I was once asked to make a list of ‘things I didn’t like about Spain’. It would be easy enough to make one about the things I do like, and it would run to many pages, but the things I don’t? Hum. Well, there the bureaucracy which drives us all, Spaniards and foreigners alike, up the wall. Las cosas de palacio, van despacio, say the Spanish sententiously, as if by giving the creaking bureaucratic system an excuse, wrapped up in a popular saying, it all makes sense. In the past two years, for example, no one has managed to get Spanish nationality because the twenty-five thousand people whose job it is to sort out the paperwork have instead taken a disturbingly long lunch-break.
People sometimes have to live rather poorly – a house with no water or electric for example – for a number of years because of some elusive bit of paper trapped in the bottom of a drawer belonging to a public official who has been off work with a runny nose for thirty-six months, but absolutely should be back any day now.
I try and live with the system, since I love it here. My Spanish wife knows nothing of HP Sauce and shepherd’s pie, and she has never had a Yorkshire pudding or even a mushy pea. I am nevertheless proud of her as she sips her English tea with milk and one sugar (my only remaining British weakness).
But, we were talking about Spanish wrongs – like corruption. How they get away with it defeats me. The country is positively leaping with crooked bankers, politicians and manufacturers of ladies hosiery. They stash millions in off-shore financial paradises, pay no tax, and – most remarkable of all – are highly esteemed by large swathes of the population. OK, in my personal experience, I’ve had more trouble from thieving Brits that crooked Spaniards (lawyers maybe – there’s always hungry lawyers here), but over the years, I’ve found that owning nothing helps keep them away, along with plenty of garlic.
So, the list. We’ve done bureaucracy and corruption, there’s also littering.
How can a proud nation like the Spanish merrily toss as much garbage into the countryside as is humanly possible? The beaches, the roadside, the streets and the public buildings are caked in debris. Everywhere is thick with plastic, flattened beer cans, bottles, graffiti, cardboard and rubble. I take my trash home with me, or leave it on the back seat of the car for a few years, but our friends and neighbours? They scatter it everywhere across this great country with gleeful abandon.
There, was that enough? No? Well, those paper napkins in the bars are pointless. They don’t soak up grease, they just smear it around. I have been here fifty years and they still use those paper servietas. Extraordinary!
Noise, I suppose. This country is deafening. Happily, with the passage of the years, I have become quite deaf, so am immune to the cacophony of the world’s second loudest country (after Japan who, for Heaven’s sake, have paper walls).
Lastly (and believe me, I’ve been thinking about this list for years), I would say, parking. There’s never enough, as though the designers feel they can squeeze more money out of shops and buildings if there are as few parking spots as possible. Then the few spaces that are there will as likely as not have a caravan of dustbins clogging them up.
As if there was a serious litter problem here!
So, many people (at least in my local village) will park two abreast – en paralelo – with their warning lights on. ‘I’m sorry, I really am, but I just needed to stop the car for a moment as I zip into the bank, buy a lottery ticket and have a very quick coffee with my lawyer’. You can always get past. Yesterday, I had to drive at least fifty metres along the pavement, because the road was completely blocked by two double-parked cars. Luckily for us all, they both had their warning lights on.
But what are a few minor niggles, when compared to the endless wonders of this great country we have chosen to call home?
From Spanish Property Insight comes ‘Property market grows fastest in the emptying Spanish interior, according to a new report from the notaries’. Sales in Extremadura for example were up 20% in the fourth quarter of 2018 over the previous year.
From Europa Press, it appears that the dreadful building laws in Andalucía are easing up: ‘The future Andalusian Urban Planning Law will reinforce the autonomy of town halls and allow a "clear and stable" framework’. The AUAN comments: Bye bye LOUA, we never loved you anyway: The new government of Andalucía agreed this Tuesday to repeal Andalucía´s Planning Law known as the LOUA, "which no longer responds to the needs of the autonomous community" and replace it with a new law that reinforces the autonomy of the town halls and will permit a "clear and stable" framework for planning. Good news but such a fundamental reform will take time and we need those interim measures now!
From Think Spain here: ‘Spain continues to be the top holiday destination for Brits, despite Brexit, according to tour operator Thomas Cook. Although the number of UK residents who have booked their annual trips in European Union countries has gone down this year, following a continuing trend since the referendum on leaving the bloc in June 2016, Spain is still the most-chosen country for British holidaymakers. Thomas Cook says nearly half of all trips across the industry, not just through their own agencies, booked for this year are in countries outside Europe – 48% overall, or 10% higher than in 2018...’.
The 'sol y playa' in Spain will suffer another summer of falling British tourists, says an item at El Independiente in apparent contradiction of the above article. ‘The Government anticipates a 3% decrease in reserves for the summer season (80,000 fewer visitors at the moment) due to the recovery of other destinations in the Mediterranean and the uncertainty of Brexit’.
The Guardian warns of rental-car issues. ‘Booked a cheap Goldcar holiday rental? It could cost more than you bargained for. It’s popular for its low prices. But you can lose your money if you have to make changes … even if it’s not your choice’.
From May 12th, employers are obliged to control the hours worked by their employees. From Aseryde here. ‘Until now, the obligation to have a record of the working day was limited to overtime and part-time contracts. However, from next week, this obligation extends to the day for all of a company's workers’.
‘The PP and Ciudadanos have undertaken a campaign against the Government for the "brutal rise" in taxes for large companies and for those who earn over 130,000 euros a month. Pablo Casado and Albert Rivera are misrepresenting the data to indicate that the tax increase will mean an increase of "about 1,000 euros more on average per taxpayer" and that it will be "an intolerable blow to the middle classes". The new tax figures that have been raised by the Executive of Pedro Sánchez will have an impact in 2020 of 5,654 million euros, affecting almost all large companies and high-earners...’. From ElDiario.es here.
Employment rose in April by 187,000 and is now close to ‘pre-crisis levels’. El País reports here.
From the ABC here: ‘Andalucía is once again among the poorest regions of Europe, as confirmed by Brussels last week. Below even some eastern countries that entered the EU only six years ago with convergence rates lower than those of Andalucía. The community, after six years in the category of “developing regions”, returns to the group of “less developed areas”, with its GDP at below 75% of the European average...’. Andalucía has received some 100,000 million euros in EU funding but still lags behind...
Clothing-tycoon Amancio Ortega, sometimes the wealthiest man in the world (his daughter is not far behind) made the front page of La Vanguardia last Thursday with this headline: ‘Amancio Ortega receives 900,000 times the minimum salary today thanks to Inditex’. This year, Ortega takes 1,626,200,000€ home in dividends. El Salto Diario also takes a look: ‘Zara is no Spanish brand: the tax structure of Ortega. A network of companies and subsidiaries in European countries with more favourable taxation make up the financial structure that enriches Amancio Ortega’.
European, local and (most) regional elections: May 26th.
Having a second round of elections so soon after the first makes it difficult for the right wing parties to reconsider their policies. As ElDiario.es says, ‘The local, regional and European elections point to a pitched battle between the three right-wing groups with less than a month to go’. They add that ‘Pablo Casado avoids assuming responsibility for his defeat at the polls and goes on the attack against Ciudadanos and Vox to try to recover the lost vote. Meanwhile, Ciudadanos does not believe the turn to the centre staged by the PP following last month’s debacle and their plan is to replace the PP with themselves as the main right-wing force’.
Who is the Leader of the Opposition? Pablo Casado from the Partido Popular, or the irrepressible Albert Rivera from Ciudadanos? It depends who you ask.
From El Huff Post here. ‘Pablo Casado, a week after losing 71 seats: "The PP is stronger than ever"’. The same source also quotes The Economist as saying that Casado could well be defenestrated by his party following poor results in the European elections. Casado is changing direction, as El País in English reports, ‘After a stinging election defeat, PP chief Pablo Casado does a strategy U-turn. Despite months of making overtures to far-right party Vox, the conservative leader has now dismissed the group, with a new campaign aimed at reclaiming the centre ground...’.
From ElDiario.es we learn that Ciudadanos strong-woman ‘Inés Arrimadas prepares to be the spokeswoman in the Congress and says goodbye to Catalonia’.
Miquel Iceta, the PSC (PSOE-Catalonia) leader is the new President of the Senate.
From El Mundo here – ‘Local Elections 2019: The PP will allow more prominence to its mayors thanks to its "reputational crisis". "In the elections of May 26 we should take our candidates to the forefront," summarizes a national leader of the party’.
In an alarming decision, the Junta Electoral won’t allow the ruling Más Madrid of mayoress Manuela Carmena now allied with Íñigo Errejón to use public billboards to advertise for the coming elections. This puts them at an evident disadvantage against their rivals such as the PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos. The story here. Indeed, a TV documentary on the environmental changes in Madrid has been cancelled by the regional government as Carmena appears in it. There is, of course, no law that stops private citizens from putting up a poster or a banner on their terrace, and many have done just that (you can order them here).
Around 600 alcaldes across Spain are supremely confident of winning the local elections – because they represent the only candidature. The story here.
In Andalucía, after thirty years of the PSOE, there were a lot of people and agencies drawing money while doing nothing. From El Confidencial comes ‘So far, 101 Andalusian public entities have been abolished in the first 100 days of the new government. The Junta de Andalucía is reviewing public companies that appear to be without any activity. The new entities whose dissolution is studied could revert to the coffers 276,000 euros and a property valued at 2.4 million’.
The Foreign Ministry has invited 200 diplomats to work on improving Spain’s reputation abroad. El País has the story here.
In Mojácar, a small town famous for its ‘dodgy politics’ (vote-stuffing, questionable postal votes, gerrymandering), the opposition PSOE is calling for official observers this time around. (Lenox is on the list of the upstart ¡Mojácar Para su Pueblo! party).
From El País in English here: ‘Spanish courts say Carles Puigdemont can run in EU elections. The former Catalan premier, who fled Spain after the failed secession bid, had challenged an earlier decision to ban his nomination’.
What would happen if the catering companies all agreed to add an extra 10% on school lunches in the Basque Country? Eighty million euros... An item from El Salto Diario here.
‘Francisco Camps and fifteen others stand accused over irregularities in the construction of the Formula 1 circuit in Valencia. The judge considers that there are incidents of prevarication, embezzlement and falsification of documents; bribery and / or influence peddling against the former president of the Valencian Community and the other accused’. Público has the details here.
From The Corner here: ‘‘Brexitology’: We could get to October without clarifying anything’.
Brexit: an explanation of sorts here.
The Olive Press ‘...has broken the one million hits barrier. For the First time ever we received 1.07 million pages views by visitors from around the world and Spain. More than 400,000 visitors read about floods in Alicante, robberies in Mercadona, the latest on missing British father and son Daniel and Liam Poole and much, much more. With a quarter of our users coming from around Spain, a quarter from the UK and Ireland, a quarter from the rest of Europe and 15% from Gibraltar and 10% from the US, we’ve got all markets covered...’.
An interesting break-down of key words and phrases used by political groups and posters during the recent general election. Alto Data Analytics posts ‘Spain: Digital Public Debate Ahead of EU Parliamentary Elections. The recently formed coalition of Vox, Partido Popular, and Ciudadanos played a critical role in driving the public debate amidst a polarized digital landscape’.
Herbalife, who manufacture dietary supplements, has some strange ingredients according to Redacción Médica here. ‘...The data collected has shown that some of the products of the multinational Herbalife can be contaminated by heavy metals, psychotropic substances, pathogenic bacteria and toxic compounds that if ingested continuously can lead to pose a danger to the health of consumers, according to a study collected in the US National Library of Medicine...’.
An item from Merca2 on how we are fooled by labels at the supermarket: ‘Not all asparagus comes from Navarra, not all ham is ‘Iberian’: how food-labels deceive us’.
The Canary Islands have lost 90% of their fish and 80% of their coastal macro-algae, says the Cadena Ser here. ‘Biologist José Juan Castro says that it is increasingly difficult to find some species that used to swim through the waters of the archipelago, such as the Tenerife sardine and the mero’.
How to get your Spanish naturalisation papers sorted.
Nofumadores.org is hot on the trail of outside terraces where smoking should be prohibited because of insufficient air (it’s lucky we don’t live in the far north!). Many bars have outside terraces which are little less than tents. El País takes its life into its hands and visits a few of them here.
from Nearshore Americas we read: ‘A Colombian court has imposed an embargo on the salvaging of the San José, a Spanish galleon that sank in the Caribbean Sea off Cartagena de Indias after an attack by English pirates in 1708, in a ruling that favours the US salvage company that discovered the wreck...’. Spain also claims the treasure.
The resaltos, the traffic bumps that are increasingly popular in urban areas, are ambulance-unfriendly says Autobild here, with a video (English subtitles) to prove their point. Nevertheless, the Traffic Czar Pere Navarro shows no sign of slowing down his war on speed, says VozPópuli here. From painted green lines to make the road look narrower, to a second speed camera placed just after the first, to advertising fake speed traps, to helicopters and even drones... the traffic police are watching!
Eighty-eight out of every hundred Spanish women between the ages of 18 and 30 are without child, says El Huff Post, while bringing us five stories of young mothers here.
El Mundo invites us to visit some of the prettier towns outside Madrid. ‘A cheap and easy getaway that will not leave you indifferent, either because of their history, surroundings, architecture or monuments, these towns stand out for their beauty and heritage’.
Spain by train: from Barcelona to Seville via Madrid with The Guardian here.
From Traveler.es here ‘The recipe for happiness exists and is in Almería. The Spanish Capital of Gastronomy 2019 has the perfect ingredients to turn a simple getaway into the culinary journey of your life’. Nice pictures, too.
One of the great cuisines of the world is Arab. There is, as El Comidista tells us here, so much more than just cous cous. The article explores some of the best dishes and tells the reader where in Spain to find them. There’s unfortunately no mention of BoT’s favourite Moroccan restaurant, located in the back streets of Almería City: El Aljaima (here).
This video on YouTube takes us to the Valle de Camaleño in Cantabria. Nice music!