Friday, November 17, 2017

Listening & reading & worrying!

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Resultado de imagen de learning spanish
Well, the years of living in Spain must have counted for something: the guided tour around the houses of Los Indianos in Sitges in Spanish was basically understood by me as long as I concentrated.  And therein lies the rub.  Art, poetry, gastronomy, swimming, music, literature and so on and so on - they are all more interesting than studying Spanish for me.

As a past language teacher I should find the acquisition of a new mode of communication an exciting challenge.  The trouble is, I don’t.  And don’t think that I haven’t rehearsed all the possible arguments in favour of knuckling down and getting stuck in and putting various parts of my anatomy to gyrating rough surfaces, I have.  And I have yet to be convinced.

You would think, would you not, that someone with my proven inability to keep silent on any subject completely irrespective of how much, or indeed if any, knowledge informed my contributions, would embrace the chance of finding another mode of expression.  But no.  I do my homework with sullen resentment and little sticks.  I have gone over verb endings (-í, -iste, -ió) in various modes (-ía, -ías, -ía) and at various times (-é, -ás, -á) and I still look at such constructions with unalloyed, clear, blank, incomprehension.

And Spanish has two verbs for the English verb ‘to be’ so ‘I am’ can be ‘yo soy’ or ‘yo estoy’!  So, the English sentence ‘I am ill’ can be written in Spanish as either ‘Yo soy infermo’ or ‘Yo estoy infermo’ - but they mean different things.  And you probably wouldn’t use the ‘Yo’ in Spanish either, because the verb form tells you the person.  So, ‘Estoy infermo’ would indicate that you have something like a cough that you hope will clear up soon, while ‘Soy infermo’ means that you are permanently ill.  That’s quite a useful differentiation, but not useful enough to merit having to use two different verbs, when the use of an explanatory phrase might clear things up!  But one has the learn the language as it is and not as one would like it to be.  And English has phrasal verbs that are revenge enough for Spanish learners of our tongue!

Anyway, I was quite pleased with myself for following a fairly detailed social, historical and architectural wander through the narrow streets of Sitges and there were always English speaking friends to fall back on in the group when the sheer concentration on sequences of foreign words just got too much!

I got more pleasure from finding out that the name Sitges is derived from the word for silo!  There was, in times past, a small natural harbour near what is now the church and a brisk trade in the commodities that were stored on the shore in silos.  These silos were used for twenty years or so and then demolished and new ones built.  For archaeologists the delight is finding one of these disused silos because they are always filled in with rubbish, but historic rubbish, the bits and discarded pieces of what our ancestors thought worthless, broken and lost.  They were described by the guide in enthusiastic terms because of the ‘treasures’ they reveal to modern eyes.

Resultado de imagen de bicibox castelldefels
We went to Sitges by train and I cycled up to the station, as there are racks and bicibox to store bikes.  As my bike is a fairly flash electric number I am very much disinclined to leave it on public display - even with the sturdy steel jointed lock that looks the business.  Far better to have my tastefully blue bike hidden from questing eyes.  The bicibox is a sort of Nissan hut looking construction that has a series of slotted covers that can be raised by the resting of a special credit card sized ‘key’ on the operating pad of the ‘hut’.  A screen will inform you of the available spaces for your bike and you can select a ‘box’ open it and place the bike securely inside.  That, at least is the theory.  For the first time in my experience I found that all the spaces in the bicibox outside the station had been taken.

There was a Plan B.  Behind the station in a large car park for the commuters who go to Barcelona every day there is another bicibox.  I confidently cycled a couple of minutes to that box and took the last available space.  Never before have I experienced such demand - even by the station.  I fear that what was a good idea used only by the few has now become an accepted way of bici life!  This is disturbing because if I cannot put my bike in one of these bici boxes I will not leave it out in the open air when using the train.  And for two full bici boxes there is no Plan C.  I will have to give this some thought.

Which I have now done and I have reminded myself that there is a third bici box a hundred yards away form the front of the station in the car park by the church.  So that is Plan B, but what do I do if all three of the bici boxes are filled?  There really is no Plan C - apart from returning home and taking the car!  Which rather defeats the whole idea.

Resultado de imagen de art and its global histories a reader
I am typing this with the Diana Newall book, ‘Art and its global histories: A Reader’ lurking tauntingly or teasingly on my left.  The ideas from yesterday’s read are still fresh in my mind and I yearn for more information.  I have just opened the book at random in the section for ‘Art, commerce and colonialism 1600-1800’ and have seen a primary source text entitled:
Iohn Huighen van Linschoten. his discours of voyages into ye Easte & West Indies Deuided into foure books (London: John Wolfe, 1598) 
Resultado de imagen de johan huyghen van linschoten
that the Reader informs me is, “one of the great travel narratives of the early modern period” - as any fule kno!  Well, I didn’t.  But do now, and I love that sort of thing!  And the spelling has been modernised for ease of reading - who can ask for more!

I have replayed the interview of Alfonso Dastis, the foreign minister of the minority right wing National Government of Spain and Tim Sebastian (see yesterday’s blog) for the unadulterated pleasure of seeing an over-confident Conservative apologist discomforted.

Resultado de imagen de cartoon of dastis

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Jabs, art & politics!

Resultado de imagen de winter flu jab

When you feel smugly self-satisfied that you have started the day well by popping into your local health centre and having a flu jab - then there is possibly something wrong with the way that you are looking at life!

I even told myself that going there on my bike and having a swim afterwards was exactly the way to get all the goodness from the injection coursing around my veins or whatever.  I was in and out of the nurse’s office in a couple of minutes and that included a greeting, an enquiry after my general health and a hearty goodbye.

I have, courtesy of my ever-generous partner, already had one bout of sniffling, coughing and phlegminess.  It was an extended and miserable experience and had the disturbing feature of my getting better, having a sort of day off for good behaviour and then the illness returning with a vicious sneer of misery.  If the jab can keep a repetition of that unpleasant experience away then all well and good.  And, I might add, its efficacy is about to be put to the test because my partner has started sniffling again in what I can only describe as a professional manner.

Still, I have a “school trip” to look forward to!  I expect that you are expecting me to state that this will be the first school trip that I have been on as a student since the dim and distant days of my grammar school.  But wrong!  This will be my third school trip with my Spanish class.  The first trip was a tour of Gothic Barcelona; the second a much more satisfying visit to a Cava producer (with sampling of the produce) and tomorrow’s trip will be a guided tour of the houses of Los Americanos in Sitges.

These houses are the prestigious dwelling built by Catalans who went to the Americas and made their fortunes and then came back home to show off their wealth.  You should bear in mind that one of the famous brands of rum was founded by a Catalan - think of bats and you’ll get the one I mean, and there is even a museum in Sitges devoted to it.

The houses are built in a Catalan version of Art Nouveau and Sitges is particularly rich in these architectural pieces.  I have been on a guided walk around Sitges to look at them before, but this time the commentary will be in Spanish and will therefore not only challenge my knowledge of the language, but will also be a test of my memory of what was said in English the last time to help my translation.  It is so much easier reading Spanish rather than hearing it spoken by a native speaker, but that is the reason for these little trips, to get us to experience something approaching normality in the use of what we have been studying.

I have finished reading through the second volume of the textbooks for the Open University art course that I am not taking.  Buying the book is only (!) a hundred quid, rather than the two and a half grand for the actual course itself.

Resultado de imagen de art and its global histories
I have to admit that the book read itself.  It was an absolute delight.  I was going to stretch my reading by trying to limit the chapters I read at one time, giving myself, I reasoned, a decent period of time to let the new ideas sink in and perhaps do a little light research around the topics introduced.  Fat chance of that!  Once started I found myself allowing myself “just a little more” until it was more of a gorge than a measured read.

The contents of this excellent book taken from the course description on the OU site are:

Block 2: Art, Commerce and Colonialism 1600-1800

You will explore art and visual culture of a period in which the major European powers competed with each other for global dominance. The influx of ‘exotic’ goods, above all from Asia, transformed European taste and artistic production, including seventeenth-century Dutch painting, and gave rise to the vogue for ‘Chinoiserie’ in eighteenth-century Britain. Art and architecture were exported across the Atlantic to Latin America, where some of the most spectacular works of the Baroque era were created, as well as to North America, where Thomas Jefferson built his ideal classical villa, Monticello. Local circumstances and cultural traditions helped to shape the transfer of art works, and artistic models from one context to another. A key theme for this book is the relationship of art and visual culture to slavery and the slave trade.

The one great thing about art books is that they have pictures!  Though there is also the point to be made that ‘reading’ the pictures sometimes takes up more time than a comparable block of text!  On the OU website for the course there is probably opportunity to load up the pictures on line and to search them by expansion so that hard to see details in the illustrations become clearer.  I compensate for my lack of access to that resource by wielding a rather impressive looking magnifying glass and looking, as Toni pointed out this afternoon, like an obsessive Sherlock Holmes - or is that tautology?

Anyway, I have a lot to think about as the book has made me re-evaluate some of my assumptions and has given my a whole series of associations to consider.  In that respect it is something like “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared Diamond - a book I whole-heartedly recommend.   

Resultado de imagen de guns germs and steel
The volume is subtitled “The Fate of Human Societies” and its descriptive sweep of human history and pointed questions that arise from his observations force recognition of why history is as it is.  I can remember my first reading this book, and the fact that I had to put it down a few times because the import of what I had just understood struck home!

Part of the excitement of reading Art, Commerce and Colonialism 1600-1800 is that it is obviously a base from which you need to expand.  There are suggestions and questions in each of the sections that beg for further study.  There is a “Reader” to go with the course that is rather harder work with smaller print, more pages and fewer illustrations (and only in black and white) and has critical, historical and primary sources to widen the inquiry.  This is where the web site, course guides and tutors, as well as the other students make the study come alive.  Still, I am supposed to be studying Spanish and not Art and its Global Histories.  So there!

The situation in Catalonia continues not to improve, mainly because of the almost criminal intransigence of the national government as represented by members of the right wing, systemically corrupt minority government of PP and its depressing Prime Minister Rajoy.

What did bring a smile to my face was watching the interview by Tim Sebastian of the foreign minister of the minority government, Alfonso Dastis.   

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All credit to Dastis to go on a programme and speak in English, something the prime minister could never do.  His performance, however was execrable and his bluster in response to Tim Sebastian’s well researched, well supported and well put questions was depressingly familiar to those who have heard politicians go out to speak to the media when they are under prepared and have a poor case to put.  The interview can be heard here 

                       and is well worth listening to at length, although when you consider that this is real life for us rather than a politician making a fool of himself, it does get really depressing.  And he is one of the more impressive members of the government!  God help us all.

But tomorrow, school trip.  Take your pleasure where you can!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Verbs and worse!

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The number of tenses we, in our Spanish class, are supposed to know has now reached some form of critical mass.  God knows, I am unsure enough of the names for tenses in English let alone in a foreign language.  And let me tell you that you cannot be as sloppy in the formation of tenses in Spanish as you can in English.  You have to be exact.  Verb endings indicate who or what is happening without the use of pronouns.  So your listeners can tell.  Or, of course, not.

Well, we have recently had a test.  A written test.  I experienced some sort of brain freeze when I took this one and what little knowledge I had of various verb endings fled from my consciousness like die-hard Conservatives from social justice!

The reality of the disaster of the test was not the worst of my fears.  Our teacher goes in for what you could call refreshing honesty or horrific public denunciation.  During one soul-searing lesson last year it rapidly became apparent that she was going to read out our results openly for the rest of the class to hear.  As there were fewer verbs involved in that debacle I had more chance of passing, but it was a damn near thing!

This time I thought that the “revelations” of ineptitude were going to be confined to a rapid distribution and collection of our finished papers just before we disappeared for the weekend.  I gazed at my paper in blank incomprehension (in much the same way in which I wrote it) and handed it back in, relieved that the humiliation was personal and private.

Imagine my horror today when I saw the pile of papers reappear on the desk of the teacher.  My horror increased as the teacher berated us (yet again) for failing to use accents on interrogatives.  This, we were told, was basic.  We did it last year.  It is something that we MUST know.  She then singled out a selection of students, by name, and asked them why the accents had been omitted!  Wearing an expression of what I hoped was optimistic contrition I gazed at the teacher and waited for the Name of Shame to pinned to my shrinking confidence.  As I knew that in past tests I had used French words rather than their Spanish equivalents, and that my use of accents was always more impressionistic than accurate that the raised eyebrow of pedagogic incredulity would arch in my direction.

But it didn’t.  My paper was given back without condemnation!  I know that in a perfect narrative world, I would now be telling you that in fact I got one of the highest marks in the class and silly me for ever doubting my linguistic ability.  Alas, this is and was not the case.

I looked through my paper and whole sections had the mark that the British Eurovision song entry gets from the more unfashionable fragments of the late empire of the USSR.  I had however managed to garner unexpected marks though luck rather than ability and my written prose piece was enough to get me a scrape-by pass.  I said nothing and showed my paper to nobody and have resolved to Get To Grips With Verbs.

I do have a plan.  Of sorts.  It amounts to cobbling together information from a selection of books that I have in a final attempt to get the forms into my head.

Imagen relacionada
I have to admit that sometimes the circumstances in which you use these Spanish verbs sounds like a selection from the screenplay of The Paleface, starring the right wing, yet supremely talented, Bob Hope.  I mean that bit in the film where he (a confirmed townie) is given advice when he goes out to take on the gunslinger in the Wild West.  Eventually all the advice gets mixed up and he mutters to himself a Surrealistic amalgam of the helpful hints. 

Well, it’s the same thing with verbs.  If you are an English speaker then you will usually find that, after having spoken, you will have had not a moment’s difficulty in being able to have used the most complicated verb formations in normal conversation.  Rather like the grammatical form of that last sentence, whose translation into Spanish is not something I can contemplate with any degree of equanimity.

I swear that we recently had an explanation given to us in Spanish about the use of one of the past tenses which went something like this: “This is the tense that you use for something in the past which happened before something else and which was an action completed in the past but not in the distant past.”  I admit that I might be making some of that up, but I am not making this one up, I am copying it from a text book: “This tense is used for an action or state of being that occurred in the past and lasted for a certain length of time prior to another past action.”  [Their italics]  I mean what chance do I have!

Whinging, however will decline no verbs, so the Desperate Plan for Linguistic Fluency must / has to / will have to / be put in place with some dispatch - or at least before the next test so that I can boost my overall mark!  We were also told today that our particular examination has a pass mark of 65% and not the lowly 40% that we have been working with heretofore.

Something to think about.

As indeed is the continuing situation of chaos in Catalonia.

Resultado de imagen de demonstration in barcelona november
On Saturday I went into Barcelona and joined a million people protesting about the imprisonment of political prisoners created by the government of Rajoy and PP (the systemically corrupt party he “heads”(sic.)

Rajoy reminds me of the late and completely unlamented Dr. (sic.) Ian Paisley.  Like that reverend bigot the only word that Rajoy seems to favour is “No!”  Rajoy’s idea of conciliation is police violence.  How much the barbaric police “action” cost during the election in Catalonia on October 1st has now been declared a “State Secret”.  I wonder why?  Rajoy referred to the President of Catalonia as a liar as his way of encouraging dialogue, Rajoy’s speech is always in absolutes, and there is no room for compromise unless the other side capitulates entirely.

Even the Brexiteer liars in Britain seem to be amenable to some sort of compromise; perhaps they could talk to their sister party in Spain and get them to recognize that politics is the art of the possible!

Probably not.

Never mind, I can always turn to the Imperfecto de Indicativo or the Pretérito or even the Pluscamperfecto de subjunctivo to take my mind off it all!

Alternatively there is the second volume of the third level Art course in the Open University to read that arrived this afternoon - and that that book has pretty pictures in it too!  And let’s face it who could seriously turn away from a volume entitled, “Art, Commerce and Colonialism 1600-1800”?  I for one certainly can’t.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Justice? What justice!

Resultado de imagen de jailing of catalan leaders 2nd november 2017

You know when you try and remember one of those words that you used (teacher or pupil) to describe a ‘literary effect’ (or is it affect?  I’m a teacher and I can never really remember which one is correct and I am always too lazy to look it up.)  The word I am trying to remember is one that is used in Romeo and Juliet when the phrase ‘hot ice’ is used.  The teacher (or me in a previous incarnation) would reveal that the correct word to use was oxymoron.  Well, living in Spain I now have a different phrase to exemplify this concept: Spanish justice.

Today was the last day when my heart-feeling that the unity of Spain was worth fighting for finally died.

The politicised justice that parades as disinterested in the courts in Spain has shown itself to be as grotesquely politically inept as that shown by their PP masters in parliament.  Any remaining belief that the separation of powers exists to any real extent in Spain is now, officially, dead.

Some of the political leaders of the Republic of Catalonia have been to court to testify in Madrid and they have all (with one significant and reprehensible exception) been jailed without bail.

The minority right-wing repressive government of Spain, whose PP representation in Catalonia is a measly 8%, has assumed the government of Catalonia, imposed a motely scum of PP politicians as the leaders of our political society and has now jailed our leaders.

Political ineptitude seems to be the go-to default position of PP.  It would appear that their judicial spaniels slavishly follow their political masters and have behaved in a way guaranteed to bolster support for independence.

What of the elections called by the ever more contemptible president of Spain?  This government has jailed the leaders of our government: are they supposed to electioneer from behind bars?  With every step that the bunch of deadbeats in Madrid take, they further the break-up of Spain.  And please, do not pretend for one solitary moment that justice is separate from the political party that put most of them in place: PP.

PP is the most systemically corrupt political party in western Europe.  While it is super sensitive to any group or individual that speaks against its power base, it is strangely indifferent to the proven corruption of its own members as hundreds (yes, literally, hundreds) are going through the ‘justice’ system a damn sight more slowly than the leaders of our government!

For me, these jailings constitute a sort of turning point.  I have always been a vocal opponent of nationalism, and I am more concerned with unity in Europe than the petty national divisions that have fermented so many deaths over the last centuries.  But how can you go on thinking that linking to a corrupt and corrupting central government is anything other than, well, corrupting!

The Spanish government, under its bad-joke president Rajoy has shown its contempt for liberty, democracy, decency and unity.  Rajoy, personally and vindictively has engineered the present situation and has constantly shown himself to be opposed to any reasonable solution based on significant dialogue. 

Over the last decade and more Rajoy and his PP party has worked towards this impasse. 
 La Republica Catalunya
He now deserves to suffer the breakup of the country that he has so signally failed to represent in its totality.
¡Visca la República Catalunya!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

You can't get away from what is going to be.

Resultado de imagen de depressing thought

There is a real temptation to talk about the fact that today was hot enough for me to sunbathe on the terrace of the third floor; or bemoan the narrowness of parking spaces in our local shopping centre; or the fact that imitation Post-It notes do not stick as well as the real thing, or any damn thing other than the one thing that I should be writing about - the situation in Catalonia.

It is too easy to ignore the big bad world when you live in a seaside resort where you can see the horizon.  How many city dwellers actually get to see a real horizon, a natural horizon, rather than the artificiality of the barrier of construction?  And life goes on.  After all, people come here, have a walk, have a meal and then go home to real life.  Real life, for them is elsewhere - not here, by the side of the sea.

Barça are playing Athletico Madrid and are one down.  At the moment that seems more real and more important than all the crucial decisions and actions that are going to inform the development of Catalonia over the next few days.

And it is days.  The day after tomorrow the Catalan government can issue the already signed declaration of independence.  In five days time the Spanish government could declare that section 155 of the constitution has been brought into play and the government of Catalonia is now in the hands of the government of Madrid.

Or they could declare any one of a number of ‘states’ from ‘alarm’ to ‘emergency; or they could declare martial law; or impose curfews; or bring back the Guardia Civil and the Spanish national police onto the streets.  There could be further (one has happened already) roundups of political opponents; there could be jailings; there could be an all-out national disaster.

And, although the EU is still sticking to the idea that the Catalan Crisis is a ‘local’ problem for the Spanish government, anything really bad that happens in Catalonia will impact directly on Spain and then indirectly and directly on Europe and the EU.  The value of the Euro will respond to the situation in Catalonia and that will have a direct affect on the 27 other nations.  Instability is catching, and there is a price to be paid for it.

Political debate in Spain at the moment is only a little step below racism.  We are watching ultra right wing demonstrations with Franco versions of the Spanish flag, with fascist salutes, with hate slogans taking place.  We are hearing political debate reduced to simplistic nationalistic slogans.  We are seeing sides forming.

In my heart and in my head, I know that I prefer to see unity rather than division.  With all its faults I celebrate the reality of the EU as a way of bringing something like community to one of the most powerfully dysfunctional continents in the world.  We tut-tut about the multiple failures of Africa; we shake our heads at the rampant corruption of South America; we throw our hands in the air at the inability of the Middle East to sort itself out; we chide Asia for its misuse of power; we sigh at the ignorant boorishness of the present POTUS and yet, if we look carefully at what our oh-so-civilized continent is doing and not doing we should be ashamed at our inability to subscribe to a coherent system of fair government.

I am reminded of a film in which an American hangdog comic character plays a millionaire (I’ve just remembered his name, Walter Mathieu) who has lost all his money.  His bank manager explains to him that he is poor and there is nothing in the bank.  Mathieu listens patiently and then asks the manager why he has not cashed his check.  It is a variation on the TV sketch about a British soldier lost in the jungle and, after years of hiding, not being able to understand that the war was over.  It is the perennial problem of not being able to see what is in front of one’s eyes.

Mismanagement, corruption, theft and lies have been the stock in trade of politicians throughout the years as Spain has made the transition from dictatorship to democracy.  We are now living in a country where the fundamentals of decent government have been tarnished and subverted.  The fact that after years of unrelentingly appalling revelations about the criminality of PP, the minority right wing governing party, the fact that 30% of the voting population of the country would still vote for them tomorrow is, to put it mildly, depressing.  In spite of literally hundreds of members of the party and their supporters being indicted for criminal behaviour that the country still votes for them and makes them the party with the largest share of seats in parliament is astonishing.  But significant.

If the torrent of accusations, the clarity of the corruption and the arrogance of their defence is still not enough to get their base to turn away from them to a more congenially democratic and law abiding party, what will?  We are looking at a Spain that threatens to be governed in perpetuity by a party that thinks only of itself and nothing for the gullible who vote for them.  For people who look for hope for a better system to the present main political parties of PP, PSOE and Cs, I have to say that they are deluding themselves and ignoring the immediate past history of their political activity.

Spain desperately needs a radical rethink about the way that it governs itself.  Not one of the parties mentioned in the last paragraph seem to me to offer the slightest shred of evidence that they are up to the job of rewriting the constitution and producing a society that is more equal and lawful.

Catalonia is not without its own problems.  Corruption cases have to be sorted out.  The past president with his 3% and his mafia like family all have to be dealt with.  Everyone knew about the 3% and those who condoned this abuse must be rooted out of the political life of the country.  But, perhaps, with independence Catalonia might have a chance to achieve a more equal society.  Linked with the poisonous corruption of mainstream Spanish political life, it has no chance.

Perhaps Catalans are prepared for the financial, social and political problems that will be their if they call for an independence that is going to be resisted with all means possible by the central government.  Perhaps they are prepared to fight for their ‘freedom’ in spite of the economic and social cost involved.

The next seven days could be decisive in the way the country or region goes forwards or slumps.

Keep watching.