Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Season for Forgiveness

Easter is the first major festival, or holiday, of what in Spain can safely be called ‘the summer season’ (at least down here on the costa). The bars, beach bars, restaurants and nick-nack shops are all open once again, freshly painted and ready to work the cash registers.  A headline says ‘Málaga to rake in €120 million during Semana Santa as celebrations to bring 1.4 million tourists’ (here). Easter outdoes itself in these days of tourism with more of a spectacle than ever, with longer processions and larger crowds, yet with more commercialism and less faith and fervour than in earlier times. A pointed cartoon from a newspaper a few years back shows female sunbathers spread on their beach-towels at the feet of the Holy Crucifixion. Only in Spain.
Spain has moved from a Catholic country (does anyone remember when Franco was in power?) to – at just 9% of Spaniards now viewing Christianity as defining; making Spain one of the least religious nations in Europe (here). Not that things are much better elsewhere. An article here quotes a study which sums up European religion thus: ‘...if it depends on the young – as depend upon them it must – then post-Christian Europe has arrived’.
While religion is now downplayed – from the school to the street – one must still be careful not to offend religious sensibilities, and a few actors, rappers and tweeters are currently on their way to court or even jail for overlooking this important point.
Catholicism may well be on the wane among the ordinary citizens, but the Opus Dei (Wiki), a powerful and slightly eccentric group within the catholic faith, has major influence within the political system (the last Interior Minister  - and Opus member - Jorge Fernández Díaz, even awarding the Virgen María Santísima del Amor with a gold medal back in 2014). Other senior PP figures who are connected to the Opus Dei include the new Minister for the Economy Román Escolano (here), Ana Mato (ex-Minister of Health), Luis de Guindos (ex-Minister of the Economy and future Vice-president of the Central European Bank), Cristobal Montoro (Minister for Hacienda), José Manuel García Magallo (previous Foreign Minister),  the ex-Defence minister Federico Trillo, the Ex-Education Minister José Ignacio Wert and so on (here and here).
While declaring one’s taxes, one can sign a box for a minute portion to go to The Church. While not many do these days, the church seems to manage well enough, receiving 256 million euros from The State last year (here). Some suggest it does considerably better, with black money, money laundering, ticket-sales, tax relief, charity, rents and so on forming other types of regular income (here).
When it comes to marriage within The Church, an article this week from El País says that, these days, you get funny looks if you want a church wedding. Now just one in every five marriages is hallowed...
The Church has its own agenda, but the churches, cathedrals and other sacred buildings in Spain are still most worthy of both respect and repair – even if, sometimes, they are treated as little more than obligatory tourist destinations, at fifteen euros per visitor...
But at least during the Easter season – all is forgiven.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Business over Tapas - useful news and items about Spain

We may be a lot of Brits living in Spain (despite what El País in English appears to think) but many of us have little idea about this splendid country. Some Brits remain stuck to their satellite televisions, noting that it's going to be snowing tomorrow in the UK - rather than watching the Spanish TV forecast (sunny, since you ask). After all, Sky News doesn't tell us much about what's going on here.
Some residents get their news from the English press - perhaps the rather anti-EU Express (we love this headline) or the poorly-named Sun (including stories about sex doll brothels in Spain, you're welcome). If you read them online, there's the pay-wall to consider...
There're a few local 'newspapers' as well, including our friend with 'half a million readers' (which begs the question - if you removed your advert, would your customers drop by five hundred thousand?) I wonder how many copies they actually print. Understandably, they won't say.
We know what the content is - bits wrenched from Monday's local Spanish daily, mixed judiciously with parish news, doggy news and so on, which no one reads, rushing as they must to Leaky Lee's page.

For those rare souls who are truly interested in this fascinating country, I publish Business over Tapas with what's going on in Spain. It is aimed at the European reader. What's coming, what your taxes are, when and who and where. The price of houses, the politics, the new laws and rules, news for Seniors, how Brexit will affect us, the corruption, where to visit and who to vote for. There's no advertising, because you can't report what's happening with an advertiser looking over your shoulder.
I leave the titillation, the filler, the advertorials and the write-ups to the freebies.
Not many people sign up (60€ per year for a weekly email) and I'll never be rich, but I enjoy reading the many different newspapers, blogs, news-sites and aggregators that deal with Spanish events and then producing a three to four thousand word report with between sixty and seventy useful links, sent out on Thursday mornings (rain or shine).
The BoT is also on Facebook with some stories here, and you can read the entire report, free (but without the links) on the webpage here.
But, hey, you had better subscribe! That way, you'd know what is really going on in this great country.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Springtime Notes

A bit like Punxsutawney Phil, the ground-hog that throws a shadow, here in Mojácar we have been slowly emerging from our underground burrows to see if our drastic and fierce winter is truly over. Really, it wasn't that bad, tee-shirt weather at Christmas and so on, although we could sometimes see the snow on the mountains up past Bédar...
I've stopped lighting the fire - the only heat in my house, apart from the sunshine that pours through the windows most days. I had wood this year, after cutting down last Easter three eucalyptus trees whose roots were poisoning the garden around them, making the brussels sprouts taste funny.
My mobile phone thinks it might rain again, but it is often wrong.
I got a new phone from the Orange people. This one is a Sony Xperia. A fine tool indeed. For some reason it comes equipped with adverts.
The other day, it rang. No doubt some important communication from my stock-broker, but I couldn't get rid of the fucking advert (I'm not kidding - it was for Durex). Pressing and prodding the screen like a lunatic. By the time I got to the proper place, the phone had rung off. The biggest surprise came yesterday however, when out of the blue, DHL delivered 144 boxes of french letters to my door...
Mojácar has been in lock-down. Even the knick-knack shops have been closing early. I went up there last night for a drink, but found almost all the bars shut. In 'Sin City': the Ibiza of the Mainland. So much for the hoopla about 'the prettiest village in Spain'. I gave up after just one beer in the company of a barman who insisted on answering my Spanish with English (turned out he was from Cornwall), so drove down to next-door Turre (surely the ugliest village in Spain) which was - as always, heaving. I think that not being a tourist village (no beach, no hotels, no views) makes it concentrate more on residential tourism (as the Spanish authorities blandly refer to us foreign settlers). A good dinner in a rather full restaurant. I even saw a few people I knew.
In Mojácar, we have a short and decidedly mild winter, another six months worth of low season with only the Belgian cyclists to amuse us; and in the middle, the three months of tourist hell that our Masters (the aforementioned knick-knack owners and their families) have decreed we must endure from mid-June to early September.
When it's too bloody hot anyway.
But now, it's nice. The garden is beginning to awaken, the bees are out and the birdies are tweeting, warbling or croaking according to their convictions.
Yesterday, there was the local fiesta called 'La Vieja'. A piñata of sweeties hidden inside a paper granny is taken out into a quiet spot in the countryside and gleefully beaten to pulp by the children with sticks (one can't help wonder if this is a homage to a rather sinister event occurring during the Great Starvation of the early eleventh century).
No doubt they collected all the trash - oh, and granny of course - before they left.
The next fiestas (we live in a kind of Disneyville) include the tuna (merry troubadours from Granada and beyond come to visit and are solemnly organised to death), Easter parades (Praise the Lord!), some new rockabilly weekend (huh?), and the Moors and Christians extravaganza on the June 10th weekend. I think there's  also a 'Spring Break' organised by the hotels coming up soon.
The beach awakens around now. The town hall pretty much ignores it, keeping all the fiestas firmly in the pueblo (where less than 10% of us live). Down on the coast (the player as the Brits call it), new restaurants are being prepared for our pleasure (usually obliged to pay exorbitant rents) and the painters and decorators are busy. Our single beach road is now filling with traffic that drives up and down. Up and down.
The police are polishing their breathalysers; 'have you taken any drugs in the last 48 hours?', they ask. They have a drug-sniffing dog now (called Eccles), and a drone to keep order.
See, Turre doesn't sound so bad, does it?

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Huercal-Overa Celebrates its Union

Well, look at that. It turns out that the improbably named Huercal-Overa (it's in the top end of Almería, around 45 mins from Mojácar) used to be two villages called Huercal and - unsurprisingly - Overa. They joined forces 350 years ago to become the present town where Hacienda and Social Security and the local hospital and all other good things can be found.
I always thought that Huercal-Overa was an old Irish settlement with the Oldham apostrophe unaccountably missing.
Anyway, today Saturday 3rd of March is the anniversary. Before 1668, the two villages were merely part of the large municipality of Lorca, up the road in Murcia.
Come to think of it, without this union, we would have probably had our tax office in Vera.
And the hospital.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Fourth Estate, Revisited.

One was always inclined to believe everything that appeared in the newspapers - as why would they lie or fabricate items? Perhaps during wars, the reports are manipulated a bit to encourage the populace to fresh efforts, but we are in Peacetime now. However, with falling revenue, corporate ownership, increased costs and the arrival of cyber-news, things are changing. In the UK, some newspapers have been guilty of such aggressive hyperbole in the search for reader approval that they are risking losing advertisers.  Here, we have Leapy Lee (ancient review here). In the US, there’s a newspaper that apparently buys ‘exclusive’ stories... and then sits on them. For truly wacky news, there’s always Rapture Ready, which prepares us for the Second Coming of Christ with appropriate news-items.
In Spain, the Media is broadly owned (and controlled) by four major corporations: ‘...with regard to the independence of the media, ... there are "frequent reports on the pro-government manipulation" of public media, especially since 2012, when the Spanish government changed the way in which it appointed those responsible for public media, leaving it in practice in the hands of the executive. With regard to private media, there is also a lack of independence and autonomy...’. (La Tribuna de Cartagena). El País, created to be a centre-left newspaper, is now so beholden to its corporate owners that it prints fervently pro-conservative stories as a new standard. In contrast to this view, here’s the director of El País: ‘The operations of toxic information through social networks, known as fake news, are a threat not only to the free press, but to Democracy itself. In the face of this epidemic that has spread throughout the world, Antonio Caño claims “as more necessary than ever” quality journalism: “honest, rigorous and respectful of professional rules”...’. Amen to that.
We must face the power of the daily newspapers in Spain, which have persuaded the Government to legislate in their protection, in an attempt to get other news-sources to pay some kind of a canon to link or quote their ‘stories’(by which, we mean ‘factual news reports’): the ‘Canon-AEDE’. As if there is an ownership to occurrence. Meneame, bearded by this rule that says they must compensate the daily newspapers (even though they have boycotted them for the last few years), says it won’t pay. It could, of course, at an extreme, always move to Portugal... GoogleNews, as we know, operates in the entire world, except here in Spain.
Jeremy Corbyn, the hapless British labour leader, makes the point (following the smear attacks in The Express and elsewhere of him conversing with a Russian spy): ‘...A free press is essential to Democracy. We don’t want to close it down – we want to open it up...’.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Revenge, Served Cold, is Best

Egged on by the editors of some of the right-wing press, many Spaniards have become incensed by the article from The Sunday Times about how to become a Spaniard (be noisy and late for appointments).
Saving me the trouble of writing a tounge-in-cheek view of the Brits (George Mikes did it anyway), here's the riposte from the ABC which came out on Thursday:

Here we have, served without a drop of bitterness but instead in a purely jocular vein, a series of very diplomatic recommendations towards how to become 'un British' in a zippity doody jiffy.

First of all, you can carpet up any surface under your roof because Great Britain, the host country, can also be the promised land of all carpet-mites, whether it is the living room, the staircase or the bathroom, whether for public or private use. The advantages of carpeting the 'small room' are undeniable, as it saves a lot of time in mopping and is just the thing for stepping softly, which, in the bathroom, multiplies the comfort of the excretory moment. The hairs on the carpet will absorb whatever may fall outside the target (God forbid) without the need for the daily scrub and bleach.

Hygiene, therefore, has to be fairly relative if you want to be an Englishman, because water is a scarce commodity and its use must be rationalised. A study by Euromonitor International points out that the British are among the Europeans who enjoy the fewest weekly showers: the average being less than four. Another argument for the Brexit? Without leaving the bathroom, the UK is a country firmly anchored in tradition. This is the resistance to the universally used Continental single-lever tap system, in which one chooses the temperature at which the jet comes out. An Englishman - even in the 21st century - will have to risk scalding his hands, getting them frozen or moving them from the cold to the hot tap, which will undoubtedly improve his reflexes.

In general, if you want to be British the trick is to go against the way most other humans circulate (either on the pavement or the road), queue up for everything even if you are the only one in line, dine at an unholy hour and, if you do so away from home, go to a foreign cuisine restaurant because it will be difficult for you to find a decent bite of British cuisine (that oxymoron), unless you love local fish (unlikely choice) or your legendary rhubarb crumble, with its remarkable laxative powers.

When travelling abroad, if you want to be English, don't hesitate to slip some white socks (do not need two pairs, don't exaggerate) into the suitcase. They will be indispensable for the sandals that you will be wearing on your holiday. At your destination, and especially if you are young, be sure to dedicate at least 20 of the 24 hours of the entire day to an immoderate and joyous intake of alcohol, and when you are in  a suitably cheerful frame of mind and yet you find you can't get your point across since not everyone understands the language of Shakespeare (or rather, the Spice Girls), following a couple of street brawls, you can try the "balconing" in the hotel.

Don't waste too much time in museums, such as the Prado for example, where the British hardly account for 0.35% of their visitors (Italians are 9.71 and the French 5.30). Only one exception to this sight-seeing rule is the Museo del Jamón, where those  tasteful sandals will have brought their owners for a spot of culture. On returning to the UK, one traditionally goes straight to a law firm specialized in reporting Spanish hotels for food poisoning. You don't even have to suffer any queasiness, since the paperwork and the scam are arranged there while you wait.

And always exaggerate, exaggerate very much, even employ sensationalism if possible: another great British contribution to the world that strives to entertain one's reader or listener during those dark British months of winter.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Returning 'Home'

It is hard to move to live in another country, surrounded by strangers, with different customs (although, we all seem to enjoy the challenge and the adventure). How hard is it, though, to return to one’s own country again? Perhaps age, or family concerns, or illness, or the death of one’s lifetime companion will be the leading reason why someone must return. How do they manage, once they are back? It is said that after ten years away from your country, you have moved a decade in one direction, while your old home has moved a decade in another.
Is there any help or advice back in the UK, or Germany or Holland for the weary son who returns to the homeland? Will they ‘kill the fatted calf’?
Probably not. It must indeed be very lonesome and sad to be in such a position. It is not unheard of for the ex-expatriate to ask for his ashes to be returned to Spain on his death.
Another group that must face – doubtlessly more often – the return to their country of birth is the Spanish, often studying or working abroad. They may come back to Spain, perhaps, and feel uneasy. They have adopted different customs and life-styles. They had found new companions abroad and now feel that their ‘stay-at-home’ friends no longer understand them. Codigo Nuevo has a report on this subject titled ‘Deciding to return to your country after having migrated is almost as hard as leaving’. It’s sometimes hard to leave; perhaps it is usually far harder still to return.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Rise and Fall of Podemos

Perhaps Podemos should have a close look at itself. It is losing support and has fallen into fourth place. Its message may be as important as ever, but, as with all far-left parties, there are too many tendencies pulling in various directions. Not helping this, the leader of the party, Pablo Iglesias, tends towards an autocratic control of the group, with the consequent loss of some of his associates.
Iglesias is a clever man, and has some good ideas, but he is not strong on self-criticism (an exception following his poor results in Catalonia has been posted heavily in the media). Indeed, there are few newspapers or other sources which have much to say for Podemos either by itself or in coalition with the Izquierda Unida as Unidos Podemos, and, apart from El Diario and Público (both cyber-news sites) the corporate media is uniformly hostile.
Podemos shot to fame a few years back, but maybe their star is burning out. Certainly a president with a pony-tail may be a step too far to imagine.
It’s also true that the voters can be fickle and, as this video shows, quite foolish. Podemos also makes for good jokes, as the fake news site El Mundo Today knows. However, within the joke (Podemos, ‘We Can’, to change its name to ‘We Want’), a kernel grows: the group is indeed considering changing its name as part of a change in image (maybe you should consider cutting off that coleta, Pablo!).