Today is a holiday in this region. It celebrates the creation of Castilla-La Mancha as an autonomous region in accordance with the new constitution of 1978. It was stuck together from a few bits that were left over when the more natural or historical regions had been formed. No one cares about it much (except the politicians and bueaucrats who make their living from its existence) and no one identifies themself with it.
It corresponds very approximately to the historical entity called New Castille, but that included Madrid, which was made into its own region because it's big and important now, and it didn't include the east of Albacete or any of Guadalajara, which was tagged on because they didn't know what else to do with it (it would have made more historical sense to lump it with Madrid, or even with Old Castille, which did, after all, get León, another bit they didn't know what to do with.
La Mancha is an ancient 'comarca' which was the home of Don Quijote. Cervantes made him Manchego because it was the last place you would expect a courtly hero to come from, but they make a big thing of down here anyway, and why not, he put La Mancha into the international conscious.
When I say celebrate, no one bothers celebrating, except, I assume, the politicians in Toledo who will be partying with our money and muscling their way onto the television. No one else has a strong enough sense of identity with what is, in the end, a completely artificial construct, to care. It's just a day when you don't go to work.
And a fine day it is. Mrs Hickory and I went on the bikes to the river and along the banks for several miles. It's dammed about 7 miles northwest of the town so there is quite a body of water, which is much appreciated by the fishermen, the insects and the birds, and also by the travellers like us who can enjoy the views and the activity of those birds (the insects and the fishermen contribute rather less to the enjoyment, but they come with the package).
There were the usual herons of many kinds, some storks, a variety of ducks, cranes and coots. And a couple of reed islands with hundreds of nests on, something I haven't seen before in that part of the river. They must have bred like rabbits this spring (so have the rabbits, in fact, there's a lot of food about). The photos are not David Attenborough class, but they give some idea of what it was like to be pedalling along the riverbank this morning.
The hippies in the square are slowly increasing in number. There are now half a dozen tents. It's hard to count the people as you don't know who's who, but around twenty, probably. In Madrid they are many more, and causing a serious obstruction in the Puerta del Sol, in Barcelona they were 'moved on' as a number of them had taken to smashing things, but they seem to be back now, and in other places I haven't bothered to find out, but here they are harmless, peaceful, a bit smelly, quite happy to talk about why they're there, open to criticism- they even have a complaints box so people can tell them when they're causing a nuisance- and, of course, utterly deceived about who they are and what they can achieve.
They think they're part of an international movement. I don't see anything moving. They think they are living without money and are an example to us all. Like all such people, they are in fact living off other people's money. They are effectively beggars, fed and watered by friends and supporters. If they get ill they'll go to the hospital, where they will be treated by people using resources taht wouldn't exist if everyone lived like them. They clain to be defending their right to express their protest before the Town Hall. They are merely proclaiming that their belief in that right, it's the police who are defending that right for them. They claim to have no homes, but they are squatting freely on public property. They claim to have no fears about their future. One day they'll worry about school fees and mortgage payments like the rest of us. They think that the world will listen to them. It won't.
But, they are peaceful and intelligent, at least the ones we have here. They listen to the people they claim to represent, and the people they claim to oppose. They don't claim to speak for everyone, they don't shout stupid slogans as a substitute for thought, and they are providing the very useful service of reminding the politicians that they are the servants of the people, something they cannot be told often enough. And they keep the children entertained in the evenings by juggling, story-telling and unicycling. The fact that they haven't been moved on shows that the council are afraid that people will listen to them. The purpose of their protest is to demand a more transparent democracy and less troughing by our leaders, aspirations I entirely agree with. And, although their grasp of economic reality is not too sound, they seem to understand what democracy and freedom are, which is unusual enough.
So I hope they keep giving the council a headache for a while longer.
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