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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain

Random thoughts from a Brit in the North West. Sometimes serious, sometimes not. Quite often curmudgeonly.

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 18 September 2020
18 September 2020 @ 10:05

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.  

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'* 

Covid 19 Testing. A Comparison

The UK: From my reading, my News-viewing and chats with my younger daughter, I get the strong impression that testing there is chaotic. Indeed, it's reported that around 70% of people wanting a test can't get one. And that folk in the Midlands of England who apply on line are being sent to North Scotland. At the same time, the (less-than-credible) Prime Minister is averring that the UK is doing the most testing of any country in Europe and promising that there'll soon be 10 million tests a day being performed. So, quite a lot of dissonance.

Spain: If I correctly understand my doctor neighbour and local friends, here anyone can get an immediate PCR test via their GP, on demand. Or one can elect to pay €40 for a test - possibly the antibody one - at one of the many private high-street labs in our towns and cities. The article I cited yesterday on the promising new Spanish test put it this way:  Spain is immediately PCR-testing anyone who displays symptoms, anyone who has been within close proximity of a 'positive', and even, in many cases, everyone admitted to hospital or attending consultations or treatment for chronic health conditions, including where these are completely unrelated to Covid-19.   

Living La Vida Loca in Spain and Galicia  

It might be wrong on this but it seems to me that most retail outlets in Pontevedra city which close are converted into dental surgeries or ophthalmologist's, Maybe it's a reflection of an ageing population.

Efficiency: Every September I get called by a chap in Mapfre with whom I once discussed a home-insurance proposal. But this year he also raised car insurance. It became obvious that his computer had none of the details of discussions over the years with his colleague in the same office. Very probably because, as the latter once told me, they're employed as autonomas (i.e.are self-employed) and so are in competition with each other. Which makes them cheaper to employ but, from my point of view, considerably less efficient. Presumably, though, the company takes a corporate view and doesn't much mind about the latter. Needless to say, Vincent Werner touched on this sort of thing in his controversial book It Is Not What It Is: THE REAL (s)PAIN OF EUROPE.   

On a much wider front, Werner claims that Spain is run by an invisible force that goes by many names (e.g. la casta). If true, maybe this is behind the claim of my Spanish friends at lunch yesterday that only Spaniards can understand why a left-wing party (the PSOE) would decline to support its coalition party's demands for a Commission of Inquiry into corruption and, likewise, for its demand that there be an official survey of current attitudes towards the (debased) monarchy and a republic.

Maybe one of the things at play is a much greater level of far-right (even Francoist) attitudes among the populace than previously considered. Some support for this contention comes from this paragraph from a Spanish paper quoted by Lenox Napier in yesterday's edition of his fine Business over Tapas bulletin: There was a time when Vox was nothing more than a little fantasy that wouldn’t catch on. Four cats and a dog went to the rallies and Santiago Abascal, who had already failed in private business, would climb onto the street benches, megaphone in hand, futilely trying to get his message through. But they weren’t listening and practically nobody voted for him and his party. They didn't even have the money to pay the bill for those journalists they invited to lunch to gain sympathy. And yet, 6 years after its founding, Vox is now the political party that earns the most money, the one that receives more private donations than all the others put together. And the party which is - sadly - currently wielding the most influence on Spanish (tribal)politics, dragging them to the right. And, by the by, preventing the approval of the national budget.  

Anyway, here's María's Fallback Diary: Day 3, which I couldn't locate yesterday.

And below is Richard F0rd’s entire dissertation on the (now, says María, traceless) Maragotos. It’ll give a good idea of the very entertaining - and possibly then accurate - way he writes. 


As I expected, there was no support yesterday from my (duly horrified) Spanish friends for the phrase De algún culo va a salir sangre, as meaning ‘It’ll all come out in the wash.’

Finally . . . 

Another 1840s gem from Richard Ford: Most things in Spain may be obtained by good humour, a smile, a joke, a proverb, a "cigar" (or a bribe), which, though last, is by no means the least resource, since it will be found to mollify the hardest heart and smooth the greatest difficulties, after civil speeches had been tried in vain. For Dadivas quebrantan penas, y entra sin barrenas; ‘Gifts break rocks, and penetrate without gimlets’. Or;  Mas ablanda dinero que palabras de Caballero; ‘Cash softens more than a gentleman's palaver’.



The Spanish muleteer is a fine fellow; he is intelligent, active and enduring; he braves hunger and thirst, heat and cold, mud and dust; he works as hard as his cattle, never robs or is robbed; and while his betters in this land put off everything till to-morrow except bankruptcy, he is punctual and honest, his frame is wiry and sinewy, his costume peculiar; many are the leagues and long, which we have ridden in his caravan, and longer his robber yarns, to which we paid no attention; and it must be admitted that these cavalcades are truly national and picturesque. Mingled with droves of mules and mounted horsemen, the zig-zag lines come threading down the mountain defiles, now tracking through the aromatic brushwood, now concealed amid rocks and olive-trees, now emerging bright and glittering into the sunshine, giving life and movement to the lonely nature, and breaking the usual stillness by the tinkle of the bell and the sad ditty of the muleteer—sounds which, though unmusical in themselves, are in keeping with the scene, and associated with wild Spanish rambles, just as the harsh whetting of the scythe is mixed up with the sweet spring and newly-mown hay-meadow. 

There is one class of muleteers which are but little known to European travellers—the Maragatos, whose head-quarters are at San Roman, near Astorga; they, like the Jew and gipsy, live exclusively among their own people, preserving their primeval costume and customs, and never marrying out of their own tribe. They are as perfectly nomad and wandering as the Bedouins, the mule only being substituted for the camel; their honesty and industry are proverbial. 

They are a sedate, grave, dry, matter-of-fact, business-like people. Their charges are high, but the security counterbalances, as they may be trusted with untold gold. They are the channels of all traffic between Galicia and the Castillas, being seldom seen in the south or east provinces. 

They are dressed in leathern jerkins, which fit tightly like a cuirass, leaving the arms free. Their linen is coarse but white, especially the shirt collar; a broad leather belt, in which there is a purse, is fastened round the waist. Their breeches, like those of the Valencians, are called Zaraguels, a pure Arabic word for kilts or wide drawers, and no burgomaster of Rembrandt is more broad-bottomed. Their legs are encased in long brown cloth gaiters, with red garters ; their hair is generally cut close —sometimes, however, strange tufts are left. A huge, slouching, Happing hat completes the most inconvenient of travelling dresses, and it is too Dutch to be even picturesque; but these fashions are as unchangeable as the laws of the Medes and Persians were ; nor will any Maragato dream of altering his costume until those dressed models of painted wood do which strike the hours of the clock on the square of Astorga ; Pedro Mato also, another figure costume, who holds a weathercock at the cathedral, is the observed of all observers ; and, in truth, this particular costume is, as that of Quakers used to be, a guarantee of their tribe and respectability ; thus even Cordero, the rich Maragato deputy, appeared in Cortes in this local costume.

 The dress of the Maragata is equally peculiar; she wears, if married, a sort of head-gear, El Caramietto, in the shape of a crescent, the round part coming over the forehead, which is very Moorish, and resembles those of the females in the basso-relevos at Granada. Their hair flows loosely on their shoulders, while their apron or petticoat hangs down open before and behind, and is curiously tied at the back with a sash, and their bodice is cut square over the bosom. At their festivals they are covered with ornaments of long chains of coral and metal, with crosses, relics, and medals in silver. Their earrings are very heavy, and supported by silken threads, as among the Jewesses in Barbary. 

A marriage is a grand feast; then large parties assemble, and a president is chosen, who puts into a waiter whatever sum of money he likes, and all invited must then give as much. The bride is enveloped in a mantle, which she wears the whole day, and never again except on that of her husband's death. She does not dance at the wedding-ball. Early next morning two roast chickens are brought to the bed-side of the happy pair The next evening ball is opened by the bride and her husband to the tune of the gaita, or Moorish bagpipe. Their dances are grave and serious; such indeed is their whole character. 

The Maragatos, with their honest, weather-beaten countenances, are seen with files of mules all along the high road to La Coruña. They generally walk, and, like other Spanish arrieros, although they sing and curse rather less, are employed in one ceaseless shower of stones and blows at their mules. 

The whole tribe assembles twice a year at Astorga, at the feasts of Corpus and the Ascension, when they dance El Canizo, beginning at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and ending precisely at 3. If anyone not a Maragato joins, they all leave off immediately. 

The women never wander from their homes, which their undomestic husbands always do. They lead the hard-worked life of the Iberian females of old, and now, as then, are to be seen everywhere in these west provinces toiling in the fields, early before the sun has risen, and late after it has set; and it is most painful to behold them drudging at these unfeminine vocations. 

The origin of the Maragatos has never been ascertained. Some consider them to be a remnant of the Celtiberian, others of the Visigoths; most, however, prefer a Bedouin, or caravan descent. It is in vain to question these ignorant carriers as to their history or origin ; for like the gipsies, they have no traditions, and know nothing. Arrieros, at all events, they are; and that word, in common with so many others relating to the barb[horse] and carrier-caravan craft, is Arabic, and proves whence the system and science were derived by Spaniards. 

The Maragatos are celebrated for their fine beasts of burden; indeed the mules of León are renowned, and the asses splendid and numerous, especially the nearer one approaches to the learned university of Salamanca. 

The Maragatos take precedence on the road; they are the lords of the highway, being the channels of commerce in a land where mules and asses represent luggage rail-trains. They know and feel their importance, and that they are the rule, and the traveller for mere pleasure is the exception. Few Spanish muleteers are much more polished than their beasts, and however picturesque the scene, it is no joke meeting a string of laden beasts in a narrow road, especially with a precipice on one side, cosa de España. The Maragatos seldom give way, and their mules keep doggedly on; as the baggage projects on each side, like the paddles of a steamer, they sweep the whole path. 

All wayfaring details in the genuine Spanish interior are calculated for the pack as in England a century back; and there is no thought bestowed on the foreigner, who is not wanted. Nay is disliked. The inns, roads, and right sides, suit the natives and their brutes; nor will either put themselves out of their way to please the fancies of a stranger. The racy Peninsula is too little travelled over for its natives to adopt the mercenary conveniences of the Swiss, that nation of innkeepers and coach-jobbers.


* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.

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