Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 30.1.18

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

  • What next? Here's The Local's take on yesterday's situation. Could well be different now. Especially with all the talk of Sr P being sacfrificed to further the cause of secession. Or at least greater devolution. Who knows?
  • OK, here it is. What you've all been waiting for: Spain's entry for this year's Euro(plus Australia)vision crapfest - Alfred & Amaia, with Tu Canción. I fell asleep before the end of it, so am compelled to say: No chance.
  • The latest list from The Local:- The Best Spanish Films of all Time. Maybe.
  • More seriously, here's the same journal on the macro-micro dissonance in Spain's economy that I keep banging on about. The intro: Spain has survived the economic crisis that crippled the country for almost a decade and is widely considered to be well on the road to recovery thanks to an economy that has expanded by an average of 3.3% between 2015 and 2017. But who is reaping the benefits?  'The Local' presents some stark facts about the darker side of Spain’s economic recovery:
  • Two men(egos?) who deserve each other? Piers Morgan’s world exclusive interview with Donald Trump was a towering feat of journalism, yielding scoops by the platterful and revealing the Commander-in-Chief to be thoughtful, humane, witty and a shoo-in for the manager’s job at Arsenal. Don’t take my word for it – just ask Morgan who, not satisfied with cornering Trump for a 45 minute chinwag at the Davos World Economic Forum, was also considerate enough to furnish his own running commentary on how the interrogation was going. Imagine sitting between Twitterdom’s two great self-publicists at a dinner . . .
  • A Guardian columnist says here that we have to change our approach to Fart. Until we stop what we've been doing for a year, she says, we are caught in a cycle of ineffectual reaction. And the joke is on us. Generally speaking, she't totally right.
  • In the cause of balance, below you can find as Article 2 a rather positive gloss on Fart and the achievements of his first year. From the right-of-centre Daily Telegraph.
The Gender Wars
  • Who could argue with this sentiment from Libby Purves in The (also right-of-centre) Times : If we want better men, let’s start with boys. For young males, society prizes aggressive sexuality and grabby materialism over old-fashioned honour and chivalry. That might not be true of all cultures, of course. Even in Europe alone.
Social Media
  • The war seems to be heating up . . . 
  1. Ministers in the UK have been urged to force social media companies to crack down on online grooming after police revealed that they have investigated more than 1,300 allegations of children being targeted in breach of a new law. 
  2. Facebook is announcing a transparency drive to update its privacy controls, following scrutiny in Europe over how it handles user information. It will for the first time publish a set of privacy principles, offer users a “privacy check-up” and create a new data control portal, in response to incoming European data privacy laws.
  3. More than 110 child-health advocates have called on Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to pull the firm’s Messenger Kids app aimed at under 13s, warning of the dangers of social media for children.
  • As many as 20% of Galician women say they don't plan to have kids. Which is a bit of a surprise.
  • Good to see from a letter to the Voz de Galicia that I'm not the only one to observe that drivers  here have no idea how to negotiate a roundabout. Nor any understanding of what the latest guidance is.
Gender Wars
  • Time to stick my neck so far out that my head is way above the parapet . . . Feeling that some women take the stance that: I demand the right to do whatever I like to titillate you but I deny you the right to be titillated, I asked my two adult daughters whether they thought it was inappropriate for me to ask whether it was ever necessary for a woman in the public eye to show cleavage. Rather to my surprise, both of them said it wasn't an inappropriate question. And then it occurred to me that I'd never seen either Queen Elizabeth or Queen Letizia doing this. Don't get me wrong - I'm an admirer of cleavage; it's just that I find the posturing of very under-clad women to be a bit hard to take. As far as I'm concerned, they can keep the cleavage, so long as they aren't . . . well, incongruous. Some might even say hypocritical.
  • The Gypsy Kings are back on the road again. If you fancy a bit of Franco-Spanish gypsy flamenco, click here for UK dates later this year.
Today's Cartoon


1. The 14 best places to visit in Spain: The Times.

Note: I have deleted the hotel recommendations, as being probably not very objective . . .

Madrid has really revamped itself in the past couple of years. The Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums have all got bigger and better, while the centre of the city is smartening up with new boutiques, delis, cafés and gastrobars opening up every week. It’s perfect for a culture-rich long weekend or city break, with great food and a lively atmosphere at night. Madrid may be cold in winter – it is one of Europe’s highest capital cities, after all – but the sky is usually blue and the sunshine strong enough to allow visitors to sit at a pavement café sipping a vermut.

Barcelona is a patchwork of architectural styles, displaying dark, Gothic façades next to the harlequin buildings of the Modernistas and the skyline-piercing constructions of Jean Nouvel or Herzog and de Meuron. A day spent admiring them can be topped off with a sundowner on one of the city’s seven beaches before dinner at any number of Michelin-starred gastronomic temples or humble, family-run tapas bars. Barcelona has a relaxed pace, months of endless sunshine, unbeatable food – with the cultural and design clout of almost any city in the cold north.

The Costa Brava is one of the most romantic, gorgeous, unspoilt stretches of coast in Europe. Gloriously wild in parts and tastefully manicured in others, the Costa has some of the finest Blue Flag beaches in Europe, broad and sandy stretches to elegant horseshoe bays and secluded smugglers’ coves. You’ll also find wonderful, independent hotels and exceptional food. In fact this stretch of the coast is a foodie’s paradise and Catalonia – where the Costa Brava lies – has one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-starred chefs in Spain, not to mention superb, locally produced wines.

Valencia: A decade of bold development has given Spain’s third-largest city some of the most striking architecture in the country, adding to the wealth of elegant Art Nouveau buildings that line the streets, as well as Gothic and Renaisssance monuments. With dynamic museums, a flourishing restaurant scene, lively nightlife, great shops and miles of beach, Valencia is bursting with Mediterranean exuberance. And a walkable centre means you can drift from the medieval monuments in golden stone to the avenues lined with elegant buildings, stopping at pavement cafés along the way.

Cantabria: Ask any Cantabrian and they’ll proudly tell you the big secret to their beloved land’s success: "In summer we hit the beach, and in winter we go on mountain adventures". It’s this unique combination of landscapes and lifestyles – of breathtaking coast, quiet country, deep valleys, majestic mountains and characterful seaside towns – fused with fantastically fresh food and tremendous historical riches that makes this tiny region of northern Spain such a pleasure to explore. And yet, by Spanish standards, Cantabria remains relatively undeveloped, apart from the odd minor resort area here and there.

Andalucia: Divided from the rest of the country by the natural boundary of the Sierra Morena, Spain's southernmost region is larger in area than the Netherlands, stretching from the Atlantic in the west to the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada and the arid landscape of Almería in the east. Andalucia has more than 500 miles of coastline with a surprising variety of beaches. On the Costa de la Luz on the Atlantic, La Antilla has 14 miles of golden sand, while the coves of the Costa Tropical on the Mediterranean are flanked by groves of mangoes, avocados and custard apples. The 700 years of Moorish civilisation left a splendid cultural legacy, not only in the great cities of Seville, Córdoba and Granada, but all over the region.

Seville: Compact, rich in history and famous for its flamenco, tapas bars and orange trees, Seville is an ideal short break destination. Stay in the city’s old town to explore the cobbled streets of the Santa Cruz quarter and the breathtaking Alcázar Palace. Soak up the atmosphere on the banks of the Guadalquivir, and admire the views from the ancient cathedral tower and recently opened Parasol Metropol. The influence of the city's Moorish past and Catholic present is visible everywhere, most strikingly in the world's largest cathedral and the Giralda minaret, an exquisite example of Islamic architecture.

Malaga: Eating just-caught sardines by the sea is one of life’s great simple pleasures, and the beaches either side of Malaga are the perfect place to do it – particularly after a morning at the Picasso and Carmen Thyssen museums. Unlike some Spanish cities, it does not wind down in summer, and is particularly lively during the Malaga Fair in mid-August, when even the most reserved visitors might find themselves joining the locals for a twirl in the streets. Although there is plenty to see and do, Malaga is really a place to kick back and just enjoy the laidback Mediterranean vibe.

Marbella: Celebrities have always flocked to this sunspot (at 300 days a year, it's a dead cert for topping up the Eurotan), with its swanky designer emporia and megayachts in the harbour at neighbouring Puerto Banus. Marbella is as realista as it gets; it is where Old Spain collides with New Spain, and the result couldn't be more fascinating.

Granada: Autumn and spring are the best seasons to visit Granada, which can get fiercely hot in summer and bitterly cold in winter – although the sight of snow glittering in the sunlight on the Sierra Nevada behind the Alhambra is well worth wrapping up warmly for. October is perfect for strolling through the intricately decorated rooms and voluptuous gardens of the Alhambra, created by the Nasrid sultans, the last Islamic dynasty to rule in Andalucia. Afterwards, wander down into the Realejo district, where a wealth of Renaissance and Baroque monuments were built following the expulsion of the Moors. Now the narrow streets are packed with tapas bars, too.

San Sebastian: It's impossible not to fall in love with San Sebastián. The food alone, in the bars groaning with tapas, here known as pintxos, and the many Michelin-starred restaurants, is the stuff of obsession. Factor in three bewitching beaches – broad sweeps of golden sand fringed by the clear waters of the Cantabrian Sea – alluring Art Nouveau architecture, pulse-quickening panoramas, exhilarating walks, plus one of the world's most glamorous film festivals, and prepare to become besotted.

Bilbao: This confident, bustling little city – small enough to walk around – is now an international art hotspot thanks to Frank Gehry’s titanium masterpiece, the Museo Guggenheim. The less striking Museo de Bellas Artes also houses some of the finest art in Spain. The rejuvenated port nestles in the green folds of the Euskadi’s coastal mountains on the Bay of Biscay. Besides the exciting new architecture of Bilbao’s renaissance, there is a beautiful medieval quarter, the Casco Viejo, on the east bank of the Nervión river – the heart of the city. And the food is sensational. Forget tapas – the Basque version, pintxos, are epic in variety and taste, with a strong piscine influence.

La Rioja: Spain has 69 officially recognised wine production regions spread all over the peninsula, and visiting wineries is an excellent way of discovering little-known parts of the country. La Rioja, the most famous wine area, is also worth visiting for its food and spectacular countryside. Tour through the famous vineyards and villages of La Rioja and sample a variety of wines from nearby estates before venturing to the charming village of Ezcaray for lunch in the Michelin-Starred El Portal restaurant.

Pamplona: Ernest Hemingway’s account of the running of the bulls in The Sun Also Rises turned Pamplona into one of the best-known cities in the world – for one week a year. But outside the booze-fuelled craziness of the San Fermin festival in July, the mood changes dramatically. For the rest of the year, this elegant northern Spanish city is a different prospect. It’s lively enough – especially when the 30,000 students are in residence – but Pamplona’s lovely old town, its stunning vistas and city centre parks and gardens allow you to dictate the pace.

2. Donald Trump has turned out to be a pragmatist who aims to make America great – at any cost: Tim Stanley

In Tuesday's State of the Union, Donald Trump will tell Congress that America is doing great. Amazing. Better than ever. It’s funny how a country can go from “terrible” to “beautiful” in one year, but you don’t have to buy the hype to concede that what was once campaign rhetoric has turned into policy – even delivery. The better we know Trump, the more substance we find. His America First agenda isn’t nice, but it is rational and coherent. And it has profound implications for the very nature of the presidency.

We saw some of Trump’s potential in the Piers Morgan interview this weekend, in which Morgan used shameless flattery to get his subject to open up – like a delicate flower. Here was a Trump we could imagine winning an election: charming, self-aware and, most importantly of all, enthusiastic. An effective salesman believes in the product heart and soul.

Trump has graduated from selling himself to selling America, and he judges success not in terms of equality or diversity or arcs of progress, but in jobs and stock market performance. He is a Darwinian. Life is a series of deals in which there are winners and losers, and his goal is to make America win more.

During the election, he sold this as withdrawal of military forces and protection of blue-collar jobs. In office, he has not only discovered that the Washington constituency for that kind of nationalism is very small but also that American greatness is better measured by its position in the global arena. How much investment can it attract? How much power can it project? Trump is trying to radically restructure the US government in pursuit of these objectives.

As I said, ruthless pragmatism is not necessarily nice. Take foreign policy. The Islamic State appears to have been beaten back to the margins of the Middle East, while an anti-Iran alliance is emerging between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Trump’s strategy is to pick a side, arm it to the teeth and get it to fight on your behalf. America and its friends are winning, but that means there are losers, too.

The US and UK have thrown their support behind Saudi in its repugnant war in Yemen: at least 10,000 civilians are reportedly dead and three million have been displaced. Trump has also accelerated Barack Obama’s reliance upon aerial warfare (there were over 8,000 strikes in Syria alone in 2017) and changed the rules of engagement to speed things up. In the past, everything had to be authorised by the Oval Office. Trump has unleashed the generals.

There’s a story, reported in The Washingtonian, that General Mattis once rang the President to ask for permission to attack a Syrian village. Trump said: “Why are you calling me? I don’t know where this village is at.” Mattis explained that this was what they used to do under Obama. Trump asked who suggested the attack and Mattis replied that it was a first class major. Trump said: “Why do you think I know more about that than he does?” Then he hung up.

Trump is deregulating war. He’s pursuing what Steve Bannon, his former chief adviser, called “the deconstruction of the administrative state”: get bureaucracy out of the way and let generals and businessmen get on with their jobs.

Trump overestimates the scale of his success. He claims to be cutting 1,579 domestic regulation. But hundreds were not going to happen or were already dead; one calculation puts the figure of deregulatory steps taken closer to 67. But those 67 matter. Gone are certain controls on gun sales, mining, fracking and consumer rights. And these reforms go hand-in-glove with a tax bill that could transform the US economy.

For decades, well paid jobs have fled abroad. Trump is bribing employers to bring them back. The corporate tax rate will fall from 35 to 21 per cent. Any money returning to the US will be lightly taxed. And new purchases of buildings and equipment will enjoy generous expensing. Trump isn’t rejecting globalisation; he’s trying to do it on America’s terms – just as he insists he isn’t technically anti-immigration, but wants America to be able to decide who comes in. There will be a wall with Mexico, says Trump, but “there’ll be a big beautiful door in it” for anyone with skills.

Is Trumpism working? Well, the economy is doing rather better than predicted. When Trump won the election, liberal economist Paul Krugman said the stock market would “never” recover. The Dow is actually up 44%. Growth is solid.

Black unemployment is the lowest since records began. Apple has announced it will repatriate $250 billion currently overseas and create 20,000 new jobs. Fiat Chrysler is building a new car factory in Michigan worth 2,500 jobs. And, yes, Trump’s tax cuts are aimed at the rich, but roughly 250 firms have let the wealth trickle down in pay and benefits. Some 125,000 workers at Disney are getting a one-time payment of $1,000. Chrysler’s giving away bonuses of $2,000. It’s like a cash grab on a game show.

The good times pose a problem for the Democrats. With the economy and the Middle East going Trump’s way, the most powerful weapon they’re left with is moral disgust. There’s plenty of it out there to tap. The populist president is surprisingly unpopular – he can only attract the approval of around 40 per cent of voters – and many Americans who like the substance of his programme cannot stand Trump as a person. But here’s the million-dollar question: is Middle America really going to vote for decency over prosperity?

The man who stands before Congress on Tuesday night makes for an unusual president. Most politicians who enter the White House succumb to its spirituality, its myth of moral authority. Trump has remained immune – and that’s one thing I admire about him. For too long the presidency has been allowed to accrue imperial powers, while the president himself – no matter how stupid or devious – gets to act like he’s the Pope.

Trump doesn’t bother. His take on the presidency is transactional: “You hired me to do a job, I will do it.” If he fails, and maybe he will, then he’ll lose in 2020. If he succeeds, that means re-election, and a shift in expectations of how the government should be run and what it is for – what the very purpose of America is. Moral beacon or land of opportunity? Perhaps a combination of both is possible, but right now Trump is turning his country into a shining casino on a hill.


Sierra said...

Mention of non-European countries in Eurovision brings to mind Israel's two wins in the late '70s. Was in Kuwait at this time, and strangely the local TV broadcasts abruptly ended before the winners were announced.

Colin Davies said...

Nice story.