24 April 2022: Foreigners in Spain; Cervantes; The Ukraine; Putin; & A couple of old songs.

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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’

Cosas de España/Galiza

Lenox Napier writes again here about foreigners in Spain, in various classes. It’s a case of confusing and inconsistent numbers, especially as regards Brits said to be living here. But, as always in Spain, totals which speciously exact. For reasons one can only guess at. My long-standing theory is that the compilers think this gives an air of veracity to their guesses. As in Indonesia many years ago, when the number of dead from an earthquake were said to be 5,017 – compiled, it was suspected, by adding a guess of 5,000 to the number of actual bodies so far found. Lenox’s main point is that no one in Spain is charged with even thinking about us (profitable) foreigners or to attracting more of us. Which is a tad surprising when we constitute 12.6% of the total population of 47.4m. In other words, we’re taken for granted. And attracting more of us is a wasted opportunity for Spain, which places a higher value on those fleeting, less-profitable tourists who could easily next year prefer, say, Turkey. There is something f a contrast here with Portugal, which actively seeks – one way and another – to make residence attractive to foreigners. Most obviously with a significant tax holiday for pensioners.

Below is The Olive Press’s view of what you should know about Miguel Cervantes, who died on 22 April 1616  – the day before Billy Shakespeare. He is, says TOP, indisputably the most famous Spanish-language author of all time.

The Pontevedra police have given us this breakdown of the pavement sinners of the last couple of weeks, which rather surprises me in its bias:-

Cyclists:30 E-scooterists: 4

As it happens, walking out of the city last night, I saw the police taking statements from one of the latter, who seemed to have been hit by a car on the (dangerous) huge zebra crossing at the city end of O Burgo bridge. As he wasn’t wearing a helmet, I assume he’ll be fined for that. And possibly for riding the e-scooter – as they do – across the zebra crossing. But I wouldn’t bet on that.


Does it suit Putin to have a continuing war, making the chances of a peace deal remote? I ask because a senior Russian commander has said that “Russia needs another path to Transnistria in Moldovia, where the facts of oppression [by ‘Nazis’] of the Russian-speaking population have been recorded”. As Richard North points out: This intensification of the victim status of occupied and targeted territories plays well in Russia. What we may have to get used to, he says, a perpetual state of war, prolonging the never-ending war which began in 2014. 


Black humour? Putin has announced the ‘liberation’ of Mariupol, which appears to exist now entirely of ruins. Like Aleppo, ruthlessly levelled with total disregard for human life.

An instructive insight: The Second World War — the Great Patriotic War in Russian parlance — has become virtually the secular religion of Putin’s Russia, and Victory Day, May 9, is its holiest day. Putin has re-instituted the communist-era tradition of a massive military parade through Red Square, and created new ones, like the Immortal Regiment procession, when Russians across the country and around the world march through the streets bearing pictures of those who fell in the war. The day is a state-sponsored nationalist celebration of triumph, national glory and martial might. Which needs perpetual war, you might argue. No wonder Finland wants to join Nato.


Whither Republicanism? The Republican Party, from a certain perspective, is in tatters. It is trapped in a dysfunctional relationship with Donald Trump, who, although he ended his term in disgrace and remains obsessed with re-litigating the 2020 election, still commands the loyalty of many Republican voters and poses a grave threat to any politician who crosses him. Meanwhile, many of the intellectual networks that powered conservative governments in the past have died off, been rendered irrelevant, or defected to the Democrats; there is a sense that the Trump-era GOP, while it may have a durable electoral base among middle-American whites, is incapable of appealing to any significant faction of professional-class elites. And yet . . . .  Read on here.

The Way of the World

This is a podcast – The new fight for women’s rights – featuring an excellent riposte from a feminist to the transgender zealots/extremists.

Social Media/Quote of the Day

We have become a voyeuristic species, endlessly scrutinising each other on social media, plugged into celebrity culture, rubbernecking at reality TV, our children indoctrinated into this consciousness-altering reality as they innocently surf their iPads. Through the distorting influence of technology, our problem is the way individualism has morphed into narcissism.  . . . We have never been above taking vicarious pleasure in suffering, hence the enduring popularity of misery memoirs and tabloid exposés. Today, though, we are seeing a new, more dangerous phase in this history, with sophisticated algorithms gamifying human suffering as a route to shareholder value. 


‘To gamify’: From ‘game’: To apply typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to an activity – typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.

Finally . . . 

As pop song titles go, this must be one of the best: It wasn’t God who made honky tonk angels, performed here by Kitty Wells. And here, in almost-English, by a Spanish singer, Ainara Vila.

These are Kitty’s lyrics which are clearly a same-tune riposte to this song – The wild side of life – by Hank Thompson, whose lyrics follow Kitty’s:-

As I sit here tonight, the jukebox playin’

The tune about the wild side of life

As I listen to the words you are sayin’

It brings memories when I was a trusting wife

It wasn’t God who made honky tonk angels

As you said in the words of your song

Too many times married men think they’re still single

That has caused many a good girl to go wrong

It’s a shame that all the blame is on us women

It’s not true that only you men feel the same

From the start most every heart that’s ever broken

Was because there always was a man to blame

It wasn’t God who made honky tonk angels

As you said in the words of your song

Too many times married men

Think they’re still single

That has caused many a good girl to go wrong

The Wild Side of Life

You wouldn’t read my letter if I wrote you

You asked me not to call you on the phone

But there’s something I’m wanting to tell you

So I wrote it in the words of this song

I didn’t know God made honky tonk angels

I might have known you’d never make a wife

You gave up the only one that ever loved you

And went back to the wild side of life…

The glamour of the gay night life has lured you 

to the places where the wine and the liquor flow

Where you wait to be anybody’s lady

And forget the truest love you’ll ever know

I didn’t know God made honky tonk angels

I might have known you’d never make a wife

You gave up the only one that ever loved you

And went back to the wild side of life…

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.


What you should know about Miguel de Cervantes, Spain’s greatest literary genius.

He is indisputably the most famous Spanish-language author of all time. In many ways he was a Spanish Shakespeare, a literary pioneer whose influence can be found in all who followed after him. Although the Bard of England, who coincidentally died one day later the same year, 1616, had an easier life. But how much does the average 21st century citizen know about Miguel de Cervantes, a man whose name adorns streets, theatres and the network of state-funded Spanish language schools? Despite 3 years at the University of Bristol studying literature, I’m shame-faced to admit I’ve never read Don Quixote.  Except that’s not entirely true; I read the first 100 pages and gave up. And I bet if you ask the next person they’ll have done the same. [I struggled right through to the end – over many, many nights.

Let’s face it, Cervantes’ 1603 classic is no short story. It’s a literary pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostela proportions, a weighty tome requiring many solitary evenings and 3 times as many glasses of whiskey to navigate. But that’s the mistake we make these days. Cervantes was about so much more than a crazy guy tilting at windmills. Yes, Don Quixote was the first real ‘literary classic’. Yes, it has been translated into myriad different languages. Yes, it has inspired generations of writers. And no: it wasn’t Cervantes’ only work. In fact, he was 56 when he published the first part of Don Quixote.

Before that, he lived an extremely tough and varied life in 16th-century Spain; a life that shaped this nation’s literary canon forever that begs to be remembered, explored and cherished. The year was 1547 (according to historians) when Leonor de Cortinas gave birth to a baby boy in Alcala de Henares. The boy’s father, Rodrigo, was a barber-surgeon from Cordoba whose job entailed setting bones and bloodletting. Theirs was far from a match made in heaven although they managed to have 7 children. Leonor was the daughter of a nobleman fallen on hard times who sold her into the marriage. Rodrigo was partial to the odd extra-marital fling. Together this large family travelled from town to town in search of prosperity.

Spain and Europe weren’t sitting still either. King Philip II of Spain’s wife, Mary I of England, had died, making way for an unpredictable protestant queen called Elizabeth I. The hitherto warm relations between the two countries quickly cooled and they became more awkward around each other than Cervantes’ parents. After a brief stint studying with Jesuits in Sevilla, Cervantes showed his first signs of literary flare by contributing poems to a volume in memory of Queen Isabel de Valois, who died in 1568. Two years later, like many other young men in 16th century Spain, he upped sticks to Italy’s illustrious capital city, Rome. Whether it was an escape, a search for enlightenment or the equivalent of a gap year is unclear. But in the city built by the Romans Cervantes saw the Renaissance flourishing through art, architecture and literature, a period scholars have regularly found allusions to in his works.

Spain was busy colonising the New World and waging wars in Europe and in 1570, being young and thirsty for adventure, Cervantes decided to enlist. He was quickly sent into battle against the Ottoman empire off the coast of Greece and, while aboard the Marquesa, was wounded twice in the chest and once in the arm. After recovering on Sicily, he returned for second helpings and made a much better success of it, obtaining leave to sail back to Spain to receive a promotion from the king in September 1575. Except it didn’t quite go to plan.

His ship, Sol, was boarded by Algerian pirates off the Catalan coast and Cervantes and the surviving crew members were imprisoned in Algiers for five years. This period of captivity molded him into the unbreakably courageous man he became. He led many escape attempts but only gained his freedom when Christian merchants stumped up the ransom money. Before he left for Madrid he penned an ‘Informacion’ about his jail time, an event that provided him with subject matter for many future works including the captive’s tale in Don Quixote.

You couldn’t really call writing a ‘career’ in these dark, pre-Penguin paperback days. It had to be combined with work that paid the bills. Cervantes became a purchasing agent for the Spanish Navy in Andalucia, a tax collector for the crown and also worked as a banker. His first published book, La Galatea, was released in 1585, and in the years that followed he penned many plays and short stories. He also married a girl from Toledo young enough to be his daughter whose uncle is said to have inspired Don Quixote. Despite being a published author, money was still in short supply and in 1590 Cervantes applied (unsuccessfully) for the job of accountant in the New World port of Cartagena in Chile. He was in and out of debtors prison over the next 7 years as a result of bad financial deals, only completing Don Quixote thanks to a small pension.

Despite his lack of funds and age – 65 – this was the richest writing period of his life. He created the blueprint for short story-writing with his novelas ejemplares, also producing countless exquisite plays, poems and the second part to Don Quixote. He allegedly died of Type 2 Diabetes on April 22 1616 (Shakespeare died on April 23), leaving behind an enduring legacy to rival his English contemporary.  Unlike Shakespeare, Cervantes was never particularly famous during his life. Incredibly, until 2010 no one knew where he was buried and there’s still some doubt.

Digging up Cervantes

Since 2010, archaeologists in Madrid have been determined to find the body of Cervantes, principally to ascertain how their national hero died. Last year, the search bore fruit when the bones of what is believed to be Cervantes were exhumed from the Church of the Trinity, along with 16 other skeletons. DNA can’t help as Cervantes lineage could not be traced but the circumstantial evidence was strong. The remains were reburied and marked with a monument although more tests are currently being planned.

Don in history

Cervantes’ seminal work, Don Quixote, is regularly included on lists of all-time great literary works. Published in two volumes in 1605 and 1615, the narrative follows the adventures of Alonso Quixano who reads so many tales of chivalry that he loses his sanity and sets out to revive the romance, right wrongs and bring justice to the world, under the name Don Quixote de la Mancha.

One comment

  1. Read in one of the Sunday papers how Greece having dropped all restrictions, is seeing a huge boom in tourism. As Lenox says in his articles, tourists are fickle and have no emotional attachment. Competition from other countries will only become more intense, Spain will need to be on its toes.

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