Hervé from Paris (who visited me about the same time
last year) proposed a brief trip this year to Northern Spain,
just south of the Pyrenees. It's only 3-4 hours away. So we
got organised, and he found accommodation through Couchsurfers,
which he had used in July during a visit to the United States.
was pretty good, although there were one or two set-backs...
the tunnel-route we wanted to go turned out to be closed, so
we had to go back a bit and take a longer route. When we got
into Spain it started raining really hard (the first rain since
mid-July) so we had a rather non-visual passage through the
Pyrenees. We then descended towards the village where Edmundo,
whom Hervé had found through couchsurfing.org
awaited us with a nice bright log fire.
a very New Age person - you know the kind, without any kind
of core, all peace and love and incense, seems to exist only
to be in company with people and to talk incessantly. The first
thing he does when he comes in is turn on his laptop to play
bad music. But he is a nice chap. He winters in Thailand, and
his Spanish house is rather beautiful : a bit bigger than mine,
vertical in feeling, but just two floors and a mezzanine. Goose-feather
duvet and all modern conveniences - except internet connection
which he has at his parents' house about 20 metres away,
and whose signal often reached his laptop. His father runs a
big chicken-farm: birds barn-bred for Barcelona supermarkets.
couchsurfing at his house was a very pleasant and intelligent
couple, a tall Pole and a very petite and gamine Slovak whom
I thought was adorable - and their beautiful half-collie half-huskyish
dog - even more adorable. They were literally travelling the
world on almost no money - which became no money at all after
they were robbed in Barcelona. They found hitch-hiking easy
with the dog (of course). They were hoping to end up in New
Zealand via India!
left the next morning, and Hervé & I went off to
look at a few churches and a splendid monolith (standing-stone,
menhir, 4 metres high) up an unfrequented valley of astonishing
Pyrenean beauty and drama. Crags, mountains with snow on top,
here to see the standing-stone and myself beside it
The next day we made another similar trip up a Pyrenean valley
with lots of tunnels, views, and autumnal beauty.
day it rained again and we left Edmundo to head Westwards, ending
up in a rather good roadside Hostal (Hotel). We went in the
evening to eat in Huesca, a town which has tripled if not quadrupled
in size since I was in this part of Spain over 30 years ago,
shortly after the death of the dictator permitted me to go looking
sculptures' or 'obscenas' on Romanesque
we went there was 'New Build' (of fairly high quality)
and amazing new roads. It is perfectly obvious how Spain has
nearly bankrupted itself, because trillions upon trillions of
euros have been spent on splendid motorways and road-improvements
- far more than in France. Formerly empty old villages have
been surrounded by new developments, and town centres have been
completely restored or rebuilt, often very beautifully.
last day we went to look at a couple of interesting churches
(which I had seen over 30 years ago), and then decided that
we would head back into France via Jaca, a town which I had
dismal memories of in the past (gloomy, no decent hotels). Now
of course it is a buzzing town at least twice the size, full
of hotels (some of them very expensive) and a gigantic police
station. This town was always a gateway, and was on one of the
main trans-Pyrenean pilgrimage-roads to Santiago de Compostela,
and therefore one of the chief routes of the Western French
school of sculpture and church-design in the 12th century -
when, believe it or not, a million pilgrims a year walked or
rode or sailed to the alleged burial place of St James the Greater.
To the West of Jaca right to the Atlantic and Northern Portugal
are scores of churches with interesting and/or high-quality
sculptures, while to the East, there is very little except in
cloisters, due to a less exuberant style coming from Catalonia,
Provence and Italy.
here to see some of the photographs I took.
were heading for the border, and were about 15 miles from it
when we were passed by a 4 x 4 labelled POLICÍA
de TRÁFICO, who waved us down, then jumped out,
their armaments and other unpleasant items bouncing on their
bull-fighting hips, and informed us curtly if not arrogantly
that we had committed an infraction because I (passenger)
had not attached my seat-belt, and that we had to pay them 100
euros on the spot. A credit-card was not acceptable.
to freak out at the sight of a gun, especially when accompanied
by a uniform. My childhood was illustrated by pictures of the
SS and American Westerns and B-movies, so anything more threatening
than a bus-conductor (do they still exist ?) gives me the jitters.
The notorious RUC (and their extremely mild and courteous successor,
the Northern Ireland Police Authority) were/are the only police
force in the British Isles to carry guns, and "in the bad
old days" one tended not to ask them for directions or
any kind of succour.
suggested that the demand for immediate payment was not strictly
proper and that they could legally ask for our documents, take
our details, and, admonishing us in a fatherly way, advise us
in a sane and reasonable manner to drive with seat-belts attached
at least as far as the border. But, on the contrary, they told
us in threatening tones that if we declined to pay on the spot
they would immobilise or impound our vehicle. (This is of course
not permitted by the European Convention on Human Rights.) I
produced a 100-euro note, tore it in half and gave one half
to each policeman.
caused outrage. They started shouting and pushing me. At this
point I (whose teenage reading had included anti-fascist literature
and the writings of George Orwell amongst other 'insulters of
authority') said ¡Fascistas! ¡Fascistas! The
elder policeman (whose name - Miguel Poncho alias B83050Y
- Hervé found out later by listening carefully to the
plethora of phone-calls to higher and parallel authorities)
while the younger of the two (no. de identificación
L24527K) waved his stick or whip or whatever it is, and struck
me (lightly) on the legs. They then pressed me against their
4x4 (as I continued my chant), made threatening gestures, kneed
me in the buttocks, pinned my hands behind my back and tightly
handcuffed them, bundled me very roughly in the rear of the
vehicle, told Hervé to follow them (they had our passports
and Hervé's licence etc.) back to Jaca. They drove
well over the speed limit without the blue lights flashing -
a very minor offence.
all sounds just like what happens daily in the southern states
of the USA (especially if you are the wrong colour), but Spain,
unlike the USA, has signed the European Convention on Human
Rights, abides by the decisions of the European Court of Human
Rights, and incorporated them into national law.
we went into the little Traffic Police annexe to the amazingly
large Guardia Civil HQ, where I was forced to sit, rather painfully
handcuffed, for nearly an hour while they prepared the documentation
for charging me with Aggression towards the Police and
Insult to Authority. Insult not against the State, the
King, or the Police, but Authority. I thought that it
was a democratic right to at least question authority. Neither
in Ireland nor in France is it an offence to insult the President
outside his or her presence. It would not be even a minor misdemeanour
in the United Kingdom to refer to the Head of State, Her Britannic
Majesty, as a cultureless frump. And in that kingdom the abovementioned
Northern Ireland police take frequent abuse - such as Fascist
Pig - in their stride, even with a weak smile, partly because
everyone knows they were involved in 'extra-legal' killings,
beatings and false imprisonment long before the British army
practised them as a matter of policy in Northern Ireland.
moreover, proud to be the citizen of the only country in Europe,
apart from Switzerland, whose constitution forbids it to join
NATO or any other war-cartel.
of hours later the forms had been drawn up and I was given my
(European) legal rights. These included the rights to have the
Irish consul informed (I don't think there is one in Spain,
at least not west of Barcelona and north of Madrid), to appoint
a lawyer or take one from the court pool, and to be taken to
hospital for examination. I ticked YES to these three, and NO
to making a statement there and then.
handed the torn €100 note and instructed to stick the two
pieces back together.
is the badge of the Guardia Civil,
with sword, symbolising corporal or mortal retribution, and
(or bundle of rods with an axe symbolising the power of the
according to historians and semiologists)
carried by the Lictor in legal processions in Ancient Rome.
So it is not strictly an insult to call the Guardia Civil fascists.
Hervé speaks Spanish quite well. His English is pretty
good, though we always speak French together. He also has very
good hearing. So he gave me a commentary on what was happening
through the (mostly open) door into the two tiny rooms occupied
by the traffic police. Because I had been charged with an offence,
a fax had been sent to the local court, and the chief of the
traffic division had been called from his afternoon off.
realised not just that I had been improperly charged and that
the two testosterone-filled fools had behaved irregularly, but
that because the local court had been duly informed, they would
have to transfer me to a cell (via the Criminal Police, I suppose)
overnight if not for the weekend (since it was Friday) while
they arranged for a doctor to examine me, a solicitor to be
found, and the Irish consul called. The whole thing had, he
realised, got completely out of hand.
these two cops had been demoted for beating a drunk or a doped
adolescent senseless - for the Traffic Division is where bad
cops go to eat their hearts out.
of their unprofessional behaviour we all had to go before a
magistrate to 'regularise' (i.e. save) the situation
- and save their face. The magistrate would not be on duty until
7 pm. So Hervé and I sat in the tiny waiting-room (room
for 2 chairs and a table). No coffee was offered, but we were
allowed to use the WC. On the walls were Monty-Pythonesque propaganda
these told a gullible public that a Traffic Cop wasn't just
a cop, but a mechanic who would help you in a break-down. The
other claimed that a Traffic Cop wasn't just a cop, but
a psychologist, alert to the mental problems of anyone they
came across. The truth is that Traffic Cops are likely to be
demoted admirers of the rebel mass-murderer General Mola, celebrated
by Franco's yes-men in countless avenidas, etc.
cops came and went. There was much macho behaviour behind closed
doors. The chief of the Traffic Division was obviously very
pissed off, but didn't say ¡Hola! (as other
comers and goers did), and actually didn't speak to us at
all until we were all assembled, around 7.30 pm, in the courthouse.
Then he wanted only to know how long it would take us to drive
home to France!
well past eight when the magistrate had all her documents ready.
The police, of course, had not admitted any error, nor creating
a storm in a teacup - they had simply made a new charge of an
Offence against Public Order. There was no way a magistrate
would sustain that charge, especially after a psychiatric report
on a 70 year-old dissident poet and well-known hysteric... But
the police had to save face. They couldn't just let us go.
I was therefore issued with a summons to appear the following
week at the same court, where, of course, I could ask for an
adjournment and Hervé (who lives in Paris) to be called
as an essential witness, plus a translator (no English translator
available in Jaca), and a court referral to a psychologist -
though not for the police to undergo psychiatric examination
and discharge on medical grounds (e.g. testosterone poisoning).
all concerned would be extremely surprised if I showed up. And
so, issued with the summons, we were allowed to leave around
9 pm. I had been 'detained' for 6 hours for not wearing
a seat-belt, which turned into Aggression Against the Police,
which turned into Insult to Authority, which turned into an
Offence against Public Order.
had I had an address in Spain, none of this would have happened.
I could have chosen to be billed for the offence, and could
then have gone on to dispute it. But because I did not have
an address in Spain, this whole theatre of the absurd took place.
AND SPAIN IS IN THE EU !!! It takes trillions of euros from
Brussels, wastes them on prestige road-building (and a property
boom) and then treats passing foreigners like this ! It's not
as if we had been drunk and disorderly on Ibiza.
is why I will be making a formal complaint to the Spanish Ambassador
of course are much worse in most of the former Spanish colonies
across the Atlantic...)
it had started to rain and we had a grim journey in the dark
across the Pyrenees and into France. Hervé drove me to
my car, of course, and then headed back to his parents' house
(where his cat, Corentin, is holidaying). I arrived back at
Saint-Antonin at 02.30 on Saturday morning.
slept rather well.
in the end, my accusation of ¡Fascistas! was justified
- although Spanish 'fascists' called their variety of
or Phalanx, derived from the Latin word for finger.
policemen (the humourless and bullying B83050Y
and L24527K from Unit 2205) would
probably have beaten me up severely and kept me in gaol prior
to deportation under the Franco dictatorship, about whose 'Disappeared'
we never hear. Fortunately, they had to 'go by the book'
and found that they had overreacted to my (not so unlikely or
even unreasonable) reaction. They should not, in fact, impose
spot fines on foreigners so close to the border, but simply
give a warning. But they seem not to have come to terms with
their Falangist past, which, after all, was over 30 years ago.
many unpleasant dictators, Franco died in his bed. There was
no revolution. There was no public apology by any of his cronies,
his generals, his secret police chiefs, his financial supporters
(the Spanish banks), his foreign collaborators including the
USA, NATO and the tourist industry who wooed him, nor by the
king whom he had 'groomed' as his successor. The Church whose
appalling practices he piously encouraged made sure, for its
own immoral security, that no denunciation of the Caudillo
(best translated as war-lord-in-chief) would occur. Opus
Dei, the most fascist of all Catholic organisations, remains
a sinister Francoist fiefdom.
there was no revolution, there was no 'truth and reconciliation'
in either Spain or Portugal. A general amnesty to Falangist
murderers was given, and sixty years of violence and tribulation
were simply swept under the carpet - including the regular sale
by the Catholic church (aided and abetted by Nursing Sisters
and, of course, right-wing Catholic doctors of the kind who
still oppose abortion) of the new-born babies of the poor
("Sorry dear, your baby died...") to the childless
rich - right up to 1990. This minor detail of the régime
has only just surfaced in Spain, long after the revelations
of sexual and physical abuse by priests, 'brothers'
and nuns came to light elsewhere in the world - notably in the
Irish Republic - which was so sympathetic to Franco that it
sent an official brigade in support of the terrorist-insurrectionist
general of the Canary Islands who initiated and won Spain's
well-publicised civil war, ruling with an iron fist until a
death even more peaceful than Stalin's.
Generalísimo Francisco Franco y Bahamonde in 1944.
Note the pathetically-imitative moustache -
and terrible eyes.
Falange seems to have been borrowed from a radical French Utopian
Fourier, who in the 1830s outlined an extraordinary
new kind of society based on communities he called Phalanges.
This is a textbook example of the twentieth-century phenomenon
of the very bad taking over the ideas and locutions of the much-less-bad.
had similar stoppings by French police, and when I said I refused
to pay the fine because the forced wearing of seat-belts is
not just an infringement of personal liberty, but has no valid
statistical evidence to back it, they simply let me go after
a nice little discussion on the finer points of police behaviour
towards 'people of no consequence', the rights of the
individual (e.g. not to wear seatbelts when seatbelts can make
them tense or even half-strangle them), and other legal-metaphysical
subjects. The French of the south-west love a chat, and the
police would far rather embark on a metaphysical conversation
than actually arrest someone of No Importance. In this respect
they are to be admired, praised and set up as an example to
all police forces.
beginning of this retrospectively-amusing little episode, Hervé
was worried that they might go the whole hog and search the
car - and us - because we both had tiny amounts of 'grass'
with us. But in fact that is not a crime in Spain - though I
guess the police could make it one in a trice. The whole world
knows about the summary killings by Spanish police, the mass
graves, and especially the death of the celebrated (if over-rated)
poet and macho-man-loving playwright García Lorca.
THIS IS HOW THE MERE AND LOWLY TRAFFIC POLICE BEHAVE IN 2011,
IMAGINE HOW THE CRIMINAL POLICE MIGHT TREAT A PETTY CRIMINAL
or demonstrators of their choosing !
is no way that I will ever return to Spain.
I will not use my return air-ticket to Alicante in February.
(If it were a real, old-fashioned one, I would send it torn
neatly down the middle,
to the abovementioned Spanish Ambassador - as I once sent a
British passport similarly ripped up to Margaret Thatcher. Being
Northern Irish I can choose my nationality, an unusual concession.)
endeth the epistle.
few weeks later I received a communication from the court where
I had been sentenced in absentia, to the effect that
if I do not pay a fine of 200 euros forthwith, I am liable to
be sent to a Spanish prison for a period amounting to half the
time that the fine remains unpaid. Thus, in ten years' time,
I risk five years in a Spanish prison if the Guardia Civil get
hold of me:
a Anthony Weir como autor responsable de una falta contra
el orden público ya definida en virtud de lo que antecede
a la pena de 25 días de multa con cuota dia de 8 euros,
establieciendo paro el caso de impago de la misma y una vez
hecha excusión de sus bienes un día de arresto
sustiturio en Centro Penitenciario por cada dos cuotas dejadas
de abonar, condenado al pago de las costas causadas.
I have heard nothing from the Spanish Embassy in Dublin.