Friday, July 25, 2008

What You Have is What You’re Worth

I’ve been in Madrid for the past couple of weeks and I returned to the coast a few days ago by car. Vrrm vrrm. Madrid is a good place, but rather expensive. I had the good fortune to catch a summer ‘flu shortly after arriving there and so I was able to save a bundle on drinks, shopping and dinners in company with my daughter, who appreciates the fancy places when it comes to being taken out by her dad.
Actually, a similar thing happened to me a couple of years back when I flew to America.
Madrid, New York, San Francisco, bed, New York, Madrid and home.
With the credit card in almost perfect shape.
Lying abed in Madrid, and trying to keep up with the terrible financial news which is worrying most of Spain (banks and politicians not included), I heard the words of the president of the Banco de Santander (and a load of other banks – Central, Hispano, Abbey Nat and so on) regarding the current situation. The president of the Santander, by the way, rejoices in the name of Emilio Botín. Botín in my dictionary translates as ‘swag’ or booty’. Like a pirate.
Perhaps his wife calls him ‘my old booty’…
Anyway this financier was saying that the crisis is like a child’s summer cold. It won’t last for long or do any lasting damage. That said, he then turned to his shareholders and told them that this year the group expected to make around ten billion euros.
In banking, you see, every year is a ‘good year’.
Of course, banks don’t ‘make money’; what they do is they take it out of everybody else’s pockets. They ‘take’ money. Botín also means ‘spoils of war’…
So pleased were the folk from the Banco de Santander on considering their good fortune, they rushed out the same day and bought the Alliance and Leicester.
All good things come to an end and one morning I woke up to discover that my daughter had hidden the thermometer, possibly because she had just heard from a friend about a fancy new restaurant that had just opened in a particularly posh bit of Madrid.
Feeling woozy, I got dressed and staggered out into the street in search of a hole-in-the-wall. The nearest one, as luck would have it, belonged to the same Banco de Santander. I put in my card… secret number… amount… and, bugger me, the machine wanted a commission of almost six euros, a thousand pesetas, for my modest wallop. Bastards!
Which explains how the Banco de Santander, Central, Hispano and the rest of it can go around picking up extra banks every few months.
You know, the word 'bank' or ‘banco’ comes from the bench - ‘banco’ in Italian - where the moneylenders used to sit outside the churches to catch anyone who wanted to take his daughter out to dinner or buy himself a new cow. These were the ‘lombards’ that charged you a few points of interest on your loan.
I know an English girl who was given a cheque for sixty euros by her mother a month ago. She put it in the local caja de ahorros who said that it would take six weeks to clear. You know, we are in the 21st century and we do have communication by computer with London. Some shit is sitting on sixty euros for six weeks and making - ooh - maybe anything up to five céntimos off of it. Meanwhile, the same caja de ahorros charges me a ‘maintenance fee’ for the pleasure of holding my money, which it probably spends on the geegees.
Banks famously only lend money to people who already have it or, as is said, ‘they’ll only lend you an umbrella when the rain stops’. But, rain or shine, banks make their money. The last time we were in crisis, back in 1992, I was three million pesetas overdrawn. That was when I ran a big newspaper here (later to be ripped off by those fucks from the Euro Weekly). To cheer me up, the bank downstairs cranked up the interest to a massive 27% - which, I think you will agree - ain’t bad work if you can get it.
I have to say that I don’t like usury, greed, avarice… or banks.
So… anyway… could you lend me some cash?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Super-Turre: Architectural Charms of Almería

Turre may not be the most beautiful town in Almería - actually, come to think of it, it's probably one of the least attractive of the lot - but, even so, the old supermarket lets the place down a bit. The 'new' wing, on the left of the building, was finished about eight years ago and the supermarket expanded into the newly available space, selling its wares apparently from the moment they put a lock on the door.
But, in my opinion, the building still needs a teeny bit of work on it to bring it up to the standard of the rest of the Avenida de Andalucía.
Has the town hall ever asked the Super-Turre people to just fling a bit of plaster and paint on the exterior to give the building a final flourish? Apparently, yes. Repeatedly.
One story I heard was that a previous ayuntamiento had objected to the bit of roof terrace that sticks up above the skyline and that the ensuing disagreement was with the pesky local lawyers.
Which would neatly explain the eight years and counting.
Meanwhile, civic pride not counting for much in our local communities, the scruffy Super-Turre megastore continues to provide us with everything from yoghurt to Butano to gin to trousers. All, of course, in the best possible taste.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Lost Luggage

The parking lot by the office is far too small. There’s nothing new about that in Spain, where the nation’s last architect died in 1922, run over by a tram in Barcelona.
Where I work, there are around ninety shops and offices, plus a supermarket and some cafés, and there is parking for about sixty cars. So, it’s usually full. Crammed and double-parked. Emergency lights (which can last for hours), people taking up two parking lanes, cars parked so close that you need a shoe-horn to get into the rear-door to clamber over the seats and dog-basket to get to the controls, impatient honking, trucks unloading, all the fun of owning a car in a country where the parking lot still hasn’t been invented.
Word has it that the main post office is moving here from the other end of the beach in a few months time so soon there will be even more cars, double parked, excuse me, yes, I shan’t be a moment.
How can Mojácar be so badly planned? We have seventeen kilometers of playa, served by one narrow road and enough parking spaces for about a quarter of the cars which are endlessly circulating during the summer months.
I get to the Commercial Centre quite early – incredibly early by local standards – and cruise around the block until I find a space. Lock the car, tum ti tum, and meander off to see who’s in the café, and on, away to the office on the third floor. If the lift is working, all well and good. If not, I must trail up the stairs to arrive panting outside the door of Nº 90 where I fiddle with the keys, let myself in, make a joke about the heat or the tourists, and get on with my day.
When I come downstairs a few hours later, I find that I can’t find my car. It’s not that I’ve forgotten where I parked it; it’s that I never remembered.
If I go to Granada, there’s no way I’m going to forget where I left the car; but leaving it somewhere in those small and badly designed spaces that surround the commercial centre where I work, twice a day, where half the spots are actually double-yellow line no-parkee spaces, not that anyone takes any notice, Spain being Spain, I am obliged to wander around the outside of the entire building, ugly thing that it is, twice a day in search of my car.
At least I remember what kind of car it is – an old and very scratched one. There’s not much point in having any other kind with these narrow parking places which are laughingly designed by Spain’s master (ahem) architects.
So, I patiently look for the stupid car. Perhaps Einstein would have had a similar problem with his neutrons.
But things are getting worse. I’ve been by myself the last couple of weeks with the family away for various reasons. Home alone. Living like an old bohemian.
Today, it took twenty minutes to find my underwear.