13 March 2022: Covid sequelae; The ugly Sagrada Famila; Town hall corruption; & More serious stuff

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Dawn%2BBox%2BDay%2B2015.JPG
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’


One obvious risk of lockdowns was that people frightened and isolated indoors would eat more, dink more and exercise less, except to hit each other. At least in the UK, that’s exactly what the stats on obesity and domestic violence now prove.

Cosas de España/Galiza  

I was pleased to read – being of the same option – that George Orwell – in ‘Homage to Catalonia’ – described Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona as ‘One of the most hideous buildings in the world’. In fact, Orwell added: ‘I think the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up when they had the chance’. I agree with that too.

HT to Lenox Napier Business Over Tapas  for this item: ABC looks at municipal corruption in a piece called ‘Political corruption without remedy’, sub-headed: ‘Many city councils become nests of cronyism, and small niches of corruption where the management of public money is the least part of it, contrasted with illicit enrichment’. Not something which concerns most Spaniards, it seems. Especially if it’s done by the party they favour.


Private Eye reports this conversation:-

Putin: You are a peacekeeping force.

General: Which piece would you like us to keep?

Putin: All of it.


An interesting insight? Putin is haunted by the loss of ‘real’ Russians. Population decline is the driver of the war — and may decide its outcome. See the first article below

The Way of the World 

Have you noticed, in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis, ever such a teeny tiny shortening of tempers when it comes to putting up with professional moaners and high-profile online “victims”? That’s the opening sentence in the 2nd article below.


As a child, I was taught both English Lang and English Lit. The teaching of the former went out of fashion but, in the UK, has now returned with a vengeance. Despite the (essential) teaching I had, I agree with this chap on current teaching: I’m fluent in 3 languages and have a smattering of others. I’d never heard the terms “fronted adverbial” and “expanded noun” until recently. I believe a knowledge of grammar is necessary but a concentration on obscure terminology isn’t. It reminds me of an early experience when I came to Spain 21 years ago and a Spanish friend moaned that the hardest thing about learning English was mastering pages and pages of ‘phrasal verbs’. WTF are phrasal verbs?, I replied. It turned out they’re things my 4 grandchildren – aged 3 to 6 – are already masters of, despite never seeing a list. But, yes, they are hard for foreigners. Just think of ‘to take off’, for example. Easy to immediately think of 4 different meanings.

New word for me: Ouroboros. This is: A gnostic and alchemical symbol that expresses the unity of all things, material and spiritual, which never disappear but perpetually change form in an eternal cycle of destruction and re-creation. It depicts a serpent or dragon eating its own tail. 

Finally . . .

To amuse. . . Useful tags for your house-plants . . .

For new reader(s): If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here. If you’re passing through Pontevedra on the Camino, you’ll find a guide to the city there.  

RECOGNISABLE OLD ENGLISH WORDS: PART 5 Pronunciation in brackets

From Hana Videen’s The Wordhord 

bēor, noun (bay-or): Alcoholic drink brewed from various fruits and honey.  

bēor-þegu, noun (bay-or-theh-guh): Carousal, drinking of bēor (bēor-taking). 

drēam, noun (dray-ahm): Joy, pleasure, gladness. 

druncen-georn, adjective (drunk-en-yeh-orn): Drunk (drink-eager). 

ealu, noun (eh-ah-luh): Ale. 

gāst, noun (gahst): Ghost, spirit, demon. 

glīw, noun (glee-ew): Glee, joy, mirth; amusement, entertainment; music. 

gyst, noun (yuest): Guest, visitor, stranger. 

hægel, noun (hae-yell): Hail (ice pellets) 

hēafod-swīma, noun (hay-ah-vod-swee-ma): Dizziness, intoxication (head-swimming). 

hearpe, noun (heh-ar-puh): Harp. 

heorþ, noun (heh-orth): Hearth, fireplace; home, household.  

lagu, noun (lah-guh): Sea, water. (Lake)

mann, noun (mahn): Man, human being.

mann-drēam, noun (mahn-dray-ahm): Human joy; joyous noise, jubilation. 

medu, noun (meh-duh): Mead, alcoholic drink made from honey. 

medu-heall, noun (meh-duh-heh-all): Mead-hall. 

nȳd, noun (nued): Need, necessity, inevitableness, affliction. 

sele-drēam, noun (seh-leh-dray-ahm): ‘Hall-mirth’, joy of the hall. 

wil-cuma, noun (will-kuh-ma): One whose coming is pleasant; a welcome person or thing. 

wīn, noun (ween): Wine. 


1. Putin is haunted by the loss of ‘real’ Russians. Population decline is the driver of the war — and may decide its outcome: Dominic Lawson, The Times

Russia’s airstrike on a hospital maternity unit in Mariupol has captured, for many, the monstrous cruelty of Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine. But it was also a grotesque metaphor for the fear underlying Putin’s attempt to reincorporate Ukraine within what he calls the Russian “family”.

Put simply, Russian deaths exceed births, to an extent that — to use his spokesman’s word — “haunts” the man in the Kremlin. Last year, not least because of the coronavirus, the Russian population experienced a natural decline (the effects of immigration excluded) of over a million. But even before the pandemic Russia’s official statistical body, Rosstat, pointed out that the country had suffered a “net loss” of one person every thirty seconds in 2018.

In recent years the rate of decline in the population of this almost unimaginably vast country has been checked by large-scale immigration from neighbouring central Asian states. But as the Institut Montaigne pointed out in a timely paper last month, Why Ukraine matters to Russia: The Demographic Factor, “Immigration no longer compensates for natural decline, and has resulted in rising tensions in cities and racist incidents. The Kremlin has therefore experimented with new approaches.” The main example given is the “distribution of Russian passports” in occupied areas such as Donbas. Now the same method will apply to Ukraine as a whole, even if Putin does not succeed in annexing it entirely.

That this is the strategy was made clear last week at a meeting in the Kremlin between Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, footage of which was broadcast on state television. It was about the fate of the orphans created by the war — sorry, “special operation” — for whom the entirely blameless Russian president is deeply concerned. Putin told Lvova-Belova it was desirable for those poor infants to be able, immediately, to have Russian passports: “We will amend the laws accordingly. We will ask the state Duma to do its work.”

If Putin were to succeed in taking over Ukraine, his original objective, he would have roughly 44 million new Russian passport-holders, increasing the “Russian” population by about 30 per cent. Not just that, but it would break the increasing “Muslimness” of the Russian state’s demography. Not least of the Kremlin’s concerns is that it is among the “ethnic Russian” population that the demographic decay is palpable. According to the Warsaw Institute, “the death-to-birth ratio comes as much as 2.5 to 1 for ethnic Russians”.

Meanwhile, the demographics of the central Asian republics are moving in precisely the opposite direction. Which is why that paper from the Institut Montaigne argued that the obsession with regaining Ukraine was based on “the underlying fear that Russia will be absorbed by Asia. While Russia’s population is shrinking, that of central Asia is increasing and China’s growing shadow looms over the eastern part of the former Soviet Union. In a way, for Russia, losing Ukraine means trading a European future for an Asian one.”

Putin and Xi Jinping are best buddies at the moment, but there is not the slightest feeling of affinity between the peoples of Russia and China (whatever their leaders say). It is a purely transactional relationship between two autocrats, like that sealed between the dictators of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939. It didn’t end well.

While China’s population has been given a vicious downward twist by its now abandoned one-child policy, its depletion is nothing to that facing Moscow, which is why Putin has repeatedly stated that reversing population decline is his primary strategic goal. The bleakest forecasts emanate from the Kremlin itself, notably one by the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, which claimed that “an inertia-based scenario” could take Russia’s population of 145 million to 113 million in 2050.

Incidentally, this may be one reason for the Kremlin’s legislative onslaught on what it terms “gay propaganda”, which has endeared Putin to sections of the far right in the US and Europe. Although the Kremlin’s claim to be the standard-bearer for “family values” may not seem quite as alluring to those admirers in the wake of the physical destruction of families in Russian bombardment of Ukraine’s cities.

And if Russia does fail to win its war, one component in that may well also be a question of numbers. Last month that invaluable US military analysis website War on the Rocks assessed Russia’s military ambitions, in the context of its demographic decline. It pointed out that in the 19th and 20th centuries “a larger population base was essential for mass mobilisation armies. In large-scale industrial warfare … more people meant larger armies and the ability to replace losses. Few countries know this history better than Russia … We should not forget Stalin’s adage that ‘quantity has a quality of its own’.”

War on the Rocks went on, however, to assert that this was not the case in the 21st century: “Wars are no longer fought by mass mobilisation armies. As firepower and range have increased, the need for manpower has decreased compared with the great power conflicts of the 20th century.”

Except that, as we have seen over the past fortnight, the Russians are conducting their Ukrainian campaign in a very 20th-century fashion. They need big numbers (hence the use of conscripts in the assault, first denied by Putin and then admitted). While they still may have the soldiers to overthrow the Kyiv government, they don’t possess the sheer numbers under arms necessary to occupy Ukraine. Thus General Sir Richard Shirreff, former deputy commander of Nato, pointed out that at least 500,000 troops would be required for such an operation: “Putin doesn’t have that, and he will run out of people.”

In other words, a war based on a desire to reverse the demographic collapse of ethnic Russians, by annexing a nation thought by Putin to be full of Russians denied their true identity, is doomed to failure in part because of the problem he sought to solve.

In fact, his deadly adventure will make that problem even worse. Russians — the most educated ones — are fleeing their country in droves. Meanwhile, on the battlefield, thousands of young Russians are losing their lives — before they have had the chance to have children.

The maternity wards of Russian hospitals will become even less busy, and Putin will prove himself the midwife to depopulation. In this, as in other consequences of his war, he is creating the outcome he fears most.


Have you noticed, in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis, ever such a teeny tiny shortening of tempers when it comes to putting up with professional moaners and high-profile online “victims”? People, for example, such as the bedwetting writer Laurie Penny, who claimed last week that bad book reviews for a recent book she wrote on sex and gender had triggered her “CPTSD” (complex PTSD).

In beforetimes, Penny would probably have got away with this: if someone felt they had CPTSD as a result of book reviews, well, then, CPTSD is what they had. But now we seem rather less inclined to suck up obvious trash when children are dying and new mothers are being carpet-bombed by Russia’s unhinged Dobby the House Elf lookalike.

As JK Rowling told her: if “bad book reviews” cause someone the “equivalent trauma to . . . witnessing the murder of loved ones”, then perhaps they should stick to a job where “dishing it out, but not being able to take it, is a key requirement”.

I haven’t read Penny’s book, but the angry response she received felt wildly refreshing. It made me feel we’re no longer going to put up with this phony rubbish. In the next few months I hope we might even be heading for a deeper and more satisfying cultural cleanse, possibly of models/influencers/whatevers like the Britain’s Got Talent judge Amanda Holden, who last week announced a podcast in which she would be talking to Ukrainian refugees after one approached her on Instagram. Haven’t they suffered enough?

Scan any section of the internet and you will find countless such people saying they are deeply concerned about world events when they really aren’t: like the people who run one of Milan’s biggest universities, who cancelled a course on Dostoyevsky, a move its tutor, who later resigned, described as “unbelievable”. Why do some people have to tell other people what to think and do so much?

In my view it should always be up to the audience to decide in what way they wish to show their hate for Russian culture. As a friend tells me: “I for one will not be reading Tolstoy until the conflict is over.”

We have become so weighed down by grifters and drifters that even Kim Kardashian, the architect of some of the internet’s most naked and trivial content, seemed to have had enough when she said last week that she was tired of people taking the piss: “It seems like nobody wants to work these days.”

Kim was offering advice to “women in business”, dressed, as ever, with two tiny strips of leather over her nipples. But suddenly she seemed overwhelmed by emotion: “I have the best advice for women in business,” she told an interviewer. “Get up off your f***ing ass and work. No toxic work environments and show up and do the work.”

I have watched the footage of her delivering the line three times and I can’t for the life of me understand why such a foolproof bit of honest good sense should have attracted such venom.

One woman, a Harvard-educated telly presenter, spitefully said it helped to be “born rich”, as Kardashian was. Another person pointed out she wasn’t really a supporter of women — she’d worked for the digital side of the Kardashian business and they’d told her off when she’d called in sick because she was too poor to pay for petrol in her car.

“Nobody needs to hear your thoughts on success/work ethic,” snarled someone else.

You look at these comments and think: what is the difference between this kind of authoritarian savaging and the stuff you get in Putin’s Russia? Do these people on the net even believe what they are saying, or do they just want to ride, as Penny once put it, in “the clown car of modern politics”?

Kim has always come under fire, for supposedly being lazy and building her career on a sex tape, but this is not the Kim I know. I find her quite reserved and thoughtful — the sort of person to colour-coordinate her shampoo.

She is training as a lawyer, and I think she secretly wishes she had always been one, rather than a strange doll covered in yellow “caution” tape, who could barely walk out of the Balenciaga show last week. I suspect she would prefer to read law books to sitting, boringly, in “glam” 20 hours a day, as she does now.

I love it when she inadvertently shows her Thatcherite tendencies: as her mum, Kris, says: money always matters. The slant of the new Kardashian show is “business” and Kim’s “law school journey”, which the channel that used to run their show refused to take seriously.

People may laugh at her claims that social media is “not easy”, but it isn’t easy if you do it as solemnly as she does. Some of the content Kim puts out probably takes 10 or 20 people to shoot: millions of people watched an “in-depth” tour of her fridge, which she conducted wearing only a bra, revealing she had five milks, six types of water and an entire shelf in her house for “sprinkles”.

What’s wrong about saying people need to work hard, anyway? As Kim pointed out, it’s “factual”.