Friday, January 24, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 24.1.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain  
Spanish Politics 
  • The leader of the far right Vox party is Santiago Abascal. He used to sport quite a normal short beard. But this has become progressively longer and tailored. And he displays it with his head tilted slightly backwards, so that he really is leading with his chin:-

It puts me in mind of the way Spanish Legionaires strut their stuff. And I don't suppose this is a coincidence:-

Spanish Life 
  • Plating materials with a veneer of gold or silver isn't illegal. But it is when you plate plastic and sell the pieces as solid gold or silver. Which is what the company Tous is in the dock for.  
  • I've written of unusual names for females here. Yesterday, I came across Covadonga - a town in Asturias and the scene of a hugely important battle against the Moors at the start of the Reconquista.
Galician Life
  • The Tous shop in Pontevedra closed down overnight last week . . .
  • Words of the Day:- 
  1. Una alhaja: A piece of jewellery, whether plated or  not
  2. Piratear:  To pirate; To hack.
  3. Retribución: Recompense or payment for something. Bit of a surprise.
Finally . . .
  •    Is the bañana really a banana that will never arrive?

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 23.1.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain  
Spanish Life 
  • Lenox Napier tells us that bullfighting is 'losing steam' in Spain, with hardly any media coverage and fights down by 50% since 2010.
  • Something else on the way down in Spain is binge boozing in tourist hotspots. El País gives us details here.
  • Something back on the way up is solar heating. HT to Lenox again for informing us that the Norwegians are coming to the aid of the Spanish on how to harness the sun, of which - of course - they have a helluva lot more.
  • A nice place to (attempt to) write?
  • And a charming video of Madrid 110 years ago.
  • The Spanish police can prosecute you for upsetting them. And, believe me, they are easily offended. For example by this cartoon, which has landed the artist in court:-

 Galician Life
  • Examiners of the the university entrance exams (la selectividad) complain that Galician students are short on reasoning and display insufficient comprehension and analysis. Too much brain-dumping of stuff learned off-by-heart, they say. Whose fault is that, one wonders.
  • Word of the Day:- Zafarrancho: General quarters. Defined here.
Finally . . .
  • Every day, I pass 4 times through a small industrial park at the bottom of my hill. It's going to be expanded by the arrival of major operators such as Decathlon and MacDonalds. But god knows when. The process of gaining licences has already taken 18 years and the work that took place a year or so ago to clear land at the side of the road stopped shortly after it began,

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 22.1.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain 
Spanish Politics
  • Can you imagine a British party bring forward a bill to ban the Scottish Nationalist party? Of course, you can't. But things are different here.
  • On a roll, the Vox party has come up with educational idea that had some support. See The Guardian on this here and Lenox Napier on it here.
  • There are at least 3 Galician cities which will come under this national initiative.
 The Spanish Economy
  • The writer of this article regards the economic measures of the new coalition government as a  folderol which is to be funded by higher taxes on business, banks, energy companies and the wealthy – a formula that has never delivered its promise in any country, ever. The Spanish state, he insists, will be painfully relearning the most basic economic lessons - as all the free market reforms of the last decade are being reversed even though the latest measures conflict with the Spanish constitution itself.
Spanish Life  
  • In the 11th item in yesterday's list of health-oriented things you can do in Spain, 'mindfulness' should have been 'kindfulness'. Bloody auto-corrections.
  • María tells us here what it's like to be a young person seeking employment here. And their parents.
The EU
  • The writer of the above article on Spain's new economic measures points out that: Under EU laws you can’t pursue this kind of extravaganza and still remain in the Euro – but who cares about that? The record of compliance with rules in the EU is so flaky that they might as well tear them up.
  • Given that 'trial' is not the right word for the process taking place in the Senate, I wonder what the right term is. 'Farce' is clearly not apt, as it's not remotely funny. Nor is it a 'drama', as we know the outcome with 100% certainty. Anyone got a suggestion? Monumental bore might be one. Albeit inevitable.
  • Meanwhile, Ffart has given a performance at Davos, described below.
Social Media 
  • Twitter continues to be hilariously wrong about every topic it touches and is gradually morphing into a kind of AA group for the pathologically un-self-aware (presided over by Lily Allen)
  • Words of the Day:- Hat tip to Lenox Napier for Bulos:  False news or transplanted videos. And Ahorre la vara y mime al niño; Spare the rod and spoil the child.
  • 'suffering from' is now 'engaging with', it seems. As in the case of Ozzy Osbourne and his Parkinson's disease.
Finally . . .
  • The editor of the UK satirical mag, Private Eye, has had to advise a US magazine that the story that PE had run at Thanksgiving about a turkey pardoning Ffart had been a joke. This was after he'd learned that the piece had got PE included on a list of fake news outlets compiled by a university in Massachusetts. The editor also had to advise that other stuff wasn’t true either. For instance that Theresa May was headmistress of a school.  

Donald Trump just gave the most incredible speech at Davos... and it went a little something like this:

Tremendous boasting. Phenomenal boasting. Outstanding boasting. Donald Trump was boasting like no American president had ever boasted before. His boasts were some of the biggest boasts in the history of boasting. His boasts were truly incredible. You wouldn’t believe them.

The president was giving a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and it was non-stop boasting from soup to nuts. He boasted about the American economy, and how incredible and tremendous it was, now Donald Trump was in charge of it. He said America’s “economic turn-around” had been “nothing short of spectacular”. He said that when he’d taken over from the last president, whoever that was, the American economy had been in “a dismal state”. But now, thanks to Donald Trump, “years of economic stagnation” had given way to “a roaring geyser of opportunity”. He was proud to say that America was now enjoying “an economic boom the likes of which the world has never seen before”. He said the “time for scepticism” was “over”.

Very nasty people would probably say that in fact American economic growth slowed last year, and that Donald Trump’s best figure for economic growth – 2.9 per cent in 2018 – was exactly the same as Barack Obama’s figure in 2015, the year before Donald Trump was elected. Very nasty people would probably also wonder what Donald Trump meant when he said America was enjoying “an economic boom the likes of which the world has never seen before”, because under Bill Clinton economic growth was way higher than it is under Donald Trump. In each year of Bill Clinton’s second term the American economy grew by over four per cent.

Donald Trump did not say any of that, and neither did anybody else. That would have been very nasty. The time for scepticism was over.

What Donald Trump did say was that America was “winning again like never before”. He said women were doing better than ever before, and African-Americans were doing better than ever before, and young people were doing better than ever before. He said no one had benefited more than the working class. And then about a minute later he said no one had benefited more than the middle class.

The point was, everyone and everything was better under Donald Trump. He did not quite say American men were taller and stronger and more manly than ever before, or that American women were hotter than ever before, you wouldn’t believe how much hotter they were now, over 30 per cent hotter than under the last administration, it was incredible how much hotter they were, American women were now the hottest women since records began. Donald Trump didn’t say that. But no one would have batted an eyelid if he had.

Very soon the United States is going to hold a presidential election. Everyone is saying Donald Trump is going to win it. If he loses, it will be incredible. It will be tremendous.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 21.1.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
 Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain  
Spanish Life  
  • There might still be quite a few macho men here but Spain ranks amongst the world's best for gender equality
  • Here's 11 things you  can do here in Spain* to keep yourself healthy:-
  1. Disinfect your phone
  2. Start supplementing
  3. Listen up
  4. Look after you mouth
  5. Don't fear fats
  6. Hop it
  7. Spice up your life
  8. Eat super herbs
  9. Get a better night's sleep
  10. Get your eyes tested
  11. Key into kindfulness.
* And quite possibly elsewhere.

They all sound good to me. Except for the last one, of course.

Galician Life
  • The Guardian says that the city of Ghent has inspired Birmingham in the UK to make is centre car free. I suspect it was really Pontevedra. 
  • A local man, said to be an 'expert in doing restaurant runners'(Simpas), decided to go upmarket and take an Aston Martin for a 'short test drive' from Belgium to nearby Sanxenxo. Where he was caught after a 'spectacular chase'.
I'm sure you can.

The Way of the World
  • I was relieved to read last night that bootcut jeans are back. I very nearly threw mine out a while ago.
  • Words of the Day:-
  1. Ajetreado: Busy: Hectic: Bustling.
  2. Alumbramiento: Childbirth. Not to be confused with alumbrado, which is 'lighting'. I guess  there's a connection, in that the former involves seeing the light of day. No? 
Finally . . .
  • I  read that the petrol gauge on your dashboard indicates which side of the car the petrol cap is  on and thought it was a spoof. But it isn't . . . As Ffart says, Who knew?

Monday, January 20, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 20.1.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • A showdown is looming between Spain’s conservative language academy and its newly elected socialist government over proposals to rewrite the nation’s constitution using gender-neutral language, says The Guardian here. Fascinating and guaranteed to make the Vox dinosaurs furious. The paper's final para is a nice comment: The language issue may seem odd to some British feminists. On the one hand, Spanish activists want to replace the generic masculine by doubling up. On the other, they insist on denoting gender in words like juez/jueza (judge) and alcalde/alcaldesa (mayor), precisely the sort of distinction – mayoress, conductress – that their British counterparts have opposed as unnecessary. 
Spanish Life  
  • Governments everywhere are proving slow in getting on top of this curse. And Spain is no exception.
  • Sentencing policies can be inconsistent around the world but I find it odd here that, if you drive recklessly, mount the pavement and kill a pedestrian you'll be sent to jail for just a year, whereas if you defy the state you'll get at least 12 years. As it happens, I've read this morning that the UK government is considering life imprisonment for the former offence. Quite a difference
Galician Life
  • You might be surprised to learn we have ski resort in Galicia, in Manzaneda. I drove through it one winter when there was hardly any snow, Anyway, the temperature there this morning was minus 7C. Which is cold.
  • And which reminds me of an odd experience yesterday . . . Leaving town under a strong sun, the wind was piercingly, cold, especially - I guess - because I was a little off-colour. On the first half of O Burgo bridge, the wind howled through the new metal railings like a banshee. But, halfway across, it died. Not just a little but completely. And I walked the rest of the way to my car in summer-like heat.  
The Way of the World
  • We are all feminists now. In fact, men of the early 1990s had attitudes that were more feminist that those of women of the 1970s.
  • Words of the Day:
  1. Zafarrancho: General cleaning
  2. Agazapado: Crouched; Lurking
Finally . . .
  •  An old favourite:-

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 19.1.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
Spanish Life
  • Rebekah Scott might well provide help to 'pilgrims' on the camino de Santiago out of the goodness of her heart but she's under no illusions about  the tightfistedness/parsimoniousness of many of them. In her book A Furnace Full of God, she writes:- What was a rugged path of repentance and suffering is now a series of day-hikes for spiritual consumers. The bare-bones infrastructure for ascetics has become a cheap holiday attraction for those whose eyes glitter at 'something for nothing'. The historic Pilgrim Way is a collision of capitalism and old-time Christian simplicity. The outcomes are fascinating, moving and sometimes grotesque. I don't get the impression her box for voluntary donations towards food and a night's stay gets very full.
Galician Life
  •  We're told now that the O Burgo bridge works will be finished in February, against the forecast of last October. But I see the year hasn't been mentioned.
  • If I were the chap near me who's had his car his twice on the corner, I'd be preparing to sue the local council for negligence. The distance between the outer line of the parking lane and the line in the centre of the road is below the width of the average car, even with its wing mirrors retracted. And well below what it is in font of my house and further down the hill. But he might not have 5-10 years to devote to this, with a low chance of success.
  • The most common street name in Galicia . . .  ? Church Street.
The UK and Ireland
  • A united Ireland would be good for everyone: See the thoughtful first article below.
 UK Society
  • A senior police officer has admitted that his force ignored the sexual abuse of girls by Pakistani grooming gangs for decades because it was afraid of increasing “racial tensions". This went on for many years.
  •  Ffart and his mob . . . It's like organised crime except it's disorganised crime.
  • Trump might well have a sister working in the Pontevedra fish and seafood market:-

  • Nice:-

The Way of the World
  • Mass disillusionment has prompted a chilling disregard for the institutions that underpin our freedom. See the worrying second article below.
  • And maybe read this fascinating book:-

  • Word of the Day: Lobezno: Wolf cub.
Finally . . .
  • Still no evidence that an article of mine appearing in The Local has added even  single person to my readership. So, I'm glad it was an old article and not one I'd written last week . .  

1. A united Ireland would be good for everyone: Matthew Parris

Rather than obsess about the ‘break-up’ of the UK we should accept that the Republic and north are moving ever closer

Faster than many realise, the time is coming to think dispassionately about the unification of Ireland. When the expected border with the rest of the UK is established in the Irish Sea the case for reuniting north and south will get its biggest boost since partition in 1921.

I suggest this may not be a bad thing. Before describing unification on the whole island of Ireland in the language of the “break-up” of the UK we should remember that there will be a corresponding coming-together. We should think about the gains. The idea makes so much sense.

“It is hereby declared” (says what has come to be known as the Good Friday agreement between the British and Irish governments) “that Northern Ireland . . . shall not cease to be [part of the UK] without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll.”

The agreement goes on to require the UK government to hold such a poll if “at any time it appears likely to [the secretary of state] that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland”.

And how likely is that? We already have the first straw in such a wind. Four months ago, before we even knew a border was to be established in the Irish Sea, a poll conducted in Northern Ireland for Lord Ashcroft’s Conservative Home website gave — for the first time — a slender margin (51-49 per cent) for unification. The demographics were clear: only the over-65s showed a clear majority against. The younger the respondents, the more they opted for unification. Ninety per cent of nationalists and (more surprisingly) 33 per cent of unionists thought a poll would occur within the next decade. Teasingly, one in ten self-declared unionists either said they would vote in favour or didn’t know how they’d vote.

It is difficult to see how the next few years could do other than accelerate this trend. After Brexit in a fortnight’s time, and unless the whole of the UK later decides to stay within the EU in all but name, then Great Britain’s economic habitat begins to diverge from Northern Ireland’s, which, as the withdrawal agreement stipulates, will remain in close alignment with the EU’s. Divergence is the only rationale for Brexit, and Northern Ireland is not going to diverge: a prospect that Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, has said is good news for the province.

The euro is increasingly accepted there; goods will remain able to travel freely across the land border with the Republic but not the sea border with Great Britain; and though these changes may make little immediate practical difference, there’s such a thing as a change in the weather in the confluence or divergence of cultures. An all-island consciousness is developing steadily, particularly among younger citizens.

But how about the Republic? Though the Irish constitution formally commits the country to unification it has become commonplace in Britain to respond with a knowing wink, and the observation that pigs will fly, and the last thing Dublin actually wants is the ruckus and expense of taking on the burden that is the north. I used to believe this myself. I no longer do. Just think about it: wouldn’t you, if you were an Irish taoiseach, dream of being the statesman who made the dream of a united Ireland come true? What laurels. What a legacy. You’d be a second de Valera, your victory less dubious than his.

And there’s evidence the mood is changing in the Republic. Four years ago a poll there found that a third of voters favoured unification. Last summer two thirds did. Historically the cause had been associated with anger rather than positivity but (said the Irish writer Finn McRedmond in a magazine article last year) “the argument is no longer tied to the Troubles, and an accompanying anti-English sentiment”, but to “economic logic”. Moderate opinion in the south, worried about Brexit-related turbulence, sees the constructive case for unity.

McRedmond cited as sharply instructive the blunder made last year by Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Fein in the Republic, when she marched behind a banner that read “England get out of Ireland”. “The stunt,” writes McRedmond, “garnered widespread criticism. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s deputy, Simon Coveney, didn’t mince his words when he called it ‘offensive, divisive and an embarrassment’. This incident was symptomatic of a party that has misread the room.”

Mr Varadkar reads the room differently: “People who you might describe as moderate nationalists or moderate Catholics,” he says, “who were more or less happy with the status quo, will look more towards a united Ireland . . . I think increasingly you’ll see liberal Protestants, liberal unionists, starting to ask the question as to where they feel more at home.”

But who will pay? Northern Ireland has been a laboratory test-bed for regional subsidy and the experiment has failed spectacularly. Before we get too excited about “levelling up” in the English north and Midlands, we should take a look across the water. The province has been a bottomless pit. At around £12 billion net per annum, Northern Ireland costs the taxpayer slightly more than our net payments to the EU. We pay more to keep the province in the Union than we’ll get back by leaving the EU.

It would be worth it if it were achieving its object but it isn’t. Beset by corruption and by politically driven public spending on hopeless investments, the province and its people are victims of a political class that Westminster keeps paying not to be difficult, thus engendering a culture of threatening to be difficult. We throw money at them to go away. They are not loved across the water and they know it. It’s a wretched and humiliating fate visited on them, and it’s partly the fault of the English who, to adapt one American journalist’s words, will do anything for Ulster except read about it.

It isn’t working. Not far south of Belfast, in the Republic, it is. Neither side has much by way of natural resources but, instead, tremendous human resources, which only one side has learnt to harness. Meshing the two together will be painful — look how difficult it has proved in Germany — but it can be done; and done better without us. England has not been good to the Irish, or good for the Irish. It is time we had the humility to recognise that. Northern Ireland, I sense, is already on the road to such a recognition.

2. Teflon Trump is just the start of the West’s post-democratic apocalypse

Mass disillusionment has prompted a chilling disregard for the institutions that underpin our freedom

The great political question of the moment in America is not, will Donald Trump be convicted in the Senate impeachment trial? (Answer: almost certainly not.) Nor is it: will the proceedings themselves damage his chances of re-election? (Answer: almost certainly yes - but not very much.) It is actually, why do so few American voters seem to care about the incident that provoked the impeachment, or, for that matter, about any of the countless instances of their president’s outrageous behaviour?

To answer that query - or even to begin to understand it - requires a wider examination of not just this individual presidency, or even just that particular country. There is a transformation taking place in the political cultures of many developed societies which may be of historic significance for the West, of which the Trump personality is simply one very notable manifestation. But let’s look at the American example first because it is so stark and because, as is frequently claimed, what happens there often anticipates what will occur everywhere else. It may be difficult for a British (or any European) onlooker to comprehend precisely why that national indifference to the Trump presidential style is so shocking. Let me try to explain.

Americans are schooled (literally) to regard their democratic institutions and the document that created them - the Constitution - as sacramental. There is a reason for all those references to the Founding Fathers and the careful semantic examination of their intentions, which feature constantly in the pronouncements of leading politicians on all sides of American party politics.

It is rooted in the fact that the Constitution is a sacred text: it does not simply outline a form of political organisation, it is secular theology. The particular brand of modern democracy inaugurated by it, and the elected offices which are designed to uphold it, are the foundation of national identity. Indeed, they are the only source of common identity that this population of disparate, displaced people possess.

In other words, the agreement to uphold the Constitution is what makes you American, wherever you or your forebears came from. It is worth saying, in case you think this sounds flippant, that there is some basis for the enormous reverence in which the documents that founded America’s nationhood - the Declaration of Independence and the preamble to the Constitution (“We the people…”) - are held. They are perhaps the finest expositions ever written of the 18th century doctrine of a social contract between government and people.

Indeed, one is taught at school in the US that the Constitution is exactly that: a contract in which the people’s rights (as enumerated in the appended Bill of Rights) will be guaranteed in return for obedience to the law. So for those educated in the tradition of American patriotism, this is, or was, a very serious business. But increasingly, the populace does not seem to take either the ignorance of its president on basic Constitutional principles, or the rules of behaviour that have always been considered appropriate for the highest office of government, with any great seriousness at all. (Even though the inaugural oath made him, as it does every president, promise to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution of the United States of America).

This is particularly startling because the very citizens who used to be seen, and would still see themselves, as fervent patriots, are the ones who will apparently remain loyal Trump supporters however many blatant transgressions he makes against the traditional standards of presidential conduct. So what is going on here?

Something very drastic must have happened to the American psyche over the past generation to have created this paradoxical interpretation of patriotism which can accept contempt for the fundamental national values that once united the population. And indeed, something very terrible has happened. The great unwritten promise of America - not inscribed in the Constitution but always tacitly understood - was the doctrine of limitless opportunity.

Much analysis of the Trump phenomenon, and many of the explicit claims made by the man himself, attribute his popularity to the crisis of the “left behind”. The economic stagnation of the Rust Belt and the collapse of working class employment has produced an endemic sense of hopelessness that most Americans have never known or ever expected to know. Not since the Depression, which is now too far back for most living memory, have vast expanses of the US been so lost to apparently incurable economic decline. As everybody seems to agree, this is the secret of Trump: his “make America great again” pitch is a specifically economic one. It is the protectionist “bring the jobs home” refrain that paints him as a saviour of the people.

Whatever else he says or does - demanding that a foreign power give him dirt on an electoral opponent, expecting the US Attorney General to act as his own private lawyer, threatening his security service chiefs if they refuse to do his bidding - can be written off because he promises to reinstate the American dream of self-improvement and self-determination.

That much we know. But not many commentators seem to have extrapolated the full consequences of this or seen what it might mean for more volatile countries. Because, in truth, it is not Trump’s magical personality that has smashed through the old monumental beliefs and standards: it is the post-industrial apocalypse.

So here at last are the real questions for all of us, with America leading the way: is the post-industrial economy going to produce a post-democratic age? Will the collapse of the old livelihoods with their promise of endless improvement to standards of living, bring such disillusion that it will break the modern political settlement? And if it does, how are the freedoms which we now regard as “natural rights” to be guaranteed once respect for the institutions is gone? We - as well as the Americans - had better come up with some better answers than Trump’s pretty soon.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 18.1.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • One wonders why Spain's right-wing PP party didn't support the EU parliament's condemnation of the lack of judicial impartiality in Poland. Or, rather, one doesn't. It depends on this when in power. Witness the Catalan saga, some would say.
Spanish Life
  • One gets inured to corruption among the powerful and already-very-rich in Spain. For example, this chap, an ex-bank chief and a member, I think, of the Croesus-rich Botiín family of Santander bank. Of course, he won't really go to jail and the fine is a tiny fraction of his wealth.
  • Interesting to see that a woman will head the Guardia Civil for the first time. Hopefully this will mean can improvement in the driving abilities of members of its Tráfico Department.
  • Something for the cheese aficionados among you.
  • Come early February, I'll be down in Madrid again and - assuming it's free - might well pop into FITUR - an event cited by Lenox Napier, in an article on his home town of Mojácar. Which is  not what it used to be, it seems
Galician Life
  • The EU says we'll finally have an AVE high-speed train service to Madrid in early 2022, which compares with Madrid's promise of 'early 2021'. Which compares with the 'end 2019' we were given not so long ago. Take your pick. Mine is sometime in 2023. At the earliest.
  • Astonishingly - in these days of massive tourism - there are 12 councils in Galicia which don't have a singe bed available for visitors. Not even on un camping(campsite). Nine of these are in the mountainous province of Ourense. Which is a tad surprising, as at least 3 camino routes pass through it.
  • The local police report that drivers are being caught at up to 300kph on our autopistas. Maybe the drivers feel the thrill is fair compensation for the extortionate toll charges. And aware that there'll be few vehicles on them to crash into. Or just terrify.
  • Relevant to something below is the fact that, as we're on the extreme West of a country that's got the wrong clock - because it's in the wrong time zone - it doesn't get light here this time of year until around 9am. But the evening light is compensatingly longer, of course.
  • The writer of this article addresses the question of whether Ffart - actually impeached since it was written - will be found guilty or will emerge stronger from a 'circus of a trial'. For Trump, he says, putting an ambassador he dislikes on the next plane from Kiev is no different from firing an unloved contestant on The Apprentice. Trump the boss gets to do what he likes. Otherwise, what’s the point of being president? This rather reminded me that for decades I've been wont to ask - jokingly, of course - What's the point of power, if you can't abuse it? Life imitating art.
  • Did you know that the Spanish actor Antonio Banderas is considered a POC (person of colour) in the USA? By some folk, at least. 
The Way of the World/Social Media
  • Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp know that addiction is key for their own continued success. They have entire teams whose sole job is to make the app more addictive. Addiction means more money. Instagram will hold back informing you about how many likes you’ve clocked up until you disappear off the app for a while, and then… BING! Suddenly the news of being liked flashes across your screen. And they’ve drawn you back in once more. What 13-year-old can resist that? More warnings for parents here.
  • Word of the Day: Un flechazo: A big arrow; a crush; love at first sight; Cupid's arrow, I guess. 
  • Phrase of the Day: El Poder Judicial: The judiciary. I think.
Finally . . .
  • Yesterday, thanks to the kindness of the editor, something I wrote years ago appeared in The Local. I sat back and waited for an explosion in readership. But, as of now, Blogger tells me numbers are about half of what they usually are. Beats me.
  • The lady who sends me her new email address has transmogrified from Lisa to Maria. Of which there are very many here in Spain. And also in next door Portugal.
  • Which  reminds me . . . Yesterday, I sent a message meant for one Maria I know in Pontevedra to quite another one here. As it was bad news about someone who shared a name (and nationality!) of a mutual friend here in Pontevedra, she was - to say the least - shocked. It was  only later, when pondering what I thought was an odd reply, that I realised what I'd done.
  • Not content with that mistake, driving back from town last night, I left on the roof of my car 4 items I'd put there while I took a phone call. Driving back down, I managed to find 3 of them in the road and then went to check for the 4th at first light today. And got it. So, I don't have to ask if anyone has a spare left-hand glove of fine, dark brown leather. Not today, anyway.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 17.1.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • There are more ministers and Vice Presidents in the Spanish cabinet than in nearly all EU countries. Only Slovenia - at 5 - has more than the 4 Spanish Vice-Presidents. Aimed, it's said, at restraining the hard left propensities of the President of Podemos, who's one of them. And the husband of the Ministress of Equality, of course.
Spanish Life
  • For a country with one of the highest electricity prices in Europe, we have far too many blackouts. Two nights ago, I passed a spot at the bottom of my hill where these seem particularly frequent, and I got home last night to find it'd been our turn. So I once again had to adjust all the electric clocks. Irritating. To those of us easily irritated.
  • As when you're attending a classical music concert - as I was last night - and some old woman behind you talks during the performance.
  • There are times when a combination of Spanish individualismo (lack of consideration for others/thoughtlessness) and an absence of efficiency/organisation creates havoc on a scale almost unimaginable. Such was the case yesterday, when torrential rain catalysed such a  combination, causing a vast traffic jam in the environs of Santiago's main hospital. As a result of which it took me almost an hour to progress a few hundred metres, from the autovia to the main entrance. 
Galician Life
  • I recently cited the word chapuza. I think of this every time I drive to and from my parking spot, on this side of the river, near O Burgo bridge. This is because the numerous pot holes on the B road I use are forever being 'repaired' in somewhat temporary fashion. With the inevitable result.
  • Talking about that bridge . .  . I now wonder if the road closure at one end of it which was supposed to be ended by Xmas will still be with us at Easter. Watch this space.
  • I stopped off for a coffee en route to the hospital yesterday morning and perused a local paper, in particular the back pages. These are alway dedicated to a bizarre mixture of 'tombstones' re the recently dead and small ads for prostitutes. To my surprise there were only 5 of these - blessedly free of the fotos which accompany them in Portuguese newspapers - but I was amused to read in one of a 'discreet venue' with 'easy parking'. Hopefully free.
  • Coming back from Santiago last evening, I noticed that only 3 of the hanging metal struts just before the low bridge are still in place, compared with 5 on the side I mentioned the other day. Not that 10 would stop trucks hitting the bridge, it seems.
  • Which reminds me . . . Yesterday morning, in the heavy rain and poor visibility, I was waiting to enter the main N550 road when I just about discerned a car coming toward me, without its lights on. This was the only one I saw like this for the next hour. And it belonged to the Traffic Department of the Guardia Civil. Do they really drive cars with no automatic lights facility: Or had some clown switched this off?
  • Ffart's friend, Mr Putin, is showing him how to do it.
The Way of the World
  • They are now advertising vitamins for men. I predict toilet paper for 'real men' within 5-10 years.
  • Word of the Day: Fogoso; Passionate. Fiery. Spirited. A word which appears often in the small ads mentioned above. In the feminine form, of course.
  • Word of the Day: To usualise. Heard from a social scientist/academic, of course. Ugly but will be common within a decade, I'm sure.
Finally . . .
  • At the hospital yesterday, the menú del día included a starter of pasta with carbonara sauce. When I asked for the espagueti I was firmly notified that it was not this, but macarones. So now I  know. 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 16.1.20

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

Note: One or two of the items below have been borrowed from Lenox Napier's Business Over Tapas of today.

Spanish Politic
  • I wrote the other day about the 31 year old Minister for Equality. Here's something - in Spanish - on her rise to political prominence. There's a Google translation below. I've made only a few essential changes, and replaced he and his with she and her. Machines can't yet get this right.
  • It's possible here to appeal to the Supreme Court about government appointments. So it is that the right wing parties say they'll do this in respect of a politician appointed to a senior judicial position, in an alleged breach of the separation of the executive and the judiciary. 
  • The article I cited yesterday on the governability of Spain was from a right wing commentator. This article comes from the other side of the spectrum and is well worth a full read, if you want to understand Spain's political mess. Tasters:-
  1. We are entering a new phase, in which Sánchez’s investiture does not in the least guarantee the governability of a regime which faces a structural crisis — not only at the state level but across the European Union as a whole.
  2. Despite the restraint Sánchez has reaffirmed, the fundamental problem he faces will be the opposition from a Right of mostly Francoist origins. [There's a reference to 'authoritarian enclaves' inherited from the dictatorship but I don't really know what these are.]
  3. The new government aims to mitigate political instability — despite a crisis in Spanish governance that will undoubtedly continue unabated.
  4. Given the polarized framework and the radicalization of the Right, in the short term at least it is hard to see how the PSOE could align its current agreements [with Podemos and regional nationalists] with other possible pacts with the PP or Ciudadanos on the big questions of state. Yet there is no doubt the Socialist leaders will try to do this when the turbulence has calmed.
The Spanish Economy
  • At 33%, the youth - under 25 - unemployment rate in Spain has overtaken Greece and is now the highest in Europe. I doubt many young Spaniards will be rushing back from the UK, whatever their fears for a post-Brexit future there. Maybe to Germany. 
Spanish Life  
  • Something you'll all have been waiting keenly to know.
  • Oh, dear. And I've just advised several Dutch visitors to partake freely of this!
  • I suspect this is not new advice.
  • Thinking of joining the growing hordes on the Camino de Santiago for the first time? This could be useful to you.
Galician Life
  • E-scooter deaths continue to happen here. And no doubt elsewhere. Expect new laws on helmets.
  • The young man who was cut in half on the AP9 last week was able to get onto the autopista with the aid of a large rubbish bin next to the fence. The local press have since identified several holes in the latter. But I don't expect any heads to roll. Or even any suits for civil/criminal negligence.
  • Near my house is a sharp bend at the top of the hill. Given how many drivers take it over the white line, I'm astonished Ive never seen a crash there. But they do happen, it seems:-

This is the second time in a year that the (slow learner?) owner of this car has come out to find this scene. But I've always thought he was pushing his luck parking on the bend.

Brexit and Brits in the EU
  • Per Lenox: One of the unexpected consequences of Brexit will be that UK residents who have bought holiday homes or have invested in Spain will suffer at the hands of the Spanish tax system. This is because of their loss of status as residents of the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA). Click here for details. 
The Way of the World
  • Before Hollywood was ‘woke’: 17 politically incorrect movies that would never be made today:-
Bad Boys 2 (2003)
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Dumbo (1941)
Soul Man (1986)
White Chicks (2004)
Freebie and the Bean (1974)
Weird Science (1985)
Airplane! (1980)
Any early James Bond film (1962–1973)
The Idiots (1998)
Gigli (2003)
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Song of the South (1946)   signature tune “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”,
The Party (1968)
Any Rob Schneider movie (1990–present)

Having seen only a few of these, I can't really comment on what makes them so incompatible with today's mores.

  • Word of the Day: Sablazo: Blow; Hit
  • Phrase of the Day: La izquierda suave: The soft Left. To be distinguished from la izquierda moderada. And also la izquierda continuista. But don't ask me how.
Finally  . . .
  • I guess (almost) everyone knows not to click on links in emails from people you don't know. Or even from people you do know. But recently I've been receiving emails from 'Lisa', saying. Hello. This is my email and giving it in the text. I suspect clicking on it would have the same virus-related effect as clicking on an attached document.
  • My younger daughter continues to gain subscribers to her vlog - for busy mums - here. I'm quite envious. But also proud.

Irene Montero, Minister of Equality after a meteoric career that began at age 16 in the Communist Youth 

The 'number 2' of Podemos and until now the Parliamentary spokesperson of United Podemos, Irene Montero (Madrid, 1988), will become the next Minister of Equality of the first Coalition Government  formed in Spain since the Second Republic.

With a degree in Psychology from the Autonomous University of Madrid (2011), and a Master's Degree in Educational Psychology (2013), Montero left in 2015 the doctorate on educational inclusion she was doing - with a University Teacher Training grant -, to to be able to devote full time to politics and to her work as a deputy and leader of Podemos. He also waived a scholarship at Harvard that he had already granted.

In addition to her work as a PhD student at the Autonomous University, Montero includes in her presentation sheet of the Podemos website a work between 2010 and 2011 as an employee of an appliance and electronics chain that made her studies compatible with Psychology. He also reports that in 2009 and 2011 he lived in Chile for several months.


This Madrileña  - from a family from Abulanse and is energetic, vehement and a perfectionist, according to her relatives - began as a member of the Communist Youth aged 16. In 2011, the 15-M Movement and the Mortgage Affected Platform (PAH) marked a before and after in her political career.

As an anti-eviction activist, Montero began to take part in the public debate by acting as occasional spokesperson for the PAH, mainly in the Tuerka program presented by the then still university professor and now secretary general of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias.

It was after the European elections of May 2014 when Montero landed in Podemos, and in the autumn of that year, at the founding assembly of Vistalegre, she was elected member of the first State Citizen Council (EEC) - the highest governing body of the training--.

Her entry in the Executive of the purple party and in the hard core of the formation was a matter of months, since in March 2015 she was appointed Secretary of Area Coordination and soon began to act as head of the Cabinet of Churches.


In December 2015, she became a deputy with 27 years, after being elected in the first general elections to which Podemos appeared since her birth as a party. Montero then concurred as number 4 for Madrid and assumed the deputy spokesman of the Confederal group United We can.

At the assembly of Vistalegre II of February 2017, the Madrid deputy was raised as the second most influential leader of the purple party, after Iglesias, and replaced the former 'purple' leader Íñigo Errejón, who already already had banished as the right hand of the secretary general and foreseeable successor when Iglesias retires.

In that second assembly, the first that we could celebrate since her arrival in Congress, Montero wanted to make it clear to members and party positions that her presence in the institutions should not alter her principles or her way of doing politics. "We can't like carpet more than asphalt. We can't like offices more than the rests of houses where people are evicted. We can't like TV more than being side by side with people from this country, " she said then.

Now, with the motto "for a life that is worth living" as a maximum in her political work, Montero arrives at the Government, at 31, the same age as was the Minister of Equality of Spain, the socialist Bibiana Aido, when President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero put her in charge of that new portfolio, and made her the youngest minister in the history of Spain. The leader of Podemos does not beat her record, but matches it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 15.1.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • Spanish governability. See below the (much amended) Google translation of a tortuous Voz de Galicia article on this theme. (Which reminded me of the comment of an Anglo journalist friend to the effect that journalism graduates here are never taught to write simply and clearly.) Anyway, as I can't guarantee that my amendments have resulted in a perfect translation, I've added the original text.
Spanish Life
  • I'm confused re the place of solar power in Spain, having seen several government U-turns in the last decade. But it does seem to be back on the agenda now.
  • One of Spain's oddest annual events/celebrations is this one, which takes place close to my elder daughter's flat in Madrid.
  • Another odd custom that I've observed over the last week of visiting my friend in Santiago hospital is that of relatives of the patient sitting or lying at the bedside 24 hours a day, for as long as it takes. Usually the wife, if the patient is male, but probably a daughter, if female. Anyway, I'm assured that this isn't obligatory but is only Spanish custom and practice. Which can be 'compelling', so that the family are looked at askance if they don't do it. Or, at least, pay for a nocturnal carer. The latter are invariably South American and, I'm told, are looked down on by the Spanish who employ them. Beats me.
Galician Life
  • A  custom/practice which might be on its slow way out - there were protests this year - is the annual fox hunt competition involving, I read, 350 of the region's 7,000 licensed fox hunters.
  • There's a lovely little narrow-gauge train - the FEVE - which runs along Spain's outstandingly beautiful north coast. In the West, it ends in Ferrol (Franco's birthplace). But the Voz de Galicia reported recently that the stretch from Ribadeo to Ferrol is being slowly slaughtered. Or euthanised, as they put it. Which is a shame.
  • Galicia has a lot of pretty granite railway stations, many of which see few passengers, and some none at all. Here's one of the former, in one of the several villages here called Portela. It has 36 passengers a day, on average:-

Actually, that isn't Portela railway station. This is. It looks a bit like Carballiño's but isn't. My final guess is Redondela.

 Brits and Brexit
The USA 
The Way of the World

  • Words of the Day:-
  1.  Aluciner: To hallucinate.
  2. Abrojo: Caltrop(?); Burr.
Finally   . . .
  • Yesterday's central heating engineer (técnico) didn't, as I suggested, solve my problem. After 3 hours of tinkering, he came to the same conclusion as last week's técnico, viz. that a valve needs to be replaced. Unlike the previous guy, he says his company can get this for me. So far, though, all I've had is 2 call-out bills totalling €100. I fancy I may be paying what I call El Impuesto de Guiris. Foreigners' Tax

Governmemt: Spain is different!: Sergio Perez, Voz de Galicia

Carried away by an attack of sincerity, perhaps caused by the anger that came from seeing her sister serving 12 years in prison for sedition and embezzlement, Monserrat Bassa on Tuesday shattered into bits the essential piece of the illusion behind which hides the very weak parliamentary architecture of the Socialist Government which the president will present to the king : "Do you think I care about the governance of a Spain that has my sister and my Government in jail and in exile?" the spokeswoman of ERC asked the Chamber. And who, in the midst of a formidable scandal, replied: "No: Personally, and I say personally, I don't give a damn about the governance of Spain."

Let's finish! With the applause, which we could see on television, of several deputies of her cabal, Bassa demonstrated what's obvious to the millions of Spaniards who have not bought into the formidable deception that we, astonished, are witnessing: that, among others, the Bildu and ERC deputies - the key to the majority who elected Sánchez president of Spain - that is, those who've here- don't care a bit about Spain.

Although the independence claim constitutes from any point of view (historical, political, economic, social, cultural and even moral) a true nonsense, and that a secessionist leader who doesn't give a damn about the country from which she wants to separate would not deserve it, obviously, nor even a comment, if not that leader were one of the 350 members of an organ, the Congress of Deputies, which decides on the present and the future of all Spaniards, whom said Congress represents. And this does constitute, however you look at it, a political anomaly of such gravity that it is, in fact, unbearable. Although the relevance of the separatist parties in the governorship of Spain has never been comparable to what they will have in the current legislature, with a government that they have managed to literally force onto its knees, nationalism has had an influence over the years on the general interests of the country, represented in the Cortes, which can only be compared to the contempt that this country has felt in the past and feels today. Something truly insane, which is unique, not only in Europe, but throughout the democratic universe.

On the one hand, the separatists govern autonomies over which the State has, in normal situations, a minimum capacity for decision, given the constant expansion of regional powers derived from nationalist pressure during the last four decades. On the other, these same separatists, who openly acknowledge with their words, but, above all, with their actions, that Spain and the Spaniards are the enemy to fight, have the government of the country in their hands and decisively influence each and every one of the decisions that condition our life. If such a situation does not constitute true madness, it means madness does not exist in this world.

Gobernabilidad: ¡Spain is different! Sergio Perez

Llevada de un ataque de sinceridad, provocado quizá por la ira que le produce ver a su hermana cumpliendo 12 años de prisión por sedición y malversación, Monserrat Bassa hizo el martes saltar en mil pedazos la pieza esencial del trampantojo tras el que se esconde la muy endeble arquitectura parlamentaria del Gobierno socialista que va a presentar al rey su presidente: «¿Creen que me importa la gobernabilidad de una España que tiene a mi hermana y a mi Gobierno en la cárcel y en el exilio?», preguntó a la Cámara la portavoz de ERC, quien, en medio de una formidable escandalera, respondió: «No: personalmente, y digo personalmente, me importa un comino la gobernabilidad de España». 

¡Acabáramos! Con el aplauso, que pudimos ver por televisión, de varios diputados de su cuerda, Bassa evidenció lo que es obvio para los millones de españoles que no hemos comprado el engaño formidable al que, atónitos, estamos asistiendo: que, entre otros, a los diputados de Bildu y de ERC, clave de arco de la mayoría que eligió a Sánchez presidente, España -es decir, quienes la habitamos- no le importa (importamos) absolutamente nada.

Aunque la reivindicación independentista constituya desde cualquier punto de vista (histórico, político, económico, social, cultural y hasta moral) un auténtico dislate, que a una dirigente secesionista le importe un comino el país del que quiere separarse no merecería, por obvio, ni siquiera un comentario, de no ser porque esa dirigente es uno de los 350 miembros de un órgano, el Congreso de los Diputados, que decide sobre el presente y el futuro de todos los españoles, a los que dicho Congreso representa. Y eso sí que constituye, mírese como se mire, una anomalía política de tanta gravedad que resulta, de hecho, insoportable. Aunque la relevancia de los partidos separatistas en la gobernación de España no ha sido nunca comparable a la que tendrán en la actual legislatura, con un Gobierno al que han conseguido colocar literalmente de rodillas, el nacionalismo ha tenido a lo largo de los años una influencia sobre los intereses generales del país, representado en las Cortes, que solo puede compararse al desprecio que por ese mismo país han sentido en el pasado y sienten hoy. Algo verdaderamente demencial, que es único, no solo en Europa, sino en todo el universo democrático.

Por un lado, los separatistas gobiernan autonomías sobre las que el Estado tiene, en situaciones de normalidad, una mínima capacidad de decisión, dada la constante ampliación de las competencias regionales derivada de la presión nacionalista durante las cuatro últimas décadas. Por el otro, esos mismos separatistas, que reconocen abiertamente con sus palabras, pero, sobre todo, con sus actos, que España y los españoles somos el enemigo a combatir, tienen en sus manos el Gobierno del país e influyen decisivamente en todas y cada una de las decisiones que condicionan nuestra vida. Si tal situación no constituye una auténtica locura, es que la locura no existe en este mundo.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 14.1.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • I saw that the new Ministra of Culture had both a degree and a Masters and 3 children but was only 31. I wondered how she could achieve this status so young and so 'hampered' by 3 kids. Until a friend pointed out she was the wife of the new principal Vice President, the head of the 'far left' Podemos party in coalition with the socialist PSOE party. Last week I noted that this apparent nepotism had not even been mentioned in the Spanish press. I don't know about other media.
Spanish Life  
  • Brexit and what it means now for Brits travelling here, courtesy of the The ever-informative Local.
  • A warning from the Guardia Civil.
  • Which reminds me . . . I was told last night that thieves - at least in The Netherlands - have a sort of radar with which they can tell if your laptop's is in your boot/trunk. 
Galician Life
  • Visitors to Pontevedra city rose 17% last year, assisted by the tirón (pull) of the camino.
  • My street is named after a local island. A central heating engineer from Vigo - apparently unable to use his satnav/GPS - this morning went to the coast near the island and having been told he'd have to get a boat to reach me, called me for directions. He finally got here and, though I was by this time I was not over-confident of his intelligence, he did manage to stop my boiler whistling perpetually. Eventually. 
The UK and the EU
  • A sceptic's view: The apparent rejection of the EU’s student exchange programme, Erasmus+, in parliamentary votes last week, has triggered predictable howls of fury. But don’t be fooled by the missives lamenting this “catastrophic” loss to UK academia. The aims of Erasmus+ were always more imperial than educational. . . . Yet the reaction betrays the Europhiles’ self-absorption. Since its inception in 1987, Erasmus+ has gained iconic status among euro-fanatics, whose use of the term “Erasmus generation” betrays a hope that young Europeans will prove more eager integrationists than their parents or grandparents.   . .  But universities are not dating services or travel agents.   . .  While the real Erasmus lauded overseas study, I suspect he would be appalled by the lack of rigour and the less-than-scholarly aims.
The UK alone
  • A realist's view: Avoiding global irrelevance is Britain's daunting challenge post Brexit.
The Way of the World
  • A teaspoon of the date-rape drug “G” can knock a person out. A few drops more can be lethal. But the solvent is sold openly on the internet for a few pennies per millilitre because of a loophole that allows it to be sold as an industrial cleaner.  For as little as £25 it is possible to buy enough of the drug to render 100 people unconscious.
  • Words of the Day:-
  1. Chapuza: Bodge 
  2. Albacea: Executor. From Arabic, I'm certain. 
  3. Becerra:  Calf. These are being robbed up in our hills.
  • Can the word razor possibly come from the Arabic word which might be the origin of the Spanish word featured yesterday - Rajar - To cut/slash. Probably not, as the Spanish for a razor is maquinita de afeitar, at least for a safety-razor. Old fashioned things are/were afeitadoras (from afeitar, to shave). Or cuchilla (little knife/blade) or navaja (knife/penknife).
  • Stadsfries doesn't mean 'city chips/French fries', but 'city Frisian'. Someone needs to tell Mr Google.
Finally . . .
  • Peter Skellern is a song-writer and piano player I admire greatly. A real troubador and wordsmith, as someone has said. This is one of his best-known songs. Perhaps one of the most romantic ever written. That said, this one probably merits that accolade even more. Skellern died a couple of years ago, aged only 69 and nowhere near as famous as he deserved to be. His music lives on.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 13.1.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain 
Spanish Life  
  • Sad to say, this is a common sight in Spain - 3 not-so-old women smoking while their kids run around them. There was actually a 4th - who looked about 15 but was probably 25 - but I missed her out as she was only vaping:-
  • As I've indicated, I'm not fond of the word 'spiritual' when used in connection with the Camino de Santiago, as it seems to merely mean - in most cases - Giving myself some time to think  even more about myself. But, anyway, there's a nice article below on the current fashion for 'going on pilgrimage'.
  • Reading my diary notes of late 2000, I've been reminded of the Spanish criticism that too many engineers and técnicos here indulge in temporary measures, when attempting to fix something. But I believe the reason for this is positive. In a country which was rather poor 30 or 40 years ago, there was a premium on saving money for your customers. In the short term, at least. Not to mention getting your bills paid.
  • One of my sisters called a Liverpool hospital last night and got information about my other sister. In contrast, even face-to-face enquiries last week in the main Santiago hospital were met with: Under EU privacy laws, we can't tell you anything. There are even notices on the wall saying this. I wonder if it's really true. Or just a convenient and nicer way of saying: Sod off and stop bothering me.
Galician Life

  • No wonder I've seen so many people in the Santiago hospital in the last week: Galicia is on the edge of a flu epidemic, said a headline yesterday, and the first death has taken place.
  • Here's the last old foto in the series. I'm not sure where it is exactly. Possibly the fishermen's barrio of As Corbiceiras, with the church of San Roque in the righthand background:-

It'd be difficult, if not impossible, to take a foto from  the same spot today, essentially because of the AP9 autopista:-

But I'll have a go at this this week. However I won't be crossing the AP9 on foot, as some madman tried to do last week, to his eternal cost.
  • I'm referring here to a fatal accident last Friday, on which this is part of an article yesterday in the  Faro de Vigo:- The impact of the accident was of such a magnitude that the body of the victim went through the front window of the vehicle, being cut into several pieces. People present described it as a Dante-esque scene, as part of the body of the deceased was in the car - on the passenger side floor - while the rest of it lay on the highway, 70m away. Witnesses to the terrible strategy report that the body was cut in half at the thorax. I suspect newspapers in other Western countries would've been rather more reticent about the gruesome details than those here in Spain. Where fotos of blood and gore often feature in the media. Though not, thankfully, in this case. Just the damaged car.
  • The 20 shops in the little street up to my favourite watering hole have seen enormous churn over the last 2 decades. Some places remain boarded up, and the only ones never to have changed contents are the pharmacy, the stationers-cum-bookshop, the cobblers and, of course, the one selling a vast range of tacky religious artefacts. This foto is of an outlet I'd never really noticed until yesterday, when this garish sign caught my eye. Largely because I misread it . . .

  • Word of the Day:- Un gripe: Both a mere cold and severe flu. In the latter case, not just 'man-flu' ["A  cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms."
  • The reach of a bittern’s boom. I had no idea. But have just found this.
Finally . . .
  1. Tom Hanks has said that his father would give us something to cry about. Bloody 'ell. That was my mother's favourite phrase. And action. Having had 4 (whingeing) kids in 4 years
  2. I've been very irritated in the last 2 or 3 weeks by random full stops/periods appearing in my typed text. I suspected I had a wayward digit but it turns out that my Mac had unilaterally turned on the shortcut of double pressing of the space bar to insert one of these. Progress, eh.

Don’t go to a spa — join a pilgrimage

Pilgrimages have been reborn as soul food for stressed midlifers

The moment I realised that I was still very much a “pilgrim in progress” was when I had my wife bind up my bruised and raw feet with plaster tape and hobbled down to breakfast at our rustic farmhouse B&B in Lazio — we were still some 40 miles from Rome — and observed the 7.30am buffet offering.

The “muesli” looked like dried cardboard. The stale biscuit-style toast resembled something from an Aeroflot flight in the 1970s. The concentrated orange juice was served in a prison-issue plastic cup. We were on day four of a 68-mile walking pilgrimage along the Via Francigena, following the medieval route that pilgrims took from Canterbury to Rome. The week-long walk was to celebrate the canonisation of Cardinal John Henry Newman, the first English saint in modern times.

“I know the trip is meant to be good for the soul,” I whispered to my wife. “But I’m sure the medieval pilgrims ate better than us. I mean, we’ve only got another 18 miles ahead of us today.”

At this point one of our pilgrim group (which ranged from a seventysomething former MEP to a British actress-screenwriter who had flown in from Los Angeles) sat down opposite me. She was a glamorous Italian walking fanatic who lived in London with her financier husband. She was carrying several sachets of gourmet muesli that she had brought with her. “Italians don’t really do breakfast,” she said. “So I’ve brought my own power food supplies.”

That the 12 of us were paying about £2,000 a head for a Catholic Herald magazine bespoke pilgrimage experience that involved roughing it like monks in hair shirts is an indication of how walking pilgrimages are enjoying an extraordinary revival. Spiritual wellbeing and taking a mental-renewal holiday are as popular with the well-to-do professional classes as a white sandy beach in the Caribbean.

Journeying to holy places by foot, as chronicled by Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales, used to be Britain’s most popular form of penitence, spirituality and festival holiday exercise, as enjoyed by royalty, peasants and crusaders. However, this ended in 1538 when Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell banned pilgrimage in Britain.

Now it has been reborn, after the founding in 2014 of the British Pilgrimage Trust (BPT). The trust was established by two men in their thirties, Dr Guy Hayward and Will Parsons, and its patrons and advisers include the Duchess of Richmond; the Duchess of Norfolk; Sir Simon Jenkins, the journalist and author; Emma Bridgewater, the ceramics mogul; and Fiona Reynolds, the former National Trust director. Hayward is one half of a satirical cabaret that has performed at 10 Downing Street, but also a former choral scholar who runs a website devoted to evensong around Britain. Parsons, meanwhile, is an atheist with an interest in traditional song. They’ve recast pilgrimages as a non-religious, “bring your own beliefs” experience.

“There is a global renaissance of pilgrimage,” Hayward says, pointing to the almost 330,000 people who got their pilgrim passport stamped for walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain in 2018.

This was certainly the case with a pilgrimage I went on on November 1 last year, this time only a day long. At 9am on All Saints’ Day I was part of a small group frisked by security as we were escorted into the Old Bailey in London dressed in trekking trainers and hiking gear. Led by Hayward, we were to spend the day walking the Martyr’s Way, about six miles through London, beginning with a tour of the Central Criminal Court given by a barrister in full wig and court attire.

It followed the journey of the condemned from the Tower of London or Newgate Prison to places of execution, including Smithfield and the Tyburn Tree near Marble Arch. The route we took is devised by Hayward and the author Dr Rupert Sheldrake to take in places of martyrdom, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, near Newgate. This houses the Execution Bell, which was rung outside the cells of those facing execution as a warning to repent (accompanied by a proclamation from the church’s sexton: “Prepare you, for tomorrow you shall die./ Watch all, and pray, the hour is drawing near”).

“Pilgrimages are in revival as they are a very basic practice that feature in all culture and religions,” Sheldrake says. “Pilgrimages are transformative experiences. It’s usually a journey to a holy place and a wonderful way to be together in a meaningful experience. Walking is good for you. Being outdoors is good for you. So is doing something with a destination and sharing a common goal purpose with other people.”

The Camino de Santiago, the cross-Pyrenees route known in English as the Way of Saint James — leading to the shrine of the apostle of St James in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain — has exploded in popularity in recent years as a form of spiritual tourism, increasingly catering for the affluent traveller looking for some redemption. The success of the route among pilgrimage addicts — a group in which I now include myself — has revitalised the local economy.

Britain has some catching up to do. Hayward hopes the Old Way from Southampton to Canterbury will become a flagship route for modern pilgrimage in Britain. The route was discovered recently on a 14th-century road map and has been developed into an “authentically ancient 220-mile pilgrimage route via the South Downs”. It will take several weeks to walk, with pilgrims being encouraged to sleep in churches, especially those not used for regular worship. Part of the appeal of pilgrimages is that groups tend to be small — typically 6 to 12 — and you feel as if you are on a walking house party.

The increased numbers of “old way” routes opening up is part of the vogue for “slow travel”, predicted to be one of the top trends of 2020 by the Association of British Travel Agents. The challenge is “turning visitors into pilgrims”, Hayward says. As part of this drive, an initiative is being launched to mark the 2020 Year of Cathedrals. This is a collaboration between the BPT and the Association of English Cathedrals to enrich the experience of arriving at British cathedrals on foot.

Each Church of England cathedral will have a route available to its visitors, offering options ranging from one day to several weeks. The routes can be downloaded on to a digital map app and follow the success of the Walking with Saints partnership between the BPT and English Heritage. This initiative involved the creation of ten historic trails, ranging from the two-day Abbesses’ Way in Shropshire (from Wenlock Priory to Shrewsbury Abbey), to St Hilda’s Way in North Yorkshire. “Cathedrals are, in some way, holy magnets,” says Hayward, who helped to map the new routes. “They draw you towards them, most obviously in a visual sense as they are often the only thing you can see on the horizon. Cathedrals are the ultimate symbols of destination.”

Pilgrimages must not be confused with walking holidays. Their appeal is partly as a way of challenging oneself and reconnecting with a sense of place, culture and spiritual self. It has been interesting to see how many of these new “pilgrims” are wealthy professionals wanting to switch off from the world.

One thing that I noticed about my Via Francigena spiritual adventure is that the wealthier the pilgrim (we had several multimillionaires), the less likely they were to complain about the monk-like sleeping arrangements or stale toast. Many of the 330,000 walking the Camino are middle-class people wanting a break from the rat race, and many are going through a midlife crisis or divorce. The trend seems to be for endurance and suffering. Another pilgrimage was launched in November, the Western Front Way, which covers 600 miles of the battlefields and sites of the First World War.

Such walks offer a chance for reflection and living in the present. I liked that each morning we were handed an itinerary by our pilgrim leader and, like obedient monks, we never questioned the route or pace. I found not having to make any decisions, other than an occasional point towards a promising-looking trattoria around lunchtime, strangely liberating.

As we headed off on the Via Cassia towards the ancient fortified town of Viterbo, seat of the popes in the 12th and 13th centuries, beginning with Pope Eugene III, it felt extraordinary to march in the hot October sun towards the Eternal City along the cobbled road — with no cars allowed — that legionnaires, pilgrims and slaves would have walked some 2,000 years ago.

A rare treat on our monkish adventure were the paninis at the café of the ancient Il Bagnaccio baths in a valley just outside Viterbo where locals — generals and priests — have been bathing in the hot sulphurous springs since Etruscan days. I was nervous to recall that these Bullicame springs were mentioned by Dante in the Inferno, but only because the “waters are shared by prostitutes”. Fortunately, the crowd sharing the springs looked to be respectable Italians enjoying a spa day, although as pilgrims we were required to shower before heading into the shallow water.

The spartan accommodation in the Italian agriturismos took its toll among some of our group (there are no “honesty fridges” containing frozen Mars bars; if we got hungry along the route, we ate hazelnuts picked off the trees). The Italian with her own muesli fled on day five after opening her bedroom window to find that the view was of a generator; another abandoned the pilgrimage after receiving a society lunch invitation in Rome. Neither received their Vatican stamps — to qualify as a pilgrim you have to cover a minimum of 60 miles. Without taking a taxi.