Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Devil is in the detail. Here’s the 19 and 20th century history of Spain encapsulated in the name of the main square in a village near Toledo where in 1838 George Borrow sold copies of the Protestant New Testament for a fraction of their cost:-
c. 1814 onwards: Plaza de la Constitución
???? - 1866: Plaza Real
1866 -1931: Plaza de la Constitución
1931-1939: Plaza de la República
1939 -????: Plaza del Generalísimo
???? – Now: Plaza Mayor
So . . . Liberal; Monarchist; Liberal; Republican; Dictatorial; and Democratic. Small wonder Spain’s a fascinating place.

By the way, the writer who supplied these details (Tom Burns Marañon) endorses my suspicion that - wonderfully entertaining as it is - The Bible in Spain is “an ingenious mixture of fabulous and true stories”. “In it”, says TBM, “Borrow, like most writers of the time, mixed his real experiences with fabricated episodes and invented personalities.” Exactly as I’d concluded. And more evidence of why Miguel de Unamuno regarded it as a novel. Click here if you want to find out for yourself. And here for the George Borrow Society.

One of the funny things about old George is that he was far more at home with Spain’s lower classes than with the upper classes (whom he detested) and even the middle classes. In contrast, it seems Gordon Brown has just discovered the existence and importance of the British middle classes. Coincidentally, about nine months ahead of a general election. And with his party’s poll ratings falling through the floor. Here’s a (big) bit of one commentator’s take on this development:- For 12 years now the folk in the middle, who make up the bulk of the nation's voters, volunteers, wealth creators, and civilising influences, have been on the receiving end of an egregious, slow-motion Labour rip-off. With one hand Labour has taken our money, and with the other slapped on the cuffs. Some of us were too distracted by the wonder of ever-climbing property values to notice the soaring tax bills and collapsing services. In an act of strategic cheek that defies even his knack for political jaw-droppers, Brown has concluded that the middle classes matter after all. His words are worth reproducing . . ."It's precisely because I care about the squeezed middle that I have promoted mortgage support, childcare subsidies and tax credits, making Britain's mainstream majority – and their values of fairness, responsibility and accountability – Labour's number one priority. It is not just the poor and the vulnerable who want the security of decent public service, it's the middle class too. It is this insight that now informs my thinking right across my Government's policy agenda." Quite why it has taken Mr Brown more than a decade to work out that the middle classes might have needs must be added to all the other baffling questions that flock to his leadership. The idea that we have been his "number one priority" is risible, coming from a man whose career was built on concern for Africa's starving millions, class war, and brooding resentment at Tony Blair's easy relationship with aspirational Middle England. You can, if you want, read it all here. Meanwhile, though, it’s interesting to speculate on whether – having just decided to hammer them with increased taxes - President Zapatero will undergo a similar Pauline conversion to Gordon Brown’s ahead of the next general election in three years’ time. Given his record of lies and bribes before the last one, I feel fairly safe in predicting that – borrowing levels permitting – he certainly will. Power corrupts even well-intentioned socialists. Especially those who have difficulty with numbers.

I haven’t mentioned being nearly killed on a zebra crossing for a while. So, to make up for this, here’s a relevant news item. For what it’s worth, my feeling is that drivers here in Pontevedra are getting more courteous. Or more aware of the crazy Englishman who’s likely to walk out in front of their car.

And still on the subject of driving locally . . . I take the utmost care when going down and coming up the hill to my house. This is because the main users of the parquet infantile recently installed are gypsy kids from the two nearby permanent settlements. And because I occasionally read of summary justice handed out by irate gypsy parents more concerned with retribution than culpability.

Finally . . . In a recent BBC podcast, someone used the word ‘problemetising’. Twice. Much as I love how English works and develops, this sort of thing is sometimes hard to take. But I guess my grandchildren will all be using it daily. Should either of my daughters ever get round to giving me any.

Publishing Note

Today’s additions to Galicia: The Switzerland of Spain . . .

Chapter 3: The First Golden Age
Chapter 6: Pilgrims to Santiago
Chapter 14: Emigration
Chapter 15: Rosalía de Castro

I recommend the chapter on Emigration, if you can’t manage them all. But, if you’ve got poetry in your soul, Chapter 15 is a must. Given how Ms Meakin approaches even the most mundane Galician subject, it’s inevitable she goes a little overboard for our famous poet. Have a hanky nearby.


Alberto said...

With so much interest in Borrow, perhaps you should try to watch El bosque del lobo (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064105/) One of the mayor characters (played by John Steiner) is clearly inspired in Borrow. (apart from that is a good film)

Colin said...

Thanks, Alberto. I'll try to see it. The one reviewer on the IMDB was ecstatic about it.

Alberto said...

Perhaps the review exaggerates a bit, but it is a good film, with great acting by José Luis López Vázquez.