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by Euro Reporter
2014-04-30 08:50:47
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Hunt on to find the remains of Miguel de Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes, Spain’s greatest writer, was a soldier of little fortune. He died broke in Madrid, his body riddled with bullets. His burial place was a tiny convent church no larger than the entrance hall of an average house. No more was heard of the 16th-century author until the rediscovery of a novel featuring an eccentric character called Don Quixote rescued him from oblivion. By then, nobody could remember where his grave was. Four centuries later, Spain intends to do the great man justice. A team that will search for Cervantes’s remains begins excavations Monday and final conclusions — should the search succeed — will be known by the year’s end. The estimated cost of the operation is 100,000 euros ($138,000). A three-phase search will take place at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in Madrid’s historic Barrio de las Letras — or Literary Quarter. When Cervantes moved to Spain’s capital in 1606 he had already published the novel that was to change Spanish literature: “The Adventures of the Ingenious Nobleman Don Quixote of La Mancha.”

Although his book enjoyed some success, it did not make him famous — and the author was better known in Spain as an ill-fated soldier. Cervantes had been wounded in battle and spent years captive in Algiers. He had been seized by Turkish pirates who boarded the ship on which he was returning to Spain after fighting in a war against the Ottoman Empire. The Trinitarian order negotiated his release and helped pay a ransom that ruined Cervantes’ family. Cervantes was compelled to live as an errand-runner for the convent to give thanks for his deliverance. He lived in a neighbourhood of narrow streets, small houses and taverns full of artists and hustlers, where wine flowed and tapas were served. Other authors of Spain’s golden age of literature, such as Francisco de Quevedo, Lope de Vega and Luis de Gongora, ignored him. Then in 1616, aged 69, he was buried. Years later the chapel was expanded to its current — still modest — proportions. According to Fernando Prado, the historian in charge of the project, just five people, including a child and Cervantes, are buried there. “We know he is buried there,” Prado said. “History teaches us that churches never throw bones away. They might relocate them under roofs and vaults if necessary, but no one would dare throw them into a common ossuary.”

The first phase will consist of underground exploration using radar: “We will clearly see if there is altered terrain that will give us clues,” said radar operator Luis Avial. Avial’s report will be ready in a month. Then the investigation turns to Spanish forensic anthropologist Francisco Etxeberria, who participated in the autopsy that confirmed the suicide of former Chilean president Salvador Allende. Forensic identification will be the last — and possibly most delicate — part of the process. Any bones found may have been mixed up. Prado said that with no living Cervantes descendants, DNA analysis is unlikely to lead anywhere. The investigation will refer to the author’s portraits and his own stories, in which he relates that shortly before dying he only had six teeth. But the most obvious marks will be the battle wounds that Cervantes sustained. In 1571 the writer was wounded in the Battle of Lepanto, which pitted Ottoman Turkish forces against the Holy League, led by Spain. Aboard the ship La Marquesa, Cervantes was hit with three musket shots, two in the chest and one in his hand. He spent several months in a hospital in Sicily, but managed to recover. Although historic texts often speak of the “one-armed man of Lepanto,” doctors never amputated his limb. He did, however, completely lose its use. Should the bones be found, they will be returned to the church. “He will be re-buried there, but with a plaque to remember his name and who he is,” said Prado.

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Foreign buyers delight in the glut of Spain's cheap Costa properties

Although hundreds of Spanish families are still being evicted every day for defaulting on their mortgages, foreign buyers have returned in force to the country's depressed property market. New data from the Bank of Spain last week showed that foreign purchases in 2013 exceeded €6bn (£5bn) for the first time since 2004. According to Knight Frank's Global Property Search, online searches for properties in Spain increased by 29% over the first three months of 2014 compared with the same period in 2013. More than a fifth of all Spanish residential sales – 55,187 transactions – were to foreign buyers. "Foreigners are the only dynamic segment of the market today," says Mark Stucklin of Spanish Property Insight. "These are people buying on the coast and in cities like Barcelona." And it is not just private buyers, he says: institutional investors are also in the market. "The likes of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Blackstone, George Soros and Bill Gates are all getting into Spanish real estate." Some institutional investors are buying in bulk from Sareb, the so-called "bad bank" that has acquired thousands of unsold properties from failed Spanish banks and building societies.

The bank controls about 200,000 property assets – homes and developments – and it is selling houses at a rate of 60 a day. Sareb is now implementing a new strategy for marketing and selling the €50bn in real estate under its control, which could create yet further opportunities for international investors, says Stucklin. According to Kate Everett-Allen of the international residential research department at Knight Frank, a surge in sales of both residential and commercial property began at the end of last summer, especially in Madrid and Barcelona, and included buyers from the US and Latin America. The French have also become big buyers around Barcelona. A report by Spain's society of property registrars says Britons are still buying more property than buyers from any other country; they account for 15% of all sales to overseas investors, but that is down from 34% in 2007. French (10%), Russians (9%) and Belgians (7%) are next biggest. For would-be British buyers, there are two key factors that are enticing renewed interest. The first is a belief that the worst of the eurozone crisis has now passed and that house prices, which have plunged 50% in some areas, are not going to fall much further.

spain_400_01"People who want to make a lifestyle choice with a second home see that, if prices haven't bottomed out after seven consecutive years of falling, they are close to it," says Everett-Allen. The second factor is exchange rates. The euro-pound rates, which last July stood at €1.05 but is currently €1.21, is key: "When the euro reaches €1.22 the phones start ringing," she says. For other, non-EU, nationalities, the Spanish government's so-called "golden visa" is also likely to spur demand. As yet there are no figures showing the impact of the visa deal, which offers legal residency to non-EU citizens who purchase a property valued at €500,000 or more. But estate agent Savills says a similar scheme in Portugal has succeeded in attracting Chinese buyers. According to Spanish estate specialists Lucas Fox International Properties, Barcelona is among the current property hotspots for overseas investors, with growing demand for upmarket homes. More than four in 10 purchases there are as a second home, with many buyers planning to convert the properties into hotels or holiday flats. The agency says there has been a surge in interest from Russian, Chinese and Israeli buyers. Other agents report new interest from Scandinavians, as well as clients from the Middle East and parts of Africa.

It is at the very top end of the market, where the wealthiest overseas investors hunt for a place in the sun, that business is most brisk. The upmarket estate agent Engel & Völkers Spain said in a recent report that the firm's Mallorca offshoot had "sold more properties at the top end than in any other year of our 12 years of operations in this area". Knight Frank classes "premium" clients as those able to pay at least €500,000 for a property. But the majority of Everett-Allen's clients, she says, are buying houses at two to three times that amount. In the glamour areas of Ibiza, and Marbella and Sotogrande on the Costa del Sol, there are even the first signs of a shortage of available property, according to Stucklin. "Most of the property on the coast will sell at the right price. Coastal developments will always be attractive. "What will be harder to sell are the developments that have grown up around provincial towns in the interior. Unless the population increases, who will buy them?"

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Spain's borrowing costs are down – but the unemployment rate isn't

Unemployment is at crisis levels, but there are signs that Spain is turning a corner. After four torrid years characterised by soaring numbers without work and a crumbling banking system, demand for Spanish debt is suddenly buoyant. Last week Madrid borrowed €5.6bn on the international markets and the tranche that was lent for 10 years cost little more than 3%. This is less than half the cost of its borrowing at the height of the eurozone crisis – when international investors were shunning Spanish government bonds and yields soared over 7.5% – and only a fraction more than the 2.6% the UK pays on its debts. Then there are the figures showing loan rates to small- and medium-sized businesses have fallen sharply. Lower loan rates could be connected to the improved situation in Spain's banks, some of which reported last week that the number of distressed loans on their balance sheets had shrunk, especially mortgages on commercial property. Investors, toying with putting money into the country, are more confident that promised structural reforms are filtering into the real economy. Ratings agencies note Bank of Spain's forecast for growth in the first quarter of this year – a solid 0.4%. Annual growth should top 1%. They are also confident the country can slowly close its large output gap, which will translate into falling unemployment and rising productivity.

And yet Mariano Rajoy's administration, for all its vigour and business-friendly policies, is cited as one of the main reasons the European Central Bank (ECB) is expected to begin quantitative easing – in effect printing money – possibly within months. Like France and Italy, Spain is suffering from austerity. Combined with a vigorous campaign of wage cuts, this has reduced demand. While exports have become more competitive, workers have little spare cash to spend in the nation's shops. Wages are expected to rise a little, but with plentiful labour and inflation at 0.5%, why would employers need to bargain? Then there are the low tax receipts that drag on Madrid's balance sheet. This year austerity could lead to a rise, not a fall, in the structural deficit. And what growth there is has been largely funded by the state: the private sector is still on its knees.

Economists argue it is unsurprising the recovery is faltering when Rajoy has added another million to the dole queues and slashed investment. So an easing of austerity will support a turnaround. However, there is no quick fix to finding employment for a quarter of the working population currently without a job.

 


         
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Emanuel Paparella2014-04-30 18:04:34
So Spain is honoring its greatest literary man after his death; something it could not manage to do while he was still alive. I suppose. This reminds one of the similar fate of Dante Alighieri whose city Florence has erected a monument in front of the Church of Santa Croce and a tomb with a crying angel (crocodile tears? One wonders) inside the Church. In reality the tomb is empty since Dante was exiled by the Florentines and therefore he died in Ravenna where he is buried. In any case, for both Cervantes and Dante, two men who impacted and changed world literature, it is better late than never when it comes to being honored and remembered.


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