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The Spanish village that wants outdoor chats to be granted World Heritage status | Culture

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It has been two weeks since residents of the southern Spanish village of Algar won €20,000 in a lottery, a subject that was examined in detail by locals during their evening chats on the town’s sidewalks. “It was a juicy piece of news,” says Antonia Aguilera, sitting out in a circle of chairs with six of her neighbors. “The baker won as well as a lot of people who needed it.”

The windfall attracted a brief media circus to Algar, which is located in Cádiz province in Andalusia and is home to 1,400 people. Now, when the sun goes down, the locals huddle together to talk about a different topic – the call to get charla al fresco – or alfresco chats – recognized by UNESCO as a cultural treasure.

We stay until dinner, go inside for that, and then we come out again until midnight

José Ibáñez, 81-year-old resident of Algar

“My mother is 82 and sits on her street every day,” says Algar mayor José Carlos Sánchez, who announced the idea on the local government’s Facebook page on July 28. “There are days when I pass by after work, sit down and we catch up. It’s the most beautiful moment of the day.”

The mayor could hardly have imagined the stir his Facebook message would stir. Ironically, Sánchez was partly encouraged to seek World Heritage status after seeing the negative impact social networks like Facebook were having on the tradition.

Algar’s Sol street is steeply inclined and has 124 steps. Thirty years ago, José Ibáñez, 81, counted them to see how many neighbors would fit on them. “Every afternoon, the steps would be filled with families chatting, playing bingo and having dinner. We had a great time,” he says. Rarely has he or his wife, Francisca Sánchez, or his neighbor Catalina Sánchez missed a summer evening chat. “We are already out as the sun is setting,” says Ibáñez, relaxing in his plastic chair. “We stay until dinner, go inside for that, and then we come out again until midnight.” He knows, however, that this is a dying tradition. The week before, only they and four young people were observing it.

It is difficult to trace where the tradition comes from. Anthropologist Gema Carrera believes that it derived from a need to cool off in the evening as well as being social, while Isidoro Moreno, professor of anthropology at the University of Seville, says: “It was a spontaneous get-together with neighbors after dinner in times before television and air conditioning.” What is clear is that it is not exclusive to Algar; rather it is linked to a rural and more leisurely lifestyle, though it persists in some cities too. “The custom is Mediterranean because it also occurs in southern Italy and Greece,” says anthropologist Eva Cote.

Algar, a town in the mountains of Cádiz, has asked for the outdoor chat to be recognized as a cultural treasure.
Algar, a town in the mountains of Cádiz, has asked for the outdoor chat to be recognized as a cultural treasure. “JUAN CARLOS TORO”

“To attribute it to any one town or region seems like nonsense to me,” says Moreno. In Algar, they are well aware their custom is not theirs alone. “It’s not unique to here,” says the mayor. “Chatting outdoors is everyone’s heritage. I would not mind sharing the initiative, just that it comes from here at least.” The town council has already sent a formal request to the provincial delegation of Andalusia’s culture department, which is the first step in seeking World Heritage status. The process can last years, requiring anthropological reports and, above all, a lot of public and institutional support, until it is finally proposed to UNESCO, where it will vie for attention with a multitude of rites, festivals, customs and knowledge from all over Spain, such as the Carnival of Cádiz.

Tradition in decline

Cote believes these alfresco evening chats began to decline in many towns in Andalusia in the early 1970s, when urban development started to replace one-story homes with blocks of apartments and single-family houses. In Algar, the decline began decades later with the emigration of many inhabitants to surrounding cities and an increased sense of insecurity, causing many neighbors to keep their doors shut. Nevertheless, Sánchez says there are still many locals who continue to gather outdoors in this way and believes that UNESCO protection could help to revive the custom among young people. “Nowadays, it’s older men and women who go out,” he says. “It depends on the streets and neighborhoods, but there are areas that are still full of groups chatting. For many, it is a time they can tell each other about their day – it’s almost therapeutic.”

There is no lack of open doors or collections of colorful chairs on the pavement of Antonia Aguilera street. That is, until someone comes out and yells: “It’s already midnight, come and put the washing machines on!’ as one local explains with a chuckle, referencing Spain’s new electricity billing system. When the sun was at its highest at the start of August, the white-painted homes deflected the 34ºC heat. At sunset, it was barely 23ºC and dropping. Twenty-somethings Olga and Celia Lobato were the only young people, along with their partners, sitting out on the steps on Sol street. There was a lot to discuss; besides the lottery win and the subsequent influx of journalists, vandals had pushed the town’s sailboat into a nearby marsh. “We all know each other really well,” laughs Olga. “We are united but we also criticize each other. The truth is it’s more entertaining than the social networks.”

English version by Heather Galloway.

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The macro pig farm threatening a historical gem in northern Spain | Culture

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Christians and Muslims fought over the castle of Gormaz in Soria in the Spanish region of Castilla y León for two centuries. Now, after a lapse of hundreds of years, it is once again under threat – this time, from a macro pig farm for 4,200 animals. The proposed farm is within two kilometers of the fortress, and will be visible from its impressive caliphal gate, which is one of the biggest tourist attractions of the medieval site.

Environmental and neighborhood associations, architecture and restoration professionals, as well as the town councils of Recuerda, a village of 70 inhabitants, and Gormaz, a village of 20, call the plans an “attack” on one of the most impressive Islamic fortresses on the peninsula. With a perimeter measuring more than one kilometer, the castle of Gormaz was once the largest in Europe. It was this fortress that the Caliph of Córdoba, Al-Hakam II, ordered to be reinforced and expanded at the end of the 10th century to stop the Christian advance from the north.

Meanwhile, the company behind the project, Agro Peñaranda Esteban, insists it will comply “strictly with the law” and that if the permits are not issued, it will go elsewhere. “It’s great to eat torreznos [a kind of fried bacon snack] from Soria in a good restaurant in a big capital city,” says one of the shareholders, who is from the area. “People must think that they fall from the sky.”

The castle of Gormaz was built in the 9th century to strategically support Medinaceli, the capital of the so-called Muslim Middle Frontier. Divided into two large areas separated by a moat, there is the fortress with the tower of Almanzor and the caliphal quarters, and then the area for the troops, where the main entrance is located. Altogether, it has 28 towers with battlements and arrowslits.

The Soria fortress defended the routes to the north of the peninsula that followed the banks of the Duero river and was coveted by a number of figures, including Count García Fernández, Sancho II of Pamplona, Ramiro III of León, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar and the de facto ruler of Islamic Iberia, Almanzor. And so it passed from one side to the other until, in 1060, Fernando I of León seized it once and for all. During the reign of Spain’s Catholic Monarchs, it was turned into a prison as it no longer had any strategic value.

But now it is administrative forces that are advancing on the castle. On June 29, the Castilla y León regional government published “the announcement of a pig farm of 4,200 pigs in plot 20114 of industrial estate 1 of the municipality of Recuerda,” which backs onto Gormaz. August 10 was the deadline for anyone wishing to take issue with the environmental impact assessment, which states that the farm would not alter the surrounding landscape. “It is a landscape altered by human activity, due to its agricultural use, with no dominant variations or striking contrasts,” claims the report.

This contradicts the regional plan for the Duero Valley, approved by the Castilla y León regional authorities in 2010, which mentions a series of Landscape Management Areas (AOP) needing a specific regime of protection, management and planning. One such area includes the castle of Gormaz and the surrounding area where the farm would be located.

View of the San Miguel hermitage from the caliphal gate of the castle of Gormaz.
View of the San Miguel hermitage from the caliphal gate of the castle of Gormaz.José Francisco Yusta

Luis Morales, architect and member of the Soria Association for the Defense of Nature (Aseden), points out that the castle’s environment is “totally agricultural – fields and forests – and very similar to what it might have been in the Middle Ages, when Gormaz was built. To put an industrial complex of enormous dimensions to house more than 4,000 pigs, which is what they intend, is barbaric,” he adds. “It breaks up the landscape from the same caliphal gate, the one that is so often photographed for tourism purposes.”

Morales also believes that the municipalities have the means to stop the project, “because the land is rustic and can therefore be classified as protected, which would prevent the livestock complex from being built.” Meanwhile, the Aseden association points out that the regional authorities were responsible for the White Paper of the Territorial Enclaves of Cultural Interest (ETIC), which selected 111 locations of cultural or heritage interest, one of which was Gormaz.

According to the NGO Ecologists in Action, in this type of facility whose surface area would be 4,000 square meters plus another 2,000 for slurry, “the problem of odor emissions is very important because of its proximity and orientation with respect to inhabited areas and other places of interest.” It explains: “In this case, the farm would be to the west, 1.3 kilometers from Recuerda and two kilometers from the castle of Gormaz. According to data from [Spain’s national weather agency] Aemet, the prevailing winds are from the west. In other words, it would bring unhealthy smells for most of the year to Recuerda. Surprisingly, the project says that the prevailing winds are from the northeast.”

Consuelo Barrio, mayor of Recuerda, agrees. “It is not only the visual impact, which is very important, but also the environmental impact due to the possible contamination of the water from the slurry as we are in an area of aquifers; this is in addition to the smell that would come our way as we are barely a kilometer from it.”

Meanwhile, the company behind the project considers it is under “unjustified attack.” According to one 38-year-old businessman involved in the project, “in this part of Soria there are at least three farms: Quintanar, Gormaz…. And if ours smells, it means they all smell. It’s not like years ago, when pigs were thrown into the Duero – some of which I have seen floating – or the slurry was dumped down drains. No. There are strict environmental laws and we will comply with them. It is easy to talk about ‘deserted’ Spain and all the things the politicians are saying, but when you try to create wealth, obstacles are thrown up because you can be seen from the castle two kilometers away. If they don’t let us set up here, we’ll go somewhere else,” he adds angrily.

Marisa Revilla, president of Amigos del Museo Numantino, is particularly upset by the visual effect of the pig farm. “The impact report does not take into account the horizontal impact. It only states that they are going to put up some hedges to hide the farm. But the installation will not only affect the castle, it will also affect the nearby Romanesque San Miguel hermitage.” This hermitage was inspected in the 1990s by architect José Francisco Yusta, who specializes in historical monuments and also opposes the construction of the farm. “There is no justification for breaking up the landscape,” says Yusta, who has worked on such architectural gems as the cathedral of Burgo de Osma, the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and castle of Gormaz itself.

“I believe it is not worth destroying our landscape for the two jobs that the macro-farm will provide, which are those proposed by the promoters,” says architect Luis Morales. “If there were only 200 for deserted Spain….”

English version by Heather Galloway.

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Ex-Ireland rugby player charged with stealing almost €600,000 from BOI

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Former Irish rugby international Brendan Mullin is to face trial accused of deception, false accounting and theft of close to €600,000 from Bank of Ireland where he held a senior executive position.

Mullin (57) appeared at Dublin District Court on Tuesday following an investigation by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) into bank fraud allegations going back a decade.

The former rugby star won 55 Irish caps between 1984 and 1995 before he went into financial services and became managing director at Bank of Ireland Private Banking Ltd.

He was arrested at 9.08am on Tuesday when he met gardaí in Dublin city-centre. He was brought to the Bridewell Garda station where he was charged with 15 offences which allegedly took place between 2011 and 2013.

He is accused of stealing €500,000 on December 16th 2011, at Bank of Ireland Private Bank at Burlington Plaza, Burlington Road, Dublin 4.

Mr Mullin, of Albert Lodge, Stillorgan Road, Donnybrook, Dublin 4, is charged with eight further thefts of amounts totalling €73,000 from the bank.

Five counts of false accounting were also put to him.

He was also charged with deception by inducing a named man and woman to sign a payment instruction with the intention of making gain for himself or another on July 27th, 2011.

Dressed in a grey suit and light blue shirt, he sat silently during his hearing before Judge Michael Walsh.

GNECB Detective Sean O’Riordan told the court Mr Mullin made no comment when charged.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has directed trial on indictment meaning his case will go before a judge and jury in the circuit court.

The DPP has also stated that he can be sent forward for sentencing on a signed plea, should that arise, but defence solicitor Robert Purcell told Judge Walsh a book of evidence will be required.

Bail terms had been agreed, Judge Walsh noted, and it was set in Mr Mullin’s own bond of €10,000.

He was ordered to surrender his passport but this was not made a precondition of release; Judge Walsh warned him that it must be handed over to gardai within 48 hours of taking up bail.

Mr Mullin needed to travel for work purposes and that could be done once the GNECB detective is notified in advance, the judge said.

He must appear again at the District Court on November 11th next to be served with the book of evidence by the prosecution.

A trial order can then be granted.

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Shock in Germany after cashier shot dead in Covid mask row

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The killing on Saturday evening in the western town of Idar-Oberstein, Rhineland-Palatinate, is believed to be the first in Germany linked to the government’s coronavirus rules.

The row started when the cashier, a student, told the customer to put on a face mask, as required in all German shops. After a brief argument, the man left.

The suspect then returned about an hour and a half later, this time wearing a mask. But as he brought his six-pack of beer to the till, he took off the mask and another discussion ensued.

“The perpetrator then pulled out a revolver and shot him straight in the head,” prosecutor Kai Fuhrmann told reporters on Monday.

The suspect, a 49-year-old German man, walked to a police station the following day to turn himself in. He was arrested and has confessed to the murder.

He told police he felt “cornered” by the coronavirus measures, which he perceived as an “ever-growing infringement on his rights” and he had seen “no other way out”, Fuhrmann said.

Idar-Oberstein mayor Frank Fruehauf called it “an unfathomable, terrible act”, and residents have laid flowers and candles outside the petrol station.

The murder comes just days before Germans head to the polls for a general election on September 26 that will see Chancellor Angela Merkel bow out of politics after 16 years.

Katrin Goering-Eckardt, the parliamentary leader of the Green party, tweeted that she was “deeply shaken” by the killing, which she said was “the cruel result of hatred”.

Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner from Merkel’s centre-right CDU party, who hails from the region, said the murder was “shocking”.

The Tagesspiegel newspaper said far-right chat groups on Telegram were applauding the murder, with one user writing “Here we go!!!” while others posted thumbs-up emojis.

Germany has seen repeated protests from anti-mask demonstrators throughout the pandemic, some of them attracting tens of thousands of people.

The Querdenker (Lateral Thinkers) movement has emerged as the loudest voice against the government’s coronavirus curbs and regulations. Its marches have drawn a wide mix of people, including vaccine sceptics, neo-Nazis and members of Germany’s far-right AfD party.



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