Monday, May 01, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 1 May 2017

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain

Life in Spain: Here's a few comments made about Spain by H V Morton in 1955. Several of them were still accurate when I first came here in the 70s but the question is - How many of them remain true in 2017?, more then 60 years after they were first recorded:-

  • White gloves are the symbol of the Spanish sense of fitness. An aristocratic symbol. Once worn only by kings and bishops.
  • Lethargy is Spain's first gift to the stranger. 
  • The name of José Antonio haunted me. There are hundreds of streets named after him. You see his name in huge letters above war memorials outside churches. It's everywhere.
  • Women walk [during the evening paseo] often 3 or 4 together, heads well up, backs straight, dignified and serious.
  • The people who passed and re-passed were well-dressed. There was a high proportion of sun-glasses among the men, who displayed the Spanish custom of wearing the jacket hung from the shoulder.
  • The women were hatless and their hair was beautifully tended.
  • All of these people had made an effort.
  • It takes a week to get used to the fantastic hours of eating.
  • Spain's habit of dining at ten is perhaps no older than the street gas lamps.
  • All governments in this country feather their nests and everyone knows it.
  • The Spanish have a passion for 'los niños', those pale-faced little creatures drooping on shoulders, or trying to keep up, who should have been in bed 5 hours ago.
  • In Spain, children seem to be treated either as dolls or adults.
  • The Spanish breakfast is deplorable: Rings of batter fried in oil, called 'churros', and a cup of coffee or chocolate. The result is that all morning Spaniards are nibbling shrimps, prawns, little bits of ham - anything they can get to stave off hunger until lunch at 2 0'clock.
  • Spanish women - Her 3 chief beauties are her eyes, which are full of intelligence and vitality; her hair which is always beautifully kept; and her walk, which is perhaps the most notable feature of all. The head held high, the shoulders back, and the feet placed confidently forward with no mincing steps and no glide.
  • Women and feminine affairs do not dominate the landscape as they do in England and America, where a stranger to our planet might suppose that the chief activity of our civilisation is to clothe its women and provide them with rival brands of cosmetics.
  • Spanish children will consent to wear clothes which would start a mutiny in any English or American household.
  • In Spain, it is bad manners to eat in the street, as it once was in England.
  • The Escorial has strength and majesty and also beauty of proportion but all its charm could go into a tea-cup. It was the castle of the new crusade: that against Protestantism.
  • In the Escorial, there is a curious Spanish propriety in the ranking of the [dead] kings on one side of the vault and the [equally dead] queens on the other. But the only women admitted were those who had produced male heirs to the throne.
  • Spanish Christians and the Spanish Moslems had a great deal in common, almost everything except religion.
  • There is an extraordinary neatness and precision about Spaniard, about their dress, their manners, and their famous courtesy. [Tell that to someone who's just been walked into for the hundredth time]
  • One would like to know how much of the oriental lusciousness displayed in pastry shops is a legacy of Arabian Spain.
  • The Spanish have an insidious - and catching - habit of shrimp-eating in the morning.
  • The Spanish for cinnammon - 'La canela' is still used to describe a most delectable lady.
  • Why do things in Spain never die? In Aranjuez, I had the illusion I was still in 1754 and all the inhabitants were sleeping late or in hiding. [Just like today's May 1 national holiday, in fact]
  • The gravity of a Spaniard deserts him on family occasions.
  • Happy, happy Spain - where there is always time to sip coffee and where to be busy is not a virtue!
  • In some parts of Spain, the name of Anne Boleyn [Ana Bolena] is still used as a term of abuse for an ill-tempered woman. In Puebla de Sanabria in Galicia it is the name given to a witch. But, despite this, there is a range of lipsticks and face creams sold under the brand name 'Ana Bolena'.
  • It is amusing to watch Spaniards talking in the street. They are unable to walk along and talk without looking at each other. They must stop every few yards and gaze at each other. They must touch a shoulder or gently tug a lapel. But the important thing is to study the effect of their words upon another human being. The national sense of drama demands an audience and they change roles every few minutes.
And on that note I'll finish today's list. As I'm only a 3rd of the way through A Stranger in Spain, there'll doubtless be a lot more soon.

Meanwhile . . .

Gallego Corner: Galician-speaking reader Paideleo tells me these words are current in coastal Gallego, reflecting interaction between locals and British sailors down the years:-
Brus and brosa: Brush
Filispín: Full speed.
Bichicoma: Comes from 'beachcomber' but now means a parasitic person.
Raqueiros: People who and the stand looking for stuff from shipwrecks.

My Pontevedra friend, Fran, who is another fervent Gallego-speaker (galegofalante), goes further and tells me there's a least one town along the coast where the locals speak naturally in a complete mix of English and Gallego. Or galinglés. He adds that, in his barrio on the Morrazo peninsula between Pontevedra and Vigo, bichicoma is a derisory term for the folk who come up from Madrid for their holidays. As guiri is for foreign tourists. Truly foreign, that it. Galicians actually call everyone from outside their region extranjeros/estranxeiros, or 'foreigners/strangers'. As might well happen in every region of 'localist' Spain.

Writing of a famous Scottish court jester, Morton calls him a wonderful instance of the shattering effect of a grain of truth in a peck of lies and deceptions. For some reason, the image of Donald Trump sprang to my mind.

Talking of political leaders and the fun they provide . . . .

Today's cartoon:-
Finally . . .  Here's a fascinating report for a UK newspaper:-

Justo Gallego has spent most of his 91 years building a cathedral in his town of Mejorada del Campo, near Madrid’s Barajas airport.

The problem is that nobody seems to want it.

“I do it out of faith; there is no other reason,” he says of the extraordinary structure he started in 1961 without any plans or sketches after failing in his ambition to become a priest. “It’s all in my head.”

Using recycled masonry and household rubbish items such as bottles, cans and old tyres, Mr Gallego has single-handedly built an extensive complex which includes a cloister and a cupola almost 40 metres high. The construction combines artistic touches from frescoes and coloured-glass windows with rough edges where the fanatical nonagenarian’s vision remains unrealised.
There are no plans to complete the so-called “Cathedral of Faith”, nor guarantee that it will be maintained after Mr Gallego, who is suffering from ill health, passes away.
Mr Gallego puts this down to an absence of funding beyond private donations.

But the town council says it has no money to spend on a construction that has no legal permit and could be unsafe.
“We cannot spend the people’s money on a private construction when we are having to close public buildings due to a lack of funding. Like many other municipalities around Spain, the crisis and the lack of building projects started in recent years has starved us of funds,” says the local planning chief, Encarnación Martín.

Ms Martín acknowledges that Mr Gallego’s construction is “emblematic”, and says the town has asked for assistance in making the building legal and safe. But, she adds, the Spanish government, Madrid’s regional authorities and Spain’s College of Architects have all refused to get involved.
“We don’t have the technical wherewithal to provide a solution. Is the building stable? Is it safe? We have no way of knowing.”

If experts did finally turn up and declare the building unsafe, Ms Martín accepts that it would have to be demolished. “As public servants, we are here to apply the rules.”

A spokesperson for Mejorada del Campo council says that the Church has also turned a cold shoulder to the project, replying in the past that it already has “enough places of worship” in the area. The Cathedral of Faith has not been consecrated, although Mr Gallego says he has held Christian ceremonies on the site.

Mr Gallego’s most loyal follower, Ángel López, says that Mr Gallego is resigned to dying without knowing the fate that will befall his life’s work. “All he says about it is that it's in God's hands.”
Mr Gallego says he has written a will leaving his creation to the Bishopric of Alcalá de Henares, responsible for churches in the area around Mejorada del Campo.

According to a spokesman, the bishopric is not aware of this plan nor of any attempt at any time by Mr Gallego to seek assistance or advice from the Church. “It’s an amazing effort this man is making, but we at the moment have two churches in Mejorada that cover the needs of the Church. It is up to civil institutions to ensure that the building is technically sound.”

Mr Gallego says he decided to devote his life to the Church after seeing attacks against religious institutions in the town by “communists” around the time that Spain’s civil war broke out in 1936. “With the profanation I saw, I would build the cathedral out of gold if I could.”
He says he was expelled from a monastery where he was training to become a priest after contracting tuberculosis and being considered a health risk.
​ ​
Bit by bit he has sold off all of the farmland and property he inherited from his father to pay for his monumental work of devotion.
He now lives in the unheated and open space that is his cathedral, tended to by Mr López, his wife and their two children. “He won’t go to the doctor. He is old, that’s what’s wrong with him. We have dug his grave in the crypt,” says Mr López.

The authorities may not be knocking on Mr Gallego’s door, but there is a constant trickle of tourists at the site.

A TripAdvisor “Catedral de Justo Gallego” site has 111 comments. 
[See here]

Mr Gallego says he does not have much time for visitors who come to “gawp and flatter me” but do not help him.

A self-avowed virgin, Mr Gallego regularly admonishes women for entering without being fully covered.

“It’s true that the cathedral has made us famous all over the world,” says Ms Martín from Mejorada del Campo’s town council. “We want to resolve all of the planning problems that come with it, but no one is prepared to lend a hand.”

Footnote: Needless to say, Sr Gallego has no building permits for his construction.


Sierra said...

"Finally . . . Here's a fascinating report for a UK newspaper:"

Probably inspired by the TV programme "Spectacular Spain", which you referenced last Saturday - his cathedral was in the Madrid episode. (They can be downloaded at the "normal" places!!)

Alfred B. Mittington said...

I'd better not comment on all the fantastic statements of the author you are at presently reading.

You would never forgive me.

But just two little things:

1. If weird eating habits go back to the days of the first gaslights, then we are talking of 1832, which is a respectable age for any custom! (must I remind you that the UK police force is younger??)

2. Puebla de Sanabria is NOT in Galicia. Which you ought to know.


Colin Davies said...

1. Dining: His point was that it didn't go back into the mists of time.

2.Puebla de Sanabria is NOT in Galicia. Which you ought to know.

I do know, Take it up with the publisher, assuming the author is dead.

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