Thursday, 26 September 2013

When is a holiday not a holiday, and what would the bull say?

Yes, I now, everyone thinks that we go to Spain for holidays, as we say our goodbyes many people kindly say “have a good time” or “how lovely, enjoy the sun”. To us, our house in the village of La Fresneda is home, just another one that’s all, and I certainly know more people here than I do in Stow-on-the-Wold! But, occasionally, just occasionally, when we are here, someone rents the house so we carefully hide all the booze and delicacies and take off in our motor caravan.

Curmudgeonly, I begrudge these interruptions to my work on the stone hut, yet I usually enjoy them enormously. This one started badly. Friends kindly invited us to a karaoke night at a bar run by some English people in a town down on the coast. Fresh from our most recent visit to the karaoke culture of Taiwan we expected too much from the evening. Here the singers mostly sang to the screen and were pretty much ignored by everyone else, good singers though they mostly were. Doing karaoke in Taiwan we feel part of something different and we always sing, in Spain we did not.

Next day we took the prostitute-lined road south, in search of the ephemeral “nice seaside town”. Most places that we visited were awful: overdeveloped and for sale. Then we found Acossebre which was low rise, pretty, had excellent beaches and was holding a fiesta that very night. We went to see the bulls twice! No not that awful business where the bull is tortured to near death then killed, often badly, with a sword. Not that at all. Here the daring young men who face the bull are the only ones in real danger. They “play” with the thing, enticing it to gore them then escape onto robust tables or behind thick iron bars when necessary (at one exciting moment the bull jumped onto the table too).

Personally, I see nothing wrong with this, though others do not agree. A good friend from our village asked me “what would the bull say?” I don’t know of course, no one does. But, is it just possible that the bull might choose a Saturday night out with flaming torches tied to its horns whilst chasing after crazy men over a quiet night in the bull pen, or a karaoke evening?

We moved on to the towns of the upper Duero river above Madrid. One of these, Medinaceli, was so quiet that deathly would be an understated adjective (I think I heard a dog bark once). Another, El Burgo, had one of the liveliest central squares that I have ever seen: people all around and kids tearing across the place on every conceivable child’s transport. Inevitably there was a crash and some tears until the injured were taken away to the sweet shop.

The Duero is nice, it flows all the way to Portugal, through Oporto and out to sea. W saw some remarkable churches, castles and so on in the towns that it passes through. However, in the architecture stakes I give Tarazona, in our own region of Aragon, top marks. It has fine examples of Gothic, Romanic and Arabic architecture together with a jumble of streets in the old Jewish quarter which boasts hanging houses (no we did not hang out there). We ate tapas in Tarazona, slept in the hospital car park and then went home – to La Fresneda. No bull.

And the weather here? As I passed the butchers today, the display said thirty-one degrees. Everyone else was asleep.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Dying trees and Syria

We have now planted about a dozen fruit and nut trees on the terraces of our “huerto” in Spain. Naturally it is difficult to care for them when we are not here, but I have installed a system of tubes so that they are drip fed with water during the intense Spanish summer. The first sight of our efforts was discouraging. Someone had removed my tube from the water channel cutting of the supply of drips, and the weeds had grown so high (nearly three metres in places) that there was no sign of our little trees!

The rescue attempt has has been a slow, early morning chore before the sun rises to full strength. I first reconnected the drip feed tube then gradually pulled up, or dug up, the malas hierbas (bad plants) to expose the good. At least two trees had perished through lack of water but I can now see the remaining ones and, when there is sufficient rainfall to soften the rock hard ground, I will rotavate the terraces. This will destroy the root systems of remaining, but will extend my sysphean efforts by churning in their seeds into the fertile. There is an end in sight though: one day the tress will be big enough to fend for themselves – I hope.

It may seem trivial to compare my horticultural world to the present situation in Syria, but I feel compelled to do so. Recently we heard that the attempt by the UK’s Conservative led coalition to involve our forces against the current regime was thwarted by a slim majority of thirteen. Hallelujah. I am not an expert on Syria in any way, but I have spent some time back-packing there and feel some sort of affinity. I also suspect that my, very limited, knowledge of that fraught country is just a little greater that that of David Cameron and his foreign secretary – and that’s not saying much. But it is sufficient to say this: don’t interfere. You do not understand the situation and you certainly do not know what demons you support in siding with and opposition which is very likely to be far more oppressive, and certainly more extreme, than the current regime.

Of course, we should provide humanitarian aid for those displaced in the fierce tussle for power in this culturally rich country, but that should be all. It is not our business and one should keep one’s nose, however well meaning, out of other people business. Surely, we can learn some lessons from the very recent past: we and our friends in the USA are not much cop at nation building, are we?

OK, it is all very well to pontificate when you are sitting in a tiny village  in the middle of Spain, but before leaving I did try. I wrote to William Hague over a month ago questioning his outright support for the opposition in Syria and the futility of aiding victory by yet another extremist Muslim regime whose support for democracy is belied by their true beliefs. I received a long, well researched, and polite response written by an aide which told me how wrong I was. Fortunately, our democratic processes did not agree with that aide.

I really do not know what the Spanish attitude towards Syria is, but I can guess. With a collapsed economy and youth unemployment running at 50% they have other concerns: like the repatriation of Gibraltar, a great smokescreen spread to obscure the underlying economic problems. That aside, it is my belief that they would not support military intervention in Syria. They have an underlying understanding of the conflict that nationalism and separation brings. They would leave well enough alone, yet would help the innocents damaged by a conflict which they neither started nor support. We should do the same.

I can easily distinguish between the weeds and the trees over here and hence root out the bad plants. Over there it is far more difficult. My neighbour, a slash and burn style farmer, told me that I should use chemicals to suppress the weeds. My response, that I did not support the use of poisons on ground that grows food, was probably lost in my faltering Spanish. But my utter condemnation of the use of chemicals to kill innocent men, women and children should penetrate any language barrier. It is my sad view that the argument of who did what and to whom in this matter may never be resolved and to attack selected parts of this ailing country on this pretext is so reminiscent of those elusive Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as to be prophetic.