Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 31.12.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
            Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
 Spanish Life
  • Here's a question to which the answer is a resounding Yes. 
  • The mayors of Zamora and Salamanca have distanced themselves from the Leonese proposal that they all quit Castilla y León and form their own separate region. Possibly because it's pretty inevitable that it'd be called León. In honour of the old (powerful) kingdom of the same name. 
Galician Life 
  • Will this survive Brexit . . .The Falklands’ main export is the Loligo squid and 90% of that — 80,000 tonnes this year — goes to Vigo
  • I mentioned that owners of flats here invariably belong to Communities of Owners. More and more of these in Santiago de Compostela are formally changing their rules so as to forbid tourist rentals. Hardly blameworthy, given the nefarious impact of Airbnb and the like.
  • The last few days have been welcomingly sunny and hot in Pontevedra. But, as the wind is from the north, the shadows can be pretty cold. This would explain the hats, jackets and overcoats of many of those enjoying the weather. But I did find it hard to understand why one of the woman sitting on a terrace yesterday - where many outer layers had been divested - felt it necessary to wear a bobble hat, a (leopard skin) overcoat and a thick roll-neck jersey. It was hard to tell but pregnancy might have been a factor . . . 
  • Lots of folk liked the fotos of Pontevedra's old quarter. So here's a couple more, though the church - La Peregrina - is actually just outside one of the old gates - the Portuguese - of the casco viejo. It's widely thought to be dedicated to one of Spain's countless virgins, in this case La Virgen Peregrina. But I believe it's really dedicated to the city's patroness, La Virgen del O. I've no idea who she is/was. Other than Mary, of course. They're all about Mary:-

The USA 
  • Here's one of the many conspiracy theories that weave their way around that polarised country  Allegedly an accurate one.  
  • Words of the Day:- Candado: Lock, chain. Bastidor: Frame, chassis. From an article on the rising incidence of bike thefts in Pontevedra.
  • All my Spanish, German, Dutch and Irish friends use this construction - If I would have gone to the meeting, I would have seen him there. You'll never hear a Brit use it but I've certainly heard some Americans do so, perhaps because of Irish influence. This is what we say:- If I had gone to the meeting, I would have seen him there. Or, colloquially and more usually: If I'd gone to the meeting, I'd 've seen him there. Of course, the 'wrong' construction is perfectly understandable. But 'wordy. Too long for real Anglo Saxons, who love brevity.
Finally . . . .
  • If you haven't yet bought your wine for tonight, here are 3 recommendations, all of which I've enjoyed in the last 2 weeks:-
This is a bog-standard Rioja which is much better than the average, available in Aldi for €5-6:-

This is one of the bottles of Rioja bought when I mis-read the offer in a Carrefour outlet in Madrid last week. Costs a lot, at €22, but is a lovely tipple. But, then it is a Gran Reserva not just any old reserva. Despite years of practice, I can't tell you anything about its 'notes' or its life on the palette, etc., etc.

Finally, this is a Ribera del Duero wine which I've enjoyed every tine I've drunk it over the years. Again it's (very) expensive by Spanish standards but worth it from tine to time, especially when you want to share a bottle with friends. The basic cosecha is around €17 ; The crianza will set you back around  €20-25 And the reserva upwards of €30. I think. But will check today:-

NB: Tune in tomorrow for a special treat . . . .

Monday, December 30, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 30.12.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
            Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
 Spanish Life
  • In contrast to that of Galicia, Spain's population grew last year, by 303, 228. It's now more than 47m, against, as I recall, c. 40m before the boom years of the 2000s and massive immigration from South America.
  • Every foreign resident in Spain and every travel writer for almost 300 years has experienced - and often written about - Spanish 'localism'. Fascinatingly, the province of León has decided it has 'nothing to do with' the province of Castilla and so wishes to depart from the region of Castilla y León. In furtherance of a new region which will include the provinces of Zamora and Salamanca. I wonder what the chances are of this coming to pass.
  • Reader María has advised of a future book that I look forward to reading, set during the Civil War. I'm reminded of this harrowing Almodovar documentary an old UK friend recently told me about and which I was able to get on BBC catchup.
  • A week or so ago, I chose to differ with a British woman in Andalucia about what she saw as the very superior Spanish public health service compared with the UK's. I thought of this again when reading that all UK hospitals had, in December, failed to achieve the maximum of 4 hours waiting in Emergencies. A friend here has recently had to take her mother to Urxencias 3 times, each time waiting between 5 and 12 hours - in keeping with my own experience with my ex and my daughters over the years.
Galician Life 
  • Oh, dear. Pontevedra made the news again, but for all the wrong reasons. Hang on . . . The 'Pontevedra' mentioned is said to be a 'North Sea port'. But we're on the Atlantic . . . 
  • The tolls on our north-south autopista - the AP9 - are now so high it now costs a lot less to do the journey by train. And it also costs you more than the petrol alone, never mind the other expenses of running a car. So, it's no surprise the traffic on the highway is light.
  • I see the cycle has begun once again down at Pontevedra's Sunday flea market. The unlicensed gypsies are back in force. And I doubt it's just for Xmas. I imagine it'll be 12-24 months before the police oust them yet again.
The USA 
  • More from the trenches of Ffart's 'war on reality'.
The Way of the World/Social Media
  • Smartphones, social media and self-service, coupled with the erosion of civic spaces, have left us more isolated than ever. The 2010s has been the decade of increasing disconnection; a time when we have grown farther apart from each other, from nature, from shared experiences. A time when convenience, technology and austerity have conspired to inch us away from some of the most satisfying parts of being human. If we were packing a time capsule to capture the Great Disconnection it would contain only one item: a smartphone.  If anyone were to visit us from previous eras, they would assume these ubiquitous rectangles were portals to our gods. The trouble is that we are creatures made for face-to-face contact, not screen-to-screen contact. Our brains are primed to socialise with our own small tribe, not thousands of strangers on Twitter. When interacting the old-fashioned way we get hits of oxytocin, dopamine and the natural opiate beta-endorphins. The returns from online interaction don’t compare.
Nutters and Shysters Corner 
  • Words of the Day: Trono: Throne.  Trona: Child's highchair
  • Here's an end-of-the-decade quiz for you. A decade in which, alleges the author, social media fuelled division, gender fluidity turned into a torrent and freedom of speech took a battering. At least in the UK:-
Rod Liddle’s politically incorrect Quiz of the Decade

Were you paying attention over the past 10 years?

OK, boomers — wassup? I’ll tell you wassup. This was the decade you got left behind. You may have been out and about, but only in a semiconscious state. You were emphatically not woke. In the past 10 years there has been a cultural upheaval and you were not part of it. I bet you don’t even know what “cis” means, and even if you do, I bet you never use it to refer to people. As in, for example: “Darling, would you like to hear this joke I heard from the cis man in the butcher’s?” I mean, if you really werea woke edgelord you wouldn’t be in a butcher’s either, unless it was to howl abuse at the staff and customers and maybe liberate a side of beef and give it a proper secular burial.

And you wouldn’t be telling jokes because, according to Marcuse, a sense of humour is the last refuge of the bourgeois. And the “darling” you refer to wouldn’t be your boringly straight wife. It would be a transgendered parrot or something.

Anyway, cis is short for cisgender and refers to someone whose current gender is the same as the one they were “assigned” at birth. Yes, I know — scientifically that means everyone. It’s all there in the chromosomes. It is an indisputable fact. But don’t come the essentialist with me, boomer. For the generations that have followed you — the millennialists and now the zoomers — science and fact are an irrelevance.

They can be anything they want to be, utterly unconstrained from the suffocating straitjacket of, er, reality. White people can be black, or Chinese, or Tamil. People born male can be female or something in between. Today you can identify as anything you like and nobody will gainsay you. Or some old tossers might, but they are bigots and should be paid no mind.

And today there is a hierarchy about what you can be. It used to be all about equality, which seemed a reasonable goal to attain. Not any more. In these woke times, if you are gay, it is better than being straight. If you are transgendered, it is better than being “cis”. If you are black, it is better than being white. If you are a vegan, it is better than being a carnivore.

Gender and sexuality has changed, if not in reality, then in what passes for sentience among the younger generation. There are now an infinite number of ways in which you can express your desire, and furthermore claim, when people like me raise an eyebrow, that you were biologically hardwired to behave that way, despite the total lack of evidence for such a claim.

The number of very young children transitioning at the Tavistock Centre increases exponentially each year. We may soon see an end to women’s sport, as more and more athletic and sporting titles are held by ladies who aren’t really ladies at all. Lesbians fear that girls who might have become lesbians will be shepherded into transitioning while young and that the species will therefore soon become extinct, and we will need a special reintroduction programme, like we’ve done with beavers in the West Country and Kent.

Meanwhile, almost everything is racist and almost everything is the consequence of cultural appropriation. And among the young, mysterious new tribes emerge seemingly each week.

You may find all this extremely liberating. Or you may, like me, find it the natural consequence of an incalculably narcissistic, deluded and perpetually indulged culture and that the concomitant rise in mental health issues is really no coincidence. Whatever, here’s a quiz to see how alert you’ve been these past 10 years. And I oop? No kidding.


1. In 2016, the National Union of Students voted to remove special representation from which of the following groups, saying they were not oppressed and often misogynistic?
A Lunatics
B Students
C Gay men
D Women

2. Which of the following did the idiotic Huffington Post worry might be racist in 2018?
A Air
B Water
C Bees
D Milk

3. Demisexual is a term referring to people who have sexual relations only when...
A They have all their clothes on
B They have known their partner for a long time
C They are watching the film Ghost
D They are only partly conscious

4. Which of the following Harry Potter characters did the author JK Rowling, somewhat retrospectively, decide was actually black?
A Hermione Granger
B Hagrid
C Harry Potter
D Those swooping bat things — dementors or something

5. In 2018, the black vlogger and commentator Candace Owens was hounded out of a restaurant in the US by white liberal Antifa activists because, they argued, she was...
A Not using her cutlery appropriately
B Not choosing from the “meat free” options
C A white supremacist
D Not in the right part of the restaurant for black people

6. What subset of teenagers are known for carrying Hydro Flasks and saying, somewhat mystifyingly, “And I oop” and “Sksksksksksk”?
A Roadmen
B VSCO girls
C E-girls
D Mad lads

7. The Israeli Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai and US singer Katy Perry were both condemned for the cultural appropriation of which form of dress?
A Palestinian national costume
B Geisha
C Sombrero
D Burqa

8. The ultra-woke US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez considered which of the following vegetables to be responsible for colonialist oppression?
A Turnip
B Okra
C Cauliflower
D Mangetout

9. In 2013, the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard caused a #MeToo outrage in his party when it was revealed that he had asked a female colleague if she would like a...
A Cup of coffee
B Threesome with that Swinson lass
C Tickets to the annual Lib Dem conference
D Box of Milk Tray

10. A painting by the 17th-century Flemish artist Frans Snyders was removed this year from Hughes Hall, Cambridge University, because it might cause offence to which group of people?
A Walloons
B Druids
C Women
D Vegans

11. In 2015, the Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow posed proudly with which object as part of a terribly right-on campaign?
A Labour Party membership card
B Golliwog
C Tampon
D Male contraceptive device

12. The US professor Rochelle Gutierrez announced that which of the following was responsible for underpinning white supremacy in society?
A Books
B Trees
C Cheese
D Mathematics

13. In 2019, the University and College Union in Britain decided it was OK for white folks to identify as black, so long as they...
A Were attending a job interview
B Blacked up properly
C Were dancing
D Felt like it

14. Adidas produced a training shoe to celebrate Black History Month, but quickly withdrew the product because it...
A Was entirely white
B Had a design that looked a bit like a swastika
C Contained cotton and was therefore racist
D Fell apart at the seams after a short jog

15. The term pansexual defines people who have sex...
A In the kitchen
B With goats
C With everything
D While dressed as daemons

16. Furries are a subset of the population who...
A Enjoy sex while dressed as animals
B Have copious bodily hair
C Skin cats for fun
D Take “comfort animals” on public transport

17. At what age was the youngest child referred to the Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock Centre in London for potentially invasive transitioning surgery?
A 3
B 6
C 9
D 12

18. The cricketer Maxine Blythin recently improved her batting average from a meagre 15 to a remarkable 124. How, chiefly, was this success achieved?
A Long hours of training and practice
B She hired Sir Geoffrey Boycott to coach her
C She bought a new bat
D She transitioned from being a man and now competes against women

19. What is a Terf?
A Small patch of grass
B Totally excellent radical feminist
C Trans-exclusionary radical feminist
D Small furry figure, like a gonk

20. The students’ union at Lincoln University banned the college’s Conservative Society because it had...
A Held a Third Reich fancy-dress party
B Burnt £10 notes in front of poor people
C Invited Jacob Rees-Mogg to speak on campus
D Objected to limitations on freedom of speech at the university

1 C Gay “cis” men are frequently riven with prejudice against other groups with “protected characteristics”, the NUS decided.
2 D Milk “has long been used as a symbol for and tool of white supremacy”, Huff Post reported, and also noted that “people of colour are more likely to report symptoms of lactose intolerance”.
3 B Demisexual is one of a thousand new descriptions for sexual orientation and, frankly, the only one that is remotely decent.
4 A Which is odd, as Rowling was there at the casting for Hermione. She also later decided that Professor Dumbledore was gay.
5 C Owens is a Conservative. As she eloquently put it: “Liberals believe that they own blacks — still. They believe there’s something proprietary about being black in this country, and if you deviate from the way they want you to think, in the way they want you to act, they grow violent.”
6 B Somewhat derisive appellation for a largely middle-class set of girls, taken from the online photography app they supposedly use, VSCO.
7 B Well, it could have been any. “My culture is not your fancy-dress costume — #appropriation.”
8 C She was talking about allotments. Far better to plant yucca instead, the madwoman insisted.
9 A After years of investigation, Rennard was eventually cleared of wrongdoing, despite the obviously loathsome and outrageous nature of his invitation.
10 D Entitled The Fowl Market, the painting contained depictions of dead birds and animals. A number of snowflakes melted on the spot.
11 C It was an attempt to “break the taboo” surrounding menstruation. Snow held the tampon by the little string on its end, as if it were a dead mouse.
12 D “On many levels, mathematics itself operates as whiteness,” Gutierrez added. Ban it! Bet she got awful grades.
13 D The ridiculous far-left union prides itself on always recognising the right of people to identify as anything they want, even when they’re palpably not — including, one supposes, identifying as academics.
14 A “Hmm. Now, what colour should we make our shoes for Black History Month?” Lots of objections.
15 C The “fill your boots” preference. Very different from another new subset, the dacryphiliacs, who become sexually aroused from hearing people crying. Including their parents, I imagine.
16 A Please do not confuse these people with plushophiles, who find sexual satisfactions with teddy bears.
17 A In fact, in 2018 the clinic treated 10 children aged between three and four years and another 80 between four and seven years. All easily old enough to make their minds up, I’m sure. Numbers have increased fourfold in the past three years.
18 D Asked how she viewed herself, the six-footer said: “A woman, simple as. I always have felt that way, I’ve always wanted to articulate it as such.”
19 C People such as Germaine Greer and Julie Burchill. Viewed with detestation by the somewhat vocal trans activists.
20 D According to a Spiked online survey, Lincoln is one of Britain’s worst universities for freedom of speech — along with Oxford and Edinburgh. Buckingham is best.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 29.12.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
            Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
The Spanish Economy
  • That large gap between the macro the micro continues, as it must for some time yet . . At 13.9%, Spain has the 2nd worst unemployment data in the EU – where the average is at 6.3% – only ahead of Greece. It gets worse for those under 25, whose rate is currently at 31.7%. Job insecurity following the labor reform during the recession keeps suffocating Spanish youth, whose salary fell by 15% between 2008 and 2016. And by a lot more since 2000.
Spanish Life
  • The Eye on Spain goes made with info for us:-
  1. Spanish superstitions
  2. The best Three Kings parades
  3. The downing of the grapes
  • Not to be outdone, The Local tells us how to reduce your electricity bill next year.
  • And The Olive Press reports on the mare's nest which is the laws on private tourist rentals in Spain.
  • Reader Eamon in La Coruña has commented on meetings of his flat-bock Community there:- Whenever there is a meeting it always ends up in uproar. Insults, shouting and on one occasion physical violence. Mine have not been that bad but I've never come away understanding what has been decided, after the several lengthy and parallel 'discussions'.
  • Eamon has also reminded me that in the early years of this blog, there were many (usually adversarial) comments from Spanish/Galician readers. For one reason and another, they seem to have moved on. To Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Where their comments possibly elicit a gratifyingly greater response. Especially to stupidities.
  • What to make of the tragic drowning of 3 members of the same family in a pool down South? The Spanish authorities will naturally be desperate to minimise the impact on tourism but did someone really go so far as to invent the statement that none of them could swim? Something denied by the wife and mother of the dead souls. And have the police not been a tad rapid in denying it could have been to do with the water pump? I guess we'll find out in due course.
Galician Life 
  • Seafood is, of course, a major item for the Xmas and New Year feasts in Galicia. Here's a couple of price comparisons, which suggest these - logically - rise the further you get from the coast:-
  1. Besugo (sea bream): Min. €32 per kilo (La Coruña). Max: €70 (Ourense)
  2. Percebes (goose barnacles): Min. €50 (Viveiro). Max: €200 (Ourense). 
  • It's said that prices have benefitted from easier fishing in the calm which followed our 3 storms of a week or so ago.
  • Pontevedra city's denizens are now richer than those of Santiago de Compostela, it's reported  Per capita earnings here are €2,468 per month, or c. €29,600pa. This compares with a national average of c. €24,000 (I think).
  • 74% of Galicia's townships saw their populations reduce this year. The region as a whole lost 2,244 souls, despite significant immigration. Only Pontevedra and La Coruña (coastal) provinces saw any increase.
The Way of the World/Social Media
  • [As regards divisiveness] what has made this decade infinitely worse has been the emergence of social media. Potentially an antidote to the distortions of the "mainstream" media, it actually serves to amplify them, giving them greater reach, but at the same time driving the polarisation of opinion.  An unintended consequence of the explosion of information made possible by the internet, is a narrowing of scope, where content is pre-selected according to viewing histories and then further refined as recipients confine their own exposure to subjects and sources that no longer challenge their views. 
  • Here's a New York Times article on this theme.
  • How can I remove Google from my life? See below.
  • Words of the Day: Caco: Crook, thief, burglar. Desvan: Attic, loft 
  • Words of the Day:-
  1. To keen: : To lament, mourn, or complain loudly. To utter with a loud wailing voice or wordless cry
  2. Gantlet: An open challenge (Less common spelling of 'gauntlet')
  • Quote of the century: Religion thrives on woolly allegory, emotional commitments to texts that no one reads, and other forms of benign hypocrisy. Stephen Pinker, a Jewish atheist, in The Better Angels of Our Nature.

How can I remove Google from my life? Jack Schofield

Google’s motto used to be “Don’t be evil”, but in the eyes of some it has now taken on the mantle of the “evil empire” from Microsoft, which Bill Gates and crew inherited from the IBM mocked in the Mac’s launch advert in 1984.

The EU has fined Google €2.4bn (£2.2bn) for abusing its search monopoly by favouring its products. Most recently, Google was fined €4.34bn for “very serious illegal behaviour” in using Android “to cement its dominance as a search engine”, according to the EU’s competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, a charge the company contests.

Google started by taking over the search engine market. It now dominates smartphone operating systems (Android), browsers (Chrome), web-based email (Gmail), online video (YouTube) and maps. It is also challenging in other areas with its own cloud platform, an online office suite, Chromebooks, Waze, Nest and so on. Google is far advanced in driverless cars (Waymo) and artificial intelligence (DeepMind). Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

Google’s web

We can probably agree Google has won by delivering high-quality products, and more than 40 corpses in the Google Graveyard – soon to be joined by its awful social network, Google+ – prove it doesn’t always win. But there are other problems.

First, Google now controls web development to the point where not even Microsoft can compete, as shown by the latter’s recent decision to replace its EdgeHTML browser engine with the open source Chromium on which Google’s Chrome browser is based. Users were supposed to benefit from competition between rival implementations of open web standards, but today Chromium and therefore Chrome is the standard.

As Firefox-developer Mozilla has pointed out, “from a social, civic and individual empowerment perspective, ceding control of fundamental online infrastructure to a single company is terrible”.

Second, many of us have problems with Google’s business model, which the Harvard Business School professor Shoshana Zuboff has called “surveillance capitalism”. Google finances its free services by tracking users and targeting them with advertisements. In fact, it tracks you across the web even if you never visit any Google properties because other websites commonly use Google AdWords, AdMob, DoubleClick, Google Analytics, and its other tracking or advertising products.

From your searches and site visits, Google probably knows more about you than your mother or your spouse, and there’s no telling where that information will eventually end up.

If you use an Android phone, Google can also track your physical location, and if you turn that off, you lose directions, “find my phone” and other features.

So, remember that avoiding Google products is only part of the problem. You will need to protect your privacy in other ways, too.

Easy does it

The simplest way to avoid most Google products is to switch to the Microsoft or Apple equivalents, in whole or in part. Some would see this as jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. However, Satya Nadella’s new Microsoft is different from the old one, and driven by other metrics (usage instead of units). It is building a broader cross-platform ecosystem than either Google (everything online) or Apple (everything on Apple).

The web-based Outlook.com email service is still not as good as Gmail, but you can use it from a desktop email client, and there’s a decent Mail app in Windows 10. There are also plenty of alternative services, including FastMail and ProtonMail.

Android smartphones are a problem because Google controls the system. However, you can run the Microsoft Launcher and dozens of Microsoft apps on Android, and connect it to Your Phone in Windows 10. Apple’s iPhones are less of a problem because they are not preloaded with Google apps, though Google does pay Apple billions to be the default search engine. Again, Microsoft provides dozens of apps for iPhones and you can also connect your iPhone to Windows 10.

Cyanogenmod, an open source ROM to liberate Android phones, bit the dust a while ago, but the project is continuing as LineageOS.

Browser choice

Google controls the browser market, so the best alternative to Chrome is Mozilla’s Firefox. With Opera and now Microsoft capitulating, Mozilla is the only major provider still committed to building its own standards-based browser.

Fortunately, Chrome’s rendering engine has open source origins – Apple forked KHTML to create WebKit for Safari, then Google forked WebKit to create Blink for Chrome – so the base code is available in the form of Chromium. This has enabled lots of companies to build browsers based on Chromium, without the proprietary stuff that Google adds to create Chrome. Opera and Vivaldi are the most obvious examples, though you should also look at the privacy oriented Epic, among others.

You will not be entirely free of Google, as you would be with Firefox, but it seems to me an acceptable compromise.
Either way, I avoid using Chrome because now when you sign into a Google site, it signs you into the browser as well, unless you deactivate the feature.

Search here

Google still has the best search engine, but Bing and DuckDuckGo are viable alternatives for the majority of searches. If you can’t avoid Google search completely, you can certainly reduce your usage.

DuckDuckGo is a good choice because it is privacy oriented, and you can run Google searches from DDG by using a !bang command. (A bang is an American exclamation mark.) However, DDG’s sources include other search engines such as Bing, Yahoo and Yandex.

StartPage – formerly ixQuick – is a Dutch-owned privacy-protecting search engine, while Qwant is a French one. Both get some results from other search engines, but Google still won’t know about you. (Qwant seems to be pretty good.)
Mojeek is a British search engine that has its own web crawler, called MojeekBot.

For image and reverse image searches, I recommend Yandex, which is Russian, Bing and TinEye.

YouTube kills it

Almost every attempt to avoid Google products dies a painful death when it comes to online video, where YouTube reigns supreme. There are plenty of long-running online video sites including Vimeo, Dailymotion and Facebook, but YouTube is unbeatable for its breadth of content. And there’s no way around that.

There have been plenty of websites that will download the videos you want to watch without you having to go to YouTube. Years ago, I used KeepVid. However, this approach does not suit Google because you never see any adverts. Also, these sites – which could be flaky to start with – tend to stop working properly, and/or pop up multiple ad pages.

The indirect approach does not suit users either because the whole idea is that you go to watch one YouTube video then get sucked into watching another dozen through random browsing.

Web traffic statistics suggest there’s one property with both the technology and the capacity to take on YouTube, and that’s PornTube, but it’s not quite the same.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 28.12.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Life
  • These, says The Local, are the 8 must-see Spanish films of this year.
  • The Spanish always hispanisise the names of famous foreign folk. So, it took me a few seconds to realise that Princesa Carlota was Princess Charlotte - great granddaughter of Isabel, granddaughter of Carlos, daughter of Guillermo, and niece of Henrique. I wonder whether this happens in many other countries.
  • A week or two ago I took issue with a British lady who unfavourably compared the UK NHS system with that where she lives, somewhere down South. She clearly thought the Spanish system was not just better than the UK's but very good indeed. I guess it can be in places. But I was reminded of our difference of (overall) opinion by this account in the book I recently cited - A Furnace Full of God - of  the author's experience in a hospital in the Palencia region:- Patrick had a minor operation and had to stay in overnight. There was perfectly competent nursing care but it wasn't applied in any way I recognised. Because I was 'the patient's family', I was expected to attend to his basic needs - walk him to the bathroom, comb his hair, even bring in his meals. People without relatives or friends can hire a beside helper through the hospital social services office, to do these jobs. . . Relying on hospital nursing care and food service is beyond the pale. I didn't have much choice. I gave Patrick his pre-operation pill and wheedled him into the surgery.
Galician Life  
  • I occasionally mention the infamous lethargy of the Spanish judicial process. But even I was surprised to read of a court case which began 12 years ago over over a debt of c.€4k to a language school. A more senior court has confirmed the verdict of the first one that the pupil didn't work hard enough and so can't claim her money back after she later failed an English exam somewhere. She's also liable for interest and 'judicial costs', of course, and I'm left wondering if the time-line will now be extended via an appeal to the regional Supreme Court. After which, there's the national court(s), I suspect. 
  • The Camino de Santiago is partly about faith/'spirituality' but perhaps even more about making money. Only a few years ago there was only a handful of caminos but now I've lost count of them. Certainly more than 40. The latest I've seen is the Variante Barbanza, which starts on the tip of a nearby peninsula and joins the main camino portugués in Padrón. The odd thing is that it's claimed to total 112km - a minimum of 100 being necessary to get your Compostela certificate in Santiago - but Google Maps has it down as little more than 70. Anyway, it's been approved in time for the Holy Year of 2021, when a surge in 'pilgrims' will see around 150,000 trekking through Pontevedra province, compared with 5,000 only 10 years ago.
  • The mayor of Vigo responds here to criticism in the New York Times over the carbon footprint of his beloved Xmas lights.
  • Walking past the Pontevedra city tourist office last night, I recalled I'd given them a copy of my guide for 'pilgrims' a few months ago and been told they'd pass it up the line. As expected, though, I've heard nothing since. Very much the norm in Spain. At least as far as I'm concerned; I've had none of my offers of (free) help accepted. Or even responded to. Go figure, as our (North) American cousins say.
  • Which reminds me . .  'America' in Spain always means South America. Understandably.
The Way of the World/The USA 
  • Politicians might not always know they're lying, says the author of the article below. Even if they have the biggest brain in the world, admired by dictators around the world.
  • Word of the Day: Un togado. A judge in a superior court. From toga, I guess.
  • I think in the context of internet dating, the word fleabagging has been added to ghosting, benching and orbiting. Nope, no idea what it means.
  • Cuckooing: Having people force their way into your house to use for illegal purposes. Usually drug dealers, of course.
Finally . . . 

Politicians may not even know they’re lying: Daniel Finkelstein, The Times.

When Gavin Williamson swears he isn’t a leaker, it could be that he has really convinced himself he’s telling the truth

One day, on their way back from dinner in Washington DC, Leslie Meltzer and her husband Tyce Palmaffy saw something dreadful. They were stopped at traffic lights watching a man slowly cycle towards them, when suddenly another man came out of nowhere and knocked the cyclist over. Then he began stabbing the cyclist as he lay on the ground.

I thought of this story when, last week, it was reported that the former defence secretary Gavin Williamson had sworn on his children’s lives that he was innocent of leaking the proceedings of the National Security Council. It seemed such an odd thing to say. What could possibly explain such vehemence?

Well, the first possibility is that Mr Williamson is just a rogue. He knows full well he did it but is willing to lie, even involving his children in his deceit. People do lie. Look at Jeffrey Archer. Or Jonathan Aitken. Harvey Weinstein was quite fond of swearing on his children’s lives.

Another possibility, of course, is that Mr Williamson is, as he claims, not guilty at all. His oath may be crass, but you get pretty desperate when accused of something you didn’t do. It’s possible, isn’t it? People have been hanged in the past for crimes they didn’t commit. It has to be said that everyone I’ve talked to who is in the know seems completely confident that in Williamson they’ve got their man, but then again they would be, wouldn’t they?

There is a third possibility. One that will sound almost ridiculous but is actually very plausible. Mr Williamson did it, but he can’t remember that he did it. He thinks he’s innocent. He is sure he didn’t do it. He’d swear on his kids’ lives. But all along, it was actually him.

Let’s go back to Palmaffy and Meltzer. In their book The Invisible Gorilla, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons tell their story, recording how over the following six years the two began to remember the event in very different ways. Meltzer, for instance, remembers calling 911 from the passenger seat while Palmaffy was driving. Palmaffy says he called 911 and Melzer was driving.

Still, by the time of this confusion years had gone by, so perhaps the differing recall is not that surprising and not at all like the Williamson case. What is more startling is that this divergence began during the 911 call. The moment after the stabbing. One of them thought the assailant was wearing jeans, the other sweatpants. They disagreed about how tall he was, the shirt he was wearing, even whether he might have been an African American or Hispanic.

In other words, we start creating false memories of things almost as soon as they happen. Palmaffy and Meltzer are typical. There is really a vast literature on this. As Julia Shaw says in her recent book The Memory Illusion, “Any event, no matter how important, emotional or traumatic it may seem, can be forgotten, misremembered, or even be entirely fictitious.”

More than that, we have little understanding that we do this. We are immensely confident in our own memory. We’d swear we were right on our kids’ lives.

A fascinating example of this confidence is provided by an ingenious study into memories of 9/11. Thinking quickly after the terrible terrorist attack, two psychologists (Jennifer Talarico and David Rubin) thought to gather a group of students the very next day and ask them what they were up to when they heard the news. They also asked them for another, less momentous, personal memory from the same week.

Over the coming days and months the psychologists returned to check the memories of their subjects. And as time passed the recollections changed, often quite radically. This was true of both 9/11 and of the personal events, and to the same degree. Yet while the subjects were willing to accept that they had forgotten the exact circumstances of the less important event, they were certain they were still right about 9/11. Even though they weren’t.

What that means is that you don’t remember exactly where you were when you heard that John F Kennedy was shot or what you were doing at the precise instance that you heard about 9/11. You just think you do.

The extent of our confidence in recollection was brought home to me recently when the shadow lord chancellor Richard Burgon got himself in trouble. He’d been accused of saying in a speech in 2016 that “Zionism is the enemy of peace”. He went on television to deny repeatedly that he had ever said such a thing. He couldn’t have done, he said, because he had no recall of it, there was no evidence of it and he didn’t think it. So he hadn’t said it. And then a video showed up. He had said it.

The lie appeared blatant. He tried denying it because he thought he’d get away with it and got caught. I got absolutely nowhere trying to explain to people that it was entirely plausible that Mr Burgon had forgotten what he said and was now amazed that he even thought it. It is particularly likely to happen when the new memory, vivid and strong, is more convenient or comfortable than the old one. When I talked about this to one of my colleagues he told me that if he ever wanted to commit fraud he would pick me as the target.

The memory issue arises again and again in politics. Hillary Clinton, for instance, has long been excoriated for her claim that she landed in Bosnia and had to run for cover to avoid sniper fire. Pictures emerged of her being greeted by smiling officials and an eight-year-old girl reading a poem.

Yet the guru of studies of false memories, the American cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, has shown beyond doubt that it is possible to remember very clearly things that did not happen. So, for example, she prompted subjects to recall seeing Bugs Bunny at Disneyland, when he is a Warner Brothers character. Or to remember, in some detail, being lost in a shopping mall when no such thing had happened.

We routinely conduct political discourse and even court cases on the basis that we witness things and remember them in an objective way, as if we were video cameras. But we are not.

For Gavin Williamson to admit to himself that he was responsible for the leak — he helped the journalist on his way, he confirmed what had been a hunch, he initiated the whole thing, whatever — would be psychologically very hard. Much easier to forget you did it. To really, really believe that you didn’t. But it’s not a good idea to swear your innocence on your children’s lives unless you aren’t fond of them.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 27.12.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
            Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
The Spanish Economy and Politics
  • Forbes Magazine here gives its view of Spain's 5 major political and economic challenges.
  • To my comments of yesterday on the light - if any - sentences given to politicians and businessmen here, I'd add that the Prime Minister has the capacity to issue pardons as he/she sees fit. Plus there are thousands of officials here who can't be tried in normal courts. Spain has some catching up to do in this area.
Spanish Life
  • Which reminds me . . . Pharmacists on Spain belong to something like a medieval guild in England. Needless to say, this assists restrictions on trade which - as intended - reduce competition. I thought of this yesterday when trying, in Madrid, to get the generic version of a product which has been on the market for at least 40 years; all 3 of the places I tried could only offer me the branded version, at more than twice the price of the generic. So, I'll keep on trying in Pontevedra.
  • Some topical advice.
  • In my Xmas Day list of aperçus from John Haycraft's 1958 book Babel in Spain, I missed out these:-
My work enabled me to learn something about the wealthier citizens in town; the sons and daughters of local businessmen, landowners and doctors. I had a large class of 22, most of whom came for lack of anything else to do. They belonged to a social group which never really needed to do any serious work and which produced the worst kind of student: sometimes slightly patronising, usually lazy, very difficult to keep quiet. Being adult pupils, they expected to behave as they liked in class but were the first to blame one for not disciplining them so that they could learn English.

There is a flamboyant romanticising of the past which often makes one feel that Spaniards are still living in their great age. It is true to the spirit of the 'generation of 1898', which pointed to the past only to emphasise the level to which the country had sunk.

Spaniards usually regard foreigners as guests in their home and want to put them most at ease when they appear embarrassed.

After the novelty has worn off, most bull-fights are, in fact, surprisingly dull. [A sentiment with which I wholeheartedly concur]

In Andalucia, time is different; it passes in jerks, and one moment usually has nothing to do with the next.
  • In Iran, the custom is to offer something admired - however expensive - to the admirer. And the polite thing is to refuse it, with profuse thanks. This has its echo in this sentence from Haycraft: The courteous response to an expression of admiration for anything is "It is yours", while the accepted way of greeting someone who interrupts a meal is to ask "Would you like some?". In the last 2 cases, the gesture is a formality, unless repeated insistently, but if accepted literally, pride prevents withdrawal.
  • I'm no expert on the conventions of the complex world of Spanish swearing and cursing. Hence my confusion at the fact that my daughter's partner says joder (fuck) and coño (cunt) every 10 minutes in front of his 5 year old daughter but draws the line at mierda (shit). 
  • There are new(ish) security arrangements for long-distance train journeys at Madrid's Chamartin station. For all of these - except for trains leaving from platform 14 - you have to put your stuff through the machines. The train to Vigo and Pontevedra always goes from said platform 14 and has its own machine. I guessed that this is why it's excepted from the normal arrangements. Or I did until I got down to the platform, put my bag in the mouth of the machine and was told not to bother as they weren't operating it this time. Maybe folk travelling to Galicia aren't seen as likely terrorists. Or maybe it was broken. Or maybe it's just the arbitrariness of life in Spain and there's no answer to the conundrum.
Galician Life  
  • Fish and seafood prices this Xmas were 9% up on November's and 35% up on 2015. Are people being ripped off?. And, if so, can they do anything about it? By the way, the biggest increase this Xmas over last year was 46% for besugo, which is the (black spotted?) sea bream.
  • The good news is that, over the year as a whole, salaries rose by 1.9% but inflation by only 1.1%. Assuming accuracy.
  • A local newspaper this morning advises that in 2020 Galicia will be betting on Smart wine tourism. Why it chose to illustrate the article with a backside view of a young female camino 'pilgrim' walking between vines I can only guess.
The Way of the World 
  • See the article below for The 13 signs you were really modern in 2019. In the UK, at least. Apologies if it doesn't make much sense to the rest of you.
  • And here's more on the trick I mentioned the other day.
  • Words of the Day:  Bisutería: Costume jewellery. Catenaria: Overhead line
  • Phrase of the Day:  Al raso: In the open. Under the stars.
  • To spall: To break rock, ore or stone into smaller pieces.
  • Training down to Madrid on the 22nd, I was surprised to find myself alone in a sleeping compartment for 4. No such luck last night, when there were 4 of us, including at least one snorer. Worse, the train broke down a couple of hours from Pontevedra and we spent a long time stationery in Ourense station. Before eventually being obliged to get off and take another train. We arrived at Pontevedra station an hour and aa half late. Such are the ups and downs of life. But roll on the competition for RENFE!

The 13 signs you were really modern in 2019: Shane Watson

How Modern Were You in 2019? Did your life reflect the times or were you a bit out of step and trailing behind? So hard to know sometimes if we’re in sync with the important aspects of modern life, so, here’s some of what counted in 2019, to refresh your memory:

Being eco-shamed
This was the year of Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and Flygskam - Swedish for flight shame, as in the guilt experienced when travelling by plane because of the carbon footrpint. Flygskam was the only eco-related shame that had its own word, so far as we know, but shame and shaming was definitely the tone of the new eco awareness.

Last year you could still sort of dip in and dip out; recycle most of the time, then hop on a jetski and tuck into the single use plastics. This year you had to ask where is it from and where is that going? You had to have a water bottle and a Keep Cup and then you had to ask, should I take the train? Do I need a car? That new dress, is it necessary or shall I borrow one pre-worn by Lady Theresa Manners? Have I got too many children? Almost a quarter of daters said that eco awareness was their deal breaker non negotiable for a prospective partner. So, things moved on.

This year you had to like certain things, partly because we’ve started to take all sorts of things like (mainly) TV very seriously but also because of the slide into zero tolerance for other people’s taste and POV. In previous years you could easily have got away with thinking Killing Eve was a bit overrated, but this year you had to make damn sure you were fully on board with the GTLL and no exceptions. We are talking unconditional adoration for Fleabag, and all things Phoebe Waller Bridge; Margaret Atwood; Sally Rooney; The Favourite (OMG Olivia Colman, we Love her); Emily Maitlis. Possibly there were some men on the GTLL, we forget.

We embraced the new casual 
A photograph of the Queen emerged, hands thrust in the pockets of her dress and, although it wasn’t a new picture, it cemented the idea that casual is now the acceptable Norm. We’re talking about going shoeless indoors. We’re talking about exercisewear anywhere, and eating anywhere (even a boiled egg on a train), and getting a wax anywhere (say the forecourt of Clapham Junction Station) and feeling no compulsion to trim your beard, let alone shave. It’s all one way from here.

We got flip flopism
You started the year a Remainer and ended it a Leaver, or started it a Tory and ended it a Lib Dem; you started out a Royalist and ended up feeling betrayed; you became convinced by the vegan cause and then discovered veganism could destroy the planet faster than meat eating. There were a lot of examples of strong positions taken, then abandoned, then taken up again.

Naturally this was combined with last year’s very modern habit of ‘virtue signalling’, or having the endorsed opinion of the day and making a point of letting everyone know as often as possible. We are hoping that in 2020 it will become normal to be able to say: "Can I stop you there? I know exactly what you’re going to say. Shall we just assume you’ve flagged your membership of The Virtuous People and move on?"

We got sloaney
Fashion didn’t call it that - Seventies bourgeois chic and Eighties Glamour are more appealing as labels - but suddenly designers were referencing the Young Princess Anne and the Post Snowden Princess Margaret and honeymoon era Princess Di but also her Serpentine Gallery party period. Sheer tights were a thing again and Carrie Symonds only ever appeared in a demure, high-necked midi dress and fat hairband that would not have looked out of place on a Montessori nursery school teacher circa 1980.

And we (almost) all got Miss Piggy eyelashes 
This has to have been – please God – the year of peak Piggy eyelashes. Now everyone under the age of 80, post mistresses, paramedics, personal trainers - has lash perms, or lash lifts, if not the full lash extensions. It’s taken off like Ugg Boots but why we have no idea. When you look at someone and think ‘Ooh, yikes… that reminds me a bit of the laughing cow’ that’s an eyelash perm.

We gave up drink
Last year was all about flexitarianism (being a bit veggie) and reducetarianism (cutting back on meat and dairy) and 2019 has been about Not Drinking. Not necessarily not drinking at all – although there was plenty of that - but drinking ‘mindfully’. You don’t have to be an alcoholic to give up drink any more, you just have to be sober curious and…modern. Not drinking mid week became a thing. Not drinking two days a week (the liver recovery rule) or drinking, but only on special occasions, or not drinking for a month, just as a reboot, all became as normal as avoiding gluten. As of 2019 drinking masses all the time, and at lunch, suddenly looked rather Old School. Certainly to the millenials who are all dating over almond milk lattes.

We all woke up to 'generation different'
Was it after the Tom Bradby interviews with Harry and Meghan in South Africa? Not sure, but this year the penny dropped that those thirtysomethings really are different. When they go to a job interview they want to know what you can offer them. When they get tired they rest. We’d vaguely imagined they’d get a bit less Me and a bit more Us but they’re just doing it differently. It’s not worse it’s just different.

Can't choose, won't choose 
First you have so much choice you find it hard to choose (that was previous years) then you just choose not to choose. Earlier in the year the Booker Prize was shared between two winners, now four artists have been awarded the Turner Prize, together. This stuff is catching. You may find yourself with two Christmas trees this year and that jacket in both colours.

We became pro-modernising the monarchy 
Which is to say slimming it down, cutting loose the most obvious liggers and embarrassments, and moving forwards with a kind of capsule collection based on reliability, functionality, value for money and all round merit. Even if you weren’t a modernizer at the start of the year by November you were positively roaring at the TV: "Charles get to Sandringham and SORT IT OUT. SAVE YOURSELVES AND CUT THE ROPE! CUT THE ROPE." We became totally ruthless to be honest. Have Beatrice’s wedding in a registry office! For example.

Dog pre-nups and dog custody
The new divorce game was, apparently, who can play dirtiest with the dogs. After some wrangling Ant McPartlin was awarded joint custody of his chocolate Labrador with his former partner, and henceforth the dog pre-nup is not a laughing matter.

Meanwhile we were supposed to be moving towards the better brighter divorce where Stepmother’s are called Bonus Mums and it’s not only not bad it can be good but…not sure where we got to with that.

We got amazing TV fatigue
Not with all of it, but let’s face it the things we were obliged to watch and even the things we should probably have been watching started to back up and then a slightly weird thing happened and we went right off the prospect of watching the good stuff.

Strictly was ok, but anything really well reviewed and epic with an eye watering budget and a knock out cast...couldn’t face it. So we never actually got around to watching (trigger warning) David Attenbourgh Seven ContinentsHis Dark MaterialsThe War of the Worlds (I know Unbelievable!) but they just come at you thick and fast. Next thing you know the only thing you are watching is Gold Digger, and that was really for the wallpaper. (Did you check out that wallpaper in Julia Gray’s house in Devon? Not just in the hall but also in the bedrooms and the dining room. Nice).

As in (because it’s the opposite of what we have come to expect) not attempting to disguise your age one little bit. This year we saw some robust let it all hang out behaviour …namely from Kathleen Turner, 62 (‘I don’t look like I did thirty years ago, get over it’) and, more recently, Julia Ormond, 54, who played the 60 year old Julia in Gold Digger, and blew everyone away not least because she looked so real. She’s clearly had no work, put on some weight since her twenties (she might even be the national average size 16, as opposed to the actress average 8 or below), she wore little or no make up, let her hair do its own thing. In other words she looked like a normal (albeit beautiful) fiftysomething woman who isn’t a TV presenter, LA lawyer or similar.

We’re not expecting miracles any day soon (2019 was also the year when 3 out of 4 women had permed curly baby cow eyelashes or three sets of extensions). But it felt New.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Thoughts from Madrid, Spain : 26.12.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics 
  •  It's surprising - or, rather it no longer is - just how many Spanish politicians get off corruption charges with a mild slap on the wrist. Usually, it seems to me, because the statute of limitations means time has run out on the ability to punish them. Which you might think would be taken into account before starting the process. But it could all be - ignoring corruption and the possibility of a politicised judiciary - because Spain uses the system 'inherited' from Napoleonic French folk that's based on lengthy judicial - not police - investigations before the trial commences. Followed by a very long and slow court process. The latest example of this is the doyen of the 'ruling' Pujol family, which is believed to have taken at least €290m over several decades from the Catalan coffers. There was an angry editorial about this in El Mundo yesterday but I'm waiting on something in El País in English before posting the basic details. Meanwhile, here's something in Spanish. By the way, it's generally reckoned that Jordi Pujol knows where some festering bodies lie. Might just be a factor in this saga.
  • I mentioned yesterday that the nepotism and croneyism cited by John Haycraft were still very much with us 60 years after he wrote his book but I forgot to mention politico-commercial corruption, because he hardly touches on it. I stress again that no one in daily life here has to pay bribes but, against that, the corruption among Spain's grandes legumes could be the highest in Europe. It's said that the public no longer shrugs its collective shoulders at this - and it's true that revulsion towards widespread corruption helped bring down the the last PP government - but only time will tell if this evil is being eradicated from Spanish society. It could take some time, having a legacy of several hundred years.
The Spanish Economy   
  • The low birth rate is slowing growth, says El País here.
 Spanish Life
  • A propos . . . If you set off on a Spanish judicial journey, bear this in mind.
  • After the storms of last week, much of Spain has had an Xmas heatwave. I can vouch for the fact that there was the eeriest of calms in my garden on Sunday, contrasting with the gale-force winds of the previous day/week.
  • Spain's Xmas lottery is unbelievably large, shelling out more than €3bn in prize money, much of which - unlike in the UK - is taxable. I read last week that, in Pontevedra, there was an average per capita spend of around €70 or 80 on this. A friend asked me to get her a ticket with 3 specific numbers in it. I finally managed this but told her she'd was throwing her money away, as she had more chance of being hit by lightening. She won €120.
  • A tad late, perhaps, here's advice from the Guardia Civil on avoiding being mugged this Xmas. Whether this is any different from the standard advice included in my Guide to Pontevedra City, I'm not sure.
  • Something else I can vouch for is that - unlike in John Haycraft's day - Spanish kids no longer just get presents on the January 6 feast of the Epiphany - Los Reyes - but also get an equal number on Xmas Day. Quite ridiculous. And I guess that, if - like my father - you were born on 25 December you get a 3rd huge pile.
  • An old chestnut - Spain's 10 worst driving and parking offences, as committed by the thoughtless/thought-less.
Galician Life
  • Here's an article on those Vigo Xmas lights. Not everyone is happy with the expense of them, of course.
  • You'll notice that the city's mayor, at 73, is one of many Spanish men of his age and above who have nary a grey hair, let alone a white one. Must be all that praying for miracles every Sunday at Mass.
  • Still on Vigo, here's a foto of that paving stone which cost the Vigo city council €18,000, plus legal fees I guess.

The UK

  • This brave young woman has a stab at defining British humour. And does quite well.

  • The Way of the World
    • I learned earlier this week of a pricing trick in supermarkets - the 'decoy effect' - which 'nudges' you to lay out more than you intended. Despite knowing about it, I might well have fallen into the trap yesterday morning when I bought 3 bottles of a Gran Reserva Rioja wine. Though, to be honest, it's possible I was just confused by the '3 for 2' sign and thought that €22 was for 2 bottles of it, not the price of just one. Anyway, I ended up with 3 bottles at €44 instead of €66. A bargain, of course, but not one I was looking for. Incidentally, €66 came up on the till screen and so I reminded the checkout woman there was a special offer. She said she realised this as she tapped something into the computer.  She might well have been telling the truth but one gets sceptical in Spain. The wine is excellent, by the way. So, not the worst of mistakes.
    • Word of the Day:  Reno. Reindeer
    • Word of the Day: Ligger: An individual who attends parties, openings, social gatherings and events with the sole intention of obtaining free food and drink. No idea of its origin.
    Finally . . . 
    • A friend met in Indonesia in the 80s has sent me this foto of Hitler striking a defiant/triumphal note, taken in Jogjakarta, in central Java. Decidedly odd:-

    I guessed it was in some sort of museum and just came up with this:- The De Mata Trick Eye museum that encouraged visitors to take selfies with a waxwork of Hitler against a giant image of the Auschwitz death camp has removed the exhibit after protests. Hardly surprising.

    Wednesday, December 25, 2019

    Thoughts from Madrid, Spain: 25.12.19


    Here's a post I prepared earlier . . .

    These are quotes from the book Babel in Spain, written by John Haycraft when he and his wife were setting up the first English language school in Andalucia - quite possibly in Spain - in the 1950s. When Spain really was different, and officially regarded as part of the developing world.

    As the country has come a very long way since then, I was left wondering how many of these perceptions would still be true - or partially true - about Spain or Andalucia today. Certainly we could assert that nepotism and croneyism are still a feature of modern Spanish life, but I leave it to each reader to decide whether there are any others. In doing so, I stress that simple citation doesn't signify endorsement on my part. I shouldn't have to say that but . . .

    The other thing I shouldn't need to say is that Haycraft loved Spain and the Spanish/Andalucian people and there are lots of positive comments in the book. But this didn't stop him being analytical/critical where he felt it appropriate.

    I've divided the quotes into Spain and Andalucia but it's quite possible that the former related more to Andalucia than to the rest of Spain. This is always a problem when one writes, as I do, from the base of one city or region in Spain.


    In Spain, one's imagination easily generates fears - perhaps because this country is so different, so unexpected, because totalitarianism is whimsical, because historical associations are so strong.

    Women are much more isolated than in other European countries, at least outside the metropolises of Madrid and Barcelona. This is explicable by the fact that Spanish social conventions are usually 50 years behind those of the rest of Europe. Religion has much to do with it.

    The way Spanish men laud their virility is often monotonous.

    A person may be an adult but, in relation to his parents, the pretence that he is still a child to be disciplined and commanded must be preserved.

    In middle class homes, the fact that the father works and usually supports the family means that his is the power. As large incomes come from property and salaries are low, most single sons fine id necessary to live under the aegis of their parents at home until they inherit enough, or are sufficiently successful, to become independent. Such family unity makes for an essentially conservative society , as it is the dictates and the opinions of the elderly which are respected. But in a country where ultimate development into a modern society is becoming inevitable, it merely intensifies the clash between the new and the old. [I wonder if this was reflected in the very popular Cuéntame series, set in the late 60s onwards]

    There is an oriental fairytale quality about riches in Spain; those with money have so very much. They own castles instead of skyscrapers. Their wealth is vested in land. The poverty around them detaches them and the respect they are shown is almost feudal. They are among the last of the old oligarchies, whose position and wealth reaches back to conditions which existed in Europe before 1914.

    Like many Spanish men, he wore sunglasses even on stormy days and twilit evenings - thus trying to give the impression that the wearing of spectacles was voluntary.

    By the eagerness of our discussions, we became aware of how starved of intellectual and cultural matters it is possible to be in Spain.

    There is no compromise as far as women are concerned. "In Spain", remarked one of my first friends, "there are only married women, virgins and whores." Each has her place.

    It is surprising how difficult interesting discussion often is in Spain despite the potential exuberance. . . The fact that so many subjects are ignored or outside the pale, that self-criticism is rare, that so much emphasis is given to everything, with the result that many a story is repeated 2 or 3 times, all are behind the serious-minded traveller's complaint that Spaniards are rarely scintillating.

    It is difficult to find 'bons mots', to assess individual Spaniards as 'characters' who can be remembered in terms of a unity or personality which can be enjoyed as such. Strong conventions and the uniformity of religious upbringing mortify original opinion. The Spanish have had many great painters but few philosophers. They find true expression in dramatic and emotional moments. The Spanish temperament resembles paint of a palette; colourful but static, until a sudden fury slashes it into vivid, powerful designs which dry and remain once again without movement, a reminder of what is always latent and possible.

    There is an amusing simplicity about a Spaniard's pride in his home town.

    Gaiety in Spain is an intoxication, which is why the Spanish are also a melancholy people. When expansiveness subsides, reality seems much sadder.

    To the unlucky traveller, the Spaniard is boring and melancholy; to the lucky one, he is gay [original meaning] and exhilarating. This fluctuation is perhaps another part of the 'enigma' of which foreign visitors are so often conscious in Spain - which creates an uncertainty of what the Spaniard is at any given moment, or of what he is really capable.

    Fortunately, it is difficult for the tourist to vulgarise Spain. Pride is usually more important to the Spaniard than money.

    Spanish hospitality and kindness to visitors has few bars. A foreigner is expected to behave peculiarly.

    Spanish women are impossibly curious and frank in the questions they ask. "How much money do you earn?" "How much do you pay for your rooms?" "Is your wife pregnant?"

    Spaniards tend to judge an individual for what he is, and only if they dislike him do they allow their judgement of him to be clouded by prejudices against the nation to which he belongs. This is partly because they are less aware of other countries; they travel less, they read less.

    Impulsiveness always surprises in Spain.

    Every Spaniard is an ardent nationalist, even if much of his time is spent in reviling the [Franco] regime and his country.

    The majority of Spaniards seem to prefer football to bullfighting, although it must be admitted that the game as they play it has much of the savagery and danger which most bullfights have.

    Often in class we had the sensation of teaching people who were still charming children. This was shown most clearly in the way they cheated in tests and dictations, as if they were still at school. The ebullience of most classes contributed to this impression.

    Spanish men tend to take women literally. If they see a girl in shorts and a low neck-line, they see only one reason for her dressing like that.

    Germans are by far the most beloved foreigners in Spain, at least by those who fought with the Nationalists in the Civil War. Germany is one of the few countries against which Spain has never waged war. Spain's greatest years were those when she was ruled by Hapsburg kings. Spaniards admire Germans for those very qualities which they themselves lack.

    Except for university students who form a tiny minority, football and not politics is the devouring passion among the youth in Spain today [1958].

    Sooner or later, everyone must climb onto the bandwagon [of nepotism and croneyism]. They give up the ideal of straight competition after their first examination, when a stupid companion who has an influential uncle comes out top of the list. The highest aim of any member of the middle class, be he doctor or lawyer, is to get a government post which will ensure him a steady income and at the same time a maximum of leisure which he can devote to other ways of earning a living. To obtain this, merit is not enough. He must use his friends in a way which he he regards as discreditable but inevitable.

    As government is corrupt, so the attitude to government is one of distrust. [Haycraft here relates a tale of how his friends warned him against going to talk to the tax office re future income possibilities, as they'd take him to the cleaners. I have had the same experience.]

    Spaniards are often diffuse in explaining things; many of the intellectuals seemed more interested in producing ornate sentences than in saying anything important. Andalucians, particularly, are are liable to float away on the broomstick of some imaginative fancy with no intention of setting foot on solid ground ever again - until they arrive at the moon.

    It is difficult to penetrate the Spanish home.

    Often in Spain it's necessary to approach a matter slowly and on a personal level.

    Spaniards select their friends by opening their arms to anyone who seems in the least bit 'simpático'. Then, when they get to know them better, they easily grow weary of the relationship. English reserve offends them; they feel it can only be a sign of hostility. But they expect hostility from foreigners. Because they are thought to look down on Spain for being not so advanced materially.

    The Spaniard probably finds his truest expression in spectacle. He thinks dramatically, not analytically. This they have, which other nations have lost to utilitarianism.

    For the foreigner, Spain's fascination lies in exploration. Out in the deserted countryside, where the fields seem untouched by man, one feels an explorer kenning an unknown land.

    Spaniards are critical of intentions. "If our Lord Don Quixote was resurrected and returned to this, his Spain", wrote Unamuno, "people would go searching for some hidden motive behind his ravings."

    In the last analysis, the difference in outlook was immense: the difference in religion, in temperament, in heritage. If that was the fascination in discovering Spain, it was also a reason for not staying a lifetime.


    [On the Great Mosque in Córdoba, referring to the Christian additions of the16th century] Unable to equal what the Moslems had done, the Christian architect might also have spoiled the building deliberately with as many examples of bad taste as possible. . . It all evokes something of the same indignation as does an El Greco mauled and mutilated during the Civil War. Worse: for there is certainly less passion, if as much stupidity, in the desecration of the Mezquita. [Haycraft's opinions here are shared by me, as some readers might recall]

    As so often happens in Andalucia, the intention of doing something is a satisfactory substitute for undertaking it.

    For a foreigner in Andalucia, Holy Week will always be one of the most impressive and intriguing spectacles that Spain can offer.

    Accidents are not so important in Andalucia, where everyone expects something to go wrong.

    Lavishness in hospitality is a tradition in wealthy Andalusian society but short-sighted meanness in business is almost a rule. This is natural in a agricultural community, where next year's harvest is always an uncertain one.

    In Andalucia, there is no certainty, no efficiency, no routine. Everything must be carefully built from the bottom. A sense of mystery remains, but faintly. Imagination is deadened by reality, which in everyday living is frequently narrow, provincial and stuffy.

    One comes to Spain enchanted by the differences, prepared to give significance to the smallest thing, to applaud a bad speaker because he probably meant something you didn't understand. But slowly the raillery of Spaniards themselves, who rarely approve of anything, destroys illusions.

    Adventure or career? The Northerner finds that in Andalucia he must sooner or later resolve the conflict between spiritual restlessness and lethargic indifference. In practical matters, the sense of trying to walk fast with heavy weights attached to wrists and ankles cripples endeavours. The real difficulty lies in changing or establishing anything. But once the initial effort has been made, and a reasonable income is being earned, the chances are nothing will change that either. No one demands or expects perfection. Ambition departs. Life is easy, unexacting. The sun shines. There is no need to get up early in the morning. Restlessness, enquiry is replaced by a complacent acceptance of today.

    The absence of frankness was also irritating. Andalucians can only be won by effusiveness.