Statistics Can Be Misleading

Apparently, the Málaga province is the third worst in Spain when it comes to providing residential care places for the elderly, managing only 2.2 places per 100 elderly citizens. Clearly, action is needed urgently to remedy the situation.
Except that......... there is no shortage of such places in the province. There persists in the south of Spain much more than in the rest of the Peninsula, and especially in Málaga Province, a tradition of commitment to and care of elderly relatives within the family. The norm is for the old to live at home for as long as they can, and in residential care only when the need for professional medical and nursing intervention requires it.
I think my neighbours got to the Big Society well ahead of David Cameron!


Another Dose of History!

I was writing recently about the ‘reconquest’ of Spain by the Catholic Monarchs, suggesting that after 800 years of Moorish rule, it was stretching things quite considerably to add the prefix ‘re’ to conquest. Out of interest, I have been looking back into the early history of the Iberian Peninsula (both the names Spain and Portugal refer to a relatively recent political state of affairs), and what I found quite surprised me.
A simple glance at a map of Europe shows clearly that the peninsula is an integral part of the continent; indeed it accounts for quite a significant proportion of the landmass. Seen from a 21st century perspective, the Iberian Peninsula belongs in (to?) Europe. So it is strange that the first Europeans didn’t arrive in the area until somewhere between 900 and 400 BC. The earliest settlers were stone age people crossing over from North Africa around 4,000BC. Then, around 1,100BC we have the arrival of the Phoenicians who travelled the Mediterranean from what is now Lebanon, founding colonies and trading posts. It was the Phoenicians who founded Gadir (today, Cádiz), a thousand years before the birth of Christ, making Cádiz far and away the oldest city in Europe. Over the next four to five hundred years, the Greeks also set up trading posts along the east coast of the Peninsula, and then in 500BC the Carthaginians settled the southern part of the peninsula from present-day Tunisia.
Meanwhile, ‘Europeans’ had settled the northern coastal regions of the peninsula between 900 and 400BC, but were inhibited from spreading very far south by the range of coastal mountains running broadly east to west across the land.
Next to arrive were the Romans, who began to colonise from 210BC, spreading across the peninsula over the next 200 years, in 27BC dividing Hesperides, as they named it, into three bands, northern, central and southern; the southern province (from Mérida in Extramadura down to the coast at the straits and across to Adra in eastern Andalucia, in today’s terms).
As the Roman Empire disintegrated, first the Vandals invaded from Germany in 409AD, followed by the Visigoths from Gaul, who took control of most of the peninsula. They controlled the land from the 5th to the 7th century AD.
Then in 711, the Visigoths were defeated by Berbers from North Africa, who advanced right through the peninsula over the next seven years, suffering their first defeat in 718 at the hands of Pelayo in the battle of Covadonga in Asturias. This is usually recognised by historians as the start of the Reconquest. The victory resulted in the Christian kingdom of Asturias, a tiny area of approximately 65km by 50km.
So for the first 4,500 years of the known history of the Iberian Peninsula, culturally it was overwhelmingly North African and Mediterranean. The only European settlements were along the northern coast. Which makes sense. Until well into the twentieth century, Spain and Portugal, as they had by now become were cut off from the rest of Europe by the wall of the Pyrenees, stretching from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Access was mainly by sea; and the Mediterranean was a much more accomodating place than the Bay of Biscay!
If we accept the Vandals and Visigoths as the first serious attempt to colinise the peninsula from northern, Christian Europe, then their tenure can be seen to have lasted just three hundred years before being pushed back by the Berbers under Tariq. If we are going to talk about a reconquest, maybe we should bestow that title on the year 711.



The year rolls on and with it the change from one season to the next. So today we had our first proper rain day of the autumn. It began around ten o'clock this morning and continued to rain heavily until around eight o'clock this evening. The steps from our street down to the main street underwent their customary transformation into a waterfall, although the drainage works carried out earlier in the year meant that the main street itself didn't become a stream.
We're fortunate this year that last year's rains were heavy and prolonged and so there is no shortage of water, but we rely on the rains to ensure that that remains true for next year as well. So it's good to see the rain; we're likely to have it with us for the next three or four weeks, not constant but quite common. Then there is usually a second rainy period around February and March.
The Spanish word for rain is lluvia, but that is not a word you hear much of in Andalucía; here it is referred to simply as agua (water). Indeed, the word agua almost becomes a greeting. As you pass people in the street, instead of the usual ¡Hola! you are likely to hear ¡Agua! to which the reply is Si ¡agua!.


History Is Written By The Victors

Moorish Spain, we are told, began with the invasion and rapid occupation by ‘the Moors’ of a large part of the Iberian Peninsula in the year 711, and ended with the Reconquest in 1492, resulting in the expulsion of the Moors from the Peninsula. For ‘Moors’ we might be inclined to substitute ‘Arabs’; we would be wrong.

We would be wrong in a number of respects. Firstly, the people arriving in Hispania, as it was then known, were Berbers from the Atlas Mountains and Rif area of North Africa, just across the straits. Secondly, the so-called invasion was only one of a series of waves of immigration from this area which had been happening ever since the collapse of Roman rule around 410AD, Thirdly, although many Jews and Muslims were indeed expelled in 1492, the majority of Muslims remained and became forcible converts to Christianity - moriscos. All of which goes to show that reality is usually much more untidy than history.

But then history only tells one part of the story. Being written by the victors, it tells the story as they would have it known; which is not necessarily how it happened. Let’s take that evocative term, ‘Reconquest’, for example. The Roman rule of Hispania began around 211BC and lasted for six hundred years to about 410AD. It was then superseded by the collapse of the Roman empire, the departure of the Romans from what had been their most important territory after Italy, and their replacement by Visigoths moving in from Gaul to fill the vacuum. Daily life, however, continued pretty much as usual in the Roman manner; the local population had developed its political, commercial and social structures over the course of some 600 years.

Al-Ándalus, the name given to that large area of the peninsula (roughly the southern half, from the Meseta to the Mediterranean), lasted officially from 711 to 1492 - virtually 800 years, or one third longer than Roman Hispania. How, under those circumstances, can you properly attach the term ‘reconquest’ to the military campaigns of Ferdinand and Isabella (Los Reyes Católicos)? It’s as if the Welsh and the Irish were to join forces today to evict the Normans from England and Scotland and reclaim the British Isles for the Celts. And how would they identify them?

There’s much more to the story, but that will do for today.