Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pirineos Sur 2010

Last weekend we paid a visit to our other favourite summer music festival, Pirineos Sur. Although this festival has similar music to Mar de Musicas, and they do work together, the atmosphere could hardly be more different. Pirineos Sur is held in the tiny Huesca village of Lanuza, lying just a few kilometres from the high central Pyrenees on the French/Spanish border.

So one difference with the Cartagena event is clearly the surroundings. The stage at Pirineos Sur is set on a reservoir in the Valle de Tena. Another, important, difference is the climate. At Cartagena I could be sitting there comfortably with a T-shirt at 2 a.m. and hardly ever feel cold. In Lanuza once the sun started to go down I was wearing two fleeces. A cold wind was blowing across the lake and the temperature at night must have been around 10º at most. On previous visits it has rained during the concerts as well.

These conditions account for the third difference, the people who turn up for the festival. Pirineos Sur has a more alternative feel than Mar de Musicas, with a very hippy mercadillo being held in the nearby village of Sallent. Lots of people camp (I tried that once - never again), and many others sleep in the camper vans or cars that fill the road between Lanuza and Sallent. The soft southerners from Madrid took it easier at La Casueña in Lanuza.

On Saturday night there was an excellent double bill of Malian music from Afel Boucoum and Toumani Diabate who probably thinks I'm some kind of stalker as I saw him twice in Cartagena as well. He didn't bring the Murcian symphony orchestra with him this time and the music was better for it. Despite the cold wind there was a really good atmosphere, the musicians had to keep warm too. Although the cold and the humidity seemed to play havoc with the tuning of their instruments.

We always try to combine the concerts with some walking routes, and this year I searched for something we hadn't done before. We did two excellent routes which I have added to the growing backlog of walking routes that I want to blog about. Despite the cold at night, we were very lucky with the weather, arriving the day after a week of storms and heavy rain had come to an end. The result of this was an amazing quantity of surface water on the mountains for this time of year, streams we have previously walked across with no problem before suddenly became challenging.

There was another challenge concerning my ability to remember even simple things for a weekend of walking and concerts. Despite having packed everything hours before leaving I realized with about half an hour to spare that the GPS routes I had downloaded hadn't yet made it across from laptop to GPS. Then, having travelled 450 kilometres, we walked into the hotel and started chatting with the owner about the concerts. At that point the inner voice that those of us who spend too long in front of computer screens all have suddenly intervened.

InnerVoice: "These concerts are the ones you bought tickets for aren't they?"

Me: "Yes, of course."

InnerVoice: "The tickets you picked up from FNAC the other day?"

Me: "Yeah that's right. What's the problem?"

InnerVoice: "These would be the same ones that you left lying by the TV at home then?"

Me: "Shit."

So a big thank you to those who were working in the Pirineos ticket office who took the time to look me up in the system and provide us with substitute tickets. I have the feeling that in many other places the response would have been "Oh that's terrible, because now you'll have to buy new ones".

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Serious Bullshit Alert

Much of central and southern Spain will be on brown alert tomorrow as torrential bullshit is predicted following today's vote in the Catalan parliament to ban bullfighting. The highest levels of bullshit are predicted for Madrid, particularly in the areas around the offices of ABC, La Razón and El Mundo. Such high levels will be provoked by repeated attempts to associate the bullfighting ban with Catalan nationalism. Smaller, but still dangerous, waves of bullshit will also emanate from TeleMadrid and the Cope radio station. It is not expected that the recent decision by Madrid's regional parliament to accept for debate a similar Iniciativa Popular against the blood sport will have any significant effect on the levels of bullshit generated. The worst should be over by Friday but the brown alert will not be officially lifted until August begins and everyone goes on holiday.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cobo Falls Into Line

For a while it looked as if my prediction about the Madrid espionage scandal was going to be wrong. Manuel Cobo, deputy to Alberto Ruiz Gallardón and one of those spied upon, lodged an appeal against the decision by the judge to shelve the case. Then today he withdrew that appeal following pressure from the national headquarters of the Partido Popular, all in the interests of "party discipline". I hope he gets something in return for his sacrifice, perhaps a guarantee that the Aguirre Gang won't be able to exclude him from the PP's lists for Madrid in next year's elections?

The other PP politician who was being tailed, Alfredo Prada, had already decided not to appeal the decision of the judge. This doesn't mean that the case has completely died, prosecutors and the Madrid branch of the PSOE have also lodged appeals; but without the participation of those who were the victims of the espionage it seems unlikely that the case will get very far. Which is not to say that there aren't any legal problems on the horizon for Madrid's rulers.

In a new twist to that part of the Gürtel corruption case affecting Madrid, we now have the case of multiple payments being made to different companies for the same contract. Another of these companies with fancy sounding English names, Marketing Quality Management (MQM), has now become officially linked to Gürtel as anti-corruption prosecutors have added them to the list of companies under investigation.

MQM had already featured in the press for having been the recipients of an expensive promotional contract from the Comunidad de Madrid which produced no visible results of any kind. Now it has emerged that they were awarded an even more suspicious contract by the same administration. Just before the last elections in Madrid they received a relatively modest contract for organising the presidential events in Madrid. That's a euphemism for La Lideresa's numerous bogus inaugurations.

Shortly after the elections were over, and before the newly re-elected Aguirre even had time for many fresh photo opportunities, the company had already submitted invoices for 150% of the value of the contract. Fast work, quickly followed by other Gürtel companies submitting their own invoices for work allegedly done on the same events. The coincidence with the election campaign and all this sudden spending is interesting, and we will see whether the prosecutors can track the money trail. Aguirre's pretence that her administration has just been the innocent victim of a few "chorizos" was never very convincing anyway.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Nepal, Annapurna Circuit....Muktinath

What an amazing transformation. After five days of clouds, occasional rain and then a blizzard to finish it off we woke up in Muktinath to find that the scenery had changed overnight. Our room was at the top of the hotel, so we were on part of the roof as we walked out the door; and what a vantage point it was to catch the first light of the day reflecting off the snow covered mountains which were all around us.

The idea we had the previous day of Muktinath being a bit of a gloomy place vanished instantly, as we went a bit camera crazy after those days of being starved of views. This was a rest day for us, and there was no need to do acclimatisation as we had done on our extra day in Manang. Now we were down again below 4000 metres having done the descent from Thorung La. Even so, we were on a trekking holiday and with such a nice day the obvious thing to do was to go for a walk and enjoy the landscape.

We headed down from the village and across a narrow river to walk up an almost completely barren hillside from where we could get views on all sides. Behind us were the mountains where we had crossed the previous day without having much idea of what was there. The contrast a day later could not be starker.

Far away in the direction we were heading there was another range of mountains, with only the lightest of cloud cover. The dryness of the surrounding countryside suggested that these mountains get significantly less rainfall than other areas we had passed through. Eventually we would reach a viewpoint overlooking the Upper Mustang valley, a restricted area only accessible to those foreigners who purchase an expensive permit and which leads in the space of a few days walking to the border with Tibet.

The walk we did wasn't long or difficult, although I still couldn't move at a fast pace. My adaptation to the altitude was sufficient, but not enough for me to act as if it had no effect at all. In the afternoon we visited Muktinath's temple complex which houses both Buddhist and Hindu temples. The village is accessible by jeep, which makes it easier for many of the visiting pilgrims to get there.

Now that weather had changed, cooking for the locals was going to be a whole lot easier.

Back in the village we noticed how few new arrivals there seemed to be coming down from the Thorung La pass. Nor had we seen any of the people who we had got used to seeing every day in the earlier days of the trek. With the weather clearing I imagined that the crossing could be in some ways more difficult than when we had done it, especially if the already treacherous path coming down had frozen overnight. Although I think the real reason why so few seemed to be crossing is explained in this account of the Annapurna Circuit from the New York Times. I calculate that the author was probably about two days behind us, and it seems that the (untrue) rumours our guide had ignored about Thorung La being impossible to cross had their effect. Many trekkers waited an extra day or two in Manang before attempting the crossing.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


A long delayed conclusion to my posts on the trip I did to Asturias earlier this year. The end point of the journey was the city of Gijón, following short stays in Oviedo and Avilés. Like Avilés, Gijon is a real place with an industrial past that has been faced with the job of reinventing itself as the industry has declined. In many ways it reminded me of La Coruña because of the way they have set about recovering land next to the sea that was previously used for industry or reserved for military use.

With two beaches the city doesn't live with its back to the sea and as long is the weather isn't too terrible it's a pleasant place to be. We were luckier in Gijón than I had been in Oviedo, with mild temperatures and just a couple of light showers. On the first day, and without at any time forgetting the real objectives of our mission, we had to go for a good walk along the seafront to work up an appetite for lunch. Not only did we get good views of the coast, but also of the mountains behind the city.

Nice to see a bit of civic education too, I'm thinking of putting one of these signs in the street where I live in Madrid.

For lunch we headed to the area around the Plaza Mayor where there are various sidrerias. At La Galana, in the square itself, we had an excellent lunch combining very well prepared fish and meat. Good enough for me to come back the following day because they do a value for money menu of the day, a bit more expensive than the average but worth it.

In the late afternoon we took a trip to Cabo de Peñas, which is the northernmost point of Asturias. We stayed until the sun went down behind the coastline and the mountains in the distance.

On day two I was left to my own devices with most of the day free before catching an evening train back to Madrid. I'm a creature of the land and I've never taken to the idea of scuba diving, so a visit to the city aquarium seemed like a good enough substitute for me. I prefer to have the sharks on the other side of a screen. In any case I was here on a Monday, "museums are all closed" day in much of Spain.

There was an outdoor option too, the tourist office offers an interesting guide to the old town, known as Cimavilla, which helps to find some of the surviving buildings that would be easy to miss without this information.

This part of town is dominated by the hill of Santa Catalina, which offers views in both directions along the coast as well as over much of the city. The hill is crowned by the Eduardo Chillida sculpture "Elogio del horizonte".

Down at the end of this route you come to the statue of Don Pelayo, the first king of Asturias. This was the end of my trip, I've been in Asturias a few times for walking in the last few years but this was the first time I'd come just to be in the cities. It was well worth it, and I'm not just saying that because of the food. And the cider.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The World Cup Is In Safe Hands

Yes, of course I'll look after it! What's that? My name? Iniesta....Esperanza Iniesta. Now give it to me, I want it, IT'S MINE, LET GO!!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Everybody Wants A Piece Of The Estatut

José Montilla, the Catalan president, was in Madrid yesterday for talks with José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero about the Catalan autonomy Estatut. This follows the recent, and long awaited, sentence from the Constitutional Court which declared a number of clauses in the Estatut to be unconstitutional. We have to assume that the two men talked yesterday about this subject, because the vagueness of the outcome suggests that it's equally possible that they discussed the weather, holiday plans or the World Cup.

The sentence delivered by the Constitutional Court after an inexcusable delay and numerous political manoeuvres, was more lenient with the Estatut than we had been led to believe it would be. This was essentially because the judges who opposed some or all of the statute couldn't reach agreement amongst themselves on where to draw the line. In the end it came down to clause by clause votes. The original appeal to the court by the Partido Popular challenged the constitutional validity of over a hundred clauses, including many that have been supported by the same party in other regions. The verdict only accepted around 10% of these challenges, and leaves most of the, already implemented, Estatut largely untouched.

You wouldn't think that this was the case judging by the political reaction from Cataluña, but the region is already in an unofficial electoral campaign with elections to be held later this year. This has meant that all of those in the political spectrum from parties that support the Estatut to those that want outright independence have been competing to make the most noise over the court's verdict. Only the PP has expressed quiet satisfaction, despite only getting a fraction of what they had contested. As things stand at the moment the PP doesn't want to provoke a nationalist reaction in Cataluña because they see a potential agreement with the conservative nationalists of CiU as the key to eventually bringing down Zapatero's government. Down in Valencia, Francisco Camps moved quickly to activate a clause in his own Estatut that enables Valencia to claim any powers granted to other regions. Naturally the Molt Honorable would want a finely cut, made to measure, Estatut of his own. The national PP moved equally quickly for once to put an end to that aspiration, which would have undercut their arguments at a stroke.

Neither the Catalan socialists (PSC) or CiU are likely to be that upset either by the verdict, at least privately. The absence of a Consejo de Justicia for Cataluña is not the worst disaster in the world, except for the 'amics' of those in power who would have got some cozy, well paid positions out of it. Only the pressure of the elections has forced them to compete to outdo each other in condemning the interference of the Constitutional Court. That explains Montilla's visit to Madrid yesterday, he wants some gesture from the national government to demonstrate to the electorate that he can obtain things that CiU are not able to get. It also explains the presence of both parties in the demonstration held in Barcelona to protest at the verdict.

The electoral jostling also affects those who were never that keen on the Estatut anyway. Esquerra Republicana is seeking to preserve what it can of its electoral base, under pressure from CiU and also from the threat of a new pro-independence platform which may or may not involve Joan Laporta, now ex-president of Barcelona football club and badly in need of a new power base. In some ways it's quite funny to see those who dismissed the Estatut as irrelevant, protesting against a relatively minor cutback in the document. Obviously there is the question of rejecting any interference at all by the institutions of the Spanish state, but to act as if the Estatut has been butchered is not coherent with the opinions they previously expressed about it.

This all leads to the argument that it's impossible to get any reasonable degree of autonomy within the confines of the Spanish state, an argument largely advanced by those who have never believed otherwise. Despite all the politics, there is a serious issue in the background concerning the Constitutional Court's decision. The question is whether the verdict has really drawn the limits of autonomy in Spain. I would argue that it hasn't, the purely political nature of the deliberations and the absence of any consistent constitutional doctrine after so many years means that the solution that dare not speak its name - federalism - is not as dead as some would have us believe. Things could of course swing in either direction as the Constitutional Court depends fundamentally on the balance of power between the two major national parties. Nevertheless, the Estatut is in place and even those who toured the country for months collecting signatures against are now likely to accept it.

There Are Still Some Things You Can't Buy Everywhere

I never did get round to buying my Christmas caganers of Aguirre and Gallardón. To be honest, the price seemed a bit high for a pair of has-been regional politicians. A couple of years ago however, on another of my summer visits to Cartagena, I noticed a slightly run down souvenir shop which sold José Maria Aznar thimbles! The shop seemed to have very irregular opening hours, and it was never open when I passed; all of which made me want my Aznar thimble even more. Finally, last Friday, I struck lucky. I really just bought the Zapatero one to keep José Maria company, and so that I can stage my own political finger debates during the cold winter months. I could have bought the entire royal family too, but no. Then there was the Franco thimble. I stared hard at the Franco thimble for about 30 seconds. Do I buy it? No, at least not this time.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

When The Alternative Is To Do Nothing At All

If anything was demonstrated by last week's "State of the Nation" debate here in Spain, it is that the Partido Popular intends to offer no alternative proposals of any kind for dealing with the economic crisis. The PP's leader Mariano Rajoy made Zapatero the focus of his speech and insisted that the only thing needing to be done is for elections to be called. The distance between Rajoy and the detail of the debate was such that he didn't even bother to turn up for the second day, claiming that he had work to do. A strange position for someone who receives a salary as a parliamentarian, and knowing his leisurely habits it is probably the least likely explanation of the absence that he could offer.

For Rajoy the job of opposition seems to have become one long siesta. The strategy consists entirely of letting the crisis drag Zapatero downwards. No concrete policies on what the PP would do in office are ever spelt out, nor is it likely that we will see any sort of detail this side of a general election. The PP is said to have learnt from the dip in support for David Cameron's Conservatives when they started talking with too much relish about what they would like to cut. Even too much talk of the crisis is being discouraged by the national leadership, who don't want to "agobiar" the electorate with doom and gloom. The softly softly approach even extended to the Constitutional Court's decision on the Catalan Estatut, the PP is not interested in offending Catalan sentiments in a year when they may have the chance to be the kingmakers following the regional elections.

The verdict on an uninspiring debate was mixed. Some polls gave it to Rajoy, others to Zapatero who has won quite clearly in previous editions. This result tells us virtually everything we need to know about Rajoy's relationship with the electorate, even when facing Zapatero at his lowest point he was still not capable of clearly winning the debate. This raises the question of whether he could win a debate with anyone or anything? Rajoy versus a plate of Callos a la Madrileña for example? The unwillingness to explain their policies is one of the reasons why the PP won't present a motion of censure against Zapatero, the norm in such situations being to explain what you would do differently. That and the current lack of allies to support such a motion.

In any case there is little need for the PP now that Zapatero's administration has assumed the role of implementing the cuts to public services. All that talk over the last few years of variable geometry for a minority government is looking a bit thin these days. The choice of partners for Zapatero on the economy comes down to the Catalan CiU or the Basque PNV, with the Catalans less willing to lend a hand than before for their own electoral reasons. There was a highly symbolic announcement yesterday when it was revealed that Zapatero would not attend the traditional union organised rally in the León mining village of Rodiezmo. This event has in previous years acted as Zapatero's launching pad for the new political year following the summer holidays. He has generally used his speech there to announce new social measures, but using it this year to tell everyone how he intends to cut pensions would not go down too well. So instead he will visit China where they know how to deal with those pesky unions.

Monday, July 19, 2010

No Handshake For Paul Kagame

José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero ducked out of a potentially embarrassing meeting last week. Paul Kagame, the Rwandan president, was in Madrid and a proposed meeting with the Spanish prime minister was cancelled. Kagame has been accused by a judge in Spain of involvement in the death of some Spanish missionaries, but his position as head of state gives him immunity. He has been in Madrid to participate in meetings concerning the millennium development goals, which on current progress don't stand much chance of being achieved before the next millennium.

The treatment of the Rwandan government that emerged from the 1994 genocide has always been strange. Sometimes the aftermath of a genocide brings nothing but more suffering for the survivors. Whilst many of the leaders responsible for the killings have been free for years to stroll happily around Paris or Brussels, the Rwandan government has always been put under pressure. The French, whose sorry role in enabling the main perpetrators of the killings to leave the country is shameful enough, sought for years after to isolate the new government. They seemed more offended at the idea of an African country leaving the francophone sphere of influence than they were by the piles of corpses of those who were hacked to death with machetes.

Many terrible things have happened in the Congo in recent years, and countries like Uganda and Rwanda have played their part in making that situation worse for their own interests; along with several other nations. But the root cause of Rwanda's involvement in that conflict should not be forgotten. The perpetrators of the genocide were able to leave Rwanda, and establish themselves just across the border where they were fed and housed by the international community as heavily armed "refugees". Any government coming to power in the aftermath of the killing of around 800,000 people and faced with having the perpetrators still able to launch further attacks could justfiably claim to be acting in self defence by seeking to remove that threat. It's a situation reminiscent in some ways of the Khmer Rouge being able to survive comfortably for years after they were deposed from power, with the major Western powers so horrified by what had happened that they ensured that Cambodia was still represented by the Khmer Rouge in the UN.

Kagame is an elected leader of a country that has passed through an awful trauma and been treated quite badly for having suffered that trauma. It's true he's no angel, and there are some disturbing things going on in the country. But how does Kagame compare with Equatorial Guinea's dictator Teodoro Obiang? The latter gets high level Spanish diplomatic missions visiting, and although he hasn't had his handshake yet with Zapatero, I'm sure that Repsol are doing whatever they can to put that particular show on the road.

Friday, July 16, 2010

An Inconclusive Ending For The Great Madrid Espionage Scandal

It's a little bit disappointing to see Madrid's political spying case come to an end as it provides us with such a vivid portrait of the way in which the Aguirre Gang run both the regional government and the Madrid branch of the Partido Popular. The judge investigating the case decided to shelve the case on the grounds of insufficient evidence, although there is a distinct possibility of an appeal against this decision.

The Madrid PP wasted no time in manipulating the judge's decision to claim that it demonstrated that no spying had ever taken place. This is not what the judge has said, she simply points out that following someone else is not necessarily a crime. The key to the investigation was whether an offence of misuse of public funds had been committed, as those alleged to be tracking the movements of opponents of Aguirre in the PP were on the payroll of the regional government, not the party. The former policemen who are said to have done the spying appear to have no documented duties of any kind in return for being employed by Aguirre's administration.

Just a short time ago, it looked as if the case would almost certainly go to trial as the estranged wife of Sergio Gamón went to El País and told them that he had coordinated the spying operation. Gamón had to resign over the revelations, but Aguirre took swift revenge as she likes to do by forcing the dismissal of Gamon's wife from her position as a secretary at Telemadrid. The dismissal was of course unjustified and an excellent example of misuse of public funds in its own right, as it will be public funds that pay the compensation for a politically motivated sacking. Both Gamón and his wife, Yolanda Laviana, have a close association with Aguirre going back to before she became president in Madrid. The PP showed just how far they haven't progressed on issues of equality by attempting to dismiss Laviana's allegations as a resentful act by a women involved in an acrimonious divorce case.

So the judge's decision means that Espe's regime can continue to employ political appointees on high salaries whilst claiming that the crisis forces them to cut the salaries of those that have real jobs to do. Maybe one of those PP members who were spied upon will decide to appeal, although I suspect that they will come under pressure from the national PP leadership not to do so. Aguirre and Mariano Rajoy seem to have mended their relationship somewhat in recent months, and it will not be in the interests of either for the seedy goings on inside the Madrid PP to continue to grab headlines.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Best Laid Plans

It was all going a bit too well, my week here in Cartagena. I was able to work from my hotel during the day and enjoy the concerts of Mar de Músicas in the evenings. I even cancelled my insurance policy train ticket back to Madrid that I had bought just in case I wasn't able to work here for any reason.

Then came Tuesday and the internet in the hotel started to malfunction badly. I managed to get a bit of work done but by early afternoon the connection had died. This was a bit serious as I had found out that I had a deadline to meet for Wednesday evening. The technicians dealing with the problem were natural optimists and occasionally told me it was working again....not so.

Cartagena is not like Madrid, where there are numerous places offering wifi, and I needed a place I could work in all day. So I had the bright idea of investing in one of Orange's Internet Everywhere prepaid modems. It all sounded perfect for me until I tried to install it on the Windoze Dell disaster laptop that I had unwisely brought with me. Three hours later I gave up for the night.

Yesterday, I was wrongly assured that internet was working again by the technician and for a couple of hours the message was that they were working on it. Things were a bit serious by now so I went back to the Orange shop and after 2 hours of tests and constant rebooting and phone calls to not very helpful 'helplines' we got it working. It works very well for what I need it for, almost too well because I was still finishing my stuff at 3:30 a.m. this morning. It was a far more stressful couple of days than I had planned for.

Despite all these problems I've still managed to see most of the concerts this week. Monday was a Brazilian singer called Ceu, who performed in a beautiful setting of the ruined old cathedral that stands next to Cartagena's Roman theatre. Then Tuesday saw another change of venue to the former artillery barracks in the town. A much nicer venue than it sounds, in the same way as Madrid's Conde Duque which is also a former barracks. The performers this time were the Kronos Quartet playing with some Azerbaijani musicians. Not really my thing, and I think I was a bit jaded from the 3 hours of failed modem installation.

Last night I escaped from the last minute work rush for a couple of hours to go and see the Malian Toumani Diabate play with the Murcian Symphonic Orchestra. For me the experiment didn't really work, more musicians doesn't mean better music and the combination of Diabate and the orchestra didn't really fuse. I enjoyed it more when he played on his own. Toumani Diabate also played on Friday with the Afrocubism project, a fusion of musicians which worked very well and so far that concert has been the highlight. Afrocubism will be an album and a tour in the autumn.

Tonight we are looking forward to seeing Youssou N'Dour presenting his reggae album, I believe he's doing a show in Madrid tomorrow as well. On Friday Patti Smith is playing, and on Saturday it will be the turn of the Colombian Toto la Momposina. Hopefully, there will be plenty of time for the beach too at the weekend before I have to head back to Madrid. Almost everything has fallen into place in the end. I had hoped to do a bit more blogging abour Cartagena itself, but the week passes quickly and that now depends on what tomorrow brings.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Octopus Population Is Already Rising

A family entered the Galician bar in Cartagena where I was having dinner on Monday night. They were still dressed in official “we’ve won the World Cup” regalia. The red shirts of the Spanish team, and one of them with a Spanish flag draped around her shoulders. The barman obviously knew them and after the greetings he asked “¿Quereis pulpo?”. “¡Pulpo! El pulpo ya no se come” replied the girl with the flag. So it seems that Paul the Pulpo has managed to convince at least some of the Spanish to stop eating octopus for a while. Didn’t work in my case though, I’d just finished a plate of what was rebadged as “Pulpo a la Roja”, so there is still some hope left for the traditional Galician bar.

I watched Sunday night’s game in a bar here that was naturally full of very vocal and passionate supporters of Spain. A combination of this, the dreadfully partisan nature of Telecinco’s commentary, the negative tactics of the Dutch and a general lack of football meant that much of the game was taken up with shouts for yellow or red cards and hopeful appeals for fouls and penalties. Although I noticed that when the referee decided to card a couple of Spanish players Telecinco then decided, temporarily, that too many were being handed out. The best moment of the commentary came towards the end with the memorable declaration that “los escoceses” had used up all their substitutes. This got an ironic round of applause for helping to break the tedium.

There was a lack of spectacle on the pitch and I was dreading the prospect of penalties deciding the game. Iniesta to the rescue. I didn’t stay for the ceremony after the game, instead I went to take a look at the Plaza de España in Cartagena, which soon filled with jubilant supporters getting wet in the fountain, letting off fireworks and generally making as much noise as possible. By the time I went back to the hotel a traffic jam had developed just down from the square. I’m sure it wasn’t on the scale of Madrid’s celebration, but a significant percentage of Cartagena’s population was out on the street to mark the event.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

It's A Long Way From Switzerland To Germany

Not many people who watched Spain's first game in this World Cup, a defeat against Switzerland, would have been too insistent in pressing the pre-tournament notion that Spain were one of the favourites to win the trophy. Yet here we are a short time after with Spain facing Holland in the final.

To get there Spain had to finally find their game, in order to neutralise the threat of a German team that had scored 8 goals in its previous two games - although admittedly 4 of those goals were against England so perhaps shouldn't count? It all came right on the night, as the Germans were left chasing Spanish players and rarely came close to scoring. Spain helped themselves by not trying Maradona's revolutionary tactic of having a single midfielder.

Spain may have found their rhythm against Germany, but it's worth noting that the goal that won the game came from a very direct piece of play. Indeed the Spanish team is racking up a series of 1-0 victories as the domination of games isn't translated into goals. A similar thing occasionally happens to Barcelona, they can have a huge share of the posession but it's as if the precision machine isn't perfectly tuned, and the final ball never quite works out. That's the impression I had the other night, they still weren't quite at their best despite being clearly better than the Germans. Possession of the ball isn't everything, I read somewhere that Argentina enjoyed close to 60% of it as they were torn apart by Germany.

Of course having got rid of the Germans there are many now in Spain who regard the Dutch as a formality on the way to the trophy. We'll see how that turns out, this is far from being the greatest Dutch squad but they have players who can cause damage and have been more efficient than Spain when it comes to taking scoring chances. Both Sneijder and Robben, who have had excellent seasons, would surely enjoy the chance to remind Real Madrid supporters of what they can do after their departure from the new era Galacticos.

These wild swings between overconfidence and deep pessisimism are quite common in Spain concerning football. Before the quarter finals I could hardly find any Spanish person who thought they would get this far. Too many previous disappointments have left many Spaniards expecting the worst from their national team, despite the European Championship victory 2 years ago. All of that has changed now and there is a tremendous euphoria about the prospect of the final. I have friends who disdain football sending mails about where to watch the next game. In Madrid, the big screen moves to Cibeles for the final, I'm here in Cartagena for the match and will see whether they have a local equivalent. Win or lose, there's going to be quite an atmosphere tomorrow night.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Mar de Musicas 2010

I've been coming to the Mar de Músicas festival in Cartagena for so many years now that the town has become completely familiar to me. I get off the train from Madrid, walk out the station and find it almost impossible to believe that it's a year since I was last here. This year sees an interesting start to the festival. Tonight we will see Afro-Cubism, a Cuban-Malian collaboration set up by the same people who were behind the Buena Vista Social Club. This will be the official presentation of the project, which is described in this article from today's Público.

Then tomorrow night Salif Keita is playing. During the day we will head down to La Manga for a traditional mix of beach, sardinas asadas and cold beer. The great thing about this year is that I have my laptop with me. That doesn't just mean I can blog from here, although that's an advantage, the really great thing about it is that my current work is being done by remote connection so I don't need to be thinking about returning to Madrid on Sunday. I have tickets for a few more concerts and will be watching the World Cup final down here in Cartagena, maybe it won't quite have the atmosphere of Madrid for that event but it promises to be fun.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Wild Cats And Other Dangerous Beasts

The strike which brought the Madrid Metro to a complete standstill for two days last week is not over yet, although it appears that the unions are recommending suspension of the action for this week to give negotiations a chance. The Metro workers are on strike over the decision by Madrid's regional government to cut their wages, allegedly as an anti-crisis measure. There is no doubt that a Metro strike changes the face of the city, the strike coincided with some of the first really hot days of summer and the noise and pollution levels above ground were in complete contrast to the silence underneath the ground.

There have also been inevitable effects on productivity, as at least 10% of the active workforce in Madrid spent most of their working day bitching in internet forums either about how long it had taken them to get to work or about how long it would take them to get home. Many Madrileños have been confronted with an uncomfortable truth that they are reluctant to face up to, that many journeys within the city centre can be realised using a well established traditional method commonly referred to as walking. So instead they clogged up the streets of the centre with their cars, and the fiesta definitively belonged to the idiots who believe that constant use of the car horn makes a difference to traffic flow.

It's an unpopular action, but then having your salary slashed at a stroke is not a trivial matter. What caused much of the controversy was the decision by the unions to ignore the minimum services, which had been set at 50%. This converted the strike into a "huelga salvaje", or wildcat strike, and led to threats of disciplinary action from the regional government; who as we know have always been meticulous about respecting the law. The setting of minimum services at such a high level was obviously going to be problematical, as such a measure is designed to remove most of the impact from the strike. Actions like this are, like it or not, the only effective means that the Metro employees have of protesting at their situation.

Esperanza Aguirre clearly sees the strike as a chance for her to emulate her political heroine by having a "Thatcher moment", I'm not sure how to literally translate "the lady is not for turning" into Spanish but we may well find out quite soon. Even worse was the attempt to present the strike as a political action aimed at Aguirre herself, she is never shy of playing the victim. This tactic was coupled with the outrageously untrue claim that her government was simply implementing the national government decree on wage cuts for public employees. This is not the case, Metro workers are not funcionarios and even Aguirre herself has effectively acknowledged that ripping up their salary agreement is probably not legal. But she wants that money, after all in these difficult times it has become hard to maintain the relentless spending on autobombo and there are elections coming up.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Mariano Rajoy And Orgullo Gay

Now that the Conservative Party in Britain has changed in its attitude towards gay people it was only going to be a matter of time before the Partido Popular did the same.