Saturday, October 31, 2009

Oh, dear. Edward Hugh is now more pessimistic than ever. He feels there’s a “spectre stalking the corridors of Europe's most prestigious institutions” and that it is the Spanish economy, which “stays on a flat line while Europe's other economies, one by one, start to struggle back to life”. This, he says, is giving everyone so many sleepless nights because “Europe's current institutional structures - especially the monetary policy tools available at the ECB - are scarcely prepared for such a nightmare eventuality.” Is this going to prove the British eurosceptics right or will Brussels once again find the rules flexible enough to permit an effective response to the challenge? Who knows. Meanwhile, Edward see us “coming out of recession with a eurozone divided into three groups”. Which wasn’t exactly the plan, I guess.

One major reason for Spain’s economy flat-lining is that, as Mark Stucklin puts it, “Spain’s residential building trade is shrivelling up. All the resources that used to be dedicated to building hundreds of thousands of homes each year are increasingly standing idle. In the boom years the real estate sector, including construction, accounted for close to 20% of Spanish GDP. By some estimates it has now shrunk to 10%, but that is still substantially above the OECD average and way too high for Spain. It helps explain why unemployment in Spain is heading for 20%. Every point of GDP lost to the housing slump destroys 200,000 jobs. That in turn is bad news for the housing market, as people without jobs can little afford to buy a home or pay the mortgage.”

As if all this weren’t bad enough, the country appears to be awash with corruption. Which is another consequence, of course, of the phoney boom on the back of property-driven speculation. Reader Moscow has taken me to task a couple of times over the years for harping on about this but, frankly, it’s hard not to when the papers give us a new case every week. Why, things have now got so bad even El País and El Mundo have started to demand something be done about it. Better late than never, I guess.

But it’s not as if there’s no good news. If you’ve got a job, life is still good in Spain. All the cafés and bars and most of the shops are still open. And the country can still do well in this sort of survey.

Which is a consolation. I guess.

Friday, October 30, 2009

I read today that “Decentralisation is the demand of opposition that governments forget.” Meaning, of course, that once power is gained, it continues to accrue to the centre. It got me wondering whether all those bits of current European states which want to be EU nations in their own right really believe that, when they jump from the frying pan it will be onto firm ground, and not into the fire. I guess they must, relying on the Brussels bureaucratic elite transforming themselves into helmsmen who are happy to keep just a light hand on the tiller. Well, maybe.

Another sobering comment I heard this week was that a mere 200 years ago, you could climb to the top of the cathedral in any city in the world and be able to see all of it beneath you. Without binoculars, I mean.

But back to today and current developments in Spain. I think there must be a recession on. The company that services my existing boiler not only answered my request for an engineer within 24 hours but also called after he’d been to see if things were OK. And then sent the engineer straight back, when I said they weren’t. And it didn’t prove at all difficult getting immediate doctor and dentist appointments this week. But I should add that these were in the private sector, as the Spanish government won’t allow me to use the public sector services for a few years yet. This is despite the fact it’s just hiked up the tax rate on the interest on my savings.

As few people in Spain seem to be concerned about their private conversations being overheard, I guess bars and cafés would be a good place to eavesdrop, if one were that way inclined. But I was still taken aback yesterday to find myself sitting next to a table of six young people in what was clearly some sort of product briefing or training session. Something similar happened in another café this morning. Is this a new cost-saving trend? Can I now expect even higher levels of ambient noise? With none of the usual peaks and troughs? Perhaps even queuing for tables?

Talking of bars, cafés and restaurants, reader Richard has kindly sent me this article, in which the question is raised of whether service here is what is used to be. For me, the answer is a resounding Yes. But, then, I tend to stick to a small number of haunts, in a town which doesn’t thrive on tourism. Maybe things will be different when I’m in Madrid next month, visiting my daughter.

The Galician government (the Xunta) has said it’s relaxed about whatever steps our two large savings banks take - including merger – provided there’s no diminution in their ‘Galician-ness’. Which rather confirms that there are more important things than efficiency and commercial success. Especially to the politicians who control them.

Finally . . . Inspired by my reading of the literature from the exhibition on Gallego I mentioned the other day (Cronicas da Represión Lingüistica) I did some research in the back pages of the Faro de Vigo this morning. To my surprise, I couldn’t find a single word of Gallego in any of the hundreds of small ads there. Even in those specifically advertising the attractions of “mature Gallegan women” with singular endowments. Surely something should be done about this.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Well, it’s almost November and our summer just refuses to go. It’s still shirtsleeve weather here, even during the evening. And yesterday’s temperature of 28 up in Ferrol was only fractionally below that of Sevilla down in the south. If this is Global Warming, there’s something to be said for it.

If one breaks a formal law, then one is doing something illegal. But what if you only break a rule? ‘Unruly’ doesn’t, of course, fit the bill and so the English language seems deficient in respect of a description which would certainly come in handy in Spain. So, how about ‘unruley’ to fill the lacuna? OK, it’s a homonym but English is full of these. So one more won’t make much difference.

But back to ‘unruly’ . . . I see that the Voz de Galicia described all the Liverpool fans at the match with Manchester United on Sunday as hooliganes, without meaning to imply violence. So I assume this word is now a Spanglish generic for ‘supporters’.

And talking of football . . . One can’t help noticing that all Real Madrid’s massive expenditure on new galacticos doesn’t seem to be helping them very much. Earlier this week, they were unceremoniously dumped out of the big cup competition by lowly Alorcón. In a game watched, if the paper is to be believed, by only 4,500 hooliganes. Which must be all Alorcón’s ground will hold. No wonder there’s speculation that the last manager of Spain is set to take over from the hapless incumbent.

The Madness of Britain - Chapter 358: In order, it’s said, to protect children from paedophiles, more than 11 million Brits – including my teacher daughter – face having to have to be checked out by a government body called the Criminal Records Bureau. As if this wasn’t crazy enough, it now seems that this is a low estimate. For some commercial genius has realised he/she can give his/her company a competitive edge by advertising that all its employees have been screened, even if this wasn’t necessary. Sure as night follows day, there’ll now be a stampede to get this seal of approval. As someone has written, “We are developing a poisonous culture of suspicion that discourages adults from stepping in to help children in trouble for fear of being considered a potential molester or of being reported to the police.” And I thought the place was mad 10 years ago! Read more here, if you can bear it.

Finally . . . I’ve admitted I may overdo the citations of zebra crossing adventures. But what can one do when one reads that a prominent local politician has been run over and killed in, as they say here, “circumstances yet to be determined”? But “close to a pedestrian crossing”. I rest my case.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

El País today reports that the smaller members are ganging up to stop Mr Blair (memorably a ‘gilipollas integral’) being elected the first President of the EU. Our Tony is not universally loved in the UK either, as this amusing article shows. Another piece in the same paper – from a left-of-centre commentator – argues that Blair’s (dubious) qualities are just what Europe needs. But you’ll have to dig out this for yourselves. The writer does say, though, that “It’s by no means in the bag. Front-runners rarely win these jobs. The one-blackball system tends to favour dullards and mediocrities: often former Benelux leaders.” Personally, I tend to the view that, whatever they say in public, the big beasts of Europe will not want to be overshadowed by a well-known personality in their dealings with Washington, Moscow and Beijing. In other words, as in so many other fields, the outcome will be the result of the pettiest of feelings.

BTW - Any perceived pun between gilipollas and 'member' in the last paragraph was totally unintended.

Yesterday I touched on the subject of Economics, disagreeing with Edward Hugh that this ‘science’ had recently become less dismal. In the way these things happen, I read in this article this morning that Economics is moving away from the discredited obsession with mathematical models to “re-create an academic discipline capable of explaining reality and offering useful advice to policymakers facing unexpected events.” Let’s hope so. Without holding our breath.

I mentioned the other day that Spanish banks continue to offer all sorts of gifts as inducements to the opening of an account. Usually household goods of some sort. I see this has now been taken to an extreme which is possibly logical when interest rates are so low. Banco Pastor is offering a deposit which rewards you, after 12 or 18 months, not with cash but with a whole set of domestic appliances, or a flat-screen TV, or a sewing machine, or jet spray, etc.

Talking of banks, I’ve now transferred my savings from one bank in town to another. And in doing so have discovered a useful tip – Don’t make the transfer yourself, as at least your ex-bank with charge you for this. Handsomely. And possibly your new one as well, though this abominable practice seems to have died out. If your new bank makes the transfer request, it costs you nothing. Now, the only question is whether, between them, they’ll take less than 6 working days to move the cash across the five metres that separates them. Even if this is done by the pressing of a couple of keyboard keys. And even if I could move the cash myself in less than an hour. Incidentally, and perhaps wrongly, I went for the cash, at 3.2%. Or almost three times what my existing bank could offer. Were they relying on inertia? Or personal fidelity? God forbid.

Walking past the library today, I noticed there was an exhibition in the hall. This turned out to be about the Galician language, Gallego. And it dealt in some depth on its origins, rise, decline and its resurgence of recent centuries. I read some of the panels and brought home the literature to read at leisure. Given that much of this was about the suppression of the language, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel sympathetic towards the protection and development of Gallego. But I’ve already said, on Sunday, that I do. Feel sympathetic, I mean. Not that I have a heart of stone. Anyway, the fact it was all in Gallego left me wondering just who the target audience was. Surely, there must be some desire to change the attitudes of speakers of Spanish. Unless, I suppose, you really want to reach the children and young adults using the library. Or maybe the simple answer is that the exhibition wouldn’t have got finance from the various sponsor organisations and councils if Spanish translations were given.

Finally . . . Apologies to anyone who wanted to make comments to this blog but didn’t want to register. I really only wanted to (reluctantly) initiate Moderation but it seems I (unwittingly) restricted access in the process.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I don’t suppose I’d have been terribly surprised to read of a Spanish civil servant being involved in a civil marriage scam. But a Catholic priest in a church ceremony fraud? Ah, well, he can always go to confession. And get a double indulgence against his sins if he gets out in time to do a pilgrimage to Santiago during next year’s special, Pope blessed, Año Xacobeo.

It’s always been the view of British eurosceptics that a one-size economic regime would not fit all members and that stresses would prove impossible to deal with when the going got really tough. But this hasn’t happened so far. Perhaps because of a willingness and an ability to bend the rules when required. And perhaps because the really key economies, those of Germany and France, were more or less in harmony. But now, says Edward Hugh, things are changing, as a result of France weathering the recent storms rather better than its neighbour. “What will happen” he asks “if the eurozone economies are diverging, not converging, and the divergence – far from reducing – is increasing?” And is France actually on track to suffer the same problems as Spain has, because it will be similarly out of kilter with banking conditions still set for Germany? Oh, I don’t know. Read this and decide for yourselves.

Incidentally, Edward’s opening paragraph about Economics being less dismal than previously thought sounds rather like special pleading to me. That said, even if it is pseudo science, it’s still pretty important. Possibly all we’ve got.

And, while Edward may be able to wow us all - well everyone except Charles Butler -with his intricate knowledge of several national economies, he doesn’t understand the difference between ‘less’ and ‘fewer’. But, then, who does, these days? Certainly not my daughters.

Finally . . . Yesterday I cited David Fernández Castro’s laudatory comments on Pontevedra’s old quarter and its zebra crossings. He also found the city “clean and well-ordered”. But this, of course, was before the Spanish government responded to the recession by initiating public works across the land. With the result that this is what you face if you want to get anywhere near Pontevedra’s town hall nowadays. Though I suppose it’s less dangerous than the falling masonry of Vigo . . .





Monday, October 26, 2009

It’s not only in the UK that there’s widespread concern about the loss of respect for teachers and the low level of authority they now have. It’s a media issue in Spain too, though my impression is there’s a long way to go here before things are anywhere near as bad as in Britain. Here’s the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, opining on the subject today. I suspect the madness will end during the currency of my daughter’s career as a teacher. She’s only got 38 years to go, after all.

Another topic I can’t get away from is that of zebra crossings in Pontevedra. In his book, Cronicas Ibéricas, David Fernández de Castro follows our hero George Borrow to modern Pontevedra, where he (rightly) marvels at our jewel of an old quarter and (more dubiously) notes not only that there are more crossings here than in any other town in Spain but also that drivers actually stop for pedestrians waiting to use them. Well . . . even I have said this courtesy is on the increase but, next time David’s here, I must take him down to the roundabout at the Poio end of the La Barca bridge.

Talking of local cities, take heed if you’re going to be visiting Pontevedra’s ancient enemy, Vigo. For the second time in a year, falling masonry has landed on someone’s head in the street. Last time it was a baby in a pram and this time it was an unfortunate Dutch tourist. As GB noted, Pontevedrans have long accused Vigo of having no decent buildings and I guess they’ll now say the unprepossessing place is simply falling to bits. With some justification, it seems.

Of course, if you are going to be in Vigo, the warning in the last paragraph will be as useful as those in canyons telling drivers to beware of falling rocks. What exactly are you going to do to prevent being hit?

I sense another fashion wave has hit the young women of Pontevedra, possibly assisted by yet another return of the summer. Which gave us 25 degrees today. As ever, I wonder whether the combination of a belted shirt, tight leggings and what in Britain are called ‘fuck-me’ ankle boots is a local, regional or national phenomenon.

Despite being an Everton supporter, it was thrilling to see Torres score a magnificent goal yesterday, to set Liverpool on the road to a great victory against the hated Manchester United. Given that Everton lost to lowly Bolton and now stand little chance of honours this year, I’m increasingly tempted to do what few in history have ever done and change my team allegiance. Or at least support both of them. Purely out of civic pride, you understand. At least until some sheikh buys Everton and pumps squillions into it.

Finally (and wearily) . . . . My friend Cade has written (abusively, of course) to demand I permit his comments. He’s also kindly warned me I might be in physical danger if someone were to report my ‘xenophobic/racist’ comments to certain Spanish forums. Presumably he regards it as racist for me to say this doesn’t reflect well on the Spanish and their capacity for civil discussion. But, anyway, if I were to be cited, I guess we’d have a pretty good idea of by whom. Sad, sad, sad. Thank God he’s not a true representative of either the Spanish or the Galicians. And not only because he lives in the UK.

As I await my fate, friends have urged me to reveal the message which finally drove me to bar his comments and also to identify his blog. They say he does a comprehensive job there of hoisting himself on his own petard. Well, OK, here’s the former and in it you’ll find the latter. Happy reading. I won’t be bothering myself.

Incidentally, there is an amusing side to all this . . . Cade says he wants us to ‘resume our dialogue’. Dialogue! The boy has a lot to learn. Especially as he claims he’s not insulting me but only ‘describing you accurately’ - a defence commonly heard here from real racists to justify their colour-related comments about, say, English footballers. Maybe Cade’s more Spanish than he realises. Oh, and his blog would have a more amusing name if I hadn’t pointed out to him that in one message he’d used ‘dribble’ when he meant ‘drivel’.

Stop Press: My daughter in Madrid has sent me a message saying I should write about the tight-fisted-ness of the family of a famous French footballer in that city. But I think I’ve probably got enough enemies on the horizon right now. Maybe later.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Extra post for today. Bit of a dissertation really . . .

Last night I did what I hoped I’d never to have to do and started moderating comments to this blog. This was after Cade had sent his two most abusive messages to-date. Henceforth, if anyone wants so read his views, they’ll have to track down the blog he says he’s starting, with the express purpose of exposing my idiocy and wickedness.

But, walking my dog this morning, it struck me I should record my views on Galician nationalism, based on nine years of living here. If you’re not interested in these, just scroll down to the normal post of the day.

Firstly, let’s get some positives on the table. Over the years, both publicly in the Comments section of this blog and privately via personal emails, I’ve had exchanges with several Galician nationalists who’ve argued their case cogently and reasonably. I’ve never arrived at full agreement with them but I think I’ve developed more sympathy for (or at least understanding of) their stance. And maybe I’ve revised my original position to some degree. Which perhaps tended too much towards mockery. Incidentally, my personal email address (colindavies@terra.es) has been published many times but, rather tellingly, our friend Cade has always managed to avoid writing direct to me. Though I guess this is consistent with his mission of proving to the world at large that I’m the spawn of the devil.

Secondly, I’ve never had any particularly bad experiences at the hands of Galician nationalists. True, I’ve witnessed bureaucrats answering friends in Gallego when spoken to in Castellano but this has never been done to me. My only real irritations have come in struggling with tax guides, letters from the town hall or the Xunta, exhibition brochures, tourism leaflets, etc., etc. which are only in Gallego. Even when meant for visitors from the rest of Spain.

Most importantly, I totally accept that Gallego is a fine language in its own right, that it would be a huge shame if it died and that it must be defended and promoted. My argument, then, is not with the What but with the How. Particularly in the context of the education of children.

But I have no children being educated in Galicia and, moreover, I probably won’t stay here for the rest of my life. So the issues are somewhat academic to me. Especially as I’m not allowed to vote in key elections. I am a mere commentator, drawing on my own observations and on the experiences and comments of both the Galician folk I talk to and foreign friends who do, for example, have children here.

To be brutally honest, I don’t accept that Galicia is a nation. But I have said regularly that this is a democratic issue; if the nationalists can persuade enough fellow Galicians to vote for independence, then (as with Scotland, Cataluña and the Basque Country), they should be allowed to sail off into the wide blue yonder. As of now and following the loss of votes for the Galician Nationalist Party at the last regional elections, things seem to be going in the opposite direction. This, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with what I think and write. Though I did predict that trouble was brewing and that this would happen.

Nor do I believe that Galicia is the 5th, 6th or 7th Celtic nation. In fact, I don’t even accept that it’s any more Celtic than Asturias next door. Or much of the rest of Spain, for that matter. But – again as I have said many times – if it’s profitable for Galicia to market itself as Celtic and if it helps to give people a sense of identity, then who am I to complain? It is harmless and, more importantly, can be productive of a great deal of fun and enjoyment. Witness the annual festival of music at Ortiguiera. Neither the Romans nor the Visigoths - who lorded over the local population after the Celts - left much of a musical heritage to appropriate in the 19th, 20 and 21st centuries. So the Celts are a wise choice if you want to re-invent yourselves and have fun in the process.

Nor do I accept Ms Deakin’s thesis that Galicia had a first Golden Age in the 4th century and a second in the 14th. I regard it as significant that I’ve not found a single Galician friend who’s ever heard of the three or four 4th century luminaries Ms Deakin cites as those responsible for this accolade. Nor have I met anyone who agrees that everyone – from the king down – who was writing poetry in the 14th century wanted to do this in Gallego.

But, as I say, none of this really matters. If the Galicians, like the Scots, want to create and exploit a romantic past, then good luck to them.

So where do I have problems with nationalists? Well, many will doubtless argue with this, but I believe I’ve witnessed over nine years a reduction in the linguistic harmony which is/was the pride of Galicia. Under this, people spoke to each other in whatever language they preferred, understanding both. Meaning that one of them could be speaking in Gallego while the other spoke in Spanish. And I attribute this loss to the hardening of attitudes, to the politicisation of the language issue that followed the bringing of the nationalists into power by the minority socialist government four years or so ago. And to the latter’s courting of the nationalist vote prior to gaining the reins of power. In a nutshell, if you want to play to nationalist sentiment but have no chance of becoming a nation, then the local language is the only issue you have.

Of course I understand the argument that this harmony is only possible because virtually every adult Galician speaking Spanish as their maternal language has grandparents who – at least sometimes – spoke to them in Gallego, and that this won’t be the case with their own children. And of course I understand this raises genuine and heartfelt fears that the language will die over time. As it might already be doing in the cities and along the more cosmopolitan coast.

And yet, I do wonder whether the solution is to force people to use Gallego and to effectively seek pre-eminence for the language, while pretending you’re merely redressing the wrongs of the past and seeking only to achieve equal status for Gallego.

And this brings us to the nub(s) of my discomfort. Much of the promotion of Gallego seems to be done on the back of political indoctrination, in which Gallegos are conveniently portrayed as victims of Spanish neglect born of imperialist arrogance, etc., etc. This, needless to say, is directed mostly at children, it being an act of faith that the earlier you can turn them into sympathetic speakers of Gallego the better. And it is the children in primary school who are affected by having to learn key subjects in a language they don’t fully understand because it’s not spoken at home. From teachers, it’s frequently said, who don’t speak it well themselves.

I repeat once again that most of this is irrelevant to me. And what I write are only my observations and beliefs. They may well be wrong and I have no problem with people writing – in a reasonable tone – to say that I am and to adduce arguments to prove this. I am not, however, going to be persuaded that I’m wrong because I’m an apologist for the rapacious Spanish state. Or that I’m a ‘Spanish nationalist’ simply because I prefer to speak Castellano rather than Gallego. Or that I must be an idiot to harbour some suspicions that the attitudes and strategies of the Galician nationalists are prejudicial to their own cause.

Finally . . . On the question of the solution to the thorny issue of how to ensure that Gallego is promoted without Spanish-speakers having their rights trampled on, I confess I have no answer. Even a glib one. Perhaps I would if I had a kid aged 4 or 5. Or if I were as much a victim of Galician nationalist policies as many Gallegos clearly think they are. And against which they have recently reacted at the ballot box.

Of course, one can’t expect zealous ideologues to stand back and take a broad view - especially those on the lunatic fringe who want to roll back the clock and restore ‘pure Galego’ and take Galicia into the Lusitanosphere. But surely there must be committed Gallego speakers out there – even nationalists – who can, like the writer of the article I cited a few posts back, recognise that something is going wrong. And that it isn’t entirely the fault of the 'fascist' PP party.

That said, I suspect linguistic harmony is going to reduce further before – if ever - it is restored. Which is a shame.
Over the years, I’ve made regular references to my unhappy experiences on Spanish zebra crossings. Almost certainly too many, in fact. But this was in my capacity as a pedestrian, not as a driver. So you’ll forgive me for reporting that last night it was me who had to brake hard to avoid hitting someone. And not just once but twice. Fortunately, each time this happened I was driving slowly and so had time to stop. Plus I didn’t have my head turned sideways as I talked to one of my passengers. The first time was in a dark little square, when a couple walked out from behind one of the new electronic advertising hoardings that now litter our pavements. And the second was when a youth simply ran straight out from behind a parked van, at a speed which suggested he’d begun his run some metres from the roadside. Actually, I was reminded of a corrida and wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d stuck two bandelliras in my bonnet as he passed. Or my ‘hood’, as our American cousins call it. All’s well that ends well, of course. But wouldn’t it have been a tad ironic if I’d been arrested for hitting someone on a crossing?

As I have a daughter who’s a teacher in the UK, it’s always worrying to read how bad things are in the educational world there. As in the case of a teaching assistant who removed a disruptive child from a classroom, with the kid threatening to stab and kill him as he did so. When the boy’s mother complained, the teaching assistant was arrested and jailed for 22 hours. Then he was suspended from his job, forced by the social services to leave his house and barred from contact with this three children while he was taken through the courts. Needless to say, the poor man was eventually cleared of any offence and allowed to return to his job and family.

If you think this is sound enough evidence of the madness of British society, consider the case of the shop assistant who asked a purchaser of a greetings card if she was over 25 because there was a picture of a wine bottle and three glasses on the front of it. Or of the 15 year old boy who was denied wine gums by a shop assistant who felt this contravened the store’s regulations designed to reduce the curse of binge-drinking in the country.

Finally . . . My thanks to those readers and fellow bloggers who’ve written to advise that the ineffable Cade has initiated a blog dedicated to telling the world what a piece of mierda I am. Good luck to him, I say. There’s no such thing, others say, as bad publicity. Come to think of it, my special post above this one will presumably have given him something to get his fangs into. Though I’m sure I’ll be able to resist the temptation of checking this out.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Well, with my sun-bearing houseguest gone, the Atlantic Blanket has descended on us once again. Were we really on the beach only a few days ago? And will this rain ever stop?

But there is good news. We have yet another new fiesta in Pontevedra, hot on the heels of our initial seafood festival of last month. Come the weekend of 31 October-1 November, we’ll be celebrating the inaugural OutubroFest. As you may have guessed, this will centre on beer and German food. Truly are the Spanish at their most impressively efficient when it comes to making money from having fun. Come to think of it, this might be the only time they’re impressively efficient.

Today’s other good news is that we had yet another record grape harvest this year, presumably because of the extended Indian summer. With demand for wine probably down during a global recession, you might expect prices of Galicia’s excellent albariño white wine to fall in your supermarkets and stores. But I wouldn’t count on it. Tradition has it that bumper crops are followed by reduced prices for the grape growers supplying the bodegas, whereas the price of the wines made from them rises inexorably. Don’t ask me how this is possible. Could there, perhaps, be a cartel? The Rías Baixas Winegrowers Association in their snazzy new offices in Pontevedra?

A week or so ago, I took myself off to the Basilica of Santa María in Pontevedra, to view it through the 1907 eyes of Ms Meakin. But it was the feast day of Santa Teresa and there was a Mass taking place. Which rather got in the way of things. Undaunted, I went off today to the ruins of the church of Santo Domingo to view these in the same way. This time I fell foul of the Spanish tradition of closing places of interest on the day when most people are free to visit them. Monday, then. Sorry, Tuesday. Very little opens here on Mondays.

Finally . . . If you’ve persisted in following the comments of Cade to this blog you’ll know he may finally have decided to stop wasting his time on demanding that I engage him in ‘rational discussion’ on the subjects of the local language, Gallego, and Galician nationalism. You’ll also be very aware that Cade specialises in the sort of ad hominem abuse which seems to be a constant feature of Spanish discourse. Witness, for example, the Comments section which follows any Economist article on Spain. Reading this stuff, it’s sometimes not difficult to understand why, even in the 20th century, the country had to resort to a civil war to sort out its differences. Anyway, it’s not just foreigners who despair of this state of affairs. The writer of a recent article in a Gallego paper who suggested that the association of the language with Galician nationalism was doing neither of them much good was deluged in vitriol from his fellow Gallegos. One observer – Let’s call him ‘D’ – wrote that the writer had effectively become a conduit for excrement. Leading a sympathiser to add this support, which you should be able to understand if you read either Spanish or Portuguese. More or less:-

Lamentablemente, teño que estar de acordo con D. no seu comentario sobre Vieiros. Lera a interesante entrevista a Monteagudo xa antes de chega-la primeira mensaxe á lista, cando o número de opinións-resposta non pasaba de medio cento, opinións que -con todo- non tiven paciencia para seguir lendo despois do cuarto ou quinto insulto. Que mágoa que unha referencia histórica como Vieiros, que se esforza en ofrecer contidos de interese e en contar con colaboradores de valía se vexa ensombrecida pola ruindade e mal gusto dunha parte dos seus respondentes. Outros sitios web galegos ofrecen tamén a posibilidade de opinar sobre artigos e colaboracións varias, pero en ningún caso o resultado é tan lamentable. Vieiros tentou (hai un tempo alomenos) filtrar e controla-las respostas, pero seica non houbo maneira. O problema está en que, aproveitando o anonimato dos "alias" con que algúns contestan, aprovéitase para insultar e/ou mentir de balde. Supoño que haberá que velo en positivo: hai un espazo para expresar frustración e odio sen ter que pagar ou ser recriminado... Outra parte dos comentaristas teñen tamén oportunidade de desautoriza-lo autor simplemente por non exercer de ou apoia-lo reintegracionismo, aínda que o artigo trate sobre política latinoamericana, sociedade madrileña ou sociolingüística marciana. En fin, afortunadamente hai vida alén do micromundo opinador de Vieiros.

So much for ‘rational discussion’

Friday, October 23, 2009

Yesterday, the leading right-of-centre paper, El Mundo, celebrated the 20th anniversary of its launch. Today, its front page featured a photo of both the President and the Leader of the Opposition attending the celebrations and smiling broadly. Which is a tad ironic, as the paper routinely gives both of them a rough ride. But I guess you’d never succeed as a politician if you couldn’t force a smile in any circumstances.

El Mundo also carried today the result of a survey on whether Spain is a better place than is was 20 years ago. A total of 27,000 votes was registered and the result was a No from 61% of them. Which surprised me at least. As it happens, I recently decided to ponder a similar question as I live through my tenth year here. As of now, I’d have no difficulty with coming up with a Yes. But we’ll see how the year progresses.

One thing that certainly hasn’t got better is billing from the (monopoly) utility suppliers. My water bill for the last quarter, for example, is only 10% below what it was in the previous period, even though my consumption was 50% down. This is because - as I’ve said before – most of the bill comprises fixed charges. Which means, firstly, the company is making easy money and, secondly, that low users like me are subsidising the wastrels. I believe Spain’s per capita use of water is towards the high end of the spectrum, which is unlikely to change until there’s more correlation between use and bills. Which may still be some way away. Despite the fact we all have meters.

One thing I am sure about is that Spain is a more equal society than the UK. So I was interested today to read an article on the benefits that flow from this. The was also noteworthy in suggesting there are ‘progressives’ on both sides of the political divide who've taken on board the importance of this issue. As we know, ‘progressive’ is now the most abused word in the political lexicon and usually reserved for one’s own side. Particularly by those on the Left, who appear to think that ‘progressive right-winger’ is an oxymoron. Anyway, the writer concludes:- Altruism makes us happy. Supportive communities create better people. Inequality and stigma rob us of potential. Good guidance helps us make wise decisions for the long term. All these seem commonsense conclusions, all are now based on evidence. They break the oppressive grip of Homo economicus on the right and the alluring but dangerous myth of human perfectibility on the left. Instead, we are left with the mission of progressive humanism; to develop practical utopias based on the good enough people we really are. If interested, you can read the whole thing here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I dropped my old friend off at Porto airport this morning and then meandered back to Pontevedra via the lovely north Portuguese countryside, trying to follow the Way of St James I’ll be walking with more old friends next May. I got lost in Ponte de Lima, which is ironic as I know the delightful place quite well. My excuse is there were no signs for the old road to Valenca. At least not until you’ve actually left the town. Anyway, I was helped out by a couple of policemen from the National Brigade, who’d seen me parked at the roadside, scrutinising an inadequate map. In their leather bomber jackets and jackboots, they looked rather intimidating but, as ever, they were kindness itself. And, as is usually the case in Portugal, they spoke to me in English, presumably being unimpressed with my Gallego. Very impressive. Now, there's a country without language strife.

A Spanish vignette from last night . . . As we were walking into town, there was a car trapped next to the kerb by a double-parked second car. As ever, the hazard lights of the latter were flashing, indicating it wasn’t really there and that the owner was somewhere in the vicinity. Nothing happened the first time the driver blew his horn. Nor the second time. By the third time he got to sounding off, a good five minutes or more had passed and the blasts of the horn were rather longer. But no one was emerging from any of the cafés or shops. And then someone poked his head out of the window of a first-floor office, where he was at a desk, talking on the phone. A minute or so later, he was down in the street moving his car a few metres, to block in someone else. As ever, no words were exchanged and no gesture of apology made. Así son las cosas in Spain.

Finally . . . If any of you’ve had the dubious pleasure of reading the latest comments from my friend Cade, you’ll probably be as fascinated as I am by the possibility he thinks he can convert anyone to his views. Or, alternatively, the possibility that he knows he has no chance of doing so but, being in the UK and unemployed, merely has a massive amount of time and energy to waste. I thought of him this evening when reading this (Gallego) article on how the association of Gallego with Galician nationalism is doing no good for either of them. I wonder how the writer would view the association of Cade with both. Surely not sanguinely. Perhaps I should alert him.

Cade, of course, reminds one of the dictum that nationalists define themselves by the people they hate. For him, if you’re not his particular breed of Galician nationalist, you’re a fascist ‘Spanish nationalist’. What a simple Manichean world he inhabits. I almost envy him.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I trawled the offices of all the banks in town today, in search of information on interest rates for term deposits. Not an uplifting experience. Firstly, there was little data available. Secondly, what there was gave no hope of a better rate than 1.2% for a 12m deposit. No wonder my bank was relaxed about me looking elsewhere; their offering is the best of a bad bunch. But the most telling feature of the exercise was confirmation that Spanish high-street banks still major on offering all manner of household goods as an inducement to opening an account with them, before locking you into a service considered by some to be expensive and of low quality. In the BBVA branch there was actually a single bed on either side of the queue for the tellers, complete with sheets and towels on each of them. More like Harrods than a bank.

My post yesterday was largely about fish. As it happens, I later saw a TV documentary which claimed the EU quota for blue fin tuna in the Med last year was twice what the experts decreed was the sensible maximum. Nonetheless, the fishing ‘community’ then relieved the sea of double the official quota. Or four times the recommended limit. Which guarantees that, by the time any effective points system is in place, there won’t be any blue fin tuna left to protect.

Last week I decided against issuing yet another warning to visitors and new residents that zebra crossings can be dangerous places in Spain. This was after a woman who had had plenty of time to stop drove between me and my more hesitant houseguest, when he declined to follow me onto the battlefield. But I’m stimulated to do this today, after reading of an incident in the nearby town of Caldas de Reis, when a petrol tanker hit a chap who was risking a crossing. In a wheelchair. Truly can it be said no quarter is given.

For those with an interest in the Spanish housing market, here’s a synopsis of what economics ‘experts’ think of it. And here’s Charles Butler’s interesting take on where we currently are with private housing starts and completions.

When Mike and I were in Ferrol on Sunday, there was a demonstration in Santiago in favour of the local language, Gallego, and against the policies of the new Xunta. Reader (and avid polemicist) Cade is anxious that I write something about this. But I’d better not. For it’ll only upset him if I say that my main take on the event is that the demonstrators don’t seem to appreciate how the democratic system works. Worse, many of them favour methods for the protection and development of the language identical to those previously used by Franco in respect of Spanish and dismissed by them as fascist and imperialist. All that (not) said, I do sympathise with those who want to see Gallego protected and developed. If only they could think of some way to do this without alienating an electorate which gave the local nationalist party its lowest share of the vote for decades in the last elections here. And I was interested in an article in the Voz de Galicia yesterday in which the writer pointed out that much of the language used by politicians and people who want to advance in one Galician sphere or another is not pure Gallego but a mixture of the two languages. As in the case of one of the demonstrators who criticised the government for trampling on the rights of the Galician people, but used ‘pueblo’ instead of ‘pobo’ for ‘people’. I imagine this must have really hurt our friend Cade, given that he seems to think everyone in ‘Galiza’ should be persuaded, one way or another, to speak pure Gallego/Galego. And also to shift themselves from the Hispanosphere to the Lusitanosphere. Fat chance. But one can dream. And comment.

Finally . . . Someone once said “Happy the country whose annals are dull.” If I were going to write anything on the thorny subject of Gallego v. Spanish, it would be something along similar lines – “Happy the region/country/nation which knows what it really is and has no language disputes.” Obviously not Belgium, then. For one.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Although the hake (merluza) is not, I believe, much valued by the French, here in Spain it’s regarded as the king of fish. Indeed, sometimes in the freezer cabinet of the supermarket there’s little else but hake. I mention this because the EU has announced a reduction in quotas for this fish and one wonders what the reaction will be on the part of Spanish trawlermen

The EU has also announced an intention to introduce a points system for European fishing vessels, aimed at reducing breaches of regulations. The Spanish government is reported to have been one of the early supporters of this development. Which seems to have surprised a few observers. But, anyway, “the administration of the system is still to be decided by the European Commission and each country's experts”. So it will be a while before we know how it affects things.

Meanwhile, close to home here in Galicia, rising unemployment has led to an increase in illegal harvesting of shellfish by los furtivos. And an upturn in violence against those trying to stop them. No points system operating here, I guess. Just the occasional car being tipped into the sea.

Finally . . . Up in Lugo, the police have this week dismantled a prostitution network and arrested 17 people. The interesting aspect is that two of these are members of the Guardia Civíl. One of whom was apparently first identified as being involved in this business a mere fifteen years ago. A case of wheels grinding exceedingly slow, it seems.

Monday, October 19, 2009

In his book How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World, Francis Wheen quotes this admission from an American banker about the collapse of the financial system:- “I know there will be much talk of corruption and dishonesty. But I can testify that our trouble was not that. Rather, we were undone by our own extravagant folly. And our delusions of grandeur. The gods were waiting to destroy us and first they infected us with a peculiar and virulent form of madness.” Fair enough but this wasn’t said of last year’s crisis. Nor even of the 1987 debacle. The observation was made in 1932. So, one thing’s for sure. We haven’t seen the world’s last financial meltdown.

Talking of banks . . . I had this conversation in mine this morning.
My 12 month deposit has matured. What interest rate can you give me?
It’s fallen sharply since last year. We now offer only 1.2%.
But it says 4% on the poster on your window.
Ah, yes, But that’s a promotion and it’s restricted to new customers. As an existing customer, we can only offer you a similar rate if you make a 5 year deposit.
I can’t; I’ll need the money during that period. Maybe I should become a new customer of another bank and transfer my money there for a shorter period.
Yes.
So, will you charge me for the transfer?
Yes, 0.3%. But you can always ask your new bank if it’ll reimburse you this.

And this, folks, is the sum total of the efforts made to keep me as a customer. I don’t know whether to be impressed or depressed. Either way, I remain nonplussed that Santander and BBVA can number among the top five most profitable banks in the word. Surely this isn’t achieved simply by screwing the customers daft enough to stay with them.

I mentioned recently that the EU was asking the Galician Xunta to pay back most of the money given to it to clean up the Prestige oil mess of 2002. But things have now got worse. For the Fraud Office in Brussels is demanding the return of all funds provided for public projects that have never been started or have been aborted. Or merely mis-managed. The good news, though, is that it seems they’re not really interested in pursuing anyone responsible for these misdemeanours. So, I wonder if they stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of recovering any of the funds transferred. Even though they’ve kicked off with a demand for an exhaustive account of the expenditure. Which might take some time.

Finally . . . You’ll all be familiar with the current obsession on the part of businesses to give themselves eco-credentials. Much of this being what Private Eye has called Greenwash. But I heard a real gem this morning, when a company selling TVs offered a 200 pound eco-cashback. Or ‘discount’ as we used to call it in more rapacious days. Presumably the world is now full of young men asking plaintively – “I suppose a quick eco-f**k is out of the question?”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Another longish road trip today. This time with my old friend, Mike, to have a long and enjoyable lunch with reader Richard in Ferrol. Another chance, therefore, to observe the many, many speed limit signs at the side of the road. And to note again how often they conflict with each other. If I get yet another speeding ticket, I won’t exactly be astonished. Despite valiant attempts to obey the law. This time, though, I have a co-pilot to blame.

But, anyway, here’s a picture of the birthplace of General Franco in the city.


And here’s the monument to one of its other sons, the founder of the PSOE Socialist party – Pablo Iglesias


Chalk and cheese.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Spanish government tells us the slump in house prices is over and now is the time to start buying again. Others, though, think the data it proffers in support of this contention is dubious. Specifically, the claim that prices have only fallen around 8% from their peak in 2007. Support for this scepticism comes in a headline in today’s Voz de Galicia, to the effect that banks are offering redeemed properties with discounts of 40%. And also complaining that for every one they sell, they have to take on another two from distressed mortgagors. Then there’s the Reuters poll of Spanish and foreign-based economists which found that on average prices were expected to fall 32 percent from their 2007 peak.

At a very local level, one positive sign is that work has re-started on the houses being built in front of my house. Albeit on a small scale and without the help of the (departed) crane needed to put the window-frames in. To be honest, the only conclusion I’m prepared to draw is that the workers are once again going to give us parking problems outside out own houses.

I’m not sure whether things are still the same in Cataluña, the Basque Country or even in Madrid but here in Galicia most everyone I know works the Spanish split day. The essence of this is going home at ‘midday’ (any time between 1.30 and 2.30) for the main meal of the day. Which means not just two rush-hours a day but four. Witnessing one of these yesterday, the question arose of how much more extra CO2 is generated by this practice. In the interests of the environment, would it be so difficult for the Spanish to conform with most (all?) other countries? Yes, I imagine.

Having a limited appetite for the trite stuff in which Sky News specialises, I’m a regular viewer of France 24’s news in English. But I do wonder whether they really understand their target Anglo audience. This week, for example, I’ve learned far, far more than I ever wanted to know about Gabon and the Ivory Coast. Presumably it’s cheap just to translate into French what they churn out for the Francosphere.

Finally . . . I see that The Times has reported that the Italians in Afghanistan not only paid the Taliban protection money but also forget to tell their French replacements about the arrangement. The Italian government, of course, rejects this as scandalously untrue but the damage is done. And now we can all remind ourselves of the old joke about the thinnest book in the world being “Italian War Heroes”.

Thank-you and Goodnight.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Something finally seems to be happening in the opposition PP party as a result of the various corruption sagas around the country. One senior Valencian head has rolled and there may be more. Nothing, though, can rescue the reputation of the leader of the party as far as El Mundo is concerned. For them, Sr Rajoy’s long silence and inaction to date has destroyed his authority. The impression given is that they want him replaced by the Presidenta of the Madrid Community. Which means that both the paper of the Left, El País, and the paper of the Right, El Mundo, are pitching to have their respective leaders changed ahead of the next election in three years’ time. Strange place at times, Spain.

If you’re interested in the belief/myth that Galicia is the only true Celtic bit of Spain, this web page will interest you. It was kindly cited by reader, Mike the Trike. I heard recently that the only Celtic word in Gallego is cerveza, or ‘beer’. Which is the same word in Spanish, of course. So that takes us nowhere. Especially as this site suggests it isn’t Celtic at all. Unless Gaulish equals Celtic, of course. I must admit to finding it odd that (some) Gallegos claim ‘Celtic’ Galicia was unsullied by Moorish invasions and occupations when there’s a village called A Mezquita (The Mosque) on the road between Pontevedra and Ourense. But perhaps there’s a simple explanation.

In a recent blog, Charles Butler of IBEX Salad noted that Spanish companies have a tendency to form themselves into cartels. This may be because of toothless laws or an inefficient legal system. Or because no one cares. But, anyway, I was reminded of his point when reading this paragraph in Annette Meakin’s 1909 book – During the Middle Ages Pontevedra was a town of considerable maritime importance. All its activity and wealth of were connected with the sea ; its fishermen formed themselves into a guild and kept all the maritime commerce in their own hands. Pontevedra was the only port for loading and unloading vessels all along the coast; she also had a monopoly of the preparation of fish oil, conceded to them in 1238. The guild had its own ordinances, laws, and regulations, and, being an extremely powerful and wealthy body, it had control of all municipal affairs. So, a pretty long history for this sort of approach to business. Possibly seen most clearly these days in the pharmacy sphere. Explaining why you can buy almost nothing for your health needs in a supermarket.

Finally . . . If you’re planning a trip to Galicia, you might want to check on the travel plans of my old friend, Mike. This is his third visit – totalling 4 weeks or so – and he’s only ever suffered a couple of days of rain. Very much a good-weather talisman, it seems.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I see that someone is claiming Christopher Columbus was born in Aragón. And this in the same week as our celebrated local author (Alfonso Philippot Abeledo) was giving a lecture on his origins right here in the parish of Poio, where his ship, La Gallega, was built. Only to be later re-named the Santa Maria. The conclusion of the American researcher was based on an analysis of CC’s allegedly poor Spanish. But everyone knows that the marginal notes on his document were not in this language but in Gallego. What tosh some people speak at times.

More bad news for the Spanish economy – British tourists are, it seems, failing to return. But how can this be a surprise? A good menu del dia meal for 8 quid was a bargain but it’s not at 12. Or even 13, the way things are going. Despite continuing deflation here in Spain.

And more bad news for the Spanish consumer. Or at least for those who have a mortgage on their principal residence. The government says it'll be cancelling mortgage relief from 2011 - a move some say will add more than 20,000 euros to the cost of a new property. And this at a time when there’ll still be hundreds of thousands of unsold places on the market. Though quite possibly mostly in locations along the coast where nobody wants to buy them at any price.

As for the UK . . . Here and here are two trenchant commentaries on how things are there, in the Age of the Bureaucrat, the Celebrity and the Self-confessed Ignoramus. Probably a bit exaggerated, of course.

Back in Spain . . . I’ve mentioned a few times in the last few months a rowdy group of young adults who’ve regularly made it impossible to hear oneself think in my favourite wi-fi café, especially the woman who thinks it necessary to scream whenever she opens her mouth. I’d speculated they were funcionarios from the nearby town-hall taking their statutory hour-long morning break. But I realised today they haven’t been seen (or heard!) since the start of the winter term. So teachers, then. Great example.

Finally . . . The Word of the Decade: Scend. No, not a misprint – though it can also be written as send – but a word meaning “The carrying or driving influence of the sea”. And talking of words . . . I will take great pleasure in telling all my Galician friends at dinner tomorrow night that I read this phrase today in the book I cited yesterday:- Al llegar a la Puerta del Sol, me topé con una manifestación contra del nuevo Estatut.


Comments Note: I can’t recall ever moderating comments to this blog but there’ve been three spam comments in the last two days and, if this continues, I will have to resort to this boring chore. Especially as designating them spam has resulted in Google treating my own replies to comments as spam. My apologies in advance.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In Santiago today, my visitor and I had the pleasure of following in the footsteps not only of George Borrow (1838) but also in those of Annette Meakin (1907). Of course, neither of these names will mean much to you unless you’re a regular reader. Or unless you now use the search facility on the this blog to dip into previous posts. Anyway, our knowledgeable guide was fellow Borrovian, Peter Missler, who lives not far from the city and who knows a great deal about at least Mr B’s time in Galicia, if not Ms M’s. As evidenced by this web page of his on the great man.

The highlight of our trip was the Colegiata de Sar, on which Ms Meakin devotes a whole chapter in her 1909 book and which she’s told is Galicia’s answer to the leaning tower of Pisa. This it may or may not be. But it’s certainly worth a visit. For it’s as fascinating as she claimed it was to see a nave in which all the pillars of one side bend at least 10 degrees to the left and those of the other side do the same to the right. I’ve posted one of my 18 photos below but, in truth, none of them do justice to the sight. It’s the result of subsidence of course – not architectural craft – and so it’s hardly surprising that the 12th century Romanesque church has been provided with 18th century buttresses on the outside to keep it upright. These don’t do much for the exterior of the church but they’re a small price to pay for maintaining its unique interior.


And talking of Santiago, but in a lighter key, here’s an amusing account of student life there that I happened to read last night. It doesn't seem too onerous.

Finally . . . To top and tail this educative post with George Borrow. . . If you can read Spanish, you might like to pick up a copy of Crónicas Ibéricas, by another Borrovian, David Fernández de Castro. Just published by Altaïr, this follows GB’s footsteps through all of modern Spain. I guess you don’t have to have read GB’s The Bible in Spain to enjoy it but it will surely help. It’s downloadable from here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Yesterday was the feast of the Virgin of the Pillar, which is a poor translation of La Virgen del Pilar. But, anyway, this particular virgin – we have lots – is also the patron saint of Spain. So it was naturally a holiday – we have lots of them, too - celebrating the nation’s existence. And there was a military parade. Anglo readers might find this a little odd – associating it with totalitarian states or South American ‘socialist democracies’ - but there were are. At least there was some booing and jeering of the President, Señor Zapatero. At first I thought this might be the first signs of recession-driven social breakdown in Spain but I read that, in fact, it’s a tradition. Though I don’t know whether it stretches back to before the incumbency of this particular office-holder. And neither do I know whether the jeerers belong to the left or the right of the political spectrum. Or were just members of the unemployed community.

On the subject of break-down – either of just Spain or of the whole EU project – those who were left worried by the blog cited yesterday might want to return to it and read all the For and Against comments below it. Particularly that of Anonymous posted at 5.22am. This might set them a little more at ease. But, then again, it’s reported today that Moodys has now been rather negative about Spanish banks. Hopefully they meant the small fry of the known-to-be-parlous Cajas, rather than the big boys of Santander and BBVA.

My visitor, Mike, has been swimming daily in our community pool, come rain or shine. And, as yesterday hit 28 degrees, he naturally went down for a dip. Only to be back within a few minutes because the pool area was overrun by un-parented, noisy kids. From his description, I concluded that gypsy children had meandered up from the nearby parque infantil and somehow got past the large gate on the street. This suspicion was duly endorsed this morning when the gardener told Mike he’d put a lot of chemicals in the pool so swimming was out of the question for a few hours. And then had mentioned, Mike thought, a piano. Which I took to be gitano. I did wonder whether they’d been allowed into the pool as a concession, it being the Day of the Nation. But this theory was rather shattered when I went down to the pool today and found gypsy kids climbing over the gate separating it from the community pathway. So, it’ll be interesting to see how my neighbours react to this, given the fear that exists about the consequences of restraining gypsies from any of their anti-social activities.

Meanwhile, the only person who really has anything to fear is me, as I told the kids to get down off the gate and leave the community. Which, rather to my surprise, they did. Thank God I’m indistinguishable from everyone else who lives around here. They’ll never be able to pick out my pink face.

Monday, October 12, 2009

First the good news . . . There are grounds for optimism in the energy sphere as “Advances in technology for extracting gas from shale and methane beds have quickened dramatically, altering the global balance of energy faster than almost anybody expected.” See here for the details. And for the pleasure of seeing Ambrose Evans Pritchard playing someone other than Cassandra.

But now for the issue of the day – The Spanish big banks: Are they really what they seem to be? This is a question addressed today by John Hempton in an impressive review of the situation. As he puts it, “The stakes are very high – this is a debate about the stability of the Eurozone and possibly of Europe itself. . . The stability of Spain is a big issue and the crux point is the losses in the Spanish banking system.” Regular readers of this blog will already know there are impressive folk on each side of the divide (Edward Hugh and Charles Butler), though most everybody else is probably in the same position as me – nervous but clueless. Having analysed things, John Hampton concludes that at least BBVA is lying about its liabilities in the USA and that both the BBVA and Santander are probably doing the same in their Spanish accounts. On the question of whether any future collapse of these banks will result in either massive transfers from German and French taxpayers or the break-up of the EU, he suspends judgement. Or, as he puts it - What the Spanish bankers have been telling us about their credit is – at least on the American data – easily shown to be lies. We just don’t know whether they are big lies. For the sake of Europe I hope they are not.

As the owner of two properties in Spain, so do I.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

My visitor and I made a brief trip to the seafood festival in O Grove, along our coast yesterday evening. This is a lot bigger now than it was when I first went over ten years ago. And it was rather startling to see the coaches descanting dozens of villagers straight into the glass-bottomed boats that plough up and down the ría in ever-larger numbers. Prior to queuing for their tickets to over-priced seafood in a big tent.

But anyway, as we walked back to the car, Mike commented on how much the coastline was like that of northern California. Which prompted the thought that there’s actually a link between them. That well-known privateer – or as they call him here – that bastard pirate, Francis Drake.

In an interesting BBC podcast, I learned of a new book in which acquaintances are described as ‘those people filling the gap between intimate friends and strangers’. It struck me that those people whom most Brits would describe as ‘acquaintances’ are more likely to be termed ‘friends’ here in Spain. Which is a little ironic, as they are owed very little more consideration than complete strangers. As I’ve said a few times, one’s true duty of care here is to your family and those really intimate friends who are effectively members of it.

When it comes to the Spanish property market, it seems you can pick your statistics and draw your own conclusion. Or draw your conclusion and pick your statistics. Some people think prices are collapsing and others don’t. I wonder whether both are true. Where you are keen to sell - a builder, a developer, a banker with assets to be got shot of or just someone with a mortgage you can’t service – you will drop the price drastically. But where you’re a private seller who has no urgent need to sell, you will ignore any objective investment analysis and hold on to the property until the good times come round again. Possibly even increasing the price by 5% annually during the years of famine. Newer properties would tend to predominate in the first category, I guess, and older properties in the second.

Finally . . . My thanks to those Spanish readers who wrote to say toparse con is still used today among speakers of castellano. Strange to relate, all my Gallego friends at dinner on Friday night endorsed the view it was equivalent to Shakespearean English and no longer used in modern Spanish. I can’t begin to guess at the reason for this dichotomy. Anyone got any theories?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The President of the Valencian government – a leading light in the PP opposition party – has been embroiled in a major corruption case. At his trial, the judge – a close friend, apparently – accepted his rather implausible defence and stopped the proceedings. Now it’s reported that 53% of Valencianos think their President lied. This is truly shocking. Can the other 47% possibly be so gullible? Whatever the answer to this is, the most interesting news is that, despite everything, the PP party would gain 6 seats if there were an election tomorrow.

Talking of corruption . . . it looks like the Galician government will be paying back to the EU most of what it got after the Prestige oil disaster along our coast seven years ago. The Xunta received a total of 969m euros for cleaning up the mess. But the EU has now said that this was ‘exaggerated’ to the tune of a mere 703m. I say ‘corruption’ but perhaps it was merely inefficiency on a spectacular scale.

Recently, reader Moscow has been trying to convince me that all European countries and cultures - including Britain - are essentially the same. I find this hard to accept. No more so than after reading this sort of stuff. Not that I would want to live in the UK, of course. It certainly is different in some ways that don’t appeal to me.

Spain’s Ministress of the Economy has said that she can’t rule out the reinstatement of the recently abolished wealth tax (El Patrimonio). Which presumably means its return is guaranteed.

But the good news is that Galicia is to become the epicentre of wine tourism. At least temporarily. There is a new Galician association and this will host a major event (Enotur) here in Pontevedra 5-8 December. I wonder if they have a native speaker to translate their brochures. Well, of course they do. But they won’t use him or her. Or even me if I offer to do the translation for free. Anyway, here’s a web page dedicated to Galician wine.

Finally . . . Developments with Tagged.com continue to almost surprise me. Women of all ages and nationalities have been contacting me on a daily basis and yesterday I had my first message from a young guy who “likes to have relationships with men of your age”. Today came a letter from Andy B, who’s an accountant in London with access to a large amount of money which he’d like to give me a chunk of. As the time had obviously come to become un-taggable, I cancelled my account this evening. Sorry, ladies. And gents. And shysters of either gender.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Well, the plumber did turn up at 10.30. Actually at 10.15. By my rule of thumb, this is 8.15 UK time – first thing or primera hora – and I was duly impressed. However, I never got to tackle him on the issue of why the new boiler would cost me rather more than my neighbour. The wind was extracted from my sails by the immediate sucking in of his breath through his teeth and the comment that it wouldn’t be possible to use the existing chimney for the exhaust fumes. So we’d have to put the new boiler on another wall and install pipe extensions. New estimates will be forthcoming soon but I’d bet my life on them being even higher than the ones I’ve had already.

My old friend visiting from the UK may be in his early 60s but he’s a lifeguard during what they call summer in the UK. So, despite the rain, he’s taken to swimming each day in the pool of the community in which I live. Which should help my reputation for eccentricity. Tackled by a Spanish friend as to whether the water wasn’t very cold, he replied it wasn’t exactly warm but a lot better than the river Mersey in mid August.

My friend is a fan of the Lidl supermarket chain and yesterday he popped into one of Pontevedra’s two stores to try to get the peanut butter product which had caused such confusion and consternation in another supermarket chain the day before. He couldn’t find it but he did manage to get some pumpernickel and also a tarta de Santiago for under four euros. So imagine his surprise when he saw the same thing in the window of the city’s most fashionable cake shop today for just under nineteen euros.

By the way, the product he chose in the first supermarket when he couldn’t get peanut butter was a jar of almond paste. Should you ever be tempted, you should know this is essentially molten sugar into which possibly half a grated almond has been chucked.

Finally . . . For my galegofalante readers, here’s Manuel Rivas making the same point in El País today as I made yesterday on the bizarre importance being given here to the issue of whether we should say/write A or La Coruña . . . Mentres os grandes e pequenos medios informaban con amplitude do contido do sumario xudicial do caso Gürtel, o maior escándalo de corrupción política en España nas últimas décadas, os medios públicos de Galicia, radio e televisión, ensaiaban a cegueira e o silencio, mentres dedicaban o precioso tempo a sacar en procesión outra vez o espectro do L do topónimo da Coruña.

Which reminds me . . . A Spanish friend told me today she'd bumped into my visitor in the street a few minutes earlier. She said this in English and I asked whether toparse con wasn't the Spanish equivalent of 'to bump into'. She insisted this was gallego and finally conceded that, if it was also castellano, no one used it these days? Spanish readers - Is this really true? But don't, of course, answer if you're old-fashioned.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Well, I’ve received the promised ‘brief report’ from my gas supplier (Repsol), after their two visits to check my set-up when they knew I was out of the house and their refusal to even consider a time convenient to me. This amounts to a statement that they’re now going to report me to the Galician government, so that it can decide whether or not to cut off my gas. And they point out that, should there be an explosion, my insurance company will not cough up a red bean. Finally, they offer me a phone number to call to arrange a special visit, doubtless at considerable cost to me. Sadly, this passes for customer service in Spain. One of the things that has not noticeably improved during my nine years here. Or am I being too harsh?

Talking of the Galician government . . . The world may be crumbling around us but the really important subject of the moment here is not how much the Galician PP party has been involved in the national corruption imbroglio, but whether it should be La Coruña or A Coruña on our maps and road signs. As I’m wont to say . . . God help us.

But it’s not all bad news. Tomorrow – Thursday – one of my candidate plumbers is coming to talk about replacing my boiler. And at the exact time of 10.30! One of the items for discussion is why his quote is 10% above that for my neighbour for the same thing only six months ago. My guess it’s the infamous ‘foreigners’ tax’. But we will see.

Meanwhile, a hearty welcome to the five or six new Followers of the last few days, especially my friend Dwight. Hits to this blog are now averaging more than 200 a day, which is more than gratifying. Even if many of these are a reflection of interest in the rantings of reader Cade. I’m not proud.

Of course, this welcome doesn’t apply if you were the person who arrived last night searching for ‘animal brothels in Spain’. I do draw the line somewhere.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

I see the pound is still falling. Which is bad news for my visiting British friend. And it’s very cold comfort to know that, if Spain were not in the EU, the peseta would probably have devalued even more than the pound. This prompts the question of whether membership of the EU is forcing Spain to make the forecasted structural changes to its economy or whether the political necessity of keeping Spain in the EU come hell or high water is allowing the government to carry on regardless. Without even having to devalue. Edward Hugh has suggested that, this being the case, things here will soon be so bad the IMF and/or the EU will effectively have to take over the management of the Spanish economy but one does begin to wonder. Especially as, over at IBEX Salad, Charles Butler seems more positive than ever about the Spanish banking sector. If I understand him correctly.

On the northern edge of the city of Pontevedra there’s a lovely old building which is run by “The Little Sisters of Forsaken Old Folk” (Las Hermanitas de los Ancianos Desamparados). I’ve often wondered about the value of its prime location in a residential area so I wasn’t too surprised this week to read the nuns had agreed to open a commercial enterprise on the ground floor. But I was a bit taken aback to see this would be a funeral home. Perhaps they’re counting on all the new residents being so gaga they don’t notice the ‘one-stop’ approach.

I see we may get some sun on Friday. Which is good news, as it’s now been raining pretty non-stop since Saturday evening. We do get a lot of weather here sometimes.

Finally . . . One gets some odd things with one’s beer at times. I’ve just been given a plate of Bombay mix (sort of) with several jelly babies on the top of them. Quite nice, once you’ve got rid of the salt on them. Like teenage daughters, I guess.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A few months ago, I filled in forms designed to stop me receiving telemarketing calls on my land line and mobile phones. Has it worked? Well, no. And my Spanish friends laugh at my naivety for believing it ever would. Indeed, the cynics among them think the whole process was a set-up designed to collect data that could be sold to the likes of Telefónica and Orange. I prefer to think not and remain confident it’s merely a question of a delay in getting the system operative.

In line with my comments yesterday, the Ministress of Health has announced that Spain will use its Presidency of the EU during the first half of next year to introduce a complete ban on smoking in public places here. I wonder if this will be slow getting off the ground as well. Quite possibly. But better late than never.

A brief fashion note . . . During the final bout of summer sun last week, the shorts-and-high-heels of the young ladies of Pontevedra gave way to shorts and floppy-legged boots. With the arrival of wind and rain this week, we’re back with tight jeans, ordinary boots and, of course, the more-than-occasional Palestinian scarf.

Some of you may have noticed I’ve changed my profile photo for one taken by my elder daughter in a restaurant down in Trujillo. When I suggested that a truly loving daughter would have ensured it flattered me, she replied that she had. Worse still, she was supported by her sister. What a great job I’ve done as a father.

Apparently, though, my ugliness is of no consequence to the twenty-plus young women on Tagged.com who wish to be a friend of mine. Nor to an older woman of Pontevedra who is 52 but who today has sent me a photo of a scantily dressed young lady. Which was a bit of a surprise as I’d assumed she was the only one of them who wasn’t on the game.

Finally . . .This is the blog of the Spanish gentleman, Miguel Angel Martinmas, who did a such a great job of guiding the George Borrow Society members around the Arapiles battlefield a couple of weeks ago.

Monday, October 05, 2009

A friend in England has asked me whether my younger daughter is still teaching there. His query arises from the fact that two of his friends in the profession there are on the verge of quitting, so unhappy are they in their jobs. Here in Spain a good deal of emphasis is being put at the moment on the restoration of authority in schools. And, as I’ve said a couple of times, there’s a lot of talk here among teachers about how much more difficult things are than only a few years ago. My impression, though, is that they have a very cushy life compared with that of their British colleagues.

Said daughter was telling me this weekend that her young cat had been savaged by the new dog of her drug-taking neighbour. Need I say that it’s a Staffordshire bull terrier? And can it be much longer before Hannah decides that Spain is a better bet for a decent life? Especially for a teacher. I certainly hope not.

But nowhere is perfect. I hinted once again yesterday that Spain is a very noisy place. So I was naturally interested to see a letter in today’s El Mundo complaining that, while steps are being taken to reduce the noise from bars and binge drinking in the street, nothing at all is being done to stop inconsiderate residents from making their neighbours’ lives a misery with loud parties and incessantly blaring TVs. The writer called for the stricter regulations of other European countries but I fancy the Spanish government will have higher priorities for quite some time yet. For example, introducing and then imposing a blanket ban on smoking in all public places. Currently threatened but possibly only a chimera.

And here in Pontevedra the mayor’s most important objective is to get cars off the streets. My prediction is that his next ploy will be to introduce the no-parking stretches before and after zebra crossings that are the norm in other countries. Not that, as a pedestrian, I would necessarily complain about that.

After walking around Ponte de Lima yesterday, my visitor commented on the impressive cohesion and harmony about the folk thronging the town’s streets. Which I took to be a reference to the absence of the discordant notes one senses in a British city centre. The same thing can be said, I believe, of most Spanish towns. Even if the noise levels are appreciably higher. Which is as positive a note as any on which to end. At least if you live in Spain.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Down into Portugal this morning, to North West Iberia’s only true international airport, outside Oporto. This was to pick up an old friend, who’d sadly chosen the first really dull and wet day in weeks on which to arrive. Perhaps autumn has finally reached this part of Spain, after our Indian summer.

And then to Braga, to take another look at the cathedral there. This city may or may not have been - many centuries ago - the capital of northern Lusitania. Some say it was and others say it wasn’t. But a couple of things are indisputable. Firstly, it’s now in Portugal. And, secondly, several – if not most – of those who Ms Meakin regards as the stars of Galicia’s First Golden Age in the 4th century were associated with this city. Of course, at that time Galicia’s southern border lay further south than it does now. Hence their inclusion in her pantheon of Galician fame. Though, I think the Portuguese lay claim to some of them.

And then to the lovely town of Ponte de Lima, for a marvellous lunch of grilled trout and vinho verde. In a restaurant where there was no TV on the wall and no screaming kids running around. So you didn’t have to contribute to the cacophony by shouting your part of the lunchtime dialogue. I probably don’t need to mention that this town is also in Portugal.

Speaking of Ms Meakin . . . Readers Ferrolano and Ointe have kindly pointed out that one can download - from here – a PDF version of her book containing the photos I mentioned yesterday.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

I’ve made numerous references to Spanglish over the years. Here’s an article about a comprehensive web page on this.

It’s reported that the traffic police have hit a ‘goldmine’ with fines for the use of a mobile phone while driving, though the amount collected for this offence still comes a long way behind that for speeding. Is this the time for me to make my proposal they fit me with a small camera in my shirt lapel so that I can snap dozens of perpetrators each day as I walk into and out of town? Especially on the roundabout. The commission should cover my own fines.

And talking of speeding . . . No great surprise to read the police are going to massively increase the number of radar traps next year. And that they forecast a very significant increase in income from this source, when everything else is falling. Nice to know they expect to cop 2.2 million drivers next year, some of whom may well be committing an offence at the time they are ticketed.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Pontevedra continues to delegitimise parking spaces in the city for no apparent reason beyond forcing cars off the road. Or perhaps into the fee-generating car parks.

Finally . . . Over on Wednesday’s Comments Section, Mr Cade continues to show he can get at least one hand out of the straight-jacket.

Publishing Note

These are the final additions to Galicia: The Switzerland of Spain . . .

Chapter 8: The Cathedral of Santiago
Chapter 9 : The Portico de Gloria
Chapter 10: Sculptured Capitals
Chapter 11: The Royal Hospital
Chapter 12 : La Colegiata de Sar
Chapter 17: Livestock of Galicia
Chapter18: Padron
Chapter 25: Galicia’s Great Monasteries
Chapter 27 : Dives Galaecia

The first four of these are really only for those who have a deep interest in buildings. Or a fascination with the question of whether the master-sculptor Mateo was French, Spanish or even Galician. Miss Deakin does give a masterly – if lengthy – description of the wonderful Portico de Gloria in Santiago Cathedral but, to do it justice, you need to be standing underneath it with a print-out of the chapter in your hand. And with an hour or two to spare.

But the chapter on the Royal Hospital (now the hotel of Los Reyes Católicos) is not such heavy going. And that on the Colegiata de Sar is delightful. While that on livestock is mildly fascinating on the subject pigs in Santiago. Even the chapter on the great monasteries has its charm at times. And has certainly given me one or two more places to visit.

In her final chapter (27), Ms Deakin takes an impassioned leave of Galicia, possibly going overboard in the process. In doing so, she shows I was wrong to think she was at her most lyrical in an earlier chapter. If you read no others, give this one a go.

It’s a great shame we don’t have Ms Deakin’s 1907 photos so good luck to anyone who tries to track down a copy of the original book.

Friday, October 02, 2009

In their relentless quest to have a good party every weekend from, well, January 1 to December 31, the good burghers of Pontevedra have initiated a new one in mid September. The lacuna was in the area of fiestas gastronomicas so it was inevitable, I guess, we'd henceforth have a seafood festival at this time of year. Just a couple of weeks after the Medieval Fair, inaugurated only ten years ago but now huge. We may be in the midst of a recession - possibly even a depression - but life must go on. At least until north European taxpayers stop sending us solidarity subventions.

A few weeks ago, I received a circular from my gas supplier, saying they were sending someone to inspect my installation in September. I wasn't in when these people called and, since the note they left didn't acutally have the number they referred to, I sent them an email saying I'd be in Extremadura on the back-up date and asking for a visit at the end of the month. They replied they couldn't possibly arrange a visit to suit me and that they'd call anyway. Which they did. Leaving another note, this time telling me they'd issue a report without an inspection. Which should be interesting. "Called but you were out. We have no idea whether you're at risk or not. Be it on your own head"?

Well, I was going to tell you about the four new chapters of Ms Meakin's book I spent two hours re-formatting this morning. But, as they're on my other laptop at home, there'd be no point as I can't post them to my Galicia web page. Tomorrow then.

So, in the absence of this, I refer those of you who haven't yet enjoyed it to the correspondence around my blog of Wednesday, starring the ineffable Mr Cade in one of his many guises. Clicking this should take you straight to it. In case you don't know, Mr Cade is an angry Galician - resident in the UK - who regards anyone who disagrees with him - especially me - as an idiot. And his fellow Galicians as cretins for not sharing his view that Galicia and Gallego should be re-incorporated back into Portugal and Portuguese, respectively. He may or may not be serious. But I was tickled by reader Moscow's suggestion today that he's really Sacha Baron Cohen in his new persona. Enjoy!

Finally, I was interested to read this evening that the new term for Multiple Personality Disorder is Dissociative Identity Disorder. Or DID. Quite a coincidence.

So, tune in again later for what Cade DID next.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

I’ve often wondered why there's more illegal downloading of music and films here in Spain than anywhere else in Europe. The answer came in a news report this week of scientific study in the USA – It’s more carbon friendly than buying CDs and DVDs.

Like many Brits, I developed a singular distaste for Peter Mandelson many years ago. But I’m now on the verge of a sneaking regard for him. For one thing, compared with his boss Gordon Brown, he appears relatively uncomplicated and pragmatic. But, more importantly, anyone who can respond to the accusation he called the editor of The Sun a c***t with the straight-faced claim that he said ‘chump’ deserves serious consideration for even higher offices than the several he already holds. King, perhaps.

I drove to Santander on 12 August and, though I tried hard to keep to all the speed limits, I wasn’t too surprised to receive yesterday an email from El Tráfico accusing me of an offence that day. But, once I’d calmed down and my brain had started working again, I started to smell fish. So off I hove to a cyber café to open the PDF file on one of their machines rather than mine. Sure enough it was a request for personal details. They’re clever these crooks and the logos of the Guardia Civil all looked accurate to me. But today’s papers confirm it’s a scam. Though possibly a virus vehicle, rather than a phishing expedition. So be warned .

One of the things that Annette Meakin points out in the book mentioned below is that Galicia got trains before it got roads. I thought of this when passing the high-speed AVE works on the north edge of Pontevedra this evening. For, though our regional trains still take hours and hours to get anywhere, we’re promised an ultra-rapid link to Madrid within the next 6, 9 or 10 years. This seems to be our destiny.

Which reminds me . . . The Xunta has decided to increase the moneys it will give to low-cost airlines next year. Their strategy is to operate "One international airport with three terminals in La Coruña, Santiago and Vigo." God help us! I'll be in Oporto on Sunday, where I expect to find them still rolling in the aisles.

I was also interested in AM’s reports on the tobacco and linen industries in Galicia a hundred years ago. Now both long gone, I believe. But what she doesn’t mention are the Albariño wine-growing areas north of Pontevedra and along the Miño. Presumably because there weren’t any. But she does mention the centuries-old Ribeiro wine area around Ribadavia.

In Chapter 26, she goes to town on the flora and fauna of Galicia but doesn’t mention the mimosa which cheers up my January and February. Like the ubiquitous eucalyptus – which she does talk a little about – this seems to have established its grip here rather recently.

I would have said that Chapter 19 was Ms Meakin at her most lyrical but I’m currently re-formatting her valedictory final chapter, where she really goes off the rails. Even resorting to Shakespearean English to convey her emotions. But that’s for tomorrow . . .

Finally, I think I’ve said she must have been a Catholic but, in fact, she was C of E. Presumably very High Anglican, given the religious detail she revels in.

Publishing Note

Today’s additions to Galicia: The Switzerland of Spain . . .

Chapter 19: La Bellisima Noya [Noia].
Chapter 22 : Orense [Ourense
Chapter 23 : Monforte and Lugo
Chapter 26 : Trees Fruits and Flowers

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