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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: 27 September 2020
27 September 2020 @ 10:34

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'*    

Living La Vida Loca in Spain/Galicia  

In convents around Spain one can still see - low down in an external wall - what looks like a large letter-box. Which it sort of is, in fact. For it's where unwanted babies were deposited for the nuns to take care of, often with a personal item such as a brooch, with which - in theory - the child could be identified at some time in the future. But very rarely was. As I've said, Richard Ford gives a harrowing description of one such 'nursery' in Madrid, were few children survived their care. In customary style, Ford adds that: The number [of inmates] was very great, and increased with increasing poverty, while the funds destined to support the charges decreased from the same cause. There is a certain and great influx 9 months after the Holy week and Christmas, when the whole city, male and female, pass the night in kneeling to relics and images, etc.. Accordingly 9 months afterwards, in January and November, the daily numbers often exceed the usual average by fifteen to twenty.

As I'm travelling with friends - currently in Braga - I'm short of time for blog writing, so am resorting to the expedient of offering you some more gems(?) from Richard Ford:-

The general comprehensive term ‘Spain’, which is convenient for geographers and politicians, is calculated to mislead the traveller, for it would be far from easy to predicate any single thing of Spain or Spaniards which will be equally applicable to all its heterogeneous component parts.

It has been found advisable to adopt such an arrangement from feeling the utter impossibility of treating Spain (where union is not unity) as a whole. There is no king of Spain, among the infinity of kingdoms.

Nature, by thus dislocating the country, seems to have suggested, nay almost to have forced, localism and isolation to the inhabitants, who each in their valleys and districts are shut off from their neighbours, whom to love, they are enjoined in vain.

In the divisions of the Peninsula which are effected by mountains, rivers, and climate, a leading principle is to be traced, throughout, for it is laid down by the unerring hand of nature. The artificial, political, and conventional arrangement into kingdoms and provinces is entirely the work of accident and absence of design.

The habitual suspicion against prying foreigners, which is an Oriental and Iberian instinct, converts a curious traveller into a spy or partisan. Spanish authorities, who seldom do these things except on compulsion, cannot understand the gratuitous braving of hardship and danger for its own sake—the botanising and geologising, etc., of the nature and adventure-loving English.  

In this land of miracles, anomalies, and contradictions, the roads to and from Compostela are now detestable. In other provinces of Spain, the star-paved milky way in heaven is called El Camino de Santiago, The Road of St. James. But the Galicians, who know that their roads really are the worst on earth, call the milky-way El Camino de Jerusalem, The Road to Jerusalem',  which it assuredly is not.  

The whole of this garrisoned Noah's ark [ a carriage] is placed under the command of the Mayoral or conductor, who like all Spanish men in authority is a despot, and yet, like them, is open to the conciliatory influences of a bribe. He regulates the hours of toil and sleep. [Here Ford quotes Sancho Panza's description of sleep as 'a blessing'. By coincidence, the first words in Spanish that I learned - aged 17 - were from a book of quotations, which included this one from 'Don Quijote': Bien haya el que inventó el sueño, capa que cubre todos los humanos pensamientos. Not knowing that this was, in part, 16th century Spanish, I regularly caused consternation when citing this to Spanish friends, who said it made no sense to them. Though it might have been my accent . . .] 

His costume is peculiar, and is based on that of Andalucia, which sets the fashion all over the Peninsula, in all matters regarding bull-fighting, horse-dealing, robbing, smuggling, and so forth. 

Among the many commandments that are always broken in Spain, that of "Swear not at all" is not the least. Few nations can surpass the Spaniards in the language of vituperation. It is limited only by the extent of their anatomical, geographical, astronomical, and religious knowledge

Plus this ‘Way of the World’ article:-

People are losing patience with radical theory's takeover of public discourse: Juliet Samuel 

“We are living in anti-intellectual times,” writes the American feminist thinker Judith Butler in an email interview with the New Statesman magazine published this week. That is certainly one perspective on the Trump phenomenon.

Another, from outside the Ivory Tower, is that we are actually trapped in a culture war spawned on university campuses, where words like “decolonise” have long been applied to hearts and minds, rather than territories, and where the issue of gendered lavatory signage is of paramount importance. In that sense, we are living in profoundly “intellectual” times – and my God it’s toxic. Is it any wonder so many of us can’t bear it?

If people are losing patience with all this radical theory taking over public discourse, the intellectual response would be to ask why. One reason may be that so many segments of the intelligentsia insist upon discussing ideas in language that deliberately excludes normal people. Then they try to police everyone else’s language using moral outrage.

This is the sort of thing I mean. It’s an extract from an essay by Dr Butler and it won first prize in the journal Philosophy and Literature’s 1998 “bad writing” contest: “The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory…” It goes on.

It is obviously hard to engage with someone who has chosen to be so utterly incomprehensible, but I’ll try. From what I can make out, Dr Butler tends to make two claims about sex and gender. She argues, firstly, that sex is an entirely made-up category imposed upon people by society rather than by biology. She argues, secondly, that a person can make a legitimate claim, based purely on their own feeling about “who” they are, to be of one gender or another, rather than having to “perform” a gender according to their sex. But these two propositions contradict one another.

If a human’s sex is not an authentic category and gender is simply a “performance”, why lay claim to be of one gender or another and demand that everyone recognise this claim? Why affirm these supposedly oppressive categories by demanding such a label?

Her answer, I think, might be that society’s emphasis on gender forces people to value these bogus categories and so we must respect people’s choices about belonging to one or another. But you can’t have it both ways. If our notions of sex and gender are really social constructs, there is no existential need for physical gender reassignment.

Dr Butler is of course welcome to clear up this inconsistency, but she may want to hire a translator to do so on her behalf.


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

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