Sep 102016
 

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Today is National Day in Gibraltar, a national holiday in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. The day commemorates Gibraltar’s first sovereignty referendum of 1967, in which voters were asked whether they wished to pass to Spanish sovereignty, or remain under British sovereignty, with institutions of self-government. Frankly I find such referenda by the British absurdly cynical and self serving. They did the same in the Malvinas. How about asking New Zealand voters if they wish to remain in the British Commonwealth or have their land returned to the Maori?

It’s the same the world over – legally, semi-legally, or by sheer force, commandeer land from its rightful owners, bring in a raft of British colonists, then years later ask if they want to remain British. How do you think they will vote? Fortunately in places like India, the British were overwhelmed in numbers and got slung out eventually. For centuries the British kept up the absurd pretense that they were developing colonies for the benefit of the local people (who usually fought to keep them out), and would only grant the colonies independence when they could prove they were “civilized” enough to warrant it, whereas the truth was that Britain would grant independence when there wasn’t anything left to steal (and local cultures had been irreparably damaged). In a couple of cases, notably North America and Northern Rhodesia, colonial governments didn’t wait for British approval.

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Gibraltar has been a strategically vital port for the United Kingdom since the early 18th century. An Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar from Spain in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession on behalf of the Habsburg pretender to the Spanish throne. The territory was subsequently ceded to Britain “in perpetuity” under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. During World War II it was an important base for the Royal Navy as it controlled the entrance and exit to the Mediterranean Sea, which is only eight miles (13 km) wide at this point. Today Gibraltar’s economy is based largely on tourism, online gambling, financial services, and shipping.

The sovereignty of Gibraltar is a major point of contention in Anglo-Spanish relations as Spain asserts a claim to the territory. Gibraltarians overwhelmingly rejected proposals for Spanish sovereignty in a 1967 referendum and again in 2002. Under the Gibraltar constitution of 2006, Gibraltar governs its own affairs, though some powers, such as defense and foreign relations, remain the responsibility of the Government of the United Kingdom.

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During the campaign leading up to the United Kingdom’s national referendum on whether to leave the European Union (known as ‘Brexit’) the Spanish government warned that if the UK chose to leave, Spain would push to reclaim control over Gibraltar ‘the very next day’.

The Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo warned the UK that if Brexit went ahead Spain could “pounce on us” also stating that “it is safer and more secure for Gibraltar to remain in the EU.” On 23 June 2016 Gibraltar voted with the rest of the United Kingdom on whether the UK should remain in, or leave the European Union. Although the final decision saw the UK decide to leave, Gibraltar overwhelmingly voted to remain in the Union. There was a strong voter turnout of 82% resulting in 19,322 votes to remain and only 872 to leave.

The very day after the result of the Brexit vote, Spain’s acting Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo, as promised, renewed calls for joint Spanish/British control of the peninsula. He labeled the British people’s decision to leave the EU as “a complete change of outlook that opens up new possibilities on Gibraltar not seen for a very long time” speculating that “the Spanish flag on the Rock is much closer than before.”

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I have visited Gibraltar once, in 1956, when my family was emigrating from England to Australia. We anchored in the harbor in the night and when I awoke and went out on deck there was the celebrated Rock before me whilst a flotilla of small boats gathered around the ship’s port side. Some of the ship’s crew had rigged up ropes to the deck rails so that passengers could buy souvenirs from the boats via baskets that were hauled up and down. On some of the boats were boys, stripped to their shorts, who dived for coins tossed into the sea by passengers. It was my first glimpse of worlds beyond humdrum British middle-class life and a welcome, sunny change from the grey London winter and storms in the Bay of Biscay. From there, on our travels, I saw Vesuvius in the Bay of Naples, the Greek islands, Suez and Port Said, Aden in Yemen, with Arabs, camels and the magic of the gilly-gilly man, snake dancers in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon),all before the long haul across the equator to Australia. Is it any wonder that I have spent my life traveling the world?

My papa bought a cigarette lighter with a parrot painted on it from a trader on one of the boats. No idea why.  He had been a Royal Navy officer from 1935 to 1944 and must have seen this kind of scene all over the world a dozen times. What I didn’t know until we left Gib was that we had taken on a troupe of flamenco dancers as passengers bound for a tour of Australia, but next day there was no doubt. Tour posters of dancers in severe poses appeared throughout the ship declaring that celebrities were on board.

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Gibraltar cuisine is synthesis of elements, primarily British and Spanish, of course, but with a general Mediterranean eclectic mix to it. Fideos al horno (oven noodles) is a popular Gibraltar dish that has analogs throughout the Mediterranean and the Italian community of the eastern United States (baked ziti).  The basics are that you cook some kind of pasta, mix it with a tomato-based meat sauce, add cheese, and bake. My recipe here is something of a modification of the one found at http://deliciousmartha.com/2015/10/05/fideos-al-horno-receta-tradicional/ . The original is in Spanish and seems a bit bland to me. But I’ll give it more or less as is. It calls for canned or dried mushrooms from the Pyrenees which may be a little hard to obtain. Any strong dried mushrooms will work.

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Start the day before by soaking the mushrooms. The recipe calls for moixernons o senderillas secas (mushrooms from the mountains). Dried porcini will work fine. Put about 2 cups of warm water in a bowl and soak 100 to 200 grams (¼ to ½ lb) of mushrooms overnight.

Take about 4 very ripe medium-size tomatoes and grate them into the mushroom water, discarding the skins. If this is too much trouble, add a can of crushed tomatoes. That’s what I usually do. Add oregano and salt to taste, place in a non-reactive saucepan and simmer gently for about an hour, until the sauce is reduced and thick. Meanwhile cook your pasta. This can be any type of thick spaghetti, linguine, or noodles broken into short pieces. Cook about 500 grams (1 lb) of pasta in rapidly boiling water until barely al dente. Drain and rinse in hot water. In other parts of the Mediterranean and the U.S. cooks use all kinds of pasta — ziti, macaroni,

Mix together the sauce and pasta in a deep casserole. Generously cover the top with grated cheese and bake in a hot oven (200°C/400°F) until the cheese is melted and bubbling – about 10 minutes.

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