Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Up in the Galician hills it rains quite a lot, especially in winter. Umbrellas are a necessity and have to be taken to work. Farmers who need both hands free deal with this challenge by hooking their umbrellas into their shirt or coat collar and letting them dangle down their backs. Down in snobby Pontevedra, no one would be seen dead doing this. So I get a few strange looks when I adopt this eminently sensible practice. I mention this as a prelude to a quintessentially British tale. . . Needing both hands to complete the newspaper crossword as I walked yesterday along the seafront, I duly thrust my brolly behind my back and set off for my brisk walk. I became aware a car had crossed the road and drawn up just behind me. As I turned round, the lady driver smiled and I feared yet another request for directions, the bane of my life in Pontevedra. Rolling down the window, she said “I know you're going to think this is a silly question but do you know you’ve got an umbrella hanging down your back?”. Laughing, I said I did and explained it was to allow me to do the crossword as I walked. Noticing she was a nurse and knowing there were several retirement communities nearby, I asked her whether she’d concluded I was an Alzheimer’s patient out for a stroll. “Oh, no” she replied. “I just thought someone might be playing a practical joke on you.”

Earlier this year, the mobile phone companies in Spain were instructed to stop overcharging customers by billing by the minute instead of the second. The consequence was that ‘set up’ charges immediately soared and all my [short] calls immediately became far more expensive. So I was both unsurprised and pleased to read yesterday that the Office for the Defence of Competition has decided to take action against the companies for illegal price fixing. But I don’t suppose I’ll ever see the cost of my calls reduce.

Talking of prices . . . Here in the UK, I’m constantly surprised at how expensive certain things are, even after taking into account salary differentials between Britain and Spain. So I wasn’t too astonished to read yesterday the average pub lunch is now 20 quid [28 euros] a head. That gastronomic delight, the steak and kidney pie, averages 10.50 [15 euros] across the country, which compares with a mere 6.50 [10 euros] for a fine full meal in Brittany. Is there some justification for this or is it merely profiteering based on the low standards of Brits who’ve only recently become a nation which eats out quite a lot?

Galicia Facts

The mayors of all of Galicia’s seven cities are meeting to set up a ‘united front’ against binge drinking in the street on Friday and Saturday nights [el botellón] and to decide on a common policy. One wonders why they can’t act alone against this modern nuisance. One of the options is to copy other cities in Spain and establish a dedicated location for the kids. This goes by the wonderful name of un botellódromo.

Talking of joint action . . . Up in the hills behind Pontevedra, ten neighbours are clubbing together to buy a 250,000 euro house to prevent it getting into the hands of a gypsy family which currently lives on the permanent encampment not far from my house. The fear is it will be a Trojan horse for a new settlement. I was reminded of Xoan-Carlos’s comment to my blog of yesterday that “Most Spanish people think they're racially tolerant simply because they listen to gypsy/Mexican music but would have a stroke if one of their children married a "moro", despite the massive contribution of Arabic culture to that of Spain.”

Any reader interested in Galician Celticness, will find the comment from reader Luis to this blog stimulating. To fury in some cases, I expect.

Finally, a real cultural difference between Britain and Spain. As in other Continental countries, fresh milk is hard to get in Spain, where it’s drunk by only 4% of the population. In the UK, it’s 92%. Must be the weather.


Xoan-Carlos said...

Luis' comments on celticism are largely well founded, although archaological finds and place names suggest that the Celtic influence is much greater in Galicia than anywhere else on the peninsula and his comment on whether Galicians do or don't look like the Irish just as readily suggests that the Irish, Welsh and other Britons are a mixture of other peoples (vikings - who founded most of Ireland's towns; normans, Anglo saxons etc) other than the celts, just as Galicians probably have traces of Arabs, paler-skinned berbers, Latins, Germans (swabians, visigoths and vandals), Normans and Phoenicians.

Interestingly, I noticed that in the prologue to Emilia Pardo Bazan's Pazos de Ulloa, she noted how in the late 19th century the people of the Rias Baixas have noticeably darker complexions than other Galicians. As far as I know, Pontevedra was the phonecian settlement in Galicia.

Also, the ancient Irish Book of Invasions describe the Galician invaders who colonised their Island as originating from Scythia (modern-day Ukraine, which incidently also has a large region named Galicia) and although there seems to be some geographical and cultural overlap between the ancient peoples referred to as Keltoi and Scythian, they still seem to be regarded as two separate cultures.

As for "Celtic music and dance", I believe the shared musical tradition of Galicia and other parts of northern Spain (all the way to Cantabria and the Basque country) undoubtedly point towards cultural elements shared with the the British Isles and Britanny (and even Scandinavia in some cases), but rather than proving the existence of a single "Celtic culture" this is more likely the result of various peoples living either around a shared sea (the so-called Celtic sea) and exchanges between fishermen and traders as well as due to the influence of pilgrims (mostly French) travelling to Galicia in the middle ages.

Much of what is labeled as being Galician music today (e.g. artists such as Carlos Nuñez, Milladoiro, Fia na Roca) is in actual fact largely traditional Irish music played by Galicians.

Xoan-Carlos said...

Oh, I also forgot to mention yesterday what a load of toss Spanish and Portuguese music is (at least the stuff that's labelled as "Popular" e.g. the mole-blighted Enrique Iglesias, Alejandro Sanz etc), and television?... well, I'd best not get started on that subject!

Moskvitch5 said...

I found XC's yesterday's comments dead on target. I would lie if I'd say I enjoyed reading them - even if they are mostly tongue-in-cheek -, and the reason I find them hard to swallow is because they are actually true. As I said, I think Spain is not a bad place - and it has improved out of all recognition in the last 30-50 years. I suspect the UK was a much better place to live than Spain 40 years ago. Comparissons between countries produce asymetric results, that is, somethings are better in one country, other things are better in the other. On balance, I believe, the UK and Spain are more or less on equal footing.

Xoan-Carlos said...

Which is better? It really depends on your priorities, your desires and the current stage you're in in your life. I could say equally damning things about living in England, even though for me this country pips any other for quality of life (and most visitors I have from Galicia and elsewhere tend to agree). For others (probably Colin and many of his generation) Spain will be a better place to live. To say that either is a better place to live would be pure chauvinism.

Xoan-Carlos said...

To add to my comment yesterday on "Spain's Great National Day of Hispanic National Greatness and Proud Processions of sub-60 IQ point soilders in poorly fitted uniforms" the Nicaraguan government has just announced that from 2008 the Dia de Hispanidad will be comemorated as the "Day of Indigenous Resistence" instead. Maybe it should be commemorated in Spain as the "Day of Indigenous Genocide in the name of Spain and the Church" with an annual apology from the King of Spain and the Pope, and citizens burning images of the Reyes Catolicos.

moskvitch6 said...

The fact that I live in Russia has probably got to do something with the fact that to me the UK and Spain seem equally good to live in. Any of the two will do. Perhaps, 10 years is not enough to pass judgement. But I think Britain is a fine country, and unlike Colin, insane is the last word that would spring to my mind when describing Britain. The truth is, from what I've seen so far of this world (not enough that's for sure, it's never enough), there is no place on earth more sane than Britain and it's people - despite excentricities like carrying your umbrella like a Galician farmer...Gosh! However, Quality of Life???....hhmmmm...well, I must have missed out massively during those 10 years.

Duardón de Albaredo said...

"Much of what is labeled as being Galician music today (e.g. artists such as Carlos Nuñez, Milladoiro, Fia na Roca) is in actual fact largely traditional Irish music played by Galicians"

Xoan-Carlos, that is plainly wrong. Most of these Galician tunes are traditional [Galician] tunes (the composers are anonymous, no one remembers who they were). A music which existed much before the "boom" of the "Celtic Music" (a profitable business by the way).

A music made by people who did not even know what were the Celtic nations ;)

And by the way, as far as I know Scottish, Irish and Briton (Britany, in France) musicians ALSO use Galician traditional tunes (which is very weird since according to the deniers "no celtic influence in Galicia at all") ;)

Galicia has literally hundreds (if not thousands) of muiñeiras, etc... and that's what most of the Galician musicians use. Just check the songs list of these CD's. Easy. I mean, what you say is totally false. Or is "Farruquiña, Chaman á porta" Irish? ;)

Colin said...


As far as I know, no one goes as far as to deny Celtic influence on Galicia.

My main contention is that Galicia is no no more Celtic than Asturias and Cantabria. Nor even northern/central Portugal.

Celtic uniqueness used to support/ justify Galician nationalist sentiment is a [convenient] sham. Which is not to say Galicia doesn't have its own culture to preserve/ promote.

There may well be Galician folk songs that have been sung since Celtic times. Possibly.

pilar said...

It is all about the so-called botellón, binge drinking. How can Pontevedra authorities legalize and permit alcohol abusing in the streets? Masses of young, underage people get disgustingly drunk every weekend. They leave home with the only purpose of getting drunk. They blame all it on the excessive price of alcohol consuming in bars, pubs,...Talking about excesses, I wonder why it is necessary to have four, five,..ten "copas" every night to have fun if there is the possibility of enjoying one or two of these "copas" in the company of friends and good music in a nice place. Is it a matter of alcohol quantity?
Some days ago the authorities threatened with placing the "botellodromo" in Jardines de Vicenti, just in the centre of Pontevedra. I wonder if our authorities consider binge drinking something worth showing to the short number of visitors Pontevedra receives, or if what is worth visiting is, maybe the piles of waste these drunken people leave behind.

Biopolitical said...

Colin, whenever government or the courts intervene in market prices, higher prices and/or poorer service follow. This happened when they imposed billing by the minute (why not by the second, or by the millisecond?) and will happen again if the misnamed anti-trust office intervenes in the "price-fixing" case.

Colin said...

Too true. The 'cheap' parking I use in Madrid rose from 18 to 24 euros a night to compensate for enforced changes!

Luis said...

Xoan Carlos, what you said above is spot on. I'd like to clarify that I'm not playing down the celticness of Galicians (I just don't buy the notion that celts were the main or unique ethnic element in galician´s genes).
It may be true in some specific villages or parts of the region while completelly untrue in other parts.
Just travel galicia (and Asturias, etc) and look at their people´s faces.
Some of them may look strikingly nordic, others will show a large proportion of read headed inhabitants, and many others will look just as the tipical galician: short, dark haired and with bushy eyebrows.
But even this tipical look may or may not be celtic...(I´m playing devil's advocate here).
As a matter of fact, bretons (from french Britany) don´t look different, and they are regarded as celtic. There are a few scholars who consider this phenotype as the true celtic one (although I don't think so).

As for the town names (ended in briga or dunum), you are right, and this is a solid proof of celtic presence in iberia (whatever celtic means here though).

As for the different peoples mixed throughout history, they may well explain why galicians look different than other "celts" (in case they really are mainly celtic).
The british islands received a considerable influx of normands, danes, vikings, etc.., and I believe this was in greater proportion of the suaves and visigoths who came to iberia.

I wouldn´t base any conclution though on myths or literal traditions as the Lebhar Gabala (sorry, don't remember how to spell it), because they sound like texts made up to build a prestigious lineage amongst the people of these times.

And finally, if galicians are really celts to some (or a large) extent, castillans and other neighbours are not any less celtic than them.

I really believe that the impresion given by the classical sources are mostly true. Celtiberians were really a powerful force by that time, and they don´t seem to be too different that other celts, but I'd dare to say they were celtic in the sense of a cultural identity and tradition, not much in a racial sense (if we consider celts to be tall, white and with blue eyes). I mean, if there are celtic bretons who are short and dark haired, there might be as well many galician celts with these characteristiques. And if this theory holds, perhaps the british celts are whiter and taller simply because they mixed with nordic elements.

Well, the more I think about it, the more I realise how many unanswered questions we have...
I have more doubts that any other on this subject, but these doubts were originated in evidences that instead of sheding light on them, originate more questions... so I can´t withstand to hear from experts all the nonsense there is written or said.

I believe many "experts" are deliverately "forcing" some evidences to prove their point.
For example, the bagpipes band of Ourense dress its members with a white "kilt" and play bagpipes with three drones and almost as large as the scottish ones.
They say that actually, the white skirt was used in the sixteenth or so century by someone in galicia and they refer to documents to prove it.
Alright, lets say that´s true. Is the white skirt a dress that really identify galicians as their own? Is it really engraved in their psyche? I don't think so. They use it because it looks similar to the scottish or irish attire.
The same goes for the bagpipes. I don´t deny that, perhaps, someone used it somewhere in galicia sometime... but is it realy tipical?
No. these are just atempts to force our similarities with our celtic neighbours from the north.

Am I wrong?

Xoan-Carlos said...


I'd recommend the following channel 4 documentary

The research in this programme found that in Britain, were movement of people has been much greater than anywhere on the Iberian peninsula (largely due to industrialisation having started 300 years ago), there is still a considerable difference between peoples' appearance in traditionally Celtic Cornwall (and south Wales) and neighbouring Devon. And interestingly, the "Cornish facial characteristics" include darker features, rounder faces and squarer jaws, compared to people elsewhere in England. Although like you I have found similarly stark differences between people's appearance in Galicia, almost to the extent that some villages are almost entirely populated by people with jet black hair, while in others you'll struggle to find anyone with dark hair (which I'd again put down due to the absence of inward movement of people within Galicia) this research does suggest some links between the British Isles and Iberia or more specifically the Galicia.

The Banda de Gaitas de Ourense is an amusing example, and interesting that the group was put together by Fraga's government rather than the nationalists, proving that the nationalists don't have a monopoly on creating a Celtic myth. It also supports what I said yesterday about Galician folk music being heavily influenced by Irish music (although Duardon interpreted my comment as suggesting that all music by certain artists is Irish rather than Galician) -- Carlos Nuñez has various pieces on his Brotherhood of Stars album which are clearly Irish and often plays the Breton and Irish pipes. Listening to Fia na Roca and Milladoiro again today I struggled to find anything Irish sounding on more than one piece of music, so my comment yesterday was mistaken. And Duardon is correct to point out that the musical exchange is a two way thing (e.g. The Chieftain's Santiago album, and a host of others)

Luis said...

These documentals are very interesting.
It's worth noting what they say regarding the new waves of immigrants in Britain: "in twenty years, this research would probably be impossible".
I remember having seen a study like this, a few years ago, related to Asturias.
I saw it in a enciclopedia of Asturias' pre and protohistory whose name I don't remember. It was a very expensive collection of books, fully illustrated, that were donated to the "Centro Asturiano de Buenos Aires" by the Principado de Asturias. I could read a little bit of it in the centre's library, and there were many facial pictures of native asturians, classified by region, eyes color, head shape, etc....

Perhaps you know what I'm talking about? It is very difficult to get this material here...

These pictures showed old people, the last contry men fully asturians who where living in their villages, so I understand what they say about the chances of conducting these researchs in a few years. It would be really impossible.
Young people leave the country, new immigrants arrive and soon, it would be very difficult to track our origins.

I remember that these books explained some of the most critical theories to the current celtism, stating that celts were a warrior aristocracy in their new domains, that were probably wiped out by the romas, who introduced gaulish soldiers to populate their lands.
A little bit extreme theory, but interesting enough to consider...

Duardón de Albaredo said...

Much of what is labeled as being Galician music today (e.g. artists such as Carlos Nuñez, Milladoiro, Fia na Roca) is in actual fact largely traditional Irish music played by Galicians"

Xoan-Carlos, no misunderstanding at all. That was exactly what you said. especially the "largely traditional Irish music played by Galicians". And this is totally false, as I said. Have you checked these songs list, as suggested? You will notice that most of them are "Trad." (Traditional Galician in fact).

Which means the melodies, rythm, ARE Galician. Not their fault if some (or many) Galician tunes may sound like "Irish" tunes to you ;)

In fact, they are the classic tunes played with "gaiteiro, tamborileiro e bombo". They just added MORE instruments (AND no, some of those instruments are not Celtic, in case that means something). Is this forbidden? Does that make them less Galician?