My Spanish Interlude

People have been leaving Spain – the prime minister to attend the European Summit, large numbers of Spanish and foreign citizens to seek their fortunes elsewhere, and at least one police patrol-boat (reportedly) to explore the waters off Gibraltar. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy set off for this week’s European Council meeting in Brussels with an unusually strong mandate to “fight for Spain” (the striking expression sprinkled liberally into media statements by government spokespeople) having secured cross-party support for a ten-point negotiating platform. The platform is not substantially different from what … Read more

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Jorge, our computer guy, has gone off to California to turn a bright idea into a fabulous fortune. Our friends Alec and Beate are in Germany, where they enjoy summers at a picturesque (if windswept) cottage by the sea. We hardly see the Major these days as he’s decamped to Almunecar to spend almost all his time with Manola, the love of his life. The trouble with running a shop is that it does tend to tie you down. I considered this while putting a well-thumbed copy of Thor Heyerdahl’s … Read more

Perhaps the most notable aspect of Monday’s opening of the high-speed train link between Madrid and Valencia was not the protest against Prince Felipe (reflecting the ebbing popularity of the Royal Family) or against Alicante Mayor Sonia Castedo (currently experiencing corruption-related issues) or against Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (for whom no new reason is apparently needed in order to prompt a demonstration). The notable thing was that the protests – and, coincidentally, the celebrations – were so modest. Prince Felipe pointed out that Spain’s high-speed rail network (which every report … Read more

In our Books-about-Spain section we had until this week a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Spanish on Your Own. I only know this because this oddly titled book was purchased by a rather serious man with bright yellow shoes and a pronounced Mancunian accent.  As I took the book from him and rang up the price on the cash register it occurred to me (pertinently, I think) that he didn’t look at all like a complete idiot. Vibrantly coloured footwear aside, his appearance was that of a … Read more

Good news from Tokyo this week, where French President Francois Hollande used the occasion of a state visit to Japan to announce that the Eurozone crisis is over. So, that’s alright then. Mr Hollande developed his up-beat thesis by asserting that the recent unpleasantness will result in long-term benefits, as it has led to banking union, as well as better economic governance and better intra-government coordination.  At which point less ebullient observers might be forgiven for sounding a cautionary note – that it may lead to these desirable things but … Read more

A very tall man with fair hair and an expression of avuncular anticipation led several similarly large and apparently hopeful people into the shop soon after lunchtime. Beaming down at me he announced: “We are from Latvia!” Well, if I were from Latvia I’d be going around telling people about it too. There aren’t very many Latvians in the world, and the country is at the opposite end of the continent from where we are. So, it’s quite exotic and noteworthy to be from Latvia (unless, I suppose, you’re actually … Read more

It must be nice to have sold a hundred million records. It no doubt puts a spring in the step and adds zest to the bank account. In the case of one popular American rock group, it makes it possible to throw commerce to the winds and perform for free. Ticket prices for Bon Jovi’s Madrid concert at the end of June were reduced by more than half when band members waived their own fee out of solidarity with Spanish fans enduring the rigours of austerity. (Among other things, this … Read more

A new bar, El Espacio, has opened in a side street just behind the ayuntamiento. It has three advantages that I can see: there are some magnificent pine trees on the terrace; the live music is an eclectic mix of accessible jazz; and Alberto, the landlord, is the sort of shrewd but affable entrepreneur who might just make a go of a project like this. It has one rather large disadvantage too: it’s in a side street behind the ayuntamiento. “The location is terrible,” I whispered to Pedro when we … Read more

Elvira Rodriguez, president of Spain’s Securities Commission, noted in a speech to company directors in Madrid on Tuesday that the economic crisis “has revealed weaknesses in the system of corporate governance.” Possibly a candidate for understatement of the year. Ms Rodriguez commented among other things on the lack of transparency which preceded the difficulties at Bankia and at Pescanova, the fishing conglomerate. She said that Pescanova was a company that had enjoyed a positive reputation and whose management were known for their wholehearted commitment, which bamboozled the supervisory authorities.  These … Read more

A dozen Italians came into the shop. They were all talking at the same time. That’s not a silly stereotype: they were all talking at the same time, and very loudly too. Listening to the sudden tide of dramatically inflected conversation I was pleased by how much I understood. Phonological Spanish-Italian similarities were liberally sprinkled among phrases such as “Did you remember the sun-tan oil?” “Are we going back to the hotel before lunch?” “Do they have magazines here?” Why do you want to buy that?” and “Look! There’s the … Read more