The Onward March Of Technology

My main combined birthday and Christmas present was an iPad to complement my MacBook and iPod Touch. Unfortunately, whilst I rapidly wrote up a posting about Christmas Day, I then spent the next few days trying to work out how to publish it to my blog. By a very devious route (the connection crashed every time I tried to simply open the web page) I managed it earlier today. But I wasn't happy. Soon we're off on a trip and I don't want to lug my laptop along. Just now though, the little cartoon light bulb above my head lit up; go to App Store, search on "blogger", download the app, open it and here I am a mere ten minutes later, posting this. What a wonderful company is Apple.

Can It Really Be Christmas Again Already?

Christmas this year we are here in the village, and on Christmas Day we were just the two of us. Several of the British-owned restaurants had a traditional lunch on offer, but we chose to eat instead at El Mirador, a restaurant right at the top of the village choosing from the regular menu which we know and love. We had a table on the front rank of the terrace, from where we had an amazing view (hence the name) all the way down to the sea, 6km away. The day had actually started out dull, ovrcast and rainy, but around one o'clock the rain stopped and thereafter the clouds progresively gave way to blue skies and warm sunshine. Taken together with an excellent menu and fantastic wine list, it is difficult to see how we might have done better. The next day - a normal working day in Spain - we took an afternoon bus into Malaga to see the Christmas lights and to enjoy a paper cone full of roast chestnuts from one of the street stalls that are everywhere right now, before catching a late evening bus back. All in all a really enjoyable Christmas.


"El Gordo" - The Big One

Photo with acknowledgements to the official lottery website. Thank goodness the doomsayers were wrong and the world continues. Had the world actually ended yesterday, we would have missed out on the spectacular start to a Spanish Christmas - El Gordo, the world's biggest lottery, and also with the highest percentage payout. A ticket for the Christmas draw costs 200€, but most people buy a 'decimo' or tenth part at 20€. Thereafter it gets a little complicated; the majority of people will buy more than one decimo. On the other hand, if 20€ is too much to stretch to, then friends or family members will club together to buy a decimo between them. In addition, local clubs, sports teams, churches, etc will buy a number of whole tickets and then sell them on at 23€ per decimo in order to raise funds.One way or another more or less every Spaniard has a financial interest in what happens in Madrid on the 22nd December each year. RTVE's Channel 1 gives over most of the day to broadcasting the draw live. Children from a Madrid school take it in turns to come forward in pairs. They take up their station in front of two large, gilded mesh globes, one containing a ball for each ticket number, the other with balls indicating the values of the prize. Simultaneously, a ball drops into two bowls by the hands of the children. Child 1 takes their ball and sings the number to the assembled audience, immediately followed by the second child singing out the prize value. Both balls are then placed on a pair of rods under the gaze of an adult adjudicator. As each pair of rods is filled, the adjudicator swings them down into the horizontal and locks them in position. When all the pairs of rods have been filled, the frame itself is locked and replaced by a new frame. This is also the cue for the two children to withdraw and be replaced by two more. Of course, everyone is waiting impatiently for El Gordo, the ball announcing the first prize, to appear. Today, unusually, it dropped only about half an hour after the start of the draw. In case that sounds like quite a long time, they will still be drawing prizes five hours or more after the start. Anyway, today the number 76058 and its accompanying 'first prize' ball dropped early, delivering 4 million euros to brighten someone's Christmas. Or more probably, ten people will have won 400,000€. Except that it's more complicated than that. Remember that I said that this is the world's largest lottery. The first prize this year is 4m€ per series. In other words, even splitting tickets into tenths for sales purposes, there are not enough numbers to satisfy the demand for tickets. So each number is printed many times over in series. My own ticket is part of series 163. Let's say - and I don't know the actual number - that there are 200 series in all, then this morning, within half an hour of the start two thousand people were 400,000€ better off; a jackpot total of 800m€ - El Gordo, indeed. Similar generosity applies to the numbers of people involved for every number drawn. The final total this year will apparently be 2.8 BILLION euros. Time to get back to the TV, ticket in hand!


More About The Economy

I watched a programme last night on BBC television, in which Paul Mason presented a detailed analysis of the way in which the present Spainsih economic troubles arose. Some of you may have seen it; others may care to track it down on BBC iPlayer. Once again, it was evident that a major contribution came from the banks. In 2008 when the crisis began, Spain was one of the EU’s major economies and one of the strongest, ranking alongside Germany. The government had adopted a prudent approach to running the economy, so that in many of the preceding years Spain had run a surplus. Employment levels were high and the country appeared to have little to fear from problems in the Eurozone. Except that the major banks had embarked on similar high-risk strategies to those of other companies, so that the immediate impact on the Spanish economy was that the government had to use its own healthy finances to rescue the banks. Then, as the economy began to slow more generally, the construction boom collapsed and the smaller, regional savings banks were found to have ridiculously over-extended themselves in that sector, and everything went from bad to worse. The situation was compounded by the three or four tier structure of government in Spain, primarily the power of the autonomous communities. One down from Westminster in the UK, are the county councils and the metropolitan authorites - forty-odd in number, and heavily dependent on central government for their funding. In Spain this tier comprises seventeen authorities, wielding much more power over both revenue and expenditure. It is as if the UK were split entirely into regional authorities of the size and power of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. At the other extreme, local authorities can represent very small populations indeed. Frigiliana, for instance, has a population of only about 4,000, but its own local council responsible for a wide range of services. The boom years presented golden opportunities for politicians to demonstrate the importance of their own patch. Paul Watson took the example of the Comunidad de Valencia. Seeing the success of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, they embarked on an ambitious programme of building of spectacular, showpiece developments that brought conference and convention business streaming to the city, captured the Americas Cup (for two years) with a magnificent new marina and port, brought Formula 1 to the area (though, again, only a couple of times). In a similar vein, the Valencian city of Castellon constructed a splendid, international airport, complete with website - but unfortunately without a single flight even to this day; the runway was inadvertently constructed too narrow for planes to land or take off. I wrote in glowing terms about eighteen months ago, about another project at Avilés in the north of Spain. One of the last commissions by the celebrated Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer, who died recently at the age of 104, gave birth the theCentro Niemeyer, down by the harbour. A beautifully designed, strikingly attractive complex incorporating three gallery spaces, indoor and outdoor theatre spaces, restaurants, cafeterias and a spacious plaza. It cost a fortune, but six months after opening it closed its doors have run out of the funding necessary to run it. All of this would be laughable, were it not for the dire economic consequences of these prodigal schemes. For the past three months, for instance, the City of Valencia has been unable to pay the city’s pharmacists for the medicines they have been dispensing to patients entitled to state health care. And since 2008, 300,000 Spanish graduates have left the country in search of a job - any job.


Festive Season?

When I finally decided that one day I would retire to live in Frigiliana, I plunged into seriously learning how to speak Spanish. By the time we arrived here coming up to five years ago, I was broadly competent just so long as I did some preparatory research into specific chunks of vocabulary before going to deal with a new, real world situation (language classes in the UK are geared more towards operating as a tourist, or as an academic.) Thus, since my builder spoke no English, it was up to me to establish that beams are vigas, de hormigón if made from concrete, de acero if steel. Interaction in Spanish over the succeeding years has led to me making great strides in my fluency to the point where I can now confidently go into most situations without worrying or or swotting up ahead of time. All, obviously, of great use to me. Now, however, the effort I made is paying off for other people. A Spanish friend asked me this week if I would translate her latest Facebook status update into English so that it would reach a wider audience. She is part of a group which is appealing for donations of basic and festive foodstuffs, clothes, shoes and children’s toys which they can then assemble into hampers to be given out to families in the village who are in dire need this Christmas. On BBC national and local news I have seen a number of reports of the work of food banks around the UK, and the high level of real need that they are battling. In the UK, the unemployment rate is high, and distribution of free food is reminding people of the soup kitchens of the 1930s. In Spain, the unemployment rate is more than double that in Britain - 26% on average, but far higher in some regions and among younger people. Add to that a high rate of repossession of homes, and for large numbers of people this will be a time of struggle to survive, not a time of celebration. I may be living my dream in the southern sun, but for too many people theirs is a nightmare, so I am pleased that I can make some contribution to help those helping them.


What's In A Name?

A couple of days ago I came across a book published last year, that tells the story of Frigiliana through its nicknames. I’ve only read about thirty pages so far, but it promises to be fascinating. A long-standing tradition in this village, and I guess in Andalucía generally, was to name the first son after the local patron saint and the first daughter after the “patron” Virgin. Subsequent children were often given names which reflected the devotion of the parents to the catholic church. This is a tradition which is followed less these days, and so among younger people there is a wider variety of names than hitherto; for example, we have young women called Gema, Vanesa, Olga, Lucretia and young men by the name of Raúl, Oscar or Germán. There are two patron saints of Frigiliana, San Antonio de Padua and San Sebastián, and the Virgin venerated is Nuestra Señora de los Dolores (Our Lady of the Sorrows), though Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Our Lady of the Rosary) is also important. As a consequence the village abounds in Antonios, Sebastiáns, Dolores and Rosarios, abounds to a confusing extent. Add to this the Juans, Franciscos, Pablos, Carmens, Marías, Victorias and other common names and there is a clear need to distinguish between the different holders of the same name. This was a problem that we encountered as soon as we moved into our present home, an apartment build on top of an existing house. The house is the home of Dolores, and for a while her sister Rosario lived there with her, both being widows. Our next door neighbour is also Rosario, and her next door neighbour at that time was another Dolores. As if that were not enough, my wife went to the free Spanish classes offered by the town hall and her teacher was one Dolores. Unwittingly, we adopted the village solution; we identified Dolores Debajo (Dolores downstairs), Dolores Profe (Dolores the teacher) and Dolores Su Brazo, which requires a word or two of explanation. This last Dolores, also a widow, lived a very lonely life and sought to inject a little social contact into her life by heading down into the village, leaning heavily on her stick, where she would accost some male tourist with her free arm outstretched and with the appeal, “Señor, señor - su brazo.” which freely translated means, “Please sir, give me your arm.” Clutching the tendered arm she would then direct her prey along the street and up the 32 steps at the entrance to our street and along to her front door, where he would be thanked profusely and receive copious kisses to the back of his hand. Then, some ten minutes or so after her knight in shining armour had retreated thankfully to rejoin his family, out would come Dolores to head back down into the village in search of her next victim. I look forward to learning how our Spanish hosts developed the nicknames identified in my new book.