Friday, July 31, 2015

Laughter is the best medicine; Wonderland; Offensive whores; The EU; & Kurt Vonnegut.

You have to laugh 1: For some time now, the Russian RT TV station has been highlighting President Putin's claim that the Americans have satellite data which shows who really shot down the Malaysian airline over the Ukraine and so could prove it wasn't Russia or their surrogates in Eastern Ukraine. So, you'd expect Moscow to be delighted with the prospect of an international enquiry. But guess who's just vetoed this. I wonder what RT will make of this turn of events. Doubtless it will be plausible, if only marginally so.

You have to laugh 2: Mr Putin has opined that "Sepp Blatter deserves a Nobel prize for his stewardship of Fifa". I'm an avid viewer of RT channel (largely for the unintentional laughs) but I've never heard anything this preposterous even there.

Only in Spain?: Another great use of the new 'Citizen Security Law? Well, no. Making prostitutes wear reflective jackets is being done under an existing law. But in Madrid the new law is being used to target prostitutes. Specifically those who commit an act of sexual provocation in a public place, such as an industrial estate. I wonder if this description includes truck parks. But, anyway, the law will also be used to 'crack down on prostitution in public places, such as near schools and children’s parks.' Sometimes I feel I'm living in Alicia en el País de las Maravillas. Am I alone?

Incidentally, the president of Venezuela is so horrified by the Citizen Security Law (commonly known as The Gag Law) that he's accused President Rajoy of being "the hitman of the Spanish people" for introducing tough penalties for public order offences. Slightly OTT, I think. But essentially true.

The EU: You want some reasons why it ain't working? Here's four. Recent developments have highlighted, of course, how tough national challenges can't be solved by a committee of 28 or even 19. For, no committee of any size ever solved a problem of any sort. Being comprised essentially, if not totally, of people who enjoy being on committees.

Finally . . . . Some nice quotes from Kurt Vonnegut's lovely little book A Man without a Country:
  • A lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semi-colons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they show is that you've been to college.
  • If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is to go into the arts.
  • The last thing I ever wanted to do was to be alive when the three most powerful people on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick and Colon. [I guess he means Colin Powell]
  • It certainly helps to remember what the great socialist playwright George Bernard Shaw said about this planet: "I don't know if there are men on the moon but, if they are there, they must be using the earth as their lunatic asylum."
  • I asked the graphic artist Saul Steinberg how I should feel about Picasso. Six seconds past and then he said: "God put him on earth to show us what it's like to be really rich."

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Nice poster; the Gag Law; Franco and wine; The Quranists; A special tortilla; & A special Foto.

Another nice Spanish poster:-
We're in the age of
Coffee without caffeine,
Milk without lactose,
Cigarettes without nicotine.
When, roughly, will we have
Governments without imbeciles?

And crooks, one might add.

Talking of crimes . . . Here's Spain's fascist "Gag Law" in action, being used against a kid who accused his local force of being lazy on his Facebook page. I'm reminded of the law of the early 20th century under which - in special courts - the Spanish army could prosecute anyone who offended it in any way at all. This was its compensation for losing the last of Spain's colonies and then being defeated by a Moroccan force in North Africa. Salve for deep wounds, then,

I've just learnt that "The Franco dictatorship was a dark time for wine production, as wine wasn't allowed to be exported. Franco was a teetotaller and believed wine should only be used for church sacraments and not much else". I mean, how could the Spanish allow this idiot to rule them for 40 years and to die in his bed? Especially as he committed crimes far worse than even this one.

There is, I hear, a Muslim sect - the Quranists - whose members reject the later Hadiths and Sharia law and rely entirely on the Koran for their beliefs and practices. Mainstream Muslims regard them as "the most shameless hypocrites and liars amongst Muslims, who contradict, oppose and break all of the central claims of Islam without any compunction." The leading cleric of the sect "enraged devout Muslims to the extent that they shot him to death in 1990". This might sound better in Arabic. More of this vitriol here. And I thought the Shia-Sunni schism was bad enough.

Another honour from one of my favourite tapas bars . . . Under my gentle pressure, they now offer a tortilla done with onions and ginger. And this they call La tortilla de Sr Colin. But I doubt they'll serve many, especially not among the conservative Gallegos, for whom ginger is far too 'hot'. Which reminds me . . . my cleaner persists in regarding my pepper cellar as spice and putting it in the cupboard with other spices. Every week I put it back near the salt cellar and every week it goes back to the cupboard. Just one of 7 or 8 things I have to undo every Monday evening or Tuesday morning. But it's good to have a routine, I've heard.

Finally, finally . . . If anyone wants to see a foto of me, track down my FB page, where I now appear in the cover foto. I'm the one who's not the owl. This is the only foto ever taken of me in which my face is not (sometimes bright) red and my hair (sometimes snowy) white. Brilliant photographer or reality? I leave you to guess. Though it's obvious why I've waited so long to 'come out'.  

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The World 1, 2 & 3; Spanish localism?; Fés?; & Shorts v. knickers

Here's another one I prepared earlier. Unnecessarily, as it turns out.

The World 1: The widely believed proposition that this financial crisis was "a tsunami that no-one saw coming" and that it could not have been predicted has been given the lie to by an excellent survey of economic models by Dirk Bezemer, a Professor of Economics at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. See more here

The World 2: Christopher Booker: In recent years there has been more polar ice in the world than at any time since satellite records began in 1979. In the very year they had forecast that the Arctic would be “ice free”, its thickness increased by a third. Polar bear numbers are rising, not falling. Temperatures in Greenland have shown no increase for decades. The greatest scare story of all simply isn’t turning out as their computer models predicted. More here, to delight other sceptics.

The World 3: Blimey. So that's the reason women throw themselves at me. Research shows that people find red faces attractive. At a certain time in a month, women's faces go slightly redder. This is imperceptible but fotos of them at this - fertile - time are seen as more attractive than during the rest of the month. So the survival of the human race depends on it! Fascinating. Must keep on drinking.

Spanish localism? Or something else?: Strange to relate, most reviews of cars in the local press seem to be of Seats - made in Spain - and Renaults and Citroens - made locally in Vigo. Wonder why.

I fielded a hard-to-understand question from the waitress in my regular bar yesterday. Something about una foto on fés. It took me a few seconds to realise this was the Spanish shorthand for Facebook. I don't get around much.

Talking about that wonderful social media site . . . I have 53 mutual Facebook friends with my elder daughter and 42 with my younger daughter. Is this a record? And what does it suggest? About them, of course. Not about me.

Finally . . . I might have mentioned the micro shorts which have been the dominant fashion trend, at least for women, in Ponters this summer. And maybe last summer as well. Although mostly of denim, there's also been some of other materials. But none quite like those resembling the 'French knickers' I witnessed last night. Only much shorter. I couldn't help wondering what I'd have thought if a teenager daughter of mine had appeared in these. Never mind a teenage son!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Those Funny Spanish

This post is dedicated to Those Funny Spanish

Firstly, my own 8th list of characteristics perceived by me and, secondly, a list garnered from Giles Trimlett's Ghosts of Spain. There may be an overlap:-

1.
  • They accord a higher status to notaries and registrars than to lawyers
  • They don't regard efficiency as a god. Or even a totem.
  • They like blood and gore in their media reports
  • They know how to enjoy themselves. And how!
2.
  • They wear anger lightly and dispose of it easily
  • They make my [journalist] job easy; they are always ready to talk, to give an opinion, to tell you things about themselves
  • They are naturally open and welcoming.
  • They are acutely, sensitively aware of what others say about them
  • They regard their home as an intimate space - a family refuge.
  • They meet in bars, in the plaza or on the street
  • They generally believe it is their right - even their obligation - to enjoy themselves
  • They celebrate, and demonstrate, in huge throngs - their enjoyment increased by the numbers with them
  • They like the warmth, the solidarity, the sense of belonging that groups give them
  • They wear their traditions, like their anger, quite lightly.There may or may not be gravitas
  • They have a passion for doing things en masse
  • They are one of Europe's most verbose and argumentative peoples, except when it comes to the Civil War. Where there is a vow of omerta.
  • They can be obstinate individualists when faced with authority
  • They like to live piled up on top of one another
  • They live a life of close physical contact, of loud, sociable bustle
  • They take their leisure - and their food - seriously
  • Their mothers are alway on hand to help
  • They have 2 contradictory impulses - anarchy and order
  • They enjoy tittle-tattle but are rarely judgmental
  • Sexual squeamishness is not one of their things
  • They are not given to moral absolutes
  • Cheating doesn't normally rate high on the list of things they care about. It's not frowned on, being seen as a bit of sporting rule-bending
  • They have always been intrigued by and admiring of chancers and rule breakers - the picaresque
  • They think, in their moments of introspection, that envy is one of their worst weaknesses
  • Sex scandals don't wash in Spain
  • They have a self-proclaimed reputation for being arnarchists
  • There's a legalistic and austere vein of Spanish life
  • Football is one of their greatest passions
  • They haven't, as a whole, loved to love their gypsies and many would rather not love beside them
  • They are blithely indifferent to prostitution and the (blatant) brothels
  • They seem to put brothel sex a par with talking, they're both paid for
  • No one is prepared to admit they're scandalised by brothel sex, seeing it as a matter-of-fact sort of business. "When it comes to sex, there's not too much prejudice here."
  • "But young men still have different ideas about what is acceptable sexual behaviour for them and what is acceptable for women."
  • They are Europe's largest consumer of cocaine
  • They are radically opposed to banning anything. "They don't like being told what to do".
  • In practice, though, they start their sex lives later than in other European countries.
How could one not love these people? I would do so even if most of their women weren't beautiful.

But, anyway, that's half the book. So more later in the week.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Crookery; Tourist scams; Red wines; Kids at work; & Beggarly dogs.

Nice slogan I saw on a Spanish site yesterday:- Before we clear the crooks off the streets, let's first clear them out of the government. Who could argue with that? Well, the government, I guess.

From the unimpeachable DailyMail, comes the news that Spain has been voted the worst country in Europe for tourist scams. The percentages of visitors said to have complained of this for Spain, France and Italy are:- 25%, 15% and 10%, respectively. Pick the meat out of that. Or read more here. It might well be accurate, especially if you go to Barcelona or Madrid and are dumb enough to leave your wallet in your rear pocket. Or your bag or rucksack on the floor instead of your lap.

I recently mentioned the red wines of Toro - regarded by the doyen Robert Parker as of 'astonishing value' - and I may have previously mentioned the red mencia wines of Galicia. If so, I want to do so again, particularly the brand San Nomedio, a tremendous bottle of which I shared with my neighbour Jacobo as we waited for the lovely Esther the other night. I suspect you'll only find this in Spain, if that, but, if you do, buy as much as you can afford. As for mencia wines generally, here's how one American commentator describes them: "Spicy with rose petals, black pepper, roasted red peppers and berrylike fruit."  My view is they're great with stews and casseroles, whatever the difference is between these dishes.

I heard this entertaining exchange on a radio show last week:
Did you ever complain about anything?
Yes. 
What was it about?
Children at work.
What did you do about it?
I sent a letter to the headmaster.

Finally . . . The water pistol I use to scare off (most) pigeons and (some) seagulls yesterday hit the small dog of our longest-standing beggar. She'd long-ago learnt that bothering me was a waste of time, so this will make no difference to our respective lives. But she recognised the apology I gave about accidentally hitting her pet was specious and it buttered no parsnips. Her look at me could have killed. I suspect I've made an enemy there.

Note: Today I hand over my laptop for a change of battery. The guy has told me it'll take a couple of days, so God knows when it will re-emerge from his shop. I've pre-programmed blog posts for the next 2 days but if there's a break in service, you'll know why.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Cataluña; Sr Pujol; Galician Celticness; My Galician assimilation; & The Spanish people.

Cataluña: As this autonomous region/nation again gets ready to decide whether it wants to secede from the Spanish union, it's time to recall the comment of the early 19th century chronicler, Richard Ford: No province of the unamalgamating bundle which forms the monarchy of Spain hangs more loosely to the crown than Cataluña, this classical country of revolt, which is ever ready to fly off. Plus ça change.

The most revered Catalan politician of the post-Franco years is/was Sr JordiPujol, who used to be called simply El President. Nowadays, he's more (in)famous for the huge fortune he amassed while in power and for which the Tax Office is seeking an explanation, as they knew nothing about it. 'Just an inheritance from my clever father', says Pujol, to an incredulous Spain. Feet of clay. Ozymandias. BTW - I think it was the aggrieved, hell-hath-no-fury wife of one of Pujol's sons who tipped off the authorities as to the family's secret pile. It seems the sins of the father have certainly been visited on the (welcoming) sons.

I've not said anything disparaging recently about the Galician claim to Celtic-ness. So here's another quote from Giles Trimlett's Ghosts of Spain: Galicians are probably not real Celts but would like to be. Many, thanks to some self-interested tinkering with history by 19th century Galician Romanticists, are fully convinced they are. "Most of the Celticism found by local historians in Galicia is utter claptrap", the philosopher Miguel de Unamuno wrote in 1911. Whatever the truth of the Celtic origins - and they don't shout out at you in the physical aspects of the Galicians and or in their language - people like them. Bagpipe players here are as common as in Scotland. As I always add when writing on this subject, it may be tosh but there's nothing wrong with using it as a way of differentiating yourselves from other Spaniards. And it helps tourism. 'Back in the day', Gallego readers used to take serious issue with me on this but they seem to have given up on me now. Which is a shame, as the exchanges were amusing. Those with Cade, even. Though I'm not sure he meant his comments to be funny.

After 15 years of regular attendance, I went up another rung at my favourite tapas bar last night; the owner not only greeted me with a smile but also put his hand on my arm. After another 5 years of taking all my visitors there, I'll probably get a hug. BTW . . . 'hug' is abrazo in Spanish but aperta in Galician(Gallego). My guess is the latter comes from the word apretar, which Google gives as 'to tighten' but the University of Vigo gives as 'to squeeze'. Take your pick.

Finally . . . For all Spanish readers - Tremlett's book ends with the paragraph: Spain still has its own particular set of historical ghosts. They are, above all, what makes this country, as the hated 1960s advertising slogan put it, 'different'. What many Spaniards have not yet learned to do, however, is love the idea of their own difference­. And that is strange. Because it is precisely why so many outsiders, including this anglosaxón, love them so. Amen to that, say I. Amen to that.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Headlines; Catalan midsummer madness; Arctic ice; & 2 jokes.

Headline Snippets

Spain's minimum age for marriage raised to 16: This is probably just as well, as the age of consent was also recently raised from 13 to 16. Early alliances were apparently once 'a hallmark' of the gypsy community, but this is now said to have been 'largely' abandoned.
Spain is one of Europe's safest countries: Safer than ever, apparently. Details here.
Spain to accept just a third of its EU migrant quota: It's not alone in its parsimony, I suspect. 'Solidarity' here tends to be one-way.
The Mother of All Storms Builds Over Cataluña’s Independence: See next para.

Don Quijones, of Wolf Street, provides this succinct (and valid) overview of the independence issue: For the last six months, tensions between Madrid and Barcelona seemed to have subsided, as most of the attention of Spanish government, the media, and the public was diverted by the seemingly unstoppable rise of the anti-austerity party Podemos. Now it seems that what first appeared as reduced tensions between Madrid and Spain’s north-eastern province was merely the calm before the mother of all storms. . . . If the pro-independence coalition wins a majority of seats in September’s elections, it has pledged that it will unilaterally declare national independence within six months. . . . If the tensions between Madrid and Barcelona are not dampened soon, they have the very real potential to reverberate far beyond Spanish borders. There's a lot me more on this ding-dong here.

In the 3 years 2010-2012, the Arctic pack ice lost 14% of its volume. But in the year 2012-3, it gained 41%. I blame it all on man-made global warming. But am still a tad confused. Some say it's just a blip in a long-term trend of reducing ice but you can't help wondering, can you? Time, as ever, will surely tell. If we live that long.

Finally . . . Here's a good joke sent to me by my friend Dwight, plus my elder daughter's equally good response:MM
My wife’s left me because I’m too arrogant.
I told her to close the door on her way back in.

My husband left me because I'm neurotic.
I told him to remember to lock the door behind him with all three locks, not just the top one.  

It's in the genes. Though I should admit we've never done the blood or DNA tests. So, it' possibly Nurture.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Cost of living in Spain; Salt; Jail sentences; Sr Rato; The Birthday Party; & Fish.

Like every over nation, Spain has a spectrum of cost-of-living rates. Viz:
Spain: 100
Madrid: 115
Navarra: 110
Cataluña: 109
Basque Country: 108
And at the other end:
Andalucia: 93
Galicia: 92
La Rioja: 90
Asturias: 88
Castille y La Mancha: 88
The Canaries: 83
So, no great surprises. Galicia's drug money clearly drags it up from its normal second-to-bottom place in every survey carried out in Spain.

I heard a fascinating podcast on salt this week. At one point the speaker talked of much-sought-after Russian pink salt. Later she went down into the only remaining salt mine in Cheshire in the UK, where I once picked up this (by-the-way pink) lump of the stuff, now serving as a paperwight.


Among the facts revealed was the use of this mine as an archive for papers, waxworks, furniture, body parts, and musical instruments such as pianos and barrel organs. Plus 'Things we're not allowed to tell you about'. Wonder what they could be. Lord Lucan, perhaps. And Shergar.

Some delinquents in Pontevedra were jailed for 6 years this week. Which rather puts into perspective the piddling sentences given to corrupt politicos. Which reminds me: The ex head of the IMF has refused to say anything at stage 1 of his trial. "My right to a defence obliges me", he claims, "not to answer your questions because I am unaware of the deeds of which I am accused".
Needless to say, perhaps, he was also a leading member of the current government.

Finally . . . I was invited to a surprise birthday party for the lovely Esther next door last night. Originally, the time was to be 10pm but this changed to 8.30. Ester actually came home at 10. Between 8.30 and 10, there arrived a procession of equally lovely Spanish women, all beautifully turned out but without partners and kids. I suspect the only reason I was asked to come early was to help Ester's husband deal with this tsunami of pulchritude. And to share with him a bottle of superb Mencia wine. Well, somebody had to do it. During the party, I was getting help from Ester's young son with the names of everyone there:-
Me: So, the pretty lady under the tree?
Jacobito: [Loudly] That's Teva.
Teva: Yes?
Jacobito: Nothing. Colin just wanted to know your name.
Me: [Quietly]: Gracias, chico.
But I doubt he caught the sarcasm.

Note: If you put frozen mackerel in your microwave to defrost, you really ought to take them out before you go to bed. Otherwise your re-heated coffee will taste of fish the following morning.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Selfies; Corruption; Spanglish; Rights; Tastes; Bloody Facebook; & Bloody salad.

The cretinous selfie craze just got worse, in the UK at least. Drivers are taking them at the wheel. Which reminds me . . . A truck driver yesterday waved his apologies as he almost drove me down in the middle of a zebra crossing. In his other hand, of course, was his mobile phone. Nowt as daft as folk, as we say oop north. 

Corruption: The Spanish ex-head of the IMF has now been formally charged with 3 'serious' financial crimes. He was caught by the favourite trick of the Tax Office here - an 'amnesty' for minor transgressions. His bail is €18m. And then there's the Energy Secretary of the Andalucian Junta who's resigned after being collared for improperly taking an electric feed for his (illegal) home. You couldn't make it up.

On a lighter note . . . HT to Lenox of Business over Tapas for the latest Spanglish phrase: Off de record. As he says, risible.

Would you like to live in a place where dogs and cats had the same rights as you? If so, move to the Spanish town of Trigueros del Valle where this has just been instituted. Animal charities, needless to say, hail the bizarre move and hope it'll be introduced across Spain. Let's give the vote to the oyster, say I.

And talking of people . . . Aren't food tastes odd? Someone wrote yesterday of her impossibility of being in the same building as ginger. I, on the other hand, adore this root but have a similar problem with cucumber. And I don't like cheeses that taste of, well, cheese. Some have no flavour, of course, and I can tolerate these. On food . . . at the end of this post is an excellent answer to the eternal question - What is the point of salad?

Finally . . . The latest irritation from Facebook is Related Posts on your page that you can't get rid of. The answer is F.B. Purity, a free app which prevents the "related content" pop-ups. 

There is a basic principle that salad offends: food is nicer when it has been cooked.

What on earth is the point of salad? I've never liked it, which is a problem in our house, because my wife not only loves it, but is also something of an expert on it. She travels the country lecturing large groups of beautifully attired ladies on the virtues of Mizuna and Lettuce "Reine de Glace", recommending Buckler-leaf sorrel and a kind of coriander called, tragically, "Leisure" as the essential ingredients with which to make their salads - and lives - perfect.

Even after years of indoctrination, I remain indifferent. There is a basic principle that salad offends: food is nicer cooked. Cooking, in fact, is what makes food edible, not in some boring physiological maiden-aunt sense that boiled carrots are more easily digested, but something subtler than that. Cooking is one of the things, like farming, gardening, hunting and fishing, that connects us to the rest of the world. Cooking, an anthropologist would say, is the great mediator. It makes the world friendly and accommodates the wild. Human society has always gathered around the bubbling pot.

Sauce is the essence of civilisation.

Inevitably, then, rawness is a kind of hostility, the tabletop equivalent of a nudist colony. These strange, uncooked naked bodies come at you unadorned and untransformed, emerging shockingly from the undergrowth, unapologetic in their flagrant and bushy nakedness, lying there in front of you as though it were up to you to make the social running. Which, of course, is not on: food, of all things, should not be rude.

Salad, like 99%t of naked bodies, is in that way deeply disturbing. We all know that what makes bodies beautiful are clothes, that what turns Botticelli's Primavera into such an entrancing figure is not only her long, pale, reticent, almond-shaped face, but her soft, wind-blown, wafting dress that sweeps around her. Leighton, the most gifted of all English painters of the human figure, used to paint his models nude and then clothe them on the canvas, painting on those marvellous fabrics, bringing about a kind of transformational beauty, the acculturating opposite of the striptease.

Beauty is dressed and cooked.

Of course none of us thought like that when we were 19. Nakedness, the unadorned reality, was what loveliness was in those long forgotten days. And if we all somehow stayed 19, in a sort of permanently Botoxed world, no doubt that is what we would still think. But we don't. We are 47 and might as well admit it.

It's an odd phrase, "to dress a salad", but an acute one. Oil and vinegar are there to hide the realities. To dress a salad is to cook it, that mixture of sharpness and oiliness the transforming opposite of the awful greeny crunchy natural qualities of the unadorned leaves. I will admit that I love salad dressing and that, if lettuce has been drowning in it for 24 hours, so that not a fibre of its crunch remains, that is something I find irresistible. [Very true].

The entire history of Western civilisation in the past 500 years doesn't agree with me. The modern world has witnessed the triumph of the salad. The Middle Ages didn't like it much. A cook book of c.1500 warned that "green salads and raw fruit will make you sovereign sick", but from the late 16th century onwards, salads started their inexorable rise. Capitalism, empire, the triumph of the Royal Navy, the growth of cities, commerce, literacy, curtains in houses, the Industrial Revolution and universal suffrage all stimulated the growth of the salad. The more sophisticated people became, the more they longed for the taste of the raw.

The salad is a symptom of dysfunction, of people who are increasingly divorced from natural processes but increasingly longing to get back to a bit of nature by eating it. You don't find much salad in a farmhouse. Farmhouse lunches are comprehensively cooked, with nature properly held at bay outside in the woods and fields. Salad thrives in urban, commercial, modern, deracinated places, where the most elegant form that sophistication can take is the pretence at denying it.

But a crashing irony about the salad obsession of the industrialised West is now coming to light. As Felicity Lawrence has described in Not on the Label, her book on the global food production system, the pre-washed salads that everyone now buys in supermarkets are some of the most industrialised and poisonous foods available, often produced using savagely exploited labour. Salad leaves drenched in chlorine, deprived because of the way in which they are packed of much of their goodness, imported from the hideous poly-tunnel cities of southern Spain, where migrant African workers survive virtually enslaved: all of this is what the hunger for lovely, available, bright-green, washed rawness-in-a-bag now feeds off.

It's disgusting and pathetic in equal measure. McDonald's, on the run from the criticisms in Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, has now turned itself into something like a salad bar. But that's not the place to end up either. The modern commercially grown salads are a lie. What's the answer? Free allotments for all? The Health Department promoting Grow-Your-Own? Perhaps one day. At least it would be good to hear of a belief in government that these things matter.

Lenox: You're welcome to quote this in next week's BoT. . . 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Driving in Spain; Granada; Blood flow; Parsee joke; Dutch ladies; Cartoons; Fonetic spelling; & An announcement

The August holiday month is looming. So, how are the Spanish police preparing for it? As part of a 'safety' campaign, they're doubling radar traps on both major and minor roads. If they're lucky, this should provide a decent increase in government revenue. But far be it for me to suggest this is the main objective.

Says Giles Tremlett, author of The Ghosts of Spain: "The residents of Granada are not always keen to recognise it, but a century and half must pass before their city can claim to have been Christian for longer than it was a place where, principally, Mohammed was revered."

Also from Tremlett: "When the Moors' occupation of Spain was in its death throes one of the worst battles was in the Gully of Blood. Legend has it the blood of the Christian soldiers flowed uphill in order not to mix with the Moorish, crypto-Islamic blood of the Moriscos." As if. 

And now, just for my young, but bald, friend Jack . . . Here, belatedly, is the promised Parsee joke. The backcloth is that not only are the Parsees reducing in numbers but also the vultures who feed off the corpses left in their famous Towers of Silence. So . . . A Parsee cleric receives a telegram from his friend elsewhere in Pakistan: "Have seen vulture in our area. Please send dead Parsee soonest!" Well, I laughed anyway. If only because it's the sort of black humour I enjoy. Other tastes may differ. But nobody's perfect. 

Anyway, should either of them read this, I just want to thank the 2 Dutch ladies for giving my friend Jon and I the best night we've had for a long time that didn't involve . . . well, you know. Until they went berserk, that is, and got us thrown out of my favourite bar. Which didn't use to have a dance floor made out of 6 tables. I do hope none of their pupils ever sees even the fotos I posted. Never mind the ones on my hard drive. 

For those who haven't already seen them, here are my Private Eye cartoons of the fortnight:








And, finally, speaking of language . . . Wud it reely bee so hard to cheynj Inglish speling so it beecums fonetic, lyk Spanish? Wee wud then bee abel to reed Chaucer. And meybee Shakespeare a bit beter. Or at leest get rid of orl the redundant leters in Inglish, such as in the werds 'dumb', 'numb' and 'comb', which are very confoosing to foreners. Just a thort. 

Or, putting this into Dutch, . . . Wid ot raaly by zo khard tu cheynj Inglish spileeng zo dat eet beecums fonatiq, lyk Speneesh? Vee woood den bee abal tu rid Chaucer. Und mybi Shakespeare un beet biter. Ur at list ghet rad offf orl de ridandunt littirs en Inglish, soooch az en des oerds 'dumb', 'numb' and 'comb', vich arr veri convusing to farinirs. Jooost ein dort. 

BTW . . . This is my last post from Spain; I'm moving to Holland tomorrow. Having mastered the language in a day. And being impressed by Dutch women.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Beeb; Aragonese; Strange Spanish name; Galician beauty; & and my beautiful neighbour.

Spain's leading newspaper, El País, has published an opinion on the Tory government's challenge to the BBC. It's impressively laudatory towards the British institution but my guess is the paper is much influenced by the universal perception that the Spanish government's channels are anything but impartial, whether the government is of the Right or the Left. See the [slightly amended] Google translation below.

How many readers knew that Aragonese is the Spanish version of France's Gascon? I didn't even know Gascon existed. But I did know the French government successfully wiped out the very many Romance dialects that threatened the predominance of French in the 19th century. I doubt it'll be as successful with its current challenger, English. Which, by the way, appears to be mastered by all Dutch babies soon after birth.

Another strange female Spanish:- Exuperancia. Or 'exuberance' in English. I'm guessing there's at least one Virgen de Exuperancia somewhere in Spain. Though not in my house.

Apart from its magnificent verdant scenery, Galicia boasts not just beautiful granite houses - of all sizes - but also many examples of what the national media calls feismo gallego. Or 'Galician ugliness'. But now the regional government (La Xunta/Junta) has decided to bring in a law to put an end to this. It should be interesting to observe its consequences. At a minimum, it should mean a few hundred more civil servant jobs to give one's friends and relatives.

Which reminds me . . . After 13 years of applications, the industrial estate next to the gypsy settlement down the hill has finally been given the licence to expand, on the basis that it puts up a 'green screen' so that it 'fits in' with the surrounding countryside. It's a tad surprising that this didn't occur to anyone during the lengthy negotiations. So, as I've said, I wonder what the real reason for the refusals was.

Finally . . . My doorbell rang at 11.20pm last night. It wasn't the gypsies I expected but the lovely Esther from next door, wanting to know if I could give her some beers for the dinner they were about to have. When I told her it was 11.20 - and that I was in my underpants because of the clammy heat - she replied she hadn't realised what time it was. From experience of the last 6 years, I'd say this is a suitable epitaph for her headstone. I may have mentioned she arrived at 10pm for a 9.15 dinner the other night. Spain is different. 

BTW . . . When Esther and I spoke on the intercom, she refused to believe I was almost naked because of the muggy heat. By the time she left, though, she was convinced of this.  

El País: The BBC Belongs to Everyone

The reform of the British public broadcaster, admired throughout the world for its quality criteria and professional independence, is in the crosshairs of the Conservative government of David Cameron who had perceived in the corporation a certain sectarian bias. That suspicion has resulted in a report on the future of the BBC presented to Parliament which aims to curb its "imperial ambitions",[to modify its financing arrangements, to stop it pursuing mass audiences and t o minimise its content.]

For the British, the BBC is the place where [the nation finds itself],  a symbol of democracy that has stood firm against attempts at governmental interference, putting [first] its commitment to public service. Certainly there are issues such as the fee charged to the owners of a television, the need to adapt to the times, and also that the image of the BBC has been damaged by scandals, such as by Jimmy Saville ex-presenter accused of sexual abuse, or the astronomical salaries of its stars.

Nevertheless, the BBC has [not!] lost its essence. In an increasingly polluted media ecosystem it remains an informative reference within and outside the UK through its global services. Safeguarding their universal character is an obligation to whoever leads the British government.

La BBC es de todos

La reforma de la radiotelevisión pública británica, admirada en todo el mundo por sus criterios de calidad e independencia profesional, está en el punto de mira del Gobierno conservador de David Cameron, que cree haber percibido en la línea informativa de la corporación una cierta inclinación sectaria. Ese recelo se ha materializado en un informe sobre el futuro de la BBC presentado al Parlamento que aspira a frenar sus “ambiciones imperiales” modificando su régimen de financiación, estrechando el cerco a contenidos de grandes audiencias y jibarizándola.

Para los británicos, la BBC es el lugar en el que la nación se encuentra, un símbolo de la democracia que se ha mantenido firme ante los intentos de injerencias gubernamentales, anteponiendo su compromiso con el servicio público. Es cierto que hay aspectos, como el canon que se cobra a los dueños de un televisor, que tienen que adaptarse a los tiempos, y también que la imagen de la BBC se ha visto dañada por escándalos, como el del exlocutor Jimmy Saville, acusado de abusos sexuales, o los astronómicos sueldos de sus estrellas.

Pese a todo, la BBC no ha perdido su esencia. En un ecosistema mediático cada vez más contaminado, sigue siendo una referencia informativa dentro y fuera de Reino Unido gracias a sus servicios mundiales. Salvaguardar su carácter universal es una obligación de quien lidere el Gobierno británico, sea quien sea.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Fascist emblems; Tourism & the Galeón; Benidorm; Guiris; 2 guiris in particular; & A song for friends.

As Spain marks 40 years since the death of the monstrous Franco and the 79th anniversary of the start of its atavistic Civil War, the new left-of-centre mayors are finally planning to get rid of the residual monuments to the Fascists which should have disappeared long ago under the law. Not before time. I wonder if we'll see the removal of the 2 or 3 shields which adorn Pontevedra's granite walls.

Spain's tourist industry continues to grow apace, breaking records every year. Tourism, of course, is a killer of good service. A restaurant in Santiago appears to employ the only waitresses in the country incapable of a smile, even when they've been given a good tip. And serves atrocious Rioja. It's called Galeón Raina. The 2 comments on Trip advisor are: "Very good octopus" and "Losing clients". I can't vouch for the first but am not at all surprised by the second. Stay away.

Talking of tourism . . . Who - apart from the insufferable Alfie Mittington - knew that the original name for Benidorm was Ben-i-Darhm - 'The Sons of Darhm' in Arabic.

And talking of smiling . . . One of the easiest ways to raise a laugh in Spain - as a foreigner - is to call yourself a guiri. Your Spanish friends simply won't be able to suppress at least a smile at you using this pejorative term.

And talking of both tourism and guiris . . . Here's a foto of a couple of ladies whose behaviour much disturbed the calm of my evening tiffin. They're not good snaps but I had to be quick. I think they were Dutch, whom I've previously regarded as a reserved people. Obviously wrong. Luckily for them (or me), they'll never see these fotos:-





Finally . . . My thanks to my 3 friends who made it a weekend to remember. Especially to the one who broke the blind cord mechanism. And the one who left the garage door open so that all the neighbourhood moths could come into the house. Not to mention all the pigs who'd been sleeping there. This is the song which which I'll always associate them.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Los Toros; Newish English words; 'New' Spanish(?) word; India's Parsees; & Daughters!

To the horror of rabid (and not-so-rabid) aficionados, Spain's new left-wing councils are either threatening to stop fiestas involving one form of bull-baiting or another or actually ending them. Some councils are going halfway and putting their plans out to referendums (referenda, if you're Alfie Mittington). This is another blow to the Fiesta Nacional. Will it survive the 21st century? And is Hemingway spinning in his grave?

A new-to-me English word:- Churnalism - "A form of journalism in which press releases, wire stories and other forms of pre-packaged material are used to create articles in newspapers and other news media in order to meet increasing pressures of time and cost without undertaking further research or checking".

And a not-so-new related word: Clickbait:- "A pejorative term describing web content aimed at generating online advertising revenue, especially at the expense of quality or accuracy, relying on sensationalist headlines to attract click-throughs and to encourage forwarding of the material over online social networks. Clickbait headlines typically aim to exploit the "curiosity gap", providing just enough information to make the reader curious, but not enough to satisfy their curiosity without clicking through to the linked content."

Finally on words . . . A new-to-me Spanish word: Jibarizar, which isn't in the Royal Academy dictionary but may mean: 'To reduce to the essentials/basics'. And might be Argentinean Spanish. As in:- El gobierno argentino acusa a Repsol de “jibarizar” a  la  petrolera así como de “maltratar” los recursos naturales y los yacimientos argentinos.

I heard a podcast yesterday on the Zaroastrian Parsees of India. Parsee is the same word as Farsi, as F and P are interchangeable in Persian, and I knew about Iran's Parsees. Indeed, I've even seen some of their famous Towers of Silence, outside Yazd. But I didn't know that India's Parsees are known for their keen sense of humour. Which sounded to me rather like the Scouse brand. Must visit them sometime and cross swords. Meanwhile, there'll be a good Parsee joke tomorrow, when you've digested the links. If not, you won't understand it.


Finally . . . Sitting at my usual outside table at my favourite tapas bar last night, I overheard this comment from a teenage daughter to her father: "Don't be a moron! Please, please. Don't be a moron!" It brought back happy memories. Though I don't recall the politeness, in my case.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Don Quixote airport; Gay marriage; Maleting; Women!; & Coincidences.

Choose your headline:
  • Chinese firm buys Ciudad Real airport for €10,000
  • British investors buy Spain's Don Quixote [Ciudad Real] airport for just £7,000
The airport cost €1billion and was offered in 2010 at the distress-sale price of €80 million - to total silence. The truth is it's been bought by a group of British and Asian investors, Tzaneen International. They're said to be planning to invest up to €100m in developing it as the main entry point for Chinese companies into Europe. Right now, it seems, they have the €10k but not the €100m. Could be fun.

Gay marriage: This is a brilliant podcast on the reaction of US Christians to this development there. I find it impossible to see how any reasonable person could disagree with it. But, of course, some do. Because the Bible tells them to.

A new Spanish word: Maleting. This is pulling a suitcase while on a motorbike or scooter. Presumably as the passenger. It comes from the word maleta, or 'suitcase'. Plus the very non-Spanish 'ing'.

Women are funny creatures. My lovely neighbour, Esther, is always telling me what's wrong in my house. Last night she came to dinner with a friend and straitened a small pile of books on the dining table. Later she told me my TV should be a bit higher. And, trespassing into a kitchen in which everything had been tidied up except a couple of utensils, she exclaimed "Isn't that typical of a man's kitchen!". It's a good job I'm fond of her.

And then there's the other female visitor who asked me why there was a old wok in my front garden, when it was perfectly obvious, I would have thought, that I was using it to ladle water from a butt onto my sun-soaked plants and bushes.

Finally . . . Two odd coincidences on one evening. 1. Walking across the bridge into town, I looked sideways for no good reason and saw the car passing me was being driven by said Esther. Telepathy? 2. Sitting alone at a table in the Savoy café, I wondered why people didn't share tables when places are full. A few minutes later 3 ladies asked me if they could sit at my table. Two Mexicans and one German, they were doing the camino to Santiago. The latter tricked me into believing they were staying at the pilgrims' hostel and had to be back before they locked the doors at 10pm. That old German humour again!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Odd headline; Patience runs out at the doctor's; Germans on and in Greece; & A funny seagull.

A fascinating headline, raising all sorts of questions: Pamplona fest ends with no fatal gorings; man dies elsewhere.

I went to see my doctor today, to talk about problems in getting a prescription filled. The time of my appointment, as ever, was an unusual one - 10.46. But I got there 5 minutes early as I knew 10 of us would have been given the same time and there was just a chance I'd be first. To my surprise, the waiting area was jam-packed. And there was no sign of doctor activity. What usually happens is that each doctor emerges after a consultation to call out the name of the next patient. Some of the doctors post a list on the wall and there was one such available. But my name wasn't on it. After a while, doctor activity began and patients started going into their offices. I couldn't help but notice that the substitute (female) doctor for my doctor had turned into a male but I wasn't too worried about that. What did concern me was that my name wasn't being called by any of the 3 doctors on duty. And what amused me was that every time one of them called out 3 names, no one responded. So, a 100% no-show record. After an hour or so of this surreal farce, I decided to leave and ask my doctor neighbour for a prescription. This is against the rules but, hey, this is Spain and rules are for other folk. Those without connections. Needless to say, she was happy to give me what I needed. All's well that ends well.

During my hour or so of waiting - and reading - there was a little incident which demonstrated my oft-cited claim that the Spanish are, at the same time, rather inconsiderate of others but, at the same time, the world's best apologisers. When I went up to check the list on the wall, I left a magazine on my chair. As I returned, I saw a woman remove it and put in on the adjacent chair. As I picked it up to sit down, she said she hadn't realised it was my chair and apologised profusely. I said it didn't matter but, nonetheless, she got up and went to sit elsewhere. Next to her husband. Don't ask me.

More seriously . . . It's been suggested that the Germans know all about corruption in 'dishonest, lying, lazy' Greece because it's mainly German companies who've indulged in it. And on a massive scale. See here.

Talking of Germany . . . Here's a blog which highlights a fascinating prediction made by a lawyer there in 1997. It also lists the Ten Big Lies Told to Germans to Keep the European Dream Alive. Rather chilling, if not totally surprising.

Finally . . . Seagulls are rarely amusing but here's one that's raised a lot of laughs.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The EU and the Left; The EU future; Spain & Greece; T-shirts; Odd pronunciations; Alt. Med. & Healthcare in Spain.

If you're of the Left, you'll be interested in this article on how your fellow-thinkers around the world are viewing the red-in-tooth-and-claw EU, led by a Germany determined to impose its will on the rest of Europe. Which sounds rather familiar.

Stepping back from the detail . . . The first thing one has to conclude is that the EU's much-vaunted 'solidarity' is a chimera. The second is that elections and electorates don't matter when it comes to the future of 'The Project'. Finally, one has to conclude that the only way the EU can ever succeed is as a 'benevolent/enlightened' dictatorship, led by Germany. How likely is that?

And where was the Spanish government during the Greek saga? Taking the hardest of lines, it emerges. More German than the Germans. Why? Because there's an election late this year and the governing PP party doesn't want voters asking "Why have we gone through what we've gone through? Why didn't you negotiate a good deal for us like the Greek government did?" As the old Biblical saying has it - Solidarity begins at home. In the Prime Minister's office to be exact.

A few more T-shirt slogans noted this week:-
What's on your mind
MEEOW
Listen to your heart
I like cats
Love your bones
Win the race
OBEY
RUGGED
Stop waiting for Friday

And another 3 strange pronunciations:
Protajonists - instead of protagonists
Róbust - instead of robúst
Páranoic - instead of paranóic

Finally . . . Trying to find which sites link into this blog, I saw that the major source was one called myhealthcare.com. Going to it didn't provide any answers but it did reveal the existence of someone calling himself a Naturopathic Physician, Mechanotherapist, Naprapath, Medical Massage Practitioner, Tui Na Practitioner and Native American Healing Practitioner. Which seems to cover all the bases. Click here, here, here and here for more on these 'alternative' therapies.

Footnote: This is a useful site on healthcare provision for foreigners in Spain.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Spanish economy; The human body; The DT; Pooping pigeons; My liquid solution; Our flea market; & Grexpressions.

Following Alex Tsipras’ humiliating capitulation to the Troika this Monday, one can imagine governments across Europe breathing a collective sigh of relief, tinged no doubt with a little schadenfreude. The loudest sigh was probably not in Berlin, as one might suspect, but in Madrid. Says Don Quijones. Click here for his (spot-on) rationale.

Interesting fact: The human body is made up of c. 7 octillion[?] atoms, which are mostly empty space. If you lost your empty atomic space, your body could fit into a cube less than 1/500th of a centimetre on each side. HT to The Guardian for this, via Prospect magazine. What a piece of work is a man! . . . this quintessence of dust. HT to Shakespeare for this.

The Daily Telegraph has surpassed itself. Spot the 3 mistakes in this brief text:- . . . the English electoratewho will ruightly see this as a gross imterference in their domestic affairs. And, yes, I know there are typos in my own posts but, then, I don't pay anyone to sub-edit my stuff. Alfie Mittington comes free. I'm sorry to say.

A town in Cataluña is reported to be feeding contraceptive pills to pigeons to stop them breeding uncontrollably. Or at all. Pontevedra's council has been doing this for some months now. With no apparent success. I shall take my strong water pistol to my favourite bar again this lunchtime. Though I shall, as usual, feed my friendly - and cheeky - sparrows. I could swear they recognise me.

Pigeon Popper/Potter

Talking of Ponters . . . Whatever they think of the encroachment of local gypsies - both domestic and Rumanian - the up-market(?) traders in our Sunday flea-market can't be too happy with one of them shouting out, every 30 seconds, 'Cheap! Cheap! Cheap!'. I wouldn't have thought.

Finally . . . Some new grexpressions in the latest issue of Private Eye.


Footnote: A useful site for foreigners: The Citizens Advice Bureau Spain.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Greece; The EU; New Spanish word; A footballer; The EHIC 1; Ms Hingis; & The EHIC 2

The 3 things most at stake during the months of negotiations over Greece have clearly (and alliteratively) been The Project, EU Principles; and Politicians' Pride. The state of the Greek People has figured but little. No one really knows where things go from here but at least the Greek tragedy has answered the long-standing question - What's the point of having a national government when you've got a supranational government plus the IMF and the ECB? Surely Greece could save itself millions, if not billions, by showing the way and dumping all its domestic politicians. Which is one reason why David Cameron might change his position of wanting to keep the UK in the EU. The wind has changed. And got stronger. And colder.

As we wait on events . . . A couple of comments from others:-
  • The heavy handed German approach has triggered a backlash.
  • Germany has made humiliating and intolerable, demands, meant to drive Greece out of the euro. 
  • Germany has tried to rule Europe with diktat like this before. The EU was set up to stop this.
  • The talks were a crucifixion.
  • These are the most brutal negotiations I have ever seen.
  • There is an element of humiliation that will poison the atmosphere for years to come.
But . . . Onwards and upwards. Per ardua ad astra. Pour encourager les autres. With or without 'solidarity'.

Finally, here's our Ambrose being rather acerbic on the subject.

Another new-to-me Spanish word (with HT to my friend Jennie):- Ser un muermo. 'To be boring, A wet fish, A drip'. Tener un muermo: 'To be bored. Jennie feels this might be old-fashioned but a Spanish friend assures me it's quite the opposite now.

The Real Madrid goalkeeper is leaving for a Portuguese team, after 17 years with the club. From the rection of the Spanish media, you'd think it was The Second Coming, rather than just A Footballer Going.

So . . . I went to the Social Security office yesterday to seek a European health card. The lady was charm itself but, having entered my ID, she couldn't get the computer to stop saying No. Finally, she apologised and told me that, as I'd never paid social security contributions in Spain, I'd have to get my card from the UK government. So, I went on line and found I needed to be a UK resident. As I'm not, I did what anyone would do in these circumstances and lied about a UK address. Then I was told I couldn't have a card because I already had one. To my surprise, this turned out to be true. Which is just as well as it appears I don't qualify for one either in Spain or the UK. Even though my friend Eamon has a letter saying the UK isssues cards for its citizens living elsewhere in the EU. My guess is the problem is that neither country wants to pay what these cards cost to their government.

Finally . . . I'm officially in love with Martina Hingis, even though I can't remember anything of her the first time round. Mind you, she was only 16. And - now that I've looked at the fotos - she looks a lot better at 35.

Serious Footnote: If you need a European health card(EHIC), here's what the UK government says: If you are living in an EEA country and you receive a UK State Pension or long-term Incapacity Benefit, you may be entitled to state healthcare paid for by the UK. You'll need to apply for a certificate of entitlement also known as an S1 form. You can apply for your form via the International Pension Centre on 0191 218 7777. Once issued, register the S1 form with the relevant authority abroad. Once you have registered your S1 in the country you are moving to, you will be entitled to apply for [where?] and use a UK-issued EHIC to access state-funded necessary medical treatment when you visit other EEA countries.

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