Monday, January 31, 2005

La Vanguardia's headline today is "Iraqis vote en masse despite suicide attacks". The subheads are "High turnout on day with 40 dead caused by violence" and "Bush states elections are success of his policy and defeat of terrorism". I guess that's fair enough.

Tikrit Tommy Alcoverro has to admit that even the NGOs and international commissioners agreed that the elections were legitimate, that voter turnout was at least 60%, and that it was very high in the Kurdish and Shiite zones. He does lay heavy emphasis on low turnout in Sunni Arab areas, though I read somewhere that none of the 18 Iraqi provinces had a turnout under 50%. T.T. even says that Adnan Pachachi and Carlos Valenzuela from the UN agreed that turnout in Sunni areas had been higher than expected. He's still reporting from Beirut, though.

Alfredo Abián turns loose in the signed page two editorial.

...The future of Iraq is not predictable, but its conversion into an Islamic republic appears more and more likely, over which Iran will have a certain influence. The sarcasm of history is that this ends up happening by Bush's hand. But the great tragedy would be if neither yesterday's nor future elections served for anything, and if the Sunni minority became stuck in a civil war with the Shiites, to the great satisfaction of Bin Ladenism.

Why so negative, Alf? Seems to me the Iraqis done had themselves an election. Why does that mean they're going to become an Islamic republic, and why does that mean the Iranian government, which IS increasingly disliked by the Iranian people (if you don't believe me go read the Iranian bloggers) is going to influence the new democratic Iraq? Wouldn't you figure that, say, the Americans, Brits, and Aussies are most likely to be influential over the new government, for extremely logical reasons, since it was those countries that made it possible for the new democracy to exist?

La Vanguardia actually has a guy on the ground in Baghdad, Gervasio Sánchez (who I think is a free-lance), who says he actually went out and walked through Baghdad yesterday. He's got a photo of security guards patting down a voter outside the Nadamia elementary school in the Sadun neighborhood, which he says is mixed. He quotes a local voter as saying "We Iraqis are very strong and aren't afraid of bombs," and he comments, "That seems to be true." Someone else said, "We came to vote to put an end to our tragedy and bombs will not stop us." Another said, "I'm seventy years old and I've never seen a day like this," and his wife said, "I'm only afraid of God." A woman said, "I have ink all over my finger but I'm not afraid of the insurgents' reprisals." An 84-year-old woman, who came to the polling place pushed by her family in a street cart, said, "All my life I've had to vote for the dictator Saddam Hussein and now I can vote for my people...I'm voting so that the sun can come out in this beaten-down country." Sánchez calls her statement "pure poetry", and he's not being ironic. The guy in charge of the polling station said, "90% will come out to vote and if the other 10% are scared, we don't need them...actually, we'll be happy if half those registered vote." According to Sánchez, the polling station closed down at 5 PM local time. 1433 people had voted, nearly 50% of the census. Nice reporting work, though he does include his opinion a few times and this is a news piece. Fire some of those other dopes like Tikrit Tommy and give this guy a steady job. Hey, Trevor, out there at Barcelona Reporter, offer him a weekly column.

Meanwhile, everyone over here from Kofi Annan to the French government is at the very least pretending to be all thrilled, including the German government, the Vatican, Javier Solana, and the Zaptists.

Then on page 6 there's Beirut Bob Fisk. What a pathetic windbag. Does anyone pay attention to this guy except a bunch of ex-hippies now in government service and the less prestigious universities?

ETA left a backpack bomb outside a hotel in Dénia down near Alicante; it did minor damage and slightly wounded one person. They called it in first and the cops got the place evacuated; the guests were all British retired people.

It's winter food time in Catalonia, and that means xató and calçots. Xató is a salad that includes three obligatory ingredients, escarole, salt cod, and romesco sauce. It often contains olives, tuna, or onion, and it's often served with an omelet. Romesco sauce is spicy and reddish; it's usually got roast peppers and roast tomatoes in it, and may have chopped nuts, too. You're supposed to drink a bunch of cheap red Penedés wine, too. Calçots are these long leeklike onions that you roast over an open fire until they're almost burned on the outside; then you pull down on the bottom of the calçot and if you know how to do it, the skin slides right off and you then dip the roasted leeklike thing in romesco sauce. And you drink the cheap red Penedés wine. The sauce for calçots is usually nuttier and not as spicy as the sauce for xató, though they're pretty much the same thing. Calçots are generally thought to originate in Valls and xató is claimed by several coastal towns, including El Vendrell, Sitges, and Vilanova i el Geltrú. The calçot-xató heartland, between Barcelona and Tarragona, is also curiously the heartland of the castellers, those guys who build thirty-foot human towers, and not infrequently the whole thing comes crashing down.

My wife Remei is from the inland edge of this region, and her family does both calçots and xató at home when they're in season. That area of Catalonia where she's from, right on the edge between the Lérida and Tarragona zones of influence, is probably not coincidentally the part of Catalonia I like the best. I also think the castellers and the calçots are just about the coolest local customs, along with listening to habaneras and drinking queimada, eating roasted chestnuts and nut cakes (panellets) and drinking moscatel, eating turrón (like almond brittle) and drinking cava, and watching soccer and drinking beer. There's also that old standby, hanging around the local bar and trying to get in the dominoes game.

I just noticed that all my favorite local activities except the castellers involve drinking, and I'll bet some of the casteller guys have had a few shots off the porrón, too.

Dumb supposedly traditional Catalan activities: Sardanas. Boring and the bands hurt my ears. Parades of giants (these huge ancient papier-mache figures). Boring. Correfocs. Phony (a newly-invented alleged tradition) and dangerous, besides being noisy. Burning suspected Jews and heretics at the stake. No, hey, wait, that's actually pretty cool, at least if you were King Martí the Humanist. The populace generally approved of an occasional Jew-flambeéing and on occasion demonstrated great enthusiasm.

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