21 August 2022: Long Covid; Changing Spain; Dolmens revealed; Pv city sights; Russia v The West; & Other stuff.

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Awake! For, Morning, in the Bowl of Night, has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight
And, Lo, has caught the Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable
Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

My Mac resurrected itself after a few hours . . . Mystifying. Seems to die when the battery falls to 25-30% 


The UK: Figures for excess deaths show that around 1,000 more people than usual are dying each week from conditions other than the virus. The Department of Health has ordered an investigation amid concern that the deaths are linked to delays to and deferment of treatment for conditions such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Over the past 2 months, the number of excess deaths not from Covid dwarfs the number linked to the virus. The figures suggest the country is facing a new silent health crisis linked to the pandemic response rather than to the virus itself. 

Life in Spain

See the first article below, from a positive chap called Simon Kuper. Well, at least he’s positive about uppitiest here in the North.

Cosas de Spain/Galiza 

It’s an ill wind  . .  . A huge megalithic complex of more than 500 standing stones has been discovered in Guadalperal, Huelva that could be one of the largest in Europe, 

Another site:-

Allegedly where the Spaniards go to in Spain.

The retail scene in Pv city is constantly changing, nowhere more so than down near the market. Where only 2 of 11 shops are still operating. One is a pharmacist and the other is a kitchen shop where I get my knives sharpened. Pretty bleak there. There’s a shop on the Camino – Rúa Real – run by a couple who dress oddly and have unusual hairstyles. It seems to cater for the hirsute but I’ve never seen a customer in it. I expect it to close ere too long:-

Talking of hair . . . This is the Pv character I cited the other day, with a colourful new bonce.

And talking of Rúa Real . . . This is a fine facade in Plaza de Teucro – the city’s mythical founder – just off that street. I’ve passed it hundreds of times without really looking at – and admiring  – it:-

The UK  

Caitlin Moran on Boris Johnson: Having only just recovered from his luxurious wedding celebration, and subsequent honeymoon in Slovenia, this week our “prime minister” Boris Johnson was on holiday yet again — this time, in Greece. Many have been critical that Johnson now seems entirely disengaged from his job at a time when Britons are suffering from both drought and flood, facing an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis. And I get that it feels pretty rich to be watching this dude — who’s on our dollar — have the kind of magical summer more usually reserved for the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s priority cases. But, think about it: he is, we must remember, absolutely fucking useless. At everything. We’re surely not so mad as to think things would be better if he was back at work? He has — albeit sulkily — quarantined himself from power, and it’s literally the only favour he’s ever done us.


See below for a very good contribution to the questions of the day..


Not terribly surprising. But it must be annoying: I’ve heard many times Americans say things like “There are several non-white countries in Europe, such as Spain, Portugal, Serbia and Italy”.

The Way of the World 

A nice riposte here to the preposterous claim about Joan of Arc’s gender identity.


I saw the word ‘diminutive’ used in respect of a footballer who is 174cm tall. As this is the average height of Spanish, British and even (all) American males, it struck me as a rather peculiar use of the word. But it would be relatively true, I guess, if the defenders he’s up against are all 180cm or more.

For new 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.


1. I’ve just spent a year based in Madrid, trying to understand Spain. I have travelled from Valencia to Cadiz, often on high-speed trains, pursuing a kind of glorious seafood-fuelled study mission. My preliminary conclusion: this is the world’s most liveable country, albeit even more for privileged foreigners than for the average Spaniard. But climate change could be particularly devastating here.

You’d think climate would be a hot dry country’s top priority, but in fact Spaniards spend more time arguing about national unity. Spain’s great modern trauma was Catalonia’s illegal referendum on independence in 2017. The federal government sent in baton-wielding police, and nine separatist organisers of the referendum were jailed for up to 13 years. In response, flags were hung from balconies nationwide as people expressed their visions of Spain. You can often read a neighbourhood’s political character just walking down the street: national flags in bourgeois Madrid neighbourhoods, various versions of Catalan flags in Barcelona, and elsewhere, increasingly, flags of other regions. Growing anxiety over national unity propelled the far-right nationalist party Vox into parliament in 2019·

Polarisation could worsen if the conservative People’s party and Vox win next year’s national elections and crack down on Cataluña. But for now, I’m impressed with how the Socialist-led government is defusing tensions, pardoning the jailed separatists and negotiating compromises – often grubby ones – with Catalanist parties. That’s how a multinational democracy is meant to work. Flags are coming down and Catalan support for independence is plummeting, partly as people realise it won’t happen: no foreign country recognised Catalan independence.

More broadly, despite political corruption, Spain’s ruling elite has many achievements. As the writer Javier Cercas says, the past 40 years have been the country’s best ever. Democracy has been stabilised, Basque terrorism defeated and the rare transition to high-income status achieved. Public infrastructure is largely recent and therefore excellent. Life expectancy, now 84 years, is projected to be the world’s highest by 2040. True, the average Spaniard spends that life in a low quality flat, often in a Soviet-looking apartment block, on a net median annual income of €15,892. But improvement continues. With permanent contracts burgeoning, unemployment – so long the national scourge – is at its lowest since 2008.

The country’s economic geography has rearranged itself. Madrid has become a boomtown, the London of Spain, and something of a tax haven. It has overtaken Barcelona as a business centre. suckinz in cornnanies. erowinz an almost Chinese-style new business district and competing with Miami to become the capital of the Spanish-speaking world, as Argentinians, Venezuelans et al flee to a functioning country.

But there are two Spains: one inhabited, the other almost empty. Moments after your train leaves Madrid or the coasts, you’re in the almost abandoned interior. Outside Madrid, the vast region of Castile-León, ruled by the Peoples’ Party and Vox has been depopulating for decades. Some villages have shrunk to a few dozen pensioners without a doctor. Here’s one image I’ll retain of Spain: an uninhabited red-roofed farmhouse, alone amidst brown fields, with the only sign of human activity a clutch of distant wind turbines.

The government seems to have quietly decided that the interior’s depopulation is unstoppable. In Empty Spain, people are making way for the area’s last two assets: sun and wind. In fact, the Spanish interior is Europe’s biggest renewables opportunity. Already, wind and solar generate nearly half the country’s electricity. The €140bn due to Spain from the EU’s recovery fund could accelerate the trend. Spain’s government wants dying villages to rent land to renewables companies. Inconveniently, though, many locals prefer industries in which they themselves could playa role.

Spain’s coming crisis is climate change. The orange dust on our balcony this spring, blown in from the Sahara, felt like a portent. Parts of Spain are at their driest in a millennium. I’m writing this beside a whirring electric fan in Madrid, where temperatures have topped 35C for weeks. Some regions get hotter than 40C, which isn’t liveable.

The cracked, barren fields seen from train windows look north African. The grape harvest in Jerez began on July 28, the earliest in the region’s history. Already, desertitication affects about a fifth of Spain’s land. Farming with boundless irrigation isn’t a long-term strategy. Millennia-old Iberian agriculture may be. dying out. And I suspect tourism will gradually shift from Spain’s overbuilt south coast to the lovely cool north*, as summer heat morphs from attraction into threat.

I’m returning to Paris, but this isn’t adios, just hasta luego (see you later) to what I hope will remain the world champion of liveability.

*I am available for advice on this, at a price.

2. The West doesn’t have a Putin problem, it has a Russia problem: World leaders are ignoring the lessons of history if they do not seek a new way to engage with Moscow: Peter Conradi, Europe Editor, Times

In November 1991, when the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse, the British ambassador in Moscow, Rodric Braithwaite, received a warning from an adviser to Mikhail Gorbachev, the reforming leader who was about to be swept away, along with the country he had tried — and failed — to save. “Russia may now be going through a bad time,” the adviser told Braithwaite. “But the reality is that in a decade or two decades, Russia will reassert itself as the dominant force in this huge geographical area.” His words — repeated to me later by the ambassador — foreshadowed the increasingly assertive course of Vladimir Putin’s actions since he became president in 2000, culminating in the invasion of Ukraine in February.

Six months and tens of thousands of deaths later, the war Putin began grinds on. The stakes could hardly be higher. Fighting in recent days around the sprawling Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant on the Dnipro river prompted world leaders to warn of a nuclear catastrophe in the heart of Europe — akin to the meltdown in 1986 at Chernobyl,just over 400 miles to the northwest. That accident both highlighted the failings of the Soviet system and precipitated its decline. A disaster at Zaporizhzhya would be the equally avoidable consequence of tensions that have boiled up in the region as a direct result of how the USSR collapsed.

The international community must somehow find a way to defuse these tensions. Yet the West appears to have given little thought to how it will co-exist with Russia when, as seems likely, both sides eventually fight each other to a standstill. It would be wrong to believe we face a “Putin problem”. History suggests this is a “Russia problem” that will endure long after the current incumbent of the Kremlin finally leaves.

Violence postponed

The origins of the war lie in the unfinished business of 1991. The break-up of the Soviet Union into its 15 constituent republics took place along often arbitrary internal borders transformed overnight into frontiers between sovereign states. This left a poisonous legacy in the form of 25 million ethnic Russians who found themselves living in a foreign country. Such was the determination of Boris Yeltsin, leader of Russia, the mightiest of the 15, to topple Gorbachev and break with the communist past that he was prepared to accept this — thereby avoiding the bloodletting that marked the slow-motion collapse during the 1990s of Yugoslavia, another multi-ethnic communist state. Yet this largely peaceful transition merely postponed the violence: when the Chechens, whose homeland lay within Russia itself, tried to head for the exit, they were brutally crushed in two bloody wars, the second of which helped Putin consolidate his power. His invasion of Georgia in 2008 was ostensibly to protect the Ossetians, a pro-Russian minority, from what he claimed was “genocide” by the authorities in Tbilisi.

But it was the “loss” of Ukraine that particularly rankled with Putin, because of its size and shared origins with Russia more than a millennium ago in Kievan Rus’. Control of the present-day nation’s territory fluctuated wildly from the Middle Ages until the Soviet period, but from the 1660s onwards much of it was ruled from Moscow or St Petersburg. After 1991 Ukraine was home to the largest share of the 25 million-strong Russian diaspora. In a census two years before the Soviet Union collapsed, 22.1% of Ukraine’s population — about 11.4 million people — had identified themselves as Russian; the figure rose to 65.6% in Crimea, which was only part of Ukraine because it had been transferred in 1954 from Russia by Nikita Khrushchev, the Kremlin leader, when both were part of the Soviet Union.

Opposite paths

In the early years, Putin was not strong enough to do anything about the Russians of Ukraine. Nor did he have a pressing need to do so: although the country swung west after the Orange Revolution of 2004, it tilted back towards Moscow under Viktor Yanukovych, a Russian-speaking former transport manager who came to power 6 years later. The Kremlin’s reaction to the Maidan uprising of 2014 — encouraged by the West — that drove out Yanukovych was very different. Putin seized Crimea and fomented an insurgency in the eastern Donbas, ostensibly in the name of its majority Russian speakers. By the beginning of this year it had already led to the death of more than 14,000 people.

Putin’s conviction, repeated on the eve of February’s invasion, that Ukraine had “never had its own authentic statehood” reflected not just his own view but that of many of his compatriots. About 64% of Russians considered themselves and the Ukrainians to be “one people”, according to a poll that month — the fruit not only of decades of Kremlin propaganda but also of centuries of close cultural, historical and linguistic ties.

Opinion in Ukraine, by contrast, had been moving in the opposite direction since independence. The country had rediscovered its rebellious past and developed a vibrant political culture shaped in large part by memories of wrongs perpetrated from Moscow: chief among them was the Holodomor, the 1930s famine formally recognised in 2006 by the Ukrainian parliament as genocide perpetrated by Stalin. In the same February survey, just 28% of Ukrainians saw themselves and Russians as one, though the figure rose to 45% in the country’s largely Russian-speaking east.

The target

Faltering attempts were made to integrate Russia into the West in the 1990s but the Kremlin remained wary of joining anyone else’s alliance as a junior member while its nuclear arsenal guaranteed a seat at the world table anyway.

The causes of Putin’s invasion this year — and how it could have been prevented — continue to divide those in the West who purport to know Russia best, with the so-called “realists”, led by Henry Kissinger, blaming America for driving the Kremlin leader into a corner by extending Nato to its borders. The 99-year-old former US secretary of state insists it would have been better if Ukraine, with its 44 million people spread over a territory larger than France, had remained a neutral buffer between Russia and the West. “I was in favour of the full independence of Ukraine,” he told The Wall Street Journal this month. “But I thought its best role was something like Finland” — ironic given that the government in Helsinki has itself been persuaded by the conflict to give up decades of neutrality and join Nato.

Yet would the “Finlandisation” of Ukraine really have prevented war? Or would Putin, for whom aggression abroad has gone hand in hand with mounting repression at home, have found another pretext for grabbing a chunk from his neighbour of what he considers traditional Russian lands?

Either way, the West had created the worst of both worlds. Nato had declared as long as ago as 2008 that Ukraine could join the alliance — much to the fury of Putin, who in a landmark speech in Munich a year earlier stunned western policymakers by lambasting America for imposing a unipolar world “in which there is one master, one sovereign”.

More than a decade later, a timetable for Ukrainian membership had still not been agreed, nor did it look likely to be.

Ukraine was left with the worst of both worlds: it could be portrayed by the Kremlin as a Nato stooge, yet, despite growing flows of western arms, it did not enjoy the reassurance of mutual protection guaranteed to members under Article Five of Nato’s founding treaty. It was as if a target had been painted on its back.

Engaging with Russia

There has been little discussion of western policy failings since Russia launched its invasion. Attention has instead focused on the progress of the conflict, as well as on the resistance of Volodomyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, and his forces, coupled with the brutality of the invaders.

While Russia struggles to conquer the Donbas, a series of mysterious explosions in recent days in Crimea have opened a new front. The immediate aim is to disrupt the Kremlin’s war effort, part of which is conducted from the peninsula. Yet the Ukrainians appear to want to go further. “This Russian war . . . began with Crimea and must end with Crimea — with its liberation,” declared Zelensky. For Putin, the reconquest of the peninsula, which he has called Russia’s “holy land”, was a defining achievement. Losing it could pose an existential threat to his rule and encourage further escalation — perhaps, some fear, even the use of battlefield nuclear weapons — though Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister, said last week there was “no need” for them.

Western leaders have largely kept silent on how to engage with Russia now and when the conflict finally ends. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, proved the exception by broaching the subject early in the war. “We can’t simply wipe Russia off the map — it is still there,” said Sylvie Bermann, French ambassador to Moscow from 2017 to 2019, who defended Macron’s decision to keep talking to Putin in the first weeks of the invasion. “We are not going to find a solution by isolating Russia and not having any contact.” Macron’s stance — and his warning of the perils of “humiliating Putin” — saw him pilloried for appeasement. Yet Joe Biden has not set out America’s own war aims since declaring in March that Putin “cannot remain” in power — prompting a hasty denial by the White House that the president was calling for “regime change”.

Policymakers in Washington and London appear inclined to hope Ukrainians will solve the problem for them on the battlefield by driving Russian forces from their country — followed shortly afterwards by the departure from the Kremlin of a humiliated Putin. This looks like wishful thinking, and not only because the more likely outcome remains stalemate. Putin is not obviously at threat either from disgruntled oligarchs or an unhappy populace. Sanctions are taking their toll on the Russian economy, but the full effects will be a long time coming.

A retired Russian friend — and opponent of the war — was gloomy when we met recently. “The country is divided along age lines,” he said. “Younger people are opposed to the war, but older people — those who remember the Soviet Union — tend to be supportive.”

Moving forward

The East-West tensions of the past few years are unlikely to disappear whenever — and however — Putin leaves the Kremlin.The almost naive admiration for everything western I encountered during 7 years as reporter in Moscow in the late 1980s and early 1990s has long since disappeared. The period is instead remembered as a time when Russia was weak and enveloped in chaos and stabbed in the back — with the West blamed for wielding the dagger behind the scenes.

Putin’s popularity during the 2000s was based on his reputation as the man who brought order and prosperity. His drive to restore Russian greatness since has increasingly been based on antagonism towards the West — amplified by commentators such as Vladimir Solovyov, who think nothing of going on television and urging nuclear war. Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia’s security council, and other powerful figures in the Kremlin have ideas as hawkish as Putin’s own.

Russia will emerge weakened and isolated from its disastrous military adventure in Ukraine. But whoever succeeds Putin, the US and Europe will have to find a way of working constructively with the country whose course he has dictated over the past two decades. It cannot be allowed to remain an angry, brooding presence that casts a long shadow over the Eurasian continent. Yet Russia itself must also change, just as Germany and Japan did after the Second World War, and western European countries did after accepting the loss of their colonies. Like former empires before it, Russia must shed its imperial mindset and accept that Ukraine and its other former lands have gone their separate ways. And it must learn to define its greatness in terms of its domestic achievements rather than at the expense of its neighbours. It is a big ask.


  1. Kuper seems to like the North ….. at a price.
    Sorry, but I found the article somewhat lacking. From 2005 to 2009 my work took me all over Spain. Four years travelling from North to South, East and West. Even back then Madrid was 40 deg in Summer for weeks, and in January it was -5. From June to October the only green was the North Coast strip, and the Costa golf courses. The countryside was deserted, Cataluña was blah blah blah.
    But let us stick to renewables. Solar power boomed in the noughties. Then the PP introduced a retroactive law literally ruining the majority of Solar farm owners by decimating their earnings. Note retroactive, it was backdated several years. That law has been dropped, things have improved. But why accept promises from one gov, if the next change the law. Or why add Solar panels to your property when the law forces you to connect to the national grid. Rant over, buy I might suggest to Kuper that a few rides on the Ave won’t give you a very comprehensive picture. Have to say the one about burgeoning contracts almost made me spit coffee. Utter rubbish.


    • Agreed.

      The solar power saga was a real disgrace. Was it you who said recently it’s still a scam for consumers? I’ve been wondering about the case for fitting panels on a frame between my garage and front gate – about 3 metres.


      • I have a friend who has 10 solar power farms scattered across Spain, Cllin, mostly in the south. Surprisingly he has sold 2 recently, the money on offer was akin to a huge overvaluation. The buyer? One of the big energy companies. They are snapping up everything they can from the small independent solar farm owners.
        Then there is the fact that home set ups, must be connected to the grid. That is the biggest scam of the lot. You pay a lot less for electric, but how long does it take to amortisise the investment in panels and installation? Additionally when demand is low you are cut out of the supply chain.
        The energy companies are now in to offering solar energy to homes. My good friend Victor got the call from his company, I think it is called Ola or similar. He thought he got a great deal. 10 solar panels and installation for 10k. He was given a 4k grant. With no scientific basis whatsoever, I came to the conclusion he will need 10 years in energy savings to recuperate his 6k. Not only that, instead of using local labour ie from Coruña, they sent installers from Madrid.
        The only way forward IMO is to drop the requirement for connecting to the national grid. Of course the energy companies think that will put them out of business, whereas I see it as an opportunity for them to modernise systems, digitslise, improved products etc. But, hey that is hard work and requires investment.
        En fin ….


    • Many thanks, Perry. I will follow up. Apple tells me to replace my battery ‘soon’., which surprises me after only 3.5 years, against a ‘norm’ of 5-7 years.


  2. Perhaps these are more useful sources than the Times?

    Read between the lines.
    Some months ago, the Luch Design Bureau started working on how to launch these missile https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R-360_Neptune from these aircraft, of which Ukraine has 80 operational. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukhoi_Su-24

    Ukraine has claimed that the “incidents” in the Crimea at Saky airbase, Gvardeyskaya airbase, Dzhankoy sub-station & Mais’ke ammunition & equipment depot have nought to do with them, because tha targets are beyond the range of their HIMARS. Russia claims that they are accidents.

    Subsonic cruise missiles (Neptune) capable of flying at extremely low altitudes have become one of the most reliable means of guaranteeing penetration into the zone of operation of layered air defense. In combination with well-conducted satellite and electronic recon, (https://www.space.com/ukraine-radar-satellite-services-russian-invasion) careful analysis and planning, a cruise missile can overcome even the densest ground-based air defenses.

    “Ukraine sees the Crimean Bridge built by Russia to connect the annexed peninsula to mainland Russia as a “legitimate target” in its attacks on Russian supply lines in occupied areas”, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak has said.

    President Zelensky cited media reports that Russia was preparing to put Ukrainian fighters captured during the siege of Mariupol on a public trial to coincide with the independence anniversary Wednesday. Ukraine’s Independence Day, Aug. 24, will also mark six months since Russia invaded the former Soviet republic, in a devastating war that has cost thousands of lives.

    “If this despicable court takes place, if our people are brought into these settings in violation of all agreements, all international rules, there will be abuse,” Zelensky warned in an evening address. “This will be the line beyond which no negotiations are possible.”

    The Kerch road & rail bridges are Putin’s pride & joy.


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