Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Horsing About

We have a friend called El Lobo, who sometimes sends us tips which turn out to be something entirely different from what we expected. Our visit to the hard-to-find settlement of Las Matanzas earlier this year being one such.

On Sunday, following The Wolf's recommendation, we set off in the car to have a look at a horse and some feed. This meant taking the road towards the interior of the province, somewhere up beyond Sorbas and the wonderfully-named Uleila del Campo. 

The road went from motorway to fast straight two-lane to wiggly one-lane to something that I hadn't seen for about forty years - a thin asphalt wash on what once must have been a track. The village of El Pilar was so small, it apparently only had two British families living there (one of whom runs a restaurant, El Albar, which I must properly visit one day). 

But we had come to see a man about a horse. The horse in question is a mare of six years and she has never been ridden. The deal would include a shed-full of avenate (oat-hay). I guess you wouldn't need the one without the other. 

The mare is called Zaha. I have no idea how you pronounce that. We examined her teeth and gave her a hug - she seemed very tranquil - and wondered how to get the bales out of the shed and down a very narrow path. We'll give you a call, we said. 

The  owner of the steed explained the way towards the coast - avoiding Sorbas and taking the road - some road! - to Cariatiz. This is a village where we had been once before - a pair of American artists had spent a season there and invited us to their exhibition. She painted on canvas and he painted on rocks, which he then turned into a maze through the nearby dry riverbed. All very vanguardista. There was a village fiesta the day we were there, and a tiny but proficient band played acoustic as we hopped about with a glass of local wine. 

From there, after the usual three turns around the village looking for the exit (why would you want to leave?), we headed out on a road signed for Sorbas, but then found the turning for the motorway, civilization, and an expensive lunch in Turre (next door but one to a restaurant where an Englishman was singing Frank Sinatra to playback).

Expensive? Well, it cost almost as much as the horse. 

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Christmas Comes, But is it Safe?

 There’s no doubt but that these rules for our well-being and protection are a bit arbitrary. They are created on the run by people who have no experience in this kind of pandemic, because no one does.

They can only do their best, no doubt worried about whether they’ve been too tough against the economy, or not tough enough in saving and protecting the public health.

We see enough Facebook articles, quoting some fatuous tripe found on YouTube or Twitter along the lines that we are being made fools of (for some reason which is either never explained, or if it is, is too stupid to waste time on. Bill Gates wants to put a microchip in our vaccine to control us like, what, robots?).

A Facebook meme tells us that we are being played, and it’s only one chance in a million we’ll get sick and die from Covid-19 (a cunning plot by the Marxist Democrats etc). Don’t wear a face-mask, they say. By the same logic, don’t wear a seat-belt either, or stop at a red light.

What could go wrong?

Many of us push against these rules, testing them to see how far they can be bent. The local supermarket doesn’t sell tinned jellied eel – can I go to the next town-but-one to buy some? Can I take my dog out for a walk after curfew? Why just six people for our birthday lunch, and not eight?

Christmas is all but upon us. The tension mounts between safety and celebration. For those of us with family back in our home country, this awful, little-understood situation has become a minor tragedy. Can’t they let us join together on this most important day?

The answer is that these rules are there to hold us in check, to keep us aware and, of course, to try and keep us safe.  Another Facebook meme says ‘We isolate now, so when we gather again, no one is missing’.  

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Oiling the Paperwork

Earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.

George Orwell.

I had just arrived at the almazara, which was due to press my olives and turn them into golden sunshine, or olive oil as I prefer to call it. But first, the man wanted my NIE number. I’m a foreigner I said brightly (I look like one too, even wearing a face-mask). I offered him my Spanish driving licence with my handy NIF impressed on it for some reason in needlessly tiny print.

‘No, I need your address’, he goes.

So I give him my framed green A4 letter from extranjería which normally lives over the bed. Except these days, it’s on the roof-rack. The same NIF of course, although the address is wrong (it’s from a dozen years ago), but he’s happy and so therefore I’m happy. Thus goes the administrative minuet.

Paperwork is a vital part of life. It is, as someone once said, the glue that keeps the wheels of industry from turning. It’s the key ingredient to amassing sometimes useless information, and it provides employment to many, who are known here as funcionarios. In English – functionaries, officials, civil servants, desk-jockeys… something to do with ink anyhow.

‘In the mid-eighteenth century, the term bureaucracy entered the world by way of French literature. The neologism was originally forged as a nonsense term to describe what its creator, political economist Vincent de Gournay, considered the ridiculous possibility of “rule by office,” or, more literally, “rule by a desk.” Gournay’s model followed the form of more serious governmental terms indicating “rule by the best” (aristocracy) and “rule by the people” (democracy)…’.

But, as we know, it caught on. In Spain, while no one likes the funcionarios (there’s a good video here you may have already seen), the truth is, everybody wants to be one. You get good pay, good benefits (including the eleven o’clock coffee break), fourteen monthly payments a year and, best of all, you can’t be fired. Become a funcionario, they say, y tienes la vida solucionada – as if life itself is a fearsome thing that needs to be tamed.

There are 2.6 million of them, and something must be done to keep them all relatively busy, hence (and forget the ventanilla única or the paperless office), there are endless and incomprehensible forms to be filled out. And if there aren’t enough, somebody will legislate to create some more. It’s the modern equivalent to the army kitchen that never stops cooking, cleaning, washing. And now do it again.

Indeed, the paperwork is slow, even when correctly filled in: Las cosas del palacio van despacio say the people, waiting patiently for their opening permit, or driving licence, or pension: Things move slowly at the palace.

A story this week tells of a person who had downloaded a form from the ministry website, printed it, filled it in and taken it to the offices of the Social Security. It was bounced by the functionary because it was in black and white and not in ministerial yellow and blue. The anecdote comes from a larger story: ‘of the 837,000 people who have applied for the minimum wage (IMV) between June and October, so far only 1.5% of them have been approved and paid’. Slow, complicated and you need to collect a few more forms, which, in turn, will also need their own formularios to be filled out – oh, and signed with a blue biro.  Another story, in El País, tells of a woman who has moved to the country to telework from an old farmhouse and wants to buy a couple of sheep to eat the weeds, because they are full of ticks. Hah, said the vet, lemme tell you, it’s not that easy…

One’s papers need to be right, ‘in order’, in case there’s an inspection; to avoid a sanction – a fine.

But life can’t always be reduced to the printed page and one can easily fall foul of being fuera de la normalidad – like when they want your dabs and you are missing a finger, or when you only have one surname…

All of which brings us to the gestorías – those agents that deal with ‘la administración’ and help get one’s paperwork done… for a price.

The Local (paywall) has an article which begins ‘In the midst of this pandemic, many people have been forced to think about changing careers. Perhaps one job which might suit foreigners living in Spain – and which must pay well from my experience - would be setting up a business guiding other foreigners through the madness of this country's bureaucracy.

Think about it for a moment. If you have ever negotiated your way through this hellish maze, then you will know how difficult it is…’.

Heh! is my answer to that. The Spanish are remarkably difficult in allowing foreigners to push their way into traditionally Spanish professions.

Now my friend at the olive press wasn’t a bureaucrat; just like the rest of us who must from time to time help the tax collector or the police or the statisticians, he just had to fill out some forms before he could press the button to start the process of making my jugs of oil.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Red Flag, Blue Flag, Where Will It End?

 Mojacar is to choose - from a very peculiar selection of three - a new flag to flutter in the wind during the blowy days of the levante, or to hang limply when it's just too hot for Boreas to pucker his lips, or to be lowered (in the far-flung future) when the ruling PP is finally routed. 

The three choices are hideous. Sorry, but they are. All three employ a combo of light blue and yellow (which will fade instantly in the sun), and all three have a Mojácar shield (un escudo) which, while fine enough as it is, with its two-headed vulture and the message 'Llave y Amparo del Reino de Granada' (The Key and Protection of the Kingdom of Granada - it's a long story which dates back to 1497), won't look quite the same when reversed, or, if you prefer, seen from the other side

The three choices for the flag, we read, are not arbitrary. '...For this reason, a study has been prepared, carried out by experts in the field: specialists in heraldry, vexillology (it means, 'the study of flags') and genealogy who, after their work, have offered three options that are now put to a vote among the citizens'.

Those wishing to vote for one of the three choices have until November 28th to do so, by contacting the Councillor for Culture Raquel Belmonte says El Diario de Almería here. You can see the three alternatives on the link. They all use the diagonal blue and yellow (the choice of these colours is obscure), all have the heraldic shield, but there's one with an added Indalo in the corner.

Another plan for the town is an anthem. I'm not kidding. We shall have to take off our hats and stand when the music starts. While voting for this hasn't got under way yet, here's my suggestion: 

'Ho, Ho, Mojácar and Ho! 

The purtiest town I ever did know, 

There's no place that's like it wherever you go, 

With three thousand souvenir shops and money to blow'.  

Hey, Hey, Mojácar and Hey!

I think of you often when I am away

Your flag and your anthem are things that I say

Will never be bested in many a day.

Hi, Hi, Mojácar and Hi!

The neighbours are jealous, I hear them sigh

They want a few hotels, your lift to the sky

Your sweet little beach-bars and this lullaby.

Hoo, Hoo, Mojácar and Hoo!

The secretive town that’s known to a few.

The car-loads of tourists, if only you knew

Are here for your treasures, your sunshine and you.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Confinement in Andalucía (For Brits Too)

 The new rules for Andalucía seem simple enough - from this Tuesday 10th November (00h) until Monday 23rd November (24h), the anti-Covid rules from the Government in Seville are as follows:

1. Andalucía is cordoned off.

2.Your municipality is cordoned off.

3. The curfew is 22h (10.00pm) until 07h (7.00am). 

4. All non-essential businesses: bars, shops, restaurants, shoe-shiners and candlestick makers, are closed to the public from 18h (6.00pm). 

5. Granada is closed down tight. 

The first thing that the British attempt to do (if we are to believe what we see on Facebook) is to try and find a way around these rules. How about if I just go to the border of my municipality and then slip across wearing a black hood? The supermarket in the town down the road has a kind of cheese I like, will I be able to get it still? What about if I'm in the bar when it closes but haven't finished my bottle of wine (and so on)? 

The next thing the Brits do is to say how stupid the rules are - why do they think you can't catch coronavirus in a bar before six in the evening, they ask. 

The rules are there to fulfil two purposes. The first (and most important) is to try and lower the rate of infection because the hospitals can't cope. The second is, (yes, of course) to show that the politicians are listening to the epidemiologists and other experts and are trying to head off a crisis they don't fully understand. The best we can do is to wear our face-masks and try and get through this, because it's better to protect our health before our wallets.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Now That's What I Call Closed

The banks here are merging, fusing, joining up, buying each other out and, in general, the number of different 'entities' is going down from 45 cajas de ahorro (savings banks) and a dozen banks just a decade ago to roughly, with the ink from the latest mergers still wet, just four or five today. 

They don't treat you well, either, these new banks. They are looking for the huge deals, not the pensioner with his fifty euros withdrawal. Since there is so little choice, they can charge you even for taking money out of your (non-interest-paying) current account. You probably won't even get to talk to the cashier, because there isn't one any more. In the last decade, over 110,000 jobs have been lost in the banking sector. Well, 'lost' as in 'fired'. The banks are keener than ever on the bottom line, and it don't read 'customer service'.

Dwelling on this and other changes in our lives, I went for my morning constitutional this morning down towards the local pueblo, an ugly town of 9,000 inhabitants which, while on the coast, has no hotels, no souvenir shops, no discotheques, no foreign urbanisations with their charity shops and Burns Night and, best of all, no tourists. There's a narrow high street with no room for parking yet a fulsome number of cars contrarily double-parked with their flashers going and the consequent lack of fluid movement, a couple of Moorish butchers, a few empty shop-fronts and a number of cafés that open at five or six in the morning and then close for lunch. This seems to be such an extended meal here that they won't open again until the following day. 

My walk took about half an hour, first through the campo and its interesting collection of broken beer-bottles and then down into the pueblo itself. I was desirous of making a small withdrawal from my bank - one of those that's still going -  and was wondering if there would be time for a coffee before my preferred bar closed for the day. Despite wearing a mask and emitting a gentle wheeze, I was feeling quite refreshed. 

But then, disaster. 

As the picture shows, the bank - she ain't no more Mister. As the Spanish say, that place is not just closed, it's desaparecido.  

Monday, October 05, 2020

The L&M Don't Stop Here Anymore

Never far from the news are the endless new rules, suggestions, fines and misery designed to either make driving less of a pleasure, or more of a bother.

The latest idea to cheer up the long-suffering motorist, this time from the chief prosecutor from Salamanca Juan José Pereña, who in our opinion needs to take a long vacation, is to oblige drivers over the age of seventy to display a large ‘M’ (for mature) in the back window of their vehicle.

Fifty years ago, they would have had an equally large ‘L’ sticky-taped to the same window. Now my stepson, recently ascended to the ranks of Spanish road-users, obliges the entire family to circulate in our elderly roadster with the ‘L’ prominently displayed and, while the sign will be removed long before we must place an ‘M’ in its place (in our case, in a couple of years), it seems a small progression in half a century for the average motorist: the modest climb from ‘L’ to ‘M’.

Perhaps other segments of society should also be invited to drive with a scarlet letter to warn other motorists of their presence. A ‘B’ for borracho might be useful, or a ‘G’ for an imported British car with the steering wheel on the right (G here is short for guiri).

In general, the man to watch is the traffic czar Pere Navarro from the DGT who has brought us many interesting rules over the years. He is an expert in traffic safety and is generally followed slavishly by legislators. It was he who came up with the orange psychedelic pyjama-top to be worn by irritated drivers standing on the side of the road next to their broken-down car, or otherwise kept in the boot along with the safety triangles (or in some cases – the law is generous on this point – tastefully draped over the back of the front seats in the cheaper models).  Pere Navarro it was who threatens us with four points if we take a call on the phone while driving (it’s all right for him, he’s got a chauffeur). Pere too, who now wants the alcohol driving-limit to be lowered (again!) – as if Spanish livers these days simply aren’t what they used to be.

One night back in the late sixties, my father was humming a tune while crossing the square to get to his vehicle for the drive home. Seeing the Guardia loitering, he mentally pulled up his trousers and slid into the seat of his unlocked car.

Something wasn’t right.

He wound down the window and called the two agents over. ‘Someone’s stolen the steering wheel’, he said.

‘That’s because you are sitting in the back’, returned the taller one, who knew him well.

My father, with as much aplomb as he could, climbed out of the back seat and edged past the two cops into the front.

Buenas noches’ said the Guardia Civil, ‘drive safely’.

Times change, there are more cars on the road, and we shouldn’t drive drunk. But if we are going to drive, then let us get on with it. The problems don’t come from old coots driving along at a low speed peering blackly through the windscreen, simply because they don’t. Mature drivers drive well, and are careful. They’ve had fifty years of experience.

As to this suggestion of an ‘M’ in the window, the Minister of the Interior, a sensible fellow called Fernando Grande-Marlaska, quickly said ‘forget it’.