Sunday, August 31, 2008

I wrote the other day about Anglo-Saxon - well, British - drinking habits. These, it seems, have now crossed the Channel. Will they now wend their way south over the Pyrenees? Have they already done so with the institution of the botellón, which lacks only mindless violence to make it truly authentic?

I sent emails to both a British and a Spanish company today. By pure coincidence, they were both architectural firms. I expect I'll get a reply from the former but not from the latter. This says something about the respective 'impersonal'/at-a-distance and 'personal'/face-to-face cultures but I also wonder whether it doesn't explain why things can be so much cheaper here. They don't employ so many people that every letter - however trivial - can be answered quickly. The staff are all hard at work, doing more serious things.

Russia - What to do?
How to respond? One UK commentator's view - The US and EU must be tough. But can the EU meet such a challenge or must it be left to the US? The Russians are not going to be impressed by rhetoric from Brussels. It was, after all, Stalin who asked "How many divisions has the Pope?"The truth is that Europe remains terribly weak militarily. Only Britain and France are significant military powers and they are both overstretched. Furthermore, on oil and gas, Europe is deeply divided, with Germany too dependent on Russian gas to be prepared to fight for a really tough European energy policy.There has also been a disinclination by the EU to consider the use of hard power to achieve political ends. The EU has seen itself as the champion of "soft diplomacy" just as Russia has reverted to its historic role as an expansionist empire. So, it will be interesting to see what 'EU position' emerges from tomorrow's emergency meeting. And how amusing Russia finds it.

Is this today's most depressing headline - Is Chelsea the next President Clinton?

Christopher Booker is rather sceptical about Global Warming. As he puts it today - As the estimated cost of measures proposed by politicians to "combat global warming" soars ever higher, "fighting climate change" has become the single most expensive item on the world's political agenda. As Senators Obama and McCain vie with the leaders of the European Union to promise 50, 60, even 80 per cent cuts in "carbon emissions", it is clear that to realise even half their imaginary targets would necessitate a dramatic change in how we all live, and a drastic reduction in living standards. . . But a new "counter-consensus" has been emerging among thousands of scientists across the world. Given expression in last March's Manhattan Declaration by the so-called Non-Governmental Panel on Climate Change. This wholly repudiates the IPCC process, showing how its computer models are hopelessly biased, based on unreliable data and programmed to ignore many of the genuine drivers of climate change, from variations in solar activity to those cyclical shifts in ocean currents. It really is time for that "counter-consensus" to be taken seriously. You can read more here, if you want to hear both sides of the story. Feel free to disagree.

Less seriously - When I write a message on my phone, the predictive text facility always gives me if for he. Not too bad but what about P33 for see? Can anyone explain this irritating occurrence? Or how to stop it?

Galicia

Weatherwise, the general feeling is this hasn't been a good summer. Statistically, though, it's well in line with the 30 year averages. We think otherwise because we've been spoiled by a recent spate of hotter/drier summers. One consequence of this year's wetter weather is that the price of that ridiculous delicacy, the percebe [goose barnacle], has risen to €148 a kilo.

Specifically, Thursday and Friday nights saw some terrific thunderstorm activity along this coast. I thought I'd paid a high enough price in the loss of both sleep and electricity but then I read that cars down in Pontevedra had had their windscreens smashed by 3cm hailstones. Today's local papers report that more than 200 people have made denuncias at the police station about damage done by the ice. I wondered why they had to go through this bureaucratic step and then realised the insurance companies wouldn't believe them if they just made a simple claim.

Finally - the next bush for identification. I believe these are the same variety. The small yellow flower is just visible on the first . . .



Saturday, August 30, 2008

There was a brief dialogue recently around my claim that the Spanish have a ghoulish interest in blood and gore. And about the frequency with which bodies appear in the media here. So, if you missed pictures to go with the story about the 10 or 12 decapitated bodies found in Mexico, pick up a copy of today's El País.

Galicia


The President of the Xunta appears no longer to care that we know about stresses between the PSOE and BNG coalition partners. Possibly showing the strain of having to deny his party leader - President Zapatero - over the regional elections, he's criticised the BNG for disloyalty and asked them to 'get off the elections bus'. As if. They've had a taste of power and, naturally, they like it. They'll do anything to get back in next time so they can continue to be the Catalans of the North West. Albeit with hugely less local support.

Said President Z has insisted the AVE high speed train will be operating in Galicia in 2013, meaning slippage of just a year. My guess is we're all supposed to think this means there'll be a connection with the meseta by then, whereas he could just mean the lines between various cities within the region. Which he'll no doubt tell us he meant in due course. If he's still in power.

If you're thinking of flying between London and Galicia, you might like to know that the price of your seat on the same plane depends on whether you book via Iberia or via its low cost subsidiary, Clickair. The former is considerably more expensive so what the case for using it is, I cannot say.

Latest bush for identification . . . with thanks. Red flowers, as I recall.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Three months ago, the President of the Galician Xunta - also the President of the Galician Socialist Party - set up the rabbit of earlier-than-necessary regional elections. After widespread conjecture and a universal conclusion that he 'd confirm this yesterday, he summarily shot the rabbit dead. The right-of-centre El Mundo says this surprised everyone, as it was felt the central Socialist government would want these elections out of the way before the economy deteriorated further and ahead of a possible clash with Basque developments. So what went awry? Well, despite the Xunta President spinning the development to underline the courage of both the central and regional governments in facing increased difficulties, the most plausible rationale is that the nationalist BNG tail has again wagged the Socialist dog. This, of course, is the price one pays when kept in power by a troublesome minority partner with wind in its sails. If it is down to the BNG and if the local Socialist party defied Madrid in acceding to the BNG's demand that there be no acceleration, then we have yet another example of how much power is devolved here in Spain.

Which reminds me - the Finance Minister has said bluntly that Madrid will not accede to Catalan demands on a new system of finance for the regions and that, if the stand-off continues, the central government will arbitrarily decide the criteria. I'm not sure how this fits with President Zapatero's recent assurance to one Catalan party that there will be more money for the region but I suppose that's still possible. If not quite as much as demanded. It's interesting to speculate on what the Catalans will then do next? UDI?

The newspaper, El Público, addressing the Russian recognition of 'independent' Southern Ossetia and Abkhazia, says the EU will never accept this. It then adds that the 27 members will try to reach a common position at a meeting in Brussels on Monday. So, who or what is this EU that won't accept the situation, even if a large chunk of its membership does? A group of bureaucrats in Brussels playing at being the government of superstate without any legal basis? Quite possibly. The Conservative MP, Daniel Hannan, writes today that The EU dislikes and distrusts the principle of national self-determination, understanding that if this principle were accepted for, say, Kosovan Serbs, South Ossetians or Macedonian Albanians, the intellectual basis of European integration would be pulverised. If this is true, it raises the question about how 'Brussels' would react to the a claim for membership from, say, Scotland or Spain's Basque Country or Cataluña, even if these were democratically negotiated with London or Madrid. On the other hand, it must look favourably on the break up of Belgium, even though that's where the Commission is based. Evelyn Waugh would surely have made something of all these strands and contradictions.

These days, I fly as little as possible, so far have things moved from the experience of when I first started - on Singapore Airlines! - in 1971. British columnist Roger Boyes, explains why . . . Over the past fortnight I have flown ten times - a Turkish airline, a Ukrainian carrier, easyJet - and I cannot escape the feeling that I have been moving around Europe in a slum tenement. The gasping drunks, the body odour, the arguments, a slapped child, the shuffling queue for the blocked lavatory, the queue for the queue. I don't want to be snobbish about the bargain airlines; we have all benefited a little from cheap fares. Mainly though we fell in love with an idea - that one could slip away to Prague for the weekend for the price of a trip to a Leicester Square cinema. That idea has soured. The sheer filth of airports, the Stalinist impounding of liquids, the hanging around, the crick-necked monitoring of the departures board, the stampede for the distant gate that leaves behind the old, the lame and the short-sighted. The dream of bargain basement travel - that you can live in a pleasant city, work in another and find happiness in both - is fool's gold. At the end of his piece, Boyes says airports are now akin to the First Circle of Hell. I like to think that it's this that keeps me away from them, rather than my irrational fear of flying. Something that, notwithstanding this, I spent 30 years doing!

I fancy Boyes' article was prompted by the news he cites that Central Europeans who once quaintly thought of the English as a pale diffident race are now mobilising to stop the onslaught of naked stag party revellers with shoe-polished genitals invading their ancient market squares. Perhaps it would be a good idea to stop offering them cheap accommodation and almost-free alcohol. The British underclass is not known for its ability to decline the latter in particular.

Finally, here's the latest plant/bush. Apologies for the poor quality of the picture but I hope it's clear enough for the experts:-

Thursday, August 28, 2008

If Graeme over at South of Watford is to be believed, El Mundo is little more than the Spanish equivalent of a Rupert Murdoch tabloid. If so, I don't know whether it had a more illustrious past. But I do know that Britain's Daily Telegraph did. And this makes all the more depressing its relentless slide downmarket towards tabloid status. So great is this, I've been forced to start reading Murdoch's Times. Anyway, I thought I'd seen incontrovertible evidence of the Telegraph's decline this morning when it printed the phrase after his whereabouts was discovered. But, I have to confess I was wrong. As this site says, this is a word that can be treated as singular or plural. And just because I've never seen or heard the former doesn't mean that the Telegraph is now rubbish. Other things do.

Although it doesn't matter to me - firstly, because I'm retired and, secondly, because I don't go to the beach - I've long held the suspicion that the weather, here in Galicia at least, is worse at the weekends than during the week. And now comes evidence that this is actually so. According to a UK report - "Scientists say the mechanism by which Spanish rainfall comes in weekend clumps depends on weekday cycles of atmospheric pollution." Which is no consolation, of course. No wonder you can't move on the coast roads for lemmings when the sun does actually appear at a weekend.

But, in fact, I did go to the beach today, as my visiting daughter wanted to visit one of the Islas Atlanticas. The day didn't start well as we parked at least a mile away from the embarcation point and so had to leg it to be sure of getting aboard the 12 noon boat. Then the heavens opened within five minutes of the boat arriving and we found ourselves sharing a small bar-café with several hundred shouting, smoking, table-and-floor- space-stealing Spaniards. But the sun finally emerged, things gradually got better and my daughter ultimately professed herself well pleased with the day. Three conversations worth relating:-

Me: [To two Spanish women near where we parked the car]. Excuse me. Can you tell me where we board the boat for the islands?
1st woman: Oh, what is your native language?
Me: English
1st woman: Oh, I only speak French, apart from Spanish.
Me: Well, we can try it in French, if you really want.
2nd woman: It won't make a difference. We're not from around here. We haven't the faintest idea where the boat goes from.

Me: [To said daughter] It looks like another thunderstorm is coming on.
Daughter: We can shelter under these trees.
Me: Not a good idea when there's lightening.
Daughter: Well, we've both got rubber-soled shoes on.

As I stretch out on the sand with a piece of clothing over my face:-
Daughter: Are you having a siesta, Dad?
Me: No. I thought I'd just suffocate myself with this sweatshirt.
Daughter: Don't let me stop you, you grumpy sod.

The boat to the island left from Vigo and picked us up in Cangas. On the way back, it naturally stopped first at Cangas. So, the most amusing sight of the day . . . The various couples who got off at Cangas, walked to the end of the quay, looked quizzically at their surroundings, then at each other and then raced back towards the boat before it left for Vigo.

Finally - Tuesday's photo was identified by Maria [Not Martin, her husband!] as an anenome. Yesterday's is provoking a bit of controversy . . . Maria says it is an oleander [nerium oleander], whereas Midnight Golfer feels sure it's a bottlebrush [or callistemon]. Having been to the cited web page, I wonder whether the one below isn't, in fact, the said bottlebrush. Albeit without its very characteristic red flowers.

I throw this open to the jury . . .

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Last night, my younger daughter and I were pondering the question of why things in the UK are so expensive. But we didn't come up with an answer. And then, this morning, I read that - in one London borough at least - it costs €325 to get your car from the municipal pound, against €83 here in Pontevedra. Council featherbedding would be my guess. Which I've previously labelled a particularly British form of corruption.

One area in which UK prices have risen significantly recently is that of gas and electricity. Allegedly, the second phase of the European Emissions Trading Scheme has added an average of $39 to household bills and another €47 has been added by the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target. Plus €13 because of a 'renewables' obligation, which forces electricity suppliers to buy a proportion of their electricity from wind or other renewable providers. So, what happens in Spain? Are these EU regulations ignored? Or are they implemented, but with the government [i. e. taxpayers] picking up the bills so the consumer prices can be kept down? Or a bit of both?

Here in Spain, it's compulsory for developers to give you a bank guarantee to cover stage payments on a new build. Despite this, during the recent boom [was it only yesterday?] it was not unknown for developers to decline to comply with this obligation and to insist you signed the contract on their terms or move aside for the next couple in line waiting to board the gravy boat. Now that the boom is over and construction has ground to a halt, many folk who did get guarantees are finding they're in no better position. For banks and insurance companies are welching on them, for one specious reason or another. The Bank of Spain has said this is wrong and must stop. So I guess it will. On the other hand, it may not - showing again how difficult a place Spain can be when things go wrong. As British victims of the infamous Valencian 'Land Grab' laws found out. However, there's good news for these aggrieved people; the EU is taking the Spanish government to court over the laws and their implementation. So, there's now greater hope of compensation or restoration. One cheer for the EU.

Galicia

President Zapatero dropped in on Galicia today,with his basket of pre-election promises about spend in the region. So stand by for the announcement - quite possibly tomorrow - that the interests of Galicia demand that voting be brought forward from next March to this October or November. Coincidentally, before the economic situation deteriorates further.

I popped into a Pontevedra bank today to ask what their commission rate was on foreign exchange transactions. As there was quite a queue for the 2 tellers on duty, I approached one of the usual 6 or 7 desks for personal service, most of which were free. I guess the woman there could have answered my question in one of several ways - including "I'm sorry, sir, but these desks are for customers of this bank. " - but what I got was a three-second stare and the bald statement "You will have to ask the teller that". As if it changes by the day. Or isn't on her computer. Or even in her head. Annoyed as I was at this unhelpful response, it was nothing compared to my partner's anger at being told over the phone it was impossible for the bike shop to give her any prices as she would have to come down to talk to them about these. This is not the first time either of us have suffered this attitude and I wonder, therefore, whether it's a cardinal element of whatever customer service training programs Spanish shop and store staff go on. 'Never let pass an opportunity to force them to come to the shop. Don't make anything easy for them. If you give them a price, they can compare it with someone else's'. Probably not but I only ask.

Una chapuza is a botched job. To its eternal credit, the Voz de Galicia has for some time been drawing our attention to the worst examples Galicia can offer. See here for an example or two. Or take a look at the walkways in our communal gardens next time you are passing.

Finally - My thanks to Martin for identifying yesterday's plant. Here the next one . . . A toughie, I suspect.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

President Sarkozy - currently de facto president of the EU during France's six-month tenure - has congratulated European athletes on beating both China and the USA by winning 87 gold medals in Beijing. This, he added, is a victory for sport and for the fundamental and common values of the peoples of the union. Like what, for example? I wonder if any of them realised they were competing for 'Europe'. And that they'll probably be expected to mouth some words to Beethoven's Ode to Joy next time round.

It's all tosh, of course, but this is what happens when politicians seize on sport for their own narrow benefit. The leader of the Scottish Nationalists - Alex Salmond - jumped on the bandwagon, to say he hoped the Scottish medal winners would be competing in a purely Scottish team in 2012. Only for the greatest of these - the cyclist Chris Hoy - to immediately tell him he was talking rubbish. It's at times like this you realise the dream of Scottish independence may have to wait a while. Whether or not the English want to get shut of the uppity and expensive Scots.

On a wider front, the besieged British Prime Minister - Gordon Brown - grabbed at the opportunity to stress the Britishness of the UK's achievements and to to endorse the suggestion of a British football [soccer] team in the next Olympics. This was music to the ears of Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, who desperately wants to see the end of separate Scottish, Irish, Welsh and English teams in major competitions. It will, as I often say, all end in tears.

To finish on the subject of sport - I rather liked this view from Times columnist Matt Rudd this morning on what Britain's unexpected success actually means:-- Now we are a sporting nation, we’ve lost the one thing that kept our fragile society together: being rubbish at sport - and being able to laugh about it. We have lost the tearful, nonviolent group pub hugs. We have lost the communal shrugs of derision on the morning- after-national-humiliation train. So, another nail in the coffin of British society. On which . . .

I'm indebted to Private Eye for this text from a job advertisement in the UK:-
The following competencies have been identified as key to success . . . 1. Communication: Able to get one's message understood clearly by adopting a range of styles etc. etc. 2. Resilience: Managing personal effectiveness by managing emotions in the face of pressure, setbacks , etc. etc. 3. Flexibility: Adapts and works effectively with a variety of situations, individuals or groups. Able to understand and appreciate different and opposing perspectives etc. etc. etc.
What you have to decide is whether the company is 1. A major international commercial operator; 2. A major domestic commercial operator; or 3. The BBC. And whether the job is for 1. Chief Executive; 2. Finance Director, or 3. A Gardener. If you're really foxed, click here.

This sort of stuff was garbage when it was introduced into British commercial life 20 years or more ago, giving control of business to Personnel [sorry, Human Resource] clerks. To see it invade the rest of society is profoundly depressing. Or would be if I still lived there. I suppose it was inevitable that my elder daughter's application for a promotion at the British Council in Madrid earlier this year meant wading through reams of the stuff.

But on to lighter things . . .

Telefonica have been criticised by the Spanish Consumers' Group FACUA for announcing a hidden tariff increase in the form of a charge for the previously free call identity service. This will net them a mere €42m for doing nothing. The company president cynically replied that it was simply the ending of a promotional campaign. Possibly the world's longest and most secret as it's been going for at least the eight years I've been here and this is the first public mention of it. Now to test whether one has any choice about retaining the service!

The Catalan Socialist Party [the PSC] is 'confederated' to the national party, the PSOE. But, on the matter of shekels to be retained in the region/nation, it has nailed its colours to the nationalist mast. Unless Madrid gives way, it will not - it says - vote with the PSOE on the national budget debate. One of the minor ironies of this situation is that the PSC president is from Andalucia. And it wouldn't be Spain if the president of one of the minor nationalist parties hadn't criticised him for his poor grasp of Catalan. A colourful place.

Galicia

We will get the announcement about the date of our regional elections this week, when President Z flies in to inspect the AVE works and to re-assure us everything in on track [sorry] for inauguration in 2012. For which the Martians will be invited. The opposition PP party is making a big fuss about tenders for new wind farms, claiming that, as the nationalist BNG politicians and the companies likely to win the tenders are 'interested' parties, adjudication should not take place before the [advanced?] elections. If true, this would be very shocking. And one could understand the PP wanting to be able to take this decision themselves. Impartially. As they surely did with the big white elephant of a new complex outside Santiago.

It's one of the conventional wisdoms of Galicia that the high road mortality figures have little to do with the quality of driving but owe far more to the topography, the 'dispersion of people' and to the 'inadequate roads'. So the BNG is up in arms about the fact that fines collected for motoring offences outstrip investment in road safety by a factor of ten. I would have though this said something about dangerous driving habits but no comment has been made about this.

Finally - A plea for horticultural help. We have 15-25 bushes in our new place in the hills, courtesy of the unusual [for Galicia] fondness for gardening of the original owners. I've been able identify one - Malva rosa [Malvarrosa] or hollyhock. This is the first photo below. The second photo is the first in a series. If anyone can help me out by identifying it, there will be more!




Oh, yes. I can also recognise the lavender. And the fuschia[?] hiding in this photo.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The day after the Madrid plane crash, I referred to the 'ghoulish Spanish obsession with blood and gore". In his post of today, Ben over at Notes from Spain majors on what's called morbo here, for which the dictionary definition is 'morbid curiosity'. As Ben describes it, this is wider than just an interest in pictures of blood and splattered brains and extends to an avid desire for sensationalist insights into the reaction of everyone involved, especially the victims. Well, those that aren't actually dead; the latter are only required to give a picture. Perhaps because it's August and there's little else to report on but the Olympics, things appear to have been worse than ever with this tragedy. Graeme at South of Watford has also blogged on it. For me, the most fascinating point made by Ben is that it might be a recent phenomenon, attributable to a particular TV program. But the most surprising aspect is that this deterioration in human behaviour can't be laid at the door of Rupert Murdoch and his tabloid empire. Imagine what will happen when he eventually moves into the Spanish-speaking world.

El Mundo today prints a survey on the popularity of the five Spanish presidents since the end of the Franco era. Not surprisingly, the greatest affection is held for the man [Sr Suarez] who presided over the transition to democracy, and the least for the man [Sr Zapatero] who is presiding over the current recession. Sr Z, in fact, comes last in each of the various voting categories. Except for one. He's felt to be at number 3 when it comes to getting along with the king. Some consolation. But at least it's more than Gordon Brown will ever be able to lay claim to, mutatis mutandis.

The local Formula 1 fans down in Valencia must have been terribly disappointed to see Fernando Alonso shunted out of the race on lap 1, even if he had almost nil chance of winning it. So it was nice to see them getting some consolation by whistling and jeering at Lewis Hamilton as he mounted the podium. I'm sure there was no intention whatsoever to upset him, so it was all perfectly tickety-boo. Just a bit of fun. Sportsmanlike, even.

I'm not sure I believe this but it's reported in the British press today that officials were advising anyone planning to go to Heathrow airport this afternoon to greet the UK athletes’ on their return from China to stay away for “health and safety reasons”. If so, it's easy to see why I regularly say that life in Britain in now insane.

Another example of an interesting search that brought someone to my blog - are subsaharans homogeneous? I'm not sure I've ever addressed this.

What I'd like to see or hear in Spain. No. 1
No, sir, I'm sorry we don't have that item in stock. [As opposed to just 'No!']

What I'd like to see or hear in Spain. No. 2
No, sir, I'm sorry we don't have that item in stock. But we can order it for you, if you like. [As opposed . . .]

Galicia

To be a self-respecting town in Galicia these days, you must have a medieval fair in your fiesta calendar. Inevitably, quite an industry has grown up around this phenomenon. Pontevedra's version is now 8 or 9 years old and will take place in early September. Click here to see photos of previous years' events. And here, if that isn't enough for you.

It's reported that the good folk of neighbouring Asturias are increasingly turning their backs on grey and white granite and painting their houses in all sorts of bright colours. Rather as they do down in North Portugal. Let's hope that Galicia responds to this squeeze by copying the trend. For it's not for nothing that the Spanish regard Galician granitic styles as the least appealing - if I can put it that way - of all the varied architectural genres of this nation of nations. Not that there aren't some exceptionally beautiful examples.

This weekend saw the first nights of the transfer of Pontevedra's botellón from the streets of the old quarter to a site across the river, away from everyone. It appears to have been a 100% success in clearing the streets and allowing the residents to get to sleep but only about a 10% success in getting the kids to cross the bridge. So, where were they this weekend? And - Who cares?
A Spanish blogger recently quoted my oft-stated view that life in Spain is more sane than in the UK. This morning I was stimulated by an article in a British newspaper to the thought that, whereas Spain still has its soul, the UK seems to have lost the one it had when I was rather younger. And not yet found another one. But then it struck me that, given the nationalist aspirations of several regions here, it might be more accurate to say that Spain has not one but several souls. Some of which might well fly off during the decades to come. If Madrid and Brussels allow it.

Talking of respective cultures, my younger daughter commented over our Sunday squid lunch that I behaved in a rather Spanish way when I was in the UK. She was, I'm sure, referring to my driving. Especially as she added "When in Rome, do as the Barbarians." This wasn't, of course, a comment on the Spanish as a people. Or at least not on the vast majority who don't drive like imbeciles.

If you were sitting in an airport this morning and picked up the Voz de Galicia, you might have wished you hadn't. The first eight pages were all about flight disasters. And there was a chart showing which airlines most frequently disregarded safety regulations. The worst was said to be Air Plus Comet. As my elder daughter had just switched from this company to BA for a Christmas flight to Argentina, I was able to read this with rather more equanimity than might otherwise have been the case.

Galicia

With the regional elections probably closer than we think, the conservative PP seems to be aiming to attract back those voters who deserted to the socialist PSOE four years ago and who might not be over-happy about the way things have since gone under the socialist-nationalist coalition. In an interview in El País today, the President of the Galician PP is quoted as saying "In Galicia, we're facing the start of a language conflict which could take hold of [enquistarse] certain layers of society and make a deep impression on [calar] them." The President of the nationalist BNG must have had advance notice of these gnomic utterances for, at a folk music event yesterday, he got his defence in first. He accused those who say Spanish is being persecuted in Galicia of dealing in a sort of linguistic racism which won't be tolerated. I'd better quote this for those who write to say I don't know diddly squat about Gallego - Unha sorte de racismo linguístico que non estamos dispostos a tolerar. He went on to say that supporting traditional song and dance customs was the best defence against those responsible for starting 'false language wars'. Which had me thinking of battalions of English Morris dancers going up against the Scottish hordes.

But on to less weighty matters . . . I recently mentioned the three brothels in my barrio of Poio, just along the main road through what is regarded here as Columbus's birthplace. Well, I had reason to drive past these yesterday, in search of something to ride. Specifically, a mountain bike. So, I snapped all of them for your delectation.

The first one you come to is Erotika, which plays a little fast and loose with the unwritten rule that these places must either be painted pink or have flashing neon signs in this colour. It used to be called Le Clé, which was presumably somebody's attempt to give it some French class.

A few hundred metres down the road, there's a hugely-signposted turn to the nearby Motel Venus. Which also pays only lip service to the colour rules. Notice the little window, where - as I saw - one stops to pay before they open the gate into the car park. This has the statutory high walls around it so that no one can recognise your car. Though I suspect few people would care in this culture of acceptance of whatever goes. It's good to see the place is flying the Galician, Spanish, European and [?]Italian flags. Perhaps there was a delegation in town.

And here's the sadly named The Factory Girls, which used to be The Xanadu. And, before that, The Playboy Club . For reasons unknown, this place completely ignores the rule about colour. Incidentally, there's no reason to believe it has anything to to do with the chap who owns the bar next door, just because he's a Liverpool supporter. In fact, I know it doesn't.


Incidentally, last week a truck drove into the wall of the Erotika club. Possibly a dissatisfied customer. Luckily, the air-conditioning unit wasn't damaged. Which must have been a relief to the ladies working there.


Finally . . . Down at the roundabout near A Barca bridge, you have the option to use a slip road to the right when you want to drive through Poio. Or you do if there isn't a car parked on it. Or five cars yesterday. As you can see, this can also involve blocking a zebra crossing.


Don't you just love that Spanish individualismo . . .

Saturday, August 23, 2008

If you're researching the national and local papers for inspiration for your blog, it's probably best not to do this in the middle of the holiday month. And when the only items featured are the Olympics and an horrific plane crash . . .

As predicted, the Spanish company, Ferrovial, which owns BAA has effectively been told to sell off three of its six UK airports. Which will certainly help to solve cash and debt burden problems. The question has arisen in both the British and Spanish media as to whether Ferrovial merited this treatment. There are apparently two clear answers to this. One British and the other Spanish.

Quotes of the Week

The EU argument that pooling sovereignty leads to greater real power proved to be a sham; it led in practice to collective impotence and self-deception. Nato proved to be the international forum where real pressure was brought to bear on Russia, in part because it disposes of real military power, in part because it includes states, notably Poland, that are still conscious of their own sovereignty, hence respectful of other sovereign democracies.
John O' Sullivan's postscript on the Russian invasion of Georgia.

I've no reason to believe the spend on the 2012 Olympics will be go above the [revised] budget of 9.4 billion pounds.
Boris Johnson, the mayor of London. [The London team secured the 2012 games on a projection of only 2.4bn. And the Chinese are reported to have spent over 24bn on this year's. ]

I must ask Boris for his forecast of the arrival of the high-speed AVE train in Galicia.

Anyway, here I go again, venturing into the shark-ridden waters of Gallego . . . The Spanish for octopus is pulpo. The Gallego is polbo. As the letters V and B are pronounced the same in both languages, this means that the Gallego for octopus is said exactly like the Spanish polvo. Which means 1. dust, and 2. a bonk. So, I wan't surprised last night to learn from Galician friends who normally favour Gallego that they revert to Spanish when ordering octopus. At a Feira do polbo, for example. Which sounds like a fun event. There's one along the coast later this month. Might give it a try. Especially as it involves lashings of olive oil.

One of said friends is a socialist who teaches Gallego in a local secondary school. His bugbears are:-1. The ever-changing norms of the Standard Gallego he's expected to teach, 2. The fact this is increasingly removed from the Gallego spoken on the streets, and 3. The mistakes in vocabulary, syntax, grammar and pronunciation made by politicians speaking Galician to show they're more Gallego than the next man. But his most surprising comment was that, as they tend to come from the interior and the villages, the conservative [PP] party politicians tend to speak 'better' Gallego than the socialist [PSOE] politicians. Those of the Galician Nationalist Block [the BNG], as you would expect, speak excellent Gallego, but naturally immediately take on board the imposed changes - such as Grazas for Gracias - which my friend refuses to teach his kids and which he says he's never heard on the streets. And hopes never to hear.

Here's a photo of one of the Pontevedra streets that have recently been transformed. It used to have two lanes and spaces for parking down its entire length. Now it has only one lane and dedicated parking bays offering less space. So both single and [illegal] double parking have been much reduced.


But what I really want to point out is the chevroned area in the foreground. This is a bus stop and the funny thing is that, although the council put a lot of thought - and money - into transforming this street, they seem to have overlooked seats for the waiting passengers. Who are reduced to sitting on the nearby doorsteps. What makes this even odder is that there are benches further along the street, beyond the red car. See next picture. I guess the passengers could always use these and run like hell when the bus arrives. But they don't. And, worst of all, no one else uses the benches either. Money well spent, then.


If you look hard enough, you can see the wooden benches, just to the right of the open door. The car is, of course, illegally parked on yellow chevrons. And the pavement is wide enough to take an invading army. Or to allow an even larger group of gossiping locals to block it than before.

Friday, August 22, 2008

All about Galicia today . . . .

If you're on vacation here, you might like to take part in the new non-Olympic sport of Find the Cocaine. Following last week's chase of the speedboat eventually abandoned on La Lanzada beach, there are said to be 1,000 kilos of the stuff in the Ria of Pontevedra, in small packets of one kilo each. I wondered why I'd seen more swimmers than usual braving the 18 degree water.

Police action against Pontevedra's brothels is said to have been so successful recently that the number of private flats providing similar services - called pisos de contactos - has more than doubled, to take a 40% market share. Across the river here in Columbus's birthplace, Poio, the three brothels along the main road appear to be thriving despite whatever police pressure has been applied. Though two of them have have to go to the trouble of changing their names, as is the way of things here.

Astonishingly, only 0.3% of people travelling from Pontevedra to Madrid do so by train. Possibly because it still takes the same 7-10 hours it has done for decades. They must all use the night train, as it's always full when I go to Madrid. In absolute terms, train passenger numbers have fallen from 67,000 a year ten years ago to 3,000 now. Roll on the high speed AVE. Due to arrive at platform 1 between 2012 and 2018. Depending on whether you believe the politicians up for re-election or more objective observers.

Anyone who's been reading the Comments and who's developed an interest in learning Gallego might like to know about the Galicia 21 magazine being launched by Bangor University. It says this will be in autumn 2008 but I fancy the last time I checked there was an earlier date. So patience may be needed.

Logically enough, here in Pontevedra more and more shops are closing down, as the recession looms. This afternoon I passed an old 'Everything for 100 pesetas' store with a closure notice on the window. Likewise the town's equivalent of Habitat, Casa. That said, a place which used to be a toy shop has just re-emerged as yet another upmarket dress shop. It's an ill wind that blows no good. And black money has to be laundered somehow.

Occupancy rates here in Pontevedra are said to be 20% down on last August's. For those who've been staying in the picturesque fishing port of Combarro along the coast from me, it can't have been a great week below the clouds and among the overflowing bins of the tiny place's numerous seafood restaurants. I don't suppose it'll be a great surprise if some of them don't come back next year. I wonder if the strikers gave this any thought.

I had to go into town early this morning to get some migraine tablets for my newly-arrived daughter. Leaving the underground car-park after only 14 minutes, I was surprised - now that we have by-the-minute parking - to be asked for 80 centimos. The other strange thing was that the machine first told me my ticket was unreadable. Driving home - and showing just how Spanish I've become - I put these together and thought "The bastards have found a way to get round the new law. I bet the 80 centimos is a fixed charge for 'unreadable' tickets" of less than an hour's duration. To be checked!

Meanwhile. contrary to all forecasts, today has been gloriously sunny down here in the Riaxas Baixas. My daughter - who says she hasn't seen the sun in over 3 weeks in the UK - is ecstatic. Ryan is quite pleased too. A mi, no me importa tanto.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Spanish media today is inevitably concerned with little but the awful plane crash at Madrid airport. And there were early signs of the ghoulish Spanish obsession with blood and gore. In this case, I fear, charred remains.

One or two people on the radio and TV have pointed out there are far more deaths on the roads - even after recent impressive reductions - but I guess it's inevitable that a horrific single event will always garner far more media attention than is purely logical.

Listening to the reports on RNE 1 this morning, I was rather taken back when the Madrid anchor man congratulated [Enhorabuena] the reporter who'd just given an account of her night in the makeshift morgue with grieving relatives. It didn't really seem appropriate to me but perhaps Spanish nuances are different and it's a more multi-purpose word.

I've been bad over the years at providing links to those sites kind enough to link to mine. But - after The Ibex Salad - I've now added one to Lenox's site, The Spanish Shilling. Click here for his amusing comment on how the Gibraltar issue is usually treated in Spain. On this, I've written several times that the British government is pretty desperate to get shut of the place but my impression is no one in Spain can understand or believe this. Though Zapatero's government must be given credit for the softly-softly, tripartite approach which is the only one likely to reap dividends for Spain. Unless Lenox's prediction comes true. If it does, he who laughs last may well laugh longest. In English. The spitters' preference.

Galicia

The chap I mentioned yesterday who made the reference about English being more akin to spitting than speaking also missed another trick by concentrating on the utterly irrelevant fidelity of Gallego to Latin when compared with Spanish. As the latter is another language with its guttural moments, he could have stressed not just Gallego's softness but also its poetic musicality. One reason for doing so is that, when it comes to its prosaic utility, he would have been weaker ground. For I believe I'm right in saying that Gallego lacks the present perfect tense of English [I have made], Spanish [he hecho], French [J'ai fait] and even its sister language Portuguese [Tenho feito]. To anyone who wants to correct this, please feel free to do so but without telling me I'm a troll, an ignorant English bastard, an imbecile, a cretin, etc., etc. We know this already.

For the photo special today I had to chose between bins full of four days of decaying rubbish and some beautiful stonework stored in the car park of the nearby school of granite carvers. Luckily for you - who probably know what rotting garbage looks like - I've gone with the carvings. But first another look at what the bottom half of the car park looks like. If I could lift one, I'd be tempted to borrow one of the large rocks in the foreground . . .


But what I really want to show is these finely bevelled blocks, one of which I certainly would like to take home with me. Though god knows what for. I can't imagine any other reason for their creation than the honing of skills and it's a bit of a shame that they'll probably lie here until they're blackened with whatever grows on granite. Moss? Lichen? Fungus?

By the way, they are bigger than they may seem. At least a metre square. So rather heavy. And useful to hide behind if you're a young rabbit being chased by my decrepit border collie, Ryan.
That master of the art of giving hostages to fortune - President Zapatero - has just promised the single Deputy of a small Catalan party that their region will have an agreement providing for more money within three months. This was done, allegedly, as part of a deal under which said Deputy would refrain from casting his vote on an Opposition motion that Zap appear in Parliament to explain his budgetary policy. It will surely end in tears.

Because of my mother's bad fall, I mentioned the British National Health Service the other day. In fact, I'd been meaning for a while to cite one major difference in healthcare between the UK and Spain. Here it's one of the matters devolved to the 17 autonomous regions, who take separate views of what's possible. So 'inequality' of delivery is built into the Spanish system and this is accepted by consumers as a fact of life. In the UK, inequality of service is viewed with abhorrence and better provision by one local authority compared with another is frequently criticised as resulting in a must-be-stopped 'post code lottery'. This British obsession with fairness in the system would be admirable if it meant everybody got what some local authorities could afford to pay for. Too often, though, it seems to mean not the provision but the denial of something - a new cancer drug, for example - to everyone in the country. Levelling down, as they say. Not up. Actually, things are taken to worse extremes. If you want to pay yourself for a drug to which you are denied access, this will be refused as being unfair to those who can't afford to do so. This obsession with fairness seems to me to be a major reason for the NHS being the politicised behemoth it is, delivering a service inferior to the mixed public-private systems prevalent in the rest of Europe.

For Spanish speakers, here's an irreverent take on tourists, including the Spanish. By Arturo Pérez-Reverte of XL Semanal. By The English, he appears to mean The Americans, mostly. Or The Anglo Saxons, I suppose. Someone said somewhere the other day that Spain is the only country that uses this label but I fancy they meant in Europe.

Galicia

If you read the diatribe against English I quoted yesterday, you may or may not have picked up the nuances about Latin. Firstly, Norman French was dismissed as 'pathetic Latin', and then the Francs' language was termed an 'extremely corrupt form of Latin'. Why this obsession with a dead language of nil relevance today when it comes to considering the beauty, effectiveness and relevance of Spanish, English or Polynesian? Well, you see, it's one of the proudest boasts of fanatical Gallego speakers that it's superior to Spanish simply because it's closer to the mother language of Latin. And so it is - with the Spanish H usually staying as the original Latin F in Gallego [facenda, farina, formigon, etc., etc.]. To the rest of us - especially to those of us who revel in the flexibility of a mongrel language that changes faster than we can talk it - this may appear to be straw-clutching but there we are. For me, the writer would have been on far safer ground to boast that Gallego is a more lyrical language than Spanish, with an attractive softness and a lilt that reminds me of the Welsh-English comparison.

Going back briefly to the Galician National Block - The essence of my view is that it's neither fish nor fowl. It's not a full-blown Nationalist party demanding independence for Galicia nor a party committed to getting the maximum for Galicia from the existing Spanish set-up. As the writer of the Saturday article said, it betrays the interests of Galicians by majoring on language and on the pipe-dream of a federal state responsible for the creation and dispersal of all its ['increased'] wealth. That said, I suspect it would see Brussels as a handy replacement for Madrid when it came to handouts in the name of solidarity. If it doesn't actually lose votes in the upcoming elections, it certainly deserves to do so! When I am President of the Xunta in ten years' time, I will ban it.

Which reminds me . . . I have to say I'm very disappointed. I've written disparagingly of the Galician National Block in the past couple of days and I've not had a single rude comment from a Galician nationalist. I must be losing my touch. I reject the possibility that they're not reading the stuff as this week the hits have risen from 150 to over 200 a day. Come on, chaps! A por ellos/elos!

My neighbour, Nice-but-Noisy Tony, left for 6 weeks on his petrol tanker on Saturday and I duly annotated my wall calendar, so that I and - more importantly - my visitors can be aware of what we are in for and when. Or not. Can there really be anyone else in the world marking the movements of his or her neighbour like this?

Finally . . . My mother has taken me to task for publishing her photo in my blog. Not because she looks awful but because I might upset someone with my criticisms of the NHS. How very British. Having grown up amidst such sensitivity, how on earth can I have ended up living happily in Spain? I guess because I've lived in 5 or 6 other cultures en route. I suppose my mother will be even more upset after today's post. What a terrible son.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Blogger David Jackson - who lives down in Andalucia - recently vented his spleen at the use of Gallego as the default language for tourism sites. One can certainly empathise with him while still finding his headline - Eh? Galician? That's not a language! - rather provocative. Naturally enough, it prompted a thread which was both illuminating because of the exchanges between David and [another Brit?] Axe Grinder and depressing because of the sheer volume of invective spewed out by angry Gallegos and others. I did, of course, refer to an apparent Spanish fondness for personal abuse yesterday but, when I was researching something else this afternoon, I came across these comments in John Hooper's book "The Spaniards". The stresses are mine:- The characteristic that the Spaniards themselves are most aware of is their 'individualismo'. By this they don’t mean what Anglo Saxons mean by ‘individualism’, i. e. something like eccentricity. They mean self-centredness. Their traditionally egotistical outlook on life helps to explain two of the recurring themes in Spanish history – their reluctance to sacrifice any part of their own interests to the common good and their intolerance of other people’s views. The 'individualismo' of the Spaniards is still one of their most obvious traits. But the vindictive edge to it is progressively less evident.

Anyway, here is but one example of what I'm talking about, on the [retaliatory] question of whether English is a language. Sadly, the author vitiates his [essentially correct] opinion by larding it with gratuitous abuse:- Is English really a language? No, it is not. It is just a creole, a mixture of two dialects: a Germanic dialect spoken only by barbarian and rustic people (Old Saxon) and the pathetic Latin dialect spoken by the Normans (some sort of extremely corrupted French, which, in turn, is another extremely corrupted form of Latin spoken by another barbarian tribe, the Francs). In fact, during the Norman domination of England, the Germanic dialects were about to disappear completely in favour of, let’s call it, "French". When "English" was (re)imposed as the language of the Kingdom, it was already an ineffable creole, as it is today, more similar to spitting than to actual speaking. Of course, he's wrong that English was [re]imposed but this is hardly his main point. Which is not only that English is a bastard language [true] but also horrible to listen to [a matter of opinion]. I'm guessing this is because he's heard someone on the radio say "Khello. Khave joo khad any Khome English classes jet?"

For those who speak Spanish or Gallego, there are [?]better examples in the thread. Trawling through them, I had to marvel once again at the vast range of personal insults favoured by those Spanish contributors who seem to think hurling these is equivalent to putting forward an eloquent counter-argument. Amidst all the vitriol the word 'troll' popped up several times, giving the impression this is a Spanish favourite. Though it's not yet recognised by the Royal Academy. I wonder if it has this degree of celebrity in the Anglo bit of the blogosphere. And I also wonder whether Hooper was right to suggest vindictiveness is less evident in Spain these days. But perhaps it's just on the internet that it isn't.

Which, naturally, takes us back to the racism storm of the last week . . . In an article about some Argentinean athletes showing their affection for the Chinese by making the famous slant-eyed gesture, there appeared this comment about this:- The rows sparked by the [Spanish] photos have highlighted how standards about the acceptability of racial stereotyping vary widely between countries, even in the West. Much of the criticism of the Spanish teams has come from the English-speaking blogosphere, prompting complaints from Spain about alleged Anglo-Saxon hostility to Madrid’s 2016 Olympic bid. Actually, there were also suggestions the row had been manufactured to help the US basketball team against its Spanish opponents last Saturday. But anyone watching the game and noticing the margin between them might well have concluded this conspiracy lacked a certain plausibility.

News today of how the economic crisis is hitting home. And away:-
1. According to El País, the number of buyers backing out of purchases of new property developments and forfeiting their deposits is causing new problems for cash-strapped developers, and
2. A spokesperson for the prostitutes' collective, Hetaira, has said working girls are complaining about the lack of clients as the slowdown reduces the number of men availing themselves of their services.

Quote of the Olympic Week

The Russian pole-vaulter proved that she is more than just a chick on a stick.

Galicia

The Galician National Block [BNG] must believe the rumours that the socialist president of the Xunta is about to announce that - 'in the interests of Galicia' - he's going to call the elections for this autumn rather than next spring. For it's taken the pre-emptive step of issuing what amounts to its manifesto without notifying its socialist partner in government. I'm on record as predicting the BNG will see its 18% share of the vote fall and it looks as if we won't have long to wait to see if this is accurate or not.

Hats off to the honorary Gallego, Amancio Ortega, who set up his first Zara shop in A Coruña twenty years ago and has just steered it past its major rival Gap. Whoever they are. Ortega is said to be a shy, humble workaholic. So he must have been outstanding even before he started Zara. I'd guess he's not vindictive either.

Well, it's gone the middle of August and I've yet to receive any mail. Which tends to substantiate the formal complaint of the residents of my Poio barrio that all the staff of the local post office go on vacation at the same time. Worse, the guys who collect the rubbish have gone out on strike. Which is not a good thing at the height of summer in a place where a lot of fish and seafood is consumed. I only have the bottle and paper bins outside my front door but I may have to move up-country for a while. Especially if the wind changes.

My younger daughter - the weather jinx - arrives on Thursday. Needless to say, it's forecast to rain all day. I daren't look at the prediction for Friday and beyond.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Spanish athlete, Marga Domínguez, wasn't the only woman who had a bad fall this weekend. On Saturday evening, my 83 year-old mother tripped and fell on her face, breaking her nose and piercing her lip with her teeth. As you would expect, the people in the nearby houses were extremely solicitous and helpful. But this could not be said, I'm afraid, of the British National health Service. For my mother sat for an hour on the pavement until a paramedic arrived in his car and then another hour before an ambulance came. In the hospital, she was pronounced 'low priority' and then waited another four hours before she was attended to. I find it hard to believe this would happen in any other developed country, the sick joke being that British politicians continue to tell voters that the NHS is the 'envy of the world'. Anyway, here's a photo of my mother yesterday, sent by one of my sisters. She looks anything but a 'low priority' to me but I guess it's possible that the hospital was having to cope with a Saturday-evening queue of the victims of drink-fuelled violence and the near-fatal consumption of alcohol.


But on to the the nationalism[s] by which the government of Spain is bedevilled . . . I've touched on this numerous times over the years and what I write below may or may not be totally consistent with what I've said before. This, I like to think, is partly because Spanish commentators have written politely and knowledgeably in response to my comments and presented counter views to mine. And, of course, what I write now reflects almost eight years of living in one of the regions of Spain heavily affected by the nationalist aspirations of some of its inhabitants. I use the word 'region' below to refer to Galicia, Cataluña, the Basque region and, indeed, all of Spain's 17 or 18 autonomous communities. In practice, terms such as land, country, territory, nation and 'historical nationality' are used here in Spain but I will stick with 'region' so as to try to avoid confusion.

In brief, I would say there are four types of nationalism, starting with the most aggressive and ending with the least. This is , of course, a simplification so I crave the indulgence of those who know a lot more than me and who could come up with additional [sub]groups:-

1. Nationalists who seek secession and independence by force.
The ETA terrorists/freedom fighters are the most obvious members of this group but there are others here.

2. Nationalists who seek secession and independence via democratic means

Again, we have to turn to the Basque region, where the Basque Nationalist Party [the PNV] is engaged in a democratic [if allegedly illegal] referendum process of getting voter support for looser/nil ties with Spain.

3. Nationalists who do not seek real secession and independence but demand quasi- independence for their region.
In the absence of a demand separation from Spain, these folk push for greater powers within a federated Spain and for dominance of their regional language at the expense of Spanish. This might stretch to exclusive use of the regional language in education and all official matters. This group would include the Galician Nationalist Block [the BNG] which was the subject of the article I quoted yesterday.

4. Nationalists who are not as strong as, say, the BNG in demanding the fostering of the regional language at the expense of Spanish but who, nonetheless, want to see the regional language and culture promoted within a non-federal Spain.
In the past, I've numbered what are called Galleguistas [Galicianists] in this group.

I have no difficulty in saying that I have the least sympathy for the first group and the most for the fourth group and I guess things were always thus. What has changed over the years is that I've come to admire the second group and to almost detest the third group.

This is essentially because I take the overarching view that in a world which is more peaceful than ever, where there is less of the threat of war that causes groups to sink their differences and to band together to resist aggressors/invaders, it's rational and sensible to allow those who see themselves as a true nation to seek and obtain self-determination by peaceful means. Of course, to me it's odd that, say, Scotland and Cataluña would seek to break away from the UK and Spain to become a minor entity within the EU but I can't argue against this being their right. More importantly, how does one stop nationalist movements once they have a legitimacy born of majority support?

Accordingly, democratically-oriented Nationalists seeking the independence of Scotland and Galicia have my best wishes. So why not the BNG of Galicia? Well, because - like the author of yesterday's article - my perception is that, if the local nationalist party doesn't have the courage of its convictions - because it knows independence won't wash with the voters - it's forced to major on the local language and to pursue the dominance of this in ways that are questionable and divisive. I get the impression this is happening not only here in Galicia but also in the Valencia region and in the Balearic Islands. In all of these, I have serious doubts that what is going on is in the interests of the population. Particularly of the children, their education and their employment prospects in a tough world..

All that said, I have to be consistent and say that - if a substantial proportion of the population backs parties in this third category - then this needs to be heeded as the voice of the people.

The real problems arise when, as here in Galicia, the nationalist party gets only a small proportion of the votes but becomes a lever of power within a coalition government. This, it seems to me, brings the worst of all worlds. Far better that we had a true, honest nationalist party in government than a pseudo-nationalist party taking full advantage of a mandate it really doesn't have.

So, there you have it. I very much doubt that everyone will agree and only ask that adverse comments be civil, even if angry. I will try to respond to all of those which eschew the apparent Spanish fondness for personal abuse. Especially as this tends to come from people who give the impression of not having good enough English to understand all that I've said. This does not apply to my Basque friend in New Zealand, who is welcome to contribute in support of what most of us see as terrorism, if he's still reading this blog.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

As I am late back from a long trip, I will have to postpone my dissertation on nationalists until tomorrow.

In its place is a relevant article by Luis Ventoso from yesterday's Voz de Galicia. I don't want to shoot my bolt but you'll have guessed that I have some sympathy with his sentiments:-

Galician Nationalism and the Catalan Mirror

The technical reports of the most respected economists – from both the right and the left – agree on two issues:-

1. Galicia is one of the greatest beneficiaries of the fund flows between communities – the so-called inter-territorial solidarity – (and it has also been enormously favoured by EU help).

2. If the Catalan financing proposal triumphs, Galicia will lose a lot of money. Why? Because the pie is what it is and if one of the eaters wants a larger piece, then another must have a smaller one.


But there was a Galician political force (The Galician Socialist Party) which didn’t want to see the threat and kept quiet when the Catalan cut-up was brewing via their new Constitution. There’s another (The Galician Nationalist Block] which rejects all the numbers everyone else uses and proclaims that the Catalan way will be good for us.


In the view of the Galician Nationalist Block, inter-state solidarity is bad for Galicia. The Block believes that, if we look hard at federalism and if the powers of the autonomous communities are taken to their extreme, it will be shown that Galicia is richer than she appears and will end up managing more money than under the current autonomist model.


However, if you run the numbers, it becomes clear that Galicia will end up being hammered. So why does the Block persist in pursuing the Catalan route? Because of an ideological axiom. Its objective, of course, is none other than to ensure that a country [region] without statehood ends up as close as is possible to being a state. And this will be achieved by gaining for this territory [region] more and more powers. In short, everything that helps to de-Spanicise in order to create a greater Galicia is good, even at the cost of economic resources in the short term (and quite possibly in the long term too). Its ideology is thus given greater priority than the economic reality of flesh and blood Galicians, because what’s important is the grand objective – that Galicia loosens the moorings.


This mental template also explains, for example, the strange disregard shown by the nationalist Sports Council [of the Xunta] towards David Cal, who is a hero for all Galicians but who has the defect of – God forbid! – competing for Spain. This differential emphasis is also the reason why – from the right at the other extreme as well – language becomes the core of the debate – at a time when Galicia has a very deficient system of health, an education system that needs much improvement, demographics which are frightening, an AVE high speed train which is almost a chimera, grid-blocked cities, large stores that never set up here, natural wonders which are being relentlessly devoured and foreign investment which is trending towards zero.


But, of course, to administer and improve what is concrete is not as easy as to invent a country which doesn’t exist (Galiza) and to insist that the one that does exist (Galicia) be tied to a pre-established dogmatic project.

Galicia needs a nationalism which defends its interests. This is clear - suffice to see the Galician Deputies from both the conservative [PP] and socialist [PSOE] parties in the Congress, mute on many of the subjects crucial to Galicia.


It is doubtful that the way to help our country [region] is to close ranks and to be carried away by the ideas of the Catalans and the Basques. To think that the idea of Spain is annoying or discomforting to Galicians or to gauge that Galicia’s greatest problem is her language is, quite simply, to isolate yourself in an ivory tower and to avoid walking in Galician streets, where there is a market for another type of Galicianism - one which could get much more than the 18% of the votes gained by the current third political force here.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

It's one of life's major ironies that, although the description 'liberal' was first coined in Spain in the sense which it still generally bears around the world, here it has come to mean red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism at worst, or Thatcherism at best. It can be quite confusing when left-of-centre newspapers summarily reject 'liberal' economic proposals as if they were redolent of the worst excesses of the 19 century US robber barons. Sometimes accompanied by the hackneyed cartoon of a fat, cigar-chomping businessman in a frock coat and stove-pipe hat, brandishing a cloth bag with a big dollar sign on it. But it all adds to the gaiety of life, I guess.

Talking about economic proposals, the right-of-centre El Mundo has dismissed the government's package of emergency measures as mere 'marketing'. By which I suppose it means majoring on presentation rather than substance. From left-of-centre, El País tells us that "The coexistence of perturbations of different natures requiring solutions that are at least in part contradictory complicates politico-economic decisions." And who could argue with that? The problem is that not many people seem to think the government is up to the task. Possibly because it is still doing an excellent impression of a rabbit caught in the glare of a car's headlights.

The slanty eyes ad: My comments have naturally generated a Spanish response and the essence of the reaction is - as predicted - that it couldn't possibly be offensive or racist since intentions were 100% good. Here's an elegant attempt by David Jackson - an Englishman born and bred in Andalucia, I believe - to be fair to both sides. And, of course, I agree with him - having already said it - that the most pertinent contribution to this, er, debate would be a reliable survey of how Chinese folk living in Spain found it. My final comment is that this afternoon I asked a good Spanish friend - married to an Anglo - what she thought of it. She smiled, ducked the issue of whether it was racist, and said "Well, it's just one of those stupid things that the Spanish thoughtlessly do and then defend to the death when criticised for it." So, perhaps we can leave it at that, with the question of whether it was subjectively or objectively racist hanging in the air. To be positive, it was good that forgiveness was sought for any unintended slant. Sorry, slight.

Tomorrow's controversy will be the presentation of my considered view of Nationalists.

Galicia

If you'd been sunning yourself on the wonderful Lalanzada beach near O Grove yesterday, you'd have been treated to the sight of an 18 metre speedboat being beached there by drug traffickers who felt it'd best to set fire to it and jump ship rather than hang around for the pursuing helicopter and boats of the Guardia Civil. Leaving behind 1,400 kilos of cocaine. It would all have made an unusual postcard home. If anyone in Spain ever sent one. But a camera in a mobile phone is an excellent substitute, it seems.

I referred the other day to the almighty mess around the basilica of Santa Maria in Pontevedra and ventured the view that neither residents nor tourists were too concerned about things. It seems I was wrong; one tourist - pressed for his views on the city by the Diario de Pontevedra - asked "How can things around the emblematic basilica have been allowed to come to such a pass." But, since he was Catalan, we're probably entitled to tell him to push off back to his own nation and to solve the well known civil engineering problems there before he comes here shooting his mouth off about what pleases and displeases real Spanish tourists. Of course, this would be best done in Castellano as he might not understand it in Gallego. Sometimes you have to make an exception.

Friday, August 15, 2008

President Zapatero has had a crisis meeting with several of his cabinet members - I'm assuming the older, more experienced ones - and has issued a plan to deal with what he admits is no longer a 'gentle deceleration' but a rampaging economic crisis. I don't know whether the man has a talent for hostages to fortune but his latest headline statement is that Spain is dealing with said crisis better than Germany, France and Italy. I guess this is based on the fact there was a tiddling bit of growth [0.1%] in the Spanish economy in the second quarter, against reductions in the other three. The problem with this claim are, firstly, the margin of error is surely enough to make this a contentious statement on its own; secondly, it ignores the fact that Spain's fall from rapid to nil growth has been more precipitate than that of any other country; and, thirdly, that Spaniards are not alone in being sceptical about government statistics. Then there are the country's underlying structural problems, so long masked by a phony construction and consumer boom and which raise serious concerns about the near and mid-term future.

Take housing as an example of specious numbers. As a Spanish commentator recently wrote somewhere, this is a miasma of false public data. There can't be many Spaniards who don't know you can't trust the numbers in the deeds signed in the notaries' offices as these are usually understated to reduce the horrendous 7% transfer tax. Nor can you use the valuations done for mortgages as, for one reason or another, these are traditionally overstated. Nor can you use the mortgage amounts as the false valuations have been used to gain cash above that of the price of the property. And neither can you use planning submissions data as the properties may never be started, finished or sold. At least not right now. The Spanish government has its own methodology to deal with this problem but, as they don't say what this is, we can have no idea whether it's right to say that prices were still growing in the last quarter. Except that we can use our common sense and conclude that the government must be mad if it really thinks this is true and/or knows it's false but expects us to believe it's true.

Another unsubstantiated number from President Zapatero this week is that the Spanish economy will be back to a very healthy 3% growth rate by 2010. But we're given no idea as to what might be the motors of this relatively rapid re-seizure of the economic heights. Meanwhile, we read today that July saw another record month for borrowing from the European Central Bank by cash-strapped Spanish banks. All of whom, by the way, suddenly seem to have discovered that customers really do prefer to have a safe time-deposit paying interest above the inflation rate to one of several 'dynamic' stock-market-linked funds with numerous bells and whistles which guarantee a good return to the bank but only a percentage of your original [inflation-devalued] cash back if disaster strikes. This new-found customer orientation must be a true reflection of the banks' desperation. Normally they can't be bothered.

Anyway, if you want a more detailed rejection of Zap's Pollyanna perspective, I think the latest edition of The Economist can oblige.

Galicia

I don't know whether Sr. Z is right about 3% economic growth in 2010 but when it comes to the disagreement between him and the country's civil engineers about whether it's feasible to have the high-speed AVE train operating between Madrid and Galicia by the government's oft-guaranteed date of 2012, then I think I'll have to go with the engineers. Especially as I'm on record as predicting a date of 2018, as far as I can recall.

The Galician President - of the same party as Mr Z - is playing fast and loose with the imminent election date. My suspicion is that he's as dubious about his boss's claims as we are and will bring this forward to later this year for fear that the devastation will be even greater by next March. And who could blame him?

I fancy I may have been a bit more curmudgeonly than usual today. I put this down to writing my blog at 6pm, which is when I take my second glass of wine of the day. So, if Mr Z is reading this, I do apologise.

Which reminds me - does anyone agree that, in 4 years of writing about Galicia and Pontevedra - it's odd that no one from any local newspaper or from the council or Xunta has ever been in touch? Either to thank, praise, criticise, threaten or suborn me. Or am I suffering from delusions of grandeur? If so, I put it down to the grape. Which is actually vinho verde from Portugal.

This in turn reminds me - in a roundabout way - that I've finally discovered a restaurant on the outskirts of Pontevedra that serves venison, kid and wild boar. But, here's the rub: I'm only prepared to reveal its name and location for cash. In vino veritas.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

So, are the Spanish racist?

Well, here are the items I found in today's papers on the subject of the photos of both the male and female basketball teams making slanty-eyed gestures:-

First, a letter in El Mundo:-
I read with shock the criticisms of the Spanish teams for the supposed racist content of the ads in which they stretched their eyes so as to imitate the Chinese. The ad is of dubious taste, infantile and unimaginative. But racist? I can neither believe nor was expecting such a facile journalistic response from various foreign media.

Secondly, the comments of the one of the team members:-
It doesn't make sense that in the USA and the UK they think we're offending the Chinese people. It wouldn't offend me if someone made an ad showing himself as Spanish.

Thirdly, the comments of the President of the Spanish Sports Federation [who is not, by the way, Luis Aragonés]:-
The criticisms in some British and American journals such as the Guardian and the New York Post are malintencional and are designed to try to damage the image of the Spanish basketball teams. They are clearly inappropriate. The gesture was affectionate. The twisted intentions of the English and the Americans would be worth more if they worried more about the racist antecedents of their own countries.

Fourthly, the view of the leading Spanish player [Gasol], who actually plays and lives in the USA:-
Well, I thought at the time it was both funny and offensive. I would not have taken part if I'd known what reaction it would cause.

And, finally, some comments from non-Spanish observers, together with a long Spanish response that is typical in that what it says is not incorrect while, at the same time, the writer misses the point. Thus justifying the headline I saw somewhere - The Spanish just don't get it. Which is true; they don't. Hence the screams of pain and the counter-accusations.

So, the answer to my opening question - Are the Spanish racist? - is possibly No, the Spanish are not racist. Or, rather, they don't think they are because they don't mean to upset anyone. But in this, as in other things, they show a remarkable inability to empathise with other cultures. And so can come across as racist. Just as they can come across at times as being exceptionally rude whereas they think of themselves as very polite. Which, on a one-to-one basis, they always are.

Some would say that, as regards sensitivity to racism, things have gone too far in Anglo countries but not far enough in Spain. And others would say, I guess, that it's a waste of time hoping that that a balance will be struck between the extremes. But you never know.

Galicia

And now for two 'positive' photos taken in Pontevedra this week . . .

Although this is a mess, it's a legitimate mess as it's the excavation of the Roman approach to the original Burgos bridge, across which runs the Portuguese Road to Santiago. The council is to be commended not only for doing this work but also for keeping it open permanently and for changing the traffic flow so this could be achieved. Bloody nuisance as the roadworks have been for at least a year now. Especially for anyone trying to find the Parador. Which was tough enough before.


Secondly - The Pontevedra council has recently removed the granite blocks used to stop drivers going into this part of the old quarter and replaced them by more-attractive-but-still-granite large words such as this one - VILA. Its mate [albeit a few hundred metres away] is BOA, and together they mean Pretty City. In Gallego, of course. And also Portuguese, I suspect. A bit self-congratulatory, perhaps, but acceptable.


Finally - and reverting to negativity - here's the parking offence that annoys and mystifies me in equal amounts.


Let me explain . . .
1. Those who park like this - to go to the pharmacy - can't be bothered to drive 15 metres to a side road.
2. They park either on or [as here] right next to a crossing, obscuring the view for both drivers and pedestrians.
3. They park just after/between two bends, creating risks for other drivers going either down or up the hill.
4. They force drivers coming down to overtake on a crossing AND to move into the middle of the road - across a solid white line - into the path of cars going up the hill as they are negotiating their bend.

I like to think the people who do this must belong to one or two categories of folk who disdain others - 1. the rich pijos who live at the top of the hill, or 2. the gypsies who live at the bottom. But perhaps I'm being too kind. Maybe you just have to be stupid. Or excessively 'individualistic'.

And I guess the police could stop this if they levied some punitive fines. But the signs are they don't care either.

Later . . .

Well, that was going to be that but, as I drove down to the bridge midday today, I came upon the spot featured above, only to find that not only was a car was parked on the zebra crossing but there was also a delivery van on the other side of the road. This, of course, obliged me to pass through a small gap between them. As I did so, I blew my horn in protest - only to have the [gypsy] driver of the parked car blow his in response and the van driver to throw up his arms in a protest of innocence. However, when I parked and walked back, I found that the van had driven into the unloading bay and the car had taken its place on the other side of the road. And, since it now had its hazard lights on, by Spanish convention everything was now alright. Safe, even. I leave you with the photo . . .

Search This Blog