Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 22.3.17

I've just finished the first of 3 volumes comprising the autobiography of Arturo Barea, entitled The Forging of a Rebel. This first part is called The Forge and is a tremendous read. On the back cover it says Orwell described it as excellent and, when I got to the end of it, I saw that the British historian, Paul Preston, had written: There is no book in any language which more vividly recreates the years of poverty, political corruption and social violence which finally erupted into the Spanish Civil War. So, you won't be surprised to hear I'm awaiting delivery of the second volume. Meanwhile: Here's a few things about the Madrid of 1907-1914. It was a time when:-
  • Poverty in Madrid was at what are now considered Third World levels
  • Spanish employers were even more ruthless with employees than they are today
  • All mayors and priests were fat.
  • Parents believed they had a right to tell their children what they had to do with their lives.
  • Priests were either feared and obeyed or detested and ignored
  • Priests commonly had 'nieces' who lived with them. Wives, even.
  • People ate paciencias, which no one in my bar recognises but which is described by the Royal Academy as: Un bollo redondo y muy pequeño hecho con harina, huevo, almendra y azúcar y cocido en el horno.
  • The daily wage for new bank clerks - after a year of earning nothing while on probation - was less than 1 peseta. Or 25 pesetas a month.
  • Families were large
  • Merluza (hake) was as popular a fish as it is today.
  • Cocido (stew) was eaten every day by the poor, put on in the morning and left to stew all day.
  • The midday meal took place at 12 noon, not 3pm, at least in poor houses and in the villages
  • Monkey nuts and roasted chick peas were also as popular as they are today. Well, the latter anyway.
  • Night watchmen patrolled the streets, bawling the hour and the weather.
  • Poor farmers pulled the plough themselves
  • His uncle only shaved on Thursdays and Sundays - As priests do.
  • The cruelty to bulls in villages was beyond belief, if not description.
  • Poor, starving, terrified teenagers pretending to be toreros were regularly gored in the villages.
  • Barea's uncle belonged to a race of men which has almost disappeared; he was a craftsman [a blacksmith] and a gentleman.
  • Cobwebs were placed over cuts and grazes.
  • Poor relatives fought like cats - in front of the notary - over the estate of their not-so-dear departed.
  • Corrupt priests still sold indulgences and benedictions 'blessed by the Pope'. And double, triple or quadruple charged for the same Mass for the dead.
  • At picnics in the villages, sheep and rabbits were strung up in the trees and skinned.
  • Young boys from Galicia came to Madrid on foot with a tin box full of thin rolled wafers [filloas?] slung around their shoulders.
  • Corporal punishment was routinely dished out to kids, not only by parents and relatives but also by anyone in the street who took offence to their activities or words.
  • Park keepers beat kids with a stick if they transgressed
  • Carpenters, masons, tailors and the like barely earned enough to keep death from the door of their families
  • 'Hide and seek' was called 'I spy' in Spanish. 
  • Town councils and the Catholic Church fleeced you when you had to move a body from its temporary grave
  • What is the modern Lavapies barrio in Madrid was then called El Avapies. It contained within it the desperately poor 'quarter of the injuries'. Or El barrio de las injurias which looked like part of modern day Calcutta. Where naked gypsies squatted in the sun killing the lice which the swarthy fingers of their mother or sister plucked from their hair, one by one.
  • Priests told boys in their care: Playing with your parts is fornication. And Woman is sin. For the sake of Woman the human race fell from grace, and all the saints suffered the temptations of evil. In short: Woman is evil. Men who sleep with them go to Hell. It is a sin to come near a woman.
  • Village priests forbade the teachers to show children how to read and write.
  • The first question asked of a new employee - much like today - was: Who got you in here?
  • Two banks - Banco de Urquijo and Banco de Vizcaya - had made themselves masters of the Public Utilities of Madrid and of almost all the industries of Bilbao.
  • Banks sometimes forced their clerks to work from 7am until 1 in the next morning. Albeit probably with a short break for lunch and dinner. Certainly the lucky clerks had a coffee bought for them each night.
  • Notaries - as they still are - were God.
  • The Parque del Oeste was known as The English Park, at least by Barea. 
  • Men 'killed the worm' by drinking brandy or 'cheap spirits' with their first coffee of the day. As they still do in villages.
  • People went to the pictures (movies) at midnight, as they still do.
  • All male clerks were being replaced by very much cheaper young girls. As were the attendants in shops and department stores.
  • People with many years of low-paid service were summarily sacked if found to be a member of a trade union.
By the way, I recognise some of these from my own childhood - e. g. the corporal punishments - but not a lot.

The book is beautifully written and very well translated. A representative paragraph: The sunlight, speckled with flies, streamed through the small square window above my head. The room smelled of the village, the sun-dried grain in the corn-loft opposite, of furze burning in the kitchen, of clinging reek from the chicken coop and of dung in the stables, and of the mud walls of the house, baked by the sun and covered with whitewash.

Returning to the present day . . . When I went to get an up-to-date certificado de empadronamiento from the Poio town hall, the nonplussed lady clerk was incredulous that I didn't have an ID card, only a by-now tattered A4 sheet which confirms I am a resident and gives my NIE number. Lenox of Business over Tapas has advised that we Brits are in this unfortunate position because a couple of Brits compained a few years ago that we were above ID cards. The result is that most of us now have to carry our bloody passports around. Or at least a Spanish driving licence. They should be shot.

Don Quijones reports that: The Euro Group President, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, has managed to offend just about every Southern European nation with the following comment (in reference to recent EU bailouts), at a time when relations between Europe’s north and south are already strained: “You can’t just spend all your money on alcohol and women and then ask for help.” DQ adds thatIt’s fair to say that Dijsselbloem was not speaking literally, but he could have chosen a far better metaphor to illustrate his point — preferably one that doesn’t depict Southern Europeans as alcoholics and prostitutes.

Oddly enough, I also read yesterday that going to a brothel is now de riguer amongst Spain's 20 year old males.

Today's cartoon:-

Finally . . . An interesting article:-

Erdogan threatens a summer of chaos for the EU: Roger Boyes, The Times

The street-wise but pious kid from Istanbul’s harbour district is both a victim and a fighter. According to the film The Chief, the young Tayyip Erdogan was a frequent mosque-goer, protested when a referee refused to interrupt a football game for prayers and was chucked into jail for reciting a poem that goes: “the minarets are our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers”.

Across Europe’s Turkish communities, where the film is being shown this week, audiences may well be dabbing their eyes and declaring: “That’s our boy!” President Erdogan’s spin doctors certainly hope so. There are four million registered voters outside Turkey and the referendum on April 16 — over boosting the president’s powers to near-Putin levels — is looking as if it could be a near-run thing.

If he wins approval, the Turkish constitution will be changed, handing executive powers to the president. Mr Erdogan will be able to hire and fire ministers, rule by edict and curb parliament. In theory he will be able to rule until 2029, giving him the chance to enter the 1,100 rooms of his long-awaited new palace and inspect the silk wallpaper. That sounds like a further, decisive lurch towards autocratic rule, and it is. One of many concerns is that he will use his extended powers to declare all-out war on the Kurds, thus sprinkling kerosene on the Middle East bonfire.

Mr Erdogan’s supporters say he is creating a strong state and correcting the 1982 constitution. Drawn up at a time when the Turkish general staff thought itself better placed than any civilian government to define the country’s interests, the constitution gave a crucial role to a national security council half-filled by army officers. Mr Erdogan believed he had tamed the army — but then came last July’s botched coup.

The past few months have seen him unleash an extraordinary purge. Critical academics have been sacked, newspapers closed down, journalists jailed; it has become a society of snitches who denounce those with suspect loyalties. There is a hysterical undercurrent to today’s Turkey, a touch of King Lear about Mr Erdogan himself and a lick of black Dario Fo-style farce about the behaviour of his followers. A Turkish farmers’ association said it would respond to the recent Dutch deportation of one of Ankara’s cabinet ministers by expelling 40 Holstein Friesian cows. One farmer even chose to slaughter his Dutch cow in protest at the Hague’s supposed neo-Nazi high-handedness.

The Chief may be crude propaganda but it does at least recall why Mr Erdogan was once rated by the West: he was a moderniser, someone who wanted to redress the balance between Islam and Kemalist secularism. We were so sure that Mr Erdogan had got that balance right that we held up his brand of political Islam as being a desirable destination for the rebels of the Arab Spring.

That has vanished now and the big question is: who lost Turkey? People still ask the same question about Russia. When Vladimir Putin appeared in 1999-2000 it was all about engagement: getting him involved in the G8, signing him up for the Nato-Russia strategic council.

It seemed to be going that way with Turkey at the beginning. Turkey signed an association agreement with the EEC in 1963 and became a formal candidate for the EU in 1999. By the time Erdogan became prime minister in 2003 it seemed as if he was going to be the man to make it happen: he agreed to scrap the death penalty, to move towards an independent judiciary, to protect Kurdish rights.

And yet we never really wanted Turkey in the club. Turkey’s swelling population, its Muslim identity, its proximity to troublespots, made it a difficult proposition. Then came the terror attacks in Madrid and London. Centre-right parties discovered Europe’s Christian identity and failed to break the bad news to Mr Erdogan. Instead he was offered weasel words such as “privileged partnership”— by which point it was clear to the Turks that they were destined to remain, as they had always been for Europeans, The Other. The more dependent the EU becomes on Mr Erdogan to act as a holding pen for refugees, the more uncomfortable this Otherness becomes. Last week he was campaigning against the European Court of Justice ruling against the wearing of headscarves and religious symbols in the workplace. Christian Europe, he said, has “started a struggle between the cross and the crescent”. Mevlut Cavusoglu, his foreign minister, recently barred from the Netherlands, warned: “You have begun to collapse, Europe . . . holy wars will soon begin in Europe.”

It is the migrant deal with the EU that allows Mr Cavusoglu to declare: “Turkey is in command.” That flawed bargain, sealed in a moment of desperation, is about to fall apart. If he wins the referendum in April, the Turkish president will see himself at the pinnacle of his power. He will be tempted to take one of two options: to abandon the deal altogether and watch the EU struggle with 15,000 more refugees washing up every day, or to release migrants in controlled doses that end up crippling Greece and Bulgaria, piling pressure on Brussels to give Turks visa-free access to Europe.

The Mediterranean is getting calmer; drought and famine in Africa is driving people towards the sea and the German general election is approaching fast. Forget Russian cyberhacking, Mr Erdogan has in his hands the most disruptive weapon of all: the ability to demonstrate that European governments cannot control their borders. Prepare for a summer of chaos.


Maria said...

And Madrid was still richer than Galicia, with all that poverty. My mother, who was born in 1929, used to tell me about her childhood and youth.

1. The cocido consisted of potatoes and cabbage, and lasted for a few days. Pork was for feast days.

2. My mother had one weekday dress, and one Sunday dress. She washed the weekday dress on Sunday.

3. People wore clogs in the winter. Summer was for going barefoot.

4. My mother, being the oldest girl, was sent to school for about a year or two, long enough to learn how to read and write, and some arithmetic. Then, she was taken out to help at home, even though the teacher begged my grandmother to let her study because she was a good student. It also happened that my grandparents paid for their children's scant schooling.

5. Everything grown on the farm that could be sold, was sold. Except for one daily egg when my uncle, the only son, was diagnosed with anemia. He then lorded it over his sisters that he got to eat an egg, and they didn't because the rest had to be sold.

6. Cars were so scarce, that the village fête was held at the local crossroads, since the village lacked any sort of common.

7. Now, just about every house has an orange tree. Not sixty years ago. When my grandmother was dying, my grandfather bought her a couple of oranges, since she couldn't eat much. They were expensive.

8. A peseta was a large amount of money. Usual purchases were done in "reales" which I assume was what the locals called the céntimos.

9. A visit to the local doctor was to be avoided as much as possible because it cost a lot. Generally, a chicken or two.

10. The priest would expect to receive one of the hams from the butchering of the pig. Otherwise, there would be a lot of hemming and hawing over any necessary documents. And there were always documents to be asked for.

Eamon said...

"Corporal punishment was routinely dished out to kids, not only by parents and relatives but also by anyone in the street who took offence to their activities or words." No different to when I was growing up. I went to schools in England and Canada both public and separate (Catholic) and the strap was dished out the same in both.

Anthea said...

My grandmother used to believe in putting cobwebs on cuts and grazes. Better (and cheaper) than sticking plasters.

Lenox said...

A real was 25 cents (there was a diez reales coin still around in the sixties). A perra gorda was ten cents of a peseta.

Lenox said...

A duro, of course, was five pesetas - so-called as it was for a hard-day's work.