Friday, December 04, 2009

As I haven’t been able to write a blog tonight, here are my notes on the first chapter of Miguel-Anxo Murado’s book, Otro Idea de Galicia. Or “Another View of Galicia”. Apologies to those to whom this is of no interest.

Reading this book – and even more so when I was typing up these notes – I found myself asking whether, if I were a Gallego and had moved to, say, Kent, would I be interested in reading about the geography, foundation, history, myths and politico-economic development of that region of England. And, if I were, would I be able to find books like this one. “Another View of Kent”, for example. If not, why not? What would this say about Kent? What does it say about Galicia and the Galicians? Is it all to do with a far more developed sense of regional (‘national’) identity? Born of a different language, for one thing. Maybe when I’ve finished writing up the notes, I’ll have an answer to this. Meanwhile. . .

OTRA IDEA DE GALICIA - By Miguel-Anxo Murado

CHAPTER 1: THE COUNTRY’S FACE

Galicia is an Atlantic country. And is much closer to the British Isles and the French coast than appears from the impression given by maps. For example, the early Galician linen industry came to rely on trade with the Baltic.

Explaining its famous rainfall, Galicia is the first continental point hit by polar fronts.

Galicia is humid and green but it’s not a garden. Oversimplifying, Galicia comprises granite in the west and slate in the east. But in both areas the soil is low on chalk and, so, extremely acidic.

Archaeologists believe Galicia was ‘super-populated’ in pre-historic times.

Although emigration has hit hard, Galicia’s population density is still above Spain’s average and is higher than half of all other European countries.

Although counting for less than 6% of Spain’s territory, Galicia has almost 50% of its nucleuses of population. These arose wherever there was a water source. And there are a lot of these. As a result, the population is highly dispersed. Galicia’s first nationalist – Antolín Faraldo – saw this as the root cause of the country’s ills and a as brake on progress. In truth, it’s Galicia’s most singular characteristic and the origin of a good part of what we might call the Galician identity.

Galicia’s urbanisation index is less than half that of developed countries and is only growing slowly.

Galicia’s super-population also explains the other constant in its history – poverty.

The Galician potato – which now occupies a place of honour in supermarkets – was once only given to animals. Similarly, the shellfish for which a fortune is now paid was once unvalued by sailors. For whom there were plentiful alternatives from the sea.

From the body of the Apostle St James to the oil from the Prestige in 2002, everything has arrived in Galicia by sea. Including the booty from numerous shipwrecks. For example, the accordions from “The Grand Liverpool” which the locals thought were the laments of souls in pain, as they were tossed around by the waves. And the condensed milk which was taken to be whitewash and used to refresh the walls. Leading to a plague of flies.

Nowadays, 70,000 people live off the shellfish industry. Sadly, though, some varieties are now almost exhausted. The Galician scallop – the symbol of St James - is on the verge of extinction and the Galician oyster is now very rare and expensive.

Galician is the third fishing power in the world and her fleet is as large as all those of the rest of the EU put together. But it has been hit by the exhaustion of fish stocks around the world and by ‘territorialisation’ of the seas.

Fishing is a silent business. And, as we will see, silence and resignation have been very much a part of being Galician throughout the country’s history. This Galician silence often applies in respect of themselves, though often not voluntarily.

At times, the perception of silence gives way to misunderstandings, such as the belief that the Galicians are essentially conservative.

We will not give way to the temptation to look for a key to or the essence of Galicia. They don’t exist. Galicia is a geographic space that is changing, singular but not incomprehensible.

So, let’s begin with the most positive of the misunderstandings: the lazy idea – exaggerated and at times counterproductive - that Galicia is an Arcadia, a paradise, an innocent landscape . . .

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