Monday, 27 March 2017

Getting the party logo around, among other things.

Like the Labour Party in the UK, the PSOE, the Spanish socialist party is having a bad time at the moment. Parties of the left seem to be having difficulties all over the place at present. Some say they have lost contact with their traditional support groups, their fanbase, as it were. Maybe so. They need to get it together again. I am not impressed with the support that UKIP managed to gain in the UK, although I still maintain that they benefitted greatly from rather over the top media coverage. And I find the rise and rise of Marine Le Pen in France very troubling as well. We live in strange times. 

However, even though the PSOE has been suffering, their 40 year old  logo has been doing very well. A range of T-shirts printed with the logo has been selling tremendously in the USA. The logo is a left fist clenched around a red rose and has been printed on T-shirts sold by the clothes store Urban Outfitters. The original designer of the logo, José María Cruz Novillo, is reportedly quite flattered but the PSOE is not best pleased and is looking into the matter. legal action has not been ruled out. In the meantime Urban Outfitters have stopped selling the T-shirts but it is still available from a company called Stussy for $32 (£25.65) in black, white, pink or purple. That's fashion for you.

In a news report about Turkey the other day, I was struck by this stray comment: "It’s also worth remembering that Erdoğan got only 52% of the vote at the last presidential election in 2014." Now, isn't that the percentage vote in that referendum last June, the voice of the people saying that should leave the EU? Percentages clearly mean different things at different times and in different situations. 

Meanwhile there has been a large anti-Brexit demonstration in London. And the EU's chief Brexit negotiator has apparently been saying that we should all be staying together if we want to combat terrorist attacks such as the recent one in Westminster. We shall see.

Uncertainty continues for EU citizens living in the UK. Here is something that was posted on the Forum for EU Citizens:

"Wish I had come to the march today.

I wasted my time with a job interview at one of the big supermarkets in a town nearby. It was a weird experience and I would like to share it. Probably just meaningless, but a bit annoying. What happened:

At the beginning of the interview, the interviewer, a young English lady, asked me if I brought my proof of right to work in the UK. I happily showed her my Dutch passport. She looked at it, over and over. 'Oh. Is this a passport from the Netherlands? Is this a real passport from the Netherlands?'

I said' yes, and this is proof of my right to work in the UK. I've been here for more than 9 years'.

'Oh. Well. I need to ask my manager if this is valid,' she said, and went away to speak to her manager. ;-) After a few minutes she came back, telling me that the manager wasn't sure whether a Dutch passport proved my right to work in the UK, and she disappeared again, to ask another manager. It was just a bit embarrassing for me.

Oh well. After 5 minutes she came back, and told me that no one really knew if a passport from the Netherlands was a proof of right to work in the UK. Without giving me the chance to explain anything to her, she went off again. To call Head Office, to ask them if I have the right to work in the UK with a passport from the Netherlands....

She came back again, phew, Head Office opened at 9 am and it was still early morning....she kept on saying that she wasn't sure.

I then gave her a short lecture about the EU, the Netherlands, the UK and 26 other countries in it. About Brexit, Britain leaving the EU, and that Theresa May will invoke article 50 on Wednesday 29 March. And that, in the 2 years after that, we will still have the right to work in the UK, with our Dutch / German / Romanian....etc. etc...EU 27....passports. It was so weird.

How is it possible that an (assistant) manager, who interviews people for jobs, doesn't know this? Don't they have a handbook in place? I mean, the magazine department of this supermarket is full of newspapers; how can they not know this? It's all over the news...

Anyway, I did not get the job. And I'm not sure if I would have accepted, if their staff don't even know these basic things. Never mind. Still have some applications for research jobs; hopefully something nice will turn up. I'm not really upset or in tears. It was just weird and a bit embarrasing.

Wish I had come to the march instead.

 Okay, end of rant. Thanks for listening and have a wonderful evening."

This is the sort of odd stuff that people have to put up with!

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Understanding things!

Yesterday we were invited out to lunch. Very nice it was too, in the restaurant on the top floor of El Corte Inglés, with a fine view over the bay. We ate one of those rice dishes with large crayfish, the dishes that the Galicians do so well. The Valencians may pride themselves on their paella but the rice dishes they do here in Galicia are also very good.

We were watched from time to time by large seagulls who patrolled the outer windowsill, clearly looking for a way to get in and share the food with us all.

Looking out towards A Guía (in Galician) or La Guía (in Castilian Spanish) our host asked if we knew what the name meant. I had always assumed that it had something to do with guiding, as there is a lighthouse at the top,of the promontory. But our host declared that it has nothing to do with that, although even most Vigueses (people of Vigo) are unaware of the truth of the matter. He took us back to Franco's time, when the dictator was striving to form a united Castilian Spain - United, Catholic and Spanish. None of these regional languages and odd names for things!

At that time the rocky promontory was called Niño d'Aguia, "Eagle's Child", because eagles (aguia in Galician and águila in Castilian) nested there. So somebody decided that this should be changed to something more Castilian sounding. Concentrating on the "aguia" bit of it, they decided that since "a" is the Galician version of the definite article "la", it could be called "La Guía". Nowadays, almost everyone refers to it in Galician fashion as A Guía, just as La Coruña is almost always called A Coruña.

Franco himself was a Gallego but was no doubt educated purely in Castilian Spanish. His family may have had servants who spoke Galician but they probably had to speak Castilian to their employers. Galician was not the socially accepted language of the time.

Our friend also told us of a theory about the name of Vigo itself. I don't remember reading anything about the etymology of the name. The city goes back a long way and is known as the city of the olives. Indeed it has an olive tree in its coat of arms. However a team of archeologists working in the Hebrides has found stuff linking Vigo to the Vikings, who certainly had settlements around here. According to that theory the name would come from Uig.

They certainly got around, those Vikings! England and France being in their range is understandable but getting across the Bay of Biscay is rather impressive. And, of course, they made it into the Mediterranean and took over Sicily as well. No wonder the Gauls were scared of them in those Astérix stories!

Later, in a cafe with wifi I had a go at googling "2001: A Space Odyssey". I cannot say that I am greatly enlightened. It may be that the black monoliths are the product of a more advanced alien race who took it upon themselves to help other races progress towards their level of civilisation. (If so, it doesn't seem to have worked on Earth , given the current state of our world!)

At least one review suggests that we should not seek to understand or interpret the film:

"Only a few films are transcendent, and work upon our minds and imaginations like music or prayer or a vast belittling landscape. Most movies are about characters with a goal in mind, who obtain it after difficulties either comic or dramatic. “2001: A Space Odyssey'' is not about a goal but about a quest, a need. It does not hook its effects on specific plot points, nor does it ask us to identify with Dave Bowman or any other character. It says to us: We became men when we learned to think. Our minds have given us the tools to understand where we live and who we are. Now it is time to move on to the next step, to know that we live not on a planet but among the stars, and that we are not flesh but intelligence."

So when we sat and watched light and colour patterns all over the screen, it perhaps truly was meant to be blowing our minds into another dimension.

One odd fact I gleaned from my googling was that Woody Allen cast the actor Douglas Rain, the voice of the computer Hal in Kubrick's film, in an uncredited part as the voice of the controlling computer in the closing sequences of his science-fiction comedy "Sleeper".

Interesting stuff!

Saturday, 25 March 2017

We are what we are! Aren't we?

Well, we watched the second half of "2001: A Space Odyssey" yesterday evening and are really none the wiser about black monoliths, what the mission to Jupiter was all about or, indeed, anything at all. Phil commented at one point that it took a long time to tell us that life is very complicated. We shall have to google it and see if anyone can enlighten us. Very beautifully filmed and with amazing special effects, especially considering that it was made when CGI was unheard of, I nonetheless wonder what a younger generation makes of it. I must lend the DVD to our 19 year old granddaughter and see what she has to say about it.

One of the things that perhaps marks the film as a very 1960s product is the very whiteness of the cast. Okay, it was quite a small cast but there were no token black or Asian people there were for example in Star Trek not so very much later. But then, the film didn't have any alien races such as Klingons either.

Someone called Arwa Mahdawi was writing in the newspaper the other day about what she refers to as the current "weird time for whiteness". Despite her name, which she recognises does not fit into most people's idea of "white" names, and despite being as she puts it "technically speaking, a bit brown", because of her parentage she has always fitted into the US census bureau's definition of "white". This is because she has mixed British and Palestinian parentage. Also because until now the US Census Bureau has defined white" as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa”. But this is probably about to change as there are plans to add a new “Middle East/North Africa” category to the US census and people originating from the Middle East and North Africa may soon have their own category. Arwa is uncertain whether this is a good or a bad thing.

It does, however, sound like another social restriction. As she says, "All of this is a little odd. Why are people from the Middle East counted as white by the US government but considered definitely-not-white by many Americans? How can you count somebody as white one year and then decide they’re not white the next year? Indeed it raises the question, what actually is “whiteness” and who qualifies as white?"

Apparently it took some time for Italian Americans and even Irish Americans to be considered as properly "white". Considering how pale some Irish people can be, this is quite astounding. But they do often consider themselves to be a separate ethnic group. Lots of stuff has been written about this kind of topic. There is a book called "How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America" published in 1998, in which the writer, Karen Brodkin, argues that Jewish intellectuals helped to “whiten” US Jews during the 1950s and 1960s.

So "whiteness" is something that can be redefined, that can expand and contract according to the vagaries of power. It's not really anything to do with race at all. How strange!

Perhaps we can all be redefined in some way!

Friday, 24 March 2017

Time travel.

Yesterday we pretty much gave up on going out anywhere that demanded walking any distance. For a while there was a break in the rain and wind and we had planned a proper walk after checking our internet stuff at the cafe two minutes down the road but when we left there the rain began again. So we just went home and stayed in.

And so we watched the first half of "2001: A Space Odyssey". Looking for something on DVD to watch the other day, we came across a box set of Stanley Kubrick films, most of which we have seen before but which are still worth revisiting, as they say. We saw "2001: A Space Odyssey" on the big screen when it first came out in 1968. 2001 seemed a long way in the future at that point. Now it seems quite a long way in the past.

Somewhat diminished on a laptop screen compared with on the big screen, the opening is still impressive. We are hoping to work out this time what the business with the black monoliths is all about. There's a splendid optimism about space travel in the film, probably in the whole of that time period. After the first steps on the moon, it was assumed that we would go on to establish outposts all over space, with space shuttles moving between them rather like planes with space hostesses instead of air hostesses. Space shuttles with rows of empty seats and running with just a few passengers. How different the reality with budget airlines cramming passengers in and routes being cancelled if not used with sufficient regularity!

Looking at the craft the characters in the film travel in and the space stations they work in, I was reminded of the Playmobil and Lego spacecraft toys pur children had in the early eighties, no doubt based on films and tv series rather than the reality of space travel that wasn't happening.

It's interesting to watch a film like this one, where the computer which runs the ship grows progressively more cranky and bossy especially so as the last book we read in the Winston Smith Book Club, organised by a good friend of mine, was Asimov's "I, Robot", where we witness the development of ever more sophisticated robots. And by the end of the book the robots are subtly controlling the world, manipulating the humans so that they believe they are still making the important decisions! Scary stuff! 

Would we be better off with robots running the world? Maybe so!

 However, I am putting such philosophical questions aside. The sun is shining and we are going put to lunch - taking our umbrellas though as the clouds are still around. My breadshop weather witch tells me that the climate has gone crazy this year. Last week they had early summer temperatures. This week it is chillier than it has been for most of the winter here.

Maybe the robots could sort that as well!

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Some aspects of modern life.

Ever since Ryanair decided to allow an extra, smaller sized cabin bag, when we travel we carry the laptop and iPads in smaller bags rather than in the suitcase. We almost always travel hand-luggage only so it's quite good to have an extra bag along. And now the US has said that passengers flying from certain countries cannot bring laptops and iPads in their hand luggage; they have to go,in the hold. The UK has followed suit, saying that any electronic item larger than a normal smartphone is banned in hand-luggage on all direct passenger flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

It doesn't affect us as we only fly between the UK and Europe but I know people who are saying that they don't want to trust their precious laptops to baggage handlers. Others are afraid that data will be interfered with somehow. And yet others are moaning that they will not be able to occupy their children on flights of they can't watch films or play games on iPads. (Whatever happened to stories and conversation and non-electronic games?)

I do wonder, however, quite what the purpose of the ban is. Whatever mischief can be done with an iPad can almost certainly be done with a smartphone as well. But it's another aspect of the fear that is around in the world, some of it justified I suppose. After all, there was a terrorist attack in London yesterday, possibly another lone perpetrator attack. Those lone sharks do nothing to help anything, just making life difficult for the many non-violent, non-extremist people of various religions.

But the extreme elements keep on showing up. I was reading about ultra-orthodox Jewish communities in Israel who are making life difficult for women in their country. Women have been physically attacked in the street for going about their normal business, for dressing the wrong way or for assuming that they can sit anywhere they like on buses. Women have taken cases to court and the courts have ruled in favour of a woman prevented from speaking at her own father’s burial, against a radio station that barred women from its airwaves – even blocking them from calling phone-in shows – and against bus companies that tried to segregate seating.

It seems that advertisers have taken note of the extreme views and have airbrushed women out of posters. IKEA has even produced a catalogue in which all male groups replace family groups in the furniture sections. Of course, the advertisers just want to sell stuff but surely some of them have principles. According to what I read, none of this segregation against women is in the scriptures; new religious rules have been invented. Why do we not hear more public outcry about this?

Religion is a funny thing though. Another thing I read the other day was about the restoration of the tomb in which Jesus's body is believed to have been interred after his crucifixion. Note that this is only where he is "believed" to have been interred. After all, it happened 2000 years ago, which means it's rather hard to verify. Nonetheless nine months and a lot of money has been spent on the restoration work and people will be able to visit the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It might well be the "most sacred monument in Christianity" but to me it smacks a little of the medieval obsession with holy relics. Is this where nostalgia for things past and ancient ways is taking us?

Sometimes I wonder where the world is going!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

What day is it?

According to some people yesterday was the first day of Spring. Others would have it that it is today and still others that it was Monday. In my family we always said it was today, 22nd of March, which we could all remember without too much difficulty as it is also my elder sister's birthday. Birthdays were always occasions to be remembered. I am not so sure that she feels the same now. Such are the consequences of the passing of time.

I have been fairly reliably informed that yesterday was also International Poetry Day. I have this from English and Italian sources so it has every chance of being true. Here are a few selections offered by poetry enthusiasts yesterday:

they speak whatever’s on their mind / they do whatever’s in their pants / the boys i mean are not refined / they shake the mountains when they dance 
'
the boys i mean are not refined',
E. E. Cummings

Tree you are, / Moss you are, / You are violets with wind above them. / A child - so high - you are, / And all this is folly to the world
'A Girl',
Ezra Pound

(So even poets see boys and girls differently - a bit of gender stereotyping there.)

This is the way the world ends / not with a bang but a whimper

'The Hollow Men',
T.S Eliot

Reflecting that last quotation, here is something a friend of mine posted regarding the end of the UK's EU membership:

UK: We want a rebate on the fees.
EU: OK.
UK: We don't want to be in the Euro.
EU: OK.
UK: We don't want to be in Shengen.
EU: OK.
UK: We want a restriction on benefits until people have worked here for some time.
EU: OK.
UK: We want to stop child benefit being paid for children who aren't in the UK.
EU: OK.
UK: We want to kick out people who come here and don't work and can't afford to support themselves.
EU: That's fine, you already can.
UK: We want loads of preferential treatment that other countries don't get.
EU. Err, can't really give that without everyone agreeing.
UK: Don't give us what we want and we'll leave.
EU: That's a bit of an over reaction, but your choice.
UK: OK, we're leaving.
EU: Bye then.
UK: Now we're leaving, we want all the things we had before.
EU: Err, it doesn't work like that.
UK: Don't give us what we want and we'll leave with nothing.
EU: (Scratches head) OK, umm, well, yeah.
UK. We're serious, we'll walk away with nothing, to teach you a lesson.
EU: Bye (again).

That seems to be the way negotiations are set to go. We shall see.

Last night we popped out for a drink and to check our email in the Mid Century café bar where the music (mid 20th century music) is always good. Last night it was very hard to hear it. I know some people complain about ambient music in bars and restaurants and I understand their complaints, especially when the music is bland. However, if I don't want background music to prevent me from hearing the conversation around the table where I am sitting, neither do I want the conversation from the next table to prevent me from hearing my own conversation AND the perfectly decent background music.

This was a tableful of young women - anywhere from there mid twenties to mid to late thirties. Now, if a table of young women gets as noisy as that one in a bar in the UK the women concerned have usually had a lot to drink and are getting loud and giggly. This was a bunch of serious young Spanish women, drinking coffee, infusions, and soft drinks, and taking seriously about the state of the world, the state of Spain, and the state of Galicia. At the top of their voices! A kind of statement about being young women with opinions!?

As often happens with such groups, there was a dominant female: this time with a mass of shoulder-length tightly curled hair (one of today's statement hairstyles that says "Look at me! I am an independent female and I don't need to spend time making my hair sleek and smooth!") and the loudest voice of the group. She spent a good deal of time pontificating to the rest of the group who sometimes found it difficult to get a word in edgewise.

It was quite a relief when they finally gathered their stuff together and left.

At which point María, who runs the bar, came and had a chat about how sad she was to hear of the demise of Chuck Berry, although it did take a minute or so for us to decipher the Spanish pronunciation of his name. She can probably sing along to any number of English-language songs but still has difficulty pronouncing names of performers.

Rather like a friend of ours long ago who greatly admired the writing -in translation - of the Frenchman Albert Camus, or as he called him Albert (English pronunciation) Came -Uss.

We can't all be perfect!

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Smart cars, smart phones, smart stuff in Vigo

Travelling from Portugal to Spain yesterday evening, I noticed that we passed quite a few of those tiny little Smart cars. They look very nippy but yet I am not sure I would want to drive one on a motorway. Mind you, motorways around here are a good deal less busy than the M60 around Greater Manchester.

You get quite a good view into the driver's seat of a little car from an AUTNA bus and so I was able to observe at least five of the Smart car drivers busy with their phones while driving. One was in a conversation, phone to his ear, three seemed to be consulting satnav on their phone screens and one was busy texting, no hands on the wheel. I suppose that conceivably hers was a driverless car and she was just sitting in the driver's seat but not actually driving. However, I think that is very unlikely. So not only was she driving something that resembles a sardine can on an admittedly not very busy motorway but also she was not really controlling the thing in a very conscious manner. The madness / carelessness / death wish of some people amazes me.

We woke this morning to rain but by 9:30 it had gone and we had blue sky and sunshine. Long may it last!

Our street is very noisy. They seem to be laying cables or doing something to the gas supply and possibly relaying the pavement, renewing parking bays and separating them with little islands where no doubt they will plant flowers and bushes. It has to be said that they are very good at that sort of thing here in Vigo. The other end of our street was beautified last year but our section remained scruffy and just a little dangerous - with minor potholes that you could turn your ankle in, not with hoodlums who might jump out and attack you, I hasten to add.

This is Vigo, after all, not Barcelona. Our gypsies tend to beg rather than attack. This does not mean that they don't steal but I have no evidence either way.

The bad reputation of the gypsies follows them around. My daughter was telling me about the latest scam by probably Romanian gypsy families (and, yes, I am aware that we are stereotyping here and that there are far more perfectly fine, upstanding, honest Romanians in the Uk than there are gypsies or those selling the Big Issue) in Oldham and Ashton. This is what happens: a woman rushes up to a shopper with a baby in her arms, screaming that her baby is really ill and she needs to know what to do and how to get to a hospital or at least a first aid post. The shopper puts down her bags in a natural movement to be able to help and comfort the agitated mother. While she is talking to the agitated mother, the agitated mother's companions walk past and pick up the bags and make off down the street.

Cunning plans!

I've heard of similar groups outside railway stations in Madrid or Rome, offering to help tourists, showing them maps and giving them directions, with a lot of touchy-feely patting of shoulders and the like. Meanwhile one of the gang is busy picking pockets, rifling rucksacks and relieving the hapless tourist of valuable stuff. Isn't the world a splendid place! Fortunately we see little of this around here in Vigo. Our experience has been very positive on the whole. People are on the whole friendly and genuinely helpful. So long as all we have to worry about are kamikaze Smart car drivers, then all will be well. Especially as I am not driving while we ate here.

Out and about later:

There is a dinosaur down by the port.

And here are some of the disturbing cartoons from yesterday in Porto.