Sunday, July 31, 2011

Another accolade for Pontevedra province. It seems we hold the record for the number of false insurance claims in the Galician region. Five times more than any other province, it was reported in the Diario de Pontevedra today. The standard scam is, after a minor accident, to claim for damage unrelated to it. With some assessors being in on the game, it's said.

And talking of fraud, it appears that quite a few of our local studs have lost money in a Do-you-want-to-be-a-gigolo? scam. When asked, they all sent money to a non-existent organisation which the police are now trying to trace. They say. But I bet they're just laughing themselves silly.

A nicely balanced article on the eurozone in The Economist this weekend. Their final paragraph stresses a point I've been banging on about for years . . . “Euro-zone leaders find themselves buffeted by a crisis they cannot control. How much more fiscal and political integration does the euro need? Nobody knows. Are citizens ready to give up more sovereignty to save the euro? Nobody has asked them. The more leaders try to fix the euro’s flaws the more they risk exposing a flaw in the European Union itself: a project of European integration that lacks a strong democratic mandate.” As I keep saying, interesting times.

I'm we all have problems with predictive text on our phones. So I was amused by this paragraph today:-”The auto-correct device on new 'smart' phones is causing misunderstandings among messagers. A daughter received a text from her mum saying ''Your father and I are going to divorce', whereas the woman had actually written 'Disney'. Another came from a girl chatting to her friend about her new boyfriend: 'He told me you’re the first girl he had ever talked about the Fuhrer with.' She meant 'future'.”

Until a few years ago, Brits represented 70% of the foreign purchasers of properties in Spain. Way ahead of any other nationality. This percentage has fallen to only 25% but the Brits still rank number one by some distance. Total annual sales are well down, of course, and one major reason is surely the publicity given to the plight of the poor Priors. Plus the fall of the pound, it has to be said.

Norway
: What can one say? Well this, for a start:- “The obsession of the [British] media and public with every detail of the Norwegian massacre is sickening. We should stop wallowing in Norway's grief. Worse still has been an outpouring of sentimentality (unlike the dignified restraint of the bereaved Norwegians) from commentators in other countries talking sanctimonious nonsense.”

Finally . . . Two new words for me today, though I fancy I may have seen the first before:-
  1. Babelicious: An amalgam of 'babe' and 'delicious' Like Sally Bretton, I guess.
  2. Ataxic: Characterised by ataxy – the inability to coordinate voluntary movements. Perhaps only Orwell could get away with it. Though I doubt he ever used 'babelicious'.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

La Crisis is naturally leading to a sinfin of cuts. Some are easier to implement than others. So, as dogs don't vote, the proposed improvements to the (pretty execrable) Pontevedra pound have been scrapped. Other things said to be at risk of cancellation are an annual tourism fair (Ferpalia) and the annual Pontus Veteris fashion show. Can't say I'll miss either of them. But I do feel sorry for the dogs.

I mentioned last night that the police here were constrained in their dealing with gypsy miscreants on the basis the value of the goods stolen. Things seem to be a lot worse in the UK. There, reports The Times, “Police fail to investigate one in three crimes reported to them, including drug trafficking, sexual assaults and violent attacks. The figures are even more stark in London where almost half of all investigations are dropped after an initial screening process because officers believe they cannot be solved.”

The Spanish daily timetable – el horario – is a thing of wonder - with many (most?) people having a three to four hour break in the middle of the day and then working to as late as 9.30 in the evening. You might think this is a function of the heat and that the Portuguese would do the same. But they don't; they work the same 'sensible' hours as the rest of us. I suspect the long Spanish day contributes to reduced productivity. But here's a report on other unhappy consequences.

A lot of dogmatic arguing goes on in Spain. And not just on daytime TV. So I was taken with this quote of Dr William Osler that I came across today . . . “The greater the ignorance, the greater the dogmatism.” Must remember it. Dr Osler was already known to me for another of his quotes which is a favourite of mine . . .We are here to add what we can to life, not to get what we can from it”. Wish I could say I lived by it. But I do try.

In the moribund Spanish property market, “Research reveals that vendors who bought since the bubble burst in 2008 are asking the highest prices”. Which is useful information for bargain-hunters, they say. Even if it doesn't come as a great surprise.

According to Amy Winehouse's first manager “Her voice that was that of the very best - Ella Fitzgerald, Billie and Dinah — up in that league. Her voice transcended just her generation, she is one of the greats of all time. The voice could crush you with its emotion.” If so, we have really lost a talent that comes along only once in a long while.

An interesting development down at the community pool this evening. I'd gone down there at six for a spot of reading, expecting it to be as under-used as it normally is. But, no, there was a group of young men and women there. And one of the latter was topless. This is the first time I've encountered this in ten years and one wonders – if that's the right word – whether it will catch on. I fear not.

When I finally got to concentrate on my book – George Orwell's “Burmese Days” - I came across yet another reference to The News of the World. Plus the interesting view that “You cannot stop your brain developing and it is one of the tragedies of the half-educated that they develop late, when they are already committed to some wrong way of life.” I wonder what my excuse is.

Finally . . . Recommended reading. If you're an agnostic, atheist or even a fairly balanced Christian, Jew, Hindu, Bhuddist, etc., etc., you will/might enjoy this piece from the prominent atheist, Sam Harris. But possibly not if you're a Muslim.

Friday, July 29, 2011

So, our general elections are to be held in November and not next March. Urged by the left-of-centre El País. Sr Zapatero has done the decent thing and effectively fallen on his sword. His government will now be an even deader duck than it has been until now. In which case, it would be nice to have at least some idea of what the incoming conservative party (the PP) might do when they have their hands on the reins of power. Maybe we'll get a manifesto. Though this doesn't tend to be a feature of Spanish elections. Where outlandish promises and juvenile name-calling are the preferred way of wageing a campaign. 

Meanwhile, the socialist national government and the conservative regional governments are still at each other's throats over who's going to pay for what and how. Specifically – in delicate times – how much debt the latter are going to incur. Depressingly, the PP party has said it'll have recourse to the Constitutional Court, if it doesn't get its way. And the money. Just what the country needs when the rest of the world is staring itself blind at the Spanish economy in general and debt levels in particular.

At a more macro, EU level . . . . A week on and it seems that last Thursday's summit afforded only a temporary respite for Europe's troubled economies. Probably because everyone concurs that fundamental problems weren't addressed and that all the actions are worryingly beset with both unknowable details and long delays in execution of whatever it is that's actually been agreed. Or, more accurately, whatever will be approved by national parliaments/ courts. But will this really stop Brussels' mandarins and national politicians taking the whole of August off? I rather doubt it. As a parting shot, though, some German bigwig has said that countries which are bailed out must expect to have their sovereignty reduced and to be controlled from Brussels. Which should go down well with the suffering Greeks. Some of them remember what a German Occupation feels like.

Anyway . . . Back to Spain. I don't recall that, when I first came here in 1971, Spanish women of middle age – however beautiful and proud they were – could be characterized as slim. But now, in 2011, a large woman in her 40s or 50s would be an unusual sight on the streets of Pontevedra. OK, they might cut an amusing/pathetic figure with their invariably long, blond hair, the same clothes as their teenage daughters and faces that are beginning to show the effects of the pernicious combination of sun and cigarettes, but fat they certainly aren't. So, what's happened? Has evolution happened rather quicker here than it usually does? Or are they still starving themselves as they did when they were younger? Views welcome. Especially if this is just a Ponters/urban phenomenon.

I mentioned the other day that the only quiet café in Pontevedra had installed WiFi. What I didn't realise then was that it's patronised by what the Americans call 'senior citizens'. Appreciably senior than me, I mean. Who tend to be deaf. And to shout at each other. Even louder than they'd normally do, that is. You win some and you lose some.

I think I reported a week or so ago that a woman and her niece from my side of the river (code for 'gypsy') had been arrested after doing five shops in quick succession. Well, she was arrested again yesterday and, this time, got violent. The thing is, if she sticks to a max of 300(?) euros in value, it's only a misdemeanor and the police have to let her go, to re-offend. Bit of a game really. They should really just post her picture in every shop.

Which reminds me of a particular gypsy couple I regularly see rifling the bins at the side of the road down the hill. Or taking a siesta on cardboard, next to the bins. As you'd expect, they aren't the cleanest of people. But what always gets me is that, whenever I see them walking up or down the hill, she's always three metres behind him. Maybe it's a calé custom.

Conversation of the Day.
Well, I haven't really had one, yet. But I did get this text message from Orange early this morning:- LAST CHANCE. Phone 2257 before 12.30 today and get a GALAXY o NEO o OPTIMUS, PLUS A LARGE DISCOUNT ON YOUR BILL. CALL! I guess this would have a greater impact on me if I knew what any of these things were. Mobile phones, I guess. Which would probably mean an increase in my tariff, after the very temporary discount.

Finally . . . I've just taken this picture of a car near this café. 




What's surprising is not, of course, that it's parked on the pavement. Nor that it's blocking the view of a zebra crossing. Nor that the window is open. And nor, even, that the key is in the ignition. It's the fact that the driver hasn't put the hazard lights on, to show that it's not really there. Some people!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

You read some daft things about Galicia. And not only in the books of the historian Hugh Thomas. Today, for example, I came across the suggestion that percebes (goose barnacles) are called “elephants' feet barnacles”. Though, on reflection, I guess this is possible in the USA. Not so for the ridiculous claim that the Galician language – a sister of Portuguese – is similar to, would you believe, Welsh. I can only imagine the writer believed all the guff he was given about Galicia being Celtic. As for the following, I wonder whether it's just another of the myths in which this region abounds - “The dome-shaped tetilla ('little tit') cheese is creamy and delicious with an interesting story behind it. It’s said that Galicians began making the cheese to protest the move by the church to reduce the breasts of a female sculpture in Santiago cathedral; the male sculpture across from it was said to have been grinning because of them”

Talking about Spain's regions . . . The Spanish “Catholic Kings”, Ferdinand and Isabela, were wont to move their court around the peninsula, as they brought the
Reconquista to a successful conclusion in 1492, the year our famous Poio-an, Christopher Columbus, set sail westwards for The East Indies. Ironically, the only region they never ever visited was Asturias, where the Reconquista had begun centuries before. In 722 at the battle of Covadonga, to be sort of exact. Even more ironic, of course, is the fact that Columbus was in the West Indies when he thought he was off the Chinese coast. And continued to think so for rather a long time. Despite the sniggering of everyone else. This stubbornness of one of the few things that backs the claim that he's Galician.

Not Going Out” is the sort of sit-com I dreamt of writing as a young man. For me, easily the wittiest/funniest thing on British TV. But, then, I'm a great admirer of Lee Mack and am hopelessly in love with Sally Bretton, who plays Lucy. OK, you can sometimes see the gag being set up but this is never laborious. And the program makes me laugh even more that “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. Does higher praise exist? Incidentally, WiFi Ponte refused to open the page of fotos of Sally, on the grounds it could be pornographic. I wish.

Although shops close every day in Pontevedra, it's not all one way. This outlet opened this week, giving us yet another gift shop to go with the hundred we already have.


And then there's the health food places, which (aptly enough) continue to sprout all over the city. I must count them one day.

Regular readers will know that, as this foto shows, the car-park of the granite carvers' school behind my house is used as a dump for pieces and slabs of granite.


But, walking Peter's dog today, I came across this, apparently abandoned, attempt at a human figure.


I guess it's pretty clear why it was abandoned.

Conversation of the Day.
I didn't think I was going to have one of these but at 7pm someone rang my bell . . .
Yes?
Hola. We're collecting water samples.
Who are you?
We're X, authorised by the Xunta.
(Suppressing my total scepticism). Really?
Yes. We're collecting samples of water from your tap and we'll tell you how pure it is. Free of charge.
OK. . . . . (Going off to collect a sample of filtered water from the fridge, not the tap).
Here you go.
My, that's cold.
Yes.
Is it from a well?
Yes.
OK, can you give me your name and address.
xxxxx
Are you German?
No, English. Are you really asking me for my age and marital status?
Yes.
What on earth for?
We have to.
Forget it.
OK. We'll call you in 20 days to tell you what your water's like.
OK.

Of course, I've no doubt that – although I gave them filtered water – they'll come back and tell me it's full of horrible chemicals. Not on the basis of any testing, needless to say. Except they won't, as I gave her the wrong phone number and she wrote down a surname based on my pronunciation which bears no resemblance at all to the number in the phone book. Bit of a shame that, as I was looking forward to hearing what nonsense they spouted when they came back with the results.

As for crisis-ridden Spain, here's David Jackson with a nice tale of the Good and Bad Times

And again.

So the execrable Piers Morgan has over a million followers to his tweets. What a world.

Finally . . . A few people have expressed interest in the TV-B-Gone I mentioned last night. Write to me at colindavies@terra.es if you live in Madrid or Galicia and want one. I will then put in a shipping order and get yours to you, one way or another.

Finally, finally . . .  Here's the mattress I didn't snap yesterday. Or, rather, the place where it was. Someone obviously got to it before me . . .



Spooky . . . I've just looked at this post and there seems to be an image of a mattress under the trees. Trick of the light? Or a ghost in the machine?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

You'd think that the national phone company – Movistar as is, Telefónica as was – would have a fully functioning web page, wouldn't you? But, no. I've tried twice now to get details of my last bill but am just left hanging, with the message that they'll arrive “en unos instantes”. But they never do and so now I've given up. It reminds me of an article in one of the papers the other day that Spain continues to fall behind in the application of informatica, or IT. While Virgin in the UK is announcing the development of the fastest cable option in the world.

Our town council has found numerous thing to spend its bags of money on in the last ten years. Including roundabouts galore, of course. And ring roads. Of which not one but two are being built, despite the fact we already have an autopista (the AP9) which avoids the town. Not to mention the old N550. But one thing they've never got round to is a municipal tip. The consequences are inevitable and as occasionally as obvious as this . . .

[Imagine a foto of a mattress lying on the grass near the entrance to a block of flats, just down from the bridge into Pontevedra. I forgot to take it on the way back from town this morning.]

Talking about inevitability . . . This café has Amy Winehouse on a loop. If I hear Rehab another time, I might just put my foot through the TV screen. Shame that my TV-B-Gone is on the blink. What fun I used to have with that, proving that no one in a bar or cafe would even notice if I switched off all the TVs in the place.

Customer Service: That's the way to do it . . . “British Gas has been hit with a £2.5 million fine for failing to handle customer complaints properly in the latest evidence of a crackdown by the energy regulator.” With more to come, apparently.

Literary coincidences:-
  1. Reading Animal Farm today (Yes, for the first time!), I noted that the farmer was a reader of The News of the World, and
  2. After saying only a day ago that I wanted to fulfil a dream of going to Samarkand, guess which city was featured in the El País Travel Section today.
And talking of language . . . It's been interesting to listen to the Swedish in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo films and to note the words which have obviously come into (Old) English. One of them is the word for 'daughter', leading to a third coincidence; the narrator in Samarkand learns Persian and notes, as I have in this blog, the similarity between the English and Persian words for father, brother, mother and daughter. All of which seem to have come down from Sanskrit relatively unchanged.

Conversation of the Day: Buying tickets for the bulls.
Hola. I'd like to buy 3 tickets for 7 Aug. But I have a question.
OK. What is it?
Well, I want 2 tickets at the discount rate for friends who are retired but they don't live here so I can't prove they're retired. As for me, I'm not yet at the retirement age, though not far off.
Well, I can give you 3 retiree tickets now without any problems but there's a risk you'll be asked to prove you're retired at the gate [As if!].
OK. Thanks, I'll take the tickets. Can I pay by credit or debit card?
No, only by cash.
(Wearily) OK, I'll see you tomorrow.
Hasta mañana.

Finally . . . Spain seems to be playing little heed to the EU law on free travel. Madrid intends to restrict the entry of Rumanians and Bulgarians to those with work permits. Turns out, though, that this is a grey area. Or, as it says here, “As the measure by Madrid is unprecedented, the EU executive has recognised it finds itself in new territory. According to some interpretations, Madrid doesn’t even need to get a green light from the Commission. Reportedly, the restrictions to be imposed by Madrid would concern only new arrivals. Also, tourist traffic would not be affected, as Romanians are free to visit any EU country for a stay of up to three months.” So that's alright then.

Except that “According to some reports, the measures to be put in place by Madrid could inspire other EU countries to impose limitations on their job market for citizens from Bulgaria and Romania. The Netherlands has already announced it will only be granting work permits to Bulgarians and Romanians in "exceptional cases". So, a trend. Hard times, hard laws.

Incidentally, Rumanians are by far the most numerous foreigners resident in Spain. Spaniards seem to attribute to them almost mythical powers for learning Castellano. But this may be more a reflection of the Latin base of both languages than anything else. The Baldie will surely tell me if I'm wrong on this.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Inevitably - if just a tad late – the latest issue of the satyrical magazine, Private Eye, has a field day with the News International/Met Police/ Government saga. And why not? Over the years, they've been even more assiduous than The Guardian at drawing attention to rogues in all these places And I'm indebted to the mag for these tidbits:-
  1. In 1799 a certain judge Kenyon pronounces that “The freedom of the press is dear to England; the licentiousness of the press is odious to England. I can see no better way to preserve the former than by beating down heavily on the latter.”
  2. 1843: The News of the World starts up. Just to prove him wrong. For a while.
The regular cartoonist in El Pais is called El Roto. Normally I just don't get what he draws. But yesterday he finally brought a smile to my face with his cartoon of a vulture saying he ignored what there was to eat on the TV as the carrion is inedible. Well, I thought it was funny. And on the button.

In the never-ending battle between Madrid and the regions, the former has said it'll no longer make cash transfers to those of the latter who are exceeding their debt targets. Feathers are now flying all over the dovecots and it'll be interesting to see where the inevitable local cuts bite and whether more supernumerary politicians are laid off. 

Talking of the economy, things don't look too good in any direction. The UK's growth in the second quarter was an anaemic 0.2% but the news is not much better elsewhere, with even Germany slowing down. As ever, Edward Hugh is pessimistic about Spain and sees her on the edge of a second dip . . . “Even as growth in the core economies approaches stall speed, out on the periphery a new recession seems increasingly on the cards, most importantly in countries like Spain and Italy which have so far managed to keep their heads just above the waterline. Growth in the second quarter of the year looks likely to have been minimal in both cases, and the outlook for the third quarter suggests we are entering a bout of economic shrinkage.” Which ain't good news for debt servicing challenges.

Actually, there's one thing that'll help Spain's GDP per capita number without too much effort. The country can continue to lose people the way it's doing at present. 300,000 since January, offset by only 278,000 immigrants.

On the specifics of the Spanish property sector, the news continues to be dismal:- “The large construction companies have started a mere 220 new homes this year. The companies in the so-called G-14 group have only managed to clear 15% of their stock over the past year and still have 4,700 flats for sale, despite dropping the prices. Only 1,700 flats are under construction, the ‘lowest number in history’. [Mostly in Pontevedra, it seems] In the first half of the year the large companies sold just 60% of the number sold in the same period in 2010. Prices are down an average 27% since the highs of 2008.” If you believe the official numbers, house prices have fallen from their 2007/8 peak least of all in Spain's two poorest regions Extremadura and Galicia. Of course, this may just mean that Extremadurans (Extremeños) display the same reality-defying stubbornness as the slightly less poor Gallegos.

Yesterday was the feast of Santiago, the patron saint of both Galicia and Spain (I think). So it was a good day to learn that the city boasts not just one but two ridiculous saint myths. The first, of course, about St James and the second about St Francis, who's said (on nil evidence) to have preached in the very building named after him in the city. Anyway, here's IberoSphere on the St James nonsense and you can read my comments there, if you haven't exploded with apoplexy.

Moving from Orange to Yoigo.
Chapter 3: I received a text today from Yoigo telling me all was done and dusted and confirming I'll be a customer of theirs from 2 August.
Chapter 4: A few minutes later, I got a text from Orange telling me nothing would happen until I called them. Which I didn't
Chapter 5: The number which has been calling me for days finally answered when I spoke and a woman asked me in a rapid mechanical tone why I'd decided to move from Orange. Equally mechanically and quickly, I ended the call.
So, either Yoigo or Orange is blatantly lying. I guess I'll find out which on August 2.

Finally . . . The free wi-fi down in Vegetables Square has entered a new era. Now they cut you off after 15, not 20 minutes. And there's apparently no way on earth you can get re-connected. That's service for you. Albeit free.

PS. As I post this, a guy who might not be all there has sat down beside me and started to mutter things to me in Spanish. I told him I didn't understand as I was English. So he switched to Gallego . . .


PPS: FINAL NOTICE
English speakers from Portugal and Galicia will be meeting in the Asian-buffet restaurant on the top floor of the A Barca shopping centre in Poio tomorrow, Wednesday. From 1.30 on. Everyone welcome. If I am still standing at the end of it – and can walk with three meals inside me – I will be giving a guided tour of the old quarter of Pontevedra, during the “dead hour”, when all is blissfully quiet.

Write to me at colindavies@terra.es if you really can't used Google Maps to find the place.

Monday, July 25, 2011

It seems that the film set on the Camino (“The Way”) won't actually be released in the USA until after the summer, reducing its impact on this year's pilgrim numbers. The IMDB entry says it was filmed partly in Burgos cathedral and makes no mention of Santiago cathedral. Which is odd as special permission for filming there was given to the makers. I tried to correct the IMDB comment today but screwed things up. Maybe tomorrow.

To say the least, brothels are very visible in Spain. Largely because they're lit up in pink neon at night and because they're nearly always called Club or something like Motel Venus or Factory Girls, to name two of the three we have in Poio. Here's a blog on the subject from someone who has an advantage over me; he's been inside one. And here's a picture of a road sign to said Motel Venus. 


You might take this to be a normal motel, if it didn't boast of having 2x2 beds, whatever they might be. Big enough for 4 people, perhaps. Incidentally, the Spanish government is talking of banning the (exceptionally explicit) brothel ads which fill the back pages of local and regional papers. It'll be interesting to see if this actually happens.

Talking of Poio, I finally happened upon the Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón) museum today, while looking for something else. Being a holiday, it was naturally closed. Another day, then.

A couple of days ago I gave Google a bouquet for being so good at stopping spam getting into my Inbox. And now comes a brickbat for News Now. This company provides an excellent citation service but its filters are useless. I've lost count of the number of times I've had to 'Hide' some weird journal or other. But still they come!

Which reminds me . . . I see that Google Labs is to be scrapped. This news might mean more to me if I had any idea what it is. Or was.

'Solidarity' is a word much bandied about in Spain and the EU. In my experience, when an institution, a country or a region is accused of lacking solidarity it means they've decided to stop subsidising some other institution, country or region. It's the bleat of the deprived. Meaning “Give us more of your money and stop asking questions”. I suspect Germany is going to be regularly accused of failing to show solidarity in the years to come.

Interesting to see Paul O'Grady doing a bit of moonlighting as someone interested in a pension from Banco Pastor, the Spanish bank which failed the recent stress tests. 


Following hard on the heels of “Rivers of Gold”, I've now finished Amin Maalouf's “Samarkand”. This has not only re-awakened my interest in Omar Khayam's “Rubaiyat” (and all matters Persian) but has also strengthened my long-standing resolve to visit the eponymous city. I first encountered the “Rubaiyat”, by the way, when I was 18 or 19, several years before I went to live in Iran and learnt Persian. But, anyway, I rather liked this comment from one of the main characters, very near the end of the novel:- “We should have been patient and waited, used tricks, procrastinated, yielded, told lies and given promises; that has always been the wisdom of the Orient.” And so visible in Arabic as well as Iranian culture(s).

Finally . . . What to say on the EU and the euro? It seems everyone agrees that a significant step has been taken, that disaster has been averted and panic nipped in the bud. But nobody thinks it's enough or that the underlying structural problems have been solved. Or even tackled. A false calm, then? Will the narrative cycle I described the other night resume? Has it already started? Will it wait for the European August shut-down? I suspect not. Per ardua ad astra.

One thing that can be said it that it's ironic that it was the European-owned Fitch ratings agency which responded by downgrading Greek debt. This was supposed to be an Anglo conspiracy.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Well, Bobby Rush was good last night but I was less than impressed with his use as merely adornments of two women whose nether regions were the size of Belgium, on the one hand, and Wales, on the other. But he is, he said, 78 so I guess he can be excused almost anything. As I hope I will be when the time comes.

Talking of Belgium . . . Did you know it's now 405 days since the home of the EU Commission had a government? The latest news is that they think they've got a group together to think about doing something about this.

Hard as it is to believe, the pronouncements from the PP leader, Sr Rajoy, in respect of the Valencian snake-pit get more and more outrageous. With total disregard (or perhaps the opposite) for the intelligence of the public, he's said that Sr Camps “acted with nobility (grandeza)” in resigning from his position as President of the regional government rather than, like two of his colleagues, admit to corruption in court. And, as I warned the other day, Rajoy's said that Camps still has a future in both the private and public spheres. Regardless of what the courts say in autumn/winter, I guess. Astonishing. What you have to do to prove you're strong and in control of your party in Spain. Eventually.

Anyway, talking of piss-poor management, see here for the reason why France shouldn't dominate the EU. Or anything. Too emotional. Like their vertically-challenged and hyper-active President. Shades of Zidane.

And talking of the French – Here's a headline from the Business Section of today's El País – “Los franceses montan el pollo”. Which I assume means something other than “The French are mounting the chicken”. I think you need to make the verb reflexive for this.

And talking of (democratic) government, here's a thought-provoking piece from Janet Daley on the political, rather than the economic, significance of what's going on in Project Europe.

As for the economics . . . Here's a few more Losers and just the one additional Winner from Thursday’s shenanigans. We'll address the post-euphoria weekend political observations tomorrow:-

LOSERS
  1. Morals. “The wording lets the EFSF intervene pre-emptively to cap Spanish and Italian bond yields, whatever the cost of moral hazard. These countries can therefore piggy-back on the AAA credit rating of the EMU core.” Or, as the President of the Bundesbank has put it:- "By transferring sizeable additional risks to aid-granting countries and their taxpayers, the euro area made a big step toward a collectivisation of risks in cases of unsolid public finances and economic mistakes. That's weakening the foundations of a monetary union founded on fiscal self-responsibility. In future, it will be even more difficult to maintain incentives for solid fiscal policies." I'll say. Business as usual, señores.
  2. Mrs Merkel's reputation. “The accord is a spectacular volte-face. Her mantra until now has always been that 'collectivisation of risks' would be a grave error.”
  3. The EU's reputation. “The EU medicine of austerity without any relief over the past 18 months has clearly failed. It has taken Greece to the brink of civil disorder and caused the debt trajectory to spiral towards 160% of GDP”. Plus a Marshall Plan is required for Europe after 10 years of the single currency. Some success!

WINNERS
  1. Those who will be given the new European ratings agency to run. Even if no one will believe a word it says.
Talking of winners . . . Good day for the Anglos in the Tour de France. Both the yellow and the green jerseys. The race gets less boring each year. Sorry, Charles.

Much (I assume) to the disgust of my friend Peter and our mutual friend Alfie Mittington, I'm trying to buy tickets for the 7 August bullfight here in Ponters, for me and two foreign aficionados. Checking on line this morning, I wasn't terribly surprised to find there's no discount available for net shopping. In fact, there's a 10% premium. Which suggests someone doesn't quite understand the basic principles of internet dealing. Shades of RENFE.

Talking of shopping . . . I walked past a place yesterday which would be impossible to even imagine in modern Britain. Its window was full of hunting knives. You won't see any of these in the UK, as they might be used to kill someone. I'm not even sure you can buy one. On the other hand you certainly can buy huge kitchen knives and choppers. Not to mention scissors. Which can't be used to kill anyone, of course.

Which, finally, reminds me . . . One wonders if Norway will now see a fit of “Something-however-stupid-must-be-done”-ness, the like of which occasionally hits Britain. And is, of course, responsible for the ban on (some) knives.

But life goes on, So . . .

NOTICE

English speakers from Portugal and Galicia will be meeting in the Asian-buffet restaurant on the top floor of the A Barca shopping centre in Poio next Wednesday, 27 July. From 1.30 on. Everyone welcome. If I am still standing at the end of it – and can walk with three meals inside me – I will be giving a guided tour of the old quarter of Pontevedra, during the “dead hour”, when all is blissfully quiet.

Write to me at colindavies@terra.es if you really can't used Google Maps to find the place.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Another bone to pick with rick Stein . . . In this week's program he extolled the virtues of pimentón. Although he didn't explain, this is paprika and it comes in two forms – sweet (dulce) and spicy (picante). Nowhere is it used more than in Galicia, where it forms the base of about the only sauce you'll ever get with a fish dish. Specifically Merluza a la gallega. This is a piece of boiled hake, accompanied by a kilo of “the best potatoes on Spain”, covered in the pimentón sauce. Frankly, I'm sick of it. But, anyway, if you see 'a la gallega' on the menu, you now know what to expect.

And Hugh Thomas too. Writing in “Rivers of Gold”, he tells us that Padrón is west of Santiago. Well, not when I last went through it a couple of weeks ago. It was – and I believe still is - south of that city After his telling us, wrongly, that Bayona/Baiona is in the mouth of the Miño/Minho, I'm beginning to wonder if he's ever consulted a map of Galicia. But I'm grateful to him for a few interesting facts which I'll be sharing with you sometime soon.

I've touched on Spanish regional politics in the past, suggesting that the provincial governments might be a luxury which Spain can no longer afford. This week, indeed, there's been news of jobs being shed by incoming regional/provincial administrations. Anyway, here's an introduction to politics at the provincial level, from fellow blogger David Jackson.

I see that the regional bank The CAM has been nationalised, to stop it going under. I mention this only because it reminds me that, at the height of Spain's crazy building bum, the CAM opened a branch in the centre of Pontevedra and then advertised it was opening another one less than a hundred metres away. It didn't, in fact, and I wonder how much longer the one we've got can stay in business. After all, it's not from these parts and no local politician is going to do anything to save it.


As for the sounder banks . . .  "A combination of moribund economic growth and the deterioration of the country’s property market after a decade-long real estate boom continue to chip away at the profitability of the country’s medium-sized banks, with the level of bad property loans across the sector having hit a 16-year high in May." More here. The biggest banks - Santander and BBVA - report next week.

This is a picture of a dog I saw this evening in town.


As you can probably tell, it's smaller than, say, a male Siamese. Prompting the question – If you want something the size of a cat, why not get a bloody cat? Which reminds me . . . One of the more fashionable dogs of Pontevedra is the French bulldog. This is smaller but less ugly than its British counterpart. If you want something uglier, you have to opt for the equally fashionable pug. Of which I have difficulty telling one end from the other.

Talking of dogs . . . I learned today why there are bottles of water on the floor near the entrance to some shops and flats in town. It's because of the tendency of dogs to piss there. But I don't know how they work. Are they meant to be a deterrent or is the dog-owner expected to wash away the urine when his/her dog's finished?


In Ponters tonight we have Bobby Rush, as part of our Jazz & Blues program. Good but not quite up to the standard of B B King in San Sebastián the other night. 

Finally . . . Conversation of the Day. Between me and my lovely neighbour-but-one, Manolo (the poor chap who lives with his wife and two quiet daughters on the other side of Nice-but-Noisy Toni and his increasingly loud two sons).
Manolo, am I allowed to paint the door of my house any colour I like?
Your gate? I think this has to be white.
No, the front door of my house. I want to paint it blue.
I'm not sure but I don't think you can?
Well, you're the President of the Community. What do the Statutes say?
Dunno. I haven't got a copy. Never seen 'em. You'll have to ask the company which administers the community's business.
I did two years ago but they couldn't find them.
Ah, well . . .

Friday, July 22, 2011

Note: I wrote an Economics & Politics post earlier today. So scroll down, if these interest you.

I'm sorry but Rick Stein is at it again. Annoying me, I mean. In the 30 minutes of his latest program I caught last night, he did his level best to further the myth that Galicia (and the whole of northern Spain in fact) is perpetually shrouded in fog and subject to continuous rain. Well, I can't talk for the Cantabrian coast but I can say this ain't at all true of the Atlantic coast. OK, winters here are grey and pretty wet but you'd have to go a long way to get better summers than we have. So, cut it out, Ricky boy. On second thoughts, don't. We don't want foreign tourists here, spoiling the ecosystem with their stupidly large tips . . .

Yoigo: Chapter Two
Yes, sir.
I was here last night. I'd like to sign up for your Option 8.
There's a minimum of 6 euros a month.
Good. I thought it was 8.
Do you have your documents?
I have my passport, my residence card, fotos, and bank documents. And (producing a vial from my pocket) in this I have several drops of my blood.
(Smiling). OK. Could you give me a bank receipt.
(Offering a fan of the things). Take your pick!
(Taking one) This is dated March.
So?
We need one dated – Let's see, it's July – May or June.
Well, you didn't say that last night but, fortunately, I have one.
OK. Can I have your passport.
Yes, but the document Amena/Orange used was my residence card.
So, we need to use that.
OK, I have a photocopy of that.
No, that's not good enough. We need to scan your card.
Why?
We just do. I need the original to scan.
(Wearily) OK. Here it is.
What's your address?
It's on the card.
Oh, yes. What's your phone number?
xxxxxxxxx
Which model phone do you want?
The simplest one you've got. No camera. No radio. Maybe an MP3. But no Bluetooth.
(Smiling indulgently at my naivety) You can't get a phone these days without Bluetooth. What about this one?
Fine.
(She then starts to write the details in a ledger, thus demonstrating the mix of 18th and 21st century technology and attitude that one meets so often in Spain). Well, you should get the line within 6 days but, as today's a Friday and there's a holiday on Monday and two weekends, you won't get the line until August 2. But you can call in and get the phone on August 1.
Why should I do that if there's no line?
Well, you can wait until August 2 then.
Fine. Thanks.
Gracias. Hasta luego.

Less than an hour later, I was impressed to get a text from Yoigo telling me the process had begun and I didn't need to do anything else. They'd do everything. Within half an hour, I received a text from Orange asking me to call them to confirm that I'd initiated a transfer. I ignored this and have so far today received five calls from this number – 900900751. No one has been on the other end when I've answered them. I assume it's Orange, showing their customary efficiency.

In a recent survey, Spanish women were found to be the most stressed, if not in the world, at least in Europe. Assuming this is true, one wonders why but I assume it's this generation of Spanish women which is being asked to be both the ama of the house and one of the two breadwinners. Without much help from this generation of Spanish men. It reminded me of my lovely new (Madrileño) neighbours, Jacobo and Ester. The latter is, jokingly, called Estress by her husband. And I do hope they'll forgive me for telling you this . . . Anyway, this is what El Mundo said on the subject:- “Según la propia encuesta, tanto en los países más desfavorecidos como en los más ricos, las mujeres desempeñan varios papeles a la vez y esto es lo que contribuye a su estado de nervios.” More here.

I use Gmail and have always been impressed by their ability to stop 99.9% of spam getting through to my Inbox. So, it was ironic that the spam message their computer let through yesterday purported to be from Google.

Which, finally , reminds me that I received two invitations today:-
  1. You have $85,000USD in cash credit by the International Monetary Funds via western union [sic]. Confirm receipt with Full Name,Address,Tel,Occupation. Does anyone really fall for these? I guess they do.
  2. Dear Colin,

I would like to invite you to become a user of our service.

Let me explain.

My name is T G, I'm the Vice-president for social dating network xxxxxxxx.

Late last year, my partners and I launched a new social network for dating - xxxxxxx, we have a small and cohesive team, and we truly believe we make a good and useful product for our users. xxxxxxx's mission is to connect people looking for love, romance, friendship and marriage.

All of our team, including myself, as it always happens in startups, is engaged in the search for the users of our site.

Recently I have been surfing Facebook and found your profile, which says that you are Single and are looking for a woman. [Really? I didn't know that!]

Colin, I invite you to become our user. Registration takes just a couple of minutes, and since you have an account on Facebook, you can easily go down to our service using this account.
Our project is just six months old, but we have more than 130k likers on Facebook, and we are very proud of it, because it became possible only thanks to the good work of our service, and we are working very hard.

Colin, you are welcome to join us and become our user. Login using your Facebook account right now.

And if you are not interested, please excuse me for this letter. For its main purpose is to help two people become one, to find their soulmates, and to make the world better.

Good luck and best wishes,

T G,
Vice-president, xxxxxxxx.com


I can't help wondering whether this is one of several reasons one shouldn't have a Facebook account. Or get rid of the one you've got.
Note: This is a Not-so-Black Friday extra post. Scroll down for last night's and come back later for this evening's.

AN ECONOMICS-POLITICS SPECIAL

I rather like today's El Mundo headline on yesterday’s events – A decaffeinated suspension of payments for Greece.

It's far too soon to know for sure, of course, but here's my first stab at the winners and losers from last night's developments:-

WINNERS
  1. The banks. Hence the soaring shares.
  2. Shareholders, especially those with bank shares. Ditto.
  3. Mrs Merkel. Largely got her way.
  4. The German government. Now well on the road to financial hegemony of Europe. At the third attempt, say some wags.
  5. Greece. Got at least some relief. Though it probably won't be enough.
  6. Sarkozy. The hyperactive dwarf has probably managed to convince Frances' electorate that it was him wot done it.
  7. The EU government, whoever that really is. A nascent EMF formed and a big step taken towards real financial and political union. At least among 17 members. Assuming there aren't too many devils in the details and all the states ratify the deal.
  8. Italy, Spain, Belgium, etc. Will now get some relief in the bond markets. At least near-term.
  9. Europe's political leaders. They can now go on their long summer holidays while their countries close down, with relief.

LOSERS
  1. Some banks. May have to suffer a relatively small write-off of their loans.
  2. Some bank shareholders. Will feel the effect of these write-offs.
  3. Mrs Merkel. Now has to face her electorate and the German courts
  4. Greece. Has to sell the family silver and inflict even more pain on her people.
  5. Sarkozy. Despite his ridiculous triumphalism, he didn't get the tax on banks he demanded.
  6. The EU government. A two-speed europe now looks inevitable.
  7. Italy, Spain, Belgium, etc. They won't be given the same deal as Greece, should things turn pear-shaped where they are. If you believe the announcements.
  8. The taxpayers of at least 17 states, who are going to have to finance the EMF. There are fewer of these in Greece, Italy and Spain than there are in, say, Holland and Germany. So the pain will not be commensurate with any gain. But who cares? Certainly not Brussels. Nor the mal-informed electorates I suspect.
  9. The European Central Bank. Had its concerns ignored. Poor M. Trichet.
So, there you have it. The clear Winners and Losers. I leave it to you (and to Time) to work out where the net balance lies.

SPANISH POLITICS

As you know, Sr Camps has gone, insisting that “I have resigned for the good of the party, despite the fact that as of now I am completely innocent”. This, of course, is merely because he hasn't had a trial yet. A technicality, in other words.

This trial will be later this year – unless the Spanish judicial system is completely frozen stiff by then.

Meanwhile, with that bare-faced cheek which one perhaps only sees in Spanish (and Italian?) politics, the PP is drawing a comparison between their 'innocent' Sr Camps and the 'guilty' Sr Rubalcaba of the PSOE party, who's alleged by them to be complicit in some ETA deal of years ago. Along the lines of “If an innocent[!] man resigns, then a guilty man should swallow the same medicine.”

If it wasn't so serious, it'd be hilarious. As has been said before, Spanish politicians don't so much as use soundbites but downright lies. Which doesn't say much for their view of the voters.

More tonight perhaps, when I've read other people's views of developments.

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