Sunday, May 07, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 7.5.17

I'm off on a trip up to Ponferrada in the hills today. So no time to write a normal post. Instead, here's a few comments from H V Morton from his 1955 book: A Stranger in Spain:-


The harems of the sultans were well-stocked with blue-eyed and fair-haired Galician women.

How many different Spains I had seen. A Spain like Switzerland; a Spain like Ireland; A Spain like Africa; and of all of them I thought Galician Spain the most remarkable and possibly the most comprehensible.

It may have been just luck that threw in my way Gallegos who were prompt and businesslike and left upon me an impression of alertness and liveliness.

I had the feeling that this north-western corner of Spain was still on the main routes of the world.

There was something about the mist and rain of Galicia, the white cottages, the little Gothic churches, the people, gay and full of mourriña in turns, that appealed to me enormously and touched my heart as Andalucia, warm and romantic though it is, could never do.

I crossed the most beautiful river I had seen in Spain, the Miño.


The best book in English about bull-fighting was written by John Marks.

The clock strikes. There is a roar of applause as the president enters his box, the only proof that Spaniards can keep an appointment to the second.

As the matadores and their troupes walk forward to make their bow, I notice that every man is out of step. Englishmen or Germans could not do this, or only with difficulty; it would not be natural for them to be out of step as it is for Spaniards. Yet there is something individualistic and impressive about this lack of step; each man puts on his own particular swagger. They bow. The do not lift their hats, but press them more firmly on their heads. They do not look around at the people or curry favour in any way with their noisy fans. Custom demands that they shall look as casual and unconcerned, solemn and grave as priests of Mithra about to perform a sacrifice.

The crowd departs, exhausted with emotion, to sit in the cafés and bars and discuss every moment in the greatest detail, recounting beauties which no Spaniard can ever hope to see.

No one brought up on the works of Beatrix Potter can understand, much less appreciate, a bullfight, and nothing can be done about it. The ceremonial slaughter of an animal, with all the associated bloodthirsty formalities does not seem cruel to a Spaniard, at least to those who have grown up with bullfighting. What those Spaniards would say who have never seen a corrida until they have reached the age of 30 is another matter.

Yet it would be wrong to go away from a bullfight believing that Spaniards are cruel to animals. In their homes and on their farms they are usually kind and considerate, and the dogs and cats of Spain look well-fed and happy. The Spaniard has always been a great lover and judge of horses. And it is a little difficult to understand how a nation of horse-lovers, and a nation that respects dignity, can endure the horrible degradation ofd the bull-ring horses, most of which should have been painlessly destroyed years ago. It is not the spectacle of death which revolts a stranger at a bullfight or the sight of blood, for in these days old ladies of Kensington have seen bloodier sights by far than any witnessed in the most gory of corridas, but it is the ceremonial torture which leads to the so-called moment of truth.

It is curious that modern experts should say that a man on foot cannot kill a bull unless its tossing muscles have been weakened by goring a horse, for it was evidently done with ease in the 18th century.


I am not religious, but I like the religious atmosphere of Span, the way the year is strung on the festivals of the Church.

The devotion of the peasants, especially that of the old women, was wonderful to see. They approached the altar on their knees an some of them even travelled the whole of the long tunnel in this way, careless of the wet and the mud, and mounted the steps still on their knees, refusing to be helped. And when they had hobbled up to the top step and saw before them the serene Virgin of the Battles standing up amid the candles, their old faces word the expression which they will wear when they approach the gates of heaven. These simple old people possessed what this age lacks and needs, and I looked at them humbled and touched, rejoicing that such faith is still to be found in our sad and disillusioned world.

When discussing religious matters with Spaniards, I often felt that the shade of the Inquisition was hovering above us.

As I approached the dark end of the cathedral of Santiago, I saw that two of the oldest and frailest women imaginable were encircling the altar on their knees. They were dressed in black , their faces were hidden by the black church veils they wore, and they clasped their old parchment hands and hobbled round one behind the other. They had evidently vowed to encircle the Virgin so many times on their knees, and one old woman, who finished first, rose and went away. Giving me a glimpse of a worn face transfigured by faith.

It is a pity that piety sometimes leads to reckless inaccuracy.  

[Like Morton, I am a non-religious person. More accurately, an ex-religious person. And like him, I enjoy the religious excuses for fun in the streets. I am also a huge admirer of the works of Man created to worship the world's various gods. But, unlike Morton, I am not impressed by the sight of old women - or, indeed, anyone - on their knees, crawling in pain - agony even - towards a statue or altar. To be excact, I find it profoundly depressing. Irritating even, that people should have been so indoctrinated. But, of course, I would never stop people believing in a faith that helps them in ways it could never help me.]

Today's cartoon:-

A comment on the Age of Emancipation:-

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