Archive for August, 2007

Threat of desertification

Friday, August 31st, 2007

The United Nations Convention to Fight Desertification is to be held on September 3-4 in Madrid. Desertification threatens 36% of Spain: 2% of Spain suffers from extreme risk of desertification, with 15% having a high risk. Degraded soils cover a further 19%. Worst hit are the Canaries and the south-east,  and to a lesser much of the southern half of the Peninsula, the Ebro basin and southern Catalonia. Although some degradation may be blamed on climate change and natural processes, most areas are the result of fire, overgrazing, aquifer depletion and bad farming practices – human mismanagement. The Spanish government has called on the EU to set up a centre for desertification with its headquarters in Spain. Older material on desertification in Spain here

Map of risk of desertification in Spain (MMA)

Map of aridity in Spain

Basque shepherds claim Idiazabal cheese under threat from wolves

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Shepherds in Alava, in the Basque Country have with remarkable hyperbole claimed that Idiazabal cheese, will disappear if a check is not put on wolves. Idiazabal is made with the Basque breed of latxa (lacha) sheep. Shepherds claim that the recent expansion of wolves in Alava is threatening their survival. (El Correo Digital)

lacha sheep A lacha sheep

Smoked with oak and beach, Idiazabal is one of my favourite Spanish cheeses, though I have many favourite Spanish cheeses. (more…)

The origin of the River Ebro’s name

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

The Ebro’s importance is reflected in the name of the Iberian Peninsula, which almost certainly comes from the river, first known as the Iber and Iberus and Ebro, and not the other way around. It was first used in the 6th century BC by a Greek author in reference to the Iberians, or the people who lived along the Iberus ( Ebro) river. Ultimately the word may well derive from the Basque words ibai (river) and ibar (valley), and these from ur meaning water. Linguists have noted similarities with the names of 200 other European rivers and streams (e.g. Ibar in Serbia, Ebrach and several Eberbach in Germany, Irwell in The UK) giving a tantalising clue as to a form of Basque being once spoken throughout Europe before the arrival of Indo-European tribes and languages.  More on the Ebro

Murcia shark closes beaches

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Several beaches in La Manga, Murica, have been closed after bathers spotted a shark – apparantly shortfin mako shark (marrajo, Isurus oxyrinchus). This is despite calls for calm from Murcian shark experts who note that the mako is not dangerous (La Verdad). Let us hope this does not have the same lamentable ending as this month’s shark in Valencia. The mako is now considered endangered as it is a favourite catch among commercial and recreational fishermen.  See also sharks in Spain

Frontiers in Medieval Spain

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

I came across this somewhat inaccurate and slightly bizarre piece of historical geography writing by one Charles Julian Bishko, University of Virginia, from “The Frontier in Medieval History” for the American Historical Association in 1955.

“The fifth sector, the Iberian, Luso-Hispanic, or Spanish and Portuguese frontier, includes between 1050 and 1250 the main southward surge of the Reconquest against the Muslims of the Taifa kingdoms and their Pyrenean valleys, to sweep beyond the Ebro at Saragossa into the Balearlics and Valencia; the Portuguese–newcomers in a frontier state created by secession from Leon, even as Kentucky from Virginia or Tennessee from North Carolina–expand from small-farming Minho and Beira to latifundial Algarve, along a coastline pointing towards America and Africa; and the Castilians, forcing their stubborn passage across the bleak plains and rocky sierras of the Iberian Meseta, occupy New Castile, Extremadura and Andalusia. Of all these colonizing peoples, the Castilians chiefly confronted and most decisively solved the problems that broke the Crusader East, perhaps, and one which Walter Prescott Webb has so emphasized in his The Great Plains–namely, the adaptation of a humid-zone society, based on abundant rainfall, forest resources, deep fertile soils, and manorial farming, to the arid, treeless, barren plains of inner Iberia. Producing in abundance stalwart, rootless freemen, and colonizing kings, nobles and churchmen who, long before Cortez and Pizarro, proudly styled themselves “conquistador e poblador”, these medieval Castilian frontiersmen took early to the horse, indispensable in such terrain for travel and warfare, and unmonopolized by a closed feudal oligarchy. On the rolling Meseta they evolved a novel ranching economy, based upon large fortified rural towns that dominated a village-less countryside,–an economy in which not tracts of land but grazing rights in royal, seigneurial and ecclesiastical domain were basic. Against this background there arose not only the great sheep flocks of the (12) Mesta, so often cited by historians, but the uniquely Castilian ranching of cattle, an industry which with its long-horned stock, its free-riding, bolero-jacketed vaqueros, and its round-ups, brandings and overland drives, was destined to prolong the Spanish Middle Ages in Latin America and the plains of Texas.”

200 cases of tularemia in Castilla y Leon

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

The Junta del Castilla y León have confirmed 42 new cases of tularemia (also known as rabbit fever) among the population, in all probability trasmitted directly and indirectly by common voles after the explosion of their population in the region. So far in 2007, a total of 200 people have caught the disease, endemic to the region, though last year there was only one case. El Pais See also Explosion of common vole population in Castilla

Wikipedia notes on tularemia “The disease has a very rapid onset, with headache, fatigue, dizziness, muscle pains, loss of appetite and nausea. Face and eyes redden and become inflamed. Inflammation spreads to the lymph nodes, which enlarge and may suppurate (mimicking bubonic plague). Lymph node involvement is accompanied by a high fever. Death may result”

Note: with antibiotics tularemia is not usually life-threatening though the recovery period takes time.

Shipwreck in Galicia

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

La Playa de los Ingleses lies on Galicia’s bleak Costa da Morte, and is one of the few remaining stretches yet to be blighted by the scourge of second homes.

The beach takes its name from the 172 English sailors who were drowned off the coast here on 10th November 1890, when their ship, the Serpent, sank in a terrible storm. The Serpent had sailed from Plymouth on Saturday 8 November bound for Sierra Leone. Although there are several versions of what happened, the final verdict was that the Serpent had been lost through an error in navigation. Three surviviors reached the nearby village of Camariñas and sounded the alarm. A search party was sent out and most of the bodies were recovered. They were buried on the beach close to the wreck spot and a small cemetery was built around them. It stands today as a rather sad and lonely mounment. Letters of thanks were sent by the British government to the villagers and the mayor was given a shotgun and the parish priest a gold watch. Unusually for the time the survivors wore lifebelts, and there are claims that the incident led to their widespread use in the British merchant navy.

Wolf tales

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

Lucy posted this on the forum
“The San Emiliano hostel I stayed in this summer had an interesting book issued by the Diario de Leon: “El Siglo de Leon – todos sus pueblos y sus gentes. Vol. 1” – in fact it’s one of those series of supplements which you can have bound into a book if you collect them all…. The book in general was fascinating – stuffed with old photographs, including some heartbreaking ones of slain bears…..This story concerns an inhabitant of the village Lumajo, 1,360 metres high, in the Somiedo area, in 1860. ”

Here is my quick translation

“Pedro del Potro Riesco was a young man who entered the Army at an early age and by the age of 23 was already a second lieutenant. Returning on leave one day in December, he left his cart in Villaseca and had to walk the last steep 5km to his home. Not long after setting out he realised that there were two wolves following him and when he stopped, they would do the same. He hurried on, but they drew closer and closer, and as he approached the village he he could their tails brush between their legs. Then, just in time, the dogs belonging to Sabugo (a well known lawyer whose family lived in the area)  caught the scent of the beasts and set off in pursuit. The young man was able to reach his home,  but he was so shocked and scared that he was struck dumb for eight long days. When he finally recovered his speech the following week, he asked his mother for an omelette with eight eggs.
‘It is to give to Sabugo the lawyer’s dogs, for they saved my life.’

For wolf fright, see also Dave mother-in-law’s story from el Bierzo also in León.

Wolves in Somiedo

Gun ownership in Spain

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

According to the Geneva Graduate Institute of International Studies, gun ownership in Spain is 11% of the Spanish population. With 4,500,000 small arms, Spain is 19th in the world in gun numbers in real terms. The vast majority of these arms are held as hunting weapons with over one million hunting permits issued.

Eating in Asturias

Monday, August 27th, 2007

I’ve put together this brief account of Asturian cuisine after a two-week trip in August 2007, during which I spent much of my time eating and then recovering from the copious dishes they serve. Read Eating guide to Asturias