26 May 2022: Spanish informality; Pontevedra’s mayor again; A near thing; Garden news; China; The USA; Facebook; & Other stuff

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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 

I’ve said more than once that the Spanish are very informal except when, from time to time, they are very formal indeed. I thought of this again at the funeral Mass I attended last night, where I was the only person wearing a black tie. And one of the very few in anything like a suit. I certainly wouldn’t have stuck out if I’d stayed in my jeans and shirt. Or, stretching it a bit, if I’d come from the pool in my swimming togs. But, as a friend pointed out, not so long ago it would have been very different here, with her mother and grandmother decked out in black and sporting mantillas on their heads. The other thing which surprised me was how few there were in the church for a very popular man. But then it occurred to me that, if you get to 92, most of your friends will have gone before.

A friend has pointed out that, while the Pontevedra city mayor might be very popular with ambulatory residents and ‘pilgrims’ passing through in their many thousands, the small shopkeepers in the city have suffered from his relentless attack on cars and their parking spaces over the last 20 years. It got to me to wondering how interested our left-wing, Galician nationalist mayor is in commerce generally. After all, during the same time frame, he’s being trying to exile the city’s main corporate employer, the cellulose factory on the city’s outskirts. It’s certainly true that Pontevedra isn’t as business-like as Vigo to the south or La Coruña to the north. And I suspect the mayor is content to raise revenue more from the many bureaucrats living there than from companies. And from the several municipal service monopolies. Oh, and from the numerous EU grants the city seems to get. You can’t blame him, I guess. He’s made the city a global model of urban development. At least for those places which can rely on similar sources of revenue. 

Enjoying my Moroccan lunch yesterday, I was taken aback when all 5 of the folk at the next table screeched something at me as I raised my glass to down the dregs of my shandy. Luckily for me, they’d noticed a vespa velutina – an Asian hornet – descending into said glass. Which is why I can use my mouth today. And possibly why I’m still alive.

I’ve said that not all the trees in my garden have died off and yesterday I was delighted to see that another holly tree had self-seeded, below the ivy hedge. I’ll now move it, trying not to kill in it the process.

The other bit of good news is that the ivy hedge on the left side of my garden is close to recovering completely from the near total destruction visited on it 5 or 6 years ago by my ex-neighbour. When I was in the UK. Galicia’s mixture of sun and rain has surely helped in this.


Whither China now? See the article below

The USA 

A headline: Republicans pray for Texas shooting victims. Why? Because, I guess, the evidence is overwhelming clear that this works really well. 

On a local radio show, the host answered the question Why? with: The Devil came into school yesterday, looked these kids in the eye and said, ‘You’re gonna die’.” So, nothing can be done about it. They were just unlucky Old Nick chose them. And that he’s stronger than the god they pointlessly pray to. Still, the immortal souls of the children are safe and they’re all now with the god who didn’t stop them being slaughtered. Because he’s given Man free will, allowing them a chance to deserve to live for eternity with him. 

Listening to the Texas governor on Sky News this morning was so angrifying I had to switch it off – when he sank so low as to argue the law can’t be wrong because the USA is such a wonderful country that hundreds of thousands of foreigners want to go and live in it. I wonder if his god will welcome his soul into Heaven in due course.

There’s a BBC article here on the issue of the country’s perennial political divide on this issue.

The Way of the World

Going with the zeitgeist, the founder of Lifeflowbalance Coaching and Consulting Ltd claims she’s developing decoloniality as a systemic lens for creating solutions based on the liberating stance of working with the fissures and cracks of a broken system. Making the world a better place, I guess.

Social Media

Be warned . . . Private Eye: In Meta’s latest earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg quietly disclosed a major shift in the way Facebook and Instagram would in future deliver content to users. Speaking to analysts, he spoke of the shift towards “having more of your feed recommended by AI, even if the content wasn’t posted by a friend or someone you follow”, saying that “being able to accurately recommend content from the whole universe that you don’t follow directly unlocks a large amount of interesting and useful videos and posts that you might have otherwise missed”. This is a bold move from a company whose own internal documents from as recently as 2019 contain remarks such as “The problem is that we do not and possibly never will have an AI model that captures even a majority of integrity harms, particularly in sensitive areas”, whose AI models continue to struggle when classifying extreme content, and which in the past has had to apologise for using the news feed to experiment with emotional manipulation of users. Handing control of a third of the global population’s social needs to machiness whose reasoning we are incapable of comprehending – what could possibly go wrong?


Mantilla: Literally Una pequeña manta. A small blanket.


By pure coincidence . . . Slanket: A gigantic blanket with sleeves.

Finally . . .

To amuse . . .

For passing readers: 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. 


Xi reaps the whirlwind of his bromance with Putin. China’s leader thought he couldn’t lose from backing the Kremlin’s war, but it is ending in tears: Roger Boyes, The Times

What happens when a geopolitical bromance curdles? Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin swore friendship with “no limits” when they met in Beijing before the Ukrainian invasion but it was never clear where this relationship was going. Did they see themselves as creators of a new world order, like the blood brothers Augustus and Agrippa, the Roman empire-builders? Or as an anti-western partnership bonded by mutual grievances? Three months into the war, it’s worth asking if there is still a meaningful Xi-Putin axis or whether it’s already buckling under the strain.

The terms of their arrangement seemed to suggest that when Russia made its grab for Ukraine, China would watch Moscow’s back. It would not seek to exploit the westward shift of almost the entire Russian army from the far east. If, as anticipated, the West piled on sanctions, China would help the Kremlin out of its squeeze. And Russia would do the same for China should Xi invade Taiwan.

That was quite an entente. As recently as 2009 China conducted large-scale military exercises that some Moscow analysts understood as a dress rehearsal for an invasion of Russia. It took some years of elaborate courtship for quiet to fall on the eastern front.

But as bromances go, this one was always going to be more Molotov and Ribbentrop than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; that is, short-lived, with a whiff of imminent betrayal from the start. Xi did not, it appears, demand too many details about Russia’s gathering invasion force on Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders, trusting perhaps in Putin’s command of the battlefield. China, after all, had almost no recent experience of conflict, unless you count the short 1979 border war against Vietnam.

Xi was content to let Putin’s soldiers pay in blood for the cost of speeding up the inevitable decline of the West. He couldn’t lose, he must have told himself: at the worst, Biden would have to beg him for help in calming down Putin, in urging the Russians not to use tactical nuclear weapons.

Yet Xi was subjected to some rude shocks from the first weeks of Putin’s invasion. There was no surrender by Volodymyr Zelensky, no puppet regime installed in Kyiv, no triumphant welcome of Russia’s tanks, no Russian military governor. Just very public setbacks for the Russian military, and the creeping realisation that China was going to have to bankroll a protracted war in Europe, and to accept, too, that it was in harness to a military incompetent.

Since so much of the theatre of this unhappy axis was based on a personal understanding between the two supposedly invincible leaders, Xi will take a political hit. Suddenly, due to extend his presidential tenure later this year, Xi does not seem to be infallible. The quietly ambitious prime minister, Li Keqiang, may soon be considered to have sounder judgment than Xi.

After a fortnight of combat, Moscow was already asking for ammunition and kit, and only then did Xi realise he had walked into a mantrap. Russia, after all, was Beijing’s main arms supplier: what kind of crisis on the battlefield could have so dramatically reversed that role? China was ready to buy Russian oil when Europeans started to boycott it, but even then it demanded a rebate. It was also ready to help Putin sidestep western sanctions. Hatred of western financial warfare was, after all, a common cause. But rearming Russia would make China an active participant in the war, multiply the sanctions risk from the US and close down options.

This friendship turns out to have plenty of limits. China is spending more time analysing Russia’s mistakes than devising ways to help Moscow out of its mess. “It appears that Putin’s hoofs are stuck in the ooze,” a Taiwanese military commentator tells me, not without some schadenfreude. The Russian army, once the model for all Chinese generals, has been losing to a Ukrainian force schooled by US and Nato trainers since the first incursion in 2014. What if these techniques were employed by the Taiwanese when the Chinese went in? It could prove messy. Xi promises to take Taiwan “by force if necessary”; it was a boast he would have amplified at the 20th party congress this year. He may be thinking twice about that.

Xi is having to learn plenty about his friend Putin. How can he stand shoulder to shoulder with a regime that has plainly been so deeply penetrated by western intelligence agencies? Chinese spooks now see Russian military technical data as a legitimate hacking target. How can Russia be cut out of the global financial system with such ease? Xi is determined before autumn to make China siege-proof. And perhaps, just perhaps, he will change the way China is governed. “Maybe allowing one man to turn an authoritarian system that was benefiting myriad interest groups into a personalised fiefdom that risks everything isn’t such a good idea after all,” writes the Cold War scholar Stephen Kotkin in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs.

Chiefly, Xi has to understand that the Ukraine war, with its Putinflationary effect on global food and fuel prices and his supposed meeting of minds with the Kremlin leader, is a shortcut to catastrophe for China. The souring bromance on top of other governing blunders is leading to huge capital outflows, plunging growth rates and an increasingly open questioning of Xi’s judgment. It may even require him to rethink his confrontation with the US. High time, President Xi, to choose your friends more carefully.


  1. Funeral gear.

    I would draw the line at shorts. When I must attend a summer funeral, I wear a skirt. I try to refrain from garish colors. If a close relative dies, I prefer to wear white (or grey) and black, because I will not wear black afterwards (guardar luto). Of course, it’s all gotten much more informal. When my mother died, in 2005, I wore a white, sleeveless top, and a black skirt, taking a black jacket in case one of the thunderstorms around those days popped up. I was vilified. I didn’t care; it was my mother and my grief.


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