Tuesday, November 11, 2014

 

The Luxembourg Scandal

The Luxembourg scandal – where many large companies have quietly set up subsidiary offices, paying very low taxes and, with creative interior billing, manage to pay almost no taxes at all in other countries where they operate – has received a major disclosure  recently. The Guardian runs an extensive exposé titled: 'Luxembourg tax files: how the tiny state rubber-stamped tax avoidance on an industrial scale' and Business Insider lists the companies involved here. El Confidencial covers the story for the Spanish readers, saying that over 300 multinationals are involved in the report from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists which runs to 28,000 pages. All of these companies use one of the 'Big Four' accountants, and just one revealed, PricewaterhouseCoopers, is said to have arranged tax savings of around 700,000 million euros between 2004 and 2010. A quote from the ICIJ exposé: 'Companies have channelled hundreds of billions of dollars through Luxembourg and saved billions of dollars in taxes. Some firms have enjoyed effective tax rates of less than 1 percent on the profits they’ve shuffled into Luxembourg'. The new President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, was the Prime Minister of Luxembourg when many of these fiscal advantages were approved by the Government, says El Diario, and, as Infolibre notes, Spain's own Minister of Finance Luis de Guindos was director of the financial division of PwC between 2008 and 2010. We are left with just three more links in this paragraph, the first from Twitter reminds us of the plan to create wealth, jobs and employment reforms from the 'Consejo Empresarial para la Conpetitividad' (mentioned in Business over Tapas last week) with the comment 'In other words, the big companies that on Monday asked us to fight against the Black Economy in Spain are the same people who pay 1% in Luxembourg'. The second, Britain's Private Eye returns to the story noting that '...the practice explains why the ratio of foreign investment to GDP in Luxembourg is the highest in the world at 4,700 percent (compared to the UK, itself fairly high, at around 50 percent)'. And lastly, there's an article about the Spanish presence in Luxembourg from El Diario here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

 

Las Salinas de Aguadulce.

Aguadulce is the pretty urbanisation with a sports marina forming part of the village. It is on the coast, and backs on to El Ejido (Almería), the huge plastic-coated agricultural town which is famous for all the wrong reasons. The urbanisation shares the coast with a small protected area, Las Salinas de Aguadulce.

Monday, November 03, 2014

 

A Brief Visit to Córdoba

To get to Córdoba, take the signposted road northwest out of Granada. For someone used to Spain's fine motorways, it was a shock to find that the route, the N432, is a single-lane road that wanders past some castled towns heading lazily - and sometimes bumpily - through the olive trees of northern Granada and into Jaén, then over some gentle hills and so to Córdoba. Around 160 kms: 2.5 hours.
Unlike Granada, where I always am feeling choleric by the time I've found where I am heading for, Córdoba was very easy to navigate. Up, over the river, northeast along a wide boulevard and the hotel on the right. Two friends showed me around.
One, who is studying veterinary science at the university, told me that it's very hot in the summer (as we know from watching the July TV thermometer which is almost always filmed in the city), and very cold in the winter. When it rains, she continued, it does so for several days at a time. This past weekend, the weather was perfect. Everyone was enjoying the warm Indian summer and I even saw an army general driving along on his scooter (not a sight you often see these days).
The old part of the city spreads over a large area - much larger than Granada - and it is like walking around in a typical andaluz village, with narrow streets and white houses. The astonishing mesquita is near the wide River Guadalquivir. It has a large square formal Arab garden, walled and restful, with a cathedral spire on one end, and the opposite side standing against the walls of the giant mosque.
A truly breathtaking building. I could hardly see it for the tears.
Outside, over a beer, I listened to an old blind man playing his guitar and singing: 'Cór-do-ba'. We walked the streets, past some Roman columns, saw the famous Royal horse-riding school and had a meal in a restaurant under the smiling picture of Manolete, the City's famous bullfighter who died in the ring in Linares when he was just 30.
My weekend in the city included a massage, a sweat and a soak in the Moorish baths located down a narrow street. They serve you a glass of mint tea, Arab style.
I always had a slight feeling against
Córdoba - I was wrong. it's quite stunning.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

 

Eve and the Trippers

I was in our local cemetery, where the foreigners at last lie in peace with their Spanish neighbours. Walking around slowly: looking out for my parents, for old friends and for people I knew. Here is the British bullfighter; there the Air-Vice Marshall. Here is my dad. There is my mum. Here's Fritz the artist, who's headstone claims he was born on November 31st, a month with only thirty days. Old Pfeiffer, whose apfelstrudel was all the rage in Vienna, is there: dead these forty years. And then I saw the stone for Eve Steinhauser, who despite her name, was an Englishwoman who worked for Horizon Holidays.
I had also worked for them, briefly, when I was 17; taking tourists round the sites (the sights) in Crete, the old Minoan Civilization. A posh accent describing the Minotaur to retired doctors, bank-managers and their wives. I was at the top end of the tour-operator's offer, a subsidiary of the holiday-company called Wings.
Eve had been sent to Mojácar by Horizon to see if it was worth bringing their holidaymakers to the small resort. Mojácar doesn't really work as a tour destination - it is a pretty village two kilometres away from the sea on a high hill, with beautiful views, and with a long coastline (for all practical purposes) of a dozen kilometres. From your hotel to wherever you wish to walk... is a long pull. There was no bus then although there was a couple of old taxis - we are in the early seventies; but there wasn't much to do after a hot walk, besides take the inevitable tour to the cowboy town in Tabernas an hour away in a coach (cue some Morricone music) or see some dodgy Flamenco in the hotel disco.
So Eve, conscious of the fact that a man who works in a toothpaste factory wants a holiday that won't stop, knew that Mojácar wasn't the right place. There was just one hotel in the village that could work and nothing of any size on the beach.
But then she met my mother.
Heather had suffered from encephalitis some years before she came with my dad and myself to Mojácar in 1966. The scars in her mind were slight, but she had no spacial memory, no recent memory, and she had somehow lost the bit that stops you from being rude to strangers.
  One night in the bar:
Eve - I'm here to see if Mojácar is the right place for a tour operator.
Mother - Don't you fucking dare to bring in those arseholes to our town you horrible (and frankly, really quite hideous) woman.
Eve would tell the story (since my mother forgot) - I had quite decided to tell Horizon against coming to Mojácar, until Heather changed my mind.
  So, the company came to the village, to turn it into a resort. They bought a second hotel on the hill, a hulk which they were forced to demolish, before rebuilding it alarmingly over-budget. With the new hotel, the Moresco, and the other place above it, the Hotel Mojácar (built with public money by Roberto Puig - a Valencian who couldn't bear the thought of customers in his hotel), Horizon Holidays opened Mojácar, as my mother would say, to the fucking trippers.
Horizon was bringing in tourists, the Mojácar people reacted accordingly. The foreign residents, who had brought in money, bought houses and opened bars, were quickly dropped in favour of the trippers. Nicknack shops opened, and Old Jacinto the mayor changed the name of the main street up to the village from the Generalísimo to Avenida Horizon.

The company, now heavily invested in Mojácar, was allowed to build another hotel, an ugly skyscraper on the far end of the beach: a twelve storey monstrosity called the Hotel Indalo. Shortly after this, as the millions of British trippers insisted on continuing to enjoy their holidays in Benidorm, several hundred kilometres up the coast, Horizon quietly went bust.
Clarksons came and went, as did other tour-companies of the era. Mojácar attempted to sell the tourists (here on a shoe-string holiday) small and squashed-together apartments. No one was buying villas any more.
With an ever-larger presence of Britons in the town, whether living here or merely visiting, it was only a matter of time before we twinned with a tourist town, and where more appropriate than Encamp, the Andorran town famous for its banks with no questions asked. The Avenida Horizon became the Avenida Encamp. The Hotel Mojacar was rebuilt as apartments, the Hotel el Moresco has been closed for several years (never to reopen). The Hotel Indalo is now the Hotel Best and the beach is full of bars, ice cream joints and of course, an unending supply of nicknack shops selling Chinese-made goods.
Benidorm, meanwhile, continues to grow.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

 

Coming Through...

The pavement - the bit pedestrians are meant to walk on - is full of trees, parked bikes, dustbins, contenadores, signs, street lights, low-hanging shades, wheeled souvenir stands, metal anti-parking posts, ONCE boxes, benches, marquesinas and... of course... café tables and chairs. No wonder we must walk on the road instead.


Monday, October 06, 2014

 

Starting Somewhere: A Novillada

The day will come, if you go to bullfight-school, when you will be called upon to strut your stuff. It will be an expensive exercise, paying for rent on the bullring, paying for your cuadrilla (your crew), their crew, then paying for the hotel, transport, costumes, insurance and... a bull. So, better make it work!
On Sunday, I joined some Spanish friends at the Roquetas de Mar bullring to see a group of young novilleros, junior bullfighters, in a free entertainment for the public. Eight young men from the Escuelas Taurinas de Granada, Córdoba, Atarfe, Jaén, Puerto de Santa María and Almería (who knew there were so many schools?). On Friday and Saturday, there were apparently three more similar sessions with each young man (one was just 14 and he looked it - I saw him in the stands) fighting one bull each. One chance - that's bullfighting! Across the three days, there would have been 32 brave or foolhardy young fellows presenting themselves to the public for the very first time.

Having arrived late - the novillada started at 11.30am - I only saw five on the day. Three earned themselves two ears apiece from an indulgent crowd and the other two had some problems - one, who tried his hand as a picador as well as a toreador (the word doesn't exist), was tossed by the bull on both exercises. Indeed, poor chap spent more time lying on the sand with his arms over his head that standing upon it. Nevertheless, a couple of the bullfighters showed great promise. It's good to know that la corrida has a future in the hands of these confident and brave young men.
There is a growing group of people who consider bullfighting to be an anachronism and evil. They are known as anti-taurinos. They wouldn't have enjoyed the spectacle in Roquetas over the weekend, but at least they stayed away from the gates this time.

Friday, September 26, 2014

 

Autumn, Maybe Some Rain

After months of drought, the rains have come to eastern Spain. The Gota Fría is the time when the heavens open and the streets flow with water, when underground car-parks fill and when everyone looks surprised at the power of nature. It makes sense for the Junta de Andalucía, speaking as always for the ecologists, to say that you mustn't build in a rambla or on a flood plain, although Pueblo Laguna, outside Garrucha, regularly disappears at this time of the year under a tidal wave of water coming down the local riverbed, the Río de Antas, where it is briefly trapped by the weeds, cane and debris left in the waterway at the insistence of the very same ecologists. A friend called Casimiro tells the story of how, last year, he was looking for a mop after some water came under the door, when his picture window suddenly blew in as water from the rains, released by a collapsing bridge, covered him in seconds up to his neck.
So we read in the news of flooding in Mazarrón in Murcia, and more in Pulpí. So far, it's been less severe locally, with Mojácar merely damp, but there is more bad weather forecast for the coming days. 


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