Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 4.8.21

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 

– Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’ 

Cosas de España/Galiza  

Says The Times this morning: Spain won’t be placed on the UK ‘red list, because of a significant fall in cases and UK government concerns that there aren’t enough hotel rooms to quarantine returning holidaymakers. Spain will remain on the amber list, meaning the fully vaccinated will have a quarantine-free return. This week at least.

Also from The Times this morning. Juan Carlos, the disgraced former king of Spain, cuts a lonely and tragic figure: he is mired in allegations of financial misconduct and spends his days in voluntary exile on an island off Abu Dhabi. Old and frail, all he really wants is to return home and spend what time he has left in the country whose monarch he was for almost 40 years. But the 83-year-old former king doesn’t attract much political sympathy because his present predicament is very much his own fault. He is accused of financial misdeeds and faces several ongoing corruption investigations. But a poll suggests most Spaniards are more forgiving than their rulers and believe their former king deserves to come home.

HT to Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas for this data:-

1. Some 64% of Spanish 25-29 year olds still live with their parents.

2. Those who’ve moved out are spending a large chunk of their [never very impressive] salary on rent.

3. There are an estimated 45,000 prostitutes in Spain and at least 1,100 bordellos (brothels). Pro rata, far more than in other European countries. 

And here’s Lenox on getting a Spanish passport.

María’s Not So Fast: Days 29-20  Electric Shock

The UK 

Is Britain becoming more like Spain? Tribal politics, it’s claimed, are blocking debate around increasing corruption there. Specifically, what’s labelled ‘access capitalism’ – payments to ensure a monthly lobbying meeting with the PM and Chancellor of the Exchequer. Or for a peerage. As someone has written: Reform of the opaque systems of honours, appointments and political donations is urgently needed before a worsening integrity problem becomes a full-blown corruption crisis.

Another negative. . . Freedom is losing the battle in Britain, says the writer of the article below.

And a 3rd . . . Many familiar words have become unacceptable to cancel culture and to this list should be added “servant”. The British recoil with ever more disgust from performing personal service. Many young Brits are unwilling to work in catering, because it is such hard work. Thus we can hardly be surprised that the exodus of European workers following Covid and Brexit has caused a staffing crisis in pubs, hotels and restaurants.

The EU 

Under the new European Travel Information and Authorisation System due to come into effect by the end of 2022, non EU citizens will be charged €7 to enter the Schengen Area. This will include Brits, of course, who will have to fill in an online form for, inter alia, France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. The authorisation will last for 3 years, and will allow multiple trips across different countries. A stealth tax? 

The Way of the World

The Balenciaga fashion label is selling a jumper that implies its wearer has come off worse in a fight with a Staffordshire terrier. The ‘distressed-effect embroidered-logo hoodie’ features holes in the chest, arms and back, and a bottom that appears to have been attacked by ravening moths. And costs costs a mere £1,350, 

Finally  . . .  

July’s weather was unusually poor here on the Galician coast and, so far, August’s has been simply atrocious. Looking out early this morning at the Atlantic blanket of cloud and rain, it looks – and feels – far more like winter than summer. And it’s forecast to rain every day next week, though this could change, as predictions beyond a day or two are dicey here. Anyway, I do feel a tad sorry for the Madrileños who’ve come here for the whole of August to escape the capital’s heat. Though they’ve more than managed that . . 

Note: If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here


The rest of the world has shamed Britain’s blasé rejection of liberty. Our national failure to confront the autocratic implications of Covid rules is a devastating mistake: Sherelle Jacobs 

Freedom is losing the battle in Britain. The young are being bullied into having their jabs with chilling threats, as passports are poised to bar the unvaccinated from nights out. No 10 remains gripped by siege mentality, as travel rules remain stubbornly in force. Among the public, an almost puritanical devotion to caution has prevailed over the seductions of liberty. While restaurants inconsolably report that they are only slightly more busy, large events are still underselling their tickets and face night after night of cancellations as the anxious shun crowds. In this strained atmosphere, variants are becoming a source of paranoid fixation. The latest to do the rounds is the “realistic possibility”, according to Sage, of a mutation that might kill one in three.

Something bizarre has happened in the final phase of our country’s pandemic journey. Cases seem to be now falling despite the July reopening. Some experts predict that we are approaching herd immunity. Even Professor Neil Ferguson has said that the pandemic could “largely be over” by October. Variants remain a threat, but the risks will be reduced by booster jabs, genomic surveillance and clinical trials for updated vaccines. 

Yet any hope of a decisive return to normal seems dead. Boris Johnson has missed his moment to rally the country around the cause of freedom, with a turbocharged reopening of Global Britain. Instead, even in a best-case scenario, the coming months are set to be a misery of border restrictions, variant angst and creeping biosurveillance.

Most dispiriting perhaps is that there is no sign of a popular backlash to this dereliction of leadership. The Labour Party is set to back vaccine passports (as long as negative Covid tests are also permissible), and militates for Australia-style closed borders. Liberty is increasingly being derided as a Right-wing fetish, with agitation limited to a few Tory backbenchers, a smattering of civil rights groups and a fringe assortment of conspiracists and anti-vaxxers.

In this way, Britain seems to fall into a depressing European pattern. Although anti-lockdown protests have been raging in the likes of Germany and Italy largely because vaccine passport plans are more advanced, these marginal movements have been overshadowed by violence and dismissed by the mainstream as crankish. Germany’s main anti-lockdown Querdenker is an eccentric crowd of middle-class Green voters. In Italy, the Right’s controversial Brothers of Italy have become the face of rebellion.

The West only seems to host two interesting (if imperfect) counters to the trend against libertarianism. The first is the United States, a land where freedom remains as American as apple pie. True, the borders are still shut. Nonetheless, even as Joe Biden insists that there are no plans to introduce vaccine passports, several states have proactively introduced laws to ban them. The vast majority, from Florida to Pennsylvania, have rejected mask mandates in public spaces. Even as Delta variant cases soar, the country has ruled out further lockdowns.

The subtler bucker of trends is France. On the surface, civil liberties look like a toxic lost cause, as Macron doubles down on passports, and protests turn ugly. Crucially, though, both Left and Right are rounding on the French President; while socialist firebrands like Jean-Luc Mélenchon decry Macron’s “presidential monarchy”, Marine Le Pen lambasts his “indecent brutality”.

Perhaps detectable in both France and America is a popular reverence of liberty. In the USA, it is not simply an an abstract principle but a visceral lifestyle, encapsulated by Hollywood Westerns and the grit of the open road. In France, populist freedom seems more cerebral. The English historian Christopher Dawson once said that in France, liberty is ideological, whereas in Britain it is traditional. What he meant is that the French have long thought hard about freedom and why it matters, from the philosophes of the French revolution to the Marxist existentialists of the Sixties with their black turtle necks and love of Jean-Paul Sartre. The latter spent his career battling to prove that metaphysical freedom was compatible with die-hard Left-wing views.

In contrast, Britons have tended not to give freedom or its compatibility with contemporary views much thought, taking it as a self-evident part of our heritage, enshrined in Magna Carta and preserved in common law. Perhaps this is why conservatives struggle to move beyond fusty rhetoric about “ancient liberties” and the “unBritish” ID cards – while the vapid Left flees the field completely.

In an intriguing twist, while Western libertarianism in countries like Britain struggles for oxygen, freedom movements are exploding across the developing world. In contrast with the “woke” West, young people are at the forefront. From Africa to Latin America, citizens are rising up against lockdown economic turmoil and the construction of Covid police states. 

In my father’s native Nigeria, a movement against state brutality has gathered pace in recent months. The younger generation is at war with the paternalistic old guard, as the police exploit the Covid emergency to harass laptop-wielding millennials (considered a threat as they work in tech rather than rely on state jobs).

Meanwhile, in Colombia, protesters rail against the bloated government’s tax hike plans and state oppression. In South Africa lockdown job losses and vicious pandemic policing have triggered a similar backlash. Even the toppling of the Tunisian prime minister, which has been widely interpreted as a “blow to democracy”, has an overlooked radicalism; the country’s secular anarchists idealistically believe the “corrupt” status quo should be replaced by hyperlocalism.

The unrest across the world could well lead to troubling developments in many places. Nonetheless, these uprisings show that while Westerners increasingly dismiss liberty as a dangerous luxury, millions across the world have in fact hardened in their views that freedom from oppression is a basic condition of a healthy, functioning society.

It is a sobering and humbling reminder that the case for freedom – as a basic psychic human need and fundamental condition for a healthy, sustainable society – cannot be taken for granted, even in a place like Britain. It must be made over and over again.