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Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Tribute to Rita Barberá, long standing Mayor of Valencia City

On this the final day of 2016, I choose to salute perhaps the longest standing mayor of all, Rita Barberá who came to office in 1991 and served for 24 years, until her defeat in 2015. To have served for such a long time means that she had ample time to achieve some remarkable accomplishments for the city of Valencia, but also she had the time to make mistakes.

She died in 2016, just days after having been examined by the Supreme Tribunal, that might have led to an indictment for crimes committed in office. I think it was such a shame that a huge shadow hung over her head at the end.

What has moved me to write in her favor is that yesterday I thoroughly enjoyed myself, together with my wife at an installation that was all Rita, so I want to take a look at the way things were when we arrived in Valencia in 2000.

Madrid is the capital city of Spain, and Barcelona was the second most important city in the country. Valencia city was very much the poor step-child. It was the iniative of Rita to raise the profile of her beloved city through a number of publicity steps, which evidently were all taken in good faith. The objective was to attract tourism and business to the area, so that money spent to put Valencia on the map was expected to be recuperated eventually.

The first big event that she was successful in attracting was The America's Cup Race. For the city this was very costly and it completely changed how Valencianos saw their city. The port and the Mediterranean were at the back of the city rather than at the front. Normally any town or major city looks forward and out to sea. Not Valencia, but suddenly there was all this activity taking place at the port, which after all is next to the magnificent Malvarrosa Beach, so in our consciousness a major change took place.

To say that the city benefitted from all the publicity that surrounded that event is an understatement, and the event was successful. As an added benefit a dispute took place between a couple of competitors that extended the event and the publicity.

It was probably that event that led to the holding of The annual Formula 1 being staged here. Again, an event that generates massive publicity, but also generates massive cost to the host territory. After three or four years Valencia had to drop out as host, but again, Valencia was placed firmly on the map as a serious place to be.

Disaster struck with the economic downturn. That plunged countries around the world into chaos, including Valencia city which has been left with huge debts to clear without the economic impact from an increased travelling public and new major business coming into our community. She took the risk but good luck ran out, replaced by bad luck. We gambled and we both won and lost. Sometimes, that's life.

Shortly after arriving here in Valencia we visited the city zoo. We were appalled by what we saw. We also came to realize that we were not the only ones. Apparently many local Spanish people would be so upset by the treatment of the animals that they would leave the zoo and go straight to City Hall to scream at the mayor. How dare she treat animals in such a cruel manner, and in the names of the local residents.

Rita listened! She decided that the problem would be addressed, not with Band-Aids, but by building a world-class facility that would not even be called a zoo. Now, Valencia has a facility that is called "The BIOPARC" in which the animals are well cared for; in which they are free to roam about their enclosures to be themselves in conditions that mimic their own natural habitats, except that their space is limited to the facility rather than a whole country.

Yesterday was our third visit, on a perfect day, and while it is possible to see everything in one day I think most people want to take longer to just stay in one place for a long time to observe the various species. The very fact that we were all there generated good vibes. In spite of children running all over the place I never heard one cross word from the parents. People were super courteous to one another, and when the day was over we both agreed, what a nice day that was.

I think this is Rita's finest achievement. The animals win, and we the people can feel so much better that in a world where species are disappearing we are caring for our adopted friends, and we are doing it in a humane and caring way. I think to be someone who actually works there must mean that you have one of the very best jobs in the world.

It seems to me that on the Balance Sheet of Rita Berbera's life there is much more on the plus side than the minus. She has not been convicted of any crimes or misdemeanors, so she is innocent. In any event I prefer to remember her plusses. That's me, I always try to look on the bright side of life.

So, thank you Sra Barberá for all the hard work and dedication you have put into serving  the people of Valencia. I am a foreigner but your many efforts have not been lost on me, and I'm so glad that you liked my "Obama" cap.

Copyright (c) 2016
Eugene Carmichael  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A night of All Good News

December 22nd, Mid Winter or Winter Solstice is the shortest day of light and the longest day of darkness. However, it is also the only day of the year that we can absolutely count on nothing but good evening television news. We just don't want to hear any bad news at all. This is the day when Spain's El Gordo Lottery draw takes place and 2.5 billion euros is distributed over 15.000 prizes. However, because these prizes are broken down into small shares no-one has any idea of how many people actually share in it.

Firstly, the system is totally secure from corruption. In a world that is so corrupt, that is really something. Secondly, it is also totally socialist in its structure. No one can win the lion's share for himself. Unlike other lotteries where there is a jackpot and one person gets to walk away with (sometimes) over a hundred million Pounds or Dollars, not so with El Gordo. (No-one needs to win that type of money.) It is intended that the amounts available to be won might pull you out of debt, or even assure you that you can live modestly for the rest of your life with careful planning.

The news hour has now finished for the day and we have been treated to images of people all over the country crying with tears of joy and dancing in the streets because they are feeling so high with pure and unadulterated happiness. Their number was called, especially for the major prizes in spite of that being an improbable thing. Every year the same thing happens and nothing gets rolled over. All the prize money is distributed with 99% of the residents participating. Even those of us who didn't win a thing still see it as good news because every year we do not win brings us closer to the year when we will.

The event generates its own human interest stories, such as 90% of the residents of an old folks home bought into the event, and won. Their average age was 90 and they won 400,000 euros per ticket. One old dear held three tickets. Don't you just love it!

One family, like so many others in Spain were all out of work, but they won enough money between them to redeem their dignity.

A few years ago a small village of 250 farmers all bought tickets with the same number. The number won second prize of  euros 125,000 each ticket. (You could have held several tickets.) The twist in this story is that all enjoyed winnings except the one person who didn't believe in these things. He was a foreigner, but by all accounts he seems to be ok with the outcome.

It is gambling, which is to normally be discouraged. Many people in Spain play the lottery, and while I'm sure that a few go overboard the average person bets something modest, such as 5.00 euros on a line of numbers that might give a reasonable little lift to one's finances. It's really about hope, because life without hope; something to look forward to would be intolerable.

In a joking frame of mind I always say that one day I'm going to hit the lottery in a big way. When that happens I do hope I will get all of my money back.

Maybe, but hope springs eternally.

Copyright (c) 2016
Eugene Carmichael

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Not a very Merry Christmas story

We have a gentleman living in our community who is a veteran of World War II. He is in his 95th year and loves to talk about his life of adventures, and to listen to him is a marvellous education in itself. His memory is as clear on things that happened many years ago as though they happened just yesterday.

However, one of his stories has so incensed me that it should be committed to print form, so I will do that for him.

He was a part of the landing force on D-Day and carried on throughout the whole war, and survived to tell the tale. He did that so that we are free from the yoke of Nazism. To have served for so long makes him a true hero in my eyes, along with all those who served and fell. So, it was only right and reasonable for the survivors of his regiment to be called to Buckingham Palace to be recognised and honored by the Royal Family.

He received an invitation on nicely embossed plain white card and arrived and together with his compatriots they walked into The Palace along the red carpet, but at a certain point he realised that for those who held similar cards to his they were ushered to the left while others who held invitations that were gold embossed went to the right. His group were led to what might have been at one time the stables, while the others went into the Palace proper.

The were very nicely entertained, but fed on a lacklustre lunch, and Prince Charles did make his rounds stopping at each table to commend the men and women.  What took the shine off the event was the fact that they, who were prepared to give their lives to allow the British way of life to continue were segregated into the lesser class, while the others were wined and dined because of....what?

Correct me if you think I'm out of order, but I think this was an outrageous thing to do to people who were so deserving of the utmost respect of the nation. To go to all that effort to insult them by herding them into a second class group when they had every right to go first-class all the way beggars belief.

Yes, they should have been feted, but if not done properly, then it was as bad as not having been done at all. The Royal advisors have a lot to answer for. Far from honoring this gallant and patriotic gentleman, they inflicted an insult upon him that he has never forgotten, and will take into his grave.

For those responsible I say, shame! shame! shame on you!

Copyright (c) 2016
Eugene Carmichael

Saturday, December 10, 2016

It's El Gordo Time again

The annual EL Gordo fever is growing as we approach December 22nd, 2016. That's the day that the draw will take place for the greatest lottery in the world. It is so great because it offers a real  chance to an unknown quantity of people to win some usable quantities of money, but no one walks away with one or two hundred million euros. This is simply because no-one needs to win that much money.

When ordinary people win such huge amounts of money they are presented with an equally huge problem in that they will need to conserve and manage such a gargantuan windfall, and the average person will have no idea how to do that. (Usually the aftermath makes very grim reading indeed.)  Anyway, if we win more than 15 million euros we will have more than our fair and reasonable share of good luck. There will be many, many people who will not agree with me, but that's my opinion.

By the unrestrained joy that is unleashed on that day throughout the country, and the world I think the vast majority would agree with me. Don't be greedy-think of the other needy neighbours. I am betting on one major roll of the dice. I have chosen our number and I have put enough money on it so that if the number comes up for first prize I will be set for the rest of my life with money left over to continue to help my family. If not, and if the number is not called at all I lose 200 euros - again.

There is a movie presently playing that has a terrific story line: a number of men holding a specific number who live in a small mountain village win first prize in El Gordo. The problem is that these tickets were only sold in a nearby brothel, so they are absolutely toxic. You can claim your prize with anonyminity, but you cannot use the money in any real way without giving the game away. I wonder how that ends?

So, on the 22nd December, from early morning I shall be stuck in front of the TV from the starting bell just in case our number comes up. I am the treasurer of our consortium of about 3000 people, and it will be my job to see that all are paid in a timely fashion. This will be a really nice problem to have and I would absolutely love the challenge.

Please wish me luck...the good kind.

Thank you.

Copyright (c) 2016
Eugene Carmichael

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Fighting, Screaming and Yelling all the way.

Kevin Baker made me do it. My good friend Kevin dragged me, screaming, fighting, and yelling all the way into the 21st Century. Now I am the proud owner of an iPhone 6 Plus. I haven't completely forsaken my Nokia tiny palm mobile. Now I have two phones, but I have taken so long to step up my game and I really don't have a good excuse. I simply have not felt the drive to go modern all these years.

Kevin assures me that it will change my life. I think Kevin was embarrassed by being associated with a friend who was so behind the times when he is this super, on-the-cutting-edge kind of guy. When the mobile phone was first introduced I was steadfast. I would not have one because I just didn't want to always be available. Before the introduction of the mobile the best anyone could do was to have a long extension cord that allowed mother to be hanging out the clothes while talking to a friend.

With a mobile phone our stress level automatically rises because the phone might ring at any time. I was having a business lunch with a lady when she suddenly leaned down, picked up her handbag and held it to her head. " I thought I heard my phone ringing," she said. I thought she had suddenly lost her mind.

Humans were not structured to always be instantly contactable. It seems that the ringing of the phone must be replied to right away. Whatever we are doing when the phone rings we drop that and respond.  That's the way it has always been. I have been in a long line at the bank. The teller is hard pressed to serve us, when the telephone rings. She ignores us to take the call. I just wish she could give me money through the phone.

We see it depicted in movies where a couple are making love and the phone rings. "Just a minute. I got to take this." What! Are you crazy? That's when you know you are sick. Go to a doctor now.

The good thing about having waited so long before moving up to a Smart Phone is that I have seen what bad and deadly habits can be formed if you allow them to start. I have made myself some promises that I will keep. Not to do so will be to complicate my life to no end.

With my little Nokia I would carry it around in my bag all day, and if it didn't ring I never touched it. I read my e-mails when I got home and was sat in front of my laptop. If I needed to send an urgent message I can only think of two times when it was so urgent that I went to a Locutorio to do it.

Promise number 1.When and wherever I sit down to eat I will not take out my phone and place it on the table. I will continue to not answer it while eating.

Promise number two: I will continue to not answer an incoming call while driving. I could ask Siri to read me the text of an incoming Whatssup message, but I won't. My attitude is that there is absolutely nothing in my life so urgent that it can't wait until I get to a convenient place to pull off the road, shut down the motor, and then see what all the fuss is about.

Promise number three: I will never walk and stare into my phone to send a text or read a message from someone. Perhaps I will take an incoming call while walking, if I can figure how to do that, but I will never fall into the habit of not being aware of my surroundings because I am totally concentrated on my phone. People have walked in front of trams and oncoming traffic and been killed.

It is true that when I have been expecting an important call I have taken my mobile into the bathroom with me, and I have had perfectly comfortable conversations while sitting down in there, but at least if I continue to do so my conversations will not be under the Face Time app.

Promise number Four: This could be the most important promise of all, is that you will never see a picture of the meal I'm about to eat, taken by me with my iPhone. Never! Never! Never!

I am perfectly aware that we all hold in the palm of our hands the most powerful device in communication, and I am a long way away from discovering the full capabilities of what it can do for me. I am quickly becoming comfortable with it and I am starting to feel like a pro. But here's the thing: I am in charge of it, not the other way round. I tell this to Kevin and he sniggers. He says that everybody does it. Well, not me Kev. I am one of a kind.

Stop laughing Kev.

Copyright (c) 2016
Eugene Carmichael