Tuesday, 16 July 2019

The Expat View of the Running of the Bulls

One of the services of my mobile phone is to send news items which, through clever algorithms, can decide that the owner of the device – me in this case – might be interested in viewing. Some of these make their way to Business over Tapas, since my phone is tuned, through a process somewhere between supply and demand... and outright spying on my viewing habits...  to Spanish news (plus a sprinkling of Brexit stuff, but that’s another story). One of the stories that came up on Monday was an item from The Olive Press telling me of the ‘Grisly fate of Pamplona bulls during Spain’s famous San Fermin festival’. Apparently, they end up in the bull ring where they are killed. Well, golly gee, who knew?
The EWN calls it ‘T
A clutch of anti-taurinos
he Festival of Cruelty’ in an editorial and wants the bull-running banned (the Pamplona burgers raking in 165 million euros during the festival in 2017 – here - would disagree). We foreigners know what is best for our Spanish friends, apparently. 
The British embassy was offering tips on how to enjoy the Pamplona festival on Facebook last week, and got shot down in flames by hundreds of irate expats here.
The Pamplona bullring is the fourth largest in the world, at 19,720 people. There were bullfights this year (here) for ten days. Bullfights are expensive – (El País claimed back in 2008 that a first class bullfight would cost the promoter around 90,000€) and of course no one would bankroll them if they lost money. According to Temas de Empresa here, ‘The Fiesta del Toro is an economic engine that not only generates employment but also produces good returns and feeds thousands of families. According to the Junta de Andalucía in Spain this sector moves 2,500 million euros and in Andalucía about 500 million. As for the number of employment, the Fiesta Nacional is worth somewhere between 180,000 and 200,000 direct jobs...’.
Bullfighting is a sensitive issue of course – most Europeans don’t like it – but to misrepresent it so banally to the expatriate readers to, what, gather ‘likes’ on the Facebook page (?) seems a little silly, because it begs the larger question – what else is being misrepresented in the expat press?
In other news, and no doubt to the disgust of the anti-taurinos, the Coliseo Balear de Palma de Mallorca celebrates its ninetieth anniversary this year and they will have a bullfight there on August 9th – the first since the recent local prohibitions were cast down as unlawful by the Spanish government.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Well Done Spain, You Came Fourth

Excellent news from the HSBC, the bank that says we, er, Ex-pats rate Spain as the fourth best place to live and work in the whole wide world (or ‘www’ as we call it for short). The bank in question, the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, is as right as it is wrong. Yes, Spain is a truly great place to live, but what’s in it for the HSBC, its customers, friends and employees? The HSBC in its Country Guide (here) has this to say ‘...Those seeking an improvement to their quality of life should look to Spain. Ex-pats report improvements to both physical and mental well-being, all while enjoying an incredible climate...’, giving Spain fourth place overall worldwide.  
A bank is the last place I would ask for a great place to live (I wonder which country the Bullfight Gazette or maybe the Saki Drinkers Guide would recommend), but beggars can’t be choosers. The local English-language press have taken up the story with the fourth place converted to first (after all, who wants to live in Singapore or Switzerland?). The Olive Press says: ‘Spain voted BEST country in world for ex-pat quality of life. "Ex-pats in Spain are happier, healthier and their aspirations are to live comfortably amongst beautiful surroundings"'. We read in an enthusiastic El País in English that ‘...83% of foreign residents saying their overall wellbeing had improved since arriving...’.
So who will argue with this claim? The Spanish like it, the ex-pats like it, and to put a cherry on the top, Foreign Policy hasSpain’s Formula to Live Forever. The country is set to boast the world’s longest life expectancy by 2040. What are the Spanish doing right?’ The article cites clean water, healthy food and ‘a mild climate’, plus institutional respect for the elderly.
Many foreigners who move to Spain (or who work for the HSBC and its friends) will have learned Spanish beforehand. Others – perhaps elderly souls who find it difficult learning another language, and equally difficult finding anyone to practice it on, may identify slightly with this amusing story of a Brit interviewed on radio who after 27 years still can’t speak a word of Spanish. ‘...Lenny replied: "I can not pronounce the words, I am a cockney."...’.
There are many like Lenny, and what a lot are they missing. How can you rate a country when you have no idea of the culture, the language, the politics and the people?
Spain is a fine place to live as we all know, although Portugal might be a better bet – it’s cheaper, has a special ten years no-tax deal for foreign settlers, and – unlike Spain – doesn’t have a Modelo 720 to try our patience.
Let’s see what the HSBC think of Portugal... No, not mentioned at all in the Top 33 (Brazil is 33rd).
Maybe they don’t have a branch in Lisbon.  

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Albert's Nightmare

Four years ago, Albert Rivera was Europe’s Golden Boy: the man who spoke for the uneasy elite and the moral yet indignant middle-classes. Now, the same man is enjoying a perfect storm. His refusal to either support or at least abstain and allow Pedro Sánchez to form a government is causing him headaches. His party’s apparent romance with Vox is causing him nightmares. So far, he has been criticised by his erstwhile mentor Emmanuel Macron who now openly wonders whether Ciudadanos is a Brussels ALDE ‘liberal party ally’ after all.  Several of his senior partners in Ciudadanos have quit in the past few days, including his party spokesperson for finance Toni Roldán (here), the MEP Javier Nart (here) plus the Asturias regional candidate Juan Vásquez (here) and his substitute Ana Fonseca (here). Support from star-signing Manuel Valls has also disappeared. Worse still, the party co-founder Francesc de Carreras criticises Rivera heavily in an interview with La Vanguardia ‘He refers to the leader of the orange party as "a capricious teenager who takes a strategic 180-degree turn and puts supposed party interests before the general interests of Spain"’.
Now, as Rivera refuses to pose in a photo with Pablo Casado and ‘his executive shows signs of fracture’ (here), seventy per cent of his supporters think the party should allow Pedro Sánchez to be sworn in as president and as El Mundo reveals this week, a dispirited 20% of Ciudadanos voters are now regretting their choice.
Unlike Podemos, Ciudadanos appears to be sinking without anything much achieved, as the New York Times has it, thanks in part to Rivera’s ‘ideological incoherence’.
The PSOE smells blood says ElDiario.es here.
The jokes are now flying thick and fast (always a bad sign in politics), with Diarí Català leading the charge here. While even Felipe Gonzalez has torn up his party card says the satirical magazine El Jueves here.  A Facebook joke says that with the loss of MEP Carolina Punset (who left the party in October last year), Valls, Roldán, Nart and Vázquez, all Rivera’s got left to love him these days is Pablo Casado and Santiago Abascal.
The main difference between Pablo Iglesias, whose star is also falling, is that Iglesias has achieved much, while Rivera, outside of his party politics and personal ambition, has achieved nothing beyond division.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

The Not Yet Pensioner

A few months back, being both over sixty five years old and a little short of cash (I was ripped off by some far-from-honourable Brit employees some years ago), it came to my notice that I could get a pension here in Spain.
Now, I have contributed to the system with fourteen years of social security 'autonomous' payments, generally known as 'el impuesto revolucionario', and while you need seventeen years worth before consideration for a thousand or twelve hundred euros or so, anything less is considered to be a non-contributive pension, currently worth around 390 euros per month.
It ain't much, but the wolves are out there.
After getting ripped-off by the rascally employees, and then later by a loutish family-member, there's little left under the mattress.
So, I fill out the forms: yes, yes, no, you're kidding, no and yes, and hand it in to the pension people.
Now, a mere two months later, a fellow called José Francisco says he wants to now how long I've lived here as a resident (it says so right there on the Communitarian Citizens Police Letter which I had sent them, the thing that took over from the Residents' ID Card) and he also wants to know how much, if anything, I get from the UK as a pension. Nothing, not a sausage, nada since I left the place at a Tender Age.
Unlike José Francisco, who can look forward to a couple of thousand a month when he reaches retirement age, I'm fighting here for 392€ in fourteen (!) easy-to-cash annual payments, which will cover the utilities, plus a cheese sandwich twice a year.
So, I've written to some address in Newcastle Upon Tyne asking for them to look me up in their ledgers. I don't have a British ID number, or a social security number either, so I look forward to their reply in interest.
Between this document, duly translated officially, together with a letter from the immigration people in Almería, I shall be ready for Round Two with José Francisco.
Maybe by Christmas.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

The Town Halls are Decided (at least)

The famous mayor from 'Bienvenido Mr Marshall'
The town halls have now been occupied by the victors from the elections last month. Usually the party most voted, but sometimes an agreement between two or more groups sealed the deal – or in some cases, an arrangement was made by the party leaders in a quiet office in Madrid: you take x and we’ll have y.
The most remarked on deal happened in Spain’s capital city, where Manuela Carmena’s Ahora Madrid was the most voted, but Manuela has gone – ‘now I’m just another madrileña, she says. In her place, a coalition between the PP and the C’s with the Vox for the moment in dubious support. The new mayor is the PP candidate José Luis Martínez-Almeida, wants to close down the low-pollution ‘Madrid Centro’ scheme and to make (another) attempt to win the Olympic Games for the city, this time for 2032 (Madrid’s bid lost out in 2012, 2016 and 2020). The new mayor for Madrid has recognised that Manuela’s government has lowered the city debt and says he hopes to lower taxes accordingly. The new vice-mayor is Begoña Villacís from Ciudadanos.
In Barcelona, Ada Colau managed to hold on as mayoress.
Vox meanwhile has been instrumental in bringing right-wing corporations to six capital cities: Madrid, Zaragoza, Granada, Palencia, Teruel and Badajoz. What do they get in return? The party says they may release the secret document signed by them with the PP if they feel that they haven’t got whatever it was the PP had agreed to.
One party, even more extreme than Vox, namely España 2000 (Wiki), has taken Los Santos de la Humosa: a town in the Madrid Region.
Finally, there are fifteen cities where the so-called ‘Columbus Trio’ couldn’t agree, allowing rather the election of more centrist mayors. These cities include Burgos, Huesca, Jaén and Cáceres.   
In the smaller towns and villages, where everybody knows everyone, the town halls are more to do with local personalities than with far-off leaders and politics. Spain remains a practical country at heart.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Mass Tourism and its Pollution

We have seen how much contamination can be caused by tourism (even if we prefer to ignore the data). From Interesting Engineering (May 2018) here: ‘Research Shows Pollution from Global Tourism is More Than What We Thought’. The article says: ‘...The researchers found out that the emissions from tourism are much higher than even international trade. Also, the newfound values point the greenhouse gases from tourism, accounting for one-tenth of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions...’. Less flights would help ‘...because nothing that we do pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere faster than air travel...’ (here).  ‘Over 4,000 million Passengers Flew In 2017 Setting New Travel Record’ (here). Of these, 1,400 million were international tourists (here).

Cruise ships are dirty, too. Forbes reports that ‘Cruise Ship Pollution is Causing Serious Health and Environmental Problems’. Around 26 million customers took a cruise in 2017 (here). From Hosteltur here (and staying with aggressive pollution) ‘From next year NASA will open the International Station to tourists’. From Responsible Travel, an essay called ‘Is travel a right? – The concept of right, & when it’s just wrong’.

Mass tourism can create other ills, too. From Hello BCN Hostel comes ‘The combination of cheap airfare, affordable lodging and social media has led to one of the biggest “trends” in our world today – tourism. It’s a beautiful thing, being able to travel and experience a culture so different from your own. However, there is a certain type of tourism, known as mass tourism, that is destroying culture in these beautiful areas, and driving out locals...’. 

Closer to home, our summer festivals are starting (to continue, in lesser and greater ways, until mid September). The souvenir shops and restaurants are full, the beaches crammed and the roads (we only have two) barely moving. Right now, we are about to discover another form of pollution, brought to us by the trabuco, the ear-splitting discharge from a blunderbuss.