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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: 23 January 2021
23 January 2021 @ 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'

Covid

Given how much of our News bulletins are dedicated to the plague, you do have to wonder what unreported events we'd be being told/warned/frightened about - in breathless tones - if it didn't exist. But are now not important enough for even just a brief mention.

Spain: El Pais reports here on issues around the vaccine roll-out. But the good news is that the government, having said that tourism industry won't revive until after summer, is trying to improve things via a vaccination certificate.

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain

You can't live in the UK long before hearing the phrase ‘post code lottery’, usually in respect of some local service of the NHS which is inferior to that of somewhere else. The literal Spanish translation is lotería de códigos postales but I suspect that, while the words exist, the concept doesn’t. Here,  regional, provincial and municipal differences/inequalities are taken as read. Folk in Galicia simply don't expect to get what their (quasi)compatriots get in Cataluña, for example. At least, that's my impression, from the lack of complaints.

Déjà  vu/Plus ça change . . . Isambard Wilkinson of The Times has interviewed the famous Spanish novelist Arturo Pérez-Reverte, who claims that - thanks to idiot politicians Spain’s politics have descended at times into little more than a slanging match about “reds” and “fascists”, reviving the language of the 1930s civil war. See below.

Maria finally exits the 19th century - New Year, Same Old: Day 22.

The Way of the World

The BBC has rejected a complaint against against a reporter for using the phrase 'nitty-gritty’, meaning the details. Some anti-racism campaigners claim that the term is unacceptable because it had its origins in the slave trade, although etymologists say there is no convincing evidence for this assertion.

Finally . . .

Everyone, of course, knows that Spain has 2 enclaves which definitely aren't colonies in North Africa. But I'd bet few know that Russia has some enclaves in Europe. One of these is Kaliningrad, which used to be Königsberg, in Prussia/East Germany. It's  surrounded by Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea. See here and here.

THE ARTICLE

Spain’s idiot politicians are abusing our glorious history, says novelist Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Extremist views pushed by party leaders are spreading fast in a country thought to be immune to them: Isambard Wilkinson, The Times

Spain’s politics has recently descended at times into little more than a slanging match about “reds” and “fascists”, reviving the language of the 1930s civil war. The tenor has alarmed many moderates in a country that until recently was perceived as inoculated against extremism by memories of the dictatorship of General Franco and the cross-party pacts after his death in 1975.

History, or its misuse, lies at the heart of the tension. Prominent among those concerned about the politicisation of Spain’s past is the historical novelist Arturo Pérez-Reverte, who is as swashbuckling in public debate as his most famous creation, Captain Alatriste, is with his sword. Lauded internationally as a successor to Dumas and Conan Doyle, in his novels Pérez-Reverte, who has sold over 20 million copies of his books in more than 40 countries, skewers Spain’s inept kings and corrupt courtiers as “whoresons” and “vipers”. In real life he reserves his bile for politicians, who almost make him bite his moustache with rage in the manner of Alatriste. “Politicians”, Pérez-Reverte, 69, told The Times, “have revived the civil war in an absolutely utilitarian way and this has created among the Spanish public disquiet, ignorance and polarisation that didn’t exist before. The civil war has been resuscitated by the politicians, not by the Spanish people. The idiot politicians do not know what a civil war is, nor have they read about it. But they play happily with complex and dangerous concepts.”

The country’s politics have become increasingly embittered since corruption scandals and an economic crisis from 2008-13 tainted the two main political parties. The rise of the ultranationalist Vox party, which became the third-largest parliamentary force at the last election, and the far-left Podemos party, which is the socialist-led government’s coalition partner, has deepened tensions. Both sides of the political spectrum frequently use rhetoric about the civil war to score points. In September Santiago Abascal, Vox’s leader, accused the government of being the worst in 80 years, implying that things had been better under the decades-long regime of Franco. Pedro Sánchez, the prime minister, retorted that his administration would soon ban organisations that glorified the dictator. This week Pablo Iglesias, the deputy prime minister and Podemos leader, compared the flight abroad from justice of a Catalan separatist leader to the exile of half a million republicans after their civil war defeat in 1939.

Pérez-Reverte says that Spain’s politicians constitute “a political class that is generationally young and does not have a solid intellectual base”. He says: “They are political improvisers who in a normal country would never have come to power. They need simple arguments to cover up their ideological and political deficiencies.” He believes that “the political noise is poisoning Spain’s history”. He added: “Obviously there are thinkers in Spain but their voices have been silenced by the political bellowing that is gripping everything. This is the great Spanish tragedy.”

A household name in Spain since his days as a war reporter, which lasted for two decades from the early 1970s, Pérez-Reverte writes a popular weekly newspaper column and has 2.2 million social media followers. He is a rare independent voice among his peers, many of whom are in hock to the political left or right. Politicians’ ignorance, he said, had forced him to write his latest book, a novel about the civil war, Línea de Fuego (Line of Fire), in which he eschews ideologies and focuses on the trenches on both sides of the conflict.

Drawing on his own family’s experience, he strives to show how individuals were caught up in the war regardless of their politics. “My father belonged to the Mediterranean bourgeoisie but he fought with the Republic because of the circumstances of where he was. My father-in-law was a leftist but fought with the Nationalists for similar reasons,” he said. “It was a war in which it is impossible to draw a line, to say these were good as they were with the Republic and these were bad because they were Franquistas.”

His approach to a conflict that still divides has led to a moving tribute to its fallen. More than two hundred people have posted photographs of their grandparents, uncles and cousins from both sides of the war with brief notes about them on his Twitter timeline, allowing him to create an unusual, perhaps unique, album remembering the dead. “It is touching,” he said. “During the Republic there were 3 years of killing and in Franco’s regime there were 30 years of killing. But we forget that more people died at the battlefront, in the trenches, yet we don’t talk about them.”

A voracious reader who uses his library of 30,000 books to research his novels, Pérez-Reverte believes that Spain’s problem with its history began in the coup-blighted decades that followed the loss of its last big colonies in 1898. “We had great political chaos and so in Spain history became a political weapon, not a subject to study.” The rot deepened when Franco came to power. “El Cid, Hernán Cortés, the war against the French — he appropriated it all,” he said. “He harped on about imperial Spain, marvellous Spain, Spain that Christianised the world. When democracy came, the Left, instead of removing Franco’s contamination of history, failed to deal with it. So younger generations don’t have a useful historical discourse, and they ignore it, rejecting their own history.”

Pérez-Reverte is widely credited with reviving Spanish interest in the country’s 17th-century imperial Golden Age through his Captain Alatriste series, which was made into a film starring Viggo Mortensen. Some of the works are now used as textbooks in schools. “I think they are popular because I don’t write about good or bad but nuances,” he said. “History is not black or white but grey.” Meticulous in their historical detail, his novels, based on enigmas and puzzles revolving around his fascinations with chess, fencing and maritime history, have won him the epithet of the “Spanish Umberto Eco” and membership of his country’s Royal Academy. They have also attracted directors such as Roman Polanski who turned the novel, The Dumas Club, which concerns an antiquarian book dealer’s investigation into a satanic work, into a film featuring Johnny Depp.

Lean and neat, the writer is a picture of the self-discipline valued by his 17th-century compatriots. But his eyes twinkle when he talks about England. “Our enemy has always been England, historically. As a Spaniard I hate England, it has always fucked us. In the 16th, 17th centuries and even in the Peninsula war they came to fick us, not to help us. I have read Wellington’s papers, so I know their self-interested aims and pejorative sentiments about us as lazy and unclean.” But the author, who is irreverent about everything from God — “He is not a gentleman” — to his practice of literary art — “I don’t give a shit about it” — does express some admiration for Perfidious Albion. “I would like to have England’s capacity to convert history into something positive, like Dunkirk and the colonial wars in Afghanistan; disasters due to military incompetence by stupid generals turned into heroic events,” he said.

He claims that now that he is older he writes so that he can imagine himself “killing English and Frenchmen and conquering the most beautiful women*”. He will stop when his imagination fails, and focus instead on sailing and his library. Or, he adds, in the idiom of his world-weary heroes, “shoot myself, I don’t know”.

 

* Funny that we share that dream . . . Though only some Englishmen, in my case.



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