Monday, December 31, 2007

If you’ve missed pictures of the head of the Pakistani suicide bomber, click onto the web page any Spanish newspaper and enter cabeza in the search box. Shouldn’t take too long.

Which reminds me . . . Recently there’s been a spate of hits to my blog using search terms such as:-
arab blood in Spain
are the Spanish white
hola comes from Allah
Spaniards are part Arab

Actually, my suspicion is these originate with ultra right-wing Spaniards who can think of nothing better to do than sit at their computer all day looking for evidence of liberal thinking on, say, immigration so they can then send a stream of bile to the blogger. Anyway, the most intriguing search of the week was:- The burning of red knickers in spain on new years eve. Can anyone shed any light on women shedding scarlet panties?

To be more serious - The end-of-the-year financial overviews are dominated by tales of liquidity problems in the debt-burdened construction industry. Some developers are even said to be selling at cost, simply to get hold of the cash banks aren’t able/willing to lend. The National Association of Estate Agents has demanded the government helps by simplifying the task of buying and selling land. Strange this never surfaced during the decade of what are called fat-cow years here.

I see it’s not only in Spain that the government dictates the dates on which shops can hold sales; the same holds true of France and Italy as well. This is in addition to telling them what dates and at what hours they can open during the year. I have to admit to a degree of ambivalence about all this. I’m a supporter of capitalism but I detest its inevitable progression towards unbridled commercialism. And I quite like the fact Sundays here are how they used to be when I was a kid in the UK. But the Anglo in me rebels at the thought of civil servants telling shop keepers not just when but how they can actually sell their products.

The new high-speed train link between Madrid and Valladolid opened this week. And immediately ran into operating problems. The same happened, of course, with Madrid’s magnificent new airport terminal. Bigtime in that case. I wonder if this is because large projects such as these never come in on time and political pressure builds up for them to be inaugurated before they’ve been fully commissioned. If so, stand by for some huge cock-ups with the much-delayed Madrid-Barcelona link. On top of those which have already happened in the last few weeks, I mean.

For those who think I write a contentious blog simply to maximise traffic which generates advertising income, I should advise I’ve made 96 dollars in 8 months. Or around 60 euros, I think. Just enough for an end-of-year outing.

Finally, my best wishes for 2008 to everyone. And my apologies if a malfunctioning keyboard has led to even more typos than usual. I leave you with the rhetorical question – How come there are mouse droppings in the detergent drawer of my washing machine . . . .?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

I touched yesterday on the subject of national stereotypes. Then last night I read a report of a new practice among the sort of British women who go Majorca for what we’ll call the night life. Now that you can get insurance against rape and will be indemnified immediately on the mere production of a police report, the number of false allegations to the Palma police has duly rocketed. Showing that cultural norms can be rapidly acquired, the latest case centred on the allegation by a young woman of Pakistani origin who claimed she’d been raped by not just one but five youths of similar background. Needless to say, such reports do wonders for the image of British women in Spain. I guess the popular term ooligan will now encompass both females and males as a handy media label for British youth.

Talking of the Spanish media, I can’t say I was surprised to see not only pictures of Pakistani grief in the papers yesterday but also photos of mutilated bodies and separate body parts strewn across the road. Something of a Spanish obsession, this.

Spain’s estate agents [realtors] took another large hit on the stock market yesterday, bringing their loss in quoted value this year to more than 43%. Apart from around my house, construction companies are reported to have stopped building new flats and houses so that the huge stock of empty properties can be exhausted. Since it takes at least two years to finish anything here, and since the market is at least static, this could take quite some time. And, of course, it has serious implications for employment in the construction section.

Another week, another large fine imposed on Telefonica for defrauding its customers. This time by illegally rounding up mobile phone bills in 2005. Institutionalised dishonesty, I suppose.

The Archbishop of Tenerife is reported to have said that some minors not only want to be abused but even provoke it. He then gave the helpful advice that one needed to be careful around these kids. Hmm. I suspect he will come to regret airing these thoughts.

Spain’s national carrier, Iberia, is running a large newspaper ad which features a tall signpost containing several forenames pointing in different directions. So, we have Nuria, Noa, Eva, Irene, Flavio, Gonazalo and . . . . Gladys. Nice to know this 19th century favourite - which would invite ridicule in the UK - is being kept alive here.

Finally, I’ve just received a card from Italy which was sent posta prioritaria but which nonetheless took fourteen days to reach me. I suspect problems at the Italian end, since international deliveries are usually very quick in Spain.

Friday, December 28, 2007

It’s funny how national stereotypes are so regularly endorsed. Yesterday, our local papers carried reports of a 36 year-old Brit found dead in a Vigo street, the victim of heart attack brought on by a drink-induced coma. On the other side of the coin, the Barcelona detective agency investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann can have done little for the image of Spanish integrity by loudly proclaiming in November they knew who her abductors were and insisting she’d be home for Christmas.

Which reminds me . . . the word mentir [to lie] and its derivatives are commonplace in Spanish discourse. One reason is that the meaning of mentira, for example, seems to encompass a mistake and an oddity, as well as a lie. Anyway, my real point is that, in a country where everyone seems to regard everyone outside their family as a bit of a fibber, it’s remarkable how upset individuals can get when you want to add something to a contract to protect yourself in the event they’ve been economical with the truth. In Madrid last week, I helped my daughter in negotiations for refurbishment of her flat. I’ve rarely seen anyone as aggrieved as the builder, when a clause was proposed on the issue of a licence he’d insisted she didn’t need. A builder, for God’s sake. In Spain!

And still talking of appearances – The Syrian government is said to be very unhappy about the possible extradition from Spain to the USA of a Syrian arms dealer. It’s reported to have reminded the Spanish government who protects its troops in the Lebanon and to have complained that ‘These false reports have the intention of damaging the image of Syria’. Given how that country is viewed, I wouldn’t have thought this was possible.

When it comes to the illegal downloading of films and songs, Spain heads the European blacklist. For some time now, Spanish artists have been receiving compensation from funds collected via the imposition of a special tax on CDs and DVDs. After pressure from performers, the government is about to be extend this to such things as mobile phones and printers. The logic appears to be - As we can’t police things adequately, we’re going to treat all purchasers as criminals, regardless of how innocent you might be. Personally, I find this offensive. And I guess I would even if I downloaded anything other than BBC podcasts.

One of the waitresses in my favourite café/bar is called Luz [Looth]. This means light in Spanish. But also electricity. I can’t help thinking of this whenever she asks me what I want.

Although the Spanish economy has grown exceptionally well for 10 years and will still perform well next year, the underlying problem of low productivity continues to cause concern. As does the fact that wages have not kept pace with inflation. I thought about the latter yesterday when told [again] how easy it is for Rumanians to learn Spanish. Given EU freedom of movement, this surely represents a further threat to salary levels, even for jobs demanding a high level of education.

House prices are now falling not only in the USA and the UK but also here in Spain, specifically in Barcelona and Madrid. I certainly saw evidence of significant reductions from ‘the original price’ in agents’ windows in Madrid last week. Faced with a sharp fall in revenue as a result of reduced property sales, local councils are now taking the tax-increase measures I forecast months ago. In Salamanca this week, there’s been the third large-scale protest against these. I suspect there will be many more, as urban governments eschew cuts in expenditure and opt for increasing the woes of mortgage-burdened taxpayers.

Driving back from Madrid last Sunday, I was amused to see that the latest gantry exhortation from the people who gave us We can’t drive for you is Think of others. Fat chance. Even at Christmas.

Galicia Facts

Interestingly, the far northern bit of Galicia is considered by some to be La tercera bretaña, or The third Britain. Not quite sure why so I’d welcome insights from Galician readers. Unless, of course, it’s just another manifestation of the obsession with things Celtic.


This blog is extra long as I have a lot of notes in my wonderful new Moleskine notepad and I don’t want to let them go to waste, having simply forgotten to post anything yesterday because of visitor distraction. My thanks to all who’ve made it to the end.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I attended Mass with my Catholic daughter yesterday. If I wasn’t actually the second-youngest person there, it must have been close. My daughter says things are very different in her parish in the UK, raising the question of whether the Catholic Church in Spain will last much more than a single generation. Perhaps the country will be flooded, as with Britain, by Catholics from Poland. If so - and as I am still waiting after two months of broken promises - I hope at least one of them is a plumber who likes the look of Pontevedra. He could probably sustain the entire Polish economy with remittances arising from his [easy] earnings here.

The Mass was in Spanish, though I have heard them in Gallego. One wonders how long it will be before it effectively becomes obligatory to go with the flow and have them only in the local language. Probably never, as the Xunta doesn’t pay the priests’ salaries. And, if there is pressure in this direction, I suppose the Church can always play the same game and ‘normalise’ back to Latin.

Today is not a holiday in Spain. So, instead of endless TV ads for huge shop sales or holidays in the Maldives, we have the Portuguese workmen banging away at the front of the house and a pile driver doing its stuff at the back. And it’s only 9am. Which is dawn at the moment here in Galicia. Oh, and my next door neighbours have people in ‘reforming’ their bathroom, mostly by banging on the wall it seems. To say the least, my daughters are not best pleased. Especially the one who always writes until 4am.

There’s been a spate of reports recently on how much prices have risen here, not just but over the last few days, weeks or months but since the introduction of the Euro in 2002. Some of the increases are astronomical but everyone interviewed adheres to the standard line that, firstly, it’s someone else’s fault and, secondly, that everyone else is a liar.

The worst news of the week has been that, in the case of the illegal abortions is Barcelona and Madrid, the police have found foetuses with air in their lungs. This, they say, is evidence they were born alive. One doesn’t have to be religious to find this truly appalling.

And the best news? El País says four people have been arrested in the slimming products fraud in Málaga

Finally, Spanish critics say the recent Spice Girls’ concert in Madrid ‘consisted mostly of bright lights and costume changes and was not dominated by either outstanding singing or choreography’. There’s a surprise.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A quick follow-up to my Quote of the Century yesterday – a front page headline in El Pais yesterday advised us that Palestine is devouring itself. Quite a contrast in sentiment. And a depressing one.

I went back to the photo exhibition yesterday evening. This time the machine failed to register not only my daughter’s flat keys in one pocket but also my car keys in the other. I wonder why they bother.

An editorial in today’s El Pais expresses the hope that the provisional government in Belgium is the prelude to a solution that keeps the Flemish and the Walloons together. But if not, it opines, the break-up will have no implications for Spain, as Belgium has always been an artificial state. The trouble is this is exactly how the various nationalist groups here see Spain. I can’t see them viewing it as an irrelevance.

I’ve written more than once that even those Spaniards who see themselves as non-racist are happy to admit they despise gypsies. I guess this opening sentence from a report yesterday helps to explain this widespread visceral antipathy – A wedding agreed between the families of two adolescent gypsies ended with the kidnapping of the bride – aged 16 – whom the family of the groom – aged 14 – had taken to a house in Lloret de Mar, under threat they would prostitute her unless the dowry of 80,000 was handed over.

El Pais yesterday had a large feature on Nutra Life, the Malaga company accused of selling dangerous slimming products. Strange to relate, a search of El Mundo’s web page failed to throw up any reports at all. I guess it doesn’t cover advertisements.

I haven’t done one of these for a long time but I see the film Groundhog Day is called Trapped in Time in Spain. As I always say, I guess somebody had a salary to justify.

Finally - A strange incident in the street outside my daughter’s flat last night. There was a dead pigeon in the road and a couple were standing over it, showing an unusual degree of interest. In fact, the woman was videoing its headless corpse. Looking over my shoulder as I walked on, I saw they were now both crouched down, examining it even more intensely. And prodding it. Too many CSI episodes, I suspect.

And on that forensic note, I will leave you for Christmas, wishing you a good break from whatever it is that stresses you. If this is your family – tough!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A quick follow-up to yesterday’s comment about the food-fest over Christmas and New Year here – the Voz de Galicia says the average weight gain will be 3 kilos, or 6.5 pounds. Hardly surprising, is it? The Spanish Hypertension Society encourages everyone to counteract it via vigorous physical exercise. As if.

Entering a photo exhibition here in Madrid last night, I had to wait for a minute while they struggled to identify what it was on the chap in front of me that was setting off the alarm. It turned out to be his watch. Twenty seconds later, I sailed through with a watch on my wrist and the keys to my daughter’s flat in my pocket. Not exactly confidence-inspiring. But at least it wasn’t an airport. Actually, it was the Telefonica building, so perhaps it's not a bad thing it wouldn't be too difficult to blow it up.

En passant . . . The photos had all been taken between 1908 and 1940 and I couldn’t help noticing a lot more Spanish men had white hair back then than appears to be the case now. Probably the improved diet.

Those readers who’ve noticed my campaign against the ads for highly dubious products in El Mundo’s Sunday edition won’t be surprised to hear the police have raided a company accused of including illegal hormones in its offerings. It’s based in Malaga, of course, and has a range of 30 products guaranteed to cut your weight – even as you sleep – and to increase the size of your breasts. Possibly at the same time. Interestingly, the top men are reported to be Greek and British. Though no arrests yet.

Quote of the Century?

I regret having left Palestine. It is refreshing to find a country endowed with great natural beauty, with a capital whose appearance is worthy of its fame, with a prosperous cultivation and a prodigiously expanding revenue, with the germ of an indigenous modern culture, in the form of painters, musicians and architects, and with an administration whose conduct resembles that of a benevolent Lord of the Manor among his dependents. There is no need to be a Zionist to see that this state of things is due to the Jews. They are pouring in. They have enterprise, persistence, technical training – and capital. The cloud on the horizon is Arab hostility.

Robert Byron, in The Road to Oxiana, 1933.

Some cloud.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A nice cartoon in yesterday’s El Pais. A diner is pictured saying – With a little sauce, election promises are great. Even better when drowning in lies.

So, what do the UK, Morocco and Switzerland have in common? Well, according to Easyjet, if you’re travelling to Spain from any of these, new EU regulations oblige you to provide certain personal data in advance of your flight. If not, you won’t be allowed on the plane. I wonder what the logic is. I guess it isn’t an Islamic connection. Schengen?

I’ve mentioned more than once over the years just how much of a challenge the Spanish Christmas and New Year period is to both your stomach and your mental health. Here are some details from Ben at Notes from Spain which put flesh on these bones, as it were.

Some international institution has said there’s a ’lack of authority’ in Spanish schools and colleges. As I give a conversational class to teachers of English at one of these, I can only say that, after you’ve been subjected to the astonishing noise levels of Spanish 5 year olds, you can no longer feign surprise at how noisy adults are here.

A close friend of the Prime Minister has joined the Telefonica board as a special adviser. One wonders why.

Prostitution – an advance. Down in Sevilla, they’re going to start fining the men who patronise street prostitutes. Reportedly, this already happens in Barcelona. It’s a start.

Galicia Facts

Here’s the usual seasonal announcement – The (to me) unappetising goose barnacle – percebe – will be costing over 300 euros a kilo this Christmas, because of the usual seasonal shortage. I think I´ll give it a miss. Again.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Just in case anyone suffered apoplexy at yesterday’s report that the government was going to relax the much-abused abortion law, I should say the Prime Minister has corrected this perception. He’s now stressed he’s only calling for a debate and that there’ll be nothing in the party’s manifesto by way of proposals. So the current score is:-
Women in the cabinet 1 : Cabinet members afraid of Catholic backlash 2

Taking my morning coffee yesterday, I witnessed the Spanish ritual of El Baile de la Cuenta [The Dance of the Bill]. This takes place when two Spaniards approach the bar and then almost come to fisticuffs over who’ll pay for the drinks. I can’t pretend to know the rules – assuming there are any – but it’s my impression that the first person to get his money out never ends up paying. Worth knowing, perhaps.

Galicia Facts

There was a short dialogue a few weeks ago with readers on the subject of Galician cider. Well, I’m delighted to report that – after battling through boxes of the Asturian stuff - I was yesterday able to buy a bottle of Sidra Extra Manzanova. And not only is it ecologica but I also got a free thermal sleeve with it.

Here in Galicia, my life is regularly brightened by reading the thoughts of a certain type of cove who thinks everything here began and ended with the Celts. As I’ve said a few times, I’ve no problem with this harmless attempt to differentiate Galicia from the rest of Spain and to associate it with Ireland, Brittany and Cornwall. But it does occasionally reach preposterous levels. As an example, here’s a quote from the Cuisine section of the Wikipedia page on Galicia:- Galician cuisine often employs fish and shellfish. The ‘empanada’ is meat or fish pie. It has Celtic influence. I can’t tell whether this last comment applies to the whole of our food or just the empanada, which is usually said to resemble a Cornish pasty. Though it doesn’t really. Either way, how on earth does anyone know? Are there letters home from later Romans, Visigoths and/or Arabs saying how delighted the writer is to have stumbled across a Celtic cookbook? And even if there are, who’s to say the bloody recipes weren’t developed by whoever it was populated the place before the Celts? I may, of course, be entirely wrong about this and, if evidence is available to prove the contention that some or all Galician cuisine is of Celtic origin, I will happily eat a huge slice of humble pie. Which, by the way, should be called ‘umble pie’ and which very definitely is a delicacy which the Celts enjoyed. Trust me; I’m an ex lawyer.

Of course, the other type of cove who amuses me is the one who screams that absolutely nothing in Galicia can have anything to do with the Arabs, as they never came here. Except to sack the city of Santiago in 997, of course. And to leave us with a few suspicious place-names.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Spanish scientist is today reported to have challenged conventional wisdom by suggesting the end of the universe won’t come with a bang but via a sudden standstill. Time, he says, is literally running out and will one day stop altogether. As with me [a Brit living in Galicia] inventing a new word for rain, I feel it’s entirely apt a Spaniard should come up with a new concept of time.

After four months of almost nil rain, there’s now real concern about reservoir levels even here in Galicia. A week or so ago, as many as 83% of Voz de Galicia readers said they were extremely worried about the situation. Maybe but my guess would be that a trifling percentage of these are actually doing anything to reduce a level of consumption which is high by international standards. Words have always been cheap.

I wrote the other day about the universal tolerance of prostitution here in Spain. I doubt this will be much dented by reports in yesterday’s papers about a gang specialising in the kidnapping of transvestites in Brazil so they can be forced to work in Spanish brothels.

Equally depressing was the news that more high-profile doctors had been taken into custody in Barcelona in connection with the clinic there which provided abortion on demand regardless of the age of the foetus. Coincidentally, the government has announced it will liberalise the abortion law so as to remove the need to meet certain criteria in the early months of pregnancy. This, it says, merely leads to fraudulent practices. Which seems to be an all-too-common plight for laws in at least this area.

As if the news wasn’t bad enough already for estate agents[realtors], a group of terrorists has taken to bombing their premises in Galicia. The latest attack was in the town of Portosín, up along the coast west of Santiago. On a more national scale, a third large operator [Ereaga] has got into financial difficulties and has suspended payments to creditors. And some say we’re only at the beginning of a downwards spiral that will reciprocate its upwards predecessor of the last ten years.

A local columnist has written that ‘from a Galicianist point of view, it’s better to have more Europe and less Spain.’ What this means is that nationalists believe the EU can be a useful tool to help with shaking off the Spanish yoke. As with Scotland, this may well be true in the near term but I suspect it would be folly to exchange the rule of Madrid for that of Brussels. But vamos a ver. If I live that long.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

It’s been depressing to read recently the details of malpractice – if that’s a big enough word – in two abortion clinics in Barcelona and Madrid. It seems even the doctors there were completely willing to flout the law to an astonishing degree. The end result was not just abortion on demand but ‘procedures’ that took place way after the legal limit. Plus horrific methods of ‘disposal’. The good news is that everyone involved is under arrest. Let’s hope the punishment is appropriate. Perhaps a red-hot poker through the entrails.

There was a heartfelt letter in El Pais last week, from a lady asking just how long it would be before the Spanish – both male and female – stopped turning a blind eye to the scandalously horrific exploitation of [mostly foreign] women in the country’s innumerable brothels. A good question. And one which again came to mind when I saw yet another new club just outside Pontevedra this weekend.

Talking of Ponters – Our mayor is to receive an award in Madrid for his town planning measures of the last 6 or 7 years. Just in case there’s talk of imitation in your neck of the woods, you should know these will turn your entire town into a paradise for those able to walk but a true nightmare for those who need to drive. Or to try to park. Personally, I’m a great fan, as I never take my car into Pontevedra. But I do know others of a markedly different opinion. And I suspect that – environmentally speaking – all the speed bumps, the incomprehensible one-way system, the narrowing or closure of nearly every street and the resulting increase in journey times can only have served to increase emissions. So real ‘success’ will only come when people stop using their cars completely. It would be nice to think there’ll be a public transport system by this time. As yet, though, no one appears to have given much thought to this. Except the voters.

Still on the ecology – It’s astonishing how difficult it is to reduce one’s use of plastic bags, given that every retailer tries hard to put even single, pre-wrapped products in them. And how they look at you when you decline the bag – as if you’re guilty of the crime of being a rude, ‘uneducated’ foreigner. Who deserves a red-hot poker through his entrails.

Coming down to grubby economics – The Spanish Prime Minister – Mr Zapatero – says that, if the socialists are returned to power next March, they’ll ensure Spaniards have the highest per capita income in the EU within 10 years. This will be some achievement. And I suspect those struggling with both inflation which everyone thinks is way above the official 4.1% and with ever-rising mortgage payments will suspect Mr Z of living in a parallel universe. Assuming, of course, they pay any attention at all to pre-election statements of intention and aspiration.

Galicia Facts

A Spanish technology company, Tecnocom, is developing the first voice synthesiser in Gallego. This is being funded by our regional government, the Xunta, so I wonder if calls to their offices in Santiago will eventually be handled entirely by a machine which refuses to respond if you try to engage it in Spanish. Just like the urban planning officer in one town up in the hills.

Which reminds me, thanks to a helpful reader I was able to track down a copy of the Xunta’s English-Spanish-Gallego phrasebook at out local Turismo office. Though they did seem to have to go down into the basement for it. However, I ran into problems straight away when I used the expression A facer as beiras on a ladyfriend, having read it meant to chat up. Or ligar in Spanish. She said she hadn’t the faintest idea what I was talking about. Though, to be honest, when I checked later with my cleaner, she did. And was highly amused in the process. I do hope a misunderstanding hasn’t arisen . . .

Monday, December 17, 2007

The inflation rate here has virtually doubled in the last three months, from 2.1% to 4.1%. You could hardly blame the Spanish for being conscious of this but the Economy Minister has come up with a novel explanation of why they might be guilty of over-sensitivity. They are, he says, still confused by the change from pesetas to euros in 2002 and are grossly over-tipping on small items such as their daily coffee. As the Spanish have the reputation of being among the worst tippers in the world, this will surely have come as good news to all the hard-working café and bar staff throughout the country. And quite possibly as a complete surprise as well.

Another indication of how close our general elections are is the announcement that the current tax on CDs and DVDs will be reduced by one of the parties. Can’t recall which one now. But they’re obviously after the youth vote. Or ‘yoof’, as it’s called in the UK. Spanish equivalent?

And the third amusing political announcement of the last few days is that, given the enormous rises in prices of certain foodstuffs, we should all consider rabbit for our Christmas dinner. I, on the other hand, am researching Korean recipes for barking dogs.

But the worst announcement of the week must surely have been Al Queda’s statement that it still plans to return Al Andalus to Islamic rule. Just in case you’re not au fait, the modern term for this state, which passed away in the 15th century, is ‘Spain’.

And talking of territorial aspirations, I see Kosovo is still on track for the independence that’s supported by most of the EU states - though not, of course, by Spain. There will then be the problem of what to do with the northern bit of Kosovo which is populated by Serbs. Not to mention the bits of Bosnia and of Croatia where the same applies. If we’re going to have self-determination all round, then these must surely be given the chance to secede as well. If not, why not? The same question will arise in respect of Navarra, if the Basque Country eventually leaves the Spain to which many of its inhabitants claim it never belonged in the first place. And I don’t just mean the cowardly ETA psychopaths who think this can be achieved via bombs and nape-of-the-neck ‘executions’. It’s an ever more complicated world. Especially in Europe, where the EU superstate pulls in one direction and would-be free nation-lets pull in the other. Perhaps the answer is a World Federation of states in which English is the only permitted language. Roll on Nirvana.

Meanwhile, Spain’s National Court is not to proceed with the prosecution of Fidel Castro for genocide because it turns out that, as a head of state, he is immune. Which must have taken a lot of pre-trial research.

Which reminds me . . . I listened over the weekend to an interesting podcast from Notes from Spain about psychopaths who plan to travel around Spain on pedal bikes. This was a bit confusing – not to mention worrying - until, at the end of the broadcast, the name of the relevant web page was spelt out – www.spanishcyclepaths.com These Americans and their English pronunciation!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My impression is the first post-Franco government of Felipe Gonzalez is primarily remembered here as a byword for corruption. Why do I mention this? Well, because Sr. Gonzalez has just been appointed the head of a large Group of the Wise which is to ponder the future of the EU.

I had another moan about Spanish banks last week. The very next day it was announced that Spain’s equivalent of the UK’s Monopolies Commission is to fine 19 banks for compelling clients to take out a particular house insurance as part of their mortgage deals. Why am I not surprised, as well as being pleased that action is being taken?

Bad news about the construction industry and the housing market is now falling so thick and fast, I’m beginning to wonder how accurate it can be. El Público advises of a new report claiming a 70% fall in house sales; ABC says that the construction of flats has fallen by 40% and 500,000 jobs are expected to be lost. It also warns that the bank rate is about to climb again, making life even tougher for those with mortgages; and El País reports that real estate promoters now predict falls in property prices next year.

For at least ten years, I’ve insisted to all and sundry we're all suffering the consequences of living in The Age of the Bureaucrat. Today comes the first sign that things might just be on the turn. A UK columnist writes - We are entering a post-bureaucratic age in which the model of society that has been dominant for the past 200 years is becoming obsolete. We have lived through such a transition before. In the distant past, authority in societies was local and familial, a matter of clan or noble power, submission to kings and feudal rules, with economies controlled by guild structures. That world vanished in the 18th and 19th centuries with the emergence of the bureaucratic society, in which power became centralised and economies industrialised. From Bismarck's Germany and the Britain of the Circumlocution Office described by Dickens to the America of the New Deal captured by Frank Capra, the bureaucratic society dominated the world. Just as the dinosaurs once did. But not now. In this post-bureaucratic age, deference towards traditional authority has gone and citizens are much more demanding of the state. Individuals are no longer willing to accept that the centralised provider knows best. Whether it's the open network of Linux, which challenges traditional software provision; peer-to-peer music file sharing, which has broken the control of the old music companies; or technology that makes the viewer the channel controller, the bureaucratic dinosaurs everywhere are dying.

Let’s hope so. And let’s hope Spain catches the bug.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

In a local casa rural this week, I came across two booklets giving Gallego translations for those travellers whose languages are, in one case, Catalan and Basque and, in the other, French and German. But nothing for us English and Spanish speakers. Perhaps there’s a third booklet covering these. Has anyone seen it? Can anyone find evidence for it on the Xunta’s web page? I can’t.

Truly there is no limit when you want your language to be ‘normalised’. In other words, advanced at the expense of Spanish. In parliament this week, the President of the Galician Nationalist Party demanded that Madrid pay heed to some EU decree or other and ensure we in Galicia can watch TV programs in Gallego’s sister language, Portuguese. As there’s an election coming up, the Prime Minister gave a non-committal but sympathetic response. He then tweaked the beard of the President of the PP party – who happens to hail from Pontevedra – by claiming that, although from León, he was a better Galician than the leader of the opposition. What fun. Another three months of this nonsense, with the BNG attempting to show us just what influential power-brokers they now are in Madrid.

Stimulated by a BBC podcast on the Sassanian empire, I’ve tossed a coin to decide whether I should prioritise my language learning in favour of Gallego or my rusty Farsi. My nationalist friends will be disappointed to hear that Farsi won. So I won’t be normalised for a while yet. I leave you with a few things you might not know about Iran and its people:-
Modern Iran is ancient Persia
Iranian/Persian/Farsi in not Arabic
Iranians are not Arabs but Aryans
Thanks to Islamic invasions in the 8th century, Farsi uses the Arabic script but it is not exactly the same
Iranians are not at all fond of Arabs and get very upset at being confused with them
Iranians are mostly Shiite Moslems, whereas Arabs are very predominantly Sunni – another reason for mutual enmity
Even after defeat in the battles against the Greeks that we all now know about thanks to Hollywood, there was a massive Persian empire through the early centuries of the Christian era which stretched from Iraq in the west through Afghanistan in the east. It soundly defeated the armies of the Roman empire on a number of occasions.
There was a monotheist religion – Zoroastrianism – in Persia many centuries before Christ appeared in the Middle East
In view of their magnificent history and literature, Iranians react badly to being treated as illiterate goatherds. It can be very annoying, I guess, to lose a vast empire, go into decline and then have the rest of the world look down on you in its ignorance.

That’s enough for today. Except to tell you there's a good joke that ends with the line - It all goes to show you must never go for a Shiite when the train is standing in a station.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Only in Spain? El Mundo claims the national HQ of the PSOE Socialist party in Madrid has been operating since 1981 without a licence. The PSOE has duly retaliated by saying the same is true of the PP headquarters.

Like reader Bill, I do wonder whether it’s really a coincidence that respective partisan newspapers are full of reports of PP or PSOE corruption in the months before an election. The major flaw in this thinking, though, is best summed up by a Spanish friend, who said, “Well, it this is what’s going on a it’s a waste of time and space; no one here cares how corrupt the politicians are.” A cynic’s cynic, obviously.

I’ve decided to be mature about the speeding fine I got on Monday. I’ve written to the Guardia Civil to commend them for rigorous application of the law and to nominate a place where they can surely apply it with even more vigour. This is the roundabout at ‘my’ end of the bridge into town. If they stood there for a few hours, I imagine they’d net hundreds of drivers using the wrong lane, ignoring the priority rules, chatting on their mobile phones and coming off the roundabout so fast they threaten the lives of the pedestrians on each of the four zebra crossings. Sometimes all at the same time. I’m thinking of people such as the imbecilic motorcyclist who this morning who had to swerve round me to avoid mowing me down. Or the guy last week who only stopped when his bumper was touching my leg. In his case, my instinctive response was to point an umbrella at his head, only to receive a smile which suggested he enjoyed what he took to be an imitation of a bullfighter.

The EU say it’s down to their pressure that Telefónica has now introduced a cheaper broadband option in Spain. Some victory – the quoted price is till 50% more than I pay to Ya.com. Long-time readers may recall what a calvario I had to endure with Telefónica to get this in the first place.

And talking of companies which are not popular in this house, I was thrilled to read that – despite all the upheavals in the international finance markets – Spanish banks have reported profits up 20% on the year to September. So they must be doing something very well. Apart from fleecing their supine customers, I mean.

I felt a twinge of nostalgia when I read that the Spanish driver Pedro Martinez de la Rosa could become McLaren Mercedes’ second driver, alongside Hamilton. A few years back, I used to enrage my half-Spanish stepsons by referring to him as Pedro de la Loser, so bad were his results. I can’t see him threatening Hamilton much. But he may persuade the Spanish sponsors to stay.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I said recently hardly a day passes here without news of yet another case of fraud or embezzlement. So I suppose it’s not too surprising this is accompanied by regular insights into what is apparently a vast range of appropriate Spanish words. The latest is chanchullo. Which is translatable as wangle or fiddle. I must compile the entire list.

The fall in sales of new properties in Galicia is reported to be more than double that of the Spanish average – 24 against 10%. My guess is that, at least when it comes to houses, this is because most of what's now on offer looks as bad as this . .

So this is a good time for me to say that I’ve just added to my Galicia web page a companion piece to the one I wrote some time ago on the loss of Pontevedra’s beautiful old houses. This relates to the ugliness of modern monstrosities and you can see it here.

Returning to the topic of Spanish cuisine - Reader David has been trying to post a comment citing a relevant web page but, as Google is treating him as a persona non grata, here it is. David says it has 9,777 recipes to get your teeth into . Happy eating!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Motor-cycles deaths have soared in Spain in the last year. So – having first relaxed the requirements for riding these – the government has now understandably decided to go into reverse and to tighten them. However, as there’s an election coming up, the original plans are said to have been watered down a little. Controversy, it seems, is too high a price to pay for saving a few more deaths.

For those young people here who don’t kill themselves on bikes or in cars, the biggest challenge is finding somewhere to rent. The government has recently introduced measures to make this easier and cheaper. There is a lot of scepticism that they will have this effect but, anyway, here’s an admirable government web page giving information on the improved regime, for both lessors and lessees.

And here’s a brilliantly incisive comment on our times from one of Spain’s national dailies yesterday. I’m sure it’s not merely true of Spain - Although it seems odd, our self-esteem can be affected by the defeat of Fernando Alonso but not by the poor level of our education.

A Spanish consumer organisation has protested against Ryanair’s 2008 calendar featuring some of its [female] employees in very little apparel. The organisation is considering legal action against what it sees as an affront to women. Needless to say, this has given Spanish newspapers a perfect excuse to feature this alleged insult on their front pages. Presumably to give us all a chance to make up our minds about it.

Plans are afoot to make Galicia even more exotic by introducing brilliant plants from Australia and New Zealand. These are expected to colonise the region over time and should be a lot more welcome than the bloody ubiquitous eucalyptus tree. Or ‘Tasmanian oak’ as it’s apparently called down in the antipodes. And not as a joke.

Talking of colonists . . . If your Spanish is up to it, here’s an article on the Brits who are buying property up in the hills near Ourense. And here’s something about an Anglo Galician Association in formation. I imagine it includes Americans as Anglos. If you’re interested, write to me at colindavies@terra.es and I will instantly put you in touch with the founder. A man about whom opinions are divided.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Estimates for next year’s economic growth in Spain continue to fall, with the latest reductions coming from the OECD and The Economist. However, as I keep stressing, it will still be – at 2.5% or so - higher than in any other EU country. Probably more relevant for individuals, though, is the bad news that inflation will be the worst of the world’s 13 largest economies. That said, a full 70% of workers here are said to have inflation-linked wages. One rather feels for the other 30%. Especially if they have a mortgage.

Other worrying news is that el stock of unsold new properties is between 300,000 and 500,000. And rising. Mostly around my house, it seems.

A new bit of Spanglish? I read you can now chat up strangers by connecting anonymously with their Bluetooth from yours. This is called el toothing here, it seems. As it may well be back in the Anglo-Saxon world.

For those more stay-at-home folk with an interest in Spanish cuisine, here’s news of a comprehensive book I stumbled across this morning. Not literally, of course. I’ve yet to buy it.

I like a bit of irony; I support the police in the application of new laws against reckless driving; and I occasionally write critically about Spanish drivers. What on earth prompts this set of thoughts, you may ask. Well, for the first time in over 40 years, I was yesterday done for speeding. Heading towards the northern coast of Galicia, I was stopped and told I’d been doing 75kph [47mph] in a 50 [31] zone. As someone who tries to observe the limits, I rather shamefacedly told the trafico cop I’d thought it was a 70 zone as we were well out of the town and on the open road. And I asked whether there’d been a 50 sign I’d missed. He assured me there was and duly sent me on my way, 100 euros poorer. But . . . . travelling back later, I found there was no such 50 sign. Worse, the first sign out of town was one signalling the end of a 70 zone. So, what is one to conclude? That the police had removed the 70 sign at the edge of the town and set up a perfect trap? That the police in every country always become over-zealous when they start to apply speeding laws? That life is very unfair? Or that there’s no point going on about it and I should be glad the bastards didn’t deduct any points from my licence? On balance, I think I’ll go with the last sentiment. Eventually. But, for the record, the stretch of road in question is after Outeiro as you head towards Ortigueira, 17.5km from the AP9. This used to be the N642 but, of course, has recently had its number changed to AC862. As is the Spanish custom, this might be something else next week.

The good news is that my mood was considerably improved by some classic rural Spanish hospitality from people I’d only just met. And the sun shone all afternoon on a beautiful coastline.

And to finish on a light note . . . Here’s a comment from a site thrown up by Google Alerts - Northern Spain and Galicia outstandingly has elongated been an undiscovered jewel in the whole of the Spanish tourism industry. So do come up and visit. But be on the lookout for non-existent traffic signs.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The President of the Galician government is currently in Cuba, where he attended a major celebration of the 100th anniversary of our ‘national’ anthem. It’s to be hoped he leaves before Thursday, when Spain’s National Court decides whether or not to prosecute Fidel Castro for the murder of several people involved in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion attempt in 1961, a mere 46 years ago. I guess this on the same basis as the prosecution of Chile’s General Pinochet but I suspect many people here could come up with candidates closer to home. Possibly even within the same time span.

Talking of dictators – Has anyone else noticed that neither Castro, Gaddafi, Mugabe nor the King of Saudi Arabia has a single white hair in his hair or beard, despite being in their 70’s or 80s? Must be a good life.

As Kosovo heads towards independence, Spain has said she won’t recognise this, even if France, Germany et al do so. If you're confused as to why, think Cataluña, the Basque Country and even Galicia. The question arises of how Spain will react to the break-up of Belgium into separate Walloon and Flemish states. In exactly the same way, is my guess.

Meanwhile, on our domestic political front, it’s become clear the opposition right-wing party has decided the key to success in next March’s general election is to appeal to the centre. After several years of strident confrontation with the government on every imaginable issue, they may well have left this a little late. Though a week, as they say, is a long time in politics. Vamos a ver.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

There’s a bit of a paradox about living in Spain. On the one hand, it seems to be rare for a private individual to get involved in day-today corruption. By which I mean bribing some bureaucrat to accelerate one process or another. Or even paying a Telefonica engineer to install a phone line in your rural retreat before the end of time. On the other hand, scarcely a day passes without newspaper headlines of yet another major political or commercial scandal. So it’s hardly surprising, I guess, that a large percentage of the Spanish believe there’s corruption in a wide range of the country’s institutions. Specifically, in a recent multi-country survey, they rated each of the following as either very or quite corrupt, starting with the worst:-
Political parties
Private companies
The communications media
Parliament
The judicial system
The tax authorities
Religious organisations[!]
The police
Not-for-profit organisations
The educational system
Social service organisations.

Personally, I suspect this is a pessimistic overview, especially as the Spanish are more cynical about their institutions than in most other countries. But perhaps it reflects a realistic acceptance of and resignation towards what certainly goes on around and above them. The real irony is that, while 51% of them think things are getting worse, 42% believe the police are doing a good job in tackling corruption. Mind you, one sometimes gets the impression it might be like shooting fish in a barrel. Especially when it comes to local politicians and planning approvals. For an example, just click here for details of a nice little, ‘multi-discipline’ scam up the Galician coast.

Talking of corrupt organisations, this week sees the signing in Lisbon of the EU Constitution that was rejected by the French and the Dutch a couple of years ago. This time round they haven’t been asked for an opinion on the grounds that the document has magically – and conveniently – transmogrified into a ‘non-consultative treaty’. There’s been an all-party campaign in the UK for a referendum but this has come to naught. “It would appear” says one columnist this morning “that while the British do not much like being sucked into a European super-state, there is no expectation that the process can be stopped. This attitude might have its origins in the rise of a shallow, consumerist society in which matters of substance are simply shrugged away. Or is there more to it than that? Is it not that voters know they have been lied to in the past about Europe so many times that they have concluded reluctantly that resistance is futile?” Very probably so. As shown by the voting numbers, there’s a lot more apathy around in Britain these days. One might say the Brits have converged towards the Continental view that all politicians are corrupt and only in it for themselves and their cronies. And that there’s not much that can be done about this natural order of things. Roll on Europa. Or is it backwards?

If you’ve found this post a bit heavy, I recommend yesterday’s for lighter reading . . .

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Saturday morning is probably not the best time to announce this to a slumbering world but I’d like to introduce you to a new word – clizzle. This describes the fine, clothes-soaking rain that falls relentlessly when you’re enveloped in a cloud. There is, apparently, a similar word - crizzel – which is a ‘kind of roughness on the surface of glass, which clouds its transparency’. Remarkably, the word cloud appears in both definitions and there is, of course, a connection in reduced visibility. But, anyway, I think it’s very apt that a Brit living in Galicia should coin a new word for rain. By the way, it is el clízel in Spanish and o clíxel in Gallego. But I fear the respective Royal Academies will take some time to catch up with this.

The x in Gallego is pronounced sh in English [and in Gallego!] and is usually substituted for the harsh j of Spanish. So, for example, our local town of Sanjenjo [‘The Marbella of Galicia’] is a lot easier to say for Brits in Gallego than in throat-ripping Spanish. As is the title of Cervantes’ famous novel. This advice is relevant not only for the previous paragraph but also for the news that Galicia is home to a thriving animation industry and that the latest feature film being prepared here is all about a donkey. It’s entitled Donkey Xote, which I think is a stroke of genius. Though Spanish friends are not so sure.

Finally - The EU and Telefonica are still engaged in a war of words over the former’s claim that broadband here is expensive and of a quality inferior to that promised. Defending Telefonica – which, if I had one, would lose it my vote - the Spanish government claims the speed obtained by users is very close to that purchased. Well, I know a market research sample of one is useless but I pay for 1000 something-or-others but never get more than 650. Personally, I don’t rate two thirds of what I’m entitled to as fidelity to the service offered. Others may differ. Especially if they’re employed by either the government or Telefonica. Neither of whom would win a popularity contest.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Just when I was getting excited about seeing my annual Patrimonio [wealth tax] payment disappear, along comes yet another survey to reveal that 82% of Spaniards don’t think pre-election promises of reductions should be taken seriously. What a cynical world.

Perhaps a more accurate augury is the recent street demonstrations in Salamanca against high increases in municipal taxes and utility bills. Now that the golden goose of property transfer taxes is at least moribund, I guess we can expect more of these as town councils struggle to balance their books.

El Mundo is again showing ads for fraudulent products from Andalucia in its Sunday editions – this time for a product which stems from “revolutionary research that reveals the 5 real causes of a fat and flaccid stomach”. Its sister paper continues to promote a higher speed limit on Spain’s motorways. This is currently 120kph but a recent editorial insisted that “Everyone knows places where it’s safe to drive faster than this” and proposed an increase to 140. Perhaps they think it should be left to personal discretion. I know quite a few men who do, quoting Germany as the model. God forbid.

Meanwhile, the stiffer penalties for reckless driving have now come into force and 151 drivers were arrested around the country in the first few hours of its application. Of these, Galicia had a disproportionately high 23%. To Galicia also went the dubious honour of having the first driver collared for doing a speed which might send him to jail – 140kph in a 50kph zone. Or 88mph in a 31mph zone. To add to this tale of local woe is the news that Galicia has a very high rate of pedestrian deaths on the road – 52 so far this year. Reasons given are lack of pavements and hard shoulders, nil lighting and ‘dispersal of people’. The latter factor is a close relation to the ‘dispersal of the towns’ which is always given to explain the high road accident rate here. I’m not sure I understand either of them.

A happier Galician tale – A young bride waiting to depart from La Coruña to Rome on her honeymoon got so fed up with the delays she commandeered the airport’s public address system to loudly ask why on earth no information was being given. She was promptly arrested but common sense prevailed and she was released in time to make her trip of a lifetime. What a player!

And still in Galicia – Flushed by his success in getting some goodies from the central government for helping to block a censure vote against the Minister for Public Works, the President of the Galician National Party is trumpeting from the roof tops that they’re now the successor to the Basque and Catalan nationalist parties as the power-brokers in Madrid. Well, we do have an election coming up and delusions of grandeur are probably understandable on the part of someone who’s seen his share of the vote go down but his power to influence local events go up.

Finally, a seasonal tale – Someone wrote to a national paper this week to complain about Christmas ads on the TV as early as 29th November. The 29th of November! He should be so bloody lucky. In the UK, I suspect he’d be slitting his throat sometime around the middle of September.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

It’s a national holiday today and the day after tomorrow is Saturday. So, naturally, millions of people will take tomorrow off and get together to celebrate the long break in an even longer traffic jam. With excellent timing, the Spanish government has demanded an opt-out from a looming EU law change – driven, of course, by Germany and the UK – which will increase the working week to 45 hours and allow a max of 60. “Spanish people don’t want to work this much”, the government is reported to have said. Actually, my impression is that some of them – e. g. waiters and waitresses – already do.

Over the last year here, 30,000 people have sought official self-employment status. This is not a move to be taken lightly as – even if you have no income – it obliges you to pay 300 euros a month in social security taxes. But it may not be quite the entrepreneurial rush it seems; the crash in the construction industry means that many carpenters, electricians and, yes, plumbers are being compelled to re-consider the inferior option of working for Joe Public. Light at the end of my tunnel?

Still on the topic of property – Like all pyramid selling situations, the key is to get out early, before the suckers are left to pick up the losses. And so it is that those who speculated towards the end of the boom by investing in yet-to-be-built properties now face having to finance a large mortgage as their chances of selling on have disappeared. Such is their desperation, it’s reported you can now get 50% discounts if you bypass the agents and deal direct. But who would do this to such lovely people?

To end on a happy fiscal note – The current [socialist] government has stolen some of the opposition’s clothes and announced it will end Spain’s wealth tax if it’s returned to power next March. Strange to relate, Galicia ranks 5th as regards this tax - after Cataluña, Madrid, Valencia and Andalucia. This is quite a contrast with its customary position in the bottom 3 of most of the never-ending lists of regional comparisons here. I wonder what it tells us.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

For goodness’ sake, what sort of would-be dictator is President Chavez of Venezuela? The man can’t even rig an election. No wonder the country is a byword for inefficiency. And just where was its equally famous corruption when he needed it? Can you see Castro screwing up on this scale, even from his deathbed? Truly pathetic. The only dictator-like action we can now expect from Chavez is that he’ll ignore the will of the people and continue with his plans to make his job permanent. I wonder how this will go down with the left-wing luminaries in Britain who wrote to The Guardian last week exhorting us all to accept the outcome of an election which they clearly hoped and expected the now-busted-flush Chavez would win.

Back here in Europe, Romania is reported to be suffering a desperate labour shortage of 500,000 people and to be turning to China as a source of replacements for those who’ve obeyed the injunction to go west. I can’t help wondering – doubtless unfairly - if there are that many Romanians begging and scamming their way around Spain. Now into my 4th week of waiting, I can confidently state none of them is working here as a plumber.

The word of the week – solidarity – cropped up again yesterday, in a column by Pedro Arias Veira In the Voz de Galicia. A ‘politically- incorrect’ report from the BBVA bank on regional fiscal balances had, he said, shattered the assumptions and beliefs on which Galicia’s nationalists had traditionally based their moaning and whingeing. In fact, he insisted, the data proved Galicia benefited hugely from the ‘intraterritorial solidarity of the constitutional state’. By which, of course, he means Spain. This view will naturally be scorned by those idealists who rate dreams over economic realities but their challenge remains that of convincing the rest of the voters to buy into their vision of a free Galiza. At their considerable expense, it’s now clear. Can’t see it happening, personally.

On a lighter local note – Five or six years ago, there were no roundabouts [circles] in Pontevedra. Now, you can’t go more than 20 metres before hitting one. Literally in too many cases. The challenge has been to educate the city’s drivers on how to negotiate these without hitting each other en route. The size of the problem is evidenced by the fact that 25% of the city’s accidents occur on said obstacles. Anyway, the first phase in the traffic police’s campaign was educational and was based on diagrams which, frankly, I found incomprehensible. They certainly didn’t explain why driving schools here all teach their pupils to go slowly round the outer edge of roundabouts, whichever turn they’re going to take. Anyway, the police have said it’s time to stop being nice guys and, from yesterday, they’ve begun to fine those who are in the wrong lane or making an incorrect signal. The evidence of my own eyes suggests this will amount to a financial bonanza for the city. More to the point, such is my own confusion about what’s right and wrong in Spain, I fully expect to be collared myself. Which won’t do much for my blood pressure.

If, like me, you’ve had occasion to ask what the difference really is between a dialect and a language, here’s a short and useful dissertation on the subject. In brief, the two answers are – 1. It all depends, and 2. It hardly matters as, in the end, all languages are dialects. Clear?

Spain is different? A cross-party demonstration against ETA terrorism in Madrid the other day was marred by [supposedly] right-wing individuals screaming maricón in the face of government politicians. As this means queer, poof or fag, one is forced to ask in how many other developed societies this remains acceptable. The dictionary does say an alternative meaning is merely bastard. But I’m not sure this helps with Spain’s image on this subject.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I touched on ‘solidarity’ in yesterday’s post. This is a word which I don’t recall ever hearing in British political discourse but which is commonplace in Spain. There are two basic types:-
Upwards Solidarity: When Madrid thinks it would be a good idea for other [allegedly] richer EU members to subsidise Spain, and
Downwards Solidarity: When Madrid thinks the rich buggers in, say, Cataluña should subsidise, say, Andalucia.
Of course, this operates on a regional basis as well, when Madrid’s Downwards Solidarity becomes Galicia’s Upwards Solidarity. What all this means in practice is that everyone in Spanish political life is always sef-servingly demanding that someone else shows more of one type of solidarity, while themselves trying to get away with less of the other. So, a recipe for a good argument. Which, of course, everyone in Spain loves. And which, given the way the country is structured and governed, they are guaranteed to get.

Against all that, today it’s reported that Spain is the European nation least interested in political news – a mere 19%, compared with a European average of 34. Needless to say, sports news tops the list in every country but only in Germany, Denmark and Estonia is politics the number one topic. The report adds that, after sport, the Spanish prefer art and culture and that only 25% of them rank news of celebrities above last. Since this makes the Spanish less interested in celebrity gossip than any other Europeans, I think we can safely regard this survey as endorsement for last week’s example in which 65% of Spaniards said they didn’t believe their compatriots told the truth when answering questions of this sort. Or perhaps any sort.

Only in Spain? Both El Mundo and the Voz de Galicia yesterday carried a large picture of a photographer taking a close-up of the blood stain at the scene of ETA’s latest assassinations. I wonder what the results would have been if the above survey had asked about interest in gore.

Monday, December 03, 2007

A full 20% of people in Spain are said to live below the poverty threshold. ‘Poverty’, of course, is not an absolute measure but is defined relative to [growing] income levels. For what it’s worth, the best statistic is for Navarra [10%] and the worst for Estremadura [39%]. Galicia comes in at 23% but the range between the coast and the interior must be very wide. Relatedly, Spanish annual household income is reported to average 21,300 euros a year, with the Navarra figure being 29,900, against only 17,900 in Estremadura.

Incidentally, Navarra is one of the regions reported recently to make only a small contribution to central coffers, thanks to some rights [fueros] dating back a few centuries. Understandably, the Navarrans are rather reluctant to give these up, even in the name of national solidarity. Most of them may well want to stay part of Spain, rather than be incorporated into the Basque country, but that’s as far as it goes. ‘Cake’ and ‘eating it’ spring to mind.

Talking about solidarity . . . In a suburb of Pontevedra, there was a demonstration on Saturday against the possibility of our displaced gypsies being housed there. Ironically, this suburb comprises a large proportion of ‘good’ gypsies - the ones who run the market stalls, send their kids to school and stay out of the drugs trade.

It may well be very difficult to get Telefonica to provide broadband - or even a basic line! - in rural areas but, in some Galician towns and villages, go-ahead local councils are setting up w-fi facilities for all residents. Talk about feast and famine. Meanwhile, Telefonica goes on reporting ever larger profits. I do hope Chavez nationalises their Venezuelan business, if he hasn’t already done so.

Cultural differences: Spanish women in their 50s are reported to spend an average of 4 hours a day with their grandchildren. I suspect British women would struggle to reach 4 minutes. Except, of course, in those 3-generation families subsidised by the state where husbands/fathers are conspicuous by their absence.

A couple of days ago I read Spain was no. 2 in the world for phishing emails. Today I read that the UK is no. 3 in the world for spam, after the USA and China. I guess these are compatible statistics, with the former being a sub-group of the latter. Incidentally, spam is now said to comprise 98% of all email traffic. How depressing.

In Spanish, the letter V is usually pronounced as a B. I mention this because the word for ‘minks’ is visones. As opposed to ‘buffaloes’, which is bisontes. So, it can be tad worrying to be told hundred of minks have been released from a local farm. At least until you realise your mistake.

Finally – a brief note for all those who arrive at my blog after typing something like ‘Colin Davies blog’ in their search engine . . . Firstly, many thanks. Secondly, it’s much easier to get the latest post if you use Google Reader. Or one of the other alternatives of which I have zilch knowledge.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

You may or may not be aware that the EU has plans to launch a competitor to the US GPS system. Or that it’s several years late and many, many millions over budget. But I bet you don’t know that only one of the 27 EU members has opposed it. At least until this week that is, when it finally got some more EU largesse to compensate for not having any of the planned facilities on its soil. So, who was this lone trouble-maker? Well, it can’t have been the allegedly eurosceptic UK, as you’d know about this from your screaming newspaper headlines. No, folks, it was Spain - quietly and steadfastly playing the EU game as well as she’s ever done. So, hats off to her.

At least here in Pontevedra, shopping in Spain is something of a hit-and-miss activity. Either they have the product you want or they don’t. As will be true the next time you go in for it, even if they’ve told you it will be in ‘next week’. Basically, the shop’s stock will reflect deliveries from the wholesalers; and no order from you or promise from the shopkeeper is going to interrupt this pattern. You just have to keep going back until you get lucky. Or change shop. This thought is prompted by the fact I’m now into my 8th week of visiting one of the town’s stationers for replacement pads for the expensive leather holder they sold me last year. But, then, If I didn’t value the more laid-back approach to life, I wouldn’t live here, would I. And no wonder I never set out on a shopping expedition in a spirit of optimism.

For any Spanish reader who wants evidence of the sort of publicity which leads to the tossing-animals-off-a-church-tower reputation I’ve mentioned twice this week, here’s a site which describes the so-called blood fiestas which purportedly take place here.

There’s news that China plans to make a major investment in Galicia in the production of wind turbines. A propos, I read this week the comment that “We’re closing down nuclear power stations and setting up wind turbines – energy which is renewable. Or at least subventionable. Thus do the poor pay to allow the rich to take advantage of the situation”. Surely too cynical by half . . .

For many years now, I’ve received offers of products guaranteed to enlarge a certain part of my body. In the last day or two, though, my unsolicited emails have majored on products which will enlarge my breasts in time for Christmas. It’s good to see that the otherwise contemptible spam producers have become equal opportunity operators.

Quotes of the Week

People may expect too much of journalism. Not only do they expect it to be entertaining, they expect it to be true.
Lewis H. Lapham

La autoironía es una de las formas elementales de la decencia porque casi todo es digno de mofa.
Javier Cercas

Saturday, December 01, 2007

As it’s Saturday and the Galician nationalists who love to hate my blog may be taking a day off, I’m citing an article on Scottish nationalism from a Scottish member of the British government. For new readers, my long-standing view is that, though I support the promotion of Galician culture and language, I’m against any degree of direct or indirect compulsion when it comes to the language. But, above all else, I regard nationalism as quintessentially divisive. And destructive of what should be a two-faceted sense of pride. So it’s hardly surprising I would sympathise with sentiments such as these - Spare us this ghastly nationalism . . . Scotland is succumbing to a shallow, narrow-minded, narcissistic attitude that does it no favours. It should stop. . . I am unequivocally against narrow-minded nationalism in all its guises for the simple reason that it is divisive rather than unifying. For the full article, click here.

By the way, I suspect one would never hear a Catalan, Basque or Galician member of President Zapatero’s cabinet weighing in against any of the Spanish brands of nationalism. Or should that be ‘non-Spanish’? Simply put, without the support of the nationalist parties, the PSOE party could not retain power - nationally or regionally. Herein lies Spain’s problem. How to appease these supporters without breaking up the state. A nice challenge.

I joked yesterday that, for the Spanish, reading gets in the way of having fun. Smack on cue, a Spanish friend has sent me a set of photos on the theme Spain is different. One of these shows a T-shirt on which is written The Spanish Triathlon - Drinking. Eating. Fucking.

On a morning when I was jolted from sleep by Nice-but-Noisy Tony bawling at his kids, I happened to read this post from Ben Curtis over at Notes from Spain. So, if you’re coming to live here, you’ve been warned. Yet again. Ironically, though, my daughter’s attic flat in the heart of Madrid is quieter than my townhouse up above Pontevedra. Perhaps her flat was built before the critical date of 1923 cited by Ben.

Weather-wise, December in Galicia has opened with the return of the Atlantic Blanket. However, it must be said November was almost as sunny as September and October, though naturally somewhat colder at night. Incidentally, I read yesterday that all this dry weather had been good for burglaries. From the criminal’s point of view, of course. This has certainly been true in my neck of the woods. Which possibly explains the fortuitous appearance at my gate yesterday of a representative of a major burglar alarm company. Perhaps they get a copy of the police reports.

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