Una Fiesta Nacional

With no small dose of irony, this week sees Spain’s National Day coincide with a constitutional crisis that could lead to its disintegration. While Catalonia contemplates and attempts to negotiate its (suspended) path towards independence, the flag waving nationalists of Castilla will line El Paseo de la Castellana in Madrid to cheer a military parade organised by the Ministry of Defence. This celebration needs updating as a small step towards healing a Spain society that is fracturing.

It is time to rethink the way in which Spain celebrates its nationhood. Spain has its opportunity to celebrate the achievements of their armed forces on their “Dia de las Fuerzas Armadas”. The laser-guided focus on celebrating the hung-over militarism of the Franco regime excludes the sentiments of at least 70% of the Spanish population.

Spain needs to move a way from anachronistic nationalism towards an inclusive celebration of what a great country this is.

Since its inception in 1913, the 12th October has been observed to a greater or lesser degree across Spain and Latin America as the day of the hispanic race; “El dia de la Raza”, “Dia de la Hispanidad”, or “la Fiesta Nacional”. More recently it has been re-cast in many South American countries to recognise the genocidal inflection point that was Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. Many South American countries seem to be abandoning their celebration of “Hispanidad” in favour of celebrating days of Indigenous Resistance or Respect for Cultural Differences.

As a (still) british citizen, I find it strange, we don’t have a day to celebrate our nation like the Spanish, much less one to celebrate our “race”. The Scots show their pride in Rabbie Burns, and the English do pomp, when a royal gets married or a Tory prime minister dies. But we would feel uncomfortable with some kind of military celebration as the centre-piece of being British.

No so in Spain, where the parades continue. Forty years after the death of Franco, and two generations into democracy, the celebration of Spanishness is still stuck on a military parade. Battalions of soldiers representing regiments that marched with Franco in his Coup d’Etat in 1936 goose-step along the Castellana, flown over by military aircraft. The only significant change has been the elimination of the tank battalions, through cost cutting in deference to the economic crisis rather than any significant apreciation of its ridiculousness.

Surely there could be a more accurate and inclusive celebration of Spanish life? Surely we could celebrate the diversity of spanish culture and history. A carnival of floats celebrating the infinite diversity of this fascinating country. Here is a quick starter list:

  • Herds of Iberian pigs, and Mountain Goats.
  • School children Enacting scenes from El Quijote, El Cid.
  • Castels
  • Fine Wines
  • Fallas firework displays
  • Carnivals from Cádiz, Canarias
  • Embutidos
  • Flamenco cantaores and balaores, with their rock, jazz & hip-hop fusions
  • Demonstrations of World beating Sportsmen and Women.
  • Cheeses
  • Pride floats celebrating that Spain was one of the first countries to recogise marriage equality.
  • Celebrations of the cultures of bulls, horses and hunting.

And that is just some of the “traditional” Spanish memes. Space should be made to welcome the contribution and influence made by the immigrants and tourists from across Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas who have shaped the way Spain is today and who are shaping the culture as it progresses.

That would be a true Fiesta Nacional.

May the 39th

May your cuts keep cutting. After May the 39th.
May your child be 39th in their class.

May your healthcare be for profit.

May your wages stagnate.

May your soil be poisoned.

May your job move to Frankfurt

Or Puerto Real.
May your biopsy be delayed.

May you dream of lettuce in winter.

May your restaurant stink of Rothmans

May your beaches fly red flags

May their market rule your choices.

May the honey bees be hasbeens

And your rivers black and empty.

May the 39th child never catch her teacher’s eye.

May your Brexit be hard.

May your fruit be tinned.

May your taxes rise.

And your waiting list lengthen.

May your Nitrogen dioxidise

And your wheat be growing thin.
May your saboteurs return to crush you
May your newspaper be a comfort

May your graduates be trapped in debt.

May your waiter have spittle for your soup.

May your missiles be your potency.

And your surgery deregulated.

May your equity be negative.

May your friends be just like you.

May your pension be plundered.

May your aspirations be seen for what they are.

May you exhaust yourself in chasing them.

May you achieve the success you desire for others.

May you learn of the contempt in which you are held by those you admire.

May the 39th.

May be your last chance…

under our feet

Developers in Toledo recently found the remains of what may be a 10th Century cemetery just outside the medieval city walls.  press reports have suggested that the estimated 200 graves may be part of a muslim burial ground dating from the 10th – 12th Centuries.

I joined the curious onlookers this evening to take a look at what is Toledo’s latest archaeological site.

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The bodies appear to be buried in shrouds laying on their sides facing a south easterly direction towards Mecca.

The location of the cemetery is squeezed between the medieval city walls and the remains of the roman circus, an area that has been at continuously inhabited for thousands of years.  The city of Toledo has been inhabited and fought over by the Romans, the Visigoths, a capital city for Muslims, Jews and Christians of the Iberian peninsular.  This area of the city is known to be rich in archeology.

What is striking is how close to the road these graves are.  I had the feeling that you could excavate in pretty much any direction and keep finding graves.

Onimac Day 11: Sun 22nd April : Hormigos – Home: 57km

My final day on the road would be a short one. I packed up my tent, grabbed a quick breakfast in the bar, and headed back towards the main road home. it took me a couple of hours to get to Torrijos along the quiet old National Road, recently bypassed by the construction of a motorway. After passing through Torrijos, my last town before arriving home, I picked up the un-opened section of the new motorway and rolled over smooth black tarmac until I could see my home village of Bargas on the horizon.

first sight of Bargas

I was now back into my home terrain. I regularly cycle around these tracks and know that I am no more than an hour from home. I send the photo through on Facebook and Whatsapp, warning the assembled party that I am on my way, and that the beers should be on ice.

Those last 15 km felt surprisingly emotional. I rambled my way back through the familar lanes behind Bargas, past the local supermarket, the village school and then into the last kilometre across the fields. I could see my house across the fields, with the assmbled bodies of friends and family waiting to greet me.

Home at Last

Ribbons and streamers provided a tickertape welcome, at exactly 2 PM, as promised.

Onimac Day 10: Sat 21st April: Ávila – Hormigos: 105km

Avila is served by 3 main trunk roads. One of them, the N403, could take me back to my home village and destination. Whilst discussing my route with the night doorman at the hotel, I got a buzz of excitement from the fact that he recognisedd the name of my village. “Ah, Bargas”, he said, “you should take the N403, it is the best road to get there, it is wide and good, smooth tarmac.”

I decided against his advice. I was going to try my luck on the small, winding mountain road, and trust that I would not be fighting for road space with trucks and speeding cars.

After an anxious first hour or so, getting lost around the modern suburban ring road, and then competing for road space with quarry trucks that led me through a quarry, the Quiet Mountain Road turned into the quiet moutnain road I had expected. It rose consistently, but managebly. I could feel my legs taking the strian quite happily. Finally I felt able to enjoy the climb. My body respnded to the challenge, my legs were spinning happily, either pushing through the hill on the shallower sections or happily winching my up the steeper sections in a granny gear. The weight of my panniers felt stabilising rather than anchoring.

Clearly my fitness had improved over the last week and half, since struggling over the rolling hills of Galicia.

I passed over the first significant puerto around 10:30 and was able to drop down into the high tree-less moorland of the Community of Madrid, thorugh isolated hilltop villages, I took on bananas in the village shop and a coffee in the bar before heading on to Cebreros and a disappointingly uninspiring lunch in San Martin de Valdeiglesias.

I had assumed that my route would be all downhill after the puertos of the morning, but once I dropped down to 700m the countryside kept rolling up and down. This made for a more tiring afternoon than anticipated, but nonetheless I was now within sight of the finish line.

The campsites I had identified were about 10-15 km out of my way, I would need to cycle 2 sides of a triangle to get to them, so I had called ahead to the campsite and confirmed that they were open and and had availability. I could probably have found a hostal or B&B in Maqueda or Almorox, but having carried the 1-2kg of camping gear with me for 700km, I was keen to justify it.

Once I had pitched my tent in the allotted parcela, I was reminded of the disappointment of many Spanish campsites.

My pitch was under a canopy, more or less like a shaded car parking space in a long line facing other similar pitches. Dotted along the row of pitches were caravans that seemed semi-static. Most seemed not to have moved in years. They had several square meters of green plastic grass laid out, a prefrab shed or two containing a kitchen with gas cooker, fridge-freezer, washing machine, as well as a TV & hifi system. These campsites are not for touring, nor camping, but are generally treated as the weekend and summer retreats of the flat-dwelling folk of Madrid’s satellite towns. A place where the extended family can get together around a barbecue, enjoy an afternoon of whiskey and coke cubatas while their kids burn off their energy in the campsite pool, kicking balls around. Or in the case of my temporary neighbours, by racing mini motorbikes between the canopies.

Luckily my stay coincided with a Madrid-Barça clasico, so I was able to enjoy the match in the campsite bar with a few beers, and thanks to the Madrid victory, I could slip away to my tent with enough alcohol in my system to get off to sleep, leaving my roudier neighours celebrating their superiority in the bar, rather than their caravans.

Trump the Fascist?

The other day I stumbled across a short thread on twitter that possibly shines a light Trump and the motivations of his regime. Perhaps all this talk of Fascism and Nazi-punching is slightly off the mark.

Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and their apologists are not fascists. Fascism contains an element of socialism, at least for the favoured “in-group” sections of society, if not the demonised “Others”.

Trump and Bannon are Anarcho-Capitalists. Their aim is to destroy the power of the state, whether as owner or manager of resources, regulator of markets, redistributor of wealth or independant arbitor of justice. The aim of the Anarcho-Capitalist is to reduce all economic activity “voluntary” contractual transaction.

The Fascism of 20th Century Europe was fashioned from the industrial age in which it developed. The economies of the 1930’s depended upon labour, and so the ultra-nationalisms of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco offered the Quid Pro Quo of government intervention in the economy to provide a more or less comfortable existance for the chosen docile in-groups. It should, but incomprehensively doesn´t, go without saying that Fascist states were various degrees of horrendous for anyone who was Jewish, Gipsy, Communist, African, LBGTQ , Disabled, Slav, or often just accused or suspected of being any variation of the above.

The crucial difference between the old-style Fascists and their descendants is that the 21st Century western economy depends not on labour, but consumers.

The stagnation of wages and the rocketing inequalities within western economies since the financial crisies of 2008 has led to a fundamental questioning of the west’s economic model. Critics of the last 35 years of neoliberal capitalism suggest we are living in a period of “Zombie Capitalism”, desperately consuming the remnants of our natural resources to feed an ever-less efficient and fundamentally discredited system that serves only to funnel wealth to an ever-shrinking group of Oligarchs.

Automation and Artificial Inteligence is on the verge of making another section of society redundant. There are serious economic studies underway investigating fundamental shifts in the way western economies could be structured in a a post-industrial, post-capitalist environment. Pilots are being carried out to provide citizens with a Universal Basic Income. There is a flourishing or re-emergence of Utopian ideas of reduced hour work weeks, the developemnt of sustainable economies based on embracing technology, investing in green energy, and developing low-impact permaculture food production. Ideas that offer the promise of an equitable soft-landing from the last 200 years of unsustainable capitalist over-consumption.

The 21st Century Anarcho-Capitalist, on the other hand sees these interventions as heretical disruptions of the market. In an economy that depends not on workers but consumers, the oligarchy has no use for those who cannot treat themselves to a $5 milky syrup coffee, or afford a monthly subscription to Netflix, or provide for their own Health Insurance, or service their student debt or under-write a decent mobile data plan. This growing underclass whose median net worth is less than $5.00 have no value to the likes of Steve Bannon. The Anarcho-Capitalist solution to the kind of inequality where 50% of the population hold the same wealth as 8 billionaires, is to discard the poorest 40%. To excise them from the economy by abandoning them to their fate of climate-induced disasters, disease, opiate addiction, obesity and gun-crime.

Onimac Day 9: Fri 20th April: Arévalo – Avila: 56km

Avila would be the last main town before riding through the Sierra de Madrid, over a series of summits around 1100m – 1300m. That would be my plan for Saturday, first just I need to get through the 50-odd km to Avila.

The first 30 km were similar to the last few days, gently rolling arrable plains. Despite the tiring head-wind I was on course to enjoy a famous Avila T-Bone steak for lunch. Then I began to approach the climb up to Avila. the net elevation gain to Avila would be around 300m, but the rolling nature of the climb meant I would gain 30m and then descend 20m before repeating again. climbing 60m to gain 20m and be faced once more with another climb.

With the elevation came the wind and the cold once more. Eventually I made it to the famous city walls, and followed my way around them until I found a hotel. I took the first room they offered me and enjoyed the glory of a warm room, a soft bed and TV. I collapsed onto the bed and and fell into a heavy siesta.

When I awoke a couple of hours later I felt guilty for wasting my time Avila. I felt I should be soaking up the atmosphere of this medievel World Heritage site, instead of slobbing under the duvet dozing to trashy daytime TV.

But then I turned my attention to my task for the Saturday. I would be climbing some serious mountains for at least half of the day, and then hopefully camping in one of two campsites around 60-70 km from home. Besides, Avila is a day trip by car, we often come for lunch, so why the pressure to play tourist now. I should just revel in the fact that I am nearly home, enjoy my first half-day off since setting out from Santiago 9 days ago, and conserve my energy for tomorrow.

Onimac Day 8: Thur 19th April: Toro – Arévalo: 106 km

I enjoyed a lie-in until 8:30 followed by a leisurely breakfast buffet in the hotel before moving on. Yesterday’s cheek cutting south-westerly had turned over night to a helpful north-westerly that pushed me through vineyards along the banks of the Duero to Castronuño where a barman told me his tales of cycling the Camino from Astorga and advised me to get off-road by heading to Nava del Rey and following a dirt track along side the railway that would take me to Medina del Campo. I took his advice, diverting to Nava del Rey, found the railway track and felt relief to at last be back on a dirt road. Until the track ended 1.5 km later, dumping me in at the corner of a particularly isolated field. I trundled my way back along the tractor-track and hooked up with the road once more. And so would continue much of this route through Castilla Leon. The landscape continued to be large and rolling, mainly made up of arable land, with few opportunities to follow off-road tracks, but plenty of covered country lanes to link desolate villages.

The rain in Spain rarely falls on the plain. The meseta plains of Castilla are generally fairly sparcely populated, in part due to the lack of water. The Green Spain of the northern coast and Galicia seems to have allowed for an even scattering of farms and homesteads to develop over the years, when travelling through Galicia you are rarely more than 5-10 km from a village or hamlet. The Castillians of Zamora and Valladolid on the other hand live in towns and villages and then commute out to their land when it needs tending. What little population there is in this part of Spain is concentrated in sleepy market towns and villages each separated from its neighbour by dozens of kilometres.

And so, when lunchtime came there was no bar or Menu del Dia on offer. I turned off and sheltered from the wind behind an irrigation shed to warm up a quick lunch of canned stew (look for the Litoral brand) with chorizo, bread and manchego cheese.

Lunch in the middle of nowhere

I then pushed on to Arevalo, where I found an adequate 1* hostal in which to rest.

Since leaving O Cebreiro on Monday morning, my daily average had increased significantly. A couple of 90km days stacked up with 118km on Wednesday and another 106km today meant that I was within striking distance of Avila, I was back on schedule to be home on Sunday.

Onimac Day 7: Wed 18th April: Alija del Infantado – Toro: 118km

I found nowhere open for breakfast in Alija and so headed on to the next village on the map. Finding no bar or shop there either, I retired to a bus-shelter and brewed up some tea to wash down a breakfast of Bananas and nuts, thankful for my forethought in Eroski the previous day.

After passing through Benavente I tried taking a direct route south through irrigated farm land, in the hope that I could avoid using the A6 motorway to cross the River Esla and would find an un-marked farm track or ford. There was no such crossing and every track I tried petered out and dumped me into another muddy field. I turned back to the main road and put my trust back into the map, taking a circuitous route along minor country roads to get me to a bridge across the river.

After hopping from sleepy village to comatose village I was finally able to find somewhere with an open kitchen and caught a late lunch in Santovenia; bean stew, churrasco steak and a glass of wine to lift my flagging spirits before heading on into the rolling meseta of Castilla Leon. To compensate for the morning’s diversion to cross the river, I was now pushing into a cold damp headwind that occasionally relented into a side-wind spitting rain across the plain. I was looking for places to stay or camp from about 17.30, with no luck. The villages were dead, and the landscape exclusively open arable farm land with barely a bush to provide a sheltered camp site.

I continued to Castro Nuevo de los Arcos hoping for a hostal to provide some shelter from the dark skies and damp winds, seemingly like the rest of this corner of Castilla Leon, the village was deserted and it’s bar was closed but I was at least able to find someone who could advise me on accomodation for the night. Unfortunately their only advice was for me to keep riding to the next major town, Toro – 30 km up-wind across this rolling landscape of arable fields. I arrived into Toro around 8.30 and found my way to the Maria de Molina Hotel. Three whole stars of unparalleled luxury, where I was able to once more unpack my damp panniers, dry out my kit take a warm shower and luxuriate in the wonder of radiators.

Clearly, I no longer had the luxury of following a defined route of painted arrows and guidebooks, Albergues and bars offering “Menu del Peregrino” every 5km. So I headed to the hotel bar and sat to plan out the remaining route from Toro.

I had covered over 170km since yesterday lunchtime in Astorga, so clearly it was feasible for me to ride over 100km per day but I did not want to become a slave to the odometer. I was being asked pointedly when I was due to arrive home and my vague cycle-tourist response of “Sometime Sunday, maybe Monday, depends on the wind.” was not boding well for being allowed to go out and tour again.

Outline Route to Ávila

I would aim for Avila, 147km from Toro, taking a route that would allow stopping off in either Medina del Campo or Arévalo if necessary.

From Ávila I would ride over the Sierra de Madrid into San Martin de Valdiglesias and drop into Toledo at Almorox aiming to camp in one of two campsites in Hormigos on Saturday night to allow a quick 50km sprint home to Bargas on Sunday morning.

Outline Route from Avila to Bargas