Saturday, 1 May 2010

Walking in Scotland 1: The West Highland Way

The West Highland Way (WHW) is an old military route running between Milngavie - in the outskirts of Glasgow, and Fort Williams - a small town set deep in the heart of the Scottish Highlands.

The last Jacobite rebellion against the sovereigns of the House of Hanover in 1745 started the last war to to be fought on British soil. The last stand of followers of the House of Stuart came to an abrupt end in a moor near Inverness called Blàr Chùil Lodair. The battle of Culloden, 16th of April of 1746, not only put an end to any realistic possibility of a Stuart Restitution but also marked the beginning of the end for the traditional Highlander way of life. The construction of the WHW was built to maintain the peace" at this corner of Britain allowing the army to reach remote areas quicker hence discouraging future uprisings.

The fierce repression that followed the defeat of those who remained loyal to Bonnie Prince Charles along with the infamous clearances (the forceful removal of crofters and tenants from large areas of the Highlands to make way for sheep grazing) soon rendered this military infrastructure useless since there was hardly anybody left in this part of the world to challenge the authority of the most powerful army on Earth.

Over the years, a more peaceful use was found for the route. Like a rolling scar left on the barren landscape by long forgotten wars, the WHW reminds us that there was a time, not long ago, when reaching large areas of north-western Scotland was a long and difficult journey. The magic sense of remoteness of the Scottish outdoors, that invigorating feeling of solitude so unique to the Highlands can be very much enjoyed along this rocky path, despite walking fairly close to the busy A9 in some sections.

Depending on the pace chosen, the way can be made in 5, 9 or even 13 days. There are lots of websites offering advice on places to stay, equipment required and other useful tips, the best probably being this

We (me, the wife and various friends) chose to split our way in two weekends staying overnight in Youth Hostels and Campings. The first weekend started at the Drovers Inn in Inverarnan. To Tyndrum and its scattered and geriatric remains of the once mighty Caledonian forest, followed the rather unfortunate choice of Bridge of Orchy's only Hotel. The bad accommodation experience was all but forgotten after trekking through the majestic and scaleless landscape of Rannoch Moor, before arriving to Kingshouse. Our second attempt, a couple of weeks later, took us from Kingshouse through Kinlochleven and the Devil's Staircase and around the summit of the highest peak of the British Isles Ben Navis, to Fort Williams.

There were some magic moments along the way, moments when everything seemed to be just right, when the sky above us and the next step along the path is all we wanted and needed to think about.

A deep breath of freedom and the puzzle of life is suddenly complete.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Reflexiones emigradas

Nuestra cruzada en Internet por los derechos de los españoles emigrantes.

Hace apenas una semana que todo comenzó. Viernes santo. Apenas despertado de la duermevela matinal de mi enésimo resfriado, descubro en la edición digital de El País un breve artículo sobre una reforma electoral. Los dos grandes partidos y señores de España, PSOE y PP, discuten en una subcomisión parlamentaria los últimos flecos de una modificación de la Ley Electoral por la que aquellos españoles inscritos en el CERA (Censo Electoral de Residentes Ausentes) sólo podrán votar al Senado, más concretamente a algunos sillones en la Cámara Alta que para tal fin se decidirán por el voto emigrante. El articulo desata una auténtica oleada de comentarios y el periódico, sorprendido por la reacción de sus lectores, retira la reseña de la portada digital a las pocas horas.

O sea que nada de elecciones generales, autonómicas o locales. O lo que es lo mismo: si te vas, no podrás votar. Al menos no a aquellas instituciones que realmente ejercen el poder, porque aunque no voy a discutir aquí y ahora la función real del Senado en la vida parlamentaria española, es evidente que no es precisamente la institución más decisiva para el funcionamiento del Reino.

Ante tamaño atropello, y bastante enfadado por la enésima demostración de indecencia de nuestra clase política, decido que "hay que hacer algo". Y bueno, hacer algo en el siglo XXI suele pasar por abrir un grupo en Facebook o sitios similares. Y eso hago, Ningún Español Sin Voto acaba de nacer. Es un nombre pegadizo, directo, que describe de alguna manera el problema que intentamos si no solucionar, al menos dar a conocer. Y ya tiene más de 800 miembros.

Una de las primeras reflexiones que me asaltan es la velocidad a la que el enfado entre la comunidad de españoles emigrados (estimada entre 1.3 y 1.6 millones) se transmite en la blogosfera y las páginas web de compatriotas en el extranjero. Internet, más allá del cliché, realmente ha transformado la forma en que nos relacionamos como personas, ciudadanos o consumidores. El escrutinio público es ya indudablemente ubicuo y global, vive eternamente a través de cada zona horaria del globo. Pero sus emociones y reacciones siguen atadas a ese terruño que llamamos nuestra tierra.

Pero desgraciadamente la militancia, también la electrónica, vive horas bajas. A pesar de la reacción de la comunidad emigrante, los dos partidos se ponen de acuerdo y deciden que con quitar el voto en las municipales a los inscritos en el CERA (!) se arreglan los numerosos problemas que afectan al sistema electoral español. En fin, un quítate tu para ponerme yo al más puro estilo de la Restauración del XIX. Ellos se lo guisan, ellos se lo comen. ¿Merece le pena seguir peleando? A veces lo dudo. Pero seguiremos haciendo ruido.

Al menos yo seguiré.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

The Road

Praised and talked about everywhere, it may even seem opportunistic to make an entry on The Road now but, after recently watching the film and (shortly afterwards and in a record time) reading the book, some urgent thoughts assaulted me after finishing my insight into the unsettling world recreated in Cormac McCarthy's novel. Published almost four years ago, it was only following the successful and truthful filmed adaptation by John Hillcoat and Joe Penhall starring Vigo Mortensen (smells like his first Oscar here) that I came across the painful and hopeless journey of our unnamed man and his unnamed son.

This blog is not a sort of amateur critic's pick-of-the-day so I will spare you the big bombastic adjectives (gripping, enthralling, mesmerising and the like) that have flooded the media when describing McCarthy's tale of survival. The story is indeed hard though. It is grim, dark and profoundly sad. Those who see hope in it actually want to see hope, because after all the hardship suffered by the two in their journey to the coast, we are just offered an open end probably leading to more months or even years of struggle wandering a dead world, we witness the first steps towards human extinction.

And is this image, a dead world inhabited by the remains of a humanity that has annihilated itself, that takes me to the eerie conclusion noted by the philosopher Slavoj Zizek: Do we have to kill off the Biosphere (and with it, of course, ourselves) to see humans act humanly? Do we spare solidarity and unconditional love for times when just a few survivors can actually enjoy it? Do we have to lose all we have in order to keep "the fire" of civilization alive?

Maybe what fascinates us from this story, apart from the gory tales of cannibalism, is the fact that it makes you wonder whether you really want to be one of those chosen (or cursed) few to stay alive when nothing but ashes is left from our world.

In some post-apocalyptic visions there is a veiled celebration of the recovered freedom that comes with the collapse of social order (Mad Max, Waterworld), in other instances good and evil are separated with broad lines (28 days later, Terminator). In The Road though, we only see a hopeless man trying to keep himself and his son alive. And even though he tries really hard to maintain some dignity as a means of holding to his humanity, it's hard not to see how he slips into a mere fight for survival where others humans are a just a danger or a nuisance.

And here is where the most haunting prospect springs to mind. The realisation that only the untainted boy, someone who never enjoyed our world as we know it, someone who has seen horrors beyond our worst nightmares, is nevertheless still capable of keeping alive what I hold as the noblest value we have as humans: to be good to others, to care about those we don't know even when it puts our own life at risk.

Do we have to lose ourselves to find us back again? If so, we really are f***ed.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Treacherous Glasgow

This is the first part of a series of two entries on the two largest cities of Scotland, Edinburgh and Glasgow. I'll start with Scotland's largest city, Glasgow.

All over again, our conversation always leads us to the same point,

- Why is that Glasgow is so much better than Edinburgh for a night out?, I'd say, nodding my head in awe after yet another great tune blasts out of the sound system of whichever place/pub/festival we've ended up going to escape our comfy bourgeois life in Edina.

- Well, because it's Glasgow y'know..., Morgan would reply following a big sigh, sinking right thereafter into the spiral of self-destructive sadness that always engulfs him when visiting his much-missed home city.

For such a small country, Scotland's two main (and with all due respect, only) cities score amazingly high in their respective leagues of urban life quality. Because they are indeed in two different yet parallel worlds. That's my personal explanation of the Glasgow vs. Edinburgh discussion so familiar to all of us who live in this part of the country. They just can't be compared like for like, just like you can't add apples and pears. It is also a good example of the somehow schizophrenic Scottish character, because this apple and this pear couldn't be more different.

Arriving from the East by car, you are firstly confronted with the unusual fact that the highway spanning across the Central Belt - the infamous M8, drives right through the heart of Glasgow's city center, a reminder of a time, not long ago, when the Planning Authorities had in no high consideration the remaining buildings from the time when this city proudly called itself the second city of the Empire.

This is not a place anchored in a self-deluding glorious past which must be protected from the dangers of modernity, mourning its lost architectonic gems. No, Glasgow it's an organism constantly evolving, adapting, searching for, although not always successfully finding, new means of living for its varied population. Now that the industry is all but gone, it's the city itself that provides a living. Re-branding large parts of its much pounded city center as Merchant City and marketing it as a sort of Cultural mile is a good example of this. Glasgow's ubiquitous cultural life now occupies many of the ruins left by past glories which, Weegies now well, are not coming back.

Don't think you will find a place you would regard as pretty if you ever decide to come along. Some scars left on the urban fabric are still highly visible, even in the city center. When I first visited this country almost 15 years ago, my impression of this city was of an ugly and grey building site where locals would very keenly try to help you out with directions when they saw you trying to find your way with a map in an almost incomprehensible language.

Immense gaps left by obsolete factories and demolished tenement buildings still await for the right opportunity to arise, that chance to join in the search for the new Eldorado, just like tobacco or shipbuilding did in the past. Mesmerizing modernist monsters built everywhere remind you that this city has never been keen on separating the present from the past. The true Glasgow is mestizo. The closest you can get to London up here. Scottish, from the Highlands and the Lowlands; Irish, Polish, Caribbean, African and Asian. A pot where cultural identities don't melt at all, but remain strong, problematic and alive. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Scotland's most famous architect and one of Glasgow's most celebrated alcoholics is a good example of the talent that emerges from this city.

This is Glasgow, treacherous, sectarian, dangerous and, above all, amazingly creative. This is Glasgow, the city Scotland would never like to be its capital, but its greatest city nevertheless.

PS: This entry is a reminder of the brilliant night we spent last night at the Celtic Connections Festival where we enjoyed this local band a good example of the local creativity, alongside with Mogwai, Franz Ferdinand or Sons&Daughters, just to mention a few.

Saturday, 16 January 2010


Dedico esta entrada a Antonio y a todos los que, como él, alegran mi camino por la vida con la bendición de su amistad.

El paso del 2009 al nuevo año fue intenso, un digno colofón a una Navidad llena de momentos de contenida euforia, de esa que a veces te invade cuando descubres que la distancia aun no han hecho mella en esa semilla plantada hace años ya, que creció fuerte y hermosa de su tallo enfermizo (mis gracias a Radio Futura). Los que abandonaste al emigrar siguen ahí, deseosos de compartir un beso y un abrazo, una buena charla y algún que otro exceso verbal, dionisíaco y hasta farmacológico, que diría el maestro Escohotado. La puesta al día incluye alegrías y miserias, buenas nuevas y nuevas vidas, encuentros (y encontronazos) inesperados, algunos hasta indeseables. Pero la fugacidad del regreso te confieren una calma de lo que se sabe breve. Ninguna alegría durará mucho, ningún pesar ensombrecerá nuestro ánimo más allá del próximo amanecer.

Y es ese espontáneo disfrutar que de la nada viene, esa explosión de vida sin calculada antelación, ese "pues vamonos de tapas, mamá no nos esperes para comer" que a veces echamos tan en falta en estas tierras del Norte. No nos faltan los cómplices por estas latitudes, pero Andalucía no emigra contigo, se queda allí quietecita en su rincón, viviendo en su modorra sureña sin siquiera extrañar a sus hijos ausentes, tan segura está de que volverán, tarde o temprano, a la caló del Sur.

Vivimos ya
vidas paralelas sin duda, divergentes incluso, adultas, complejas y felices, exaperantes en su brevedad, nunca del todo asentadas ¿para qué aferrarse a esta realidad que sabemos aún inestable?, ¿quién querría dejar atrás estos los mejores años de nuestra vida?, que demonios, ¡que corra el vino!, ¡pásame una calada de esa felicidad vegetal! ¡ponte otra de rock'n'roll señor Torres!, que aquí seguimos, deliciosamente insconcientes, bebiéndonos la vida a buchazos.

Como mi hermano montañés me enseñó, recordemos en estos momentos de exaltación de la amistad (los cantos regionales en la próxima entrada) al poeta Felipe Benítez Reyes:
La amistad, ese brindis

de copas con venenos diferentes.

Y por vosotros, mis amigos, levanto mi copa de scotch single malt whisky, ¡gracias por estar ahí!.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

La niebla

Su llegada desde el mar trae un frío húmedo que se abre paso inmisericorde entre las capas de ropa.

Cada bocanada de aire tiene una presencia vaporosa casi obscena, y la gente esa mirada de animal aterido.

El aire, lleno de minúsculas partículas de agua salada arrancadas al Mar del Norte, se mueve como un espíritu sacado de algún relato de H.P. Lovecraft. Lentamente, con la seguridad del que visita aquello que le pertence, recorre cada rincón de la ciudad dejando tras de sí frías gotas de helado rocío. Así, como un orgulloso señor feudal, ignora las súplicas de los que mendigan por la vuelta del pálido sol del Norte.

Es the Haar, la niebla marina que invade Edimburgo desde el Firth of Forth durante los días más fríos del invierno.

Thursday, 3 December 2009


Es ist (schon) wieder Weihnachten!.

Das heißt allerdings dass die Kälte wieder da ist, obwohl hier die Weiße Dame nie wirklich verabschiedet wird. Es ist einfach mehr windig und mehr oder wenig so feucht wie in August.
Willkommen in Schottland, das Land der ewige Herbst.

Eine der guten Sachen davon ist dass neben den National Galleries, der deutsche Weihnachtsmarkt wieder da ist.

Nürnberger un
d Curry brat wurste mit süße Sanft. Bratkartoffeln mit Sössen und Pommes Frites auf Krautsalat. Brötchen mit Steak, Krautsalat un Sösse. Alles mit Glühwein und Glühbier gegossen - bayerisches Bier soll für später warten müssen, es wird ja nur abends verkauft. Alle arte von köstlichen Essen und Trinken aus Deutschland, ein Land das, offensichtlich, exportiert nicht nur Autos in der UK.

Schließlich passiert wieder etwas auf der Strasse! Obwohl man sich nur freuen kann das so eine wunderbare Tradition aus kontinental Europa hinübergebracht wurde (derartige märkte kann man auch in Polen, Ungarn, Österreich und andere europäische Länder finden), das Gefühl dass in diesem Land nicht zu kreativ sind um die Stadtliche Räume zu nutzen verlässt mir nicht.

Was sagst du denn? Was über das weltberühmte Edinburgh Festival? Na ja, alles klar, das ist doch toll, und teuer. So toll und so teuer dass während Festival zahlreiche Einwohner der Capital of Scotland die Stadt einfach verlassen und seine Wohnungen für paar tage oder woche untervermieten. Damit können sie oft in 2 Wochen die ganze Monatsmiete einzahlen. Touristen sind hier auf jeden Falls willkommen.

Der Weihnachtsmarkt ist trotz allem eine schöne Gelegenheit um einen warmen Glühwein mit Freunde oder Kollegen zu genießen. Mein Geburtstag ist (auch schon) wieder da, also ich glaube wir gehen einfach mal wieder dahin.