Monday, July 24, 2017


A Short Visit to Oporto

After a few days in Aveiro, a large town on the Portuguese coast somewhere north of Lisbon, we decided to take the train up to Oporto to see the sights, to buy a bottle of vintage port and to meet with a fellow blogger called Colin (for a take on the daily news and opinion about Spain, see Colin Davies here).
We took the train.
The station in Aveiro is manned by a delightful collection of people who speak absolutely nothing except the local patois, and while I managed to explain that we wanted to daily returns no stoppee, it was a lottery as to whether I had got it right - especially since the whole cost for both of us was 12 euros all in, one hour each way including a number of brief stops in small country stations.
Through the window, we finally saw the beach. Aveiro is nominally on the coast - it's a town with canals - but the beaches are several kilometres off, behind dunes and scrub. At last the ocean - apparently cold and inhospitable - was in view. Perhaps another time.
The main charm for me from our mobile viewpoint was the giant bird-nests that seem to decorate the top of every beautiful and noble man-made construction in the western half of the Iberian peninsular. The more sublime the edifice, the more likelihood of a giant mess of twigs and a very self-satisfied crane crowning the building, to the irritation of the owners and the evident delight of the birds themselves.
Another pleasure is the greenery; after living far too long in the scrub of Northern Almeria, to find that everything in the countryside is green - when, of course, not on fire or scorched (there's a chunk of Portugal on fire this afternoon)  - is calming and faintly nostalgic.
The train was full, it stops in all the small villages en route and its timetable means it calls by every hour. Compare this with our own noble and idiotic plan to build an AVE through Almería and on to Murcia - a train which will be empty, hurtle by without stopping twice a day, and cost the taxpayer a fortune.
Still, who is gonna boast about a local train service?
Oporto - the Portuguese call it Porto - made me feel like a hick. Aveiro is a large town with lots of three-storey buildings - pretty ones mostly, although the modern 'architects' are beginning to make their move - but Oporto is a proper city with the most beautiful tenements, churches, plazas, bridges and noble buildings - many of them dwarfing the pedestrians below.
We met Colin, who had taken a train down from Pontevedra in Galicia, where he lives, and went for lunch.
Colin, remarking on the changes in Oporto - apparently twenty years ago, much of it was in disrepair, and certain areas were dangerous (or jolly, depending on your approach to 'night-life') - told me that tourism had done much to save Oporto, but, as it does, it would ultimately ruin it (see Mojácar for an example of this truism).
After lunch, taken in a small place that Colin knows - a place where we all tried to make ourselves understood, including the grinning owner, but where every plate was not only an unexpected delight, but was also, well, unexpected. But then again - we travel, do we not,  to enjoy small surprises, good sights and better company.
The pictures are on the camera roll, but here's one of the place which sells port.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017


The Olive Threat.

With monoculture – the practice of planting a single, extended crop – comes a higher profit, but at the same more risk. The gigantic and extended olive tree population of Spain could become the next cash-crop to be in danger. As Iberia Nature says, ‘...Spain is by some way the country with the highest number of olive trees (more than 300 million), in the world and is nowadays the world's leading olive and olive oil producer and exporter. Of the 2.1 million hectares (5.19 million acres) of olive groves, 92% are dedicated to olive oil production...’. Now, according to El Periódico, a destructive bacteria, known disturbingly as ‘the Ebola of the Olive Tree’, has been found in a Valencia plantation in Guadalest, Alicante. The bacterium spreads rapidly and dries out the trees by inhibiting the passage of the sap. The ecologists are working hard to contain the outbreak of xylella fastidiosa, while being aware that the olive oil business in Spain is worth at least 1,886 million euros annually.
Worse still, the plague doesn’t only attack the olive trees; it also will dry out citrus trees, plum, peach, almonds and grape-vines.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


Breakfast in Spain

In the eighties, a bumper-sticker plastered on the back of a number of vehicles in the USA’s most intriguing state would read ‘Welcome to California, Now Go Home’. Behind the wheel of the old rust-bucket bought from a dealer in Detroit (where else?), I felt a bit of an interloper driving around The Golden State with my travellers cheques, my snappy British accent and my half-empty jar of Ovaltine.
Tourism may not have been such a Big Thing in California, despite the popular song from Supertramp (here ya go) and the steady arrival of farmers from the Dust Belt looking for a decent job; but, at 12% of GDP (here), it’s certainly a Big Thing in Spain. Last year, around twice as many foreign tourists visited this country as there are Spaniards living here. And, if that was not enough – two people in lederhosen, or perhaps sticky ‘Gibraltar is British’ tee-shirts – for every Spaniard, you can add the huge numbers of displaced Spaniards themselves – everyone has a right to a vacación – flocking to the same destinations.
Those resorts will have put up the flags, organised a fiesta and will be ready for the onslaught. Shops full of glitter, bars with cold beer and restaurants with fresh fish. The late night joints will be buzzing and the cops will be on every corner, nervously fingering their books of fines. A loud midnight buzz of people, fun, parties, botellones, noise, fire-crackers, sirens, arguments, screams, music, songs and the burble and bang from those irritating Harley Davidsons... The following morning, there’s the rubbish to clean up.
Money is made, vast amounts of money for the shop-keepers, the apartment owners, the barkeeps, the municipality itself – but that’s no consolation for the normal folk, those who live there year round, working in ordinary jobs or retired, who must somehow get through their day: past the jams, the queues, the noise and the dust.
The town fiesta: costumes and spectacle, paid with our taxes, is so full of visitors, that there’s no parking, no room, no welcome for the locals, who with resignation, decide to stay home. ‘We’ll go next year’ they say.  
The apartment block: with half of the flats rented out, a two-bed apartment with twelve people staying there, filling the pool for a late-night dip, uprooting the flower bed and being sick in the lift.
So now we have a new word: la turismofobia. And we read the headlines, particularly about Barcelona and Madrid, Granada and Palma, where the cities are taken over by the tourist hoards. This is a fabulous country and there are few better places to live; but on the car, there’s a new sticker. It reads: ‘Welcome to Spain. Now Go Home’.

Friday, June 16, 2017


Looking a Gift Horse in the Wallet

The richest man in the world – sometimes, when he isn’t ousted to second place by Bill Gates – is Spain’s Amancio Ortega. He is estimated to have 71 thousand million euros as of November last year. (His daughter Sandra has another 7,600 million). Sr Ortega’s wealth comes from his Inditex fashion group, best known for its chain of Zara clothing and accessories retail shops (Wiki). He started pretty much from scratch in around 1950 after leaving school at 14 and finding employment in ‘the rag trade’; his father a lowly railway worker. He opened his first Zara shop in 1975.
Inditex itself is doing exceptionally well, with El País reporting that ‘Inditex, the group that owns chains like Zara, Oysho or Massimo Dutti, recorded a strong rise in sales in its first fiscal quarter, from February to April. Specifically, they stood at 5,569 million euros, up 14% on the same period in 2016. This led to its profits rising: the net result amounted to 654 million, an increase of 18%...’.
Amancio Ortega has recently captured the attention of his countrymen after he ‘...donated 320 million euros specifically for the acquisition of 290 pieces of oncology apparatus. It is one of the largest philanthropic donations ever made in the country. According to a statement by the Amancio Ortega Foundation, the charity set up by the billionaire in 2001, equipment would “allow more accurate diagnoses and provide patients with less aggressive, more effective and shorter treatments."...’. (From Newsweek here). However, not everyone was happy.
‘Why do we reject the infiltration into public health of Big Business and wealthy magnates? Asks Nueva Tribuna here.
El Mundo reports that some public health associations say that the gift should be returned, as ‘We aim towards adequate financing of our needs through a progressive tax system that redistributes resources prioritizing public health’, rather, they say, than through a gift which  – while a huge amount – is small compared to the 1,256 million in dividends earmarked to go to Ortega from Inditex this year.
So, for Sr Ortega, perhaps the donation is a small thing: perhaps it is an exercise in self-promotion or a sop towards his creative tax activities. Should we accept such largess? Perhaps a better question might be – shouldn’t we encourage it?

Wednesday, June 07, 2017


Banco Popular

On Wednesday, the announcement was made. The Banco Popular had been sold to the Banco Santander for one euro. El País in English says – ‘Spain’s Banco Santander has bought the struggling Banco Popular for one euro in order to prevent its collapse, according to a statement released on Wednesday morning by the EU’s Single Resolution Board (SRB). The decision was adopted after a week in which Popular shares had plummeted. According to the European Central Bank, Popular was “failing or likely to fail.” The takeover has been endorsed by the European Commission. Shareholders in the stricken bank have lost everything, says Intereconomía here. Around 5,000 jobs are expected to be lost according to El Independiente here.  The Banco Pastor, part of the Banco Popular group, has now disappeared says La Voz de Galicia here.
Minority shareholders consider the takeover as an ‘expropriation’ and have joined together to consider legal action , says Bolsamanía here.  A rather larger shareholder, Antonio del Valle, says he has lost 550 million euros through the fall of the Popular. The story at La Voz de Asturias here.

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