Friday, March 24, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 24.3.17

More comments have come in about about Spain and Galicia in the first half of the 20th century. Eamon has told me that, when he first arrived in La Coruña, there were knife sharpeners(afiladores) in the streets during the day and watchmen(serenos) patrolling them during the night. And my friend Ian has advised that, in the towns and villages he visited in the late 50s, drinking water was only available from a pump in the main square. And that there was a guardia civil on every corner.

Reader Maria has commented on the aspects of poverty at the time of her grandmother here in Galicia. Going further back still – to the late 1830s – here's what George Borrow had to say about Galicia, when he first entered it, on horseback: The villages were mostly an assemblage of wretched cabins; the roofs were thatched, dank, and moist, and not infrequently covered with rank vegetation. There were dunghills before the doors, and no lack of pools and puddles. Immense swine were stalking about, intermingled with naked children. The interior of the cabins corresponded with their external appearance: they were filled with filth and misery.

When you look at today's Spain and marvel at such things as its ultra-modern road and high-speed rail network, you can be forgiven for forgetting that, back in the 60s, Spain was officially part of the Developing World. No wonder Spaniards love the EU, the source of massive largesse. Only relatively recently did Poland take over as the biggest beneficiary of this. Which is ironic as - in contrast to Spain - Poland is not showing much gratitude. In fact, it's threatening to replace the UK as the bad boy on the EU block. See the article at the end of this post on this.

By the way . . .There was the occasional knife sharpener on the streets of my street when I was a kid.

Back to modern Spain . . . Here, from The Local, is a list of the 'strange' things Spanish parents do with their kids:

And here's a scarcely believable account of a suit taken out by a teenager against his mother, for taking his mobile phone off him. He accused her of maltreatment.

Here's The Local's list of the Top Ten paradors in Spain. I featured No. 1 here a few months ago, of course.

As for the Spanish economy, here's something that reflects the macro-micro void I keep banging on about.

I read conflicting reports about the Spanish construction industry. Generally speaking, it's still in the doldrums. Pontevedra, for example, has only 10% of the number of active architects it had back in the boom. (As if we care). But, in Madrid, huge investment is going into office premises. Which Spain thinks is a major positive factor in her favour in the current Continental war to get bits of the London financial business post Brexit.

On the latter, Don Quijones reports that Frankfurt is the way-ahead favourite to bag the biz. See here on this.

Over in the USA, Trump's healthcare reforms - which will hit the poor - have been held up by Republican extremists who don't think it goes far enough. They insist the law must more accurately reflect the 'character' of the nation. Jeez. Some more people who deserve to be shot.

Finally . . . El País tells us that almost two people are processed every day for political corruption here in Spain. One wonders when – or, indeed, if – the Spanish public will eventually rebel against this in any serious way. Not while it continues to put the PP in power, of course. Which they might well have another chance to do quite soon. The government has had a couple of reverses in parliament and President Rajoy is threatening to go for a new and larger mandate. This doesn't concern me, of course. I might pay taxes but I have no vote. Revolutions have been incited by less.

Today's cartoon:-


































Poles threaten to spoil EU’s birthday party

European leaders heading for Rome this weekend to shrug off Brexit gloom and celebrate the EU’s 60th birthday are ruining the party mood with bickering and finger pointing.

Heads of government minus Theresa May, will gather at the Campidoglio palace tomorrow to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957.

Smiles may seem forced, however, amid threats from Poland and Greece not to sign a joint declaration on the EU’s future. Beata Szydlo, the Polish prime minister, is upset by a reference to a multispeed Europe in the document. Brussels officials see it as giving members greater leeway as they integrate their economies, but Poland fears it will be left behind in a second division.

“It’s an incentive to create sub-groups, to exclude, to abandon joint decisions,” Ms Szydlo said.

Greece says it will sign the declaration only if it mentions protecting jobs — an issue seen as important because of demands from international lenders to make lay-offs easier. One diplomat warned that Greece would not get far by sabotaging the declaration. “We won’t be blackmailed by one member state which is linking one EU issue with a totally different one,” he said.

Southern states are already on a war footing after Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch eurogroup chief, accused them of wasting money on “drinks and women”. Luigi Di Maio, the probable prime ministerial candidate for the Italian Five Star Movement, which is leading the polls, said yesterday: “The euro made us poorer and we are now being humiliated too.”

Tensions will run high outside the signing ceremony tomorrow as police patrol a barricaded city centre and Predator drones fly overhead.

Riot police will be on hand as 30,000 demonstrators criss-cross Rome in numerous marches, including potentially violent hard-left and hard-right anti-EU protesters, and pro-Brussels marchers.

6 comments:

Alfred B. Mittington said...


Last time I looked, there was still an ambulant knife-sharpener who mostly plied his trade near the market place of Santiago de Compostela. One feature which I always enjoyed (and not only in Santiago) was the plastic pan-flute with which he announced his arrival in a neighborhood or a village. A most unmusical but 'authentic' sound.

As for the Serenos: I cannot remember when they were abolished, but in 1986 they were briefly re-introduced in Madrid. Their main function seems to have been to help drunk to get home. As the night watchmen kept the keys to every house in their assigned neighborhood, people would go on a drinking binge leaving their own keys back home (you might easily loose them). Then when done, they'd simply stand on their sidewalk and shout 'Serenoooo!', who would then come running up to open the door for the intoxicated sod in exchange for a small compensation. Felipe Gonzalez's government decided later in 1987 - I believe - to abolish the Serenos again and replace them with three hyper-modern computerized vans meant to battle petty crime. It was no improvement.

Lastly: your quote from Mr Borrow is indeed telling, but it ought to be pointed out that he was talking of the living standards in the Bierzo or Courel mountains, around the Pedrafitta pass. This was, and still is, a rather poor area; and even today you can still see thatched huts and slate houses that some people live in. If you want, I can send you some pictures for inclusion in tomorrow's blog.

Yours, AmiabAl

Colin Davies said...

For once, a sensible comment.

Yes, Eamon told me about the serenos keeping your keys.

En passant . . . I think you mean ´lose' and 'Pedrafita'. Two can play at this game.

Yes, please send fotos. I've seen the houses, in situ and in the museum in Santiago. Models thereof in the latter, as I recall.

Eamon said...

As a child living in England there were several tradesmen who roamed the streets offering to sharpen knives, scissors, repair umbrellas and renew the wickerwork on chairs. Gypsies often called at the house selling handmade clothes pegs. We had gas street lighting and a man used to come on his bicycle and light the lamp in front of our house. This only happened just after the war as we had no lighting during the blackout. When I lived in Canada in the wilds there used to come to our house an elderly man who carried a large bundle on his back. We would invite him into the house and the bundle which was just a sheet tied from the four corners was laid out on the floor and there he had all kinds of things for sale. Pots, pans and all kinds of kitchen gadgets. My mother would buy a potato peeler or one of those fly catchers that was sticky paper rolled up in a tube which you pinned to the ceiling and pulled down exposing the sticky paper which hung there for the summer catching flies. He never came in the winter because we had six months of snow so he probably walked down south where it was warmer.

Rodrigo González said...

There are modern knife sharpeners in Valencia city: a van with a loudspeaker (with an endless leitmotiv, "El afiladooor, se afilan cuchillos, tijeras..." and the "unmusical sound" of the plastic pan-flute mentioned by Mr. Mittington) runs once a week by the streets of our "barrio".

Colin Davies said...

Thanks for that Rodrigo. I will cite it tomorrow.

Alfred B. Mittington said...


I'm enchanted to see that the comments section of the blog is turning into a veritable treasure house of anthropological facts.

As for the 'fly paper': here in the North West of the Iberian peninsula, I'm still using those in the summer time, as the stables of the village produce a truly inordinate number of most bothersome flies.

One other 'audible antiquity' I remember is from 30 years ago, when the donkey drivers who carried off construction debris on the Albaicin hill of Granada (where cars and tractors could not reach…) used to 'sing' or 'yowl' at their animals in a tone of voice and a string of sounds which - given the oriental scales - obviously went back to their Moorish ancestry. Unfortunately, this was the time before we had portable recording devices, so I can only hope that some smart historian caught these sounds by microphone and old-fashioned tape-recorder when these fellows still plied their trade.

EnthrAlled

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