Thursday, 15 March 2018

Spain's Likely Next President

Perhaps it is time to know a little more about Ciudadanos (their webpage here) and their leader (and probably Spain’s next president) 38-year-old Albert Rivera (Wiki). As we have seen with the recent Women’s Strike, Albert is a fast learner. His party had said just before the event that they would not support the protest as ‘it was anti-Capitalist’. Only a few days later, Ciudadanos billed itself as ‘delighted to lead the feminist debate’.
Like many modern Spanish politicians, Rivera speaks reasonable English (video here). In the video, shot during a meeting by the European liberals ALDE (Ciudadanos is a member), Rivera comes across as pro-European and he is supported by Emmanuel Macron. A recent piece from Spiegel reports that Macron ‘...has begun putting together a network of pro-European powers. En Marche!, for example, has established contact with Ciudadanos, the liberal party in Spain that is currently leading in the polls. And party leader Albert Rivera looks a lot like a Macron clone: a young and handsome economic liberal...’.
Albert Rivera is certainly (and demonstrably) a unionist in Spanish terms, despite being born and raised in Barcelona. Indeed, his anti-Independence stand is bringing him popularity across Spain (in Catalonia, the largest party in the recent regional elections is Ciudadanos). As to Ciudadanos being a liberal democrat party, it is generally seen as behaving rather more like a conservative one (Politico: ‘All-out war on the Spanish right’ here).
Whatever is happening, it’s working, with Ciudadanos now heading in the polls (the party leads with 28.3% with the PP lagging at 21.9% according to La Vanguardia here).
Alfonso Guerra, an old-guard PSOE leader, says in an interview here that ‘Ciudadanos, the party that acted with total coherence in Catalonia, is going to find itself rewarded across the whole of Spain."
Presidents of various Ibex 35 companies have quietly been meeting with Rivera according to El Confidencial here.
As Mariano Rajoy begins to unwind (a gloomy Conservative article here), the chances are that Spain’s next president will be Albert Rivera.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Maid in Spain

It’s a standard conversational piece at any get-together: a chance to show one’s true worth at the negotiating table, an opportunity to display one’s in-depth arrival into local society.
The hourly price of a maid.
And no matter how wealthy you are, anyone who pays fifty cents more an hour than you do wants their head examined; and as for anyone who pays fifty cents less... Jeez Louise!
Every morning, except Sundays, thousands of maids make their way across the Spanish landscape. Poor things. They arrive by bus or on foot. Some few are long-sufferingly picked up by the patron from their apartment on the other side of town, and then there are a small number of them that arrive in a better looking car than the house-owner has.
These are the unsung heroes of Spain. They make the bed, they wash the dishes, they polish the silver, they do the laundry and they wipe the baby’s ass. They sometimes get into the gin.
They don’t dress up for the occasion, however, like the French ones do. Oo la la.
There are two schools of thought about the preparation of one’s house for the domestic onslaught. The first type has it that the maid should never suspect what a scruff they are dealing with, and so these proud home-owners will set to with a will to make the bed, dust, wash up and hide the empties and all the rest of it leaving the bewildered maid when she arrives with nothing much to do at all. Perhaps they are right – after all, maids gossip freely about their employers.
Then there is the second type, which is impervious to criticism and figures to get their money’s worth. They will leave everything in complete chaos.
Good Lord, I’ve just described myself.
Spanish maids are useful for teaching ‘kitchen Spanish’. There is many a foreign housewife whose command of Spanish might best be described as ‘inadequate’ and who has learnt just a hand-full of useful words and yet at the same time, and with the modest help of a dictionary, knows the name of more different vegetables in Spanish than the green-grocer himself.
In Madrid, the fancier establishments will have a live-in maid from the Philippines (for no reason that I can fathom) and, if there are children present in the menagerie, then there will be a nanny from Dublin. Furthermore, a ‘lady companion’ for abuela (Granny) will visit every day and will need to speak proper Spanish (and be immensely patient as she takes her out for walks). Ideally, she should be the same height as well. She’ll almost certainly come from Ecuador.
Here in Almería, you might discover after a few months that you in fact have a Romanian maid: but then come to think of it, you might have a Romanian green-grocer, so be sure to check your dictionary.
As one’s Spanish (or Romanian) improves – it can take a while for recent arrivals to discover which language they are in fact learning from the kitchen staff – the maid – or ‘the cleaner’ as they are sometimes called these days – can also fill you out on the ins and outs of life in the pueblo, as a sort of ambulatory and knowledgeable Who’s Who. When you have finally mastered the history, intrigues and relationships between everyone from your Spanish maid’s barrio, you will be ready to enter into polite society, local-style. Your maid, needless to say, will by this point have become your master.
Maids often come from extensive families. Their joint estates, pieces of land or tumbled down cortijos way to hell and gone in the hills, inevitably coveted by adventurous foreigners, can make them potentially more wealthy than the Duke of Wellington. The social history of Spain is wrapped up in that land and your maid knows the stories.
Spanish maids are often very useful as babysitters, too. The kids disappear with her for the weekend while the liberated parents go off for a trip or to a party. The children will be returned, spotlessly clean, on the Sunday night having taken part in some particularly bloodthirsty pig-killing at the farm of old ‘Tío Antonio’ and clutching a small packet of oil paper wrapped sausage as a souvenir.
Christmas can be tricky. Your domestic will expect an extra month’s pay and a day off and you’ll probably end up with an expertly wrapped humorous ashtray from that new Chinese emporium. Decency prohibits you from accidentally breaking such an item until Lent. You will also need to budget for saints days, fiestas and other dates in the calendar when no one, maids included, show up for work. On those festive occasions, stick to sandwiches is my advice.
But these are small concerns.
So, aside from the potential problem of language which, as we have seen, can sooner or later be straightened out, the only remaining hurdle is a decent cup of tea. Tricky. While much could be forgiven of a maid back in the United Kingdom (assuming you could afford one there) as long as she could come up with the goods in the char department, here you will just have to make it yourself. Come to think of it, tea doesn’t go down to well with a piping-hot tortilla, which a Spanish maid will happily prepare for you and serve... therefore, for refreshment, you should probably stick to a nice glass of wine.
So, as you climb into your bed tonight, brushing off the chocolate mint from your pillow, consider how lucky you are to have found a teacher, a cleaner, a chum and a companion.
Who doesn’t snore.

From Spanish Shilling: December 2009

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Women's Protest Day

Thursday March 8th is International Woman’s Day. This year, it is also ‘La Huelga 8-M’: the first major Women’s protest across Spain. This strike has been called to show the inequality of women in Spain (despite notable advances in the last few years). Women are paid less for the same job (in some cases) and have higher unemployment; they work longer hours with lower-paid jobs, with further duties waiting for them at home; they suffer from insult, machismo, definition and language-use. They are preyed upon and sometimes beaten or even killed by their partners.
All of these things make today’s demonstrations an issue of respect. Perhaps the men-folk could even join them.
Not that all of us are sympathetic – like the Bishop of San Sebastian who thinks the Devil has entered into the ‘dignity of las mujeres’. He evidently doesn’t agree that ‘women’s bodies are their own’.
Such a mass uprising can only be political – with Podemos hugely in favour (here), the PSOE playing coy and the Partido Popular limiting itself to a muted ‘the best way forward is to keep working towards equality’. Ciudadanos says it doesn’t support ‘the anti-capitalist women’s strike’.
Yet here we have Ana Pastor, the PP president of the National Congress: ‘It’s to do with women, not with politics. All women in Spain, whatever their ideology, know that this is a macho society...’.
We say, today is the end of silence. Good Luck, Ladies – make your protest!

The Municipal Vote

The PP wants the British residents to continue to have the right to vote (and stand for office) in municipal elections following Brexit, says El País here. The first municipal elections will be held right after Brexit – in May 2019.  
The article notes that those new residents (or others who have developed an interest in their municipality) would need to register their intention to vote (it's different from getting inscribed on the padrón) by the end of the year. 
Let us hope that this goes through...! There are a (small) number of foreign councillors in Spain, of which perhaps half are Brits. They can be found in the municipalities where a lot of foreigners live, and they are very useful to help their voters achieve the same rights as their Spanish neighbours. Indeed, without the British vote, far fewer foreign councillors from other European nationalities would exist either.

Friday, 2 March 2018

I'm Thinking Garrucha

I was walking down the street of our local market town the other day, day-dreaming of the light chores that faced me as I fiddled absently with a shopping list in my jacket pocket, when a car suddenly hooted its horn behind me and practically gave me a heart attack. ‘¡Ehh Tío! What's the hurry?’ I shouted, annoyed.
It's not like there's any room on the pavement for me to walk which is why I understandably choose the street. The pavement is full of trees, cracks, holes, dust-bins, ONCE stands, chairs and tables, parked motorcycles, telegraph poles, partly dismantled telephone booths, low flying shop awnings (duck, or lose an eye), an old iron bench, a half-filled skip, prams and trolleys, visitors from the north (who evidently don't know the rules), shop signs, accordion players, traffic directions and postcard stands. Little old people will have taken a wooden chair out of their gloomy ground-floor home to turn it to face their front door, and will be sitting on it grimly ignoring the passers by. Many motorists have parked at least two wheels on the pavement, which can vary arbitrarily in width from several metres wide to the span of a hand. Some flagstones and cornerstones are missing. A dusty square hole suggests a departed tree.
A pavement in Andalucía is rather like the tile skirting in a room: it's there strictly for show.
So there I was, walking down the street, dodging the pedestrians, cars, motorbikes and ice-cream carts when this car honked behind me!
Not that I took any notice.
The cars are double-parked down the High Street, the Calle Mayor, some with their emergency lights on giving the impression that the drivers will soon return. A bus disgorges passengers from the middle of the street while the traffic waits with more or less patience behind. A motorbike evidently laden with the entire family takes to the pavement. Its exhaust pipe appears to be missing.
In front of the bank, work-men are inexplicably painting a new zebra crossing. They will just do half the street (protected by red cones) this morning and perhaps they will return tomorrow to do the rest. Perhaps not. There's a zebra crossing on the other street which was never finished, as if the diligent street-crossing pedestrian will be obliged to give up his object in mid-flow, or perhaps he'll pass obligingly across into another dimension. Like most of the people in the scene, I am only faintly interested in what the painted white stripes are for: a decoration...? a service...? Do children try just to walk on the stripes for good luck?
In Almería city, the town hall has painted them in attractive red and white bands. The opposition councillors are complaining: they should just be in white. Preferably a white that fades after a few weeks...
A family of gypsies is standing on the pavement now, just opposite a zebra crossing. Are they thinking of using it, or is it just a comfortable place to congregate? The traffic hesitates slightly in doubt. But no, it's just a variation of the companionable group standing on a street corner, chatting away agreeably while, inadvertently, breaking the flow. Who's in a hurry anyway?
Seduced by the white lines, a visitor lurches into the street. Streets are indeed for crossing, nobody disputes this, but the white lines are not there to make you forget to look at the oncoming traffic, or to forgo waving a rolled up newspaper at it. A car pulls to a halt as the visitor heads blindly across the street towards the souvenir shop: the car behind swerves and accelerates past the first one, narrowly missing the opportunity to make the ‘it happened here’ news-page of the provincial daily. The nearby municipal policeman, shocked into inaction, decides it is time to go and have a quiet nip in the English bar. Perhaps he won't have to pay.
I am sat by now at a nearby table under a spreading tree, trying to ignore a panhandling dog who somehow thinks I might share my tapa with him. ‘Bugger off’ I tell him, flapping my paper in his direction. ‘Shame’, tuts an oily Englishwoman sat at a sunny table nearby. The dog edges hopefully towards her. It growls at an approaching street vendor clutching several miracle spanner kits and a fishing rod. ‘Looky looky’, mumbles the itinerant merchant disconsolately at the Englishwoman as the dog edges him off. I leave a couple of euros next to my empty beer glass since I don’t want to go inside again. The owner won’t mind. He's a tiresome Atletí supporter who always has the sports TV on at full blast inside and knows that I don’t like football. Anyway, the Russian girl does the tables.
A wave of horns echoes down the street as the double-parked cars take their inevitable and regular toll. It’s strange how emergency lights are considered as a polite and respectful signal to stop the traffic-flow for a shorter or perhaps longer period. Sometimes, if the horns are insistent enough, the absent driver will erupt out of a shop at a sort of half-waddle-run, apologetic and shrugging helplessly. ‘I wouldn’t have stopped the entire street, you know’, his gesture indicates, ‘but I had to carry out this rather important little negotiation’. As the traffic lets out its collective clutch, it occurs to me that it's a perfect moment to amble across the plaza to the shady side and check out the blind man's lottery results. Money back or try again! A bicycle has been chained to the bench in front of the shoe-shop, slowing the pedestrian traffic down still further. I'm not too judgmental about this, seeing as the bike is mine. I release it from the bench and we slowly walk along the street together towards the port and the prospect of a fish lunch. I’ll do the shopping later. I'm not in any hurry.

(From Spanish Shilling: March 2010)

Monday, 19 February 2018

Bang Bang, I Shot You Down

It must be strange living with guns. People may decide at any moment to whip them out and take a shot at you. Perhaps because they were annoyed at you, perhaps it was just in a moment of excitement. It's also true that you could decide on a whim to pull your own gun out of your holster and shoot back at them. Perhaps go and shoot someone else while you are in the mood.
There are indeed a few people I would like to shoot, when I think of it (and The World would be a better place for their passing) but, since I live in Spain, I don't have a gun. Being British, the best I can come up with is to shake my fist in their general direction after they have passed. This is probably for the best.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Reeling with the Flu-bug

The worst influenza ever known in modern times was ‘the Spanish Flu’ which managed, between January 1918 and December 1920, to infect some 500 million people, of which somewhere between 50 and 100 million mortally. Wiki has the story here. This horrible viral disease, which put life expectancy back by around 12 years during its course, was known as being ‘Spanish’ simply because the Spanish media were not instructed - unlike many other nations still at war - to under-report the pandemic and thus allowed its ravages to hold centre attention.
The version of this which struck Your Servant a century later was a little less relentless, and after nine or ten days there remained nothing that a large meal and a week’s holiday in New Zealand wouldn’t bring right.
I was feeling fairly ill early last week as Walter Drake and I* prepared the editorial for Business over Tapas. Heavy and dizzy. I couldn’t eat and I was to spend most of the following week asleep in bed. I lost four kilos!
There wasn’t much fever and no high temperature. I was told by my nurse to eat Ibuprofeno by the handful (if you are ill, you may not want to follow this course). Indeed, Wiki says that there is no particular cure for el gripe beyond bed-rest. It takes a week to pull round, two weeks for full recovery.
This year’s ’flu is considered a heavy edition and, by this weekend, was responsible for the death of 472 Spaniards.
While there may not be a cure, an ultra-violet light bulb is reported to be a useful anti-viral defence, according to scientists at the University of Columbia. The only problem being that the bulb costs around $1,000 to buy.
One of the joys of surviving the ’flu is the happy knowledge, as one walks about, that while some of you lot may be starting to feel a bit whoozy, Your Servant is in the very peak of health once again (or would be if he could only catch a week’s holiday in New Zealand).

(*An inside joke)