4 May 2023

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’

Cosas de España/Galiza

An ex-editor of the Economist has written a book – Spain. The Trials & Triumphs of a Modern European Country – about the last 15 years here, a period I’m very familiar with. There’s a tarted-up machine translation of an interview with 20minutos below. [As the reported used Usted throughout, Google produced some nonsenses around he, she, it and you but I’ve corrected these. Tiresome]

Changing Spain:-

Spain’s 17 regions have taxation delegated to them, resulting in competition for investment and some significant differences between them. One example: As my daughter lives in Madrid, it costs her less to receive money from me as a gift. Or, rather, it would if Galicia didn’t have a unique provision relating to in-life gifts to one’s kids. But whether she pays x% in Madrid or y% in Galicia, the notary benefits either way, for doing bugger-all. Hard to escape these.

Three HTs to Lenox Napier of Business over Tapas for:-

  • Spain’s oddest dishes, including pigs ears; kid heads from La Rioja; Aragonese bull’s criadillas; Sangre Frita; Cresta de Gallo; rat paella; and Galician Lampreys cooked in their own blood.
  • Racism in Spain. Gypsies again.
  • The news of an irate motorist who smashed a speed camera which had collected over 17,000 fines in just 3 months. This was in Conxo, south of Santiago de Compostela on the N550. I’m sure I’ve been one of its victims in the past.

Quote of The Day

‘Inclusive’ is now code for ‘exclusive of anyone who doesn’t believe in wacky elite identity politics.

The Way of the World

More boycotts of virtue-signalling woke companies to come?

Did you know?

There are several official Englishes, such as that of Singapore, for example. But a lot more more official Spanishes. In the latter – thanks in part to distinción, ceceo, and seseo – there are numerous ways of saying cerveza around the world. whereas it’s always beer in English. But I wonder if there’s a word in English which is pronounced in many different ways. Any offers?

Finally . . .

If this doesn’t make you smile, check your heartbeat . . .

As someone, commented: It’s a crying shame people just walk by when the music is happening.

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.


It was a torrid afternoon in July 1971 when the British journalist Michael Reid set foot in Spain for the first time. He had travelled from London with two university friends in a blue Volkswagen caravan and, once he crossed the border at Irún, he covered a good part of the national territory. Enchanted, the following year he repeated his destination and, thanks to hitchhiking, he got to know other areas, enjoyed the gastronomy and established relationships with the local people in a state on the brink of change. He would complete three more trips with the same goal in that decade. The country had captivated him.

This is how Reid himself, who retired a few weeks ago as editor of the British newspaper The Economist, recounted it a few weeks ago, in his book Spain. The Trials & Triumphs of a Modern European Country (Spain. The tests and triumphs of a modern European country). In it he captures his feelings for Spain and makes a fine analysis of the last 15 years of the country, as he explains to 20minutos.

In the book you talk about a youthful trip to Spain as your first contact with the country. What captivated you to make you return even to work later? From that moment I maintained an interest in this country. I came here on vacation several times and then I specialised in Latin America. Starting in 2008 I started working at The Economist, for which I did a special report on Spain and started writing editorials from London. I always wanted to live here and in 2016 we moved. I worked as a correspondent for five years while combining it with other jobs, and as a result of that experience I decided to write the book.

How do the British see Spain?
Many of the stereotypes about Spain are like mirror images, projecting what the British or foreigners in general want to see, rather than reality. This foreign vision is still very marked by 2 aspects: the black legend and the romantic myth.

The title of the book mentions ‘trials’ and ‘triumphs’ of Spain. What is it referring to and why did you choose it?
In English, ‘trials’ is a term with several meanings. It is difficult to find a single equivalent word in Spanish and it will be difficult to translate it into Spanish when the book comes out. They can be judicial processes – in reference to the trials of the Catalan independence leaders – but also ‘difficulties and challenges’ in a broader sense. ‘Triumphs’ has a more obvious meaning.

The subject of the book is the last 15 years in Spain, which you describe as “tough” and those that were preceded by three “successful” decades. What happened in the 2000s and why did that change occur?
Towards the end of the first decade of this century, problems arose with the housing bubble, which burst during the financial crisis and caused several years of economic depression, the interruption of those decades of strong growth and the mutation of Catalan nationalism into separatism. The discontent with corruption, housing problems, impoverishment and austerity – especially on the part of the young – resulted in the appearance of Los Indignado and the weakening of bipartisanship. All this crystallised in difficulty to form majority governments and a reality that the Spanish are well aware of.

These last 3 decades have been marked in a good part of the world by the appearance of populist movements. What have they been in Spain?

There are 3 movements with populist elements:-

  • One was Los Indignados, the original Podemos.
  • Secondly, there was quite a bit of populism in the transformation of Catalan nationalism into separatism, which made me think a lot about Brexit. It was the idea of the good people against the bad enemy – Brussels in the case of Brexit and Madrid in that of Catalonia.
  • The third is clearly Vox, which emerged from right-wing national-populist movements.

What future awaits them?
Ass 3 are less strong than a few years ago. Today you can see the division in the sector to the left of the PSOE and the decline of Podemos. In Catalonia, 2017 was a failure. Nobody in Europe is willing to support its separation from Spain. There are still 30-40% who support independence, depending on how you ask the question, but it’s a lot lower than before. Vox is newer, but there are some signs it’s not growing any more and might be falling off a bit. We will see in this year’s elections.

The Minister for Equality, Irene Montero, has mentioned the Catalan conflict several times and devotes a good part of her book to it,.
She dedicated almost a third of the book to it, because it was what distinguished the malcontents in Spain from those in other European countries. The independentistas were very successful selling their narrative abroad, while the government’s performance was quite disastrous. Thus, abroad there was little appreciation of what was really at stake and I wanted to try to explain it. Catalanism as a cultural movement is absolutely legitimate and won’t disappear, but I believe that it can flourish and prosper within Spain.

And now what is the situation in Catalonia?
There is a rethinking in Catalonia. ERC has a much more pragmatic position and is looking for concrete improvements within Spain. Sánchez’s decision to pardon the prisoners was very important, correctly defusing the situation. However, I think the change in the penal code is much more complicated and questionable. Much of what happens will depend on politics as a whole, whether or not a coherent and effective government emerges in the year-end elections.

She also mentions political and social polarization, what conclusion have you reached in this regard?
There is obvious political polarization – it’s enough to tune in to the news – but I don’t feel that there is a very deep polarization in Spanish society. There are some studies that do speak of an increase but my assessment – which may be wrong – is that this is much lower than that in the UK as a result of Brexit, in the USA or in Brazil, for example.

You also talk about the ghost of Franco and the tendency of some to attribute some current situations to him. Does this really exist?
I don’t think so. Franco was a dictator who ruled the country for 40 years, but he died almost 50 years ago. It’s a mistake to attribute problems, difficulties or contemporary political phenomena to his legacy. Specifically, I believe that Vox has much more to do with today’s nationalist parties, such as those in Poland, Hungary, the National Front in France or the government administration in Italy, than with Franco.

So, is Spain exceptional or not?

Each country has its exceptionalities. In Spain they are the force of Catalan and Basque nationalism above all, and in the book I try to explain why they occur. In general, Spain isn’t different from other Western Europe democracies.

In fact, you talk about ‘Scandinavia in the sun’…
There’s a question mark at the end of that chapter but the change is evident. It’s a very different society from 50 years ago, much more tolerant, much more secular, a society with a lot of immigration . . . These attitudes are typical of Scandinavia.


  1. “But I wonder if there’s a word in English which is pronounced in many different ways. Any offers?” Of course, try “Water”. Any word really. I think you are making a somewhat spurious distinction there. Both Spanish and English have different pronunciations i.e. accents in different countries. Peruvians+Uruguayans write cerveza not servesa. Americans pronounce “ts” different from Brits. Same thing. Isn’t it? Or do you see something I fail to perceive?


  2. It is almost impossible for me to find anything at fault in Reid’s assessment about Spain. But then I always thought the Economist was an outlier. Better informed on Spain than any other media – outside and even sometimes within Spain -, with a more balanced view on current affairs and its history. But we will see what happens after the election. if Vox joins the government all hell could break loose.


    • You might well be right about Spain and I used to value The Economist too.

      But, without exception, I found it wrong when writing about somewhere – eg Iran – with which I was very familiar. So, I eventually drew the obvious conclusion and stopped buying it.

      I have a residual regard for the journal as it once printed a letter from me – about US support for the ‘Freedom Fighters’ of the IRA. I said I was planning to set up such a group in Texas and hoped for equal sympathy from The Economist and Congress as regards my objective to be served by terrorism. Return to Mexico, of course.


  3. 1. I was talking about pronunciation, not spelling
    2. I wasn’t referring to overall accent differences for many words in various countries
    2. I was ignoring ‘global’ differences such as the short A in all ex-colonies and ‘oot’ for ‘out’ in Canada, as in roundaboot.
    3. Yes, ‘water’ – and other words – are pronounced differently between the UK and the USA – my 4 year old grandson has fun with it – but how many (very)different pronunciations of ‘water’ are there around the world?


  4. Would “garage” count Colin? Maybe not. Maybe I am clutching at straws, while a whole month of rain bounces off the concrete outside. Anyway here is my tuppence.

    I come across people who say

    Shall read Mr Reids interview later. I saw the book on my kindle feed, but will wait until my reading list comes down.
    A good friend is badgering me to read Homo Deus at the mo too.


  5. I think they rank as different – class-based? – pronunciations in the same country. I’m thinking of different national usages but maybe I didn’t make this clear


  6. Bough – Frank (Boff)
    Bough – branch
    Bough – an obsolete spelling of bow
    Bow – weapon
    Bow – knot with two loops
    Bow – area of East London within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets
    Bow _-bend at the waist
    Bow (out) – yield


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