Friday, 27 May 2016

Walkers and words.

As I set off on my regular morning run today I crossed paths with a lady pilgrim, a "peregrina". Stout boots, sensible shorts, cap, small rucksack on her back, small bag on her front with map poking out, and a couple of those walking poles you see people using. No pilgrim's staff for her but those semi-professional walking poles, rather like ski sticks. I think they are supposed to make your stride more regular or something, but on a city street they look a little odd. But, hey, I am not the one walking kilometres and kilometres. I greeted her but she was intent on her walking and made no reply. Maybe I spoke in the wrong language. Maybe she was preoccupied because she was all alone. 

Some twenty minutes later, having run the circuit around the back of our blocks of flats, past the allotments, coming out at the back of the Carrefour shopping complex, I saw her again. This time she was crossing the road with a gentleman pilgrim, a "peregrino". And then came a whole gaggle of them, a group of perhaps ten. I decided at that point that they must be British because two of the men were wearing handkerchiefs with the corners knotted by way of head gear, the classic make-do sunhat of the British male. But they were too far away for me to greet them or engage them in conversation so I simply watched them cross the road and continue on their way. 

I didn't know the Camino went past our flats but presumably they had maps sending along this route, heading towards Redondela and beyond. And then, around here almost all roads will eventually lead you to Santiago. 

Knowing that I am interested in words, a friend of mine sent me some information about something called the "Positive Lexicography Project", an online glossary of hundreds of untranslatable words. "First, it aims to provide a window onto cultural differences in constructions of well-being, thereby enriching our understanding of well-being. Second, a more ambitious aim is that this lexicon may help expand the emotional vocabulary of English speakers (and indeed speakers of all languages), and consequently enrich their experiences of well-being." There you go. 

And here are a few examples: 

Cwtch (Welsh, n.): to hug, a safe welcoming place. (I wonder if you pronounce it at all like "couch", which is a welcoming place where you. Might hug someone!) 
Fjellvant (Norwegian) (adj.): Being accustomed to walk in the mountains. (Any connection with fells? Quite a lot of fell-walking goes on in our bit of England.) 

Here are some that I really like, the first two for the sound of them: 

Morgenfrisk (Danish, adj.): feeling rested after a good night's sleep. 
Whakakoakoa (Māori, v.): to cheer up. 

and this one for the translation: 

Waldeinsamkeit (German, n.): mysterious feeling of solitude when alone in the woods. 

 The Spanish word selected was "sobremesa", sitting around talking after a meal or as they translated it "when the food has finished but the conversation is still flowing". This is something that goes on at our house all the time, even if we don't have a special word for it. 

Personally I would like to add "consuegra", another Spanish word. "Suegra" means mother-in-law. "Con" means with. Two women, mothers of the two halves of a young couple are "consuegras", mothers-in-law together, I suppose. Somehow it suggests an amicable arrangement, to me anyway!

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Hello sunshine!

According to one of the UK newspapers, Britain is about to have a record three months of brilliant summer weather. They say that the highest ever UK temperature of 38.5C could well be beaten. "The predictions hinge on a rare set of meteorological circumstances, which forecasters now agree will come to fruition." I will believe it when it happens. Every year they seem to predict such wondrous weather and rarely does it come about. Almost all of us, especially the baby boomers, have memories, undoubtedly false memories, of the fabulous summers of our youth, when the sun shone every day and the tar went soft in the streets so that ladies' high heeled shoes sank into it. And that was probably more to do with the makeup of the tarmac than anything else. 

In reality, the only truly amazing summer I remember is 1976, when we went camping in Brittany in late June, were totally impressed by the heat stroke-inducing weather and returned to England to find they had had the same. Not only that, but it really did continue until mid-September. That, however, is the only time I can say, hand on heart, that we had an unbelievable summer. So I wait to see what my friends and relations report about summer 2016. 

Summer 2016 in Galicia is getting off to a slow start. We have just had a visit from our son and his little family. They left us yesterday day for a week in Baiona, where they are renting the same holiday let as last year. Granted they are here a week earlier than last year but by the time they arrived last year I had already had a few weeks of dipping in and out of the pool. So far, while I wouldn't go so far as to agree with the locals who keep telling me how cold the weather is, I will confess to eyeing the pool with some suspicion and thinking that it is not quite warm enough for me to be risking a daily swim just yet. 

Nonetheless, our small granddaughter had a splendid time wiping the rainwater off the slide and swings in the playground in the garden of our flats. And when we go to Baiona for lunch one day at the weekend I shall probably take my swimsuit with me just in case it should be pool weather. 

Last year, prior to their visit, we had to go through something of a battle to ensure that the parking place allocated to this flat remained free in the underground garage. A series of moderately rude notes were left on cars parked in that very spot. The drivers were invited to contact us if they thought they might like to rent the spot from us for a modest monthly fee. The upshot was that the space was cleared but no one took up our offer to rent the space from us. 

This year, no problem. No illegal parked vehicles. But still no possible tenant. However, the war of the fire-doors continues. We continue to close them. Some other inhabitant of our block continues to wedge them open. 

Oh, the joy of living in interesting times!

Sunday, 22 May 2016


For various reasons, we don't have a permanent internet connection in our flat here. As a result we have collected a list of cafes with wifi which we frequent, checking our email, reading news online and so on. Not very long after we moved into our current flat I asked at the nearest bar if they had wifi. The lady who ran the bar, a Filipina I think, looked at me blankly and then told me, "Ni sé lo que es" (I don't even know what it is). 

And every time we come to spend time here, I look out to see if there is anywhere nearer than the Failde cafe, a fifteen minute walk away, with wifi. All to no avail! Until this time! On Tuesday morning I spotted a sign in the window of the "Ni sé lo que es" bar, actually called Bar Caruso: HAY WIFI. 

So finally, on Saturday evening we went along. It was raining and we didn't fancy walking much further. A perfectly fine wifi connection. A rather dingy bar but the people are friendly enough. 

In the bar I read my friend Colin's blog. He has been noting down conversations he has overheard. Here's one for him: 

Man who walks into the bar: Hola. 

Woman nursing a large glass of white wine at the bar, at least her second: Hola señor ... señorito. 

She then went on at length about why she called him señorito: because of his age. (Somewhat tongue in cheek as he was well past middle age. And besides, señorito has rather bourgeois connotations.) Women, the wine lady explained, are called señora rather than señorita when they reach a certain age. So the same should apply to men. There were some raised eyebrows at this, so she appealed to the Filipina who runs the place. Should she be señora? She was, after all, beyond the age of mere girlhood. 

 Her reply was classic: Soy señorita. Y soy virgen. 

Now that is not a conversation you are likely to hear in a bar in the UK. 

Meanwhile, I think we might be in danger of starting a little controversy in our block of flats. Every floor has two heavy fire doors, one at each end of the lift area. These are regularly wedged open, especially on fine and sunny days. Perhaps this is in the belief that it keeps the building cool. Who knows? 

Anyway, every time we go out, Phil tuts, removes the wedge and carefully shuts the fire door. On an almost equally regular basis, we come back to find it wedged once more. I imagine a Spaniard who comes out and finds it closed, tuts and wedges it open. 

Are we initiating the Fire Door Wars? 

Of course, if this were England the doors would have a notice clearly stating that these are fire doors and should be kept closed. No such notice here, of course! 

Where will it end?

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Odd forms of entertainment.

Here's an odd random fact, gleaned from yesterday's Guardian: it is perfectly legal to be naked in the parks of New York, provided you get a permit which states that it is for entertainment purposes. Only in America! 

And so a group of women have been performing Shakespeare's play The Tempest" in Central Park stark naked. Well, it seems that some of them took their clothes off during the performance but most of them were starkers throughout. The actress who played Prospero put her clothes back on at the end to symbolise getting free of the island. It's produced by a the Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp fiction Appreciation Society, known as the Topless bookclub for short. For six years, the group has met to read books and have picnics while exercising the right to enjoy the outdoors topless (which the law in York allows), in an effort to encourage body freedom. 

I just love terms like "body freedom". It goes along with stuff like promoting "the normalisation of the naked female body", another of the group's aims. Each to his own!

Well, I hope their production was successful. I am, however, quite glad I wasn't there to see it. I get a bit purist about productions of Shakespeare. I once saw Macbeth in a German theatre, a very strange production in which the three witches were not old crones but three nubile young things who insisted on being quite phonographic all over the stage. The students I was with were all rather embarrassed by the whole affair. 

Performance art is often odd. We have seen some strange things here in Galicia in the name of what I suppose is Celtic Fringe: witches and wizards prancing around of stilts and setting fire to quite toxic looking brews. Maybe I am just too ignorant to appreciate it. Or maybe they are trying to hard to prove centuries-old tradition! 

Mind you, just because something is centuries old does not necessarily mean it should last forever. I also read about a regional government somewhere to the northwest of Madrid which has outlawed the killing of bulls by spearing them to death during a summer fiesta. This is the Toro de la Vega (loosely translated, the Bull form the Orchards) festival in Tordesillas. Horsemen chase a bull and attack it with spears, while the onlookers presumably cheer them on. Understandably, animal rights activists have been protesting about it for a good while and now they have had their way. 

Some of the fiestas involving animals that go on around here, herding all the wild horses together and stuff like that, are undoubtedly worth seeing. Gratuitous nastiness, however, is a different matter. 

 I can't imagine that spearing an animal from horseback is really a skill you need to acquire in the 21st century anyway!

Friday, 20 May 2016

A bit of culture!

Last night we went to a concert at the Teatro Afundación in the centre of Vigo. It used to be called the Fundación Caixa Galicia before the banks amalgamated or were taken over or for some other reason changed their name. I still find it odd that a concert venue is run by a bank. But then, if you buy tickets for other events - outdoor concerts in the Castrelos Park or even the Springsteen concert we went to outside Santiago some years ago - you often have to collect your tickets from the bank. 

So off we went to hear a little Ravel, a little Fauré, a little Poulenc and, in the second half, quite a lot of Beethoven. All very good. Now, they say that you can tell you are growing older when the policemen start to look young. Well, what about conductors? Our conductor last night, a Russian judging by his name, looked about twelve. Okay, I exaggerate! Presumably he must be in his twenties at least or he would bit have completed his studies but I swear he did not look a day over eighteen. 

There he was, bouncing about on his podium, all sweeping gestures and waving his overlong hair around. The orchestra, the Real Filharmonía de Galicia, usually has its own conductor, an Englishman, so I presume the Russian juvenile was a guest conductor. I have often wondered how one becomes a conductor. As with musicians, it must be quite a precarious existence until you have made a name for yourself or become part of an established orchestra. And even then, what an odd life: going out to work in the evening and then, presumably, needing to wind down after the performance before being able to go off to bed. A different kind of shift work, but at least doing something you feel a passion for. 

We booked our seats at the last minute. After all, we only arrived late on Monday afternoon and then more or less wrote off Tuesday as the whole place closed down. Consequently, we had to take the only seats available, in the main auditorium, the "patio de butacas". (Somehow the "patio of armchairs" sounds much more grand than the "stalls".) Our tickets warned that we had "visibilidad limitada". Indeed, right at the front and off to one side, where about a quarter of the stage is cut off from view. Still we got a good look at the musicians' shiny shoes. And the music was good. 

There were, in fact, plenty of empty seats around the concert hall. We worked out some time ago that this is because associations and companies block-book banks of seats and then only occupy them occasionally. Such a waste! There should be a way of indicating, maybe on the day of he concert itself, which seats will not be occupied so that people in "visibilidad limitada" seats and impoverished music students can go and make use of them. 

If only the world were so simple! And so organised!

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Different perspectives.

Tuesday, our first full day here this time, was the Día das Letras Galegas, more or less translated as Galician Literacy Day. Perhaps everyone is meant to stay at home and read a book in Galician, written by a Galician, of course! Whatever the intention, it did not seem to me to merit all the banks and shops and schools being closed. 

We keep doing this, arriving here just in time for a día festivo, bank holiday, when the place shuts down. Fortunately we had bought milk and other essentials on arrival on Monday - another benefit of having caught the 1.45 bus from Porto, as the later bus would probably have meant our arriving after the supermarket closed its doors. As it was we forgot all about it and suddenly realised it was late lunchtime, probably too late to find anywhere still serving, and we had to scratch together a gourmet lunch of hummus, olives, beans on toast and salad! 

The Spanish attitude to bank holidays is quite different to the English one. Well, not totally; both nations have a tendency to head for the beach if it's the right time of year and the Spanish have the wonderful habit of "bridging" their bank holidays to weekends if they occur of Tuesday or Thursday. Long weekends are always a good idea. Where they differ is that the British regard shopping as a well-established leisure activity whereas the Spanish do not seem to agree. Window-shopping is as far as it seems to go. If there is a day off to be had, why shouldn't shop assistants have it as well. Bread and cake shops are the exception but even they work shorter hours on such occasions. Nobody, however, expects cafes and restaurants to close. Maybe they are a public service, like the police, fire and ambulance people. 

But the British, or at least the English, for the Scots and Welsh might be more restrained, regard a bank holiday as a shopping opportunity. And it has always been so. As a teenager I worked in a shoe shop, Saturdays during term time and full time during the summer breaks. Since Southport is, supposedly but not always proven, by the sea, as the summer season progressed the shop stopped having Tuesday half-day closing and also stayed open on bank holidays when lots of visitors to the town were expected. None of us were paid extra for Tuesday afternoons; you just had another morning or afternoon off in lieu. For bank holidays however, you were paid time and a half or even on a occasion double. Those were the days. Nowadays, with Sunday opening and shops staying open until late in the evening I suspect such arrangements no longer count. 

I can't say I have ever fully understood the principle of going on holiday and buying clothes but lots of the tourists who come in on cruise ships seem to do so. But then, people do odd things on holiday. 

 I read about some tourists who visited Yellowstone National Park in the USA and came across a recently born bison calf apparently all alone. They thought he looked cold and bundled him into the back of their SUV. When the park officials discovered this they tried to reunite the baby with its herd but it was too late. They wanted nothing to do with him.

 “The bison calf was later euthanized because it was abandoned and causing a dangerous situation by continually approaching people and cars along the roadway,” the park said in a statement. The tourists were reminded of the rules about not getting too close to the animals and were fined $110. Silly people! 

Another bit of silliness was Gary Lineker's promise to present Match of the Day in his underwear if Leicester won the Premier League. Against all the odds they did so and Gary Lineker will have to make good his promise. He did try to get out of it but social media, tweeters and the like are insisting he should keep his word. And why not? 

 “Do I regret the tweet?" commented Gary, "Nah, not really. No, no I don’t because it’s been quite fun. I did the tweet knowing, categorically, there was zero chance of Leicester continuing on the line they were going and to win the league. I was spectacularly wrong but I’m so glad I was.”

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Mixed fortunes.

 My mother had a theory about things going in threes. Buses missed. Accidents at the corner of the street. Local women getting pregnant. You name it; she could find a way of putting it into a group of three. 

When we were returning from London recently and our train was cancelled, I thought nothing of it. Some weeks later we were going to Newcastle to visit a friend and arrived at Manchester Victoria to find that our train was cancelled. But still it was only two! 

Then, yesterday morning, en route for Spain, we had organised out travel to Liverpool John Lennon airport as a masterpiece of timing. Bus from the corner of the street at 7.54. Tram from Oldham to Shudehill Interchange on Manchester, arriving in plenty of time for the final stage: Terravision bus to the airport. It promised to get us there for 10.00. With fast track through security we would not need to hang around for too long before getting the plane to Porto, due to take off at 11.15. 

At 9.05, five minutes before the planned departure of the Terravision bus, one of their employees ran round telling us all that the bus was cancelled. We were welcome to catch the next one .... at 10.00. So that made three cancellations, one in March, one in April and finally, one in May. 

We wondered, very briefly, which of our friends and relations might be able to drive us at short notice. Answer: probably none and even of they were willing, by the time they made it to central Manchester to collect us, it would be too late. So we scouted around to see if anyone else going to Liverpool was willing to share a taxi. As luck would have it, two Irishmen were flying back to Belfast and needed to be at the airport at around the same time as us. 

As we debated where to find a taxi at such short notice, we spotted one pulling up outside the interchange and persuaded the driver, once he had dropped off his previous fare, to take the four of us. So off we went, sharing the fare and arriving in time for our respective planes. 

Now, we thought we were unfortunate. However, it turned out the two Irishmen had been in Manchester for the United match at the weekend. The one that was cancelled because of a bomb scare. The bomb scare that turned put to be a training device left behind from a security-dog-training exercise. They had been given tickets for the rescheduled match but would not be able to come back to Manchester. Work commitments. How peeved must they have been! 

As we bowled along the motorway, our taxi driver talked about passengers and how his previous fare had been really stressed that she might miss her bus. Suddenly he put two and two together and asked what time our bus had been due to depart: 9.10. That was the time his stressed lady passenger needed to catch the bus! Oops! Probably the same cancelled Terravision bus. By then it was too late and, besides, it was someone else's problem. 

We arrived in time for our plane, hung around for a while and boarded and departed on time. We even arrived just a tiny bit early. More about that shortly. In the airport I was on the lookout for a young friend, Sarah, who was supposed to be on the same flight. No sign of her. Had she missed the Terravision bus? But no, all was well. I found her on the plane half way through the flight. We discussed onward travel and lamented the fact that we were probably going to arrive in Porto just too late for the 1.45 Autna bus to Vigo. The next one would not be until 6.15 in the evening! This would mean Sarah could not continue her journey to A Coruña today. Did she want a bed for the night? That would be fine. We could help her out. 

And then our plane arrived in Porto just a tiny bit early. Knowing that Autna buses are sometimes on the last minute, the three of us, Phil, Sarah and I, all travelling handluggage only, raced through the airport, scuttled as fast as possible through passport control and exited the circling doors of Sa Carneiro to see the Autna bus, fifteen minutes late, still loading passengers. Hurrah! No time for a loo-stop. Straight onto the bus. 

Sarah was able to catch her train to A Coruña and we strolled through the hazy Vigo sunshine, pulling our suitcases along behind us, back to Calle Aragón. 

Sometimes, despite a poor start, the day just goes right!