Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 14.5.21

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’ 

NOTE: Info on Galicia and my Guide to Pontevedra city here

My thanks to Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas for a couple of today’s items. 

Cosas de España 

Spain hopes to welcome around 45 million foreign tourists this year, just over half the pre-pandemic total registered in 2019, when it was the second-most visited country in the world. Which sounds more than a tad optimistic to me.

Politics: The bogeyman of the right wing – pony-tailed Pablo Iglesias – has retired from the game, after years of appalling abuse from right wing opponents. Giles Tremlett reviews here his impact on Spanish politics, averring that he changed it profoundly, as his party – Podemos – was the first insurgent party to break up the longstanding and corrupt Socialist-PP duopoly. Meaning that now, each of these must rule with a coalition partner or two. 

Be careful when buying your saffron. The police have cracked down on a crime ring passing off ‘cheap’ Iranian stuff as Spanish. We’re told there was a shadowy business network that allegedly used complex financial transactions, real estate purchases and front men to hide profits, while setting up secret warehouses where saffron would be weighed and sorted.  

I’ve always been  confused by the attitude of the Spanish government to the self-employed – autonomos – forcing them to pay very high social security contributions from the first day. In recent years, a discount has been applied for a short initial period but the current (socialist) government is proposing to markedly reduce contributions for early-stage entrepreneurs and compensate by markedly increasing them for later stage folk. It’s said that the Tax Office (La Hacienda) is particularly suspicious of the self-employed, perhaps with some  justification.

Cousas de Galiza 

Two or three years ago, the Pontevedra council said it was going to introduce a limit of 10kph in the city and I believe I did see a sign or two in evidence of this. But I also noted that no one seemed to be obeying it so wasn’t surprised when the signs disappeared. Yesterday, I saw a report that this limit is going to be (re)introduced for the city’s one-way streets. Of which there are many. Last night I tried to keep to this and, of course, couldn’t get out of first gear. And Lenox Napier has written somewhere that, on a motorbike, you’ll fall over at this speed. These laws can only be written by 17 years olds who’ve never driven a car. Or by bureaucrats with too much time on their hands. Or, most likely, under the tutelage of a mayor who really wants to see no cars in his city at all.

Meanwhile, is it a coincidence that – the day after the introduction of a 30kph limit – I saw 6 police cars within an hour in the city? Admittedly with 5 of these being in a petrol station. For reasons I can’t begin to guess at. There’ve been official denials of a special campaign but I naturally wonder how truthful these are.

María’s Level Ground: Days  39-40


The latest headline: Tens of thousands of Britons hoping for a holiday in Portugal this month had their plans plunged into chaos last night as the country looked set to ban holidaymakers until at least May 30. So, later than the optimistic date of 18 May, cited yesterday.

The UK 

At Cerne Abbas in Dorset, there’s a hillside chalk carving of a naked giant boasting a huge erect phallus. It dates from Saxon times and was thought to have always been thus. But soil investigation reveals the impressive member was added in the 17th century and was probably created by a chap taking the piss out of  Oliver Cromwell, via a ‘political statement’, after he’d been forced by the Puritan head honcho to flee to France. Which is nice to know.


A wonderful country relentlessly let down by its politicians, says the (right wing) writer of the article below. Who fears the country is a pressure cooker waiting to explode.

Finally  . . 

I’ve recently bought coffee beans from 2 cafés here in Pontevedra city and have paid €17.50 and €12.50 per kilo for them. In the second case this was actually below the price of €15.35 quoted to me by the local company providing it.This week I bought some Portuguese stuff down in Valença at €14.00. Two things surprise me:-

1. The beans I buy normally at Mercadona are only €8.64 a kilo, which must say something about the quality of their product.

2. At the recommended dose of 7gms of beans per helping of coffee in a café (on the side of one pack), each kilo provides 143 cups. At €1.20 a cup this is a gross income (for black coffee) of €171.60. And a net income of:-

17.50: 154.10 

14.00: 157.60

12.50: 159.10

Which seems rather a lot and perhaps explains why so there’s a café every 50 metres or so.


Barnier’s incendiary immigration U-turn betrays the panic gripping the French elite. France’s pressure cooker politics can only be fixed by a Brexit-style moment of democratic renewal: Allister Heath, Telegraph

What is wrong with France? There is an unmistakable whiff of panic in the Parisian air, a growing sense among sections of the ruling class that France, riven by culture wars, its economy and society in never-ending decline, its housing estates in the banlieues permanently on the brink, is nearing a tipping point. 

For all the sneers, Boris Johnson’s latest electoral triumph did not go unnoticed. What, the more far-sighted intellos ask themselves, will be France’s equivalent of Brexit, if, or rather when, it finally comes? Will it be another 1961 (a failed putsch), 1968 (hard-Left student insurrection), 1981 (communists in government), 1789 (proper revolution) or, hopefully, something milder, more constructive?  The gilets jaunes two years ago were a false alarm, but how will the rage of la France profonde manifest itself next time? Emmanuel Macron has admitted that Leave would win a vote on Frexit, though nobody will want to risk one. It’s a great shame: France, the country in which I grew up, needs a cathartic reset like Brexit, a political earthquake that is neither hard-Left nor hard-Right but which finally empowers the culturally conservative majority.

The country’s woes are many. Crime and disorder remain horribly high; extremist Islamism is rife, despite Macron’s efforts; racism and tensions between communities continue to traduce France’s republican heritage; the economy has been sluggish for years, weighed down by taxes, a bloated state, red tape, militant unions and a residual anti-entrepreneurialism; unemployment is high, especially among the young; and the education system, captured by egalitarian Leftists, is in long-term decline. 

Like in the UK, smaller towns, rural areas and the provinces are in freefall, and economic activity is concentrated in big cities. Yet France’s crisis is far greater than Britain’s, and unlike here a log-jammed political system militates against a rational solution. There is no middle France, anti-technocratic but mainstream radical conservative force. The result: extremist parties of Left and Right enjoy huge support.

The president’s latest gimmick has been to abolish the technocratic super-school he graduated from – the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, alma mater of swathes of the ruling class. There is just one caveat: he is opening a seemingly identikit institution under a new name. The vaccine mess has exposed France’s bureaucracy as pathetically inadequate, and thus further questioned its legitimacy. 

Hilariously, Michel Barnier, the EU’s erstwhile Brexit negotiator, believes he has the answer. Barnier has always been part of the problem, building an undemocratic Europe and causing untold misery with the euro. Yet he craves rewards for his many failings, and fancies himself as president.  In a breathtakingly hypocritical reinvention, Barnier is now calling for the end of all immigration from outside the EU for three to five years, and a rethink of the Schengen agreement. The first part is unbelievably extreme, stolen from Marine Le Pen’s manifesto. It is not racist to want to control and reduce immigration; it is racist to want to ban all non-European migrants and only them. It is also absurd: why not allow exceptions for doctors or entrepreneurs? No Western government has ever gone this far. 

Although ending Schengen is a separate issue, Barnier was probably dog-whistling that he would also like to restrict internal EU movement. It would be an astonishing U-turn from a man who claimed to venerate the indivisibility of the single market. When the British wanted to control immigration, he dismissed them as xenophobic; now that he seeks to tap into France’s anger against the system, a total ban on non-EU migrants suddenly becomes a sensible way of tackling terrorism. Never again believe Eurocrats claiming the liberal internationalist moral high ground.

The backdrop to Barnier’s demagoguery is simple. Le Pen is at 26 per cent in the polls; she would still be defeated in the second round against Macron but only just, grabbing 46 per cent. Much of her support is derived from younger people: she is the first choice of 30 per cent of 25-34-year olds, against just 20 per cent for Macron. She would be a disastrous choice, but many otherwise sensible voters are flirting with her because they think there is no other way of precipitating the shake-up they crave.

Even more ominously, France’s military, including retired generals and serving officers, have made two inflammatory interventions in recent weeks. “If a civil war breaks out, the army will maintain order,” they warned in a letter to a magazine; a poll revealed that the majority of the public agree. The soldiers accused the government of “selling out” to Islamism and slammed those who “scorn our country”. The fury in the army is mirrored in the country’s many police forces, and is deeply unhealthy. 

Meanwhile, Macron’s correct and necessary anti-Islamism keeps morphing into a dangerous and immoral anti-Islam and anti all other minority faiths. Appallingly, one Macron ally this week told off a party candidate for wearing a Muslim headscarf on an election leaflet, claiming it was incompatible with the party’s values. 

France rightly rejects wokery, but otherwise has catastrophically conflated integration with assimilation: it believes the only way to make immigration work is for newcomers to embrace compulsory secularism and sever all connection with their past. Freedom of religion is over: such madness will simply fuel further explosive tensions. Britain’s liberal-conservative solution is hugely superior, and conducive to harmony, freedom and social mobility; we have embraced hyphenated identities. It is obviously and rightly possible to wear the symbols or garments of any religion or none and be fully, proudly British. 

Macron will be remembered as a slightly better French Tony Blair. He has passed some reforms, but his Left-Right fusionism has failed, and the country is dangerously close to falling into neo-fascist or neo-communist hands. France is in desperate need of a Thatcher, and a Johnson, rolled into one: first, to liberalise the economy, then to show that it is possible for a mainstream, respectable candidate to be tough on crime, Eurosceptic and ready to tackle the massive problems in the outer cities. 

France is a pressure cooker waiting to explode. Who can rescue her before it is too late?