Saturday, December 29, 2007

All the newsstands in town are closed down because of a conflict between the press distributors and the retailers, so no more newspapers for the rest of the year unless you have a subscription, which isn't nearly as common in Spain as it is in the US. Meanwhile, our friends at the SGAE are in trouble after sending a private detective to videotape a wedding reception without permission, in order to prove that the venue was playing copyrighted music without paying the fee.

ESPN sports columnist Bill Simmons threw out a joke trade speculation in his NBA column the other day, in which all five Spanish players would be sent to Toronto. Marca, the Madrid sports paper, took it seriously and ran it as a real story.

Government-regulated utility rates are going up as they do every new year. Electricity rates will be increased by the official inflation rate, 3.3%; natural gas will go up 4.7%, and butane 5.2%. Butane is generally used by poorer consumers who don't have natural gas connections for heating water, indoor space heaters, and cooking stoves.

The development ministry has agreed to make the Pont del Diable Roman aqueduct outside Tarragona (here's the TV3 story with a photo) visitor-friendly. The project has been stewing for three years, and it's going to cost €2 million, which I am completely in favor of. Right now the aqueduct, which is one of the coolest things in Catalonia, is out in the middle of nowhere, and there aren't even any good road signs showing how to get there. You have to walk half a kilometer down this scraggly dirt road from the main highway. I remember the first time we took my dad there, he said, "In the States, if we had something like this, there'd be an information center with park rangers, and bathrooms and a Coke machine."

The bus strike will continue until at least January 4; the municipal transport corporation has basically agreed to give the strikers what they said they wanted, two full days off a week, with eighty overtime hours a year to be made up for with vacation days. Nonetheless, CGT, the Trot union behind all this mess, is holding out for more. Four of the strikers are on hunger strike. Next thing you know they'll be pouring gasoline on themselves and going up in flames in the Plaza Sant Jaume. The same bunch of Trotskyite agitators have fired up the Madrid metro cleaning staff as well; they've been out for thirteen days, the whole system is knee-deep in crap, and negotiations are going nowhere.

Catalonia's "national" soccer team is going to play against the Basque Country tonight in San Mamés; these traditional Christmas games exist more as an outlet for nationalist energies than anything else. Barcelona PP leader Alberto Fernandez Diaz called the game "a separatist rally with a ball in the middle." Now, now, let them play their soccer match, it's not going to hurt anybody and the players and fans will have a good time. Fernandez Diaz did say that this game is subsidized with public money, which if it's true, shouldn't be. No public money should go to spectator sports; that ought to be a strictly private sector, managed by independent private organizations.

On January 1 France will introduce a strict no-smoking law in all restaurants and bars. They tried that once in the early '90s and no one paid any attention, but I doubt there'll be any resistance from the smokers this time, what with such laws in place in other EU countries like the UK and Italy. In Spain the law's a bit wacky; bars and restaurants under 100 square meters can either permit smoking or ban it (about 80% permit it), and those over 100 m2 must either ban it or have separate smoking and non-smoking areas. Spain's law is pretty reasonable, I think.

More rumors are swirling about the possible sale of Ronaldinho to AC Milan, which is having a lousy year in the Italian league, though they're doing fine in the Champions.

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