Thursday, July 19, 2007

Iberia United?

José Saramago once wrote a novel in which the Iberian Peninsula disconnects from the rest of Europe and floats out to sea. Its English title is the Stone Raft. This week the Portuguese Nobel prize winner was in the headlines again with another Iberian concept: he has predicted that one day Portugal will merge with Spain into a new country known, in all probability, as Iberia.

In an interview with the Diário de Noticias, Saramago said that on the whole the Portuguese would accept this if it was explained to them properly: “With ten million inhabitants, Portugal would gain a lot in terms of development and it would not mean the end of the country, it would continue in another way. It would not mean we stop speaking, thinking or feeling Portuguese, (...) and we would not be governed by Spaniards, there would be representatives from the parties of both countries in a single parliament with all of Iberia’s political forces”.

Surprised? I only recently became aware that there is a degree of support there for such a scenario in Portugal. I was listening to an interview with Paul Preston, the English historian and expert on Spain. He pointed out that it is odd that Catalonia appears to be drifting away from Spain at the same time as Portugal wants to grow closer to it.

So what do Spaniards think of the idea? El País carried out a survey to gauge public opinion. Six percent of Spaniards don’t really mind but object to being called Iberians, nineteen percent think the Portuguese find it difficult to be independent and are doing okay as they are, while a whopping 75% though it was a great idea because Spain would have ten million more inhabitants and a better chance of winning the World Cup.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Sign of the Times

The BNG (Galician National Party) who are in coalition with the socialists on the A Coruña council, are campaigning for street names in the city to be in Galician.

Here are some public opinions on the matter which I have translated from La Voz de Galicia, 8th July, 2007:

It would be terrible to have them only in Galician because Galicia is a bilingual country.
- Viriato Valdés

It's an unnecessary expense and just for show. Damaged pavements and hospital lists are more important. These signs can wait.
- Jose Anido

Tourism is important here. Putting everything in Galician would create a bad impression. If I went somewhere and didn't understand the street signs it would seem strange to me.
- Alberto Tomé

Galidonia comment - Is changing the name of say, calle Riego de Agua into the Galician rúa Rego de Auga going to cause that much confusion? I doubt if you have to be a linguist to realise what rúa means in this context when it is so similar to the French word and the same as the Portuguese word - give or take an accent. That's just one example but I would question whether many street names are going to change dramatically.

I can understand what it means but it's absurd.
- Tamara Gómez (Asturias)

A lot of people from other places live here. The signs are in Spanish and it will be total chaos. I run a business and if they put up signs in Galician I'll get lost.
-Susana Álvarez

It's like "A Coruña". Other cities are given their regional name. I like the fact they do that. I'm totally in favour of this measure.
- Franciso López

Jose Antonio León says the signs should be in both Spanish and Galician. His wife, María José Lopez says just Spanish would do.

Spanish J or Galician X?

Pablo Monteigo from Avenida de Arteijo or Arteixo says it wouldn't matter if all the signs are in Galician because we are in Galicia. "If the Catalans do it then why not us?"

Meanwhile Carlos García has a novel idea: "The BNG should be worrying about more important things although I don't care if it's Arteijo or Arteixo or even if they put it in English!"

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Language Policies in the Spanish Education System

The law that ensures at least half of school subjects are taught in Galician is now being opposed by the main Spanish opposition party. The PP is accused of a volte face. In 1997, a similar law was brought in regarding the use of Catalan (Mallorquin) in the Balearics. The PP now argue that there is a difference because in Galicia its "at least 50% of classes" (in Galician)", while in the Balearics its "up to 50% of classes" (in Catalan).

In Catalonia the law stipulates that lessons should be conducted in Catalan at all levels with the obvious exceptions of foreign languages and Spanish language and literature.

The situation in the Valencian Community is that Valencian-Catalan is compulsory in 75% of councils and is a " voluntary or compulsory" subject in the remaining 25%. However, my belief is that Valencian-Catalan is treated as a subject on its own and that the majority of classes are carried out in Castillian Spanish but I need to verify this.

In the Basque Country and Navarre things are more complicated. The Basque education law of 1993 noted the need for students to obtain a minimum level in both written and oral Basque and Spanish. But there are four models to choose from:

A. A predominately Spanish education but with some compulsory Basque.

B. Mixed system with a balance between the two languages.

D.* A mainly Basque education with Spanish as a separate subject (similar to the Catalan model).

The situation Navarre is similar to the above but there is also the G-model of Spanish only with no Basque. This is available in the non-Basque speaking areas of South-West Navarre.

*No "C system" as the letter does not exist in Basque!

Info from La Voz de Galicia, 5th July, 2007.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Babies Hit the Jackpot

From Tuesday of last week, babies born in Spain would receive €2580 from the state. Most new mothers appear to have good timing. On Monday, only 7 babies were born in A Coruña, while on Tuesday there were 25. A spokesperson for Belén Maternity where 11 babies were born on Tuesday said: We've never seen so many babies born in a single day.

Based on article from La Voz de Galicia, 5th July, 2007.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Welcome to Galidonia

This blog is about my observations of life in Galicia. It will focus entirely on matters of interest to me which are related to the city and the region/country. I have been living in A Coruña for one year now. Below is a record of previous writings on Galician subjects that have appeared on my other two blogs; the football dominated The Ball is Round at and the more general Catadonia at . The posts were written between August 2006 and July 2007. Start from the bottom if you want to read in chronological order. The posts are separated with asterisks.

One of the objectives of the new "Ley Orgánica de Educación" is that Galician children will begin to study English from 6 years of age. La Xunta (the Galician govt.) has decided they should be taught English from 3 years old and almost one thousand Galician schools will begin teaching English to 3 year olds in the new school year (2007-08)

"Luton is more famous for its airport and an old and glorious football team than for anything else." That's according to the newspaper La Voz de Galicia. Glorious football team? Maybe they remembered that image of David Pleat skipping across the pitch like a demented pony in his brown tweeds sometime in the early 80's. But come on guys, that was because they had avoided relegation, not won the FA Cup. To be fair, Luton Town weren't a bad team back then.

The reason Luton got a mention in the Galican press is because a lounge at the airport has been named 'La Coruna'. The newspaper questioned the dodgy spelling of the airport company in question. It looks very strange from a Spanish perspective to see Coruña without the ñ, which makes the (correct) pronunciation "Corunya" not "Coruna". A spokesman for the company explained this was because the ñ does not exist in English. He also faced interrogation over the use of La Coruña instead of A Coruña. You might see the name of the city spelled both ways, that's because the former is Spanish and the latter Galician. However, even most of the mainstream Spanish press now opt for A Coruña as that is the official and politically correct name for the city these days.

Galician football puts the word ‘crisis’ into perspective at the moment. The Old Firm are said to be ‘in crisis’ after losing a couple of games and other Scottish teams like Hibs and Hearts were ‘in crisis’ after dressing room bust ups this season. But Galician football really is in a bad way right now.

Celta Vigo are fighting for survival in the primera and must beat Getafe at the weekend to have any hope of staying up. However, an even bigger crisis is arguably taking place at Deportivo La Coruña. Last weekend they lost 5-2 at home to the mighty Recreativo de Huelva. But that pales into insignificance compared with Depor’s estimated debt of almost 150m €, that’s about 100m pounds. Top international players such as Capdevila (Spain), Andrade (Portugal), and Duscher and Coloccini (Argentina)look to be on their way out this summer. They will be replaced, in all likelihood, by more young hopefuls gathered up from the reserve sides of other clubs. This development started last season and saw the club nicknamed ‘Baby Depor’. But the team has been struggling to find its feet this season, currently languishing in 14th position with the joint lowest goals for total in La Liga. The coach, Joaquín Caparrós, who is also certain to leave, could be partly blamed for negative tactics but his hands have been somewhat tied in the transfer market as years of big spending have finally come back to haunt Depor.

Many fans are holding the club’s president Lendoiro to account. He has plenty on his plate as he’s involved in legal disputes with former club legends like Fran, Mauro Silva, Luque and Tristan who claim they are still owed money. Lendoiro claims these players are holding the club to ransom and had to leave ‘by the back door’. Quite frankly, it’s hard to believe that players like Fran and Mauro Silva who dedicated most of their playing careers to Deportivo, and are still held in high esteem by the fans, would now go to the trouble of undertaking expensive legal campaigns unless they had a case.

The latest development is the resignation of club lawyer, Germán Rodriguez Conchado, described as Lendoiro’s right hand man. The final straw for him was apparently being called a ‘macho gorilla’ by the club’s own newspaper but it might just be that he has had enough of trying to defend the indefensible.

Hristo Stoichkov is the new coach of Celta Vigo. Celta are in relegation trouble as although their away form is pretty good they’ve only won once in a league match in Vigo all season – against Valencia in October. It would be somewhat ironic if Celta could end this dismal record on Sunday. Stoichkov faces a baptism of fire as his first match in charge will be at home to fierce rivals Deportivo La Coruña.

This must be my third or fourth Christmas in Spain. But it’s the first one I’ve spent with a Spanish family. It’s traditional to have a big family meal on Christmas Eve. Last night we ate loads of king prawns and shrimps, followed by cod with cauliflower and then lamb before finishing off with dessert.

No presents today as the tradition is to give gifts on the last day of Christmas – the 6th of January. I quite like this because it makes the run up to Christmas more relaxing. No frantic last minute rush and I can buy some stuff while I’m visiting the UK. Hopefully the shopping frenzy will have died down by the start of the year.

I used to miss things, like some decent comedy, while spending Christmas in Spain but not any more with the Internet and sites like youtube. Today I watched the Steptoe Christmas specials from 1973-74.

Plenty of good food too. The Christmas Day menu included a chicken soup with pasta, “salpicón” – a cold seafood salad, queen scallops and then a spread of sweets with marzipan and almonds featuring heavily. ¡Felíz navidad a todos!

Last week I went to the Barbanza coast to check out some stuff for an article. We got lost on the way as Susana, her mother and sister, all have a terrible sense of direction. I ended up having to point out on two or three occasions that we were going in the wrong direction. Quite sad really as I had never even been in these places before and was supposed to be the tourist.

The museum in A Pobra about the writer Valle-Inclán was closed due to flooding. There’s been an incredible amount of rain over the last few months. I read once that Santiago de Compostela has three times as much rainfall as London. I’m beginning to believe it now.

On the way there we passed through a village called Escravitude (Galician for “slavery”). There wasn’t much in Slavery apart from a crane depot and a small train station. Since the museum was closed we took rocky route a trip up to the Mirador de Curota where we got a good view over the Arousa firth.

Then it was on to Corrubedo. I have been told that it has the largest moving dune in Europe. I can’t verify that but it was certainly an impressive sight. I read that there are nineteenth century records talking of a 60 metre high dune. If you know Edinburgh, that’s about the same height as the Scott Monument.

While walking back from the dune the sky suddenly darkened and we were hit by a heavy hailstorm that turned to rain. We were all soaked through by the time we got back to the car. Luckily, Susana and I had a change of trousers as we were staying over in a hotel for the night. Her mother and sister weren’t so fortunate. After a lunch in A Pobra of sea bass in orange sauce, lobster and crab, we went to a shop together to buy some dry shoes. I think the owner thought we were crazy but it was probably his biggest sale of the day.

Hopefully there won’t be a bad atmosphere at home later tonight. We’re going to watch the Galician derby between Deportivo La Coruña and Celta Vigo. Susana is a big fan of Deportivo while Celta were the first Spanish side I saw in action. I still have a soft spot for the team from Vigo. However, I can live with the result no matter what happens as I'm not a fanatical native.

Deportivo 0 Celta 1
Rangers won the “crisis derby” this week with a goal from Nacho Novo. He is from the Galician region of Spain where I currently live. I’m not sure which team Nacho supports but I went to the Galician derby in La Coruña on Sunday. Celta won the match thanks to a strike from Nené, a Brazilian, midway through the second half. We worry about the lack of Scots on show in some of our own derbies but there was only Galician in the starting line ups for this game – Celta midfielder Oubiña. It was a pretty cagey affair and more incidents of note took place off the pitch.

Firstly, it would not have been difficult to walk into the match without a ticket just before kick off. There are no turnstyles at the Riazor, Depor’s ground. Although there is normally a gate where someone checks the tickets, on this occasion big gates were opened up and we were caught up in a flood of fans and just flashed our tickets as we passed the two policeman standing at either side of the entrancee.

Secondly, as there is no great tradition of travelling away fans in Spain the segregation is not very good. In one corner of the ground, not far from where we were sitting, there was a group of about 500 Celta fans who made a good job of making themselves heard among about thirty thousand Depor fans who were expectant of victory. At half time the less desirable elements among the Depor support were able to launch a volley of spit over the top of a toilet wall reserved for Celta fans. One or two Celta foot soldiers raised their heads over the top of the trenches to complain and were then hit with a rain of lager as plastic cups were thrown in their direction. The police finally realised what was going on and chased the hoodlums. Just before the goal I saw plastic seats flying through the air between opposing fans.

The game itself wasn’t overly physical apart from a free for all in the Celta penalty box near the end which resulted in one player from each side being booked. At full time various objects were thrown onto the pitch, mostly plastic cups. But a couple of glass beer bottles were lobbed from a great height and landed not far from security staff. I have seen this happen quite often at matches in Spain and the throwing of objects onto the pitch rarely gets a mention in the press. Of course, in Britain coins are sometimes thrown or even the odd mobile phone. But on the whole it brings home to me that our football grounds are more secure due to more efficient policing which can seem a bit over the top at times. Bottle throwing is very rare as you can neither take them into the stadium or buy them inside. And in the Scottish grounds I tend to visit, away fans are given their own stand and can feel safe. Not that I felt in much danger the other night but I probably would have done if I’d been sitting near the fence that separated the two groups of fans or if I had been standing just behind the goalposts where bottles were landing at the end of the game.

Here are the Riazor Blues – the most fanactical element of the Depor support complete with lunatic fringe –warming up for the game:

Depor are on the attack and the Blues are singing. This is one of their favourite songs, “Vamos campeón” (Come on the Champions). Well , they were champions six years ago and it looks like they are still celebrating:

They were left feeling blue by the end of proceedings though. At the time I thought the goal was a bit scrappy – a typical derby winning goal. But viewing it again it came from a neat, swift counter attack that is quite characteristic of Celta Vigo. I was high in the stand just behind where the goal was scored:

Hope you enjoy the clips.

For more on Celta Vigo, see these pages from my book The Iberian Horseshoe:

A few months ago I moved from Catalonia to Galicia. At around 700 miles it's more than a hop from Barcelona on the east coast to La Coruña in the west.One of the consequences of this move is that I am encountering yet another new language. I have left Catalan behind and am becoming acquainted with Galician (galego). It's fun watching and listening to Galician TV.

Although the language is very much secondary to Spanish on the streets of La Coruña, I like to tune into TVG (the regional Galician channel) for an hour or so each day. Galego sounds pretty similar to Spanish but is perhaps closer to Portuguese in many respects. In fact, Galician and Portuguese are so closely linked that subtitles from Portuguese are not deemed necessary on TVG. So far I have heard a doctor from Oporto explain some medical problem and a Brazilian woman give her viewpoint on the recent Brazilian elections without any dubbing or subtitles.

Last night I was watching an old episode of Os novos (The Young Ones) on TVG. It’s a series which has really dated. Perhaps I’m biased as I seemed to be one of the few teenagers of my generation who didn’t see what the fuss was about in the first place. But this so-called anarchic comedy now appears simply archaic. Surely sticking your head through a wall or hitting it with the nearest object to hand can no longer be considered hilarious. I wouldn’t claim to be a Ben Elton fan by any means but the Blackadder series he co-wrote with Richard Curtis, the writer of daft but not unwatchable British screen hits like Notting Hill and Love Actually, was surely the motormouth's high point. The Young Ones had an immediate and devastating impact when it hit our TV screens in the early eighties but is there anyone out there who would still describe it as great comedy?