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Spanish Views from a Small Town

Thoughts about life in a small Spanish town from a transplanted American, commenting on things that catch my attention.

Not So Fast, 76 - 80. Yes, It's Real.
03 October 2021

That there are people who deny the pandemic, is only to be expected. Viruses are invisible, and the illness is a bit hit or miss; some people get very sick and die, while others seem to have a mild flu and go about their lives. 

Then, last winter when the storm Filomena walloped Madrid with unprecedented snow, there appeared the snow deniers. They crunched up a snowball, tried to melt it with a lighter, and got a blackened snowball. That the snow was cold in their hands didn't mean anything. The deniers immediately claimed the snow was a plastic fake. Never mind.

From there we jump to those who claim birds don't exist, that they were all killed to be replaced with robots that watch our every move. Tin foil is not enough for some. 

Now come the deniers that missed out on entire classes of earth science in elementary school. Last Saturday, a volcano erupted on the Canary island of La Palma, just where vulcanologists had suspected it would, along the side of a volcano that had already erupted in 1971 and 1949. But, what do vulcanologists know? Evil Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was the perpetrator.

Twitter has long been a meeting ground for all types of people, from level-headed to head-in-space. Yesterday, on an account that has since been closed, someone claimed that the volcano was a conspiracy drummed up by Pedro Sánchez and the Socialist government. The reason? That the lava and the explosions came from a flank of the volcano, and not from the summit, like all volcanoes spit out their contents. Another one said that it sounded like it had been provoked. That account is now very private. Again, I found a tweet connecting the HAARP waves to the volcano, claiming it was provoked by those waves. Even, that the volcano was provoked to take our attention away from the vaccines with which Bill Gates wants to micochip everybody. Another claim was that it could have been provoked by pointing giant satellite mirrors at the volcano. 

(HAARP stands for High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program. Its purpose is to analyze the ionosphere and see if radio communications can be improved by sending them through the highest layer of the atmosphere. Conspiracy theories abound, and touch on almost all subjects, so, of course people are going to claim HAARP radio waves are interfering with a volcano.) 

It seems that the dream of creating thinking, rational people by widely introducing public education has backfired. With every passing year, I am convinced that people are, in the majority, stupid. With every passing year, people confirm that conviction. Some of these statements were obviously made as satire in response to those few that actually believe their own nutty conspiracies, though there are too many that aren't satire. But, while there have always been doubting Thomas's, even Thomas believed the evidence when he stuck his hand in Jesus' wounds. These people don't. These people could have Christ jumping on their heads, proving to them that He's alive, and they'll claim He's a new-fangled hologram.

On the serious side, though, the eruption on the island of La Palma is a tragedy. Living with a volcano is always risky; some are quiet for thousands of years and are mere history, while others awake within our lifetimes. The good thing is that, at the moment, no lives have been lost. But homes, livelihoods, crops, land have been lost forever. With an earthquake, one can always rebuild and still find treasures in the rubble. With a fire, one can rebuild, and, if luck is present, some treasures might survive. But with a volcano, it's as if the place one has lived has disappeared forever. There is no rebuilding; the lava will remain too hot for too long. Nothing can be saved; it's all been consumed by the lava. The landscape, with the familiar roads and folds of the hills, is gone forever, transmuted by the streams of lava. 

I hope these people can regain their lives elsewhere.

Life continues.


 
 



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Not So Fast, 67 - 75. September.
18 September 2021

And life swishes on by.

This week is supposed to be the week of our town's festival, the Virxe de Guadalupe. Once upon a time (over a hundred years ago) it lasted three days, from Saturday to Monday. For the last half of the twentieth century, it lasted from Saturday to the following Wednesday. In this century, the festival has been amplified from Friday to the following Friday, with the last day a local holiday to make a three day weekend. The highlight of the festival is the last night, with three bands. At two in the morning, the lights of the plaza turn off, everyone who was fortunate to get sparklers lights them, and, one after the other, the three bands sing the Rianxeira, with everyone joining in. It's not a good idea to wear one's best clothes this evening, because not everyone keeps their sparker high in the air. 

Ondiñas veñen, ondiñas veñen,

Ondiñas veñen e van.

Non te vaias, Rianxeira, 

Que te vas a marear!  

This song, A Rianxeira, was written back in 1947, in Buenos Aires, by expats that were lonely for their corner of Galicia. From there, it crossed the pond, and has become the unofficial hymn not only of our town of Rianxo, but of our region of Galicia. It talks about the black Virgin as if she were a fisher's wife, about to set out to sea, warning her she'll get seasick. It's been sung by a lot of regional singers, and even by Linda Ronstadt with the Chieftains, though these last give it a Mexican twist, and sing it half in Galician, and half in Castilian. The Virgin of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico, after all. 

Not that this year there is a lot of celebration. There's nothing at night, no bands, no music, nothing. In fact, bars have to close by one in the morning, and people aren't allowed to gather in parks or beaches from one to six in the morning. Still, during the day there are some events, which is more than last year, when it was just like any other week of the year. Maybe next year we'll be complaining about all the cars passing by, or the crowds thronging the streets in town.

School has begun, already. Primary school began last week, and secondary school this week. This year, our daughter is attending a vocational school to learn a craft to find a job. She prefers working the earth, so she decided to study the process of making wines and olive oil. But, since only three people signed up for that course, she will learn her second pick, viticulture. In that, she will study the culture of vineyards, and wine-making. This course is imparted in Ponteareas, way to the south of us, just over an hour's drive on a good day. So, she found an apartment there that she's sharing with a young man who's going to study forestry at the same school. We've been driving back and forth, taking her down and picking her up. Now, we'll drive her down on Sunday, and she probably won't come home until some time next month. Ponteareas is not as easy to get to as Santiago. Public transport leaves very much to be desired in this region.

This week, since it's the festival, my husband has his yearly vacation (I know, he should have an entire month, but what employer follows the rules here?). Not that he has enjoyed it much, since he decided to paint the house this week. It really needs painting, since the last time was around twenty years ago, and the white paint has been looking sad for a while. Though the house is relatively small, though, it's not that easy, and this week he's only had time to do two walls, the front and the south walls. Maybe next year we can do at least one of the others, maybe the north wall.

I have been receiving more calls asking about classes. Despite having more students than last year, I have wound up with a free hour on Wednesday afternoons. I don't know just how that happened; it seems every other after school activity loves Wednesday afternoons for scheduling. I don't mind, it's a small break for me.

I also have been looking for activities for first graders. I have a few of those this year, and I'm glad that in the last year of kindergarten, they learn how to read. That makes it easier to introduce simple sentences and vocabulary, and to get them to relate the sounds with the letters of the words. Hopefully.

Contagion is going down, which is the good thing. Many people, over seventy percent, now have the full vaccine. Now, they're starting to give booster doses to those with compromised immune systems, and are talking about giving a booster dose also to those who got the Janssen vaccine, which consisted of a single dose. Restrictions are being loosened at different speeds in different regions, with Madrid at the helm, of course. However, we will probably be wearing masks indoors and when close to other people all winter. That is the one cramp on my freedom I really wish would be gone. I understand the science and the need, but, sometimes, I am so overwhelmed by it I just want to pull it down at whatever cost. 

I will be getting the flu shot this fall, whenever the campaign begins. If what happened last year is repeated, I'll probably get the appointment in November, but I'm fine with it. Ever since the first year I got the flu shot, I have not had the flu. The only time was when there was all the hullaballoo over the porcine flu, the A flu, some years ago. That year, the three of us passed a sorry weekend. My father, however, didn't get sick. That was because the porcine flu was genetically similar to the flu that was circulating when my father was young. After one of the flu pandemics of the 1950's, a different version, the main one now, started circulating. My father's body recognized the old flu, which was new for our younger bodies. 

Summer still holds on, with nice temperatures, though the nights are chilly. Today it rained in the morning, but it's turned out to be a lovely afternoon. The good weather is supposed to continue into next week. I just hope it stays till the end of the month, so I can fully enjoy the rest of my vacation. 

Life continues.

Rianxo, Puerto, Setefogas, Despertar


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Not So Fast, 60 - 66. Discovering Peña Trevinca.
09 September 2021

On Monday, I took one of my days of being out from morning till night. I had really wanted to visit Porto again, but, even though contagion is going down, the idea of being in the midst of a lot of people, having to wear a mask, was off-putting. So, I decided to visit a corner of Galicia I had never been to, Peña Trevinca.

Peña Trevinca is the name of the highest mountain in Galicia, at 2127 meters (The highest mountain in Spain is in the Pyrenees, Pico Aneto, at 3404 meters.). It's right on the border between the provinces of Ourense and Zamora, which means it's also on the border of the two autonomous regions of Galicia and Castilla-León. It's really part of a group of mountains, in a protected area, though it's not yet a national park. It has trails all through it, visiting both the summits, and the myriad of glacial lakes. 

My intention was to try to find a short trail to at least one of the lakes. That was my intention. In reality, I spent most of the morning and early afternoon driving. First, it's a long way away from where I live, over three hours. Second, the habit of not posting comprehensive signage is a bad habit here in Galicia, and what signage there is, tends to take one where one doesn't want to go.

Google Maps doesn't help that much, either, mostly because my phone company doesn't have good coverage up there. I assume there must be some company that does, though there must be areas where there is absolutely no reception for anyone. So, in A Veiga, I followed a sign that told me to go down a narrow road to A Ponte, from which there was a trail to the Lagoa da Serpe, one of the prettiest lakes. 


I drove down a long, winding road for over an hour, barely passing any cars, though I did pass through villages. The road ended at A Ponte, an ancient village that is probably more than a thousand years old. The place is beautiful, though the houses suffer from the neglect of beautiful places that no longer offer a means of living, and find themselves gradually abandoned. There, I discovered that the footpath to the glacial lakes was a few more kilometers than I can walk at this moment of fitness. It turned out that I shouldn't have followed the sign down in town that told me to take this route. So, at a moment when my phone had coverage, I figured out a route to join the one I should have taken. Over another hour lost.

I minded, but I didn't mind, because at the same time, I was discovering an area I had never been before. I passed through villages all clumped together, with paths (those were NOT streets) simply dividing houses from each other. (I'm glad I have an older car that is not very wide.) Many of the houses were abandoned. The few that had people were mostly smarted up, probably because they were vacation homes. I imagine that if I go along the same lanes in winter, most, if not all, houses will be closed up. 

I finally got to a large esplanade, where I parked and got out to look around. From there, a route that crossed quite a few of the peaks began. I was on a plateau, and there was moorland before me. There was no gorse, practically no ferns or brambles, just heather, broom, and yellowing grasses. Boulders and rocks sometimes pushed out of the earth, to break the monotony. The wind was strong, the temperature pleasing. Down in the valley, the car thermometer had marked 33ºC; up here it was 25ºC. 

I continued driving and reached a village that was almost a town. When I had left the plateau I entered the province of Zamora, but I still heard people speak Galician. There was coverage, and I followed Google Maps through the confusing maze and onto a concrete lane that was one car wide, with deep ditches at either side. From time to time, the concrete disappeared and was replaced with fine gravel. There were pastures scattered about, with stone cabins, most quiet and falling apart, a few tidied up. I assumed they were cow pastures, much like in Cantabria where cows were taken to summer pastures in the mountains, and the cowherd lived in stone houses a lot like the ones I was seeing.


The lane ended and I turned the car around and got out. There was supposed to be a footpath here that went up into the hills before me, to the lake, but I couldn't see anything to mark it. Earlier in the year, it looked like a tractor had been through and cleaned a path, so I followed it. It turned out to be an old cart track, but as I followed it into the hills, I saw that I was getting no closer to crossing over a saddle to where the lake must be, behind the hill to my left. I found myself following a small river through what looked like semi-abandoned pastures. Yet, the tractor seemed to have come this far, and there was a path through the short, dried grass. There was no coverage and I could only see on my phone that the path was taking me away from the lake. I had already walked for a half hour, and it was getting late. Clouds had begun to appear. I wasn't too worried because I was relatively close to my car, but common sense told me to give up the search.

Coming back, I stopped at the small river, again. It was filled with stones and pebbles,
rounded by winter rushes of water from the hills. It had been easy to ford now, in September, but I wouldn't want to try this path in winter or spring. There were wild rosebushes with red hips on them, since there was no one to pinch the withered blossoms. It was so very peaceful. There was no noise of cars, no noise of people, no anything except the wind, and the birds. If my body had been in shape, I wouldn't have minded trying to walk across the peaks. Sitting there, I could understand why people would want to cross mountains. 

I went back to my car, and drove back down to the village. A little bit away from where I had been parked, I saw a trail sign. There was the footpath! Well, at least now I know just where to go to try to get to the glacial lakes.

Though the lane was narrow, with nowhere to pull over to one side, I didn't come across any other car. Only three people, who were obviously hiking, passed, walking by me. All the time I was up there, I saw no one else. 

I started my drive back, knowing I would still stop wherever my fancy took me, since it was well over a three hour drive home, and it was already close to six in the afternoon. When I got back down to A Veiga, I recognized where I was, and saw the sign that had directed me to the wrong road. Now, I knew for the next time I wandered into these mountains, just where to go.

So, I started the drive back, down to the valley Valdeorras, where tractors were hauling boxes of grapes to be turned into wine. The vineyards stretched out along the hilly land, reminding me so very much of the intro to the prime time soap opera, Falcon Crest. The area looked like a reproduction of California wine country remembered from that show of my teenage years. (Not that I was much of a fan, just of the intro; the show I remembered watching the most was Dallas, especially when J.R. was shot.) Compared to the mountains, the air was hot; 34ºC on my car's thermometer. One last taste of summer.


Down in the valley of the river Sil, I stopped first at Montefurado, a village that occupies a piece of the hillside that the Romans mined for gold, using the same method as at Las Médulas, carving tunnels, deviating water down the tunnels, and breaking down the hillside to collect the gold at the bottom. Now, there are irregular columns and the remains of some of the tunnels peppered around the village. One of the villagers even set up a swing chair in the mouth of the remains of one of the tunnels, complete with overhanging awning. I wonder what the Romans would have thought.

Further ahead, I followed a sign that led me to Castillo de Torrenovaes. This is a tower from the tenth century, and an outer wall, that is all that is left of a fortification built by the Knights of Malta. There is a tiny village beneath it, with most of the houses in ruins, and a lane that leads up that made me very, very glad my car isn't wider, because I would have scraped it and gotten stuck, otherwise. At an esplanade beneath the castle, where I parked, there were modern signs telling pilgrims the direction of the Way of Santiago. There are so many variants!


I climbed up to the castle and my heart fell as I watched the helicopters carrying water. Ever since I had left A Veiga, I had seen in the distance a pyroclastic cloud of smoke. The fire was before me, in the direction I was headed. The hills along the shores of the rivers Sil and Lor were on fire. The green coolness of the forests were being consumed by voracious flames that someone without a soul had planted. The fire was only stabilized yesterday, with help from the rain. Around 1500 hectares of life was consumed. As I continued home along the road, I could see the lines of the train tracks that run along the river were burning, as well. Smoke rose from different parts of the hills above the valley, red flames hungrily licking the wailing trees. The fire had crossed the road at one point, which must have been cut off; firefighters were still throwing water on black vegetation at the sides. The welcoming folds of the hills that hang over the road are now dead and black. Whoever did this deserves to be pitched into the middle of his works. 

When I got home, it was around ten thirty, and already night, since we're in September. The day hadn't gone as I had expected it would, but it hadn't been a loss, either. Having taken a picnic lunch with me, and found bathrooms, even natural ones, helped a lot. I discovered the silence and peace of the mountains, and found where I want to return, whenever that might be. 

Life continues.

 



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Not So Fast, 58 & 59. Setting Up Classes.
08 September 2021

I am now on vacation. It's an unpaid one, but I get to have my days all to myself. This, however, doesn't mean I can forget all about my classes.

This is the time of year I start pulling my hair out by the roots. Mothers (almost always mothers, as if the fathers had nothing to do with their kids' education) start calling me to set up their kids' English classes. I have little room, so I can't take more than three, or, stretching it, four kids an hour, preferably all of the same or similar ages. Here's the problem. There are five hours of classes in each day, but it seems some children have more than ten hours of busy time each afternoon.

"Tuesday's a bad day because Johnny has football practice and then he goes to kayaking. After that, he has a swimming class. Thursdays he has trombone practice, and theater, followed by some more football. Have you got anything for him on Fridays?"

"Not for his age group. I do have an hour on Wednesdays he can come. How about seven o'clock?"

"Oh, no! He has karate from seven thirty to nine, so he can't. How about at six o'clock?"

"Hmm. I'm afraid not. I can't put him in with the secondary school kids who are in their last year. I would have to split my attention, and it wouldn't be fair to any of them. Monday at four, perhaps? It would have to be with two others."

"That sounds better. But, wait. Who are the other kids? Johnny absolutely refuses to be with Archie in the same room."

I become a little balder as I disentangle a few hairs from my fingers and let them fall to the floor. "Weeeell, how about Monday at five? The three kids in this hour are a year older, but the material isn't much different."

"That will be fine."

Exchanges similar to this one are what I go through from the end of August through September. That's if I don't have to call various mothers to make complete changes to the schedule because a mother suddenly realizes I had already set an hour for her darling with her consent, but she had forgotten. All of a sudden, that hour is an impossibility and she wants the same hour she had last year. Call mothers, apologize to mothers, play chess with the hour slots, and swear I will not give any more classes ever again.

And, of course, the kids I like the best are the ones that don't come every day they're scheduled, for various different reasons. Sometimes, week after week, I see the same face of a kid I wish I could sometimes send home with the imprint of my slipper on their bottom. These kids are never sick, not even with the sniffles, nor have a dentist appointment, nor anything that would prevent them from showing up. Every day they're scheduled, as I shut the door behind them, I breathe a sigh of relief, and pray they miss the next hour they have to come. Every week, they show up at their appointed time.

Some of the classes do get interesting, though. Sometimes, I deviate and jump from English to linguistics or history. Last week, with a nine and ten year old, I explained "turn left" and "turn right." It was new for one, and review for the other, who had forgotten all about it. I explained how "right" also meant "correct" and that it was because of how the right and left hands have been perceived throughout history, with the left hand being considered the hand of the Devil. I even explained the Latin terms for them, and how they influenced Spanish words, such as "diestro" and "siniestro." The former means "skilled," and the latter means "evil." They come from the Latin "dextra" and "sinistra", for right and left. Whether or not they got anything from it, I don't know, but they didn't look bored, at least. 

I also tried to do Bram Stoker's Dracula with a couple of high school kids. I started out by explaining a bit of Eastern European history, explaining the long wars between the Muslim Turks and the Orthodox Europeans, of which they had no idea, as background to the story. (The reason we got to Dracula was because I had worked with them on the break-up of Yugoslavia, (of which they also knew nothing) and the slaughter of people because of religion or origin. That led to older history, which led to literature.) They had never read Dracula, either, though they had watched a bunch of bad vampire movies, and had an idea of most of the superstitions. Whether or not they will continue reading it, is another story. Most likely, not, because the English was not that easy for them. But I did point out that on gutenberg.org they could also find the Spanish version for free. 

Once the classes get settled in, I will fall into the swing of things, again. Some will be interesting, others not so much. But, at least the anguish of setting everything up will be over.

Life continues.

 Blackboard, Writing, Chalk, White



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Not so Fast, 53 - 57. The Sword of Religion
07 September 2021

A young woman is walking along the road, humming quietly to herself a song her mother used to sing to her as a baby. Her green cloak is still new, and she decided to wear it because of the chill in the air, despite the fact that her mother had warned her not to. Times had changed. The war had ended, and the men of religion had won. They had begun to impose their laws, and a green cloak was not appropriate any more. 

"Woman!" a shout breaks her reverie. She looks around. A man of the law is standing behind her. "There is to be no singing! You are to be clad only in black! Hie ye home and strip that ungodly color off your back!"

The girl turns and rushes home, her green cloak flowing like a wind-blown leaf. Her mother had been right. It was a good thing he hadn't asked her who her parents were, and where she lived. There would be a record of how the religious men had entered their house and taken the food cooking over the fire on the last Wednesday of the previous month. This was the day everyone was ordered to fast, from children to the elderly, so as to come closer to God. They might decide to flog her father for so many rules they had broken.

This is not Kabul. This is London in the Interregnum years, from 1649 to 1659, when Oliver Cromwell had charged himself with being the Lord Protector of England. The English Civil War had been waged for two reasons, one was political; the struggle between Parliament and a King who was the last to claim Divine Right, and the other was religious; between an established Church of England considered too close to Popery and the Puritans who had been growing in influence and power. 

Once the war had been won, Cromwell imposed rules based on the Puritan vision of how life should be. No singing, no alcohol, no sports, no theater, no dancing, no music, no bright colors, no showing of cleavage by women, no walking on the Sabbath unless going to church, no eating on the last Wednesday of each month, no celebration of feast days, no Christmas, no joy. How different were the Puritans from the Taliban? 

I'm not saying the Taliban are entitled to their intolerant ideas, simply that the horror the Afghan population is now facing is similar to the horror others have faced before, within our own culture. Another example is Calvin's Geneva, around a hundred years before Cromwell. The intolerance of the Consistory led to Miguel Servet, the discoverer of the pulmonary circulatory system, to be burned to death for denying the Trinity. And he had fled to Geneva to escape the Inquisition in his native Spain, only to find himself with the same intolerance. In the Spain of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Conversos who regularly cooked with chick peas, eggplant, saffron, or olive oil, were suspect of being secret Jews or Moslems. Some went so far as to cook bacon or eat ham in public, or even to hang a cured ham where it could be seen, so that the Inquisition would not settle its eye on them.

But religious intolerance is not a question of far away history. We are now learning of horrible conditions in boarding schools that housed indigenous children in peaceful Canada, a country now considered modern and tolerant of differing views. Those boarding schools were under the auspicies of the Catholic Church. Taking indigenous children from their families and raising them to forget about their culture meant, until the last half of the past century, a step toward Westernization and becoming true citizens of the country. That meant teaching them to be Catholic, as well. As we learn of more and more mass graves at those schools, we have to wonder just how intolerant, and inhuman, the staff were.

It doesn't matter what culture is involved, religion has always been used as a means to control the population, "for their own good." Islam doesn't hold the trophy for most intolerant. We Christians have a bad track record of our own. 

Life continues.

 Vintage, Black And White, Drawing



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Not So Fast, 48 - 52. A Shot in the Arm
05 September 2021

August is winding down to a close, with just a week left. The days are now nicely warm and summery, just as summer is about to end. There are blackberries in the sun-speckled areas of the woods, and I've eaten some, already. The days are now losing their light, as the sun heads away from us, with sunrise at around eight in the morning, and sunset at about nine in the evening. There's less than a month to go to the fall equinox, and then the darkness of winter descends upon us. 

As school comes closer (9 September for primary, and 15 September for secondary), parents are caught up in buying clothes, though books and supplies will wait for the lists to come home on the first day. This year, back to school also means getting a shot, and the age group getting their Covid vaccines are now from 12 - 16. I don't know if the European medical agencies will recommend the vaccine for younger children; perhaps they will wait for further research, but I suspect primary schoolers will soon get a shot, too. Perhaps this Christmas we truly will be out of the woods.

Spain doesn't have as many anti-vaxxers as other countries. France, for instance, has an enormous amount of people that don't believe in vaccinations. Most European countries, and especially countries formerly in the Soviet Union, have become averse to vaccination, not just of Covid, but of all kinds. Those countries that most want to be vaccinated are some countries in Asia, especially those that are poorer, and in Africa. 

About twenty-five percent of the world's population has been vaccinated against Covid, mostly in the richer countries where the population is more suspicious. Poorer countries have not yet received many shipments of any vaccine to have fully vaccinated their people. Spain seems to be leading the world in shots administered. For once, we're doing something right.

One of the reasons poor countries are more pro-vaccinations is precisely because they're poor. In rich countries, there are few reasons not to have a child vaccinated with all the suggested and required vaccines. Yet more and more parents are choosing not to. Vaccines are relatively cheap and readily available, so little importance is given to them. Hygiene and medical care form part of our lives. We are not as worried about falling sick. Our Western habit of asserting our personal beliefs over communal needs means that many families that prefer not to vaccinate their children based on ill-found fears or convictions, don't give their children their shots, and illnesses that had been on the verge of eradication are now creating local epidemics. 

In poor countries, however, to fall ill means a clear possibility of death if the illness is severe enough or brings complications, like many childhood illnesses can do. The health systems of many poorer countries are not as well-equipped and possibly not even available to their poorest citizens. When a vaccine is offered, it is thankfully accepted, not only for the individual child's sake, but also for the sake of other children that won't get sick because the transmission will be slowed down.

By refusing a vaccine that will prevent a possibly severe disease, we are putting in possible danger not only our health, but also the health of everyone who surrounds us. By being egotistical, and refusing to look at real statistics explained by real doctors, we are putting at risk our communities. Other cultures not as self-centered as the Western cultures understand that what benefits one will benefit all.

Unfortunately, with the Covid vaccines, the richest countries have assured that they will have, in storage, the necessary number of doses to vaccinate their populations many times over. That means that poorer countries have had to wait to make their orders, which, by necessity, will be many fewer. So, the countries that are least likely to reject vaccination, are those that will vaccinate their population late, and maybe even, only partially, because the rich are hogging all the production. We are quite selfish.

Life continues.

 Syringe, Needle, Injection, Shot, Inject



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Not So Fast, 44 - 47. 'Tis the Season.
01 September 2021

It's been lazy August days, this week, neither too hot nor too cool. Earlier in the week, it was windy, which is why someone probably chose to start a small fire in the woods last Tuesday evening. 

That afternoon, a cloud of smoke from a largish fire in the township of Rois had already covered part of the sky that we can see out our front windows. Gradually, as it was being put out, the cloud diminished. But, close to eight in the evening, with about a good hour and a half of daylight left, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye while sitting in the study. I turn to look out the window, and notice a cloud of smoke. I start wondering if the fire in Rois hadn't perked up, thought it seemed strange that it should have done so. I go to the window, and see that the cloud is coming from a clump of trees behind our neighbor's house. 

I start to yell that there's fire. My husband and daughter run to the front door, then put on their wellingtons and go to the path that leads into the woods, to try to help control it with branches. I call the emergency number, and answer all their questions, then go warn the neighbors behind whose house the smoke, now thick and dark, is wafting up, while the flames close to the ground crackle.

In a little while, the firefighters came, with their rubber spatulas they use to snuff out the flames on the ground, and the truck with the water. More neighbors had appeared and broken off more branches to help beat down the flames. The helicopter flying overhead seemed to think it was under control, because no water was dropped. After a bit of work, the fire was put out, and the area hosed down. There was no more problem after that, despite the wind that kept blowing all night and the next day.

Of course, the question remains, who lit it? Every year, there's a nut or two who loves to see how easily they can destroy, who goes from spot to spot lighting fires in the worst places possible. And, every year, there are rampant rumors about who it might have been. The stories range from neighbors who have some kind of "problem", to light aircraft flying overhead that let fall some type of timed artifact. No one knows. There hasn't been a fire in those woods, on the other side of the road from our house, in decades. If we get higher temperatures, and the northeast wind returns, I fear someone might try, again, to create havoc. 

There haven't been many fires in Galicia this year, because conditions were mostly against them. Other areas, such as the province of Avila, have not fared so well. On one of the Canary Islands, too, several homes burned in a small fire that started, like this one, close to the hamlet. Though, we're not out of the woods until the autumn rains begin in earnest, sometime in October or November. And, until then, there's still a chunk of the year to go.

Life continues.

   Element, Fire, Forest, Summer, Heat



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Not So Fast, 43. The Breaker of Empires.
20 August 2021

So, what will be the next move in this elaborate game of chess that no one will win? 

Back in the eighteenth century, Afghanistan appeared as a nation separate from Persia. Not much longer after that, the British appeared. They wanted to keep Afghanistan as a "friendly" nation to them, to act as a buffer state between Russia, which was expanding its power among the Central Asian countries, and its protectorate of India. (In modern times, much like Eastern Europe was kept as buffer states between Western Europe and the Soviet Union.) The British went through three wars in the nineteenth century, only to see Afghanistan be one of the first countries to formally recognize the newly formed Soviet Union. 

The twentieth century was a complicated one for Afghanistan, still a monarchy and impoverished. After the Partition, and the creation of Pakistan, the Durand line still held, and was a source of bad feelings between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Durand line was an arbitrary line created in an office to divide then-British India and Afghanistan, and artificially divided the homeland of the Pashtun tribes. 

Since Pakistan was a U.S. ally, and had bad feelings toward its neighbor, the Americans mostly denied aid to Afghanistan, with only a few private companies setting up shop in the country after World War II. Most of the aid the country received to modernize and shore up a paltry economy came from the Soviet Union, who was only too happy to create a buffer state in Central Asia similar to those in Eastern Europe. The country stepped forward into the twentieth century from the 1950's onward. 

Mohammed Daoud Khan led a coup, with the help of the Afghan Communist party, made
up mostly of Pashtuns, against the Afghan king in 1973, and proclaimed Afghanistan a republic. He didn't do much for the economy, though he did try to advance women's rights. From his days come the pictures of women in Kabul looking like women anywhere in the Western world. He also promoted the inclusion of women in the education system, and opened many schools.

But he didn't rely solely on the Soviet Union, which was not to Brezhnev's liking. Daoud also asked for aid from the United States, and Middle Eastern countries within the Western sphere of power. So, in 1978, the Afghan Communist Party, helped by the Soviets, made its own coup, and murdered Daoud and most of his family, creating the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. But these Communists were also nationalists and extremists. They immediately started a terror regime, killing all those they considered a threat, wanting to create the "social revolution" as soon as possible. Among their targets were also Soviet advisors. Moscow was thrown off guard. While they wanted a friendly "socialist" state on their border, Afghanistan was now completely unstable and easy prey for Western forces to subdue. So, they invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to try to stabilize it, their way.

The United States couldn't let things go. Neither the reign of terror imposed by the Pashtun communists, nor control by the Soviet Union was acceptable. So, they found a way to send weapons and advisors to local leaders, who rejected both the Afghan communists, and the Soviet invaders. That the leaders were mostly Islamic fundamentalists didn't much matter; after all, they were on the side of the West, and wanted to gain control of their own country. Once that happened, surely they would remember their friends in the United States, and grant them special friendship status, much like the Saudis, and the United States would succeed where Britain had failed. But the Afghan economy had no market in the West because they didn't have the oil, the natural gas, the rare minerals that the West needs to feed its beast. Their greatest crop was poppies, but the market for them does not depend on the West's industrial needs. So, once the Soviet invaders were driven out, it was the Americans' turn.

Now, those former friends became the Taliban, and enemies of the United States. After 9/11, that's where the focus went. Not the Saudis, nor the Egyptians, where the actual terrorists of that day had come from, not even the Islamic Republic of Iran, which had spent decades calling the United States the devil incarnate. It settled on Afghanistan, perceived as a weak nation, with barely any functioning army, who had played host at one time to the mastermind of Al Qaeda and 9/11, Osama Bin Laden. And the United States repeated the error that Britain and Russia had committed, and invaded Afghanistan.

Twenty years later, our generation's Vietnam has come to an end. U.S. and other NATO troops had gone in to root out terrorists, yet the terrorists are back in power, after two decades of destruction and loss of life. Now, it's the Russians' turn, again. Now, they are wary of the possible infiltration of fundamentalists into the Central Asia republics that once were a part of the Soviet Union. Now they are wary of the power vacuum that has suddenly appeared and not sure how to manage it after their fingers had been burned years ago.

I feel for the Afghan people who do not want to know anything about the Taliban and their impositions, especially the women. From being included in society, they are now being thrust back into the corners of their house, not even allowed to open an outside window and look out without covering their bodies completely. Now, they can't even go to market without a male member of the family accompanying them. What of the thousands of widows who have no brother or father left? Will they be whipped into their homes, locked up and dependant on neighbors' charity?

It is a sad part of the world. But the West can't fix it. Empires have tried, and empires have failed. That doesn't mean they won't try again, though. I wonder who the next ones will be to get their fingers smashed.

Life continues.


 



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Not So Fast, 38 - 42. Musings on a Sunday.
16 August 2021

I've had an internet problem these days. Fiber remains elusive, though another company tells me they're working on getting Movistar to install the damned connection box. I won't be holding my breath. My wifi router, after two weeks since its billing period began, reached the maximum of the gigas it offers me, and my connection slowed to a snail's crawl. I shopped around, found a mobile package with unlimited calls and 100 gigas, that works with the antenna of the only provider that has coverage around here. I contracted it, inserted the SIM card in an old phone, and now use it as a hotspot. The fine print said the company allows tethering, so there should be no problem. Why else would they offer so many gigas? Still, I'll wait a month or two, paying for both services, until I finally get rid of the old one, which only offers 40 gigas a month. 

This week we have finally gotten summery weather. It's warm, and I'm not complaining. Yesterday, it reached around 30ºC/86ºF, but today the forecast is for 29ºC/84ºF. The rest of the coming week won't go above it, so we won't be suffering the hell of Córdoba province: 45.9ºC/114ºF. All of the Iberian peninsula is under orange, yellow, and red alerts for high temperatures, except most of the coast, from mid Portugal all around to the Basque border with France. 

There have been some fires in some of the Mediterranean provinces, but not like in Sardinia, Sicily, Algeria, Greece, or Turkey. It seems the entire Mediterranean basin is burning. And northern Turkey is being annihilated by flooding. Listening to weather forecasts used to be soothing and boring, because of the expectedness of the forecasts according to seasons. Now, hearing of spiking temperatures, strong rains, unseasonably cold weather, or forming cyclones, makes one's heart race and wonder if, perhaps, one should check one's household insurance, to make sure it covers just about everything. 

The fifth wave also seems to be on the mend, though the hospitals are still bearing a lot of pressure. As the vaccinations progress in younger people, the rate of infection begins to go down. The most important, the death rate has also gone down. Last winter, the ratio of deaths was 16 for every thousand cases. Now, it's 1.5 deaths for every thousand cases. Vaccinations work to make the illness less lethal. This weekend, though, is worrying to many. Today is the fifteenth of August, the Assumption of Our Lady, and many cities and towns celebrate this day, even if this year many of those fiestas are very watered down or outright cancelled. People will still get together and celebrate, and masks and social distancing are anathema to celebrations. We might end up getting a sixth wave out of this, like we got the fifth out of Saint John's Eve. 

In today's paper, there was an article on how the roads into Sanxenxo and O Grove have been filled with patient and impatient drivers, all intent on making it to the local beaches, to celebrate the Assumption and the day after, San Roque, Saint Roche, which is a holiday in many cities and towns. People have been trying to find a hotel room, but the places are totally booked. Our town was filled with visitors today, since there was a rowing competition this morning, too. Too many people. The only thing about the pandemic, before vaccination, that I miss, is the lack of crowds. 

All that discussion last year about learning from the total shut-down of tourism, and how we needed to restructure it and other industries, has been lost along the way. We hear on the news about economic growth and how it still needs to pick up after last year's pause. Constant economic growth is impossible. We have seen it to be so, but we continue to stub our toe against the same stone. It's not easy to change the system, but it needs to be changed or we will finish destroying our planet, while leaving the most impoverished to die from others' success. 

Life continues on a warm and sleepy Sunday afternoon.

  Background, Muse, Fairy, Woman, Posters



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Not So Fast, 36 & 37. If I Could Visit Again...
15 August 2021

A few days ago, I saw on a Facebook page about Boston, that they were asking where readers would go if they had twenty-four hours in Boston. Is it possible to choose?

I would go to my old haunts in Jamaica Plain. The triple decker where we used to live. I've seen pictures of it on Google Earth, and the cherry tree is gone. They've re-done the front porches, and the bushes and roses are gone. It looks tattered now. Or it did, when Google sent its car around. 

There are trees lining the street, now, to protect some of the houses from the afternoon glare. I would go down the street to the old Seaver School, where I attended kindergarten. It's long been converted to condominiums. I still remember the class I was in, with books lining one wall, desks and small chairs, an emergency exit door with glass panes, where the play kitchen was set up. I envied the play kitchen, but a group of friends had a monopoly on it, and would only sometimes let me, the outsider, play, if I asked nicely. I had more fun with two boys who became my friends. We would play cops and robbers during free play time. Once, when Mrs. Linero opened the chest where she kept beautiful wooden blocks, we were told to form groups and make our own creations with them. The two boys and I decided to make a city, laying out pavements and streets by laying blocks out flat, and standing them to create buildings. 

After that visit, I would walk up the street behind my back yard to reach the Francis Parkman School, which now seems to be called the Boston Teachers' Union Pilot School. I attended first and second grades here. I still remember kind Mrs. Matthews, and the stern yet loving Mrs. Lodge. I remember a girl I admired, Celeste. She was a bit like a mother hen to me, and I loved how calm and collected she was, and her pretty caftan blouses (it was the 70's, after all). Then, I was accepted at Saint Andrew's, and I went there until sixth grade. 

Saint Andrew's was our parish, just kitty corner from the Parkman School. I remember the church, cool and cavernous. My First Communion was there, along with the entire second grade class of the parochial school. Now, it's the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church Sanctuary. I don't know if they still operate the school building behind the church. There was also a building that housed the nuns that helped run the school, the Sisters of Charity. The school, and the parish, was closed in 2005. When my daughter and I visited in June of that year, I took her to see the school, and learned of its closing from Sister Mary, the last nun still living in the convent, and the first grade teacher for many years. After one of the parish priests had been convicted of child molestation in the years I attended, and been lynched in jail, back in the 1990's, parents weren't too keen on sending their children there. 

My visit would continue down Walk Hill Street back toward my street. I would cross at the corner where we would go on Sunday mornings to pick up a dozen doughnuts at Dunkin' Donuts. On the other side of the street, the tracks of the commuter rail ran, coming down from Forest Hills Station down the street. But, here, there was (I hope there still is) a wooden pedestrian bridge, which my mother and I would cross to get to Washington Street. There, at the stop in front of Wellesmere Monuments, down the street from Puritan Ice Cream, we would catch one of the many buses that passed through Roslindale Square.

We would go there on Saturday mornings to go to the bank. If my father didn't work, he would drive. If he did work, my mother and I would go on the bus. At the Square, we would go to the bank, to Sullivan's Pharmacy if my mother needed a refill, and maybe a visit to Kresgee's department store. The store where I bought my school uniform was there, on that street. Every year, my mother would take me to buy new shoes. The uniform would only be replaced if I really needed a new one or if the rules changed, because my mother believed in buying clothes to grow into them. She would pull up the hems at home, and, if I grew, then she would take them down during the year. There was no way I would have escaped hand-me-downs if I had had an elder sibling.

Some Saturdays we would visit the Roslindale branch of the Boston Public Library, where I first got a library card. Any book I would take out, I would start to read while waiting at the bus stop to go back home. Rare would be the day I wouldn't read forty pages in that piece of time.

On to Forest Hills station, and the Orange Line train into town. I still remember the rickety el, with the sharp, screeching, slow curves around Dudley Station. I loved to kneel on the seat and look at the passing attics, and the street below. As the train neared the South End, after Dover Street, I would see how the train would lower itself to street level, and then plunge into a loud blackness of the underground tunnel. Only then would I sit correctly on the seat, with nothing to see outside. When the new, below street level tracks were built, and the elevated tracks taken down at the end of the 1980's, travelling on the train was no longer magical. 

In town, I would visit the shopping area around Washington Street. I remember staring at E.B. Horn's window, marvelling at the jewellery sparkling in the lights, each piece with its price in big, bold numbers. I loved visiting Jordan Marsh and Filene's, especially Filene's Basement, which looked like it hadn't changed since twenty years before I was born. Crowds of people pawing everything, shoving merchandise aside, trying to find the perfect piece at the perfect discount. Because the Basement was a knockdown area. Forget outlets, this was the real deal. Merchandise that wasn't sold on the upper floors was taken to the Basement and sold there at a discount. The longer it stayed in the Basement, the bigger the discount, until it was finally taken away and either donated or thrown out. Unfortunately, both Jordan Marsh and Filene's are gone.

From there, I would probably go past the Old State House, past the new, atrocious City Hall and Government Center, to Haymarket, on a Saturday morning. When we visited in 2005, it was already missing part of its enchantment. When I was a child, there were also fish vendors, with their wares on old carts, stuffed with ice. There were fruits and vegetables of all kinds, and the market wrapped itself around the block, hampering cars that wanted to join the Southeast Expressway. There were butcher's shops along the street, where I would follow my mother, into the musky smelling interiors, dried blood on the counters, and a few flies finding the place. That never bothered me. There was also a pizza place, run by Portuguese immigrants, where my mother would sometimes buy me a slice, after watching the cook twirl the dough into a flat circle. I also remember coolers of ice filled with cans of tonics, root beer, Coke, ginger ale for sale on summer mornings. 

When my father was free on Saturdays, we would take the car into town, and he would park in the parking lot beneath the Expressway. There was a pedestrian alleyway that wound through the parking lot, connecting Haymarket with the North End. My mother and I would also visit shops there, and my 24 hours would continue into there.

We lived at Hanover Avenue, which, ironically, was a bit of an alley off Hanover Street, that connected with North Street, for my first five years. I remember going to the Green Cross Pharmacy nearby, with my father, where he would buy me a square of Cadbury chocolate, preferably with raisins and nuts. I also remember playing around the statue of Paul Revere, in a park there. There was a clinic nearby, where I got my obligatory shots as a child. With one shot, I remember some kind of marking on my skin, that I claimed was a tattoo, and I told my mother I wanted one, just like some of the men had. Little did I know then, that I would get one, one day. 

And Mike's Pastry can't not be visited. From the beginning, every birthday cake that darkened our threshold, both when we lived in the North End, and when we lived in Jamaica Plain, came from Mike's Pastry. We so missed their rum-soaked cake, that the first year we were here, we asked a local bakery if they could also soak a cake we ordered with rum. But Mike must have had a secret ingredient, because it simply didn't taste the same. 

The rest of the twenty-four hours, if any were left, I would spend wandering all over the place, from Beacon Hill, to the Common, to the wharves, to Back Bay, to my old alma mater, Boston Latin School, to the medical area, to the rest of Jamaica Plain, down to Dedham Mall, where we spent a lot of Sundays, and around the Jamaica Pond area, and the Arboretum, where we also went for walks in the nice weather. And, even so, there are many more streets and neighborhoods that would beckon to me to be remembered, some for past's sake, others for their own sake. Twenty-four hours in Boston is like twenty-four hours in Paris; impossible. 

Life continues, full of nostalgia.

 

 



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