Sunday, September 30, 2007

Covadonga, Cares, Urriellu....Three Routes In The Picos De Europa

It took me a little while, but here is the map I promised of my recent trip to the Picos de Europa. The map features 3 routes, the Lakes of Covadonga to Ordiales, the Ruta del Cares, and the route from Sotres to Urriellu. If you click on the flag symbols or on the routes themselves you get more information together with links to Wikipedia or other sites. The route texts also contain a link to a Google Earth file for each route, the next best thing to doing the route itself. The original GPS files are available on request for anyone who wants them. To see the associated information clearly you really need to click on the link to the larger map.

View Larger Map

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Young Businesswoman of the Year

It’s not unusual for South of Watford to have a little awards ceremony, and it’s time for the spotlight to hit one of those young entrepreneurs who is doing so much to make Spain one of the world’s major economies. So my award for Young Businesswoman of the Year goes to Ana Aznar. At the tender age of 26, Ana has shown sufficient drive and initiative to become the administrator of Comercial Mitford Spain. Just before she was named to this prestigious position the capital of this young company rose quite suddenly from €3000 to over €500,000. An interesting detail of this increase in capital is the fact that the money was paid into the company account in cash. Things have been so frantic for Ana and the company that they still haven’t got round to submitting the company accounts for last year, having missed the deadline for doing so.

Sources close to Ana and her husband Alejandro Agag have suggested that this sudden windfall for the company comes from the couple having “savings” that they want to invest. So apart from showing keen business skills Ana also has a knack for household economics; try as I might I never seem to reach that cool half million in savings. It just shows that I lack that killer business instinct. The London based couple most probably transferred their savings in cash to avoid those troublesome commissions that get charged for international bank transfers. In any case, if there are any taxation issues involved Ana can always seek advice from her father, himself a former tax inspector and now also an international businessman.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

When The Party's Almost Over

Last weekend I went to the annual fiesta of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE), held in the Casa de Campo in Madrid. I’m not a member of the party or even a sympathiser, but I’ve always quite enjoyed this event with its marquee tents for each region spread out through the area permitted for it. In previous years there were frequently huge crowds; admittedly many of whom turned up just to see the bands playing at night rather than for the more political side of things. This year was the first time I had been for maybe 3-4 years as the weekend it is held has often seemed to coincide with trips out of Madrid. I was taken aback by the difference between this year and the last time I went. The area occupied by the fiesta is significantly smaller, which maybe wouldn’t matter were it not for the fact that the attendance was clearly much lower than on my previous visits; and I went on the Saturday which I would expect to have been the busiest day.

Not surprisingly, I started to wonder whether time was up for the PCE after years of declining membership. However, the speakers at the main meeting of the event on Saturday evening appeared to be oblivious to the half empty space in front of the stage from where they delivered their speeches. If anything the discourse was triumphalist as they sought to convince their audience that the tide was turning and their moment would soon come. The basis for their optimism mostly had a South American root, as they declared that the movements led by Hugo Chavez or Evo Morales meant that the left was truly on the offensive. The fact that the role played by Communist parties in these developments is minimal did not seem to make any difference to the speakers. The gap between the reality and the rhetoric was striking, and I couldn’t help wondering whether you really lift the morale of the troops by telling them they are at the top of the mountain when they are so clearly still stuck on the lower slopes. Antonio Gramsci understood this when he talked about optimism of the will, but pessimism of the spirit.

Crushing capitalism....helped by the Corte Inglés

This heady optimism was coupled with plentiful references to the 90th anniversary of the October Revolution in Russia, and the 40th anniversary of the death of Che Guevara. Both were interesting references, in the days before Guevara became the main competitor to Frida Kahlo as Latin American consumer icon, it was the non-Stalinist left who held aloft images of Che as they marched. The Communist parties never showed much interest in guerrilla chic, but now that Che has been rescued by an ageing Cuban regime as a symbol of revolutionary zeal the PCE has placed him on the podium alongside Fidel. As for the Russian Revolution, celebrating its anniversary seems to me to get harder when you look at the persistence today of so many of things which it was supposed to bring to an end. To complete the nostalgic recipe there were equally frequent references to the role of the PCE in the opposition to Franco’s regime, without of course mentioning any of the darker aspects of their activities both during and after the Civil War.

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe there is a clear space to the left of the PSOE and there is a need for an organisation to fill that space and take up the issues which the PSOE prefers not to touch; such as the job insecurity of so many young people or the incapacity of many of them to even think about buying a home. I just doubt whether the PCE is that organisation. It provides the backbone of Izquierda Unida (IU), but is at the same time one of the biggest problems for that coalition. The PCE has never been able to entirely shake off the old long established political practices, and the idea that they take decisions internally which they then impose on IU is precisely what has prevented this organisation from becoming a genuine coalition of the left, rather than a PCE front. Personally I think it’s time for the PCE to disappear, not completely of course, the party can dissolve itself into Izquierda Unida who could then host the annual September fiesta. Eventually I think it will happen by force of circumstances, but in the meantime I suspect the party will carry on regardless, convinced that victory is just around the corner.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Only The Little People Pay Taxes

Is it really almost 2 weeks since I last wrote a critical piece on Esperanza Aguirre? I’ll have to do something about that. We got a tax cut here in Madrid yesterday, or at least we got the announcement of a tax cut. I didn’t notice any sense of general excitement in the city today following this news, but I put this down to my lack of social influence. Because those who will benefit from the announced suppression of the Impuesto sobre el Patrimonio are not a particularly substantial section of the population – only 169,000 taxpayers in Madrid had to pay anything on this tax last year. It is really a kind of wealth tax, only those who have the assets pay the tax. You don’t need to be a genius to guess that amongst the beneficiaries of the measure will be Mrs E. Aguirre of Several Large Mansions, Madrid, Spain. Let’s hope she won’t be asking for help with her heating bills this winter!

It would be comforting to think that the idea emerged from the hard right faction of the Partido Popular (PP) to which Aguirre belongs, but the truth is somewhat sadder. The idea of removing this tax was first floated recently by Tomás Gómez, the newly elected General Secretary of the PSOE in Madrid. I was impressed with the smooth transition that the PSOE had made in their leadership in the city, but I was completely unaware that we had been landed with someone so prone to Blairism. A delighted PP promptly and predictably seized on the proposal by Gómez as just the excuse they needed to lighten their tax bill.

Now Espe is a big fan of Margaret Thatcher, in an age when adulation of the Mad One is not exactly fashionable. Those of us who underwent the character building experience of living under Thatcher's rule know how things work with the reduction of taxes. You take one tax, paid by a few wealthy people, and abolish it. To compensate for the loss of this income you then raise another tax, paid equally by all people regardless of their income. It's called wealth redistribution; and we're not talking Robin Hood. So thanks a lot Tomás, you've really done Madrid a great favour.

Perhaps Gómez made his proposal because he believes Madrid to be what Lead Belly would have called a bourgeois town. Occasionally this is what it seems to be, but there is another side to the story. An interesting report almost coincided with Espe's tax gift. Despite all the talk of the vast wealth being generated in Madrid, and how it has become the economic powerhouse driving the country forward, it turns out that this is not reflected in the salaries being paid to a substantial part of the population. According to the report, prepared by the trade union Comisiones Obreras, almost 50% of the salaried workers in the region don't even qualify to be included in the famed "mileuristas" - those who earn €1000 a month. Espe doesn't think this group deserves a tax reduction, and nor - sadly - does Tomás.

Monday, September 24, 2007

(More) Reasons To Be A Republican

The newspaper El País managed to put its commercial interests to one side this morning and led with an alarming article on the spread of construction related corruption on the Costa del Sol. The report quotes one prosecutor as saying that the situation in Cádiz province is "out of control", with corrupt authorities working hand in hand with money launderers to build over the few remaining sections of untouched coastline. Nobody can tell us how many other Marbella type scandals are occurring.

If only we could rely on the judicial system to do something about this massive corruption. Perhaps one of the "star" judges of the Audiencia Nacional could get to grips with it?. Unfortunately, they all seem occupied with much more urgent matters. Take the case of judge Fernando Grande-Marlaska, for example. Today this judge has found himself with nothing better to do than try and track down every single person connected with the burning of a photocopied image of a hereditary monarch.

What further arguments do we need in favour of a republic? Take away the king and the judges have one less excuse for wasting police time on seizing magazines and hunting down demonstrators. Which is not to say they will start dealing with the web of corruption on the Mediterranean, but it does give them more time should they ever feel the urge to do something about it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cinema....Spain Leaves It Late

It's been a long time since I did a post on cinema, and not because I haven't tried. The one I started on the Bollywood spectacular I saw during my trip to India never saw the light of day. Later I began another post about La Vida de los Otros (The Lives of Others), still my favourite film of the year so far. But that post got pushed out of the way by other things too. A Mexican film called El Violin also made it onto my list of topics, but I don't think I even started that one; although I enjoyed the film and intended to recommend it.

More recently I have seen the Chinese film Naturaleza Muerta (Still Life) which I could certainly relate to given that I spent more time than was probably wise in China during the 1990's. The film is set in one of the ghost towns abandoned as a result of the construction of the dam on the Yangtze River that has left the Three Gorges looking somewhat less gorge-like than they were before. I did this trip during my time in China, and before the dam was finished, and the look of everything in the film brought it all back to me. For me the film is the best I've seem from China for a few years, not that the list of Chinese films I've seen in that time is so big!

Still the Yangtze

Another recent film I’ve seen that didn't really explore the full potential of its story is Soñar No Cuesta Nada, from Colombia. The (true) story concerns an army battalion sent to fight guerrillas in the jungle and which stumbles upon a huge hoard of cash, most probably the proceeds of drug trafficking. The troops decide to keep the money, but are completely unable to conceal their new found wealth. You can maybe see it as a parable on the corrupting effect of drug money on a society where most people earn little more than they need to survive.

Last night I went to see Un Corazón Invencible (A Mighty Heart), the film about the awful death of Daniel Pearl, the journalist from the Wall Street Journal who was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan shortly after the US invasion of Afghanistan. One of the reasons I went to see it is because it is directed by Michael Winterbottom, who I felt would manage to avoid the temptation to give the story a Hollywood treatment. Winterbottom tells it straight, there is no propaganda message accompanying the film. It is based on the story as told by Pearl’s wife and the events are seen from her perspective. Because of this the film has little to say about the deeper issues on Islamist influence in Pakistan or the history of that country’s interference in Afghan conflicts. It does serve as further confirmation that those who pay the price of terror are rarely those who have any responsibility for the situation the terrorists use to justify their actions.

For Spanish cinema it's been a tremendously disappointing year, I cannot name a single Spanish film that I have seen in the last 9 months that I would unreservedly recommend. I had high hopes for Bajo las Estrellas, but it didn't turn out to be as engaging as I expected from what I had read. This sad situation is supposed to change in the autumn, with 2 or 3 new Spanish films that will create a certain amount of expectation. One of these is Mataharis, the new film from Iciar Bollain, whose last release was the excellent Te Doy Mis Ojos. Another film that I await with some expectation is a Civil War story, Las 13 Rosas, which is one of the candidates for Spains nominations in the Oscars. Let’s hope the autumn brings better news for Spain in the cinemas.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Media War Kicks Off

With the battle over the television rights to live football matches still going strong, it's easy to imagine that it might just be a tussle between rival groups for this lucrative market. However, I suspect that it is much more than that, and we are seeing only the first skirmish in a larger war. The main companies confronting each other in the dispute over rights are Grupo PRISA which owns El País and Digital +, and Mediapro which is the owner of La Sexta television channel. Mediapro has media ambitions that go beyond television and is the group behind the launch of a new daily newspaper, Público, that I posted on some months ago. This is where things get interesting, because Público is going to aim for a left of centre readership that currently only has El País available in the national newspaper market. I have seen suggestions that the new paper could be out on the streets as early as next week.

When Jesus de Polanco, the former owner of Grupo PRISA, died not long ago, El País filled its pages with tributes about how Polanco had always respected the independence of the paper. Now obviously this sort of judgement depends very much on how you choose to define the word "independent", the paper formed a key part of the influence that Polanco wielded. Since his son took over the reins there have been a couple of revealing instances of how the independence of a newspaper is compromised by the interests of its owners. First of all came an editorial completely dedicated to complaining about PRISA not getting the access to the Latin American media market that companies from there were getting in Spain. Later came another editorial supposedly about the beginning of the football season, but which was converted into the opening shots of the war against Mediapro and its alleged piracy of football matches.

However, the most revealing incidence was in a lengthy interview with Prime Minister Zapatero published at the beginning of September. The interviewer decided to press Zapatero on the issue of the football "war" and suggested to him that there was a conflict of interest because of his friendship with some of the owners of Mediapro. Coming from another paper this might have been a valid point to make, but given that PRISA have never considered their close relationship to political leaders as provoking any kind of conflict it was curious to say the least. As well as being a sign of nervousness that the PSOE may no longer be depending almost entirely on PRISA for its media support. Zapatero politely brushed the question aside when he could have made the point more bluntly.

Autumn is typically a time when newspapers in Spain attempt to boost readership after the summer break with all sorts of promotions, I occasionally wonder whether I should take a shopping trolley with me when I go out for my Sunday paper. When Público finally emerges I predict that there will be a surge of gifts and offers from rival papers in an attempt to strangle the new contender at birth. El País in particular will be desperate to defend its position as the biggest selling daily paper in Spain. The war has only just begun.

Updated Friday 21st: It's been announced today that Público's first edition will be out next Wednesday 26th September

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Stormy Weather

Until about 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon I thought I had some kind of magical luck with Asturian weather conditions. After being there at Easter when it was one of the few places in the country with good weather, and after a hot sunny Saturday this time, my luck had to give at some point. Try and imagine what it is like to spend 30 minutes fully dressed under a high powered shower (with additional thunder and lightning overhead) and you'll have some idea of just how seriously the Asturian weather took its revenge on us as we made our way down towards the lakes of Covadonga and the safety of the car. I poured water out of my boots after changing and they were still wet when I got home this evening. Yesterday as we made our way along the amazing route that follows the Rio Cares, the storms were a bit kinder on us - just as well, I didn't want to be sliding around in mud with a straight 100 metre drop down to the river just to the side of us. Anyway, I'm going to work on a Google map showing 3 spectacular routes in the Picos de Europa; in the meantime here is a taste of the scenery.

The view from the hotel room in Arenas de Cabrales

El Naranjo de Bulnes and Urriellu

View from the lakes of Covadonga

La Ruta del Cares....just remember not to look down!

Storm clouds gather over the Rio Cares

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Get Out Of Town

Summer is over and the boots have been pulled out of their hiding place. No blogging, no Internet. I'll be back on Tuesday; maybe with some nice photos, almost certainly with a nice map of where I've been.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Marked For Life

Ok, it's time for this blog to get back to what it does really well - taking the piss out of Esperanza Aguirre! Don't run away, there is a serious point behind this post. A few months ago I wrote a guest post on racism in Spain for the blog Notes From Spain (while its owners were getting severely stressed out on holiday in Thailand). Almost in passing I mentioned the educational policy of the regional government in Madrid, which encourages the ghettoisation of immigrant children in the public school system of the region. In one of the comments to that post, Katie from España Profunda confirmed my suspicion about Aguirre's policies with first hand experience of having worked in a public school in Madrid.

Well El País today provided further confirmation with a report showing that 80% of immigrant children in Madrid are now being educated in the public system, whilst 2 out of 3 Spanish pupils are going either entirely private or to the unreasonably heavily subsidised concertados. It's not an accidental policy. Tonight I read that Aguirre now wants all pupils in the public schools to wear a uniform. She's clearly not satisfied with the fact that enough of these pupils have darker coloured skins or speak strange languages, she needs something else to identify their second class status. Someone should tell her, gently if possible (harshly if not), that this sort of stigmatisation hasn't been popular since the end of the Second World War.

On a more frivolous note, I was quietly proud for a while - despite the end of Google Bombing - that the words "Pauper President" had such success in identifying Aguirre in Google searches. Unfortunately some people have started using them about other politicians, what a liberty.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Circus Comes To Town

I rarely post about issues from outside of Spain, but my reasons for not having written anything so far about the McCann case go beyond that. I felt very uncomfortable from the beginning with their campaign to find their missing daughter Madeleine, run as it was by professional spin doctors who seem to regard the whole thing as a test of their promotional skills. I couldn't really fathom what would make a man looking for a daughter supposedly abducted in Southern Portugal go to New York on tour, and I couldn't see the usefulness of it. I also have to admit that I dislike the way in which cases like this can attract so much attention, while so many other cases of equal suffering go completely unnoticed. Anyway, I'm going to limit this post to the impact of the case here in Spain. I’m aware that this is potentially a very slippery slope; I started writing about the Madrid train bombings because of a piece of invented nonsense I saw about a washing machine timer, and ended up dedicating an entire blog to the issue. This time I will be more careful.

The other day, whilst reading a typically sensible post on the issue over at El Siglo de las Luces, I noticed a link in the comments to a blog called Escepticismo Criminologico which turns out to be entirely about the McCann case. The blog is written by someone called Elvira Saez de Alberola, who states that she is a professional with 15 years experience in the study of forensic science and criminology. I was almost immediately struck by the ambiguity of that description; it could mean she is a permanent student, an internationally respected expert on criminal behaviour, or just a chartered accountant with a passion for crime novels. Whatever, the way in which the blog is presented led me to expect a cool, serious, fact-based analysis of the McCann case; isn’t that what scepticism is about? Well unfortunately, that’s not what you get if you turn up at this page.

What you get instead is Elvira’s theory on the case, and it doesn’t take too long to work out that Elvira finds Gerry and Kate McCann guilty on all counts for the disappearance of their daughter. Fine, if you have facts and proof to back it up, but that is precisely what we are all lacking in this case which is still so much of a mystery for most of us. In this respect Elvira is no different from anyone else, despite whatever professional training she has, she still has to rely on the same scraps of often unreliable information emerging on the case that everyone else gets. Despite this apparent drawback she has no doubts, there are frequent assertions featuring our old friend “I knew there was something funny about this case from the very beginning”.

Now everyone is entitled to believe what they want about the case, but what I find striking in the case of Elvira’s page is the sheer determination shared by her and many of those who comment to hold the McCanns responsible. It also emerges from reading the blog that the reasons behind this are not, ahem, entirely professional. Elvira seems visibly upset by the image of devout Catholic parents that has been presented to us over the last few months. She strikes a blow at that one by pointing out that the McCanns have used in-vitro fertilisation and therefore can be struck off the list of “good” Catholics. If we throw out those who have used contraception too, at some point the churches might get dangerously empty. Who the hell still confuses being a good Catholic with being a good parent anyway? Perhaps the same people who confuse scepticism with speculation?

My reference earlier to the Madrid bombings was not entirely accidental; the reasoning process that Elvira uses in the presentation of her case against the McCanns is very similar to that used by the conspiracy theorists like Luis del Pino who have floated so much garbage about the train bombings. Not because she accuses the police, as Del Pino does, of having been involved in committing the crime. Far from it, Elvira currently admits no criticism at all of the police or judicial system, we’ll have to wait and see whether her stand survives a result that doesn’t suit her theory. No, the similarity comes from the methodology. You start with a hypothesis as any good scientist should, but instead of testing that hypothesis against the available evidence to see whether it holds water, you set about moulding the evidence so that it fits your hypothesis. Facts which do not support the theory are simply brushed aside as irrelevant. Any gaps in the narrative (and in this case there are many such gaps) are then filled with speculative opinion that fits perfectly into the false premises on which the hypothesis now rests. So we are treated to imaginary snippets of conversation on how the McCanns could have decided to use their medical training by administering medicine to their children to make them sleep. This may be a depressingly common approach; it is also unfortunately a bogus one.

I don't know if she has any connection in her professional life with the prosecution of alleged criminals, but with this methodology I sincerely hope not. The difference with the train bombings conspiracy theories is that there is at least the possibility that Elvira could end up being right about the case. That does not mean that the way she has arrived at her conclusions is also correct, all it will show is that her number came up when they span the wheel of probability. Any result that doesn't support her hypothesis is unlikely to lead to an admission of getting it wrong, it never does with this kind of reasoning. Indeed, with references to the lawyer the McCanns have contracted as a specialist in getting the guilty freed, perhaps she is already preparing the escape route. A curious judgement for a professional to make on a defence lawyer, there have also been many references to him having defended General Pinochet - now there was a good Catholic for you! One thing I have never bought is this kind of "I'm a professional so my speculation is better than yours" attitude. A theory without proof remains that even when it is proposed by a Nobel Prize winner.

Yesterday, our blogging professional approvingly posted an email she had received from a Portuguese policeman on how to tell whether someone is guilty or not. The policeman informs us that someone who is unjustly accused of a crime never cries. As a criteria for judging the guilt of someone it’s almost enough to bring tears to my eyes, it’s about one step above ducking suspected witches. Whatever happened to evidence? I wonder how many innocent people have been jailed because their reaction to an accusation is not what the policeman expects it to be. Some of the comments being left by readers on an increasingly surreal blog are simply astounding. Anyway, the British can rest assured that Napoleon was wrong when he called us a nation of shopkeepers, according to many of these comments we are instead a nation of cold, distant, calculating child killers. Presumably, the man who shot his 18 month old daughter in the head a few weeks ago near Madrid did so because he was a "hot blooded Latin". Isn't it amazing how easy life can become when you stop doing your own thinking? Many others of those who comment are full of these "who would react this way if their daughter had been kidnapped" judgements that very few of us are ever likely to be in a position to make. One beautiful comment today compared Elvira to Agatha Christie. Indeed, file under “F” for fiction.

Of course the behaviour of the British tabloid press has been equally pathetic, but what's new about that? The coverage in some other British papers such as the Guardian is actually considerably better than that of the Spanish press. In the age of Google Reader you quickly become aware of how much "news" you read that is a rewrite of the same story from another source. Especially if you link to feeds from different countries. I have no theory on the case myself, there are quite simply still too many things we don't know, and the information we receive is often appallingly unreliable. Whatever I might think about the way the campaign has been organised on their behalf, if the McCanns did no harm to their daughter then I wish them no harm. Unfortunately, the backlash the campaign has produced leads many people to be far less even handed in their judgements. Over at Elvira's the case is practically closed and the lynching posse is saddled up and ready to ride. I suppose that we can at least be grateful for the virtual nature of mob law on Internet. There is a kind of grisly fascination in the way in which this feeding frenzy grows, it is tempered by the realisation of just how hugely popular this kind of exploitative stuff is. I am also aware that just by writing this post I've become part of the circus.

It’s been a long post, perhaps too long but sometimes you can’t deal with an issue in 20 lines of text. My closing question is this. Just how much impact on global warming would it have if we were to make a bonfire out of all the speculative rubbish that has been written about this case?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Between A Rock And A Hard Place

Whenever I see work starting on one of Madrid's squares it is hard not feel a little bit scared. The prospect of another quiet, leafy haven been turned into a hostile, stone or concrete desert is always on the cards with the city administration here. It is not just a question of poor urban aesthetics, the new model of square also comes aimed at the homeless. Instead of doing something to deal with the issue of why people are homeless, the administration opts for making their life as uncomfortable and difficult as possible. In the process it creates public spaces that nobody wants to use. If you think I'm exaggerating, take a look at this excellent video from

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Themes That Can Change An Election

Anyone who lives in Spain, foreign or otherwise, should soon be aware that we are in the midst of an election campaign. Not officially of course, the general election has not been called yet and may not happen until March 2008; but nevertheless the campaign has begun with the return from the summer holidays.

The first opinion polls published after the summer break have done nothing to alter a pattern that has remained fairly steady over the last year. The governing PSOE is given an advantage of anywhere between 1-5 percentage points over the opposition Partido Popular (PP); let’s split the difference and call it 3%. This is enough advantage to let them form the next government, but not enough to offer them the possibility of an outright majority. Nothing that the PP has done has made much impact on that pattern, although we don’t need to go back further than the last general election in Spain to know that things can still change. It is still possible that we could even get an early election, but there is not much time left for it to be called, nor does the government currently have much of a pretext for doing it.

Before the whole thing becomes completely unbearable, I am going to run a little series on this blog over the next few weeks around the issues that could potentially alter the final result of this election; about 5 or 6 themes occur to me. I could of course finish this post by citing the famous quote from Harold Wilson about a week being a long time in politics. However, I’ll go a bit further back in time and to a different Harold in search of the perfect cliché. Harold McMillan was once asked what really worried him and he replied “Events, dear boy, events”. Translated into more modern English this means….shit happens.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Solidarity Forever

South of Watford has been awarded a prize! Bernardo Muñoz at El Siglo de las Luces has kindly included this blog amongst those given the honour of being a Blog Solidario. I’ve just got back from parading the trophy around Madrid in an open topped bus. Reading the instructions on the bottom of the statuette it appears that I’m now required to choose 7 blogs worthy of the same award. Given that the rules are made to be broken, or at least to be slightly stretched, I’ve decided to nominate 2 for the moment.

So here we go; let’s hear that drum roll please. The first award goes to Tom Clarke for, a blog from Barcelona promoting similar values to those that I try to defend from here in Madrid. Dividing the award equally between the English and Spanish language blogospheres, I give my second nomination to Evaristo at El Rey de la Baraja for services to hinbestigation and the never ending search for la verdaz. Pass it on.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The First Fruits Of Autumn

“Mummy, where does the jamón come from?”

“Well darling, it all starts with a little seed, a bit like this one:”

“Somewhere in Extremadura the seed falls from the tree into the mouth of the little piggy. The seed grows and grows inside the little piggy’s stomach until it can’t take it any more – then it pops into the piggy’s leg, the leg falls off and becomes a lovely jamón! Then the jamón goes all the way to Madrid to be eaten by a greedy guiri."

This picture was taken a few days ago, and I could almost do a before and after shot given the big hole I’ve managed to make in it since then.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

En Un Lugar De La Mancha

Welcome to the airport of Madrid Sur – on exiting the arrivals area you will find taxis, and a bus service to the nearest train station. You could be reading about this new airport in a few months time as Ryan Air or some other low cost company tries to convince you that you can get to Madrid really cheaply if you fly with them into Madrid Sur. However, be warned that the Madrid underground has yet to make it as far as Madrid’s second airport and I’m afraid there could be quite a long wait before it gets there. Indeed, you might even want to consider the alternative of staying inside the terminal and taking another flight to your destination. The problem is….well, it’s just not very close to Madrid. Taking advantage of a great new mapping feature pointed out by Ben at Notes From Spain, take a look at the map below to see just where you might be flying into.

View Larger Map

Zoom out a bit, then a bit more. Yes, that is Ciudad Real near to the airport, and Toledo a bit further to the north. But if you keep zooming out Madrid will eventually come into sight, just before you get to see the entire Iberian peninsula. The city is only 200 kilometres away from the airport – and no, there isn’t an extra zero on that distance.

The original name for this privately run airport was going to be Don Quijote, a name which undoubtedly fits the location, but which has obviously not been deemed attractive enough. The airport has the undoubted advantage of being inconvenient for getting almost everywhere, except for Ciudad Real itself; no matter how much they talk about the high speed train being nearby. There is a justifiable case for the name being Sevilla Norte, or how about Lisboa Este? Battle has been declared against the new name by Madrid’s regional government, and the man leading the battle is the deeply unpleasant Manuel Lamela, I almost hope he loses and it has to be said the early signs are not encouraging for him. Whatever you do, don’t leap into a taxi and ask to be taken to the city centre, you’ll make the taxi driver’s day but your holiday budget might disappear on day one.