Author Archives: Dave Hall

Forget the Elections, how about Spanish Office Politics?

Dave Hall lives and works in Barcelona. You can read more of his great posts on his blog, and his guest blogging posts here on Notes from Spain. He is currently somewhat of an expert on life in a Spanish office:

After listening to the Notes in Spanish Advanced podcast about life in a Spanish office recently, I thought I’d write a little about my experience of some of the most striking differences from my viewpoint as a long term UK office worker now working in various Spanish offices over the past 18 months.

The biggest (and the most obvious) thing that I still struggle with at times is how to get my head around the well publicised relaxed attitude to timekeeping.

In my old UK company, we would routinely receive emails reminding us that 9 am was the start of the "working" day, and not the time you should be stubbing your fag out against the wall outside and thinking about dragging your lazy, no-good, workshy carcass into the building only to then go for an unfeasibly long pee, get a coffee and chat to your colleagues about last night’s television (OK, I’m paraphrasing). Something along the lines of "You should be at your workstation, ready to work at 9 am" was the usual message.

Lunch time was a fixed 45 minutes and the same rules applied then. In fact, this was so well drummed into us that, if you strolled back in 5 minutes late, your own dear colleagues (from outside your department) would look at you with scorn and pass comment either behind your back, or to your face in the form of a lame joke. The management had clearly done their job on us, as the staff were effectively policing each other in the form of an internalized company Gestapo!!! (Although, we’d of course swapped finger screws for finger pointing). A sad situation indeed.

Here in Spain, it’s very different. Last week, when I asked what the hours were in my new job, my boss kind of shrugged, expelled a lot of air, umm’d and arr’d , then finally said, "Well, come in about 9am ish, lunch is roughly 13.30 until whenever, and most people start leaving about 18.30, or earlier if it’s a Friday." (She then immediately asked if I wanted to go for a coffee with her). Ah well, that’s clear then, thanks!

So, not a bad situation, but totally useless for an anally retentive, logically minded Virgo like me who can only cope with life if there’s a "rule" of some kind to help avoid unnecessary confusion! I still find myself rushing back to work after lunch, only to find an empty office, and then chastising myself for being such a pillock. For someone who prides himself on having done a reasonably good job of fitting into Spanish life, this work timetable thing is an irritatingly persistent problem that I still need to shake off before my hair falls out or I start cultivating a stomach ulcer. Continue reading

No tenemos paciencia!

The main news story for the last few weeks (although you could easily argue months if not years) has been the controversy about the soon-to-be-don’t-know-quite-when-yet-exactly arrival of the AVE high-speed train into the centre of Barcelona. The date for the first train to pull into Sants station is 21 December, and it would seem that previously cut corners are now being desperately cut once again in order to meet this clearly impossible date.

In recent days, I’ve lost count of the number of morning newspaper headlines telling of another hundimiento or socavón (landslide/ground collapse) in the area of the final few kilometres of the line into the city from the area heading out to the airport, which have caused the closure of the existing local train lines heavily used by commuters. Pictures of Bellvitge station with a section of its platform collapsed into a hole in the ground have focused the worries of the tens of thousands of these people who travel on the network daily, not to mention a number of workers who’ve gone public with their concerns about the enthusiastic corner-cutting. (Check out the final link below for a more sensationalist vision of the effects of a tunnel collapse in Barcelona).

Every day it seems another train line is affected by a rather large hole opening in the ground, leading to Plaza España being converted into a giant bus-stop on a daily basis with endless queues of people boarding hundreds of temporary buses in order to reach their workplaces. The news crews asking the public for their thoughts have come up against some pretty irate people who are at the end of their tether with the whole drawn-out mess. One of which I saw was a middle-aged man angrily slapping the front page of a newspaper carrying a headline quote from PM Zapatero which implored people to "be patient”, and telling the camera that "patience” is something that he and his fellow passengers no longer have. (Hence the title of this blog entry.)

The Spanish PM is heavily involved (helped along by the upcoming elections of course) and is arriving in Barcelona today to see the state of things for himself. The Minister for Public Works is notable by her absence though, and was last seen commenting a few days ago from a safe distance…. Yes, she was hundreds of miles away in Seville! (A city which of course already has the AVE). Not an unreasonable life-choice though given that so many people at this end of the country would like to have a "quiet word” with her!

It’s not only the daily commuters who are suffering from acute AVE-strain, but the people that live in the L’Hospitalet district just outside the main city, who have had to live with the works for years. People there are only too happy to let news crews into their homes to furiously point to the large cracks in their walls, not to mention balconies precariously splitting away from the building, caused by the underground works (a charge often denied by the contractors).

The desperation on the part of the government to meet the date is obvious. So much so, that according to many reports, it’s now being discussed whether to abandon Sants station as the central arrival point, and just call it a day when the AVE reaches El Prat (very much outside the main city, close to the airport). I haven’t had a chance to figure out what people make of this suggestion yet, but to me it seems like the railway equivalent of a sending men to the moon but then telling them that as they’re almost there, "don’t bother landing, it’s been a nice trip so let’s not push our luck. We’ll just tell everyone you made it anyway”! I can’t wait to see the obligatory group of suited government officials disembarking from the first AVE, proudly proclaiming that it has arrived "in Barcelona on time”. Talk about moving the goalposts! Literally!

There are tons of reports (in Spanish of course) about this story in all the news sites (including: www.elmundo.es, www.elpais.es, and www.lavanguardia.es ). One that caught my eye this morning was this list of 50 questions and answers on the subject, in particular question 25 which suggests that the government’s interest is only focused at this late stage because the practical effects of the line closures due to landslides etc are felt most by users of the local trains who are, in turn, more likely to be PSOE voters (i.e. government supporters), as opposed to the average potential AVE passenger, who tends to vote PP (apparently).

Other related links:

Video of one of the ground collapses under a station platform

Report on the possible decision to move the AVE terminal from Sants to El Prat (which also includes a video of the not-so-popular Minister for Public Works saying that "running away from problems is for cowards”)

Mock news report from July showing how things MIGHT look if the AVE tunnel under the Sagrada Familia were ever to collapse!

Guest Blogging: Dave Hall – Life beyond Parc Guell..?

El Laberinto de Horta

Photo by Dave Hall

In today’s guest blogging post, Dave Hall, who can also be found blogging at pepino-bcn.blogspot.com, asks if there is life beyond Barcelona’s Parc Guell:

Everyone who comes to Barcelona should of course be sure to check out the many Gaudí­ designed buildings and parks that the city has to offer, with Parc Guell probably very high on their list, but how about all those other parks and gardens that don’t have the guaranteed draw that Gaudí­’s name brings? I decided to head away from the crowds today and take a closer look at a hidden gem of a garden that you might just recognise..!

El Laberinto de Horta is located on the mountain side of the city, set back just a little further than Parc Guell, and is a relatively small, but nonetheless stunning neo-classical park dating back to the 1700s. It used to be the home of Joan Antoni Desvalls who was the Marqués de Llúpia i d’Alfarrí s, but was acquired in 1971 by the local authorities and subsequently opened to the public. The centrepiece of the park is an immaculately manicured maze made up of cypress trees overlooked by a Romanesque style balustrade complete with classical statues and stone pergolas.

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Guest Blogging: Dave Hall – Broken Barcelona!

Holes in Barcelona

In today’s guest blogging spot, Dave Hall writes in with another great taste of life in Barcelona Dave can also be found blogging at pepino-bcn.blogspot.com:

Has Barcelona been earmarked for a G8 summit? Are the Olympics back in town again? Or is it that the Queen is coming to make a white-glove fingertip dust inspection at any moment?

Well, maybe it’s none of these, but you could certainly be forgiven for thinking the mother of all events was on its way to Barcelona given the sheer scale of improvements and roadworks going on around the centre of the city (apparently concentrated on the Eixample districts). It seems that I can’t step outside my front door these days without being almost swallowed up into a monumental-sized cavern that’s suddenly appeared courtesy of the local authority planning department. For example, where I live is just 4 short blocks from La Rambla de Catalunya, but navigating a way through on the most direct street has become a real chore. And then when you get there, you’re faced with more of the same between La Diagonal and roughly until you get past Aragó.

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Isabel Pantoja in Dinero Negro shocker!

PantojaCast your minds back a couple of months and you may remember that the "winner” of the tongue-in-cheek Notes from Spain Spanish celebrity top 10 was our old friend and favourite gypsy warbler, Isabel Pantoja.

Since then, she’s been bubbling around in the news on a regular basis, and still appearing in most magazines each week (usually followed around in airports it seems where she can’t escape the camera crews so easily), but today seems like an appropriate time to give an update on her turbulent life of late given that there has been some "breaking news” (as the BBC like to call even minor events these days).

You’ll remember that Isabel is in a spot of bother because her boyfriend, Julian Muñoz (the former mayor of Marbella), is in prison at the moment for dodgy-dealings whilst in office, and the extent of these deals are being investigated, reaching as far as Isabel herself. Meanwhile, the woman at the centre of the row refuses to cut her losses and publicly walk away from the relationship (although she’s said to have only visited him twice in the whole time he’s been behind bars) and she’s pegged her colours to the line, and is definitely "standing by her man” it would seem (in fact, if Dolly Parton hadn’t beat her to it, Isabel could well have had a chartbuster on her hands with that song!).

The big news this week is that Isabel has been called in for questioning as part of the ongoing Operation Malaya, as the investigation is known.

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Bending and stretching in the park on a sunny day

I know I’ve banged on about the little things about life in Spain that make it special for me, so stick your fingers in your ears as I’m here with my drum again I’m afraid! 🙂 After a pretty miserable morning’s work in the office, I went for a sit down in the sun in a nearby park for my lunch, and was instantly reminded why it’s the silly little things that make me smile. Aside from the semi-regular “troupe” of old folk being taken out for a spin in their wheelchairs by their carers (probably one of my all time favourite sights from amongst the “silly little things” category) there was also the hilarious sight of a couple of obreros taking a nap on a bench. One had drifted off to sleep and was resting his head on his mates shoulder, who in turn had his cheek lying against the top of the first guy’s head. Quite cute really, as well as very amusing for me. Where’s my camera when I need it? I got told off by a friend last week (SteveW from the forums!) for not carrying my camera with me at all times, and I gave him the old “yeah yeah, whatever” treatment, but I regret it now as I could’ve easily got a cheeky snap of these two without them even knowing.

Also in this park there’s a large underground gym, and when the weather’s nice (as it is almost every day lately) a group of yoga enthusiasts do their bending and stretching outdoors on the grass. They were there today with their limbs folded up in a way I know mine would snap if I tried. Again, a picture would’ve been cool, and my theory is that I could’ve got one and run off before they unravelled themselves and came after me to complain about invasion of privacy 🙂

Back to reality in the office again now, but slightly happier than before, and left pondering what the collective noun might be for a group of people doing yoga? Hmmmm, a yoggle of yogaers? Prize to the best suggestion (or of course the “correct” answer if one exists!) in the comments below *

* Note: Prize may not actually exist. No correspondance will be entered into. Judges decision is final! jeje 🙂

Top 10 Spanish Celebrities: No. 1 – Isabel Pantoja

PantojaTorch-song icon, role-model for many a drag queen, and already a huge celeb, but the mother of all controversies recently has helped propel La Pantoja onto the front pages everywhere in the Prensa Rosa, and there was never any doubt that she’d be occupying the top spot in our chart as there is literally no escape from the wall-to-wall coverage. To summarise, she’s another Andalucí­an singer with a big voice and is in a relationship with the disgraced Marbella politician Julián Muñoz, who is currently languishing at His Majesty’s pleasure over a number of dodgy deals. Isabel has now been dragged into the whole sorry affair, and people are interested to know how much she knew about what was going on. She’s had her house raided by the police and had to account for wads of cash that they found stuffed in drawers (apparently, she had €9000 in cash at home that she claims was to cover "daily bills”), and the talk recently was whether she would get to take her new year grapes together with Julián behind bars. Her celeb status is increased yet more by the fact that, she too was once married to our old friend Paquirri (remember him from earlier?) so she receives bonus points for being implicated in the Ordoñez family dynasty. Despite her troubles, the magazines are not being too hard on her, and most of them this week were sympathizing about her needing to wear a bandage after a minor foot operation. Good old Isabel isn’t letting her troubles get in her way though, and she’s currently on stage in Madrid dressed, as usual, like a ship in full sail and belting out her tunes at top note. Here she is practicing pronouncing her "errays” (just like me!) singing Arrepentimiento:

Dave Hall lives and works in Barcelona. Click here for the entire celeb top 10!

Top 10 Spanish Celebrities: 2 – Rocí­o Jurado

Big-haired Andalucí­an Uber-Diva whose career started in the 60’s and never went away, and easily hits our Number 2 spot without breaking a sweat, despite the fact that she sadly died of cancer in June 2006. Universally loved by everyone (passports can be officially revoked just for saying a bad word about her), and known as La Más Grande (that’s "The Greatest”, and not "The Biggest” as I originally thought they were rudely calling her!), this woman’s voice has been known to shift small planets from their orbit. Despite her death, her celebrity lives on and she’s as famous as ever, still getting constant mentions on all the gossip shows. If I had a Euro for the number of people I’ve seen hooked-up to a lie-detector, claiming to be in touch with her from beyond the grave, I’d be a very rich man! In fact, I guess she’s the Spanish equivalent of Elvis! Anyway, sit back, turn the volume to a safe level, and check her out:

Dave Hall lives and works in Barcelona. Click here for the entire celeb top 10!

Top 10 Spanish Celebrities: 3 – Letizia Ortiz (La Princesa de Asturias)

A double winner in at number 3, Letizia Ortiz was once a successful TV newsreader and journalist, but oh no, that wasn’t good enough for our Leti, she had to go one better and bag herself her own country when she married the future King of Spain! Now with a daughter (Leonor) and another baby on the way, Princesa Letizia is in pretty much every magazine every week without fail. When she announced she was pregnant for the second time, there was a frantic hurry to do something about the laws surrounding the line of succession, in case the baby was a boy and leapfrogged Leonor, potentially creating a 21st Century controversy that wouldn’t have mattered a generation ago. All’s well that ends well though, and the baby will be another girl. No doubt, the next time she gets pregnant, the same panic will start again and people will wonder "didn’t we do something about this the last time?”. Finally, no mention of La Leti is complete without a comment on her weight (or lack of it). A potentially anorexic Princess?? Married to the heir to a throne??? ….Haven’t we all been here before? Ah well, a good couple of before and after clips here. The first shows her earning a living before her marriage…

…and the second highlighting the importance of personal grooming when you’re Royalty:

Latest news: Letizia has been much in the news again recently since the tragic death of her younger sister, Erika, last week. It is believed that she took her own life as a result of depression.

Dave Hall lives and works in Barcelona. Click here for the entire celeb top 10!

Top 10 Spanish Celebrities: 4 – Alejandro Sanz

Madrid-born bland pop/ballard singer, in the news constantly of late after the revelation that he has a secret 3 year old child with a woman who he said would remain private. Low and behold, last weeks Hola Magazine had the exclusive from the woman in question – Valeria Rivera – an unknown Puerto Rican who suddenly found herself Spain’s most wanted magazine fodder. The controversy was heightened by the fact that the child was born while Alejandro was still married to Jaydy Mitchell, the Mexican model, who’s now maintaining her silence in order to increase the "wronged woman effect” (copyright Liz Hurley 1995 ☺). When news of the secret child broke, the sweat was visible on poor Jaime Cantizano’s (presenter of ¿Dónde estás corazón?) normally perfect forehead, and the show has since devoted endless dull hours of random speculation on the subject. In Friday’s edition, they managed to get Valeria on the phone to grill her about her relationship. Poor old panel member Maria (see number 10 in our chart) could barely control herself as usual, and is probably seeking medical attention as we speak. One of Alejandro’s non-descript musical offerings can be viewed here for those still awake long enough to get through it:

Dave Hall lives and works in Barcelona. Click here for the entire celeb top 10!