Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Let the battle of the books begin!

Authorities in Britain are being tight-lipped at the outset of what could become a prolonged historical wrangle involving the world’s two oldest allies.
A unique collection of books plundered during the darkest days of the centuries-old treaty between Portugal and Britain has been cosseted in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford for more than 400 years. The Portuguese now want the books back.
The British Foreign Office and the University of Oxford have received a formal request to return the collection, which was looted by Robert Devereux, the second Earl of Essex, when his troops sacked the city of Faro in 1596.
The Faro organisation that made the request early this month believes it has a reasonable case. A response from the British authorities is awaited.
The seizure took place while Portugal was under Spanish rule during the 16th century Anglo-Spanish War. A combined British-Dutch fleet under the Lord High Admiral Charles Howard was returning to England after destroying Cádiz when a flotilla pulled into Faro.
Troops led by Essex found the city virtually deserted. He occupied the bishop’s palace for a couple of nights and then loaded up the book collection, comprising at least 91 volumes, before leaving the city ablaze.
Essex presented the collection to his friend Sir Thomas Bodley and it became part of the library Bodley founded in 1602. The Bodleian is still one of the most acclaimed libraries in the world. 
The ownership of the pillaged books is clear because nearly all are uniformly bound and have on their covers the armorial stamp of Ferdinand Mascarenhas, appointed the 5th Bishop of Faro two years before the raid. He died in 1628 as Grand Inquisitor of Portugal.
The request for the books’ return is contained in a motion passed unanimously at the general assembly of a 250-member organisation called Faro 1540, which is devoted to protecting and promoting the cultural heritage of the Algarve capital.
Copies of the motion have been sent to Buckingham Palace and the British Embassy in Lisbon, as well as Portugal’s secretary of state for culture and senior officials in the Algarve. A number of left and centre-right politicians have already vowed to pursue the matter with the secretary of state. Not surprisingly, Faro town hall also supports the initiative.
The president of Faro 1540, Bruno Lage, said yesterday he had heard nothing from the authorities in Britain. In reply to a range of questions about the books from Portugal Newswatch,  a Bodleian spokesperson said: “We are not making any comment at the moment.”
Hopefully, the arguments for and against a repatriation will soon be debated openly. Meanwhile, we are left with fascinating fragments of history and centuries of silence on the issue.
The original culprit in this saga was a derring-do warrior of “irresistible
charm.” Essex, a cohort of Sir Francis Drake, was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. But Her Majesty’s affection at times turned to loathing. She once referred to him as “an unruly beast.” The year after Essex donated the Faro books to Bodley he led a rebellion against the English government and was duly beheaded for treason.
Apparently the bishop never discovered what had become of his treasured books. A Bodleian source told me a few years ago that many of them still occupied the same place on the shelves assigned by Bodley’s first librarian, Dr Thomas James.
They are mostly 16th century treatises on theology, scholastic philosophy and canon law. Some had been published in Germany, France, Belgium and Italy just a few years prior to their theft.
Some historians think the dastardly Devereux may have done everyone a favour by his act of literary looting. Considering their age, the works are still mostly in good condition, according to my original source. Had the books remained in Faro, they almost certainly would have suffered from the ravages of time.
The Inquisition censors had already blotted out what they regarded as heretical sentences and pasted ‘offensive’ pages together. Dr James wrote that the books had been “tormented in a pitiful manner, that it would grieve a man’s heart to see them.”
The question now is will they ever be seen again in Faro? 
There are faint echoes here of the on-going controversy between Britain and Greece over the Elgin Marbles. Among other things, the Earl of Elgin is said to have been concerned about the safety and worsening deterioration of the marbles had he left them in Athens.
When considering whether the Faro books should be returned to their place of origin it must be wondered what state they would be in today had they not been filched in the first place.
On Portugal succeeding where Greece has so far failed, Bruno Lage says, “Our degree of confidence is realistic.” The Faro 1540 request is just the beginning of what he expects to be a lengthy process.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The passing of José Pearce de Azevedo

José Pearce de Azevedo, OBE, former British Honorary Consul in the Algarve, who died on Monday aged 83, has been laid to rest in the cemetery in his hometown of Portimão.
Four days after his admission to the Barlavento Hospital and having been diagnosed with a lung infection, Azevedo died peacefully with his wife Zefita by his bedside.
A great many people from all walks of life attended the funeral service in the Igreja do Colégio, Portimão, on Wednesday. The principal mourners were his wife, their three children, Patricia, Pedro and Marta, and four grandchildren.
A charismatic and colourful personality, Azevedo contributed greatly to the Algarve region, and in particular to the British community here. The British Ambassador, Jill Gallard, paid warm tribute.
His family’s close association with the British began with his grandfather, Manuel Teixeira Gomes, who spent 11 years as Portugal’s ambassador to London before becoming the seventh President of the Republic of Portugal in 1923.
Manuel Teixeira Gomes’ father had been a consul in the Algarve, representing Belgium. Both Azevedo’s father and paternal grandfather served as British vice consuls here.
Having graduated from the University of Lisbon in economics and finance, he was appointed British vice consul in 1965 at the age of 35. In 1974 he became full honorary consul and was of outstanding help to British expatriates during the turbulent period following the 25th April revolution. For this he was awarded an OBE.
Azevedo’s dynamic wife, Zefita, joined him professionally as pro-consul in 1983. He lovingly referred to her as “my field marshal.” They served together with a small but dedicated team in the Portimão Consulate until their retirement in 2000.
In addition to his consular role, he served as the first president of the Algarve Tourist Board and as head of the Portimão port authority.
For many years he played a leading role in the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce based in Lisbon and the Anglo-Portuguese Society in London. As a long-time member of the Royal British Club in Lisbon, he was also an honorary president of the 41 Club in the Algarve and a founder member of the Association of Foreign Property Owners in Portugal.
The British Ambassador, Jill Gallard, said: ‘I am deeply saddened by José Azevedo’s death. He was a dear and loyal friend of the UK and he will be warmly remembered by me and by many of his former colleagues at the British Consulates in Portimão and Lisbon, and at the Embassy.
Joe, as he was fondly known, was our Honorary Consul in Portimão for over 30 years and we are extremely grateful for his long and devoted years of service to the British Foreign Office.
He helped British citizens in distress, supported the wider British community in the Algarve and made a key contribution towards increasing British tourism to the region. Joe fulfilled his role with pride and commitment, but he also had a great sense of humour and was a devoted family man.
His OBE was a well-deserved award and he will be forever remembered by the many thousands of British citizens who came into contact with him during his vast career as Honorary British Consul in Portimão.
       “Our thoughts are with his wife and family at this difficult time.”

With a photograph of his grandfather in Portimão Museum

Read also: 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Odd weather adds to climate confusion

The storms that battered Portugal’s entire coastline recently, plus extensive flooding in England, prolonged drought in California, extreme cold in northeastern America and extreme heat in Australia, have created further confusion over climate change.
In the aftermath of the most violent waves in 20 years, the cash-strapped Portuguese government is committed to finding €300 million for reconstruction projects, and to reassessing the national strategy for coastal protection.
This is being done amid the backdrop of the National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change (ENAAC), part of an initiative set in motion by the European Commission to help EU members access and share information on the subject.
The EC’s view is that the climate is certainly changing and that it will continue to do so with far-reaching consequences. ‘Adaptation’ means anticipating the adverse effects and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause.
“Early action will save damage costs later on, so adaptation strategies are needed at all levels of administration, from local to international,” according to the EC.
So Portugal and the EC seem to be in accord, but there is still considerable public confusion internationally about the way in which the climate is changing and whether or not humans are making things worse.
Opinions differ among the global ‘experts’ and it is hard to know who to believe because the science is all so iffy.
Prime Minister David Cameron told the British  parliament that climate change could be behind the relentless rains and flooding that wreaked havoc on Britain recently, but according to the British Met office “it is too early” to make that kind of judgement.  
With the same sort of diffidence, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - the world leader on research into climate change – last year published a report claiming there was some evidence linking some types of extreme weather with man-made climate change.
Extreme weather events have been occurring sporadically throughout history (at least since Noah’s time, according to Genesis). But the chances of them occurring nowadays seem to be increasing. Global warming is increasingly getting the blame.
But is the globe really warming? Many people sitting around their firesides in the northern hemisphere this winter find it hard to believe. Some think it feels more like another ice age on the way.
Part of the bewilderment lies in a misunderstanding of the words ‘weather’ and ‘climate.’ The difference is that ‘weather’ is defined as atmospheric conditions over a short period of time, whereas ‘climate’ refers to conditions over relatively long stretches – months, years, decades or more.
Presenters on Fox News, famous for denying the existence of global warming, predictably used the recent deep freeze in the US to mock the scientific evidence on climate change.
Donald Trump went further and used the stranding of a Russian research ship in ice in Antarctia as another reason to demand in a tweet: “this very expensive global warming bullshit has got to stop.”
The great majority of climatologists believe that weather patterns and trends (rather than individual events) suggest the planet is indeed getting warmer, that carbon dioxide emissions are compounding the situation and that to deny this could have dire repercussions.
Portugal is currently among the world leaders in the annual Climate Change Performance Index. Along with Denmark it relies for its electricity on renewable sources more than other countries in the EU. While little Portugal is doing its bit, China and the other big offenders need to do much more if CO2 emissions are to be reduced from the 2012 record level of 34.5 billion tionnes.   
Within Europe, Portugal and the Mediterranean countries are thought to be the most vulnerable to climate change. With or without stringent controls on CO2 emissions, the long-range forecast is for less rainfall, more heat-waves and droughts. Sea levels are expected to rise significantly, placing much of the coastline at risk before the end of the century.
All this could severely affect such things as food production and the tourist industry.  Desertification could make the landscapes in southern Portugal more like those in northern Africa.
More clarity about what is going on could be just around the corner. Researchers and policy-makers will be attending a three-day international conference in Lisbon 10-12 March. The objective, say the organisers, Circle-2: “To share the results of 10 years of co-operation in climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation research and pave the way for the development of new research in support of climate change adaptation in Europe in the next decade.”



Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Drilling for gas will be ‘clean and safe’

 The multinational Repsol-Partex oil and gas consortium says it will commence “clean and safe” exploratory drilling off the south coast of Portugal late this year or early next, but it may be another four or five years before it can accurately gauge if hydrocarbon deposits are sufficient to make it worthwhile to proceed to commercial extraction.
The consortium has already carried out seismic surveys and other preparatory studies since acquiring the offshore concession for blocks 13 and 14 in Algarve waters in October 2011. As the exploration is still in the preliminary stages, no firm date can yet be set for the start of drilling.
Repsol, with its headquarters in Madrid and 90% of the shares in the partnership with Lisbon-based Partex, is the main operator in the Algarve project.
In September 2012, Repsol in partnership with Petrobras, Galp and Partex acquired the rights to prospect in Peniche Bay north of Lisbon. The Brazilian corporation Petrobras withdrew from the consortium last May leaving Repsol as the project operator with 65% of the shares. Galp has 30% participation and Partex the remaining 5%. Drilling off Peniche is not expected to start until at least 2016.
While much more sophisticated exploratory techniques exist these days, onshore and offshore searches have been carried out in Portuguese waters for many decades. Several major companies, including Shell, Chevron and Esso, have drilled scores of wells in various demarcated blocks, especially since the 1970s. No commercial production has ever been achieved.
The Poseidon gas fields in the Cadiz basin suggest that deposits in the neighbouring Algarve basin are more likely to contain commercial quantities of natural gas rather than oil. 
A Repsol spokesman told Portugal Newswatch this week that environmental and safety studies are being carried out before any drilling takes place. This comes amid public concerns about the possible impact of drilling on regional tourism and the economy, as well as the fishing industry, marine ecosystems and coastal landscapes.
“Environmental and safety studies are being conducted to guarantee a clean and safe drilling operation,” the spokesman said. “Repsol does environmental and safety studies prior to any operation, taking into account the social, economic and environmental issues and following legislation and the highest international standards in the industry. The company takes into consideration such studies in the planning of the operations and works closely with national and local authorities.”
On the subject of pollution, the spokesman added: “One basic difference between gas and oil is that gas evaporates and oil needs containment on water surfaces. In the event of a well failure, gas spills are easier to control than oil spills, as the gas is not retained in the seawater. No water pollution is generated and the hydrocarbon bubbles into the atmosphere until well control is achieved. In the Algarve, as no hazardous gas is expected, a gas pollution case is an extremely improbable situation.”
It is still too early in the exploration process to know exactly where the Algarve or Peniche drilling rigs will be located, “but they will always be some tens of kilometres off the coast and will not be visible from the shore,” said the spokesman.  

 * Photo of oil and gas operation in the Gulf of Mexico