Monday, May 21, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 21.5.18

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 pagehere.

Life in Spain
  • That paean of praise for Spain from the British pianist, James Rhodes, is now available in its original English here. Interestingly, there's a note at the end saying: A previous draft of the English version of this article included a mention of the Civil War that was removed by the author before publication. El Pais published this English draft copy in error but has now removed the reference. One wonders what he said, who he offended and who indulged in a bit of censorship.
  • I think this is something I read in last week's Business Over Tapas . . . The family network disappears’. A major article from 'El Independiente'. ‘The number of older people living alone is skyrocketing. In Spain, a country where care has traditionally been provided by the family, the challenge is greater than in other neighbouring countries that have developed more public resources to manage ageing'. As it happens, there was an article on the increasing number of Galicia's solitary senior citizens in yesterday's Voz de Galicia. 
  1. Germany: In 2014, the journalist (Dominic Lawson) who reported Nicholas Ridley's explosive 1990 comments about Germany wrote an article - posted below - asking whether it had turned out to be true that the EU was a German racket to take over Europe. Naturally, he concludes is wasn't/isn't. In fact he goes so far as to say: Europe's real problem is not so much German hegemony as a complete absence of leadership. I suspect that - 4 years on - some people will find this true but not quite the complete picture. But there might be a lot of agreement with Lawson's comment that: The truth is it is Germany’s obsession with being seen as ‘good Europeans’ which may well lead to the biggest mess of all.
  2. ItalyBrussels’ nightmare - a Eurosceptic government in one of the EU’s largest countries — could become reality as soon as next week. See here for more on this.
  • A Trump tweet: “Melanie is feeling and doing really well. Thank you for all of your prayers and best wishes!” Nice, except that her name is Melania. YCMIU.
  • Here's a fascinating video on Fart from Noam Chomsky. 
The UK
  • Below is a wonderful Sunday Times article on that wedding.
  • And here's a Guardian article on the (inevitable) replacement for mindfulness – sophrology. Get with it. Which, it seems, the UK has so far failed to do. And Spain??
  • Yesterday witnessed the first group of tourists being followed around Pontevedra's old quarter by a guide with a flag on an erect pole. This is a common enough sight now in Sevilla, Granada, Córdoba and, closer to home, Santiago, but it's a truly depressing development here. Unless you own a restauant. I didn't recognise the flag but it might have been of an East European country. Or Russia even.
  •  I must crack on with my guide to the city for 'pilgrims'. Or start a tour business.
Duff Cooper
  • DC not only had to act as an intermediary between Churchill and de Gaulle (both of whom could be rather petty as regards the other) but also between de Gaulle and the Americans, who clearly detested him and tried to exclude him from the post-war French government. In which challenge they roundly failed, of course. Here's an extract on de Gaulle from DC's diary entry of January 1945: We had a rather foolish telegram from the Foreign Office about the Levant[Lebanon and Syria], saying that they relied upon me and my staff to persuade the French not to be stiff-necked. I am replying that unfortunately General de Gaulle’s neck is naturally stiff and that nothing has happened recently to render it more supple.
  • As I've said, DC was at the epicentre of both London and Paris societies and British politics during the 20s, 30s and 40s. In the last decade he worked closely with Anthony Eden - then the Foreign Secretary, later the Prime Minister. DC was very clearly an admirer of Eden. By pure coincidence, I read yesterday that a Labour politician of the time described Eden as a 'half mad baronet and half beautiful woman'. Perhaps this explains DC's affection for him.
  • As regards real women . . . Here's DC on the lady (the wife of Count Palffy ) who was to become his 1944 squeeze: Louise Palffy took me to the door. I found myself kissing her and falling in love. As you can see, herein lies yet another meaning of 'love' for DC – getting the hots for, as it'd be put these days. Or even just getting an erection. Some time later he complains (to himself) that: She takes our love affair too seriously. No danger of this with DC, of course. Not long after this, he moves on to a woman 30 years younger than himself. As this reviewer says: His son says he was a nice man: that's not obvious from these pages. There is a lot of eating, prodigious amounts of boozing and plenty of adulterous sex. 'I feel guilty of no faithlessness, only of filthiness,' writes Cooper in one typical aside after betraying his wife yet again. 
  • Interestingly, the possibility of DC's 'beloved' wife being unfaithful is never touched on in the diary. Or not so far, anyway. Which is a shame, as it'd be nice to know what his attitude would have been.
Finally . . . 
  • A UK ad agency devised a campaign for a gas company client which involved the free London paper, The Metro, looking as if it'd been soaked in water. This brilliant idea resulted in many, many copies being left untouched at tube and bus stations. Cue unhappy client.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 21.5.18


1. Is the EU just a German racket to take over Europe?: Dominic Lawson

Nearly 25 years ago, a Tory minister told Dominic Lawson it was - and lost his job in the firestorm that followed. But was he right all along? 
In the wake of David Cameron’s unsuccessful battle to prevent the German-backed Luxembourger Jean-Claude Juncker from becoming President of the European Commission, the Conservative MP Stephen O’Brien bellowed across the chamber of the House of Commons that the PM should ‘take inspiration from the fact that in a previous battle of Britain we saw off many Junkers before’.

This contrived attempt to link the current power struggle within the EU to the fight against the Nazis in World War II — Junkers was the company that built the Stuka dive-bomber — brings back memories of what a much more distinguished Conservative MP said to me 24 years ago. This was Nicholas Ridley, the Secretary of State for Industry in Margaret Thatcher’s final administration.

In the first week of July 1990, I had gone to his Oxfordshire home to conduct an interview for The Spectator, which I then edited. At some point I asked him, in quite a desultory fashion, about the drive towards European Monetary Union. It was a light-the-blue-touch-paper moment — emphasised by the way the chain-smoking Ridley dragged hard on his cigarette between making his explosive points: ‘This is all a German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe. ‘It has to be thwarted. This rushed takeover by the Germans on the worst possible basis, with the French behaving like poodles to the Germans, is absolutely intolerable . . . I’m not against giving up sovereignty in principle, but not to this lot.  You might just as well give it up to Adolf Hitler, frankly.’

Startled, I interjected that the then German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, was surely preferable to Hitler — he wouldn’t be dropping bombs on us, after all. If anything, this made Ridley even more vehement: ‘I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather have the shelters and the chance to fight back, than simply being taken over by economics. He’ll soon be coming here and trying to say that this is what we should do on the banking side and this is what our taxes should be. I mean, he’ll soon be trying to take over everything . . . You don’t understand the British people if you don’t understand this point about them. They can be dared. They can be moved. But being bossed by a German — it would cause absolute mayhem in this country, and rightly, I think.’

I should add that Ridley was completely sober (he drove me back to his local station afterwards) and would occasionally glance at the tape-recorder that I had placed in front of him. But he clearly underestimated just how much offence his words would cause — especially as the then President of the Bundesbank, Karl Otto Pohl, was due to visit Britain the following week.

In the uproar that ensued following the publication of the interview, Margaret Thatcher immediately demanded Ridley’s resignation.

Three months later, she gave the go-ahead for the pound to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), then seen as the precursor to membership of full European Monetary Union. That made me feel less bad about Ridley losing his job over my interview with him, since I imagine he would have detested the idea of being part of a government that had joined the ERM.

And when German refusal to countenance sterling devaluation within the ERM led to Britain’s humiliating exit on September 16, 1992 (Black Wednesday), he would probably have felt vindicated. Largely as a result of that fiasco, which all but destroyed the  Tories’ reputation for economic competence, there was never much chance of Britain giving up its currency for the euro — however much that disappointed Tony Blair as Prime Minister.  Instead, it was the Greek people who demonstrated what Ridley warned would be the consequence of joining a common currency run along lines approved by Germany.

When the German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that her government would have to have ‘oversight’ — Uberwachung — of the grotesquely over-indulged Greek public sector, to ensure the necessary reduction of their euro-denominated debts, there were riots in Athens.  Greek newspapers depicted the German government as Nazis, with Merkel as Reichsfuhrer, complete with swastika armband.

While it is true that Nazi Germany had occupied Greece during World War II, the only present-day Nazis in Athens are Greek, in the form of the unrepentantly fascist party Golden Dawn, which won seven per cent of the popular vote in 2012. Golden Dawn is, in fact, the most odious of the national political reactions not just to the euro but also another aspect of the attempt to build a federal Europe: completely uncontrolled immigration within the single market.

The Front National in France is perhaps the most powerful of these movements — like Golden Dawn, the party led by Marine Le Pen wants its government to withdraw from the euro, and to re-establish a national currency free of any direct German political influence. This, however, is where the French should only blame themselves, rather than Germany.

While Ridley saw France as ‘a poodle’ going along with a German strategy to control Europe through a single currency, the truth — as leaked official documents later revealed — was that it was all along the French who had pushed the rapid adoption of the euro on a reluctant Germany.  The French President, François Mitterrand, saw a reunified Germany with the mighty Deutschemark as too powerful an independent force and believed that somehow the loss of its own currency would make the country, with which it had fought three bloody wars since the 1870s, a less threatening neighbour.
Chancellor Kohl agreed to this with some misgivings, knowing that the German people trusted the Deutschemark and the Bundesbank more than any other institution — and it was only by promising his electors that there would be no pooling of national debts within the eurozone, that he was able to do the ‘fix’ with Mitterrand.

On the other hand, it is a nonsense to have a common currency without the richer parts of the zone underwriting the debts of the poorer geographic areas: it is the German refusal to do this that has helped to blight Southern Europe.

All this could be described as conforming to the dystopia predicted by Nick Ridley to me 24 years ago. But in other respects I believe that Ridley — who was 16 when the full horror of the Nazis’ concentration camps was revealed in 1945 — traduced modern Germany. While Adolf Hitler, indeed, had a plan to dominate Europe, and World War I (which was triggered 100 years ago this week) was principally caused by Germany’s desire for mastery on the continent, the German political class post-1945 has been characterised above all by the desire not to throw their weight around within Europe and to subsume their national identity within a European one.

That is one reason why Angela Merkel broke her promise to David Cameron to help in the fight to prevent the ultra-federalist Juncker from becoming President of the European Commission. She was confronted in her own country by the claim that the European Parliament had agreed to Juncker’s candidature and that it was deeply un-European for her to override its wishes, whatever her view as a purely national leader.

And the one thing that a modern German leader cannot be seen to be is ‘un-European’ (not for nothing is it said that when someone tells you only that he is ‘European’ then he has revealed himself to be a German). This has been most brilliantly set out in a recent paper by the German historian Andreas Rödder titled From Kaiser Wilhelm To Chancellor Merkel — The German Question On The European Stage.  As Rödder writes: ‘Particularly after German reunification, the German political elites, fearing any suspicions of hegemonic aspirations and resolved to avoid any new 1914 experience, finally reinforced the German propensity to prioritise European integration at the price even of the strategic demands of leadership.’  And he unearths an extraordinary remark from a rueful Chancellor Kohl back in 1990 (the year of my interview with Nick Ridley): ‘The alternative to EMU [the Economic and Monetary Union] is back to Kaiser Wilhelm and that doesn’t help us.’ More ominously, Rödder sees no happy resolution of the ‘discrepancy between Germany’s veritable pro-European ideology on the one hand and massive foreign suspicions of Germany’s aspirations to hegemony and ruthless dominance’.

But perhaps it should gratify British readers of his tract that he quotes Margaret Thatcher as provider of the most penetrating analysis of this problem, after she had retired from the fray: ‘The desire among modern German politicians to merge their national identity into a wider European one is understandable enough, but it presents great difficulties to self-conscious nation states in Europe. In effect, the Germans, because they are nervous of governing themselves, want to establish a European system in which no nation will govern itself. Such a system could only be unstable in the long term.’

That is a subtler and more profound insight than provided by Nick Ridley, and infinitely more so than by the odd present-day Tory MP, intoxicated by David Cameron’s grand-standing but futile battle to influence the appointment of the man now charged with running the entire system of EU-wide treaties and legislation. Cameron made the error of thinking that if he could get on the right side of the leader of Germany, he could achieve what he wanted for Britain in Europe.

The late Nicholas Ridley would probably have said: well, that’s what comes of putting your trust in Germans. But the truth is it is Germany’s obsession with being seen as ‘good Europeans’ which may well lead to the biggest mess of all.

The problem in Europe is not so much German hegemony as a complete absence of leadership.

2. A hair’s breadth from 'It’s a Royal Cockup'... and so brilliantly British: Camilla Long, The Sunday Times

It is an immutable law of British weddings that they should come within a bride’s titter and a groom’s sweaty jitter of total gurning horror and calamity. Something about our collective urge to silliness, our native inability to keep a straight face in the event of solemnity, makes British marriages, or at least the best ones, feel like hard-won victories snatched from the jaws of defeat.

Ballsing up, or looking as if we’ve ballsed up, is our thing. It’s our national pastime, our unifying birthright, our truest pleasure — it is the one thing that says we’re us. Think of all those humourless foreign train-timetable Luxembourgish royal weddings featuring sad photocopied princes marrying inbred Spanish girls called Nana. And then turn your loving gaze onto the precarious figure of Prince Hazza of the dropped boxers.

And, oh my God, didn’t you just die of laughter? If Prince Harry’s wedding was meant to tell us where we are as a nation, it appears that where we are is about five minutes away from the 5pm brawl in the cheapo enclosure at Ascot. Far from the holistic, humanitarian quadrille that Meghan “Hypnotherapy” Markle had been masterminding since November, complete with curated crowds and bussed-in poor people, where we are as a nation is apparently King Ralph meets Hollywood Botox and Oprah Winfrey hobbling up to the gates of the castle like Nursie in Blackadder.

I’m not even going to waste time on the bride’s father, Thomas Markle, a dumbo Dr Faustus who stood down from his duties last week, only to stand back up again, only to stand back down again, all “out of embarrassment”, before being escorted to his local hospital in Rosarito, Mexico, where he was firmly placed under general anaesthetic.

By the time the crowds gathered in Windsor, everyone had forgotten the Markle debacle, even though his name remained on the order of service. By this stage television commentators had far more pressing worries: scrambling, for example, for ever more precise descriptions of the wedding dress, even though they hadn’t even seen it yet.

How “exquisite” her neck looked! How long and slender her clavicles! It was definitely a boat neck, shrieked, I think, Kay Burley. If Prince William’s wedding was a coldly restrained Victorian spectacle filled with dismal heads of state and rugby players stuffed into suits the size of sofa cushions, Prince Harry’s would be a warts’n’all Tudorbethan circus set at the ground zero of royal chocolate-boxery. Exposed necks and court jesters: it was exactly what Henry VIII would have wanted.

Windsor itself had been turned into a giant gift shop where TV anchors desperately hunted for unwitting victims to fill the hours of commentary. It was less a case of not letting daylight in on the magic; more: when was the unrelenting daylight going to bloody stop? When would the torrent of fancy dress and beleaguered children and royal body-language experts cooing that “the queen’s signature pose is the hand clasp” come to a close?

“Outside the Henry VIII gate, I’m with some 50,000 well-wishers!” shrieked one helium blonde. This was 'The Royal Wedding: the Reality Show', in which everyone was either a star or an extra. As the guests arrived at St George’s Chapel, you could practically feel an army of set-dressers melting away — the pansy stylists, dew technicians and homeless wranglers, all receding into the Shakespearean mist.

It became clear that the atmosphere outside the church — innocent, ruddy, jovial — was different from the one inside. Inside, it was the Eton branch of Soho House. There were no prime ministers, no senior statesmen (unless you count John Major) nor even anyone spiritually over 50. The atmosphere was decidedly frothy: you could just tell it would get super-filthy later.

Guests were free to work the red carpet up to the chapel entrance. Idris Elba desperately tried to speak to George Clooney while David Beckham — now sporting the full briar patch of tattoos — chewed gum.

At about 11.45, grown-ups started to straggle in, in the shape of Sophie Wessex and the Yorkies. Camilla glided past in a hat that looked as if 12,000 flamingos had been sacrificed to make it. The bride’s mother, Doria Ragland, slid out of the bridal car in a dress made of WhatsApp green silk. She firmly upheld one of the laws of royal weddings: that the mother of the bride behaves even more regally than the royals. Inside the car, Meghan, parcelled up in shimmering Givenchy, looked beautiful and firmly set to “coy”.

“A modern bride,” breathed the commentators. “A self-made woman,” lisped the body-language experts. As the ceremony started and magic finally began to seep in, it became clear what sort of magic this was: it was the full panto, rabbit-out-of-the-hat, balloon-animal type of magic, rather than the divine right of kings.

Prince William tried to keep a practically weeping Harry calm by dazzling him with his military uniform, a funereal get-up decorated with enormous gold ropes, apparently fashioned out of Chelsy Davy’s hair. Bishop Michael Curry, an American Episcopalian priest, shrieked a hilarious sermon, “The Power of Love”. Charles, Camilla, Kate and William nearly had to stuff hankies down their throats.

All in all this was the heartiest, silliest, funniest royal knockout anyone could have wished for.

1 comment:

Alfred B. Mittington said...

Well, as an old hand at the tourist trade (I almost INVENTED the Nile Cruise!), I do think it is something of an improvement that nowadays you see a 'group of tourists being followed around Pontevedra's old quarter by a guide with a flag on an erect pole', instead of the sheepish other way around. Let's face it: in the 21st C tourists should be allowed to roam free, and not forced to walk in the wake of their guides!