Saturday, August 18, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 18.8.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters Spanish
  • Here's a post-civil-war development that not everyone in Spain will be happy about.
  • And here's the reasons why some folk believe that Spain like Germany, needs millions of immigrants to secure her economic future.
  • Getting parochial . . . It's my experience that, if a shop hasn't got what you want, the almost invariable response to your question is a (seemingly) unfriendly, unhelpful and blunt 'No'. But, if you take the initiative and ask where you might get whatever it is, the response will be at the opposite extreme. As happened yesterday when I was directed, with much detail, to a haberdasher's which I actually pass 2-4 times a day. And this was from both the shop-owner and her adjacent father, talking simultaneously. The devil takes the hindmost in Spain. You have to take the initiative. Or, as I often put it, establish the personal connection that changes everything.
  • Lenox Napier touches on this impersonal/personal factor in this blog post. It shouldn't need stressing that Lenox has lived most of his life here and loves Spain. But not an admirer of the Moj├ícar council . . . 
  • From The Local again, on one reason to love Spain.
  • Nice to see the unanimous Senate resolution supporting the media.
  • Given the immense volume of (hilarious) satirical programs – not to mention the News shows - what will commentators do when Fart's left the scene? Cold turkey is surley inevitable. He'll be sorely missed. For these folk, the only thing worse than having him there will be not having him there.
  • Yesterday's quote from the man:- Honesty wins. Or, as he screramed it: HONESTY WINS. You have to laugh.
  • Did you see anything wrong with this sentence, from the article I cited yesterday, criticising the media on its mass protest about Fart's endless attacks on it/them? When the editorials roll off the press on Thursday, all singing from the same script, Trump will reap enough fresh material to whale on the media for at least a month.
The UK
  • There was a kerfuffle recently when the egregious Boris Johnson described burka-clad women as looking like a letter box. In the first article below, the editor of Britain's wonderful satirical Private Eye magazine insists there's very little that can't be joked about.
Galicia and Pontevedra
  • There've been 31 drownings so far this year here in Galicia. Seems a lot to me.
  • A chap I met on my recent camino walk told me he'd found it impossible to get a hotel room in Pontevedra city but had managed to get one in Motel Venus in my barrio of Poio, across the river. I told him, with amusement, that this - as the name and the colour of external decor suggested – was a 'love hotel', where rooms can be booked by the hour. I've just looked on Tripadvisor here, to see that this is classified as a 1-star hotel, despite charging €100-160 a night. Tellingly, there are no comments in English but all 11 Spanish-speaking commentators give it a Very good or Excellent rating. One even says it's a romantic place to surprise one's wife with. I bet it is. Her first surprise might be the window you have to pay at before a huge metal door slides open to let you into the car-park*. This has a fence around it which – as with all brothels in Spain – serves to prevent folk from seeing whose cars are in it. It takes all sorts.
* Discovered when I drove the chap to the place!

Finally . . .
  • For women, the nice second article below sets out 16 reasons why you should stop saying No,
© [David] Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 18.8.18


1. Ignore the modern puritans – history proves you should be allowed to joke about anything: Ian Hislop

There is a wave of earnestness about at the moment. If you look at the bulk of Twitterstormery – or even the letters page of my magazine, Private Eye – you’ll find people saying jokes about certain topics aren’t acceptable, saying humour isn’t helpful, saying “I am offended by this, and therefore you should shut up.” It’s all rather puritan.

I’m inclined to disagree. No topic should be out of bounds, so long as you can justify the point behind it. I have spent most of my life joking about serious things, and I believe humour can be helpful, especially when important issues are at stake.

Peter Cook used to make fun of the idea that satire could make a difference – after all, he said, those wonderful Berlin cabarets did so much to prevent the rise of Hitler. But through history there are examples of satire having a real influence, and particularly in England.

It might not bring a government down, but mockery can crystallise an opinion. Daniel Defoe said the end of satire is reform. He didn’t say it’s revolution, or armed protest. Rather, he thought you could make people behave better by laughing them into it, and that’s still an aspiration. That’s the British tradition, from the art of Hogarth and Cruikshank onwards.

It’s something I’ve thought about a great deal lately, while curating a new exhibition about dissent and protest at the British Museum. One exhibit they have – George Cruikshank’s banknote – actually saved lives (or so he later claimed).

He was one of the most famous artists of the early 19th century. At the time, they hanged people for making or accepting counterfeit notes. So he produced a note of his own, to tell the Bank of England what it was doing. It was signed by the hangman, with the pound sign as a rope, and a wonderful picture of Britannia eating her own children. He said, “Alright, here’s a counterfeit note – what’re you going to do about it?” It was fantastically successful, and the law was eventually changed.

That style of satire may be distinctly British, but the desire for dissent exists everywhere. There’s a bit of that spirit in all of us. At its most simple, it can be a workman defacing a brick in ancient Babylonia. At its most subtle, it’s the Chinese painting I was shown at the museum. To me, it was just a beautiful picture of two innocent-looking owls and it took half an hour’s explanation before I understood the references. It’s dissent alright, it’s just very, very well hidden.

Early in my life, I was very influenced by reading Juvenal, who was writing in Rome around 100AD. He writes this amazing whinge about how jockeys are paid an awful lot more than teachers. “I don’t know what sort of society we’ve ended up in where we pay entertainers and sportsmen huge amounts of money, but we don’t pay teachers properly.” When I read that, I thought, now this man I know – and he writes a column in a lot of papers.

I find it strangely cheering that there’s the same voice echoing across the centuries. In the exhibition, we have an 18th-century garter criticising the Rump Parliament, embroidered with “Down with Rump” – and a 21st-century “Dump Trump” badge.

Speaking of which, there are people who point to Trump and say satire is dead. “Look at him, you couldn’t make it up.” But clownish grotesques have been around forever. There are pieces in the museum’s collection which remind us that Mussolini was a buffoon long before he was ever seen as sinister.

Posing as a dissenter, or a disrupter, when you’re actually already an authority figure is nothing new. I was amused to find that one of the older exhibits in the museum is an inscribed clay tablet in which the king, Cyrus the Great, is saying of his vanquished predecessor, “Look, I’m just like you. Your king? He was rubbish – what you need is me.” I think Trump and Cyrus would have shared a point of view, in the way they use humour to attack people – and Cyrus’s stuff is funnier.

Much of the time, dissent is simply ordinary people finding ways to say “no” to the ones at the top. People in power tend to say to subversives, and satirists in particular, “Well, where’s your constructive alternative?” And we say, “I haven’t got one – that’s your job. The bit I do is saying ‘No.’” But it can be more complex than that. You can even have reactionary forms of dissent, supporting the status quo. For instance, in the exhibition, right next to a penny with “Votes for Women” on it, we also have a “No Votes for Women” badge.

There’s another wonderful exhibit at the museum, a Cleopatra oil-lamp, which is fairly obscene – she’s riding a crocodile. At first I thought, “That’s very interesting, this is classic dissent – they’re mocking an unpopular queen.” But the curator said, “Well, not really. This was produced by Cleopatra’s powerful enemies in Rome – Octavian and his group.” It was mass-produced! Yes, people didn’t like Cleopatra very much, but they were encouraged not to like her by a specific, top-down, Roman propaganda initiative. It’s always worth having a look to where the satire is coming from, and what it’s really being used for.

I don’t defend all jokes. There was a phase when it was popular for stand-up comics to have a go at disabled people. As an audience member, I thought, “I don’t understand that. Why is that funny?” You’re meant to be punching up, not punching down. It’s that universal desire to punch up – to blow a raspberry at the powerful – that unites everything from the defaced Babylonian brick to the fake British banknote.

It was HL Mencken, the great American satirist, who said we should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. So long as you try and do that, you have a licence to joke about almost anything.

2. Are you an over-apologiser? 16 things you should never say sorry for: Annabel Rivkin and Emilie McMeekan

The sorry thing is a nightmare. The sorry reflex. The sorry files. It’s a sorry state of sorry affairs. Women need to learn to stop saying sorry. We need to deal with the low-level but constant contrition. To take responsibility without the powerless remorse that we learnt… Where, when? It doesn’t matter, this isn’t a witch hunt (interesting that there is no such thing as a wizard hunt). But we are both compulsive apologisers. Or we were. But now we are so much less sorry. Hardly sorry at all. And certainly not sorry about:

1. Wearing whatever the hell we want: Floral-patterned jumpsuits that show our bras, enormous pants that cover everything from the belly button downwards, tracksuit bottoms that are as old as we are and even more distressed.

2. Not cleaning our cars: Filthy. Hair everywhere. Sweets and bits of crisp. Is it a car or a bin? We don’t have to answer that question.

3. Obsessing over highlighter: Oooh cheekbones, ooh shimmer, ooh shine, ooh dewy skin.

4. Saying no. No. Cannot. Do. This: We have no bandwidth left. Those adverts were right back then, and they are right now. ‘Just say no.’ To that meeting. Oh, and drinks party.

5. Looking like hell: For the days when we haven’t slept, the demons are there, the roof is leaking, the roots are being fixed tomorrow, we put hand cream on our face and we’re sweaty. Yes, we look stressed. We are stressed. It. Is. Stressful.

6. Independence: Not married? No children? Married? Children? Whatever. You are enough.

7. Wanting to take off our bras: Not in a ‘burny, smash-the-patriarchy’ kind of way. In a ‘thank God we are home and we don’t actually have welts’ kind of way.

8. Being a feminist: This time in a ‘burny, smash-the-patriarchy’ way.

9. Being angry: We’ve spent years suppressing our anger because you thought it wasn’t very becoming. Well, we are furious now. And the acknowledged fury is making us feel better.

10. Not responding  immediately to a text: Or a call or email for that matter. Everyone is constantly playing catch-up. NOT SORRY.

11. Putting ourselves first: Sometimes we just need to lie down on a pile of warm, clean laundry – that we haven’t done and that we are not going to put away – and sleep. Or have  25 baths. You cannot pour from an empty cup.

12. Wanting to make money: There comes a point when we suddenly become money hungry. Like a pound-starved Pac-Man. It hits us unexpectedly because we thought it didn’t matter to us and suddenly we start channelling Gordon Gekko, even though we know that he wasn’t a very nice man. We want an extension, goddammit.

13. How many people we’ve slept with: It doesn’t mean anything. Although we still regret the IT guy.

14. How many people  we want to sleep with: Sometimes the urge descends. It could be the butcher or someone from marketing or that bearded guy at the gym. Boeuf. And then just as quickly. Poof.

15, Not being sorry: It’s strange when something happens and, yes, in a certain light we might be in the wrong – but right now we are unrepentant. And that is OK. Until we wake up at 3am with THE FEAR. But at this moment, we are absolutely fine with it.

16. Taking a view: Yes, we worry about that horrible  tumbleweed moment when we say what we really think. But we have years of experience. Years and years (OK, don’t go on). We know what the heck we are talking about.


Sierra said...

The irony is that the satirical shows were probably the main factor in him being elected, his campaign relying on the free publicity generated

Alfred B. Mittington said...

And here I thought that Mr Trump did not whale about his sorrows, but merely blubbered...


Colin Davies said...

Better than your average.