Monday, April 30, 2018

Thoughts not from Galicia, Spain: 30.4.18

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.

CAMINO NOTES
  • Yesterday's interesting questions:-
  1. Is England in Great Britain?, and
  2. The language of Holland is English, no?
  • Another camino yesterday for which there were minor changes along the way and then a major one at the end of it. The latter added at least 2km to what was already a longish stretch of 26km.
  • As if this weren't bad enough, Google maps added a further kilometre by taking us around the houses once we were in our destination town, taking us off the right road and then back onto it, after a trip through the back streets. You know there's something wrong when the time to your hotel starts at 5 minutes, goes up to 12, down to 4 and then back up to 6 and then 7.
  • Clearly it's taking some time to work out which is the most 'authentic' of the possible routes pilgrims have been taking from Cádiz via Sevilla over the centuries.
  • What this means is that you can't rely on anything written todate. Fortunately, the traditional yellow arrows usually indicate what is now the route to follow.
  • Google maps, by the way, makes errors not only in towns but also in respect of roads. Asked along the way to give us distance and time to El Cuervo, it firstly declined to give these for walkers and then, for drivers, gave us ludicrous estimates involving a trip back south, a drive up north way beyond El Cuervo and then a drive back south to the town. As if a direct route didn't exist. This was on my (Android) phone. Using my computer this morning resulted in correct details for both walkers and drivers. At least from Jerez, if not from half-way.
  • Perhaps Google Maps was confused by the fact that the A-4 out of Jerez is also labelled the N-IV, the A-480 and the CA-32. And it probably has a 5th EU 'E' number as well.
  • As I've noted before, local ignorance about the route of a newish camino route – or even its very existence – can be monumental. The owner of our hotel talked about having pilgrims stay here before but admitted he had no idea what route it took to and through the town. Which became obvious when he kindly offered to help one of our group to backtrack in search of a lost mobile phone.
  • But, anyway, to change the subject . . . Being a frequent user of toilets in bars around the country, I'm forced to ask why some of them bother to have paper towel dispensers, hand-driers or even soap dispensers. Sadly, hese are often empty or not working. I had a vision yesterday of one of those sheets on the wall signed off my the last employee to check/clean them. The final name and signature were very faded but you could just make out they were dated September 1975.
  • Another day, another hotel room, another failure to get wifi on my laptop. Maybe I should replace it, after 7 years . . .
ODDS AND SODSt
  • Here's a Guardian article on plans to improve Spain's 'unmerited' image around the world.
  • And here's Timothy Parfitt with his take on the current state of 'Brand Spain'. His - very valid - conclusion is that: There are several things that need to really change in Spain, and fast. Though you can be sure there'll be a lot of whatboutism in defence of how things are.
  • In case you didn't see the last report I posted on this.
FOTO GALLERY

A cacti fence:-




Antother cacti fence, except it's the front of a pen. If you look hard enough, you can see the horse.



Sunday, April 29, 2018

Thoughts not from Galicia, 29.4.18

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.

CAMINO NOTES
  • There was much confusion on leaving El Puerto de Santa Maria yesterday, as all 3 Spanish texts consulted cited the street of Pintor Juan Miguel Sanchez, instead of the correct name Prior J M Sanchez. To make matters worse, should you succeed in finding the street, the plaque on the wall says it's called Concejal Juan Bocanegra Muñoz
  • Fiestas can be a problem for pilgrims on a camino, especially one down here in Andalucia, it seems. Last September, virtually every town we stayed in between Madrid to Segovia and then between Ávila to Toledo had most of its restaurants closed because of a fiesta that day, or the previous day, or even the week before. This spring we're finding that every city in Andalucia is having a major fiesta of one sort or another right now. This time restaurants seem to be open but hotel prices are higher than usual. Down here they 'have their August' in April and May, it seems.
  • Here in Jerez, we've stayed in a family-run restaurant with a hotel attached. The hotel part gets very good reviews on Tripadvisor but the restaurant, to say the least, doesn't. So, we ate elsewhere.
  • It does rain in Andalucia. The stuff we put on the window ledge last night – which was almost dry when we went to bed – had been soaked by overnight showers.
  • Looking at the camino routes and at the directions given by Google, I do wonder if someone's paid to direct you down shopping streets.
  • I also wonder - again not for the first time - if the Information offices around Spain are ever open at times to suit tourists and pilgrims, as opposed to the staff.
  • Applying sun block to my face this morning but leaving out the bits below my eyes, it struck me that I'll soon look like the opposite of President Fart
ODDS AND SODS
  • Lots of irritation in Spain at the outcome of the trial of 5 men convicted of sexual aggression (I think) but not rape. An obsolete legal definition of the latter charge – demanding that there be evidence of physical violence – is ripe for change and even the right-wing PP party seems ready for this.
  • Meanwhile, someone has described the current statute - dating from the mid 90s – as the product of a patriarchal and macho culture.
  • I read that the EU is considering punishing those states – mostly in Eastern Europe – which don't comply with EU norms. Judicial, political and even cultural, it seems. The money saved via reduced subventions to these miscreants would go to those states impoverished by the introduction of the euro and by the austerity subsequently imposed on them by Germany.  Greece, Portugal and, of course, Spain. None of which get good ratings when it comes to corruption. So . . . Spain's period of not earning its own way and standing on its own feet will be extended, not reduced. And corrupt politicians and businessmen here will get even richer. What a way to run a whelk stall!
FOTO GALLERY
  • Just the writer surveying distant Jerez from a hill outside El Puerto de Santa María:-

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Thoughts not from Galicia, Spain: 28.4.18

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.

CAMINO NOTES
  • Just going back to the Puerto Real street called The Cross of the Woman Who Had Her Throat Cut. In Spanish this is La Calle del Cruz de La Degollada. And I've now seen these definitions: Degollar. 1. to cut/slit the throat of a person; to slaughter an animal; 2. to behead; 3. to massacre. So, una degollada might mean a massacre that took place there during the Civil War, not 'merely' the throat-cutting of a single woman. But it's not something one seeks details of.
  • We felt a bit like pioneers yesterday. Whatever the original route of this stage of the Camino Augusta, it's now different for a considerable part of it. Both of the Spanish texts are confusing and, at times, wrong about features and street names. So, it's a very good job that some friends of mine are writing a definitive text in English.
  • By the way, if during the thousand years of the camino's existence, more than a hundred pilgrims had walked this option north from Cádiz, I'd be astonished. We certainly didn't see any other 'pilgrims' again yesterday.
  • More surprisingly – given that the route was primarily through parkland and marshes – we saw very little wildlife. Even fewer birds than the previous day – just one (lost?) cockerel. Not even a bloody seagull, until we got to El Puerto de Santa María. But we did spy a small rabbit, plus the occasional lizard and few crabs in the mud near a bridge. With one normal claw and one huge one.
  • But the route was very pretty and totally flat. Which is good when you've got 10 kilos on your back.
  • I'm a big believer in walking poles, though not necessarily for stages as flat as those we've walked so far. In truth, the one pole I decided to bring this time has been more of a nuisance than a help. But I do find they help a lot on hills. Or even, as this article (in Spanish) suggests, for, inter alia, maintaining a rhythm on flat stretches. But you really need two for that.
  • Having suggested beggars were thin on the ground down here, we'd no sooner sat down to have lunch yesterday in El Puerto de Santa Mará than we were accosted by 2 of the buggers. One of whom was 'playing' a whistle in the tuneless way they do. I'd be happier to pay them to piss off.
  • Having mentioned the very clean toilets in La Entrada the other day, I'm duty bound to report that one of the ladies of our group found those of the bar Peña Cultural Mucho Arte – near the castle - to be the dirtiest she'd ever experienced. And she wasn't too impressed by the kitchen either. New name (and owners?) since April 1, it seems. 
  • There's an obsession with tiny dogs down here, even greater than that displayed by the doyennes of Pontevedra. Many of them are smaller than the cat which recently adopted and then abandoned me. I regard these as a crime against the 'canine community' and confess to a desire to stamp on them . . . The small dogs, I mean. Not the cats. Well . . . 
  • The good news is that the Border Collie is clearly a popular breed in all 5 cities we've been in so far, in both Portugal and Spain. So at least there are some intelligent dog lovers down here as well.
  • Finally . . . In the castle square in El Puerto de SM, there's a sign saying there are very heavy fines for graffiti-writing filmed by the cameras there. And that these will be levied on the parents or teachers of young offenders. Seems a tad harsh to me. Especially as you're considered young in Spain until you reach 35 . . .
ODDS AND SODS
FOTO GALLERY
  • Just a few more examples of garrish Spanish Catholicism, from another huge quasi-cathedral- This time the Eglesia Mayor Prioral in El Puerto de SM:-



You'd wonder where all the money came from for these . . .

And whether God is happy about them.

Finally . . . The local habit here seems to be to put fresh flowers in front of every statue. Even to throw them through the bars closing off the side chapels. Hence this sign:-


Friday, April 27, 2018

Thoughts not from Galicia, Spain: 27.4.18


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.

TRAVEL NOTES
  • Andalucia is said to be the poorest region in Spain but, in 6 days, I've seen fewer beggars here than I'd see in 15 minutes in Pontevedra.
  • On the other hand, ambulant African traders are even more numerous down here.
  • Two interesting exchanges yesterday and today:-
  1. After asking a woman in Puerto Real where the Turismo office was: Answer: What's that?
  2. A call from the receptionist at the hotel where we're staying tonight, after I'd advised on the booking form we'd be arriving at 3: Is that 3 midday or 3 in the middle of the night?
  • At the end of this post is my brief write-up, for a friend, of the camino from San Fernando to Puerto Real. There's a Civil War reference which might be of interest.
  • Having lucked into a decent place for lunch in Cádiz (Los Nieves), and then the welcome lunch in La Entrada yesterday midday when entering Puerto Real, we ate by chance in what could well be the best tapas bar in Puerto Real last night – El Calvo. Very extensive menu, at pretty low prices again.
  • I forgot to mention that, when I was in the Information centre in Cádiz, an English chap came in and asked for a token for the services/servicios. Neither I nor the staff had any idea what he was talking about, but he insisted someone had told him that he could get there a token for services. Given that servicios means toilets in Spanish, the staff – after I'd translated his request - were at pains to tell him – in Andaluz – that he didn't have to pay for these, and so they certainly didn't have tokens for them. It then dawned on me he was talking about water and electricity for a caravan. So, we were able to tell him they didn't supply tokens for these either and send him – unhappy but grateful - on his way.
  • At a large roundabout on the edge of San Fernando, we couldn't find a yellow arrow and so didn't know in which of the 4 alternative ways we should go. I did debate with myself about asking a local or two but my experience of asking questions on new (but 'totally authentic') caminos is that no one has the slightest idea where the route is. So I didn't, and eventually found 3 arrows in the same spot at the end of the station carpark. I guess that makes sense to someone.
  • Not for the first time, I've noted that – when you ask for a shandy (clara) – there are parts of Spain where no one knows what you mean when you say 'With gaseosa(lemonade/soda), not limón'. At times – but not always – you need to use the brand name 'La Casera'. But down here in Andalucia, I've heard blanco(white) used. Life can get very tough.
  • As all travellers in Spain will know, a claim that a hotel has wifi throughout the establishment must be taken with a real pinch of salt. In the one we stayed in last night, it wasn't available at all in the room and was weak even in the lobby.
ODDS AND SODS
  • Can it really be true that Spain is on the way to another property boom, as claimed here - in Spanish?
  • HT to Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas for the news that, in 20 years, the population of the town of Arroyomolinos, to the south of Madrid, has grown from c. 2,700 to c. 29,100. No idea why.
  • Here's an interesting list of 7 things condoned by the bible but which are illegal. In most countries at least.
  • Does this Galician woman really look like Donald Fart?
FOTO GALLERY

This is about the only construction of note on the camino stretch described below, between San Ferdinand and Puerto Real:-


But these were nice:-


STAGE 2: SAN FERNANDO-PUERTO REAL

Overview
  • Most of what you can read about the start of the route is obsolete, now that the Cercanías railway has been completed and the routed is well-defined.
  • You can start from SF-Bahía Sur or, 1 km(?)further on, from SF-Entro.
  • The route is virtually flat from the station of SF-Centro.
  • There's no shade at all, except for the occasional tree as you get closer to Puerto Real.
  • There's nowhere to get any drink or food between SF-Centro and the edge of Puerto Real.
  • Other pilgrims are non-existent
  • But there are cyclists, few of whom indicate they are coming up behind you. As ever. And there's the occasional lunatic who approaches you at speed and would certainly hit you if you unwittingly moved to the left or right.
  • Very few cyclists wish you 'Buen camino'. Only one, in fact, in our case.
12.50: We start walking from Cercanias station SF-Bahía Sur.

Go past the station carpark and through an industrial park. Pavement largely blocked by vehicles. But plenty of yellow arrows.

Go up short, steepish hill. Pavement only on the left. Totally blocked by a truck.

Arrive at roundabout at the top. No arrows. Eventually see small blue/yellow arrow right of the roundabout on the road going across the bridge. It points to the street going left, along the side of the railway.

Follow this street to the end, where there's some steps going up a roundabout. An arrow at the top on the pavement points to the SF-Centro Cercanias station entrance on the other side of a zebra crossing.

No arrows discernible on the other side. Spend 10 minutes finding which of the 4 options is the right one. Don't bother to ask any of the locals if they know where the camino goes, as experience on new (but 'totally authentic') caminos is that no one has the slightest idea. Eventually find 3 arrows all together at the end of the station carpark. Logical, I guess, as it's in a straight line from the one before the zebra crossing.

Go down leftwards, passing a board which gives distances and times for local walks. Walk on clay for a bit.

Turn left under a tunnel under the railway and then right. Some surface water under the bridge but not a problem.

Turn right onto the gravel path along the railway, which is actually Renfe's service road.

Walk along this path, taking advantage of the clay path whenever possible.

We walk with a stream and extensive marshland to our left. There are said to be many birds here but we don't see a single one.

Eventually see a small duck rise from the stream.

13.35: Reach a wooden viewing platform, which I believe is about half-way. As with all of these, the board telling us about the local birds is so weathered we can hardly read a thing. Take out my small bird-watching binoculars but still don't see a single bloody bird.

13.40: See our second bird! Either a stork, a heron or a white crane. Think it's the last-mentioned.

13.55: See a sign for the barrio of Jarana on the road across the railway line to our right. Note that we haven't seen the golf club which one maps suggests is between us and the houses of the barrio.

14.07: See a yellow arrow. Possibly the first since those in abundance at the end of the station car park.

14.10: Pass some trees at the side of the path.

14.13: Reach a sign on the adjacent road for Puerto Real hospital and pass some ruins where 2 horses are grazing in the garden. Three small white cranes rise from the grass around where the horses are eating.

100m later, reach an arched, white stone gateway, about the only construction of interest along the route.

Note some trees ahead and wonder if they are the pines of Puerto Real.

14.18: Reach second sign for the Puerto Real hospital.

14.25: Reach the 3rd sign on the adjacent road, this one indicating Sevilla is straight ahead. Take a short break to determine how far we have to go to our hotel. Delighted to see it's only 1.1km and 13 minutes. Work out that this is a good pace of 5km an hour.

14.30: Set off again and note that there seems to be slight rise ahead of us, before a road bridge.

14.40: Start on the incline. Trees, bamboo plants and yellow and purple spring flowers on our left

14.42: Reach the bridge. Arrows after it indicate a left turn. Walk up a short but steepish hill and across a car park.

14.45: Arrive at a roundabout and again consult Google Maps re the route to our hotel, which we figure must be just round the corner. Disappointed to be told it's now 2.2km and 33 minutes away.

Notice that there's a bar serving tapas near the roundabout – La Entrada. Decide to have a drink and lunch and are rewarded with chicken, chips and egg for €5 and a glass of decent dry white wine for €1.50. Disappointed to note I could have had a big bacon sandwich. Chat to the friendly waiter and tell him the toilets are the cleanest I've seen in Spain. He thanks me and shakes my hand, making me wonder if he isn't actually the owner. Having checked our route to the hotel, I ask him why there's a street on our way called The Street of The Cross of the Woman Who Had Her Throat Cut. He says he doesn't know but then comes back to tell us it's something to do with the Civil War.

15.40: We leave, and deviate from the camino to walk the last 2.0km to our hotel, feeling very refreshed.

16.09: Arrive at our hotel, a km or so outside town. Realise we'll have to backtrack to the town in the morning, to meet the camino as it emerges from the town along the promenade.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Thoughts not from Galicia, Spain: 26.5.18

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.

TRAVEL NOTES
  • Yesterday I wrote something positive about the Cercanias system. Today I have to report that both my credit and debit cards were rejected when I tried to pay for tickets at a machine. 
  • And then there was this conversation with the employee standing by next to it:-
Does this take debit and credit cards?
Yes, it does.
Well, it rejected both of mine.
Yes, it does take them.
Our old Dutch friend, Mr Werner, would recognise this transaction. No apology and no attempt to check whether mine really would work. Just a useless assurance that they should.
  • Cádiz has, naturally, been adversely affected by the tourism from which it hugely benefits. At a very un-busy bar, we were told they wouldn't bring the drinks to a table on the terrace, so we'd have to take them there ourselves. No big deal, of course, but not what one expects in Spain.
  • This is what  Roman theatre in Cadiz used to look like:-


And this is what's left of it:-
  • Above what was the magnificent stage there's now an ugly block of flats, complete with washing hanging from windows. Sic transit gloria mundi.
  • They've spent a lot of money on a small but very decent Interpretation Centre at the theatre. Inter alia, there's a  nice video in both Spanish and English on the audiences and the performers. Sadly, the money didn't stretch to paying a nominal fee to a native speaker to check the translation. I guess someone's relative did it. Though not too badly, it has to be said.
SOME CÁDIZ TIPS
  • The old city really is a gem and, if you have plenty of time, it merits wandering around the narrow streets of the medieval quarter, where prices for food and drink seem remarkably low. Some specific advice:-
  • If you're buying a Cercanias ticket at a station, don't use the Renfe machine, as this will automatically charge you an extra 50 cents for a rechargeable card that you're never likely to use again.
  • If you're searching for the Mughal Indian restaurant at 13, Calle Plocia, this is what it is now:-


  • If you're hoping to enter the Old Cathedral when it opens at 17.30, it's best to go there for around 18.00. Which might or might not be the new official opening time. The chap who opened the door was sitting on the stops, doing puzzles, from 17.45. So it's hard to know whether he was late or early.
  • As a general rule, it's wise not to arrive at a place you want to see at or before the billed opening time.
  • If you're wanting to eat lunch in a decent place, Los Nieves in Plaza Mendizabal fits the bill. Especially if you can't find the Mughal place. It really is as good as the reviews suggest.
  • The excellent Turismo map of the city sets out 4 different routes. It's a good idea to follow one or more of these. It helps that the relevant colour is painted on the cobbles.

HISTORICAL NOTES
  • I have to admit I didn't know that Cádiz was sacked by a joint English-Dutch force in 1596, just 8 years after the disastrous attempt by the Spanish Armada to invade England in 1588.
  • In particular, I didn't know there were 2 later failed Armada attempts – in 1596 and in 1597. As with the first one, both were hit hard by storms – the first in the Bay of Biscay and the second near England.
  • It's interesting – almost amusing - to note that the incompetent chap in charge of the 1588 Armada - the Duke of Medina Sidonia was also responsible for the (woeful) Cádiz defences in 1596. In 1606, astonishingly still in command of something, he had yet another maritime failure – 'because of his obstinacy and folly' - this time against the Dutch alone. After which I think he was gracefully retired.
  • But he's (understandably) commemorated in a Dutch cartoon history for kids, called Van Nul tot Nu, in which he's known as Tante Sidonia. Or 'Aunty Sidonia'. I wonder if he'd go along with Oscar Wilde's witticism that: There's only one thing worse than being talked about. Not being talked about. I rather doubt it.
SOME SERIOUS ODDS AND SODS
  • As of yesterday, Banco Sabadell/TSB was still having problems in the UK. Or, rather, its customers were. Will heads fall? Possibly in the UK, if not in Spain.
  • Another list from The LocalWhy Spaniards are staring at you
  • News of a Spanish city's revolt against Airbnb and the like. A harbinger of things to come? Or just another string of court cases?
  • On the tourist theme, it's reported that Brits, at least, are finally doing - to the detriment of Spain - what's been forecast for a whle; they're returning to those tourist spots hit by terrorism, Turkey in particular. Never mind the repression, the holidays there are even cheaper than in merely authoritarian Spain.
  • Spain's President Rajoy has finally been forced to take a decision. In order to get his budget passed, he's made concessions to angry pensioners.
  • Finally . . . This was the Presidenta of Madrid the day before yesterday insisting that she'd stick things out until the very last day, whenever that might be:-

This turned to be the very next day, yesterday, when Rajoy finally forced her to fall on her sword. Not because of her phony Masters qualification but because of a video showing her about to leave a shop without paying for face-creams. Albeit a few years ago.
  • You have to feel sorry for the lady. As PP party crooks go, she's very small fry indeed. The big fry remain immune. But I guess she'll be a director of Telefónica or Endesa very soon.
  • So, it was a really big day for Rajoy . . . He made not just one but two decisions.
FOTO GALLERY
  • This is the essence of (OTT/baroque or at least garish, Spanish) Catholicism – Virgins, pain, and death.



  • And here's a rather unusual Jesus. A black one:-

All from Cadiz's Old Cathedral. The one which replaced a predecessor which had been destroyed by the dastardly Protestant English and Dutch alliance in the 16th century.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Thoughts not from Galicia, Spain: 25.4.18

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.

Firstly, a correction. For some reason, I read a post of few days ago and realised, firstly, that there was a mistake in this paragraph, and, secondly, that the ever-vigilant Alfie Mittington hadn't alerted me to it: The more you journey through Spain, the more you realise what a glorious heritage is has from both its Islamic and Christian(i.e. Catholic) eras. My perception is that Spaniards are gradually coming to a real appreciation of the latter. This should read 'the former', not 'the latter'.

TRAVEL NOTES
  • If you're going to visit San Fernando, near Cádiz, be sure to download a map from somewhere. The one available from the Turismo there must the most inadequate ever produced. Firstly, it's very small. Secondly, the print is tiny. And, thirdly the words are so badly printed, they're illegible. It's the devil's own job figuring out where anywhere is.
  • Which reminds me . . . In search of a very small battery, I was sent by one shopkeeper to a place opposite the Alameda. In reality, this was only 50 metres away but, having entered Alameda in Google Maps on my phone, I was then sent on a round trip of at least a kilometre, before ending up virtually where I'd started from. En route, I read on the phone something like: Be careful. The walking directions might not relate to the real world. Too effing true!
  • Another thing to note about San Fernando is that there are 2 Cercanias stations in this town: 1. San Fernanda-Bahia Sur, and 2. San Fernando Centro(Central). The name of the latter begs the question of the Spanish definition of 'central'. For, as with most railway and bus stations in Spain, it's on the edge of town, a good 15-20 minute hike to the centre. Good for taxi drivers, of course.
  • As in other parts of Spain, there's an excellent local train service (Cercanias) between Cádiz and Jerez. The trains are modern, clean and comfortable. However, the enjoyment of one's journey will certainly be impaired if all the other seats in one's carriage are occupied by around 40 seven-year-old schoolkids and 3 teachers. Especially when none of the former are told to stop shouting by any of the latter. Who are more interested in taking fotos of their charges than ensuring peace and quiet for the other passengers. All very Spanish.
  • Cádiz is has an extremely elegant old quarter, overflowing with things to see. But also with octogenarian American tourists disgorged in their hundreds – thousands, even – from the vast cruise ships that are moored right next to it. And which are virtually the first thing you see when you exit the railway station. The ships, I mean. Not the Yanks . . .
  • Walking round this quarter, a thought returned. One that surges whenever I'm noting the obvious wealth in parts of Spain . . . How long will it be before Spain stands on its own feet, earns its own money and stops taking it from the taxpayers of Northern Europe, so that it can improve the lot of its poor by taking more from its very rich. Or even just the rich. Of whom there are very many more than there were when Spain joined the EU in 1985.
  • And then a new question occurred – How many of Spain's youth – proud of her undoubtedly impressive growth of the last 40 years – realise that this has only been possible through the largesse of others? Or, to put it bluntly (as the Spanish would prefer), that Spain doesn't yet earn its own way in the world. I have a suspicion that no one ever tells them this. Merely that Spain's economic growth is the envy of her EU partners. Which, of course, is true - at the macro level.
  • But, anyway, for now, here's an introduction to Andaluz: A waiter asking a chap at the next table. 'Is this helmet yours?' ¿Ete caco e vuetro? Or, in Castellano, ¿Este casco es vuestro? All said as one word, by the way.
SOME SERIOUS ODDS AND SODS
  • American religious nut, Liz Crokin: Hillary Clinton literally is a witch. She practices witchcraft and goes to witches covens. Rudy Giuliani will surely produce the video of Clinton raping a child and cutting its face off.
  • Has Spanish Banco Sabadell rather overstretched itself in the UK? If it has, you wouldn't know this if you live in Spain, says Don Quijones here.
  • Returning to the issue of disciplining kids . . . Look what can happen if you try to do this to someone else's child in Spain.
Finally . . .

FOTO GALLERY

NIEBLA
A section of the walls as Morton might have seen them in 1956
Very probably the same spot today
The main (Sorroco) Gate, showing what Morton called the salmon-pink walls. And the once 'dusty path' he walked up to go through it.
Part of the interior of the impressive Guzman's Castle
The holy church of the Never Starting Mass.
A sign that things might not all be as well as they seem
PALOS

The church where Columbus et al prayed the night before they sailed
Where they sailed from. More or less.
The well from which they drew their water for the voyage
The rather proud boast of the town, on the front wall of the church

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Thoughts not from Galicia, Spain: 24.4.18

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.

TRAVEL NOTES
  • Just north west of Sevilla lies Itálica, a city which once rivalled Sevilla in importance for the Romans. Or rather the remains of it. These are actually within the township of Santiponce. If you're looking for it, be warned that the signs are small and so weathered as to be, at times, illegible. In fact, we stopped on Saturday morning for breakfast in Santiponce without realising we were within a few hundred metres of Itálica. And so had to return on Sunday, when – of course – everything was closed.
  • Another place which once rivalled Sevilla is the town of Niebla, about 65km west, off the road to Huelva. This is a delightful walled town with some interesting ruins – the (ex-mosque) church of San Martín and the ex-Moors' Alcázar. It also has a lovely Gothic-Mudejar (ex-mosque) church - Sta María La Granada - in which, wrote H V Morton, there are some fine examples of Mozarabic art. Naturally, it was closed. So we decided to return in the evening, when it would be open for the Mass. About this we were told:-
- By a woman in the Turismo office (which is not where the town map says it is): The Mass starts at 8pm.
- By a woman sitting in front of the church at 8pm: It starts at 8.30.
- By the barman in a bar right behind the church at 8.30: Dunno. Didn't know there was a Mass there.
Need I say, there was no sign of a Mass taking place and so we left a 8.40.
By the way, don't bother trying to download the QR map of Niebla from the information board outside the main (Socorro) gate; all you'll get is an HTML document about a Ruta de Vinos.
Writing in 1956, Morton described Niebla as a very run-down place of peasant cottages, with old men sitting on their haunches in doorways, and donkeys and ox-carts in the narrow streets. But Spain has moved on and tourism has arrived in a big way. None of these feature in today's Niebla. Now, everything is tarted up and there's a nice exhibition in the old hospital in the main square. There's one bar and one shop, though no café. But there are 3 bank branches within spitting distance of each other. Which says a lot about modern Spain, I guess.
  • Closer to Huelva is Palos de la Frontera, whence Columbus sailed on his world-altering voyage westwards. Or westwards/eastwards, as he thought. Morton writes of the fountain from which water was drawn for the 3 caravelles and of 3 rings in the ground at which these were moored. The fountain is still there but the rings are gone. As indeed are the dock and the water in which the ships sat. All recovered land now. In fact, you can't even see the river or sea from the spot. As for the rings, I imagine they're in some museum now and that there are at least 10 copies of them in other museums around the world, all claiming to be authentic.
  • Near Palos is the beautiful Monastery of La Rábida, where Columbus got some help with the implementation of his crazy scheme to sail westwards to India.
  • And just north of Palos is another lovely white town, Moguer. This has a monumental church and convent – Santa Clara - but, of course, this was closed on a Monday afternoon, albeit it had been open earlier in the day. It also has a stunning church – Nuestra Señora de la Granada - which comes close in size to a cathedral. It boasts a small version of Sevilla's Giralda tower and 5 naves. Which is more than I recall ever seeing in church – or even a cathedral – before.
  • Fotos of all these tomorrow. Meanwhile, I'll just mention that my GPS sometimes gives me instructions on roundabouts seven times in quick succession. And is unaware that the A4 between Sevilla and Cadiz is now the AP4 and, thus, a toll road.
  • But still on travelling . . . Here are 2 relevant lists:-
  1. Nine fairy tale Spanish towns
  2. An American woman's list of the top 5 things she'll miss about Spain.
SOME SERIOUS ODDS AND SODS

Monday, April 23, 2018

Thoughts not from Galicia, Spain: 23.4.18

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.

TRAVEL NOTES
  • Stopping at a café on a Portuguese autopista on Thursday, I (perforce) chose one of the smallest croissants I've ever seen. On the bill it was designated 'Grande'. But this wasn't the oddest thing about the place. This honour went to its name:-
  • Reading up on Sevilla, I came upon this sentence from Richard Townsend, who was visiting the archbishop there in 1786: He kindly permitted me to kiss his ring. Hard to believe anyone would write that today. And him a vicar as well!
  • Sevilla has long been a tourist magnet but, though it's not yet the high season, the place seemed to be populated by no one other than tourists yesterday. Some perceptions:-
- 90% of people walking round looked like visitors
- More than 50% of these were Asian
-100% of the people taking rides in the horse-drawn carriages near the cathedral and Plaza de España were Asian
- The queues/lines for the Cathedral and the Alcazar suggested a wait of at least an hour in each case. - For the latter, you can't yet do what you can for the Alhambra and book a slot in advance.
  • For lunch, we decided to walk 20 minutes away from the throngs to a tapas bar in a 'quiet' barrio, only to find that the owners were taking a 2-day rest after the exertions (and profits) of the Feria de Abril.
  • I guess it's possible that the tourist numbers were a hang-over from the Feria but this was my 3rd visit to this beautiful city and I can recollect nothing like these hordes from the previous 2. If I go again, it will be mid-winter.
  • Incidentally, contra to the web page information, this year the Fiesta was a Saturday-to-Saturday event, not the traditional Sunday-to-Sunday.
  • Today, we are in Dos Hermanas, en route to Cádiz. I'm looking for signs that the place really is the centre of the gypsy-clan run heroin business.
  • When we checked in last night, I told the receptionist I couldn't understand his Andaluz accent as I live in Galicia. Given our region's drug-trafficking connections, I wasn't totally surprised that he suddenly started treating me with great respect. Or perhaps it was just my natural charm . . .
  • When I went down to advise that the card wouldn't open our room door, I was confronted by about 30 Asian ladies with luggage, all of whom seemed to want to cram into the lift before I could get out of it.
  • And this morning I gave up on using a lift, as they'd been cornered by either the same ladies or some of their compatriots.
  • Finally . . . The white wine is better in Sevilla than in Badajoz. But there was no albariño or godello on the list of the tapas bar we were able to eat in. Localism. Of course, I never expected to see American, French, Australian, South African or New Zealand wines on the menu. You could live you entire life in Spain and never know they even existed.
SOME SERIOUS ODDS AND SODS
WEATHER NOTE
  • It didn't rain during the day in Sevilla yesterday. But it's miserable in Dos Hermanas this morning and forecast to rain in Cádiz today. At the very least a couple of thunderstorms. The bad spring continues.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Thoughts not from Galicia, Spain: 22.4.18

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.

TRAVEL NOTES
  • Well, Badajoz was delightful and the natives as friendly as they're reputed to be. In the narrow streets of upper part of the old quarter – near the remains of the Moors' Alcazaba – there were very few people about and we were possibly the only tourists in the place. Certainly the only foreign tourists. One resident told us that a good deal of money had been spent on restoring attractions but tourists were so few that owners took a relaxed/pragmatic approach to opening hours. The city's culinary reputation was restored by an excellent lunch with decent wine in La Taberna La Nueva Santina in Plaza La Soledad. The weather continued cool and wet. One aspect of the city confused me for a short while – Information panels sometimes gave names in 2 languages, as in A Galera and La Galera. My initial reaction was to wonder why they were giving the Gallego alternative, and then it dawned on me it was Portuguese. I was reminded of a panel back in the bones place in Zafra, where there was Portuguese, English and French, but no Spanish. I've noticed this before and wondered whether it indicated a certain apathy towards their richer, 'arrogant' neighbours.
  • In contrast to Badajoz, based on reading bumf on the place, my expectations for Zafra were high but – almost inevitably - I found it to be a tad disappointing. Perhaps because of the non-stop showers.
  • Thanks to all the unseasonal rain, Extremedura is currently as green as Ireland. Which is a turn up for the books.
  • There are unusual place names all over the world, of course, but I regularly wonder whether Spain isn't unusually rich in these. I've mentioned Deadcat (Gatomorto) back home in Galicia and, maybe, Killthemoors (Matamoros) but yesterday saw a few more added to the list. Calzada de los dos Barros (Road of the two Muds), Fuente de Cantos (Spring of Songs) and Culebrín (Little Snake?) being 3 of them. And I did wonder whether Ronquillo was connected with the Spanish for snoring - ronquidos - but it appears not.
BITS AND BOBS
WEATHER NOTE
  • It's 8.45 and it's not raining. Yet. But it's forecast to do so in Sevilla today.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Thoughts not from Galicia, Spain: 21.4.18

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.

I'm still motoring south and this post comprises just . . .

TRAVEL NOTES:-
  • The more you journey through Spain, the more you realise what a glorious heritage is has from both its Islamic and Christian(i.e. Catholic) eras. My perception is that Spaniards are gradually coming to a real appreciation of the latter. They are also coming to realise there's money to be made in burnishing its marvellous Jewish past.
  • With the possible exception of the city of Mérida, Extramadura truly is a largely undiscovered part of Spain. This is despite it being the source of most of Spain's tough conquistadores. Cáceres and Trujillo are both well worth a visit.
  • An oddity is that , if you look at the stuff published by those foreigners who do visit the region, the border city of Badajoz usually doesn't figure. This is despite its Moorish relics. I'm viewing these today and will report in due course.
  • Meanwhile, I can say that, having arrived last night, I think I now know the bar serving the least appetising tapas and the worst white wine in Spain La Cervecería LaUnión in Joaquín Costa. Astonishingly, most of the reviews on Tripadvisor say it's an excellent place. Friends of the owners, I guess. I agree witth 'local guide' Julian García, who certainly can't be one of these.
  • After doing Badajoz's old quarter this morning I'll be heading for Zafra, an enticing place from all I've read, including a couple of pages in Morton's A Stranger in Spain. As elsewhere, I expect it'll have been tarted up since he was there in 1957. Then tomorrow on to Sevilla for the last day of its famous Feria de Abril.
  • Évora in Portugal is another old city well worth a visit. But expect to pay a prince's ransom if you want to get there quickly from Oporto. Having left Aveiro early yesterday morning, I was a tad shocked to find the toll charge near Évora was c. €26, about the same as the cost of the petrol. It explained why, for the last hour or so of the journey south west of Lisbon, mine was about the only car on the road.
  • Évora's Sao Francisco church – restored since 2014 – has a bizarre chapel attached to it, where the walls are composed entirely of human femurs and skulls, from 5,000 corpses. If you're lucky, you won't have to wait to get a good look at it while some woman manages to talk non-stop for 20 minutes about a pile of bones.
  • As I've advised before, make sure you have plenty of cash with you if you're travelling in Portugal. Or a range of cards. For the acceptance of credit cards is quixotic, to say the least. One toll booth will accept your card but another won't. Ditto petrol stations. Annoying.
  • Virtually every decent road in Portugal is now – post an economic crisis – a revenue-generating toll road. The modern ones use a system of gantry-based cameras to clock your car and dock money from your credit or debit card. The system isn't now as complicated as when it was first introduced but it's still bad enough. Some folk don't bother to get onto the system and pay nothing for these roads. The risk is that, if the police stop you to check, you'll be both charged and fined. Other says the police are so aware how challenging the system is that they don't bother to do this with foreign cars.
  • The Mercure Rio hotel in Badajoz, is a decent place, with a public cafeteria attached if you just want a coffee, rather than the €7.50 breakfast in its restaurant.
  • Extremadura is renowned for being very cold in winter but very hot and dry in summer. So naturally, it's raining today. And cool. It's not been a great spring throughout Spain.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 21.4.18

Friday, April 20, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 20.4.18

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.

I'm travelling this morning so this post will be both brief and early. And indebted to yesterday's edition of Lenox Napier's Business Over Tapas.

Spain v Cataluña
  • Says The Local: The speaker of the Catalan parliament said Wednesday that new elections were not in the region's "interest" while Spain persists in blocking a new president from taking office. So, will they take place?
Spain
  • El País report here on 'surprising' developments among the parties of Spain's Left.
  • As for the  PP government, it's still hamstrung in its attempts to push through what one paper sees as a 'high risk' budget
  • Talking of the Left . . . Andalucia is a by word for corruption. So, it's not very surprising to read that the EU regards its government as the worst in Spain. Though I'm not clear on the criteria. So, I should probably read the EuropeanQuality of Government Index 2017.
Life in Spain
  • HT to Lenox Napier for the news that:- The radical actor Willy Toledo is called to explain himself in court for insults made against God on his Facebook page. God forbid.
  • The university of King Juan Carlos in Madrid appears to have become something of degree factory. On the heels of the Cifuentes affair comes the news that many senior police officers would not be in their current positions without their degrees in Criminology, bought for €3,000 each.
The EU
  • M Macron has been goading Frau Merkel and challenging her over whether she wants to form a new Franco-German double act on a par with those which drove The Project forwards in the past. The article below suggests he might be vaingloriously wasting his time.
The USA/Russia/The World
  • In a thoughtful article below Peter Hitchins – the well-known 'right-wing' brother of Christopher Hitchens – expresses the fear that the drums of WW3 are being resoundly beaten. One rather hopes not.
Galicia/Pontevedra
  • An unexpected consequence of the new law compelling microchipping of one’s dog is a record number of dogs being abandoned to their fate in the region. The dog region's kennels will be even fuller than usual. And there's talk of the law being applied to cats too.
Finally
  • There've been a lot of very funny things circulating about Sra Cifuentes and the university of King Juan Carlos. The one I liked most yesterday was a claim that, if you buy a gym membership there, you can lose weight without ever attending. Still time for a laugh before we're all nuked to perdition.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 20.4.18

THE ARTICLES

1. Macron recalls giants of history to taunt Merkel   

President Macron appeared to taunt Angela Merkel today by invoking the successful partnerships of former French and German leaders as he tried to persuade her to back his ambitious plans for EU reform.

In promoting the “strength” of their predecessors such as Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle, the French president was claiming a similar leadership role in Europe.

His comments were interpreted as a challenge to Mrs Merkel over whether she wanted to form a new double act.

Alongside Mr Macron at their joint press conference, the German chancellor emerged as hesitant and cautious. The former “Queen of Europe” appeared to have been put on the spot by the new prince.
Mrs Merkel, 63, who was never keen on greater EU integration, has been hamstrung by the loss of seats in the German election and faces resistance in her own party to the French president’s more audacious ideas.

Mr Macron, 40, arrived in Berlin after an impassioned speech to the European Parliament on Tuesday when he warned of “civil war” in the continent unless radical reform measures were taken.
Senior German politicians have been warning that his plans for a minister and budget for the eurozone and for a European Monetary Fund were expensive distractions when the real challenge was controlling immigration and asylum.

“We need to come together,” Mr Macron said. “This is a moment that is decisive for the future of Europe.” He outlined threats to European democracy from external forces such as trade wars and internal pressures, such as the rise of populism.

“In the past we had predecessors who had the strength to resist bad tendencies and even counter them. This is something expected from us,” Mr Macron said, standing next to Mrs Merkel ahead of their talks today.

Mrs Merkel wore her best blank expression as he said this but the reference to predecessors recalled champions of EU advancement such as Adenauer and de Gaulle, who founded the project in the 1950s, as well as François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl who saw through the creation of the euro.

Mr Macron also made numerous calls for greater “solidarity”, a word interpreted in Berlin as demands for more German taxpayer money.

“You have certainly understood that there is a lot of work ahead of us,” Mr Macron said to the chancellor in concluding his opening remarks.

“Even though these challenges seem to be daunting they will certainly be worthwhile and we can succeed,” he added by way of reassurance.

In stark contrast Mrs Merkel stressed the need for compromise and pragmatism.

“There are of course always different starting points when it comes to the opinions of Germany and France. We need open debates — and in the end we need the ability to compromise,” she said.
“One issue that we will be working through very quickly now and that I am very optimistic about is how to complete the Banking Union. We are also willing to set up a joint bank deposit insurance system in a more distant future,” she said.

“However, we want to make sure that liability and risks go together. I believe we also agree that solidarity is needed in Europe but that competitiveness is also necessary.”

Mrs Merkel’s idea of a banking union without a common bailout fund is at odds with Paris, however. Her emphasis on competitiveness means more of the painful austerity measures and economic liberalisation that her former finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble insisted upon to reform the Greek economy.

She pledged to work with Mr Macron to bring forward compromise proposals for the EU summit in June. Mrs Merkel has also proposed an enhanced committee for overseeing the euro which includes economy ministers as well as finance ministers. It is seen in Paris as a distraction motivated by German domestic political reasons – Mrs Merkel’s finance minister comes from the Social Democratic Party while the economy minister is from her own Christian Democratic Union.

In an example of the domestic pressure facing Mrs Merkel her coalition partners from the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian conservatives, urged her to resist Mr Macron’s reforms.

“A new beginning for Europe cannot not just mean new money,” said Markus Blume, secretary general of the CSU.


“Europe must become more efficient and better not more expensive. One thing is clear we must stay the course of the stability union. That means no transfer union, no European finance minister, no new funds and no European unemployment insurance. We have to be careful. Macron speaks of more Europe but he also thinks of France first.”

2. The Guns of April : Are we in a pre-War era, right now? Peter Hitchins.

A pre-war era  My feeling that we are in a pre-war era, and are being prepared for that war almost every day, grows. I am not feeling especially well at the moment, and my days are tinged with a certain darkness anyway, despite the arrival of spring, but I cannot at any point in my life ever recall being gripped by such a feeling of impending, unavoidable disaster.

It began early on Sunday morning with claims of a gas attack in the suburbs of Damascus. Although the BBC were careful to state that the reports were unverified, my heart sank.  The prominence being given to the story suggested that it didn’t much matter that they were not verified. Why lead a news bulletin on a main national material with unverified material, if you think verification matters a lot? Surely the old rule was ‘verify first’, then publish’?

Is it 1914 again?  I wearily resigned myself to the fact that at some point I would have to write what I am now writing, a warning that these claims have not been proven, may not be proven, and serve the end of those who desire to draw this country into a war. What sort of war? Well, I am horribly reminded of the summer of 1914.

Two major powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are irreconcilably hostile to each other. One of them, by aggressive diplomacy in proxy states, has created a state of grave tension between them which, if it goes much further, threatens to draw the great powers into open conflict. A single incident, by providing the basis for aggressive diplomacy, unacceptable demands and perhaps actual warlike violence, could trigger that war. If so, it will not be confined to the Middle East, because of the involvement of Russia in the dispute. Indeed, it may be Russia’s involvement in Syria, where it has frustrated Saudi Arabian designs and those of Saudi Arabia’s allies, such as the USA, this country and France, which triggered the considerable increase in tension in Ukraine which began to heat up in 2013.

A single incident could trigger war Given the nature of the controversy about Ghouta today, even the events in Salisbury have a relevance to this, as does the mass expulsion of diplomats which followed that outrage, even though it has never actually been linked by indisputable evidence to the direct action of the Russian state.

War fever means the death of honest debate Careful readers will also have noticed that the Labour leader has been facing increasing accusations from the Tory party of being a Russian stooge, in my view a breach of the moral code which allows freedom to live. If the Leader of the Opposition cannot oppose the government without being accused of some sort of fealty to a foreign power, then we are not free. I have no doubt something similar will soon be said of me. I find this worrying not because it is bone-headed and childish (though it is) but because it is a symptom of something very serious – the death of open, honest debate.This is an invariable symptom of a country whose elite is bent on war.

Idiot-proofing So before I began, I knew I was going to have to idiot-proof it by showing (before they were made) that claims that I am some sort of stooge of the Damascus Government are false. Here is the proof of that, a catalogue of my long record of severe criticism of the Assad state (such that I have never even sought a visa for Syria, on the assumption that it might be refused or, worse, that it might be granted and some sort of revenge taken on me once I arrived).

By the way, my fear of such accusations is not unfounded, as you may read here in an account of my dispute with the former Tory MP Brooks Newmark, during an earlier attempt to drag this country into intervening in Syria.

Mr Newmark, who has subsequently come to grief through his own folly in other matters, accused me of acting ‘in support of the Assadregime’.

I contacted him and politely asked him to withdraw, but he would not, and eventually my own then MP, the excellent Andrew Smith (a proper old-fashioned Honourable Gentleman who treated his constituents without fear or favour) was kind enough to make my rebuttal for me in the Commons, so ensuring that it was recorded in Hansard. But Mr Newmark never retracted.

No, not a Putin Patsy either Now, despite my equally long record of criticism of Vladimir Putin, going back to 2004, see here. I have no doubt that some semi-literate will accuse me of being a ‘useful idiot’.This hackneyed and ill-understood Cold War term was never actually used by Lenin, as claimed. In any case it applies specifically to the dim fellow-travellers of Communism, who defended the USSR’s misdeeds because of ideological sympathy.  This is an accusation that simply cannot be made against me. Russia has no ideology. And I am not a defender of, or a friend of, the Russian state.

I also knew I would have to republish this posting. Iin my view a pretty arduous and definitive demonstration that the previous accusation of poison gas use by Assad’s forces had never been proven, though it had been made to look as if it had been. It is also, though I say it myself, fascinating in many ways, if you are interested in evidence at all.

That done, I was going to have to examine, patiently and dispassionately, the accounts of the latest alleged atrocities, and apply the same treatment to them.  I cannot, alas, analyse them all. So I have chosen two left-wing papers. But I must also remind readers of the difficulty of sources for reports in these areas, where in general western journalists cannot safely go. This article (please note the interesting background of the doctor quoted) may help you understand just how difficult it is to get straight information under these circumstances

It is very hard to get straight facts outof war zones.

Some coverage of the Syria crisis examined 

Here goes:

The Financial Times prominently quotes the words of others who *have* assumed the case is proven, such as President Trump and, apparently, the EU, both of whom are said to be calling for action. ‘Sentence first, verdict later’, as the King of Hearts says in ‘Alice in Wonderland’.   But it is careful to say in its headline that it is an ‘alleged chemical attack’. And it uses the qualifying phrase ‘if confirmed’ , before saying it would then be the most serious since sarin gas *was* dropped in Khan Sheikhoun a year ago.

See what you think  It seems oddly unaware that this allegation remains in question, or that no independent observer ever investigated the site. Time does not turn an allegation into a proven fact, and the truth about this should not be forgotten. The FT’s story is datelined ‘Rebecca Collard in Beirut’. Beirut is 70 miles from the alleged attack, and in a separate country, even assuming she could have got to the scene in time or entered the very dangerous conflict zone involved, and also to ‘Courtney Weaver in Washington’, which is even further away from Ghouta than I am. The report cites as a source a body called the Syrian American Medical Society, whose website here https://www.sams-usa.net/who-we-are/ gives some indication that it may not be wholly neutral in Syrian matters. Click on ‘Our Advocacy’ and then on ‘Campaigns’ and see what you think.

The Guardian’s Page One story is from Martin Chulov, likewise 70 miles from the scene, in Beirut.
Moving  It is illustrated by a moving photograph of a child, eyes closed, with an oxygen mask over his face. The caption says he is ‘struggling to breathe after the attack”. No qualification is visible in this caption , in the headline (Outcry over chemical attack in Syria’), or in the opening paragraph, which uses the phrase ‘chemical strike’ and the word ‘atrocity’ without the word ‘alleged’ or ‘suspected’.

The picture is credited to Mouneb Taim, who I think must be the same person as the author of this Twitter feed

Why Verify if you've already made Your Mind up, and vice versa? Interestingly, Mr Chulov’s story noted ‘[President] Trump demanded that access be opened to Douma, which is the last of three besieged districts in the Ghouta area of Damascus to remain under opposition control. Trump said access was necessary to verify what had happened and treat remaining victims.’ If he is so keen to verify, as indeed he should be, why is he calling President Assad an ‘animal’ and warning of a ‘big price to pay’? Surely such things should wait for the verification? Or does he know in advance what its verdict will be? By the way, it is worth noting that the Islamist group based in Douma is Jaysh-al-Islam, the 'Army of Islam'  (which is not very nice, see here.

I believe Jaysh (or Jaish) al Islam has had significant Saudi support. But the US administration in the past has been pretty unkeen about it. See these remarks by John Kerry.

On page nine, the Guardian has a longer account from Kareem Shaheen  – in Istanbul, 900 miles from Damascus. It attributes to ‘aid workers and medics’ descriptions of ‘apocalyptic scenes’, and does use the word ‘alleged’. But I could not see a single named person quoted, just unidentified doctors, paramedics and a local journalist.

The Guardian Becomes the Warmonger’s Gazette  Remember, this is the Guardian, a newspaper which for decades was the house journal of ban-the-bombers and protestors against the Suez adventure and the Vietnam war, with very high proportions of Quakers, moth-eaten liberals and vegans among its readers. Yet now it has become a trumpet for armed intervention. Under the pious slogan ‘Comment is free…but facts are sacred’ first stated by its greatest editor C.P.Scott, the paper’s opinion column declares (again without the slightest qualification): ‘Syria's renewed use of chemical weapons against its own people at the weekend is shameless and barbaric. Dozens of people in the remaining rebel-held suburbs of Damascus were suffocated by Saturday's chemical attack on the Douma district. This is not the first time this has happened. Since the use of sarin at Khan al-Assal in 2013 there have been dozens of chemical attacks by the regime. These deliberate attacks on civilians show callous contempt for humanity and disregard for the laws of war. Official Syrian claims that the latest killings have been fabricated are beneath contempt.’

But if facts are sacred,  how can the Guardian be so sure, given that it is relying on a report from one correspondent 70 miles away, and another one 900 miles away, however good they are at their jobs, and some anonymous quotes from people whose stories it has no way of checking?

Long-distance Psychiatry? A Breakthrough!  It recognises the problem that any such action by President Assad would be raving mad. Assad is on the verge of a highly significant victory in Ghouta, and a gas attack would provide the only realistic opportunity for an American intervention against him, about the only thing that could once again put his position in doubt.  The Guardian isn't troubled by that. It argues: ‘Some may ask why, since the slow throttling of Damascus's eastern Ghouta suburbs seems to be approaching a grisly climax, the government feels any need to breach one of the oldest taboos in warfare once more. To answer that adequately it is necessary to delve into the darkest places of the psychology of a regime that celebrates the overwhelming use of force, the need to terrorise civilians and the right to punish opponents indiscriminately as a weapon of policy.’ In other words, yes, President Assad is mad. Well it is a point of view, but even if reporting of atrocities can be done accurately from a distance of 900 miles, I have heard of no attested experiments showing that psychiatry can be done at such distances.

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