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Monday January 18 2010

And in an internet cafe.  But it won´t read an SD card so no pictures until I get home.  Although, come to think of it, maybe I will find another internet cafe which will allow me to show pictures.

First impression, it´s warmer, without being uncomfortably warm.  Warmer yesterday afternoon, when I arrived, than today.  Whether the sun is out or not makes a big difference.  An ideal place to escape the cold and damp of England at a time of year such as this, especially so as so few tourists yet seem to have grasped this notion.

Second impression, Spain contains lots of mini-mountains, often very near to where everyone lives, in fact in the case of one mini-mountain, actually right in the middle of where people live.  Although actually that might have been the first impression in this impressions list, because I could clearly see this from the airplane as it came in to land.  Alicante, for instance, has a big lump in the middle, with an ancient castle on top, like in Edinburgh.  Today, I and my friend Tony went to the top of it.  But, we didn´t walk up, we took the lift.  This involved a long walk down a very strange, because very straight, tunnel.  Then up in the lift.  At the top we found not so much a castle, as an ad hoc collection of fortifications, clearly created over a longish time, as and when they needed and could afford them.  What I especially liked was that at the top of this obviously very historical place, they still had room for some world-class, state of the art, guaranteed twenty-first century roof clutter, of which I of course have numerous photos, along with rather cloudy views of Alicante and its various nearby mini-mountains.

Third impression, the place seems pretty civilised.  The children are polite to old gits like me.  There are no drunken yobs to be seen anywhere.  Maybe it is like this in provincial towns in Britain, but from what I read in the admittedly doom-laden British press, it is just as bad there.  There are, for instance, and to mention a particular hate of mine, no bits of chewing gum on the pavement.  My guess is that until recently, Spain has been too poor to afford a welfare state and the consequent inevitable degradation of the lives and morals of the lower classes.

Fourth impression: no cats.  Not one.  Dogs, yes, quite a few.  Birds in cages, yes, lots.  Cats, none.  Maybe the birds in the cages contributes to there being no cats, because cats would terrify all these birds, or worse.  Only cat photos so far of two china cats in my friends´ flat, and some also non-real cats in a hardware store.

Fifth impression: it´s great, when you on holiday to have a great book on the go, and on an impulse I grabbed and included at the last possible moment, in my tiny bag of stuff, a copy of Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin, to add to the book on Roman history I had already packed.  Knots and Crosses is the very first Rebus book.  And it´s great, I think.  I have dipped into later Rebuses (Rebi?), but have not found that nearly so satisfying.  Now I plan to read the second one as soon as I get home, and if that works, the third, and so on.

That´s all for now, and very possibly until I am back in London.  Sorry no links, and sorry for the inevitable typos, induced by strange kit and a strange keyboard.  The man in the cubicle next to me is whistling and humming tunelessly.  I´m out of here.

If you look at “January” for my four annual travel photoessays (here, here, here and here) you will observe that I certainly have figured out the benefits of going to Spain in the middle of the English winter. I even booked it for this year too, but it got called off when I decided to go to Australia instead, which is where I am now. I am also surprised at how few other English tourists seem to have figured this out.

As for the lack of yobbishness, part of it is a cultural difference. The Spanish drinking culture may or may not be to drink less, but they drink much small glasses of alcoholic beverages over a longer period of time, and they always eat food when they drink. (This is what “tapas” is, basically. Food that you eat with your drinks). I think this cultural difference is much older than any differences in welfare states. This may be part of it, but I don’t think it is all of it.

By the way, it seems impossible to leave comments on your blog from anywhere in the Republic of Singapore.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 18 January 2010

Interesting that, about cats.
Just a few days ago I came across some travel post, describing the opposite - the over-abundance of cats. I’m not clear where, though, I think it was either Jerusalem or some place in Turkey.
Is there any significance in that, what do you think?

Posted by Tatyana on 19 January 2010

Did you consider maybe the dogs ate the cats?  Or maybe the Spanish did!  You never know what’s in that strange foreign food, Brian!

Posted by Perry de Havilland on 19 January 2010

Oddly, my Spanish cat experience is precisely the opposite to yours. I have personally encountered lots and lots of Iberian moggies.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 19 January 2010

I only know the Costa del Sol in Andalusia, but there seem plenty of cats there. One problem is wild dogs that have the charming habit of occasionally half eating sheep alive (as in not finishing them off). The local dog warden in a village north of Malaga once told me he shot about 30 in a month, IIRC.

As for wintering on the Med. La Promenade des Anglais in Nice got its name from the English gentry that stayed there in the winter. It can be foggy, but warmer than the UK. Parisians do not do this. It sounds like something you might do more often.

On drinking: tapas is surely part of it as Michael says, but also the point about children rings true, they are more polite. There is no alcohol prohibition before youngsters go to university and whatever Viking-berserker DNA got into British chavs seems largely absent from the south of France and Spain.

Spain wasn’t rich enough to have a welfare underclass until recently, and I’m guessing the Franco era had an effect well into the 1980s, both good and bad. The country also lacked a poor alienated immigrant population (lots of relatively wealthy expats in the south) since the Reconquistada. The timing of Spain’s entry into the EU for freedom of movement purposes will have been useful: UK benefits will surely attract more scroungers than Spain.

Final thought about food. The surprising thing to me was 1) the variety of fish is generally greater in Spain than in the UK, 2) the amount of dishes involving potatoes and/or roast pork. Apart from the spices, some of the food struck me as closer to Ireland than Italy, in a good way. 3) nothing like the variety of cheese as in France.

If you have the chance, check out food markets.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 19 January 2010

Thanks for all of the above.

I´m back tomorrow so will not be doing any more posting from Spain, but would like to add one more impression.  LOTS OF GRAFFITI.  It´s everywhere.  Don´t know why, but maybe something to do with them thinking it´s art?  Maybe they just don´t dislike it as much as I do.  Maybe graffiti is the only bad thing the graffiti-ists do, so nobody reacts against it, although that seems unlikely.

Could this be some kind of British influence?

This makes me realise what a significant fact about London it is that in large parts of it, but most definitely not in all of it, graffiti is not tolerated.

I know that, as a libertarian, I´m not suppose to think such things, but might it also be something to do with London having more surveillance cameras everywhere, so whenever the powers that be want it to stop in some particular place, the can do this relatively easily?

Anyway, like I say, it´s everywhere.  Again, I have pictures of this and hope to post some.

Day trip to Benidorm today.  Quite a place.

Still no cats.  Not one.  Lots of Brits, but no cats.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 19 January 2010

Glad you are having a good holiday Brian.

Antoine: With the exception of a few groups of people in Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall, the English just don’t get seafood. Cod, haddock, and perhaps occasionally salmon or tuna seem to be just about it. Don’t even ask about shellfish. The French, the Italians, and particularly the Spanish do get seafood, the Spanish to the extent that they are willing to deplete the oceans of the world in order to really enjoy it now. As far as roast pork and potatoes, you get that over the border in Portugal, too. (Salt cod and potatoes is a big deal too, and when done right it is a wonderful dish). As for cheeses, northern Spain is different from southern Spain. There are some lovely Catalan cheeses, and Basque food is something special in a great many ways.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 20 January 2010

Generalizing Alicante->Spain is not realistic…
1) warm, yes, but not in the true mountains
2) mini mountains, yes except in Castilla and in the true mountains
3) civilised… will depend on the town, and the moment. No chewing gum on the pavement???! That must be particular to Alicante.... Or maybe the cleaning service is prepared to deal with all the rubbish generated by a much larger summer population, and is therefore overkill in winter.
4) no cats? That is strange.

Posted by from spain on 20 January 2010

Michael, Portuguese love their fish, shellfish and various mollusks as much as the neighbors. Especially at the South. And everywhere they combine rice with potatoes as a standard side (practice I still can’t understand no reconcile with relative general slimness of population).

Posted by Tatyana on 20 January 2010

Dear B, hope you are having a lovely time.

By the way, I’ve got you in my ‘blogroll but it doesn’t update for new posts, hence why I drop in so seldom.

Posted by Mark Wadsworth on 20 January 2010

On the point about graffiti it seems to me that there is a lot less of it about on trains and in stations - and a lot more CCTV in those places.

And anyway, is it really libertarian to be against CCTV?  Surely it is just a property rights issue?

[Lights blue touch paper and retires.]

Posted by Patrick Crozier on 20 January 2010

I wasn’t meaning to exclude the Portuguese from being seafood lovers: merely to mention that they also go with the potatoes thing. They seem to have a particular love of Octopus, too. I had a lovely seafood stew on the Algarve last month - sort of like a bouillabaisse but not quite. Not seafood, but I also had a lovely cassoulet like stew in Alentejo. I think it may be that those dishes that have evolved from rural and working people’s food are rather more similar across southern Europe than some of the theoretically fancier dishes.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 21 January 2010

Prawn cocktail versus bouillabaisse.

Spot the sea food experts…

I don’t mind a bank having a camera pointed at the cashiers’ counter, knowing that the tape is erased after a week.

I do mind police cameras.

On graffiti, I think the reason for a drop is mainly that local government has staff whose job description is to remove graffiti. One reason for this is the association made by law enforcement agencies between gang tags and crime.

Persistently removing gang tags reduces the prestige of these groups. I had a conversation with the head of Chicago’s anti-gang unit about this. He told me that one of the cheapest preventative anti-crime actions is to paint over graffiti.

This is consistent with property rights.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 21 January 2010

Michael - in cataplana? I loved the local seafood stew that I ate in Lagos so much, I bought copper cataplana in the market and now occasionally attempt my version of the dish. Once I had a friend, native of Barcelona, for dinner and she approved. Although I suspect she was too generous.

I hate graffiti, no matter how artistically they’re done. One simple reason: they distort architect’s intention. Every building has a balance of solid vs. patterned, and if architect decided to leave a wall clean, it’s not an invitation to some illiterate “artist” to make a mess of it.

Posted by Tatyana on 21 January 2010
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