Sunday, August 31, 2014

Presidential chat; Spanish mayors; Train safety; Smuggling; & Evocative songs


Presidents Rajoy of Spain and Merkel of Germany recently spent a few hours together, while walking a few kilometres of the Camino. They were pictured chatting without an interpreter, leaving me wondering what language they spoke in. Merkel speaks English, I believe, but Rajoy doesn't. Which is something of a Spanish tradition. Perhaps the next one.

I can't say I understand the details but there's a new law planned on the election of Spanish mayors. These are powerful people here, not just ribbon-cutters as in the UK. The aim appears to ensure that mayors are not locally elected but appointed by the party which wins the regional elections. The result, of course, will be to entrench the rule of one or other of the 2 main parties. And the disappearance of popular mayors such as ours in Pontevedra, who's a member of the Galician Nationalist Party. Doubtless the bill will be passed, despite screams of protest from the country at large. As I say, what's the point of power if you can't abuse it?

It's taken more than a year but all trains coming into Santiago are now fitted with the security system which should have been installed in the train that crashed last year, killing 80 people. Meanwhile, the driver has been prosecuted but, so far, no one from either of the companies responsible for the decision not to install the system in the first place, despite internal warnings this was inviting an accident.

A Spanish reader recently took me to task for saying I only claimed that smuggling took place into and out of Gibraltar whereas I stated for a fact that it took place into Galicia. I thought of this when reading that the Guardia Civil had captured a yacht from Colombia carrying 800 kilos of cocaine and heading for one of our nearby estuaries.

Finally . . . Have you ever had the experience of a forgotten song coming on and producing a surprise effect in your gut? Eventually you realise it's connected with a now-distant time and place. Today I was taken back to my 19th year, when this song came on the radio. Which led to this one, which I can just about recall singing while playing a pathetic guitar when I was a teacher in the Seychelles. Before anyone knew where they were.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Spanish vignette; Life in Spain; & Grumpy Old Man


I had another of those lovely Spanish experiences early this evening. I was sitting on the steps of the Turismo in the old quarter, waiting for friends. A little boy of 3 or 4 was playing next to me with 2 objects he was pretending were cars. His parents were a couple of feet away, at a bar table. When they got up to go, the father hid one of the boy's objects in his pullover, as he was looking the other way. The poor kid was stupefied and, in exasperation, asked me if I knew where it was. I shrugged my shoulders and pointed towards his parents, who were walking away. A minute or so later, the little boy came running back to me to say his father had had it all the time. How we all smiled. There is an awful lot to be said for socialising your kids by taking them (almost) everywhere with you.

Life in Spain:
  • Consumer prices continue to fall (0.5% over the year to August). Inflation is now officially zero and this appears to be bad, as deflation looms, threatening an already weak economy.
  • Youth unemployment is once again the highest in the EU, having overtaken that of Greece, which has held this dubious distinction for a few years. 25% of all the EU's workless young people are now here in Spain. It would be even more if so many of them hadn't gone 'overseas' to seek jobs.
  • The Royal family: My friend Anthea has read the prensa rosa and advises that 1. the royal family - in an anti-corruption/scandal move - is to shrink; and 2. the magazines have given up predicting the divorce of the new monarchs and are now concentrating on Queen Letizia's skinniness. Equals anorexia.


Finally . . .

Curmudgeon Corner: My lovely young guests of last week left me 20 towels to wash, after being here only a week. They were clearly under the impression this was a hotel with nil regard for the environment. I should have put one of those specious hotel notices in the bathrooms. Anyway, for 3 people for just 1 week the total of 20 comprised 9 bath towels; 3 beach towels; 4 hand towels; and 4 bidet towels. In future I'll be locking the towel cupboard. Meanwhile, here's the freshly-washed evidence . . . 


P. S. For pedants, there are 2 blue bath towels together.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Racism in the UK; Islam; Secret eating; Life in Spain. More new English; & A stylish departure.


All the reports on the appalling events in Rotherham in the UK stress they'd long been covered up because of a fear of being accused of racism. Well, up to a point. What people were really concerned about, I'm sure, was losing their jobs and their income after being accused of being racist. Like the brave headmaster of a school in Bradford 30 years ago.

Which reminds me . . . Islam was born out of tribal rivalries in the Middle East in the 7th century. One could be forgiven for believing this is what it's regressing to. But with rather better weapons to hand. Contrast things with the 14th century. As Justin Marozzi writes: "The Europe of Temur's time, in Muslim eyes at least, was little more than a barbaric backwater. Church and state were divided and weak. The age of imperial adventure had expired, not to be revived until the late 15th century. Edward the Black Prince might have cut a dashing figure on the battlefields of Europe but the Islamic world scarcely registered this sorry land of the infidel. The real treasures of conquest were not to be found in what the Koran referred to as the dar el harab (the abode of war), home of the unbelievers. They lay in the East. As Bernard Lewis wrote: 'For the medieval Muslim, from Andalucia to Persia, Christian Europe was still an outer world of darkness of barbarism and unbelief, from which the sunlit world of Islam had little to fear and less to learn.'" How things have changed.

There is, apparently, such a thing as a 'clandestine restaurant', also called a 'supper club' or a 'pop-up restaurant'. We even have at least one in Pontevedra, though - appropriately - I don't know where it is. Some of these are legal and some aren't. They're sited in unusual places - such as a flat - but may well be just another ruse for generating specious exclusivity and, so, higher prices. I'm told by the owner of of our local contender that I have to get 9 people together before I can book a table. So it may be some time before I can check it out.

Life in Spain: I had a doctor's appointment this evening, just to get my prescription renewed. It was for 18.56 (yes, 56) and I got to see him - for less than 3 minutes - at 19.25. Of the 8 people who went in before me, one was someone who arrived, asked everyone what time their appointments were, said he was a friend of the doctor and then proceeded to walk straight in without waiting for the latter to call a name. No one seemed either surprised or annoyed by this blatant queue-jumping. Así son las cosas. Given the chance, they'd all do the same. Me, I just read my book or listened to a podcast. Anyone who goes about without one or both of these in Spain is a fool.

Anyway, here's another English 'phrase du jour': 'To drill down'. This seems to mean to look at or to investigate. Essential in all business reports. Until the next phrase comes along.

Finally . . . I am now sadly bereft of visitors. But the last to depart did so in true British style - with the mother of all hangovers. I felt rather sorry for him as he boarded the train for Santiago, with an hour's journey ahead of him, plus more than 2 hours at the airport before his flight. And that was before take-off was delayed for a further 2 hours. But, hey, you reap what you sow. A lesson I finally learned when I was rather older than my young guest. So time and its wisdom are on his side. Meanwhile, he was surely able to get some hair of the dog at the airport.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Driving in Spain; Ice-bucketing; Butterfingers!; Noise; Spanglish;& La Tomatina madness,


My car is now almost 2 years old and has all the scratches you'd expect from driving in Spain - delivered by high kerbs, pillars in impossible underground garages and holes in car parks that allow the bumper/fender to hit the ground. One day soon I'll get them all re-painted and the process can start all over again.

The ice-bucket phenomenon is naturally entering a crazy - and dangerous - phase. Someone was injured this week in Cataluña when a plane dropped a helluva lot of cold water on him. What's surprising is that anyone was surprised. And that he wasn't killed.

Talking of accidents . . . A Spanish patient has been awarded damages against a hospital which lost his severed fingers on the way to surgery. It's not unusual for things to go astray in the mail here - particularly from the UK in my experience - but things have never sunk to this extreme. Perhaps they got the digital code wrong and the extremities couldn't be tracked.

On the final day of their visit, I took my young visitors across the border to a restaurant I favour in Portugal. As ever, it was very quiet. So much so that even the 4 Spaniards on the next table felt constrained to keep their voices down. A very pleasant - albeit brief - change from raucous Spain.

Back here, though, of couple of men on holiday down south fell out over the endless barking of the dog of one of them during the siesta hour. The 3.30 row ended when one pulled out a shotgun and killed the other. Something, I confess, I've felt like doing on more than one occasion.

Two more English gerunds have been pressed into Spanish service:-
El catering: The provision of, well . . . catering. But with a short 'a' sound. Also El cáterin.
El bumping: Forcing a special key into a lock so as to gain entry and commit burglary.

Finally . . . One of Spain's oddest festivals is La Tomatina, down in Valencia. Lots of pix here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

An equine event; Fun at the health centre; Traffic rules; Scotland; & New words


There's a small parque geriatrico just down the hill for me, next to a basketball court. It contains a number of 'machines' (implanted in the ground) which are intended for older folk. The only people I've seen using them are gypsies from the nearby permanent encampment. When we drove into town last night, there was a horse grazing there, a couple of gypsy minders and a police car. When we drove back later, they'd all gone. I'll have to check the local paper tomorrow to see what all this was about. I've never seen a horse - or a police car - there before.

A conversation at the local medical centre, where I took one of my visitors to have her ears de-waxed:-
Hola again. Look, we need another copy of her passport and insurance policy. Do you have them with you?
Yes, but your colleague took a second copy when we made the appointment the other day. Will that not do?
Ah, well - we can't find those so we need to take another. We're anxious to ensure she doesn't have to pay anything. Each visit needs a copy of the forms that we then send off to head office.

So, they might not have been efficient but at least they were very pleasant and, as I've said, as helpful as could be. Actually, the highlight of this visit was a second nurse bursting into the room of the one wielding a huge syringe and accusing her of stealing a patient. We weren't sure whether it was my visitor or not but the officiating nurse took it all very calmly, never dropping her smile. And for the 5th time she told me she didn't speak English but that her daughter spoke German.

Incidentally, when I pointed out to my young visitor that none of the other waiting patients was reading, she commented there were no racks of magazines available. We agreed this was probably because this would be a waste of time. And money.

And another conversation as we walked into town this morning:
Colin, is this really a one-way street?
Yes.
And is it one-way in that direction?
Yes.
So, why are there large arrows pointing in the other direction?
Because they change the direction every year or so. That's why the roundabouts at each end are half-closed at the moment, to stop people going the way they used to go up this street.

And now a non-news item: "Spain would veto Scotland's entry into the EU if the latter voted for independence in an upcoming referendum, an Irish politician and former top EU official said on Sunday." As would France, in all probability.

Finally . . .  Two new English words for me: 1. The muon is an elementary particle similar to the electron, with unitary negative electric charge of −1. 2. M'kay: A nasalised variant of okay. Perhaps made popular by frequent appearance in the cartoon South Park as Mr Mackey's catchphrase.

Invitations; Life in Spain; Changing English; Ice buckets; & My new BBQ


Invitations: When I first heard the phrase Significant Other, in 1986, I thought it was a joke but, talking of my daughter's upcoming wedding, my young visitors today acquainted me with the important distinction between this label and that of Plus One. The latter is someone with whom you're not in a relationship but who's still allowed to come with you. If you're a johnny-no-mates, you just get an invitation for yourself alone, I'm told.

Life in Spain: There are (large?) parts of Spain where tourism is still the cheap and cheerful variety. Perhaps, then, it's not too surprising that the country comes quite high - 5th - in someone's survey of countries visitors most moan about. Ahead of Spain at 10% were the Dominican Republic(12%), Egypt(15%), and Turkey(17%). But garnering most brickbats was the cruise ship option, which upsets a huge 27% of its customers. Most of the complaints relate to health, hygiene and food standards, it seems. The last thing you want to be doing is eating a badly-cooked hamburger in a dirty swimming pool, at sea.

Changing English: People of my generation say either bored with or bored by. Today's generation seems to say bored of, which I guess we now have to accept as the authorised version. I've just found this reference which confirms this - "It represents a perfectly logical development of the language and was probably formed on the pattern of expressions such as tired of or weary of. "

This morning I was subjected to my visitors to the ice-bucket ordeal. They adamantly refused to pour a kettle-full of hot water into said bucket - to avoid a heart attack - and, instead, poured in a few trays of the obligatory ice. I was quite relaxed about it but found it worse than I'd feared. But the aspirin I gave to one of them to administer should I suffer an infarct wasn't necessary and, happily, one of my guests had a towel and a glass of wine to hand. Plus the sun was shining. There is a video but, as my language turned as blue as my face, this can't go on general release.

Finally . . . My new BBQ duly passed its debut test today, even though I hadn't used either the spanner or the screwdriver which the diagrams indicated were necessary. I will tighten up everything one day. Maybe. There's an awful lot of it to be done. And first I have to find out whether the contraption really is foldable.


House for Sale in Pontevedra

My neighbours are moving to Madrid and selling their lovely house. Lots of pictures here. Brief description: South west orientation. Completely renovated. In a development with swimming pool, extensive green areas, place for parties, excellent community environment. €395,000.

Details
4 floors
322 sq m constructed, 283 sq m usable
5 double bedrooms
3 bathrooms
Plot of 336 sq m
Terrace of 336 sq m plus
Garage
Completely furnished
Excellent condition
5 built-in wardrobes
Lumber room
Covered laundry room
Central heating
Private garden

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Wonders of Spain; Guiri students; Puzzling Spain; New word; & A mental challenge.


Spain's Sights: Miffed at not having any Spanish item in the list of global natural wonders, someone has produced this list of 7 wonders of Spain. I have to say I'm surprised none of them made it into the worldwide list.

There are said to be more than 425,000 foreign students in Britain but only 75,000 in spain. One reason has been the typically Spanish requirement that they pass the domestic Selectividad, an exam in Spanish based on Spanish history and culture. Belatedly, the government has realised this is a 'huge barrier' to attracting foreign students and has announced it'll be abolished for them. So, vamos a ver. Will we now see a deluge?

The Madness of King Spain: As David Jackson says, if you live in Spain, you sometimes have to pinch yourself. In the Balearics, an important decision is in danger of being annulled simply because there wasn't a picture of the right monarch on the wall. Though perhaps a foto on the President's desk will prove to have been enough. More on this (Franco relic?) madness here.

English: Another new word for me today . . . mansplaining. I think this means a man explaining to a woman his (patronising?) view on issues of particular relevance to women. Isn't language wonderful?

Finally . . . I bought a new BBQ today. And then wasted more than 2 hours of my life putting it together. I had, of course, realised from the flatness of the pack that it needed assembling but I hadn't expected the number of screws, washers and bolts to run into the hundreds. The instructions, of course, were purely pictorial and predictably indecipherable. Common sense was called and this is something I lack. However, I ploughed/plowed on and was finally rewarded with something that might just do the job tomorrow.


House for Sale in Pontevedra

My neighbours are moving to Madrid and selling their lovely house. Lots of pictures here. Brief description: South west orientation. Completely renovated. In a development with swimming pool, extensive green areas, place for parties, excellent community environment. €395,000.

Details
4 floors
322 sq m constructed, 283 sq m usable
5 double bedrooms
3 bathrooms
Plot of 336 sq m
Terrace of 336 sq m plus
Garage
Completely furnished
Excellent condition
5 built-in wardrobes
Lumber room
Covered laundry room
Central heating
Private garden

British boozers; New meanings; the Rotter; Corruption; Lessons on Life; Euro-misery: & A daft rejection.


The 2 elements of British society which have featured most in the minds of Spaniards over the years have been the decorous royal family and the less-than-decorous ooligans of the football terraces and the Balearic islands. Most recently of Magaluf. And now of Barcelona, where residents have recently protested against the renting of flats to groups of youths bent on binge drinking their way to oblivion, with nude supermarket shopping en route. The authorities are cracking down on the infamous bars of Magaluf and now they say they'll act in Barcelona. Perhaps one day drink-fuelled British youths will desist from el balconing which results in so many of them diving onto unforgiving poolside tiles, rather than into the pool itself.

Talking of young people . . . One plus of having some of them stay with me is the chance to learn new meanings for English words. Such as 'rammed', which now means 'packed'. As in: "This bar is jammed". Come to think of it . . . Didn't we use to say 'jam-packed'? I've also learned that a 'beer overcoat' is the perception/reality that a good dose of beer will keep you warm and allow you to go out into the cold in shirt-sleeves.

Which reminds me . . . Here's the latest offering from one of my guests, Jack the Rotter.

Corruption: The latest grand legume to grace the dock is a former chief of the Andalucian Tax Office. He's been charged with forgery, fraud and misappropriation as part of Operation Oscar. This appears to be a subset of the vast operation in which regional officials drained off more than €2bn (yes, 2 bilion) of EU money meant for education purposes. Little of which, I suspect, will ever be recovered and will provide nice nest eggs for the miscreants when they emerge from clink. Assuming they ever go there in the first place.

Spain: Here's someone's idea of the 10 lessons in how to approach life that Spain gives to the world. Enjoy.

The EU: Our Ambrose tells us that "An array of Nobel economists have launched a blistering attack on the eurozone's economic strategy, warning that contractionary policies risk years of depression and a fresh eruption of the debt crisis." More on this euro-misery here.

Finally: I was amused to read that George Orwell's Animal Farm was rejected by the publishers Knopf, with the comment it was a “stupid and pointless fable in which the animals take over a farm and run it.” They also dismissed it as “boring,  obvious and damn dull.” An EMI moment, then. Fifty years on, the book has been translated into 70 different languages and sold millions of copies.

Erratum: It should have been gummy bears yesterday, not yummy bears.



House for Sale in Pontevedra

My neighbours are moving to Madrid and selling their lovely house. Lots of pictures here. Brief description: South west orientation. Completely renovated. In a development with swimming pool, extensive green areas, place for parties, excellent community environment. €395,000.

Details
4 floors
322 sq m constructed, 283 sq m usable
5 double bedrooms
3 bathrooms
Plot of 336 sq m
Terrace of 336 sq m plus
Garage
Completely furnished
Excellent condition
5 built-in wardrobes
Lumber room
Covered laundry room
Central heating
Private garden

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Local madness; Belated Steps; Ciggie news; Jotting of a Rotter; & Madrid.


You might think that those managing the white elephant of a hugely expensive airport used by absolutely no one would be careful with their money. If so, you'd be very wrong. For, down in Valencia, the (heavily indebted) regional government has handed over €660,000 to the local Castellón football team in a sponsorship deal that beggars belief.

One of Spain's worst anti-entrepreneur aspects has long been the obligation on the part of anyone self-employed to pay at least €280 social security tax a month, regardless of sales and profits. This has finally been reduced to €53 a month, albeit for only the first 6 months. As a result, numbers of people registering as an autonomo have shot up. Let's hope they're all successful.

Going in the other direction have been cigarette sales. There's been a 47% drop in ten years, with factors including anti-smoking laws, tax increases and Crisis-created lower purchasing power. Then, of course, there's the alleged smuggling from Gibraltar. Not to mention the contraband trade into Galicia's estuaries and coves. Personally, I see anything that reduces smoking as a good thing and I've noticed that few Spanish men seem to smoke these days. Sadly, this can't be said for Spanish women. Especially the younger ones.

Here's a jotting from one of my visitors, a self-designated rotter.

Finally . . . HT to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for this citation, a video on Madrid life.

Incidentally, the Spanish for 'weekend' (fin de semana) is translated for the subtitles as 'from Thursday through Saturday'. Which surely tells you something. If only that Sunday is a day of recovery from 3 nights on the tiles.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The ID obsession: Helpful locals; Changing English; & A funny tapa.


A conversation at a courier's office this morning:-
Hi. I've come to collect a packet of books.
OK. Can I have your ID?
It's X*********P.
No, I need to see your card, to prove you are who you say you are.
Yes, there must be a real risk of some foreigner coming in here and pretending to be me.
You wouldn't believe what goes on here.

I took a visitor with an ear problem to my doctor's surgery this morning. The receptionist was very helpful and showed herself unusually flexible at finding a way to save my guest from having to pay for treatment because she'd left her EU health card at home. When I said she was willing to pay as she had insurance to cover it, the receptionist answered: "We don't want her to have to go to all that trouble, do we?" And then she gave us an appointment for the evening, apologising that it couldn't be earlier. All very commendable. Mind you, my visitor did have to fill in the same form in the evening when we went for the appointment. Probably because she has a second appointment, with a syringe-wielding nurse, later in the week.

Another helpful individual today was the owner of a lamp shop in which I left my car keys. Going back later, I found the place closed but with a notice on the door telling me my keys were in the pharmacy next door. Sadly, this was closed and we had to get a taxi home but this didn't diminish my appreciation for the guy from the lamp shop.

Having young visitors has reminded me of how certain words and phrases have changed their meaning over the last few decades:
Steaming - Now means to be drunk
To take the piss - No longer means just 'to make fun' of but to 'irritate, annoy'
LOL - Now means 'Laugh out loud', rather than 'Lots of love'.
Doubtless there'll be others over the next week.

Finally . . . In a bar down near the local brothel, we were given a standard bowl of nuts with our drinks. But on top of the nuts were several sweets, including coca-cola bottles and what I'm reliably informed are yummy bears. Only one of us ate the latter.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Poor English; Driving in Galicia; UK v. EU economies; & Pigeon power.


Picking up a visitor at Santiago airport yesterday, I noticed yet again that, while investing millions in a new terminal, they couldn't afford to pay a native speaker to check the English. So we have Place here instead of 'Stop here'. And the pay machine for car parking says Cashier's Parking. Not even Cashiers' Parking. That's exclusivity for you.

Why am I not surprised that little old Galicia has had a disproportionate increase in driving fines in the first 6 months of this year? Do we have worse drivers than in other regions? Or are our traffic police simply more vigilant? If that's the right word.

A few years ago, a reader (Moscow) assured me the British economy was essentially a pack of cards built on shifting sands and would eventually collapse, taking the (worthless) pound down with it. In contrast, the members of the eurozone would progressively coalesce and the EU would sail off into the wide blue yonder, leaving the UK beached in the shallows. Well, maybe he's right and it's just a question of time but it doesn't look like that right now. The British economy is up 3.2% on last year and an astonishing 820,000 jobs have been generated. Projections are equally good for the next 12m, which is in sharp contrast with the stagnating eurozone which is "flat and teetering on the brink of debilitating deflation." I don't think Moscow still reads this blog but, if I'm wrong, I'd welcome his latest thoughts.

Finally . . . In my war against the flying rats of Veggie Square, my new water pistol is very effective at getting them to quickly depart the scene. One of the waiters in my regular bar has suggested I replace the water by bleach. I'm not sure I'm quite ready for this but am mulling it over.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Aldi prices; Kute Kittens; Chance meetings; Wi-fi. Not; & Chaucer's English.


A comparison of Aldi supermarkets in the UK, Spain, France and Germany reveals that prices in Spain are the lowest, with those in Britain being double these. Why am I not surprised?

Today's Diario de Pontevedra had fotos of cats and kittens available for adoption from the town's refuge. Their (intriguing) names were: June, Marta, Speedy, Yuyu, Globo, Yuca, Lola, Whisky, Talvo and Testa. The good news is that I learnt from the article that the Spanish for 'to purr' is ronronear.

My young visitor, Jack, today bumped into a colleague from his college in Pontevedra's old quarter, the PE teacher. Neither knew the other was here. Or, indeed, that they'd be in that street right at that time. What are the odds on that, then? When Jock posted about this on Facebook, the previous PE teacher at his college wrote to say that he, too, would be in Pontevedra next week. The centre of the world all of a sudden.

The cable company - R - confirmed that, in principle, they could guarantee a wi-fi download of speed of 1 mega(!) for my street. But, when I gave them my number, they told me they couldn't, even though they do for my neighbour 10m away. They said every house was different but gave no reason why. Still, at least they admitted this before I signed an 18m contract.

Finally . . . 75% of the verbs and nouns used by Chaucer in The Tale of Sir Thopas still feature in today's English. For example dreme, corage, and londe (land). In contrast, words such as to prick (ride a horse) and destrier (horse) didn't make it through into present-day English. The percentage of verbs which survived is 84, against 72 for nouns.


House for Sale in Pontevedra

My neighbours are moving to Madrid and selling their lovely house. Lots of pictures here. Brief description: South west orientation. Completely renovated. In a development with swimming pool, extensive green areas, place for parties, excellent community environment. €395,000.

Details
4 floors
322 sq m constructed, 283 sq m usable
5 double bedrooms
3 bathrooms
Plot of 336 sq m
Terrace of 336 sq m plus
Garage
Completely furnished
Excellent condition
5 built-in wardrobes
Lumber room
Covered laundry room
Central heating
Private garden

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Gib. v Spain; Delightful Debs: Life in Spain: Toe nail query; & Costly comics


I mentioned recently that the result of an EU investigation into the Gibraltar situation was 2:1 in favour of the Rock against Spain. The latter finding has naturally been rather more covered in the Spanish media. Indeed the Gibraltar First minister has described reports here as 'sensationalist' and has complained about one TV channel portraying as real 'smuggling scenes' which it had set up itself. But all's fair in love and war. And this particular war is now more than 300 years old.

The institution may have died decades ago in the UK but Pontevedra still has its annual Debs' Ball, when 16 or 17 young beauties in virginal white are presented to society by their fathers or, in a couple of cases, by their grandfathers. Quite quaint. And it fills several column inches in the local paper.

Life in Spain
  • Frighteningly, 10,000 random tests have shown that 36% of Spanish drivers have been taking drugs, presumably hash for the most part. At a crash scene it's 50%. Something else to worry about.
  • Spain has a child poverty rate of 27% and the government has been criticised by several charities for not doing enough to reduce this. Unicef has said that Madrid is putting up only €17m of the €9.4bn necessary for vital medicines, clothing, food and toiletries, meaning that millions of youngsters are being left at risk. When times are tough, they're always tougher for the poor.

I took to wondering yesterday how people in societies which hadn't yet invented small scissors got to trim their toenails. Did they get someone else to bite them? Or did they just file them against a handy rock? Seems more likely.

Finally . . . British comedians - some of whom make me laugh - are said to earn up to 20m pounds from touring the UK. Laughing all the way to the bank, then.


House for Sale in Pontevedra

My neighbours are moving to Madrid and selling their lovely house. Lots of pictures here. Brief description: South west orientation. Completely renovated. In a development with swimming pool, extensive green areas, place for parties, excellent community environment. €395,000.

Details
4 floors
322 sq m constructed, 283 sq m usable
5 double bedrooms
3 bathrooms
Plot of 336 sq m
Terrace of 336 sq m plus
Garage
Completely furnished
Excellent condition
5 built-in wardrobes
Lumber room
Covered laundry room
Central heating
Private garden

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Whalish painting; The EU economy; Bureaucrats; Corruption again; & A tremulous internet.


Spain is famous for her artists - Velasquez, El Greco, Dalí and Picasso among them - but, of course, not everyone likes everything. George Orwell observed that "Aldous Huxley notes that people in El Greco's pictures always look as though they are in the bellies of whales, and professes to find something particularly horrible about the idea of being in a 'visceral prison'.

France was, I believe, the first EU country to breach the 3% budget deficit rule. And to get away with it. She was then followed by Germany. Both of these countries are now defying Brussels agin, over its demands for structural reform and austerity measures. These, apparently, are OK for southern states like Portugal, Greece and Spain but not for their northern Europe brethren. The 'little people', I guess. Click here for our Ambrose's overview of the situation in France and Germany. "Eurozone strategy" he avers "is in tatters after economic recovery ground to a halt across the region and France demanded a radical shift in policy, warning that austerity overkill is driving Europe into a depression."

Reading Theodore Dalrymple's So Little Done, I came upon this paragraph. It's part of the confession of a serial murderer who'd worked in the Housing department of a local authority: It was standard practice to lose the first copy of all application forms which a client filled in and then deny all knowledge of ever having received them. This soon sorted out the serious applicants from those who were merely bored and had nothing else to do. The latter gave up after the first attempt. This reminded me of my experience with Pontevedra's car dealers, none of whom followed up on my visits to them, despite taking contact details and noting my requests for information. At the time, I felt this must be due to some sort of screening process. Only if you came back were you really interested.

The latest big corruption case - up to €2bn - centres on an-ex chief of the Andalucian Tax Office. It prompted the thought that the Spanish papers should have a special section - supplement even - for all the corruption cases meandering through the courts. But then I realised this would be 95% of the paper, leaving only the front and back 2 pages for news and sport, respectively. Or 3, if we include all the ads for brothels and the independent hookers.

Finally . . . Thanks to a drug side effect, I have a very slight tremor. This doesn't bother me in in any way except that it's more than enough to cause my hypersensitive laptop's tracking pad to open unwanted pages while I'm reading another. So, God help anyone who's using my internet history to devise 'appropriate' advertising. Here's just one example of an unwanted page. Consciously anyway.



House for Sale in Pontevedra

My neighbours are moving to Madrid and selling their lovely house. Lots of pictures here. Brief description: South west orientation. Completely renovated. In a development with swimming pool, extensive green areas, place for parties, excellent community environment. €395,000.

Details
4 floors
322 sq m constructed, 283 sq m usable
5 double bedrooms
3 bathrooms
Plot of 336 sq m
Terrace of 336 sq m plus
Garage
Completely furnished
Excellent condition
5 built-in wardrobes
Lumber room
Covered laundry room
Central heating
Private garden

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Spanish dishes; English phrases; Gunning for the pigeons; & Odd names.

A Spanish blogger based in London has recently listed all the monstrous 'Spanish' dishes on sale in supermarkets and elsewhere. He has a particular problem with the use of chorizo in every dish, on which I disagree with him. I use it to good effect in stews and stir-fries. Indeed, if the day ever comes when I eat a salad, I might put it in that as well. More relevantly, I had a tortilla in town last night with chorizo in it, and excellent it was too.

I've been taking notes of the fascinating English phrases on the front of T-shirts in town:-
Come with me 
Ahoy mate 
Struggle 
Time to get a summer on me 
I am yourself to me 
You and me 
You don't fool me 

Talking of apparel . . . Yesterday I clocked a couple wearing matching Union Jack shirts. His blue and hers white. But at least the lady wasn't sporting the Union Jack handbag I saw the other day.

I took my next step in my war against the bloody pigeons today. Given the non-availability of a salt-gun or an electric, small cattle-prod (not a small-cattle prod, of course), I decided to buy a powerful water pistol. The girl in the shop asked me the age of the child I was buying it for and seemed non-plussed when I said it was for me and that I was going to use it to scare off pigeons. Same thing at the checkout when her colleague asked me if it was a present and needed wrapping. Anyway, I repaired to a café, where I failed to make sense of the 2 diagrams which showed the 2 ways of charging it. And so hit the people at the next table with a sudden spray of water. Fortunately, they both looked up at the awning and - despite the bright sun - blamed it for soaking them. Me, I said nothing. But only because no one else had noticed. After the couple had gone, I retrieved the pistol from its hiding place and was able to prove its efficacy. More accurately, the jet did get the pigeons to flee but I'm not sure the bird-brained creatures didn't later return for another drenching. More research is planned.

Finally . . . I've occasionally mentioned odd Spanish first names - Imaculada, for example - but could anything be stranger than the names said to have been given to a set of English twins - Fifa and Uefa? Girls, presumably.

House for Sale in Pontevedra

My neighbours are moving to Madrid and selling their lovely house. Lots of pictures here. Brief description: South west orientation. Completely renovated. In a development with swimming pool, extensive green areas, place for parties, excellent community environment. €395,000.

Details
4 floors
322 sq m constructed, 283 sq m usable
5 double bedrooms
3 bathrooms
Plot of 336 sq m
Terrace of 336 sq m plus
Garage
Completely furnished
Excellent condition
5 built-in wardrobes
Lumber room
Covered laundry room
Central heating
Private garden

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Cataluña again; Life in Spain; Death too; Perroflauta pests; Odd arrivals; & An address.


From his horse on the Catalan merry-go-round, the President has slapped down his VP and said there won't be a postponement of the independence referendum planned for November, whatever Madrid does to try to stop it. Presumably, though, he doesn't have the troops to contest a military response.

Life in Spain
  • The Spanish word for 'taxpayer' is contribuyente. Which sounds like a status you'd actually want to achieve - 'Contributor'. A nice euphemism. No connotation of compulsion.
  • Since 2000, GDP here has grown by 64%, while the number of people employed has fallen by 3%. Explanation? Dunno. But it looks like some people got a hell of a lot richer.
  • Unemployment before the crisis of 2008 was at 8%. It rose thereafter to an astonishing peak of 26% but has now fallen back a tad to 25%. Which is being hailed as a triumph by the government. Anyway, this overall number hides the fact that among 'foreigners' the level is above 40%, reflecting the fact that millions flooded here to work in the more-than-booming construction industry, largely built on sand. Rumanians make up the largest group of foreigners in Spain, followed by Moroccans and then the Brits but there's no info on how hard each of these sub-groups has been hit. I suspect not much in the case of the Brits since they're mostly retired.
  • Galicia has more than 50% of Spain's municipalities, reflecting how small many of her hamlets are. As a result, 96% of the 100 most popular village/town names in Spain are in this region. The winner is A Igrexa('The Church'), followed by O Outeiro('The Hill') and O Castro('The Fort'). None of which is terribly imaginative.

Death in Spain
Spain really is the graveyard of civilisations. Down in Castile y La Mancha a site being excavated promises bronze age and Roman relics and, most interestingly, an Islamic necropolis. More info here.

Pontevedra boasts an excessive number (i. e. 1 or more) of what are called perroflautas. These are scruffy, skimpily dressed, skinny young men, always with one or more astonishingly placid dogs, who purport to play a recorder or pipe. The men, I mean. Not the dogs. They are just one of the several categories of beggar who constantly trouble café and bar patrons here. Or those on the outside terraces at least. I said to one of them yesterday: "I saw you in O Vao (= gypsy drug dealing) yesterday". To which he replied: "Could well be. But I wasn't there for what you're thinking." As if. Anyway, here are a few English equivalents of the word perroflauta (lit. 'dogflute'). 'Crusty' may well be the closest in connotation.

As I was parking across the river from the old quarter last night, a battered, white camper van was disgorging 6 men who didn't look at all Spanish. Or even West European. Each of them was holding a plastic bag heavy enough to need regular shifting from one hand to the other. As they walked across the bridge, none of them spoke to any of his colleagues, possibly because they spoke different languages. Or were as browbeaten as they looked. They headed towards the fiesta fairground and its accompanying stalls but I failed to determine their destination or what merchandise they were taking there.

Talking of the fiesta . . . Last night's group for the 10.30 concert was Love of Lesbian. Which was odd as all 5 of them were men. Why it wasn't either Lesbian Love or Love of Lesbians remains a matter of speculation.

Finally . . . I received a book today from this almost medieval address. Could there be anything simpler? If you ignore the complex postcode:
The Thatched Cottage
The Street
BN18 0PQ
UK


House for Sale in Pontevedra

My neighbours are moving to Madrid and selling their lovely house. Lots of pictures here. Brief description: South west orientation. Completely renovated. In a development with swimming pool, extensive green areas, place for parties, excellent community environment. €395,000.

Details
4 floors
322 sq m constructed, 283 sq m usable
5 double bedrooms
3 bathrooms
Plot of 336 sq m
Terrace of 336 sq m plus
Garage
Completely furnished
Excellent condition
5 built-in wardrobes
Lumber room
Covered laundry room
Central heating
Private garden

Catalan Referendum; Gib v Spain; A police state?; Noise monitoring; Zozobrar; & Depression



Pujol's real legacy: Out of the blue, the vice president of Cataluña has admitted that the independence referendum planned for November 9, might not take place if it is vetoed by the Spanish government. IF? One could bet one's life on it. As I've said, following the conveniently timed revelation of Pujol's massive corruption, President Rajoy will surely have told the Catalan president that he was holding the latter's cojones in his hands. As if he needed to.

Gib 2 Spain 1: Having found in favour of Gibraltar twice in the past few months (depressing the Spanish media), the EU has now pronounced it endorses Spain's claim that ciggies are being smuggled from the Rock and that criminals are laundering money there. This is despite Gibraltar complying with all EU regulations. Anyway, Brussels has called on the UK, Spain and Gibraltar to cooperate on addressing these concerns. Given Spain's continual harassment of Gib over the last 3 years, I wouldn't have thought the Gibraltar government would be terribly well disposed towards cooperation, at least not until the border controls are eased by Spain.

Someone once said that nations get the politicians they deserve. And now we all say it. Here in Spain the ever-more-autocratic government has announced that the police will be allowed to confiscate cameras used by demonstrators 'if they believe they will be used for illegal purposes'. They might just as well as said " . . if they believe they will be used as bananas". We all know they will be confiscated and why. Will there be much protest? Probably not. Will the government get back into power next year? Very likely.

Some good news . . . Malaga is going to install expensive street sensors to detect noise levels and to monitor how much of a nuisance bars, discos - and even people talking - create. It's not much but it's a start.

Spaniards - unlike, say, the French and the Germans - have no difficulty with the English th sound. It's pretty common in (Iberian) Spanish. Sometimes, though, too common - as in the word zozobrar - 'to sink'. Imagine our Teutonic and Gallic friends trying get their tongues around that! I suppose the English equivalent is 'thither'. Or even better - 'hither and thither'

There are 150 varieties of fish and seafood in British waters. And the locals eat mostly (75%) cod, salmon, prawns and tuna. And the last mentioned comes in tins. Funny people.

Finally . . . So, Robin Williams has exercised his ultimate right and taken his own life. Per the statistics, three-quarters of us won't understand how he could have done this to his loving family. But a quarter of us will empathise totally. Whatever, it's undeniably sad. Though no sadder than any other death yesterday. We just think it is.


House for Sale in Pontevedra

My neighbours are moving to Madrid and selling their lovely house. Lots of pictures here. Brief description: South west orientation. Completely renovated. In a development with swimming pool, extensive green areas, place for parties, excellent community environment. €395,000.

Basics
4 floors
322 sq m constructed, 283 sq m usable
5 double bedrooms
3 bathrooms
Plot of 336 sq m
Terrace of 336 sq m plus
Garage
Completely furnished
Excellent condition
5 built-in wardrobes
Lumber room
Covered laundry room
Central heating
Private garden

Monday, August 11, 2014

Calatrava calamities; De-layering: Fiesta fun; Belated gift; & Parroty peanuts.



In Valencia, the name Calatrava is synonymous with architecture. For this hometown boy has been responsible for some of the city's most famous works. But these were conceived and executed in the good times and now the times are bad. No more so than for Calatrava himself, who's being sued by the city over masonry falling from the opera house in his City of Arts and Sciences. This isn't the first time Calatrava has been sued for building deficiencies but, fortunately for him, his fees have been so vast he can surely afford the best lawyers. And the fines. Details here.

I see France is contemplating reducing the size of its regions and increasing the minimum size (20,000 people) of its municipalities, in order to increase efficiency and reduce the number of bureaucrats. Six-layered Spain is crying out for something similar but my guess is it'll be many years before this happens here. Essentially, there are bigger problems to tackle. Corruption being the leading candidate. In respect of which Spain is still in the 18th or 19th century. [After I wrote this I saw an El Espía en el Congreso post on this subject, explaining what's happening in other countries apart from France and why nothing will happen in Spain. You guessed it - the sheet anchor of corruption. Click here for this.]

Road closures arising from the combination of the fairground in the centre of town and the midnight firework display made it impossible to get from one side of Pontevedra to the other on Saturday night, other than by taking to the motorway that bypasses the town. As ever, I wondered what Spanish speaking tourists were making of the Gallego sign Rua Pechada. Or Calle Cerrada in Castellano. But the barriers across the roads must have helped. Incidentally, using the motorway gave a terrific view of the fireworks as, firstly, it's elevated and, secondly, it passes directly opposite the launch area. Which probably explained the 2 police cars parked on the hard shoulder there, either taking advantage of the stellar view or stopping others doing the same. Or both, of course. 

I was given a signal offer yesterday by the owner of one of my regular tapas bars. He presented me with a book, in English, saying his son had left it at his house but he couldn't understand it. I'm looking on it as belated payment-in-kind for translating the menu into English. 

Finally . . . A new Spanish phrase, for me, today - el chocolate del loro ('the parrot's chocolate'). Or 'peanuts'. as in 'You pay peanuts, you get monkeys.'

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