Thursday, 17 August 2017

Being rather Spanish!

Today I found myself doing a very Spanish thing.

This is sometimes a very strange-seeming country. Drivers frequently ignore red lights when it suits them, although usually only at pedestrian crossing as far as my limited experience tells me. Motorcyclists drive short distances on the pavement, again when it suits them. Cyclists zoom along at speed on the pavements - but that happens in the UK as well! You can park in legally designated spots adjacent to pedestrian crossing, even though this obstructs the pedestrians' view of the traffic and the drivers view of people waiting to cross. People park ON pedestrian crossings, on corners, even sometimes on roundabouts. And, if they plan on stopping for only a short time, people double park. Keep that last one in mind.

Because we do not have a bank account here in Spain we have complicated arrangements for playing the rent on our flat. We do all our dealing with the landlady's 40-year-old daughter and every so often she comes round and I pay her a few months's rent in advance in cash. It works fine and everything is documented. Whether she declares everything to "hacienda" is her affair.

Anyway, this morning we had arranged for her to call round. At the appointed time she telephoned me to ask if I minded going down to meet her outside the flats. She had just arrived and her baby had chosen that very moment to fall asleep, the way nine-month-old babies do. She was loath to disturb him, almost certainly waking him up getting put of the car and then having to settle him down again after the visit. So I went down and there she was, double parked! And I looked at paperwork, handed over money, signed relevant documents and was given receipts ... standing in the road next to a double-parked car! Wonderful! I must be acclimatising!

As I said, this is sometimes a very crazy country.

However, as far as I know you wouldn't get the kind of thing described in this excerpt from an article on racist attitudes and violence towards black women in the USA:


I had been documenting police violence against adult women of color for almost a decade when I learned about the case of Jaisha Aikins, in 2005. Jaisha, a five-year-old black girl, was handcuffed and arrested at her St Petersburg, Florida, school for essentially throwing a temper tantrum – as every five-year-old has done at some point. The school’s administrators and some media commentators justified putting a five-year-old in handcuffs on the grounds that she “punched” the school’s vice-principal, as if the little girl had hauled back and clocked her, rather than flailing at her with tiny hands while in the throes of a tantrum, with the force of a child.

It was clear from video taken of the incident that the vice-principal was not hurt and that Jaisha eventually calmed down. In fact, Jaisha was sitting calmly in a chair when police arrived in response to the vice-principal’s call to arrest an unruly student. Even after discovering the student was a kindergartener, three white armed officers nevertheless proceeded to pull the little girl’s hands behind her back to put them in handcuffs as she cried and begged them not to. Jaisha was taken to the police station in a patrol car, but released to her mother’s custody when prosecutors refused to file charges against her."

Thank goodness for prosecutors sensible enough not to press charges!

And here's another example, from a news report I came across earlier this week: "An Alabama law barring teachers from having sex with their students was ruled unconstitutional Thursday by a state judge who also dismissed charges against two instructors who were facing 20 years behind bars for sleeping with students. Judge Glenn Thompson dismissed charges against a former high school teacher, Carrie Witt, 44, and David Solomon, 27, a former aide at a different school."

Now, which country seems the more crazy?

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

More celebration stuff.

On Sunday evening, after Phil's chess game, we stopped off in Pontevedra for something to eat with our friend Colin, making our way to the station in time for a train at about 10.20. In theory we had plenty of time but leaving the old quarter was made difficult because of the "Peregrina" celebrations. A procession was making its way to the chapel, walking the statue of the virgin through the streets in that very Spanish way. Our route was blocked by onlookers and dignitaries. This was rather pity as I would have liked to take some pictures. but on any case we had no time.

On Monday, the tournament over and a celebration lunch - best veteran trophy once again! - eaten, we stopped for a coffee near the station and looked at the paper. There we found photos of some aspects of the celebration, including this one of the "tradicional baile de las cintas", the traditional ribbon dance.

From the look of it, the "tradicional baile de las cintas" is essentially exactly the same as a maypole dance. What most struck me was the similarity between the costumes of the men involved in the dance and the garb of the traditional Morrismen of the north of England. No doubt this is another Celtic tradition which crosses all boundaries and takes no notice of EU regulations or Brexit.

I apologise for the poor quality of the photo, which I pinched from the newspaper.

Here's some stuff I found out San Roque, also known as Saint Rock in English. He dates back to the 13th century and is invoked against the plague, among other things, such as cholera, epidemics, knee problems, plague, skin diseases.

He is a patron saint of dogs, falsely accused people, bachelors, and several other things.

Today is his day.

And of course Vigo has a "festivo" for San Roque. After all there is a district called San Roque. According to the Vigo turismo webpage San Roque is Vigo's most traditional urban religious celebration. (Even more than Semana Santa???) This is what the webpage tells us:

 "During the San Roque festivities, every 16th of August, the milagreiro (miracle maker) saint turns the neighbourhood surrounding the San Roque pazo (where they keep its statue) into the largest urban pilgrimage in Vigo. The celebration maintains all the customs of traditional celebrations in the countryside, a romería (religious celebration in honour of a saint).

Every year, thousands of devotees gather in the vicinity of the Praza de España, in the neighbourhood of San Roque, to keep the largest pilgrimage in Vigo alive. Votive offerings are the most typical part of this celebration: the custom is to buy wax reproductions of diseased body parts to ask San Roque for a cure. The saint’s devotees guarantee that the 'holy milagreiro' is able to heal all ailments."

 I suggested that Phil should go along as he sometimes complains about knee problems (see above for the powers of San Roque) but he seems not to be interested. I can't imagine why!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Celebrating things!

Today is "festivo", a public holiday, the Feast of the Assumption, when the Virgin Mary is supposed to have been transported up to heaven, I think. It's a public holiday in Italy as well: "ferragosto", when everyone has a big family meal ot set off on holiday somewhere.

Tomorrow is also "festivo" in Vigo, but not, I was told, in the rest of Spain or even in the rest of Galicia. It is the feast of San Roque, whoever he is. Maybe he is the patron saint of Vigo. On the train the other day I heard two young women taking about the "festivos", one of them wondering why there are so many. The other explained that it is because there are so many saints in Spain. Not just that there are so many saints in general; she was quite possessive about it, declaring, "We have so many saints". She made it sound as if there are more in Spain than elsewhere. Is that even possible? Surely a saint is a saint everywhere! No doubt somebody will put me wise.

As there are two "festivos" on the run, I found myself wondering if those who like to make a bridge connecting the weekend to a public holiday will make one at each end and take the whole week off. It would make sense, of a kind anyway. But maybe Wednesday is too far from next weekend for a "puente" to be realistic and feasible.

This being Spain, the supermarkets close for "festivos", unlike the UK where just about the only one that leads to a mass shutdown is Christmas Day. Not even Easter Sunday makes them close, just reduce their opening hours. So when we got back from Pontevedra yesterday in the early evening I decided to pop into the supermarket next door for a couple of things. With the chess tournament on in Pontevedra we have been doing so much coming and going that very little shopping has been done. 

Well, either everyone had been in already, emptying the shelves while stocking up on food as the place would be shut for two days, or the supermarket was applying a policy of not restocking shelves until after the two public holidays were done. The place looked as though it was in the last stages of a closing down sale. Whole shelves were almost empty. There were only about three cartons of fresh milk left, of which I took two. I got the last box of six fresh eggs. There were however plenty of boxes of hard-boiled eggs! Almost no oranges! No packs of chicken fillets!

 It felt as if I was in a disaster movie, shopping in possibly the last supermarket in the world! And, clearly, I had arrived too late to get the really good stuff!!!

Monday, 14 August 2017

More travellers's tales!

On Friday evening we waited with a bunch of people for passengers to get off the train in Pontevedra so that we could all get on. Finally we all started to get on the train, everyone checking in which direction they needed to go to find their seats. It was at that moment that a small kerfuffle started. Two girls were trying to get their rucksacks, tent, rolled up sleeping bags and goodness knows what else from the luggage rack so they could get off the train. Why were they only just doing it at that point? Had they mot realised they were at their station? Had they fallen asleep? Or were they just stupid?

Being good English folk, we told those getting on behind us what was happening and asked them to try to hold the door open. Nobody took a blind bit of notice, the doors closed and the train set off. With a mixture of horror and resigned giggles, the girls settled down to wait for the next stop. Fortunately this was not the superfast train, which stops nowhere until it reaches Vigo. And so they were able to get off about five minutes later at Arcade, where presumably they changed platforms and caught the next train back to Pontevedra.

On Saturday we had another little train adventure. Vigo to Redondela was quiet and peaceful as usual and then we reached Redondela. Suddenly the train was invaded by hordes of young people. There seemed to be hundreds of them but perhaps I am exaggerating. Different groups of them had matching t-shirts, some clearly specially printed for the occasion with the names of their mates printed on the back. Many of them had had their t-shirts signed by just about the whole group, like school leavers with their school shirts at the end of year 11 in the UK.

They were clearly "peñas", teams of young people, on their to Pontevedra for the last day of the Semana Grande - bullfights, fireworks, running around drinking and spraying other "peñas"with watered-down wine. They were so numerous that they could not find seats and stood in the aisle, swaying and squealing with every movement of the train. The noise was phenomenal, some of them were already half-way drunk. A kind of mobile botellón!

I  had been thinking of spending the afternoon in Pontevedra centre once again but, faced with the prospect of so many happily rampaging "peñas", I decided to accompany the chess players to the tournament where the heat in the sportshall where they are playing was astounding but I found a cool corner outside with a fresh breeze!

Later in the day, I overheard someone on the bus going down to the railway station - a bus that we almost missed as Phil's game went on and on and on - I overheard someone say that the "peñas" are more dangerous than the bulls!

On Sunday it was the automatic ticket machines that let us down. First at Vigo Urzáiz station in the morning we tried to use them to avoid the queue - not working so we had to queue anyway. Then on Sunday evening, going for the 22.21 train, we found the ticket off ice closed and the automatic machine only accepting card payments - but not ours, for some reason!

So much for all the public address system announcement telling passengers that they can buy their tickets from the automatic machines!

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Water, bikes and things that are good for you.

I read in the paper that regular immersion in cold water is good for you. It stimulates all sorts of bits of the nervous system, helps you lose weight and is good for combatting depression. So my daily dips in the sometimes chilly water of the pool are even better for me than I thought. Not that I have been much on the pool this week with all rushing off to catch trains to Pontevedra. I wonder where the cold water theory leaves all the spas I have come across with their heated pools! Those who do not have a handy chilly pool to fall into should try to force themselves to brave a cold shower! So said the article I read anyway!

Yesterday, Friday, we travelled to Ponters early so that we could have lunch with our friend Colin. On the train we got chatting to an English family who had begun their holiday in Santiago de Compostela, had a few days in Vigo in an Air B&B place and were going to Pontevedra for a few days before returning to the UK. All of this they had booked online months back in the UK, including tickets for a trip to the Islas Cíes. Mind you, there had been a slight hiccough with the Cíes booking, something to do with their card not being recognised. But the whole Cíes visiting operation has come on leaps and bounds from the first time we visited when you had to go down to the harbour and hope there was room on the boat you favoured.

After lunch I abandoned the chess player to his own devices. A visit to the museum, a refresco while I checked my email in a wifi cafe, a stroll along the river under the trees in the late afternoon and another refresco were the order of the day. Here is a selection of some of the fine pictures kn the museum.

Our friend Colin has taken to cycling around Pontevedra centre. It's good for him! He keeps pretending to lock his bike to trees and lamp posts, having forgotten the number for the combination lock. Nobody has stolen his bike yet.

Coincidentally, here is a post from a group I follow on Facebook, Forum for Europe, Mostly EU citizens in the UK trying to make sense of Brexit and things:

 "Hi All, I called the Cambridge constabulary to report a bike crime that occurred on my property. As the bike was stolen from my patio, I gave them my home address in Cambridge. They then asked me what my nationality was, and whether I have a British passport. Is that normal?"

When did things like that start to happen? And we haven't even properly left Europe yet!

What has happened to my country?

Friday, 11 August 2017

Degrees of oddness and safety!

The world is full of odd things. On Wednesday when I went out in the morning to buy bread, the lady in the bread shop commented to me, "¡Qué frío!" It was not yet nine in the morning, the temperature gauge said 18 degrees and the day was cool, fine and clear. Not what you would call cold. As the day went on I heard a number of conversations about what an odd summer it is. Baking hot in June, cooled down in July and, according to some, chilly in August. One lady said that this is to be expected: "¡Agosto refresca!" This is apparently an old saying: August cools things down. In April, as in England, they expect rain: "En abril, aguas mil". Such sayings, wise old saws, abound!

The agua might yet prove to be a problem. Back in June I was told that the reservoirs were far from full and there hasn't really been serious rain since then, despite the moaning. Thursday's weather was back up to summer standard: predicted high of 29 in Vigo, 30 in Pontevedra and 32 in Orense. Quite cool for Orense! On the north coast of Galicia, it is cooler; Coruña can expect a high of 24 or 25. Even that seems quite nice to me!

Today, Friday, is equally hot!

In the playing room at the chess tournament yesterday they were all suffering from the heat. The wind direction must have been wrong for keeping the room cool. Outside on the other hand it was quite pleasant.

On Wednesday after Phil finished his game we opted to walk down into Pontevedra centre. It was quite a pleasant walk even though it probably took us about 45 minutes. I can't say I would fancy doing it in the opposite direction - all up hill! I considered walking down again on my own while Phil played on Thursday but then he gave me his laptop to take care of and somehow walking down with a full rucksack, even a mini one, lost its appeal. I fancied taking a look at what was going on in the centre.

This week is "Semana Grande", Pontevedra's big week, when lots of street theatre takes place. And in the evening groups of young people rampage around drinking and throwing stuff at each other! Maybe another day I will make it down to take some pictures.

At various points in the festivities there will be fireworks. Some of the organisers and helpers at the "campus" were discussing the possibility of taking the youngsters down into town on Saturday evening to watch them. It should, they reckoned, be feasible if enough organisers and helpers with cars go their act together. Then the main organiser was consulted. Brilliant idea but ... a big but ... they would need permission from all the parents of the participating youngsters if they were to take them in private cars. He would consider organising a coach!

So health and safety has raised its head here in Galicia too. Knowing the main organiser, I am not at all surprised at his response. And I was reminded of all the trips I used to organise and the forms I had to sign declaring that my students would NOT be involved in various dangerous activities. So it goes.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Time keeping.

Tuesday was the first day of the Pontevedra chess tournament. Phil, of course, is taking part. The event is organised by someone who has become a friend over the years. Every year the tournament is preceded by a "campus", a kind of training camp for young chess players. A few years ago we organised a kind of chess exchange with him. A group of Manchester youngsters came to the "campus" and played in the tournament and then some months later a group of young Galicians went to Manchester. No "campus" but they stayed with chess families, went to the club and then won loads of prizes in a tournament. Not bad!

The "campus" and the tournament take place in a big private school in the outskirts of Pontevedra. It's a prestigious international school with dormitories, which are extremely useful if you are planning a week long residential training session. The disadvantage is that it is up in the hills, so far from the centre of town that access is difficult. You can't just stroll out from town to get there. And so the tournament organisers put on a bus, picking up from Pontevedra bus station half an hour before play starts. Very good!

And so we should have had no problem getting there. Not so! A combination of stuff slowed us down all the way along. In the first place the trains from Vigo to Pontevedra were not perfectly timed. We knew we would have a longish wait at the bus station but we were prepared for that. So off we went for a train at 15.10, from Vigo's out of town station, Guixar. Arriving there, we discovered that the train was now leaving, five minutes later, from the town centre station, Urzáiz. This was because of work being done at the station at Redondela in connection with the eventual, long promised, connection with the AVE high speed train service.


We went to get a taxi to the relevant station. Time was pressing! There was a taxi but there seemed to be no driver. Almost at once another arrived but he refused to take us as there was a taxi ahead of him - the driverless one! Not driverless at all! The driver was snoozing with the seat so reclined that he was invisible. He awoke and put his seat back up. Off we went. Would we arrive in time? The next train would be too late. Phew! We made it ... with only minutes to spare!

Our plan was to spend the waiting-for-the-tournament-bus time in Pontevedra checking our email and other such internet activities. First thing to do was check that the bus station cafe had internet. Yes! Did we need a password? No, according to waitress. So we found the network, discovered that you needed to register, did the registering, filled in all the details and then came up against the screen that demanded the password for the cafeteria!!! By then it was too late to operate plan B and go to the cafe across the road with reliable wifi.

And besides, we had spotted a minibus with the name of the school on the side and went out to investigate. It was indeed our transport. A few other people were also waiting. We exchanged greetings and then chatted with the driver, who seemed in no hurry to go anywhere. But it was still quite early so we were not concerned. Some fifteen minutes later another bus had turned up but no more people. What was going on? Last year there were about twenty people. Perhaps they were all waiting at the second pick-up point.

Eventually we got into the bus and waited and waited and waited. We spoke to the driver. He was expecting somebody from the tournament organisation to turn up. He could not set off yet. (Sometimes the Spanish are great sticklers for obeying instructions. You see it as pedestrians wait for the green man at a crossing on a completely empty road!) So we waited and waited and waited. Time was going past. After some phone calls the driver was persuaded to set off. He also needed convincing that there was supposed to be a second pick-up along the way. And yes, there were players waiting there!

And so, after wasting a prodigious amount of time just hanging around, we finally made it up into the hills, really only a ten minute drive from the town centre, to the school, which is named "Los Sauces", or "The Willows" in English. However, there is not a willow tree to be seen, just lots of eucalyptus. They should rename it "Los Eucaliptos". Somehow it doesn't have the same ring to it. We arrived just in time. The opening ceremony was coming to a close. It was a close call. Play was starting!

Heading back to Vigo later, we asked at Pontevedra train station about trains for Wednesay. Which Vigo station would our train be running from? In what we have come to recognise as fairly typical "I am a state employee with a secure permanent contract and really couldn't give a damn" behaviour, the ticket clerk first of all told us he had no idea. After all, we were asking about Vigo stations and this was Pontevdra, all of fifteen minutes away in a fast train and thirty minutes away in a slow train. What did we really expect! Then he thought about it, finally registering that we had told him about problems at Redondela station. His brain clicked into gear. Clearly he had heard something about work in connection with the AVE. Yes, Monday to Friday the 15.10 train would not leave from Guixar station but from Urzáiz at 15.15. We thanked him and left. He called us back. Saturday as well! We set off again! He called us back. He wasn't sure about Sunday!

He was so vague that we asked again when we got to Vigo, where they confirmed that the 15.10 from Guixar would indeed be the 15.15 from Urzáiz. And what, we asked, if we decided to go earlier, maybe on the 13.10 train? Where would that leave from? Oh, that one would leave from Guixar as usual. (Fast trains - 15 minute journey - run from Urzáiz and slow trains - 30 minute journey - from Guixar, under normal circumstances.) What I neglected to ask was exactly when the work for the AVE took place at Redondela station. The station was open for the 13.10 train to go through, closed so that the 15.10 train had to go round a different way, but clearly open again by the time the evening train was running from Pontevedra to Vigo. They must have a small window of just a few hours to do the AVE work.

This probably explains why the long-promised Galicia bit of the AVE, once scheduled to be here by 2012 I believe, is still a mythical creature of the future!