Thursday, July 31, 2008

The cartoonist of the ABC newspaper has something of the Gerald Scarfe about him, in that he can make any of his politician targets look pretty horrific. Today's portrayal of the VP Maria Teresa Fernández de la Vega [to use the short form of her name] is particularly cruel. But she is, to say the least, not terribly photogenic so it's not a particularly tough challenge to make her look grotesque. I appreciate this is not very gallant of me and, of course, none of it is relevant to her political views and her performance. Strange and headmistressy as they are.

En passant, MTFdlV's latest proposal is that 1.2m Spanish emigrants should be given the right to vote by internet in the 2012 elections. I wonder if this will be more or less open to fraud than the current system. But what I don't wonder about is whether the majority are likely to be PSOE [socialist] or PP [conservative] voters. The lady is of the PSOE.

There's a TV channel here which shows local programs throughout Spain. Naturally enough, it's called Localia. One of its ads last night showed a glamorous young woman parking her car below her house and then walking up the connecting stairs first to a sitting room and then to a bedroom, both furnished in a style rather too modern and garish for my tastes. Anyway, in the bedroom, the young lady lay down on a double bed and opened a book. The camera then panned to a second double bed, which struck me as an odd feature for a private bedroom. Until the voice-over revealed the ad wasn't for a furniture company but for a 'motel' on the outskirts of Pontevedra. Which is painted the traditional pink, has a high wall around its car-park, and is called Motel Venus. Only in Spain? By the way, take a second to ponder the incongruity of the young woman throwing herself onto the bed and opening a book. Possibly the first and last time this has happened there. And, if the ladies I've seen crossing the bridge to go into town are anything to go by, I suspect Motel Venus could be prosecuted under Spain's equivalent of the UK's Misrepresentation Act. If there is one. If so, I imagine the place's well-heeled denizens would pay me not to initiate court action. Or have me exiled. If I were lucky.

I've been advised that the name Penitencia that I thought I might have unintentionally fabricated is, in fact, a real one. Readers have since provided some even more unusual - not to say quite incredible - additions.

Galicia Facts

When I was in Madrid a month ago, I was impressed to see some bits of apparatus had been installed in Dos de Mayo square for senior citizens to exercise their muscles on. There's a similar Park Biosaludable in the nearby town of Pontecaldelas, though this one has apparently been commandeered by uppity kids.

The Poio/Pontevedra gypsy spat has continued without a let-up over the past few months, with the families displaced from shacks on the site near my house being vehemently rejected like foreign bodies by one local town after another. The mayor of Poio has now offered them houses close to where their shacks used to be. Leaving one wondering why this couldn't have been done in the first place. No doubt there's a simple answer.

My plea for new members for the Forum of the Anglo Galician Association [AGA] led to a massive increase of three. So the big prize is still available. Looking at the forum this morning, I noted that the ranking for subject views was:-
Food and drink - 175
ISP suggestions - 103
Schools in Pontevedra and La Coruña - 95
Advice about Vigo - 62
Architects - 57
How do I post on the Swapshop? - 46
Joining AGA - 45
British TV - 42
Galician Celtic jewellery - 24

Nice to know that all my exhortations have led to only 45 people being interested in knowing how to join the AGA. But encouraging to see that bon vivants have led to Food & Drink being number 1. Unless they were all looking for ways to get hold of salad cream. Or, worse, Marmite.

Finally, as today is the last day of July, it's appropriate to bid the month a less-than-fond farewell. For the weather has not been great. And today we've had its parting shot in the form of the Atlantic Blanket again. August should be better. But, then, my younger daughter is coming and she's a bit of a jinx. Hey ho. September's usually nice. And quiet, after the end of the first week's Medieval Fair in the old quarter. Which has been a tradition for eight years now.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Well, there may be a vicious credit crunch encircling the earth but my bank has just increased my credit card limit by a mere 10%. They say I'm a preferred customer. Apparently you achieve this status by hardly ever using your card.

On a wider front, Mark Stucklin gives an interesting extract from El Pais's on-line debate about the economic crisis and whose fault it really is.

The Chairman of the major property developer which recently went into Administration has declared himself bankrupt. Which rather raises the question of what he did with last year's salary of 6m euros and his dividends of 85m. Gave them to his wife for the housekeeping, presumably.

Insane Britain: A disabled pensioner in Manchester has been fined £60 for parking 30cm out of place. Worse, the Department for Transport is going to allow councils to fine people for "inconsiderate parking". Imagine the fortune that could be reaped if this were ever to come to Spain. Which it won't. For start, there'd be a ten year dialogue on what constituted 'inconsideration'. Presupposing anyone recognised the concept.

Since news is slow, here's a in-fill snap of a driver in Pontevedra showing nil consideration for :- 1. Those driving round the corner; 2. Pedestrians, and 3. Drivers trying to get out of the car park in the top left of the picture. Contrary to appearances, the guilty party is not the chap advancing towards me with a menacing expression. Thank God.

The FAO tells us that Spain, Greece and Italy are now the EU's biggest consumers of lipids. Here, fat has gone from accounting for 25% of the diet 40 years ago to 40% now. The famed Mediterranean diet appears to be on the way out.

Galicia Facts

To complete the brazen filling-in, here are:-

1. A picture of the dig in front of Pontevedra town hall, showing [through the mesh] part of the medieval wall of the town. The same wall that runs through the café I've mentioned three times now.

and

2. At the request of one or two readers - alright, one - the house we've just bought in the Cotobade hills outside Pontevedra. If you look hard, you can see Ryan on the terrace, lording it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Reading a report about some local arrests this morning, I noted that, when the police tried to nab the miscreants, they took off and fled. Or, in the Spanish original, they emprendieron la marcha y huyeron. Which is 4 syllables versus 12. This is, of course, a fair reflection of the main difference between Anglo society - where time is important and people never have enough of it - and Spanish society, where time is not so important and people have oodles of it. Quite a paradox. But you do need a lot of time when you like to talk and it takes you three times longer to say what you want to say than others. Or only twice as long if you talk at the speed of light. And shout.

Andrew Hagan expatiates here on the sad death of the British pub. A taster - The European-style café culture that New Labour fantasises about will never be possible while British publicans demonstrate such utter contempt for responsible drinking and the social rudiments of drinking pleasure.

I regularly say British society is now quite insane. And who can doubt it when a self-employed decorator is fined for smoking inside his own van because it's classed as a workplace? Personally, I detest smoking but believe people should be free to damage their lungs anywhere where it doesn't affect me. When will the British people rise up and slaughter the jobsworths who are making their life a misery? Is it too much to hope that a change of government will bring to an end the Age of the Bureaucrat? Probably.

And still on British [and Spanish] society - Reader Colin has cited this Times article which suggests the percentages of young men availing themselves of the services of prostitutes are 1 and 25 in Britain and Spain, respectively. Which will probably merely confirm to Spanish readers that the British are repressed and hypocritical. Especially when it comes to sex.

You hear some odd, religiously-inspired names for women here in Spain - though I guess nothing is as strange to Anglo ears as Jesus - but last night I heard Adoración for the first time. Right up there with Imaculada, Penitencia and Transustanciación. Though I think I might have made up the last one. And possibly the second one as well. Hard to say.

Galicia Facts

A letter in today's Voz de Galicia begins - "Ahora ya no basta con conocer el idioma gallego. !Agora hay que falalo por narices!" And it ends - "Si los señores Touriño y Quintana están tan seguros de que eso es lo que queremos los gallegos, que hagan un referendo en Galicia sobre la guerra de lenguas que han provocado. Sería una forma determinante de acabar con este esquizofrenia." In between, the writer voices the irritation I've heard expressed many times by totally bi-lingual friends who object to being prevented from speaking the language they prefer, especially to those who fully understand them. And who would possibly be just as disappointed as Anglo friends were to drive 6km up a mountain track to see an old gold mine near Lugo, only to find all the information there was solely in Gallego. I write this on the eve of an announcement from the Nationalist holder of the Culture post in the Xunta who is about to give us a Catalan-like law on what language must be used by shopkeepers. As I've said, I suspect the politicians are under-estimating the resentment all this is causing among Galicians who are proud to be both Gallego and Spanish and to speak both languages fluently. And harmoniously. They resent the interference in their lives and could well display this in the ballot boxes next year. But we will see.

As for these elections - the President of the Xunta - said Señor Touriño - has declined to say he won't bring them forward, insisting he will do this if it is in the interests of Galicia. Yeah. Right. Not in the interests of his party, then?

As I mentioned Pontevedra's lovely little Peregrina chapel the other day - as nestling behind the café eyesore - I thought I'd post a full view.

And as we're doing photos, here's one of my Catalan neighbour's swimming pond. Her grandchildren did arrive from Barcelona a couple of weeks ago and chemicals were duly chucked into the pool but with limited effect. Galicia, as you can see, is a pretty green place but few spots achieve quite this verdant hue.


Finally - Membership of the Anglo Galician Association web forum has soared to 44. Anyone can visit and there's a big cash prize for the 50th person to log on as a member. Honest. What's stopping you? You can decide later if you want to go on the circulation list of the Association itself. And be regularly bothered by me.

Monday, July 28, 2008

So, Spain's golden run of sports' victories continues with this year's Tour de France. The winner's name is Sastre, which evoked the first words of the first Spaniard I met and talked to, 44 years ago. Mis sastre es rico, he told me. My tailor is rich. This was then - and possibly still is - the first sentence in the standard text used for students of English in Spanish schools. Presumably written in the 19th century, when cultured people advised each other of such things on meeting.

What a shame that - given recent developments - few will believe Sr. Sastre's assertion that he achieved his victory without the aid of anyone or any thing. But, then, is there anyone outside France and Spain who doesn't think the Tour de France is even more boring than Formula 1 motor racing, which at least has the virtue of being over in less than two hours? Not a couple of weeks. Which feel more like a couple of years.

My impression is that even the left-of-centre El País is getting impatient at the failure of the government to announce measures to deal with the economic crisis which don't come under the heading of 'social developments'. At the weekend, the paper dismissed the plans to sell public land to developers as of September as 'especially inopportune'. And who could disagree with them?

Galicia Facts

Well, Google Alerts for 'Galicia' fails to mention my blog yet again this week. However, I did learn this from someone else's:- The reason for Galicia's seafood reputation, particularly in respect of shellfish, is the unique flavour that results from the fresh water from the rivers that create the rías and it is claimed that the cockles, mussels, octopus and squid have a taste that is unrivalled anywhere else in the world and, because of this, the price of shellfish harvested in Galicia is almost double that of the rest of Spain. Hmm. Perhaps twice the price of shellfish imported from elsewhere but possibly not that of Galician produce served up in, say, Madrid.

Hotel occupation in July is reported to be well down on last year, with visitors spending less per day than they did in 2007. Which probably explains why you can rent places by the weekend or even by the day this summer. So, this year at least, the locals will not be making their August in August. Or, at least, not quite.

The local papers report today - possibly at the instigation of the Xunta - that Galicia spends 300m euros a year on healthcare on old folk, compared with a piddling 34m in Cataluña. Translated, this means we deserve more hand-outs from the centre.

In similar vein, Galicia is near the top - an unaccustomed position - in the national rankings of payments for disability benefit. For some reason, we rank 3rd - with 45,000 beneficiaries out of a population of 3 million. Or 1.5%, against a national average of 1.25%. I imagine we'll see more and more of this statistical special pleading over the coming months.

My other [easy] prediction is that the Nationalists will be using the data to whip up a storm of dissatisfaction ahead of next year's elections. I guess I'd do the same in their position. Which doesn't make it any more appealing.

The proprietor of my favourite café/bar in Plaza Verdura tells me it will cost me 2 euros for every pigeon I kill. And looked genuinely shocked when I offered him 50 euros for the lot. Perhaps he thinks they add charm to his place. As ground-bound rats would, for example.

It's common for English names to be hispanicised when it comes to pronunciation but less frequent for brand names to be have their spelling modified. Especially mega brands. So we don't have Huver for Hoover. Which is actually a bad example as it would be pronounced 'Hooba'. However, yesterday I came across MacDonals for McDonalds but I need someone more knowledgeable to tell me whether this is Gallego or Castellano. Or just a mistake.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The eminent British political commentator, Simon Jenkins, predicts the break-up of the British union. If he's right - as he probably is - this can't be good news for Madrid. Though I guess it all depends on whether an 'independent' Scotland secedes or stays as a member of a British federation or confederation - whatever the difference is. As for full secession, I suppose Scotland - like Cataluña, the Basque county and Galicia - would have to get permission from their political masters not only in the capital city but also in Brussels. But the really interesting question is - What happens if the fed-up English demand full secession that the Scots pull back from? In other words, if they get kicked out of the British union by those who've been picking up their bills? So, interesting times. Of course, the interim development is that the British cabinet will pass out of the hands of the Scottish cabal which has been running the UK for the last eleven years. Starting with the hapless Mr Brown, who may well have to fall on his sword quite soon. What rich irony, given that the Scots-dominated New Labour party set the Scots on this road via the decision to devolve powers to a Scottish parliament. The latter really has turned out to be what some saw it as at the time - the thin end of a wedge. Who'd be a politician? Or at least a Scottish one in London.

Being a net beneficiary from the British exchequer, Scotland is - of course - more analogous with Galicia than with either Cataluña or the Basque Country. Both of these would be perfectly happy to keep all the money they make. Indeed, this is what the current imbroglio around regional finance is all about. Solidarity? This is only relevant at the EU level, provided it means Spain remains a net beneficiary. When this stops and the real horse-trading begins, it will become as irrelevant internationally as it now is nationally. The zeitgeist is increasingly local. And if this means the end of unions such as those of Belgium, Britain and Spain, how can it possibly mean the continuation of the EU? Why would any newly self-governing country leap from the frying pan to an even-more-distant fire?

When I was a kid, chicken was so expensive we had it only once a year, at Christmas. Based on my most recent supermarket bill, I predict that very shortly it will be cheaper not only than a bottle of palatable white wine but also a loaf of bread. Bread is now so expensive that, if Omar Khayam were writing today, I guess it would have to be:-
A breast of chicken, a flask of wine, and though beside me in the wilderness.
And wilderness is paradise enough.

Which is a bit trivial of me when I hear on the BBC that the soaring price of grain means not only that domestic animals are starving in Africa but that their owners are reduced to eating the food meant for them. If this is largely due to speculation, then at least the good news is that it won't last for long.

Galicia Facts

The final blues concert in Pontevedra was a great success, though I inevitably suffered the distraction of four local pijas who were really there to chat and to move backwards and forwards from their seats. Of course, when the decibels of an R&B band are high, you really have to shout to make yourself heard by the person next to you. More so for the friend in the row in front. And they certainly did. As frequently happens, I wondered what was going through their musically-uninterested minds. Are they really oblivious to what they're doing? Even when some foreigner like me makes it crystally clear he's not impressed with their cacophony? Does this happen in any other country? Italy? Russia?

Anyway, the concert was in the town's main square, on the corner of which is this eyesore:-


This is, in fact, a premier site for tourists and the building was a café before it closed down 3 or 4 years ago. You can see the top of the beautifully restored Peregrina chapel behind it. So, why has it been left to decay for this long? Especially as its interior houses one of the few remaining bits of the town's medieval walls, where they joined the gate where the gap now is. Can it really be the result of a family feud? And can the council which has done so much to improve the old quarter really do nothing about this monstrosity right at the place where most people enter it? If so, this would be ironic given the new-building construction projects that have clearly been possible over the last 10 to 15 years.

The president of the Galician Nationalist Party [the BNG] inevitably used his National Day address to complain that the Spanish government is using the economic crisis to welch on its commitments to Galicia. Yes, I'm sure this is the number one item on the cabinet's daily meetings. Right, Ministers and Ministresses. How can we screw Galicia today? As if other regions aren't being hit as well.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Spanish Minster of the Economy has finally reduced the growth forecasts for this year and 2009 to those issued by external commentators months ago. Hardly surprising, then, that the economic situation is now number 1 on the list of things which worry the Spanish. With unemployment being number 2.

So the Portuguese detective who failed to solve the McCann case has sold 20,000 copies of his book of scurrilous accusations within a couple of hours of it going on sale in Lisbon. As they say, no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the public. In Portugal as in the UK, it seems. And I imagine the Spanish version will sell just as well, given the widespread suspicion here about the 'cold' parents. Apparently, leaving kids inside your flat is worse than leaving them to play unsupervised in the street. But not as bad as leaving them to die in your car in Sevilla, one of the hottest places in Spain. At least we can all agree that this is wrong. Though it's reported the authorities are still investigating whether a crime has been committed.

Lunching with my lovely ladyfriend yesterday, we sat in a small side room in the restaurant. Being early, we were the first people there. The next couple to enter had the choice of the main room and another side room but, being Spanish and abhorring the prospect of being company-less, sat at the table next to us. A British couple would, of course, have gone to the other side room. And an American couple?

Galicia Facts

Writing about Scotland, Charles Moore had this to say today:- Nationalism is a divider. Patriotism is a multiplier. In Britain today, we have too much of the first and too little of the second. . . On the face of it, nationalism might seem to be simply the political version of patriotism. What is wrong, you might ask, with a creed that puts your own country first? Certainly, all nationalist politicians exploit the genuine love of country which most people feel. But nationalism is not, unfortunately, just a way of mobilising positive feeling. It mobilises resentment, and makes a fetish of difference. Nationalism is obsessed with definition - whether you are "really" Scottish, Irish, etc.

Here in Galicia, yesterday was a big day, as it was the feast of St James/Jacques/Iago, the patron saint of both the region and its capital, Santiago. So the newspapers went large on articles in Gallego and the Xunta treated us to a series of full-page ads, paid for by we taxpayers, of course. One of these simply said Galicia. We are a power. But another was far more lyrical, if just as fanciful. Under a large picture of the earth with Galicia at its centre, the text ran as follows:-

Let's celebrate a world that's increasingly like Galicia.

If the world really were like Galicia, how would it be?

It would be more caring, more just, more humane, more open, more generous, more welcoming.
It would be more creative, more audacious, more innovative, more natural, more ecological, more responsible.
It would be more pacific, more friendly, more united.

Yes, we Galicians certainly are like this.

Wouldn’t it be good if the world were a little more Galician?

Bloody ‘ell. Not much evidence of poverty of ambition there. And I guess it’s hardly surprising that the one thing the world wouldn’t be if it were Galician is more modest. But, anyway, you can see the truth of Moore’s contention that nationalism majors on definition. And difference.

The weather gods decided to honour our ‘national’ day by throwing winter at us. Having dropped ten degrees the previous day, the temperature fell further as we were shrouded in the Atlantic Blanket. At least here on the coast. But, fortunately, the rain held off for the third of the four jazz/blues concerts in Pontevedra’s main square. Being free, these attract a motley crowd. And, as ever in Spain, the audience last night was a fluid creature, with some folk taking as little as two minutes to decide they really didn’t want to be there and and so had to get up and exit. And with others treating the occasion as if they and their kids were really on the beach and not surrounded by silent people trying to listen to the music. I left after an hour of this distraction, wondering whether it wouldn't have been quieter to listen to the concert from a nearby café.

Finally, one consequence of my recent computer problems is that I've lost all messages sent to me at colindavies@terra.es. So, if there's anyone waiting for a response from me, could they please re-write to thoughts.from.galicia@gmail.com

Friday, July 25, 2008

I've regularly suggested that - to be able to live in and enjoy Spain - you have to take on board that the primeordinate goal of the Spanish is to have fun. Naturally enough, then, much is sacrificed to this goal. Time-keeping and planning, for example. Plus, for many, any attempt at deep thought or participation in heavy cultural events. Or even just reading. And one constant aspect is that the Spanish live in what I've labelled the 'here-and-now', giving much less consideration to the future than many others. As a result, Spanish society is less anal and more informal than elsewhere. Or, as I keep putting it, more sane.

But don't take my word for it. Here's a translation of an article in today's Voz de Galicia by Fernando Ónega:-

An old British tale – reflecting English phlegm – tells of a lord who was going away for the weekend. After he’d loaded the car, he looked behind and saw a fire. It was his mansion. Realising the flames were beyond control, he got in his car, set off and said to himself “I’m really going to feel bad come Monday.”

The Spanish are something like this. Yesterday, as has been customary for months, the news fell on us like flames. It began with a Survey of the Active Population, which told us that in the second quarter of the year 200,000 people lost their jobs. Then came the Council of Ministers, lowering everything: this year we will grow less than forecast and next year even less. Nonetheless, the Traffic Ministry advised that over this long weekend [for many the start of their holidays] there will be six million displacements on the roads. At midday, I attended a lunch with a group of economists who made this diagnosis – All the large stores and supermarkets are losing businesses. The only sector which is surviving is travel agencies. It left me asking whether we haven’t become rather like the English lord.

The Spanish – naturally – see the flames. Their reactions are more or less as follows:- The crisis is important but taking a break is sacrosanct; I could make a sacrifice for myself but I can’t do this to my children. Last year’s shoes will last another year but the holidays can’t wait. I can’t go to the flat of the last few years nor to the hotel where I’d made a reservation, but isn’t a few days in my village really the best way to relax? And so we have the contradiction of a grave economic situation and a citizenry which insists on maintaining the same quality of life.

What’s certain is that Spain is full of people who have decided to postpone feeling bad until Monday. They have set their priorities and have chosen to enjoy the immediate moment, following the advice of the Romans “Live for the moment”* . To do without whatever, to forget about luxuries and ostentation but to live for the moment.

For this reason the tourism sector is safe from the general debacle. And for this reason there are places in Spain where the hotels are full. And it’s for this reason that our villages are experiencing an unexpected vitality, as places of welcome for those returning with apparent nostalgia.

God knows, but the Monday of the Englishman could well arrive in September.

Of course, it's a lot easier to live the Spanish way when the economy is booming away, regardless of the flimsiness of its foundations. But, as Ónega hints, we're about to find out how different things are when it isn't. I guess it will be a particular shock for those who've never known anything but fat cow years since their teens. And who could well be in their 30s by now. Which is rather as thing are in the UK too. Though finding the time and money for fun has always been rather tougher there.


* Carpe diem, I guess.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

All the Galician political parties have buried their differences to reject in unison the government's new model for financing the regions. If they were a lone voice, I guess they'd count for little but, as it is, there are much more powerful common-interest groups screaming rejection from the rooftops. Cataluña and Valencia, for example. Oh, and everybody else. I guess it helps distract us all from the dire economic news of every morning.

All of which tends to highlight the validity of this comment in one of today's papers - The axis around which the political dialectic now revolves here is no longer that of Left and the Right but of the Centre and the Periphery. The big loser being solidarity, of course. No wonder they're worried in Galicia. And doubtless in Estremadura and Andalucia.

80% of voters in Germany are said to favour Obama for US president. This is part of the great European anti-Bush love-in with this candidate and I'm left wondering how many of them know how much his policies differ from those of the domestic party they favour. On Spanish radio this morning, a [female] commentator included 'handsome' in her list of his qualities. My initial reaction was to reject this as equivalent to a male Argentinean suggesting Mrs Kirchner was fit to rule because she was, well . . . fit. But I concluded that, if handsome really just meant televisual, then this was fair comment in our times. Not so Mr Brown in the UK.

The Spanish government has held out a branch to those most deserving of drowning souls - the property developers. As of September, the state will be buying up land upon which to build more protected properties. Let's hope these, at least, are subsequently sold at the right price and to the right people. But who'd bet on it?

Galicia Facts

I guess it's inevitable that the EU Commissioner for Transport would be interested in the development of Spain's railways and, for what it's worth, his/her view is that it won't reach Ourense in Galicia until 2013. The date in the Galicia Plan is 2010; the politicians insist on 2102; and an independent panel of engineer recently suggested 2016. I can't remember what my last bet was but I think I might revise it - outwards.

I can't say I've seen any evidence that anyone will be penalised for delays of up to 10 years in getting the AVE high-speed link up and running here in Galicia. The attitude seems to be a lesson in the 3 Rs - Retrasos, Resignación and Retranca.

According to El País, more than a third of Galicia's estate agents [realtors] have gone bust in the last year. One can only hope so but the figure came from their trade association, which has something of a vested interest in publishing sob stories. Not that I don't believe them, of course.

A local Nationalist organisation is to set up a rival manifesto to the El Mundo one calling for the equal treatment of Spanish throughout the country. This will demand equal treatment for Gallego. Chance would be a fine thing. I'd be very happy if I could choose what language the Xunta wrote to me in. Maybe it's Galician retranca again.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

In a recent judicial review of the sentences handed down on those convicted for the Madrid train bombings of 2004, one or two people were acquitted and several had their sentences either reduced or - in one case - increased. I'm still trying to get my head round the announcement that one person had his gaol term reduced from 42,924 years to 42,922. Which probably means around 20 in each case. The other sentence which has foxed me recently is the relatively light one - well, 58 years - for a paedophile on the grounds that he wasn't 'aggressive'. But I'm sure it all makes sense to someone.

The government's projections of the number of immigrants who'd take up their offer/bribe of 2 years' dole to go back home have proved rather optimistic. Only 10%, it seems, are happy to do this - despite the economic downturn here. Natural optimists, obviously.

Another milestone legal case - The Supreme Court has ordered Vélez-Málaga town hall to pay €156,000 compensation to each of 18 residents of a building in Torre del Mar troubled for years by the noise from a bar below them. I guess I'll be long dead before the courts start fining people because their chained-up dogs bark all night. Possibly my grandchildren as well. Dead, I mean. Not chained-up.

It's not in the Royal Academy's dictionary but my impression is that un filler is a trailer for a movie film or the like. Why not un trailer? Or would this be to confuse it with un truck? Anyway, it's probably related to un spot.

Galicia Facts

I'm always intrigued to see the Selectividad marks demanded by Spanish universities of applicants for various course. Years ago Physiotherapy seemed to rank at or near the top but now seems to have fallen out of favour, at least in some institutions. Nursing, on the other hand, continues to demand high academic achievement. Here are this year's requirements for the three main Galician universities. :-
Santiago
1. Medicine - 88%
2. Dentistry
3. Audio-Visual Communication[?]
4. Journalism
5. Nursing

La Coruña
1. Physiotherapy 76%
2. Law and Company Administration
3. Public works[??]
4. Nursing
5. Architecture

Vigo
1. English-Spanish Translation - 79%
2. Audio-Visual Communication
3. Industrial & Mechanical Engineering
4. Nursing
5. Advertising & PR

I don't know whether this applies Spain-wide, but it seems that in this neck of the woods you need to be smarter to become a nurse than an architect. Which might explain the region's reputation for ugly buildings in beautiful countryside. The other shock is that journalism remains an honourable career choice. But then, as I keep saying, Spain is happily without a tabloid/yellow press. It makes do with a pink one.

Asked whether they felt the McCann case should have been dropped or not, 90% of the Voz de Galicia readers who bothered to vote on line said No. I'm guessing this is because they still believe the parents did it. In contrast, the British media are reporting that the Portuguese police never had any evidence at all to back up their decision to label them the chief suspects. Perhaps the VdG readers will change their minds when they read this. But I rather doubt it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

As noted, the Spanish president is wrestling with the intractable problem of how to share out the national cake between 17 voracious regions just as the size of the cake is rapidly diminishing. I'm reminded of the conversation between Nixon and Golda Meir:-
Nixon: It's tough being president of 200 million people.
Meir: Yes, but my job is tougher.
Nixon: How could it be? You only have 3 million people.
Meir: Maybe. But I am the president of 3 million presidents.

So, Radavan Karadzich has been arrested and everyone seems to think it's a Saddam-like moment. Funny, then, that I heard on the BBC only a week ago that his whereabouts were an open secret in Serbia. There was even mention of the cafe he and his wife favoured every day. Presumably the Serbian government has finally found the arm-twisting - and the financial rewards of EU membership - impossible to resist.

It's reported that the founder and president of the major developer that's just gone belly-up took 87 million euros in dividends out of the company last year. So at least he could manage his own finances well. Though possibly not a piss-up in a brewery. Still, he can probably afford to get an 'event manager' in, I guess.

You couldn't make it up - Two British monitors at an English language summer camp have been arrested on charges of being drunk and of slapping children and demanding money from them. At a place called The Tossa Club. Near Girona.

Galicia Facts


In the first week of August, Pontevedra's bullring will return to its primary [though only annual] purpose and will host, among others, Spain's leading practitioner of the art, José Tomás. If his recklessness allows him to survive that long. To get their tickets of between 35 and 150 euros, the aficionados had to queue for 20 hours. The first tickets were available on the internet within 45 minutes, at a cost of 450 euros.

Hardly a surprise but the Spanish government has rejected the suggestion that the clock in Galicia be put on the same footing - handing? - as Portugal below us and the UK above us. I wonder what the Galician Nationalist Party will come up with next.

You can tell our elections are close when the Xunta allocates funds for the Galician Centre in the heart of Buenos Aires. Perhaps I should explain that the millions of Galician emigrés and their kids have the right to vote. The counting of their slips is always a highlight of the event.

This has been one of those several days of the year when the Galician city of Ourense is as hot - forecasted 37 degrees - as anywhere in the south of Spain. Down here on the coast, it's a mere 33. Still too hot.

Details of Spain's construction boom continue to emerge. Here in Galicia between 2000 and 20008, the number of new properties increased at 8 times the rate of the population. As you'd expect, the coastal cities saw most of this but the interior city of Lugo also had its fair share. The ranking was A/La Coruña, Vigo, Lugo, Santiago, Pontevedra and Ourense. Surely not even all the Brits who've discovered Galicia can take up all this slack. Especially as they are mostly uninterested in coastal living.

An independent report has suggested we'll have to wait until 2016 before the AVE high-speed train is operating here. Politicians of all parties insist - rather pointlessly as not even the village idiot believes them - that we'll all be able to fast-track it down to Madrid by the end of 2012.

Finally, one commentator's view on Nationalism - The Nationalists may be nice - or not so nice - civil servants and bank managers, but their vision of modern country is at heart poisonously regressive. They are without intellectual content and their presence in the country's political life in recent years has done nothing to improve the lives of the poor. They don't wish to build on the past and be protective of what has been good for the country but would sooner drag it back to the mythical glory of a past that never existed. Scotland, of course. Not Galicia. Or Cataluña or the Basque Country.

Well, not quite last, in fact. Here's an irresistible Boris Johnson comment on Tony Blair - On holiday in Italy, he forged one of New Labour's few hard-edged ideological positions: he was pro-sciutto and anti-pasto.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Swearing that would make a stevedore blush is commonplace in Spain. And in Argentina too, apparently. Yesterday's papers featured the climbdown of the president there over some agricultural reforms that had come up against farmer resistance. The said president is, of course, Cristina Fernandez. Who is the wife of the previous incumbent, Mr Kirchner. Naturally, there 's more than a bit of speculation as to who's really running - or not running - the country. To which Mrs K's overheard answer is said to have been "!Acá, la presidenta soy yo, coño!". So there you have it, coño ["Old friend". Almost].

The current economic crisis in Spain may well have been predictable because of the weak foundations of the boom which preceded it but, nonetheless, it is ugly to watch it unfurling. Every day there's an announcement about another bankrupt construction company/developer, allied to a pathetic plea for public funds. And now the fire-sales are beginning of the hubristic acquisitions made when money was easy. Today's is an energy company but I wonder how long it will be before Ferrovial, for example, are only too happy to concede to pressure to offload an airport or two.

The bankruptcy that has really shaken the Spanish stockmarket is of one of the leading developers, a company that acquired a major realtor firm a couple of years ago. I can't say I'm too surprised to read that it's now accused of having inflated its assets during the proceedings. By the way, the company in question was said to have debts of 5 billion euros the other day, rising to 7 billion more recently. So perhaps there was some understating as well. Astonishingly - to me at least - in their dash to make a fortune, many off-plan purchasers didn't bother to demand the bank guarantees in respect of their deposit and stage-payments which are obligatory under the law. Naturally, this greed-based stupidity hasn't stopped them asking the government [i. e. the taxpayers] to bail them out. And the evidence is it will. They vote; companies don't.

Given the reputation of the fishermen who operate from the port of Vigo, I did something of a double take when I saw this headline yesterday - "Galicia will lead, from Vigo, the fight against illegal fishing practices". And then I recalled that the EU's new Fishing Agency has just been established in that fair city. Which is a stroke of either genius or cynical folly. Ya veremos.

There's an ad in today's papers for a big show up in A/La Coruña. The headline acts are two 'Stars of TV". To whit, Lucia La Piedra and Rebbecca Loss, both of whom are featured in bikinis. I wonder if the latter is related to Rebbecca Loos.

Galicia Facts

I do hope I didn't entice anyone to go and see the Pressing Catch in Ponters last night as, by all account, it was a failure. Given the utter artificiality of professional wrestling - for this is what Pressing Catch is - I'm not at all sure what this can mean. Presumably few gullible bums on seats.

Talking of fights - I may have got a bit of revenge yesterday on the flying rats that disturb my calamares and albariño every Sunday. Having decided to follow up with an aguadiente [fire-water] of remarkable strength, I used the half glass I couldn't manage to soak the bread I never eat. And then threw it on the ground for the pigeons. In truth, they were initially cautious but then pecked it all up. I walked home dreaming of them mistiming their landing on rooftops.

The city of Vigo is also featured in today's headlines. Both developers and buyers there have been lining their pockets by abusing the government's protected housing scheme, aimed at helping first-time buyers onto the housing ladder. The developers have been selling them at a highly inflated price and the buyers - or some of them, at least - have been buying them not as their principal residence but as an investment. The former have probably made more money than the latter. And some of them may be fined.

And now, a little visual humour for readers of Spanish . . .

Firstly, the [be-shadowed] bronze statue of a famous Galician writer, Valle Inclán, in one of Pontevedra's lovely little squares
And now, the plaque on a nearby house

And, finally, a plaque on an adjacent house


This may or may not be retranca. But it's very funny. Makes me smile out loud every time I walk past it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The EU supreme court has pronounced - to nil surprise whatsoever - that the Spanish government acted in contravention of the rules, a couple of years ago, when it helped a local energy company to fight off a bid from a German giant and, instead, to get into bed with a Catalan competitor. So, what now? Absolutely nothing, is my guess. In Spain, some rules are more important than others. And many not important at all.

I'd guess, though, that the President of Spain has got larger problems on his plate than a reproof from the EU. For, as if the economic crisis weren't enough, he's just had the Catalan branch of his PSOE party demand a wholesale revision of the country's Constitution. Given that the pesky Catalans are pushing at a door being held open by the government, it's hard to know where this process will stop, short of secession. Is there to be a 'free association' of the Spanish state with a Catalan satrapy, paying an annual tribute decided by itself? Will we, in fact, have to go back to the Persian, Greek and Roman empires to find a model that will suit everyone? Well, everyone who matters. Which may not include a substantial proportion of the Spanish population.

To my surprise, I read that Spain has now overtaken the UK as the European country with the highest percentage of its citizens behind bars - 157 per 100,000. In comparison, the UK is 152, Holland 124 and France 'only' 91.

The good news is that road deaths in Spain continue to fall and are expected to be around 2,500 for this year. However, every silver cloud has a dark lining and, in this case, it is that there are now fewer organs available from road accidents. Fatal ones, I mean.

Galicia Facts

Tourism news for Pontevedra:-
- There's Pressing Catch down at the bullring tonight, should you be reading this locally . . .
- The lovely little conch-shaped church of the Virgin Pilgrim in the centre of town has now been restored to its full beauty.
- A standard breakfast costs around 4 euros in Ponters, against 2.60 in Vigo and 3.50 in Madrid. But, in compensation, flats here are cheaper per square metre than elsewhere in Spain.

Back on the unpopular-with-everyone proposal for financing the regions, the main gripe here in Galicia is that the formula/model takes no account of the fact this region's population is 1. highly dispersed, and 2. aging quickly. But I feel sure each of the other 16 Autonomous Communities can come up with some highly reasonable objection. If they haven't already. The show could run and run.

I've mentioned the Xunta's own newspaper as being the 12th newspaper in circulation here. It goes by the snappy title of Delunsavenres, which you'll all have recognised as Gallego for Frommondaytofriday. Or Theweek, perhaps. Anyway, I'm pleased to announce that every word in it is in Gallego, with the exception of the TV schedules. Apart from the local one, of course.

Some readers will recall that, a week ago, a pigeon landed on my glass of Rioja and sent the contents all over my paper and me. Well, this Friday evening, I managed this myself without any external help whatsoever. Thankfully, in a different bar . . .

Finally - My thanks to reader David for the citation of a web site offering free tools, which has been a help as regards my malfunctioning computer. However, I'm still rather distracted by a number of changes/problems. Which I only mention as a prelude to a confession that, after years of thinking about it, I finally bought an external disk in Madrid two weeks ago, so I could back up all my files and programs. And it's still in its box. Draw your own conclusions . . .

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I'm not sure I believe this but it was reported yesterday that a survey of Spanish young people showed they were averse to working with the following groups of people, in the cited percentages:-
Gypsies - 67%
Moroccans - 64%
Jews - 57%
East Europeans 49%
Latin Americans - 44%
Asians - 43%
North Americans - 29%
Western Europeans - 23%
I mean, do as many as 23% of young Spaniards really object to working with Western Europeans? And as few as 29% to sharing an office with an American?

I wonder if it would be possible to pick a worse moment to try to discuss and modify the system for financing the regions than when both central and local administrations are suffering a catastrophic fall in tax revenue. It's certainly true that Madrid has shown once again that, while it's not possible to please all the people all the time, you can surely displease them all at the same time.

El País tells us today that the government - harshly criticised by even this left-of-centre paper for doing little in the face of the economic downturn/crisis - has decided on the bold step of calling a congress of economic experts so they can discuss things in the round and come up with some good advice. I can think of no greater recipe for doubt and indecision. Not to mention analysis paralysis. On the one hand . . . . . But on the other . . .

Galicia Facts

All three political parties have reacted badly both to the government's publication of 'national solidarity' balances and to the Finance Minister's proposal for a new system of financing the regions. The President of the Galician Nationalist Party has gone so far as to claim it's all a fabrication to try to show that Galicia is a region of malingering beggars. Of course, the real problem is that everyone wants what Cataluña wants. And Cataluña wants more.


Finally - and boringly - I'm still having problems with my computer. A corrupt registry, apparently. The machine functions and I appear to have all my files but several programs have ceased to function and won't re-install. Any advice very welcome.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Today’s post is a vignette of my calvario yesterday when paying the massive tax - 7% - charged on all property transactions here. In this case, the purchase of a little house in the hills outside Pontevedra.

The first port of call was the photocopying shop – always a busy place in Spain. Here I asked for 3 copies of everything I feared I might be asked for. So it was a good job I didn’t realise until much later that my flies were open, as I might have got ahead of myself.

Then off to the bank, to check I had enough funds in my current account after a transfer last week from a deposit account. Of course, as my bank card no longer works in any ATM and the new one has yet to arrive after merely a week, I had to talk to one of the bank clerks about this. When I mentioned that I couldn’t access my account because the new card hadn’t arrived, her only response was ‘Oh, dear’. But she got more voluble when I asked how her retired predecessor was doing. Spends a lot of time fishing, apparently. Anyway, I was pleased to find I was in funds and set off for the tax office in relatively good spirits.

THE INFORMATION/PRESENTATION DESK

Without too much confidence that it is OK, I hand over the form I’d completed last night – as per the instructions entirely in Gallego:-
- But you haven’t paid this.
Yes, I know. I want to know how I do this.
Well, you can either pay through your bank or over at the Cashiers here. But first I recommend that you take the form to the REVISION DESK to get it checked.

I decide first to check on the payment options as I’m running up against the 30 day deadline, after which I’ll face a whacking fine on top of the humongous tax.

So . . .

THE CASHIERS WINDOW

- Hello. I understand I can pay this through my bank.
Are you a customer of Caixa Galicia?
No, Citibank.
No, you can’t. You’ll have to pay cash.
Cash! But it’s a large sum to carry through the streets.
I know but you don’t have any choice. Citibank doesn’t have an arrangement with the Xunta. Why don’t you do yourself and other foreigners a favour and make a fuss about this. Then, next time you have to pay anything, it’ll be easier.
Thanks. I’ll try.

THE REVISION DESK

- Hello, I’d like you to check this, please. And, by the way, can I pay it through Citibank?
[Eventually, and to my astonishment] Yes, it’s fine. And yes, you can pay it via Citibank as all the banks have an arrangement with the Xunta.

BACK AT THE BANK

- I’m told I can pay this tax through you.
No, you can’t. We don’t have an arrangement with the Xunta.
Why not? I pay my annual income taxes through you.
Ah, yes but that’s the national government and this tax is payable direct to the Xunta. To have an arrangement with them for this would mean us installing all sorts of systems they require and we don’t have enough business to justify it.
Well, OK but I now need X thousand euros in cash to pay it at the Hacienda this morning.
OK but you’ll have to wait 5 or 10 minutes while we wait for the vault to open. Are you happy to take it in 500 euro notes?
Ah, the so-called Bin Ladens! Yes, I’d be delighted to finally see some of these.
OK, please sign this form on the front and on the back with your ID number.

Ten minutes of reading the Xunta’s weekly paper later, I am given the cash and I secrete it in my attaché case. Which I’m now very glad I’ve brought.

BACK AT THE TAX OFFICE

I remit the funds to the cashier and have the side conversation I posted yesterday. I get back two stamped copies of the form and return to the . .

INFORMATION/PRESENTATION DESK

- OK, I’ve now paid this. What next?
Well, I can’t read the cashier’s stamp. How much have you paid?
What it says on the form.

[The form is read and the computer consulted about my existence. There is a temporary stall as it refuses to recognise my ID number. But all is resolved when I advise that I also have a fiscal number given to me before I came to Spain and this is the one used for my tax submissions. And then . . .]

Well, everything is in order. Please give me the original escritura [public deed] and the notary’s copy.

After various stamps and stickers have been applied, I am given back the escritura but not the copy, which will presumably join the millions of others somewhere in a vast warehouse, never to be looked at again.

And I depart with a light tread, delighted that something that could be done with a short phone call in the UK has taken me only two hours and not the four or five I’d feared.

And no one asked me for any of the photocopies I’d made. Or told me I was lacking one essential form or piece of paper. Mind you, I was handing over a prince’s ransom. Things might have been different if I’d been seeking some money from them.

And, as I said yesterday, everyone was very pleasant to me and spoke in Spanish, not Gallego. Especially my new friend - the lonely, isolated cashier with Castilian blood. This town being – thankfully! – rather small, we’re bound to meet on the street quite a few times in the years ahead. I only hope I recognise him. The hangdog expression should help.

Now for the registration of title. In a different office. In a different town . . .

Thursday, July 17, 2008

2nd post of the day . . .

Well, it's coming up for 6pm and I don't have the computer promised for hours ago. Which is hardly a surprise, especially today. Since I wrote of the earlier problems, I've managed to cause an electricity blackout in the office of the friend whose computer I was using to send an urgent message. And my mobile appears to be malfunctioning. I seem to have become some sort of electrical jinx. It will be a surprise if you get this . . .

So, I'll leave the post I was planning for today and give you this 'side' conversation with the cashier in the tax office this morning, as I was handing over a huge chunk of money in cash:-
By the way, you should advise your colleague at the Revision desk that she is wrong to think that Citibank has an arrangement with the Xunta. It doesn't and I couldn't make a transfer. Hence this cash.
I will but they are civil servants and not really on the ball. We don't work as a team. In fact, they tend to ignore me.
Why?
Well, I'm not a civil servant. I'm an employee of the Caixa Galicia bank. And Gallegos are very close and difficult. Not easy to get on with. I don't fit in here.
But aren't you Gallego?
Yes but I have Castilian blood. My mother was from Castile.
Galician friends tell me that, when Galicians are odd, they are very, very odd.
Yes, that's very true. And on top of that, Spain has many countries. All very different.
So, a 'nation of nations'?
Yes, exactly. We here in Galicia are completely different from anyone else. Even our nieghbours in next door Asturias. Talking of neighbours, I feel sorry for the Portuguese. An unfortunate country which turned its back on the peninsula and tries to be English. But isn't. And has never wanted to be Spanish, which was a big mistake. They've had a low growth for years now.
Yes, I thought of living there but found them even more reserved than the English. Dull, in fact. Though they are lovely people.
A great pleasure talking to you.
Likewise.
Quality of life . . .

This is a brief early post as it has not so far been a great day. The wind, as ever, blew out my boiler, leaving me with no hot water; the washing machine has sprung a leak; and my computer - having decided to switch itself off an on with monotonous regularity - is now in the repair shop. Which wasn't, of course open when I got to it at 9.50, carrying my computer tower. But worst of all, I've just spent almost 2 hours going fom person to person and building to building, all for the privilege and joy of handing over a huge chunk of my money to the Xunta.

The positives of the morning so far are:-
1. The sun is shining,
2. Everyone was very nice to me,
3. No one spoke to me in Gallego, and
4. I had expected it to take 4 hours and not merely 2.

Así son las cosas.

More this afternoon . . . When I have returned to the 21st century.

P. S. I've just discovered here in the cyber café that I've done everything this morning with my flies open . . . . No wonder everyone smiled at me.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

If you were to take the following list of ten European countries and rank them according to quality of life, you wouldn’t have to amend it in any way:-
1. Spain
2. France
3. Germany
4. Netherlands
5. Denmark
6. Sweden
7. Italy
8. Poland
9. UK
10. Ireland
The irony, of course, is that Britain and Ireland have higher per capita incomes than elsewhere. So, even if money does bring you a better class of friends, it clearly doesn’t buy happiness. Though I guess that’s really another index, always won by some Scandinavian country or other.

Quality of life is, of course, a debatable concept and it’s noticeable that hours of sunshine figured for the folk who compiled the above list. What they probably didn’t include, for example, is anything like the slow pace of justice here which has, so far, left the parents of a child killed by a reckless driver in Vigo without any trial verdict after six years. Or, indeed, any trial. Or, at a much more mundane level, waiting two hours in the local Catastro office this morning for a two-minute query because only two of the six desks are manned and there are 27 people ahead of you.

The Zapatero government has acceded [conceded?] to Catalan pressure and published tables showing what the regions pay into and get out of the ‘national solidarity’ accounts. No previous government has felt it wise to do this. And, indeed, El País is already suggesting it’s thrown fuel on the fire of Catalan demands to keep more of its tax revenue. In point of fact, both Madrid and the Valencian Community turn out to be more ‘generous’ than Cataluña. Not that this will stop them moaning.

All of which sort of reminds me that, now that the interim Belgium government has fulfilled its purpose of signing the Treaty of Lisbon, it's ceased to exist and the country has returned to the path of break-up. Or at least a formal federation or confederation. The government of this fissiparous nation of nations must be looking on nervously from Madrid.

There will be a Masters tennis tournament shortly in that city. And auditions [los castings] have begun for the bellas recogepelotas – beautiful ball-girls – who are always so easy on the eye. Could this happen in many other European countries? Apart from Italy, of course. And does it contribute to our superior quality of life? Or that of 50% of us anyway.

Someone interviewed on the BBC this week said it was immoral there are around 800,000 empty properties in the UK, with 100,000 in London alone. By pure coincidence, it’s reported today there are 3.8 million empty properties in Spain. Adjusting for population, this would mean 5.7 million in the UK. Or 7 times as many. Both the central and regional governments here are looking at ways to financially penalise owners of more than one property. That’s the easy bit; the hard task is to make the measure both legal and effective.

There’s a new program on TV here called Canta! Singstar. Anyone know what a singstar is?

Galicia Facts

Of the mainland regions/autonomous communities, Galicia ranks third in the list of winners from the national solidarity transfers mentioned above, coming after Extremadura and Asturias. But the biggest beneficiaries are, in fact, the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla - which I coincidentally suggested the other day might well come to be regarded - like Gibraltar- as too much of a financial burden.

Spanish petrol stations are reported to be the most profitable in Europe. But the top honour must go to those here in Galicia, where prices have long been around 6% higher than elsewhere in the country. God knows why.

Finally, here’s a photo of my neighbour Tony, snapped as he was going up to inspect work on the houses behind ours. Being an expert on everything, Tony was able to tell me the bricks are of 4cm diamete
r and that this is good. Or at least better than the 3cm we have. I mention this because there was a short debate on the quality of Galician brickwork after I posted a photo the other day of the work in progress. Or not now in progress, as it happens. But at least the street is no longer full of Portuguese cars.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

So, after the Abbey National, Spain’s giant Banco Santander is now snapping up another British building-society-turned-failed-bank. This time the Alliance & Leicester. And at a price much lower than when they first talked several months ago. As one commentator has put it:- “This is a drop in the ocean for Santander but the speed with which negotiations were concluded reflects a certain urgency. And rightly so. Last week was the scariest British banks have come through since the Northern Rock fiasco. The British banking system is in a dreadful mess”. Which is less than impressive for a sector so critical to the total economy. Of course, Banco Santander must now achieve ‘negative synergy’ with the A&L by doing what it’s done with the Abbey and ‘let go of’ a huge chunk of its staff. Ironically, I doubt it would be able to do this if it had bought a Spanish competitor. If I’m wrong on this, no doubt some kind reader will let me know.

As for the British and – for the Spanish – their defining characteristic, the new mayor of London has this to say about them – The British are at their most hypocritical when it comes to supermarkets. We extol the small shops; we pretend to yearn for the days when you queued on sawdust for someone to climb a ladder and reach for a dusty tin at the back of a darkened shelf. But in reality we love the light and the space and the ease and the affordability of the supermarkets. Happily – or unhappily – in the Social Democratic form of capitalism that prevails in Spain, the supermarkets have so far been kept in their place – on the outskirts of town. Though numerous Chinese ‘bazaars’ with relaxed opening hours have insinuated themselves into the conurbations. Pontevedra very much included.

Things may be developing well between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar but this can’t be said for the analogous Spanish possessions of Ceuta and Melilla in northern Africa. Spain does not regard these as colonies but as enclaves which are a part of Spain. As Corsica – really – is a part of France. But this is not the view taken by the Moroccans and their demands for a Spanish handover rather soured the recent short visit of President Zapatero to Rabat. No doubt things will be sorted out in the fullness of time. Probably when Spain decides it’s just too expensive to retain these anachronistic possessions on the African continent. But there are certainly no votes in this right now. Quite the opposite, I suspect.

Galicia Facts

With the sad death of 108 year-old Olive Riley, we now boast the world’s oldest blogger in Maria Amelia Lopez. Who is a whippersnapper of 97 and who’s just been given a new computer by her grandson. Hats off to both of them. Actually, she lives just down the coast road, in Combarro. I must try to meet her. I’m a bit concerned she writes in Spanish and not Gallego. Now that she’s famous, will the Xunta be knocking on her door in the small hours of the morning? Probably not. My guess is they’ll just provide a daily translation. Unless the taxpayers rebel. Or unless there’s nothing in the kitty because VAT and transfer tax receipts have plummeted with the sudden death of the construction boom.

On the latter, it’s an eerie experience driving round the edges of both Pontevedra and Vigo, where vast blocks of new flats continue to rise. One wonders, first, when they will be finished and, secondly, when they will all be occupied. And how many cheap Portuguese labourers are now out of a job. Or soon will be.

Finally, here’s a nice photo of a group of Galician musicians and dancers getting ready to perform down in Vegetables Square last Sunday. I always enjoy them, while feeling rather sorry for them sweltering in their heavy folk costumes.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Spanish President and his ministers have now caught up with the rest of us and have recognised the economy is in crisis and that the country – like the UK - is close to recession. Given the welter of poor statistics and the pronouncements of leading bankers, it’s hard to see what else they could do. Even if it does make their pre-election promises and forecasts look like the chunderings of the village idiot.

Looming large among the negative developments is the announcement that Spain’s biggest property developer is on the verge of Administration/Receivership. Maybe it’s this which has compelled the construction industry – or some of it, at least – to stop claiming prices are firm and to admit, not only that they are falling, but that there’s worse to come. Of course there is. The house-starts of late 2005 and early 2006 will be coming onto the market soon, meaning there’ll be an ‘overhang’ of close to a million unsold properties by the end of the year. Plus those which have been bought but which the owners are desperate to offload as they can’t afford the mortgage.

On the other hand, housing starts have - naturally – ground to a halt. So, anyone for a shortage and rapid price rises in, say, 2012?

And every cloud has a silver lining. A recent cartoon in El País had a couple of [funcionario?] chaps worrying that the collapse of the construction industry might endanger town hall corruption.

Those of you who enjoyed the recent photos of a bullfighter getting the worst of the fight, might like to see this blog from the hispanophile, Daniel Hannan, whichever side of the divide you’re on

In a country in which 9am is considered early, it’s a real conundrum why the firecrackers which mark the beginning of a día festival are set off as early as 6.45. When even Spain’s few ‘larks’ are trying to sleep in. It’s doubly strange, given that everyone goes out on the tiles on the evening before a holiday. Starting around 11pm.


Can you believe it? El País at the weekend had an article on the problems caused by the increasing urban populations of disease-ridden pigeons. Perhaps we’ll see some action now. And perhaps we won’t.


Here’s an article which addresses the conflict between the two great concerns of our age – global warming and poverty. As the writer says:- There are two prevailing fashions dominating the political scene, whose aims and effects are in direct contradiction with one another. But that does not prevent virtually all of the political parties in the Western democracies from attempting to embrace both at the same time. They are global warming and the mission to eradicate poverty. What scarcely any leader seems prepared to admit is that the objectives and tactics involved in forwarding the cause of preventing global warming are inimical to the cause of fighting poverty on a national and an international level. . . We are about to reach the end of this political game: "incoherence" may be a fancy word bandied about by political policy obsessives like me, but voters know a contradiction when they see one - especially when they end up paying for it. You can be the party of the environment or you can be the party of the poor, but you can't be both - at least not at the same time.


Galicia Facts


The good news is that, when it comes to wave power, Galicia ranks after only the UK. And, no matter how high they are, waves offshore look a lot better than wind turbines onshore. Even if the blasted things are in an ‘eolic park’


The bad news is that it’s the Galician women who are best educated who are being hit hardest by the current economic crisis. Perhaps this is because the service industries – including tourism – are surviving better.


The arrival of [semi] summer brings a lot of Spanish-looking people and their partners and kids speaking French and German. These are the emigrant workers returning ‘home’ with their foreign families. Then there are the Portuguese speakers, whose language may look like Gallego when written but which sounds somewhat different. At least to me.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I can’t decide whether the people who run with the bulls in Pamplona are brave or mad. Or just drunk. But one thing I do know is that some of them escape death – or at least serious injury – by mere millimetres, as the horns rip through their shirt or trousers. And I’d also hazard a guess – based on this morning’s run – that the worst places to stand are at the Curva de Telefonica or at the entrance to the bull ring. At the first of these, the bulls always crash into the boards there, adding the risk of being crushed to death to that of being gored to death. And at the second place, the bulls have to negotiate a severe narrowing of their path, nearly always impeded by a throng of youths.

Talking of Telefonica . . . . I see the launch of Apple’s new i-phone in the UK via their 02 subsidiary has been ‘a fiasco’. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer company.

There's a bit of a controversy raging here about the Supreme Court's decision to back a local council in the Basque Country on having streets named after members of the ETA terrorist group. This is a tough one but, on balance, I'd go with freedom of expression and let the residents decide whether they're with their local representatives on this or not. However, this is decidedly not the stance being taken by the right-of-centre ABC and El Mundo newspapers.

When you get to my age, you begin to notice certain correlations. And so it is that I can conclude 1. It's common in Spain for politicians to accuse members of other parties of a 'lack of respect', and 2. The people who most frequently resort to this accusation, are the first to hurl personal abuse when things go against them. Especially Nationalist politicians of whatever ilk.

Reader Moscow has provided this link into a report on the latest service/scam to be provided/inflicted on ATM customers here in Spain. I'm again reminded of how clever and how profitable Spanish banks are regularly reported to be, even in these straitened times. I did, however, receive excellent service when I went into my branch of Citibank on Friday to apply for a new debit card. I explained that it didn’t work in shops although I could still use it to get cash. The helpful clerk asked if I wanted a new version of the same card with the same PIN or a completely new card. I opted for continuity and elected the first option. Sadly, continuity is not what I got. Trying to get cash on Friday and Saturday, I was eventually told – at the 5th bank’s ATM – that my card was useless. Can it really be that my old card has been suspended while they process a new one and that the helpful lady forget to tell me this?

Galicia Facts

Galician pictorial tourism signs are said to be 'chaotic'. By the Xunta, of all people. So someone's going to be commissioned to replace them all. Which is nice work if you're enchfudo'd enough to get it. Personally, I've never found them difficult to understand. Which is more than I can say about the written signs in Gallego. However, I doubt we'll see these changed.

For those with an interest, the Viajero section of El Pais yesterday had a feature on Pontevedra. Not too misleading, if a little poetic and lyrical. Like Portuguese women, I hear.

It’s official – We may have had 30 degrees in the last week of March but, so far this year, the average temperature has been 5 degrees lower than the 30 year average. Which is a lot. Global cooling?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

It's not often you get the chance to quote the English philosopher Francis Bacon twice in a week. OK, twice in a lifetime. But I was reminded of something he'd said by a columnist who wrote - in the context of cheap laptops - that La crisis aguda el ingenio. The crisis is sharpening inventiveness. Or as Bacon put it a few centuries ago - If miracles be the command over nature, they appear most in adversity.

In the UK, the percentage of kids in private education is around 9%, I think. But 51% of parents say they’d resort to it, if only they could afford to. Fat chance. The cost has reportedly risen 40% in only five years. This must reflect demand and so presumably says quite a lot about the public sector at which so much money has been hurled to little effect during the last 10 years or so. As someone educated in the state sector – by sadistic Christian Brothers, as it happens – but who paid for two daughters to be privately educated, I’m left wondering what on earth I would or could do now, if 20 years younger. Emigration aside.

Strangely enough, the above paragraph echoes with a sentence from an article cited today by reader Moscow - 50 per cent of Russia’s best-educated and most prosperous citizens would emigrate if they could. But I guess they have bigger problems than poor quality state education.

As you may know, Spain permits same-sex marriages. What you may not know is that both men in such a marriage are called marido [husband] here. Logical but odd on the ear. Why not that multi-purpose word pareja [partner]?

The Spanish [Catalan] chain Mango has opened a store in Erbil, in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Impressively ambitious.

Galicia Facts

I’ve mentioned the problem of predatory seagulls in Pontevedra and suggested they’ve at least driven out the pigeons. Well, last night the latter got their revenge. One of them – attempting to get at my peanuts – landed on my glass of Rioja, scattering its contents over my newspaper, my trousers, my light blue shirt and my beige jacket. I suspect my involuntary Anglo-Saxon oath rather upset the other customers of the bar. Or at least surprised them. I was forced to order another glass of wine, just to calm down. And will now proceed with my plan to carry a plastic owl around with me.

A few more photos taken during my short survey of Spanish parking . . .

The first is of a new block of flats being erected around the facade of the previous block. Nice idea but what a shame there are now 7 floors instead of 4. And that the new granite not only differs from the original but also between the the lower and [ugly] higher new floors.


This photo - of the door of Pontevedra's oldest [11th century] building - shows that idiotic graffiti is not confined to Madrid.


Finally - I've said several times I'm an admirer of what the Nationalist mayor has done for Pontevedra, as regards its pedestrianisation at least. But there has been a price to pay during the 8-year process. And it's still being paid. Here are a couple of photos showing, first, one entire street blocked off and, secondly, the state of the square in front of the town hall.




Things will stay like this for at least the predicted two years, as they expand the car park under the Alameda. Neither of these obras does much to ease Pontevedra's traffic chaos but, then, I'm not daft enough to take a car into the city. And, frankly, I'd rather the mayor did something about the bloody pigeons.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The new Ministress of Defence was pictured this week taking her seat at her first meeting of the High Council of the Guardia Civil. I can’t be sure but it looks as if some guy - there are only males apart from her - is helping her into her chair. Which is preposterous for a woman seen as the main symbol of Spain’s new gender equality. How long, then, before Spanish women respond to this old-fashioned chivalry by dismissing it – as most Anglo-Saxon women do – as patronising?

As regular readers will know, 500 euro notes are called Bin Ladens here as they’re rarely seen. But they were much used for the countless ‘black cash’ transactions of the construction boom. Suddenly there are a lot of them around and some wag [Mark Stucklin, in fact] has suggested this be used as a rough guide to the state of the economy – the Bin Laden Index.

Since the end of the [largely manufactured] Formula 1 row between Alonso and Hamilton, the Spanish press have been remarkably fair to the latter. In fact, last week end’s reports on his victory at the British Grand Prix were positively gushing. Perhaps everyone here is in magnanimous mood after Spanish victories at the European football Championships and at Wimbledon. Or possibly they just felt sorry for the Brits.

If you scroll through the photos here, you can see why I say there's no denying that bullfighters are brave. Or mad. Something like the last one was given some prominence in the Spanish press. Or parts of it. Actually, I think it was the right-hand extension of number 11, which has been cut off for British eyes.

Should you ever wish to dry a pair of socks in the microwave as an emergency measure, I can tell you that it does work. However, it’s best to have the turntable going round and to avoid more time than is strictly necessary. If not, at least one end of the socks could well be scorched. If you’re lucky, this will not be the toe end and you can still put the socks on and hope no one notices the frayed edges around your ankles. Or the smell of burning. And, if you're really fortunate, your house won't burn down

Galicia Facts

There are now 1,261 villages in this region without a single inhabitant. As I’ve said before, you can now buy an entire village of cheek–by-jowl stone houses at knock-down prices. Which is not as good as ten years ago, when the council might well have paid you to occupy them. But Galicia had no agents targeting Brits back then.

On the other hand, you might want to know that, should you get into a dispute with anyone, it's reported that the wheels of justice turn more slowly here than anywhere else in Spain. Which is thought-provoking.

Photo Gallery: Parking in Poio and Pontevedra - The Sequel.

These are the snaps taken in my 10 minute walk back home the other day..

As it's midday, deliveries are being made throughout the town. And the pavement/sidewalk is being used for the convenience of the van drivers. About which, no one makes the slightest objection. Except those of us who make the token gesture of folding the wing mirrors back as we pass.


Here are two of a whole street of illegally parked cars, near the Post Office. The little huddle in the distance in the second one is around a woman on crutches who fell over trying to negotiate one of them. And the bins it was next to.




A typical midday sight outside my regular cafe/bar in the same street. Also prime wing-mirror-bending material. Particularly ridiculous 4x4s. Especially if the driver is sitting inside, waiting for his wife to finish her shopping or whatever.


This is a space for disabled drivers. There's no badge in the car and I rather doubt that someone with mobility problems would chose a Mini.


Not so common. But not so uncommon either. Despite the yellow lines and the warning on the door, the driver has blocked a private garage and will emerge - eventually - when someone trying to get in or out has blown his/her horn for several minutes. Then they will pass each other without a word being exchanged. Live and let live. There, but for the grace of God . . .


A couple of examples of standard bus-stop blocking.


The next two are of the sort of thing that used to infuriate me when I parked in this street before walking into town. Parking is just as much at a premium here as it is elsewhere but you'd never get this impression from the way the cars are left metres away from each other. But not enough to allow adequate space for someone else.


Finally, this isn't a parking photo at all. It's of the new roundabout at the far end of the bridge into town. I show it because 1. the far lane is completely redundant as it can't take you anywhere except where you were going anyway. So, 2. I expected to see the usual one or two cars taking advantage of its superfluity. But no. A minor miracle. Bloody Spaniards! So reliably unreliable . . . .

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