Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Random Notes on Spain and Portugal

Henry the Navigator: Dude could navigate.

Henry the Navigator was a reason the tiny nation of Portugal ruled a lot of the world for a while. As for Spain, how about Christopher Columbus (okay, he was actually Italian, but he sailed for Spain) or throw in Vasco da Gama (dammit, he's Portuguese!), so let's go with Magellan (another damned Portuguese) or, okay, how about de Leon, Cabeza de Vaca, or Balboa?

The point is the Spanish and Portuguese started checking out the world, and before you know it, they need a pope to divide South America between them.

Now it's 2014 and they're not what they used to be, but that doesn't mean they're not great nations -- meaning, I suppose, they conquered vast amounts of land around the world and exploited both the physical and human capital of their territories when they weren't butchering their populations or infecting them to death.

From an historical perspective, it's hard to make a case for a lot of nations in terms of greatness. The U.S. was butchering savages long before we decided to butcher Iraqis, er, I mean neosavages. The neocons just love their neosavages dead if not under their thumbs, for democracy, of course. The Spaniards did it for Christ. I assume the Portuguese were similarly inspired.

These thoughts are a bit more random than I expected them to be, but that's what happens when you begin with an historical perspective. Don't get me started on the British.

Two other important data points you need to know is that both countries suffered under fascist dictatorships in the 20th century before finally throwing them off, both in the 70s if I remember correctly. Also, like, say Kansas, they're sort of corrupt, but democratic, after a fashion, which means people vote and stuff happens, rarely what the people themselves hoped for.

Anyway, it's 2014, I've been on the Iberian Peninsula for about three weeks, and the one thing that I've found is that the Spanish and the Portuguese are a damned fine, if a little beaten-down, people. I've been travelling using ride-sharing and home-sharing (blablacar.com, where I can find low-cost rides with everyday people, and airbnb.com, where I can borrow a room at low cost from everyday people), and the advantage is there is no such thing as fly-over country or whiz-by bullet-train country. There's just country and people who like to talk.

This doesn't deliver non-anecdotal, peer-reviewed data, but it does tell me that two of the nortorious PIIGS don't deserve what they're going through. Unemployment is high, folks I meet tell me they've been laid off, are getting by with one-income-per-family earnings, and often rent out a room if they've got one to try to get by.

Portugal seems by far to be the more beaten-down, a term I feel is fit, in that an EU-wide fiscal policy that looked to stimulus rather than austerity might light a fire under either economy that just isn't being lit.

I don't feel the expertise to go beyond what I've said. But, in the random thoughts department, here are a few:
  • A major bank in Portugal is called Banco Espirito Santo. I want my money there during the Rapture. But, hell, who times the market and wins?
  • I don't know what to say about this: All the street hawkers of knock-off handbags, sunglasses, and random stuff are jet-black Africans, 99% of the mini-marts and dollar-store-like "bazaars" are run by Asians, and the vast majority of döner kebab places are run by Arabs, even though the current iteration of the döner kebab was invented by a Turk in Berlin in 1972. This is true not only of Spain but most of western and eastern Europe. What's up with this, exploitation, self-selection, or weird-ass crime syndicates? (Look up döner kebab for yourself. It's a go-to fast food all over Europe. I'm totally down with it.)
  • Larry Ellison, Oracle CEO, owns the Atletico Madrid soccer (football over here) team, which just won the Spanish league championship. He was tossed in the air, like a champion himself. His arrogance -- winning America's Cups and Spanish League and, possibly, the Champions League this weekend, by dint of being filthy stinking rich -- sticks in my craw. Fuck him. Go Atletico, though! (I rode from Ghent, Belgium to Bordeaux, France, then on to San Sebastian, Spain, with a 20-year-old die-hard Atletico fan, so after 14 hours in a car with him, I'm a fan, too, seriously.)
  • Thomas Piketty -- celebrated author of Capital in the 21st Century -- was on the nightly news tonight in Barcelona, something that will happen in the U.S. when hell freezes over and all the Ealges' albums melt into a huge four-dimensional portrait of Jackson Browne.
  • If you're in southern Europe and you've got access to a clean toilet with actual toilet paper, and it's free -- meaning you don't have to pay almost a buck for it -- use it. If it's got a toilet seat, like totally use it. Figure out how, just don't pass it up. You don't know when you'll have a chance again. I bring this up because I have the same feeling toward microfoundations. Really.
  • The history of the human race is totally filled with horror. You're reminded of that when you come to Europe. Americans and our forebears -- the Europeans are our chief forebears, except for our slaves and our neo-slaves (you can guess who I mean there) -- have spent a great deal of our history killing each other and other peoples, and we're the good guys! I don't know who the good guys are, actually, but it takes a great deal of hubris to think it's us, and it's been a long time since anyone in western Europe has tried any of the shit we Americans, and, say Africans, have in the recent past. Oh my God, two hundred Ukrainians have died in the past two months. That's a gun-violence report in the U.S. for a week.
  • Last night my hosts in Madrid wanted to have a special going-away dinner. I happily and graciously said yes! We ate at 11:15 pm. Shit, I knew the Spanish eat late, but... It was delicious, and special. Buena fortuna, Buena suerte.
I talked about toilets, wars, economics, exploration, colonization, exploitation, the Eagles, rich assholes, and really kind, welcoming people. I'm going to stop now, with the really kind people.

I took this picture at Cabo de Roca, Portugal. I, uh...


  1. I miss you, Calvin. New Tech isn't the same without you. So glad this appeared and you pointed it out on FB (cuz I just can't be bothered checking in regularly with blogs of *any* kind). Becoming inspired to do a southern Europe trip this summer. This helps.

    1. Great, Tom. Thanks. Do go southern Europe if you can. The culture rocks. It's not perfect, but, trust me, beyond the tourism is people who I'm drawn to. All the best.

    2. Replying to self: I taught English for years, so: Beyond the tourism are people to whom I'm drawn. (sticklers!)