The cacique – or political baron/fixer/despot – I mentioned the other day is one Carlos Fabra [‘Don Carlos’] of Castellón. This is a province and so I guess he’s roughly the equivalent of the head of a British County Council. But far more powerful. For one thing, he’s the successor in title to his grandfather and his father and is reported to be preparing one of this daughters to take over the position in due course. How can this be in a modern democracy, you ask. Even if he weren’t under investigation by the tax authorities as to the origin and non-reporting of more than a million euros. Surely he’ll soon be in gaol and impotent. Well, far from it, apparently. His party – the opposition PP – seems to be unwilling or unable to remove Don Carlos from power and today’s El País has an article on him headlined Castellón is his fiefdom. No one escapes his control. He doesn’t accept external interference, even from his own party. He’s the Great Achiever. He grants favours, large and small. He demands absolute personal loyalty. And he represents the classic figure of the 19th century cacique here in the 21st. Reading this – and bits of the article – I was reminded of how I was told more than once when I first came to Galicia that I’d never understand how things worked here until I grasped that life was essential feudal. But, back then, we were living in the era of ‘Don Manuel’ [Manuel Fraga] and things have surely moved on since then. In Galicia anyway. And at least he was the founder of the PP party and the President of a region, not merely the leader of a provincial Diputación. That said, Fabra’s opposite number in the Pontevedra Diputación is also reported to have become a rich man. Not that anyone seems to care much. Interestingly, he hasn’t yet acquired the honorary[!] title of Don. And I guess he may never do so. Though I can’t say I understand these things. It all seems to endorse the view that, while Spain is not a corrupt place when it comes to business and life in general, there’s a question mark hanging over at least her provincial and municipal politicians.
Being positive . . . There’s plenty in today’s press about how strong Spanish banks are, the sources being the usual suspects - government ministers and the Bank of Spain. Given how badly wrong the former got their economic forecasts, it’s reassuring to be hearing the same mood music from the latter. On the other hand, there are voices stressing that everything is relative, that Spanish banks are not unexposed and that all depends on whether things improve in the 18 or 24 months before they have to refinance themselves. Or something like that. Anyway, for obvious reasons, I’m keeping my fingers crossed
It would be petty of me to say low long [short?] it took – on returning to Spain - for me to be irritated by my pet hates of motorists driving up my backside and pedestrians walking right in front of me, as if I didn’t exist. So I won’t. I know that neither of these are considered abnormal/wrong in Spain and I have to be stoic about them.
Which reminds me . . . Things aren’t exactly great in France either but El País today says that The supposedly highly advanced Spanish society has one of the most ineffective laws against tobacco on the Continent. The government - and many citizens - seem to be happy it isn’t complied with. It isn’t enforced and offences aren’t sanctioned. You have been warned.
But back to the trip . . . Returning along the north coast, we had the chance to see a couple of major tourist attractions – the village of Santillana del Mar in Cantabria and the Cathedrals Beach in Lugo province, Galicia. The former is said to be the village of three untruths – it’s not holy, not flat and nowhere near the sea - but it is decidedly picturesque. Sartre thought it the prettiest village in all Spain and he might well have been right. Especially as I’d guess it’s been further prettified since he saw it. Virtually every house is a posada, hotel or restaurant and looks something like this . . .
In fact, the house below is the only one out of, say, a hundred which hasn’t been gentrified and my guess is it will stay this way because the owners were executed for dereliction of civic duty.
All in all, it’s rather like wandering round one of those model medieval villages in the UK. Only life size. And here’s a bit of advice:- You can’t drive into the village proper; you have to use an earlier access road called something like The route to the hostals. If you ignore this and then turn left into the slightly downmarket, village-green bit of the Santillana, you run the risk of returning home without having seen the village proper on the other side of the main road. Though this is probably only true if you arrive late in the day. Earlier, you’re likely to be given a clue in the form of hordes of tourists de-bussing in a car park and walking across said road. Best seen either late in the day or early in the morning. And in autumn or winter. Like Venice used to be.
As for the Cathedrals Beach, you can get some idea of its splendour from this photo. Which I have a reason for showing
The [Portuguese] young lady in it asked me to snap her and her partner, standing a metre or so away from the edge of the cliff. Goaded by my own black-humoured partner, I asked them to move back two metres. When, mistaking me for an honourable Englishman, they duly started to, we both had to scream at them to stop. And then stifle our laughter until we were out of earshot. So, I’m glad the young lady is not recognizable by any Portuguese readers as I wouldn’t like her to be embarrassed by my telling of this tale.
Towards the very end of our trip, we stopped at a services station at the side of the autovia between Santiago and Pontevedra. The front seat passenger in the adjacent parked car engaged me in a conversation about my dog and about where the four of them could get some chicken to eat and whether they needed to make a reservation in the nearby restaurant. It seemed pretty obvious that, at 6pm, he was as high as a kite. And the state of his gaze – completely new to me – suggested drugs rather than booze. This suspicion was endorsed when the guy behind him added some slurred and wide-eyed comments of his own. And it was confirmed when he bluntly informed me they had lots of money and were in the habit of spending it on drugs. Despite their apparently friendliness, I decided to leave at this point and to get as far away as I could before the driver woke up and started the engine of the car. I guess they’ll kill themselves one day and it’d be nice to know it’s only a tree, lamppost or wall they hit en route to eternity.
These guys are not the only menace on our roads, though. I read today that the chauffeur of the deputy mayor has had his licence suspended for driving at 120 in a 50km zone near Vigo airport. As I regularly say, no wonder our insurance premiums are high