Tuesday, September 30, 2008

We are now resting in Auch, which - to the annoyance of my French partner - I insist on calling "Ouch". A few observations on our journey here via Estella, Pamplona, St Jean Pied-de-Port, Lourdes and Toulouse:-

If you arrive in Estella at nine of a Sunday evening at the end of September, it will be difficult to find something to eat. The one place we could find open offered us pigs' trotters', pigs' cheeks, pigs' stomach lining, lamb viscera with blood, or chopped cod. My parter said she'd never been happier [or even happy] to see a plate of cod. But then ate the trotters. Guess what I ate.

If you want to travel from Pamplona to France through the mountains, you're best advised to take an orienteering course beforehand. Virtually all the signs conspire to take you north to Hendaye and the one sign for France that points vaguely towards the mountains is not followed up by any others as you pass through confusing roundabout after confusing roundabout. If you're unlucky, you will turn back and head north before you realise the road is not going to branch off into the mountains. If you're really unlucky, you will get on the right road by accident and then be given the wrong directions by someone who claims to know what they're talking about. And you will end up back where you started from. My advice is to find a local policeman and ask him for detailed directions to the N135. They're easy enough to find as their uniform is bright red.

When you finally get onto the N135, there will compensation in the form of a sign to France at least every 1,000 metres. Almost 30 of them within the first 20km. Every time, in fact, there's a turn off to a local village. This is either an example of Basque/Navarran humour [possibly their version of Galician retranca] or a reflection of the fact the local mayor has a relative in the sign-writing business.

The countryside and Basque architecture on both sides of the border are magnificent. And we found everyone to be very pleasant and helpful. This might just be because the men on the Spanish side at least appear to start the day with a beer alongside their coffee. Though this is less potent than the brandy of Andalucia, of course.

More anon . . . 

Monday, September 29, 2008

Spent the night in Estella, 40km short of Pamplona. Around 750km from Pontevedra and virtually all motorway. Beautiful day, excellent roads and, happily, we weren't tailed by the Guardia Civil officers who arrested a chap for talking to his passenger somewhere down south yesterday.

Overriding impression of the trip - No sign of any investment in solar power but hundreds and hundreds of wind turbines stalking across Spain's ridges. Some of them actually moving.

On to France!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Having inevitably had his plans for a referendum shot down by the Constitutional Tribunal, the President of the Basque Country will now take matters to Brussels. Where he will claim Spain is abusing the human rights of the Basques by denying them self-determination. I can’t help wondering if this is what the framers of the legislation had in mind when they put it together. I suppose this is quite possible, given that it could promote the break-up of the nation state in favour of a European superstate. And, after all, the EU supported Kosovan independence. On the other hand, though, it wasn’t very happy about Osetia. And it may not be over-relaxed about the looming disappearance of Belgium. Complex issues. Interesting times.

In the absence of the internet, I was surfing the Spanish TV channels this morning, in search of news and inspiration. Given there’s precious little ‘culture’ on TV here, it was a bit of surprise to find a classical music concert on Channel 2 at 7.30am. Not for the first time, I wondered if this is a good way of filling some sort of quota without upsetting the natives. I mean, just how many Spaniards are up that time of a Saturday morning after a traditional Friday night out that began at 11pm?

I made a second sortie into the world of Spanish TV this afternoon, to watch the Everton v. Liverpool game live. Sadly, the insertion of ads along the bottom of the screen is now a permanent feature of these transmissions and is no longer confined to dead-ball situations. Worse, when the latter arose, the ever-loquacious commentators immediately launched into an ad for some lottery or other, details of which were also flashing on the screen. Could things possibly get more commercial and intrusive? Sometimes I feel like going down on my knees to thank the Lord for the ads-free BBC. And for Skye’s satellite, of course. Needless to say, when Torres scored for Liverpool, the commentators got rather excited. And then the hijo de puta scored again . . .

The Valencian regional government – which is of a different political stamp from the central government – is said to be defying Madrid’s introduction of a de-religionised Citizenship class by having this [un]taught in English. There were earlier examples of this sort of thing around the anti-smoking law of a couple of years ago. Spain is not a de jure federal state but developments like this make one wonder whether it is one de facto. That said, I’ve no idea whether US states – or the German lander – have the power to ignore laws introduced by the federal government. I rather doubt it so perhaps it’s just a Spanish thing.

A wider consideration has been raised by the news that the EU is investigating the water situation in numerous construction projects in the south of Spain. Now, it may be that bad things are going on down there but I can’t help wondering whether, if the municipal council and both the regional and central governments permit them, then how is it democratic for Brussels to overrule them? If you think this is OK because planet-related issues are too big to leave to local decision makers, then you probably feel it would be good for a world government to superintend these things on a global basis. Which would take decisions further and further away from the people affected by them and raise the question of how different such a world government would be from benign despotism. Or communism, for that matter. Though they are much the same thing, of course.

Galicia

The Xunta is considering denying subventions to those town councils – 20% of them, apparently - which don’t present accounts to support their expenditure. This seems like a step in the right direction to me but, then again, accounts are not always that useful. I think it’s now 14 years in a row that the auditors have rejected those of the EU Commission but no one seems to care very much.

Well, I’m off to meander through the Pyreneean countryside, albeit on the other side of the border in La Belle France. With a smelly Ryan in the back and my rather more fragrant partner in the front alongside me. Though, if tensions rise, things could be quickly reversed. I may or may not be able to post blogs during the trip but I will do my best.

Finally, I should bring you the good news that said partner and I have decided that we should share the investment in a 3G modem that she needs for her laptop and which I can use – as and when it’s free – for my desktop. Which, in fact, I’m doing now, to post this blog. But I should also give you the bad news that it causes the machine to freeze every 15 or 20 minutes. If I’m lucky. Don’t you just love computers.

Ata loguiño a todos.

Friday, September 26, 2008

As I mention from time to time, I’ve lived in six cultures and become reasonably fluent in the language of each of them. Except that of North America, of course. But I was reminded yesterday it isn’t always the absence of language which leads to misunderstandings. Or the inability to grasp nuances of a new language. Often it’s simply because you and the person you’re dealing with are operating on the basis of different assumptions born of respective experience and cultural norms. The case in point centred on my asking Carrefour for details of a credit card charge of last July. The initial response was they couldn’t do it, especially as I’d left it rather late. Instead of adopting my usual strategy at this point – losing my temper, storming out and achieving nothing – I calmly asked why not. After a few more exchanges, it transpired that my ‘antagonist’ had assumed I wanted it immediately, whereas it never would have occurred to me to expect the immediate supply of data. So all ended well. I left them my details and they actually called me today with the information. Now, if I can just erase all the carefully accumulated assumptions upon which I normally work . . . I’d surely be a happier camper.

Reader Moscow has cited an article which suggests Spain is, in fact, quite a ‘clean’ place. And, if all goes well down at the cyber café, you can read it here. It’s certainly true that, if you take the construction factor out of the equation, the Spanish picture improves substantially. But, in truth, this is a little hard to do in practice. For, only this week, we’ve had the ex-mayoress of Marbella suddenly putting her hands on a million euros in cash to stop her house of similar value being auctioned. And the president of the Castellón province being accused of large-scale embezzlement. Plus the statistic from El País that 140 Spanish mayors are facing corruption charges. Not to mention the arrest of five Customs officers for abuse of their position. It’s really no great wonder that the perception of widespread corruption exists. Both domestically and abroad. The last point on this is that a Spanish columnist this week wrote that the real problem here is not so much that money disappears into the pockets of individuals but that it simply evaporates through extravagance and wastefulness [despilfarro]. Possibly, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there were commissions payable on its evaporation.

All that said, the truth is that Spain is a great country, full of wonderful people. One thing it isn’t, though, is a terribly efficient/productive place. In fact, of the ten or eleven major EU economies surveyed by the European central bank, Spain only ranked higher than Portugal against this parameter. Which rather takes me back to President Z’s possibly-rash boasts in New York this week that Spain’s per capita income – having already overtaken Italy’s – will be passing that of both France and Germany within the next few years. I know there’s no direct correlation between these but it does make one wonder whether major structural deficiencies are being tackled. Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure Spain still ranks number one for the ability to have fun, either because you have a job or are living with/off your parents. Which just about covers everyone, I believe.

Interesting to see that the celebrity judge, Sr Garzon, is now calling for the names of not just Republican victims of the Civil War but also for those of Nationalists killed by the Republicans in Madrid. Perhaps this is a sop to the Catholic Church to persuade it to cough up the information it has on the former.

Galicia

Talking of extravagance and wastefulness, there’s a City of Culture on a hill outside Santiago which is generally regarded as a white elephant. And a monument to the long-ruling gauleiter of Galicia, Manuel Fraga, still active in his late 80s in the Senate. Taking a view on the status of the city, a UNESCO body has just upset its burghers by stating baldly that it isn’t really a good idea to be planning a cable car between the city and Fragatown. The rest of us possibly couldn’t agree more.

The football team of our coastal town, Villagarcia, is called O Ingleses, The English. This reflects the long connection the place has with the British navy. And, doubtless, the money spent in the town’s various establishments. Which practice has just been restored, after a three year lay-off. As it were.

Well, still no internet. And this after 25 minutes on the phone with Ya.com today, ending when the technician said “Oops, our net has just gone down. Call back in twenty minutes.” Impressive, eh? Is it genuine or is it just a ruse to make you to spend even more time on a premium-rate call? One does get a little cynical and my guess is it’s the standard ploy for when you’ve gone through all the easy possibilities and can’t think of what else to tell the client. Much more consumer sensitive than just putting the phone down.

Finally – Super Bark Stop update: A quiet night suggests that placing the machine a couple of metres from the dog’s nose [and ears] is effective. But a sample of one is useless. So, on with the show!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Yesterday in New York, the Spanish President, Sr Zapatero, again claimed the financial system here is the most stable in the world. Personally, I’ve no informed view either way, though I know there are differences of opinion on this. However, I do wonder why President Z feels the need to stick his head so far above the parapet and to offer such a large hostage to fortune. Is he naïve or is he merely using a foreign platform to play to the domestic market, in advance of elections in the Basque Country and Galicia?

In the UK it’s a long-established practice to generate revenue by fining motorists for relatively minor offences. However, it’s never – as far as I know – been a feature of Spain. But it’s a relatively easy source of revenue for cash-strapped councils and, sure enough, there’s an item in one of the papers this morning about the police planning to check we’re all carrying the compulsory two warning triangles and a complete set of spare light bulbs. This development possibly endorses my suspicions about the real reasons behind the recent painting of white lines in our street. And could explain why El Trafico were stopping cars last night on a large roundabout near my house. As I doubt they were checking for ETA terrorists, I guess it highlights the importance of my regular - and no longer academic - question about the technically correct way to navegate these in Spain. Not to mention the appropriate signalling. So I think I’ll forget about safety and just stick in the outer lane and switch back and forth from a left signal to a right signal and hope for the best. When in Rome . . .

If you live with a border collie, one of the things you get to admire about these clever dogs is their uncanny ability to anticipate things. But, as I now move to and from my town and country homes on a daily basis, this is beginning to get to me. For I literally can’t move a muscle without Ryan leaping to his feet and dashing towards the door. This may sound innocuous but, believe me, when you have a collie’s gimlet eye fixed on you for hours on end, this can be more than a tad irritating. And it’s making me rather more homicidal than sheepish.

Galicia

The struggling construction company which owns our toll roads has put the business up for sale. This has stirred local columnists to express the fear ownership will now pass to real foreigners and not just those with HQs in distant cities like Madrid and Barcelona. Worse, these Americans, Germans or Italians might may have motives related only to profit. Given that the A9 from Vigo to La Coruña is already one of the most expensive in the country, the inference that the construction company has been operating as a charity brought a wry smile to at least my face.

But there was even worse news in the local papers this morning – It seems that both Pontevedra and Vigo could be denied an AVE high-speed train passing through them. Which would force us to travel up to Santiago if we wanted to catch a train to Madrid. If yesterday’s report about Vigo having a line from Oporto by 2013 is accurate, this would mean the city being better connected with Portugal than with Madrid. Perhaps this is the real significance of being a eurorregion.

Which reminds me – getting a ticket for somewhere else last week, I asked the woman at Pontevedra station whether they really had withdrawn beds from the overnight train to Madrid. She said they hadn’t and asked me how I’d got this impression. When I cited the internet, she merely gave me a look of intense pity and gently shook her head. As if to say only a cretin would try to get information about Renfe this way. Maybe she’s right.

Finally – The latest chapter in the saga of the Super Bark Stop. Those not interested should sign off now as it does go on a bit . . . My partner went to see the neighbours yesterday and discovered that the dog even they think is a bloody nuisance had not only got loose during the previous night but had taken rubbish bags from our garden and scattered the contents all around their land. So they’d assumed the machine they’d found had been part of this. Acquainted with its true purpose, they gave it their blessing and confessed they felt it a better option than the one they were considering – viz. taking the dog to the top of the mountain and leaving it there. So the machine was attached to a tree and left to do its work last night. Except it didn’t, as all four dogs barked without cease between 6.30 and 7.00 this morning. Preliminary investigations suggested the contraption wasn’t working in accordance with the claim of efficacy up to 15 metres as it wasn’t responding to a dog only 5 metres away. So, we’ve taken up the [‘dog loving’] neighbours' willingness to let us put it virtually down the creature’s ear and placed it within a couple of metres. And crossed our fingers for tonight. Upon which I will report tomorrow. From a cyber café, I regret to say.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The construction-driven, hard-to-ignore corruption in Spain’s town halls has naturally caused the country to fall a few places down the ladder of international transparency and cleanliness. It now ranks 28th, after France at 23, the USA at 18, the UK at 16 and Germany at 14. Needless to say, the top three positions are taken by a couple of Scandinavian countries and New Zealand. My fondest memory of the last place is that it’s so pure waiters will give you your money back, if you try to tip them. Or they used to, at least. Anyway, Spain is not as bad as Portugal, Italy and Greece. Though I’m not sure this is much to write home about.

It’s reported that surveys show young Spaniards can’t quite grasp the concept of copyright. Which is not terribly surprising when virtually every supplier of computers offers them a pirate copy of Windows Vista. Or there’s a shop in their local mall which copies any CD or DVD they care to bring in. However, I think the Spanish government would like to do something about this. So perhaps things are about to change.

Sartre thought Hell was being confined to room with the same people for eternity. For what it’s worth, my guess is this was not based on his experience of life among the French. My suspicion is he’d hopped across the broder and had a coffee next to table of Spanish grandmothers. When it comes to a persistent cackle, they are truly unbeatable. Especially the richer ones. Thank-God the café I use every day is a long one.

Galicia

You can tell there’s not much news about when the local paper headlines a long artice – “80% of people pay their municipal taxes by the deadline”. Though I guess this would count as newsworthy if it were normally around, say, 27%.

So here’s a bit of news from yesterday’s paper – The Xunta and the Portuguese government insist that, even though we may not be connected with Madrid by high speed train until 2108 or so, the line between Vigo and Oporto will be up and running by 2013. I certainly hope so; there’s an excellent Indian restaurant in the latter. Not to mention an airport with a lot more international flights than any of Galicia’s three minnows. Or all of them put together, I suspect.

One or two readers have expressed interest in knowing how things are going with the Super Bark Stop. Well, we now have two nights of relative silence to support the conclusion the thing works. On the other hand, we’ve discovered that the relevant – and recalcitrant – canine got away from his tether and roamed free on both of these nights. So the jury is still out. And may never come in. For the machine has disappeared from its nail on the tree just outside our neighbours’ wall. So, apart from a noisy dog, we may now have some irate owners to deal with as well. More anon. Meanwhile, I should just add that – flushed with the apparent success of the dog version – my partner asked me yesterday whether there was anything on the market like a Super Neighbour Stop version. I suspect not but, even if there is, I fear it may not now be enough.

Finally – I’m still without the internet. Worse, I can’t even get through to the techies at Ya.com’s service centre to find out whether the problem is general or particular to me. Calling the premium-rate number either immediately or after some button pressing results in a Telefónica message that the number is ‘overloaded’. In the latter case, this news is imparted to you after you’ve been charged for the [useless] call. Isn’t life fun?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Well, it didn’t take long for the interested parties to initiate their counter-offensive to the government’s plans to reduce the scourge of prostitution here. The president of one of the organisations I cited the other day – the Asociación de Clubs de Alternes – has said the plans must have been drawn up by some sanctimonious goody-goody [meapilas]. And he’s resorted to the traditional Spanish rejection of anything that smacks of that most heinous of sins, hypocrisy. Many of the people involved in the legislation must, he says, have used prostitutes in the past. Which I guess is true, though hardly relevant. Especially in a confessional country.

I’ve previously suggested it’s unwise to comment on another country’s judicial system but events here almost demand I ignore my own counsel. The backcloth to this is that I’m most familiar with a system – the British – where there’s no written Constitution and where senior judicial appointments are not, in practice, made by politicians. The result is that there’s no Constitutional Court and little, if any, controversy around the issue of who ascends to the highest reaches of the system. In contrast, here in Spain there’s been months and months of stagnation while the government and the opposition have slugged it out over which of their appointees would fill the vacancies in one senior body. And now President Zapatero has casued consternation – particularly in his own PSOE socialist party - by appointing a ‘conservative’ to [I think] a different senior court. What a distraction this must all be at a time when there are serious economic issues to address. Not for the first time – my conclusion is the UK is lucky to lack a formal Constitution and a Constitutional Tribunal. And, after all, right now Mr Brown needs all the time he can get to deal with the issues on his particular plate – both economic and non-economic.

Talking of British politics . . . Someone has written this morning that the speech of the Miliband Young Pretender at yesterday’s Labour Party Conference in the UK was rather wooden. I saw a bit of it and felt I was being addressed by a chimpanzee. Albeit a reasonably intelligent one. How cruel history will be to New Labour.

Foolishly believing the forecasts of major price falls at the pumps this week, I put only a moderate amount of petrol in my tank yesterday morning, just before the largest rise in the price of crude oil in history. No wonder I don’t make many predictions.

Galicia

There was something on Spanish TV this morning which one rarely sees – a weather map on which the only little sun symbol was hovering over Galicia. And so it has turned out to be, a fabulous September day. At least down here on the coast.

Making hay while the sun shines, the governments of Galicia and North Portugal have formed a new organisation – AECT – to spend 97 million of EU subventions over the next four years. Followed by whatever they can get either from the next round of EU hand-outs in 2013 or from elsewhere. The organisation is said to be the first of its kind in a eurorregion but my question is – What language will they use to communicate with each other? I think we can rule out Spanish so it boils down to either English for everyone or Portuguese on one side and Gallego on the other. I’m regularly told these are mutually intelligible - as it were – but I still wonder whether this really is true. En passant, why eurorregion [with two Rs] and not euro-region or euroregion? There’s a special prize for anyone who can answer both of these questions.

My elder daughter went home on an Air Europa flight last Friday. So I was more than averagely interested to read that the two pilots of the 7.30 Monday flight had been seen having a drunken fist-fight at 2.30am on Sunday morning. Fortunately for the passengers, they both later reported in sick, having ‘had a meal which disagreed with them’. Which is good to know.

It’s often said we underestimate the incidence of mere coincidence our lives, mistaking unrelated events for something they aren’t. So, is it just a coincidence that I have no internet today, having [reluctantly] tried to set up WiFi capability on my desktop for my partner yesterday evening? And is it also just a coincidence that the dogs that were ruining her sleep issued ne’er a single bark after I finally got the Super Bark Stop machine set up properly last night? I guess only time will tell.

To round off with another reference to judicial matters – Galicia’s Supreme Court has ruled in favour of expansion plans for the wood-mill in our estuary which were actually abandoned by the company three years ago. There must be an explanation, I guess. So there’s a really big prize for the person who can explain this conundrum as well as answering the two earlier questions.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Here’s a thing – The Spanish government appears to be flagrantly contradicting my prediction it wouldn’t take any Italian-style measures against the prostitution that scars the country’s image. And its landscape. More accurately, it says it agrees something really has to be done but that it doesn’t want to go so far as to criminalise the activities of the men. Instead, it will try to uglify/censure [afear] the activity so as to ‘disincentivise’ them. Well, I guess it might just work. And I await the campaign with interest. Meanwhile, the really positive news is that the announcement has been welcomed by the right-of-centre El Mundo.

Here’s another thing - The Minister for Health and Consumer Affairs says Telefónica’s plans to start charging us for the previously-free caller-identification service is illegal. It’ll be more than interesting to see what happens next. Will the company cave in? Or will some other – more senior – minister announce that his/her colleague has had a moment of confusion? The sort of thing we’ve been seeing quit a lot of recently, under President Zapatero’s idiosyncratic form of leadership.

The news about road traffic accidents here continues to be very positive. Deaths over this weekend were massively down on last year. It’s generally accepted that one factor in this is drivers saving petrol by either slowing down or simply staying off the road. But, if true, this would surely be reflected in the figures from other countries too. Unless, of course, there’s a point beyond which the ‘easy’ savings have been made and other countries have already reached or even passed it. Anyone got the Portuguese data?

Sombre Quote of the Week

We spend the first part of our lives imagining that we will not die at all, and the second part hoping that we will slip into the darkness of eternity, aged about 105, while fast asleep. Jeremy Clarkson, pondering on an issue none of us can avoid.

Case in Point

There was a man named Dave Freeman who co-wrote the ultimate list - “100 Things To Do Before You Die.” It was filled with adventures. Bungee jumping, running with the bulls in Pamplona, surfing nude at night in Australia and so on. Then last month at 47, Dave tripped in his hallway hit his head and died. He’d got through 50 of the 100 things he listed. Ariel Leve, American writer and Times columnist.,

Galicia

I don’t know whether this is true of other parts of Spain but there seems to have been a veritable explosion in internet relationships between local women and foreign men recently. Including two where neither of the women speaks more than rudimentary English. One of these had just been visited by her non-Spanish-speaking Dutch beau and the other is off to visit her similarly-handicapped man in Scotland because he’s told her she’s the woman of her dreams. But, as she had to get a friend to translate the message, one wonders how they’ll get on. Hand signals, presumably. Early on at least.

Well, it’s the 23rd of September and I still don’t have my copy of Prospect magazine due in the first week of the month. Actually, I haven’t even got the August edition due seven weeks ago. My suspicion is that, down at the Poio post office, they don’t just let this sort of stuff pile up during the summer holidays but go so far as to chuck at least some of it away when they get back. Happily for me, though, the good people at Prospect are always willing to send me a replacement copy.

I did, though, get the latest edition of Private Eye today. But a glance at the answers to the last crossword confirms I haven’t yet received at least the previous edition. And possibly never will.

Finally, here’s a message I’ve just received from a chap in New York. Anyone there who might be interested can write to me at colindavies@terra.es

I am casting a commercial for Gadis, in Galicia, Spain. The commercial will be shot in NYC but we need some people that look like they come from Galicia. Do you know any Galicians that reside in New York and would like to be in a commercial? They would be paid, there are different rates for different roles and it would shoot early October.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

There is, of course, little in the Spanish press today but articles on the cataclysmic events of the last week in the financial markets of the USA and Britain. At least we now know who was really bearing the risk of all those ‘toxic’ investments in these two ‘liberal’ countries – viz. the taxpayers. Though they may not have known this at the time. Just as – relieved as they may be right now – they don’t yet know what the bill will be for the huge but well-rewarded mistakes made on their retrospective behalf. It really would be nice to see some heads roll. In addition, I mean, to those of the now-redundant employees of the failed or ‘merged’ companies.

As it’s Sunday, here’s my usual citation of an article by the global warming sceptic, Christopher Booker. As luck would have it, this links into the global financial crisis because of the vainglorious aspirations of Lehman Bros to be a leading player in the carbon trading business. Or ‘scam’ as Booker prefers to call it.

Having listened to an interesting BBC podcast about the treatment of members of the working class [or ‘ordinary people’] by British reality TV, I went to the source material of a paper by Bev Skeggs. Bit of a mistake really, as it comprised many pages of stuff like:- We are invited to associate personal practices with ethical personhood: metonymic morality. . . Encompassing reification and objectification, Reality TV visualises the techniques of prosthetic culture, described by Celia Lury who maintains we are now in a period of self-refashioning (prosthetic culture) in which two central processes - indifferentiation (the disappearance of the distance between cause and effect) and outcontextualisation (where contexts are multiplied and rendered a matter of choice) - enable the thought of reflexivity to become objectified in itself. However, it wasn’t a complete waste of time, nor an irrelevance for readers of a Spanish blog. For this comment reminded me of how Iberian women arrived at the conclusion Madeleine McCann must have been killed by her own mother:- Responses to 9/11 and 7/7 closed in on faces to see if they were making the appropriate responses; thus, making the performance of emotion an index of credibility, of proper emotions. Put simply, she didn’t cry enough.

A family I know have a fixed phone line from Telefónica and ADSL from Orange. Under the latter, they’re supposed to get free local and national calls. Despite this, Telefónica continues to charge them for these each month. So far, the reasons given include:- 1. It’s Orange’s fault so we can’t do anything; 2. We have your identity document down as your passport and, although this was a mistake made by us, we can’t rectify it; and 3. The names of the land line and the Orange facility subscribers are different at the same house so we can’t make the calls free. Not wanting to hear more disingenuous nonsense next month, the family has decided to cancel the Orange contract when it comes up for renewal in November. Which is exactly what Telefónica wants, of course. Wonderful company. And, understandably, very profitable.

Galicia

In an article in El País today, the columnist Suso Toro says Galician culture and language will go on being unappreciated by the likes of George Steiner until Galicians themselves show proper respect for “one of Europe’s great historic literatures” [una de las grandes literaturas históricas europeas]. Now, as a self-considered Galicianist, I’m all in favour of the promotion of the local culture and language but is there real objective evidence for this boast? Or is there, in fact, no objectivity when it comes to issues like this? Does anyone know of a table ranking Europe’s Great Historic Literatures? Or is there one for each country, which differs quite a lot from those of the neighbours?

I did my normal five-minute round of the flea market in Vegetables Square this afternoon. At usual, it was virtually all rubbish. But, if by any chance, you’re looking for the Masonic regalia of one J H James of the Leicestershire and Rutland lodge, you might want to drop me a line.

The saddest site at the market each Sunday is a clearly alcoholic sketch artist whose appearance deteriorates by the week. I bought some of his stuff years ago when he used to have just a bottle of beer in his hand. Now, I regret to say, it’s whisky. If he were Damian Hirst, I’d be rather less concerned. And, to be honest, more confident about the value of my non-toxic investments.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Having dealt the death blow to the Spanish empire, Americans are always going to be more unpopular here than the English who set the ball rolling. And the recent confusion of Senator McCain between Spain and the countries of Latin America is probably not going to help shift Spain from the top spot in the list of European anti-American attitudes. Even among those who are quite amused President Zapatero was apparently thought to be just another tin-pot South American dictator. Which, of course, he certainly isn't. Even in his own country.

The recent crash of a Spanair plane at Madrid airport is being investigated by a special commission of inquiry. Or at least it was. There have been so many leaks from its proceedings, the pilot representatives on it have resigned in understandable disgust. No one knows what motive lies behind these leaks - possibly just money - but the Opposition's claim is that the government's own Development Ministry is the guilty party. Which, I guess, is plausible but unlikely. The courts have now stepped in to prevent further dissemination of a video of the crash but El País has complained this is regrettable as there is 'nothing offensive or morbid' in providing access to this. As if these were the only considerations in a delicate semi-judicial process.

I've seen the word crack used here to mean both 'star' and something like the Irish 'craic'. But I struggled to understand its use today in the context of the financial events of the early twentieth century. As in El crack de 1929. Until I realised it was just a mistake for crash. .

In an El País article today on the different forms nationalism takes in the Basque Country, Cataluña and Galicia, the writer ended with the observation that, at least in the first two cases, although the models might be different, they nonetheless still dictated the destabilisation of the Spanish state. Which is a nice prospect.

I may have got this very wrong but the Spanish banking industry looks like it took a big step into the 21st century this week. For Caja Madrid are offering the same attractive rates to not only new customers but also to its existing [rather captive] customers. Which seems pretty revolutionary to me. But, as I say, I might be doing the industry an injustice here.

For those of you with an interest in the majority British view of the EU, here's one man's view of how things have progressed over the last 20 years.

Galicia

One or two readers have kindly suggested that the correct translation of jodechinchos would have been mackerel-fuckers and not just fish-fuckers. In fact, the most accurate rendition would, I believe, have been horse-mackerel-fuckers. All of which is a lead into my point that, whereas I - and possibly you - think the mackerel is a great little fish, the Galicians don't rate it at all. I was reminded of this when reading the prices of various fish in yesterday's market. Mackerel was in so little demand, it didn't even make an appearance. Which is good, as it certainly keeps the price down for us mackerel-eaters.

Friday, September 19, 2008

If you’re of the view that the capitalist system is collapsing all around us and that something must be done, you might be interested in this amusing and insightful article on the inner anti-capitalist, inner-Stalinist and inner-Leninist in all of us. Personally, I have no difficulty with the writer's view that the need is not for more regulation but for more relevant regulation, and a more intelligent and targeted role and for government that acknowledges the essential wisdom of markets but acts to protect the weakest from their excesses. But others may disagree.

In Tarragona it’s perfectly legal for the brothels to advertise their services. And so they do, on the side of buses and in taxis. But not everyone there is happy about this. A spokesman for Vía T, the town's largest local business association, has complained about this tarnishing Tarragona's image. I presume he means outside Spain. For, by coincidence, today has also brought us the admission by the President of Cantabria that he lost his virginity at 18 in a brothel. But that was yesterday and today he has defended his comment by assuring us this is how most Spanish men go about things. So that’s alright then.

Years ago, it used to be said that the incidence of depression was low in ‘laid back’ Latin countries. But now comes a report – sponsored by a pharmaceutical company, of course – that only 1.8 million of the 6 million cases of depression here are diagnosed as such. And that 25-30% of Spanish women will have a depressive episode during their lives. My guess is the percentage is much higher in the country’s numerous brothels. Where ‘laid back’ probably hardly ever means laid back.

Driving my elder daughter to the airport this morning, we followed a car into a roundabout as it took the outside lane and signalled right. But it didn’t take the first right. Nor the second. Nor, indeed, the third. In fact, it went right round the roundabout and back the way it had come. When I expostulated, Faye asked me why, after eight years, this still amused and/or irritated me. To which I had no answer. With you in mind, dear reader, she suggested I mount a video of the dashboard so that I could include a future incident in my blog. In fact, I could have done with this on the way back, when I followed a learner driver into another roundabout and exactly the same thing happened – proving that, although I’ve never see it in any other country, this really is how they’re taught to do things here. However, there was one difference in this second case; the instructor did at least make sure the driver was signalling left, not right. Which rather goes to endorse my view that it’s not wise to draw any firm conclusions from roundabout signalling here.

Galicia

I thought I’d kill two, or even three, birds with one stone by citing and translating a bit of Gallego for you. This is a comment to the blog of a Galician who mentioned mine in terms that were quite sympathetic:-

O blog do tal Colin non é en absoluto, unha ollada interesante sobre o noso. Se cadra, sobre si mesmo si. E sobre as obsesións dos upper-middle class provincianos. Nun dos posts máis divertidos que teña lido en tempos, Mr. Davis amosa o seu estupor porque os cartos dos contribuintes europeos sexan gastados na construcción dun parque infantil no barrio máis snob de Pontevedra. I mean, ín that place, kids have their own backyards, haven´t they? Xa non nos chegaba cos jodechinchos nas praias que agora temos que aturalos tamén en interné. And yes, I´m a fucking ignorant nationalist.

This is my translation, which I'll be checking with Galician friends over dinner tonight:-

This Colin’s blog is in no way an interesting look at us. At himself quite possibly. It’s about the obsessions of upper middle-class provincials. In one of the funniest posts I’ve ever read, Mr Davis[sic] shows his amazement that European taxpayers should pay for the construction of a children’s playground in the snobbiest part of Pontevedra. I mean, in this place, kids have their own backyards, don’t they? Now we don’t only have these fish-stealers* on our beaches but we also have to put up with them on the internet. And, Yes, I’m a fucking ignorant nationalist.

* Literally fish-fuckers. Which, as you may have guessed, is a Galician term of abuse for foreigners.

Well, I’ve no idea whether this nationalist is ignorant or not but – unless I have misunderstood the sarcasm/retranca – it seems to me that he/she has missed the point of my comment. Which was that EU subventions could surely be spent on better things that providing a playground for the kids of rich folk, almost all of whom have pools in their gardens. Or perhaps he/she simply disagrees.

There is another possibility. From the English used, I’d guess the writer lives in the USA. Or used to. So it’s possible he/she has some difficulty with irony. Which is a [back-handed] compliment to those many Americans who read and, hopefully, enjoy my scribbling. Honest!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

In a British newspaper this morning I read that "Tzipi Livni, the 50-year-old Israeli foreign minister and mother of two" may be the country's next prime minister. Funny, but I don't recall ever reading of Sr. Zapatero as 'the childless' president of Spain. Or even of Mrs Thatcher as "the mother of two". En passant, I guess it's a good thing she's not called Lippy Tzivni.

Spain has a great many 'blood festivals', some of which are of only pretty recent origin. One of the most notorious is held in Toro de la Vega and involves hundreds of men on horseback and on foot lancing a bull with spears until it expires. It would be wrong to say there's no unhappiness about these festivals in Spain but it could be a while before they stop. However long the process is, it's sure to be accelerated by articles such as the two-page spread in El País today asking "Why do we continue to be such savages?" Maybe El Mundo will have an answer tomorrow. By the way, I would have said 'until it expires in agony" except I know this would provoke a comment along the lines that it's been scientifically proven that the bull feels no pain. Even if this were true, it wouldn't be the point, of course.

There's a lot of talk about saving things at the moment, particularly in the banking sector. Downscale in the washing-up sector, both my visiting sister and visiting elder daughter have taken it upon themselves to buy pan scourers for my kitchen. There may be a message here but, anyway, these turn out to be called salvaúñas in Spanish. Or nail-savers.

Cycling with said daughter in the hills last evening, we came around a corner to see a young man standing on a granite outcrop, gazing into the setting sun. I was touched he'd parked his 4x4 and scrambled across rocks for twenty metres to commune with nature. Until I realised he was engaged in a more traditional male pursuit.

I thought I'd seen the strangest bank name in Banco del Espiritu Santo [Bank of the Holy Ghost] but I suspect Caja Inmaculada [The Immaculate Savings Bank] might just take the biscuit. And I guess it might be the safest bet should the American tsunami reach Spain.

Galicia

President Zapatero said in Parliament yesterday he was in favour of doing more to ensure that people here in Galicia can enjoy their right to be dealt with in Gallego. Fair enough but, as there are two official languages here, this really shouldn't be a zero-sum game.

Employees of the Pontevedra provincial council held a demonstration yesterday against the employment practices of their leader. More than 75% of the staff, they say, come from his locality of Salnés. Actually, I'd be prepared to bet a large proportion of these come from his astonishingly well-equipped village of Barrantes.

Looking to buy a new SCART cable last night, I discovered that both of the small outlets I've used in the past were boarded up. And one of my two cyber-café options has also gone out of business. However, in this case the premises have been converted into yet another place selling expensive spectacles and sunglasses. By my reckoning, Pontevedra has at least fifteen of these for a population of 80,000. Perhaps there really are a lot of eye problems here. Or maybe it's a very efficient way to wash cash. Customers can plausibly claim they sit on a thousand pairs of Gucci specs every year.

Finally, at the pharmacy today I saw they were promoting three medicated shaving products at the counter - pre-shave gel at 7.50; shaving gel at 7.95; and after-shave at 12.20. For someone who's yet to figure out why on earth we have even a special soap to shave with, this is all too much. We are, after all, supposed to be deep into an economic crisis. If not a full recession.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

You have to hand it to President Zapatero - at least he's consistent. He didn't, to say the least, see the economic crisis coming; he denied its existence for months after its arrival; and now he says it was all the fault of those capitalistic Americans, had nowt to do with structural problems in the Spanish economy and will be better coped with here because the Spanish financial system is superior. I guess the best one can say about this is - maybe.

A propos . . . I read this comment on the banking system this morning - We now know that the sub-prime securitised mortgage market was little more than a giant pyramid selling scheme in which simple transactions - loans to buy homes - were packaged, bundled, sold, refinanced and the credit risk insured by myriad institutions. None of the bankers who grabbed the passing parcels had any means of ascertaining the solvency of the ultimate borrowers, nor any idea of the true value of the bricks and mortar that underpinned the loans. And it put me in mind of a joke I recall first hearing about 40 years ago. It's about a consignment of baked bean tins which pass through various - it has to be said - Jewish hands, until Isaac opens them and finds them rotten. When he complains about this to Joseph, the answer is:- "Izzy, you disappoint me. Those beans were not for eating. They were for buying and selling. Buying and selling. . ." Plus ça change, it seems.

Meanwhile, in an interview published yesterday, the IESE professor, Leopoldo Abadía, had this to say when asked to comment on the regular assurances that Spanish banks are as safe as, well, houses:- We've all seen what they did in the construction sector. . . . They say that the Spanish banking sector is in good health but to have 311,000 million euros worth of debt is rash. And I believe it will cost them dear. On the question of possible US style bankruptcies in Europe, Abadía commented:- We will see something similar earlier than we think. This is only my intuition but it wouldn't surprise me at all. So, food for thought there. Or do I mean fear?

Galicia

In the eight years I’ve been here, the importance attached to the Galician language – Gallego – has grown significantly. This, of course, is not unconnected with the elevation to power of the Galician Nationalist Block [the BNG] as the coalition partner of the socialist PSOE. As a result, far more attention – and money – is now given to the promotion of Gallego than ever before. Some people argue that things have gone beyond its mere promotion to the indirect suppression of Spanish in favour of Gallego. Indeed, some even say the methods used are not so different from those of the detested Franco fascists when favouring Spanish at the expense of Gallego. The defence to this appears to be that the cases are differentiable because - on the simple but debatable premise that Left equals good and Right equals bad – the Left has the moral high ground and so can’t be considered questionably extreme. And the BNG is certainly of the Left.

Whatever the truth, the elevated status of Gallego and the fanaticism of some of its its supporters can possibly be gauged from an article in yesterday’s El País, itself a left-of-centre paper. This was entitled "The Intransigent Rage of the Clerics" and it centred on the reaction of the Galician PEN Club to a reported comment of George Steiner on the Galician Language. This, he said, couldn't be compared with Catalan as the latter was an important language with a rich literature.

According to the columnist . . .

The reaction of the poets, essayists and novelists who make up the Galician PEN club was immediate and four days after publication of the interview they railed against the ‘uninformed octogenarian’ who had had the temerity to commit such a such an affront. Their manifesto also attacked the author of the interview, reproaching him for not having amended the opinions of the influential European intellectual.

The manifesto includes reprimands which should be the object of detailed analysis by those mentioned but its contribution to this discussion is confined to an unusual euphemism - the journalist should have censured Steiner by amending his replies.

It’s probable that right now the authors of the manifesto are still celebrating their firm reaction to the insult and that, in their joy, they remain ignorant of the disturbance they have caused in the path of the club which they say they belong to. For it seems they see no contradiction between their angry demand and the principles proclaimed by an international society of writers which since 1921 hasn’t stopped lamenting and denouncing the censorship and persecution suffered by writers all over the world.

Instead of accommodating the principle of tolerance which governs cooperation between colleagues, the writers of the Galician PEN club – believing certain opinions can’t be tolerated and demanding that they be remedied – stand proud in the middle of the Spanish rumpus.

The choleric anger of the authors of the manifesto will allow them to consider this an insignificant anecdote but the impetuous and highly veiled threat against the journalist – now a candidate for being labelled non grata in the nationalist inner sanctums – is an inconceivable scandal in our neighbouring countries.

The Galicianists could have taken advantage of Steiner’s comments to intiate a controversy which would doubtless have helped us to better know the achievements of Galician literature. But, instead of taking the risk of a dispute, the authors of the manifesto have preferred to issue an anathema and to renew that most Spanish of impulses – the intransigent rage of the clerics.

Consider that the desire to liquidate those who contradict has here a long tradition which is both institutional and popular. But it only acquires the status of a national trait when it acts behind a weak mask. What is typically Spanish – helping to keep alive the confusion and conceptual chaos in new generations – is the skill with which are reconciled intellectual ferocity and the apparent benevolence of the protector of arts and letters. For us it’s not impossible to proclaim liberty and to plot censure. To praise a language and maltreat its speakers. To think exactly how we please and to tell our neighbour to have a go.

We daily see around us awful signs of this Spanish curse and after 30 years of democracy we have proved that this dangerously reactionary thinking has survived despite our aspirations and has contaminated, who knows whether or not definitively, the unhealthy disorientation of a country given over to its capricious tribal emotions.

When we find ourselves obliged to explain to European colleagues the attitudes displayed with as much pride as arrogance by the Galicia PEN club, we tell them that the political control of the absolutist mentality – vigorously recycled by militant catholicism and by the authoritarian left – is responsible for generating these spontaneous despotic reactions.

If, bewildered, they don’t believe us, we cite the Logocrats whom Steiner identified in one of his well-known essays, those reactionaries who maintained that in the language of man could be seen its sacred origins which place it above its users. The Galician descendants of the Logocrats have also recognised in their local language the sacramental status which renders sacrilegious whatever criticism a person of flesh and blood dares to insinuate.

In this way – threatening others in our irascible convictions - we Spanish keep intact the religious legacy of our fanatical ancestors.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

It's a funny business, banking. While the rest of the world seems to think something really serious might be happening, Barclays in Spain are phoning my visiting daughter about her interest in a 21,000 euro loan 'at only 5%'. And it may well be that things actually are hunky-dory here in Spain and that we've got absolutely nothing to worry about. For the President of the Spanish Confederation of Savings Banks has insisted the financial system here is the best in the world and it won't be affected by the ‘toxic actions’ which have caused problems Stateside. Whether he stuck his neck so far above the ramparts before or after the news of Lehman's bankruptcy, I don't know but, either way, investors were obviously more than a tad sceptical as shares in Spanish banks shares fell sharply yesterday. And possibly again today.

The other optimist on the block is the Minister of the Economy, Sr Solbes, who's appealed for calm and rejected the view of some 'experts' that there could soon be solvency problems in Spain's banking sector. It may be that this view is countered by that of Charles Butler over at Ibex Salad but I have to admit I find his comments a little impenetrable this time.

I see Damian Hirst made even more money than he predicted he would at the auction of his stuff. I guess it all goes to prove that money can buy you a golden calf but not taste.

Galicia

They painted white lines outside my house today - apparently to show us where we can and can't park. But, as they hadn't told us in advance, this meant they had to leave gaps where the wheels of parked cars got in the way of their intentions . . .



More interestingly, as they didn't paint anything if front of the garage gates, this left open the question of whether anyone - even the owners - could park in front of these. Within minutes, though, my next-door-but-one neighbour had kindly answered this question by parking in front of mine. Plus ca change . . .



Monday, September 15, 2008

Writing about the events of 1968, the academic Terence Kealey says:- Thackeray's 'Vanity Fair', published in 1848, portrays the English as obsessed by money, sex, food and drink. After 1848, we had to navigate the empire (which turned us into prigs) and two world wars (which turned us into responsible statists). Only in 1968 could we start to reject the century-old self-denial and re-emerge as the superficial, selfish hedonists we really are. Bloody 'ell. If that's what he thinks of the English, how on earth would he describe the fun-loving Spanish?

I was intrigued to hear the British 'artist' Damian Hirst on the BBC explaining why he would be selling his stuff by auction, rather than via a gallery. In this way, he revealed, he'll get the full 65 million quid and not this amount less the gallery's commission. Of course, the buyers will have to pay the auctioneers' fee on top of his 65 million but he didn't seem unduly concerned about this increase in prices for them. And neither, in fact, am I. But I am singularly impressed by Hirst's artistic integrity. And I was touched to hear he's concerned about his kids having too much money. Aren't we all.

Galicia

In Galicia, you're officially poor if you don't have an annual income above 6,347 euros. Or 529 euros a month. There are reported to be around 500,000 people here in this category. Or around 17% of the population. My guess is that most of these are inland, up in the hills. Either that or they keep themselves well hidden down on this well-heeled coast.

Galicia is said to compare well with other regions in Spain when it comes to doctors per head of the population. But there are shortages when it comes to gynecology, anesthesia and paediatrics. So, I wonder if applicants for relevant posts from Portugal and other Spanish regions still have to have a formal qualification in Gallego?

The man who made a fortune last year out of selling a major Galician estate agency - to a development company which has just gone bust - has set up an operation which will invest in start-up ventures. Amongst its initial punts will be a chain of 115 'Asian fast food' restaurants under the name of Take-a-Wok. My own bet is that we won't see any of them here in Galicia or, that if we do, they will contrive to offer Chinese food which contains no ginger.

The warehouse fire in Vigo that exposed the illegal status of all but one of its 11 occupants has led the local press to uncover more shocking/unshocking discoveries. Principal among these is that there are 31 'clandestine business parks' in the city. I wonder what this can mean. That they are all covered by huge blankets? Anyway, they're said to exist because of the confusion on the part of the Xunta about its industrial policy. I don't know what this means but I knew it wouldn't be the fault of the businessmen.

The Galician savings bank, Caixa Nova, has become the controlling shareholder in the cable TV company R. Raising at least one question - Why? Aren't they busy enough trying to run a bank in difficult times? Sorry - two questions.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

If you have any interest in the US elections - and even if you don't - this should amuse.

As it's Sunday, it's obligatory for me to make a sceptical remark about responses to the Global Warming challenge. So here's an article which makes the point that "wind farms are failing to deliver value for money and distorting the development of other renewable energy sources". If that's not enough for you, here's one that claims that, in the UK at least, these are "one of the great deceptions of our time". But one which - today's papers remind us - has now been upgraded here at the expense of solar power. Raising the question of whether Spain really has more wind than sun. Economics aside.

Generally speaking, the Spanish appear to prefer their capitalism to be more regulated than in "savage" Anglo-Saxon countries. What this tends to result in is, for example, state-protected monopolistic phone companies and oligopolistic banks and petrol companies who can treat their customers more or less as they like. And with impunity. So, you pays your money and you takes your choice. But things can also get quite wild in regulated - or "orderly" - economies. For example, here in Galicia three mussel-rearing companies have just had their premises bombed because they didn't want to join a new central purchasing organisation. And I recall a Pontevedra driving school of a few years ago which tried to offer prices below those of the local cartel and whose premises soon went up in smoke. So, the major difference in the models appears to be that, in Anglo Saxon markets, the savagery is [allegedly] directed at the customers, whereas in Continental markets it's the cosseted providers who are at each other's throats. All very logical, I guess. Think of drug barons. And what's always called here "the settling of accounts". I guess one could look on the higher prices paid in an 'orderly' market as protection money. Except you don't hear of many customers in the USA or UK actually being shot.

In the grey but all-pervasive area of prostitution in Spain, everyone involved seems to have a trade union or association. So, the women have one and the Proprietors of Social/Singles Clubs [alternes] have one. Then there's the Association of Owners of Relaxation Flats. And, for all I know, there's an official Association of Pimps. The first two or three of these have been engaged in a long-running battle over the recognition of what takes place as normal labour, so that the women can demand contracts and receive social security benefits. Needless to say, the tax office is on the side of the women. But they seem to be having a lot of difficulty convincing Spain's judges. For Galicia's Supreme Court is the latest in a longish line of regional courts which have taken the view that prostitution is self-employment so there can't be a labour relationship between the prostitutes and the owners of the places which rent them the rooms and serve phenomenally expensive drinks to the customers. My guess is that said owners can afford better lawyers than the tax office. Which is a bit depressing. But, again, logical.

Galicia

There was a rather touching article in El Mundo last week. It was about a Galician chap who'd had a linguistic journey all too common here. After acquiring Gallego as his mother-tongue in his village, he attended school in the city of Ourense , where he was mocked for his 'peasant' language. Having acquired fluency in Spanish, he then went on to do whatever he did with his life and raised a family along the way. The language of his own home was Spanish but, when his own son got to go to school, its use was frowned on and all the subjects were taught in Gallego, at which his son is not very good. The end result, according to the father, is that his son is growing to hate the language. Which, incidentally, the father doesn't recognise as the Gallego he learned in his village, so modified has it been by the Galician Royal Academy and the local Establishment. And the rich irony in this tale is that one of the kids who mocked him at his school for his use of Gallego is now the President of the nationalist BNG party. Which is busy extending its use throughout Galicia at the expense of the Spanish which this particular father feels would be rather more useful to his child's future.

I can't, of course, vouch for the accuracy of the story and some will dismiss it as part of El Mundo's exaggerated/hysterical campaign to protect a Spanish language that's not really under serious threat. But I can say it fits with the angry comments I've frequently heard from Galician friends and acquaintances here. And it reminded me of this article, published in the Voz de Galicia a week or so ago:-

The Linguistic Problem - Pablo Mosquera

Making the impossible possible is, they say, the art of politics. To create a problem where none previously existed seems to be new ground for politics.

Languages are for communication between us, not for differentiating ourselves. No matter how few its speakers, every language is part of mankind’s heritage because of its social usefulness. Therefore, it’s a jewel which those in power should care for. To make language a political weapon is injurious and contributes to social-linguistic conflict, from which a language suffers when it ends up as an irritating thorn.

Turning to experience. En Euskadi [the Basque Country] – where there’s a linguistic conflict between those who make the language a symbol of identity – they impose Basque and dedicate to this resources which are unrelated to the effectiveness of the results achieved as regards its use. I would point out two facts: The curve of citizens with a qualification in the Basque language is unrelated to the curve of if its social use. What’s more, there’s a significant rejection of the methods used by the Secretary General of Linguistic Policy. As if this weren’t enough, those bodies representative of the public - such as the parliamentary assemblies and the town councils – don’t use Basque, except on rare occasions. Even the region's public TV recognises that the Basque-using ETB-1 channel is not profitable, even though many of the ads are in Spanish. In the state exams for public sector doctors, knowledge of Basque counts more than a doctorate or masters in your speciality.

In Cataluña, the controversy is served by attempts to achieve immersion in Catalán and the slow eradication of Spanish. In such a way is one language substituted by another, ignoring the universality of Spanish. Therefore, the purpose of language is not being achieved. Which is to be an instrument of communication. This is why English is imposed as the second language.

In Galicia, we didn’t use to have problems. We used Gallego freely. We learned it out of affection and because we’re proud to be Galicians, speaking Gallego. But when someone tries to impose it, to discriminate, to denounce, to eliminate spontaneity, this creates a problem where there never was one. And this, as on other issues, brings in the extremist politicians.

Let us defend the language without forcing anyone to use it.

Well, that's quite enough tendentious stuff for today . . .
Reportedly, 43% of Spanish kids between 6 and 11 have a mobile phone. Presumably the standard teenage argument of "But I'm the only person in my class without one" starts younger here.

Reverting back again to the issue of pronunciation of foreign names, I had hoped by now to be able to tell you how the name of the President of the EU bank is said here. But I've not heard it this week. So, can anyone help out - Is it tree-shé, tree-ché or trich-ette? My money's on the last one.

The Life and Insane Times of Modern Britain
: Number 37.
Earlier this week Victoria Clarke was fined £350, plus a similar amount in costs, for putting her rubbish out on the wrong day.

At the side of the road down to town from my house, they're constructing a new children's playground. This will match an existing one on the other side of the road. On reading about these plans a few weeks ago, my first thought was the risk of kids running from one side of the road to the other. And my visiting sister had the same initial reaction when she saw the work going on this week. So, are we being oversensitive? Is the Spanish attitude to risk more pragmatic ? Sensible even? My sister said she assumed there'd be a footbridge across the road but I rather doubt this will happen. At least not until one, two or even three children have been hit by cars. By the way, the work is being part-financed by the EU. Try as I might, I can't see how it's a good use of the money of taxpayers in other countries to build something for the kids of rich folk who live in what's widely regarded as the snobbiest part of Pontevedra. But, then, I'm biased. And I have just read this about a self-regarding waste of time and public money.

Galicia

Talking of children, here's a shop in town that's one of the many offshoots of the immensely successful Zara [Inditex] group. Which is Galicia-based, of course. Sadly, it seems to be beyond the resources of even a very profitable Spanish company to employ the services of a native English speaker when it comes to brainstorming names for their new shops. Though there's an even more depressing possibility - they did. But perhaps I'm being too pedantic.


Walking through town this morning, I noticed another shop with a strange name - Purificación García. It's one of Pontevedra's numerous women's clothes boutiques and it finally dawned on me it was simply the forename and the surname of the owner. Of a chain, it seems. Here in Spain, Garcia is so common it's considered the equivalent of Smith in the UK. So it's nice, I guess, to have Purification as a first name to spice it up a bit.

A nice quote about the camino to Santiago . . . The main reason, I suppose, why some people dislike Lourdes is that they suspect it of commerce, miracle-mongering and idolatry. It is strange that such strictures seem not to apply to the pilgrim destination of Santiago de Compostela, the shrine of the doubtful remains of an Apostle. Perhaps the likeness of the Spanish journey to a sporting challenge makes it seem wholesome.

Talking of wholesome challenges, if you're lucky enough to be in Galicia this weekend and you're anywhere near my home barrio of Poio, you could do worse than attend tomorrow's Tripe Festival. This is the second year of the event and the mayor has promised twice as many free portions as last year. What more do you need?

If you're unlucky enough not to be in or near Poio but fortunate enough to be in New York, then you might like to pop along to the Hispanic Society, where they're showing photos taken in Galicia in the 1920s by Ruth Matilda Anderson.

Finally. . . I noticed this morning that this blog has a Follower. I'm not sure what this means - compared with, say, Google's Reader facility - but I've now added a Follower link on the right - just in case anyone else feels they'd like to go public.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Spain's Constitutional Court has pronounced Basque plans for a referendum on their future unconstitutional. Which can hardly have come as a shock to many people. The interesting question is what happens next, as it surely isn't the end of the road for nationalist aspirations there. My guess it will take place anyway. After that, it's anyone's guess. This is a show which will run and run.

Interesting to see that the Italian government is taking action against street prostitution, making it a crime to engage the services of an 'angel of the night'. I wouldn't go so far as to say something similar could never happen here but my guess would be the 10th or 11th of Never.

The Minister of the Economy yesterday took time off from speculating whether Spain's growth this quarter will be 0.1, nil, or -0.1% to tell us that, if indeed there is a recession, this will be a good thing if it 'cleans up' Spain's economy. True. But how?

I confess to feeling some sympathy for the El País reader who wrote in today to say that, whatever time of the day she switches on Radio Classica, she gets a program about Fernando Palacios. This gentleman turns out to be not only a composer but also the director of the channel. The disgruntled listener suggested the station be re-named Radio Fernando Palacios. Or RFP, at least. What was I saying recently about the low expectation of impartiality here?

So Russel Brand shocked folk at the recent US MTV awards. What a shocker. It's what he does best. Personally, while I'd rather poke my eyes out with blunt needles than listen to him, I suspect he's nowhere near as vapid as he seems. That said, I entirely agree with Andrew Pierce that he owes his transient fame not to the comic genius exhibited by Ricky Gervais or Sacha Baron Cohen when they conquered America. His celebrity is based entirely on puerile shock tactics, which have brought him his own radio show, TV show, and best-selling autobiography. Oh, world. Oh, zeitgeist.

Galicia

By the end of the year, you'll be able to travel by the AVE high-speed train from Málaga to Barcelona in a little under 6 hours. Here in Galicia, we wait to hear whether we'll be able to do half the distance in a similar time by 2012, 2016, 2018 or even 2020. No wonder Gallegos feel hard done by. Whichever party is in power. All that said, I see in today's papers that the President of the Xunta is still promising we'll have the AVE here by 2012. Hard to see what else he can say, even though the regional elections are not quite as near as we thought they were a couple of weeks ago.

I recently noted that the President of the nationalist BNG party had labelled 'racist' any Galician who didn't support his party's language policy. It seems to be catching, as the Scottish Nationalists have now taken to calling anyone who opposes their policies "racist and colonialist". As sad as it's probably effective.

I saw this week that Pontevedra's new museum is to be featured in the Spanish hall at the upcoming Venice Bienal. As this presumably reflects its stature as an outstanding piece of architecture, I felt I should bring you a picture or two. So here it is . . .


Oh, my mistake. This traditionalist building is the new city archive, next door. Here's a couple of views of the museum itself. It's easy to see why it's so well regarded. A happy marriage of granite and glass slabs that fits with the modernistic lampposts, benches and other ephemeral street furniture:-




Finally . . . You can say what you like about Sarah Palin but I'm grateful her appearance on the world stage has led to the knowledge that the plural of moose is meese. How many politicians ever make anything like this contribution to the world? Or at least the Anglospheric bit of it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Negotiating my way down the high street today, it struck me that all those scientists at CERN could have saved themselves a stash of money by simply attaching particles to Spaniards and waiting for them to smash into each other. Except, of course, they never would: they'd just keep passing within millimetres of each other.

There was a debate on the economy in the Spanish parliament yesterday. According to El País - It revealed that there are divisions in the Government and that the Opposition is bereft of ideas. The leader of the latter displayed a new talent for comedy when he asked the President why he'd bothered to turn up if he had nothing to say. Well, it made me smile anyway.

The big back-to-school issue this year has not been, say, the size of classes. Or even the Government's controversial new Citizenship subject. It's been the weight of the satchels the little dears are lugging to school. On the radio the other morning, there was effectively a competition to find whose child had borne the most ballast. I swtched off when it got to 14 kilos. The day can't be far off when you get a free child to go inside every new satchel you buy.

The Life and Insane Times of Modern Britain: Number 35.

The Life and Insane Times of Modern Britain: Number 36: My mother fell recently and broke her nose on the pavement. Having had to wait for 2 hours for an ambulance, she decided to follow the advice of the paramedic who attended her to write a letter of complaint to the relevant body. In response, she got a form which asked her to identify which of several racial groups she belonged to. Under the impression I might be able to understand these things, she asked what on earth this could possibly have to do with the merits of her case. I said it was possible someone somewhere wanted to rule out the possibility it was a racially motivated conspiracy to leave her bleeding on the pavement for two hours. And, who knows, in modern Britain this might just be true.

In his diary entry for 10 September 1665, Sam Pepys fleetingly stops worrying about the London plague [and about how much his personal fortune had risen] to record that:- Among other humours, Mr. Evelyn's repeating of some verses made up of nothing but the various acceptations of 'may' and 'can', and doing it so aptly and so fast, did make us all die almost with laughing. I guess it's too much to ask if anyone is aware of this potentially hilarious ditty. If only he'd had a mobile phone with a camera. It'd be on YouTube by now.

Galicia

Thank God it's almost a year to the next tourist season. For, after the news of potentially toxic scallops, comes a report that hostal beds along the road to Santiago are infested with bugs. The link, of course, is that the scallop is the symbol of St James and of the pilgrimage to his [possible] resting place. It's easy to laugh but I ask you to imagine retiring to a bug-ridden bed after a plate of shellfish and then coming down with the trots, or worse. You'd need faith in a benign god to keep you going. Though, on reflection, that's possibly not the best phrase I could have chosen.

Finally . . . At the supermarket check-out this evening, I noticed that the ad for Kit-Kat said it was New Creamy, Extra Crispy. Since something like this must have been claimed every year for many decades, you'd think it would now taste rather better than it did when I first tried it, 50 years ago. But, here's the surprise - the only thing bigger and better is the price.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Another country's judicial system is, I fear, treacherous ground upon which to tread. For this reason, I've held off commenting on the long-running saga of appointments to Spain's dysfunctional General Council of Judicial Power. But Government and Opposition differences have finally been resolved and a dozen or so appointments announced. Meaning the body can start operating again. In the process, the PSOE and PP parties seem to have pleased no one but themselves and the Council is now seen to be less independent of politics than ever before. There was a column on the subject in the Voz de Galicia today and the opening paragraph probably sums up the widespread view:- Justice in Spain would be just as slow and inefficient if there were no General Council of Judicial Power but at least it would be cheaper. Decisions could simply be left to the politicians. Even the government-sympathetic El País weighed in with a critical leader headed:- The parties stuff the Judicial Council with biased mouthpieces and relegate professional competence and courage. Or words to that effect. But, frankly, I wonder whether anyone outside the media cares. It's not as if impartiality is commonly anticipated in Spain.

Can it be only a year or so since President Zapatero was hubristically boasting that Spanish per capita income had overtaken that of Italy and promising it would surpass even that of Germany by, I think, 2012? Sic transit gloria mundi. For now the international bond market is rating Spain the worst possible bet for the next ten years. An article on this in today's El País begins:- The hurricane of adverse economic data has caused the market to do an about turn when it comes to the risk of betting on Spain. And it's true there's nothing but negative news in the media. So much so I'm tempted to conclude the picture being painted is just as misleading as the previous overly-positive one and that things simply can't be as bad as made out. But we shall see.

A short while ago, I asked whether Telefónica would allow us to cancel the caller identification service they were going to start charging for us. Well, now we know. And, of course, the answer is Yes and No. You can do it but they'll charge you 7 euros in the process. And possibly demand you hand deliver your entire family's documentation to an address in Mongolia. I calculate that, in this financial year, they'll make pure profit of 17 million euros if no one cancels; 39 million if half of the subscribers cancel; and 77 million if we all do. Nice business. Reportedly illegal but, hey, this is Telefónica we're talking about. They may not be able to find the resources to give you broadband - or even a simple land line - but they're the bees' knees when it comes to investment in South America and China. And to coining it from ending a service to their clients. And the Spanish think Anglo capitalism is bad! Roll on a truly free market.

Spain's equivalents of the UK's motorways [M1 etc.], A roads and B roads, are the autovias [A...], national roads [N...] and, lastly, the provincial roads. It's a regular problem here that roads have changed their number since your map was published but the situation is exacerbated by the fact the country's localism means that the provincial roads must change their designation each time you cross a border. To take just one example - the B road from Lugo starts off as the LU701 but converts into the AS28 as soon as it crosses into Asturias. A few miles down the road, it morphs into the AS14 for no apparent reason but this is by the by. I fancy I've travelled - between Pontevedra and Monforte - on a road that's changed its number at least twice - from the PO533 to the LU533 to the OU533. But this is possibly my memory playing tricks on me. Probably it wasn't so neat and easy to remember.

Galicia

Friends of the celebrity chef caught up in the scandal around illegal scallops have rallied round her and said the fault lies entirely with the people on the Xunta responsible for health matters. I'm not clear how this can be but, anyway, the latest development is that the only company selling de-toxified frozen scallops says its phones are ringing off the hook. Apparently, Galicia is full of restaurants which want to establish sensible ordering patterns before the police come calling. Even those who've never ordered any before but have long offered the dish on their menus. There will be more rejoicing in heaven . . .

It's not all bad news. The local press reports that a shipyard in nearby Marín is bucking the economic trend because it makes luxury yachts. Which will be some compensation to us all, I think, as we scrape the bottoms of our barrels.

At the other end of the shopping scale, I bought some D batteries from my friendly Chinese bazaar merchant tonight. It says on them they have nil mercury and cadmium and they're Ecologica. And I'm the king of Siam, of course.

Finally . . . My sister arrived last night, bringing with her a product - Stop Bark Plus - which may or may be the answer to my partner's prayers and the best 40 quid ever spent. I will let you know but, meanwhile, no negative testamonials, please. To travel hopefully is often better than to arrive.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Talking of the Hispanicisation of English names, I should have added yesterday that there's one great exception - the names of hurricanes. So it is that Ike is pronounced ayk and not ee-kay.

I mentioned Spanish banks the other day and, as it happens, Charles Butler over at Ibex Salad has recently majored on these. Specifically on Banco Santander, which seems to have been sailing through all the fierce storms rather more sedately than most others. But this, Charles says, may be a bit of an illusion. It's all rather complex and so we may not know for a while.

And now for some good news for those who like watching disaster movies - It seems that Terry Gillam has got the finance to allow him to have another go at filming an updated version of Don Quixote, starring Johnny Depp. if you haven't seen the DVD of his last attempt at this here in Spain a few years back, you might want to try to get hold of a copy.

Galicia

I read yesterday that Vigo is the Barcelona of the Atlantic. Which left me a tad quizzical. Mind you, it was in a tourist brochure. And possibly written by someone who'd never been to Barcelona.

Sometimes the attitude towards rules here can leave you shaking your head. There was a major fire yesterday in a large warehouse in said Vigo. Of the eleven companies operating out of it, only one had a licence to do so. Possibly a reflection of the bureaucratic hurdles that have to be surmounted. But even more worrying was the news that one of the region's leading chefs had been buying illegal scallops from poachers. And that these were also being supplied to restaurants around the region. On her arrest, the lady in question said she'd done so because they were products of superior quality. Not, of course, because they were cheaper. Given that the law exists to ensure no one gets to eat scallops that haven't been treated for a dangerous toxin, all this is more than a little worrying.

Still on rule-breaking, the local police say that, in the first day of their campaign, they caught 16 people illegally parking in places reserved for disabled drivers. Presumably drivers who don't read the newspapers.

On a lighter note . . . I was driving last night behind a bus featuring on its back panel an ad for a local cheese which comes in the shape of a breast and which is called tetilla. I've leave you to guess at the translation. It showed 4 or 5 of the cheeses in a landscape in which they were as large as the hills. The strap-line was:- Tetilla. O queixo do país. O país do queixo. Or, if my Gallego is correct, The cheese of the country. The country of the cheese. All well and good but I couldn't help wondering whether Tetilla really was Gallego for little breast. If not, and if it's actually Spanish, then presumably the product was named before it became polite/advisable/compulsory to play the nationalist card. No doubt someone will tell me. And whether the word Tetiña exists in Gallego. If not, it surely should.

Monday, September 08, 2008

It's relatively rare in Spain for anyone to attempt to correctly pronounce English names. And - during his match last night with Nadal - Murray's was no exception. "Moo-rye" was the most common version, though with the stress moving from the first to the second syllable [and back]at times. Interestingly, however, the Spanish announcer gave us the correct pronunciation, before switching back to the Hispanic version. I've heard it said that the Spanish avoid attempting correct pronunciation because they're [over]conscious their language is 'poor' in vowel sounds. But I have to say I find this unconvincing.

President Zapatero has announced that his besieged government will continue with their emblematic social reforms and that, more relevantly, they will increase pensions at the end of the year by 6%. Or by more than inflation. At the height of an economic crisis, with the regions baying for more central funds, this is all very brave or very foolhardy and we will know in due course.

I paid my 2007 municipal rates today. By contrast with what's levied by British councils, these were small beer. But I rather suspect the increase for 2008 will be somewhat more than 6%.

Simply by clocking breakages, I've long known my cleaner was amongst the clumsiest people on the planet. But - when trying to get the Moo-rye v. Nadal match on my TV last night - I also discovered she has an idiosyncratic approach to the reinsertion of the cables and SCART sockets she presumably rips out when doing behind the unit. In the case of the main TV cable, this meant forcing both ends in the socket they weren't designed for. With predictable results. 'Words' are in order. And also about answering the phone to Brits who haven't the faintest idea what she's talking about. Thank God I won't have to do it in my inadequate Gallego, a language she boasts of shunning. While speaking Castrapo . . .

Galicia

The President of the new Andalucian airline - Flysur - tells us that Galicia could surely set up its own equivalent. FlyGaliza, presumably. Perhaps he doesn't know there' a recession on. Nor that there were not just one but three failed attempts to do this in the 90s. But, hey, talk is cheap.

I referred recently to the money pouring into ugly wind turbines. Perhaps these have won the argument against solar power amongst Spain's decision makers. For much is being made locally of the fact that propsed reductions in subsidies for solar power will lose this region more than 400m euros and render several planned projects uneconomic. To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about this. Unless it means more bloody turbines. In which case, I feel awful.

Meanwhile, when it comes to traditional energy sources, we've seen pump prices fall from 1.30 a litre to 1.19 a litre in the past few weeks. And then watched them go back to 1.22. The government says it has heard complaints about price-fixing cartels and will consider an investigation. Just as soon as the pigs have landed.

An international school in Vigo has announced a new course which will give your kids a lot more teaching in Spanish than they'll get anywhere else in Galicia/Galiza. It's private, of course, and we're going to see a lot more of this sort of thing. Thus will the kids of the rich be well educated in Spanish and English, while those of the rest will run the risk of ending up speaking both Spanish and Gallego badly. Not to mention English, which has always been spoken badly. Ironically, the party responsible for this is to the left of the socialist PSOE. But twas ever thus. The Law of Unintended Consequences. The second most rigid universal law. Both of which tend to get overlooked by socialists who believe in the inherent goodness of Man.

By the way, in case you don't know, none of this is relevant as we're all perdition-bound this week. Once they start accelerating all those particles in CERN. How very appropriate that it should be Switzerland that is responsible for the nice and tidy end of the world.

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