Monthly Archives: November 2007

Five Michelin Stars for One Catalan Lady

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One lucky lady has good reason to be cheerful. She is the only chef in the world, male or female, to be given an accolade of five Michelin stars. Her name is Carme Ruscalleda.

Carme Ruscalleda is a Catalan lady, who was already proud about her three star Michelin rating for her ‘Restaurante Sant Pau’, in Sant Pol de Mar, some 35 minutes east of Barcelona. The restaurant is set in a villa overlooking the Mediterranean sea. But now, she has also been given two more Michelin stars for her relatively new venture, the ‘Restaurante Sant Pau de Tokio’, opened in 2004 in Tokyo, Japan. Mrs. Ruscalleda admitts that she had hoped for a one star rating for her Tokyo restaurant. She says that she was surprised but delighted to have been handed two stars.

 

Ferran Adrià, eat your heart out. 

This fancy Tokyo branch of Carme Ruscalleda’s famous restaurant serves some serious Catalan cuisine. The tasting menu is ¥21,000, whilst main dishes are around ¥7,000 each. The lunchtime “Bento menu” is ¥8,000. There’s a more informal wine bar downstairs, with some 350 varieties of mostly Spanish wines and a menu of light tapas.

Senyora Ruscalleda was raised in a family of farmers and began cooking as a young girl. Later she studied Charcuterie technics. After marrying a grocery shop owner in 1975, she convinced her husband to open a restaurant. The ‘Restaurante Sant Pau’ opened in 1988. Just over two years after its inauguration, ‘Sant Pau’ won one Michelin star. In 1996, Carme Ruscalleda was given a two-star rating by the Michelin critics. She finally obtained a third Michelin Guide star in 2006.

Carme Ruscalleda is one of Spain’s top and most international women chefs. She is best known in Spain for having been chosen in 2004 as the chef for the wedding celebrations of Principe Felipe and Letizia Ortiz. Her restaurant ‘San Pau’ in Sant Pol de Mar is a convincing example of how to create unique dishes by combining a sense of imagination with traditional Catalán ingredients.

If you want to test Mrs. Ruscalleda’s fine art of cooking yourself, or if you have a wedding celebration coming up, here are her details:

Restaurante Sant Pau

08395 Sant Pol de Mar (Catalunya)

Tel.: +34.93.760.0662

Restaurante Sant Pau de Tokio

Coredo Nihonbashi Annex 1/2F

1-6-1 Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku

Tokyo (Japan)

Tel.: +81.03.3517.5700

 

If you enjoy eating out you probably know that Spanish gastronomy as a whole is highly esteemed by the gurus of le Guide Michelin, especially so if chefs from the Basque country and from Catalunya are involved in the cooking. 

Guide Michelin rated a total of 134 Spanish restaurants with either one, two or three stars, in their new Guide Michelin Hotels & Restaurants for Spain 2008

Six restaurants (three Basque and three Catalán) were confirmed for 2008 for their high food standard. These restaurants are those of chefs, Juan Mari Arzak (restaurant ‘Arzak’, San Sebastián); Santi Santamaría (‘Can Fabes’, Sant Celoni, Barcelona); Ferran Adrià (‘El Bulli’, Roses, Girona); Martín Berasategui (‘Martín Berasategui’, Lasarte, Guipúzcoa); Pedro Subijana (‘Akelarre’, San Sebastián) and Carme Ruscalleda (‘Sant Pau’, Sant Pol de Mar, Barcelona), mentioned above. Well done, and congratulations to all. There was no change to the 2007 compilation. Against all expectations, no additional Spanish restaurant was rated highly enough to rise to the top accolade of three stars.

These are the current two Michelin star restaurants in Spain: ‘Tristán’, in Portals Nous (Mallorca, Baleares); ‘Atrio’, in Cáceres; ‘El Poblet’, in Dènia; ‘Mugaritz’, in Rentería; ‘El Celler de Can Roca’, in Girona; ‘La Broche’ and ‘Santceloni’, in Madrid; ‘Zuberoa’, in Oiartzun, and ‘La Alquería de Hacienda Benazuza’, in Sanlúcar la Mayor (Sevilla), as well as now, for the first time, ‘Abac’, in Barcelona.

There are fifteen new one star eateries in Spain, according to the Michelin opinion, bringing the total of one star rated restaurants in Spain to a stunning 119. Ten previous one star bearers have lost their star rating.

The new one star rated restaurants are ‘Comerç 24’ and ‘Lluçanés’, in Barcelona; ‘Yayo Daporta’, in Cambados (Pontevedra); ‘Kokotxa’ and ‘Kursaal’, in San Sebastián; ‘Arrop’, in Gandía; ‘Massana’, in Girona; ‘Azurmendi’, in Larrabetzu (Vizcaya); ‘El Club Allard’, in Madrid; ‘Calima’, in Marbella; ‘Els Casals’, in Sagás (Barcelona); ‘Retiro da Costiña’, in Santa Comba (La Coruña); ‘Villena’, in Segovia; ‘El Molino de Urdaitz’, in Urdaitz (Navarra), and ‘Ramiro’s’, in Valladolid.

The following restaurants lost their single star, ‘La Posada de la Casa del Abad’, in Ampudia; ‘Aldebarán’, in Badajoz; ‘Jean Luc Figueras’, in Barcelona; ‘Gallery Paladares’, in Gijón; ‘Carballeira’, in Lleida; ‘Casa d’a Troya’, in Madrid; ‘Mesana’, in Marbella, ‘Chez Víctor’, in Salamanca, ‘Lluçanès’, in Prats de Lluçanès, and ‘Koldo Royo’, in Palma de Mallorca, where I live. Oh, well. It has to be Marc Fosh then, at Read’s, in Santa Maria, I suppose. About him, some other time, soon.

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Funnily enough, Tokyo was rated with a surprising total of 191 Michelin stars, a record, given that Parisian restaurants were only awarded a total of 94 stars (New York has a total of 54 Michelin stars, just for the record). Japan is a new departure for le Guide Michelin but, no doubt, food lovers will flock there soon to try out the culinary delights, of eastern as well as western inclination, of the great gastronomic treats of Japan. Some connoisseurs consider some restaurant food in Tokyo as amongst the best cuisine in the world.

 

Others, of course, take objection to a European venture daring to consider themselves capable of judging traditional Japanese cooking.  

 

According to Restaurant Magazine (not related to le Guide Michelin), Spain has four establishments in the top eleven restaurants in the world, with the unique ‘El Bulli’, in Roses (Girona) being rated the world’s best restaurant for two years running. I have not eaten there myself, as yet, I must admit, but I do give the highest of my own ratings to Ferran Adrià’s lavishly edited El Bulli books. Always a sensual delight. Mouthwatering, again and again. 

 

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Some volumes are available in English language editions for your convenience (as well as in Spanish, German, French and Catalán).

 

The Forgotten Spanish War of Ifni

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Not many of today’s school children in Spain have been taught about a war that their country was embroiled in fifty years ago, in 1957, the War of Ifni. Many Spaniards, young or adult, don’t even know what Ifni is or where it is situated.

Ifni, or rather: Sidi Ifni, is a Moroccan town of about 15,000 inhabitants, situated in the south of the country, just south of Agadir, at the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.

Ifni had been brought under Spanish rule in 1476, a few years before the capture of Melilla. Ifni, but not Melilla, was re-claimed by the Moroccan Saadien rulers in 1524.

The Treaty of Tangier of 1860 allowed the Moroccan cities of Sidi Ifni and Telata, as well as what later was known as Spanish Sahara, to be incorporated into the Spanish colonial empire. In 1946, Spain’s various coastal and inland colonies in Morocco were consolidated as Spanish West Africa.

France, having earlier been accorded protectorate status by the Sultan of Morocco, was at that time in control of all of the northern part of Morocco, plus all of Algeria.

When Morocco gained independence from France in 1956, the country expressed their keen interest in all of Spain’s possessions in Morocco, claiming that it was historically and geographically all part of Moroccan territory. Sultan Mohammed V encouraged efforts to re-capture the land and personally funded anti-Spanish conspirators, Moroccan insurgents and indigenous Sahrawi rebels to claim Ifni back for Morocco.

Violent demonstrations against foreign rule erupted in Ifni in April 1957, followed by civil strife and the widespread murder of those loyal to Spain. In response, Generalissimo Franco, then still very much in charge of a dictatorially controlled Spain, dispatched two battalions of the Spanish Legion, Spain’s elite fighting force, to El Aaiún in southern Morocco, in June 1957.

The Ifni War, sometimes called the Forgotten War (La Guerra Olvidada) in Spain, began in earnest on November 23rd, fifty years ago today. The Moroccan Liberation Army was now no longer tied down in conflicts with the French, and could thus commit a significant portion of its resources and manpower to the capture of Spanish possessions. The Spanish Legion repulsed the Moroccan drive easily, but two Spanish outposts were abandoned in the face of enemy attacks. Many others remained under heavy siege.

In the space of two weeks, the Moroccans and their tribal allies had asserted control over most of Ifni, isolating inland Spanish units from their South-Moroccan capital. Simultaneous attacks had been launched throughout Spanish Sahara, overrunning garrisons and ambushing convoys and patrols.

The siege of Ifni lasted until June 1958; it was uneventful and relatively bloodless, as Spain and Morocco both concentrated resources on Saharan theatres.

In January 1958, Morocco redoubled its commitment to the Spanish campaign, reorganizing all army units in Spanish territory as the Saharan Liberation Army.

In February 1958, Spanish troops, helped by French corps, launched a major offensive that successively dismantled the Moroccan Liberation Army. For the first time, massively superior European air power was brought to bear as France and Spain deployed a joint air fleet of 150 planes.

On April 2nd 1958, the governments of Spain and Morocco signed the Treaty of Angra de Cintra. Morocco obtained the region of Tarfaya (colony of Cabo Juby), between the river Draa and the parallel 27º 40′, excluding Sidi Ifni and the Spanish Sahara. Spain had won the Ifni War at the cost of 300 lives and more than 500 wounded, but very soon saw fit to slowly retreat from its Moroccan possessions. On Franco’s orders, the war was excluded from Spanish pupils’ curriculum. It was as if the war never had happened.

 

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Spain retained possession of Ifni until 1969, when it returned the territory to Morocco.

Spain kept control of Western Sahara until the Green March of 1975 prompted a withdrawal, thus creating a power vacuum that was filled with brutal force by Morocco in the north and by Mauritania in the south. When Mauritania withdrew in August 1979, Morocco overran the remainder of the territory with great haste and eagerness.

A Saharan rebel group, the Polisario Front, has fought against Morocco since 1976 for the independence of Western Sahara on behalf of the indigenous Saharawis. Morocco and the Polisario Front agreed in September 1991 to a UN-negotiated cease-fire, which was contingent on a referendum regarding independence. For the past 15 years or so, however, Morocco has opposed such a referendum. In 2002, Morocco’s present King, Mohammed VI reasserted that he “will not renounce an inch” of Western Sahara. Abundant phosphate reserves appear to be the true reason for Morocco’s unauthorized land claims.

Last week, King Mohammed VI offered a status of autonomy to Western Sahara. There is no further mention of independence of Western Sahara. And no referendum either, which is a blatant breach of the United Nations cease-fire agreement.

 

Over to Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary-General.

 

Many Winners And Too Many Losers

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November 20th is a significant date for Spain.

 

Thirty-two years ago yesterday, Spain’s Fascist era came to an end with the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, victor of the Spanish Civil War and head of state since 1939. Franco declared himself President for Life in 1947. His regime has been deeply reactionary, with political parties and trade unions banned, and with artists, intellectuals and sociological as well as ethnic minorities repressed. 

Franco ensured the Royalist succession by nominating, in 1969, Don Juan Carlos Borbon y Borbon as his “heir”. Juan Carlos became the first occupant of the Spanish throne since his grandfather Alfonso XIII had abdicated in 1931. 

Franco, also known as the Generalissimo, was buried in the mountainside mausoleum Abadía Benedictina de la Santa Cruz de el Valle de los Caídos (“Benedictine Abbey of the Valley of the Fallen”), a giant necropolis to the south of Madrid built under Franco’s auspices to house the Nationalist men who died under his command during the Civil War. 

Only a few weeks ago, the Spanish parliament passed a law (Ley de la Memoria Histórica de España) condemning General Franco’s regime, a law which provoked painful memories in Spain, three decades after his death. Up to one million Spaniards lost their lives during Franco’s Civil War between 1936 and 1939, which was supported by Hitler’s Germany and Italy under Mussolini. Many in Spain – the Military, the Church, the Bourgeoisie – had come out victorious, whilst many others found themselves on the losing side – artists, intellectuals, Republicans, and other democratically inclined citizens.

A mass was held yesterday at the cathedral in Granada, Spain, in Franco’s memory. Anti-Fascist demonstrators rallied in the streets of Granada to protest against this blatant demonstration of right-winged nationalism, against old-style Fascists and Franco-supporters, as well as against the role that the Catholic church played during the 39 years, condoning Franco’s tyranny. A dozen protesters were arrested; four of them were detained overnight.

 

A number of books have been published recently in Spain, giving an, as yet, untold insight into the darker aspects of Spain’s atrocious years of Civil War. One interesting example, albeit in Spanish only, at the moment, is Habíamos ganado la guerra, by Esther Tusquets (Editorial Bruguera, Barcelona).

 

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Also, a number of filmmakers have begun to focus on the, as yet, untold stories of the victims on either side. One remarkable new movie is Las 13 Rosas, by Emilio Martínez Lázaro. You may have seen his work El otro lado de la cama.

 

If you live in Spain and are not afraid of the spoken Spanish word, this is a film that might help to look back not in anger, but in hope. The film is one of three Spanish entries for an Oscar nomination next year, for films in a foreign language, but let’s not get too excited. After all, Hollywood is Hollywood.

 

‘I Do Not Seek. I Find.’

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Spanish painter, Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Clito Ruiz y Picasso, to us simply known as Picasso, does not stop making headlines, even almost 35 years after his death in 1973.

 

Earlier this week, his 1941 bronze sculpture ‘Tête de femme (Dora Maar)’ sold for $ 29,200,000, the highest price for any sculpture created by Picasso, ever. His 1968 painting, ‘Homme à la pipe’, sold for $ 16,800,000. Both auction results were achieved by Sotheby’s, New York. Picasso’s 1931 painting ‘La lampe’ received an offer of $ 21,000,000 but was not sold, as the amount offered was apparently deemed below Sotheby’s stipulated reserve. Christie’s, also in New York, sold Picasso’s exceptional 1955 painting ‘Femme accroupie au costume turc (Jacqueline)’ for $30,000,000, a week earlier.

 

Picasso’s 125th anniversary of his 1881 birthday was celebrated last year in Spain with two super-size exhibitions in Madrid, at the MNACRS and the Prado.

If you are more interested in the artist’s life and person rather than his value in a still buoyant art market, you will be pleased to hear that A Life of Pablo Picasso, Volume III: The Triumphant Years 1917-1932, has just been published, painstakingly researched and breathtakingly written by John Richardson, the British art historian. The biography is published in the USA by Random House, and in the UK by Cape.

 

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The earlier volumes of this outstanding biography, I (The Prodigy, 1881-1906) and II (The Cubist Rebel, 1907-1916) had already been published in 1991 and 1997, respectively. Both volumes are now also published in paperback editions. All three volumes make extremely good reading on the genius of this great Spanish artist; the latest volume is no exception.

Although one cannot think of Picasso without his Spanish roots and formative years, it is no secret that his talent really came into its fullest expression after he moved to Paris, France, in 1904, not long before western art headed for the modern era. 

No wonder the French consider Picasso as one of theirs; after all, he lived in France for near enough 70 years. 

Those of us living in Spain can view plenty of original works of art by the exceptional Monsieur Picasso in the two Spanish museums baring the artist’s name, the Museo Picasso in Barcelona and the relatively new Museo Picasso in Málaga. In addition to these, we also have his Casa Natal (birth place), in Málaga, and the Reina Sofía MNACRS museum in Madrid, which has accumulated a vast collection of Picassos mainly in lieu of inheritance tax, plus the spectacular, gigantic 349 × 776 cm canvas, Guernica, Picasso’s masterpiece painting in response to the German air attack during the Spanish Civil War.

Picasso’s best output, however, seems to have found its home in France, in Paris to be precise. The Musée National Picasso in Paris proudly presents over 200 paintings, 158 sculptures, 88 ceramic pieces, some 1,500 drawings and over 1,600 etchings, amongst other treassures. A large proportion of the museum’s holdings were left to the French nation after Picasso’s last wife, Jacqueline Roque, died in 1986. The photo above, by David Douglas Duncan, shows her and Picasso on a canvas-signing day at Villa La Californie, dated ‘circa early 1960s’.

France also holds numerous works by the Málaga born artist at the Musée National Picasso in Vallauris, between Cannes and Antibes on the French Côte d’Azur, where mainly works from his period called La Guerre et la Paix are shown. In Antibes there is also the Musée Picasso d’Antibes at the old Château Grimaldi where Picasso was allowed to install his studio in 1946. 245 paintings are normally on permanent show there, however, the museum is currently closed for renovations. 

 

For more information on the life and work of Monsieur Le Maître, you might want to consult the official Picasso website. 

Seeing Picasso’s works some 50 to 100 years after their creation and reading about the artist’s inspiring life, his women and his antics, one understands the charisma of his personæ, the forceful energy behind his œuvre and the unique, relentless vitæ of one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.

The voluminous Picasso biography may be in for some unfortunate news. The exceptional biographer, John Richardson, has already spent the best part of the last 25 years dedicating himself to this, A Life of Pablo Picasso, and he has only published the third volume, thus arriving at the year 1932. Picasso was only 51 years old by then. There are still some 41 years remaining.

 

I understand that John Richardson himself is at the ripe old age of 83. It is quite probable that he will not manage to finish his ambitious project.

 

Let’s hope that another talented and dedicated, if not possessed, person will step up to fill in the missing pieces, perhaps in close collaboration with Mr. Richardson. Chances are that he or she may not even have met the man himself which of course might make all the difference. Oh, well.

 

For those of you who would like to see some original works of Picasso, here is a link to information about some upcoming exhibitions of the master’s creations, including places in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, the USA, Canada and Japan.

The Importance of Being Earnest

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The XVII Cumbre Iberoamericana (Ibero-American Summit) was celebrated in Santiago de Chile over the last few days. Political leaders or their trusted representatives from 19 Latin American nations were united to confer about ‘social cohesion’, as well as Heads of States from Spain, Portugal and Andorra, plus Spain’s King Juan Carlos I.

Spain, or course, has a very special relationship with most of these nations, due to its colonial domination of most of Latin America during the best part of the past 500 years or so.

King Juan Carlos of Spain is usually regarded as a moderate and considerate Monarch, not usually known to be losing his tempers. On Sunday, however, he set a precedent that he may come to regret by telling Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to shut up (“¡¿Por qué no te callas?!”).

The King’s quite undiplomatic, angry outburst at the Ibero-American summit followed days of criticism by a number of Latin American leaders of Spain’s contemporary political and business influence in former Spanish colonies.

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President Hugo Chávez reminded the summit amongst other calamities that Spain had been responsible for the largest genocide that the history had ever seen, after the Latin American continent had been conquered in 1492, claimed for the Spanish Crown, and colonized thereafter.

Spain’s El Periodico newspaper, representing the Catalonian region where anti-royal sentiment runs high, said on Sunday that Chávez’s behavior had been quite intolerable.

The Spanish national newspaper, EL PAÍS said in an editorial, “Maybe it wasn’t the best thing to say but the Monarch’s fit shows just how much the Venezuelan (… President’s …) diatribe upset the Spanish”.

But some observers reacted with unease about the King taking on a more political role when the Monarchy really has a symbolic state function under Spain’s constitution.

Juan Carlos I won the trust of Spaniards by promoting the transition to democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 and has always distanced himself from any political role.

One of the few voices in Spain to criticize the King over the attack on Venezuela’s Chávez came from the Izquierda Unida group, which said that King Juan Carlos acted like a 17th century monarch addressing his vassals.

“Telling an elected head of state to shut up is something you can’t do in Spain or abroad”, a spokesman of Izquierda Unida was quoted as saying.

According to the Associated Press news agency, Hugo Chávez responded to the King’s outburst: “I do not offend by telling the truth. The Venezuelan government reserves the right to respond to any aggression, anywhere, in any space and in any manner”. Hugo Chávez also pointed out that he had been democratically elected three times, whereas he hinted that no-one ever had voted King Juan Carlos into office.

King Juan Carlos already had a controversial time earlier last week when he visited Spain’s disputed North African enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, sparking protests from Morocco, which claims the territories as theirs.

It looks to me as though it may not be so easy to be a King in this day and age, be that in Spain, in Morocco, or wherever. Perhaps times have changed and not everyone has taken it in, yet.

The world is no longer what it might have been in 1492, or so it would appear. 

Biodiversity in the Cabo Verde Islands

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May I suggest a trip to the Cabo Verde Islands, one day?

The Cabo Verde Islands (approx. 16 00 N 24 00 W) are situated about 600 km off the coast of Cap Vert, in Senegal, West Africa. If you are tired of the well trodden destinations of Greece, Thailand, the Caribbean islands, et al., why not pop down to São Vicente, for instance, for the discovery of an intriguing mixture of the African with the Portuguese and the Brazilian?

Many of us know Cabo Verde only through the haunting ‘mornas’ of Cesaria Evora, the ‘barefoot diva’. A visit to her homeland – a volcanic archipelago – helps us to understand the strange, bittersweet chemistry of West African rhythms and mournful Portuguese melodies that shape Evora’s music.

The Cabo Verde Islands (also often called Cape Verde) were discovered and colonized by the Portuguese in the middle of the 15th century; the islands belonged to Portugal until 1975 when the Republica de Cabo Verde gained independence. There are ten islands and five islets, but their total area is not much greater than the size of Mallorca, Spain, let’s say, or Rhode Island, USA, for instance. The islands are of volcanic origin, most of them being made up of high mountains covered with lava. Some of the islands are all rock; others have patches of rice, corn, and tobacco; cotton and indigo grow wild in the woods.

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The Cabo Verde Islands were turned into a major hub for the transatlantic slave trade during the 16th to 18th centuries. Most Cabo Verdeans have both African and Portuguese antecedents as a consequence of this ominous historic period.

 

The islands fall into two main groups – the Barlavento, or Windward, islands in the north, which include Santo Antão, São Vicente, Santa Luzia, São Nicolau, Boa Vista, and Sal, and the Sotavento, or Leeward, islands in the south, which include São Tiago (approx. 1,550 sq km, the largest island), Fogo, Maio, and Brava.

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The climate is generally temperate and comparable to the weather conditions of the Canary Islands, with warm, dry summers; any precipitation is meager and very erratic.

The archipelago’s beaches increasingly attract the package-tour crowd, but still, Cabo Verde seems to remain a destination for the connoisseur: the intrepid hiker, the die-hard windsurfer, the deep-sea angler and the ‘morna’ devotee.

 

Cabo Verde’s biodiversity is of global importance as it includes many endemic species of plants, birds, insects, as well as marine species. Its beaches provide important nesting sites and feeding grounds for endangered marine turtles, and breeding humpback whales that are frequently seen around Boa Vista and Sal, Boa Vista’s northern neighbour. Approximately 3,000 loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) nest in Boa Vista and Sal annually making these areas the second most important nesting site in the entire Atlantic Ocean.

 

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Although the islands are mountainous and of volcanic origin, the only active volcano is at the archipelago’s highest point, Cano (ca. 2,830 m), which is located on Fogo island. Cano was regularly active until the 18th century, and the volcano’s most recent eruptions were in 1951 and 1995. The area is sometimes subject to severe droughts and the fierce Harmattan, a dry and dusty West African trade wind.

Most Cabo Verdeans are of Roman Catholic faith; their religion is often mixed with the indigenous beliefs of their African ancestors.

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Portuguese and Crioulo, a blend of Portuguese and West African languages, are widely spoken. English and Spanish help if you speak neither.

 

Enjoy your trip if you do go, one day.

 

Crime and Punishment

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November 1st is celebrated in Spain today as Dia de Todos los Santos (All Saints), as it also is in all other countries with large numbers of Catholic worshipers, such as in Latin America and the Philippines, as well as other former Spanish colonies.

Todos los Santos is the day, when Spanish families not only honour the Saints, but also remember their own dead relatives. 191 families, most of them Spanish (but not all), will remember today their relatives who where killed during the 2004 Madrid train bombings (also known in Spain as 11-M). 42 of the dead came from 13 countries other than Spain, giving an indication of the level of immigration that is typical for Spain at the beginning of the 21st Century.

As it happens, a Spanish court in Madrid yesterday sentenced three men to thousands of years in jail each, for their respective part in the terrorist bombings of that fateful March 11th, 2004. One suspected mastermind, known as “Mohamed the Egyptian“, however, was acquitted in court.

The 11-M bombings consisted of a series of coordinated explosions against the Cercancías (commuter train) system of Madrid, Spain, on the morning of March 11th, 2004. Ten backpacks filled with dynamite and nails blew up on four packed commuter trains heading for Madrid’s Atocha Station. 191 people died and 1,841 more were wounded. It proved to be the deadliest terrorist attack that Spain had ever seen in peacetime.

 

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The Madrid attacks and their consequences created a huge divide in Spain, as was to be expected, reverberating to this very day. 

The attacks occurred 911 days after 9/11 and three days before Spain’s 2004 General Elections. The Spanish government at the time, headed by José María Aznar from the Partido Popular (PP), quickly put the blame for the terrorist attacks on the Basque ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna) organization, their favorite enemy.

 

The bombings changed the course of Spanish politics as voters subsequently ditched the Conservative government. Instead, an attack by Islamists was widely suspected, and perceived as the direct result of Spain’s involvement in Iraq, an extremely unpopular war that had not been approved by Spain’s Parliament.

Seven top suspects, mostly Moroccans, blew themselves up in a Madrid apartment during a police raid in April 2004, three weeks after the bombings.

The surviving suspects, 27 men and one woman, 19 Arabs, mostly Moroccans, and nine Spaniards, now defendants, had faced charges including murder, forgery and conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack. All the accused pleaded not guilty to any involvement in the Madrid attacks, during the four-month trial.

21 of the accused were found guilty yesterday of at least one charge whilst seven others were acquitted through lack of evidence. One person had already been acquitted earlier for unsubstantial provability.

The judge also said there was no evidence of involvement by the Spanish separatist group ETA. After the verdicts President José Luis Zapatero said: “Today justice was done and we must now look to the future”.

Compensation for victims was also decreed, ranging from 30,000 euros to 1,500,000 euros.

The victims and their families are organized in two competing lobby groups, mirroring the divide that is so typical of everyday life in Spain today, one of the Left and one of the Right. The  Asociación de Ayuda a las Víctimas del 11-M, expressed their disagreement with some of the findings and in particular with the proposed distribution of compensation. The other victims’ lobby group, Associación 11-M Afectados por el Terrorismo, has already announced that they want to go to the Spanish High Courts for an appeal against yesterday’s sentences.

But justice is a fickle thing, especially in our day when, post 9/11, there is an irrational dislike, even fear, of people from other countries and especially, Arabs, Moroccans, Muslims and Islamists.

 

We may never know what really happened on 9/11 or 11-M, nor today, nor yesterday. 

 

A General Election has to be held in Spain in March, 2008. I expect that 11-M and yesterday’s court sentences will once more have a decisive influence in voters’ decision making. I don’t think the present government can be too sure of a win, this time round.