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NORTH-AFRICAN IMMIGRANTS IN RURAL CENTRAL SPAIN

( This paper was never published. Some 12 years old, still worth reading and give consideration. It is reproduced here to anyone's curio...

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Inocentes

El “modus operandi ” consiste en que los tres niños entrasen en la entidad bancaria exhibiendo periódicos gratuitos (MésTV, Metro, etc.) como si los repartiesen. Caminando deprisa se introducen por entre la gente que hace cola, llegan hasta los mostradores y se acercan pasando la mano por encima y, con la misma velocidad salen del banco. Afuera les espera un adulto que recoge la “recaudación” e, inmediatamente, se dirigen a otra entidad bancaria. En poco más de una hora se han recorrido todos los establecimientos de la Rambla.

Parece un guión extraído de “Oliver Twist”, solo que en vez de ser huérfanos londinenses de la época victoriana son inmigrantes rumanos, de etnia romaní.

A la tercera oportunidad que me los topé me dirigí al adulto que se acercó como curioso. Le informé que lo que hacía era un delito en este país: inducción al delito a un menor. Corrupción de menores. Masculló unas palabras y con un gesto de escepticismo o desprecio se dio la vuelta y se dirigió a otro banco.

Los niños son inocentes. Hoy 28 de diciembre es su fiesta ¿no?. Pero el adulto es un delincuente.

Llamé al 091 y me colgaron el teléfono después de informarme que tenía que hacer la denuncia por escrito y en comisaría. La Guardia Urbana se mostró más interesada y mandó un coche patrulla. Pero el oficial de guardia, extrañado, me llamó por teléfono para preguntarme porqué mostraba tanto interés por el caso (sic!). En la Fiscalía de Menores me dijeron que si los niños tenían menos de 14 años ellos no intervenían.

Pues alguien debería hacer algo antes de que, por el camino que van, un día decidan probarlo con el chalet de un joyero y un segurata les meta una bala en la cabeza.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Philip the Second’s mistake

One of many. Reading the history of Spain one can’t but deplore the shortsightedness of the rulers, particularly that of the most influential.

Just trying to understand today’s minor issues, for instance: the classical rivalry between Barcelona and Madrid soccer teams, I went back over some history books for enlightenment.

They have recently found some new remains of the original Iberian wall of the city of Barcino in the old part of town, “el Barrio Gótico”. Indeed, Barcelona was an original Iberian settlement, back in the 3rd century B.C., later colonized by the Carthaginians. The story goes that Barcelona got its name from Amilcar Barca, head of the Barca family and father of Hannibal. So Barcelona has been in existence for some 2200 years.

Madrid was just a Moorish castle erected sometime in the 11th century (“Madrid, castillo famoso/arde en fiestas su coso/ por ser el natal dichoso/de Alimenón de Toledo….”). It was just that until the XVI century, when Philip the Second of Spain decided to make it the capital of his realm. Tired of freezing his butt in the inhospitable winters of his native Valladolid, he moved south to the gentle hills of the Southern “meseta” past the Central Mountains of Guadarrama, following the advice of some geographical experts that told him that it was the “center” of his world.

That was the vision of a Castilian land-lubber, keener to “physical geography” than to political o social conditions.

By that time he was already the king of Portugal as well, right after the death of King Sebastian in Morocco. He had been married to a Portuguese princess and then became widower as she died of childbirth. (She had mothered the Crown Prince Carlos, the Don Carlos who was going to give so much trouble to his father later on). And he was the rightful heir to the Portuguese throne.

In a historical moment when the ruling of the seas was going to be the mainstay of power, he could have made Lisbon the capital of his vast empire. Lisbon was the “geographical” center of the world, the real new world; the hinge of the Old and the New worlds. That would have been a real “imperial” view, of a global empire.

Instead he got himself (and the country) into trouble for the sake of a religion I am sure he did not believe in, using the Inquisition as a controlling sectarian force and accusing the Catalans of heresy just because they did not want to pay so many taxes to cover the expenses of the war in Flanders.

… and then comes the FIFA and gives the 2006 Golden ball to a Real Madrid defense back Italian bastard instead of our fantastic Ronaldinho...!!! Damn!!!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Un cuento de Navidad

Embarazada de 31 semanas de gestación y con gemelos que se pone de parto en Ibiza y, como allí no pueden hacerse cargo de una situación potencialmente complicada, se procede a trasladarla. Pero no se encuentra un hospital disponible para acogerla ni en Mallorca, ni en Barcelona ni en Valencia, por lo que acaba siendo trasladada al aeropuerto de Reus-Tarragona y de allí al Hospital Universitario de Tarragona Juan XXIII, donde da a luz al cabo de una hora escasa (madrugada del 1 de diciembre). Tanto la madre como los recién nacidos, niño y niña, se encuentran bien. La madre ingresada en la planta de maternidad y los bebés ingresados en la Unidad de Cuidados Intensivos Neonatales del hospital, donde tendrán que permanecer varias semanas.

Buscar acogida para una mujer de parto recuerda la aventura de José de Nazaret y su señora, ahora hace 2006 años. Que el peregrinaje en búsqueda de acogida se haga en avión y que acabe en una UCI neonatal y no en un pesebre no es más que un signo de los tiempos.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE HEAT

I am just surprised no one, thus far, has used this headline to refer to the Litvinenko affair. The poor guy has been buried in a special coffin to prevent radiation leakage. His is a very hot body.

This strange story takes you easily back to the Cold War years and all the cloak-and-dagger affairs the two superpowers carried on all over the world. With a little help from their friends, indeed, being those the Mossad, the Bulgarian secret services, the French Deuxieme Bureau, the Stasi, and a whole bunch of others more or less recognized shady operators.

The poisoning of Litvinenko has all the trappings of a KGB operation, now taken over by the FSB, as the intelligence services of the Russian Federation are now known. Old habits die hard.

Somehow, however, the British have decided this is just a crime, not a crime of state. Readier to admit the affair more as an embarrassment for the Putin government than his doing, they have obtained full cooperation from the Russian authorities.

The use of such a sophisticated killing method, poisoning with a rare radioactive isotope such as polonium-210 is, at least, convoluted in its development. Looks like the killers wanted a gradual progression towards death for some unknown reason. Killing anyone is a relatively easy matter: gunshot, knife, cyanide poisoning or just a gentle shove in a tube station platform just before the train enters the station… Quick and neat. Now is a mess and the polonium has left a trail all the way from the London hospital where Litvinenko died to several toilets in London restaiurants and hotels, at least 14 British Airlines planes, a Schleswig-Holstein home in Germany, and even Moscow.

Litvinenko had ample time to talk to the authorities and the press, getting all the publicity he could ever wanted. Is it a matter of clumsiness in the part of the killers or is just the intended effect? Indeed, a good script for a spy movie.
Reality often outsmarts fiction: John Le Carre, eat your heart out.

What calls my attention in this story is the radioactive part. Living within a 45 minutes car ride from three nuclear power plants (the fourth, “Vandellos I”, a Chernobyl era old chugging contraption that almost blew up some 15 years ago, is in a never-ending process of being dismantled) keeps me very sensible to nuclear energy and its effects on the human body.

It also seems almost forgotten the ominous fact that the nuclear arsenals of the superpowers (and Russia is still one) hold enough megatons to blow up the entire planet 100 times over. We seem to only shiver a little when somebody announces that so-called rogue states such us North Korea o Iran are about to build atomic bombs, as if the thousands of warheads already existing were not likely to blow up at the whim of one government or another.
Some time ago I was about to join the “Doctors Against Nuclear War” association, just when they got the Nobel Peace price. In an “ex post facto” sensation I felt it was not worth to join anymore. A sort of a “mission accomplished” feeling. Perhaps we need an association of “Doctors against Nuclear Peace”, or “Against Nuclear Energy Of Any Type”

Not that I do not recognized the many good uses of radioactivity, particularly the uses in Nuclear Medicine and radiotherapy, but I keep wondering if the world would not be a better place had the Curie espouses decided to get into cheese making or founded a winery in Alsace, instead of messing around with nuclear isotopes. And if Albert Einstein had used his marvelous relativistic mind to write poetry instead.

May be the next time around. If there is one.

The very best

- An American salary… and a Mexican job

- An Italian wife… and a French mistress

- A British home… and a Tuscany landscape

- A German car… and a Russian driver (body guard)

- A Swiss accountant… and a Swedish doctor

- A Catalan (perhaps a Chinese) cook, and a Spanish winery

- A Dutch secretary… and a Thai masseuse

- An Hindu servant… and an Argentinean stable boy

- A Japanese laptop… and a Finish cell phone

And the worst is just the opposite...?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Elections in Catalonia

The Catalans are back to the polls, almost one whole year before the end of the mandate period, as a consequence of the approval of the new Catalan constitution “L’estatut”. That, and the fact that the governing coalition of three parties , the “Tripartit”, was broken on differences over “L’estatut” and a few other major troubles that untied the flimsily woven accord of governance.

Granted that the three parties, identified as “leftists” had major differences to start with, being the Catalan Socialists Party (PSC) a rather benign social-democrat much in the line of British Labour Party, the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) a more radical Catalan nationalist republicans and the third member, Iniciativa per Catalunya-Verds (ICV), a melange of Euro-greens and what is left of the old Catalan Communist Party. Together they overcame the 23 year old governing coalition of rightist nationalists (CiU) while the representatives of the conservative party of Spain in Catalonia, the Partido Popular (PP) was just and excluded minority.

Now these five parties are again in the race and the perspectives are way up in the air.

The candidates are not precisely glamorous, rather lacklustre apparatchiks with long stories of wheelings and dealings in the convoluted Spanish political scene, but not very enticing for the common citizen elector.

The programs offer also very little. Catalonia is still very dependent of the Central Spanish Government. Although the new constitution, “L’estatut”, was meant to grant more autonomy, the final accord fell quite short of many Catalans expectations. The promise of getting more autonomy –and more money—from Madrid in developing the new “estatut” will not get much credibility, no matter who is promising. The socialists (PSC) because their Spanish counterparts, the PSOE, now in power in Madrid already cut the “Estatut” short, and the rest because they will have difficulties pulling off concessions from what are their political adversaries.

The Catalans are, however, a rather accommodating bunch. Prompted to compromises and used to find middle grounds in their way to conduct business, they come from a two millennium history of merchants and traders that once ruled the Mediterranean when outsmarted Venetians and Genovese and even the Popes during the Renaissance.

Today Catalonia is one of the leading countries (as a country it is, though not a state) in the economic development of Europe. What is being called “The Mediterranean Arch”, the coastland from the Italian Liguria all the way to Valencia, accepts Barcelona as its capital, over Marseille or Genoa. The commercial corridors from Milano to Toulouse are extended to Catalonia as the fastest developing region in Europe. Tourism is booming with almost ten million visitors this past year.

Catalans will not put any of this at risk by giving the majority to one single party. They had enough of that after 23 years with CiU, and the PSC, tto dependent of Madrid cannot pull out a majority either. My bet is that the share of the electoral pie will be pretty much the same it was in the last elections, with some minor changes that will be modulated in the post electoral accords between the parties, as the inevitable coalition government is constituted.

Long life to compromise.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

El mal i el dolor

Fa dies que volia escriure a tall de les manifestacions d'autoritats religioses i civils sobre l’existència del mal i les dificultats dels homes per a entendre la seva existència en contraposició al be de Deu i la seva absència en moltes circumstancies terribles de l’actualitat.

Potser que arrenca de les manifestacions del Papa Ratzinger a la seva visita als restes dels camps de concentració nazis d’Alemanya. "On estava Deu?", es preguntava, igual que altres s’ho han fet en relació a la recent guerra del Líban.

Mirant la història, el passat sense massa ira, hi ha innumerables tragèdies, naturals o causades pels homes, que semblen reafirmar la presència del Mal i de rebot podrien negar la d’un Deu misericordiós de les víctimes: tempestes, erupcions volcàniques, inundacions, guerres, pestes, fams... els quatre o potser cinc genets de la Revelació galopant per tota la terra sense descans i sense pietat...

No tinc formació teològica (ni tampoc massa interès) per a argumentar sobre la presència de Deu i la del Mal, personificada aquesta com a diable o rei de l’infern. Les simplificacions maniqueistes no em semblen prou raonables. Ni tampoc tinc humor per a considerar les figures literàries del Mal, des de Mefistófeles fins als dimonis dels “Pastorets”. Ni m’agrada gens la tan estesa moda cinematogràfica nord-americana de les pel·lícules de terror demoníac.

Però per la meva dedicació professional, m’hi trobo sovint en situacions on el patiment, el dolor, l’angoixa pel sofriment ocupen un ample espai i temps. I, habitualment les víctimes son de les que, comunament, es reconeixen com a innocents, si és que totes les víctimes, pel sol fet de ser víctimes no son ja innocents; em refereixo als nens.

Quan aquestes víctimes o els que les acompanyen demanen explicacions: el com ha estat, com a pogut ser, que ho ha causat, el perquè, el perquè ell, el perquè ara... no resulta fàcil donar explicacions. El recurs més comú es la referència inconcreta a “La Biologia”, “la feblesa del cos humà”, la sort o la dissort, o el destí.

Hi ha un punt però que vull comentar. La proximitat sinònima que al català te el “mal” amb el “dolor” i la consideració que el dolor es pot evitar i que és innecessari, especialment el dolor inferit em porta a pensar en la necessitat de l’existència del “mal”.

El dolor, el dolor físic, concretament, hom entén que ha d’ésser evitat. S’ha de combatre. S’ha de alleujar i, en la mesura del possible, anul·lar-lo amb els recursos de que hi disposem: analgèsics i anestèsics. I essent doncs indesitjable, el dolor, no fora millor que no existís? No hauríem de trobar una “vacuna” contra tot dolor?.

Be, doncs no. Ja sabem que els individus que pateixen anestesia neurògena, absència de dolor, tenen una vida curta: com que res els hi fa mal, no saben defensar-se de cops, caigudes i accidents.

El dolor, que hi ha coses que fan “mal”, ajuda a aprendre a protegir-se un mateix. I des de ben petits. Quan un infant toca un objecte calent o punxant adquireix l’experiència del perill de l’indesitjable. El dolor d’una part del cos, d’un òrgan, una articulació o un queixal, et posar sobre avís d’un possible malfuncionament o patiment. Del dolor n’aprenem.

El dolor, el mal, existeix. Es indesitjable però no inútil.

El “Mal”, probablement també.

dissabte, 26 / agost / 2006

Sunday, August 20, 2006

La piel de cabra

Los blogs deberían tener la disciplina de "Mi querido diario". El mío no. ¿Será "querido hebdomadario"? Me acusan, en privado, de escribir sólo los domingos y ni siquiera todos. Como los columnistas de los suplementos dominicales de los periódicos.
Aprovechando este agostado domingo miro hacia atrás y a mi, lo que me llama la atención de este blog es que casi me he olvidado de la idea del trilingüismo que anunciaba al principio y que hablo más de muerte que de vida...
A saber. Un crítico literario me decía hace tiempo que un libro de éxito, me imagino que una novela, debe contener una muerte en la primera página. Como un aviso. Así se atrae la atención del lector que seguirá leyendo a ver que fue lo que condujo a esa muerte. Y, en cambio, no hace falta que las novelas acaben con un muerto al final.
Me imagino que ese es el atractivo de las novelas de crímenes. Y quizá lo que llevó a Gabo García Márquez a mejorarlo anunciando la muerte en el mismísimo título cuando lo que en realidad se anunciaba era su imparable éxito literario.
Los domingos son para el ocio y el descanso, pero a mi frecuentemente me pillan trabajando. Aunque como mi tarea tiene una cierta intermitencia, igual hoy me permito aprovechar para ver una corrida de toros y un partido de fútbol en la televisión, epitome del ocio hispano.
Por ejemplo la última de la feria de San Sebastián: Victorinos para Juan José Padilla, Luis Miguel Encabo, dos veteranos consagrados y para Ivan Fendiño, un novel que es de Orduña, o sea de la tierra. Los "vitorinos" aparentemente siguen siendo lo que eran, ahora que casi nada es así. Enormes, bravos y con unos pitones monumentales.
Si alguien se cree que esto del toro va a menos que se lo pregunte a la familia Chopera que, junto con el ayuntamiento de Donosti han construido una plaza que parece un estadio deportivo americano. Ahí van todas las contradicciones e incongruencias de esta sociedad contenida en la piel de toro que y por ahora, se conoce como España, especialmente desde fuera de ella. A ver si se puede mezclar bien industria de transformación con gastronomía de postín, con nacionalismos leninistas violentos, festivales internacionales de cine, el suelo urbanizable más caro del sur de Europa, el "Eusko Gudari", los hierros de Chillida, las cooperativas de Mondragón y esa plaza de toros de Chopera en Irumbe. Y eso es en esa esquina. En el otro extremo están los cayucos abarrotados de guineanos desembarcando en la playa de Maspalomas en Gran Canaria para deleite de los turistas alemanes.
Como no hay quien lo entienda, me abstengo de interpretarlo. Me limito a constatarlo.
Por cierto, que creo que eso de que el mapa de la península es una piel de toro no es más que una figura literaria nacionalista rancia. En realidad es una piel de cabra. O ¿acaso alguien duda que la cabra, la puta de la cabra, la Capra hispánica, sea el animal español emblemático?
De toda la vida. El toro de lidia es una subespecie criada para la fiesta y con unas dimensiones manejables para los españolitos.
Los polacos se comieron el último uro, el Bos primigenius, el padre de todos los toros, en 1627. Y eso era una bestia de casi dos metros en la cruz y que pesaba dos toneladas. O sea, no apto para corridas.
Así que la piel de cabra. Un poco reducida a dimensiones cotidianas, quizá sea posible entender esto de la España. Lo que no va a haber quien entienda es a los españoles...

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Counting the dead

These days I am getting quite a few e-mails on the Israeli-Hizbulah conflict. Or shall I say the new Lebanon war?.
One in particular, from a Canadian, called "coffin" something, counts the dead. In his page shows the numbers as little coffins. The current tally is of some 30 Israelis, 4 UN force men, and some 500 Lebanese. He gets the figures from the BBC reports.
It's a bad thing to count the dead. In Spain, 70 years after our Civil War we are still counting the dead from both sides. 500.000 is a commonly cited figure. Jose Gironella, a writer, entitled one of his novels about the Civil War "One million dead", pointing out in the prologue that there were 1/2 a million but another half million died in their souls.
Do not count the dead. One is just one too many.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

ENRON, KEN LAY AND CAPITALISM

No doubt that the Enron scandal is the typical affair that gives capitalism its bad name. Just as I was browsing through the first pages of “Conspiracy of fools”, a book by Kurt Eichenwald, another NYTimes writer, on the Enron scandal my daughter Barbra gave me recently (and that I am saving for after I finish “Flu”), the news came about Ken Lay’s death, apparently from a heart attack.

I’ve read Ken Lay’s biography in the newspapers: the modest family young boy that made good. First in the Administration and later in Corporate America to lead one of the largest companies in the world of the energy business, to end up, through lies, financial engineering and utter mismanagement, starring a tremendous downfall that ruined hundreds of investors and brought down with it the Arthur Andersen accounting behemoth.

Now he is escaping justice by just dying off and it won’t be of any use for his creditors to dance a fandango over his gravestone.

Back some years ago while the whole scandal was breaking up someone (Was it one of “The Economist” headings?) asked “who is auditing the auditors?”. For audits and regulations are the tools of capitalism control… except when something gets to be big enough to scare everybody, including auditors and government regulators.

In Spain we have our share of high flying crooks as recently was discovered around the “Forum Filatelico” investments scam that just evaporated the savings of some three hundred thousand small investors, manly retired and modest And misters De La Rosa and Mario Conde are currently enjoying the hospitality of the Spanish jail system after their ambitious crookery back in the late nineties proved to be too much for our always inefficient judicial system.

Still all of this together is not enough to invite anyone to change the system. Capitalism is here to stay and one just has to be more keen in controlling thieves and robber barons dressed in Armani. Not that there is anything new under the sun. I have some idea that it was Croesus, in the old Roman times, that staged one of the first recorded delinquent bankruptcies under whatever name they gave it those days. The only difference could be that the Romans were a bit more expedient and simply beheaded the wrongdoers instead of wasting millions in lawyers and legal fees.

Indeed capitalism will survive. As for capitalists, who ever wanted to be the richest tenant in the graveyard?

Sic transit.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

GENERAL TRAVEL RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ADOPTING PARENTS

With a wide range of differences depending of the country where the adoptee is coming from and even the time of the year, there is a set of recommendations for travelling parents common to most of all.
ATTITUDE. No matter how exciting the adventure of adopting a child from a foreign and usually exotic country is, the focus should be place in the fact that we are going to travel with a small child, an infant in most cases.
Babies like it simple. So do wise parents. The less contraptions and accessories, the better. Just watch what local mothers do in Third World countries.
Do not overload yourself with luggage. Think ahead when you travel in, because on the way back you’ll have to carry an extra 10 kilo piece of luggage: Your baby!!!Travel is always a hassle, so try to “unhurry” yourself. Plan ahead and take as much time as possible to get to places to avoid rushing and last minute runs to the airport gates.
On the other hand, try to stave off long waiting periods in uncomfortable airport lounges. If there are lines to keep, have just one of the members of the travelling party stand the line (that usually means the daddy) while mother and child sit around in a quiet corner.
A quiet mom keeps a quiet baby. However, babies tend to cry for little or no reason, so do not get upset if your baby gives you a hard time during the trip and waiting periods. No matter how little, he or she will be just as excited as you are from the new experience. Try to soothe him naturally once you have assured yourself that he does not need feeding o changing nappies. Cooing and rocking have always been the normal human way to quiet down a wailing little brat.

THE OTHER’S ATTITUDE. Not everybody likes children. Many adults feel annoyed by the presence of children in the usually close quarters of a travelling vehicle, bus, plane or whatever. It is your worry trying to avoid being a nuisance to others.
Also, in cases of obvious adoption, that is when the ethnic features show clearly that the parents are not biological, some brows may be raised in surprise or contempt. Adopting children from a poor country is not always seen with sympathy. So do not force your happiness on anyone nor expect any special treatment for carrying a baby.
Due to gender differences and behaviours in most Third World countries, women, mothers, keep to themselves and hardly ever make eye contact with others. You’ll be better off melting in with the crowd and try to behave like a local mom. You do not have to wear a “burka”: just pretend you do. A head scarf might help.

But just the same do not put up with stupidity or rudeness. Your baby is the most important thing in the world. Think on his/her and his/her outmost benefit and act consequently. Just as lionesses do…

TRAVEL KIT.

CLOTHING. When you get your child you may well change him to new (your) clothing. The simplest garments the better: a two pieces, shirt and pants, preferably cotton, washable and of light colours. Better oversized, he’ll fill them in eventually. Depending of the climate and temperature some other pieces may be added. Better fewer pieces or swaddles. Avoid the “onion baby” with four or five shirts, pullovers and jerseys. Keep in mind the temperature changes during the day and night and the air-conditioning in planes, as well as the sudden changes on boarding and unboarding.

For babies, one piece suits, bottom and back opened feet included, usually come handy. Make provisions for at least one change of everything because soiling is unexpectedly common.

Your provision of diapers should consider up to some six to seven changes in a 24 hour period. All the same, a little urine in a diaper never harmed anyone, so do not be over-compulsive in diaper changes.

FOOD AND NURSING. It will, of course, depend on the child’s age. For small children, babies and toddlers a set of two bottles, plastic washable, one for water and one for formulae, and a provision of nipples. Use only bottled water from unopened containers both to drink and to prepare formulae. Milk and baby-food in general do not need to be heated and may be given at room temperature[2]. If is too cold, just warmed it with your own body heat, keeping the bottle close to your own body for a few minutes.

To wash and clean bottle and nipples soap should suffice, as most children taken into adoption are of an age when they have already acquired a normal intestinal flora for the region where they live. Other than that and since boiling may not be feasible while travelling, the best disinfectant is plain regular lye, apt for human consumption. One tablespoon per litre of washing water will clear most common contaminants. Remember that the proportion for drinkable water is just 20 drops of lye per litre.

You may use whatever formula you bring with you from scratch. Changing formulae may upset the babies digestions, but that may happen just as well for changes in the water the formulae are prepared with. You may as well accept or purchase the formula the baby has been taking until then, as long as you get unopened and sealed containers. Discard any opened or used can since no guaranties of preservation can be taken for granted in most institutions.

Remember to prepare the formulae following strictly the manufacturers instructions. And do it yourself. Do not let hotel personnel, stewardesses or anybody else to prepare your child’s formula. You may not have previous childrearing experience, but you cannot trust what they have either. You’ll learn in the doing and your child will get used to your mistakes. That’s what mothering is.

In any case you’ll be better off with the lowest concentrations, that is: keeping the milk a bit clearer, with more water content. Your main concern should be around thirst, not so much about hunger. Specially if the baby, because of the changes, has more loose stools or frank diarrhoea. If the baby acts hungry just give him some more quantity, or feed him/her more often. The purpose is to keep the child happy and hydrated. You’ll have plenty of time at home to nourish and fatten your child, and that just if he/she needs so, because nutrition is a matter of quality, not quantity.

MEDICINES. You just cannot take with you the whole pharmaceutical production of industrialised countries. You will not need it either. Provisions just have to be made for minor ailments as for anyone travelling. Should you or your child or anyone else in your party get really sick you’ll just use the local medical resources. That should be better than trying to play doctors in the jungle.

Therefore the remedies to use are mostly those considered symptomatic: pain relievers, soothing creams, antacids, antibugs lotions, nose and eye drops and perhaps laxatives, although Moctezuma may prove otherwise. Prescription drugs should be kept for doctors, even in the Third World. They ought to know better, at least locally. Just the same it might be a good idea to carry along an antibiotic for general use in case of an obvious infectious problem while we get to proper medical care.

A list of medicines and doses is provided below.

TOYS AND ENTERTAINING. Toys, pacifiers and child entertainment devices are Western cultural constructions. Save yourself troubles and weight and forfeit toys and other useless things. Children can be distracted, entertained and otherwise amused with simple things like a piece of paper, clothing or just their own hands and feet. Save the teddy bears and overhead hanging mobile contraptions for grandparents or old aunts on due time. Still, the best, more universal of toys, is a ball[3] appropriate for the child’s size… that you can always model with a newspaper sheet.

Pacifiers may start a war instead of make peace. Specially when a child used to suck that dreadful invention looses it and starts crying in desperation. And be worth a king’s ransom when you come to grips with fixing your child’s denture before adolescence. Orthodontics are close to highway robbery in costs of money and to jail terms on time consumption. A con’s world.

In case of an emergency you may resort to a bottle nipple, or momma’s own, to cork up a screaming little fellow.

BATHING AND HYGIENE. One bath a day should suffice, other than what may be needed around diaper changes. The water just above body temperature in submersion baths. But, while travelling, a sponge bath may make do. Make sure you revise crevices and skin folds to avoid accumulation of grime and wash the hair at least every second day.

For skin care oils are better, as ancient Egyptians and Romans knew. But carrying bottles of oil may be difficult and if opened within a suitcase generate quiet a mess. So you may stick to baby lotions but do not overdo yourself. A baby with a healthy skin needs little protection. Just cleaning.

Sun screens are for Westerners. The best protection from the sunrays is a shade. In Spanish, and they (we) do know about sun, “sombra”, “sombrilla”, “sombrero” and “sombrajo”[4] are key words to keep cool.

Table 1. Medicines and remedies for travelling parents

PRODUCT

USES

DOSAGE

Acetaminophen

Fever, pain medicine

Children Drops: 10-15 mg /kg body weight

Adults: 500 mg tablets

Ibuprofen

Fever, pain medicine

Children Drops or liquid: 5 mg/kg of bw 3-4 times daily

Adults: 400 mg tablets

Saline solution: 0.9 % salt in water, sterile

Eye drops, cleansing

Ad lib

Ampicillin (Antibiotic)

Infections. General, diagnosed (ear infection, pneumonia, severe skin infection)

Children: oral solution, 50-100 mg/kg/day in 3-4 divided doses.

Adults 0.5 gr, 3 times daily

Albuterol, Salbutamol, bronchodialator

Asthma, bronchitis and bronchiolitis

Inhaled. One “puff” as needed. Children use of a breathing chamber[5]

Antiparasitic lotion, anti lice lotion

Lice

Apply after hair washing, twice daily

Tiorfan. Anti-diarrhoea

Regular diarrhoea. Not for salmonella infections

Babies 10 mg/feeding

Toddlers 20-30 mg/feeding

Adults 60 mg 4-5 times daily

Antibiotic eye drops

Conjunctivitis

One drop in each eye every 2-4 hours for one day

Skin disinfectants: iodine, iodine derivates,

Erosions, little wounds

Apply as needed, generously




WC Fields, a cynical an very funny North American clown and showman way back in the 1930’s used to say that “... a man who hates dogs and children can’t be all bad….”

[2] We drink the best of the wines “chambrèe”, don’t we?

[3] Think of the millions of people and dollars that go around a ball in football and basketball courts around the world.

[4] Shade, umbrella, hat, and thatch.

[5] You may make do with a water plastic bottle with the bottom cut off

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Shakespeare, Mathausen, A farewell to arms

The Bard is due for another year celebration , come April 23rd. That’s “Book’s day” and Catalonia patron saint day, Saint George. TIME magazine’s last issue (March 27, 2006) brings Shakespeare once again to its cover. Shakespeare is indeed hot popular. Alas! an article by Gary Taylor, an editor, claims he is not the best English writer as compared with some other figures of English literature.

What made Shakespeare and Cervantes the most celebrated writers in English and Spanish languages probably has more to do with the advent/invent of printing and the diffusion their works got. It took 150 years for printing to develop fully and both writers enjoyed recognition in their days.

I’ve always compared the advent of the Internet with printing, as both represented a never-thought-before way of making knowledge available to the masses. It has been said that one year of the Internet as far as development and diffusion equals ten chronological years. So if it took 150 to produce major writers we should expect the most important developments in the web sometime around 2010 and 2011.

*****
Last week Mr J. Figueras was admitted to our hospital with a back pain, currently under observation while some image studies are carried out.
Mr. Figueras is one of the members of the Spanish Republican Army defeated in the Civil War that went to France in exile just to be detained and deported to the Mathausen concentration camp by the Nazis in 1940. He survived, was liberated by the American army, returned to France where he lived for more than a decade, finally returning to Spain in the sixties.

He has a lot to talk about and is a pleasure to hear his clear and strong voice as he rambles through his ninety years of full life.

I remember meeting a frail old man in 1969 at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Oklahoma City that was a veteran of the Spanish War, what in Spain is known “La Guerra de Cuba”, way back ¡n the last years of the XIX century. He confessed that he actually fought for the Spanish but nobody had asked him anything when he applied for the Veterans benefits…

Old soldiers never die… They fade away into the sunset.

*****

Other soldiers seem to have decided to put their fight to rest. Last week the Euskadi ta Askatasuna organization announced a permanent cease fire that may mean the beginning of a lasting peace in the Basque Country and for Spain too.
Pundits, politicians and just about everybody had filled the pages of news journals and radio talk-shows with comments, analysis and opinions, so much so that is not worth to dig on the situation any further. The wisest position is still that of “wait and see”. The Basque violent nationalists are probably getting tired and the extensive police work both sides of the (Spanish-French) border has bore them down quite a lot.

Also important has been the aftermath of the Islamist terrorist attacks of late (NYC and Washington DC, Madrid and London) that have given political violence a very bad name, if ever had a good one, making more difficult to defend political options using un-discriminated violence.

(Footnote: Using the word “terror” to mean violence-against-politically- established-power is not new. In one of the places of the city of Zamora there is a large bronze statue of Viriatus, a Lusitan (Western Spanish) warrior that fought for his country independence against the Roman Republic invading legions in the 2nd Century BC. At the base of the monument a sign also in large bronze letters reads: “Viriatus, Terror Romanorum”. Terror of the Romans. A bona fide, full blooded terrorist indeed.)


One thing the Spanish should keep in mind, particularly the reluctantly uncompromising members of the government opposition Popular Party is that when you start peace talks, you just have to talk to your enemies. And find a common ground to agree upon. That may be tough and difficult, but there is no any other than your enemies to make amends with if you really want peace.

Friday, March 17, 2006

On death

My friend Tom wrote:

“The Georgetown University Hospital comprises several medical towers interconnected. The CCC Building is where the Pediatric Inpatient floor is.
On the fourth floor on a wall by the elevators there is a beautiful, large quilt encased in glass. Next to it there is a large picture of a young woman. Her expression is of a friendly, intelligent, serene, very nice looking woman. Below the picture it says:
Sandra D. Teague, Physical and Occupational Therapist.
19 June 1970- September 11, 2001

Sandra had been working at GUH for three years after graduating from her University degree. She had decided to take a vacation to Hawaii and was on the American Airlines Flight 77 to fly to Los Angeles and from there on to the islands. Flight 77 was highjacked and crushed into the Pentagon, just a couple of miles, across the river from Georgetown, in Arlington, Virginia.
The quilt was especially made in memory of Sandra "With sorrow and a deep sense of loss..." It has woven in its center a red square representing warmth and love. Surrounding this there are different colors signifying the passages of happiness and also setbacks in life.
Believe me, I have stopped many times to look at this beautiful quilt and read the words written about Sandra. She was one of the many innocent victims of the criminal attacks of September 11, as well as those of Madrid and London.
You can say that I am not a good Christian because one should forgive but never forget. I know I will never forgive.”



One piece of the evolution of man is the evidence of (certain) care for the dead. Of the many findings of the paleoarcheological site of Atapuerca the Pit of the Bones (“La sima de los huesos”) claims a major interest: it is bthe first evidence of some activity or behaviour related to dead humans. This means some consideration of transcendence beyond death: that there is something besides the body. You may call it soul or just remembrance.
The fossils found in the Pit of the Bones are dated some 300.000 years b.p.t (before present time). That is how old are memorial practices.
The quilt you mentioned is what is called a cenotaph: a memorial for a dead person elsewhere the actual tomb. Death, being tragic or just early, elicits deep feelings, old ones. And beautiful words.

The Bard said, with the voice of Mark Antony at Julius Caesar death:

“O mighty Caesar! dost thou lie so low?
Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils,
Shrunk to this little measure? Fare thee well.
I know not, gentlemen, what you intend,
Who else must be let blood, who else is rank:
If I myself, there is no hour so fit
As Caesar's death hour, nor no instrument
Of half that worth as those your swords, made rich
With the most noble blood of all this world.
I do beseech ye, if you bear me hard,
Now, whilst your purpled hands do reek and smoke,
Fulfil your pleasure. Live a thousand years,
I shall not find myself so apt to die:
No place will please me so, no mean of death,
As here by Caesar, and by you cut off,
The choice and master spirits of this age.”

(Julius Caesar, Act three, Scene I)


Sunday, March 12, 2006

March 11th- On terror and Politics

Reaching the second anniversary of the M-11 (2004) massacre in Madrid commuter trains I watch with certain despair the attitudes of the Spanish opposition party, the Popular Party.

In the memorial celebrations held in the park area designated as Memorial for the Absent there have been cries and shouts demanding a “full investigation” on the grounds that the truth of what happened is not fully known. A convoluted theory of conspiracies has been proposed after the claims of putting the blame on the Basque independents ETA terrorist had proved wrong.
The whole point is that the attacks were so closed to the general elections that the reason for them was to generate a change in the electorate against the incumbent PP government. This was actually what happened, but everybody believes that the reason for the switch vote was precisely the way the aftermath of the attacks was handled by the PP government. To think otherwise would put too much foresight in the terrorist minds.
Previous experience, such as the 9/11 New York City WTC Twin Towers catastrophe and the London bombs of July 7, 2005 afterwards, produced a rally around the standing government. In fact both instances somehow reinforced the standing of both GW Bush and Tony Blair. Why would in Spain happen differently?

Obviously the conspiracy claims are just a smoke curtain to stave off the responsibilities of the then-acting government, that of the Popular Party. It’s just peculiar that the main advocate of the conspiracy theory happens to be the former Minister of Interior, Mr Acebes, who could be easily charged with negligence for not preventing the attacks. Should the attacks had taken place in any other inter-elections period, then opposition parties would had demanded an inquiry on the responsibilities of the Interior Ministry and surely asked for his resignation. The immediate elections took care of that and the Spanish people, by voting against the PP, sacked them.

The Popular Party have not digested yet their defeat and, worse, by acting as it has, seems that the undemocratic roots of the Spanish Right are still present and active.

But I believe that it’s just their top leaders, still shocked and entangled in their own contradictions. If they do not change, the electorate will tell them in the next elections. Watch for it.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

La defensa de la cultura

Si son temps dolents per a la lírica, potser que siguin tan dolents per l’assaig, ni que sigui aquest petitet weblog. En qualsevol cas, la defensa de la llibertat d’expressió sempre mereix un esforç.

Fa uns anys en una presentació professional sobre el transport de malalts i les dotacions de recursos vaig fer servir una imatge, una diapositiva, per a il·lustrar una dita popular comuna a les nostres contrades: aquella que fa referència la decisió d’apropar Mahoma a la muntanya. A la imatge es veia un home amb un turbant caminant cap a una muntanya antropomòrfica, amb cara i ulls, que el mirava amb sorpresa.

La dita fa referència a una anècdota, totalment apòcrifa, atribuïda al profeta al confrontar-se amb la realització de miracles, o amb la fortalesa de la fe “que mou muntanyes”. Si mai es va pretendre amb l’anècdota qüestionar les capacitats demiúrgiques de Mahoma, des de una cultura cristiana que, en canvi, fa un gran ressò dels miracles de Jesús, l’intent és errat, puix que a la cultura i a la religió musulmana el rol dels miracles és molt reduït.

En tot cas, a mi personalment la paràbola de Mahoma i la muntanya més aviat em sembla un paradigma de la racionalitat. Del possibilisme enfrontat a la dificultat inútil. I pel que fa al transport de malalt la realitat que sempre és més eficaç portar malalts als hospitals que portar els hospitals a la gent.

El cert és que, ara, en aquest començament de segle, no faria servir ni la diapositiva ni l’anècdota per a il·lustrar un argument per tal de no ofendre sensibilitats.

Més o menys per la mateixa època es va estrenar una pel·lícula sobre Mahoma: “Mahoma, el missatger de Deu”, o, amb el seu títol original en anglés: “The messanger”. A la pel·lícula, una coproducció britànica-libanesa, en cap moment apareix el profeta, per respecta a les creences islàmiques i per exprés disseny del director, Moustapha Akkad, musulmà ell mateix. Això no va evitar fortes crítiques per part d’islamistes i, fins i tot, una revidicació de la destrucció del film per part de d’un grup radical de Musulmans Negres (“Black Muslims”) que van protagonitzar un greu incident a Washington D.C. al març de 1977, quan van ocupar uns edificis a la capital del Estats Units i segrestar un grup de persones, amb el resultat d’uns quants morts.

No vaig veure la pel·licula, però si els cartells publicitaris i, ignorant de la importància de que la imatge de Mahoma no ha d’existir, d’alguna forma se’m va quedar l’idea de que Mahoma devia semblar-se a Antony Quinn.

Per contra, la profusió de pel·lícules sobre Jesucrist i l’abundantíssima imagineria cristiana, configuren un Crist que sembla un hippy amb la cara de
Willem Dafoe si el veu Scorsesse, o John Caviziel si el veu Mel Gibson.

La cultura occidental, si és que tal cosa existeix de forma individualitzada, inclou un notable pes de les imatges. No es que una imatge valgui per mil paraules sinó que les imatges configuren, donen forma a la realitat.

Uns quants segles d’eurocentrisme, els imperis espanyol, francés o britanic, i ara nordamericà, també europeu en el seu origen cultural generen dificultats per a entendre un món, com ara es diu, globalitzat i una barreja de cultures.

Les dificultats creixen quan sobre de les cultures s’instal·len concepcions religioses i, d’elles, les més integristes.

De l’actual situació i conflicte al voltant de les imatges de Mahoma publicades fa quatre mesos a Dinamarca és fàcil extreure les implicacions religioses. No és cap novetat que els clergues, col·loquialment els capellans, facin de les creences motiu per al conflicte amb ànim de reclutar adeptes. Quan es diu que els occidentals hem fet de la tolerància i del laïcisme un pilar de les llibertats, sembla que no se’n recordem de totes les guerres i conflictes de religió que ocupen les pàgines de la història de Europa. Des de les croades, quan un monjo boix cridant “Deus volt”, Deu ho vol, va rossegar reis, papes i munions de gent a la conquesta destructora de l’actual Palestina, fins als “Tercios de Flandes” o els conquistadors d’Amèrica imposant a cops d’espasa i de crucifix una religió com a suport psicològic i social del poder. També els clergues van ser instrumentals i protagonistes reclamant una atenció que altrament no aconseguien.

Quan ara els clergues islàmics de Dinamarca son capaços d’organitzar un enrenou que, si pot ser justificable des de la indignació per manca de respecte a una religió, malament pot justificar els aldarulls, les destruccions i les morts, torno a pensar el deia el meu amic Agustí: “Rotllos de capellanots”.

La defensa de la cultura va per altres camins.