30 January 2022: Spain’s rapacious banks; The equally rapacious Catholic Church; El cremaet coffee; EU exiles; & Other stuff.

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable
Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’


The good news is that vaccines are proving effective against Stealth Omoicron – the BA.2 variant

Cosas de España/Galiza 

From feast to famine: During the years of Spain’s phoney boom –  2002-7 – we were treated to new bank branches opening every week, each of them flush with personnel only to happy to deal with you face-to-face, and to offer you gifts as an inducement to opening an account. How things have changed: HT to Lenox Napier of Business over Tapas for this item: Público tells usThis is how the neo-banks operate, entities without offices that are worrying the traditional banks. These operate without physical headquarters – and only over the phone- and have captured more than €50,000 million in deposits in just 6 years. In Spain today, one in 6 users of financial services now only operates online. In addition, the voracity of the high-street banking system with commissions is driving away customers.

The already pretty wealthy Catholic Church has been steadily and illegally appropriating properties around the country over the last few decades. The state is finally doing something about this. See here and here.

Lenox Napier reflects on his mostly-in-Spain life here, asking if it’s tamer than it was when he first came here. Possibly but I can’t comment on the validity of his claim that one tradition the Spanish grimly stick with is truly awful TV, as I gave up on it about 20 years ago and haven’t wasted any time on it since. 

Advice here from the police on safe cashpoint usage.

And there’s advice here on how to make Valencia’s ‘legendary coffee’ – el cremaet. Enticing at it sounds, I’m not sure I’ll be bothering but will wait until I’m down in Valencia to try it.

The UK

The Guardian treats us here to a review of what ‘EU exiles’ miss about Britain, now that they’ve decided/have been forced to go back home. Mostly something rather intangible, it seems – a feeling of being forgotten, lost, abandoned, unprotected, unwelcome, betrayed, belittled, and voiceless. ‘Voiceless’ I can identify with, as Brits have never had a vote in national elections here in Spain, regardless of how much tax we pay. And, as Lenox Napier regularly points out, even down in the South foreign revenue-bringing residents are regarded as a constituency that can be safely ignored. And sometimes fleeced. Nowhere near as important as tourists. Even those festooned in Union Jacks who demand to eat British food at 6pm.

Quote of the Day

Pedro Almodóvar admits Yes, I’ve felt a huge desire for Penélope Cruz. Well, who the hell hasn’t? See below for a bit on PA and review of his latest film starring La Cruz.

Finally . . .

This is Spain’s publicly-chosen Eurovision entry. I confidently predict it won’t win. It wasn’t even expected to win the national completion last night.

This number, sung by 3 Gallegas, was a favourite but lost out to SloMo.

I suspect Terra would have had even less of a chance of winning, though not just because the lyrics are in Galician, not Spanish.


1. Pedro Almodóvar on Parallel Mothers: The director talks about his sombre new film, in which he explored the dark legacy of Franco’s regime in Spain. 

You expect a burst of colour and Pedro Almodóvar doesn’t disappoint. The Spanish auteur walks into the hotel room in Knightsbridge, London, in a blue and red zigzag jumper by Prada and a yellow and blue Hermès neckerchief, plus a whirl of silver hair, jeans and the kind of intimidatingly cool trainers that few 72-year-olds would attempt. The ensemble is spoilt only by a facemask, which he removes as soon as he can.

He could be a character in one of the vividly hued melodramas he has been writing and directing for 40 years, talking up a storm in an exuberantly decorated apartment in Madrid. Almodóvar’s catalogue rivals that of any living film-maker, from Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), which sealed his international reputation, to All About My Mother (1999), which won the Oscar for best foreign language film, and Talk to Her (2002), which won him his second Oscar, this time for best original screenplay. His movies helped to make global stars of Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz, the latter returning in his new one, Parallel Mothers.

Almodóvar’s career sprang from La Movida Madrileña, the explosion of sex, drugs, music, art, fashion and LGBT culture that revitalised the Spanish capital after the death of Franco in 1975. The fascist dictator had been in power for almost 40 years and it felt like “a miracle”. “I was very lucky to be a young guy,” Almodóvar says in semi-fluent, richly expressive English. We are sitting with an interpreter, but she is often not needed as he races off on new tangents. “We were very inspired by new wave and glam rock and the late-Seventies underground in New York,” he says. “My inspiration came from the street and from the night.” His films have been peopled by hysterical actors, transgender sex workers and pregnant nuns.

2. Parallel Mothers review — Pedro Almodóvar and Penélope Cruz are together again: Kevin Maher, The Times

One of the most revealing moments in this rich and rewarding drama from Pedro Almodóvar comes directly after the sex. The central protagonist, Madrid-based photographer Janis Martinez (Penélope Cruz, on form), has just enjoyed an earth-shattering bout with a key character (it’s a spoiler), and so they decide to mark the moment in the best, most romantic way possible. They go to a graveyard.

And that’s the movie in a single gesture. It’s not about any crude Freudian connections between sex and death — Almodóvar has done that too many times before (see Matador, Live Flesh and The Skin I Live In). It’s deeper, more serious than that, and it’s delivered by a more sombre Almodóvar who, finally, in his “autumnal” period of thoughtful, reflective projects (see also Pain and Glory and Julieta) has decided to tackle the subject of the Spanish Civil War.

And so the grave motif here is the grave of the war dead. More specifically, it refers to the unmarked resting places of more than 100,000 “disappeared” opponents of the fascist dictator General Franco who have yet to be exhumed, acknowledged and commemorated. “Until we do that, the war hasn’t ended!” says Janis, late into the movie, on the verge of tears, lecturing the naive, young and apolitical Ana (Milena Smit).

The pair meet in a labour ward, in a flashback to 2016, and quickly bond to become the parallel mothers of the title. Janis is older (“I’m nearly 40!” Cruz says) and pregnant after a brief fling with a forensic archaeologist called Arturo (Israel Elejalde), while Ana is in her teens, her pregnancy the result of a much darker incident, the details of which emerge slowly throughout the narrative.

Our two heroines, and their growing, increasingly convoluted connection over time, are the subject of the movie, and yet not. They are drawn to each other in meticulously crafted scenes that jump over weeks, months and years, while the eerie soundtrack strings of the longtime Almodóvar collaborator Alberto Iglesias recall Hitchcock’s finest films and hint at hidden danger to come, possibly even a murder. This is further underscored by the startling splashes of red that Almodóvar includes in so many otherwise grey and unremarkable frames. A vivid red mouse mat, for instance, a red sash, a red phone cover, a red T-shirt, red pillow lining and, most significantly, at a key moment in the narrative an ominous blood-red baby carrier. Passion, it seems, is about to erupt. There is, surely, killing on the menu.

Yet Janis has inspired Arturo to petition Spain’s Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (a real-life organisation that investigates civil war crimes) to begin excavating the unmarked mass grave in her home village that contains the remains of her great-grandfather, who was executed with nine others in 1943. Janis knows about this because one of the men shot and dumped there survived and, under cover of darkness, crawled out of his grave. It’s an eerie image that arrives late in the proceedings, yet through it the entire movie suddenly makes sense. Yes, this is a film about a killing, and all those red splashes are indeed warning us about murder. But it’s a murder that has already happened.

Those political murders haunt the film and inform the initially giddy plotline about an identity mix-up (again, a spoiler) by suggesting that nothing will be safe or stable in Janis’s life until she addresses the truth about her family line.

If all this sounds slightly worthy and self-serious, there’s a powerhouse cast on hand, working from a mostly light and witty script, to remind you that Almodóvar, even when he’s doing national self-reckoning, is still Almodóvar. Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, for example, almost steals the show as Teresa, the egomaniacal actress mother of Ana. Sánchez-Gijón played the doe-eyed docile lover of Keanu Reeves in A Walk in the Clouds in 1995, but here is every inch the knockout Almodóvarian heroine — all lip gloss, glamour and cruelty — and yet delivers a stunning monologue to camera, from Lorca’s Doña Rosita the Spinster, about ageing, the past and the death of hope.

Cruz, of course, is impeccable too. This is her seventh collaboration with Almodóvar in 25 years, and in this often underrated actress the director has found, as he recently admitted, the De Niro to his Scorsese. She’s incessantly watchable in every scene, and lightly carries a film that might have encumbered another performer with its seriousness. 

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