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'A gaping silken dragon,/Puffed by the wind, suffices us for God./We, not the City, are the Empire's soul:/A rotten tree lives only in its rind.'

Sunday, 23 September 2012


... and back again. I've been away for a week, for work. Sometimes work can be quite rewarding, and I am lucky in that respect, with work taking me this time to:

Cadiz, on the southernmost Atlantic coast of Spain. The city is the oldest in Europe, and sits on a long isthmus stretching out into the ocean, with the fabulous old town, where I was staying, hunched against the sea and the heat, and ... in the past, the English and the Dutch:

This is the landward entrance to the small star fort of Santa Catalina built in 1596 following an Anglo-Dutch raid on the port - oh, how my chest swelled with pride to read that my forbears had, yet again, made their mark. As an ex-RAF pilot friend of mine said, 'We have a great history of doing what we do best - drunken violence and piracy!'. And Cadiz has experienced plenty of that, as all English schoolboys (once) knew, it was at Cadiz (and Corunna) that Sir Francis Drake singed the King of Spain's beard - hurrah ! Doubtless the Catholic Spanish garrison had frequent recourse to their God in the fort's church, praying that the ghost of the Dragon would not return:

What struck me about the inside of the star fort was how familiar the buildings, like this church, looked and that they were familiar because of 'the movies' and their portrayal of Latin America, specifically Mexico. That was interesting; it was if my Anglo-centric view of the world, even of Europe, had been reinforced by the Anglo-centric view of the United States - a sort of layering of Northern Protestant perceptions. I would not have been surprised had the man with no name emerged from under those trees, chewing tobacco from Virginia, looking for greasy sombrero wearers to shoot.

Cadiz itself uses an image of this type of watch tower, which line the sea walls of the old city, on its tourist information. And neat little towers they are - just calling out for replication in 28mm.

The fort contained an elegantly laid out museum, which illustrated its own history and that of the region since the early modern period. The map below was another check to my perceptions of the Atlantic world:

This is, of course, 'The Americas' to the Spanish and the Portuguese, as it was to the pirates of England. But when most Britons think of 'America' we think, still, of the USA, though the map above was also important to British monarchs and politicians, even during the American Revolution, and later. Yet, the colonists further north have long superseded the indentured serfs, the prisoners, the pirates, slaves and sugar plantations in our imagination.

But Cadiz is very old indeed, as this large scale Phoenician warrior, who appears to have been toting a Sten gun at some point, shows. Interestingly, the Museum of Cadiz where this fellow lives has a great deal of information on the Phoenician city, and the Roman city of Gades, but only a map of the truncated town that existed under the Moor.

The old city of Cadiz today is elegant, clean, restrained and civilised. Its people are delicately featured, clearly have extensive family ties in the city, and are almost entirely Spanish - quiet, polite and friendly. This very welcome world is, of course, like much else in Europe, and the wider world, built on some dreadful historical foundations. Fortunately, I did not have to witness the Reconquest - war, massacre, and ethnic cleansing. Instead, I was able to enjoy the beauty that is Cadiz now. And, of course, the Andalusians have taken from their southern inheritance - pagan, Imperial Christian, and Muslim - some stylistic flourishes that add to their city: 

But, no mention of Spain on an English/British wargamer's blog could pass up:

A fellow who got around, and whose view of the uniformed 'plebs' still lives on in his old Tory Party.

But, as in too many countries, a vicious appetite threatens lives, happiness, and social order. Some of my work in England is connected to 'substance misuse'. And here in Cadiz, there were social workers saying (hopefully ? forlornly?), 'let's talk about drugs'...

Finally, my 'find' of the trip. Newly published, massively illustrated, an oral history of the lives of some of the 50,000 Spanish men and women who were...

So, a marvellous experience, and thanks to the hosts, from the University of Cadiz:

And, at home, in England, it rains, but this Alpine perfection shone in the early morning just before I left last week:

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