Monday, May 28, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia: 28.5.18

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web pagehere.

  • For Banco Sabadell it never rains but it pours. On top of the TSB IT debacle, the bank now ranks high on the list of banks exposed to dicey Italian bonds. According to Don Quijones, it has the equivalent of almost 40% of its entire fixed asset portfolio, worth €26.3 billion, and 110% of its tier-1 capital invested in these. Which is not a good thing, apparently.
Life in Spain
  • Last week there was an horrendous explosion in the Galician town of Tui, down near the border with Portugal. It killed 3 or 4 people and destroyed 40 houses. The cause was fireworks illegally stored in a residential area by a man who'd had his factory closed down and who'd disobeyed court instructions with impunity. Contrast this with the fate of people who insult the police, the 'authorities', the monarchy or the Catholic faithful. These will be relentlessly pursued and even jailed. Which says something about modern Spain under the PP government.
The EU
  • After Italy’s president last night rejected the appointment of a eurosceptic as Economy Minister, the country was plunged into a political crisis, with the leader of one of the coalition parties going so far as to call for the impeachment of the head of state. Which must all be a tad worrying for EU technocrats in Brussels. Of course, Italians are well used to 'political crises', so are probably less concerned.
  • Here's Don Quijones on the banks – Italian and other - which are exposed to Italy's sovereign bond debt risk.
The UK
  • In the last few years, carrots have become massively popular in the UK. And possibly elsewhere. This is because, predictably, people have twigged that – when you use a check-out machine – a 'carrot' weighs less than, say, an avocado. Allegedly, this is now so common people have forgotten it's a crime. Progress.
  • The Pontevedra municipal government says it plans to restrict the speed of cyclists in the (so-called) pedestrian areas to 5kph. Let's hope so. And let's hope they apply the law to kids on buggies and adults on those 2-wheeled vertical things. They'd do well to also do something about cyclists, etc. on pavements outside the pedestrian areas. But this might be expecting too much of them.
  • If you're coming to Galicia, you might want to take advantage of Renfe's Trens Turísticos (Trenes Turísticos in Spanish). In a brochure that fell out of a newspaper yesterday, I noted there are 12 of these, centering – inter alia - on monasteries, gardens, river valleys, thermal springs, lamprey-eating and, of course, vineyards. Impressively, the English version of the descriptions has clearly been done by someone who can actually speak the language well. Which is never a given in local brochures.
Finally . . .
  • I told a German friend that the Liverpool goalkeeper, Karius, had been labelled French in one Spanish newspaper. He replied that the hapless chap had his German nationality withdrawn after his disastrous performance in the Champions League final against Real Madrid on Saturday night.
  • To general astonishment, Gareth Bale revealed the extent of his poor relationship with team manager Zidane by confirming that the latter hadn't spoken to him after the match, never mind congratulate him on his 2 goals.
A Special
  • I've mentioned more than once Terry Gilliam's ill-fated plans for a Don Quijote film. Well, it finally made it to the screen in Cannes last month but wasn't greeted with universal acclaim. Below are 3 reviews. Two are negative and only one positive, from The Guardian. I am with the writer of this one on his final comment: What a dull place the world would be without Terry Gilliam. I certainly plan to see the film. And am determined to enjoy it!
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

After countless false starts and dead ends, Terry Gilliam brings his magnum opus to screen — and it's a loud, belligerent, barely coherent mess. Peter Debruge

Delusions of grandeur, old-fashioned ideals of romance and justice, the eternal clash between cynicism and dreams — these are the themes of not just comic hero Don Quixote but also the career of director Terry Gilliam, for whom a film about the ostentatious knight-errant seemed like the perfect match of artist to material, to the extent that he devoted a quarter century of his life to getting “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” made. After setbacks more epic than anything described in the novel itself, Gilliam’s magnum opus exists at last, and the sad truth is, the reality can never live up to the version that has existed in his (and our) imagination for so long. If anything, it’s what the director’s fans most feared: a lumbering, confused, and cacophonous mess.

Opening with a wink — “And now … after more than 25 years in the making … and unmaking” — the film starts off on a promising foot. It teases us with Don Quixote’s most recognizable feat, jousting at windmills he has mistaken for giants, before revealing that we are in fact on the set of a TV spot for some Russian vodka brand (or maybe it’s insurance — the film is frustratingly unclear or downright inconsistent on many points). Once an ambitious young filmmaker, commercial hack Toby (Adam Driver) has effectively sold out, not only artistically but in his personal values as well — as when the director, asked by his boss (Stellan Skarsgård) to keep an eye on his beautiful young trophy wife (Olga Kurylenko), instead proceeds to seduce her.

Amid juggling the distractions of his comfortable yet meaningless existence, Toby is reminded of a black-and-white student film he made nine years earlier, also inspired by Cervantes’ classic novel, which sends him delving into long-forgotten memories of the humble shoemaker (Jonathan Pryce) he cast as Don Quixote and the 15-year-old village girl (Joana Ribeiro) with whom he innocently flirted at the time. Weirdly enough, until stumbling across a bootleg copy of the film, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to Toby that there exists a connection between his present project and this earlier one, shot just a stone’s throw from his current gig. As the details come flooding back, he feels compelled to follow up with these two actors.

Just outside the small Spanish town, Toby stumbles on the old cobbler, who — as revealed via flashback — has spent the intervening years believing that he is indeed Don Quixote. This being a Terry Gilliam movie, there’s a good chance that he’s right, or at least has some valuable perspective to impart upon the skeptical Toby, whom he mistakes for his “loyal squirrel” Sancho Panza. After all, in Gilliam’s two most acclaimed films, “12 Monkeys” and “The Fisher King,” the director blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, toying with the idea that perhaps only lunatics see the world for what it truly is. In those earlier projects, part of the fun came in trying to guess just how much had been a hallucination, whereas here, it’s all one big jumble.

What does the man who thinks he’s Don Quixote want? And what service does Toby provide by going along with the charade — which he does in some scenes while strenuously objecting in others? When a filmmaker has as many years as Gilliam did to think about a project, one expects all that time for reflection to help in clarifying what he intended to say all along. Plainly, there are elements of autobiography at play (like Toby’s character, Gilliam must have revisited the people and places who participated in the version maudit chronicled in Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s fascinating what-might-have-been documentary “Lost in La Mancha”). But it’s terribly unclear whether Gilliam identifies with either of his protagonists — the jaded young director grappling with the emptiness of his career or the foolish old coot uniquely capable of recognizing adventure in a world stripped of magic. Each is unpleasant to be around in his own way, while an ill-fit romance with either or both Ribeiro’s and Kurylenko’s characters feels grafted on and incoherent.

Beneath a grizzled beard and beak-like prosthetic nose, Pryce makes a fine-looking Don Quixote (a role for which Gilliam worked with many actors, including Jean Rochefort and John Hurt, both acknowledged in the end credits), but his sonorous voice starts to sound like a braying donkey, given the over-loud levels at which the film is mixed. Combine that with Driver’s antic performance as the exhaustingly incredulous Toby (which sorely lacks the quixotic comic touch that Johnny Depp would have brought), and the whole experience feels like a recipe for a migraine.

It doesn’t help that Driver’s dialogue requires him to drop more F-bombs than a David Mamet character, dooming the whole slapsticky enterprise — which clanks and honks with the sort of off-kilter energy only children seem to appreciate — to an inevitable R rating (early on, Toby even insists on using the F-word in his TV commercial … as if it’s totally normal for expletives to find their way into advertising campaigns). If only such an easy fix might transform this misbegotten project into something commercial, although Gilliam remains his own worst enemy, insisting on artistic freedom while lacking in many of the fundamental skills expected of a director (from basic screenwriting to getting consistent, relatable performances from gifted actors) to sustain our interest once things start to go off the rails, which they do about 20 minutes in, around when Don Quixote murders two Spanish police officers he mistakes for “enchanters” — a word you will never want to hear again, so long as you live.

To Gilliam’s credit, no one creates characters as spectacularly unhinged as he does, giving us over the course of his career such larger-than-life nutjobs as Baron Munchausen and Hunter S. Thompson — although they so often wear out their welcome. In theory, Don Quixote should be a welcome addition to the stable, but what wouldn’t we give for an interpretation of the crazy crusader who treated his quests as something more than the silly ravings of a colorful eccentric? Early in the film, one of Toby’s cohorts warns that “we become what we hold on to” — a line that may as well be an open admission on Gilliam’s behalf of a certain kinship he feels with the character, although the result feels like evidence of someone who spent too long obsessing over Don Quixote, eventually losing sight of whatever attracted him in the first place.

Film review: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote at the Cannes Film Festival

If there were a Palme d’Or for persistence, then Terry Gilliam would walk it. When he started work on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote in 1991, George Bush Sr was president and Adam Driver, his eventual lead, was seven. In 2002 the former Python’s cursed efforts to complete the film even inspired what may be a first, a making-of documentary, Lost in La Mancha, about a film that was never made. It showed an increasingly haunted Gilliam beset by fighter jets screaming overhead, his original Quixote falling ill and the set being washed away by a thunderstorm. “It’s going to be an extraordinary film,” the director said at one point, trying to convince himself as much as his cast.
“It’s going to be beautiful and terrible at the same time.”

It pains me to write this, but he’s been proved right. Yes, he’s done what eluded Orson Welles and brought Cervantes’ tale of mock heroism to the screen, reviving the production and settling a lawsuit from a former associate before the film could be shown at Cannes (there’s a disclaimer at the start of the film and a message saying: “And now, after more than 25 years in the making, and unmaking . . .”). Yes, the result is ambitious, sometimes clever and often beautiful. Yet it’s often as empty as the parched Spanish landscapes in which it takes place. It didn’t once make me laugh or cry. Not that those things are always essential, but they’re to be hoped for with a tale with as much potential pathos and comedy as this. Cannes, sadly, hasn’t ended with the climactic triumph that everyone was hoping for.

The film is certainly multilayered. There are four Don Quixotes: the actor who plays the deluded knight in a commercial; Toby, the quixotic American director of the commercial (Driver, in the role that Johnny Depp took in the abandoned production); Jonathan Pryce, taking over from Jean Rochefort (who died last year), as the Spanish shoemaker who starred in an amateur film of Don Quixote directed by Toby when he was a student and who now believes he really is Quixote; and Gilliam himself, tilting at the windmills of his vainglorious imagination.

Clear as mud? Welcome to Gilliam world! Like A Cock and Bull Story, Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation of Tristram Shandy, this is a tricksy telling of a tricksy book. The difference is that Winterbottom’s film was properly funny. Gilliam too often resorts to ’Allo ’Allo!-style language gags as the Spanish locals confuse “squire” and “squirrel”, “telephone” and “elephant”. Failing that, he gets Driver to fall over a lot and say “f***”.

Driver is otherwise rather good as the enfant-terrible director, as is Pryce, dementedly chivalrous with rusty armour, straggly beard and Denis Healey eyebrows. There’s a bonkers postmodern plot involving a Russian vodka baron, Stellan Skarsgard as Toby’s boss and Joana Ribeiro as the Spanish girl who appeared in Toby’s student film and had her head filled with dreams of stardom. Toby somehow ends up as Pryce’s Sancho Panza, absurd astride a mule while his “master” surges ahead on his charger.

Seeing someone with their nose in the book of Don Quixote, Pryce asks, astonished, “Have you read it?”, a nice gag about the small proportion of people who have actually made it through Cervantes’ weighty tome. There are also plenty of in-jokes about the production’s troubled gestation. When a rainstorm strikes, one of the ad-shoot team cries: “This is the one month of the year when they say it never rains!” Gilliam’s self-reflexive story fits the novel’s themes of reality v fantasy, madness v sanity and, perhaps most pertinently, the vain dreams of old men.

Yet all this narrative sleight-of-hand means you don’t end up caring a great deal about any of the characters. Nor is the film particularly mindblowing visually. We get a vivid Semana Santa celebration and some fun CGI giants, but not quite the grandiose flair of Brazil and 12 Monkeys.
Gilliam has described the project as the story of a man’s “last hurrah, one last chance to make the world as interesting as he dreams it to be”. Let’s hope that’s not the case with Gilliam and, with this itch finally scratched, he can make more of the inspired films of which he’s capable. Because the problem with this one, strangely for such a labour of love, is that it’s missing a bit of soul.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote review – Terry Gilliam's epic journey finds a joyous end: Peter Bradshaw Guardian

After a three-decade production ordeal Gilliam has delivered a sun-baked fable of money, madness and the movie business – and done so with trademark infectious charm

Terry Gilliam has brought to Cannes his long-gestated and epically delayed movie version of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, a biblical ordeal of wrecked sets, collapsed funding and bad luck that has outlived two of the actors once cast – John Hurt and Jean Rochefort – and which has been attended by colossal legal acrimony and brinkmanship right up to the red-carpet steps themselves, as the former backer Paulo Branco sought to injunct its showing here as closing gala. A French court found against Branco last week, but its screening here has been prefaced by a solemn lawyerly announcement respecting Mr Branco’s future claims. It’s a backstory of enormous drama, well told in Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s documentary Lost in La Mancha, all the way back in 2002, when it looked as if Gilliam’s Quixote film, like Orson Welles’, would never be made.

Well, hooray for Gilliam’s energy and self-belief because now it has gotten made, co-scripted with Tony Grisoni, and although it doesn’t have the visually ambitious and even revolutionary style of Brazil and 12 Monkeys – nor the hard edge of my own favourite of his later films, Tideland from 2006 – it is a film of sweet gaiety and cheerful good nature, an interesting undertow of poignancy, and with a lovely leading turn from Jonathan Pryce as the chivalric legend himself and roistering action scenes pleasantly like Richard Lester’s Three Musketeers movies from the 1970s. It’s almost like a children’s movie, in fact – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

This is a film with a sentimental respect for its source material – but Gilliam has new and vigorous insights to offer. It’s as if he is politely waving away our obvious view that he is a Quixote figure tilting indefatigably at movie-business windmills. No, the key player here is Sancho Panza: the servant, the enabler, the rational sceptic whose detachment is faltering, the sorcerer’s apprentice who doesn’t realise that he is being inducted into a mysterious art of creative self-delusion.

As befits Cervantes’ daringly postmodern novel, in whose latter part Quixote is aware of being a famous figure because of to the publication of the first part, Gilliam’s Quixote is multilayered. Adam Driver plays Toby, the arrogant and overpaid ad director who has been given the chance to make a feature and has opted for Don Quixote. We see him filming in Spain, shooting the giants/windmills scene and enduring those same nightmares of delay that famously tried Gilliam’s faith and have become mythic expressions of imagination and reality. The movie is being bankrolled by an obnoxious, racist businessman, played by Stellan Skarsgård, whose jaded wife, Jacqui (Olga Kurylenko), tries to seduce Toby. Skarsgård’s mogul is in hock to a sinister Russian oligarch, Alexei (Jordi Mollà), who has a huge castle and is given to throwing fancy-dress parties and staging various dramatic events.

But in the midst of his ennui and cynicism, Toby is suddenly galvanised: he chances upon a bootleg DVD of his first film: a lo-fi, black-and-white indie that was an adaptation of … Don Quixote. He remembers his passion and idealism, and how he used local non-professionals to make it. His star was a kindly old shoemaker, played by Jonathan Pryce. While shooting is on suspension, Toby journeys to the nearby village to discover what has happened to his old star, and is astonished to discover that the experience of that film completely unhinged the man – or rather it gave him an energy and passion that he never had before. He now believes that he is Don Quixote, striding around looking for worlds to conquer and wrongs to right, his overwhelming vocational energy carrying him along. The bewildered Toby, overstressed and not used to the blazing heat, starts to become his Sancho Panza, losing his grip on boring old reality.

It’s a nice premise – similar, perhaps, to Dennis Hopper’s 1971 cult film The Last Movie, about a film-shoot in Peru creating a new kind of ritualistic culture. Pryce has exactly the right daft pomposity and wide-eyed credulity, believing in his own publicity, his own mythology. Driver creates a pretty straightforward character, aggressive, sweary and without much in the way of nuance. As he starts to lose it, his arrogant Americanness starts to curdle and he begins to fantasise that Moroccan illegals are jihadi terrorists, and hallucinates a visit from the Spanish Inquisition (surely Gilliam was tempted to add a line on whether they were expected), antisemitic bigots whose prejudice affords Toby an insight into his own heatstruck paranoia. Joana Ribeiro is interesting as Angelica, herself ruined by being cast as a teenager in Toby’s movie, and who endured 10 long years of disillusionment in showbusiness before returning to her home town, where the poor shoemaker now thinks that she is his Dulcinea.

It may not be Gilliam’s masterpiece, but it is a movie with sprightliness, innocence and charm and it is a morale boost to anyone who cares about creativity that Gilliam has got the film made at all. His own intelligence and joy in his work shine out of every frame, and his individuality is a delight when so much of mainstream cinema seems to have been created by algorithm. What a dull place the world would be without Terry Gilliam.

© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 28.5.18

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 27.5.18

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web pagehere.

  • You almost have to admire Spain's President Rajoy. Or at least his chutzpah. He's destroyed Spain's image abroad and ensured a multi-year crisis with Cataluña but still accuses the PSOE leader, via his censure motion, of wanting to damage Spain purely for reasons of personal ambition.
  • That motion probably won't succeed, given that 2 of the 3 large parties – the PP and the new-ish Ciudadanos – have different reasons for not going along with it. But the chances of an early election grow by the minute, the result of which would probably be the inexperienced Ciudadanos being the largest party. Though possibly without an absolute majority.
  • Meanwhile, I've posted below a devastating - and spot-on - comment on Rajoy's Spain from yesterday's Voz de Galicia.
Life in Spain
  • So, what does a jail sentence of 37 years actually mean in Spain? Well, it seems to mean an effective max of 18 years. But, after a minimum of 4 years, you can be given permisos [temporary releases] and, after 7 years, 'semi-freedom'. When you can access your millions offshore. IGIMSTS.
  • Developments in Italy seem to have brought to the fore a thought of some months/years ago – viz. That it might be Germany who leaves the EU . . . . Seems unlikely but so did the election results in Italy. Not to mention the Brexit vote.
  • The Spanish aren't known for being early risers but, both yesterday and today, there've been men strimming undergrowth near my house at 7 in the morning. At a weekend. It sound like there's dozens of them but I can only see 2 in this (poor) foto:-

Finally . . .
  • I read the headline: Chris Froome set for Giro d’Italia glory despite being spat at by a fan and wondered whether 'spectator' wouldn't have been a better word that 'fan'.

© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 26.5.18

Corruption: the new Brand Spain: Luis Pousa

My generation grew up watching Corruption in Miami, the legendary series in which Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson), Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) and Lieutenant Castillo (Eduard James Olmos) fought cocaine trafficking and organized crime in the Florida of the 80s that looked so much like Galicia of the 80s. In fact, in one chapter they even dressed Crockett and Tubbs in the beautiful wrinkle[outfits?] of Adolfo Dominguez.

Designer clothing was Brand Spain in the 1980s. Now it is a government reduced to rubble and a PP in a state of putrefaction waiting for someone to resurrect it from its own ashes. The damage that PP party corruption has caused to our international image, in the midst of the Catalan secessionist challenge, is now irreparable. While Rajoy remains impassive, there is no end to pro-independence propaganda abroad.

The devastating Gürtel ruling also dates back to the 1980s. It confirms that at least since 1989 - that is, since Fraga's PA party became the PP of Aznar - the man who managed to make the communion celebration of El Padrino[The Godfather] look like a birthday party in Mola Bolla in comparison with his daughter Ana's wedding in El Escorial - the party had been running a cash box full of black money and illegal donations. It speaks of the institutional corruption established by the conservatives and, in addition sets very severe penalties for the leaders of the gang - Luis Bárcenas, Pablo Crespo and Francisco Correa - and sentences the PP to cough up 245,000 euros for being a lucrative participant in the Genoese[PP HQ] mafia and affirms that the testimony of the President of the Government "is not sufficiently credible". What did Rajoy say when journalists asked him about the court's questioning of his credibility? Well - he replied in the style of Podemos - credibility is given by the people and that he has many seats granted by the people.

Mariano Rajoy again said these judged episodes were a long time ago: from 2003. A long time? Does Rajoy say that he was a member of the PP even before the PP existed? Was already a Galician deputy of Fraga's Popular Alliance party in 1981? And has been a member of the PP's National Executive Committee since its foundation in 1989? Yes, friends, when Sony Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs were driving their Ferrari Testarossa in Miami, Mariano was already there.

This corrupt and out of control PP - unable to enforce the law in Barcelona or Algeciras - needs to be switched off by someone. Like Hal 9000 in Odyssey 2001 in space. All we have to do is find someone who has the guts to turn it off before it's too late. The PP itself will have to accept that - even though Rajoy still thinks that the best decision is not to take any decision - after Pedro Sanchez's unworkable censure motion collapses,  the red button must be pressed by an alternative candidate to the burn-out Mariano. So long as this doesn't happen and Aznar doesn't seek forgiveness via public penance, Spain won't have closed the shabby chapter of the Transition entitled Corruption in Moncloa, which has certainbly been entertaining but which lacks the inimitable class of Sonny Crockett, Ricardo Tubbs and Lieutenant Castillo.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 26.5.18

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web pagehere.

  • Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas thinks that Sr Rajoy is a dead duck, following the corruption-related developments of this week. El País seems to agree, here (in English). But the man himself appears not to. Among his characteristic responses to a motion of centure in parliament include:-
  1. These events happened long ago.
  2. The PP is much more than 10 or 15 isolated cases. 
  3. We’ve been ruling for many years.
  4. The no-confidence motion is a ruse employed by opposition parties to install the PSOE leader in power.
  5. It goes against the political stability that our country needs and it goes against the economic recovery. It is bad for Spain,
Almost Churchillian, in their eloquence, aren't they? Nothing about the Augean stables needing to be cleaned, though. Sr Rajoy clearly doesn't think that rooting out corruption would be be good for Spain.
  • Actually, it gets worse. After the trail judge had questioned Sr Rajoy's credibility as a witness, the latter - who's widely believed to draw not just one but 2 illegal registrar salaries - responded with the question: Who issues credibility certificates? The citizens of this country. Which doesn't say a lot for them. Or at least for the more than 20% of the electorate who'd still vote for him and the PP party. Does he really need to assassinate someone?
  • Oh, by the way, I was right about the trial seeming to last a decade: It was a nine-year investigation, says El Pais.
  • Finally on this, a Spanish columnist has opined that: The justice system has done its job, and we should congratulate ourselves for it. But politics has not, and it can no longer hide under the mantle of impunity. Yes, indeed! I can't pretend I was optimistic.
  • Will Northern Europeans finally wake up?
Life in Spain
  • You don't want to get too free with your speech in Spain. If you do . . . 
  • See the Guardian article below on Trump. With my boldings.
Nutters Corner
  • I've mentioned the fraudulent evangelist Jim Bakker a few times. Here's a video which speaks for itself. His wife appears to have been able to afford an awful lot of plastic surgery. And possibly doesn't look remotely like she did on her wedding day. As I've noticed before, her vocabulary seems to be limited to one-syllable words of endorsement of her husband's daft comments. It's very hard to believe people can be so gullible. Even US evangelists. Oh, I forgot. They made Fart the President.
  • Sorry, can't resist adding this one . . .
  • And then there's this . . . Paul McGuire, the guy who said that Trump is now engaged in the greatest spiritual battle in world history, now says that Trump is under attack by Luciferian “advanced beings” who are using “supernatural multidimensional power” against him.  Click here for his full insane rant. I feel flattered.
Duff Cooper
  • This is a rather characteristic paragraph of his, written in 1949, when he DC 59 and not far off his death in 1951. It again raises the question of what on earth he means by 'love': Susan Mary [aged 27] plays a part in my life. She writes me the loveliest letters and she loves me far more than I deserve. I love her too, very deeply and tenderly, but not as I love Caroline. I am not ‘in love’ with her, although there is nothing I wouldn't do for her. I owe her so much. Maxine is a new star in my firmament. She is only 26. Diana[DC's wife] thinks her the most beautiful girl she has ever seen. She is also good and intelligent. She loves her husband who is extremely nice. I like being with her, but I am not in love with her and would never seek to persuade her to do anything she thought wrong. Such a gent. He later gives her an illegitmate child, of course.
  • I don't even know who the hell Caroline is but she's quite likely an old flame, Caroline Paget, the wife of Sir Michael Duff, DC's nephew. She's last mentioned 2 years previously in this comment: I made love to everybody - to Caroline, who was in a heavenly mood, to her sister, to a lady whose name I don't know but with whom I pledged to lunch on Friday, to a very pretty widow called Diana Goldsmith. I also, it seems, had at one time Dick Wyndham's pretty mistress on my knee and this annoyed Diana, who left in anger. But I had a wonderful time.
  • By the way . . . DC's real forename was not Duff but Alfred. No idea how this became Duff or whether it's used for all Alfreds. I suspect not.
Finally . . .
  1. Here's some good news, especially for those of us who've just been deleting all those emails without even reading them: You can stop plowing/ploughing through every GDPR-related email asking if you want to keep in touch. But the bad news is that: You shouldn’t have received (most of) them in the first place. Experts are saying European consumers didn’t need to be on the receiving end of the avalanche of emails that landed in their inboxes this week. More here on this.
  2. A bit from the Daily Telegraph which includes a mistake I've never seen before: I can’t imagine that those Nats who reckon their’s is a true party of the Left  . . . . The paper is said to have ditched its experienced subeditors and farmed out the (overnight) work to teenagers in New Zealand. You'd never guess.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 26.5.18


The North Korea farce makes it clear again: Trump is dangerous: Simon Tisdall

How much longer can the world tolerate having this narcissist in the White House?

This is where hubris and arrogance lead. By indefinitely postponing his summit with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, in a fit of petulance and political cowardice, Donald Trump has squandered a golden opportunity for peace on the Korean peninsula, plunged the Asia-Pacific region into a period of renewed uncertainty, blindsided America’s allies, and resurrected the dread prospect of nuclear war.

All may not yet be lost. But that’s no thanks to Trump. The author of The Art of the Deal thought he alone could pull off what had eluded successive presidents in Washington. He prematurely hailed Kim’s decision to free three US citizens as a major breakthrough. He basked in utterly ludicrous talk, notably from Boris Johnson, of a Nobel peace prize. When Kim made clear “denuclearisation” did not mean what Trump thought it meant, he meekly offered more concessions.

In short, Trump messed up. He rashly promised more than he could deliver. Then, when Kim balked at unrealistic US demands, he got cold feet.

North Korea’s measured response offers some hope. The US decision was regrettable, it said. But Pyongyang remained open to talks with the US at any time. Trump should study this statement to see how the diplomatic game works.

It cast the White House in the troublemaker role usually reserved for Pyongyang. It grabbed the moral high ground before a watching world. And it reiterated the North’s longstanding aim: to establish direct, bilateral communication with the US, bypassing the stalled multilateral talks process.

Attempts to make the best of a bad job cannot hide the possibility that a rare chance to bring North Korea in from the cold may have been permanently missed. Most worrying is the effect of this epic snub on Kim and his apparently genuine efforts to improve relations with the west. Sceptical North Korean generals will say, “We told you so,” and push for more, and bigger, nukes and missiles. Kim’s own position could be in jeopardy. His politically and personally risky policy of reform at home and engagement abroad was blown apart by Trump on the very day he voluntarily blew up his nuclear test site.

At risk, too, are Pyongyang’s rapprochement with South Korea and President Moon Jae-in’s exemplary bridge-building. Trump was the undeserving beneficiary of Moon’s efforts, which took flight at the Winter Olympics. That opening may have been blown, thanks also to his national security adviser, John Bolton, his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and other lower-order Team Trump chicken hawks. Moon declared himself “perplexed” – a feeling probably shared in Tokyo. Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, has worked hard and thanklessly to keep Trump on course.

China’s leaders will experience mixed emotions as they survey the smoking ruins. Increased regional instability and resumed US sabre-rattling on its doorstep are not in Beijing’s interest. Nor will China welcome further, alarming evidence of Trump’s whimsical irrationality. On the other hand, the upset is a timely reminder to Kim about who, when the fog clears, are his only true friends – and the centrality of Beijing to any eventual security deal. China may also be less inclined to observe US-inspired international sanctions. Indeed, a return to the Obama-era policy of maximum economic pressure may no longer be credible. If so, military options will once more gain traction in Washington.

Given Trump’s now familiar mercurial behaviour, it’s possible all this could change tomorrow – even that the June summit will be back on again. Trump indicated as much on Friday, suggesting airily that he and the North Koreans were “playing games”. This is no way to conduct a deadly serious nuclear weapons negotiation. And it raises a much bigger question. How much longer can the international community pretend that having a narcissistic amateur running the White House is a tolerable or even manageable state of affairs? Just look at the global wreckage after 18 months of Trump. A landmark climate change pact trashed. Protectionism, trade wars and divisive border walls on the rise. Hopes of peace in Israel-Palestine, and dozens of Palestinian lives, sacrificed to the presidential ego. A potentially catastrophic dereliction of duty under way in Syria. Continuing appeasement of Russia. And a new Middle East war in the making, after Trump’s unilateral renunciation of the Iran nuclear deal. It is no exaggeration to say US authority and credibility on the world stage are now at stake.

This is not leadership. It is day-by-day, manmade chaos masquerading as policy. It’s not America First. It’s America Foolish. Yet there is no end in sight to the damaging tomfoolery. Trump does not learn from his mistakes. He just makes bigger ones. For Britain, soon to host him, the Korean lesson is clear: this US president should carry a health warning wherever he goes. Keep him at arm’s length. For he is weak, cowardly and dangerous – and not, on any account, to be trusted.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 25.5.18

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web pagehere.

  • Corruption: Something old, something new. In the same week as we've learnt of the sentences for a large group of corrupt PP politicians – in a trial which seems to have taken a decade – we've also learnt of at least 2 more major cases and a lot more corruption among civil servants down in Andalucia. Here, here, here and here are articles on this. Bear in mind as you read them that the immensely corrupt and increasingly authoritarian PP party is still the one who'd get the most votes in an election tomorrow.
  • And, if you want a laugh, read this: The PP has claimed its back-handers were 'donations' and that it did not earn a profit from the Gürtel racket. It intends to appeal against the verdict.
  • In other news . . .The national budget for 2018 was finally approved in Congress on Wednesday after the PNV (the conservative Basque nationalist party) gave its support to the PP proposal.

Life in Spain

The EU/Italy
  1. Wow! AEP goes to town in the 2 must-read articles posted below on this fast-moving drama, which might yet see Italy undertaking a stealth exit from EMU, something which would be fatal for European solidarity.
  2. And here's Don Quijones on this fresh Euroepan crisis.

  • The spectacle of Trump's rushed talks with Pyongyang, and then swift exit from the table, has only underscored the chaos and inconsistency that has defined his presidency – both domestically and abroad, and from everything from the world stage to protests in sports. More on this farce here

The UK
  • Romanians are now the 2nd largest group of foreigners in the UK, after the neighbourly Irish. In Spain, I believe, they come first, even beating the Moroccans. They do seem to get around, making you wonder what life is like in Romania.

  • The President of AENA, who should know something about the airline business, confesses it pains him that more than a million Gallegos fly from Oporto every year. Nonetheless, he says, he's confident that each of Galicia's 3 small airports can operate profitably if they all do their own thing. Apparently, then, the President of AENA doesn't have much business nous at all. And has not looked at the accounts of the 3 airports in question. Or cast an eye on their failed business plans. Assuming they have any. I mean, it's not as if anyone forces Galicians to go south in their droves to get the flights they need.

Duff Cooper
  • I've finished the diary but never discovered – at least not from DC – that his wife had had a couple of 'light-hearted' affairs and that his last(?) conquest – almost 30 years younger than him – had had a illegitimate child by him.
  • Nor did I know that we had 2 connections:-
  1. After he retired from the Foreign Service, he worked for the same company I did much later. In his case, rather more profitably and for a lot less effort.
  2. He came to nearby Vigo, here in Galicia. Albeit in a coffin, after he'd died on a voyage south, in 1953, aged only 63. I guess his life caught up with him.
  • Another thing DC neglects to mention is his furious rages, most frequently at Evelyn Waugh, who was also famous for this tendency. Must have been something to see.
  • One commentator has written about DC: He was not totally successful in worldly terms but never dull. He could be short-tempered and self-indulgent, and devoted far too much time and energy to wine, women and gambling. However, he was never mean or ignoble and was a proud patriot who sometimes had true nobility, although he was too proud to court popularity and too reserved to attract it readily.
  • By pure coincidence, I read this morning of a man found guilty of trying to kill his wife by rigging her parachute. This paragraph immediately put me in mind of DC:- Emile Cilliers was described as a cold, calculated, man who would stop at nothing to serve his own needs and satisfy his voracious sexual appetite. He was very dangerous, coercive and manipulative yet also charming and proved irresistible to the many women with whom he embarked on relationships. Women, eh? What man will ever understand them?
  • Finally on DC, for today . . . Here he is himself on the subject of his young final squeeze: I found four letters from Susan Mary awaiting me. They have been getting steadily more affectionate and they are a frank confession of great love – so great that she says it is making her ill. She says she has been fighting against it but that it has proved too strong for her. She has never known anything like it before etc. In fact, she hasn’t seen me since it began. It is a strange imaginative affair – very flattering to me, but a little disturbing. She is a very sweet and charming girl whom I find most attractive, but it would be dishonest to pretend that I am madly in love with her. Nor have I the slightest desire to cloud the happiness of what has always seemed to me a perfect ménage. I guess this was written before he impregnated her.

Finally . . .


1. Juncker's 'torture tools' are useless against Italy's well-armed uprising: Ambrose Evans Pritchard.

Brussels prides itself on well-honed ways to bring recalcitrant governments to heel. "We have instruments of torture in the basement,” jokes Jean-Claude Juncker.

Europe's cheerful chief enforcer tests our humour. The methods deployed against a string of distressed nations from 2010 to 2014 were illegal, unconstitutional, and scandalous, though carried out with the complicity of vested interests in each country. This created a cloak of legitimacy.

Athanasios Orphanides, a former governor at the European Central Bank,  says the nuclear weapon is the ECB’s control over sovereign bond spreads and liquidity for the banks. “They threaten governments that misbehave with financial destruction. They try to scare them into voluntary acceptance of policies,” he said .

“They cut off refinancing and threaten to kill the banking system. They create a roll-over crisis in the bond market. This is what happened to Italy in 2011,” he said.

Prof Orphanides, now safely distant at MIT in Boston, says the ECB was careful not to leave a paper trail or take decisions that could be challenged in court.  “They operate in a grey area without clear legal authority.”

The trick is to work hand in glove with the Eurogroup, the Star Chamber of EMU finance ministers that is accountable to no democratic body and is essentially under the control of the German finance ministry. “What happens is that everybody at the Eurogroup meeting gangs up on the country they want to attack,” he said.

One saw the reflexes of an authoritarian proto-imperial entity during the crisis. To compound the damage, the policy prescriptions were incompetent. They led to an economic depression deeper than the 1930s. The end did not even justify the means.

Covering this episode closely as a journalist is a key reason why I voted for Brexit, knowing that British withdrawal from the EU would be traumatic. The counterfactual of remaining in Mr Juncker’s lawless dungeon was ultimately worse.

The EU’s gendarmes are now eyeing Italy’s rebel coalition with professional curiosity. This is a harder nut to crack. For the first time since the creation of monetary union they face a government in which the critical mass of sentiment is eurosceptic. The ‘Italy First’ cohorts of the Lega openly extol the patriotic lira  - or the new florin as it may be called.

A crude attempt to bully the Lega and Davide Casaleggio’s Five Star techno-mystics risks defiance and a dangerous chain-reaction, ending in a €2 trillion default on German credits to southern Europe and the devastation of the EU project.

The enforcers must be subtle. They will try to peel off the softer Five Star ‘Grillini’, those such as nominal leader Luigi di Maio are already showing eagerness for EU approval. They will exploit divisions in Italian society just as they are doing in Brexit Britain. They will mobilize the ‘poteri forti’ of Confindustria and the mandarin class.

The Italian drama of 2011 is illuminating. The ECB used the bond market as a political tool. It switched purchases on and off to pressure Silvio Berlusconi, dictating detailed domestic policies in a secret letter (later leaked). It ordered specific reforms of the labour law, a neuralgic issue that had already led to two assassinations. It demanded austerity overkill on the urging of ‘ordoliberal’ quack economists in Berlin.

When Berlusconi balked, the ECB engineered a bond crisis. It chose a moment when contagion from the Spanish banking crash had left Italy vulnerable. This paved the way for a coup d’etat, orchestrated by the ex-Stalinist Italian president of the day. Berlusconi was toppled. A former EU commissioner, Mario Monti, was parachuted in with a team of officials from Brussels.

The ECB had no treaty mandate to do any of this. It was acting ultra vires. There was not a whisper of criticism from the European press corps. Don’t rely on them to expose arbitrary practice and defend the rule of law.

The forgiving verdict is that EU officials had to take these measures to save the euro. Yet the eurozone financial crisis was of their own making. It happened because the ECB failed to fulfil its primary central bank purpose as a lender-of-last resort in a crisis (at a penalty rate, true to Bagehot). The crisis stopped instantly when Berlin lifted its veto and authorized Mario Draghi to “do whatever it takes” in mid-2012.

Claudio Borghi, the Lega's economics chief, says the EU cannot pull off the same trick a second time. Italians are alert to the legerdemain. "Everybody can see that the spreads are a tool of political manipulation," he said.

What unites the Lega and Grillini is a shared suspicion that Germany has gamed monetary union, setting the rules to its own advantage. Many think it pursued a mercantilist beggar-thy-neighbour strategy (in effect, if not by intent), undercutting Italy's real effective exchange rate (REER) and trapping the country in a depression.

The effect in the particular circumstances of Italy - which used to have a trade surplus with Germany - has been debt-deflation, corrosive deindustrialization, an unjustified banking crisis (Italian banks were not the villains of pre-Lehman excess), and youth jobless rates above 50pc in the South. The Lega-Grillini may not understand the exact economic mechanisms. But their intuitive conclusion is broadly correct. Italy was as much sinned against than sinner.

The ECB's liquidity weapons can only work against a nation that is naive, has disarmed itself, and fears ejection from EMU. If subjected to Juncker's torture, the insurgent alliance would probably activate its plan for 'minibot' Treasury notes and launch its parallel currency. It would reassert national control over the banking system.

In other words, Italy would do what Yanis Varoufakis wanted to do in Greece: wage guerrilla warfare. The Greek finance minister was famously stopped by the Syriza 'war cabinet' in 2015. The plan was too radical.

The battle-scarred Mr Varoufakis is now watching the Italian drama with forensic fascination. He thinks the Eurogroup has met its match this time. German talk of a Target2 payment freeze to the Bank of Italy rings false. "It is an empty threat," he said.

Lega strongman Matteo Salvini almost seems to relish the chance to fight Brussels, Berlin, and the bond vigilantes. He dares his enemies to play the spread game.  He once described the euro as a "crime against humanity" - to me as it happens.

"Salvini positively wants to get out of the euro. Alexis Tsipras did not. That is a profound difference," said Mr Varoufakis.  He sees an unstoppable sequence as the Lega-Grillini budget blitz blows up the EU Fiscal Compact and the Stability Pact.

"The flat tax will create a big hole in the budget. There will be market tensions and the usual reactions from Germany," he said.  The coalition will defend itself with minibots (though he advises them to keep it digital, rather than issuing paper - a fine legal point - and to avoid calling it a 'currency'). "There will be immediate capital flight. They will have to impose capital controls. Italians will find almost surreptitiously that they are no longer in the euro, without a referendum, without a vote," he told The Telegraph. It will just happen.

So the EU has a choice. It can bow to the fait accompli of Italy's revolt and allow Rome to let rip with fiscal reflation. It can accept that the euro has slipped German control, and that EMU is henceforth a lira-zone on Club Med terms. In which case Germany may leave.

Or it can pull out the thumbscrews, the pillory, and the rack, working day and night to overturn Italian democracy. If this succeeds, it can only be at an extremely high political cost. But it might not succeed. In which case Italy may leave, taking Spain, Portugal, Greece, and much of the German banking system with it.

In a dysfunctional monetary union, you pick your poison.

2. World's bankers awaken to full horror of Italy's parallel currency: Ambrose Evans Pritchard

Any move by Italy’s insurgent government to issue parallel liquidity will set off a red alert in financial markets and call into question the survival of Europe’s monetary union, Standard & Poor’s has warned. The rating agency said the ‘minibot’ plan being prepared by anti-euro Lega nationalists and the alt-Left Five Star Movement would create a rival payment structure based on ‘IOU’ notes. This subverts the monetary control of the European Central Bank and risks a disastrous chain-reaction. “People need to be very careful. It is equivalent to introducing a quasi-second currency,” said Jean-Michel Six, S&P’s European strategist. “If we go down that route, it would be a signal to markets that some circles in the coalition were considering exit from the eurozone,” he said, speaking at a forum of the Institute of International Finance.

Alexander Privitera,  European strategist for Commerzbank, said the currency plan reveals the ‘political culture’ of the leaders now taking charge of a systemic EU state. “It doesn’t take much to understand that this is a direct threat to the eurozone. Certain people in the coalition have this at the back of their minds, and it must be taken seriously,” he said.

Investors have been struggling to understand the fast-moving drama in Italy. The risk spreads on Italian 10-year bonds actually fell after the election in March, a sign that markets had ruled out the possibility of an unholy alliance between the two radical parties. It is only in recent days that the spreads have surged. They reached 195 basis points on Wednesday when an unknown lawyer with no political experience and an inflated CV - Giuseppe Conte - was formally appointed prime minister.

There is no sign yet of any moderation.

“The EU is threatening us with talk of €10bn in budget cuts. I intend to do the opposite,” said Matteo Salvini, the Lega strongman.

The alliance has proposed Paulo Savona as finance minister, a man who describes the euro as a “German prison”.

Lorenzo Codogno, former director-general of the Italian treasury and now at LC Macro Advisors, said it is a mistake to view minibots as way to finance extra spending. The drafters are hardline eurosceptics who have thought long and hard about how to engineer a stealth exit from EMU. “They are a way to prepare for the introduction of a national currency,” he said.

William de Wijlder, chief economist at BNP Paribas, said investors should not assume that the ECB can diffuse any bond crisis in Italy by again conjuring the magical words ‘whatever it takes’. The formula devised by the ECB’s Mario Draghi in July 2012 came with stringent conditions. It was anchored to the Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) that would - if ever activated - require the backing of the EU bail-out fund and a vote in the German parliament. This was not a problem then because Italy’s leader was the pro-EU Mario Monti. Circumstances have changed entirely. Germany will not underwrite a rescue for a populist government openly defying EU spending rules.
“Keep in mind that the OMT had specific rules underpinning it. This is a delicate situation. If there is market stress, we should not think that what happened in July 2012 is going to give us a safety net now,” he told the IIF forum.

Peter Praet, the ECB’s chief economist, said the plans of the Lega-Five Star alliance to cut taxes, provide a universal basic income, and lower the pension age, might cost as much as 8% of GDP. He was coy on whether this would blow up the eurozone’s system of collective discipline, but he issued a veiled warning.‘Whatever it takes’ must be credible. Central banks must careful to be backed by societies, by governments and their representatives,” he told the IIF forum.

Jorg Asmussen, the former German member of the ECB’s executive board and an architect of the Italian rescue in 2012, said the new coalition has been a cold douche for world markets. “It has undermined confidence from Singapore to New York. It puts on the table debt restructuring in the eurozone, which is a no-go zone for very good reasons,” he said. He spoke of shared bitterness in Germany, Holland, Finland, Austria, and Slovakia - among other ‘northern’ euro states - that some debtor countries think they can swat aside agreed rules. This is fatal for eurozone solidarity.

Mr Asmussen said it is too early to judge whether the Italian coalition will go ahead with its extreme plans, but if they do it may take months for a fiscal crisis to come to a head. The Italian treasury is 60% pre-funded for the year. The country has extended its average debt maturity to 6.9 years. “I don’t see difficulties in the short-term’,” he said.

The great unknown is how Germany, France, and the EU authorities will respond to defiance from Rome. Rules are controversial. It was Germany and France that first broke the Stability Pact. Germany is in persistent violation of the 6% of GDP ceiling on current account surpluses.

Erik Nielsen from Unicredit said the EU would be well-advised to play softly-softly and avert a showdown. “I don’t think much of what they want to do will be implemented. Reform is very difficult in Italy, whether good or bad. There are buffers. In Portugal there was a lot of anxiety about the new (anti-austerity) government and it turned out to be fine,” he said. “You have to be careful about rules. Every country in the EU has broken rules. If you pre-empt policy options for the future, you are saying in a sense that we don’t have a democracy in Europe,” he said.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 24.5.18

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web pagehere.

Life in Spain
  • Remember that fabulously botched restoration of the face of Jesus that made him look like an orang utan? Well, now it's a comic opera. You can see it this year in Arizona and next year in Zaragoza.
  • Talking of shows . . . There's also that giant vagina.
  • It looks like Madrid is becoming as anti-car as Oxford. And Pontevedra.
  • No less a person than the President of Congress has said that Spain's timetable is injurious to both work and to family life. This is a pretty regular theme these days but it seems to be all talk. Despite promises, here's no sign of any initiative being taken by the government.
  • The Netherlands: Some bright sparks in the town hall of Jelsum in Friesland set up a road on the entrance to the town which played a local anthem at a speed which reflected that of the cars passing over it. Needless to say, it drove nearby residents insane. And so has now been abandoned. YCMIU.
  • Something I came across that will help students of this language with their street talk:- En España follamos, mayormente. También jodemos, echamos kikis, polvos, plantamos una pica en Flandes, tiramos, fornicamos, metemos, tricotamos, nos damos revolcones, zumbamos, ponemos un clavo, limpiamos el sable, nos damos un meneíto, chichamos, pasamos por la piedra, mojamos, nos comemos colines e incluso chingamos, cuando nos dejan. (quilar, kilar, mandarsele/la, chuscar, pinchar, empujar, triscar, echar un pinchito, repellar, frungir, hacer la caidita de Roma, rostollar). Not sure why the last few options are in brackets.
  • Come the warmer weather, come the pilgrims, the cyclists and the bloody kids in on pedal-driven quad-bikes to the narrow streets of Pontevedra. But at least 2 of these groups don't dress as if they're taking part in the Tour de France.
  • For some reason - the very wet spring weather? - the price of octopus has doubled in the marketplace. And our supermarkets have taken to applying security locks to them.
  • We've experienced several small earthquakes/tremors recently. I can't say I recall any before in 17 years but the experts tell us they're to be expected. Global warming???
Duff Cooper
  • Needless to say, things don't always proceed smoothly with his priapic endeavours. Sometimes he has to deal with a tearful wife, and sometime with a crying dumpee. And sometimes he has 3 of his women in the same room – or round the same table – and he's aware of waves of jealousy. His standard response is to accuse every betrayed female in his life of 'taking things too seriously”. I guess he viewed his adulterous affairs as something light-hearted which he just happened to pursue very seriously. Moving in every case from adoration (i. e. infatuation plus lust) to boredom at quite a lick.
  • When a senior British politician makes a play for his wife, DC comments that 'They are strange people". I think he means Labour (left-of-centre) politicians. Perhaps because the chap lacked his finesse. Which started with a kiss at the door and an invitation to dinner. Not a crude grab when no one was looking. A la the king of Spain.
Finally . . .
  • Here's a book which might interest students of English: The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between British and American English.

© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 24.5.18

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