Friday, April 22, 2016

This week: It's all about numbers

Fudged figures
As Portugal and other EU members wait with bated breath, it seems that Britain’s referendum on staying or leaving is likely to go down to the wire. The expatriate vote could be decisive, it is said. But does anyone have any idea how many expatriates are out there? The Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told TV viewers, “there are nearly three-quarters of a million British people living in Spain and over two million living in other parts of Europe”. Completely wrong, according to the BBC. The Beeb reckons the true figure for UK-born permanent residents in Spain is 306,000, and for the EU as a whole 1.2 million. The generally accepted figure for British expats in Portugal is only 40,000. No one knows how many if these are eligible to vote. Every vote counts, as they say, but given the confusion and contradictions in the ongoing referendum rigmarole, how many eligible voters will bother?

McCanns v. Amaral
The libel legal battle started seven years ago. Kate and Gerry McCann sought €1.2 million in damages. A court in Lisbon awarded half a million plus interest last April. This week, freedom of expression prevailed over privacy. Gonçalo Amaral won his appeal and will not have to pay anything. At least for the time being. The McCanns are apparently planning to take the matter to Portugal’s Supreme Court. After that, Amaral may sue Madeleine’s parents for hundreds of thousands in compensation for financial losses and harm to his reputation. No end to the matter is in sight. It could go on for years to come.

Kidnap case
In an even more elongated, complicated and highly unusual case, former CIA operative Sabrina de Sousa, 60, is facing imminent extradition from Portugal to Italy. She is accused of involvement in the kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric in Milan more than 13 years ago. Along with 25 other Americans, she was convicted in absentia by Italian courts and sentenced to four years imprisonment. As a dual American and Portuguese citizen, she would have avoided the threat of imprisonment had she remained in the US. Last spring, however, she moved to Portugal to be with her relatives. Some months later, she was detailed at Lisbon airport on a European arrest warrant. On the day of the kidnapping, Sabrina de Sousa had been chaperoning a group from her son’s high school on a ski trip in northern Italy. Although she has always maintained she played no part in the kidnapping, Portugal’s highest court this week confirmed that she should be sent to Italy as soon as May 4.

Irish invasion
Many more Irish eyes are expected to be smiling (behind sunglasses) in tucked away places in Portugal this summer. A big green booking surge is expected over the next few weeks. Not only is Portugal far from the maelstrom at the opposite end of the Mediterranean, but the price of meals and drinks here is alluringly low. Pat Dawson, CEO of the Irish Travel Agents Association, says the focus will be away from the Algarve and Lisbon and “on country places that are not overpopulated or overcrowded, as many people don’t want to be on a beach with 10,000 people, they want small places and to meet the locals.” That lessens the chances of finding a pub serving draft Guinness. The good news is that a bottle of lager in Portugal is a quarter, yes a quarter, of the price in Ireland.

Pets and people
Amid valid concerns about the extent of animal cruelty, Portugal’s Minister for Justice, Francisca Van Dunem, reportedly dislikes animals being considered “objects”.  She has suggested that the legal status of animals be elevated to somewhere between “objects” and “humans”. Many animal lovers would prefer a classification on a par with humans. Some might even suggest that certain types of people should be downgraded from “humans” to somewhere below “objects”.

Coming soon
Two big celebrations on Monday, 25th April. The big one in Portugal: the 42nd anniversary of the ‘Carnation Revolution’. On the same day in the US and more than 30 other countries many thousands of older women will be celebrating Red Hat Day. Will any Red Hatters appear in Portugal? Let’s see. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Amaral wins appeal in McCann case

Gonçalo Amaral has won his appeal against a Lisbon court’s decision last year to award half a million euros in damages to Kate and Gerry McCann.
The award arose from the McCanns’ objection to Amaral’s book  Maddie: The Truth of the Lie published in 2008. The overturning of the damages ruling and the lifting of the ban on the book is said to have come as a huge relief to Amaral and his many supporters and admirers.
As the former coordinating detective in the original Portuguese investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, Amaral has always questioned the McCanns’ insistence that Madeleine was abducted. He believes they were involved in their daughter’s disappearance and fabricated a cover-up story.
After last year’s judgement, Amaral described the court’s libel ruling as unfair in that it questioned every Portuguese citizen’s right to freedom of expression and of opinion. “For that reason I do not resign myself to the decision and I will appeal it until the very last judicial instance,” he said.
The court’s latest decision was a unanimous one by three judges. It is another dramatic twist in a long-running saga that may not yet be over. The McCanns are likely to appeal against the latest judgement and take the matter to Portugal's Supreme Court.
The McCanns began their action in 2009. It has been lurching  along between lengthy delays ever since. The award of €500,000 plus interest was made last April, though no money was actually handed over.  Madeleine’s parents had been hoping for €1.2 million in damages.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Slap attack and other cultural news

- a review of recent events -

Soares shock
João Soares, the former mayor of Lisbon and son of former Prime Minister and President Mario Soares, apologised and resigned as minister of culture because of remarks on Facebook in which he threatened to slap the faces of two newspaper columnists who had called him incompetent and rude. One of the hacks huffed that Soares’ threat amounted to “an attack on freedom of expression and the constitutional rights of citizens”. It took more than a couple of slaps to introduce those rights. Actually, it took a revolution. One of the leading figures behind the freedoms that followed that April event 42 years ago was João Soares’ dad. Perhaps it’s time for Soares Sr to have a word with his son about taking freedom too far.

Out of step
Twelve years ago, a political commentator, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, resigned from the TVI channel because he was being leaned on to stop being so critical of the government. Last week Portugal's armed forces chief, General Carlos Jeronimo, resigned after being leaned by the minister of defence over remarks made by a subordinate about gays. So much for freedom of expression. The general’s resignation was accepted by the new President of Portugal, none other than Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.

Sex and secrets
Strict Catholics here and everywhere else will be pondering whether parts of Pope Francis’ missive published last weekend were perhaps ill-conceived. Many will consider Amoris laetitia (‘joy of love’) too gracious about sexual desire, the pursuit of pleasure, divorce and other arguably sinful aspects of modern family life. That aside, presumably nothing more than serendipity was involved in the timing of the missive. It was released the day before news broke of a secret premarital affair that resulted in an illegitimate baby destined to become, er, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Catching up
Foreigners never cease to comment on the bad manners of Portuguese drivers and in particular their insistence on tailgating. A new survey has revealed that 57% of motorists in the UK act more aggressively when behind the wheel. Over 30% of those questioned admitted to swearing at strangers while driving. A third confessed to having beeped their horn aggressively. Fully 11% said they had deliberately tailgated another vehicle. Could it be that British drivers are catching up on their Portuguese counterparts?
Whale tale
Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research sent its whaling fleet into the Southern Ocean during their summer months, ostensibly for scientific studies. Now a website promoting gourmet recipes and tips on how to prepare and cook whale meat has been exposed as being hosted by the very same Japanese ‘research’ institute. In entirely coincidental and unrelated news, Tomoaki Kanazawa, a Japanese chef living in Portugal, will be demonstrating Eastern techniques of preparing seafood during the ninth annual Fish and Flavours festival which opened last Thursday and runs until April 17. The expected 20,000 visitors need not fear. Cetacean steak ‘n chips will not be on the menu.
Bathroom blues
Lisbon’s loo laws may come under scrutiny prior to rock star Bruce Springsteen’s scheduled performance in the capital on May 19. He cancelled a concert in North Carolina last Friday in protest about a new state law there that says transgender people can only use bathroom facilities that correspond to the gender featured on their birth certificate, not their current appearance. But surely separating ‘homens’ and ‘mulhers’ facilities here is outrageously sexist and should be banned?

The first sound of  ‘Cuc-koo, cuc-koo’  in Britain inspires letters to The Times newspaper. Mindful that the UK is still a member of the EU and Brits might be interested in Schengen species, an expat wrote to The Times from the Algarve saying he had just heard the first Hoopoe. Incidentally, Hoopoes in Portugal start calling to attract a partner not in April but in February. And strictly speaking, they don’t ‘hoo-poo, hoo-poo’’. Rude as it may seem, they ‘ poop-poop, poop-poop’.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Panama papers: the power of the press

Portugal’s corrupt, tax-evading, money-laundering politicians, administrators and businesses this week suddenly found themselves in distinguished international company, ranging from the presidents of Russia, China and Ukraine and the kings of Saudi Arabia and Morocco, to international stars of sports and entertainment. All praise to the hard, honest work done by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in exposing 11.5 million files, 140 politicians from more than 50 countries and offshore companies in 21 tax havens. ‎It may be only a matter of time before it is revealed that Vladimir Putin, José Sócrates and others have been taking greed-enhancing drugs.
Terminal talk
It’s not only Donald Trump who’s been going round in circles on abortion. His gaffe that women who undergo an abortion should be punished was reminiscent of the law of the land in Portugal until less than a decade ago. Women here faced up to three years in prison, except in cases of rape or if the health of the mother or foetus was in danger. Trump quickly changed tack. So did Portugal after a 2007 referendum that overturned staunch pro-life support from the Catholic Church. Women were given the legal right to an abortion paid for by the state up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy. Last year, amid cries of ‘shame!’ from women’s rights activists, the Portuguese parliament introduced fees for abortions and a legal requirement that women get psychological and social counselling and advice on family planning before ending a pregnancy. A long gone journalist once remark: “Curses on the law! Most of my fellow citizens are the sorry consequences of uncommitted abortions.”
Silence in Spain
British expats in Portugal are not allowed to vote in general elections but that doesn’t stop many of them castigating the Portuguese government in the local English-language media. Apparently there is a severe shortage of such people over in Spain. A columnist in last week’s edition of the Euro Weekly News, Spain’s largest free local paper that boasts a readership of more than half a million each week, was moved to write: “I find it quite strange that we have so little reaction from readers about the current state of the Spanish government and the fact that it seems impossible for any party to form a stable relationship. We may not be able to elect the government but we have elected to live in Spain, and whatever decision is made over the next few months will have an ongoing effect on the lives of each and every expatriate living here”. The article concluded with what sounded like a desperate plea: “It is true that the individual can’t alter things but surely someone, somewhere must have an opinion to share with the rest of us on the current state of the government.” Can anyone this side of the border help out please?
Historic news
The main headlines in Portugal and across much of the Western world in the first week of April 1949 hailed the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Portugal was one of the 12 original signatories in Washington. President Truman spoke of “a shield against aggression” that “will protect this area against war.” So far, so good.... Well not quite.
Wild art
The Portuguese street artist Bordalo II has struck again, this time by upgrading from a huge lynx to a giant wolf. According to Street Art News, a web magazine with what it calls “obsessive” daily coverage of everything new in the world of graffiti, Portugal’s equivalent of Banksy unveiled his latest masterpiece within two days of scavenging garbage sites and abandoned houses in Fundão, near Castelo Branco. This came shortly after his 3D depiction of a lynx in Viseu. It might be tempting but it would be quite wrong for art connoisseurs to just dismiss Bordalo II’s new work as rubbish.



Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The times they are a-changin’.......... and about time too

The Easter just past is likely to be one of the last of its kind. Leaders of various branches of the Christian Church are nearing agreement on making Easter a permanent, unique fixture instead of a moveable feast. For more than 1,600 years it has wavered around weekends in March and April depending on the ecclesiastical full moon and the type of calendar used. Pope Francis and the leaders of the Protestant, Coptic and Orthodox churches are all said to be in favour of global uniformity. With the approval of secular governments, a set date for Easter Sunday will have important ramifications, particular for the tourist industry and schools. It ls expected to happen in the next five to ten years, but don’t count on it. “It may take a little while,” says the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, mindful that church leaders have been working on this for the past ten centuries.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the time set-up meant that the sun in Portugal was still rising at 9.00 on winter mornings. Children went to school and adults went to work in the dark. On summer evenings, it was hard for some to get to sleep because it didn’t get dark until nearly midnight. Under the present system, getting up an hour early last Sunday morning was no great hardship for most, and hopefully it will put the daylight saving debate to bed for a bit.
Bumbling crumbling
Silves Castle changed hands several times during the Middle Ages as a result of furious battles for supremacy between the Crusading Christians and Muslim Moors. But at any given time it was always pretty clear who was in charge. The once mighty battlements that still dominate the skyline of the Algarve’s former capital city are now crumbling and in danger of collapsing due to neglect. Officials say it is not clear whether the municipality or the state now owns the castle, who is responsible for maintaining the walls or who should now foot the bill to stop them falling down. As ruefully mentioned in a press report last week, it is generally hoped that the various authorities can find a solution because “the walls show no signs of righting themselves on their own”. Without divine intervention, that would indeed seem to be so.
Feathered failures
Young people have been moving out of Portugal in droves while White Storks have given up migrating. The human population is in decline while the number of resident storks has been increasing. As revealed in a new study, the plentiful supply of junk food available in landfill sites is one of the reasons why storks now resist the temptation to go off and spend the winter months in Africa. Presumably this also explains the plummeting birth rate among Portuguese women. The storks are obviously spending far too much time hanging around landfill sites instead of getting on with the job of delivering babies.
Lot of hot air
Another new study is advocating that humans eat less meat and dairy produce to help curb global warming. Researchers are concerned about the quantity of greenhouse gasses emitted by livestock in the form of flatulence. The world’s cud-chewing inhabitants currently total about 1.5 billion and that adds up to a lot of pollution because an average fart contains 9% carbon dioxide and 7% methane. The world’s human population is nearly 7.5 billion. Humans break wind a lot too, a habit that is expected to increase exponentially. On the plus side, Portugal has relatively few cattle per human head of population. This is negated by the fact that everyone in this country eats beans, particularly at this time of the year. And we all know what eating beans means.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Joyous spring tidings

Expats exiting
Boatloads of British immigrants are expected to head from Portugal and Spain to the South Atlantic if Britain decides to leave the European Union. They fear that Brexit will make them no longer welcome in the EU. For many expats the Falkland Islands seem a good option. For others, Patagonia would do. Anything but having to return to live in that confused homeland misnamed the United Kingdom.
Pumped up
Fuel fury”, as one paper headlined it, has been propelling motorists across the border into Spain to fill up on cheaper petrol. As prices at the pumps in Portugal rose for the third time in four weeks and reached a European high, Economy Minister Manuel Caldeira Cabral called on the Portuguese to be “more patriotic”. He said they should perform their “civic duty” rather than help the Spanish taxman. This laudable appeal is said to have backfired and sparked choruses of ‘Viva España’ as PT number plates sped eastward.
Bigger is better?
Everything is done on a far grander scale across the border. Spain’s 36.5 million voters have been able to do without a government for three whole months – and none is yet in sight. After Portugal’s inconclusive general election in early October, the 9.7 million voters in this country had less than eight weeks to wait before a working government was cobbled together. New elections in Spain will have to wait until June, and the same result is expected – i.e. no clear majority. Just for once the Spanish might like to follow the example of their Iberian neighbours. More than 44% of Portugal’s registered voters ignored the last general election here. The abstention rate in Spain was only 30.3%.
Gloom and doom
Due perhaps to a fleeting shortage of bad news, the online edition of an Algarve paper last Friday declared: “Winter comes to an end this weekend with some miserably gloomy weather. Rain, bitter temperatures and lightning are forecast all over Portugal with maximums expected to plunge from between 7ºC to 3ªC”. As it turned out, there was a nice drop of rain for the garden even if it was a tad nippy at times. Many of those enjoying the first flush of spring have already forgotten that last month was the hottest February ever recorded on the planet - but oh for heaven’s sake let’s not prattle on about doom as well as gloom.
Unannounced visit
The 2016 summer season for Portugal’s tourist industry has started on a high. Another record year is predicted. Hotels and holiday villas are already virtually fully booked for the peak months. Tourists information offices will be kept busy answering all kinds of questions. An unusual group of visitors called into the head office of Turismo de Portugal in Lisbon last week, but they weren't looking for help about where to stay. They were interested in the economic activities of a former member of the Turismo de Portugal’s administrative board. It’s good that the anti-corruption police are getting out and about more these days.
Gongs galore
Almost 100 organisations in Portugal have reportedly received nominations for this year’s World Travel Awards. For example, TAP, the national flag-carrier, otherwise known as Take Another Plane, has been nominated for no fewer than six awards, including Europe’s best airline. The company behind the accolades modestly describes them as “the Oscars of the travel industry”. The global travel industry news service eTurboNews cancelled its media partnership with the company last year saying that the awards “may be interpreted as plain and simple fraud”. Choosing his words carefully, eTN publisher Juergen Thomas Steinmetz went on to note that “unsuspecting tourism boards, hotels, airlines and attractions may have been victimised by this scheme over many years”. Hmm... well, maybe this year things will be different.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Woody, back from the brink

A woman on her early morning walk through the woods came across an abandoned dog lying on his side. He seemed lifeless. It looked as if his collar had been removed and he had been left there to die. But he was breathing, just.
He was a small dog and the woman managed to pick him up and carry him in her arms. At home she placed him next to a bowl of fresh water. He tried to drink but couldn’t. He could hardly stand up.
A vet was urgently needed. On being examined at the veterinary clinic in Alcantarila, it was confirmed he was suffering from pine processionary moth poisoning. It turned out to be a very serious case. Two experienced vets at the clinic said later it was the worst they had ever seen.
The dying dog was a ginger-haired, cross-breed weighing 6.9 kilos. He looked like a pup but was probably about three years old. Without a microchip, his background remained unknown. He needed a name. Under the circumstances,‘Woody’ seemed a good choice.
The small and inconspicuous adult processionary moth lays large numbers of eggs high in the outer foliage of pine trees during the summer. The resulting horde of caterpillars feed on the pine needles. For communal protection, the caterpillars weave silken nests, light grey in colour and prominently positioned. The growing caterpillars remain in their nest by day, emerging to feed at night.
Processionary caterpillars leave their nest for the last time in February or March and move in unison down the tree. They parade across the ground, in single-file head-to-tail lines a metre or more long, until they find a suitable spot to burrow underground to pupate and turn into another generation of moths.
While on the move in this characteristic way by day, the caterpillars are notoriously dangerous. On being intercepted or disturbed, they release fine, toxic hairs that cause painful skin irritations, rashes and sometimes much worse.
There is no mystery to any of this. Warning stories are published in the local press every year. In a letter to the editor published recently, someone living on a campsite complained he had been “infected by these pests to a horrific degree.... I have suffered intensely for over five weeks.”
Dogs that inquisitively sniff or lick processionary caterpillars usually end up with infections that cause their lips and tongue to greatly swell. It is not uncommon for a dog to loose much of its tongue.
Woody must have gone further than sniffing or licking. He must have eaten one or more caterpillars. This inflamed his stomach and in the clinic he vomited blood. His condition was such that the vets doubted he could survive.
The treatment started with cortisone injections, mouth washing and drugs to line the stomach and stop the vomiting. There followed regular doses of antihistamine, antacid, antibiotic and pain-killing medications . He was on an intravenous saline drip laced with glucose and vitamins 24 hours a day for six days, with monitoring continuing through the weekend.
On the seventh day, having shown almost miraculous improvement, Woody was released from his enclosure in the clinic and allowed to return to the home of his rescuer. She already had three dogs, now she had four.
The newcomer remained on medication and was kept under close observation. His health and vitality steadily improved day by day and eventually surpassed all expectations.
Woody is now eating well and brimming over with energy and enthusiasm. He knows his name and has totally integrated. He’s lost more than a quarter of his tongue - but his tail doesn’t stop wagging.

Woody being treated in the veterinary clinic at Alcantarilha.