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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 29.9.20

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'*  

This is a (long) 'special'.


I'd planned to write a normal post and to cite a paragraph or 2 from Richard Ford's The Spaniards and Their Country, based on something I'd started to read three-quarters of the way through it. But I decided it'd be wrong to truncate the dissertation below.


It's classic Ford. At times negative, at times positive. Both critical and laudatory. Even adulatory. Arrogant and patronising. But sympathetic. And always informed by his own experiences. And learned because of his education. Sometimes funny and sometimes even witty, via indirectas. Overall, quite fascinating.


Of course, a very great deal has changed in Spain since 1845 but, having been writing about it for 19 years, I can certainly see echoes of Ford's comments - both the positive and the negative - in modern Spain. As you'll see in every book on the country written since then. I'll leave you to decide what these are. Or to wait for the book I've started to write . . .


By the way, it's still true that, no matter how positive you are to create balance, any negative comments are likely to be met with the response: "Well, if you don''t like it, why don't you piss off back to your own shit country." Especially if you're a Dutchman called Vincent Werner . . .


Richard Ford - Going off on one . . .


Let no author imagine that the fairest observations that he can take and make of Spain as she is, setting down naught in malice, can ever please a Spaniard; his pride and self-esteem are as great as the self-conceit and low consequence of the American: both are morbidly sensitive and touchy; both are afflicted with the notion that all the world, who are never troubling their heads about them, are thinking of nothing else, and linked in one common conspiracy, based in envy, jealousy, or ignorance; "you don't understand us, I guess." Truth, except in the shape of a compliment, is the greatest of libels, and is howled against as a lie and forgery from the Straits to the Bidasoa.


The Spaniard, who is hardly accustomed to a free, or rather a licentious press, and the scavenger propensity with which, in England and America, it rakes into the sewers of private life and the gangrenes of public, is disgusted with details which he resents as a breach of hospitality in strangers. He considers, and justly, that it is no proof either of goodness of breeding, heart, or intellect, to be searching for blemishes rather than beauties, for toadstools rather than violets; he despises those curmudgeons who see motes rather than beams in the brightest eyes of Andalucia. The productions of strangers, and especially of those who ride and write the quickest, must savour of the pace and sources from whence they originate. 


Foreigners who are unacquainted with the language and good society of Spain are of necessity brought the most into contact with the lowest scenes and the worst class of people, thus road-scrapings and postillion information too often constitute the raw-head-and-bloody-bones material of their composition. All this may be very amusing to those who like these subjects, but they afford a poor criterion for descanting on whatever does the most honour to a country, or gives sound data for judging its real condition. 


How would we ourselves like that Spaniards should form their opinions of England and Englishmen from the Newgate calendars, the reports of cads, and the annals of beer-shops? Various as are the objects worth observing in Spain, many of which are to be seen there only, it may be as well to mention what is not to be seen, for there is no such loss of time as finding this out oneself, after weary chase and wasted hour. 


Those who expect to meet with well-garnished arsenals, libraries, restaurants, charitable or literary institutions, canals, railroads, tunnels, suspension-bridges, steam-engines, omnibuses, manufactories, polytechnic galleries, pale-ale breweries, and similar appliances and appurtenances of a high state of political, social, and commercial civilization, had better stay at home.


In Spain there are no turnpike-trust meetings, no quarter-sessions, no courts of justice, according to the real meaning of that word, no treadmills no boards of guardians, no chairmen, directors, masters extraordinary of the court of chancery, no assistant poor-law commissioners. There are no anti-tobacco-teetotal-temperance-meetings, no auxiliary-missionary-propagating societies, nothing in the blanket and lying-in asylum line, nothing, in short, worth a revising-barrister of 3 years' standing's notice, unless he be partial to the study of the laws of bankruptcy. Spain is no country for the political economist, beyond affording an example of the decline of the wealth of nations, and offering a wide topic on errors to be avoided, as well as for experimental theories, plans of reform and amelioration. 


In Spain, Nature reigns; she has there lavished her utmost prodigality of soil and climate, which Spaniards have for the last four centuries been endeavouring to counteract by a culpable neglect of agricultural speeches and dinners, and a non-distribution of prizes for the biggest boars, asses, and labourers with largest families. 


The landed proprietor of the Peninsula is little better than a weed of the soil; he has never observed, nor scarcely permitted others to observe, the vast capabilities which might and ought to be called into action. He seems to have put Spain into Chancery[debt], such is the general dilapidation. The country is little better than a terra incognita, to naturalists, geologists, and all other branches of ists and ologists. Everywhere there, the material is as superabundant as native laboreurs and operatives are deficient. All these interesting branches of inquiry, healthful and agreeable, as being out-of-door pursuits, and bringing the amateur in close contact with nature, offer to embryo authors who are ambitious to book something new, a more worthy subject than the old story of dangers of bull-fights, bandits, and black eyes. 


Those who aspire to the romantic, the poetical, the sentimental, the artistical, the antiquarian, the classical, in short, to any of the sublime and beautiful lines, will find both in the past and present state of Spain, subjects enough in wandering with lead pencil and notebook through this singular country, which hovers between Europe and Africa, between civilization and barbarism: this land of the green valley and barren mountain, of the boundless plain and the broken sierra; those Elysian gardens of the vine, the olive, the orange, and the aloe; those trackless, vast, silent, uncultivated wastes, the heritage of the wild bee;—in flying from the dull uniformity, the polished monotony of Europe, to the racy freshness of that original, unchanged country, where antiquity treads on the heels of to-day, where Paganism disputes the very altar with Christianity, where indulgence and luxury contend with privation and poverty, where a want of all that is generous or merciful is blended with the most devoted heroic virtues, where the most cold-blooded cruelty is linked with the fiery passions of Africa, where ignorance and erudition stand in violent and striking contrast.


"There" says the Handbook, in a style which qualifies the author for the best bound and fairest edited album, "let the antiquarian pore over the stirring memorials of many thousand years, the vestiges of Phoenician enterprise, of Roman magnificence, of Moorish elegance, in that storehouse of ancient customs, that repository of all elsewhere long forgotten and passed by; there let him gaze upon those classical monuments, unequalled almost in Greece or Italy, and on those fairy Aladdin palaces, the creatures of Oriental gorgeousness and imagination, with which Spain alone can enchant the dull European; there let the man of feeling dwell on the poetry of her envy-disarming decay, fallen from her high estate, the dignity of a dethroned monarch, borne with unrepining self-respect, the last consolation of the innately noble, which no adversity can take away; let the lover of art feed his eyes with the mighty masterpieces of ideal Italian art, when Raphael and Titian strove to decorate the palaces of Charles, the great emperor of the age of Leo X. Let him gaze on the living nature of Velazquez and Murillo, whose paintings are truly to be seen in Spain alone; let the artist sketch frowning forms of the castle, the pomp and splendour of the cathedral, where God is worshipped in a manner as nearly befitting his glory as the arts and wealth of finite man can reach. Let him dwell on the Gothic gloom of the cloister, the feudal turret, the vasty Escorial, the rock-built alcazar of imperial Toledo, the sunny towers of stately Seville, the eternal snows and lovely vega of Granada ; let the geologist clamber over mountains of marble, and metal-pregnant sierras; let the botanist cull from the wild hothouse of nature plants unknown, unnumbered, matchless in colour, and breathing the aroma of the the sweet south; let all, learned and unlearned listen to the song, the guitar, the castanet; or join in the light fandango and spirit-stirring bull-fight; let all mingle with the gay, good-humoured, temperate peasantry, free, manly, and independent, yet courteous and respectful; let all live with the noble, dignified, high-bred, self-respecting Spaniard; let all share in their easy, courteous society; let all admire their dark-eyed women, so frank and natural, to whom the voice of all ages and nations has conceded the palm of attraction, to whom Venus has bequeathed her magic girdle of grace and fascination; let all - but enough on starting on this expedition, "where," as Don Quixote said, "here are opportunities, brother Sancho, of putting our hands into what are called adventures up to our elbows." 


Nor was the La Manchan hidalgo wrong in assigning a somewhat adventurous character to the searchers in Spain for useful and entertaining knowledge, since the natives are fond, and with much reason, of comparing themselves and their country to tesoros escondidos, to hidden treasures, to talents buried in napkins; but they are equally fond of turning round, and falling foul of any pains-taking foreigner who digs them up, as Le Sage did the soul of Pedro Garcias.


Nothing throughout the length and breadth of the land creates greater suspicion or jealousy than a stranger's making drawings, or writing down notes in a book: whoever is observed sacando planes, "taking plans," mapeando el pais, "mapping the country" - for such are the expressions of the simplest pencil sketch—is thought to be an engineer, a spy, and, at all events, to be about no good. The lower classes, like the Orientals, attach a vague mysterious notion to these, to them unintelligible, proceedings; whoever is seen at work is immediately reported to the civil and military authorities, and, in fact, in out-of-the-way places, whenever an unknown person arrives, from the rarity of the occurrence, he is the observed of all observers. 


Much the same occurs in the East, where Europeans are suspected of being emissaries of their governments, as neither they nor Spaniards can at all understand why any man should incur trouble and expense, which no native ever does, for the mere purpose of acquiring knowledge of foreign countries, or for his own private improvement or amusement. 


Again, whatever particular investigations or questions are made by foreigners, about things that to the native appear unworthy of observation, are magnified and misrepresented by the many, who, in every place, wish to curry favour with whoever is the governor or chief person, whether civil or military. The natives themselves attach little or no importance to views, ruins, geology, inscriptions, and so forth, which they see every day, and which they therefore conclude cannot be of any more, or ought not to be of more, interest to the stranger. They judge of him by themselves; few men ever draw in Spain, and those who do are considered to be professional, and employed by others. One of the many fatal legacies left to Spain by the French, was an increased suspicion of men with the pencil and note-book. Previously to their invasion spies and agents were sent, who, under the guise of travellers, reconnoitred the land; and then, casting off the clothing of sheep, guided in the wolves to plunder and destruction. The aged prior of the Merced, at Seville, observed to us, when pointing out the empty frames and cases from whence the Messrs. Soult and Co. had "removed" the Murillos and sacred plate,—" Lo creira usted  - Will your Grace believe it, I beheld among the ladrones a person who grinned at me when I recognized him, to whom, some time before the invaders' arrival, I had pointed out these very treasures. Tonto de mi!  Oh, simpleton that I was, to take a thief for an honest man!" Yet this worthy individual was decorated with the legion of honour of Buonaparte, whose " first note in his pocket-book"of" agenda, after the conquest of England, was to "carry off the Warwick vase".


We English, whose shops, "bursting with opulence into the streets," have not yet been visited, although the temptation is held out by royal pamphleteers, can scarcely enter into the feelings of those whose homes are still reeking with blood, and blighted by poverty. The Castilian cat, who has been scalded, flies even from cold water. Some excuse, therefore, may be alleged in favour of Spanish authorities, especially in rarely visited districts, when they behold a strange barbarian eye peeping and peering about. Their first impression, as in the East, is that he may be a Frank: hence the shaking, quaking, and ague which comes over them. At Seville, Granada, and places where foreign artists are somewhat more plentiful, the processes of drawing, may be passed over with pity and contempt, but in lonely localities the star-gazing observer is himself the object of argus-eyed, official observation. He is, indeed, as unconscious of the portentous emotions and ill-omened fears which he is exciting, as was the innocent crow of the meanings attached to his movements by the Roman augurs, and few augurs of old ever rivalled the Spanish alcaldes of to-day in quick suspicion and perception of evil, especially where none is intended. 


Witness what actually occurred to 3 excellent friends of ours. The readers of Borrow's inimitable 'Bible in Spain' will remember his hair-breadth escape from being shot for Don Carlos by the miraculous intervention of the alcalde of Corcubión, who, if still alive, must be a phoenix, and clearly worth observation, as he was a reader of the "grand Baintham," or our illustrious Jeremy Bentham, to whom the Spanish reformers sent for a paper constitution, not having a very clear meaning of the word or thing, whether it was made of cotton or parchment. 


Another of the very best investigators and writers on Spain, Lord Carnarvon, was nearly put to death in the same districts for Don Miguel: Captain Widdrington, also one of the kindest and most honourable of men, was once arrested on suspicion of being an agent of Espartero  and we, our humble selves, have had the felicity of being marched to a guard-house for sketching a Roman ruin, and the honour of being taken, either for Curius Dentatus, an alligator, or Julius Caesar, - as there is no absurdity, no inconceivable ignorance, too great for the local Spanish "Dogberries," who rarely deviate into sense  when their fears or suspicions are roused, they are as deaf alike to the dictates of common reason or humanity as adders or Berbers; and here, as in the East, even the best intentioned may be taken up for spies, and have their beards, at least, cut off, as was done to King David's envoys. 


All classes, in regard to strangers, generally get some hostile notions into their heads, and then, instead of fairly and reasonably endeavouring to arrive at the truth, pervert every innocent word, and twist every action, to suit their own preconceived nonsense, until trifles become to their jealous minds proofs as strong as Holy Writ. In justice, however, it must be said, that when these authorities are once satisfied that the stranger is an Englishman, and that no harm is intended, no people can be more civil in offering assistance of every kind, especially the lower classes, who gaze at the magical performance of drawing with wonder; the higher classes seldom take any notice, partly from courtesy, and much from the nil admirari principle of Orientals, which conceals both inferiority and ignorance, and shows good breeding. The drawing any garrison-town or fortified place in Spain is now most strictly forbidden. The prevailing ignorance of everything connected with the arts of design is so great, that no distinction is made between the most regular plan and the merest artistical sketch: a drawing is with them a drawing, and punishable as such. A Spanish barrack, garrison, or citadel is therefore to be observed but little, and still less to be sketched. 


A gentleman, nay, a lady also, is liable, under any circumstances, when drawing to be interrupted, and often is exposed to arrest and incivility. Indeed, whether an artist or not, it is as well not to exhibit any curiosity in regard to matters connected with military buildings; nor will the loss be great, as they are seldom worth looking at. The troops in our time were in a most admired disorder. If they wore shoes they had no stockings; if they had muskets, flints were not plentiful; if powder was supplied, balls were scarce; nothing, in short, was ever according to regulation. Nay, the buttons even on the officers' coats were never dressed in file: some had the numbers up, some down, some awry; but uniformity is a thing of Europe and not of the East. At this moment, when the church is starved, when widows' pensions are unpaid, when governmental bankruptcy walks the land, whose bones, marrow, and all are wasted to support the army, whose swords uphold the hated men in office, the bands of the Royal Guard, the Praetorian bands, do not keep tune, nor do the rank and file march in time. However painful these things to pipe-clay martinets, the artist loses much, by not being able to sketch such tumble-down forts and ragged garrisons, each Bisono of which is more precious to painter eye than the officer in command at Windsor; while his short petticoated querida is more Murillo-like than a score of patronesses of Al-mack's. 


The safest plan for those who want to observe, and to book what they observe, is to obtain a Spanish passport, with the object of their curiosity and inquiries clearly specified in it. There is seldom any difficulty at Madrid, if application be made through the English minister, in obtaining such a document; indeed, when the applicant is well known, it is readily given by any of the provincial Captains-General. As it is couched in the Spanish language, it is understood by all, high and low; an advantage which is denied in Spain to those issued by our ambassadors, and even by the Foreign Office, who, to the credit of themselves and nation, give passes to Englishmen in the French language, whereby among Spaniards a suspicion arises that the bearer may be a Frenchman, which is not always pleasant. 


We preserve among rare Peninsular relics a passport granted by our kind patron the redoubtable Conde de España, and backed by the no less formidable Quesada and Sarsfield, in which it was enjoined, in choice, intelligible Castilian, to all and every minor rulers and governors, whether with the pen or sword, to aid and assist the bearer in his examination of the fine arts and antiquities of the Peninsula. These autocrats were more implicitly obeyed in their respective Lord Lieutenancies than Ferdinand himself; in fact, the pashas of the East are their exact types, each in their district being the heads of both civil and military tribunals; and as they not only administer, but suit the law according to the length of their own feet, they in fact make it and trample upon it, and all in any authority below them imitate their superiors as nearly as they dare. These things of Spain are managed with a gravity truly Oriental, both in the rulers and in the resignation of those ruled by them; these great men's passport and signature were obeyed by all minor authorities as implicitly as an Oriental firman; the very fact of a stranger having a Captain-General's passport, is soon known by everybody, and, to use an Oriental phrase, "makes his face to be whitened"; it acts as a letter of introduction, and is in truth the best one of all, since it is addressed to people in power in each village or town, who, true sheikhs, are looked up to by all below them with the same deference, as they themselves look up to all above them. The worth of a person recommended, is estimated by that of the person who recommends; tal recomendacion tal recomendado. To complete this thing of Oriental Spain, these 3 omnipotent despots, who defied laws human and divine, who made dice of their enemies bones, and goblets of their skulls, have all since been assassinated, and sent to their account with all their sins on their heads. 


In limited monarchies ministers who go too far, lose their places, in Spain and Turkey their heads: the former, doubtless, are the most severely punished. Those who wish to observe Spanish man, which, next to Spanish woman, forms the proper study of mankind, will find that one key to decipher this singular people is scarcely European, for this Berberia Cristiana is a neutral ground placed between the hat and the turban; many indeed of themselves contend that Africa begins at the Pyrenees. Be that as it may, Spain first civilized by the Phoenicians, and long possessed by the Moors, has indelibly retained the original impressions. Test her, therefore, and her males and females, by an Oriental standard, how analogous does much appear that is strange and repugnant, if compared with European usages. Take care, however, not to let either the ladies or gentlemen know the hidden processes of your mind, for nothing gives greater offence. The fair sex is willing, to prevent such a mistake, to lay aside even their becoming mantillas, as their hidalgos doff their stately Roman cloaks. These old clothes they offer up as sacrifices on the altar of civilization, and to the mania of looking exactly like the rest of the world, in Hyde Park and the Elysian Fields. Another remarkable Oriental trait is the general want of love for the beautiful in art, and the abundance of that Aydoxaha with which the ancients reproached the genuine Iberians; this is exhibited in the general neglect and indifference shown towards Moorish works, which instead of destroying they ought rather to have protected under glasses, since such attractions are peculiar to the Peninsula. The Alhambra, the pearl and magnet of Granada, is in their estimation little better than a casa de ratones, or a rat's hole, which in truth they have endeavoured to make it by centuries of neglect; few natives even go there, or understand the all-absorbing interest, the concentrated devotion, which it excites in the stranger; so the Bedouin regards the ruins of Palmyra, insensible to present beauty, as to past poetry and romance. Sad is this non-appreciation of the Alhambra by the Spaniards, but such are Asiatics, with whom sufficient for the day is their to-day; who care neither for the past nor for the future, who think only for the present and themselves, and like them the masses of Spaniards, although not wearing turbans, lack the organs of veneration and admiration for anything beyond matters connected with the first person and the present tense. 


Again, the leaven of hatred against the Moor and his relics is not extinct; they resent as almost heretical the preference shown by foreigners to the works of infidels rather than to those of good Catholics; such preference again at once implies their inferiority, and convicts them of bad taste in their non-appreciation, and of Vandalism in labouring to mutilate, what the Moor laboured to adorn. The charming writings of Washington Irving, and the admiration of European pilgrims, have latterly shamed the authorities into a somewhat more conservative feeling towards the Alhambra; but even their benefits are questionable ; they "repair and beautify" on the churchwarden principle, and there is no less danger in such "restorations" than in those fatal scourings of Murillo and Titian in the Madrid gallery, which are effacing the lines where beauty lingers. Even their tardy appreciation is somewhat interested: thus Mellado, in his late Guide, laments that there should be no account of the Alhambra, of which he speaks coldly, and suggests, as so many " English" visit it, that a descriptive work would be a segura especulación! a safe speculation! Thus the poetry of the Moorish Alharnbra is coined into the Spanish prose of profitable shillings and sixpences. Travellers however should not forget, that much which to them has the ravishing, enticing charms of novelty, is viewed by the dull sated eye of the native, with familiarity which breeds contempt ; they are weary, oh fatal lassitude! even of the beautiful: "alas!" exclaimed the hermit on Monserrat, to the stranger who was ravished by exquisite views, then and there beheld by him for the first and last time, "All this has no attraction for me; twenty and nine are the years that I have seen this unchanged scene, every sunrise, every noon, every sunset."


But sordent domestica, observes Pliny, nor are all things or persons honoured in their own homes as they ought to be, since the days that Mahomet the true prophet failed to persuade his wife and valet that his powers were supernatural. Can it be wondered that ruins and "old rubbish" should be held cheap among the Moro-Spaniards? Or that their so-called " guides" should mislead and misdirect the stranger? It cannot well be avoided, since few of the writers ever travel in their own country, and fewer travel out of it; thus from their limited means of comparison, they cannot appreciate differences, nor tell what are the wants and wishes of a foreigner: accordingly, scenes, costumes, ruins, usages, ceremonies, etc., which they have known from childhood, are passed over without notice, although, from their passing newness to the stranger, they are exactly what he most desires to have pointed out and explained. Nay, the natives frequently despise or are ashamed of those very things, which most interest and charm the foreigner, for whose observation they select the modern rather than the old, offering especially their poor pale copies of Europe, in preference to their own rich, racy, and natural originals, doing this in nothing more than in the costume and dwellings of the lower classes, who happily are not yet afflicted with the disease of French polish : they indeed, when they dig up ancient coins, will rub off the precious rust of twice ten hundred years, in order to render them, as they imagine, more saleably attractive; but they fortunately spare themselves, insomuch that Charles III, on failing in one of his laudable attempts to improve and modernize them, compared his loving subjects to naughty children, who quarrel with their good nurse when she wants to wash them. 


Again, no country in the world can vie with Spain, where the dry climate at least is conservative, with memorials of auld lang syne, with tower and turret, Prout-like houses and toppling balconies, so old that they seem only not to fall into the torrents and ravines over which they hang. Here is every form and colour of picturesque poverty; vines clamber up the irregularities, while below maids dabble, washing their red and yellow garments in the all-gilding glorious sunbeams. What a picture it is to all but the native, who sees none of the wonders of lights and shadows, reflections, colours, and outlines; who, blind to all the beauties, is keenly awake only to the degradation, the rags and decay; he half suspects that your sketch and admiration of a smuggler or a bullfighter is an insult, and that you are taking it, in order to show in England what M. Guizot will never be forgiven for calling the "brutal" things of Spain; accordingly, while you are sincerely and with reason delighted with sashes and Zamarras, he begs you to observe his ridiculous Boulevard-cut coat: or when you sit down opposite to a half-ruined Roman wall, some crumbling Moorish arch, or mediaeval Gothic shrine, he implores you to come away and draw the last spick and span Royal Academical abortion, coldly correct and classically dull, in order to carry home a sample which may do credit to Spain, as approximating to the way things are managed at Charing Cross. 


Without implicitly following the advice of these Spaniards of better intention than taste, no man of research will undervalue any assistance by which his objects are promoted, even should he be armed with a captain-general's passport, and a red Murray guide. Meagre is the oral information which is to be obtained from Spaniards on the spot; these incurious semi-Orientals look with jealousy on the foreigner, and either fence with him in their answers, raise difficulties, or, being highly imaginative, magnify or diminish everything as best suits their own views and suspicions. The national expressions, "Quien sabe? No se sabe." - "Who knows? I do not know"' will often be the prelude to "No se puede," -  "It can't be done." 


These impediments and impossibilities are infinitely increased when the stranger has to do with men in office, be it ever so humble; the first feeling of these Dogberries is to suspect mischief and give refusals. "No" may be assumed to be their natural answer; nor even if you have a special order of permission, is admission by any means certain. The keeper, who here as elsewhere, considers the objects committed to his care as his own private property and source of perquisite, must be conciliated: often when you have toiled through the heat and dust to some distant church, museum, library, or what not, after much ringing and waiting, you will be dryly informed that it is shut, can't be seen, that it is the wrong day, that you must call again to-morrow; and if it be the right day, then you will be told that the hour is wrong, that you are come too early, too late; very likely the keeper's wife will inform you that he is out, gone to mass, or market, or at his dinner, or at his siesta, or if he is at home and awake, he will swear that his wife has mislaid the key, " which she is always doing." If all these and other excuses won't do, and you persevere, you will be assured that there is nothing worth seeing, or you will be asked why you want to see it. 


As a general rule, no one should be deterred from visiting anything, because a Spaniard of the upper classes gives his opinion that the object is beneath notice; he will try to convince you that Toledo, Cuenca, and other places which cannot be matched in Christendom, are ugly, odious, old cities; he is ashamed of them because the tortuous, narrow lanes do not run in rows as straight as Pall Mall and the Rue de Rivoli. In fact his only notion of a civilised town is a common-place assemblage of rectangular wide streets, all built and coloured uniformly, like a line of foot-soldiers, paved with broad flags, and lighted with gas, on which Spaniards can walk about dressed as Englishmen, and Spanish women like those of France; all of which said wonders a foreigner may behold far better nearer home; nor is it much less a waste of time to go and see what the said Spaniard considers to be  a real lion, since the object generally turns out to be some poor imitation, without form, angle, history, nationality, colour, or expression, beyond that of utilitarian comfort and common-place convenience - great advantages no doubt both to contractors and political economists, but death and destruction to men of the pencil and note-book. 


The sound principles in Spanish sight-seeing are few and simple, but, if observed, they will generally prove successful ; first, persevere; never be put back, never take an answer if it be in the negative; never lose temper or courteous manners; and, lastly, let the tinkle of metal be heard at once; if the chief or great man be inexorable, find out privately who is the wretched sub who keeps the key, or the crone who sweeps the room; and then send a discreet messenger to say that you will pay to be admitted, without mentioning "nothing to nobody." Thus you will always obtain your view, even when an official order fails. 


On our first arrival at Madrid, when but young in these things of Spain, we were desirous of having daily permission to examine a royal gallery, which was only open to the public on certain days in the week. In our grave dilemma we consulted a sage and experienced diplomatist, and this was the oracular reply: "Certainly, if you wish it, I will make a request to Senor Salmon (the then Home Secretary), and beg him to give you the proper order, as a personal favour to myself. By the way, how much longer shall you remain here?" - " From three to four weeks."—" Well, then, after you have been gone a good month, I shall get a courteous and verbose epistle from his Excellency, in which he will deeply regret that, on searching the archives of his office, there was no instance of such a request having ever been granted, and that he is compelled most reluctantly to return a refusal, from the fear of a precedent being created. My advice to you is to give the porter a dollar, to be repeated whenever the door-hinges seem to be getting rusty and require oiling." The hint was taken, as was the bribe, and the prohibited portals expanded so regularly, that at last they knew the sound of our footsteps. Gold is the Spanish sesame. Thus Soult got into Badajoz, thus Louis Philippe put Espartero out, and Montpensier in. Gold, bright red gold, is the sovereign remedy which in Spain smoothes all difficulties, nay some in which even force has failed, as here the obstinate heads may be guided by a straw of bullion, but not driven by a bar of iron. The magic influence of a bribe pervades a land, where everything is venal, even to the scales of justice. Here men who have objects to gain begin to work from the bottom, not from the top, as we do in England. In order to ensure success, no step in the official ladder must be left unanointed. A wise and prudent suitor bribes from the porter to the premier, taking care not to forget the under-secretary, the over-secretary, the private secretary, all in their order, and to regulate the douceur according to each man's rank and influence. If you omit the porter, he will not deliver your card, or will say Señor Mon is out, or will tell you to call again mañana, the eternal tomorrow. If you forget the chief clerk, he will mislay your petition, or poison his master's ear. In matters of great and political importance, the sovereign, him or herself, must have a share; and thus it was that Calomarde continued so long to manage the beloved Ferdinand and his counsels. He was the minister who laid the greatest bribe at the royal feet. "Sire, by strict attention and honesty, I have just been enabled to economize £50,000, on the sums allotted to my department, which I have now the honour and felicity to place at your Majesty's disposal." - " Well done, my faithful and good minister, here is a segar for you." This Calomarde, who began life as a foot-boy, smuggled through the Christinist swindle, by which Isabel now wears the crown of Don Carlos. The rogue was rewarded by being made Conde de Sa. Isabel, a title which since has been conferred on Mons. Bresson's baby - a delicate compliment to his sire's labours in the transfer of the said crown to Louis Philippe - but Spaniards are full of dry humour. In the East, the example and practice of the Sultan and Vizier is followed by every pasha, down to the lowest animal who wields the most petty authority; the disorder of the itching palm is endemic and epidemic, all, whether high and low, want, and must have money; all wish to get it without the disgrace of begging, and without the danger of highway robbery. Public poverty is the curse of the land, and all empleados or persons in office excuse themselves on dire necessity, the old plea of a certain gentleman, which has no law. 


Some allowance, therefore, may be made for the rapacity which, with very few exceptions, prevails; the regular salaries, always inadequate, are generally in arrear, and the public servants, poor devils, swear that they are forced to pay themselves by conniving at defrauding the government; this, few scruple to do, as all know it to be an unjust one, and that it can afford it; indeed, as all are offenders alike, the guilt of the offence is scarcely admitted. Where robbing and jobbing are the universal order of the day, one rascal keeps another in countenance, as one goitre does another in Switzerland. A man who does not feather his nest when in place, is not thought honest, but a fool; es precise, que cada uno coma de su oficio. It is necessary, nay, a duty, as in the East, that all should live by their office; and as office is short and insecure, no time or means is neglected in making up a purse; thus poverty and their will alike and readily consent. 


Take a case in point. We remember calling on a Spaniard who held the highest office in a chief city of Andalucia. As we came into his cabinet a cloaked personage was going out; the great man's table was covered with gold ounces, which he was shovelling complacently into a drawer, gloating on the glorious haul. "Many ounces, Excellency," said we. "Yes, my friend," was his reply - "No quiero comer mas patatas, —I do not intend to dine any more on potatoes." This gentleman, during the Sistema, or Riego constitution, had, with other loyalists, been turned out of office; and, having been put to the greatest hardships, was losing no time in taking prudent and laudable precautions to avert any similar calamity  the future. His practices were perfectly well known in the town, where people simply observed, " Está tesorando, he is laying up treasures," - as every one of them would most certainly have done, had they been in his fortunate position. 


Rich and honest Britons, therefore, should not judge too hardly of the sad shifts, the strange bed-fellows, with which want makes the less provided Spaniards acquainted. Donde no hay abundancia, no hay observancia. The empty sack cannot stand upright, nor was ever a sack made in Spain into which gain and honour could be stowed away together; honra y provecho, no caben en un saco o techo; here virtue itself succumbs to poverty, induced by more than half a century of misgovernment, let alone the ruin caused by Buonaparte's invasion, to which domestic troubles and civil wars have been added. 


To return, however, to sight-seeing in Spain. Lucky was the traveller prepared even to bribe and pay, who ever in our time chanced to fall in with a librarian who knew what books he had, or with a priest who could tell what pictures were in his chapel; ask him for the painting by Murillo - a shoulder-shrug was his reply, or a curt "No hay" "There is none:" had you inquired for the "blessed St. Thomas," then he might have pointed it out; the subject, not the artist, being all that was required for the service of the church. An incurious bliss of ignorance is no less grateful to the Spanish mind, than the dolce far niente or sweet indolent doing nothing is to the body. All that gives trouble, or "fashes[?]," destroys the supreme height of felicity, which consists in avoiding exertion. A chapter might be filled with instances, which, had they not occurred to our humble selves, would seem caricature inventions. The not to be able to answer the commonest question, or to give any information as to matters of the most ordinary daily occurrence, is so prevalent, that we at first thought it must proceed from some fear of committal, some remnant of inquisitorial engendered reserve, rather than from bona fide careless and contented ignorance. The result, however of much intercourse and experience arrived at, was, that few people are more communicative than the lower classes of Spaniards, especially to an Englishman, to whom they reveal private and family secrets: their want of knowledge applies rather to things than to persons. If you called on a Spanish gentleman, and, finding him out, wished afterwards to write him a note, and inquired of his man or maid servant the number of the house; - "I do not know, my lord," was the invariable answer, "I never was asked it before, I have never looked for it: let us go, out and see. Ah! It is number 36." Wishing once to send a parcel by the wagon from Merida to Madrid, "On what day, my lord," said I to the pot-bellied, black-whiskered ventero, "does your galera start for the Court?" "Every Wednesday," answered he; "And let not your grace be anxious" - " Disparate —Nonsense," exclaimed his copper-skinned, bright-eyed wife, " why do you tell the English knight such lies? The wagon, my lord, sets out on Fridays." 


During the logomachy, or the few words which ensued between the well-matched pair, our good luck willed, that the mayoral or driver of the vehicle should come in, who forthwith informed us that the days of departure were Thursdays; and he was right. This occurred in the provinces; take, therefore, a parallel passage in the capital, the heart and brain of the Castiles. "Señor, tenga listed la bondad - My Lord," said I to a portly, pompous bureaucrat, who booked places in the dilly to Toledo, - "have the goodness, your grace, to secure me one for Monday, the 7th." - " I fear," replied he, politely, for the negocio had been prudently opened by my offering him a real Havannah, "that your lordship has made a mistake in the date. Monday is the 8th of the current month" - which it was not. Thinking to settle the matter, we handed to him, with a bow, the almanack of the year, which chanced to be in our pocket-book. "Señor, " said he, gravely, when he had duly examined it, "I knew that I was right; this one was printed at Seville," -which it was - "and we are here at Madrid, which is otra cosa, that is, altogether another affair." In this solar difference and pre-eminence of the Court, it must be remembered, that the sun, at its creation, first shone over the neighbouring city, to which the dilly ran; and that even in the last century, it was held to be heresy at Salamanca, to say that it did not move round Spain. In sad truth, it has there stood still longer than in astronomical lectures or metaphors. Spain is no paradise for calculators; here, what ought to happen, and what would happen elsewhere according to Cocker and the doctrine probabilities, is exactly the event which is the least likely to come to pass. 


One arithmetical fact only can be reckoned upon with tolerable certainty: let given events be represented by numbers; then 2 and 2 may at one time make 3, or possibly 5 at another; but the odds are 4 to 1 against 2 and 2 ever making 4; another safe rule in Spanish official numbers; e. g. " 5 thousand men killed and wounded" - "5 thousand dollars will be given" and so forth, is to deduct 2 noughts, and sometimes even 3, and read 50 or 5 instead. Well might even the keen-sighted, practical Duke say it is difficult to understand the Spaniards exactly; there, neither men nor women, suns nor clocks go together; there, as in a Dutch concert, all choose their own tune and time, each performer in the orchestra endeavouring to play the first fiddle. All this is so much a matter of course, that the natives, like the Irish, make a joke of petty mistakes, blunders, unpunctualities, inconsequences, and procurantisms, at which accurate Germans and British men of business are driven frantic. Made up of contradictions, and dwelling in the pays de imprevu, where exception is the rule, where accident and the impulse of the moment are the moving powers, the happy-go-lucky natives, especially in their collective capacity, act like women and children. A spark, a trifle, sets the impressionable masses in action, and none can foresee the commonest event; nor does any Spaniard ever attempt to guess beyond la situación actual - the actual present, or to foretell what the morrow will bring; that he leaves to the foreigner, who does not understand him. Paciencia y larajar[barajar - shuffling?] is his motto; and he waits patiently to see what next will turn up after another shuffle. 


There is one thing, however, which all know exactly, one question which all can answer; and providentially this refers to the grand object of every foreigner's observation - "When will the bull-fight be and begin?" and this holds good, notwithstanding that there is a proviso inserted in the notices, that it will come off on such a day and hour, "if the weather permits." Thus, although these spectacles take place in summer, when for months and months rain and clouds are matters of history, the cautious authorities doubt the blessed sun himself, and mistrust the certainty of his proceedings, as much as if they were irregulated by a Castilian clockmaker.  

Monday, September 28, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 28.9.20

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'*  

 

Living La Vida Loca in Spain/Galicia  


This is an article on a trend which Covid might well be reversing. 


Below is a nice short article on the sherry industry (Jerez) .

 

I'm now into the 11th month of waiting for my Irish nationality, having expected 9-12 months. I'm guessing this isn't an alternative for me, unless I can fake being a descendant of the Scouse hero of this excellent Ken Loach film.        


María's Falling Back chronicle Day 13. Our winter weather.


A few more choice quotes and refrains from Richard Ford, based on this travels around Spain in the 1840s:-


Swearing

The Spaniards have also added most of the gloomy northern Gothic oaths, which are imprecatory, to the Oriental, which are grossly sensual.  


Rights

[A jarring sentence right out of the 18th century] Every Spaniard has the right in law and equity to kick and beat his own ass to his own liking, as a philanthropic Yankee has to wallop his own niggar. No one ever thinks of interposing on these occasions, any more than they would in a quarrel between a man and his wife. .


Procrastination

The traveller will blot out from his dictionary the fatal Spanish phrase of procrastination - ‘Por la calle de después, se va a la casa de nunca’: 'By-and-by'- a street which leads to the house of never’.


The weather

Fine weather is the joy of the wayfarer's soul, and nothing can be more different than the aspect of Spanish villages in good or in bad weather; as in the East, during wintry rains they are the acmes of mud and misery, but let the sun shine out, and all is gilded. It is the smile which lights up the habitually sad expression of a Spanish woman's face. The blessed beam cheers poverty itself, and by its stimulating, exhilarating action on the system of man, enables him to buffet against the moral evils to which countries the most favoured by climate seem, as if it were from compensation, to be more exposed than those where the skies are dull, and the winds bleak and cold.


Travelling 

Quien al diablo ha de engañar, muy temprano se ha de levantar: All who wish to cheat the devil must get up very early.  

Misa y cebada no estorban la jornada.  No time is ever lost on a journey by feeding horses and men and hearing masses.

Libros y amigos pocos y buenos; The travelling library, like companions, should be select and good.

 

Bureaucracy

The passport -  that indescribable nuisance and curse of continental travel, to which a free-born Briton never can get reconciled, and is apt to neglect, whereby he puts himself in the  power of the worst and most troublesome people on earth. Passports in Spain now in some degree supply the Inquisition, and have been embittered by vexatious forms borrowed from bureaucratic France.


Spanish/Gallego

Tabardillo:  From the RAE dictionary:- 1. insolación (malestar por exposición excesiva al sol). 2. coloq. Persona alocada, bulliciosa y molesta. 3. Med. p. us. tifus (enfermedad infecciosa).


Insolación: Heatstroke


English 


‘Insolation’: 1. Exposure to the sun's rays. 2. The amount of solar radiation reaching a given area.


Finally . . .  


Portuguese coffee seems to me to be superior to Spain’s. If so, why?


THE ARTICLE  

 

The Sherry Triangle, a corner of Spain that is for ever England


Five hundred years ago English and Scottish traders settled near Cadiz and created an industry that is still prosperous today.  Isambard Wilkinson, Jerez de la Frontera

 

In a country-house garden outside Jerez de la Frontera shaded by palm trees and encircled by vineyards, Doña Luisa González-Gordon, head of Spain’s foremost sherry dynasty, recalled her strict Irish nanny. “She was a darling woman,” she said. “She would say things like ‘pull yourself together’ and ‘don’t butter your toast in the air’.” Doña Luisa, 95, speaks immaculate English with an accent as crisp as fino. “I am a Gordon,” she said. “I learnt to speak English before Spanish.” The descendant of Spanish noblemen and Scottish lairds who emigrated in the 18th century, Doña Luisa is among the last of the Anglo-Spanish sherry families keeping alive the trade’s links with Britain, which go back at least 500 years. Most of the British and Irish sherry companies have disappeared since the tipple’s decline from its heyday in the 1970s, and with them their anglicised owners.


English wine merchants were living in the port city of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, which, along with Jerez and El Puerto de Santa María, forms the Sherry Triangle, as early as 1517, when a duke gave them land to build a church. The trade survived the Reformation and Elizabeth I’s reign, when Drake raided nearby Cadiz and left with 2,900 casks of sherry.


The Spanish Inquisition made life difficult for English traders in Sanlúcar, but although exports slowed they did not dry up. Mauricio González-Gordon, Doña Luisa’s nephew and chairman of González Byass, who wears a blazer even in 42C heat, said that the Anglo-Spanish trade took off after 1778 when foreign merchants won a court case allowing them to own their cellars.


By the late Victorian era a plethora of companies run by families with names such as Duff, Terry, Garvey, Harvey, Gordon, Byass and Osborne had set up offices in the sherry region.

 

“The trade has left a deep legacy on all sides,” said Ignacio Peyró, director of the London branch of the Instituto Cervantes, which promotes Spanish culture. “For example, the fortune Ruskin’s father made as a wine merchant enabled his son to dedicate his life to study.”


The sherry moguls’ love of nature and sport is another inheritance. “Our family brought polo, pigeon shooting and lawn tennis from Britain to Spain,” said Mr González-Gordon.


Englishness was consciously instilled in the sherry dynasties. Santiago de Mora-Figueroa y Williams, Marqués of Tamarón, 79, a former ambassador to Britain and scion of a sherry family, recalled being made to memorise Falstaff’s sherry speech as a child. “A good sherris-sack hath twofold operation in it . . .” he quoted.


His cousin, Beltrán Domecq Williams, 74, schooled at Downside in Somerset, said that he keeps alive the old spirit through his love of gardening and drinking sherry. “I think we are commemorating the links all the time, with tasting and communicating how sherry is done,” he added. He pointed to curious hybrids that the ties have produced, ranging from an Anglo-Spanish terrier bred to kill rats in cellars, to candié, a drink given to children that is made of sherry wine, egg yolk and sugar.


Much of the legacy is based on past glory, as the trade is in decline, but the old families are fighting to revive its fortunes.


In the countryside, Doña Luisa proposed a toast: “Viva España y Inglaterra!”



* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant. 

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 27.9.20

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'*  

 

Living La Vida Loca in Spain/Galicia  


In convents around Spain one can still see - low down in an external wall - what looks like a large letter-box. Which it sort of is, in fact. For it's where unwanted babies were deposited for the nuns to take care of, often with a personal item such as a brooch, with which - in theory - the child could be identified at some time in the future. But very rarely was. As I've said, Richard Ford gives a harrowing description of one such 'nursery' in Madrid, were few children survived their care. In customary style, Ford adds that: The number [of inmates] was very great, and increased with increasing poverty, while the funds destined to support the charges decreased from the same cause. There is a certain and great influx 9 months after the Holy week and Christmas, when the whole city, male and female, pass the night in kneeling to relics and images, etc.. Accordingly 9 months afterwards, in January and November, the daily numbers often exceed the usual average by fifteen to twenty.


As I'm travelling with friends- currently in Braga - I'm short of time for blog writing so am resorting to the expedient of offering you some more gems(?) from Richard Ford:-


The general comprehensive term " Spain," which is convenient for geographers and politicians, is calculated to mislead the traveller, for it would be far from easy to predicate any single thing of Spain or Spaniards which will be equally applicable to all its heterogeneous component parts.


It has been found advisable to adopt such an arrangement from feeling the utter impossibility of treating Spain (where union is not unity) as a whole. There is no king of Spain, among the infinity of kingdoms.


Nature, by thus dislocating the country, seems to have suggested, nay almost to have forced, localism and isolation to the inhabitants, who each in their valleys and districts are shut off from their neighbours, whom to love, they are enjoined in vain.


In the divisions of the Peninsula which are effected by mountains, rivers, and climate, a leading principle is to be traced, throughout, for it is laid down by the unerring hand of nature. The artificial, political, and conventional arrangement into kingdoms and provinces is entirely the work of accident and absence of design.


The habitual suspicion against prying foreigners, which is an Oriental and Iberian instinct, converts a curious traveller into a spy or partisan. Spanish authorities, who seldom do these things except on compulsion, cannot understand the gratuitous braving of hardship and danger for its own sake—the botanising and geologising, etc., of the nature and adventure-loving English.  


In this land of miracles, anomalies, and contradictions, the roads to and from Compostela are now detestable. In other provinces of Spain, the star-paved milky way in heaven is called El Camino de Santiago, The Road of St. James. But the Galicians, who know that their roads really are the worst on earth, call the milky-way El Camino de Jerusalem, The Road to Jerusalem',  which it assuredly is not.  


The whole of this garrisoned Noah's ark [ a carriage] is placed under the command of the Mayoral or conductor, who like all Spanish men in authority is a despot, and yet, like them, is open to the conciliatory influences of a bribe. He regulates the hours of toil and sleep. [Here Ford quotes Sancho Panza's description of sleep as 'a blessing'. By coincidence, the first words in Spanish that I learned - aged 17 - were from a book of quotations, which included this one from 'Don Quijote': Bien haya el que inventó el sueño, capa que cubre todos los humanos pensamientos. Not knowing that this was, in part, 16th century Spanish, I regularly caused consternation when citing this to Spanish friends, who said it made no sense to them. Though it might have been my accent . . .] 


His costume is peculiar, and is based on that of Andalucia, which sets the fashion all over the Peninsula, in all matters regarding bull-fighting, horse-dealing, robbing, smuggling, and so forth. 


Among the many commandments that are always broken in Spain, that of "Swear not at all" is not the least. Few nations can surpass the Spaniards in the language of vituperation. It is limited only by the extent of their anatomical, geographical, astronomical, and religious knowledge



Plus this ‘Way of the World’ article:-


People are losing patience with radical theory's takeover of public discourse: Juliet Samuel 


“We are living in anti-intellectual times,” writes the American feminist thinker Judith Butler in an email interview with the New Statesman magazine published this week. That is certainly one perspective on the Trump phenomenon.


Another, from outside the Ivory Tower, is that we are actually trapped in a culture war spawned on university campuses, where words like “decolonise” have long been applied to hearts and minds, rather than territories, and where the issue of gendered lavatory signage is of paramount importance. In that sense, we are living in profoundly “intellectual” times – and my God it’s toxic. Is it any wonder so many of us can’t bear it?


If people are losing patience with all this radical theory taking over public discourse, the intellectual response would be to ask why. One reason may be that so many segments of the intelligentsia insist upon discussing ideas in language that deliberately excludes normal people. Then they try to police everyone else’s language using moral outrage.


This is the sort of thing I mean. It’s an extract from an essay by Dr Butler and it won first prize in the journal Philosophy and Literature’s 1998 “bad writing” contest: “The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory…” It goes on.


It is obviously hard to engage with someone who has chosen to be so utterly incomprehensible, but I’ll try. From what I can make out, Dr Butler tends to make two claims about sex and gender. She argues, firstly, that sex is an entirely made-up category imposed upon people by society rather than by biology. She argues, secondly, that a person can make a legitimate claim, based purely on their own feeling about “who” they are, to be of one gender or another, rather than having to “perform” a gender according to their sex. But these two propositions contradict one another.


If a human’s sex is not an authentic category and gender is simply a “performance”, why lay claim to be of one gender or another and demand that everyone recognise this claim? Why affirm these supposedly oppressive categories by demanding such a label?


Her answer, I think, might be that society’s emphasis on gender forces people to value these bogus categories and so we must respect people’s choices about belonging to one or another. But you can’t have it both ways. If our notions of sex and gender are really social constructs, there is no existential need for physical gender reassignment.


Dr Butler is of course welcome to clear up this inconsistency, but she may want to hire a translator to do so on her behalf.



* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 26.9.20

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.  


Living La Vida Loca in Spain/Galicia  


HT to Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas for this El Huff Post article on the 23 things that young people don’t know about Franco. In Spanish.  


And also for this fascinating article - in English - on Lisbon's dreadful earthquake of 1755. 

  

Back in 2000, Tom Burns Marañon - the half-British journalist son of an illustrious Spanish father - published a book entitled Hispanomania - about famous Anglos who've professed a deep love for Spain. In any future edition, he'll surely have to include the chap I mentioned yesterday - British concert pianist James Rhodes. Because of articles like this one - in English - in El País. I have absolutely no problem with people being very positive about Spain. After all, I chose to come here to live 19 years ago and regularly  assert it's the best of the 6 cultures I've lived in. But an assessment of a country needs to be net one - weighing positives against negatives - and it certainly isn't true to say, as Rhodes does, that everything here is better than in the UK. He does admit there are a few (macro) problems  here - poor sexual harassment laws, widespread corruption, drug and people trafficking, and homelessness - but essentially Rhodes pictures life here as Nirvana. Which it ain't for an awful lot of people. And there's no hint of why, for example, Spain's trains - and roads - are better than Britain's - an awful lot of OPM. Other peoples' money. After it became an EU member in 1985, Spain - for more than 25 years - was the biggest beneficiary of Northern European taxpayers' largesse; and it's legitimate to ask where Spain would be without that. And without the huge tourism industry stemming from Nature's bounty of a great deal of sun and a long coastline. As Vincent Werner does here, reaching very different conclusions. Incidentally, I wonder how the 2 of them would get on over a delicious tapas meal in Madrid . . . 


Richard Ford, of course, did have a more balanced approach to assessing Spain's positives and negatives, even though many of his criticisms no longer apply. And maybe Rhodes would do so, if he wrote a long book, as opposed to giving unctuous interviews which give the - almost certainly incorrect - impression of him wanting to ingratiate himself with the Spanish public. His future audiences.


Anyway, here's the Guardian on one of the seamier sides of Spanish life.  

 

And here's María's Fallback Diary: Day 12   


The UK 


Thanks to Covid, British bars must now close at 10pm. This is how the brilliant Caitlin Moran reacted to this news: Presumably the reasoning behind the curfew is that the later it gets, the more pissed people are, and therefore more likely to forget distancing rules or hand-washing. But, knowing the British public as I do, if they are told to stop drinking and go home at 10pm, they will simply meet an hour earlier, and be 11pm drunk by 10pm. We’re an efficient people. We can do simple booze-maths. We’re the nation that invented the sherry trifle so that grandmas could get pissed on food. Do you remember gripe water? That was baby booze. Telling us all to go home at 10pm isn’t going to stop shit.


English/Spanish


There more less-common refranes:-

- He that chastens one chastens twenty: De un castigo, cien escarmentados/Quien a uno castiga a ciento hostiga.

- He that eats until he is sick must fast until he is well: Comer hasta enfermar y ayunar hasta sanar.

- He that is born to he hanged shall never be drowned: El que nace para mulo del cielo le cae el harnés.


Finally . . . 


As you might have noticed, Richard Ford was fond of bald assertions about the Spain of the 1840s. Here's a couple which aren't true these days. Well, not totally:-

- Spaniards seldom trust each other.

- Spanish justice, if once it gets a man into its fangs, never lets him go until drained of his last farthing.


But one appalling feature of that era - the foundling 'hospitals' - certainly no longer exists. More on these tomorrow. Though I’ll spare you the grisly details so amply supplied by Ford . . .



* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.