New Wine

February 18, 2017

It’s been a while since we spoke of tintoin vino veritas, so let’s enjoy a little truth.

Churchill once remarked “When I was younger I made it a rule never to take strong drink before lunch. It is now my rule never to do so before breakfast.”

The great man’s love of alcohol was well known, but I’ve always marveled, in a perplexed way, at the Saxon approach to booze.

I chose Saxon in the hope of congregating Northern Europe and North America, but really I’m looking for a word that also represents Eastern Europe,  Scandinavia, Russia… most of the NW quarter-sphere of the globe, in fact.

The odd man out is Southern Europe, from Greece to Portugal, where alcohol is generally consumed in a gentler fashion than in other nations.

These southern countries share certain characteristics in the way they drink:

  • Heavy drinking is frowned upon, even by drinkers
  • There is no religious onus about drinking
  • Strong drink (often called ‘white drink’, or bebidas brancas, in Portugal), is uncommon. If anything, it’s associated with digestion
  • You drink when you eat
  • Drunkenness is not glorified or celebrated the following day

Together, these features mean that a drink is an act of friendship and social interaction, usually in a broader context such as family. It cuts across age groups, and integrates rather than dividing, because it’s not central to the occasion—whereas food usually is.

If you visit in Portugal, it’s not particularly common to be offered a drink, certainly not on arrival. When I was growing up, alcohol was never in evidence—my mother used to drink half a glass of Port on New Year’s Eve and get tipsy, and I never met anyone who had a hangover.

It’s still pretty common in Southern Europe to see men drinking a glass of wine with their meal, but women drinking water or soda—this is not a social pressure, there’s no censure, it’s just a fact.

When I lived in England, three things immediately struck me about the drinking culture. No food, no children, and ‘the round’. All of these factors acted to get people drunk.

The last one, in particular, was a game-changer. In the south, it’s not unusual to see a couple of people buy each other a drink. But in the UK, perhaps also because drinks had to be paid upfront, a party of six would by definition have at least six drinks. If they embarked on a second round, that’s a dozen.

A fairly obvious consequence of this was that large parties got more drunk than small parties, and a proximal effect tended to be loudness and violence.

The other extraordinary thing was the race against time: because of the licensing laws, last order bells, and the like, consumers were hellbent on downing as much booze as possible in the time available.

Alcohol statistics make for interesting reading. Because of the diversity of booze, the common denominator is liters of pure ethanol (ethyl alcohol) per capita. As an aside, I was amazed to discover you couldn’t buy ethanol in the UK because people drank it neat—you can still buy it over the counter at supermarkets and pharmacies in Portugal—why on earth would you want to drink that when you can get a nice bottle of wine?

One example of these cultural differences and their consequences was the death of dozens of people in Irkutsk, just before Christmas—they were drinking bath oil purportedly containing ethanol, but in fact it was anti-freeze and meths. I don’t want to get completely sidetracked, but it says something about Siberian weather that you need anti-freeze in your bath oil.

So… fake news—oops, stats. Now, we all know stats are like men—properly manipulated, you can get them to do anything you want, so let’s engage in a little dissection. My source is Wikipedia, that well-known purveyor of alternative facts.

Belarus tops the table, with 15.5 liters of pure alcohol per year—if you think in US gallons, divide by 4. Now, a bottle of wine is about 12% alcohol, so that’s over 150 bottles of wine a year, half a bottle per day, for all people over the age of 15. If you think in beer, it’s two pints a day, everyone, every day.

At the bottom of the list are the hard-line Islamic countries. You can stone your wife, but you can’t have a drink. Pakistan comes in at 0.1 liters, less than I spill on a daily basis.

Some of the hard-liners come in with interesting numbers. Unreported consumption in Moldova is 80% higher than recorded numbers, a pattern visible also in sub-Saharan Africa. In Mozambique, a firm favorite is tou tonto, literally ‘I’m dizzy’.

Where do spirits make up over 30% of consumption? Belarus, Moldova, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Latvia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Kazakhstan, and… The United States. China comes in at 70%, that would be the mao tai.

In a bottle that looks suspiciously like bath oil, seventy proof mou tai packs a serious punch.

In a bottle that looks suspiciously like bath oil, seventy proof mao tai packs a serious punch.

I have a long experience with mao tai, a sorghum-based beverage that tastes similar to paint stripper—like the Chinese Central Committee, it must be handled with extreme care.

My deep statistical conclusion is that countries that come in above 30% have a serious alcohol problem—to use a technical term, they like to get shit-faced. I suspect that countries with a lower per capita consumption, but a high proportion of spirit drinking, do not spread that intake across the population—it’s confined to the devoted boozers.

What about Southern Europe? Greece and Spain drink a surprising volume of spirits, and Italy is missing from the group.

Portugal is very moderate in its spirits intake, which is a mere 11% of the total. It is also number 11 in the world rankings, right behind the bath oil brigade of Eastern Europe. As you’d expect, wine is the beverage of choice, and makes up 55% of the alcohol consumed.

If you compare that with the production figures (700 million liters), Portugal drinks 70% of its production.

But if you move from the big numbers to the sheer pleasure of drinking the tinto, then you must understand that you’ll rarely find the good stuff abroad.

It’s a very sticky market, to use the economic term, so purchasing is either close to source, or driven by word of mouth. Production is often from smallholdings, and supply is highly variable.

I’ve recently been discovering some Douro wines that few people know, but they come and go, which to me, is part of the fun.

The other day I came across a particularly nice one called Bafarela—it’s a lousy name, but produced by a family with a posh name: Brites & Aguiar, could be something out of The India Road.

They have a slick website, but when you start looking at their wines, there’s a link called Download technical specifications.

It’s a wine, for heaven’s sake, not a vibrator!

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Back in the USSR

February 11, 2017

I was very young when I first heard the White Album. The girl next door owned a copy, and  she came over to play it for me—a long playing record, or LP, something which has made a retro comeback these days.

I still have a bunch of LPs, archeological remains of the 1960s and 1970s, and they live in a large walnut chest I bought in Évora, a beautiful walled city in southern Portugal.

The chest is about eight feet long and weighs a ton. A couple of years ago I moved house—the movers complained about the weight, and I told them there was a corpse inside—the foreman kind of laughed—I’m not sure he thought it was a joke.

Unfortunately, someone broke the key a long time ago so I can’t fish out the albums. It’s very possible that Beatles record is still inside.

The girl was called Cristina. She was a couple of years older than me, long-legged and pretty, with full lips and brown hair. That much I remember, and perhaps a couple of other things also, but the music is definitely part of the memory.

You can hardly call the White Album themed, unless the running theme was drugs. It was a double album, since you couldn’t fit that many tracks on one vinyl record. Fans always loved double albums, not just because you got more music, but because of the artwork.

You could do a lot more with that much cardboard, and it would contain pictures, posters, and poems. The record had some amazing songs, like While My Guitar Gently Weeps, which we later christened ‘While My Sitar Gently Sweeps’ due to Harrison’s penchant for all things Indian. It was however difficult to reconcile Blackbird or Bungalow Bill with Helter Skelter and Birthday.

But Back in the USSR was definitely my favorite, and when McCartney sang the bridge, it was the Soviet version of California Girls and Sweet Little Sixteen all wrapped into one.

Well the Ukraine girls really knock me out
They leave the west behind
And Moscow girls make me sing and shout
That Georgia’s always on my my my my my my my my my mind

The lyrics are the emancipation of the Beatles from a world of monosyllables, where she-do-love-yeah-kiss-man predominated—by that time, it was understood that rock ‘n roll could include poetry and not be considered to be granny’s music.

McCartney plays drums on the track, and Ringo Starr doesn’t even feature. Some years later, when McCartney was asked by some dumb reporter whether he thought Ringo was the best drummer in the world, he replied “The world? He wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles.”

I was amazed that track made it to Portugal in the late 1960s, given the political climate. Anything that mentioned the USSR was scrutinized ad nauseam, particularly now that Portugal was fighting a colonial war on three fronts in Africa, where strong Soviet backing was supplied to the independence movements of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea.

And that song was seemingly pro-Russian, although anyone familiar with English humor would always take the lyrics with a pinch of salt.

In many ways, at the start of détente,  the Soviet Union mirrors the situation now. It was the beginning of the Brezhnev-Nixon days, the SALT talks, and an effort to thaw the cold war a little.

But whereas in those days the American position on the Russian bear was crystal-clear, the narrative out of Washington right now doesn’t match up. It would have been unthinkable to hear Johnson, Nixon, or even Carter, compliment the Soviets on their actions, never mind enter into discussions such as those allegedly had by Flynn.

All of those officials said ­Flynn’s references to the election-related sanctions were explicit. Two of those officials went further, saying that Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to the penalties being imposed by President Barack Obama, making clear that the two sides would be in position to review the matter after Trump was sworn in as president.

This segment, reported by the Washington Post, is damaging in the extreme. Perhaps I’m influenced by the excellent series ‘The Americans“, created by ex-CIA officer Joe Weisberg, but it isn’t difficult to spin a tale that the present US administration is controlled by the Kremlin.

It would be a coup worthy of Karla, Le Carré’s master spy from Moscow Center, thought to have been modeled on Marcus Wolf, from the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung of the East German Stasi.

But if you’re in the mood for a little speculation, isn’t the current president the ideal target for what is known as a honeytrap in espionage? And some of his coterie, including Bannon, are dead ringers for KGB (sorry FSB) agents.

Okay, these may be alternative facts, but at least they’re fun! In my story, the president is compromised, whether through pee-pee parties or in a million other ways. The man’s penchant for indiscretion and foolhardiness, sexual or otherwise, makes him the ideal candidate.

A strong campaign of disinformation, led by a supporting cast that integrates the executive branch, and seasoned by a little judicious hacking (DNC, the odd ballot box), makes for a terrific tale.

The payload is a Russia unencumbered by the US, and therefore in large measure by the West, that comes down hard on terrorists, insurgents, and anyone within the axis of evil.

So Russia will sort ISIS out on behalf of the US, roll back whatever bits of the Arab Spring are left, and it’s back to business as usual for big oil and the arms trade. A secretary of state like Tillerson would be helpful, since he bears (excuse the pun) the twin virtues of Russia and oil.

In this story, Bannon would be the deep-cover mole, and Trump the useful idiot, to revisit the Soviet parlance. Russia does what it wants in the Ukraine and other areas that form part of their orbit—to labor the astronomical metaphor, what used to be called satellites during the cold war.

For this to happen, Europe (and NATO) need to fall apart. Brexit is a start, and the geopolitical grandmasters are keeping their hawk-like gaze fixed on Holland, France, and Germany. The Rodina will rise again.

Yes, yes, these are all alternative facts. But it would make a decent storyline, and keep us entertained during these long winter evenings.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.


Fractured, Not Broken

February 4, 2017

In medicine, the two words are identical. A fractured bone is broken, period.

But in the minds of ordinary people, these are two different concepts. And in America today, I see the distinction in simple terms.

America is broken is an untruth, aka an alternative fact, put forward by the new US administration. There are obvious asymmetries in American society between the Haves and the Have Nots, but there is no novelty here. Overall things are far from where they should be, but far better that they were. Rust belt? Read the Grapes of Wrath, and listen to Woody Guthrie sing Do-Re-Mi. Then after that, listen to Ry Cooder cover the same tune. Turn it up, it brings tears to your eyes!

By the way, the incredible accordion player happens to be a Mexican, Flaco Jiménez—or rather, what used to be disparagingly called a wetback, an immigrant to the San Antonio area of Texas.

America is fractured, on the other hand, is no factoid. By my definition, the country is split down the middle. FACT. Not because it’s broken, but because the ideology gap is huge, and widening.

A fascinating article by Fareed Zakaria in yesterday’s Washington Post helps put that in perspective. I admit I got sidetracked on the first paragraphs, trying to apply Spoonerisms to some cabinet names.

Sean Hannity could become Hean Sannity, and Steve K. Bannon might turn into BS Kannon. Even DJ himself could become TJ Dump, at a stretch.

But as I’ve said before, what these guys say is only relevant insofar as it gives them the power base to do things. And what they do is extremely worrying. Democracy gave them the soapbox, and populism gave them the popgun. Except this popgun not only fires the traditional cork to silence the media, but is capable of far greater harm.

The Post article uses data compiled by The Economist on the role of individual US states as net donors or recipients of federal funds. I feel a table coming on…

How the fed gets and spends its money (table from The Economist).

How the fed gets and spends its money (table from The Economist).

It turns out that, based on Zakaria’s analysis (the data are from 2009)

…blue states, which voted against Trump in 2016, that fund the red states that voted for him. From 1990 to 2009, Clinton states collectively paid $2.4 trillion more in federal taxes than they received in federal spending, while Trump states altogether received $1.3 trillion more than they paid.

A report from the Brookings Institution, also mentioned in the article, tells us that the areas of the US that voted against Trump produce the vast majority of economic output—true for employment, innovation, start-up companies, and pretty much any other indicator you fancy.

Even more worrying, the less than 500 US counties that voted Clinton generate 64% of GDP, whereas the Trump block (over 2,600 counties) generates the other 36%. These are not alternative facts, but between you, me, and the truck on blocks, who cares?

The fracture is clear: the areas where there is less knowledge, less employment, less education, and greater income inequality are the support base for a range of policies being enacted by the current administration. On the other hand, the areas that thrive better economically are being penalized for their success.

Overall, the kinds of measures now considered, which include changes to immigration, increased protectionism, and ignorance of all the benefits of a sustainable circular economy that emphasizes re-use, waste reduction, and a better environment, will be disastrous.

The one thing they will not do is improve the welfare of the 36% group.

Europeans, my own folk, would do well to dwell on these numbers—I look forward to a similar analysis of the Brexit referendum vote.

To those in Europe who believe that one generation is long enough to analyze the potential of a European Union, as opposed to the previous eighty generations of European war (a well-tested model), the facts above should be food for thought.

The US gained independence in 1776. If in 2011, a federal union can still support a diversity of winners and losers among the states, and work toward a greater balance, what part of a European Union do you not understand?


The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.


January 29, 2017

As you muddle your way through life—I’m not talking about you personally, of course, just generalizing—you learn.

It is unfortunate, but often true, that by the time you learn what you need to know, you die. Then again, many people don’t learn at all, they’re happy to just muddle, whinge, and seem to miss the point that they’re on a time budget—for those folks, the vagaries of life are a constant surprise.

I’ve found that learning is far more important than teaching, so I learn. And when I occasionally share what I learn, I teach.

The most important aspect of learning is data processing. You are bombarded with data constantly, and our brains have a remarkable processing ability—you can’t even compare them to a computer—it would be like comparing your smartphone to a slide rule.

Your phone is able to hear, and to a very limited extent, it can see and speak. You, however, can recognize people and expressions, distinguish sounds and associate voices with individuals, like and dislike, touch, and smell.

Each of these ‘functions’, to use computer-speak, is hard-coded or soft-coded inside you, or even represented as a combination of both. Because we understand only the bare bones of this, we truly don’t know how it works.

Not only how it works collectively, which is a massive endeavor, but how the component parts work. To use a machine analogy, we can understand how a keyboard works, or a plasma screen, or even a logic gate, but that helps us only to grasp parts of a computer—it doesn’t give us the big picture.

You can make the same argument for a car, and possibly for a sentient being. This automatically brings in the context of religion, because when humans construct something, the typical thought process is organized from the top down—you don’t design a braking system if you don’t need to stop the car.

But all biological theory is based on bottom-up design, the notion that free-living single-celled creatures self-organized into tissues, and in the case of animals, built up those tissues into organs. The outcome? Sophisticated organisms that are supremely well-adapted to their environment—the wheel evolved into an airplane.

Our brains collect data from this remarkable set of input sensors, and convert the data into information. As you get older, the information itself can be further aggregated as knowledge, and that can be synthesized as wisdom.

In the context of the world population, the number of people who follow this four-step program is very small. You can verify this by considering how many people you consider to be truly wise.

There’s always a passive-active process at play: you read so you can write, you listen so you can talk. In the language of animal behavior, you imitate to achieve your goals.

One of the best weapons you have, in dealing with life, is commonality. The art of identifying similar patterns in widely different fields, and having the confidence to apply similar solutions, is rare indeed.

Generalization occurs when the information at your disposal, culled from this ‘big data’ which constantly hits you, starts to make sense in a broader context. When that happens, unfamiliar situations become much easier to understand, and therefore to deal with—life becomes more predictable.

Prediction is therefore another key learning step, and you soon learn whether your generalization was correct from the outcome of what it predicts.

When (not if) that outcome is totally unexpected, your prediction failed. That’s because generalization is often a false friend, leading you to make connections that are not there.

One particular danger is the generalization of scale: for instance the idea that you can scale individual behavior to societies. Or finding commonality in corporate structures and national government.

And yet humans do this again and again, without recognizing the nuances—a company can’t jail an employee, just as a nation can’t fire a citizen. And a free country will never have the hierarchy of a multi-national corporation.

The reason I’ve written a more reflective text today is, more than anything, to clear my own mind. You see, I’ve recognized and applied these principles for many years, and  they’ve often worked, but now I’m unsure. Perhaps like you, I struggle to comprehend the path ahead, to see the guiding light for America and Europe.

My life is just like yours. It contains things I do, is influenced by what others do to me, and has the obligatory element of randomness. It’s the combination of these three things, in varying proportions at different times, that makes up the word muddle.

If you think you’re able to govern your life, which implies that you can control what others do to you, and perhaps even curtail randomness, you’re a control freak. You’re also a fool.

People who think in those terms consider all unexpected items externalities. Put another way, their model was right, were it not for the cat that daintily stepped on the  keyboard and closed a rogue trade for eight billion dollars in worthless stock.

Externalities are the bread and butter of economists, who use them to explain why none of their models work—I’ll qualify that: many models do work well, as long as they’re not affected by uncontrollable factors—in societies, they always are.

You can generalize the ‘control-freak/externality’ model at a larger scale, for instance that of a national government. Dictatorships are a classic example of model application, and such regimes always end up the same way—in chaos.

The facts, and nothing but the facts.

The facts, and nothing but the facts.

This is why history is so critical—it’s the only blueprint we’ve got. A totally incomplete review of empires would give us: Rome and the barbarian hordes; China and the Mongols; the British empire and the partition of India, coupled with the Mid-East wars that endure to this day.

The effect of the United States on South and Central American totalitarianism is well-known, as is (once again) the outcome of policies in the Mid-East. In this case, the originator was not a dictatorship, but the outcomes were. The same applies to the French revolution and the rise of Napoleon.

From chaos comes order, and from order comes chaos.

And this is a generalization we can probably rely on. Sometimes the chaos-order-chaos cycle is swift, and chaos may well be the piggy-in-the-middle. That was so in Portugal: after 48 years of order (aka fascism), which included the obligatory nationalistic wars, the country went through about five years of chaos, and then settled into a middle ground. Membership of the European Union provided the buffer that society needed, stabilizing it with funding, infrastructure, and good governance.

Sometime in the mid-nineteen seventies, Kissinger recommended that the US should let Portugal experiment with hard-line communism, to ‘learn their lesson.’ That didn’t happen, but is there a certain familiar ring with the discourse coming out of the US at present?

The USSR lasted three generations, erupted into chaos over a few years, and was girdled to order by Putin—all this happened in my adult life—a huge ‘country’ with a quick turnaround.

Sometimes the chaos takes over, bringing with it wars that can last years or even decades—look to Africa, and South America—most importantly, look behind you, look to Europe.

Europe is now in perceived chaos, and there is a swamp of opportunity out there to breed the malcontents, the would-be leaders who generalized and failed. These are the purveyors of alternative facts, who hope their audiences will turn these into their new information.

If they do, we lose.

Alternate facts lead to alternate wisdom.  An Egyptian pharaoh summed it up in the year 1250 BC, over three millennia ago.

The wise man doubts often, and his views are changeable. The fool is constant in his opinions, and doubts nothing, because he knows everything, except his own ignorance.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

No Expectations

January 21, 2017

I spent all yesterday in darkness. First thing in the morning, I briefly skimmed the business channels on TV, but I couldn’t bear to look at any mainstream Anglo-Saxon news.

I found myself tuned to Euronews, about as exciting as watching paint dry—the piece described how an avalanche buried a hotel in the Italian mountains, killing thirty people. It resonated, because Wednesday I was on the phone with a guy in Rome, and twice during the conversation his whole office started shaking as the earthquakes hit.

I know his building looks out onto the coliseum and I suggested if bits started falling off he might want to head outside.

But no matter how much I practiced my ostrich imitation, my head wouldn’t give me any peace—the ‘i’ word was always there yesterday, and although I resolutely tuned out all things Trump, I kept thinking this must be how people felt when Hitler took power.

In February 1933, Hitler’s inauguration speech (I have abridged, but without changing meaning) informed the world of a new beginning.

In the profoundest distress, millions of the best German men and women from all walks of life watch, as the unity of the nation vanishes and dissolves in a muddle of political and egotistical opinions, economic interests and differences…

The misery of our volk is appalling! The starving millions of unemployed proletarians in industry are being followed by the impoverishment of the entire Mittelstand [middle-class] and artisan professions. When this disintegration ultimately reaches the German peasants, we will be confronted by a catastrophe of unfathomable dimensions. For not only will the Reich disintegrate, but with it a 2000-year-old inheritance, the most valuable assets of human culture and civilization.

The National Government will therefore regard it as its first and foremost duty to re-establish Volksgemeinschaft – the unity of spirit and will of our volk. It will preserve and defend the foundations upon which the power of our nation rests. It will extend its strong, protecting hand over Christianity as the basis of our entire morality, and the family as the germ cell of the body of our volk and State. It will reawaken in our volk, beyond the borders of rank and class, its sense of national and political unity and its resultant duties. It will establish reverence for our great past and pride in our old traditions as the basis for the education of our German youth.

Resolved and true to our oath, we will thus—in view of the present Reichstag’s inability to support this work—ask the German volk itself to take on this task we call our own. Reich President von Hindenburg has called upon us and given us the order to use our own unity to restore to the nation the chance for recovery. Thus we now appeal to the German volk to take part in signing this deed of reconciliation.

The government wants to work, and it will work. It was not this government which led the German nation into ruin for fourteen years; this government wants to lead the nation to the top once more. It is determined to pay the debt of fourteen years in four years. But it cannot make the work of reconstruction dependent upon the approval of those who are to blame for the collapse.

Now, German volk, give us four years, and then pass judgment upon us!

This morning, I see a number of articles highlighting the common ground between the words above and yesterday’s inauguration speech. I invite you to compare.

The last sentence of Hitler’s speech is the most chilling of all. And while I don’t think the comparison extends to the same degree with respect to the facts that triggered the second world war, I believe we are well on our way to the third.

I’m not suggesting the USA will initiate it, but I do think it will now help create the conditions for it to happen. And I am sure that if it does, it will have a Eurasian theater, with a significant European component.

The stimulus of Brexit, and the danger posed by the upcoming elections in Holland (March) France (April/May), and (why not) Germany (September), make 2017 the year of living dangerously.

A potential collapse of the EU, touted in cheerful terms by dangerous idiots such as Farage and Trump, indicates a complete misunderstanding of both European and American history.

Actually, take that back—misunderstanding requires study, and neither of these morons has ever studied anything in his life.

To say I am concerned is putting it mildly. And the reason is very simple. During the campaign, there was the famous quip about taking the candidate seriously but not literally, or vice-versa.

To be honest, I couldn’t give a shit about what Trump says, he’s a buffoon. An article in El Pais summed it up perfectly.

Es un llorón con un ego gigante y frágil a la vez, como un enorme huevo de porcelana.

You can read the full article here, if you do Spanish (build that wall), or you could always phone a friend (Google Translate).

Or you could ask one of those guys from Guatemala or Honduras who hangs around outside Home Depot hoping for a day’s work. Kind of changing DIY to DIU—Do It Usted.

I’m sure in the new MAGA all that will disappear, and all Americans will become empowered to do their own DIY.

If you’re not up for any of these solutions, the gist is that Trump is ‘a seventy-year-old crybaby, as fragile as a giant porcelain egg.’

I’m amazed at his claim that politicians have been the ones getting rich at the expense of the American people. While DC pols have no doubt benefited, the huge benefit has gone to big business, including investment banks.

In the first one hundred fortunes in America, not a single politician is listed—all of them are businessmen, the very same ilk that now populate the new cabinet—MAGA my ass.

But as I mentioned, I don’t give a fuck what he says. Just twitterrhea, which could be defined as talking out of your arse on twitter, with unsettling and pungent fluidity.

So why is yesterday so upsetting? Because it marks a paradigm shift.

Before this Friday, Trump could only say things.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.


January 14, 2017

It’s been a year since I pored over the maps of Andrea Bianco. At that time, I’d almost finished writing Clear Eyes, and during my research for the book I’d found copies of a map from 1436 that mentioned the Mar da Baga, which means ‘The Sea of Berries.’

Bagas are part of the Sargassum seaweed—they are pneumatocysts, to give them their scientific name, gas bladders rich in oxygen. Practically all plants are photoautotrophic—they depend on light for energy—and therefore they face a major challenge in the ocean, since things get dark pretty quickly.

Because the sea is deep, there can be no plant life below a couple of hundred feet—but there’s nothing as wonderful on this planet as life itself, and plants have adapted to the marine environment by floating.

Usually this means they have to be very small—if you’re tiny enough, you live in a weightless wonderland, the anti-gravity world of Atmos Fear. But there are advantages in growing larger—you get eaten less (though you may get nibbled), you live for longer, and you get to have sex.

Sargassum stays in the limelight because it floats—the Sargasso Sea occupies two million square miles in the western Atlantic Ocean, between the Azores and North America, and although it’s not chock-full of seaweed, there’s lots of it floating on the water.

In the fall of 1492, Columbus was stuck in it for a good while, his sails dead, his men getting increasingly restless.

Bastos awoke at dawn and looked aft—the mainsail was slack. He made his way to the gunwale and urinated, then spat into the sea. From his pocket he pulled a wad of salt pork and chewed pensively as he gazed into the green waters below.

He could see the captain talking to Pilot Nino on the poop deck, pointing at the Pinta and the Nina—both vessels were practically becalmed. Bastos lowered a baler and pulled up a tangled mass of weed.

Around him, other sailors did their ablutions and muttered uncertainly about the vegetation in the water.

Es un mar de yerba,” one of the men said, a sea of grass.

“And no land anywhere,” said another.

Mala yerba!” The two sailors crossed themselves.

The muttering grew louder, as the men again doubted whether they would ever find land to the west, and most importantly, whether they would ever return home—in one week, it would be two months since they had left Palos de la Frontera. The sea was like a pancake and the sails hardly moved.

Columbus’s fleet was becalmed in an area of high pressure, stuck between the northeast trades and the Westerlies. This pressure band, at around thirty degrees north, was later christened the horse latitudes, due to the practice of throwing the animals overboard to conserve drinking water.

The two sailors looked aft at the mizzen mast, and noted the flaccid lateen. Despair set in.

Estamos plantados num mar de coles”—we’re planted in a sea of cabbages. The men’s despair slowly turned into a seething anger at the foreigner who had put them in this predicament.

Bastos looked at the seaweed in his hand. It was a patchwork of dark and light brown, and the fronds were knotty and ribbed. The Portuguese had seen similar weeds in Lisbon—the Tagus was full of oysters, and a brown wrack was often fixed to the oyster shell—but the brown plant was smoother than this one, with bladders all along the frond.

He knew that when those brown weeds detached they might survive a short while, then die. But these ones were clearly thriving, just floating at the water surface, and there was a mighty forest of brown, as far as the eye could see.

Bastos understood how they floated—each plant had dozens of grape-like berries on it, each fixed on its own little stalk.

Berries! Bagas!

Something was bothering him. Where had he heard that word before?

“Bastos!” The captain looked down from the poop deck. “Bring me that yerba. And get to work.”

“Sir.” Bastos walked up the companionway and handed over the tangled mess.

Columbus fingered the weed, stopping at the round vesicles as if counting a rosary. “Odd. Like grapes.”

“In Portugal we call them bagas.” Bastos turned and walked down, afraid the captain would see the hatred in his eyes.

The diary of the first voyage of Columbus, compiled by Friar Bartolomé de Las Casas, contains the first account of the Sargasso Sea; of the brown weed, and the home it provides to shrimp, worms, and small fish—an ecosystem more typically found inshore, close to the sea bottom.

Las Casas is the primary source, as historians are fond of saying—how then do we find a reference to the Sargasso Sea, using its Portuguese name, in an obscure Venetian map that precedes Columbus by fifty-six years?

"Higher floor, per favore!" You might be excused for such a request at your hotel, as the Venetian aqua alta occupies the lower stories of the beautiful buildings that line the Grand Canal.

“Higher floor, per favore!” You might be excused for such a request at your hotel, as the Venetian aqua alta invades the lower stories of the beautiful buildings that line the Grand Canal.

On the plane leaving Venice last year, I wrote of my disappointment in not finding the magic words on the original map, and then my joy when I discovered I must have missed the correct folio.

Among other things, it gave me a reason to return to Venice.

A freezing wind blows across the city, and storm surges have flooded the Piazza de San Marco and other low-lying areas. The water laps at the doors of the good people of the Serenissima Repubblica, while the oblivious Chinese wave at the vaporetto from their gondolas.

Venice is still one of my favorite cities, but lots has changed for the worse. The monumental area (well, the whole city is monumental) of San Marco is a babel of selfie-stick-toting fools, and the locals are moving out in droves.

The main culprits are short-term rental platforms like airbnb, which have destroyed the residential fabric of city centers. From Dublin to New York, from Venice to Lisbon, residents have simply given up, saturated with groups tramping up and down the narrow stairs of old buildings, marching suitcases in and out, and raucously celebrating their two days in town. Premium rental price points did the rest.

Venetians have moved out of the city, going northwest to small dormitory towns like Mestre.

The flooding in San Marco meant I had to share the emergency walkways with the selfie-stick brigade, but as soon as I ducked into the library entrance, I stopped at the sign and smiled.

Italy is big on the phrase solo persone autorizzate, and the Chinese tourists hell-bent on exploring were stopped in their tracks.

They watched jealously as I pulled out my library card and crossed the hallowed archway.

I approached the guard, scanned the card, and that was it! Of course there are always a few small hitches, revalidation and registration, but I did all that with the smiling lady in the reading room.

She examined my correspondence, typed some mystery strokes into il computer, gave me a clean bill of health until 2018, and vanished in search of Andrea Bianco.

I sat at one of the long wooden tables and gazed at the beautiful bookcases, filled with the history that the new US president refuses to read, and waited.

The maps arrived. I pored. I found the Mar de Spagna, which had so disappointed me before. I looked at the spread of islands marked there. The Canaries, and particularly La Gomera, home to the insatiable Beatriz de Bobadilla, mistress of both Columbus and the Spanish king Ferdinand of Aragon, are poorly drawn.

But they are marked. Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, and Hierro, the most westerly one. If Columbus knew this map (in my book he does), it would easily support his mistaken belief that Asia was very close to Europe.

Bianco draws the Antilles, or rather a large rectangle called Ante Illa, just to the west of Hierro—he misses the detail that the two are on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

You turn the page to Folio 8. Not 6, as the library description itself tells you.

Northwest Europe. England. Scotland. Ireland. I can recognize a few place names, the Thames Estuary, astonishingly magnified, and what looks like the Mersey. Bristol is marked, as is the Severn, and southern England is fairly well drawn—I suspect we must thank the Romans.

Ireland is a mess, cartographically speaking.

The Sargasso Sea, represented on a map from 1436, over half a century before Columbus sailed.

The Sargasso Sea, represented on a map from 1436, over half a century before Columbus sailed.

To the west of Ireland (which on this chart is to the right) is a big brown circle, labeled to its right as ‘y. barzil’. The ‘y’ is for isla, or island, and the name is misspelt—on the previous page, another island near the Azores has the correct spelling.

Almost directly south (upward) another island is drawn—it looks like a crescent moon and appears to be called Ysla d’Ventura. To its right, further west, we hit gold.

Questo xe mar de baga.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.


Brown Nose

January 7, 2017

The British satirical magazine Private Eye regularly awards the O.B.N., or Order of the Brown Nose, to sycophants of the worst variety.

I tried to find an example for you, but Private Eye doesn’t do digital particularly well. Nevertheless, a trip to their site is never wasted time. In the current issue, they share two key insights.

Reports of Messiah dismissed as ‘fake news’

and, in a Christmas edition of Letter from Santa, the venerable fellow provides much needed advice to perplexed parents:

Should you tell your children Trump is real?

The best thing about ‘The Eye’ is its stunning originality—or at least that’s my view. This is not, however, universally shared. Lots of people hate the magazine: it has a substantial and costly history of lawsuits due to its investigative journalism—Private Eye broke the Milly Dowler story, which revealed unsavory links between British police and scandal-sheet ‘news desks’.

That particular story took years to get to mainstream media, and resulted in the closure of perhaps the shittiest of Brit papers, Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World. What the newshounds did was truly horrible—they repeatedly deleted the voicemail on the dead girl’s cellphone, and the poor parents thought that this meant she was still alive.

Among the magazine’s readers, there’s been a storm of ‘righteous’ indignation, and much hoohah about subscription cancellation, due to its coverage of Brexit. The Eye pours scorn on the ‘strategy’, and draws invective as a consequence.

The UK exit strategy takes a leaf from the Old Testament’s Book of Iraq, i.e. it is non-existent. There are ample parallels between what’s happening with Theresa May’s Britain and Trump’s America, not least the blaming of your country’s ills on others.

But one of the first characteristics of the so-called Strong Man, and I capitalize to generalize, is the magnetic draw of sycophants.

Perhaps this is because such people are generally major assholes, and therefore the pull of the brown nose is pungently powerful. An early diagnosis of what is to come is straightforward—both the putative puppets and the proper putins shed dissenters very quickly, and often violently.

A first sign of the brexit battles that will mark 2017 was the resignation of Sir Ivan Rogers, British ambassador to the EU.

In the US, the intelligence briefing soap opera was a very similar process.

Both bear the cross of Columbus in Clear Eyes: “a set of opinions uncontaminated by facts.”

In the US, two weeks from inauguration, Trump’s position is (for once) easy to explain. The man who thinks he knows the art of the deal is determined to let nothing kill his best deal: becoming the 45th president of the United States on January 20th 2017.

I can’t fault him for that one, and neither should you. In Britain, May is doing something similar. The Whitehall diplomat explained he was concerned about ‘muddled thinking’, and I presume he was uncomfortably close to the truth—so hot, in fact, that it burned him.

The UK brexit camp doesn’t want the truth to be known about how poor their thought process actually is, and Sir Ivan will have made this plain to his masters.

What do the US spooks and the Brit dip have in common ? They are both bearers of unwelcome news, as opposed perhaps to (rather more welcome) fake news.

Sir Ivan wrote in his resignation letter that his job was to ‘speak truth to power.’ Well, that’s a shit job (sorry, I meant a noble calling) if I ever saw one!

One of the more visible features of this brand new year.

One of the more pungent features of this brand new year.

So this is one of the gifts this new year will bring, a foul, diarrhetic stream of brown nosing.

Because, you see, the sycophant, brown-noser, or toadie, is a very particular species. I’ve learned to spot them with unsettling speed, and have always disliked them intensely.

Some people have a natural calling, but this is always exacerbated in autocratic environments. I saw it at school, in both students and teachers—it becomes immediately obvious if I use the British terminology of pupils and masters.

I saw it in society, growing up in a country where the mantra was:

Quem pode manda, quem deve obedece

He who can, rules, he who must, obeys. Or even: Able men rule, others obey. Either way, enough said.

And I’ve seen it everywhere through the decades: from notaries to hospitals, from classrooms to office parties.

The stench never ceases. The coterie that congregates around Strong Men, be they Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Mao Zedong, or your immediate boss, always has two sides—it’s a compensation mechanism for all that shit you eat.

In UK public (i.e. private) schools, the prefect system is a perfect example. Pupils appointed into the system kowtow to masters, and abuse those they rule, subjecting them to varying degrees of violence.

In dictatorships, it breeds the Goebbels, the Chemical Ali, the heads of myriad agencies of the secret police, men who always tell the boss what he wants to hear. Much worse, the system propagates downwards—the tyrannical behavior of those men to their underlings bring about a further layer of mercaptans.

As always, when we live another day, we’re looking at history in the making. But what we are watching is not new.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.


The Year the Music Died

December 31, 2016

Freedom is the lifeblood of the West, and much like the real stuff that courses through our veins, we take it for granted until there’s a spillage.

The concept is so entrenched in Western society that few of us are committed to defending it on a daily basis. Just as you can’t value what you never had, it’s hard to put a price on something that’s always been there.

That’s why all of freedom’s manifestations are important, including (and perhaps especially) the ones we dislike.

For me, 2017 will bring a number of those, but I still defend the right of free citizens to make the choices. Two things I know for sure: there will be a lot of disappointed people next year, and I won’t be short of subject matter for these chronicles—2017 is history in the making.

It’s all about Russia, China, and the United States, and the story begins in the Mid-East, as evidenced by the recent global conference that ‘forgot’ the US.

Next come the South China Sea, North Korea, and a host of other matters.  That’s when the values of freedom will be put to the test.

One of the very first freedoms to vanish is art—the expression of thought on paper, canvas, and through image and sound.

Literature and music are particularly valuable. We live in a world of video—an immersive experience where we live the lives of others—but a poem, a story, or a song sets the mind free.

The imagined characters live by themselves: Paul Simon’s boxer, Kenny Rogers’ gambler, or Joni Mitchell’s coyote. You give them the shape, the features, the dreams—deep inside they’re your dreams really.

Since freedom is all about letting you dream unfettered, words and music are painted targets for would-be tyrants, those who know better.

In a pre-Trump article in Vox, Sean Illing wrote:

Plato thought political regimes followed a predictable evolutionary course, from oligarchy to democracy to tyranny. Oligarchies give way to democracies when the elites fail, when they become spoiled, lazy, profligate, and when they develop interests apart from those they rule.

Democracies give way to tyrannies when mob passion overwhelms political wisdom and a populist autocrat seizes the masses. But the tyrant is not quite a tyrant at first. On the contrary, in a democracy the would-be tyrant offers himself as the people’s champion. He’s the ultimate simplifier, the one man who can make everything whole again.

It’s well summed up in a tweet from Voltaire.

Le doute n’est pas une condition agréable, mais la certitude est absurde.

In Australia the new year has already come, in Europe there are still some hours to go.

We can, however, already mourn 2016 as the year the music died. The list is tragically long, starting with Glenn Frey from the Eagles and ending with George Michael. In between, Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, and Rick Parfitt of Status Quo.

Sometime over the last couple of weeks, as Christmas songs invaded stores, restaurants, and radio stations, I started thinking about the place of music in religion, and how it varies from faith to faith.

Traditional Christmas music of the Silent Night variety obviously conveys a religious message, but what it mostly does is highlight that this is a happy time of year—a festive season.

So I decided to learn more about how other religions view music. My first port of call was Islam. In truth, my gut feeling was that music does not have a comparable role in the Muslim faith when compared to Christianity—the only music I could recall was a capella singing from the muezzin, summoning the faithful to prayer.

I asked the ‘Is music permitted…’ question and trawled the net.

You can certainly find sites that extol Christian rock, reggae, and rap, but the overall message seems to be that secular music is acceptable within fairly broad limits.

Matters appear to be different in Islam. One Imam provides the following interpretation when discussing forbidden, or haraam, singing.

The kinds of singing which are also unequivocally prohibited, are those that remove a person away from the worship and appropriate presence with Allah, e.g., leading a person to be involved with cross-gender mixing, lazing around, rather than taking a short break to relax from exhaustion…

The analysis further explains that almost all Hollywood and Bollywood songs fall into this sinister category. Given that both references are to movie and TV productions, I was a little perplexed by the connection—I am however pretty sure that any of the artists who are listed above would not be in the ‘permitted’ category.

I tried to explore further by googling ‘George Michael sales Saudi Arabia’ but all I got was a multiple hits about British arms sales to Saudi Arabia, including cluster bombs that have been used in Yemen.

Then I tried ‘Wham!’ and the results were (predictably) even more sinister.

So I expanded my search to the whole of the Middle East, and, as expected, the London singer turned out to be pretty popular.

I read some more religion, and according to my source, Islam appears to make a distinction between songs and music.

The kind of music referred to as malahi are abhorred and prohibited. This kind of music is simply for entertainment for dance, frivolous enjoyment and the like.

I was curious enough to check out malahi, since I have no idea what it means. Any search leads straight to YouTube, and I can’t see anything wrong there—perhaps the lyrics are subversive.

One Algerian video showed what appeared to be street music, of the kind you might see in Paris or New York—with the difference that there wasn’t a single woman visible.

Let’s celebrate the freedoms we have, and protect them for they were hard-won.

Let’s enjoy tonight, take the opportunity to relax from exhaustion, and why not, indulge in a little frivolous enjoyment.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.



A Little Peace

December 26, 2016

This year, the nicest thing about Christmas was a respite from hatred.

It’s certainly a symptom of age when you start to draw comparisons to what happened last decade, or a quarter-century ago.

This would be an unusual trait in a thirty-year-old, but once you’re close to forty and the growth curve has tailed off, you inevitably give the present the benefit of past experience.

In recent memory, I don’t recall a year so filled with acrimony, so driven by hate promoters. In Europe, you’d need to read your history, go back to the first half of the XXth century—Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Tito… you’d be spoilt for choice.

Today I want to fight all that, and sing the magic of Christmas—the wonderful message that the birth of a newborn baby can unite and strengthen a family.

It’s not faith that drives me, Mr. Wibaux is not a religious man—but I stood in a small chapel on Saturday night, as many will have done throughout the world that evening, and listened to the litany and the songs.

What’s driven me to this tiny church every year is history. There are hardly more than hundred people there, grouped into families, but together they represent a village. I know very few of them, and they don’t know me, but for a brief period we are all one.

At one point we are asked to greet one another with a simple message and a handshake. Strangers exchange handshakes and hugs, and that icy separation that seems to invade our day-to-day, promoted by television, big cities, and hate-mongers, disappears for a brief moment.

Like many village chapels, the inside is poor, the images reflect the true poverty of a nation that pretends it’s rich. Nothing there has the trappings of high church, there is no stained glass, gold, or incense.

And the congregation feels at home in this place, with a priest who is one of their own—a short man, a little rotund, whose rough country boots stick out below his cassock like a pair of large, black chorizos.

Here are the carpenters, cleaning ladies, factory workers and shop attendants. Mostly Portuguese, but also Romanians and Ukrainians. In a poor nation, there’s never an immigration problem—why would people want to come?

And there’s no terrorism problem, why would anyone want to blow us up? Terror needs headlines, as a  parasite needs a host—if someone attacked our little chapel it would make one headline on CNN, somewhere between Carrie Fisher and George Michael.

An American friend made that point when he read The India Road. “It’s a great book, but no one cares about Vasco da Gama. Now, if he had been a New Yorker…”

I’ll write less that usual today, a sort of mega-tweet. It’s Christmas, you’re with your family, and this is just a stocking-filler, in true Anglo-Saxon yuletide spirit.

Love is what we need right now, and always always always humor. So for those of you who have not yet had the privilege, hit play below.

May peace be with you.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Christmas Cod

December 17, 2016

Portugal is the second biggest consumer of fish in the world. At one point in the nineteen-sixties it was the greatest consumer—that was before the 1970’s cod wars, which pitted Iceland against the UK, in a fight which the English lost.

By 1980, when the third cod war was done and dusted, the UK’s cod catch was way down, and Iceland had overtaken Great Britain in terms of cod landings. Along the way, they became the nation that eats the most fish.

But the disputes between England and Iceland didn’t start in the XXth century—they were just the last of ten cod wars, or þorskastríð in Icelandic, that began in the fifteenth century, when the Portuguese were busy traveling the India road.

The decline of the Portuguese cod catch was due to several factors. In the early seventies, the new exclusive economic zones, or EEZ, were established—a two hundred nautical mile area around every maritime nation, with exclusive fishing rights.

The area around Newfoundland’s Grand Banks, the best cod fishery in the world, became part of the Canadian EEZ, and the cod moratorium was put in place to protect the stock.

In 1974, the Portuguese revolution completely changed the political landscape, and with it the fishing rights in the (now) ex-colonies of Angola and Mozambique.

In parallel, one of the great bulwarks of the fascist great leap forward, Salazar’s Campanha do Bacalhau—or Cod Campaign—was winding down.

From Belém to the Azores, then NW to Newfoundland, and then north to the Arctic. A journey repeated for forty years in search of cod.

From Belém to the Azores, then northwest to Newfoundland, and finally north to the Arctic. A journey repeated for forty years in search of cod.

In keeping with the dictator’s policy of ‘orgulhosamente sós’ (proudly alone), currently echoed by the populist-nationalist movements in Europe and North America, in the 1930’s Portugal decided to emancipate itself from cod imports.

To that end, various companies from the Aveiro and Oporto areas organized yearly runs to the Grand Banks, fishing cod over the summer months.

These campaigns, which departed Portugal in the spring and aimed to (but didn’t always) return before the North Atlantic hurricane season, had some interesting parallels with the XVth and XVIth century discoveries.

They were annual events, and since the majority of vessels were under sail—although many also had diesel engines—the calendar was set by the weather.

The fishermen on board were poor people, like the sailors on the ships of Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama—and although the death toll was significantly lower, every year ships were lost and men died.

The ships sailed in company, a throwback to the days when pirates roamed the Northeast Atlantic. Two thousand men crewed thirty schooners, and the fleet would gather at Belém, to the west of Lisbon.

Just as in Gama’s day, mass was celebrated, and the women and children gathered at the dockside to bid farewell to husbands and fathers.

Then it was the brisk nor’easter, sailing past the bar of the great estuary of the Tagus, and on to the Azores. From there, the fleet headed northwest to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, and then, when summer broke the Arctic ice, due north to Greenland.

Throughout the last century, Arctic waters became warmer, and the cod moved north, followed by the Portuguese. By the 1950’s, much of the fishing took place off the west coast of Greenland, near the Arctic circle, in the area of the Davis Strait.

While the hook and line gear is out, fishermen used jiggers to bring up extra cod.

While the hook and line gear is out, usually for at least four hours, dorymen use jiggers to fish for extra cod.

The cod were fished by dorymen, using hook and line—a line would be set with six hundred or more hooks, baited with herring. Although the motherships were schooners, each carried a stack of dories, small rowing boats with no rudder or keel. Each fisherman took a dory and fished on his own—the best could catch a metric ton of cod a day.

Work began at four a.m., in the long days of the Arctic summer, and ended when the flag went up on the schooner to summon the little boats aboard. Atlantic gales would sometimes cut the day short, and blasts from the ship’s siren would call the dories in.

Often, sea fog would come down, completely blocking the view to the ship—it was then the doryman was at his loneliest. Dories had only a compass for taking bearings, a conch to blow a signal, and a pair of oars—dorymen could be lost for days, anchoring and waiting for the fog to lift, surviving in freezing conditions—raw cod for food, drinking water wrung from condensation on their caps.

Aboard the schooner, the cod were gutted and split, and livers sent to the pressure plant where cod liver oil was made. Kids of my generation have an enduring memory of being force-fed a tablespoon a day of the foul-tasting oil, in the interest of health and happiness.

A timeless image of bravery: alone in a dory, a Portuguese fisherman flies the cross of the caravels.

A timeless image of bravery: alone in a dory, a Portuguese fisherman flies the cross of the caravels in the Arctic waters.

The fish sides were salted and stored, and all the other bits kept—the tongues, the cheeks, everything that’s edible in a cod made its way home—it’s still perfectly normal today to see cod tongues or ‘caras’ (faces) on the menu in Lisbon restaurants.

A typical day for a doryman could be up to twenty hours long, with four hours’ sleep after midnight, before next morning’s 4 a.m. start. The campaign would only end when the hold was full—but when you salt cod it shrinks, and the brine that came out of the fish was pumped out twice daily. Just when you thought it was time to go home, space appeared in the hold for more cod.

For that reason, Portugal is the world’s number two consumer—if you estimate the fresh weight equivalent of that salted cod, which is the correct way of making the comparison with other nations, the little country on Europe’s western edge sails past South Korea and Malaysia—and adds an extra twenty pounds per year to each person’s intake.

And that’s exactly what you’d expect from a nation where salt cod is the festive dish on Christmas Eve.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.



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