Tuesday 22 May 2018

It's only ice-cream!

Temp de Flors, the annual flower festival in Girona has just closed and the city can return to normal after the many people who visit the city have gone home. Most of the flowers are not real anyway as they have to survive for 10 days, many of them outdoors.

One popular place to visit is Rocambolesc, the ice-cream shop run by the Roca brothers who own the famouse Celler Can Roca restaurant in Girona. But would you queue for well over half an hour just for an ice-cream? But this shop is famous, so I guess it is a rite of passage for some.

Finally they arrive at the shop! I often buy an ice-cream there, but only if there is no queue. They are delicioso with a selection of toppings.

Here is a photo to show the kind of chaos that occurs in Girona during the tourist season. Crazy! This is Carrer Santa Clara which runs in parallel with the Rambla which is on the other side of the river.

 I am not sure to what extent the uncertainty (I am being generous... chaos) with the Brexit negotiations and the political situation here are affecting my mood. In general I feel rather stressed and I have no obvious reason to feel that way. I am retired with a regular income and I am in good health.
I just received my new UK passport and, as expected, it still has "European Union" on the cover. But from 29th March next year, this will not be true, I will no longer be European. Obviously I am not going to be thrown out of Spain and I am fairly confident that my free health care will continue. But in theory, the health care is held up by a reciprocal agreement between the two countries as member states of the EU. And this will end next year, two years after Article 50 was declared when the UK started the process to leave the EU. What rights I continue to enjoy will rather depends on the rights that will be given to EU immigrants who are resident in the UK.

And then there is the ongoing political strife between the independistas in Catalunya and the central government in Madrid. But what makes me very stressed is talk of the "republic" of Catalunya when clearly it is still a dream. And road signs such as these below. I have to admit it really winds me up because "Republica Catalana" does not exist. Many visitors pass this way during the summer and they will believe it is true. It is on my regular bike ride.

Here, yellow is everywhere. People wear yellow ribbons in support of the politicians who are being help in prison on remand or who are in exile. Yellow was the theme of the festival of St Jordi last month and it was also prominent in Temp de Flors. Personally, I feel the same way: that it is wrong to hold politicians, or anyone, in jail for such a long time without trial. However, for local councils to display political symbols in public spaces is not permitted under the law. It states that public spaces are for everyone and not just for the party with the majority in the council. Celrà whose mayor is with the far-left and very independista CUP, flouts this law all over the place, as do Bordills and Sant Martí Vell, its neighbours. See the photos. Girona has yellow crosses planted in the banks of the river. But these councils do not recognise this law. As I suggest later, the distinction between the case of politicians in prison (yellow ribbons) and the push for independence is rather blurred and from my view these have become symbols for independence also.
As is well known, Carles Puigdemont fled to Brussels and is now stuck in Germany, unable to leave because Spain has lodged a request for extradition. The charges against all these politicians are very severe and I wonder if they realised quite the risk they were taking when they boldly declared independence after the 1st October referendum, which was illegal under the Spanish constitution. 
But to enact a declaration of independence is complicated. If they want to do it, why don't they just go ahead and declare the Republic of Catalunya? Now. The answer is, of course, they cannot do it without the cooperation of Spain and they are hardly likely to receive that. If the event actually went ahead, there would be a very extended period of negotiations about money, infrastructure etc. Just one small example, RENFE the railway company is Spanish as is ADIF which owns the tracks. The republic would automatically be outside the European Union and forced to create trade deals with various countries. And we only have to look at the situation in the UK to realise how complicated that can be. And meantime, the republic will rapidly run out of money. It already has a huge debt with Spain and that would have to be cleared.
Back to the yellow ribbons...... After 1st October last year and the declaration of independence, Madrid quickly annulled the declaration and imposed Article 155 which took direct control of Catalunya. Then Mariano Rajoy, the Prime Minister, took a gamble and set elections for just before Christmas in the hope that a more moderate government would prevail, led presumably by Inés Arrimadas, the leader of Cuitadanes which is centre-right. But a judge in Madrid probably swung the result in favour of the indpendistas by putting in jail, firstly the "two Jordis", followed by other prominent politicians. One or two, including of course, Carles Puigdemont the previous President, fled the country in order to avoid arrest. I am sure that the judge's decision changed the result of the election - the result was very close - because this rapidly became a  cause celèbre and everyone started wearing yellow ribbons in support of the politicians who are now labelled "political prisoners". This is not technically correct but try telling that to the people. 
And the other result of putting these people in jail without trial is that it is driving the desire for independence more strongly despite it being a separate issue. I will explain what I mean... the only justification for the Republic of Catalunya that I can see is if it is economically viable and I cannot see that in a million years. And putting politicians in jail doesn't change that. But the desire for independence is driven more and more by emotion, mainly anger. Heart over mind. And in general, the mind is better at making important decisions.

Now there is deadlock again because, although finally we have a new President chosen by Carles Puigdemont, he has embarked on a course of confrontation with the Government in Madrid by choosing 4 ministers who are either in jail or in exile. And of course, Madrid has said, "No way!" and continued applying Article 155. Quim Torra must have known that would happen so his move is described in some newspapers as "provocative". And some women are up in arms because they are poorly represented in the cabinet.

I have written a lot about politics but I hope I have been balanced. I have friends who strongly desire independence and I respect their view. The only danger to me is that it is very much driven by pride and hatred for Madrid without a cool hard look at the future.

My social scene has changed because I no longer organise the two groups, Girona Grapevine and Girona Social Meetup, and I don't go to the meetings either. There are one or two people who have been very unpleasant to me and they go to both groups. So I am out of it. Why put myself through it? In compensation, I spend time with my dear friend Orlinda! We have lots of fun together.

You have to look closely, Orlinda is mimicking the poster!

I am trying to get going on a project or two, I really need a project! I have two ideas. One is painting from music. In other words taking a specific piece of music and then representing it in a painting. People have done research on how to do this automatically in software so this is one line of thought that I am following. I even thought about writing an article, maybe in New Scientist. One slight problem is that music is "linear"; it moves forward in time but a painting does not. Maybe I will use video and art.
My other idea is not really practical for reasons of cost. I know that colouring books for adults are popular these days and I thought about doing the same, based on my pictures of Girona and selling it to tourists. I bought a book in Girona a week ago and it was exactly what I had in mind, 20 x 20 cm, 16 leaves (32 pages). But it was €4! I couldn't possibly get close, I would have difficulty making it less than €10 retail because I have to make money and I have to give commission to whoever is selling it. The shops here double the price of my greetings cards here, selling them for €4.40.
But I will create a sample and see if the Ajuntament is interested in the idea. But, who cares! The swimming pool in Celrà opens on 2nd June and that is where I will spend much of the summer!

I often travel to Girona on the train and, as usual yesterday, there was the usual throng of people attempting to get on before we had got off. It is so daft, are they worried that the train will leave without them, or that there won't be a seat left? But so many people get off at Girona, the carriage is usually virtually empty. And then, as the alarm bleeped to announce the doors were closing, a big guy ran frantically up the stairs and grabbed the doors as they were almost closed. He wrenched at the doors, another guy joined in. Someone waved frantically at the driver. You would imagine someone had fallen under the train rather than someone simply being late. I feared for the doors because the two young men were using a great deal of force. Finally the door opened enough for the guy to get in but I imagined that the mechanism could have been damaged. It was all so ridiculous.

SNCF, the French railway company has a rule for the TGV where carriage doors close 2 minutes before departure, or in London, gates to a platform close a fixed time before departure. But instead of people realising it makes sense to avoid situations like the above, they complain. Or they say that it is not fair on disabled people. I say, arrive earlier.

Two days ago I saw a young girl cross a busy road in front of the bus that I was boarding at Correos in Girona to return to Celrà. There was no way she could see what was coming because the bus obstructed her view. A car came along as she stepped onto the opposite kerb and beeped at her. She jumped in surprise. It was like Russian Roulette. A few seconds earlier and she would have been seriously injured. I thought she was about to board the bus after me. Her face was pale, a little sweaty, but she just gave me a blank look and walked out into the road. I couldn't do anything because I was inside the bus. If I had changed her speed, I could have caused an accident. She wandered off, seemingly with no great idea of where she was going. Drugs maybe?

Fortunately I have never seen a serious accident but sometimes I see..... "But for the grace of God". A few seconds either way and, boom. There is a dangerous crossing close to the station in Girona in Caraterra de Barcelona. People see that the traffic has stopped in one direction and assume that it is OK to cross. Not OK! Traffic still comes in the opposite direction at high speed - the traffic is held at red in the other direction because there is a left filter. Wait for the green man!

I was waiting at a crossing with a friend a week or two ago. It was on a corner of a street and, as the light for the crossing turned to show a green man, a young woman pushed her baby in a pram into the road onto the crossing and was about to follow it when a car came around the corner at speed, jumped the red light and narrowly missed the pram. I have seen something similar before! A woman with a pram on a crossing. And they push the baby onto the crossing while remaining safely on the curb.

In Colombia, where I was staying, there was a very steep hill, too steep for me to ascend on my bike. Once, when I was at the bottom of the hill, I saw two young boys hitching a lift on a truck going up the hill. They were hanging on by their fingernails. Had they slipped, they would have ended up under the car following.

Finally, things that annoy me. Well.. apart from having to yell at people with phones, "Mirar donde vas!" I hate seeing bikes on pavements in Girona, sometimes at high speed, especially big hunky guys wearing full paraphernalia. The danger is, someone coming out of a shop onto a pavement and a bike comes at speed down the pavement. I have seen several close shaves, one including with me. Now I look both ways when coming out of a shop, also my local bar because kids fly down the path on skateboards as well as bikes. Isn't it sad? When I was very young, I was taught the highway code about looking both ways when crossing the road. I never imagined that later in my life, it would also apply to coming out of a shop!

Now that summer is coming, I guess, in the streets of Girona, I will be treated to the view of bum cheeks falling out of short shorts. Do girls think it is sexy?? 

And I get annoyed with people yawning and thinking it is OK to show the entire contents of their mouth.

I don't normally write about things that annoy me because it is negative and life is wonderful, fantastic. It is just that I am a little bit stressed these days. I am sure the Celrà pool will change that. From time to time, neighbours and friends in my village say things like, "two weeks..." with a knowing smile. We are all counting down to 2nd July!

I read in the news from time to time about possible use of AI robots in customer services. I can promise, they have already arrived and they are not very bright. To avoid litigation, I won't mention the magazine but about 2 weeks ago, I made a payment of €46 for a subscription. I received an automatic email to say that I now had unlimited access to the magazine. Not true. When I exchanged emails with customer services, they said that it could take up to 14 working days. "So your email is not correct?" I wrote. There followed lots of emails where, each time, a different person wrote to me. They said that they couldn't trace my payment when it had obviously arrived. Their use of English was very confused ("....I will escalate it urgently to accounts department". Did anything happen? Nooo.) In exasperation, I took up my right to cancel within the "cooling off" period. I fought valiantly and finally got my refund only for, the very next day, they took another €46, completely unauthorised. I am still fighting valiantly to get my second refund back but they are getting confused between the two payments.
A typical message: "I can confirm that your screenshot shows the €46 that was taken on the 11th May 2018". I know it shows the €46 - I sent the screenshot!! Another glass of wine and I will be fine.

Sorry.. another pet hate. The local council (Ajuntament) in Celrà has a brilliant scheme for collecting rubbish. Every night, there is a collection of a different type of refuse. Organic, plastic, paper, etc. We also have a rubbish dump very near by. And they leave this mobile unit once a week in different areas of the village. And what happens if a compartment in that module is full? People simply leave the bag on the top of the unit or next to it. And the guy who took it away left the bags on the grass, of course. And I hope they stay there to shame the neighbours! If a compartment is full, then you can't leave your rubbish. I think that is fairly obvious. Sometimes people leave a discarded sofa, or enormous cartons next to the glass recycling bin. In the UK, all of this would be called fly-tipping.
But here there is no excuse, the Ajuntament has devised a wonderful scheme. And still people abuse it.
Half an hour later, that pile of rubbish had gone, presumably removed by our local council. And I guess the neighbours were wise to that. I am a tyrant! If I had been Mayor, I would have left it to rot!! But they are realistic. In the UK, I think a typical collection is once a week. Even organic waste. Here, it is every two days!

Recently a company installed fibre optic cables in the ducts under the streets here. They discarded bundles of ropes which they used to pull the fibre optic cables through the ducts. These ropes were dumped in the small rubbish bins in the locality. Amazing! They didn't think to take it away. In any case, it was surely re-useable.

Finally, about being transgender. A friend of mine asked me if I wanted to be "she" and change my name to Stephanie. She was a little confused. I said that some guys feel "trapped" inside a male body, they want to "transition" into being a woman, undergo surgery. To go out as a woman. To insist on using womens' toilets. For me that would be ridiculous, I am obviously a guy. I don't have such strong feelings. My friend Nomel in the Philippines is very female in appearance and can easily pass off as a girl and no one would know. But.... A big but. A large part of me is female - I am not macho-man. And I am having enormous fun exploring that part of me now, because I can. Earlier in my life, I had a job. I couldn't turn up at a client's office with blue fingernails. And of course, times have changed too. In my opinion too far. There is a lot of talk about transphobia... or homophobia! Someone I know very well thinks being transgender is weird. That's OK. Of course it is OK to feel that way. I like Bach organ music, do I expect everyone else to be the same? Many people are uncomfortable with gay men kissing in public (I am too) and, for certain, the physical act (haha, definitely not in public!) I can understand that. Often, newspapers maybe through laziness, describe a time in the UK when "...homosexuality was illegal". It was never illegal, the act was illegal.
Although it is within the law in Spain, I still feel uncomfortable with overt expressions of affection in public (do you like my euphemism?) whether it be between gays or heterosexuals. I wouldn't do it.

Last time I came back from Ukraine, I read an article in the flight magazine about the history of makeup, for men. I have makeup. I go to makeup shops and get advice which is lots of fun. There is a long and noble tradition of makeup for men going right back to the Egyptians. But maybe my motive is a little different, to appear a little more feminine. I have lots of womens' clothes but most of them are not specifically female. Long tops, skinny jeans. We all have legs. But summer is coming with many opportunities to be girly! (at 74!) The colours of womens' clothes are brighter. I love Stradivarius which is almost all for women. The colours. Fantastic!

I couldn't resist adding another photo of Orlinda!