Tuesday, August 25, 2009

One thing that didn’t happen to me during my recent drive to and from the UK is that – as far as I know – I didn’t get yet another fine for speeding. Though there was a scare yesterday evening, when I came up against a Guardia Civil patrol stopping a fair number of cars at the end of one of the A8 autopista stretches. I could scarcely believe it when mine was waved on. I was reminded of this when reading a letter in one of the main papers today about how confusing it is these days – for one reason or another - to know what the correct speed limit is. And how irritating it is to see official cars flashing past way above whatever it might be. Why, asked the writer, should politicians be above the laws which they promulgate for others. Good question. “Spain is different” hardly seems adequate.

In his book on the Spanish War of Independence, the French cavalry officer, M. Rocca, seems genuinely impressed that the Spanish irregular forces proved more than a match for their French opponents when it came to anything other than a traditional pitched battle. At the same time, though, he comes across as both surprised and irritated that this arises from the famous Spanish pride and individualismo. Supplemented, perhaps, by the topography of much of the country . . . . The Spanish generals, like their government, had no authority, excepting while they acted in unison with the feelings of those whom they commanded. They could neither restrain their soldiers in success, nor command them when a reverse of fortune occurred, and these undisciplined bands, in victory or in flight, dragged their generals with them. The pride of the Spaniards was such, that they would never attribute their misfortunes to their want of experience, or to the military superiority of their enemies : the moment they were beaten, they accused their chiefs of treason. General Saint Juan was hanged by his soldiers at Talavera, General la Penna was superseded by the divisions of Andalusia, and the Duke del Infantado forced to take the command of the army at Cuenca. The Spaniards were a religious and warlike, but not a military, people; they even detested and despised every thing belonging to regular troops ; therefore they were in want of officers, subalterns and all the means that tend to constitute a well regulated army. They considered the present war as a religious crusade against the French, for their country and their king; and the only military distinction of the greatest part of their citizen soldiers was a red ribbon, with this inscription, ‘Vincer o morir pro patria et pro Ferdinando septimo’. At the first call, men from every province presented themselves, almost naked, at the great assemblies, which they called their armies. There the ardent desire they had for conquest, made them support, with admirable patience, privations to which all the power of the severest discipline could never have subjected the best regular troops. Even at the time of our victories, the people of the provinces manifested the greatest incredulity concerning the successes we gained ; no Spaniard would believe in the disasters of Spain, or own that she could be conquered : these sentiments, inherent in every mind, rendered the nation invincible, notwithstanding the frequent defeats, and individual losses of its armies. The modern equivalent, of course, is the firm belief that your region’s cuisine is the best in the world and that no one makes a better tortilla than your grandmother.

I don’t, of course, know what drove M. Rocca to turn to the pen but this paragraph from an article in Prospect magazine struck me as having more than a grain of truth about it. Though I’m sure it doesn’t apply to my would-be novelist daughter, currently taking tango lessons in Buenos Aires . . . Why write a book? To change the world? To make money? No. Geoffrey Miller’s answer to this kind of question is simple: it’s all about showing off. Our evolutionary history has bequeathed us strong tendencies to display signals that indicate our desirability. Being an author, for example, advertises intelligence—something that in turn is supposed to correlate with brain size, physical and mental health, semen quality in men and, ultimately, sexual attractiveness.

As if. But, anyway, welcome to the two new Followers (awful word) to this blog.

Finally, I can’t say it was a great surprise today to read that Ryanair is investing heavily in Oporto airport so as to turn it into a North West Iberia hub for 25 international flights. If any of the three small international airports here in Galicia ever stood a real chance of competing for this boost to the local economy, its hopes must have been destroyed by the pathetic parochial infighting of the last few years. So, let’s hope some lessons are learned. The main one being that localist pride in one’s patria chica can be overdone.

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