Monday, November 30, 2009

One or two readers have asked whether the fact there’s no Amazon subsidiary operating in Spain doesn’t say something about book reading here. I’m not so sure. It may reflect concerns about the postal system or just a more general reluctance to shop on the internet, for fear of being ripped off. As someone once said, this is a ‘low trust’ society.

AGW and 'Climategate': If you want to see how this is unfurling, this is a must-read blog. And the MSM* writer to google is James Delingpole. Will it make any real difference to the Copenhagen conflab? I rather doubt it. And maybe it shouldn't.

Still on this subject, here’s a good letter sent to the magazine which featured the special section I cited yesterday: “All of the contributions to Prospect’s climate change special assume that human activities are affecting the natural rhythms of climate; that, unchecked, the effect will become increasingly powerful; and that the damage to life on Earth will be cataclysmic and irreversible. Yet there is a substantial body of opinion that challenges these assumptions, backed by an impressive array of scientific facts. Between the two extremes there are many people like me—educated enough to be thoughtful but unqualified to make serious scientific judgements—who are concerned at the lack of any impartial debate. I had hoped that Prospect might have put this debate at the heart of its coverage, or at least acknowledged the uncertainties that seem still unresolved.”

For that professional Jeremiah, Ambrose Evans Pritchard, the EU’s basket (and test) case is now Greece, rather than Spain. But I think even he now accepts that, whatever comes down the pike, the EU will solve the problem one way or another, rather than watch a member leave the union. This must be some comfort to the Spanish government, knowing that whatever mistakes it makes – or, rather, continues to make - the EU Commission will always bale it out. I think this is called ‘moral hazard’ in the context of the banks acting with impunity. Anyway, in the case of Spain, it’s all very ironic as EU membership was meant to put it in a straitjacket and to force it to make significant structural changes to her economy. Not carry on regardless because higher political considerations would always ensure there’d be no can to carry. But we will see. Maybe Edward Hugh is right to predict things will eventually get so bad here, the EU Commission or the IMF will have to take hold of the reins of government. As the latter did for the UK in 1976.

Meanwhile . . . As this foto shows, the Palestinian scarf is just as much a fashion item this winter as it was last year. At least here in Pontevedra. It’s a little ironic, I feel, that young women seem more concerned about that benighted place than about their own lungs. Assuming, of course, they think about either of them.
Well, Ryan Giggs finally scored his 100th goal for Manchester United on Saturday. That he is still playing for this top flight team at 36 is an astonishing achievement. Which almost ranks in importance with him being the inspiration for the naming of my now-sixteen year old border collier. Though not by me, obviously. He's called Ryan, by the way. Not Giggs. Or That Skinny Welsh Bastard on the Left Wing.


* Main stream media, I believe.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

OK, tell me who’s the EU High Representative for Foreign Relations and Security? See, you’ve already forgotten. It is, of course, Catherine Ashton. I mention this because, by pure coincidence, I read this morning a September article about her having to fight to avoid losing her job as Trade Commissioner. Which, of course, she now has. There are some in Spain who see her promotion from a position she looked like losing to one she wasn’t even seen as a candidate for as a masterpiece of British diplomacy. But I beg to differ. Of course, I can’t really explain her rise but I do feel that the Spanish, like the Iranians, have a tendency to over-estimate the acumen of the British government. Maybe it stems from a long-standing inability to get Gibraltar back. Despite a Foreign Office desire to get shut of the place.

Having finished an article written in September, I turned to the long section of an October magazine dedicated to Global Warming and the Copenhagen conference in December. From the many thousands of words there, I recorded these basics:-
- CO2 levels are rising and the brate at which this is happening is increasing.
- However, no one really knows what they are. “The worldwide system of measurement is open to error and abuse and only half of global emissions are accounted for.”
- There’s a consensus that the world can tolerate a 2% increase in temperatures.
- They’re said to have risen by 0.75% over the last hundred years
- They’ve reduced in the last ten years but the majority believe this is a blip which doesn’t invalidate the fear they could rise by more than 4% over the next X years, unless drastic measures are taken.
- The majority believe the trends reflect human activity in the past and are susceptible to human measures in the future.
- In absolute terms, China is now the world’s biggest emitter, with India coming up fast.
- The Australians are the highest per capita emitters in the world
- Kyoto has not been much of a success
- Such is the complexity of matters and the huge vested interests at stake, the chances of a what the majority would consider a good deal coming out of Copenhagen are small
- The chances of attaching any real sanctions to failure to implement undertakings coming out of Copenhagen are even lower.
- Population control might well be better than anything else in reducing emissions but no one wants to talk about it.
- All the measures being considered have humongous price tags attached to them. Equals taxes.

Of course, it’s now the end of November and we are mired in what’s come to be called Climategate. This is a scandal centred on the emails exchanged between the small group of scientists at East Anglia University who are responsible for the data and the conclusions on it which drive the global warming agenda and the lobby which surrounds it.

In a word, a huge question mark has been put against the data used to prove that, despite the current blip, the world has been warming up for the past X years. In a travesty of the scientific method, the leading scientists have been found to have been not only refusing to share their methods and data with others but actually going to illegal lengths to hide and destroy it. In effect, they’ve been acting as zealots unwilling to even talk to people they dismiss – doubtless with the very best of intentions – as heretics. Five hundred years ago, I guess they’d simply have had them executed. The situation is so bad that one of the gods of the AGW movement – George Monbiot - has actually apologised for using this data in his analyses and doom-laden prognostications. We now wait to see whether governments and the bodies they set up to advise them do the same. Beyond that, we now look forward, I guess, to objective attempts to replicate the calculations justifying the trillions of dollars, euros and yen currently tagged for measures which will save the world. And leave us all much poorer.

Personally, I don’t much care which way things go, so long as we achieve a true consensus about the data on which massively important political decisions are taken on our behalf by the self-serving bureaucrats who are in charge of us now.

Postscript 1: I believe that Mrs Ashton was replaced as Trade Commissioner by a Spaniard but, to be honest, I actually have forgotten his name.

Postscript 2: Endorsing my comment above about British diplomatic competence/incompetence, it’s reported today that the French are gloating about how they’ve wiped the floor with the British in giving Brussels the power to regulate the City of London. If I were a cynic, I’d say this could possibly in the interests of Paris and Frankfurt.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Returning to the subject of book readership in Spain . . . A couple of readers have commented that quite a lot of reading is seen on the Madrid metro. Which is true but I do sometimes wonder how many of the readers are home-grown. More to the point, perhaps, what else can one do on a tube train, other than stare blankly into the faces of the people directly opposite? Or at your shoes. But does one see much reading taking place in the cafés of Madrid? Or, say, in the Retiro park? Anyway, I’ve been trying to get national book readership figures to give some statistical endorsement to my comments but without luck so far. I’ll keep trying and, until the data is in, will continue to believe the Spanish will always eschew reading if there’s a chance to chat. Which I like to think is a factual, not a censorial, observation. I like both of these pastimes equally and revel in the fact I can enjoy both in Spain whenever and wherever I find myself. Sometimes at the same time.

From Santiago university, Xoán Wahn comments that his (poor quality) text books cost at least 25 euros each. Having been in that fine institution a couple of weeks ago and having seen not a word of Spanish on any of the notice boards, I’m guessing these are all in Gallego. Which a limited market, of course. But full of captive customers. I imagine the publishers could double the prices and get away with it. So, what’s keeping them?

By the way – The third market which foxes me here is that for newspapers. As with books, I can’t figure out how anyone makes money other than via subsidies. Which come in direct and indirect forms. Ghost subscriptions in the latter case. The press yesterday gave us the news there are 12 daily papers circulating in Cataluña, for 7.4 million people. Well, we have even more than that here in Galicia, with a population of under 3 million.

A propos . . . For some reason or other – possibly irregularities in application – Brussels has suddenly cut off all aid to the Spanish film industry. This has promptly led to internecine fighting among those accustomed to relying on this largesse. This is so bad one commentator sees it as potentially suicidal. Which rather points up the danger of developing an industry on the basis of hand-outs of other peoples’ money.

Finally . . . It’s been suggested half of the income on rental properties in Spain is not declared to the inland revenue. You’d think the government would tighten up on this before ramping up taxes for the rest of us. On the other hand, there’d probably be even less of a rental market here if they did. It’s a funny country sometimes. But I suppose they all are.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Combining the two regular themes of noise and prostitution comes the story told to me today of an American couple who bought a house from a local builder - now in jail – with walls so thin they could hear everything going on in the brothel later set up next door. Needless to say, exhausted from lack of sleep and worried by the response to their complaints, they abandoned the house. And then the country. I’m beginning to feel grateful I’ve only got nice-but-noisy Toni. Who arrived back from sea smack on time last Thursday.

After several months of trying – including conversations and follow-ups with six plumbers – I finally have a new central heating boiler. In a box in my garage. Plumber number 5 insisted he’d told me on the phone he could bring one but that I’d have to get another guy to set it up. Fortunately, though, he’s a friend of a friend and so he got on the phone and told plumber number 6 that (despite only knowing each other for five minutes) we were friends and I needed help urgently. The happy outcome to this case study in the stellar importance of the personal factor in Spain will possibly unfold when plumber number 6 turns up at 10.30 on Monday morning. Or prima hora, as it’s known here.

The Economist magazine has issued another depressing commentary on the Spanish economy, which you can read here. I haven’t read them yet but I expect the Comments to be more illuminating that the article itself.

Which reminds me . . . It seems nobody’s told RENFE we’re living in deflationary times either. This is our national (government owned) rail operator and they’ve announced a 5% price hike from January. Likewise the monopoly electricity companies, who’ve warned of a mere 3% increase. Actually, prices for all government services (and many others) traditionally rise on the first day of the year. So it’ll be interesting – and probably very painful – to see how they all deal with an official inflation rate of around zero. Well, it avoids raising income and sales taxes beyond what’s already been announced.

Finally . . . A new verb for those learning Spanish. I came across it twice yesterday but not one of fifteen Spanish friends last night knew what it meant. It’s trufar. The original meaning - as you may have guessed - is ‘To stuff with truffles’. But a secondary meaning is ‘To tell stories to the detriment of someone or something’. And, finally, it’s another Spanish word meaning ‘To lie’. Of which there are quite a few, I suspect. Especially in the plumbing community.
I forgot it was Friday night.

The smoke in this wi-fi bar at 9pm is so thick I can hardly see the people at the next table. Never mind breathe.

Tune in later but, if there's no post tonight, at least you know why . . .

Thursday, November 26, 2009

There are two markets in Spain which I freely confess to not understanding. Firstly, there’s the property rental market. Despite there fact the country – now more than ever – is awash with empty flats, it can be the devil’s own job finding a decent choice. Or, if you want a short let, nigh on impossible. I believe the root causes – not addressed when times were good – are a universal lack of trust in other people and the knowledge there are no effective legal recourses if tenants default. Of course, these elements are linked but only the latter is susceptible to government action. Some day.

The other market which floors me is that for books. I’ve bought two Spanish books recently, both of which seemed expensive for what they were. Especially now that the pound is so low against the euro. The only place where you can get books in Spain is in bookshops which seem to me to be run on early 20th century lines (at least in Pontevedra) and which are said to survive on school book sales. Assisted by stringent resale price maintenance on everything they sell. But here’s the really strange thing . . . Although the Spanish don’t seem to be a nation of book readers – you rarely see anyone reading one in public – a knowledgeable friend assures me Spain ranks very high when it comes to the number of titles published each year. And, naturally, very low in unit sales and, therefore, royalties per author. So, who’s making money? And how? Subventions again?

Talking of books . . . I’ve just published a couple of more chapters of Aubrey Bell’s 1912 collection of essays entitled Magic Spain. Scroll down to the bottom of this page for these. One of them is on travelling in Spain in the early years of the 20th century. Mr Bell is a great admirer of the Spanish but doesn’t pull his punches on the negatives. Rather like one of his heroes, George Borrow. Here’s his overview on the importance of patience. Some might stay it still holds more true than false . . . . And still the golden rule for the traveller in Spain is never to be in a hurry or never to show that he is in a hurry, for by doing so he will increase delays and defeat his object. He must learn the Spanish proverb thoroughly - Paciencia y barajar - “Patience, and shuffle the cards.” Patience and courtesy he will find to be above rubies. The Spaniard, so sensitive and excitable, remains unmoved by delays and petty official tyrannies which drive an Englishman into a kind of despair and fury of impatience.

Finally, I read a lot today about the upcoming AGW conference in Copenhagen. But I will leave this until tomorrow, confining myself to the comment that Spain is one of the countries which has not met its Kyoto obligations. And the prediction that this won’t prevent our newspapers from pontificating about the big bad Americans over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The governing PSOE party had a conference at the weekend, which some commentators thought rather reminiscent of an American political convention. Several of the female members of the administration appeared in the always-in-fashion jeans and one was sporting leather boots which, if they didn’t quite reach her thighs, were more than knee high. Believe me, this is not a complaint but I couldn’t help wondering whether this would happen in any other European country. Say, Sweden.

Talking of Spanish women . . . Can there be any more tactile in the world? I had two conversations today during which I had my arm coquettishly touched. No, let’s be honest. One of the ladies actually raked her hand down my arm as we parted. I know it signifies nothing but I’m still not used to it after nine years.

In a couple of years’ time, British schools will start to teach males as young as five that it’s wrong to beat up females of any age. Now that neither religion nor parents can be relied on to teach morality to kids, this function has now passed to the state. What a commentary on twenty-first century Britain.

Today’s news re the reluctant-to-merge savings banks (cajas/caixas) here in Galicia is that the Xunta President has givent a week to contemplate things. And accept reality, presumably. Ironically, the most powerful weapon the President is likely to have is a new law proposed by the Galician Nationalist Party. Who will presumably do anything to keep foreigners out of the caixas.

I’m not sure I understand why but one of the problems faced by the recession-hit, cash-strapped Xunta is that it’s having to increase payments to the offspring of emigrants from here who now live in Argentina and Cuba. I say I don’t understand this but, of course, I do know that Galician emigrants retain their right to vote in our elections. As do their children and grandchildren. So, it’s pork-barrel politics, in effect.

In the Galicia v. Manchester list I posted yesterday, I noted there are five universities here (La Coruña, Santiago, Lugo, Ourense and Pontevedra) against only two (Manchester and Salford) in Greater Manchester. There’s something of a spat taking place in ours at the moment, around which of them should be allowed to graduate doctors. Galicia, of course, needs more of these but my impression is that Santiago would like to keep its currently privileged (if not exclusive) position in this regard. Presumably they can prove this is in the public interest.

If you got to Note 34 on the chapter on The Spanish Character by Aubrey Bell, you’ll have seen the reference to noise I was looking for . . . “An author in Perez Galdos’ Fortunata y Jacinta says that the Spaniards are unaware of the value of silence. ‘You cannot make them understand that to take possession of other people’s silence is like stealing a coin.’”. I write this in a wi-fi café where the music is being pumped out of two unwatcched TVs at about 80 decibels.

Finally . . . Corruption in Spain: Here’s an interesting refinement by Charles Butler of a chart originally produced by Trevor ap Simon (Kalebeul) in Barcelona.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Here in Spain, we are living through deflationary times. Or so they say. But someone seems to have forgotten to tell the owner of the tapas bar I went to today, where the bread has risen from 0.50 to 1.50. Likewise the sellers of Espson ink cartridges, which have risen from 9.75 to 11.75. Must be the weak euro . . .

The President of the Galician Xunta had a meeting today with the heads of our two savings banks, ostensibly to ask them to talk sense around a merger neither of them seem to want. But the consensus is this is just a formality before - under pressure from the Bank of Spain and the PP party HQ in Madrid - he tells them it’s taking place whether they like it or not. Perhaps his trump card will be that, if they don’t play ball, they’ll end up losing some of their Galician-ness as a result of merger with a ‘foreign’ bank. Meaning from Madrid or Barcelona, of course. Whose politicians are not from round here.

Spain is, of course, famous for its ‘localist’ tendencies and, sometimes, one feels a little schizoid living in a place where ‘national’ really means regional (even, at times, parochial) and where there’s one strong pull in the direction of the infra-national region and another in the direction of the supra-national EU. Of course, right now the EU is a popular source of funds but one wonders what will happen if and when these dry up.

Galicia’s population is just under 3 million but her fertility rate is one of the lowest in the world and recent declines in population are forecast to continue. Taken with the (expensive) ageing of the populace, this presents formidable problems to the region’s politicians and it would be nice to think they’re taking a long-term, global view of their challenges. But I rather doubt they are.

Anyway, I got to thinking about how Galicia compares with a part of the UK with a similar population and came up with the Greater Manchester Area. So, if you click here, you can go to a first stab at a comparison that has no great significance and from which I decline right now to draw conclusions. But which is at least interesting and occasionally fascinating. I’ll be expanding this, as things occur to me, and would be happy to receive suggestions in the Comments section. From almost anybody.

The note I will end on is that, whatever this comparison seems to suggest, my conviction is the good people of Galicia have, in general, a better quality of life than those of Greater Manchester.

Monday, November 23, 2009

In a recent BBC podcast from a student bar in Glasgow, there was so much background noise it was difficult to hear the speakers. It rather reminded me of Spain. But, given there's so much emphasis on fun in both places, I guess this is hardly surprising.

Anyway, President Zapatero says Spain’s recession will be over by the end of the year. Meaning this year, I believe. He may well be right but, with his forecasting track record before, during and after the recent general elections, I doubt there’s many people here prepared to bet on it.

Well, a quick read-through of the book in Gallego on Galicia’s history didn’t endorse my suspicion it would argue that Galicia had been an independent/suppressed nation for hundreds of years. But there certainly was a stress on the Celtic connections. The first person to emphasise these appears to have been one Manuel Martinez Murguía, in the 19th century. Why he opted for the Celts rather than any of their antecedents and successors – Iberians, Romans, Goths, Visigoths and Moors – I don’t yet know. Especially as it’d be extremely hard to find any trace of a Celtic language in Gallego. As opposed to place names, of course.

Talking of Galician luminaries . . . Aubrey Bell wrote a nice little chapter on two of Galicia’s leading novelists of the 19th century - Condesa Emilia Pardo Bazán and Don Ramon del Valle-Inclán. You can read this here. And, as I did finally manage to get yesterday’s extract on the Spanish character posted to my web page, you can see this here. Or download the whole book (“The Magic of Spain”) from here.

Ahead of the ecotalkfest in Copenhagen later this month, here’s a couple of interesting observations from the sceptical side of the divide. And a bit more on the recent developments which don’t put the scientific majority in a terribly good light. I wonder where the truth lies.

Finally . . . I haven’t posted a foto for a while, so here’s one of a shop in Pontevedra. I suspect it sells furniture. Though my first thought was that the slogan on the window was a good encapsulation of the Spanish concept of customer service.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Well, I was going to refer you to my Galicia web page and 2 or 3 things posted there today. But the server was upgraded a couple of days ago and now nothing works. If they don't fix it within 24 hours, I'll tell you the name of the provider, so you can avoid them.

Here is one of the documents in full - Aubrey Bell's take on the Spanish character. Because this was written in 1912, well before the Spanish Civil War, I've taken the liberty of putting his final two perorative paragraphs upfront. As you can see, like many Englishmen before and since, he was ultimately an admirer of the Spanish and (as per the para I cited yesterday) sanguine about the country's future. Though I guess some (many?) of his views look a little dated and even patronising now. I think, though, that he manages to cite everthing that's impressed, amused and/or annoyed me over the last nine years. With the possible exception of noise. Though I fancy I saw it somewhere in his book. Must track it down. Meanwhile . . .

The reforms needed by Spain will not be furthered by riots and disorder, and the demagogues who encourage them are perhaps less patriotic than they profess to be. For Spain needs peace, long periods of tranquillity in which to develop her resources and to learn the more difficult task of maintaining in prosperity that strength and independent nobility of character which have shone out so clearly in misfortune.

The conclusion then, if so desultory a study warrants a conclusion, is that the Spanish are a fundamentally noble, courteous, and independent people, energetic and brave, with a natural tendency to grandeur and generosity, whom poverty often leads to hollow display and the consequent suspicion and distrust. They will be at immense pains to “ bear up under their indigency,” but have a greater consideration for the semblance than for the reality and substance of well-being, for artificial show, supported by infinite care and ingenuity, than for a more solid prosperity, based on serious effort. Their realism, throwing into relief the apparent pettiness of daily life, causes them to dream dreams and weave fragile abstract palaces of fair-sounding phrases ; they have not that useful quality of accuracy, an understanding of the value and importance of details and gradual effort, of pennies and minutes : they will smite a stone in twain at a great blow, but the idea that it might be pierced by drops of water saepe cadendo is foreign to them, and often they aim at a million and miss a unit. They are a nation of strongly original characters, acting on impulses and intermittently, and thinking in extremes ; often failing in the face of prosperity, but proud, resolute, and patient in misfortune; often magnificently imprudent, but never despicable, except to those whose worship is of riches and success ; an admirable but discomfortable people, not adapting itself readily to modern conditions, but ever to be reckoned with as an energetic, vital force, not bowing permanently before defeat.

As for the body of this chapter, Bell first of all runs through some comments from observers over the centuries ("Stray Opinions") before giving his own "Vain Generalities". I normally exorcise references to Footnotes and these themselves but in this case they add much to the text and I urge you to refer to them as you go. Or at least when you've finished the text. There are some gems there. Happy reading . . . .

THE SPANISH CHARACTER

1. Stray Opinions

To collect a mass of isolated and contradictory opinions concerning the Spanish is a comparatively simple task, although it is difficult or impossible to derive from them a consistent picture of Spanish character.

To Wellington they are “ this extraordinary and perverse people,” to whom to boast of Spain’s strength was a natural weakness.

“Procrastination and improvidence are their besetting sins,” says Napier, and of their conduct in the Peninsular War : “ Of proverbially vivid imagination and quick resentments, the Spaniards act individually rather than nationally, and, during this war, what appeared constancy of purpose was but a repetition of momentary fury generated like electric sparks by constant collision with the French.” “The Spaniards are perfect masters of saying everything and doing nothing. They have dignified sentiments and lofty expressions, but taken with their deeds these are “ but a strong wind blowing shrivelled leaves.” “In the arrangement of warlike affairs difficulties are always overlooked by the Spaniards, who are carried on from one fantasy to another so swiftly that the first conception of an enterprise is immediately followed by a confident anticipation of complete success.” Though they are “hasty in revenge and feeble in battle,” they are “ patient to the last degree in suffering.” To the peasants he allows “ a susceptibility of grand sentiments.” They “ endure calamity, men and women alike, with a singular and unostentatious courage. But their virtues are passive, their faults active, and, instigated by a peculiar arrogance, they are perpetually projecting enterprises which they have not sufficient vigour to execute.” “To neglect real resources and fasten upon imaginary projects is peculiarly Spanish.”

A French writer of the same period, General Marbot, contents himself with observing that the Spanish “ont beaucoup conserve du caractere des Arabes et sont fatalistes; aussi répétaient-ils sans cesse ‘Lo que ha de ser no puede faltar,’ “ but adds that “ ils ont un merite immense, c’est que, bien que battus, ils ne se decouragent jamais.”

Turning to earlier centuries we find that in Livy and Strabo the Spaniards are obstinate, unsociable, silent, dressed in black, despisers of death, very sober.

In the centuries of Spain’s greatness the comments naturally thicken, although they are often not easily reconcilable. To an Italian, Paolo Cortese, at the beginning of the sixteenth century the Spanish are, in a shower of epithets, “ambitious, good-natured, curious, greedy, contentious, tenacious, magnificent, suspicious, sly.” Another Italian, Paolo Tiepolo, later draws a distinction(1) between those who have travelled and those who have not left Spain, those former being “ per la maggior parte avvisati, diligenti, tolleranti.”

In Pepys we read of the “ ceremoniousness of the Spaniards,” and that “ the Spaniards are the best disciplined foot [soldiers] in the world ; will refuse no extraordinary service if commanded, but scorn to be paid for it as in other countries,” and of “ the plain habit of the Spaniards, how the King and Lords themselves wear but a cloak of Colchester bayze, and the ladies mantles in cold weather of white flannell.”

To a learned Spaniard, Masdeu, they are, to quote but a few of his judgments, “ lively, swift in conception, slow and thoughtful in coming to a resolution, active and effectual in carrying it into execution. They are the stoutest defenders of religion, and masters in asceticism.” “ Their disinterestedness and honesty in commerce is known to all. They are frugal at table, especially averse from any excess in drinking. In conversation they are serious and taciturn, not giving to biting speech, courteous, affable, and pleasant ; they hate flattery, but they respect others and look to be respected themselves. They speak with majesty, but without affectation. They are generous, serviceable, kindly, and have a pleasure in conferring benefits, and they exalt things foreign more than their own. They have envy, pride, and a love of glory, but with noble, redeeming qualities. In their attire they are neat and moderate; when they go abroad they are dressed well and smartly, but with a befitting gravity.” “ They spend with magnificence and extravagance.”

A French traveller, Mme. d’Aulnoy,(2) in the seventeenth century, says of the Spanish that “ Nature has been kinder to them than they are to themselves ; they are born with more wit than others; they have a great quickness of mind join’d with great solidity; they speak and deliver their words with ease ; they have a great memory ; their style is neat and concise, and they are quick of apprehension; it is easy to teach them whatever they have a mind to; they are perfect masters in Politicks, and when there is a necessity for it they are temperate and laborious.” ...” They are patient to excess, obstinate, idle, singular philosophers ; and, as to the rest, men of honour, keeping their words tho’ it cost them their lives.” She considers their greatest defect to be a “ passion for revenge,” and speaks of” their’ fantastick grandeur.”

A short account by an Englishman in 1701, has little good to say of the Spanish, except that they “ have an incomparable zeal to plant the Catholic Religion.” He notes their sluggishness, their immorality, and it is, moreover, impossible to distinguish a Spanish Cavalier from a cobbler, while most of their houses are “of earth and like Mole-hills, but one storey high.”

They have an “ esprit orgueilleux,” and treat strangers “ de turc a maure,” says a Frenchman of the same period,(3) so that the Englishman may have had some slight, some turc a maure experience in Spain.

Another Englishman,(4) half a century later, writes that the Spanish are “ generous, liberal, magnificent, and charitable ; religious without dispute, but devout to the greatest excess of superstition.” . . . “If they have any predominant fault it is perhaps that of being rather too high-minded ; hence they have entertained, at different times, the most extravagant conceits.” . . . “ Their clothes are usually of a very dark colour, and their cloaks almost black. This shows the natural gravity of the people.” ...” There are no soldiers in the whole world braver than the Spanish.”

Reclus, in his estimate of the Spanish, has boldly allowed the contrasts and contradictions of Spanish character to stand side by side. They are “ apathetic in daily life, but of a quick resolution, persistent courage and un-wearying tenacity. They are vain, but if any one has a right to be so, they have. In spite of their pride they are simple and pleasant in their manners. They esteem themselves highly, but they are equally ready to recognize the merit of others. They are very swift and keen to lay a finger on the weak side or the vices of other people, but never bemean themselves by despising them. They have a great store of seriousness, a rare firmness of character. They are contented with their lot and are fatalists. A mixture of superstition and ignorance, common-sense, and subtle irony; they are at times ferocious, though naturally of a magnanimous generosity, fond of revenge, yet forgetting injuries, fond of equality, yet guilty of oppression.”

The verdicts of modern Spanish thinkers have been mostly pessimistic.(5) Spaniards in the twentieth century have been busily occupied with analytical introspection, the result of their national misfortunes and injured pride. They prefer to speak atrociously of themselves than that foreigners should speak of them only moderately well.

Señor Mallada holds(6) his countrymen to be “ idle, impractical dreamers.” In Spain, says Angel Ganivet,(7) “there are many who have no will, hay muchos enfermos de la voluntad “—there is a lack of concentration, that is of persistent concentration, and a lack of proportion, of the power to consider more than one idea, more than one aspect of a question. So Azorin complains that “there is plenty of insight and rapid vision, but no co-ordination of ideas or steady fulfilment or will.”(8)

In a book by Ricardo Leon (9) we read that the Spanish are hostile to their rulers, whoever they may be, and of the evils of el Caciquismo. But the author sees little hope of change in a country where men live between two extremes, “two fires, two fanaticisms,” either reactionaries or demagogues ; where the current of activity and passion are unregulated, where thought is either stagnant or enmeshed in a gossamer woof of subtle distinctions, and the golden mean of common-sense is not attained. The inhabitants of Alcala are “ strong, hard, brave, and stubborn, rigorous in their virtues and their vices, violent in their loves and hates, tenacious alike of good and of evil.” To counterbalance their clear intelligence, great-heartedness, quick imagination and eloquence they have serious defects, “ and especially a certain un-restfulness of spirit, a nervous irritability which prevents them from living in peace or comfort with themselves or with others, a true Spanish failing, peculiarly attached both of old and at the present day to that harsh, turbulent, strongly original character of the race which has never allowed us rest, but kept us perpetually at strife, taking umbrage at our very shadows.” . . . “ While there were infidels to fight, strongholds to defend, vows to fulfil, or even when there were civil wars and vigorous smuggling and bands of brigands,” there was scope for the virtues and vices of a people “ born and bred for action and passionate deeds,” “ fashioned in battle”; but “on the advent of the moderate customs of modern times “ they find themselves “ out of their natural atmosphere, idle, poor, disconcerted, cramped.” And this is the tragedy of Spain to-day - a great-hearted people in the toils of civilization.

In Perez Galdos’ “El Caballero Encantado,” the spirit of Spain thus addresses one of her sons : “The capital defect of the Spaniards of your time is that you live exclusively the life of words, and the language is so beautiful that the delight in the sweet sound of it woos you to sleep. You speak too much; you lavish without stint a wealth of phrases to conceal the poverty of your actions.” (10)

In an earlier book(11) Señor Leon deplores the fashion prevailing in Spain “ to depreciate all that is Spanish, and to bestow great praise on all that is foreign. A wave of moral cowardice and utilitarian baseness is passing over Spain.” But Spanish character is not permanently weakened nor shorn of its dignity and independence, the eclipse is but temporary and, indeed, partial, not affecting the humbler classes. The spirit of Spain will revive, as in “El Caballero Encantado,” when it is being carried from the death-bed to the grave,(12) and may be aptly likened, as by Don Rafael Altamira, to the waters of the Guardiana which, after flowing for a space underground, return once more to the surface.

2. Vain Generalities.

“ And indeed,” wrote Pepys, “ we do all naturally love the Spanish and hate the French,” and if, since his day, we have learned to love the French, the character of the Spanish has not ceased to attract and interest Englishmen. Yet any attempt to generalize concerning Spanish character would seem a vain and foolish task, since Spain is the country of Europe which has most stringently preserved its local differences of race and language, and it is still true, as in Ford’s time, that “ the rude agricultural Galician, the industrious manufacturing artisan of Barcelona, the gay and voluptuous Andalucian, the sly vindictive Valencian are as essentially different from each other as so many distinct characters at the same masquerade,” and the Basque (13) and Andaluz, for instance, are as far apart as Frenchman and Spaniard. It is possible to take the various ingredients, Castilian pride,(14) Catalan thrift,(15) Andalusian imagination, Gallegan dullness,(16) the grimness of Navarre, the stubbornness of Aragon, (17) Valencian or Murcian cunning, and, tying them into a convenient bundle, to speak of the Spanish as proud, thrifty, etc., or, in a more pessimistic key, as haughty, avaricious, untruthful, stolid, cruel, obstinate, malicious. But, though such a judgment is notoriously false, a few qualities may perhaps be attributed to the whole of Spain as in some measure common to her various peoples.

Foremost among these qualities are independence and personal dignity. The Spaniards are a nation of individualists, each a law unto himself, and they are thus as a nation frequently misunderstood and their pride has not suffered them to correct errors concerning them, while at the same time it would perhaps be difficult to find in any other nation so great a number of individuals whom one may admire and respect.

The dramatist Don Jacinto Benavente has said(18) that in Spain “ each of us would like to be the only great man in a nation of fools, the only honest man in a tribe of knaves,” and speaks of “ our unbridled individualism.” No one is a more thorough individualist than Don Pio Baroja, and the principal character of his novel, Cesar ó Nada, declares that the Spanish, “ as individualists require, more than a democratic, federal organization, an iron military discipline.” “Democracy, Republicanism, Socialism have in reality little root in our country. . . . Moreover we admit no superiorities and do not willingly accept king or president, priest or prophet.” It is this refractoriness which has made the Spanish so hard a people to govern, and wrought permanent mischief to their prosperity as a nation. They would seem to have still to learn the true dignity of loyalty and service.

Every Spaniard, of however humble a position, considers that he is well qualified to criticize the measures of his rulers, and still more the fancied measures that he chooses to attribute to them. Thus in a Republic every citizen would believe himself to be capable of conducting the affairs of the nation better than the President, as Sancho was convinced that he could govern his island as well or better than any ; nevertheless Spaniards are inclined to acquiesce in a firm unquestioned authority with a kind of heroic submission, accepting its decisions as they accept the inevitable decrees of fate, and for this reason an old-established system of government, such as the Monarchy, is infinitely the best suited to the Spanish temperament. No doubt they would prefer to have no system of government, if that were possible, being restive and tumultuous under restraint.

On one occasion a Spanish chauffeur while driving his mistress considered that he had been insulted by a passer in the street and, leaving mistress and motor, proceeded to punish the offender till the police interfered.(19)

And if the Spanish find it difficult to work harmoniously under the orders of others, it is no easier for them to maintain a joint authority ; they can never co-operate for long, their political parties and commercial unions rapidly fall asunder like the seeds of a pomegranate.

Similarly one may see at a glance of any Spanish crowd that it is not a fused mass but a collection of units remaining aloof and separate ; if the individual gains, the State suffers, and Spanish politics sometimes have an air of cramping angularities and crude ambitions. But this individualism and independence has its nobler and more pleasant side, for even in extreme poverty and distress, dignity and an accompanying courtesy, honesty, and sobriety,(20) rarely desert the Spaniard.

Each is king in his own house, be it miserable attic or merely the space of sun that his shadow covers ; mientras en mi casa me estoy rey me soy. The following dialogue bears intrinsic evidence of its nationality, it could not belong to any country but Spain : “ Is your worship a thief ?“—“ Yes, to serve God and all good people.” (21)

Thus personal dignity and individual pride may be said to be the dominant notes of Spain. So the beggars in the street address one another as Sir, señor, lord, and if you cannot give them an alms for the good of your soul you must at least give excuses — perdone Vd. por Dios.

While we admire this independence we cannot help seeing that it is a false dignity, which prefers to starve, like one of the characters in Perez Galdos’ Fortunata y Jacinta, because “ mi dignidad y sinificancia no me remiten—my dignity and importance do not allow me,” to accept employment. The fair outward show given to garret poverty is pathetic, but it is liable to deceive and to create distrust. Mme. d’Aulnoy remarked that the Spanish “bear up under this Indigency with such an air of gravity as would cheat one.”

In Love’s Labour’s Lost Don Adriano de Armado says to Moth that he is “ ill at reckoning ; it fitteth the spirit of a tapster,” but to Moth’s observation, “You are a gentleman and a gamester, Sir,” he answers well-pleased, “ I confess both ; they are both the varnish of a complete man” (todo un hombre).

The Spanish have ever shown themselves to be ill at reckoning, they are careless of details and have indeed an Oriental incuriousness of facts and figures; in no country is it more difficult to obtain accurate returns or consecutive statistics. Against all drudgery the Spanish temperament rebels (22) ; they act by impulse, in disconnected moments without persistency ; their concentration is of instants,(23) without consequence ; and it has been observed that “ Spain has developed her life and art by means of spiritual convulsions.”

What is said in one of Perez Galdos’ novels(24) of Narvaez might with truth be applied to many Spaniards : “ He has a great heart and a great intelligence, but they manifest themselves only by fits and starts, by impulses, por arranques.”

There is plenty of intelligence among Spaniards but little continuity of judgment ; no perseverance. They are enthusiastic for a project and, their thoughts outrunning action, they see the matter begun, in progress, finished, so that their very keenness prevents accomplishment, and finally nothing is done. Don Quixote, we remember, thought little of the winning of a kingdom and cutting off a giant’s head : “all that I consider already done, que todo esto doy ya por hecho”

Or sometimes their intelligence mars their labour and, not content with doing a simple thing simply, they spoil it by being a little too clever, or decide a matter too readily by a swift judgment that may happen to be false. The Spanish are a people of immense and abiding energy,(25) but their energy is often dormant or misdirected.

Two Spaniards in the twentieth century have been seen to converse with so fierce an intensity that it seemed over and over again in the course of a protracted and loud discussion that they must come from words to blows; and the matter in dispute, conducted with a heat that would have exhausted less energetic natures, was whether it was right or wrong to expel the Moriscos from Spain at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

Yet it is not certain that the Spanish can be called unpractical ; they are often idle, indifferent, aloof from the events of daily life, but when a matter truly interests them, they would seem to be sufficiently shrewd and practical.

King James I. of Aragon aimed an accusation at the Castilians which has often been applied to all Spaniards: “You do nothing without extravagance”.(26)

But a fundamental ingredient of Spanish character is realism and clear vision; it is their birthright of transparent subtle air and unclouded skies. They are keen to detect all falseness and hypocrisy, and display a shrewd insight into character ; but their study has been ever of persons rather than of books and things,(27) so that they may act extravagantly themselves even while they are the first to see another’s extravagance, keenly practical, it may be said, in the affairs of others, strangely abstract and improvident in their own. Their realism, if it drives them by reaction into a barren love of words and visions of impossible ideals, expresses itself in a directness which is very characteristic of all classes of Spaniards, in the pregnant brevity of countless proverbs, in concentrated intensity at a given moment, in humour and satire and a strong love of ridicule. Their proverbs show a thriftiness and practical good sense very different from the prudence that enriches, but equally far removed from the romantic view of Spaniards sometimes held by foreigners.

In noble lines Calderon has said of life that it is “a shadow, a fantasy, and the greatest good is of small worth, since all life is a dream and dreams themselves a dream
- que es la vida ? Un frenesi.
- que es la vida ? Una ilusión,
- una sombra, una ficción,
- y el mayor bien es pequeño,
- que toda la vida es sueño
- y los sueños sueño son;

but we may doubt whether the following lines of Lope de Vega are not as truly Spanish in spirit :
Nada me parece bien,
Todos me son importunos.
Teneis dineros ?—Ningunos.
— Pues procurad que os los den.

“ I see no good in anything ; all men weary me.
Have you money ?—None—Then see that you get some given you.”(28)

An almost harsh flavour of originality is found in Spanish humour, a sly and malicious irony, a biting wit, full of gaiety and good humour, but of great force and directness.

Their courtesy is proverbial, and it is not simply a superficial politeness, brittle as glass, but goes to the very core of the man. A knowledge of Spain would seem to show that the mere forms of politeness have no little effect in maintaining the dignity of a nation. The Spaniard, writing from his own house, speaks of it as está su casa, this your house, and to a tradesman he will sign himself, “ Your sure servant, who kisses your hands” (S.S.S., Q.B.S.M. which is shorter than the corresponding English, “ Yours faithfully”); mere forms, it will be said, but forms that show the spirit and betray the lordly and generous magnificence of the men who once ruled the world, and of whom Bacon wrote: “I have marvelled sometimes at Spain, how they clasp and contain so large dominions with so few natural Spaniards.”

As a kind of magnificent disregard of human life has earned for Spaniards the charge of cruelty, so their attitude towards time has led many to look upon them as lazy and utterly unbusinesslike.(29) “The Spartans and Spaniards have been noted to be of small dispatch,” says Bacon, and this procrastination and delay was as prominent in the spacious times of Spain’s greatness as at the present day. We need but think of the endless trailing procedure of Inquisition trials, or of books waiting on the frontier for inspection with a man hired to dust them once a month. In ordinary life it is due perhaps rather to indifference and disdain than to an innate sluggishness ; in official transactions formalism, and the inability to co-operate with others often bring matters to an intricate pass of papers, from which there is no issue but by a patient and slow unravelling. Even to-day a rigid centralization carries the pettiest affair to Madrid for settlement, and lays upon the Prime Minister a crushing load of work.

Etiquette is carried to excess, and there are in Spain many “ formal natures,” men who would perish upon a ceremony rather than come to a quick and common-sense conclusion. But the true defect of Spanish politics is that they have a tendency to become abstract, with many excellent formulas and catchwords, but divorced from reality, a kind of up-to-date scholasticism. Sometimes they appear to be a game of dialectics, carried on by a few skilful players, sometimes a “ rushing splendour of rhetoric,” carrying away many. Spaniards are fond of what Butler calls “ that idle and not very innocent employment of forming imaginary models of the world and schemes of governing it.” Spanish politicians, says Senor Perez Galdos, “ live in a world of rituals and formulas, recipes and expedients. The language has filled with aphorisms and mottos and emblems. Ideas become stereotyped, and contemplated actions go seeking to embody themselves in words and cannot make their choice of them.” (30)

It would seem indeed that reality has shown itself so angular and hard-featured to the Spanish that they gladly make efforts to escape from it. While no nation shows so great a courage, endurance and patient endeavour in misfortune and defeat, they are not equally successful in success, they are often spoilt by prosperity and become weak, dissolute and frivolous ; they must have something to fight, and fall when they no longer press against opposition. This may account for the fact that the poorer classes are still, as in Ford’s time, “by no means the worst portion of the population.” The peasants are courteous, intelligent, patient, energetic and persevering : their praises have been sung by many writers.(31) But a pathetic fatalism and apathy prevail, and a great bitterness against those in authority. Pobreza nunca alza cabeza, poverty never raises its head, they say, la carcel y la cuaresma para los pobres es hecha, prison and Lent are for the poor ; they look for no bettering of their lot, but for pan y paciencia y muerte con penitencia—bread and patience and death with repentance. But it must be said that the fault is not only of those “ on top,” but of those also who, brooking no superiorities of any kind,(32) thus reduce differences between man and man to the brutal divisions of wealth and poverty and make life a race for riches. It remains true, however, that the peasants of Spain are ground down by taxes,(33) and work incessantly only to hover on the fringes of starvation ; todo sea por Dios, they say, and content themselves with the observation that honesty and riches do not fit into one sack — honra y provecho no caben en un saco.

There is a certain elemental hardness in the Spanish which helps them to support hardships stoically and, indeed, to be scornful of modern comforts and luxury. Their indifference towards disquiet and discomfort and noisy uproar (34) often dismays the foreigner, but it is not that they are inconsiderate of the feelings of others, they have a deep sensitiveness and refinement, but they have not been enervated and rendered over-sensitive by a luxurious civilization.

Their climate, with its harsh extremes of cold and heat,(35) produces a people like that of Leon’s Alcatel de los Zegries, “ rigorous in their virtues and their vices, violent in their loves and hates.” They go easily to extremes ; Spanish intellects are apt to be either totally undeveloped, or else over-subtle in nice distinctions, and action in the same way, when it comes, comes with violence and excess, like the rivers of Spain which, parched all summer, pour down after rain in rushing torrents.

The charges of cruelty and fanaticism, the bull-fight and the auto-de-fe, have fixed themselves upon the Spanish. They are by nature inflexible and uncompromising, and like to carry out their principles without looking to the many delicate shades of grey between white and black. But they are not by nature cruel ; they support bodily sufferings with courage and inflict them upon others as the lesser of two evils, burning the heretics to prevent the spread of their heresy ; and indeed to men convinced that these “ pertinacious schismaticks “ were to burn for ever and ever in another place, a touch of fire in this life could hardly seem an excessive punishment.(36).

Cruelty to animals on the roads of Spain is extremely rare, and at the bull-fights(37) it is only fair to observe that, while the foreigner’s attention is directed to the sufferings of the horses, the whole mind of the Spaniard is bent on intricacies of the conflict between man and bull, and nice passes which escape the foreigner(38).

The autos de-fe and the Inquisition have cast over Spain a reputation for fanaticism and obscurantist bigotry. But the Spanish, while eager supporters of their faith, are too independent to bow down for long to a Clerical predominance ; they cannot be called a priest-ridden nation. (39) Ni buen fraile por amigo, ni malo por enemigo, says one of their proverbs—make no friend of a good monk, nor enemy of a bad ; and again, Haz lo que dice el fraile no lo que hace—follow the monk’s precept, not his example. They believe uncompromisingly in the Roman Catholic religion, but have a ready eye for the faults of its ministers ;(40) they love and reverence the Church as a refuge from reality, but continue to be realists in their mysticism.

The Church in Spain has done noble work, but it has been a retreat more than a morality, encouraging hollow shows rather than love of truth, (41) patience and submission rather than enterprise and a persistent search for remedies. The anti-Clericals complain that the influence of the priest in the family is excessive, but when the women are kept in a semi-Oriental seclusion, while the men chatter together in street and casino and cafe, as still happens in many parts of Spain,(42) it is but natural for the women to turn from the discomfort and isolation of their homes to the magnificent ceremonies of the Church.(43)

The Spaniards are naturally inclined to generosity and a love of magnificence, but, their poverty preventing, this too often degenerates to shams and hollowness. To poverty and the proud concealment of poverty, much of the feeling of suspicion which prevails in Spain may be attributed. A large number of Spaniards may be said to be well-to-do in the street poverty-stricken in the home.

The family in Pereda’s Bocetos al temple which chooses without a moment’s hesitation to live on potatoes in order to be able to dress luxuriously, is no solitary instance, and in Madrid many live in bare rooms who drive abroad in carriages. The Spanish are more careful of outward show than any other nation. The universal neatness and soldierly smartness of their dress must excite admiration. But watch a poor man fold and refold the brilliantly lined outer edge of his capa that the more worn portions of the velvet may not appear—the capa which may itself cover a multitude of sins (la capa todo lo tapa) that recalls the passage in Shakespeare :- “ Armado : The naked truth of it is I have no shirt. I go woolward for penance. Boyet: True, and it was enjoined him in Home for want of linen.” Or follow a smart officer through the streets to his house. The position and entrance of the house will not prepare you for its decreasing splendour as you climb stair after stair to the bare rooms where he lives. There is much that is postizo, false and artificial, in the exterior view, as Spaniards will themselves bitterly confess.

Appearances must be maintained. So Bacon says that “ It hath been an opinion that the Frenchmen are wiser than they seem and the Spaniards seem wiser than they are,” and many of their houses are built not to live in but to look on. Hence, partly, a disquieting element of mistrust, of “suspicions that ever fly by twilight “ foreign to the frank and open nature of true Spaniards.

“ Of every Spanish undertaking,” writes Senor Benavente in 1909, “ it may be said as of the famous Cortes that it is ‘dishonoured while yet unborn.’ The result is that he who is jealous of his good name shuns contact with all business affairs like pitch, and the affairs fall into the hands of men who are untroubled by scruples. . . . All these suspicions and distrusts are a sign rather of our poverty than of our morality. There is so great a scarcity of money that it becomes unintelligible that any one who has the handling of it should fail to keep a part for himself. . . . We are, moreover, so firmly attached to old-fashioned ideas of nobility — rancias hidalguias—that, in spite of our pressing need of money, we still consider its acquisition contemptible; so we prefer to seek it by subterranean channels as if it were a crime to seek it in the light of day.”

Suspicion of new things has ever been at once the strength and the weakness of Spain.(44) In the nineteenth century this suspicion expressed itself in patriotism carried to its extreme logical conclusion. Were Napoleon’s reforms of a nature to benefit Spain in an inestimable degree? To the Spaniard they were the tyrannical and insidious measures of a usurper. Was his brother Joseph intelligent, well-intentioned, conciliatory? To the Spaniard he was ever the squint-eyed drinker, Pepe Botellas, and it was idle to insist that he did not squint, and did not drink. Was King Amadeo an enlightened, courageous, and self-effacing ruler? To the Spaniard he was an intruder, to be treated with neglect, insolence or disdain. This distrust may have been foolish and harmful to the interests of Spain, but it was in many respects noble and admirable.

To-day, however, we have rather the reverse side of the picture, a pessimism about all things Spanish, and a foolish tendency to imitate things foreign. Beneath his outer capa of haughty pride the Spaniard is keenly aware of his limitations ; he has no confidence in his own actions or in his country, or, rather, his confidence is merely momentary and is never sustained.

It is, no doubt, a sign not of progress but degeneracy to exchange the Spanish capa, peculiarly suited to a climate of hot sun and cold air, for English overcoats or the becoming mantilla for the newest fashion in Parisian hats. It is not necessarily a sign of progress to exchange old-fashioned Spanish piety for the latest shades of scepticism, or to leave the simple life of an hidalgo in the provinces for the idler, dissipated life in the only capital and court. The desire to be very modern is at present a good thing in Spain, yet it need not consist in casting aside old traditions and diffidently rejecting Spanish customs that are excellent.

This exalting of foreign customs and depreciation of their own which has been frequently observed of Spaniards, is due rather to an inverted pride than to humility ; at the beginning of the nineteenth century it was considered a mark of culture in Spain to despise things Spanish and to worship things French, but all the time the Spanish believe at heart in themselves,(45) they praise foreign countries with their lips, but continue to place Spain first, and if they imitate, they cast a peculiarly Iberian flavour over their imitations.

The late Bishop Creighton, looking at Spain historically, remarked that it “leaves the curious impression of a country which never did anything original—now the Moors, now France, now Italy, have influenced it.” If this is so, certainly the Moors, and France, and Italy have wrought some of their most original works in Spain ; and it can hardly be said that the great Spanish discoverers and conquerors, painters, philosophers, and poets of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries were not original, whether they were influenced by Moors, Frenchmen, or Italians.(46)

But, indeed, the Spaniard more readily repels than assimilates, it is his virtue and his defect ; he remains isolated and alone, difficult to convince, impossible to govern. New political and social theories from France are spread in Spain, but they there serve progress less than disquiet and the rancour of those who have not towards those who have.

The reforms needed by Spain will not be furthered by riots and disorder, and the demagogues who encourage them are perhaps less patriotic than they profess to be. For Spain needs peace, long periods of tranquillity in which to develop her resources and to learn the more difficult task of maintaining in prosperity that strength and independent nobility of character which have shone out so clearly in misfortune.

The conclusion then, if so desultory a study warrants a conclusion, is that the Spanish are a fundamentally noble, courteous, and independent people, energetic and brave, with a natural tendency to grandeur and generosity, whom poverty often leads to hollow display and the consequent suspicion and distrust. They will be at immense pains to “ bear up under their indigency,” but have a greater consideration for the semblance than for the reality and substance of well-being, for artificial show, supported by infinite care and ingenuity, than for a more solid prosperity, based on serious effort. Their realism, throwing into relief the apparent pettiness of daily life, causes them to dream dreams and weave fragile abstract palaces of fair-sounding phrases ; they have not that useful quality of accuracy, an understanding of the value and importance of details and gradual effort, of pennies and minutes : they will smite a stone in twain at a great blow, but the idea that it might be pierced by drops of water saepe cadendo is foreign to them, and often they aim at a million and miss a unit. They are a nation of strongly original characters, acting on impulses and intermittently, and thinking in extremes ; often failing in the face of prosperity, but proud, resolute, and patient in misfortune; often magnificently imprudent, but never despicable, except to those whose worship is of riches and success ; an admirable but discomfortable people, not adapting itself readily to modern conditions, but ever to be reckoned with as an energetic, vital force, not bowing permanently before defeat.

Footnotes

(1) The distinction still holds good, and those Spaniards who have travelled, e.g. to Buenos Aires, differ by a certain practical energy and optimism from those who have never left the Peninsula

(2) The Ingenious and Diverting Letters of the Lady . Travels into Spain.” English translation. Second edition. London. 1692.

(3) Villefranche. “ Etat present d’Espagne.” 1717.

(4) Edward Clarke. "Letters concerning the Spanish Nation." London. 1763.

(5) This pessimism “ is based on our recent disasters ; on the fact that we are fallen, a terrible fact in the implacable merciless logic of international life ; on the momentary lack of will from which we are suffering ; and on the anachronism of certain vices and ideals which, since they can no longer, as in past ages, be excused on the ground that other nations share them, seem to show that we are incorrigible.” Rafael Altamira, “Psicologfa del Pueblo Español“ (Madrid. 1902), in which will be found several of the opinions quoted above.

(6) “ Los Males de la Patria.”

(7) “Idearium Español.”

(8) “ La Voluntad.” Barcelona. 1902 : “ La intuicion de las cosas, la vision rapida no falta, pero falta, en cambio, la co-ordinacion reflexiva, el laboreo paciente, la voluntad.”

(9) “ Alcala de los Zegries.” Madrid. 1910

(10) Saints in other countries have carried their heads in their hands, but there is a legend of a saint in Spain who, not content to walk a league with his head under his arm, continued to talk the while without ceasing. He was, no doubt “concealing the poverty of his action,” like Bertram dal Bornio, carrying his head “ a guisa di lanterna “ in the Inferno.

(11) “ Comedia Sentimental.” 1909.

(12) One may apply to it the words of Santa Teresa:-
“ Tiene tan divinas mafias
Que en un tan acerbo trance
Sale triunfando del lance
Obrando grandes hazafias.”

(13) Ford considered the Basque to be as “ proud as Lucifer and as combustible as his matches,” and there is a proverb, “ En nave y en castillo no mas que un Vizcaino.” Cf. Camoes. Os Lusiadas :
A gente biscainha que carece
De polidas razoes e que as injurias
Muito mal dos estranhos compadece.

(14) The Castilians, said King James I. of Aragon, are very haughty and proud : de gran ufania e erguylhosos. In the Lusiads the Castilian is “ grande e raro.”

(15) The line of Dante is well known : “ l’avara poverta di Catalogna.” Napier speaks of “ the Catalans, a fierce and constant race.”

(16) The Gallegan, “ o Gallego cauto “ and “ sordidos Gallegos duro bando,” in Camoes, ever remains the butt of Spanish wit. The inhabitants of the Montana are considered almost equally dense : “ El montanes para defender una necedad dice tres “ and again “ From Burgos to the sea all is stupidity.” The Asturian, of the region between Galicia and the Montana has, rather, the reputation of a business-like shrewdness, he is the Astur avarus of Martial and Silius Italicus ; in return for his boast that he has never had any infecting contact with the Moors, a proverb says : “ El asturiano, loco y vano, poco fiel y mal cristiano.”

(17) “ Para cantar los navarros, para llorar los franceses, parapegar cuatro tiros los mozos aragoneses.”

(18) In “ El Imparcial.”

(19) It is true that he was a Spanish Basque and was merely reproducing in modern dress the scene in “ Don Quixote,” in which the Biscayan leaves his mistresses unprotected in their carriage and fights in order to show that he is by birth a caballero.

(20) Drunkenness is especially rare in Spain. Their sobriety has been made a reproach, as being based on laziness and lack of initiative. The second half of their proverb : “ Goza de tu poco mientras busca mas el loco—Enjoy the little you have, and let the fool seek more “ is, indeed, as foolish as the first half is wise.

(21) Of. the “ altos pensamientos,” of Quevedo’s famous Pablos of Segovia and his father, the barber-thief, and the latter’s remark : “ Esto de ser ladron no es arte mecanica sino liberal”—the thief’s is no base mechanical trade, but a liberal profession.

(22) “ Drudgery they will do none at all.” Sir R. Wynn, “ A brief relation of what was observed by the Prince’s servants in their journey into Spain.” 1623.

(23) They have that momentary isolated intensity which M. Anatole France ascribes to men of action : “Ils sont tout entiers dans le moment qu’ils vivent et leur g6nie se ramasse sur un point. lis se renouvellent sans cesse et ne se prolongent pas.”

(24) Episodios Nacionales. Narvaez. 1902.

(25) Cf. Joseph Townsend. “ A journey through Spain in the years 1786 and 1787,” 3 vols. London. 1792 : “ We must not imagine that the Spaniards are naturally indolent ; they are remarkable for activity, capable of strenuous exertions and patient of fatigue.” Another noteworthy judgment of the same author concerning the Spaniards is that “ Their ambition aims in everything at perfection, and by seeking too much they often obtain too little.”

(26) “Non hi ha res al mon que vosaltres non faessetz exir de mesura.”

(27) “La letra con sangre entra,” is a sad proverb of the Spanish and in the modern education of the printed page they are deficient.

(28) Cf. the sayings, Poderoso caballero es don Dinero ; Dadivas quebrantanpenas ; Dineros son calidad, etc. Sancho goes to govern the island of Barataria “ with a very great desire to make money.” The tendency is still to hoard, rather than invest, as did Don Bernard de Castil Blazo in Gil Bias, keeping 50,000 ducats in a chest in his house.

(29) Spaniards prefer to enjoy time as a gift sent by the gods, than to waste it in trying to spend it too nicely. El tiempo lo da Dios ; Dios mejora las horas ; Con el tiempo maduran las uvas. To a peasant two o’clock on a day of March is “ four more hours of sun.” Time is not parcelled out mechanically into tiny divisions by clocks. Distances are given by hours—an hour to a league. The Catalans are less lavish of the minutes ; to a stranger asking the distance to a village near Tarragona, a peasant answered cannily in Catalan, “ un cuart y mitj “—that is, the village was a quarter of an hour and half a quarter of an hour distant. Curiously the Catalans give the hour as in German, e.g. half-past eight is dos cuarts de nou —halb Neun.

(30) “El Caballero encantado,”1909: “Vivert en un mundo de ritualidades, de formulas, de tramites y recetas. El lenguaje se ha llenado de aforismos, de lemas y emblemas ; las ideas salen plagadas de motes, y cuando las acciones quieren producirse andan buscando la palabra en que han de encarnarse y no acaban de elegir.” The Spaniards speak with conviction of the great gulf fixed between word and deed :
- del dicho al hecho hay gran trecho ; Los dichos en nos, los hechos en Dios.

(31) Cf. a speaker in the Cortes in June, 1910 : “ Aqui no hay nada tan alto como las clases bajas.”

(32) Don Ramiro de Maeztu has written of the aggressive assertion of personality — innecesaria afirmación de las personas —in Spain.

(33) Lo que no lleva Cristo lo lleva el fisco—“ What the Church leaves, the Treasury receives,” says an old proverb.

(34) An author in Perez Galdos’ Fortunata y Jacinta says that the Spaniards, that picara raza, are unaware of the value of time and of the value of silence. “ You cannot make them understand that to take possession of other people’s silence is like stealing a coin.” “ It is a lack of civilization.” By such un-Spanish criticisms Senor Perez Galdos betrays the fact that he was not born in Spain.

(35) The historian, Mariana, displayed more patriotism than accuracy when he wrote that Spain “ is not like Africa, which is burnt by the violence of the sun nor is it assailed, as is France, by winds and frosts and humidity of air and earth.”

(36) So Fr. Alonso de Espina wrote that, were an Inquisition established, “ serian innurnerables los entregados al fuego, los cuales si no fuesen aqui . . . cruelmente castigados . . . habran de ser quemados en el fuego eterno.” La Fortaleza de la Fe. 1459.

(37) “This spectacle,” says an admiring Englishman in 1760, “is certainly one of the finest in the world, whether it is considered merely as a coup-d’oeil or as an exertion of the bravery and infinite agility of the performer.”

(38) Yet certainly no Englishman should attend a bull-fight while the modern custom prevails of leading out a cruelly gored horse, sewing it up, and bringing it in again for fresh sufferings. This is done to save the contractors of the plaza a few shillings and is a disgrace to Spain. Those who have not seen a bull-fight and can scarcely believe that so sordid and outrageous a practice is possible may, if they have the courage, read all the details in Sefñor Blasco Ibáñez’ novel Sangre y Arena (1908).

(39) The Inquisition was a tyranny universally feared, though in principle supported by the people. In Pepys we read of “ the English and Dutch who have been sent for to work (in the manufacture of certain stuffs) being taken with a Psalm-book or Testament and so clapped up and the house pulled down ; and the greatest Lord in Spayne dare not say a word against it if the word Inquisition be mentioned.” Cf. the groundless terror of the old woman in Quevedo’s El Buscdn, or the story of the man who, when asked for a few pears by an Inquisitor, pulled up and presented him with the whole tree.

(40) Attacks on and ridicule of priests in Spain are not exclusively modern ; the following verse of Juan Euiz (14th century) is but one of countless instances throughout Spanish literature :
“ Como quier que los frayles et clerigos disen que aman a Dios servir
Si barruntan que el rico esta para morir
Quando oyen sus dineros que comienzan a retenir
Qual de ellos lo levara comienzan luego a rennir.”
But recently the number of those believing in religion has diminished, and the anti-Clericals have been driven by certain abuses of the Church to a more or less crude parade of atheism. It is felt that the Church has crushed life rather than sought its fuller, nobler expression. Thus a writer, E. L. André (“Etica Española,” 1910), says : “We conceive life solely as a preparation for death,” and speaks of the slight espiritu territorial possessed by Spaniards. Cf. Berceo, in the 13th century : “ Quanto aqui vivimos en ageno moramos”—our life on earth is a sojourn in a strange land.

(41) Honesty is a common attribute of Spaniards, but they have perhaps no very accurate regard for the value of truthfulness or honesty in words.

(42) La mujer y el fraile mal parecen en la calle. In the South, as at Seville, the percentage of women to be seen in the streets is noticeably small.

(43) “ El consejo de la mujer es poco,” said Sancho, “ y el que no lo toma es loco.” The women maintain their influence, but it is thus not properly their own, but rather that of the Church.

(44) The phrase Seguir sin novedad is still used to imply that everything is going on well. But an ever-increasing number of politicians are now advocating “ new things “ with a somewhat crude violence. It is a reaction against the apathy that waited with crossed hands —
“Vuolsi cosl cola dove si puote
Cio che si vuole, e piu non dimandare.”

(45) Cf. the characteristic trait mentioned by Samuel Pepys : “They will cry out against their King, and Commanders, and Generals, none like them in the world, and yet will not hear a stranger say a word of them but will cut his throat.”

(46) It is true, however, that the mass of the Spanish nation has still to develop on really Spanish lines: hence its present weakness and its potential strength in the future, when a civilization of a truly national character shall have imposed itself upon the artificial civilization of culture imported from France, and religion imported from Rome.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Looking to download a book entitled “Spanish Galicia”, by an Englishman called Aubrey Bell, I happened upon another of his works, “The Magic of Spain”. I’ve spent a couple of hours preparing the chapter on “The Spanish Character” for posting to my Galicia web page tomorrow but tonight I offer you AB’s Intro and his fascinating Preface, written fractionally under a hundred years ago. Some of what the Preface contains could not be said now but some of it could. I leave each reader with experience of living in Spain to decide where this balance lies. . . .

This is rather a collection of stray notes on Spain than a connected study — of notes from many pleasant hours of Spanish literature and travel, but perhaps too individual an interest to appear without some apology.

It is not easy in a few words to account for the strange Oriental spell that Spain has exercised over many minds nor to explain the potency of its attraction. For indeed the great Peninsula possesses a special spice and flavour. It has not the immemorial culture of Italy, nor the pleasant smiling landscapes of France with her green meadows and crystal streams. The old Iberia, that dura tellus, has a peculiar raciness. Its colour is often harsh and crude ; many of its districts are barren and discomfortable. The bleak and rocky uplands and the ragged sierra ridges cut the country into sharp divisions and cause it to be thinly and variously populated. On those uplands the breath of the wind is often icy and the sun strikes with a biting force.

Great parched and desolate plains extend treeless and unprotected two thousand feet above the sea. The villages at distant intervals are of the colour of the soil, and scarcely to be distinguished from a mass of yellow-brown rocks. Morning and evening a string of mules may be seen outlined on the horizon, for the peasants set out in bands to till their distant fields; or a shepherd with his flock of sheep, or goats, relieves the strange monotony of this dust-laden windy desert. Nothing could be sadder or less harmonious than the peasants’ harsh and strident singing, the very peculiarity of which has, however, a piquancy and charm. Hard too is their language, with its clean gutturals, far rougher and manlier than the musical sister-tongue of Italy. All points to a like conclusion, that this is no country of comfort and soft languorous delight, but of a quaint and forcible originality, where the most jaded mind may be braced and inspirited and find a fresher and more stirring life.

In Spain the sharpness of contrasts precludes any feeling of weariness or satiety. There are regions of luxuriant growth and African sun bounded by mountains of eternal snow. Through the plain a river glides among orange groves and grey olives ; in the shaded patios of the city silver fountains keep the air cool and fresh, and on the coldest night in winter the temperature is still some degrees above the freezing point. Yet here, in the most fiery heat of summer, we may lift up our eyes to the hills and look on the snowy sierra against the deep blue of the sky; and if a shower, in this region of little rain, falls upon the low-lying districts, it adds but another coat of whiteness to the neighbouring range.

It is indeed a strange and fascinating land, a Land voll Sonnenschein and fierce blinding light, yet a land of shrill, piercing blasts and icy air, a land of many various elements both of climate and population. It is no wonder that its inhabitants are of a character strongly individual and preserve the original Iberian strain. A racy pithiness of speech is theirs. In no country are proverbs more common, and a string of them can indeed form a peasant’s conversation, pungent as the rosaries of red pimentos that hang on the balconies of farms.

It was in Spain that the rogue-story, the novela de picaros, originated, and the Spanish novelists of the last thirty years have given free rein to the local types of various parts of Spain. Nowhere has provincialism continued to be so clearly marked. In other countries better communications have corrupted the local manners into a conformity of excellence. In Spain the nature of the country, with its rough mountain barriers and turbulent un-navigable rivers, still protects originality and keeps the character of the provinces distinct, and the native of Andalucia continues to despise the native of Galicia and to be ridiculed by the native of Castile.

This does not make for material prosperity, but it constitutes a country of the picturesque and unexpected, a country where imagination is not dead, and where the artist and poet find their true home. Not the least attraction to them perhaps is the Spanish improvidence and absence of method, and the gay living from hand to mouth. An unwary traveller in the wilder districts may easily find himself half-perishing from scarcity of food, and lost in an intricate labyrinth of ways between far-distant villages. “A bad thing, sirs, it is to have a lack of bread,” sang the poet of the twelfth-century Poema del Cid. The hardy peasant of the poorer regions lives scantily from day to day on the product of the niggard soil, won by patient labour. The peasant in more fertile parts does not necessarily fare better, but he labours magnificently less. The deliberate method of prosperity and success is held in small esteem.

The mighty Empire of Spain was in fact the affair of a generation only. From the time of Philip II onwards the Spanish Empire might aptly be compared with the Cid’s corpse, for, though by its prestige and the favour of heaven it might continue to reap fresh victories, it was nevertheless irrevocably dead and awaiting dissolution. And it is the improvidence of Spain that has charmed the foreigner. For, eager as he is to admire its poetic aspects, in his inmost soul he often regards himself as incomparably superior, and hurries home to civilization with a sheaf of curious details negligently gleaned. The courteous Spaniard conceals his contempt for the foreigner, but were he privileged to read the numerous sketches, scenes, and saunterings published yearly of Spain, he would have some scope for legitimate amusement.

A faint remonstrance has indeed been heard in the Peninsula against the idea of Spanish grandees lying in wait at dark corners to rob a French journalist of his fortune. But mostly they are content to let the foreigner continue in his ignorance. For stern and melancholy Spain retains her secret, and is not to be won from her Oriental impenetrable mystery by any wiles. Unchanging and impassive, her cities seem to mock the stranger, and the roughness of the intervening wildernesses discourages him. But he returns again and again to this remote and mediaeval country, that in his practical eyes should be so rich and is so poor. The repulses he receives whet his curiosity and increase his ardour. Yet Spain is not, in spite of its many tourists, a country of foreign colonies. To the Englishman this fact brings a striking novelty, for he may visit Switzerland and Italy and France and scarcely leave the atmosphere of England, but in Spain he will find no difficulty in following Bacon’s advice to the traveller in foreign countries to “sequester himself from the company of his countrymen.

Of course, these days the “courteous Spaniard” can attain “legitimate amusement” by reading on the web “the numerous sketches, scenes, and saunterings published yearly of Spain”. As can the discourteous Spaniard, of course.

And, sadly, it’s no longer true to say there are no colonies of Englishmen in Spain.

Finally . . . I leave you with a sampler from the chapter on the Spanish character:- Any attempt to generalize concerning Spanish character would seem a vain and foolish task, since Spain is the country of Europe which has most stringently preserved its local differences of race and language, . . . But a few qualities may perhaps be attributed to the whole of Spain as in some measure common to her various peoples.

More on these tomorrow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I guess stupefaction would be a good way to describe the initial British reaction to the appointment of Baroness Ashton as the new EU High Representative for Foreign Relations and Security. At least we knew the new President’s name because it has been knocked around for the last few weeks. But no one seems to have heard of the lady at all. Even in Britain. Worse, she is singularly inexperienced in what the high profile position seems to require. So, I’d love to see the Job and the Perfect Bride Specs for the holder. Assuming they started with these. Which I rather doubt. But, apart from this, all went as predicted here; the Big Beasts of Germany and France got exactly what they wanted and everybody got to shaft Tony Blair.

And politicians wonder why they’re not much respected. Anyway, here’s an interesting (eurosceptic) take on the nonsense. Sampler:- It is hugely ironic that after decades of slaving away at crafting the foundations of a European superstate, the Eurofederalists have been left with two of the dullest politicians on earth as the public face of the European Union. Incidentally, the menu for last night’s election dinner special included wild mushrooms.

An Israeli historian has just published a book in which he makes the general claim that Jewish history was invented in the 19th century and the specific claim that the Romans never expelled the Jews from Palestine. The same general observation applies, he says, to Germany, France and Italy. Their histories are all the invention of romantic 19th century nationalists. And I can think of one or two examples closer to home.

As it happens, one of the waitresses in this wi-fi café has just given me a history of Galicia. Since it’s in Gallego, I’m guessing it’ll prove conclusively that Galicia is not only quintessentially Gaelic but also that it’s been a downtrodden real nation for hundreds of years. But I’ll let you know. Though this might take some time; she’s given me two other books as well. I see one is entitled “Myths, Rites and Legends of Galicia: The Magic of the Celtic Legacy”. There you go. Will I get an answer to my question of why Galicia is considered so much more Celtic than our next-door neighbour Asturias? Which really did successfully resist the Muslim conquest, by the way.

The Galician supreme court – I think every region in Spain has one – has pronounced that a house built very close to the sea by one of the Xunta members is illegal and must be demolished. Even though she should have known the law better than most, the lady in question has dismissed this as political persecution. It will be interesting to see whether the demolition order is ever carried out. There do seem to be rather a lot here that aren’t.

But maybe she has a case, as there’s widespread confusion about what the planning laws actually are in any place around Spain. And about who has the power to change them, as between the municipal, provincial, regional and state administrations. Hence the ability for some court to rule that thousands of houses owned by expatriates are illegal even after they’d been assured by the local authority they were legal. As someone has written, “Surely it is time for central government to take on a new overall role and impose a same-size-fits-all policy for the entire country. And now is the time to do it. Many town halls are rapidly running out of money and so some sort of replacement funding could be the incentive for the town halls to bring their municipalities into line with new rules established by Madrid.” So, is there the political will? Probably not. Bigger fish to fry.

The company which has high-jacked my phone to send me a recorded message every time I get an international call is Interec. I wonder if Telefónica know what’s going on. Assuming they don’t own it.

Finally . . . Confused about how much red wine to drink? Consult this and then relax. After that, start worrying that the research was by the University of Bordeaux.

Footnote: Most Unwise Quote of the Week, made on Wednesday

The days when France and Germany could decide things for a small cosy club are long gone. And a good thing too.
- An East European diplomat. Possibly about to be an ex-diplomat.

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