Tuesday, March 25, 2008

We spent the four-day Easter weekend out in Vallfogona, where we did what we usually do: go walking/hiking/trudging with the dog and sit around the fire. It's cold in that old stone house. (By the way, an architecture student is going to do his project on our house, I suppose as an example of architectural folkways. He paid his first visit over the weekend, and his first comment was, "You don't have to worry about this place falling down," since the walls are two feet thick.)

One thing I notice every spring is the first day that the leaves on the trees are thick enough to obscure the bare branches: it's today in Barcelona, and the weather couldn't be prettier, with the sun out and the sky brilliant blue because a cold front from the northwest blew all the pollution away.

The cold front brought a pretty good snowfall up in the Pyrenees, six or eight inches, which is unusual this late in March. It won't alleviate the drought much, though, since it'll only provide enough water to supply Catalonia for a week. Still, every little bit helps, and normal rainfall is predicted for this spring.

The biggest news over the weekend was that ETA set off a car bomb in Calahorra, La Rioja. They called in a warning first, so the area was evacuated and nobody got hurt. It was a big bomb, sixty or seventy kilos of explosives, and it blew the crap out of the street where it exploded.

The PSOE has made its post-election, pre-seating of the Congress plans pretty clear: they're trying to reach an agreement with the PNV and CiU to form a centrist coalition. No more Catalan Tripartite in Madrid, no more power for the Commies and ERC. Good. I much prefer it when Zap has to bargain with parties that are more conservative than he is rather than parties that are farther left than he is.

Zap is still talking about reshuffling the cabinet. Apparently Moratinos stays on at Foreign Affairs, and despite asking to be moved, Rubalcaba stays on at Interior. Alonso moves from Defense to PSOE leader in the Congress, Jauregui becomes party secretary general, De la Vega stays on as the Cabinet's spokeswoman, Miguel Sebastian gets a new Research and Development ministry, and Carmen Chacon gets a new Social Affairs ministry. At least so go the rumors.

Pepelu Carod-Rovira says he's stepping down as president of Esquerra Republicana, which we were all expecting sometime pretty soon; he won't rule out running as the party's chief candidate during the next regional elections, though. First they have a party convention in June to get through, featuring a Carod-Puigcercos power struggle. I hope the party splits and both fractions crash and burn.

63 people were killed on the Spanish highways over Semana Santa, 40% fewer than last year, but still far too many. Our roads are three and a half times more dangerous than those in the UK. So far 460 people have been killed in traffic accidents in Spain this year.

Get this. The average Spanish wedding costs €20,800, more than $30,000, and one-third of Spanish couples go into debt to pay for it. Seems like somebody's got his priorities misplaced.

Economics minister Pedro Solbes has again reduced his prediction for Spain's 2008 GDP growth to 2.6%, while the savings bank association says it will be 2.5%. Long-term predictions for 2009 are hovering around a mere 2%. It seems that a rule of Spanish economics is that if growth is less than 3%, unemployment increases, and everyone is expecting a steep rise in the number of jobless. This will reduce Social Security payments in, and increase unemployment insurance payments out, putting Zap's balanced budget in danger. (No matter how much I love slamming Zap, at least he hasn't unleashed government spending and endangered economic stability.)

Average apartment rent in Barcelona: €1040 a month. Not many people can afford that. Gracia, by the way, is the most expensive neighborhood in town per square meter rented, since everything here is miniature-sized, little toy streets and buildings. You have to buy tiny appliances to fit them in your tiny apartment. Americans don't believe it when I tell them that the bar where I watch the Barça games is maybe 400 square feet, and we can fit about 35 people in there. 400 square feet is an average-sized bedroom in Kansas City.

There are 1,130,000 Muslims living in Spain, about 2.5% of the population; for comparative purposes, that's about the percentage of Jews in America. Fears of Eurabia in Spain are a paranoid fallacy.

Barça stomped a weak Valladolid on Sunday, and Real Madrid lost to no-longer slumping Valencia, leaving Barça four points back with nine games to go. Nobody seems to want to win the League. Ronaldinho was benched again, and Barça fans are united on the need to get rid of him over the summer. Bojan, who is still only 17, scored two goals. I still think Villarreal and Sevilla are playing the best football in the league. Racing Santander is this year's surprise team, currently sitting in fifth place and qualifying for the UEFA Cup next year.

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