Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.
I recently read a decent book on the Camino de Santiago - Call of the Camino, by Robert Mullen, An American writer based in Edinburgh. Here's a few points arising:-
- Mullen was regularly asked if he were German. All of us non-Teutonic guiris have suffered this even though there's no statistical basis for it. Germans are not the most numerous pilgrims. This honour goes to the Italians(16% in 2016), followed by said Germans(14%), North Americans(10%), Portuguese(9%), French(6%), Irish(4%), Brits(4%) and Koreans/3%). But I guess the Germans are the largest group of foreigners who can't be taken for Spanish.
- I've learnt yet another Spanish word for 'whore' - ramera. There appear to be dozens of these.
- Two lessons learned by one of his fellow pilgrims: You're likely to get more of what you want if you ask for it in Spanish; and Rules here are made to be broken.
- Life is, in itself and forever, a shipwreck: José Ortega y Gasset
- There is no one so prone to believing too little as those who began by believing too much. Miguel de Unamuno.
- Every morning, in every refuge, as if by a law of nature, there was a party of German pilgrims who rose before anyone else and set off in the dark.
- There are more teachers than any other profession on the Camino. Long holidays, I guess.
- To eat well in Galicia, you need a whole new vocabulary - berberechos, navajas, chipirones, salpicón and pulpo. To which I would add zamburiñas and empanadas. And probably a few more. And then there's the Gallego for all of these . . .
- The world is one large hospital in which the patients outnumber the doctors - Ar-Razi, Persian philosopher of the 9th century.
- A Santiago, nunca se llega; solo se va. You never reach Santiago.
Incidentally, Mullens documents many of the ludicrous myths that have grown up around the Camino - none more so than the founding one, of course - and expatiates both on these and on myths in general. Very entertaining. I am, it must be said, a regular 'pilgrim' on the numerous 'genuine caminos' that traverse Spain. I'm doing 3, this year, in fact. Though not for 'spiritual' reasons, obviously.
According to a former Russian current affairs TV producer, Moscow no longer has the Soviet aim of propagating communism but is now trying to destroy the idea of fact-based truth: everything is a conspiracy. This destabilises western liberal society — Putin’s enemy. In consequence, says a Times columnist: Russia is using ever wilder lies to defend Assad and is in too deep to stop. There was a time when the Russia's rulers were masterful liars. The lie would be well organised, backed up with apparently creditable research and internally consistent. Nowadays Moscow puts out any old rubbish, multiple alternatives to the truth and none showing much professional pride in the traditional trade of disinformation. As a former KGB man, Vladimir Putin should be ashamed. Incidentally, can anyone say why the Russians - forewarned even - didn't use their capacity to destroy at least some the US missiles heading for the Syrian airfield? Preferring instead to display anger at the UN and - ludicrously - bang on about breaches in international law. A concept previously thought unfamiliar to them.
Another question: Can anyone figure out why Madrid chose last week to indulge in its traditional gambit of creating long delays at the border with Gibraltar? It's as if they really want to upset people both there and in the UK. Smart or as stupid as ever? Whatever, at the end of this post is an amusing article about Churchill, Franco and Gib.
Finally . . . I was taking a coffee yesterday when a cyclist rode between the tables of the covered ('smokers') terrace. My Spanish colleague commented on this, saying that no one said anything about it and adding that he'd even seen cyclists in the library. You'd have thought he was a moaning foreigner, like me.
[Not working today.]
Churchill’s ‘promise’ to give up the Rock Brian Cope
Over a boozy lunch, wartime PM may have offered to trade Gibraltar for Spanish neutrality – and then forgot
Brexit has reignited the long-running dispute with Spain over Gibraltar. But the root of this territorial feud may be traced back to a single, bibulous lunch at the Spanish embassy in 1941 when Winston Churchill may (or may not) have suggested that Britain could surrender the Rock — if Spain remained neutral in the war.
The problem, as revealed in declassified files in the national archives, was that Churchill himself could not remember exactly what he had said over lunch.
Britain was desperate to keep Spain out of the war. Hitler was courting General Franco and threatening to occupy Gibraltar, the key British military base controlling naval access to the Mediterranean. The question of Gibraltar’s future already loomed large.
In 1940, the war cabinet ruled that Spain should be informed that the British government would be “ready after the war to discuss any matter of common interest” but that “this offer should omit any specific mention of Gibraltar”. Churchill agreed: “We will gain nothing by offering to address the matter of Gibraltar at the end of the war. The Spaniards know that if we win, the conversations will have no fruit at all, and if we lose they won’t be necessary”.
But Sir Samuel Hoare, Britain’s pro-Franco ambassador to Spain, argued that despite the cabinet position the possibility of postwar discussions over Gibraltar should be dangled. Churchill agreed to permit a measure of “discretion” on the matter.
In October 1941, Churchill was invited to luncheon at the Spanish embassy by Franco’s diplomatic representative in London, Don Jacobo Fitz-James Stuart y Falcó, Duke of Alba and Berwick, and Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Alba was an Old Etonian, an Olympic polo player, a relative of Churchill, and a most generous host.
The champagne flowed, as it did at most diplomatic functions attended by the prime minister. The Duke of Alba emerged from lunch convinced that “His Majesty’s government might eventually consider the Spanish government’s claim about Gibraltar”.
That, at least, is what he told Madrid, thus embedding the conviction that Churchill had “offered to discuss with the Spanish government, should Spain remain neutral, the return of Gibraltar once the war ended”.
Spain was convinced that Britain had broken its wartime pledge
Gibraltar continued to be a source of anxiety for the rest of the war. Ian Fleming, working in naval intelligence, drew up contingency plans code-named Goldeneye, in anticipation of a possible invasion of the Rock by Germany or Spain. The creator of James Bond later named his Jamaican home Goldeneye. Some $200 million in bribes was paid to Spanish officers and officials to buy their neutrality. Franco played the Allied and Axis powers off against each other.
Churchill became particularly anxious when Gibraltar’s Barbary ape population dropped. According to legend, if the animals disappear from the Rock, British rule will end. “The establishment of the apes should be 24,” Churchill ordered. “Action should be taken to bring them up to this number at once.”
The simian scare on Gibraltar prompted a rude poem by the permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office:
We’re a little bit perturbed about the apes
After studying their sizes and shapes
As we see it, at first glance
There seems at least some chance
Of lesbianism, or sodomy, or rapes.
In the end, of course, Spain remained neutral, the Barbary ape population recovered, Britain won the war, and Gibraltar stayed British; but the uncertainty over what was said at the 1941 lunch lingered.
In 1949, a dossier reported Churchill’s response when he was asked what guarantees he had given the wartime Spanish ambassador: “While he might have made favourable comments on the position of Spain in the Mediterranean, it was quite untrue that he had at any time given any formal pledge to Spain.” But had he implied to the Duke of Alba that the issue would be open to discussion? That question erupted with full force in 1953 when, on the eve of the Queen’s first visit to Gibraltar,
Franco whipped up Spanish nationalism with a furious blast in the press, accusing Britain of reneging on a promise to hand over Gibraltar after the war. The Generalissimo threatened: “If the hopes of the restitution of the Rock held out to Spain during the war are not fulfilled, no one should doubt that we will use every means to put an end to this offensive situation.”
Churchill, back in office, seemed uncertain about what he might have said over lunch 12 years earlier. His private secretary wrote to the Foreign Office: “The prime minister would be very grateful if you could send him a short note. What did we tell Franco about Gibraltar during the war?”
In a secret dossier released to the National Archives 50 years later, the Foreign Office concluded that although nothing had been made by way of a firm promise to Spain, it was possible something had been insinuated, off the record. “At one point a discretional measure was authorised . . . this does not make it advisable to get into a controversy.”
And there the issue has remained ever since: with Spain convinced that Britain broke her wartime promise, and Britain equally certain that no promise was made.
It seems entirely possible, however, that somewhere between the fourth and fifth glass, Churchill hinted to his aristocratic Spanish relative that the future of Gibraltar might be open to discussion when the war was won; and then forgot exactly what he had said.
Churchill once described champagne as “the wine of civilisation and the oil of government”. But sometimes it leaves government with an almighty hangover.