Dutchman recently wrote to me from Ourense saying he’d had to quit his job in a vineyard as he couldn’t persuade the owner that his concept of time and efficiency simply wasn’t shared by potential customers in northern Europe.


A welcome step in the direction of consumer protection today. The Catalan government is obliging all phone companies to open an office in every town of more than 10,000 souls. This is to give long-suffering customers a fighting chance of getting their complaints/ queries dealt with in a country where you tend to be ignored once you’ve been locked in to a contract. Let’s hope it catches on in the rest of Spain.


Someone has made an analysis of the email services provided by the likes of Google, Yahoo and Hotmail. I can’t say it came as any great surprise to read that the provider with the slowest and least efficient offering gloried in the name of ‘Latinmail’. At least no one could say they hadn’t been warned. Though ‘Mañanamail’ might have been a bit more honest.


I’ve mentioned that Chinese ‘bazaars’ are cropping up all over the city. These have been met with consternation and now by concern on the part of local shopkeepers. The latter, of course, are in business for themselves and not for their customers. So, as they regard hard-working, lower-priced, open-more-hours competitors as unacceptable, they’ve taken the traditional route to meet the challenge. They’ve persuaded the local council to pass a law preventing the Chinese shops from opening longer than them. Stuff the customers.

2006

You don’t have to be religious to regret how much the worship of commerce has replaced that of God in British society. When I took my mother and younger daughter to church at 3pm on Good Friday, we had to fight our way through the traffic heading for the shopping centre across the road. And I see that, at least to the young, Easter Sunday no longer goes by this name. Sandwiched between the bank holidays of Good Friday and Easter Monday, it now seems to be called ‘Bank Holiday Sunday’.


I had one of those Spanish shopping expeditions today. I bought a ping pong table from a
sports shop but it came without bats and balls. Inevitably, the place that sold me the table was out of these, as was the sister shop they sent me to. But they did deliver the table on time this evening and I was able to find the 3 hours and civil engineering skills required to assemble it. This left me no time to play on it, with or without bats and balls. And tomorrow is another day.


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


Getting close to customer service.

I’d like to buy one of those [rat-catching] cages I saw in the window last week
We sold it
Do you have another one?
No
Will you be getting another one?
No
Can you order one for me?
Ermm. Better if you come in from time to time to see if our supplier has sent us one.

Getting even closer to customer service.

Have you got a replacement pad for this [small but not-inexpensive] leather notepad?
No.
Do you mean you don’t have one in stock or you don’t sell them?
We don’t sell them
But I bought this [small but not-inexpensive] notepad here.
OK. We can order you one.


Because the personal relationship is so paramount in Spain, one of the worst things you can do is move away from someone you feel is giving a poor service. This is seen as bad form and ‘unfriendly’. And you can certainly expect a frosty greeting – if you get one at all – on the numerous occasions you pass in the street. Not that us Anglo-Saxons worry about such things.


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.


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.


Footnote: Future compilations will deal separately with those bastions of poor customer service, the banks, Telefonica and El Corte Inglés

Friday, March 30, 2007

How things change. When I wanted my first mortgage 30 odd years ago, I had to beg on hands and knees for it. Now UK banks are handing them out to people in their 70s or more. In fact, yesterday came the report of a 25 year mortgage to a man of 102.

In Scotland, the latest opinion polls suggest a thumping victory for the Scottish Nationalist Party in the May elections. On the other hand, they also show reducing support for independence. This has encouraged one commentator to say that “There’s no groundswell among the voters for a bitter parting of the ways between England and Scotland”. Confused? Well, I certainly am.

The tyre law I cited yesterday is even more stringent than I thought; not only do the tyres on an axle have to be the same brand, they have to be exactly the same model within that brand. So that the tracks are absolutely identical. Thus was I forced to dedicate half a morning to the pursuit of an allegedly obsolete product that was less than 2 years old.

Here’s my latest 3-year compilation – on INDIVIDUALISMO/CONSIDERATION FOR OTHERS. For those who think I’m too critical of Spain and the Spanish, I hope it shows that I do strive to put my comments in context and to find the countervailing positives to my perceived negatives. Ripostes and comments welcome.

2003/4

I think its was V S Naipaul who wrote about how he was forced out into the traffic while crossing a bridge in Madrid. As I recall, the response to his angry remonstration was along the lines that he should go back to his own country since Spanish culture did not recognise an obligation to cede space to others. Never a truer word! Scarcely a day passes without me having to stop to avoid someone who has abruptly changed direction. Or who has emerged from a shop to join the pedestrian traffic. Or has decided to turn off to go into a café across my trajectory. It all rather reminds me of the drivers in Tehran who used to take all the mirrors off their cars to demonstrate that it was the responsibility of other drivers to anticipate their every move. Nowhere in the world can cultural norms be expected to be consistent with each other but this behaviour is squarely at odds with the fact that the Spanish, both young and old, display far more of the civility and good manners that used to be associated with the British. But in this one area, at least, they do seem to be lacking in social antennae. Or even just a sense of the existence of others. I don’t think it’s a question of consciously denying other people their ‘rights’. I‘m convinced it’s just an absence of any awareness that they are there! Spanish individualism??


In all cultures where the personal factor is disproportionately important – and Spain is the third of these in which I have lived – altruism tends to get squeezed out. Basically, strangers don’t count. The inevitable consequence of this is the triumph of individualism, something which is frequently said to distinguish the Spanish from other races. The bad side of this is, of course, selfishness and a lack of consideration for others. But there is a good side and this is greater self-reliance than is found elsewhere. People here expect to have to look after themselves, as well as their family and friends. I suppose it is possible – given the corrosive nature of creeping welfarism – to see Spain eventually showing signs of the dependency culture which now afflicts the UK but I suspect that the odds are against it. Perhaps this is merely because they came later to the welfare state but my perception is that Spanish soil is a less fertile prospect for these tenacious roots.

So …. ‘Immediate’, ‘Oral’, ‘Fun-loving’, ‘Spontaneous’, ‘Personal’, ‘Individualistic’, and with its own concept of time. Some of the key elements of Spanish society. All linked but who can say which of these is super-ordinate? Which the chicken and which the eggs? And, if you are here to enjoy yourself, who cares?

I should stress, by the way, that I make no claim to originality for my observations. If I did, I’d probably try to put them in a book and profit from them. If you want some original – but possibly dated – views of the Spanish, you could do worse than read Gerald Brenan’s 1943 classic, The Spanish Labyrinth. Or John Hooper’s book that I have already mentioned, The New Spaniards. Let me also highly recommend Cees Nooteboom’s beautifully written studies and sketches, Roads to Santiago. A little idiosyncratic but a great read.


I did some last-minute Christmas shopping this evening. Just me and everyone else in a country which specialises in procrastination. My daughters pointed out that one of the things which made it relatively easy was that the aisles are two to three times wider than in the UK. This may be because account has been taken of the fact that the Spanish manipulate their trolleys in much the same way as they handle their cars. And, indeed, their bodies. Individualistically.


I may well have talked before about Spanish parking. More accurately the total lack of consideration for others with which much of it is executed. Because of this, driving through Spanish towns is more akin to trying to slalom down a packed mountainside than anything else. There is a wide street in Pontevedra of five lanes. I say five but it is really only three as two of them are permanently occupied by cars which are legally parked. On top of this, another two are invariably blocked by cars which are illegally double-parked. This, of course, leaves just one lane for all the traffic, rush-hour or otherwise. My friend, Andrew, told me this week that as he - and all the other drivers - were trying to funnel into the single lane left to them, they were met (in a manner of speaking) by a car reversing in the other direction. It would be sexist of me to mention the gender of the driver so I won’t. Needless to say, since he/she wasn’t committing the heinous crime of hesitating at a traffic light, no one was showing any irritation whatsoever with this lunacy. Except possibly Andrew.

The street in question is Avenida de Colón, or Columbus Avenue in English. Very appropriately named, it seems to me, after someone who had no idea where he was going and no idea where he was when he finally got there. I wonder if he found other galleons double-parked in the bay when he arrived. Or reversing out, even.


Given the nature of Spanish ‘individualism’, one is afforded several opportunities each day to utter some sarcastic comment along the lines of ‘After you!’. The problem, though, is that, in order for a polite phrase to bear the weight of heavy sarcasm, it must first exist. And in Spain such phrases are conspicuous by their absence. One is forced, if one can be bothered, to resort to a curt insult such as ‘Cabrón!’. It’s a further irony that, although this can be satisfyingly infuriating to your target, it means only billy-goat in English. Or, indeed, in any language.


We all, they say, become caricatures of ourselves. I was reminded of this when musing further on the place of gypsies in Spanish society. In some ways they really are caricatures of the Spanish who despise them. Whereas the Spanish love to ignore many rules, the gypsies pay little heed to any of them. And while the Spanish are less than quiet, the gypsies – especially in cars – are phenomenally noisy. And where the Spanish are individualistic and less than considerate to others, the gypsies seem to go out of their way to be offensive. We all, of course, detest our own faults worse than any others so maybe herein lies the root cause of Spanish antipathy. There but for the grace of God go we.


The basic problem with the Spanish is that they are both impressive and infuriating in roughly equal amounts. Noble but inconsiderate. Generous but selfish.

By way of illustration - my visitors and I today had the remarkable experience of a taxi driver who enjoyed chatting to us so much that he waived not only the tip but also part of his charge. A short while later, in an underground car park, we fell foul of a woman who couldn’t be bothered to walk to the ticket machine and so drove to it and blocked everyone else’s exit while she went through the payment mechanics.

If you are lucky, you get to see more of Spanish nobility than Spanish ‘individualism’. And this, I guess, helps to determine whether or not you appreciate the country. For me, perhaps the greatest quality of the Spanish is their belief that there are many things in life far more important than money. Capitalist that I am, I can’t rid myself of the suspicion that this is right. But, then, I first learned this lesson when I was 18 and teaching in the Seychelles. But that’s another story.


I’ve noted occasionally that the Spanish are individualistic. This, of course, is a weasel word for inconsiderate. Perhaps the best demonstration of this lies in the way they park in a city where space is at a premium. Going town early yesterday, I was the 8th car in a line parked down a cul-de-sac near the bridge. Apart from the first one, all seven of the previous cars had left between 3 and 6 metres between itself and the last car parked. The most notable achievement was that of the woman who arrived just ahead of me and proceeded to take her car a full 30 metres beyond the already-handsomely-spaced cars before parking it in no-man’s land. And this despite the fact that she would have to walk back the extra 30 metres to get out of the cul-de-sac. After nearly four years here, I still don’t know whether people consciously decide to make things difficult for their fellow citizens or jut don’t think about it all. Perhaps someone Spanish could let me know. I am, of course, aware that it makes sense to leave some space so that your car is not the victim of exit-by-shunt. But 3 to 6 metres!


Strange happenings in my café today. One of the waitresses confided in me that – to my not very great surprise – most of the customers showed little consideration towards her. Especially the women. In fact, she suggested that they treated her like muck – or words to that effect. She then labelled them as snobs, badly educated and fascist. Any one of these is pretty bad in Spain but the combination speaks volumes for her state of mind. ‘Badly educated’, by the way, doesn’t actually mean what it seems to mean. In this case, the Spanish are using the word in its original Latin connotation of ‘brought up’. So it means ‘ill-mannered’. Needless to say, when she added, in a final flourish, that Spanish people as a whole are terribly inconsiderate of others, I had difficulty in restraining myself from citing more than just one of my own examples. At least her eyes, unlike those of my dear daughters, didn’t instantaneously glaze over. Maybe next time.


Walking down to town today, I was astonished to see that a young lady had actually stopped her car to take a mobile phone call. I was rather less surprised to note that she had parked her car on a zebra crossing, thus forcing pedestrians to go round her and the cars behind to wait until she’d finished her languorous conversation. [There are no others in Spain]. What made this a perfect example of Spanish individualismo at work was that she only needed to have gone 2 metres to pull off the main road.


Much to the consternation of the locals, Chinese ‘bazaars’ are springing up all over town. These are very much family concerns, of course, and are open all hours. My friends can quite understand the former aspect, as this is usually the same with Spanish businesses. But they can’t get their heads round people aiming for profits beyond what is required to provide an easy and comfortable life. Nor the willingness to give up leisure time in order to achieve this. It all smacks far too much of both hard work and excess consideration of the customer. I’m reminded of the comments of Gerald Brennan in his book, The Spanish Labyrinth – “The famous individualism of the people does not apply to economics. The Spanish are essentially anti-capitalist and uncompetitive; they have neither the bad nor the good qualities, neither the attachment to money for its own sake nor the suppleness and perseverance required for success in the modern capitalist world.”. Mind you, this was written in 1940 and things have moved on. To a degree.


2005

Much as I love Spanish café society, I do find it hard to cope with the almost inescapable cigarette fumes. Most people here smoke – especially the young females – and very few of them seem to be aware that the habit is obnoxious to people eating and drinking near them. Or perhaps they are and just don’t care. I, for one, will be happy to see the government emulate the Irish and ban smoking in cafés and restaurants. But, then, one wonders just how many Spanish individualists will abide by the rules.


Reverting to George Borrow and The Bible in Spain, it struck me today that the one trait he never even mentions is the one most obvious to all newcomers to modern Spain – their individualismo. Perhaps this is because everyone in the world was rather more individualistic in the 1830s and so it wouldn’t have been remarkable in Spain at that time.


Pontevedra’s market traders met with council representatives yesterday to sort out their long-standing differences about the bi-monthly street market. But the meeting had to be abandoned when a fist fight broke out. That’s individualismo for you.


I’ve realised that the perfect substitute for individualismo is ‘solipsistic’. It sounds so much less insulting. Mainly because most of us don’t know what the hell it means.


Fair enough, I’ve been asked by a reader to differentiate between ‘individualismo’ and ‘solipsism’. Well, on a philosophic plane, there’s a considerable overlap – as those truly interested can see from the definitions set out at the end of this post. But, in truth, we’re talking here about something rather less ethereal than philosophies of life. What interests us more [I sincerely hope] are the practicalities of day-to-day Spanish life.

The Spanish Academy’s dictionary has four meanings for ‘individualismo’ and the relevant ones are ‘Egotism’ and ‘A propensity to act in accordance with one’s own will and not in concert with the group’. As the numerous references over the centuries attest, it’s hard to deny that this really is how the Spanish frequently come across to those from other cultures. Not to mention bloody rude and inconsiderate.

But the truth is that they are none of these. And – after a few seconds of misplaced pride at being thought of as different – most Spanish would be horrified, and not a little hurt, to know that this is how others see them. For the reality is that they are probably the most sociable, affable, spontaneous, generous and ‘noble’ people on earth. Provided always that you are within their orbit. And, outside their relatives, no one is within any Spaniard’s orbit unless they are standing or sitting next to them. So, they make wonderful hosts and charming guests. And you can have a great time with strangers you’ve just met in a bar or on a plane. But, in this very oral and personal society, if you’re not there talking in the here-and-now, then you don’t really exist and no duties are owed to you. Even if you are a close friend. So it is, for example, that pupils will simply not turn up for [private] lessons, guests will not attend the dinners they promised to come to and any number of drivers will park their cars so as to cause maximum inconvenience to others.

In a nutshell, Spanish ‘individualism’ is a cultural or societal construct. It’s certainly not something they consciously decide to be, as part of a philosophy of life. For a start, the latter would involve thinking ahead and being consistent – two activities which most Spanish regard as inimical [if not fatal] to their much-prized spontaneity.

Accidental solipsists, then.

Dictionary Definitions

Solipsism: A philosophy which denies the possibility of any form of knowledge other than one’s own existence

Individualism: The doctrine that only individual things exist and that, therefore, classes or properties have no reality. Or … The doctrine that the self is the only knowable existence.


Another new experience this afternoon. The woman in front of me at the supermarket check-out thought it would be a great idea if she went to get some cash after she’d had her shopping bagged for her. To add insult to injury, she came back from the cash-point without enough readies and had to make a return journey. So.. did she offer any comment? I leave you to guess. Suffice to say, I wasn’t surprised to later see her husband/partner/lover/chauffeur parked where he shouldn’t have been. That old Spanish individualismo again. Dual in this case.


So young Mr Nadal of Spain has won the French Tennis Open Championship. And young Mr Alonso is walking away with the Formula 1 Championship. Great for Spain, of course, but I can’t help noticing these are both rather individualistic sports. In contrast, the Spanish soccer team are the great under-achievers of our age. One wonders why.


Individualismo again. The granite carvers’ school behind my house has a huge car park, complete with strange granite sculptures that are featured in the Photo Gallery on my web page [colindavies.net]. At most, this is only ever 10 per cent full. So I was a little surprised this week to see several cars parked on the lawns, rather than on the tarmac. Then I realised there are shade-affording trees on the lawns. Stuff the grass, then. Actually, even though it’s 35 today the evidence is that the practice has been stamped on.


There’s no shortage of commentators these days to bemoan the decline of British society and to point the finger at the self-centredness of the Me, Me generation. In particular at today’s lack of consideration for others. I’m rather unconvinced about this perceived connection. After all, you’d have to go a long way to find people more individualistic and less considerate towards others than the Spaniards and yet Spanish society is undoubtedly superior. Perhaps this is because Spanish selfishness is a more passive variety, born of being doted on as kids, in contrast to the actively aggressive greed of Britain’s materialistic youth.


Spain is passing through its worst draught since records began more than 60 years ago and the fire risk in enormous, even without the help of the those who deliberately start conflagrations. Against this backdrop, we’ve just re-learned that it’s not only on the road where individualismo has a price. A huge forest fire in Guadalajara was triggered at the weekend by some day trippers who decided to ignore the warning signs and start a bar-b-q. The fire has now taken 15 lives, including 11 volunteer fire-fighters who were ‘reduced to ashes’ [as they say here] when their cars were surrounded by flames. It’s hard to imagine a more horrific death but I wonder whether they’ll get the 2 minutes of international silence accorded to the UK terrorist victims. As they certainly won’t, it makes you realise the world was really mourning something more than the human deaths last week.


My American guest experienced two major surprises down in Pontevedra today. The first was a stunning example of Spanish individualismo, when a car was left double-parked in the main street, bringing the traffic to a complete halt for close to 10 minutes. The second occurred when the driver finally appeared but neither she nor any of the blocked drivers said a word to each other in either apology or anger. This was despite the fact that most of the drivers had spent the previous 10 minutes furiously blowing their horns in a vain attempt to get the driver to emerge from wherever it was she felt it so vitally important to remain. A café, apparently. Now, if she had stalled at some traffic lights…..


Rick and I witnessed another wonderful example of individualismo today. In a tourist spot where parking was, to say the least, at a premium, most of the cars were [properly] parked at a right angle to the wall. But one driver had decided to avail himself of the wall’s shadow by parking parallel to it, thus taking up 3 of the precious bays. I tell a lie; a total of 3 drivers had done this. Unhappily, I’d gone out without my hammer and nails.


At Vigo airport there’s a special parking facility just across from the terminal. The first 10 minutes are free but thereafter you have to be Croesus to afford the rates. Today, the access lane to this was occupied by 23 taxis, making things difficult for those trying to enter and impossible for those keen to exit before the 10 minutes is exceeded. I couldn’t make out whether this was a protest, an act of Spanish pragmatism or the first example I’ve seen of group individualismo.


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


2006

There’s naturally been a bit of a focus on Italy over the past few days. Here’s a comment which evoked some sympathy [and empathy] in me:- Italians are forced to spend an average of 7,000 minutes a year [117 hours] queuing in order to satisfy the state's bureaucracy. It takes more than a year to get the permits to open a pizzeria, for example. Taxes, if they are paid, are ludicrously high. So it is no wonder that the country is seized with rampant individualism, or ‘menefreghismo’ ("I don't care-ism"). Hmm . . . I wonder what the equivalent Spanish word is.


Well, the Spanish equivalent of the Italian ‘menefreghismo’ [rampant individualism] may well be ‘medaigualismo’. I found it via a Google search, though my Spanish friends say it doesn’t exist. I say it does now and you heard it here first.


Although all of us Johnny Foreigners may regard the Spanish as a nation [or even 5 or 6 nations] of rampant individualists, it seems they see themselves as conformists. Or this, at least, is the inference to be drawn by a survey carried out by El Mundo into attitudes towards the Franco regime. To the question ‘Do you think this lasted 40 years because it was repressive or because the majority of Spaniard felt able to conform with it?’ a surprising 57% plumped for the second reason. So, can the Spanish be conformist and individualist at the same time? I guess so. Faced with a pervasive government bureaucracy and inefficient/corrupt local government, they can be very conformist. But, faced with parking rules, they can be very individualist. And perhaps the latter is a consequence of the former, with impotence around large matters breeding futile protest around small matters.


A couple of readers have responded to my comment on water management in Spain with examples of the profligate way it’s wasted by their neighbours. So perhaps it’s not too surprising that consumption in Spain of 171 litres per capita per day is 16% more than in the UK. But today there were reports of a price increase of 12% so maybe things will change. Though I rather doubt it short term, the two main barriers being a lack of awareness and the [in]famous ‘individualism’ of the Spanish. Not to mention the divisive regional antipathies which the current government seems bent on increasing in its political interest.


Despite their increasing wealth, the Spanish are not terribly well disposed towards paying the extra cost of Fair Trade products. Although per capita spend on these rose significantly in the last year, Spain still languishes second to bottom in the European league. Its spend of 348 euros per thousand people compares badly with 18,600 in Sweden and even with the EU average of 2,319. Perhaps this is connected with the regular reports we get that more than 65% of Spaniards struggle to get to the end of the month. But, then, might this reflect the high levels of wining and dining in the country’s millions of bars and restaurants? And is it another manifestation of Spanish ‘individualism’? Possibly not as the Portuguese are even stingier. Albeit a lot poorer.


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

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The latest Miss Spain was crowned this week. She has, of course, a lovely face and a perfect body. But, in her first post-victory interview, she confirmed she’d have plastic surgery ‘if it was necessary’. No one here could be surprised at this answer. But why on earth was the question asked in the first place? Was the program perhaps sponsored by the clinic notorious for ads that leave nothing to the imagination?

My car had its annual service yesterday, ahead of it first roadworthiness test. I was astonished to be told it would fail this because the rear tyres were of different makes. Not different types nor different specifications but different brands. When I queried this, I was told it was because the tyres had different patterns and, thus, created a risk when braking. In response to my sceptical expression, the mechanic had the decency to say this would only be in extreme circumstances. None of my Spanish friends were aware of this regulation and – in a country where safety is simply not the god it is elsewhere – one is again left wondering what could possibly lie behind this pioneering development.

Scotland is the new Catalunia. Ahead of the May elections for the devolved parliament, the independence-minded Scottish Nationalist Party is wooing the UK’s third party [the Liberals] in order to ensure a ruling coalition. The Liberals are against independence but in favour of increased delegation of powers from London to Edinburgh, including the freedom to raise and keep all taxes. Since this would mean the cessation of subsidies from England and a sizeable increase in Scottish income tax, it will be interesting to see how the allegedly mean Scots respond to the various claims and counter-claims they’ll be hit with over the next month or so. Right now, the SNP is on a roll because of anti Labour and Conservative sentiment. But will this last once the impact of an SNP victory on Scottish wallets becomes clear? Interesting times. Both for Brits and Spaniards.

Here’s my latest 3-year compilation. Shorter but catchier than any of the previous. On the subject of SEX . . .

2003-4

I give a conversation class to a small group of teachers of English. One topic I tried last week was the critical attitude struck by many in the UK towards Mrs Beckham for her failure to keep her husband in harness. Rather to my surprise, no one seemed much interested in arguing the toss one way or the other. It was later explained to me that no one in Spain is surprised at Mr Beckham’s reported activities, since this is how men were. Nor at suggestions that Mrs Beckham was stupid for giving him the opportunity to play around, as this was self evident. What really surprised people here was that a woman would want to tell the world about sleeping with a man and get a million Euros for doing so. How quaint this all seems by British ‘standards’.


Of a morning I walk my dog, Ryan, through the forest behind my house, taking a small track off the main one. In the past three days this has been blocked – at 11 in the morning - by a car occupied [I believe] by a young couple. Since – for obvious reasons - I don’t look at them, I can’t say whether it is the same occupants every day. But I’m beginning to suspect that it is the same enterprising young woman each time. We are used to the forest being used, at least at night, by lovers desperate to find alternatives to their family flats but this matutinal activity is a new development. And not entirely welcome. Perhaps those small ads at the back of the local news papers will now add ‘Forest visits’ to the list of acceptable venues. I must check.


The magazine section of El Mundo today is largely devoted to an extensive survey of sex in Spain. Perhaps the most astonishing finding is that young Spanish woman clearly don’t get much payback on their significant investment in making themselves perhaps the sexiest females on the planet. What on earth does this tell us about Spanish society? And is it time for me to flesh out my youthful dreams of a one-man company called Hyr-A-Syr? No, they can’t be that desperate, can they? Plus they smoke.


The second survey I read today was the perennial favourite about Spanish sexual habits, particularly the frequency of activity and the number of orgasms achieved by participants. As ever, I will refrain from giving numbers but merely comment, once again, that an awful lot of women seem to be dissatisfied in this macho country. Another business opportunity?


As I have a counter on this blog page, I can check the number of hits I get each day and also, to some extent, their provenance. Sadly, I do. One of the more fascinating aspects [honest!] is the information about how people have arrived at my blog by using a search engine. So, in the last few days, I have been ‘hit’ by people looking for information on ‘superwomans details’, the ‘casita de Elena in Vigo’ and ‘roadside brothels’. Regular readers will know that the Casita de Elena is [according to its ads] Vigo’s premier brothel. Is it the same person in each case, I ask myself.


Today I came across an internet company called Websidestory Research Co. Brought a smile to my face at least. Which reminds me … While I’m delighted to be able to report that the daily hits to my blog continue to rise, I’m a little chastened by the fact that 3 or 4 a week arise from someone in Spain putting ‘casita de elena vigo’ into their search engine. As this is a brothel, God only knows what they make of the fact that this brings up my blog as the no. I item.


It’s getting worse. At least 4 of the 25 hits to my blog today have been searches for information on the The Little House of Elena in Vigo. Mind you, this does leave 21 which weren’t.


In post-Franco, more-liberal-than-thou Spain, sex is pretty much everywhere. Especially on the TV or in any space on the outskirts of town which can take a car. And Spanish women, of course, do little to downplay their sexual characteristics. So, in this environment of abandon, it is all the more surprising to find that one of the public TV channels hosts possibly the most sensible sex-education programmes in the history of the cathode tube. Being very popular, its thirty-second welcome is naturally followed by 15 minutes of [appropriate] advertising but, once it gets going, the programme is a model of how to approach quite delicate issues such as…. well, you know. That said, I have some difficulty believing that all the calls to the young female presenter are entirely genuine. Like the one from a waiter who said he reacted unusually to the electricity from the fridge he had to keep walking past, for example. The programme is naturally a talking point and, as a result of this, I get the impression that some of the information re women comes as rather a shock to the Madonna-or-whore generation of Spanish men. They do like to keep things compartmentalised.


As you know, it takes Google about 0.18 of a second to come up with several zillion citations for anything you type in the box. So it’s all the more incredible that, as someone in Holland discovered today, if you search for “Spanish sexual habits”, the one and only reference you will get is my blog of October 22. Fame at last.


In the small hours of this morning, my blog received its 1000th hit. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I’d been hoping that this honour would go to yet another frustrated Spaniard searching for more details of the C de E in Vigo. Alas, no. It was someone who’d entered ‘things to do in Galicia’ into Google. The really gratifying thing about this is that it brought up both my blog and my web page.


2005

I read today, to my surprise, that the age at which one can marry in Spain is 14. This was in the account of a Supreme Court acquittal of a 30 year-old teacher of having illegal sex with a 14 year-old pupil, on the grounds that she’d been a willing partner.


Yet another survey on national sex attitudes. 73% of Spanish men and 71% of Spanish women profess to being happy with their sex lives, though in each case a slightly higher percentage thinks their partner gets more out of it than them. Not sure what, if anything, we can read into this. Except that the women are more accurate about their partners. Possibly even their husbands.


Thank God for another of those sex surveys the Spanish love so much! The major finding of this one is that a staggering 96% of Spanish males believe it’s ‘important’ or ‘essential’ to give pleasure to one’s partner. The researchers have coined the term hombre vitasexual for such paragons. The odd thing is that every other survey I’ve seen reports a significant percentage of Spanish women have never had an orgasm. Three possible explanations for this dichotomy are:- 1. Los hombres vitasexuales are not getting round to everyone, 2. They have a different definition of ‘giving pleasure’ than the women, or 3. The greatest skill developed by hombre vitasexual is giving the right answer to questions about his sexual performance.


Britain and Spain are converging in at least one way. More and more university graduates in the UK are having to live at home after completing their studies. Which naturally brings their active sex life to a sudden halt. So, as in Spain, there’s a need for discreet places where they can be nice to each other. This has apparently led to nocturnal competition for Wendy houses in neighbourhood gardens. Where there’s a will ……


Regular readers will know I often cite the results of surveys of sex in Spain, plus others such as one on the use mobile phones. It struck me yesterday that the survey I’d really like to see would answer the question How often do either one or both Spanish partners use a mobile phone when making love?


Only in Spain?: The town hall in Palma, Mallorca has issued a sex guide for teenagers. One section addresses the problems of young men who are worried about the size of their manhoods [menhood?]. They are advised, firstly, to “Do what porn stars do and shave off your pubic hair as this makes your member look bigger” and, secondly, to “Avoid gaining weight as your penis doesn’t follow suit and so looks proportionately smaller’. This is the sort of thing I could have done with 30 years ago!


2006

We had another of those reviews of Spanish sex life in our papers today. A staggering 68% of women say they are unhappy with things, especially [I suppose] the 36% who never experience an orgasm. These are preumably in relationships with the 27% of men who admit they normally ejaculate after a minute or so. As for the men, a mere 20% say they’re unhappy with their sex life. But then, quite apart from inequality in the home, and unlike their wives, they’re able to avail themselves of a vast take-in service industry aimed directly at them and to which their partners seem to turn a blind eye. Not to mention the Catholic Church.


I give a conversational class to five teachers of English on a Monday evening. They are all very fluent and the session is always fun but we exceeded ourselves today when discussing changing attitudes in Spain towards sex before and during marriage. The high spot came when one of the group told us of being propositioned by a married man while she was attending a hen party for one of her friends. He, it turned out, was at a similar function for one of his friends. Or a ‘cock party’ as she quite logically called it.


Quote of the week: Civil partnerships are intended for homosexuals but, of course, the tax authorities can’t insist the partners actually have sex. This means anyone can form a civil partnership with any unmarried person of the same sex, so long as he/she is not a close blood relation. So the smart thing to do if, for example, you are a widow and know you are dying, is to have a civil partnership with the woman who is engaged to marry your so and leave her everything tax-free.
An article on the workings of the UK inheritance tax


The Spanish government last year reformed matrimonial law so as to make it much easier and quicker to get a divorce. In the second half of 2005, these rose by around 80% compared with the previous year. My guess is the majority of these were initiated by women. Possibly the same ones who complain of an unsatisfactory sex life in the surveys we’re regularly treated to.


To lighten our hearts, there was another of those surveys about the sex life of the Spanish. This one reported that 81% of them plan their sexual activity, with 61% even setting aside a particular day of the week. I regard this as being more inaccurate than any of the previous surveys; I’ve never met a Spaniard who even knew how to spell ‘plan’, never mind do it. And all this sexual pre-thinking hardly fits well with the Spanish view of themselves as the world’s most spontaneous people. Obviously rubbish.


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


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.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

This post is late today and the reason is I've spent many hours on the third and final part of the compilation of blogs on GALICIA & PONTEVEDRA. So I do hope someone reads them. Normal service tomorrow.

2006

Having been adopted by at least one dog a year since I came here, I wasn’t too surprised to read this morning that Galicia ranks second worst in Spain for abandonment of pets. Mind you, in a poor region with lots of cows, pigs and goats there’s probably a lot less sentimentality here than elsewhere. Though I’ve never come across any hanging greyhounds.


In one of those typically parochial headlines which are the fruit of Spain’s intense regionalism, we read that the country’s second largest lottery [El Niño] had ‘ignored Galicia’ and bestowed its bounty on Murcia. What about the other 15 Autonomous Communities, then?


In Portuguese shops, one often sees the sign No Mexas. This comes from the verb Mexer and means ‘Don’t touch’. Portuguese and Galician are sister languages but Mexar in Galician means To pee. The imperative is formed in exactly the same way, which lends a whole new dimension to shopping across the border. Off the top of my head, I can think of only one such confusing opposite between American and British English. ‘To barrack’ means to support in the former but to jeer in the latter.


The young men of Galicia persist in their mission to eradicate themselves on the roads. Three more this weekend, in the Pontevedra province alone, aged 21, 23 and 24. All,
tellingly, in single-car accidents. And ‘For reasons as yet undetermined’.


Another ten people were killed on Galician roads in the last three days, not counting the three I mentioned on Sunday. As ever, most of the deaths occurred in the early hours of the morning, when cars carrying up to five youths left the road and came up against innocent trees and walls. I suspect quite a lot could be done to reduce this appalling toll but it would be considered ‘unfair’ to put the nightclubs out of business by stationing police cars outside them. One day, no doubt. Meanwhile, we pay higher insurance premiums than elsewhere and stay off the roads at night.


Tomorrow, Galica will see its 11th ‘national’ fox hunting championship. No horses, just men, dogs and more guns than you’d see in the UK in a century. I rather doubt there’ll be any protesters. But, if there are, I won’t be surprised to read of a hunting accident or two in Monday’s papers.


The local town halls are up in arms about the pressure being put on them by the Galician government to implement the law about the completion of house-building projects. The background to this is that the magnificent Galician countryside is scarred by a plague of partly-built houses whose progress, over many years, depends on the availability of cash. Not to mention the builders. Having turned a blind eye to this for decades, the local councils now say three months before an election is not the right time to take this ‘unfair’ and ‘ignoble’ measure. Stuff the law.


A total of 12 foxes were shot during the weekend’s Galician championship. But no humans.


Spain’s national airline, Iberia, have decided they can’t compete with Ryanair into Santiago and so have moved their daily London flight to La Coruña, on the far north coast of Galicia . This strikes me as a bizarre decision which can only alienate their existing customer base and drive travellers towards the rapidly growing airport in Oporto/Porto in north Portugal. The only explanation that occurs to me is that it’s the sort of face-saving gesture mentioned in the article I cited the other day about doing business in Spain.


Another identikit death on the Galician roads yesterday. Male; 20; early hours of the morning; ‘bendy road’; no other car involved; ‘left the road for reasons as yet undetermined’. A writer in one of today’s local papers wrote a hard-hitting article on this theme, referring to the Galician roads as the 5th horseman of the Apocalypse. No need to send young men to die in Iraq. Send ‘em to . Must be easy being an actuary in this country.


When I first came to Galicia, there was no shortage of locals to tell me society here was somewhat short of meritocratic. In fact, some felt it was still pretty feudal. As Pontevedra looked to me rather more 21st century that the town I’d come from in the UK, I was sceptical of this. But now I know rather better. And I’ve come to share the fatalistic attitude that stems from knowing that, if someone’s in a job because he/she’s related to someone else, there’s not much point complaining, as nothing is going to happen. This helps to explain why there’s a tendency here to do an awful lot of talking about things but to take little action.


Sadly, the work-related accident rate in Galicia is running at its highest level for 10 years. I have visions of all those Brits who write to me about restoring old stone houses falling off their uncompleted roofs .

But there is some good news from today – the ladies of the region have apparently taken to belly dancing in a big way. By which I don’t mean the women of have big bellies. Though it helps, apparently.


This week, of course, sees the beginning of Lent. Up here in the Mardi Gras ceremonies are known as Entroido/Antroido. They started this weekend with a procession of floats and will end – on Good Friday - with the ceremonial burning of some sort of effigy. Along the Galician coast this normally takes the form of a sardine but here in Pontevedra - for reasons lost in the mists of time - we burn a parrot called Ravachol. This takes place at the end of a long funeral march on Friday evening which involves a good deal of irreligious dressing up and a fair amount of cross-dressing. I’m sure this says something about the Spanish character but I haven’t yet figured out what this is. Anyway, it’s not the night to chat up a black-veiled widow in fish-net tights and stiletto heels.

You can read an account of one of the processions by clicking on the Carnaval in Pontevedra link at the bottom of the home page of my web page on – colindavies.net

Ravachol, by the way, has just been permanently honoured by the erection of a monument in one of the town’s central squares. I will post a picture shortly.


Not by any means for the first time this winter, I woke to a glorious blue sky and a bright
yellow sun while the radio was telling me Galicia was one of the 12 regions facing severe weather today. In the event, the worst we experienced was merely the sight of snow on the caps of the more distant mountains. I love the Atlantic when it’s benign. But not, of course, when it’s depositing itself on us for days at a time.


If you read this blog regularly, you can’t say you haven’t been warned. In 2005, the worst regions for pedestrians killed by cars were:-
Andalucia [pop. 8m] – 60
Galicia [3m] – 45
Madrid [6m] – 32
So, adjusting for population, Galicia emerges as the clear winner. And Vigo is the city to avoid.

The good news is that, in the 12 months to mid February, Galicia had only 50% of the average annual rainfall of the last 30 years. You might like to be aware of this if you’re reading this because you fancy the idea of moving to what the British press seems to regard as an undiscovered paradise, where the weather is wonderful.


Below are the promised pictures of Ravachol. The first is the fine bronze representation just established in one of the town’s squares. And the second is the effigy which will be burned on Friday evening, after the funeral cortege has wound its wailing way around the town. Meanwhile, the opposition party has accused the local government of using poor Ravachol for party political purposes. I can’t say exactly how as I couldn’t bear to read beyond the headline.


I’ve now discovered that the political spat around Ravachol stems from the fact his effigy is adorned with the slogan ‘A pure Lerez’. This is a reference to the mayor’s campaign to rid the mouth of the river Lerez of the paper mill which is the town’s biggest employer. The opposition party, understandably, feels the celebrations have been high-jacked for political purposes. And this is a crime in Spain, where it’s just not done to be serious when it’s fun time.


If you come to Galicia , you’ll eventually encounter percebes. ‘Goose barnacles’ in English. They look and taste – to me at least – as repulsive as they sound. But in Spain they are a delicacy. And expensive, costing over 120 euros a kilo in restaurants here and even more in Madrid. One reason for this must be their alleged aphrodisiacal powers. But another is that it’s hard to collect them, as they grow only on rocks constantly thrashed by Atlantic waves. There are regular fatalities and the latest were two youths, drowned this week along the north west coast. This sounds callous but it does make a change from reading about road fatalities amongst this benighted age group.


The latest early-hours-of-Sunday death on Galician roads didn’t quite fit the normal pattern, as it was of a 40 year old taxi driver. Mind you, he was hit by a young man in an Audi A3 coming round the corner on the wrong side of the road.


For several years now, illegal immigrants have been arriving on Spain’s coasts in their thousands each year. Many of them don’t make it alive. Recently the numbers have risen significantly, particularly in respect of Mauritanian refugees trying to land in the Canary Islands. In fact, things have got so bad Galicia has even agreed to take a share of those who make it. The poor souls may find the weather a bit of a shock, though it was 29 in one city in today, the highest temperature in Spain.


One of the problems of there being 17 Autonomous Communities is 17 different tax regimes, at least in respect of gift and inheritance taxes. It may not matter much to you but, as far as your heirs are concerned, the best place to shuffle off this mortal coil is Madrid, where rates are very low. And, sadly, one of the worst turns out to be Galicia. I must move.


Here’s a coded message for those thinking of visiting Galicia in the spring - After the last
week or so, I doubt we’ll be having water restrictions this summer.


The local gypsies have figured twice in the news this week. Firstly, Galicia’s Supreme Court has confirmed the local council can knock down the 10 illegal shacks on land earmarked for an industrial park. Mind you, the council has said they lack the resources to do this so it may take several more years before we see anything happen. This might be because the council is only too aware that the second incident involving the gypsies was a shoot-out at one of the pay booths on the nearby autopista. This was between members of the same family. So imagine how they treat strangers.


In Pontevedra this week we had the re-opening of a bridge which had been under repair for some time. Ten minutes after the Mayor had finished the opening ceremony a truck and a bus crashed into its lowered roof. That’s the trouble here; everyone’s in too much of a hurry.


It seems global warming is giving a miss to the UK. The temperature at 7 this morning was a mere 4 degrees. But at least the sun is shining. Though I hear this is true of Galicia again this week, after 15 days of cloud and rain. Incidentally, such arctic temperatures appear to have no effect on the hardy British youth. I've seen several of them on the streets in summer gear. Even a T-shirt and shorts yesterday.


Today I received a form to fill in, advising the Galician government how many chickens, turkeys, geese, doves, pigeons, pheasants, quail, partridge and ‘others’ I am raising in my back garden. You’ll have guessed this is an avian flu preventative measure. For reasons one can only guess at, the accompanying letter stresses the collection of data has ‘nothing to do with the tax authorities’. This might be more convincing if the form didn’t call for one’s identity number, which always doubles as your tax number.


A survey of the cost of living around Spain puts the three Galician cities of Pontevedra, Vigo and Ourense are in the bottom five. On the other hand, both meat and fish are more expensive in La Coruña than anywhere else in the country. As the city is a port surrounded by fishing villages, this is hard to credit. At least as regards the fish. Windy, cloudy and expensive. Not a place I would choose but it seems to be popular with Brits. Must remind them of home.


In 2005, Galicians spent less on cars and housing than the Spanish average but more on food. All those festive seafood dinners, I guess.


Galician families spend an average of €3000 on a child’s First Holy Communion, usually obtained on credit. The cash, that is, not the child. And this is in the second poorest region in Spain. God only knows what it must be in Madrid and Barcelona. But I trust it makes Him happy.


In the province of Pontevedra, there’s a small town called Cans, pronounced more or less as it’s written. Every year, during the week of the Cannes film festival, they hold a competing event. It doesn’t quite attract the same calibre of star – possibly because it’s billed as an agrofiesta - but I think it’s wholly admirable. And I loved the comment from the organiser yesterday that, as the temperature was over 40 here this week, he was going to write to ask his counterpart in Cannes to move the week back in the year. By the way, cans means dogs in Galician.


I can’t say I was too surprised to see a report today from the Galician Institute of statistics which said only 3% of Galicians speak English fluently. This compares with over 90% in Sweden, Norway and Holland. More than 65% of the population here admitted they don’t know a single word of the language. Of course, nobody’s obliging them to but it does say something about the region’s ability to communicate with the rest of the world.


A reader has commented on the poor quality of English in Galician brochures and suggested there's a business opportunity here. I'm afraid not. After several abortive attempts to help organisations for free, I've come to accept the view of my Spanish friends that what happens is the local organisation gets a budget for translations by qualified people and then spends it employing relatives who may have studied English at school but who have certainly never spoken it.


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


Some Galician facts:-
- Fewer people [63%] claim to routinely speak Galician these days. This is doubtless a reflection of the depopulation of the villages of inland .
- Galicia is being increasingly urbanised. Between 1987 and 2000, urban development grew 20%
- Between 2006 and 2013, Galicia will receive 3.4m euros from EU funds, a drop of 7% over the previous 7 year period
- Although 63% of the population say they speak Galician regularly, only a small minority have anything other than Spanish on their tombstones. The local Nationalist party [the BNG] fears this will give the wrong impression to future archaeologists and say something must be done about it. I’m not sure what.


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


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


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


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


It was the last day of the superb ‘Smells of Andalucia’ exhibition down in Pontevedra’s main square today, so I made a second visit. This time there was no Visitor’s Book for comments. I guess the organisers got tired of reading variations on ‘Looks nice but smells awful’ from the notoriously conservative Galicians. To be honest, there are few [if any] traces of Muslim influence in Galicia and it’s hard to blame the locals for treating other – very different - parts of Spain like foreign countries. Truth to tell, this is exactly how they are referred to in the local press – as in “Foreign banks have large share of the market”, meaning banks from Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao.


Here’s something for those buying property up in the hills of Lugo and Ourense to think about – global warming is forecast to mean that, by the end of the century, the interior of Galicia will be ‘hotter and more arid’ than it is now. As it was over 40 degrees in Ourense today, this is not something to take too lightly. At least not if you want to leave some valuable property to your kids.


According to El Mundo, ‘unscrupulous’ Galician fishermen are simplifying their task by chucking sticks of dynamite into schools of sardines. Sadly, I suspect this will leave most Spanish as unmoved as the widespread sale of illegally small fish in the nation’s tapas bars. And who am I to point a finger? I eat them.


As you would expect in a country for which tourism is so important, there are some excellent organisations here. One of them is TurGalicia and I’ve just discovered they provide details of all the region’s major gardens on this their web site. Not just in Spanish but also in English. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that - as this brief excerpt shows - someone’s relative has taken on the translation challenge - The 19th century boost which converted Pontevedra from having the title of city into the provincial capital was smart enough to surround the large buildings in charge of meeting the new administrative needs with recreational areas for the citizens. In its centric sphere of jurisdiction, we will find the architectural volumes of the Valle-Inclán Institute, the Provincial Government and the Spanish Provincial Office of Education. I would write to offer to improve this without payment but, sadly, I know I’ll never get a reply.

On the other hand, I wrote yesterday to someone who maintains a site on the history of and also to a professor of Galician History at Santiago university and both of them were kind enough to reply immediately. This rather blows out of the water my claim that no one answers letters in Spain. Though not quite, as the exchanges were electronic. And, therefore, as ‘immediate’ as the Spanish like them. Almost as in the here-and-now as the human voice.


It’s far too soon to be reach any sort of definitive conclusion but it’s at least encouraging that the national road mortality figures for the first 10 days of the new licence system were 40% down on last year’s. Though there was no reduction in Galicia, thanks largely to a crash as the weekend which claimed several young lives.


It was 35 degrees or more in Pontevedra again today and there were lean pickings for the stall holders and the bar owners down at the Sunday flea market. The Galicians dislike these temperatures as much as the British and were either all on the beach or indoors. At times like this I spare a thought for all those Brits who’ve bought property up in the mountains near Ourense, in compete disregard of the warning on my web site that temperatures up there can be 10 degrees higher. But the feeling soon passes. You makes your bed . . .


Galicia, it seems, has proportionately the highest number of unoccupied properties in Spain. There are two poles-apart reasons for this. Firstly, people are leaving the land up in the mountains and, secondly, rather richer people have been buying second and third places purely for investment purposes. The national and regional governments insist they want to see an end to construction well in excess of actual needs but there are at least two factors which must make them ambivalent about it all. Firstly, Spain’s current high rate of economic growth is largely driven by this construction boom and, secondly, with a sales tax of 6-7% on every purchase, the government stands to see a large reduction in revenues when it stops. Rather as with cigarette smoking. So we just get lectures.


Come the summer, come the dreadful forest fires. Particularly in the north west of Spain. Yesterday there were 34 of these blazing in Galicia, forcing the closure of the north-south motorway along a 17km stretch. It’s generally reckoned more than 60% of these fires are started deliberately, which is a sobering thought.


Galicians eat the lowest quantity of pre-prepared foods – 6 kilos a year each, against 10 nationwide. At 14, the Catalunians consume the most. Which might explain a few things.


Throughout Spain, July has seen an impressive reduction in road deaths. Except in Galicia, where they are as high as ever. One of the reasons [excuses?] given for this is that the region has a disproportionate number of townships, meaning a lot of travel for the populace. In fact, Galicia is said to have over half of the country’s 40,000 municipalities. Another reason adduced is that the topography of the place means a lot of two-lane, curvy roads. I am more impressed by this one. It coincides with the local police announcing that, since all the deaths take place on the numerous alternative secondary roads used by drivers when they’ve been drinking, they’ve now had the brilliant idea to put checks and radar traps on these as well. The fact that they haven’t done this todate explains the ludicrously low rate of 1% which they’ve traditionally quoted for drunken drivers caught in their spot checks.


There are more than 56,000 people unemployed in the province of Pontevedra. However, several posts are hard to fill. These include – solderers; pilots; pizza chefs; and [most surprisingly] selling agents and ‘models’.


Galicia’s population grew fractionally to 2.8m at the start of 2006. All of the increase of 2,000 [and a bit more] was due to immigration. Despite this, Galicia remains at the bottom of the relevant Spanish table, with only 2.6% of its population comprising foreigners.

Nationally, people over 65 form 16% of the population. In it’s 22% - the highest in the country. [Incidentally, I use these terms ‘nationally’ and ‘country’ in the sense they’re used throughout the world, other than in Catalunia, the Basque Country and Galicia.]


If you’re thinking of living in the windy, wet north-western tip of Galicia - in or near La Coruña – you might like to bear in mind it has the highest rate of childhood asthma in Spain.


Galicians like to believe they were never really conquered by the Romans, Visigoths or Arabs. So I was surprised to read this week that ‘In 584, the Visigoth king, Liuvigild defeated the rulers of the Suebic kingdom of and added it to his crown’. Another local myth bites the dust. By the way, I suspect Liuvigilid is the same chap as our old friend, Leovigilido. Of Toledo.


Cambados is a Galician coastal town, the centre of one of the region’s two great Albariño wine growing areas and famous for its wine festival every first week of August. For reasons utterly beyond me at least, this year they chose that imposing figure of the wine world, Samantha Fox, to inaugurate it. Perhaps she was just passing through and a thing or two about her caught their eye.


July was blessedly free of the forest fires that plagued last year but August has come in with a vengeance. Over the past few days terrible conflagrations have surrounded the cities of Santiago, Vigo and Pontevedra and the air is thick with smoke, ash and acrid fumes. And the drone of the water-dropping planes and helicopters. It’s no real consolation but the one positive is that it makes for remarkable sunsets, with the sun going down in a blaze of brilliant oranges and reds. The police, as usual, say as many as 90% of these fires are deliberate, attributing them to an ‘outrageous wave of criminal activity’ stemming from a mixture of pyromania, score-settling and pure land-grabbing greed. Hard to believe, especially in view of the deaths caused.


Hits to my blog rose significantly during 's 10 days of torment by fire. But nowhere near as much as when I commented on the nude pictures of a dying Princess Diana in a Spanish magazine. So, perhaps I should invent a story about her naked corpse being found in the ash-filled ruins of a house somewhere in the wilds of Galicia. One thing’s for sure – the Daily Express in Britain would certainly run with it. And Mr Fayed would probably become my best friend. So, on second thoughts . . .


At last some good news about road deaths in ! So far this August, they’ve fallen by 43% over last year.

And, while, I’m being positive – Another of my informal surveys on the bridge into town suggests only a small percentage of Spanish drivers still decline to wear safety belts in the car. At least in the front seats. It’s as if the increased penalties have given them a legitimate excuse to stop being ‘individualistic’. I guess everything has its price.


Life is returning to normal after the fires and I can comment again on such bizarre happenings as the discovery of a miniature submarine in Vigo Bay. This is suspected of being the latest hi-tech way of landing Europe’s cocaine along the Galician coast but the jury is still out.


I read last night that Sunday’s corrida in Pontevedra was so successful 4 of the 6 [always ‘brave’] bulls were given the honour of a celebratory circuit of the ring. This would, I believe, have been prostrate and at the end of a rope being pulled by two horses. In other words, post mortem. In truth, the tribute must be directed at the breeder; the bulls themselves being long past caring.


The mini submarine found in the Bay of Vigo would have been capable of bringing 3,000 kilos of cocaine closes to the shore. No one seems to know why it was abandoned. Perhaps it leaked over the produce.


The national police say the new penalties have reduced the average speed on Spain’s roads by 4%. By my reckoning, this means that people will now be flashing past me on the autopistas at a sedate 173kph [108mph], compared with the previous insane 180kph [113mph].


The national institute of statistics says the hotels of Galicia and Cantabria are the most expensive in the country. The local proprietors put this down to the greater competition in the south and claim our 2-star hotels are equivalent to their 4-star establishments. I wonder if this is connected to the suggestion I once heard to the effect that hotel owners actively pursue a lower rating here to avoid a higher tax rate. Probably not.


Following the recent fatal crash of a train en route from Vigo to France, Galicia’s network has come under a good deal of scrutiny from the local press. And it doesn’t make great reading. Generally, trains lose 20% of their speed once they get here. Specifically, it still takes the same time it took to get to Madrid 25 years ago and the train from Vigo to Oporto down the west coast takes more than 3 hours to cover about 100km. No wonder Galicians feel hard done by, given the improvements made in other parts of the country.

But it’s not all bad news for Galicia today – it has apparently slipped down to number 3 in the list of the main routes of cocaine into Europe. And sales of our Albariño wine in Spain rose 32% in the last year.


An article in one of the local paper’s today raised what it said was a long-standing issue – that of whether Galicia should be on the same time as Portugal and Morocco below it and Ireland and the UK above it. An interesting point made was that most of Spain is actually west of the Greenwich meridian and so should be on this time. But, as this would leave Catalunia with its own ‘independent’ clock, I guess hell will freeze over before the Spanish government moves in this direction.


Do the Galicians have a death wish? For in the case of both road deaths and smoking levels, this region has seen the lowest reductions of all Spain following recent legislation.

And water usage has increased a massive 8% in the last year. Perhaps they are trying to drown themselves.


Over the summer, road deaths in Galicia fell by just under 6%. This, of course, is great news. But it compares badly with a national average of 22%. Which would be higher without the Galician component, of course.


Thanks mostly to the absence of my jinxed younger daughter, there were only 3 days of rain during this Galician summer, a huge improvement on last year. And temperatures in early September have reached record highs, with 42 in Ourense against ‘only’ 37 here in Pontevedra. Not surprisingly, the albariño grape harvest is at record levels for the third year running. By all rights, this should lead to price reductions in your local wine store but my guess is this will only happen in respect of the grapes in their pre-processed, ‘commodity’ manifestation. Leaving a few others in the chain with improved margins.


A reader has suggested that, through my guide to Galicia and links to property agents, I’m doing my best to replicate what I describe as the hell hole of the Costa del Sol. This is a reasonable point but possibly an unfair one. First of all, Galicia does not have sun all the year round; it has 5-6 months of grey and damp. So it has little or no appeal to the sun-seekers who populate the south coast. Secondly, over the last few years, I’ve responded to perhaps 200 people looking at buying here and I don’t recall a single one of them wanting to live along the coast. All were looking for something in the rural countryside. Finally, the two agents I link to operate in the hinterland and offer properties in rural areas which have been abandoned by Galicians. These are a long way from the coast and could do with the investment. If my reader wants to debate this issue with me, perhaps he or she can cast off the cloak of anonymity and write to me at the email address on my site. Where, incidentally, he/she will also find the following blunt comment - Galicia is still a place in which you can enjoy Spain at its simplest and its best. And where any foreigners you bump into are likely to be looking for the same things as you – beauty, serenity, culture and good living. Not packed beaches and restaurants which open at 5, close at 7 and serve only local variants of British ‘staples’. If this is what you want, stop reading now; you are wasting your time. is decidedly not for you.


In the chapter on Galicia in his book “The Ghosts of Spain”, Giles Trimlett mentions the utterly confusing nature of our province, town, village and hamlet names. I can certainly sympathise. The place I was looking for today was called Barro and I was told it was near one of the two official car testing places. The other one is in Borra. And the Spanish for donkey is burro. Is it any wonder I got lost?


Tonight’s blog is something of a cop out. I’ve filleted the chapter on Galicia in Giles Trimlett’s book to give the following Galician Facts and Observations. Many of these may well have already appeared in my web page, cobbled together over the last few years but, to be honest, I can’t be bothered to check. So, my apologies if any of them seem familiar . . .

There are no more traditional Roman Catholics than the Galicians. There are also no people as traditionally superstitious as the Galicians.

In Galicia, a far higher percentage of the population [85%] speaks the local language than in either Catalunia or in the Basque Country. Yet only one in thirty wants a separate state. There is no real argument that, when you are in Galicia, you are in Spain.

Galicians are probably not real Celts. But they would like to be. Many, thanks to some self-interested tinkering with history by 19th century Galician romantics, are fully convinced they are. Whatever the truth of the Celtic origins – and they don’t shout out at you in the physical aspects of Galicians or in their language – people like them.

There are 5,000 Iron-Age settlements – castros - dotted on hill tops and promontories across Galicia

Some twenty Galician sailors and fishermen still die at sea every year.

Stones and rocks have a central role in the superstitions of Galicia. The magic stones of Muxía are supposed to be the petrified remains of a sailing boat belonging to the Virgin Mary.

Galicians have had a thing about drawing concentric circles since prehistory. The concept appears to have been transferred to modern administrative planning. As a visitor, however, all you see is the same name repeated, confusingly, over and over again.

With farms and communities so widely scattered, Galicia accounts for half the place names of Spain – some 250,000 of them. A single place name can be shared by up to two dozen locations.

Galicia’s peasant women have long taken pride in their role as strong-willed matriarchs with considerable power over house, farm and family.

A wall of silence surrounds the drug traffickers. Their wealth has helped pump new cash into what, until recently, was one of western Europe’s poorest, most backward regions.


It was perhaps inevitable that the first public opposition to the narcos should come from a group of Galician women.

The narcos are one of the least attractive of the modern phenomena to have appeared in a country where the juxtaposition of old and new, accentuated by the speed of progress, is a constant source of surprise and wonder. Nowhere, however, is the contrast as great as in Galicia.

Thanks to emigration, Galicia’s biggest city is still Buenos Aires and the biggest Galician cemetery is the Cristobal Colón cemetery in Havana. Perhaps only the Irish can fully understand the Galician experience of emigration. In fact, every ninth Galician voter lives abroad.

Some people believe that the bones in the cathedral of Santiago are not those of St. James but of a charismatic renegade bishop with an abundant and enthusiastic female following.

The Victorians so fell in love with the Portico de Gloria of the cathedral that a cast of it was made for what is now the V&A museum.

Tourist board planning, cheap pilgrims’ hotels and new age esoteric superstitions have, once more, made the pilgrimage to Santiago a phenomenon of the masses.

It seems somehow appropriate that a Galician [the owner of Zara] and one so suspicious of showing off, should have so thoroughly punctured the mystique of fashion.


The Spanish bury their dead in horizontal niches in a long, multi-tiered building inside a walled graveyard. Up near Finisterra, there’s a celebrated cemetery designed by Cesar Portela, one of those architects whose every work is greeted with sycophantic approbation no matter how bad it looks. In this case, there’s no walled graveyard and no long buildings. Instead, there’s a group of concrete cubes apparently placed randomly on the hillside. It was designed for 216 bodies but it’s not a popular place and no one is dying to get in. In fact, although it’s been open for 8 years, it’s completely empty and the cubes are under siege from the undergrowth. The only thing dead there is the graveyard itself. Which all seems to me to be a very eloquent testament to Mr Portela’s work. Looks like he’ll have the place to himself.


Thanks to a dry summer, Galicia’s 2006 Albariño wine will be one of the best ever. The one to try is Castro Martín, available from Bebendum in the UK. OK, it’s made by friends of mine but it really is superb.


Galicia’s spa towns are booming. The number of visitors has increased from 38,000 in 1998 to 100,000 in 2005. Many of these are German, apparently


The average pension in Spain is 725 euros a month, or 8,700 euros a year. Galicia’s average is as the bottom of the national table, taking it closer to the poverty threshold of 6,300 euros a year. Incidentally, 20% of Spaniards [8 million] are said to live below this level, with most of these being people over 65 living alone.


Here in Galicia, feathers are fluttering all over the dovecote after the announcement that a Madrid-based company is taking over a major local estate agency. Or real estate company, to our American cousins. Reading the local press, you get the impression the buyers are from somewhere as alien as Mars. Try as I might, I can’t imagine the takeover of, say, a Manchester firm by a London company causing anything like this reaction. But this is Spain and localism/regionalism – with all its jealousies and enmities – is very much a fact of life here.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Our donkey population has fallen from 25,000 in the mid 90s to only 6,000 today. If you want to know about an organisation dedicated to protecting them, here’s a recent press article . . . http://www.elcorreogallego.es/index.php?idMenu=130&idNoticia=98529


76% of children between 10 and 14 in Pontevedra have a mobile phone.


Taking up Trevor’s brilliant suggestion, I've now set up the Galician branch of Ciutadans. Please send in your applications for positions of power. These will be dispensed in accordance with local norms. If this name means nothing to you, try this . . .
www.typicallyspanish.com/news/publish/article_7237.shtml


The residents of Ferrol and Ourense are the biggest consumers of water in the region, at 177 and 166 litres a year, respectively. The national average – in this dry country - is 171, compared with around 145 in the UK. The lowest consumers are the good people of Santiago, who only get through 100 litres a year.


It’s good to see the ‘farming’ of horses in the mountains of Galicia is on the increase. It’s less good to know most of these creatures are destined for the tables of restaurants in France and Italy. It seems their diet of gorse gives their meat the edge over grass eaters. The positive news is that, en route to the kitchen, the horses devour the undergrowth that is such a factor in the rapid spread of forest fires. Bring on the empty horses!


Galicia’s not great when it comes to international cuisine and I’m still looking for an Indian restaurant as good as the one down the Portuguese coast in Oporto. But at least we don’t see this sort of nonsense, advertising a restaurant in Majorca – The Ultimate in Indian cuisine with the true authentic taste from England. Curry and chips, presumably.


The Galician government [the Xunta] has set up its first embassy [or ‘delegation’], in Buenos Aires. The next one will be in Brussels, apparently. Delusions of grandeur?


Galicia does even better than the national average when it comes to size. 23% of the local population is said to be obese and 60% of adults overweight. Must be all the bloody
cocido.


Property prices in rose by 19% over the last year, double the national average. Up in Ourense, the figure was 33%. Must be all those bloody Brits.


A reader of my web page yesterday asked me what advice I’d give about moving here. After contemplating the 5th day of continuous rain, I was tempted to say ‘Look somewhere else’. Well, today was the 6th day of the thick, grey blanket and a non-stop downpour, so suicide is beginning to look like an option. Thank God for the bright spot of the Thanksgiving Day dinner tonight at Pontevedra’s English Speaking Society. Assuming I survive the day.


In most Galician cities, around 60% of the population was born there. But this falls to ‘only’ 49% in La Coruña. And, yet, this is the city with the happiest residents. Can there be a connection? For one thing, it’s certainly regarded as the city with the highest level of cultural activity. They even have a Japanese restaurant, for goodness sake. Here in Pontevedra we used to have an excellent Korean restaurant but this was forced to close for lack of business, even though its main dish was the tempting Cod Korean Style. We also used to have an Indian restaurant but this deserved to close.


Not that you would know this from walking along any beach but it’s long been illegal to build within 50 metres of the sea. The Xunta has now announced that the new distance will be 500 metres. This is admirable but it might cause a few problems for those townships which currently fall 100% within this limit. We wait on events.


Fifteen years or so go Brussels demanded the Spanish government crack down on the region’s age-old cigarette smuggling. The Law of Unintended Consequences resulted in the locals deciding that, if they were going to be harassed, they might as well make things more worthwhile for themselves. So they turned to cocaine and duly became Europe’s main point of entry for the stuff. In the process, infamous ‘clans’ were formed but I read today that these are now being displaced by Columbian barons. On balance, I suspect this is bad news.


Galicia is rich in rock art petroglyphs. But not as rich as it was. Sadly, many of these were destroyed by the fires and floods of the last few months


A nice comment on the incessant rain of the last 10 days – A cartoon in one of our local papers today showed a salesman trying to interest a young man in a sports model . .
It goes from 0 to 100kph in 4 seconds.
Yes, but can it float?

Still on cars - Galicia, it turns out, is the Mecca of expensive customising, or ‘tuning’ as it’s called here. If you want to see some examples, go to my blog of 18 Nov. or to this link.
http://www.colindavies.net/chav%20cars.htm


The heavy rains of the last couple of weeks have brought terrible floods to towns on our coast. These are blamed, in part, on the deforestation caused by August’s devastating fires but the Voz de Galicia has also pointed the finger at what it calls ‘ferocious urban development’. Those mayors again.


One particular consequence of the floods is a gaping hole in the middle of one of our main roads. Into this, around midday on Wednesday, fell a maintenance van. The police were called and a car raced to the scene. And promptly launched itself into the hole. So the police erected barriers around it. Guess what happened then. . .


It’s official – The mini-submarine found in Vigo harbour a few months ago had been used for drug smuggling. A number of people around the country have now been arrested. We wait to see whether they are all midgets.


Attempts are to be made by a consortium of local producers to make 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.


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 …..

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 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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


A Spanish friend of mind searching for ‘twenty-second’ today came up with ‘twenty-twoth’. Which I prefer.


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.


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 Galicia ns 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.


Galicia ns 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


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 from 2007. Or ‘in the worst case’ from 2008. And these will use Vigo. I guess it all makes sense to someone.


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 -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.

Search This Blog