Wednesday, August 10, 2005

My country is burning

My country is on fire. Nothing has got any better since February, it has all got so much worse. We have become accustomed to it and shrug our shoulders collectively. We Porties are elegant shoulder-shruggers for we are Latin indeed, and it is a beauty to behold.

- Portugal’s area: 92.391 km² (35,553 sq mi)
- 73% of the territory: extreme drought
- 23% of the territory: severe drought

You see images of dead animals scattered on the fields, a slow, painful death. Can you imagine dying like that? Can you imagine being a farmer and knowing your animals are condemned and so are you bcs you can no longer afford feed and water? Bcs there is no water to be had when it doesn’t rain, and we have had no rain for months and months and months on end. The government 2 years ago didn't see fit to declare the situation a Calamity and activate the proper funds. We had a stupid bitch from Europe come and "analyse" what was happening - and she too does not see the need for special measures or funding. It is, I suppose, easy enough to do when you can drink and eat and shower when you want, and have enough money not to worry abt your livelihood and your family starving.

- Forest area: 3.349.000 ha (38% of the Portuguese territory)
- 2.584.895 ha of land burnt between 1980 and 2003.

- 2003: Abt 421.000 ha burnt
- 2004: Abt 130.000 ha burnt
- 2005: 68.290 ha burnt (Jan-July only)

- Spain, Italy, Greece, France: total of burnt area lower than the average for past 25 years
- Portugal: total almost 20% higher than same average

- Total of burnt area in Portugal = 37% of the value for the whole of Southern Europe
- Total of fires in Portugal = 41% of the value for the whole of Southern Europe
- Spain, Italy, France, Greece and even Morocco often have to lend their planes and come to our rescue

Sirens. Sirens make me feel physically ill, always have. Sirens are bad news, horrible ones. My stomach turns into a minute knot and my mouth goes dry when I hear them, sirens spell tragedy. A minor concert just flew by my window, ambulances and fire whizzing by and my soul is heavy and very very small.

2003 saw me in the Wolf Rehab Centre helping evacuate the animals. Do you know wolves? Not the most social of animals when it comes to humans. These are wild wolves who cannot be released back into the wild bcs a) not enough natural prey and b) the average life span in the wild for a wolf is 2-3 years bcs villagers will kill them on sight. Wolves only kill what they eat. Wild dogs, those abandoned by our hunters, those cowards who wield guns, those cowards who find it simpler to dump their dogs and bitches by the side of the road once hunting season is over, and all those no less cowardly who go on holiday and suddenly realise a pet is an inconvenience, all those who find it all right and even natural for their pets to roam the streets without being sterilised or neutered and therefore add to the humungous problem of strays we have bcs everyone knows one dog’s shag is more important than the quality of life of all animals - these dogs will form packs and slaughter sheep and chicken and whatever else comes their way. We could not simply enter the enclosures and look for them, anaesthesia was attempted using blow pipes. Then the animal was retrieved and sent off to the zoo for housing, w one of us travelling w it ensuring it would stay under. We managed to dart 3 wolves, I think. We had over 20 then. The centre is abt 30 min away from Lisbon and we could see a flame ridge along the top of the hill right in front of us. Away but too close, unless you've seen it there's nod escribing how fast fire travels. We could only pray the wind would change and we wouldn’t be trapped. If it didn’t change, we could only hope the animals would die of smoke inhalation. The whole of Lisbon where I lived was covered in soot and smoke, it reeked of it everywhere even w windows closed, the city was shrouded in thick grey fog. If you’ve never been in a situation where you know dozens of animals may die horrible deaths and you will be powerless to prevent it you won’t know how it feels, how much of a nightmare it is. And you choose to worry abt only your animals and block all others from your mind. Only so much you can take. The wind did change so 2003 was a lucky year. 2004 was too. This year it was close, again, but apparently not too bad. 2005 is not over yet and I fear for our wolves and the others in a nearby reserve. The casualties among wolves and deer and other wildlife in that reserve, in our forests and parks? Appalling.

Our firemen? Our firemen are minor heroes, all of them, and so my parents taught me from a very early age. My mother would get a murderous glint in her eyes whenever she saw - and she saw it often - people refusing to donate money to them. Most are volunteers and risk losing their jobs by staying put to help. And their lives, which so many take for bloody granted. They are poorly paid and have often no means and not enough manpower. Porties do what they can to help when there's a fire but how can water buckets and garned hoses help against the huge hunger that a fire displays? My Porties are also the stupidest, most selfish people on earth and will persist in planting trees around their houses in high risk areas and last year’s fire has slipped their minds already, even if the charred walls and ruins are there every day to remind them. My Porties don’t see fit to put away pyromaniacs for life, and my Porties don’t see fit to throw the criminals who plant said trees in the utmost disregard for the properties of others, for fire flies swiftly and deadly, in jail for a couple of months so they can reflect upon how fires, swift and deadly, are to be taken seriously. My Porties wring their hands and wail, you can see it on the news, and claim for help and lament all that will be lost. All that has been lost. My Porties do not believe in prevention, though it’s been proven that increasing the means to fight fire does not work well enough. But there never are enough means anyway. We are a tiny, tiny country, soon fires will no longer be a problem for there will be nothing left to burn.

My Porties are sods, we are a decadent nation who can only get a boner, and a small, fleeting one at that, over soccer. The rest of everything else that comprises the world is none of our business. We still rave abt how we once onwed the world, discovered it. The Great Seafarers. My Porties are curious and inventive but easily distracted and grey through and through. My Porties worry so much abt what the others think of them, we are empoverished snobs with an inferiority complex. My Porties don’t think much of recycling or saving water - and I am called a leftie when I complain abt faucets open while teeth are brushed, beards are shaven, dishes are done, and I am called a leftie when I see lawns being watered at noon and hunt everywhere for recycled toilet paper for my arse is no Renoir, and I am called a leftie when I see people wasting food. My Porties will throw their fags on the ground, will park themselves against a rubbish bag holder on the beach but NOT use it and will leave their sad trail of rubbish scattered all over upon going home. My Porties will make a fire in the middle of a forest in August bcs it’s such good fun, my Porties loudly bring up their phlegm and loudly spit it on the floor, spreading germs as they re-arrange their balls. My Porties' idea of a good time is to dress up in your best training suit and take the offspring and the MIL to the nearest shopping mall on Sundays. My Porties will stand and coyly wave at the cameras as the fire eats away their villages.

Are you a patriot? Well done! I don’t much care for patriots. Patriotism has a way of killing young men in the prime of their lives and amputating their limbs. Patriotism has a way of killing the young and the innocent and the old, of making whole nations starve and whole ethnic groups be exterminated and relocated. Patriotism smells of old farts, fast guns and taxidermised moose heads over the mantelpiece to fit the bear rug in front of it. Patriotism is obscene to me and can go fuck itself - and if you would sooner get off your sofa bcs someone burnt the flag of your country, OH NO NOT THAT!, than mind the daily horrors that befall people and animals everywhere and are as selectively uncaring as always, fuck you as well and no need to thank me. Loads more where this came from.

My country is on fire, there is nothing I can do.

And my Porties shame me so, so very much.


At 10/8/05 14:02, Blogger Diana said...

I had no idea that portugal, being stretched along the sea was so dry. I had just assumed that, as it is where I came from, the rains come from the west, over the sea. How very sad. Change "Portie" to "Yank" (or Canuck in our house) with the water running and you have me. I can't abide waste. It's not the money; it's the waste itself.

At 10/8/05 14:26, Blogger Lorem ipsum said...

Excellent, excellent post.

During times of drought (or fire) the National Guard would be out irrigating. Guess where most of the Guard is these days? (See your last non-line paragraph.) These are the people who are supposed to be on the home front in case of emergency.

Whenever my mom hears about stupid misplaced priorities she disdainfully says, 'America, America.' Now I see that it's everywhere. Is this a humanity problem?

At 10/8/05 15:32, Blogger The Lioness said...

Diana, it can be, especially in the South, which is terribly dry, terribly cold in the winter and terribly hot in the summer. Do two Google Images searches for "Northern Portugal" and for "Alentejo" and you will see the landscape differences. Desertification in the South is a tremendou problem and one that surely will not be solved. I'm the same w waste, it's not like there aren't people dying of thrist and hunger every day - even here sometimes. Bloody sad, yes.

Lorem, I know! Such a different sort of waste. We also have soldiers there, would you believe it? Us in Iraq. The Porties have arrived, y'all can breathe deeply now! We also do NOT train the military in fire fighting or prevention - and believe me, there are some branches who do nothing all day in small towns other than sit around and play cards. It is probably generalised - though there, as in so many things, Scandinavia puts us all to shame.

At 10/8/05 15:57, Blogger JoeinVegas said...

How do you have time to school and still think and write like this? Wow.
Out west we are burning too. People in the dry mountains still want pine trees up against their house, and cedar shake roofs, and complain when firemen can't keep their houses from burning.
And we spend millions to put out the lightning started fires, because there are homes out in the middle of nowhere that have to be saved. If people want to build there, just tell them 'no help, you are on your own' and let them go. But no, lawsuits and politicians will not permit it.
Seems the same all over.

At 10/8/05 17:05, Blogger The Lioness said...

Joe, this is how you do it: you ruminate on it for months on end, never really talking abt it. You avoid the news bcs you have been avoiding the news anyway for a long, long while now. Then you find a Portie blog where the blogger can actually write - and not abt soccer, politics or poetry at that. And said blogger writes a post that is so breathtakingly beautiful it hurt, and all of a sudden I couldn't NOT feel it anymore and simply exploded. When that happens, there's no studying to be had, I need to write first. So I did, but this is bothering me so much I keep editing and finding new mistakes every time I read it ("draught", "then").

I may yet translate his post and add it to mine.

At 10/8/05 19:32, Anonymous Manuela said...

Oh, Johnny... this post breaks my heart. The catastrophe and loss of life caused by fire... absolutely makes my stomache turn in knots.

Here in the wilds of Canada we have entire armies of fire fighters dedicated to wild-fires... annual large scale forest fires are just a fact of life here... although thankfully we have access to water. I have a couple of very close friends who spent years as fire fighters for the Department of Forestry... and they published a very powerful book full of some of the images they captured on their tours. It's a beautiful book... but I find it excruciating to read...

At 10/8/05 20:18, Blogger brooksba said...

Fire is scary and it is heart-breaking to hear the lack of resources in fighting fires. You have again written a very powerful post about a subject I never considered. I remember reading about the draught and thinking about it while we visited, but I never considered how much of an affect a draught would have on the country side in the regards to fire.


At 10/8/05 21:03, Blogger Panda said...

Living, as I do, in the driest state on the driest continent on the planet, fires become a part of your life. We expect them. Every summer, we worry how big the fuel load is this year because there hasnt been enough backburning done in previous years, or because there was a huge rainfall in winter. Every time there is a particular type of wind, coming from the southeast, and a particular colour of the sky my heart ends up in my throat and I refuse to leave the house and put all the kitties inside.

I will never forget the Ash Wednesday fires of 1982, when the entire range of hills was alight for a week with a ghastly orange glow that I could see from my bedroom window. The utter devastation. The loss of life, of property, of everything for so many people.

Living as I do now, in the country, surrounded by either pine forest or eucalyptus forest, every summer I fear even more that it will happen again.

At 11/8/05 01:14, Blogger Lorem ipsum said...

'Draught' is English for 'draft,' which is what Americans use to refer to a sudden indoor breeze or beer from a spigot. Both are pronounced 'DRAFT.'

'Drought' is an absence of rain. It's pronounced 'DROWT.'

Don't worry, I get the spellings mixed up too.

At 11/8/05 01:38, Blogger The Lioness said...

Manuela, I don't think I could read it either. in some ways i'm a professional coward. :(

Beth, it is a tragedy. It wasn't as bad as it is now when you came.

Panda, I've thought abt that, how scary it must be living among all those trees. Can you clear the ground around the house, build a tall wall? Something?

Lorem, i know and that's why it's so bloody infuriating! I do it so often when I am fuming or v v tired. I was both - gah! I do it in Portuguese too, disgraceful. I can live w "draught" but shoot me if you find "your right".

At 11/8/05 06:19, Blogger CarpeDM said...


This post is heartbreaking. I read it, thinking that there isn't that much difference between your country and mine, especially about the patriotism comment.

For every person that recycles, there is two or more that feel free to toss their trash out the window. I try very hard to remember to turn the water off when brushing my teeth but don't always succeed. The sad thing is that I don't usually think about this stuff until I'm reminded.

I'm called a tree hugger because I have a problem with wasting paper. One of the best things about my job is that, instead of printing off dozens of memos each day for people that aren't going to read them, they are sent in email so we can delete them without having to kill a ton of trees.

I'd rather be a leftie than a rightie any day.

Lots of beijos!

At 11/8/05 07:32, Blogger Lord Chimmy said...

And here I thought rampant waste and misplaced patriotism was simply an American problem. I have a lot to learn about the world.

I can relate to each and every word you wrote in this post. I get so pissed at lazy, slothful, selfish people who trash everything because they don't mind living in filth. Tragedy of the fucking commons! At the core of everything you mentioned lies the problem of self-centeredness. People live in this world like they're the only one in it.

At 11/8/05 11:15, Blogger Noorster said...

This is breaking my heart.
Re: waste... you can't possibly imagine the wasting that goes on at airlines. All the food that's being thrown away every day. I understand there are public health regulations that prevent it from being re-distributed among the poor and homeless (yes, even food in its original packaging), but they could easily give it away to animal shelters, many of which are unable to properly feed the animals. As for water, I've seen girls flushing the toilet with mineral water pre-boarding, when the water wasn't yet turned on.

At 11/8/05 12:03, Blogger The Lioness said...

Oh DM, don't get me started on the paper! Chimmy, i0m afraid that last paragraph was a bit misleading. I wrote bcs i know some may read and wonder how i can talk abt my country like that. Well I can bcs my country has gone to the dogs and no one seems to mind. We are actually NOT very patriotic - if you discount soccer. Years ago an actor burnt a flag and some reactionnary fart sued him. The judge ruled in his favour. We are allowed to burn our country's flag here - and it makes me proud. Can you imagine that happening in the U.S.? He'd have been dismembered!

At 11/8/05 17:45, Blogger Lorem ipsum said...

Flag-burning is still legal in the U.S. but probably not for long. Funny how you can vandalize a non-Christian religious icon and get a slap on the wrist but if you burn a flag the public and the authorities will (off the record) take it out of your hide. It's all about whose side you're on these days and whether Bush's Brownshirts are watching.

ps No one pays attention to the official rule of flag disposal, which states that when a U.S. flag is no longer in respectable shape it is to be destroyed - by BURNING!

At 11/8/05 19:29, Blogger Lorem ipsum said...

ps - I don't use that word lightly. The similarities are creepy.

At 11/8/05 20:05, Blogger The Lioness said...

I didn't know that abt the US flag, how interesting. I'm sure you're right.

He is ALL creepy. Agreed.

At 11/8/05 21:16, Blogger paulmonster said...

I spent a season in AmeriCorps (US' domestic Peace Corps) training as a Wildland Firefighter and trained soon after as an EMT in my home state. We would spend long, broiling days in the forest, digging firelines and taking down dead trees and rooting out the non-native vegetation that happens to light up spectacularly whenever the fire season hits.

Your post brought back many back-aching memories. No longer pursuing the firefighter track anymore, as I've been much disgusted by the atmosphere of pervasive and narrow-minded patriotism you cite.

Also, being a Constitutional Law geek, I have to add that Title 18 of the US Code, Chapter 33, Section 700, empowers Congress to penalize anyone who knowingly defiles any flag of the US, with fines and/or up to one year in prison. There are clauses in place to take any appeal on the matter directly to the Supreme Court, bypassing their customary discretionary powers (writ of cert.).

There have been lots and lots of incidents, of local sherriffs and the like, hauling in demonstrators for reasons ostensibly other than flag-burning, when in fact they've been specifically targeted because they burned flags. But, to date, and to my knowledge, no Federal officials have sought to aggressively and specifically enforce this law on the books, as the weight of Supreme Court caselaw (arguably) would render this law unconstitional before a balanced Supreme Court bench. But then, we haven't had a balanced bench for some time now, and aren't likely to in the near future, neither.

But be that as it may. I take the long view. For every Charles Evans Hughes, there's an Oliver Wendell Holmes. For every Roger Taney, there's Earl Warren. The Court may be mired in strict-constructionist stupidity now, but that will last only so long. I Have Hope.

Getting off soapbox now.

At 11/8/05 21:43, Blogger The Lioness said...

PaulMonster is here!!! YEY! Oh it's lovely to read you again, even if only here!

"digging firelines and taking down dead trees and rooting out the non-native vegetation that happens to light up spectacularly whenever the fire season hits."

This is exactly what we do NOT do and should, desperately should.


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