Cover: Heidelbergensis people likeness 400,000 year ago, Picasso’s Guernica massacre, Viscaya Bridge, Cabo de Gata cliffs into sea, Jette and Ron ready to swim, Spanish wine grapes, Cervantes Don Quixote, student general strike.
Concomitant with soaking in the healing sun far from grey Denmark, my sweetheart Jette and I witnessed important political and archeological developments as we traveled through Spain the first two months of 2017. We spent the first four week at a Fuengirola apartment-hotel, Fuengirola Beach, just 300 meters from the beach. (1)
Moreover, we learned of amazing scientific discoveries of Europe’s earliest identified people, Homo antecessor (Explorer), found at Sierra de Atapuerca. Fossils were also found of the uniquely caring Homo heidelbergensis, and a 1.3 million year-old jawbone of an as yet unidentified hominid. Many of these fossils are on public display in the nearby Burgos Museum of Human Evolution.
- Costa del Sol
We enjoyed our month in Fuengirola for many reasons. It is a cozy town of 70,000 people with a wonderful outdoor zoo with animals from many parts of the world, three archeological sites, great tapa bar-restaurants, and good fishing opportunities.
We spent time on the sandy beaches, naturally, swimming and looking for the fascinating sea shells that seemed designed for beauty and utility. Many are sturdy and large enough to hold ceviche I make. I even caught a sea- bass casting from the beach, which is a favorite pastime and source of food for many Spaniards.
Me with my big catch on our balcony. The Sohail Castle tower is behind, and beyond the ever-so-blue Mediterranean.
At one archeological site we saw where Romans in the Iron Age salted fish for consumption and export. In the same area close to the sea they made pottery and took their famous baths in tubs with cold, lukewarm, and hot temperatures. Wealthier bathers were massaged by their slaves. There were areas for concerts, a library and gardens. The thermal baths were owned by the state, which charged a small fee; children were admitted free. There were periods of unisex nudity but prudish Catholics outlawed this in the 3rd century AD by banning women from the baths.
Across the street from our apartment, on one side of Sohail Castle remains of Phoenician and Roman settlements from between 3000 and 2000 years ago have been uncovered. Many fossils were found but the dig stops where a manor stands complete with swimming pool and carports surrounded by a high wall and barbed wire. Why would this be here at an archeological park?
I asked several workers and pedestrians in the area about this. Most of them knew it had to do with Franco’s time. One told me, “The rich are the power not the law”. But unlike in most of the centuries of regular corruption—from the early kings, through colonization, the Franco period, and up to recently—there is action against it.
Spain has a long history of institutional corruption—managing public resources for private interests, and includes bribery. The English expression “Spanish practices” stems from a long history of “Spanish duplicity”. Most dishonest politicians, civil servants, and public and private functionaries get away with it. But since the economic crises with a 25% loss of employment, many people are acting. Activist protestors have been effective, and a former civil servant whistle-blower, Ana Garrido has revealed much corruption, which the mass media is finally covering.
Since 2010 there have been regular revelations of official corruption by top politicians especially of the People’s Party (PP), including the president of Madrid region, three treasurers and ministers. The PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers Party) and many businessmen have also been caught in corruption cases: kickbacks, bribes, tax fraud, public funding for work not performed or overpriced. Just between mid-2015 and the end of 2016, 1,700 people faced prosecution for corruption. Although 1000 town councils of the 8,100 in Spain have initiated corruption investigations, only 20 persons have been sentenced to prison. Despite transparency campaigns and promises, fiscal laxity remains endemic. Some investigators, for instance, are paid as much as 100,000 Euros annually, enough to look the other way.
Bankia, a major bank, is one of many cases unfolding. Twenty seven leading bankers and politicians are on trial for various acts of corruption and bribery. Another case, Gürtel network, involves 200 businessmen and public officials, including three former PP treasurers, charged with such crimes. The Prime Minister is called to testify in this case. The key man in the billion dollar scandal is known as Don Vito from the “Godfather”—construction capitalist Francisco Correa.
Then there is the infamous case of the king’s brother-in-law, Inaki Urdangarin. He was sentenced to six years and three months in prison while we were there. He was found guilty of masterminding a scheme for the Nóos Institute to obtain public contracts without bidding, in which no work was performed or done so at overpriced costs. He is also guilty of diverting public funds for personal profit. His wife, Cristina de Borbón, the former King Juan Carlos’ daughter, was fined 265,088 Euros for tax fraud complicity. Somehow, she was not found guilty of any crimes. This is the first time any member of the royal family has been so judged. King Juan Carlos stepped down in 2014 when the case began. His son Felipe took his place. Urdangarin, a former handball star player, appealed the sentence and is free on bail in Switzerland.
Due to these exposures the PP has ruled without a majority vote for the past two years. Its coalition government garnered only 33% in the 2016 election; 28% in 2015, compared with 44% in 2011. But the PSOE is not as favored as it once was either, winning only 22.6% in the 2016 elections compared with 44% in 2008. This has caused the national government, and many regional ones, to attempt to appease the people by ascribing to transparency. City councils are accepting complaints of all sorts and investigating them. Results of the investigations are publicized. When I found out about this, I decided to look into the private mansion background and make a complaint.
Dictator Francisco Franco gave José Antonio Girón de Velasco permission to build this mansion (Villa Valsurbio). Girón had faithfully served Franco in his illegal and brutal war against the democratically elected Republican government. He served as an officer in the 1936-9 civil war, and Franco made him his Minister of Labor, 1941-57.
Girón was a fanatic fascist. After moving into the mansion at the Sohail Castle, he started a tourist business and became known as “el león [lion] de Fuengirola”. Girón participated in the attempted coup of the democratic government in 1981. It failed, in part, because King Juan Carlos opposed it.
In my research, I found that Fuengirola had undergone an environmental impact study in 2008. The investigators had, in fact, pointed out that Villa Valsurbio is not in the cultural interests with the park or the archeological diggings. The study reports that “the rest of the surroundings (the private property) should be free space used by the public and the green zone.” I tried to find the investigators but they no longer held jobs or telephone numbers that they had in 2008. Nor could I find any response to the study by local authorities.
Girón died in 1995 and his family sold the house to another rich and politically connected man from out of town. I did not discover details of the current owner but I went to town hall to ask Mayor Ana Mula why the public park and archeological site is partially occupied by private property. I pointed out in my petition that her predecessor, Esperanza Oña, also of PP, had posted a plaque at the entrance of the park in 2002 dedicating it to the public.
I filled out the transparency complaint form and was assured that it would be answered. To date, I have no word.
Spaniards remember, or have learned about, the brutal Civil War (1936-9) and they no longer wish to resolve conflicts through violence. Many peacefully protest, however, the state’s constant cutbacks for social welfare, politicians’ corruption, and the state’s wars abroad and inhumane treatment of refugees from the wars. Specific days for peace are celebrated. One such march took place the same week we arrived in neighboring Benalmádena, a beach town the size of Fuengirola. 785 primary and secondary students of Jacaranda school, dressed in t-shirts with a peace design they chose marched from the school to the main square. Parents, teachers, the mayor and councilpersons joined them. Youths read a manifest for peace, sang and danced, and released several peace doves. The town’s educational councilor praised the school for its 28th march, “for its values of peace and solidarity.”
I fumed at the war-makers some days but Jette pointed to the peace-makers. We relaxed during nearly daily walks through lovely towns. Like 70 million other tourist/vacationers, we marveled at the fabulous art works, the colorful nature, and relished the food, especially the abundant fresh seafood. Spain has 46 million citizens and permanent residents with the world’s largest numbers of restaurants and bars per inhabitant. Many Spaniards spend more time and income eating out than most other peoples. The free or cheaply prized tapas with drinks are also an attraction for travelers.
From our base in Fuengirola, we took day trips to the nearby colorful mountain town Mijas, the majestic Granada, Picasso’s Málaga and Antequera.
UNESCO has awarded Spain with 45 World Heritage Sites—the third highest number after Italy (51) and China (50). We saw four of them: Granada’s Alhambra palace and Alcazaba fortress, Antequera’s dolmens, Atapuerca Mountains with its archeological sites and the unique Vizcaya Bridge in Bilbao.
Arab rulers held their capital seat in Granada during their reign in Andalusia. While the gardens and water ways are impressive and useful, the over-whelming buildings basically turn me off. I feel the builder-owners of these grandiose structures wish to make me feel small and them larger than life.
In contrast, I was quite taken by the dolmen gravesites in Antequera, or “Antikaria”—Old City in the language of Romans who settled in the area at the end of the early Iron Age. It was so named because of the ancient richness of the dolmens.
Three dolmens were built between 7000 and 5000 years ago for burials of leading citizen. More cadavers were also buried over many centuries. The structures are skillfully built for longevity. Much of the original stones remain today, both the interior structure as well as the mounds that cover them. The tombs, however, are not pompous, and everyone has used them to remember the dead and for collective religious ceremonies, even today. These unique monoliths were the first forms of monumental stone architecture in European pre-history.
The most fascinating is the Menga dolmen. It is a particular geographic landmark aligned with La Peña de los Enamorados (Lovers’ Rock). The long entrance faces this natural hilly formation as if to identify with it, to honor the apparent “sleeping face”, and as such it does not directly face the rising sun as was tradition for nearly all dolmen-makers.
We can’t know what the early Neolithic farmers and sheepherders called the hill, but honor it they did by aligning the five-chamber enclosure to face it. Menga’s construction is considered as significant as Stonehenge. Modern craftsmen are impressed by the 27.5-meter long, 3.5-meter high, 6-meter wide tomb with a 19.5-meter deep well where tools used to build it were found.
In medieval times, this 874-meter high hill was known as “The Indian of Antequera”. It was later given the name “Lovers Rock” because, as legend has it, a Christian woman and a Moor man fell in love. Multi-cultural love was forbidden so they fled to the hill. The woman’s father sent soldiers to capture them. As the soldiers approached, the loving pair threw themselves to their death.
- Art, War and Peace
I’m no art critic or connoisseur but “I know what I like”. For instance, cutting a hole in a canvas and having it placed in the gaudy Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is Yoko Ono’s idea of “art” while I view it as a kindergarten child’s play.
Again as in Grenada, this gigantic museum’s titanium-clad, steel architecture is built to make commoners feel small, so I think, although a psychologist would probably categorize me as an insecure-paranoid. The Guggenheim Museum, however, has art worthy of my praise, such as Basque nationalist Eduardo Chillida and Robert Motherwell’s Eligies for the Spanish Republic.
Art can inspire my sense of beauty and creativity, as it must for all, but especially when it speaks for justice, for what is good for humanity, for all life forms, its ability to teach us purpose. I have in mind artists such as Picasso, his friends Miró, Henri Matisse, George Braque; and Chillida, Goya (Disasters of War), Diego Rivera, Van Gogh, Natalie Goncharova, and others we saw in these marvelous Spanish museums. We spent several days in museums in Malaga, Barcelona and Madrid.
In Picasso’s Malaga home-museum and two others there devoted to his works (plus a library about him), we saw how his middle-class family lived, and many of young Picasso’s etchings, paintings, ceramics, and learned the significance of doves for him and his art professor-painter father, José Ruiz Blasco.
When Pablo was just 11, he painted doves to please his father whose eyesight was failing. For some reason doves live in droves in Malaga. Besides the natural pleasure of viewing them, the Picasso’s saw harmony in their behavior, aggression as well.
Picasso left Spain to live in Paris when 23, in 1904. He never lived in Spain again, although he visited before the Spanish Civil War started. From France, Picasso supported the Republic. His first political statement concerned the fascists “plunging Spain into an ocean of misery and death.”
When Franco organized the takeover of the Basque Country, he sought air raids from Germany and Italy. They were glad to assist—good training for terror bombings in the upcoming world war. The Guernica massacre took place on April 26, 1937. Three-fourths of the village was destroyed during three hours of constant bombings (30 tons, 6000 bombs). Most of the rest of the city was damaged except the wealthy areas, the town assembly hall, the revered Gernika Tree, and the two weapons factories, which Franco would use when his troops came three days later.
The Spanish Republic commissioned Picasso (without pay) to make what became the most famous of paintings, the 8-meter long Guernica, which was displayed first at the World Fair in Paris, July 1937. The New York Museum of Modern Art kept it safe throughout the war and turned it over to the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid, in 1981.
We stood before “Guernica” alongside people from around the world, many of them young. My emotions were strong and mixed: joy for the symbolism of solidarity it represents, and tears of sorrow for the tragedy and excruciating pain people felt, the wanton murder simply for the boundlessly inane desire for power and material wealth. And it continues.
An acquaintance of Picasso, Luis Aragon—a leading communist, poet and author—asked Picasso to contribute a painting for a poster to support the World Conference for Peace to be held in Paris, April 1949. Picasso was also a member of the Communist Party but criticized Stalin’s atrocities. Aragon thought of using a dove as a symbol for justice, a bearer of messages for peace. Matisse had recently given his friend a few Milanese pigeons, and Picasso made a lithograph of one. Aragon came across it when browsing through sketches, so wrote one of Pablo’s lovers, artist Francoise Gilot, in her 1964 book, “Life with Picasso.” She is still alive at age 95, and the pigeon is still the world’s peace dove.
Joan Miró’s “Mayo 1968” is a tribute to striking students in France 1968. The black hand-print is thought to recognize solidarity with pre-historic hominoid cave painters, which can be seen in some caves in France and Spain.
Joan Miró’s “Mayo 1968” located at Barcelona’s Fundació de Miró, is one of my favorites. He began it at 75 and finished five years later, 1973. The colors and energy reflect that of millions of students and workers (2/3 of the work force) on wildcat strike throughout much of France. They brought the economy to a halt. (Much of Europe was also in uproar, and we students in the US were protesting for freedoms and against the war in Southeast Asia. In Mexico City, the government killed hundreds of protestors.) After a month of near revolutionary struggle, the French Communist Party and union leaders under its influence called on students and workers to accept a bourgeois government compromise so that capitalism could continue.
The great masters continued painting until their deaths, Miró at 90, in 1983; Picasso at 92 in 1973. When 90, Picasso painted and drew 200 works.
- Almería and Podemos
Jette and I spent a few days in Almería on our way to Barcelona. We immensely enjoyed some of this province’s natural beauty, such as, Siren Reef whose hooded seals’ cries in the night are said to have caused sailors to talk of mermaids. The nearby Cabo de Gata natural park is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. At the shoreline Europe’s only truly hot desert merges with crystal clear waters. And the ochre-hued desert with volcanic rock formations offer ideal location sets for many Western adventure movies.
As at Granada and Málaga, Almería has a hillside Alcazaba. It was built during the 10th century under the reign of Córdaba Caliphate Abd al-Rahman III. The Muslim rich and powerful enjoyed private gardens and baths just like the Romans who also ruled the area earlier.
When Spanish kings’ armies re-conquered all of Spain, they had towering churches built on or beside Muslim temples. But some of the churches are less pompous. We visited one to hear music students sing several classic composers’ works. Our spirits tingling, we then relished the best of tapas for no more than the price of a beer, a glass of wine or even a soda. Almería province may be the last area in Spain where tapas are gratis with one’s drink.
The kitchen area inside the Almería Refuge.
Almería has Spain’s most intact underground shelter open to the public. This refuge has one of the largest of tunnels, 4.5 kilometer-long. It could hold 35,000 of the 50,000 inhabitants (10,000 had fled from bombings of Malaga). There were several entrances from churches, the hospital and elsewhere. The nine-meter deep tunnels are divided into several galleries. A make-shift clinic for emergency surgery was made. There was also a “playground” for children, and a kitchen. Franco, Hitler and Mussolini bombed the town 52 different times from the air and sea. On May 31, 1937, German warships left 40 dead and 150 injured. Two-hundred buildings were destroyed. The Refuge of Almería is a living historical memory of war’s atrocities for all of Spain, and foreign visitors too.
Pepe Crespo and I had met through the internet and collaborated on some of Noam Chomsky writings. Pepe translated an essay I wrote on Chomsky’s work. He is a satirist whose website contains a wide range of political commentary and humor. https://elchiroilustrado.blogspot.dk/
Pepe’s father, Pepe Senior, was a champion underwater spear fisherman. Like millions of Spaniards he is a tapa epicure. One of the family’s favorite tapas locations is Entremares in Almería where Lola, Pepe’s wife, has one of her photos adorning one whole wall. Pepe Senior’s favorite tapas bar-restaurant is La Bodega del Jamón in Aguadulce where we ate luscious tapas with prawns, cod, mackerel, cuttlefish even tuna and marlin, helped down with delicious wines of all colors and at reasonable workers prices. All the while we conversed about Spain’s greatest writer, Cervantes, and his “Don Quijote de la Mancha”. A few months before Spain and UNESCO celebrated Cervantes, who died 400 years ago. The event caused Pepe Senior to re-read the book for the sixth time.
We exchanged memories and views of our readings of this great pearl in world literature, considered the first modern novel. In that period of Spain, the 16-17th centuries, the nation was a mixture of royalists and elitist-invaders of others’ worlds, fanatic Catholics who invented the inquisition to torture “heretics” for exercising free speech or arguing for women’s rights. The nobility enslaved others to do their work for them. There were also dreamy-eyed adventurers and mystics who might bray at windmills: And there were people of other ethnicities longing for liberation and sovereignty—people indigenous to Galicia, Andalusia, Basque land, Catalan. Their desire for liberation continues today.
Miguel de Cervantes was actually born to a family from Galicia. Before he became a writer, he was a soldier. He joined Admiral Don Juan d’ Austria’s “Holly Alliance” fleet in a huge battle against the Ottoman Empire, in 1571. Cervantes was seriously wounded in the chest and one hand was maimed. Nevertheless, he continued serving Pope Pius V and the “most Catholic of kings”, Philip II of Spain. Captured and enslaved by Turks, in 1575, he was ransomed and freed in 1580. Cervantes later began writing poems and novels. The first part of “Don Quixote” was finished in 1605.
Don Quixote is a fantasy-inspired would-be knight, who battles at windmills and sees agave purity in the ordinary peasant Dulcinea. His idealistic world merges with his employed squire Sancho Panza’s realism. There could be something in this story that mirrors contemporary Spanish Establishment attitudes of “real politics”, and Podemos whose uproar roots stem from Los indignados (The Outraged). The movement started with anti-austerity actions, May 15, 2011.
Pepe introduced me to Podemos in 2014. He is a member and his family votes for them too.
Los indignados took their inspiration from the Arab Spring uprising and a pamphlet written by a former resistance fighter, 93-year old Frenchman Stéphane Hessel. His booklet, “Time for Outrage” is a call to peaceful civil uprising (including civil disobedience) against finance capitalism and the economic crises it causes. The booklet also inspired the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Podemos had surprisingly won five seats to the European Parliament in January 2014. In less than two years, Podemos grew to over 250,000 members when it participated in its first national elections, December 2015, on an anti-austerity social reformist platform. It nearly doubled its membership by 2017. Its leaders are mainly young academics, principally Pablo Iglesias and Inigo Errejon. They were left socialists critical of Communist parties’ doctrine. Podemos stood for a republic and withdrawal from NATO, but the issue of NATO has faded into the background.
Many Spaniards, who normally vote for one of the two leading parties, center-rightist PP and supposedly social democratic PSOE, were angry with their corruption and support for finance capitalism. Spain has the most unequal economy in Europe: six million workers without jobs, 50% unemployed youth; 14.3% in poverty placing it number 16 of the world’s 18 most developed economies. Yet the government cut 37% of its resources destined for the social network.
Podemos received the votes of many of those affected, in all over 5.5 million, 20.7% of all voters. The PP lost its absolute majority down 64 seats from 186.There are 350 seats in the House of Deputies, which has more significant power than the senate. The PSOE lost 20 seats from 90.
Because there was no majority to govern, another election was held in June 2016. Podemos united with the more traditional left party, United Left (Izqueirda Unida). Instead of increasing votes, the United Podemos coalition lost a combined 3.3% of votes yet held onto the same amount of seats, 71. The PSOE lost five seats. Surprisingly the PP gained 14 seats, garnering 33% of the vote. So now, the PP continues to rule without a majority. Most Spaniards do not want yet another election.