Thursday, 24 April 2014

Keeping up to date with the weather and other things.

This morning it’s raining in Pontevedra. Here’s a picture from my friend Colin’s window about an hour ago. And it has got worse since. 

My young friend and ex-student who works in Santiago de Compostela at the moment must be thanking her lucky stars that her parents came over for Holy Week rather than now. Despite having been told that they could expect just about any weather but snow, they had a week of really good, even warm, weather. I went to see her on Monday by which time the sunshine had disappeared again and we were back to gloom and grey. 

One tower of the cathedral in Santiago is covered in scaffolding, with a helpful picture of the tower on the scaffolding cover, presumably just in case you forget what the tower looks like. Apparently this is needed despite there being another tower just next to it. That tower, though, seems to have a slight lean to it. The famous leaning tower of Santiago? 

 On balance I quite like the idea of covering the scaffolding with pictures of the famous monuments in the process of being restored. When we visited Milan we might have had no idea what the cathedral there looked like without said picture. And on the whole it's a good deal better than huge advertisements for expensive products, which is what they put on the outside of St Ann's church in central Manchester when work was going on there. 

Anyway, my young friend and I had a stroll around Santiago's lovely alameda as well as the old town before going off for lunch the Los Caracoles, a restaurant not far from the obradoiro. A nice menu for €10.50. And, since this was possibly the third time Sarah had been in there in the last two weeks, we got a free chupito at the end of the meal. What's more they didn't mind our sitting there over an after-lunch coffee for ages and ages putting the world to rights before they finally had to tell us they were closing and would we mind leaving. 

 Back in Vigo my reading of Proust has continued. I have made my way through the second volume, "À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs", in which Marcel tells us about his adolescent love life. Perhaps I am something of a philistine but I have to say that I am not finding Monsieur Proust the most gripping of reads. Loads of very lyrical stuff, plenty of reflecting on the beauties of the young ladies he meets, a bit of philosophising about whether or not we truly remember what someone who strikes us terribly attractive actually looks like. But for such a long book, essentially NOTHING MUCH HAPPENS. 

The collected version of Proust that I have on my Kindle includes a series of reviews by one of his contemporaries. It has been quite reassuring to have someone else say, "Proust is really quite a difficult read, first of all because of the unusual length of his works". There I was, thinking it was just me. He goes on to say, "the age of interminable novels is over. In our time of busy people, caught up in their working life and leisure pursuits, brevity is the order of the day if you want to be read". I think this is an amazingly modern comment, taking into account that it dates from 1919. You could be forgiven for thinking that it comes from 2014. Indeed I have read comments to the same effect about "The Goldfinch" by Donna tart. And no-one could say that nothing happens in that novel. 

Having said all this, Mr. Proust did win literary prizes, the Prix Goncourt in 1919. This despite his endless sentences. When his critic commented that you lose the thread of his long sentences and have to start again to sort out what he is really saying, I found myself nodding in agreement. 

This is the kind of thing you find yourself getting up to when the weather turns gloomy. 

In between reading lengthy French novels, I have also been watching Game of Thrones on DVD. It's a well produced lot of mock-medieval swashbuckling and daring-do and I am manfully (womanfully?) resisting the temptation to say at every turn, "but it doesn't happen like that in the books!!!" This is the problem with reading the book first. (Now that is another lot of lengthy books where things DO indeed happen!) However, I do not intend to go on at length about the story line. I only mention my viewing because I came across an article comparing game of Thrones characters to real-life famous people. Here's a link.  I think my favourite is Lady Brienne of Tarth, a female knight in shining armour, as Boris Johnson, Mayor of London. 

I cannot look at either of them in the same light again!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Culture clash?

Travelling Pontevedra on the train, we had assigned seats. On the train we found two ladies in our seats. These were seats in a group of four, with a table in the middle. You know the kind of thing. They were four ladies travelling together. On the opposite side of the carriage, four gentlemen sat together, probably the husbands of the four ladies. This was confirmed when a young man got on and challenged one of the gentlemen, who was sitting in HIS seat. After some discussion, offers to swap tickets, explanation that this was more complicated as he was travelling with a friend, and then further offers to swap two tickets, the young man decided to leave it and just sat in the next available empty seat, grumblingly saying that if anyone needed his new seat he would sort it out then. Pretty much what we had decided as well. 

Watching the two groups, the older gentlemen travelling together and the younger men who wanted their assigned seats, we were struck by these examples of two aspects of Spanish culture/character. On the one hand there is the almost anarchical decision to do whatever suits you best: if you want four seats together where you and your friends can chat comfortably, and you find four seats available, then you sit there regardless of what your tickets say. On the other hand there is the desire to conform and obey the rules: if you find someone sitting in your seat you need to challenge them, even if you allow yourself to be persuaded to be courteous and give in to the older generation. 

The dichotomy - anarchist/conformist - pops up all the time. Some people dash across at pedestrian crossings whenever there is a break in the traffic, taking their life in their hands. Others wait patiently for the green man to appear, even if you can see empty road stretching in both directions as far as eye can see. Some push in at queues at every opportunity. Others tap you on the shoulder to remind you that they were there first, hoping to shame you into letting them back in to the place they abandoned to go and get the forgotten item from the other end if the supermarket. 

The four ladies mattered nineteen to the dozen throughout the journey, almost competing with each other for airtime. The gentlemen also talked their way to Pontevedra but they were quieter, more measured and restrained. This is another thing we have noticed many times before. 

 All these are things that make you love this country. 

There are other odds and ends I have noticed which make me smile wryly: 

 - Boxes of hard boiled eggs on sale in the supermarket! Clearly there is no shame in being unable to boil an egg. In fact someone who does not know how to cook is described as being unable to fry a couple of eggs: "no sabe freír un par de huevos". 

 - Jars of "patatas para tortilla", also on sale in the supermarket. Yes, you can buy jars of ready cooked potatoes for your Spanish omelette. As the label tells you, all you need to do is add eggs. Astounding! 

- The train manager walking up and down the length of the train telling us, several times over, that we will be delayed 5 minutes at Redondela because there is a stretch of single track line ahead and the signal is against us. What is the public address system on the train for? Oh, yes, to tell us where we are going, what the next station is and whether or not you can buy refreshments on the train, in Galician, then in Castellano (usually as near identical as makes no difference), and finally in English! 

- Spaniards who celebrate Saint George's Day in a bar that sells all sorts of quite obscure English beers. We went there briefly after lunch today in Pontevedra. Today of course, is Saint George's Day. Good old George is, I discovered, not just the patron saint of England but also of Catalonia and Mallorca, Moscow, the Hungarian police and the Portuguese army. There you go! 

In England some people will be driving around with the cross of Saint George flying from their car. Others will use it as an excuse to get drunk. Meanwhile in Barcelona couples apparently celebrate Saint George's Day by exchanging roses and books. 

Mind you, they will insist on calling him Sant Jordi! 

I suppose you can't have everything.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Turismo words

I was thinking about the word "cicloturismo", clearly meaning doing touristy stuff on your bike. Then there is also "agriturismo", doing touristy stuff out in the countryside and usually staying in some country dwelling, what the French would call a "gîte". (On French gravestones they used to write, and probably still do for all I know, "ci git ..." - "here lies ...." - so a "gîte" is a place to lie down. Odd bits of information") 

Do they also talk about "literaturismo"? Or "culturismo"? We did a bit if that I suppose, following the Montalbano trail in Sicily. I'm not sure that going to the places where they filmed an Italian TV detective series really counts as culture, but we did visit a lot of Baroque churches as well. And people go off to Bronte country. Going to Hardy's Wessex, can you find the place where poor Gabriel Oats lost all his sheep over the edge of a cliff? I wonder. Here in Vigo you could visit the places mentioned by Domingo Villar in his Vigo-based detective stories. 

Yesterday there was really no chance to do any kind of turismo as the bay and the city were covered in fog which didn't really clear all dY. It's a good job we hadn't got ourselves tickets to go out on a boat to the Islas Cíes, which we could have done as they do special Holy Week sailings. It would have been a waste of time. 

All this arose because I came across the word "bicigrinos" in a newspaper article. It is a kind of hybrid word formed from "bicicleta" and "peregrinos" - pilgrims. Pilgrims on bicycles! I'm sure they already exist but apparently a German company, Expobike, is looking into cornering the market, at least organising pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela from Germany on bicycles. The Germans are big cyclists, or so I am told. Helmut Weingarten tried out the stretch from Ponferrada to Santiago recently but found a problem on arriving at Santiago. The main road in on the pilgrim route is Rua de San Pedro but this is closed to cyclists. He's going to need to find a way round that little problem if he's going to make a go of this "bicigrinos" business. 

We've not seen any of the Holy Week processions this year although we may have heard one early on Thursday evening. But here's a picture of a procession in Pontevedra that I pinched off a friend's Facebook page. 

 We spent Easter one year in a place called Cómpeta in Almería where there was a procession every day even though the town boasted no more than about 4000 inhabitants, a large proportion of them British. The oddest photo of Holy Week stuff I've seen was in Thursday's Guardian. It showed soldiers from a barracks in Malaga apparently goose-stepping as they carried a statue of Jesus Christ on their shoulders. A quite surreal image.

 Jueves Santos, Holy Thursday, is called Maundy Thursday in England -why Maundy? The queen was in Blackburn giving out Maundy money. Not washing the feet of the pensioners then? The newspaper said she was at Blackburn cathedral. Who knew Blackburn had a cathedral? 

Clearly there are always new things to learn.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A day out in Ponters.

We took a trip to Pontevedra today, Wednesday, to meet up with the junior chess organiser with whom we are organising a kind of chess exchange. 

Last year Phil played in the August Pontevedra chess tournament and we got to know Daniel at that point. He organises chess training camps where young chess players sleep in dormitories on the site of the tournament and after a week's preparation, take part. After that his youngsters usually then go off and do a similar thing in Extremadura. Amazing! 

So we discussed the idea of some of Phil's young chess players coming along and taking part, with the idea that later a group of young Spaniards will go back to England on a return visit. We already have a small group with flights booked, looking forward to poolside post match analysis. 

The date of the return visit is a bit problematical, however. Spanish schools do not like their pupils to go off on visits, even educational visits, in term time. 

 Immediately after the English trip to Galicia is no good as the Spaniards go off to play chess in Extremadura. Early September would suit them as Spanish school does not start until mid-September but, of course, most UK schools start up at the beginning of the month. It's that long summer holiday as opposed to the UK's six weeks. I've had this  problem in the past organising college exchanges.

The October half term doesn't work as the Spanish don't have such a thing. Possibly All Saints' Day, 1st November, might be extended to make a long weekend but this year it's a Saturday, so it won't even be a bank holiday. And so our discussion went round in circles but no doubt we'll work something out. 

And so we left things in the air for the time being and Phil and I went off a found a menu del día lunch in the centre of Pontevedra: €9.50 each. Not bad. And they had a wifi connection as well. Excellent. 

After lunch we explored a new short cut back to the station. This turned out to be a long cut, causing us to miss the earlier train and leading us to spend some time inspecting the "improvements" to the railway station. There's nothing quite like waiting for a train in the middle of a building site. It's to be hoped that the AVE fast train service makes it all worth while when or of it eventually gets organised. There's that building site in Pontevedra station and another one at the former site of the station in Vigo. Both of them seem to involve an awful lot of earth shifting but look far from completion. 

 On our way down to the station in Ponters we went past this shop. I wonder why they have a double T in Kensington. Is this supposed to be trendy? Is there some problem with copyright if they spell it with only one T? Or is it just plain ignorance? 

While we waited for the train in Punters station we found that the wifi connection in the station buffet is less than useless. It pretends you are connected and goes so slowly that you fall asleep waiting to read your email. Consequently, I was reduced to reading paper newspapers. 

There I found this bit of campaigning for better driving. This one is reminding drivers to use their indicators. What a novel idea! I am always moaning about drivers who swing round corners without letting you know they plan to do so. 

This is the second of these campaign posters I've come across. The other one was all about "el síndrome del carríl izquierdo" - left lane syndrome. Just as drivers on motorways in the UK have a tendency to move out into the right hand lane, or the middle lane of three, on the motorway and just sit there, forgetting to return to the inside lane, the same thing happens in reverse in Spain. 

Someone is getting safety conscious at last.

Monday, 14 April 2014


Tidying up this and that I came across a newspaper from the end of March. We must have picked it up on the day we arrived I think. It was open at a page where there was headline about child poverty. 

AGE, an association of some kind that I have not yet identified, had made the regional government aware of a report by the charity organisation Cáritas that said the 20% of children in Galicia are living below the poverty line. One of the politicians involved in the debate referred also to a pediatricians’' report that problems of child health and malnutrition had gone up 54%. 

Mr. Nuñez Feijoo, president of Galicia, apparently thanked the organisation for bringing them these reports but said he preferred to use information from the Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas. Their figures put Galician poverty at 18%, below the national average of 21%. He went on the say that anything else was "apocalyptic description" and compared the presenters to the "Santa Inquisición". 

Hmm!! Is there really much difference between 18%, 20% and 21%? It still means that around one in five children are not getting enough to eat. If the average for the country is really 21%, then some places must be much higher. And this is in the 21st century in a country that is a member of the European Union. 

The same newspaper article told me that since 2012 the numbers of people using the Vigo Food Bank have gone up by 20,000 and now stand at 145.000. Similar increases are reported from La Coruña and Ferrol. There is clearly something wrong. 

And so I feel guilty about turning away the young man who knocked on our door the other day to tell us about an organisation called "Contra el Hambre". Oh, I know I couldn't have done anything, not having a bank account here and so on but even so. 

And I feel mean when I complain about the supermarket beggar who was telling me about it being her son's fifth birthday on Saturday when she harassed me outside Mercadona. At least, I think that's what she was on about. Her speech is heavily accented, possibly Andalusian, possible gypsy, possibly both, and it's often hard to tell what she is saying. She would certainly find it hard to get a job. 

And I know you can't give to all of them, but whenever I see a young girl begging on the street I find myself thinking that if that were my teenager I would hope that someone would help her. And that's that! 

(Post script: walking down into town yesterday evening, I was greeted by a young woman who introduced me to her son whose birthday had been the day before: our supermarket beggar! So presumably she lives somewhere across the road from us. Much more coherent when not speaking in her special begging whine. She scrubs up quite nicely. Somehow I feel slightly less mean about moaning about her now.)

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Getting warm.

18 degrees was the temperature according to the billboard down the road at 9.30 this morning. The sunshine has shown more clearly than ever the rain splodges on the windows, the result of the winter Galicia has been through. So I have been cleaning windows: one way to warm yourself up. Now they are not perfect - I don't think I could make my living as a window cleaner - but at least we can see the bay without having to look through a mottled pattern of dirty rain stains. 

And the bay is worth looking at. The water is a beautiful blue - cue for Phil to say, "Ultramarine, that's what my paintbox called it!" Works like a charm every time he sees the water on a sunny day. But it is a beautiful blue and the sailing school is out; all the tiny sailboats moving in time, following the larger lead sailboat, rather like ducklings following mummy duck! 

We've been taking advantage of the sunshine to get out and about, following the advice of my weather witch - "¡Hay que aprovechar!" So on Friday after lunch we caught a bus up to Plaza de América, where the temperature gauges showed an astounding 33 degrees, and walked along to Castrelos Park to have a look round and inspect the gardens. 

I expected the park to be full of bluebells as it was at this time last year but maybe it's still a little early for that. Instead, there were banks of yellow flowers, like elongated bells. No idea what they are. 

The Pazo de Quiñones de Leon was covered in fresh ivy. The very first time we saw it, in the autumn of 2008, the ivy had turned a deep red and somehow it always surprises me when I see green ivy there. 

The wisteria was in full bloom, climbing over gateways and filling the air with an almost overwhelming perfume. 

It's a bit early for the roses to be at their best but they are beginning to come out. 

And the formal gardens (el jardín inglés) looked as though they had been specially trimmed for our visit. 

We took a look at what I have been told are the oldest eucalyptus trees in Vigo. I don't know about their age but they certainly should win prizes for girth. Immense! 

We walked back along the Lagares riverside path, nicely shady for the most part. The river still seems to be showing the effects of all the rain Galicia has had in recent months: in spate, I think is the expression. 

It was still warm despite the shade and I was surprised at the number of runners there were about. I suppose if you work all day, then early evening is perhaps the only time you get to run but I don't think it's necessarily a good idea in temperatures of 25+ degrees. There was even one running in a waterproof cagoule; maybe he subscribed to the theory that the more you sweat, the better it is. Daft, I call it. 

It probably took us about one and a half hours to walk home. Some people might consider this a form of madness but if so, it's mostly harmless. We usually get to see parts of cities that other folk never come across. On this occasion, taking a new route down to Calle Aragón, we came across one of those old washing places, a sort of huge trough with sloping sides, full of water and roofed over. Before everyone had running water at home and washing machines, that was where the women used to gather to get the washing done. 

This was not more than five minutes from our flat, a reminder of the community that was here before developers built masses of blocks of flats. In between the tower blocks you see little collections of houses, all with their gardens and often a patch of land where they grow vegetables. I often wonder how the residents of these small estates feel about having their place surrounded by high rise developments as the city of Vigo swallowed them up. 

Yesterday we walked down to the Carrefour shopping centre to see if they have any DVDs worth purchasing. We are about to finish the series we have been watching and are on the lookout for something else. For all that it is a huge supermarket where you can buy all kinds of electrical good and items of clothing, their DVD and CD collection is pitiful. Back to Mediamarkt, I think, to see if the Germans can do better than the French! 

We didn't just visit the shopping centre, however. Our ultimate aim was the coastal path that goes around A Guía. So, not up to the top of the promontory this time, but round the bottom of it. Some good views of the Rande Bridge and yachts out on the bay. 


And then back to the flat from where we are now beginning to get some halfway decent sunsets.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Out and about on the streets of Vigo.

A school bus disgorges its teenage cargo onto the street. Not a single one of them looks to see if there is anyone on the pavement before hopping off and walking away. We are almost mowed down in the process. 

Two elderly ladies, deep in animated conversation as they walk down the street, suddenly stop to go into some important point in more depth. Coming up behind them I am almost disemboweled by the pointed umbrella one of them carries. 

Man with a mission charges off a crossing and continues on his way, almost knocking me off my feet as he hurtles along. 

Just another normal walk along a Spanish street. 

I walked into the town centre to go to the library this morning, not that I'm really short of stuff to read but just to see what they had to offer and whether anything had changed. That was a bit of a waste of time; the library is closed until next Monday for renovation and, I'm pretty sure it said this, air conditioning! It certainly needs that, so maybe I am mistaken. 

The rather smelly passageway through from Puerta del Sol to the library was having work done on it last time we were here. That has now been completed and it all looks very good, apart from the fact that it's already been decorated with graffiti. The shop to the right stands empty and the reconstructed building above, now nicely refitted with what look like hardwood window frames is up for sale or rent. It's rather a shame as the area now looks a lot smarter. There are still a lot of dodgy looking people hanging around the square though, which may explain the empty premises. 

My library visit may have been unsuccessful but I did manage to call in the Novacaixagalicia bank and put some money on our Vitrasa green cards. These get us cheaper travel on the bus, and more efficient entry to the bus as you just need to click your card in the card reader. Last time I tried to recharge these it was only possible to do it using a bank card. There was little point in that as the bank would have charged us for using our English debit card, thus removing any benefit from our having the travel card at all. Today I found one that took cash. A small success! 

On the way back I called in at the supermarket. At the checkout, the rather bored looking young man asked me, ¿Quiere bolsa? I replied that no, I didn't need a bag. He continued, "¿Coche en el parking?" No, I didn't need to validate a parking ticket. And finally, with a fairly straight face, "¿Cola cao?" No I didn't want a chocolate drink, either. We both grinned. 

 I suppose if you work on a till you must do something to relieve the