Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Not as bad as "Let them eat cake," but right up there. When Zapatero went on tv last night to answer questions live from ordinary Spaniards (a first for Spanish prime ministers), he made only one gaff. It was just an especially bad one. Asked what a cup of coffee costs by an otherwise not-very-coherent man intent on proving that the government was at fault for rising euro prices (note the cultural difference: in the US he would have been asked the price of a quart of milk), ZP made the mistake first of answering, and then of answering wrong: 80 cents. As someone who just yesterday paid 1.30 for a tiny shot of espresso, I knew he had just got himself into a mess of trouble. And sure enough, all the headlines today are gloating over the Socialist prime minister's clear estrangement from the people.

Still, thanks to a helpful survey provided by today's edition of El Mundo, it turns out that a cup of coffee does cost 80 cents--in the Congress of Deputies cafeteria.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

From Inside

The view from my room in the beautiful new, Frank Gehry-designed Marques de Riscal hotel. Obscured only occasionally by the sheets of snow that slide down the undulating titanium roof and crash to the ground below.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Happy Father's Day

It's Father's Day in Spain. Pretty much every other place in the world celebrates Father's Day in June (though not all. Estonia: November; Australia: September). But in Spain, the holiday falls on March 19 because, of course, March 19 is St. Joseph's day. As in Joseph, husband of Mary, adoptive father to Jesus. "It used to be a holiday," said our dry cleaner, meaning it used to be a day off. "But now that the politicians have gotten rid of it, you don't even know that it's here."

Well, some of us do. Feliz dia del Padre to ours.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Spring Awakening

The view outside our window. It's Sunday, it's warm, it's the Plaza San Andrés. What else to do but join the swarm?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Next up: Saltwater Taffy Stands and Jet Ski Rentals

Going in along the road to our little San Pedro beach: a sidewalk. Admittedly, the road is a little precarious for those señoras who can't dart away from moving traffic in the time it takes to round a blind curve at 80 kms an hour. But what's next, umbrella rentals?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

More Adventures in the Heart of Darkness

So I return from a month away to find that both our landlines--Madrid and Asturias--have been turned off. It seems that back when I blocked Movistar from continuing to extort from our bank account exhorbitant amounts for Blackberry connections never made, Telefonica got blocked as well. This is because, of course, they are separate companies.

In any case, because our January bill hadn't been paid, our phone lines were cut off. I called Telefonica yesterday, and asked that the Asturias line be temporarily restored so that I could least call the bank and ask them to authorize payment. The "customer service" representative agreed, and told me that the line would be restored for within 45 minutes. I was happy. About 20 minutes later, I got an automated call from Telefonica telling me that my service had been reactivated. I was really happy. That is, until I tried to dial out.

I called Telefonica back, got a man this time, who told me to be patient, that the automatic call telling me service had been restored didn't necessarily mean service had been restored, and that I should wait another few minutes. Two hours later, our phone still unable to dial anything beyond the Telefonica number, I called again. "Be patient," I was told. Two hours later, I called again. "This can take up to six hours," I was told. "They told me 45 minutes," I said, piteously. "And I got a call telling me it had been restored." "Wait a little while longer," the man said.

When I woke up this morning, the phone still wasn't working. I called again. "Oh, well, there must be a problem," said the "customer service" representative--this one female--who answered. "Let me transfer you to our technicians." I explained the whole story for the, I don't know, 28th time to the technician. "Well, it says here you haven't paid your January bill," she said. I said, "Perhaps you haven't been listening to me. The bank made a mistake and blocked payment erroneously. I would like to tell them to go ahead and pay you guys, but I can't because, even though you told me you would temporarily restore my phone service, and I got an automatic call telling my that said service had been restored, I CAN'T DIAL OUT.

That's when she started shouting. "WE HAVE NO OBLIGATION TO RESTORE SERVICE," she said, loudly. "AND EVEN IF WE DID, IT COULD TAKE TWO DAYS." "So, why," I asked, "did they tell me it would take 45 minutes, and why did I get an automated call telling me it had been restored? Isn't it possible that there's a problem? And if re-activation of the line takes 2 days, and you only give me 2 days to repay the bill before cutting off the line again, isn't it possible that the phone would never be restored in the time you alloted for payment? "FINE," she yelled at me. "YOU'LL HAVE PHONE SERVICE WITHIN TWO HOURS."

Neither of us believed her. And rightly so: 12 hours later, I still can't dial out.