Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ramblings about waterfowl, literary lunatics and random hippies

Today is a holiday in this region. It celebrates the creation of Castilla-La Mancha as an autonomous region in accordance with the new constitution of 1978. It was stuck together from a few bits that were left over when the more natural or historical regions had been formed. No one cares about it much (except the politicians and bueaucrats who make their living from its existence) and no one identifies themself with it.

It corresponds very approximately to the historical entity called New Castille, but that included Madrid, which was made into its own region because it's big and important now, and it didn't include the east of Albacete or any of Guadalajara, which was tagged on because they didn't know what else to do with it (it would have made more historical sense to lump it with Madrid, or even with Old Castille, which did, after all, get León, another bit they didn't know what to do with.

La Mancha is an ancient 'comarca' which was the home of Don Quijote. Cervantes made him Manchego because it was the last place you would expect a courtly hero to come from, but they make a big thing of down here anyway, and why not, he put La Mancha into the international conscious.

When I say celebrate, no one bothers celebrating, except, I assume, the politicians in Toledo who will be partying with our money and muscling their way onto the television. No one else has a strong enough sense of identity with what is, in the end, a completely artificial construct, to care. It's just a day when you don't go to work.

And a fine day it is. Mrs Hickory and I went on the bikes to the river and along the banks for several miles. It's dammed about 7 miles northwest of the town so there is quite a body of water, which is much appreciated by the fishermen, the insects and the birds, and also by the travellers like us who can enjoy the views and the activity of those birds (the insects and the fishermen contribute rather less to the enjoyment, but they come with the package).

There were the usual herons of many kinds, some storks, a variety of ducks, cranes and coots. And a couple of reed islands with hundreds of nests on, something I haven't seen before in that part of the river. They must have bred like rabbits this spring (so have the rabbits, in fact, there's a lot of food about). The photos are not David Attenborough class, but they give some idea of what it was like to be pedalling along the riverbank this morning.

The hippies in the square are slowly increasing in number. There are now half a dozen tents. It's hard to count the people as you don't know who's who, but around twenty, probably. In Madrid they are many more, and causing a serious obstruction in the Puerta del Sol, in Barcelona they were 'moved on' as a number of them had taken to smashing things, but they seem to be back now, and in other places I haven't bothered to find out, but here they are harmless, peaceful, a bit smelly, quite happy to talk about why they're there, open to criticism- they even have a complaints box so people can tell them when they're causing a nuisance- and, of course, utterly deceived about who they are and what they can achieve.

They think they're part of an international movement. I don't see anything moving. They think they are living without money and are an example to us all. Like all such people, they are in fact living off other people's money. They are effectively beggars, fed and watered by friends and supporters. If they get ill they'll go to the hospital, where they will be treated by people using resources taht wouldn't exist if everyone lived like them. They clain to be defending their right to express their protest before the Town Hall. They are merely proclaiming that their belief in that right, it's the police who are defending that right for them. They claim to have no homes, but they are squatting freely on public property. They claim to have no fears about their future. One day they'll worry about school fees and mortgage payments like the rest of us. They think that the world will listen to them. It won't.

But, they are peaceful and intelligent, at least the ones we have here. They listen to the people they claim to represent, and the people they claim to oppose. They don't claim to speak for everyone, they don't shout stupid slogans as a substitute for thought, and they are providing the very useful service of reminding the politicians that they are the servants of the people, something they cannot be told often enough. And they keep the children entertained in the evenings by juggling, story-telling and unicycling. The fact that they haven't been moved on shows that the council are afraid that people will listen to them. The purpose of their protest is to demand a more transparent democracy and less troughing by our leaders, aspirations I entirely agree with. And, although their grasp of economic reality is not too sound, they seem to understand what democracy and freedom are, which is unusual enough.

So I hope they keep giving the council a headache for a while longer.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Why I Don't Like Schools

If I ever have children I will not send them to a school. If I could afford a very good private day school and was completely satisfied with how it operated I might consider the possibility, but even then I doubt that I could be persuaded. Most of the following is about state schools, but it is to be understood that many of the points apply equally to private schools.

Schools are not very good at what they do, and what they try to do is not what they should be doing. When a massive bureaucracy uses enormous amounts of tax money to construct a conceptual edifice which gives it almost complete control over all children, all parents and all taxpayers you can be certain that its sole interest is in increasing its budget and its power, and it has long forgotten that it ever had any function that involved the good of children.

The original aim of tax-funded education was forgotten almost as soon as the system was created, and the result is that children waste their youth herded into smelly, half-ruined rooms listening to people telling them things they will never need to know, telling them what they must believe, what they must be, who they may like and who they must hate, or just inventing pointless activities to pass the time until everyone is allowed to go home.

What children need to know can be learned in a couple of hours a day over a fairly short period of each year. And there is no need for schools themselves, they have long been obsolete, but no one cares to notice this because too much depends on maintaining the fiction that it is all essential. To many people it is, but not to the children.

Children do not need to be taught together, they do not need to be taught most of what they are taught, they do need to learn many things which are ignored, and they lose the chance to become properly socialised, and to learn to take their place in the world, in a natural environment, because they are forced to spend their days in a highly unnatural, unproductive environment invented by socialists.

Some would need or want more time, broader or deeper content, a different approach, and it can and should be provided. Some children cannot benefit from education because they are incapable of learning anything much that will be useful to them in later life, and certainly not at the rhythm that collective education requires. Some children don't want to be there and the efforts to convince them that they need to learn are a great distraction. (Let their parents convince them. If they can't, why should anyone else have to?) The standard model, in short, forces teachers, and the education system in general, to waste an enormous amount, perhaps the majority, of time, energy, and reources, not to mention the patience, goodwill and opportunities of the other students, on children who can't, and who don't want to, gain any appreciable benefit from that effort. This model simply guarantees that all children will waste many hours a day for the whole of their childhood, for no reason that benefits them.

In short, schools are an outdated institution, they try to do far too many things at once, many of which they are very poorly suited to, and most of which are of little benefit to the people who they are supposed to exist to help.

I would never subject my children to that.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

In Praise of Pleasure

"Mr David Samoza
International Haedonist Society

Pres: Bill Doncaster

3 Feb 2006

Dear Mr Samoza,

Thanks for writing to us. We don’t get that many letters, except official ones. But since you did write I’m going to send you a proper letter back.

Most people contact us by email. I’ve put our web address and email at the bottom of this so you can look at all the information there, and I’ve opened a mail account for you at our site. It’s in the full name you signed your letter with. Once you enter you can set your password and you’ll find this letter and the leaflets I’m putting in with it, and you can write back to us and tell us how you’re getting on in the Pursuit of Pleasure.

We always like to hear from members and with their permission we include their ideas and experiences on the site, to help other people. By members, by the way, I just mean people who are in contact with us. It doesn’t cost anything and you won’t appear on any list, except my private mailing list. So I’ll call you a member unless you ask me not to.

Why do we spell it Haedonist? Because lots of people say they are hedonists, or are called hedonists, but most of them don’t really know what it’s about. They mean they like pleasure. Well, who doesn’t? If they can afford lots of it, good luck to them. But we know that pleasure is the purpose of life, and, most importantly, we try to understand how to get the most pleasure out of everything. It may not be the reason we’re here, if there is one, but it is the only thing worth taking seriously. So we write it that way so people will realize we’re different; we really know what we’re talking about.

You asked about me: there’s a short profile on the site, but, basically, I’m an art student at the Slade (an Art School in London). It’s not like proper studying, and I enjoy painting. I can do what I want for three years and they give me a degree. Then I’ll try to be a professional artist. You see, you don’t need to be rich to be a Haedonist; you do need money, but there are good and bad ways of making it.

Why do I run this organization? Yes, it takes up some of my time, but Pleasure isn’t necessarily selfish, and laziness in itself isn’t a pleasure. None of the vices are pleasures in themselves. Haedonism sometimes means abandonment but never stupidity. It all ends too quickly otherwise. The search for pleasure can take a lot of effort and control. We do it because it’s worth it, not to destroy ourselves. We do it to make the most of our lives, not to waste them. I’ll say more about all that in a moment. I like spreading the message of Haedonsim, it’s fun, and it’s sensual hearing about other peoples’ pleasures. Why am I writing to you like this? I’m enjoying it. Otherwise I wouldn’t do it.

You have to find your pleasures, the things you like most, because we’re all different. There are the obvious things, sex, food, drink, sun, beaches, partying, but there’s music and art, talking, nature, beautiful things in general. And that’s just the physical stuff. A lot of people like ideas, poetry, philosophy, understanding things.

Then there’s power. Just having it is a Haedo-kick for a lot of people, then there are all the things you can do with it. These are just the basic things. You’ll find a lot of other ideas and details on our website. Everyone can find pleasure in a number of things. What matters then is to do them because they give you pleasure, and avoid the things that don’t because they don’t.

It’s important to learn to ignore it when people talk about things like ‘sin’ and ‘guilt’. You’ll hear these words a lot; you have to understand that they mean nothing to us. I don’t know what cultural/religious background you were brought up in, but everyone has leftover ideas about what they should and shouldn’t do from what they were told when they were young. We have to unlearn them. Sin we can forget about; it doesn’t exist. Guilt is only for people who think things matter that don’t, or who worry about their ‘responsibilities’. (The best way to deal with ‘responsibilities’ is not to have any in the first place. If you’re going to have them you need to know what you want them for, and what you’re going to do about them.)

You’ll probably want to have a lot of sex. Haedonism starts with the physical pleasures, as I said. They are the centre of it all, and the easiest to appreciate on a basic level. A lot of sex, with a lot of different women, young and attractive, though that’s a matter of taste, and in the right atmosphere as well. Big clubs, where the cocktails are just right, where you can dance and take a few pills and not have to care afterwards about who they are or what you’ve done. Enjoying the moment. I don’t mean prostitutes- some people like that, of course- I mean the sort of girls you can pick up in those places.

The escapism part of it- it’s part of the pleasure- should be more in the mind, atmospheric if you like, than physical. The drink and maybe the drugs are for the fun they can be, but getting out of it needs to be about the music and the lights and the way they whisper things in your ear. And the not caring about anything, that’s important, too. You see people who regularly get wasted on the drink and things and believe me they’re not having any fun at all. They’ve forgotten what pleasure is.

Often giving pleasure to your sexual partner can enhance your own pleasure, a lot of people find that. That’s why Haedonism isn’t selfish, it leads you to think about the pleasure of others. And it isn’t just sex. Good food can taste better if you eat it with other people and you can talk to them, or you can see how much they enjoy it and it helps you to find pleasures you might have missed..."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Real Democracy Now

You may have noticed that over here in Spain the governing socialist party got a kicking in the local and regional elections on Sunday*. Why it's taken everyone so long to notice that Zapatero is little more than a monkey in a suit, whose job is to take the flack and who can't even use an autocue, and that the government doesn't know what to do about the crisis but is terrified to do anything that goes against the tenets of socialism, I do not understand. Anyhow, it augurs well for next year, when Mariano Rajoy, who is at least intelligent and personable (he doesn't look manufactured, which is extremely rare for a politician these days) might finally get the chance to show us if he can do any better. Certainly in international relations he will be a vast improvement, and, not being constrained by failed economic doctrine, he will be able to free up the markets, including the labour market, which should achieve something.

But that's the future, if it ever happens. For a week before the election people starting camping out in the main sqaures of the major cities, and many of the minor ones, all over Spain, under the slogan that is this post's title. In some places they numbered in the tens of thousands. (Here it seems to be a couple of hippies in a tent, and some of their friends who drop by at lunchtime, but this is not the centre of the universe.) In most places they are still there. They demand real democracy, by which they seem to mean representation rather than nepotism and troughing. I totally agree with them. Politicians here are as little interested in the people they are supposed to represent as in Britain, probably less so, as they used closed lists, so all the power is in the hands of the party leaders. It's them the candidates have to imporess, not the voters.

The day before the election no campaigning is allowed, for reasons that I have never really understood. But it's the law, and the electoral commission takes it seriously. On the other hand it's almost impossible to police, and hard to imagine that an election would be retrospectively anulled because of some infringement. In 2004, when Al Qaeda bombed Atocha three days before the general election, both parties took the opportunity to campaign openly and brutally on the last day, pretending they were only giving information about the attack. Six months later they were slapped on the r¡wrist and told they were naughty boys and girls.

I mention this because the commission decided that these protests constituted campaigning, and banned them on the Saturday. The protestors took no notice, the police asked the government what to do and were obviously told not to act. (Zapatero appeared on the TV to say, "The government's response will be correct, and, err, that's it." They hadn't even prepared a statement for him to read.) I suspect the police told the government they weren't going to break up a peaceful protest with riot gear, whatever the commission said, and Zapatero was well aware that it would have cost him even more votes, so there they stayed, and there they still are.

And that is the real point of this post- to point out the quite remarkable fact that these protests are completely non-violent. It is not at all clear who is behind them. I've seen a few anarchist symbols, but not much else. But anything organised by anarchists or trade unions or any such group invariably descends into violence (and the pacifists are even worse), and there isn't any. Someone is behind it, these things don't happen spontaneously, but it isn't the usual suspects, and the movement has now taken on its own momentum, and its own beliefs, which include genuine non-violence. Where it will end I couldn't say, probably nowhere, it will just peter out, but it is a very interesting phenomenon.

*The president of the autonomous region where I live has finally been kicked out in favour of the PP (centre right) candidate, who is a professional politician from somewhere down the road from Mrs Hickory's farm (Papa Cosapedal's land is bigger, which is why he could get his daughter into politics) whose interest is in Madrid. This may not be a bad thing, as the main purpose of regional presidents in the non-nationalist, non-manufacturing regions is to get money out of the central government. Barreda, and especially his predecessor, was very good at this.

José María Barreda, the outgoing president, is from here and still lives here, although the regional government is in Toledo (much nicer palaces to pinch for their parliament and offices, you see). We often drink in the same bars in the centre. He seems a decent enough chap, although he also owns a lot of land, and is from a right-wing family. His brother was a town councillor here for the PP until recently. José María, of course, was drawn to the socialist party by his principles, not because at the time it offered him a better political career, but even so, they must have some interesting conversations at weddings. I've never seen them speak, but I don't actually know the state of their relations.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Of Baby Owls

 Of Scops Owls, I think, to be precise. Something of the genus Otus, possibly Otus scops.

We have spent the wekend in the country.

Two tiny white things with wings, no more than a day or two old, an inch or so long, in a clay wine jug embedded in the wall of a parterre. Four mice, bigger than the chicks, which they were clearly incapable of eating.

My sister-in-law was afraid to work past the jug, even though the birds were the size of her thumbn and well hidden.

The mother spent much of the evening sitting on the roof, waiting her chance to join the chicks, and staring intently at anyone who got in the way. The photograph is not perfectly clear- she was good at getting the sun over her shoulder- but I can tell you that when you have been stared at in a certain way by a Scops owl- all ten imches off it- you are never quite the same again.

She will be glad we have left, and I feel a certain relief myself, on her behalf.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cycling as Art and Politics

I have mentioned a few times that I like cycling. Over here, cycling is, broadly speaking, a biomechanical process that takes advantage of a simple but ingenious machine to move from A to B more quickly and efficiently than by walking. It also provides the opportunity for cardio-pulmonary exercise and the simple enjoyment of one's surroundings.

In Britain, apparently, cycling is a political act. The impression I get from a few recent blog posts, and comments in newspapers, is that to ride a bike in England is to make a statement. There is no thought of pleasure or utility behind it. Cyclists are grim people, clad in lycra or wool (woollen cycling clothes?), with set faces, doing What Is Right in the face of the freely expressed opprobrium of their fellow man.

Why are cyclists hated in this way in the Old Country? There is vague talk of how they ride on the pavements and go through red lights. Neither of these things is a problem in itself, only when done without due care. It's not as though car drivers don't sometimes jump lights and zebra crossings, fat women don't waddle down the middle of the pavement, glaring at anyone who asks them to move aside, or teenagers don't run through the streets, barging into other passers-by. I would really like to know what it is that brings out petty spite in people who probably think of themselves as fashionably relaxed and tolerant about most other things.

The country round here, and with the exception of bits of Toledo I mean the entire Region, is well suited to bike riding. It's not especially mountainous and there is a network of footpaths which takes you just about anywhere you might want to go. I prefer walking, which is the leisure of the gods, but on a bike you can go much further in a given time, and you get a feel for the undulations of the terrain which you don't appreciate so much on foot.

One commenter on the thread linked to suggests that the only way to travel is, as he does, on a litter carried by large Nicaraguans. Each to his own, but I have to disagree with him. While I am able I shall take my rucksack and staff (a stick, that is, not attendants) and travel the world, or as much of it as I can, on my own two feet. If the body fails one day I might buy a litter, but instead of Nicaraguans I would think about hiring a half dozen of Gadaffi's female Nubian bodyguard. The link with Egypt appeals to my sense of history, they sound a lot of fun, they won't have any trouble carrying me even if I put on weight, and they may well be out of work soon.

Monday, May 16, 2011

To Almagro and Bolaños

I was cycling yesterday, through the country to Almagro and Bolaños. Almagro is a village that in the middle ages was much more important than it is now. By a series of lucky chances it conserved most of the great buildings that were built then, and the whole of the central part is now subject to protection orders of various kinds, which makes it difficult and expensive to live or run a business there, but is great for those of us who just want to go and see it. The main square is probably the finest surviving example of a mediaeval manchego square, all porticos and colonnades and wooden window cases long bent out of shape.

Most of the great buildings are owned by the government (the usual trick of increasing death duties to the point where the heirs can't hold on to them) but because it's rather out of the way for ministries and things they are mostly used for commercial and cultural purposes. The magnificent mediaeval convent of St Catherine of Siena is now a state-run hotel, and the Corral de Comedias, a 16thC patio theatre rediscovered in the 50's, is used regularly throughout the year, including an international theatre festival in July, whose reputation is also international. There are some excellent restaurants, too. I can recommend particularly the Comendador.

Bolaños has a few pretty streets and a castle, with a bit of history behind it but, although the walls are well preserved, there's nothing much of interest inside.

The countryside is full of poppies at the moment. They don't last long, but while the do the effect is striking. Worth going out there just to see them.

Friday, May 13, 2011

There is too much theory in education

From the trivium and the quadrivium, the use of Greek slaves to teach Roman children, calligraphy in the Yeshivot or Madrasahs of the middle ages, the Mediaeval and Enlightenment predilection for Classics and Greats, to the trend in the last decades towards laws which set out in detail everything that must be done in a school, national curriculum, or the last two major education laws in Spain, the LOGSE of 1991 and the LOE of 2006, which are full of aspirations and broad statements about what must be achieved, and how, there has always been a huge gap between the theory and practice of education, and the needs of the educated. This might not have mattered much when education was primarily cosmetic, or was intended to fulfil a social, religious or personal role, but when almost every child’s future depends on the quality of his education, many of the problems with the system, and there are many, can be traced to an excess of theory and a dearth of practical knowledge.

The idea that children ‘should’ learn certain things, and that they ‘should’ learn them in specific ways and for specific, lofty purposes which owe more to the ideals of the theorist than to any needs of the child, or from ignorance and outdated understanding of what education is, has led to the study of religion which is not religion, of ethics, morals, etc to replace it, which is no more than the repetition of a set of pious platitudes unconnected to reality. More to the point, it is entirely worthless in the classroom. It is considered a well-founded and unquestionable belief that schools should forge character, teach fashionable ideology as though it were agreed upon laid down eternally in stone by the whole of humanity, indoctrinate in whatever way the controlling authority wants, tell them all about sex, and what kinds are currently fashionable (see ideology above), and provide a carefully controlled social environment containing just the right number of people of different colours, religions, intelligence, ability, interests and social position. (The fact that those who control education deny the existence of variation in two-six of those categories doesn’t stop them going on about the importance of it when they have something to gain.

All of which leaves little time for learning the things that matter. The idea that education is about much more than learning useful things- and most importantly about learning to think- is an old one handed down by the tradition of a thousand years of public schools, in which that

This leads to endless discussion about whether classes are better taught as a whole, in lockstep, in groups, or individually, and the same with the setting of goals and tasks. About whether children should learn to read by whole-word methods, synthetic phonics, modelled mimicry or some combination of these. People with only the vaguest idea of what these terms actually mean will develop such an ideological attachment to their position that no common sense, experience or actual facts are allowed anywhere near the argument.

The assumption that education must be obligatory, that governments should determine what is taught and how, that school is the place for doing sport, for meeting people, for discovering, through careful direction, things about the outside world, and is in effect a substitute for life during the whole of one’s childhood; All of this needs to questioned.

Once it is broadly agreed what children need to learn, and how much of that needs to be taught in schools, the rest can be left to experienced and competent teachers. The incompetent, lazy and those who are not up to the job will be sacked, because the education system exists for the children, not the trade unions and their subscribers. Children who cannot or do not want to benefit from education will not be expected to do so. It will not lead to perfect children, a perfect education or a perfect world, but it will work, it will cost much less and everyone involved will enjoy it more. And it will take a lot less time, rather than eight hours a day, ten months a year for your entire childhood.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Why Education Matters

There was (and still is, in fact) an education for gentlemen and young ladies, whose purpose was to make them more perfect specimens of what they were intended to represent, or perhaps it was mostly to pass the time, or for the good of their souls. We need not concern ourselves with this, since it would have been of little benefit to the other social classes.

There was an education for specific trades, which was an excellent thing as far as it went, but it limited the aspirations of the artisan class by making it very hard to move out of it.

When investment and trade became more important, and the mere acquisition and working of land less so, in the 18th C, very roughly, general education in the sense that we understand it today became more important. Literacy and numeracy provided many opportunities to those who acquired these skills, and they are not at all easy to acquire if you are surrounded by people who don’t possess them, have no concept of their value, have no one to help you to learn them, and spend all your waking hours mucking out cows.

Education gives children more opportunities to choose from, the chance to aspire to more and greater things. You only get one chance at life. It is worth helping the young to make the most of it. A well-educated society is likely to be wealthier, happier, stabler and more peaceable. That is why your humble blogger, a crusty old right-winger, as you may have noticed, is quite happy to pay through his taxes for the education of those children whose families cannot provide it themselves. (The same is true of healthcare. Not dying of the first germ that crosses your path, or having your quality of life destroyed by something that can be treated, is so important to us all that it is worth helping each other out). Not the way it’s done in Britain now, of course, where both of these systems are enormously expensive and inefficient, but the principle is a good one.

From the simple and observable fact that children’s futures depend very much on the education they acquire, certain consequences more or less immediately follow. Every aspect of education should be directed to that end. There is much more to childhood and youth than education, but that part of childhood which is education should have its purpose clearly in view at all times.

Resources should be concentrated on the majority for whom their education really is their future. The way education law and policy is constructed leads inevitably to a concentration of resources, both money and teaching time, on the minority whose future does not depend on the level or quality of their education, because they are unable or unwilling to take part in adult society in any way in which education would be useful. Both in theory and in practice, bright, ambitious young people, who could be the majority in the right circumstances, are sacrificed to the need to tick boxes on behalf of people who will never benefit from it.

And that is why education matters to most people. It gives them opportunities in life that they could not otherwise have had. Getting to meet people from different sections of society, which is often given as a reason for putting everyone together, is an unbelievably stupid motive for depriving some, or many, children, of the education they could otherwise have gained. The idea that some particular kind of life experience, whose exact value is open to question, and which can be and usually is obtained in other ways, somehow makes up for the poorer education they are forced to accept, is monstruous and asinine, but it is frequently trotted out as though it were a convincing argument.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mediaeval Market

There is a bunch of eccentric types who tour the country dressed in generic mediaeval dress, recreating the feel of a market of the time. A certain latitude is allowed in terms of clothing, stall architecture and the products on sale- they have to make a living, after all- but the basic requirement is that everything should look archaic, and above all, be fun. And it is. I've seen it in a couple of bigger cities, and there are hundreds of stalls and associated activities. Here it's on a smaller scale, but it's great fun.

They come one weekend a year and the last couple of years it's been advertised as an 'Alfonsí' Market, in honour of Alfonso X, who founded the place after the nearby settlement was wiped out by the Arabs in the 13th C.

There are falconers exhibiting their birds, stonemasons who carve your face into marble, farriers making horseshoes out of boyscouts, jugglers, people doing strange things, belly dancers led around on chains by soldiers, meat and cheese products from all around the country, soaps, sweets, scents and snacks made from ancient recipes and sold in funny shapes so you know they're real, little cars made of wood that bite your ankles, the work of artisans in leather, glass, gold, silver, tempered steel, aromatic woods, and a bit of new age herbology thrown in. Good humour and archaic speech are everywhere, little vignettes and characters from past times go by as you discuss the flavour of the cheese with a chap whose gown smells of sheep and who's blacked out his front teeth.

You can get your face painted on wooden boards recovered from long-wrecked boats, your name written ornately in a variety of Levantine scripts, you can take tea in the style of a number of different civilizations that once walked the town, and expand your waistline in many imaginative ways that you won't find on the shelves at the supermarket. The smell of burning fat, scorched meat and marijuana hang in the air (they're a Bohemian bunch, on the whole, as you might imagine).

Yesterday morning there was heavy rain, but in the afternoon it was sunny and hot, and today has been the same. As a result, I have a selection of home-cured foodstuffs awaiting my pleasure. And the photos, where you can see clearly what I have to rather poorly triedto describe.