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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain

Random thoughts from a Brit in the North West. Sometimes serious, sometimes not. Quite often curmudgeonly.

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 24 October 2020
24 October 2020

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable  

        - Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'* 

Living La Vida Loca in Spain/Galicia

Take a history of tribalism and then. on this base, design a café para todos Constitution which involves 17 Autonomous Communities, each with a President and a government, some of one party and some of another. Some supportive of the central government and some not. Some rich, some poor. Delegate wide powers to each AC, including the responsibility for healthcare. Then stand by and see how well all this works both before and - especially - after the arrival of an incurable, almost unstoppable fatal virus. Anyone surprised? A worse recipe would be hard to imagine. 

Spanish banks are rapacious, perhaps even more than in other countries. For my cash withdrawals, I believe I'm paying charges both to my bank and the banks whose ATMs I use, my bank not having any of its own, Lenox Napier has some choice comments on the banks here. And, in his latest Business Over Tapas, he cites this article from El Periodico on the banks' maltreatment of small customers.

Lenox also pointed me to this Guardian article on accusations of misogyny directed at the Prado.

A reader has kindly supplied interesting info on Spanish lawyers:- Comparing Spanish lawyers to lawyers in the UK is like comparing apples with pebble stones. In Britain, there is a specific exam that must be passed in order to qualify to become a barrister - for example. Not so in Spain. I do not know if in the UK there is anything extra required to become a judge, a notary or a simple solicitor. However, in Spain any of the elite professions require passing an "oposición". One must pass one of these exams in order to become a Juez, Notario, Inspector de Hacienda, Abogado del Estado, Letrado del Estado, Registrador de la Propiedad and so on - I don't know all them. These exams are horrendously hard to pass. Generally, only 3%-5% of those attending do pass. And they all have law degrees already. It is a sort of mandarinate, if you want. I reckon there is nothing in the UK comparable in the degree of difficulty and hardship that these exams entail. Absolutely nothing. Not that I consider this necessarily a good thing, or that I would recommend to anyone locking themselves up for years in a room just to memorise tomes and tomes of legalese, like a Rabbi learns the Torah. But this explains why ordinary lawyers do not enjoy much standing at the beginnig of their careers- they have to work themselves up their professional ladder by other means, and that might take years. I'll respond to this tomorrow, with some comments of my own.

Germany

Lenox yet again . . . My German step-mother would say 'A German joke is no laughing matter'. 

The USA

Finally . . .

Some excellent news . . . Tom Lehrer's marvellous stuff is available free here. I must dust off the piano . . . And take singing lessons.

And here's a web site dedicated to the unabashfully liberal comedy and political songwriter Tom Andrew Lehrer. 

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 23 October 2020
23 October 2020

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable  

        - Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'* 

Covid

Sometimes, when I read the stats, I’m put in mind of my youth when the UK government used to make a huge thing of road deaths over the Easter holidays. When I checked, I found these were the same as every other weekend in the year. So, not really newsworthy. Everything’s relative. And some things aren’t as absolutely bad as they’re made out to be. Context matters.

Living La Vida Loca in Spain/Galicia

Vox is the far-right populist party here. This week it initiated a vote of censure against the governing PSOE left-of centre-party. As expected, no one from any other party voted in favour of it. The belief is that its sole purpose was to show how week the right-of-centre parties (PP and Ciudadanos) are when it comes to populist issues.  Spanish politics . . . 

Lawyers - for one reason and another - don’t have in Spain the status and the income they have in the Anglosphere. Far from it. I regularly shock my Spanish friends with data on this. But even I was surprised to read today that, driven by US firms, newly qualified lawyers in the UK are being offered starting salaries of between 100,000 and 150,000 euros.

I’m pleased to say that the (No. 4) blinds company came back yesterday and fitted my large salónblind. They’ve been even quicker with the bill . . . 

María's Fallback chronicle: Day 37 & 38    

The UK

So . . . Not only in Spain . . . HM Revenue and Customs have estimated that between five and ten percent of the £39 billion in payments made under the Treasury’s job retention scheme are likely to have been claimed fraudulently by organised criminals posing as legitimate businesses. 

The USA

As far as I can tell, Trump’s pitch for presidency goes something like: America is the greatest country ever. I am the greatest person ever. Joe Biden is the the worst person ever. If you elect me, you'll go to capitalist Heaven. If you elect him, you'll go to Hell in a malfunctioning communist handcart. Oh, and by the way, China is responsible for everything wrong in the world. 

It will be fascinating - and possibly depressing - to see how many Americans buy such shoddy goods.

Spanish

Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas has cited an article which lists English words which are part of the Spanish business lexicon - Briefing;  Call, CEO; Workshop; Startup; Deadline; Feedback; Staff; Stock and (why?) Backstage.  Bizarre.  

English

In her latest post, María cites the Brit word knackered, for ‘very tired’. This sent me down the rabbit hole of the root, which confirmed:-

Knacker: A person whose business is the disposal of dead or unwanted animals, especially those whose flesh is not fit for human consumption.

To knacker: 1. To tire (someone) out.  2. To damage (something) severely.

But then I was led to knackery, knackiness and knackish. Not to mention the still-used knack: ‘An acquired or natural skill at performing a task. A tendency to do something’. I’m not sure I’d have come up with that spelling . .  

Spanish

That explosive letter T again . . . I had trouble yesterday asking about tamarind paste. And I was trying really hard to spit it out . . . 

Finally . . .

German humour: Lenox advises. My German step-mother would say: A German joke is no laughing matter. 

Here’s an obit about the sort of person the world needs far more. Especially now, The Age of the Antivaxxers/Irrationalists.

James Randi, illusionist dubbed ‘the man no jail can hold’ who exposed psychic fraudsters: He performed Houdini's perilous escape acts and worked with scientists in investigating phenomena of apparently paranormal nature

James Randi, the psychic and illusionist, who has died aged 92, called himself the Amazing Randi and billed himself as “the man no jail can hold” in the tradition of the escapologist Harry Houdini; but above all he crusaded as the world’s pre-eminent debunker of pseudoscience and fraudulent magic.

As the scourge of dishonest psychics, hoaxers, fakers and charlatans, Randi claimed to speak on behalf of rationalists, and rejected the existence of psychic phenomena, which he believed were nothing more than “flim-flam” that could be explained by simple skulduggery or cheating.

One particular target was Uri Geller, the Israeli-born British illusionist who shot to fame in the 1970s with his spoon-bending act which featured on television all over the world. Although Randi was able to demonstrate how the illusion could be achieved using an ordinary magician’s sleight-of-hand, he believed that in a credulous age, many viewers were gulled not only into accepting what they were seeing as literal truth, but also – in some cases – they abandoned life-saving medical treatment in favour of what he called “the latest miracles”.

In 1975 Randi demonstrated Geller’s methods to a group of eminent British scientists, including Maurice Wilkins, the Nobel Prize-winning co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, at King’s College, London. “We believe that in investigating phenomena of apparently paranormal nature,” the scientists subsequently affirmed in a letter to Randi, “a qualified conjurer must be closely involved.”

Four years later Randi initiated his “Uri Awards”, which he distributed every April Fool’s Day to assorted scientists, journalists, and faith healers who claimed to be able to perform “psychic surgery” using paranormal powers.

As a performing magician and escape artist in his own right, Randi appeared all over the world, from Manila and Sydney to Paris, New York and London. In 1975 he toured with Alice Cooper as an executioner who simulated a guillotining of the rock star on stage every night.

For World of Wizards on Canadian television, Randi was filmed suspended above the raging Niagara Falls while wriggling out of a straitjacket bound in chains. In 1985 he escaped from another straitjacket while dangling from a helicopter over Tokyo.

He regularly performed the Milk Churn escape borrowed from Houdini’s act, Houdini himself having once almost come to grief at the Empire Theatre, Leeds, when he accepted a challenge from the Tetley brewery to escape from a beer-filled galvanised metal container, only to fail after being overcome by the fumes and having to be rescued unconscious by an assistant.

James Randi was born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge in Toronto on August 7 1928, the son of a telephone company manager. He became hooked on magic as a child when he watched a friend perform a billiard-ball illusion. Scouring department stores for magic tricks to buy, he was 13 when he discovered the Toronto Arcade Magic and Novelty Store, and spent every Saturday there learning new tricks.

A child prodigy with an IQ of 168, James was bored and disruptive at the Oakwood Collegiate Institute, and often cut class to educate himself at Toronto’s public library, where, among other things, he learnt to read hieroglyphics.

When he was 15 he was arrested for disrupting a meeting at his local spiritualist church, where the pastor’s party piece was reading out the contents of sealed envelopes. Young James rushed on to the stage and demonstrated how the trick worked, spending four hours in a police cell before his father collected him.

A shy child who stuttered and stammered, Randi found that performing magic tricks boosted his self-confidence, and at 17 he left school to join Peter March’s travelling carnival. His initial persona was as a conjurer, Prince Ibis, complete with goatee, turban and a mouldy suit of tails, but by the age of 20 he was styling himself The Great Randall, Telepath. His displays of “mentalism” (extrasensory perception or ESP) so convinced onlookers that he was asked to help find missing children and even pick winning horses; failing to convince people that his psychic powers derived from trickery, he returned to his rabbits and wands.

By the mid-1960s he had his own all-night radio show in New York, drawing up to 150 letters a day. It was then that Randi, realising the growing scale of public credulity about clairvoyants and faith healers, decided to mobilise a campaign against charlatanry.

As an illusionist he starred in his own television specials around the world, and made a memorable appearance in Britain on Paul Daniels’s television show, when he apparently passed through the solid wall of a partly demolished building.

Having completed three world tours as a performer and lecturer, in 1974 Randi performed for President Ford at the White House. He became a prolific journalist and writer of books, the most celebrated of which was Conjuring (1992), acclaimed as the definitive history of “the venerable arts of sorcery, prestidigitation, wizardry, deception and chicanery, and of the mountebanks and scoundrels who have perpetrated these subterfuges on a bewildered public”.

Indeed, he became a recognised authority on the history of stage magic and an even more celebrated debunker of false claims about the paranormal. Discussing Randi’s 1982 book The Truth About Uri Geller, the astronomer and author Carl Sagan acclaimed it “a witty and fascinating dissection of Uri Geller’s humbuggery … a healthy antidote to charlatanry at all levels”.

A more sweeping indictment of the paranormal was contained in Randi’s Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and Other Delusions (1980). His other works included Harry Houdini: His Life And Art (1976); Test Your ESP Potential (1982); The Faith Healers (1987); The Magic World of the Amazing Randi (1989); The Mask of Nostradamus (1990); and James Randi, Psychic Investigator (1991).

His Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural was published in 1995 and he was the subject of a biographical film documentary, An Honest Liar, in 2014.

Like his hero, Houdini, James Randi escaped from notorious jails around the world, having been bound with ropes and handcuffs and entombed in boxes and coffins. It is likely, however, that Randi will be remembered more as a writer and a zealous guardian of legitimate stage magic than for his own performances.

He continued his campaign against bogus practitioners well into old age, holding forth on their devious methods at such institutions as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Institution in London and even at the American Parapsychological Association, an experience Randi likened to “Martin Luther walking into the Vatican for lunch”.

In 1987 the Academy of Magical Arts in Los Angeles created a special fellowship for Randi in recognition of his efforts to preserve the art of conjuring as an entertainment rather than for deception and fraud.

Randi considered hate-mail an occupational hazard, and dealt with several threats to his life by fortifying his house, wearing body armour and surrounding himself with large bodyguards in bulky suits. Whenever he was pointed out as a representative of Satan, he would bow and wave.

He became a naturalised American citizen in 1987 and settled in Florida in the company of “a mellow old red cat named Charles, several untalented parrots, numerous other unnamed creatures and the occasional visiting magus or sorcerer’s apprentice”.

Randi was a founding fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), and received a “genius grant” from the American MacArthur Foundation.

He also set up the James Randi Educational Foundation, which gave prizes and scholarships, provided data for researchers and the media – and offered a $1 million (£750,000) reward to anybody who could prove supernatural or paranormal powers under scientific conditions.

The foundation stopped taking applications when Randi stepped down in 2015, and the money remained unclaimed.

James Randi, born August 7 1928, died October 20 2020     

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 22 October 2020
22 October 2020

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable  

        - Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'* 

Covid

More analysis of Spain’s failures, here and here.  Fingered: Spain's bitter political polarization and its devolved model of state. . . .  The problem here is that of confrontation and there are no mechanisms of cooperation between the institutions. Shades of Manchester v London in the UK.   

Living La Vida Loca in Spain/Galicia

The AVE high speed train to Madrid. Was originally promised for the 1990s but now for ‘next year’. BUT . . . The stretch between Zamora and Pedralba has finally been opened and this will take 1.5 hours off the 6-7 hour journey from Pontevedra to Madrid. Twelve hours in the case of the night train. Shame none of us are allowed to go to Madrid,

Early 2003: It's actually the anniversary of the Prestige disaster today. One of the papers has stressed that none of the various measures proposed - special harbour, more tugs, etc. has yet been introduced. If it happened again tomorrow, Galicia/ Spain would be just as exposed to the consequences. There was another good cartoon today. It showed pictures of the various organisms that are affected in various degrees by the hydrocarbon residues. Some seafood was said to be very affected and some relatively unaffected. The most unaffected organisms were national and local politicians. 

Mid 2003: The local paper says that the gypsy encampment at the bottom of the hill will give way to a block of flats by 2005, which itself will be surrounded by an industrial park. Wonder what happened to that plan. We still have the gypsies but I believe the expansion of the small industrial park we do have has been in negotiation for 15 years now. Decathlon is on hold . . .

December 2003: I wonder whether the pedestrian-killing season has begun in Pontevedra. I say this because yesterday I twice had to take evasive action on a zebra crossing and this morning I witnessed the ultimate in confrontation. Just after I had negotiated a crossing, I heard a strident car horn and looked over my shoulder to see a young driver gesticulating and shouting at an old man who was rather slowing making his way across the road. The gestures and the language made it quite dear that the latter was being berated for not stopping in the middle of the crossing to make sure that the former had enough time in which to stop. The clear inference was that the young man had every right to drive exactly how he liked. In fact, he was advertising this belief by driving a garish red sports car. Others of this ilk drive customised cars with ludicrous spoilers fore and aft and speakers that seem to direct all their sound outwards for our benefit. More often than not their cars are painted yellow, not a colour I would previously have associated with naked aggression. They are not unique to Spain, of course, but seem rather numerous here. The local word for them is 'morulos', which doesn't appear in my dictionary but which seems to mean something like 'country bumpkin'.

Cooking octopus in copper pots.  . .  Reader Perry says that a tin lining is one answer to alleged coper toxicity, as is stainless steel. And ‘ceramic-tech’. And here’s a top-of-line option:-

María has commented that some Portuguese coffees are available in Galicia, so I will keep looking. She’s also said you can get wine from other parts of Spain but I’m sure she means in the supermarkets, which is true. I really meant you’d get a blank stare from a bartender or waitperson in the region.

This would be fascinating. I wonder if it’s true.  

The USA

I have to admit that I've been amazed at the brilliance of Donald Trump in the last week or two, as - stoked up on steroids - he's shown other comedians just how to do improv and parody. His "Suburban mums, please love me!” was a stroke of pure genius. How we laughed. What a comic career he has ahead of him! Or will it shortly be behind him? What a loss to the world that would be.

Finally . . .

Talking of humour . . . Reader sp has given a very funny alternative to the German language quote I cited:

Why do Germans look so serious when you tell them a joke?

They're waiting for the verb.

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.

 

 



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 21 October 2020
21 October 2020

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable  

        - Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'* 

Covid

Screams an El País headline: The Spanish government is considering nationwide state of alarm to implement a curfew. But the text adds this rider: Sources from the central government said today that it would not go ahead with a country-wide curfew, if there is not an agreement to do so among all of Spain’s regions – some of which, like Madrid, are led by the [Opposition]PP party. So I wouldn’t bet my house on this coming to pass, whatever the case for it is.

Living La Vida Loca in Spain/Galicia

Well, the 4th blind company did come, and gave me an acceptable estimate. But I’ve been here before . . .

Let’s  hear it for these Spanish folk.

Err . . . Another El Pais headline: Italian mafia boss mistakenly released after his arrest in Barcelona. The 'explanation' is here.   

I  share the view that coffee is better in Portugal than in Spain. Here's an article on their superior stuff, though it doesn't mention that the Portuguese don't go in for the dreadful torrefacto stuff that the Spanish have grown to like. Anyway, my problem is that - as with Portuguese wines such as vinho verde - it's almost impossible to find their coffee here, only 55km from the border. In truth, in Spain it's pot luck what you can get, even as regards Spanish wines. In Madrid, for example, it's usually possible to get Galicia's ('premium') Albariño but not our other whites (Ribeiro and Godello), nor our red Mencía. Ironically, you can get red Rioja and Ribera del Duero wines here in Galicia but I suspect asking for white Rueda or Catalan wines would produce a blank stare.  BTW . . . Portugal's vinho verde is produced just south of the border and uses the Albariño/Albarinho grape. Too competitive, I guess.

María's Fallback chronicle: Day 36 

Italy

Interesting to hear a historian say that, if Mussolini hadn't made the massive strategic error of backing the wrong late-1930s horse, he would - like Franco - have ruled his country for decades and died in his bed. And would now be a national hero. As it is . . .

Finally . . .

I don't speak much German. And, if I wanted to do so, this brilliant Mark Twain article might well  put me off. But I do know enough to find this comment - from the Irish novelist, Flann O'Brien - both amusing and accurate: Waiting for the verb in German is the ultimate thrill.

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 20 October 2020
20 October 2020

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable  

        - Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'* 

Living La Vida Loca in Spain/Galicia

Sometimes coincidences are very hard to believe . . . Following on from the lawn disaster of last week - when a mini-JCB had to pass through my garden and fence into next door - I last night read this diary entry of mine, from mid 2003: Faye tells me that someone came this morning to say that I would be receiving a letter about something all the 4 families in the next 'block' want/need to do. I suspect that this is connected with some flooding in their basement they had a year or two ago. I seem to recall that there was something said about a pipe which goes under my lawn. I fear that they will want to dig up the lawn to take a look at it. I will be very annoyed if this means either destroying the vines that I have trained on the link fence in the last 2 years or taking up any part of my hand-laid terrace at the bottom of the garden. I won't be too pleased about it even if it doesn't.  So . . . It took 16 years for this to happen. Which makes this comment - from the same year - seem rather premature: The walkways behind the house are still not finished. It's coming up for 3 years now since the Community meeting we had to discuss their repair. 

Life moves at a different pace here . . . 

But good news . . . You’ll all be thrilled to know that the blinds company of July, revisited last week, are coming today. So, I won’t have to go to the 4th company kindly cited by a reader. Yet.

I’ve been a fan of John Carlin ever since I read this marvellous piece 20 years ago. Here’s a commentary of his on the scandal of a politically biased Spanish justice and a nonchalant public. It’s in Spanish but there’s a (tarted up) Google translation below. It reminds me of my comments over the years that Spain doesn’t regard things like promptness, efficiency and meritocracy as things to be pursued at any price. Which can have its positives as well as its negatives.

I’ll never get over the range and turnover of beggars in Pontevedra. These possibly reflect the fact we have a (gypsy) drug-dealing operation on the edge of the city, in my barrio. It brings all sorts of folk who need cash to finance their habit. Two of the latest are 1. A clearly ‘touched’, bizarrely-dressed and loud-mouthed foreigner (who’s threatened to relieve me of my cojones), and 2. A well-dressed, middle aged woman who trawls the old quarter continuously and who, in the last week, must have asked me for money at least 20 times. Without success so far.

María's Fallback chronicle: Day 35. As Maria says: There was a winter at the beginning of this century when it was storm after storm. We would celebrate a day in which we could see blue sky and remember what the sun's warmth was like. Wind and rain was our lot during the worst of the winter months. . . .  My husband remembers winters where the norm was that it would start raining in September, and it would continue until May. Well, that was exactly how my first winter - of 2000/1 - went. Forcing me to spend 3 months in Andalucía during the next winter. And to consider moving South permanently. Read all about it in my forthcoming book, of which the working title: So, you really are thinking of moving to Spain . .

The UK

Thousands of male teachers are leaving secondary school classrooms every year, fuelling fears that a lack of role models is contributing to the under-performance of boys. The exodus over the past decade means that men comprise slightly more than a third of teachers in secondary schools nationally, and only a quarter in some regions. In primary schools only one in seven teachers is male. The figures prompted calls for greater efforts to encourage men into the profession as its leaders warned that a shortage of them was contributing to white working-class boys struggling to keep up with girls.

THE ARTICLE

A national scandal: John Carlin

The scandal of the Rosell case is that there has been no scandal. Or not in proportion to the magnitude of the crime that the Spanish judicial system has committed against him. And the fact that there has been no scandal, that its story has not dominated the headlines and has left the political world indifferent shows how far Spain is from the modern European nation that it claims to be.

The prison newspaper that the former president of FC Barcelona Sandro Rosell has just published, A Big Hug, which serves three purposes: 1. self-therapy after 645 days of kidnapping (or “preventive detention”) for an alleged economic crime in which there was no victim and of which he was finally acquitted; 2. to raise funds for the book's hero, the Soto Real jail chaplain, Father Paulino; and 3. a complaint, an "I accuse", against a State institution that, instead of fulfilling its alleged mission of protecting the citizen, abused him, as it has abused others.

The third point is by far the most important. May Rosell be more at peace after recounting his experience in pleasant, fresh and direct words, good. Better that Father Paulino has money to help those prisoners who do not have the necessary resources to defend their legal interests. But, if the message of the book does not shake the national conscience, if it remains no more than a entertaining read, the conclusion will have to be that the Spanish have resigned themselves to living in a half democracy, in a country where, according to Rosell, Father Paulino says "justice is shit."

In those European countries where they understand that without justice there is no democracy, the noise in the media regarding a case like Rosell's would have been deafening. An Commission of Inquiry would have been required to elucidate why a judge of the National High Court denied Rosell bail 13 times, registering a historical record of preventive detention for an alleged private economic crime whose alleged victim in this case, the Confederación Brazilian Soccer, stated that it had no complaint against him. 

One theory that has spread is that the judge and the prosecution were responding to pressure from the FBI. If true, Spain would be a country that puts its obedience to the United States before the freedom of its own citizens, just like Honduras or Guatemala in the 1960s, when Washington did what it wanted in its Central American "backyard."

A smell of bananas emanates from the upper echelons of Spanish justice. The Rosell case makes it clear that disinfection is necessary. Whoever thinks otherwise, should ask himself the following question: In the absolutely hypothetical case that the president of Real Madrid had been charged with the same crimes, would he have spent a day, an hour, a minute in preventive detention? We all know not. 

Justice in Spain does not pretend to be impartial. The scandal is that almost nobody cares.

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 19 October 2020
19 October 2020

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable  

        - Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'*  n'* 

Covid

Here’s another of those articles which are both fascinating and possibly true. If so, it would certainly answer some obvious questions about the spread and  non-spread of the virus.

Living La Vida Loca in Spain/Galicia

It's hard to read or talk about politics in Spain without coming up against the phrase 'political dysfunction'. This article plus this one will explain why. In the former, the estimable Guy Hedgecoe points out that: The economic crisis of a decade ago revealed thick seams of dishonesty and amateurism running through the revered financial system. The glut of corruption scandals that followed did much the same for the political class, as well as tainting the monarchy. Meanwhile, the Catalan crisis has put in question the country’s territorial model. And GH endorses the comment of 'a senior cabinet minister' that: Spain’s democratic institutions are too weak to be sure of them following through on an election result. In a word, says GH, it's time for a change'. But you know this because I said it a few days/weeks ago, when I added it was unlikely to happen. On this, GH opines: A full-blown new constitution would be a tall order, especially right now. But surely it is time that Spain faced up to the fact that, beyond the glaring weaknesses of its politics and monarchy, the institutional bedrock of any democracy – the judiciary – is desperately ripe for an overhaul. 

GH cites the article by the equally, if not more, estimable David Jimenez. If you haven't read it yet, this is his opening para: Politicians here seem to be mystified as to why Spain is, once again, the European country hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. They have blamed the recklessness of youth, our Latin inability to keep our distance, and even immigration. And yet all this time the answer has been right under their noses: Nothing has eased the spread of the virus as much as their own incompetence.    

It's said that countries get the politicians they deserve. One looks at Spain, the UK and the USA right now and wonders how to change the people into a more deserving group . . .

By pure coincidence, here's Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas on Spanish politics a few days ago.        

Footnote: Talking of 'the revered financial system', I recall laughing out loud at (then)Prime Minister Zapatero's boast that Spain had the strongest financial system in the world and so would emerge from the 2008 global crisis unscathed. But he was even funnier with his earlier claim that Spain, having overtaken both Italy and France, would soon have a per capita GDP higher than Germany's. What a joker that Bambi was!

Less controversially . . . María's Fallback chronicle: Day 34     

The UK

The government has an app which allows you to determine what jobs would suit you if Covid has left you unemployed. Someone filled in the form as if she had Boris Johnson's attributes. The resulting recommendation was . . . . estate agent(realtor).

Spanish

The word extranjero can mean stranger, foreign or alien. I checked on because of this entry in my diary of 2003: There was a headline in the local Galician paper last week which read 'Foreign banks now control 65% of the market in Galicia.' 'Foreign' turned out to mean banks from other parts of Spain.

From a film (Crazy, Stupid Love) last night . . Integral: Fully nude; stark naked; starkers. Short for desnudo integral, I believe.

Finally . . .

I was talking to a Spanish friend re football yesterday and then, as so often happens in Spain, we switched to the subject of food. I asked if he knew that Carballiño was famous for the cooking of octopus. He denied this was true. Turned out that when I said pulpo, he heard football. Maybe he was 'sensitised'; or maybe I didn't spit out the initial P in pulpo. Which, as with the letter T, you have to do ifSpanish ears are going to pick it up.

 

  * A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 18 October 2020
18 October 2020

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable  

        - Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'* 

Covid

Spain: Two critical articles - here and here - on the performance of the government. A taster from the first one: While the reasons behind this poor outcome are still to be fully understood, Spain's COVID-19 crisis has magnified weaknesses in some parts of the health system and revealed complexities in the politics that shape the country. How very true.  

Living La Vida Loca in Spain/Galicia

Two items of good news:-

1. The Spanish government is moving to outlaw the wage gap between men and women, making mandatory for companies to disclose the salaries of their employees or face fines. Click here.

2. Teens will be taught about the Civil War, Franco's dictatorship and the Transition to democracy involving the signing of the Spanish Constitution as part of a new 'Law of Democratic Memory' passed by the national government. At present, the Second Republic, Civil War and Francoist régime are included in History for ESO (Spain's equivalent of GCSEs) and Bachillerato (A-Levels), although the latter would only be taken if the student follows the 'arts route' rather than the 'science route' through 6th form.

But bad news, perhaps, for Brits . . . on British banks and their possible closure of accounts of folks resident in the EU. 

Years ago, the president of Pontevedra's English Speaking Society told me that the place to have great octopus - which, incidentally, I don't much like - was not along the coast but up in the hills, in a place called Carballiño. There, he said, they obeyed the 11 strict rules of preparing octopus Galician style. One of these was the use of a copper pot. And, indeed, I've seen many large examples of these outside local bars and restaurants over the years. 

But, yesterday, I was told that copper is now forbidden and the pots (ollas) are made of stainless steel. I'll have to walk past one of the city's pulperías to day to check this out. 

María's Fallback chronicle: Days 32 & 33     

The Way of the World 

This is an article with which I have total sympathy, knowing of a case that, fortunately, happened 25 years ago. And which was easily resolved with the help of a ('traditional'?) psychiatrist. God knows what would happen now.

Social Media

Back in 2013, Christmas Island had a ad directed at birdwatchers, with the line: Some gorgeous shots here of some juvenile boobies. Facebook's computer banned the ad and the company refused to reverse its decision, even after the background was explained to it. Arrogant or what? 

Finally . .

4Chan. International. I don't really know what it is but it keeps cropping up in my news feed, with lines that don’t tempt me to read more. Yesterday, I noted that the item was: Spain is just a poorer and browner France. Portugal is just a poorer and browner Spain. Which is more than a tad controversial. Unless they mean just the countryside, of course.

  

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 17 October 2020
17 October 2020

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.  

        - Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'* 

Today is a Special but, first, I'll just mention that I did go to the blinds shop to ask why nothing had happened since my request, back in July, for a visit and estimate. There was no explanation or apology - which is par for the course - but only a (slightly embarrassed?) comment that she didn't have her July notebook any more and so couldn't check anything.

THE SPECIAL: THE PRESTIGE DISASTER

These are bits of my Newsletters to my family of late 2002 and early 2003. They reveal quite a lot about Spanish politics and culture. At least of 17 years ago. People will have different views on how much has changed since then. The Spanish government - also of the PP under Aznar - tried the same senseless, knee-jerk, diversionary/exculpatory tactics in 2004, prematurely blaming ETA for the Madrid bombings. That time, though, it cost them the imminent election

2002

November 

16

Speaking of storms and the damage therefrom . . . There is an oil tanker foundering off the coast of Galicia, threatening terrible destruction of wildlife. The Spanish government is blaming Britain but I am not clear why. Something to do with the fact that the ship was not properly repaired in Gibraltar. This seems strange as the ship was heading south, towards Gib, not away from it. It looks more to me like a play aimed at getting support in Brussels for Spanish control of Gibraltar since the locals can't be trusted. And I see this morning that the Spanish government is now including Lithuania, Greece and the Bahamas in its list of guilty countries. And they have arrested the captain of the tanker for lack of co-operation. Nothing if not comprehensive in their reaction. 

19

It's impossible today to talk of anything but the disaster off the coast that now looks like becoming a catastrophe. The talk this afternoon is of this becoming the world's worst ever ecological disaster and of the whole of the Galician coast being smothered in fuel oil, which turns out to be the worst kind of oil you can have coming towards you. 

Once can only hope that some of the fears and predictions are exaggerated but right now it is all profoundly depressing. Accusations and counter-accusations are being hurled around like confetti. The latest one is that the Portuguese navy caused the tanker to break up today when it tried to push it out to sea. Prior to this, we have had the Spanish government blaming the British government - because the tanker was due to call in at Gibraltar and then the Greek, Honduran and Lithuanian governments for being involved in keeping an old tanker on the water. Despite reading the papers for three days, I am not at all clear why its destination is even a factor but the implication seems to be that it regularly calls into Gibraltar and that it is never properly checked/repaired when it is there. Against this, today we hear that its regular port of call for this is in Greece.

Today's papers are saying - with some justification, I suspect - that the Spanish government reacted very slowly and didn't do enough when the ship was first damaged almost a week ago. And in one of the papers today I have read an interview with Spain's leading scientist in this field who said it was utter madness to tow a sinking ship out into the sea and southwards as the break-up was inevitable and the oil slick would now, not only be vastly greater than it needed to have been, but also would make its way inexorably to the entire Galician coast because of the prevailing winds and tides at this time of year. He said this, of course, before the tanker actually split in two today and one now fears that the rest of his terrible predictions could prove true, including the forecast that it will take 2 years before the coast returns to normal. Even the 'best case scenario' of not much more damage will be utterly devastating to the fishing and seafood industries in Galicia. So the worst case scenario is just too horrible to contemplate. It will mean the lifeblood being drained out of this entire coast for at least a year and possibly a great deal more. Tourists come here (mainly from within Spain) for the fabulous beaches and for the seafood. Even if the former are cleared up for next summer, it is hard to see how the latter can be secured. 

I guess the only thing which is certain is that prices will rise. It's an ill wind . . .

The only bit of silver on the horizon is that the ship could sink without its oil leaking out, even from the tank which is gashed. This theory runs that it is now in such deep, cold water that the oi1 will quickly solidify and go down with the ship. One can only hope and pray that this is the case. But a Dutch expert just interviewed on the news sounded anything but optimistic in this regard.

Meanwhile, politics being a dirty game (and the likely cost of compensation so high), I suppose it is not surprising that the Spanish government couldn't resist using last week's events to play the Gibraltar card - even to the extent of suggesting that the tanker was simply sailing back and forth across the oceans as part of a money-laundering operation masterminded by the criminals who, they frequently claim, run Gibraltar. I can't help feeling that they will come to regret this initial response, especially as Spaniards are instinctively suspicious of anything the government claims, seeing conspiracies everywhere. They are likely to conclude that this was a smokescreen intended to mask the government's own complicity in the initial dilatoriness and in the later disastrous decision to take the tanker out into the open sea. As for criminals and money-laundering, most Spanish can hardly be unaware that the headlines of every newspaper on every day of the week centre on allegations of corruption and dishonesty in the higher reaches of Spanish commercial and political life. 

Ironically, one of my colleagues in the ESS had drawn me a map last week of a stretch of coastline which he described as the finest along this beautiful coast and this turns out to be the very area which is already devastated by the incoming oil. I was planning a trip in spring.

Let's keep our fingers crossed that it doesn't turn out to be as bad as it currently looks like it will. 

To end on a note of black humour  . . .  A paper in Barcelona yesterday had a woman asking for Galician seafood. The shopkeeper asked her whether she wanted 'normal, super or diesel'. I don't think this has gone down awfully well here. 

Just in case you don't understand this, these are the 3 types of fuel available at all Spanish petrol stations. 

22

The news about the oil is mixed. The slick has now hit more than 200 miles of coast and fishing is banned for an even longer stretch. The ría (estuary) north of this one has been affected und there are still fears that the 'old' oil will drift south to here and then to Vigo Bay and beyond that to north Portugal. On the other hand, the severe storms of last night appear to have pushed the major slick northwards and there is now talk of it heading off into the Bay of'Biscay (and France!), provided that the wind doesn't change again.

The major unknown is what will happen to the oil that was in the tanks when the ship went down. The Spanish and Galician governments are insisting that it is frozen solid and that there is no risk. Others are not so sure. And I think everyone agrees that, even if there isn't a massive new slick, the oil in the tanker will leak out slowly over the years ahead, causing severe damage to the ecosystem 

Controversy continues to rage over a number of things but especially the decision to take the tanker out to sea mid increase the risk of it breaking up, whilst simultaneously ensuring a massive slick in its wake. There is clearly huge anger here in Galicia about what is seen as Madrid's criminal neglect at the start of the crisis and the pointless smoke-screening about the role or otherwise of Gibraltar.

Here is a translation of part of an editorial in today's copy of Galicia's biggest newspaper:- Galicia is once again suffering from the curse of improvisation, idleness, abandonment, incompetence and the absence of politicians who measure up to their public responsibilities. Attempts during the first 12 days to offer a low profile as the crisis developed and to move the conflict in the direction of the ever-effective scolding of London and Gibraltar have been inadequate in the face of a disaster of this magnitude. They have tried to limit the political damage and have lost the opportunity to adopt decisions co-ordinated with Brussels and with other Atlantic countries who advised of their willingness to respond to requests from the Spanish government.

Most astonishing, though, are the reports of chaotic (mis)management of the efforts to deal with the catastrophe. Incredibly, despite the fact that this is the third, I think, leak of oil along this coast in the last ten years or so, there was no contingency plan in place a fourth. They have, it seems, been making it up as they go along and find themselves hopelessly under-equipped and resourced for the task they face 

Seafood prices have inevitably begun to rise and some are predicting that the highly prized 'goose barnacles' which, in all honesty, look repulsive and taste of nothing but rubber and sea water - will rise from 50 pounds a kilo to over 200 pounds a kilo. 

From a very narrow British point of view, one of the oddest things about this crisis has been the attempts in Brussels to back up the apparently incorrect statements of the Spanish government that the tanker has been negligently checked in Gibraltar in the last year. In contrast, the truth appears to be that it has never docked in Gibraltar in the last five years but has twice docked in Spain, as well as in France and Greece. And it was repaired in China last year. The EU official who has been responsible for this highly emotionally charged red-herring is not only Spanish but also the sister of Minister of Justice and, they say, the heir apparent to the current President Aznar. If my memory serves me correctly, she was kicked upstairs to Brussels a few years ago after presiding, as Minister of Agriculture, over the biggest fraud in the history of the EU. This centred on tile (non)production of vast quantities of (heavily subsidised) jute in (non-existent) factories which 'belonged' to the wives of people in her own ministry. Perhaps not surprisingly - as well as being very lucky - she is also known as an Anglophobe. It certainly seems that she has done Anglo-Spanish relations a power of no good. But, compared with her past record, I don't suppose a few useful lies on a Hitlerian scale are much to worry about as she heads for the presidential election contest of 2004

It's a wicked world. 

25

The President of Galicia is now saying that he disappeared from here on the first weekend of the crisis to go to Madrid to have a 'long and serious' chat with the Minister for Fishing. This turns out to be his daughter, with whom he stayed on Saturday night. Then, on Sunday morning, he just 'fired off a few shots with his friends' before quickly departing for Galicia. He definitely didn't hang around to go hunting. Nonetheless, the opposition parties in the Galician parliament have initiated a censure motion for later this week. Doubtless he will survive it. For someone who is still in power (at 80) despite the fact that he was one of Franco's ministers in the 70s, this can only be a flea bite. 

Putting aside the question of what will happen to the 60,000 tonnes of oil in the sunken ship, the optimistic view is that the oil from the second slick will not now hit us here in the Rias Baixas [see colindavies.net for more information on this region]. But this depended on the wind continuing to blow from the south west. Today is beautifully clear and cold, which means only one thing the wind is now blowing from the north. So, we wait on the next twist in the saga. 

Meanwhile, fishing restrictions have been extended along the north coast of Galicia, as far as its border with Cantabria, and the French government is now on full alert. Keep praying. 

29

Even though the news around the tanker is no longer international news, it is, I’m afraid, all bad:- 

- the slick that occurred when the boat went down is 11,000 tonnes, not 6.000.

- the winds have now blown this huge slick to within 10 miles from the coat, having been over 100 miles away a day or so ago

- the several 'oil-sucking' boats have not been able to do much because of high seas.

- the slick is expected to hit the Galician coast over the weekend. Depending on the winds/tides. 

- it will either hit the stretch already devastated or worse - it will hit us in the Lower Estuaries. Frantic efforts are being made to harvest the seafood against this possibility 

- a French submarine says that more oil is leaking from the sunken tanker, which suggests that the oil has not solidified as it was hoped it would 

Everyone is powerless, of course, to do anything other than continue praying and waiting. 

December

Well, all the worst fears are being realised. For more than two weeks, the national and local governments have done little but pray to God that he would send the approaching black plague back out to sea but their prayers have not been answered. 

The wind from the north has now blown the huge oil slick to the edge of the Rías Bajas (Lower Fjords) and fishing has been banned along the entire Galician coast, from Cantabria down to the river Miño, which separates Spain and Portugal. 

Frantic and desperate efforts are being made to stop the stinking, thick sludge reaching the mussel and oyster beds in the estuaries but it is a hopeless task. It is heartbreaking to see the TV pictures of the bespattered local fishermen trying to scoop oil out of the open sea with pots and pans. The richest fishing grounds in Europe are on the point of being completely devastated and no one can do anything about it. Whatever should have been done wasn't and now it is too late to do anything but weep. And to prepare to clean the beaches when the nightmare is finally over. 

God only knows when - and if - the local shellfish industry will recover. And what all this will mean for the tourist industry, the other mainstay of Galicia's economy. 

Needless to say, there is immense local anger at the destruction of the economy. And there is matching uncertainty and fear about the future. Many fishermen are talking of emigrating - the traditional Galician response to large scale disaster. It' a cruel cosmic joke that the preferred country for this Argentina - is currently trying to re-patriate to Spain large numbers of its Galician immigrants because of its own economic problems. 

The king and the geriatric local president put in their first appearance on the coast two days ago but the prime minister has yet to appear. And the rest of his government have - to say the least - kept a low profile since they initially tried to lay all the blame on the UK and Gibraltar and then took the fateful decision to have the leaking tanker not just towed out to sea but towards their neighbour, Portugal. It is hard to imagine how much more effectively they could have alienated both their own people and their closest political allies. And their incompetence has not been lost on those parts of the media which are not government owned and controlled. 

Of course, it's true that Nature is powerful and that these ecological disasters are rarely as bad as they are forecast or feared to be. At least not in the longer term. But, in the shorter term, it is impossible to feel anything other than foreboding. And growing anger. 

I am desperately trying to imagine what good this ill wind might bring Galicia. Perhaps it has brought its beautiful beaches and scenery to the attention of more potential tourists. Perhaps it will, perforce, widen the range of tapas dishes available in the local bars. Some consolation. And today the Dirty Grey Blanket of thick cloud is sitting on the town once again, though the forecast is for sun. So much for forecasts. Not a good day in Pontevedra. 

As I write this, the TV is showing pictures of violence being directed at one of the local mayors during a morning visit to the harbour. It's the first but not, I suspect, the last incident of this nature. 

9

We have had 3 days of respite. with the relatively gentle winds from the north bringing both sun and calm waters. This has allowed an 'army' of 10,000 young volunteers from all over Spain to work around the clock on the Galician beaches Likewise, an armada of small boats has been out to sea, trying to collect the oil by hand. The ‘black tide' has not yet penetrated the estuaries but it has covered the beaches of all the beautiful islands just off the coast. 

And now the wind has changed and is forecast to get much stronger by Wednesday. As if this wasn't bad enough, the Spanish government has finally confirmed what the Portuguese have been saying for days that there are three huge oil slicks not far off the coast These have come from the sunken tanker and give the lie to statements that the oil had hardened in the tanks and would cause no further problems. There is now talk of blowing up the ship and releasing all the fuel so that it can be vacuumed up in one go.

The Spanish government continues to sink into the mire it has created for itself. Apart from coming clean about the new oil slicks, it has confirmed that it did, in fact, have a contingency plan for just such a disaster but chose to ignore it. And it has admitted that the decision to tow the damaged tanker out to sea has had consequences far worse than those envisaged. 

In one of the main newspapers yesterday, the government was described as having the instincts of the Franco administration: First blame a foreign country (this time the UK/Gibraltar instead of Franco's traditional scapegoat Russia), then impose a media blackout, then deny all responsibility and, finally, characterise all criticisms as almost traitorous because "solidarity' is required in the national interest. In a nutshell: 'For one reason and another, we are above criticism'. 

I rather get the impression that they have not quite realised the point of either democracy or an official opposition. They would prefer the sort of cover-ups that routinely follow the reports of political and financial skulduggery here. All of which are assisted by wide-scale membership of Opus Dei. Or perhaps this is just a coincidence. 

Ludicrously, a common statement has been along the lines of  'No government in the world could have handled this better; no-one has the power to command Nature'. Not even, apparently, members of Opus Dei with a direct line to the Almighty.  

12

Well, Galicia may no longer feature in the British news media but I'm afraid things continue to get worse here. We are now awaiting the third 'black tide'. This is is expected to move past the natural barrier of the (besmirched) Atlantic Islands off the coast and to enter the Bays of Pontevedra and Vigo, where Europe's richest seafood beds are to be found. 

This is the nadir we have all been fearing for more than 2 weeks now. Of course, we were told back then that it just couldn't happen, the Spanish government having acquired powers denied to King Canute. 

The French submarine says that the oil has definitely not frozen and that the tanker is leaking 125 tonnes of oil a day, through I4 cracks in its hull. Some forecasts suggest that this will mean 3 years of regular black tides unless something drastic is done to prevent them. 

The affected coastline now stretches from Portugal to France and it can only get worse. 

The national and local Presidents have finally suggested that they might just have made some mistakes - ‘quickly corrected' - but the former still seems to think his most important task is slagging off the leader of the opposition for his failure to show 'solidarity'. An article in yesterday's Wall St. Journal is said to have reported on his apparent arrogance, indifference and incompetence in the face of Spain's worst ever ecological disaster and to have forecast that it will affect his party's chances in the next elections. People here are not so sure. There have been huge demonstrations in the major cities of Galicia in the last 24 hours, under the banner Nunca Mais' (Galician for 'Never Again’) and there are calls for resignations and votes of censure. But a cartoon in one of the national papers yesterday was probably close to the mark. It showed the President, Aznar, relaxing in a large chair, admitting that mistakes might have been made and assuring us that those responsible would be severely punished - they wouldn't be getting their Christmas hampers this year. 

There does seem to be widespread fatalism here, which may or may not be Galician rather than national. People in power in Spain seem to be able to avail themselves of a high degree of immunity when things go wrong. Or when they get caught with their hands in the till. Recent examples of the latter include the head of the National Police and the Directors of two large charity organisations, both female incidentally. Crime is an equal opportunities employer here, 1t seems. 

In circumstances where promotion and position do not depend on merit, it is unlikely that you are going to have the best brains at the top of any organisation. Perhaps this is why incompetence is thick on the ground when things go wrong. And why things go wrong in the first place. Which reminds me - I haven't volunteered to do any of the oil-picking so far, as friends keep telling me. there are far more volunteers than they can cope with. People are being sent home because there aren't enough masks, boots, gloves, etc. I suppose it could happen anywhere. 

14

More 'oil revelations· in the press the minister who gave the disastrous order for the tanker to be towed to sea didn't consult with the President or, indeed, with any external experts. He asked 5 people in his own department what they thought was best. If the Spanish hierarchy is, as I suspect, almost as bad as that of'Indonesia, my guess is that they told him that whatever he thought was was the wisest thing to do.

Intriguingly, the name of this minister is Cascos, which amongst other things - means 'hulls' in Spanish. He is at the centre of a row about tankers with single and double 'cascos'. Mind you. the name of the minister of the Environment is Matas, which means 'you are killing' in Spanish. A couple of God's little jokes, one assumes. 

Local TV and radio personnel have complained about the pressure they have been put wider to peddle the (less than totally honest) government line in the Galician media. This is owned and run by the national and local governments, of course. 

Polls reported on in today's papers reveal a very degree of national dissatisfaction with both the President (who has yet to set foot in Galicia) and the president of the local government, who is over 80 and, if you recall, was a minister in the last Franco government. In contrast, the king has come out of things well because he came here early on. Perhaps he had an emptier diary. 

Among several of the major questions to which people would like the answers is:  'Why did it take you nearly 3 weeks and the example of 10,000 civilian volunteers to get the army onto the beaches’’. I hope they aren't holding their breath for an answer. The Spanish government had little need for the modern vice of spin, for the simple reason that it tends not to answer questions it doesn't like. 

16

The oil news in brief is that it has not yet penetrated the estuaries. There is a huge, deep slick just beyond the natural barrier of the Atlantic islands which is l8 miles long by 6 miles wide. We continue to wait on the weather. 

The minister responsible for taking the fateful decision to have the boat towed out to sea has made his first visit to Galicia and pronounced that he is guilty of nothing worse than not having been a prophet. The President/Prime Minister made his first visit on Saturday, exactly a month to the day since things began. He chose not to visit the towns or beaches - for fear of violent demonstrations - but, instead, flew over them in a helicopter.

22 

The gentle weather has allowed the volunteers and soldiers - to continue with the tasks of cleaning the beaches and dragging globules of fuel oil out of the sea It is hard to describe Just how thick and viscous this stuff is. And how evil smelling, they tell me. Like very thick black custard. Or molten tar. One of the ESS members has been on one of the Atlantic Islands and she told us at dinner on Friday that many of the volunteers had had to go to hospital, having collapsed as a result of breathing the fumes. She herself had had a headache for 3 days. 

Right now, the huge slick is drifting north again. I just keeps on going. 1t will reach the UK and I guess it will feature in your media again. But I don't suppose this will happen. Meanwhile, the sunken tanker continues to leak more fuel from its 14 cracks, one of which is several meters wide. The government has contracted the French submarine to seal the cracks but God alone knows how long this will take. Meanwhile the geriatric local president has said that he sees no reason to fear that his party will lose out in the next elections since ‘We didn't after the mad cow crisis which hit Galicia two or three years ago'. Sadly, he's probably right in this rather backward part of Spain - especially in the mountains - they appear to prefer dictators to democrats. All rather feudal. 

27

The huge oil slick has been blown north over the last week and is now in the Bay of Biscay and heading for France. Naturally, no one here is, unduly concerned about that. I wonder what the French press say.

2003

January

3

Well, the oil has finally reached France and they are said to be very unhappy there. The objects of their anger probably include Spain - because of the decision to push the boat out of their waters and let it drift - but we don't read much about that in the Spanish press. Let's see what legal action the French take. Meanwhile, back here 1t seems that at the last moment the wind changed and we avoided the calamity of having the sludge right inside the river mouths themselves, where the oyster and mussel beds are. But, of course, the sunken tanker is still leaking large quantities of oil. So, who knows what is going to happen in the future. Beaches are still being cleaned and, even if no more oil arrives, it will take many months to get these clean. Especially the rocks. On the sand, it seems that the stuff is so viscous it can almost be rolled up Or at least picked up with a large shovel. Slow but effective work. Meanwhile, fishing for both fish and shellfish is banned along the entire coast and will remain so for some months.

9

The newspapers here continue to carry long reports on the progress of the oil. The main slick is now off the west coast of France, of course, but the sunken tanker continues to leak 80 tonnes a day, from numerous cracks. Only 6 to 8 of the latter have been sealed, by a French submarine.The bad weather has made it difficult for work to progress and they have now given up on the aspiration to seal all the leaks by the end of January. This week a large group of small whales have washed up on the beaches on Galicia but a connection with the oil leaks has been discounted. 

14

There is something of a scandal brewing around an organisation set up to collect funds for those wanting to give money for the oil clearance. I'm not sure whether the accusations are that the money has been routed into personal pockets or 'merely' diverted into the coffers of the left wing Galician 'nationalist' party.

17

The really big news is that the oil disaster has finally produced a political victim. I have been predicting for some time that someone would be sacrificed and it turns out to have been not the geriatric president of the Galician government but his first lieutenant and predicted successor. Mind you, the latter seems to have been asking for it. He has been notorious for several years on account of the fact that his 80 year old mother and brother control 8 or 9 companies which have been delivering services to the local government for several years. A blind eye has been turned to all this, mainly because there is a widespread attitude here that politicians are allowed/expected to use their power to enrich themselves. But of course, they couldn't restrain themselves and it was discovered this week that one of these companies had been selling all the masks and protective clothing used by the army and the volunteers. Normally, 1 suspect they would have got away with this but in the heightened atmosphere of the anger generated by tile catastrophe this proved just a bridge too far. 

The other local scandal has been the divergence of funds raised ostensibly for the victims of the slick into the coffers of the local nationalist party, BNG. They have answered that they never said it would go to anyone in particular and people just assumed it would go to the sufferers. So they look like getting away with this. 

18

To my surprise, a second politician has bitten the dust as a result of the oil catastrophe and there is talk of a 'political crisis'. Yet again, the president has survived - despite vicious criticism in the national press - and a second of his lieutenants has gone. Interestingly, both he and yesterday's casualty accompanied the said president on the ill-fated hunting trip he made on the first weekend of the saga. Perhaps he has sacrificed them to save himself, showing the sort of ruthlessness which must have served him well for the past 30 odd years. Hard to believe now that he won't retire before the next election. Not that there will be anybody to succeed him by the time he has finished knocking off his potential successors. 

February

7

The oil continues to leak from the sunken tanker, though in reducing quantities. Fishing is still banned along the coast here though it may become possible quite soon, after tests have been made of the fish and seafood. Meanwhile, the major slick continues to hit the coasts of north Spain and south west France. Here, they are optimistic that all the local beaches will be clear by the summer season of July and August. 

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 16 October 2020
16 October 2020

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.  

        - Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'* 

Covid

So . . . Ending Covid via herd immunity is a dangerous fallacy. Everyone on board with this?           

Living La Vida Loca in Spain/Galicia

There's no shortage of pessimistic forecasts for Spain's economy. Here's one from The Corner and and there's a Times article below. 

So . . . . how to square this negativity with yesterday's paean of praise from Christian Bungard? Well, it's the gap I bang on between the macro and the micro. Since 2000 - and for various reasons, one of which is large scale corruption - companies and the rich have got more profitable/richer but the middle and lower classes have got poorer. And life has become very much more precarious - the favoured adjective - for the majority. Covid has exacerbated this. Hence the pessimism. And, truth to tell, god knows where Spain would be without continuing huge subventions from Brussels.

As for day to day life . . . As Mr Werner says, It is How It Is.  . . . .Dalor is the 3rd company I've tried to get to fix the large blind in my salón. The first was sent by my insurance company but refused to deal with me after I'd rejected a very expensive quote for an aluminium blind and asked them to quote me for a normal blind. The second, I visited the day after the lockdown ended in July. They said they'd come but it wouldn't be 'immediate'. They never came. So, after they'd put a flier in my buzón, I called Dalor. A chap came in August, measured up, and later called me with me a quote. I accepted this but he warned me - not to my huge surprise - that nothing would be done in August.  The work would be done in September, he assured me. But it wasn't. However, I haven't been too bothered about this because, as the mornings get colder, I need the sun to warm up the salón. But I just called him now, to be told that the office hadn't said anything to him about my acceptance of the quote given to him by phone. If you're wondering why on earth, after 19 years here, I'm surprised at this saga, I have to tell you this isn't remotely the case. But, just for fun, I'll re-visit today the company who told me in July that they'd come 'soon'. To see what ridiculous excuse they come up with for their non-appearance. And maybe to try again to get them to give me a quote.

Which reminds me . . . The plumber I asked 4 or 6 weeks ago to replace parts in 2 toilet cisterns in my house is in charge of the work in my neighbour’s garden. When he came yesterday for this, he said he could do the work now . . . I told him I'd given up on him weeks ago and got someone else to do it. He just smiled. 

Postscript; Even I find this hard to believe . . . Yesterday I made the workmen use planks under the caterpillar tracks of the JCB, to avoid my new lawn being churned up. I've just been out and seen that the didn't use them when they took it away last night! 

It's very hard to credit such stupidity and a lack of consideration for others. Or it would be if only . . . 

María's Fallback chronicle: Days 29, 30 and 31

The UK

Boris Johnson: A sympathetic portrait. See the second article below.

The EU/Brexit

Richard North today: President Macron may be using [the fishing] issue as a proxy for a wider set of objections, not least over the access of the City of London to EU capital markets. If Paris is intent on blocking any deal that is not struck on French terms then a benign outcome to this process will be impossible to achieve.  Plus ça change . . . The French are regarded by all European businessmen as the most difficult to deal with. Amour propre plus La Gloire . . 

The USA

Really worth a read. 

The Way of the World 

A Russian disinformation campaign designed to undermine and spread fear about the Oxford University coronavirus vaccine has been exposed by a Times investigation. Pictures, memes and video clips depicting the British-made vaccine as dangerous have been devised in Russia and middlemen are now seeking to “seed” the images on social media networks around the world.

Finally . . . 

Flashback to November 2002 . . . Speaking of storms and the damage therefrom - there is an oil tanker foundering off the coast of Galicia, threatening terrible destruction of wildlife. The Spanish government is blaming Britain but I am not clear why. Something to do with the fact that the ship was not properly repaired in Gibraltar. This seems strange as the ship was heading south, towards Gib, not away from it. It looks more to me like a play aimed at getting support in Brussels for Spanish control of Gibraltar since the locals can't be trusted. And I see this morning that the Spanish government is now including Lithuania, Greece and the Bahamas in its list of guilty countries. And they have arrested the captain of the tanker for lack of co-operation. Nothing if not comprehensive in their reaction. 

THE ARTICLES

1. Poor, divided Spain may be the sickest man in Europe  Isambard Wilkinson, Madrid. The Times

The worst recession since the civil war and a bitter power struggle over Covid-19 restrictions are undermining the response to the second wave

Spain marked National Day on Monday, but there has been precious little to celebrate in recent years:

Rafael Nadal’s 20th grand-slam victory in Paris at the weekend gave Spain cause for jubilation but there was little else to cheer about afterwards when King Felipe VI and the country’s leadership marked the country’s national day.

Spain has led Europe’s second wave of the coronavirus pandemic with an estimated 896,000 infections in total since the outbreak began. Some experts claim that the economy is in the worst recession since the start of the civil war in 1936. A bitter feud between the government and the opposition over imposing restrictions in Madrid has worsened political polarisation. Officials in Germany, which will stump up most of the massive European recovery funds, question the country’s stability.

As coronavirus is again surging across the continent, concerns are mounting that Spain may become the sickest man of Europe. Many are asking if its problems are too great to heal.

At a first glance the signs do not give grounds for optimism. Poisonous divisions between left and right are hampering efforts to fight the pandemic and rebuild the economy. The Catalan regional government is led by secessionists calling for independence. Allegations of corruption against the former king, Juan Carlos, have deepened a constitutional crisis.

“It’s a crucial, historic moment. What’s needed is political will to avoid confrontation and find what unites us,” Inés Arrimadas, the leader of Citizens, a centre-right party, told The Times. “I’m calling for a truce among all Spain’s political parties to stop fighting among ourselves and understand that the only enemy is the virus.”

The weeks-long clash over social restrictions in the Madrid region culminated on Friday when the Socialist-led government of Pedro Sánchez, the prime minister, declared a state of emergency and imposed a partial lockdown on the capital and surrounding towns against the will of the local authority, controlled by the conservative Popular party (PP).

The government imposed a ban on people entering or leaving the city except for work or essential visits, arguing that it feared the outbreak might spread to adjacent regions. Madrid officials wanted to use lockdowns in only the most affected neighbourhoods. They argued that the authority’s measures had already proved effective. The rate of infection has dropped from 750 cases per 100,000 people over 14 days to 500 for every 100,000 people in the past two weeks. Pressure on the region’s intensive care units has eased. Yet critics argue that the number of infections has dropped because fewer people are being tested.

“It’s a political struggle,” said Pablo Simón, professor of politics at Carlos III University in Madrid. “The national government wants to blame Madrid for not improving the healthcare system and the regional government does not want to lock down Madrid as they want to blame Sánchez, saying it will endanger the economy.

“The result of this game of chicken is that nobody is taking care of the pandemic. They are being totally reckless and stubborn.”

The chaos dates from when Mr Sánchez hastily ordered the end of the strict national lockdown in June. The PP, Catalan and Basque nationalists had refused to support the renewal of the state of emergency under which the government could impose restrictions such as household lockdowns. The prime minister gave control of the health system back to the 17 regions and went on holiday.

Several of the regions, including Madrid, failed to strengthen healthcare services, particularly contact tracing. The government failed to call out the regions’ weak response or set rules for handling outbreaks, which started in July and resulted in Madrid becoming the epicentre of the second wave by last month.

The declaration of the state of emergency in Madrid, which will last for two weeks, has not ended the Punch and Judy show. Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the regional head, said this week that “the justice system, the Madrid region, the king and the law are standing in the way of Pedro Sánchez, who’s trying to change this country through the back door”.

The comments strike at the deeper problems in Spain. Mr Sánchez’s government, the first run by a coalition in its modern democratic history, had been in office for only 15 days when the country recorded its first coronavirus case in late January.

Spain has not had a stable government since 2015 and the new one, which was formed after an inconclusive election — the fourth in as many years — was sworn in with aid of Podemos, the first far-left party in power since 1936, and deals with Basque nationalist and Catalan separatist parties.

Mr Sánchez’s non-consensual presidential style, his plans to investigate the crimes of General Franco’s dictatorship and his reliance on separatists to pass votes have goaded the right wing. So too has criticism of the monarchy by Pablo Iglesias, the deputy prime minister and the pro-republican leader of Podemos. The prime minister today accused the PP of being “anti-system” for its role in the Madrid debacle and its refusal to agree to a judicial reform.

Ana Pastor, an MP and former PP health minister, said: “Confrontation comes not from us but from within the government, whose members attack the King and constitutional monarchy.

“Never in Spain have we seen such populism and a government with communists in it that is supported by separatists.”

After corruption scandals and a substantial economic slump from 2008-13, which led to social tension and years of austerity, the PP, the main opposition party, and the Socialists lost many voters to new parties such as the ultra-nationalist Vox, Citizens and Podemos. Since then the old consensus of the post-Franco years has been increasingly challenged.

The radicalised political tone is at present only softly echoed on the street. About 85 per cent of people recently polled agreed that squabbling among politicians had undermined efforts to curb the virus from spreading. Yet populist nationalism is again growing, with more Spanish flags hanging from balconies, as they did during the height of the Catalan crisis in 2017 when the region’s parliament illegally declared independence.

On Monday Vox staged a protest against Madrid’s partial lockdown and next week it will call for a vote of no confidence against “the totalitarian and criminal government”. The PP is divided over whether it should back the move because although it fears losing more votes and its position of “defender of the state” to its rightwing rival, it also realises that Vox’s antics mobilise leftwing voters.

The Socialists and Podemos thrive on the heightened tension. Another poll this week found that more than 40 per cent of Spaniards favour a republic after Juan Carlos fled to the United Arab Emirates in August to avoid causing further embarrassment to his son, Felipe. Some 34.9 per cent said they supported the royal family.

Analysts fear the present economic crisis may prompt further upheaval. The government forecasts that unemployment will rise in the eurozone’s fourth-biggest economy to 17.1 per cent. The IMF predicts that GDP will fall by 12.8 per cent this year, the hardest-hit among advanced economies, and its budget deficit will stand at 14.1 per cent, the worst figures since the outbreak of the civil war. The tourism sector, one of the country’s main industries, is expected to contract by as much as 25 per cent. Thousands of businesses have closed.

“If we have another social crisis this winter things are going to be even more complicated,” said Juan Moscoso, an economist and former Socialist MP. “For the first time we are decoupling from the EU in economic recovery. Now we see the union is recovering and Spain is lagging behind.”

Mr Simón said that the economy was particularly vulnerable to the pandemic because of its dependence on tourism and services. Yet the state has also been found wanting. “This situation is a stress test, not only for the leadership, but also for the political system, the bureaucratic and state system in Spain,” he said. “We are now seeing the effect of all the different reforms we have not done over the past 20 years.”

Spain has been promised €140 billion in EU recovery funds but German experts doubt its capacity to use them effectively. Friedrich Sell, professor of economics at Bundeswehr University Munich, wrote last week that the country was “politically too unstable” to justify the massive disbursement of funds. The government is negotiating with Brussels to secure the early release of the money.

Several other flashpoints are imminent. A fight has broken out over control of the judiciary; Podemos and its leader are under investigation over party finances; Catalonia is due to hold elections; and the government must pass a budget, a feat that has not been achieved since 2018. The second wave surges on in Navarra and Catalonia, where the number of people being hospitalised has increased by 40 per cent in the past week.

Yet not all are pessimistic. Jordi Canals, professor of strategic management and economics at the IESE Business School in Barcelona, said that any analysis of the economy needed a long-term perspective. He pointed out that the performance of the economy three months ago was not much worse than that of France or Italy. “Spain, like Italy and Germany, is very much export dependent so if the world economy slowly turns around by spring 2021, it will benefit,” he said.

Although Mr Sánchez will struggle to surmount the hurdle of passing a budget before the end of the year, most experts say he will succeed eventually. “The litmus test of the prime minister will be whether he has been able to build a consensus over how to resolve the economic and institutional crises we have by the end of 2021,” Mr Canals said.

Politicians parrot that because Spain is a “great country” it will overcome the crisis. Ms Arrimadas, the leader of Citizens, said that what the country needed was “big vision and statesmanship” . These qualities appear to be in short supply.

2.  Boris Johnson: The Gambler by Tom Bower — A sympathetic portrait

The prime minister’s flaws are treated kindly in a new biography exploring the impact of a miserable childhood

Boris Johnson is a perpetual paradox for admirers and opponents alike: a loner who cannot bear to be by himself; a man of genuine intellect who still prefers to wing it; a figure of ferocious ambition and great laziness; someone desperate to lead but unwilling to manage and mindless of consequences; the liberal Brexiter; the low-tax, big-state interventionist; and a man determined to be marked in posterity but reluctant to put in the hard yards to ensure that he is remembered kindly. 

The quest to find the last Russian doll inside the British prime minister has now been joined by the investigative journalist Tom Bower. The news that Bower, a noted literary hitman — previous targets have included Robert Maxwell, Richard Branson and Jeremy Corbyn — had turned his sights on Johnson will have left the prime minister’s enemies licking their lips. But those looking for a character assassination are going to be disappointed. 

This is more an emotional than political biography. While Johnson’s flaws are never ignored, they are invariably described with mitigation in this surprisingly sympathetic work. The generosity appears to spring from what Bower regards as the book’s big reveal, namely the prime minister’s miserable childhood in a broken home with a neglectful, solipsistic and adulterous father who assaulted Johnson’s mother. Stanley Johnson emerges as the true villain of this story, though few will fail to note that his son has inherited some (though mercifully not all) of his less loveable traits. 

The emotional neglect combined with academic brilliance and an obvious admiration for his father’s charisma and refusal to be bound down, has, Bower suggests, given us a little boy who never quite grew up — a damaged man kicking against all the restraints of life: rules, marital vows, honesty; a man whose need to be loved in the moment explains almost all his moral flaws. 

But while Johnson’s emotional turmoil may explain his many infidelities, it will not do in explaining his other deficiencies. While not an authorised biography, it patently has not been obstructed. The author has clearly benefited from substantial access to relatives, ex-partners and allies.

Tellingly, Bower refers to him throughout as “Boris” — a decision perhaps explained by the curiously opaque declaration at the end of the book that Johnson is “not a stranger in my home”. Apparently in the spirit of openness, the author explains that his wife Veronica Wadley, former editor of the London Evening Standard, has known Johnson for more than 30 years — though he describes their relationship as “one of colleagues not friends”. This seems an understatement: Wadley served for four years as a senior adviser to Johnson when he was London mayor and he this year elevated her to the House of Lords.

Political opponents are derided in a series of low swipes, which Bower rarely bothers to justify.

Johnson’s time at the Foreign Office, widely considered an embarrassment, is blamed less on the man than on officials led by the “unctuous” Simon McDonald, who failed to protect him. That some delighted in his mistakes, is unarguable, but this analysis goes beyond the benefit of the doubt. Johnson’s damaging misstatements on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman detained by Tehran, are for Bower only a “supposed gaffe”.

Governmental failures that cannot be blamed on officials are often down to the weak ministers rather than the man who appointed them. Political opponents are derided in a series of low swipes, which Bower rarely bothers to justify. Amber Rudd is a “perfidious lightweight”. Brenda Hale, president of the Supreme Court, which ruled Johnson’s prorogation of parliament to be unlawful, is — horror — “a feminist campaigner”, and had “rarely concealed her contempt” for Johnson (though how this explains the other 10 judges in a unanimous 11-0 verdict is unclear).

The author looks to have absorbed the opinions of Johnson’s closest allies rather than simply reporting them. Foreign Office staff are dismissed for their “timidity, unimpressive intellect and limited education”. Education officials were “lazy and incompetent”. It is, it seems, everyone else’s job to make up for the PM’s unwillingness to dirty his hands with detail. 

Many criticisms of officialdom are at least arguable, but the combined effect of all the digs is to unbalance what would otherwise be seen as an attempt to present a fair portrayal. Perhaps the most unedifying moment is when Bower takes potshots at Sonia Purnell, Johnson’s previous and less forgiving biographer.

For all this, Bower does not ignore his subject’s political weaknesses, recounting how often Johnson arrives in a job he has sought with no plan for what he wishes to do and no instinct to find out how the structure works. Bower is merciless on Johnson’s failures to address the shortcomings of the Metropolitan Police and on his over-reliance on others. 

The section on the run-up to Brexit is also convincing. Opponents have been quick to accuse Johnson of opportunism in backing Leave but Bower argues persuasively that while it served his political ends, he also believed it. Yet the book also shows just how ideologically light Johnson travels. Whether this is pragmatism or roguishness rather depends on your starting point.

The book will change few minds. Brexit has led most people to a firm position on Johnson, but this is an attempt to offer a nuanced account — supportive but critical — of a man Bower calls an “intelligent patriot”. The voters, he concludes, “still wait to see if he is a leader”.

The overwhelming impression is of a man Bower likes and pities. The arc of this story is of a brilliant child trapped inside a prime minister, a victim of an atrocious father still searching for approval. But if Johnson does not soon become the leader that Bower clearly believes he can be, then Stanley’s victims will not be limited to his family.

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 15 October 2020
15 October 2020

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.  

        - Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain''

Note: A HT to Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas for one or two of today's items. 

Covid

The  UK: What's in a phrase? Anyone know of any substantial difference between a 'lockdown'(bad, apparently) and a 'circuit breaker'(good, apparently)?

Living La Vida Loca in Spain/Galicia

Being very positive about Spain . . . See the article below.

Changing the tone . .  I am not a happy camper . . . Yesterday my neighbour asked me if some workmen could enter her garden through mine this morning, to replace some sewer pipes. Naturally, I agreed. What she didn't explain - perhaps because she didn't know - was that this would involve the destruction of part of our ivy hedge and the metal fence, the cutting of the bottom half of our shared bougainvillea and - to top it all - the passage over my recently replanted lawns of an effing 'mini' JCB!

To add insult to injury, they told me that, as my pipes feed into my neighbour's, I can’t use the bathroom today. So much for my shower! Inter alia.

My neighbour and I will be having words later in the day!

Fortunately, this won't affect/annoy me but - if you have property here and are non-resident - it might well annoy you . .  .The Tax Office (La Hacienda) will demand up to better than triple taxes from British citizens who own rental properties in Spain. It is already preparing to change the status of British citizens, whom it will treat as "non-EU" as of January 1, 2021. The measure implies large increases in the Non-Resident Income Tax (IRNR)’. A report in El Economista says ‘Spanish tax legislation establishes differences between EU citizens and those of the rest of the world, with a tax of 19% on net income for Europeans but 24% on gross income for foreigners’. Additionally 'foreigners' won’t be able to claim on repairs, community fees, mortgages, town hall taxes and so on in respect of rented properties. Brussels has said that it is against this discrimination and threatens to fine the Spanish Government. Which will achieve absolutely nothing, As with the appalling - and 'illegal' - sneakily introduced 2012 law on overseas assets. 

I might already have cited this advice from Mark Stücklin: British residents in Spain, don’t forget to apply for your TIE this year, just to be on the safe side. See  here.

I see from my 2000-2005 Diary that, back in 2001, I concluded it was a waste of time giving your phone number to shopkeepers who'd promised to call you when what you wanted was in stock. A friend recently commented this wasn't true any more. I beg to differ, at least in the majority of cases. The devil still takes the hindmost here. Both as regards retailers and folk such as blind-repairers, central heating engineers, chair-restorers and plumbers. At least in my life. And to mention only the current bunch.

English/Spanish

I was going to post 3  more refranes today but I've just had a chat with a (foreign) friend who's been here as long as me on the theme of people not calling you when they've promised to. He's just experiencing this with a car dealer and offered me the refrain: Por interés, te quiero, Andrés.  . . 

Finally . . .   

Flashback to my Diary of October 2002: I have just discovered in reading a book about old village accounts that 'ago' comes from 'agone'. I had always wondered. And that, say, 'John's book' comes from 'John his book'. Which is more or less how it's done in Gallego, but not Spanish. His book: O seu libro v. Su libro.

THE ARTICLE

Some interesting figures and facts for those who think Spain only survives thanks to the British tourists:  Christian Bungard

Don’t underestimate Spain

Let’s start with industry:-

- It's the 2nd largest car manufacturer in Europe, 6th globally, 1st in the production of industrial vehicles. 

- Acciona is 1st renewable energy company worldwide and Spain is the global leading country in renewable energy production. 3 of the 5 leading thermal-electrical companies are Spanish. You might like to see who are the main contractors of the wind parks in the North Sea and the English Channel. You’ll be surprised. 

- ACS, Abertis and Ferrovial are the largest infrastructure management companies worldwide! Yes, 4 British airports are managed by them, but also other airports all over the world, as well as ports, motorways and railway and subway systems. Just think of México City, Panama, Bogotá, Santiago or Lima as some examples. 

- It's also one the world main high speed train constructors.Not only the trains (with several manufacturers - CAF is world’s 6th largest) supplying underground networks like Riyadh , Washington DC, Santiago de Chile or Mexico City (amongst many others) but also the construction of the railway network (Saudi high-speed rail, Istanbul-Ankara or Seattle-Portland, for example). 

- It's the 7th producer of satellites in orbit. It’s also Europe’s main military transport aircraft manufacturer, as well as one of NATO’s main military vessels constructors. 

- It has some of the world’s main banks, like Santander, BBVA, Caixa or Sabadell, with subsidiaries in most Latin American countries, as well as USA and the UK. 

- It's a leading player in the biotechnology and health industry.

- It’s the third largest global manufacturer of industrial tooling equipment. 

- Regarding the dynamic fashion industry, it's home to Inditex, the world’s largest fashion producer and distributor, with production plants in 8 countries and over 5,500 stores in 82 countries.

- It's number 4 in the printing and editorial industry. 

- It's the world’s number one exporter of fruit and vegetables and amongst the top in pork, chicken and rabbit production. It’s Europe’s number one in game production -being the second European country with the largest number of natural parks and protected areas, this is a huge contributor to distant rural areas. 

- World’s largest fishing company is Spanish and Spain is amongst the top 4 in this industry. 

- It ranks three business schools amongst the world top 15. Number one for executive education is IESE. 

- It’s also a leader in sports business. Real Madrid and Barcelona FC are renowned brands worldwide. Also Nadal, Sergio García, and many others in less “obvious” sports. 

And finally, tourism:- Spain welcomed over 86 million visitors last year (2019). Have you any idea of the degree of the enormous infrastructure, labour, specialisation and coordination, also between different industries, administrations and regulators it takes to manage this volume of visitors in a safe, efficient and “normal” environment? Have you ever imagined what it takes? And we are not only talking about beers on the terrace by the sea. Some of Spain’s cities are amongst the most visited worldwide. Spain is the 2nd most visited country globally, the first for holiday tourism and the 3rd for business travellers (congresses, fairs and exhibitions). Spain has the 2nd largest number of World Heritage sites in the world, after Italy. It alsohas with the 2nd largest number of protected areas in Europe. 

Spain is also home to the Spanish language, spoken by over 500 million people worldwide. Guess how many thousands of students come to Spain every year from all over the world to learn the language. 

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.



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