Spain through the looking glass

Archive for December 2012

Best nativity scenes 2012

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I’ve developed a bit of a thing for Spain’s Christmas cribs this year (see my earlier post on Rute’s giant chocolate nativity scene here).

These belenes (cribs) are not something I’d ever really noticed before, but they are actually incredibly popular in Spain. Most neighbourhoods have at least one shop dedicated to them where belenistas – or crib lovers (who even have their own national association) – can buy miniature shepherds, or tiny palm trees or chubby little Jesus figures all-year round.

Below is a sample of some of the cribs I’ve spotted lately. I’ve saved the best (worst?) for last:

1) Priego de Córdoba (child’s clothing store)


2) Church of St Bartholomew, Seville


3) La Campana bakery, Seville


4) Gift shop, Seville


5) Cajasol Foundation, Seville


6) Gift shop, Seville


7) Army surplus store, Maria La Blanca, Seville



Written by georgemills25

December 23, 2012 at 09:39

AVE prices to fall in new year

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Tickets for travel on Spain’s high speed ‘AVE’ rail network are to come down next year, Spain’s Minister for Development Ana Pastor said yesterday.

Speaking to the national broadcaster TVE, Pastor said the government planned to introduce a new pricing structure from January to make Spain’s high speed trains more competitive.

‘The AVE is a quick and efficient mode of transport but there are plenty of people who have never used the service because the AVE is still very expensive,’ Pastor said during her 20-minute guest slot on the TV program Los Desayunos de TVE.


During the program the development minister also said the AVE line between Barcelona and Figueras would open in January and that Alicante would be linked to the network by late June.

And in a move that Pastor described as ‘historic’, Pastor said the first quarter of 2013 would see Spain and France standardise the railway systems so that a high speed train could travel directly from Madrid to France.

Pastor also used her appearance on TVE to talk about possible reclassification of those train lines considered of ‘public interest’ for which the state guaranteed service provision. She highlighted the fact there were currently more than 174 stations in Spain which were used by ‘only one or no passengers’ per day and that – in such cases – the state was subsidising each ticket to the tune of as much as €120.

According to Pastor, it made more sense in those cases to offer alternative transport methods. But the minister for development was also keen to stress that any changes to the rail network would respect the guaranteed right of all citizens to mobility.

Written by georgemills25

December 21, 2012 at 08:38

Competition watchdog busts telcos

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I can’t resist a touch of schadenfreude here: three of Spain’s largest telcos in Orange, Vodafone and Telefónica have just been slapped with whopping fines by Spain’s Competition Commission (the CNC).

The penalties totalling close to €120 million were imposed for anti-competitive strategies on SMS pricing from 2000 to 2009.

Detailing its decision to punish the unholy trinity, the CNC’s investigations Division said that the three operators had abused their dominant market position in those years by charging whatever they liked for SMS and MMS termination fees.

The competition watchdog said this had not only artificially lifted end-prices for consumers but had also priced virtual operators out of the market.

Telefónica will now have to shell out €46,490,000 while Vodafone is staring down the barrel at a fine of €43,525,000. Orange will be let off relatively lightly with a bill of €29,950,000.

I will be curious to see if the companies pay up on time.

And before I am accused of random corporate bashing, I do genuinely believe that mobile telephony pricing in the first world is nothing short of scandalous. The prices and service standards of Spanish telcos are also worse than those I have experienced anywhere else.

Written by georgemills25

December 20, 2012 at 16:09

Arabic legacy lives on in Spain

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Yesterday, December 18, was UNESCO’s first ever World Arabic Language Day.

“By celebrating the Arabic language, we are acknowledging the tremendous contribution of its writers, scientists and artists to universal culture,” said Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova in a statement marking the occasion.


The Emirates Airlines logo is of one of the most widely recognised example of Arabic calligraphy in the world today.

Arabic has played a small but not insignificant role in the development of the Spanish language via the Muslim occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. From 711 to 1492, many regions of modern-day Portugal and Spain were ruled by dynasties and emirates whose origins lay in the Maghreb.

That 800-year period was one of great scientific and cultural energy in southern Spain with Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars engaged in an open dialogue the likes of which have rarely been seen since.

Traces of Muslim Spain can still be found in modern day Spanish with some 1,000 words of classical Arabic origin present in the language. Some key examples include: azúcar (sugar); alcalde (or mayor, from the Arabic qāḍī, meaning judge); aceituna (āz-zeitūna, or olive); algodón (cotton); cero (the number ‘zero’ from the Arabic ṣifr, meaning empty); alalǧabru (algebra); zanahoria (carrot) and ajedrez (chess).

Various Iberian place names also have Arabic origins. The name Gibraltar comes from the Arabic Jabal-ı Tārıq, orthe hill of Tariq, which is named after the Moorish general Tariq ibn-Ziyad who was one of the advance guard of the Moorish force that entered southern Spain in 711.

Meanwhile, Wikipedia tells us that the name for Madrid is derived from original Arabic name al-MagrīT, meaning source of water, and the name for the Guadalquivir river (al-wādĩ al-kabi) simply means big river.

According to UNESCO, Arabic is currently the official language of 22 of its Member States and has more than 422 million speakers in the Arab world while being used by more than 1.5 billion Muslims globally.


An example of zoomorphic Arabic calligraphy from the Sudanese artist Hassan Musa.

Written by georgemills25

December 19, 2012 at 18:44

Autumn in Aracena

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This week’s photos are from Andalusia’s Sierra de Aracena National Park, about an hour and a half from Seville. Autumn is particularly beautiful here.





Written by georgemills25

December 19, 2012 at 08:47

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Spain does not exist

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Dear spainwatch readers,

You may or may not have read about this in the newspapers already, but a little after 9:30 last Thursday morning after a light breakfast of toast and orange juice I formally declared my apartment in Seville an independent republic.

Let me start by saying that I did not take this decision lightly. I spent many sleepless nights seeking a more palatable alternative but the sad fact is that events of recent months have left me with no option but to cut my ties with the country which – until so very recently – I had chosen to call home.

I know my decision may come as a shock to many of you, my dear readers. Some of you will even be angry, and I understand that too. But before you accuse me of treachery, please let me try and explain my reasoning.

Now, the more astute among you will have spotted that the timing of my declaration coincided with Spain’s Constitution Day. It’s not accidental. That magnificent document (here, in English), signed on December 6, 1978, formally ended Franco’s rule in Spain and established the fundamental rights and freedoms that Spain’s citizens continue to enjoy today. Just as critically, though, the 1978 constitution curbed the power of Madrid by creating a Spain made up of 17 autonomous provinces, each with wide-ranging powers to arrange things to suit themselves.

Theoretically, Spain’s 17 autonomous provinces are equal. Of course, a little bit of dynamic tension in the system is to be expected. Some of the provinces are much larger and wealthier (Catalonia) and some have special historical positions (Navarre and the Basque County, for example). But the basic idea is that everyone runs their own show. OK, so there has been some duplication of functions and a fair amount of argy-bargy over the division of tax spoils among all the various regions but basically this federal system has worked pretty well. Until now.

Because it seems that the latest victim of the global economic crisis is Spain itself. Now the provinces are spinning away from the centre like the galaxies after the Big Bang, and the longer the crisis continues, the more Madrid resembles part of a distance universe glowing as feebly with remnant light like some dead star.

Apparently, it’s perfectly OK to be an Andalusian these days, or a Catalonian or Basque, but the business of being just plain old Spanish is increasingly difficult. To be Spanish is to be right-wing and centralist and against the rights of the regions. In short, the only place where it’s OK to be Spanish these days is when it comes to football, and even that is under threat.

At the same time, the provinces – without their father (Madrid) at the helm and starved off his once-famed generosity – have become like a bickering bunch of brothers and sisters at the meeting of a family business. All of a sudden, they want more of a say in how things are run and the eldest siblings have even started to mouth off about taking their client lists with them and establishing some kind of hot-shot start-up company.

For a while I followed this all with dispassionate curiosity. Then this turned to annoyance and finally to despair until suddenly, just the other day, it dawned on me: Spain does not actually exist.

Imagine my predicament! Having spent 38 years never questioning the fact that there was an entity called Spain, and having even chose to live there, I have now been made aware that this nation, like the fabled Sandy Island, is no more than a dark stain on Google Maps. It is, in short, a Phantom Country, a mirage, a myth.

So I was left with no recourse but to found my mini-republic. And I can’t help feeling it’s all probably A Good Thing. I have always, in some essential way, felt myself to be different! We have, after all, so little in common, the Spaniards and I, and as such coexistence is no longer feasible. Our attitudes and opinions on issues as vital as television volumes and dinner time and children’s clothing are so discordant as to untenable. We cannot live together and thus it is with great regret – but with some degree of pride – that I have made this declaration of independence.

To date, life in my little republic in the sun has been quite peaceful. Admittedly only a short time has passed and the future may throw up unexpected challenges. My republic is a relatively small one (at 80 square metres) and this could lead to certain feelings of claustrophobia. I do, however, have leisure facilities, a (small) botanical garden and access to running water and power off the grid, at least until the authorities decide to shut those off. I also envisage no problems with my immediate neighbours and expect daily life to continue as usual. And I will shortly be in communication with the European Union to see if some arrangement can be made for my little nation to participate in that grand theatre, even if this should only be in an observer capacity for now.

Lastly, some of you may demand to know why I did not hold at least hold a referendum before I took this bold step towards independence. Believe me: I did consider all options, including – briefly, foolishly – an informal pact with Gibraltar. However, recent experience in Catalonia shows that going out to the people is not always very clever. They have a horrible habit of telling you things you may want not want to hear. So I have taken a unilateral step into the great unknown.

Soon I will draw up my own constitution. In the meantime, I wish all my former compatriots all the best and hope they will find the strength not to follow the independence road I have chosen for myself.

Yours most humble servant now and always,

George Mills

Duke of Rabbits, Independent State of Francisco de Ariño

Written by georgemills25

December 13, 2012 at 17:08

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Hash stash leads to drugs bonanza

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Law enforcement officers in southern Spain’s Cadiz province are still scratching their heads over recent events in the village of Bonanza.

‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ customs official Santiago Villalba told the Diario de Cadiz newspaper as he described a night in which men, women and children from the little fishing village cornered and threatened security officers during a drug bust.

The incident took place on November 28 just outside the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River. Just before eight in the evening, customs surveillance agents working out of a helicopter spotted a suspicious launch travelling down river and occasionally dropping off small bundles. These were then picked up shortly afterwards by other individuals.

The officers decided to land their helicopter to intercept the suspicious vessel at which point the drug traffickers fled on foot. The customs officials then secured the large stash of hashish they found on board the vessel.

Suddenly, though, a group of as locals arrived to claim the drugs haul. Agents on the scene told the Diario de Cadiz this crowd numbered around 50 at first but soon swelled to some 100 people, including children as young as eleven or twelve-years-old. This irate group began to threaten the customs agents and pelted the stationary helicopter with stones and other objects. Fearing structural damage to the craft, the pilots decided to go for backup, leaving a single colleague on the ground to defend the stash.

This lone officer held out as long as he could against the mob, even showing his weapon at one point to defend himself. Meanwhile, members of the crowd quickly carted off around 2,000 kilos of drugs in as many as 80 separate packages.

At this stage, the helicopter pilots turned back to rescue a colleague they say was at serious risk.

Villalba said the scene was like a king tide of people who filled the beach and that it even looked as if entire families had come down to participate.

Backup soon arrived but all the drugs were gone. Police officers only managed to catch a single man in possession of a 30-kilogram stash of hashish. He is now in prison.

Written by georgemills25

December 8, 2012 at 11:34

Posted in Uncategorized