SHARE
COPY LINK

ANDALUSIA

Five reasons I love living in Andalusia

Guillermo Stitch has spent nine years living in Tarifa, Andalusia's southernmost city, where he has been writing his first book, which will be published in July.

Five reasons I love living in Andalusia
Tarifa at sunset. Photo: Guillermo Stitch

He shares what he loves most about living there. 

1. Onions


Snow capped mountains provide the backdrop to the Alhambra from the Mirador de San Nicolas Photo: Tim Rawle / Flickr

All kinds of sensations await the new arrival in Andalusia. The place is maniacal in its determination to deliver drama, colour, flavour and spectacle. Your first time on the Mirador de San Nicolas, looking across at the Alhambra and the snowcapped Sierra behind? Unforgettable. Getting caught up in a religious procession in Seville, jostled along with the throng even though you were only on your way to the shop? Magical. Surreptitiously checking your watch twenty minutes in to a ropey flamenco show? Inevitable.

READ ALSO: Where is home? A Londoner-turned-Madrileña reflects

But the real rewards come with time and effort. Getting the knack of Spanish bureaucracy (the stuff of legend among expats, principally because so many of them decline to learn the language), acquiring un poco de castellano, getting to know the neighbours, going through some rough spots and coming out on the other side, standing on the Mirador de San Nicolas for the umpteenth time – all the little repetitions that make you feel more embedded in a place. Knowing your onions, in other words.

And for those of you starting out on the learning curve, here's a Spanish onion related fact you can take to the bank – a tortilla de patata without them es una decepción.

2. Acetaldehyde


Photo: kiko_jimenez/Depositphotos

If you know nothing of sherry wines, or have dismissed them as a tipple for old English ladies, then your first encounter with them might come in the form of a rebujito, the sherry spritzer they serve at the Ferias. At least you'll be having fun in the din and dizzy mayhem of a Spanish fair, but it's not much better an introduction to one of the world's finest wines than that muck in your granny's cabinet.

If, on the other hand, you can see your way to Jerez, and to handing over a few euros at the door of a bodega for the privilege of stepping into the darkness of a vaulted barrel room and…just breathing – then you will know what sherry is all about.

What is that perfume? That unmistakeable aroma no other wine can produce?

Acetaldehyde – the chemical compound that gives sherry its nutty, appleish quality, and that makes it partner so well with the best Spanish ham, itself packed with the equally nutty oleic acid that Iberian pigs absorb from the acorns they eat.

Science is great, isn't it?

3. Six a.m.

Do you like a bit of peace and quiet from time to time? Tough. You live in Spain now. It isn't on the menu. It isn't even one of today's specials. There's nothing special about silence to the Spanish ear – it isn't anything to shout about, just an empty void to be shouted into.

Do you sometimes hover by the phone, ready to call the police if that altercation next door sounds like it's getting out of hand? Perhaps the gentleman of the house has been caught in flagrante? The lady? Or have they invited two dozen anarcho-syndicalists around to hold a political rally in their front room?

No, they're just watching the telly.

At six in the morning, though, they're asleep. Set your alarm.

4.Morocco


Just across the Strait of Gibraltar but a world away. Photo: Gezimania / Flickr

As a writer, how could I not be seduced by the charms of Tangier – a mere ferry ride away – with its 20th century history of intrigue, espionage and art? I have supped beer at what might have been the same table William Burroughs was asked to vacate because “Dean”, the cross-dressing Egyptian bar owner, didn't like the look of him. I have looked out over the same pool where Jim Morrison swam, walked the same alleys as Paul Bowles and Henri Matisse.

Further south it gets more exotic still, in the souks of Marrakech and the arid, Saharan valleys, but nowhere more so than in the astonishing medina of Fes.

There can't be anywhere else so close to Europe and yet so different from it.

5. Scoring on the street.

Calm down. This isn't about the narcotics that flow from South America and Morocco through La Linea on the border with Gibraltar. It's got rather more to do with asparagus. Specifically, wild asparagus, sold here in bunches on the street corners. It isn't cheap – the vendors need to hike along the coast to collect it.

In winter, it's barrows of sea urchins, sold by the dozen or hacked open for you on the spot so you can tuck in to the delicious gonads where you stand. It could be custard apples, or snails, oregano on the branch, alchofaifas (a tiny, apple-like fruit) or tagarninas (a salty coastal nettle).

There's always something.

Guillermo Stitch's first novel, Literature®, has been hailed a “masterpiece'” by the San Francisco Book Review. It will be available from July 1st in paperback and Kindle editions. Pre-order the Kindle edition here.

For more on the author visit his website. Or follow him on Twitter.

 

MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

SHOW COMMENTS