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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: 31 October 2020
31 October 2020 @ 13:13

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 Galicia/Spain

 One major effect of the virus has been to expose the inadequacy of government administrative systems around the world. Nowhere more so than here in Spain, where there's long been a consensus that we have too many layers of government - national, regional, provincial and municipal - and, thus, too many politicians. All of whom - in times of crisis - feel the need to be seen be 'doing something'. However bloody illogical.

Yesterday, around midday, the Galician government - the Xunta - announced that, as of 3pm, entry into and exit from all 6 of our cities would be prohibited. This measure - described even by the mayor of Pontevedra city as mad - led to immediate confusion and panic. When I left the city at my normal time of 2.30, I joined a throng of drivers trying to get out before our ever-officious police started fining them. And it was hours before it became clear that we were allowed to travel between the city and its contiguous barrios/suburbs, such as mine of Poio. And that the measure only covered the weekend and the Monday holiday.

Well into the evening it was still not clear whether one could still sit at a terrace bar with people you don't actually live with - a not easily checkable fact, of course. Anyway, what I saw as I came into town for my coffee this morning suggests that, whatever the law is, it's being comprehensively ignored. Perhaps because - as some claim - the measure is really meant to stop large family gatherings over the holiday weekend. If so, will the police be knocking on doors to check?

As I said yesterday, lunacy.

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain

The Collegiate Church of Santa María del Sar - a good 15 minute walk from the centre of Santiago de Compostela - is famous locally as the the equivalent of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This is because, thanks to subsidence, the pillars of the nave are no longer parallel. Here’s an article on the place.  

A couple of paras on Spanish culture, the first from someone else and the second from me:-

The celebrations associated with All Saints' Eve/Hallowe'en are a very new phenomenon in Spain. Barely 20 - or even 10 years ago - you hardly saw a single witch's hat in the shops. Hallowe'en was considered a foreign concept. It has always been the following day – All Saints' Day, on November 1 – that was celebrated instead, and which is a bank holiday in the country. Nowadays, both are celebrated. For All Saints' Day, tradition dictates that everyone makes a pilgrimage to their local cemetery to lay fresh flowers on the graves of their departed loved ones. For florists, it's one of their busiest trading seasons of the year.  [Here in Pontevedra main square . .]

I visited an ironmongers - or ‘f’rretería’ - in the old quarter today. What a wonderful experience. Like Aladdin's cave. Or a pharmacy in the Tehran bazaar. Row upon row of little boxes on the wall behind the counter, each containing a collection of screws, nails, blades, door handles or whatever. And they will sell you just a single screw, if this is all you want - and wrap it in brown paper - not insist on you taking a set of 10 in pre-shrunk plastic wrapping which drives you mad. And all of this at a price which hardly seems economic. They won't survive long term, of course, but there's life in them for a while yet. Hopefully enough to see me out. There are several such little shops in Pontevedra - haberdasheries, seamstresses, picture-framers and the like. I don't know whether I love them just because they remind me of the way life used to be when I was a kid or because I think it is the way life should be. Probably both. [That was written 15 years ago but it remains pretty true, despite the impact of the internet on the retail trade. Only the picture-framers has gone. These days, of course, one sees queues/lines of people 1-2m apart outside the ferreterías.]

Maria tells me, rather to my surprise, that Spanish TV hasn’t improved since I stopped watching it 10 years or more ago.   

The UK

Our leaders should admit they’re totally lost, writes Matthew Parris in today's Times. Britain. He adds, isn’t suffering from lockdown fatigue; it has just lost faith in the cocksure claims of politicians and scientists. The truth is they’ve lost their way and the public has rumbled them.

The EU

Matthew Parris again: President Macron in France and Prime Minister Sanchez in Spain are in at least as much of a mess, their populations at least as restive. And now Germany, too. Governments all across our continent are stumbling around in the dark, just like ours.

The Way of the World/Social Media 

A secretive corporate detective agency known for its work pursuing white-collar fraudsters has a new target in its sights: Instagram influencers with scandalous pasts. “We find about a quarter of influencers we check are problematic,” said its MD. Adding that:  'Jokes about rape, gender stereotyping, misogyny, antisemitism, Nazi imagery, cultural insensitivity. Those are the kind of things we find reasonably frequently.'

Spanish

Following up my citation yesterday of Cazar, a reader has kindly advised that, in South America, this is pronounced the same as Casar, To marry.  

Finally

There are said to be 7 types of people you find in bookshops. In the UK at least. Dunno about Spain:-

Expert

Young Family 

Occultist 

Loiterer

Bearded Pensioner

Not-So-Silent Traveller, and 

Family Historian

THE ARTICLE

Our leaders should admit they’re totally lost:  Britain isn’t suffering from lockdown fatigue, it has just lost faith in the cocksure claims of politicians and scientists      Matthew Parris

"Weary” is the word of choice on the lips of politicians and commentators. In this pandemic the public is said to grow weary of lockdowns. Fatigue has set in, we’re told, and we the people are tired of trying to understand and comply with tier upon tier of fresh restrictions. Apparently it’s all too much for us. Like children with short attention spans, we’re wandering from the paths of prudence.

What patronising nonsense. Nonsense that distracts from an inconvenient truth, embarrassing to the political class and its attendant priesthood of medical and epidemiological experts. The truth is they’ve lost their way through this pandemic, and the public has rumbled them. That’s why attention wanders from the intricacies of the latest rules. Restrictions don’t seem to be working. So “why bother?” people ask. “I’m giving up.”

It’s true, of course, that some of us always doubted the wisdom of wrecking-ball lockdowns. But my sort were and still are a minority. The big (and, for government, worrying) change is among the ranks of the sizeable majority who, persuaded that the government knew how to beat this virus, were at first enthusiastic to obey even draconian rules. If still persuaded, they’d still be enthusiastic. But they’re growing sceptical. Confidence is waning that these rules will work. People are wary, not weary.

Let’s then be honest about our ignorance. Why beat up the prime minister or his medical advisers for not knowing how best to respond? I don’t know either. You don’t. Sage doesn’t. Nobody does. President Macron in France and Prime Minister Sanchez in Spain are in at least as much of a mess, their populations at least as restive. And now Germany, too. Governments all across our continent are stumbling around in the dark, just like ours.

The beginning of wisdom would be to admit as much. European leaderships should cease the pretence that medical science has already worked out how to beat Covid-19, the only problem being compliance: us, in other words, not them. Instead, they should confide in us.

What do I mean about the electorate “rumbling” the experts’ and politicians’ claim to have a workable plan? I don’t mean the ordinary citizen has systematically deconstructed official claims and arguments and found them wanting. I mean we’re beginning to smell a rat, beginning to think “Oh dear, we’re back where we started; this doesn’t seem to be working”. Half-unconsciously we’re noticing statements that don’t add up. We hear some professor announcing that the country is at a “tipping point” and seem to remember that he or his colleagues announced the same ages ago. Whereas the proverbial little boy cried wolf, the epidemiologists now cry “tipping point”. But if you pass a tipping point, you tip. So have we tipped? Is all lost? That would seem to be the implication.

We hear politicians and scientists talking about cases “doubling every fortnight” — and seem to remember some of them saying “every week” some time ago; in which case, is “every fortnight” good news, not bad.

We hear Imperial College’s Neil Ferguson making a projection. “If the rate of growth [of hospitalisations] continues as it is,” he told the BBC on October 24, then “in a month’s time we will not be able to cope.” And that’s true. But we reflect that on this reasoning one can extrapolate forward to a point when the entire population is in hospital, which we all shall be if the rate of growth “continues as it is”. But it won’t. You can’t just project. Or, rather, you can — but at some point your projection must part company with practical prediction. What the politicians need to know is when that point will arrive, and viral spread decelerate. Shroud-waving projections offer no answer.

All sides in this pandemic, including my own, need to sober up and admit to ourselves how little is known so far. Here are just a few of the (to the best of my knowledge) huge unanswered questions that occur to me — and there will be many more. And I don’t suggest scientists aren’t working on them. Of course they are. Frantically.

What do we mean by “immunity”? Is it all or nothing, or are some people less immune than others? Does resistance come just through antibodies or are there other kinds, and, if so, how important are they?

What, if any, is the relationship between the growth in the numbers who have had the disease, and the slackening of the pace at which it spreads? Why hasn’t London, where compliance is (anecdotally) weakest, so far suffered a second wave on the scale of some northern cities?

How long does “immunity” last, and how long will a vaccine-given immunity last? Does continued exposure to the virus prolong immunity, and is the corollary true?

If, or when, an effective vaccine becomes widely available, will the virus die out, or just skulk? And if skulk, why aren’t we thinking about how to distinguish between the vulnerable minority and the rest, and how to protect the vulnerable through this decade? Can we yet ascribe relative levels of importance to different means of transmission? Eyes? Mouths? Noses? Surfaces? Touching? Aerosol? Banisters? Embracing? Which are the priority prohibitions? Is it true that the size of a “viral load” influences the severity of the disease once caught, or is it either completely caught or completely not caught?

How effective are masks, and why do we have no results from “human challenge” trials to test this? If some willing volunteers catch the disease, so what? Answering the facemask question could save millions from doing so.

Does “super-spreading” come from a human type or a human activity? Is it true children don’t easily spread Covid-19? Why not? Why do some countries (Spain, France) that went into lockdown early and stayed there longest appear to be experiencing the worst “second waves”?

Though ignorance about facemasks really is reprehensible, I’m far from wishing to suggest I’m ahead of the game in posing these questions. Scientists know how central they are. But so far we’re short of answers, and our ignorance remains immense. Western attempts to contain this virus look like playing darts in the dark. We can’t see where we’re going, and know it, and for our leaders and some expert advisers to pretend otherwise invites contempt.

If there’s any truth in the observation that electorates are growing tired, then it is the sweeping statements and cocksure reprimands we’re growing tired of. The most an honest prime minister or health secretary should say is: “Bear with us: this is a mess but we’re doing our best.”

 

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



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