Friday 9 August 2013

Festival de Carballeira, Zas....

The poster was brilliantly designed, the location perfect. The musical line up promised a magical night of Celtic music. I missed it in 2012. I missed the folk festival of Ortiguera too. But the Carballeira was on my doorstep and I had looked forward to it all year. I was even more excited when I found that one of my favourite folk groups, Berrogüetto was to play along with three others including what I can only call the folk punk band Lurte from Aragon.
I had two pilgrims staying at The Little Fox House and having saturated them with Galician music for two days I knew they were ready for the excursion into the amazing world of music that is Festival Galicia in the summertime.
All started very well. We were lucky enough to find a bar called O Gaitero (the piper) in Zas and treated to an impromptu concert by a group of friends from Santiago. It was wonderful: "I´ve never heard anything like this!" said Patricia from New Zealand. Ten o´clock rolled around and we lined up at the entrance to the Festival. Bags were being searched for glass bottles and I saw a few (a very few) which had been confiscated. There was a small admission charge (which entitled us to a CD with two of the songs of each of the bands playing). We were duly hand-stamped and sent on our way.
The concerts began late, but this is Spain. Carballeira, true to its name (carballo is the Galego word for oak tree) is set in a sylvan paradise. We found a tree suitable for our backs and backsides and prepared for a great evening of folk music.
The first band were from the Basque country: some brilliant accordian playing. But by now, the "muy poquiño" number of people was growing by the minute.  Five men took a sizeable spot behind us and set up "camp". This included one very large plastic cooler and no less than five 5 litre plastic jugs of wine plus God knows what they had doctored into it. Within half an hour they were hollering into our ears.
Berrogüetto played. Beautifully.  But shouts from those behind of "maricon!" at the band made me want to strangle someone. By this time they were literally falling down the hill and into us. One woman who could barely stand stamped most forcefully on my sandalled foot and clearly didn´t even notice it. Patricia had had enough and excused herself to go and sleep in the car (by now it was one o´clock but by Spanish standards nothing had even really started yet!).
The remaining two of us moved, several times, away from young men who needed two of their buddies in order to be able to stand, young men who were throwing up around us, young women whose glassy eyes told the story of what they had done to poison themselves. Those five litre bottles were everywhere. Two partygoers had to be carried out on stretchers and the ambulances lit up the night.
The band Lurte was to play last. They are brilliant musicians one and all and I was really looking forward to hearing them, but their appearance is - well, let´s say more Sex Pistols meets Ozzy Osborne than Peter, Paul and Mary, and after they installed their drum and draped the skeleton around the amplifier the atmosphere took on  more and more of the sense of personal threat. Three men, clinging together in some bizarre form of dance came crashing into me and I had stationed myself close to the stage and the member of the Protección Civil guard in the hopes that some order might be found. The policeman didn´t bat an eyelid. I think he was as terrified as I was.
I never heard Lurte. I left before they came on, simply disgusted.
With whom?
I said to one pilgrim early on: "A lot of young people having fun, right?" She agreed. "Now try imagining that at last 40% of them have no work, never have had and have little hope of getting a job  in the near future".
But does that excuse the mass drunkenness I saw last Saturday?
There were concessions there. The drinks were a little more than could be purchased in the local bar, but not a lot. It was the sheer volume of alcohol per person which had been allowed into the Festival area which astounded me. The First Aid truck seemed not to lack customers.
"Buy our T-shirts", the president of the Carballeira organisation pleaded with the festival goers. "Help us to keep this great festival going another 30 years!" But the concessions didn´t seem to be doing a lot of business. Why bother when you have five litres of booze of your own, brought in with the total approval of the Guardia Civil of Galicia?
As I said, I didn´t stay. I had been very careful myself not to drink as I was the designated driver and had been stopped on the way home following a recent local festival. I knew that "Traffico" would be out in force.
I was wrong. I didn´t see a single spot check or police car.
No doubt Lurte stirred their totally wasted audience into a folk frenzy. No doubt the drinking continued until 7 in the morning.
And then they all drove home. Those that could still stand that is....
I have written to the organisers. I have written to the mayor of Zas (population - well not much). I doubt it will do any good and by doing it I feel a bit like "Outraged of Tunbridge Wells". I don´t think I objected because I am getting old. I know how to have fun and I can dance ´til dawn still if I have a mind to it (and did at the recent Asalto a O Castelo in Vimianzo where I saw none of this even without an admission check).  I think I did it because I am sad. Sad that the enjoyment of many who would have liked to enjoy the music was so ruined by the behaviour of so many drunks, some probably not yet 15 and who were poisoning themselves with the permission, even approval of the organisers of the Carballeira Festival.
We won´t even discuss the cost to an already overburdened medical system...
I doubt very much that I will ever go again. And two pilgrims will be taking a story back to their countries of a Spain that I would have preferred them (and I) not to see.
Signed: Disgusted of Carantoña.

Thursday 11 July 2013

The Peasants are Revolting: Asalto a O Castelo 2013

The year is 1467. The economic pressures on the peasants exceeds their ability to provide. The abuses of such feudal lords as the Moscosos, the Counts of Altamira become unbearable. The king, Henry IV is blind to the pleas of his subjects. There isn´t even cake to eat! It is no surprise that finally, the Irmandiños form a band and plot to overthrow their masters. Supported by some of the clergy and even some minor squires (the hidalgos, which means literally sons of some substance), it is estimated that perhaps 80,000 rose in Galicia against the establishment between 1467 and 1469. They succesfully attacked 130 forts, amongst them the castle in Vimianzo.

However, despite the rapid success of the Irmandiños, their victory was short lived. As is so often the case, competing interests and lack of control within the brotherhoods led to their downfall. When the situation came to the notice of the king, he sent his support to the nobles. The strength of the rebels at that time simply wasn´t enough. Vimianzo was now not in the hands of the Moscosos, but Alonso II, the archbishop of Santiago. The leaders of the rebellion were hanged; others were forced to rebuild what they had destroyed. The end result is the castle we see today, which, by the way, is on The Little Fox House History and Mystery Tour if you are a pilgrim at the end of your Camino and lucky enough to be able to pay Foxy a visit for a couple of nights or three. (see )

Fast forward to 2013.  Irmandiños and nobles eat and drink side by side, that is until Luar na Lubre stops playing and the cry goes up: “Lume!”

Three slaves walk onto the stage, their plight quite clear. The queen shows no mercy (the countess actually but the facts here ruin the story!). The peasants begin to hurl abuse as the baddies demonstrate their power. “The queen is a dipshit!” catcalls the normally restrained (so he says) Reverand Stewart of Saskatoon, one of the three pilgrims who stormed the castle with me this year. These words will stay with me, Tracy Saunders, for the rest of my life!

“LUME!” The torches are lit, the drums begin as we follow the Irmandiños toward the object of their discontent. Someone takes up the cry:  “Asalto a O Castelo! Asalto a O Castelo!!". The castle hoves into site.

The story continues on the battlements and we Irmandiños are repulsed by water balloons, but only for a while.  The slaves reappear, a hand-to-hand battle is fought and the Viscount gets the worse of it. “LIBERTAD!!!”

Down go the gates under the merciless thrust of those manning (and womaning) the battering ram.


And so the castle is ours once again, for a whole year.

I am not usually one for festivals, but I have my little school in Vimianzo, and The Little Fox house is within its “Concello”. I hung a banner out of the school window (OK so it's St Mark from Venice. I am a foreigner!) and we all dressed up very Medievally and danced til 3 in the morning.
And I can´t wait for next year.

Sunday 9 June 2013

Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago

Walking the Camino (in Spanish, Buen Camino) follows six pilgrims on their way to Santiago. Each one of them carries more than just their backpack. They carry their sorrows, their doubts, their hopes and dreams for the future. Brazillian, Sam, for example says: “They said I would find the answer and then I realised: I didn’t know the question”. Tatiana pushes a baby stroller with her son, Cyrian. She struggles with not only the rocky terrain, but also her ambivalence towards her brother. They have always fought, she says at the beginning of the film: “Now, no fighting.” All that is to change, however, as she gradually realises that while she is on the Camino to talk to God, Alexis is out for a good time, and she finds that her inner struggles become focussed on trying to come to terms with their differences. Wayne, the Canadian, is still suffering from the sadness of losing his wife some time before. Annie wrestles with tendinitis and walks through her pain determined not to stop. Others pass her with their poles: tuk, tuk, tuk. “A bad day for the ego is a good day for the soul,” she reflects. Misa and William find themselves drawn to each other in ways that neither of them ever anticipated, the age difference fading into meaninglessness when they find they are only ever separated when one or the other goes to the bathroom.

In short, your pilgrimage. Perhaps everybody’s pilgrimage.

And therein is the true strength of this film.

Not only are the characters superbly drawn, but the film is cinematographically beautiful. Long shots, short shots, wide shots. Not that this writer knows anything about the technical terms, but when the raindrops on the blades of grass glisten, and when the clouds are scudding across the Meseta, then you begin to understand the magic of the Camino. A snail moves along the pathway; a jet speeds above the cathedral: the metaphors are not lost. This is the Camino de Santiago. Time takes on a different meaning.

I predict that everyone who sees this film will come away feeling as I did: humbled and connected to the lives of these people. Perhaps you, like me will “adopt” a pilgrim and feel something of their joy as they finally make it to the Plaza de Obradoiro. And maybe, like me, you will cry.

Truly a wonderful film.


Tuesday 28 May 2013

Galicia is Not For Sale!

Last Sunday I decided to go for a walk. This is not an unusual thing for a Sunday, but this walk was around an area which, if the provincial government of Galicia and a Canadian gold mining company get their way, will soon no longer exist. At least not as a place in which you would want to take a walk.

The area in question is in Corcoesto in the Costa da Morte, no more than 8 kilometers from a pristine wetland area which hosts many species of wildlife. The river Anillons then flows in the Ria de Ponteceso and on into the sea.  It is a place of silence and very rare beauty.

I drove through Corcoesto twice without ever realizing it was there.  It is a typical Galician “aldea”: a tiny gathering of granite cottages, corn cribs and barns with cows chewing the cud.  Donkeys are still widely used in place of tractors and some carts still have wooden wheels. The population is aged. The women wear black or the ubiquitous blue apron seen all over Galicia.

It is well known that Spain is undergoing a serious recession. The unemployment rate is in excess of 25% and considerably higher amongst people under 25. Few stay in the countryside or continue the family tradition of farming.
So you would imagine perhaps, that a mining initiative might be just the ticket to revitalize the economy in this community. You would think that the majority of the people here would welcome the mine and certainly certain interested parties would tell you that this is indeed the case.

It is not.
The sign in the photo above reads, in Galician: "A Pyramid of Greed".
I went to Corcoesto to join a walk of 12 kilometers around the proposed site .We walked along crystal rivers and tracks fringed with foxgloves, through oak and pine and eucalyptus. There was no sound except our hushed voices and the sounds of our boots on the gravel. I tried to envisage the site as it would be with its plant, its open pit, its mine workings, its waste dump, its heavy construction vehicles. I tried to imagine the noise of dynamite and the rumble of trucks as the gold was taken away. I tried to imagine the smell of dust not  gorse and wild roses. I couldn’t do it for too long. It made me want to cry.

The old man on the horse told me that his blood pressure has shot up since December just wondering if the axe was going to fall.  The woman told me she would have joined the walk but her arthritis was too bad. She was afraid. The young girls told me that the environmental cost to this area would be devastating and that the mine would be in operation for eight years only. The man in the T-shirt wondered just how much of the wealth their ancestral land would yield would trickle down to the community; how many high end jobs would be given to outsiders. We agreed it was not an optimistic thought.
The Romans came to Galicia for gold. The city of Ourense receives its name from the precious metal. Oro is the Spanish word for gold.  Even today in Corcoesto above the river there are the remains of a mine shaft dating from 1895 through to 1910 and various exploitations have been carried out during the earlier part of the 20th century. As gold prices fell, the mine workings became unprofitable and were abandoned, However, with today’s premium price for gold, eyes have returned to Galicia’s potential, and believe me there is still a fair bit of it!

How much? Well, it depends on who you talk to. The Corcoesto load runs right through the Costa da Morte from Malpica in the north, and stretches to the Portuguese border at Tui almost 200 kilometers away.  The problem is, that despite the firms marketing strategies, it is not easily available: what there is left is only in tiny microparticles. In order to release it, the rocks have to be pulverised and cyanide used. Arsenic is also then released into the air as a result of the explosions. In such a rainy climate this means leaching of highly toxic waste into the groundwater.
The precedent for this mine should not be lost on anyone who fears for the total environmental destruction of this very beautiful and green province.
How serious is the environmental impact?

I hope I won’t be infringing on anyone’s intellectual property if I quote the contents of a letter sent to the European Parliament. I have yet to find whether the questions which follow it have been answered:
“The Galician government has adopted a law regulating industrial policy in Galicia with the aim of boosting investment in Galicia's industrial fabric. Its objectives include the development of strategic industrial projects involving proposed investments in industrial plants that are expected to result in a significant expansion of Galicia's industrial fabric. A series of conditions are laid down. Projects must lead to the creation of at least 250 jobs, and proposals must be backed by an undertaking (including partnerships) which will make the required investment.
Under this legislation, a Canadian company has proposed to open an open-cast gold mine in the district of Corcoesto (A Coruña). The environmental impact of this project is beyond doubt, since the extraction of 30 000 kg of gold will produce 6 million tonnes of waste. A residents' association set up to oppose the project estimates that the mine will be operational for 10 years. The company itself envisages a 20-year lifespan.
Moreover, the mining methods used may have a serious impact on the natural environment, in particular water, since they involve a cyanide-based extraction process. The European Parliament resolution of 5 May 2010 on a general ban on the use of cyanide mining technologies in the European Union called for these methods to be banned by the end of 2011. The citizens' action group against the mine has also complained that the correct procedures for informing the public were not complied with and that no economic guarantee or commitment has been given to offset the inevitable impact that the mine will have”
1. Is the Commission aware of this situation?
2. Given that it involves a cyanide-based extraction process, does the Commission believe that this project complies with Community regulations?
3. What steps will the Commission take to ensure that this goldmine project complies with the procedures guaranteeing public information and transparency that are required under Community regulations?
The man in the expensive white car near the church didn’t want to comment that much was clear. I asked if he thought it would impact on the life of the people in Corcoesto: “It’ll be a bit noisier”, he said. Did he think that most people were for or against it?  “About equally based.”
The video from the Canadian Edgewater Exploration company on the environmental impact of the site goes further: in a poll of 2012 “80% of neighbouring municipalities welcome the project”. Neighbouring Municipalities, note; not people. The politicians want it, but the people don’t.

The video also states quite specifically that the life expectancy of the mine is 9 years. This is at odds with the 20 years also claimed by the mining company elsewhere.
In nearby Carballo, a town virtually created from wolfram mining through the 1950’s, a recent demonstration drew well over a thousand demonstrators from this tiny community.  This Sunday a much bigger "manifestación" is planned for Santiago de Compostela.

I’ll be with them. Some things simply must be beyond money even in a country desperate for it. The price of gold can never equal the cost of what would be lost in Galicia forever.
“Soy contraminante!”


Sunday 10 March 2013

All Good Things Must Come to an End...

The title of this blog may be actually misleading. What comes to an end is always translated into a new beginning.

I have left this blog for far too long, writing instead mostly on Forums and Facebook. But it is a "thing of beauty" in its own way and I have decided that with a bit of reworking The Happy Heretic (that´s me) can continue to entertain and enlighten you every couple of weeks or so.
A LOT of water under bridges: the launch of the Spanish translation of St James Rooster (El Baculo de Santiago, Boveda, Nov. 2012)(Click for You Tube Book Trailer); the wonderful year we have had with The Little Fox House...86 pilgrims from 23 countries; a year for me now in Galicia following my dream of 13 years to open a Post-Camino Retreat near Muxia. 2012 was a year of promises, fear and sheer joy!
So where from here? Well, I am working right now on several projects: Foxy House for sure, plus ongoing research into The Dove and the Yellow Cross the third volume in The Camino Chronicles Series. I am also continuing my research into what I hope will be a non-fiction book about a man you might only meet in fiction: Manfred Gnädinger, the hermit of Camelle. I have a language school to mother and occasionally kiss better.
One thing you can be sure of is that what I write will not make everybody happy: the teacher of Plato was the "Gadfly" of Athens. He made people think and question their own presuppositions. He didn't do it by making everybody happy. Ultimately he died for it.
Hope you will be kinder to me that the citizens of Athens were to poor old Socrates.
More soon...
PS I can´t say I like this "new " Blogger. Can anyone tell me how I can "wrap" my text around the photo as I have always done???