Do it for the vine. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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Nip across the border to sample the ancient vines

Spain and Portugal may have settled their differences, but when it comes to grapes, it's not so simple.

The vines that produce the kind of grapes you crush for wine can live a long time: I’ve seen gnarled plants on the island of Santorini that are over 150 years old and still producing fruit, although not very much of it. Most, however, get yanked out and replaced long before they’re eligible for a royal telegram; there is a delicate balance between the prestige of old vines and a field full of superannuated stalks with barely a grape between them.

I brought a bottle of old-vine Vinho Verde, a 2012 Soalheiro Primeiras Vinhas, back from northern Portugal a couple of weeks ago, snuggled inside several jumpers in the hold and prayed over by its owner a few feet above although, contrary to the region’s name – Vinho Verde means “green wine” – the contents are a delicate yellow that would have inflicted only temporary damage on my wardrobe. And the Wine Society sells it for £20 a bottle. But this was given to me, and I can be as territorial as any conquering hero, when it comes to wine.

Its grape, Alvarinho, is now Vinho Verde’s trendiest, largely because of its success across the Spanish border in Galicia, where it is called Albariño. The vines are over 40 years old. I tasted this lovely wine in a beautiful glass-walled room on the estate in Melgaço, gazing through those huge windows at Spain. It feels peculiar to sit in one country looking at the other while tasting the wine that has largely replaced land as the root of their rivalry. It is a curiosity that most people view Vinho Verde as a style and not a region (it is both), and its grapes remain shrouded in mystery – even those, like Alvarinho and Loureiro, that are pretty well known in their Spanish incarnation.

Wine notwithstanding, relations between the two Iberian nations are mainly cordial these days. Luiz Cerdeira, Soalheiro’s owner, pointed out the benefits of nipping north for the midday meal: not only do the Spanish start later and lunch longer, but the time difference allows you to recuperate an hour when you return. This almost makes having an enormous, powerful neighbour worthwhile. Greedy Portuguese buying lunch is an improvement on acquisitive Castilians attempting to add Portugal to their roster of conquered states; I believe they call this progress.

With a short exception, the two have been separate since 1129, when Afonso Henriques proclaimed himself king. Afonso was an exceptional piece of work, rebelling against his mother at the age of 11 (in the 12th-century sense of taking up arms against her, not refusing to eat his bacalhau) and fighting all-comers until well into his seventies. He was a member of the House of Burgundy: truly an old vine from exceptional stock.

There are red, rosé and sparkling Vinho Verdes but it is the whites for which the region is famed, and if it is still trying to shake off a certain 1970s taint, quality is climbing, so it should succeed. After all, hardly anyone dislikes Vinho Verde; it is so gentle, so softly approachable, it would be like disliking daisies. Wines made from Loureiro usually have a stronger personality than the Alvarinhos: Quinta de Curvos makes a lovely one that nicely matched a rather delicious crab Marie Rose (maybe the 1970s were a better decade gastronomically than we’re led to believe). But it’s all relative.

Strength and power also reside next door, however, and in this case the border is not political but geological. The Marão Mountains shield Portugal’s Douro from coastal rain and winds, entirely changing the landscape and its output: just miles from a land feted for its light whites, you get port. Truly, contiguity is complicated, especially when it is of long standing. The miracle is less that Portugal has remained separate from Spain than that the two countries now manage to be friends – despite their similarities.

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 27 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Russia vs the west

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One Day Without Us reveals the spectre of Britain without immigration

Imagine a country without its NHS workers, its artists and even its consumers. That's why immigrants are striking today. 

What’s the best way of making yourself heard in politics? Protesting in the street, or contacting the media? Writing to politicians? A badge?

One option, of course, is to walk out - and give people a chance to recognise what they’d be missing if you weren’t there. In the labour movement, that’s long been an option – a last-case option, but an option nevertheless – when your contribution isn't being recognised.

A strike is a tit-for-tat negotiation and a warning shot. “I’ll work properly when you employ me properly”, it says, but simultaneously: “Here’s what you’d lose if I stopped”. Done right, the worker’s absence can shift the power balance in their favour.

Normally, people strike according to their role, in pursuit of certain conditions – the tube strikes, or last year’s teacher's strike.

Yet there is also a long and rich history of walk-outs whose terms are broader and boundaries hazier. One of the most famous is surely the 1975 Women's Strike, in Iceland, during which 90 per cent of the country's women refused to participate in either paid or unpaid work.

In 2016, the formula was repeated in Poland, where women went on strike to protest against a draconian change being proposed to the country's already-strict abortion laws. (It worked.)

Immigrant strikes, too, have a history. In 2006, for instance, a coalition of Los Angeles Catholic groups, unions and immigration reform groups proposed a boycott in opposition to a bill which, among other things, called for new border security fences to be built between America and Mexico. (Ahem.)

The action grew to become a national event, and on May 1, the “Great American Boycott” took place, with immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere leaving work, skipping school and refusing to buy or sell goods.

Now, with Donald Trump in the White House and Brexit looming, some have decided it’s time for another strike. Enter “One Day Without Us”.

Today, immigrants here in Britain will strike not for pay conditions or holiday allowances, but for basic recognition and respect. Across the country, businesses will close and immigrants will leave work, many of them to take place in alternative actions like rallies or letter-writing campaigns.

The name of the protest pulls no punches. This, it says, is what it would be like if we all went away. (Subtext: “like some of you want”.)

Because – and let’s be honest here – it’d be bad. In hospital this summer, I was treated by migrants. After 24 hours in NHS, I took a count, and found that only about one in five of the staff who had treated me were identifiably English. Around 4.6 per cent of NHS staff nationally are from the EU, including 9 per cent of doctors. Immigrants clean buildings, make our food, and provide a whole host of other vital services.

One Day Without Us, then, could do Britain a huge favour - it provides us with a quick preview function before anyone ups and leaves for good, taking the heart of our health service, or our food supplies, with them.

In recognition of this, some businesses are actively giving their workers the day off. One 36-year-old owner of a support services company, for instance, is giving her staff a paid holiday.

“Not all my colleagues are taking up the offer not to come in”, she explained. “Some, both British and foreign-born, would prefer to work. That’s fine, I wanted to give colleagues the freedom to choose.

 “It will cause some inconvenience and I’ve had to explain to clients why we aren’t offering all our services for one day, but I feel doing this is the only way to show how much this country relies on migrants. I may be a businesswoman, but I’m a human being first, and it hurts my heart to see how foreign-born colleagues are being treated by some people in the current political climate."

The woman, whose staff is 65 per cent foreign born, has asked her company not to be identified. She’s heard her staff being abused for speaking Polish.

Of course, not everyone is able to walk out of work. I write this from Chicago, Illinois, where last week activists participated in an American predecessor to One Day Without Us called “Day Without Immigrants”. Type “Day Without Immigrants" into Google followed by the word "Chicago" and you will find reports of restaurants closing down and citizens marching together through the city.

But search for just "Day Without Immigrants", and the top stories are all about participants being fired.

One Day Without Us, then, encourages any form of engagement. From human chains to sessions during which participants can write to their MP, these events allow immigrants, and supporters, to make themselves known across the country.

Businesses and museums, too, are involved. The Tate, for instance, is offering free tours showing visitors artworks created or influenced by migrants, showing Londoners which of the paintings that they’ve seen a dozen times only exist because of immigration.

Because paintings, like people, come from everywhere, whether or not you remember. Britain is a mongrel country, and so its art and culture are as mongrel as its workforce: a persistent thread through the country’s history.

We risk a lot forgetting this. At its best, assimilation provides a way of integrating without forgetting one’s own unique identity. In a world where immigrants risk threats or violence, however, invisibility can be the best option. For some, it is better not to be recognized as an immigrant than be abused as one.

Those of us who don’t risk threats have a duty to recognise this. I dislike the glibness of “we are all migrants” – maybe, technically, but we’re not all getting slurs shouted at us in the high street, are we? Still, I also don’t like anyone forgetting the fact that their existence, in all probably, is contingent on someone once being given clemency in a place that was their own. The movement of people is woven into the fabric of society.

Of course, it is impossible to say how successful One Day Without Us will be, or how many people’s lives will be directly affected. But I hope that, even as a gesture, it works: that people think of what would be missing from their lives without immigration.

We ignore it at our peril.

You can view all the One Day Without Us events on the organisers’ website, or contribute to a fund to support businesses which are closing for the day here.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland